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Chapter Five

The heated rays of the sun had fried the sparsely covered lawn, turning the grass a murky shade of brown. I wiped my sweat-coated brow with the back of my hand then continued to push the lawnmower over the raised tufts of grass. This part-time gardening job may have made me a hit with the stay-at-home moms, but at sixteen years of age, it was still a case of ‘look all you want but keep your cougar paws to yourselves’. I was still a minor in the eyes of the law.

“Kian, do you want a cold glass of lemonade?” Mrs. Bennett asked, while pausing in the doorway and taking a good old look at all my hard work and effort.

Since her heart attack, six years ago, I had been keeping a closer eye on her and took on all of her strenuous chores. It was Mom's drug dealers that had caused her sudden attack. The shock of them kicking down my front door and barging their way through my house caused Mrs. B to act impulsively in defence of my mother. From what I was told, they had given her a bad scare, and after they left, she barely made it back home when she collapsed. That was a huge turning point in our lives. Things had to change.

Mowing people’s lawns paid me nothing short of peanuts, but it stopped people’s tongues from wagging about where the source of my real income was coming from. Dad thought it was a good idea for me to be seen during the day so that it cleared my evenings for my main job. It mostly consisted of training and taking part in the odd paid fight here and there, but the cage was where I made all of my hard-earned cash. It was how I managed to pay for the orthopedic bed for Mrs. B; it was how I could afford to run a car back and forth to school each day, and it was how Dad and I raised enough cash to send my mother into rehab. She had been clean of heroin for a little over a year and a half, and was holding down a part-time job as a cleaner.

“You’re a life-saver, Mrs. B,” I exhaled a relieved sigh.

The old girl chuckled back at me, the glint in her blue eyes dancing like sapphires under the heated rays of the sun.

“It’s the least I could do, you’ve barely stopped all day.” She swatted the air as if it was really no bother at all.

Only, that wasn’t entirely true. I noticed how she grew short of breath these past few weeks, how she strained more than usual whenever she rose from her armchair, how the stiffness in her joints made her wince with pain whenever she had been idle for too long. My beloved Mrs. Bennett was getting old, and a part of me knew that she had little time left before she departed to that retirement home in the sky.

“Did you do something different with your hair?” I complimented her, in an attempt to see her smile. “I swear that you’re looking younger every day.”

She gave an exaggerated eye-roll. “Oh, dear Goddess, you’re turning into one of those smooth-talking ass-hats,” she joked, fanning her face with her free hand while holding the condensation-coated glass with the other.

I took it gratefully, bringing the rim to my lips and taking a long, thankful sip of the cloudy liquid. It slipped past my lips like ice-cold heaven, quenching my thirst and cooling me from the inside out.

“You want to cover those muscles,” she pointed at my sweat glistened torso that was turning an angry shade of red through plenty of sun-exposure. “Before someone slaps a health and safety warning on you.” She gestured to the houses from across the street. “I don’t need to bother watching sitcoms; it's entertaining enough, watching all the desperate housewives tripping over their own tongues.”

As I turned to look in the direction of where she was pointing, I noticed heads ducking down quickly from some of the windows.

“And you’re going to get sunstroke if you’re not careful,” Mrs. B fussed as if she was my own grandmother. “Wear the cap I gave to you, and for goodness sake, put on a shirt.”

My life mainly consisted of a routine succession of ordinary days: I went to school, my grades were a steady average, I came home, Mom and I ate dinner with Mrs. Bennett, Mom and I did the chores between us, I did my homework, Dad would call home from one of the ranger stations and we would have a pleasant conversation. On the weekends, he would come home without fail, and we would either train together or I would take part in a paid fight that would earn me a fat roll of cash.

I kept my head down and my nose clean, and the guys at the cage respected that. The one and only mishap I had was the first time that I had won a fight and celebrated with a few too many beers. I had never touched a drop of alcohol before that night, and according to Jaxton, who couldn’t stop laughing his ass off, said that he caught me in one of the restroom stalls trying to get my rocks off with some broad from the club. I don’t remember much else because I passed out before anything substantial could happen.

