August 1st 2001
His whole body was sore, muscles coiled tightly beneath dirt skin.
Sighing, Xander rolled his head sideways and winced, rubbing at the creak in his neck.
Dried grass crunched beneath him as he shifted from sitting in the exact spot for two hours.
The air was crisp cool, remnants of summer dissipating as Autumn took its place.
It had been a torturous hot and long summer- unforgiving sun beating down on his back and neck, often times he sought shelter in back alleys and people’s basements, where it was cooler as the woods seemed hotter than ever and his own run down shack had no air conditioner of any sort. The air was weighted with thick humidity, and still, hardly any whisper of wind to relieve his state of agony.
To kill time and draw his mind away from the summer heat, he found a full-time job, working for Salem’s carpentry shop just by the small town’s end.
Salem, an introverted man in his late forties with deep fine wrinkles that lined heavy set features. His skin was an ochre color, much like the mellow-brown light that bathed the forest. He was quiet, seldom found in town, and when he was it had to be because he was making rounds with planks of woods- delivering them to stores- or picking groceries. His truck, a red chevrolet pick up, coughed through tarmac roads loud enough for people to familiarize themselves with the sound.
They could hear him approaching long before their eyes spotted the truck.
Mysterious was he, silently polite enough not to draw attention and friendly enough to divert rumors from the mouths of idle women.
Xander had crossed his territory a handful of times, partly because his lodge stood a few kilometers from the river- a great hunting point for deers and another out of faint curiosity towards the man who willingly isolated himself from the rest.
He wondered why a normal being such as himself would be willing to cut the world off, seeking comfort from within instead. Unlike Salem, Xander had no choice in the isolation. He was shunned from the pack by the alpha, status placed lower than that of an omega’s.
Even they had their parts in bullying him.
The first time he had met Salem, Xander lurked by the bushes, eyes peering at the man who walked heavily on the patio. Wood creaked and moaned beneath his weight. Salem had just returned from the woods, handful of logs stacked on his shoulder and supported by one hand, the other gripping a fire red axe. He was a big man, towering at 6′5 and filled out with thick muscles.
Xander had read that word from a torn tattered dictionary, now pressed between his mattress and floor.
having a frightening, overawing, or threatening effect.
But then he didn’t understand the word frightening, overawing and threatening- only after searching each word, did he fully comprehend the meaning.
Salem was intimidating.
But magnetic all at once.
Crouching down, he watched the burly man stoop to drop limbs of wood and disappear into his cabin only to reappear a moment later with a plate filled to the brim and mug of freshly squeezed lemon juice. So fresh, water condensed around the glass.
Xander’s mouth dried, hunger that had faded from his wandering thoughts now returned full force and he crouched forward, muffling the soft growl of emptiness. He hadn’t eaten since morning, even then- a slice of toast with marmalade hardly counted for a proper breakfast, and now he suffered the consequences in silence.
The sun’s glare hardly helped. Stinging sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped at his forward with the back of his grey long sleeve, now brown from days of use.
He watched as Salem cut into the thick slice of burned steak, swallowing the pile of saliva, and raised it to his lips. Except, he didn’t bite into the meat, instead his eyes cut towards Xander’s location- gazing through the bushes and spotting the boy instantly.
His nostrils flared.
Xander stilled. Unknown fear creeping from the corners of his body. He held his breath, much like he had been doing during times of getting caught. Stop. Don’t breath. Watch.
He watched, waiting, bare feet digging into the soil in anticipation.
Xander’s eyes flickered to the axe that slumped on the foot of his patio, and back to Salem who studied him with steady coal eyes.
“Did you know,” Salem finally spoke, voice deep and smooth, “That trespassing is illegal?”
Xander swallowed evidently.
“And I have every right to shoot you on the spot.”
His heart went crazy.
Silence pervaded and Salem finally raised a hand, gesturing him forward. “Come out boy. If you’re going to stalk, might as well do it professionally and not so openly.”
Xander hesitated a moment, contemplating whether to step out and only after noting how many escape routes would be made possible, did he step out of the bushes and into the clearing. Grass bent beneath his soles as he made his way towards the man in an excruciatingly slow pace. Time never phased as the distance ate up between them until he stood just by the start of his steps, eyes glued to his dirty feet. Xander peered up at him from beneath overgrown curls.
Salem’s intent gaze was on the boy, lanky scrawny figure no older than fifteen. He was filthy, myriad holes in his dirt stained jeans and what was once a grey long sleeve now brown and grease stained. The clothes hung on his body desperately, thin and wasted- over grown curls that brushed just the nape of his neck and fell recklessly over his head shielding curious copper green eyes that seemed to catch each light, even in the darkness.
Xander was nicking at the skin on his thumb anxiously, drawing beads of blood in the process. His hands had been injured and worn, scabs over scabs and bruises where possible.
He had seen the boy wander past his property numerous times, pausing each time to watch his cabin only to move on. Seen him in town, wondering idly up and down streets- with the actions of a lost abandoned puppy.
His heart went out to him, more than once had wanted to reach out to the boy and help him but the Alpha forbade any sort of help towards the boy.
Why would an Alpha loathe a boy?
“What’s your name?” Salem asked and the boy peered up at him curiously.
He licked his chapped lips, “Xander.”
A shrug. He didn’t know.
Salem leaned back on his chair, scratching the start of a beard and gazed at the boy thoughtfully. “Okay Xander, I’ve got a job for you.”
