Jordane M. Arnold
"I can't believe you're willing to give me away to be some broodmare!" Claire Simmons shrieked to her parents, who, unlike her, remained seated on the loveseat in their living room. The robust flames in the fireplace filled the room with hot, dry air, but it was stress that caused small beads of sweat to dribble down Claire's eyebrow.
"You know that is not what it means—"
"Oh really? Then what does it mean, Dad? What other translation is there for giving myself to some wannabe alpha male so I can whelp his young and boost his ego?" The idea made her want to vomit. For Christ's sake, one night she's enjoying her seventeenth birthday and the next night she's told by her own parents it is her place to offer herself to the future alpha male of the pack… This was not what I had in mind for a rite of passage at all.
She knew her father was bound to his duty, but she never thought he would hold her so sternly to the Old Law's traditions of an arranged union of alphas.
"Claire, you know this is our way," Claire's father, James, egged on, glaring down his teenage daughter with stern and unrelenting blue eyes. "I am the current Alpha male; I must choose a successor to take my place once I retire. And, in being my daughter, you have rightfully inherited an alpha ranking."
Claire made a groaning sound similar to that of a cat's unhappy wail. "I'm just seventeen! I know females are eligible to be chosen as mates at my age but that doesn't mean they have to! I should be worrying about getting that artwork scholarship and graduating high school, not prepping for an early life as some wolf-man's bride!" She didn't care her voice had risen to high octaves.
"Have humans been rubbing off on you?" James inquired, his smooth brow whipping upward. Claire huffed, her foot lightly stomping the soft carpet.
"Forgive me for wanting something more for myself. Why do you have us under the Old Laws like we're still stuck in medieval times? It's the twenty-first century, for the Moon's sake, Dad!" On a last-minute whim, Claire marched out of the room and for her bedroom upstairs as her father began to dish out more explanations.
"This is our way". That's his answer for everything. I'm goddamn sick of it. Throwing herself onto her queen-sized mattress, Claire let out a heavy sigh and gazed up at her ceiling. The same posters of movies, bands, and other promotions offered her the familiar comfort and protection she needed from the outside world. Yet, if kept locked away in four walls for too long, even this little sanctuary can become a burden to a restless teenager like her.
Being a werewolf is so complicated sometimes, as if it isn't already hard enough for us loups-garoux to fit in and control our inner wolf in society. Claire was uncertain why her father still insisted on abiding by the Old Way of the Law; alpha pairs were chosen through medieval selection for future breeding, children were raised to avoid unnecessary or excessive contact with humans, and pack hierarchy was established by muscling one's way through the competition.
It just confused Claire altogether; her father may have always abided by the Old Way, and yet, he bent those rules of the lifestyle he led by supporting Luke Grayson in being the next Alpha—and Claire's betrothed mate; he was born an omega, the lowest rank in the pack hierarchy. Never had an omega wolf ever risen to the position of alpha; beta was as high as any omega had ever gone, and even that was rare.
So, did this make Luke Grayson special? I don't see how. All he has ever done is beat the shit out of everyone pumped with enough testosterone to take him on. That makes him no different than the archaic leaders who live, breathe, and preach the Old Ways.
What made Luke qualified to be a leader; what made him so deserving of her affection and the right to call her his? He may have had ties to Claire and her family at one point, but that was water under the bridge to her.
It was obvious now that for her father, such was not mutually shared.
Just as any other teenager, Claire had mixed feelings about school. Others of her brethren joined her; she was hardly the only werewolf on the mundane campus of Battle Ground High School. Some werewolf families belonging to higher and wealthier packs attended private schools specifically for werewolves. Such families held themselves higher above humans more than the average loup-garou lifestyle; they refused to commingle or interact with humans, both for the sake of safety as well as conceited views. Granted, Claire's father tended to be vigilant when dealing with humans, but he knew interactions with humans were an unavoidable necessity in their day-to-day life.
Walking amongst all the human teenagers, Claire couldn't help but feel she stuck out like a sore thumb, despite appearing despicably ordinary to the naked eye. At a lean and leggy five-foot-five, with a full head of long, flowing burnt auburn hair, and soft pale skin, she knew she was beautiful. However, she found it hard to feel proud of her endowments as of late, knowing Luke and other wolf-boys were snapping at her heels. She no longer wore tight and revealing articles of clothing; if she ever did, she made sure her petite figure was shrouded with a baggy hoodie or T-shirt that offered plenty enough breathing space. As her wise mother always told her when she was a foolishly younger teen: "Don't put it on display for all to see if you don't intend to sell."
"God, you can smell it in the air," Claire's best friend Trixie declared, wrinkling her nose. "Everyone is all amped up for the Rite."
"Everyone?" Claire drawled, taking a glance out to her bustling schoolmates around her in the halls.
"Oh, right; I meant almost everyone," Trixie added playfully, nudging Claire's elbow with hers before finding her seat. Great Luna, even her own best friend was excited to take part in the Rite. Claire couldn't possibly understand why. Then again, knowing Trix, she probably looks forward to seeing all the naked wolf-men fight over her.
