Sapphic Soulmates trilogy by Helen Jayne is my first attempt at blending the ancient Greek mythology in a modern setting. And my first attempt at writing longer lesbian fiction #lesfic.
Essentially, the Sapphic Soulmate trilogy is New Adult Lesbian erotic romance. They are light fun reads and long for novellas, but short for novels. Each book would take me between 3 to 4 hours to read, I’m an average speed reader.
From the start, when thinking about this set of stories I thought the main human character in each story could be male or female and pair up with a magical/god-type character of either gender. I decided to write the story twice over, which was an interesting exercise for me, but I don’t recommend you read both versions because it can be anticlimactic when you know the actual story.
The gay male version has an ancient British/Celtic theme whereas I took ancient Greek mythology to flavour the lesfic version.
I absolutely love the covers for these books, though I say so myself. And I want to write more, so we get more covers!
Here’s more about book 1 in the series: HESTIA by Helen Jayne myBook.to/Hestia
A lesbian fantasy romance.
Suppose you were seduced by an immortal Goddess today. And discover she has devoted herself faithfully to you for centuries, but you don’t remember past life details. What would you do?
Eighteen-year-old Lauren has survived school in her small town, just about. She’s never had a girlfriend, and she doesn’t have a life plan. She does have the devotion of an immortal Goddess.
Hestia might well be the first of the Olympian gods, but her job has been to keep the home fires burning, which means she doesn’t get out much. She doesn’t mind staying in, but it wasn’t the same when her soulmate went missing for hundreds of years.
When they reunite, their passion and desire are enough to light more fires. They can’t keep their hand off each other. Watch out for kindles melting in the heat and undergarments bursting into flames.
Hestia is a sizzling fantasy romance. It features lovers reunited, with a happy ever after.
“So comes a time that we should part.” The dreaded words, recited many times over the centuries, were still no easier to say.
In the center of the room, the fire crackled and the heat radiated against her skin as she lay in the midst of the warm furs. It made no difference. She heard the words leave her mouth and take on their own chilling independent form. Her insides turned cold.
“Fear not, I shall be in your heart.”
The sincere reply acted as small comfort to Hestia.
They didn’t need words—not really.
One woman sworn to the other. Bound in a love that endured and grew over centuries of companionship and commitment.
This parting, like all the others, would be only temporary. As brief as the blink of an eye compared to years of immortality.
With her lover absent, for Hestia it meant loneliness, coldness, and pain, even if it was only temporary. Endless time stretching both ahead and behind didn’t make it any easier to say farewell, though. It was never easy, and she always worried.
Immortality did not make things any less painful but simply made that pain repeat over endless time.
More than you know, my dearest. “You will always be in my heart, my love.” Holding off for just a few more minutes together, she uttered the words slowly, as if dragging them from the very depths of her aching heart, where she already felt the void of her lover’s impending absence. You can never know how greatly my heart and soul yearn for you.
Ready to leave their Olympian dwelling and walk once again in the world of Man, Hestia’s lover approached the doorway.
Before pushing it open and stepping over the threshold, she glanced back over her shoulder. “And I carry you in mine. I will carry your gifts with me; they remind me of you. And know that you are never far from my thoughts.”
She lingered near the doorway as if there were more to say. Proud and tall, she wore clothes suitable for the world of Mankind but carried the first gifts ever given. The pouch, which was strapped to her chest and hung at her side. She wore the cloak, too—the mantle from their world. At least she’d have the cloak with her, even though she refused to take one of the dogs.
Loyal and brave, a dog would protect her from Mankind, but she refused to take one.
Two of their dogs lounged at the foot of the bed where they always slept. Four curled up near the mud-brick walls, a mass of fur, away from the heat of the central hearth. All the dogs ignored the painful goodbye taking place in the room.
A parting like the last one, every time marked by the same, heartfelt words.
Standing in the auditorium wing, eighteen-year-old Lauren Upsdell faced the biggest day of her life. Well, at least the biggest day so far.
She picked at the hem of her bottle-blue graduation robe nervously, working a loose thread between her fingers. The graduation cap she wore felt a little too tight, and it prickled her scalp. Both made of rich wool, the cap and gown were too hot for the final semester of her school life.
The urge to scratch grew stronger, but Lauren ignored it as best she could and rolled the thread against her thumb. A little discomfort meant nothing compared to a future lifetime of freedom away from this place.
Gazing down the line of students, each one a familiar face to Lauren, she felt as apprehensive as any of them. Everyone stood waiting in line for their turn to collect their certificate to thunderous applause. There were a little over sixty kids, and at one point or another, she’d been in class with every one of them.
Stacy Hart checked her reflection in a compact mirror and fingered a curl behind her ear, then winked at herself and tucked the mirror back in her pocket. Patrick Medes elbowed his best friend, Stuart Mendez, as the line advanced. Even shy, introverted Erin Weston had come out of her shell for the occasion, but still not wanting to attract attention, she tried to make herself as small as possible. She stood just behind Lauren.
As the line advanced, Lauren stepped forward with it and stared at the space between Odelia’s shoulder blades.
Only Jade Lidl, Lauren’s best friend in her graduation class, missed the ceremony.
