Was hate to blame for the thrumming in her chest? Was it hate that drove her to pull her closer until there was nary a space between them? Had it not been for their clothes, she was sure Shreya would feel her heartbeat. The pain that had once been accompanied by its thudding had lifted, a familiar warmth filling her.
You hate her, Elspeth reminded herself. She’d intended her proof to be shown in a single decisive kiss, but her greed and loneliness had reared up in tandem. She wanted to ride the spark she finally felt. So be it if her enemy was at the core of it.
Her hands wandered lower, to the part of Shreya’s back she’d been forbidden to touch. Shreya startled, jumping a little but otherwise didn’t resist. It probably helped that Elspeth was keeping her mouth occupied. From experience, she knew that tended to cloud Shreya’s judgment.
Elspeth felt around. She discovered a hard, thin line over Shreya’s spine. She pulled away to say something about it, considering it a victory when Shreya leaned forward to chase her.
“What’s wrong with your tail?” she asked.
“Nothing. I wrapped it and tied it to hide it.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“Yes,” Shreya said. “I go home sore every time. You did not notice how uncomfortable I was laying on my back?”
“I noticed you were touchy about that whole area. You made me think you were molested,” Elspeth said. “That day you told me that, I went home and nearly broke my hand punching my wall. That was a screwed up lie, Shreya. Everything you told me was.”
Elspeth welcomed the anger bleeding through her. She used it to shove Shreya against the wall again. Shreya’s elbow banged the wood. She grunted from the hit, and Elspeth’s stomach dropped.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” she hurriedly said. “Let me see it.”
“What did you mean to do?” Shreya clasped her hand over her elbow.
“I don’t know.”
“I should leave.”
“Ellie, I cannot do this. This is our last time to be honest with each other and as soon as you start doing that, you fight me. You say wolves are bad but we are never this confusing. You like me, you love me, you hate me. What is it?” Shreya asked. “No…do not say any words. You are deep in your lies and cannot climb out.”
She hated Shreya, didn’t she? Hated the softness of her lips, hated the way they synced their movements when they kissed like there was nothing wrong. Hated how there was something about Shreya that kept Elspeth from letting her go. Hated how Ellie, that girl who had fallen so hard for Shreya, still existed and wanted to be with her in spite of everything.
That’s not normal.
She needed to hate Shreya. What kind of person was she if she didn’t?
Elspeth spoke around the lump forming in her throat. “Turn around.”
“If that makes it easier.” Shreya faced the wall.
“Take off your cape.”
Shreya undid its ties, then slipped it off of her shoulders. The deerskin fell to the floor. “Do you want it to memory me with?”
“To remember you with, no,” Elspeth said. “Can I see…can you show me your tail?”
Her back stiffened at first, like she was trying to process the request. But then, Shreya complied. She lifted her shirt over her head before tossing it down by her cape. Elspeth focused on keeping her breath even, not wanting Shreya to pick up on any hitches.
Long strips of fabric kept Shreya’s torso bound. Elspeth watched the movement of her arms and shoulders as she fiddled with something in the front.
“Need some help?” Her voice cracked like she was a boy going through puberty. She was mortified.
“You are wishing.”
Shreya unraveled the section that covered her lower back. The layers dropped, the ones covering her upperbody staying intact (to the disappointment of a certain girl’s excitement). Shreya’s tail, still wrapped tight so it looked like a cord, slanted but stayed upright. She reached back, her practiced hands making quick work of unbinding it.
“Wow, you’re fluffy.”
“What is fluffy?”
“Soft. Cute. Adora—whoa! Wait, what, why are you taking your belt off? Stop that.”
“My belt traps my tail. Close your eyes if you are weak.”
Elspeth didn’t bother pretending to be strong. She shut her eyes as soon as Shreya’s thumbs hooked into her waistband. She listened to Shreya fumbling with the fabric.
“Okay,” Shreya said, “I am done. This is my tail.” It matched her hair color.
