I could not bear to work that night, going to the tree behind the cornfields instead. Sitting beneath it and listening to the nighttime symphony, I searched for the crescent moon with questions weighing on my mind:
Where had I come from? Why was I here? What was my purpose? If it was to sow hate and pain, could I bear not to? Oh, so many things I still wonder now. Mother followed me through the field, though, and gave me a letter.
“It was with you when I found you,” she told me. “The angel said that when the time was right, I should give it to you. I hope it helps you find what you need.”
With that, she left me. I stared at the old letter with a frown, moving it this way and that. My heart began to race in my chest, thrilled that I may begin to understand at last how it was I appeared in the field. Then I paused and frowned, thinking that it did not matter.
No, not thinking it. Knowing it did not matter. Whatever I was, I could rise above it. Whoever I was, I could always make myself who I wanted to be. So I folded the letter neatly and put it into my pocket, smiling to myself at this new revelation. I understood what I needed to do next.
The night was still young—the moon not yet risen—so I flew to Kate's home. It was a short flight, and when I landed on the lawn Jeff was standing on the porch, arms crossed as he glowered into the darkness where I was. I was wholly unsurprised. My wings make a thunderous noise when I fly, after all.
“I thought we made it clear that you could only visit when we said you could,” called Jeff. I could see his eyes narrow slightly.
“Where is she?” I asked, keeping my voice low. It would be unproductive if Kate heard me, when I meant to speak with her parents in private.
“Inside. She's just about finished healing up after what you did,” he added, making me cringe guiltily.
“Good,” I murmured. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Is Mrs. Smith available?”
Confused, he frowned but nodded. He entered the home, leaving me outside in the night for a few minutes. The abruptness of my actions was settling in around me, my blind courage beginning to fly away. When Jeff and Jasmine finally stepped out onto the porch, my tail was flicking the air while my heart began to pound anxiously.
I pushed all of that aside so that I could speak.
“I would like to start by asking you to understand that I acted only as any other human man would, but I do not intend to use that as an excuse. In fact, I would like to take full responsibility for my actions,” I told them honestly. I could feel my guilt and darkness leaving me slowly as I began to speak what had been troubling me.
“Then what's the point in saying that?” demanded Jasmine, cocking her hip and glaring at me as she had certain rights to.
“So that you might listen to what I have to say, as if I were human,” I replied slowly and quietly, imagining what it might be like to look the part. “I wanted to say that I am sorry for whatever stress you have been put under and thank you for caring for Kate even when I was the one who injured her, and so should be the one to take responsibility there.”
They stared at me for a long, agonizing moment. Finally, Jasmine broke the silence. “Was that it?”
“No,” I sighed, settling into the new environment easily enough. “You must also know that the only regret I have for my actions is that I hurt Kate. If she had remained uninjured and our parents had reacted in the same manner I would have no regrets for what I did. I am sorry that you have been impacted so heavily, but I am not sorry for what I did. If you are going to be angry or hate me, then do so. I will not deprive myself of my life to please others and protect myself from those who do not approve.
“Also, I apologize for evading facing you two,” I added. My heart was calming as I came into a rather peaceful acceptance of the situation, my life, and myself. “I realize that wallowing in guilt and self-pity was not aiding anyone but myself, since I needed to allow myself to experience and release those emotions. If you would permit me to apologize to Kate, as well, that would be wonderful. If not, then I am ready to be on my way and leave you all in peace.”
Jeff turned to Jasmine with a sympathetic expression. “I think we should talk in private for a minute. Excuse us, Cory.”
They went into the house again. A short moment later, the door opened and Kate peered outside warily. She must have seen me, because the grin that lit her face was one I had never seen before. She crept out of the house, closing the door gently before charging off the porch and across the lawn toward me. It was a swift moment until she was in my arms and embracing me.
“It's about time you visited,” she sighed. I could feel how stiff her arms were, as though she were trying to hold me as tightly as she could. Thinking of that and the healing scabs on her back, I was frighteningly aware of just how fragile she was.
“I am so sorry, Kate. I needed time to myself,” I told her softly, rubbing her back carefully. A warm happiness began to spread through me. “Oh, glad as I am to see you, I am afraid you need to go back inside.”
“You're not trying to get rid of me, are you?” she asked, trembling slightly.
