man, three chapters in one day? i'm on a roll!
It was a small, dingy Citgo station. The once poppy-red band running around the overhang had faded to a pitiful orange. The white sides of the square building were speckled with mud and oil, and a light layer of grime completed the overall look.
We pulled up next to a dinged up pump and stopped. Crig looked over at me sheepishly.
"I didn't think to bring my wallet…" he hinted. I jokingly heaved a sigh and pulled a coin purse out of my bag. Inside was my credit card, which I handed to Crig. He shook his head.
"Inda, you're making this way too easy for him," he said. I cocked my head.
"Sheffard will be tracking us however he can. We can't use anything that has our names attached to it."
"Right," I said, deflated. I put the card away and pulled out a twenty and a five dollar bill.
"It won't get us much," I shrugged, but Crig accepted it anyway.
"Thanks," he grinned as he stepped out. I noticed that the woman using the other side of the pump was staring at Crig with a sort of intrigued disgust. Scowling, I turned away.
The rhythmic beat of gasoline being pumped calmed me as I sat in silence. I looked over my shoulder.
Clyde was breathing hoarsely, but the heaving had stopped and he seemed more peaceful now. I wondered, not for the first time, what he would do when he found out what he'd become. I thought of myself, how I had felt. I was so scared, so confused. More so than I've ever been in my life. More scared than I'd been when my dad almost killed Syra, my little sister…
I sighed through my nose. Syra would know what happened to me. Sometimes, she just knew things, but how, I have no idea. She was who I went to for advice, and I learned that no matter how ridiculous the answer, I should always do as she says.
After that night, the night he beat her, I wanted to find a way to make him stay away forever, so she and my mom and I wouldn't have to be afraid of him anymore. I remember vividly the conversation we had.
"I can't let him come back," I said, holding a wet cloth over Syra's swelling black eye.
"He's going to," she said, and winced a little as her lip started to bleed again. I wiped at it with a tissue.
"I know he is… Syra, what should I do?"
Syra was quiet for a moment, her eyes closed in concentration.
"Go to Jenex." She looked up at me.
"Mm-hm. Go to Jenex and listen to everything you can."
And so I did. Once in Jenex, I snooped around, frequenting a number of cafes, bars, clubs, bookstores, having no idea what it was I was listening for and how it would help me keep Dad away… It didn't take me long, though, to pick up on some strange, hushed conversations. For one thing, there was a lot of mentioning of blood. Thinking back on it, I could remember a few times when I heard the full moon talked about.
I'd been in Jenex about a week and a half when it happened. I was on my way back to the hotel one night when I heard a dog panting behind me. I turned and started, struck with the sheer size of the animal; its head was nearly to my shoulders. I shifted backwards, looking around for someone who might be brave enough to get the dog—no, the wolf—to some sort of shelter. I realized with a start that I was alone, that I'd been alone for nearly the whole way now. There wasn't a soul in sight. I started to turn and walk the other way, but suddenly there was a woman standing in front of me, feral looking and completely naked. I backed up, shot a glance over my shoulder; there was no wolf there now. The last thing I remember thinking was that they were one person. Wolf. Woman. They were the same. Then she attacked.
"Okay, that oughta do it!"
Crig's voice snapped me back to reality. He pulled his seatbelt across and buckled it, smiling up at me. He paused—
"Inda? You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," I lied, pulling my face into a semblance of a smile. Crig's eyes flickered to Clyde for a moment.
"He's going to be fine, Inda."
"I could deal with switching my diet to raw meat," I murmured, staring at the fledgling. He twitched in his feverish sleep. "I thought, 'hey, people eat raw meat in some places, it's not so unusual.' It made me feel a little more human… But what about blood? That's totally different."
"He won't be drinking human blood," Crig assured me. "We can make sure of that."
"Still, it's like sucking the life force out of something," I said with a shiver. Crig put a hand on my shoulder.
"We'll be there for him," he said softly. "It's always easier when you have another freak to talk to."
He grinned lopsidedly and put the key in the ignition, pulling out of the gas station. I smiled a little bit.
"So who was your 'freak'?" I asked. Crig furrowed his brows.
"Haven't I told you?"
"You tended to shy away from questions concerning how you became a werewolf," I reminded him with a hint of reproach. Crig chuckled softly.
"I'd forgotten about that. Sorry."
"So, what's the story?" I asked.