To any onlookers, I was a typical teenage kid, fooling around with the boys, eyeing up the ladies and dreaming of a life less ordinary. But that wasn’t who I was behind the rusty herringbone metal of the cage. That was when my primal side would take the wheel and thrive off all the blood and carnage that happened whenever I passed the dusty threshold. The scales were currently balanced between primal and civilized, and were evenly measured for now, though all that it would take was for something to tip one side for it to send me into chaos.

“Kian, are you still out there?” Mom called out from inside our house.

Moments later, she emerged through the door in her flip-flops and brand new summer dress. Her cheeks had filled out from leading a healthier lifestyle, and her skin looked radiant and sun-kissed through soaking up the vitamin D. There was still a few tell-tale signs from all the past neglect: her teeth needed a little dental work to fix all the corrosion, and her nerves were still shot to shit, making her fingers tremble whenever she held up her hands to show how unsteady they were. But other than that, her hair was thick and shiny, and she looked more like the girl in her old photographs. The one that Dad fell deeply in love with. Their relationship was now stronger than ever, and Dad no longer felt the urge to bring alcohol into the house. I could always smell it on him whenever he came home from his ranger duties, but he put that down to missing us both while he worked away.

We were far from what you could call functional, but our family dynamic worked well enough for us. The four of us were happy, and yes, that included Mrs. Bennett.

“Yeah,” I replied, wiping the sticky lemonade residue from my lips.

“Are you done for the day,” she asked, then thumbed behind her, “only, I’m going to fire up the barbecue and slap on a couple of steaks and burgers for dinner. Do you want some?” She bounced her gaze between Mrs. B and me as she delivered her question.

“I won't say no to that,” Mrs. B answered, shuffling past me in her house slippers and floral dress.

That left me to put away all the gardening tools and follow the two important women in my life through to our tiny back yard.

Mrs. B was sitting on one of the four new fold-up chairs that were a part of the patio set. Now that Dad and I had finished remodeling our house to how Mom always wanted it, we finished furnishing the small yard with new paving stones and decorative garden planters. Dad bought a new barbecue at the start of last summer after our old one had given up the ghost. We had progressed from a half barrel with charcoal to a six ring gas burner. We even owned a matching dinner service and had a fridge with a built-in water dispenser. I felt like the fucking Fresh Prince, sitting at a glass patio table, eating steak beneath a parasol that had built-in fairy lights. We were living the good ole' life, alright.

Mom’s phone chimed a few lines from a girly pop song. She fished it out from the front pocket of an apron that she'd thrown on and answered with a beaming smile stretching across her face.

“Hey, handsome, guess what I’m doing right now?” She giggled as the recognizable rumble of my father’s voice uttered something dirty and suggestive.

I scrunched my face with repulsion.

“No, you perve,” Mom replied, flirtatiously, “I’m cooking on your barbecue,” she told him, to which I heard him protesting playfully that it was his toy, and how it would earn her a good ole’ spanking when he came home from work.

I almost choked on my mouthful and had to get Mrs. Bennett to pound her palm against my back.

Mom rolled her eyes, then held out the phone, “Your dad wants to talk to you,” she informed, the girly smile still lingering on her lips as if she was deliriously happy.

I took the modern device, which was a Christmas present from me to her, and answered with a, “Hello?”

“Was that you choking?” He asked, his voice full of humor. “Is your momma's cooking really that bad? Do I need to send for an ambulance?”

Mom’s face flooded with amused shock. “I heard that!” She laughed out loud.

I chortled at his witty comment. “I’ll live, how are things down at Hawcroft? Quiet, I hope?”

“Same old, same old,” Dad mentioned, which was his way of saying ‘boring and uneventful’ which was what I wanted to hear.

“Good, that means that you’ll be home on Friday,” I replied with a sigh of relief.

There was a brief pause down the line before Dad decided that he would mess with me. “Uh, why? What’s happening on Friday?” He asked, his voice still holding the same humored tone as if he actually thought I couldn’t tell the difference.

“Dad,” I dragged out his name, making him crack down the other end of the line.

“I know, I know, it’s the big game on Friday,” he said, extinguishing any doubt that he had forgotten. “Like I would miss my boy’s last game of the season,” he stated as if the idea was unthinkable.

