Mage's Fire

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Five: Riley

I sat nervously in the chair across the table from Aunt Kate. My knee bounced wildly underneath the table, and I couldn’t help but feel like a rabbit caught in a trap.

Kate was leaning back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest. Her light, chestnut brown hair was tied back in a messy ponytail, and her green eyes were narrowed at me. It was better than it was a few months ago. She had been working so many hours at the hospital as a nurse, she had bags under her eyes and her cheeks were hollowed out. She still looked exhausted, but that was my fault.

“What am I going to do with you?” she finally asked.

I frowned. “What do you mean?” I asked.

She sighed. “I mean, breaking curfew last night, and then lying to me about studying with Nadia about studying for a test?”

“Yeah, um… how did you figure that out?” I asked. I wasn’t going to try and defend myself. I had been caught with my hand in the cookie jar, and now I had to pay the price. I just wanted answers of my own.

“I called your teachers,” she said.

She what? Okay, I understood that the past few months were difficult for her. I mean, I did keep the secret of me being a werewolf from her for two months, and she only found out because she was in a life-threatening situation. I also kept the fact from her that I was hunting down the werewolf that had turned me, so I completely understood her need for control, her desire to know where I was at all times, to know that I was safe. But this? This was helicopter parenting in it’s true form.

I leaned forward across the table, my body trembling. Great, I thought. My emotions were running wild, and I had to rein them in. either that, or rip the kitchen apart as I shifted into wolf form. Despite what some people might think, wolves are not the size of dogs. They can easily be as tall as a human.

“I had to talk to Nadia about last night,” I said, nearly snarling.

Kate’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, about the tattoo? But she went with you! What was so important about the damn tattoo that you needed to lie to me and meet her in secret? Couldn’t you have spoken on the phone?”

“Fine!” I shrieked, raising my hands up in the air. “Fine. You want honesty? I’ll give it to you! I lied last night about being late. The tattoo didn’t take longer than expected, okay? What really happened was that I was fucking attacked on my territory!”

She leaned forward as well, her eyes narrowed. “What?” she asked, her voice so low that I was only able to hear her with my wolf hearing.

I nodded. “You heard me. Two of the wolves from Donovan’s pack trespassed last night, so I went to take care of it. I’ve also been lying to you about my full moons the past five months because I didn’t want you to freak out. Well, here I am, being completely honest with you now.”

Eyes still narrowed, she leaned back in her seat and gestured with a hand. “Tell me everything,” she snapped. “Now.”

I nodded. I told her everything, how after Dominic was killed, Donovan came to tell me that the treaty was off. I told her how on the full moons, and even outside of that time, I was constantly getting into fights with members of the Wolf Valley Pack. I explained how I kept all of my injuries from those fights hidden from her, and how when we weren’t fighting in the woods, there was a standing cold war when we were in town. I told her how I was afraid that they’d start attacking me and my pack in human form, so I had Jack continue to teach us martial arts.

I sighed and leaned back in my seat, suddenly exhausted. “All of this, and I still make your damn curfew. I still keep up with my chores, and with my damn homework. I’m pulling A’s and B’s in all of my classes, I’ve still got soccer, and I’m doing all of this while I’m in the middle of a war.”

With that hanging in the air between us, we fell into a deep, uncomfortable silence. Off in the distance, maybe two miles away, I heard an owl hooting in the woods. I heard squirrels and other furry creatures scurrying across the lawn, and I heard the booming bass of music and loud cheers from some game going on at the high school.

Kate cleared her throat and said, “Why haven’t you told me any of this?”

I sighed. “Because I didn’t want to worry you,” I said. “I didn’t want you to freak out and go all helicopter aunt. If I told you these things when they happened, what would you have done?”

She chuckled and said, “I wouldn’t have let you out of the house.”

I nodded. “Exactly,” I said. “And I can’t have that happening.” I leaned across the table again, catching her gaze with my own. Her eyes widened slightly, and I knew that my own eyes were glowing. Good, I thought. I needed to get this message across to her, to make her understand.

“I’m the alpha of my pack,” I said. “And I know it must be really hard for you to understand, but Eddie and Drew, they look up to me, to lead them and guide them. They left Donovan’s pack, knowing that they could die, just to be a part of mine. Nadia’s stuck by me throughout everything, so she’s as much a part of the pack as they are. Kate, they could get killed if I’m not there. Do you understand that?”

She nodded, her gaze far away. She surprised me by laughing before saying, “This is so not what I pictured for your life.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as well. “Neither did I,” I said. “But we have to work with the cards that life dealt us, right?”

She laughed as I quoted my father directly. I had to smile. That was one of his favorite things to say to me when I was a kid. From what I was told, he had said it when he was a kid, too.

Kate sighed and looked at me. For the first time since gaining custody of me, it seemed like she was really looking, really seeing me for the first time. She gave me a sad half-smile and said, “I’m sorry, Riley. I’ve just been so scared of everything since that night. If I’m being honest, I guess I’m a little scared of you, too.”

I jerked back as if I had been slapped. “Gee, Aunt Kate,” I said darkly. “Thanks for the vote of fucking confidence.”

She shook her head. “That’s not what I meant,” she said. “I mean… I’m not scared of you, per se. I’m just scared of how fast you’re growing, of how strong you are. You’re so much like your father, it’s terrifying. You’re not the same little girl you used to be.”

I smiled. “No,” I said. “That I’m not.”

She sighed. “Fine,” she said. “You’re ungrounded.”

I couldn’t believe it! I leaped from my chair, whooping and howling in joy. “But!” She called, trying to regain my attention. When I looked back at her, she said, “I have one condition. Keep me in the loop. Tell me everything, even if I don’t want to hear it. You hear me, Riley Black? Everything.”

I nodded wildly, smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. “I can do that,” I said.

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