"Oh, my God! You have to tell me everything." Emma's voice held a hint of hysteria, which sent me into another fit of giggles. She was so gonna freak out when I tell her my news. At which part, I wasn't so sure.
"Sit down." I scooted over to make room and patted the duvet beside me.
Emma sat down on the edge of my bed, enthralled. Cerulean blue eyes rounded on me, scanning my expression for clues. Emma and I had never kept secrets from each other as a rule. All the anticipation that was building up caused her to bounce her knee impatiently.
"His name is Sam." My heart fluttered as I spoke his name out loud.
"Uh-huh." Emma nodded, answering quickly. "Is he cute?"
"Yeah," I rolled my eyes placing the palms of my hands against my chest in a dreamy swoon. "He is Ems, you have no idea. He's not just cute, he's hot and I mean hotter than Somerhalder hot."
"Shut the front door!" Emma jerked back, widening her eyes in shock. "Seriously? Hotter than Damon Salvatore! You lucky bitch."
"I know right. But that's not all," I added, inwardly cringing because I knew she'd freak and I was bracing myself ready for a deafening. "We got hitched." I bared my teeth, narrowing my eyes into two cautious slits, waiting for the ambush.
There was a brief pause as she absorbed the information. Five, four, three, two, one....kaboom!
"What the fuck did you just say?" Emma cocked her head to the side, looking down at me with a confused frown. "Did you just say you got hitched, as in married? You're married?"
A series of emotions swept across Emma's face all in sequence: shock, excitement, hurt, then disappointment.
As soon as it registered with her that I meant marriage, there was a flicker of excitement. She let out a gasp and covered her shocked smile with her hand but that soon faded as fast as it came.
"But we were supposed to be each other's maids of honor. We discussed this since we were kids." A wounded frown lined her forehead and hurt flashed through her eyes, causing her lower lids to twitch, pooling with moisture.
I sat up and pulled Emma in for a hug, immediately feeling guilty. I never wanted to hurt my best friend, that was never my intention. We always said we'd either have a double wedding or play an important role in each other's big day. She was like a sister to me and I didn't want her to think that I hadn't thought about her feelings at all.
"It wasn't like a wedding-wedding, nor was it like a civil ceremony, either. It was more like a spiritual agreement where we bonded our souls together, then finalized it in a courthouse," I tried to explain the best I could, without having to go into details of the actual mating ritual. I internally cringed at my crappy way of explaining things. I was never great with words. Subtlety wasn't exactly my strong point.
"Spiritual soul bonding? Helen, are you high?" Emma jerked her head back, arching an eyebrow. She thought what I was saying was a load of old bull. I didn't blame her.
I rolled my eyes. "No."
Emma picked up my left hand and just like a detective scanning for evidence, homed straight in on exhibit A: my bare wedding finger.
"Where's your wedding ring, then?" She questioned, her voice held humor as if she caught me out trying to pull a prank.
"Sam said he's buying me one. But that's just for show, the real symbol is this." I moved my hair away to reveal Sam's bite mark.
Emma's face contorted in a horrified grimace as she fell off the bed with a shriek. "Oh my God, he bit you?" Her shrill voice rang throughout the room. "And you let him? Helen, are you crazy? That looks like it went in deep. You're scarred for life!"
"Em, will you just let me explain?" I tried to shush her to calm her down before someone came in to see what all the noise was about.
We were already on our second warning from the hall director. One more strike and we would face penalties. She stood up and paced the floor, clutching the sides of her head in a worried fluster.
Emma was getting the wrong idea... fast. Sure, it was a reasonable human reaction and if I didn't know any better and our roles were reversed, then I'd probably be thinking the exact same thing.
I needed her to know that I was being deadly serious. We'd got this far, there would be no way she would back down now without a feasible explanation.
"If I tell you something, you have to promise me that you won't say anything to anyone. I mean it, Emma. I'm not even kidding. This isn't my secret to tell and if anyone else finds out about this, it could cause a whole lot of problems for everyone in Forest Lake," I held her gaze as I spoke. It was a big deal and I had to be sure I could trust her with Sam's secret.
Emma didn't look as if she liked the sound of that. It only seemed to increase her anxiety. "Helen, I'm scared for you. I don't know what sort of relationship you've gotten yourself into but that's," she pointed at the scar, "...not normal."
Nodding my head in agreement, I replied, "I know. But you see, that's just it. Sam isn't normal and neither is Jack, my mom's husband. You're gonna need to keep an open mind for what I'm about to tell you."
