A Reason for Being: Chapter Nine

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

Chapter Nine

 

They spent the following two days on the island, days which would have been perfection except for Meredith’s inability to run, which chafed at her and prodded the restlessness within her. She tried not to let it show, but she could sense Tyler watching her out of the corner of his eye, and she could sense his puzzlement and hurt. As he helped her back onto the boat, she stayed in his arms a second longer and kissed him, hoping this would make up for her behaviour.

She was pleased to be sailing again, and threw her energy into the roping and tacking, though she was constantly aware of Tyler’s eyes on her. He didn’t say anything, though, all the way back to the harbour and on the drive across the island to the Guesthouse. He kissed her at the gate, holding the kiss a little longer than usual. “See you tonight?” he asked.

She nodded. “Tonight,” she said, and kissed him again.

He released her and went along the path to his house. He dropped his things by the door and walked up the stairs. Halfway up was a small landing extending onto a bay window where he stopped and looked out.

He saw her, as he knew he would, running past his house and down the beach, her legs moving like a blur. He watched until she disappeared out of sight, then he leaned against the windowpane and waited for her return. He watched as she ran past his house again, her feet digging hard into the sand at the end of the shore as she did a quick turnaround and continued on her sweep back and forth along the beach, running harder and longer and faster than he had ever seen her run before.

Unaware of Tyler watching her, Meredith ran until her heart felt like it would burst, driven by the whirling restlessness within her, the confusion she could make no sense of just yet. She ran until her muscles burnt with the strain and her limbs cried out for a rest, until her body shivered hot and cold with sweat and heat and she could barely feel her feet, until her legs finally gave out from under her and she tumbled to her knees, gasping and heaving for air. She pushed her hands into the sand and concentrated on just breathing, on not thinking.

From within the white and grey beach house, Tyler watched her bow her head, and he knew something more was keeping them apart than just a few metres of sand and a glass pane.

I should go. I should go.

Those words echoed within Meredith for the rest of the week. She knew she should go. She knew she must go. And yet she could not bring herself to do so. She felt wretched and guilty and miserable and idiotic and senseless, and she knew it was only a matter of time before everything came tumbling down about her.

She didn’t have long to wait. Everything came tumbling down that very weekend.

It was a hot Saturday afternoon. For once, Meredith did not spend the day with Tyler. He was elsewhere on the island, attending to family errands. She was a little relieved, hoping the respite would force her to come to her senses about what she ought to do.

But her indecisive thoughts just went round and round her head like cars zooming around a Grand Prix race track. With disgust, she gave up and joined a couple of backpackers in the Guesthouse games room where they drank beer and challenged each other at pool. She was surprised when she saw Peggy Sue come up to her at the end of the afternoon with a package.

“Sent down from the Escapade,” she said, referring to Tyler’s house.

Meredith frowned. “What is it?”

Peggy shrugged and handed her the package. “Open it and we’ll see.”

Meredith ripped the paper apart, and black beaded chiffon and lace spilt out. She held up the evening gown and gaped at it. One of the backpackers gave a low whistle.

“Wow,” Peggy Sue commented. “Looks like Tyler Berhansen has it bad for one of our boarders! How weird. He’s never shown an interest in any of the girls here, local or tourist. Lord knows they’ve tried enough times to catch his attention. We always assumed he had a girlfriend back home.” There was the slightest tinge of cattiness in her voice. Peggy Sue obviously thought Meredith didn’t deserve to capture Tyler’s attention.

A stiff white card escaped from the black folds of the dress and floated to the floor. Meredith bent and picked it up. See you at eight, she read. It’s a surprise. Tyler.

“Surprise, huh?” Peggy said, reading over her shoulder. “I wonder. There aren’t too many places on this island where you need a ball gown.”

Meredith frowned. She had a sinking feeling like quicksand at the bottom of her stomach. She didn’t know why, but she didn’t like the idea of a date where she was required to wear an evening gown.

She tried ringing Tyler, but the smooth incurious voice on the other end of the line that sounded like a butler told her he wasn’t in. She dropped the receiver back in its cradle, ignoring Peggy Sue’s curious stare, and took the dress up to her room. She dropped the dress on her bed and sat on a chair, staring at the dress and frowning and smoking and ignoring the hostel’s no-smoking-indoors rule.

Eventually, the clock was ticking seven. Meredith stubbed out her final cigarette, ran a cold shower, brushed her teeth, dressed, and applied a little makeup. She frowned at her reflection.

“I could do your hair for you,” Isla, her Canadian roommate, offered, and she took the brush from Meredith and set to work, pinning and twisting the hair up into a chignon with little tendrils running out and framing her face and the nape of her neck.

“Thanks,” Meredith said.

“No problem, sweetheart. You go have fun now. That boy is really hot.” Isla sighed. “And he’s a Berhansen. That’s crazy wild. You’re a lucky girl.”

