He watched her every night. Every night he’d hide in the nearby alley facing the quaint candy shop, where giggling, over-active children would bustle in and out of the store’s pink-coated doors. That door would never stay shut for long, for that tiny delicacy shop was one of the busiest around, always full of parents with their greedy, over-indulged children.
But of course, he never watched the goings on of the shop because of them. For what good would it do him to constantly be surrounded by happy, delighted faces? He would spend his nights staring at the shop for one reason only- her. His lonely evenings were consumed with thoughts of a petite, red-haired woman who owned the lively shop and had unknowingly charmed him. He looked forward every night to hearing her ringing laughter as well as her teasing, light scolding directed towards the children who constantly asked her questions and looked as if they were about to raid the various rows of chocolate assortments. Because of his condition, he had exceptional hearing, which was lucky for him because he didn’t think he could’ve lasted a single night without hearing her sharp laughter or her witty remarks directed at her employees.
Even though Tom spent most of his nights taking in the sight that was Cissy Waters (for of course by this time he made sure to know her full name) he first saw her during the day, a very bright, but cold Thursday morning, to be exact.
During those few hours, it was acceptable for him to go out amongst society. It was the only time he felt comfortable doing so, and he remembered that day almost two months before when he took his first trip to the grocery store. He languidly perused the aisles of the store; avoiding eye contact with those around him, making sure no one touched him. He had become slightly paranoid since the two years his genetic affliction finally kicked in. He knew it would happen, for his father had told him many times, but he always thought his old man was slightly bullshitting, telling him stories of what would happen to him if he did something morally wrong, a means of scaring a child into obedience. But no, the stories were all true. His father was afflicted, just like him, as well as his grandfather and great-grandfather. It was a Sloane family secret, or whatever the hell that meant.
As he pushed his shopping cart down the aisle displaying the clear, green sign “Meat”, he instinctively hunched his shoulders, careful not to get too close to any one person. He inclined his head towards the open freezer containing a whole variety of meats-- ground beef, steak, even raw Black Angus Burgers. Everything looked so good that he felt his mouth already watering. He shut it before he’d salivate all over his plaid shirt. He chose the raw steak, tossing it into his cart already containing biscuits, muffins, and other treats.
“Don’t get that brand. It gets hard and does a number on your teeth when you cook it, even when it’s medium well,” said a clear, melodic voice merely two feet away from him.
He automatically jumped, almost banging his head against the side of the freezer.
“Oh, shit. You okay?’ said the voice. Tom felt two small hands grab his shoulders, preventing him from falling backwards.
He pushed the hands away, alarmed at the electricity he felt from them.
“I’m fine. Thank ya,” he said roughly, not even attempting to meet his savior’s gaze.
“Fine, then. I won’t bother,” the feminine voice retorted.
Tom finally took a good look at her and was met with cold green eyes amidst a myriad of freckles. Her bright red hair hung loosely around her shoulders, splayed across her blue parka. She gazed back at him, her hardened look suddenly turning curious as she continued to stare.
“Your eyes,” she couldn’t help stating, unable to look away.
Tom was shocked, quickly turning his gaze downwards toward his groceries.
“Thanks for the suggestion, Ma’m,” he responded coldly. “I’ll keep that in mind, though I’m sure I know a bit more ‘bout cooking meat than you do.”
He couldn’t help the words escaping his chapped lips, for he was pretty pissed that he allowed a total stranger to witness his somewhat strange features. He was always so careful to not allow people to see. His old man told him to lay low, keep quiet. Don’t cause any distraction to yo’self and keep away from the regular folk, he heard his father say in the back of his mind.
The woman’s eyebrows furrowed. “Listen, I was just being friendly. The meat you just chose is enough to cause stomach aches and food poisoning and dysentery among the entire townsfolk. I was just trying to help my fellow man.”
Tom suddenly lifted his head at her remark, noticing her features suddenly become sly, and she couldn’t help grinning at the now fidgety, nervous man in front of her, “It’s funny how you being a man would insult me, a woman, by saying I can’t cook.” She stressed the last part, mocking disbelief.
“I guess since I can’t be a proper woman I should just go back carpentry,” She nodded towards Tom’s obviously callused hands, “and spend my nights entertaining myself watching Monday Night Football and burping myself to oblivion with my Bud Light,” she stated, then nodding at the six pack of beer Tom had picked out the moment he arrived at the supermarket.
