Cover

AWAKENING SUMMER

 

  

 

 

the GUARDIAN EPICS

 

mf HARRIS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To my husband and children, for putting up with mom not always being as present as usual during the writing of this book.

 

To my family and friends, for reading, rereading, and listening to me read many of the same, as well as different, passages throughout this crazy process.

 

To BookRix, for being the thing that brought my dreams to fruition, because all I ever wanted was for my writing to be loved across the globe and their site is what made it possible for all of this.

 

To ??, for taking and giving me full reign to that wonderful photograph featured as my cover. I may have given them my idea, but they made it into a vision!

 

And to my readers, past, present, and future I can't thank y'all enough. All I ever wanted was for someone to love and fall into my book and its characters as I did. Y'all are why I write.

Prologue

Could this really be it? I still had so many questions and this raised so many more.

My thoughts were racing as the beast starred me down with eyes as wild as the night. I watched as it took in a deep breath. Could see its mouth salivating, its jaws quiver in hunger, and feel its hot breathe against my face; even though it was a good five feet away from me. He finally crouched down to all fours, and I closed my eyes to drift off inside of myself, as Regal had instructed, to wait for the thrashing that was shortly to come. I had no hope of survival after seeing the rage in his eyes that I had arose in him, and feeling it hit me like a tidal wave.

I couldn’t believe after everything, this was going to be the end. I tried not to think about any of it then though. I thought about how this May brought the beginning of Elaine, Hayden, and Max’s lives, but would be the ending of mine. I also thought of my little home town, Howe, Texas. It didn't really offer much growing up, but it was home. I pictured the lake house of Elaine’s grandparent’s; which was always such a huge part of my life, but I couldn’t have ever known just how monumental it would become. And Lake Texoma, it had always been my safe haven. So how could the place I used to go to for sanctuary become the bearer of my death?

Opening my eyes ready to except my fate, I decided to face the beast instead of cowering like its prey. This obviously infuriated Leandar more. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted the struggle, thirsted for the chase. Most creatures would have ran and fought to stay alive, but I knew the inevitable. The beast snarled and growled at me as it paced back and forth. Then as he got in to pounce stature I began to weep. Though, if I am going to die today, I am going to die starring death straight in the face.

I

We're here, I thought to myself as Kevin brought his Bronco to a roaring stop. Him and Jen piled out making a mad dash for the front door as I poked my head out from behind the passenger seat. Inhaling deep breaths of the warm fragrant air, one good jump and I was down from the truck. I could feel the vibrant sun kissing the exposed skin my tank didn't cover. It was so hot yet the cool breeze coming off the lake gave me a slight chill. I opened my eyes, to the old little house of Elaine’s grandparents which sat tucked into a blanket of trees. To the west was the metal framed walkway that leads to the dock where we hung out most of the time on our trips up here.

I looked one last time at the already dimming sky, tucked my hands into the pockets of my jeans and began toward the house. I came to the one lowly step that led inside, for some reason I had always found comical, and stepped up into the house. Once in the front room I smiled at my weird humor, and then the little old house came to life before my eyes. Elaine and I curled up on the day bed. Then continuing into the living room where everything was still the same. The couch on my direct left; where Elaine was usually stretched out, the black and white box television set in the northwest corner of the room; that was always on the only channel it picked up, and the two recliners sitting against the east wall. Grandpa Frog always sat in the one next to the archway that leads into the next room. So naturally, I got the one right in the path of the door from the front room, which has cracked me in the knees and shins many times. I rubbed the headrest of Grandpa Frog’s chair and smiled at the memory of that funny old man. He loved Elaine and me more than I think we ever realized.

I could hear some mumbling coming from the kitchen and the distinct sound of slamming cabinets. Kevin and Jen were in there assessing the food situation. Clearly, by the tone of the conversation it wasn’t good.

I crossed through what was supposed to be a formal dining room into the kitchen and asked, “So what’s the verdict?”

“Well,” Jen said, “if we want to live off of what the guys can hunt and we can cook I would say we are doing pretty good. Although none of the guys know anything about man verses nature,” she said smiling as Kevin starred her down.

Jen Dalton was a nice girl, extremely skinny, short, kind of plain in the face, with medium length dark brown hair, which pretty much sums her up.

“So I think with what we brought we should be ok until the morning.”

“We would be better off if Elaine’s group actually remembers their end of the food aspect, but we shouldn’t hold our breath,” I added.

We laughed at the thought of that happening. We would die from suffocation for sure.

All of us were a pretty tight group. Kevin, Jen, Hayden, and I were the down to earth laid-back members. While Elaine, who ever her latest fling was, Lana, and Xavier were usually the fly by the seat of their pants type.

“What are ya‘ll laughing at?” Elaine asked as she danced into the kitchen, which was already rather full.

“Just the thought of ya’ll actually remembering to bring food for once.”

Her face fell as she realized she had forgotten like usual and then she joined our laughter. I guess we had a weird sense of humor but it suited us.

“So where is Lana and Xavier,” Kevin asked trying to look over Elaine’s head into the other rooms. I could tell he was getting antsy in the house with all of the estrogen.

“Oh, they’re grabbing all of their stuff out of the boat.” This was what we called the car of Elaine’s mom. They usually brought it up because it was old and didn’t really matter if it were to be damaged. Just like we always brought Kevin’s Bronco up because it was big and solid.

I walked back through the house to step outside when I caught a figure through the front windows. It wasn’t familiar to our trips out here.

Average height, a little stocky, and chocolate brown shaggy hair is all I could make out. Oh no, I panicked as I crossed the front room to the outside door. Did she really bring him out here?

“Hi Jordan,” Max called out as if hoping for my acceptance.

He knew how close Elaine and I were. He also knew I didn’t much care for him. I thought of Elaine and the pleading eyes she would give me, and was waving even before being conscious of it. He smiled at me and I bowed my head feeling putrid for even allowing him the thought of my acceptance. Then, I began thinking about how I could not deny Elaine what she wanted; as long as I knew she would come out on top. That made me smile because I would be front and center the day she decided he just was not enough anymore.

I ran up and hugged Lana around the neck, “So ya’ll ready for another wild and crazy weekend?”

“Oh yeah,” Xavier answered in a sarcastic manor as Lana smiled and rolled her eyes in agreeance.

Xavier and Lana were practically inseparable. Xavier Huerta was an olive skinned boy with a set of perfect white teeth that sat behind a pair of deep maroon full lips. So of course, he was paired with the heavenly Lana Montez. She was, in my opinion, the most beautiful girl in school. Lana had thick brown hair with deep red and platinum blonde high lights throughout. To set it off she had these gorgeous green eyes that just popped out from behind her sway cut bangs. I have to admit that their features were more fascinating to me than most. With the way each one set off the other so well.

“Come on guys it will be a blast,” I said meaningfully.

Even though it was just a dusty old empty house now after Grandpa Frog passed away two years before, we still had so much fun here doing absolutely nothing but goofing off and being ourselves. Free of school, free of other kids our age, and free of parents!

“It isn’t going to be the same,” Xavier whispered and Lana elbowed him for his efforts.

“It’s ok Lana,” I reassured. “I know it isn’t going to be the same without,” I hesitated and then forced his name out, “Hayden.”

“Why can't ya’ll make up? Obviously not in that way, but maybe as friends,” he asked.

I lowered my head shrugging my shoulders, and kicked some small rocks around my feet.

“I’m sorry Jordan,” he apologized. “I know he messed up big time and he deserves everything he gets, but we were all so close and we all still are, except for you two.”

“I think what he means,” Lana interrupted trying to be the sensitive female, “is that it’s just a shame to see two best friends lose their way to each other.”

“I know,” I said as I drifted toward the walkway.

It sounded as if Xavier tried to call after me but I could tell Lana stopped him, which I was thankful for. I didn’t want to talk about Hayden. I hated that he wasn’t here just as much as the others, but I just didn’t have the strength to see him now, much less stay in the same house as him for a whole weekend.

I sat on the dock and threw rocks into the lake to calm my nerves from the conversation. However, I still couldn’t get Hayden out of my thoughts and the movie of our memories to stop replaying in my head.

He always road out here with Kevin, Jen, and me and as soon as everyone arrived and got out of the vehicles, Hayden and I would race down to the dock just before sunset to see the light bouncing off the water in golden rays. Then we would compete to see who could skip a rock farthest with the most bounces off the water.

A falling tear caught my attention and I immediately straightened up and squared my shoulders as if to suck back in my emotions. Except, I could feel a sort of darkness swelling inside of me.

The sun was almost set, so I picked myself up and bent over to grab my shoes preparing for the barefoot walk back up to the house.

“You never want to put your feet back into your shoes after wading them in a lake. All that is, is a recipe for mad foot odor,” I laughed at how I was advising myself.

I started up the walkway through the folding of the trees, and was feeling like I did back when Elaine and I use to come up here as kids. We would run down to the dock spend all day tied off on our tubes and just before dark we would skip back up the walkway to watch the news with Grandpa Frog. The skipping part was usually Elaine’s idea of a race and I always just played along. It felt good to reminisce about when we were kids and Grandpa Frog was still alive. Even though he wasn’t my blood he couldn’t have been anymore of a grandpa to me than he already was.

I arrived at the house and everything seemed pretty calm, common for our first night here. Everyone was usually tired from sitting in the cars on the way up; after a long boring day of school. I couldn’t help but to look for an extra vehicle that may have shown up while I had been gone.

Hayden drove an old, white, single cab, short bed, Chevy that he put back together himself. Growing up around mechanics didn’t hurt with this project. I could still remember how proud he was when he first got it running and showed up at my house. His eyes were lit up like the fourth of July. Hayden was, and I use that word strongly, WAS, my best friend besides Elaine and Kevin. We did everything together and secretly had a thing for each other, but we were always too scared to ruin what we had. Until this past summer of course. Fall hit and everything seemed to be going great. Things were progressing very well between us; even though neither still had the courage to ask the other how they would feel about being exclusive. However, surely with how much closer on a different level we had become, I thought it wasn’t too far off and then; as if someone had knocked the air right out of my lungs; he was gone. Only for a while but it felt like centuries to me at the time. When he returned to school, I had already decided to put him out of mind and was doing very good at it. Going back to my loner position in our little society of a school, but then one day as I reached my locker after second period there he was walking through the entrance doors at the end of the hall as if he had never left. My head felt like it was on fire! Moreover, in a comical kind of way I guess my auburn hair represented the flame. This was the only semi humorous thought I would get for awhile. All I could focus on from then on was why he had disappeared with not even as much of a note, and then to show back up totally ignoring my existence.

No, I answered my questioning eyes; his truck isn’t anywhere to be seen. I felt relieved but there was also that sinking feeling again, as if my insides were being sucked into some kind of black hole.

I pushed it out of my thoughts and reached for the doorknob, hesitated, and let out a long sigh as I turned it and pushed my way into the ill lit front room that stretched the length of the house.

“Eek,” I screeched!

I would have rather walked into pitch darkness risking bodily harm than Elaine and her newest “love” suffocating each other on the day bed. I use the word love lightly because that is how often Elaine loves.

She giggled a bit before returning to her task at hand, which I could not decipher. She is either attacking him or performing CPR on him. It looked kind of like a mixture of the two. I laughed a bit at the scene I had put together in my head of her trying to resuscitate him at the same time of her being the reason he was suffocating in the first place. I walked toward the living room door to escape the awkwardness, and cringed disgusted at what I had just witnessed. Mentally I tried to squeeze my brain as if to wring out all drippings of that memory. I found my disgust a bit humorous since almost every girl from school was jealous of Elaine because of her newest catch.

Elaine Duvall was as pretty, smart, and popular as any other average girl but she had this magnetic personality from which no one who she became even acquaintances with could escape. We were total opposites. I was like her protector even though I was two years shy of her in school. I was in many ways more mature than she was and we both took comfort in this. She knew no matter what, that I would always be there for her and so did I. We were family, in every meaning of the word.

The others were sitting just inside the living room. I walked through the old heavy wooden door; that I knew to be the original front door before the screened in porch was made into the weird sitting area slash guest room. I closed it behind me and let the darkness wash over my body. My eyes flickered as it took a second for them to regain sight and focus on my surroundings. Jen was sitting at the end of the couch directly to my left. In fact, I almost knocked her in the head as I shut the door. Kevin sat on the floor beneath her, resting his head on her inner thigh. I scoped the small almost claustrophobic room finding Lana and Xavier. They sat in the exact same position except reversed, Lana sat on the floor between Xavier’s legs and he sat in Grandpa Frog’s chair, stroking her gorgeous full head of salon-enhanced hair.

As I stood there studying the two couples that almost surrounded me I noticed someone that I hadn’t before. Hayden, I questioned silently? I wondered if I had really been that focused on the couples that I hadn’t even noticed him standing directly across from me.

He was leaning against the arch way that joined the small living room and tiny formal dining room, directly over Xavier and Lana and clearly in Kevin and Jen’s sight.

I couldn’t have missed him, could I? I questioned myself. Even if I had when did he get here? Who invited…, I let the question drift off and then answered it myself, Elaine, I thought with rising fury!

I unclenched my fists, which I hadn’t even realized I’d clenched, and brought my head erect. Slowly opening my eyes I could feel him starring out at me. I don't know how but I knew he was. He had his head down as if watching the movie but I could never mistake the feel of his searing gaze. My heart started to do summersaults in my chest and it was making me feel faint. So I nudged Jen’s elbow off the armrest of the couch and plopped down in exhaustion.

I leaned my head back against the wall and pretended to watch the movie. I looked every so often toward the archway just to make sure this wasn’t some sick joke my psyche was playing on me. Nevertheless, every glance made him more and more concrete. I could make out every one of Hayden’s features, the light brown almost dirty blonde hair that he always kept shaved and the same color of stubble across his face. He had such a strong face but his expressions were always so soft and gentle with me. He had a sculpted body from working in his uncle’s junkyard since he was a kid, with working hands that were rough with extremely short nails. Even though I truly enjoyed his touch it was his deep penetrating hazel eyes and long dark eyelashes that drew me in. His size was very intimidating but he was surprisingly quiet and kept to himself, much like me. We grew up with similar backgrounds and had known each other since junior high.

It hurt to think about it all now and see him here, in such close proximities.

NO, I yelled internally. I cannot just let it go with no explanation, no apology, no, no nothing from him. He expected to just be able to show up here, after everything I had went through when he left and when he returned, and everything is just supposed to work out. Well he is going to have to work a little harder than that, I thought furiously. But then, what if he doesn’t want that? I stole an insecure glance.

He was standing right across from me but yet I still wondered if my mind or eyes could be playing tricks because of the darkness.

The movie ended and everyone began to stand and stretch. Kevin blurted out, “Hey lets all go down to the dock. Come on guys! What is the point of having the house all to ourselves for the weekend if we aren’t going to take full advantage?”

I am seeing him of course. I thought, still debating. I wish someone would just say something, anything to him. I hate this. I feel like I am going insane. Am I that desperate, to just imagine him?

“Come on Jordan,” Kevin nudged me nearly knocking me to the ground, “you could use some fresh air. You look like you’re about to throw up!”

Oh crap, do I really look that bad? I jumped up, quickly smoothing out my shirt and grabbed my light sweater.

Jen rushed into the front room and told Elaine and Max to find a stopping place to pick up later because we were all heading down to the lake. I laughed at how nonchalant Jen was at walking in on whatever it was she walked in on.

“Yeah well, maybe I wouldn’t be so sick to my stomach if I wasn’t surrounded by the love bug you all have obviously caught,” I spouted off, realizing at the same moment just how truly juvenile it sounded.

I jabbed my finger into Kevin’s chest and he began stumbling back a few paces holding the spot as if I had slain him. Then not meaning to, he tripped over the threshold that led into the front room and crashed to the floor. We all burst into laughter except for Jen that of course rushed to her lovers’ aide. Times like these are what remind me of just how much I really love the guy. He is like the twin that I was born without.

Kevin Guelker was cool, a real man’s man. He loved sports, cars, and partying with friends. He is very similar to Jen in features except that he is tall and has shaggy light brown hair.

Everyone walked into the front room and I spun around to see if Hayden was still there since no one had addressed him still. Standing there straight and tall now with his arms crossed over his chest he had this expression on his face that was like nothing he had ever shown when it came to me. It was stern and almost demanding. Maybe he doesn’t feel welcome since no one asked him if he was joining us, I thought.

Though, without him even saying a word I strangely knew what he wanted, or didn’t want I should say. He didn’t want me to go to the dock, but why?

“I don’t care,” I whispered to myself.

I turned and walked straight out the door and met Kevin at the front of the house. He had sent Jen on and waited to make sure I was coming or he was going to drag me kicking and screaming. That made me smile. As we walked toward the walkway I looked at the ground the whole way to make sure not to catch sight of Hayden.

I was a bit more intrigued now though, because Kevin hadn’t even mentioned him yet.

Maybe I was just imagining him. I was in a house full of couples and instead of being alone maybe I just imagined my almost ex-boyfriend to keep me company. I snickered a bit at my over active imagination and then looked up to carry on Kevin’s and my conversation, to only be shocked into place. We were standing on the walkway just outside of the trees and there was Hayden plain as day, standing just inside the folding. I would have at least noticed if he had passed us by the sound of an extra set of footsteps if not any other indication, but even still there he stood just as solid as the trees that surrounded him.

My abrupt stop didn’t seem to faze Kevin. He stopped but continued saying whatever it was he was rambling about. How rude of me, I thought, I have no idea what he has been saying this whole time because I have been too busy off thinking about Hayden. After everything, I’m treating my best friend like this for him, I was disgusted at myself.

Kevin stood there for a few silent moments, shrugged, and said that he was going to go meet up with the rest and that I should come. Then he took off sprinting right past Hayden as the wooden trail shook with the impact of his feet. I wanted to scream, PLEASE someone talk to him so I know I’m not totally mental! I was going to take off after Kevin just to spite Hayden, because honestly all I wanted to do was sleep, but for some reason I couldn’t break his gaze. It was as if he was trying to tell me something.

Now, instead of all stern and demanding like before his expression was soft like he usually was with me, and almost pleading. He never said anything but yet his eyes were begging me; begging me to go back to the house, and not to leave again. I didn’t understand but for some reason I complied this time.

I walked back up to the house watching ever so often to make sure he was still behind me. With every glance he was there; following as if to make sure I got back inside. I reached the door, and turned to confront him, but he was gone. I just shook my head and decided it wasn’t worth the effort when I was already so tired.

I walked inside and headed straight for the bathroom that sat just off the kitchen in between the two other bedrooms. I stripped down to a shirt and my underwear, and then crawled into the daybed in the front room under a sheet. I chose this place for a few reasons. First, because I didn’t understand Hayden’s concern but I was going to make sure that if I did dose off that I would at least wake up to the others return, so that I knew they were ok. Second, because the whole Hayden thing still had me creeped out. No one else had even shown knowledge of his presence. Thirdly, because sharing a room with one of the happy couples just was not at the top of my "To Do" list for the weekend.

As I laid there wrapped up in my sheet I slipped away into slumberland and began dreaming of recent confusions and then some that didn’t even make since. I spun in and out of every moment. The dream very quickly turned into a nightmare full of confusion and anguish. There were the ones where I was staring at Hayden in wonder. Then, everything would twist, turn, and distort. I would be staring into Hayden’s eyes and then I would blink and I would be surrounded by complete darkness. Except I could sense a presence, a dark and dangerous presence. I didn’t know how I knew it was there much less how I knew it was evil, but I could feel it deep down. I would squeeze my eyes shut hoping to wake up or at least open them to a different scene. The latter is what happened each time but the scenes only got worse. I was running through trees searching for something, anything when horrifying howls rang out in the distance and for some reason I felt hunted. Then I opened my eyes to the worst nightmare I had ever had.

My death.

II

The nightmare came to an abrupt halt when I awoke to the crashing arrival of the others as they entered the house. Laughter rang from them when they saw me practically leap out of my skin as they entered the small front room two by two until Hayden walked in last, kind of as the odd ball.

“Wow Jordan,’ Elaine called after me, and then joined me on the bed, “are you okay? We didn‘t mean to wake you but I am so glad you are now because we need to talk!”

Oh, she had no idea how bad we needed to talk! I am going to give it to her good for inviting Hayden out here. I thought she was working so hard to get me back to my normal self after he abandoned me. So why in the hell is he here? Though, if she didn’t invited him, who did? I would wring everyone’s neck until I got my answers. I must have had a more cynical expression stretched across my face than I was intending, as I ran through my torturous plans for everyone to get to the reasons as to why anyone would do this to me, because Elaine had scooted to the opposite side of the bed and leaned against the railing. I didn’t like it when she looked at me like that. With big, questioning, innocent, almost childlike brown eyes that burrowed into me with their gaze. I couldn’t torture her. I hated seeing her in anguish. So, I straightened my face.

Reaching out I took her hand and asked, “What is it Elaine? Tell me everything. Even the juicy disgusting parts I really don’t care to hear.” I decided it best to pretend assume that she wanted to talk about her and Max.

This brightened her face and that warmed me inside. I really haven’t ever known of anyone else that has had a friendship like ours. Her hurt was my hurt. Her happiness made me happy. We fed off each other’s emotions. I knew she hated seeing me in any kind of pain as did I her. So, I knew she wouldn‘t have ever done anything to cause me any affliction.

“Well actually I wasn’t going to talk about me and Max but,” she said as I interrupted.

“What were you going to say then?” I asked wondering if I was wrong.

No, she wouldn‘t have ever intentionally hurt me. If this was her doing, she had to have thought in her own weird little thinking that maybe it would help somehow. Still I was excited to hear what she had to say.

“Yes,” I said urging her to go on.

I could see hesitation in her eyes. She didn’t do this. I don’t care anymore though. Finally! Someone is going to bring up Hayden’s presence, was all I could think and focus on now.

After a moment she began, “Well you know how we all went down to the dock?”

I nodded her on.

“So ok we got down there and were hanging out sticking our feet in the water, watching the stars and talking,” she trailed off for a moment taking in another glance of my face.

“So what,” I asked. “Did Hayden start talking about me or something?”

That was the only place I could see her story leading. Some insignificant question he had asked about me, or him bragging about the fact that it only took two glances from him to keep me back at the house instead of at the dock with the rest of them. I knew in her way she was just trying to make me feel better about him being here, but honestly, it just hurt worse to be so close.

When I came back out of the darkness from behind my eyelids Elaine was staring at me confused.

“What,” I asked?

“How did you know Hayden showed up?”

“What are you talking about? Of course I know he showed up,” I quickly ran through the events mentally from earlier in the evening as she interrupted them.

“But how? He almost scarred us to death breaking through the brush alongside the walk way. He said he had accomplished what he had sat out to do; which I’m guessing was to scare us out of our skin; and then laughed. We all asked him where he came from and he just said that he had had someone drop him off out here because he heard everyone talking about a lake weekend and he couldn’t miss one of our ventures out here as a group.”

I sat stunned for a second. Then Elaine snapped me out of it with a quick shake of my shoulder.

“Oh sorry, I was just trying to figure out who would have dropped him off all the way out here especially at night,” I said.

This seemed very odd to me because the house was pretty much off by its self and not a lot of people knew how to get here in the day much less at night. His family knew how to but he had his own vehicle so I knew they wouldn’t give up their Friday night just to drive him up or over if he was at his uncle’s before. Plus, we would have noticed anyone driving up anywhere near the house.

She continued, “So how did you know?”

“Know what,” I replied still shocked stupid.

She answered in an almost frustrated manner, “How did you know Hayden was here?”

She cupped and patted my hands as she talked to me as a mental patient. I laughed inside because she had no idea just how mental I was proving to be. She would freak if she knew I had been imagining him here almost all night.

She shook me out of my thoughts again and I quickly answered her without really thinking, “I saw him walk in with the rest of you when ya’ll decided to go all horror movie on me and send me into shock.”

I smiled at her, and of course, she bought it. That was one of my favorite things about Elaine. She was very simple minded in the most innocent, cute, childlike way.

I stayed sitting on the bed alone in the front room as Elaine went to find Max. I cringed at the thought of his name. I really needed to get over the prejudice I had toward him. I guess he was an all right person. I just didn’t like the fact that he cared so much about how other people viewed him than he did about just being himself. He also always seemed to play the role of the ultimate popular guy that gets all of the girls and then tosses them aside. Maybe this would change with Elaine. She had a talent for breaking people out of their shells. If not, he had better run straight to Mexico. If he ever actually hurt her, I don’t know what I would do.

A swift; almost silent; repetitious thwack at the door, from inside the living room, interrupted my thoughts. I was begging for it not to be Hayden and when I felt someone cover my legs with the sheet then sit beside me, I got the answer to my prayers. I opened my eyes with a smile and threw my arms around Kevin’s neck. I realized I was choking him and sat back.

He choked out a laugh, “Wow Jordan! What was that for?”

“I am just so glad it’s you instead of,” I trailed off hoping he wouldn’t finish my sentence.

“Hayden,” he answered as the black abyss, that had started growing earlier in the evening, took up another couple of inches inside of me. I clenched my eyes and my hands as tight as I could until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“You better not be in here upsetting her Kevin,” Elaine hissed.

“No I’m not Elaine! I am in here trying to make sure she is ok,” Kevin contradicted her

accusations.

“Stop it you two,” I interrupted; their noses were already curled up at each other.

I pulled Elaine down on the bed beside me, and she leaned relaxed up against the railing resting her head on my shoulder.

I continued, “Thank you both for being worried about me but I am fine.”

They both knew this was false but would not argue the fact knowing I would rather deny it to my grave than have them worry about me.

“Hayden,” I forced the name through my teeth, “and I were strictly friends before, for a long time, and I know one day we can be again. It will just take some time and the consideration of our friends,” I said this taking both of their hands into mine as if to show a united front instead of them being at each other like a moment ago. They smiled understanding the gesture and then both got up and sauntered back into the living room closing the door behind them as if to shut out the tension.

I fell back on the old day bed and little dust particles flew up in the air. I could see them swirling, in the dim light of the three nightlights that lit the abnormally shaped room, hovering just above my face. It reminded me of the swirls in Vincent Van Gough’s A Starry Night. Turning over on my side, I pushed my long auburn hair out of my face, and looked around the room. There were still windows that lined the front of the house. Just above my head, there was a window unit. It was put in because this room wasn’t connected to the rest of the vents throughout the tiny house. There was a long white wicker coffee table topped with a piece of glass sitting in front of the day bed. At the opposite end of the rectangular room were two matching white wicker rocking chairs, with the same plaid fabric as the bedding on the day bed. In between them was an end table that was also white wicker with a piece of glass on top of it. They were all obviously a set with the daybed thrown into the mix. Which you could tell had been spray-painted white to match. The curtains were old sheer lace that matched the plaid fabric of the chair cushions and bedding. I guess the color would have been country apple. This had always been funny to me. The different names thought up to describe something as simple as white or red.

“What’s so funny,” a voice called over to me as if asking to be in on a private joke.

I quickly replaced my smile with a blank but stern look. It was Hayden. We had known each other closely enough for so long that I could pick his voice out of anywhere.

“What,” he asked? “Am I not welcome,” he said in a joking manner.

However, what he didn’t realize, was that was exactly right. I sat up quickly and regained my tight posture as he came to sit on the floor beside the other end of the bed. He could probably sense this was the wisest idea.

I raised one eyebrow and asked, “What do you want?”

He stared down at his hands as if they had the answer written on them.

“I want to apologize.”

I scuffed at the thought that an apology would do anything at this point, “Why now? You have been back since October and here it is May and now you want to apologize?”

His face hardened as if my tone offended him and why should it have? It is true.

“I am trying now aren’t I,” he spit out, “why do you have to make it harder?”

“Oh excuse me for being upset when you abandoned me for a month with not even so much as a note and when you returned you acted like I didn’t even exist until this very moment.”

He cringed at the harshness of my voice; he wasn’t use to this coming from me; and then returned to his hands.

“I know what I did hurt you but I didn’t have a choice at the time and when I returned it felt easier to ignore the past, what had happened, and you. So that I could go on as easily as possible,” he said in a whisper.

I don’t understand. Why does he seem like he is in as much pain if not more than I have been in? This is not fair! It isn’t supposed to be this way. I am supposed to be mad at him. Not feeling sorry for him. I felt myself wanting to reach out to him. To comfort him in some way, but I held back the urge. It seemed as though he sensed this too because he looked up at me with wary eyes.

“If it is so hard for you then why did you disappear in the first place with no contact, and why when you returned did you feel it would make it easier on you to forget about us… about me,” I asked trying to be condescending but just wound up sounding inferior and a bit whiny?

I sometimes hated the affect the people I cared for had on me. I couldn’t stand to see them hurt no matter what I was going through.

“Does it really matter why I couldn’t contact you when I disappeared? The fact is that I didn’t and that is obviously unforgivable,” he exclaimed. “I could see the hurt I was putting you through when I returned. I just thought that with time you would get over it but what I realize is that it has just gotten worse,” he said with a concerned look on his face.

I looked at him in disbelief. Have I really had my heart on my sleeve? I thought I’ve been doing a pretty good job of going back to my regular routine. Is that it? Have I been doing too good of a job at being a loner and secluding myself?

“I am fine. You don’t need to worry about me,” I couldn’t help being a little furious at myself for being so readable.

“No you’re not Jordan,” he said still starring at his hands, “and it’s entirely my fault. I should’ve just kept you as a friend and nothing more. Maybe then when I had to disappear it wouldn’t have affected you so,” he trailed off, “like this.”

I looked at myself up and down looking for some physical sign of weakness. All I could see was pail white skin with freckles all over, like splattered paint.

I straightened up again and continued in a harsh voice, “Well at least you spared me the boyfriend detail to get over.”

He looked up at me with such hurt in his eyes I gasped, feeling the stab of my own sword.

“I know we never made it official but you have to have known that’s exactly what I thought of us and in an arrogant way had already internally claimed it. I was just too afraid to say it or ask that of you. I felt somewhat proud that you chose me over all of the others. I didn’t want to push my luck,” he was smiling by the end of his sentence in a daze as if reminiscing.

I was smiling a bit too because I had no idea what he was talking about with the others comment! He must be as delusional as I am.

“So why then,” I muttered?

“Why what,” he asked.

Now I see why Elaine got so short with me earlier. This is an annoying question when I know he has to know exactly what I am asking!

“Why did you stay away from me if it hurt you this bad?”

He sighed as if in relief, “Well I just thought that my chance was blown and I know your temper. So, I decided it was best to give you space to get over it and then you would become my friend again. That obviously blew up in my face!”

Why did he just seem relieved? Did he think I was going to ask something else? Is there really another question? I mean I know the gist of why he disappeared, family stuff and all of that mess. So, why would I want to know anything else? I haven’t ever pried him about his family even though I have always felt I’ve known them pretty well even though their disappearance was rather weird.

We sat talking for a while but it all rather blurred because I kept passing in and out of consciousness awaking only when he noticed and laughed at me. It was nice being there like that with him again. I was still so furious with him but at the same time couldn’t help but to enjoy his company. It was as if my best friend was coming back and if that was all I could have him as I was perfectly ok with that.

I could hear someone whispering my name and I shot my eyes open, “Oh sorry did I doze off again?”

Kevin laughed, “Um, yeah I guess you could say that.”

He motioned to the windows showing me that it was morning. I realized that I had passed out on Hayden last night. I looked around and found him in the same place he was the night before just leaned up against the edge of the bed asleep. I smiled at the sight of him all uncomfortable. Why would he sleep like that? Why didn’t he just go grab the couch or something?

Kevin waved his hand in front of my face, “Hello, so do you?”

“Do I what,” I asked.

Kevin shook his head at me, “Do you want some breakfast? We are going to the bait shop to grab something for breakfast. Do you want to come or do you just want us to pick you something up?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied shaking my head as if to clear the fog, “just grab me whatever they have. That is actual breakfast food.” I handed him some money, he smiled, shook his head at me again, stole a glance at Hayden, and then retreated to his truck where Jen, Lana, and Xavier waited.

As soon as the front door closed, Elaine was almost instantaneously beside me on the bed!

“So,” she asked raising her eyebrows at Hayden.

“No,” I laughed at her shaking my head. “It isn’t anything like that. We talked some things out and then the next thing I remember is Kevin waking me up asking about breakfast food.”

Her face fell as if I had just taken her new shiny toy away, “Oh, ok then. Well maybe,” I cut her off.

“I don’t think it will ever be like that between us again!” I was very matter of fact about this even though honestly I wouldn’t have objected to maybe starting over again. I glanced down at Hayden still sleeping on the floor at the edge of the bed and wondered if there ever could be.

“Are you going to join us down at the dock today for some tube floating,” she smiled.

Of course I was and she knew it. No matter how much I didn’t want to do something I couldn’t resist her beaming adolescent smile. Though, this wasn’t one of the instances where she had to use it.

“Yes,” I replied.

I loved our floating sessions. We would go to the dock, tie off our tubes, and just sit in the water all afternoon joking, reminiscing, and playing bumper cars. It was the best part of our lake trips.

After cutting Elaine’s hopeful matchmaking scenarios short a few more times she gave up and let me up so I could go brush my teeth and take care of my usual morning rituals. Once I felt refreshed enough I left the bathroom clothed and ready for the day. I walked back into the front room and noticed Hayden still unconscious. I decided to just lay back down on the bed and soak up as much quiet time as possible before our day started and I wouldn’t get a moment to myself.

“Here you are my lady,” Kevin said in what he thought was a very convincing romantic voice. I just laughed at him snatching my pop tarts out of his hand.

“You are so lucky Jen adores you the way she does or you would be the loneliest guy alive with those kinds of lines,” I laughed again cramming almost half of one of the pop tarts in my mouth.

He gawked at me and then jumped into his fighting stance. I quickly joined him jumping to my feet.

“You are challenged,” he called out swiftly brushing my face with his hand. We slapped back and forth at each other like a fake cat fight before Jen and the others were griping at us to cut it out and eat so we could get down to the dock. Kevin and I fell back on the day bed and being the klutz that he was, his head crashed into the metal frame. We all laughed hysterically, even Jen this time.

I was surprisingly having so much fun already this morning that I hadn’t even noticed Hayden being awake until we were all tied off and playing bumper cars in the lake. I looked around at our group of friends and became overwhelmed with the happiness that we all brought into each other’s lives. All of the girls got out of the water about an hour after we got there to sun bathe on the dock except for me of course. I didn’t join in on this ritual because I didn’t want matching skin to my hair. Xavier, Max, and Hayden were having races to see who could swim the farthest fastest and then returning. Kevin and I were content on picking on the other girls and telling stupid stories from past trips out here.

Around dusk, Hayden seemed impatient to get back up to the house. He kept saying he was hungry and wanted to go back and grill out. I could tell there was more to it than that but I was having too much fun now to push the subject. We all agreed that we were getting hungry ourselves since we hadn’t had anything since breakfast except for snacks that were brought down in a cooler. Therefore, we packed up and walked up the long walkway back to the house.

When we arrived Hayden started the grill on the back deck and Kevin was getting the meat ready in the kitchen, as Max and Xavier tossed the pigskin around out front. For once, I was actually hanging out with all of the girls. Elaine gushed about Max as she usually did with her newest crush. Jen and Lana sat in complete drool mode as Elaine described every detail of their night together. I was trying to act attentive but couldn’t help wondering why Hayden was in such a hurry to leave the dock.

“Jordan,” Elaine screamed at me. “What do you think,” she asked obviously for the second or third time. Once again, I was caught not paying attention when I was supposed to be in the middle of a conversation.

“Does it really matter what I think?” I shot back slyly, figuring it was a question regarding her and Max.

“Of course it matters,” she screeched at me.

I was right, it was a question about her and Max, “Ok then Elaine ask me again and I will give you my honest answer.”

She glared at me as if questioning my motives.

I held up the three middle fingers on my left hand and exclaimed, “Scouts honor!”

She smiled at me and continued once again with her question, “So do you think I can break Max?”

Even though she had this innocence about her, nobody should ever underestimate Elaine. She liked a challenge, and because of that knowledge I knew what she wanted from me right at this moment.

“I don’t know,” I shot back looking at my hands and then up at her, “he does have a pretty good reputation. Maybe you have met your match,” I added smiling wildly at her.

I could already see the intrigue rising in her eyes before I even ended the sentence. This would keep her content for a little while or at least until she figured out my bluff and the fact that I thought she was wasting her time. We knew each other so well that she valued my opinion over pretty much anyone’s. I would have to admit though; I did love to watch guys squirm under her hand. As she drifted off into her thoughts Lana looked over to me and winked. I smiled back at her and winked in confession. Jen, watched us, and started laughing as she realized what I had just done. Lana and I joined in on the laughter and soon Elaine did to. I figured she thought we were laughing at Max’s expense not knowing that I had just sent her into what I thought was an already won battle.

“What are ya’ll laughing at,” Kevin and Hayden said as they barreled their way onto the couch as if wanting to girl talk.

“Nothing,” Elaine shot back.

This just sparked their interest more. So they pinned her on the couch and began to torture her with tickling.

“Talk,” Kevin yelled.

“Never,” Elaine squeezed out between laughs.

“I will sit on you,” Hayden threatened.

“No! You’re fat,” Elaine screamed in agony.

“Ah,” Hayden screeched in his fake female tone as he threw his hands up in the air and stormed off in a dramatic manner.

“Oh now look at what you did,” Kevin scolded Elaine.

“Honey it’s ok she was just kidding,” he called out after Hayden, running after him.

We were all laughing at their theatrics, watching as he disappeared into the kitchen.

I turned still giggling a bit to find all of the girls starring at me.

“What,” I asked sobering.

“So,” Jen asked?

“So,” I trailed off, “what?”

They all three rolled their eyes at me in a uniformed reaction.

“What,” I asked again?

I was getting a little frustrated at the fact that I was obviously not getting something here.

“What happened last night,” Lana continued Jen’s question. “Did ya’ll make-up,” she asked smiling and raising her eyebrows at me?

“Oh my god,” I squealed. “Are ya‘ll serious,” I asked as if I didn’t already know the answer?

Getting serious because of their glares, I slumped farther down into Grandpa Frog’s chair. I really didn’t like this much attention especially when I still didn’t know what quite had happened or was going to.

“We talked,” I said, picking at my fingernails.

There was way too much quiet I realized and looked up to catch every one of their eyes. They were in a trance, now with me just like they had been when Elaine was talking about her and Max.

“Elaine, we have already had this talk remember,” I reminded her.

“Yeah, but I am hoping that maybe there is a bit more to the story that you are just bogarting the details,” she replied smiling.

“Ok, I will go over every aspect of the events so ya’ll will back off,” I shot each one a displeasing look; even still, they seemed to move closer without ever really moving.

“Go on,” Elaine urged.

“Well, as you all already know, he came in shortly after my first two guests, and he sat down on the floor at the opposite end of the bed due to the welcoming he received.”

I received displeased glares, which I was expecting, from every one of them.

I cleared my throat and began again, “He apologized a few times, admitting that he had hurt someone he hadn’t ever wanted to hurt and couldn’t continue to hurt. I was very furious with him still of course, but I found myself feeling sorry for him and wanting to comfort him,” I held my tongue, while I looked up to catch their reactions.

They were all beaming, with hopeful thoughts I am guessing.

“Go on! Go on,” Jen waved her hand in the air at me.

“That is pretty much it besides the fact that I kept passing out on him and then waking up to the fact that I finally did for good, and that he stayed the whole night in an awkward sleeping position laying up against the side of the bed.”

I sat there for a few quiet moments, as they were studying and scrutinizing my face as if to see any truth in the ending I gave them. It was starting to feel like a lifetime just as Lana cleared her throat and began talking about something else.

I closed my eyes and fell back against the back of the chair, which still smelled of the old man that used to inhabit it, with a long but quiet sigh. At this point I was neither too curious nor interested in whatever it was that they were going on about. That short conversation took everything out of me and I had to get some fresh air. I shoved myself up out of the chair and darted for the back door before I even remembered that this was where Hayden was grilling. I didn’t really care though. After our talk, things had seemed pretty normal between us again. At least as normal as they could be for now.

I shot out of the screen door and ran straight to the railing of the deck. I sucked in a deep breath as the sound of the screen crashing shut made me jump. Hayden laughed at me a bit surprised with my entrance.

“What was that about,” he asked. “Let me guess you just got the question and answer section of our conversation last night, from the others?”

“How ever did you know,” I asked sarcastically with a smile.

We both laughed and I realized in that moment that Kevin had obviously been pressing the subject too.

“Kevin,” I asked.

“Of course,” he answered as if he felt as uncomfortable as I did about it.

“They just all really care about us you know,” I said taking up for them for some reason.

“Yeah I know, and they also don’t like the fact of our group splitting up,” he said waving the spatula in the air in a circular motion.

I felt a little guilty about that. Even though it was him that had put the strain in place, it was because of me why everyone felt the need to exclude him from the trip. I knew it wasn’t his fault that he had to leave, it was family stuff, but why did he have to leave the way he did? I was leaning on the railing starring down into the drop off, that was the back of the house, when something wild took off in a mad dash. It looked a little frightening but free, in a good way, at the same time.

“What,” Hayden asked.

“Huh,” I questioned.

“Why did you say, WOW,” he asked.

Ok not only am I seeing things this weekend and not paying attention when I should be but I am also thinking out loud!

“Oh, um, nothing really, I just caught sight of something running off really fast through the trees,” I answered.

He spun around and starred me up and down. This made me a little insecure. I slumped over and wondered why he reacted this way. He must have noticed because he straightened his face and went back to the grill.

“What was it,” he asked.

“I don’t know. It’s too dark to see anything down there really. I guess the moon was in just the right place,” I trailed off as I looked up at it.

It is gorgeous tonight. Whitish blue, full, huge, and you can see the man so clear that it is as if he is face to face with you. I love nights like tonight. Especially down at the dock. Lying on your back studying the stars as the moonlight dances on the rippling waves. You can be a thousand miles from anything down there yet close enough to just walk back to it all.

“Hey,” I called out, thinking about mine and Hayden’s nights down there together, “what do you say about going down to the lake after we eat? Just me and you like old times? We do have quite a bit to catch up on. Seven months worth to be exact.”

I saw his head shrink down to his shoulders as he turned to look at me. There is that look again. That look I saw on the face of my hallucination, stern and demanding. What did I say? Did I push my boundaries? But he’s the one that wanted to patch everything up. He came to where I was sleeping last night. I guess he saw the upset and confusion on my face and realized how he was looking at me. He tried to straighten out his expression but then it turned into this weird fight between his emotions that played out on his face.

“I don’t think that is a good idea,” he answered me.

“Why, why, why not,” I stuttered trying to regain my thinking.

“Because we have to leave early tomorrow,” he shot back trying to defer me from the idea.

“We never leave before at least 3,” I was thinking clearly again and a little agitated at how he was acting toward me now.

“Jordan,” he started, talking through his teeth, “I don’t want to lead you on. I know we are getting along better now than we have since I left,”

“Disappeared,” I corrected.

“Ok, disappeared then, but,” he started again and I interrupted him.

“I wasn’t asking you to go with me so we could make up and be back together or whatever it was we were, just like that! I just thought it would be nice to hang out like we use to when we were just best friends. So you know what? Just forget about it because obviously my best friend is gone,” I was yelling before I finished.

His face retreated to shame, “I’m sorry I didn’t know that’s what you meant. I guess with how much the others are pushing the subject I just thought,” I interrupted again.

“Don’t worry about it. Like I said, the best friend who used to do that with me is gone. He was never conceded enough to jump to a conclusion like that!”

I shoved off of the railing and was inside slamming the door before he could get anything else out. Kevin looked at me as if he wanted to say something but by the way I was clenching my jaw he knew not to push his luck. I stormed through the living room and realized the other guys had made their way in and were sitting with their designated companion. This sickened me even more. Elaine looked up at me with a calling look on her face. I waved her to stay and I suppose she could tell I needed some space because she didn‘t move.

“Hayden is right about one thing,” I said, as I paced back and forth in the front yard, “we are leaving early in the morning because I will be damned if I spend another day secluded out here with him.”

III

I stared out aimlessly, but couldn’t help catching glimpses of Jen and Kevin periodically glancing at each other as we made the drive back to our little Podunk town.

“Everybody is upset with me, aren’t ya’ll,” I asked timidly.

“No, of course not,” Jen replied.

She was way too nice. I needed to know the truth. So, I could hopefully make it up to everyone somehow. Why would they all not be upset with me! They put their butts on the line every time we made a trip out to the lake house, and because I couldn‘t take it anymore, everyone had to cut their weekend short. This would be cause for another lie for each set of parents as to why they were all home early.

Elaine was a senior so her mom didn’t really care about the weekends much. My mom was just very trusting in me because I wasn’t too into mischief or lying like most teenagers. We had a very open and blunt relationship that may not have been what was best sometimes. The rest of the gang had classic parents. No co-ed trips without adult supervision. So of course, they all had perfect stories when the lake house weekends came up. We tried to make them as few and far between as we could handle. Though, since we were teenagers and loved to get away from the hassle of our parents as much as possible we found ourselves treading a thin line when disappearing all at the same time as much as we did.

“No offense Jen but I need the uncut version. I understand if any of ya’ll are upset with me. I didn’t want to leave early either, but,” I could feel the fire come to life inside my head, “I couldn’t stay there any longer with HIM!” I shouted not realizing my voice had risen as the statement went on.

Kevin gave a reassuring glance to Jen while squeezing her hand. He took in a deep breath, and started, “Look, we all know ya’ll are having a difficult time right now and even though it is extremely aggravating we are trying to understand.”

He said this as more of a question than an answer, so I quickly just added an ok before the prying began. I didn’t want to talk about what had happened. Not even with Kevin, and especially not while Jen was around! She was an awesome friend but Elaine and Kevin were the only two people I shared my thoughts with, anymore. Hayden use to be grouped in there too but it was obvious what had happened there.

I let out a long sigh, pulled my legs up to my chest, and plumped my chin down onto my folded arms. The sun was bright, even while shining through the tented windows of the Bronco. We would be down at the lake right now if it weren’t for me; Hayden wouldn’t have protested staying until our regular time of departure. Of course he wouldn’t have! Because he is just fine with the way things are right now. All of that trying to patch things up act was all so that hopefully I would drop my grudge against him and things could go back to the way they were before we started down the intimate path. If he had decided that was all he wanted why couldn’t he have just talked to me? I hate losing one of my best friends, and now it is putting a strain on the rest of our group.

The whole way home I was quiet. Pushed back so far into myself that I didn’t even realize when we pulled up to my house.

Kevin shifted into park, laid his hand on the headrest of the passenger seat, and turned back to address me, “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks Kevin,” I stuttered, “I am so, just so sorry for everything.”

I bowed my head in embarrassment. I couldn’t believe I had lost my cool the way I did. I mean yes I had always been a hot head but I also always knew how and when to control it. I put our weekends at risk. Everyone now had to scramble for excuses as to why they were home early instead of when expected and our town was too small for them to just hang out without someone noticing. This made me feel so guilty. How selfish am I! I don’t have to worry about making up stories because my mom knows about our trips. And I didn’t even take into consideration what this was going to do to everyone else at their homes.

“Jordan, seriously, you act like you committed a serious offense to us or something,” Kevin snickered. “Yeah we will probably have to scrounge for an explanation for the rents, but we are all famiends foremost and always,” he stated shaking me by the shoulder.

I smiled at the word, famiends, family and friends. We haven’t used that as our description in years. I guess it’s just understood between the seven of us now. We all know that no matter what we will always be famiends.

“Famiends,” I replied smiling at him and Jen as I climbed out of the passenger door from the backseat with my bag in hand.

They sped off probably already calling Lana and Xavier to get their stories straight for the rents. I guess mine and Elaine’s mothers weren’t included in that category since we were able to tell them where we were going with no consequences’. The rents are of course the other’s parents but we just shortened it hoping they wouldn’t know we were talking about them if they ever over heard. Kind of an obvious nickname but surprisingly they hadn’t ever caught on.

I walked into the front door and immediately flung my stuff to the floor.

“Mom, I’m home.”

“Mom,” I questioned.

I guess she’s not home. I had no idea what she did on the weekends I was gone. She was a very young mom in spirit. I liked that about her, because for the most part I could talk to her about anything. Though, this with Hayden would not be discussed. There are just some things that a girl couldn’t talk about with her mom without it being a real mother daughter conversation and I was just not up to those.

I picked up my stuff and drug it back to my room. I separated all of the clothes from my bag, to get them ready for my mom’s Sunday evening laundry ritual she did to start the new week. Afterwards, I flung myself across my bed and started going through the motions of the weekend in my thoughts wondering where everything went wrong. I still didn’t know why I had seen Hayden there before he actually was. Hell, I didn’t even know why he had shown up in the first place. There for a bit I thought maybe to not only just hang out with the group, but maybe to also patch at least our friendship up as well. I was sadly mistaken with that assumption as evidence shows. And you know the old saying, when you assume something you make an ass out of u and me!

Rolling over to stare at the ceiling I began to wonder how everyone’s arrival home went. Going over each pair of rents, the scenarios started playing out in my head. Kevin would be fine, because his parents were almost as calm as my mom but not calm enough for a bunch of teenagers to spend a whole weekend together with no supervision. Xavier, well as long as he kept his story short and with not a lot of detail he would be ok. His rents always knew when he was lying because he had the tendency to go overboard with his elaborations. Lana’s rents pretty much worshiped the ground she walked on because she was the only child they were able to conceive. So, she was safe. Oh no, I thought to myself in a panic.

I struggled for the phone on the floor beside my bed. Jen’s parents were the ones we all had to worry about. If her story was in the least bit suspicious they would be sure to call Lana’s to confirm and if hers got even an inkling of suspicion they would call my mom. Even though my mom was cool with the trips, she knew their parents didn’t know the truth. She had always made it perfectly clear that she wouldn’t ever go out of her way to tell on them all but if any wrong doings ever started happening out there or if she ever was to get a call from another parent then she would not lie for anybody. This scared me!

I dialed Jen’s number but as I put the phone up to my ear waiting to hear the ringing I heard a voice call out my name. I must have picked up the phone just as she called me.

“Jen, thank the lord,” I sighed in relief.

“I knew you had to be the first to know that my rents bought the story I sold them,” she exclaimed in a very proud voice.

“So what was the story,” I asked.

“Well as soon as we drove away from your house we called and had Elaine, Max, Lana, and Xavier meet us at the car wash, after they had already dropped Hayden off, to of course switch passengers,” she started her tall tale.

“Lana and I decided on a short but sweet story. We were all hanging out and the weekend went great but your mom wanted some help with some around the house stuff so we all decided to leave before we got roped in to helping as well.”

Honestly that wasn’t bad. My mom was famous for guilting my friends into helping since she kept our dirty little secret as she referred to it.

“You are classic Jen.”

“I know,” she said proudly.

“So what about Kevin and Xavier,” I asked.

“Well, I’m not sure yet because you are the first I’ve talked to but I do know that they were discussing something about they had to cut their camping trip short due to an infestation of their food supply or something.”

“And, what about Max,” I asked with an obvious unconcerned tone.

“Oh yeah, he is no worry. Just like the classic popular jock that he is, he also has the classic parents to go along with the appearance.” So pretty much they absolutely adored their son, he did no wrong, and he pretty much got away with everything. I would have usually been disgusted at this, but in our case this weekend it worked in our favor. So, I was just relieved.

“Well I have to go. I need to spread the news. We both know they are sitting by the phone waiting to hear the coast is clear,” she joked even though we both knew it was true.

“Ok, but since it is my fault you had to cover this up in the first place I will call Elaine and let her know,” I offered.

“Whatever Jordan,” she spouted off at me as if I were killing her buzz.

We hung up and without really paying attention I dialed Elaine’s number and she was already picking up.

“Hey the coast is clear for the others,” I shouted with happiness.

She sighed a long sigh of relief. “Great!”

Now that was done I knew what was coming next. She was either going to start in on me and Hayden or on her and Max. I was surprisingly starting to get use to that name after just the short weekend. It would have usually disgusted me because he was the poster board boy for the classic after school special.

“So,” Elaine asked.

“So, what?”

She hated the games I played but honestly I didn’t know which subject she was asking about and if it wasn’t me and Hayden then I didn’t want to turn her radar there.

“Ugh,” she growled at me, “how do you feel about Max now?”

Oh yeah, I forgot that I had planted that seed of adventure into her new love story.

“Are you asking if I’m starting to ease into accepting him, or if I still think you might have quite the battle on your hands,” I asked, with just the slightest amusement in my voice.

“Ummm, BOTH,” she replied excited.

I let out a long sigh and readied myself for the description I had to give her, to shut her up and satisfy the thirst she had for my scenarios.

“Well, I’m not totally disgusted by his name anymore. So, maybe that’s a start.” I laughed at the fact that, that wasn’t an exaggeration. I seriously couldn’t even stand to hear his name much less speak or think it myself. Though, now I guess I could tolerate that much, but only because I was confined in his presence the whole weekend.

“Oh come on Jordan,” Elaine said in a sort of whine.

I bet she was lying on her bed but now because of my words sat up fidgeting with her hands crossed over a pillow in her lap. It was so hilarious how well I knew her.

“Elaine, stop picking at your nails and listen to me,” I accused.

She huffed a bit and then went silent. I absolutely despised it when she got in a huff. I knew how to get her out of it though. I could talk about the event I walked in on, even though the thought of that makes me nautious. Maybe, the fact that he got along so well with the boys? Yes, that is the perfect avenue.

“The guys sure did have fun with him, didn’t they,” I asked?

I could hear her gleaming over the phone already without even so much of a word.

“Max is very athletic and that suits Xavier and,” I trailed off as I forced myself to say his name, “Hayden’s personalities well.”

“Yes, that is true,” she shot back quickly. I could tell she was trying to distract me from the name I had wilted from.

“Do you like him,” I asked very adimate.

“I do.”

“But,” I asked because there was always a but with Elaine.

“There isn’t really one,” she said in a kind of ashamed voice.

We all knew his reputation and even though he was the latest beau in her life I just didn’t expect that, because of how she chewed up guys and spit them out regularly.

“Are you serious, Elaine?”

“I know Jordan! It’s just different with him. He gets along great with the guys which is obvious. He can charm his way on to anyone as you can tell,” she was referring to the fact that his name didn’t totally disgust me now as it had before and that sickened me. I had played into his voodoo.

“He gets me, maybe not like as in a life partner but we are both adventurous, we both love a challenge,” which they both were for each other, “and we are both passionate about ourselves,” she said laughing to break the tension.

I couldn’t help but to laugh at that as well. It was so true. When it came to me she was so innocent, selfless, yet at the same time self-absorbed. Though to the rest of the world it was always Elaine, Elaine, Elaine.

“Well, that is all very true,” I said emphasizing very.

We both laid there laughing over the phone awhile until my mom chimed in, “What are you two so animated about?”

I shot off of my bed like a bottle rocket, and dropped the phone in the process. As it crashed to the floor Elaine screamed at me trying to understand what had happened.

I quickly regained my seat and scooped up the phone, “My mom’s here. I will talk to you later.”

“So, how was the weekend,” she asked while leaning against the wall in my doorway.

The way she was standing made me flash back to seeing Hayden that first night standing in the same position just staring at me as she was now. The only difference was she was the one searching for an answer instead of me.

“Jordan? Are you ok,” she stepped toward me and put her hand against my forehead.

“I’m fine mom. Just a little dazed from being tired after the weekend,” I said as I pushed her hand away.

Before she could ask what had happened that would make me so tired and out of it I asked, “So you want some help gathering up and separating all of the laundry?”

I stood up, maneuvered around her, and started gathering all of my dirty clothes.

She starred at me for awhile and then I guess decided it wasn’t important enough to push and risk losing my willingness to help her. I felt a huge relief from this.

The rest of the night was pointless, but productive as well. I gathered all of the laundry as she separated. While she cooked dinner, I brought out the plates and silverware. We ate dinner in front of the television in the living room on TV trays. While I cleaned up after dinner she folded clothes.

After I put away everything, I poked my head back toward the laundry room and saw her still folding. So, I quietly made my way to my room.

Once I was inside the confines of my room with the door shut, I laid across my bed and starred up at the ceiling. Again going over the weekend, I began to remember more things to question.

Hayden had been very strange but at the same time extremely the same this weekend. He acted fine with the boys, joked and picked on the girls, and took up his usual role as the cook. Also though, he had extreme mood swings with me which is very strange. He looked so hurt by everything that had happened but then felt the need to make it very clear that he had no desire to go down that road with me again. I then began remembering our talk in the front room and then the argument on the deck. He had been like night and day with me. Everyone else was treated the same as always, but with me, he was so unpredictable.

I closed my eyes and could see him. He was right there, just behind my eyelids. He starred at me, and even though it was the fierce look that he had given me that confused me so, I couldn’t help but to fixate on the one that pleaded me. That look wasn’t even real. It was when I was imagining him. He wasn’t even there, but yet that was the look that I couldn’t escape.

“So who all was out there this weekend,” my mom interrupted.

“Oh um,” I said sitting up; as she took up the seat beside me.

“There was the usual, Me, Lana, Xavier, Jen, Kevin and Elaine. And then there was Max,” I trailed off rolling my eyes.

“Who is this Max,” mom asked.

“Elaine’s newest boy toy,” I replied, “Max Bruening.”

“Wow,” she exclaimed.

She knew who he was by his last name. Our town was so small that even the adults knew the kids by name. Plus, it didn’t hurt that she was a huge football fan and he was the quarter back of our high school varsity team.

“Yeah, I guess,” I shot back.

“I take it you don’t much care for him,” she asked.

