The Panther's Claw

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Chapter 1: The Move

I wake up to my blaring phone next to my head. I pick it up and answer without looking.

"Hello?"

"Hey Lena do you need a ride to the bus station?" Lila asks. Lord love her. Lila probably just got off work too.

"Yes please! If its not too much trouble."

"I'll be outside in ten. Be ready or I'm leaving." She says as she hangs up. I grab my two duffle bags and walk through the abandoned house that has been my home for the last few months.

Why can't we go down the tree again? Begs Amethyst.

"Because its daytime." I mutter back.

Oh, that.

I sit down on the front stoop and read while I wait. I am so grateful for Lila. She got me the job at The Cage.

Without that job I would never be going to college. So I had to dance in a cage a few days a week. The ends justified the means. I would be going to college without debt and I would get a career. I would be stable and valued. Or at least that was the plan anyway.

Its not long before Lila pulls up and sounds the horn knocking me out of my daydream.

"Hey! Thanks again!" I say tossing my bags into the truck.

"Not a problem babe." She grins and hands me a gift bag. "Happy birthday." I smile and open it up to find a load of pretty under things.

"Oh my god. No. This is too much." I object.

"Please just take the damn things." She waves me off.

"Well thank you." I turn in my seat and put it safely in my clothing bag.

"No problem babe." She says slapping my ass. "Our little Lena is going to college! Woo!" She hollers making me laugh as I flop back down in my seat.

We pull up to the bus station and I grab my things and we walk together to the ticket booth. Marco is waiting for me with...Cash of all people. Well played Cash, well played.

Marco envelopes me in a hug as I set down my bags.

"Oh im going to miss you!" He says squeezing me to him.

"I'll miss you too!" I squeeze back.

"Text me when you get off the bus and once more when you get to your dorm. Ok?" He insists. I give him a salute.

"Yes sir." I grin. Lila physically turns me to face her.

"I love you, kick ass, learn lots and if you meet a man worthy of your amazingness make sure he has a brother." She says making me laugh loudly.

"Love you babe." I say giving her a hug. "Ok. Its time." I say taking a deep breath i pick up my bags and head to my bus.

I store my bags in the spaces under the bus and climb on. I take my phone out and snap a picture of my best friends...and Cash. I can't stand it. I open my window.

"Why are you here?" I ask curiosly.

"Oh, hes my ride. Im crashing at his place this week." Marco grins.

"And I had to prove you wrong. My poor ego couldn't take that brush off." Cash grins making me smile despite his ego.

"I think your ego could use a bit more rejection." I laugh and close the window as my friends chuckle. After a few minutes of waiting the bus takes off and im on my way to the mountains.





Its a three day journey and poor Amethyst is feeling it. Im going to have to find a place to run when I get my stuff put away in my dorm. I start reading more shifter novels on my phone so she can have some sort of outlet. I also keep picking up beef Jerry at all our stops. At least its something.

I've chatted with a few of the passengers but im the one who never leaves. I am the constant passenger.

Once we hit Railey I see the mountains and I feel jittery with excitement. A few more hours and I'll be there.



We drive through the mountains and trees and down into the valley where I'm headed. The trees are so much bigger here. Oh I can't wait to run and climb with Amethyst.

Amethyst is so excited its nothing like the tiny wooded areas back home in the city. Its lush and damp and glorious here. Its as good as a rainforest we can get up here. I mean technically it is a rainforest its just not a panther kind of rainforest.

The bus finally stops at our destination and I grab my bags. I head to the terminal and call a taxi and text Marco. Before I know it I'm at Finch Falls College.

Its around noon and I haven't had much to eat other than beef jerky in the last few days. I better hurry to my dorm then get us some food and a run. I walk up to the head office and am met with a young red haired woman a bit older than me but not by much.

"Hello. What can I do for you?" She asks with a big smile.

"Hi. I just need to know my dorm situation. Im supposed to be in the West Hall but past that. No idea." I wince.

"Ya. They messed up a few this year. Whats your name hun?"

"Helena Smith."

