“You’re really going then?” A voice whispered from the dark room behind me. Turning, I saw Sarah, arms crossed uneasily in front of her chest, her pale blue pajamas wrinkled from her uneasy slumber. Her dark red hair tumbled loosely over her shoulders, her freckles and soft scowl visible, even in the dim lighting. ” I am.” I nodded. Shaking her head in acknowledgement she looked down at her feet, which she nervously shuffled. “Without saying goodbye?” A smile crossed my face as I crossed the space between us. Hugging her, she pats my head as she squeezed me back as she had grown to be much taller than I was.
Sarah and I had shared the last two foster homes together. Seeing her again at 13, I was nervous, but having shared the nightmare that was the Lawsons, and clinging to anything familiar in our new environment, we had bonded quickly. That and I think she was scared of what I’d do if she was mean to me. I guess punching her all those years ago had been good for something. Pulling back, she slowly dropped her arms from me. “I thought about going with you.” She said, gazing at her feet again. I didn’t bother asking her how she knew. We had all seen people pack up and leave before. The signs were obvious to those who had been in the system long enough. “You still could.” I answered, half hoping she would come with me.
Looking back up, I could see the conflict behind her eyes. After a minute she shook her head slowly as if to clear her thoughts. “This place isn’t so bad. Besides, someone has to watch out for the little ones.” I nodded. Hugging her once more, I swallowed the lump in my throat before leaving the room. Silently descending the stairs, I walked slowly, all the while hoping that she didn’t get in trouble for my actions.
A warm summer breeze blew a stray hair from my face as I stepped out the back door. Sparing one last glance at the two-story brick house in front of me, I shifted my backpack on my shoulders before turning, and heading off towards the sidewalk. Once I reached the sidewalk at the front of the house, I threw a cautionary look over my shoulder. A small flicker of light in the window had me turning to take a better look. A small girl, her mousey brown hair rumpled from sleep, was rubbing her eyes and watching me. Once she saw that I had noticed her, she lifted her hand and gave me a small, sad, wave.
Lauren. Returning her wave, I gave a reassuring smile and pressed my finger to my lips, asking for her silence. She nodded in agreement, and sending her another smile, I turned so she wouldn’t see the small tears that now raced down my cheeks. Guilt burned angrily in the pit of my stomach as I thought of leaving Lauren alone. Walking forward, I reassured myself with the fact that in the six months I spent in the house, the foster parents had never once abused me, or any of the other children. That, and she had Sarah.
The family was nice, although some of the kids were complete jerks. The home was one of the nicest I have ever been in, but that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t belong there. That family would never be mine, and at 16 I was unlikely to be adopted. At this point I didn’t think I even wanted to be anymore. The truth was that I was tired. Tired of keeping my head down, tired of constantly being put in new places not knowing what to expect. Tired of constantly trying to please someone, of trying not to be a burden. Tired of being that sad, strange, orphan girl at school.
Picking up the pace, I jogged across the street, walking the familiar path through the neighborhoods. Seeing headlights, I ducked behind a tree until I was sure the car had passed. I just had to make it to the library without getting caught. From there I could take the city bus to the bus station. Luckily for me I had hoarded every penny I had ever received. Every time I had leftover spending money, or grocery money from an errand I would keep the change. If the family was nice enough to give me an allowance, or gift me with money I saved it. I even went as far as cutting lunch a few times a week to extend my funds. Mowing yards and babysitting had also proved to be a wonderful way for me to make some extra cash.
Now armed with a couple thousand dollars and a fake ID I was finally leaving the system. I was originally going to leave closer to my 18th birthday, but when the opportunity to get a fake ID popped up at school, the possibility of leaving sooner had been too tempting to pass up. With it I could get work, hopefully no questions asked, then I could ditch it on my 18th birthday when I would officially be free to do what I wanted. Walking up to the library, I sat on the small bench out front. Checking my watch, I sighed, 3:45 A.M., I had a few minutes to spare before the early bus arrived. Shifting uneasily on the bench I hoped I didn’t look suspicious sitting there with my hood up and a huge backpack on my back.
Luckily the bus showed up quickly. Relief practically came off me in waves as I paid my fare and sat on a seat in the middle of the bus. A young man in a track jacket and a black beanie, had run up behind me, just as I was entering the bus. At first, I was afraid he was a cop, but when he took a seat near the front of the bus without looking in my direction, I had allowed myself to relax. Leaning my head against the window, I let out a shaky breath and focused on the way the cold glass felt against my skin. I was doing this. I was actually leaving.
