The next morning, I woke up early and told Drew to gather our things. He slowly opened his eyes. He didn’t answer. He only nodded his head and dragged himself out of bed, walking to our dresser as if he was going to prepare for the end of the world.
I didn’t bother saying anything. There was nothing I could say that was going to change the situation or make my mate feel better. Any attempt would be pathetic. So, I slipped out of our room, sneaking around the house as I searched for Grace and Liam’s hiking gear. They’ve talked about it before and how they keep everything stored until the season gets warmer.
After taking an unofficial tour of the house, I found a few backpacks and water bottles that could attach. We had only come to Dearest a few months ago, but I was having trouble remembering how difficult it was to find water. I threw the water bottles in the backpacks, just in case. That reminded me to take the First-Aid kit too.
Take, I thought.
Who was I kidding? It was stealing. Grace might just get more pissed off though if we leave without relying on her help and supplies. Or maybe not.
I liked living too much to entertain the idea of asking her opinion.
A feeling of being watched tickled my neck hair and my muscles tensed up, but I recognized the smell of flowers and maple syrup. I dropped my shoulders, glancing behind me. Mia’s little head peeked from around the corner. Her black curls were up in two buns, like Minnie Mouse ears and she was bundled up for the day in her coat, boots, and a scarf. She gripped the wall.
“Hey, Boss,” I said.
She retreated, and I chuckled. “It’s okay. Come on over.”
“What are you doing?” She asked, her voice small. “Are you...”
She didn’t want to ask, and I didn’t want her to ask either. Her hazel eyes welled up, breaking my resolve into tiny pieces. Dragging my feet across the floor, I picked her up. “Don’t be sad, Boss,” I said, lightly pinching her cheek. “I’m still here.”
“But Daddy said you might go. I don’t want you to go.”
I pulled her closer, into a soft embrace and rubbed her back. Even if she was a little girl, I wasn’t going to lie to her just to make her feel better for now. Once I leave a cold bed behind, and I’m not there to make her eggs in the morning, that’s when the bomb will hit her, and it wouldn’t be fair if I were the only one who came out unscathed. I never thought I’d like kids, but she managed to change my mind.
Why was everyone so obsessed with changing me?
We made our way down the stairs to find Cameron leaning against the railing as if expecting us. I shot him a suspicious look. “Ah, good,” he smiled. “Mia, I see you found Jess. Thank you.”
“You’re such an asshole,” I told him and punched his arm. Cameron spun off the railing and stumbled into the lobby with a laugh. “We’re all going to visit Ryan.”
“I’ll get Drew,” I said, mapping my way up the stairs to the backpacks and our room. A plan formed on its own. I figured we could leave the hospital early and make our way up the mountains before anyone comes home in time to catch us. No weepy goodbyes, no saying sorry, and definitely, no one begging us to stay.
“I’ve already got him,” Mark proclaimed from the top steps as he walked behind Drew as if blocking one exit. Drew sheepishly grinned and adjusted his jacket. Mark met my eyes with a knowing look. Now, the worst has come to fruition, Mark and Cameron have teamed up. I only wish it wasn’t to fight against me.
“So...” Ryan said, fidgeting with his hands. No one in the world has ever looked so uncomfortable and not because of the wires or bandages. Most of his arms were bandaged up, along with his cheek. His red hair was mussed and dirty from the last few days without a wash. He wore a pale blue hospital gown and managed to keep Dominic’s safety pin necklace around his neck. It reminded me of a cross, a thing of worship.
His hospital room looked more like a motel sweet with a big flat screen TV and a coach against the window. Liam placed some flowers on a shelf with all his “get well” cards. Walking in, I got a peak to the bathroom with a full working shower and bath with jacuzzi jets. I nudged Grace and whispered, “So, Dominic is this kind of rich?”
“Oh, yeah,” Grace nodded, appreciating the bathroom too.
Eventually, when we all stopped cooing over the redhead and his wounds. We settled down and found places to lean or sit. Drew and I took the couch in the corner. Mia sat in my lap as if she could hold me down.
Ryan’s face scrunched, embarrassed by his own question. “So, you’re all werewolves?”
“We are,” Grace smiled as she handed him a cup of water.
Liam rubbed the side of his face and black stubble growing there. He asked, “Did you have any suspicion?” It was a good question being all the people in Ryan’s life have been mostly werewolves.
“I’m not a complete idiot,” Ryan shrugged. His eyes fluttered around all the faces, but his stares lingered on Dominic. Dominic leaned against the wall in the corner. His arms were firmly crossed, watching Ryan’s monitors. The guy looked as bad as I felt, exhausted and wishing werewolves could control time. Dominic blinked slowly as if he slept every time his eyes shut, just for that measly second. Ryan’s attention didn’t sway from Dominic very long. He took a sip of his drink.
