There was snow on the ground, but there usually was in November in Maine. I glanced down, extending my claws so that they scratched over the cold ground, getting a feel for the terrain.
I huffed, the breath hanging in the air for a couple of seconds, then I lowered my muzzle to the ground and took in the scent.
The trail veered to the left, through a thicket. I was smaller and more agile than the wolf that had passed through before me, which was proven by the clump of black fur that hung on a branch. I shook my head as I passed. This was going to be too easy.
I pushed through the thicket, huffing as drops of snow fell onto my nose from the branches. Once my head was through to the small clearing on the other side, I paused, hunkering down low to the ground and looking around.
Satisfied that nobody was waiting for me, I pulled the rest of my body through into the clearing. At that moment, a breeze brought with it the scent that I was searching for.
Before I chased after it though, I lowered my head again to the ground and sniffed. He had at least tried to make it a challenge. The trail went this way and that, in and around the small clearing. But the wind must have changed, and now I was down-wind, and there was no mistaking his scent.
I took off, paws thumping against the ground, only marginally quieted by the blanket of snow. He would hear me coming, but that didn’t scare me. I was smaller, more agile, and way smarter. He was definitely faster than me, but not for long. I wouldn’t run at my full speed, but I would make enough noise to make him think I was closing in. He would soon tire.
As the thought crossed my mind, I spotted him. The swish of a bushy tail as he whipped round a tree, about 100 feet in front of me.
That energy I was conserving earlier? This is where it came in handy. He was tired, having hit the ground at full speed at the first sound he heard from me. He was slowing down. I paused, giving the impression that I was waning as well... but only for a few seconds. Then my paws slammed against the ground, and I flew across the forest floor, dodging tree stumps and branches until he was only a few feet away.
He risked a quick glance over his shoulder. Big mistake; it was all I needed to take him down.
I lunged, smacking into his body and knocking him to the ground. He growled beneath me, and I bared my teeth. His dark, black eyes stared straight into mine and he huffed, knowing he was defeated, before nudging me lightly. I fell back then, allowing him to get back to his feet, before watching him as he loped off back into the forest.
I was sat on an overturned log in the middle of a clearing, adrenaline still rushing through my veins.
We had made this spot as our hideaway, the same way other kids might build a treehouse or a fort. It was our special little place, deep in the forest. At least, as deep as my Dad allowed it, which was about a mile from the forests edge.
We had been coming here since well before either of our first changes. The campfire in the middle of the clearing, that we had added a couple of years ago, sat untouched now. We were forbidden to light it when we were out here on runs, in case it attracted attention. There had been a party somewhere nearby a year ago, and the police and fire department had been called. It was just kids messing around, but we couldn’t take the chance of that happening to us when we were out here.
Runs were the only time he would come out here with me now anyway. We didn’t hang out like we used to, he preferred the company of his friends at school, namely the guys on the basketball team. Plus, he was a senior and I was a junior, so we ran in different circles. My circle being so small, it was more of a light stroll compared to his run. But we still shared this one thing, and I loved that it was something that he could never share with any of the girls at school.
The soft sound of snow crunching under feet pulled me from my thoughts, and I glanced up to see him ducking under a low tree branch. He didn’t quite duck low enough though, and the top of his head just grazed the branch, causing a small pile of snow to slide off. He brushed it away, and then ran his fingers through the shaggy black locks, in an attempt to straighten it out.
“Hey loser.” I smirked, “Enjoy your run?”
He shook his head, then stooped to the ground, straightening with a handful of snow. It had already left his hand, hurtling straight to my head, before I realised. I gasped as it collided with me, and it slid down the back of my hair, dripping under my coat and down my back.
“Jerk!” I yelled.
He laughed at that, “That was to get you back for cheating... again.”
“Hey, if you fall for it every single time, then you are the problem, my friend. Not me.” I shrugged, “First rule of wolf school – conserve your energy, or you become dinner for a bigger and stronger predator.”
He rolled his eyes, “And that’s you, is it? All 5′2" of you?”
I glared at him, making him chuckle lightly as he sat down beside me on the log. “Well, all 5′2" of me managed to tackle your ass to the ground, didn’t it? Perhaps being freakishly tall is not a good indicator of a scary werewolf, Henry.” That got a real laugh from him, which was so loud it startled some of the wildlife, who took off scurrying away from our clearing. “Why are you laughing? I beat you!”
He smirked and nudged me, and my arm tingled at his touch, my body automatically leaning, wanting to be closer to him. He stood up then, still with that stupid smirk on his face that made my insides go to mush, like I was one of the stupid cheerleaders at school who fawned over him. “Yes, Maddie, you beat me. And I in no way let you win,” he held his hand out towards me, offering it to me to help me up. “Nope, definitely not. You are the bigger and stronger predator,” he paused, peering straight into my eyes, “the big scary werewolf.”
I glared up at him. “You did not let me win! I beat you fair and square.” He was still smirking, with that twinkle in his eye that told me he knew that it was winding me up, but he loved it and would carry it on. That was Henry Barton for you; he just loved to push my buttons. I swatted his hand away. “Jerk.”
He let out another laugh, before turning and heading in the direction of home. I waited a few moments, just watching him walk. He was wearing those slim fit grey sweat pants that hugged his muscular legs perfectly, and a tight black shirt that showed the ripple of every muscle on his stomach. He didn’t bring shoes, preferring instead to walk barefoot in the snow, allowing it to cool down the raging heat that always pulsed through us after a run.
“Madison, are you coming or what?” He called, turning back to look at me, still sat on the log.
I sighed, shaking my head to clear the mess of thoughts running through my mind. Who was I kidding? I am one of those girls fawning over Henry Barton, and I had been for as long as I could remember. But this year, I decided, I was going to tell him. I was going to tell him exactly how I felt.
“Coming!” I called, before jogging to catch him up.