Emma's eyes twitched nervously, "What? So who the hell is Sam? Is he some guy from the Creek? What about this new stepbrother of yours, is he not normal, too?"
I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and scrubbed a hand over my face. My nose was itching, which was a bad omen. We used to joke that having an itchy nose was a sign that I was going to have an argument with someone. The last thing I wanted to do was have any sort of an argument with Emma.
We didn't just draw the line at the itchy nose thing. If your ass was itchy, that meant you were in for a surprise. If your right palm itched, you were due to receive money. If your left palm itched, that meant luck was headed your way.
We upheld a lot of silly superstitious traditions like saluting magpies, not walking under ladders, avoiding cracks in the pavement, and throwing spilled salt over our left shoulders using our right hands. We thought that this was supposed to blind the devil on our shoulders and prevent us from doing stupid shit. Needless to say, it didn't work.
As kids we believed in fairies and that Santa was real. Once, we even tried walking to the back of my mom's closet to try and find Narnia. Not that we found anything, besides hidden Christmas presents, which broke my heart and extinguished part of my childhood. Our parents had to sit us both down and break the news, revealing to us that their huge web of lies and deceit was all for our benefit.
But somewhere along the way, I wasn't even sure when it happened, but Emma and I both grew up.
We put away our dolls, buried our childish fantasies in the furthest pits of our minds, and turned into stroppy teenagers who took an interest in boys. Then from there, we began our twenties. We were soon to graduate college and venture out into the world of work, to live like adults, pay bills and be all responsible and shit.
I really hoped that the seven-year-old Emma was still in there somewhere, because I knew that she would believe me. She wouldn't be standing over me with her hand on her hip, being all judgy and eyeing me with skepticism.
"Sam is my step-brother, only now he's my husband," I revealed.
There, I'd said it. Now I waited for the onslaught... but it never came.
"Your stepbrother is your....wow. And your mom is OK with that?" Emma seemed shocked as if that was the last thing she had expected to hear.
She sat down next to me on the bed, clasping hold of my hand as a gesture of support. I let out a breath of relief, glad in a way that she didn't give me a lecture. I really needed to talk to someone and get things off my chest. I didn't have Sam or my mom here, but at least I still had my best friend.
"What else? You said they're not normal. What do you mean?" She asked.
"You're probably going to freak out. Even Mom freaked out when she found out but she's alright about it now." I half laughed with nerves. "Do you still believe in the possibility that things like vampires and werewolves exist?"
I felt Emma's body tense next to me. "Where the hell did that come from? Are you going on about the time we walked home drunk from Infinity and ran into that hairy, homeless guy?" She asked, eyeing me with caution.
I snorted with laughter as Emma brought up a funny memory about this one night when we couldn't get a cab home from the nightclub.
"No, yes, sorta." I chuckled, remembering it all.
That was the night when we had one of those insightful, drunken conversations that made so much sense, yet at the same time, made absolutely no sense at all. God, don't strike me down for saying this but I passed a comment about an excessively hairy guy who could've possibly been a werewolf. I was drunk and it was a full moon, and the moronic thought just popped into my head. Not that the poor guy had access to a razor and the luxury of a haircut. I know, I'm awful....I'll wait for the bolt of lightning to burst through the ceiling and zap me on the ass.
The slurred conversation went on to whether or not such beings existed, and if so, where did they live? And did they live amongst us, walking around like regular people?
"Well, what if I told you, it's all true?" I followed her eye-roll until her gaze flitted back to me, now widening as if realizing that I was deadly serious. I was waiting for her to hit me with a pillow and yell at me for being ridiculous.
"So what're you saying, he sucked your blood?" Her nose scrunched up in disgust.
"No, you're thinking of a vampire. Ugh, you're such a team Edward! Sam's a shifter...a werebear. And so is Jack."
Emma stared at me open-mouthed for five long seconds before her eyes and lips started twitching. It looked as if what I said temporarily stunned her. "A werebear? Your sexy stepbrother is a werebear?" She sounded unconvinced. "And I'm not team anybody. I'm greedy. If anything, I'm team both."
"Yes, my sexy stepbrother is a werebear," I reiterated, throwing her a pained look, pulling my hand from hers.
I needed her to understand, this wasn't funny, my children were mixed species and this was my future we were talking about.