I knew that it would be a lot to expect from him to attend every single game. It was the same with anyone who’s father was a ranger. Working antisocial hours was part of their job description, but Dad made it to the majority of my games. Mom always had to work during those hours, but she had assured me that she had booked the time off so that she could make the last game of the season. Mrs. Bennett was also going to be there. Having all three of them there to cheer me on was a huge boost for my morale. I knew that Mrs. Bennett didn’t much approve of me cage fighting, but she praised me for joining the Lacrosse team.

Mom made a grabbing gesture for the phone, signaling that she wanted it back.

“Bye, Dad, see you on Friday.” I gave the phone back, watching the light illuminate her features as she continued her conversation with him, pausing to listen to whatever he was saying to her while she bit her bottom lip as she grinned.

Mrs. Bennett washed down her burger with a mouthful of her home-made lemonade and I continued attacking my steak with my serrated edge steak-knife. Like I said, living the good ole’ life.

“We’ll hit ‘em fast, we’ll hit ‘em hard, us Bear Creek Bears are warriors!” Our cheer team chanted, swinging their hips in their pleated green and yellow dresses while waving around the matching pom-poms.

Across the other side of the sports field, the Stonevale cheer team were all dressed in blue and white, giving their boys the same motivational boost.

“We’re mighty! We’re crazy! We’re never, ever lazy! We’ll beat you! Defeat you! Our Alpha could even eat you! He’ll cover you in hot sauce, cuz we’re the best at lacrosse. Gooo Wolves!”

I swung the crosse and caught the rubber ball in the net, managing to jump just in time as the wolf who came at me took a sly swipe at my leg. Those Stonevale fuckers aren’t as squeaky clean as they’d like folks to believe they are. I managed to shoot the ball in the net and snatch our way to victory in the final few seconds of the game. Bear Creek were still the reigning champions, just like we had been for four years in a row.

My popularity in high school was at its all-time high, thanks to me joining the Lacrosse team. It’s made high school suck a little less. Most of the guys on the team were buff. As a rule, bear’s tended to be bigger than other shifters. It was just how we were built. Even our women were big and curvy. I once saw a wolf shifter lose an arm wrestle to a bear shifter female. It was the funniest thing I ever saw in my life. Especially when she flung him over her shoulder and told him that he had pulled for the night. Bear, cat, wolf or human, it didn’t matter to me, I could still appreciate all the qualities of a hot female body. I was a red-blooded male after all.

My teammates fist-punched the air as I scored, running to collide into me and hoist me onto their shoulders. I glanced out at the crowd and searched amongst the ocean of screaming faces, noticing the absence of my family.

Fuck! They said that they would be here.

The more that I searched, the more apparent to me that they were a no-show. My smile slowly evaporated from my face, only to be replaced with gut-sinking disappointment.

As the raucous cheers from the bleachers began to subside, coach strode onto the pitch to join in on our moment.

“Well done, guys! You were awesome out there!” He praised, giving each of us a firm clap on the back.

Just as I turned to leave with my teammates, he called me back.

“Jones,” he called me by my last name, “a word if you’ve got a moment.”

I hung back as the other guys made their way to the sports hall. At least if I was side-tracked by Coach, the showers were likely to be empty by the time I got there. They were always whipping each other with twisted towels and comparing dick sizes, doing infantile antics that the boys in the cage all scoffed at. I joined in as one of the boys while I was here at school, taking part in the playful teasing and testosterone fuelled ridicule that could be expected from adolescence. It was a mask of my true self, an innocent face concealing the darkness that was growing within. I could feel it taking over me in the cage, as well as here on the pitch. Within me brewed a rage so potent and deadly, that if it was to manifest itself as a storm, it would wipe out the whole of Forest Lake and leave nothing standing. This life, as superficial as the act I was portraying each day, was keeping Kian Jones anchored and caging the Beast inside.

“Yes, Coach,” I answered, my chest still heaving as I regained a steady breathing pattern.

“Wanted a word about the game,” he looked me directly in the eyes as he spoke to me with pride. “You got some talent, I’ll give you that.”

