I didn't exactly know where I was going but after a while I got tired and made my way into the dunes, finding a bush big enough to create some real shade and laying under it. The sun was up properly now and the beach was becoming crowded- without clothes I couldn't change back, so it looked like I was stuck here, maybe all day. And I could already feel dehydration coming on. Great.
I closed my eyes, trying to think. What was I doing? I liked Kaleb, okay, yes, I did, but I didn't trust him. He was too intense for that, like an unpredictable firework that might explode in any direction. I liked Wes too, and I thought I kind of trusted him, but every time we were together something Therian would come up and then I lost him, just like that.
I needed a game plan. So far I'd let everyone lead me up and down like a chess piece and the only thing I really wanted (i.e., to be left alone and to live a normal human life) looked like it wasn't an option and hadn't been from the start. If I was going to live this life there needed to be ground rules, starting with Kaleb and a couple little things called 'privacy' and 'personal space'. Luckily I thought Dad would be good backup on that one. And I needed to have a proper conversation with Wes, too. If he wasn't able to deal with the werecat part of my life then I would have to cut him out of the human part of my life. Even thinking it sounded awful, like I was ditching him or something, but there it was.
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up in time to see a wolf coming toward me, sniffing cautiously. It had a strange makeshift pack tied to its back and I sighed in relief. Finally, Dad to the rescue.
-Hey,- I said, rolling to my feet and trying to shake off some of the grass and dirt that had decided to attach itself to my pelt when I wasn't looking. –Sorry. Thanks for coming.-
The wolf grinned at me, panting a little in the sun. –You're welcome,- it said, and I jumped in shock. The voice was female. –I'm Andy,- the wolf told me, and I had to process for a long moment to understand. Andy? My little sister?
-You're a wolf?-
-Werewolf. But yeah, I am.-
The wolf shrugged, it's shoulders rolling under an unbelievable amount of hair. –'Bout a month. Jamie changed me.-
-And you didn't tell me?-
-You were busy,- she said stiffly, and then I remembered. Right. A month ago. Right about the time Brian went missing. Right after-.
-Wait, that roadtrip you guys took? That was so you could change?-
-I thought…,- I began, then trailed off uncomfortably. The truth was that I'd thought the trip was more of an 'overnight date' kind of thing than anything else. I mean, they'd gotten a hotel room and everything!
-Yeah, well, me too,- she said gloomily.
-He didn't tell you?-
I took a long, satisfying moment to smolder at that idiot. Dragging my little sister off into the woods to change her into a werewolf without even the courtesy of telling her first? I didn't care if he was a wolf, I was a freaking mountain lion and the next time I saw him I'd teach him a lesson he wouldn't forget for a good long while. –No wonder he was so anxious to be around you.- Her ears flattened and I tried to interpret the expression. Embarrassment? Anger? Disappointment?
-Anyway, I brought you some clothes but I need help getting them off,- she said, gesturing to the pack on her back. –Hurry, would you? They're tugging at my fur. Also, this is my winter coat, here.-
-It's not my fault you came to SoCal.-
-Mom said you wouldn't listen to her.-
After a few sharp, careful tugs on the clothes they came free from the rope they'd been wrapped under and slipped to the ground. Andy shook a couple times, settling her fur, then changed. It was the same for her as it was for me- a foggy cloud and then, presto! Human again. I changed too and we got into our clothes as quickly as we could. One of my teeth had torn a hole in the hem of my shorts as I dragged them free, but I examined it and decided that it wasn't the end of the world. More importantly, no one would be able to tell what caused it, which would save me a lot of awkward explaining.
"No shoes?" I asked.
"Too bulky. I didn't know how far I'd have to go to find you."
"The sand's kind of hot," I pointed out.
"So we'll walk in the waves. We need to talk anyway."
I frowned but followed her as she trotted out of the dunes. The beach had a few families dotted across it, parents in lounge chairs or on towels and children digging in the sand, and for a heart-stopping moment I tried to imagine what would have happened if one of those children had decided to explore the dunes and found my sister and I before we changed. Would they have called out the animal catchers? Would they be hunting us, maybe right now, as we tried to find a safe place to become human again? I scanned the beach but couldn't see my tracks- hopefully the sand was soft enough that any imprint I'd left would just be a series of small depressions anyway, a trail any dog could have made. Any really, really, big dog who decided to take himself for a run early in the morning.
We reached the wet sand along the waves and cooled our feet for a moment before turning right, heading back up toward Ridgeway Gully. "When did you get here?" I asked, and Andy tilted her head upwards, drinking in the sun and thinking.
"Early this morning. The plane was delayed, we didn't land until three and then I had to get a cab to take me all the way here from Los Angeles. Thank God for his GPS or we never would have made it. I tried to call to tell you and Dad I was coming but no one answered so I decided to just, you know, show up, go from there."
"We were camping."
Oh. Of course she had. "Did you meet Kaleb?" I asked hesitantly, not sure whether I wanted her to meet him or not.
"I smelled him. He was gone by the time I got there, Dad said he'd packed up early."
I nodded, digesting that. So he hadn't tried to come after me. Must've known that he would have never have been able to catch up. I dwelled on that thought and tried to ignore the tiny swell of disappointment somewhere at the center of my ribcage.
"Mom wants you to come home, but I guess you already know that," Andy said after a long moment, not looking at me.
"What's the difference? Werecat here, werecat there, right?" Andy didn't say anything and I looked at her suspiciously. "She just doesn't want me here with Dad, does she? She wants to keep both of us to herself."
"I don't know. The thing is you were never supposed to be involved in all this, I mean, Mom and I were both Therians and you and Dad weren't so that's why it all made sense. Then it turns out Dad is a werewolf, which I guess you know now, and now that you're not human anymore there's no reason for you to be here."
"Did you know Dad was a werewolf?"
"No," she said, and her tone suddenly became sad. I glanced at her but she looked away, gazing up the beach at the cliffs above us, shimmering in the waves of heat coming up from the hot sand. "But do you want to come home? I didn't have time to talk to Dad about how things are here."
"Mad," I said bluntly. "Completely mad, as in the 'crazy' kind. But I'm doing all right, I guess. It's been hard to focus on some things lately."
Andy laughed. "Right? It's like, before I was a werewolf I had friends and school and everything, but now it feels like I don't have time for anything. I haven't been to a football game in forever. I haven't even been to the movies."
"I don't even know what's playing!" I agreed, and for a moment we laughed together and everything seemed normal, like we were on vacation, walking down a beach anywhere in the world, Mom and Dad waiting for us somewhere with sandwiches and watermelon and the gigantic beach umbrella Mom had won at a raffle once that had beer slogans plastered on every other triangle. But any chance of all that was long, long gone. "We're real messed up, you know that?" I remarked suddenly, tucking my hands in my pockets and trying to look casual as a couple of joggers passed us, looking human and happy and completely alien to our world.
"Yeah, I know." Andy agreed.