It was noon before I woke. Looking out the bedroom window, I saw a fleet of cars parked along the entire length of the crushed stone driveway.
My phone sat on top of a pile of jeans and soft white fabric. There was a message from Jordan. These should fit you. Text when you wake up. I will bring you food.
I sent her a text and shuffled my way into the tiny, attached bathroom. Switching on the light, the hum from the overhead fixture was ear-piercing. I quickly flicked it off.
Sunlight from the room allowed me to see enough of my image. I ran water in the sink and washed my face with hand soap, but it didn’t change the dark eyes and purple splotches looking back at me. My face looked bruised, and so did my swollen knuckles. My elbows and knees were even darker purple, every joint or point of stress on my body was discolored.
A diagnosis listing began to run in my brain, acute pain from noise, bruising along joints, nausea, intense thirst. None of my conclusions were good. I turned on the shower and rinsed my skin under the hottest water I could stand, followed by the coldest. Soap and temperature extremes didn’t affect my discolored skin. I still looked like bruised crap.
Jordan popped open the bedroom door and entered with a large tray of coffee, water, and breakfast meat. “Here we are, eat up you will need the protein,” Jordan emphasized by grabbing a few sticks of bacon and sitting down on the wide windowsill.
“The walls must be a foot thick.” I walked toward the food, swaddled in my oversized green towel. “Thanks for bringing up breakfast. I’m so hungry and thirsty.” I grabbed a bottle of water and emptied it down my throat, followed by several pieces of spicy sausage.
“Well, you’re looking better. Keep eating. We will grab a travel package of snacks from the kitchen for your trip home.”
“Home?” I asked, sipping coffee. “I figured I was stuck here.”
“No,” Jordan quickly replied. “Your mother arrived at first light. Eight other clan leaders have joined her since. You are going home today.”
“My mother is here?” I pushed a piece of bacon into my mouth so I could free my hands to inspect my pile of clothing.
“Malou is not happy you’re leaving, but it seems you have some tests this week.”
“Ugh, fuck. Yes, Wednesday and Thursday will suck, then I can die peacefully.” Jordan rolled her eyes at me and went back to looking at her phone while I devoured sausage patty after patty.
“The Kane clan was chosen to escort you home. Two of them arrived an hour ago.” Jordan looked up from her perch on the sill. “The bacon seems to work the best. Look at your hands.”
My knuckles were now dark red and much less puffy looking. “My friend Leo is a Kane. Did you happen to see who they sent?” I asked, pulling on a pair of white lace underwear and grabbing my phone.
“A tall, younger one and an older one. They all look the same to me. Texting won’t help. All phones are confiscated when you enter the house.”
“How do I have mine?” The tank top I was provided with was thick and included a light built-in shelf bra but was terribly low cut and pure white.
“I stole it back from grandmaster kill joy down there. It’s unconstitutional to be denied a phone. Besides, you have people who sound desperate to contact you. No phone contact and people panic. Panicked sheep call all kinds of other sheep. It’s better to just text your flock.” Jordan extended her hand toward the breakfast tray. “Eat, like all of it.”
I waived a fat piece of bacon in the air toward Jordan and pulled on the jeans I was provided with.
“Malou went into town to get you some sneakers this morning. Neither of us had anything in your size. Let me go see what she found. Keep eating. I’ll be right back.” Jordan hopped off the sill and left her phone behind.
I walked to the window and reached her phone before the screen locked. Jordan watched me all morning and texted updates to Malou and one other person with only a phone number shown for their name.
She’s awake, alert the kitchen.
How does she look?
Purple like the girl from the chocolate factory movie
Good she is metabolizing her human DNA.
I can’t believe they are sending her home. How stupid are these people?
Pretty damn stupid. I’ll get 5 days of herbs ready to go.
It was clear Malou and Jordan didn’t think I should leave their care, but I have a life to get back to. I put the phone back where I found it and hurried to finish eating and wash my hands. I felt a burst of energy and quickly tidied my bed and hung my towel over a chair.
I glanced at my face in the mirror while trying to fluff my damp hair into something stylish. My deeply bruised color pallet faded to healthy pink tones. Opening the bedroom door, I could see three more bedroom-doors down the hallway. People were arguing off in the distance.