“He is just the typical quarter back,” I replied.

She didn’t push it anymore. Being the cool hip mom, I guess she would call herself, she knew what the description meant.

“And,” she trailed off, “no Hayden?”

I felt the darkness swell up inside of me again as I answered her questioning eyes, “Yes, he showed up later after we had already been there most of the evening. He had a friend drop him off or something because he didn’t have his truck.”

“Oh, ok. Well you better get some sleep. You look really tired and need to rest up for school tomorrow. You don’t want to fall out now with only a few more weeks to go,” she said as she patted me on the knee.

“Night mom," I called after her.

“Night,” she called back shutting my door behind her.

I turned off my light and laid back on my bed. I tried to fight the urge to fall asleep because I still had so many questions I wanted to go over from the weekend, but after a few minutes I was out and dreaming.

IV

May, this time of year was always so exciting not only in our little school but in the whole town in general. This meant the coming to an end of another school year. The freshman were glad not to be fish anymore; the sophomores were just glad to be a step closer to being seniors; juniors were celebrating the fact that they get to start the glory days of their last year of high school; and the seniors were ecstatic that it was their time to graduate and get out of this hole we called Howe High School.

I slammed the door to my 1970 El Camino, and it never got better. Like usual I looked up to almost everyone starring in my direction. Yeah it was old, but my mom had a friend put a new paint job on it and another friend do some work to the engine. So, it ran good. It may have guzzled gas but it ran and looked decent. I love it nonetheless. I had always been a sucker for a loud engine ever since I was a kid.

“Hey Jordan,” Max called out to me waving me over to him and Elaine.

Great, I thought to myself as I stumbled over to his shiny red crew cab F150. Comparing our vehicles was pointless. His was new and mine was, well, the obvious.

I leaned against his truck by the driver side door where Elaine was sitting and began scoping the parking lot for Hayden’s truck. No luck though, he wasn’t here, or at least not yet. I couldn’t help but to hope that he wouldn’t show up and I honestly doubted he would. He had been famous since his first disappearance for not coming to school at least once a week.

“Ya’ll hear from Hayden since yesterday,” I asked surprised at the fact that I got the words out without stopping myself.

Elaine must have been surprised too because she was just sitting there kind of starring at me in shock. Max shook her out of it trying not to make it noticeable but I knew her too well for it to work.

“Oh, umm,” she started, clearing her throat, “well I haven’t, but you know Hayden and I haven’t been that close since what he did to you.”

I lowered my head because I felt disgusted at myself for being the cause of the strain on their friendship and because I questioned whether or not she had invited him out to the house for the weekend. I can’t believe I actually thought, her of all people, would have ever done anything she even thought would hurt me.

“Jordan,” she questioned.

“No, no, it’s ok. I was just wondering because I don’t see his truck.”

By this time the rest of the group, except for Hayden, had shown up and the bell rang accordingly. The first two periods had been a blur. Though, now, standing in front of my locker I couldn’t help but to have a flashback of the day he returned and I saw him at this exact moment walking through the entry at the end of the hall. I caught my thoughts, straightened up, and began switching my books for my next class.

Lunch time, the time for fuel. I definitely needed it today. After this weekend, then the anxiety of Hayden being here today, and then the relief when I realized he wasn’t had me in a spiral of emotions and I needed some sustenance to keep me going through the rest of fourth period, not to mention the rest of the school day. Elaine came to meet me in the regular lunch line where I always saved her a spot because she lingered in the halls way too long before making her way to the lunchroom.

We grabbed our usual seats at the lunch table and I drifted in and out of conversations, until I heard the bell ringing us back to class.

English finally, I loved this class. Mr. Klein was such a cool teacher. He brought such enthusiasm to his curriculum and the fact that he would shut his door and cut up with us about our weekends didn’t hurt. We weren’t really doing much in class right now, just kind of pushing the clock every day waiting for that final bell to ring for summer. I could tell Mr. Klein was just as anxious as we were about this year being over. I couldn’t wait to take his senior class though. I was glad to know I would have at least one teacher I could stand the last year I would be in school. Even if it was still another school year away.

As the bell rang louder than ever today I got to my feet and started toward the door. I didn’t know who it was but someone almost knocked me down when I stopped dead in place as I saw him. Hayden was standing right across the hall by the wall that leads to the senior’s lockers. Everyone passed him like one of those videos where everything else was sped up except for the one thing or person that was meant to be seen. He was staring at me with this childish grin.

What is going on with me? Why am I seeing him when it is obvious he isn’t really here? He was still starring at me grinning from ear to ear and it was starting to annoy me. I decided to walk forward toward my hallucination to figure this out once in for all but he stopped grinning and turned to look behind him. I followed his movement and found Kevin and Xavier walking around the corner at the other end of the shallow hall. I immediately stopped my course of action. I knew they would notice me and I felt crazy enough as it was without them witnessing me walking up to an empty space waving my hands around in the air. I honestly didn’t know what I would have done if I approached my mirage and it stayed. Would I really have waved my arms around in it as some kind of obvious lunatic or would I have tried to converse with it, like that would have been any better. I looked back for Hayden and found my eyes wandering everywhere only to find him nowhere.

I was already ready with books of homework in my bag from the locker pit stop before my last period, so I made a mad dash for the doors to my right. Once outside I slammed back against the doors I had crashed through trying to compose myself but my thoughts were racing ninety to nothing. If I really have been imagining Hayden, then how did my hallucination know that Kevin and Xavier were coming around that corner? And if what I have been seeing is real what the hell is going on? I tried not to think anymore, I pushed myself off, and sprinted to the front of the school. There it is my safe haven. Once inside the powder blue Camino I turned the key to bring it to life and before I could think better of it, I was speeding off down the road heading toward the outskirts of town where my house laid.

Mom would still be at work and it was comforting to know this because I knew I looked awful from the reaction to my latest hallucination. She would definitely insist on a doctor visit if she saw me as white as I was right now. It was times like these that I was glad my car was so loud and fast because people had a tendency to move themselves out of my way when I went barreling down the road. I couldn’t get there fast enough but now that I had arrived I couldn’t help but to wonder if what I just encountered was actually real.

I swung my backpack over my shoulder, made my way inside the house, and up to my bedroom. I threw myself onto my bed and my head began to swim again. I could feel my eyes swelling up with tears because I had no idea what was going on or how to feel about it. I started from the beginning and began going over the weird events of late that had included Hayden.

Rushing through the incidents that had taken place I began to lose myself in my thoughts. Hayden first appeared to me at the lake house, after the movie, right before we left to go to the dock. Then right before Kevin and I made it inside the folding of the trees there he was again. He showed up out of nowhere without his truck claiming to have had someone drop him off, he was anxious to get back to the house for a reason more significant than hunger, I could tell this because we always spent most of our nights on our weekend trips out down at the dock, the blow up when I was trying to put forth effort toward a recovery of our friendship, disappearing after Sunday with no school appearances, and now this. Tears were rolling down my face now; I couldn’t understand what was going on. All I knew was that I didn’t really know if I wanted to know the truth. It was easier to just think I was crazy than to try to even imagine what I was seeing was real. There was no logic in that. Of course it isn’t real.

My mom made it home around the same time she did every day. Then like clockwork started dinner shortly after. We ate in front of the TV like usual and before she could pry I engulfed my food and made up an excuse of homework even though I had finished it right before she got home. I liked being in my room. It made me feel safe. As if I was tucked away in my own little world. Everyone had been blowing up my cell and house phone ever since they got home from school but there was no way I was answering either. I knew the guys had seen me, and before they had left the school parking lot the whole bunch of them were of course informed of the fact that I had bolted and for no reason as far as the guys knew. However, what they didn’t know was that I was insane and imagining Hayden in the weirdest places. Laying back on my bed with music blaring into my ears from the earphones attached to my IPod I began to doze in and out still playing clips of the now three times that I had imagined him out of thin air.

That night I finally forced myself off my bed and after a quick bathroom break for the necessities and a long hot shower I drifted in and out of consciousness again. I couldn’t really tell what was a dream and what was real. In some parts I was back at the lake house just starring at Hayden and he was staring back at me. Others were stuff that hadn’t even happened, like him being in my house. He was watching me help mom with the laundry, watching me talking to Elaine on the phone about her and Max, watching me sleep, and that woke me up in a frantic.

Sitting there, drenched in a cold sweat, I was hysterically trying to comb over every nook and cranny in my room. Nothing was different, including no extra people. There was my closet directly in front of my bed that stretched the length of the wall to make up for how shallow it was, the heavy old wooden door that lead out to the rest of the house to my right, and the huge floor to ceiling window directly to my left. I was fixated on the window, starring at the sheer curtains blowing in the breeze. My mom was not a very firm believer in heaters or air conditioners. We had space heaters for winter and window units for summer. Though in her eyes unless you could see your breathe inside the house it wasn’t cold enough for heaters, and unless she couldn’t sleep because of the heat, it wasn’t hot enough for the units. Nights like these made me glad I didn’t have the air conditioner in yet. I sat up on my bed Indian style now, and stared out through the flowing curtains in to the night. I loved to stare at the stars and just imagine how different every person’s life was that was starring at the same set of stars. I stared out aimlessly, daydreaming now, and I began to see Hayden’s face, that startled me and I quickly returned to here and now. His face disappeared but I found no comfort in this. I laid back down and closed my eyes, allowing myself to really see him; his smile, his eyes, just everything that drew me to him. No matter how hard I had tried, I couldn’t seem to keep him out of my head or get him out of my heart.

I didn’t want to go to school the next day but I rathered take a million questions from my friends than fake sick to my mom and have her do one of two things; either, go all dramatic and make me go to the hospital or her call me out on my cop out of school so close to the end of the year and have demanded to know what it was I was trying to escape. Of course, as soon as I hit the parking lot there were all of them and I immediately avoided the situation and did so the whole day. The next day they were all pretty bitter toward me but decided that I obviously hadn’t wanted to talk about it and that it wasn’t important enough to ruin our last days together before Elaine, Max, and Hayden graduated.

Thursday rolled around quick. Monday was typical until my breakdown, Tuesday was uneventful since I was out of pocket to my friends, and Wednesday I was there but everybody was still somewhat skittish toward me. Therefore, I was kind of out of the loop all day. However, today everybody seemed to be warming back up to me.

“Hey Jor, so you back with us now,” Kevin asked throwing the stem of an apple at me.

“Yeah, I had a bit of a mental episode but I’m good now,” I laughed at the reality of my words. For the past few days, I had still been seeing him. He showed up to me in the weirdest ways and at the strangest times. I had pretty much just admitted to myself that I had gone totally mental and had tried not to think about it past that logic. It is entirely his fault anyway. That had to be the reason why he was what I was imagining, because he was to blame for my break with reality, instead of imagining like, some gigantic purple rabbit or something.

“So what are our plans for this weekend,” I asked before anyone could get up the courage to ask me what had happened that day in the hall.

“Oh, well, we all want another weekend at the lake house but of course we need to cool it for at least another week before we can pull that off again. Especially after the surprise early arrival home,” Kevin replied starring me down in a comical way.

“Yeah,” I added while changing the subject, “can you believe ya’ll are graduating,” I asked Elaine and Max.

“I know right,” Elaine lit up.

“It is sad though,” Max stated, “this is my last year with the Bulldogs.”

This was our mascot, the Howe Bulldogs. Every time there was a home game, our town got dressed in black, red, and white. Every street sign would have streamers, every small business would have either banners or window paint, and the whole town would be wearing the bulldog colors with pride. I have to be honest though, no matter how much I may have made fun of this all, I couldn’t help but to get caught up in it myself.

“I know,” I replied. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I’m not a part of the hype anymore. I mean it isn’t like we won’t be bulldogs even after we leave this place, but it isn’t the same as being right in the middle of the chaos.”

“I totally agree,” Max said.

I couldn’t believe Max and I were having a conversation much less an agreeable one. I would have to admit though that he seemed to be a very different person around us than what he portrayed around everybody else. He was tolerable at the most so far. Elaine was smiling at me, due to the fact that I wasn’t hissing and getting into strike position, no doubt. It was easy to smile back at her, sarcastically, telling her, without words, not to get her hopes up. I was tame enough to carry on a short verbal agreeance, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have rather knocked his smug self to the floor than look at him sitting on our table.

Her face dropped at my expressions because she knew she had been wrong. I laughed because she was such a whirlwind of emotions. She was staring at me with hurt in her eyes. I hated seeing this from her and she knew it. That’s why she was burrowing in to me with her gaze right now. With a simple nod and small grin in Max’s direction, her face came to life with color. Her gleeful disposition returned in full force. I just smiled at her and then returned to picking at the corn on my plate.

By the end of the day, I couldn’t help but to be distracted. I hadn’t seen Hayden today. Not even in one of my psychotic trips. Maybe I am becoming normal again. I laughed at the thought because I hadn’t ever been normal. Really though, I was now realizing that Hayden hadn’t been at school all week. I guess I hadn’t noticed until now because I had imagined him here every day except for today. The void of him even just for the day seemed overwhelming. Even though he hadn’t really been there, seeing him, even if it wasn’t real, comforted me because I could feel him. Though today, nothing. No hallucinations, as well as no sense of him around.

After school, we all met up in the parking lot and decided that we would make up some last minute plans, for what was going to be a lame weekend, tomorrow morning before school.

Being home now, I was trying to keep myself as busy as possible because I had this overwhelming urge to call him. I picked up the living room and vacuumed. I did the dishes, wiped down the counters, swept, and mopped. I picked up all of the dirty clothes I had accumulated so far this week, vacuumed my room, and the hall.

Now, sitting on my bed, phone in hand, I had nothing else to keep me from giving in. Unless, I want to scrub down the bathroom and start on mom’s room? Too risky though, I had already done too much. She would know as soon as she got in that something was definitely not right. Everyone who knew me even a little knew that I cleaned when I was nervous, angry, upset, or pretty much feeling any heightened emotion. It was one of my tale tails.

I dialed his number now for the third time and finally put it to my ear and listened for the ring. With each ring of the phone, my heartbeat quickened. Until it came to a complete stop as I heard his voice on the other end.

“Hello,” he called out, “hello, Jordan you there,” he asked.

My name hit my ears in his voice and it thrusted me in to reality, “How did you know it was me,” I asked.

“Caller ID, duh,” he added.

I could tell by the way he said it that he was smiling at my newfound ignorance.

“Oh yeah,” I said laughing.

“Why,” I hesitated, “why haven’t you been at school?”

“Oh, well, when I took my hike through the woods at the lake to scare the others I must have stumbled into some poison ivy because I am broke out everywhere,” he answered matter of factly.

This seemed really weird to me. His story was so to the point and with no emotion, especially the part of trying to scare the others. Why didn’t he say ya’ll? He couldn’t have known I wasn’t down there. Maybe, I am just reading too much in to it. I am good at that, and I wasn‘t down there when he did show up. Yes, that has to be why he excluded me in that.

I had been feeling a bit responsible for his absence. Like, maybe he was just trying to give me some space after last weekend. I truly hoped it wasn’t because of me and that he wouldn’t stay away any longer if it were. I couldn’t quite understand my feelings for him. When talking with the others I was still so furious and enraged by even just his name. Though, in private or when talking to him I couldn’t help but to long for him.

“Well, I hope you are feeling better,” I replied, as more of a question than a statement. “We are all going to plan the weekend tomorrow at school. Are you going to be there,” I asked hesitantly.

“Yeah, umm,” he started.

“If not I know everyone will understand. I was just wondering and you know it just isn’t the same without the whole group together,” I added.

“Yeah, yeah, of course I will be there. Someone has to keep ya’ll on ya’lls toes,” he said jokingly.

“Well, if any one owns that role it is definitely you.”

“I guess I will see you tomorrow then Jordan.”

“Yeah I guess you will,” I replied smiling and hung up the phone.

V

“I have arrived we can officially start the brainstorming,” Hayden hollered smugly as he climbed out of his truck.

“Oh yes,” Kevin agreed sarcastically as he bowed toward Hayden.

These two were hilarious when together.

“Come on guys seriously,” Jen shoved Kevin into Hayden, “we have to get this weekend planned now unless we want to be passing notes in between classes until lunch.”

This was the truth though. If we didn’t get at least the gist of our weekend put together now then we would be passing notes all day. Which wouldn’t do any good because they would just be a bunch of suggestions with no concrete plans.

“I wish we could just go back up to Grandpa Frog’s,” Elaine whined.

“We all know that is not doable Elaine,” Hayden hissed shooting a harsh glare in her direction, “so let’s focus on what is.”

I knew I wasn’t the only one that caught that because everyone went silent all of the sudden. I didn’t know where he got off. He had no right to talk to any of us in that way. He not only abandoned me when he left but the whole group!

I guess I had been scowling at him harsher than I thought because he looked at me and backed off. I don’t understand him. He’s been so different since he’s been back. He loses his temper at the most common parts of our lives. We have always gone up to that house and when we aren’t able to, we all wish we could. It has always been this way and now it bothers him? And why is that? He disappears with not even as much of a note for any of us, no phone calls even, then returns and treats me as if I am a complete stranger even though he claims he had thought of me as his before he left. His outrageous behavior toward me from not acknowledging me to the harshness he has grown so accustomed to in the last week that has been directed at me, and now this. I can’t handle it anymore! I have to know what the hell his problem is.

I walked toward him like a heat seeking missile locked on his position, grabbed him by the arm, and guided him to where we could talk away from the others.

“What is your problem,” I asked.

“What are you talking about,” he growled.

“If you want to lose it on me, fine but Elaine, you don’t ever speak to her that way.”

“Oh, so you’re her protector now,” he asked in a humorous manner no doubt referring to my size.

“I may not be as big as you but I promise you this, if you ever hurt her or anyone in our group again I will come after you in any way I can find to hurt you and I won‘t stop until I accomplish it.”

For some reason he lost stature. He seemed to back off a bit. Slumped over now, one hand in his front pocket, and began to rub the base of his head with the other.

“What,” I growled at him through my teeth.

“I guess, I just never knew you had it in you.”

“Had what in me? And what is so funny?”

“This,” he motioned up and down. “I know you have a temper, but I guess since it hasn’t ever been toward me I haven’t ever understood the severity of your words,” he said surprised.

“If you are trying to be cute or weasel your way out of what you just did you can forget it,” I said through gritted teeth. I may not be scary but I did mean my words.

I was so furious. If I could have brought down the heavens on him right then I would have. Elaine was such a fragile, innocent, and sincere person, and for him to have acted that way toward her, I would rather tear him to shreds than look at him.

I guess he could see me replaying the event; my jaw was clenched and flexing to the point that my teeth might have broke; because he reached out to take me by the shoulder but quickly retreated when I shot a glance at each of his hands and then regained my gaze on his face again.

“Whoa Jordan, calm down! Where did that come from?”

I snapped out of my trance. I was even surprised, maybe even a little frightened.

“I, I don’t know Hayden,” I said confused.

“Are you ok,” he asked.

“Yeah, I do feel a little drained though from the adrenaline crash,” I laughed.

“You actually had me a little weirded out for a second there,” he admitted.

“Well, don’t forget what I said,” I reminded. “Just because I have calmed down doesn’t mean I didn’t or don’t mean every word of it,” I added.

“I get it and I understand,” he said while tapping a finger against his temple.

“So, are you going to talk to me,” I asked taking a small step toward him.

“About what,” he asked.

“The reason you have been so different since you disappeared? The reason you have been missing school like you have? Especially this week?”

“Well I already told you that I got into some,” he started and I interrupted.

“You did not get into any poison Ivy Hayden,” I shot at him, “you haven’t been scratching, you have no visible signs, and it hasn’t been long enough for it to clear up!”

He took a step back and began to study me.

“What,” I asked.

“Where is all of this coming from,” he asked lowering his face into my personal space.

“What are you talking about Hayden?”

“Your perception is uncanny lately and then your fit just now,” he exclaimed, “I should be asking you some questions as well,” he stood back looking me up and down crossing his arms across his broad chest.

“Okay, okay you guys knock it off the bell is about to ring,” Kevin threw his arm around my neck and shook me.

Just as Kevin retreated to grab his backpack the bell began to ring. I shot one last glance at Hayden, turned to grab my bag from Elaine’s hand, and joined her for the walk up to the school. I knew she would be waiting for me especially after I just tore into the guy that I care so deeply for just to protect her. I threw my arm around her and she began to skip up the walkway and I joined in to make her happy.

Because of what happened that morning we still had no plans for the weekend. So, of course we were passing notes like usual. Elaine just kept whining about the lake house. Kevin and Jen just wanted to hang out somewhere. Lana and Xavier weren’t really helping. They were just kind of going along with whatever new idea was thrown into the mix. I had decided to just wait until lunch to bring up my proposition of all of us just hanging out at my house all weekend. The guys had late curfews and the girls could just crash there. It would work out perfect and eliminated the mindless notes. Hayden and I had always been more of the receivers rather than the writers of them.

What does he want? I thought as I walked down the hall toward my locker seeing Hayden leaned up against it. It was common for me to see him after second period but it was usually him coming in the entrance doors not posted at my locker. My nerves raced so fast that I began to feel faint just as I reached him.

“What is it now,” I asked pushing him to the side of my locker.

“Nothing, can’t I stop by to say hi now? I do usually see you between these periods anyways. So, I just decided to make a pit stop today.”

“You see me when you are actually here,” I mumbled.

“Oh I always see you Jor,” he whispered.

I looked up at him quickly and saw that ear to ear grin across his face. The same grin as on the face of my mirage. What could he possibly have meant by that? Was that a confession? Confession of what though?

“What does that mean,” I asked slamming the door to my locker.

He straightened up towering over me now and said, “You read in to stuff too much Jordan!”

“No,” I exclaimed, “no cover ups Hayden! I asked you this morning if you were going to tell me what has been going on,” I added as I leaned against my locker waiting for an answer.

He put his hands on the lockers on either side of me and leaned in, “And what answers do you want,” he whispered, now only a few inches from my face.

I stood stunned for a moment. I didn’t know what to think much less how to at the time. We hadn’t been that close in so long and I could feel the longing I had been trying to suppress rising as a lump in my throat.

I closed my eyes, swallowed hard, and pushed my urges as far back as I could get them. Then, without looking at him or thinking it through I pushed him away and started down the hall. Or, so I thought.

He had a hold of my arm and pulled me back. Only now he was standing up hunched over like usual and I stood in front of him.

I opened my eyes and asked, “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why did you do that? Why have you been doing anything that you have been doing?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said while he shoved his hands in to his pockets.

“Fine,” I exclaimed, “don’t tell me. Though, you can count on me finding out for myself,” I said as I turned and walked away.

All third period, I could only think about him, our fight in the morning, and then the weird encounter at my locker. I was so furious with him for how he treated Elaine but my feelings from the hall were winning over. I didn’t want those feelings to resurface. I had worked so hard to put them where they belonged and now with one close encounter all of that hard work was pretty much lost.

My thoughts followed me through the rest of third period and all the way to the lunch bell during fourth. I was standing in line waiting for Elaine like usual but honestly had no appetite. I held a spot for her until she arrived and then I made up an excuse to retreat to the bathroom.

I splashed water on my face because my cheeks were flushed and burning up. I grabbed a towel from the dispenser and patted myself dry. Oh my gah! I thought, as I grasped the sink to steady my shaking knees. I was starring into the mirror and he was standing right behind me. I slowly turned around making sure to still have a firm grip on the sink so that if my legs went out on me I could brace myself. He was standing there. Not doing anything. Not even looking at me. He was starring at the ground. He seemed lost in some way.

I looked around me to make sure the bathroom was clear and then questioned, “Hayden?”

His head shot up at me with a surprised expression across his face and then he vanished. I couldn’t breathe. I collapsed to the floor, put my head between my legs, and gasped for air. Elaine came in a few moments later and rushed to my side. I didn’t know why she came but I was glad she had.

“What’s wrong Jordan,” she asked in a concerned tone.

“Nothing,” I stated, “I am just so confused lately with everything with Hayden and I guess it just got to me after this morning.”

It was the truth in a sense but Elaine didn’t have to know everything. I gathered myself up and before we left the bathroom we were both laughing at how mad I must have really gotten to have almost collapsed hours after the fact. We walked into the lunchroom and I hesitated as soon as I saw Hayden but I knew this one was real. So, I quickly regained my spot beside Elaine and we continued to the table.

Everyone asked me if I was ok except Hayden. I told them I was fine and just not feeling 100% lately. No one questioned this. Due to the way I had been acting all week I figured. The conversations started back up but I was zeroed in on one person. He sat there arms crossed on the table and head turned away from me. I couldn’t say it was intentional but it sure felt that way. Though, why would he be this way toward me now? Is he regretting his actions from in the hall earlier? Did he not mean the closeness in the way I longed for it? And if he didn’t then what was he trying to do? All of these thoughts were making me feel strange again. So, I crossed my hands on the table and laid my head down to wait out the remainder of the lunch period.

“Jordan,” Jen called out softly.

“Yes,” I answered without even lifting my head.

“Do you have anything you were wanting to do this weekend,” she asked me like a mother would ask her child.

I sat up and smiled at her remembering I had totally forgotten my offer for the weekend.

“Oh yeah, I was thinking earlier, if you all just want to hang out at my house this weekend that would be fine. You, Elaine, and Lana could just sleep over like usual and since the guys have late curfews they could just hang out until time for them to be home,” I stated and then laid my head back down.

I heard a big sigh of relief from the whole group. I should have known that, that would have been what they all wanted anyways but wouldn’t bring up themselves after the way I had been acting.

I slept through pretty much the rest of school and I guess because of the way I looked not even my teachers bothered me, except for the occasional question about my health. The bell rang for school to be out and I slowly picked myself up to head to my car. Everyone moved out of my way in the halls as if I was the infected animal of our herd. That suited me just fine because all I could think about was getting to my car.

I made it out the front doors of the school and almost all the way to the parking lot and then heard someone calling after me.

“Jordan! Hey, Jordan,” Hayden yelled.

Hasn’t he done enough to me already today? I mean I know it wasn’t all him. It was my overactive imagination too, but it was of him! Did he want to finish off the job or something? It definitely wouldn’t take much. I thought as I turned to face him. He almost ran right into me and I know by my pace he had plenty of time to see that I had stopped to turn and address him.

“Whoa Hayden, I’m right here. No need to run me over,” I stated weakly.

“Sorry, I guess I hadn’t prepared myself for you to actually stop for me,” he apologized.

Why was that? Yeah we had a weird moment in the hall but when had we not had strange encounters lately? I swear he makes no since anymore. I thought confused

“Don’t worry about it,” I reassured. “Anyways, what do you need?”

“I was just thinking since all of the girls are going to your house, why don’t you let Elaine drive you home,” he asked?

What the hell is he talking about? Why would Elaine drive me home? Yeah they are all coming over but Max usually gives her ride everywhere now.

“Why,” I asked.

He looked down at the ground, “Well I have just noticed that you aren’t looking like you feel that great. So, I thought maybe it would be good to have someone else drive you.”

“And that person would be Elaine,” I asked, “if you were so concerned then why didn’t you offer yourself to get me home safe since you think I’m not capable of doing so?”

“I just thought since Elaine doesn’t have a car of her own and you weren’t feeling good that it would work out since she was going over there anyways,” he answered.

“Wait a second,” I said, “yeah the girls are coming over but so are the guys. Are you not planning on hanging out with us? Is that why you offered up Elaine instead of offering to help, yourself?”

“Umm,” he stuttered, “I just have some things to do with my dad this weekend before we meet up on Sunday.”

“What are you talking about? When who meets up on Sunday,” I asked.

“Oh, your mom didn’t tell you? You, your mom, me, my dad, my grandpa, and a few of the other adults from our parents hang out crowd are meeting out at Wisconsin’s shop for a barbeque Sunday.”

Wisconsin is the nickname of the mechanic friend of my mom; he was Hayden’s uncle. Every now and again we all would have a barbeque out at his shop.

“No, she didn’t tell me anything,” I said confused.

“Anyways, Jordan please just let Elaine drive you home? You couldn’t stay awake in class. How are you going to stay awake on the road,” he asked

“Wait? What? How did you know I slept through my classes today,” I asked

He stumbled around what I had caught until Elaine walked up with Max.

“Hey Elaine, just the person I wanted to see,” he said giving her a noogie.

“Stop it Hayden,” Elaine screeched throwing his arm away from her while trying to straighten her hair, “what do you want see me for?”

“Well everyone could tell that Jordan has been under the weather for most of today,” he said, and I could tell by his tone that he was trying to direct it also at me as an answer to my question. However, that did not quench the thirst I had for answers. “So I think it best if you drive her home today since you were planning on going over there straight from here anyways, right?”

She looked me up and down assessing my state, and replied, “Oh, oh yeah. I got her. I will just see you later tonight Max. Come on Jor,” she said as she intertwined our arms and started leading me to my car.

I glared back at Hayden letting him know it was not over yet, and he just smiled at me because he had won that round.

Once we got to my car Elaine opened the passenger door to help me inside.

“You don’t have to do this Elaine,” I stopped her.

“I know I don’t but I don’t want Hayden after me and I love you, so, I’m going to get my best friend home safe and sound,” she smiled as she tried to help me in the car.

“Okay, okay, at least let me get in on my own. I’m not disabled.”

She smiled at me, waited for me to get all of the way in to close my door, and then made her way to the driver’s side to get in herself. She started the engine and its roar comforted me. I leaned my head back against the old leather seat and just listened to it purr.

“So, Hayden seemed to be pretty upset over you today,” she said smiling.

“Don’t even think about it Elaine,” I shot back.

“Well why not? He obviously still cares for you and by your state right now you are classically love sick,” she stated.

“You are crazy,” I said laughing even though all I could think of was how true her words were.

Hayden had indeed shown that he still wanted something from me despite his speech on the deck of the lake house and I was so love sick, as Elaine called it, that I was going as far as to imagine an active hallucination. Everything had been so confusing since last weekend. All I knew for sure was that Hayden was back in my life, though, I still didn’t know in what way.

VI

“Hey what’s your mom doing home,” Elaine asked.

All of the humor from the drive home was gone now. I sat straight up as we pulled up to my house. My mom was never home this early. She would usually work through lunch on Fridays so that she could get off a little early but she never beat me home.

“I don’t know,” I said confused.

“Well you better straighten yourself out or the rest of us will have to make new plans for the weekend,” she stated.

I looked horrid from everything that had happened today. Elaine was right, if my mom caught site of me like that then she would definitely make me stay home practically quarantined all weekend. So, I through on some powder and blush Elaine had in her purse to try and give my face some color. My mom would notice this without a doubt but it wouldn’t alarm her like my actual appearance would.

Elaine and I walked through the living room, to the left, and found her asleep in her room. She didn’t appear to be sick or anything so we decided to shock her awake. We very quietly counted to three and then cannon balled onto her water bed.

“Ya’ll are not funny,” she grunted at us as we laughed and rolled around with the waves.

“Well, what are you doing home mother,” I asked trying to sound sophisticated.

“Do you have make-up on,” she asked laughing at the darkness of Elaine’s powder against my pale skin.

“That was my doing,” Elaine saved me while raising an eyebrow in my direction.

“If she would ever wear any of her own then I wouldn’t have to resort to trying mine out on her,” she laughed.

“Oh hush,” I exclaimed, “the both of you.”

As my mom got up I reached for her.

“Where are you going mommy,” I asked in a humorous juvenile manor as she shoved me back onto her bed.

Elaine and I rolled around laughing at absolutely nothing for a few seconds and then retreated to the living room.

“You never answered my question.”

“I’m the mother that grants me the right to not answer questions,” she said smugly.

“Oh come on mom. Really why are you home so early? Are you playing hooky,” I asked smiling devilishly at her.

“No, when I got to work this morning there was caution do not cross tape up everywhere as well as cops, sheriffs, state troopers, and an ambulance,” she answered.

“What,” Elaine and I asked at the same time.

“They wouldn’t tell any of us workers what was going on but when I was leaving I saw a body bag strapped to a gurney being loaded into the back of the ambulance.”

“Does anybody know or think they know who it was,” I asked.

“Not that I know of, but you know I’m not a gossiper Jordan Braege,” mom exclaimed using that motherly scalding tone when using my first and middle name.

“Besides, ya’ll shouldn’t be this intrigued by something that horrible anyway,” she said.

Elaine and I had wound up literally on the edge of our seats when we heard what my mom’s day had already consisted of and I thought my overactive imagination was bad. This was reality though.

“So what do ya’ll have planned for this weekend,” she asked breaking us out of our trance.

“Well,” I drug out the word as I scooted closer to her on the couch and eyed her like an adolescent child, “we were hoping you wouldn’t mind if the girls could crash over and the boys could visit until curfew?”

“Ugh,” she sighed sarcastically.

“I’m only kidding,” she said after a few unhappy smirks and noises.

“I don’t mind as long as ya’ll clean up after yourselves.”

“Of course mom,” Elaine exclaimed.

Kevin and Elaine have referred to my mom as mom as long as I can remember. The rest of our group just refers to her by Trisher, her first name.

“So I guess its solitary confinement for me for the weekend,” she said in a sarcastic squeamish tone.

“Yup,” I confirmed.

“Well that’s fine because I have some reading I need to catch up on. So who all is coming,” she asked even though I knew who she was really wondering about.

“Hayden isn’t coming mom.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to imply Jordan,” she said innocently.

“Uh huh and why didn’t you tell me about the barbeque out at Wisconsin’s we are going to on Sunday? I had to hear about it from him.”

“I don’t know I guess it slipped my mind. But enough about all of that go clean that clown make-up off your face. You should probably start getting everything set up because you know it won’t be long before everybody shows up,” she said squirming her way out of the fact that she pretty much sat me up to be around Hayden for almost a whole day without another person around my age to distract or save me from him.

She was right though. Everybody would be showing up shortly so Elaine and I started getting out all of the lame scary movies we always watched when we had weekends like these. After we sat up the living room with lots of blankets, and as much popcorn as a theatre, popped by an actual old school popcorn popper, I left her to tend to the rest while I went to wash off the clown make-up; as mom referred to it, and to change into my favorite lounge wear.

As I stared into the mirror removing the make-up I felt a twinge of self consciousness. I haven’t ever minded being just one of the guys but with Hayden it was different. We had started out as just friends, moved on to become best friends, and then it blossomed. Although, just as fast as it had blossomed, it wilted into something indefinable. I wiped off the last bit of make-up and with it I wiped away that look of hurt and doubt in myself off my face as well and pushed it back where it belonged.

Once I was on my way back up to the living room I heard crazy erratic knocks on the door that told me Kevin and Jen were here because he always had to be over the top and comical about everything. Shortly after we were all settled with the movie in and all the popcorn distributed Xavier and Lana finally showed up with Max trailing not too far behind them.

Having Max Bruening in my house was really weird, and even though I didn’t want to admit it he really did fit into our group in a really weird way. I would not have thought in a million years that he would have wound up being our missing eighth person! Though sitting here now looking at everybody, everything felt like it fit perfectly instead of how it usually was with Elaine’s newest fling.

The first movie flew by because none of us were really paying any attention to it. We were all mostly talking about what had happened out at my mom’s work today. It was the hype around town already and the body had just been found that morning. Though, living in a small town of only a couple hundred people makes it not so surprising.

As I stepped over Elaine and Max, laying on a palate, to return to my seat, from putting the second DVD in, I looked up to see my imagination projecting Hayden in the room sitting on the arm of the couch that I had just been sitting beside. Not acknowledging it, I kept my face without expression and returned to my seat. The mirage didn’t let up at all. Not even when I sat down and leaned back against the back cushion of the couch. It was sitting on the arm with its legs crossed, its left arm in its lap, and its right arm draped over the back of the couch just as Hayden did when we use to be. . . well, just when WE use to be.

Since, all of my friends were here together in a way I felt comforted with my Hayden hallucination being here with me. It was kind of sad though because I was growing pretty fond of my conjured up Hayden. He seemed to always be there for me in the way the real Hayden had been before everything went wrong. So, unlike any normal girl, I didn’t move on I just hallucinated the guy that thought it best to pretend I didn’t even exist for nearly a whole school year.

I sat there for the rest of the movie with my hands around my bowl of popcorn and my elbows at my side. I hadn’t ever touched my mirage for fear of it disappearing and since it felt so good having him here now I didn’t want to risk being curious. As many times as he appeared to me I would have another chance.

After the third movie everyone decided to call it a night. Standing to stretch the girls all gave hugs and goodbyes to the boys before we cleaned up the living room and retreated back to my room.

“Ok, that was surprisingly comfortable,” I said to Elaine as we brushed our teeth in my small personal bathroom.

“I know. It wasn’t weird at all huh.”

“I never thought I would ever say this about anyone like Max and especially not about him in general but I do believe you have located our missing link,” I laughed.

“Wow, I knew I felt different about him but for you to be saying that it must be true,” Elaine said in a surprised but humorous tone.

“Hey can we get in here now,” Lana called out while pounding on the door.

“Sure,” Elaine said pushing through the door smiling all the way.

“What are you smiling about,” Jen asked.

“Oh nothing… besides the fact that Jor thinks Max could be the missing person in our usually odd numbered group,” she exclaimed happily while jumping up and down screeching with her toothbrush still in hand.

Jen began to join her and then stopped to eye me, “Do you seriously think that Jor,” Jen asked stressing the seriously.

I knew she was referring to what I had done the past weekend at the lake house.

“Yes, Jen I really do. I didn’t ever expect it to be him but with him here tonight everything felt in place. Unlike with the rest of the ones she has drug over here,” I pointed out.

“Hey,” Elaine stated stomping her foot.

“Oh come one Elaine its true! None of those guys would have ever fit in while sitting in their cars parked outside of the house! Much less inside with all of us,” Lana exclaimed poking her head out of the bathroom while still brushing her teeth.

We all burst out laughing because it was so true.

For the rest of the night we just sat up talking about what we wanted for the future, reminiscing about the past, and wondering what each graduation was going to mean for our little entourage of famiends.

“I say we make a pact the next time we are all out at Grandpa Frog’s. To reserve at least one weekend every year to meet back up out there no matter where we are in our lives or who we are with. Just so we never lose each other or ourselves,” Elaine exclaimed.

“I second that,” I motioned.

“Aye,” we all said in unison.

Shortly after our pact the girls were out cold, but I was still pumped by how good the evening had felt. So, I got up and wondered outside to get some fresh air and look at the stars.

I climbed into the bed of my Camino and pushed myself back up against the back of the cab to rest my head while I starred up aimlessly at the stars. I hadn’t seen my mirage Hayden yet but for some reason I knew he was there.

“Thank you for not showing up while I had girl time,” I thanked him.

“At least you are a thoughtful mirage,” I thought about that for a second, “or I mean I make you a thoughtful one,” I said laughing at my insanity.

Taking in a deep breath and then pushing it out I brought my head up to stare into the eyes of my imaginary friend.

“Wow you are an exact replica aren’t you,” I questioned the figure sitting on the end of my tailgate.

“You know I miss you like this… I mean the real you. We use to sit out here for hours just looking at the stars and talking about absolutely nothing.”

“I really miss those times,” I said feeling a twinge of despair in my gut.

I don’t know why I looked away from him as a tear crept to the corner of my eye and lurked down my cheek.

Looking back at him I continued, “I miss more than those times. I miss everything about you, about us! We were so close and yet evidently we were so far, because I have no other explanation for why it would be so easy to let go the way you did.”

I could feel the rage rising inside of me, “Why damnit? Why?” I screamed.

“What did I do? We were best friends for so long. How could you just lead me on that way? Why couldn’t you just be the friend I thought you were and tell me that we weren’t going to be that for each other? That you didn’t want to hurt me but you didn’t want to risk our friendship? Anything?!”

Sobbing now I beat my fists against the metal bed of my car and starred angrily at my mirage, “How could you do this to me? Why do you keep playing tug of war with my obviously flimsy emotions? If you ever cared for me why didn’t you just talk to me? I may not have understood but I would have tried. I would have done anything to at least salvage our friendship.”

I lowered my face into my hands unable to look at the imaginary Hayden anymore as I wept uncontrollably.

“I would have done anything for it not to have been this way between us. Don’t you understand how much I love you? How much you truly mean to me? You were one of my greatest friends, even when we were… whatever it was we were.”

“I would have done anything. I would have done anything. I would have done anything,” I repeated over and over again in a whisper while rocking myself slowly.

I sat there like that for awhile, just me and my mirage, as I cried like no other time before. As of that October when Hayden had returned I shut myself down as much as possible emotionally. I told myself that if it were that easy for him then it would be a cold day in Hades before I let myself lose it over any of this either. However, right here right now it just felt like time. I cuddled myself nurteringly, rocking back and forth as I wept like I had been wanting to ever since last weekend; as My Hayden looked on warily.

I didn’t ever understand why My Hayden reacted at all, much less to the different situations but I just figured it was my subconscious comforting me.

As the tears lessened, the ache in my heart calmed, and my breathing became stable again I decided it was time to head to bed. I would no doubt have a restless night’s sleep and wake with the puffiest eyes and the most killer headache in the morning but at least I got it out tonight while everyone else was asleep and oblivious to my true pain.

Wiping my face and sniffling a bit I smiled at my mirage and bid him goodnight as I pushed myself off the other side of my tailgate and headed for the front door. As I cracked it open and stepped inside I turned around to smile at how beautiful and wonderful My Hayden was, and in a strange way I was surrounded in that comfort again that I had started to feel when he appeared to me earlier. Closing the door I decided it would symbolize me closing the door on my grief of our past. So, that I could heal and move forward with whatever fate decided to throw at me next.

VII

Saturday was pretty uneventful. The guys came over, the happy couples made googly eyes at each other practically all day, Kevin and I made fun of everybody periodically, we all rummaged for food, then had our usual movie fest that night except they were comedies this time, and throughout this all my newly found imaginary friend was present and I tried to completely ignore him.

I didn’t understand why he was there when I decided the night before I was going to put all of my grief to rest and move on. I figured after the sobbing pity party I had for myself, with the attendance of Make-believe Hayden, that I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. Well, at least not like that.

I realized on Sunday of course I would have to see him. That was obvious with him sitting on a turned over 5 gallon bucket right across the room from me. But why was I subjecting myself to seeing him anymore than what I had to?! I must be one of those tortured soul types or something.

“Well at least you are smiling now,” Wisconsin chimed in.

“What? Huh?” I stuttered.

“You have been in a daze over there ever since you sat down Red,” said Uncle Rod.

Uncle Rod was a greasy biker. Not greasy as in dirty but as in because he worked in his brother, Wisconsin’s shop. Uncle Rod is Hayden’s dad. He has known me since I was a baby as he would say. Though, the reality is really that he had known me since I was in elementary school. Hayden lived with his grandparents when he was younger so I never knew him until he moved with his parents when he was in middle school. Nobody really knew why he lived with them back then. I asked Hayden before about it but he said he was really too young for them to have explained anything to him. So, they used to just tell him that his mommy and daddy loved him very much but they had things to take care of before he could go and live with them. I just figured it meant that he wasn’t planned and before they hauled him off on their own they wanted to make sure they could take care of him properly. I loved Uncle Rod and Aunt May. They were family; blood or no blood. Although, I am closer to Uncle Rod because when I was younger Aunt May left a lot. To go be with Hayden of course.

“Yeah darlin’ you’ve been somewhere else since you took up that spot.” Wisconsin agreed.

I just smiled and blushed a bit.

“Now, since ya’ll are done picking on Red, you can stop avoiding my question,” my mom accused.

This definitely peaked my interest. What had I missed while contemplating my own sanity?

“I haven’t the slightest clue as to what you are suggesting sweetie,” Uncle Rod persisted, “I was just glad to see Red smiling for once since she walked in with that not too pleased look on her face. I was beginning to feel a little wounded that she wasn’t happy to see me.”

“Oh I’m sorry Uncle Rod,” I apologized as I rushed over to hug his neck, “I swear I was excited to come and see you, all of you,” I exclaimed looking at Hayden’s dad, granddad, and uncle.

Granddad Wheely just chuckled softly and pulled me into his lap, “its fine Red. Uncle Rod would get hurt if the dogs didn’t rush up to sniff his butt when he arrives.”

Everybody burst out into laughter at his exclamation and Uncle Rod puffed up like a blow fish. “I would not,” he murmured as we all laughed louder.

Hayden’s grandfather was a kind and wonderful old man. We called him Granddad Wheely because he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. It sounds very insensitive when explained but you should see his eyes light up when someone calls out to him. His grandmother was gentle and frail, though I have no doubt she kept Granddad Wheely in check, when she was still alive. She passed away this past summer just before Hayden’s 18th birthday in September. That’s why when he disappeared I kind of understood at the beginning. I was just so furious because he didn’t keep in touch at all. Though, it was his whole family that disappeared, not just him. Even Wisconsin closed shop and left. I suppose they all went together, but I just thought with how Hayden and I had gotten that he would contact me at some point.

I sound so selfish! I have justified my feelings over and over again to myself that I had totally pushed his grandmother’s death out of the equation. Maybe he had been hurting more than he let on. He is a guy, and not all guys like to share their feelings. But when she passed he cried to me. I comforted him and sat with him in silence when all he needed was to feel someone’s presence but not have them speak. I know all too well what it’s like to lose someone you love so much. My dad died when I was young. That’s when my mom moved us here to Howe so she could take the job she has now.

My mom’s voice drew me back into the conversation, “So where is May?” she asked in a tone that made it evident she had already asked this about a hundred times.

I looked at Uncle Rod and he was starring in Hayden’s direction; which was behind me because I was still seated in Granddad Wheely’s lap but before I knew it he was pushing me to stand as Hayden came up and whispered, “You want to go take a walk around the lot and get some air.”

Honestly, now I wanted to hear why Aunt May wasn’t here just as much if not more than my mom did. It worried me a little at the fact that they had obviously been avoiding the question and in realizing my mom wasn’t going to drop it Uncle Rod starred Hayden down until he distracted me and got me out of there. But, I knew I wouldn’t get any answers by staying put so I decided to take Hayden up on his offer and put him on the spot when we were alone.

“Are you going to say anything or are you going to stay tucked away inside yourself all night,” Hayden asked breaking the silence in the most abrupt way possible.

“Excuse me. I thought it best, to ensure I didn’t set off some alarm inside of you to restate our relationship as of late.”

“Okay, obviously I’m going to pay for that mistake along with the many others I’ve made this year, for awhile,” he stated while leading me to sit on the hood of one of the old junkers that littered Wisconsin’s lot.

I just gave him a smug smile and settled on to the hood before lying back onto the windshield. Tonight was absolutely breathtaking. Or as breathtaking as it could be in the junk yard of a mechanic’s shop, on the hood of a junker, with the smell of oil and old deteriorating car interior wafting through the air. Even still the breeze was just cool enough for the arriving summer night heat of Texas, the sky was cloudless, and tonight was one of those nights that just proved the saying the stars are brighter in Texas was completely true.

Then, my view became obstructed by an overcast of Hayden’s face. He had climbed up on the back of the car and laid over the roof until his head was hovering over mine. All I could do was stare at him and then the chester smile that had been stretched out over his face died into a calm expression. One I hadn’t seen on his face since he returned. Then my mind went on red alert and started grasping at words to make up a sentence as he began to lower his face to kiss me.

“I see you,” was what finally came out when he was no more than an inch from my lips. Which my head had so welcomingly leaned itself back of its own accord to accommodate him even though inside I was screaming WHAT ARE YOU DOING? SAY SOMETHING! STOP THIS BEFORE IT CAN’T BE TAKEN BACK!

His head went stiff and his mouth curved into a huge teethy smile just before he let out a laugh deep from in his chest and laid his head face down onto the car just beside my ear. I burst out laughing with him as he rolled onto his back still lying on the roof of the car. Our laughter rolled out and echoed through the night’s air. It felt good to laugh with him. Well, the real him.

“I guess I should have said boo or something to prompt that,” he said trying to calm from the hysterics.

“Yeah that probably would have made it make sense.”

We laid there for a little while, he sprawled out on top of the car head hanging down onto the windshield and me laying across the hood head only a few inches from his, panting trying to catch our breaths from laughing so hard.

After the mood had calmed we just laid there in each other’s company. The silence started to feel like it would stretch on forever. I wanted to know what the deal was with… everything, but fear held my tongue.

It was him who broke the silence, “Why?” he asked.

Oh crap, what was he asking? I couldn’t tell him what I really meant by what I said. It was the first thing that actually came out but I honestly didn’t mean to say that! Why would I say that?! I rather preferred not going around stamping myself as crazy to anyone. Much less the only guy I have ever loved.

Before I could answer though he asked, “Why do you stop me?”

“Don’t you mean did?”

“What,” he asked surprised as he sat up and slid down the windshield to sit beside me.

“You said why do you stop me? Didn’t you mean, "Why did you stop me?" I asked as I leaned up on my elbows.

“No,” he drug out the word, “because you ducked me in the hall.” He said as he laid down onto his side next to me with a wry smile strewn across his face.

I started to try to explain, “Oh, well I didn’t realize that’s what you were trying to do.”

“I was an inch away from your face Jor. You can’t really expect me to believe you didn’t know my intentions,” he interrupted.

“No, I knew what you were going for just now but if you wouldn’t have interrupted I would have said I didn’t realize that was what you were trying to do at my locker that day.”

“What did you think I was trying to do by getting so close to you,” he asked in what seemed disbelief.

“I don’t understand what is so unbelievable about the fact that I don’t know what to expect from you on a day to day basis after how you have acted for the past several months, how you acted at the lake house and then how you’ve been acting since last weekend,” I said exasperated with the topic and laid back against the windshield.

“I just don’t know what you expect from me or want from me. First you act like you don’t even know me, then you apologize and act all hurt at our loss, next you are trying to set me straight, and now and supposedly sometime this week you try to,” and then he did it.

He kissed me. One second I was lying there pouring out my confusions and the next he was there. His lips on my lips, his hands grasping my face as to keep me from going anywhere, but honestly where could I go? He had me pinned to a car. Even though, he was holding on for dear life and in the same moment kissing the life right out of me. It was bliss. I hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure what to do, no matter how ridiculous that may sound. Then as if my mind and my body finally connected again, I melted into him and memorized every sweet swipe, suckle, and nibble that occurred so that when all of this was over and he swore it would never happen again I could call on my memories when we were over for good.

I wonder if my imaginary Hayden can kiss. I wonder if he would kiss me. I never have tried to touch him, but he has also seemed content without touching me. Why, doesn’t he try to touch me? He is MY hallucination! Maybe since I have made myself push back my physical longing for Hayden my subconscious is just playing into that. Wow, how weird would that be?! Having a make out session with my imaginary non-boyfriend.

“Um, Jor I know I have been pretty confusing but I thought you had my intentions figured out a minute ago,” he said starring down at me while my face was still firmly in his grasp.

“Oh,” I exclaimed. What the heck was I doing contemplating making out with my imaginary Hayden when I was doing that with the real living Hayden? “I am so sorry. My thoughts just got away from me.”

“Ok, I thought that would have more of an effect than it did,” he stated with an obviously wounded ego, as he scooted down to the edge of the car to sit. “You didn’t use to get lost in thought while we were,” it was my turn to interrupt him.

I sat up, grabbed him by the shoulders, and pulled him back down, “I am so sorry and it won’t happen again,” was all I said before I kissed him with everything I had in me. Honestly, it probably wasn’t much because besides Hayden, I had only ever kissed one other person. Who was one of Elaine’s cousins during a riveting game of spin the bottle back in middle school.

Hayden felt good beneath me. His chest was so warm against mine. Instead of him crushing against me like before I was a light whisper against him. He wrapped one arm around my waist and cupped my face with his other hand, while I was holding onto his face for dear life this time. I was for real holding on for dear life though because I just knew if I let go I would blow up from all of the pent up happiness I was experiencing right now.

We kissed until we had no choice but to come up for air or risk passing out from lack of oxygen. As we fell back against the hood of the car gasping we laughed for reasons unknown to me, but I was so lighthearted at this point I probably would have done a river dance on the top of the car in the rain, or my rendition of a river dance.

“Wow, I have been wanting that for so long now, you have no idea,” he exclaimed.

“Obviously I don’t,” I replied.

He leaned up on one elbow to peer down at me, “I know how I have acted is confusing and very inexcusable, but I just wanted you to be happy no matter how I felt,” he said as he caressed my cheek.

Before I could ask why he would ever think I would be happy without him in my life like this, his whole demeanor changed. He went rigid all of a sudden and sat straight up. I started feeling a little self conscious as he started peering around as if looking for something. Or someone, I thought as a huge lump gathered in my throat. He was checking to make sure no one had seen us. He was so scared to have been caught out here with me like that by anyone, obviously counting our families since they were the only ones here, that he was checking a completely silent junk yard.

My stomach began to churn and I began to feel nautious at the fact I was so embarrassing to him all of a sudden. I sat up and scooted to the edge of the car’s hood. I propped my feet up on the bumper and bent over clutching my stomach as it began to feel even more uneasy.

“Jordan are you okay,” He asked.

“Oh so it’s Jordan now and not Jor,” I asked even though it was stupid. Everyone called me either Jordan or Jor.

“What are you talking about,” he asked as he slid down to sit beside me.

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine,” he said as he tried to put his arm around me.

I pushed his arm away as I jumped to my feet and spun around to face him, “I am not that readable,” I growled at him, “and don’t you touch me,” I said lowering my gaze on him.

Hayden held his hands up in an innocent manor, “Ok I’m sorry. You aren’t that readable and I won’t touch you if that’s what you want. I was just trying to comfort you because it looked like you were about to get sick.” He was standing in front of me hands still raised by the end of his statement.

“What I want,” I laughed. “Obviously what I want comes second to your new found ego and evidently if what we were doing just then is what you truly want then your wants take a backseat to it also.”

He wasn’t even listening to me. He was once again looking around for any on watchers.

“For fuck sakes no one is out here to see you kissing me much less hear us arguing,” I yelled.

“HELLO! ANYBODY AROUND TO HEAR,” I screamed at the top of my lungs turning in a circle with my hands cupped around my mouth to give my voice more carrying distance.

“See,” I said smiling at him. “No worries. Not even our family can hear us with the music that loud, or have seen us with how pitch dark it is out here. There aren’t even any usual night time noises. So you don’t even have to worry about bugs or other nocturnal creatures seeing us either!”

He just looked at me. It was like he wanted to deny it. That it wasn’t true, and I waited for it. Waited for the explanation for his actions, but all he did was stare at me.

“Great, thanks a lot for the pity but I don’t need anything from you,” I exclaimed as I stormed off deeper into the lot.

“Jor wait,” he pleaded as he grabbed me by the arm and spun me back around to kiss me again.

I gave in and kissed him back. I kissed him for all it was worth to me, because I knew it wasn’t worth much to him. It felt so good, so right, but I promised myself that when we left here tonight this would be it. There would be no more times like these because I would make sure to not ever be alone with him again. It may be smart for me to stay away from him for the sake of my heart but any time he was around my heart begged to differ and it cried out for him.

Hayden broke the kiss but held on tight to my face and pressed his forehead to mine, “You have no idea what I am battling with,” he claimed, and then as if he had read my mind whispered, “my heart cries for you. It longs for me to hold you in my arms to know that you are safe. I battle myself every day for you.”

“What are you talking about,” I cried. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t hold it back any longer. Looks like my pity party with my imaginary Hayden didn’t do any justice after all.

“Please don’t cry I hate seeing you cry,” he exclaimed wiping away my tears.

“How do you hate to see me cry when you have never seen me cry, Hayden,” I asked.

“What are you talking about? Of course I have seen you cry,” he died off quickly and turned away from me.

“No you haven’t Hayden,” I pushed, “I have never had a reason to cry with you until recently,” I admitted reluctantly. “And back to the original question. Why do you battle yourself over me? Why is it so bad now to be with me? After everything we’ve went through together, how could we be a bad thing?” I screamed at his back.

“Jordan you have no idea what you are talking about. You catch things I don’t mean to let you catch but yet when something is starring you right in the face you can’t accept it.”

“Oh I can accept it Hayden. I can accept it just fine. We are over once and for all! I will not be a secret for anyone. Especially not someone that used to be my best friend and who claims they love me! You want me to accept what’s right in front of my face then here I am doing it. I accept that I can’t be more, more than this,” I exclaimed holding my arms out to signal the scene we were in, “but I don’t have to continue with it.”

I stormed off back toward the shop and was relieved he didn’t stop me this time, because honestly that was a good show but I don’t think I could say no if his lips met mine again. My heart hated me right now. It wanted him no matter what I had to do to have him. My mind was reveling in the excitement it was having from the argument, but my whole being felt drained, pulverized, completely defeated at the realization that Hayden and I had to be over. If only to save myself.

VIII

“Okay, so I give up,” mom exclaimed as she appeared leaning into my doorway from the shoulders up. “Can I come in?”

“Since when do you ask to venture into my room and what exactly are you giving in to,” I laughed.

“Since,” she drug out, “we got back from Wisconsin’s Sunday night and you’ve stayed locked away in here as a mute every second your home for the past two days. That’s also what I’m giving in to. I’ve waited as long as I could for you to explode and just come clean like you usually do once you’ve kept it in too long, but this time I’m fearing you might implode instead,” she said as she plopped down on the end of my bed.

“Come on spill it,” she demanded as she threw a pillow at me playfully.

My mom was right. I did usually brake by now and spill the beans in some huge pacing rant, but this time felt different. I didn’t want to get over it so easily. I knew that if I let it out then I would do the usual grievances and move past it, but something in me didn’t want me to. A part of me wanted to hold on to this anger and let it build for it to push me in some direction. Of course, what direction that would be I had no idea.

