“How does it feel getting slower as I get faster?” I shouted over my shoulder. Ryan was huffing and puffing by the time he got to my side. Running for two hours straight up the side of a mountain was proving to be a little too much for him.
“Great,” he sucked in a few breaths, trying to feed his hungry lungs. He reached up and stretched his arms over his head before letting his hands drop down to his light hair, which he mused until it was standing up.
I smiled at him and took his hand in mine. He squeezed my hand in return and we sat down, looking over the tops of the trees below us. He sighed after a moment and I looked over at him, marveling at his handsome features.
Ryan was my best friend and had been since I was eight. It killed me I wasn’t going to be able to spend the summer with him, but I was more or less being forced to go. He sighed again and stretched out his long legs in front of him.
“It sucks that I can’t come with you,” he said, squinting against the sun. “I asked my mom but she’s pissed that Uncle Jude and I went away for that weekend without telling her.”
I blew out a breath, “I’m pissed that I have to go at all. But my Dad thinks it will be good for me.”
“He just wants you to find your mate,” Ryan reminded me with a frown.
I winced, “I know.” I didn’t want a mate and I sure as hell didn’t need one. I saw the way it made my mom act, and my Aunt Rachel. They tied you down and made everything complicated. Maybe I’d want a mate one day but for now I wanted to be like my Aunt Dakota. I didn’t want to be tied down until my thirties.
“It sucks that we couldn’t be mates,” Ryan mumbled under his breath. I turned and looked at him, trying to catch his eye. His hair—which I couldn’t decide if it was blonde or brown—was covering his eyes so I couldn’t decipher what he was feeling. He had said things like this before, usually in jest or in passing, but when he said it now, it felt different.
Instead of delving too deep, instead of risking our friendship, I just bumped my shoulder to his. “You’d really want to put up with me for an entire lifetime?”
He grinned, “No, maybe not.”
I punched his arm and his grin widened. “When do you leave again? Cause the sooner the better.”
I sent him a flat look. “Don’t be mean, come on now.”
“You know I love you,” he said, “but seriously, when do you leave?”
I looked down as my stomach lurched. “Tomorrow morning at six.”
He sucked in a breath, “No way I’m getting up that early.”
I kicked his shin, “Jerk.”
“You’ll get up for me,” I stated, “you love me too much not to.” He looked over at me and stared again, a tiny smile on his face. After a few moments and he was still silent I looked over at him and said, “what?”
He shook his head slightly and jumped up. “Nothing.” He reached out his hand for me to grab and smiled. “You coming down?”
I jumped up on my own, ignoring his hand. “I’ll race you!” He groaned but I was already running. I heard his footsteps behind me and laughed, kicking up the speed and leaving him in the dust.
“Ebony!” my mother shouted, “Look at your hair!” I reached up and touched the tangled mess on my head. My hair—which was blonde—fell down my shoulders in tight curls that were a pain to work with. Running only made my hair more unmanageable.
She attacked me with her hands, licking her fingers before trying to smooth out my frizzy hair. I laughed and swatted her hands away, not caring about how my hair sat on my head. She frowned at me and smacked me playfully with the kitchen cloth.
“I tell you this all the time, when you go running, put your hair back!” My mother was a small women, with a slight frame. Something we shared in common. She stared at me, expecting an answer. Instead I just hugged her, knowing it would soften her a lot faster.
“I will next time,” I promised.
She growled at me. “When you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of wolves your age I’m sure you’ll be more careful with your looks.” I snorted and she shot me a dry look, “It’s true, Ebony, you never know you might find your—”
I grimaced and held up a hand, “Don’t even say it.”
I groaned and put my head on the table. “Mom,” I complained, dragging out the word.
She already had that starry eyed look on her face, “I remember when I met your Dad,” she mused, “Goddess, he was such a jerk! I hated him, the guy seriously needed to get—”
“Please spare me the details,” I begged. My mother and father were still very much in love and the only thing they loved more than each other was talking about each other and their bond. It drove me crazy.
She rolled her eyes at me, which was something she did a lot. Because of the way werewolves aged, my mother looked like she was nineteen going on twenty. Not nearly thirty-eight. I knew that when I hit eighteen in just under a year, I would stop aging normally too. The thought was unnerving.
“Your dad wants to have a special dinner tonight,” my mom informed me, busying herself with washing the dishes in the sink. A few pack members mulled around the kitchen, grabbing food and drink. Most of the wolves were out enjoying the last hours of the lazy Sunday afternoon, soaking in the sun and running through the woods.
“Do we have to?” I groaned.
