Novel Excerpt: The First Two Scenes

Okay, okay. I said I was going to share an excerpt of the opening scenes of my novel’s second draft, and so here they are. Any feedback is appreciated. I’m concerned there might be too much exposition (aka the infamous “info dump”), or that the openings may be a little too… depressing? dark? to hold readers’ interest. Let me know what you think! Remember, this is a draft still, so any typos/missing words/inconsistencies will eventually be fixed. :p

Yes, this is the book that I first wrote in November 2015 for National Novel Writing Month. It’s undergoing some major edits right now, and this is part of what I’ve edited so far. The Granddaughters is the current tentative title of the book, but the second draft has changed so much that that title doesn’t really fit it anymore. Still waiting for a new one to strike.

And be warned: It’s a fairly long excerpt.

If someone wasn’t looking close enough, they’d think the antlers were just branches swaying a little in the cool evening breeze. But Maya knew better. There was a time when she would’ve expected to see a stag’s nose poke through the bushes, but these antlers were different: They were made of bark. Fingers parted the bushes – brown, pointed fingers that curled at the ends like roots – and the creature peered back at Maya. Or at least, she thought it did. Its face was eyeless, featureless, and its vaguely humanoid form was only a mass of tangled hawthorn leaves. Every move it made was accompanied by the soft rustling and creaking sounds that trees were prone to make when the wind moved them, except that there was no wind and this tree creature moved on its own. It wasn’t an animal. And it definitely wasn’t human.

It was a dryad.

Maya didn’t move, recalling everything she learned about observing wildlife back in the old Zoology textbook she used to check out of the public library to read and reread when she was a kid. Stay still, the book advised. Keep your distance. Try not to interfere. Live and let live.

Maybe dryads didn’t fit into any taxonomic domain that Maya knew of, but this was a rare opportunity to study the behavior of one of them. She’d seen them sometimes out of the corners of her eyes, following her and her friends through the vast wilderness that was once the town of Salem as they looked for a safe place to camp. But these creatures, these dryads, were like dust, scattering to the wind every time Maya turned to face them head-on. This was the first time one of them had ever come anywhere near humans, as far as she knew.

It could’ve been that the dryads were getting braver because there were only two of the group left now. Just her and Drew, who was on the ground next to her, catching up on sleep while Maya kept watch. The others… Well, what happened to them was not going to happen to her.

It was Latasha who identified the dryads for what they were. She was a quiet girl with big glasses, big hair, and big teeth, the type that always carried musty old books cradled tight against her chest. Her intended major was Classics, and she still privately worshipped a lot of the old Roman and Greek gods. Maya met her just months before the world changed. They were both freshmen at the local state college, though Latasha wanted to transfer eventually.

It was Latasha who started the BWC on campus – the Black Witches’ Coven – because she couldn’t find any other covens in Salem that were very welcoming to black witches, and even those who did accept them among their ranks just didn’t get it. Not that they were all bad, or intentionally racist. They were just a little clueless. Whether they were friendly or not, many of them made little to no room for any black pagan practices or Afro-Caribbean faiths. It was hard to feel truly welcomed, to feel included, when you were made to feel so different from everyone else.

Or so Latasha said. Maya sort of understood. She grew up in Boston, where her parents moved from Salem when she was little. Most of her classmates at the private Catholic schools she attended were white, and they either threw slurs at her or fawned over her, vying for her approval like she was some special snowflake. She was sure most of them did this just so they could shout, “I have a black friend,” whenever someone accused them of racism. Never mind that she didn’t hang out with most of those kids outside of school and didn’t really consider them friends herself. It made her uncomfortable, knowing that only a small handful of her classmates valued her as a human being and not as a ticket out of trouble. She imagined it was much the same in the magick circles around Salem.

