From Tumbleweed to Centerpiece
The next couple of days passed by quickly. Zach had gone back to working his normal hours in the office with one exception. At lunch he left the office to eat with me. Despite our fight, our time together was harmonious. My stance on the matter hadn’t changed, and neither had his, we just didn’t know how to push passed it. I wasn’t sure how to fight it, or put my thoughts into the right words.
Frankly, I didn’t think being part of the pack would be all that bad. After nine years of harboring this secret, being able to be myself with others was nice. More than nice. It was like coming up for air after a long time being underwater. This fresh breath had me almost forgetting how much it hurt to hold everything in. I had no idea how much I needed this, until I was given the chance to exhale.
I took issue with the fact that I wasn’t given the option to decide this for myself. The only real choice I felt like I had was how I would react, and I had decided I would exercise that right in spades. I would hold onto the few choices that were mine to make. I needed to. I couldn’t let everything I had worked for, and the specter of control I had conjured over my life be lost.
Zach’s problem was that he didn’t trust me to make the decision he wanted. He wanted me here, he wanted me to accept him and my position by his side. He was unwilling to offer me a path where I could create an opportunity for a world where that didn’t happen. If other pack members were allowed to live and work off of pack lands, I didn’t see why I couldn’t. I had a hard time imagining what my life would be like here, granted I still didn’t know a whole lot about packs and how they operated. Zach had shown me some of the benefits of being in a pack, but he had neglected talking about the hierarchy, and laws of pack life.
How could he expect me to make a decision with so little information? How could he think that being mates should be enough for me to drop everything and blindly trust him? With this kind of tension lingering between us, we both kind of danced around the subject like it was a game of musical chairs. Both of us knew that in the end there could only be one winner, and both of us dreaded the moment when the music stopped. I feared that moment was soon approaching.
Yesterday, I had been cleared to walk without my crutches. Thanks to my superhuman healing, my thigh was almost fully healed, and the only sign left of the gash on my stomach was a scab. Once I was fully healed, I expected that life would continue on like it had been. I would resume the classes that had been mandated by the rogue rehabilitation program, which means that our little game would soon be coming to an end. The one good thing about the program was the reading. I had been given a pamphlet and a booklet with the programs rules and a read-out of my rights.
The alpha had the right to decide where I lodged during the duration of the program and thereafter depending on the case. Since I had trespassed and then escaped due process by breaking out of a secure facility and off of pack lands, I probably didn’t have much of a leg to stand on where my ‘case’ was concerned. I was however given the right to maintain my financial assets and responsibilities while under the program. Bringing this up to Zach at dinner last night, I had demanded that I be allowed my phone so I could pay my bills. Rent, utilities, and my phone bill were coming due, and I’d be damned if I let a bunch of egotistical werewolves ruin my credit.
On that note, my months worth of vacation time was pretty much up. I had also brought that up. I had asked if there was a way I could complete the program while returning to work. He said “We’ll see.” In the end, I ended up sitting next to Zach with his laptop in front of us while I paid my bills and scrolled through my emails. My phone had been dead, so lucky for me, my notes page with all my passwords was backed up on my google drive. It was a bit weird paying my bills with Zach looking over my shoulder. At one point I was going over my bank statements and upon seeing the direct deposit from my paycheck he exclaimed, “Is that all you make?!” “Yep, so if you were planning on mating me for my money, you’ll be sorely disappointed.” I responded dryly.
He seemed to think that was hilarious. I was starting to get the feeling that he was pretty well off, so I decided to chalk his response down as being out of touch with the financials of the real world and all of us poor folk. When I opened an email from Sarah, his interest had peaked. “Who’s that?” He had asked while I skimmed it’s contents. “A girl I grew up in the system with.” I responded while I pondered my response. “How does that work? Were you guys kept together or something.” He asked, interested. “Sort of. We shared a few homes together. Probably our worst and best homes, though I can’t totally speak for her experience.” He began drumming his fingers on the table while I typed. “So what was your worst home like?” I stopped typing, eyes still on the screen.
“It was . . .” I wasn’t sure what to say to him. “It was scary. We were all afraid to mess up. By the end of it we were afraid to spill, to dirty our clothes, to make too much noise. Our social workers always remarked on how well behaved the kids who stayed there were and they thought it was because the people were good at parenting. We were all too afraid to say differently.” I continued typing, eyes forward. If I acted like it wasn’t a big deal he would drop it. “What did they do that made you all so afraid?” He asked. The basement door slammed shut in my mind and my fingers stopped, poised over the keyboard. Why was he so interested in this now? Had he seen my medical file? “Does it matter?” I snapped turning to him. ” It does to me. I just want to know more about you.” He answered honestly.
