Tessa sat there, nonplussed and staring dazedly at her empty dinner plate that the maid hadn’t taken away yet. Christopher had pulled up the chair next to her to begin his story, but it was difficult for Tessa to wrap her mind around the words.
She still couldn’t believe that she had seen him cut into his own arm and watched it heal within a matter of minutes. None of it made sense.
“I’m a werewolf, Tessa,” he said slowly and calmly, as if he were speaking to a frightened child. And she was. She was terrified and fascinated all at the same time and each emotion battled for control within her.
“How is that possible?” she asked, her voice barely audible.
“I don’t know. When I was young, barely a teenager, I was attacked by a werewolf. I survived, but I was never the same afterwards.”
Tessa couldn’t help but think that his story might have been something out of a Hollywood movie. It wasn’t remarkable or unique. If she hadn’t seen his miraculous abilities with her own eyes, she might have been tempted to think he was lying to her.
“I began to see and hear things that no one else could. The rustling of grass half a mile away, the smell of baked bread on the other side of town. I could carry our family mule over my shoulder and walk with it for as long as I liked without getting tired. I thought it was a gift from God at first.” Tessa could hear the despair in his voice. He wasn’t boasting. He was lamenting.
She turned and saw that same emotion dulling the luster in his eyes. “But it wasn’t,” she said, completing his own thought.
He shook his head. “No, it wasn’t. The first time I changed, I couldn’t remember anything. Nothing but the pain of the shift. The next thing I knew, I woke up naked in the woods, covered in blood and dirt.”
Again, his story sounded cliche and predictable. But, she continued to listen.
“I managed to steal some clothes that had been hanging out to dry and I washed up in a nearby creek. I was miles away from home and it took me half a day’s journey to get back to the village. When I arrived, everyone was running about and raving about a beast. I might not have been a bright child then, but I couldn’t deny what had happened.”
Tessa swallowed hard. “Who did you kill?” It was the obvious thing that he might have killed someone. His family perhaps? A neighbor? Some of the livestock?
“Thankfully, no one in the town and none of the animals were harmed either. I can only assume I had hunted a deer that night or perhaps a sheep from another village. My family must have wondered where I had gone, but I couldn’t stay there any longer. It was only a matter of time before someone got hurt by my hand.
“I traveled across the country, deeper into Europe and was found by a pack of my own kind. They accepted me, which was not uncommon, and the alpha taught me how to control the wolf inside of me. You see,” he began, shifting in his chair, “there’s a presence inside of me. It’s the wolf that I can turn into. It’s like a spirit. Think of it as a possession or some sort, but it’s not necessarily harmful. It keeps my body alive for centuries and gives me these fantastic abilities. My job is to keep it alive by letting it run wild at least once a month.”
“On the full moon,” Tessa said.
“Actually, no. It’s only every thirty days, or every four weeks. It varies sometimes. I can call on the beast whenever I want, but it must have it’s way at least that one night a month.”
Tessa remembered watching horror movies with werewolves and a lot of what he said contradicted Hollywood mythology. It was a curse, not some symbiotic spiritual relationship. There was no give and take in the movies. Just a murderous monster living inside a human shell. Christopher was making it sound like it was a blessing somehow and not nearly as bad as what she might have been led to believe.
“But you’re not with that pack now.”
He shook his head again and she could see a little relief blossom in his face. She wasn’t rejecting him, not yet. And she was asking questions, which must have thrilled him. “No, I’m not. I broke away from the pack a few years after the French revolution. I traveled to America in search of a new life, separate from the old world. I was still a young wolf then, inexperienced, but I knew enough of how to blend into society. I witnessed the expanse of territories, the Civil War, the industrial revolution, studied under brilliant minds who taught me about philosophy and science. I knew then that I wanted to pursue education and I’ve been doing that for little under a century now.”
“But you never settled into a pack?” she asked, slightly confused why he would choose such a lonely life. Perhaps this was why he wanted her here.
“No, I didn’t. Although I’ve met quite a few werewolves who happened to be teachers, I never felt like I clicked well with any of them. I’ve been living in his town for a couple of decades now and I’m the only werewolf here.”
“How many are there in general?”
Christopher shrugged. “It’s hard to say. In America alone, there must be a few thousand. Werewolves are either changed through biting or born that way because their father was a werewolf before them.”
Tessa felt the blood drain from her face. “Are you going to bite me?”
He laughed, genuinely amused by her question. “No, no. Not at all. You see, there are no female werewolves.”
Suddenly, Tessa felt a flare of feminist rise up in her and she felt offended that there were no female werewolves. “Why not?” she asked incredulously.
He shrugged again. “I’m not sure. That was one of my first lessons. They are no females, you can’t change a female, and they aren’t born that way. It’s as simple as that.”
“So, if you bit me now and tried to change me, it wouldn’t work?”
“Not only would it not work, you’d die.” And she knew he wasn’t joking.
Tessa looked away and began biting her thumb nail, a nervous habit she was never able to kick. He let her process it all, sitting silently, waiting.
The maid entered through the kitchen door to take away their plates, but Christopher shooed her away with a stern word. If he had spoken to Tessa that way, she might have been quivering under the table like a scared rat. But the maid only acknowledged him with a nod and left the dining room.
“So, what now? You’re not going to change me, so what use can I be to you?”
He stood up and walked behind her chair to retrieve his water goblet. “As I’ve said before, I’m tired of hiding what I am, walking on egg shells every day and bound by silence. I don’t even keep a journal for fear that one of my servants will find it and learn my secret.”
Tessa looked up and watched him take a swig of liquid and how his adams apple bobbed when he swallowed. “If you’re tired of hiding, why don’t you just tell them instead of me? It might make their job a little easier. Imagine if they’re walking on eggshells too.”
“No,” he replied setting the glass down again. “There are too many risks involved. The more people I tell, the more likely I am to be found out by the wrong ones. There are groups of humans who dedicate their lives to hunting down werewolves and other supernatural beings.”
Tessa didn’t even want to get into that conversation. “So, I become your companion? What does that mean exactly? Look after you while you change? Make sure you have pants the next morning?”
Her comic relief did its job and Christopher smiled. “Nothing so personal. I have learned how to control myself in my wolf state and don’t need help remembering where I put my clothes.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?”
Christopher looked to her, seriousness and sincerity reaching out to her through his gaze. “Someone I can spend time with and talk to about these things. I’ve lived alone for a long time. All I ask is that we keep each other company. I’m sure with how you conceal yourself, it doesn’t leave much room for deep conversation or camaraderie.”
Tessa sighed heavily. “I will admit it’d be nice to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone again. When I go out with my classmates, it’s always to bars or clubs and it’s far from fulfilling.”
He grinned. “It’s settled then. Whenever we need one another, we’re just a call or taxi cab ride away.”
Tessa looked down at her thumb nail and saw where she had chewed away some of her nail polish. “Does this mean we’re dating or just friends with benefits?”
He chuckled. “Neither. Just friends. You are a child, after all.”
Tessa hated to be called a child. She might have still been in college, but she was paying her own bills and living her own life. But, from his perspective, even if she were fifty years old, he would still think of her as a child. He was over two centuries old after all. But perhaps the day would come when she wasn’t just a mere child to him anymore. Maybe this friendship would turn out to be more in a few years and he would change his mind.
But, in that same thought, she wasn’t sure if she would. Knowing that he could change into a beast, a wolf, something inhuman, changed the game for her. He was still unbearably attractive, but did what she learn of him alter her feelings? Looking at him now with his muscled arms folded over his thick chest, Tessa knew that she was still drawn to him. Only time would tell if this would work out.