BWC was the first coven Maya ever joined. She was glad she did, grateful that Latasha had started it in the first place. After all, Latasha was right: It was nice to have a private space where they could all practice their beliefs together, without fear of judgment. They could just be. There were two or three other covens on campus, but Latasha told Maya that when she tried to join them and mentioned that her love of magick and folklore stemmed from her older brother’s love of all things Hoodoo, they all looked at her like she was a devil. She suffered through one long, awkward week as a member of one of those covens – the one that seemed most open-minded – trying to correct the other witches’ perception of her and her fellow Vodouists, before finally giving up and starting a coven of her own.

Maya smiled now, remembering the way she took an instant liking to Latasha. They were fast friends. Latasha was just such an open, honest girl, and they had so much in common it was scary. Both grew up in the Boston area, both were raised by middle-upper class parents, and they even shared the same patterns in their love lives. Maya found that Latasha – Tasha, she said Maya should call her – also once dated a rich white boy, but felt fetishized and objectified, more like an act of rebellion against the boy’s racist parents than a partner. Early in high school, both girls dated lower class white boys who genuinely seemed to love them, but things just didn’t work out; boys and girls alike were too young at that age to understand what they wanted in life and love. And soon after they met, both Tasha and Maya met new guys within a few days of each other: Odiche and Drew, two other black witches. The girls had good feelings about these guys, and would often double date.

But most of all, what they really loved to do together was sit and talk about creatures both real and fantasy. Tasha was fascinated by some of the absurd animals that really existed in the world, and she often used those creatures to support her belief that things like dragons and unicorns could – and maybe once even did, or someday would – exist. Maya often backed her up, bouncing ideas about these creatures’ potential biological makeup back and forth with her friend.

So of course, while others thought the world had gone to hell, Latasha thought heaven had arrived on earth. The dryads fascinated her. So did the nymphs and the kelpies in the ocean, the dragons in the skies, and whatever else was out there. “I knew it!” she said, the first time they glimpsed a unicorn through the trees. She wanted to see it all.

The new species fascinated Maya too. But while Tasha was just excited to see her favorite myths and fairytales come to life, Maya wanted to watch and learn, she wanted to connect with them, to interact. Tasha wanted to observe from afar and take in the magick and wonder of it all, but Maya wanted to know how it all worked, how all these creatures lived and functioned and existed. She had a natural curiosity when it came to wildlife that she was sure would get her into trouble eventually. If Maya ever encountered a dragon, Tasha used to say, someone would have to drag her out the way; otherwise she’d die standing before it with a gaping mouth, amazed and honored to see such a creature up-close even as it shot a jet of flames at her. The same went for more mundane animals, too: bears, stags, wolves. They could maul her to death, and she’d still be grateful for the opportunity to get so close to them.

Dryads were a whole new territory. She knew nothing about them outside of the stories Tasha told. What did they eat? Did they eat at all? Were they dangerous to humans? To other creatures? Tasha had no answers for her, since tales of mythological creatures tended to vary. Whatever the case, Maya sure as hell wasn’t about to let the chance to bond with one slip from her fingertips. She wanted to earn the creature’s trust. There was no better feeling in the world than that moment when a connection was made between two species. So despite her racing heartbeat she remained still, her sleeping bag wrapped around her shoulders, barely daring to blink.

The dryad inched forward, its movement flowing and graceful, its root-like limbs feeling the ground beneath it and digging in for support. It headed straight towards her, stepping slowly, one, two, three steps, its leaves rustling. It stretched out an arm-like limb towards Maya, who slowly reached out her own fingers –

“I can’t sleep.”

She’d forgotten about Drew. She thought he slept, didn’t notice that his breathing was shallow and uneven and not the peaceful rhythmic breath of sleep.

Completely unaware of the dryad’s presence, Drew shifted onto his side to face Maya and spoke.

And just like that, the dryad vanished. Its roots burrowed into the ground, and its leaves swept away on the breeze, and Maya was left sitting tense as a bowstring in her sleeping bag, staring at the place where the creature just stood.

