Chapter 18 - Aubree (Part 2)
Gavin looked uncomfortable but stayed with her for a few more minutes in silence before clearing his throat.
“Normally, that would have bothered us. Like, make us growl because we’re protective of you and your bond with Papa, but the pain in your heart was something else. We felt it too. We know how hard it is to let someone we love go. And I’m sorry he became a vampire. We kept tabs on him for a while and then he disappeared... but we didn’t tell you. You were already dealing with a lot of stuff, so we didn’t want to worry you about it. We had hoped he went to his parents’ house or a friend’s house...”
Heaving a sigh, Aubree closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. Turning her face up to the sky, the morning sun warmed her cheeks as a gentle breeze brushed wisps of hair away from her face. Birdsong twittered in her ears from the forest and a honeybee hummed nearby as it buzzed from one flower to the next.
“It’s fine, Gav. Thanks for keeping an eye on him. I know why he did it, so I can’t blame him. I just wish I could turn back time and change the way things ended.” Her brows furrowed. “If only I had just—”
“Bree,” he interrupted, leaning forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees as she opened her eyes, “what you had to do took guts. You loved Dan. No one questions that. Breaking up with him had to be the hardest thing to do because you knew you had to let him go. You knew that ultimately, you would begin to desire Papa more and that would have led to more hurt for both you and Dan. You had to end it, and no matter how you did it, it was going to hurt him.”
“I know, but I should have given him more closure. Maybe he wouldn’t have listened to Carina? Maybe he would have been okay?”
He shook his head. “If he didn’t willing join the vampires thinking it was the only way to save you, then Carina would have kidnapped him and used him to try and get to us that way. The fact that she lured him when he was so vulnerable with promises of getting you back would convince any heartbroken and desperate man—especially if he was told the girl he loved left him against her will. A man will do anything for the ones he loves. That’s one thing us lycans can agree on and can admire in humans.”
Taking a deep breath, she exhaled it slowly. She knew he was right, and she knew she shouldn’t dwell on it. She couldn’t turn back time and change what had happened, but she could try and offer Dan some kind of protection using their connections with other packs. Couldn’t she? It was worth trying.
“Thanks, Gavin,” she said.
“Anytime,” he said as Stone opened the sliding door and stepped out.
Concern tugged on his brows as he walked to her, picked her up from the chair before sitting down on it and setting her down on his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his nose in the crook of her neck. [What’s wrong? I saw your thoughts and felt your pain. What were you two talking about?]
His breath blew against her neck, sending tingles to dance and make her giggle at the tickling sensation.
While Gavin’s words had lifted her up a bit, Stone’s presence immediately added an additional layer of comfort that soothed away the last of her remorse.
“He was giving me an update on the vampires. Dan’s okay for now, but they don’t know where he went off to. I just feel bad, like I couldn’t protect him when he needed me then, and I can’t protect him now that he’s gone off somewhere.”
He nodded, the thin stubble on his jaw scratching lightly against her shoulder. “Okay.”
[You’re not jealous, are you?] she asked with a playful note.
He shook his head and pulled away from her neck. Leaning back on the chair, he rubbed small circles into her lower back with his thumbs. [No because I have no reason to feel jealous. You were worried about someone you loved. I understand that and respect that.]
She looked over her shoulder to catch his gaze and smiled before leaning back against his chest and resting her head in the curve of his neck. [Thank you.]
Not wanting to leave Gavin sitting there awkwardly, she asked, “How are Gwen and Lance doing?”
“Better. I gave him some tips to help control his emotions. The matebond is twisting and contorting his thoughts and emotions, making him feel more awkward and inadequate.”
“As if pups didn’t have enough problems with that to begin with,” Gavin said.
Stone nodded before a grin broke out on his face. “Remember Guinevere’s first shift?”
Gavin chuckled. “How could I forget?”
Curiosity tugged on Aubree and she couldn’t help but smile and want in on the details. “Why? What happened when she first shifted?”
“She literally freaked out,” Gavin said.
“She’d been waiting years for it. She couldn’t wait to learn how to do all the things humans could do.”
“And when she finally shifted,” Gavin continued, unable to stop himself from telling the story with Stone, “Alistair took one look at her and busted out laughing.”
“Aw, why?” Aubree asked, feeling her grin widen even more.
“Well, our first shift isn’t pretty,” Stone said, “and it’s rather painful. When we finally finish it, we’re usually a mess.”
