When the houses disappear and the trail home begins Rylin speaks up.
“He’s just afraid. Don’t believe a word he said.”
“Oh great, you heard.”
“We all did. His thoughts and emotions were very loud.”
“Lovely.” He chuckles.
“He’s conflicted. He loves you too much to let you into his world. He doesn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m already hurt.” He realizes I’m not talking about my legs and holds me close in an attempt to comfort me. It’s not the same as when Nik does it.
“You know, you’re pretty intuitive for a sixteen year old.” He grins, proud of my compliment. Rylin is my favorite. He’s like a baby I just want to nurture. His sweet nature makes me want to shield him from this world which is ironic since he’s probably killed more people than I want to know.
“I know what it’s like you know...to feel the need to shut out your mate.” I stare in shock.
“You found your mate already? Where is she?” He stares into the trees and sighs.
“She’s in the tribe. Fate is messed up.” He shakes his head.
“Nothing, I stay away from her. I don’t want her to know yet.”
“She’s only thirteen.” My mouth hangs open in surprise. She was twelve when he shifted the first time.
“She’s so young. She deserves a chance to have some normalcy. I made a promise to myself that I’d avoid her until she was eighteen.”
“Rylin, I’m sorry. I wish I could do something to take the pain away. I know what it’s like to want to be with someone everyday of your life and be so far from them.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’ll be okay. Just promise me you won’t let your love go to waste. Come to our tribe dinner tomorrow. If they all ignore you I swear I’ll be right beside you and make them wish they were us.” I laugh.
“Okay, can you meet me here tomorrow?” I ask as he sits me down gently on the porch.
I walk into the house and wince at the feeling of the stitches rubbing against my pants. Mom and dad are snuggled up on the couch watching tv. They notice me and ask me to join them.
I slowly make my way over, gritting my teeth. The pain medicine is in my pocket but I don’t want them to know I’m hurt.
“Honey, are you alright?” Mom asks.
“Mhm.” I manage it get out. Dad flips on the lamp and moms shrieks.
“What on earth? You’re hurt!” She shouts. I look down in horror as the blood trickles down my left leg.
Dad helps me into the bathroom and cuts open my pants to find the source of bleeding. He stops at my knees where the injury begins. I couldn’t imagine peeling them off so they were no good to me anyway. I look into his eyes and see worry.
“Dad, I’m alright.”
“What happened?” He asks with a knowing tone.
“I stumbled across a lone wolf.”
“Where was Nikan? He should know better than to leave you defenseless.”
“He was hunting the wolf down. He didn’t meet me at our spot so I went looking for him. The wolf managed to sink his claws into my knees before Nik could get to him. I... I had to shoot the wolf because he tried to kill Nik.” I whisper.
“You did the right thing.” Is all he says as he examines my legs.
“Your stitches are still in tact but you shouldn’t be walking for a few days. You need a chance to heal.” He begins wrapping gauze around my knees.
“Thanks dad.” He smiles and I sit there on the edge of the tub thinking about how hard losing his mate had to be.
“He told me he doesn’t want to be together.” My voice cracks and betrays me. Dad raises his blue eyes to meet mine.
“After the attack?” I nod.
“Don’t worry, it won’t last long. He can’t be away from you long. To be honest I wish I could tell you to run for the hills but I can’t anymore. The only way you can truly be happy is to be with him. Mates are a gift and a curse.” He begins to cough uncontrollably and spits into the sink. When he wipes his mouth I can see blood stains his mouth.
“Dad, what’s wrong? Why are you bleeding?”
“Don’t worry, it happens all the time. No cause for concern.” He blows me off. I begin to notice dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks look hollow. He helps me shuffle into the bedroom with an arm draped around me for support.
“I love you my sweet Ellie. Don’t be anything you don’t want to be. Even if they demand you be who they want you to be. Fate chose you for a reason. You’re the captain of your own soul not the tribe. If you love him don’t you dare let fear control you. Be happy while you can.”
“Why are you so supportive all of the sudden?” He grins.
“Because I am learning I can’t stop fate so why should I try? I know what it’s like to be mated to a shifter. If you’re happy then that’s enough for me. It still doesn’t mean I like it.” I laugh.
“Thanks dad. I love you.” With that I take my pain medicine and drift to sleep.
When I wake up I ask mom to bring me my things and I do my make up while sitting at my bedroom desk in an attempt to save energy. Seeing as how a lot of the women I’ve gotten a glimpse at in the tribe don’t wear make up I only use enough to define my good features. I add a pink lipstick to make my lips look even fuller.
I choose a grey sweater dress that shows my stitches but at least it isn’t rubbing against them. I decide not to wrap them. I’d rather they see my scars than hide them. It’s too painful to hide them.
Mom curls my hair so that if falls in gentle waves. She adds a belt to help accentuate my curves and helps me slip on some ankle boots. I smile at the product of our labor. I look confident, strong and happy. I realize I am all those things without the make up but it has given me the confidence to show them that I want to be seen as someone who is one of them.
“You aren’t messing around anymore.” Mom says proudly and I beam.
“Nope. I’m going to show them they don’t decide my future. I do.”
“That’s my girl! You know, I knew when you inherited your fathers stubbornness someday it would come in handy.” We both laugh then I remember last night.
“Mom, is dad sick?” Her face drops and I’m almost sorry I asked.
“It’s been happening for years but since we’ve come back it’s gotten worse.” She sits down on the bed, hands in her lap. I turn in my chair and wait for her to explain.
“They say losing a mate can kill you, and I believe that is true. Your father has been sick since I met him. At first he would cough up blood here and there but now it’s every day. He’s lost weight and his hair is brittle.” She begins to cry and I try to hold back tears. She needs me to be strong.
“Mom, can’t we do anything?” She laughs humorlessly.
“No, we can’t. It’s a miracle he’s lasted so long in honesty. He’s tired of fighting and I don’t blame him. We tried every doctor we could at first but none of them could find the problem. That’s when I knew it wasn’t a sickness in the body, but it was sickness in his heart.”
“Are you saying dads going to die from a broken heart? Mom, that seems irrational.”
“Does it though? I’ve never known the love of a mate but you do. Your dad told me what Nik said. How did you feel?”
“Shattered.” I say honestly.
“Imagine living that way every day for the rest of your life. You couldn’t.”
She’s right. I couldn’t handle being in a world without Nik. That’s why I am determined to show him and his tribe I can handle being a mate to a strong alpha. I can handle the responsibility of caring for his people.
A knock on the door signals my time to leave. I half hope Nik will be there but he isn’t. My heart constricts in grief but I shake it off.
“Hello, Rylin.” I greet him with a smile. His boyish smile warms my heart and I hug him. In such a short time we’ve bonded and I am already protective of him. He runs a hand through thick, dark hair.
“Ellie, you look different.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Good. Nikan will not be able to stay away. Nice touch with showing your bloody wounds. Bold move.” I laugh and he immediately scoops me up. He must know I’ll need the energy.
We arrive at another stone building. We take a moment outside. I have Rylin put me down. He doesn’t hesitate. He takes my hand in reassurance and squeezes.
“You’re going to win them over.” I smile at my little pups reassurance.
“Let’s do this.” I say and we walk confidently into the building. When we do, everyone stops what they are doing and they stare at us, well mostly me. I stare directly ahead and spot Nik on the other side of the building. His mouth is agape. His mom elbows him and he quickly recovers.
Happy thanksgiving y’all. Let’s do this thing.