Rosie lets out the sweetest sound as the bristles drag across her flushed cheek. I take the brush and dip it in purple paint a few times, a quick break before the tickle torture begins again.
For a moment, I get lost in her innocent eyes, wondering how the hell she’s been in the system for so long. I’d have snatched her up the minute I saw her. She’s everything you could want in a daughter. Beautiful, intelligent, and hilarious. This kid has me cracking up all the time. Her adoptive parents would never get bored.
It surprised me to see her here in Salem yesterday. Blair says Arlo usually brings the children from the better place to the festivals for the entire month of October. With the recent dangers lurking, Rosie is the only one able to visit this time around. From what I heard; it took a lot of tears to convince Arlo to let her come. She would’ve been here sooner, but Arlo and Kane took extra precautions for her travel.
I smile when I catch her staring at me for a long time. “Do I have something on my face?”
“No,” she shakes her head sheepishly, “You’re just really pretty. I like looking at your eyes. They’re different.” She says, pointing at my said heterochromia eyes.
“That’s funny. I was just thinking the same thing about you.” I tap on her nose, leaving a tiny smudge of purple paint. She laughs and dips her finger in the paint to do the same to me. Now we’re both pointing and laughing at our purple noses.
“I’m not as pretty as you are,” Rosie tells me as I finish up her face painting. I’m swirling on the tips of her butterfly wings when I stop and gape at her. She’s insane.
“You’re insane,” I say out loud. “Rosie, you are the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I can only imagine how beautiful of a wolf you’re going to be one day. Well, or a witch,” I correct myself. “I can’t compare to you. You’re one of a kind.” A thought crosses my mind. “Arlo told me about the Wilkins family. I bet they think you’re pretty, too.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she mutters, a deep frown spread across her little face.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins considered adoption after meeting Arlo through a mutual friend who adopted in the past. They’d been trying to have children for the last ten years, but unfortunately, their journey has remained unsuccessful. One visit to the better place the Wilkins met Rosie and fell head over heels in love with her. Then again, who wouldn’t fall in love with her?
I set my brushes down on the small setup and try talking to Rosie. I’m not sure if she’ll tell me anything but, the big sister in me has to try. “You don’t like Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins?” If she says anything about the Wilkins, then I’d tell Arlo about it immediately. After everything she’s been through, Rosie deserves a grownup who will stand up for her, and a family who she’s comfortable with. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“They’re nice people,” she admits hesitantly. And here comes the but. “But… I… I’m not sure if…” I watch as she shifts uncomfortably in her chair, letting her hair fall in her face. Rosie has been under Arlo’s care since she was a newborn. I remember the very first day I met her at the better place. She showed me her doll collection and talked about how she’d hoped her adoptive parents would be patient and loving like she is. There is a picture of the Wilkins next to the definition of patient and loving as well as Arlo talked about them. Maybe she doesn’t want to leave because…
She’s already spluttering the answer as I pull her into a hug, resting my chin on top of her head. “It’s just that I would miss my friends, and Arlo. What if he forgets about me when I’m gone? I have to stay so he never forgets me.”
Such a foolish thing to say from someone so unforgettable.
“Arlo would come visit you often, and I’m sure the Wilkins would let you make calls whenever you wanted. Don’t block your blessings out of fear. Change can be scary, but sometimes it’s for the best. Everyone wants you to be happy in a home you could call yours. Don’t you want to have a family?”
With the same sad eyes, she looks up at me and says the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever heard a 6-year-old say, “Arlo and everyone at the better place is my family. Even you.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “Yes. We are.” I nod in agreement because I have nothing else to say to that without choking up. Rosie wraps her arms around me, squeezing me tight as if she’s afraid I’ll somehow float away. My eyes sting and I blink back the tears. I’ve officially decided that wherever Rosie goes, I’ll be a part of her life. Always.
Outside the painting tent, I hear fast footsteps approaching before a sudden burst of chill hits my chest. The top of my shirt is soaking, and Rosie is screaming and laughing from the water hitting her face. I stand up and glare at the idiot pointing a water gun my way.
“Are you fuc- “Rosie whips her head in my direction before I can finish screaming that sentence. No bad words in front of the little one. “Don’t you have someone else to harass with your unwanted presence?”
“Hey, don’t yell at the messenger!” Carson pulls the tent open wider, pointing to the first boy in the long line of pouting children. I’d been so distracted by our little heart to heart conversation, I’d forgot all about the fair going on just outside the tent. “Little Johnny tells me he’s been standing in line for over thirty minutes.” He turns to look at Rosie’s cheek. A once beautiful butterfly now looks like a droopy, watery blob falling off her face. “Is that what’s been taking you so long?” He smirks, pointing at her cheek.