There was a time when I would shy my eyes away from a compliment like that, but that was the old Kian, the new me grinned back at him with an air of boyish arrogance.

“Thanks, Coach,” I replied, lapping up the glory.

“Have you given any thought about going to college?” He asked, his words delivering me a harsh slap as a wake-up call.


I hadn’t given it much thought at all, lately. One, because there was no way we could afford it, even with my extra earnings. Two, because I had way too many responsibilities at home these days. My dreams of working in the construction industry were slowly becoming more of a pipe dream.

“I’m going to take your silence as a big fat no,” Coach raised his rusty-colored brows, wrinkling his forehead. He ripped the yellow and green striped cap from his head and ruffled his cayenne-colored hair before placing the cap back in situ.

The Bear Creek colors were waving proudly in the form of spectator flags on the bleachers. None of the crowd had moved a muscle, probably waiting for the guys to come out and give a lap of honor in nothing but their underwear. Some like to give more of an eyeful, that was why the cheerleading squad always stuck around until the end.

“I...uh...” I stammered my words, not meaning to, but I couldn’t seem to figure out what excuse to give on the spot.

Coach gave a subtle shake of his head, then leaned in as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “I’m well aware of your circumstances, son, but you shouldn’t allow that to define you.” I released a heavy sigh through my nose, pressing my lips into a tight thin line. I hated pity, but thankfully, it wasn’t pity that he was dishing out. This seemed more like friendly advice.

“How would you feel if I was to make you the team’s captain at the start of your junior year?” he delivered, stunning me into silence.

My jaw hung agape, overwhelmed that he had so much faith in me.

“Coach, I don’t know what to say...” I could hardly believe it.

Me—team captain—and a junior too! Never in the whole of history has a junior been the captain of the Bear Creek lacrosse team. This was a first.

Coach held out his hand for me to shake, “Say yes, you idiot!” He chuckled, his gruff voice as firm as the grasp on my hand. “Because this is your ticket into college,” he advised, “a sports scholarship if you play your cards right.”

Coach was right. I would have to be an idiot to pass up this opportunity.

“Yes, I’d be honored,” I answered, feeling the warm swell of pride blaze through my chest.

I had earned this for myself.

Coach clapped me on the back, “Off to the showers with you, just don’t celebrate too much,” his voice held stern humor, “I hear what goes else goes on down at the falls.”

I slapped a hand over my heart as I started to walk backward, “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Coach.” My attempt feign innocence was met with a narrowed-eyed look of distrust.

“Whatever you say,” Coach muttered.

The boys were hanging around the lockers when I arrived, some half-dressed and some walking around in towels. One of the guys scrubbed a hand against my buzzed hair as I passed, while another tossed me a bottle of shower gel.

“You’re so gonna get laid after this,” another crooned, making a riding bull gesture.

I grinned, rolling my eyes as I stripped to my skin and palmed the metal push-tap. There was a brief blast of cold water, then the temperature heated against my skin. I dipped my head under the faucet and let the flow cascade down my body. Time ran away with me while I stayed under there, hitting the tap to keep up the constant flow. The laughter of the boys started to fade away as I became lost in my thoughts, replaying the whole game from start to finish in my mind. Whether it was on the playing field or inside the cage, the euphoric feeling of victory was still the same. I needed to win. I had to chase the feeling like an addict needing a fix.

The scent of testosterone, sweat, masculine soap, and deodorant formed ninety percent of the air in here. The other ten percent was a mystery. It wasn’t until a pair of soft, feminine fingers slid around my waist and delved straight for my family jewels that I recognized who it belonged to.

“You’re so hot, Kian,” the voice from the head cheerleader, Stacey Thorne spoke.

My eyes sprang open as her fingers curled around the girth of my shaft, causing me to suck in a shocked breath. She pressed herself flush against my body, the feel of her bare breasts seeped heat into my back as she began to stroke life into Kian Junior.

“Everybody has gone, it’s just us,” she assured as if that was why I was so tense.

