Morningstar: The Malaise - 10. Chapter 10 Between a Rock and a Hard Place
On the outside, looking in....
Morningstar: The Malaise
Kellar had a framed view through the windshield as Tobyn approached Tilly at the front of the truck. They embraced almost awkwardly before he gave her a chaste kiss. She was a slim, pretty girl, obviously curious or confused or both, at the sight of her boyfriend and a strange man hugging. Her attention diverted to the man in the front seat a few times while she appeared to be listening intently to whatever Tobyn was saying. Kellar had never experienced grown-up jealousy before, but recognized his unsettled reaction for what it was. It was not a pleasant feeling.
He’d had a strong inkling he was gay, especially after his only sexual experience with a woman. Although he’d performed fine as near as he could tell, the act hadn’t contained any lasting appeal; there had been no inclination on his part to revisit, despite the repeated invitations. Since he’d never held a strong attraction to any individual prior to yesterday, his suspected orientation wasn’t something he’d had to deal with head on. That wasn’t the case anymore. The man in front of him now, the man who was talking to his girlfriend as he held her hand, Kellar found beautiful in every way. His cock got hard or semi-hard all the time, but now there was a reason for it beside need, or a stiff breeze. Tobyn. Tobyn, who wanted a wife and lots of pups to add to Morningstar. Fuck.
He had to turn away. He would do all he could to help the troubled pack, but there was no way he could stick around and watch the man he might well love, be with someone else. A solitary life was what he was used to, and somewhere inside he was aware of his reality. It was innate to who or what he was. There existed only one person for him, quick as it may have happened, and if that man didn’t feel the same, Kellar didn’t or wouldn’t want anyone else. The question was, when push came to shove, just how open should he be with Tobyn? As attractive as avoidance might be, he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of slinking off with no real explanation.
A thump on the hood got his attention. He’d expected it at some point, but still his dread skyrocketed. At a hand motion from the blond man, he hopped out of the truck to meet the girlfriend.
“Kellar, this is Tilly. Tilly, this is my friend, Kellar.
Friend. Yup, that’s all he was. “Nice to meet you, Tilly,” he said with as much feeling as he could muster.
It spoke volumes to him when she skipped the preliminaries. “Do you really think you can help my sister?”
The earnest question, laced with hope, nailed him right between the eyes, and he felt genuine sympathy for the girl. If anything, he was the interloper here, and he had no right to hold anything against this young woman. Now that he was actively engaged, he could see how exhausted she was. Her colors were alarmingly weak. “I can’t make you any promises, but I’m going to try. How is she doing?”
“Thank you so much. I understand this may be a long shot, but it’s something at least. We’ve been short on hope for….” Shit… tears in those big blue eyes. “I….” Kellar watched her struggle before slowly regaining control. This girl was tougher than she looked. “She’s not doing well at all. There are bruises all over her. Big ones that appeared out of the blue. They’re faint, but visible. She… we are scared. I really hope you can do something, even if just to make her feel a little better. If she could just hold some food down.”
Kellar mentally cringed at the thought of what he’d gotten himself into? This did not sound good. “How long since she’s been able to eat?”
“It’s been two days. She can’t even keep fluids down. I was just going to see if we have fresh mint in the kitchens. I don’t know what else to try.”
“Mint’s a good choice. It might help, and it won’t hurt.” It was his attempt to make Tilly feel she was helping her sister, even though it sounded like a futile measure for someone so ill. Kellar watched Tobyn put his arm around her as she buried her face in his broad chest. This time, there was no jealousy at all; only compassion for this poor young woman teetering on the edge of despair.
The tears were flowing again, so he moved off a ways, giving them their moment. He could have heard the murmurings if he wanted to, but chose not to, instead focusing on the surrounding neighborhood.
Further down the road, two teenage boys were kicking a soccer ball back and forth. A tall woman walked by and nodded pleasantly before climbing the granite steps to the lodge. He absentmindedly catalogued their colors, noting a lack of vibrancy in all three. One of the boys had slightly inflamed tonsils. That, he could surely fix.
He reacted to Tobyn’s call, turning toward them. He hadn’t realized he’d kept moving further from the couple. “Yeah?” They were now standing a little apart from one another, and the crying had ceased.
“When do you want to check on Adelin?”
“Right away. Maybe, I could wash up first?” He closed the distance between him and them.
“What about your plants?” Why was Tobyn looking at him with concern? What was his face showing?
“If we just move them out of the truck they’ll be fine. I can unpack them later. Is your house cool?” He finished walking up to the couple, and tried to ignore the scrutiny he was under.
“Yeah, it stays comfortable in the summer because it’s in the middle of a stand of tall trees. Are you okay?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” Again, he felt Tobyn’s curious evaluation.
“I don’t know, I just felt… are you sure you’re up to this now? Maybe you want to rest a while first?”
“Dude, I just slept for two hours. I’m fine. Does she live far from here, Tilly?”
Even she had a perplexed expression as she took in the short exchange. “Adelin lives with me, and we’re just a ten minute walk from Tobyn’s. I appreciate you trying to help, Kellar. Thank you. I’m going to check for mint, and I’ll meet you at my house.” She surprised him with a quick hug before hurrying off. He didn’t bother to tell her he had plenty of mint, understanding her need to do something, anything, for her sister.
“Okay, let’s get this show on the road.” Kellar winced as the words left his mouth. His feeble attempt at levity had sounded pretty lame. God, he had to sort himself out, and soon. So many people were counting on him, and all he could think of was this sandy-haired man.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Why do you keep asking me that? I told you I’m fine. We’re wasting time, my friend.”
