As I exited the forest, I looked at the area surrounding me. I cursed beneath my breath and stared up the road: I was too far away from my parent's land. I was close enough to the fence, but not close enough to the house to be able to safely escape my father and the small posse chasing me...especially not Tanner and Jerry. Even now, I could feel them...they would be here soon.
Looking one way and the other to check for oncoming cars or possible intruders, I gingerly stepped out of the forest and jogged across the road. I was careful, though, sticking to the asphalt and concrete. Once my foot touched the dirt path, my family and the others would be able to sense me. I didn't want that, not yet...the thoughts and recent events I had, all were converging again. I had to figure out what I had seen...and how I could even tell anyone what happened.
It had been such a lovely day, too-- the perfect day for a party. My mama and I had gone over the decorations, the food, my outfit-- everything. Including the guest list-- when two weeks before the party, my mama had pulled me aside.
My outfit was pretty and delicate. A line high low, sky blue, laced dress over a stretch satin under layer, on top of the lace was ornate beading and floral appliques with a sweetheart neckline concealed by a cap sleeved, elusion scoop neck top. Oh and I can't forget the sweet bowed sash that cinched in the waist. I loved that dress. Mrs. Wilcox had it made special for me that I paired it with matching ballet flats.
Papa forbade me to wear makeup until I was sixteen. But somehow Mama convinced him that I could at least wear powder, blush, and a shimmer lip balm. Mama curled my long dark waves and braided the sides, pulling the two braids around to the back of my head, like a braided crown. I know I wasn't trying to impress anyone, but deep down in my subconscious mind, I hoped someone special would say I looked pretty.
"Desi, have you thought about inviting Meri Newton?" She asked, her smile soft. I remember frowning and telling her, in no uncertain words, that I did not want that girl at my party.
"She's mean, mom! I can't stand her-- she's a meanie!" I blathered, unable to find the most appropriate word for her. My papa sat nearby reading the paper and nearly choked on his coffee.
"Bitchy minx, is more like it," he sneered. Both Mama and I had gaped at him, though for opposite reasons.
"Roland, don't be calling that sweet girl--"
"Mama, please, there is NOTHING sweet about her. Besides, she just turned thirteen and she didn't even invite me!" I reasoned, pouting my lips and stomping my feet defiantly. My mother's eyes flashed with anger, and she put her hands on her hips. My papa just watched us, shoulders tensed and paper forgotten.
"Desdemona Corah Ada Patchett, you will not sass me. Now, please, it's your birthday-- a new year, with new opportunities. Bury the hatchet and invite the girl-- from what I have heard she doesn't have many good quality friends and her parents are starting to get worried. I promise everything will be alright."
So the next day at school, I invited her and surprisingly, she accepted. I was having a small birthday party-- nothing huge. Though my parents earned an honest living, we lived modestly. But one of the reasons for it being smaller was due to tensions within the clan being high again. We were on the verge of another uprising that Alpha Josiah was trying to reach diplomatic resolutions and not have a civil war. But in case the outcome was not a peaceful one, the boys would be ready.
Jeremiah, Jenson and RJ, and Tanner were 17 and all training hard to be ready when they were called to the front lines. I, of course, wanted to be a part of the fighting, but my mother and my father weren't having it.
"You focus on your studies. Your brother's have everything under control," My papa insisted. I frowned, wanting to point out that that view was decidedly sexist, but I bit back my tongue. Fact was, I wasn't full-blooded and could barely hold my own in a fight. I hate this pedestal I seem to be on.
"Don't worry, Desi, your time will come. For today, though, focus on your party." My papa said, smiling at me in the mirror. I had chosen out my outfit specifically for today and Mama even let me wear some of her makeup-- just a little, nothing too garish. Wearing an off the shoulder top... I actually looked and felt pretty.
"Those boys won't know what hit 'em," My mama announced, staring at me. My father growled, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My mama elbowed him and pushed him out of the room, insisting he go do something "useful."
"Aren't the boys back yet? They should be here to help with the party!" I heard Mama ask him. He snorted and said something I could not quite understand. But the boys did show up...and I wished like crazy they hadn't.
I suddenly heard a snap, and looked up. Several yards back, I could see one-- no, two --lone male figures clear the forest. I looked and attempted to run faster, but slipped-- my foot connecting with the earth. Voices swarmed me, clanging and clattering around my head and making me dizzy. The earth shook beneath my feet and suddenly, I could see him approaching...he was so close, he could reach out and grab me. I screamed and bolted as Tanner yelled after me to stop...