She frowned at me, “I’ll never understand why you are so against family time. Your sisters are baking you a cake to say goodbye.”
“I’m going for two months, not my entire life, mom,” I complained.
“Your brother is making you a card,” she went on, scrubbing at a pot with furry. I smiled at that last one, my brother, Jake, was quiet and wasn’t overly affectionate to anyone. It made me happy that he was going to put in the effort to make me something.
“Is it just us? Or is Aunt Rachel coming too?” My Aunt Rachel wasn’t exactly my aunt at all. She was my mother’s best friend so I had just grown up calling her by aunt. Ryan was her son, and Tara, who was two years younger than Ryan and I, was her daughter.
“Just us,” my mom promised. She made her eyes big as she looked at me, practically begging me to be enthusiastic.
“Fine,” I caved, “but I can’t spend all night with you guys, I have to pack too.”
My mom smiled, “Good! Logan’s going to be ecstatic!”
“Why’s that?” My dad asked, walking into the kitchen. He caught my mom around the waist and kissed her neck before releasing her. He and his Beta, Deacon, had been out running all morning. My Dad was the Alpha of this pack as had been since he was seventeen. I couldn’t imagine shouldering that sort of responsibility at my age, couldn’t understand how he had looked after everyone, kept the entire pack safe.
“Ebony has agreed to a family dinner,” my mom said, smiling widely.
My dad’s eyes lit up, making me feel guilty. “Great! I’ll go let Cassie and Kate know to start baking.” He kissed my mom again and fluffed up my already ruined hair before going to get my sisters. Cassie and Kate, my twin sisters who were nearly ten years my junior.
My mom smiled at me, “Why don’t you go spend the rest of the afternoon with Tara and Ryan? They probably want to spend time with you before you leave.”
I sucked in a breath, feeling my stomach twist. “I don’t want to go, mom.”
She frowned, “I know, but both your father and I agree that it will be good for you to go. You’re almost eighteen, we want you to go and experience some other packs, other werewolves besides the ones in Astoria.”
I rolled my eyes, “Whatever.”
“My Goddess!” My mom shrieked with laughter, “Look at that teenage attitude!” I stuck my tongue out at her and we both laughed. I kissed her cheek before leaving go and find Ryan. He was outside, talking to a few of the other pack members.
I walked over and smiled, the other boys shrank away, not wanting to get too close to the Alpha’s daughter. Only Ryan didn’t move. He smiled at me and the other boys removed their gazes from my face, looking around the yard.
“Hey guys,” I greeted, shoving my hands in my pockets.
There was a chorus of mumbled hellos from the boys. They were the new enforcers, supposedly the toughest of the new wolves. Ryan himself was a lookout, he was too slight for fighting.
“I thought you’d be packing,” Ryan said, his hair was messed up from the run, just like mine.
I shrugged, “I’m going to pack after dinner.”
“We—uh—we have to go,” one of the enforcers mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. “See ya later, Ryan.” He turned to me and bowed his head, “Alpha.” And then they were gone.
I let out a sigh, “No one ever wants to talk to me.”
“You’re too ugly,” Ryan said simply. I rolled my eyes and we went to sit on a few lawn chairs. Tara was stretched out on a blanket, a book shoved into her face.
“Hey Tara,” I greeted with a smile, she was the closest girl friend I had. The other girls weren’t exactly friendly. She smiled slightly but didn’t look up from her book. Like her dad, she was quiet.
Ryan hit the book out of her hands, “She’s leaving tomorrow, Tara. You could be polite.”
Tara growled at him, “I was at the part—”
“It’s fine,” I interjected. I didn’t like reading very much and hated it even more when people explained books to me I was never going to read. “I get it.”
Ryan was still glowering at his sister. Finally getting the point, Tara said, “So, Ebony, are you excited to go to that camp thing?”
I shook my head, “Dreading it actually. Buy my parents think it’s a good idea, so—” I let my sentence drop there, not wanting to talk about it anymore. The camp was supposed to be a fun place for young werewolves to go. They played games and taught us history about our kind. To me, it was a waste of the summer months.
Ryan leaned back on his hands, “I’d totally go if I was allowed.”
“You and Uncle Jude were so dumb—”
“Why don’t you go read somewhere else, Tara?” Ryan grumbled. Tara smiled widely, her features were so much like her mother’s.
“Nah, I’m good.” Both Tara and I laughed, causing Ryan’s face to go red.
I looked to them and said, “I’m going to miss you guys.”
Ryan looked at me with a grin, “Wish I could say the same.” I punched his arm and the three of us laughed together. It was true, I realized with a pang, I would miss them. Even if it was only for one summer.