"I'm a full-blooded werewolf," he replied, and I could have sworn he sounded proud. "My mom came from a long line of werewolves, my dad was turned when he was a kid."
I started. "I didn't know it worked like that."
"Yep. So I had both my parents to help me out. I still can't believe I've never told you that…"
He turned back onto the Interstate.
"Where are they now?" I asked, trying to hide the hope in my voice. It wouldn't hurt to have a few extra werewolves on our side, so long as we had vampires after us. Crig shrugged indifferently, though.
"Hell if I know. We were close enough when I was younger, but after a while I just gradually stopped talking to them. They went their way, I went mine. Like instinct, I guess."
He turned his blinker on and merged onto the highway.
"Yeah. After all, werewolves have a much longer lifespan than humans. Over time, we just drift away from people. In a family of werewolves, we all had the urge to move on. So we did."
I nodded. I tended to forget how slowly werewolves aged. I had only been changed two years ago, so I hadn't really felt the effects yet. Crig, on the other hand, had seventy-eight years of experience. The first time he told me how old he actually was, I couldn't stop laughing; I never thought I'd fall in love with a man who was nearly eighty years old.
I yawned, suddenly aware of the fatigue that was claiming my body. Crig smiled at me softly.
"Get some sleep, Inda," he said, patting my leg.
"I can sleep later," I told him sternly and forced my eyes open.
"You've got to stop being so stubborn," he laughed. "It'll be the death of…"
When I woke, I didn't remember hearing the end of his sentence.
"Where are we?" I asked, my speech slurred. The early afternoon sun glared into my eyes.
"Good timing, sleeping beauty," Crig grinned. "We just reached Knoxville. Do you know how to get to her house from here?"
I glanced out the window, recognizing the familiar highway and buildings.
The clock above the radio read 2:20.
Plenty of time, I assured myself.
Ten minutes later, we were pulling into a scrawny neighborhood, the one I'd grown up in.
"It's that house," I said, pointing, "The blue one."
Crig pulled up to the curb and parked in front of the little house. The turquoise paint was worn in places, revealing the gray wood underneath. The lawn had sporadic patches of green grass among the yellow; Spring was on its way.
"C'mon, Inda," Crig said as he stood. I nodded and took a deep breath.
"You can do this," I muttered under my breath. All the same, my hands were going clammy.
While I grabbed our bags, Crig threw a jacket over Clyde and pulled him out of the back seat and into the sunlight. We walked up to the porch and I hesitated only an instant before ringing the doorbell.
It was not my mother who answered the door, but Syra. I gasped when I saw her. Just two years and she already looked so much older. She smiled.
"Hey nothin'!" I cried, pulling her into a bear hug.
"You smell," she giggled.
"Gee, thanks, kid! Where's Mama?" I asked as we stepped inside. The house was still cluttered with the same sentimental junk, along with forgotten junkmail and newspapers piled on any available surface.
"Grocery store. Are you Crig?"
"Uh, yeah," he smiled. "How'd you know that?"
"I just did. You should probably put him down somewhere." She nodded at Clyde, who still had the jacket over his head. "He can sleep in my room. C'mon."
Crig laughed softly and shook his head.
"You got some sister," he whispered to me. I smiled, nodding.
"Yeah...I'm gonna take a shower really fast, okay?" I murmured. He nodded and followed Syra down the short hallway.
I wanted to linger in the shower after I finished scrubbing the dirt and sweat off of myself, but I knew my mother would be home soon. I'd have to explain things to her before sundown, or else... I shuddered at the thought. Still, the luxuriously hot water eased my stiffness and my nerves. I reluctantly turned off the faucet and wrapped a towel around myself, then one around my head.
After rubbing a clean spot on the fogged mirror, I was pleased to see that I was looking more like myself now. I smiled, and my reflection dutifully smiled back, my teeth stark white against my brown skin.
I frowned and opened my mouth, examining the sharp fangs that occupied my gums. Just one more way I didn't fit in with everyone else.
My eyes had always been a dead giveaway. Ever since I became a werewolf, my deep brown eyes had been an amber shade of gold, with perpetual black rims along my lash-line which reached halfway down either side of my nose. It made me look like some sort of eyeliner fanatic. Crig's eyes were the same way, but somehow, he could pull it off.
I looked up when I heard the squeak of the front door opening. My mother's voice wafted through the house.
"Syra, honey, could you help me with the groceries?"
