The Kingdom of Archer Book I: Bloom

By J.Rose All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

Insecurities

(Lyric)

The light of the morning hit my face like a soft warm blanket. The bed. The sheets. Everything about it even the soft scent of something I could only describe as home pulled me in further into comfort. There was a sense of peace if only for a second where I could breathe easy. Without any worries in the world. Without a care as to where I was. Who I was with. Just like a beautiful rainbow after a storm appears and vanishes. In that same way, everything comes back. The Previous day, Crystal, Spencer, Archer, and Parker.

Everything about yesterday floods back like a dam that has just been broken letting the water flood through for miles and miles. My day with him, Parker. The distance... the cold... my insecurities... his rejection. Everything is so clear in my head, and then, it all goes back to the previous moments before I fell into dark sleep.

“I’m sorry.”
Those words. His words still linger in my head. Echoing out through an empty hallway and sounding off, loud and clear. I couldn’t understand why he was sorry. Sorry for what? That I was his mate? That he was mine? Sorry for what?

The Parker that I knew. The Parker that I had feared not for what he said, but for what he didn’t, would never say sorry. Not to someone like me. Someone who he’d long deemed insignificant. A bug to be squashed. That’s what I had been in his eyes and in everyone else’s eyes. Why him? Why now? So many questions lingered in my head and yet as time passed instead of them being answered more seemed to pop into my head.

“Lyric? Are you awake?” Crystal called out before opening the room door. She offers a smile as she stands at the door with a tray of warm food.

“Breakfast?” She questioned and though I wasn’t hungry all I could do was offer her a smile before tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.

“How did you sleep?” She asks, sitting down on the bed with the tray and setting it on my lap. In front of me, there are a few pieces of toast and cream cheese. Along with a side of juice and fresh strawberries.

“How was your night?” She asks again, and it dawns on me then that I didn’t have a nightmare. There were no illusions about my father, no run in the woods, no gripping horrors of my last night in that hell house.

“It was fine,” I finally tell her, before looking back down at my plate. She offers me a smile and nods.

“That’s good. I’m glad you settled in comfortably,” She tells me, her eyes showing content before speaking once more.

“Eat. We won’t be here for long Lyric,” Crystal says.

“What do you mean?” I asked my heartbeat increasing and sending me into a mode of panic. Was he sending me away already? Had our small interaction the previous night been enough for him to realize how wrong this was.

Although I wanted nothing more than to go back home, I knew that wouldn’t be possible. Not by Nova laws. Still, Parker was royalty and there were other ways to get rid of someone.

What would he do to me? Where would he send me? The irony of the entire situation would have been laughable had I not been so afraid. The man who did not want me, and that I too did not want, now had my fate in his hands.

“It’s nothing, don’t look so afraid,” Crystal says gently her blue eyes softening as she reaches for my hand to hold in hers.

“I just meant that we’re going to pick out bridesmaid dresses,” She says gently.

Taking in her words I try to relax my racing heart and she seems to understand because she throws me a look of pity before speaking.

“Lyric,” She says gently.

“I know that you’re afraid. And I know that you’re unsure of why you’re here.”

“With Parker,” She adds silently, his name lingering in the air for a few seconds and further twisting the knot at the pit of my stomach.

“But trust me when I say he’s changed,” she says.

“He’s not the same guy you met five years ago. He’s different in a good way. That guy that you met a long time ago doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t want you to think I’m saying this just because I’m with Spencer. Or because I want to make you feel better,” she says.

“I’ve seen it. For the past few years. He doesn’t act the same way he used to. He’s not as cold as before or distant. He’s good different,” Crystal says.

Looking back at her I don’t know what to say. What can I say to Crystal at this point? There’s nothing I can tell Crystal now about Parker, not when my mind is a jumbled mess. Many questions linger in my mind that is trying to find words through my confusing muddles brain.

“Why? What changed?” I ask softly.

