Playing with the Wolf

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Chapter 5

_______________ Deklan ______________

Around one in the afternoon, I wake up feeling more alive and functional thanks to a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I get up and take care of necessities. I shower in the hottest water I can stand, shave (even though I’ll be scruffy again in a few hours), and throw on some clothes.

I go with jeans and a T-shirt. It’s my default outfit.

Downstairs in my kitchen, I cook up some bacon, sausage, eggs and toast, and scarf that down.

Once my belly’s full, I achieve full operational mode and I head out to my carpentry studio to get some work done.

At the bottom of my porch steps, I hang a right and follow the wide limestone path that leads to what was once a detached garage.

Repurposing the fair-sized space to suit my needs was the first thing I did after purchasing the property. I put a wall up where the garage door used to be. I gave the walls a couple of coats of paint. And I installed windows and venting.

I let myself into the studio with a six-digit code and flick on the lights, illuminating my projects. I have several on the go at the moment. I’m working on a headboard for a young couple, a dining table and chairs for an older couple, and bunk beds for a family with two sets of twin boys.

As a self-employed carpenter, I’m doing well. I’ve had steady work now for the last few years. It took a lot of time and effort, but I’ve slowly built a bit of a name for myself. My craftsmanship has garnered me respect and attention, and most importantly, steady work.

I pull my phone out of my back pocket as I cross the room to the headboard waiting in the far right corner.

That’s the piece I’m going to work on first.

After selecting a playlist on my phone, I plug the device into the charging dock that sits on a shelf on the far wall.

Dierks Bentley’s voice comes through a set of two small speakers.

His voice brings me up short.

I’m a big Dierks fan, but I removed country songs from my playlists.

Tuk turned me on to country music. The guy was a diehard country fan. I haven’t been able to listen to the genre since losing him. It bums me out too much.

I guess I missed this song during my purge.

I grab my phone and remove the song, then set my phone back on the charging dock and get to work on the headboard. As I start to carve, my wolf gives a soft whine.

Yeah. I know, bud.

I hurt as much as my wolf. Tuk was a big part of our lives. One of the best parts. Moving on without him is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I met Tuk in Ms. Jenny’s home-schooling group when I was eleven and Tuk was twelve.

All werewolf kids are homeschooled. They have to be. As kids, werewolves don’t have control of their bodies and their shifting. If a werewolf pup was to get too worked up horsing around in the playground, or too tired by the end of the day, they could easily shift unintentionally. One unintentional shift at a human school and our species would be in trouble.

Look at what humans are capable of doing to each other. What would they do to werewolves?

So - homeschooling.

I was a runt as a kid. Real scrawny and short. I eventually shot up and filled out nicely, but thanks to hitting puberty and growth spurts late, I was much smaller than the others in my class for a while.

The bullying didn’t start right away, but it did eventually start. And it stopped the day Tuk joined our group.

Tuk’s family moved from another city and he got reassigned to Ms. Jenny for homeschooling.

All of us kids were outside for recess one day when Cade started doing the usual. He started picking at me and picking at me. I ignored him until he got physical. When he started shoving me, my emotions got the better of me and I shifted unintentionally. A shit-eating grin had split across his face. He’d gotten what he wanted.

Cade had shifted. In wolf form, he towered over me. He’d started coming at me and Tuk stuck his nose in and surprised the hell out of me.

None of the other kids had ever interfered. They’d always turned a blind eye. They hadn’t wanted to catch Cade’s attention and end up his new target, so they’d minded their own business, and let Cade pick on me.

But on his first day in a new group, Tuk came over and faced off against Cade. His wolf had been the same size as Cade’s, if not a bit bigger.

Faced with two opponents, one of which was the same size as him, Cade had backed off.

Remembering how Tuk faced off with Cade gets me smiling.

That asshat never bothered me or Tuk again after that. And from that day forward, Tuk and I were best friends. We were more brothers, really. We became practically inseparable. Either I was at Tuk’s, or Tuk was at my place. We made that awkward transition from adolescence to adulthood together. We got each other through embarrassing, awkward moments (which usually involved girls rejecting us) and celebrated each other’s victories (which usually involved girls liking us).

