Chapter 13 - Crystal (Part 2)
Crystal was running, surrounded by giggles as three of her packmates, six to eight years of age, ran with her across the field behind the community center. The sun beat down on her sun-burnt face as she wiped the sweat from her brow.
Her former best friend, Tamarack—Tammy in childhood and Tam since her first shift—pointed to the group of trees on the other side of the pond and decided they should go explore it like strong, brave wolves.
They all agreed and off they ran, their fists pumping and feet pounding against the earth.
They entered the shadowy canopy of the trees. They were so much bigger than she remembered and she stopped to stare up at the sheer height of the towering trunks in awe.
“Come on, Beta!”
Crystal giggled and ran after the others.
The forest thickened and grew into a deep woods and soon they were lost. Crystal became anxious, but the others laughed in excitement and urged her farther into the woods.
A large wooden cabin appeared and her packmates ran inside, uninhibited by fears of monsters or getting in trouble with their parents for wandering so far into the woods.
They called out to her, laughing, telling her to come on and not to be a wimpy wolf.
She sucked air into her lungs, grumbling that she wasn’t a wimpy wolf, and climbed up the creaky wooden steps to the front door of the cabin that grew in size to a large mansion with each step she took up.
When she finally walked in the front door, the mansion was dark and cluttered with cobweb-covered junk. Boxes piled high, overflowing with random different items—ripped teddy bears with stuffing protruding, missing eyes, twisted slinkies, broken lamps of all sizes, stacks of dusty old newspapers, broken and ripped furniture—so much junk crowded together that there was only a narrow pathway to move through it.
She couldn’t see over the mountain of junk and called out to Tammy and her packmates, but no one answered.
Holding herself, she walked through the giant house. The wooden floorboards groaned underneath her and she thought about turning back before she got lost in the rubble.
She called out to them again but got no answer.
Why didn’t they wait for me?
A tear dribbled down her cheek and she wiped it away with a sniffle and turned around to retrace her steps back to the front door.
Passing by a cracked mirror, she paused and stared at her reflection before looking down at herself. She was fourteen or fifteen now, dressed in her usual high school ensemble—black jeans and a long-sleeve black shirt
“Chickening out already, Cris?”
Gasping, she whirled around and saw her former best friend and two other packmates blocking both ends of the path. She had her arms crossed over her chest, her body starting to fill out with muscle and curves like a normal fifteen-year-old werewolf, while Crystal was still a short, shapeless beanpole.
Crystal flinched and hung her head. “N-No, I was just looking for you guys.”
“Maybe you should leave. This is no place for a runt.”
Rubbing her arms, the pain in Crystal’s chest was more than she could bear.
Moments ago, this same female was laughing and calling her ‘Beta’ of their make-believe pack of four. This was the same female Crystal used to have sleepovers with, talk for hours on the phone with, learned to swim and climb trees with, and now she looked down her nose at her and wanted nothing to do with her. This was the same female who had a silly crush on Justin and hoped to be his mate despite the nine-year age gap. She followed him around like a love-sick puppy until he found his mate when she was ten and threw a temper tantrum that lasted for weeks.
Their friendship became strained then and with each passing year after when Crystal didn’t shift and she started having seizures, the distance between then grew until her “best friend” publicly shunned her and wanted nothing to do with her.
The other packmates around their age followed suit and turned their backs on her.
Crystal couldn’t blame them. Who would want to be associated with a werewolf who had no wolf?
“You’re such an embarrassment. Just go.”
Tears prickled her eyes as she clenched her fists at her side and tried to force them back, refusing to show weakness.
The male in their group huffed. “She’s crying again.”
“Goddess, you stink. Just go, Cris.”
Crystal wanted to tell them off. She wanted to shout them down and tell them that they were wrong, wrong, wrong, but the lump in her throat blocked her voice and the frustration and hurt leaked down her cheeks.
Brushing past her “best friend” something sharp poked out from one of the boxes and sliced across her thigh.
Gasping, she looked down at the gaping hole in her pants, and though it didn’t physically hurt, blood gushed down her leg.
She looked up to her packmates for help, but they turned up their noses and left, disappearing around the mounds of trash in this filthy hellhole.
She locked her jaw to stop it from trembling.
Fine. I don’t need any of you.
Clutching her leg with one hand, she marched toward the exit with as much dignity as she could muster as bitter tears rolled down her cheeks.
Packmates were supposed to look out for each other and take care of each other.
And when she needed a little bit of help, a little bit of care, they turned their backs on her.
You’ll never be worth anything.
She wiped her cheeks as she left the house. The woods around her appeared to have thinned and she could see the green field a few yards ahead and the community center and pond beyond.
The stairs leading up to the house had disappeared and when she limped a few steps forward and looked back, the mansion became a tiny log cabin—with the beast leaning up against the wall next to the door.
Tiberius’ thick arms were crossed over his broad chest with his chin tucked in and his ears pulled back.
Her chest constricted as she froze in her tracks.
Had he heard their exchange? The way her packmates turned their backs on her and discarded her like a dirty towel?
He pushed away from the wall and stomped toward her on two feet as humiliation burned against her skin.
Looking at the ground, she watched his hind paws stop in front of her before falling to his knees and tipping her chin up with the ridge of his finger.
