THIS IS WHAT I AM
by Vincent Peters
AUTHORS NOTE: This conversation takes place on day three of Pen Pals along the lake shore in the world below prior to Sarah’s departure for home.
* * *
Sarah walked alongside Jacob, hanging on his arm as much as his every word as he pointed out this and that, utterly amazed that such a place existed or, for that matter, that the fates had seen fit to allow her the rare opportunity to see it all first hand. She also admitted inwardly that she could not have wished for a better tour guide than Jacob.
In the pauses of his dissertations about what they were looking at, she couldn’t help but notice that he was looking at her in a way that seemed to be very contemplative, almost as if a reluctant question was on his mind, fighting for its moment in the sun yet denied it.
When they paused to take in another sprawling vista, Sarah took the opportunity to possibly help him get out whatever it had been that seemed to be pestering him to no end. She reached into the pocket of her jeans and produced something as yet unseen by him. “Give me your hand, Teddy. I came prepared this time,” she said when she placed a penny in the palm of his hand.
Jacob looked at it for a moment and smiled. “For my thoughts?” he asked, tilting his head slightly to the side.
“Yup. You kind of have that look that you want to talk about something but don’t know quite how to bring it up, so that,” she pointed to his hand, ‘might be a little cliche, but it gets the job done.”
He smiled back at her as he began to give himself in inner pep-talk before he answered, his words spoken distinctly as he formed his thoughts. “There – is something I need to discuss with you. Something I’m sensing from you has me a little – concerned but, if we are to continue this relationship, then this cannot be left unspoken between us.”
She looked into his eyes and braced herself for whatever might come. Her fear of loss flared up for only a moment before her logical side put it in its place when she scolded herself for even thinking she was going to lose him. “Yes.” she thought, “you lost Mom and Dad without warning, but this is different. Now, stop it right now.” It seems that her old habits died equally hard. “That sounded a little foreboding there, Teddy, but I can tell whatever it is, it’s very important to you and that makes it important to me, so please don’t hold back.” She took both his hands in hers, comfortingly stroking the fur across his knuckles with her thumbs as the penny fell to the pebbles below, and added, “Carpe diem,” knowing he would appreciate the sentiment. “I’m not even going to try the rest of it.”
He chucked. “quam minimum credula postero ?”
“That’d be it.”
Not far away sat several sizable boulders, the middle of which was resting with its cleaved surface face up, making a perfect bench for two. Jacob gestured toward it and Sarah sat down and waited for him to join her, her heart still racing a bit from nerves. He took a seat beside her and, with reluctance, began.
“There is a feeling within you that seems to be coming and going like waves on the shore. I sense that when it is at the forefront of your thoughts, it is somehow troubling to you, Sarah. I believe it has something to do with me, but I can’t figure out what it is. There are just too many conflicting emotions orbiting that thought for me to get a firm grasp on it, but I suspect it has something to do with what you saw me do in the park yesterday, doesn’t it?”
“Well,” she said with a soft chuckle, “I’ll never worry about muggers in the park again, that’s for sure. Sorry, bad time for a joke, um, yeah I have been thinking about what I saw. I guess you should have given me the penny instead.”
“If it makes you feel better, please know that you may ask me anything. Please, tell me.”
“When those guys came after me, would you have…” she paused, not wanting to finish the sentence until with a hint of a tear in his eye, he finished it for her when the images and emotions abruptly coalesced in her mind.
Now he knew the question that he had feared was on her mind. “Would I have killed them?” his voice echoing the regret he felt to the depths of his very soul. “If they had not relented and continued to pose a threat, I have every reason to believe that — yes, I would have killed them to protect you.”
Jacob fought back his tears and laid his soul bare to her. “I love you, Sarah, with all my heart. I can feel in you the love you have for me and it warms my soul in ways I can scarcely describe. I have had my fair share of dealings with prejudicial, fearful people above who cannot, or will not, ever see me beyond that which their fears dictate me to be. You are different. When I revealed to you that this was the real me, you saw me and accepted me, just as I am, but in spite of what we feel for each other, there can be no doubt, whatsoever, in your mind about what I truly am.
“All of my traits that have endeared me to you are a part of me because I consciously choose to be those things. But in spite of those traits which I, and all those in my life, have actively cultivated within me, it does not change the fact that I am, at my core, a predator. Every single physical trait I possess is intended to do one thing and do it exceptionally well; and that is to kill.