I instantly felt guilty. Of course he would want to know about my past. I was his mate. Dropping my eyes back to my keyboard, I ran my fingers over the keys. “They had this basement. The kids would tell ghost stories about it all the time. Sarah used to love telling anyone who would listen that a monster lived down there. We used to think that because we would hear moans and cries coming from the vents and we weren’t allowed down there. Turns out the monsters didn’t live in the basement. Kids did. The monsters lived upstairs with us everyday.” I stopped and swallowed hard. “Did you ever get sent to the basement?” He asked. “A couple of times.” I smiled.
“What did they do in there?” He asked. “Ummm, normally they would just lock you in the little room they had down there. They nailed up the window so no light got in. They would leave you on the floor in the dark, and how long you were down there depended on how mad they were. They left me down there for two days once for spilling juice on the carpet.” Zach’s eyes widened “Two days! Did they feed you?” I ran my fingers through my hair nervously. This wasn’t something we talked about growing up. Sarah and I barely discussed it as adults. “Yeah. They had this dog bowl down there. They filled it with cereal.”
Somehow the words had sounded so much worse out loud. “What if they were really mad?” He asked. My hands trembled. “They had belts and electrical cords hung up in the room. If you were going down there you were either getting locked in, whipped or both. I had both.” I answered before he could ask and while I still could without my voice breaking. “How old were you?” He asked quietly. “Six.” I answered, going back to my email. “I’m sorry this happened to you.” He placed his hands on my shoulders. “Please don’t.” I said sternly. I didn’t want to be comforted. That made the whole situation feel . . .more. More pathetic, more dramatic, more woe-is-me. More of everything I had hoped to avoid.
From my peripherals I could see his hands pause before he brought them back to the table. He looked a bit hurt. “It must have been nice having a friend there though.” He said motioning to my email. “We weren’t friends yet. Sarah was a mean kid. I get it now though. She had been surrendered as a baby. Then when she was three her crazy aunt stepped forward to claim her. She had a problem with drugs and tried to sell Sarah off to pay her debts. Luckily a neighbor stopped her and Sarah ended up back in the system. This was her first house after that. She was angry. She used to tell me I was a freak because I could hear and smell things the other kids couldn’t. I earned one of my basement visits for punching her in the face the day the social worker was supposed to come. They waited for her to leave and chucked me down there.” Turning to him I smiled.
“I did have one friend though. Brendan. He was a few years older and he was always really nice to me. He left though.” Pushing ‘send’ on the email I closed the laptop. “What about you? Any scary childhood memories?” I asked, feeling that asking how his childhood was in general may put him in an awkward position after all that. “Ugh, my dad once threw me in the pool to teach me how to swim.” Zach laughed. “He figured that since wolves and other animals could swim as pups that it would be instinct. He had been too young to remember when his dad had taught him to swim.” Zach said the last part dryly. “My mom jumped in after me. I almost drowned. My grandmother was human and she was horrified by the whole thing. While my mom was trying to calm me down my grandmother was chasing my dad with a rolled up newspaper screaming ‘If you want to act like a dog, I’ll beat you like one.’ My grandpa just sat there and laughed.”
I tried to keep a straight face but I couldn’t help laughing imagining his story. He laughed alongside me. “You poor thing. Did you ever learn to swim?” I asked him through my tears. “Yeah a few years later. I wouldn’t go near my dad and the pool until my friends started making fun of me. Patrick would swim laps around me.” He explained. “So you grew up with Patrick?” I asked. “Of course, he was the betas first born and the natural choice for my future beta so we were always close. He was my best friend and he was a lot of fun, still is, though you wouldn’t know it by how hard he works.” Zach explained. “Patrick fun?” I said aloud, trying to imagine him doing anything other than paperwork. “You’re right, it is hard to imagine.” That moment had actually ended in Patrick linking Zach asking for updated security details for the upcoming full moon ceremony.