During the short ride to the bus station, I went over my game plan all over again. I would get off the bus and check the times, I would choose the bus that was departing the soonest that was the farthest destination away. It was oddly exciting not knowing where I was going. I had decided ahead of time that I would do it this way. I had no ties to anywhere or anyone in particular so anywhere would do for a new beginning. That and the sooner I was on the bus, the more of a head start I had.
Rolling into the station the bus came to a stop. The man in the beanie stood up lazily, and stretched out before making his way off the bus. Following his example, I took my time getting up and casually exited the bus, my heart beating erratically. Trying to keep my eyes low I scanned the station for cops or anyone else who would notice how out of place I was. Seeing the terminal was almost empty, I allowed myself a sigh of relief and held my head a little higher.
Walking up to the departures board, my eyes roamed over the times and destinations. At first, I didn’t register what I was reading. Taking a step back I rubbed my eyes before glaring at the board. One of these places was my future, this moment was about to change my whole life, this was not the time for me to be shutting down. Checking the time, I scanned the list again. I was deliberating between Dallas and Des Moines when a subtle throat clearing behind me almost had me jumping out of my skin.
Turning to the source of the sound, I found the man in the beanie standing to my right, silently studying me. Uncomfortable, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say to him, so I just stared back. There was something about him, something about the light in his sea green orbs that was comforting and almost familiar to me.
“Where you headed?” The stranger asked, breaking our awkward silence as he shuffled his feet. Biting the corner of my lip, I looked back to the board before replying “Des Moines.” Having told him that, I knew I was definitely buying tickets for Dallas. Nodding his head, he asked “What’s in Des Moines?” “A new life.” I muttered before I could stop myself. Blushing, I hoped he hadn’t heard me when I asked “Where are you going?” Looking at the board he said ” I’m not sure yet.” Checking the clock, I realized I had 15 minutes to buy my tickets. ” Oh, well good luck with that.” I said, waving as I turned to walk towards the ticket booth.
“Wait!” The guy called out as I walked away. Jogging to catch up to me, he said ” I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be creepy but aren’t you a little young to be traveling alone?” Stopping I looked around us to see if anyone was listening before turning my glare on him. ” I’m old enough. Not that it’s any of your business.” Shit.
“Yeah I’m ugh sure you are.” The stranger chuckled knowingly before tilting his head to the side. Throwing him a look I usually reserved for pervy men and my schools rich bitch bullies, I turned and headed for the ticket booth. I didn’t take more than three steps when a strong hand wrapped itself around mine. Pulling me back to face him the stranger, upon seeing the fear on my face, released me and showed me his hands, motioning that he meant no harm. “Listen, please. It’s hard for me to do this. I understand I’m a stranger and I probably don’t know much about your life, but I’ve seen that look on your face before.”
Realizing he had my full attention he continued. “Like you, I grew up in the system-” hearing his words sent a panic through me. He was a cop, he knew. “I’m, I’m not in the system, I have an ID.” My voice stammered and my hands shook as I reached for my wallet. I had never thought of what I would say in this situation. ” Hey, calm down. I’m no cop. I’m not here to bust you.” The man said quietly, as he pushed my wallet that I had held out to him back towards me. ” I’ve seen enough kids in the system to know the look. When I was your age, I left, I figured I could do it on my own and that life would be better.” Now fully interested in what he had to say my eyes met his, asking him to continue.
“I was wrong. It was a lot harder to get work than I thought, harder to come by a decent meal than you would think. I had saved money, but it didn’t go far. Hotels and hot meals add up. I survived it, it was a lot harder than it should have been and I must have wished I would have stayed put 100 times.” Looking to my feet I nervously kicked the highly polished floor with the toe of my sneaker. My resolve was breaking. Maybe I should leave him now and just buy that ticket. I could make it. ” Look I’m not going to stop you if you still want to go. I wouldn’t blame you; I just know that out of those who left, I was lucky. That and I don’t mean to sound rude, but it would be a lot harder for you than it was for me.”
Looking up from the floor I put my hands on my hips, offended. ” And why would that be?” I asked, my words venomous. “Because you’re beautiful.” He spoke the words softly while looking me straight in the eyes. Embarrassed and at a loss for words I looked away, not sure what to do now. “I’m not trying to be weird or anything, but if I can tell what you are and how old you are, then others can too. They will take advantage of that, of you. I’ve seen it happen too many times.” He had a point. If he could figure out how old I was and that I was running away by just looking at me, then others could too.