"Believe me or not, it's true. He can transform into a grizzly bear. The whole of Forest Lake are shifters. Some are wolves, some are bears, some are cats, and some are reptiles. Sam said there were such things as fox shifters but none have come to the ridge yet. He thinks they will, though...soon."
Resting my elbows on my thighs, I entwined my fingers together in front of me. I don't know why I felt so vulnerable telling her all that, but I did. I was afraid she would call me a freak and run around telling everyone. I had my family to protect and I was still hoping that I could still count Emma as part of that family.
Emma swallowed hard as if forcing down a piece of candy that got lodged in her throat. "You're not joking, are you?" I met her gaze, her eyes locked onto mine and flared wide. "Usually, when you joke you smile and give yourself away. So, it's all true? Fuck! Trust you to actually fucking find one. Are they just like regular people? What're they like?" She tapped the side of her neck. "That bite, will that turn you into one of them?"
I shrugged, "I don't know? I don't think so. When I go back to the creek and see the doctor, I can ask about that. And yeah, they're just like us, but with differences."
A confused frown lined her forehead. "Doctor?" She gave a questioning look.
"Oh yeah, I'm also pregnant with twins...surprise!" I splayed my hands out wide, adding a touch of sarcasm to my voice.
Emma let out a shocked squeak and spluttered over her words at a complete loss for what to say. I'd bombarded her tonight. She asked and I told. Now she was left utterly overwhelmed.
"Look, I know it all sounds crazy and too much to take in. But shifters exist, I'm married to one and you're going to be godmother to my half-human, half-shifter babies."
I might as well have been talking gibberish because all Emma took from that was godmother and babies. Bouncing on the balls of her feet, wearing a huge grin and clapping her hands together like an overexcited sea lion.
"I'm gonna be a godmother, yay!"
After the news had well and truly kicked in, Emma began to handle the situation with more clarity.
"Nobody can know about this. You'll end up in Area 51 or something? Cross my heart, I won't tell a soul. I love you and I will protect your secret, you have my word. Oh, and best to hide your pregnancy until the end of the semester, too. The last thing you need is Brittany and her morons giving you hell for the next three months."
I winced the second Emma brought up my old enemy from high school. It was the worst day of my life finding out that she applied to the same college as us. I wasn't afraid of her, I was just sick and tired of her always wanting to best me and take away what I'd earned, or what was mine. She took my spot as the editor for our high school paper. Not that she knew what she was doing or anything, she just wanted it. It was the same with my first boyfriend, Dale. He ditched me the day before prom and took her, instead. Now she was here, lingering around campus like a bad smell.
Emma thought she had this weird obsession where she secretly envied me but I couldn't see it, personally. Brittany loved being Brittany and sometimes people were just plain mean.
"You know she got her claws into Chris during spring break," Emma revealed some of the gossips she'd been dying to spill. "She crashed my party, despite me telling her that she wasn't invited."
"That doesn't surprise me, but it's not like we can talk. We crashed her New Year's Eve party, so it was tit for tat." I shrugged.
Before I met Sam, I was crushing on Chris and this news would've put me on a downer for weeks. Now I was like...Chris who?
"There's a rumor going around that she's faking a pregnancy. They screwed each other in my hot tub." She stuck her fingers in her mouth and fake puked. "I had to disinfect it before I left. They were only missing for like twenty minutes, so it mustn't have been that good. And now she's saying she's missed her period but I specifically remembered her having her period the week before because she asked me for a spare tampon." She folded her arms and made a face as if to suggest 'nothing gets past me'.
Emma never forgot information no matter how trivial it was. She had one of those photographic memories, too. She could recall something that happened weeks back and describe everything down to the finest little detail. Word for word of people's conversations, the clothes they were wearing, everything.
"Well, leave her to it. Chris should've worn a condom," I replied, shuddering at the thought of Brittany and Chris defiling Emma's hot tub. They'd ruined it for us now. I used to love our occasional weekends at her parent's condo, sipping cocktails and having a sing-a-thon.
"Pot. Kettle. Black," Emma teased. "So what's your excuse for getting knocked up, huh? Do shifters have super sperm?" She giggled.
"Ahem," I fake coughed. "Married." I tapped the mark on my neck and felt a jolt of pleasure rush straight to my core. Shit! I run a finger over the scar and felt the tingles between my legs. Those were connected. Sam's mark and my lady parts were giving me a reminder that those belonged to him.
Not wanting to reveal what just happened to my baffled best friend, I stood up and walked around, feeling my face flush with heat after making my little discovery.
