“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” said Emmie, sitting in front of me in Bennett’s kitchen.
I remained quiet while looking at the steam that was floating above the tea her cousin made me. I wasn’t sure whether I was glad Emmie didn’t have to go through what I had or resentful that I ended up as I did because of her. Maybe I should finally listen to Bennett and start keeping away from Emmie? Considering all that had been happening lately because of her...
“Why did you ask me to go to the ravine if you were never going to show up in the first place?” I asked harsher than needed.
Emmie winced and gave Bennett a quick glance.
After we arrived at his house, he sat me at the table, made me a cup of herbal tea, leaned on a kitchen counter behind me, and was standing there like a statue ever since. He didn’t even move when Emmie rushed in like a hurricane, all in tears. I supposed he took my words about not feeling like being alone to heart - which would be flattering if it wasn’t creepy. After all, it was Bennett we were talking about. Until today, he was everything but considering in regards to me.
“I was going to, but I got caught while I was trying to sneak out,” Emmie answered, embarrassed.
I sighed and massaged my temples, feeling a headache forming up. I was too tired for this shit.
“What did you want to tell me anyway?” I asked with resignation.
“Actually, I’m curious myself,” Silent until that very moment Bennett suddenly chimed in, his voice deceptively smooth. “Tell us, Emmie, what did you want to say to poor Matthews here? Alone. In the ravine.”
My friend blanched, squirming. I risked a peek at Bennett and gulped. I had never seen the guy so livid - the rage was oozing from him in scalding waves, turning his irises arctic-blue. I was actually pretty happy that, for once, I wasn’t on the receiving end of that look.
“She needs to know!” Emmie suddenly burst out, standing up abruptly and knocking the chair over. It landed with a loud bang on the tiles.
“What do I need to know?” I asked, confused, at the same time that Bennett said:
“Don’t you even dare.”
“No, Zack. She needs to know what has actually...”
“It is not for you to decide, Emmie...”
“...happened to her at the party and what happened to poor Stacy!” Emmie shouted, pointing at the window in the general direction of the woods.
“It is against the law!" Bennett roared back, his voice booming in the space around us.
I watched the exchange honestly befuddled. I had long ago stopped following the cousins, limiting myself to blinking and shifting my gaze from one to another while trying to understand what was going on. Obviously, without much luck.
“It is not if she’s one of us,” Emmie stated firmly, crossing her arms over her chest and challenging her cousin.
He didn’t take too kindly to that.
“You’re forgetting yourself, Emmie,” His cold voice sounded so threatening it made me shiver.
Emmie lifted her chin defiantly, and a sudden low rumble filled the tensed silence between them. It was then that Mrs. Bennett decided to show up, cutting short whatever was happening.
“Actually, Emmie’s right, honey,” she declared, walking in and successfuly pulling their attention to herself. She eyed Bennett, Emmie, and then Mrs. Bennett's gaze landed on me - warm, though a little bit sad. “Hello, Gemma. Never thought I would see you so soon, and under such circumstances,” she greeted, smiling.
Whatever was left of the tension in the room, dispersed. Emmie exhaled discretely, fisting her shaking hands. She plonked heavily on the chair next to her while Mrs. Bennett raised a brow at her son. He put his hands up in a universal gesture of surrender and leaned against a kitchen counter, crossing his arms over his chest, unhappily.
Just what the hell has happened?
I looked from Emmie to Bennett to his mum, who was still smiling charmingly.
“Um... Hello Mrs. Bennett?” I half-said half-asked.
Mrs. Bennett put up the chair Emmie knocked over during her little outburst and sat down on it.
“We need to talk about what has happened today,” she said firmly, acknowledging my half-assed greetings with a nod.
I felt myself shaking my head in disagreement. Gosh, I would love to talk about anything but that.
“Mum...” Bennett started a bit irked, but his mother put her hand up, silencing him.
“I know it’s too early, but it is something we need to address. There is no other way. Your father is wrong, and I will deal with this problem later.”