Another curious look. Oh, damn. Did the ‘friend’ sound bitter? Kellar was beginning to get the feeling Tobyn could pick up on his emotions, the same way he could sense the blond man’s. It really was like they were tuning in to one another. Was this a common thing between close friends?
Arriving at the house, they made short work of moving everything inside. The temperature was just right for maintaining the potency of most of the herbs. A lot of work went into the searching out, drying, and storing of these medicinal aids to his healing, and he didn’t want to lose any if it could be helped. A few went into the fridge for optimum protection, while Kellar separated some of the ones he thought could be useful in treating Adelin, leaving the rest to be tended to later. He was given a quick tour of the masculine-feeling, two-bedroom home. It was quite spacious compared to his own cabin, and the large logs were squared while his were rounded. It gave it a classier, but still homey feel.
“This house is ninety years old, and I’d always feel good when I visited. It was as if the place spoke to me, so when it became available, I staked my claim. The man who lived here before didn’t pretty it up like some of them.” Comfortable on the surface, underneath, it was a strained kind of small talk.
“The whole place has a nice vibe to it. It suits you, and I can see why you like it. All the cupboards are beautifully crafted, and it’s good the wood has been kept natural, and not painted. And I love the views of the pines and birches through all the windows; it feels like we’re in a treehouse.”
“Thanks, I’m glad you like it.” Tobyn went quiet momentarily, and Kellar took the time to look out the living room window. “Listen, I didn’t mean to pester you earlier. It’s just… I don’t know… I got this impression you were hurting, and it was a strong feeling. I just want you to know… I understand this might be hard for you, so if you want to talk about anything at all, or if you have questions. I can’t imagine what it was like to go through your first shift with no preparation, and being alone all this time, and then me dragging you here….”
“You need to stop worrying about me. I admit I’m feeling some pressure, but it’s all self-imposed. I’m pretty good at being by myself, and my life hasn’t been easy sometimes, but it hasn’t been so bad. I don’t know what else to tell you. I want to get this over with, and… and hopefully get Adelin feeling better, at least.”
“Get this over with? What does that mean, man? Are you planning to heal Adelin and then leave?”
Kellar wanted to take back those words, because they were spurred by a pain he wanted to keep to himself. There was definitely hurt too, in Tobyn’s question. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it that way. I’m feeling all kinds of emotions right now so just ignore me, all right? I’m not sure what my plans are. Maybe I’m not cut out for this pack, though.”
“Jeez… where is this coming from? Twenty minutes ago you were considering my mom’s offer to join us? Did I do something wrong?”
Now Kellar was really feeling like an ass. He should be able to mask his turmoil better than this because Tobyn had enough on his plate to deal with. “No, man. I consider you a great friend.” That damned word again. It was fine yesterday, but now he hated it. “I’m overwhelmed, is all. Just give me some time, and I’ll sort myself out. This is all getting way too dramatic,” he attempted to joke. “What about Adelin’s parents? Will they be there?” A change of subject was in order, before he blurted out any more words he might regret.
Tobyn was not easily manipulated, though, and he was seeing that clearly as the handsome man surveyed him with a thoughtful expression. “They both passed a couple of years ago. They were only in their fifties. I’m not sure about the reason the mother, Amelyn, died; she just slowly faded. She was never very strong after she gave birth to Adelin, but of course we couldn't take her to a doctor. We think their dad had a heart attack in his sleep. Neville complained of arm pain a few times in the weeks before he died.”
He stalled for a minute, opening his mouth to speak, and then closing it. Finally, he continued. “The girls lived with their aunt up until last year, and then moved into a house of their own. The aunt, Winifred, is quite elderly, so they and the rest of the pack keep an eye on her. We all watch out for each other.” He was still watching Kellar with a concerned countenance.
“Okay. Well, I’m ready if you are.” He went to the kitchen for his previously selected packet of herbs, with Tobyn following him, and they continued out the door. Kellar could almost taste the unsettled something between them.
“Do you want to walk or drive?”
“It’s up to you, but a walk might be a good idea. It’s starting to cool down for the evening. The temperature is perfect.”
“Maybe we can both clear our minds. It’s this way.” Tobyn was silent for a couple of minutes as they walked up a well-shaded road. He cleared his throat before speaking softly. “I’m not clueless, and you’re not the only one who has some emotions to sort through, you know.”
Kellar was startled by the statement, but kept his eyes in front of him. “Are we talking about something specific?” He had to wait for an answer.
“I’ve had this mission… this purpose to save my pack before I even had my first shift. There’s not a lot of us younger wolves left, so who else is it going to fall to, to get to the bottom of what’s happening to us?”
“I know you are. No matter what else may be important to me, I have this strong compulsion to stay the course. Not to deviate, you know? I don’t want to let anyone down, but Morningstar… the fate of shifters period, has to take precedence. Do you understand what I’m saying? I want you to get all of what’s going on with me.”
“I understand, man. You’ve made a decision, and your life is not your own.”
“No, that’s not….” Tobyn exhaled a resigned sigh. “Yeah, I guess that’s exactly it.”
“It’s okay. I do get it. It’s noble. It really is.” He got the message loud and clear. There was no room in Tobyn’s life for a man as a partner. Any attraction for Kellar he might have, was going to be buried. He already knew it, but hearing it was something else again.
Kellar looked up at the white frame house, so unlike Tobyn’s more rugged refuge. “All right, my friend. Let’s see what we can do for your girlfriend’s sister.” Resigned to their now confirmed reality, he was halfway up the stairs when the door opened.
Many thanks to my Editor, Timothy M., and to all those who support this story.
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