"Smith Smith Smith." She mutters looking at her computer. "There you are! Youre in room 330 of the West Hall. And your RA is Paisley. Shes super cool." She smiles offering me my key.

"Thanks." I take the key and set off to my dorm.

The West Hall is a rectangular red brick apartment building. Nothing too special from the outside. I walk through the doors and I am assaulted with the smell of... earth? Amethyst perks up at the smell. First things first. Put our shit away. I go to the stairwell and climb the three flights so Amethyst can calm down a bit more. I find room 330 immediately. Right next to the stairs. Excellent.

I knock before I enter because I don't want to interrupt my roommate if she thinks she's alone. Its also habit from living with strangers my whole life. I've caught far too many people doing things I did not need to see.

I enter the room and see that im the first one here. Cool. The dorm is bigger than I thought it would be. It has a common area with a bedroom off to each side. One even has my name on a sticky note stuck to the door. Fancy.

The common area has an olive green couch and a burnt orange chair that both look very uncomfortable. There is a cheap wooden coffee table in the room as well.

I store my bags and change my clothes quickly into jeans and a Bad Seed Rising tee with pretty emerald green underwear for Amethyst. I grab my keys and head right back out. Running down the stairs I smell that Earthy scent again but its everywhere on the first floor now. I won't be able to follow it. Amethyst pouts at that. She would have enjoyed the hunt.

I send another text to Marco saying I'm at the dorm and headed for some lunch. I grab a map on my way past the RAs office. I slow as I see a woman with a mass of curly blonde hair in the office.

"Hi, Paisley?" I ask.

"Yep. Are you a freshman?" She asks and I nod. "Perfect. I need you to sign in and then you are ready to roll." I sign in. "Alright... Helena. Welcome."

"Its just Lena but thank you." I smile.

"Well I will see you around Lena." She grins and waves me off.

The town of Finch Falls is beautiful with lots of trees and old brick buildings. I see a 50s diner calling to me with the promise of burgers. Its got that red on chrome theme going with a big Betty Boop sign asking me to seat myself. Don't mind if I do.

I grab a small booth and pull out my phone while I wait. I scroll through my social media and see a bunch of "goodbye Lena" posts from my friends from the club and school. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I hear a bunch of people come in as I order my double bacon cheese burger. They sit in a booth behind me and I smell... trees? Amethyst takes notice of the smell too. What is it with the smells in this town. Usually people just smell like chemicals, sickness and urine. Its hard to form romantic relationships with people who stink. You tend not to want to get up close and personal with them.

"What is that smell?" A guy behind me asks.

"Smells good." Another growls out. I ignore them because the food does smell really good. My food arrives and I thank the waitress before digging in. Im half way through my burger when I get a call.

"Hello?" I answer.

"Hey Lena. How's the new place?" Marco asks.

"Good. I just dropped my stuff off and went for lunch so far." I admit.

"Meet any hunks over there yet?" He asks. I can hear the smile in his voice.

"You and Lila have to stop trying to pimp me out." I laugh.

"Its not pimping. We just worry. You haven't shown interest in anyone and you're crazy hot." He says.

"Well stop it." I scold. "How is Cash's ego?" He laughs loudly in my ear I have to hold it away from my face and take a bite of a french fry.

"Hes still on the mend. But he offered me a roommate position."

"Thats good. How was the blonde from the other night?" I ask.

"She was very nice." I can practically hear his eyebrows wiggle.

"Bring home to mama nice or fuck n chuck nice?" I ask. I hear someone choking behind me. "Hold on." I tell Marco. I turn around to the booth behind me. "Everyone ok over there?" I ask. I get a few yas and a few laughs. "Ok, im back. I may have killed someone." More choking sounds.

"Well I will let you go. And she was at least a fuck buddy kind of nice." He chuckles.

"Nice, well go get some. Miss you."

"Miss you too." He says before he hangs up. I finish my food and walk past the booth behind me. It is full of about four very attractive men my age.

"Gentlemen." I smile as I pass to pay for my lunch.

I hear them as I leave.

"What is she?" It's like they've never seen a girl before.
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