Rolling the thread a little more nervously, Lauren stole another glance in the direction of Odelia Stevens. By virtue of their last names, they stood close together in the line, with only a few people between them.
Thankfully, so far, Odelia hadn’t seemed to notice Lauren’s presence. Odelia was leader of the popular girls, in a world where popular is defined as rich, shallow, and mean. She and her friends had made Lauren’s life hell since she’d come to Beaumont in her freshman year, following the tragic death of her parents.
Graduating meant that Lauren would never have to see them again. The end of school brought the end of shared lunches, a welcome end to forced group projects, and the relief of no more embarrassing hallway incidents.
Lauren wouldn’t miss any of it.
Odelia glanced over her shoulder and directly at Lauren, undoubtedly feeling the eyes burning into her back. Lauren stifled a gasp and looked away, too late. The line had come to a stop again, and with so many other students still waiting to walk onto the stage, Lauren couldn’t escape.
As Odelia cut the line, heading for her, Lauren shrank back and bumped into Erin, who whimpered and scrambled until she backed up against the wall. Lauren couldn’t draw her into this. With nowhere left to go, she had to stand her ground.
She’d lowered her head, hoping that Erin’s technique of shrinking away might save her.
The shiny polished toes of Odelia’s shoes appeared in Lauren’s line of sight.
“Well, well, well, look who we have here,” Odelia mused. The familiar sneer on her face. “The Pipsqueak herself, looking sharp tonight. Did you save all your lunch money to buy those shoes, or did someone take pity on you and buy them for you?”
“I bought them myself.” Lauren looked back down at her standard black shoes. “I worked odd hours at the grocery store this semester to make sure I had enough spare cash.” She didn’t owe Odelia an explanation; nerves pushed it out of her mouth nonetheless.
“You’re kidding me,” Odelia said with a laugh. She stepped forward, shrinking the space between them. Lauren couldn’t bring herself to look up, but she knew she couldn’t keep backing up, either. Not with Erin and the wall there. “Who would hire the Almighty Uptight-Underbite? Seems like a waste of money to me. Too small and weak to haul things off a truck, and too ugly to put on the cash. What did they have you do? Clean the bathrooms?”
“I stocked shelves,” Lauren mumbled and wondered why she was offering an answer.
If the brunt of Odelia’s attacks tonight were verbal jabs, Lauren could endure. Sometimes, the aggression of Odelia and her friends turned physical. Lauren could brush off their hateful words, but she had difficulty handling it when they hit out.
“I bet. You know all about fitting things in tight spaces, don’t you?” Odelia sneered.
Lauren cringed. Didn’t know for sure what Odelia referred to and had no intention of asking, thereby extending this conversation any longer than necessary.
It could have been a jab at her sexuality. Although Odelia and her tribe had previously mocked her for being “a lesbo”, as far as she knew, they had no idea of the truth of it. They didn’t often tease her about being gay—Lauren wasn’t exactly out about it, and her nonexistent sex life meant there wasn’t much to tell.
“Crammed into lockers, stuffed into toilets, rolled up tight in yoga mats…” Odelia continued, dragged the painful confrontation out further. “They’re all the things you’re good at.”
Lauren said nothing, but she recalled every one of those incidents.
“I wonder if it isn’t your true calling in life.”
It wasn’t; Lauren knew this for certain.
All her life she felt she had a vocational calling, a destiny to do good or even great things for the world. She just hadn’t discovered what those great things were, not exactly.
She wanted more and hoped to go to college. Or at least, she thought college would take her further along her path to whatever she was eventually going to do. But to study what? She didn’t know.
For now, without the resources to fund herself, Lauren had struck college temporarily from her list of immediate options in life. Her Aunt Lori and Uncle Joe couldn’t afford to send her on their own dime—but one day she hoped to find a way.
She hoped to discover more to life than high school bullying and dead-end, minimum-wage jobs. She would go out there and do something great.
Odelia clapped her hand against Lauren’s chest and pushed her back.
Erin gasped. Her heels clicked as she scurried sidewards, away from the fight.
“Upsdell, Uptight, Underbite, Underdog. You’re always going to be under someone, aren’t you, Pipsqueak?”
“No,” Lauren whispered.
“What did you say?” Odelia demanded.
Lauren pursed her lips. She didn’t repeat herself.
“I thought so,” Odelia said. She grabbed Lauren by the front of her robes and yanked her forward. “Not even your parents could stand being around you; you know that? They’re probably the only people you’re going to stand over, and that’s only because they’re ten feet underground.” Odelia released Lauren’s robe and stepped back.
“Odelia!” Mrs. Truman, the history teacher, scolded. “Get back into line! We’re moving. Come on!”
Odelia shot Lauren a look that promised it wasn’t over, and Lauren let her shoulders drop and did her best not to engage Odelia again. The tiniest things set her off, it seemed. Lauren looked forward to the day she wouldn’t have to worry about looking in the wrong direction, or wearing the wrong thing, or saying something that got on Odelia’s nerves.
And that day would be tomorrow, she realized with a smile. Graduation one day meant freedom the next. Freedom from school at least.
She might still run into Odelia and her gang in the streets of their small town. Eventually, Lauren would find a way to leave Beaumont altogether, and with it, every moment of anguish she’d endured in it.
