A Reason for Being: Chapter Five

Point of Negation, A reason for being, death to stock photos

Chapter Five

 Fifteen months earlier.

 The first time Meredith laid eyes on Tyler, she had been running. Always running.

She had been running on a beach, back and forth across the five-mile stretch of shore. It was early morning, humid and grey, and the weather was not good. The waves crashed on the shore with a certain stormy vengeance, Neptune’s message to mere mortals that he wasn’t too pleased with the damage they had inflicted upon his underwater kingdom with their oil spills and chemical dumps, a warning that one day soon he would rise up and unleash his fury and drown the world with his dissatisfaction.

She was beginning her final lap when he strolled down to the beach, wearing an olive green T-shirt and board shorts, bare of foot. He had a dog with him, a German shepherd, prancing and barking, delighted to be out on this wild, windy day.

He’d smiled at her as she sprinted past. She had managed a sort of grimace, being too out of breath to do anything but concentrate on running, on not breaking her stride, her rhythm. Meredith’s kind of run was a run so fast, it didn’t leave much room to think of anything else.

He was still there with his dog when she returned, her feet slowing because she had almost reached the end of her run. She ran past them, and allowed her feet to turn and guide her, not to the Guesthouse, but into the ocean. Being on the beach, she had chosen to run barefoot, and soon she was standing knee-deep in the water, sweat running down her face and neck and arms. Waves crashed against her legs, pelting her T-shirt and shorts and threatening to send her tumbling back.

“It’s good in the water, isn’t it?”

She whipped around at the voice.

The boy was standing calf-deep in the water just a few feet away, smiling at her. Further down, his dog was splashing happily in the surf, barking at some crabs.

“It’s strange,” he went on, “but sometimes I find myself preferring days like these, you know, when the sea is at its most powerful, when it seems so …” he paused, looking searchingly over the ocean, “… so alive,” he finished, turning back to her.

She stared at him, silent.

“I’ve seen you running every morning for the past few days. I live just over there.” He nodded to a beach house further up the shore. It was a severe rectangular building, white and grey with lots of tinted windows. Expensive-looking. “I guess you’re staying at the Guesthouse next door?”

She nodded, still silent.

“My name’s Tyler,” he said. “Tyler Berhansen. What’s yours?”

Meredith flinched, as if he’d struck her. She stared at him for a few fierce seconds, then said shortly, “I’m nobody.” With that, she turned and moved past him, sloshing through the waves back to shore. Once her feet hit the sand, she took off, kicking up clumps of sand and splattering Tyler as she ran up the beach.

 *

Berninski. Present Day.

183 East Angel Square was a tower block of flats in the affluent neighbourhood of East Berninski. Tyler’s flat was on the ninth floor, a rental, spacious and sparsely furnished. “There are towels in the bathroom,” he said as he pushed the front door shut. “I’ll get you a plaster and some aspirin. Is your head still hurting?”

“A little,” Meredith admitted.

He disappeared into the kitchen, and Meredith went into the bathroom. She was towelling her hair dry when she heard the sound of glass shattering.

Meredith was in the kitchen in a flash, skidding to a halt just shy of the broken glass and spilt water covering the tiles. Tyler was crouched in the centre of the mess, head in his hands, trembling violently.

Meredith froze. Her first instinct was to turn and run for the door. Instead, she cursed and dropped to her knees, scooping up a piece of glass. “Tyler, damnit,” she said, and cut her wrist open.

Scarlet blood welled up. Meredith leaned forward and pressed the cut over Tyler’s mouth, pushing his head back for better access. He struggled at first, but he wasn’t one to put up a fight, not right then, and her blood flowed freely down his throat.

Several long, hungry gulps. Meredith thought about red wine, about full-bodied cabernet sauvignons. Then Tyler was shoving her wrist away, her blood smearing messily across his face. His back arched and he gasped sharply, his eyes rolling up. A final shudder rippled through him. Then it was over and he sank back in on himself, shoulders sagging, head bowed to his chest, a penitent form.

*

Meredith stood unsteadily and stumbled over to the sink. She stuck her wrist under the tap for a few quick, stinging moments, then grabbed a tea towel off the counter and wound it tight around her wrist. Scarlet blood soaked the checked cloth. It’s the cocktails. Alcohol thins the blood, makes it run faster. But I only had two drinks. She wished she’d had more.

She jumped, startled out of her thoughts, as Tyler reached past her to turn the faucet off. He didn’t look at her as he picked up the first aid kit lying on the counter and took her arm, leading her away from the mess of blood and water and glass in the kitchen. He sat her down on the couch in the lounge and set about taping her wrist. She watched as he smoothed the hair off her face and slicked a plaster over her forehead, all without meeting her gaze. He continued to smooth her hair back, still not looking at her. Finally, his hands stilled against her hair.