“Thanks bud,” I said, ruffling the dark hair on Jake’s head. He blushed like mad and smiled at me, he was missing his two front teeth.
“No problem, Ebony,” he said, his speech slurring a bit. I looked down at his card and smiled wider, it was cute of him to make me something.
“You haven’t eaten your cake yet,” Kate said, her grey eyes trained on my plate.
Cassie frowned, “Don’t you like it?” I took a spoonful of their cake and shoved it into my mouth with a smile.
“I love it.” They both smiled at me as I swallowed.
My mother smiled too, “I can’t wait until you get back, you’re going to have some amazing stories to share! I hear they have all these great trips planned! And they tell you all about the history of wolves and the Goddess! I almost wish I was going.”
“And all the wolves going are around your age maybe you will—” my Dad began. I grimaced and he let it drop, a small smile on his face. Jake, who was sitting beside my father, looked confused. Jake was my father’s spitting image, right down to the dark hair and light eyes.
“I’m happy I’m not going,” Cassie said, “I wouldn’t want to miss the summer with my friends.”
“She’s going to make new friends,” my mom said, smiling, “Right, hun?”
I nodded, “Sure.” A clatter to my left caught my attention as Jake’s elbow caught the side of his plate. Before the porcelain plate filled with food toppled to the ground, my hand shot out and stopped it’s momentum. I grinned as it hovered just above the floor—there was nothing I loved more than excising my abilities.
Without raising her hand—or even looking at the plate—my mother levitated the plate out of my hand and placed it in front of Jake again, who continued to eat like nothing occurred. My mother was ten times more advanced than I was, even though she had her powers stripped over ten years ago. The only one that had remained was her strongest, telepathy. My dad shifted in his seat, knowing what was about to come next.
“Ebony,” my mom’s voice was like a blade, “Remember what I said about using your gifts?”
I looked down at the soggy chocolate cake my sisters made, “Yeah.”
“You can’t use them when you’re gone,” she lectured, “It’s not safe.” The only ones who knew what my mother and I could do was our close family. Ryan included.
“I know, it was just reflex,” I told her. She had had me on lockdown for the past two weeks. I wasn’t allowed to use my gifts at all to get used to doing everything the slow way. I would be sharing a cabin at the summer camp so I had to be careful.
“I wish I could do what Ebony can,” Cassie complained, folding her arms under her chin petulantly.
My mother shot her an icy look, she had struggled with her gifts. “Don’t.”
Cassie just shrugged and ate her cake, not bothered by our mother’s cold gaze. So far only I had inherited my mother’s gifts. Of course, any one of my siblings could suddenly start levitating things at any moment. I know it was something my mother feared.
My dad lifted his glass and made us all do the same. “I just wanted to make a toast to Ebony. We all hope you have a great time on your trip. We hope you learn something new, make new and diverse friends, and grow from the experience. We love you and will miss you. To Ebony!”
The rest of my family shouted and cheered and we all clinked glasses. The rest of the dinner flew by and before I knew it I was in my room, packing my clothes and toiletries. I packed most of my things into my brown suitcase and the rest was shoved into my messenger bag.
Finally, when I had finished packing, I laid in my bed and hugged my pillow to my chest like I did each night. I waited for sleep to come to me, but I was wound so tight I only managed a few hours of rest that was interrupted and uncomfortable.
When my alarm went off at five-thirty I managed a groan before I rolled over and hit the off button. I dragged myself into the shower and pulled my soaking, tangled hair into a bun at the back of my neck, not bothering to fix it up.
There was a knock on my door and my dad peeked his head in, “Ready, Eb?”
I nodded and yawned, shoving my hands into the pocket of my hoodie. “Yeah, I guess.”
He strode across the room and hugged me to him, laughing when he found my hair wet. “Your mom will kill you if she finds out your hair is wet.”
“Werewolves don’t get colds,” I grumbled.
He shrugged, “She was a human for a while, she still thinks wet hair and cold feet make you sick.”
“She’s crazy,” I laughed.
“She loves you,” he replied, moving to pick up my bags.
I sighed, “Yeah, I know.”
“I love you too,” he said, “You know that right?” My dad smiled at me, his eyes squinting in the most familiar way. I grumbled something under my breath that made him laugh. I did love my dad, even if I was mad at him for sending me to a stupid camp.
After countless goodbyes and wishes of good luck, I was in the car, travelling off to California where I would be stuck for the entire summer with people I didn’t know. I looked out the window and sighed, I had a feeling the next two months of my life were going to be terrible.
If only I had known they’d be anything but at the end.