by Ruth B. Is this chapters song
I peek out from Nik’s chest to see smoke rising in the distance. The trees clear out and I’m met with a cabin almost identical to my home. Nik gently eases the door open and I’m immediately met with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Gramps sits at the kitchen table with two older Native Americans who share Nik’s features.
Gramps jumps out of his seat, startling us all. Nik holds me closer and glares at gramps.
“Let go of her you oversized dog!”
“Back off Leroy. You know good and well I wouldn’t hurt her.”
“You’re naked for Pete’s sake! Ellie close your eyes.”
I can’t help but laugh. Gramps is always so indifferent yet here he is about to pop a vein over Nik being naked. Wait, he called him a dog.
“You knew? How long have you known?!”
“Known what?” He plays dumb and suddenly I’m very angry.
“That he is real! That I am not insane! That Nikan can turn into a wolf?!” Nik offers soothing words in my ears as the woman, his mother I think, hands him a blanket and gives me some hot chocolate. Her eyes hold curiosity and sympathy.
Nikan sits me down at the table with the blanket and disappears. When he comes back he is fully clothed and I can’t look him in the eye. I’m too nervous and embarrassed. To my surprise he scoops me up and sits in the chair with me in his lap. I shift, even more uncomfortable than before.
Gramps sighs and Nik’s parents just stare at me. I clear my throat and find a stain on the ceiling very fascinating. How did that even get there?
“Look, Ellie, your father didn’t want you exposed to this world. I’ve known the Potawatomi tribe all my life. Our families have peacefully coincided on this land for hundreds of years. The deal was we keep their secret if they stay away from our families and we stay away from theirs.”
“Sounds kind of rude to me.” I spout and he shoots me a look.
“Many years ago our people had to go into hiding as the white men began killing us in cold blood for our land. The story is the same for the few tribes left. Your ancestors gave us a place on their land when we were fleeing for our lives. The Great Lakes were once our homes. Now, we must hide the truth for the sake of survival.” Nate explains.
“Elliana, you don’t know anything about what being that boys mate means. It means danger, it means leaving the world you know behind. It means you cannot go back into our world if you choose him.” Nikan stiffens beneath me and his grip around me tightens.
“What’s a mate?” Nik’s father bursts into laughter.
“You didn’t even tell her? What was your plan, Son?” His mom slaps his father on the arm and Nik let’s out a groan.
“We didn’t get that far. She was lost in the freezing snow. I brought her here and was bombarded by the welcome committee.” He glares at gramps.
“You had weeks to tell her. We assumed you two spending time together meant you were showing her our world. Did she even know you were a shifter?” His dad asks. Nik’s silence is answer enough.
“Boy, I taught you better than this. You’ve neglected your responsibilities for weeks to do what? Gallivant the woods with the white Pocahontas?” He gestures to my bow on the floor and I roll my eyes. He ties long dark hair behind him and stands.
“Tatiana, you get to deal with this. You convinced that boy to go after her. As for the moment, we must decide what will happen now. The treaty states that once she knows she must decide whether she accepts our world or returns to hers. What’ll it be?” He looks between me and Nik.
“I need time. Her father dragged her half way across the state and convinced her she was crazy...that I wasn’t real.”
“If you aren’t mated by New Year’s Day she must go back to her world. End of discussion. I’m being lenient here.” His words ring with finality.
“She doesn’t need that long. I promised her dad I would keep her from your world. She will reject you now and this will be done.” Gramps states.
“I won’t let you take her a second time. It’ll destroy us both! You of all people should know the effects of
losing a mate!” Nik yells at gramps.
“Elliana, it’s getting late. Maybe you should head home. First, shall we chat?” Tatiana reasons. I nod.
“If the boys are done yelling why don’t you and I discuss all this mess and then we will send you back home for the night.”
