With the fading of daylight, we decided to pack up the picnic and per my request we are headed someplace public. The silence stretches for what feels like forever. The roaring of thoughts in my head soon become loud enough I worry Ryder may hear their roar.
The slow traffic and a distant dog can be heard as the glow of street lamps guide us to our destination. The fast food restaurant across from the main park has a few occupants that can be seen sitting in various booths. Once entering the vintage diner, my need for answers causes me to speed to a corner booth. I slide into my seat and wait for Ryder to join me.
“Could I get you something at the front?” Ryder finally speaks. I simply shake my head. “Alright, I’ll be right back.” He says turning to leave. Leaving me with my thoughts to come crashing in again. Alright keep it cool. Keep yourself together. Let him explain. My only saving grace will be keeping an open mind. There are obviously things in this world that require an open mind. What should I start with? I should’ve written my questions down.
I’m finding my jumble of thoughts distracting and hardly notice when Ryder comes striding back to our booth with food in hand.
“Don’t look so stressed. You’ll hopefully understand everything in time,” Ryder says. He sits across from me, sliding a small basket of fries to the middle of the table. Everything in time, I repeat to myself. I look up to his eyes and my stress and needless worries melt away.
“Alright tell me, what do you know about werewolves? We can work off of that.” He says as he leans back, crossing his arms over his chest. I think over the short conversation I had with Ivy earlier today, before I overdramatically left. I cringe at my own actions. I was overwhelmed, but I’m sure Ivy, James, and Michael could’ve helped with my misunderstandings if I had just asked. However, human nature of pushing away and being afraid of the unknown clouded my judgement; I came to my own conclusion and ran away from my problems. I sigh to myself.
“Well, before the short conversation with my sister, I thought werewolves only turned during a full moon and that it occurs without consent. Ivy today mentioned wolves having mates and there are packs, which are like a community,” I ponder back to our conversation. Those weren’t ordinary wolves. They were rogues. My eyes snap back up as I remember what has caused the past few days of endless stress. “Rogues. She mentioned out of control wolves.”
After a small pause, Ryder leans forward with a small nod of his head. “You have a vague comprehension on different aspects of werewolves. Yes, we are forced to shift on full moons and usually the whole pack will gather for a run while we are in this state. On a regular basis, we usually shift willingly; there are, however, instances when our wolf can take over with severe emotional spikes like anger or fear for the human body’s survival,” he explains. I sit and absorb this new information. We haven’t even begun talking about the matters I want to discuss and I’m already realizing my brain might go into a knowledge overload by the end. The silence that still remains after his short introduction to the werewolf world makes me look up. His eyes scan my face, watching my every reaction.
I nod my head to signal him to continue. He pursed his lips in thought, tapping his index fingers on the edge of the red linoleum table. “Okay, just so you know, you can ask questions. I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.” I give another nod in understanding. “Right then, moving on. Mates. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, mates are soulmates, our predestined other halves given to us by the goddess herself, the almighty Luna,” he begins. The almighty Luna? I won’t bother asking just yet. Sometimes it’s best to sit and listen.
“Well, I shouldn’t say they’re always predestined, or fated. Wolves can have a mate of their choice if they don’t find their fated mate, which is rare.” He looks up at me nervously. “Or they can choose a mate if their fated mate dies or...rejects them.” I can’t say why, but the idea of rejection triggers an array of knife-like pains in my chest. “I don’t want to explain the process of rejection, but I will if you are curious,” he says. The look on his face, like a kicked puppy, causes more pain in my chest. Whatever this rejection is, I think I can live without knowing the process. The word alone suggests the general idea. I shake my head as I rub at my chest, trying to rid the piercing daggers.
