Sweeter Than Most
Birds of a feather flock together.
Small rivulets of blood dribbled down the side of the steak as I sliced into it. I could feel myself salivating as I attempted to take the first bite as calmly as possible.
It didn't taste like steak. It was sweeter in its flavor profile.
"Well?" Ian bumps me with his elbow, one eyebrow raised.
I look to his grandmother, the one who prepared our meal. "It's delicious, thank you."
She smiles at me. To anyone who didn't recognize the taste, it would have been warm and genuine. To me, though, there was ice in her gaze.
"I'm glad you're enjoying it, Chris." A pause. "Has Ian taken you to see the lake yet? It's almost sunset, it should be quite beautiful." Her eyes flick to her grandson, the predator in her gaze leaving as it settles on him.
I look at Ian. It was him, then, that I saw in my hunting grounds. He's definitely in on this. It would make sense. He is the one who invited me here for dinner.
"I'd love to see it. That is, if you wouldn't mind taking me." I turn back to his grandmother. "After dinner, though. I prefer to eat meat when it's warm, and this is rather sweet." I peer at her, searching her face to see if any recognition flashes across.
Stillness in her expression. She finishes her bite, then, "Do you prefer sweeter meats?"
"My favorite is beef, but when it's a little bit sweeter, like this." I hold up a small piece of steak on my fork. It drips translucent red.
She raises one eyebrow, and I see now where Ian got it from. "A rather specific palette, but I can't say I disagree. It's hard to find, though." She's abandoned her food and is now completely focused on me.
"It's a talent I developed in my teen years. I always seem to find the best cut." I want her to catch on. I want to be a part of this. I've been hunting on my own for so long.
"Ian and I, as well."
"My mom and dad weren't as good at it, though. Both vegetarians nowadays, I think." Ian sneers. It's not an expression I like on his face.
"I think you told me about that," I say, putting another bite of steak into my mouth. A little bit of blood dribbles down my chin and I fight the impulse to lick it off.
Ian's eyes soften when they land on me, and it reminds me of how his grandmother looked at him only moments before. It makes me feel safe, for a second. But I know better than to let my guard down. The way they shine when they look at me, big and brown, reminds me of a puppy. "Probably. It's why I've always preferred living here."
I finish my last bite of steak. "I can see why." Turning to his grandmother, I say, "That was delicious. Thank you."
His grandmother smiles at me. This time, there seems to be a trace amount of genuine warmth. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. You'll have to come over again, sometime. Maybe you can help me pick out the meat."
My heart flutters with excitement. Had she caught on? Would I be allowed to be a part of this?
"I would love that. Thank you."
She fixes her eyes on Ian again. "I'd like to talk to you, alone, before you take our guest down to the lake."
Ian narrows his eyes at her, but he nods nonetheless. He turns to me and asks, "Do you remember your way to the porch?"
"Yes. I'll leave you two alone, but I'll be out there when you're ready." I squeeze his hand before walking out of the dining room.
I think about staying to eavesdrop, but decide against it. I think his grandmother caught on. I don't want to give her a reason to rethink trusting me.
The sun is setting over the lake as Ian and his grandmother talk inside. It's a deep orange, and the vibrancy of it almost seems to tinge the water red.
It's only a few minutes before Ian is outside with me, offering his hand. He doesn't say anything, only holding it out, expectantly. I take the hint and remain wordless as I put my hand in his.
He leads me down the hill his grandmother's cabin rests atop of, toward the still water. The silence is almost oppressive, but I bite my tongue.
"She had a question she wanted me to ask you."
"I'm an open book. Ask away."
His hand slips from mine and I'm worried I've made a misstep. That is until he takes a breath. He's steeling himself. That's all.
"I need you to tell me the truth."
"I will. I'm a man of my word."
Ian takes another breath. "Are you responsible for any of the big game going missing recently?"
So I have to take a leap of faith, first. Fair enough.
"Yes. Carly Miller, a month ago."
Ian's brows go up and his eyes go wide. For half a second I think I've made a mistake again, until, "That was you? They pinned it on her father."
"Mhm, and looking for a body they won't find." I add.
Ian smiles at me, and it's filled with a warmth I've been craving. "How'd you know?"
"What, about you?"
"I thought I recognized you. You were in my hunting grounds a while back.
"This was risky, if you had been wrong." He bumps me with his shoulder.
"I knew I wasn't the second I took a bite of your grandma's steak."
Ian lets out a laugh, and it makes me smile. Now that there's nothing unspoken, he feels truly safe.
"Is that all your grandma wanted to ask me?"
"That's all she wanted to ask, but I had a question."
"Did you want to go hunting next weekend? I know a great spot."
I slip my hand back into his. "It's a date."