He heard her faint approaching footsteps long before her scent was caught in the wind. Lying on the grass with a dictionary held in one hand and arm pillowed beneath his head, Xander waited— ears tilting to the ghosting of shoes on the path behind him, stepping into grass while slowly approaching with the clumsiness of a child.
Then she struck.
“EN GARDE!” Elliot screamed raising her wooden sword and lowering it just as fast, whacking his dictionary to the ground.
Xander blinked from the bright sunlight and squinted as the child’s shadow fleeted over his face.
“Ouch.” His words were calm and Elliot frowned, displeased by the fact that he was neither frightened nor shocked.
“You’re supposed to be scared.” She pointed out.
His hand rose to his chest, mock shock.
“You scared me.”
Elliot’s serious expression schooled to that of playful as she regarded him, “Like my sword?” She questioned raising the wooden sword in the air proudly, it had been carved unevenly, the edges jagged and hilt’s girth far too wide for her grip. Random spatters of paint had been splashed on it. “I found it.”
Xander pushed himself into an upright position and held his palm out, “May I see it?”
The item felt cool in his hand as he turned it over slowly, “It is... Interesting.”
He could not lie to her, the sword was probably the most ugliest carving ever made. Then again she was a child, so perhaps her efforts would up the score point of it to... Interesting.
Elliot made a face and rubbed at her nose, curious eyes dropping to where he lay beneath the treesy shade. “What you doing?”
“Reading.” Xander replied handing her the sword back and lay back, his skin prickled where grass touched.
He arched an eyebrow at the distasteful groan she made, dropping to his side and crossing her legs.
“Yuck.” Elliot’s face twisted in disgust then proceeded to fling herself back onto the grass rather violently, one of her flailing hands smacking his forehead in the process.
Xander watched her for a drawn moment realizing that the aids she wore had changed color; green to dark purple. His hand reached out, fingertips brushing the cool machine cupped around her ear, “What happened?”
Elliot huffed and shrugged nonchalantly, squinting at the sky overhead. “Got spoilt when I fell into the water.”
“Ma was mad. Pops didn’t say nothing.” She sounded annoyed rather than regretful over her actions, “she threw my fishes in the trash.”
Xander was silent, gaze drifting to the clear sky watching as a bird glided by. The branch overhead swayed lazily, remnants of summer leaves floating to the ground around them.
“I’m sorry.” He said after a moment. The guilt weighed on him. He shouldn’t have allowed her to try catch fish. He needed to be more cautious around her.
“How was school?” Xander opted for a topic change, hoping it would alleviate the sudden sullen mood. Fortunately, it did as Elliot’s face lit up, the previous conversation forgotten.
“Charles peed himself in class,” she responded with dark pride, “Marty got pushed down the sandbox by Kira and her parents got called to school, I think he broke his ankle. Ms Adams gave me so much homework.”
She blew out a breath of frustration, then craned to watch him, the start of a mischievous smile crinkling the corners of her eyes like a leaf held to flame “But ma doesn’t know.”
Xander could not deny her a smile of his own despite the severity of her suggestion. “Homework is important.”
“No it’s not.”
Maybe she was right.
What did he know about the school system and the works of homework?
“Will it not anger your teacher?”
“Nope,” She replied eyes avoiding him.
Xander stared intently clearly seeing through the poor attempt of a lie. “Elliot.”
Elliot groaned wiping at her nose, smearing dirt on it. “It’s not that important, I can just say my dog ate it.”
“You do not have a dog.”
“No,” she trailed off then halted, eyes sparking like a flint of fire as she turned to him, “but you do.”
Xander stilled. The words barely processed as he wondered just what she was on about until he realized. “No.”
“Please,” Elliot dragged and he shook his head, “You don’t have to do anything just bring Salem and I’ll feed him my homework and you can close your eyes.”
How could he tell her Salem was far from dog? Though technically, he lay in the same genus as a dog but the current situation was more specific.
“Salem’s,” he pondered, “...got fleas. He can’t leave his kennel.”
Her cheeks puffed in exasperation, “guess I’ll just have to eat my homework again.”
Xander did a double take on his young mate, “You eat your homework?”
“I have to make it look real,” Elliot reasoned, “otherwise she won’t believe me.”
He could not begin to fathom the reasons as to why Elliot would go through such lengths in order to avoid doing her homework. “Why not simply do it?”
" ’cause it’s hard, ma’s to busy to help and pops never home.”
Xander wanted to offer his help then caught himself. He knew nothing of homework. All he knew was the tattered dictionary. His chest hollowed at the inability to help his mate, desperate shame swathed him. “I see.”
