A Dormant Howl

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Chapter 9

He Brings the Bling with a side of drama

My friends really went all out for my party. Our basement consisted of three individual rooms – the family room with enough room for five round tables and chairs, a 55-inch flat screen television, and an oversized sectional couch. Then, behind the family room, down a small hall, was my father’s laboratory – which was kept locked, and just on the opposite side of the hall was the laundry room.

My brothers and Jerry helped move the couch into the stable house the night before. The girls put out the round tables and laid on the tabletops, satin pewter colored table linens. Over the satin material, the tables were covered with black lace table coverings. Each folding chair was wrapped in black lace – as well tightly fitted with shiny wide black sashed, adorned with ornate bows with red jewels and glittered skulls in the middle of the bows.

The table settings were all gothic chic, black calla lilies, deep crimson full bloomed roses, and twigs spray painted black were used as napkin holders and centerpieces. I was in awe of the table with the tarot cards. Her mother hand painted each card in an Edward Scissorhands motif. I nearly cried – Tameekah stopped me from ruining my mascara.

I hugged my girlfriends and squealed in rapturous delight! My sweet sixteen was lit and as soon as the music began to play, everything fell into place. While everyone was free to mingle and eat, me and my friends began to dance to the beat of the music. We were ridiculous and wild and could not care at all. Despite being older and “too mature,” both my brother’s managed to get into the partying spirit. Hell, they even danced with my friends.

As I drank my virgin sangria, I watched and smiled as my brother’s smiled with my friends. Lucie and Leigh Anne couldn’t have been happier, as they had always crushed on my brothers. Lucie twirled and giggled as she tripped, falling into Jensen’s arms while Leigh Anne allowed RJ to lead. Nothing would have made me happier if both my brothers were able to find mates in my best friends-- like, having best friends as sisters-in-law? Who wouldn’t want that? But I could tell my brother’s didn’t feel anything or have that connection. And I think in a way my friends knew, too, especially because of the mate thing.

“Aren’t you going to dance?” Daphne crooned over the music as the music switched over to “I’m Not Okay” began to play. I pointed to my feet, mouthed in a little bit. This seemed to be enough encouragement as she was swept away onto the dance floor. I spotted Jerry, who made his way through the crowd toward me.

I nearly dropped my bottle when I saw the look in his eyes, their magnetism doing funny things to my heart and skin. He was going to ask me to dance, possibly sweep me away to some dark corner of the basement, whisper sweet nothings into my ear and-- Tameekah was there suddenly blocking his path. I felt myself deflate, then sigh in relief as he laughed at something she said and allowed himself to be pulled onto the dance floor. I watched my friends and family dance and laugh...everything was perfect. Almost...something was missing. Or was it someone…?

As I contemplated this and began to put my feet back into my boots- ready to move back into the fray -I felt it. The same blazing stare as when I had been trying on my dress, getting my hair and makeup done...whoever it was, they were here, spying on me. I shivered as I looked about the room, feeling a blazing stare grow somehow stronger-- permeating to my core. I casually looked over my shoulder and noticed Tanner, staring me down.

My throat grew thick with emotion and something else as I took in his changed appearance. He wore a fitted navy suit with a bit of a sheen to the material. His skinny black satin tie tied loosely around the collar of the shirt – which had been lazily unbuttoned at the throat of the dark grey form fitted shirt. His hair – wispy and long on the sides, but the waves framed his face, making his eyelashes appear to be longer and thicker – hooding his hazel eyes.

He looked just as dapper and sexy as Jerry had-- maybe even more so…. I was taken aback when he nodded his head back, telling me to follow him into another room.

Looking around noticing that everyone was distracted, I nonchalantly rose from my chair and followed Tanner out of the basement family room into a back room to the left of the basement exit door that led outside. Realizing where he was leading me, an onslaught of bad memories came flooding back – my thirteenth birthday party...writhing bodies, Merigold half-naked, moaning giggles and a grunting Tanner...I quickly turned and tried to run back but just as I reached the door it slammed shut.

I turned, wide eyes and ready to protest when I jumped back. Tanner was right there, his hand plastered against the top of the door as he leaned in and hovered over me. There was no other way out- he had trapped me. His warm breath fanned against my face like the whisper of a promise. Good or bad, I wasn’t sure...I could never know what he was thinking. Except now. Now he looked dangerous...and hungry.