My work on the headboard comes to a standstill as I loiter in my memories.

After a moment, I turn up the music, hoping the volume will help drown out my thoughts, and refocus on the headboard. The louder music does help with blocking out thoughts of Tuk.

I work through the afternoon and into the evening. In all that time, I only stop once for a snack. By the time my stomach starts growling for more a few hours later, I’m ready to quit for the day.

Making my own hours is a definite perk of being self-employed. Especially lately. Since I started hunting Malek, I’ve shifted my schedule a little. I usually start working right after lunch and work through the afternoon and early evening. Then, later at night, I go hunting.

My stomach growls again.

I grab my iPhone, turn out the lights, lock things up, and head over to the house. In the kitchen, I grab the fixings for a turkey sandwich and slap that together, then I grab a Heineken off the fridge door and head into the living room.

I have a few hours to kill before Lucy shows up, so I find something to watch on Netflix.

I’m in the middle of my third episode of some drama-comedy-mystery series when I hear the faint sound of someone approaching from the woods behind my house.

That has to be my buddy, Blake. It’s been a couple of days since we went running together.

I turn off my 42" flat screen, get to my feet, and grab my phone off the coffee table. I press the home button and the screen lights up, showing the time.

11:46 PM.

I have some time to go for a run with Blake before Lucy shows up. I don’t expect she’ll make an appearance until after one-ish.

I let myself out of the house, pulling the back door closed behind me, and look out into my yard. A quick glance confirms the sound I heard was Blake. My friend’s halfway between the trees and my house. In his teeth, he’s got a blue backpack by its strap.

I know the backpack holds clothes, maybe some snacks and water. The two of us usually hang out after our runs and, while werewolves aren’t shy about nudity, they don’t hang out naked.

That would be weird.

Blake comes up the porch steps and drops his bag by the railing.

I don’t bother saying anything, I just ditch my own clothes and leave them on the closest Adirondack char. My wolf’s eagerness to stretch his legs saturates my being once I’ve shifted shape.

Blake and I lope towards the tree line.

“Race ya?” Blake proposes.

Now that we’re both in wolf form, we can communicate telepathically. For some reason, the telepathy doesn’t work if one werewolf is in human form and the other is in wolf form. Or if both are in human form.

Species glitch?

I suppose so.

“You want to lose again?” I taunt like the good friend that I am.

I snort when Blake takes off running.

“Cheater,” I call after him.

Our howls pierce the stillness of the night as the two of us race through the woods.

Lucy

After I finish my set at The Spot, I find a private spot backstage and teleport. Two seconds after I disappear from The Spot, I appear on Deklan’s front porch.

I don’t teleport inside the house because it feels rude. I know he’s expecting me, but still.

I knock soundly on the front door and after a moment I hear Deklan approaching. The knob turns, the door opens, but it isn’t Deklan that appears. It’s a different, but equally handsome man.

Size-wise, this guy’s just as big as Deklan. His firm body fills out his T-shirt and jeans beautifully. He has blue eyes, similar in shade to Deklan’s, and light brown hair.

“Hi,” I smile.

“Hi, there,” he smiles back. “Lucy, right?” the guy says in what I would wager is the sexiest voice in all the land.

Move over Antonio Banderas.

“I’m Blake,” he introduces himself. “Friend of Dek’s. Come in.” he gestures me inside.

“Thanks,” I reply and step forward, joining him in the front entrance.

“Dek told me you’d be coming.” Blake shares. “He’s just in the washroom. He’ll be right down,” he informs me.

When Deklan’s friend turns and heads down the hallway, I follow him. And yes, I check out his denim-covered ass.

His booty’s almost as nice as Deklan’s.

We bypass what looks to be the living room and enter the kitchen.

“Would you like something to drink?” he asks.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I reply and lean against the island in the middle of the kitchen.