“It’s just something stupid Hayden and I are going through.”

“Oh,” she said surprised.

“What?”

“Nothing, I just didn’t realize ya’ll were back there again.”

“We aren’t,” I said unsure. “I mean I don’t really know where we are, and that’s really all I’ve been upset about.”

“Ok,” she said doubtfully, “but if there is more you need to talk about you know I will listen. I know I’m pretty rusty on the dating scene, but I have two good ears.”

“I know mom, but this is just something I need to figure out on my own. I don’t even really know how to go about it. So, talking really wouldn’t solve much anyways.”

“Well if this helps at all, any time your father and I had a problem when we were dating or married I would back track and look at all angles before jumping to one conclusion or another. And most of the time it is best if you just go to the source and outright ask what you want to know. It may be an assertive way to go about things, but that’s not always a bad thing. Who knows, he may just surprise you.”

“You’re right mom,” was all I said.

She left after giving me a quick hug and closing my door. I leaned back against my headboard and began going over the past two days trying to take her advice.

They had been pretty vague, because all I could focus on was this overwhelming uncertainty that was growing to massive proportions ever since that night. Nothing he said or did made any since, but nothing of late made since when it came to Hayden and me. Though, I believed every word he spoke that night. I believed he was battling with himself over me, even if I didn’t understand why. I could have sworn I heard his heart crying for me when he whispered that it did, even though that is completely absurd, not to mention impossible. I could feel the tension rushing from his body each time his arms embraced me, without knowing or seeing any sign of restraint or urgency any time I had seen him since his return in October.

“UGH,” I growled as I sent the pillow my mom threw at me sailing across my room. “Great,” was all I could say as it went flying right through my open window.

I rushed over to see if by some miracle it only went as far as the roof top of the first floor of our home. This way I would only have to reach out to retrieve it instead of having to go downstairs and undoubtedly explain to my mom I chunked it out of my window in a fit of frustration before being able to go outside to then retrieve it. And, just as I expected, it was the latter scenario that was going to play out. I could see it laying just a few feet from the driveway.

I laid my head down on my arms where they were resting on my window seal and sucked in a deep breath. Letting it out slowly I got to my feet and prepared to go downstairs. Just as I reached the living room I realized my mom must have decided to go have herself one of her long baths. All the lights in here were off as well as the TV, but I could see her bedroom light was on through the crack she left in it just in case someone knocked while she was bathing. This was perfect. I listened carefully to see if the water was still running and luckily it was. I had enough time to run out grab my pillow and make it back in and safely up to my room before her deep old claw foot tub would be filled to her liking. She would never had heard me coming downstairs, the front door opening or closing, or me racing back upstairs.

With this revelation, I still slowly and quietly tip toed across our hardwood floored living room. Once I was safely outside, and had at least the screen door closed, I backed up against it, leaned my head back, took in a big deep breath of fresh air and smiled to myself. With my nerves finally calm I decided to move. I walked across our porch and down the few steps to the yard with a little wariness. I didn’t quite know why but something just didn’t feel right in the air tonight. I had the sick feeling of a sitting duck. It was the strangest thing but now that I was standing here in my yard; just a quick bend and grab away from retrieving my pillow and being on my way back to my room; I couldn’t seem to move. Everything in my body was on high alert. My eyes were searching the darkness, my ears were on radar, and my body was strumming on such a high frequency that I thought my mom might be right and I might just implode.

I gave myself a good shake both mentally and physically and coached myself out of my head. It all had to be due to how stressed I had been since Sunday.

Speaking of Sunday, it sure is quiet out right now. I thought to myself.

I don’t know when it got that way Sunday, because I distinctively remember hearing crickets and scurrying like usual out in the lot at night, when we first ventured out but at some point it got completely still. It’s not usual for things to be so void especially in May. My house being on the outskirts of town was kind of off by itself, so we had the usual song and dance of the night time inhibitors too.

Everything probably just quieted down because of us that night and because of me tonight.

Though, as I bent to pick up my pillow I couldn’t help but to snatch it up as quickly as possible as I went on high alert again as I came up quick and erect. I stood there for what seemed like forever just searching through the darkness. Straining my eyes to see everything humanly possible, but there was nothing there, but at the same time I knew there was.

Suddenly there came a crash behind me and I spun around throwing the pillow in that direction hoping to distract whatever it was chancing a hasty retreat to my car.

Just as I was fleeing I heard a thud as whatever it was, was thankfully caught by the surprise of my weapon and bumped into the house.

“JORDAN BRAEGE!”

My mom’s shriek broke through the adrenaline pumping through my brain and I came to an abrupt halt. Turning around stiffly I saw a very pissed brunette wrapped in a towel trying to straighten up before she fell completely on her rump.

Rushing over to help her up I realized the screen door is what made the crash sound as it shut behind her when she stepped out onto the front porch to tell me I had a phone call. Which, I noticed from the fact that she was holding the cordless phone in one hand and keeping her towel up with the other. So, she was also what I caught by surprise with the pillow and what bumped into the house since she had no free hands to defend herself.

“I am so sorry,” I pleaded as I scrambled to help her to her feet.

“Just take the phone. We will talk about this after I get done with my bath. Now get your pillow and get back inside.”

“Ok mom. I really am sorry,” I called out to her as she stormed back to her bedroom.

As I put the phone to my ear Hayden spouted off, “You know she is right Jor. What are you doing outside after that person was killed out at your mom’s work?”

All I could do was stand there and gawk at the night because of the tone coming from this person on the other end of my phone. Although I did have to admit it was dumb on my part. I had forgotten all about that though.

“What do you want Hayden,” I asked as I bent to pick up my pillow and walked into the house shutting out all of the eeriness with a simple close of the front door.

“I just wanted to check on you.”

“I am obviously fine if I’m doing things to get yelled at and can come to the phone. Now you have checked on me and now I have to go.”

“Jordan,” Hayden pleaded before I could hit the end button.

I let out a long sigh and put the phone back to my ear, “Yes? How can I accommodate you this time?”

“Don’t be that way Jor! I don’t want anything from you.”

“Oh believe me I have read that loud and clear now Hayden.”

“That is not what I meant and you know it. Damnit Jordan! You don’t know what you are talking about and that’s what’s so frustrating because for someone that is obviously so finely honed in on everything I say and do I thought you would have figured out by now that there is more to it than just what we want.”

“Well then enlighten me Hayden!”

I sat there waiting for a reply. Waiting for anything, but all I got was silence.

“That is exactly what I expected. You make all of these encrypted declarations but when I ask for straight forward answers you avoid answering like the plague.”

“I just can’t,” he whispered into the phone.

“No you just won’t. But I have no problem enlightening you. I don’t need you checking in on me. I am a big girl and I can deal with disappointment. As far as me being honed in on you I haven’t had much of a choice when you have been playing a push and pull game with me lately. Believe me this time though, I will try to make it blatantly clear, we are over. I will not keep doing this dance with you. It was fun while it lasted and hopefully one day we will be able to move past this and salvage at least some of our friendship,” I was cut off.

“Jordan that’s not what I want. I wish I could explain but I just can’t and you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

Once again this made no sense to me but for the benefit of the argument I asked the only thing that came to mind.

“Does this have to do with the fact that your mom is gone?”

“What,” he coughed out.

“Did you honestly think I didn’t notice your dad avoiding my mom’s question and then motioning you to get me out of there just as your granddad pushed me off on you?” I asked. “Oh yeah, because it wasn’t so apparent they didn’t want me to hear something. First, your dad stares you down. Then, your granddad is pushing me to stand, and conveniently you decided in that moment to ask me to get some fresh air? Yeah that wasn’t obvious at all! I planned on prying it out of you once we were in the lot but I got kind of distracted,” I said as I felt heat flush over my face.

“See that’s exactly what I’m talking about Jordan.”

“What,” I asked confused.

“You were zoned out practically the whole time since you had arrived but yet you caught a look and a coincidence of occurrences.”

“Don’t even think I am going to believe that was all coincidental, and you are avoiding the question,” I pointed out.

“I’m not avoiding anything. I’m just simply choosing not to answer.”

“Well at least you admit it. I just hope for yours and your family’s sake that it isn’t anything serious. No matter what we are going through I wouldn’t wish another loss on your family in any form.”

“Thanks, but you don’t have to worry. My parents aren’t splitting up, if that’s what you were thinking.”

“Good.”

“And for what it’s worth, you may catch a lot of things but you are wrong with a lot of your assumptions. Part of me hopes you get the answers but the other part prays you never do.”

“There you go again with your encrypted talking.”

“I know,” he laughed, “and I know if I have it my way you will never know any of this.”

“Why is that Hayden? I thought there was nothing we couldn’t share. If you don’t want us to be over, why can’t you just tell me?”

“You don’t know what you are asking. Believe me when I say you will be happier not knowing but with how much I have been slipping up I fear it is inevitable you will find out. I can tell with everything you have seen and caught that your interest is peaked. I see questions and determination in your eyes every time we look at each other and that scares me.”

“I want answers and I feel I deserve them. If you truly love me like you say you do and you don’t want us to be over then why not just let me in? Why not let me decide what I can and can’t handle? You are taking that away from me! It is my life. I should be the one making the decisions.”

“That’s just it Jor. I’m making it to where you do make the decisions, because I wouldn’t ever want to take that away from you.”

“There you go again making no sense. Do you know how frustrating that is? You tell me you love me but then you push me away. Then, when I decide that’s it for good, you tell me that’s not what you want. I don’t know where to go from here. To be able to make any decisions I need answers.”

“I can’t give them to you.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, of course I do or I wouldn’t be doing what I’ve been doing and am continuing to do.”

“Do you want me or don’t you?”

“I want you with all of my being. With all that I am, but I will not take you and therefore I cannot have you.”

“What if I offer myself up willingly? What if I tell you I cannot be without you? That I am nothing but shambles when we are apart.”

“You can’t, because you don’t know what you are offering yourself for. I will not take advantage of that.”

“If I did know, what then?”

“Don’t talk like that. I don’t ever want you any closer than what you already are.”

“You make it sound like you are part of some cult,” I laughed.

“That is definitely not it but close,” he said laughing.

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Damnit,” he cried out, “do you see? I am so comfortable and open when talking to you that I say things without even thinking. This is a mistake Jordan! Just forget about everything. You are better off where you are. Don’t you understand I’m doing this for you? “

“You say things?” I asked. “You say absolutely nothing and it is so infuriating. You want me but you can’t have me? Even though I’ve all but served myself up on a silver platter with an apple stuck in my mouth. You say that part of you hopes I find out but the other part prays I never do. Which, I’m guessing that part is winning so far since you won’t answer any of my questions.”

“I know this is hard for you to understand when you don’t have any answers Jor, but I swear to you if we could be together like we use to be we would be. I will always love you. I have no choice in that since you are my heart. But I can save you and that’s what I’m doing every day.”

I began to cry and through my tears declared to him, “I will not give up on us. I know what I’ve said before but I cannot. I have tried to escape my feelings but they grow with each day and so I cannot and will not ignore them any longer. You can continue with whatever it is you feel you have to do but for me to be able to be sane and move on if need be I have to have answers. And, I will have them one way or another. I will get the answers to my questions. I would love for them to be from you but I will not give up if you deny me of them.”

“That’s my girl,” he said, “I knew you wouldn’t give up but I cannot be the one to give them to you. I love you and no matter what happens I hope you will always feel that. You aren’t going to see or hear from me for a few days, but I will be in touch next week.”

“What? Where are you going? Is your whole family leaving? Is that what they didn’t want me to hear?”

“No just me, Wisconsin, and my dad. Granddad Wheely is going to stay at Wisconsin’s place out at the lake to take care of things around there.”

“Okay, well ya’ll just be careful whatever it is you’re going to do. Make sure you come back to me, because I promise I will get my answers and you will have no excuse to hide from me anymore.”

“I look forward to it, but I truly hope you don’t succeed. I love you Jor. I just want you to know that,” and then he hung up.

I sagged back against the front door. Legs wary, knees shaking, not quite sure if it was from how long I had been standing there, from the gravity of the conversation we just had, from the emotional weight I was now feeling, or a combination of all but one thing was for sure I was now determined if not just to get Hayden back but to find out what the hell was going on.

I put the phone on the charger and marched into my mom’s room ready to get hit with a million and one questions. She was standing by her mirror drying her hair with a towel. She looked up at my reflection and asked, “Do you want to talk about it.”

“Not really sure,” I said.

“Well when you are and if you decide you want to then my door is always open.”

“Thanks mom,” I said as I plopped down on her bed.

“Now about earlier,” and she was off.

About an hour and a good lecturing later she pushed me off her bed gave me a pat on the butt and told me to get moving. That I had school in the morning and she wanted to see me starting to make a move back into my usual routine which included friends. I just smiled and told her goodnight.

Once upstairs, I took a quick shower, brushed my teeth, and did the other necessities before I finally made it back into my room. I laid down thinking about all of the questions I now had and began to feel extremely tired all of a sudden. I had just had a pretty intense phone call and then a good lecture so fatigue was warranted, and as I started to drift off I laughed at the fact that all of these events started with a pillow flying out the window that in the end I had forgotten downstairs.

IX

“Eek,” Elaine screeched as she came barreling into the passenger seat of my Camino slamming the door behind her.

I had been sitting quietly in my car in the student parking lot eating breakfast, waiting for the bell to ring me to class, when she busted in on me out of no where

“What are you so excited about,” I half laughed, half coughed choking on my breakfast burrito.

“Um, is that one of your homemade fried potato, scrambled egg, and cheese breakfast burritos?” She asked drooling.

“Yes, and you cannot have a bite,” I said while taking another bite.

“P p p please,” she drug out while giving me her pleading eyes and sticking her lower lip out in a pout.

“Fine,” I laughed, “just suck it up already.

She danced around in her seat while chowing down on my breakfast.

“Ok, so you never told me what you are so excited about that landed you in here stealing my breakfast.”

She handed me back the burrito and continued, “Oh yeah, all of us in the group excluding you of course since you have been off in la-la land for the past few days,” she scowled at me, “have been racking our brains trying to figure out how we can get two whole weekends in a row out at Grandpa Frog’s lake house without the rents getting suspicious.”

“And,” I prompted.

She was beaming at me at this point barely containing whatever it was she was holding in and then it all came out in one long nonstop high pitched excited shriek.

“We worked it out and have already set it all in motion. We worked all of the kinks out yesterday before school was out and the ones of us that really had to make it believable pulled it off last night.”

“Okay, now slow down and explain all of this a little better than that.”

“Well we knew it would be a task for all of us to disappear at the same time two weekends in a row as you already know, so we began to brainstorm. This weekend is technically the last weekend of the school year but next weekend is graduation, and we all decided we couldn’t miss a trip out on either occasion because they are both monumental. As for this weekend, the guys used their usual fishing, camping trip as an excuse with a little twist. They are going because it is the last weekend before summer hits and the camp grounds will be over run. Their rents bought it hook line and sinker,” she sat there for a moment and then said, “no pun intended,” as she laughed. “I have always wanted to say that,” she commented laughing still.

That’s simple minded Elaine for you. “Okay Elaine,” I said laughing at her humor. “Now, how about the girls, I definitely need to know their story especially since I have a sneaking suspicion that it involves me somehow.”

She beamed at me with an innocent smile that stretched all the way to her eyes. This had me very uneasy because it probably wouldn’t bode well for me.

“Elaine.”

“Well, you know we had to make it good enough to work for this weekend and still get away with graduation,” she hesitated and then in one long rush spit out, “they told them you and Hayden had had a huge fight and falling out and that we were worried about you and thought we needed to stay the weekend with you to make sure you were ok.”

That all sounded innocent enough but I could tell she wasn’t telling me everything, “Okay I can handle that, but what are you not telling me?”

“We may have made it seem more urgent than that,” she whispered as she peered down at her hands.

“Ya’ll what.” I exploded, “ya’ll made me sound suicidal or something along those lines didn’t you?” I just knew that was where she was going. They may not have came out and said it that way but they probably insinuated it.

“We didn’t exactly say that,” she said.

So, it was exactly what I had thought.

“I cannot believe you would go along with something like that. I don’t want them thinking I’m unstable.”

“Oh come on, they probably just think you are being a teenager and we are blowing it way out of proportion because that’s what kids at our age do,” she reassured.

Honestly, she was probably right, but if they did for some odd reason feel the need to concern my mom with all of this. We might have bigger problems on our hands. My mom would read right through our ploy to throw the rents off our trips but she would not be happy with the tactics and she might even go as far as to threaten to come clean with them or actually do it. I expressed all of this to Elaine but she ensured me that they wouldn’t. That she was sure by their reactions that they thought we were being overly dramatic teenagers but didn’t call them out on it to avoid a hormonal tirade.

“So what about graduation weekend then,” I asked.

“We have great excuses for being gone all that weekend also. Max has graciously supplied a ruse for the boys which consists of them having a celebratory weekend all courtesy of his parents, and I took care of the girls. They actually know we will be out at the lake house next weekend. They just think my mom is taking us and that there will only be us girls.”

It was a simple plan but simple was usually the best way to go when making up the truth.

The bell rang just as we were climbing out of my car and we hurried to make it to class. This week was truly the last week of school, because next week would be finals just before graduation. Every class was either studying or lecturing as preparation for the exams. Some would be exempt because of grades and attendance but we wouldn’t know who or which classes until tomorrow just before each class ended. We all figured this was on purpose so that we would still study hard and hopefully retain everything we had been taught but for those few that did wind up excused from some or all of their tests it was a little frustrating after stressing so hard to get everything from a whole semester crammed into one week of studying.

I was hopeful in a few of my classes and have had almost perfect attendance for the school year, but there were a few I was almost positive I would have to take.

The bell for lunch rang during fourth period and I met Elaine in the lunch line like usual.

“Are you mad at us for our con,” she asked immediately.

“No, I agree that we need these weekends. I just hope you aren’t wrong and they don’t start thinking I could really harm or injure myself. I don’t know how my mom would react to that kind of ruse for our weekends.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she chided, “you are such a worry wart. You need to be happy and looking forward to tomorrow. We will be finding out what tests we are exempt from while at school and then it is off to the lake before you know it.”

I smiled at her and took up my usual seat at our lunch table. We all conversed and traded stories as to what this summer might bring. For the seniors at the table it was going to be absolute bliss. All fun before heading off to college and work. Max was planning on going to school in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Elaine was planning on moving into Grandpa Frog’s lake house. She already had a job lined up with some people she knew up there. This was promising for their blossoming relationship being so close, but far enough away that they had time to actually miss one another. The soon to be seniors at our table, Lana and Xavier, were going to be doing something none of us could believe, they were taking a few road trips together to tour some colleges. Their rents knew about it and they were actually ok with it. Well, as ok as their parents would ever be with them going off alone together, but they had worked on them for awhile to get the Okays. Then us looking at becoming juniors really didn’t have anything exciting. Jen was bummed because her rents had this huge family vacation booked that would be for two weeks straight which unfortunately also included hers and Kevin’s two year anniversary. Kevin and her weren’t used to spending even a day apart since they began dating the summer before freshmen year, much less two weeks, and Jen’s parents had already told her she would be cut down to one phone call to him a day, because they wanted this to be a real family vacation. Kevin would just hang around here like me. We were the bums. The ones with no big plans, but to lounge around and do as little as possible until the start of school in August. Of course, Elaine and Max weren’t planning on leaving until late July so we had them to hang out with if they could stay off of each other long enough for us to tolerate being around them together.

“Well at least we have the next two weekends covered so that we can all be together and have some fun without being supervised the whole time,” Jen said.

“Yeah, and we have no worries of having to leave early because Hayden won’t be there, right Jor? Have you heard from him,” Elaine asked?

“First of all I have apologized for that a million times already Elaine. Everyone else has gotten over it and has stopped bringing it up so why are you bringing it up now? It didn’t even affect you or Max,” I pointed out a little crudely.

“I know that’s not what I meant when I brought it up. I was just trying to make the point that it should be better this weekend because he won’t be there, unless you know differently.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to jump on you like that, but no there is no chance he will be there. He called the other night and told me I wouldn’t be seeing him for a few days that his uncle, his dad, and he had to go take care of some things. I think it has something to do with his mom being away. Anyway, he said he would call or see me next week.”

Everyone stared at me like deer caught in headlights. It made me feel pretty awkward with all of that attention on me

“What,” I asked raising my arms knocking them out of their trance.

“Are ya‘ll good then,” Xavier asked?

“I guess you could say that.”

“Good so then we can actually invite him to the graduation weekend trip,” he continued, and then got an elbow to the ribs from Lana for his trouble.

She is starting to get really good at that, I thought humorously.

“Lana, no it’s ok,” I said trying not to laugh. Kevin of course had no problem doing so himself, just before Jen scolded him for it. “Hayden and I had a long talk Tuesday night when he called, and even though we may not have agreed on just about anything, we do understand each other now and we are taking the road that best suits us individually for now.”

“Are you sure,” she asked, “I didn’t get very good contact with that one,” she said playfully as Xavier began to tickle her.

We all laughed for awhile and then continued talking about absolutely nothing. The rest of the day was just as the beginning. Filled with studying and lectures. When school was over we all said our goodbyes and headed home.

As I pulled into the driveway at home I smiled at a familiar face I hadn’t seen all week. My mirage was back, standing on the front porch leaned against the railing. I got out of my car and made my way up to him.

“Nice to see you are still popping up periodically. I’m guessing since the real Hayden and I are doing somewhat better I will be seeing you less and less because I don’t have to imagine him this way now,” I said standing on the step in front of him.

“I really hope you don’t go away for good though,” I said as I walked past him to unlock the front door, “because I rather prefer you to him sometimes. It’s nice to see his smiling face without having to hear him talk lately.”

I smiled and blew him a kiss as I closed the door on a very surprisingly shocked face. I was growing rather fond of my little make believe friend and I’m not sure if that was very healthy. Deciding not to dwell on it I moved upstairs and into my room for some well needed study time before dinner with my mom.

“Jordan, get a move on or the food will be ice cold if you don’t get down here soon,” my mom called out to me up the stairs.

“I’m coming.”

Since arriving in my room a little over three hours before I had been studying the worst subject known to man, Algebra II. I used to love math but for some reason I just couldn’t grasp onto anything but the tail end of Algebra. I always passed, no doubt, but with nothing more than a B-. If my average was at least that for the semester I wouldn’t have to take the final but that was some wishful thinking. Maybe just maybe, I would be pleasantly surprised. Though, to be on the safe side I would do more studying after dinner.

“So, how’s the studying going kiddo?”

“Horribly,” I groaned.

“Oh come on, you do great in all of your studies.”

“Not in this one. I just haven’t been able to wrap my head around Algebra. Even when I was in pre-Algebra I couldn't grasp it.”

“Everyone has one subject they just can’t stand. This one is yours. I think you did the smart thing though by knocking the subject out the first two years of high school after you learned how horrible it was in middle school.”

“Yeah,” I laughed, “there was no way I was going to put it off. I wanted it out of the way as quickly as possible.”

After dinner I took my mom’s and my plate to clean and bid her goodnight before I disappeared up stairs for the rest of the evening. I took a quick shower and got through the rest of the necessities before settling onto my bed to go over my notes a bit more.

Some movement by my window caught my eye and I nearly leapt out of my skin as My Hayden appeared there smiling at me. It was a good distraction and one I decided I evidently needed since I conjured him up. Therefore, I closed my book and notes, shoved them into my back pack and laid down to stare at him.

He just stood there very solemnly and stared back at me. I decided since he wasn’t going anywhere and it was barely ten that I would talk to him for awhile.

“You know, this might not be the best time for you to be here. I have tests to study for. No matter how few there may be that I will actually have to take they are all still important.”

He just smiled at me but something in his eyes made me think he was actually listening to me. Like I mean he was really listening to me. I sat up and studied him for a second wondering if I was just having a moment of extreme over active imagination. Or maybe my complete insanity was getting worse. I decided to test my theory.

“Through all of this time I have been bringing you on I haven’t quite pin pointed what triggers it or makes you go away. Do you have any ideas?”

He stood there silently staring at me.

“So talking isn’t in the cards for this obviously. Sometimes you can be just as mysterious as the real Hayden.”

He smiled even bigger at me.

“Ok so you like it when I talk about Hayden huh,” I asked.

“Well since you can’t talk then you can’t object to me like he can,” I stated.

This gave him a sour look.

I laughed, “Oh don’t worry. It’s nothing you haven’t already heard. You are a figment of my imagination so therefore you should pretty much already know what I’m going to say even before I say it, right,” I asked?

He just stood there staring at me with his sour expression.

“Oh come on I just want to go over some questions I have. It isn’t like I expect you to answer. You will just be my captive audience,” I smiled at him.

He just shook his head and leaned back against my wall. I took this as an invitation and began.

“Let’s see, where to begin,” I said searching my brain.

“How about we just start with an obvious one appropriate for this moment?”

His expression turned into a strange mixture of intrigue and wariness.

So I just simply asked, “Why are you here?”

X

I wonder why my little friend disappeared so quickly last night. Maybe my mind doesn’t really have an answer for why it’s been conjuring him up. I must have a very strange imagination. I can’t even get any answers out of the Hayden I bring on myself.

“Hey, why don’t you get out of your head over there and join the rest of us in the real world for the weekend,” Elaine spouted off at me as we pulled away from my house.

I just rolled my eyes at her.

“Seriously Jor,” she whined, “you should be on cloud nine right now after finding out you don’t have to take your Algebra II final. Even if it was only by the skin of your teeth.”

“I am happy. Believe me that was the best news ever. I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately.”

“Believe ME we know,” Lana chimed in.

“Yeah, it has been obvious all week you have been spacing over something more than just final exams,” Elaine said questioning.

“Look, if I promise to try my hardest to stay present mind, body, and soul for the weekend will you try to not pry,” I asked.

“Hey,” she said defensively, “it is not prying when it is your best friend.”

“It would be prying even if you were my Siamese twin if I don’t want to talk about it,” I said laughing, “and I don’t. So, just drop it. If I want to talk about it you know I’ll come to you.”

“I know,” she said smiling smugly

“By the way I need the boat later.” This is what we called her car. After finding out she only had to take her elective’s final exams her mom handed over the keys for good.

“Why,” she asked skeptically?

“Because Granddad Wheely is going to be out at Wisconsin’s the whole weekend by himself and I wanted to drop by to see if he needed anything.”

“Uh huh, if I didn’t know better I would say you are fishing for information on the someone you are supposed to be done with?”

“I think you are confusing me with you,” I stated staring out the window, “I help people because I genuinely like to. Not for ulterior motives.”

“Yeah that’s why you can’t look at me when you say that.”

I just laughed but to be honest I really didn’t know if I was going out there just to check on him. The normal part of me was but this new part of me that had awakened since everything started happening between Hayden and me just a few weekends ago was anticipating finding out whatever I could even if I didn’t want to admit it.

I checked the time on my cell as we started out of town to see we would be arriving at the lake house around dusk. So, if I helped unload the car and then drove over to Wisconsin’s I’d get there a little after dark but not too late.

I scooted down in the passenger seat, put my ear phones to my IPod in my ears, propped my feet up on the dash, and decided to take a power nap so I wouldn’t be too tired when arriving to visit with Hayden’s granddad. It may only be a 30 minute drive give or take a little depending on traffic, but any sleep is good sleep and I knew I wouldn’t be getting much this weekend.

“Hey look,” Elaine said nudging me in the side, waking me from sleeps grasp.

I pulled the ear phones out and sat up groggily.

“The guys are already here. I wonder if they are down at the dock.”

“I doubt they have been here that long,” Jen chimed in.

“Yeah we may take a little longer than them but Xavier is as bad as me when packing,” Lana said laughing.

As we began piling out the guys came out of the house to meet their girls and then Kevin came over and gave me a noogie as I was bent into the trunk retrieving bags.

“That was cheap Kev,” I laughed.

“Yeah but I have to catch you off guard. You play too rough lately.”

We began to rough house but were cut short by Elaine yelling at me, “Jordan get moving I want to at least see you sometime this weekend.”

Of course with a statement like that everyone turned to me with questioning expressions. I just slammed the trunk shut, walked to the driver’s side door, and yelled “KEYS” at Elaine. She tossed them over to me and I was off.

The drive was so refreshing and unexplainably empowering. I felt on top of the world driving those back roads with the radio blaring and the windows rolled down. The wind was cool, the night sky clear, and there wasn’t another car in sight. Wisconsin’s place was by the Little Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma when Grandpa Frog’s, or I guess Elaine’s now, was on the other side of Eisenhower State Park near North State Highway 91.

Pulling onto Wisconsin’s property I drove over the cattle guard and continued up the dirt drive through the trees. When they finally broke I could barely see his house. There weren’t any lights on. I checked the time to make sure it wasn’t too late but I already knew it wasn’t. It was just past dark and he should still be awake. Maybe he was having a drink and listening to music with the lights off or watching a movie. It had to be boring out here all by himself especially since he didn’t have the company of his wife because she had passed away. I pulled around to the back, like most people did that had visited out here frequently, to park next to his wheelchair accessible van.

Well I at least know for sure he is here. I thought as I shut off the engine and began to compose myself. For some reason ever since I pulled onto the property I got this overwhelming feeling of uneasiness. I am probably just feeling guilty for the fact that I’m partially here to see if Granddad Wheely knows anything about Hayden and if he is willing to share.

I reached for the door handle and then froze as my heart nearly jumped out of my chest as I heard howling in the near distance. WOW, I seriously need to lighten up! I am out in the middle of nowhere near a lake. Of course there are going to be coyotes and such.

I sat there for a few more seconds calming myself down before I went up to the house and worried Wheely half to death with how pale I probably looked.

Finally ready to get out of the car I opened the door and embraced the night with a deep breath to steady my wobbling knees. What the hell is wrong with me? I thought to myself as I closed the door. I grew up out here at this lake. I would go down to the lake by myself at night and now some distant howling had me so shaken up that I couldn’t get a hold of myself. Though the whole time I was claiming that’s all it was I couldn’t help but wonder if it was more. I had that eeriness from the night in my front yard again. I couldn’t explain it then and I definitely couldn’t explain it now. I hadn’t ever been afraid of the dark but I was that night and I seemed to be tonight also. Maybe it was the lack of sounds again. There wasn’t a whisper on the wind except for the howling I just heard.

“You are being ridiculous,” I chided myself and pushed away from the car.

With each step my wariness grew stronger and stronger until I was all but sprinting up the ramp to the back deck. I stopped once I was at the back door and panted from the mixture of my fear and the running. I stood there staring out over the area behind the house my gaze caressing everything in view. It all seemed in order. Nothing was out of place as far as I could tell. Mine and Wheely’s vehicles were parked a little ways away from the wheel chair accessible ramp Wisconsin had put in years ago for Granddad Wheely when he visits. The workshop sat off to my left and Wisconsin’s private garage was on the right. He never let anyone in there. That’s where he stored his pet projects that he didn’t want anyone messing up accidently. Meaning he had some very old very expensive vehicles stashed away in there.

Turning around I raised my hand to knock but decided better of it and stuck my ear to the door instead. The last thing I wanted was to scare him out of his wits. Just because I was freaking out over nothing didn’t mean I had to do it to him. I listened for a few moments but heard nothing. I tried the knob only to find it locked. Weird I thought because there was usually no need to lock up your house out here. I looked around one last time but still saw no sign of him anywhere else. The workshop was completely dark and the only light that I could see on at the garage was the one that shown over the door.

Deciding to round the house and check the front door, my fear that I had gotten under control started bubbling up again. I really needed to get a hold of myself. I knew this place just as well as I knew my own, back in Howe or Elaine’s house out here. I descended the ramp slowly making sure to be on guard just in case I needed to bolt. Where I would bolt to if something actually did happen was a good guess because the house was locked and this ramp was the only way off of this porch. This realization had me moving quicker than before.

I stepped onto the ground off of the ramp and went on alert. I turned my stiff head around looking at everything. My senses were going crazy. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing at attention and my body was tingling with the excitement the adrenaline was giving me. I really am nuts! I thought. Who gets excited over being scared out of their usually logical mind? I backed to the corner of the house, stopped, and searched the darkness around the side and then continued on. By the time I made it to the front porch my heart felt like it was going to explode. I ascended the stairs as quickly as I could backwards and then backed against the house. I reached out with my left hand and grasped the handle of the front screen. Unlocked thank you God! I praised closing my eyes. Now please let the actual door be unlocked? I pleaded.

I knew sometimes Wheely would come and sit on the front porch in his chair because the view was prettier than the back, so I was hoping he hadn’t locked this door also. Even though I still didn’t quite understand why he would lock either in the first place, but now was neither the time nor the place to contemplate this. I could ask him once I was safely inside sitting down telling him about my crazy hysterics from when I first arrived here to now. I turned and quickly grasped the doorknob to the main door, twisted it, and quickly slammed it shut behind me. It happened so fast I didn’t even realize I was in until I was leaning against the inside of the door panting.

“Ok get it together,” I coached myself, “you have to find Wheely and let him know you are here without giving him a heart attack.”

I walked at an angle through the living room, to the right, heading into the small kitchen that was open to a family room. All the while every fiber in my body was telling me to rush for the kitchen and out of the back door, into Elaine’s car, and the hell out of here as fast as that old car would take me, but if there was anything here amiss I wasn’t about to leave Granddad Wheely to deal with it alone.

The living room was dark and so was the kitchen but I could see the glow of the TV from the family room. I let out a long sigh, gave myself a shake to calm my nerves and leisurely began to walk into the kitchen. As I made it into there I realized the television was on in the connecting family room but Wheely was nowhere in sight.

“Okay, this doesn’t mean anything,” I reassured myself. “He is probably either back in one of the rooms or in the restroom.”

I really didn’t want to go looking for him but I knew I had to. If something had happened to him and I had the chance to help and didn’t because I was all of the sudden afraid of the dark I could never forgive myself.

I started down the hall that held the four bedrooms and the only bathroom, looking for lights or any indication that he might be inhabiting one of these rooms for the weekend but got none.

I stopped at the first bedroom door and lightly tapped on it, “Granddad Wheely,” I whispered. Hoping not to startle him if I did by some chance wake him.

“It’s me, Jordan. I came to see if maybe you needed any help this weekend or just wanted some company for a bit.”

I turned the doorknob with an unsteady hand and pushed it open. The light that was illuminating from the TV in the family room put off enough light to show that he wasn’t and hadn’t been in this room. I didn’t figure he would be though. This was Wisconsin’s personal bedroom. I closed the door and moved to the one directly across the hall and preformed the same actions with this room as well to find he hadn’t taken this room either. My guess was he probably took one of the rooms closest to the bathroom at the end of the hall. So it wasn’t far to go when he needed to.

I checked the room directly down from the one across from Wisconsin’s personal bedroom with no such luck again. So, that left the only bedroom left. The one right down from Wisconsin’s. I checked the bathroom which sat between the farthest two bedrooms first by knocking and calling out to him but there was no light on or an answer so I moved to the last bedroom door.

Taking in a deep breath to calm myself, I grasped the door knob with one hand while lightly knocking with the other. I received no response but for some reason just couldn’t leave without at least cracking the door to peer in. He has to be staying in one of these rooms. I thought to myself. Very little light spilled in from the TV in the family room, but it was enough as I caught site of a leg over by the far corner. I gasped in horror as I swung the door open and rushed over to Wheely. It crashed into something but at that moment I didn’t care. My only concern was to make sure he was ok.

“Granddad Wheely,” I whispered. “Are you ok? Are you hurt? Did you fall? Are you sick?”

I felt around on him for signs of anything but didn’t really know what I was searching for.

He grunted as I lifted his head up and to the side. I could see a gash on his forehead and fresh blood coating his face.

“Oh my god, Wheely can you hear me. It’s me Jordan. Did you fall?” I asked again.

“Where is your wheelchair?” I stood to look around the room. My eyes locked on it and I became very confused. It was lying on the other side of the bed on its side. That’s what the door had crashed into when I came barreling in?

“Granddad can you hear me?” I asked again.

This time he answered but only by a nod of his head.

I knelt back down by his side, “Did you fall?”

He shook his head no and all of the eeriness from before swept back over me like an all consuming wave.

“How did you get over here without your wheelchair?” I asked not wanting to believe someone could do this to a defenseless old man in a wheelchair.

He lifted his head a bit more and finally looked at me, “Jordan?”

“Yes, Granddad it’s me!” I said excited by the fact that he was able to talk and recognize me. That seemed promising.

“Jordan, what are you doing here?” He asked concern creasing his forehead. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Don’t worry I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about. I will be right back.”

I swiftly ran to the bathroom retrieved a wash cloth and put some peroxide on it.

“Here,” I said raising his head to wipe away some of the dried blood.

He grabbed my wrist and starred into my eyes, “Jordan you should not be here you need to leave.”

“It’s ok Wheely. Hayden and I are friends again. He won’t mind if I’m out here; especially under the circumstances. Who did this to you?” I asked.

“I’m not worried about Hayden. You need to go! Go Jordan,” he insisted.

“Are you in trouble?” I asked. “I didn’t see any out of placed cars on my way in. Whoever it was isn’t here anymore. They probably took some things and left. I am going to run back out to my car and get my cell so we can call Hayden or Uncle Rod. They have to at least have their phones on for emergencies.” I said as I stood and crossed the room.

“Jordan,” he started again.

“Now Wheely,” I cut him off. “I am not leaving you here like this when I am perfectly capable of getting you to the van and to a hospital. Now sit tight, keep that cloth on your head and I will be right back with the phone.”

I went through the family room and out the back door in the kitchen. All of my caution was gone now replaced by adrenaline and the pure determination to get us out of here as safely and quickly as possible. Once I retrieved my phone I decided to pull the van up to the ramp to help things along a little quicker.

“Thank God for me coming out here tonight,” I said as I rounded the van to the driver’s side door. Who knew how long he would have been stuck on the floor in that room if I hadn’t come along. Whoever hurt him better be glad they were gone when I got here. Then I remembered I didn’t have any kind of weapon; however, I knew they kept a baseball bat in the van next to the passenger door. I would fetch it once I had the van pulled up to the ramp.

Once I climbed into the driver’s seat though I realized the keys weren’t in it.

Cursing my luck I climbed out, slammed the door and kicked the front tire for the trouble. I rounded the front of the van to the passenger side and retrieved the bat.

With it in tow and my phone in my pocket I made my way back up the ramp, into the house, and back to the bedroom.

I gave my phone to Granddad Wheely and warned that I was going to turn on the lights. He grunted a disagreement which I ignored because we had to work fast in case the perpetrators returned.

I flicked on the switch and light exploded into the room. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, but then I was on the move. I propped the bat against the wall beside the door and then straightened Wheely’s chair. I did a once over to make sure it wasn’t damaged and then rolled it over to him. I asked if he could get into it by himself and when he shook his head yes I crossed to the other side of the bed to get the keys to the van. I had spotted them on the bedside table when I was dealing with his chair.

“I’m going to get the van. You sure you can get yourself into your chair? You don’t need any help?”

“Jordan I am begging you. You have done all you can. Take your car and get the hell out of here. You don’t know what you are doing.”

This surprised and scared me. First of all, I hadn’t ever heard this man curse, and the way he said “You don’t know what you are doing!” oddly resembled the way Hayden always said “You don’t know what you are talking about!” However, I was not going to run away scared. This man was some of the only family I had; blood kin or not, and I would risk anything to get him out of here no matter how much he protested.

“Now Wheely all of this time you have spent trying to get me to leave could have been spent on you making that phone call and getting yourself into your chair. I am not about to leave here without you. If you are truly worried for my safety you will help me get us both out of here as quickly as possible.”

I turned on my heel and grabbed up the bat. I made my way back toward the kitchen to pull the van around and rescue Granddad Wheely… from whatever had happened here.

Just as I reached for the latch on the back screen door a bone-chilling laugh crept up my spine.

I froze not knowing what to do, but for some reason beyond me knew there were more than one.

“You like beating up defenseless old men in wheel chairs do you,” I questioned my new company without thinking. Evidently I decided suicide was the way to go. I thought to myself.

“Now I take offense to that. How do you know I am not here for his rescue just as you are,” he calmly and smoothly spoke. Most would probably find it soothing but it was like nails on a chalk board to my ears.

“Because I have only heard your voice and I already loathe you and who accompanies you.”

He laughed again. It sounded almost celebratory, “You are very intuitive aren’t you little one?”

“I like to believe I have very good instincts. You never answered my question.”

“And what question would that be dear?” I could tell he had stayed where he was, but I felt a creeping sensation of claustrophobia, like I was being slowly closed in on.

“Ah, cowardly and stupid,” I stated. Now I had gone from slight stupidity to full blown mad. I could feel the raw power emanating from these people. I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I could.

“I would watch that tongue of yours unless you want it cut out,” he growled at me.

“So, not only do you like to beat up on the elderly but on women too. Your parents must be so proud.”

“Oh and if only your father were here to witness this he would be ecstatic to see his little girl so beautiful and heroic BUT HE ISN’T now is he,” he all but laughed.

“You know nothing about my father,” I yelled as I swung around to stare at one of the most handsome and vicious looking men I had ever seen.

His hair was a chestnut brown, tawny skin, chiseled features, rugged, and manly. His muscles rippled under the clothes he wore, but for all of his beauty I could see his ugly soul. Feel it sucking the humanity right out of the air around us.

I felt the air stir toward my left and with instincts I didn’t even know I had, I swung the bat as hard as I could up and across my body. It collided with another man’s face. I heard the hit and then felt the reverberation through my whole body as teeth gave way, bone broke, and blood splattered across the whole front of me. Time seemed to stand still. This man lay on the ground at my feet bloodied. I didn’t know how badly I had injured him but he was definitely down. I guess being a tomboy and playing baseball growing up; instead of dolls; does come in handy.

I heard a low feral growl then a loud howl that sent chills straight to my core. Suddenly I was grabbed from behind and bound by the largest biceps I had ever seen.

“You will pay for that, little one. As for many other things,” the first man said as he walked towards me and my captor, clapping for my show.

“It isn’t my fault you can’t find better help. This one is just lucky I haven’t done anything like that before. He caught me in a moment of weakness.” I said smugly, even though I was crying out in fear on the inside. Part of me reveled in what I had just done. It rejoiced in beating at least one of them.

He laughed again and then introduced himself, “My name is Leandar Woods.”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me,” I asked dismissively.

He got right in my face and spat, “It should I killed your father, little Jordan, and now I will kill you.”

Then he hit me. As the lights went out all I could think was how I was never going to see Hayden again and in that last moment I heard my heart cry out like a scream in the night for him. Then the all consuming darkness became my only comfort.

XI

Whispered voices swam through the slush of my unconsciousness threatening my comfort. Except, I couldn’t remember why I wanted to stay asleep. Why I welcomed the darkness as a soothing blanket. All I knew was that those voices were pulling me back to something I didn’t want to face.

I began retaining sentences from the conversation that was being had as I slipped in and out of consciousness.

“Too bad she is only a half breed,” the bass toned shadow said. This voice sounded vaguely familiar.

“Yeah, but she would still be worth some playing with if she was just at maturity,” another shadow said in a voice just an octave lower.

“Yes, it is a pity. I do love to roll around with red heads. They are much feistier,” the first shadow stated. “Oh look, I think our company is deciding to join us after all,” he commented; obviously taking in my movements.

“Where am I,” I asked still not able to see much more than the outline of these two men. Though, I guessed I was in a boat due to the rocking I could feel, and the sloshing I could hear through the wall I was lying against.

“Oh good, I was beginning to think I might have hit you a little too hard,” the first shadow said in a gleeful tone.

“What are you tal,” I began to ask, but then a tidal wave of emotions and memories came flooding back. This man had knocked me out and obviously kidnapped me from Wisconsin’s place as I was trying to rescue Hayden’s grandfather.

“There you go,” Leander said laughing. I knew his voice, maybe not right away but it was crystal clear now. I would never forget that voice or his face for as long as I lived.

“Where is he? What did you do with Wheely,” I demanded?

“There is no need to worry about that. My friend here left him a little scuffed up but alive enough to relay a message.”

“So he is the muscle and you’re the brain, I’m guessing.”

Leander laughed a guttural laugh, “See? All feisty!”

“Who are you leaving messages for anyways? He is just a defenseless old man with two grease monkey mechanics for sons and a strange grandson,” I stated confused.

“You really have no idea do you?” He laughed.

“Oh I have the idea alright. You two are a bunch of worthless punks that go around picking on the weak and defenseless for some power trip.”

He laughed again and then asked, “Do you not remember what I told you before you so accommodatingly blacked out?”

I sat there eyebrows furrowed with concentration and then it hit me like a ten ton weight. He had claimed to have killed my father, but my father wasn’t murdered. It had been a hunting accident. Then I remembered, he called me by name and declared to kill me too.

My realization must have played on my face because they both laughed. I didn’t understand how they could see me clearly enough to do so; when I was having trouble making out their shapes, much less any characteristics. My head is still throbbing, so maybe my sight isn’t quite back to one hundred percent yet. Is what I told myself even though I had suspicions it wasn’t true.

“So you do remember. Good! I hate repeating myself.”

“You are mistaken,” I stated, even though I was unsure myself since he knew my name.

“I am, am I,” he asked? “Well then how did I know your name?” He asked as if pulling it from my own thoughts.

“Because you were hiding and overheard me and Granddad Wheely say it,” I said smugly smashing his evidence.

“Well then how did I know about your father,” he asked angrily?

“You just got lucky that my father is dead, but you were wrong about a huge part. I know how my father died and it was not murder.”

His demeanor changed. Again, back to humor and he asked barely containing his laughter, “Well then tell me little one how did he pass?”

The way he asked sounded as if he were entertained by the thought of my tale.

“It was a hunting accident. He got too close to one of the wild boars he was hunting. She had just had a litter and was extremely protective. Instead of running away she attacked,” I stopped as a lump gathered in my throat and my eyes were threatening me with tears. I wasn’t about to let these bastards see me cry.

“And,” he prompted?

“She attacked and ripped his throat out,” I pushed out holding back my tears and glaring at him.

“Oh what a lovely tale you have weaved. Did you think that up all by yourself,” he asked definitely amused?

“I did not make it up. My mother told me all about it. She told me it was horrible and that it was why we had to have a closed casket. I never even got to tell him goodbye. How dare you defile his memory by claiming you even had the honor of knowing his name!”

Then a smile stretched across my face. There was my proof. Of course he knew my name. He had obviously been hiding with his goonies and over heard it, during my search and rescue… well attempted rescue. Only he got lucky with the comment of my dad. There was no way that he knew his name. So maybe I did have a chance of making it out of this, if these men were just big bluffers.

The man that was obviously my captor then said, “We are here Leandar,” just as the boat hit soft ground.

“Well as much as I have enjoyed this little Q and A segment of our short trip, it is time to move little one,” Leandar said as he motioned to his thug to grab me. That was when I realized I had been tied up. Not severely, just wrists and ankles. I guess the pain in my head and the metallic taste of blood that coated my mouth had me distracted. Plus, I knew there was no getting away from them while in a boat. So, I hadn’t tried to struggle in case they would knock me out again.

“You do everything he motions you to do without question,” I asked as the behemoth of a man moved toward me and tried to throw me over his shoulder.

I thrashed around, beating him on the back with the fist I made with both hands, and flapping my legs up and down trying to do anything if even to just throw him off balance. Although, if I did accomplish anything I didn’t know what I would do afterwards besides maybe save them the trouble of killing me and drown myself in my efforts. Not to my amazement though he didn’t even falter when stepping out of the boat. He was in complete control and I had about the effect of a mosquito.

“Now, now, you had better calm down in your attempts or I will have Nicolai here knock you out next time.”

I calmed almost instantly, this man whispering to me may have reserved some of his power when knocking me out before but I had no desire in finding out if this Nikolai would do the same.

And as Leandar slid a bag over my head he whispered into my ear, “Mackey Simmons, Mack for short of course. I guess I am special, or wait, was it honored you said.” Then he bent forward and kissed the back of my head through the bag.

What he wasn’t counting on was me thrusting my head up and out with everything I could muster. As I felt his nose crack under the blow I laughed. However, I wasn’t awake for much longer as I found out just how right I was about fearing Nikolai’s form of restraint.

When I woke again it was to me smashing into a rock wall as Nikolai threw me in a cage. I guess it really wasn’t a cage, it was more of a cell, but it felt like a cage to me. I hated enclosed spaces. I have always been very claustrophobic. My mom always said I got it from my dad. That he hated being cooped up all of the time and that’s why he went hunting so much back in Sweetwater, the little town here in Texas where we lived before he passed and my mom took the job that landed us in Howe.

He knows my dad’s name! I thought in panic.

I ran to the bars and screamed out, “Hey I want to know how you know who my dad was? How do you know his name?”

Leandar just laughed and said, “We have plenty of time little one,” before he disappeared into the darkness that stretched out in front of the cell.

I screamed again, “Where am I? I hate enclosed spaces. You can’t leave me in here!”

I could hear his laughter echoing around me and then I caught movement in the darkness to my right. The only problem was, it was in the cell with me.

As I got into a stance to defend myself I finally realized that at some point; while I was unconscious; they had not only untied me but stripped me down to almost nothing. Leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Although at this moment that was the least of my worries, I had to make sure whatever was in here with me was not a threat.

“Hello,” I called out trying to strain my eyes to see into the dark corner. The torch on the wall outside of my personal hell didn’t illuminate much.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the figure called out, “there is no need to be fearful.”

I swallowed against the place my heart had decided to take up permanent residence, but it did no good. So, I proceeded in the most convincing voice I could muster, “I don’t fear anything.”

The figure began to move into my line of sight laughing just as it tripped over something on the ground I couldn’t make out and crashed to his knees. It was a he. He was dirty, his hair was matted, and he was very skinny but I could tell it was a man due to his clothing, or lack thereof I should say.

“Here let me help you,” I called out struggling against my own pain to reach him. I supposed I had been too distracted before but it was hitting me now in excruciating waves.

“Thank you, my name is Regal,” he said as we got him to a sitting position against the dark wall.

I fell back against the opposite one and all but yelped as pain exploded up my back. It was then I remembered the warm introduction Nikolai had given me to the wall upon arriving in here.

“You ok,” Regal asked trying to get up enough will to move himself toward me?

“I’m fine, I’m fine, don’t try to move. You look like you’ve endured a lot more than me! I can manage a few bruises and cuts,” I reassured him and myself.

“By the way I’m Jordan.”

“Nice to meet you. Well I guess not quite nice being under these circumstances,” he laughed holding out a hand.

I took it and we shook. “So do you mind me asking what landed you in here?”

“I was out hunting and I guess got a little too close for comfort. So they circled me and attacked. Next thing I knew they were carrying me into this cave where they had built this cell,” he said motioning around us.

“You mean to tell me we are inside some make shift cell in a cave,” I coughed, “a real cave?” I mean of course I knew there were caves around this area, but not a lot of people were brave enough to venture into them.

“Who the hell are these guys that they put bags over people’s heads and live in caves? I mean aren’t criminals supposed to be more advanced than this?” I asked puzzled.

Then I caught what he had said about his capture and asked, “Did you say THEY circled you?”

“Yeah, their pack,” he confirmed.

“So there are more than just the three that I’ve seen?”

“Plenty more,” he assured.

This had me whirling with questions as to what I had gotten myself into.

“I can smell your fear. Try to control it when they are around. They are sick. I think they feed off of it.”

“Okay I will keep it under control as much as I can.”

“You said you’ve seen three of them? I only saw two bring you in?”

“Yeah I kind of incapacitated one of their buddies,” I said smiling, but that died off quickly upon realizing what he had said just a moment before. Scooting as close to the wall as I could I asked,

“What do you mean you can smell my fear,” emphasizing the smell part.

“Just what I said,” he stated, “I can smell it. We all can.”

“Who is we,” I asked, “are there more than me and you in here?” I began to look the small space over to see if there were any other crazies hiding somewhere.

“No,” he began as I cut him off.

“Then there are other cells?”

“No,” he drug out, “I meant myself, the pack that has us captured, and yourself of course. You don’t have to pretend. I’m one of you.”

“One of who? You are definitely not female and I cannot smell my fear.”

“Well of course you do not smell your own fear. It is almost impossible to pick up on our own scent when we are so accustomed to it.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I said trying to move away from this madman slowly, “but I cannot and have not ever smelled anyone’s fear or any other scent you may think you can smell.”

“I may be an inch from my death but I know one of my kind when I meet one,” he stated matter of fact.

“One of your kind? One of your kind?,” I asked puzzled, “Of course I am one of your kind. I am human.” By this time I was standing, against all of my pain, and moving down the wall back into the light. This guy was completely freaking me out. Either he was just completely insane, or being here for however long he had been made him this way. I was beginning to think I would rather take my chances with Leandar and his goons.

“Oh my,” he said and then was immediately in front of me.

“What? Where? How did you do that,” I asked confused and scared, as I scrambled to try and retreat anywhere, but there was nowhere to go.

“Calm yourself little one. I am not going to hurt you. I told you to keep your fear to yourself. Though, if you do not know, then you have not been taught properly,” his voice faded out as he began to pace. I couldn’t even believe he was in an upright position much less having the coordination to pace. I just stood there starring at him in complete shock. He seemed so fragile when he tripped before, and now he seemed completely capable, and completely mad.

“How did you move so fast when you tripped over your own feet just a few moments before?”

“I was trying to show no ill will in my movements before. So you wouldn’t go on the defensive,” he laughed, “but I guess that didn’t matter since you don’t even know, little one.” He said clapping and smiling. Then he was right in front of me again with his hands grasping my face, “They have no idea what they have found,” he said studying my face, “and yet there is something different in you. That is not just immaturity.”

“Hey,” I said throwing his hands away from my face, “I have no idea what you are going on about but I will have you know I am very mature for my age,” I declared crossing my arms over my chest. Yeah that’s the way to get your point across! By acting like a spoiled two year old, not to mention trying to reason with a mentally unstable individual.

“I was not referring to your mentality, little one.” He smiled softly, “I was referring to your animal’s soul.”

“My what?” Oh yeah, he is a complete goner! He is obviously on autopilot!

“You may not know yet, and you may wish not to believe, but it is true. I can feel your essence and see the soul in your eyes. Though I do not know how you have been allowed to get to your age without proper teaching. What kind of parents allow this,” he said enraged.

“My mom has done her best since my dad passed,” I defended, “so don’t you dare question my raising.” I snarled

“Yes, yes,” he chanted, “do you feel that? That anger that just exploded in you. The need to have someone pay for enraging you?”he asked.

I didn’t want to admit it but I had felt that a lot lately. Any time I got mad, I wanted someone’s head for it. I just thought it was because of everything that had been going on between Hayden and me though.

“Wait,” he said, “did you say your mom is your only parent?”

“No I have a dad,” I hesitated and then added, “well I had a dad.”

“Minor details, little one. So he is deceased.”

There we go again, and my anger was rearing its ugly head at his latest statement. And he was completely ignoring me, pacing back and forth with his hand at his chin thinking. I could picture jumping on his back and slamming his ill-mannered head right into the bars in front of us.

“I can also smell your anger. Don’t be mistaken, little one, I may be malnourished at the moment, but I have many years on you and you’re not even at full maturity. Although, I have a feeling it’s not far off. When is your birthday?” he asked.

“At the end of next month,” I answered shocked at the fact that he called me on my anger. This man had some definite scary mojo going on!

“How do you do that,” I asked?

“Hmm, do what?” He asked stopping at this point to eye me.

“How do you know what I am feeling?” Yeah, like you are going to get a believable answer! This guy is insane, why are you questioning him? Play nice and stay out of his way! I chided myself.

“I told you. We can all smell you. We cannot decipher all emotions, but the ones our animal is driven by are as clear as someone speaking the words. Fear, anger, and hormones are a few that our shared animal can decipher.” He said as he returned to pacing.

“Have you not noticed in the last month or so a heightening in any areas,” he asked?

“No,” I said quickly but then remembered my anger just now and at the lake house, the slight increase of speed I had been noticing; but chopping up to adrenaline, and the intuition I had of late. I always liked to think I had good intuition but lately it was spot on. On almost every occasion.

“Uh huh, you are remembering little one,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

“I don’t know what you are talking about and why do you keep calling me little one? It is really creepy since that is what Leandar kept calling me,” I stated, crossing my arms over my chest.

“I am sorry,” he offered, “it is just what we call our younger. Do you not ever remember your parents, or maybe just one of them, calling you this?”

I sat there for a moment trying to remember and feeling crazy for doing so. I couldn’t believe I was going along with this, I just figured I was doing it to humor him and keep him calm.

Until, one of the few memories I had of my dad came to the forefront of my mind. We were at the beach in the back of Lake Trammel. We had lived out there as much as we had our tiny house in Sweetwater. I remembered we were playing chase. My mom was lying on a blanket laughing as she looked on. I ran toward her, my dad caught me, and we fell onto the blanket laughing. I remembered sitting on his stomach as he pushed a lock of hair behind my ear and said, “I got you my little one, and I will always be here to catch you.” Then he pulled me forward and kissed my forehead.

“It was your father,” he whispered.

“Yes,” I gasped as tears rolled down my cheeks.

He began to talk to himself while pacing again, “You must be a half breed. They are very rare but it happens,” I could hear him but wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying, “I bet that’s why they took you. They saw what I saw and plan to change you to full at your maturity, but why you?”

“How could I have not remembered that until now,” I asked cutting off his conversation with himself. I knew it seemed crazy, probably just coincidental, but he had triggered something inside me. Memories that I had no idea I had locked away, and I had no idea how he did it. Although, he probably didn’t know how he had either!

