Sliding down the rough trunk of an apple tree, I sighed as a light breeze blew past, carrying the smell of fresh pies and bread from some bakery in town. Tessilia’s climate was muggier than Natandre’s. Peeling off my jacket, I tossed it into the tall grass beside me. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head back against the bark. Evelyn was off looking for her brothers and Caleb in the town square. I had opted to wait in the outskirts of the entrance to the town.
After the cargo delivery detail we had gained passage on and the merchant ship we had gotten off yesterday, I had to be away from people. The crews for both vessels had been like the Honor In Arms, boisterous, energetic, and excitable. Expect it was worse because my people knew when to leave me alone, unlike strangers.
Pushing my hair off my sweaty brow, I opened my eyes and examined my mate scar. The grey scale covered about one-sixth of it, but it had grown about a half inch recently. I frowned. Azalea’s mother had been infected for around forty years and she only had four symptoms thus far. I had been infected for three and a half months and was onto my second symptom. The range of the progression of the infection was insane.
Growling, I swung my right arm back. My fist smacked into the wide trunk, my knuckles beginning to throb. If my progression followed a similar average to hers for the length of time for when a new symptom would occur, I would be dead in another 21 months. This infection would cut down my life to just two more years. Two more years to try to build something with Evelyn, to make my brother happy by the life I lived.
Running my right hand through my hair now, I stopped and tugged on the thick strands. My frown turned into a grimace. It could have been five years if I had just responded to her differently that one night outside the tavern. Well, maybe not five because I’d probably had asked her to give me time to figure out what happened to Franz, but it’d be more than these two years. There wouldn’t be these issues and trust needing to be rebuilt to get through. We’d been able to actually start our relationship properly. Heck, we might have avoided being infected altogether. And there would’ve been no limited, rushed timeline to try to salvage something between us. We could have had years, decades to build and discover what we could’ve been.
I glared at my partially covered mate scar. Tears pricking at the corners of my eyes with a few slipping down my face. Oh, Franz, I’ve really mucked things up. Do you think I’d even make it to see mom and dad one last time? The clan, Katkin, home? That I’d get to hear another one of dad’s dramatic hunting stories by the fire? That I’d see mom whacking him with a wooden spoon and yelling at him to not jump around the fire because he might put it out by knocking over the stew again? To be able to watch the Purple Dawn over the Minstra Mountains one final time?
I released my hair. Blinked my eyes rapidly. Jumping to my feet, I breathed in and let out several deep breathes. As Franz would always tell me during one of my spiraling cycles as he called them, let yourself dwell on it for a bit, but once you start imagining the end you have to yank yourself out of it. “As long as you haven’t reached the very end yet, you have the opportunity to change the ending to your advantage, so you need to keep fighting Fletch” is what Franz would say every time before slapping the back of my head.
“Franz, you might not be here anymore to literally slap the sense into me, but I’m glad that you are still watching over me in my memories,” I smiled slightly, with my eyelids drooping. What I’d give to see him one more time.
Slowly strolling into the circular, cobblestone center of the square, I stopped in front of the small fountain made from the natural white stone found in the nearby coastline. The chattering of townsfolk and travels muddled together, so you couldn’t pick out any voice or conversation. The air reeked of bizarre herbal concoctions from the apothecary shop behind me. I should have just stayed in the alley beside the bakery I had originally chosen to wait at.
Scanning the various faces and backs throughout the crowd, I pursued my lips. I knew Evelyn well even to recognize her and you couldn’t miss Caleb with that hair of his, but Wylie and Lyle? I wouldn’t be able to pick them out unless they were right in front of me.
Heavying out a sigh, I sat down on the rim of the fountain and rested my elbows on my open legs. More waiting it would be. Several minutes went by with little occurring aside from two random women approaching me, attempting to flirt.
“Fletcher! Over here!” My eyes glanced over to the right. Evelyn and Wylie waved at me as Lyle sulked behind them. Evelyn made her way towards me.
“Excuse me,” I said to the two ladies, getting up and making my way over to the others.
“I thought you were going to meet us outside of the town?” Evelyn asked with a tilt of her head and a slight smile.