“No need to run from me, Desi,” He purred, unleashing a devastating half smile. He slowly leaned away from me, removing his hand from the door. “Not when there is so much to catch up on between old friends, such as you and I.”

I bit my lip, for the first time in a long time feeling uncomfortable around him. He was disarming, and he knew it. He had used our connection - whatever friendship - as a lure, and I had fallen for it. And now, Tanner had me where he wanted me – cornered. There was no escaping him. I knew that. I was a fast runner, but Tanner was faster – even when Wren wasn’t in control.

He slowly removed his jacket, now only wearing his form fitting grey button-down collared shirt. It hugged his muscular physique incredibly well. His thick, deep brown, waves falling toward his face after aggressively running his hands through his luscious locks. He almost looked pained, maybe conflicted to be alone with me.

I waited for a moment, hoping he would break the ice. But he just stood there, his jacket draped over the top of the washing machine. From down the corridor, I could hear the music blaring...surely someone had noticed both I and Tanner were missing. Where was Mama...or Jerry? Growing tired of the silence, I crossed my arms over my chest and blew a loose curl out of my face.

“Look, if you have nothing to say to me, then I’m going back to my party . . .” I huffed, turning to grab the door handle and make my way to freedom. I was nearly free, my fingers grasping the handle and pulling the door open, when he rushed past me. Slamming the door shut once more, I gasped as he suddenly flipped our positions-pinning me against the door, his long muscular arms blockaded me on either side. I could not help but gasp and openly gape at the way the fabric of his shirt rippled and tightened against the taut muscles of his arms. Though I had known he was strong and well built, up close and personal it made him all the more astounding. The veins protruded from the surface, his muscles twitching as he was fighting for control.

I looked away from his toned body, finally meeting his eyes. His eyes were shifting, looking at me with both anger, want, disgust, and sadness. His battle within caused him to lean in closer, his face so close, too close. My back began to ache against the coldness of the wood, making me feel as though if something did not happen soon, I would either be absorbed into the wood, or pushed through. All of his weight was what kept the door from opening from inside the room and from the hallway beyond the laundry room.

“H-happy B-birthday, Des.” He managed to get out. I blinked, suddenly confused. Before I could say anything, his left hand fell away from the door to cup my cheek. I shivered at the contact, pinprick like sparks dancing over my skin. He was not totally unaffected either. I heard him take in a deep breath as his thumb moved over the apple of my cheek. Despite the tension, he did not lose his nervous demeanor. He continuously licked the seam of his lips before they parted, while his subtle peach fuzz gently hovered tentatively over my mouth.

I began to fall into a hypnotic haze as we stood this way, drinking each other in with our eyes and breathing the other in with our lungs. I could feel his sweet breath mixing with mine. Our noses skimmed one another’s, his eyes closing as he unleashed a shuddering sigh- almost as if he was going in for a closeness, we both wanted desperately and yet he could not quite give in. Just beneath the surface, I could feel Corah stirring, shaking herself awake as she sensed Tanner and Wren’s presence. I could feel her pacing back in forth, watching and waiting for an opening in my defenses- any signs of weakness that would be her escape.

My heart began to beat out of my chest, and I licked my lips. Tanner followed the motion with his eyes, the irises darkening in. Something. I couldn’t take this anymore. I broke eye contact and gently shoved him away, only to have him catch my hands by the wrist.

“What do you want from me, Tanner?” I asked hotly as he slowly released my wrists. Despite my tone and better judgment, I allowed my hands to willingly wrap around his waist. He took in a sharp breath as I grew closer to him, his hands slowly finding their way around my own waist. For a moment, he lost his constipated, disgusted look- as if he actually enjoyed feeling my hands, my arms, my breath, and my body heat all over him. This was madness- me, being essentially locked away with future Beta, Tanner Wilcox- our bodies drawn together. Though I knew- or at least sensed -that he was one of my mates, yet lately I could not stand him. He didn’t seem to like me, or even see me as a friend- and yet here we were. Something was at play here- unseen cords pulling and entwining us into some game I didn’t know how to play. Yet it didn’t matter. That something- the Goddess, teenage hormones, or maybe Corah’s own growing influence -was driving me to touch him, to rub m body against him. And for once- just this once -he seemed to both accept and want it. And that frightened me.

“Don’t tell me you can’t feel it, too, Des,” He purred, leaning his forehead against mine. He leaned closer, his face nearly resting in the crook of my neck as he breathed me in. I stiffened slightly, yet his firm hand on my waist gripped me tighter- pulling me almost flush against him.