For a moment she’s silent and her eyes soften as she looks at me. Opening her mouth to answer she doesn’t get a chance to say anything because the door of the room opens once more and Spencer is then standing there.

“Sorry but the car is waiting to drive you to the boutique,” Spencer says to Crystal, who offers him a bright smile and nods.

“Give us a second will you,” She says to Spencer whose eyes soften. It’s easy to see that Spencer is hung on Crystal’s every word. A feeling that is mutual and can be seen with the way they look at one another. There were no romantic words exchanged, just his voice and his eyes looking at her adoringly. Was that what a true connection was like? No words needed just looks of adoration and love. Was that what being in sync with one another truly was?

“I’ll see you later,” Spencer tells Crystal, closing the door again with a soft click.

“You really love him,” I say to her, and she turns to look at me again her eyes almost sparkling as she nods.

“With all my heart,” She says, her words sounding natural as she speaks of it, Love.

“Come on. Eat. We need to be downstairs in a few minutes. So come on. I’ll start the bath while you eat,” Crystal says smiling, before heading toward the bathroom.

“Right,” I think to myself with a sigh. Wondering what a day of confusion would bring to me.

***

By the time I’ve gotten ready, Parker is standing in the room. I find myself stuck in my spot, just outside the bathroom door. He doesn’t seem to notice I’ve walked into the room. His back is to me but even so, I can’t seem to move. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to approach him. Instead, I simply stand where I am pathetically waiting for Parker to notice I’m in the room. It doesn’t take long for him to turn and when he does, he offers me a smile.

“Sorry. How long have you been standing there?” He questions.

“Not long,” I whisper, clutching the side of my soft blue cardigan.

“Crystal wanted me to check on you,” He says, the thick uncomfortable silence between us only increasing with each minute we stood alone in the room.

“I. I just came to get a few things out of my room. But I’ll be out of here quick,” He says, walking over to the large desk across from where the piano is. He opens the top drawer and pulls out a large sketchbook.
“It’s fine,” I manage to say, and all he does is offer me an uncomfortable smile that I return with just the same if not more uncomfortable unease.

He tries to leave after heading toward the door but hesitates as his hand grabs the door knob and instead turns to look at me.

“I. We. I hope you don’t mind but Spencer wants to tag along with you and Crystal for the day and asked me to come along,” he says. His words make my body tense and my chest tightens. My lungs feel without air and all I can do is stand there, silently waiting for air to come to me. For a second, there is silence and I can’t seem to maintain my composure and neither can he because. His gaze briefly shifts to the ground before looking back up at me again.

“It’s fine,” I manage to say, and mentally I hit myself for that being my only answer to him since arriving. When I knew that it was not fine. And I did not feel okay.

“Oh. Okay then,” He says quietly, exiting the room and leaving me alone.

“It’s fine,” I say to myself once more, feeling like an idiot for not speaking up and feeling like I never could express my opinion to this man.

Heading towards the bed I sit there quietly, in silence. I know that what I need now more than courage it’s willpower. I need the strength to lie and put on a charade. This thought in itself sickens me mainly because of my past.

“I can do this. I’ve done it before,” I say to myself, though back then faking was like eating and sleeping. Right now, faking seemed to be anything but that. It felt emotionally draining to pretend when I myself did not know what I was feeling at the moment. How could I hide the one emotion I could not figure out? How could I hide myself from him and his thoughts when I no longer knew who he was or what he was thinking?

“Courage,” I thought to myself, standing up and mustering up the little strength I did have in order to head downstairs.

From a distance, I could hear Crystal and Spencer speaking. Their laughter echoing out through the house. But there were so many stairs, so many hallways and all of them so confusing. I hadn’t paid much attention the previous night as to how I had got to my room. My thoughts had been far too occupied with the occurring events of Parker to think of anything else. All I had done was mindlessly follow him without a glance as to what my surroundings were. It seemed like the further in I went in. The farther I got from voices. The more stairs I went down or up the further into the house I got. Each turn and each step I took seemed like a maze. Finally, I managed to get to the end of the empty hall which held only a single portrait.

