Shay Sheridan - Reality
"It's true, Michael, he--"
"--No! My father did not kill himself!"
He gestured violently and the brandy glass went flying to crash against the wall. He flinched at the noise, his eyes turning to the stain spreading on the pale green paper, but he wasn't seeing it; he was seeing the tall figure of his father standing before him.
"What do you want me to say, Michael?" William spread his hands in frustration, then clenched them when there was no response. "The truth is the truth. I know it's very difficult for you, but you must believe me. I know what happened."
"It's not true." Mike walked over to the window, leaning his forehead against the cool glass, his palms flat against the window, his eyes on the water, his mind's eye still only seeing the dark hair, beard, hazel eyes twinkling at him, remembering laughter, imagination, his father swinging him up over his head, the ground miles away, his father smiling, holding his hand, one arm around Lisette, teaching him, being with him--
It couldn't be true. He would never have ended his life. He'd been too... alive.
William had come up behind him and put a hand on his arm, a tentative, awkward gesture of connection. The old man left his hand there just a moment, and Mike was aware of the tenuousness of the touch. He tried to think of the last time his grandfather had done anything as intimate at touch him on his shoulder. He couldn't remember such a time. Not like his father; Tom had been tactile, warm. "No. You're wrong. It was an accident."
William removed his hand. "Stop it. Think. Use your brain, for God's sake."
The coldness, the sharpness, was like a slap. Mike turned, furious. "'God?' That's funny. Don't lecture me, don't talk to me like you have the ear of the Almighty! Pretty presumptuous! Who are we wolves supposed to pray to, anyway, William? Some sort of animal spirit? A dog god? Or maybe we're supposed to pray to you, the great omniscient William Wolf, knower of all things--"
"No, it's not, you don't know anything. You didn't know him, you didn't want to know him when he married my mother! How could you lie? How could you say you know--"
"--How could I not know!" William's voice was ferocious. "How could I not know he killed himself, that he drove into a stone wall because of how unhappy he was, how he hated himself, hated what he was, what we are? Do you think I'm blind, or an idiot? Do you think I didn't make it my business to know everything that went on in your house?"
"What, you were spying on them, too?"
"He was my son, dammit, Michael! He was my son! I had to try! But I couldn't help him. I couldn't stop him. He was so afraid all the time, afraid he'd hurt you--"
"What?" Mike's eyes opened wide in shock. "He wouldn't --he would never have hurt us! He couldn't have..." He stopped. "He wouldn't have--"
--howling, thrashing, objects breaking above them, his mother close, her perfume, her soft voice, stay here, Michael, stay in your room, ne t'en fais pas, Maman will be right back, stay here, cheri--
He wouldn't have...would he?
No, no, this was a lie, it was a mistake. An accident, the brakes, the hill, a misstep on the gas--
William was walking away from him, back to his chair at the head of the table, back to his symbol of authority. But he was walking like an old man, shoulders slumping, dropping heavily into the chair, not a leader, not an "alpha," just an old, tired man. Somehow, that shocked Mike deeply. "He wanted to end his pain," William rasped. "I couldn't stop him. I couldn't. I didn't understand it... and after you were born, he seemed to be better, more at peace with himself... I thought he was. I suppose I... didn't know how to reach him."
William's head turned and he looked up at his grandson. Impossible, Mike thought, it looks for all the world like his eyes are wet. William looked down at his hands, then pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his nose. "Excuse me," he said stiffly.
Something clenched in Mike's throat. For William to appear so... He stopped. He'd been about to think "human," but was at a loss to say if that truly applied. Vulnerable, then. Whatever it was, it appeared genuine.
"It's all right, William...Grandfather." The old man rubbed his nose and blinked a few times. "I don't blame you." I can't blame you, it was an accident.
"I do." There was a moment when Mike held his breath, waiting, waiting for William to continue. But when the old man looked up, his face was composed, impassive again. "It doesn't matter. What's past is past."