Gramps walks out after my reassurance I’ll be home. Tatiana, Nik and I gather in the living room. She quickly runs Nik out and I’m grateful for the privacy. This feels so intimate and I’m internally freaking out.
“Well dear, I must say you’ve grown into a beautiful young woman.” I blush at her compliment.
I’m nothing special with my auburn hair and freckled face. My pale skin feels odd when I look at the beautiful woman in front of me. She has coal black hair braided down her back. Her silver eyes hold wisdom and kindness. When she smiles the years are beginning to show on her face.
I sip on the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. It has a hint of spicy warmth.
“You made this for me once before didn’t you?” She nods, pleased to have jarred my memory. I remember Nikan running up the trail to meet me with a thermos in hand. He said his momma wanted me to be warm that day while we played.
“I did. I was always in the shadows to make sure you both were safe. I knew you were special to my son. I knew someday, fate willing, you’d come back and find him. He missed you. Every day he would check those woods hoping you’d come walking back into his life. The day he stumbled upon you was the shock of his life. When he came home that night he was changed. I saw that glint of hope in his eye.”
“I don’t understand why I’m so important to him. Please help me understand. Why did my father tell me I was crazy and take me away from him?” I stare into the fireplace trying to warm my shattered heart.
“Your father, I suppose, was trying to protect you. Our world can be dangerous and he knew Nik would one day be Chief of our tribe. He knew the consequences of being wife to the alpha.”
“Wife? We were seven. We were friends.” She shrugs.
“There were things even then we had to shield you both from. During your last play date I intercepted a
lone wolf that would’ve killed you both if I hadn’t stopped him.” I swallow hard.
“What’s a mate?” I ask.
“I think Nikan should answer that question.” She nods toward the doorway where Nik has reappeared. His muscular arms crossed against his olive green sweater. He smiles bashfully and nods toward the door. He wraps me up in my jacket and a blanket.
As we trudge through the snow the cold wind bites at my cheeks.
“Come here, I don’t want you to get sick. I’m naturally hot.” He grins and I roll my eyes at his lame joke. He grabs my wrist and I stop walking. He snuggles close to me and we begin our journey home.
“Why are you so hot?” He laughs lightly and I smile.
“I’m a shifter. Being a wolf has its benefits. I run about four degrees warmer than humans do. Makes summer a little unpleasant though.”
“How do you... I mean how do shifters exist? And can you really see this good in the dark that you don’t need a flashlight?” He grins with pride and my heart swells as he looks down at me.
“Yes, I see very well at night. And as far as I know shifters have always existed among the tribes. Not all of my people are shifters. It’s usually just the children of the chief or tribal council with the ability. There are currently nine shifters, all wolves. And our tribe has fifty families at the moment. The number fluctuates when a woman marries someone from another tribe.”
“Oh. Were you able to shift as a kid? I don’t remember you doing that.”
“No, our bodies can’t handle the shift until the person turns fifteen.” Wow. He’s been a shifter eight years. It’s a hard thought to actually process.
“You know, you’re taking all this pretty well. You always were the brave one when we were kids. Will I see you tomorrow, Ellie or will you run for the hills?”
“Of course you’ll see me tomorrow! I’m just happy to know I was never crazy. Well, maybe I am since all this excites me...anyway I am happy to have my best friend back.” What if he doesn’t consider me his best friend anymore? I shouldn’t have said that.
“Me too. I missed you so much. I swear I came back every day hoping you’d be here. I looked forward to the one time a year you’d come home. I’d watch from a distance just to see how you changed. I know that probably sounds creepy. Never mind, forget that I said that.” I laugh when he blushes under his tan skin.
“If I had known I would’ve run straight into those woods to find you.” He hugs me close and sets me down on the porch. Home all too soon.
“Goodnight Ellie.” He kisses my forehead and it’s my turn to blush.
“Meet me in the woods tomorrow?” I ask excitedly.
“And every day after.” He says and walks back into the darkness with a smile on his lips.