Chapter 8: Mumbled Words and Fleeting Stares
I jolted up in my bed when I heard the loud creaking of my outdated hardwood floors. I cocooned my comforter around my body while peeking out the window in front of me. Based on how much light was coming in, it was either really early in the morning or the dead of night.
Either was equally as scary.
My heart rate and breathing picked up as the creaking continued, though I now noticed that the noise was making its way throughout the house, stopping and starting up again here and there. I didn’t dare move a muscle as I was terrified to alert the intruder that I was awake and aware of their presence.
When I heard the creaking start back up farther away, I gained the courage to ease my body out of the bed. I grabbed the closest weapon to me - the fire poker - and held it close to my chest while turning so that my back was to the wall and I would be facing the intruder when, or if, they chose to make themselves know.
The second the creaking began coming towards me, all my confidence left my body and I began to shake like a leaf. I thought I was going to pass out when I saw a single foot step from the darkness and into my living room. Seconds later, a huge man emerged from the hallway. He had to duck down to make it through the entryway, as he was too tall. My breath caught in my throat as the object in my hands slipped as my grasp slackened with shock.
I’m screwed I thought to myself. His arms were the size of my head with veins bulging everywhere. His frame was wide and overpowering, making my somewhat spacious living room feel like a shoebox. I took an involuntary step back when my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting from the fire and allowed me to really get a good look. He was two, maybe even three times the size of Alpha Aaron - who already towered over my comically small frame.
Oh my God, I’m not making it out of here unharmed.
He took a step closer to me, causing me to thrust the fire poker into the air as a warning. This seemed to amuse the man, as the corner of his lips pulled up ever so slightly.
“Do you honestly think that would stop me?” his deep, husky voice rasped out. I gulped before briefly glancing at the weapon in question.
“Well, I’m not going to go down without at least a little bit of a fight,” I replied shakily. He scoffed and rolled his eyes. Before I knew what was even happening, he shot forward and jerked the item out of my hold and snapped it in half.
“W-why are you here?” I whispered.
“Your fire went out some time ago, and when I came in you were shivering. You’ll catch a cold if you aren’t careful,” he reprimanded. I wasn’t sure what to make of his answer. He just admitted to watching me while I was asleep.
“If I wanted to hurt you, I would’ve done it already,” he said with a scoff as if it were the most logical thing. “It’s still very early, and you’re injured. You need more sleep to heal. Go back to bed,” he ordered, not moving a muscle. It was then that I realized the adrenaline rush and fear had dulled the pain in my ankle - which was now quickly resurfacing. I quietly whimpered at the intense surge of pain before half sitting, half falling onto my bed in front of me.
I watched with apprehension as he exited through my front door before returning a few seconds later. He had a large, fluffy pillow and an ice pack in hand. Where the heck did he get those?
“Lay down,” he instructed gruffly. I hesitated, causing him to peer down at me. He must’ve seen my confusion and lingering fear written all over my face.
“You haven’t been taking care of your injury, so it’s taking longer to heal. Now lay down,” he ordered once again. I quickly did as told, too scared to go against what he wanted and anger him. He maneuvered my body so I was on my back before resting my foot on the pillow and settling the ice pack on top. I sighed with the instant relief it brought, forgetting about the man for just a moment and allowing my body to relax back into the bed.
“Are you still cold?” he asked after throwing a second log into the fireplace. I peeked my eyes open and shook my head, hoping it would make him leave.
“Do not lie to me,” he growled. I wrapped my arms around myself to stop the shaking from both fear and the cold.
“A little,” I rasped out quietly. He didn’t say another word before pulling the thick sweater over his head and coming to crouch in front of me.
“Arms up,” he said.
“Won’t you be cold?” I questioned, looking up into his eyes for the first time since we’d come face to face. There was an emotion I couldn’t decipher lingering in his eyes for a few seconds as he examined my face before it abruptly disappeared.
“I will be fine. Now, arms up,” he said with slight annoyance. Deciding it was best to just do as told and not question him further, I raised my arms and allowed him to slip the still-warm garment over my head and down my body. It might as well have been a dress, as it came almost all the way to my knees. Without thinking, I instantly snuggled further into the warmth of the soft cloth.
“Now sleep,” he murmured quietly before disappearing once again. When I didn’t hear another creak for a while, I allowed my mind and body to wind down as sleep encompassed my mind once again.
