Wolf's Lullaby

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Crabby Pants vs Shrimp

PHILIP

“Okay, I set the timer. We have three minutes. Ready?” I asked Anna as I prepared to launch a new game on Stone Smash. We competed, and for now, I held first place. But the old bat was a sore loser. She always tried, not so subtly, to sabotage me.

I slept till 1PM. Stephan left for work, and he didn’t wake me. Though still groggy, bored out of my mind, I got out of my house. I spent time here at Anna’s after every full moon, anyway..

The smell of books and tea calmed me. Washed out the tiredness as one of my fondest memories of my mother was here. My house seemed drearier than usual. The silence was deafening, air heavy. Not at all because I hated being alone today of all days. I didn’t need company! I was fine by myself, okay? Just bored.

“Bring it on, runt! I’ll annihilate you!” Anna took her seat across from me on a chair, cracking her knuckles and wiggling her fingers as she prepared to click start on her tablet.

I chose my tiny caveman avatar, ready to smash colorful stones while running over obstacles as the speed increases.

“Ready. Set. Go!” I said and pressed play.

I slayed it, my concentration impeccable, but a sudden movement caught my eye and I moved as she tried to step on my feet. A shoe flew towards my head and I ducked.

“Not today, you ghoul!” I shouted all smug, laughing while my feet tried to avoid her constant attacks. But then she pulled her nastiest, ultimate attack. I couldn’t get away as fast. My reflexes lagging, she pinched me on my calf with her toes.

Old demon! It hurt worse than shifting. I yelped and jumped from pain, groaning as I fell on my side but held on to my phone, though my caveman smashed into a cave wall. Game over.

“That was dirty! You attacked a helpless sick person like a mad orangutan! Not fair!” I protested, rubbing my red calf that was already turning purple. A pillow flew, smacking me in the face.

“All is fair in love and war and how dare you call a delicate old lady an orangutan!”

“Oh, now you are playing the age card?! Wise grandmother!” I teased.

Smack! Pillow again.

“I’m no one’s grandmother!” Smack! Smack!

“Yeah, yeah, you’re still young at heart but, I don’t think your bones will agree so, stop hitting me. You’ll hurt yourself granny!” I put my hands up in defense. She hit harder, and I laughed.

“Why you little... Humph!” huffing, she released the pillow. Not before she smacked me once more for good measure. She adjusted her shirt, tidied her hair, running her fingers through the short hot pink strands, and straightened her spine.

“Now, let’s view the scores.” She took her tablet off the coffee table.

100.789 me and 100.788 for Anna.

“Ding dong! The hag is dead!” I jumped on the couch and did a little dance. She frowned, her blue eyes turning dark.

“Let me see that!” She tried to grab my phone, but I lifted it out of her reach. Anna moved way too fast. A heavy blitz hit, like a concrete pillar, connected with my gut. I lurched forward, falling on the floor and assumed the fetal position. Age. it seemed, had taken none of the force she could pack in a punch.

“Violent… Kung Fu Gorilla!” I wheezed out while Anna innocently picked up my phone and sat on the couch, crossing her legs all lady-like.

“Psh… You think this result is worthy of a victory dance?! Peasant! Never move like that in public. I’m embarrassed for you. Plus, you need more training. Your reactions are way too slow if a sweet, delicate old woman can catch you off guard.” She gave me her best all-innocence look, batting her lashes.

“There isn’t one delicate thing about you!” I slowly sat up, still holding my stomach.

“Why, learn how to speak to the ladies’ young man or you will scare away your potential future wife!” She scolded.

“Who cares about that crap?” I whispered, trying to get up. That was when I realized we were no longer alone. Anna’s office door was ajar. With a raised hand as if to knock stood a wide eyed, confused looking Tara. Distracted and with the smell of tea here overwhelming, I didn’t pick up hers. How long was she there? What was she doing here, anyway?

“Oh! You’re here, dear!” Anna said in a disturbingly sweet voice, rushing to the door. Who are you now, devil woman?! Evil indeed had many faces.

“Ah... yeah... classes ended now.” She smiled shyly as she looked at me. Her hand wavered a bit, but she lifted it and waved.

“Ah, this big oaf here is Philip. Say hello Philip, this is Tara!” Anna sauntered towards me and clapped me on the back. I immediately straightened my spine, nodding at Tara.

“Ouch! What the hell was that for?!” I yelled, holding my ear as the old goblin twisted it viciously.