The sound of a toilet flushing, followed by water running comes from upstairs. A moment later ‘Dek’ - as Blake called him - joins us in the kitchen. He comes over and leans against the counter across from me and Blake. For some reason when he looks over at me he does a little double-take. Of course, I start wondering if I have something on my face.

“Hey, Lucy.” he smiles.

“Hey,” I reply.

Blake pushes off the counter, drawing my gaze over to him.

“I know you two have stuff to do,” he says. “So I’m gonna take off.”

“Don’t leave on my account,” I say.

I look back and forth between the two men. Did I interrupt them? Deklan didn’t text me that plans had changed, so I assumed he still wanted me to come over after my gig and scry.

I open my mouth to say that I could come back another night, but Blake speaks first.

“I was heading out anyway. Just came over for a run with Dek,” he says with a head tilt at Deklan.

“I can wait if you guys need to go wolf it up.” I offer, looking back and forth between the two men again.

“We already ‘wolfed’ it up.” Blake grins at my words. “We’re all set,” he says.

He moves past me and heads to the back door. “It was nice to meet you, Lucy.” he smiles.

“You too,” I return.

Blake turns his gaze on Deklan. “See you later, Dek.”

“See ya, man.”

I watch Blake through the window in the door after he pulls it shut. I wouldn’t keep watching, but the guy proceeds to strip naked right there on the porch.

A slow smile spreads across my face. Werewolves are great. So uninhibited. Not a shy bone in their delectable bodies.

As he undresses, he tucks his clothes into a backpack, and then, once in nothing but his birthday suit shifts shape. As a wolf, he’s beautiful. He’s large and smoky grey. With significantly pointier teeth, he picks up his backpack and heads down the porch steps and away from the house.

I turn my gaze on Deklan.

“Your friend has a nice ass,” I grin over at him.

I turn my gaze back out the window and watch Blake head off towards the tree line.

“Does he?” Deklan huffs with amusement.

He rounds the far end of the island, walks over to the sink, and looks out the window above it just in time to see his friend’s tail disappearing into the woods.

“Yours is nicer,” I tell him.

I give him a saucy wink when he throws a dry look my way.

He comes over to me, stops, and leans against the counter where Blake was moments before.

“Ass woman, are we?” he asks.

One of his dark brows goes up and a twinkle comes to life in his eyes.

“Among other parts,” I reply with a waggle of eyebrows.

He chuckles and his eyes dance with amusement.

“You werewolves don’t have much modesty do ya?” I ask.

If they all have bodies like Deklan’s or Blake’s, why would they?

“None, really,” he agrees readily with a shake of his head. “You shift, you lose your clothes.” he shrugs.

“Must be a bitch on the bank account,” I muse.

I’d wager he must have to spend more on clothes than those spoiled princesses in Hollywood.

“I can afford it,” he replies with another shrug.

“What do you do?” I ask.

“Self-employed,” he replies. “I’m a carpenter.”

His job surprises me for some reason.

“You heal quickly,” he murmurs and I blink at the change in subject.

His gaze goes to the cut on my temple.

I do heal quicker than a normal human, but I wonder how he knows that until I remember I did a glamour to hide the cut on my temple.

That explains his double-take when he first saw me.

“No,” I reply. I raise a hand and pass it in front of my temple. “I glamoured myself before going to my gig,” I explain and lift the glamour. “No questions that way.”

“Ah.” Deklan nods.

He checks out the small butterfly bandages I applied after my shower and nods like he approves of my work.

The cut at my temple was easy to tend to. My back was a trick for a contortionist.

“I was surprised to find you gone this morning,” he murmurs.

His comment makes me wonder if I should have woken him up. I’d debated doing that but decided against it.

“Yeah. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep,” I tell him. “I didn’t see the point in waking you up,” I explain. “I left you that note with your shirt.”

He nods.

“You’ve been feeling okay?” he asks and I nod.

Physically? Yes. I’m fine.

Emotionally and mentally? I’ve been better. A demon almost bested me. I feel a little off-center. And a lot pissed.

But he doesn’t need to know all that.