Drew spoke again when she didn’t reply, didn’t move. “Hey. Maya? Babe?” He propped himself up on his elbow. “I said I can’t sleep. I been thinkin’ about something.”

Maya didn’t answer, didn’t even turn to look at Drew for a long time. Finally, after several long breaths, she dug her nails into the dirt, grabbed a good fistful of it, and chucked it at him. The dirt hit Drew in the chest and some of it fell into his sleeping bag. He sat all the way up and swore.

“Did you not see that dryad?” said Maya, ignoring his foul language.

Drew’s eyes widened, shining in the dark. “No,” he said. “What dryad?”

“It was right there, Drew. It was coming straight at me.”

“Then it’s a good thing I scared it off. That thing could’a hurt you. Could’a hurt me.”

Maya’s face burned. “They’re harmless!” she hissed. Though she was angry and she wanted to yell, she was too aware that raising her voice could get them in serious trouble. For all either of them knew, they were still being watched, being followed. Hunted. “It was curious, that’s all. And that was the chance of a lifetime you just ruined.”

“You do not know that they’re harmless,” said Drew.

Maya glared. “Yes I do. Tasha said—”

“Fine, fine, I’m sorry! Jesus.” Drew raised his hands in surrender. “I don’t feel like arguing. I was tryin’ to tell you, I got to thinking and—”

“I’m tired, Drew,” said Maya. That was a lie; she was too hyped up now on adrenaline to sleep. But she was also too angry at Drew to listen to him. Hungry, too. She’d only eaten a little bag of sunflower seeds in the past twelve hours, and she was starting to snap. “Whatever you have to say, it’ll just have to wait ‘til morning.”

Drew gripped her arm. “No,” he said. “It’s gotta be now. I’ve gotta get this off my chest. That’s why I can’t sleep.”

Maya was about to pull her arm away and flop into her sleeping bag, but Drew gazed directly at her, his round eyes shining so bright in the dark, so intense, that she couldn’t refuse. He didn’t smile. Maya’s stomach flipped. Whatever it was he had to say, it was serious. She gazed straight back at him, frowning.

“What is it?”

For a second she thought maybe he was about to say he loved her. They’d been dating almost half a year now. If he didn’t love her by now, he never would.

But he released her arm and looked away, as if ashamed. It was a while before he spoke. And then, “I can’t stay here,” he said quietly. Then louder, more confidently, “I can’t stay in Salem.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“It’s not safe here, Maya. You saw what happened to the others—”

Maya held up a finger to silence him. She tried not to think of the last time she saw Tasha, of the heavy scent of sweat and blood, the broken glasses in the dirt. The smell of smoke, the rope swinging from the tree branch. It happened – and not just to Tasha, but to Odiche, and Mohammed, and Char, and Roxie too. Every other member of the coven.

They all thought they were prepared, that they knew how to survive in a world like this. They stuck together, pooled all their magickal energy, learned to create protective barriers, to draw strength from the earth, to heal. Odiche had a few spell books in his pack, Char carried gemstones and geodes, and they all had the wands Roxie and Mohammed had fashioned for everyone with twigs and wires and crystal dust back at the beginning of the semester. While they survived, they studied, grew, became the best witches they could be. Together.

But they were outnumbered, and there was nothing any of them could do. It happened. And it all happened so quickly.

There was no changing it. Maya and Drew were the only ones who escaped. Now all that the two of them could do was move on and survive.

Sitting before her, Drew took Maya’s hand. “Babe, I’ve got a family down south,” he said. “Little brothers, sisters. My parents and grandparents.” Maya tried to slip her fingers free of his grip, but he held firmly. “We don’t have to separate. You can come with me.” His voice lifted with optimism, and he smiled nervously.

“There’s only one problem,” said Maya. “All the family I got left is in the opposite direction.”

Her hand was freed. Drew let go and dropped his hands into his lap.

