The sound of Mr. Masterson's hand making contact on his daughter's right cheek resonated off the floral wallpaper on the walls of his small trailer. Dawn was in the living room, on her knees atop the beige, high carpet and in front of the glass-top coffee table. There was an old TV sitting on a small table by the wall and a green, patched up couch across from it. A lone ceiling fan in the middle of the room tried and failed to make the intense heat any more bearable.
Dawn's father had arrived at their rendezvous point just a few minutes after they did. The area was safe with no signs of hunter activity and Dawn couldn't smell another human for miles. Mr. Masterson's old, blue pickup pulled off the road into the gravel and the two escapees jumped into the bed. They'd covered up with a tarp, just to avoid any more disturbances on their way to Dawn's home. At no point did Dawn and her father speak or even make eye contact during the rescue operation. They both knew there would be plenty of time for that at home.
Dawn's cheek stung from the impact as she landed on her hands. Her fingers dug into the tall fibers of the carpet as she tried to maintain her composure. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I had no other choice."
"No choice?" Mr. Masterson shouted. He was a tall man at about six-two. His brown hair was straight and thin hanging down to his shoulders. His skin was leathery, covered with scars and blemishes. It was hard to determine just how old he was as a lifetime of hard work had clearly aged him beyond his years. He had a dark goatee and stubble across the rest of his face from at least two days of no shaving. "When is there ever no choice but to shift in public?"
"They were going to take him if I didn't," she said. "My assignment from the elders was to watch over the pup so I did."
"And you may have exposed us all," Mr. Masterson retorted. Two bloody carcasses in a high school with blood all over the walls, oh, the media storm this will bring down.
"Mr. Masterson," Brandon piped up from the corner of the room. He had been offered a seat on the chocolate-brown recliner, but the tension in the room did not create an atmosphere relaxing enough to sit. He was wearing a white undershirt and a pair of jeans that Mr. Masterson had loaned him. His blood-stained clothes were knocking around in an old washing machine down the hall. "May I say something?"
"What is it, pup?" Mr. Masterson asked without looking up. His eyes were still bearing down on the bright-pink mop of hair covering his daughter's shamed face.
"First off, I'm rather grateful for what your daughter did. I mean, those hunters were about to take me and I didn't even know why. Until a few hours ago, I thought that thereins were just movie monsters."
Mr. Masterson raised his hand with an extended index finger. "Be careful what you say, pup."
"I mean no disrespect," Brandon replied. "All I'm saying is that I'm alive and free right now because of Dawn. You may be angry with her, but I owe her everything."
"No offense, pup, but your life ain't worth the hell she may have brought down on our pack; hell, all of our kin across the globe! Hunters are a walk in the park compared to what we could be facing if…"
"Dawn already explained the dangers to me," Brandon said. "But we made a clean getaway. They'll find the bodies, sure, but there's no way they'll figure a werewolf did it. They'll figure a bear or a mountain lion got into the school."
"We'll know in a moment if you're right," Mrs. Masterson chimed in as she entered from the bedroom at the end of the hall. She walked over to the couch and grabbed the black TV remote off the coffee table. "It seems it's all over the news now."
Mrs. Masterson clicked the remote and a faint pop sounded from the old set. The TV wasn't even a flat panel. Brandon hadn't seen a TV like that in years. Mrs. Masterson flipped though channel after channel of cooking shows, courtroom dramas, and a guy shouting really loudly about why we should be buying a food processor. Finally, an overhead shot of TVHS filled the screen.
Brandon made his way over to Dawn and lowered his right hand, gesturing that he would give her a boost to her feet.
Dawn rose to her knees but gently slapped Brandon's hand away. "I got it," she said, attempting to salvage what little of her pride was left.
"Just trying to help," Brandon said softly. He wasn't even sure if he was meaning to say it to her or just to reassure himself. Dawn retreated to the couch and Brandon finally sat in the recliner. Mr. Masterson remained standing but his wife took a seat next to Dawn. She was at least in her early 40's with long, blond hair. Her skin was pale and she wore a white dress with tiny blue flowers all over it. Brandon never would have said this out loud, but she looked like she was wearing the wallpaper.