He was rendered speechless. He couldn’t even meet her gaze at the embarrassment he now felt. This petite, almost albino-looking woman made him feel small, insignificant. But yet, he was mesmerized by her brashness, and the look of complete calm that was evident on her rather pretty face. The thing that struck him wasn’t that her words were insulting (which he somewhat deserved) but because she didn’t seem at all angry at him, only slightly amused, as if he himself slightly interested her. And he had never been interesting to anyone.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he stuttered, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “I din’t mean anythin’ by it.”
The red-head smiled. “I’ll have to think about your apology. Your comment was pretty rude, but highly entertaining.”
“Sorry,” he apologized again, “Jus’ havin’ a rough day.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
He knew she was referring to his accent. “No. From Alabama.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Wow, that’s a long way off from here. No wonder. Haven’t seen you around.”
Tom shuffled his feet again. “Jus’ like to keep to myself, that’s all.”
A few seconds of silence followed Tom’s remark. He was oddly comfortable yet uncomfortable in her presence. Why was she lingering? He had a mind to think that this woman was as strange as he was. A normal person would have moved on and been done with it, but not this red-head. She continued gazing into his eyes.
“I’ve never seen eyes like yours before. They’re yellowish, right?”
“Yeah,” he answered, once again, bowing his head down. It had become instinctual by this time.
“Those are some pretty weird contacts. You got them from Ullman’s or something?”
The young woman laughed. “It’s a novelty shop about eight miles from here. Old Man Ullman sells all kinds of odd things.“ She shrugged. “I just assumed weird color contacts were one of them.”
“No, never been there.”
Tom watched as her emerald eyes traveled from his oddly large feet to the crown of his sandy-brown hair. She was sizing him up all right, for what purpose, he had no idea.
“I’m gonna give you a break this time,” the woman finally said, stepping away from him slowly.
She was leaving. Tom didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed. The woman was too friendly for her own good, but a part of him felt his spirits slightly sink at the thought of such a small woman full of bright, teasing energy leave.
“‘Cause I can tell that you’re a really shy guy,” she continued, laughing. “And I’m gonna let you know straight off the bat that I do know a lot about meat…cooking, actually. So if you even cook that stinker of meat for even a few minutes, it’ll turn real bad real fast.”
“I won’t,” he assured her, his voice finally displaying some confidence. “I don’t like my meat well-done or nuthin’.”
The red-head rolled her eyes. “I’m not even saying well-done. I meant medium well, etcetera.”
Tom shook his head, his shaggy hair falling around the sides of his face. “I don’t like to cook the meat, actually. I tend to eat em’ raw.”
His yellow eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets at his blunder. What the hell possessed him to say something so stupid? If his old man were watching at this very moment he knew he’d put a bullet to his brain for making himself stand out even more than he already physically did in this boringly normal town.
But his eyes didn’t look nearly as shocked as his companion’s. Her light eyebrows rose considerably, and her already captivating leaf-green orbs widened.
She then laughed. “You’re joking, right? Please say you’re joking?”
“No, I’m not actually.”
She stared at him again, lightly running a pale hand over her fiery hair. “Man, and I thought I would never hear the end of it for opening a candy shop.”
Tom’s ears perked up. He suddenly found himself being interested in any further information she willingly provided about herself. “A candy shop?”
“Yeah, it’s been open for about six months. Today’s one of my only days off, actually. It gets pretty busy during the afternoon. You know, after the kids get out of school and all,” she pursed her lips, “Come to think of it, for some reason, it gets pretty busy at night too. Who would’ve thought, huh? Kids should be doing their homework, ya know? I feel bad preventing the future of our country from learning anything productive, but business is business, ya know?”
Tom’s head was spinning. Boy, she liked to talk a lot. It put him at ease though, for it prevented him from having to come up with something witty to respond with.
But the woman obviously didn’t see it that way. “Sorry. I have a tendency to just ramble on to strangers. That’s part of my charm, though.”
She flashed a set of brilliantly white teeth at Tom, who could only respond by having his mouth open, like a dog.
“Well, I’m pretty charming to everyone else,” she responded, misinterpreting his stare.
Her gaze slightly shifted to her left, then right, as if finally at a loss for things to say. “Anyway, I should head out. Have to enjoy my very few days off, right?”
“Yeah, I reckon.”
“See ya around.” She inclined her head towards the meat still lying on Tom’s cart. “Enjoy your raw meat.”
And with that, she headed off to another aisle. Tom couldn’t move. He was rooted to his spot. To others, it seemed like an innocent, normal conversation between two people who have bonded over different opinions surrounding meat. But to Tom Sloane, it was his first intimate connection with another human being outside of his family. Because of his family’s affliction, his father prevented him from making acquaintances, always scared it would “kick in.” Unfortunately, his disease overtook him later in life, and Tom would spend days and nights thinking of all the time he wasted not making friends when for years he was perfectly able to. His future looked pretty bleak in his eyes, and he now felt that what he could have done in his childhood was completely lost, except for now. This attractive woman had opened up a part of him that had been dormant for a long time, the need for human companionship.
