“. . . That isn’t even the worst part. Okay, so after I closed the door, I walked to the bathroom and discovered that I had just spent five minutes talking to my professor, practically swearing on my life that I had spent all night studying for my final with a pair of tighty-whities on my head!” Jeremy finished his story, his face slightly red. He eyed me almost nervously as I held my sides, laughing and gasping for air. “Are you going to be okay, or do we need to head back?” Jeremy asked me playfully as he jerked his thumb back towards the med clinic. “I’m fine.” I answered, wiping the tears off my face, my laughter trickling down to a giggle.
After picking me up from another appointment at the med clinic, Jeremy had taken me to an outdoor sitting area close by. There were a few picnic tables, pergola, and a small pond. On one of the pic-nic tables sat a bright red cooler that had been stuffed with sandwiches, chips, iced tea and fruit. Jeremy had explained that Zach had felt that I might enjoy some extra time out of the house today. Since I had spent that last couple of days in my room, reading books, and generally trying my damndest to avoid Zach this break was nice. My appointment had left me groggy, and the fresh air was waking me up. I had spent all morning going over what to do in the event of a medical emergency and what to do if going to a human hospital was unavoidable. It was good information, but it was also incredibly boring. It was just the first of many classes to come. Apparently, I had a lot to learn about being a wolf.
I had skimped on breakfast this morning, coming down as late as possible to miss seeing Zach. I had no idea how hungry I had been until I took a bite of my sandwich. I was now on my second, and Jeremy had been entertaining me with stories from his college days. “Can I ask you something?” Jeremy swallowed a mouthful of chips before responding, “If you want to know how I ended up wearing my underwear as a headdress don’t bother, to this day I still don’t know how that happened.” Giggling I shook my head. “I wasn’t going to ask you about that, though now I’m sure the mystery will keep me up tonight.” “You and me both.” Jeremy added, taking a bite of the apple he pulled from the cooler. ” I wanted to ask if your alpha normally takes such an interest in rogues. Does he usually arrange picnics for them and let them stay in his home?”
Jeremy took another big bite of his apple that he committed to chewing very, very slowly. “He doesn’t for every rogue, but you are a special case.” Before I could ask him to elaborate, Jeremy jumped up from the table and gave a quick nod of his head. A small breeze brought my attention to an enthralling aroma that lingered somewhere nearby. Zach. “Good afternoon alpha.”
My shoulders tensed and I could feel his eyes at my back. As he stepped closer I could feel his presence. He stopped behind me, close enough to make the air crackle between us, but far enough away that I wished he was closer. “Thanks for escorting Ms. Harris today Jeremy. I can take it from here.” Jeremy nodded and left quickly. Something in Zach’s voice made me shutter. He was speaking a lot more formally with Jeremy today. Almost harshly. Turning I watched Zach’s face as Jeremy left. Something seemed to be worrying him. Turning to me he looked me over possessively. Hungrily. Feeling slightly uneasy I stood. “Alpha” I acknowledged him lightly, not sure why I was feeling so timid all of a sudden.
Picking up the remnants of my lunch I began to pack the cooler back up. “Is it time to go back?” I asked as he continued to watch me. “Not if you don’t want it to be.” He answered simply. I nodded, not sure what to say. The memory of me crying into his chest started playing in my mind and I turned quickly to hide the blush that spread to my cheeks. Why did I have to do that? The air around us was suffocating. I wasn’t sure what to say. “Would you like to go for a walk?” Zach asked. I nodded my yes. A walk sounded good, although I almost wished we could just part ways now. Finishing packing up the cooler, I turned to Zach who put his hand out, offering to carry the cooler for me. Accepting, I handed him the cooler and then followed his lead as we headed in the direction of the house.
We walked quietly, somewhat awkwardly. My mind worked over all the things I could possibly say, wondering what the best route to take would be. Zach kept throwing me sideways glances, careful not to look at me for too long. He seemed to be doing the same thing. Taking in a deep breath, I almost sighed as his aroma reached me. He smelled so good. Part of me wished I had a body wash that smells exactly like him so I could be covered in his scent. Looking through my eye-lashes at him a small thought crossed my mind. There were other ways I could bathe myself in his scent. Images of his bare chest pressed against mine as our lips and bodies intermingled flashed before my eyes. I indulged the fantasy for a moment before I realized that I was now openly staring at Zach, who was now staring right back.
