Chapter 32 - Aubree
A sticky warm breeze blew against their faces and rustled the leaves of the trees along the street. American flags flapped patriotically in front of each house. Children played and ran around the neighborhood while families and neighbors gathered outside, chatting.
Aubree waved to the those who called out in greeting—neighbors she had known since childhood—wishing her and Stone a happy Fourth of July as they walked by with Whiskey.
Stone was in a deep pensive state of mind as they strolled casually along, one thumb tucked into the front pocket of his jeans while his other hand held hers. His mind was locked up, so Aubree didn’t pry.
Halfway around the block, he finally cleared his throat before speaking. “Did you happen to notice the shift in your mother’s behavior?”
“Yup. She got really quiet. Must have felt guilty for the way she was treating us, knowing now that you’ve been through so much.” She paused to wait for Whiskey to finish sniffing the base of a tree.
“Yes, but it seemed as though something else was bothering her. You didn’t catch what your father whispered to her, did you?”
She looked up at him. “No. Why? What did he say?”
“It would seem as though he was reassuring her about something. Something to do about making mistakes. Do you know of any regrets she might have that could be bothering her?”
Humming, Aubree wracked her brain, trying to think of what could possibly be bothering her mother now. Growing up, her mother was always telling her to be careful, to think before she acted and always consider the consequences. She may have come off a bit stir-crazy, but didn’t everyone from time to time?
She continued to sort through her memories as they resumed their walk and eventually shook her head. “No, I can’t think of anything.”
Stone sniffed and glanced around.
“Are we being followed?” she asked.
“Kind of. The werewolves here patrol their territory well. As an alpha, I admire the strength of Jackson’s pack. He takes good care of them and the humans living in their midst. I respect that.”
Aubree snorted. “And the girls they take to bed when the urge arises.”
“Yes, well,” he ran his hand through his hair, “be that as it may, they all came willingly, didn’t they?”
She sighed. “Yeah. So, you’re not upset about that anymore?”
He shook his head before slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her against him.
She let out a little squeak as he lifted her up a few inches off the ground and planted his lips on her temple.
“You’re mine now, and no one can steal you away.”
Whiskey barked, his tongue hanging out and tail wagging.
Stone set her down and cocked his head at the dog. “Oh, now you want to play, sir? Can’t let me play with your alpha without you too, yes?”
A smile tugged on Aubree’s lips as Stone took the leash from her hand and ran forward. Whiskey bound after him, only for Stone to come to an abrupt stop at the corner twenty yards ahead, pivot on his heel as he crouched down before running back to her.
She shook her head in amusement at him when he returned to her side. “Go easy on him. He’s not as young and spry as he once was.”
“I’m not as young as I once was either, but I’m just as spry as always,” he said, giving her a cheeky little grin before he turned again and jogged at a noticeably slower pace. [Race you home.]
Rolling her eyes, she groaned before picking up her feet and running after him.
By the time they reached her parents’ house, a thin sheen of sweat coated Aubree’s skin, but Stone was dry. Lucky jerk. She didn’t like feeling all hot and sweaty. He didn’t seem to mind it, and if she were honest with herself, she liked the way he teased her about it after.
“Need another shower, Röslein?” he asked as they walked up the steps to the front porch. “I’d be happy to accompany you.”
Panting, she swatted his shoulder with the back of her hand. “No! Keep your paws to yourself, mister.”
Standing before the door, he turned to her and tucked a loose strand of hair from her ponytail behind her ear. “We would both hate that now, wouldn’t we?”
His voice was low and sent delightful shivers up her spine as his fingertips trailed across her earlobe.
Whiskey barked, drawing them away from each other.
“He’s thirsty and overheated,” Stone said as he reached for the doorknob and pushed it open.
She followed him in. “I told you to go easy on him.”
He wrinkled his nose and immediately clamped his mouth shut.
She looked down the hallway and saw her mother hunched over the kitchen floor and scrubbing vigorously with a brush. Even she could smell the cleaning fumes—Mom was just getting started.
Mom was in a mood. Mom always went into a cleaning frenzy when something was bothering her.
[Take Whiskey around back,] she said. [I’ll join you in a minute with some water.]
He nodded and went back out the front door with the dog and pulled it closed.
Her father was sitting in the living room watching TV.
Slipping out of her flip-flops, she walked into the living room and leaned against the back of her father’s recliner.
“What’s gotten into Mom now?” she asked in a whisper.
He looked up and gave her a reassuring smile. “She’s just working off her stress. You know how she is.”
Aubree knew better than to ask. Still, she needed to get her boys some water.
She smiled to herself. Her boys.
“Well, Stone took Whiskey out back, but we’ll need some water.”
He saluted her. “Proceed with caution, soldier. Snipers beyond these parts will fire without warning if you don’t tread softly.”
Grinning to herself, she kissed the top of his head. “I will.”
When Mom got in a mood, everyone had to tiptoe. One false step could cause an explosion and her mother would snap and order her out of the room.
What ticked her off this time?