The aerial view of the familiar school slowly moved across the screen as a male voice began speaking through the old TV speaker. "If you're just joining us, again, a horrific and confusing scene at Tennessee Valley High. Two unidentified bodies found in the principal's office, each apparently mauled by some kind of wild animal. Miraculously, the principal of the school, Joseph Walton, was found unconscious in the office with the two victims but suffered no injuries."
The view on the screen changed to Principal Walton sitting in the back of an ambulance. The poor man looked woozy and very confused. "I really wish I could be more helpful, but I just can't remember anything that happened," Mr. Walton said into a microphone shoved up against his face. The flashes of several cameras caused his shadow to strobe against the back wall of the ambulance. "I don't know who the two men were or why they were in my office."
The camera spun away, focusing on a young woman with long, dark hair and a red blazer over her white blouse. "To add to the confusion, paramedics have stated that Mr. Walton's neck has been treated for a small burn mark that could have possibly been caused by a stun gun that was found on one of the victims."
"No suspicion so far," Brandon said, trying to keep everyone feeling hopeful and relieve the tension in the room.
Mr. Masterson raised a hand to shush Brandon.
The action on the screen moved to inside the news studio where a man with salt-and-pepper hair sat behind a desk in a well-tailored suit. "And we are getting reports now that police found several weapons on the bodies of the two victims including a nine millimeter handgun and a large hunting knife. Each new piece of information seems to raise more questions than answers as it is still unclear why the men were in the school and what on Earth attacked them. Authorities are partnering with local wildlife agencies to search the area for signs of any animal that could have wondered into the building. One thing's for sure though: it's going to be a long time before we can make any sense of what's happened here this afternoon."
"There, we're not exposed," Dawn said as she stood. "They're looking through the woods for a bear or something.
"They're looking for something they won't find," Mr. Masterson retorted. "And then what? If anyone was skeptical of our existence before, this will add reason to believe. These are the kind of instances that create hunters."
"So what now then?" Dawn asked angrily. She already knew the answer, but she was eager for her father to get to the point and get it over with.
"The incident will go before the elders when the pack gathers tonight," Mr. Masterson said as he hung his head. He folded his hands in his lap and closed his eyes. "I can't speak for them and I don't know what they'll decide, but I know there will be no arguing with their judgment."
Dawn couldn't do it anymore. She no longer had the will to be strong and emotionless, but her pride still would not let her resolve crumble in front of her parents, and especially not in front of the pup. Without a word, she turned and ran for the screen door. Pushing it open, it slammed against the side of the house with a loud smack before swinging back to a half open position.
"Get back here, young lady!" Mr. Masterson shouted, but his demand went unanswered.
Mrs. Masterson stood and turned to her husband. "Let her have some time," she said in as soothing a voice as she could. "I think the gravity of her actions is finally starting to weigh on her."
"I shudder to think what the elders will do to her," Mr. Masterson said. His tone was calmer now, but anger had been replaced with worry. "She could be exiled you know."
"Don't talk like that!" Mrs. Masterson shouted. There were tears starting to form under her eyes. "They would never…"
"You know damn well they would," Mr. Masterson replied. "You've seen it done before for lesser offenses. If a human had seen her she could very well be killed for her sin."
Mrs. Masterson buried her head in her hands and began to sob. Her body trembled, making the pleats of her dress sway back and forth very gently. Mr. Masterson just sat there, head down and silent.
Brandon sat there like a fly on the wall. He wasn't sure if the drama of the situation had kept everyone from acknowledging him or if they'd honestly just forgotten he was even there. Either way, the situation was getting way too awkward to just be sitting here in the midst of the most peculiar family drama he'd ever seen. He quickly stood and made his way out the door.
Dawn was standing at the end of the gravel driveway. Evening was starting to set in and the tall trees surrounding the property had most of the small yard covered in shadow. It was an extremely rural area, with the gravel driveway connecting only to a gravel road of about the same width that carried on over the hill. She faced away from the house with her head up.