She was in an elegant red dress. Her fiery red hair made into an elegant bun. Her cat like emerald eyes gazing deeply back at you piercing through your soul. Spencer had inherited her eyes, but Parker’s penetrating intense gaze belonged to her. She wore a beautiful pearl necklace and pear earrings. All it took was a single glance, and you knew how educated, how refined, and how beautiful this woman was. And yet, the expression on her face gave away only one thing. She was unhappy.

“She’s beautiful isn’t she?”

“But unhappy,” I heard myself say, only to turn around and see King Thomas.

“My late wife,” King Thomas says, and I feel my cheeks tint with embarrassment because of my slip up.

“Sorry,” I say awkwardly, though he simply smiles and shakes his head.

“It is alright. It is the truth. She was not happy here,” King Thomas says.

“Even with the children. She always was so unhappy. It is the fact we have to face when we lose our mate long before we meet them. We don’t get happiness,” He says, and I can detect the bitterness in his words as he gazes at the picture of his wife.

“My only regret is that she did not take the children with her. Maybe then,” He trails off but doesn’t continue. Instead, he stares into the eyes of the painting grief-stricken.

The Queen. Parker’s mother. Lady Annabelle. Everyone knew about her. The woman was a quiet queen. She did not interact with her people much. It was because of this that she earned the name The Silent Queen. Though it was said she loved her children very much. No one knows what it was exactly that happened to her. One day she simply just… vanished. Some say she was sick. Some swear the Kingdom of Cray took her. No one really knows the truth only that the queen vanished almost fourteen years ago and had not been seen since then. Though King Thomas was a fair King, some people believed he sent her away for being an unfit queen. Most people trust the king and believe in the king but without answers as to what happened to the queen, people are left only to wonder.

In my opinion, I believed The Kingdom of Cray taking her away made more sense. Mainly because a funeral for the Queen and a proper send off into the wall of sacred souls was never held.

“Come. Everyone is waiting for you. Let’s not keep them waiting,” King Thomas says gently, leading me out of the hall large maze-like stairways with ease.

“Father,” Parker says standing, as does Spencer and Crystal when they see King Thomas and I approach.

“Sorry to have kept all of you waiting for her. I spotted her in the hall on her way here and we had a small chat didn’t we?” He says offering me a kind smile.

“Yes,” I say to him quietly.

“Well then. Let’s go,” Crystal says, walking over to me and intertwining her arm with mine. Her eyes dancing with a new found excitement I had never seen in her. Nodding I follow her out my eyes and Parker’s meeting only briefly before Crystal pulls me out of the large mansion and into a large town car.

***

The boutique is beautiful. Elegant, classy, those were the only words to describe it. It was almost like watching a scene in a movie. An elegant place surrounded by dresses, mirrors, curtains, all in all, there seemed to be a certain fluttering pink glow that lingered in the shop. The crystal chandelier that hung in the middle of the room offering that extra special warm glow completing the bridal shop’s look. The woman at the front was a beautiful blonde woman in a short metallic green like dress that seemed to be stripped out of a fashion magazine. The woman smiled politely at Crystal who smiled back, her smile genuine and ecstatic that it seemed to be contagious. Never had I seen my almost cold and harsh tell it like it is friend be so genuinely happy in her life.

“Bridesmaid dresses,” I catch Crystal say to the woman, before pulling me toward an isle of dresses at the far corner of the store neatly placed in racks. I try not to pull away from Crystal or to shy away from the woman’s blue eyes accessing me but I can’t help but look down shyly. The woman’s eyes seemed to linger on me trying to figure out what would look best on me.

“There are a lot of options for her. A nice frilly pink dress maybe something short, open in the back. Elegant,” She trails on.