When I woke for the second time, it was because of a bright ray of sunshine coming in through the window at just the right angle to shine directly in my eyes. I groaned while stretching, my body giving off its own pops and cracks as I stretched out over the large expanse of my bed. I released a deep sigh of content before rubbing the crusties out of my eyes and forcing myself out of bed.
I was pleasantly warm all night long, which I knew to be a combination of two things: the heavy winter sweater I was still donning and the fire that was still going strong. The latter of the two made me slightly uneasy. I knew it wouldn’t be in as good a shape as it was now had the man from before not slipped back in again sometime after I’d fallen back asleep to tend to it. The only thing keeping me from going into total freak-out mode was the fact that I was still alive and well, which confirmed what he’d already told me - he didn’t intend to do me any harm.
Well, not intentionally anyway - that was for sure.
I switched out my sleeping pants for a pair of thick leggings, noting that the pain in my ankle was practically zero and that’d it had almost healed itself overnight, before immediately going to the bathroom to relieve my full bladder - which meant I slept in longer than I would have liked. My stomach rumbled loudly, demanding to be fed. I hesitated in my actual bedroom’s doorway, contemplating if I wanted to change out of the sweatshirt or not. I quickly decided against it, as what I was wearing would, without a doubt, be warmer than anything I owned.
I snuffed out the fire before slipping on my beat up boots and shoving my house key in my pocket. Locking the door behind me, I slowly walked to my car so that I could survey my surroundings. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t trying to figure out where the mystery man’s hiding spot was. I gave up after a few minutes of searching as my stomach reminded me, yet again, that it was time to eat.
Pulling up to the pack house, I parked before sprinting inside, desperate to get some food in my tummy. I was glad I had a decent idea of where the pack dining hall was located because I might’ve withered away if I had to spend more than five minutes searching for it. I smiled brightly at the two guys that were exiting the room as I entered. Their eyes grew comically big while their noses pointed ever so slightly into the air as they scanned my body. My smile dropped from my face when they dropped their eyes and immediately ran from me without so much as a simple smile back.
“That’s odd,” I whispered to myself under my breath. Shrugging my shoulders and shaking the feeling off, I made my way up to the buffet table and loaded up a big plate of various types of breakfast food. I could feel my mouth filling with saliva as the delish aroma wafted up to my nose. Turning to face the array of tables, I found hundreds of eyes staring at me as if I were the loch ness monster or something. I blushed the tiniest bit before making direct eye contact with a girl who appeared to be around my age. I decided to try my luck and slowly sauntered over to the table she was sat at, which just so happened to have a single seat open.
“Hi there. Do you mind if I sit with you guys?” I asked softly while giving them all my best friendly smile.
“Uhhh...” one of them trailed off, sharing a look of unease with the rest of the girls.
“We were just about to leave, actually,” another cut in, saving her friend from having to basically tell me no. I glanced down at every one of their plates filled with food they’d barely touched.
“Oh, alright. Well, nevermind then,” I murmured softly, the disappointment in my tone easily detectable no matter how hard I tried to hide it. I turned and made the walk of shame a few feet away to an empty table before taking my seat. I did my best to ignore the prying stares of everyone in the room as I ate in silence on my own. I used my hair as a curtain to try and shield my face that was still slightly flushed with embarrassment.
I scarfed the rest of my food down, not being able to handle feeling like a statue on display at a museum for even a second longer. Getting up, I wasn’t sure what the general rule was about dishes. Did I take them back and do them myself or was there someone who had the job of clean-up for each meal? Wanting to be safe rather than sorry, I made my way into the kitchen and proceeded to clean my mess up.
Deciding I wanted to speak with the Alpha about the possible jobs I could do within the pack, I set my sights out for finding his office. I used my sense of smell here and there to sniff out his headquarters before knocking and respectfully waiting for him to grant me permission to enter.
“Alpha,” I murmured before bowing respectfully. I closed to door behind me and took a few steps farther into his office. There were three other men in the room, two of which I recognized to be Beta Donovan and Gamma Gray, but the third man I’d never seen before. He didn’t emit a strong aura, but he did have an air of intelligence around him.
"Do you fucking smell that?” Beta Donovan hissed to Gamma Gray louder than I think he intended to. He made eye contact with me before clearing his throat and sharing a meaningful look with Alpha Aaron.