Before he could stop himself, he followed her, making sure to peek his head through each aisle, knowing it would be pretty easy to spot her flaming red hair. He finally saw her placing her groceries on the rolling board to pay, talking to the clerk all the while.
Tom rolled his cart as quietly as he could, praising heaven that he chose a cart that didn’t have squeaky wheels.
“Still with that health food thing?” Tom heard the blonde-haired, young clerk ask the woman.
“Yeah, still doing it.”
“How’s the shop coming along?”
“Great. Didn’t think it would do so well,” he heard the melodic voice say, making his ears tingle.
The woman and the clerk continued to exchange pleasantries, with Tom tightly gripping the handle of his cart, straining his ears for any sign of the woman’s name.
“See ya, Cissy,” the clerk called out as she headed out the door.
Bingo. Her name was Cissy.
Without thinking about it, Tom rolled up his cart to the clerk and began placing his items on the rolling board. The former light atmosphere that Cissy seemed to have carried off with her suddenly became tense as the clerk took in Tom. He was always cautious of new customers, for he knew everybody in the town. By the amounts of food the customer was purchasing, it was fairly obvious that he wasn’t just a passerby, but a new resident, and it didn’t help any that he was too…big and bulky.
Tom was already accustomed to what people think when looking at him, so he made sure to bow his head, lest the clerk should be as shocked over the color of his eyes just like Cissy was.
Unlike with Cissy, the clerk was silent as the grave as he scanned the endless amounts of biscuits, cans of beer, and finally the raw Angus meat that landed with a thud on the board, causing the clerk to slightly flinch.
“That’ll be fifty-nine seventy-five,” the clerk said monotonously.
Tom fished for his wallet, located inside the back pockets of his faded jeans. He could feel the clerk’s eyes on his largely callused hands, feeling self-conscious, a feeling that he was far accustomed to.
“Here ya go,” he stated after handing Tom the change, as well as the packed up groceries.
Just as he grabbed the three bags of groceries, the clerk finally found his courage, “You just moved here?”
“Yeah, moved in about two weeks ago.”
The clerk nodded his head, trying but failing to look disinterested. “Ah, I see.”
Before things got even more awkward, Tom decided to make his exit, lifting his head a fraction of an inch to timidly smile at the young man.
The clerk’s eyes widened. “You’re Ms. Winthorpe’s son, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Tom began shuffling his feet again, the familiar uncomfortable feeling settling in his stomach.
The tension surrounding the clerk finally disappeared, for it made him feel better that this strange man in front of him was related to someone he actually knew and admired.
“Ms. Winthorpe always used to make me a glass of chocolate milk, even after I smashed her window accidentally when I was ten years old,” the young man said, his brown eyes taking on a reminiscent look. “She was too nice, way too nice for a troublesome kid like me.”
“Yeah, Ma was always one to be good to people.”
“I’m Mark Wallace,” the clerk said, holding out his hand as if to shake Tom’s.
Tom hesitated before extending his own and enveloping Mark’s. Mark could feel the roughness of his skin, as well as how tightly he was grasping his.
“Tom Sloane,” Tom said gruffly, “Gotta go.”
He quickly left the store, not even looking back at Mike, who could only stare at Ms. Winthorp’s strange son, with his hunched shoulders, walking away.
The Winthorpe house was too beautiful, too ancient to be inhabited by someone as simple as Tom Sloane, but he now owned it. It was a two-story home, with delicate furnishings too feminine for Tom, but he wouldn’t sell them, for he wanted to keep his mother near him. With his heightened sense of smell he could faintly sniff the perfume she used to wear and how he’d remember her eating apricots. They were all things that screamed his mother. She had left all of her assets to him, much to his father’s surprise and dismay. You ain’t fit to be an owner of nothing, he could hear his father say in his mind, you’re damn disease will be the end of ya’.
Tom didn’t want to believe that. He didn’t want to believe that someday he would drive out a woman from his life the way that his old man drove out his mother, almost causing her to have a heart attack once finding out too late about the Sloane family disease. Cecilia Winthorpe Sloane vowed she would leave Tom Sloane Sr. once and for all, leaving behind her only son with his father all the way in Alabama, assured by her ex-husband that the boy would follow the same fate as his father. Tom Sloane Sr. was right about that, which is why Tom Sloane Jr. wanted to get away, start his life anew. He felt he could control himself much better now without the scrutiny and hostility he received daily from his father. He knew being among regular folk would tame him.
