The lawn was filling up with people and tables when we came downstairs. I spotted Will talking to my father and headed toward them. Henry would fit in easily with my father’s human business friends keeping him occupied. At the same time, I ran the field, serving bottled drinks and sodas with Lila.
My mother was in the house, shuttling pies from the side kitchen door to the buffet tables. I caught a glimpse of Leo by the house, helping the caterers carry food in from their vans. I needed to talk to him privately, but it didn’t look like I would get the chance anytime soon.
“Dad, can you keep Henry and William entertained.” My father walked around a group of guests to hug me.
“Beautiful as always, Al.”
“Thank you, Daddy. There are no drinks or ice at the buffet tables. I need to see what going on in the kitchen.”
Henry turned toward my voice. Will was by his side, drink in hand with his mischievous smile beaming in my direction. I narrowed my eyes to glare at him playfully.
“We’ll be fine, Sweetheart. Do your thing.”
Several family friends overheard the ‘sweetheart’ and looked toward my father with eyebrows raised. Lila noticed the chill as she rushed over to greet me, still tying her apron. She patted Henry on the shoulder and leaned in to quickly kiss Will on the cheek.
“Play nice, Daddy. I may want to keep this one,” Lila asked my father playfully as she grabbed me by the arm, leading me toward the house.
“You like the little boy snack I found for you?”
“Yes, he is wonderful in every way. Did you fuck them both in a thin-walled motel after using an uber no less?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Why do I ask? Holy shit, Al, this isn’t Los Angeles. There are unwritten guidelines in a small town.”
“Cool, your depends, granny. Team building exercises are important.”
“For fuck sake, Al. Try to show some class. Poor Leo, how do you think he feels about you rubbing your relationship with Henry in his face?”
“They wouldn’t touch each other, so Henry wasn’t rubbed on any part of Leo. I did most of the work. I’m actually quite tired, but I did push something in Leo’s face a few times. He didn’t complain.”
“It’s not right, Alerie.” Lila stopped a few yards from the house and pounded her leather sandal into the crushed slate driveway for emphasis.
“So, I can go into the White and kill our Clan enemies, but I can’t take two half-breeds to bed without judgment. I don’t need morality lessons from any of you.”
“Speaking for all the half-breeds. You’re acting like a white trash whore.” Lila stormed off, red-faced with her neatly coifed ponytail bouncing behind her.
I could feel the pit of my stomach turn to hot bile. My mouth salivated with a spicy, sharp-tasting liquid. I looked around and spit next to a bed of dahlia ground cover. One leaf was hit with saliva. The green leafy meat dissolved, leaving behind a misshapen hole. I needed answers, and there was no one around to ask.
I stormed into the kitchen and made a beeline toward my mother. Lila already ratted me out for being a trashy whore. I could tell by the look on my mother’s face. She made my shortcomings a personal attack on her good name.
“Mother, I need to speak to you right now, please.” I leaned on the countertop and steadied myself. Something wasn’t right. I felt faint.
“We have over a hundred people coming today. Mostly to congratulate you and Leo.” My mother untied her apron and huffed dramatically as she pinned her hands to her hips. Leo walked in with a box of rolls, set them down on the counter, and quietly walked back out.
“I have a problem.” Lila took up a spot behind our slightly built mother and started bitching. Her words melted into an annoying clatter.
I understand now why dogs tear apart their squeak toys. They need to stop the terrible noise.
There was a gurgling sound and then my name. I heard it called a few times before I realized my hands hurt.
Lila was quiet now and pinned to the cabinets. My mother yelled out for Leo. He pulled my hands off my sister’s neck and shook me till I responded.
“Alerie, Al. Can you hear me?” Leo’s huge hands were soft and warm—careful in their task. I didn’t deserve his restraint, but as reality came back to me, blue was the only color I could see.
“Everything’s blue.” Leo bent down to kiss me, and I carefully pushed his chest, keeping him at arm’s length. “I just spit in the bushes, and the plant melted. I can’t hurt you again.” Leo’s hand rested on my shoulder. I pressed my cheek to his skin and felt him shudder.
“Your skin tingles like a magnetic shock.” Leo ran a careful finger down my arm. “That color thing happened to me when I came out of the White. Close your eyes and breathe. It goes away.”
My mother poured me a short, amber-colored drink and shuffled me off to the dining room. My sister held a frozen bag of tater tots to her neck and stared at me with wide-eyed daggers as I walked by.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Lila, but don’t call me a whore.” Lila didn’t say a word, but she backed away as I approached her. I felt terrible. I wanted to hurt her, but I was very glad I didn’t.
