Elliot’s parents did not receive her presence well; soaked and carrying a string with ten fishes tied around the tails.
Xander stood outside, hidden by the trees and creeping darkness.
He felt a slightly bad for having her return in such a state. If anything, he feared her parents would lash out at her, and so he waited until she made her way upstairs to the bedroom.
Her mother was the first to shriek at the sight of Elliot’s smiling face, the glass of wine she had been holding set itself on the counter as she approached her daughter. Xander inched forward, worried that she might hit her, but the mother only resorted to an ear full lecture.
Droning on about swimming in the river, the diseases she could have contracted, the infected fish and what lay in their bellies; too worried to even ask how her daughter was able to obtain that much game.
Xander was relieved for he feared Elliot might innocently expose him.
Finally, her mother yanked her by the wrist, hands cupping her face and tilting them to the side, scrutinizing her hearing aids.
Elliot started to speak but her mother snapped.
Elliot huffed in vexation.
The urge to stalk up to the house and listen in on their conversation was muffled by the sight of a car parking in the driveway, Xander pressed further into the dark woods cautious of his scent just as the Alpha stepped out of his car, four men close by his heels.
Their voices were deep and loud, trailing figures all the way into the house where Elliot’s mother stood furiously holding her daughter’s wrist. Jack stopped by the doorway and stared, partially stunned. His friends broke the tensed silence with laughter, pointing at the line of fish she had caught. The Alpha did not look pleased.
Brief, silent communication passed between the couple and her mother dragged Elliot upstairs.
Xander bit his inner cheek anxiously, following the trail of lights flickering from the steps to the upstairs hallway, indicating their movements. Eventually, they stopped in Elliot’s room and his ear strained to hear the obscure sounds.
After some time of futile effort, he gave up and pivoted home.
The next few days had Xander drowned in work with Salem. Nonstop flowing orders of furniture dropping by each day, not only that but autumn had finally descended on them and with winter barely a mile away, the need to stack woods for chilly nights was Salem’s priority.
His and the town’s as well. Autumn and Winter turned out to be the busiest season for Salem. His was the only lumbering shop in town and with that came great responsibility. Empty trucks drove through his driveway on the daily, picking tonnes of wood and delivering endless lists of needed items.
The only upside to the dark seasons was the profit.
Xander hardly had time to think about his little friend, routine have grown compact; his day would start at 6am while still dark out, eating a cold breakfast of oatmeal while hiking down to their trail, felling trees, shaving them clean and transporting them to their required destinations. His day would end at 10PM; exhausted, smelling and ravenous.
Hardwood trees were sawed in half and tied to the back of Salem’s truck, driven parallel along the hill cutting through weathered roads and cleared bushed until they reached his home. Xander would have preferred to use the river as a means of transportation but upon experimenting and seeing the thick trunk sinking low to the bottom, he decided otherwise.
Pine trees were easier to navigate on the river, less dense and floated. He would tie them side by side creating a log raft, and guided it down the meandering river with a long paddle he had made.
Despite the dark grey clouds and light precipitation, the atmosphere was hot. Xander dropped the paddle onto the flat raft he stood on and took his shirt off, sighing as the gentle drizzles eased his state of heated agony. He tucked half his shirt into the back of his pocket and picked the paddle, guiding the log rafter through the river.
The palms of his hands had roughened and callous blisters grew with each day. Salem had given him an ointment that was highly concentrated in eucalyptus that made his eyes water within five minutes of application. He tossed the tin beneath his bed.
“Hey!” Xander’s attention snapped from the river and rose just as he reached a bend, spotting Salem’s large figure hovering by the bank.
By his side was a familiar looking girl and upon closer inspection, Xander realized it was the employee from the store. He did not remember her name.
Behind them stood the only Saw Mill in town, front doors wide open and burly men dragged thick trees, weighing more than a tonne, into the building. It was loud, saw dust blown through windows and dark smoke rising from the chimneys.
Xander guided the logs towards the bank and stepped into the river once the floor was visible, the water rose past his knees wetting the hem of folded pants. Grabbing the rope, he waddled through the water, bare feet sloshing over rough ground before sinking into moss carpet.
“How was the ride?” Salem asked once he was within reach, a wide smile cutting his mouth, large teeth. “Was it bumpy?”
Xander shook his head and turned, hauling the logs onto the bank with a firm long tug. He let go of the rope and raised his cap, pushing back the curls that fell insistently over his eyes and lowered it back down. “No.”
Salem nodded vigorously, then as an afterthought, gestured at the girl who stood behind him. “Brenda this is the boy who works for me, Xander.” He turned to Xander, “Xander, this is the daughter of the saw mill’s owner, Brenda. Her father’s a good friend of mine.”
Brenda’s expectant gaze was on him, she smiled wide. “I know him, Sal.” She stepped forward to shake his hand and Xander hesitated, shy eyes dropping to the small pale hand before him. “Nice meeting you again, Xander.”
“Do you now?”
“Yes sir, he came round the grocery store one time.”