He knew already that one person fit into this category- Cissy. From that day at the grocery store, he made it a point to return to the supermarket every day. He didn’t care that he looked like an idiot doing it. He didn’t care that Mark was starting to get freaked out by him. He needed to find out her schedule, the days she usually went to the supermarket, during what hours, anything really. He couldn’t get her out of his mind. He’d dream about her at night- her laugh, her teasing look, and her funny remarks. Just thinking about her brightened up his day and for a guy that wanted to feel something else besides misery and pain, being near her was just the ticket.
After about a few days of hanging around the supermarket, he saw her. She’d go there every Thursday. He also found out her last name- Waters. Cissy Waters. He never had the courage to talk to her, for she was the one who initiated their first meeting, and a silly part of him didn’t want to look desperate in her eyes. Though he and Mark could attest to how desperate he truly was.
By this time he knew her smell. She smelled of cotton candy and milk chocolate. Tom smiled to himself, for he knew she spent long hours at her little shop…and what better way to watch her without the scrutinizing gaze of Mark and others by watching her interact with the rest of the townsfolk at the place she loved the most. So he took to wandering the streets at night, easily finding the little shop titled “Cissy’s Sweets”, the smell of innocence and laughter mixed with sweet delights filling his nostrils.
And that’s where he was two months later. Still watching Cissy... And still lonely with no hope in sight.
Cissy Waters sighed contentedly as she unlocked the bright pink door, ready to start the business day of her candy store with new enthusiasm. It was always a dream of hers to open up a shop that catered to her hidden desires, for her health freak of a mother always forbade her to indulge in candy, saying it was bad for the soul or some other bullshit. She always obeyed her mother… to her face at least. But when no one was looking, she’d always rummage through her hidden drawer of what she’d call the “Twinkie stash”, stuffing her face to her hearts content.
Life was pretty normal in Barlow, Oregon... full of friendly people. She knew she was quite a commodity there. There was no point in denying it. With her red hair, mounds of freckles, and green eyes, she was a full-blown ginger kid alright, and she was too old now to give a shit. Boys teased her relentlessly in school, calling her a devil’s child and other nonsense, and she always fought back; must have been the Irish in her, the bad part of her heritage that stuck to her like glue. It wasn’t until she was eighteen that boys began to notice how her plethora of freckles actually complimented her porcelain-like skin, and how her hair was vibrant, and unforgettable. She only had two boyfriends in her life, finding those two relationships to be too bothersome, for they never paid much attention to her after awhile, wanting her to settle down, raise kids. No thank you. She was content having her little shop and doing what pleased her, which was a shocker to her friends, who were already busy popping out more kids than they knew what to do with. But not Cissy. The guys in town were too possessive. It was quite intolerable.
There never really was one guy who she had been drawn to, for they all came after her, until two months ago. In a supermarket. In the meat section.
He was really strange, but quite handsome. She could already tell from his posture and the awkwardness he displayed that he had no idea how attractive he actually was. It was mind-boggling, for she was accustomed to the guys of Barlow to be extremely full of themselves and self-centered.
But once she was talking to this guy, it was a different story. He seemed to dislike her immediately, hanging his head down, barely able to meet her gaze. She was surprised at how defensive he got about his meat, which she obviously only used to start a conversation, and how he insulted her. If the insult wasn’t so silly she would have seriously slapped him. But then she saw his eyes. Yellow, almost anemic. She then knew from the way he bowed his head down in shame that he was embarrassed of it. But the strange thing was, she felt no inclination to run. She should’ve been on the first train to Timbuktu just by the few seconds of gazing into his inhuman eyes, but somehow she couldn’t. It was as if she was rooted to the spot, all the while the guy looked as if he desperately wanted her to leave him alone. Cissy quickly brushed that thought aside, knowing it would do her no good to dwell on the idea that not every one in the world would like her. She got it into her head that they were contacts, and from that moment on, no matter what he said, that was what they were to her, for it was too scary to think of his eyes as anything but fake.
After a few days, she began to inquire of him. Mark told her he found out that the yellow-eyed man was Tom Sloane, the son of the recently deceased Ms. Winthorpe, who Cissy remembered fondly. He now lived at the old Winthorpe residence, having inherited it from her. Ms. Winthorpe was as lively as Cissy herself was, always letting her into her house for some chocolate milk when she was running away from her teasing classmates. She never knew she had a son, though. And the man was as different from his mother as night and day.