And maybe she’d fall in love in the process.
She wanted a girlfriend so badly.
At eighteen, she’d never so much as held hands with a girl, not in a romantic way. And certainly never wanted a boyfriend. She’d still not shared her first kiss.
Other couples paraded around the school and in the community, and she longed for the same, to do those things with someone special. Over the past few years, her hormones had gone into overdrive. She longed for romance and physical contact with her one true love.
Just as she knew there must be a vocation for her, Lauren also knew that out there somewhere her true soulmate waited for her. She just knew it.
Beaumont wasn’t exactly a haven for nontraditional relationships, and Lauren didn’t dare harbor crushes, let alone allow herself look for love, in such a tight-knit community.
Already the new kid, the impoverished orphan who came to live with her relatives while her life fell apart, Lauren didn’t want to draw herself into the spotlight any further. She didn’t need any other rumors spread about her. She only wanted to blend into the community. To be forgotten and ignored would’ve been perfect.
Lauren shifted her jaw, running a hand along it to try to assure herself that she didn’t have an underbite. Odelia strolled across the stage to accept her diploma and pose with the principal for pictures, leaving just a short wait for Lauren’s turn, followed by freedom.
Sometimes, bullying made it hard for Lauren to remember her jaw issue had been fixed in middle school. She’d been retainer-free for years, underbite a thing of the past. Social media didn’t forget, though, and the bullies at school had seen her old photos.
Lauren. Pipsqueak. Almighty Underbite.
She supposed, at least, they were more inventive than Loser.
From the stage, she heard Gregory Tullen’s name announced, and Mr. Alcorn, the math teacher, ushered the boy through the auditorium wing and across the stage. Lauren stepped up, looking out through the wing and across the audience. Principal Kendrick stood with Vice Principal Dunn as Gregory made his way across the stage. There were only a few diplomas left, the graduation ceremony almost over.
Mr. Alcorn returned to the wing of the stage and recited the speech that Lauren had heard given to every young person before her. “When they announce your name, you’ll cross the stage and shake hands with Principal Kendrick. You’ll take the diploma, and as it’s changing hands, you’ll stop and count to three slowly while also looking toward the audience and smile. When Principal Kendrick releases the diploma, you’ll continue across the stage and take the next available seat in the front row of the auditorium.”
“Got it,” Lauren said with a nod.
She craned her neck to glance into the auditorium. With the lights beaming down on the stage and the sitting area plunged into darkness, she couldn’t see the audience, but she knew the hall was stuffed. She could almost taste the unmistakable feeling of too many bodies in a small, humid, poorly air-conditioned school building.
“And Lauren,” said Mr. Alcorn.
Lauren smiled. All of the teachers at Beaumont had been wonderful—regrettably, she couldn’t say the same for the students.
Mr. Alcorn patted her back, and before Lauren knew it, her name was called out.
“That’s your cue,” Mr. Alcorn said. “Go for it.”
Lauren bowed her head and stepped forward, heart racing. Being front and center before a crowd of strangers couldn’t appeal less, but it was the final trial of high school and certainly not the worst. Lauren just wanted it all over and to get out of the place for good.
As she stepped out into the bright lights, the audience applauded politely. Lauren’s cheeks heated, and she focused her attention on walking across the stage until she’d successfully made it to Principal Kendrick without tripping over her own feet.
“Hi, Lauren,” Principal Kendrick said softly. “Congratulations.” She held out a hand for her to shake, and Lauren did so.
Flashlights exploded in the audience—school photographers taking pictures for the yearbook, she guessed. Or professional photographers looking to make a buck off parents.
Vice Principal Dunn handed Principal Kendrick the diploma, and Lauren grasped her end of it and slowly counted to three. More flashes went off, accompanied by a single, whooping cheer from the audience.
She grinned at the recognizable sound of her Uncle Joe. Aunt Lori couldn’t make it due to work, but enthusiastic Uncle Joe more than compensated for her absence.
They were terrific guardians, even if they had their disagreements from time to time. Lauren considered herself lucky. Not every teenage orphan got a happy ending. If bullying was all she had to deal with, then her time at Beaumont was a success. A rickety achievement, but considering her circumstances, a success nevertheless.
“Go on and take your seat,” Principal Kendrick whispered. She released the diploma.
Lauren smiled at her one last time. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. And congratulations again.”
As Lauren headed past her for the stairs leading into the audience, Erin Weston’s name rang out, and the attention shifted to the next pupil. Lauren breathed out a sigh of relief, took the stairs quickly, and then dropped into the empty chair next to Gregory.
They’d all finally made it.
Lauren beamed into the darkness and let her head rest on the back of the chair. Her mind wandered. With no idea about what came next, now her school career had finished. She had plenty to think about. She’d intended to find her own way in this big, wide world. At only eighteen, it seemed the right time for Lauren to dream of bigger things. Adventure. Mystery. Suspense. Excitement.
First, Lauren needed to go meet up with Jade to celebrate. In quarantine, getting over an illness, Jade lived in a weird state of in-between where she was well enough to do things around the house and lead a normal life, but not yet well enough to venture outside.
That didn’t mean Lauren couldn’t go to see her.
Once cocktail hour ended and the graduation party split up, Lauren planned a full night ahead, celebrating with Jade.
