I couldn’t stop staring at Drew. I watched him from across the kitchen, barely focusing on sweeping. We spent most of the day in bed, snuggling inside our cocoon of warmth. There, we didn’t know the definition of winter. Drew slept so soundly. Not one nightmare. No more tears. I could have watched him sleep all day.
Grace kicked the door open unfortunately and demanded we earn our room with a little manual labor, which meant cleaning the private part of the house and the kitchen. And by “we”, she just meant me. Drew skated by with the doctors’ order for more rest.
Drew had insisted, “I feel better, really. I can help.”
“No, no,” Grace dismissed him as she busied herself with the laundry. “Like I said, you two can stay as long as you like, so you can get well.” I had a feeling she never wanted us to be well. No one liked goodbye, but in the pit of my stomach, I could feel it coming soon.
After my chores upstairs, I finally made it to the kitchen in time to watch Drew read from Liam’s copy of the Hobbit. Mia sat by his side, scrawling pictures of mermaids with witch hats. He read so seriously. He read close to the page with a furrowed brow as if the book told him print was dead. Someone shouldn’t be allowed to be that cute. I was brought back to last night, to his soft pink lips and the way his green eyes lightened to a blue when they filled with tears.
That was the only way to make Drew cry.
God, I wanted to make him cry again. I wondered if anyone would notice if we slipped upstairs and got in some afternoon delightful groping. My mouth watered at the prospect.
“Hey.” A slap to my arm broke me out of my daze. Grace frowned at me and hit me again for good measure. “Now that it’s just us. Could you two keep it down? You share a house with people now and I get it...” She threw her hands up to match the dramatic roll of her eyes. “You’re young and in love, but the world doesn’t fall away and you’re not the only two people on earth, so keep it down. No one wants to hear it.”
“We’ll try to keep it down,” I smirked, but winked at her too. “No promises-”
Without even finishing the last word, she smacked me upside the head. “Work on it. Our babysitter is coming over soon and she won’t believe that all the creaking is coming from a ghost.”
I kept my head down, pressing my chin against my chest and giggling to myself. This happiness felt like I couldn’t contain it, like trying to keep the cap on an exploding soda bottle. I glimpsed back up just as Grace was walking away and shaking her head.
I glanced back at Drew just as Dominic slid a small plate of grilled cheese in front of him. With a bewildered look, Drew looked from the food to Dominic and back, unable to connect the two things. It was difficult for him to tear his eyes from the book, but he probably realized he couldn’t read in peace until this annoyance was fully dealt with. Dominic leaned against the counter and I immediately knew what he was doing, wearing that smug smile and bedroom eyes.
He was trying to get me back.
He was putting on the moves.
I wasn’t worried. Not even in the slightest. A part of me thought Drew wasn’t even going to notice. Drew asked, “What’s this for?”
Dominic did this noncommittal shrug that was an attempt to seem easygoing but read way more sleezy than he probably intended. “Nothing, just wanted to give you a little treat. You like to read, huh?”
He motioned to the book and Drew blinked. “Um, yeah,” he said, still confused because that fact should have been painfully obvious. He literally had no idea where this was going and I was kind of eating it up. It was a relief to know my adorable mate was immune to sleezy pick up lines.
“We’ve got a great library in Dearest, you know? Huge place and luckily I have a library card because—”
Dominic lifted his cap for a second to finger back his hair. I could tell he tightened his biceps to show them off.
I rolled my eyes just as the dining room opened and Ryan walked in with a few canvas bags full of groceries. Unfortunately for Dominic, he was already going and it was too late to stop. Only his voice faltered. “—because I’m checking you out...”
Ryan stopped dead in his tracks. His face fell into a grimace that made all of Dominic’s tan wash away. With a huff, Ryan dropped the groceries on the counter with his nose in the air. He unloaded the groceries with enough vigor to probably break a few eggs and crush some bread.
“God, Dominic, you’re such a creep. He has a boyfriend, you know? Some people think that kind of thing is important. Don’t you have any self-control? Who am I kidding? You obviously don’t care about that kind of thing?”