“But just as I have chosen to be all the things you have come to know and love, I also choose not to be a killer; not unless I were presented with no other possible alternative. While being half human may have, in some way, tempered the lesser angles of his nature into something less bestial than he might otherwise have been, it will never change the fact that that he exists. I have made peace with him and I actively give him opportunities to use his abilities for purposes other than death, but should it someday be required, I may have to relinquish my humanity and, like Batman, break my one rule and unleash his fury so that he may fulfill his purpose in defense of our world, the people we love and those above whom we protect. Should that day ever come, I assure you that I will not revel in it, and I mourn the existence of that day even though it may not ever come to pass. Should I ever be forced into the realization of that end, I can only hope that it will have served a greater purpose and that the damage to my spirit will not be irrevocable.”
There, in the silence that followed his last words, Jacob fought to rein in the fear of losing her forever. At this moment, more than anything, he wished he had been given the chance to gradually teach her about his feral side instead of having it forcefully put on display in all its horrific glory for her to see a mere day and a half after their first face to face meeting. He was lost in his thoughts and fears when he suddenly felt her snuggling up at his side, her hand holding his as her voice broke the stillness.
“Jacob, do you remember what I told you yesterday? I know you were on the verge of passing out and I don’t know how much of it stuck with you.”
“I remember most of it.”
“There’s a bit more to it, if I may.”
Jacob simply nodded, not wishing his voice to betray his fears any more than it already had.
“When I left here yesterday, I just went back to my hotel, ordered some supper and took a very long soak in the tub. I had so many thoughts in my head that I thought I might not even be able to sleep that night. As I sat there slowly turning into a prune, one by one, those noisy, jumbled thoughts dropped away, and what I was left with was the beginnings of what I think you sense in me now. What I told you weren’t just words meant to calm you down or make you feel better. I meant it when I said that I didn’t care that you weren’t human. When I look at you, I can plainly see you’re different, just as anyone else would, and then this voice inside of me goes, yeah, so what. I guess you could say that I knew the book before I ever saw the cover.
“I got into bed after that and I couldn’t stop thinking about what you did to those muggers. It was just stuck in a loop in my mind’s eye, and I did find myself wondering how far it might have gone.“
“It was pretty brutal,” he said softly, his words tinged with remorse.
“No, it was epicly brutal – but– that was when I truly saw who you are for the first time, and what I saw did frighten me but only for an instant. What I saw then and as it played over and over in my head, was that within that vengeful creature you seemed to become in the moment, was someone who was perfectly willing to risk everything — your secret, your safety maybe even, God forbid, your life — to protect another.
“You and I are just beginning this journey of ours, and I’m pretty sure that the muggers in the park won’t be the only bump in the road we encounter, Jacob, but you have my word, that should the time ever come when you have to — how did you put it, um…unleash his fury and let it fulfill its purpose, then I will be there for you. Will it disturb and scare the crap out of me if you ever have to kill someone? It probably will initially – but – I will still love you, comfort you, pretty much do whatever I can to help you through it. We will rise to that challenge together should it ever come to that.
“In the meantime, I do have a question.”
Jacob sat there, dumbfounded, contemplating how truly fortunate he was to have someone like Sarah in his life. His contemplation was interrupted by a soft nudging on his shoulder. “Ground control to Major Tom…”
“Huh, what….oh! I’m sorry I was having a moment there.”
“Are you okay, Teddy?”
He looked into her eyes and smiled. “Yes, I’m fine. I was just thinking how blessed I am to be loved by someone like you. “
Sarah looked deeply into his eyes. “You aren’t the only one thinking that.”
“What was your question?”
“When you were talking about what happened in the park, it began to sound like you were talking about two different people. Either you were using some sort of grammar that I’ve never heard of or I missed something.”
Sarah’s remark about strange use of grammar made him think of Kris’s remarks several days earlier and he chuckled softly. “It isn’t so much a function of grammar as it is a function of – me. To answer your question I am going to need you to be very open-minded.”
“Let’s see here. I’m sitting by a lake shore twelve-hundred feet below Manhattan, enjoying quality time with the man I love who, funny enough, turns out not to be human. I think it’s safe to say that I mastered open-mindedness a while ago, Teddy.”
“That’s a very good point. I am going to try to answer your question, but the problem is I really haven’t put it into words all that often. so I am at a loss to really describe it, but here goes.”
Sarah placed her hand on his. “It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, Jacob. It’s okay if it isn’t polished prose.”
“You know your literature, so I am going to try to explain it that way.”
“Works for me. What piece?”
“Are you familiar with the works of Robert Louis Stevenson?”
“As in Treasure Island?”
“That would be him, but I am thinking more along the lines of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
A strange expression of recognition and puzzlement came to her face at his choice of stories, but realizing the image he was going for, unpleasant as it might be, was important to his aims, she held his hand a little tighter in an attempt to communicate her support and understanding. “O–kay.” The resulting look of uncertainty on his face, made her feel her answer could have used a little more polish. “Way to go, Sarah. Could you have possibly made him feel any more uncomfortable?” she thought to herself. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you – oh I don’t know — maybe say something that doesn’t make the love of your life sound like a plot point from So, I Married an Ax Murderer!”