Leo was busy filling her an ice pack when my mother closed the dining room doors behind us. She removed the carved wine glasses we save for when royalty visits and slid open the panel behind them.
An assortment of dark bottles sat in a narrow space at the back of the china cabinet. My mother pulled one bottle from the group, poured a small amount of dark liquid into my high ball, and pushed it back toward me.
“Drink this. It helps,” she offered. “You need a pure blood wolf. These potions and your human men won’t cut it while you’re traveling through the White.”
“Mmm, it tingles like a weak version of demon kisses. Well, he was in a vampire body when I kissed him, so maybe this tastes like a new vampire.” My mother looked at me with a blank stare.
“Why did you keep all this from me?” My mother dropped her hands on the table. “I’m not human, and I’m not exactly a wolf either.”
“At first, they died every day—my husband and our two sons. It was their fourth round in the Yolk. They were gone so long Reg called in more witches so he could go inside after them. In the end, they made it into the Grove only to die days later.
“I would fall asleep and dream about them. When I woke up, they were still alive for a few minutes. Breakfast and chores for the day filled my mind. Then I would remember why the house was so quiet. I couldn’t do it anymore.
“My grand plan was to enter the Grove and lose myself in the fight between the covens and the clans. Your grandmother begged me not to go inside. She helped me settle my old life and move back here, where I eventually met your father and started my new life.
“I didn’t want that to happen to anyone like us ever again. We split away from the major Clan your uncle still belongs to. Ten families went with me at first. All of us lost people in the Yolk battle.
“When you received an elder, I suspected you were pure blood. I hoped if you stayed away from the forest, the calling would never find you. I prayed your father’s DNA would do more than just color your eyes and hair, but now all your human DNA is gone...I never wanted this life for you.”
“I’m so sorry that happened to your family. I would have liked two older brothers” I didn’t know what to say. The loss was too awful to understand. She put her hand on my arm. Her face a mask of cheerful acceptance. I couldn’t believe I never noticed how haunted she looked before.
“So, what am I supposed to do now?” I sat, waiting for her instructions. The dark liquid returned the color to my eyesight and unclenched my angry muscles.
“Reg lost his brother. You can’t take his only son from him. You need to stay out of the White. Go back to your life and forget this nonsense.”
“I’m not forcing anyone into the Yolk, but we did well, and now I have a greater demon after me. I would rather fight it in the Yolk than here in the world.”
“Alerie,” she rubbed her forehead as tears filled her eyes.
“I need more wolves to go inside next time. I need to recruit a small army, and I don’t even know what I’m asking of them.”
“My bridges are burnt. When we left the Clan and changed the rules, we cut ourselves off. We were allowed to leave and live apart because of the access point our bloodline controls. Rafferty McTernan is your other father. He can recruit physicals. So could your uncle, but many in his Clan may still be bitter.”
“Is this how you keep from biting and choking people out?” I turned the little dark bottle around in my hand. There was no label, and I couldn’t taste what it was made of hidden in Hennessy, but it seemed to work.
“After two hundred forty years, I’ve found nothing works as well as pure magic blood. Those of us with this issue maintain a network of like-minded allies to draw from when we need more than potions.”
“Ugg, that’s not helpful. My human-angel and my human-wolf aren’t going to welcome anyone new to our arrangement.”
“Obviously, they aren’t magical enough. Your current solution isn’t working. Find a different solution or find a different problem.” It was her favorite saying, and it was as helpful as ever. I couldn’t find a different problem. I needed a new solution.
The yard filled with happy guests as we sat at the table and talked. People gathered outside, waiting to see my mother, and some were there to see me. We both looked out the windows and quietly prepared to greet our guests.
“Are you ready?” My mother stood up, fluffed her hair, and straightened her dress. She pulled a lipstick from her apron pocket, touched up her color, and handed the modest pink crème to me.
“I’m better now, it doesn’t work as fast as French kissing a demon, but the potion works.”
“Alerie, please.” I succeeded in disgusting my mother. She wiped off her lipstick on a tissue before replacing the cap. Momentarily injuring my sister would not be as easy to overcome. Lila heals quickly because of her half-wolf body, but she holds her grudges.
We were missing long enough for people to start wondering where we were. Both of us grabbed tubs of cold drinks and walked out toward the crowd.
Will and Henry were huddled together at the end of my father’s table of work colleagues. Thankfully they looked happy and occupied. Leo was busy helping Lila and the catering staff transport trays of meat and chicken from the barbeque area to the lawn buffet tables.
I took a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and wandered into the crowd handing out cold drinks and shaking hands.