However, my mind seemed to retain only one word. “Open in the back.” Turning to look at Parker his eyes catch my own. Neither of us willing to look away. Maybe it’s the panic of knowing what I have on my back that silences us both. Even if I want to speak Crystal is already hauling me off behind a large curtain before I have a chance to say anything. I can hear the woman who greeted us begin to go on and on about dresses. Before long I’m being handed a simple flowing pink dress that seems to go on for miles and miles. There is a side slit cut that rund high above the thight but it is the back that causes me to panic. The v-shape back slit which seems to expose just what I don’t want to be seen makes me cringe.

I don’t have to be an expert at dresses or even at myself to know I’m wrong for this dress. One glance and there’s far too many problems with it. My legs don’t run for miles. My back isn’t beautiful and to make matters worse everyone will see it. The nasty burned pink flesh on my back. Just behind my right shoulder. If I were more confident, maybe it would be perfect. I could walk in the dress without a care. But I was far too insecure for that. I’d always been this way. It wasn’t so much because I thought it was ugly or an imperfection.

I hated what it represented. How weak it looked. How everyone would know how fragile and broken I had once been. It represented a dark park of me I wanted to forget. Just like that burn, that dark part of my past, it would never go away.

“So?” Crystal called out, snapping me out of my own thoughts.

“Oh. It didn’t fit,” I hear myself say.

For a moment Crystal’s quiet and I hold my breath hoping she believes me and then she speaks.

“It’s fine. We’ll try another one.”

Sighing in relief I try to remain calm and simply hope for the best.

Dress after dress after open back, one shoulder dress I keep making excuses. Seconds seem like minutes, minutes into hours and hours feel like days. Time goes by and I keep making excuses. It seems like every dress that’s been brought to me has been open back or showing exactly what I don’t want to show. I make excuses and haven’t let Crystal see me. I can hear the impatience in her voice towards me with each dress that she hands me and that I reject. Right now I’m standing in front of a mirror with a little black one-shoulder dress. Staring at my burn and looking at my unconfident eyes stare back at me.

“Come on Lyric. Let me see,” Crystal says.

“It didn’t fit,” I hear myself say.

“You said that the last five dresses,” Crystal says, her voice filled with exasperation.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad. Come on,” She says but when I don’t answer back, she speaks again.

“Come on,” Crystal calls out in frustration.

“I can’t,” I want to say.

“I’m coming in then,” she says impatiently, but just as the curtain begins to open and I can see her hand it’s gone.

“Hey!”

I can hear whispers and rustling before someone rushes out. My heart is pounding with worry and panic but I try my best to calm myself down before Crystal gets back. I don’t want Crystal to look at me in this dress as I feel self-conscious. With those thoughts in my mind, I quickly change out of that elegant dress and into my pink summer dress. It’s comfortable and covers my back with the fabric just enough to hide my burn mark. Clutching my cardigan, I sit patiently. though I don’t notice I’m shaking nor do I notice Crystal coming back until she reaches for my hand to stop the shaking. Looking up at her she gives me a look of understanding, tears in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“I forgot about the fire. I just… Sorry,” She says softly, fighting back tears.

“I picked something else. It’s soft pink. Your favorite color. And covers the burn,” Crystal says, extending the short dress out to me.

“It’s fine,” I say to her.

“I’m sorry about this. It’s stupid to still care,” I hear myself say.

“It’s not. You’re entitled to feel whatever way you like. I’m sorry for being insensitive about it,” Crystal says.

“You weren’t,” I say.

“Come on. Try it on,” Crystal says. But before anything else can happen or either of us can say anything, large blasts are heard outside along with screams. And then.

*Boom! *

Like a large gust of wind, a storm hits and Crystal and I are hurled across opposite ends. I close my eyes and cover my face with my hands awaiting the impact of being hurled into a large mirror. Only to land harshly on something soft.

“Where is she? Where is my mate?”

