It’s the day of the full moon, and you watch her as she comes home from her shift, toeing off her worn out sneakers as she collapses on the bed you share, the same bed that also serves as your couch. There’s the smell of coffee on her, because she works as a barista.
She always comes home so tired, and today is no exception. Her eyes are almost closed, and you know that she’s forgotten what day it is. On the full moon, she is always running hither and thither. She comes home and makes tea or, if it’s too hot, she returns with a bottle of dollar wine from the gas station. Or she comes home to check on you before going for a walk so that she can find something green and beautiful to give away under a silvery moon.
But today, she comes empty handed and tired and exhausted.
You look out the window, the light filtering through the bent and broken blinds already thin and dimming.
She doesn’t have a lot of time to find something, some offering or token of affection to offer to the goddess. Once, she had stayed out as late as she pleased but then she had gotten a job and she needed to rise at four a.m.
You don’t have much time either, but that’s okay. There never is enough time.
Instead, you rise and go towards her. Her arms are stretched over her head, pulling her shirt up, revealing her navel and her silver piercing. You crouch in front of her, and finish pulling off her socks so that her feet are bare.
The socks have left deep grooves in her skin, and you rub the soreness away with your thumbs before running them down the curved arches of her foot, gently rubbing out the knots, and rotating her ankle in your fingers so the muscles pull and stretch. You think you can feel the stress bleeding from her flesh, but you think that’s also just your imagination.
She sighs, quietly, before propping herself up on her elbows to stare at you.
“You’re the best girlfriend,” she says.
You don’t say anything, you never do, because you know it’s not true but it’s useless to argue with her about it, she’s so stubborn.
“Do you remember what day it is?” You kiss her knees now that you can reach them since she’s sitting up properly.
You nod, agreeing. “Yes it is.” You fold her hands in yours and kiss her knuckles.
It comes to her. The tension you’ve unwound is knotted back up again as she remembers. “Oh my god,” she said. “Oh my god.” She pulls away from you, rolling off the bed as she’s already shoving her feet back into her shoes.
You sit back on your haunches, watching her struggle. “There were these—beautiful roses,” she pants as she switches her shoes so they’re on the right feet. “I saw them on facebook, when the hedge witches went up to the mountain. Wild, beautiful roses—“
“That’s a long drive, to be there and back again, by tonight.” You look at your empty hands in your empty lap.
She stops, glares down at you. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
“Give them to her on the next full moon,” you say. “She’ll understand if you have nothing to offer.”
“I know that,” she says, her voice petulant as she sags against the wall. “That’s not the point. It’s something that I want to do.”
“There are beautiful flowers,” you say, “they’re growing right outside. All you have to do is pluck a blossom or two.”
She looks at you like you’ve just said something she never would have expected you to say in a thousand years. You cover your mouth with your hand, embarrassed.
“Those aren’t mine to give,” she says. “They’re the complex’s.”
You sigh, and it comes out more like a growl than air but you don’t care. “We pay rent, don’t we?”
“I’m not going to give her something that I stole.” She’s not quite giving you the cold shoulder, and she never does, not really, but you still expect it whenever you disagree. You know that’s unfair of you but sometimes you can’t help the fears rooted in your gut.
“Then give it to a thief deity,” you say. “There’s plenty.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m going to take a shower, and then I’m going to be gone for the rest of the evening.” She pauses, and you see a flush in the high rises of her cheek, and you realize that she’s forgotten, and that she feels guilty for forgetting. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Of course I’m going to be fine,” you say. You rise, ready to leave for the night. You need to get out of town. You hug, awkwardly, too shortly. She smells like coffee and the breath of her fills your mouth as your eyes close.
You wait until you hear the rush of water from the shower before you leave, then you’re vaulting down the stairs, landing on all fours as you sprint down the lane towards the well to do neighborhood, the one just on the other side of the tracks, the kind that have perfect landscaping and gardeners to do all the work.
You can’t use the flowers that are growing in the scrap of dirt in front of the office at your place because she’d know, and that’s the last thing you want. As you run, heart pounding in that space between your ears, your breath pulsating against the soft tissue of your throat, you briefly consider going to the hedge witches for help. But then you remember that they’re not around, that they always have their stalls closed up on the full moon, and even you’re not stupid enough to steal from them.
You stop, dirt and pebbles kicking up from under your heels, as you near the rich residential place. It’s gated, a keep out sign to the rest of the world who don’t meet their standards. Lilac bushes grow thick and lush behind it, the tops of the bushes peeking up over the wall, the weight of the leaves and the branches, bending all that greenery down towards you.
If you stand on your tiptoes, you can just reach it with your fingertips.
As far as you’re concerned, anything hanging over the wall is up for grabs, but you know that she doesn’t feel the same way.
Sometimes she’s so damn righteous, and you roll your eyes as you lick the sweat from your lips. She’ll be done soon, and you don’t have much time. Without taking another moment to think or consider, you reach up, and break off the lilac, two bunches of it before sprinting back around.