They lay side by side in mutual silence.
“Charles pee smells really bad.”
He breathed out a surprised chuckle.
“Like real bad,” his mate’s nose crunched in pure honest disgust. “What’s that?” Her attention had already drifted to his dictionary, reaching for a colored paper peeking between pressed pages.
“Nothing important.” He countered but she was already opening it, curious eyes sweeping over the words.
He nodded mildly disinterested.
“Grown up party?”
“Will your friends be there?” The innocence of her question eased the blow. Xander chewed the flesh of his inner cheek thoughtfully.
Would Brenda be categorized as a friend?
“I suppose.” He admitted uncertainly.
Their conversation was cut short by Elliot’s mother’s voice, calling from somewhere above them.
Elliot groaned, a sulking frown pulling at her mouth. “I have to go.”
“It’s fine.” Getting to his feet, he handed her the sword and brushed stray leaves from her short hair.
He watched her leave, small figure darting through trees, sword raised in the air as though riding into battle. As an afterthought, Elliot stopped and turned, raising one hand to wave wildly at him.
His hand rose in a short wave and stood in the same position until her silhouette disappeared, scent dissipating into the cool autumn air.
Xander had convinced himself more than once that he would not attend the party.
In the shower, while eating, cutting wood— it was all he could think about. Brenda’s pleading face and comments about friendship nagging his mind far more than he wished it to.
He wasn’t going to go.
He really wasn’t.
After dinner, he lay on his bed resolutely.
The paper on his night stand.
Xander plucked at his nail nervously.
What harm would come out of going?
The visit would be simple, drop by, say hello and leave.
That was it.
Staring at the paper one last time, he pushed himself off the bed and headed for his closet.
He didn’t have many clothes. Handful of shirts Salem had either handed down to him from his youth years or bought in a thrift store; three pairs of washed out jeans, five plain shirts and two jackets.
Xander had never been to a party. Hell he’d never been to a gathering save for the grocery store.
Now he stood feet away from the party that took place in the woods. Some teen’s cabin had been used as the spot, loud music and bright lights spilling from inside. There was dozens of people around his age and older, talking, drinking, shouting.
He felt nervous. Standing by a tree uncertainly. Xander glanced down at his plain grey shirt and jeans, the paper in hand. He adjusted his baseball cap and inhaled a measured breath, sharp eyes sweeping the perimeter desperately searching for Brenda.
A couple ran past him, barely noticing his presence, and Xander’s eyes followed their silhouettes deep into the woods. The girl turned and looked her arms around the boy’s neck and with a loud giggle, they fell into a bush. Soft sounds followed next.
Uncomfortable, he stepped out from the woods and approached the house hesitantly. Shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and shoulders hunched forward, Xander fixated his gaze on the floor and ascended the front steps. The front door burst open as two boys ran out, half naked with lipstick marks across their chests, they laughed and bumped past him violently while heading for the forest.
Xander stepped back from impact and glanced warily over his shoulder at the two before peering into the cabin.
It was a wreck.
Food and drinks spilling from tables, paint on walls, people pressed at the center and some passed out drunk on the couches and stairs.
Xander hovered by, eyes fleeting over the crowd one last time then back to the porch. He turned to leave, faltering at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Hey you!” Xander watched as Brenda waved wildly from a circle she sat in and stood, “Xander!” She wore close to nothing, white cropped top with shorts and fishnet stockings. Her face was painted to match that of a cat’s. Whiskers. Brenda beamed at the sight of him and embraced him in a tight hug, her scent of alcohol was concentrated. “You finally came!”
“I did.” Xander’s cautious gaze moved to the circle she sat in, everyone’s eyes were on him— half glazed and bloodshot.
Brenda’s expression softened, “I’m glad, come meet my friends.” Without a response she was pulling him by the wrist towards the expectant crowd.
They all seemed to be around his age, few boys older by a year or two. Most smiled once he was within reach and he relaxed, only slightly.
Brenda tugged him to the floor and began the long list of introductions.
Names he would forget, faces that would shroud into nothing once morning arrived.
For now, he figured he’d enjoy their company.
A girl pressed a cold beer bottle into his hand, “Do you drink alcohol?”
The last time he had sipped alcohol was five months ago. Salem had felt Xander’s piercing curious gaze on him while they sat out on his porch after a filling dinner. Salem was sipping his canned beer, pausing to glance at Xander whose gaze averted just as fast.
After a moment, he nudged the can of beer into his hand, corners of his eyes crinkling in amusement. “Not a man until you have a taste.” He didn’t have to persuade Xander much for the boy was already reaching across the table, slender fingers wrapping around the aluminium can and lifting it to his mouth. He gagged at the taste. Barley and sour. Salem laughed. Xander swore never to drink it again.
