A large gust of wind shook the small house, sending shivers down the girl’s spine. She shoved her hands in her pockets and continued to walk to the house. She knew nothing of the house, or who owned it; she just had an address.
The girl tightened her jacket around her as she came to a stop in front of the broken down building. Wind chimes were ringing and wooden boards were cracking. The girl could see the screen door opening and shutting, moaning and creaking with every movement.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood straight, though not due to the cold. She glanced on either side of her and walked toward the small house, pushing the door open.
“Hello?” she spoke, but with no answer. She rubbed both of her arms as she wandered through the house, taking note of the old and dusty things the homeowner had piled up in each and every corner. It looks like someone has a hoarding problem, she thought.
The girl trailed her fingers along a wall, picking at the wallpaper. She glanced up at the flickering lights above her and groaned. This was a waste of my time.
She turned to leave when she saw something out of the corner of her eye, a bright light. She walked toward it, but it disappeared. She looked around the same spot, but the girl didn’t see anything like the bright light she had just seem. She shrugged. Not my problem.
A voice deep inside her told her to get out of there, to run, but she didn’t know who it was. She couldn’t find the source of the voice. Before she could, another reached out to her.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Emerson sat by the water, sharpening her blades. She let her mind wander to the stranger in her house, and to his family.
It was absolutely ground shaking to discover that Nicholas was the older brother of Avery. Emerson and Avery spent years at each other’s throats, and neither her nor their father ever mentioned a third Evans family member. Emerson briefly wondered whether it was because they assumed he was dead, or maybe it was something else.
Whatever it was, Emerson was going to find out.
She stood up from the river, clutching her blades to her side, as she shuffled back to her cabin. Nicholas had been with her for a few days now, and he hadn’t shown any signs of leaving. Maybe once he finds his family he’ll leave, she thought.
She wandered through the front door and called for Nicholas. She heard noise in the kitchen and turned to look, stunned at the sight in front of her. Emerson had decided that she wasn’t exactly fond of Nicholas wearing her cloak all the time, so she went into town earlier that day and got a few things for him. Nothing too fancy, just a pair of boots, jeans, and a t-shirt. However, the t-shirt didn’t exactly...fit him.
Nicholas stood by the kitchen counter, trying to make tea. The jeans fit him fine, they hugged his thighs just right, and the boots seemed to fit him as well. The shirt, however, was another story. It was a pale cream color, and it clung to his body like a second skin, outlining each and every muscle Emerson could lay eyes on. When he moved, the shirt moved with him, and so did his muscles.
Emerson cleared her throat. “Do the clothes fit you okay?”
Nicholas jumped at the sound of her voice and looked at her nervously. “Um, they do. But the shirt is a bit...tight?”
Emerson nodded at him and sat her daggers on the table. She thought for a second about what to do. She was not going to go into town again and she definitely didn’t have anything his size.
Suddenly, she remembered something. “Wait here.”
She went into her room and dug at the bottom of her closet. She shuffled through jumbles of old weapons, toys from when she was a kid, and old clothes. Underneath a rusty axe, she found what she was looking for. Grabbing the green jacket, she shook the dust out of it, coughing, then went back to where Nicholas was waiting for her.
She shoved the beat up jacket into his hands. “Here, you can use this.”
Nicholas looked at the jacket carefully. He knew this was too large to be Emerson’s, but he didn’t want to ask questions. Instead, he shrugged it on his shoulders to avoid an argument.
“My mom said it was my dad’s, if that’s what you’re thinking about,” Emerson said.
Nicholas’s eyes widened. “No, I wasn’t th-”
“It’s okay,” she smiled. “I never knew him. It was just me and mom until she died. I was 12 then. My dad was never around. I don’t even know if he ever even knew about me, actually. But I don’t care about that. I had my mom, and I still have my Granny.”
The man nodded in understanding. “My mom died when I was 5. She died while giving birth to Avery. They said that they did everything they could, but...her heart just gave out. It was just the three of us ever since.”
Emerson smiled softly at the stranger in her house. “Mine died on a hunt. It was a bear. She never came home so I went out to look for her. After mom died my grandma closed the bakery and moved to the mountain. My mom was her only child, so it really got to her. Her husband died years before that. I stayed here, alone, even though I was only 12. Granny only trusted it because my mom raised me and nothing is really in these woods. Well...nothing other than you.”
