Shifting

It always took time for David to get used to being in a house. After weeks of sleeping outdoors, curled under a tree, or dug into a den, the softness of a bed was strange and uncomfortable. The sound of traffic was deafening and the street lights unbearably bright. But the warmth of the body nestled beside him certainly made the experience more palatable.

He knew he shouldn’t be there, naked and pressed up against Jaida. It was stupid. It was beyond stupid. It was colossally stupid.

He shifted on his pillow and recklessly rubbed his face in her hair, inhaling her scent deep into his senses. He could pick out her shampoo, her perfume, her soap. There was a hint of the bar’s aroma from earlier that evening, a little trace of oregano from the pizza she had eaten, and his own musk. The one that set him apart. The one his pack followed.

“It’ll just be for the night,” he thought. Then he’d leave. Just one night.

***

From the moment she’d caught his eye across the room, he’d been fascinated. Something about Jaida captivated him in a way no human woman ever had. He was instantly drawn to her. He had to speak to her. Touch her. Breathe her in.

When she went to the restroom, he had followed her. Not thinking what that would look like. He wasn’t up on dating etiquette.

He’d terrified her as it turned out. At six-foot-four, he towered over her petite frame. He’d apologised. Excused himself. But when he spied her still watching him from her seat at the bar, he made his move. If he’d been in his other form, he would have pounced.

***

He froze, holding his body rigid as Jaida shifted beside him. She stretched out her toes from under the sheets, making tiny mewing noises as she shuffled closer. Her leg wrapping over his. Her hand on his belly. Her soft cheek resting on his shoulder as she drifted back to sleep.

***

He should have left the moment she told him what she did. He should have got up and walked away. She was an animal behaviourist, who had just moved to the tiny Oregon town to study a new grey wolf pack that had been seen in the area.

His pack.

He was their alpha.

When the moon was waning, he became a man.

But the moon would be full again in a week. Then he would change.

He shook his head and whispered. “Dumb, dumb, dumb.”

It was the kiss that had caused this monumental blunder. The one in the alley beside the bar. With her legs wrapped around his waist and her tongue in his mouth. That sealed his fate. Until then, it had just been a drink and some flirting. After that, it was so much more.

He had pushed her up against the wall and growled in her ear. A real growl. The one he would use in his other form. He’d felt her quiver below him at the sound, and he knew in that moment he was toast. He wanted her. He needed her. Fuck the consequences.

“Just two nights,” he thought. Then he’d leave. Two nights. Three tops.

***

The dawn light peaked under the curtains. He hadn’t slept. He usually didn’t sleep at night. That was when he hunted.

Jaida shifted, her hand drifting down his torso, skimming the bones of his hips.

He puffed out an embarrassingly shaky breath.

“Morning,” she said.

He turned towards her and without speaking, pressed his lips to hers.

He had a week. He could stay a week. Then, he’d leave.

©Amy Hutton 2021

Perspective

My hair was dripping. Droplets trickled off my fringe into my eyes. My sweater hung sodden and heavy on my shoulders. My jeans swished, and my socks squelched.

I trudged miserably along the country road, swearing at myself for not bringing a raincoat, or a brolly, or a damn plastic bag. Anything to fend off this downpour.

I saw him in the distance, sitting on a fence under a tree, a dog by his feet.

“Nice day for it,” he said, as I drew closer.

“For what?” I thought. “Drowning?” But I laughed politely and said, “If you’re a duck.”

A smile spread across his face. “Not even ducks would go out in this shit.” He pushed a sopping curl from his eyes and peered up at the heavy sky. “It’s a little better under here, if you want to wait it out with us?” He dipped his head towards the yellow lab leaning against his leg, looking wretched.

I nodded and watched as he shuffled out of the tree’s protection and patted the wooden railing beside him.

“Now you’re in the rain,” I said, as I clambered onto the fence.

“I don’t mind. Besides, my mum would kill me if I made you sit out in this deluge, while I was getting somewhat less wet.”

“Well, thank you. This storm came out of nowhere, huh?” I felt like an idiot. Who goes for a walk, in weather like this? I tucked a bedraggled strand of hair behind my ear and gazed up at the branches offering me their meagre protection. “Apples,” I said, spying the red fruit for the first time.

He jumped down from the fence, his feet landing in a puddle and spraying mud up his jeans. He grinned. Wide and toothy and dazzling. “Whoops.”

Leaping into the air, he snatched an apple from a branch. The bough flicked back and sprayed us with more water.

We both screamed. Then laughed.

“Sorry about that. Like we needed to be more wet.” He rubbed the red fruit on his soaked t-shirt and handed it to me with a bow of his head. “For you, Milady.”

He blessed me with another stunning smile as I took the apple, then pushed himself back up onto the fence.

