Chapter 12

After a long and relaxing shower, feeling the water flow over my skin and massage away the deep knots of the past day, I headed downstairs towards the kitchen which was eerily quiet when I reached it.

Before I left there would be a hustle and bustle of tripping over each other but now it was dead and I was the only one around. It took me moment as I recalled my old routine of dancing around the kitchen with half twirl to the cupboard, a leap round the table and another twirl for my cereal.

Pouring the little chocolate treats into the bowl made me feel like nothing had happened and for a moment I was lost in the simplicity of a life I used to have. Prancing over to the fridge to put away the milk I slide on the wood floor and lose balance grabbing onto the nearest thing I could find as I brace for impact and land against a hard set body.

Peaking through my closed eyes, shows me that I’m clinging onto the hard biceps of Rafe and I instantly flush jumping back from him and nearly falling again over the, thankfully, not broken milk carton. To which I get deep throated, belly laughter from Rafe I glare as I bend down to pick up the milk yet can’t help but admire his carefree attitude that has rarely been present since I met him. I clutch the milk like a lifeline as I watch him with a steady gaze, he smirks a crooked grin that makes my heart flutter and I manage to make my body function to put the milk away and sit down.

I start to eat my cereal and feeling self-conscious I look over at him leaning against the door frame, the sunlight shining through the window making his golden eyes glint but shadowing his face, just like when I’d first met him. “Are you sitting down, or are you just going to stand there and stare all day?” I call over to him looking down into my bowl so I don’t see his reaction to my gutsy call.

I hear him push himself off the wall with a sigh and I could’ve of sworn he said something. I ignore it as he walks to the table, still looking at my bowl I can almost picture him shaking his rugged dark hair as he scrapes the wooden chair across the floor making it squeak. “Better?” he asks rhetorically as I look up, squinting through my now long side fringe. He reaches across the table and hesitantly tucks the pink strands behind my ear, I exhale a whoosh of breath as he does this, my emotions writhing around inside.

I smile up at him sheepishly and nod trying to regain my dignity. “Do you want anything to eat?” I daren’t look him in the eyes as flashes of what happened this morning pop into my mind, that glimpse of his body, the scar. He looks at me inquisitively, but shakes his head “Your pleasant relatives sorted me out.” I shovel down the rest of my breakfast nodding awkwardly.

I forget he is there as I concentrate on chasing the last few stragglers around the bowl, my brow furrowed as I get them onto the spoon but always dropping the last one. Then as I gain victory I let out a small whoop of success drinking the last of the milk from the bowl to hear the sounds of amused laughter. I peak over the top of the bowl and blush an intense red, remembering Rafe was here all along and he just witnessed my childish behaviour.

“So do chocolate hoops always offer such a long standing battle against the mighty spoon, or do you they surrender sometimes too?” he asks teasingly and I blush. Standing up to wash my bowl, I turn towards the sink behind me and can feel his gaze burning into my skin. “I enjoyed your dancing to.” This makes me drop the bowl with a clank onto the draining board. Great, I think as suds and water splashes everywhere my cheeks a furious red.

“You, er, saw that?” I stumble over my words as I wipe up the water.

“Have you ever been to a ball?” I turn and shake my head, I’d never had the opportunity to and my Grams had always said that I shouldn’t go to social events. “I’m going to take you to one, one day.” He says earnestly, so much so that I jerk my head and catch him looking at me, the eye contact sends a shiver down my spine and I feel a memory of a kiss rise to the forefront of my mind, but that hasn’t happened, I tell myself off, just even more wishful thinking.

“Well thank you.” I reply quietly. Sitting down again as my Grams hobbles into the kitchen Rafe sits up straight as I catch a knowing glance pass between the two I frown looking down at the table “Good morning Dahlia. I trust you’ll help out today before you leave tomorrow?” peering up at my Grams’ serious face I moan internally, seems as though everything is going to the same as it used to be for a day at least.

“Sure Grams.” I smile up at her and stand up to make her tea.

“Don’t bother dear,” she looks over at me, I catch Rafe’s eyes roaming my face, I smile sheepishly at him “I’ve got clients and some business to attend to with Raoul and you too Rafe.” She peers at him pointedly and says his name through her teeth; I swear he sank down in his seat a little bit.

She ends up motioning for Rafe to follow her and I see his sheepish expression as he glances at me like he’s going to get told off. I smile to myself wiping around the kitchen as dust motes start to rise and swirl around. Wolf like panting and claws clacking on the wood floor tell me that Rao is behind me and I turn to see his steady pale grey gaze “I see that our friend is up and talking, he does have a thing for the theatrics doesn’t he?” I let out a short laugh though my face betrays me as I remember yesterday and the cold eyes, concern etched across it.

“Raoul, what was that? Yesterday.” he sits down with a heavy sigh, cleaning his massive paws as he always seems to. Shaking his shaggy fur and scratching behind his ear, a quick sneeze and just as I was about to storm out of the room in quite a childish manner he replies. “That was an evil act and a story only he can tell, it’s his to share, and nothing to be done about that now is there?”

“Always the cryptic then.” I mutter grudgingly and look over to him with a small smile and an understanding nod in reply to his answer. I brush past him ready to walk out just as my Grams comes back into the room like she’s on a mission her face an angry blotchy red, she points silently at Rao and storms out of the room again Rao grumbling as usual but tail slightly between his legs. Nobody messes with the Oracle.

I leave the kitchen turning round the corner past the dark reading room and down the corridor into the day room, taking in a deep and clean breath. The smell of books and sunlight consuming me I sink into one of the plump chairs and start to read an old fairytale before cleaning up the rest of the house.