“Oh…there’s a hole in your pants for your tail? That’s, um, clever. I never noticed. I guess it’s like a slit or flap.” Elspeth cringed at how she sounded. Of course the wolves constructed their clothing to make room for their tails. “Can I touch it?”
“Nicely. It hurts.” She fidgeted, changing how she stood.
“Can you control it? Does it move? Sunflower’s tail wags when she is happy. Not that you are a dog. I’m not calling you a dog,” Elspeth said. She kept her hands by her sides. “I’m just wondering if your tail works like that. Does it move a lot when you’re happy?”
“I can move it, yes,” Shreya said. She didn’t turn around. “And it depends. I have to be strong happy, very happy. Children and dogs are more…hmmm…they are more loose with their tail. Loose tails are funny to people.”
“Were you ever like that with me? I mean, if you hadn’t been tied down.”
“But not anymore.”
“No. Why would I be? You keep playing with my feelings. I am not made of stone.” Shreya grabbed her shirt from the ground. She pulled it back on, then turned to face Elspeth. “I showed you my tail. Here I am. Tail, ears, everything. What about you? Can you finally show yourself?”
“I don’t know if I can. Maybe, I don’t know who I am. Maybe, I don’t know what I’m supposed to show you,” Elspeth said.
“If you do not know by now, you will never know.”
She couldn’t handle Shreya’s glare. “I’m scared of knowing, okay?” Ellie blurted out. “I’m scared. This sort of thing never happens. We’re supposed to hate each other. We should be killing each other, but, no. You’re not like that… I’m not like that… Something’s wrong. I’m what’s wrong. I never—”
I never hated you.
Ellie covered her face. Tears, hot and plentiful, stung at the corners of her eyes before trickling down. The truth had always been there, dug up bit by bit as their conversation wore on. It hadn’t been a sudden shove that made her realize it. Her resolve just crumbled away.
“You care too much about what is right and what is wrong,” Shreya said. “Can we just be? No right. No wrong. Just us.”
“You’re a wolf,” she managed to say, “and I’m a person.”
“I am Shreya. You are human, yes, but you are also Elspeth.”
“Ellie. I hate that name and I hate how I treated you. I was just scared. I’m still scared. What am I supposed to do with this? I don’t know if I can do this, but I want to. I said some horrible things, but I didn’t mean them. Not at you. You’re not like the rest of the wolves, so anything bad I said about them, I didn’t mean you. You’re an exception.”
“It does not work like that,” Shreya replied. “When you say things like that, you include me. You have been cruel to me.”
“But you’re still here, so, so you like me, anyway…”
“Do you find that sad? It is pathetic, but what other explanation is there? I let you ruin me because I care about you.” Shreya looked away.
Wiping her eyes did nothing to slow down her tears. “I didn’t want to ruin you. I was scared, that’s all it was. I don’t hate you. That was all denial. You were right about me. See?” Her words came out in a jumbled rush. “I’m sorry. I know I messed up, but let me work on it.”
She had a lot to make up for.
“I am happy you realize it now,” Shreya said without a trace of a smile. For someone who was supposedly happy, she didn’t look it.
“I love you, Shreya. That never changed. I kept calling it hate, but it wasn’t. I get it now. Everything makes sense now. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” She dropped to her knees.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m begging you for another chance. I don’t know how this is supposed to all work. I’m so scared that I’m shaking.”
“You did not lose your chance. I want to be with you.”
“But do you forgive me? Do you think you ever will, for all those things I said?”
A/N: Poll results! 25 people voted in the “will Ellie kiss Shreya?” poll. 20 said yes. 5 said no.
21 votes in the poll “will Ellie breakdown crying when she sees Shreya again?” 19 votes for yes. 2 for no.
Voting ends May 28th at 11:59 PM EST. Next chapter on the 30th.
Thank you for all your support. I’m hoping to get back to longer chapters eventually, but I’m having a lot of work-related pressure lately. Thanks for the understanding.
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