“I mean, you guys always shoo me out of the room when it gets serious. You guys aren’t really stealthy, and you drop weird sayings every now and then and well...” He pointed at a finger at me. “His eyes are red.”
Hiding a snort, I cleared my throat and covered my face, like I was nursing a headache. Drew smacked my arm, which only nurtured
“I mean, I expected something was going on...” Ryan’s brow scrunched closer together. He looked at Dominic with purpose now as if he could draw Dominic out from the corner. He sighed. “I just didn’t expect to be in Twilight all of a sudden.”
Now, we all chuckled a little. Ryan asked, “Are there only werewolves? Are there more?”
“There’s lots more,” Cameron explained, sitting the closest while Grace stood on the other side. She’d gently move his hair and squeeze his hand. Cameron smiled, warmly. “There’s vampires, fairies, mermaids, witches and even people who can see into the future. We all live in harmony, for the most part.”
“And um- sorry.”
“No, ask all your questions. In our culture,” Cameron said as he bent down and rested his elbows on the bed, so he’d sit lower than Ryan. His voice was so soft as if he was coaxing a child to sleep. “Our hierarchy is based on our lineage. I’m the Alpha of this pack, does that sound familiar?”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah, it means you’re in charge, right?”
“It means that as long as you’re a part of this community, it is my job to help you, anyway I can and I will keep you safe, okay?” For a split second, Cameron glanced at Drew and me. I made a point to ignore him.
“O-okay, then um...” Ryan swallowed. He looked around the room, but his eyes landed on me. In half a second flat, he went red from his neck to the tips of his ears. “Why are Jess’ eyes red?” The rest of the room tensed, almost telepathically arguing what to say and not say.
I spoke up. Unafraid.
“I’m what our world calls a Rogue,” I explained with a smile.
“I am too,” Drew reminded me.
I held his leg to steady myself. “Rogues are without a pack. The red eyes are a warning to other wolves that I’m dangerous.”
“Then...” Ryan blinked. “Why doesn’t Drew have red eyes too?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” I admitted, realizing it myself. Drew met my eyes. His eyes were still big and green with thick lashes. It was not my place to remind anyone that he also suffered a constant reminder of our status.
“I actually have a theory,” Mark raised his hand. He stood near Dominic, out of the way. Compelled by Cameron, he gravitated towards his mate and explained, “I don’t think the red eyes are automatic, obviously.” He motioned to Drew. “But I do think it has a lot to do with Jess’ pheromones and his testosterone being surprisingly high for a Beta. I think something snapped when you needed to protect your mate. I think it was because of a violence out of your control.”
“But he’s been safe for months,” Grace said.
“He’s still on the run in his heart,” Mark shrugged, eyeing me. He was too smart for his own good. He smirked, aware of his intelligence. “Aren’t you, Jess?”
I glared at him, but I couldn’t think of an argument that sounded better than the truth.
“This has been fun in a weird way,” Dominic spoke up, forced to groan as he rose from the wall. He had the blurry eyes of a delusional man and the stagger of a drunk. He practically sleptwalked to Ryan’s side, bumping into every chair and bed on the way. “But, uh I want everyone to leave. You’re all noisy.” He rested his hand on Ryan’s shoulder, using him for strength.
“Sounds like Dominic needs a nap,” Grace whispered to me and got up. “Alright, back up. We’ll drop Jess off at Athena’s on our way home-”
“What?” I got up.
“She called earlier, and I accepted the shift for you. We can’t let her down, now can we?” She spoke too fast and too loud for me to cut in as she lifted Dominic up with the help of Cameron. They led Dom to a chair and grabbed one of the white quilts. All the while, Grace went on and on, “Then, we can all have dinner at home. Drew, Reiko called too. She said she’s bringing some books for you to read and make short reviews for and maybe a few recommendations. Mark will keep you company...”
They draped the quilt over Dominic and despite its thinness, it trapped Dominic. Ryan extended his hand and Dominic returned it, locking their fingers together like perfect puzzle pieces. By his touch, Dominic was bullied into sleeping.
“Grace, I can see what you’re trying to do,” I started to say, but she did a poor job pretending not to notice.
She adjusted Emily’s scarf and went on talking, “Just let me know you want to eat tonight and I’ll pick something up.”
“Grace,” I said again, but she was already out the door, leaving me in the dust. Liam patted my back in solace as he followed his wife. My body tingled, ready for a fight. It felt so unsatisfying not being to start a screaming match with her. Maybe Grace only got into fights she knew she could win.