Meredith’s gaze dropped to his mouth, the corners blood-stained and tugged down in unhappiness. She sighed and glanced up to meet a pair of sea-green eyes, filled with that same unhappiness.

She wasn’t sure who made the first move, but suddenly she found herself in his arms, one hand gently cradling the back of her head while his mouth searched out every part of hers, reacquainting itself with familiar, much-missed territory. Her arms slid around his shoulders; her mouth parted and his tongue entered, heat and tenderness and need mingling, sending dizzying thrills running through her body. He pushed her back against the arm of the sofa, leaning over her, his mouth never once leaving hers.

“Meredith,” he murmured against her mouth.

He pulled away to kiss the corner of her lips, her cheekbones, her eyebrows, the cut on her forehead, her ear, her neck. She leant forward and put her face into his collarbone, seeking out the melange of senses that made him what he was, her hand reaching up under his shirt to brush against the warm skin there.

That was when he stiffened and made to pull back, but not before Meredith herself yanked her hand away with a yelp.

Tyler cursed and sat up, breathing hard. Meredith stared at her hand in surprise, the fingertips swollen and red.

“Shit,” he said. “I’m so sorry, I forgot –” he reached for her hand, but Meredith pulled back before he could touch her.

What was that?”

Tyler hesitated. His mouth opened and closed; for once, he seemed at a loss for words.

Meredith narrowed her eyes. “Take off your jacket,” she ordered.

He bit his lip, looking slightly mulish, but shrugged off the worn leather jacket.

“The shirt too.”

A much longer pause. Finally, he grasped the hem of his T-shirt and, with clear reluctance, pulled it over his head.

Meredith gasped.

If pushed to nominate a favourite art form, she would have said abstract expressionism; there was something fierce and spontaneous and freeing about that particular movement that she identified with, with just a hint of something darker running beneath the paint, something terrifying and just barely held in check. What she saw before her now was that something unleashed, a chaotic, angry violence, perhaps akin to what Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline might have come up with had they collaborated on a piece to define flagellation, a veritable mess of briar-bush scars stretched over chest and shoulders. It was a horror – a desecration of a human body – and that was not the end of it, for here and there, adding to the mutilation, were thick dark whorls like mystical symbols, perhaps a la Pousette-Dart.

This is your canvas, this is your work of art. Meredith almost retched. A rush of guilt poured through her, compounding her dizziness and nausea.

Tyler hastened to reassure her. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“You didn’t tell me about those.” Her voice trembled.

“I didn’t want to scare you off. You were already so skittish in Andalucía.”

“For good reason. Is there anything else I should be aware of?”

He thought of trying for a joke, but changed his mind. “No. These are all.”

These are all. They were more than enough. She could not take her eyes off the chaotic streaks and swirls, ugly and indelible, seared forever into the flesh. She gestured at the wider strokes of gleaming green-black ink. “Those ones – they’re tattoos – magic?”

He bit his lip again. “She had me warded while I was unconscious. I didn’t have a choice.”

Wards. “They’re designed to ward me off, aren’t they?”

He hesitated.

Tyler.”

He sighed. “It’s only fair I tell you this. She designed those wards specifically to kill you, yes. And she had them tattooed upon me so it is a spell that can’t ever be removed. But I’ve managed to tamper with the spell somewhat, to restrain the magic so they will not kill, though they will hurt –” he broke off as Meredith placed her hand flat against his chest.

It was like putting a finger into a live socket. Meredith jumped back and looked at Tyler with wide eyes. She hesitated, then ran her hand along one dark arc. Electric fire seared her skin.

He sighed. “You run halfway across the world to get away from me, but the moment you know I can kill you with just one touch, you can’t keep your hands off me.”

She gave a hollow laugh. “You should kill me.”

His face darkened. “No one’s killing anyone.”

She laughed again, a half-incredulous, half-bitter laugh at the naivety of his words, as she ran her hands down the network of scars, fingers skittering each time the ward tattoos burnt her skin. He tried to grab her wrists, but now she was reaching up to hold his face, leaning forward to kiss the rough and smooth surfaces of his cheeks, his jaw, his lips.

He kissed her back, softly at first, gentle and reassuring, then, at her response, harder, more passionate, his hands running down her neck and shoulders, pulling at her dress and clutching at fistfuls of crimson material as she fumbled at his waist, undoing the button of his jeans. He divested her of her dress, unhooking her bra before she had tugged his jeans down. He ran his hands along her back and bent to kiss her again.

“Meredith,” he whispered.

She watched as he hoisted himself up on his elbows and began to move on top of her. She never closed her eyes, never stopped looking at his face as they performed the age-old act of lovers all over the world and fire singed her each time his marked skin accidentally brushed against her. And the whole time, she wanted to cry, and her sadness hurt him, and when it hurt him, it hurt her too.

Image: Death to The Stock Photo

 

***

Go on to: Chapter Six

Go back to: Chapter Four

New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.

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