" I know this is awkward, but I couldn’t not say anything. I used to wish that someone would have stopped me. Would have talked to me. I used to wish I had a guardian looking out for me.” My eyes watered at the sadness and sincerity I heard in his voice. I too had wished I had a guardian angel, or a protector. Someone who cared and watched out for me, someone who heard my cries and was on my side. Silent tears began to run down my face, and the man pulled off his beanie and twisted it nervously between his hands. Reaching out tentatively he ruffled my hair and smiled reassuringly at me. ” I never got my guardian. Today let me be yours.” If this was a movie, I would have rolled my eyes at the sheer cheesiness of this line, but here in person, I giggled and wiped the fresh tears that raced down my wet cheeks. Nodding my head, I smiled at him.
Looking up at him, I saw that his beanie concealed copper curls that were sticking out wildly just above his ears. His skin was nicely tanned and freckles were splattered over his nose and cheeks. He looked a lot younger than I had originally thought, and looking at him more closely I realized he was only a few years older than me. Opening my mouth to ask his name, he suddenly stepped forward and placed the beanie on my head. Confused I started to ask him what he was doing when he moved in close and started pulling my hood into place. “The cops are here. Stay close to me, I’ll walk you outside. You need to get home before your family wakes up.” He whispered. Nodding my head, I tried not to blush at how close his lips were to my ear. As he moved to straighten up, his spicy, earthy scent reached me, and as amazing as it smelled it also reminded me of something. Something familiar that I had forgotten.
Noticing my sudden silence and the crinkle of concentration between my eyes the man asked “Hey, are you okay?” Shaking off the nostalgia, I gave him a small smile. “Yeah, I’m good.” Smiling, he surprised me by interlocking his fingers in mine. Leading me towards the door we walked quickly and quietly from the station. Once we were clear of the station and out of sight of the police he stopped. Holding my hand a moment longer, he looked me over, biting the inside of his lip, seemingly struggling to find the right words to say. Lightly pulling on my hand, he dropped it before looking back at the station.
“Have you decided where you are going to go yet?” I asked him remembering the start of our conversation. Smiling he nodded. “Yeah, it looks like I’ll be staying put a while longer.” Smiling back at him I pulled off his beanie. “Thanks for helping me out back there.” Handing him the beanie, he looked down at it for a second before handing it back. “This looks better on you anyways. Besides, you still have to get home and you may need it.” Clutching the black fabric between my fingers I nodded. Normally I would insist he have it back but I kind of wanted to keep it.
Stretching the beanie over my head, I looked towards home. “Thanks again.” I said to him. “You’re very welcome.” He replied. I turned to walk away but stopped still feeling his eyes on me. “If it’s not too weird, can I ask what your name is?” I asked, something nagging at me to do so. “It’s not weird, but it’s also not important. ” Confused I couldn’t help but say “It is to me.” Smiling again he shook his head. ” I promise when we see each other again someday I’ll tell you.” Not wanting to feel weird by pressing the question further I nodded my head. Turning around I started to walk to the bus stop that would take me back to the library. “Hey!” He called from behind me. Turning, I watched as he shuffled his feet and then blushed lightly under the dim light of the street lamp. “Some problems can’t be solved by running, trust me.” Nodding again, to show him that I understood what he meant, I gave a small wave before turning and heading off into the darkness.
My eyelids fluttered open. Rolling over, I fully expected to see the pinpricks of stars shining out from the inky darkness that surrounded me. When my eyes met with nothing but darkness, I realized that I had been dreaming. Grabbing the pillow next to me and hugging it tightly, I felt like I was trying to cling to the reality of my dream, a memory I had nearly forgotten. Thinking about that man, that moment, my eyes filled with tears. He had saved me a lot of anguish, but if I would have climbed on that bus that day, I would never have ended up here. Right?
My heart ached for the 16-year-old that I was. I longed for her optimism, for the feeling of upcoming freedom, and the belief she held that one day soon, her life would be entirely her own. My life had been my own. I had worked hard and made it through college, working various jobs to pay my way. I had sacrificed a lot of wants, ate a lot of ramen, and spent a lot of nights in, building a savings. The day I graduated I started to apply for work.
After the first week of working my new job I had found my apartment. My savings had allowed me to put down my deposit and my first month’s rent. I still remember how I felt moving my two boxes in. I had placed them on the floor, laid down in the middle of the living room next to them and smiled. This place was mine. This was my home. I had made it. The ache in my chest consumed me. I had made it, and now everything I had worked so hard for was probably gone.