My bare feet touching the cold stone floors sent an over-exaggerated shock through my body. I added severely heightened senses to my list of ailments. When I reached the bottom of the stairway, Malou sat cutting the tags off a pair of new white socks.
“There you are. Jordan was sent on another errand. Here I got you a pair of plain sneakers and some socks. Sit down and put them on.”
“Thank you, please let me know the cost of the clothing. I would like to reimburse you.”
“The MacTernan household can absorb the expense,” Malou laughed as she fixed the laces on the new shoes.
“MacTernan?” I asked. “That’s the name my elder used.” Malou smiled and patted me on the leg.
“Yes, dear, I thought it might be.” Malou took my hand and led me from the landing to the kitchen, grabbing a wax paper bag of cookies and fat brown sugared bacon.
An open overnight bag sat waiting on a dark tapestry covered bench on the side of the staircase. A scrap of my green beaded dress peeked out from behind the clasp.
At the side of the large entryway was a set of wide double doors open just a few inches. Inside the room, across a wide wood table, I made eye contact with Leo. He winked slowly before looking away.
Malou touched my arm. “Who is that?”
“Leo, he is my wolf.” I could feel a genuine smile spread across my face. I felt instantly safer knowing Leo was close by.
“Let me see your hand.” Malou took my hand palm up and placed it into a ray of sun, shining through the red stained-glass window perched high above the entry doors. With the wave of her fingers and a barely audible whisper from her lips, an orb of bright color pulsated in my hand.
“He is your midnight love. Your last spouse.” Malou nodded. “The one you will bury last,” she explained.
“We can only marry humans. We won’t be allowed.” Malou puckered her lips and shrugged.
“The other clans marry who they like, but in the end, they choose a wolf who they can spend their last decades with. Someone who understands what’s to come and doesn’t mind traveling after being in one place long enough to invite questions.”
“My grandmother married a new husband. He is very nice. I’m told he is an old clan friend. They both were widowed several times before. It seems like a good match for them.”
“Humans only live so long, but they break your heart just the same. Many in the clan choose someone more compatible to spend their last years with—a midnight spouse to avoid the loss and the pain. You aren’t raising children or growing your empire. You’re relaxing, visiting family, traveling, and planning for each other’s final wishes.”
“Love is rarely reasonable.” Malou glanced back toward Leo. Whatever she saw in the bubble of light seemed to concern her.
“What did you see in my palm Malou?”
Malou closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. “It doesn’t work that way.” She patted my hand and looked over at the barely open doors of the meeting room.
“There’s a bag of herb capsules in your luggage.” She pointed to the bag on the bench. “Take four of them three times a day. They will help take the edge off your pain until you reach the White.”
The double doors opened wide. There, standing next to a polished looking older man, was my mother. “Alerie, join us and introduce yourself to our host before you leave.” My mother’s tone was fake and tired. No doubt, she was worried. She stood tall and took in a short breath. I copied her posture feeling the seriousness of her request.
Leo gave a subtle nod and rose from his chair. The sound of chairs scooting across the stone floor filled the room as the rest of the men in the room followed his lead. I smiled, smoothed my flimsy top across my stomach, and walked inside to thank my benefactor.
Several men departed from the long table and introduced themselves with friendly smiles and firm handshakes as they turned me away from the room. There was no way I would remember all their names.
I looked back in time to see Reg waive at me and nodded slightly toward the doorway. Leo brushed his hand across his forehead and began deliberately making his way around the table toward me. Reg ducked out the front door and made a beeline for the car.
Oversized windows lined the outside wall of the long room. The sun beaming down on the manicured lawn was beautiful, but the more I looked at the calm outdoor scenery, the stranger I felt. My eyesight filled with popping round bubbles of gold and hot pink colors. A black blob floated inside my eyeball, blurring the faces of the men talking to me.
I smiled and nodded appropriately as each new person introduced themselves and planted their hands on my overly alert skin. I wasn’t prone to migraines, but the symptoms started to stack consistently with chronic migraine headaches.
The air was getting increasingly thicker. So many wolves with all their scents stuffed into such a small area. The barrage of information soaking into my newly enhanced senses overpowered my rational mind. I couldn’t make myself respond to the simple questions being posed. My only thought was to run.