“Just a little tired,” I tell him. “Not sure how long I’ll last tonight.”

The sooner I start scrying the better. I step back from the counter, do a one-eighty, and go over to the dining room table that’s to the left of the kitchen.

Deklan comes with me.

“We can do this another night,” he offers. “- if you’re not feeling up to it tonight.”

“Oh, no, I’m fine really,” I assure him. “Just a little tired.”

I pull a map out of one of my jacket pockets, unfold it, and spread it out over the table, then I reach into another jacket pocket and pull out my pendulum.

I shrug off my jacket and drape it over the back of a chair then pull that chair out from the table and introduce it to my ass. Across the table from me, Deklan pulls out a chair and sits.

I don’t waste any time and immediately dangle my pendulum above the map of the world and start scrying. As my pendulum starts slowly spinning above North America, I glance across the table at Deklan.

I assume he knows Malek needs to be in this plane for me to be able to locate him, but maybe I figure I should confirm that. Maybe he doesn’t know about all the different planes. There’s the human plane, the demon plane, the celestial plane, and others.

“So - ” I say and wait for Deklan’s blue eyes to shift from the pendulum to me.

" - you know Malek needs to be in this plane for me to be able to locate him, right?” I ask. “If he’s in the demon plane, I’m not going to get a hit.”

Deklan nods.

Okay. Good. He’s aware our chances of finding Malek sooner are just as good as our chances of finding him later. We just have to be patient. The demon will travel to our plane eventually. There are too many opportunities to commit murder and mayhem here for a demon to stay away too long.

I hover over an area for a few minutes before moving on and hovering over the next area. The two of us are silent, watching my crystal whirl round and round. After half an hour, boredom sets in.

I glance over at Deklan. With nothing else to do while I scry but wait for a hit, I figure we might as well make small talk. Besides, I’m curious about him.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” he replies, shrugging a shoulder.

“Does it hurt? When you change?” I ask.

I assume it does. It must. When he shifts, his bones change and his organs rearrange.

“It doesn’t tickle,” he quips. “But it only lasts a few seconds,” he adds.

I’m not fooled by his flippancy. He may downplay the pain because his shift only takes seconds, but I bet those seconds are excruciating.

I return to watching my pendulum, my mind chewing on other idiosyncrasies of werewolves. I wonder if there are other drawbacks to being a werewolf besides painful transformations. Of course, there’s the danger of exposure. I can’t imagine how humans would react if they learned werewolves existed in real life and not just in movies and books. I wonder if the danger and the inconveniences ever make Deklan wish he was a regular, old human.

I bet it does.

Maybe it’s rude of me to ask, but I do anyway.

“Do you ever wish you weren’t a werewolf?”

Deklan seems surprised by the question.

“No, not really, I guess,” he replies after a moment. “Maybe sometimes.” he shrugs. “Wishing for things to be different than they are kinda seems like a waste of time to me,” he remarks. “There are pros and cons to everything, right?” he shrugs again. “I’m happy as I am.”

I shift my gaze from him back to my crystal after he answers me.

He has a healthy attitude. And he’s right. Wishing for things that can’t come true is a waste of time but sometimes, I can’t help wasting my time. I can’t help wishing things were different. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a witch. I wish that I was just a normal girl, with a normal family.

“What about you?” Deklan asks and my gaze swings back to him.

“Do you ever wish you weren’t a witch?” he asks.

There’s curiosity in his voice, in the lift of his brow as he poses my own question back at me.

I guess I should have expected he would ask. Turnabout is fair play. I didn’t expect it, though. I didn’t anticipate a tit-for-tat exchange.

I kinda want to dodge the question, take the easy way and lie and tell him, ‘No - I never wish that’.

But I answer honestly.

“Sometimes.”

“Really?” he asks, surprise clear in his voice.

I look over at him and then back to my pendulum.

“Sometimes,” I repeat.

“I can’t see you, of all people, wanting to be normal,” he says.

“What do you mean - ‘me, of all people’?” I frown.

He shrugs.