"I just want to keep my head down, lay low and get through this last semester without a hitch. Which reminds me, I have to put some final touches to my assignment before class tomorrow. Do you wanna see my painting? It's one of Sam in his bear form, down by the lake," I asked, trying to occupy my mind with something else other than sex.
"Yeah sure, let's see this bear of yours," Emma replied with enthusiasm.
Reaching over, I grabbed my bag from the bottom of the bed and pulled out my canvas. "Ta-da!" I turned it around to show her.
Emma leaned in squinting as she took in every detail. "That is so cool." She pointed, "And that's Sam as a bear?"
"Yep, that's him." A warm ball of heat formed in my chest and spread. "Isn't he magnificent?"
"What's shifter sex like?" Emma asked. Her eyes sparkled with curiosity, wonder and, I knew from past conversations, a fantasy fetish of hers.
I chuckled, blushing, "It's amazing. They're huge and I mean h-u-g-e," I emphasized the last word.
Emma's expression morphed into an amused glare. "They?? How many shifter dicks have you seen?"
That comment had us both bursting out with laughter. I knew what she was thinking. Did they all walk around naked with their tackles swinging free?
"Before I tell you, can I just say, Luke, Sam's best friend was shifting into his bear. I saw his...thing, I didn't exactly gawk at it, but it wasn't like you could miss it, either. And I've seen Sam's, obviously." My face was burning with embarrassment as I tried to justify myself. Emma was enjoying watching me squirm with an amused grin plastered across her face.
"So, Luke, huh? Is he single?" She inquired, seeming overly keen all of a sudden.
The following morning...
"Welcome back everyone. I hope you all had a great spring break? I'd like you to place your assignments out in front of you please." Professor Hammond sat casually on the corner of his desk. His light blue button-down shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, his folded arms made his well-defined biceps bulge in front of his broad chest.
He looked as if he'd been working out. I'd also caught a glimpse of the love note stuck to his lunch bag. He did have a girlfriend after all, and now it appeared that she was his fiancée. He pulled the yellow post-it-note off, rolled his eyes with amusement and a smile swept across his face as he re-read it. It said 'Made with love by the future Mrs. Hammond'.
"Aww," Emma and I both cooed, trying not to make it obvious what we'd seen. It was cute and we were happy for Mr. Hammond.
Glancing around I saw other pieces of artwork that some of the other students had produced. They were good, some better than others: a caterpillar, pond life, birds feeding chicks in the nest. Some were of random dogs from the park and some were of family pets. Those weren't exactly showing nature in its rarest form, but at least they completed the assignment.
Mr. Hammond walked around the room, his eyes surveying each piece both critical and appreciatively. His eyebrows raised the minute he got to my table.
"Wow, you got this close to a real-life grizzly?" He asked sounding amazed. The awestruck smile on his face showed that he was clearly impressed.
"Yes sir, I got as close as you could possibly get," I spoke truthfully, trying to hold back the sarcasm. Emma snorted, which seemed to confuse him a little as to what we found so amusing.
"Teacher's pet," Brittany fake sneezed.
My head snapped in her direction just in time to see her hand move away from her sly smile. Her bright pink polished nails that were squared off at the tips caught my eye first, followed by her orange complexion where she'd clawped on way too much makeup.
"Save it for the obstetrician, Brittany," Emma hissed, jumping to my defense.
Brittany chuckled, shaking her head and causing her blonde curls to sway from side to side, "I'm just saying, I think it's weird that Helen always gets extra credit for her work. Mr. Hammond is always fawning over it. If I didn't know any better--"
Mr. Hammond shot her a pointed look, cutting her off mid-rant. "That's enough Brittany! If you're going to accuse me of something inappropriate with a student, then by all means go make a formal complaint. I don't have favorites, nor have I anything to hide. While you're at it, you can explain why you have yet to provide me with a single piece of substantial work this entire year. Miss Harding, as well as everyone else, takes this class seriously. If you don't, then I'm afraid you've wasted your time here."
Brittany turned to me, hate emanating from her eyes. "You have fun sucking off Mr. Hammond. We all know you're heartbroken that I snagged Chris from under your nose. Anyway losers, I'm going to see the nurse. All this stress isn't good for my baby." She pushed her chair back and picked up her bag before flouncing out of the room, letting the door slam shut behind her. Mr. Hammond didn't even try and stop her, if anything he seemed relieved that she'd gone.
"What a bitch," Emma hissed under her breath.