“Maybe, I shouldn’t have…” he began.
“No,” she stopped him, shaking her head and looking as self-disgusted as anyone could,”that one is all on me. Unfortunately, Teddy, if I’m not running off at the mouth, sometimes the dumbest one liners ever come out. I’m sorry. Please, go on with whatever you needed to say and I promise I will sit here and just listen.”
Feeling the chill rush of self-loathing dimming her otherwise brilliantly illuminated spirit, Jacob simply placed his hand on hers and drew a little closer. With all traces of fear or regret now purged from his voice, its warm and comforting tones ushered forth. “Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen that specific analogy. There are many others that would suffice, but I guess, I was raised with that part of me bound to that association and it’s rather difficult to shed. Considering the image I gave you, your reply was completely understandable and was more a product of my upbringing than anything to do with you, Sarah. You’ve done no harm to me or our relationship.” He could feel the chill of her self-doubts and fears withdrawing as her spirit burned bright in the sight of their Bond.
Sarah went to say something, but stopped herself. which elicited a friendly chuckle from Jacob. “Go on, it’s all right.”
“I was going to say, you missed out on a career in counseling. You really know how to reach people with that ability of yours.”
Jacob’s eyes widened and an even greater warmth graced his face, further softening his unavoidable feline permascowl “And with that, you, my dear Sarah, have just inspired a new means of describing that part of me which is not human.”
She smiled, unable to take her gaze from his. “Glad to be of service, even if it was, like, totally by accident. So, enlighten me, oh Great Teddy.”
“My physical appearance aside, I share a multitude of similarities with everyone in the world, yours or mine. Yet, in concert with all of those similarities, there is an undercurrent of,” he paused trying to find the right words to give life to his thoughts but not sound conceited, “a phenomenal primal power that has bound itself to and augmented every facet of my physical and mental being.”
Sarah had to admit to herself that Jacob describing that other part of himself with those words in the place of Mr. Hyde, presented a far more comforting, not to mention appealing, mental image .”So far so good, Teddy… go on. You got this!”
Spurred on by her reception, he continued,”Well, vainglorious as this might sound, my strength, my senses, the empathic gifts, all those things that make me decidedly superior to humans — no offense intended…”
She smiled. “None taken. Anyone that can open a jar of anything on the first try is superior to me, Teddy,” she said with a reassuring glint in her eye.
“…these abilities, as you called them, they all stem from that part of me.” Once again, Jacob found himself hitting a brick wall with his explanation. How do you describe something that no one but your father has any experience with?
Sarah could see he was struggling to find the words again, and, acting against that annoying voice in her head telling her to keep her mouth shut, she chose to try to help him. “So to keep you and me on the same page, chapter and verse, what I think you are getting at is that this part of you is responsible for amplifying abilities that other people have, yes?”
“Great! I think we’re making serious headway here. I’m no mind reader, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the vibe I’m sensing from you is it’s the grammar thing that’s tripping you up, isn’t it?”
He smiled and playfully fist bumped her shoulder. “Not bad for a human.”
“Hey, now, no need for name calling.” The ongoing easing of nerves was accelerated by her remark and both of them enjoyed a good laugh.
“You’re right, Sarah, it is.”
“So, let me help you on that front with a form of an ice breaker question. How does that sound?”
“If you believe that it might be useful, by all means, please do.”
“You got it, big guy. Here we go. Why do you talk about it like it isn’t you but someone else?”
“Because he is someone else, Sarah. People in my world call him my feral side when they encounter him, but no matter what words people would use to describe him, he is me if I were stripped of my principles, my self-restraint; he is me if I were nothing more than just an animal; he exists as a version of me allegiant only to the axiom of the end justifies the means.
“What you saw in the park yesterday was me surrendering myself and all that I am to him to protect you because, while I would never bring physical harm to anyone because I find it utterly unconscionable, he can, and will, if the situation calls for it. I need him to do those things that I cannot to protect others and those I love and care for. I refer to my feral side as a separate individual because the person you see before you, is two distinct individuals residing in one form, each dependent on the other to form a whole. He provides me with the strength and courage I need, and I provide him the moral power to wield it.”
“Now I get it.”
“Why you chose the Jekyll and Hyde analogy to describe it. Two sides of one person, separate but united. The light and the dark.”
“In its roughest sense, yes, but perhaps…” He paused to think about whether or not he wished to do what that side of him had just suggested in his mind.
“…perhaps? Perhaps, what?”
