I've never felt as physically sick as I did right now. Standing outside of this old looking building, waiting for eight old guys to decide my mom's fate.
It was like a really sick, messed up version of Dragon's Den.
"What time is it?" I asked Sam again.
"It has literally been three minutes since the last time you asked me," he replied, irritated.
I chewed my thumbnail as I paced back and forth along the pavement. The street was deserted. Practically all of Bear Creek had heard what had gone on and were all sitting inside the town hall.
It felt like a witch hunt. All that was missing were pitchforks and torches, I wouldn't put it past the folks here to run home and get some.
"Sam, what are we doing out here? We should be in there!" I practically whined.
I was scared shitless and I couldn't keep still. My mouth was dry and all I could think about was my mom being carted off to God knows where.
"You heard what they said, they're going to call us in separately," Sam replied, doing his best to try and settle my nerves.
"I just hate waiting and not knowing," I confessed, anxiously.
It was torture and I swear, if I have to wait much longer I'm just going to barge straight back in there. Sam put his arms around me, pulling me in for a cuddle. I breathed in his scent. Goddamned honey and citrus, jeez, he smelled so good.
Why couldn't things just run smoothly for once? After everything Mom has been through, why couldn't they just give her a break?
"Old dudes...they're gonna die soon anyway," I mumbled against Sam's shoulder.
I felt his chest and shoulders vibrate in silent laughter and he sucked in a breath.
"Yeah, well one of those dinosaurs on the council is Luke's grandfather. So don't let him hear you say that, even if he is an old fossil. He's our best chance of getting your mom and my dad off the hook," Sam explained.
He ran his fingers through my hair, untangling the knots. I lay my head against his shoulder, staring across the street with a worried frown. We stayed in silence like that for a few minutes.
"What time is it?" I asked again, earning a heavy sigh from Sam.
"Sam Evans," a deep, male voice boomed from behind us, making us jump.
A guy from the town hall had come out to bring Sam inside for questioning. He reminded me of a cop. Only he wasn't one, he was a bear shifter just like Sam, probably not much older than him, either.
He had mousey-brown hair, green eyes and sharp features with a dusting of stubble. He was slightly on the slim side in comparison to Sam, Luke, and Jack, but he was still bigger than any of the guys I went to college with.
"You've been called upon by the council. I must remind you, you're under oath. Anything you do say shall be held against you. If you're found to be withholding the truth the consequences will be severe, have I made myself clear?" He spoke as if he was reading from a script.
The way he eyed Sam with a silent apology brewing in his eyes, it suggested that he really didn't want to be doing this but he was left with no choice but to follow protocol.
"It's alright Ben, I know," Sam answered him.
He whispered that it was going to be alright, then leaned down to kiss me. Three short pecks on the lips. Then followed Ben inside.
I wrung my hands as I paced like crazy outside. My breathing was uneven and I felt as if I was going to have a full-blown panic attack. If I carried on pacing like this, I'd wear out the pavement in no time.
It felt like ages, but realistically it was only ten--maybe--fifteen minutes later, the door opened again.
"Helen Goulding," Ben called out.
"Yes." I whipped round instantly.
"I'm really sorry, for what it's worth," he started to apologize.
I didn't give him a chance to finish what he was saying. For a second, I swear, I saw flashing lights in front of my eyes and I knew what that meant..... I'd lost my shit!
I slammed open the door so that it bounced off the wall and juddered. Several people that were sitting on the benches flinched with shock. I saw red, stomping through the hall and straight through the center of all the town's folk like a woman on a mission.
I had a 'don't fuck with me' look plastered on my face and shit was gonna get real. I'd already been asked to leave once and been spoken to as if I was a six-year-old. I had respect for my elders...I really did.
I had held doors open for little old ladies, given up my seat on the bus dozens of times, reached for jars of pickles on the top shelves in the supermarkets for them....but fuck no!
Like hell was I going to take any shit from these crusty ass coffin dodgers....nah-ah.
I reached the long wooden table where they were all seated like condescending judges in a Miss America pageant, pointing a warning finger straight at the fat bald one in the middle. Ben was hot on my heels, stuttering something incoherently behind me.
I bet baldy could see the whites of my eyes as I ranted like a screaming banshee. My voice filled the large hall, causing the entire room to fall into a pain staking silence.
"Now you listen to me and you listen well. My mom loves Jack and he loves her. She accepted that he's a bear, they're married and that's that. So here's what's gonna happen... I'm taking my mom and my new step dad home and we're all gonna live happily ever fucking after. We're not going to ever talk about any of this, or any of you antique teddy bears again. This is me telling you how it's going to be. You stay out of our shit and we'll all stay the hell out of yours!"
I scanned my pointed my finger along the table, my chest heaving, staring through fiery slits of fury to where all eight of them were sitting, staring back at me in shock.
I noticed Sam grinning like the Cheshire Cat and Luke howling with laughter, wiping tears from his eyes. What the fuck was so damn funny?
A couple of the elders cleared their throats in amusement.
"It seems we are in agreement with you, Miss Goulding," the short bald man smirked as he spoke.
My heart stopped and nearly fell through my ass. I put my finger down and shifted awkwardly on my feet.