Raised voices disturb the silence of the day room and I realise its around midday now as the sun shines down brightly in the sky, green tinted every now and again as a tree waves in front of its gaze. I’d been reading for quiet few hours. I mark my page and get up to listen to the voices muffled at first as I approach the door “You can’t seriously think that.” A voice shouts, it sounds like Rafe though through the door it could also be Rao.

“Well, she dotes on you like a love sick puppy; you’ll be the death of her!” my Grams’ voice is definitive and strong through the closed door, my stomach feels like bats are flurrying around and I struggle to hold myself back from bursting through the door into the corridor. “Is it that bad Delphine?” the drawl of the laid back voice is Rao and I hear heavy footfalls coming down the hall.

My grandmother shrieks a reply that I can’t discern and a voice quietly, deadly quiet replies and there’s no doubt that it is Rafe’s now “And what, if I love her?” my heart flutters in excitement as adrenaline pumps through my veins, I scramble back into my chair as the door knob twists, grabbing my book and opening to a random page not caring anymore if it’s the right one. Trying to control my breathing, he enters and I feel his gaze drift over me, a moments silence passes before he speaks “Do you always read books upside down?”

I throw my gaze to the book and heat rises to my cheeks, I was holding it upside down and at that moment all I wanted to do was curl up and die. “I, er, well I... wanted to see the picture from a different angle.” I say feeling proud of my excuse as I open the book so he can see the beautiful illustration on the other page. He looks at me raising an eyebrow; I don’t quite think I convinced him he smirks and sits down next to me taking the book from my hands.

“You like Grimm’s tales?” he asks looking up at me, cautiously turning the thin parchment pages; I nod and watch as he flicks carefully to my bookmarked page. “Snow White and Red Rose? ‘I am a king's son, he said, and I was bewitched by that wicked dwarf, who had stolen my treasures. I have had to run about the forest as a savage bear until I was freed by his death.  Now he has got his well-deserved punishment.” As he reads his expression darkens ever so slightly and he smiles a dark grin and I wonder why this part seems to affect him so much.

Just as I was about to speak he closes the book with an almost dignified action and hands the book back to me just as Rao’s voice drawls from the door way “How fitting.” He looks at Rafe with a raised brow, flicking his bushy tail behind him as he turns and walks away. I wait patiently in hope that he explains but he just shakes his head at me “Ready to clean?” he asks abruptly after a long pause and I jump slightly.

“Let’s do this.”  I smile and stand up, leading the way up the hall round to the right past the reading room and kitchen into a storage room. I look at his baffled expression as he sees the mountains of clutter. “We just need to make it neater.” I smile broadly at him and head into the room to be surrounded by the familiar smell of dust and musty old things.

Hours passed by with light conversation as we mock old clothing and glory over even older books and trinkets. With the room finally neat again I heave a sigh of relief as we are called into the kitchen. Rafe stops me before we enter “I’ve had fun today.” He smiles an easy smile that touches his eyes melting the gold merging it with mine as he looks deeply into my green. I place my hand over his and give a light squeeze smiling up at him as butterflies flutter pleasantly in my stomach “I did too.”

In the kitchen my Grams is sat at the head of the table, a strong aroma of mint tea fills the room and she takes a sip from her delicate china cup gesturing for me to sit by her and Rafe being banished almost to the other end of the table as Rao sits on a chair filling the frame with his burly frame and fluffy fur making him appear even taller and more intimidating than he already was.

With a cough and a clearing of his throat he speaks “We need to plan the journey for tomorrow. It may take weeks until we reach the Ice Plains. But I suggest we go there first, the Swamps will only hinder your investigation.” I look up at him and his steady gaze drifts from my Grams’ approving nod and looks at me.

I shudder slightly the intense gaze going through me “Okay.” I agree unsure and look at Rafe for reassurance, out of the corner of my eye I catch my Grams glaring at Rafe. Rafe looks at me briefly and then stares intently at the table. It takes me a moment to realise he’s looking at a map. Plotted slightly away from the centre was the Arcana house, north was marked the vampire covens and same with the south. Leading north-east showed a trail heading through the dark woods of Wintrem even more northerly past some old ruins and hitting the boundary of the Ice Plains. “Is this our path?” I say trailing my finger along the lines that have been marked on.

“Yes, we will need a lot of supplies though along the way we can live off the land.” He bows his head and I let out a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. Out of the corner of my eye Rafe shifts uneasily in his seat and it’s not just because Grams is giving him a glare that would make hell freeze over. I follow his gaze and see it’s focussed on the old ruins.

“You will have to leave early tomorrow, Cassandra is coming again and I would prefer not to have any trouble.” She looks pointedly at me and I shrink into my seat slightly. She waves a dismissive hand and stands up to go to bed as I realise for the first time that darkness has fallen outside and the candles were flickering around us.

“Goodnight and good luck everyone.” She says wearily and I glance up at her, her weathered face looking older and more frail than usual as she leaves the kitchen. Rao jumps down from the chair with a silent whoosh as his pads hit the wood and he trots out looking back intently at Rafe who stares back at him with a cryptic expression.

“Do you mind me staying in your room again? I’ll be in the rocking chair this time.” He jokes and I smile up at him. He places his hand gently on mine as he pulls me from my seat and he leads me upstairs. I grab my PJs and change quickly in the bathroom. When I enter the room again his eyes are closed as he leans back in the chair.  I tiptoe over to my bed stubbing my toe on a corner and I attempt to muffle a cry as he laughs “You good?” I blush as tears prickle my eyes and my toe throbs “Yeah, never better.”

He laughs quietly as I get into bed “Good night Rafe.” I say quietly and close my eyes to drift into sleep and just as my dreams begin to suck me in I hear his muffled answer “Good night crazy Dee.” I smile as the dreams encompass me. 

The End

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