But what Cissy began to notice was his constant presence at the supermarket. He was there every time she was. She noticed him watching her, and from the corner of her eye, she could see that he was always a mere few feet behind her. Logic told her to be creeped out by it. That this guy she had only spoken to once had no business following her around if he wasn’t going to talk to her. She almost confronted him, asking him why he kept stalking her, but at the last minute she chickened out, and berated herself for it. The Irish blood in her seemed to have failed her, for she had no problem picking a fight with anyone else, so why not him? Why was he the exception? Because deep down inside she sensed he had a good heart, for he never looked at her maliciously. No, the few times she met his yellowed gaze his hardened features relaxed, as if her presence calmed him.
These thoughts were racing through her mind as she opened up shop for a brand new day, making sure all her displays were lined up, dusting anything that needed it, and counting the regular five hundred dollars that needed to be put in the cash register. Before she knew it, mothers with their children bombarded the store, with the children driving their parents nuts for a new lollipop, “Berry Delight” that came in the store just yesterday.
Cissy was nearly exhausted with running around from the stock room to the sales floor, finally glad when Billy arrived for his early shift.
By evening, it was still a bit packed. Not as much as the morning, but still pretty busy. But Cissy knew her two evening part-timers could handle it. They’ve been handling it beautifully for the past few months. It was time to go home.
At seven o’clock, Cissy closed the bright pink door of “Cissy’s Sweets” and began her ten block walk home. Normally, she would be wary of walking alone at night, but nothing happens in the town of Barlow, so it didn’t really worry her.
But as she passed one block she felt some kind of presence, something watching her. She looked to the opposite side of the street, and saw nothing. She took a big breath. Keep it cool, Cissy. You’re a grown woman, get some courage. Channel in that Irish blood. She continued on, but still felt that presence.
A loud scratching noise suddenly came from the opposite side of the street. She quickly turned, and spotted a shadow of a giant figure, a grunt as if in pain and then the shadow disappeared. She would’ve run far away. But from that low, guttural sound, she knew someone was hurt. It could be a dog or even a human. Logic told her to leave, forget what she saw. Get out of there before anything happened to her, but at the same time she knew her conscience wouldn’t be at ease until she found out who was hurt.
Gathering up whatever courage she could, she headed over towards the other side of the street, near the alley facing her shop. She figured if anything happened to her, she was still right across from the store, where plenty of people could be witnesses.
“Hello?” she called out, barely making out anything in the dark.
She saw the huge figure again, its shoulders hunched, its head down, its heavy breathing echoing throughout the small alley. The creature wouldn’t meet her gaze, but only whimpered.
It had to be a huge dog.
“Here boy,” Cissy whispered, extending her hand so the huge animal would come to her. “You hurt?”
The shadow of the dog shook his head, still hiding among the darkness.
“I won’t hurt you,” she stated, stepping closer to it.
The animal whimpered again, not looking as menacing as it did before.
Cissy smiled. “Come on, boy,” she called, smiling. “If you’re hurt I can help you. I have doggie treats.”
She laughed at her stupid joke. “Come here, please.” She got nearer to the animal, almost touching it.
The shadow of the animal shifted on its hind legs, as if in contemplation. Cissy then noticed a sudden change in the creature, for it began to shake, as if something had gotten hold of it.
Cissy gasped. She knew she had to leave, and leave fast. She began to run, but took no more than two steps before she felt the beast knock her to the ground from behind. Her face made contact with the pavement, blood splattering on the ground in front of her.
She felt the beast’s claws dig into her shoulder blades, turning her around. And finally, she came face to face with something infinitely more dangerous than a big dog. She finally understood the strangeness of Tom Sloane’s eyes, his eating habits, everything. She understood all of this as she gazed into yellow eyes, yellow eyes so full of understanding and reasoning beyond any kind that a normal animal would be capable of. She knew. She finally understood.
“Tom,” she breathed, uttering the first words spoken to him in nearly two months.
He continued to gaze at her, torn between protecting her or giving in to his animal instincts of destroying the woman in front of him. It was the Sloane legacy, to kill at night.
It was in this form that Cissy seemed to understand him the best, for the yellow eyes which finally seemed to belong to this body where easily readable. She knew he was capable of attacking, but capable as well not to.
“Tom,” she whispered, mustering whatever courage was left in her, “I suggest you get off of me if you don’t want me to bash your head in.”
His eyes roamed between her body pressed against his claws and then thought of the ridiculousness of her statement, and coughed as if in laughter.
Cissy smiled, knowing her attempt at a joke calmed him considerably. He loosened his hold on her, and she was able to sit upright, with the wolf’s head bowed down and nuzzling her neck.
Tom reveled in her nearness, still trying to wrap his head around the idea that he had finally gotten through to Cissy, finally made his move, somewhat. He just never thought it would be in his beastly form.