The end of one chapter in her life brought closer the beginning of another.
What a chapter she intended to make it.
Cocktail hour was a misnomer.
Sparkling grape juice and water were about as daring as Beaumont High School got, but Lauren didn’t mind. Law-abiding and lacking a rebellious bone in her body, underage drinking didn’t appeal. Besides, it weeded out the problem kids.
Odelia and her crew left the reception fairly early, undoubtedly to celebrate in all the ways Lauren didn’t care for and possibly weren’t legal. That suited her fine. She wouldn’t run into them, and the less she had to worry about, the better.
Before long, Lauren saw Uncle Joe cutting through the crowds and lifting a hand over her head to wave. In response, Lauren lifted her champagne flute filled with sparkling grape juice. She had her diploma clutched firmly in her hand.
“Lauren!” Uncle Joe exclaimed once he’d reached Lauren’s side. He opened his arms for a hug. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Lauren fitted herself against her uncle’s chest and hugged her, Uncle Joe’s arms locking around her and squeezing her tight. “I’m… Well, I’m glad, really.”
“It’s a big step,” Uncle Joe said as she released Lauren from the hug. “I’m so glad you’ve made it. Your mother and father would have been proud.”
The loss still stung—Lauren didn’t believe there’d be a time when the death of her parents didn’t hurt—but she smiled anyway. She’d risen above her loss to accomplish something great. She had every reason in the world to be proud.
“So,” Uncle Joe continued, “now that you’ve gotten your diploma, what’s next on the agenda?”
They crossed the room together, walking side by side.
Lauren sipped at her sparkling grape juice. “I’m going to stay here a little with you, return my graduation robes to the people waiting in the gym, then go over to see Jade so she can feel excited about graduating, too.”
Uncle Joe chuckled. “I meant in the long term.”
“Oh.” Lauren’s cheeks burned. She shrugged a shoulder, unwilling to commit. She hadn’t brought up the topic of college with Uncle Joe or Aunt Lori because she didn’t want them to feel pressured. They’d done a terrific job of taking care of her after Lauren’s parents had passed away, and Lauren didn’t want them to think she expected a handout. “I’m…um…I’m not sure. I’m going to work for a little while and save up so hopefully, I can go to college in the future, but that’s, you know, not a for-sure thing, or anything.”
“College.” Uncle Joe hummed under his breath. They arrived at the refreshments table, and Uncle Joe snagged a flute of sparkling grape juice for himself. “Your Aunt Lori and I were discussing it earlier. I wish we could afford to send you.”
“Oh, no.” Lauren shook her head. “You’ve done so much for me already I couldn’t ask you to do that, too. I’ll figure it out. I always do. Besides, I’m going to landscape this summer for Mrs. Nohart, so I’ll be making some money, and if I’m truthful, I don’t even know what I’d study if I did end up going to college. I, um, I never decided exactly what it is I want to do.”
She never told anyone of her ambitions. It seemed too lofty and unreal to explain. She felt it nevertheless, a kind of inspirational draw—she’d felt it ever since a young age. It seemed childish, but rather than growing out of it, the sensation had gotten much stronger in recent years. Like an invisible thread wrapped tightly around her sternum, it pulled her toward…something.
So far, she’d just never managed to figure out the something.
Lauren’s mediocre drawing ability proved it wasn’t art, and it certainly couldn’t be anything academic because she was an average student at best. Sports were out of the question; she didn’t have the coordination or the endurance or the interest.
But now and then, especially when the seasons changed, a thread tugged at her, as though to remind her she had a future elsewhere if she could only figure out where. All through the last year, it had been tugging harder than ever. As winter melted into spring, there’d been a point in time when Lauren had spent a whole weekend in bed, simultaneously filled with wonder and excitement over the boundless energy in her veins, yet anxious, because she couldn’t figure out what it meant.
She had a destiny to fulfill, a vocation. But she had no idea how to find it.
“You’ll figure it out,” Uncle Joe promised. “You’re a resourceful girl.”
“I know.” They made their way across the room to a quiet corner. “I just don’t want you to feel bad about it. I’m going to figure this out, no matter what it means. You can count on me.”
After polite conversation with teachers, pupils, and other kids’ parents, she was free to move on.
With a bow of her head, Lauren said farewell to Beaumont High. She’d returned her robe and parted ways with Uncle Joe, intending to walk the distance between the high school and Jade’s place.
She didn’t live all that far from the school. Lauren cut across the football field. She wondered, briefly, if Jade would be awake. Bordering on ten at night didn’t seem late, but Jade was officially ill.
As Lauren walked, she pulled out her phone and composed a brief text message.
Hey, coming over. Get ready to celebrate 🙂
The message sent, she tucked her phone back into her pocket and collided with something. Lauren grunted, the air knocked from her lungs, and promptly fell on her ass.
She looked up. Towering over her stood Odelia, with her cronies, her best friend Jill and their boyfriends, Jason and Rhett, flanking them on either side.
“Well look at this. If it isn’t the Pipsqueak again.” Odelia’s vicious smirk chilled Lauren to the bone. “Back on your butt. What did I say back there? You’re always going to be underneath us, Upsdell.”