“It ain’t safe here, Maya,” he said. “I need to leave as soon as possible. I can’t take this anymore – the night watches, the sneaking around, the whispering. It’s too much for anyone to take. My nerves are outta control.”

“Come with me. We can find my grandpa and then head south together, all three of us. He’s old, but he’s really powerful. He’s got better healing magick then I’ll ever have. The whole world could be dangerous now. We have no clue what’s going on out there, or if any city is even still standing. I mean, we talked about this. Someone woulda sent help to Salem if it was just us dealing with all this stuff.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, her turn now to resort to the persuasive power of affection. “We’re safer together.”

But Drew just kept shaking his head. “I can’t,” he said, “I can’t, I can’t,” over and over again. His eyes glistened with fresh tears. “Don’t you get it?” Maya’s heart broke at how thick his voice sounded. At least she knew he really wanted to stick together. But was it because he was afraid to go it alone, or because he loved her? “This might be a new world we’re living in,” he explained, “but the people haven’t changed. Human history’s repeating itself, same as always. Those people ain’t hunting us just for sport – they’re hunting us ‘cause they think we caused all this. It’s another witch hunt.” The longer he spoke, the more his voice trembled and cracked like the earth during a quake. “I don’t want to be caught in the middle of that. We need to get out while we can.”

“And, what, just abandon my family?”

“You don’t know Amos is still even alive—”

“You don’t know your family’s still alive.” That shut Drew up. “You don’t even know that this isn’t going on everywhere else. Maybe the Hunters are all over the world. Maybe they’re killing witches in every state between here and California. There is no guarantee—”

Drew shushed her and glanced around at the trees surrounding them. “You’re being loud,” he said. It was true; she raised her voice with every point she made. Glowering, she clamped her mouth shut and listened carefully for any sign that they were overheard.

Nothing. Their protection spells seemed to be holding, though with only the two of them left, they didn’t feel half as safe as they used to.

The brief pause in their argument cooled Maya’s anger, only for it to be replaced with a sudden and painful panic as she imagined trying to live without Drew. Now her eyes watered too, and she struggled to breathe.

“You’re right, I don’t know what’s out there,” said Drew, and for a moment Maya held her breath, her lungs and heart full of hope. “But—” of course there was a ‘but,’ “—I’m willing to take my chances out in the rest of the world. I love you, Maya, but Salem’s just too full of bad karma.”

She could barely hear him over the roaring sound in her ears, the sound of that momentary glimpse of hope flowing right out of her.

“Just stay with me,” she begged, tangling all of her fingers with his on his lap. “Please, Drew. Please. I can’t be alone, not again. I don’t even know the first thing about survival.” Drew only shook his head some more. Even in the dark, Maya could see the tears shining against his brown skin. She leaned forward, lifted their joined hands to her forehead as if in prayer. “Please, please, don’t leave me, please. I love you, I love you, please.” Her shoulders shook and she wasn’t even sure Drew could understand her through her sobbing. This was not the way she had wanted their first ‘I love you’s’ to come out. She wasn’t even sure she was telling him the truth, that she really loved him and wasn’t just saying it out of desperation.

She must have been a pathetic sight. She’d been here once or twice before, begging boys not to leave her, and it never worked. It only left her feeling like a fool. Would she ever learn?

But no, this time was different. She wasn’t just afraid of breaking up with Drew; she was afraid one or both of them would die because of this decision. This wasn’t the kind of world where they could go back to their respective homes and mourn their relationship in peace and heal with the help of friends and family. The second they parted ways, they were truly alone. Maya wasn’t even sure she could find her grandpa’s house on her own, the way Salem looked now.

“Just say you’ll stay, just wait for me to get Amos and then we can leave here together,” she pleaded, trying to get him to look her in the eyes.

He wouldn’t.

“No,” he said, “I’ve gotta go now. Please understand.” He pulled his hands free of hers, got to his feet, and started rolling up his sleeping bag. Maya stood too and wrapped her arms around herself, shaking with silent tears.