At my party, there were some girls from school: Lucie, her twin Leigh Anne, Daphne, and Tameekah and of course I had to invite Meri, much to my chagrin. I also invited boys: Nathan, Troy, and Donovan, which my protectors hated. Especially Tanner and Jerry, but I couldn't understand why.
"They're just some friends from school. You don't need to worry about them-- it's not like any of them like me like that," I huffed when Tanner and Jerry, who were back with my brothers from training. Both boys scoffed and rolled their eyes.
"Have you looked in a mirror today? You're cute and girly for a change," Jerry said, playfully pulling on a strand of my hair. I felt my cheeks blush a little at the small compliment, then Tanner spoke.
"Cute? Dude, she looks cheap!" He snorted, not bothering to even so much as cast me a sideways glance. I felt my heart break a little, but then I noticed who he was looking at. Meri was sitting in the living room, the boys I had invited all swarming about her while my real friends chattered amongst themselves and waited for the fun to commence. Before I could say anything to Tanner, he and Jerry took off outside to help Papa. This left me standing in the kitchen, feeling confused and shaken.
Tanner always had this quiet dominance about him, but he was never intentionally cruel to me. In subtle ways, he was sweet and cared for me when I was sad or sick. He did little things in secret when I was being picked on or when I needed him – he'd always knew where to find me and we sat in our spot in silence, but I would look down and see he'd laced our fingers together, softly rubbing circles against my knuckles with his thumb.
But, now that's all changed. Without warning, whenever I was around him now, Tanner looked constipated. He looked like I smelled of road kill. And his comments about my looks...it didn't make sense.
I joined the party, getting started with random games like Apples to Apples, charades, and a few other things before eating the meal.
Papa and the boys had set up the barbeque, making ribs, burgers, and some vegetarian sausages for a few of the humans in the group. Mama had made her family's potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and Caesar salad. When we had all finished eating, it was time for the cake before we'd do presents.
"Has anyone seen the knife and plates? I could have sworn I brought them out." Mama said. I smiled at her and told her I'd go find them. When she objected, I told her to have a seat.
"It may be my birthday, but you're still my mother. Sit and relax-- I'll go and see if I can find them." I said, walking away. Jerry came in and looked around, practically bouncing at the sight of the cake.
"No eating until I am back!" I cooed, batting my eyelashes at me. He snarled at me, winking devilishly. "I make no promises."
As I left the room, a feeling of dread spread through me...I could not explain what it was. Then I noticed something that should have made me worry...and it hadn't. Meri was gone.
In fact, I had not seen her since just before the boys had come in to announce that the food was ready. Meri was gone an awfully long time and Tanner seemed to be a magician too.
As I moved through the house, I could not find the plates or the knife. I had made it to the back of the house now and still nothing. Then I heard something-- a muffled groan, and a light banging/scuffing noise. I did not see anyone else in this part of the house, nor could I smell anyone. With no one paying attention, I followed a muffled sound only I seemed to hear. It carried me to the back of my house, to the laundry room/half bathroom - muffled whispers and sounds that made me feel uncomfortable.
Once I stepped on the loose floor board, the rustling of bodies and hushed voices seemed to halt. As my hand pushed the door ajar, that's when I saw something that my innocent eyes shouldn't have seen...
Tears were now streaming down my face, everything blurring and fading. I could hear him. I needed to hide, I didn't want to see this...I didn't want to remember this...I wanted to forget...forget I had seen Tanner and Meri, together together!
Tanner and Meri, doing something only mates should do... and Meri and I were too young to have found our mates. And Tanner was seventeen! What was he doing screwing around with a thirteen-year-old girl? I was shocked. When he heard me gasp in disbelief, I took off as fast as my little legs could carry. I had strict rules not to venture outside of our property line, so I couldn't run far. Papa was calling after me, but I just ignored him....and here I was, an hour later, being chased by my true protector and the traitor!
As I reached for the nearest branch and began to climb, I felt a tingling feeling— you know, that feeling as though someone is staring at you? The feeling grew stronger when a familiar scent pierced my nasal passage. Jeremiah had come after me...and he had Tanner following right behind him.
"Desi, what happened? Your father is frantic. Get down here, now!" Jerry snarled, his voice resonating with dominating fury. He was using his alpha tone on me. He never does that. I did the best I could to defy it and remained perched high on my limb.
"Don't make me shake you down." He warned, bristling and doing his best to stay under control. Tanner stood beside him, glaring at him then me. Defiant, I glare right back, my eyes shooting daggers and accusations at him as tears prick at my eyes.
"You wouldn't dare, Jerry!" I hollered back, nearly losing my grip on the bark I gripped onto. Jerry sighed, shaking his head. He looked up at me again, his eyes softening and his tone - gentle.