Caught, I turned away. My head frantically swiveled, tilted towards the treetops as if searching for one of the many birds who were currently singing overhead. Shit. He caught me and he probably knows what I was thinking about. I could feel the now familiar feeling of a blush creeping up my cheeks. He is NOT a mind reader. My inner voice hissed, making me aware that once again, I was basically turning myself in with my own ridiculous actions. Releasing the breath I had been holding, I decided that I would make examining the scenery my new priority. Besides, that tree, the one that was waaaayyyyyyyy over there next to the path ahead of us, was incredibly interesting. Yep, one of a kind. My favorite part about it was that when I looked at it, I could hide my face from Zach.
My mouth went dry. If a conversation was hard to start before, it would be ten times harder now that I had half naked visions of Zach parading around in my head. Just then, a group of teenage boys ran out of the woods and across the path, whooping and urging each other on as they continued to run into the trees. ” Isn’t it a school day?” I asked looking after the boys, thankful for the distraction. Zach nodded “They are probably taking a break from their lessons. They will need to take breaks more frequently now.” Confused, I stopped and looked at him. “So they are home-schooled? Or do you have a school? Why do they need more breaks?”
“A lot of the children here decide to do high school at home. Though they don’t have to. We have a building dedicated for their use. It has a library and a few different classrooms and we just upgraded and added more computers. Our teachers teach the required curriculum and educate the kids about both the human and wolf government, laws and history.” I nodded. “Wow, that’s really cool. So are the teachers volunteer or . . .” I asked, wanting to keep the conversation going, grateful for the distraction. ” The teachers are paid members of our pack. They all have teaching licenses, and the pack paid for their degrees. Educating our members is a top priority.” I let his words sink in.
“Are the kids required to go to college after high school? Does the pack help pay for their schooling as well, and if it does, do you pick what they go to school for?” Zach smiled at my question, seemingly liking the interest I had taken in pack life. “We strongly encourage our kids to go to college, though not all of them go. Some find their mates and end up going to other packs. We also encourage them to follow their dreams and choose their own career. We do have some degrees that we see as being valuable to the pack. So the kids who choose those professions get their schooling paid for as long as they are passing with good grades, but we try to help where we can.” Pausing he looked at me sideways, “Being in a pack doesn’t mean the pack runs your life and makes these kinds of decisions for you, you know.” I nodded, and looking down I kicked a rock that was in my way as I thought. ” So if the kids can choose whatever career they want does that mean they don’t need to work in the pack after they graduate?” I was curious as to how much freedom pack members actually had.
“They don’t have to if they don’t want to, though a lot of them do. We have a good number of our members working in professions in the surrounding area. This is beneficial for us. We need a lot of skilled members to keep ourselves as self sufficient as possible. Also, being connected helps keep us out of the public eye. For instance, we have members in the local fire department, police station, and hospitals. We have lawyers, and bankers, even small business owners. You never know what may happen and what kind of expertise you will need.” Zach answered. That made a lot of sense. How else would they keep themselves from getting discovered if they didn’t have people who could cover things up for them? “Do you have wolves in social services and adoption agencies as well? That would be helpful in the event a child is orphaned.” I asked, thinking about how that may have helped me. Zach stopped. “We don’t at the moment, but that is a really good idea. Obviously there are rogues in our area we haven’t accounted for, you’ve proven that. Having wolves in those positions could help their offspring in the event something happens to them.” Zach took out his phone and started making a note.
Another question came to mind. “Why do you just homeschool the high-schoolers?” Zach looked shocked for a minute as he looked me over. He put his phone back in his pocket before answering. ” Because that is when they hit shifting age. It is hard to control your wolf at such a young age. It’s a difficult time with your first shift happening and then having to deal with puberty and then all the emotions that come from your wolfs’ real awakening. We strongly suggest the kids stay in the pack for high school, though some stay in public school, take time off after their first shift, or go to public high school until they shift. We really leave it up to what the teen and their family thinks they can handle or their preference.” Hmmmmm. I hummed. I hadn’t been expecting that answer. I never considered all the alternatives they had for traditional schooling. I guess I never considered it because I never had a choice. I couldn’t help thinking back to how hard school had been after my first shift. How easily angered I was and how hard it was to keep it all together.