When he was all set, his pack over his shoulders, Drew came to a halt before her. He cupped her face and kissed her softly. But Maya smothered any spark of hope. It was only goodbye.

“I wish you would come with me, girl.”

She broke. As soon as Drew pulled away she flung herself at him, unable to hold herself together. Her sobs evolved into wails, loud enough to startle a nearby bird from its tree.

“No, no, please!” she begged, and begged, and begged, clinging to his t-shirt. Her throat felt so dry and sore as she gasped for breath.

Drew pressed her face into his chest in an attempt to stifle her cries. He tensed, and Maya could smell fresh sweat in his t-shirt. Over and over again he shushed her, lightly smoothing his hand over her hair, trying to calm her, all the while turning her slightly as he twisted around to glance between the trees. She knew she should be quieter, that the protection spells would only hide so much and she would get them caught if she didn’t shut up. But she couldn’t. Any semblance of self-control had long left her. This was the first time she had let herself break down since the end of the world.

“Maya, please,” Drew hissed, his breath warm against the top of her head. He pushed her gently away, shaking his head. He looked angry. It was not the reaction Maya was hoping for. She wanted him to say it would all be okay, that he would go north with her to get her grandfather, and then double back south. But the more she cried, she knew she was only setting his decision in stone. That was how this situation always played out. Knowing that didn’t stop her crying though.

“I have to go. I have to get out of here.”

He turned and ran into the trees.

***

Outside of Ros’s apartment window, there were once buildings, cars, bikes, people – something that actually resembled civilization. The window once actually had glass in its frame too, and the tree, the only tree, on the front lawn of the complex wasn’t tall enough to reach her second-story apartment. No branch, no vines poked through her window, ripped holes in her curtains, spilled their leaves on her floor. Her space was her own, three or so months ago. Not so anymore.

She was luckier than most. Maybe the luckiest in Salem. When she sat before her window now every night and looked out on what was once her hometown, she saw mostly the branches of the young oak tree, yes – but if she peered carefully enough she could see what was left of the world.

There wasn’t much. Mother Nature had reclaimed what was hers. Most buildings fell in the quakes, leaving behind ruins and rubble. Powerful roots cracked the roads and crushed cars in their grip as if alive with a vengeance. The earth swallowed up much of the debris, leaving rusting vehicles and slabs of concrete here and there. Salem was no longer a city; it was a forest.

Like every night for the past three months now, Ros sat before her window in her rocking chair and wondered how she had survived. Why was her apartment still standing? The building around Room 247 crumbled, but the section where her room was remained intact somehow. Even the staircase outside her door went untouched. But up on the third floor the roof had caved in, and in the center of the lobby another tree had grown, this one a giant hawthorn that looked too ancient to have sprouted so quickly. It was taller than two stories and it punched a hole right through the lobby’s ceiling. If Ros dared to step out of her apartment – which she hadn’t for several weeks now – she came face-to-face with its thick trunk.

On that first night, once the chaos had ceased, she ventured outside to find most of the building around her gone. How her apartment still stood was beyond her.

It had to have been sheer luck. She was a medium, not a healer, not a protector. And she was a mediocre one at that. Her wards were only strong enough to protect her home from a few types of otherworldly attacks, not from earthquakes or storms – or dragon fire. And yet her humble apartment had withstood all three. Her TV tipped over and shattered, though it had stopped working when the power cut out a few minutes earlier anyway; a few vases and lamps crashed to the floor, and some paintings fell from their nails. The biggest damage was the ceiling fan in her bedroom, which came loose and swung from its wire now, leaving a makeshift skylight and a crack in her wall where the blades had hit it. Ros wasn’t even in the room at the time it fell; she spent the entirety of that long night huddled under the doorframe of her bedroom, her knees drawn to her chest, her face buried in her hands, trying not to listen to the screaming and the roaring and the sirens outside, to ignore the floor trembling beneath her.