“She’s so clumsy; she might as well live on the ground.” Jill laughed. “Pretty sure being so low is her natural state of being.”
“Cut it out, Jill.” No one ever called the bullies off. The sickly sweet cruel tone in Odelia’s voice warned this time was no different. “She’s graduated now. We all are. We’re grown-up, young adults with our whole futures ahead of us. I think it’s time to turn a new leaf.”
“Like what?” Jason asked. He mimicked the tone, and it sounded as if he were in on the joke. The moonlight glinted off his teeth as he grinned maliciously.
“You’re not thinking of helping the Pipsqueak get back on her feet, are you?” asked Jill in a similarly insincere tone.
“She made it through high school, somehow.” Odelia shrugged and slipped her hands around her waist. “It’s a time for a celebration. I think we should help her get back on her feet and keep her supported. Teach her how to stand tall.”
Lying on the slightly damp ground, Lauren curled her fingers into the blades of grass. Like the metal blade of a sword, the grass beneath her hand felt cool to the touch, and its sharp points stabbed her palms when she pushed her hands down.
Unable to explain how, she drew the strength for endurance from the endless ground beneath her, feeling her own heart beating against it. She knew she could only feel it because her heart raced from fear, but in the moment, her heart and the earth were as one.
“I’m okay,” Lauren murmured. She didn’t attempt to stand. “Thank you for the offer, though. That’s very generous.”
“It’s not an offer. We insist.” Odelia reached down and grabbed Lauren by the front of her dress, and instantly the boyfriends were either side of Lauren. Odelia released her grip as the men’s hands went around Lauren’s arms and they yanked her to her feet as if she weighed nothing at all.
In silence, Odelia led the way across the field toward the woods that framed it.
The men didn’t let Lauren go but dragged her along as she staggered and tried to find her footing. Her mind raced to find a solution to her predicament.
She couldn’t fight Odelia, let alone take on all four at once, but if she could spring free, she could outrun them. A hopeful plan started to form. If she took them by surprise, she could escape their clutches. As Lauren braced herself for a struggle, she saw what waited on the edge of the woods.
“N-No,” she uttered, digging her heels into the field. “No, you can’t!”
“What?” Odelia looked over her shoulder at Lauren and grinned. She strode on forward. “We’re only going to help make sure you can stand up for yourself without falling on your face. In a few years’ time, you’ll thank us for teaching you a lesson.”
The guys following showed no sign of loosening their grip. Lauren didn’t like her slim chances of escape.
A coiled rope waited at the edge of the woods.
It must’ve been left there. Planted.
Rope carefully placed ahead of time turned the event from a prank or an opportunist moment to extend their bullying, to an abduction, something planned and, therefore, far more sinister.
Lauren didn’t know exactly what Odelia had planned, but if it involved a rope and the woods, she expected the worst. She couldn’t let this happen. She couldn’t. She had her whole future ahead of her.
“Looks like she’s about to piss herself, she’s so afraid,” Jason said with a laugh.
Odelia pulled out her phone and turned on her flashlight app, lighting up the dark woods that lay ahead. “What’s the matter, Pipsqueak? Afraid to stand on your own?”
They reached the rope at the edge of the woods.
“You got her, Jason?” Without waiting for a reply, Rhett released Lauren and hefted the rope into his arm and hung it, coiled, over his shoulder.
“I’m serious, you can’t do this,” Lauren said. She struggled against her captors, but they held her tight. “You can’t!”
“We’re gonna,” Odelia said. “And you get to decide how bad it’s going to be for you. Keep struggling, and we might tie it around that neck of yours, see how tall you can stand when your feet can barely touch the ground.”
“You’re going to kill me if you do that.” Was that what they intended? Lauren’s heart beat like a rabbit’s when caught in a fox’s paws. In desperation, she glanced to the side. Only one man held her by one arm. It might be her best chance. She made a break for it but choked as she was yanked back against Jason’s chest.
Jill laughed. And Lauren decided they must be crazy, drunk, or on drugs. Whichever, it didn’t bode well for her.
“You’re going to kill yourself if you don’t stop struggling,” Odelia hissed into her ear. “You want to behave and accept our help, and we’ll only tie you to a tree so you can practice standing up for yourself. Isn’t that right, guys?”
“Yep,” Rhett agreed, patting the coil of rope on his shoulder. “That’s right.”
“So quit struggling.” Odelia turned the light, shining it directly on Lauren, so it momentarily blinded her and their surroundings went black. “It’s getting old.”
Lauren squeezed her eyes shut, pulse hammering in her ears. She knew she couldn’t trust them, but she didn’t have another choice. The bullies towered over her, each of the men was twice her size. If she couldn’t break away, she didn’t have a shot at running away. She let her body go slack and hoped their mercy would reward her cooperation.
“That’s a good girl,” Jason said. “Nice and easy. We’re going to keep walking for a while, find a tree somewhere nice and deep in the woods where no one’ll think to look, and let you get some practice in peace.”
“If you tie me up, how am I going to get out?” Lauren asked.
Odelia turned the flashlight to light the way. “Oh, I don’t know.” Odelia marched forward, forcing Lauren to move along, too.
