5 - "Tennessee Whiskey"
I was so excited to see Anna Beth and Lucas. They were like my little brother and sister, too. However, Anna Beth was the other girl in our family, and I had been close to her, even with our year and a half age difference. So, when she and I ran into each other’s arms causing her to knock us down on our asses, I did not care that I had gotten a scrape on the back of my arm and thigh. We laughed hard while we laid there hugging each other. Anna Beth was the one person, other than Joseph and my aunt and uncle, I kept in touch with. Even if we did not see each other for five years, social media never failed us. We kept our conversations brief, usually a “How are you doing?” or “What’s new?”, sometimes I would ask about Titus or Lucas or Jane and Paul.
“Hey! Pile up!” Lucas hollered before jumping on top of us, making us laugh even louder.
“Luke! Get off us! You’re freakin’ huge dude! You’re crushing us!” Anna Beth screamed next to my ear.
“C’mon! Just giving my sisters some lovin’.” Lucas laughed as he got himself up and offering us a hand each.
“Oh my Goddess! You’re our sister now! Like for real, our sister. I’m so excited!” Anna screamed again, jumping up and down and hugging me again.
“Ow! Damn sis, I think you just busted my ear drum.” Lucas commented as he used his hand to poke at his ear.
“Ditto.” I agreed with a laugh. I could feel Titus come up behind me. It was like a heat that radiating from him, alerting me to his presence. I turned to face him, and his eyes were dark as he looked down at my chest. He handed me my button-down blouse to put over my white tank top. “Sure, you’re walkin’ around in your underwear, but me wearing a white tank top with a black bra is an issue.”
“Ellie,” Titus snarled at me, “It’s for my sake.” His voice had dropped an octave and it was then that I noticed he had put on his jeans, leaving the zipper and button undone. I immediately knew what he meant and reached for the wet top.
“Anna Beth, do you have anything for me to wear? My clothes are wet thanks to these guys. Why are you smilin’?” I asked her.
“No reason. I’m just so happy.” She answered looking between Titus and I. “C’mon, it’s gettin’ cold out. I’ll get you somethin’ to wear.” Anna Beth motioned for me to follow her and I complied, after glancing at Titus a moment.
When we entered Anna Beth’s room, I was tackled by her once again. She was bouncing with glee, even when she skipped to her closet to find some clothes for me to wear. I looked around her room noting how much it had changed from her fourteen-year-old self. Where One Direction posters used to hang, now hung a poster with Van Gogh’s stary night. On another wall, there was a painting of a girl in red, walking on a sidewalk with an umbrella.
Her bookshelf was filled with literary works, like Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, and other authors in between. It occurred to me that I never asked what she was studying. I knew less about her than I thought.
“Here! Does this work?” She came back with a pair of jeans, a lacy rosy-pink sleeveless shirt, and a long color block cardigan. It was really cute, but I was more of a t-shirt, hoodie, and leggings kind of girl, and I said this to her. “Oh, stop it! For one thing, it’s Titus’ birthday and you’re his mate. So, you need to look cute. And second thing, you’re gonna to be our Luna, so you need to dress to impress.”
“I’m offended.” I replied sarcastically grabbing the clothes from her, earning me an eye roll. “I suppose I’ll have to keep the wet bra under this. Luckily, I’m wearing a thong.”
“Well, your boobs are huge. I don’t have a bra that will fit without you falling out. But maybe a sports bra? Or a spaghetti strap?”
I looked at the outfit in front of me and opted for the sports bra. She handed unworn underclothes with tags still attached as though she anticipated this to happen. “Being wolves, you never know who would need clothes, so I keep brand new clothes just in case.” She answered as though she had read my mind. “So, tell me everything!”
“What do you mean?” I yelled from the bathroom.
“Where were you standing? What did Titus do? Did you two kiss because it has been so long since you’ve seen each other?”
“It’s weird how excited you are about me and your brother kissing.” I replied to her questions.
“Umm… it’s a little weird, but I’m not thinkin’ about him being my brother. I’m thinkin’ about the romance of it all. Childhood friends been apart for years, you found each other and get married and have pups.” She dreamed aloud. I gave her a cliff notes version of the story, including Keely, and the keys. “Fuckin’ Keely. She needs to go somewhere with her bitch omega attitude.”