Thinking back over our time together last night I actually smiled. I returned my attention to the chicken salad I was making for lunch when Zach walked through the door. He was holding a large vase in his hand with an incredibly ugly floral arrangement inside. Setting it on the middle of the island he took a step back, and making a picture frame with his hands, looked through it at the arrangement before sighing. “Do you think that I should flank this with two smaller arrangements? Something about this feels incomplete.” Placing a scoop of salad into a bowl I looked up at Zach a scowl on my face. “Do you want my honest opinion?” “Yes.” He looked over at me, seemingly very concerned. “When I say honest, I mean like brutal honesty.” I told him, giving him the chance to back out. “You have another kind?” He responded before giving a low laugh. “Yes, Adeline, please.”
Taking a deep breath I shrugged. “Okay. Unless you find two bouquets that are even uglier than that one, you won’t be doing it any favors. That thing is hideous.” Zach’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. “Ugly? No. I picked this out.” He turned back to the vase briefly before quickly turning back to me. “Okay. How ugly are we talking?” Biting my lip, I looked to the ceiling searching for the right words. I didn’t find them lurking in the rafters, but luckily I never stayed speechless for long. “You know the term from-rags-to-riches?” I asked. He nodded ” Well if this were a botanical Cinderella story the term would be from-tumbleweed-to-centerpiece, except there is no fairy god-flower alive that could get this thing ready for the county fair.”
Turning, I heard Zach breathe out a ‘wow’ behind me before I heard him slide the vase off the counter and walk into the dining room. I heard the clink of glass on the dining room table before he called out “Maybe you just need to see it on the table.” Placing the bowls down on the now empty island I laughed. “Nope still ugly.” I sat down and started eating my lunch as Zach came in to join me. ” I had no idea you were so . . . horticultural″ he commented. I merely smiled at him. “I’m not. Don’t let me near your houseplants.” He chortled as he sat down to his food.
Picking up a piece of chicken with my fork I asked “What’s all this for anyways?” Zach took a bite of his own food before answering “The Alpha’s table Party. It’s a yearly dinner party for the higher standing members of our pack. With everything that happened with the hunters I planned to cancel but everyone voted to have it anyways” he rolled his eyes. “Sounds fun. Are you going to want me to stay in my room, or will I need to go somewhere else so I don’t worry the guests?” I asked, wanting to know what to expect. Zach looked dumbfounded. “Um, neither. Ade you’re going to be my date.”
I dropped my fork in my bowl and stood up. “Your date?” “Yep.” Zach answered with complete confidence. I walked towards him, stopping in front of him before I sent him what I believed to be a flirtatious smile.“You know. That’s not how getting a date works. You see, first you find your potential date, AND THEN you ask them if they want to go out with you.” Zach beamed, clearly liking this little game we were playing. “Thanks for reminding me.” He stood from his seat to stand in front of me. “Adeline, would you go to the alpha’s table party with me?” He moved in closer, his intoxicating scent almost enough to make me want to close the space between us and wrap my arms around his neck. Almost.
“Hmmmmmm” I half purred, enjoying this new found connection to my inner she-wolf. Moving in closer I stood on my tip-toes, placing just the tips of my fingers on Zach’s chest for support. Small sparks ignited at the limited contact teasingly, and Zach licked his lips as my face drew closer to his. “No thanks.” I half whispered in his ear, dropping my hand, grabbing my bowl and walking passed him to put it away. Did I mention my inner she-wolf was a bit of a dick? “Whoa, what just happened?” Zach asked aloud before he could stop himself. I bit the inside of my cheek to stop from laughing.
" Do you really not want to go? I wouldn’t feel right knowing you were shut off somewhere by yourself while I’m at some fancy dinner party.” I smiled at him reassuringly. ” You just don’t want to go alone. Besides, I’ll be fine. I don’t need your pity invitation, and you really don’t need me on your arm in front of your pack, I’m not . . .” I paused trying to find the right word. Not finding it I came up with one of my own ” . . . pack-broken.” Dropping my fork and spoon into the dishwasher, I stopped to look out the window that was set over the sink. Little birds flitted over a flowering bush, seemingly arguing over the perfect place to build a nest.
Suddenly, I could feel Zach’s hot breath on the back of my neck as a large hand moved my blonde hair off my shoulder. Dropping his hand from my hair he gripped the counter on either side of me caging me in, and then he dropped his chin to my shoulder. My heart dropped to my stomach as his steady breaths tickled my left ear and neck. The tingling his contact brought made me want to arch my back into him. Clutching my hands into fists I felt my body grow stiff as I fought the instinct to melt into him. His throaty chuckle indicated that he knew all about my inner struggle. Further pushing himself into my back, I tried to steady my breathing as he started to whisper. “I don’t mind if you’re not ‘pack-broken’. I can have you broken in fairly quickly. You won’t have to worry about anything. Just leave everything to me. As far as our date is concerned, I think training you would be the best part.”
