never quite as it seems.

I hear the chiming of the alarm as if it is both off in the distance and right against my ear. I wish I could say I jolt awake, saddened to leave the dream space, but I don’t.

I am relieved to wake up . . . and angry.

I roughly adjust my pillow as my beloved tells me he’s hit the snooze so I can rest a little while longer.

I am less than gracious.

In my dream, he’s been texting another behind my back, wooing her, allowing her to stroke his ego and his lust, and the roiling cauldron of emotions that is my heart is ready to spill over and burn everything.

And the damage is focused on him.

This happens every month. Every moontime, my hormones work with my subconscious brain to conjure up my worst fears—abandonment and betrayal—and plague me with nightmares the entire cycle.

I wake up emotionally wrung out, exhausted, cheeks wet with tears and eyes swollen with more. It’s like a dam inside me breaks, and I am the town that drowns.

And if that were not enough, there is the guilt. The guilt of knowing he is a good man, a decent man, a loyal man. He has never betrayed me, never strayed. Each time it happens, he asks if I am okay, holds my hand when I wake from these dreams. He wraps his arms around my waist and kisses away my tears. He sees I am in pain and shakes his head in disbelief at the absurdity of my mind while also comforting me because he knows the fear is one I cannot shake and cannot change. He has had almost 21 years of my dreams, so he has found the best way to help is to be present, to listen, to not be defensive or offended.

After all these years, he knows I don’t mean it, can’t help it.

Nevertheless . . . I am a mess of frayed nerves, raw and ready to react.

I want to lash out at him, hit him, hit anything to make the pain of what my brain produces pale in comparison to what my hands can do. But, instead, I cry. I cry until I get all the words out, until I exorcise the dream specter hanging over me. I tell him how he hurt me in the dream, how angry I am, how I feel crushed beneath the weight of despair my brain has created, and he listens. Reassures. Soothes.

I hiccup and sigh and the feeling of safety begins to settle on my shoulders like a blanket.

I am okay. We are okay. I am safe.

Until next month.

Sometimes I write short stories: Le Loup

PROLOGUE

There's a wolf in my skin.

Well, under it, really, if we're being exact.

I feel it pacing night after night, its patience worn thin. I feel the way it craves warm touch, the way it wants to burrow deep. I feel the way it lunges each time the door is left open, its longing to run a bittersweet pull.

I can even smell the musk of it every time I brush my hair; the dark, burnished chocolate softer than fur but still bristling at the hint of danger.

Well, at least it does now.

I'm not sure how it got there, if I'm being honest.

If I'm being honest, I'm sure it has always been there.

I remember the first time I realized there was something more to me.

Something other.

The tree didn't look that tall from the ground. They never do, though, do they? Not when you're 11-years-old. When you're 11-years-old, every fence can be scaled, every hill can be ridden, and every tree can be conquered.

So, I climbed.

Leaning in, my hands griped the rough bark as my shoes found footholds I couldn't see. Sam cheered me on, her voice drowning out the jeering group of boys because that's what best friends do for each other when there is a dare on the table.

"Ava, you got this! Don't slow down!" I figured if she was encouraging me, then how could what I was doing be dangerous. Sam is the cautious one. The one who looks both ways and then waits a minute before crossing the street. Sam would never steer me wrong.

And she didn't. Even if she'll tell you otherwise.

No.

No, it wasn't Sam's fault the branch broke, and I fell 20 feet. It wasn't Sam's fault I broke my leg in two places and knocked myself unconscious.

No, it wasn't Sam's fault, no matter what she might tell you.

If anyone is responsible for what happened, it's me.

The fault was mine.

It was all mine.

The growl in my head startled me.

Sometimes I write short stories: La Mort Et Moi

The road slithered through the hillside, a serpentine maze of curves and drop-offs creating a backroad through the hustle and bustle. Tall wildflowers hugged the shoulders while tree limbs reached themselves leisurely across the expanse of pavement. They made it easy to forget about the traffic and the orange glow of big box parking lots when you were out there.

Too easy.

The darkness that crept in at night ate the ambient light from suburbia like a yawning mouth and the field of stars overhead could almost hide the way the blood stained the median.

Almost.

But, she knew it was there.

Knew if she held her hand close enough, the remaining warmth would press against it, a cat back arched in greeting.

Knew if she inhaled through her nose, she'd catch the scent of pennies and musk, of woodsmoke and rain.

Knew if she stared at him long enough she might be able to will him to move again.

To breathe again.

She fixed her eyes on his sternum, avoiding his unseeing gaze as best as she could. The rich, chocolate with pinpricks of honeyed constellations no longer aglow. 

"One two. One two. One two." Her steady cadence mimicked the lost heartbeat she knew so well, but inside her thoughts were pleading just breath just breathe please just breathe in an unfamiliar staccato. She'd never felt this panicked before, never felt this desperate.

Every other time before she could disconnect, step out of her head and her heart, block out the bile rising in her throat, and do the work.

We are those who walk with Death.

Hell, she'd learned the family credo before she even learned how to spell her own name.

And now, when she needed her training most, she couldn't access it. For the first time since she learned she could bring back the dead, she was afraid.

What if she couldn't bring him back? 

What if she could?