Turning to see who I’ve landed on all I can see are the eyes of a familiar large brown wolf. Its eyes gazing back at me before he stands in front of me protectively.

“Are you okay?” I hear in my head.

“Where is she?”

I hear someone else say that I have to turn and look. There in front of us and all the chaos surrounding us a large gray and black spotted hyena is standing. Its dark blood red eyes scan the room with hate until they land on me.

“Found you,” He says just before Parker growls ferociously.

(Parker)

I was here again. Back at her house. Only this time it was empty. The smell of smoke still lingered in the walls. The farther I walked in, the darker it was. Water began to build and rise while empty bottles of alcohol and gasoline began to float. Higher and higher the murky water rose until I was underwater. Trying to swim my way out I couldn’t see much. The water was murky and the little I could see was a simple pink light. Soon it began to grow and before I knew it, there was a body floating in the middle of that light. Her eyes dead for just a second but I recognized her immediately. Angel. Reaching for her hand she seemed to awaken before I could reach her, offering me a smile; though her eyes were still pitch black.

“This way Parker,” She whispered, swimming forward and leading me deeper into the house and down to the basement door.

There’s a single lock on the door but I know she’s in there. I try to pull the lock to break it but nothing works. It is only when Angel pulls out the key that’s been tied around her neck and hands it to me that I can open it.

“Good luck,” She whispers before vanishing. Opening the door, the water begins to decrease and I’m left soaking wet and standing in front of her.

She’s sitting in a chair her hair covering her face while she looks down at the floor in tears.

“Lyric,” I call out to her but she doesn’t answer. Her shoulders begin to shake and I can hear her soft cries. When she finally looks up at me she’s no longer the Lyric I had met five years prior. She’s the Lyric that arrived in my life now. She’s older much like she is now only her eyes have gone void more so than before.

“Why?” She speaks for the first time. Her voice shaky

“Why does it have to be you?” She cries, her voice soft and broken.

“I have nothing to live for. You took that away from me,” She cried before a soft clinking sound is heard. That’s when I see the knife covered in blood. Her arm is laid out limply to her side while specks of blood fall to the ground.

“Lyric! What have you done?” I say running to her trying to stop the bleeding.

“Why? Why you?” She says weakly.

“He’s going to take me away. And he’s going to kill me,” She says before a loud roar is heard and I find myself falling.

“Parker.”

Opening my eyes, I look up to see Crystal looking down at me. She’s holding a tray of food in her hands and looking at me with curiosity.

“Did you sleep here all night?” She asks and though I don’t answer my back does feel the stiffness of falling asleep resting against my bedroom door.

“I just wanted to make sure she was going to be okay and somehow ended up falling asleep.”

“You should go get ready. We’re going to pick out Lyric’s bride’s maid dress,” Crystal said.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I tell her.

“She’s afraid. I know that but you’re not going to get anywhere with her if you guys keep avoiding each other. Baby steps Parker,” She says, opening the door of the room and closing it behind her.

“Baby steps,” I tell myself, heading to a guest bathroom to shower.

***

As much as I tried to think of a way to get Lyric to accept me somehow all the bad I had done outweighed the small good things. The more I thought about it the more the guilt weighed me down. The frustration of having her so close and not being able to touch her, hold her, or tell her how I felt was frustrating. I had ruined my first impression with her a very long time ago but how she would see me now would affect so many things for our future. I knew she wasn’t comfortable around me and I was to blame for it. Still, that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Opening the door to the room it was empty and the shower could be heard from a few feet away.

Her things were laid out on the bed neatly and there was a book on the floor. Picking it up a single page flew out. I didn’t have to read it to know it was the letter I had written to her so many years ago. Somehow knowing that she’d kept it made hope rise inside me. Though she didn’t know I had written it just knowing she’d kept something I’d given her made me feel at ease. Still, I knew that I could never tell her that letter was written by me. There was no doubt in my mind she was still afraid of me. Whatever reassurance she felt from my words I was not going to take them away from her. Setting the book down and stuffing the letter inside I placed the book back on the nightstand hoping that she wouldn’t notice the difference. The shower was no longer running, and I knew she would be back here any minute. Still, I needed to talk to her or at least try to find a way to ease some of the tension between us. Walking toward the window I looked out to the courtyard.