“My mum planted this tree,” he said. “This is where she met my dad. On this very spot. On a day like today. Apples were his favourite. He died a couple of years ago.” He gazed at the dog by his feet, reached his hand down and scratched the pup’s ears. “She died yesterday. My mum.”

I drew in a sharp breath. “Oh gosh. I’m so sorry.”

He shrugged. “Thanks. You’re the first person I’ve said that to. “She died. My mum died. It sounds so weird.”

We sat wordlessly for a time, as the patter of raindrops on the leaves above us filled the silence. Two strangers side by side but a million miles apart.

On another day, we might have exchanged names. We might have gone for a coffee. We might have become friends, or maybe something more.

But he was at the beginning of a storm that raged beyond the one churning in the skies above us. A torrential, lashing, sunless storm.

He breathed out a weighty sigh and dropped onto the road. “Anyway, I guess I should go, I’ve got a bit to organise. Thanks for sitting with me. Enjoy the apple and your soggy stroll.”

I watched as he jogged away with his dog by his side.

I looked up at the gloomy clouds that hung dark and pendulous above me, closed my eyes and let the rain pour down over my face. Then I wandered back towards the village, no longer bothered about being soaked. If getting rained on was the worst thing that happened to me today, I was lucky.

©Amy Hutton 2021

The Birthday Surprise – A Holly and Callum Short.

“What’s that smell?” Holly took in a lung full of the stench wafting through the darkened room and coughed. “It stinks worse than you after Mexican food.”

“Funny,” Callum said. He breathed in the fetid air. “Sulphur. Which means it’s a demon. Unless it’s eggs. Or egg farts. Or an egg farting demon. Maybe that’s its evil power. Egg farts.”

She laughed and whacked him on the arm. “Idiot. Let’s get this done and go home.”

“Whatever you say, birthday girl.”

***

Callum sat on the sofa. Bare chested. His t-shirt was in his hand, bunched-up and pressed against his leg. His jeans were torn where he’d slid along a gravel driveway, and an angry wound oozed through the hole in the denim.

Holly knelt on the floor in front of him. “Take your pants off too,” she said.

He pushed himself up, dropped his jeans and stepped out of them. “If you wanted me naked, Holly, you just needed to say the word. Anyway, shouldn’t you be the one in your birthday suit?”

Holly ignored him. Or at least tried to. It wasn’t easy with Callum standing right in front of her, his tight, black boxer briefs practically at eye level.

“I don’t think it needs stitching,” she said, distracting herself by prodding at his leg.

“Ow. Careful.”

“Stop being a baby.”

“Hey. I didn’t ask to get tossed out the door by a goddamn demon.”

“Then you should’ve moved faster.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“A little.”

He laughed and bent forward, cupping her chin in his hand as he crushed his lips to hers.

She shimmied up his lean body and pressed into the warmth of his bare chest, her mouth still glued to his. When he gently pulled away, she almost squeaked in disappointment.

“I got you messy,” he said, his voice little more than a growl.

“You sure did,” Holly said, her heart racing. Then she followed his gaze to her shirt. “Oh. The blood.”

 “Well, hopefully both. But how about I look after my leg and you go clean up. I gotta surprise for you.”

***

Holly scooped her wet hair into a messy bun and opened Callum’s dresser. She slipped on a pair of his boxer briefs, teamed with the crystal earrings he gave her for Christmas, and nothing else. He wanted birthday suit, he was getting birthday suit.

***

“Don’t come in the kitchen,” he called as she walked down the hall.

She perched on a dining chair, sucking in everything that might roll.

He hobbled into the room, wearing a thick bandage around his knee and a World’s Sexiest Cook apron around his waist, his eyes down as he concentrated on carrying a birthday cake ablaze with candles.

“Happy birthday to…” he looked up and froze. A crooked grin spread across his face. “Are those the earrings I gave you?”

Holly burst out laughing. “That’s what you’re noticing?”

“Also,” He placed the cake on the table and turned around. “Great minds.”

Holly’s gaze locked on a firm, naked ass. “Is this my surprise?”

“Technically it was the cake, but…”

“Very nice butt.”

“Do you wanna piece?”

“Of the cake, or you?”

“I’m voting me.” He grabbed the waistband of her boxers and guided her into his arms. “This puts a whole new take on getting into my pants.”

She reached around him and undid his apron ties. It fluttered to the floor. “I’m going to blow…”

Callum’s eyebrows shot up.

“…those candles out,” she said, turning and puffing out the flames.

He threw his head back and laughed, then gazed down at her, his green eyes sparkling. “I love you, Holly Daniels, you know that?”

She smiled, stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. She did know that.

©Amy Hutton 2021

The Bride

It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life.

***

The dress sat perfectly across Katherine’s shoulders. The delicate rose coloured flowers stitched meticulously around the neckline, complimenting her smooth, alabaster skin. Folds of white silk charmeuse cascaded to the floor, trailing out behind her, a trim of intricate lace edging the train.