“Grief will do strange things to the mind, little one,” he said as he touched my shoulder in a comforting manor.

“So what does it mean?” I asked still unsure of what he had been talking about this whole time, but beginning to be curious and a bit wary. Still extremely skeptical also.

“I’m not quite sure why they took you, but the rest means your whole world is about to change. As long as you believe, embrace, and; most of all; live to get out of here.”

Since when did everybody start talking in codes? I hate riddles and no one seems to know how to just give a straight answer of late.

“I guess I really don’t have much of a choice if what you say is true and I live to see my seventeenth birthday.” I was hoping if I seemed skeptical yet still accepting he would stay calm and not kill me and eat me, or whatever it was serial killers do, but the weird thing was that a part of me was beginning to believe. Wow, they must have really done some damage to my head!

“You were right you know,” he smiled, “you are very mature for your age. Now down to business. For whatever their reasons were to bring you here they obviously don’t know you are unaware.”

“How do we know that they haven’t realized I have no knowledge of this,” I asked still wondering what he was talking about; and if I truly wanted to know?

He turned and seared me with his intense stare, “Because they would have taken you and done unmentionable things to bend you to their will without providing the proper training to defend yourself, but they threw you in here. They obviously want you for some reason though, because our kind never goes after young or women and you are both.”

My mind was whirling with the fear of the realization and seriousness of this all; if he was telling the truth. This was not just a few sickos. I just may have crossed into something I had not only been oblivious to in the past but I was evidently a part of; because of who my father was. I had to either trust the person in front of me or take my chances with the ones that were keeping me captive. I wasn’t quite sure why or when in the last few moments that this Regal had become my best choice, but something in me just kept telling me so.

“Alright, say I buy into all of this. You have to tell me what we are,” I said emphasizing we.

“Werewolves.”

Part of me thought yeah this man is completely off his rocker, but that other part, the part that kept telling me he was the one to trust, completely believed him for some reason. Then everything began to swim as my mind took me in a whirlwind of places. Seeing the beast off the deck at the lake house, the absence of night creatures on a few occasions lately, the howling I heard upon arriving at Wisconsin’s, the growl and howl I heard before my captor grabbed me, Regal mentioning the PACK circling him while he was hunting, and then it hit me!

He was hunting! My dad was hunting when he died! Leandar said he killed him and he knew his and my name!

“He did it,” I cried out as my whole body began to shake as I dropped to the ground.

“Who did what?” Regal asked as he bent to look at my face.

“Leandar! Leandar killed my father and now he wants me!”

XII

“Calm down, just try to calm down,” he soothed as he sat beside me and put his arm around me.

“I didn’t believe him. I just thought they were some sick freaks that randomly chose places and people to attack, got lucky in coming upon a defenseless disabled old man in a secluded area, and I was just a bonus when I showed up,” I rambled.

“You are going to have to calm down and explain better than that if we are to figure out why they brought you here, little one.”

His words registered and the logical part of me snapped into place, even though I didn’t know how logical it was anymore if it believed the load he was selling. Although, I knew he was right that I needed to explain and if I had any chance of getting out of here it would be by trusting this man, no matter how looney all of this was, to help me figure out what I was doing here to begin with. So, I took a few deep breaths to settle myself enough to go over the events that led me here.

Instead of staying beside me like he was before, he took up a seat in front of me ready to get down to business and go over the events of that night.

When I finally felt calm enough I toyed with rocks at my feet nervously and began, “Well I guess it all started when I arrived to check on my,” I stopped myself before I said boyfriend. “I arrived to check on a friend’s grandfather. This man is like family to me and since his wife passed this last summer I could only imagine how lonely it would be to have the rest of your family out of town, like his was. So, since I knew he would be all alone at his son’s house I decided to drive over this weekend and pay him a visit and maybe help him with anything he needed.”

I looked up to see him listening very attentively and he nodded me on. I knew this would be the case but I never had been very easy with audiences, unless I was venting. I began drawing in the dirt with my fingertip and continued.

“Upon my arrival at the Samson’s place I heard a loud chorus of howls and it put me on edge. I am very knowledgeable of the night creatures especially here at the lake but for some reason it really made me uneasy.”

“That was one of your increasing senses. Somewhere in your soul it knew the difference and didn’t like what was near,” he explained. I decided to put that away for later, because once again he seemed to be talking madness, no matter how much of me was already beginning to accept the things he had to say.

When I began again I repeated the whole night’s events to him, just as it happened, leading up to me walking in and finding Hayden’s Granddad on the floor. All Regal said was that I may not have seen the significance of rehashing all of the minor details but if I actually thought about it, I would realize that it in fact solidified what he had said about the heightening of some of my senses. In turn would make it easier for me to except what he had told me, which was that I was a half breed werewolf that hadn’t quite hit maturity yet.

After I thought about that for a second and decided to dwell on it later, I began to finish my story, “Okay, well since I had already checked the other three rooms as well as the bathroom with no luck I knew he had to at least be staying in the last bedroom even if he wasn’t currently in it, but he was.” I stopped and looked up to see Regal shift a little closer.

He took my hand in his and stared into my eyes, “What happened,” he asked in a very supportive voice and even though his words registered I was lost in his eyes and then I saw it. I saw his animal soul. I mean I obviously didn’t see a wolf’s face or anything drastic like that. It was just a swirl of mist right there in the depths of his eyes and I knew it was wolf. I can’t really explain how but everything in me just knew. It was like I recognized it, and I did on some level I guess. Right then my resolve washed away, and I knew he was telling the truth no matter how much I may have wanted to argue it or disbelieve. I didn’t have time to be irrational or fight the inevitable. Somehow the world I had been living in all those years just got a lot broader and I only had a limited time to accept it or suffer things I couldn’t imagine, and I decided to just accept now and freak out when I was safe to.

At some point during my trance he had reached up and grabbed a hold of my shoulder, he shook me a bit and mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out.

“What,” I asked as I came out of my daze.

“You said you saw it,” he claimed, “what did you see?”

“I said what,” I asked?

“You were looking right at me and then said I saw it,” he repeated imitating my words.

“Wow, sorry. I have a bad habit of thinking out loud.”

“It is quite alright, little one. We can pick this back up after some rest. You are badly hurt and would probably like to sleep and heal a bit. They will come around in the morning and bring us scraps to eat as well as some water from the lake,” he said as he got to his feet and helped me to mine.

He guided me over to the dark corner he had been in upon my arrival and laid me down on a crevice that he had formed in the earth to undoubtedly sleep on since his capture, and then took up a seat beside me. For some reason I felt safe with him. I didn’t know if it was the fact that he seemed to be trying to help me or if it was the wolf’s intuition in me that I had just found out about, but I was glad to have him on my side.

I laid there staring at a ceiling I could not see. I was tired but couldn’t seem to make my eyes stay closed. Therefore, I decided to ask a few questions about the part of my life, myself, that I never knew existed.

“How will my life change? You know, once I reach maturity,” I asked.

“Well that is not an unexpected question I suppose,” he stated kind of nervously, “you see, it is different for the female of our kind than it is for the males, obviously.”

“How so? Well besides the obvious,” I laughed.

“Well at maturity males begin to feel the need to find a mate. A lot fight this though because of the freedom our kind naturally have.”

“What kind of freedom,” I asked suspiciously.

“We are not typically monogamous,” he said clearing his throat and I suppose caught my disapproving expression. Even though I couldn’t see in this space I knew he had no problem, being a mature werewolf, or at least that’s what I was guessing.

“Proceed,” I insisted. I wanted to know all I could before falling asleep.

“Even though many fight it, the monogamy is fated if we find a mate.”

“What do you mean? How could monogamy be fate? I thought it was choice?”

He laughed a bit and then continued, “Not with our kind. It is most certainly not a choice at least for the males. When a male finds a mate it is the most beautiful and rare thing to behold and we have no choice but to be completely devoted. It is said that it is bred into our DNA though no one knows for sure. When we find a mate their essence is all consuming to us. We know that fate had put them in our paths to find and we are powerless to the pull. Everything we do from the day we encounter our mate is to prove we are worthy of the gift fate has bestowed upon us. You see, even if it were possible, a mated male would never want to be unfaithful. Our mates become our everything, and unlike mortal romance, that pull never lessens or goes away. Every day with our mate is just like the first.”

“That sounds so beautiful,” I admired. “So why would anyone want to fight it,” I asked confused?

He sighed and then said, “Because fate only mates us to them, but they have a little more of free will as to who they are mated to.”

I gasped, “That is just awful. So even if she does not feel the same you may not ever be with another woman unless by some chance you come upon another mate?”

“Yes and no. You see we may not be attracted to another but as long as we are away from the essence of our chosen mate we can pair off with an accepting female while she is in need. We may not ever be able to have the love and the life that mates share but we can reproduce.”

I began to feel uneasy about what he just said, “What do you mean while she is in need?”

“Once a female of our kind reaches maturity she begins to feel the need to reproduce. Therefore, she becomes increasingly hormonal, to the point where she can’t control herself. If she waits too long she can become very demanding, even violent during the act. A few males have lost their lives due to this. Most females though do not deny their need, and takes a companion for the duration.”

“I cannot believe this! I am going to get more hormones, not to mention them obviously being worse? Teenagers are already hormonal you know! It has taken a lot of control on my part to stay a virgin this long. Not that I have had many interests, but still,” I ranted.

Then I thought of something very important, “What if she is mated,” I asked in outrage? Disgusted with these females, disgusted with myself and what I was to become in only a short month.

“Calm down little one,” he said soothingly. “As you know wolves run in packs. If a female has decided to mate and they have performed the sacred ceremony, then she becomes one of his pack and they are never far from each other, especially around her time of need. Though, if for some reason they are apart when she comes in need the mating ceremony, they would have performed, creates a bond between the two and when she starts feeling the ache he will too and he will return to her for however long it lasts. However, every female knows her own,” he hesitated, “cycle, I guess you could refer to it, and if she is mated her mate no doubt has it memorized himself and is never far away without cause. So I hope you can understand now why we are not typically monogamous and a lot of males fight it.”

“Of course I can. I have grown up in a world where it is usually the women that gets their hearts broken by non-welcoming men. We pine over them even though they are clueless to our existence, but we can and do move on even if we have to see them each and every day. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have any control over being completely enamored over someone that has the choice to push you aside if they don’t deem you compatible and then live out your days hoping to find one that does while only procreating with a female that then also gets to choose whether or not to settle on you for the cycle.” I finished with amazement at how these people, my people live.

Oh no, I thought. “What if you are mated with someone already in your pack? Then what happens? That would be absolutely horrible how would you get away from them?”

“It doesn’t work like that, little one,” he laughed.

“What do you mean? How could that not happen? Ya’ll can’t all be related, could ya’ll,” I asked disgusted with the thought.

“No,” he insisted surprised, “it doesn’t work like that because when pups of the pack reach maturity most of the males stay in the pack or join together with some of the other younger and form a pack, depending on the size of the existing pack, but the matured female pups always venture off on their own way to search for an appropriate mate. So you see, little one, that even if some are mated to a newly matured female of our pack, if the female doesn’t choose them they move on to find a mate they accept, and our kind isn’t ever mated to a relative it just doesn’t happen, like I said before we believe all of this is bred into our DNA so therefore if we have matching DNA then it wouldn’t mate us, I’m guessing is how it works.”

“Well what if the one you are mated to doesn’t accept you but accepts another she is mated to in the same pack?”

“Wow, you are covering all basis,” he laughed. “I haven’t ever heard of it happening but if it ever did I’m sure the pack would decide how to handle it.”

Then, for some reason all of this hit me. My father was one of these people.

“Can you all, I mean can our kind mate with anything other than another werewolf?”

“No. We can lay down with them and obviously we can impregnate them, but it would never be monogamous. We couldn’t ever share with them what we would share with our chosen mate. It is in our beings to procreate full Weres and we can’t fight it especially if we are around a female in need. Although, I have heard that for half breeds the pull isn’t as severe, we believe that it is because ya’ll are part human,” he said obviously taking in my worried expression and trying to soothe my concerns but he misread who they were for. They weren’t for me, they were for my mother.

“So my father was unfaithful,” I questioned, “could I have other siblings out there? But that couldn’t be possible he was never gone for long periods of time.”

“I didn’t realize that is what you were worried about. I thought you were worried about what you thought you might become. I am sorry to have tainted your vision of your father, little one, but in his defense he couldn’t help it. Though, if you say he was never gone for long periods at a time maybe him and your mother weren’t together long enough before his passing for him to have had to,” he stopped obviously trying to think of a sensitive way to put it.

“It’s fine Regal, really. It’s just, the few memories I do have of all of us together are so happy. I remember the way he used to look at my mom. It’s just hard for me to see him ever having to leave her because of anything especially to be with another woman.”

“Well for what it’s worth I bet he truly did care for her and he wasn’t with another woman, he was with a female Were and even though you may not see the difference now you will understand with time as you learn about our culture. Now it is time for sleep little one. We have a lot to talk about and figure out tomorrow if we are going to decipher what brought you here.”

“One more thing Regal,” I asked?

“Yes,” he laughed?

“You said you’ve heard that the pull isn’t as great for half breeds as it is for full Weres? So, am I going to turn into some sex crazed maniac searching for any suitable Were or man to bed,” I asked concerned?

“I do not believe so,” he laughed. “As I said I have heard, from the few half breeds I have come across in my time, that the pull isn’t as severe. They still ache during their cycle but it isn’t as intense or drive them mad and violent if they aren’t sated. Though, if they aren’t, then it will not go away until they are,” he confirmed.

“Great, I can kiss my virginity good bye then,” I said unpleased, I had kind of ran out of steam on the topic from my earlier rant, and the fact that I was pretty sure it was inevitable, now.

“Do not fret, little one. Just remember that even though you are human, you are also part Were, and during that time it is your wolf’s soul that will be driving you, but you are still in complete control! You choose who you pair down with and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Not an act to be ashamed of. You are a female Were whether you are half or full and should be admired as such, and believe me you will be,” he said I could tell smiling.

I smiled too because, despite my worries of losing my virginity, I liked the way he explained it. It sounded like a time of celebration. A time that all of my insecurities would wash away and I would be admired for my beauty not scrutinized for any of my flaws. I had been a virgin my whole life by choice, but my life was about to change and I could go with it or try and deny my heritage for as long as I could hold out. I decided to embrace this new part of me and all that came with it, the bad and the good. Yeah I am losing it now too, I thought laughing at myself. Not even a few hours ago I would have castrated anyone for even suggesting that I might not be able to control myself and sleep with the first person to cross my path, and now I’m just ready to accept it. I didn’t really know how I could be so irate in some moments and then just take all of this in like it was the most normal thing, but I guessed it just worked in my favor to just accept it, well as much as I could.

“Goodnight Regal,” I said yawning.

“Goodnight, little one, and may the spirits of the moon keep you safe to see tomorrow night.”

I fell asleep with memories of the family I had for such a short time as a child, playing like a movie in my head.

“Wake up little one,” Regal called out to me, “someone is coming.”

I sat up out of a dead sleep and looked over to see him peering out of the bars. “Who is it,” I whispered not knowing how close they were.

“I’m not sure but no matter who it is I need you to moan a bit and make sounds of discomfort. They will not come for you if you are hurt because they cannot convert you if you are weak.” He stated certain.

“What do you mean convert me,” I asked alarmed?

“There is no time. I will explain when it is safe. You have to trust me,” he begged.

I had decided already that he was my best chance of survival so I laid down on the ground, with my feet sticking out into view, writhed around with pain, and groaned. All of the theatrics weren’t hard to portray because I was in quite a bit of pain still from the earlier night.

All of my thoughts left me when I heard footsteps approaching but I kept enough of my composure to continue my performance. I definitely wanted to find out what Regal meant by them converting me, and I knew I would rather find out from him and not them.

“Where is Melron,” Regal asked our visitor.

“None of your business, dog. Here is ya’lls slop.” I heard a small creak like a door opening and then the clank of medal against medal.

“So what, did he finally wisen up and leave this quest for domination or should I say suicide mission,” Regal asked?

“No he was loyal to our kind, unlike you and your half breed cell mate over there. He passed on while upholding our mission.”

“I am truly sorry for his passing,” Regal stated in a sincere tone.

“I’m sure you are. He was the only one that would ever show compassion to you, dog. Now you have no one to do such, and you have your little cell mate to thank for that. If it were up to me I would have put her out of her misery last night.” Said, who I had figured out was, Nikolai.

When I heard his footsteps retreat and become only a slight tapping I crawled back over to the crevice I had slept in. I now realized that the man I had hit was dead and he was probably the only one out of this pack that was even a little decent. Great was all I could think. I probably messed up the only chance we had at getting out of this place. I not only signed my own death certificate but Regal’s as well.

As he made his way over to me I sat up and took the metal tray he held out. It wasn’t much but scraps and slop, like Regal and Nikolai had both described it as.

“Eat,” he ordered, “you need your strength.”

“For what,” I asked like a whining toddler? “Didn’t you hear him? I killed the only one of them that was ever decent to you!”

“You had no way of knowing that at the time,” he stated without a doubt. “You were acting on our animal’s instinct to survive at all costs and you did!”

“Yes, but for how long and what are they going to do with you,” I asked?

“I will be fine, but you won’t if you do not eat. We probably only bought ourselves a day with that act and we have a lot of things to discuss to get you ready for what is to come.”

“You said something before about them converting me,” I asked?

“We will talk after you eat. I promise I will answer all of your questions but when it is appropriate. I only have a day to teach you the basics of our kind. So eat, and we will talk after.”

We sat there doing our best to keep down what these monsters considered food and it was only because we had the water from the lake they brought us. We surprisingly finished it all and then sat down in the light of the torches to begin covering as many bases as we could.

I of course started because I had many questions, first of all was, “Why did Nikolai keep calling you dog?”

He lowered his head and I heard a growl rise from his chest, “That is what some call others of our kind that they find inferior to our race. He calls me that because I obey the laws set in place for our kind so that we can co-exist with the mortals, or humans. In their minds we are loyal to humans much like dogs, hence the name. Leandar and his pack believe that they should not have to co-exist, that the mortals should fear them as the powerful beings that they are.”

I swallowed hard, “So you and your pack don’t believe this?”

“Of course not, we are not rabid animals. We know that if it were to come out that we actually do exist that mortals would be scared. Some would be tolerant but most would be fearful and anything when backed into a corner attacks. That goes for werewolves and humans alike. They would hunt us being driven by fear for their families and selves, believing they could eradicate the problem, therefore, backing us into a corner in which we would have to defend ourselves but of course it wouldn’t be seen as such because myth of our kind has labeled us nothing more than mindless monsters when in our animal forms.”

“It is sad but true,” I stated. “So you call humans mortals? Does that mean we are immortal?”

“You already know the answer to that,” he stated pointing out the fact that I had killed one already. “We are not immortal but our lives are usually much, much longer than mortals. Although, being a half breed means that you don’t have all of the same traits as a full Were.”

“Who was Melron,” I asked sheepishly.

“I didn’t know much about him, but he was kind to me. I asked him once how he got mixed up with this pack and he just said that as a pup he was separated from his mother and litter, and Nikolai, which was not much older than you at the time, found him wandering around yelping and took him in. He had been with him ever since. Our kind is very loyal to each other, little one. He would have died if it weren’t for Nikolai. He could never have left him for anything less than a mate.”

This had me really taking a look at myself. I killed such a kind soul that was just there due to loyalty, but Regal was right, I had no way of knowing that at the time. He must have seen my anguish because he chimed in with, “I can’t see that big beast showing compassion to anything. I guess that is the beauty of our kind. Even the hardest of the hard asses can’t always look the other way.”

I smiled at him and decided to leave the past where it was and move on to more important things, “So what do you know about half breeds?”

“Ah, very important question. Well, when a female werewolf pairs down with a mortal man during her cycle, she does not ever tell him she is a Were, even if she gets impregnated, because she never has to see him again. Which none ever do, because while a female Were is pregnant she has to stay in her animal form. She will carry to term and they always come out as pups because they shared her body. Once, they hit a certain age, about nine or ten for a human, the mother begins training them to change into their human form. We always wait until about this age because the young are old enough to understand when they need to keep their human form and when they can change freely. These half breeds live their lives as full Weres except females don’t have quite the same cycle as a full Were female, as I already told you, and the male half breeds are less likely to receive a mate even if they come across one because most full or even half Weres prefer full male Weres because of our need to procreate and keep our race alive. Also half breed’s lives aren’t as long as full Weres because of their human genes mixed in.”

“So full Werewolves come out as pups also,” I asked amazed with what he was telling me?

“Yes, all female Were’s litters come out as pups, whether it is with another Were or a human, because they share her body. Now, in your case, where the father is a werewolf, it gets a lot more complicated. If the male gets a human woman pregnant then she will only have a normal pregnancy for humans. This consists of the usual one baby, twins, or in very rare occasions triplets. They will come out as a human baby and stay as a human throughout their lives. Though, where the female werewolves are free to never see the human father again, the male werewolves have to stay in close contact with the mother even if at some point afterwards they find their mate, because someone has to raise the child in our heritage and to know what is going on with their bodies that other people their age isn’t going through.”

“So that’s why my father married my mother,” I asked heartsick for my mother? “Not because he loved her but because he felt he had to, to raise me?”

“He what,” Regal asked surprised. “He actually married your mother? You know this for sure?”

“Yes,” I stated, “Their wedding picture is hanging in my bedroom, and my mom has their marriage license framed sitting on her dresser. She says that it is the most important document she will ever have,” I said smiling and picturing her holding it.

“I have never heard of this before,” he said concentrating.

I decided now was not the time to moon over all of that and asked, “So what about half breed Weres like me? How do our,” I hesitated not sure what to call them, “offspring come out?”

“Very good question yet again, little one. Half breeds pretty much have the same expectations of full Weres when it comes to procreating with some differences because of their human genes. If you are born as a half breed female or male pup you will only have pups if you are impregnated by a full male Were or impregnate a full female Were. But for the half breeds that are born in human form from a human mother will only ever have human babies, aswell as any half breeds that are born as pups that impregnate or are impregnated by a human, but I have never heard of this because like I said we have the basic instinct to continue our race. Even though the males may never be accepted by a mate they will still find an accepting female to bed during her need.”

“So even half breed female Weres that are born as pups will have human babies if they pair down a human and get pregnant,” I asked puzzled?

“Yes.”

“And they have to stay in human form throughout their pregnancies? That has to be just awful for them. Being raised like a full Were from birth but having to act as a human for nine months if they get impregnated by a human male like their mother,” I just shook my head glad that I would never have to know how that would feel. To be completely out of place where you were once completely at home.

I decided to drop that subject since he said it was unheard of, and move on to one I found more interesting, “Are you going to teach me how to change forms?”

“What,” he asked.

“You said the mothers taught their pups how to change forms, so I just figured in cases like mine the fathers did, but since my dad passed before I even started elementary school he obviously wasn’t around to teach me anything.”

“Well that’s one of the big differences. You see half Weres, born from a human mother, don’t have the ability to change form until they,” he started and I cut him off.

“Oh so I won’t gain the ability until the end of next month when I reach full maturity?” I asked very proud of myself for picking up on this stuff so quickly but quickly deflated when he added:

“No, little one, please listen and let me finish? This is a very important part that you need to know and be ready for.”

That definitely had me wondering if I really wanted to know even if I did need to.

“Half Were’s in your circumstance don’t have the ability to change form until they are converted, which has to be done before maturity.” He said staring at me.

“You said earlier that you thought this pack that has us may want to convert me. What did you mean by that?”

“Because of the fact that you were born to a human mother and therefore born as a human baby, you will never be able to take on your spirit animal’s form without being bitten by a full Werewolf by your seventeenth birthday.”

I have to be bitten? He thinks one of these monsters that are holding us is going to convert me by biting me!

“Will it hurt,” was all I could think to ask?

“It does not have to, but I do not yet know why they took you, so I cannot say for sure how they plan to do it,” he said in a troubled tone.

I killed one of their pack. They will completely mutilate me in the process, if not kill me!

“How can they do this? Do ya’ll not have laws about these sort of things?” I asked trying to grasp at any hope.

“Yes, as I said before we do have laws set in place for our co-existence and they do include conversions. It doesn’t happen very often since there are not many half breeds but when there is a half breed that wants to be converted the council between the mortal and immortal worlds meet with the Were parent and half Were child. They ultimately make the decision whether the child is sound enough to become a suitable addition to the immortal community or not. In other words they go through an extensive background check and are monitored for quite some time to make sure there is no conspiracy to help rogue Weres over turn them.”

“You commented before that if they knew I was not properly brought up and trained to our kind that they would use that to their advantage. What did you mean,” I asked fearing the answer, but knowing I needed to be aware of what they might try to do if they found out?

“I feared that if they found out they would do just what that law was put into place for. They would put fear and doubt into your brain, because of how raw it is to our kind, after turning you. Then, raise you to the best ability to be of use to them, and kill you once you are no longer useful.”

There was no way I was going down like that. I didn’t know what I was planning to do or how I was going to get out of there, but I was good at thinking on my toes and they would not get me without a fight. I may have been new to all of this but I was my father’s daughter and I may not have been full Were, but I was all heart.

XIII

“Okay, so they are probably planning on converting me at some point in the near future, and no matter how they plan to do that there is nothing I can do to stop it since I am stuck in here, but I can learn as much as possible from you so that maybe I will make it out of this with my life.”

“Your soul is very strong, I admire that and your logic,” he said smiling at me.

I took his hand in mine and stated, “You cannot show any kindness to me with them Regal.”

“What do you mean? I told you we do not go after young or female, and you are both.”

“I understand that, but I killed one of their pack. If you show me anything other than indifference they might punish you for it. I could never live with myself if they hurt you because of me. I am asking this of you. Just when they are around, please,” I begged.

“I will try but only because I know that if I show compassion for you it will only enrage them more and possibly give them the desire to hurt you worse,” he said shaking my hand and then placing it in my lap.

“Now, we have been over the cycle you are going to begin receiving as of late next month, the terms of pregnancy for you as well as others of our kind, and converting, I believe it is time that we talk about the senses you are coming into that will undoubtedly grow stronger once you are converted.”

“Okay, well from what I’ve told you I have began to notice an increase of speed and intuition. I have also been very attuned to things around me, picking up on little differences that others don’t notice.”

“These are all normal. You will learn to control the speed so that to appear normal around mortals but be able to use it to your advantage when need be. The intuition is just your own natural logic being enhanced for survival. And the part of you being able to pick up on small differences of your surroundings, that most wouldn’t, is the animal in you being on alert. When there are changes to what we know we pick them up very easily because we tend to be a creature of habit.”

I nodded understandingly, “So what other things am I going to start noticing?”

“As you have already guessed we have very good night vision. As nocturnal hunters by nature this is something that was bestowed upon us to help with the task. Also we have very good hearing. Have you not began noticing any of these changes?” He asked with a befuddled expression.

“No, I definitely have not. I remember on a few occasions trying to strain to see things I could feel were around at night lately with no such luck. My vision hasn’t changed at all. In fact I am a bit blind at night. My optometrist says it is because I am a redhead. That the pigmentation I lack in my skin I also lack in my eyes or something. And I know I can’t hear any better, because I never heard Leandar and his goons move in on me while I was just down the hall from where they captured me.”

“These senses should be rearing along with the others you have described. I do not know why they haven’t yet. You are not far from maturity,” he said uncertainly. “We cannot dwell on it now though. We have more important things to go over.”

I began to say something but he perked his head up and put his finger to his lips to tell me to be quiet. He pointed over to the dark corner and then back behind him. I figured out that he was trying to tell me that someone was coming and to go back over to the protection of the darkness and pretend to be in pain again. I was still sore but surprisingly I felt better since sleeping and eating that awful mush.

As I reached the confines of the shadows I laid on the ground and moaned a little more quietly this time.

“I see you are back to poison me yet again,” Regal called at sarcastically.

“Be thankful that Leandar insists you eat anything, if it were up to me I would let you starve.” It was Nikolai again.

Regal tsked Nikolai and said, “You better not let your alpha over hear you questioning his orders.”

Nikolai growled low and then asked, “Has she been like that since lastnight?”

“Yes, and it makes me want to beat my head against the wall until I fall unconscious,” Regal stated perturbed.

Nikolai laughed a bit which did not suit him, “The all mighty loyal dog actually doesn’t feel any compassion for the pup?”

“She is no pup. She is a half breed little one that has done nothing but whine since her arrival and killed the only one of you son of a bitches I could stand to look at. So after being in here for the past couple of weeks with nothing but this to eat, excuse me if my compassion has been put aside.”

Nikolai laughed low and guttural this time before saying, “I might just have to let you live after all.”

“I might just ask you to kill me if I have to listen to this much longer.”

“By the sounds of it she is getting over the worst of her injuries so we will probably proceed tonight if not tomorrow after we bring breakfast.” I had heard the creak of the cell door opening again and the clink of the metal trays against each other as Nikolai handed Regal our muck. I heard more clinks this time though and figured Regal was giving him our trays from that morning.

As the door creaked closed and Nikolai retreated back up the cavern walk I slowly moved to a sitting position as Regal brought me what they considered lunch. It was the same as breakfast but my stomach welcomed it like it was a delectable five course meal. I hadn’t even realized how hungry I was until I had devoured all that was on my tray and sucked down the lake water.

“That is another thing that will increase,” Regal stated.

“What?”

“Your appetite, little one, you will need more food because we heal faster.”

“So that’s why I feel better after just a few hours of sleep and some,” I hesitated not knowing what to call what he had been eating, “food? When I should be in excruciating pain after last night?”

“Yes, we believe nature gave us this ability back when our race was known about and hunted regularly, so that if we did sustain substantial injuries we could heal quickly and retreat faster. You see people fear wolves when they have no real reason to. We are not aggressive creatures unless we are attacked first, unless we have food to defend as ours, unless it is during our female’s cycle, or when we have pups to protect.”

“That sounds pretty reasonable.”

“Yes, but mortals are not known for their reasoning, they are known for their fear and brutality.”

“I suppose you are right. If I wasn’t in the predicament we are in right now I would probably be doing who knows what if I was approached and told all of this.”

We sat in silence as he finished his meal and then moved back to the light of the torches to continue my lessons.

As Regal sat in front of me with his back to the bars he asked, “Do you mind if I ask you some things about yourself? I know we have a lot to cover but if these are the last moments I have I would like to know a little bit about the person sitting in front of me.”

“Only if I can ask you some things as well, but you are getting out of here! We both are,” I said perking up at the lighter subject he brought up.

“I think that is acceptable,” he agreed.

“Okay ask away,” I gave him the green light.

“I already know how old you are and when your birthday is so that should put you as a junior in high school currently, right?”

“Well it should, but when I was younger my mom felt it was better to put me in kindergarten at the age of six because of when my birthday fell. She didn’t want me to graduate at seventeen. She thought I would hate being one of the youngest, if not the youngest of my graduating class.”

“Oh, so how do you feel about that now?”

“I’m glad she did it. I don’t think I would have my best friend Kevin in my life if she hadn’t. I couldn’t see myself not being in the same graduating class as him. My other best friend Elaine is graduating this year though, as is,” I stopped myself before I said Hayden’s name, because I realized I hadn’t seen my imaginary Hayden since Thursday night. He obviously hadn’t had time to be around Friday with everything that happened, but I wondered why he hadn’t been around at all today so far.

“Was he your boyfriend,” Regal asked gently.

“What?”

“The name that you got stuck on, I just figured it was someone that was dear to you the way you got choked like that.”

“Oh sorry,” I said as I straightened my face, “yeah I guess you could call him that. But enough about my boring high school life, I want to know something about you.”

“Yes?”

“Do you have a mate or have you ever had a mate?”

“Wow just diving right in,” he laughed. “Yes I did have a mate once,” he stated smiling at me.

“Did she accept you,” I asked concerned?

“Yes,” he said soothing me, “and she was the most beautiful wolf I have ever laid eyes on.”

“What happened to her if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Our pack had a den of pups and because they were too young to learn the hunt someone had to watch over them while we went to hunt to ready ourselves for winter. My mate offered to be the female to stay behind with the omega of the pack to help take care of them while we went out hunting. Something happened and because of the mating ceremony I knew something was wrong and I went to the Alpha in which immediately ordered the whole pack back to the den. When we arrived the omega and my mate were found dead. My mate had been trying to protect the pups.”

“I am so sorry. That had to be the most awful thing to find.”

“I miss her dearly but she was brave and I have nothing but fond memories of her.”

“What about the pups,” I asked hoping for the best.

“They were fine. I suppose whoever had done it weren’t expecting either to be mated, because it is so rare for mates to be apart like that so close to female’s cycles, and that the pups would whither without proper care or notice.”

“Who could do such a thing,” I asked bewildered. “They were completely innocent and they just left them there for death?”

“I know it is harsh, little one, but there are what we call rogues, and they do not live by any laws, ethics, or loyalty to anyone but their own pack. Even though we are all loyal first and foremost to our own pack, we are also loyal to werewolves as a race. We do not attack without provocation against each other and that is usually only against rogues.”

“Is the pack that has us rogue?”

“Yes, that is why it is so crucial that I teach you the basics of our kind before the conversion. So since we took a little break and got to know a bit about each other I think it best if we get back to business.”

I knew he was right but I couldn’t help but to feel I had hit a nerve when asking about his mate. I felt sorry for him because he seemed like a wonderful man, I mean wolf.

“Okay, back to business but can I ask one more thing about this cycle I am fixing to start experiencing?”

“One more but then we have to move on to more important things.”

“You mentioned ya’ll were hunting for the nearing winter and they had counted on neither of the two left behind was mated because of how rare it was to leave a mate so close to the female cycles,” I asked?

“Yes, what is your question?”

“Is there a set time when we have these cycles? If so when is it and for how long?”

“Oh yes, how could I have left that out,” he chided himself, “females of our kind have their cycles around the same time as each other every year during the winter month of December. This is when the need to reproduce heightens to the point where they are driven by nothing but the wolf in them. Of course they still pair down during other months if they aren’t mated but that is just by choice and for satisfaction. Not like during their need when they have to have it or risk going mad and becoming violent.”

“But I thought you said once they hit maturity they begin to feel the ache,” I asked confused but hopeful that maybe I had until December to find a mate or someone acceptable to bed down with, as he called it.

“I did say that and it is true. When females of our kind reach maturity they get the ache for the first time around what would be their seventeenth birthday as a human, but every time after that it is sometime during the month of December.”

Well there goes that plan.

“Now that I have made it clear to you, are you ready to proceed?”

“I guess I really don’t have another choice, so yes,” I said in a defeated tone.

He wasted no time, “In a pack there is always an Alpha pair. Alphas always have mates, it is just the universe’s way of balance. Leandar is the Alpha of the pack holding us,” he stated.

“How do you know that?”

“Have you not noticed the submission of the others you have encountered?”

I thought for a second and added, “Well yeah but wouldn’t it seem more likely for the biggest to be the Alpha? Nikolai is way bigger than Leandar.”

“In our world it is not your size but personality and attitude, because we are more psychological creatures rather than physical, despite popular theory.”

“So once an Alpha, you stand as such until death?”

“No not always, some choose to take a lesser role as they become older or they are challenged by a younger wolf usually after they become elderly, and they can either step down or there is usually a physical battle but it rarely results in death.”

“Well that sounds understandable I suppose,” I said surprised at how civil and progressed the Weres were, when I grew up watching horror movies of werewolves that were crazed by bloodlust and killed whenever there was a full moon. That brought a very good question to mind.

“Do Weres have no choice but to change during full moons?”

“No,” he laughed, “we do change during a full moon but it is not because we have no control over it. We do so to give worship and respect to the moon spirits.”

“That is pretty cool.”

“And just to get off of this train of thought, we are not affected any differently by silver bullets than we are regular bullets, rye does not bother us nor do ash trees, not anyone can become a werewolf and we do not run around biting humans, only half breeds can begin to shift after being bitten by a full Were and we in fact usually stay far away from the sight of mortals while in our animal form, so that completely demolishes that children’s tale of the wolf and the girl in the red hood going to visit her grandmother.”

“What do werewolves have to do with that story,” I asked?

“You never realized the wolf in that story was portrayed as a werewolf? Do you know of any ordinary wolves that walk around talking to little girls and trying to eat them and their families?”

I sat there for a second realizing how one of the books my mom use to always read to me as a child completely trashed part of my heritage. I plopped back against the stone wall and said, “I never thought of it that way.”

He just laughed at me and patted my knee. “Okay then so back to business. I believe we have covered most of what you will need to know to pull off making them believe you are not raw to all of this, because they are not going to be believing which ever parent blessed you with our heritage would deny you a proper up bringing. They probably sensed that you are a half breed and that is why they have planned the conversion, but they would never guess the other.”

I squirmed under the guilt of forgetting to finish my story for him. In which he would realize Leandar was the cause of my father’s death and know he would of course know my father was not around to bring me up accordingly. Oh no, what if he does know I know nothing of all of this? He must, who else would have taught me?

“I can smell your fear little one, what is it,” he asked concerned?

“Do you remember how I got distracted last night and didn’t finish telling you how I came to be captured?”

“Yes,” he said suspiciously.

“I think I may need to finish that story now,” I said sheepishly.

“If you feel there is something important that I need to know then I think you are right, and you do indeed need to finish telling me your story. Go on, little one,” he said as he put his hands into his lap and sat looking on attentively.

I closed my eyes to remember where I had left off and began from walking into the last bedroom. I told him everything, with not one detail left out. When I finished I opened my eyes and stared into an absolute blank face.

“What is it Regal,” I asked scared as I reached for his hand? “Do you think that they suspect or already know?”

He shook his head a bit and then looked up at me, “No, I do not believe they even suspect. As I said before they would have taken you and began to brainwash you from the beginning. They wouldn’t have risked locking you up in here with me of fear that I would tell you some truth of our kind and you would become resistant to their attempts to bend you to their will. They probably believe your father’s pack helped you along which I am surprised they did not.”

“So, then why do you look as you do?”

“Do you remember me speaking of the council?”

“Yeah they are the ones that you have to consult if a half breed Were born of a human mother wants to be converted,” I answered very proud of the fact that I had remembered.

“Yes, but that is not the only thing they are.”

“What are they then,” I asked nonchalantly.

“They are the keepers between the mortal and immortal worlds. They ultimately decide the fate of all immortals that threaten the balance. They are who rogues rise up against and try to over throw.”

“Okay, so what does that have to do with what I told you,” I asked not following.

“The Samson family that you speak of is a long family line that helps make up the council.”

“What are you talking about the Samson family,” I asked as I became a bit lightheaded.

“You did say that you were at the Samson’s place when you were captured right?”

“Yes,” I drug out. “What do you mean that they help make up the council,” I asked not liking the way this was going?

“I mean that each state has a council that then combines to form the larger council here in the United States, and as far back as I know the Samson family has been a big part of this council. Wheely Samson; the granddad I assume you were talking about; is the Sentinel for the council of the state of Texas, that is the head seat, and has been ever since he was put into a wheel chair. He was a Guardian prior to his injuries caused during duty, which his sons are now, and if I have heard correctly his grandson just reached the age of Guardianship this past fall and was trained. The Guardians are the ones that battle rogues, little one,” he said grasping my hand firmly.

“So Granddad Wheely, Uncle Rod, Wisconsin, even,” I hesitated not wanting to believe it, “even,” Regal answered for me:

“Yes even the young boy Hayden knows of all of this world now. You said before that you were at this house checking on a friend’s grandfather? You were talking of Hayden? Are you and Wheely’s grandson involved in some way?”

I didn’t understand the significance of the question but I shook my head no. I could not believe what I was hearing. Their whole family knew and probably knew my father also and never told me. How could they have never told me? HAYDEN! My heart screamed. HOW COULD YOU HAVE NOT TOLD ME? It cried out.

Regal shook me a bit, and I looked up at him empty, “What is it little one,” he asked concerned. “I may not be able to smell your despair but I can read it all over your face.”

And then I caught something out of the corner of my eye, to the right, in the darkness. I looked away from Regal and into the face of My Hayden. He was standing right there where I had slept the night before in pain. All I could think of is how this all could have been avoided by him just telling me the truth, I didn’t care if this was the real him now or not I hated him still.

His face was stricken by pain and worry but I didn’t care. I pushed away from Regal and stood to face him, even if he was just a figment of my imagination. I screamed out crying, “Why are you here now, after you kept my own life from me? How dare you show your face after the guilt I have felt for being captured before getting Wheely out of that house?! I loved you and you said you loved me too! If you would have just told me the truth and made me see somehow, I wouldn’t be here now, not knowing if I am going to live or die!” He looked away from me as tears streamed down his face, and I screamed thrusting my hands in and out washing them through his torso, “Don’t you dare look away from me! You do not deserve to cry or feel pain! You are my delusion and since I will probably never get to yell at the real you, you will look at me and take in all of my pain.”

He just watched on as I cried uncontrollably and then I said, “I never want to see you again, and I do not love you! You can lie to me about your life but lying to me about my own is inexcusable! I could never love someone that has lied to me as much as you have. You said you didn’t want to take my choices from me, but that is exactly what you have done because I very well may never make it out of here to ever make another one again!”

I began to crumple to the ground, but Regal caught and cradled me as I sobbed. I didn’t know if my Hayden had disappeared or not and I really didn’t care; because I was positive that after finding out about his knowledge of all of this I would never get over his betrayal. If I even lived to be able to try.

XIV

I sat there, in Regal’s lap, crumpled sobbing into the knick of his neck and shoulder for what seemed like an eternity, while he coddled me. For some reason in that moment I couldn’t think of anyone I would have rather had comforting me. He was the first person that I could be completely myself with. I could not have been totally open with anyone in my life up to that point without fear of being looked at like I was having a complete mental break, but here was this man that knew things about me that I didn’t even know and he could tell me everything I was going through was completely normal.

“Come little one,” Regal called as he maneuvered me to look up at him.

As I starred up into his eyes feeling like a child again, it was as if he could see straight through me. Though, for some reason I didn’t feel embarrassed, I felt like, on a deep level, he understood.

Then as if he was reading my thoughts, “I know it hurts to be mislead by those you love, and I do not want to take away your feelings and that is not what I am trying to do, because they are yours and no one’s feelings are wrong, that is why they are feelings and not fact, but there are always two sides to every coin.”

He moved me off of his lap but grasped my hands, “Though, right now I have to be a little insensitive, and I am sorry but it is imperative that we get back on track,” he stared into my eyes asking for my understanding.

“I know, I am sorry I broke like that. I know you are doing a great deal for me and there is still more I need to learn but these people have been in mine and my mother’s lives since my father’s passing. They are my family, but yet they kept basic parts of my being away from me my whole life,” I said lowering my head.

Regal reached up and grasped my chin, lifting my gaze to meet his eyes, “This family may have kept a lot from you, little one, but they have also been yours and your mother’s angels in the flesh.”

“What do you mean,” I asked confused?

“We have established, that for some reason we do not know yet, Leandar murdered your father, so that means that the Samson’s have been protecting you and your unsuspecting mother since your father’s death. Think about it little one, let your logic guide you.”

He sat there starring at me while I tried to make some kind of since out of all of this and then as if the fog had risen out of my brain I realized, “It was no coincidence my mother and I ended up in Howe after my father’s passing. Somehow, with details I don’t have yet, we were meant to be there for protection. Protection from the only people who knew how to really protect us, the Samsons,” I realized smiling as a tear rolled down my cheek. I hugged his neck and thanked God that I had somebody in my life, even if it was coming to an end, that understood what I was going through and was there for me. I was really glad to know also, that even though Hayden had no excuse for not coming forward to me about all of this and kept me totally in the dark while my life and probably my mother’s as well had been in danger, that his family tried to do right by my mom and me by protecting us all of these years. I may not have agreed with their methods of keeping me blind, because of the changes I was obviously going to go through, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that I was still alive to experience these changes, probably only because of their protection.

I sucked in my emotions, squared my shoulders, and met Regal levelly, “I am sorry for my crazy actions a minute ago, I know you probably don’t see many people yelling at themselves like that but it truly helps sometimes,” I said laughing.

“So you were talking to yourself just then? I thought you might have had a visitor,” he laughed.

I guessed I deserved that, “You are actually right, in a weird way,” I said smiling.

He looked at me with questioning eyes so I explained, “Yes, I know it sounds weird, but I sometimes imagine Hayden. He just sort of appears at the weirdest times. In fact I had been wondering why I hadn’t pictured him here yet,” I laughed.

Regal laughed with me, “Yes I dare say that is very strange but everybody has their own way of releasing their demons. You probably just conjure him up because you have no real fear of losing him. It is very normal for people to take out their aggressions on the people closest to them because they know all will be forgiven. They have no real fear of ever losing that person.”

I thought about that for a second, and I did have to admit it sounded pretty adequate. I guess I never really did have any fear of losing Hayden for good. I knew he would always be in my life in some way, shape, or form.

“I think you are probably right. So tell me, how can I have only known you for not even a day but yet you know me so well?”

“Because I know the real you,” he stated matter of factly.

I just smiled at him because he was right. He knew the me I didn’t even know, and because of this person, I was closer to my dad than I had ever dreamt of being.

“So, back to business,” I recommended.

“Yes, back to business,” and for the next couple of hours we sat in the closure of the darkness him teaching and me absorbing.

He taught me the different types of posture while in wolf form, focusing mostly on the Alpha and Beta postures. This would tell me which one was Leandar and which was Nikolai. As the Alpha of the pack Leandar would be in the dominance posture which basically consists of standing stiff and tall, his ears would be erect and to the front, and his tail would be curled toward his back. Nikolai being the obvious Beta, would be in a submissive posture but an active submission, where his back would be arched, with his hind and tail down, but most importantly his nose would be pointed up to the Alpha.

He also told me not to cower no matter how much fear I felt, that them smelling my fear was inevitable, but with wolves cowering meant fear physically and they would prey on that, but if I made myself appear as big and strong as I could physically, it proved that I was a worthy adversary for standing my ground in the eye of impossible odds and my own fear.

After Regal decided he had taught me what I needed to know for now he suggested I go lay down and rest for the morning. I reminded him they said it could be tonight but he assured me that there was no way they were going to do it while I was weak because things could go wrong and the process of the conversion could kill me. I didn’t really like the sound of that but then I also reminded him that Leandar planned to kill me anyway so why would me dying during the conversion really matter. He just said, very reluctantly, that he had a feeling that Leandar wanted to torture and play with me before he killed me. I really didn’t like the sound of that either so I decided I really did need to lie down.

As I laid there starring at the absolute darkness I decided that I was going to make it through being converted and get the hell out of there one way or another, because even though Hayden’s family had been protecting me thus far they obviously couldn’t anymore. I had already been there for a whole day with not even a slight worry coming from Nikolai about anybody causing problems. I had to admit that I was on my own. I wasn’t about to involve Regal in some insane suicide mission but if I could just get free long enough to get back to Wisconsin’s I could get help to rescue him. As I finished that thought I froze in horror:

Oh my god, how could I not have thought of this until now? I have been here for at least a day, maybe a little more! I drove up to Wisconsin’s in Elaine’s car! I bet by now everybody has been freaking out with not being able to reach me on my phone. What if they call and tell my mom? OH NO! What if they decide to go check out at Wisconsin’s for me?! They could get hurt. These bastards probably have some of their mindless freaks staked out watching for any sign of Hayden and his family.

I calmed myself down deciding to focus on one worry at a time and the one at the forefront was the conversion, after that my escape, after that rescuing Regal, and then I didn’t know what but it wouldn’t matter anyway if I didn’t surpass my first three worries.

I must have fallen asleep at some point because the next thing I knew Regal was waking me holding our dinner trays. We ate in silence, both anticipating what was to come the following morning. I knew it had to be hard for him to sit by when he knew they were going to hurt me but he at least understood why I asked him to and why ultimately he had to unless he wanted to die in that place. The whole while though I had no doubt that he would die there if it meant protecting a young female of his race. In the short time we had spent together I had come to be very aware of his loyalty to the basic laws amongst our kind. It still felt strange to mention werewolves with myself included but I was also very proud. Despite the portrayal of our kind in mortal society we were a very compassionate, moral, and evolved species.

I just really hope we both make it out of here so I can learn more about the part of me that is my father and his people. Maybe I can find some of his old pack or find out where they went. Maybe Regal might even know something of them, I hoped.

After we washed down the sludge they brought us we both decided to call it a night. I didn’t think I was the only one mentally drained. Our stay there was drawing to an end, and I knew he had to also be wondering if not only I would get out of there but if he would as well.

I came awake to a blood curdling choir of howls that rang out.

“Regal, Regal,” I pleaded reaching into the darkness for him. I couldn’t see anything not even the torches were lit anymore. Something was wrong, definitely wrong.

“Yes, I am here,” he answered grasping my hands.

“Whats happening?”

“I’m not sure. I only just woke when the howls rang out. I can feel tension rolling through the air thick though.”

“Do you think someone is here to save us,” I asked hopeful.

“No, I am sorry, but I do not sense anger just tension. If there were a battle I would smell fear, anger, and blood. The wolf in me would be untamable with the thirst to join in, but I am only feeling tension. Something is definitely wrong but I can’t be sure what.”

Then out of the darkness we heard a loud growl echo through the cave. I clenched to Regal not wanting to be separated but I feared it was too late. My time had come and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

“They are coming. You must remember what I taught you. No matter how afraid you are do not cower. You are brave little one, I could see it in your animal’s soul that first night I looked into your eyes. I saw something else as well that I cannot explain but I can feel that it is good. You have to believe that. Try to tap into other parts of yourself as much as possible during this trial, because escaping into yourself may be the only way you will survive all of this.”

“I’m not ready yet, not for this. I can’t,” I cried out in a whisper.

“There is no way for anyone to be ready for what you are starring into, but you can do this. You are strong! You are a female Were and you will be admired as such. Do not let them take away from you what you have just found.”

I stood and straightened myself. It was weird how I had been in there with this man; I had barely known for more than a day; almost completely naked, but yet I never took that into account until right then when I was going to face these mongrels in my skibbies.

I felt my way over to the cell door and stood there defiantly as I heard paws racing toward me. One second I heard paws hitting ground and panting, to the next the cell door was opening and a very large man, I figured was Nikolai, was thrusting me over his shoulder.

“I can walk you know,” I growled. “Or are you afraid I might get away and your master will kill you a little less mercifully than I did your friend?”

He growled from deep in his chest, “I would watch your mouth bitch or I will kill you before we get to where you are to be christened.”

“Oh I didn’t realize ya’ll believed in something mightier than yourselves,” I said faking shock, “that must be a real blow to the ego knowing you’re really not in complete control.”

“When you meet our maker soon then you ask how in control they are of us,” he snorted.

“Oh believe me I have no doubt of your defiance, and I can’t wait to see you get yours, but oh wait you are already got some of it when the splatter of your little pup’s blood and brain showered us. You did get some of that right? Seeing as you were sneaking up on me from behind.”

He growled from deep down in his gut and I smiled for being able to get into his head. I truly did feel bad for what happened to the wolf named Melron because he was only loyal to this goon carrying me, he wasn’t truly one of them, but there was no way I was going to let any of these animals know it. If I got the chance I would rip out every one of their throats for payment of my father.

With the excitement I began to feel at the prospect of getting to bath in their blood I smiled at the wolf in me that had awakened. At the same time though I knew I had to tame that part of me to truly honor my father’s memory by being the best Were I could be. He died and still in death kept my mother and me safe, if the only thing I could do to repay him was to be the loyal Were to our kind that would let these monsters get their dues by the system then that was exactly what I was going to do in memory of my father.

As we came out of the cave the night’s air hit my body with a cool but chilling breeze. I could tell that the lake wasn’t far but it was the anticipation in the air that chilled me to the bone. I couldn’t really see much from the shadows that the trees cast all around but I could sense other beings, other wolves. I could hear their snarls, barks, howls, and the slapping of their tongues as we passed. I just raised up from Nikolai’s shoulder and shot the bird in every direction, this of course got more of a reaction but I just laughed because I knew they were lesser and there was no way they were going to be privileged enough to be admitted by their Alpha to touch a hair on my pretty little head.

We headed into another cave and I thought to myself, Well isn’t this poetic, not only are they filthy Neanderthals, but they take up living like them also! I laughed at how dramatic these animals were.

This cave wasn’t as deep as the one with the make shift cell I had been in for over the last twenty four hours because before I knew it Nikolai was thrusting me off of his shoulder to the feet of Leandar. I quickly got to my feet and starred at him defiantly.

Laughter rang out from him, “You amuse me, it is too bad I must kill you. I do believe you would be a very worthy addition to my pack. Maybe I will just have you tortured to an inch of your life and then keep you,” he stated as he rose from his thrown to circle me while running his fingers through my hair.

“I would torture myself before ever joining your pack. You all are mongrels,” I spat staring straight ahead never making eye contact.

“I believe Nikolai could sway you, you don’t,” he asked walking over and putting a hand on Nikolai’s muscular shoulder.

“Give me another blunt object and I will prove just how persuasive he can be when it comes to me,” I stated never making eye contact.

“I do not believe she has any remorse for our late young Melron, does she Nikolai?”

“She in fact gloats about it Alpha,” Nikolai stated barely containing his anger.

“There you go. Be the good little dog,” I spat, “we all know you are Beta,” I stated as an insult.

I looked over to see him huffing, his chest growing larger, he panted breathlessly, lifted his head to the sky and a low guttural growl crept from deep down inside and quickly turned into a howl, as he thrust his arms up and out as if to flex his muscles. He then exploded into a huge gorgeous snarling wolf that fell to all fours. He was white and dark charcoal with onyx eyes, his chows were pulled back into a snarl as he clawed at the ground with his paws and slapped his tongue out anticipating the taste of my flesh in his mouth, the feel of my warm thick blood coating his throat.

“You mustn’t tease Nikolai, he is a hot head,” Leandar stole my attention. He had returned to his thrown.

“So you can’t control your underlings?”

He laughed again, “You aren’t frightened in the least bit are you, little one?”

“Of an exploding fur ball,” I asked scuffing in Nikolai’s direction. “I know he is waiting for your command.”

“And how do you know I will not grant it,” he asked smiling at me.

“Because I know you have a score to settle, even though I am totally oblivious to what it is.”

“You are very smart,” he stated as he went from sitting ten feet in front of me on his thrown to standing right in front of me cupping my face. “What else have you figured out?”

I didn’t really care for this game but as long as I was having my theories confirmed, at least, I was getting some kind of information. “That you have been trying to get to me for quite some time now and I just happened to give you the opportunity.”

“Very good,” he laughed, “but you are not the real reason I have come here,” he emphasized here. “That was just blind luck. After, I killed your father and those Guardians took you away from the pack I had no way of tracking you. I picked off member by member of that pack in hopes that someone knew a bit of information to lead me to you but I realized the Guardians had evidently enlisted private help for you.” he said with an annoyed tone. That annoyance was no doubt because of having to have dealt with them at all. He had no idea that I had just recently been trained while in their custody.

He then smiled at me and finished, “So, I had the remaining Weres left, circled and slaughtered.”

Regal was right about the two sides to every coin. That’s why Granddad Wheely, Uncle Rod, and Wisconsin had kept me from my dad’s pack. They feared Leandar would come back for me.

“I have one more observation for you Leandar,” I stated smugly.

“And what is that,” he asked appearing a few feet in front of me with his hands leisurely behind his back.

“I’d say your time is about up with the abruptness that your dog came and retrieved me. I can feel the tension in the air so I know they haven’t arrived yet, but you are expecting them soon, aren’t you? They are closing in and you are scrambling because snatching me was a great coincidence but one you weren’t expecting or ready for. Therefore, you aren’t quite sure yet what you want to do with me and was hoping for a few more days with me as your prisoner to figure it out, but the Guardians are messing that up now,” I asked smugly starring him straight in the eyes this time.

He glared at me barely containing the wolf that wanted loose to tear me to shreds for daring to speak to him that way. Not to mention, for daring to believe me to be on his level of superiority by looking him straight in the eyes.

“Leave us,” he growled at Nikolai.

I hadn’t heard this voice from him and it sent a shiver down my body. He turned to level me with his gaze. His eyes were flaming with rage, I could see the mist of his wolf’s soul swirling in his now glowing amber eyes.

I could hear Regal’s chiding voice in my ear telling me not to cower so I locked my knees in place fearing they would buckle under me otherwise.

“You may be right little one but before they arrive I will have already set my revenge in motion, and before everything is said and done you and your precious Guardians will pay just as your father did,” he stated breathlessly.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t understand where revenge fit into any of it. If anyone was going to exact revenge in the end it would be me.

“I don’t know where you get off believing you deserve revenge when you took my father away from me and being able to be my mentor in all of this. I had a complete stranger teach me,” I screamed. “You are a deranged lunatic,” I stood there for a second thinking, “No, no you are a rabid dog, that when the Samson’s get here will be put down like the worthless mutt you are, and then they will throw your remains out like the trash that you are and that goes for all of your pack also,” I smiled menacingly.

His gaze was locked on mine as his breathing became heavier and his chest began to puff out like Nikolai’s had. Except for some reason this wolf truly did scare me, I could feel the vileness that he contained rolling off of him and slapping me in the face. He let out a ferociously feral growl that echoed all around us and shook me to my core as he exploded into a massive wolf with a chestnut brown coat speckled by black and various highlights. He was so beautiful and completely mad with rage. I could see the Alpha in him. And instead of going down to all fours like Nikolai did he stood tall and stiff, proving truly just how strong he was in his wolf form. Instead of assuming his stance of dominance, he was in the anger position; fur bristled, ears completely erect, baring his canines.