She could sit and wonder all she wanted. She would never know how she had survived, while most of her neighbors died. She wasn’t even sure she would ever see another human being again. Salem was nearly a ghost town now, with only a few stragglers wandering past her window every now and then. The first few days there had been more people around, stumbling over the debris outside, looking for loved ones, for authority figures, for shelter. Once or twice Ros let strangers stay under her roof, but they all moved on quickly, muttering something about family to find. She wished them all good luck and let them go their own way. Others didn’t want to stay, but merely knocked on her door looking for food or directions, as if she knew any better than them what the world looked like now. She wondered if they thought she was the strange, wise and wild Witch-with-a-capital-W living in her little curious home in the woods. Maybe she was just exactly that now, in her own way at least. She was by no means powerful, but she still had a magick of her own.

Some of the strangers asked her what she would do, if she had any family of her own to search for. But she didn’t. Her parents were long gone from the earth. No children, no. She never had any, never wanted any either. Strangers (both before and after The End) would look at Ros with a sad smile every time she told them this and say, “That’s a pity.” And nowadays she didn’t know how that made her feel, so she would simply smile back, press some food or water into their hands, and send them along.

She was sad, it was true. But not for lack of a husband or kids. No, she liked being alone for the most part, although in this new world she felt like she had no other choice but to enjoy her solitude. She’d been sad for a long time, long before the world changed. Ros often wondered, for years now, whether she really was simply too—

A soft knock at the door startled Ros from her thoughts.

She didn’t move from her seat at first, not sure if she could trust her ears. How long had it been since she last saw a fellow human’s face, heard another human’s voice? Over a month, at the very least. Never mind that she had enough food and fresh water to last her a few weeks or more; forced isolation could drive anyone mad, even the healthiest of people. She sat listening, wondering if it was just her mind playing tricks on her. But then the knock came again, and the doorknob twisted as if someone were trying to open it from the other side.

Ros pushed herself up from the rocking chair, careful to hold the arms and keep its creaking to a minimum. Stepping lightly in her bare feet over the hardwood floor, she kept her ears perked and listened with baited breath for a voice, friendly or otherwise.

The stranger knocked again, louder this time. Ros crossed the moonlit room to the kitchen area and slipped a kitchen knife from one of the drawers. It wasn’t much of a defense, but it was better than nothing. On the floor beside the counter was an emergency pack, full of a few of her prized possessions, a change of clothes, and some extra food and water. If she had to run, she was ready. The broken window and the tree outside were the perfect escape route.

“Ros?”

She froze. “No,” she whispered. Her pulse raced, her face grew warm, but a part of her felt – happy?

“Ros, you in there? It’s me.”

She reached the door and stood still, the knife held loosely in her hand.

“It’s Dean.”

The peephole. She should look through it, just to verify. There was no mistaking his strong voice, but still, better safe than sorry. Hardly daring to touch the door, Ros peered through the peephole into the dark stairway outside. There stood a man, his pale face just barely lit by the edge of a flashlight’s beam. He looked back at the peephole, but Ros knew he would be unable to see her.

“Ros, I… I hope you’re okay in there. I’m probably the last person you want to see, but I’m… I’m sick. I need help. I got hurt out there.” Ros squinted, trying to get a better look at him. Now that he mentioned it, he did look sickly – too thin, his cheeks even hollower than they were all those years ago.

No – no. Watching him, looking at him, it was a bad idea. It was how she had fallen for every little lie he told her while they were together. He was an actor, after all. Never a movie star, but a damned good stage actor, and charming in every way possible. He knew just how to stand, just what tone of voice to use, just how to smile or widen his eyes, in order to manipulate people into giving him what he wanted. It was his own brand of magick.