My breath caught, my face flushed, my stomach tightened. Goddess help me. This wasn’t the sexiest thing I had ever heard but, ashamedly, I had to stop the moan that almost escaped my lips as his chest rubbed against my back and his words ran relays through my mind. “Come with me?” He asked, placing his lips on my collar bone. I snapped out of my trance. “W-What?” He smiled. “To dinner. Come with me to the dinner.” Okay, his inner he-wolf was also a bit of a dick.
Releasing the counter he stepped back so I could face him. ” You’d have to let me go home because I have nothing to wear, and no idea what I should or shouldn’t do, and I smell like a rogue. What if they attack?” Zach sighed. “Ade, no one would dare to attack you while you are sitting next to me. Besides, my pack isn’t as closed minded as you think. If you were stalking around the grounds alone, you may raise suspicion, but at the party, on my arm, no one would say anything. As for what to wear? Don’t worry about it.” I bit my lip and crossed my arms. “Come one, Ade, you said you would try. As my mate this is something you would have to do. Besides, you’re right, I don’t want to go alone. It’s like walking into a den of wolves.” His eyes widened in mock fear and I slapped his shoulder in response to his ridiculous joke.
“Fine.” I groaned. He pulled me close to him and pecked me on the cheek, practically glowing. “Great. My parents have been dying to meet you, and I finally get the chance to show off my mate!” He was practically giddy. It was hard for me to suppress laughing at the sight of him. Suddenly, his words caught up to me and I heard cars crashing in my head. “Wait. Did you say your parents? You’re not going to tell people are you?” His face changed. “You aren’t embarrassed to have me as your mate are you? And yes. My parents. My dad has been dying to hand you over to my mother since he found out about you. Apparently she’s trying to get him to go running so he will lose weight or something.” My heart rate sped up. What if they hated me? Wait, why did I care? “I’m not embarrassed of you, but aren’t you embarrassed of me? I’m not even a proper wolf. They are all going to look at me and know I’m not worthy to be your mate or a luna.” Taking a deep breath my eyes turned into slits as I looked up at him ” and I will not be thrown at your mother like some sacrificial lamb because your father doesn’t want to run a few laps.”
Zach was laughing so hard he had to sit down on his bar stool. “Ade relax. Having a lot to learn doesn’t make you an improper wolf. Believe me, you have a good heart and a strong wolf, even if you have trouble connecting with her. I would never be ashamed of you, you will make a wonderful luna.” I smiled at him. I was soothed by his words, but a small voice in the back of my head nagged at me. This was one step closer to the life he was planning for me and I was just going along with it. Should I have declined his invitation, could I still?
“When is this party anyways?” I asked, mentally wondering how much time I had to prepare. “Two days.” He grinned. Two days?! “Oh and about my mom, it’s a bit too late for that. She’s coming tomorrow to help you pick out something to wear.” I had never met anyone’s parents before. That would usually be kind of scary but this was going to be worse. They knew I was Zach’s mate so to them that meant we were practically already married. They probably had no idea the difficulties Zach and I were working through. They probably didn’t know what my attitude about all of this was. If they did know they may already dislike me. Would they take my unwillingness to be here as a slight against their son?
A sudden noise from the front of the house had Zach and I shifting towards the sound. Catching Patrick’s familiar scent, we both relaxed instantly. Patrick entered the kitchen munching on an apple. “Come on man, break times over. We have a party to plan. Oh, and have you seen the hideous centerpiece someone left on your table?” I placed my hand over my mouth trying to conceal my sniggering, as Zach, looking a little wounded just scowled.
I hope you are all happy, healthy, and safe. I was planning on doing a sneak peak for this chapter, but while I was logged on to edit, parts of the next chapter came to me, so I stopped everything and stayed up til 1 A.M. writing, and I am still not done with it. I have been stuck on chapters 24 and 25 for what feels like ever. These chapters set up the next big events in this story and are important and I really, really, want to get them right. As of right now, my Sunday update should still be happening, but next Wednesdays all depends on me getting my mind right and getting chapter 25 done.
Thank you all for the comments, reviews and follows. I'm sorry I haven't been too active in the comments, but you are all making predictions and I don't want to spoil anything.
Stay sane lovelies,