“Normal is boring. Normal is ordinary,” he says. “You’re neither.”

He tilts his head and regards me thoughtfully.

“I find it hard to believe you’d be happy with ‘normal’ for very long.”

He’s right. I probably wouldn’t be, but still.

I look back at my pendulum.

“Normal might be boring,” I agree quietly after a moment. “...but it’s also pretty safe. If my family hadn’t been witches?” I frown. “I’d still have a family.”

Deklan looks at me more closely.

“What happened to your family?” he asks after a moment.

I don’t reply right away.

The horror of that night all those years ago, rises from the shadows of my consciousness like the monster it is.

Across the table, Deklan waits for my response quietly.

It’s been a long time since I talked about what happened to my family. I don’t really want to talk about it now, but I find the words coming out of my mouth.

“My mom was a witch.” I begin. “She raised me and my sister, Hannah, by herself. My dad was never in the picture,” I add as an aside. “I don’t know why. My mom never said.”

And Hannah and I never asked. Now, as an adult, I assume my dad either couldn’t handle my mom being a witch, or he died.

I actually prefer to think he’s dead. It hurts less than believing he doesn’t care about me. And if he is alive, he obviously doesn’t care about me. He’s never reached out to me.

“When we were old enough, she taught us a little magic.” I continue. “Just basic stuff. She would have taught us more, but... she couldn’t.”

I have to pause for a second before I can continue.

”She was killed by a Zolark,” I tell Deklan eventually. “I was nine when it happened. My sister was ten. We were brushing our teeth before bed when we heard a crash downstairs.”

As I tell Deklan about that night, the horror of it washes over me. I remember everything in vivid detail.

I remember looking at my sister when we heard the crash and seeing the alarm I was feeling on Hannah’s face. We went to the top of the stairs and Hannah called down to our mom. She didn’t answer us. Another crash sounded and we both froze when we heard our mom cry out.

I remember how scared I was as I followed Hannah down the stairs.

We heard growling coming from the kitchen. Such horrible, throaty growling.

We peeked around the corner into the room. The kitchen table was broken in half. Our mom was on top of it and a Zolark was on top of her.

(I’d learned after that night that the name of the demon species that killed my mom was ‘Zolark’.)

Zolarks are hideous creatures. Their eyes are black and their skin is grey. Their bodies are hunched and twisted. Horns protrude from their foreheads and curve back over their skulls. Their hands and feet end with 6" claws.

I can still picture the claws of the Zolark that night. They were painted red with my mom’s blood.

“Our mom saw us and yelled at us to run,” I tell Deklan. “The Zolark came at us and Hannah and I screamed, and ran. We were at the front door when Hannah yelled at me to run...”

I remember pushing myself faster at my sister’s yell. I’d been sure we weren’t going to get away.

But we did.

Well, one of us did.

“I never looked behind me...” I continue. “... I just assumed Hannah was right with me...”

I’d covered a lot of ground and run for what had felt like miles before I’d had to stop. I remember my heart going from pumping out of my chest to plummeting down to my stomach when I realized Hannah was nowhere around.

“I didn’t know what else to do, so I started back home,” I tell Deklan. “I hoped I’d find Hannah along the way. I told myself, maybe she’d run out of steam before me. Maybe she’d stopped a block back. Maybe I didn’t hear her calling to me to stop.”

But, Hannah hadn’t been a block back. She hadn’t been anywhere. I got all the way back to my neighborhood, and never saw any sign of her. Our house had been closed up. Dark.

“All night I watched for her. I hid under a neighbor’s parked car. I hoped Hannah would return like I had.”

All my hoping had been for naught. She never returned.

I remember how surreal the sunshine had seemed in the morning after such a horrifying night.

“In the morning I went up to the house. On the front step, I found a scrap of material with stars on it.”

It was a piece of Hannah’s pj’s that she’d been wearing the night before.

When I found it, I almost threw up.

“The Zolark must have snatched my sister on her way out the door,” I tell Deklan.