No one’s seen you. No one’s around. It’s too hot for anyone to care.
But still you look over your shoulder as you run.
You don’t know where a good place would be to leave the flowers. Somewhere she’d see them, but also somewhere it wasn’t totally obvious that you were the one that had left them for her. You decide to leave them in the driveway, a little off to the side, as if someone walking by had dropped them. You place them strategically, then run again, veering around the corner until you collapse on your knees in a patch of brown grass, heaving panting breaths as you run your fingers over the pain stitching itself into your side.
You don’t stick around to see if she found the gift. You need to get out of town, and you’ve already lost so much precious time. You always need to get out of town, even though you never stay like you’re supposed to. Without fail, after the sun has set, after the sun’s last blush has disappeared beyond a jut of mountains, when the stars appear as best they can through the city lights, and the moon has risen high, you always find yourself back in the valley, always finding your way home. Today, you follow the faint smell of the soap she’d slathered herself with to the park she always uses for these rituals, the one with that little knoll of a hill that gives her a good look at the moon.
She’s standing there now, and you watch from the shadows as you sit on your haunches, your tongue lolling from your mouth because it’s hot still even though there’s no more sun.
She’s never seen you as a wolf, and you want to keep it that way, so you don’t come any closer even though you want to. She kneels and pours water in a glass bowl. The lilacs float to the top, and you can smell them now, and your mouth waters even though you are a wolf for the night. You can hear her speaking to the goddess, and she tells her how she had come across the flowers by accident when she had had nothing to give but her heart and her love, and that she knew that she had been blessed by their appearance.
She lifts the bowl high above her head, and you think you see the water turn silver from the moonlight, casting her face in the same glow as she stares up towards the stars.
But you forget why you are here as your eyes fill with the moon, and you turn away, intent upon the sounds of the night, the pitter patter of the animals flitting from your shadow, the thirst in your mouth, and the hunger of your belly. You barely notice as the paved streets give way to the dirt and jagged rocks of the mountain.
The blood that fills your mouth is natural and normal, and so is the way you lick your teeth and your nose as you roam under the moon, howling towards its face once or twice, hoping to hear another answering howl in return.
But you never do, and you never remember that you’re listening for something more than an echo when you wake naked and alone. You don’t recognize this place, and you press back against the dewy, prickly grass, eyes squeezing shut against the rising sun.
Sometimes you get like this, the wolf gets an itch in its skin and it strays from the old familiar paths, and you have to find your way back. And it’s always so hard. Sometimes, you’re gone for days at a time, and normally it wouldn’t matter, but now it does matter, because she will be waiting for you to return, and she will not know where to find you or to look for you because you’ve never shown her your wolf haunts and even if you had it doesn’t matter because this is a place you’ve never before.
It’s embarrassing and as you crawl to your feet, your limbs sore as they always are the next day, you’re already wrestling with the rising panic searing your heart and lungs.
That’s when you see them, the straggling wild rose bushes, petals marbled pink and white, their fragrance filling you with every breath you take.
Fear seeps into your heart. You don’t even know how you found your way here. She never told you the place where the roses grew but you know, without doubt, that these are the roses she had spoken of, and that you had found them as you had hunted in the night.
With shaking fingers, you touch those petals with your hands before you pluck them, shakily weaving them into a crown that you can wear while you find your way back so your hands will be free to help you down the mountain, and then, once you made it back, she could unbraid them at her leisure, to do with them whatever she wished.
You’re not even halfway down the mountain when you see her climbing towards you, gripping a walking stick in her hand while a pack, stuffed full, is on her back. You stop when you see her, mouth open, and you wonder if she had come for you or for the flowers.
But she comes to you as if she had been expecting to see you standing there, naked and lost and alone, as you were trying to make your way back home. “I knew I’d find you here,” is all she says as she takes your hands. She smiles at the roses in your thick, dark, curly hair. “Did you bring those for me?”
You nod, still unable to speak.
She slings the backpack from her shoulders and crouches as she pulls out your sweat pants and a tee shirt that’s too big for you and a pair of boots so that you won’t hurt yourself on the climb down.
You pull the clothes on. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
She shrugs. “Called in sick. Family emergency.”
You flush at the word family, and you hope she doesn’t see. “How did you know?”
“I saw, in the water,” she says and you both leave it at that.
You start to raise the roses from your head, but she stops you.
“Keep them—for now.” She smiles at you, and you grin back at her.
As you walk down the mountain side by side, she keeps stealing glances at you until you finally ask her why she’s looking at you in that way.
“When I saw you, coming down towards me, the sun at your back and flowers in your hair–I don’t know. You stole my breath away. And my heart.” She gently nudges you with her hip. “You thief.”
You laugh. You have to ignore the whispering guilt as you press kisses to the crown of her head.