I faltered under the press of power his aura was emanating. I couldn’t help but to think, Could this really be it? I still had no answers to many of the questions I still had.

My thoughts were racing as the beast starred me down with eyes as wild as the night. I watched as he took in a deep breath, could see his mouth salivating, his jaws quiver in hunger, and even feel his hot breathe against my face even though he was a good five feet away from me. He finally crouched down to all fours, and I closed my eyes to drift off inside of myself, as Regal had instructed, to wait for the thrashing that was shortly to come. I had no hope of survival after seeing the rage in his eyes, that I had arose from him, and feeling it hit me like a tidal wave.

I couldn’t believe after everything, this was going to be the end. I tried not to think about any of it then though. I thought about how that May brought the beginning of Elaine, Hayden, and Max’s lives, but would be the ending of mine. I also thought of my little home town, Howe, Texas. It never really offered much growing up, but it was home. I pictured Elaine’s grandparent’s lake house; which was always such a huge part of my life, but I didn’t ever know just how monumental it would have become; and Lake Texoma, it had always been my safe haven. Although, I would have never guessed that the place I used to go to for sanctity would be the bringer of my death.

I opened my eyes deciding to accept my fate, deciding to face the beast instead of cowering like his prey. This obviously infuriated Leandar more. I could see it in his mad eyes that he wanted a struggle, thirsted for the chase. Most creatures would have ran and fought to stay alive, but I knew the inevitable. The beast snarled and growled at me as it paced back and forth. Then as he got in to pounce stature I began to weep. Though, if I am going to die today, I am going to die starring death straight in the face.

XV

Leandar let out a blood curdling howl and then everything started happening so fast, I felt whoosh after whoosh of air thrusting by me sending my body whirling back and forth, turning me from front to back to front again, but even though I couldn’t feel the bodies I could sense them. He had called in his pack and it was the rush of their bodies flashing past me that was sending me whirling around like a ballerina in a little girl’s jewelry box.

I guess I was wrong in assuming he wouldn’t let them all join in, but my bantering probably hadn’t helped, I thought chiding myself.

Just as I was able to catch my bearings, I looked up with swirling vision and barely made out Leandar’s wolf form charging me, before he leapt into the air to attack. Without remembering to stand tall and show no physical fear as Regal advised, I ducked and just as I did he leapt right over me. Next thing I knew all of the wolves let out a strange howl and then I felt a huge weight fall on top of me. I was smothered in fur and then my mind kicked in realizing it was Leandar and I began to scramble to get him off of me and get back to my feet. I didn’t know what had happened but he wasn’t attacking and he definitely wasn’t down, just subdued for some reason.

When I finally squirmed out from under him I scooted myself backwards a little ways and then looked up to see that sometime during my dance with his pack I had been spun right up next to the wall of the cave, and when I ducked him he got real personal with that wall.

I rose to my feet not even a few feet from a wolf that I had no doubtedly flipped off while on my way here, and was surprised that none of them, not even Nikolai, were taking this opportunity to get their piece.

I looked at Leandar lying in front of me trying to get his feet back under him, I looked around at all of the snarling muzzles, and then I looked to my left that lead out of this place and without so much as a thought, I bolted. I surprisingly didn’t hear them give chase, but honestly why would they right away when they were ten times if not one hundred times faster than me.

I made it to the edge of the cave and then I heard Leandar howl and the clawing of paws as they raced down the cave as quickly as their four legs would carry them. I knew if I was hoping to catch any off guard I would need the element of surprise. Hopefully with all of the excitement and bloodthirst they wouldn’t be paying attention to all of their senses.

I looked around for a split second and then decided to climb the side of the cave, that way if they were completely alert they would have to do a little more than just give chase to catch me.

My legs definitely worked under pressure I found, because I reached the landing at the top of the cave just as some of the wolves broke free of the cave’s entrance. I lowered myself to the ground as quietly as possible, and then decided I had to do something to get their attention away from here so they hopefully wouldn’t hear or smell me. Racking my brain I came up with nothing but the most mundane solution I could have ever thought of, so I just went with it.

I searched the ground around me for a reasonably sized rock and chunked it in the direction I thought the lake was, in hopes that they would believe I was fleeing there for an escape in one of their boats.

A few raised their heads in the direction my rock had hit and they let out a howl that sounded almost giddy, and then the rest followed suit. They took off in a mad dash, and I couldn’t believe that that had worked. I rolled over onto my back panting quietly, smiling to myself at how truly one track minded they were when in bloodlust. I wondered if all of our kind had tunnel vision like this to where they couldn’t see a ruse when it was literally hanging over their heads.

Then all of the air left my lungs, as well as the color in my face I’m guessing, as I heard a low growl and then claws hitting rock as a wolf climbed up the side of the cave that I had, just a few moments before. I rose to my feet as the glow of Nikolai’s eyes peaked through the darkness, as he moved the last little bit to be standing on the landing in front of me. I quickly looked around, searching my surroundings praying for a quick place to retreat to, but the only things around were tree branches. I glanced back to see him creeping toward me and I decided I would take my chances in the trees. I knew the branches would at least hold me, but there was no way they would hold a wolf the size of a bear. I just had to hope that he wouldn’t follow suit and then take me down with him.

I rushed to the nearest tree and shot out grasping at anything my arms, legs, and hands touched. I fell through the branches wrenching a few wayward ones on the way down. I finally caught a sturdy one under my right arm just before I would have broke free and plummeted to the ground below. Although, what I soon realized was that my fear was a reality, as I looked up all I could see was the glow of Nikolai’s white fur coming straight for me and I had no time to react.

He hit me with a force that knocked me free of the branches and to the ground recieving each branch that he had faltered on his way down. On the ground squirming, as white hot pain laced itself around my right shoulder and down my arm, I dared to steal a glance upward toward, what I expected to find, Nikolai crashing toward me, but what I found was this huge wolf trying to scrounge to keep his claws dug into a branch, I was guessing, so he could get his feet under him and attack with more velocity, but wolves were not known for their impressive tree climbing skills and just as his claws lost their grip I rolled out of the way as his massive body crashed to the ground.

I got to my feet, counting on him being unable to respond quickly and ignoring the pain that was threatening to take over all of my thought process, and searched for a good avenue to flee, but there wasn’t a clear flight path. Not like I was expecting to find a big flashing sign that read, “Flee here! This is where freedom lies”. I knew I wasn’t going back into the cave I had just fled from or the one I was originally in, and I was definitely not fleeing to where I had sent the other wolves, so I decided to go it blindly and just start running, but I decided that a little too late.

Just as my foot left the ground a massive jaw containing razor sharp teeth latched onto my ankle. The pain in my shoulder exploded, blinding me from awareness to anything else, as it collided with the earth. Then I was being drug back into the cave.

I wrenched a bit and kicked at the wolve’s head, but stopped as I felt its teeth dig in deeper. Just as its face was disappearing into the abyss that was the cave I maneuvered enough to catch the glow of its eyes, the amber glow of Leandar’s.

I allowed myself to go limp as he drug me back to where our meeting had started earlier in the night. In those few moments I prayed to God to help me out of this, and I also prayed to the moon spirits hoping that they would protect me as one of their own even though I had never lived as one until now. I knew that if by some miracle I got out of here, after even just this much, the conversion was already set in motion because he was biting me. This may not have been the way he had envisioned it, but there was no way I would have gone down without a fight. And I had at least gotten the better of him and his goons a few times. The thought of everything I had put them through thus far made me smile against the pain, because even though they were minor set backs, any set back is still a set back and I knew it infuriated the hell out of Leandar to be had by an inferior young female pup.

When we reached where his thrown sat he put his muzzle, with my foot still gripped tightly, to the ground, and then threw me by my ankle a short distance. As his teeth pulled clear from my flesh, I blinked past the tears to see the wall just before my face collided with it. As the darkness swept over me, my brain tried to welcome it like a comforting blanket, but my wolf was crying out in alarm, and just as everything went black I heard the howls as the pack rejoined their Alpha.

I don’t really know how to explain the events that happened after the darkness consumed me because I was out but yet every bite, lick, and claw was vivid and completely excruciating. I never saw anything, never moved, but yet the assaults were as if I were awake and lucid. It was as if I was blind and paralyzed. That thought scared me!

Oh my god, what if I am paralyzed and blind now? Those are very common effects after a head injury like what I had just received. I thought alarmed choppily between each attack.

Then all of my thoughts fled quickly, as ribbons of red hot pain exploded in my right shoulder, as a massive set of teeth greedily chomped down on it seeming to want to make sure they definitely left their marks. As I heard a pop through all of the throbbing in my head, and felt all feeling in my right arm flee quickly, I completely lost any remanence of consciousness, or awareness.

When I came awake I was instantly alarmed and on alert. I didn’t move or even dare to open my eyes from fear of not being out long. My head pounded lividly from the impact and the pain I was in, my right arm was limp but cold, the fact that I could feel that it was cold had me a little optimistic, my body burned all over and felt as if I had been skinned.

I laid there perfectly still trying to control my breathing and listen past the prejudice my head was giving at focusing on anything at that moment. I heard nothing, absolutely nothing. I decided to open my eyes and steal a peek and soon found out that my left eye was swollen shut, as sharp piercing pains shot through the left side of my face agitated with my attempt. I clenched my right eye closed trying to get my bearings on the pain, and then I attempted to idolize my right eye this time.

As I cracked it open to stare at a wall, I was lying on my left side, so I maneuvered my head to glance up further and flinched at the sight of the blood stained spot on the wall where the left side of my face had kissed it, I was obviously still in Leandar’s thrown room, or cave, thrown cave. I could taste the metallic of my blood and smell it all around me. I wasn’t sure if it was because I knew my face was masked in it as well as probably the inside of my nostrils, if it was because I had so many open wounds, or if it was because surely the ground all around me was washed in it, all I knew is it was making me nautious and dizzy.

As I felt the muck I had been eating for my last couple of meals rise into my throat I leaned over and welcomed the departure of the sewage I had ingested. Just as my stomach began to calm and the heaving slowed I heard a light applause coming from behind me. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to roll over if not for anything but to have eyes on my company.

“So the little one lives,” Leandar laughed.

I pushed myself to a seated position with my left arm and scooted myself back against the wall with my feet, all the while trying to ignore the pain lacerating my entire being. Once, I felt my back meet the wall I slumped against it and opened my right eye.

“Oh it really is too bad about your face,” he stated in a pouty voice as he puffed out his lips, “it was so pretty. But that’s what happens when you misbehave.”

I opened my mouth feeling how swollen my lips were, and how crusted with blood and tears my face was. I licked my lips and then croaked, “It’s not my fault you don’t look before you leap.”

His eyes flashed that flaming amber, and I just didn’t have enough in me to muster any reaction much less fear, then they calmed and he laughed, “I just love that feist you redheads have.”

He was sitting on his thrown, and we were the only two in here now. I’m guessing they all went out hunting after they feasted on me because I wasn’t enough to quench all of them. I stole a glance at my right shoulder and got an eye full of ravished hanging flesh. It looked as if I had been wrenched out of the mouth of a shark. I clenched my eye shut and turned quickly away. I decided after that that I didn’t care to assess any more of the damage unless I was going to make it out of here alive.

“Oh yes, that is a terrible wound isn’t it,” he asked pretending concern, “sometimes Nikolai doesn’t know his own strength.”

Of course it was Nikolai who had done that, he had the knowledge of me hurting it while making great friends with the tree and then the earth directly below it. What a coward, I thought, going straight for what’s already wounded. I decided it wasn’t the time or place to be thinking about that and forced my head up and my eye open to stare in Leandar’s general direction.

I cleared my throat and then asked, or I should say whispered, “So now what?”

“I’m not quite sure because to be quite honest I expected the Guardians to be here by now,” he said humorously.

“How long have I been out?”

“All together or how long since the conversion,” he asked cocking his head to the side while clasping his hands in his lap.

“The latter?”

“It is about dawn now, so I would say it has been about an hour since we finished.”

I just loved how he put that, “Where are the others?”

“They went out to hunt and then to their dens. I do not share with anyone.”

“Not even your mate,” I asked before I caught myself.

“I have no mate nor will I ever. They are an unnecessary distraction,” he stated as he held up his hand and seemed to study his nails.

“So if you don’t share then why didn’t you have me drug back to my cell?”

“Because I wanted to see for myself if you would wake,” he said curiously, “your will fascinates me. There is something definitely different about you little one.”

“Well now you know I have awoken, what are your plans for me now?”

“I told you before I do not like to repeat myself, but since you have a fresh head wound I will let it pass this time. I am not sure what I want to do now. Part of me wants to send you back like this because you intrigue me and since so little does, it seems a bit of a waste to dispose of you so early, but I am also compelled to be done with it and ship you back in pieces to warn your precious Guardians that I mean business. They didn’t seem to take the dead body we left for them at your mother’s work too seriously. Maybe they would if you showed up in pieces,” he pondered out loud.

I had totally forgotten the dead body at my mom’s work and hadn’t once put the two together but it made perfect since. It was his way of telling Hayden and his family that they knew where we were, where he could find us, and could get to us easily. That infuriated me even more at Hayden, the fact that he hadn’t told me anything. How the hell could he go around acting completely oblivious about all of this, especially to me, whom it affected more than anything?!

“Aw, I hate to burst your little bubble but no matter how close you are to that family they will never tell you anything whether you need to know it or not,” he said, obviously reading my face though I didn’t know how with the shape it was in, enjoying every bit of my physical, mental, and emotional anguish.

“That’s fine because I know I’m never going to see them again anyway,” I said betraying the true feelings of hurt and disappointment I was presently feeling.

“How about you get some sleep while I try to figure out what to do with you,” he recommended.

Yeah that would be great, I thought, but yet thinking about whether or not he was going to send me back in pieces or not had me straying away from sleep for some reason.

I wasn’t going to argue though, because my head was pounding from having to think to keep up this conversation, and all I really wanted to do was curl up, even if it was on this cave’s floor.

As I slid down to lay in a fetal position with my back still against the wall, I kept a wary eye on him, but before I knew it my body began to give out from pure exhaustion. My eye began to get heavy, and I began to yawn. It got to where I would blink but my eye would stay closed until I forced it back open to stare at Leandar posted on his thrown studying me, and then I was out.

I began to have one of those dreams that you know it’s a dream while in it. I was back at Elaine’s sitting on the dock wading my feet in the water just before dusk. I felt footsteps behind, me but surprisingly I wasn’t afraid, and then Elaine plopped down beside me, sticking her feet in the water, and leaning her head quickly against my shoulder.

Then I kind of had that out of body experience where I was watching my dream instead of living it, we began to talk even though I couldn’t quite hone in on what we were saying. I think I was just trying to savor the moment we were having after the horrific incident I had just been through. I looked up at the vanishing sun and thought of Hayden, I’m guessing because we use to always watch the sunset together, but that was all over now, everything was over now. I thanked God for getting me through that nights events and I also praised the Moon Spirits for their watchful eyes over my animal soul. Then my mind ran back to Hayden. My dream had completely disappeared, all that was there was darkness. I thought about Hayden so hard I began to hear him calling out to me, and then as in response I heard my heart cry out for him, begging him to find me. It hurt even in my dreams to know my heart cried for him. I didn’t want it to, I wanted to be mad and hate him for allowing this to happen, but my heart didn’t care. After everything Regal had told me about mates I would have swore he was mine if it weren’t for the little detail that only another Were could be our mate.

My heart cried out again, aching to just feel his embrace one last time before the end came. I hoped that when I was gone that Leandar wouldn’t go after my mom or that the Guardians would find the pack and exterminate them. Ultimately extermination is what it would be, none of those wolves were innocent. They were all vermin, low cowardly beings that the world would be better off without. In the past I didn’t think I could ever feel that way about anyone, but things were different now. That pore unsuspecting person that they had killed just to send a message, their family would never know their justice. They may have still gotten it, but they wouldn’t ever know, they would go on the rest of their lives believing that their loved one’s murderer had gotten away. They would probably be frightened and overprotective of their children, but after learning what I had learned in such a short time with those mongrels, that probably wasn’t such a bad thing. Though, maybe the council could make it look like an accident of some sort just to give the victim’s loved ones some sort of peace.

As I ran through scenarios as to what could have happened to the person, Hayden began to creep back into my thoughts. At first it was almost subliminal, I thought maybe since I was still technically asleep I was trying to shut out all of the negative and trying to focus on something my heart thought of as good. Then it became more, I could sense him, but I couldn’t see him. As he became more vivid in my dreams I began to become more lucid, like when you are trying to wake up but you are fighting it. I didn’t want to wake up and deal with my reality, I wanted to stay where I was even if it was just complete darkness.

All of a sudden I was jerked from my dream, by what I realized was someone picking me up and moving with me.

Great, I thought, I had to wake up just in time to anticipate where and how long I had until Leandar reached where ever it was he was going to kill me. I just stayed slumped in his arms, I had no fight left in me, hell just him carrying me was enough to make me pass out from the pain, if it weren’t for the adrenaline my anxiety was pumping into my brain. I allowed my heart to cry out for Hayden one last time in hopes that maybe by some miracle he would feel my distress and find me, or at least find the pack and deal with them, and then the unthinkable happened:

“Jor please stop crying out to me,” Hayden pleaded, “it hurts every fiber of my being, and it is taking all of my control not to break down right now and lose it over what they’ve done to you.”

I thought I had lost it and then I opened my right eye and leaned my head up to glance into the most beautiful hazel eyes I had ever seen, that at this moment were filled with tears as he stared straight ahead trying to concentrate on where we were going.

As I allowed some of my reserve to break, a tear rolled down my face, as I realized the only person that could have saved me had. Right then, no matter how much I may have hated him for not telling me and in return me going through all of what I had went through, I let my heart take over and swim in the overwhelming love I could not deny him. He was my savior.

I felt him stop and my heart dropped, expecting the worst, that Leandar was there to stop us but then as if sensing my tension he reassured me, “I am only stopping to readjust my hold. I have to climb into the boat without any help because the others aren’t back yet. This is going to hurt so prepare yourself.”

I clenched my eye shut and waited for the pain to lacerate me but surprisingly there was minimal, and then we were on his families’ boat. I could hear his footsteps on the wooden deck and feel his strength as he walked down the stairs taking us into the lower cabin where there was a bed and bathroom.

“I am going to move into the bathroom so I can clean you up a bit. It is going to be pretty uncomfortable but I will do my best to shield you from your pain.”

That last statement made me open my eye and stare at him confused. I wondered if I had heard him right, “Did you just say shield me from my pain?”

He laughed a bit, “Yes, but there is plenty of time for questions and for me to explain everything. Right now I want to clean you, dress you, and put you in bed.”

I stiffened a bit worried that he was going to leave me to go help the others. I didn’t want to be alone, I had felt alone for what seemed like an eternity since the night I was abducted.

I wasn’t sure exactly how he did it but he did clean me up, bandaged me, and got me dressed, in one of his few button down shirts and a pair of his boxers, with only a little more than discomfort. Though, I didn’t ask how, because he was right there was plenty of time for explanations after we were safe and I had some time to heal.

He crawled onto the bed with me still in his arms, positioned me comfortably on the mattress, and then moved to cover me with the blankets.

“Please, don’t leave me,” I begged in a raspy voice, caused from my throat being strained with screams and cries of pain, as I reached up with my left arm, because the other was obviously incapacitated not to mention well bandaged, and grabbed him by the wrist.

I looked up at him with the one eye I could and began to weep as he laid down on top of the covers, pulled me into his embrace while starring me straight in the eyes, and said, “I will never again leave the most beautiful lady I have ever seen in my life. I love you Jordan and I’m done running from fate.”

I slept better that morning, in his arms, than I had since that past October, wounds and all.

XVI

When I awoke all of the night’s events came rushing back, as well as all of the emotions, like a horrible nightmare that would never go away, and then taking in my surroundings, I realized I had at some point been moved from the boat to a bedroom. I wasn’t quite sure where at first and then I began to recognize my environs. Even though I had only seen this room once before, in the dark, my mind had evidently photographed it to memory, I was in the guest room across from where I found Granddad Wheely that fateful night, at Wisconsin’s.

My heart began to speed and every fiber in my being went on alert, though I couldn’t really explain why. I knew I had been saved, but I didn’t know anything of what had come of Leandar and his pack of mangy mutts. Maybe it was that realization, maybe it was because what had happened here not so long ago, or maybe it was just because of what those events had led to and what this place symbolized in all of it. It was almost the bringer of my death, because if I were to have not come at all, or maybe have came the next day none of those horrendous things would have happened to me.

I couldn’t think like that though, not now, not after all of the good that had come out of it. I had to focus on that part because I feared if I didn’t I would turn into what caused all of this in the first place, a Were out for revenge.

I strained as hard as I could to hear anything, but that sense probably just hadn’t quite matured yet, I recalled from what Regal had informed me. Regal, I thought, forgetting about all of my wariness on first waking.

I kicked at the covers in a fight to untangle myself, practically leapt out of bed, and sped down the hallway. Through my alarm I could hear voices, but in my current state didn’t really care whose they were. I didn’t really know where I was running to, because I hadn’t told Hayden about him and I hadn’t been around anybody else that was there to rescue me, or at least I wasn’t when I was conscious, to tell anybody else, and I didn’t know where on the lake that we had been held. All I knew was that I couldn’t lie around and do nothing while Regal could still be caged or worse, dead and alone. If he was dead he deserved to be with his pack, for them to give him a proper burial, or whatever it was our kind did, that was what he would want and I owed him at least that much. Even if I didn’t know any of them or where they were, I would do whatever it took to get him back to them, but I would need help.

I ran straight through the family room and kitchen to the living room where the voices were coming from, deciding the fastest help I could get, and quite possibly the best ones for the job, were already right here under the same roof. I slowed to a complete stop as I reached the living room, taking in the amount of people that were standing in there.

There were at least four men I had never seen before, not mentioning Uncle Rod, Wisconsin, Granddad Wheely and Hayden, and I could see more out on the front porch through the glass door. They were massive. Uncle Rod was a big man at six foot, maybe six foot one but these men topped him by a few inches, and their shoulders were so broad and blocky. Not to mention they were gorgeous, well from what I could see, which wasn’t much since they seemed to block my view of each other with their massiveness.

Someone cleared their throat and I looked up to my left to see Uncle Rod nudge Hayden in the side, as he took in my stunned expression. Hayden began to protest but then stopped as he followed the path of his father’s pointed stare in my direction. I had never seen the Samson’s associate with this many people. They were a very secluded family, so I guess anyone could understand my astonishment. However, I suppose I knew now why they were so reclusive.

“Jordan,” Hayden questioned me, and I crumbled under his voice.

I ran to his side and sobbed into his chest, I wasn’t sure if it was because I was so thankful that this was all real and he had rescued me, or if it was because I felt so guilty about Regal. That thought sobered me up, and I looked up with tears rolling down my cheeks and said, “We have to go back. There was a man there; I mean a wolf, like me. Well not like me I suppose, because he is a full Were and I am only half,” I rambled, still crying a bit, as Hayden led me through the sea of men and planted me on the couch before sitting beside me.

“None of that matters right now though, all that matters is that we have to go back. You have to take me back so we can find the cave where they built that cage,” I spat the word out with disgust, “that held us.”

I then began to ramble again, “Did you know that? They built a cell in a cave and that is where they kept us. What kind of people are they? Well obviously they aren’t people, but really who does that? Could they be a little more cliché! I mean they want us to be feared and revered as these all mighty beings but yet they build their homes in caves! Yeah that’s something to admire, all right,” I finished my rant exasperated, and I must have been in more of a frantic than I thought because as I looked around everyone’s eyes were on me. I felt very peculiar about all of these eyes on me, but mostly because of the stares from the beautiful mountains of a man the visitors were. It almost felt as if they were displeased, in a way offended.

I decided to ignore them and return to what I was trying to tell Hayden, “Of course I was only in this place for a bit but Regal has been there for weeks. Which, leads me back to my point,” I said grasping his hands and starring into his eyes, “You have to take me back so we can search for him. He deserves that from me, I owe him my life.”

“Jordan,” Hayden began in a calm tone and it infuriated me.

I pushed his hands away from me and began to yell, “If you will not help me help the man that saved my life, the life you claim to love, then I will do it without you!”

I stormed through the crowd pushing to the front door and collided into someone as they were trying to walk into the house as I was leaving it.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized embarrassed as I straightened out my clothes, and then I realized I was straightening out my clothes! They were MY clothes not the ones Hayden had dressed me in just that morning. I began trying to recall retrieving them or having them retrieved, putting them on or someone putting them on me; that thought had me flushing. Though, I couldn’t recall anything, how strange, I thought, and then everything went calm as I heard:

“Little one,” a familiar voice called out as a familiar hand cupped my chin and moved me to stare up at him, “are you alright? Should you be out of bed already?”

All of my earlier thoughts left me, as well as the ability to speak, or any other thoughts my mind tried to muster. My eyes filled up with tears, “Regal,” I whispered, “is it really you?”

This man was healthier, with gorgeous ebony hair to his shoulders, clean shaven, and clothed. It can’t be him can it? I questioned the person in front of me. He has the voice but many people sound alike, but he did call me little one! I stared into his eyes and got my answer without a doubt. It was Regal, somehow he looked completely different in a matter of hours, but it was him all the same and I could have killed him for not waking me to let me know he was okay.

“It is me little one,” he confirmed, as a wide smile, of perfect white teeth, stretched across his face and he opened his arms to welcome me.

I literally leapt on him, knocking him back out onto the front porch stumbling back a step or two. I kissed his cheek and cried. I lifted my arms to get a better hold by hugging his neck instead of his waist and was knocked swiftly back into the reality of my injuries as my shoulder protested and then my legs buckled under me from the pain that lacerated my body.

I began to crumble to the ground grasping my shoulder but Regal quickly scooped me up, as he had in our hell, and sat me in one of the chairs on the front porch and then he took up the one to my right. He lifted the short sleeve of my t-shirt up and over my bandaged shoulder slowly and carefully, I didn’t bother to look because I was fully aware of the state it had been in just a few short hours before and knew there was no amount of bandages that would stop all of that bleeding, although, I thought, I had just been using it a lot and it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it should. Maybe, it was like Regal said before, as a Were we heal quicker. I thought logically and then gathered, since I had went through a conversion, a horrific one but one still, I would probably be healing even faster now.

“Good,” Regal stated bringing me back into the moment, “no bleeding.”

“What,” I asked shocked?

“Well, at least not enough to soak through the bandages but someone should probably redress you so they can take a good look.”

“What? What are you talking about? There has to be blood,” I exclaimed, “I know our kind heals faster than most but there is no way I have healed that much.”

“We heel a lot faster when we sleep.”

“Yes, but I have only been asleep for a few hours.” I had found out about our healing abilities while still in captivity when he insisted I sleep to heal the wounds they inflicted on me that first night, and it worked, to my surprise.

“No little one it has been longer than that.”

“No it hasn’t,” I protested jumping up from my seat and pointing at the sky, “I was rescued in the morning and it isn’t even dark out, not even dusk!”

“You are right,” he said as he moved from his seat to stand in front of me. He grasped my hands and then said, “We were rescued in the morning but not this morning.”

“What, wha, what are you talking about,” I asked stuttering as everything began to swim. If it was not the same morning, then what morning was it? How much time had I lost? How was I going to explain to everyone that at the same time I couldn’t explain to, at least not the truth?

Regal scooped me up again and moved me into the house, he said something to someone but I had no ability to pay attention when I had so many worries and so many doubts.

As I felt myself being lowered onto a bed I snapped back into reality and just as Regal was retreating from me I snatched his arm, “What do you mean it was not this morning? And, if it wasn’t what does everybody think has happened? Anyone, who knows me knows I don’t just disappear like this,” I stated trying to reassure myself that he must have just been mistaken, because someone would be asking questions by now if I hadn’t shown back up after the weekend.

“Hayden is coming to explain, little one. I think it best if he tells you the details, for I am not the one who made them.”

Made them up he meant. I thought irritably, releasing him and crossing my arms over my chest. Obviously Hayden had spouted off some lies to our friends and probably even my mom. He was getting really good at that, and I wasn’t so sure how fond of it I was anymore, not that I ever had been.

As Regal left Hayden entered and I glared at him the best I could and then I realized I was able to glare, with both eyes. My left was still rather swollen and hurt like a son of a, well you get the picture, but I could open it. My heart lifted and did some summersaults in my chest, with the happiness that observation made me feel. I guessed I hadn’t noticed it until then because I hadn’t really had that injury for that long while conscious; I suppose the same excuse could have been used for the shoulder incident also.

Hayden sat down at the end of the bed and brought me back from my thoughts which sent me reeling in anger again, that he had lied to my loved ones without even speaking to me first. He faltered under my glare and fell back onto the bed. I knew I was being very pig headed, because I knew it had to be done, but I didn’t care because I hated lying to anyone, especially to my loved ones, and I doubly hated anyone else doing it, whether it was for me or not.

“Get it out Jor,” he sighed, knowing I was angry.

I decided to take a calmer avenue, took a deep breath, and then began, “How long have I been out?”

“We brought you back here Sunday morning and it is now Tuesday afternoon,” he said a bit wary of my approach, no doubt expecting my rant instead of what he got.

“What,” I asked alarmed? This was the last week of school and neither of us could afford to miss it! “What about school, our friends, my mom?!”

He smiled more comfortable with the reaction out of me he was accustomed too of late, “You don’t have any finals until Friday and neither do I.”

In our school everyone had to take their elective finals and they were always held on Friday of the final’s week. Everyone figured it was to be completely cruel and to make the students go to school the last day they could so no one could kick off their summer early. I was lucky enough this year to not have any regular finals and evidently he was too.

“Fine,” was all I said to that because he was right, and honestly I didn’t know what else to say. “What about my mom and our friends?”

“The night that Leandar’s pack,” he growled, “took you, you had given Granddad Wheely your cell and he called my dad before they even got you out of the house. We rushed back, and I did some damage control before joining up with my dad and Wisconsin to find you.”

“What do you mean damage control,” I asked, knowing I had to know if I was supposed to go along with it, because obviously I couldn’t be one hundred percent honest with my friends anymore, and that made me sad, it also confirmed just how pig headed I was just a second ago about all of this. No matter how much I didn’t like it I was going to have to do to them what Hayden had been doing to me and it sickened me, but I knew it was for the best.

“I text Elaine, as you of course, telling her that when you got out here you had helped Wheely out a bit, kept him company, and then I had shown up for some stuff my dad had forgotten and that you were going to stay the night because I had asked you to so we could talk. Then when I knew it was late enough I took Elaine’s car back to the lake house and left it there. She text the next morning wondering if the night had went as good as she was hoping since you had brought her car back but obviously went back with me, and demanded details. I was already out skowering the lake with my dad, but still took the time to text her back,” he stated obviously hoping for brownie points, when I didn’t acknowledge it he continued with a sigh, “and just said that we had decided to stay the weekend with each other to see if we could figure some things out before I graduated and we grew even more apart,” he finished.

I leaned back against the wall analyzing his tale, and decided that it was enough so that I could make it work, but not too much to where I might get caught up.

“Okay so you handled Elaine good, in which we both know means you handled the whole group because she was probably so giddy, she read the text aloud for all of them to hear,” I said smiling. Elaine’s enthusiasm always made me smile. “What about my mom? She is the world’s worst worrier!”

“She was a little more difficult. My dad called her Sunday afternoon after he had ran over to Elaine’s to get your bag,” So that’s how I’m wearing my clothes, I thought. “And don’t worry, he just told Elaine that you had forgotten to get them when you brought back her car because you were trying to be quiet so you wouldn’t wake any of them,” which sounded like me, and Elaine no doubt took it as me avoiding all of her questions like I usually tried to do, “and since he was going into Howe for some things from our house, because I bailed on our family trip for you,” he said as he lifted his head to smile at me, “he offered to swing by and pick it up for you on his way.”

“Well aren’t ya’ll just the little story tellers, maybe ya’ll should make that a side job. I bet you could make loads,” I said sarcastically. What did he expect “Oh Hayden you are so sweet to make up a story where you chose me over something for once” and then fall into his lap? Yeah that would not be happening.

“Anyways,” he said avoiding my sarcastic punch, and getting back to my mom, “my dad and the other adults decided we had to make up an accident.”

I froze knowing how worried my mom would be. She rushed me to the ER so many times when I was younger that I had my own cubicle and practically knew the staff’s schedule.

“He called your mom that afternoon, explained what I had to Elaine, and put it off to teenage forgetfulness that you hadn’t remembered to call her like he suggested you do when you decided to stay out here with me. He then told her that Saturday night you and I had decided to go down to the lake but you slipped on some loose rocks and fell down the hill behind Wisconsin’s that drops onto the area by the lake.” He couldn’t really call it a beach because there was no sand but he was right, that hill was steep and extremely wooded, with razor sharp rocks in many places. Anybody could be severely hurt if they weren’t careful and that’s why Wisconsin had a path cleared out to travel safely down to the lake when he first purchased this land. “She of course was ready to come and get you to rush you to the hospital, especially after the shape we told her you were in, but we assured her that we had had a physician look at you that we knew up here and that he advised to let you rest and recuperate with no stress. You know your mom, she never argues with doctor’s orders and so she simply said to give you a kiss and to keep you here for as long as the doctor advised, as long as you were back for the finals you have to take on Friday.”

“Well that was a very good story, wish I had had some popcorn,” I jabbed one last time and then said, “and even though I hate the thought of any of my loved ones being lied to, since I have so very few, I am glad they are safe and aren’t mixed up with all of this,” no matter how much I hated to think of it, I couldn’t deny that lying would become a common part of my life now.

“Now that we have that covered I need to talk to Regal,” I said as I began to stand.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that since we both made it out of that place and away from those mutts there is much he needs to teach me. Things that you cannot.”

“Jordan wait, you need to rest. There is plenty of time for everything else. You need to get better as much as possible before you have to go home.”

I knew he was right about the resting, but the time part he was off on, I only had a month before my maturity hit and I needed to know what exactly to expect. Also, I was so curious as to what else I could learn about my people. I knew I wouldn’t have to change forms because our kind never had to they just chose to. I wouldn’t even be able to change until I was taught anyways, but I knew for sure the need would kick in on my birthday, and that had me asking a question before I knew my mouth was moving, “Will you sate me on my birthday?”

“What,” he shot up starring at me incredulously. “You go from not being able to stand me, to being uncertain, to asking me to, to,” he stuttered.

“Sate me,” I finished, deciding suddlety was just out of reach now since I already shot my mouth off.

He coughed a bit and then asked, “Are you asking me what I think you are asking?”

“I am asking you if you will have sex with me on my birthday.”

“Why?”

“You are the one that has been lying to me since October about my kind how do you not know why?”

“I only know what I have needed to know so far, because I reached my Guardianship when there were threats already being made by that pack that took you.”

What did “I reached my Guardianship” mean? I wondered but decided it was something to discuss later, there were more important things to ask about, like, “So if you knew since October that these dogs were after me and my mom then how could you keep this from me, especially after that body turned up at my mom’s work? I could have stayed away willingly and maybe not ever have had to go through the horrific things I did?!”

He looked away from me ashamed, “I didn’t know. My family didn’t tell me that they were after you or that you are part Were until you were taken. They were trying to allow me to make a decision with clear intentions before telling me. I’m so sorry Jor,” he said hanging his head.

I moved down the bed to his side and laid my head on his shoulder, “I believe you.” I didn’t know why, and I had no clue how it was that easy after how betrayed and angry I had felt, except maybe that it was my wolve’s intuition again, but I knew he was telling the truth all the same and it made my heart soar to know he hadn’t kept at least that part from me intentionally.

He put his arm around me and we sat there in silence for a few minutes. I breathed in his scent and he smelled like soap and man. He had a unique smell, never a stench, but a scent all of his own. I loved the way he smelled after he had been in the sun or working. I could tell now that he had had a shower that day, but had been outside since. He was warm against my face and I nuzzled his shoulder.

“I am so sorry I didn’t get to you sooner,” he broke the silence.

“But you got to me, and saved me Hayden.”

“Yes, but after what cost,” he stiffened in anger. “If I had just stopped being stubborn and accepted everything I could have been truthful with you and none of this would have happened.”

“He would have found me at some point, or if not me my mom. I am just glad it was me. I am the one with wolf in me, not my mother and I don’t think she could have withstood any of that.”

“You have changed,” he said staring at the top of my head.

“What do you mean?”

“You are actually being understanding in spots,” he laughed, and I laughed with him at my usual erratic sensibility, “you are determined to take this all on when it is completely understandable for you to be a ball of emotions about all of this,” he said in a proud voice, and I raised my head and smiled at him for that, “and then you ask me to sate you like it is a usual every day run of the mill question,” he said laughing. “I mean I wasn’t offended or anything, but how do you go from being proud of your virginity to just out right asking someone to, to do that,” he said laughing again.

I just sat there, because he was right about all of those things, but there was so much more that soon he would have to know because he was the only one I wanted to help me. I had known him it seemed like forever, and he could actually be a part of my whole life. There was no one else I could think of to reach my maturity with.

“Jordan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh at you,” he said misinterpreting my silence.

“No Hayden,” I laughed, “it’s okay. I understand that part was pretty unexpected, but you are right, I have changed. You couldn’t imagine what I went through once they captured me, and then the conversion,” I shuddered, remembering the hours of excruciating pain I endured, feeling every bit of it through what I was hoping would be comforting unconsciousness, but wound up being a paralyzed blind fear cage inside myself. Hayden began to caress my back, “things like that really change a person, and we probably still don’t know the full effect it has taken on me,” I said looking up into his eyes, “I am just so glad it was me they found and not my mom.”

“Jordan,” Hayden started, and I glanced down at my hands, “your Were probably helped, but not as much as you may think,” he said dropping his arm.

“I know it didn’t help as much as if I were a full Were, but at least I’m half. That had to have helped a bunch, especially with my healing.”

“That’s just it,” he said as he turned to look at me, “when my family finally told me what that pack was here for they also explained that your dad was only half Were, though very few knew since his mother never told anyone except her pups.”

My head began to spin again, because if what Hayden was saying was true everything Regal had taught me about half Weres meant nothing now! I would only be a quarter and he never went over anything like that. What would this change for me? What would it mean with the conversion and my upcoming maturity? All I knew was that I had to see Regal, then, and not a second later.

“I have to see Regal, now,” I said standing and pushing at his hands as he urged me to sit back down.

“Jordan we still need to talk. There is a lot I have to explain,” he pleaded.

“As do I, but not now,” I said firmly, “this is my life that is hanging in limbo and that is what is important to me right now! I am going to find Regal. As you said we have plenty of time, for this but not for what Regal and I have to discuss,” I finished as I stormed out of the room.

He was right, we did still have a lot to talk about, but mine was more important to me right then and for once he would have to wait.

XVII

I found Regal bent over into the fridge when I walked through the family room in search for him. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was that easy; for once something was going my way. I grabbed a hold of one of his belt loops and began dragging him backwards behind me onto the back porch.

“Hey,” he protested trying to keep his feet moving so they would stay under him.

When we were outside and away from all of the guests attending the house party the Samson’s had decided to throw at the most inappropriate time, I apologized, “I’m sorry, but I really need to talk to you and I didn’t want to wait just in case someone interrupted.”

“You know we could still be interrupted,” he said smiling at me, “but I will humor you. What is so important?”

“Hayden just told me my father was only half Were.”

Regal stood there for what seemed like houes just starring out into nothingness. I of course had to break the silence, “So what does this mean?” I shrieked.

“It means a lot, but where would you like me to begin, little one?”

“I’m not sure, because not one thing seems more important than the other. I want to know of the past to plan for the future, but my future is approaching quickly and I know I need to prepare for it.”

“Come,” Regal said as he extended his hand to me, “let’s take a walk and we can talk about everything you feel you need or want to know.”

I took his hand and smiled up at him as he led me down the wheel chair ramp. We walked around the house and into the trees at the front of Wisconsin’s land in silence. Regal of course knew by my uncommon silence I was trying to gather questions, so he left me to it. After awhile things began to calm in my head and I started things off by asking:

“So do you believe that is why my father married my mother?”

“You are such an unselfish being,” he smiled, “which is both refreshing and surprising since you were raised as a human,” he smiled down at me, “and yes I do believe that is why your father was able to marry your mother. I do not believe it is why though, because obviously he loved her. Like I told you before, half Weres do not have the pull as intensely as a full Were, like myself. Although, we all have the need to keep our race going, so he must have loved her dearly to have married her and vowed to only bed her.”

“So you are telling me that if one of our kind marries a human that is a vow to be only theirs just as the ceremony between mates is?”

“Yes, little one that is why I have never heard of it, even with halfs, but I should have suspected this because full Weres cannot vow to any other but a Were or part Were. They were obviously not mates, because we do not mate with anything not of our kind, but they definitely had to have been in that undeniable love humans search their whole lives for but very few ever find.”

“You mean true love,” I stated, “so, does this mean he didn’t cheat on my mother, ever?”

“Most likely. Our kind is very loyal, and for him to have had vows with your mother is the upmost sign.”

I smiled big at this news, it made at least some of this okay. “So now what?”

“For whom?”

“Well obviously, not my parents,” I gave him a DUH stare! “What for me now? We didn’t cover anything on quarter Weres.”

“No we did not, and to answer your question, I’m not exactly sure.”

I stopped walking and turned to face him, dropping his hand. “What do you mean you’re not sure?”

He led me over to a fallen tree, for us to sit. “As I said before I have never heard of even a half Were doing what your father did. What did Hayden tell you exactly?”

“Well, he said that his family had told him that my father was only half but very few knew because his mother never told her pack, but that she revealed it only to the pups.”

“That is a very dangerous thing to do. If she would have passed on, for any reason, before the pups were old enough for her to tell; no one would have been the wiser since they were born of a full Were mother; and therefore they wouldn’t have been raised correctly.”

“Well if no one would have been the wiser, why would it have been so dangerous?”

“Because as I have told you before halfs don’t have the exact make up as us fulls. Their senses aren’t as strong, and they don’t feel the pull as hard either. The pack would have eventually noticed this if they didn’t know how to carefully mask it, and since they had no knowledge of them being halfs, would have labeled them the weaker of the pack. Most weaker members are either killed because they aren’t looked after or they are ran off from the pack, but it wouldn’t be that way if they would have known of the halfs.”

“That sounds so cruel,” I said fidgeting with my nails, suddenly worried about my already grown and deceased father..

“Little one,” Regal called for me to look at him, “you have to understand that we cannot be protected as ourselves by the laws you have grown up with. We survive by strong packs and even though it seems cruel to cast out a weakling it is more humane in the end.”

“Sending someone out alone who is the weakest link in your pack to fend for themselves is humane,” I asked jumping to my feet in disgust, “how do you figure that? And what happened to protecting and loyalty? I would think those small and fragile would be looked after, just as females and pups are! Not cast out like some social misfit!”

“Calm yourself,” Regal soothed as he reached for my hand and guided me back to sit beside him, “it is more humane because if a hostile pack comes upon another pack with weak members they are more prone to attack and take whatever they want.”

“Oh, so if they are cast out then YAY for the tough guys because they don’t have to worry about looking bad or being challenged,” I accused.

“No,” he growled, “let me finish.”

This was the first time I had really heard him get perturbed with me, but I guess I did know how to push people’s buttons. I couldn’t help it though, he made our kind sound so honorable, but now we sound kind of egotistical; the thing I hate the most.

“I’m sorry, I will listen,” I huffed.

“When weaklings are cast out they, more times than not, become lone wolves, and no one messes with lone wolves.”

“Why,” I asked confused when they are looked at as the weakest.

“Because it is cowardly. They are already alone, and what could they possibly do to protect themselves from a whole pack? Nothing. So, lone wolves are generally left alone, and if they find a mate they will usually start their own pack welcoming in other lone wolves that are suitable.”

“So, a pack of weakling cast-offs? That doesn’t sound very fair if they were to be challenged.”

Regal just laughed, “Yes, I suppose it doesn’t seem fair, but that is our kind. Not all of humanity is fair.” He pointed out.

“No, I guess you’re right, and humanity almost always picks on the weakest link.”

We sat there talking about my life, friends, and family for a little while. I told him about my crazy cool mom, Elaine and the rest of the gang, and school. He told me a bit more about the short time he had with his mate and it sounded so blissful. I could see a glimmer in his eyes when he talked about her. I wished they would have had children so that he still would have had a piece of her. After a little while of sweet but funny stories, we sat there laughing at our lives.

“I now know that my father’s pack is long gone, and I’m pretty sure any of his siblings were found in attempts of getting to me as well, so what about your pack,” I asked.

“Yes, what did you think of them?”

“Of who?”

“My pack, what did you think of them? They are pretty burly but they are so unique, don’t you think?”

“I’m not quite sure,” I said trying to rack my brain of when I met them. Maybe I had came to at some point and just didn’t remember it.

“Well you didn’t really get to meet them, I don’t suppose. You were rather distraught when you woke. I know you will just love them though. When they were told of my whereabouts and rescue, they had to come and see the person responsible,” he said smiling at me.

“Oh so they came while I was out of it still?”

“Yes, of course. You were out for a good while and they wouldn’t wait to see me well and practically unharmed.”

“I bet they were pretty impressed with the Samson’s and how they saved you, well us.”

“They were impressed with who saved me, but it was not the Samson’s, little one.”

I stared at him confused, wondering if someone else had been there aiding them.

“It was you Jordan. You saved me. Somehow Hayden knew where we were because of you. If you wouldn’t have been with me I would have never been saved and probably would have been killed, or starved to death.”

“I didn’t do anything, but I would have if I could have,” I said sure of it.

“I know that, and you did more than either of us know evidently,” he laughed.

“So when did your pack leave?”

“I didn’t know they had,” he said surprised, “they were there when you pulled me out of the backdoor.”

“You mean,” I choked in surprise, “that sea of brawny men back at the house was your pack?”

“Yes,” he laughed, “I said they were burly just a moment ago.”

“I know, but that is like an extreme understatement,” I laughed with him. “Where are the females of your pack?”

“They were sent off with the pups of our pack to make a den somewhere safer with a few males we could spare, when my pack realized I was missing and not just out hunting.”

“Well that sounds pretty smart,” I said matter-of-factly, “so can I ask you a question?”

“Anything,” he stated simply.

“Are you the Alpha,” I asked shyly.

“Yes I am,” he stated proudly as he sat up straight. “I took over the roll when our Alpha stepped down due to age.”

I smiled, “I knew you were. I could just feel it. I didn’t know what it was, but I guess now I do. It’s like I can feel your roll; the respect, loyalty, compassion, love, intensity. All of it in a,” I hesitated searching for the right words and came up with, “ contained ball. I don’t know, sounds pretty stupid.” I laughed at myself.

“No little one, you are right in everything you feel. Just as I saw something special in you the first night I looked into your eyes,” he stated raising my chin so he could stare into my depths. “I can see it just behind the swirl of your wolves soul, but it is definitely nothing I have ever experienced before, and that is very special because I have seen lots,” he laughed.

“How old are you?”

“This you shoot out, but are shy about asking my stance,” he coughed?

I blushed a bit, and just smiled at him innocently.

“I am three hundred and fifty seven years old,” he said sheepishly but confident.

I sat there staring at him incredulously, not knowing what to say, but yet having so many questions on the tip of my tongue. He didn’t look much older than me, but here he sat well over three hundred years old. If I hadn’t had the weekend I just had, with this man, I would have labeled him crazy and slowly but cautiously backed away from him!

“Jordan it is okay to ask questions. I can sense your reluctance but there is no need for it. That is what we are doing here, right now, isn’t it?” he reminded me.

“Okay,” I drug out, “so how long is the average Were’s life? Full Were?”

“Roughly eight hundred years give or take a little. We are not exactly sure how old the oldest is so we say around that age.”

WOW, I mouthed and Regal laughed.

“So mortals have in human years to ya’ll what dogs have in dog years to humans?”

“Er, I don’t really care for that comparison, but yes.”

“Oh yeah, sorry,” I smiled sheepishly and then continued, quickly, “so you said that a female were begins teaching her pups to change form just before they are teens and they reach maturity at seventeen? Although, obviously we have a different aging process, and what does that mean for me since I am only a quarter Were? I know you said for half Weres their lives aren’t as elongated.”

“Yes that is true, and we do have the same aging process as mortals until we reach maturity. We aren’t sure why. We think it could be because going back to the first weres they started out as mortals, but we can’t be sure. As for the life expectancy, three quarter Weres lives are also affected.”

“I can see that. Obviously there are three quarter Weres, since you said it is virtually unheard of for halfs to mate with mortals; much less vow to them as my dad did. Why is it so unheard of anyway? I mean obviously full Weres bed mortals; and impregnate them even if that part is accidental. So why is it so different for the offspring of that act to do the same?”

“As I told you before, it is in our beings to keep our race going and that includes keeping it as pure as possible,” he caught my glare at that statement and explained, “it isn’t that we think of three quarter Weres, half Weres, or quarter Weres; in your case; are lesser, it is just that we don’t know the consequences the mix holds as the Were becomes the lesser amount in the being.”

I could understand that and said so.

“Therefore, halfs never; or I guess I now should say almost never; bed or vow to a mortal because of the lack in knowledge we have of the consequences, and because of our need to continue our race.”

I nodded in understanding, and realizing what that meant for me; or I suppose what we didn’t know it meant for me. I decided there wasn’t anything I could do about it now, and then asked, “So, what do you think I should expect for my life expectancy?”

“Well, three quarter Weres born of a Were mother or converted before maturity usually live to around seven hundred and fifty years, and those born of a human mother that aren’t ever converted live to be about seven hundred. Halfs that are born of a Were mother or converted before maturity look at about six hundred years, but those with a mortal mother and aren’t converted only live to about five hundred. So, I suppose quarter Weres would be significantly lower, especially in your circumstance being born of a human mother.”

I sat there stunned at the life expectancy of my kind, and at how truly different I was from them as well as the mortals I was raised liked. I truly didn’t belong to either.

“Although,” he said drawing me back into the moment, “you were converted. So, I believe that would make you close to the equivalent of a non-converted half Were born to a mortal mother.”

“So, you are telling me,” I started and then began to gasp for air, “I-AM-GOING-TO-LIVE-FOR,” was all I got out before I couldn’t talk anymore through the heavy breathing.

“You will probably be looking at a life well into your four hundreds,” he answered my unfinished question while rubbing my back to calm me. “I thought you would be happy about this. I see now I was wrong.”

“It isn’t that I’m not happy, just a little lost. What will become of my life? I will have to leave everything and everybody after a certain point. I will have to watch them wrinkle and die from a distance, not able to comfort them. And what if I fall in love and marry?”

I couldn’t believe how drastically my life could change over a weekend. I guess it hadn’t really changed, just my knowledge base of my true identity had. Except now, because of that knowledge I would have to leave everyone I know and love probably into my thirties so they didn’t get suspicious and accidently caught up in a world they were not equipped for.

“All of that is very tragic but true, little one, and that is why it is so unheard of for our kind to vow to a mortal. Do you see now? Do not mistake me though, I am truly glad to know that you have some good news about your father and mother’s marriage, but he has left you in a bad place because this is such uncharted territory. In all of my years you are the only quarter wolf I have ever known of, and you are an only child?”

“Yes, they only ever had me. My dad didn’t want anymore, and I guess now I understand why, but I know he didn’t know or believe I would have had a tough time or he wouldn’t have had me, he couldn’t have.”

“Let’s not worry about that which we cannot change. You are here no matter how it happened or why and we need to cope with what is to come. Even though you were born a quarter Were you are and will now always live as a half Were born of a human mother. You will have all of our skills watered down a bit, except for changing. Do you remember what all I taught you about half Weres born to a human mother?”

“They have all of a full Weres senses, night vision, increased speed, but they aren’t as heightened.”

“Yes, but do not ever underestimate your senses because even though they aren’t as keen as mine they are still far more intense than what you are used to dealing with, but you will grow accustom.”

“So how can we tell in our wolf form what we are doing as a pack? Can we read each other’s minds like in some of the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read,” I asked excited?

Regal burst out laughing, and almost fell off the tree trunk onto the ground, I rolled my eyes and huffed, “I take that as a no!”

“I’m sorry little one, but you should’ve seen your eyes light up at the prospect of what you were asking,” he laughed, “but no. Though you won’t ever have to worry about that because you won’t ever be able to shift shape. Although, you do need to know how we do communicate. We communicate through our howls. When we were held captive did you ever sense or hear a difference in any of the howls that were going on around you?”

“Yeah, they all seemed kind of different,” I said remembering how right before my conversion Leandar had howled and I knew it was to call in the troops, and then the howl the pack let out when I threw the rock and they dashed off to chase it. I smiled at the memory of their ignorance.

“And they all will seem that way because they are. You will get tuned to the subtle differences and will be able to pick up on them just as if you were in wolf form, or if we were in human form talking. All of us can differentiate them no matter what form we are in, you will just always be in human form, it’s the wolf in us.”

“That’s pretty cool. Part of me really wishes that I could change forms, but part of me is happy with what I’m used to and comfortable with.”

“That is completely natural. You are going to feel the yurn to be able to change form like your brethren, but just remember that everyone will understand and even if you are only considered half Were, now, you are still a female and that carries a lot of punch,” he laughed.

“Speaking of being a female Were. Since we have figured that I am the equivalent of a half Were, even though I can’t change forms, what does that mean about my maturity?”

“You are talking of the need?”

I nodded my head, too anxious to answer. This felt like a sex talk my dad should have had with me, and I knew if he were alive he would have, but all I had was Regal and that seemed like an awful lot to me. It was weird feeling so close to someone you barely met only a few days before.

“During your maturity you will be in need. This would have been less if at all if you weren’t converted, but I’m afraid with your conversion you should expect what we talked about before, but atleast you never have to fear the bloodlust. Just be thankful for that.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, and I had already prepared myself for this part. Well, as much as I can,” I said smiling and nodding. Then a question that scared me popped into my head and I didn’t know why hadn’t thought about it until then.

“Will I ever have a mate or can I choose to marry a mortal?”

“Even if you were still only a quarter Were you would at some point come across a mate, but you are free to vow yourself to anyone just as your father did.”

“So, if I decide to vow to a mortal will that bond or love never be as great as it would be with a mate,” I asked reluctantly, scared of the answer and what it might mean for Hayden and me, even though we weren’t anything any longer?

Regal slumped and let out a long sigh, “No, little one, there is nothing greater than a mate to our kind. Even if you find what mortals call true love it wouldn’t measure up to the happiness you and your chosen mate would share.”

“But I am free to choose whoever I want, I won’t feel the longing that males feel toward their mates?”

“Well,” he drug out.

“Wait,” I exclaimed, “you said the female of our race is free to do as she pleases. It is the males that have to get away to loosen the hold, so to speak.”

“Yes, but there is an exception to the rule.”

“What exception,” I asked glaring at him?

“You see in our kind there are mates and then there are what we call Twin Flames. Do you remember how I said that most males of our kind fight the mating?”

“Yes.”

“Well it is because most females do not settle on a mate for less than a high rank, because they are truly searching for their Twin Flame. It is extremely rare but it does happen. Do you also remember that I said fate puts us in the paths of our mates?”

I nodded him on.

“Fate also makes us a Twin Flame. The ultimate undeniable missing other half to ourselves,” he stopped, staring at me to see if I was following.

“Okay.”

“If these two individuals ever cross paths, when both are mature, neither can fight the pull and they always wind up together no matter the consequences.”

“So even if the Weres are vowed to another they are helpless to this, this, flame?”

“Twin Flame,” he corrected.

“That sounds completely romantic, and completely sad. And what did you mean by consequences?”

“In our society, if you are vowed to someone and you break that vow you are usually always banished from the pack, and this never happens unless Twin Flames cross paths, because once mated nothing can break that bond but your Twin Flame. This is why females are so picky and another reason why males scurry from mating. They fear the meeting of the Twin Flame, no matter how rare it is or whether it be themselves or their mate who finds it.”

“I guess that makes since. It also makes me feel a bit better about the female of our kind, of which I am to become soon.” I said as I smiled up at him innocently, “But that is just awful what we do to those who have no control over their actions in meeting their TF!”

“TF?” Regal questioned raising one brilliant eyebrow.

“I just feel really corny saying Twin Flame! So I shortened it,” I giggled.

“Oh I see,” he laughed, “and yes it is sad what is done to those that cannot help themselves, but again you have to understand that in our packs we have to uphold the laws of our nature, and loyalty is one of the most important. That is why they are sent away. Besides, none of the lucky ones that find it really care, because if you ever find your,” he hesitated, “TF all that will matter is that individual, but like I said it is extremely rare. I have only ever heard of it, but haven’t ever had the pleasure of it myself or seeing it.”

“Well I guess being a quarter wolf turned half humanoid wolf really puts me low in that race then.”

“You have just as much of a chance as any of us, but I guess that doesn’t really say much,” he laughed.

“So you kind of described the undeniable bond TF’s share but what are they exactly? What makes a Twin Flame?”

“A Twin Flame is said to be when the fates take a soul and break it into two beings, one of masculinity, and one of femininity, at which if at any point their paths cross their souls reconnect and their beings combine. They become one in two bodies.”

“You mean like soulmates?”

“That is a mortal word, we prefer Twin Flames or Twin Souls, but yes. Though there is a difference in what mortals describe as soulmates and what Twin Flames truly are.”

“Which is?”

“When Twin Flames reconnect and their souls reunite, if one ever passes; for whatever reason; the other passes as well.”

“But why,” I gasped.

“There is much speculation over that. Some believe it is because only the fates can divide what they share, and others believe it is because once they are reconnected one cannot survive without the other. They pass from a true broken heart; a broken soul.”