"You do?" I stammered.
"Yes, we were only calling you in to sign the newly mate's registration form. You and your family are free to go, along with our full blessing and congratulations, of course," he replied once more.
I hadn't realized my jaw hung open in shock. I could see my mom cringing out of the corner of my eye. Embarrassment began to kick in at that point. Then along came the babbling, clumsy apologies.
"Really?" I canted my head, speaking in a more sheepish tone. I gritted my teeth in an attempt to smile.
"Really," he replied, oozing sarcasm.
"I'm sorry about the teddy bear insult...and did I say shit? I did, didn't I? Um well...I...uh...thanks...I guess."
I felt a tug on my shirt as Sam pulled me towards another desk, dragging me to where a large book that looked centuries old was laying open. He bent down and scribbled his name in the correct place.
I glanced around. My face felt as if it was glowing red with shame. Every bear shifter in the whole of Bear Creek heard me say 'antique teddy bear' and were all whispering about it.
Some were suppressing laughter and some were pursing their lips, not looking too impressed. I managed a feeble smile in apology.
"Sign here, please, where I've put a cross." A slender dark-haired woman mumbled, tapping the cross mark with her pen.
Did they think I was simple or something?
I signed my name, then frowned at the next part. "Why have you printed my name as Helen Evans?" I asked the woman.
Her eyes widened. "Your surname is the same as your mates since you're married in the eyes of our community," she responded as if to say 'duh!'
"Oh, OK, that's cool." I tried to sound nonchalant but really, I wanted to punch her face in.
I spotted Mom's and Jack's signatures above mine and Sam's. They must have been asked to sign this before I barged in here.
God, what a fucking travesty!
"Congratulations." Ben shook Sam's hand, then turned to me. "I was trying to explain before that I'm so sorry you had to have such a scare but I'm glad it all worked out," he spoke, cringing sheepishly.
I swatted the air. "Oh, forget about it, although, you could have tried harder to warn me," I joked. "It would have saved me from making such an ass of myself back there." I thumbed behind me.
Luke came from wherever he was lurking and draped an arm around my shoulder. "Trust me, she doesn't need any help in making an ass of herself, she does just fine all on her own," he teased, flashing a killer grin.
That comment earned a playful slap across his chest. "Jerk face!" I threw him a justified insult.
I could tell that we had a playful rapport going on between us where we would continue to poke fun at one another, all I good humor.
"Helen," Mom called over as she weaved through the crowd towards us.
"Mom! What the hell? I thought you were in big trouble. You have to tell me what happened," I bombarded with questions.
"Luke's family really helped," Mom shrugged.
I turned to Luke and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thanks for whatever you guys did for us, I really mean it."
"It's nothing, really," he mumbled, shying his eyes away.
"No," Mom interrupted, "what you said back there, I won't ever forget it. You're part of our family. You're welcome whenever," Mom said, pulling him in for a cuddle.
Luke blushed, making me wonder what he said. I made a mental note to ask Sam, later.
I felt arms snake around my waist and warm breath next to my ear. "Hey, you wanna get out of here? Got something I wanna show you," Sam whispered, speaking in a low, raspy growl.
I bit my bottom lip as my mind landed in the gutter. "Oh, really? It's like that, is it?" I turned my head to face him and wiggled my brows suggestively.
"Our cabin," Sam replied. "I want to show you where we'll be living when you finish college," he explained.
I mumbled an 'oh' with disappointment. I thought he meant sex...oh well.
"And, maybe, just maybe, I'll give you the guided tour of the master bedroom and the en-suite bathroom," he said in a promising voice, sending goosebumps down the back of my neck.
Hmm, so maybe we think alike after all.
"Do you want to say bye to our parents, first?" I asked, glancing over my shoulder to a blissfully happy Mom and Jack, who were busy talking to some of the community members.
"Nah, they need to go home and make their mating permanent and we're so not sticking around for that." Sam shuddered.
I chuckled. "I've got a little under two weeks before I have to go back. So, what do you wanna do?" I asked with curiosity.
"I want to make it count." Sam eyed me with a wicked glint.
"Let's go have fun, get to know each other better and make some memories. There's a carnival in Hawcroft. Let's go for a visit. I recently bought a plot of land on the outskirts of the forest and I thought we could kill two birds with one stone. I wanna take you there, let you get a feel for the place. I've got an idea that I wanted to run past you," he sounded enthusiastic.
"That actually all sounds perfect. I would love to go to a carnival. And what's this about a plot of land?" I mentioned, turning to poke him in the chest, playfully. I wondered how much that must've cost.
"I've got an idea. Stop me if it sounds crazy," he held his palms up.
"No, go on, what?" I asked with interest. His eyes narrowed as he started to explain carefully. It was as if he thought he was putting way too much pressure on me too soon.
"I'm planning on building a guest house. One that'll double as a family home. What do you say?" He looked at me hopefully. He'd really put a lot of thought into it, I could tell. The excitement was oozing out of him.
I liked this side to Sam. His vision for our future gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. He saw us having kids someday. My heart melted inside my chest.
"Sounds perfect," I replied, leaning up on tiptoes to give him a kiss.