I hurriedly rubbed my hair dry and yanked on my clothes before rushing out of the bathroom and into the small kitchen. My mother was putting the milk and eggs in the refrigerator. Just the sight of her after nearly three years made me feel like everything was going to be okay.
"Hi, Mama," I said softly. She whipped around, a hand on her chest.
"Oh!" was all she said at first. Then, "Oh, Inda! Oh, my baby!"
She rushed over to me and buried me in a hug, planting kisses on my head.
"I missed you so much, honey!"
"I missed you, too," I said into her shoulder. Then came the dreaded words:
"Here, lemme take a look at you!"
I pulled away reluctantly, a fake smile plastered on my face. My mother frowned.
"Inda," she started reproachfully, "What kind of makeup are you wearing, baby? And are those colored contacts? Why would you wanna cover up those pretty brown eyes of yours?"
I floundered for an answer, but fortunately, Syra walked in before my silence became too strained.
"Crig's taking a shower," she told me. "Hi, Mama."
"Crig?" Mama turned to me.
"He's...one of my friends," I replied, blushing.
"'Friends'...?" she asked, catching on.
"Boyfriend," I corrected myself sheepishly.
Mama only grinned knowingly.
"How's Clyde?" I asked Syra softly once Mama had busied herself with the groceries again.
"He's sleeping," she replied. "He's breathing kinda loud, but he'll be okay."
I nodded. We needed to get him some blood soon. Otherwise, he was bound to get weaker, something we couldn't afford to happen.
"You need to tell Mama," Syra said suddenly.
"Tell me what?" Mama turned, hands on her hips. I glared at Syra.
"Way to go, mouth," I reproached her. "I was getting around to it!"
"Well, now you're 'around to it,'" Mama said sternly. "What is it you wanted to tell me?"
I glanced over at Syra, hoping to get in one last glare, but she was already leaving the room. I sighed.
"Maybe...you should sit down, Mama," I said, motioning to the small table in the corner of the room.
The hardest part of a confession is getting started. And when it's a confession like, "I'm a werewolf," it tends to be even harder. I started in a less than original way.
"You probably won't believe me at first," I said, staring at the faux wood table. "I didn't. Not for a while, actually."
I chanced a look at Mama. She watched me patiently.
"The truth is, Mama," I said with a deep breath, "I'm--"
"There you are," Crig's voice said suddenly from behind me. I turned and smiled with relief.
"Hey, you're looking much better," I told him, standing and putting an arm around his waist. "Mama, this is Crig."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Wilde," Crig replied suavely, extending his hand.
"Just Ruby," Mama corrected him with a smile before her brows furrowed. "Is colored contacts a new fad in the city or somethin'?"
Crig glanced at me curiously. I bit my lip.
"I haven't told her," I admitted. Crig looked between Mama and I before realization dawned on him.
"Yeah," I nodded. He made an embarrassed face.
"I'll just step out for a minute..."
"No!" I grabbed his arm. "I-- I need you."
He stared a me for a short moment, then nodded curtly and sat down at the table. Mama and I did the same.
"Where was I?" I stalled, "Um..."
"I don't think you really started," Mama reminded me wryly. I ground my teeth.
"You took notice of our eyes, Ruby," Crig prompted.
"That has something to do with it?" Mama asked, cocking her head.
"Yeah," I began, glad for a place to start, "See...They aren't contacts."
"Some sort of cosmetic surgery, or--"
"No, no. And the black around our eyes isn't makeup. It's..."
My eyes flickered pleadingly to Crig.
"I guess," he said slowly, "you could say it's natural."
Mama shook her head.
"No, Inda's eyes are brown. That's natural. I don't get what you're trying to say."
"This isn't working," I said to Crig. He shrugged.
"You could always try the more direct approach."
"Yeah...It might be a little less painful if I just said it."
"Yeah, might be."
"Well, I hope you two make up your mind soon, because my patience is running short. Inda, you can tell me. You know I'll always love you no matter what, baby!"
I was silent for a moment, staring at the table.
"Even if I were a monster?" I asked softly.
"Honey," Mama started, "You're not a monster! You're sweet and kind and brave--"
"That doesn't mean I can't be a monster," I cut in. "I mean a real monster, Mama. The kind that's not supposed to exist. I'm one of them."
Mama glanced back and forth between Crig and I.
I bit my lip and steeled myself. Crig squeezed my hand under the table.
"I'm a werewolf."