(12 years later)
I breathed heavily as my shaky legs carried me through the forest. My bare feet crunched the dead leaves beneath me and small whisperings of a summer breeze ran whimsically through my hair. I held my hand out with apprehension but was immediately greeted by the familiar fur of my mate.
The word sounded like honey as I repeated the thought over and over again in my mind. Butterflies fluttered against the thin walls of my stomach and a tiny giggle escaped my lips as the tickling in my abdomen grew stronger. I ran my fingers delicately through his thick wavy fur and took a moment to thoroughly enjoy the company of my large beast. He nudged me with his long snout playfully, causing me to nearly trip over a large stump that protruded from the ground below and my giggle fit grew louder.
His shoulders shook and he laughed menacingly. I couldn’t help but notice the devilish glint in his charmingly green eyes and instantly knew that something was amiss. I gave him a knowing glare before speaking.
“Don’t you dare,” I commanded and waved a finger in front of his face.
He cocked his head to the side and gave me a look of utter confusion but his sweet grass eyes told a different story. While I helplessly tried to figure out what could possibly be going on inside of his giant head, his lengthy mouth cracked open a bit, revealing an impressive set of glistening canines. Just as I was admiring my mates brilliant set of chompers, his long tongue darted out of his mouth quickly and connected with my face before I had the slightest chance to evade it.
“WOLFIE!” I screamed as I tumbled backward, plummeting toward the unforgiving Earth.
However, I never came close to touching the ground and instead fell into a sea of soft ebony locks. The warmth of his fur beneath my body and the thick fragrance of his comforting scent would have been enough to lull me to sleep in mere seconds had I not been covered in wolf spit. I wiped my face and peered up into the eyes of my woolly knight. He cocked his head to the side once again as if nothing happened and wrapped his large paws around me, sufficiently trapping me against his chest with no intentions of letting me go. I smiled and buried my head deep into his voluptuous waves, surrounding myself with even more of his intoxicating aroma.
“I love you,” I breathed out against his chest and instantly felt his shaggy muzzle press against the back of my neck.
He breathed in deeply and shuddered, proving that he felt similar effects to my unique scent. Warmth filled my heart and the air in my lungs seemed to be drenched with his overpowering smell. As I clutched onto this magnificent creature on the forest floor with only the moon as our witness, a stray tear fell from my love filled eyes and I knew one thing was for certain. I was-
“TESSA!” A disembodied voice screamed with a sharpness that caused my entire body to jolt in horror.
My bloodshot eyes sprang open and frantically scanned the room in search of my furry love.
“Wolfie..?” I muttered out in a groggy daze.
I heard a snarky little giggle from across the room and quickly realized that my little rendezvous in the woods hadn’t been real.
It's never real, I hissed internally.
“Seriously? You’re still dreaming about that imaginary dog you had when we were kids?” My sister Grace mocked.
In that moment I could only gather enough strength to hazily shake my head in annoyance.
“He wasn’t imaginary,” I clarified. “And he wasn’t a dog, he was a wolf!”
“Whatever,” she scoffed. “Dog, wolf, same thing. At the end of the day, they all eat garbage and chew on their balls anyways.”
She glared at me with her cold grey eyes and carelessly flipped her long blonde hair over her petite shoulder. Today the brat was wearing a white blouse with pink floral appliques on it and a pair of faded blue jeans that looked all too familiar.
“Are you wearing my jeans?!” I gasped as recognition fell upon me.
She simply shrugged and looked down at herself as if wondering the same thing. Having been the third time this week that the little snake had worn my clothes without asking, I was in no mood to play coy and angrily threw my worn out pillow at her head. Her large grey eyes widened as it hit her directly in the face with a surprising amount of force. I smirked bitchily in triumph.
“Seriously?!” She screamed while her entire body began to vibrate with fury.
Her small round face had turned an alarming shade of pink compared to her usual pale complexion and her thin arms folded out in front of her. I rolled my eyes at the little spat and began to get out of bed.
I knew better than to continue arguing with Grace considering she was the easiest to anger out of my siblings and the last thing I needed today was to be put on her shit list yet again. I glanced in her direction while making my way toward our closet door and sighed.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “You know how I am in the morning. Especially after I have one of my dreams.”
“Whatever,” she shrugged. “Just hurry up and get dressed, mom called a family meeting so you know what that means.”
“Oh no,” I whined as a sick feeling washed over me.
Our family meetings had never been anything more than a prolonged lecture that always managed to make everyone feel uncomfortable. Nothing about them were natural. The way that our mom and all of our dads would sit us down around the living room and attempt to co-parent us all at the same time was overwhelming and usually led to a huge parental argument.