Ryan finally shot Dominic a disappointed look that even hurt me.
“Uh,” Dominic opened his mouth and maybe he would have been safer keeping it shut. “It was just a joke, Red.”
Ryan’s whole face flushed. “I guess everything is a joke to you.”
With that, Ryan stormed out of the room and I couldn’t contain the little snort that flew out of my mouth. On top of being an idiot, Dominic had the worse timing known to wolf-kind. At this rate, those two were never even going to become a thing, much less mates. On the bright side, Dominic wasn’t going to have to explain to Ryan that all the people in his life were actually werewolves. He’d probably fuck that up too.
“Shut up,” Dominic muttered and took the grilled cheese for himself. He munched on it, glaring at the door where Ryan disappeared.
“Why is Ryan mad?” Mia asked, looking at the door as if Ryan was going to come back. She itched to follow him and make the wound on his heart feel better.
“Dom is bad at romance,” I explained and pressed a kiss on top of Drew’s head.
“If you like Ryan,” Drew spoke up, understanding. “You should probably treat him better or he’s never going to like you back. Even if you’re mates, no one likes a jerk-”
“I know that! I’m not that much of an idiot, it’s just-” Dominic sighed. He ripped off his hat and scratched his head. Something sat on the tip of his tongue.
“We’re not mates,” Dom raised his hands, realizing he was in the middle of a cross fire. “I don’t like him like that- I just- It’s not-” For the first time since I’ve been here, Dominic blushed. “Whatever. Leave me alone. I don’t care!” Dominic threw his hands in the air and went to leave through the dining room, except he remembered Ryan was in there and whipped around so he could storm out through the back door.
A whoosh of cold air flooded the cozy kitchen and all the hanging pans shuddered. Drew and I looked at each for a moment, silently agreeing that Dominic was the biggest liar of the century. It didn’t make sense to me, making it this hard to be with your mate. It was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world to fall into like taking a breath or blinking. I just loved Drew.
Liam poked his head through the kitchen door. “Hey,” he said and glanced back at his phone. “Have you guys seen Grace?”
“She just went back upstairs,” I pointed at the ceiling.
“Damn,” he muttered, before realizing it. “Oh, sorry. Our babysitter just texted me. She’s held up at home. One of her pipes blew and now she’s got a flooded basement and a million things to do.” His mouth quirked as he sent another text. “We’re gonna have to cancel date night.”
“Why?” Mia blinked. She looked up. “Drew and Jess can watch me and Emily. We- we can play upstairs and- and- um...” She blushed a little and went back to coloring. “Only if they want to.”
There was a lull. Liam glanced at us, gaging especially me for a reaction and I looked at Drew. With a small sad smile, he watched Mia scribble. It was a responsibility I wasn’t sure I wanted. It was a task more suitable for a family friend. Not two strangers that came in the dead of night. They should ask someone else, but I knew Drew wanted to help. I knew Drew wanted to make it up to the family and return the favor, but it was up to me.
I couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth. “Yeah, it’ll be no problem.”
Jess and Mia were in the next room, trying to pick a movie to watch. Surprisingly, Mia didn’t have a strong opinion on anything for us to watch. Since her parent’s left, she’s been quitter than usual. This stood out louder than if she was screaming bloody murder. She must be exhausted from playing outside with Jess all afternoon. I just finished changing Emily’s diaper and wanted to bask in our alone time a little more.
We sat snug inside an old leather armchair, worn and soft from time. I told her a few of my secrets. “Jess doesn’t know this, but I once missed him so much I couldn’t stand it. Jess had the habit of leaving town for weeks on end. One weekend he finally came home, but he only stopped by my house to visit. I didn’t want him to go, so I siphoned the gas right out of the tank of his motorcycle. He thought he had a hole.”
Emily gurgled back, totally on my side and I blew kisses into her cheek to make her giggle. She stuck her chubby little fingers towards my mouth and I pretended to gnaw on them. She giggled again. “My first kiss wasn’t even with Jess. My grandmother Millie caught me kissing Frank Bishop, my next-door-neighbor, but if Jess asks, he was my first kiss.”