I must have laid there for half an hour before my mind returned to the present. Wondering how long I had been asleep, I looked to my clock. 12:05 A.M. I had come back in the early afternoon and had fallen asleep instantly. Later in the day, I woke up to hear Jeremy knocking on the door, asking me to come down to eat. I ignored him, and it wasn’t long after he left that I had fallen back to sleep. The second time he had come around, he had knocked loudly, saying dinner was ready and that I needed to eat something. I had ignored him then too. After what felt like forever, he finally left.
Before I fell back asleep, I heard Zach’s voice just beyond my door, asking about me. He seemed angry and for a moment I was sure he was going to come in and drag me out of bed, when a soothing voice broke in, insisting that I needed my space. Focusing on the voice, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I realized it belonged to Patrick. “I know you want to see her, but you have to remember how hard this is for her. She needs her own space right now.” My surprise quickly turned into guilt when I thought about how badly I had ripped into him in the car.
Remembering everything I had said, I groaned. Gods I was lucky I wasn’t sitting in a cell right now. I once heard a little girl’s mother tell her that one day, her mouth would get her into trouble. I wonder how much trouble I could have been saved in my lifetime if I had had a mom to tell me that. Then again, I had been belted before for saying less, and if my back sass survived that, I doubt the spoken warning would have made much difference.
Having slept for most of the day, I stretched out before sliding out of bed. Walking over to the window seat at the opposite end of the room, I sat down, leaned my head back against the sill and looked over the silhouettes of the trees and the stars in the night sky. The moon, only being half-full still glowed down on me, bathing me in her golden light. Feeling the pull to feel the night air on my face and to get out of this stuffy room, I walked to my bag, and pulled on my hoodie. Too upset to care what anyone thought, I opened my door, and cautiously made my way downstairs.
The house was silent and dark. Not needing to turn on a light, I easily found my way to the kitchen. Moving to the back door, I opened it as quietly as I could and slipped into the night. The moment I was outside I sighed my relief. The cool air felt as refreshing as I thought it would, and with the moonlight pouring down on me, I had the feeling that, just maybe, things could get better. Heading for the forest, I quickly broke through the tree line, my legs on autopilot. My mind was numb, and in that moment, I didn’t care if I was attacked, or locked up.
I had felt so much so strongly over the past couple of days, that I now felt depleted. Void of feeling anything further. I walked slowly, my head up towards the sky like a woman possessed. Finally coming to a small clearing, I sat, still staring at the moon above me. After a moment, I spoke, my shaky words rising from my mouth to be blown away with the breeze. “I don’t know what to do anymore. Please help me.” It was then that something wet fell on my hand. Reaching up, I realized I was crying. I had no idea when it started, but I was leaking. My body unable to hold the pain, and uncertainty any longer.
Giving in, my chest heaved with the silent sobs that I had suppressed for years. Sure, I had cried recently, but this was different. This was surrender. In this instant, I let go of any illusion of control I had over my life and myself. Before I had felt like the driving force in my life, and now I realized that, more than anything, I was a disgruntled passenger, fighting to steer and screaming out directions.
I wasn’t sure how long I cried. After a while I lost track of why I was crying. My past pains, and regrets all melding into one wave of raw emotion. I felt like I was purging, like part of me was reliving every wound I had ever gotten. Then I felt like I was dying. Like every hurt had been the last hurt, and the person who had felt it just couldn’t be any longer. The more I felt like part of me was dying, the more I struggled to hold on. Soon the pain of holding on was far worse than the pain of letting go.
Too far gone to notice what was going on in the world around me, I hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t alone until two strong arms circled around me, pulling me into a hard chest. For a second I continued to cry, almost oblivious to the arms that held me, and then, realizing what had happened, I pulled back, yelling out in surprise. Recognizing him by the electricity that shot through me with his touch, and his overbearing aroma, I growled, warning him to release me. When he responded by holding me tighter, I squirmed in his hold like a feral animal, fists beating his hard chest as I started to cry harder than before. His body rumbled with a low growl that was meant to calm me, but instead I kicked out at him with my legs.
Releasing me, he moved towards me again, and not to be outdone, I moved towards him, hands clenched and ready. When he was close enough, I let my fist fly, landing a solid punch on his shoulder. My hand ached, and mad that I had done more damage to myself than to him, I hit him again harder. “Ade! Ade! Stop!” He commanded, and as if in response, something wild in me snarled, mocking his attempts to control me. “Stop Ade, you don’t have to do this. Stop pushing me away!” Grabbing me by the shoulders, I felt his long leg tangle itself behind mine, and I was suddenly pushed backwards, landing hard against the forest floor.