“Manners! Don’t nod like a mute!” Anna turned towards Tara and smiled politely, “I apologize, he’s just shy.” Tara was biting her lower lip so much I could smell blood as she was trying not to laugh. Great.

I was a laughingstock now. Beaten by a granny.

“Oh, no it’s fine. We actually know each other from school.” Tara said, finally giving me a tight smile. She shuffled her feet, pulling on the hem of her shirt, clearly uncomfortable.

“Really?! Oh, I bet he was a dick to you!” Anna gave me a pointed stare. This time Tara couldn’t contain the laugh, so she snorted, but quickly covered it with a cough.

“The first contact was iffy, but he apologized.”

“Really?! I knew you had it in you, you rude jackass!” Smiling widely, Anna smacked me on the chest with a back of her hand. I rolled my eyes and frowned.

“Smile!” She pulled on my cheek, making me bruise and frown even more. She hooked her fingers into the corners of my lips and pulled like a maniac, giving me a Joker smile.

“See, handsome!” She said giddily, nodding in Tara’s direction like she was asking for confirmation.

“For fuck’s sake!” I pulled away. There was no freaking ounce of grace or delicacy in that woman.

“Don’t cuss in front of the ladies!” Anna chided as she hit me on the back of the head.

I’m so done. I decided I was leaving.

Summoning all the politeness I could, and all the obnoxious manners drilled in me in my early childhood as one of the Constantinov’s that I successfully suppressed, I turned my gaze to Tara. “Nice seeing you again. If you’ll excuse me.”

As I reached for the door, the old lunatic pulled my hand and dragged me back to the couch. Practically tossing me like a mannequin, sitting my ass down, she held me in place.

“You were not well all morning, kid. Rest here! Tara makes the best teas. She’ll make you one, won’t you, dear?” Anna informed me, looking back and smiling at the girl.

“Oh, sure. If you’d like?” Tara smiled hesitantly, gauging my reaction, her eyes darting between me and Anna.

“Oh, I’m sure he’d love to! He’s shy to ask.” Anna cajoled. And since a goblin strongman literally pinned me to the couch, I nodded curtly at Tara, grunting approval.

“Okay. I’ll be right back.” She put her backpack next to the door and left the room.

“What are you doing?” I whisper-hissed at Anna the moment the door closed.

“You sit your butt down and play nice. Make friends.” Anna glared, pinning me harder on the couch, holding me by the shoulders.

“I already have friends!”

“You need new friends! Everyone needs more than one and you need to broaden your pool! Socialize! You live only once, you stick in the mud! And having a girl as a friend can be beneficial! If you learn how to act around girls, you won’t scare a future partner away! And that girl is a fucking delight!”

“I said I don’t need that crap! Two are a lot of friends!” I whisper-yelled.

She smacked me on the head again. “Don’t bullshit me Philip! Eva would turn in her grave if she heard you now!” The mention of my mother’s name jolted me from my hissy fit. Anna gave me a sympathetic look, gently stroking my cheek.

“Don’t be a stubborn ass and don’t worry an old lady. I wanna see you happy, surrounded by good people. And that kid out there also needs a friend. Poor thing is all alone in this world.”

I frowned at that. “What do you mean?”

Without answering me, she proceeded, “Who knows how long I have got? I gotta have something good to report to your mom.” She was never this gentle with me. It was creepy.

“But you said you don’t plan on dying till 150?” I cocked a brow.

“Don’t be a smart ass now. Do me a favor and behave.” Patting me on the cheek, she straightened and in that moment the door opened and Tara came in. She carried a tray with a teapot, honey, and a mug. I could smell a strong, pleasant herbal fragrance coming from the pot.

“Okay boys and girls, I shall leave you to your endeavors now. I need to make preparations for the bridge game tonight.” Anna announced, putting her leather jacket and sunglasses on.

“No alcohol!” I warned.

“You are not the boss of me, young man! But no, I won’t drink. I’m still nursing a hangover from the weekend poker game. You should have seen their faces when I collected! Priceless.” She laughed and sauntered to the door, only stopping next to Tara to pinch her cheek. “So cute!” Tara winced, her cheek red, and gave the old goblin a small smile.

“See you soon, Mrs. An-.” Tara started, but stopped when Anna raised a brow. “Gran…” Tara said sheepishly, and Anna smiled softly.

Gran?! She let her call her gran?! No smacks?! Nothing! How many brain cells have I lost in vain, courtesy of the old gorilla?!! I glared at her, and she smirked smugly. She turned to look at Tara with such sweetness, it was unnerving.