“That sounds so beautiful.”

“It is and it only truly happens between our race. Humans have true love but they do not have what they call soulmates, only we do.”

“I would love to feel that,” I said but was reluctant.

“But?” he prompted the but I was feeling.

“But I can’t help but to find true love with a human, one in particular,” I said smiling at my hands.

“Hayden,” Regal stated more as a fact than a question.

“That obvious huh,” I laughed.

“Not just from you little one. He sat by your side almost the whole time since he rescued you. He didn’t even leave to aide in the rade and capture of Leandar’s pack.”

I had somehow in all of this mass of knowledge since waking forgotten about Leandar. Wow, I cannot believe he slipped my mind. I also wondered what had become of him and his pack. They were probably shipped off to the nearest holding facility this council; the Samson’s belonged to; has. I wouldn’t doubt it if they weren’t already put down like the rabid mutts that they were. I decided that line of thought wasn’t a very productive one, or one that I wanted to give immediate attention to. Those mongrels had stolen enough away from me. I wasn’t going to let them take up all of my thoughts now, but I did wish I could have questioned Leandar a bit more about my father. Though I don’t know why since he was a raving lunatic. Deciding I probably wouldn’t get any feasible answers out of him; even if I could talk to him; it was best that I keep the memories that I had and leave well enough alone for once. I was rescued from death’s grasp and I had more than enough to focus on right then. Chasing a past that couldn’t change wouldn’t do me any good.

I smiled at Regal and said, “Speaking of Hayden, we had better be heading back. Dusk is setting in and he was pretty adimate about needing to talk to me before I brushed him off to find you.”

He stood and extended his hand to help me to my feet, “Well then let us be getting back. Plus, you have yet to be formally introduced to my pack, which await to thank you.”

I smiled up at him and took his hand. We laughed and acted completely carefree on our walk back up to the house. If we hadn’t have shared the horrific events we had, I would have guessed we were just two old friends enjoying each other’s company on a plain old regularly uneventful day, on the outside, not just getting over near death experiences.

XVIII

“Are you ready,” Regal asked squeezing my hand?

On our way back up to the house we saw that everyone had migrated into the house, he figured this was as good a time than any to introduce me to the members of his pack that were present, and I agreed; Hayden could wait a little longer since I had waited since October.

I asked Regal how many there were besides the four I had encountered upon waking up, and he assured me there were only five total. I figured out that the two I had seen on the front porch was the fifth pack member and then Regal himself, which I didn’t recognize clean, shaved, or clothed.

I stared up into his eyes and said, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” and then I nearly jumped out of my skin as a high pitched yapping rose from his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he said smiling down at me.

“No problem, I’m going to have to get use to it now,” I shrugged it off.

When we walked into the living room through the front door my suspicions were confirmed, he had called them to attention. Well, I guess it wasn’t attention, not like the military does or anything. They were just all in the room either seated or standing with two chairs, next to each other, open. Regal led me over to the chairs and sat me in one as he took the other.

“First of all, I would like to take a moment to remind all of you that this little one,” he said grasping my hand, squeezing it lightly, and smiling at me, “is just beginning to become familiar to our kind, to her kind. If at any point she seems uncomfortable or unaware you are to make her feel safe and to help her understand just as you would any other female or little one.”

He sat there silently, his gaze roaming over the mountains of men before us, including the Samson’s, and then began again, “Now, we have had our introductions to our gracious hosts but you will indulge Jordan and reintroduce yourselves.”

Regal let out a short kind of yapping growl and then a man approached, he was extremely broad shouldered with kinky black hair. He was the one that I saw on the front porch with Regal earlier. He knelt to the floor, through his head up at his Alpha admirably, and then took my hand and placed a kiss on it.

I suppose Regal could sense my tension, because he snapped, “Explain,” at the wolf before me. He wasn’t rude or demanding about it, just to the point and with the conviction an Alpha should reflect.

The wolf in front of me raised his head, smiled at me, and clasped my hand with both of his. My hand looked so frail sandwiched in between his massive paws, but I never felt uneasy.

Then with a low grumbling voice he said, “When in wolf form, if we are introduced to a female we lick her cheek if she is in wolf form also, or we lick the top of her hand if she is in human form. And, when we are in human form ourselves when introduced to a female we kiss her cheek if she is in wolf form, or we kiss the top of her hand if she is also, in human form.”

I had heard every word he was speaking, but by the time he was done the low rumble of his voice had soothed me into a smiling nodding trance. So, of course without thinking I asked, “Are you Regal’s Beta?”

The wolf bowed his head and stated, “Not all packs have ranks under the Alpha,” but before he could finish Regal placed a calming hand on his shoulder and said, “Yes, Tovias is my Beta.”

The wolf raised his head so quickly, I didn’t even catch the movement, but I did see the emotion in his eyes as he silently thanked his Alpha. It brought tears to my eyes to see how much Regal’s pack truly thought of him, and cherished him.

“So your name is Tovias,” I asked kicking my legs like a child.

“Oh, yes,” he laughed still holding onto my hand. “I’m truly sorry for forgetting to introduce myself. And I am sorry for you having to do so for me Alpha,” he addressed to Regal, which he in return just waved the apology away.

“Oh you don’t have to apologize to me. I’m just happy to have met someone so close to Regal,” I said smiling at him.

Regal patted Tovias on the shoulder, and so he kissed my hand and rose to let the next wolf come up.

There were four wolves after Tovias. They each saluted their Alpha by order of their submission, kissed my hand, and introduced themselves; in this order: Devon, Trey, Miles, and Jakobee. After the last moved away from us Regal rose to his feet and then knelt in front of me. He smiled at me to let me know everything was okay not to be self conscious and then he began to speak, “On behalf of my pack and myself, I would like to thank you, little one, for your courage and for aiding the rescue that saved both of our lives by bestowing upon you the welcome of our pack. If you need us we will be there, if any of your kin or offspring, in the future, need us we will be there whether it be quietly or well in sight,” he stated, I knew to silently include my mother and it made me tear up, “and we offer you all we offer each other. No matter if you choose to join our pack, be a lone wolf, or someday start a pack of your own with your mate.”

He smiled at me and bent to kiss my hand as his pack threw their heads back and yapped in celebration. I couldn’t help but to sit there giggling in joy as tears rolled down my face. When Regal lifted his head and joined in with his pack I felt something come alive in me. It was like all of my nerves were electrified and I was completely booming with happiness. When their yaps stopped and Regal leveled his head to look at me, I pounced on him, kissing his cheek, as we fell onto the floor. I noticed some of his pack tried to come to his aid but he waved them off and let me lay there on the ground with him in front of everyone sobbing and thanking him from the bottom of my heart.

When my nerves finally calmed and I became conscious again of the room full of people, I sat up straightening my clothes and my face, since both were a mess. Regal got to his feet laughing still and helped me to mine. He gave me a tight squeeze and whispered in my ear, “I love you little one after only this short time, but I fear I have taken up too much of your time. You have matters of the heart to attend to now,” and as he tried to push me toward Hayden I held on and asked, “You aren’t going anywhere right? I still need you, and I don’t want you to leave.”

He smiled at me and said, “I will not be going anywhere until you are ready for me too, or you have a sure way to get a hold of me or my pack. Now go, I will be here.”

I smiled back at him as he turned to address his pack and I turned to address the Samson’s. I hadn’t really talked to them since I woke up; I was just realizing; and they deserved some thank you just as much as anybody, if not more. I threw myself into Granddad Wheelies arms and wept into his neck, “I was so worried about you, and I am so sorry I didn’t get here sooner than I did, but I am so grateful you are okay.”

“I’m just sorry they got you and that we kept who you are from you. If it weren’t for Regal of the Little Arm Pack you could have been in more danger than we tried to keep you from. No matter what our excuses were for doing so over the years, they don’t make us keeping you from yourself right. We should have told you.”

“It’s ok Granddad Wheely, all is in the past. We have to be thankful for the outcome and prepare for what is to come in each of our lives.”

I looked up into his watery eyes and he said, “I didn’t think your father could have been more proud of you than the day you were born, but to see you today and what you have turned into I think it would have been pretty close.”

I laughed and cried at the same time while hugging his neck again and I whispered, “Thank you,” as I kissed his cheek.

I stood and wiped at my face as Wisconsin held his arms out to welcome me into his embrace. I laughed and hugged him around his waist as he planted a kiss on the top of my head. “I’m glad to see you up and moving in one piece, Red. You had me scared there for a second.”

“Not me,” Uncle Rod protested grabbing me by my left arm and tugging me into a hug.

Hayden nearly had a fit to see me being tossed around like that with the condition I was still in, but I waved him off and enjoyed it. I knew I would pay for it later but the endorphins pumping through me right then had me walking on air.

After a long hug and a good long lecture about how I better not ever do that to him again Uncle Rod handed me off to Hayden.

He looked me over for a second, made a big huff about me needing rest, and against my denial bid everybody a goodnight for me while trying to maneuver me toward the back of the house. Finally after he got tired of my fighting him he scooped me up and carried me back to the bedroom I had woken up in.

He laid me down on the bed and while he shut the door I scooted to a sitting position. Hayden turned around to see me sitting up and he rubbed a shaky hand across his wary brow.

“Can’t you just humor me and at least lay down? You don’t have to go to sleep, but just rest?”

“Of course I’m not going to sleep,” I said all pepped up, “we still need to talk remember,” I asked slyly reminding him of his wanting to?

“You aren’t clever, Jor. Nor are you funny right now. I am seriously worried about you. You still have a lot of healing to do and I don’t want you over doing it.”

“Oh Hayden you worry too much. I have slept for over twenty four hours, I haven’t done much but walk and talk today, and after everything I went through this weekend I think I deserve to be happy and up for a little while!”

He let out a long sigh knowing he couldn’t win this battle, and flopped onto the bed. “So what do you want to do then? Do you want to have our talk now?”

“No.”

“What,” he shot a glare at me, “you have put me off all afternoon, and you just said we still needed to talk. It is nightfall now and you are telling me you still don’t want to talk about anything? You have been pressuring me for weeks now to talk to you about everything and here I am trying to do that and you aren’t interested anymore,” he spouted off in a rant and then let out a big gush of air as he buried his face in a pillow and said, “I swear I will never be able to understand you.” It came out all muffled because of the pillow, but I picked out each word. Hey maybe that’s a sign my hearing is intensifying. I thought excitedly.

After his rant, I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Not at him but at what he was saying. It was completely true, I had been bugging him for weeks to tell me what was going on with him and all of his encrypted talk, but now I was the one putting it off. It wasn’t as if I was trying to avoid it, I just felt other things on my mind were more important. Which was very strange because I almost always put myself second.

“Oh so now I’m funny,” he asked eyeing me.

I just smiled and nodded my head.

He let out a short tired laugh and said, “Yeah I guess this turn of events is kind of funny, not you getting hurt of course,” he said, as I shook my head no at him with a dramatic serious expression on my face to say “of course not”.

We laughed at absolutely nothing for a moment and when he sobered he asked, “So what do you want to do since you are obviously not tired?” He asked and then added, “But, we are not going to join the party,” he motioned at the door with his thumb, “you do need to rest even if you are still awake.”

“Okay fine,” I said sliding off of the bed, “I want a bath. Where are my clothes?”

Hayden pointed at the closet and said my bag was in there. I pulled out some pajama pants underwear and a tank top. Then I rummaged until I found my brush and tooth brush. I never took shampoo or conditioner out to Grandpa Frog’s because Elaine and I always kept it stocked with the necessities, so I would have to make do with whatever Wisconsin had available.

As I headed out of the room I turned around and asked Hayden, “Well are you coming? I obviously can’t do this on my own,” I said flapping my hurt arm to indicate my shoulder. I had been moving around a lot since I had woke and now that all of my adrenaline was passing my body was beginning to send out the alerts.

“Are you serious,” he coughed surprised.

I gave him a bored looked and said, “I spent over twenty four hours in a cell with a man I didn’t know in nothing but my underwear and then I had a bunch of rabid mongrels gnawing on my practically naked body. I think I can handle the only guy I have ever loved seeing me naked, especially when it is so embarrassingly to aid me in bathing!”

“I guess when you put it that way it does seem like a pretty stupid question,” he said laughing as he got to his feet.

“Yeah.”

He walked over to me and gathered all of the things I was carrying and helped me the few steps to the bathroom. Once inside he sat my things on the counter and closed and locked the bathroom door. I opened the door to the cabinet over the toilet to rummage for anything I could use to get clean and found all kinds of shower gel, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath, and, “Feminine Wash,” I choked out as I turned to show Hayden.

“Why does Wisconsin have Feminine Wash,” I laughed.

I looked up from the bottle to see Hayden’s cheeks blushing and him squirming nervously.

“What,” I asked.

“I kind of made my dad pick up one of everything from the store when he went back to Howe. I didn’t know what you used or what you would need so I just told him anything and everything he could find.”

God bless this sweet overly thoughtful man.

I placed a kiss on his cheek and said thank you. He instantly relaxed and that made me feel good.

The bathroom wasn’t big, so Hayden seated me on the toilet and bent to run some water, he poured a hefty amount of bubble bath, bath salt, and feminine wash in. He explained; the bubble bath was so I was somewhat concealed; he claimed to make me feel better but I knew it was because he was a little uneasy about this. Guys usually are if they aren’t the ones that initiate it. Not that that was what I was trying to do! I just really wanted a bath!

The bath salt was because supposedly the aroma relaxes your senses, or the smells make you sleepy as he put it. And the feminine wash was because “well you know” is what he said while trying his hardest not to look at me or in my direction. In fact he was starring so hard at the mass of bubbles he had created I could have swore he was trying to count them all.

I stood up and stripped the shorts and panties off someone had dressed me in and then tapped him on the shoulder for some help with my top. They hadn’t bothered with a bra because of my shoulder.

I hadn’t even been thinking about the fact that when he turned around he would be eye level with my belly button and the fact I was now naked from there down, but he sure reminded me as he turned around and then thrusted himself backwards so hard I had to grab a hold of the collar of his shirt before he dove into my bath. I luckily had a thought before doing so and used my left arm instead of my right.

“I am so sorry,” I pleaded, “I wasn’t thinking. I guess I am tired, and I just really want to take a bath. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he stuttered and then we both burst out into laughter. “Here let me help.” He reached and grabbed a hold of the left side of my shirt holding it out so that I could just slip my arm in toward my body and then out, then he lifted it over my head, and finally slid it off of my right arm.

“Thanks,” was all I said and then he was helping me into the bath.

We both eased me into a sitting position and I almost disappeared in the mounds of bubbles hovering over the top of the water. I blew at them to get them away from my face and Hayden laughed and said, “Sorry I’m not used to using this stuff,” and then he began trying to help push them away.

I sat there laughing with him, talking with him, and all the while just thinking how great that felt. He hadn’t the slightest clue I was only really there for not even a third of our random conversations but I couldn’t help the overwhelming happiness I was feeling just being there with him.

We were laughing, talking, joking, teasing, flirting, and just being ourselves like we always had been. I hadn’t realized until that moment just how much I had missed him when we were apart. Just how much I truly was hurting when I made myself believe I was fine.

Then, I began to think about mates. I didn’t know how I could ever love anybody more than what I loved Hayden. And I knew we were young and the adults would tell us it was young love and it would pass with time as we grew and became different people, but I just couldn’t imagine that happening. Even with the time we had spent apart that year we still fit together perfectly. We hadn’t lost anything of what he had. If anything we had gained more momentum.

“You ready to get out, Jor? The bubbles are almost all gone,” he said as his cheeks flushed.

“Yeah, I’m all pruny,” I said holding up my fingers and laughing.

Hayden grabbed a hold of my hand and my breath caught as he kissed the tip of each one of my fingers and then looked me in the eyes and said, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Pruny skin and all!”

Then he reached into the tub and pulled the plug to drain the water. I stood up as he reached under the sink to grab me a towel and when he turned around I saw the most love in his eyes I had ever seen from him before.

He walked toward me and my breath caught again. He ordered me to lift my arms and then he wrapped the towel around me.

Hayden picked me up effortlessly and carried me back into the bedroom sitting me on the edge of the bed.

“I will be right back. I’m going to grab your change of clothes out of the bathroom. I figured it would be more comfortable to get dressed in here where it isn’t so cramped.”

I swallowed against the lump in my throat and croaked, “Okay.”

I hadn’t ever seen this side of him before and it both intimidated and excited me. I knew the moment he looked at me with all of that love in eyes that there was no doubt in my mind he would be the one I chose to help me through my maturity, not that there ever was a doubt.

He came back into the room carrying my clothes and some lotion. He told me he was going to go get the first aid kit to clean and redress my shoulder, for me to lotion myself and get dressed as well as I could and if I needed any help he would be back shortly.

I decided I had embarrassed him enough and quickly lotioned and clothed myself while still being careful of my injuries. He hadn’t returned when I finally got my tank top on so I decided to make a mad dash to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

I had the toothpaste on my toothbrush and had started brushing my teeth when I finally looked up and caught my reflection in the mirror. My left eye was still swollen and black, my cheek was scabbed over and swollen, and my lips looked like I had eaten something I was allergic to. I began to tear up but I squared my shoulders and chastened myself you went through horrendous acts and if this is all that came out of it you are lucky. Now quit feeling sorry for yourself over some bruises and swelling and focus on what’s more important, your future!

After I finished brushing my teeth I grabbed my brush and headed back to the room, meeting Hayden at the door. He opened it without questioning me and motioned me in. I sat back down on the bed and began trying to brush my hair but I came up short when I once again forgot about my shoulder and tried using my right arm.

I hissed in pain and Hayden rushed to my side grabbing the brush from my hand and then persisted to finish what I had tried to start. He was like a caged bear. So big, so strong, and yet so tamed. He sat on the bed behind me and brushed through my locks until the brush combed free of all of the tangles. It was so relaxing to have someone take care of me in that way. I loved nothing more than someone brushing my hair.

“I need to redress you now.”

“Huh,” I asked confused through the heaviness of my relaxation?

“I need to redress your shoulder.”

“Oh yeah, yeah go ahead.”

“Are you sure you can stay upright for this? You look as if you are going to conk out on me at any second,” he laughed.

“No I think I have a few more minutes left in me.”

I sat there perfectly still just watching as he carefully unwrapped my shoulder. When he pulled the gauze free I flinched at the site of my ravished skin. It had healed a great deal but it still had a long way to go. I decided I didn’t need to see anymore and I turned my head while he cleaned it.

We talked aimlessly about random things of no importance, like about the elective finals and how we thought it was unfair we had to take them no matter how good your grades were in those classes. We also talked about how weird it was that Max and Elaine were still together and seemed to be going strong. We went on like that for a little while and then we both went quiet. I guessed there wasn’t really much else to say right then that wasn’t serious and I just wasn’t up for anymore seriousness that night, no matter how much he may have wanted to talk. Hayden evidently had also decided it was best to wait until the next day, thankfully, and so we sat there in silence as he redressed my shoulder.

When he was finished, he went to put away the first aid kit and I sat there looking at the dressing and wondering if my body would ever get back to normal.

Hayden walked back in a few moments later and caught me starring at my shoulder. “You are beautiful,” he said and he bent and placed a kiss on the dressing covering my marred shoulder. Then he continued that kiss up my shoulder, along my collar bone; where I could feel every brush from the stubble that coated his face; up my neck; sliding his lips with the touch as light as a feather sending chills across my skin; around my jaw; nipping ever so lightly and playfully at my skin; and finally to my lips. He kissed me leisurely and then he pressed a hand into the small of my back and deepened that kiss while lowering me to lay onto the bed.

I wrapped my hurt arm around his waist and the other around his neck, as he cupped my face with one hand, while the other held me close. We kissed for a long time. Not hot and heavy, but loving and light. He kissed my cheek and my eye, while being as gentle as a whisper on the wind. After looking at myself in the mirror I didn’t think I would ever be able to kiss again, but he held me and kissed me in a way that I wouldn’t have ever even known I was hurt.

After we were both becoming overwhelmingly tired he moved to my side and pulled me against him, cradling me in his embrace. He leaned up kissed my shoulder once more and then whispered, “I love you Jordan and, so long as I can help it, I will never let go of you again.”

We fell asleep that night in each other’s arms, nothing between us keeping us apart. We were finally bare to each other and we had never been so close.

XIX

I woke up; alone in bed; mid afternoon the next day to a ray of blinding light aimed on my face through the slats in the blinds. I peeked one eye open to glare at the window on the opposite wall in defiance.

Throwing the covers over my head to hide from the obviously already started day I cursed that window for obstructing one of the few peaceful sleeps I had had of late.

You know you aren’t going to be able to go back to sleep after seeing how bright it is outside, meaning how late into the day it must already be. “Oh shut up,” I grumbled to myself kicking the covers off of my body and slowly moving into a sitting position. I may not have felt much grief from my body the day before, but I was already well aware of the price I was going to pay today for it.

I wanted to get dressed in something a little more appropriate for day time, not to mention guests; men guests; but I decided I just didn’t have it in me; while sitting there on the edge of the bed starring at my bag in the bottom of the closet.

I tried to push myself up, and my shoulder objected very profoundly; so I didn’t get very far. Sitting there on the edge of the bed grasping my shoulder and trying to catch my breath I reminded myself that the first place I needed to visit was the bathroom. I knew my breath could throw a punch that the UFC would want to contract right about now, and I needed to use the facilities anyway.

Taking in a deep breath I braced myself for any pain and pushed upward with only my left arm this time. With surprise, I made it to my feet with little to none. I cracked the bedroom door open and peeked out to see if anyone was around. I didn’t see anyone in the long hallway, but I could hear voices further down and the sound of; what I was guessing was; the TV. So, I made a mad dash the few feet to the bathroom.

Once I was in the safety of the darkness, I slowly and quietly eased the door closed and then flicked the light on. Even with the bit of light that I had experienced just before in the bedroom and the cast off down the hall, the explosion of light sent my senses whirling as I scrounged to get my sight back.

After a few attempts, I finally eased my eyes open and they focused on my surroundings. I proceeded to do my business and brush my teeth. When I was finished and rinsed out the sink, I looked up and caught my gaze in the mirror. The swelling around my eye had gone down considerably and it was more of a purplish brown instead of black, my cheek seemed to have more of a grazed rash rather than the scab it had just the night before, and my lips were back to their normal size just a bit rosier in color than usual. I couldn’t believe how much I had healed in just one night; and I suppose a morning too. It was amazing what some sleep could do for our kind. At that rate, I was guessing to be back to normal by the end of the following weekend.

Thinking of the weekend to come had me reeling back into reality outside of the comfort of the people that were currently hosting me. I would have to go home no later than tomorrow, graduation would be the following evening, and then Hayden, our friends, and myself were suppose to have a graduation weekend out at Elaine’s. I would have to face everybody and begin my new life that not one of them; except for Hayden; would be aware of or ever be able to be aware of. I would have to build lies upon lies, and I had no idea how to do that when I was so completely open with the few people I was truly close to in my life. I decided, that since I would no longer be able to be with them as I had my whole life, I wasn’t going to lose that with Hayden no matter what.

After leaving the bathroom, I walked up the hall to find Regal, Hayden, and Granddad Wheely standing around in the kitchen conversating.

“Uh uhm,” I cleared my throat.

“Jordan,” Hayden called, as he crossed the short distance to stand in front of me. “Are you okay? How are you feeling?”

“Very hungry, since it didn’t even cross my mind yesterday to eat.”

“Of course! We did give you fluids through an IV for a little over twenty four hours after we got you back here, but we didn’t think a feeding tube was necessary.”

I glanced down at my arms wondering why I hadn’t noticed ever having an IV.

“It would have healed before you even woke,” Regal answered my thoughts, “just as your wounds are healing so beautifully now. You are looking quite well,” he said smiling at me.

“Wow,” Hayden agreed, “I’m sorry I didn’t notice before, but you do look so much better today from just last night.”

I gave him a playful displeasing look and he stuttered, “Not that you ever look bad. You are always beautiful to me.”

I just laughed at him and crossed into the kitchen, gave Regal a tight squeeze around his waist, and planted a quick kiss on Granddad Wheely’s cheek as I crossed to the fridge.

“Now this is something to be surprised about,” I said looking into the completely stocked fridge, “I have never seen this ice box so well equipped.” I grabbed a strawberry popped it into my mouth and retrieved the makings for a sandwich.

I held up the lunch meat; buffalo chicken, cheese; sliced mild cheddar, and Miracle Whip at Hayden, and he blushed as he brought down my favorite type of bread; Mrs. Baird’s Honey 7 Grain; from the cabinet above the stove.

“I had my dad pick up some of your favorite foods also when he went into Howe,” he confessed.

I caught a pleased look on Regal’s face out of the corner of my eye, and I smiled at Hayden while thanking him.

“So where is Uncle Rod and Wisconsin, not to mention your pack Regal?”

“Work,” they all said in unison.

All I could do was nod as I devoured the sandwich I had built. Ever since I could remember, I never made a sandwich I built them. I know it seems insignificant, but I always found it funny.

After I polished off two sandwiches and a few more strawberries in the task of putting away the makings of my sandwiches, I decided I had wasted away enough of the days light and it was time for that long overdue talk between Hayden and me.

I stood there while they chatted away waiting for a chance to grab Hayden, but after a few minutes I gave up being polite, “I’m sorry to interrupt ya’lls conversation, but I need to steal Hayden,” I finished, smiling at him to chime in.

“Oh yeah, yeah, we do need to talk. Ya’ll don’t mind if we skip out on ya’ll for a bit do you?”

The other two men looked at each other and then shook their heads at us to give us the go ahead. We told them thank you and parted out through the back door.

We headed down the ramp and Hayden asked, “Do you want to go down to the lake so we can have complete privacy?”

“Do you think that is smart after my first spill,” I asked humorously?

“What,” he asked and then took in my facial expressions. “Oh you’re not funny, and we had to tell your mom something.”

I just laughed playfully. I knew they did what was best for her, but if I couldn’t do anything about what had happened, I could at least laugh about it.

Once we made it carefully down to the bank Hayden took my hand and led me over to the old dock that conveniently had been part of the property here that Wisconsin purchased. I slipped off my flip flops and rolled up the pant legs of my pajama pants to stick my feet in the water. I couldn’t see my legs or much else of my body last night during my bath because of all of the bubbles, and then I was in such a hurry to get dressed afterwards to not embarrass Hayden anymore that I hadn’t really paid attention then, but I was aware of them now. The part that I had exposed was pail white and marred with faint red bites and gashes.

“You okay,” Hayden asked placing a hand on my shoulder?

I gave myself a quick shake of the head, placed my hand over his, and said, “Yeah I’m great,” and then I submerged my feet in the water.

“You know,” he started out hesitantly, “if you aren’t up to this we can talk later.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, “Don’t you dare try to weasel your way out of explaining things to me! I have waited long enough, and have went through plenty! I think I deserve some answers.”

“That’s not really what I was trying to do, but I guess I can understand why you would think that.”

“I’m sorry Hayden, I guess I’m just fresh out of patience when it comes to people not being straight with me. Funny huh,” I snorted, “I am tired of people keeping things from me, but now look at what I’m going to have to do to the people I love.”

“I know how hard it is, believe me,” he said placing his arm around me, “but you have to know that it is for their own good.”

I simply smiled at him. At least I knew I had him.

Hayden gave me a tight but gentle squeeze and then starred out across the water. “There is so much I have wanted to tell you, but I thought that I was doing what was best for you by not,” he shook his head and laughed at the irony. “If I would have just stopped being stubborn and accepted what I cannot change, what no one of my kind can change, then all of this could have been prevented.”

“Hayden you said before that your family kept what I am; and what Leandar’s pack was after; from you, for whatever reason. I know they wouldn’t have done that unless they had a purpose, and you cannot be at fault for something you had no knowledge of.”

“That’s just it Jordan you don’t understand. If I would have just stopped fighting what will not change I could have saved you from this.”

I was seriously tired of being told I didn’t understand, “Well if I don’t understand then why don’t you explain it to me?! Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing? I am so sick of hearing that! So stop having a pity party for yourself over there and tell me what the hell it is that you think you did so wrong.”

He flinched at the harshness of my rant, but I was too tired of all of this to care. I loved him, but this was my life that him, and his family had played with. No matter if they meant to do me any harm or not. What happened had happened, and there was nothing anybody could do about it now, but I wasn’t about to move on from it with more pieces of my life hanging in limbo.

“And what did you mean by your kind anyway? You are a mortal right?”

“Yes, but.”

I interrupted, “No buts! You are mortal. Therefore, you age and die with the expectancy of a mortal,” that realization hit me right through the heart. He did only have the life expectancy of a human, but I would have to mourn over that later, “So how different can you really be to where you are granted to say you have a kind? That also reminds me, what did you mean when you said you came into your Guardianship? Aren’t you one because your family’s history is a long lineage of them?” I didn’t know why any of this reminded me of that question, but whose mind is rational when they are angry?

“Jordan can you calm down and let me explain, or at least allow me to answer your questions before you start shooting off new ones,” he asked, a bit too amused for my liking at the moment.

I used my left arm to lower myself back and laid down on the dock. When I was comfortable I raised my eyebrows silently asking him “Well”?

“First I want to apologize. You are right, instead of me beating myself up and focusing on how bad I feel about what happened I need to be making it right by telling you everything to be sure nothing like this will ever happen again because of my pig headedness.”

“Well I’m sorry for being so insensitive about it. I know you feel bad for what happened, but I can’t focus on any of that, I just can’t,” I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to send myself off somewhere safe to escape the things I had went through, the fear I had felt, that kept replaying in my memories.

“Then let me take your mind off of it,” he said as I opened my eyes to stare at a smile stretched from ear to ear strewn across his face. I had seen that smile before, but when? I didn’t know why it began to bug me so much. I should have been focusing on the fact that he was positioning himself to kiss me, but all I could think about was that smile.

Then it hit me; my mirage; and I placed a finger across his lips just before they reached mine, “You need to explain to me what you meant by your kind!”

He leaned up on his elbow and laughed, “I thought you said I was a mortal and that’s all that I could be.”

“Oh don’t you get smug with me,” I said shoving at his shoulder, “now you start talking or I will walk my little happy self right back up to the house. We are here to talk not play.”

He huffed a bit and then laid back onto his back beside me, he grabbed my hand and began fiddling with my fingers, “Well, as Guardians we are technically mortals because we are born, grow, procreate, and die like them, but we have little quirks that they don’t.”

“Like,” I prompted.

“When the council was created to regulate the supernatural from the mortal world there were lineages that were made to make it up. Our family is one of them, and there are of course many more throughout the world, but we are the head here in Texas. Since a council was needed to do this it was obvious they couldn’t be supernatural themselves because of fear of them becoming out of control also, but to be able to do the job accurately and well they would have to have abilities which mortals do not possess.”

“I can completely understand that, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it until now. So what kind of abilities do ya’ll have?”

“That’s the cool part, we don’t really have any but then we have all of them.”

“Huh,” I said completely confused.

“I know, I know right,” he said all excited, “it sounds ridiculous but it’s true.”

“What does it mean?”

“Basically we don’t possess any special abilities by ourselves, but whatever we are up against we draw their abilities into us.”

I had never seen his eyes light up as much as they were right then. It was so nice to see him so proud of what he was.

“That sounds so cool. So since ya’ll were battling a werewolf pack you had heightened senses, speed, smell, night sight,” and then I faded off realizing what he had said. “What do you mean whatever ya’ll are up against? Are you telling me there is more than just my kind out there,” I asked scared of the answer but not sure why it surprised me.

“Unfortunately yes,” he said lying back again.

“Like what else?”

“As I said before I came into my Guardianship during a confrontation so I don’t know what all is out there yet, but I obviously know about werewolves, and I was also informed of vampires, and witches, but that is all I was able to be briefed on so far since we already had a situation on our hands.”

I sat there stunned at what he was saying. I always knew there were the wanna-be witches out there, but real ones that could do real magic, and then vampires! What kind of a world were we all living in; and that we were oblivious to? Well I guessed we weren’t all unaware since so many people claimed to know or had been in contact with those types of beings. I would have to say though that the council and their Guardians did a heck of a job, because if I wouldn’t have went through what I had I would have been none the wiser.

“You okay,” he asked turning his head to peer at me?

“Yeah just surprised, though I don’t really know why,” I laughed.

He laughed too, “Yeah I get it.”

“So what else is there? I mean to being a Guardian.”

“This is the part I kept from you,” he sighed and then sat up.

I sat up along side of him, pulling my feet out of the water, and said, “You told me you did it because you thought it was best for me. That if you would have known what I was that you would have told me. I don’t believe that you would ever do anything, or not do something in this case, that you thought would even remotely put me in danger,” I finished laying my head on his shoulder.

“Thanks,” he said leaning his head against mine.

“You have to tell me though Hayden. We can’t have anymore secrets, especially when we never know what it may mean for the other.”

“You know how my grandma passed last summer?”

“Yeah,” I drug out lifting my head to stare at him not sure if I was going to like where this was going to go.

“She was killed by a rogue Werewolf my family was hunting. That’s why my mom has been gone. She was sent away to another guardian’s home to make positive she was safe while we dealt with Leandar and his pack.”

That was definitely something I didn’t like and it made me sick. I felt my stomach begin to churn, but I ignored it because I needed to be there in the moment for Hayden.

“I’m so sorry Hayden. How can you even stand to be near me?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was one of my kind that killed her.”

He lifted my head and smiled at me, “It was also one of your kind that aided in hunting him down and ultimately killed him. I of course didn’t find any of this out until after my birthday when I came into my Guardianship.”

I smiled back at him. He was trying to make me feel better when I wouldn’t blame him for hating what was inside of me.

“So it was your eighteenth birthday that brought you into your Guardianship?”

“Yes we all come into it on that day. That’s why I disappeared in October. They were preparing me for it, and then they gave me time to adjust a bit before returning. Anyway, we need to finish the subject I was trying to explain when I brought up my grandmother.”

“Oh I’m sorry I didn’t realize that was what you were doing.”

“After finding out what had really happened to her I feared for you. I couldn’t bring you into my life knowing that no matter what you would never be safe, and knowing I would have to send you away regularly to try and keep you protected when I couldn’t. I guess that was a moot subject all along though. I didn’t have to bring you into anything; you were born in to it. Oh the twisted web fate weaves,” he laughed.

“Hayden I know we don’t like to be told this, but we are young and we may love each other now and we may never want to be apart now, but people grow and change, and even though I don’t ever see us losing each other as friends, it’s not like we are going to be together forever,” I said the words but I didn’t believe them myself. I knew he wasn’t and couldn’t ever be my mate but I loved him still and I didn’t see that ever changing. I just wanted to make him feel better about the choices he made blindly.

“That’s where you’re wrong and you don’t understand Jor. I am yours.”

“I know you feel that way now, I do too, but we are young. You don’t have to feel guilty about not telling me. What if I wasn’t what I am and you told me, drug me into your world, and then we didn’t work out just like most high school sweethearts don’t? I would have forever been in a world I didn’t have to be in. I am proud of you for being mature enough not to drag, who you believed to be, an innocent into our world.”

He put his head down and grasped my hands, “We may be young Jor, but I am yours. It is an element of being part of the Guardian lineage.”

“What are you saying Hayden?”

He looked up at me with no reluctance, “Our kind has only one person we are meant to be with, in the entire world. No matter where we are when born we always find our way to each other. She is the person chosen for us individually to help carry on our lineage, we are made perfectly for her, and you are mine.”

My mind was reeling in confusion, “That can’t be true. I love you Hayden, but my kind can only mate with another of my kind. Mortals or Guardians, or any other race for that matter, can’t have Twin Flames. Only Weres do.”

“Twin Flames? What are you talking about Jordan?”

“The mortal word is soulmate, but I can’t be yours because only our kind has them and I can only mate to a Were.”

“Jordan I’m not talking about soulmates.”

That had my mind coming to an abrupt halt, “What are you talking about then?”

“We don’t have a saying for it or a word to call it. All we know is that it is true. My Granddad Wheely was meant for my grandma, my dad is my mom’s, and I am yours. It can’t be denied.”

“Oh yes it can, what about Wisconsin,” I asked smugly.

“The woman he was meant for died during childbirth before I was born. The baby didn’t make it either,” he said looking away from me.

“I’m so sorry Hayden I had no idea.”

“He doesn’t talk about it.”

“But that doesn’t mean you are mine. It is probably just a legend among your kind,” I said doubting any legend being just that anymore.

“If it is just myth then how is every man of our kind with one woman and has ever been with one woman?”

I couldn’t really grasp that concept being full truth, “Maybe they lied about not having any other woman. It’s not like it is against the law to marry or bed more than once. Speaking of which what about the women of your kind? I bet they would be pretty perturbed to here you go on like this about the men and not even mention them.”

“No they wouldn’t because there aren’t any.”

“You mean to tell me there has never been a female born into your families?”

“Of course there have been, but they don’t carry the gene.”

“Oh I see,” I said grasping the whole DNA aspect of it. Sounds kind of sexist if you ask me, but hey I wasn’t one of their kind so it was no skin off of my back. “So what if you never have a son or your counterpart passes as Wisconsin’s did?”

“Each Guardian always has at least two sons unless their chosen one passes or they do.”

“So since Wisconsin lost his chosen one your dad picked up the slack, but you are an only child.”

“No I’m not,” he looked down.

“What,” I asked kind of loudly?

“I have an older brother but he lives in another area.”

“Well aren’t ya’ll just full of surprises, and this all sounds pretty convenient to me for your kind.”

“It is just what’s fated to our kind, we don’t make the rules.”

“Well then there’s your answer,” I said as a light bulb came on in my head.

“What?”

“You say it is fated, but I thought Guardians can’t be supernatural!”

He sat there for a moment mulling that over but then he regained his confidence, “I did say that and it is true, but not only supernaturals have a fate obviously. As I said we don’t make the rules we are fated to who we are fated to. I have no doubts I am yours.”

Okay so he is going to be stubborn.

“So what connects you to your chosen one,” I asked trying to find a different way to appease the subject. If I were mortal I would have loved to be this for him, but I was a Were; no matter how little; and that meant I would only be mated to a Were. I knew I loved him, but I knew true love for mortals was slim to find and for me to be his, whatever it was, was probably less of a chance.

“We are connected by heart. Once we reach our Guardianship our heart begins to yurn for the one we were meant for; unless they are already in our lives; and won’t stop until we are connected.”

What is up with two people connecting? First, I learn of Twin Flame souls connecting and now this! Maybe, all of those cheesy romance novels originate from partial facts.

“So why would you be hers then? Wouldn’t that make ya’ll each others?”

“No, because we are the ones with the gene, and also it was made that way so that if we were to pass they would not be made to suffer more than a usual pain.”

Well that definitely sounds more appealing than dying right along with your mate if ya’ll are Twin Flames. I don’t know why females of my kind look so hard for someone that could cause their death just by passing themselves. I will admit it sounds incredibly romantic, but I think I would always be worried if I was going to drop dead at any second any time we were apart.

“So have you felt the yurn,” I asked stifling a snicker?

He glared at me and then said, “No I haven’t.”

“Well maybe it is just because you barely reached your kinds maturity.”

“Jordan I am yours,” he proclaimed, grasping me by the arms firmly and staring into my eyes.

“Hayden stop it, my shoulder is still sore,” I complained trying to break his grasp.

“No, look at me,” he demanded.

I was completely shocked by his actions and his tone, so I mindlessly obeyed.

“You have seen me.”

“I am seeing you right now,” I laughed bringing myself back from my shock, but he held tight.

“No you saw me when no one else knew I was there. When you thought I wasn’t either.”

That sobered me up quick and sent me back to remembering again where I had seen that smile he displayed earlier.

“No,” was all I could say.

“You know it’s true, and I know you saw me. The first time I tried to do it was the first weekend out at the lake house, because Leandar’s pack was already around. I had to keep you out of the way so I could focus on the rest of the group. If I thought you could be in any danger I wouldn’t have been able to focus. After that first time I knew I was yours, and I showed myself to you quite a bit there for awhile because I just wanted to see you even if you didn’t know it was really me. Then the time I was hurting for you and I accidently projected to you in the bathroom. I felt so horrible about how I left you in there that I made up an excuse for Elaine to go check on you,” he stopped for a second and I could have swore I saw tears gathering as he turned his head away from me, “and then that time the girls stayed over and you came out to your car. I hated myself for making you hurt like that. It took everything in me not to go to you in person that night and confess everything.” He turned back to look at me and the pain that was written on his face made my heart ache and somewhere in me I thought I could hear his heart crying out again, “When you were taken I don’t know why I didn’t think to project to you in the beginning but I was just so distraught,” he stopped for a second trying to get a hold on himself, “and then my dad asked if I had yet and I then immediately did so. I wanted to die when I saw you. When I saw where you were, not knowing what was going to happen, or when I would finally find you. Then you saw me, and I saw the hate in your eyes, and I hated myself; because none of this would have happened if I wouldn’t have tried to fight what cannot be changed. You see? My kind can only do that with the one their heart belongs to. I am yours Jordan and I will not fight it any longer, but I will not blame you if you do not want me.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only was I a Were that would inevitably at some point be mated to a male Were that couldn’t fight it, but fate threw another twist in there and made me the one Hayden’s heart was meant for, which he also couldn’t fight or deny.

Then the most horrible realization came to the forefront, I would out live him and have to watch him die.

XX

“Jordan,” Hayden yelled after me.

Upon accepting what he told me; because there really was no other choice; and realizing that the only man I had ever loved would grow old and wither away long before me, I knew I had to talk to Regal. He was my only confidant in all of this. It was weird how he came to be, but he was and he would know what to do.

I hoped.

“Jordan,” Hayden finally caught up to me and pulled me to a stop. “Wow you sure are fast when you want to be,” he panted trying to catch his breath.

I just stood there staring at him. I didn’t know what to say or do; it was as if my body was on auto-pilot. I wasn’t feeling any emotion, except for this overwhelming need to run to Regal.

“Where are you going in such a hurry? One minute you were sitting there beside me blank faced and in the blink of an eye you were like five steps away from me. Are you okay?”

I looked down to stare at my feet; I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know if I was or not. With everything that had been thrown at me since the past weekend I was lucky to still be sane.

“Jordan, I’m sorry. I know I should have told you sooner, but don’t you understand now? Why I thought I was giving you your choices instead of taking them? I wanted you to choose me. I didn’t want you to think we had to be together because of my, my situation,” he sighed.

For some reason I began to feel angry. Angry at what had been kept from me, at losing my father and his pack before I ever knew them, at not fitting in anywhere now, at having no control over what was to happen on my birthday, but right at that moment I was pissed at Hayden’s complete ignorance and blindness.

I began to laugh, sounding a bit mad in my own head, and I lifted my head to stare into Hayden’s eyes, “I haven’t many choices. This weekend has proved that ten times over. The things I have learned about myself, my family, beings that will no doubt cross my path, and not to mention the people I have thought to be so close to,” I glared at him and he faltered, “but it has always been my choice to love you. I loved you as a friend; and practically family; since junior high. Then I began to love you on a whole other level last summer, even before you reached your Guardianship. It may have been in your cards for us to be together way before we ever had knowledge of it, but I am a female Were and that carries a lot in my race. Females of my kind are free to choose between whomever they are fated to with no consequences. Whether that be between a mate of our kind or the heart of one of your kind. The only person I cannot deny is my Twin Soul.”

“Are you saying,” he waned, and I could see the doubt and pain play in his eyes.

“I’m not saying anything, but that I need to talk to Regal.”

I wrenched my arms out of his grasp, ignoring the pain that shot down my right arm, turned back towards the way of the house and left him standing befuddled on the walkway.

“I need to talk with you,” I growled, when I reached where Regal and Granddad Wheely sat on the front porch.

Granddad Wheely gave me a short worried glance and then said, “I’ll just go inside then.”

“No,” I snapped, and then I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself, “I need to talk to him in privacy. Would you take a walk with me,” I asked Regal.

Regal gave Wheely a taught nod and descended the stairs. He held his arm out to me and I curled my arm into the knick of his. With just that simple closeness I felt myself relax a bit. I couldn’t explain it, but when I was with him I felt at home. I felt comforted and safe.

He led me back to the fallen tree we had visited just the day before and we took a seat to begin.

“Tell me what is troubling you, little one,” he said soothingly, as he brushed a lock of hair out of my face and secured it behind my ear.

I smiled up at him and sighed, “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I was so furious before. I’m not really quite sure why I got so angry, but I was. And with just the closeness of you, and a few words you have me relaxed and smiling.”

“It is just an effect we share.”

“Like we, as in you and me,” I asked kind of scared.

“No,” he laughed, “as in our kind. We calm each other. We can also rev each other up in anger or excitement.”

For some reason when he said that I had a flash back of waking up after my conversion in Leandar’s thrown cave. I bet Leandar did that to me. That’s why when he suggested I get some sleep I passed out shortly after despite me not being tired at all. I thought I was just giving out because I was exhausted, but not even a few minutes before I was wide awake and fearing for my life.

“ That’s also why we howl. It isn’t just a way to communicate, but I’m sure you’ve realized that,” Regal stated bringing me back from my thoughts.

“Yeah I noticed that the other night,” I blushed remembering the thanks Regal and his pack bestowed upon me. “So we share emotions?”

“We can, but it is done by either accepting to share or we can send out suggestions. I didn’t share your anger. Instead, I sent out a calming suggestion.”

“Oh,” I said mesmerized by just one more amazing thing my race could do.

“I’m afraid my suggestion was a bit strong though.”

“Why,” I asked confused.

“Because, you have completely abandoned your reason for us being here.”

“Oh. Oh yes, Hayden has just told me something which is distressing, amazing, wonderful, saddening news. All in all I am completely confused.”

Regal looked at me with intrigue and concern battling in his depths. “What has he told you? I will help in any way.”

“He told me he is mine. I’m sure that the Samson’s have explained why I was not told before now about my heritage to you; even though they haven’t explained that to me yet.”

Regal interrupted, “They also haven’t really had the chance to explain it to you yet, little one. You have been racing around trying to learn as much as possible about everything that is to come now, but you have yet to ask what led you to where you are now. When you are ready you will go after your answers.”

Well that’s one way of putting me in my place, and leave it to Regal to put it so delicately.

“So; though I’m not sure yet why they didn’t tell me; they told Hayden the reason they hadn’t told him everything before was because they wanted to allow him to make a clear decision whether or not he was going to declare himself to me first. So that the fact that I would be in this world no matter his decision wouldn’t weigh in. I guess they thought that if he knew about me it would make it too easy or something,” I said displeased.

“No they probably wanted him to make his decision from the heart, and not from convenience.”

“Yeah that makes sense. So what does this mean? Have you ever heard of this?”

“I do not know much about the Guardians or those that make up the council; no one does. They are very secretive, with good reason. Though, I’m not even quite sure what you are saying, or asking little one.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how much knowledge you would have of their kind, and I guess I really shouldn’t say much if they are secretive, because as you said they have their reasons.”

He nodded at me agreeably.

“But I have to talk to you about this with Hayden and myself. If they didn’t want me to talk to someone of my kind about it then they shouldn’t have allowed him to declare to me.”

“Only if you are sure. I do not want you to betray those you love.”

“I’m not betraying them. This is just as much my secret as it is theirs now, because it affects my life too. Plus, I know you wouldn’t betray me. I feel it every time I am near you.”

He just smiled at me.

“The way Hayden explained it to me, is that when their race was created, for every Guardian born, a female is chosen for them. The person they are perfectly matched for, and no matter what they are brought together at some point either before or after they reach their Guardianship. She is chosen as a perfect match to help carry on their lineage. I mean obviously they aren’t chosen just for that reason; I know it is supposed to be a perfect match, and obviously so far they always have been, because none have been separated unless by death; but how can I be? I thought the Guardians and council were specifically made non-supes? What does this mean for me,” I finished in complete distress.

“Well, this is difficult,” Regal added, and I just nodded. “As a female Were you will always have a choice. Nothing can change that about our kind.”

“No, but can I really deny him the only chance he has at love, or a family of his own,” I asked feeling defeated?

Regal looked at me with horror, “Are you telling me they cannot reproduce with any other?”

I shook my head yes, “He didn’t come right out and say it like that. He said that every one of his kind is only and has only ever been with one woman.”

“That is horrible, what if their woman passes?”

“Wisconsin.”

“What,” was all he got out, and the realization hit him, “he lost his woman?”

“During childbirth. It happened before Hayden was born, and he has never been with another woman. I have never even seen him give a passing glance at one even though a few have all but hopped in his lap at the shop he owns.”

“I feel for him, losing a mate myself, but we need to focus on you right now. I understand your struggle because of Hayden’s predicament, but this is ultimately your decision. You have to make it for you. If you vow yourself to him you will only ever be able to be with him even if a mate comes along; unless your Twin Flame emerges or he passes.”

“I know that and it is only one of my many concerns.”

“Well then why don’t you express them to me. Sometimes hearing worries out loud helps to find a solution.”

We sat there for awhile as I poured my heart out to him. My worries about: What if I did choose to be with him, could I really damn my children to the unknown of what was to come of their mixed heritage? What if by some miracle I did come across my Twin Soul? I would have no control over connecting with them, and that would end in me leaving Hayden anyway. I went on like that for awhile and when I was finally spent Regal just held me.

“You have a very hard decision to make little one, but just be glad you have a choice.”

“Right now I wish it was out of my hands,” I sniffled.

“I know this is hard, but you do not ever want for your choices to be taken from you. You are a female Were and you are to be worshipped as such,” he smiled down at me.

“Yeah, worshipped,” I laughed wiping at my eyes.

“If this helps at all. Not so long ago I remember you saying that you couldn’t help but to find true love with one human, and if I remember correctly that was Hayden.”

“Yeah, you’re right. And that was just yesterday.” I laughed.

“It was but it sounds better the way I said it,” he snickered. “If you don’t mind me asking, how do they know when they find this person they were made for?”

“That’s funny you of all people should ask.”

“How so?”

“Because you are the only person who ever knew about my so called imaginary Hayden.”

“I am not following.”

“Turns out my imaginary Hayden isn’t so imaginary. It was him projecting himself to me every time I have seen him.”

“What a remarkable skill,” Regal admired. “That must come in quite handy. I would have loved to have been able to do that with my mate. Maybe then,” he stopped.

It was my turn to comfort him. I put my arm around his waist and hugged him, “She knew that if you knew and could have been there you would have.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. I could never doubt you, and I’m not even your mate. I could only imagine how she felt about you,” I said looking up into his eyes. His wolf soul was so beautiful, “She was a very, very lucky wolf.”

“Thank you, little one, I still miss her deeply.”

“Do you have any young of your own,” I asked curiously.

“No, I haven’t been with another since Aster passed.”

“You never said her name until now; it is beautiful!”

“I guess I am just not used to speaking of her.”

“I’m sorry,” I said apologizing for stirring up hurtful memories.

“Don’t be. Even though it hurts to think of her absence, the memories of her make me very happy. That is why I am going to give you some advice that I believe to be suitable for your situation. When making decisions of the heart you must act without thought. The mind will always twist things in every direction; almost anyone can find bad out of good and good out of bad; but only the heart will lead you to the true answer you seek.”

“Most people would say you were backwards in that statement. That when you follow only your heart and don’t factor in logic that you are setting yourself up for failure.”

“The people you speak of are human,” he said lifting my head to face him, “they are not of our kind or the Guardians. The fates have smiled upon our races and given us what our hearts desire because we are deserving. Most mortals take advantage of the things they are given. They are cold, cruel, and calculating. Not even a second thought at hurting each other if it means they get what they want. That is why most are so skeptical; in which as humans they should be. I have been alive for many of years little one, and have seen the times change as well as the people. Mortals have only progressed in the worst possible ways.”

“Not all are that way,” I defended the race I grew up as.

“Not all, but the majority. Take my advice and I will ask you before we reach the house,” he stood and extended his hand.

I took it and stood, “You mean you expect me to have an answer by the time we reach the house,” I asked unsure of myself.

“As I said, don’t think, just feel. Your heart won’t take long to express its answer. The walk back to the house is more than enough time.”

He curled my hand into the inside of his arm, and we began the walk back up to the house.

We walked in complete silence. I stared up at what I could see of the already dimming sky as he led me through the trees. I tried not to think about the decision I was supposed to be making. I tried to listen to my heart; to hear what it wanted. When we reached the clearing in front of the house I leaned my head against his arm and closed my eyes allowing him to blindly guide me.

When we reached the steps he stopped and squeezed my hand that was grasping his arm. I opened my eyes, took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly as we climbed the few stairs to the front porch.

Just as he indicated; when we reached the front door he turned toward me and asked, “Have you listened to the answer your heart has given you?”

“Yes, but it still has one question itself.”

He raised an eyebrow at me, “I hope it is truly a question your heart needs answered, and not that confused mind of yours,” he said tapping me lightly on the forehead.

“No it is a question of the heart. It is something I just remembered Hayden saying when he rescued me. I need to know if it truly is a memory and what it means.”

“Okay then, there is only one way to find out,” he said opening the door, and holding it open for me.

Instead of ushering me in like he would have usually done he just stood there holding it open for me, as if saying I had to make the decision to walk through it after the answer I seeked. I looked up at Regal smiled and walked into the living room of Wisconsin’s with the decision to get my answer.

When we got to the kitchen I realized everyone had returned from work while we were on our walk. As Regal’s pack became aware of his presence silence rang out. Regal nodded and then the conversations commenced once again.

I walked over to Hayden; who had been having a conversation with his dad, Uncle Rod; and leaned up against the kitchen counter, “I’m sorry for getting so upset earlier and leaving like I did. Can we finish what we were talking about,” I asked extending my hand asking for his acceptance?

He intertwined his fingers with mine and my heart did a little happy dance. I smiled up at him and then turned to Uncle Rod, “Do you mind if I steal him away? There are still a few things we need to iron out?”

“Red, you have always been able to get anything you want with me by that smile,” he smiled his crooked smile at me.

I stood up on my tippy toes; and he crooked his head to the side to accommodate me; so I could place a kiss on his cheek.

“Alright enough of that or I will take you in the yard old man,” Hayden joked.

His dad laughed and patted him on the back, “You better get him out of here before I show him just what is left in this old man.”

“Okay lets go,” I said laughing as I pulled Hayden toward the back door.

We descended the ramp for the second time today but instead of heading back down to the lake I led him over to the lowered tail gate of his truck.

“I need to ask you something,” I said.

“Anything,” he answered.

“When you rescued me that morning; I think I remember something you said.”

“What?”

“You asked me to stop crying out to you, but I wasn’t crying. At least not out loud.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, “That is another sign. We can hear the cries of our chosen ones heart.”

My eyes began to tear, “Can we hear ya’lls,” I asked remembering that night out in Wisconsin’s lot.

“I have heard of a few that can, but not all. Why,” he asked eyeing me.

“Because, I heard yours cry out to me that Sunday,” I choked on my overwhelming emotions.

“It’s okay Jor, you don’t have to explain. I know when you are talking about. I’m sorry,” he said seeming unsure of how he should be reacting to me.

“What are you sorry for? This is amazing,” I laughed.

He smiled at me and said, “Wow, it has been awhile since I have seen this sight.”

“What,” I asked furrowing my eyebrows; as I pushed my hair behind my ears self consciously.

“Not this,” he stated wiping a tear from my cheek. “It’s just that I haven’t seen you even around my truck in so long,” he said sitting down beside me.

“Well you better get used to it,” I said smiling at him.

“What,” he asked unsure but excited still, “are you, are you saying, no wait, I don’t want to jump to conclusions,” he stammered standing again to pace in front of me.

I smiled at the sight. I didn’t like to see him hurting, but he looked pretty cute when he was vulnerable like that.

“What are you smiling at Jor? This is not funny. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but that sounded,” he stopped to eye me, “well it doesn’t matter how it sounded. What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying I am going to run up to city hall with you,” I said dragging my answer out a bit longer.

“Well obviously no! You are still in high school, and not even of legal age to get married without parental consent.”

“Hayden,” I screeched not believing that I was hearing him actually even considering that.

He plastered a huge grin on himself and I realized he had baited me just as I had him.

“Oh you are not funny,” I glared at him playfully.

“But I am cute aren’t I,” he smiled as he stepped between my dangling legs.

I turned my head up to stare into those beautiful hazel eyes, “You aren’t as cute as you may think you are.”

He leaned back, placed a hand over my chest, and said, “I believe your heart would have to disagree with that statement.”

I smiled up at the man my heart had chosen and said, “I believe it would too, and I would have to agree with it about something else.”

He took the hand on my chest and moved it to the back of my neck, positioned my head tilting back, and just as his lips hovered over mine asked, “And what would that be?”

My mouth parted ever so slightly to whisper, “You are mine.”

Then his lips prevailed onto mine.

XXI

The next morning I told Regal and his pack that I appreciated their presence, but they needed to get back to their own lives. Regal of course expressed concern and wanted to stick around a bit longer, but I reminded him that I had to go home that evening anyway. He chewed on that for a bit and then decided they would go on back home; which was only on the other side of the lake from Wisconsin’s anyway; but he had to make sure I had his, his Beta’s; Tovias, and both of their work numbers first.

As Hayden and I walked them out to their vehicles, Regal checked the numbers again to make sure they were written correctly and clearly, and then he added his home and work address. I gave him a kiss on the cheek, a long tight hug, and then practically shoved him into his truck. I had to admit though, when I was standing there waving goodbye to the tail end of his pack’s vehicles, I felt my heart lurch.

Hayden appeared at my side then and reassured me that he was only a phone call away, and that I knew Regal would come hail or high waters. I smiled at him, because he was right.