Noticing Zach had stopped, I stopped as well. He was staring at me, his eyes dark with the clouds of heavy thought that lurked behind them. “I don’t know how you did it. You had no choice but to show up to school everyday, regardless of what was going on. You had no other option and no one to rely on.” He said to me, I tilted my head, confused as to where he was going with this. ” I never even considered it before. You had to be so strong at such a young age. I’m sorry Ade.” My eyebrows crinkled and I felt small tears pooling at the corners of my eyes. I urged them back. I could not end up crying in his arms again. A single tear escaped. Sucking my tears back was harder than I thought it would be, I hadn’t expected his sincerity to be so touching. His apology, something I never could have foreseen, had me mourning the childhood I could have had. Something I had done many times, but not like this. I had thought about what life would have been like If I had a family, and had been loved before, but I never thought about what life might have been like if I could have grown up in a pack of people like me.
“Ade” Zach’s soft voice snapped me out of my thoughts. His hand reached out for me, brushing the tear that had fallen to my cheek away. Sparks soothed the skin he touched and enjoying the comfort he brought, I decided to allow his closeness. “There is a full moon ceremony coming up. It is a night when all of our newly shifted pack members shift in front of the pack for the first time. After, the whole pack shifts and goes for a run together. It is supposed to celebrate the members coming of age and coming into their wolves. I would like you to come.” I bit my lip nervously. “I’m not a member of your pack though.” I said slightly shocked by the invite. Pulling me closer, Zach let his stray hand tuck a strand of my hair behind my ear. “You may be one day.” He almost whispered, his eyes gleaming with hope and adoration as he looked down at me. I shook my head. “I don’t want to ruin their night by showing up. I doubt they would welcome a rogue into their celebration.” I reasoned, choosing to ignore his comment.
Dropping his head, Zach’s hands now found mine. “I’m sorry Adeline.” He whispered. “For what?” I asked, thinking that he agreed with me. That he saw the logic behind my words. Staring at my hands, he suddenly looked very sad. He rubbed my knuckles with his thumb as he started to speak. ” I never considered what your first shift might have been like for you. Or how scared you must have been. I’m sorry you were alone, and that you never had a choice in how to handle coming into your wolf or a celebration.” Smiling, I shrugged. ” I made it out just fine, and besides, I didn’t need a celebration.”
He just smiled sadly at me. There it was again, that look of worry. Of pity. ” I think you did. If you don’t mind me saying, I think if you had a celebration, a pack, you would have embraced this part of your life instead of shunning it.” Of course I would have, it would have been normal for me. “Maybe” he continued ” You can run with us and you and I can treat it as your celebration as well. For the first time you could run with a pack, instead of away from one.” I could only nod, not wanting to admit that I wanted it. His eyes burned with such intensity in that moment that I felt I had to look away from him to avoid being burned. He took my nod as acceptance and smiled.
After another moment, we turned away from each other and continued down the path. Too deep in my thoughts to look where I was going, I stumbled over a rock, my shoe flying off me as I struggled to right myself. Jumping into action Zach caught me as I fell forward. We looked at each other for a moment, and his eyes seemed to glaze over as he looked at me. His eyes became heavy with desire. Wondering what could be going through his head I blushed. Feigning a cough, he blinked leaving whatever fantasy he had been engaged in. “Hey.” He said looking down at me, still a little lost in his thoughts. “Hey.” I said, imitating his deep voice and smug smile.
Blinking again, he seemed to realize that I had just caught him thinking dirty thoughts. He brought his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat looking away from me. His other hand was still placed possessively on my waist. “Can I get my shoe?” I asked, bringing attention to the fact that I was balancing on one foot. “Oh! Allow me!” Bending down, Zach grabbed my shoe, then getting down on one knee he placed his hand on my ankle and started to put my shoe back on. I stared at my foot, too embarrassed to look at his face. I put my hand on his shoulder to steady myself and lifted my foot for him. He began to gently pull my shoe on. His actions left me red and speechless. Looking up at me, our eyes locked, and we both just gazed at each other.
Suddenly whoops and hollers erupted from the clearing across from us. Our silent moment was gone. Looking up we saw a group of teenage girls practically swooning from the other side of the clearing. They were hugging each other and almost bouncing as they imagined their Cinderella stories coming to life. They cheered, for me, I discovered, as they yelled out “Yaaaassssssss Queen.” Blushing, Zach stood up as I laughed. “You know” he started “I get what the saying means, but where did it come from?” He finished asking, his face scrunched with mild interest and confusion. All I could do was laugh as I waved to the girls and we continued on for home.