Ryder clears his throat and continues on. “Anyways, fated mates... They are supposed to be the best things to happen to us. They fill a void that can’t even be comprehended until they’ve filled it. The last thing someone wants to do is to return to having that black hole in their chest. Lucky for us, finding our mate is relatively easy.” I reach out for the patiently waiting fries. “Mates can sense each other through a mate bond, which does help speed up the process of mating... Saying it out loud sounds extremely primitive,” he chuckles. “Once overlooking the primitiveness, I consider the bond helpful in skipping all the trouble and time of looking for the one. I don’t have to worry about her being the right, or perfect, one for me because I’ll already know that when I look at her.” His eyes gaze into mine and I feel heat spread to my cheeks. The way he looks at me makes my world spin and my heart feel light and free like a bird. His eyes glow and a question spills from my lips like water from a tipped over cup.
“Why do they do that?” I ask in a hushed tone. My hand finds its way to his brow, brushing away a few strands of his curly mane. The buzz that courses between my hand and his forehead causes the glow to grow.
Ryder closes his eyes and answers. “That’s Remus. He’s been eager to see you and badgering me for not having introduced him earlier.” A small smile graces his face as his eyes slide back open, looking like the deep ocean waters. His contagious smile brings a smile to my face.
“Well, I’m glad to finally be introduced, Remus.” The glow returns to Ryder’s eyes and a wolfish grin sends a shiver down my spin. What is wrong with me? I laugh to myself and shake my head, clearing sudden images from mind. “Umm… I’m sorry where were we?”
Ryder’s ocean eyes continue to drown me as he gazes at me; probably watching my face slowly turn cherry red.
“Right,” Ryder says, shaking his head as well. “We’ve briefly covered shifting and the wolf side of werewolves, which lead to mates,” he says each while ticking the subjects off on his fingers. “And now we’re here, deciding what to bring up next.”
“Ivy brought up a name several times, North… North West pack? No,” I pause in remembrance. “North something Pack,” I say with an uncertain finality. How should I remember? There has been a lot on my mind: my rush of emotions, the lash out I had on Ivy and Michael, Michael’s dejected look on his face, all the sudden information on a species I believed belonged in myths. The list goes on and on. I’m still processing my cold act towards the three people I ran out on, who are probably now out looking for me while I sit here with a werewolf eating fries at a vintage diner. My impulse to join Ryder for dinner was unlike me. He’s a stranger. That’s what my mind continues to whisper in my ear, but my heart overrides that small voice and continues yelling at me to trust him. To love him, he will be my hearth in the coldest winter night.
“North Mountain Pack,” Ryder says, snapping me from the chaos raging in my mind. “My pack. Your sister, I’m guessing, sniffed me out.”
I chuckle at his use of words.
“I guess she did. I still can’t wrap my mind around the thought of her telling the difference from just scent, but I think the idea is settling in along with everything else,” I reply. How have our lives strayed so far from normal in the span of a few days? When life gives you lemons… make lemonade or let them rot, make lemon cookies or squirt them in people’s eyes, I guess it depends on the person and situation. I’m hoping to work this out; I’m trying to make lemonade.
“Your pack, huh. How many are in your pack? Is there a form of government or rule?” I ask.
“North Mountain rides on the smaller side in pack standards. There are about a hundred residents in the pack. Another fifty or so reside here in Midtown, trying for as normal and human of a life as possible,” he says, now biting into a fry. I didn’t know there would be so many. In tv shows, they mention either the species is going extinct or they keep a low number so as not to draw attention. Then again, when has any of my previous knowledge about this mythical species been correct?
“To answer your other question, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term alpha,” he says and I nod. “Well, his mate, the Luna, leads the pack alongside him. The rank down from them is the beta and beta female, who help run the pack in the absence of the alpha and are helpful advisors. Sometimes a third will be appointed, but in my pack there isn’t.” Why did I think them to be primitive? I mean any society or community needs law and order in some form. Packs seem to have a well designed government.
“If I may ask, what’s your role in the pack?” His demeanor seems to shift and he takes a second to think about his response. When asking any of my questions, I’m hoping they aren’t offensive in any way. I’d rather not be treading all over his toes.