“And… I’m sorry, okay?” he continued. His voice was suddenly husky. She could imagine just the look on his face right now: huge blue eyes glittering with fake tears, the corners of his lips turned down just so. He would be wringing his hands too of course. He always did. “Can you please forgive me? I know an apology doesn’t mean much to you now, especially because… well, now you know I need you. You must think I’m just using you.” He paused, looked down, shuffled his feet uncertainly. “I mean it though. I do.” She heard something thump softly against the door; his forehead, perhaps. “I made a mistake. I should have stayed. You have to believe me, I—”

He stopped, interrupted by the sudden onset of a coughing fit. It sounded nasty. Ros leaned forward again to catch another quick glimpse of him. The flashlight’s beam bounced around the stairway as he shook with every cough. They sounded real enough. And was that – was that a bandage she saw wrapped around his left hand?

When the coughing passed, Ros stepped away from the peephole once more. And then Dean went on, “These past few years have been hell for me. Not a day went by where I didn’t regret leaving you. I mean it, Ros.” His voice shook, and she could hear him quietly begin to weep.

Ros had imagined this day many, many times in the past. She had imagined slamming the door in his face and leaving him out in the pouring rain, shrugging her shoulders and walking away from him, even throwing hot tea in his face or spitting at him. She had pictured it happening right here in her apartment, in the grocery store, in a bar, at her favorite restaurant, at the bookstore where she worked part-time, on the street, even at her wedding. That is, if she ever met someone else and chose to have one of course.

But she hadn’t imagined it like this. How could she know, after all, that they would be some of the only survivors of the apocalypse?

“I love you, Rosaline.” Dean tried now to get his tears under control. “I… I know you’re in there. I saw you sitting in the window when I got here. But I—I understand if you don’t want to let me in. You don’t have to. I just thought maybe we… maybe we could start over. At the very least I needed to tell you how I felt.”

Ros looked again. Dean had taken a seat on the top step of the staircase, his back to the door, his shoulders shaking.

Looking was a mistake. She knew it in her gut, in her mind, and even in her heart, but she did it anyway. And without giving it much of a second thought she stepped back, unbolted and unchained the door, and let it swing soundlessly open.

It was a while before she spoke. She couldn’t for a long time, forgot how to use her voice. Whether this was the result of nerves or a lack of use or both, she was unsure. For several breaths, she stood watching Dean where he sat, wondering if he was real, if he was truly there before her or if this was just the past several weeks of isolation finally driving her mad.

“Dean.” She didn’t remember ordering herself to speak, didn’t recall even opening her mouth, but there it was, his name a whisper that carried through the dark.

He froze and turned to look over his shoulder. When he saw Ros standing there, he leapt to his feet and smiled at her despite the redness around his eyes.

Overwhelmed, she quickly turned her back on him, gesturing with a nod of her head for him to follow her into the apartment. This was always a critique of his when they had been together – that she couldn’t look him in the eye. Look at me, he would beg whenever they argued. Why she always struggled to do so, even when they weren’t fighting, she struggled to put into words. It wasn’t that she didn’t think she was pretty enough for him, that she lacked confidence in her appearance. Far from it. She wasn’t in the best of shape, true, but she had grown to love herself in her own way in the past forty-something years, right down to her crooked nose, her crows’ feet, her snaggletooth.

There was just something about Dean that intimidated her. In all their years together she hardly looked him in the eyes. Maybe there was a part of her that thought he was too good for her. Too big and too mighty to notice someone as tiny and irrelevant as Ros. Too selfless, too good for a woman who was always so wrapped up in thoughts of herself. She was always a little bit stunned that he ever even asked her out, let alone proposed to her. So she couldn’t look him in the eyes.

And maybe that was why he never fell in love with her. Love started in the eyes after all, and she never let her look into hers.

No. No, that wasn’t right. She still loved him, even without the eye contact. So then—

“Ros.”

There was a cold, metallic click behind her, the sound of another pair of footsteps coming up the stairs. Ros’s blood froze.

“Turn around, Ros.”

Her shoulders slumped in disappointment and she let out a deep sigh. Then she did as she was told, only to find Dean pointing a revolver in her face.

That’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed. 🙂

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