Small stars flashed in front of my eyes, and all the air that was left in my lungs left me with a quick “oompppfff.” My rib cage ached and I suddenly felt painfully hollow. In my moment of surprise, he had raised my arms over my head, and had me pinned to the cold earth with his body. Growling lowly in warning, I began to calm, and as the tears leaked down the side of my face, my eyes cleared. Zach’s dark eyes stared into mine, the storm behind them making his expression indecipherable. Resting his face against my head, he stuck his nose in my hair, taking a slow, deep breath. His next growl was so low that I barely heard it. Being pressed chest to chest, my rib cage reverberated with his growls, leaving me trembling with his strength and want of me. Running his nose from my head to the crook of my neck, I tensed when I felt his lips on me. Dragging his lips out towards my shoulder he paused, and for some reason, this scared me, making me cry harder.
As if breaking out of a trance, his head snapped up and his eyes came back to mine. Checking to make sure I had calmed, he pulled himself off of me, and pulled me back into his chest. Not being able to fight the urge any longer, I cried, finishing my melt down. Stroking my hair, he let me cry, until nothing but hiccups remained. “What are you going to-hic- do with-hic- me?” Ignoring my question, he asked one of his own. “What are you doing out here?” His voice was low, and angry. “I just needed to breathe.” I responded, choking back another wave of tears.
Letting out a shaky breath, his whole demeanor changed. “I thought you ran.” His voice cracked showing his distress. “I thought I was going to have to bring you back.” Laughing lightly, he squeezed me closer. “I didn’t think you would, but then Jeremy reminded me that the last time we pissed you off, you escaped our holding facility.” Rubbing my face against the soft fabric of his shirt, too tired to care what he thought I replied “You know, you guys give me too much credit for that. I am pretty sure I just got lucky.” “Call it what you like, but most people would have never made it out, I doubt they would have even tried.” I was sure my escape said more about their low expectations of me, then it did for my actual skill for escaping, but I chose to let the topic die there.
We sat in silence after that. He rested his chin on my head, and I grabbed a hold of his shirt, enjoying his scent and his warmth, almost falling asleep in the comfort I found in his arms. At some point my tears had stopped and I was thankful he never asked what had started them. I would never have been able to give him an answer as they came from nothing, but seemed to be about everything. I had a feeling things would feel awkward tomorrow, but choosing to forget about the future, if only for a moment, I let him hold me, wishing I could have had more moments like this in my life.
After a while, Zach moved me closer to his chest and cleared his throat. “Adeline, I need you to know that although I am the alpha of my pack, I still have to answer to the Werewolf Council. The council made the registry, not me. If it had been up to me, I would have never considered registering you. If I had been here when they discovered you, caught you, things would have been handled much differently. A lot of people know about you, all our warriors and patrol were there the night you were apprehended. You were seen by our nurses and staff in the medical facility, and naturally our guards at the compound knew about you. When you escaped our compound, word about you spread further. People talk and if other rogues heard about how one rogue was able to break out of my compound, and escape my pack, it would have made the pack look vulnerable to attack and weak. It is my job to protect my pack, so I had to come after you, for many reasons, I had no choice but to chase you.” He shifted awkwardly, his heart pounding hard in his chest and his hands shaking with the conviction of his words. It was important to him that I understand this. Why he cared so much about what I thought, I wasn’t sure.
“If I didn’t register you it would have made the pack look weak and it would have looked like I was neglecting my responsibilities as alpha to the council. I’m sorry. I promise you though, that all of this isn’t as bad as it seems. This isn’t your prison, Adeline. It can be your home, your salvation. I don’t expect you to understand that yet, but please say you won’t try to run, please say you’ll try.”
I nodded my head numbly. There wasn’t much I could do right now and it was out of character for me not to try to find the best in the situation. Besides, the more they trusted me the more freedom they would grant me. The more freedom I had, the more opportunities I would have to find out how to make my life my own again. Knowledge was power, and if I had to bide my time here I would. The last time I left I had no plan. I couldn’t do that again. I needed a plan. I needed a place to go, resources. The time to act out of anger was over. If I had to play the long game I would. For now, I needed to stay.
Feeling my head bob, Zach pulled me away from his chest so he could look me in the face. “Really?” He asked with his eyes glistening with excitement. “Really.” I responded quietly. Biting my lip, I returned his gaze, and unable to stop myself, I said aloud the words that echoed in my head. “Some problems can’t be solved by running.”