Her mother adjusted her veil, tucking her fiery ringlets behind the soft tulle.

She shook the ringlets forward and heard her mother sigh.

“You look beautiful,” her mother said. “But maybe you could wear a…”

She waited while the older woman arranged her words.

“…A less bright lipstick?”

Katherine mashed her lips together. They glowed with a slick of scarlet.

“I like it. It matches my hair.”

“It’s just that most brides…”

“Mother.”

“All right,” her mother said, raising her hands in mock surrender. “But you do look beautiful.”

Katherine squeezed out a smile. “Thanks.”

Her mother was right. She did look beautiful. More beautiful than her groom deserved. Even though he was beautiful himself. At least physically. The rest of him was as ugly as any man could be. Brutish and cold and narcissistic.

Her mother handed Katherine a glass of champaign. “Maybe a drink will help with your nerves,” she said, with a titter.

Katherine took the champagne on offer, tossing the bubbly liquid down her throat in one swallow before handing the glass back.

“Or five,” she said, her eyebrows raised.

Her mother took the hint and refilled her glass.

She gazed in the mirror again, barely recognising the woman staring back at her. The one who loved adventure, who danced wildly when no-one was watching, who drove too fast and swore too much, and wanted nothing more than to travel the world, free of commitments and boundaries and barriers.

She knew that life would never be hers now.

***

A year ago, she could never have believed this would be her fate. But a lot can change in a year.

Her father died and left a hole in the family filled with a debt no one knew anything about. Two mortgages on the farm that had been in her mother’s family for four generations.

They tried to get finance. They tried to work the land. They tried everything to keep their heads above water. Her, her mother and her two younger sisters.

They failed.

They sold off most of the stock to simply hold on to the farm. They let the ranch hands go, some who had been with her family nearly all their lives. Roy stayed, of course. More for her mother, than any other reason. He always held a flame.

Their saviour came in the shape of their neighbour. A man who owed his life to her father. Her father had pulled him from a raging river during one almighty Texan storm. They were never friends, but there was a respect between the men that lasted through to the end of her father’s days.

Landry Russell didn’t offer them money, but he did offer up his first-born son.

“A way to join our families and honour your father’s memory,” he had said.

A way to save their farm.

By selling her off.

She knew Walker Russell from school. The quarterback, the homecoming king, the bully. He was handsome beyond any boy she had ever seen. But behind his pretty chestnut eyes, lay a selfish, privileged, cruel young man, who saw himself as better than all around him. He picked on her with her pale skin, and flame coloured hair. He laughed at her father for still working his own land. He told her one day his family would own her ranch.

Seems he was right.

She hated him.

***

Her sisters bundled into the room giggling, their lavender bridesmaid’s dresses billowing behind them.

Laurel was too young to be anything but excited. At fourteen, she had no notion of love. All she cared about were her horses and BTS. Posters of the KPop stars papered her walls. But Justice knew better. She was seventeen, only three years Katherine’s junior, and a senior at the same school her older sister had attended. She understood why Katherine was marrying Walker. She knew it was so their mother could live her remaining years on the land she was born on. She knew it was so her and Laurel could go to college. She understood the sacrifice being made.

Justice looked over Katherine’s shoulder and into the mirror,

“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered in her sister’s ear.

“I do,” Katherine said with a smirk. “See how easy that was?”

Justice shook her head. “I’m going to tell mom you don’t love him.”

Katherine swung around and pretended to fix her sister’s hair. “You will not. Anyway, you don’t know how I feel.”

“Yes, I do. I saw how he used to treat you.”

“People change,” Katherine said with a shrug as she turned back towards the mirror.

“He hasn’t,” Justice said. “Please don’t do this, Kat. Please.”

Katherine smiled at her reflection, “Okay, ya’ll,” she said as she reached back and squeezed Justice’s hand. “I’m fixin’ to get married, who’s with me?”

Her mother and Laurel let out a hoot.

~~*~~

Delicate silk billowed around her like a shimmering marshmallow, as Katherine dropped to the ground and leant heavily against the old phone booth.

She gathered up the voluminous skirt and shoved it between her knees.

Pushing her shoes off with her heels, she tossed them one at a time towards the lake. They landed on the shore edge, a gentle wave claiming the left one and pulling it into the watery expanse. She watched as it drifted back and forth on the lapping tide, before it slowly sunk.

“Just like my life,” she said, as she wrenched the veil from her meticulously constructed up-do. Her flame red curls cascaded down in a messy mop of backcombing and bobby pins.

A dinging sound made her jump, and she fished around under the masses of white fabric, shoving her hand into the pocket she’d fought for when designing her gown. The one choice that was truly hers out of the whole god forsaken mess. Pockets.