"But seriously, Claire, I don't know what your problem is. I mean, it isn't just the fact you're most likely gonna be the next alpha female, but when a guy like Luke Grayson is running to be alpha male?" Trixie whistled, "Almost every girl in the entire pack would kill to be in your shoes right now."
"Well, I'll happily trade places with them then," Claire snapped, pulling her thick, messy binder from her book-bag.
"What is it about him that is so awful?" Trixie asked, more serious. She looked at her friend in confusion. "I mean, you grew up with him—we all did. If I remember, you two were actually pretty close at one time, and he did live with your family for a while… What has he done to make you despise him so much?"
The fact she had to explain herself only stirred Claire's short temper. "Gee, I don't know; how about that huge-ass ego he developed over the past couple of years? Or the way he struts around, taking part in any fight he can find and beating the shit out of everybody just to prove his masculinity. Besides, a few years ago, things just got weird; he looked at me different, like he wanted to drag me into a dark room and do who knows what to me… It wouldn't surprise me if my dad promised Luke he could have me when I turned seventeen a long time ago."
Trixie tapped her pencil against her desk. "Earth to Claire, that's how it goes for males of our…particular society," she said in a hushed tone, careful the next table over didn't get in on the conversation. "Besides wits and brains, muscle is just as much part of the job requirement of being an Alpha, and Luke has certainly proved he has that. You can't blame him for wanting to prove his virility—and doing a good job of it. As for him looking at you differently…do you blame him? You turned into a drop-dead gorgeous goddess from an awkwardly adorable girl who never put a comb to her hair, and with big ears that still managed to stick out on the sides through all that hair. Actually, your ears still kinda do stick out," she snorted, grinning as she all too deliberately stared at Claire's ears. Claire kicked her in the foot, but smirked.
The concluding bell finally made its ear-splitting declaration at two-thirty, ending Claire's boring day of charades. Leaving Trixie to ride the bus on her own, Claire elected to walk the two-and-a-half miles home, needing the fresh air and isolation.
A thick blanket of steel clouds hovered over Battle Ground, Washington, but the upcoming summer brought with it its humid, warm air. The streets were bustling with traffic, but Claire didn't have to put up with it for long. The route was one Claire walked every day, the long stretches of fields and pastures never ceased to offer relief to her busy mind, and she thought of shedding her human skin and running across the open plains. Even the hundred acres of forest behind her country home was losing its touch. She was growing weary of losing herself in the joy of the change only to remind herself she would have to stop and turn back in such a short time.
It's as if everything in my life is restricting itself. The simple freedoms she had were collapsing around her one by one. A low growl emanated from the back of her throat; she grew out her claws and dragged them forcefully along the wooden fence of an abandoned house, where weeds and sticker bushes pushed through the cracks of the degenerate posts. The feeling of her nails digging into the lifeless wood was exhilarating, sending little currents of electricity through her arm.
Coming up to a routine corner, she didn't expect to see a compact black Toyota pickup parked on the side of the road; she knew who it belonged to even before she laid eyes on the expectant face inside of it. Swearing under her breath, she turned on her heel and went back for the corner.
There was laughter; arrogant, amused laughter. "Sheesh, Claire, you sure don't spare hurting my feelings, do you?" The truck's door shut, and Claire could hear unhurried footfalls behind her.
"Leave me alone, Luke." Before she could finish saying his name, Luke Grayson had leapt in front of her path, cutting off her escape route. He stood before her proudly at six-foot-one, his deep hazel eyes playful beneath full brows. His black hair was disheveled as always, like he just left his bed.
"That's not a very nice way to greet a friend," Luke accused lightly, but his straight, modest lips were pulled up at the corner; dimples accentuated the small gesture.
"You're not my friend," Claire snapped.
"Ouch," Luke complained, half-grimacing with furrowed brows. "Why am I not your friend? We've known each other since forever."
"That doesn't make you my friend now."
Luke was one of the older kids Claire used to spend a great deal of time with when she was younger; one could even say they used to be very good friends. When she had become a young pre-teen, she even developed a little crush on him, despite the fact he was four years older. After all, he was rather attractive, as far as general standards; a fine face with high but soft cheekbones, pale skin lightly dappled with freckles on the cheeks, and thick black hair. He was a good-looking male other she-wolves seemed to be willing to kill for, but Claire refused to be one of them.
Despite her best efforts to avoid him, luck was not often in her favor, such as today. Ever since she turned sixteen last year, Luke had been sticking closer to her than ever, often making special trips to her house just to see her.
There was nothing Claire could do about this. In her world, once a werewolf turned sixteen, they were the equivalent of a twenty-one-year-old adult; they were eligible to establish pack rank, as well as be up for grabs as another's mate. Claire knew in human society, a twenty-one-year-old pursuing a seventeen-year-old was frowned upon, but in her society, it was hardly taboo.
Regardless, some of the human ways had rubbed off on her, such as lesser tolerance of older skirt-chasing men. Pervert.
Claire tried her hand at steering away from him and remarkably he stepped aside and let her pass. But when she heard his footsteps behind her, she knew he hadn't surrendered.
"Have a good day at school?" he asked, pacing behind her.