Maddening, how William wouldn't let the connection between them last for more than a moment. "It's not just in the past, can't you see that?" Mike turned away in disgust, walking to the far end of the room, trying to frame what he wanted to, had to say. What he felt. It was strange, this argument, but familiar, too, familiar in how he was talking to his flesh and blood but feeling like he faced a stranger. It was a sickening, empty feeling, it made him want to shatter something, tear something. He considered his words carefully, fighting the urge to shout, to vault across the room and shake--No. He regained control, biting off each word. "Whatever you believe, or you think you know, even if my father wanted to take his own life, he never, never would have done anything to hurt my mother, and she was in the car--"
"--I know she was." Something in his grandfather's voice made him freeze. William was tight-lipped, his face unyielding. "Maybe you need to think about that."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means," William said, "that in the end Thomas knew their marriage was wrong. Perhaps he blamed her, too, in his unhappiness--"
"--That's a lie!"
"I'm not alone in this. He said as much to Hunter, the day he died."
Back. They were back at the beginning of this endless chase, arguing in circles. But there was something else going on; Mike felt the struggle between them had become more than an argument. It had become an urgent tug of war over memories, and he had to, needed to, pull William over the line. The magnitude of this need disturbed him.
Both men looked up. Robert stood in the doorway, unhappy to interrupt, but clearly needing to do so. He didn't look at Mike.
"Miss Rauthursdottir is here and wants to see you."
"We're done here." There was no question, no "aren't we?"
"We're not done, William!"
"I am." The old man stood up and straightened his jacket. "Regina, my dear."
"Sorry I couldn't get here sooner. Did I miss anything big?"
Regina swept into the dining room in a cloud of red. She seemed flushed, too, excited. She kissed William on the cheek and looked at Mike. "Michael? You look a little... I don't know. What's been going on here?" She frowned ever so slightly, the tiniest, prettiest crease forming on her forehead.
"Not much." Mike didn't attempt to keep the bitter sarcasm out of his voice. "I know the family secret."
"The family secret... Ah. Well, that is big, isn't it?" Regina dropped the hand that had rested on William's arm and placed it softly, comfortingly, on Mike's chest. She stroked his lapel and looked up at him through her lashes. "I see. Are you all right?"
"I wish everyone would stop asking me that!" He reached down and disengaged her hand.
She frowned again, less prettily this time. "No need to get upset, Michael, just let me help--"
"--I don't need your help, Regina."
"Oh? But you need help from Virginia, I suppose?"
There was something quite unpleasant wriggling under Regina's lovely mask. Disgusted, Mike shot her a look and moved past her towards the door.
"Where are you going?" William's tone was challenging.
He met the cool green eyes with his own blazing ones. Then he turned and left.
William didn't try to stop him.
He moved blindly through the hall, passing the others, the other wolves, but saw them only as a blur. Sylvia said something to him but he didn't reply. He had to get out. Get some air. Get away.
Outside he passed under the portico, walked by the cars, across the gravel onto the grass. He kept walking until he reached the low wall at the edge of the rocky beach, and then he stopped only because the felt the cold grey stone against his knees, blocking his way. The breeze off the water was sharp and filled with salt; it cut through his sweater and tugged at his hair. He drew in a deep breath, then another, and tried to think.
He'd been sick of lies and half-truths. He'd wanted answers. Now, after seeing what he'd seen, after hearing what he'd been told, he knew the truth about himself. That was bad enough, disturbing enough, but what sickened him was the image of his father, his own father, as something other than what he'd always thought him to be. He'd killed himself. And he'd tried to kill Lisette, too. It was impossible to believe it was true.
No. Perhaps it was possible to believe it.
He'd thought about killing himself, after all. Like son, like father?
What had been Thomas' fear, his crushing need to end his existence? Was William correct? Had his dual nature been too much to bear? Was it not enough to have found a life with a woman who loved him, with a son who adored him?