Before leaving, she turned toward me once more, pulling her sunglasses down. She arched a brow, mouthing “behave or,” as she moved her hand in a slicing motion over her neck, before closing the door.

The two of us stood there in awkward silence. Tara shuffled her feet again, biting her lower lip nervously. Sighing, she approached the coffee table slowly, lowering herself onto the floor.

“Well... she’s something else.” Tara smiled as she placed the tray on the table. Though her tone was airy, her posture was rigid, and her hands trembled slightly. I could hear her pulse increasing and saw it flutter in the pale column of her neck. She was uncomfortable in my presence.

Usually I would not so elegantly excuse myself and leave, ignoring Anna’s bulldozing way of making me do things. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And I felt a strange urge to soothe her nervousness. Weird.

“Yeah, I should call up Satan to tell him one of his minions has escaped.”

She laughed.

Oh. My. Gods.

That sound I’ve heard a thousand times last week during my many failed attempts to apologize and it was fucking with my head.

I was determined to wear Anna’s dentures on my cheek for the rest of my life, but by some freak coincidence, wherever I went, I saw her. Like I developed some sort of radar, so I could pinpoint exactly where she was. So, forced to see her, I resigned to my fate and looked like a good little creep. Because that was how I felt. There were some things I noticed, though…

First, she was loud. Very loud when she was with Mina and Ivan. And she laughed a lot. Her laugh was, I must confess, not terrible.

Ok, it was fine.

It was nice like... I don’t know; it did things to me. Made my stomach go all flippy-floppy.

Gross, I know.

Second, she was prone to tripping and falling on flat surfaces. Could be because sometimes she got that thoughtful look on her face. Like she was up into some la la land in her head, so she didn’t watch where she was going.

Third, she was always wearing shirts with some robot looking thingies or blue box or alien looking markings and shit. And yelled Allons-y when leaving the room. What the heck was that? Even now she was wearing a red t-shirt that had the said blue police box and a quote “It’s bigger on the inside.”

“Aw, don’t say that! She’s adorable!” Tara’s voice brought me back from my musings.

“It stops being endearing after getting hit in the head so many times you start forgetting things. For an old fart, she has impressive strength still.” I scratched the back of my head.

“Still, your grandma is sweet. Mine was the sweetest until you made her angry. Then it would be better to hide, or she’ll release the Kraken on your ass!” A sad smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she poured the tea in a mug.

Ah, so she lost her grandmother.

“Um… Anna is not my grandmother, more like an old, well, ancient family friend.” Though Anna and I weren’t blood related, she was more of a grandmother to me than my real one.

“Oh,” she replied, her voice quiet, and after a beat of what seemed like endless awkward silence, she said, “You missed school today.”

It surprised me she even noticed. Something squeezed in my chest at that.

“Yeah… I… I had a bad migraine the whole morning, so… Yeah.” She nodded and placed the mug in front of me.

I came closer to the steaming mug, inhaling the lavender, but now mixed with something else. The familiar scent that riled me up days ago now seemed more subdued. More pleasant, more… something. But there was still a wall I hit. I didn’t know what that was. The good thing was it wasn’t irritating me, nor was it giving me a headache.

“Ah, I see…” her awkward response sounded too close to my ears. I realized I was way too close to her. We were practically face to face, so I backed away, clearing my throat.

She exhaled a shaky breath, plastering a wide smile on her face, and gestured to the mug all enthusiastic like. But I still saw the small wobble in her hand. “It’s lavender tea with honey. It’s good for stress relief. You look like you need it.” She was antsy, nervous energy blasting full force.

Looking at her, that dainty girl with an expressive face made me want to tease her. Only to see what her reaction would be.

“So… you’re saying I look like shit, right?” I said in a serious tone, and her smile fell, her eyes widened in panic. She pulled the hem of her shirt, her mouth opening and closing, looking like a confused fish.

Cute.

I bit on my lower lip to stop from laughing.

“Well...you know you seem tired and… so… I... are you slapping my balls now?” She narrowed her eyes at me and pouted.

That’s when a dam broke, and I started laughing. Are you slapping my balls?! Was she for real?! And her face! Like a suspicious squirrel.

As I collected myself, looking at her stunned expression, I cleared my throat.

“You should do that more often.” She said, pointing a finger at my face.

“What?”

“Laugh, smile. You seem friendlier like…” she trailed off, scrunching up her face in thought, “You know what? Who, the whiskers on a dong, am I to tell you that? It’s all tits on a mouse, anyway.” She shrugged, and I choked on a laugh.

This shrimp is something else.