She pulled out her phone and stared at the screen with its seventeen missed calls, sighed, and buried the phone back in the folds of her dress.

***

Everything had changed for Katherine when the limo transporting her to the church stopped for a herd of cows on their way to market. In a moment of clarity, Katherine saw the plight of those cows as being the same as her own. Plodding mindlessly forward to where they were expected to go. Passively accepting their fate. Lumbering towards the end of their life.

Without thinking, she’d dived from the car and dashed towards a thicket of trees, with no clue where she was going. Only that it was away. As far away as she could get from her shot gun wedding and a bitter future without love.

As she’d stumbled through the undergrowth, the sound of her name being hollered behind her became nothing more than a whisper on the wind, until finally it stopped. She knew her mother would never speak to her again. She knew she was being selfish. She was turning her back on her family. On their history. On her heritage. On everything she was ever taught to respect and cherish. But in that moment, as she’d clambered over fallen trees and through the long grass, Katherine felt free. The freest she’d been in years. Her future was hers once again, and no amount of money was worth throwing that away. Even if that meant losing the only life she had known since she was born.

When she burst out of the forest and onto the old highway, she’d flagged down a passing truck and a man, the age her father would have been if he were still alive, gave her a ride.

He hadn’t asked a single question, as she clambered aboard with swathes of wedding dress frothing around her. He’d talked only of the weather and the marvellous music playing on his ancient radio.

The man had dropped her by a phone booth beside Lake Pines, handing her a fist full of change and wishing her luck.

***

The coins jangled now as she stood.

***

Katherine’s Uber pulled up, its wheels crunching on the gravel.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the driver’s shocked face. She must have looked a sight. A wayward bride. Barefoot and bedraggled. Marbled patches of mud smeared down the front of her white dress and a tangle of hair hanging over her face.

She would fix it all. Fix everything. She would make it up to her mother. To her family. She would fine another way. A way that didn’t involve selling herself for a plot of land. Her father wouldn’t have wanted that for her, and once her mother understood, she was sure she wouldn’t want it either.

She slid onto the backseat, her one shoe in her hand, and stuffed her dress between her knees as she put on her seatbelt.

The driver gazed at her in the review mirror. “Bad day?” he said, the corners of his mouth twitching.

Katherine thought for a moment, then smiled.

“Happiest day of my life.”

©Amy Hutton 2021

The Last Sunrise

It would be my last sunrise.

The last time I glimpse the orange streaks stretching across the wide blue sky. The sun shimmering gold above the ocean as its dazzling light glistens off the frothy peaks of the waves.

My breath catches in my throat at the sheer beauty of it. Nature at her most glorious.

A young woman rides along the footpath atop the headland where I stand. She stops and pulls her bicycle onto the grass beside me.

“Gosh. It’s a stunner this morning,” she says.

I nod and hum an affirmative.

***

It’s been centuries since he witnessed the spectacle of the dawn. His eyes have not gazed on the sun, nor experienced its warmth for four hundred years.

He watches it rise in movies. The colours vividly captured on celluloid. The grandeur of the moment frozen in time. He strains to remember the touch of it on his cold flesh. The lick of its heat.

He studies the photos I take for him and eagerly listens as I explain every glint, every shade, every sensation the still image does not capture.

I consider how startling he would be in sunlight’s brilliance. His alabaster skin, eternally shadowed by the night, gleaming iridescent. His striking face illuminated, and his green eyes blazing.

I will never see him like that.

Just as I will never see another sunrise.

***

I draw a deep breath, holding the air trapped in my lungs until they burn. Savouring the scent of the sea spray that follows the air down.

I won’t breathe after today. My nostrils will never again tickle from the breeze. My chest will never rise and fall. I exhale an exaggerated puff and marvel at how my lips tingle as the air passes over them.

I will miss it. All of it. But I don’t regret my decision.

Not when I feel his mouth on mine, or his cool touch against my searing hot skin. Not when his hard body presses into me, as his butterfly soft kisses dust my shoulders, and his powerful hands caress my back.

I would give up everything for that.

I will give up everything.

I selfishly want him to love me forever, and if that means dying for him, then I shall.

A tear splashes onto my cheek and I swipe it away before another can follow.

I take one last wistful look at the fledgling day and turn and walk towards my car.

***

He holds my hand in his. “You’re sure?” 

I gaze at his handsome face. His eyes long dead, yet still full of love, crave reassurance.

“I’m positive,” I say, and tenderly kiss his icy cheek.

He runs his nail across my palm, drawing a thin line of blood.

I hiss at the pain and wince as he dips the nib of the quill into the fresh wound.

Red liquid drips from the pen’s end as he hands it to me.

My signature in an ancient book is all it takes to end my life.

I close my eyes and picture the sunrise, fixing it eternally in my mind, before inking my name on the page.

My death was a brief one.

© Amy Hutton 2021