Maybe we didn't love him enough, maybe we, maybe I...
Mike looked out at the water, at the place where he thought it should meet the sky, but the horizon was still obscured by a gray fog. Where is the sun? I need the sun to see where it ends.
The son. He was Thomas' son. Michael Thomson Wolf. He had to lift the fog, to know what had happened for himself.
Which meant there was only one place to go, one painful place to go.
He turned his back on the Sound and let the wind push him up onto the lawn, back to the drive. Robert was leaning against the limo, but straightened up as he approached. "Mike?"
Robert's rumpled face twisted, uncertain.
"Give me the keys."
The chauffeur handed over the car keys. Mike climbed into the front seat of the sleek black car, reversed it and turned down the drive. A few of the others standing around watched him go, looked at each other, but said nothing.
Inside the house, William stood by the window, watching the scene play out before him. A shadowy figure came up beside him, and without turning he spoke. "He doesn't believe what happened to Thomas. He doesn't believe me." William looked at Hunter's hawk-like profile. "You were there. You saw what happened that day."
"It's exactly as I told you." Hunter turned to face the old man. "He was my friend, William. I would have stopped him if I could."
"I know, I know. Thank you."
Hunter looked out the window again. The limo was disappearing around the curve of the road. "Should I..."
"Let him go."
"Are you sure?"
William shrugged, a profound gesture of helplessness. His eyes caught Hunter's for a moment, then he turned and walked away.
Hunter stared down the road, his eyes narrowing, long after the car was lost from view.
Virginia was in a dungeon, a chilly, dark dungeon.
She peered into the darkness through gummed eyes, fighting the throbbing in her head, seeking the remotest hint of light and wondered how she'd gotten back to the kingdoms, to Wendell's dungeon, or maybe Snow White Memorial Prison. It was too much to think about, so she closed her eyes and let the darkness take her again.
She opened her eyes. It wasn't completely dark; there was a certain dim light in the place and now she could see it wasn't a dungeon at all, it was a room with sleek, featureless walls. She was cold because she was wearing some sort of thin cotton garment and the room, whatever it was, had insufficient heating. She was lying on what felt like a hard mattress and when she attempted to sit up, found to her frustration she was tied to it with restraints. What had happened? Where was she? It took a minute for her brain to shake off the last of the dust, for her to remember the car, Tony, Regina.
Great. Regina is into some sort of S&M, no doubt, and is using her toys to imprison me here! She wondered where, exactly, here was. For all she knew, she could be in the basement of Regina's apartment, or an abandoned prison, or Dr. Regina Frankenstein's lab, awaiting dissection. Anything was possible where that psycho bitch was concerned. If her hands had been free, she would have smacked herself in the side of the head for her lack of smarts in getting into the car. What had she been thinking?
Dad. She'd been thinking of her father.
Where was he? She pulled at whatever was binding her but they wouldn't release. She craned her neck around as far as possible. Tony wasn't in the room. The gray light came from a window covered with heavy drapes on the wall to her right. Above her she saw a metal rack with a clip-on light and holes in the wall that did not look like sockets. There was a kind of cart nearby, but upside down it was impossible to figure out what it was exactly. On the wall to her left, at the foot of the bed, there was a door.
Virginia pulled again at the bindings, to no avail. Her helplessness was beginning to frighten her and her concern for her father was growing. I should have helped him, she thought, I should have found a way to get help, or get away, not fall into Regina's trap!
But she couldn't have. Beyond imagining, Regina had used troll dust on her... troll dust! in New York City! Troll dust she'd gotten from Robert Burleigh. Burly! The impossible mention of that name, coupled with the troll dust...! She thought about the chauffeur. His ugly, funny face... no. He was no troll. He was human. But there was something about him, wasn't there, that suggested--
No, no, not important, Virginia, focus on getting out of here. Focus on finding your father. Did she dare call out for him? Should she call for help? Wouldn't that tip off Regina?