“Covered in dirt or mud, or whatever, because the pain is so intense, we writhe around on the ground for hours.”
Stone nodded in agreement while dread began to creep into Aubree’s bones.
She never thought about shifting being painful, but it made sense.
They both nodded.
“The first time is always the hardest,” Stone said. “It’s probably more painful than childbirth.”
All the blood rushed from her head and pooled down at her feet. She stiffened as her eyes widened. “No shit?”
“You feel like you’re dying,” Gavin said, propping his right ankle on his left knee.
Stone picked up the thread, “Which makes sense because your bones are being dislocated, your muscles are stretching and moving, your entire head changes shape—”
“Which is the most painful part of all,” Gavin added.
“And your fur and a tail recede into your body. No part of it is pleasant and every moment of it hurts like hell,” Stone finished.
“But when it’s done,” Gavin said, “we celebrate.”
“Then, we do it all over again,” Stone said.
Aubree’s heart pounded in her chest. It did sound painful, but Stone made it look so easy and effortless.
Stone rubbed her arms in an effort to relax her as he pushed warm, soothing feelings on her.
Sensing the shift in Aubree’s emotional state, Gavin returned to the story. “Then, she crawled to the edge of the lake—”
“Because she hadn’t regained strength in her legs because it takes time for the muscles to solidify and harden,” Stone explained.
“Took one look at her reflection and gasped.”
“Literally,” Stone added.
“And screamed,” Gavin clutched his face with both hands as he grimaced in horror, ”No! I’m supposed to be beautiful!"
Aubree’s mouth fell open while Gavin laughed and Stone shook his head lightly in amusement.
“You guys are so mean!”
Stone shrugged. “Vanity of youth. We all dream of our first shift, thinking we’ll be this beautiful human when we first see ourselves and think the pain won’t be as bad as it really is. And when the time comes, we can’t help rolling around on the ground in agony.”
Aubree listened in silence as he continued.
“Gwen was coated in sweat, dirt, and mud. She had a rash in some places on her body where she struggled to lose the fur. Her face was beet red and puffy with exertion. She had a lot of hair that stuck out in all directions, coupled with mats, twigs, and leaves. It was a big shock to her. She and Adelaide tried to get it under control and couldn’t. She had it chopped off as close to her scalp as she could get and cried for days.”
After hearing all this, Aubree wanted to give Gwen a big hug. “Aw.”
Gavin shrugged. “Happens to all of us. We all have a lot of hair when we first shift and it gets cut off. It’s easier that way. We spend the first year shifting over and over again until we can do it in a matter of seconds without all the pain. No hair is just one less thing to deal with.”
She had to agree that that made sense, but did that mean she would have to cut off all her hair too?
“Perhaps not all,” Stone said, reading her mind again, “but it might be a good idea to at least cut it shorter. To your chin.”
She hummed, picturing herself with short hair like she had as a kid. “A bob might be cute.”
“Abob?” Stone asked, turning to Gavin for clarification.
Gavin shrugged, just as lost as his father.
She smiled, pushing the thoughts of the painful shift to the back of her mind and focusing instead on something more positive. “You know what? I think I like it. It will be like starting anew. A new life deserves a new hairdo. How many humans can say they turned into a lycan before?”
“None,” both father and son responded at the same time.
She shook her head, her smile broadening. [Do you guys do that a lot? It’s cute.]
[That’s Gawain,] Stone responded. [He’s usually the quiet one, but get him excited about something, and he can’t help but want to jump in and be a part of it. He’s happy we’re back and that we were able to seal the bond.]
Stone turned to Gavin now and changed the subject, getting an update on the vampire situation.
Aubree relaxed against Stone’s chest, listening to the steady drumming of his heart and watching the pair converse.
Things had changed. Even she could see that their attitudes were different. They were more relaxed, even when they discussed business.
She reached for Stone’s hand and entwined their fingers as she closed her eyes. Warmth spread from her heart to her fingertips and down to her toes, blanketing her in a sensation of loving comfort.
Just like the way their fingers fit together perfectly, so too did everything around them. There was balance, peace, love, and family working together, supporting each other, and looking out for each other.
She tried not to think about the inevitable shift of balance about to take place in another week or so. They would adjust. They had to.
Children grew up, and had to live their own lives, whether that meant staying close to home, or moving far away.
They had to think positively and be happy for Gwen. This was her chance at happiness, and she had to take it.