“I see you’re not scared of me anymore.” I crossed my arms over my chest and tilted my head, still barely containing the smile that threatened to curve my lips.

Tara paused for a second, waving her hand dismissively. “Oh, please, in your current condition, if granny can beat the crap out of you, I can certainly outrun you. I’ll go back to piss my pants tomorrow when you’re in the top form and the force is strong with you again.”

I snort. “Yeah, right, like you could outrun me.”

“Well, I can certainly beat you in Stone Smash!” she challenged, pointing at the tablet on the table.

“You play?”

“No, but how hard can it be?” She shrugged, taking the tablet from the coffee table.

“Okay, let’s see what you’ve got. Are you sure? I’ll destroy you.” I proclaimed, taking my phone.

She clicked her tongue and gave me a smug smile. “Bring it on!”

Obviously, not that hard. Now, how did an uncoordinated person, such as her, manage to fucking completely and utterly obliterate my score in the game?

We played for two hours. And every time she won, she did this little victory dance with her hands. It was ridiculous. My eyes teared up from holding in my laughter.

Well, maybe I was glancing at her more than at my screen. Her focused face was super funny. Brows furrowed, tongue hanging over the corner of her mouth, scrunching her nose with every tap she made on the tablet.

“Woohoo! Read ’em and weep!” She won another round. As she turned the screen towards me gloating, she did that little weird dance of hers. She wasn’t even aware she was doing it until she saw me smiling. She stilled, suddenly self-conscious as she tucked a strand of hair that escaped from the bun looking thingy on the top of her head and settled down.

Too bad she tied it, it looked nice down. The fuck was wrong with me? Since when did I care about that stuff?

“You know I am not at my full capacity now, that’s why I let you win.” At my comment she perked right up. As she was sitting on the floor, crossing her legs, she looked at me while squinting one of her eyes, stroking her chin.

“Excuses only a defeated one would use. Accept thy failure and learn from it. Only then you shall be great and humble.” She put her right fist on the left palm and bowed.

I copied her movement. “Wise words master… But one truly great does not gloat in the face of the unfortunate, that’s what makes him a sore winner.” She shook her head, raising her hand.

“Deep is my sadness student, for your ideals are wrong. Have my teachings not borne fruit? Your spirit is as low as your scoreboard.”

“Let’s play another one!”

“You sure? I’ll destroy you.” She repeated my words from two hours ago, wiggling her brows, grinning. I grimaced, sticking my tongue out.

We started another round.

She won.

Again.

“Now let’s compare them!… Wait, that sounds wrong.” She said, and I smirked.

Her score was really bruising my ego.

Striking a victory pose, she bellowed, “See now, the beauty! I’m absolute!”

“What about being great and humble?”

“Oh, pish posh! Humility is so overrated.” She threw imaginary hair over her shoulder.

I shook my head, laughing.

“I’ll get you next time. Let’s do leveling up next time, and compare.” What the fuck was coming out of my mouth?

That must have been it. It was finally starting. The madness of werewolves with my condition past their expiration date.

“Sure. But don’t cry when I show you mine… Wait, that’s wrong again!” I laughed. Her cheeks got red as she smiled awkwardly.

My face was hurting all over. I didn’t remember the last time I laughed that much in one day. I pulled the muscles I didn’t even know I had.

“Oh, shoot! I’m like, supposed to be working and here I am playing games!” scrambling on the floor, she tried to get up fast from the position she was in but, her knee buckled as she caught the foot of the table. Tripping and in a way that seem almost in slow motion, she headed straight for me.

She hit my nose with her small but surprisingly very hard head and draped over me like a blanket. Her face buried in my chest, hands gripping the fabric of my sleeves. My hands hovered over her back. She was tiny, kinda fit nicely in my arms. I gave myself a mental slap and another one, just in case.

I tensed up, not moving a muscle. Frozen.

“Oh, my God!” Jumping up, she once again hit my nose, and I groaned. Warm liquid started pouring down and into my mouth.

“Crap! I’m so sorry! You’re bleeding!” Shaking and panicking, she pressed my nose with her hands to stop the bleeding. I winced.

“Lie down! No, hunch forward and hold your nose. Look at your toes! God, I’m rhyming now!” She scurried away to her backpack and started rummaging through.

“I’m alright. You didn’t break my nose, though you have one tough head on your shoulders.” Taking out a pack of tissues in a hurry, she tripped on the carpet and face-planted. I was about to get her, but my reflexes had been lagging all day. I was a second too late when I reached her and crouched down to help her.