“You’re so good at messing things up; you’ll probably just end up falling out of the ropes.” Jill laughed as if she’d said something funny. “Right on your ass.” She giggled some more. “Typical. We set you up so you can’t fail, and then you fail regardless.”
Unwilling to believe this was really happening, Lauren blinked back tears. The longer they walked, the clearer it became: Odelia and her crew intended to take Lauren somewhere so deep and distant that even if she shouted, no one would hear her. After everything they’d put her through, when she finally thought she was free of them, they were just going to tie her up in the woods and leave her for dead?
They had to realize what they were doing.
This wasn’t some prank, and it went beyond bullying.
With a real genuine fear for her life, Lauren could see no way out of the predicament. She couldn’t reason with these assholes.
As they went deeper, swirling mist hid the ground from view, but Lauren’s feet saw for her. They traversed uneven ground, tangled roots, and crunching leaves.
“Please, please don’t do this,” Lauren begged when they came to a sudden halt. They’d reached a part of the woods that Lauren didn’t recognize. “Please. I’ll do whatever you want.”
“We want you to tie yourself to a tree, then,” Jill said. She hooted at her own joke.
“God. And if you could shut up, that would probably be nice, too,” Jason said, and all four of them giggled like preschoolers at a birthday party.
Lauren could see nothing funny in the dire situation.
Jason thrust Lauren forward, and she collided head first with a sturdy, gnarled tree with thick bark. An abrasive piece of bark scraped her cheek, the searing sting intense enough that Lauren was sure it drew blood. Before she could lift a hand to assess the damage, Odelia grabbed her and spun her around, slamming her into the tree. Then Rhett and Jason set about tying her up.
They bound her arms first, tying Lauren’s wrists together. The binding didn’t cut into her skin but wrapped tight enough around so her hands hung uselessly in front of her body. After her hands were secure, they worked in tandem to wrap the rope around the tree, tightening as they went. They wrapped Lauren’s torso six times around until she was pressed so tightly to the tree, she couldn’t move. She could only manage to lift her feet and dip her head; the rest of her mobility was stolen.
“Look at this.” Odelia stepped back from the tree and opened her arms wide as if showing Lauren off to the world. “The Uptight Pipsqueak, standing up tall and on her own, for the first time in her life.”
“It’s unnatural.” Rhett shook his head.
Jill giggled. “An abomination. Let’s take pictures.”
Cell phone cameras flashed. Lauren closed her eyes and looked away, trying not to let the humiliation get to her. She knew this would appear all over social media, but at least it meant she might have a chance of surviving the ordeal. Someone would see her tied up and know where to look. She wouldn’t be left out here forever.
“Look at this one.” Jill snorted.
It went dark. Lauren lifted her head and opened her eyes to see Odelia’s light illuminating the ground at her feet.
“I got it before Uptight closed her eyes. Look at how weird they are.”
“They’ve always been weird, like her. So what?” Odelia asked. All three huddled around Jill’s phone, looking down at the screen.
“So, with the spooky forest in the background, she looks like an actual freak!” Rhett exclaimed.
“The gray one looks normal; it’s just…” Jason scrunched his nose in distaste. “The green one is weird. Ick. I didn’t realize there was such an intense color difference between them. What a fucking bizarre picture. Looks fake.”
Lauren liked her eyes. Most of the time, her central heterochromia was too faint to notice. Although one of her eyes was gray, the other eye had a crown of green around her pupil. Tendrils of color flared out, like green rays of sunshine from the black sun of her pupil, but the colors suited each other.
“Put it away.” Odelia shuddered. “It’s weird. I don’t like it.”
“This whole place is weird.” Jason slowly swiveled, turning in a full circle on the spot and looking in every direction. “Is there a swamp nearby? I mean, what the hell is with this mist?”
“A temperature thing, or something.” Odelia scowled and shuddered again. Or possibly shivered. “It sometimes happens, all right? Especially when it’s all weird and dark and damp, like in the woods. You don’t need a swamp to have mist.”
“I’m not so sure,” Rhett said uneasily. “Whatever. We’ve got our pictures. Let’s go. The Pipsqueak can deal with the mist all on her own.”
Lauren squirmed against the ropes, trying to get them to go slack. “You can’t leave me here.”
Thankfully, they weren’t recording her. Lauren knew how pathetic and scared she sounded. She knew begging Odelia to change her mind wasn’t going to work, but she was stuck and desperate.
“Stop complaining,” Odelia snapped. “We haven’t gagged you. You’ve been pretty good so far. I thought you were learning something after all.”
Despite it all, Lauren stood strong, attempting to conceal her fear. She wouldn’t let them think they’d won. She couldn’t. Even though it seemed they had.
“Let’s go,” Odelia said brusquely, and she turned as if to leave.
“We all bow down to the Almighty Uptight Underbite,” Rhett teased, sweeping into a low bow as he backed away. “The only kid in town whose eyes are as messed up as her head is. You’re a total package, aren’t you?”
The bullies all laughed at the joke.
Odelia turned again and took a step toward Lauren. “Yeah, a total package. The only way she’s getting some love action is face down, ass in the air. No one’s going to get off while they have to look at a face like that.”