Typically, each of our dads would parent us separately and our mom would just yell at whoever was closest to do her bidding. I didn’t mind since I spent as much time as humanly possible at the shop with my dad working on cars or wandering around the woods by myself until dinner time.
Anytime my dad felt the need to discipline me, he’d take me on a walk and we’d talk it out. But when everyone else was around, it was different. Somehow, every ‘family’ issue would lead back to me and suddenly I was the problem that needed to be fixed.
My blood boiled at the thought of having to sit through another ‘How Can We Make Tessa Feel Like Shit Today’ meeting and my hands balled into fists.
“I’m not going,” I declared flatly.
“Yes you are, mom said.” Grace replied in a snide tone while twirling her feathery locks between her pristinely painted fingers. “Hurry up, Monica will be home soon and dad said it was important.”
“Which dad?” I asked casually.
“Why does it matter?” She quipped. “They’re all our dads, Tess. I know you got some weird thing about accepting that but-”
“It matters because I know if my dad said it, then it must be serious.” I interrupted her quickly. “If your dad calls a meeting for example, it’s usually a super long rant about flushing tampons down the toilet again and I’m not wasting another hour of my life listening to that.”
I recalled Gavin’s famous Ted Talk from a few months back and shuddered at the memory. He and Grace had the same passive aggressive temper, that much was clear.
“Ryan called it,” she reiterated before sighing and rolling her large silver eyes. “And Luke seconded it, so you know what that means.”
“We’re fucked.” I groaned. “My dad never agrees with Ryan about anything, so this can’t be good.”
"Yep," she agreed. "So hurry up and get dressed. Meeting starts as soon as Mon gets home."
I rolled my eyes in exasperation and made my way over to our walk in. My sisters and I shared a bedroom and a large closet that was basically an adjoining bedroom.
Our room consisted of a cherry wood bunk bed on the wall closest to our door and a small twin sized matress on the opposite side of the room. Two small desks sat the end of each bed that the three of us had to share.
Monica and I shared the bunk bed while the drama queen got her own sleeping area. After many failed attempts at talking my parents into giving her a room to herself, she began to make our lives hell until we begged our dads to separate us.
Monica did technically still own the top bunk, but she was hardly ever home anymore since beginning her epic quest of bedding every man that gave her the slightest bit of attention. Lately, Grace and I have just been using the space as extra storage.
I stepped into our closet and took a small glance at the mess that surrounded me. Our walk-in was sectioned off into three parts. The clothing rack closest to the door when you first walked in was Monica's area. The wall furthest to the left was Grace’s and the wall that faced the doorway was supposed to be mine.
Although there had been many fearsome battles between us over the limited amount of space, that didn't stop Grace from taking up ninety percent of my rack with her frilly garments.
Most of my clothes had to be folded and stored in small baskets on the floor. The small amount of clothing that I had actually managed to find space for at the end of the rack was meant for special occasions and frequently worn by my sisters.
Growing annoyed with the sight of Grace's clothes on my side of the closet yet again, I picked up several of her favorite pieces and threw them onto the ground. I then hung up a few of my jackets in it's place and picked out an outfit for the day.
I made quick work of getting dressed, tossing on a pair of black leggings and an old Rolling Stones shirt that I had cut into a crop top the previous summer. I then threw my thick black hair up into a messy bun and made my way into the living room. As I passed through the short hallway and into our decently sized family room, I took notice that everyone was there besides Monica.
She must be running late, I thought to myself as I looked for an empty seat on one of the brown leather couches that my mother loved so much.
She forced our dads to buy two of the large sectionals, convincing them that they’d be perfect for our ‘growing’ family.
I shook the memory away and plopped down next to Grace. My sisters and I typically claimed the couch closest to the hall while our mom and dads all sat together on the adjacent sofa.
Our dads were all wearing blank expressions upon their faces but our mom looked as happy as could be. The longer I stared at my mother, the happier she seemed to become. She looked as if she was having trouble sitting still and was practically bouncing with excitement as she looked upon us. Her big brown eyes were puffy as if she had been crying and she was curling her long strawberry blonde hair between her fingers the same way Grace always did when she gets nervous.
“You’re not going to try to give us ‘the talk’ again, are you?” I asked timidly.
“Oh no, honey. Don’t worry,” My mother said while waving me off. “Just wait until your sister gets home!”
Several minutes passed before the sound of Monica’s car pulling into the driveway radiated into my ears. Within seconds I heard her door slam and she was bursting through the front door before I had time to blink. Her face was flushed and her shoulder length reddish brown hair was in a tangled mess.