Brandon could hear the short, hurried breaths before he was even within fifty feet of her. Her shoulders jerked up and down with her sporadic gasps and her fists were clenched tightly at her sides. "Dawn?" Brandon said sheepishly. It was like trying to coax a stray cat without letting it run away.
She gave no response. Between her parent's lack of acknowledgement and now this, Brandon was starting to wonder if he'd turned invisible.
"Listen," he said as he stepped a little closer. "I know you're upset, but I just wanted…"
"I'm so stupid," she softly.
Brandon sighed. "Dawn, you're not…"
Dawn suddenly spun around to face him. Her cheeks were covered in black mascara and her eyes were redder than the sunset. "Don't you tell me I'm not!" she snapped. "I know I am! I knew what I was doing was forbidden! I knew the elders would never deem it justified to save one pup…no offense."
Dawn took a deep breath and shut her eyes tight. "I'm scared," she said very softly. "I'm really scared."
Brandon was completely floored. Admittedly, he'd never actually spent a lot of quality time with Dawn Masterson until this very unique set of circumstances befell him, but just seeing her around school for a few weeks had been enough to show him that she was harder than stone and didn't back down for anything. Seeing her like this was quite eye opening, and he could see by the shame in her face that she didn't like being this exposed in front of someone like him.
Cautiously, he made his way towards her. His hands stayed at his side as he walked and he rolled his feet so they made little noise. "Look, I'm not sure if I even know which direction is up anymore after everything that's happened. I mean, my whole world just got ripped out from under me and it's all quite a lot to absorb."
"Is this going somewhere?" Dawn snapped. Despite her vulnerability, she was still blunt and to the point.
He was right in front of her now. He could look down and see the top of her very pink head. His sensitive nose had been smelling her perfume since their escape, but now he was close enough to be completely bombarded with it. It smelled of cherry blossoms with a hint of something fruity, raspberries perhaps. It was very pleasant.
"Despite it all, I'd rather be here right now than either dead or in a cage with no explanation as to why. You saved my life, and I don't care what your parents or any elders have to say about it. I'm thankful." Feeling daring, Brandon reached out with both arms and placed his hands on her exposed shoulders. Her skin was slightly cool to the touch.
A small jerk ran through Dawn's body as her initial instinct demanded she pull away. Something stopped her though. Brandon wasn't sure why she didn't push away, but he was glad she didn't. She looked up into his eyes. Her mouth gaped open just a tiny bit and he could see her lower lip quiver. He remember kissing those lips earlier that day and, though it had only been an act to fool their attacker, it had sure felt more wonderful than he ever would have expected.
"You saved my life and I owe you for that," he said warmly. "I won't let them do anything to you."
Dawn shut her eyes and tore her gaze away from him. "You damn fool," she said as she took a step back and released herself from Brandon's gentle grasp. "You don't know what you're talking about at all. If the elders want me exiled then there's nothing I, my parents, or even the big star quarterback can do about it."
"I'm just saying that…"
"Look," Dawn snapped. "You may be used to having a lot of pull with people and being top dog, but in this world you're just a stupid pup that doesn't know anything about the real world."
Brandon opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of his cellphone ringing from his jean pocket cut him off. He reached his right hand into his pocket and fished out the phone. The words MOM CALLING flashed across the screen as the chimes continued to sound.
His eyes went wide as his skin got a little paler. In all the commotion, all the excitement and confusion of the last few hours that had completely turned his world on end, he hadn't even though about how he would deal with all of this with his parents.
"Who is it?" Dawn asked.
"My mom," Brandon said softly. The phone rang a couple more times as Brandon just stood there staring at it.
"Aren't you going to answer?"
With his free hand, Brandon slid his index finger across the screen. He could already hear his mother's voice coming from the speaker before he even got the phone to his ear. She sounded panicked. They hadn't even spoken yet, but he was willing to put his money on her having just seen the news.
"Hey, mom," he said as normally as he could into the phone.
"You're not at school, are you?" his mom demanded. He hadn't heard her sound this panicked since the time he'd broken his arm during practice.