“Wren is going ape shit in my head. He senses something off about you, but he doesn’t want to stay away, either.” Tanner admitted, his warm breath teasing my earlobe. He is nearly panting with excitement, causing me to shiver and nearly melt. I think it is nearly impossible, but I feel him hold onto me even tighter. And I don’t stop him.

Despite my inexperience with boys, II wasn’t unaware how to tell when a guy is turned on and believe me, that bulge pressed against my stomach- either intentional or not -was all I needed to know that something was going on here and it was something I was trying to avoid. I quickly broke away, distancing myself as best I could without totally breaking contact.

My movement seemed to partially snap Tanner out of his lustful trance. He blinked, then nodded as though remembering something. He gently cupped my cheek again, allowing a small hopeful smile to break his upon his stubbly face.

“Des, I want to give you your birthday present away from everyone.” He told me, his voice soft and almost pleading. It was though he were silently asking me not to run from him, from this- whatever ‘this’ was. Even though I wanted to flee this scene, I couldn’t. Something was holding me back, kept me pinned against that door, even though Tanner was no longer holding me against it.

He motioned with his pointer finger to be next to him. I watched his moves intently, my body tensed to run if he tried...well, anything. My eyes as his long, slender fingers reached for his navy suit jacket and carefully removed a black velvet box from the inside breast pocket. I felt my cheeks grow hot again- he had gotten me a gift. He chuckled at my open-mouthed amazement.

“You really don’t think I’d forget my best girl’s birthday, would you?” He asked in a jocular tone. I could feel my mouth open and close, unsure how to respond. His eyes darkened, the smile fading slightly as he jutted the box out to me without ceremony.

“Open it,” He ordered- his low, gritty tone making me nearly melt. Reaching out with shaking fingers, I grasped the box- being careful to not let my fingers graze against his. He chuckled playfully as my hand shook, the box being caught in an odd tug of war.

“Actually, I have a better idea,” he announced, moving the box just out of my grasp. Opening my mouth to protest, he did something unexpected. Rather than wait for me to take it, he offered to open it, and I willingly allowed him to. Lifting the lip, he angled the box so I could see what was inside. What I saw laying inside that box was indescribably and breathtakingly beautiful. I was peering down on an antique silver filigree necklace with a moonstone pendant winked at me in the soft light, taking my breath away. I looked up at Tanner, forgetting our animosity and tug of war and smiling at him. He had remembered my indescribable passion for precious gems and stones- but most of all, he had remembered my passionate fascination and affiliation with moonstone.

“It was my Great Grandmothers,” he told me as he gingerly lifted it from its sating cradle within the box. Holding it up so I could observe it better, he continued thoughtfully, “It was said that my Great Grandfather presented it to her on their mating day and that she wore it until her death.”

He brought the necklace down, looking at me meaningfully. I did not know what to say. This was a precious heirloom- he could not just give this away to anyone. But he’s your mate, or at least I hope he is, Corah gasped in glee. Words were on the tip of my tongue, but I had a problem pushing the syllables past my lips. I shouldn’t have felt anything as he moved my hair off my neck to put it on. But I did. I felt everything. I felt his fingers skimming my flesh...his breath tickling the little fly away hairs that stood on end. I felt the clasp lock as the necklace fell across my skin and kissed my collarbone...his thumbs gliding up and down the nape of my neck as he adjusted the silver chain just so.

Tanner turned my petite form around, so I was facing him. His striking chocolate brown orbs knew me - knew I couldn’t reject such a meaningful expression of devotion. Because when male lycans in our clan make mate declarations, they don’t necessarily vocalize them, they present their chosen with tokens. Does this mean he’s chosen me? But what about everything...am I supposed to forget what he has done-- to me, my family, even Meri?

“What does this mean, Tanner?” I ask pointedly, losing my waifish. He blinks, taken aback slightly. My eyes don’t leave his as I wait for him to answer me. But he doesn’t- he just looks confused. Perhaps he was waiting for me to confirm what he felt? I don’t know, this shouldn’t be happening, but here we are. His mouth opened, but I beat him to the punch.

“What about Meri, Tanner? Have you forgotten about your chosen mate?” I spit out, feeling suddenly ill. His molten eyes change-- they are still dark and mysterious, but there is a glint there. I gingerly unclasp the necklace, holding in my hand- weighing his actions, both past and present, against my feelings, against honor and goodness, as well as my next words.