“You’ve seen him nearly at his worst, perhaps seeing him as he truly is would make far more sense than mere words can. Let you see him for yourself. Release him…fully. I promise you he will not hurt you, because his feelings for you run as deeply as mine do.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Sarah hugged him much to his surprise. Not knowing exactly what to make of this, he simply held her in return before asking, “What did I do to deserve this moment? Not that I’m complaining in the least, mind you.”
“I wanted to let him know he’s loved, too,” she whispered softly.
Jacob felt emotions welling up deep within him, but not entirely his own. For the first time in its life, his feral side had been loved equally and without condition or reservation. “I – I think you have his attention, Sarah.”
“I was kind of hoping he’d notice.”
Jacob gently released from their embrace and took a few paces backward. “Hey, Sarah? Want to see me do a magic trick?”
She could tell by the hint of mischief in his voice that this was a set-up for something else and went along with it. She turned to face him fully, now sitting cross-legged on the boulder. “Sure!”
Jacob took a bow and, with the undeniably flamboyant style of Sebastian, said, “And now, for my next trick, I am going to make myself disappear!” He raised his arms up and with both of his hands,”Now you see me…” he said before he snapped his fingers. The instant he did, his head jerked back violently, his hair flying about his face, his hands clenching into fists. When his head came forward once again, it continued to lower as his posture shifted to a slight, forward leaning hunch, his fingers not fully relaxing.
Sarah immediately knew what she was seeing. This was the same stance he had assumed to defend her. Her Jacob, as she knew him, was gone.
He opened his eyes and took her into his gaze. The features of his face, once warm and comforting, had hardened, the permascowl having become far more defined, and beneath it sat a pair of piercing blue gray eyes, still familiar, yet on some subtle level the mirror of his soul had changed. He was studying her, that much she knew.
Still in a hunched posture, he very slowly moved toward her. Sarah wished she could read him like a book at that moment, but her heart told her his words to her before this moment were true, and she did not retreat from her seated position. This new incarnation of her Jacob loomed before her and soon his face was mere inches from her own, his piercing eyes never wavering from their gaze upon her.
His breathing was slow and deep and now and then it was punctuated with a long soft, growl-like sigh as he continued to slowly come closer. Sarah, tentatively raised her right hand into his field of view, which was immediately acknowledged by his eyes darting to lock with it, another short growl of curiosity emanating from his throat.
She summoned all the courage she had and cupped his cheek in her hand, softly stroking his scruff with her thumb. “Hi there, Kitty. I’m honored to meet you,” she said softly. With her greeting, he nuzzled his cheek into her palm, the soft growl rising in volume into a purr as she brushed the hair from his face with her left hand. “I know why you did what you did in the park yesterday. I want you to know how much I appreciate it. I don’t know if you’ll understand, but I wanted to tell you that.”
“We understand,” he said, speaking each word as if it were its own sentence, his voice rumbling with a deeper, hoarser tone.
Sarah leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “I also want you to know that I accept you for who you are, and that I will always love you, too.” Sarah placed her forehead to his and softly repeated herself, ”…always.”
It was only after he withdrew his head from hers that she saw the tracks of tears on his cheeks and something akin to a smile on his otherwise coarse face. He knelt down, purring softly, and rested his head in her lap. She may not be an expert on all things interspecies, but gratitude is unmistakable. Sarah just sat there in the moment, listening to his purring and stroking his hair gently, her reassuring touch washing over him like a welcome summer rain.
After a time, Sarah spoke gently, her voice barely above a whisper. “Hey, Kitty?”
Jacob looked up into her eyes with a churr of acknowledgment.
“I know we don’t have a lot of time left together, but I was wondering if you would like to walk with me for a while? Between our letters and being together these last two and a half days, I’ve gotten to know Jacob and I’d like to get to know you, too. You don’t strike me as much of a talker, and I’m fine with that. You don’t have to quote Shakespeare, you communicate in whatever way you like, and I will learn to speak to both of you in time. How’s that sound?” she asked, planting a soft kiss on his forehead.
Jacob chuffed, smiling up at her before he stood. He looked almost giddy and it was almost as if he were trying to speak but had forgotten how. With what could best be described as a cheerful roar, he jumped high into the air and spun around before landing, going all the way down onto his haunches as he did so. He let out another cheery, short, soft roar before he bounded around the boulder, hugging Sarah from behind and snuffling along the back of her neck, his head eventually poking out from under her blond hair, now cheek to cheek.
“I am going to interpret that as a yes,” she said giggling as his scruffy cheek tickled her neck.
They walked along the shore simply enjoying their company and the natural and manmade wonders around them for as long as their time permitted.
Eventually, Jacob spoke the words neither of them wanted to hear. “It’s time for you to go back up. You have a train to catch.”