Blood raced straight to my dick, giving her a standing ovation. We really shouldn’t be doing this, considering the fact that she was eighteen and should’ve been seeking out her mate. I knew that I couldn’t be the man that she was looking for because I wasn’t the first guy on the team that she showed an interest in. But boy was she hot! I felt her soft lips begin to press light kisses between my shoulder blades, her dexterous fingers sliding against the wetness of my length. My balls were tightening, boiling with the promise of a good fuck, my first, my victory dance here in the showers of the boy's locker room.

“You wanna do this in here?” I asked, my voice growing ragged through the loss of control.

Hell yeah, I wanted to fuck Stacey Thorne! I was one of the only guys on the team who hadn’t.

I turned around to grab her around the waist and pull her toned body against me. She let out a pleasant squeak as I kissed her roughly, claiming her mouth with my tongue. It was an awkward, clumsy kiss that would’ve been sloppy and wet if we weren’t already in the shower. I had kissed plenty of girls. Too many in the past couple of years. I’ve had one attempted fuck, a mind-blowing blow-job under the table of the Blood Moon Bears clubhouse on my sixteenth birthday from some pass around that Jaxton paid, and I got to second base with a Wolf shifter who flung herself at me one night after I won a fight in the cage. But this was it! I was going all the way with Stacey. But first thing’s first, I wanted to eat her sweet pussy.

She pulled back, placing the tip of her forefinger onto my lips, “I’ll help you relax,” she promised, sinking down to her knees.

Wow! I thought, leaning my back against the cold tiles while the blonde bombshell swallowed the length of my cock down her throat. Flashing lights burst in my vision like fireworks, her hot mouth feeling as smooth as silk and that skilled tongue lapping against the crown of my cock like a wild creature. Stacey Thorne was gifted in all ways sexual, and my god was she good at giving head.

My chest heaved with each ragged pant, my ball sac pulling tightly against my body as if it was holding on for dear life. She had me bracing the tiles with one hand while gripping a handful of her soaked blonde hair with the other.

“Fuck, Stacey, you’re gonna make me cum,” I warned, “At least let me return the favor.”

I wasn’t an asshole, not one that was all take, take, take, and give nothing back. I wanted the first time I came to be buried to the hilt inside a tight, wet pussy, not expel too soon and fire at her tonsils.

She hummed as she pulled back, letting my cock slip from her mouth with a pop. The strings of saliva were washed away with the flow of the shower, that had now dropped to a tepid temperature.

My cock sprang back to full salute, engorged and ready to pierce straight through her sparsely haired pussy that was probably dripping wet on the inside and out. I pulled her up and against me, rough kissing her and tasting my salty pre-cum on her tongue, my kisses trailed down the curve of her shoulder as my hands fondled the soft globes of her breasts. They were so fucking big that I couldn’t even contain them with my large hands. Her pink nipples were as hard as pebbles as I sucked them into my mouth, in-turn, giving equal attention to both, puckering them into stiffened peaks that when let go, pointed directly at me. My cock and her tits knew exactly what they wanted.

“Kian,” she breathed my name as I continued the journey south, then muscled my shoulders between her legs and made her squeal when I hoisted her up against the tiles, my broad shoulders taking all of her weight. My nose was an inch away from her swollen lower lips, her legs spread wide so that it gave me a beautiful view of her wide-open flower. My eyes closed as I went in for a taste, the scent of her musk filling my lungs as I dragged my tongue along the full length of her heated slit.

“Tastes so fucking beautiful,” I growled as she mewled like a dirty whore, my tongue flicking against her solid clit while she fisted my scalp.

There was nothing for her to hang on to, apart from rest back against the cold tiles and feel everything that I was giving to her, and boy did I feast on her pussy. Her legs began to shake hard as she came, once, I wasn’t done, twice, still busy eating, a third time, all she could do was whimper and writhe against me, probably way too sensitive at this point. I growled as I lapped greedily, my tongue stroking the inner walls of her flooded channel while rubbing my nose against her pulsing clit, the best fucking thing that I had ever tasted. But she wasn’t mine because I would’ve felt something more than the urge to fuck hard.

“God, Kian, I can't stand,” she whimpered as her feet touched the floor.

“Get on your knees,” I rasped, helping her find a comfortable position as I mounted her from behind.