She gave Nicholas a droll stare. He started laughing, and Emerson thought that it was something she could listen to all day. His eyes crinkled on the sides and his mouth opened wide as he let out a large howl. She grinned, content in watching this man laugh at her counter.
After he calmed down, he asked her a question.
“Will you tell me about my family now?”
The smile fell from her face as she nodded. She told him to sit on the couch because he was going to need to get comfortable. She grabbed tea for the both of them and took her cloak off, hanging it up by her bow. She wandered into the living room where Nicholas was waiting.
“Are you sure you want to hear this?”
He nodded vigorously and Emerson sighed, running a hand down her face. She sat down opposite him on the grey, leather couch and looked at him. He was staring at her with wide eyes, sipping from the hot tea she just poured.
“I met your sister some time before kindergarten,” she began. “We lived in the city then, with my Granny. My mom was helping her with the bakery so we lived right above it. I was about four when I met Avery. And we didn’t get along.” Emerson paused, staring at her tea. She chanced a look at Nicholas, but he was still staring at her, waiting. “We went to the same school, and had the same teacher every year until my mom packed me up to move to the woods.
“There wasn’t any particular reason Avery and I didn’t get along. We just...had different interests. I liked archery, she liked watching cheerleading. I liked playing with knives, and she liked playing with books. See where I’m going with this? We were completely different people. Then, I met your dad in second grade. I haven’t met him very many times, but I do remember him. It was for parent-teacher conferences and your dad and sister were...acting weird.
“They spent most of the time whispering in a corner, not bothering to talk to the other parents or students, and I don’t even know if your dad talked to our teacher that day. Anyway, I got a really weird feeling and talked to your dad. Then I made plans for Avery and I to hang out that weekend, even though Avery and I were not friends. I was just really curious.
“So, that weekend, I went to their house. And Nicholas,” she trailed off, staring into his green eyes, “They were not poor. They lived on one of the largest properties in Selal, just by the coastline. Turns out, your dad owned the banks. Honestly I still have no idea how that happened, especially after you just told me he was a gardener and a postal worker? Yeah, even now, he owns the banks. Every single bank in the city of Selal. Plus, I hear that he’s dating some kind of royal fae. and Avery...”
Emerson pursed her lips. “Last I heard, Avery was engaged to some two-faced politician from Fokren or something. Everyone knows the Evans family now. But Nicholas...they’ve never mentioned you. They don’t even talk about your mom.”
She turned to face the man, not surprise to see his face full of tears. Tears ran down his cheeks and he sniffed. “They’re okay,” he whispered.
Emerson blinked at him. “Yeah, they’re okay, but were you not listening? They don’t talk about your mom. And no one even knows you’re alive!”
He shook his head, rubbing his face. “I don’t care about that. I just want to make sure they’re okay.”
The woman stood up, throwing her hands up in the air. “Dude, you may as well not exist. I’ve never heard of you, and I’ve known Avery for 19 years! Surely at some point you still would’ve been around. You said that the mage came to you when you were how old?”
“11 or 12ish?” Nicholas answered, not sure where this was going.
“Meaning,” she huffed. “You’re five years older than both of us, meaning Avery was 6 or 7 when you left. I met her when I was four. Which means she still didn’t talk about you while you were still human.”
Nicholas blinked, the words slowly processing through his head. Avery didn’t mention him even when he was still there? Even before he was a wolf?
“How old were you when you went to the house?” he asked.
“Second grade. So eight. Which means you would’ve been 13, and a wolf already. No wonder why they had that house...” Emerson trailed off.
“Because I paid the price for it.”
Emerson looked at the stranger, who no longer felt like a stranger, with sympathy. Nicholas tugged at the ends of his hair and groaned. “I can’t believe they kept me a secret even before I was gone! Why would they do that?”
Emerson shrugged as she sat back down. She awkwardly pat Nicholas’s back, then stopped when they both started blushing furiously. She coughed to clear the air. “I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t keeping a secret. Maybe you just...Never came up in conversation?”
Nicholas snorted, and Emerson’s eyes followed him as he started pacing around the living room. He would scratch at his face, then stop, then start pacing again. He finally came to a stop right in front of Emerson. He crouched down right in front of her and looked right into her blue eyes before he spoke.
“I think we need to talk to my family.”