"No," he said. "I'm at…a friend's house." He heard her give one of those classic mom sighs they make as soon as they know that their baby is safe.
"Did you see what happened?" she asked.
"No," he lied. "What's going on?"
"It's a lot to explain," she said. "I just need to know a few things from you first."
Brandon was really puzzled. This was quite the strange reaction from her. Why wasn't she just telling him all the stuff he already knew so he could continue playing dumb like this was the first he'd heard of it. "Um, sure; what do you need to know?"
"Is there any part of your day today that you can't remember?"
Brandon's eyebrow shot up and his mouth gaped open. "What?" he asked.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I need to know," his mother insisted. He couldn't believe how serious she sounded about this. "Just think back over the last few hours and tell me if there's anything you can't recall."
"Mom, I assure you that I can remember everything that happened to me today, really."
Dawn's head suddenly snapped upwards to lock eyes with Brandon.
Brandon shrugged his shoulders while forming the word 'what' with his lips. Dawn just continued to stand there staring at him. He didn't get it. He was surrounded by women that were all being deadly serious about something that he didn't understand at all.
"You're absolutely sure?" Brandon's mom asked again.
"Mom, what's this all about?"
"Just come straight home," she replied. "I need to see you right away."
"Okay, I'll be there as soon as I can." Brandon pushed end and returned the phone to his pocket. Looking up from his jeans, he noticed that Dawn was still staring at him rather intently. "What?" he asked.
"Who is your mother?" she asked.
Brandon wasn't getting any less confused. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Because I want to know what kind of self-respecting therein doesn't tell her son about what he is."
"The heck are you talking about?"
Dawn moved forward, getting closer to him. "She asked you if you could remember your whole day, didn't she?"
"She knows what you are," Dawn said with surety. "The only reason she would know is if she is one herself."
"You're nuts," Brandon said. "My mother's not a therein."
Dawn's hands quickly rose and grasped at Brandon's collar. Grabbing his shirt, she jerked him down to her level. Brandon almost lost his balance as he was caught off guard by her sudden, unorthodox action. "What is it going to take to make you suspend your disbelief?" she shouted. "Wake up, stupid. The world isn't what you thought it was. You're a therein, so you must have come from one somewhere in your family line."
Brandon freed himself from her grasp and took a step back. The small pellets of gravel groaned as they rubbed together under his sneakers. "Are you saying it's a genetic thing or something?"
Dawn rolled her eyes at him.
"I thought you had to get bitten by a werewolf to become one yourself."
"So when was the last time you were bitten by a creature that you only now know exists?" Dawn asked sarcastically.
Brandon opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again as he realized how stupid he had just sounded.
"Look, you're going to have to forget everything you've ever been told about…" She rolled her eyes again bobbed her head. "…werewolves...because a lot of it isn't true. This isn't a curse passed through bites, we don't change during a full moon, etcetera, etcetera."
"What about silver?"
Dawn sighed as her shoulders fell. "Unfortunately, that one is true, but the allergy doesn't set in until after your awakening."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you should probably ditch that stupid looking necklace you're always wearing. After your first shift, it will feel like someone covered it with poison oak."
Brandon reached behind him and unhooked the tiny clasp on the silver chain he'd been wearing for years now. He just looked down at it, still trying to grasp that all this nonsense was really happening.
"I know it sucks, but your first shift changes the chemical compound of your skin. After that, anything made of silver causes a severe allergic reaction. Be sure to trash that."
Brandon sighed and clenched his fist around the chain. His whole world was changing so much in just a few hours. He didn't know what was real anymore, what to believe. Now he felt like he didn't even know who his family was. With an angry groan, Brandon tossed the necklace into the woods. A ray of light from the setting sun gleamed off of it just before it disappeared from sight.
Dawn put a hand gently on Brandon's forearm. "I know it's hard, but you have to trust me."
"I trust you," Brandon said. There was a lot of anger in his voice. He didn't look at her. He couldn't bring himself to make eye contact with anyone right now.
"Good," she replied. "Now, tell me about your mother."