Yet, now that he sat with peers around his age, all drinking the same beer and laughing, Xander felt a certain pressure to conform and be like them. “Yes.” He lied and raised the bottle to his mouth, tentatively sipping it before downing a gulp forced by the burning gazes.
His actions seemed to please the team for they turned to Brenda and laughed.
“Got yourself a good one.” One winked and another patted Xander’s back heavily.
His smile was tight and unwavering as the games began.
Forty minutes had passed with them playing cards and games he could hardly remember. They didn’t pause to teach him and at first Xander minded being left out, but fell into the isolation easily. He realized their conversations were something he could hardly keep up with- talk of school and teachers, parties and prom, porn and video games, drugs and sex— it was all new to him, and he was glad for his own silence.
Brenda’s snapping fingers brought his attention back to the circle. Xander blinked and raised the third bottle of beer to his mouth only to realize it was empty. His head felt light, a flurry of buzzes on his tongue.
She smiled at him funny, “Wanna play spin the bottle?”
His eyes fleeted over the faces, now watching him with smiles of their own.
He shrugged nonchalantly, “Sure.”
The rules were simple enough for his mildly alcohol induced mind to decipher. The bottle is span, it stops on two people, they leave to a secret room for two minutes and return. Xander watched the bottle spin— the couples leave and return disheveled, disappointed, happy... disgusted.
He watched it spin almost in a trance and his eyelids suddenly felt heavy, exhaustion sipping through the cracks. Xander began to nod off, the sound of music dulling out in the near distance-
“Xander and Brenda.”
His eyes snapped open, lingering on Brenda’s face who sat opposite him then dropping to the bottle whose mouth was pointed at him, the base at her.
She was standing, shouts and whistles following hot on her heels as she circled to his spot and held her hand out. Xander stared at the foreign object, enticing. He didn’t remember reaching for her hand, but somehow he had, fingers slipping into the spaces of her own as she guided him up the stairs. The hallway was dark, bodies pressed on walls and soft moans slipping over his sweaty skin.
He looked up just as they stopped in front of a door, Brenda pushed it open and nudged him in.
The room was dark, lit by cold moonlight from partial drawn curtains.
Brenda turned then and braced both hands on his chest, nudging him back until the heels of his shoes touched the door, shoulder blades pressed on the wood. He hardly had time to breath when her mouth slated over his.
Brenda tasted like alcohol and tortillas and salsa. Her mouth was rough, lips chapped. Scent, a mixture of sweat and perfume.
Xander stilled, mouth un-moving and eyes wide. He hesitated when she shifted against his, palms slipping beneath the material of his shirt. Her teeth sunk on his lower lip drawing a surprised grunt from him.
“Relax,” she broke away and whispered. He had never kissed anyone. The intimate act so foreign he could almost hear his heart thrashing wildly- beating along with the shirt he wore, now lifting higher as her palm skimmed over the flat of his abdomen appreciatively.
Xander relaxed, hands betraying the wary signals of his mind as they tentatively touched her shoulders, sliding up her neck and jaw-resting over the steady pulse of her artery beneath callous palms.
The sound of his belt unbuckling echoed in the dark room. She worked efficiently, breathing harshly as his mouth left hers and touched her jaw, teeth sinking into the flesh of her neck. His actions were not his own; the hands that reached for her blouse, the mouth that claimed skin, the primal urge to mark someone that was not his-
Cool air brushed his thighs as the pants dropped in a puddle around his feet. Breathless, Xander leaned back, eyes wild as they regarded Brenda. The moonlight touched her smile; slow and wicked as she reached for her own shorts, shimmying back and forth teasingly until they too dropped.
His cheeks burned, eyes feverish.
She was reaching for him again, fingertips brushing his pulse, mouth closing on his only to pause a breadth away.
Xander blinked confused.
He hadn’t smelled it then, senses drowned by her scent.
He stood still, the smile morphing to that of a confused frown as she stepped back. Just then, the door burst open and lights flooded the room blinding him. Voices. Loud boisterous voices. Laughter. Flash lights. Phones.
The bucket full of burning liquid.
Liquid wolves hated.
Xander was reaching for his clothes a moment too late as two of the boys stepped from the crowd carrying a metallic bucket of wolfs bane.
The pain didn’t settle immediately, shock numbing all nerves as the liquid was splashed on him- a sudden shudder from reality, first cold then warm and finally hot. Searing hot pain as the acid corroded his skin.
the smell of burning flesh