“Poppy, to what do we owe this visit?” Alpha Aaron asked, his body tense and seeming to be on edge. I wonder if they were discussing something about my old pack before I came in here.
“I’m sorry if I interrupted a meeting. I just wanted to speak with you about possible jobs around the pack I could acquire,” I explained.
“Nonsense, you didn’t interrupt anything. Ironically, we were just giving our Peace Keeper Jorgensen a brief rundown on your old pack’s current situation and the threat that was administered by Alpha Williams,” he said.
I totally called it.
“As far as jobs go, we have many various positions that need to be filled just about everywhere. Here’s a sheet outlining those open positions and the correct phone number of who to call to set up a meeting,” he instructed before handing over a two-sided piece of paper filled with names and numbers. I smiled before thanking him.
I hesitated in leaving when he appeared as if he had something to say, but he kept his mouth shut. I brushed my hands down the front of my body when he kept eyeing my top, thinking I maybe had food or crumbs stuck there from breakfast. He must’ve realized that I’d caught him staring because he awkwardly cleared his throat before casting his eyes down to his desk.
“If that’s all, Poppy, we must get back to our discussion,” he said while avoiding eye contact. I nodded, feeling dumb when I realized he couldn’t see me.
“Yes. Thank you, Alpha,” I mumbled before bowing my head once to the men in the room and exiting. Checking the clock on the wall right outside the office, I decided to use the rest of my day to start the major project that was fixing my house.
When I pulled back into my driveway, I was more than surprised to find the man from last night hauling a load of chopped wooden logs onto my porch. Once he’d set the stack down on top of the larger pile he’d created, he turned to face me as I exited the car.
“You really didn’t need to do that,” I insisted, jutting my head out towards the pile.
“Yes, I did. I already told you, you’ll get sick at night without heat. Besides, I saw the ax stuck in the tree earlier,” he stated knowingly as I looked away with a furious blush.
“Well, I would offer to make you something to eat for your trouble, but I have no working appliances and I haven’t had a chance to buy some...” I trailed off.
“It wouldn’t matter if you did. Most of the drywall in there needs to be replaced from the leaking ceiling, and those things would just get in the way,” he explained, obviously having more knowledge of housing repairs than I did.
“Oh dear...” I whispered while glancing towards my house with a worried look.
“It wouldn’t take but a day or two for me to repair those walls,” he said, hinting at me hiring him for the job.
“I have no money right now,” I sighed with a wishful glance his way.
“I didn’t ask for money,” he bluntly replied. “Besides, the supplies are free of charge to pack members. There’s a warehouse filled with everything I’ll need about five miles from here for when the pack population grows to need new housing at the last minute. I can start today if you’d like, but you would probably have to have somewhere else to stay for the time being,” he spoke off-handedly while inspecting the outside of the house.
“That would be great, thank you! Just give me a moment to see if I can coordinate somewhere to stay,” I said before opening the front door and propping it open for him to follow behind me. “Feel free to - uh - have a seat,” I mumbled while glancing at the only possible seating in the room - my bed. I wandered off to the bathroom so I could have some privacy while mind-linking the Luna, feeling far too uncomfortable to have the man watch me while I did so.
Luna Caroline, could I occupy one of the guest rooms the next few nights? I’m having some work done on my house and cannot stay there for the time being.
It took a few minutes for her to reply, but she happily agreed. Exiting the bathroom, I found the man sitting on the edge of my bed with my pillow to his nose. I cleared my throat, snapping him out of his daze. I expected him to be embarrassed that I caught him smelling my things, but he wasn’t phased one bit.
“I’ll be staying in one of the vacant pack rooms for the next few nights, so if your offer still stands then I’d love your help,” I spoke politely. He nodded, causing me to conclude that he was truly a man of few words. A few seconds of silence passed by before his eyes averted to his article of clothing I was still wearing, just as everyone else’s had earlier today.
“I will get this back to you as soon as I wash it,” I rushed out, unsure if he was angry that I hadn’t offered to return it already.
“No. Keep it,” he insisted, his tone conveying it as an order. I nodded before retreating to my room to grab my things for my stay at the pack house. Just as I was about to leave, I remembered there was something I was still needing to know.
“What’s your name?” I asked, turning to look into his eyes. He stood from the bed to his full, towering height causing me to shrink back.