I sit at the table with the rest of the palace heads and their families. The conversation is slow and at times, almost desperate. I sit back and observe as I do most evenings. Hunter is talking to Ali and Anya, who are the only girls – apart from me, who doesn’t fawn all over him.
I believe he’s finding out which packs they will be visiting on their tour de love, as I will now be calling it; from the sound of things, they intend to visit their Uncle Max’s pack – The Dark Wood Pack. Our mum used to be a pack member when she was younger; I believe it’s the pack where she met our dad all those years ago.
Hunter appears interested in their new training regime. As one of the most advanced packs in combat, they make their living mostly by providing warriors to oversee large pack gatherings, sometimes even wars - but only if they’re fighting a righteous cause. Potential clients are thoroughly vetted by Max, ensuring his warriors are only used for worthy purposes, always ensuring he is on the right side of history.
Ozzy looks like he’s part of the conversation; however, I see through his façade. What he is actually doing is subtly gathering meats, only to create discreet portals. One on top of the table which leads to the demon realm, through to another below the table, where his hounds eagerly wait for the meat to come out of the demon realm - back into our reality. He manages to do this very discreetly, without breaking character or eye contact with the group. He really does love those smelly hounds!
They aren’t the prettiest of creatures; their charred fur that wreaks of ash is clumped and matted. Their eyes glow an eerie red, which look as though they can see right through you and straight into your very soul.
Dinah and Idris are quietly discussing the latest lead that went cold with solemn expressions. I think they’re the only people in the palace that have an understanding of what I’m going through. Dinah isn’t the same carefree woman she used to be, although she still looks as if she is my age – due to becoming a Lycan, she doesn’t have the same spark I remember her once having… I guess some might say the same about me too.
Every now and then, I will see her break free and laugh about something, but then, she shuts down again... it’s like all of her energy and concentration goes into finding Rex. Then again… if I had my wolf to help, I would likely also be conducting my own investigation. However, without my wolf, I have this constant feeling of fatigue... it’s kind of like when you have flu-like symptoms and your whole body aches, right through your muscles and bones, aching right down to your very core; it physically hurts me just to move, ok… not agonising pain... but it still hurts, every single day.
Idris is very good at hiding his emotions, he’s like a fun uncle 90% of the time, but usually, nearer to the evening, you will see the cracks; you can see the pain that lingers in his eyes. It’s not easy for Dinah and Idris. Rex was their only child; if we don’t find Rex alive, they will live an eternity never being able to have a child of their own to hold or love again.
Turning my attention to my parents, I listen to their conversation with Gamma Jude, Maria, Amber and Eddie. Something Maria says causes Amber to throw in one of her signature eye rolls, I’ve come to learn the meaning behind these eye rolls, and there are many! They could be a playful eye roll, a ‘what the hell are you talking about’ eye roll, a ‘leave me alone’ eye roll, or even a ‘silly old me’ eye roll.
However, this one, this one looks like an ‘I don’t agree’ eye roll. Maria mentions something about a ball.
“Are we having a ball?” I ask, directing my question to my parents.
My mums sighs, “we will be holding the annual mate ball this year”, she says whilst looking at me apologetically. I don’t understand why she’s looking at me like that, pfft, it’s as if the subject of mates is a touchy subject for me… ok, maybe it is, but I love love, everyone should have the chance to find their mate.
“How lovely. When will it be?” I ask deadpan; I can rarely ever find the energy to put more emotion into my tone.
“In three days”, mum responds.
“It’s going to be wonderful!” Maria chimes in. “All those pretty dresses, all of the unmated werewolves, hoping to find their mate. There may even be the chance to find a chosen mate there”, she says, wiggling her eyebrows at me and giving a not so subtle look in the direction of her son, Hector.
Ugh! As if I want a chosen mate, what’s wrong with being a spinster princess!?
Maria is a lovely lady, she and Gamma Jude have always been kind to me, but sometimes… just sometimes, I wish she would stick her nose out of my business, especially when it comes to mates.
Hector is a nice handsome guy, with his sandy blonde hair and hazel eyes… but I don’t want him, I don’t want anyone else. I want someone that makes me feel alive like Rex did. Hector doesn’t do that for me… I know this... because I may have... had a fling with him… and a couple of others. Don’t judge me! I was going through a rough time; things were spiralling out of control... it was my way of trying to feel something other than miserable... clearly, it didn’t work... I haven’t been near another male since.
Hector looks at me and gives me a small smile; I look down at my plate as if it’s suddenly the most interesting thing on the planet. I think I hurt him when I stopped seeing him. He’s not the kind of wolf that just sleeps around. I feel bad for using him like that; it’s just another thing to add to my misery. I should’ve known better than to use a nice guy like Hector like that.
My mum immediately cuts in, coming to my rescue. “There is really no need for us to be worrying about Mae finding, or even choosing a mate for that matter. If she finds someone one day, I’m happy for her; if she chooses not to mate, I will also be happy for her and fully support her decision”, responds my mum.
I look up to my mum and give her a rare smile, ok, it’s not a full toothy smile, just a hint of a smile, but that seems to be enough for my mum as she beams back at me as if she’s mentally high fiving herself for being the amazing mum she is. My mum and dad have always had my back; they are always in my corner if I need them; of course, they would challenge me on some of my decisions and we’ve butted heads every now and then, but we always come back together even stronger than ever.