“True mates are only supposed to receive these tokens. And if she isn’t your true mate, then what are we, Tanner? If we are true mates, you sure don’t treat me as such. In fact, you treat me like shit on the bottom of your shoes.” I snapped, causing him to flinch. And yet he does not move to take the necklace. Nor does he move to leave, or even snarl at me. Tanner’s expression is just...blank. Indecipherable... I couldn’t read him, and it was starting to piss me off.

“I can’t accept this. I’m sorry- but I have to get back to the party,” I said hurriedly, grabbing the velvet box from atop the washer. I prepared to put the necklace back in the box and leave it with him-- I was ready to leave that room and never see him again.

But my body had other plans. As I opened the lid of the box, I caught a glimmer of movement and stopped as I watched him struggle to say something. His tongue brushed against his lips again and I found myself once again entranced by him- his mouth, his jawline, his throat. Then suddenly he slumped, his characteristically strong bravado disappearing. Both Corah and I watched as he ran his fingers over his face and through his hair, tangling it and making it unruly. He looked as though he was contemplating the words to say, Wren and he is having some private moment. Then finally, he spoke- sounding so lost, so frightened, so unlike the boy I had come to know.

“I’m sorry, Des. I don’t know what’s been happening to me lately.” He said, forcing the words out. I frowned, the entrancing fog dissipating again. Both Corah and I listened, processing his words and taking in his stance. His tone wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t saying much either. It was almost as if it was rehearsed.

“One moment it feels like I hate you- like you repulse me, but then there are these fleeting moments where there is no place, I’d rather be than with you-- in your arms, feasting upon your mouth and making you mine.” He admitted, his eyes taking me in as if he were seeing me for the first time-- really seeing me. His eyes settled on my lips, his throat bobbing as he gasped for air, his breath coming out faster. I quickly put the necklace into the box, shoving it into the hidden side pocket of the dress as I inched forward. The longer I held his gaze in mine, the more I could see the tears rolling down his face. Unable to stop myself, I reached out for him.

“Tanner, is that you?” I asked, my voice thickening with some unknown emotion. I reached tentatively for his face, waiting for the man I had known these last few years to re-emerge-- to look disgusted and push me away. But he didn’t...not yet. He gently pulled me into a fierce hug, his body shuddering and gasping for air- the only air that I could provide. I held him back just as fiercely, finally feeling triumph rush through my veins, though it had come at some great cost. I just did not know how great it was. For the moment, I was happy to have Tanner back. The real Tanner-- not the put-upon man whore or the wannabe tough guy. The soft and silent giant who would follow after me, protect me, tease me...even love me. I hadn’t seen this vulnerable side to him since we were children. This is my Tanner, my Beta, my best friend.

For a moment, he broke contact, pulling back to look at me. His eyes were shining bright, slightly red from shedding tears-- but they were clear, unclouded from worry or anger. My Tanner was back-- and he looked relieved. For a moment, as he leaned in toward me, I thought he was going to kiss me. The moment I thought he was there, present with me I could almost feel his plump, soft, pleasing lips as they lingered but a breath from mine. One kiss to seal our fates, one breath-- only to have reality crash land upon us.

The door slammed into the adjacent wall, nearly making a knob sized hole in the cement brick. I jumped, turning in horror as I saw a hulking Lycan rush at us, honey-colored curls flying in rage. It took me a moment to realize who she was, but I had seen that hair, those eyes...and those fake perky tits.

“You rancid, nasty bitch! I knew if he came here tonight, you’d make a play for my mate!” The she-beast snarled. My stomach dropped as I saw her stalk toward us. Merigold - Merigold had crashed my party, arrived uninvited on my family’s land...just for Tanner. What the fuck? She quickly interjected herself between me and Tanner, but not enough to break our grasp upon the other.

Her scent wafted over me, like some cloying cloud that made me want to gag. She quickly jabbed me in the chest, causing me to stumble back a little. Yet Tanner’s hands had not moved themselves from my waist. She reached up, cupping his face in her hands- her beast unleashing a predatory purr that made my skin crawl. For a moment, I thought Tanner was going to throw her out-- tell her to fuck off. But as soon as her skin made contact with his, the change was as instantaneous as someone switching on a light. His earlier emotions faded, reducing his face to a blank slate

“Tanner, baby . . . what have we talked about, honey?” She purred in a sickly-sweet voice that sounded almost hypnotic. I heard voices rumbling outside-- Jerry and the others, they were coming. I would be okay, as long as I had reinforcement. I shoved at her shoulder, causing her to look at me as though I were a bug to be squashed.