“Take this,” she said while handing me a blue foiled packet. “You’re not fucking me without wearing one of those,” she warned, deadly serious.

Her naked body trembled as she braced herself on the wet textured floor, which was gonna leave tiny round indents on our knees from the non-slip surface. I tore open the condom wrapper with my teeth then proceeded to sheath the moist rubber over my manhood. Now that my wetsuit was fully secured, I lined up the head of my cock against her sensitive pussy and pushed my way to seventh heaven. Heat enveloped my cock, sucking me right down to the base of my balls, her muscles clenched as my hips met with her ass, holding me there as if gluing us together.

Stacey ground her ass against me like the dirty little minx that she was, “Fuck me hard, Kian.”

Her words spurred me on, just like the sexy little cheer chants that were designed to tease us. I gripped her hips as I pulled back, my face contorting with pleasure as I felt her walls constricting around me, then slammed back into her. My own groans escaping through my lips while repeating the action, finding a steady rhythm.

“Just like that, don’t stop!” Stacey cried out, both of us becoming more vocal as we reached our crescendo.

Sparks were flying through my veins. Not the forever love kind, but the thrill of a good fuck. Stacey Thorne really was a good fuck, not that I had anyone to compare her to. A gradual wave of euphoria began to build in my balls, boiling over the rim like an active volcano, erupting through the length of my cock and filling the condom with hot, sticky cum. Stacey’s pussy walls hugged me tighter, an ear-splitting scream rattling around the tiles as her body shook with the force of her climax.

I slapped her ass playfully with the palm of my hand, “Same time tomorrow?” I suggested, half-seriously because that was fucking awesome and I wanted a repeat.

“If I can regain the feeling in my legs,” she groaned out a chuckle.

I pulled out of her and watched her slump to the floor. The rubber hung half-mast down the length of my cock, weighted down by the impressive amount of sperm that had collected at the end. I pulled it off and tied a knot at the end of it, managing a three-point shot that landed it straight in the trash can.

“Great shot,” Stacey praised, seeming impressed.

“Ain’t I always?” I replied, arrogant as ever.

Stacey and I showered together afterward, but mostly we made out. Losing my V-card to one of the hottest girls in the school almost made up for my family pulling a no-show. In a way, I was glad that my mom was clean because there was no way that I could bring myself to look Dr. Thorne in the eyes now that I’d just fucked her youngest daughter.

“I’m gonna get going,” Stacey said as she kissed me one last time. “It’s my little brother’s birthday and we’re going sailing this weekend.”

“So I take it, I’m going to have to wait for a replay?” I made a disappointed face, pulling down my bottom lip.

“After that, I need to recover,” she stated, wincing as she attempted to walk.

If my cock and tongue were responsible for that, then my sexual escapades would be legendary.

Stacey left me to change back into the clothes that I arrived at school in, then I took the scenic route home. My silver Ford Capri that Dad and I fixed up wasn’t much to look at, but it drove like a charm. Jaxton had been barking on at me about getting a bike so that I could ride out with him on Sundays, but Mrs. B hated motorcycles. She had already suffered one heart attack, there was no way that I was going to give her another by bringing home an iron horse.

My balls were still tingling in my jeans by the time I pulled into the street. Dad’s ranger Jeep wasn’t parked up on the drive like I assumed it would be. I pulled up next to the curb, leaving enough space in case he came home. For all I knew, he could’ve been running late.

I locked the door of my car, not that anyone would bother trying to steal it because it was the value of scrap metal, and strolled up to the tidy driveway that was now free of weeds. I was still humming along to the last song that I heard on the radio as I gripped hold of my door key and rammed it into the lock. My brows bunched with momentary confusion as the door refused to open. I rattled the handle, then bent down to peer through the mailbox.

“Mom? Are you home?” I yelled through, then paused as I waited for a response.

Silence greeted me, which was weird because mom was always home at this time of day. I flicked my eyes to Mrs. B’s place and noticed that her living room curtains were still closed. That meant that she was still taking her afternoon nap and that Mom hadn’t gone over to wake her up and make her a snack.