Hayden’s dad didn’t go into the shop that day with Wisconsin, but sat around all day carrying on with me, Hayden, and Wheely. When I had gathered all of my belongings and Hayden was putting them in the bed of his truck, I said my goodbyes and thanks to the older Samson’s.

They both got kind of choked up and didn’t really know what to say, but that is a typical man I guess. I just smiled and gave both of them a kiss on the cheek. Hayden got the truck started and hollered after me, and right before I jumped in beside him Uncle Rod hollered out a welcome to the family, with Granddad Wheely following up with telling me I was the perfect addition. I blew them a kiss, plopped down beside Hayden, and then we were barreling toward Howe.

The drive wasn’t even an hour’s time and we were pulling up in front of my house. I sighed a big one and Hayden asked if I was going to be okay. I didn’t really know how I was or how I was going to be, but there wasn’t anything to do but face it. I had to keep the people I loved in the dark to keep them safe, and that went doubly for my mom.

Just as I was following Hayden out of the driver’s side, I heard the crash of the screen door on my house shutting. My mom was hysterical, she acted as if she hadn’t seen me in years. She laughed, cried, hugged, kissed, and it was probably the same thing she did the day I was born. She went on and on about how worried she was about me, about how thankful she was to Hayden and his family, about how she was going to wrap me in bubble wrap and never let me out of her sight again, then she cried and hugged me some more.

All of this before I even got out of the truck. I didn’t even want to think of how she would have reacted if she would have seen me just a few short days before. I had almost completely healed by the time I arrived home that evening. My eye wasn’t swollen anymore just your typical shiner, my cheek and lips were completely healed, the bite and gash wounds all over my body were just faint marks that were a bit pinker than the rest of my skin, but my shoulder still wasn’t in the greatest shape. I was just glad she couldn’t see that and I was also glad that I had become tolerable of the pain that occurred when I used it too much or too roughly.

That night Hayden had dinner with us because she insisted, I walked him to his truck afterward, told him I loved him, gave him a good long kiss, and he told me he would see me at school the next day.

I dragged my fingers down the side of my Camino’s bed as I walked back up to my house. I was happy to see Ole’ Blue. I helped my mom put away everything, and then reluctantly let her inspect me when she wouldn’t leave it alone. She of course was completely beside herself about my shoulder, like I knew she would be, but I reassured her it felt way better than what it had. It wasn’t a lie, it felt ten times better. She just didn’t know that it’d been as bad as it had.

After I finally made it to my room, I plugged in my cell phone and turned it on to find unlimited calls, texts, and voice mails from Elaine and a few from Kevin. I just erased them all. I already knew I would be playing twenty questions from the next school day on through the weekend we all had planned.

That night I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and got dressed in my favorite lounge sweats and tank before hitting my bed. I laid there relishing the feeling of being in my bed after everything that had happened just the weekend before. As I leaned over to turn out my lamp Hayden appeared at the foot of my bed. I smiled at him, told him goodnight, and to go away. I turned out the lamp and then my lights were out shortly after.

Friday morning came too early for my liking, since I had been sleeping well into the afternoon the whole week, but I forced myself out of bed with the help of my mom’s constant worrying after me. First she was afraid I may have been experiencing night terrors from my accident, but when I reassured her I slept fine she then worried that maybe I had lost too much blood or hit my head too hard. After a short while of her constant worried scenarios I wasn’t tired anymore but I was getting the start of a headache.

When I finally got her calmed down that morning I proceeded with my normal morning rituals except this time including fixing my hair for once and slapping on some old make-up I had stashed; to hide as much of my shiner as possible. I definitely knew and felt different after the week I had had and I didn’t feel like being stared at on top of it all.

I pulled up at school Friday morning; and like any other school day; gained the attention of almost every person in the parking lot because of how loud my car was. I didn’t care though because I loved loud rumbling engines. They were exciting and sexy in a way all of their own.

I hadn’t noticed Hayden’s truck; although I hadn’t really had time to look for it yet either; but as I stepped out of my Camino; and slammed the door behind me; he came out of nowhere, pinned me against the side of my car, and planted a pretty hot kiss on me with everyone staring.

“Wow what was that for,” I laughed as he stood over me, still pinning me to my door.

“I missed you so much last night, and you look so good,” he growled.

I smiled despite how corny he sounded, and then we were interrupted, by; you guessed it; none other than my best friend Elaine.

“Uh hum. Can I steal my bestie for awhile since you stole her from me last weekend and then she accidently injured herself while in your care,” she asked not waiting for an answer, but slipping her arm under Hayden’s and pulling me free of him.

I felt his absence as soon as I stepped away from him, but he smiled at me reassuringly.

I turned back and asked with a pep I never had, “What’s up Lainy?”

“Lainy,” she laughed? “Okay who are you and what have you done with my best friend,” she asked while dramatically turning me in a circle?

“Oh shut up,” I laughed slapping her hands away. “And stop that or you are going to make me dizzy. You wouldn’t want to hinder my recovery would you,” I teased?

“You look fine to me,” she ignored my playful tease and intertwined our arms as she yanked me forward to walk with her.

The only problem was she caught me off guard and she had a hold of my right arm. I hissed in pain and my knees buckled under me. I sat crumpled on the ground, rocking back and forth clutching my shoulder.

Elaine reached down to comfort me but came up short as Hayden came running over and caught her by the arm, “What did you do,” he accused?

“I don’t know, but this happened in your care,” she spat at him. “Why didn’t you protect her?”

I looked up at that statement to see Hayden frozen; still grasping Elaine’s arm as she snatched it from his grasp. He looked down at me and I could hear his heart cry out. It was so awful to hear the pain it was in just by what Elaine said. She didn’t know anything, and I knew he would’ve been there sooner if he could’ve been, but his heart still cried, and his eyes read just how sorry he was.

I felt myself growing angry, and I growled, “Elaine.”

“What,” she asked innocently?

“Hayden didn’t do anything wrong. He couldn’t have prevented my accident even if he wanted to, and as for the fact that you keep saying this happened while I was in his care; I am not a dog or any other pet. It would have happened at some point no matter who I was with.”

“How would you falling down Wisconsin’s hill have happened with anybody but Hayden,” she pointed out and I looked up at Hayden scared of what I had said, but then Elaine calmed my worry without even meaning to, “and why are you mad at me? Hayden’s the one that started it by implying I would ever intentionally hurt you!”

I sighed in relief as he helped me to my feet and then he turned to her, “I’m sorry Elaine. I have just been real worried about her all week.”

“Yeah where was that worry the whole school year,” she mumbled as she intertwined with my left arm this time.

“Elaine,” I growled.

“Okay, okay,” she exclaimed. “Apology excepted,” she stated smugly.

“Elaine I swear I won’t go this weekend if this is the way it is going to be between the two of you!” I said stopping dead in my tracks.

“What?!” She screeched. “You mean ya’ll are back together?”

“I thought by my staying with him for the past week would have made that pretty transparent.”

“Jordan nothing is transparent or surface deep when it comes to you. For all I knew you could’ve told him you didn’t ever want to be with him again and then were stuck out there after your fall.”

“Hey,” Hayden called out, “why would it be her that would call us off for good?! What about me?”

Elaine swiveled us to face him, she looked him up and down, smiled, and then stated, “Yeah right,” as she turned us around laughing.

I heard Hayden huff, and I reminded him, “But we are back together and stronger than ever remember?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile in his tone.

“Anyhoo,” Elaine chimed in bringing my attention back to her, “so ya’ll are back together then, yay!”

“What gave you the first clue? The apparent kiss you interrupted, or me just saying so,” I laughed?

She blew a raspberry at me and then the bell rang us all to class. The entire day was boring, besides Hayden appearing to me during each test motioning for me to meet him in the hall. Mostly we would just talk and soak up as much of each other’s presence as we could before returning to class, but there was a bit of smooching squeezed in there too. What could I say? We had a lot of lost time to catch up on.

I met Elaine in the lunch line like usual and then we took up our regular seats at the table. The whole gang was there today because the elective finals were mandatory. It was nice and bitter sweet that we were all there together, but then wouldn’t be ever again after that lunch. We were all excited about graduation that evening and then our trip out to Elaine’s for the weekend. Even though I was excited I still had a twinge of dread because of what had happened just a week before. Hayden could tell I was uncomfortable and moved from sitting beside Kevin to pulling up a chair next to me, as he pulled me against him comfortingly.

I leaned my head back against his shoulder, closed my eyes, and inhaled his scent. Kevin threw a fry at me and said, “Hey lovebirds. Does this mean that our group is officially back together, just in time?”

“Just in time for what,” I laughed.

“For one of our epic weekend trips,” he said giving me a DUH stare.

I guess he was right. Our weekends out at the lake had always seemed pretty epic, but that all had changed for me. The lake had a whole new meaning now, but I was still looking forward to having a carefree weekend with my friends after the week I had had. Even if it was, going to be where my life had been changed so drastically and horrifically.

I smiled up at Hayden and said, “Yeah I am definitely down for one of our epic lake trips, and yes our group is back together; for good.”

For the rest of the lunch period those of us not graduating asked random questions to Hayden, Elaine, and Max about how they felt. Elaine was stoked, Hayden was indifferent he said because I still had two years, and Max was excited about college but hated leaving home.

That was the good thing about growing up in a small town; I guess; it would always be home.

There was always only one test left after lunch on the last day of finals because they let everyone out early to get ready for graduation. Hayden was waiting for me at my locker when I rounded the corner. I couldn’t help but to smile, and when he saw me he smiled back.

“Excuse me.”

“Huh? Did you need something,” he asked?

“Yeah you are kind of blocking my locker,” I played along.

“Oh,” he said moving, “you mean this locker,” he asked pointing at it?

“Yup, and you should probably move along because my boyfriend may not like you being so close to me.”

“Really,” he asked moving closer to me, “and what does he have that I don’t?”

“Well,” I said closing my locker for the last time this year, “his eyes aren’t so close together,” I started as I leaned back against my locker, “he is way more built than you,” I stated feeling of his arm, “and he doesn’t stink,” I said leaning over to smell of him.

“Oh you are going to get it,” he said as I bolted for the doors down the hall.

He let me make it out of them and then he caught me around the waist and slung me over his shoulder. I laughed and pounded on his back.

“Hayden put me down.”

He stood me upright by the driver’s side door of my car and then pushed my wild hair out of my face.

“Hey,” Elaine called as her and Max rushed over to us. “Max wants to ask you something Hayden,” she said as she snuggled up beside me.

“You want to get ready over at my place,” Max asked Hayden?

“Yeah that would be great,” Hayden said as he rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortable with the attention. “It definitely beats getting dressed at the shop and trying not to get dirty,” he laughed.

“And I want to get ready at your place,” Elaine stated turning on me with her childlike stare.

“Where else would you get ready,” I asked smiling and pulling her into a hug?

“Okay well we will leave ya’ll alone now,” Elaine said jumping to Max’s side. “We are going to go pick up my stuff and he will drop me off at your place, and Hayden you meet him at his house in an hour.”

“Yeah what she said,” Max laughed.

“Alright I will see you then,” Hayden said as they began to walk away.

“By the way,” Max called back, “nice shiner Jor,” he laughed and then Elaine elbowed him, hard!

I laughed as they walked away and then it was just Hayden and me, finally. I felt like I hadn’t been alone with him in years even though it hadn’t even been a day.

He leaned his head down and his forehead against mine. I closed my eyes, “Um I’ve missed you.”

“I know,” he smiled.

I pushed at his chest, but got nowhere, and then we laughed at my efforts.

“You better get going. You don’t want to be late for your own graduation.”

“I am a guy Jor,” he said caressing my cheek, “all I have to do is throw on my clothes and some cologne.”

“Definitely some cologne,” I laughed.

“You think you are just so funny and clever,” he said lowering his face to mine.

“I know I am and so do you,” I smiled.

“I know I want to kiss you.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to shut me up since they walked off.”

“Well then, allow me to oblige, happily,” and then he kissed me with all of the longing I had been feeling since he left me the night before.

“Okay,” I said breaking our lock and pushing lightly at his chest. “You need to go, and so do I.”

“No we don’t, not yet,” he said rubbing his lips against my cheek teasingly.

“Yes we do,” I laughed. “Elaine will kill me and then you if I am not there waiting anxiously to help her get ready for tonight. Besides graduation is important for you and your family too,” I pointed out.

He leaned his head against my shoulder and let out a sigh of defeat.

“See I am right,” I said as I kissed the side of his head. “Now go! Go get ready. We have all weekend.”

He perked up at that statement. We stood there giving each other more than a few quick pecks of goodbye and then we were both off heading to our destinations. As we drove out of the school parking lot in opposite directions, I watched his truck grow smaller in my rearview mirror with a smile that I possessed solely for and because of him.

XXII

I drove to my house in a euphoric haze that day. No matter how crazy the past week had been; or how crazy it would be from then on; it all seemed bearable with Hayden being back in my life. I was glad I was the one chosen for him. I was glad that I knew he was mine; even if that did sound selfish. Or seem selfish to be happy about when I was free and clear to do as I pleased so long as I didn’t vow myself to him. I had no control over what I was though, and I couldn’t dictate the laws of my kind; therefore it was impossible to decree something onto myself that I had no control of. Besides, like I had said to Hayden, I wasn’t going to rush out and elope with him. I was just accepting that I was his chosen one, and that was enough for me at that point. I was too young by mortal and Were standards to even be thinking about marriage anyway.

When I pulled up to my house and climbed out of my Camino I shook my head clear of that line of thought and prepared myself for the afternoon I was to spend with Elaine for her graduation. I would have to help her finalize her clothing; even though it would be hidden underneath our school’s gown; fix her hair; regardless of the fact that the cap would hinder the choice of anything but wearing it down; and be subject to her persistent attempts to dress me up a bit; but I already had a suit of clothes picked out for this night. We would probably do an at home mani-pedi. This would consist of using my mom’s larger stock pots to soak our feet, lavishing them and our hands in my mom’s expensive moisturizing cream, and then slowly and meticulously painting our finger and toe nails.

I unlocked the front door and immediately started the groundwork for our at home salon; dropping my bag just inside the living room. I rushed to the kitchen, turned two stove burners on medium-low; on my mom’s pride and joy gas range stove; rushed over and pulled out two stock pots; the ones Elaine and I usually used for this; out of one of the lower cabinets my mom designated for pots and pans, filled them up one at a time with hot water from the sink, and then placed them onto the stove to keep the water warm until Elaine showed up.

I checked the clock on the stove and learned I was in luck. I had made it home with good time, and had time to take a quick shower and shave my legs before she was due to show up; that was if she took around the hour she told Hayden to wait for. Deciding I would risk it I ran back into the living room, grabbed my bag from by the front door, and darted up the stairs. I stashed my bag in my closet, grabbed some shorts, underwear, and a t-shirt off of the shelves my mom had built on the opposite sides of my closet, and made a b-line for the bathroom.

The water felt good against my aching body. I didn’t have many marks left, but I still had a bit of discomfort; and I was guessing after Elaine’s tug that morning and then lugging my book bag around that it probably didn’t help. After washing my hair and shaving my legs, I stood there just letting the warmth from the water caress and sooth me inward as well as outward until I began to realize the bandages on my shoulder growing soggy with each passing minute. I opened my eyes and glared at them hating my shoulder for cutting my beloved shower short, but I ultimately gave in reminding myself I needed to get back downstairs before Elaine showed up.

I had showered and gotten dressed in record time; especially since I left my hair wrapped in a towel; I realized when I reached the pots on the stove and glanced at the clock. I put some towels on the ground in the living room in front of the couch, and then carefully began the process of placing the pots on top of them just as Elaine knocked at the front door.

“Come in,” I called out squatting on the floor to place the first pot.

She opened the door and rushed to my side, “Jordan you shouldn’t be lifting that,” she lectured. “You could have waited until I got here. What if your shoulder gave out on you? Not only did you risk reinjuring your shoulder, you also risked scalding yourself if you dropped this,” she said motioning to the pot she had taken from me.

“Oh stop being so dramatic,” I said getting to my feet. “I had gotten it from the sink to the stove, from the stove into here, and was even able to kneel with it before you rushed to my rescue. How do any of ya’ll expect for it to heal and get stronger if I don’t use it?”

“Well you can work on getting stronger on someone else’s time. I am not going to be the one to watch you struggle and quite possibly hurt yourself. Plus, after the way Hayden reacted to,” she stopped and began lowering the pot she was still holding to the towel at her feet trying to avoid looking at me, “the accident this morning, I don’t want to be the one that has to report any further injuries to him.”

“Elaine, it was an accident and he knows that. He is just worried about me, just like I know you are even though you try to act like everything is fine.”

After she positioned the pot for the umpteenth time she looked up at me and smiled, “Now you set down. I will go get the other pot and then run upstairs to get the nail polish.”

I wasn’t much for make-up but I loved nail polish. I didn’t normally paint my fingernails, but my toenails were always done. I sat there restlessly but patiently as she brought in her pot and then retrieved my nail polish from the bathroom upstairs. Once she was seated we removed the polish off of our already painted nails; giving the bottoms of the pans a chance to cool. When that task was done we carefully submerged our feet into the welcoming overly warm water, and began to chat. We talked about the school year that had passed so quickly, the weekend that we were all anxiously awaiting to start, and about how funny hers and Max’s relationship was.

Then with a reluctance I had never seen Elaine possess she asked, “So are you and Hayden really okay, or did this,” she motioned to my shoulder, “help ya’ll to rekindle what ya’ll had seemed to lose?”

“No we are good, great in fact. We both learned things about each other last weekend that seemed to click everything back in place. My injury did occur before this all happened, but it was my stubbornness that kept us from reconciling beforehand. I didn’t really want to hear what he had to say at first, but he kept on until I heard him. Plus, me being unable to leave kind of disabled me from running from what I thought I didn’t want to hear or know,” I laughed.

“That’s not surprising,” she laughed.

“What,” I feigned shock.

“Oh no, not you Jor. Who could ever accuse you of being obstinate?!”

I threw a pillow at her and we both laughed. I was glad she left the subject alone after that, because it was touchy since I had to tip toe around the truth. I liked to think of myself as inching around the full truth or leaving bits out rather than just out right lying to those I loved.

After our mani-pedi session was over she dumped out both pots. Since she absolutely refused to allow me to help with the task; I threw the towels we used in the laundry room, and then we made our way up to my bedroom.

She flashed a couple of sundresses at me asking which I thought was better, and then she settled on the one she felt wouldn’t clash with the robe she had to wear or her nails. It was cotton, had thick straps that criss-crossed across her back, fit all of the right curves, sat just above her knees, and was red with big black flowers strategically printed all over it. She would look perfect and I just smiled at her. We decided on a pair of black open toed lacy heels to compliment the simplicity and elegance of the dress, and then she was sitting in front of my full length mirror ready for me to fix her hair. She agreed on me giving her big flowing spiral curls and then pulling and pinning back the sides.

After an hour and a half of her squirming under my hands and getting up every chance she had; for any reason; I finally pinned back the last piece of hair to give her the look I intended upon starting.

“Aw I love it Jor,” she said pulling some of the curls to lay over her shoulders. “Thank you,” she stated rising to her feet to give me a big hug and then take a close up look in the mirror.

“Well I’m glad you like it, but you better get a move on or you will make yourself late to your own graduation.”

“Oh crap,” she screeched glancing at my alarm clock and then grabbing up her dress and make-up she made her way to my bathroom.

I laughed as she rushed out of the room, and then plopped down on the chair she had just left to assess what I was going to have to do to get myself ready. I was rather surprised she hadn’t even brought up what I was going to wear; how I would fix my hair; or moon over the lack of make-up I had yet. She was probably just consumed in her own little world; thank God!

Sitting there starring into the mirror I decided I would pull my hair out of the towel and wear my natural curls, I already had a suit of clothes picked out, and then I would brush my teeth and slap on some powder; probably some concealer as well to hide some of my shiner.

“Hey,” Elaine called hanging halfway out of my bathroom, “I could use your help.”

I got up and walked across the hall, and then realized she needed me to zip up the dress. “Anything else,” I asked; waiting for her attempts at dolling me up as she referred to her little dress up Jordan sessions?

“No,” she said around the toothbrush hanging out of her mouth as she sprayed her hair with hairspray seeming to use almost a whole bottle, “but I brought you a surprise,” she said pointing at a hot pink sack with frilly tissue paper sticking out of the top on my bed. I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed that before, but then it didn’t matter because this was what I expected anyway.

“Elaine,” I started but didn’t get any farther.

“You will wear it and love it,” she stated matter of factly, “I only graduate once and I want my best friend to be looking as hot as me in the pictures. Plus, Hayden will love it and don’t you want to look as yummy as he is going to tonight,” she said wiggling her eyebrows.

“Oh fine,” I said storming back across the hall as she giggled in accomplishment.

I pulled out the massive amount of pale pink tissue paper and then found a tiny black dress folded at the bottom. I removed it from the bag as I turned holding it up to myself.

“Isn’t it gorgeous,” Elaine asked excitedly as she stood in front of me.

“Yeah it is,” I said glancing down at it, “well at least the little bit that there is, is gorgeous. But where’s the rest of it?”

“Oh stop being such a fuddy duddy,” she exclaimed taking it from me, pushing me over to stand in front of the mirror, and then draping it down in front to see it against me. “I just knew you would look great in it. And you won’t clash either,” she laughed.

“No I won’t because I am not wearing this Elaine. I love you but this is too much for me,” I looked up to see her pleading eyes in the mirror and then added, “plus my shoulder is still all bandaged. It will completely take away from it.”

“Oh I knew you would say that, and that’s why I also got you this,” she said as she rushed back to the bag on my bed and pulled out a little mini short-sleeved black jacket. She came rushing back over and said, “It was an accessory. You could either purchase it to go with the dress or wear the dress by itself. I think you will look great without it, but I knew you would use your shoulder as an excuse to not wear the dress at all so I got it. Plus, this can be your graduation gift to me,” she puckered out her lower lip at me.

“Ugh,” I sighed in defeat and she jumped up and down clapping in triumph.

“Hey,” my mom called out from the door scaring me half to death but not seeming to affect Elaine. I looked at the clock on my bedside table making sure not that much time had passed, but it was only just then five.

“Thanks,” Elaine called out. I looked up to see her taking a bag my mom offered up and then she began rummaging through it.

“What’s that,” I asked confused.

“Oh I called your mom on the way over and asked her to pick up some make-up on her way home.”

“Yeah and you know I usually try to take off early on Fridays Jor,” she said obviously taking in my confusion of her being home by five. She was right, but after the week I had had they were lucky I even remembered it was graduation tonight. “Besides you don’t think I would miss Elaine and Hayden’s graduation do you?”

“No I guess not,” I laughed.

“Is everything in there,” my mom asked Elaine?

“Yeah you got everything. Thanks mom,” Elaine hugged my mom’s neck.

“Wow how much make-up do you need Elaine?”

“Oh,” she said turning to look at me, “this isn’t for me. It’s for you,” she said holding the sack out to me.

I cut my eyes up to my mom; she smiled and said, “Nice dress,” and then ducked back down the stairs.

“Oh come on Jor, like you could get away with wearing the little you have with a dress like that! So get over it and get ready.”

I grabbed the bag from her as her phone began to ring. Just as she answered it I turned to stare into the mirror again. I guess it was a good thing I shaved.

“Okay well Max and Hayden are here. We have to be up there for preparation and line up early,” she said walking over to me. “I asked Hayden to come in real quick to redress your shoulder,” she said looking at the still dripping gauze, “so put the dress away. I want it to be a surprise.”

Just as we had it back in its bag Hayden came walking into my room. I immediately had no care in the world. I probably would have agreed to go in a string bikini at that moment. He walked over to me with a grin on his face, placed his hand at the small of my back, and kissed me on the forehead, “I hear you need some assistance.”

That is an understatement, I thought eager to have a deeper more intimate kiss. At some point my mouth had went dry because when I first tried to answer I couldn’t. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I licked my lips, swallowed, and tried again, “Yeah, yeah I need to be un,” I stuttered, “I mean redressed,” I finished as all of the blood in my body rushed to my cheeks.

He smiled at me as he guided me over to the bed. He sat down and pulled me sideways between his legs so that he was starring at my right shoulder, “I think I can handle that,” he laughed.

I didn’t think it was possible but I felt my cheeks grow hotter. I watched as he carefully unwrapped the gauze, but turned my head before he removed them enough for me to catch a glimpse of what lie beneath.

“Oh Jor,” Elaine started, and then I caught Hayden give her a reprimanding glare while shaking his head no. I wanted to reassure her, but I didn’t want to let on that I had seen him do that. I knew he was just trying to take care of me, and for once in my life that felt comforting and not doubting in my ability to take care of myself. So, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly to allow the moment and the temptation to declare my ability to take care of myself to pass.

“All done,” he said smiling at me as I turned to look at him, and then he kissed my bandaged shoulder as he did every time he redressed it. “Well we better get going Elaine,” he said standing. “I will see you afterward,” he continued and then bent forward and gave me that kiss I had wanted upon his arrival.

“Okay okay move,” Elaine said slapping at his arm.

“Err,” he growled an inch from my mouth, “I am seriously going to hurt her if she doesn’t stop interrupting me enjoying you.”

I smiled at him and then gave him a quick kiss before Elaine was shoving him aside saying, “Yeah yeah, you can kill me later. Right now I need a good luck hug from my bestie for a lucky send off. So go and tell Max I am coming.” She stood there staring at him as he walked to the door and turned around to smile at me, “GO,” she yelled behind her.

He rolled his eyes and disappeared. “Good, I thought he would never leave,” she stated bending over to retrieve the bag that held the dress and make-up, “now get yourself all gussied up and don’t you dare think about skipping out on wearing any of this just because I am not here to monitor you. I have your mom on watch for me. She has agreed to not let you out of this house without you in that dress and with make-up on,” she smiled.

She gave me a tight hug and then crossed the room to leave, “Don’t you be late either! I want you in the front bleachers so I see your smiling face as I walk in,” she blew me a kiss and then disappeared just as Hayden had.

I glanced at the clock to see it was now almost six. I had about an hour to get ready so we could make it there early enough to get good seats. I walked over to the bathroom and could hear my mom scurrying around downstairs. I brushed my teeth and then emptied the contents of the bag, my mom had brought home, into the sink. There was this foundation powder combination pack, concealer, eye liner, eye shadow, blush, mascara, a couple of tubes of lipstick, and a lash curler.

I took a deep breath and then began removing all of the packaging. After that daunting task was over, and my bathroom trash can was full of make up trash, I studied the little containers and decided to start with the concealer. After about fifteen minutes and a few accidental pokes to each eyeball with the mascara brush I was officially done. I looked at the end product and had to admit I had done a pretty good job. I was even feeling a bit thankful that Elaine and my mom had conspired against me in this.

I then finally pulled my hair free of the towel wrapped around my hair. I threw my hair over my head; bending at the waist; and persisted to scrunch it as much as possible while adding mouse. Once I felt I had given it an adequate amount of time I threw it back to splay across my back and then crossed into my bedroom still scrunching it.

I picked up the black dress and held it up to me, while starring at myself in the mirror.

“You are going to look beautiful,” my mom said softly, and I turned to see tears gathering in her eyes.

“This isn’t my graduation mom. So save the water works,” I laughed.

“I know but you are so grown up and I just don’t know when it happened,” she said crossing over to me and grabbing the dress over my shoulders to hold in front of me as she starred at me in the mirror.

I smiled at her and asked, “You think it’s too short?”

“No,” she laughed handing it back to me as she wiped at her face, “I think you will look perfect. Heck she thought of everything. The dress, the jacket she knew you would want, and make-up she knew you needed.”

“I know. Elaine really can be so thoughtful sometimes,” I said starring down at the dress.

“When it comes to you, Jor. You are very special and the ones that have the luxury of knowing that cherish it,” she said raising my head to smile at me.

“Thanks mom,” I said turning around to inspect myself in the mirror again.

“Now get moving. I promised Elaine and the Samson’s we would be there by seven fifteen,” she demanded giving me one of her get moving pats to my butt.

I got dressed in a hurry and then realized Elaine had left me a pair of heels. Which was perfect since I had realized while getting dressed I had none appropriate to wear. They had about three inch heels, a pointed toe, and were bright red. After I slipped them on I saw a note in the bottom of the box that read simply:

I knew I would barely get you with the dress and make-up. So I decided to leave these here knowing you couldn’t turn me down if I wasn’t there, and since you had nothing else to wear with the dress. I love you and don’t be late.

XOXO- Elaine

I blew out a long sigh and smiled at just how well Elaine knew me. I visited my bathroom one last time, teased my hair a bit more, and sprayed it with some hairspray. When I felt I had done all that could be done with it I rushed back into my room and threw some clothes and other necessities into an overnight bag I used for our weekends out at Grandpa Frog’s.

After I got all of that done and was officially ready for the weekend that would start after graduation I put the mini jacket, the shoes, and some perfume on. I slowly walked over to the mirror and was completely shocked at how good I actually did look.

My auburn hair was long, full, and curly, my make-up was there but suddle; it still looked natural; and the dress looked really good on me. It hugged all the right curves, sat just above my knees, the straps were thick but didn’t criss-cross across the back, but the neck and back line came down in a wide V; not inappropriately though, just elegantly; and it was completely plain black. The mini jacket had cropped sleeves, came to right below the breast line, and wasn’t intended to button in front on any occasion. It was fully meant to compliment the grace and lines of the dress. Then the shoes, these bright red heels scared me at first, but after seeing myself in the mirror I had to admit they gave the dress that flare it was missing. They turned it from something you would wear to a dinner party or funeral, to complete eye catching mode.

“Jor, we need to get going,” my mom called up the stairs.

“Coming,” I hollered back.

I took one last quick glance, smiled at myself and then grabbed my overnight bag as I raced downstairs.

“What do you think,” I asked turning in a circle as I met her at the door.

“You look beautiful,” she smiled.

“You don’t think it is a bit much for our small town?”

“Who cares! They will just all be jealous.”

I smiled at her and asked, “You don’t think I am too pale for all of this skin to be showing?” I had always been overly cautious about wearing clothes that shown off my legs because of how pale I was due to my red hair.

“Your porcelain skin is beautiful. I don’t know why you have always been so self-conscious about it. You are one of my biggest reminders of your father,” she smiled, “and nothing could ever make him look unattractive. It was kind of annoying sometimes, but that is one of the many traits you got from him. You are always beautiful. Now let’s get going before all of the good seats are taken.”

I walked out, got inside of my car, and smiled at the sight of my mom locking up our little house. I hated how we had lost my father, but I loved the bit of my life we had all shared. Now Hayden and I would be starting a new chapter in the book of my life, and I had a good feeling about what was to come for us.

XXIII

“Regal,” I screeched, running up to the group of men standing in front of the high school.

I thrust myself into his arms and hugged him around his waist. I had only said goodbye to him yesterday but I missed him more than I could explain. He had become such an important person in my life in such a short period of time, and I knew he always would be.

“Little one,” he questioned, holding me out to look me over, “you look, you look.”

“Gorgeous,” Uncle Rod finished his thought.

I smiled over at him and then left Regal to give him a hug. I made my way graciously around the few members of Regal’s pack that had accompanied him here, and then reached Granddad Wheely and Wisconsin. I gave Wheely a kiss on the cheek and then turned to Wisconsin with a smile.

“You better get over here and give me a hug Red,” he stated holding his arms out. I walked into his embrace as he hugged me tightly.

My mom chose then to arrive from her car. We had taken separate vehicles since I was planning to drive my Camino out to the lake house this weekend instead of riding with Elaine. She said her hellos to the Samson’s and then asked, “And who are these gentlemen,” holding her hand out to Regal.

He smiled at her and then grasped her hand, “I am Regal,” was all he got out before a strange look crossed his face and my mom slowly backed away from him. He shot is eyes over to me questioning swirling in their depths. I silently expressed my concern, but before I had a chance to talk with him, my mom grasped me by the elbow and was ushering me toward the football field where our school’s graduations were held.

“Mom that was kind of rude,” I grumbled at her, “Regal is the one that pretty much saved my life last weekend.” I had said the words before I even realized what I was saying.

“He is the doctor friend of the Samson’s that helped you,” she questioned me suspiciously?

I sent up a silent thanks for the save from my own stupid slip, but wasn’t one hundred percent calmed because Regal didn’t look old enough to be a doctor. Maybe doing his residency but not a full practicing doctor. So I hesitantly said, “Yes he is the one that helped me.” I didn’t say he was the doctor the Samson’s had told her about, and he had helped me; a great deal.

“Well I am thankful to him for that, but I don’t think you need to have anything else to do with him or his friends,” she said almost as a command and it made me see red.

She had no right. She didn’t even know him. Hell she didn’t even really know my father or me for that matter. I was old enough to decide who I would or wouldn’t befriend. I wrenched my arm from her grasp and we came to a standstill facing each other. I felt the rage she was feeling at; no doubt; my obvious defiance. I hadn’t ever felt this from her before, but I didn’t care because she would not start trying to dictate my life now. She had always given me the freedom so many my age searched for with their parents.

“Jordan,” she said in a lowered voice.

I leveled her with a disapproving glare, not believing how a woman that had always been so carefree and fun loving had acted with such blatant disrespect for the person responsible for me still standing. Even if she didn’t know the full extent, she thought him to be the doctor that had heeled me and yet there she stood demanding me to stay away from him. I shook my head at her in disgust and pushed past her to continue to the bleachers.

I stood to the side of the risers and found the party of men about half way up. I looked behind me to see my mom approaching; so I climbed the steps and took up a seat beside Regal. I knew she wouldn’t follow me after the way she had presented herself before, and just as I suspected she took up a seat beside Uncle Rod.

“I am so sorry for my mom,” I whispered.

“You have nothing to be sorry for little one,” he said placing a reassuring hand on my knee.

“I don’t know what got into her. She has never acted that way toward anybody, I have ever seen,” I pondered. “I feel so embarrassed for her. If only she knew.”

“Little one, about your mother.”

“I know, I know, she can’t know, and I am fine with that. I really don’t want her introduced to a world she can’t protect herself in. I just hate the way she treated you.”

“But,” he started and then I cut him off.

“Regal, can we not talk about it right now? I know I started it by apologizing for her, but this night is suppose to be about Hayden and my best friend Elaine. And despite my mom’s rude introduction I am so happy you are here. I have missed you,” I smiled up at him.

“Okay,” he said taking my hand in his, “but we do need to talk.”

“And we will I promise, even though I don’t see much else to say about her, but if you feel the need then we will, soon, just not tonight.”

“I have missed you too little one,” he said smiling at me, “and I do have to say you look absolutely ravishing this evening.”

I laughed, said thank you, and then the ceremony began.

The graduating class filed in to the chairs placed on the field in alphabetical order. I spotted Elaine first, of course, because of her last name beginning with a D; but it wouldn’t have been hard regardless with her waving wildly at us in hysterics. I realized then that I hadn’t noticed her mom yet, but decided I would see and catch up with her afterwards. I also realized that I hadn’t looked for Max at the start. He would have came in before Elaine since his surname began with a B. I took the time I had before Hayden would be walking in to find Max; he was sitting in the row in front of Elaine. They weren’t too far apart and were locked in a giddy conversation. I took the opportunity and snapped a candid picture. We sat there for a bit longer watching more students file in and then Hayden walked into sight. The Samson’s, my mom, and I stood up and started clapping and screaming for him as we bombarded his sight with camera flashes. I let the others settle, but I still stood wanting to get a clear good shot of him.

When his vision finally cleared his steps became faltered as he got a good look at me. His eyes went round and he looked like a deer caught in headlights. I snapped a picture and then he was thrusted forward as the people behind him crashed into his back; obviously not expecting his abrupt halt. He turned around to apologize to the people behind him, and then turned back to smile up at me with rosy cheeks. I smiled and waved as he took his seat and then I reclaimed mine.

The ritual was the norm. The principal, Valedictorian, and Salutatorian spoke; then the counselor called each student to the stage to collect their diploma and to shake hands with the Principle; and as they descended from the stage they would stop for a quick professional photo op. First Max was called and his family, as well as I, and our group stood to scream congratulatory. Of course being the graduating quarterback of our football team meant that everyone had to snap a picture, and I was actually one of them despite my loathing for him just a month prior.

“Jordan,” I heard Kevin’s voice ring out from the opposite end of the bleachers.

I looked over to see our little gang waving at me. I waved back and then took my seat to wait for Elaine’s turn on the stage. I felt bad for not even having a passing thought of my friends until now, but after the week I had had, then helping Elaine get ready today, and my mom’s less than warm introduction to Regal upon arriving I figured I had a lot on my mind.

“Elaine Duvall,” our school counselor called Elaine’s name and whistles and screams rang out. I snapped as many pictures as I could. Of her rising from her chair, walking toward the make-shift stage they had set up, climbing the steps, collecting her diploma, shaking the principal’s hand as he turned her tassel, her turning to the crowd and giving us all a thumbs up, then of her descending the stairs, and finally when she reached her chair again and she turned to look up and shoot a finger gun at me.

I looked up over the camera to see her standing smiling at me as she jumped up and down excitedly. I did a little overly enthused dance with her from the bleachers and then we both laughed and took our seats when one of the escorts asked her to sit down.

“I take it that is your best friend, Elaine,” Regal whispered humorously.

“Oh, yes,” I laughed, “sorry. I keep forgetting you don’t know her. It is just that our town is so small that everyone at least knows each other’s name, and I already feel like I have known you my whole life.”

“No need to explain little one,” he smiled. “I feel the same about you.”

“Did you see the group of kids over there,” I pointed in the direction of my friends, “that stood up for Max Bruening as well as Elaine?”

“The ones that called out to you?” He asked starring in their direction.

“Yeah. Well the guy that called my name is my best friend Kevin, we grew up together. The skinny brunette next to him is Jen; his girlfriend; and the gorgeous tan couple seated just in front of them is Xavier and Lana.”

“They look like a fine group of friends. How long have ya’ll been so close?”

“Since elementary school, except for Hayden and Max.”

He looked at me puzzled and I explained, “Hayden didn’t move here with his parents until we were all in junior high. He lived with his grandparents. Kevin knew him since they were kids but the rest of us didn’t meet him until then. Max didn’t join our group until he started dating Elaine a short while back.”

“That easy to join your ranks huh,” he laughed.

I laughed with him, “Not really. He just got really lucky. All of the other guys Elaine has drug into our group never fit, and I was determined to lump him in that same category, but he surprised us all. He has just seemed to fit the way no one else has.”

“So why did you not like him?”

“He is the stereo typical jock that gets all of the girls and pretty much anything he wants. I was afraid he might hurt Elaine and I wasn’t having any of that,” I shrugged, “but like I said he surprised us, me most of all. So, he is one of us now.”

He smiled at me, “You are so fair.”

I thought about that for a second and I guess I was. I could have shunned him just because of the picture I had him painted in originally, but after awhile I warmed up to him and then he just became one of us. I didn’t like to be unfair to anyone.

“Every coin has two sides,” I said quoting Regal.

“That it does little one,” he laughed and clapped me on the knee, “now let’s focus on the ceremony. They are almost to Hayden.”

We sat there watching and listening and then the moment came. The counselor called out Hayden’s name and it was like everything went into slow motion. Cheering, whistling, and clapping rang out from around me, from where Kevin and the rest of our friends were sitting, and even Elaine and Max stood up; down on the field. We snapped every picture we could, making sure not to miss a moment. Hayden looked so good, even in the school’s cap and gown. He stopped on his way to his seat to get a photo op with Max and Elaine, and when he was back at his seat he turned and blew me kiss. I smiled down at him in a haze. I was so happy and excited for him.

My body was humming from my emotions and those that were surrounding me. I suppose Regal could tell because he pulled me down gently to sit beside him and then he whispered he was going to send out a calming suggestion. I closed my eyes and welcomed it in, because I felt like I was going to vibrate off of the bleacher if I didn’t.

When I was finally calm I opened my eyes and whispered a thanks. He smiled down at me and then I returned my attention to the stage. The last person was being called and then the principal approached the podium again.

“If ya’ll will bear with us we have asked one last person to give a surprise speech. Will you please put your hands together and welcome our graduating quarterback Maxwell Bruening to the stage,” he said stepping back and joining the crowds clapping.

We all got to our feet and hollered out for him. It was a complete surprise to me, but I had been gone for a week; so I looked over at Kevin with questioning eyes and he simply shrugged at me between claps. I looked down at Elaine but she was fixated proudly on her man.

When he reached the stage he leapt up onto it and then jogged the short distance to the podium. He grasped it on both sides and began to speak. “Thank you,” he laughed, and then everyone began to calm to allow him to speak. “I was honored when the faculty approached me to be a surprise speaker. They hadn’t ever done this before and I didn’t understand why they would choose to do it for me, but I wasn’t going to give them the chance to reconsider.” Laughter rang out through the crowd and then he continued, “I was born and raised here just as most of you sitting here before me as well as most in the stands, and I have been more than reluctant about graduating, because it feels like leaving home. Since I reached high school and then was given the varsity quarterback position as a sophomore I have lived, breathed, and slept as a Howe High Bulldog,” that got a huge rise out of his fellow football players, “but now I am graduating, as are all of you,” he said pointing at the seated senior class, “and I was scared to lose that part of my life. We are all going off to different stages of our lives. Some will travel, go to college, work, or maybe simply take some time to figure out what they want, but what we will all be doing is finding ourselves and where we fit in outside of the little world of high school. Though throughout our lives, no matter where we go or what we do, one thing will remain unchanged,” he said starring out into the crowd before him and then his voice rose in a rumble, “We Will Always Be Bulldogs,” the graduating class erupted as did the stands and he finished by saying, “Congrats seniors! Now let’s go take on a new world!”

After Max returned to his seat the principal returned to the podium, thanked him, and then announced they were finally graduated. I rushed down to the field before all of the hats hit the ground; and began the swirling dance of all of the pictures to be taken.

Our whole group gathered together for a long line of photo ops. Then it was the girls, the boys, and couples. Next was for the families and finally it was just whoever got in the shot. After everybody felt satisfied with pictures it was time for congratulations from the adults and fellow students. Hayden and I introduced Regal to our group; since he was suppose to know him better than I, and finally when everything began to calm down we started to say our goodbyes to the adults to head off to Elaine’s lake house for the weekend.

My mom left rather quickly, I was guessing because she didn’t want to face me after how she had acted, and the rest of the parents followed suit shortly after. I told the group I was going to walk Regal to his car and then we were off heading to the parking lot.

He led me, with my arm tucked into his, chatting about how wonderful my friends were, and how lucky we all were to have each other. Once we reached his truck he turned to look at me, “I’m glad I took the Samson’s invitation and came tonight.”

“Me too, besides the fact that my mom was so rude.”

“Do not worry about that little one. She is just being protective.”

“Well after everything you have done for me she has no right, but I don’t want to dwell on it right now. I have had a pretty hard week and I just want one weekend with my friends with no worries,” I sighed.

“Well you go have your fun little one. You deserve it, and despite your mother’s actions I enjoyed meeting the people you hold so dear in your life. But you have to promise me we will get together soon so we can talk.”

I didn’t really know what was so urgent but as I had said I wanted this weekend to be plain and uneventful so I didn’t ask why I just simply agreed. I gave him a hug, he kissed me on the top of my head, and I was headed back to the football field to meet back up with my friends.

I walked along the grounds looking through the photos on my camera I had snapped. I could walk around blind folded here. I knew that school like the back of my hand, even in heels my steps never faltered. I would look up occasionally to greet a departing group of people with a smile, but I would then focus back on my pictures.

I loved pictures, I loved the way they caught moments that fleeted so quickly. With a picture you could keep a moment alive forever. I had even gotten a few of me and Regal. I smiled at the ones Elaine and I had taken together. The ones of Hayden and me gave me butterflies; and the ones of Regal and me made me feel at peace.

It really did infuriate me how my mom had treated him and his pack, but him directly. She had no idea what she was talking about, and she may not know it but she didn’t have the ability to save me from anything in my world. I decided to do as I told Regal I wanted, and pushed the thoughts out of mind.

This weekend was going to really be something to remember. I wondered if since Elaine was graduated if our weekend trips would become more scarce. I hoped not because we all looked forward to them so much. I also wondered if we could make this a tradition; that when persons of our group graduated we could have a farewell to high school weekend trip even though Elaine, Max, and Hayden would already be graduated; as well as Lana and Xavier when it was mine, Kevin, and Jen’s turn to graduate.

I turned off my camera and secured its strap around my wrist just as I rounded the field house to return to the field. Then out of the night a hand reached out and pulled me into the cover of darkness casted by the building. I struggled as hard as I could but the person was just too strong for me when I was still so weak. When I finally let myself realize and accept I wasn’t getting away from this person I closed my eyes and allowed my heart to cry out to Hayden.

XXIV

“Jor, calm down it’s me.”

I still struggled pinned in between the person holding me and the wall until the voice registered.

“Hayden,” I gasped breathlessly?

“Yes,” he said equally winded, “it’s just me. Gosh it hurts worse when we are this close,” he said rubbing his chest with one hand and his head with the other.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was you,” I apologized pulling his head down to rest on my shoulder.

“I know. That was the point,” he said against my neck. “I was trying to be romantic.”

“By pulling me into the darkness of the shadows? What were you thinking,” I laughed?

“Yeah I guess in hind sight it wasn’t the best plan after the weekend you had just a week ago,” he said standing upright now rubbing the back of his neck.

I began to think of just what could come out of the shadows and grab you, but shook my head clear of those haunting memories and said, “Well you did have good intentions,” twirling my finger on his chest and smiling up at him.

He hovered over me, pinning me back against the wall, and said, “You look good enough to eat tonight. If I knew an occasion like this would get you looking like that, Mmm,” he growled. “I wonder if you would give me a heart attack on a much bigger occasion?”

I laughed and pushed at his chest, “Now, now down boy. We still have friends waiting for us back on the field, and we need to get going to the lake; it’s getting pretty late.”

He shook his head no in defiance while kissing a trail up my neck. I leaned my head back enjoying the feel of his soft lips and hot breath caressing my skin; but then I snapped myself out of it and began trying to push him off while giggling at his attempts to stay right where we were.

“Hayden I swear if you don’t cut it out so we can get going I will burn this dress.”

That got his attention quick, “Okay fine,” he grumbled taking my hand and dragging me behind him as he barreled his way back toward our group.

“Hey who was the older stud,” Elaine asked us?

“Hey,” Max said furrowing his eyebrows at her.

She laughed and told him he had nothing to worry about. That she was just admiring. He grumbled something but Elaine ignored it.

“Just a friend,” I laughed.

“Jordan,” a high pitched older voice called out to me.

I looked over Elaine’s shoulder and saw Mrs. Gravery; our school counselor; waving me over.

“Be right back,” I said as I left Hayden’s side to approach the older woman.

Mrs. Gravery was a woman in her late forties with short mahogany hair. She wasn’t overly heavy or skinny; just kind of a robust woman that always wore loose brightly colored cotton suits. She always looked as though she was about to work in her garden.

“Yes Mrs. Gravery?”

“I wanted to let you know that you have qualified to be part of our accelerated program.”

The accelerated program was where you took courses at a nearby college during the summer so you didn’t have to take the class during the school year. It was a great program. The courses counted as a high school class and college credits.

“Wow, I didn’t even know I met the requirements to be looked at.”

“It was your determination to get Algebra I and II out of the way your first two years that qualified you.”

Funny how things work out. I had done that because Algebra was one of the only subjects that completely stumped me and here it was giving me the chance to join the accelerated program.

“Okay.”

“So you have three choices, you can either stay the course you are on now and graduate with your class on the distinguished plan.”

I nodded her on.

“You can take the accelerated program and only do a few courses this summer and a few next summer; as well as your studies next year; and have no school your senior year but still graduate with your class on the distinguished plan.”

I nodded letting her know I was following still.

“Or you can take all of the offered courses this summer, skip electives for a full schedule of mandatory classes next year, drop down to the recommended plan, and graduate a year early.”

In our high school there were three plans that you took: Regular, which was the basic academics; Maths, Sciences, English, History, electives; Recommended, which was the basics plus a foreign language, and advanced Maths and Sciences, and Distinguished, the basics and advanced with an extra course of your chosen foreign language, and even more Maths and Sciences.

I stood there starring at her in complete disbelief. They were offering me to graduate a year early. Of course I would have to work extra hard, but I had gotten both Algebras out of the way.

“Jordan, I know it is short notice but I need an answer.”

I shook my head in understanding, and asked for a moment to ponder the pros and cons. Graduating early would be cool and I would graduate with Lana and Xavier, but it also meant I would be leaving Kevin and Jen behind. Plus I wasn’t sure if I could take on a full load this summer with my maturity right around the corner and us not being fully aware of what effects it would take on me. Even though I thought the idea of graduating early was cool I wondered if I would miss out on the senior year experience if I did so.

I thought about it for a few minutes and then came to a decision. “I would like to do a few courses this summer and next so that I will still graduate with my class on the distinguished plan.”

She smiled at me and said, “I thought that was the better of the choices too. I will get right on your paper work. You will be taking one course in June and one in July. When I know which you are in I will let you know. Now go celebrate your friends graduation and sorry for taking up too much of your time.”

“Oh no it’s fine, and thank you.”

I walked back over to my friends with a grin on my face, a light heart, and a bounce in my step.

“What was that about,” Elaine asked when I returned to Hayden’s side.

“I have some great news,” I smiled. “I got into the accelerated program. I am going to be taking a few classes this summer and next so I don’t have to go to school senior year, but I still get to graduate with my class on the distinguished plan.”

“That’s awesome,” everyone said, and Hayden hugged me tight.

“It won’t be the same without you, but I’m just glad you will still be walking across that stage with me,” Kevin chimed in.

“Me too,” Jen added.

“Well it looks like we have a lot to celebrate this weekend,” Max said with excitement. “Why don’t we go grab a bite out at the truck stop and then head on to Elaine’s?”

We all agreed and headed off to our vehicles.

Hayden walked me to mine and opened my door for me. When I was inside and starting the engine he climbed into the passenger seat.

“What are you doing,” I laughed.

“I told my dad to take my truck that I would catch a ride with you.”

“And what about his truck?”

“He rode up here with Wisconsin and Granddad Wheely.”

“Okay then let’s go,” I said putting Ole Blue in reverse and following Kevin and Jen in Kevin’s Bronco out of the parking lot.

The truck stop was packed but we still managed to get one of the half circle booths so we could all fit.

We all laughed, talked, and snapped more pictures. Everyone kept talking about how good I looked and Elaine graciously took the praise she got for forcing me out of my norm; especially from Hayden who promised to worship her if she could get me to wear more things like that more often.

By the time we ordered and finished eating it was around ten. We left the bill and tip on the table and decided it was time to head to the lake.

I let Hayden drive because I just simply didn’t feel like it. He loved to drive my Camino so I knew he wouldn’t mind; plus I think he was still afraid I was shaken up by his attempt at romance.

Once we were on the road I slipped off the heels and propped my feet on the dash but then thought better of it when Hayden became distracted with how the dress hiked up on my thighs. I loved the attention and the affect I had on him, but not so much when he was driving down a regularly busy highway, at night.

We safely pulled up to the old lake house; tucked in the trees; around ten thirty. I climbed out and stretched my legs while Hayden grabbed our bags out of the bed of the Camino. My body ached for all sorts of reasons lately but if I did one thing for too long; like sitting; it seemed to ache worse.

“When did you stash that back there,” I asked eyeing his bag.

He held it up and smiled at me, “I had my dad throw it in when he headed out of the parking lot.”

I smiled at him and tried to grab for my overnight bag but he wasn’t having it. He carried both of our bags into the front room and dropped them on the day bed.

“We claim this room,” he called out to the others.

“That’s fine now ya’ll hurry up and get back up here so we can start the day early tomorrow,” Elaine stated.

Everyone knew our ritual. We always went down to the lake for a bit the night we all arrived out there.

I began trying to rummage through my bag to put on some appropriate clothes but Hayden pulled me up short. He held onto my wrist and moved so close I could feel our heat swirling between us. He slowly pushed the mini jacket back off of my arms and then led me to the front door.

“Hayden I think I would be more comfortable with more suitable clothes on and some shoes,” I said holding up a foot.

He stood down on the one lowly step that led inside and turned around to give me a piggy back ride stating, “I haven’t changed my clothes and neither are you. You walk around here bare foot all the time, but since I want you to stay in that dress I will humor you.”

I laughed, hiked the dress up, and then pounced on his back nearly sending us both to the ground. When he finally caught his footing he spun around for me to pull the front door closed and then we began the short journey down the walkway to the dock.

It was so peaceful that night. The stars were shining, the night life was alive, and the breeze off of the water was a cool caress.

We reached the dock and I jumped off of Hayden’s back. I sat with my feet in the cool lake water as he laid beside me gazing up at the stars while we talked and enjoyed each other’s company.

“I can’t believe it was just a few weeks ago that you hated me,” he laughed.

“I did not hate you,” I said slapping him on the stomach. “I hated what had become of us and you.”

“I know and I can’t say I’m sorry enough,” he said turning over on his side and leaning up on an elbow to look at me.

“Oh Hayden I thought we had gotten over this already,” I sighed laying back on the dock. “I don’t blame you. You did what you did because you truly believed you were giving me my choices. Even though I don’t know who gave you the crazy notion that I hadn’t already chosen you,” I smiled at him.

“I know. I was crazy, but everything is out in the open now, and I am so glad that it is. I hated seeing you and not being with you.”

I scooted over to cuddle to him, “Well you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

He kissed me on the forehead and we laid there for awhile just listening to each other breath.

“You looked gorgeous tonight by the way,” he whispered into my hair.

I laughed, “Yeah I kind of got that when you had a line of people run into the back of you when you saw me in the stands.”

“You saw that huh,” he laughed?

“Oh yeah.”

“Well you should have been me. I looked up and saw you standing there in this,” he said running his hand down the length of my side.

Chills ran all over my body at his touch. I could definitely tell what Regal had so briefly explained about my urges growing more severe. That thought made me remember we hadn’t really finished our conversation about it before; since I caught him so off guard.

“Hayden?”

“Um hm,” he responded still caressing where the dress covered.

“We need to talk about what I asked you for on my birthday.”

“You mean you wanting me to sleep with you?”

“Wow it didn’t take you long to figure out what I was referring to,” I laughed.

“I have thought about making love to you many times and there is no way I would ever forget you asking it of me,” he said seriously.

“Okay,” I drug out, “but we need to talk about it.”

“What is there to talk about? You want us to sleep together on your birthday. I figure that is a perfect time as well. It will be special because it will be your birthday and both of our first times. I will make it special I promise,” he said leveling me with the intent in his eyes.

“I know you will,” I choked out, “and it will be your first time too,” I asked lost in the depths of his gaze.

“I told you already Jordan that we are ever only with one woman,” he said raising his hand to caress my cheek.

“Oh yeah, you did,” I broke his gaze and regained my thought process, “but we are getting off subject.”

“I thought we were right on topic,” he asked sensually.

“No we are not and stop that,” I said pushing his hand away from my face. “We seriously need to talk. There are things you don’t understand.”

He fell back onto his back with an umph, “Okay so let’s talk.”

“Good,” I perked up.

I sat there Indian style beside him as he laid there sprawled out just listening and absorbing.

“So let me get this straight? Your kind reaches their maturity at the human age of seventeen in which the females of your kind become driven by their hormones and must be sated or risk harming others?”

“Well yes, but we don’t know how it is going to affect me. I can already feel my urge heightening especially when I am near you,” that got a smile out of him, “but we are pretty sure I won’t hurt anyone if I am not sated. We just aren’t quite sure what will happen if I don’t.”

“So you are going to do it so you don’t risk anything,” he asked in a less than pleased manor.

I laid down beside him and ran a finger down the buttons on his shirt, “Oh believe me Hayden that isn’t the only reason. I told you I can already feel my urge heightening and my birthday is still a month away. Can you imagine how bad it will be by then?”

He looked up at my smiling face and swallowed hard, “Okay I am in.” He shook his head nervously, “I am definitely in, but it will be special.”

“Of course. I would expect nothing less from the man that loves me.” I smiled down at him and smothered his mouth with mine.

All of that talk of what was to come had me a bit worked up myself and I wanted to give him a bit of a taste of what was to come.

I swiped, suckled, and nibbled on every part of his mouth as I delve my tongue in and out. We laid there just like that enjoying the privacy we had. He had had enough of not being able to maneuver as he wanted I was guessing because he thrusted himself up and me backwards to lay me on the dock with him hovering over me.

I giggled into his mouth and then he began to scorch a trail of kisses down my neck to my collar bone. I cupped his face and enjoyed the rough sand paper feel against my palms. When things seemed to be getting a little too heated I reminded him that not only were we suppose to be waiting until my birthday, but that we were outside on a hard wooden dock.

He laughed into my ear and then got to his feet. He held out a hand to me, “Madame.”

“Why thank you,” I said taking his hand and getting to my feet.

He knelt down in front of me, “Your chariot awaits.”

I laughed and then wrapped my arms under his as we ventured back up to the house in complete silence but I enjoyed every second of it.

I laid my head lovingly against his back as he carried me up the walkway, and he caressed my arms with gentle kisses as he walked.

When we reached the step that led into the house he let me down, but kept me from opening the door.

I leaned back against it and smiled at him. He leaned one arm against the frame of the door way and said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I love you and how happy I am that you chose to be with me on your own free accord. I also want to let you know how honored I am that you want to share such a monumental part of embarking into the life of your kind with me. You are an amazing person Jor, and I have loved every second I have known you,” he looked me up and down and then added, “and that dress is killing me!”