Meredith didn’t think so, but she didn’t say anything. It was eight now, and she wished Isla goodnight and headed into the garden to wait for Tyler.

She saw him coming up the garden path as she came out the front door. He was wearing a dark suit. Moonlight shone on the rich brown of his hair, backlighting him so that his sea-green eyes were the only visible part of his face.

“You look beautiful in that dress,” he said as soon as he reached her.

“What’s the idea?” she demanded. “Just where are we going?”

He smiled. “I should have known that would be your reaction. Come on.” He took her hand and all but dragged her down the walk.

A shiny black Lexus awaited them by the gate, rather than the Rocket III. Meredith raised her eyebrows at the car. “Tyler, what’s all this about?”

“It’s a surprise.” His eyes sparkled at her. Meredith prodded and questioned him throughout the drive, her agitation growing all the while, but he staunchly refused to tell her anymore.

Finally, he turned off the road and up an unfamiliar path. The path curved and became a long, sloping drive leading to a white Colonial-style house glimmering with lights. Aptly enough, the name of the building, beautifully lettered in Gothic script on a white signboard, was Colonial House.

“Tyler, what’s all this?” Meredith stared in alarm as they glided to a halt and a valet came running up.

Tyler was already out of the car and opening her door. “Come on, sweetheart,” he said, his eyes twinkling at her.

She didn’t take his hand. “Tyler, I’m not getting out til you tell me what this is all about. This doesn’t look like a restaurant to me.”

“It’s not,” he said simply.

The valet was waiting for them. Rather than make a scene, Meredith reluctantly got out. As the valet drove the Lexus away, she grabbed Tyler’s arm. “Tyler,” she hissed, “we are not moving one inch from this spot until you tell me what this place is and what we’re doing here.”

Tyler placed his hand on hers. “Okay, don’t get mad. I didn’t tell you earlier because I knew you wouldn’t want to come.” He paused. “We’re meeting my family.”

Meredith gaped at him. “What?”

“See,” he said lightly. “That’s the kind of reaction I was talking about.” He tucked her hand more securely into his arm. “Come on, don’t worry. They’ll love you.”

He started up the steps. Meredith hung back. “Tyler, I can’t do this,” she hissed. “I can’t. You don’t understand.”

“I know. I’m sorry if I’m coming on too strong.” His eyebrows knitted together as he stood above her, still holding onto her hand. “But I really want you to meet them.” He moved down until he was standing level with her. “Look, I didn’t want to say this before because I knew it’d scare you off. But –” he took her other hand. “I really, really like you a lot. No, scratch that. I don’t just like you. I’m… Meredith, I’m in love with you.”

Meredith stared, open-mouthed, at him. She was so stunned by his words that she couldn’t think, couldn’t do a thing. The words swam through her head and she barely noticed anything until she found herself standing within a huge white foyer lit by a gargantuan chandelier and filled with hundreds of well-dressed people, laughing and talking and sipping cocktails. And now Tyler was blithely waltzing her through the metal detector just beyond the entrance… she came to her senses and tried to yank her hand out of Tyler’s arm, but he was holding on tight and security was looking oddly at them and the last thing Meredith wanted was to attract security’s attention.

Saints and angels, she was so afraid. There they were, the discreet yet powerful wards, the bulky magical armour under the black suits, and the staves, rather than guns, tucked into the leather belts. She immediately began to panic and tried just as quickly to quash the feeling – no, you mustn’t panic – but how could she not panic in a situation like this?

She was a fool, a fool to have allowed this to happen.

The moment they were past the metal detector, she came to a dead halt and hissed into his ear, “Tyler, you stop here this instant and let me go. You don’t understand, but this is wrong. I can’t be here, and I’m going back to the Guesthouse now. This is all wrong.” She tugged at his elbow, trying to free her hand. “I can’t meet your family, Tyler –”

A cool voice cut in. “Tyler, darling, you’ve arrived at last.”

A cold wave of dread washed over Meredith. She turned slowly to see a tall woman bearing down on them with a retinue of party-goers in her wake. She was dressed in a black satin and velvet gown embroidered with almost-black ivy leaves along the full panels of her skirt. Her hands were encased in long black gloves and her gleaming dark hair was arranged in a small, elegant beehive. A choker of diamonds and emeralds cut like ivy and ivy berries and set in jet glittered around her neck.

There was no mistaking the strong atmosphere of magic surrounding this woman and her companions.

Something pounded wildly through Meredith.

There was magic, magic everywhere, magic all around the room. It washed over her like an arctic tide and she gave a little gasp.

“Mother,” Tyler said. He squeezed Meredith’s hand and moved forward to kiss the woman on the cheek. “You look lovely tonight.”

Meredith took one step back. Another step. She was about to make a run out the door when Tyler turned and reached for her. She froze.