Too bad, she had to know if he was all right. "Dad!" she shouted, as loudly as she could, "Dad! Tony! Tony Lewis! Dad! Answer me! Can you hear me?"
"CAN ANYONE HEAR ME? HELP!"
He didn't answer, but she thought she heard something through the wall, so she called again. She thrashed about, trying to loosen the restraints and they still wouldn't yield. But the bed itself moved a little and banged against the wall. She moved again, slamming the bed into the wall over and over, calling for help, for her father, hoping for a sound in response.
The door flew open and a tall, angular woman stepped through the doorway. Her unlovely face was angry, her brows knitted, hands on her hips; she fairly quivered with fury. There were sounds coming through the open door, strange sounds, loud, high-pitched whining, crying, hysterical laughter, distant voices--
Where on earth was she?
"Be quiet!" barked the woman. Her small eyes glittered like jet beads.
"Let me out of this bed!"
"I told you to be quiet!"
Virginia shook her head furiously. "Please. You have to let me out. I was kidnapped!"
"Sure you were." The woman smiled humorlessly.
Virginia tried to control her anger. "Please. Please, at least tell me where my father is."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Now shut up or I'll have you gagged. Do you want that?"
Virginia closed her mouth. The woman paused, shooting Virginia a warning look, and closed the door behind her.
Useless. Futile. Virginia let her head fall back against the mattress. Tears of fury, frustration and hopelessness welled up in her eyes. She'd never felt so helpless, so alone. No one knew where she was. There was no way out, no escape.
And there would be no Wolf to rescue her.
She closed her eyes. She couldn't delude herself. He'd never find her. Mike was so much like Wolf in many ways, but he wasn't a tracker, he wasn't used to living by his wits in a dangerous land fraught with peril.
He wasn't her mate.
For some reason that made her cry even harder.
The need to blow her nose finally made her stop crying. But her hands weren't free, so she had to keep sniffing and snuffling until she could breathe again. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she chastised herself, laughing mirthlessly at the absurdity of her situation. She looked through blurry eyes at the ceiling. That insufferable woman! "Shut up" indeed.
There was something itching in the back of her brain about the woman. She looked oddly familiar, though Virginia couldn't remember where she'd seen her before. She was quite homely, with small eyes and a large nose and ears, russet-colored hair pulled back in a bun. Unusual looks. The kind of person you would remember, unless...
...unless she were part of the background, like a maid, or a nurse, or a waitress, or---
That was it; the street clothes had confused her. She had seen her before, in a uniform, or rather she'd mostly seen the back of her, that same frizzy hair and square frame as she led the way...
She knew where she was.
She just didn't know why.
When he passed the stone farmhouse on the curve at the bottom of the hill, Mike felt his entire body tighten. His hands went white on the wheel, and he felt a rolling wave of nausea as the car came abreast of it. He made himself look, though he didn't want to, didn't want to at all.
This was the place, the old stone walls set so close to the edge of the road. He'd passed it so many times, hundreds of times, and as the years passed he'd grown used to the sight until he no longer averted his gaze when driving by. But now all the horror, sickness, terror was back; he felt haunted by it, this place that had stolen his father and his mother from him.
The building flashed by and was gone, returning briefly in the rear-view mirror, then disappearing again, like the ghosts it possessed.
His hands unclenched.
The late afternoon sun was trying to stage a comeback. Watching the changing patterns of light in the trees, Mike recalled the last time he'd been this way, with Virginia, the day he'd taken her sightseeing into his life, the day they'd become lovers. A beautiful day. A magical day, when the past was the past and the present was everything.
Virginia. Where was she? His need to have her with him was almost palpable. The way he felt about her! He'd never, ever experienced anything like it, not with anyone else, not even with Cathy, and he'd been ready to marry her. Virginia inhabited his entire being. He felt like they were one person. It was almost an unearthly sensation--
He took in a little sharp breath. Wolves mate for life, William had told him. Was this it? Was this some sort of animal instinct, some genetic predilection bonding him to her? Was there no free will involved?