She drooled on my shirt and I knew she would keep her promise. I told her, in confidence, “I still don’t like carrots. The texture is weird-”
“What?” Jess laughed and I jumped, nearly falling out of my armchair. He grinned, so satisfied he caught me. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” I insisted, but my burning ears gave me away.
“Okay,” Jess snorted. He walked over and scooped Emily out of my arms. He gave her a flurry of kisses on her cheek. She gargled and giggled. Jess told me, “We’re about to start the movie soon.” Emily grabbed Jess’ collar, yanking it down. He chuckled, bending down to leave a kiss on my forehead. Little sparks danced across my skin. He made it so hard breathe sometimes with just a look, with the small little smirk on his lips. I wished he kissed me instead.
Once I realized I wasn’t dreaming, I followed Jess into the living room. Just out of the corner of my eye, Mia wavered. She used the side of the couch to stay standing. More than a few red flags appeared, sirens were screaming inside my brain. I backed up and carefully approached. Her lips were pursed. Her little face was flushed. I could kick myself for not noticing sooner.
“Mia sweetie,” I whispered, lowering to my knees and resting my hands on her small shoulders. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” she mumbled and tried to move away from me as if she could hide, but I didn’t let go. I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead. My stomach clenched. She was warm. Warmer than usual for a wolf. Beads of sweat made her skin slick. “Jess,” I spoke up, my heart beating faster. “Hey, Jess,” I said again, out of panic. Instantly, he appeared by my side, still holding Emily.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, his brow quirked. He stared hard at my face and the panic in my eyes.
“Mia has a fever,” I said,
“What?” He revved back. We switched. I took Emily into my arms and rubbed her back, refusing to let her know something was wrong. Jess lowered to our level, checking Mia’s forehead too. She fought him. I could tell she was getting more upset. Jess asked, “Hey, Boss, what’s going on? Are you in pain?” The more he asked, the more her eyes welled up. She squirmed out of Jess’ hands.
“It’s fine, I’m fine,” she insisted, but Jess still scooped her up.
“Hey, hey,” I said, caressing her cheek. I wiped away her fallen tears as Jess rubbed her back. “Mia, just tell us. We won’t be mad, sweetie. We just want to help you. That’s all.”
“I-I made you guys watch me,” she whimpered and sniffed up some her fatter tears. Her breath caught as she slowly broke my heart. “I don’t- don’t want to bother you. I don’t want to- to make you leave!”
“Oh, Mia,” Jess sighed as both of our hearts were breaking. He brought her into a hug, rocking her back and forth. Jess looked at me for some sort of help. What kind, I wasn’t sure, but we were drowning in the unknown. This feeling rose from the depths of my gut, reminding me of just how helpless I am.
“We wouldn’t leave you like this,” Jess promised and stroked her hair.
It hit me, suddenly and perfectly. I hurried downstairs, towards the kitchen. I called behind me, letting my voice carry. “Jess! Do we have the doctors’ numbers?” I went to the fridge for some sort of emergency contact list, but there wasn’t one. I cursed and then apologized to Emily.
Jess wasn’t far behind. “No! But...” He stopped mid-sentence, frozen by the door. He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“What?” I stepped closer, desperate for anything. “What is it?”
Jess grimaced. “I know their office is in town. When I brought you here, I walked down a gravel path. It was that way or the road to town. Hey, Boss, is that where the doctors are?”
Mia nodded, burying her face into Jess’ neck. She whimpered a little. Her crying exhausted the last of her strength. She melted inside of Jess’ arms, slowly drifting to sleep and my stomach twisted into an unbearable knot. “We have to go.”
“We’ll just be...” I looked up at him, hoping I could convince myself more than him. “We’ll be careful. We’ll stay discreet.”
Jess’ frown deepened, but he looked from Mia to me and back. He closed his eyes, bracing himself for this difficult decision by holding Mia close. He released a tortured sigh that sung to the tune that we were going to definitely regret this. He stated, “Let’s grab our coats.”