A long time ago maybe things would have been different had she stayed in our lives. It had been a long time since I thought about my mother. I hadn’t allowed myself to do so. Mostly because of the feelings that came with it. Before Lyric, before any of this mess. There were examples. Often I’d see soulmates walking together looking happy and in love. Then there were my parents. The kingdom looked up to them, loved them. For a really long time, things seemed okay. I would see her from my room and she would always sit by the flower beds reading, knitting, or simply just relaxing. She would never talk to us, look at us, or acknowledge us. The only time she ever paid attention was when we were around the council or had celebrations. Spencer and I would always look forward to parties. Mainly because it was the only time we could run to our mother hug her and she would reciprocate our affection. Spencer was five, and I was seven when she had walked away. That was something I could never forget.

The halls of the Archer Mansion were empty. Not a maid, butler, or any kind of servant remained in the mansion. Standing upstairs holding on to the rails of the steps Parker stood quietly holding Spencer’s hand. In the middle of the living room, his mother was standing holding a suitcase in each hand tears in her eyes while King Thomas stood in front of her.

“I can’t do this anymore,”

“The pretense.”

“Having to live a life I didn’t ask for. A life that was forced on me by my parents,” Queen Annabelle cried.

“They lied to me. They made me believe that I would be happy. But he’s alive Thomas. I know I lied to you but I can’t keep doing it anymore,”

“He’s a bad man Annabelle.”


“I love him. It’s stronger than anything I’ve felt before. It’s not something I can control. That any of us can control. Please try to understand.”

“What about our children! You can’t just leave them behind.”

“Even if I wanted to take them, Thomas. He would never accept them,” Annabelle said, tears in her eyes. Reaching to touch his cheek gently only to have him move away. She pulled her hand back slowly and smiled wryly.

“You know I’m not a good mother. I can’t love them. As much as I try. I-”

“So you don’t want to be a mother to your children but you’re leaving with him to raise his child,” King Thomas spoke bitterly.

“They have you. They’ll be fine,” Annabelle spoke quietly.

“I know I’m being selfish. That I always have been selfish. Maybe they won’t forgive me but I hope you can explain it to them one day so they’ll understand,” Annabelle spoke.

“Good Bye Thomas,” She whispered before walking out of the castle grounds. Upstairs both Parker and Spencer were silently crying watching their mother leave them behind.

For a long time, Spencer and I resented our mother for her abandonment. Then one day when we were older fifteen and thirteen our father finally told us the entire story. Our mother had been forced to marry our father who had lost his soulmate and needed a queen. Her parents didn’t approve of her soulmate and separated them. Our father never did say who he was but neither Spencer nor I ever asked. Back then I didn’t understand why she had picked him over us. Even now I still can’t comprehend why she would leave us behind. But I did learn to hate. I learned to hate soulmates, to want to never find my soulmate. Spencer had been more understanding towards our mother. Maybe because he had Crystal when they were younger he could truly understand that bond and pull but I never could until now. Had I known Lyric from the beginning just like Spencer and Crystal had known each other, maybe things between us would have been different? Maybe I wouldn’t have ruined things so bad. Then again, maybe I would have.

I had not realized how long I had been standing there only that before I knew it Lyric was standing in the room silently looking down at the floor.

“Sorry. How long have you been standing there?” I asked her.

“Not long,” She whispered softly, nervously clutching on to the sides of her sweater.

“Crystal wanted me to check on you,” I lie, not wanting to make this more uncomfortable for her than it already was.

“I. I just came to get a few things out of my room. But I’ll be out of here quick,” I managed to say, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. Finding an excuse to leave her alone for now was easy, and I found myself reaching for my sketchpad that was inside my desk drawer.