[Hey Love,] she reached out into Stone’s mind, [tell me again about what you noticed between my parents earlier?]
His hum was like a purr in her mind that warmed her. [Your mother was getting upset about something and your father said that everyone makes mistakes. Why do you ask?]
She peered into the kitchen at her mother’s back as she furiously scrubbed the tiles on her hands and knees.
[Something’s bothering my mom. I don’t know what it is you said, but she’s gone into one of her moods that makes her clean like a crazy person.]
[Is she approachable in these moods?]
[This is your territory, Love. I don’t know your parents well enough to offer advice. Offer a drink and ask her what’s wrong. Don’t press if she shuts you out.]
Swallowing, she nodded her head, even though he couldn’t see it. [Okay. Here goes nothing.]
The floorboards creaked as Aubree took a step toward her mother.
“Steve, I don’t want to ta—” Sandra looked up and cut herself off when she saw Aubree standing there.
Aubree held up her hands. “Sorry, Mom. Just cutting through to get some water for Whiskey and Stone. Want a glass?”
With a groan, Sandra rolled back on her knees and wiped her brow with her arm. A few loose strands of hair fell into her eyes from her tightly wound bun. Gray streaks shone against her dark blonde hair that was usually invisible due to the dyed highlights when her hair was down.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Her tone was curt but she didn’t raise her voice.
Aubree slipped around her to the cupboard to fetch a pair of glasses, noting to herself that the floor wasn’t even dirty. “Spill something?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
Her mother sighed. “No... No.”
Should I state the obvious? Aubree thought as she pulled open the cupboard door, chewing on her bottom lip. Or bite the bullet?
She hesitated and decided to risk it. “So, why are you scrubbing the floor? It’s already clean.”
Her mother’s eyes shot up as Aubree glanced over her shoulder.
Aubree stiffened. [She’s going to kill me!]
[I highly doubt that,] Stone replied, a hint of amusement in his voice.
Sandra heaved a sigh and deflated. Her head hung low on her shoulders, making her look older than Aubree had seen her in years.
“I’m sorry for the way I’ve been treating you and Stone. Your father is right. You’re a big girl now—a young woman—and you can make your own decisions. I was just...” she trailed off, her grip tightening around the handle of the scrubbing brush.
“It’s hard for me to let go, Aubree. You’ll always be my baby. My one and only baby. I didn’t want you to grow up and you grew too fast. I feared the day I would have to let you go and live your own life without me in it.”
A small smile tugged on Aubree’s lips as she set a pair of glasses on the counter and leaned her back against it. Her thoughts lingered on Stone and Gwen. “Just because I’m an adult now doesn’t mean I don’t need you and Dad anymore. I just need you in a different way. You’ll always be my parents and important people in my life.”
“I’ve held on too tight. I’ve been too controlling, I know. But that’s only because I love you and didn’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”
“We all make mistakes, Mom.”
“Some mistakes are life-changing. Some mistakes hurt others. Some mistakes you can’t take back or fix.”
A fresh stab of guilt hit her chest as Aubree sighed, looked away and crossed her arms, remembering how much she hurt Dan. “I know.”
“I had hoped that you’d never experience that pain and instead of listening to you when you needed me most, I took it personally... As if by rejecting him when he did nothing wrong, you had rejected me and I...” She hesitated before changing her mind. “You did what you thought was best for you. I should have been there by your side, and I wasn’t.”
“It’s okay, Mom.”
Her mother shook her head. “It’s not okay. Every day, I look at you and see what a wonderful and amazing person you have become. And what of the others?”
Others? She uncrossed her arms. “What others?”
The brush fell from her mother’s hand and clattered against the tile as she stared down at her shaking sunshine-yellow rubber-gloved hands.
“Stone got to meet his son. Got to hold him. Care for him. Watch him sleep against his chest...”
“Oh my god.” The words tumbled out of Aubree’s mouth before she could stop them. “Did I have a brother?”
“I don’t know!” The words flew out of her mother’s mouth aggressively as she began to sob. “I was young and scared and aborted him as soon as I found out I was pregnant and it—I hated him! I just wanted him out!”
She clenched her hands into fists on her lap as her shoulders began to shake.
Aubree fell to her knees and pulled her mother into her arms.
“I blamed him—and he did nothing wrong—and it was my mistake—and it almost...”
Another pair of arms reached around them with the smell of her father’s Old Spice hugging them both.
“It almost killed me and I... I killed him... I never even gave him a chance...”
Her father’s soft soothing hushes eased her sobbing to weak whimpers as she continued to cry.
Aubree’s parents took turns explaining everything, Steve filling in when her mother couldn’t.
How Sandra discovered she was pregnant a few months before starting college with a scholarship. How fear drove her to an abortion clinic for the procedure without telling anyone. How it nearly killed her and destroyed her uterus and she had no one to confide in. How every subsequent pregnancy she tried to have once she had married Steve ended in miscarriages, one after another, after another.
Aubree was the only one her body managed to carry to term.
That was the Goddess’ will.