After finishing my story, it takes me a moment to come fully back to the present. A lump formed in my throat as I recounted that night and I have to swallow more than once to get rid of it.

“Some sister I am, right?” I say to Deklan after a moment.

Not to mention, daughter. I’d just left my mom to that demon.

“No, Lucy,” he says and I look over at him.

“There was nothing you could have done,” he tells me. “You’re just lucky you got away.”

I shake my head at his words. What he said may be true, but I still feel guilty.

“If I’d realized the demon had grabbed Hannah,” I say. “I could have helped her.”

Maybe I could have saved her.

“How?” Deklan asks.

He rests his forearms on the table and leans toward me.

“You said your mom had only taught you minimal magic at that point,” he says. “Right?”

I nod.

“If you’d tried to help your mom, or your sister, the demon would have killed you, too.” he insists. “You couldn’t have survived a confrontation with a Zolark.” he pauses for a second before making a good point. “You’re looking back through the eyes of someone who has learned and practiced magic and fighting skills for years,” he continues. “Grown-up you? May have had a chance against that demon. Nine-year-old you...?” he shakes his head.

I know he’s right, but I can’t help feeling that I could have done something. I could have tried. My thoughts must show in my expression because Deklan nods like he knows what I’m thinking.

“It’s hard not to beat yourself up, isn’t it?” he asks. “There must have been something you could have done, right?”

His gaze shifts down to the table in front of him.

I can tell from the expression on his face that he really understands what I’m feeling. I remain quiet and wait for him to share his thoughts.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dissected the night Tuk was killed,” he says. “I should have been able to save him. I was right there,” he says and shakes his head. “It was my fault we were even fighting Malek. It was my idea to go after him,” he confesses.

“Why did you go after Malek?” I ask.

Deklan looks over at me with eyes cloudy with pain.

“Several werewolves were killed,” he tells me. “Malek’s scent was on every wolf.” he pauses before continuing. “Tuk and I were downtown one night and we scented Malek.”

He pauses again and I wait patiently.

“I thought we could take him ourselves. We tracked him, got him cornered. Alone.” he gives a shake of his head.

“Or we thought we got him alone,” he says, voice grim. “Others showed up.”

“We howled for backup from our pack, but by the time they showed up - ” he shakes his head again. “Tuk was dead.”

While Deklan talks, I reach over, and cover one of his hands with mine, offering comfort.

“I’m so sorry, Deklan,” I murmur.

He looks up from our hands and meets my gaze with eyes that are heavy with pain and sadness. His other hand covers mine, sandwiching it between both of his.

“Thanks,” he says.

I nod.

“Sorry about your mom and sister,” he says after a beat.

I nod again.

Things are quiet for several minutes while the two of us mourn our lost loved ones. Eventually, I start scrying again, but I don’t keep at it for long. When I got to Deklan’s I was already feeling tired. Now? After revisiting the worst night of my life? I feel drained.

After scrying for only a short while, I lower my crystal and look over at Deklan. He looks as done in as I feel.

“Would you mind if we quit for the night?” I ask and he nods.

“Sure.”

As soon as I get the okay from him, I get up and collect my jacket off the back of my chair. I shrug it on then tuck my pendulum back in my pocket. Deklan folds my map and hands it to me, and I tuck it back into the inside pocket of my jacket.

“I have a gig at After Hours tomorrow,” I tell him. “I’ll come over after that?”

He nods.

“Sounds good.”

“Alright.” I nod. “I’ll see you later.”

“Alright.”

I feel like I should say something else. But I don’t know what to say so I just teleport home.

Jinx meows in greeting when I appear in my bedroom. He jumps off my bed and comes over to me. I pick him up and give him a scratch between the ears as I walk him back over to my bed. After setting him back down by my pillow where he’d been sleeping, I change into pj’s and then join him in bed. Immediately, he curls up at my back.

His snuggles aren’t just a welcome, familiar comfort tonight, they’re therapeutic.

We both settle in and shut our eyes. It takes me a while, but eventually, I fall asleep.

And I spend the next few hours running from monsters in my dreams.

***

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