The rest of the semester passed by uneventfully. I was both delighted and nervous. For the first time in eight months, the West Mountain Pack was able to relax. We did normal, human things, like going to school, going to the Hideout to hang out and do homework, go to a movie or two… it was great.
Except, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was coming. I went through the remaining month and a half of school looking over my shoulder and around every corner I came across.
Every day, I woke up early and went over to Jack’s house to spar. Then I’d come home, eat breakfast, practice my magic or go on a run with Delta, showered, and went to school.
Kai had taken to giving Riley a ride to and from school every day. As much as I missed the drives with my best friend, I felt some relief. With her perception, she’d quickly pick up on the fact that something was wrong.
I kept a close eye on her, worried. She had missed an entire week of school before she was strong enough to come back. Her wounds were healing, the ones on her arms and body having mostly disappeared by now. She still had a faint, shimmering scar over her face, trailing over her right eyebrow, over her eye, and down to her jawline. She also wore long sleeves and hoodies now, hiding the scars on her wrists from the wolfsbane. Her chest hadn’t healed completely yet, but Kai told me that it was healing quickly, which relieved me.
Physically, she seemed to be doing fine. She was healing, and she was regaining her strength. But she was quiet now. While the others would laugh and joke around, she remained distant, staring straight ahead of her at nothing.
Kai stuck by her side, while I started to withdraw myself. As long as Colin was out there, and was a threat to my friends and family, I was afraid of being too close to them. I still hated myself for not pushing Riley harder to let me go with her. If I had, I might have been able to stop the blast that shook the wolves, allowing the rogue pack to capture Riley.
“What’s wrong?” Sierra asked me one day as we sat up in my room. Since she left the Wolf Valley Pack, Dad’s been letting her stay with us. I still hadn’t told him how I felt about girls, though I had a feeling he knew. Still, it made me feel somewhat better that he was letting me take the wheel on the situation.
My heart raced as I waited for Dad’s answer. I wrung my hands together in my hoodie pocket, watching his face as his eyes flicked back and forth between Sierra and I. we were standing in the middle of the living room, Delta sitting patiently by my feet. Gramma was in the kitchen, singing a Scottish song quietly to herself as she cooked dinner.
Finally, Dad smiled and said, “Sure, she can stay with us. Sierra, I have a cot down in the basement. It’s not much, but at least you won’t have to sleep on the floor.”
“Nadia?” Sierra asked. “What’s going on through that freaky head of yours?”
I sighed and threw my pencil down onto my bed. I was sitting on top of the covers, working on homework. Delta was stretched across the foot of the bed, snoring softly as he napped. Sierra laid on her stomach on the floor, studying for finals. Seniors had their finals a week before the rest of the school, and when they finished, they had a week off before graduation.
Sierra gave me a worried look. I sighed again and said, “I can’t stop thinking about that night.”
Sierra shifted on the ground so she was sitting. She looked up at me and said, “Talk to me. What’s going on?”
I rubbed the back of my neck, easing the tension there as I said, “I should have been with her that night,” I said. “If I had gone with you guys, I might have been able to stop what happened.”
She sighed and said, “N, you can’t blame yourself for this. None of us could have predicted what happened, or done anything to stop it. You know that, right?”
I sighed. Of course I knew, but I still couldn’t shake this feeling of self-hatred and despair. If I had just done something more, then maybe Riley wouldn’t be in a catatonic state.
As if she was reading my mind, Sierra said, “Nadia, Riley’s been severely traumatized. I don’t think any of us would have survived what she went through, not even the Guardians. She’s strong. It’ll take her time, and she’s not going to bounce back. She’ll improve with the help of her friends, as long as they’re there.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, giving me a pointed look. I sighed and turned away, the guilt, shame, and hatred growing stronger. It was obvious that I was pulling away from the others. Drew and Eddie had asked me about it, but I had refused to give them a straight answer.
I guess that’s something about Sierra that attracted me. Like me, she could see right through the bullshit, and call anyone out on it. Just like she was doing to me right now.
Sierra leaned forward, resting a hand on my knee as she said, “She needs you, Nadia. You’re her best friend. She needs help easing back into her life, and you’re the best one to help her.”
I nodded, staring straight ahead. After a moment her hand disappeared from my knee, and then I heard the scratching of pencil on paper. I thought about what she said, and I knew she was right. Riley and I had always been there for each other, and if I pulled myself away from her now, what kind of friend would that make me?
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, pulling up her contact bubble. The thumbnail image of her smiling face steeled my resolve. I’d make sure she was smiling like that again, no matter what it took.
I decided to start small. I clicked on the ‘text’ option, then I typed out a quick message to her: Wanna come over and hang out?
It took several minutes for her to reply, but when she finally did, I smiled. Sure.