“I picked up on the fact that Aunt Jane didn’t like her. It was clear that Titus and her had somethin’ going on.” I explained as I walked out of the bathroom and sat next to her on the bed.
“Not really, just sex. Nothin’ relationship wise. She’s workin’ here as an office assistant. Helps with the ranch business and keeps up with the oil investments or whatever. I don’t pay attention to her job description to be honest. I just know that he treats her like shit, and she still goes crawlin’ on her hands and knees for him to give her some attention, like a fuckin’ bitch in heat. Then when he gives in, she acts like she runs the place. It’s pathetic, really.” She grumbled on, barely taking a breath in between sentences. It took her a moment to see how much it bothered me to learn that he slept with Keely. I mean, it was obvious but to have it confirmed still hurt.
“Hey, I’m sorry for ramblin’ on like that. She just irks me. It was just sex, nothin’ else. We all do it.” She tried to soften the blow.
“Right… Of course.” I nervously agreed, looking away from her. “It just seemed like more than just… that.” The hesitation at the word sex was not missed by Anna Beth. She looked straight into my eyes as though trying to read my mind.
“Ellie Mae, are you a virgin?” She asked after a moment of studying me and my words.
“No, I’m not.”
“Then why does the sex talk make you so nervous?” Anna Beth did not miss a thing.
“Because it was one time, and it just wasn’t a good experience.” I replied truthfully.
“What? You weren’t taken advantage of, were you?” Anna Beth asked, as my tears welled in my eyes.
“Not exactly, I consented. It’s what happened after… I couldn’t trust anyone afterwards.” I explained as best as I could, looking away as the memory of the breakup, the truth, and the torment from my bullies. The beating. I was clearly not over it.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say, it made me who I am.” I answered as I stood and went to the mirror to carefully pat the tears away with a tissue and style my hair in a bun.
“If you don’t wanna talk about it with me, then you at least need to tell Titus.” Anna Beth advised me as she sat their watching me as I fixed my hair.
“I know. I’m sorry.” Her face was hurt by my unwillingness to elaborate.
“Funny, isn’t it? How we were so close before, and although we kept in touch, we never actually opened up have we?”
“Well, there’s only so much you can say in text messages.” I stated as I came to sit next to her. I placed my arm around her shoulders, and she returned action by snaking her arm around my back.
“I missed you.” Anna Beth said softly to me.
“I missed you, too. And guess what? … You’re stuck with me.” I finished after she did not respond to my question.
“Good. I’m tired of being outnumbered.” She snickered.
As the party went on, Titus had taken me onto the dance floor, which was just a wooden platform on the lawn, several times. I relished in closeness when Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” began to play on the stereo. It was comforting being in his arms, and his hand placed lightly in mine ignited the now warm soothing sparks. I was still hesitant about him and his relationship with Keely. Would he still be working with her? Will she respect our mate bond? What if I don’t compare to her? Would he reject me?
My anxiety was beginning to rear its ugly head again. As though he could feel my unease, his grip around my waist brought me closer to him. I let my forehead rest on his chest as I breathed in his citrusy-woods scent, letting it calm me.
“Are you alright, darlin’?” Titus whispered into my ear. His hand in mine tightened slightly, sending another rush of sparks through my body.
“I will be.” I said under my breath, if it wasn’t for his werewolf hearing he probably would not have heard it.
The deck erupted in song as sparklers were lit and two cakes were brought out onto the deck. Titus led me up the steps to meet with everyone as they wished Titus… and me? a happy birthday. I read the writing on the cakes and sure enough, there was one with Titus’ name and the another with my name. Tears escaped my eyes as I watched the sparklers continue to burn and waited for the song to be over. Titus embraced me when he saw I was crying and gave me a featherlight kiss on my forehead. Titus and I blew out our candles and I was met with hugs from my aunts and uncles.
“You didn’t think we’d forget, did you?” Uncle Kevin said when he came to me.
“Of course, we wouldn’t forget.” Aunt Jane chimed in. “The moment Betty told me you were coming I had them add a second cake on the menu just for you, sweetheart.”
“Thank you! I appreciate this more than I can ever express.” I said graciously.
"Tennessee Whiskey" by Chris Stapleton