"I'm so sorry about that." Mr. Hammond turned to me with a concerned frown. "She had no right to talk to you that way and I'll be making an official complaint."
Truth be told, I was embarrassed. Her having said that in front of the whole class, made me want to crawl away and hide. "It's OK, Sir, she's always been this way towards me. I'm just sorry you've been caught up in it," I apologized.
Emma scowled at Brittany's friends as if silently daring one of them to speak. We nicknamed them her army of trolls. Not after the cute ones with pink and blue hair, no, we meant like the ugly ones that lived under bridges in storybooks. They were actually really pretty if you took away all the fake tan and makeup.
The first lesson back was fun. Not only did we each take turns explaining our painting, but we also talked a little about what we did during spring break. I announced that I'd met someone but I left out the parts that people wouldn't understand, the parts where I was married and pregnant.
I recalled mine and Sam's trip to Hawcroft and the carnival we went to. I even raised a few laughs when I told them about my camping trip with Luke. How I'd tried and failed to pitch a tent. It was duly noted that every time I mentioned his name, I saw Emma's eyes light up. The mischief began to form in my brain, thinking up a way to set those two up was going to be fun.
Mr. Hammond knocked me from my thoughts as he gave a single clap. "Well, this ought to cheer you guys up. For all your hard work and effort, you get a free period. Go off, get coffee, do whatever it is you students like to do and I'll see you guys after lunch."
The sound of chairs scraping filled the room. Not a single one of us needed telling twice. Mr. Hammond began clearing things away, pushing the tables to the far side of the room, only to start setting up easels.
"Oh, do you think we're painting a nude? I hope it's a cute guy this time." Emma chuckled.
We left the room before we were overheard. Taking a slow walk along the corridor. "Five bucks says it's a bowl of fruit." I held out my hand.
Emma grasped it. "I'm going with a hot nude guy, holding a bowl of fruit."
"You're both wrong," Mr. Hammond's voice boomed from behind us, causing us both to spin around, startled.
"Shit! You scared me!" Emma swore, forgetting who she was talking to.
I couldn't help but laugh with shock. Mr. Hammond bit the insides of his cheeks to stifle a chuckle. "You'll see after lunch."
As we left the building and crossed the lawn on our way to get coffee, we saw Mr. Hammond greeting what must have been his fiancée with great enthusiasm. Or at least his tongue was. Emma linked arms with me as we glanced over and walked at the same time, grinning as he swung her around and put her back down again. The hot sun being in that direction made it difficult to see without squinting.
"We should stop staring now, it's creepy." Emma nudged into my side.
"Why do I feel like we're going to be seeing a lot more of her, after lunch?" I muttered.
"You called it." Emma's lips pressed into a thin line as she smudged the shading around the areola with her little finger.
I could barely breathe, I was dying to laugh knowing that I'd jinxed it. My eyes flitted to the live model: Mr. Hammond's goddess of a fiancée. Then to Brittany who was looking like a bulldog who'd just licked piss off a nettle. She was mumbling under her breath about not feeling up to painting, saying she felt nauseous. The only thing she was feeling sick with, was envy. She was eying our teacher's gorgeous fiancée like the green-eyed monster she was.
I could see why. Her flawless skin looked as smooth as melted chocolate. She was an incredibly beautiful, African American woman. She held the same pose, lying across cushions that had been positioned on the floor. Both legs together, bent slightly at the knees, one elbow propping her up and one arm draped casually across her midriff. Her lip gloss shimmered across her full lips. Her long wavy hair was swept across her shoulder, catching the light in places, covering one of her breasts and leaving one exposed.
As soon as the lesson came to an end Mr. Hammond passed his fiancée a robe. I liked her, she was friendly and polite. She took the time to speak to each of us at the end, complementing our work. She introduced herself as Joanna, and that she was also an art teacher from another college.
I was shocked. I had her pegged as a Victoria's Secret model. Her and Mr. Hammond had been dating for years, ever since they attended college together. And there we were at the start of the year, assuming he was a single man. It just went to show, you can never judge a book by its cover.
As I packed my things away, my phone began to vibrate against my nipple in my shirt pocket, causing me to jump, startled. I smirked as I read the name on the home screen, swiping my finger across the touchpad, then brought it to my ear. Brittany sneered, and she and her army of trolls giggled as if they expected it to be my mom on the other end.
Their face's soon dropped the moment they heard me answer, "Hello, babe, I know, I miss you, too. You are? I can't wait!"