“How about I tell you another time,” he replies to my disappointment. In an effort to play off the disappointment rolling around in my chest, I give a mock shocked look, like I've figured out his master plan.
"Are you using my curiosity as a tool to keep me coming back?” I ask teasingly. He just smirks.
“Your curiosity isn’t the tool I’m using to keep you coming back for more. I’m using my impeccable charm and handsome, good looks, if you hadn’t noticed,” he says, giving me a show winning smile. Like in the cartoons, I can almost see the sparkles gleaming off his baby smooth skin and white teeth. Dang! He ain’t a snack. He’s a full seven course meal.
I laugh at his theatrics. His smile seems to grow more as he watches me laugh at his stupid joke.
The time showing on the Coke clock sitting on the wall behind the bar counter makes my heart seize.
“Oh my gosh! Is that really the time?! I should be getting back before my sister sends out a search party looking for me,” I exclaim as I pull my phone from my pocket. Yep, missed calls and frantic texts from Ivy and Michael. I can’t even imagine what I’m in for when I get home, we didn’t part on good terms.
Ryder has caught onto my desperate need to get home and is out of the booth, taking my hand, and stirring us out of the diner, throwing a farewell to the cashier at the counter.
The chill of the night air caresses my body and I find a chill running down my spine. They are going to be so worried. I got so caught up with Ryder and the information he was providing me. The feeling of being stuck in the dark had slowly faded away with Ryder’s explanations. Through the mate bond, subconsciously I kept convincing myself to delay our departure. I find myself, here by his side hand in hand, walking to the parking lot, dreading the fact that I have to leave him tonight.
This feeling stirs up so much more though. Guilt for Michael, I’m basically cheating on him. Dread for the conversation I have to have with him and sad because I truly loved Michael and I continue to deeply care for him and soon I’ll have to let him go. In a sense, I can’t love him the way he loves me anymore. If he stayed with me, neither of us could survive.
I feel a gentle hand come up to my cheek. I flinch, having not expected to find Ryder in front of me with both hands caressing my cheeks and concern etched on his face. My eyes blink back a blur and that’s when I feel the slow glide of a tear falling down my face. When had I started silently crying?
I bring my hands up to wipe away the tears that shouldn’t have shown themselves in the first place. “I-I umm…” I begin stuttering. I step back from Ryder, trying to hide my face and anxiously trying to undo what happened. “This… this isn’t anything to worry-”
“It’s okay,” he says simply. “I understand.” I gaze up in his eyes, pleading for him not to worry. It’ll all be fine soon enough.
Like approaching a scared animal, he slowly steps towards me and wraps me in his arms. His closeness has been something my heart has been craving since I met him and it’s finally being satisfied. His steady heartbeat is a rhythm I could slow dance to and the warmth of his body could keep me warm all winter long. I take in deep calming breaths and like before, his actions are slow. His hands hold my shoulders and he pulls back to look me in the face.
“Better?” He asks. Rather than take up any more time, I simply nod my head. I’d stay in his arms all night, every night. “Can I be honest with you?” I nod my head once again, not trusting my voice. “I expected more meltdowns than just the one,” he says truthfully. “It’s okay to feel this way and I may or may not have been getting worried for your sanity when you hadn’t broken down while with me.” A small laugh escapes my lips. How can he always make me laugh.
I merely took his hand in mine and continued our walk to our cars. The short distance gave my throat enough time to prepare to speak again.
I have to voice my last doubt, before he leaves. He never actually confirmed it before and I have to be certain. “So, we are mates right?”
He grins and pulls me to him, placing a gentle kiss to my forehead.
“Yes, love.” My heart swells with the nickname and the fact that this beautiful being inside and out is mine.
Couldn’t sleep, so here’s a treat before my choppy update schedule begins (or rather continues, but much worse ). Anyway, goodnight and enjoy!!