Salem’s burning gaze had Xander raising his hand, rough palm on smooth one. Her hand shake was firm and self assured, their eyes closing circuit briefly before he tore his attention away.
“Xander’s a shy one,” Salem huffed a deep chuckle slapping the boy playfully on his shoulder before turning to the saw mill. He whistled loud and sharp garnering the men’s attention, then gestured at the logs of wood to be moved. “That should be about it for today, don’t you think?” Salem hummed glancing at his wrist watch as Xander moved a respectable distance away as the men began walking downhill towards them.
He reached for his shirt and wore it, nervous hands slipping into the pockets of his pants and eyeing the stocky men who chanced suspicious, mild-demeaning glances at him before strapping the logs in.
If Salem saw, he chose to ignore it.
“You can head on now, I’ll see you back home.” Xander faintly nodded at the dismissal and gathered his shoes, walking uphill. It would be much easier walking along the main road than the woods.
The sound of hurried footsteps followed close by and he figured it weren’t for him until her voice echoed, “Hey, wait!” Steps faltering, Xander peered over his shoulder at Brenda who finished climbing the hill, the smile hardly wavering from her face. She stopped before him and raised a set of keys, “How you heading home?”
“Walking.” Xander muttered and she huffed out in exhaustion.
“Which way you heading?”
His eyes rose to the road then back, questioningly, “East.”
“Great!” Brenda beamed heading for a silver truck parked in front of the mill, “Me too, I can give you a ride.”
He hovered, skeptical gaze watching her short figure skip up to the truck and open the door, pausing to watch him, anticipating. “You coming?”
Xander glanced down the road again then back, after a heartbeat he found his way to the other side of her truck and entered.
The interior was clean, save for few empty Starbucks cups and calculus books strewn at the back. “Pardon the mess,” Brenda joked still breathless from the uphill run to catch up with his long strides, “I’m not usually this messy,” she paused inserting the key into the ignition and twisted it, “Okay, maybe I am.”
If she was joking, Xander was unable to process the joke. He glanced at her warily, the soft crinkling of her eyes as she leaned forward to lower the volume on her stereo.
“Do you know this song?” Brenda broke the silence and Xander’s eyes slanted away from the window briefly.
He shook his head faintly.
“Arctic Monkeys,” The girl grinned, “Do you know them?”
“Boy are you missing out. How about A Rocket to the moon?”
“My Chemical Romance?”
Xander felt a flicker of agitation at her persisting questions, he was fatigued and just wished for a hot meal, hot shower and deep sleep. The heat had long since vaporized leaving him slightly drenched from the rain.
“Okay okay, let’s think main stream, how about Katy Perry?”
“No.” He breathed. The only music he knew of was that from Salem’s radio, country music he neither cared nor bothered to know the names of. Other than that he was not a fan of music.
“Boy are you missing out,” she chanced a peek at his face, turned to the window. One hand on the steering wheel, Brenda reached into her back seat and searched blindly, “I should have something here for you...” more random patting, fingertips brushing over textbooks, book bag, gym bag- “Aha!”
Xander turned just as her hand landed on his lap with a crumpled piece of paper. He stared at the paper then her.
“Go on,” she coerced and he took it, staring down at the bright words on the center.
MILLER HIGH WOODS PARTY
Xander stared at foreign piece of paper for a drawn moment, eyes raising to Brenda who smiled wide. Did her cheeks ever ache from the constant smiling?
“It’s a party.”
“I see.” He did not see the point.
“A party...” her eyebrows rose suggestively, “That I am inviting you to.”
Xander remained silent, “Why?”
“Why?” she echoed, “Because you look like a guy in need of friends.”
He didn’t need friends though. Xander was content with the little he had.
“If anything, I’ll be all alone there and you seem like great company, so please say yes.” Her lower lip popped out in what was meant to be a pout. Xander’s eyes roamed her face then dropped to the paper contemplatively. “Come on, please keep me company.” She was leaning towards him, eyes off the road.
“I’ll think about it.” Xander spoke uneasily, reaching for the door as Salem’s cottage came into view. He was suddenly anxious to leave the car, suffocating with her invading personality.
Brenda leaned back, “Fair enough.”
He stepped out only to pause halfway when she leaned across his side, “If you do agree, I’ll see you at the party. Saturday starts at 6PM. Okay?”
Xander nodded and mumbled a thanks before shutting the door and heading for his shed. His head swiveled, staring at her car which still waited idly in the same position. Halting, Xander waited for her to finally pull out of the parking spot. Not until her taillights disappear, did he walk towards his shed and collapse on the bed with a loud sigh.
Rolling onto his back, Xander removed the crumpled piece of paper and set it on the nightstand beside the two carved figurines of a girl and wolf.
Hands folded beneath his head, he stared at the ceiling.
you look like a guy in need of friends
Reaching for the paper, Xander stared at the teenagers around his age all sitting around a bonfire, blankets draped over their shoulders, sticks holding white fluffy edibles over the fire. One girl was leaning into a guy, smiling so wide he could almost see her molars.
I’ll be all alone there and you seem like great company