“Ouch!” Lifting her face up, I saw a streak of red from one of her nostrils.

“Shit! Now you’re bleeding!” I pointed out as I helped her up. We looked at each other before we both laughed.

“Guess lady karma really is a bitch.” Tara giggled, wiping her nose with a back of her hand, her cheeks red.

“I’d say.”

After that, we sat on the couch with tissues stuck up our nostrils, looking at the floor in silence. A lazy tapping hit the windowsill. We turned toward the window as the rain started. She exhaled and slumped down on the couch.

“Fudge… I didn’t bring my umbrella.” I peeked over her through the window again and it was really nasty. Then my disease-ridden brain got a marvelous idea and before I could veto it, it came pouring out of my mouth.

“I’ll drive you home.” I said nonchalantly but, screaming internally. She looked at me, surprised, a shy smile pulling at the corners of her lips.

“Nah, it’s fine. I can wait it out or I could run.”

“From here?”

She considered it a bit, looking and pulling at the hem of her shirt.

“Ah! I’ll ask Ivan to pick me up if he’s not busy so... I don’t wanna burden you.” Smiling, she lifted her eyes to mine, grabbing her phone. A knot tied in the pit of my stomach as she said that.

Strange.

It was annoying.

That feeling.

Yep, I’m annoyed.

“Put that down. It’s no big deal. Get your stuff and let’s go. It’s already closing time, and no one has been here for hours except us. If it makes you feel better, it’s a thank you for the tea.” Shut up me! Just go! Let her call Ivan and you go home! I screamed at myself.

But, did I listen to me, myself and moi? NO! Why not? Because fuck me, that’s why!

Unaware of my inner turmoil, she nodded and picked up her backpack. When we got out on the porch, the rain was still unrelenting; the wind picking up. So, even if she had an umbrella, she’d get soaked before reaching home.

I saw her shiver as the gust of wind blew and my body moved of its own accord. I threw my jacket over her head.

“Let’s run to the parking lot. It’s not far.”

“Okay. Allons-y, my friend!” We ran as fast as we could, me having to adjust my pace with hers. I opened the passenger door to my beat-up black Jeep to let her in and hurried to the other side. I was drenched, my hair was sticking to my face, so I ran my fingers through it before turning the engine on.

“I gotta ask,” I said, turning my head to face her. Her round hazel eyes turned to mine, and she tilted her head, waiting.

“What’s this Allons-y thing?” I asked.

The corners of her lips stretched into a smile. “It’s French for let’s go. It’s tenth Doctor Who’s catch phrase. My favorite Doctor.” She answered, her eyes alight with admiration.

“Ok, have no clue who that is.”

“You should check it out. It’s awesome. But start with the ninth doctor. It’s a really fun show! With time travel and the blue police box, witch is his spaceship and aliens, oooh and history and... I’m sorry, I’m fangirling.” Blushing, she lowered her head, staring, and picking at the hem of her shirt.

“Sure.” I said, and she gave me a shy smile as I turned the engine on.

The drive was short, and we didn’t talk at all. As soon as I pulled over, she jumped up, unbuckling her seat belt.

“Thank you for the ride. Today was fun…” her words didn’t sound forced, they were genuine, and something fluttered in my gut at that.

“Ah, yeah… it was.” The realization took me aback.

It was fun. A little too fun.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you in school. Thank you again.” I grunted like an idiot. She hurried to her porch and went inside her home, and I sat there for a few seconds like I broke down.

Who was I? What was I doing there, being a fucking gentleman and crap? I didn’t even know this girl, heck I didn’t talk to girls at all. Vera didn’t count, as we only talked when I needed to leave for a fight. I mean, girls approached me sometimes. To be correct, they approached Luca, and I was present. Rare ones tried to engage in conversation, but I usually blew them off. But this one seemed different. She did these weird things to my insides that I couldn’t decide if I was a fan of.

Maybe it would be wise to not engage anymore.

I snorted at myself.

Like we would talk again. I didn’t want to dwell on it. She was a classmate I’ll say hello to. That was all. That’s settled.

It wasn’t settled, and I indeed dwelt on it. Whole night, I tossed and turned. Her face, her hair, her voice flashed and echoed in my head, refusing to leave.

I thought she might be some sort of a witch. I threw that idea out. They had a very distinct scent, and their general aura was very specific.

Tara was off. But there wasn’t anything witchy about her. Only one thing was for sure. And that was that she was sleep-depriving me and giving me a headache. Like some freaky apparition.

I should hug a bag of salt, for fuck’s sake...

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