Untrue words couldn’t inflict pain, and Lauren let them roll off her shoulders. She honestly considered herself attractive, in an unconventional way. Slender and neat, she’d never have the cheerleader aesthetic, but she had a good figure and dressed nicely. Apart from the subtle difference between her two eyes, there was nothing abnormal about her.
It didn’t matter that Odelia and her gang couldn’t recognize it. They weren’t Lauren’s type, anyway. Although at that moment, whether anyone could ever crush on her took second place to the more pressing concern of whether she’d live to see freedom and then find the love of her life.
Odelia turned again and set off toward home with her entourage close by. “Catch ya later, Pipsqueak,” she called out without looking back.
As Odelia, Jill, Jason, and Rhett left, Lauren closed her eyes and worked through a silent mantra. Their destructive words were meant to harm, not meant to tell the truth. She knew she couldn’t take anything they said seriously, and she internalized the thought over and over.
She was worthwhile. She was worthy. She was important.
When the sound of their footsteps faded into nothing, Lauren opened her eyes again. She was well and truly alone.
“What are you going to do?” she asked nobody in a whisper, finding comfort in hearing her words out loud against the sounds of the night. She strained against the ropes. “There’s got to be something. You can figure it out. There’s a way to get out of this. C’mon, c’mon…”
Working her shoulders back and forth, Lauren squirmed and tried to duck down. When it failed, she planted her feet against the base of the tree and tried to push herself forward.
The ropes didn’t give.
Of course, they didn’t, and Lauren found it challenging to focus on the positive right then.
There wasn’t much to be positive about in her life as a poor orphan.
A lesbian and mostly in the closet.
A teenager with few prospects and mediocre grades.
Humiliated by bullies. Humiliated no matter what happened. Whether they came back and rescued her, or whether she was found dead or alive by other people.
Life was shit.
She could always yell, but it would most likely be a waste of breath and energy with no one around to hear her.
She could wait until the next morning and hope Mr. Hinsley took a gym class outside so someone on the football field might hear her, but even that was a stretch. They had taken her so deep into the forest Lauren doubted anyone would hear her.
She was worthwhile. She was worthy. She was important.
She had to remind herself. She whispered the words of her mantra out loud. She had to survive.
Lauren breathed in deep and held it, then exhaled slowly. Panic started to build inside her, much as she knew it wouldn’t help.
The more she wore herself out, the worse it would be. She needed a solid plan into which she could invest all her energy. Flailing and screaming didn’t make a good plan and might get her hurt. Without access to water, her throat would dry out, and she wouldn’t be able to call out when she needed to.
She wouldn’t survive long without water anyhow, and she knew it. Lauren needed to play it smart and use the one tool she had that they couldn’t take away: her brain.
The forest wasn’t going anywhere; she wasn’t going anywhere. Unless those jackasses returned, which seemed unlikely, help wouldn’t arrive until morning at the earliest.
A fresh worry formed and took hold of her troubled mind. First and foremost, she needed to relieve the pressure building in her bladder. Already utterly humiliated by everything that had happened in these woods, Lauren didn’t want to add to the ordeal. If she could, she’d like to avoid someone finding her with urine-soaked pants and ammonia burns to her legs.
“All right,” Lauren said, bolstering herself. “It’s easy. Your hands are—” She stretched her fingers. Her hands were so close and yet, not close enough. She didn’t have the dexterity required to reach and and do anything useful.
A branch snapped, and Lauren fell silent. Whatever had broken it sounded much heavier than a squirrel. What kind of creatures lived deep in the woods?
Bears. Coyotes. Wolves.
Lauren stopped thinking about it. Instead, she kept very still and turned her head toward the noise. A pair of eyes flashed in the darkness, distinctly animal.
“God,” Lauren whispered, unable to help herself. She strained against the rope, but it wouldn’t budge. “Please, please don’t do this.”
The eyes came closer. If it weren’t for the pale moonlight that made its way through the foliage overhead, Lauren never would have seen them. She couldn’t even make out what kind of animal they belonged to.
“I will kick you,” Lauren warned. She kicked out her feet to show she meant trouble, but it only stopped the animal in its tracks, not turn it around.
A second set of eyes joined it, both of them glinting in the darkness. Then another. Fur, shimmering like still water under starlight, drew Lauren’s eye. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness of night, she saw them more clearly.
Movement caught Lauren’s attention. While she hadn’t been looking, three more wolves had approached her other side. They formed a semicircle surrounding the tree. They gazed at her as though curious and afraid to get close.
“That’s right.” Although shaken, she tried to sound confident. “I’ll kick you. I’ll kick you, and it’ll hurt.”
Having never seen an actual wolf up close before, Lauren started to think these creatures might not be wolves but foxes. They were big for foxes but small for wolves.
Lauren expected them to charge and braced herself for the assault when something surprising happened. The animals sat. Mist swirled around their haunches, alive despite the still air. Lauren had no way to explain what happened. She didn’t know a lot about wild predators, but she didn’t think a pack of them would just sit and watch their prey.
She watched them, alert for the sign of an attack, which she was sure would come at any moment.
If these were her last few moments alive, Lauren wanted to make sure they counted. She took a minute to breathe in the forest air, crisp and humid, perfumed with pine and fallen leaves. She savored the rough feeling of bark against her skin, taking time to appreciate that she could feel at all. The beating of her heart drowned out most of the noises of the forest, but when Lauren focused, she heard the chirp of crickets and the buzz of nighttime insects.