My eyes snapped to her cyan ones - poised yet unyielding. I knew then that there was no way out. She was going to say whatever she wanted and expected me to listen, no questions asked. Some part of me felt rebellious to that thought - didn’t I go through enough today? - but the other was only too ready to finally solve the puzzle. So instead of running back to my place, like I most definitely should have, I sat there waiting for the bomb to drop.
And boy, did it ever -
“What you saw today is not a figment of your imagination, like my husband or any other man in this household would like you to believe.” She looked at her son pointedly. He ignored it. “And you are not going crazy despite what you yourself may think. In fact, what you saw in the woods was real.”
I blinked, not sure how I was supposed to react to such revelations. Apparently, I wasn’t.
“You should know that what happened to Stacy was tragic, rare, and most definitely against the law. It’s what we call a partial shift.” Mrs. Bennett continued ignoring my lack of response.
“A partial what?” I asked, not sure I heard correctly.
“A partial shift. It happens when a human is bitten by any other werewolf than an Alpha-blood, and gets stuck between two forms when the first shift occurs. They are neither human nor wolf.” Bennett grunted glumly as if he had to force the words out of his mouth.
“Yeah... neither human nor wolf...” I repeated dumbly and then blinked. Wait, what? “Sorry, what? A werewolf? What are you talking about?” I asked, standing up abruptly. If any of them thought I was going to listen to this madness, they were in for a rude awakening.
Bennett mumbled something incoherent under his breath while Emmie made a face. Mrs. Bennett was the only one who remained calm.
“You know exactly, what my son is talking about, Gemma. You’re a clever girl and an eye witness as such,” she said solemnly, her gaze firm.
I started to pace back and forth.
“Stacy didn’t look entirely human, did she, Gemma? What made you even realise it was her? Maybe your suddenly heightened sense of smell? Think about it... Any flashbacks since Friday?”
Pain... Emmie crying and shouting something... Bennett cutting his palm...
“No, no, no, no, no, no... It’s not possible... Werewolves do not exist. They just don’t...”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, honey, but they do. Emmie, care showing your friend what you got her into?,” Mrs. Bennett’s voice was deceptively sweet. Emmie winced as if struck and stood up.
“Yes, ma’am...” she answered meekly and started to undress.
“Whoa! What are you doing...?” I asked, startled, and felt Bennett’s hands on my arms.
“Relax, Matthews...” His warm breath tickled my ear. I couldn’t stop myself from melting a bit into him as a pleasant heat rolled through my body.
But then Emmie started to shift. One second she stood in front of us in her underwear, and a second later, her bones started to reform, bend and break. The fur poured out of her pores, and where she once was now stood a big, white wolf with black eyes.
I yelled and backed into Bennett as he steadied me, murmuring something soothingly. It worked... a little.
“On Friday night, you didn’t drink yourself into oblivion - you were attacked by a rogue werewolf, just like Stacy and two other victims before you. But, unlike them all, you were the only one who survived,” Mrs. Bennett stated, oblivious to my current state of trepidation.
I was watching the wolf... Emmie... Emmie the Wolf... with a racing heart. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t possible... And yet, I couldn’t deny what I was seeing. It all somehow made sense - what I witnessed in the ravine and Emmie turning into a... a... a wolf...
Suddenly dizzy, I walked to the chair in front of me and sat heavily on it, totally mindfucked.
Werewolves were real...
“So you’re saying I almost ended up like Stacy?” I asked, dazed, after a short while.
“Yes, my son has saved you...”
“And you can thank me for that later, by the way,” Bennett suddenly chimed in, leaning above me, his both hands on the backrest of my chair. My head snapped to him, and I looked him up and down, noticing his crooked smile and a twinkle in his cyan eyes. I felt my pulse speed up, and I shook my head in bewilderment, feeling a splitting headache taking over.
“As for now, we have to wrap this up, mum. Matthews here will have a system crash down if you proceed any further...” the boy informed, nodding in my direction.
Was it so obvious I was going to lose it any second now?
Bennett gave me a wink, and I closed my eyes, massaging my temples and thinking about all the ways to rip the smugness off his face.
“You should have listened when I told you to stay away from my cousin, Matthews. You wouldn’t land yourself in this mess,” He pointed out.
At that time, I couldn’t have agreed more.