“And who is this?” The woman stared at Meredith as if she were some grotesque specimen of a bug in a ditch.

Tyler beamed. “Mother, this is –”

A dark hand fell on Tyler’s mother’s elbow. “Mrs Berhansen,” said a small woman in a black suit. “I need you to step away.” She turned and her almond-shaped eyes fell on Meredith. This woman could not have measured past five feet, but the aura surrounding her was so great, she could have been as tall as Tyler’s mother. Her gaze was as voluminous as a black hole. It was obvious what she was. Security, and most definitely a powerful psychic. “This young lady is a Wild One.”

Gasps from the group surrounding Tyler’s mother. Tyler’s head snapped up in amazement. Mrs Berhansen drew back and two men in black suits fell before her, brandishing staves and drawing up protective wards. Two other men fell in behind, completing a quincuncial ward, one of the strongest forms of warding or protecting a person or an object. More psychic security rushed in, drawing out staves, jujus, and other charms. A few more – a very few in the outer circles – brandished guns.

The foyer fell silent as everyone turned to gape at the scene.

The small psychic was still holding Meredith with her penetrating stare. “Who are you?” she asked crisply.

Meredith felt the blood drain from her face. Her body was trembling. No – hold still. You must keep calm. “T-This was a mistake. I didn’t mean to come here.” She glanced at Tyler. He was staring at her, eyes wide. Surprise was written all over his face – and something else. Comprehension, perhaps, most likely shock and horror. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave right now.” She gathered her dress up in one hand and turned to flee.

Tyler came alive, striding after her. “Wait!”

“Tyler!” Mrs Berhansen barked. “Don’t you touch her!”

More psychic security suits rushed forward, staves waving and wards blazing to life, but they were arrested by Tyler holding up his hand to warn them off.

He spoke quietly to her back. “Is this true, what she says about you being a Wild One?”

Meredith turned. “Tyler, I’m sorry,” she said, just as quietly. “I should have stayed away from you at the very beginning.” She sighed. “I did warn you that you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.” Tears stung her eyes. Damnit, she had to get away. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Tyler hesitated. He opened his mouth to say something. Meredith swung away, and he lunged forward, grabbing her arm. “Hey, wait –”

And that was when it happened.

She tried to shake him off. He tightened his grip, dragging her back, and that was when the energy roiling beneath the surface came to life, came surging out of her. Like electricity, like lightning, like a sudden harsh storm, she felt it strike at Tyler, causing him to reel back with a muffled cry.

She gasped. “Tyler!” She spun around, reaching out to him, which was her mistake – and their fingertips brushed.

She felt it, his magic crashing through her, like a violent sea, a moving, living energy, a changing and shaping of time and nature. A forceful will. She froze, blood rushing through her ears, and yanked her hand away, but it was too late – for another storm had reared up within her, a storm she grabbed at frantically, but failed to control.

People screamed as blood splashed across the foyer, splattering gowns and marble floor. His blood – Tyler’s blood. He was lying on the floor, face-down and still. More screaming ensued. Meredith jerked back in horror, eyes wide. Mrs Berhansen was shrieking, “What did you do to my son?”

Black-suited security were circling Meredith, trying to cut her off, yet not daring to get too close to her, drawing wards about her. She felt the magic spin around her, trying to hold her down, but failing to gain a grip on her Wildness. Meredith heard a hysterical laugh gurgle up her throat. “Don’t,” she managed to say. “Don’t you know what these wards will do to me?”

The black suits fell back. The small woman passed through them and stopped before Meredith. To Meredith’s heightened senses, her stark, beautiful features stood out against the rest of the room, her serene disposition seeking to mask the fear that even she felt underneath. They all feared her, Meredith realised. The black suits, the tensed, frozen people in ball gowns and tuxes standing all around the room, Charlotte Berhansen, even this calm psychic before her.

“What is it that you want?” the psychic asked. Hers were the soothing, careful tones of a negotiator speaking to a terrorist that held a bus full of innocents in his thrall. “What do you want from us?”

Meredith stared at her. A part of her, the Wild part, was furious, indignant at the magic swirling around her, at these people who thought they were better than her, who thought they could control her. Did they not know she could not be controlled – that she was no mere human, no mere being? The Wild part of her wanted to strike out, to let the world know who was the most powerful of them all.

Another part of her was thinking desperately, Tyler.

She glanced at his body, lying in a pool of blood, and a surge of grief and remorse and fear swept over her. She turned back to the woman. “I want you to take me away from here,” she whispered.

The psychic stared uncertainly, as if her words might be a trick. Finally, she nodded. “Come with me.” She turned and motioned to the black suits. They stepped back, making way as the psychic walked through the door of the Colonial House. Meredith followed closely behind her, back rigid, arms shaking, beautiful black gown sweeping in her wake.

 

***

Go on to: Chapter Ten

Go back to: Chapter Eight

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

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