"I won't have to if you get your sweet cheeks down here."
Arms crossed and fury ragging, I bite my bottom lip in protest. Tanner moves closer, coming to stand nearer to the tree. I jerk away, tucking my legs closer to my chest as I frantically try to remain balanced.
"No, I won't come down. Not with him there!" I pointed at Tanner. Jerry looked at him, confused. Tanner's face darkens, his hands dropping back to his sides in white-knuckled fists.
"Why would she say that? What did you do Tanner? You can't even be nice on her thirteenth birthday?" He snapped. I felt a small flutter in the pit of my stomach, feeling as though some of the burden has come off of my shoulders. Then I look at Tanner and freeze, my brief victory forgotten.
Tanner's cold glare cut me deep. So deep the tears just came down in buckets. He scoffed at Jerry and stomped off. When I was comfortable enough to climb down, I did and Jerry caught me. Jerry was already six foot one inch tall. And I was five feet two inches so I fit happily in his arms. Instead of letting me down on the grass, barefoot he carried me to our tire swing on the far end of the backyard. He put me on the tire and started to push me.
"What happened, Desi Doo?" He cooed as the tire spun wildly with me on top and he jumped on, careful not to knock me off. I wrinkle my nose at the endearment, but say nothing. Right now, the nickname is comforting.
Sniffling, I kept my eyes on the ground. "You don't fit on this with me anymore."
"Nope, I guess I don't. I guess that means you'll have to sit on my lap, then."
Jerry stopped the swing and I got off as he lifted his large legs and laid them across the tire. Settled comfortably, he finally picked me up and had me straddle his thighs just as the wind began to slowly rock the tire.
"So are you going to tell your Alpha what got you so upset at your own party? You know they refused to cut the cake without you and it's our favorite."
"What will happen when you find your mate?" I asked in a hushed voice, still not meeting his eyes.
Jeremiah did something strange just then, he lifted my chin and kissed both sides of my cheeks, sending a chill down my neck. As his pinky held my chin in place, his thumb swiped across my lips. Girls normally didn't feel the mate bond until they were between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, so I had at least 2 years to not feel these sensations in the pit of my stomach and the tightening in my chest.
"Who says I haven't found her already?" He didn't just growl at me? And it wasn't an aggressive growl. It was different and it left me on edge as I felt his face moving in closer.
"I saw Tanner and Meri doing mate type things in my laundry room." I blurted, unable to keep it inside any longer. Like a bullet being shot from a gun's chamber, my confession just rang out. And then the tears came again, and I could not stop. My eyes instantly bulged out of my head as with one swift move I was set down on the moist earth and Jerry shifted into his staggeringly majestic and gorgeous beast, Crow.
Don't follow me, little one. I'll come back to you soon. I'm hunting Wren. Crow mind linked me.
"Don't you dare hurt him, Crow!" I screamed, scrambling to my feet. The creature before me sniffed, baring his teeth though his eyes were warm and filled with a strange sadness.
Can't promise you anything, my sweet. And stay away from those boys. Save a piece of cake for us.
I giggled to myself. I loved Crow. He was my favorite of my protectors.
I finally went inside and we resumed the party. Mama and Papa, when they saw me, descended on me like wolves. Before they could say anything, I asked if I cold change my clothes. "What I have to say to you and Papa...it's best done in private," I whispered, darting a dirty look at Meri. She looked so disgustingly happy, I wanted to yank that smile off her face...by any violent means necessary.
When we got upstairs, Mama helped me clean my face and find a similar outfit. Papa waited inside the door, his eyes watching me and Mama when she moved to leave the room to give me a little bit of privacy.
"Mama, you stay. Papa, mind link Jerry-- he will fill you in." My papa's eyes changed as he connected with the boys, his face suddenly shifting into a bloodthirsty rage. Slamming my bedroom door, he took off. As I cleaned myself up and changed my clothes I told Mama about what had happened-- why I had run off and what I had seen.
Without saying anything, we went back downstairs. But the look on her face-- my mother was rarely, if ever, struck dumb. And her eyes were roiling with anger and... I can only guess, really, but it looked like disgust. When we entered the living room, Mama made excuses for me to the rest of the guests but pulled Meri into the other room.
I couldn't look at Meri, so I asked my mother to tell her to leave. Meri didn't put up much of a fight. She came back into the living room, her mouth set into a firm line and flashing molten eyes. She took back the cheap looking gift she brought and left, casting me a sideways glance.
"Sorry not sorry," she sneered. "But I got more important places to be and more important people to be with." Winking at me, she left the house...if only that could be the last time I ever would have to deal with her.