“No, no. Your parents are inside discussing whether I might be able to visit you, so I would rather be respectful to them and their wishes,” I explained, pulling her gently away from me. Her black eyes were captivating and tear-filled, making my heart ache with guilt. “If you would like, I could meet with you some nights.”
She nodded, pouting. “Yes, please, if it's not too much of a bother...”
“Of course, it is never any issue. I love you.” The words came naturally, and I felt they would comfort her more than anything else I could say. Oh, and they were so right and so honest I wanted to laugh. I never thought that speaking anything could send such a harmonious sensation through me.
Kate's expression was one of shock. She gasped quietly, backing away slowly. She was terrified—there is no other word to describe her wide eyes and gaping mouth. Spinning 'round on her heel, she hurried back inside before I could do anything more.
I refrained from following her, instead standing still in my rejection while I waited for her parents to return. With all the power I could muster, I pushed back the pain to remain calm. I was somewhat confused at that moment, and only wanted to focus on finding something to progress my life for the better.
Jeff and Jasmine came out again. Jasmine seemed petulant, eyes narrowed at me, but most of her hostility had vanished. Jeff—kind and open man that he was—wore half a smile, relaxed. He was nodding slowly.
“It's fine if you talk to her. Just a few minutes though, since it's a school night.” He stood there for an awkward moment before adding, “We'll go get her.”
I only had to wait for a moment before she came out again. Her parents allowed us privacy, so I stared at her longingly and fought to keep myself from crossing the distance to her. She stayed on the porch—in the light—as far from me as she could be.
“They said you wanted to apologize,” she said quietly, not looking at me.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“You already did that,” she hedged, still quiet. I could see her edging toward the door.
“Yes,” I said again, voice shaking slightly. It felt as though the lawn were a chasm that was growing wider every moment.
She scowled at the swing. “What do we do, then?”
I knew she was referring to what I had told her. I winced. “I...I don't know.”
She glanced at me quickly when she heard the pain in my voice. “Are we still friends?”
“I hope so,” I replied, shifting my wings nervously. I desperately wanted to hold her. “I can...I can set aside what I feel, if you would rather maintain our current relationship.”
“I don't know,” she answered honestly. Her face was pained, so open and vulnerable...I thought I might break there and beg her to tell me what she needed.
We were silent again for a time. She slowly turned to face me completely, eyes wide and trusting. Her slight frame trembled, tears rolling from her eyes.
I hurried over to her and took her in my arms. “I'm sorry, Kate.”
“We were never going to be just friends, were we, Cory?” she asked quietly, still shaking. I felt her hot tears on my skin.
“Would you like me to be honest?” I rubbed her back gently. She nodded and looked up at me. I shook my head slowly. “No. I felt more for you than just a friendship, since I first saw you.”
She pressed her palm to my abdomen, then pulled away sharply as though the contact had burned her. “I'm confused about what I feel.”
“However long you need, I can wait,” I told her. I only barely noticed that my pain had vanished while standing beside her. “In the meantime...I believe you need rest for tomorrow.”
She groaned. “Remind me about my math test...”
“Good luck,” I murmured, stroking her hair with a smile. “Sleep well, Kate.”
She nodded and smiled back. “Sleep well.”
I turned and began walking away, feeling at ease with myself. Everything I had needed to say to Kate and her parents was said. I also felt confident that no matter what happened, life would continue to be enjoyable.
I was at the edge of the lawn when she called my name. I turned around swiftly, a new joy blooming within me when I heard her say my name.
“Um...I think I love you, too,” she said shyly. She hurried back inside and my smile broadened.
That morning at breakfast, I told my family what had occurred the night before. I also apologized for my recent behavior and all the grief it had caused them. They accepted the apology, glad to see me happy again.
Kate and I continued our relationship preceding our...adventure. Even so, it seemed so much richer and genuine. Our parents never let us be alone for extended periods of time, of course, and for some time after my depression had ended I had a suspiciously drastic number of chores to complete, so that I had roughly ten free minutes between them, eating and sleeping. My punishment for being a hooligan, I do believe.
That Christmas was also unforgettable. I was relieved from chores the night before and so slept from late morning of the 24th to early morning on the 25th, exhausted after three months of extra chores. I awoke in the morning, sore as always from my too-small bed. I tidied up and went downstairs for breakfast, wearing a buttoned shirt that Mother had modified just for the holiday. In honor of the holiday's colors, the shirt was forest green.