It would seem that my dad was holding a breath; he noticeably releases his breath, sinking into his chair sighing with relief. The talk of me mating is always a touchy subject for him. I think the only person he was prepared to see me leave with was Rex; anyone else would have the King to question them about their motives.
The conversation runs smoothly for the rest of the evening. Out of respect, the King and Queen must leave the table first, even if it is a family meal. Fortunately for me, today is Sunday; on Sunday’s we run as a pack, which means dinner ends earlier than usual.
The pack runs are an important occasion, not only for the rest of the pack to have the presence they crave from their leader, but we also hold the run for another purpose. When pups come to us orphaned, it’s an event for us to help them find their new family; wolves will imprint on a vulnerable pup; it’s as though they can sense their similarities - like kindred spirits, causing their souls to call out to them. Fortunately, we don’t get many orphans; there are currently just two; we are hoping they will find their happily ever after tonight.
I make my way outside to the palace gardens where the rest of the pack are already waiting; there’s a route my dad likes to take which is breathtaking; it runs through the woods, open fields, streams and even up a small waterfall… it was my favourite route to run with Sierra.
I feel a hand land on my shoulder and give me a gentle squeeze; I look up to see my dad’s silver pools, so much like my own, staring back at me as he smiles warmly.
“Will you be riding on Blade tonight?” He asks me, smiling hopefully at me.
I shake my head, “not today, dad. I’m a bit tired”.
He nods in understanding, “if you change your mind, come and find me”, he says giving me a quick hug; before heading to his place at the front of the gathered pack.
I used to ride Blade on the pack runs; dad was hopeful that it would help bring my wolf out of hiding; he also doesn’t want me to feel left out. I loved running with them, even if it was just on the back of my dad’s wolf.
Eventually, I decided to stop going for runs altogether, not because I wasn’t enjoying myself, but because it became a reminder of how useless of a wolf I am, so useless that I have to be carried by my dad… so I stopped going. I can’t feel sad about losing my wolf if I avoid as many wolfy things as possible, right?
Dad walks away to meet my mum, I watch them embracing each other... they give each other a smile that is reserved solely for one another. I want what they have; they mould perfectly to one another - they just fit together, like each other’s missing puzzle piece. Their love pours out of them as they stare into one another’s eyes; it’s almost enough to make even me feel warm and fuzzy inside… almost.
Tearing my eyes away from my parents, I look for the ladies that run the pack orphanage. I notice that there is only one orphan left - the other must’ve already found their forever home.
I walk over to the little girl whose hair is up in two blonde pigtails; she is only about six years old and kneel down to her height.
“Hi sweetie, how are you today?” I ask.
“Oh, hello… I’m ok”, she answers timidly, swaying her small frame.
“Are-are you the princess?” She asks as her eyes glisten with wonder.
“I am” I smile at her.
“Wow! That’s so cool! All of my friends will be so jealous!” She exclaims.
“Do you want to make them even more jealous?” I lean in as if I’m telling her a secret, my voice full of mischief.
She nods her head erratically, “Yeah!”
“Ok, come on then,” I say, getting even lower and tapping my shoulders. She looks at me, tilting her head in confusion.
“Climb aboard! Not just anyone gets to have a shoulder ride from the princess!” I say playfully.
At that moment, I have to cover my ears, as her squeals of excitement almost burst my eardrums.
When the squeals eventually die down, I look to the little girl who is jumping up and down with sheer excitement. I resume my low position as she climbs on up.
“This is so exciting! If my friends see me they’re going to vomit with jealousy!” She squeals.
“Vomit?” I question, laughing.
“VOMIT”, she emphasises.
“What’s your name, little one?” I ask.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Lia. I’m Mae. Shall we go and parade you so all of your friends can see you?” I say devilishly.
“Yes yes yes yes yes!” She shrieks.
I laugh as I begin to manoeuvre through the crowd, making sure that I attract as much attention as humanly possible. You see, my main goal isn’t to make little Lia’s friends jealous; oh no, no... I’m actually trying to attract the attention of the rest of the pack. Hoping it’ll help to find her forever home.
I bob and weave through the crowd, ignoring my muscle fatigue. Making as much noise and being as silly as possible. This gets Lia laughing – perfect! Her delightful little giggles should get the attention of more pack members.
Sure enough, within about 10 minutes, a mated couple in their thirties stands before me. I can see the look in their eyes – they’ve imprinted. I pull Lia down from my shoulders and hold her on my hip. Lia is staring at the couple with recognition; even though she is too young to have a wolf, she will be able to feel the new connection form; she will understand they’re here to look after her and be her new safety and comfort. Of course, no one can ever replace the parents she sadly lost, but she has the chance to receive love from the next best thing in this case.
I watch as Lia’s face lights up into a big, beautiful toothy grin; her new parents smile back at her with tears in their eyes and open their arms out wide for her; she jumps down from my arms and runs straight into their loving arms. They give me their thanks, each taking a hand of Lia’s before heading to where the pack run will commence.
My dad howls, which signals the start of the run; I stand and watch as everyone begins to shift, Lia’s new parents included; she climbs atop one of their wolves with sheer glee. I watch as the pack run off into the distance. I continue watching until I can no longer see little Lia riding off into the sunset with her family; a small warm feeling spreads throughout my chest… a small glimmer of happiness, perhaps?
Heading back to the packhouse, a small smile plays on my lips.
I did that, I think to myself proudly.