If only for a second, she distracted herself from the danger and said goodbye to a world far more beautiful than she’d noticed before.
The mist swirled in tendrils and parted.
Wondering if it were a trick of the light, Lauren squinted. There was no mistake. Moonlight streamed into the small section of forest with startling intensity, illuminating the six dog-like creatures gathered before her and revealing the strange parting in the mist. The wolves all sat to either side of it like they’d anticipated its arrival. It opened up wider, forming a straight passage. A pathway to Lauren.
Farther, into the forest, the shadows moved. A shape emerged, taller than a fox, but narrower than a bear. The human figure stood erect, man or woman, Lauren couldn’t make out from just the silhouette in the dancing light of the night. How could it be human, though? What human walks though the forest in the dark and commands mist and wild animals like this?
The creature stepped into the moonlight.
It was a woman.
A tall and elegant woman.
She paid no attention to the wild animals, acting as if they weren’t there, and they paid no attention to her in return. They sat as still as obedient dogs. Maybe they were dogs, not wolves.
As the figure took a step forward along the mist-cleared path, familiarity washed through Lauren, gripping her chest so hard, it hurt. Lauren’s lips parted, but she had no words to speak. She froze.
She knew what she saw, but she couldn’t believe her eyes. Something about the tall, noble woman seemed familiar. Not only did Lauren’s mind struggle to remember, but her heart ached for the memory, too. It wasn’t just the woman, either, but everything about this weird setting. The mist, the ancient forest, the damp scent of moss, the dogs.
That’s right; they were dogs. Or wolves? She couldn’t tell.
The feeling of purpose, of destiny, that Lauren had harbored for so long, tugged with more force than it ever had before.
The figure stopped several feet away, and she looked Lauren over curiously.
Lauren couldn’t help it. She sobbed, and she had no idea why. Of course, her predicament was reason enough. The relief of being found alive and the surreal, ghostly environment may have been the cause of the strange churning emotions that Lauren didn’t understand and couldn’t control.
The tears came all at once, triggered by whatever had awakened in her soul. She struggled against her ropes as fat tears rolled down her cheeks. The mist. The wolves. The handsome woman. All of it seemed strangely familiar, as if from a dream, or like something she’d loved long ago, but had forgotten all about.
The woman lifted a hand, her fingers extended as if she were about to conduct an orchestra, and the dogs rose to their feet in unison. Lauren wept, fighting to free her hands. Her attempts were in vain. The woman extended the hand slowly toward the tree, pointing a single finger. She moved with grace and nobility, as if the smallest of her movements still bore significance.
No, as if the smallest of her movements wielded enormous power. Lauren knew this but wasn’t sure how.
The dogs moved into action. They approached Lauren, each one of them slow and cautious. The first nuzzled against her thigh; the second mouthed at the rope, then bit and pulled. Soon, all of them were united in their efforts.
Somehow, Lauren knew she was safe, and she watched without fear as they worked at the bindings.
The rope strained, then went slack, and Lauren stumbled as her legs took her own weight once more.
With a strangled cry, Lauren pulled free of the ropes and fell forward. Practicality urged her to run and not look back, but the sickening nostalgic part of her mind and the beating of her heart begged her to stay.
Sobbing and struggling with her choice, she remained still, frozen and unable to flee.
Letting her hand drop, the woman stood, silent and stoic, in front of Lauren for a long while. Surely this had to be a dream? She had to be hallucinating. This could not be real.
As the woman stepped forward, Lauren imagined a soft crunch of twigs and leaves. She didn’t hear any footsteps; they were inaudible over the constant buzz of the music of nature at nighttime.
Lauren lifted her head, the last of her tears streaming down her cheeks. The closer the woman got, the less the insistent tugging bothered her. Step by graceful step, the woman traversed the forest floor until she stood directly in front of Lauren. Close enough to touch.
Ropes still bound her hands. If they hadn’t, she would have run her fingers along the woman’s fine jawline and felt the soft skin there.
In turn, the woman looked down at her, and she did reach out. Both of her hands trailed across Lauren’s cheeks, fingers encircling the back of Lauren’s head. The woman’s palms cupped Lauren delicately, like a lover’s might after a long time apart. It should have felt weird, invasive. It didn’t.
The touch felt right.
When the woman leaned down and kissed her, she stole the breath from Lauren’s lungs and the strength from her knees. Lauren surrendered to her and kissed back, enchanted. For her very first kiss, it seemed so right in the moment, as if they had met already and a long-term commitment existed between them.
The way the woman touched Lauren with reverence and kissed with passion… it was something amazing and new for Lauren. It felt as if they were longtime lovers reunited after spending some time apart. She even tasted familiar, a little bit like fresh salad leaves.
Lauren knew nothing of this person, this lady, yet she trusted her. Instinctively, she trusted her more than anything.
Lauren’s heart beat fast, heavy and full.
“Sleep,” the woman whispered against Lauren’s lips, her voice like a lullaby long forgotten.
Lauren submitted to the magic and knew no more.
CONTINUE Reading by Borrowing or buying at Amazon: myBook.to/Hestia