She looked up into his eyes and saw herself reflected in them. Eighteen, almost nineteen, dyed black hair, pale skin, thin and petite, with no glow or muscle mass that normal females her age had.
He broke eye contact and looked down at her injured leg. A low growl rumbled from within.
Her eyes widened at the grizzly voice and quickly complied.
She got down on the ground and he hovered over her leg and ripped the fabric of her jeans around her thigh and pulled the material away revealing her blood-drenched leg and the deep gash across her thigh.
He caressed her knee, his breath fanning out over her ripped flesh. She couldn’t feel it and the sting that should have been against her injury.
She looked away as he licked her wound, a tingling sensation spreading across her leg with each swipe of his tongue. When the tingling stopped, she peeked at her leg from the corner of her eye and saw a strong human hand on her hip and another above her knee.
All traces of blood had disappeared revealing her unmarred porcelain skin and the gash had completely vanished.
She took only a second to look at her leg before she stared at the male before her.
His head was down, his sun-kissed skin rippled with muscle down his broad bare back and long thick arms.
“Don’t look at me, Cris.”
The whispered plea struck her with confusion.
“Because I don’t want you to see me—the human side of me—until we break this curse.”
She gaped at him and was about to ask why again when he interrupted.
“And because I’m embarrassed about what happened before.”
A shadowy image flashed in her mind and she gasped before covering her eyes with her hands.
“Sorry. That was a first for me and I didn’t see it coming.” He sighed before murmuring, “I just wanted to see you smile and make you laugh. It wasn’t supposed to go that far.”
She took a deep breath—not that she needed to, but because it was a natural reflex to calm her nerves. She needed to get that image out of her head
“Can I hold you?”
She stiffened as she pulled her hands away from her face, but he was no longer hunched in front of her. His long legs were stretched out next to her with a foot of distance between them. Dressed in a short-sleeved, light gray button-up shirt, blue jeans and tan-leather cowboy boots, she looked over only to see he’d covered his face by tipping a cowboy hat down.
“Please, Cris, I mean it,” he said. “I don’t want you to see me until we break this curse and I can shift again.”
“You’re dressed like a cowboy.”
He made a noise of amusement. “My usual attire since my pack breeds horses and patrols the Grand Canyon on horseback during the day. Not enough vegetation on the land to conceal our beasts from the human tourists. So, since I’m not naked, can I sit behind you and hold you now?”
She hesitated, but caved when he said, “Please?”
She lowered her head and hugged herself as he slipped behind her. He placed his hands over hers on her arms, but she couldn’t feel his presence or touch. Couldn’t feel her back against his chest or his breath against her neck.
He was a ghostly representation of the real him and there was some relief in that.
As she relaxed, he sighed. “I wish I could hold you like this in real life. I can’t feel you here…”
He rubbed her arms until she was comfortable enough to let go of herself and lean against him.
“What happened to your leg?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Cut it on something.”
“And the others didn’t offer to help you?”
She hung her head. “Y-You heard that?”
“Yes. Is that how they treat you in real life or was that a subconscious projection like in most dreams?”
She raked her teeth over her bottom lip. “Subconscious. They don’t even talk to me.”
“Do you think they would refuse to help you if this happened in real life?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not?”
His hands glided up and down her arms in relaxed strokes. “You’re too hard on yourself.”
A lump formed in her throat. “I can’t help it.”
“That’s my fault.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is. I brought this curse upon us. You can’t shift because of me. I can feel your wolf pressing against you when you’re stressed. If I never got cursed, you’d be able to shift and you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”
She hesitated. “Maybe I’d be able to shift, but…”
She hung her head in shame.
“Nothing. It’s stupid.”
“I beg to differ. Tell me.”
“No! It’s embarrassing!”
“You saw my hairy balls spill out—”
Her hands flew to her face. “Tiberius!”
“You don’t think that’s embarrassing for me? I mean, yes, you’re my mate. And yes, I want you in that way—but only when you’re ready and want me in that way too. I lost control of myself in that moment and I was embarrassed and ashamed because I couldn’t help you when you needed me then.”
“You’ll just think I’m stupid…” she said into her hands.
“Never, Cris. How could you think like that? I will never think that way of you.”
He pulled her hands from her face, his strong arms brushing against hers as he lowered them before them.
“Cris, I want to know you better. I’ve been dreaming of you for so long, wondering if I would ever find you and if I did, what you would be like. What your life was like. What your dreams were. And now…”
His head hung next to hers over her shoulder, his dark hair in the corner of her eye. His hands held hers and he entwined their fingers, wrapping them closed into fists.
“Now, I’ve found you and it pains me to leave you. Even for just a second. I wish you could feel the matebond the way I do so you can understand what I’m feeling when I’m with you, but…”
He sighed. “I’m sorry about what happened before. And I’m going to apologize ahead of time because it’s probably going to happen again. Just hit me, okay? Take control and smack me good. I won’t blame you. I won’t. It’s the matebond pushing me but... it’s not just that.” He lowered his voice. “I want you in that way too. And it’s going to get harder for me to resist you, but I will wait for you.”
He released one of her hands and brushed her hair behind her ear.
“I believe in you, Cris. I believe in us. And when we break this curse, I know you will believe in me too.”