“It’s fine,” She whispered after a long period of silence.

I wanted to leave her alone knowing my presence affected her, still, as I headed toward the door I couldn’t help but hear Crystal’s voice in my head.

“Baby Steps.”

“Right Baby Steps” I muttered to myself before turning to look at her.

“I. We. I hope you don’t mind but Spencer wants to tag along with you and Crystal for the day and asked me to come along,” I tell her. For a second her posture goes rigid and she looks down not knowing what to say. I can’t control the feeling of hurt and guilt that comes with her reaction every single time she knows I’m going to be near her.

“It’s fine,” She replies again quietly.

“Oh. Okay then,” I manage to tell her, though I know she’s lying and feels uncomfortable I hope that one day she won’t feel like that anymore. Closing the room door behind me, I make my way downstairs.

“So how did it go?” Spencer asks quietly once I’m in the living room where he and Crystal are already waiting.

“Crystal says you slept outside your bedroom,” Spencer says.

“I didn’t want to make the situation more uncomfortable for her than it already was.”

“You could have slept in one of the guest bedrooms,” Spencer tells me.

“I didn’t want to be away from her,” I think to myself.

“I told her I would be going with you. She didn’t take it well.”
“Did she say that?” Crystal asked.

“You know her better than I do. She would never say anything like that to anyone. But. She didn’t have to say it,” I tell them and for a second their quiet, exchanging looks with each other.

“If I could I would send her back. The last thing I ever want to do is make her feel like she’s forced to stay here,” I tell them. I can see Spencer’s eyes show understanding at my words before he speaks,

“You know, it won’t be like that. Don’t you? Mom-”

“Does it matter?” I ask him.

“You’re Soulmates,” Spencer says before footsteps are heard and we all stand up to see Lyric with my father.

“Father,” I say, wondering what he’s doing with Lyric and he must know it’s what I want to ask because he speaks.

“Sorry to have kept all of you waiting for her. I spotted her in the hall on her way here and we had a small chat didn’t we?” My father spoke. His smile was kind and gentle as if speaking to a small fragile child. Lyric didn’t seem to mind in fact she simply nodded shyly.

“Yes.”

Smiling at her Crystal then walks over to her intertwining her arm with Lyric who looks surprised at her.

“Well then. Let’s go,” She tells Lyric before leading her toward the waiting car parked outside.

***

Once we’re at the bridal shop Crystal immediately pulls Lyric inside where a blonde haired woman in a green dress is waiting for them.

“Ms. Mane I’m glad to see you back here with Mr. Archer,” The woman says, offering Spencer a smile and bowing politely. There was always something about people behaving so courteous that always drove Spencer and me mad. His tight smile reaction was an indication that it made him feel uncomfortable.

“Yes. I was hoping we could look at bridesmaid dresses,” Crystal says to the woman, who finally seems to notice Lyric. She looks at her up and down scrutinizing her almost and somehow I felt like putting myself in between them.

Maybe it was the fact that Lyric seemed to want to shy away that made me feel this way. Her eyes seemed downcast and shy trying to avoid eye contact while she nervously looked around the shop.

“There are a lot of options for her. A nice frilly pink dress maybe something short, open in the back. Elegant,” The woman continues. At her words, panic settles in Lyric and at first, I don’t understand why, almost forgetting myself, but just for a second my mind flashes back to that hallway. My hand reaching to touch her right shoulder, the fire, the hospital. Unconsciously I turn to look at her, guilt weighing me down once more. Lyric looks back at me and though we both understand what her panic is about, I can’t seem to say anything and neither can she. Not that there was time because Crystal is already pulling her along to pick out a bridesmaid dress for her.

“Women,” Spencer mutters rolling his eyes.

“Right,” I tell myself.