What was he up to with this pointless idle talk? "I did, until you showed up. What does it matter to you, anyways?"
"Well, believe it or not, I'm interested in what goes on in your little world." Claire snarled when she could hear the smile in his voice; she couldn't discern, however, if the smile was mocking or of genuine curiosity. "At least let me give you a ride home," he then insisted, and Claire could feel him right behind her. She swerved around to face him, uncomfortable with the idea of having her back to anyone.
"I can walk home," she argued. Despite herself, her spine tightened when Luke's easy facial expression suddenly turned solemn and without humor.
"Haven't you been watching the news lately; those 'attacks' going on up in Seattle? The last attack was in broad daylight. I don't feel comfortable leaving you to walk home by yourself."
Claire heard of the killings last month; since then, she's heard her father mumble and theorize as to who the culprits were, based on the information he received from a certain leak in the police force. Seattle was a ways up north, but wolf-kind were nomadic, and could cover impressive ground in twenty-four-hours' time. For all she knew, the rogue wolves could be on their way through Clark County as they speak.
Besides, she wasn't in the mood to keep arguing and putting Luke off; not today. If letting him give her a ride home would shut him up, then why not?
Huffing, she walked over to the passenger-side door of Luke's truck, climbed in, and fastened her seatbelt just as Luke finished chuckling and had sat behind the wheel.
Aside from the tense silence in the truck, Claire appreciated the shorter commute to her house. She was more relieved to see the two-story house more than she thought she could be when the truck turned the corner onto her gravel driveway. She unfastened her seatbelt and slipped out of the truck before Luke even put it in park. He didn't make any attempts to control the volume of his bemused snigger. But Claire wouldn't forget her manners.
"Thanks for the lift," she said without emotion, walking hurriedly for the porch. Once she unlocked the door, she glanced back to Luke's truck, without thinking. He continued to sit in the driveway and she could see his eyes watching her leisurely. Resisting the urge to flip him the bird, she quickly slid inside the house. But even through the door she could feel Luke's intent stare.
Later that night, Claire half-willingly let her parents drag her to a little shindig gathering at the Ol' Rusty Inn just outside of town, where their pack congregated for such events. It was a briefing of the new curfew James had put in place, but also a poor attempt at a beginning-of-summer barbeque party. All of the adolescent wolves would be out of school, and the parents wanted it to be known that this summer was not one for reckless parties and adventures.
Claire stayed close to Trixie for most of the evening as the pack flowed outdoors and in like constant traffic. There weren't any age-mates of hers she was close with any more; all the girls seemed to be good for was gossip and prissy things, while the boys all squabbled and gloated like unintelligent brutes.
Something broke the quiet hum of the large circle formed around the fire-pit; everyone rose from their seats to look through the dimming dusk, including Claire, who heard deep gags, profanities, and stumbling feet over dried grass.
Around the corner of the building, Keith Haize, one of Claire's age-mates, came lurching, barely able to keep himself on his feet, his leg twisted uncomfortably at the knee. His wearing of shorts did make the injury look any less severe, but it would be healed by the end of the night, along with the assortment of gashes on his face.
Who did this to him? Claire was hardly concerned for his sake, but if someone was attacking one of their own—possibly a rogue wolf—this night was about to turn dangerous.
No, not a rogue. Claire wanted to hiss when Luke strolled behind Keith, arms swinging stiffly at his sides for the sake of keeping his shoulders broad and strong. He was spotless; not one mark on him.
"What's happened here?" James' stern bellow broke the silence. Though she could only see the back of her father's head, Claire knew his eyes were intent on Luke.
"Keith and a few of his buddies decided to ditch and have a party of their own at a local bar." Luke was so nonchalant, so damn calm, it irritated Claire, especially with the casual action in which he brought something out from his jeans pockets—Keith's fake I.D. "I broke up a scuffle he was in with a few bikers." He glowered at the pathetic wolf-boy beneath him, the bonfire exposing flickering streaks of gold in his eyes.
Who does he think he is, God? Claire spat silently. To her amazement, no one did much of anything; a few younger men gave Keith assistance into the Inn, much to his indignant protests, and Claire was able to catch her father patting Luke on the shoulder, whispering something in his ear. Congratulating him for beating the living daylights out of a teenage wolf? Claire shook her head.
Luke obviously tossed Keith around after he broke up that fight… Is that the only way he knows to show power and authority? What good does having a violent leader do for the pack?
And that's who they want me to spend the rest of my life with… Claire snarled, marching back inside the Inn's kitchen to get more lemonade.
© Jordane M. Arnold
A/N: A short and uneventful first chapter. The story behind this novella: I had to write up a 10-page short story for my fiction writing course in college, and I had to write one of werewolves, and that little short story was all about Luke and Claire; it was in fact titled "Luke", though it was all in Claire's perspective. The two characters kind of grew on me, and I wanted to see what I could do with them in a larger-scaled story, and here we are.
In later chapters, the perspective will change between her and Luke. Hopefully it sets up the characters well enough, though. Please review, constructive criticism is welcomed :)
I Caught Myself - Paramore