“What the hell are you still—Oww ahh!” She howled as I yanked her by the hair and pushed her through the door. Before I could say anything, I felt Tanner grab me but there was no gentleness or playfulness in this embrace. The second she bombarded her nasty ass into my party, Tanner’s whole demeanor changed. He pushed me away from him so hard, I fell onto my ass. Before I could move, Meri was upon me, her clawed hands raking over my arms and dress.

“Not so high and mighty are we now, mate stealer?” She sneered, her eyes glinting in an almost demonic glee. Before she could do anything else, I shoved her backwards, so she toppled onto Tanner. I screamed for help, only to see Jerry, RJ and Jensen, and Luna Beatrix come to a halt just behind me. Jerry looked briefly at me, then at Tanner and Merigold. His eyes darkened to a pitch black, his nose wrinkling in disgust.

“What the hell, man! What are you doing here? How did you get in?” Jerry bellowed, his eyes changing from his hazel to jade to a terrifying black. Merigold whimpered, latching her arms about Tanner as though he could save her.

“Tanner, baby, please don’t let him--”

“Shut up!” Jerry snarled, advancing until he stood between me and them. He looked over at me, his face contorted in a mixture of anger and despair. Tentatively, I reached my hand for him, begging him to help me up. His eyes softened when he looked down at me on the floor, my thighs out for a show. He immediately pulled down the hem of my dress and helped me up off the ground.

“How dare you come here to start problems at my sister’s birthday party!” RJ said through gritted teeth.

Merigold leered at RJ, her sadness immediately replaced with loathing and superiority. She took a step away from Tanner, her wild eyes darting between the four of us.

“You stay out of this, half-breed! This is between me, your sister, and my mate!” She snapped, her teeth clacking at the word mate. I turned anxiously to look at Jensen, silently asking him to hold onto RJ. Both of the twins glowered at her, warning her. Instead, she sashayed over to Tanner, running her hands over his muscular arms. I could have sworn he shivered, his upper lip curling in disgust.

“Need I remind everyone present here, that you are not Tanner’s true mate! You have no authentic claim over him – do you?” Alpha Josiah commanded. “We all are aware of the reality of who your true mate is Miss Newton, and believe me – as your Alpha, we are investigating the treachery.”

“You are not welcome here, Miss Newton,” Luna Beatrix butted in, her eyes flashing dangerously at Merigold. The girl rolled her eyes-- literally rolled her eyes --at our Luna and scoffed, “I could not give a rat’s ass if she’s marrying the King of Lycans. Your sister touched my mate-- “

He is not your mate – whore! A voice I did not immediately recognize burst into the confrontation. I looked around for the source, then I heard Rubi in my head. Corah, rest now…

“You are. Not. Welcome. Here,” Luna Beatrix snarled, cutting off any protests Meri was about to make with a resounding growl. RJ lurched forward, but both Jerry and Jensen held him back. His eyes were dark, his beast coming to the surface.

“Oh, and we both know he’s not your true mate, Merigold.” He snapped while Tanner looked away, his jaw tightening. Everyone else around us gaped at the drama unleashed. I ignored Tanner, instead focusing on the center of the melee: Merigold-- always Merigold. The whore’s face paled, then reddened as she took a step toward us, ignoring the warning look from the Luna and her Alpha son, Jerry.

“Like I would ever accept a half-breed general!” She snapped, her voice resounding like a slap that struck RJ like a full-forced punch to the gut. He doubled over, gasping in pain. Merigold’s lips quivered, her beast coming out-- her beast was sad and just as heart-broken --only to be squashed back as Merigold smiled maliciously. and I heard a gasp from behind, turning to see my other favorite twins-- Lucie and Leigh Anne --staring at the situation unfolding. RJ looked back at them, his features softening in sadness.

I wasn’t going to stand by anymore and allow her to not only invade my party, but I was not going to allow this whore beast ridicule and humiliate my brother. I pried Jerry’s hand off my arm – sauntering towards her, ignoring the pleas from my mother, Margorie, my Luna, my Alpha, Beta. No one was going to tell me to stop. Even the compulsion to submit to Alpha Josiah wasn’t affecting me.