The more times goes on, the bigger the wait, the guiltier I feel. I don’t blame Crystal for not remembering something I myself had almost forgotten. What I couldn’t forget was the look of terror on Lyric’s face. There was panic in her eyes, terror at having someone look at the burn the fire had left her. That burn, that mark, was something that would never go away. I realized that. To her, it would always be a reminder of something horrible in her life. To me, it would always be a reminder of the guilt, and everything that I had done wrong. Still, like that burn that had scarred her, I realized that even if I amended what I did to her she would always remember the hurt I had caused.

“Relax she’ll be fine,” Spencer spoke up, breaking my train of thought. Though I tried to relax the more time that went by the more uneasy I began to feel.

Crystal would walk into the dressing room with a dress then come back out minutes later with a look of frustration and determination. Each time Lyric would say the dress did not fit. I could tell Crystal was getting frustrated but it, of course, didn’t help the fact that all she chose were open back dresses.

“Come on Lyric. Let me see,” Crystal says to Lyric for what felt like the hundredth time. There’s silence for what seems like hours until finally, Lyric responds.

“It didn’t fit,” Lyric says, her voice soft and on the brink of breaking. As I turned to look att Crystal who wores a look of exasperation on her face I realize she too was over it. It became more than a little obvious that she was annoyed and was no longer listening to anything anyone else said.

“You said that the last five dresses,” Crystal says, her impatient and fierce nature showing just for a second before she sighs trying to keep her patience.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad. Come on,” She tells Lyric, trying to calm herself.

“Come on,” Crystal pleads, but when she isn’t met by an answer determination shows on her face.

“I’m coming in then,” She finally says losing the small little patience she still had left. I knew Crystal’s explosive nature although she was never harsh toward Lyric, I knew she would still hurt her feelings. Even if she didn’t mean to do it. Before she could walk into the dressing room, I managed to grab her and pull her aside.

“Hey!”
“What’s your problem?” Crystal says.

“You really don’t remember do you?” I question her and for a second she’s confused and unsure of what to say.

“The fire,” I tell her before she grows quiet, recognition clouding her face, and no longer is there frustration written on her features but guilt and shame.

“I forgot,” She whispers quietly, looking at the pile of dresses laid out at the side of the shop on a red velvet couch.

“I just. She didn’t say anything.”

“She never says anything,” Crystal corrects herself.

“She’s my best friend and she still can’t speak her mind to me,” Crystal speaks her eyes sad.

“It’s not your fault,” I say to her, and she offers me a soft smile.

“You know it’s not yours either Parker,” She says, walking into the dressing room with Lyric.

“Everything okay?” Spencer asks.

“Yeah,” I manage to say before we both walk over to the small bench next to the display window. Outside we could see people on the streets walking calmly. Interacting with each other and then… Chaos.

Have you ever been in a moment where time stops? Where things seem to be in slow motion and before you know it. There’s a certain calm. A sense of peace before the storm that causes people to feel at ease. Still, instincts are instincts. Just like that the calm goes. People scream and run. In the distance, I can see a large rabid hyena running in our direction.

“Cray.”

“Parker!” Spencer yells. We don’t have to think twice because we both know who he is. Moving out of the way we shift instinctively and protectively.

*Boom! *

Glass shatters and falls everywhere although my mind registers a threat all I can think about is Lyric. Getting to her and protecting her. Both Crystal and Lyric have been hurled across the room and all I can do to soften her landing I leap in the direction she has been thrown in.

“Where is she? Where’s my mate?”

The Hyena screams angrily his red eyes blazing with anger growling back at him Spencer and I both stand protectively in front of our mates. Briefly, I turn to look at Lyric her eyes afraid and confused as to what is going on.

“Are you okay?” I ask and though I know she can hear my thoughts in her head, she does not reply.

“Where is she?” Cray growls out again. It is only when Lyric’s gaze shifts to him that her fear increases. My instincts and adrenaline seems to hit an all-time high as he turns to look back at Lyric himself.

“Found you,” he says.

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