“Jesus Christ,” I huffed, cursing out loud because now I had to climb over the locked back gate so that I could access the back door. Mom must have fallen asleep and left her key jammed in the other side of the door again. She used to do that whenever—whenever she was taking a hit!

My footsteps thundered across the paving stones and I cleared the gate in one bolstered jump. Dread whirled through my mind like a tornado, a sickening feeling that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

I rattled the back door and found that it was locked, even after trying my key, I found that it still wouldn’t budge.

“Shit!” My shoulder rammed into the solid wood, once, twice, then burst off hits hinges, throwing splinters up in my face.

My heart hammered in my eardrums, screaming loudly like a high-pitched frequency. I thundered through the kitchen, my thoughts wild and frantic, then came to a stop in the living room doorway as if pulled back by an invisible thread.

My fingers drove raked over my buzzed scalp as my mind struggled to make sense of the scene before me: Mom wearing her thin, peach nightdress, her hair still sleep tossed from waking up in the morning, her body draped across the couch as if she had fallen into restless sleep, the look of pain that had branded itself onto her face, her fingers curled around the official-looking paper, and the heroin needle that was left hanging from her vein.

My teeth ground together with a maelstrom of emotions: anger, hurt, disappointment, but mostly heartbreak.

“Mom?” I approached her meekly, my voice nothing more than a frightened whisper.

I knew before I took the needle out and threw it against the wall. I knew before I placed my hand against her cheek and felt her cold, lifeless skin. I knew before I sank to my knees and cradled her against my heaving chest. I just knew.

I knew that she was long gone and had been for hours.

“It’s okay, Mom, I’m here,” I sniffed while rocking her gently in my arms, brushing my fingers through her tangled hair. “I got you.”

Instinct took over after the realization settled within me. I placed my hand over her eyes and closed them so that she could be mistaken for sleeping.

“Why, Mom?” I breathed, devastated, the hot tears free-falling down my face. “What made you do this, huh?”

Her spirit was long gone, leaving behind nothing but an empty vessel. I knew that, but talking to her brought me a small shred of comfort. It enabled me to pretend that she was still here.

I pulled the paper from between her fingers and was just about ready to discard it when I noticed where it was from. With Mom still slumped against my chest, my eyes scanned back and forth across the army-style telegram, the painful message delivering me another shot to the head.

‘The council of elders desires me to express their deepest regret that your mate: Ranger James Richard Jones was killed in action—’

I couldn’t read any further, crumpling up the paper into my balled-up fist. This was her reason—my father was dead! I was pouting like a fucking school kid because they hadn’t shown up to my game, and all this time, my father was dead and my mother was pumping shit into her veins so that she could join him. Life seemed so fucking irrelevant compared to this.

Mom’s body felt like it was crushing me, my own lungs burned as if they were on fire.

The sound of my anguished cries rattled the foundations of the house. Just as everything had started falling into place, it was cruelly snatched from under me in the blink of an eye.

“Kian?” The frail voice of Mrs. B, filtered through the house.

I blanched, getting to my feet in a hurry so that I could spare her from the shock of witnessing this.

“Don’t come in,” I warned, my own broken voice sounding raw and fragile.

“I couldn’t reach my pills, and I had an accident in the kitchen,” she informed, sounding apologetic as if she thought of herself as a burden.

I swallowed thickly, “What the hell are you doing trying to reach for those yourself? You should’ve called the school and I would have come straight home,” I told her wishing that I had.

I found her standing in the hallway in her nightdress and slippers, her wispy white hair hanging loosely around her shoulders. She took in the sight of me and her wise eyes filled with pain.

“Oh, Kian,” she breathed, understanding what had happened without needing to be told. “If I had woken up sooner...” she began to blame herself and I couldn’t allow for that.

“It’s not your fault,” I told her, making sure that she knew that I meant it. “They’re both someplace better than here.” I hoped that was the case because otherwise, their lives meant nothing.

I took hold of her trembling hand and placed it around the crease of my elbow, “Let me get you back home, then I’m gonna have to call this in.”

And just like that, the ground began to crumble beneath all of my dreams, tipping those scales in favor of the darkness.

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