Chapter 18 .

Darren

Not a lot of people were awake when I woke up. The vampires were all awake. I didn’t think they actually slept and Alex was awake. Some of the werewolves were awake, but others were asleep. The tricksters were asleep near the group of men with Grant. 

I immediately looked for my mom. The absence of people in our little group was obvious and I remembered my mom was dead. The sorrow built up like a geyser until it was almost too overwhelming. Tears welled up in my eyes and a hard lump formed in the back of my throat. I blinked the tears away and swallowed. 

Even though there was plenty of room in the cafeteria, it was stifling, the air was heavy. It was difficult to breathe. I stood up careful not to disturb Richard beside me. Monica was on the other side of him holding onto his arm while they slept. Molly lifted her head and watched me as I carefully maneuvered away from my sleeping group and towards the door. I needed air. When Molly saw me heading towards the door, she stood up and came along with me.

I led her through the halls and out the back door. Cold air immediately hit my cheeks. I took in a deep breath of the refreshing air and felt like I could breathe again. The werewolves and vampires took turns patrolling the perimeter of the high school so I felt relatively safe. Molly walked out a little further and peed before coming back to me.

Now that I could breathe again, I looked around. There was a tan werewolf a little further out behind the school. I wondered if it was Elsie. It looked like her, but I wasn’t sure at this distance. 

I didn’t want to go back inside yet. It was stifling in there. Instead, I sat on the cement sidewalk and leaned back against the brick wall of the school. Molly snuggled up next to me. My hand started to run over her fur almost as if it had a mind of its own.

Elsie watched me a moment before she turned her eyes outward and began patrolling the back once again.

The back door opened. I glanced up. Richard came and sat next to me. Molly sat between us. He reached out and began to pet her as well. Neither of us said anything for a while. Finally, Richard said, “Are you alright?”

“Not really,” I said. I thought of my mom, my step father and my friends now dead. If things ever settled down again and I was still alive, I didn’t want to live in this city. There would be too many reminders of who wasn’t there.

“Me neither,” he said. “Being back at this school is weird. I keep thinking I need to go to class or that we’ll run into our old friends, but there is none of that anymore is there?”

“No,” I said. I felt the same as Richard, but to add onto that sometimes I would remember sneaking glances at Lily when she was at her locker or walking down the hallway to go to classes. None of that was real anymore. I realized at that moment that my crush on her wasn’t as intense as it used to be. Maybe because now I knew she would never reciprocate. Hunter was right. I needed to get over her. Maybe that process was already happening.

“Do you think we can do this?” Richard asked after more silence.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Defeat the venefici.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “When Lily talks about it, I believe it, but when I think about it myself and the reality of it I doubt it. Especially after . . .” my voice broke as I thought of my mother.

“Yeah,” Richard said. He had known exactly what I was thinking and saved me from actually having to voice it. Maybe he didn’t want me to voice it. Maybe it would remind him of his own mother.

“I hope we can,” I said. “I hope anyone else around the world with the same goal can do it too. I’m not going to stop trying to defeat the venefici,” I said. “Because we can’t sustain ourselves in a world like this forever.”

Richard sighed. “Yeah,” he said.

We sat in silence as the morning sunlight streamed down all around us. The air was crisp and cold. Molly had fallen asleep with her head on my thigh.

“Well,” Richard said after a long while, “I’m going to go back inside. Are you coming?”

“Not yet,” I said.

He stood up. When he did, Molly woke up and stood up. She followed him back into the school leaving me alone. The cold air hit me harder now that the dog was no longer beside me.

Elsie in her werewolf form met my eyes from across the schoolyard. She slowly approached me almost as if she were afraid she would scare me away. Her werewolf eyes were a brilliant green. When she reached me, she settled down next to me in the position Molly had previously been in. She rested her large wolf head on my thigh.

Like I had done with Molly, I began to run my fingers through her fur from the top of her head down along her back. I did this several times before I realized there was a big difference between Molly and Elsie. Elsie wasn’t a wolf. She was a werewolf and had a human side. I wondered if werewolves thought it degrading if a human petted them. I immediately lifted my hand.

“Is this alright?” I asked her. “I can stop if it’s degrading or you don’t like it.”

She lifted her head and looked into my eyes, then she put her head directly underneath my hand. I took that as a sign to keep petting her. She settled her head back on my thigh as my hand continued to run along her fur. Her fur was thicker, longer and softer than Molly’s.

We sat in silence as the sun slowly rose higher in the sky. There was something comforting in petting her. More so than talking would have been.

“Stop flirting with my sister,” Mason said.

I jumped startled. I hadn’t realized he was there. The door hadn’t opened so he must have been patrolling the grounds like Elsie had been.

I immediately lifted my hand away from Elsie. “I wasn’t,” I stuttered.

Mason smiled and patted my head as he walked past us towards the door. “Just kidding,” he said. “I don’t care if she doesn’t. You can keep flirting with her. Hunter’s gotta be awake by now, right?”

“I wasn’t flirting,” I said again, but Mason was already in the door. “I wasn’t trying to flirt,” I said to Elsie. I was a little surprised when she shifted back to her human form. Funny how she was the same person, but I was a little more comfortable with her werewolf form. Maybe because her human form reminded me of how clumsy I was with other humans. Especially in our past life as high school students.

“It’s alright,” she said with a smile. “I don’t mind if you flirt with me. Let’s go inside and get something to eat.”

“I wasn’t trying to flirt,” I said quietly, awkwardly.

If she heard me, she didn’t indicate it. She stood up and held out a hand to help me up. I took it and stood. I followed her into the high school. I wasn’t sure if the siblings were teasing me about flirting, but I found as I followed her back to the cafeteria that I didn’t mind the idea of flirting with her.

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