“Changed my mind,” I mumbled, slipping my hands into the pockets of my pants.
“Everything ok?” She whispered, suddenly almost shoulder to shoulder with me, eyeing me from the corner of her eyes.
I gave a slight nod of my head, which she returned and questioned me no further. I had already dealt with the issue, so there was no benefit to mentioning it to her. Doing it would just give it more time to fester and then it would be harder to keep it out. “Are we still waiting on Caleb?”
“Yes, but we’ll just wait for him somewhere near the entrance of town, he’ll have an easier time finding us that way,”
“Hey, Fletcher! Evelyn told us everything went pretty smoothly for you two,” Wylie said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes like it typically did. My eyes drifted to Evelyn’s left wrist and I frowned slightly.
Lyle let out a growl and my gaze snapped up to him as my eyes narrowed. What was the man child going to complain about now? He glared at me, his face turning pink. Just as he was about to say something, Wylie grabbed his shoulder and gave him a push back.
“No, Wylie, you stop defending this darthrot,” Lyle ripped Wylie’s hand off himself. He stalked toward me.
“Lyle,” Evelyn started as she went to stop him. However, I grasped her left wrist and tugged her behind me. She turned her sharp eyes to me while quirking an eyebrow.
I released her and I took three steps in front of her. His grudge with me needed to be settled. I was over the backhanded comments, the tantrums, and all the blocked aggression from her and Wylie. They thought this method would bring peace, yet sometimes the child had to be put in their place for that to come about.
“You’d have to be an idiot to not be able to see it, but I know you’re in love with her. And that you hate me because of this,” I rolled up the sleeve of my jacket and held my mate scar up towards Lyle, “But you’re a grown arse man, not a sniffling child, so why don’t you handle your grievances with me like one,”
His face became a bright red. A vein popping out of his forehead while he charged at me. His clenched left fist drew back before he launched it at my face. I caught his fist in my right hand, twisting his wrist slightly. He lowly growled, trying to yank himself free. However, I held him firm.
“So, we’ve gone from childish to petty, eh? A real man wouldn’t handle his grievances this way either. If you had any honor, you’d tell me directly and plainly what they are,” I said in a low, even tone. My grip on his hand tightening. Honorable men showed respect for the other by only using violence if they were morally wronged and even then, it was discouraged. At least that was the code the Honor In Arms upheld.
Lyle’s jaw went rigid as his fiery eyes bore into mine. “You stole what was mine. She’s never been able to consider me because you had to have that,” His eyes now glaring at my mate scar, wishing a curse upon it.
I snorted and rolled my eyes. He was trapped in a bigger delusion than I had thought. “I stole nothing from you. If she was meant to have reciprocated your feelings then she would have regardless of this darn marking. But you will only ever be a little brother to her, so get that through your thick, pigheaded skull. And don’t you dare say I stole this mate scar from you because I had no choice in being given this. No person who has a mate scar does. The only choice we have is if we wish to follow the course fate is laying before us,” I thrust him backwards while I let go of him.
He stumbled but remained on his feet. His chest was heaving, his eyes now trained to the ground. “It’s not fair,”
Snarling, I jerked him towards me by the front of his shirt. His eyes enlarged, now focused on my narrowed ones. “You want to talk about things not being fair.” I shoved my mate scar into his face, making the scale level with his eyes. “This muckery of an infection we both have isn’t fair. Our lives are limited to maybe only two to five more years because her greedy lardrot of a father tried to kill her by provoking the beast with this scar. A man who spent her whole life trying to kill her because he unjustly blames her for her mother’s death. If you want to say things are unfair, think about all the muck she has gone through. And despite it all, she keeps pressing onwards, letting the past stay right where it is. Heck, she perseveres so much, she’s willing to give a darthrot like me another opportunity after I mucked up. So why don’t you come into the present and imitate what she does because the only person being unfair to you is yourself by holding on to something that will never be,”
His breathing leveled out as his eyes went to the scale on my scar to Evelyn. Freeing him, I turned around and headed back to the entrance of the town. Hopefully, that got through to him, so peace could finally take root in our group.