His past was eclipsing the present, destroying it. He wondered if he wouldn't have been better off leaving well enough alone, just thinking he was insane.
His destination came into view. He put all thoughts out of his head as he turned up the drive, parked messily and bounded up the steps into the white building.
The administrator of the Russett Nursing home rose from her desk behind the reception window, looking somewhat perplexed. "Did we expect you today?" She glanced down at the clipboard in her hand.
"No. I didn't have time to call. Mrs. Rausch, I need to see my mother."
"Well, of course, of course. Why don't you have a seat while I find out where she is, or if she's having a nap or something... we're a little short-handed." She seemed a bit put out by this interruption of protocol, but moved to her desk and picked up a phone, punching in an extension.
Mike was too keyed up to sit; he paced restlessly around the reception area, pausing to watch through the window as she spoke quietly into the receiver. Come on, come on, come on! He tapped on the desk and she turned around. "I can find her myself."
"Wait, please." She replaced the phone in its cradle. "I have someone just coming on duty who'll take you back." She smiled wanly at him. "I do wish, Mr. Wolf, that you would try to give us a little notice before your visits. Generally we find our patients don't like to be surprised."
"My mother won't care."
His voice was rather low but there was a hint of a growl in it and she backed off a little."No... no, probably not... but in future --oh, here's the nurse. Barbara, take Mr. Wolf back to see his mother, please."
"Yes, Mrs. Rausch." The nurse tucked a strand of frizzy rust-colored hair back into its bun, and gestured with one large, square hand. "This way, please."
Lisette was sitting in a chair, holding a half-finished embroidery on a hoop in her lap. She wasn't embroidering, merely looking at the pattern of daisies and roses printed on the cloth. Her eyes were on it, but her hands picked idly at the fabric.
Mike thanked the nurse without looking at her. She stood in the doorway a moment before heading away down the corridor.
Lisette looked up, her eyes coming into focus. "Hello." She didn't seem to recognize him, and Mike's heart sank. So much depended on her being present today.
"Mom, it's me, Mike. Michael. How are you feeling?" He crouched down in front of her, and she studied him, her face screwing up in concentration, a mirror-image of the crease between his brows appearing on her face.
Her eyes strayed to the table at her side, to the framed picture of a young, smiling couple. It was the same picture Mike kept on his mantle, and as he watched his mother, one white hand rose from the embroidery to trace the faces through the glass. She looked back at him then, and uttered a tiny, delighted sound. "Oh, oh. You came. You came!" Her face broke into smiles and, relieved, he leaned in to kiss her cheek. She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him in close to her. "Oh, Tom! You came!"
Mike's relief disintegrated. She didn't know who he was; her mind had betrayed her yet again. She still thought--" No, mom, mother," he began.
And then he realized what needed to be done.
He reached up to stroke her soft hair ever so gently. "Yes, it's me, Lisette," he whispered in her ear. "It's me, Tom."
Her voice throbbed with joy as she pulled away, her hands cupping his face. "I waited for you. I knew you would come, my dear, I waited so long. They wouldn't let me go to you and they wouldn't tell me why, but 'I have to go find him,' I told them, 'he needs me, my husband needs me."
Mike nodded and smiled at her, letting her chatter on, letting her believe his charade. He felt unbelievably heartless, like he was perpetrating a cruel joke. At length her words began to slow down, and he kissed her palm and took both her hands in his. "I'm sorry. I wanted to come to you sooner, but I couldn't. I have to ask you something--" he suddenly remembered his father's odd endearment: "--ma chere eclair." Funny, he'd never realized how silly that sounded. But Lisette giggled flirtatiously in response and clapped her hands together.
"Of course, Tommy. Ask me anything. Whatever you want."