Not only did he shoot me and Rosie with a water gun in chilling temperatures, but now he’s insulting my artistic skills.
I grab a towel and clean off Rosie’s face. Who the hell trusted him with that kinda weapon, anyway? “You ruined it with your stupid water gun!”
“Excuses, excuses.” He shakes his stupid head at me. He’s so lucky we’re in a public place with humans watching our every move. Otherwise, I’d already sunk my canines into him. His smirk widens before he decides to shoot me one more time. He scurries out of the tent in hysterics. That motherfucker.
That thing I said about the humans watching. Forget what I said.
I can hear Rosie laughing behind me as I run out of the tent to chase down Carson. He tries to maneuver his way through the crowd and trick me into falling on my ass. Or worse, knocking an innocent bystander down. I know how his evil little mind works. We pass through a large group of high school kids, dodging the cheerleaders just before we jostle them to the ground. I move around a family waiting at the concession stand and jump over the kiddy pool game occupied by rubber ducks. Eventually, he gets stuck in front of the mothers waiting in line to take their children on the carousel. I’m tackling him to the ground before he can think about making a run for it.
“If you wanted to get on top of me, then you should’ve asked,” Carson says. I straddled his waist, pressing my knees on top of his hands so he wouldn’t shoot me anymore. But now I’m utterly disgusted with my choice of position. “Not sure Arlo would appreciate this, but what he doesn’t know won’t kill him.”
He smirks up at me and I almost vomit in my mouth. “Why are you such a child?”
“Why are you such a princess?” He flips me on my back, and we wrestle for the gun. I don’t even care if the moms are judging us. I want to rip Carson’s head off.
Before I can punch him, my eyes meet the edge of a man’s boot. I look up and see Arlo arching his brow in amusement. “He shot you with the water gun, didn’t he?”
“It was one time!” Carson huffs out, out of breath. We continue to wrestle for the water gun while Arlo rubs his face and shakes his head. I’ve almost ripped it out of his hands when he shoots out all the water. Dammit. I really wanted to get him back.
Arlo laughs, a deep melodic sound, and I swear I feel it from the inside. It almost distracts me, but I have a wiggling demon underneath me I’d like to punch in the face. “Well, when you’re done beating up my brother, Rosie wants to play some games. Meet us at the balloon blast.” He walks holding her hand and this time I stop to admire his protectiveness of her.
“I love balloon blast,” Carson mumbles under my palm. I covered his mouth because I was tired of hearing him shouting. I suddenly feel a wet trail on my palm and grimace. Gross! He just licked me!
“Better luck next time!” He shouts over his shoulder as he runs away, laughing. I sigh and rub his germs on my jeans.
I swear that kid reminds me of my annoying little brother. They’d make good friends if our packs didn’t hate each other.
I catch up with Carson and meet Arlo and Rosie at balloon blast where we spend the next hour playing. Of course, Arlo beats the three of us by ten races and Carson ties with me. He claims he could’ve beat me had his shoot had not lagged by a few seconds. The three of us laugh at him. He rolls his eyes.
I’m heading for the cotton candy machine when Arlo gets the sudden urge to go up on the Ferris wheel. I turn to look at him in disbelief, but he’s already instructing Carson to look after Rosie and pulling me by the hand. We take our seats after a young couple, and Arlo double checks the safety bar for me.
We’re sitting so close I can feel his hot breath fanning my cheek and smell the thick spice of his cologne. My wolf stirs when he looks over at me and smiles. It should be illegal for a demon to look this beautiful.
I look over at the orange sky when our cart reaches the very top. “It’s beautiful. Everyone looks like ants from up here.” Arlo doesn’t stop to look down or up. He just sits there with his dark gaze on me, as if I’m the only thing he sees.
I’m all he sees.
“So beautiful.” He tucks the strands of hair behind my ear and holds my cheeks before he leans in for a kiss. Definitely not talking about the sunset.
His kiss is everything but gentle. It’s tongues and touching, and desperate, and I’m not sure how I ever survived without it.
It’ll all end eventually.
Arlo slowly pulls back, and I look into his silver eyes that hold a hidden emotion. He stays quiet with his forehead resting on mine, the slow silence eating away at us both. Why do I feel like I’m going to regret coming up here?
“Stay with me,” he says, almost pleading. “Don’t reject me.”