The morning meal was light, so that we would all be prepared for the feast to come. Mother began to cook some dishes to bring to the church for the annual Christmas party, where I would be narrating and singing again. While something was in the oven, we went into the living area where the tree was shedding its needles on the floor. There were some presents beneath it, as always. One for Mother, one for Father, two for Lisa. I frowned that there was nothing for me, but was unconcerned. I thought I was still paying the price for my misbehavior months earlier.
When we arrived at the church, everyone was shifty around me. They glanced at me in fear, staying away when they could and avoiding conversation. At one point, I found a mirror to confirm whether I had sprouted an extra horn or some other horrible thing. Nothing. My face was as devilishly ugly as it had always been.
I went through the narrations and carols somewhat numbly, only consoled that Kate was not avoiding me. She stayed close to me and I to her, as we generally were when we could be together.
As soon as the retelling was over, people began to leave. Fled is actually a much more apt description. Before Kate's parents left, they said that she and I could visit one another the entire day—a Christmas present, of sorts. So Kate and I walked back to my home alone. I was careful on the road and made it home without any injuries.
When we arrived, Kate announced rather loudly that she wanted to sit in my room and read with me. No one present made any fuss of it strangely, though I considered it to be because of the holiday. So we climbed the stairs and opened the door to my room.
“Merry Christmas!” came a chorus from several people within the room. Kate's parents, Paul, some of the men that I would help from time to time.
I blinked in surprise, looking around in shock. I was unable to even wonder how they had all fit into my room without standing on one another. “What?”
Kate pulled me over to a giant bed that took over what must have been half of my room. “You have to try it! They've been working on it for months!”
“Working?” I mumbled, going over to the bed numbly. Everyone was staring, waiting for my response. I laid down on the bed and I wanted to never move again.
“Thank you,” I laughed, staring at the ceiling with a grin. “Thank you all!”
They burst into laughter while I stretched. The bed fit my entire length, plus a good foot extra to make for growing space. Kate laid down beside me and then Lisa piled onto the bed, from where I do not know.
I fell asleep there easily, my body not having had such peaceful rest in years. When I woke again, Lisa was gone and Kate was nestled into the crook of one of my arms with my tail wrapped about her. It was nighttime, the moon still shining brightly outside. Sighing contentedly, I stayed awake to watch her sleep.
~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~
Cory chuckled. “I do suppose that last confession could be considered unstable.”
Robert shrugged, unconcerned. “Everyone watches their loved ones sleep at one point or another. I'm curious about something, though.”
“Please, you may ask me anything,” replied Cory with a small wave of his hand. He seemed to have collected himself some since his earlier upset.
“You're telling me what seems to be the biggest moments of your life,” said Robert slowly, composing his thoughts. “What was your average home life like? How did you normally interact with the other town members?”
“My home life?” murmured Cory, pausing for a moment. “Well, most of anything we did was in a common area, such as the living room. We would read, converse, listen to the radio shows. Lisa and I would help Mother cook now and again. Average life, I suppose.”
“And with everyone else?” he prompted.
“I saw and spoke with them at church. None of them made any sizable impact on my life, however, so I remember none of their names,” he answered slowly, examining one of his hands. “When someone required the assistance of brute force, I was called upon. For a short while, my nickname was 'The Tractor,' since whenever one was needed I was there instead. Otherwise, just the same as anyone else who lived in a small community.”
Robert took his notes, nodding to himself as he did so. “And did you and Kate ever become...active again?”
“Ah...Yes, the eve of her eighteenth birthday she seduced me,” he replied, frowning as though he only relinquished the private information because it was required for the session.
“Did she force herself? Not to be rude or intrusive,” added Robert quickly, seeing the defensive irritation on Cory's face. “It's just standard questions.”
“It was a willing act by both parties, sir, and I mean that she seduced me,” he said with a sharp sigh to punctuate his words. “I apologize. I do not wish to speak of such personal matters without the express permission of the other person.”
“Right.” Robert looked at his notes. “Well, then, how does the story go from there?”
Cory smiled. “Quite unfortunately, that is again all I can recall.”
Robert's face fell sympathetically. “Right. Well, do you feel like you've gotten anything this week?”
Cory's smile broadened and he nodded. “Yes, yes I do, Robert. I do, thank you.”