He took her hands again. "I want you remember for me, can you do that?"
"I'll try, you know I will."
"Before... before the time you came here, do you remember that?"
She scoffed at him. "Of course. Ask me something else." She sounded as if they were playing at riddles.
He adored her. This was so unfair, so terribly unfair. "Something happened, just before you came here. Something bad. Do you remember that?"
A small shadow passed over her eyes. "I don't know, Tom. Don't think about bad things. You're here."
"Lisette." Why, why must I do this to her? "Think back, dear, think about why they wouldn't let you come to me. It was a long time ago, I know."
"A long time. I don't want to think about that, darling."
"I know, I know. You must, please. It's important." Mike wanted to get up and run but he couldn't. "We were in the car, coming home. May, in May."
"May is a bad month. I don't like it." She pulled her hands away, suddenly, her fingers twining themselves in the fringe of her wrap. "Let's not talk about that, we can have some tea. I'll make some tea."
"No, please, please try. We were coming home, in the car, we were on Old Shore Road--"
"I didn't like their tea, oh no! And they weren't very nice to us, no they weren't!"
Mike blinked, bewildered. "Who wasn't nice? Do you mean the doctors?"
She shook her head, looking into the distance at something invisible to him. "They weren't nice at all, I thought he wanted to make up, but he didn't, he was so mean, the things he said! Well, they can keep their tea, and their money!" Her expression changed, and she refocused on him, not seeing his confusion. "You were so brave, Tommy, 'He's our son,' you said, I was so proud of you!"
Confusion didn't begin to address what he felt now. Was she remembering something real, or embroidering a dream? "Our son..."
She leaned forward, her hands reaching to rest on his shoulders. Her face was inches from his, and he could see, despite the fine lines of age, the beautiful girl she must have been. "He's just a boy, he's not like them, they won't have him, will they, Tommy?"
"No, no, of course not." Himself. She was talking about him, Michael. "Lisette, I don't remember; help me to remember. We were in the car, there was an accident--"
"--No. No. No. No, no, no. No." She shook her head. "It's not true, he's not--" Her eyes filled and she began to whimper. "He's not. You lie. I want to see Thomas."
"Sshhh, shhh, I'm right here." Mike's guilt was beginning to overwhelm him. His mother didn't deserve this. None of it, least of all his pretense. But it was too late to stop now. He held her and kept speaking softly. "We were in the car, Lisette. Do you remember? Did I do something wrong? Did I say something to you before... it happened?"
She whispered something he couldn't make out.
"Tell me, please."
"There's something wrong."
"No." She sat up and looked at him, chiding him. "That's what you said, 'there's something wrong.' And the car... it wouldn't... You said, 'I didn't think he would...'" She began to tremble and her voice became higher and thinner. 'I don't understand. Why won't it stop, Tommy?" Her eyes went wild and she started to make a kind of keening noise. "Why won't you let me see him? Oh, Tom! Tom!"
"Lisette--" No! No more. "Mom... Maman, please." Her hands were biting into his arms but he barely felt it. His mind was looking at the pieces of a puzzle, all fitting together, and he didn't want to look at the picture just as he didn't want to see the stone wall, but he had to. He wanted to bolt, but he let her wind down, let her breathing calm, and began to speak to her in the softest voice he could muster. He pulled every French word he could remember out of his brain, and the sound of her childhood language began to soothe her, eventually.
She rocked to stillness. "I love you," Mike said, "Tout ira bien." He kissed her gently on the forehead. "Mom... I have to go. I'll come back. I'll come back soon, I promise."
She said nothing, her eyes vacant again, her hands plucking at the embroidery. She began to hum a little song. A lullaby.
Mike stood up, ignoring the stab as the cartilage in his left knee shifted. "I have to go," he said again, more to himself than to her. And then he was in the hallway, pounding towards the exit, a haze, a red haze, beginning to form in front of him.