STONE carried the weight of the world on his shoulders– literally.
He grunted in recognition of the pain in his biceps as he lifted the weight a final time. With a selfish inhale, he propped the bar on the stand and glanced down at his chest.
The Beta’s hands mimicked tornadoes as they made quick work of snatching his shirt from the floor and rolling it down his body.
“Hey, slow down,” Kennedy eased with her signature giggle. “I won’t bite.”
The sultry woman’s efforts met the chill of Stone’s silence as he devoted himself to his sweater. Only when his arms were protected from her greedy view did he offer her attention.
“Hi, Kennedy.” His voice was low in volume as it always was, contradicting his obnoxious height. “What can I do for you?”
Kennedy took sly steps forward and tipped her neck back to a concerning angle to maintain eye contact. Stone hoped that one day she would snap it.
“I just thought I could join you on your workout,” she proposed before tossing her ponytail over her shoulder. “But I see you’re all done.”
He nodded, hoping that the gesture would serve as a lock for the conversation. He found no joy in spending time with Kennedy. She was too flirtatious and objectifying– more interested in what was beneath his clothing than his mind. To her, he was nothing but a freak show that she wanted VIP tickets for.
“I’ll see you around then,” she dismissed, much to his relief.
Stone nodded and then guided his seven-foot and five inches of existence out of the gym. He walked across the yard reflected smiles and greetings of his pack members as he went.
“Hi Stone,” a young female voice greeted.
He turned and dropped his gaze to Shari. She was eleven years old and one of the few orphans of the pack. There were five in total– three boys and two girls. The small gang just so happened to be one of his few soft spots. He loved the children, having once been an orphan himself.
“Hey, Shari. What’s up?”
Her young face bloomed with a smile. “The boys want to play Uno. Can you join? Please?”
He laughed. “Put away that pout. You know that you don’t need it to convince me,” he told her with a pat to her brown hair.
Shari grabbed his giant hand into her smaller one and began dragging him– or trying to, toward the orphanage.
“Hey, Stone!” Ethan waved from the porch where he was holding a deck of cards.
Stone waved back, only to halt his steps when a concerned Mrs. Johnson curved his way. The older woman looked over the orphanage and was an excellent caregiver.
“Hi Mrs. Johnson,” he smiled down at the petite woman.
“Hi Stone. Listen... I need to talk to you.” Her concerned-ridden expression flew down to Shari. “Sweetheart, why don’t you go help Ethan with the cards?”
Shari ran off with a nod, her summer dress storming behind her.
“Did the AC break again? I can take a look at it...”
She shook her head, reaching up incredibly high to pat his cheek. “Oh no, you sweet boy.”
Stone had abandoned his boyhood a long time ago. He was twenty-two, and his body had no remnants of his pre-puberty life. He didn’t mind Mrs. Johnson’s endearments, though. He didn’t have a mother growing up, so the elder’s affection was always welcomed.
She pulled her hand from his face and intertwined it with her other one.
“What’s wrong?” he pressed. “Is it the bookshelf again?”
“Stone, I care for you as if you were my son, but... there have been some outrageous rumors going around.” Her face became crippled with sadness and the eyes that had seen much in life watered with tears.
“Hey...” Stone soothed, bending down to place a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t cry, Mrs. Johnson. What is it? I can fix it,” he smiled encouragingly.
“Mrs. Johnson,” she repeated with an exhale. “You still call me that even though you are above me in rank. You are so kind, Stone. Too damn sweet for this world,” she muttered with a wipe to her eyes.
Stone shuffled his feet, not used to receiving this kind of praise. The only praise he received was from horny she-wolves who made it their life mission to bounce from his naked lap.
“Some men of the pack are... concerned with how much time you spend with the kids. The girls, especially. They are going through puberty and... and some are worried you might get some ideas...” she couldn’t finish the verdict.
Stone’s chest exploded with pain as if the weight he had been exercising with collapsed on his lungs. His face flushed with embarrassment and mortification, unbelieving the cruel judgment..
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Johnson continued. “It may be because of your mate situation. Or maybe because of your size. You’re as big as your heart is, but unfortunately, the world’s cruelty is big too.”
His mind ran rampant in search of an instance where he did something that earned the label of a pedophile. Never in his life had he had a sexual thought of a child, or try to exploit their innocence by lifting a suggestive hand. The only memory that stood out was the time Shari asked him to braid her hair and decorate it with flowers.
His feet shuffled backward, begging for space.
He shook his head. “Thanks for letting me know. I won’t stop by anymore. If you need any repairs, you should call Freddie.” His voice remained low in volume but now had a grumbling edge to it.
Mrs. Johnson sniffed as she watched the seven feet and five inches of kindness walk away.
“It’s a damn cruel world,” she lamented as she faced the children who were dividing cards.
An extra set waited for Stone on the wooden stairs.