Her large hazel eyes locked with mine and a hellish squeal escaped her throat as she ran right at me, proceeding to tackle Grace and I like a football player on crack. She swung her arm around my neck and pulled me into a group hug as we groaned our displeasure in unison. I pushed her back gently and looked at her in utter confusion.
“I found him!” She squealed and shook both of our shoulders.
“Found who?” I asked dumbfounded, but was completely ignored.
“Shut up!” Grace yelled enthusiastically and she was immediately on her feet. "You found him!"
Monica nodded manically and covered her face with her palms as tear sprang from her eyes like a fire hose. They both proceeded to jump up and down like blubbering schoolgirls at a concert.
“Found WHO?!” I yelled, still not understanding why everyone seemed to have lost their damn minds.
I looked to my mom for a clue but she just ran over and hugged Monica tightly with glassy retinas.
“Mon called me an hour ago with the good news!” My mother proclaimed between sobs. “I’m so happy for you girls! I still can’t believe it! You really found-”
“FOUND WHO?!” I screamed at the top of my lungs in an attempt to drown out the craziness that was surrounding me.
From the way everyone was acting, you would’ve thought they found our long lost brother or something.
“Tessie, calm down.” My father began cautiously.
His black hair was in tousles as if he had been running his hands through it all day and his typically electric blue eyes looked dim. I was about to ask him if he was feeling alright but Monica jumped in front of me with tears streaming down her cheeks before I had the chance. She grasped my shoulders tightly and gave me a small shake before speaking.
“Our mate silly! I found our mate!” She exclaimed.
“Our mate?” I muttered, trying to figure out what she could possibly mean.
The words seemed foreign yet so familiar, almost like I had heard them before but blocked out the memory. I couldn't put my finger on what she meant.
“Oh my God, Tessa!” Grace interjected as I was racking my brain for answers. “Our mate! You know, the one perfect guy that we all get to spend the rest of our lives with!”
“Our knight in shining armor!” Monica swooned. "He's so perfect Grace, you're gonna die!"
“Is he Ailuran?! Please tell me he’s Ailuran!” Grace babbled.
“He is,” Monica breathed out happily. “He’s one hundred percent werecat!”
Grace plopped onto the couch beside me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders in a tight embrace. I flinched at the sudden contact and pulled away from her. My head was spinning and I was beginning to feel increasingly nauseous with every moment that ticked by.
I had totally forgotten that I was destined to share a mate with my sisters. As I forced myself to remember the night that my mother had sat me down and told me about true mates, it was as if an invisible barrier in my mind had shattered and the flood gates of my childhood traumas saturated my mind.
Every horrid memory that I had spent years pushing away had begun to flow through my mind in clusters of agony. Cruel pranks that my sisters would pull on me like dumping water on my mattress before bedtime so that I would have to sleep on the floor and putting gum in my hair on picture day. Monica stealing my dream journal in ninth grade and reading it to the entire school during our field trip to Lake Michigan.
The memories became more painful as flashbacks of my mother watching helplessly as I begged for her help whenever Ryan or Gavin would lose their temper and scream me into a corner. A truly horrifying memory of Ryan striking me across the face for making a rude comment caused tears to sting my eyes and I quickly stood up in an attempt to escape the awful visions.
I ignored my sister’s happy display in front of me and turned on my heel to leave before anyone could see me cry, but there would be no such luck.
“Come on, Tess!” Monica exclaimed. “Aren’t you excited? We’re getting married! ”
“No, I just need to-” I began with my voice thick with tears as I tried to come up with an excuse to leave as quickly as possible.
I wasn’t excited whatsoever. I was terrified. Not only was I expected to marry some guy that I’d never met before, but I was going to have to share him with both of my sisters and be stuck with them for the rest of my life.
The idea of having to deal with their cruel punishments without the small salvation of my dad stepping in before they could do anything harmful was making my head spin. As I looked around the room, I realized that everything seemed to be spinning. I could see my sister’s lips moving but whatever they were saying was being drowned out by the loud ringing that seemed to swallow my ears.
I can’t do this, I thought to myself as my throat began to close with fear. I don’t want this.
My body had begun to numb and I felt only small pricklings on my skin as Monica grabbed my shoulders and gave me a small shake.
“Tessa! Are you listening?!” She smiled dumbfoundedly. “We’re getting married!”
Those last words seemed to be my undoing as black spots began to cloud my vision and an awful metallic taste assaulted my mouth. I waved her away and turned towards the door to make my grand exit. Unfortunately, I got about two steps forward before my legs betrayed me and I came crashing down to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
As I stared up at the cotton white ceiling of my family home, my world faded to black and for the first time in my entire life, I fainted.