Head piqued, Xander watched Salem with newfound curiosity. His eyes spoke the question his mouth wouldn’t dare to.
“Simple enough,” Salem gestured at the stack of logs set beside him, “Move this logs to the back shed. In return, you will earn a meal.”
Swallowing, his eyes dropped to the tall stack of wood, Salem and the plate of food balanced on his laps; soft mashed potatoes, peas and carrots and steak drizzled with thick dark gravy. He licked his lips again, teeth sinking into his cheeks, Xander exhaled a soft “Okay.” Before proceeding to gather wood.
He had underestimated their weight, maybe they weighed even more than him. Straining under the load, his arms shook and with a grunt hauled the piece of wood onto his shoulder. Salem was watching him, playfulness swimming in his eyes, yet made no sound or move as he stumbled down the steps, holding tightly onto the banister and hobbled towards the back shed which was open and empty.
It had taken him at least five minutes to move one log and drop it onto the floor. Rubbing the dirt stained palms on the thighs of his jeans, Xander found his way back to the front studying the logs.
“One down,” Salem hummed sipping his lemonade, “Eighty nine to go.”
The sun had since long set by the time he was done hauling logs, dusk fell and hot summer air cooled just barely. Xander glowed in his own sweat, shirt clinging to his skin like a child would to its mother’s hand, and he dragged his feet back towards the front- faltering at the sight of a plate stacked high with pounds of mashed potatoes, three thick slices of beef and steamed vegetables. Salem had poured gravy into a separated cup for him set beside a platter of peaches and tall glass of lemonade.
“Go on,” Salem nodded the hovering boy forward, lowering the gazette he was reading onto his lap. “You earned it. Wash your hands first.”
Washing his hands on the tap set outside, Xander lowered himself onto the wicker chair with the tray of food set before him. Like a child trapped in a candy shop, he didn’t know where to start or stop.
“Drink first.” Salem spoke and obediently, he sipped on the lemonade tentatively before downing it, parched throat groaning grateful for the relief It was sweet and tangy and cold and he shivered as it slid down his throat.
Next he picked a peach and shoved the sliced fruit into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully which spooning a lump of mashed potatoes into his mouth once space was made.
He ate everything there was to eat on the plate. He ate like there was no tomorrow. He didn’t talk. He ate. He scarfed. He grazed that plate. He was into serious eating. He spooned the mashed potatoes then tore into the steak with his bare hands and teeth, sizzling juices sliding down his chin and wrists, sparing not even the vegetables that children his age would loath. He’d follow this up with a big drink of his lemonade and deep sigh.
He finished everything, including the peaches. For a few moments, Xander sat as if stunned. Sweat beaded on his face.
Salem had removed a small battery radio and placed it between them, lit a fat cuban cigar and took a long drag. They listened to static, accompanied by the soft hiccups of crickets and frogs down by the river, once the radio caught; faint music he had never heard before.
Casting a hesitant look towards Salem who laughed out loud.
His shoulders eased, slumping onto the wicker in exhaustion as the weight of food lulled towards slumber.
“I have a proposal,” Salem’s voice roused him from the faint start of slumber. Xander watched him curiously yet remained silent as he tapped his fat cigar on a glass ash tray. “Summer is just starting and I’m in need of labor to help chop, polish and deliver wood. Not only that but carpentry as well.” Finally the man’s deep gaze settled on his, “In exchange for your labor, food and money. Of course the money won’t be plenty, ten dollars a week but the food-”
“Okay.” Xander replied too fast. Eagerly. He caught himself then, face drifting as a red hue tainted his cheeks.
The start of a smile tugged at Salem’s mouth, linear polished teeth. He settled back onto his wicker and puffed the cigar. “It’s a deal then, 7am every morning until night?”
“Okay.” Xander repeated more calmly.
That was how he spent his summer- working for Salem.
At the break of daylight, he would be sitting on Salem’s front steps, legs crossed, spine steeled, eyes listlessly hovering over the forest.
They would have breakfast together then venture out into the woods, axes in hand, Salem singing a song about nothing, Xander following close behind. They would cut trees from morning to noon time, pausing to have lunch- sandwiches and muffins.
Salem would be lounging by a tree, hat tipped over his eyes while Xander walked down to the river, feet dipped into the cool stream, sandwich in one hand and dictionary in his other. Each day was a new word. Each day a new meaning.
He drunk the knowledge greedily, eager to learn more.
Just so he could learn what her name was, the important words scribed onto the side of her baby crib. She must have grown since the last time he had seen her. Copper green eyes similar to his, smiling with the innocence of a pure soul.
He was doing this to bridge the gap of communication between them.
Had it not been for the alpha, Xander was sure they would have been closer. His eyes pinched shut at the memories of the night he was caught, catching himself just before he could fall into them again.
“Break’s over kid!” Salem’s voice boomed from across the field and Xander leaped to his feet, jogging back to the waiting man.
They chopped more wood and carried it back.
The next days would be spent shaving them down till the surfaces were smooth, Salem would teach him the basics of carpentry in the evening right before making dinner together and eat it on the patio. Afterwards, as they lounged full and lazy, Xander would craft his own piece of wood.
His first ever successful bit was a moon, smooth round circle.
Then a wolf
a girl, too.
He set them apart and with each successful day, he would nudge them closer.