I laughed as he pressed his body against mine and then I was lost the second our lips met again.

XXV

That kiss was beautiful and all consuming, but I knew when it needed to end even if I didn’t want it to. I reached behind me, turned the doorknob, and swiftly stepped up and back into the house. Hayden went down fast and hard but caught himself on the floor before he fell into the house.

He glared up at me with a determined grin and I just laughed playfully. That was until he jumped inside, slammed the door behind him, and stalked me like I was his prey.

“Hayden stop it,” I laughed nervously.

He just shook his head at me still wearing that grin.

“Eek,” I screeched as he backed me against the edge of the day bed and then thrust on top of me.

It seemed innocent and playful until his weight landed on me and I was thrusted harder against the railing of the bed. The metal of the bed frame slammed into the wall with a loud harsh thud, and then I cried out in agony as my arm was wedged in a peculiar manor between two of the metal bars on the frame and Hayden’s weight. He immediately realized what had happened and tried to get off, but it took a little effort and him having to use me to thrust himself up; in which wedged my arm further in between the poles.

When that happened everything began to get fuzzy. I saw Hayden rising from the bed, heard the crash of the door from the front room, and just as I turned my head to see the worried faces of half dressed people entering the room my lights went out.

I began to come to and I could hear voices.

“I could kill you.” I heard a female voice hiss with malice.

“Elaine come on you know he didn’t mean to do it. Hell, you even yanked on her at school without thinking.”

“Yeah but I didn’t know,” Elaine’s voice sounded so guilt stricken.

“It’s okay,” I coughed while trying to open my eyes and regain some vision. Everything was still blurry but I had to let everyone know I was okay.

“Jordan, Jordan are you okay,” I heard Elaine’s voice over me while I felt a hand brushing at my hair?

“Jor, I am so sorry,” Hayden called out approaching me. I opened my eyes to see him sit down at the edge of the bed and grab my hand.

I blinked a few times against the blurred vision I was experiencing and took in all of the worried expressions.

“I guess this means no rough housing for me this weekend, huh Kevin,” I smiled up at him.

They all looked at each other and so I said, “Oh come on, so I fainted. I guess I just can’t take much pain.”

“Jordan we all saw your shoulder. There is no way any of us could take that kind of pain,” Jen stated.

Good lord how bad could it still be? Everything else but my shoulder had healed except the fact that I still had a bit of a shiner. The night of my conversion my shoulder had been horrendous. It was just a lifeless broken limb hanging there. It had been separated and I could see flesh and muscle hanging, not to mention bone. I didn’t know how or who had fixed me up but I was more than grateful.

When I got that glimpse when Hayden was redressing it after my bath it still looked like something out of a horror movie, but there was no bone or muscle visible and I had been sewn up pretty good. I knew my kind healed pretty fast; so I was wondering when that was going to kick in, but then I began to think about not only the physical damage but the damage it must have caused to the nerves. Maybe that was what was taking it so long.

“Jor I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Jen interrupted my wandering thoughts.

“Oh no it’s fine,” I smiled up at her, “I was just thinking about something.”

They all looked at each other and then began to laugh.

“Okay if you are getting lost in thought then you are going to be fine for at least tonight,” Elaine stated from behind me and then I realized she was holding my head in her lap. I was famous for my completely ever changing thoughts.

She and Hayden helped me to a seated position, and then she climbed off of the bed, “So if you are okay we are all going to go back to bed. Right guys,” she turned on every one.

“Yeah, yeah,” Kevin replied. “I think we should all get back to bed since we are planning to be up early tomorrow. Plus, Jor needs her rest.”

I smiled at their not so suddle way of leaving Hayden and me alone so he could apologize, or at least that’s what I was guessing.

Just as Elaine herded everyone out of the room she turned around, gave me a smile, glared at Hayden, and then said, “You better make it right and I better not ever hear her scream like that again.”

Yeah, I was right. I thought as she closed the door behind her.

“Look Hayden,” I said as I turned my head to look at him, but I stopped when I caught his posture.

He was slumped over fiddling with my fingers like a child that had just been scolded. He looked so guilt stricken and the fact that I could feel how hurt his heart was helped in that assumption.

“Hayden,” I said scooting closer to him, but didn’t quite make it since he was to my right and any weight on that arm at the moment didn’t bode well. I hissed a bit with my attempt and then learned I didn’t have to go to him after all because he was immediately right beside me.

“Are you okay,” he asked feeling of my apparent fresh bandages.

So that’s how they had seen my shoulder.

“I’m fine just a bit sore,” I smiled at him.

“I am so sorry Jordan,” he pleaded, “I was so stupid. I can’t believe after taking care of you for a week now that I would do something so careless without thinking.”

“Hayden we were playing around. I am not a china doll, and it was an accident.”

“It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have even accidently done something like that. You are recovering from a very serious injury. We are lucky you didn’t lose your arm after the shape we found you in,” he said wincing at the memory.

He looked away from me and I could hear the hurt his heart was crying out in. It wasn’t his fault and I hated to see and feel him in as much pain as he was.

I reached across my body with my left arm and caressed his cheek, “I am very lucky to even be alive because of YOU! I miss how we use to play and rough house together. No matter what just happened, that is the most fun I have had in almost eight months.”

That got a reaction out of him; he turned and smiled at me.

“Now let’s put this complete accident behind us and get some sleep,” I said leaning over and kissing the tip of his nose.

My shoulder was pretty sore that night but not too bad. I hadn’t reinjured it in any way so Hayden felt better because of that alone.

Before bed he got undressed and into his pajama pants in the bathroom, and then bashfully aided with my clothing.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, we cuddled up; closely; on the twin sized day bed and fell swiftly to sleep.

That night my dreams swam in and out of nightmarish scenarios and memories. One minute I would be back in the cell with Regal, to being trapped inside myself while my body was being viciously shredded, to being chased through the woods out by Elaine’s dock but then breaking through the trees to be standing in the yard at Wisconsin’s. I didn’t know who I was running from but I kept thinking of Leandar.

I was so confused about running out into Wisconsin’s yard from the trees at Elaine’s, but then all of my thoughts left as I heard what I was running from break free from them as well, behind me. I turned from staring at Wisconsin’s front porch to stare into the eyes of Leandar’s wolf form.

My heart raced and cried out for Hayden, but he wouldn’t come to me. I couldn’t hear his heart or see any projection of him. It was as if I couldn’t feel him at all, like there was a void in me where he use to be.

Leandar slapped at the ground with his paws and growled at me barring his teeth. He was drooling at the idea of ripping into me. I could see his mouth salivating by the light of the moon. I knew he was going to attack and there was nothing I could do. He would kill me, and I knew this but I couldn’t seem to look away no matter how much my brain was trying to cower in fear.

Just as I knew he was about to strike something happened. He began to growl and howl out angrily. He looked past me over my right shoulder and was transfixed on something. Something I thought he did not want there and obviously found as a threat. I turned around my heart soaring at the thought that Hayden was there to save me but also with the fear that Leandar might kill him as well. Although, I knew I couldn’t think of that then I had to get to Hayden and try to get us both out of there, but I came up short when I realized it wasn’t Hayden. It was Nikolai in his wolf form.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was surrounded by the two beings that hated me more than anything on this green earth and Hayden was gone from me for some reason. I realized then Leandar must have been welcoming his Beta to the feast of my flesh not reacting to a threat.

I was frozen in place starring at Nikolai but fully aware of Leandar at my back. I dared a glance over my shoulder to see Leandar get into pounce stature, and then turned around quickly as Nikolai rang out in a blood curdling howl just before he dashed after me and then jumped into the air to attack.

“NO,” I cried out at the injustice.

“Jordan, Jordan,” a male called out to me shaking me gently.

“NO,” I cried out fighting with everything left in me.

“Jordan it’s me Hayden,” he said cradling me to his chest.

“No,” I sobbed softly into his chest. I laid there shivering and doing everything to hold onto the sanity that was telling me this was real and that was just a dream.

“I am so sorry Jor,” he apologized while burying his face in my hair.

“For what,” I asked still shaky. It’s not like he gave me my dreams, or nightmares in this case.

“I should have shielded you.”

That triggered a memory and I asked through sobs, “Wait, you’ve said that to me before. The morning you rescued me and we were on the boat you said something about shielding me from my pain. What are you talking about?”

“I have been shielding you from your dreams ever since I rescued you. Since I am still new to all of this as well I can’t shield you from both nightmares and your physical pain so I chose your dreams. I knew your kind heals while sleeping so I thought it would be like killing two birds with one stone, but for some reason last night I not only stupidly forgot about your shoulder I obviously forgot to shield you from your nightmares as well,” he sighed running a wary hand over his head.

“Okay,” I drug out, “that still didn’t explain what the heck you are talking about.”

“Oh wow I never explained that to you, did I,” he asked?

“Um obviously not,” I said moving off of his lap. Which I had just realized I was sitting in.

“Well we can shield our loved ones from pain. Whether it be physical or unconscious mental. We can’t do anything about emotional or conscious mental though.”

“I thought you said ya’ll don’t have any special abilities?”

“Well really we don’t. Not like your kind. We only have connecting abilities with our loved ones I guess you could say. We don’t posses them without them.”

“So if you didn’t have me you couldn’t project yourself or shield anyone?”

“Well,” he drug out.

“Well what?”

“I wouldn’t be able to project but I could still shield my loved ones.”

“Oh so you can shield your family and they can shield you,” I said understanding.

“Yes and no.”

“What are you talking about? That doesn’t even make since.”

“You can’t shield elders,” he said starring at me.

“Well then what loved ones are you talking about,” I asked and then it sank in. He could shield our children and our children’s children and so on. “Oh you better just get that thought out of your head Hayden Samson,” I said pushing to my feet to march to the bathroom, but then was pulled back into his arms.

“Hey you’re the one that asked,” he laughed pushing a strand of hair out of my face before he kissed me.

We were at a weird angle with him sitting up and my upper body laying across his lap with my lower body just about hanging off of the bed, but that kiss was still heaven incarnate.

I broke the kiss and smiled up at him, “No matter how much I enjoyed that I really need to go to the bathroom. Which is where I was headed before you pulled me up short.”

“Ok go on. Take care of business. The others are already down at the lake. I made Elaine let you sleep with the aid of Kevin and Max. She only agreed to it after I promised we would be straight down there after you woke.”

I came out of the small bathroom to find Hayden had whipped up a few eggs and two pieces of toast for me to consume while he used the facilities. I tried to offer him some but he protested saying he wasn’t hungry.

After my food was gone and Hayden came out all magnificently tan and buff in his swimming trunks we headed out to the dock. Just before we made it to the walkway he scooped me up into his arms and carried me down to the dock like a freshly married groom would carry his bride over the threshold. I laughed as we joined the others and he lowered me to stand, kissed the top of my head, and then dove into the lake.

“Get in Jor,” Kevin yelled splashing at me on the dock as the girls shrieked with the shock of the cool water hitting their sun soaked skin.

“Yes Jordan get in already,” Elaine said thrusting my tube at me. “He hasn’t left us alone since we got out to sunbathe because you weren’t here to entertain him.”

Kevin thrust his tongue out at her and then intentionally splashed them again.

“Okay okay Kev lets not upset them,” I laughed as I cannon balled right beside the dock and sent a wave of water washing over the dock.

I broke the waters surface to them growling and glaring at me and Kevin as we laughed and high fived each other.

“Be nice,” I said starring innocently at Elaine, “remember I have a bum shoulder,” I said sticking my bottom lip out and batting my eyelashes.

Then a large arm wrapped around my waste and I was being thrusted back onto the dock.

“Hey,” I protested as Hayden sat me on the edge.

“Don’t you hey me. You are right. You do still have a bum shoulder and I don’t think nasty lake water is going to help it heal any faster.”

“Oh please, it has been way worse and look at it now.”

“That may be,” he said through clenched teeth reminding me who we were around, “but it doesn’t hurt to be safe than sorry.”

“Fine, but then what am I suppose to do? If I stay up here I will cook,” I huffed depressed at the fact I couldn’t enjoy the cool water.

“We could pack it up early,” Jen offered.

“Yeah I mean we have already been here for a few hours,” Elaine added.

“We still need to get the meat ready for the que,” Max called over joining the conversation.

“And it has been awhile since we played some of the old board games,” Lana smiled.

“Wow, way to pull in the troops Hayden, but no there is still plenty of time to do all of that. Ya’ll enjoy you shouldn’t have to cut your day short because I got hurt. Besides I wouldn’t mind taking a short walk and then veging in front of the TV for awhile,” I said getting to my feet and walking over to the walkway.

“I’ll come with,” Hayden said jumping out of the water to catch up to me.

“You don’t have to.”

“Yes he does,” Elaine smiled up at him.

“Elaine,” I growled.

“She is right, I do,” he smiled, “I have a lot of time to catch up on with you.”

We walked half way up the walk and then I stopped, “Do you mind if we walk around through the trees? I mean we can stay close. I would just like to get off of the beaten path for a bit,” I laughed at how ridiculous that sounded.

“That’s fine,” he smiled.

We climbed down off of the walkway and headed off into the woods just behind Elaine’s lake house walking in complete silence for a while.

“So how is your shoulder,” Hayden asked breaking the silence?

“Oh,” I said looking at it, “actually it feels fine. I wouldn’t even have known anything happened last night if you weren’t fussing over me,” I stated smiling at him.

He blushed, “It really does look a lot better. I know what the others said but I would give it another week or two and it should be fully healed.”

“Well that’s good to know,” I said shaking my head. “You know you don’t have to shield my dreams.”

He looked away, “I just want you to heal as fast as possible. If you don’t get rest you won’t heal as quickly.”

“I am grateful,” I said sensing he felt he had overstepped, “I just don’t want you to think you have to save me from everything. That has to be tiring,” I laughed.

He smiled at me, “How about we compromise?”

“Okay let me hear the conditions.”

“No conditions, I will shield you from your nightmares until you are healed and then I will let you deal yourself.”

“You can shield me until I am visibly healed,” I countered.

He huffed a bit, “Fine but if you start showing bad signs of distress I will start again without asking permission.”

“Deal,” I smiled holding out my hand.

He placed a kiss on it and we began to move again, him at my back and me just a few steps in front.

“So what were you dreaming about,” he asked skiddishly.

“Leandar and his Beta,” I said staring straight ahead weaving around trees and bushes.

“You haven’t talked much about them or anything else about that weekend since you woke.”

“Well my world has kind of been turned upside down since I was kidnapped. Plus, what is the point of talking about dead men?”

“They aren’t dead,” he said confusion in his voice.

I stopped walking immediately and asked without turning to look at him, “What do you mean they aren’t dead?”

“Just what I said, they aren’t Jor. We do have rules. They hadn’t killed anybody.”

“But they were going to kill me and Regal,” I proclaimed turning to level him with my stare.

“I know Jor but he hadn’t yet and we have no proof he has killed anybody prior. We have a council for a reason. They will decide what is to happen to him and his pack.”

“He killed my father,” I yelled at the top of my lungs and sent birds fleeing upward to escape the threat they undoubtedly felt with my growing anger.

“I had no idea that he had done it Jor. I am so sorry, but we have no proof. I was told that when your father was killed that it was speculation that it was that pack but there was no poof. Then when the pack your father belonged to was found,” he hesitated, “mutilated it was still just speculation because once again there was no proof. He has been very careful in his acts.”

“So you mean to tell me some or all of them could go free because of a technicality? That because of the fact that ya’ll showed up before they finished us off and that there is no proof to their crimes in the past that they aren’t as guilty or guilty at all?” I could feel my rage rising.

“No, no that isn’t what I’m saying at all. They will most definitely be put down but it has to be at the command of the council. If they had already murdered innocents and we had proof then we could have killed them on sight.”

“They are going to be humanely put down instead of butchered like they did me, my father, his pack?”

He just stood there staring at me sheepishly.

“Where are they,” I growled?

“Jor,” he began to plead.

“Where Are They,” I growled each word through clenched teeth.

“Wisconsin’s private garage.”

I turned away from him toward the back of the house and took off at full speed. I knew even still not fully healed I was faster than him.

As I started my camino Hayden jumped into the passenger seat. I looked at him wide eyed not believing he had caught up to me so fast.

“I told you I take on the abilities of the supes I’m around,” he said fastening his seat belt.

I smiled at him menacingly and said, “You better hold on.”

I threw it into reverse, and swung us around to face the street. I smirked at his wide eyed expression satisfied with the reaction I received and then peeled out as I sent us barreling toward Wisconsin’s.

XXVI

We whirled around Wisconsin’s house to park in the back and as soon as I had the ignition killed I was out of Old Blue and walking toward the garage; I had assumed held Wisconsin’s private cars the whole time I was growing up; determined to face my captor and his bastard Beta; that had left a lifelong reminder of his existence on my body.

“Jordan you can’t go in there,” Hayden yelled after me.

“The hell if I can’t,” I growled my course of action never faltering.

I heard him slam my car door just as I reached the door knob to the garage.

“No Jor,” he yelled.

I stood there grasping that knob trying to keep my rage under control and not take it out on Hayden when I really wanted to right then. I had a right to confront these bastards and I was really pissed they weren’t already dead.

“Why not,” I yelled, “after everything I’ve been through? After everything they have taken from me don’t I deserve this?”

“Yes, but,” he began but my anger made me interrupt him.

“No buts,” I growled almost inhumanly, “you will not win in this. I will see them, your family owes me at least that much.” I tried to turn the knob only to find it was locked.

Duh what did you think? They were going to keep a pack of insane murderous monsters by politely asking them to stay? Not to mention what if someone happened to walk into it unaware of the dangers that lurked inside? Although it is weird that such an ordinary metal garage could hold beings as powerful as full bloods of my kind.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” Hayden said bringing me out of my thoughts.

I turned my head to see him standing just a few feet from me with hurt emanating from his eyes, his posture, his voice, and his heart. I felt like a monster myself. Once again I had allowed my emotions to drive me in the wrong direction. He hadn’t been trying to keep me from going inside he was just trying to tell me it was locked up. I knew he knew and felt; more than any; the hurt the secrets his family kept from me had eventually caused me.

“I’m sorry Hayden,” I said reaching for him.

He stepped out of my reach and turned toward the ramp at the back of the house, “The keys will be inside. I’ll go get them so I can explain to whoever is home. It’s probably best if you stay out here because they will just try to talk you out of it.”

I nodded at his back, and as if he sensed it he took off toward the house. I stood there for what seemed like hours. I didn’t like how irrational I had become. I didn’t know if I had always been that way and was just now realizing it because I was trying to become more aware of myself and any changes; or if it was because of the conversion and my rapidly approaching maturity that my hormones and emotions were becoming erratic.

“Here,” Hayden said scaring me out of my thoughts.

I didn’t mean to but I went on defense. I got into a hostile posture by straightening up to make myself as tall as I could, raising my head to look down my nose at him; which wasn’t easy since he towered me; drawing my lips back to growl low and guttural, and tensing my arms out at my sides.

“Jor whoa it’s just me,” he said holding his hands as well as the keys out to me to show he wasn’t a threat.

I realized it was him before he even had the chance to speak but I was already revved up and I anticipated the fight. Wanted; no; needed the sensation of flesh ripping through my teeth as blood poured into my mouth and down my face.

It took everything humane in me to calm down. I closed my eyes and conjured up old memories of my dad and then memories of Regal. When I finally felt my breathing slow to a normal repetition I opened my eyes and relaxed my muscles.

“You okay,” Hayden asked?

“Yeah,” I groaned completely drained from the rush of adrenaline and then the crash when I calmed myself without the satisfaction I craved. No matter how much that scared me I couldn’t really deny it to myself.

“I’m sorry,” I said placing a wary hand on my forehead and shaking it in disappointment at myself and my actions.

“I’m the one that should be sorry. I shouldn’t have snuck up on you. I really didn’t mean to, but with the mood you are in I should have made myself known.”

“Hayden,” I snapped. I snatched the keys out of his hands and began to unlock the door. As the lock clicked and I turned the knob I looked over at him, “I should have known you were there. As even a part Were I need to be aware of my surroundings at all times and with even my limited abilities should have known you were there without any announcement. I have enemies already and who knows if there are more. You could have been a threat, but thank God you weren’t. I may have lost my cool unnecessarily just then; and I am truly sorry for that; but you taught me a very important lesson: Never get so lost inside of yourself that anything can catch you unawares. I’m just sorry you had to be the first one I turned on like that, and I am also very sorry for what I said about your family owing me just before.”

“Jordan you don’t have to apologize.”

“But I do. I know you know more than anyone how those secrets have affected me. Our hearts are connected in a way neither of us can explain but I do understand you know and live my hurt as I do yours,” I said reaching for him and pulling him into a one armed hug around his neck. He had to slump for me to do so but he never seemed to mind. I kissed his cheek and whispered I love you into his neck before I let go smiled up at him and opened the surprisingly heavy door.

As I stepped into the darkness I heard the click of what sounded like a gun before a dark voice rang through the night of the room, “Your best bet is to turn around and run back the way you came.”

“Oh shutup Wisconsin it’s only me and Jor,” Hayden said nonchalantly as he flipped a switch and light exploded in the room.

I blinked past the pain it sent shooting around in my head, and then gained my vision to stare into the barrel of a sawed off shotgun. Gulp!

“Damn Wis put that thing away,” Hayden said scolding him as he grasped the barrel and took it from his uncle.

I just stood there wide eyed and frozen in place. It was never a fun thing to regain your vision only to be starring down the barrel end of a sawed off shotgun. They are highly illegal but even the little I knew about the council I could bet they didn’t answer to human laws.

“Sorry Red,” Wisconsin said as he approached me and began to examine my physical well being as if he had fired. When he was satisfied he pulled me into a tight hug and that calmed me from the sudden death I had just starred in to. “I can’t be too careful though when we are holding.”

“Holding what,” I asked still in a daze.

“Damn Uncle you made her forget what she is here for. If you are going to sit in here ready to go all Rambo on somebody in the dark maybe you should invest in some night vision goggles.”

“The dark gives me cover,” Wisconsin defended himself.

“Not from my kind,” I chimed in still a bit dazed but over it for the most part.

“What do you mean,” they asked in unison.

“Weres are night creatures,” I said in a duh tone. “I mean come on ya’ll are suppose to be a part of this crazy council that goes after supernatural beings and you don’t even know some of the basic things about them?”

“Jordan it’s not as if supes want to divulge their secrets to the ones that they see as the ones trying to control them,” Hayden said back to me in his duh tone.

“Okay but we aren’t called Werewolves for no reason.”

“Yeah it’s because Werewolves turn into wolves,” Wisconsin said.

“And Weres have some of the same abilities as wolves. Haven’t you ever noticed similarities in Weres and real wolves?”

“It’s not like we have had the chance to study them Jor,” Hayden chimed in. “Like I said they aren’t comfortable with us and the only time we get close to them is when we have to hunt them and that doesn’t give much time for observation.”

“Well what about when ya’ll are holding them like now?”

“We give them a natural downer that doesn’t allow them to gain enough strength to change or break free,” Wisconsin admitted.

For some reason that made my heart twinge for the mutts being held at the moment. Even though I hated them and wished them dead, I knew how it felt to be a prisoner inside of yourself and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. A full Were feels most comfortable in their wolf form and to not be able to change even for a bit must be driving them literally mad. Well even more insane than they already are.

I knew Hayden could feel my compassion because he put a hand on my shoulder, “You ready?”

“Ready for what,” Wisconsin eyed us disapproving already.

“Jordan deserves the chance to confront the bastards that kidnapped and tortured her,” Hayden growled at his uncle, “it is the least we can do for her.”

“I really don’t think this is such a good idea Red,” Wisconsin stated.

“It’s okay,” I said trying to soothe both of them.

“Well we will both be right up here. Just go through that door right back there,” Hayden said pointing at a door on the back wall, “there is a set of stairs that will lead you down to the cells. If they give you any trouble we will be able to hear them.”

I smiled at them both, “Thank you for this, but I want to do this alone. Can ya’ll take a snack break or something and go up to the house?”

“No,” Wisconsin said firmly.

“Come on Wisconsin you said yourself that ya’ll give them a sedative so they can’t gain strength. What are they going to do to me behind bars? Plus, Leandar won’t talk to me with ya’ll in hearing reach.”

“We can’t hear from up here.”

I tsked at him, “Now we both know ya’ll adapt the abilities of the supes ya’ll are around and that includes their hearing.”

So why didn’t they know about the night vision. Maybe that’s fates way of giving the paranormal world a fighting chance, even though I still didn’t believe even with the Guardian’s shared abilities that they could win in a one on one no weapon involved battle with a Were. But that was something to think about later. Right then I had a mission to accomplish.

“She’s right Wisconsin they would know we are still here and they probably wouldn’t talk to her. Like I said, after everything, she deserves some answers,” he said smiling at me, “It couldn’t hurt to give her a few minutes.”

Wis huffed a bit but ultimately folded like he always did with me.

“Oh thank you thank you,” I screeched as I hugged his waist.

“Don’t thank me until you come out okay,” he stated hugging me back.

“If you need me you know the quickest way to let me know,” Hayden said patting his chest just over his heart.

“I know,” I said as I stood on my tip toes to kiss his cheek.

“I’ll lock the door just to be doubly safe. It doesn’t lock the inside. The knob will still turn in here and stay locked on the outside. So if you get done before we get back then just let yourself out but make sure to shut the door good,” Wisconsin stated showing me the door knob locked on the outside but still turning on the inside.

“I don’t think we have to worry about anyone wondering around here on your property that would have any interest in getting in here or harming me but I got it. Now go so I can get this over with,” I said pushing them out the door.

Wisconsin started toward the house and Hayden turned to smile at me as I closed the door. I leaned back against it suddenly anxious at the thought of seeing the man that had kidnapped me only a little over a week ago.

He is under lock and key Jordan, I reassured myself. He is sedated. There is no way he can break out of his cage and hurt you again. It is over! Now suck it up and do what you came here for, I demanded internally.

Getting my bearings under me I pushed away from the door and made my way to the backdoor that led to the stair well. I opened the door to a foul odor that slapped me in the face. I immediately lifted my hand to pinch my nose but then decided to try and get used to it because it would only be worse down there and I didn’t want to show any sign of weakness. I stood there at the top of that stairwell staring down into the ill lit hall and then back at the door that led to freedom debating to just run to safety but I knew I would never forgive myself for not getting the answers I sought.

I descended the stairs and stared at a door that led to the cells imprisoning the mongrels that had done the very same thing to me, but all of my sympathy was gone now. All I felt was pure malice toward these beings. With the memories of what this pack had put me through fueling my rage I flung open the door in pursuit of my answers.

It didn’t take long to find the person I was looking for and it wasn’t just because there was limited places he could be. It was due to the fact that there was dead silence; almost an eerie silence; except for the soft and slow incessant clapping coming from the cell at the end of the hall.

As I walked slowly down toward where Leandar was being held, I kept my eyes forward averting any contact with the rest of his pack. I wanted answers only he could give me and then I would find Nikolai and gloat about the big bad wolf being captured and caged like a mutt in the pound.

As I neared the end of the hall Leandar stopped clapping and began to speak, “I was wondering when you were going to come and see me little one,” he laughed, “I must have thought too highly of you though.”

“And why is that,” I asked standing in front of his cage straining my eyes to try to see into the shadows that encased him.

This place truly was like out of a bad horror movie. It was under ground, the walls and floors were made out of stone, the bars on the cells were thick rusted iron, and the only light was from some type of oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. This had to be purely for aesthetic impact.

“Because I expected you much sooner.”

“Well then I guess you thought too small of me then,” I stated smugly.

“And why is that,” he laughed.

“Because anyone who would rush to you for any reason would have to be pretty pathetic,” I laughed.

I heard a whoosh of air before Leandar appeared at his cell door, “I may not have the strength to change or break free little one, but it would still do you good to watch your tongue.”

The quickness with which he emerged from the shadows shocked me because of the strength he still empowered even after ingesting the narcotic the Guardians had given him, but I hid it as well as possible physically even though I knew he would be able to sense it; if not smell it.

“I am very impressed with how you handle yourself around the Guardians though,” he smiled menacingly at me.

“I don’t handle them! They love me as family and as do I them.”

“You don’t believe they will use you now as a way to find out more about our kind to aid them in their quest to repress us?”

Oh yeah he still doesn’t know that I was only a quarter Were before the conversion. I think I will just hold on to that little tid bit until it serves a purpose for me. Plus, who’s to say he will tell me anything if he learns that I can never make the change.

“You are certifiably paranoid; not to mention insane, but I am not here to talk about the Samsons. But while we are off track, I do have something I’m a bit curious about.”

“That would be,” he asked.

“How is it that they can keep you in human form when your natural state is a wolf?”

“They tranqued us while we were still in human form like the cowards they are,” he growled. “If we are subdued in one form that is the form we have to retain until we regain enough strength to change. It takes great strength to accomplish the transformation. So since they are keeping us drugged we can’t gain enough energy to accomplish it.”

I laughed a bit at the turn of events and lowered my head for my eyes to just peek out at him as I stretched my own spiteful grin across my face, “So how does it feel to be trapped inside yourself?”

With just that simple question I could feel his rage wafting through the air and swirling around me.

“What,” I asked innocently lifting my eyebrows, “do you not enjoy it? I mean obviously you aren’t conscious, but paralyzed and blind, having your flesh shredded. Feeling every gash, bite, and gnaw. Still though, it can’t be easy being forced to stay in a form you aren’t comfortable in much less one you feel is so inferior to the alternate.”

Every word had his rage heightening till the air was thick and rich with it. I could taste the madness on my tongue. Smell the full bouquet of insanity filling my nostrils. It took everything in me not to step closer to his cell and bathe in the richest point of his lunacy. I didn’t know why I longed for it like I did. Maybe it was because it was easy for my kind to crave the limitless life of a rogue; or maybe it was just because it was coming from this Were. The one that killed my father and tried to kill me and Regal.

Leandar began to laugh and it brought me back to the here and now. “You see, we aren’t much different you and I. You are just still refined in your torture, but you love some good fury.”

“I am nothing like you!”

“No? Then you weren’t just baiting me and then enjoying the rage I reacted with? Just think of how luscious that rage would be when not being masked by drugs. The raw unearthed beauty of it.”

“I will never be like you, and you want to know why?”

“Hmm?”

“Because my father was a good man and he is what is in me not the concoction that created you. Now tell me, what we both know I am here for. Why did you kill my father?”

“Well little one, I can tell you that but it may rock that little image you have of your sacred daddy,” he said leaning against his cell door smiling at me.

“Nothing you could ever say would defile my memories of my father.”

“Not even if he killed my parents?”

XXVII

“You’re a damn liar,” I screamed and then growling and howls rang out and echoed through the hall from the other cells.

“Quiet,” Leandar’s voice thundered and then the hall fell silent again.

He turned and looked at me again and his face went completely refined again as if nothing had just happened.

He snickered a bit and then said, “Such ugly words from such a pretty mouth. But still I am telling the truth.”

He pushed away from the cell door and then took a seat on his cot with his back leaned against the wall and his legs drawn up with his wrists resting on his knees. Could this be any more cliché?

“I don’t believe you,” I said defiantly, “and if I’m not going to get any real answers out of you then I am wasting my time here.”

I turned to leave but his words stopped me, “If I were lying you would know it. We both know our kind is very good at recognizing deception.”

Oh crud I forgot he doesn’t know that I just found out about being a part of our kind; not to mention our kinds existence period.

I turned back to glare at him, “Even if what you are saying is true it had to have been justified.”

“It is never justified to kill one of your own,” he growled.

“Oh so killing my father, no telling how many others, and planning to kill me and Regal what was that?”

“Justice!”

“That sounds like you justifying the killing of our kind,” I stated smugly.

“Your father murdered my parents and our whole pack. I was barely old enough to have been taught to change and survive in the human world as well as our kinds. If it would have happened just a few short years prior I wouldn’t have had the means to care for myself as I had since their deaths,” his snarling voice rang out.

“Wow my father must have been pretty powerful,” I laughed.

“What,” he asked stunned at my statement.

“Well you claim he killed your family and their pack but you mention no others.”

“Why do you think your father’s pack is all dead little one,” he laughed evilly.

“Because you were searching for me,” I said uncertain.

“Oh how highly you think of yourself,” he laughed, “I may have had them questioned as to your whereabouts for hints as to where you and your precious mortal mommy were whisked away to but they were as good as dead when I snapped your daddy’s neck in the grasp of my jaws.”

I turned around putting my hand up to my mouth trying to gasp for air my lungs couldn’t seem to find at his detailed description.

“Oh I’m sorry did you not like the picture I painted,” he said amusement playing in his tone.

That had my blood boiling. I squared my shoulders with my back still to him, “Its fine because I bet the taste of your mommy’s blood was just as sweet to my father if not more so.” I whirled around to meet the amber swirl of his eyes, “Oh and just think of how it must have been if your father got to watch that just moments before he met his end much the same way. He not only died but he also felt his mate die. I’ve heard that is pretty agonizing,” I smiled at him.

“I will have my revenge still little one. You will die and for that your bitch of a mother will too,” he stopped to stare off into space as if picturing something, “and you give me such a good idea. I will have her slaughtered in front of you just before your life is taken.”

I swallowed against the lump that had gathered at his threat, but I knew he wasn’t going anywhere so I ignored my fear. “You aren’t getting out of here to exact anymore revenge on my family.”

“Oh your family and the Guardians are far from safe from my revenge.”

“What do the Guardians have to do with your revenge?”

“I cannot believe you haven’t figured it out by now,” he said perturbed. “Your father and his pack were working with the Guardians to take down my parents and their pack. All they wanted was to be free of the laws our kind was governed by and the council couldn’t have that. They labeled them rogues and began hunting them. They also called in your father and his mindless followers to aid them. Your father and his pack went against their own kind for worthless humans. All my parents wanted was freedom. Why should the inferior race of humanity get free reign over the world and we have to hide in the shadows?”

“It’s because of monsters like you and your parents why we have to live in the shadows,” I growled. “If beings of our kind like ya’ll hadn’t aided in giving humans the portrayal of monstrous deformed rabid demons over the centuries maybe we wouldn’t have to live in the shadows. But no ya’ll have to see yourselves as superior and frighten them because they are defenseless against our kind. It is your fault as well as your parents and every other like you from the past. I am just glad you will be put down like the rabid mutt you are so at least you can’t hurt anybody else.”

“I may not get out of here but I will still have my revenge,” he said and I really didn’t like the way he emphasized the I.

“Well let me let you in on a little secret,” I stated smugly. “Your plan of revenge isn’t working out too well so far.”

“Why,” he laughed? “Because I am in here? I at least got to convert you as your poor little ole daddy didn’t want since he fucked a human and had a true mutt,” he spat out the word.

I let it roll off and then hit him with the truth, “Well,” I laughed, “I hate to be the one to break the news to you but your converting me doesn’t mean jack shit! Pardon the ugly language.”

“Oh but little one it does, don’t you see,” he laughed but I cut his joy up short.

“Oh but it doesn’t because my daddy was only half Were,” I smiled triumphantly.

He stopped smirking and I could feel his rage building, “You are lying.”

“But you would sense my deception remember, and that reminds me,” I stated tasting yet another sweet stab at his ignorance, “I had no knowledge of our kind or what I was when you captured me.” I looked at him and I could see him trying to work himself up enough to change but he just couldn’t muster it under the affect of the drugs.

“You didn’t know that though did you? No, no of course not because Regal informed me that if you had you wouldn’t have locked me up. You would have used my ignorance to your best ability to exact the best vengeance ever by turning me to your side with manipulation. And if I didn’t comply you would have just simply done away with me then,” I stated smiling into his glowing amber eyes.

“Now you will die knowing that an ignorant quarter Were female pup got the best of you and your pathetic pack. The pup of the half Were that laid your parents and their whole pack to rest when you were just a few years younger than me. I will celebrate the day you breathe your last breathe; then I will pour your ashes out beside my father’s grave and dance on them so he can rejoice with me. Goodbye Leandar,” I said smiling to myself.

I finally felt good about everything. I got the answers I had been searching for and these bastards weren’t ever getting out to hurt me or anyone else for that matter ever again. As I began to walk down the corridor toward the door just at the foot of the stairs Leandar began to speak. But it was the tone of his voice that made me stop and listen. It sounded almost joyful.

“Oh little one you show such promise to our kind even if you are more of a mutt than I thought. In light of this news you have divulged though; does give me pause to the blindness I carried through seeking out revenge on your father. I cannot believe I was so ignorant to things that should have been so obvious but that is moot now I suppose,” he snickered a bit.

“But what I didn’t get to tell you before you went on your colorful rant of useful information is that I may die now but my revenge will still be carried out.”

That had me on edge and wondering who in the world would carry out his insane quest, but I knew there were beings out there that would or the council and Guardians wouldn’t be needed.

I walked back up to his cell and he laughed, “I figured that would peak your interest not to mention your fear,” he said closing his eyes and taking in a deep breath through his nose. “Your fear has a very satisfying aroma, but enough with the compliments,” he smiled.

“Who would ever try and finish the madness you started after the end you and your pack are about to meet?”

“Well no one in particular for me alone,” he stated vaguely.

“So what? You have siblings or something that inherited the crazy gene as well?”

“No, no little one,” he laughed. “But there is someone who seeks revenge from you more so than I ever could. I got mine from your daddy. You were just going to be the icing on the cake for me.”

Nikolai, I thought as fear began to pour out of every fiber of my being. He is the only person that would want revenge from me, but he was part of Leandar’s pack so I really didn’t have to worry about him.

“Oh so you know who I speak of,” he asked feigning surprise. “You know Nikolai thought of the pup Melron as his own even though they weren’t far apart in years. He saved him from a slow and painful death when he found him and took him in. That pup was nothing like me or our pack but he was loyal to Nikolai and would have done anything for him and did. But Nikolai had a soft spot for him so he never made him do anything outside of the pups comfort zone. I myself would have whipped him into shape if it killed him but Nikolai loved him as his own.”

“Yeah well for what it’s worth I’m sorry Melron was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I had no way of knowing that.”

Leandar began to laugh, “Revenge is not logical little one that is why people go mad with it. If it were sane then I would have picked up on the things I missed in you, but you need not apologize to me. Not that apologies would get you anywhere anyway.”

“Well I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to worry about it then isn’t it. Now I am tired of your little games. Goodbye Leandar,” I turned to leave again.

Just as I reached the door it was as if Leandar knew, “By the way little one I wouldn’t be so sure you have nothing to worry about.”

“And why is that,” I called back smugly.

“Because they did not capture Nikolai,” he growled.

I froze in place as my heart began to race and I went on alert.

“That’s right. He must have been late returning from hunting the night before when they captured the rest of us. He knows you were still alive when he left and he knows where to find us, your precious Samson’s, and you.”

I flung the door open and fled up the stairs as Leandar’s laughter echoed through the cavern and then he called out, “Goodbye little one.”

HAYDEN I let my heart call out before I was out of the garage. I crashed through the door of the garage and out into the dimming light of the evening.

“HAYDEN,” I yelled but never slowed my steps.

I was up the ramp and into the house before he reached the backdoor.

“What’s wrong,” he asked concerned trying to check me for any signs of injuries.

I was doubled over standing in the arch way between the living room and kitchen trying to catch my breath.

“What’s going on,” Wisconsin asked as him and Granddad Wheely came in through the front door?

“I’m not sure. I heard her calling out to me but before I could get through the house she was already here like this, but I don’t see anything wrong with her besides being out of breath,” Hayden stated caressing my back.

I wanted to scream. I wanted them to know they had missed one of them. But not just one of them; one that had put a price on my head and he was monstrous and just as evil if not worse than his Alpha.

“Get her some water Hayden,” Granddad Wheely instructed him, “and you help her to the couch Wisconsin.”

Hayden rushed off to fetch the water as Wisconsin guided me to the couch. Once they got me seated Hayden appeared with a glass of ice water.

“Now Jordan what happened,” Granddad Wheely asked soothingly.

I took a drink as I looked to my left at Wisconsin seated beside me, in front of me where Hayden was kneeled, and between them Granddad Wheely sat in his wheelchair.

“Ya’ll missed one,” I choked out as my breath began to seem somewhat controlled.

They looked at each other puzzled and then it was Hayden who spoke, “What are you talking about?”

“The night I came over to check on you Granddad,” I started and he shook his head at me in understanding, “I killed one of them that was here. They didn’t plan on getting me that night but I gave them the opportunity by showing up like I did.”

“Okay so then what did you mean by we missed one? If he is already dead how can he be a threat,” Hayden asked confused.

“He’s not,” I snapped. “The one I killed was a Were named Melron. He was just over puberty and as a pup Leandar’s Beta found him alone wandering in some woods. He took him in and raised him like he was his own.”

“Okay,” Wisconsin drug out, “that is a sweet story and all but I’m not following.”

“Let me finish,” I growled, “the morning ya’ll showed up, rescued me and Regal, and captured the pack Leandar’s Beta wasn’t there. After my conversion the night before Leandar sent his pack out hunting and he evidently came back after or maybe even during the raid.”

Just as I finished my story a loud crash sounded behind the house and two triumphant howls rang out. Before the Samsons could react I was out of my seat and standing on the back porch staring across the lot at the muzzles of Leandar and Nikolai’s wolf forms.

Then Hayden and Wisconsin came crashing through the backdoor to see what was going on, and caught sight of the two wolves standing defiantly in front of the garage snarling at us.

“Who are they?” Hayden asked.

“Leandar and his Beta,” I said fixated on Nikolai. I feared him more now than I ever feared Leandar.

With Leandar it wasn’t as personal as it was with Nikolai. I would get the exact revenge from him not the leftover.

I heard Wisconsin ask Hayden something through the fog of my fear, “How could he have changed when we have been giving him the drugs?”

Leandar’s wolf form turned and disappeared into the trees and just before Nikolai followed suit he starred straight into my eyes and snarled a sound of warning and anticipation for what was to come between us. And just prior to this I had just armed Leandar with the worst weapon of all; the knowledge of my limited abilities.

“Which was that,” Hayden asked as the Beta disappeared from view.

“Nikolai.”

Life’s Horizon:

The Guardian Epics

I

“Mom,” I screeched trying to scramble to get my things together. “I will be fine. It’s not like I haven’t ever stayed with the Samson’s before!”

I was going to spend two weeks with Hayden due to my oncoming birthday. And after the most recent events in my life the word “birthday” came with an all new meaning, one which I could have done without learning.

But thanks to that dog Leandar and his mutts, my birthday was a thing to fear now. No longer did the anxiousness come from an excited expectant place. No. That wonderful anxiousness had been replaced with angst of what’s to come. Angst, for what was once the day of my birth, only now to be replaced as the day that I am to reach my maturity and the unknown effects of my mottled blood.

With it only a few days away and the fact we had no idea what was going to happen we decided it best if I were to be with them and not at home with her. Ever since my conversion I could feel my body beginning to yurn to even just rub against Hayden. At this point I was all but humming with the anticipation of being “sated”.

“Yeah, but the last time you had no choice,” she pointed out unknowingly reminding me of the most horrifying events that I had ever experienced. Although, I had no doubt that wouldn’t hold a candle to what Nikolai would do to me if he ever got the chance to exact his revenge, not to mention Leandar.

I shook my head of those thoughts and replied, “That was nobody’s fault mother and you know it,” trying to contain my anger. I knew I shouldn’t be angry with her bringing it up. It’s not like she knew what happened, but anytime I was reminded of that weekend I couldn’t help it.

“I know, I know. I‘m just thankful that they were the ones you were with and knew how to take care of you properly. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if it had occurred out at Elaine’s grandparents with only you kids being there. They would have been completely beside themselves with worry and probably would have done something rash that,” she drifted off as she drew in a wary breath.

“Mom,” I said soothingly as I sat next to her on my bed, “you have to stop reliving what happened and thinking of worse case scenarios. You worry about me too much and I love you for that, but I am fine! Can you not just be happy for that fact and not try to fret over something that didn’t even happen?”

“You’re right,” she said as she wiped at her face and plastered on a smile.

“Besides if it makes you feel any better I’m sure Regal isn’t far away,” I said as I stood to finish gathering my things. “So if I do get clumsy again he can just come save me.”

It wasn’t exactly the truth but it was close to it. I was clumsy to let myself be kidnapped; and Regal did save me by his teachings. I just still couldn’t bring myself to completely lie to the ones I love. I knew after the next decade or so that I would have to drop out of their lives completely with a huge lie. So, I decided to be as truthful as I could while I still had the time.

“I wish you would just forget about that man and stay far away from him,” my mother growled.

That set me on fire and I spun around to pen her with a glare, “You have no reason not to like the man that pretty much saved your beloved daughter’s life,” I spat, “and for whatever reason you feel justifies you to treat him as you did at graduation and talk about him as you are now you better just keep it to yourself. He is a part of my life now and I will always be grateful to him for what he did for me, FOR YOU! I have never seen you so callous but I will not stand idly by and watch you try to push someone out of my life that pretty much gave me the ability to keep living it. For someone so worried about my safety you sure have a weird way of showing it.”

I slammed my luggage shut at the end of my tirade and stood there gripping it trying to get a hold of my bearings.

“There are things you don’t understand yet in this world Jordan Braege, and I will not have you taken advantage of.”

Still clutching my suitcase tight I shot back one of the most hurtful things I had ever said to my mother, “You have never tried to shield me from the harshness of the world before so why start now?”

“I have tried to raise you as a strong independent woman. I may have never tried to cover your eyes but I also never thrusted you out into the cold cruelness this world has to offer for you to have to experience it for yourself,” she said wounded.

I sighed feeling putrid for what I had said, “And you have done a great job at molding me into that strong independent and wise woman you wanted me to be. You always gave me my freedom when others my age could only long for it, but did I ever abuse it?” I asked turning to look at her truly remorseful. I knew she didn’t deserve what I had said. I was just very protective of Regal after what we had been through together.

“No,” she stated short.

“No, I didn’t,” I smiled at her and moved back to my bed to sit. I didn’t know what her problem was with Regal, but I knew my mom. I was guessing it had to be her trying to be over protective since I had just been hurt.

“You have been a great parent with having to take on both sides on your own,” a picture of my dad flashed into the view of my mind’s eye, but I shortly tucked it away, as I moved to my closet. I needed to be strong and level headed right then. “Are you doubting your parenting skills?” I baited her.

“Of course not,” she stated a little defensively.

“Well then why all of a sudden are you trying to tell me who to stay away from and since when did you start feeling wary about me going to stay with Hayden? We grew up together and slept over all of the time. Obviously it is different now, but it has been ever since last summer.”

“Yeah well that didn’t last very long,” she mumbled.

I stopped rummaging through the contents of my closet and sunk down a few notches at the memory of losing him this past year, “Thanks for that reminder mom.”

“I’m sorry baby,” she reassured me, “I just know it is different now and that is a bit scary for a mom. As for me trying to tell you what to do and how to live your life, you are right. I did raise a pretty great girl and I’m sure you make great decisions. If you are so grateful and accepting of this Regal then I will leave it alone.”

I perked up at her semi nice words. We had to start somewhere. “He is great mom and I know over time you will come to adore him just as I do.”

“I don’t know about that but I won’t say a cross word about him anymore because I know it hurts you. All I’m asking is that you be careful.”

“Why would you think you wouldn’t like him? You don’t even know him! And as for being careful, what are you trying to get at? He has already taken care of me once. What more do you want him to do to prove that he is good and decent?” I exclaimed.

“He just reminds me of someone; of a past I don’t care to revisit,” she said in a daze.

“What are you talking about mom? What happened in this obviously bad time in your life to make you treat the man that saved your daughter’s life like he is nothing but common trash?”

She came out of it and smiled at me, “You’re right Jordan, and there is nothing to tell. It wasn’t really about me anyways. It was just something I experienced from the sidelines, but enough about bad memories.”

Her complete change in mood and the fact that she wasn’t standing her ground made me wonder, but I decided not to push her. I mean I had my secrets and it wasn’t fair for me to pry into hers; which obviously still haunted her; when I couldn’t let her in on mine.

“I’m all packed,” I said zipping up my backpack. I had a large suitcase with all of the dressing essentials for two weeks, and my backpack with random things I thought I might need or want.

“That doesn’t look like much for two weeks. You fit all of your clothes, shoes, toiletries, and everything else in one suitcase and a backpack,” she questioned suspiciously.

“Traveling light are we? That suitcase should only be able to carry your clothes and maybe your toiletries. So you expect me to believe all of your shoes, necessities, and other various things are going to fit into that old tattered backpack you insist on carrying around? Rather than a purse like a normal teenage girl,” she mumbled the last part.

I rolled my eyes at her once again jab at the fact that I didn’t act like a normal girl my age. Which shouldn’t be such a big surprise seeing as she raised me to be more mature than them all, and I had never been much of a girly girl anyway.

“Yes mom I have everything. Uncle Rod picked me up everything I could possibly need in the toiletry department,” I said mimicking her, “when I was out there before. So I didn’t need to pack any. The suitcase has my clothes and shoes, and my backpack has some movies, a few of my favorite snacks, and the usual things I carry around.”

“Well that’s a relief.”

“What’s a relief? Did you think I was leaving out my underwear or something,” I joked.

She looked at me with her “Well?” stare and I was completely embarrassed!

“Mom,” I screeched again.

“Jordan come over here and set down with me for a second.”

I reluctantly walked over to my bed and sat beside her. She cupped my hands in hers and stared into my eyes. I already didn’t like the way this was heading.

“I am only wary because I know you are a teenager now and you and Hayden seem to be getting pretty serious; or as serious as two teenagers can be in only a few weeks.”

Okay I really didn’t like the sound of this for sure. I know she isn’t trying to have “the talk” with me right now!

“So I just want you to know that if you have any questions you can ask me,” she said waiting expectantly.

“Mom, what are you trying to say or ask,” I asked hoping I was wrong?

“I’m just trying to say that if you are having sex or thinking about it that it is perfectly normal for your age and you can come to me with any questions or concerns.”

Okay I was right. Man, why did I have to be right about this? My jaw almost hit the ground as I sat there staring at her as if she had just sprouted horns and spit fireballs at me. “Oh my God I cannot believe you are trying to have the sex talk with me. Now!” I said as I got up and laughed a bit hysterically.

“Why, are you already,” she drifted off in a worried voice.

“NO!”

“Oh thank God,” she said as she buried her face in her hands.

When she recovered from that revelation she looked at me and continued, “Although, if or when you do decide to,” she hesitated searching for the right word, “get active,” she stated as she motioned quotes with her fingers, “and you do have any questions or concerns.”

“Yes mom I know, come to you,” I interrupted her. “Wow this is awkward and very uncalled for,” I laughed. “I am well versed on this subject. You do know we have sex ed at school right. When we were just hitting puberty,” I finished after I took in her surprised expression at my first statement.

On some level I really did wish I could talk with her about what was to come. I felt like this really was something a girl should be able to be open and talk about with her mother, but because of some recent unfortunate events I could never share that part of my life with mine and as the years go on I knew that would become more and more true until I had to just drop completely out of her life for good or run the risk of dragging her into a world she had no business being in.

My mom stood, gave me a tight hug, and then Hayden appeared to me over her shoulder letting me know he was here. I ushered my mom out of my room and had her help me carry my suitcase downstairs just as he was knocking on the door.

“Wow, ya’ll are pretty attuned to each other, huh,” she laughed?

You have no idea.

I ran to the door and gave him a big hug and kiss on the cheek.

“Hey Hayden,” my mom called over, “come here and give me a big hug,” she said holding out her arms.

“How are you Trisher,” he asked as he walked into her embrace.

She squeezed him tightly and then held him out in front of her so she could take a good look at him. “Boy when did you get to be so big?”

He laughed squeamishly under her scrutiny.

“You are looking more and more like the Samson men every day,” she smiled.

“Okay mom. You’re making him uncomfortable.”

She smiled at me around his shoulder while still grasping his arms, “I know, but that is my right since I have been picking up after you two since you were in junior high.” She patted him on the arms and expressed that she expected him to carry me everywhere if that meant getting me back in the condition I was leaving in.

I was pretty agitated at my mom’s words but the fact that I couldn’t feel Hayden’s heart hurting helped to calm me.

I had healed up pretty good. I didn’t have much scarring from the bites except for the ones that were pretty deep and ripped a bit. My shoulder had been out of the bandages for only a few days now, but it was feeling better and better with each passing day. I was sleeping well into the afternoon there for the first few days into the summer vacation, but then I guess I started healing faster because every day I was waking up earlier and earlier. Though I was feeling better, my shoulder still looked like something out of a bad horror movie. But I knew it would never look the same again.

“So how is your mother?”

“Oh she is good,” he stated moving back to my side. “She is still out visiting friends.”

I had learned after my rescue that she was away in order to keep her safe. The friends he spoke of, was actually his brother; Troy, and his wife. It was still very weird for me to know of a brother that had always been a secret until recently. I wasn’t sure why they kept him a secret or if it even started out that way and just turned into something they didn’t talk about now. I know it couldn’t be easy explaining having a child that was never around and no one had ever met.

Hayden had explained that his parents had had Troy at a very young age; the beginning of Uncle Rod’s Guardianship, and it was frowned upon to have a child so young and especially out of wedlock. He didn’t care what it would do to him, but he didn’t want Aunt May to go through the stares and snickers every where she went. So Granddad Wheely and MaMa Samson sat down with her parents. Together they all decided to pull just Aunt May out of school so that it wouldn’t look suspicious. They home schooled her for the remainder of her senior year. Of course, Aunt May’s parents had no idea what the Samson’s were or what this new child meant to their lineage. All they knew is that they didn’t want their daughter to suffer for a mistake she had made in the heat of adolescent love, or so they thought.

After she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy, she didn’t want to give the child up. By that time her and Uncle Rod were already graduated and there was no need to. So, her parents agreed to help them raise him, but only if they did it right and got married. Of course because of the bond Guardians have with their chosen one, they had no reservations in doing so.

After they were married they began their lives as a family, but then Uncle Rod got his first taste of what being a Guardian truly meant, as did his new family. After that they made up an excuse that Uncle Rod’s brother; Wisconsin, needed him. Aunt May knew it was safer to leave Troy with her parents, to keep him away from being targeted, and so they asked if they would care for him until they could do it by themselves properly.

I always thought that was the reason Hayden hadn’t been with them at an early age, but I knew better now. I also knew he had been with Aunt May’s parents and not Granddad Wheely and MaMa like I had also assumed.

As Troy got older they let him choose who he wanted to live with and he didn’t want to leave the home he had been in since infancy. Even though it hurt Aunt May deeply she complied because ultimately she knew it was safer. Then when he reached his Guardianship the Samson’s had some buddies of theirs train him.

When Hayden was born they asked her parents if they would care for him as well because they were looking after Wisconsin when his wife and baby died. It wasn’t a complete lie but it still wasn’t the full truth. Then when Hayden was old enough, they gave him the same choice as Troy, but Hayden chose his parents despite the life he already had with his grandparents. Unlike his brother, which by this time was already graduated and embarking on a part of his life that Hayden knew nothing about until recently.

Fast forward to present day, and still no one but the family knew of Troy Samson, but now I knew the severe extremes this family had gone to, to keep their family safe… and mine as well. They could have gone back and been with their sons but they swore to my father to look after me and my mom.

“Well you just better let her know I asked about her, and let her know I am expecting a get together to make up for the one she had to miss.”

“I will and I know she will be happy to know she is missed,” he smiled.

“Alright well ya’ll better get going so you aren’t late for dinner. I know your dad and Wisconsin are probably hovering over that grill already,” she laughed as she walked us to the door.

I reached to grab the suitcase, but Hayden beat me to it. He smiled at me as he walked out the screen door my mom held open.

As I went to pass her she grabbed me by the face and pulled me to a dead stop, “And you better be careful this weekend,” she said squeezing my cheeks to the point I had fish lips and then she placed a quick kiss on them.

“I will mom don’t worry,” I said massaging my cheeks.

“Now get going I said,” she stated giving me a get along pat on the butt.

I laughed as I descended the stairs and joined Hayden at his truck.

“You ready for this weekend,” he asked worried?

“More than I can even explain,” I all but purred as my body went into over drive sensing his closeness. I wanted to bend forward and take in a deep breath of his scent. No what I really want is for him to thrust me up against this truck and enjoy the sharp contrast of cold hard metal at my back and scorching hot flesh at my front. Man did I enjoy the picture that had painted.

“Jordan get in the truck,” Hayden laughed in a whisper.

I opened my eyes and then followed his gaze back to my mom standing on the front porch with arms crossed over her chest giving me that “you better behave or I will tan your hide” glare.

I smiled at her innocently as I climbed into the truck and then Hayden followed suit. When we finally pulled out of the drive I looked back and waved my mom goodbye as she glared at me before disappearing into our house.

“Well here we go,” he said breaking the silence as he grasped my hand.

With just that little touch, my skin was on fire and my head swam with ideas of attacking him right there in various ways.

Except I thought better of it at the last second. Then, replied between clenched teeth, and eyes tightly shut, “Yes, here we go.”

Imprint

Images Copyright Holder: Cover photo is owned and copyrighted by Rebecca, The Clothes Horse http://theclothes.blogspot.com/2010/03/occasion-to-dress-for.html
Release Date: 11-15-2010

All Rights Reserved

Dedication:
I dedicate this to everyone. To the wonderful people in my life that believed in me and my characters. My friends and family, whom have supported me throughout this project and continue to support me. And to my warm and loving readers at BookRix! If it weren't for y'all I would have never known the feeling of having others love my characters as much as I have.

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