It all happened so fast, the balling up of my hand into a strong fist, the cocking back of the arm from my elbow to my shoulder – I was squared with her left cheekbone. I was trained by the best fighter, the best boxer, and MMA fighter our clan has ever known. So, I knew the moment my fist would make contact with her cheek, bones would shatter.

You could hear her cheek bone break through the basement hallway. And all I heard in the back of my mind was Corah howling in ravenous delight.

Then, I felt four strong male’s hands pulling me back and Jerry holding me back.

“Tanner, take your clan whore and leave . . . NOW!” Jerry used his Alpha voice as he held me to him, not giving an inkling to letting me out of his embrace. Tanner took his jacket and as he scooped a passed out Merigold in his arms, I noticed a card fall out of the jacket pocket.

“Jensen, mom-- take RJ upstairs to calm down. See to it that Pearl gives him something to smooth him and his beast,” he ordered them, pushing them forward. As RJ stumbled away, Lucie and Leigh Anne offered both of my brother’s comfort as well as telling him, “Don’t worry about that skank” and “I almost pity Tanner-- he’s going to have Skankitis for a long time.”

When no one was looking, I quickly dove for the letter and, hearing Luna Beatrix and Jerry whispering I hastily stuffed it into my pocket. Jerry told everyone to go back to the party and have a good time. Dinner would be served soon. He then came back to me, checking me for injuries and glowering at the damage done on my dress before pulling me into a fierce hug that nearly lifted me off the ground.

“J-Jerry, you’re suffocating m-me,” I wheezed. He mumbled, putting me back onto my feet and steadying me.

“Are you alright, babe?” He asked softly, his hands running up and down my arms in a soothing gesture. I smiled at him, but I could not help but feel sad. Though I was happy to be with Jerry and have him near me, I missed having Tanner here with his arms around me, his breath fanning my face and his lips on my forehead.

“I-I’m o-okay Jerry. Thank you for coming as fast as you did.” I thanked him, steadying myself on his biceps. He leaned down, pressing his forehead against mine and taking a deep breath. I found it comforting.

“I didn’t come fast enough. I should’ve been here to catch you.” He apologized, kissing my forehead. I placed the palm of hand on his cheek and he kissed it. He moved forward, then still. His hand came down past my hip, touching the place where I head hidden the necklace.

“What’s that?” He asked, curious. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the velvet box, showing him the necklace inside with bittersweet glee.

“Oh, Tanner gave it to me. He said his Great Granddad gave it to his Great Grandmother on their mating day. Isn’t it beautiful?” I couldn’t help but lovingly stroke it with my thumb and pointer finger. I watched as the light danced along the necklace’s contours, but I could not fail to notice the subtle change in Jerry. His features changed slightly to a grimace, causing me to close the box and frown up at him.

“Do you not like it? You know how I love moonstone.” I said, reminding him of my love for crystals and rocks. He plastered on a smile and chuckled softly, though it was far from convincing.

“It’s not that-- it’s nothing, actually. It’s beautiful and you will look exquisite wearing it. Come on, you must be starving.” He said, removing his jacket and draping it over my shoulders. Though I wasn’t particularly cold, the jacket did wonders to hide the damage Merigold had done to Marjorie’s design.

“I am,” I admitted, blushing as I heard my stomach gurgle. As I followed Jerry out of the laundry room back to the entertainment room, I heard My Chemical Romance pumping out of the speakers again. Though I was eager to join the others and pick up where I had left off for my party, I suddenly remembered something and stepped back.

“Are you coming - Rocky?” Jerry smiled. I smiled up at him, pulling the jacket closer around my body.

“Yeah, be right there. I promise. I’m just going to go to the bathroom.” I said sheepishly, remembering how I knocked that cow out. He nodded and moved back to the room, joining the others with a twirling dance move that would have made Michael Jackson proud. When I knew he wasn’t coming back, I opened the card.

Dearest Desi,

I won’t try to explain my actions or make excuses right now for how I’ve been acting towards you. Mostly because I can’t explain it when I don’t know myself. When I do discover the truth, I promise to tell you everything. I miss you. I know how RJ hates me right now and I can’t say as I blame him. I don’t like myself very much right now either. Just watch who you trust. In fact, don’t trust me. Please, no matter what, wear the gift I gave you. It would mean a lot to me if you did. Just don’t let Meri know you have it.

Happy Birthday, Desi.

Love, Tanner.

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