Alex Begaz

I stood in Mary Ellen Mercer's kitchen, not able to stand still. I knew I was bothering Asher. He kept giving me the death look every time I started to get antsy. In return, though, I'd mimic him. I knew not to do that to Nick. He got a little mad when you made fun of him. The big shot, the head dog, the chief, the do gooder, and the man everyone loved. Wait . . . was he a man? No . . . he was only a senior in high school. How could he be a man?

As I pondered this, I felt Matt, Tyler, and Asher's annoyance slip into my mind. Clearly they did not appreciate me considering Nick no to be a man or leader or whatever you wanted to call him. Good thing Nick wasn't paying attention. I'd be running double patrols. That sucked. I didn't even care to do the one I was supposed to do.

"Alex, will you shut up?" Asher hissed. I looked at him innocently. "Your side comments are bugging us."

"Fine, would you prefer I think about you?" I asked. First, I had to start with the onion breath he had.

"Just . . . go find . . . just go find someone else to bug," Matt said finally. Asher was still steaming about the onion bit. It wasn't like Matt's was any better, though.

I wondered out of the kitchen and into the hallway. I knew no one but the pack. Well, I knew the Black Ones, but everyone else looked like a sea of faces, all blending together. I spotted two of the Black Ones with a girl. I wasn't supposed to talk to them. I'd felt like such a kid, which I am to them, when Nick had scolded me, telling me to never speak to them. I was fifteen. Wasn't I free to choose who I wanted to talk to?

"Excuse me," a boy said. I turned and found myself looking straight at the leader . . . er, former leader I guess. I stepped aside. Man he reeked. "You're a . . . Lake member, aren't you?" Shit. He'd almost walked away and then he'd smelled me. I didn't reply. "Best of luck, if you are."

"I'll wish you luck when you get rid of that stench that follows you," I replied. He blinked. "You smell like something died, came back to life, died again and has been decomposing for a year, all combined." He frowned. "Just saying."

"Um . . . okay, then, Mr. Begaz," he replied.

"Alex," Nick said, walking up behind me and putting his hand on my shoulder. "Evan."

"Nick," Evan replied. "My brothers and I were just wondering if there was any way to change your mind." I was silent. Big dog was here.

"Nothing could change our mind, Evan. Excuse us. This isn't the proper place to talk about this," he replied and started to steer me away.

"For the record, it's not like you smell any better!" one of the Black One's brothers said. Nick didn't turn and pressed me to walk faster. He clearly didn't want me to say what was on my mind.

"You have to be careful what you say to them, Alex," Nick said when we were all safely gathered in the kitchen.

"What? I didn't say anything that harsh!" I protested. Nick stared me down without saying anything.

"Saying anything to them at all can provoke them, Alex," Matt said for Nick. I stared at Matt's sister. She had to bail me out on this one. Jessyca, however, averted her eyes. I rolled my eyes and was silent. Whatever they thought was right. I'd just be best to keep quiet.

"Let's just . . . get out of here," Nick said, running a hand through his hair and picking his hoodie up from a chair. I looked at Tyler. He glanced towards the door, obviously looking to see if Mary Ellen would enter. She didn't. "Alex."

I looked up. They were already out in the hallway. I sighed and grabbed my own hoodie, yanking it on over my head. I severely hated the idea of them bossing me around. But, I didn't have any other choice. With a final look at the party that went on around me, I exited the house. Time to get back to the scheming and planning.

"It's not scheming, Alex," Asher said as he fell into step beside me. The snow was falling lightly. Two days until Christmas and we had this hell going on around us. There wasn't going to be any peace at the Lake this Christmas.

"Then what would you call it, Sigo?" I asked, kicking at the snow in the sidewalk. I immediately felt it soak through my shoe and my sock, but it wasn't cold. It was just a mere annoyance. "Settling a disagreement? Evening the playing field?" He sighed.

"Begaz, it's planning. We're doing what we have to do," he replied. I rolled my eyes. "You don't like that definition?"

"That's not the definition of planning," I replied. He laughed shortly.

"I know . . . it's the definition that fits, though," he said, staring at the ground as we walked. "It's the definition of what's going on."

"I just don't understand. There has to be a better way to make peace, don't you think?" I asked, looking up as we passed under a street light. I realized that we were falling behind the others. "Does everything have to come down to blood and fighting?"

"You sound like Mary Ellen," Asher replied.

"Maybe someone should listen to her," I said, running to catch up with the others. Maybe that would get him to start thinking.

x.x.x

I pulled out my phone as I lounged on the couch at John's. Merry Christmas—not. I checked the time and groaned. I'd only been there for thirty minutes and I was already bored out of my mind. Well, it probably hadn't helped that it was six thirty in the morning, nothing on TV but A Christmas Story marathon and Sawyer was half asleep in the recliner. I threw a pillow at him. He bolted up with a grunt.

"I'm up," he muttered. I rolled my eyes.

"Sure you are," I said and sunk down farther into the cushions.

I was here on Christmas Day. I'd just met these people a week ago. I missed my family. Why the hell had I even ran away? I was scared. I knew that much. I must not have been thinking. I didn't think I could go back to Canada, though. I couldn't face my parents. I'd been gone so long and they'd never let me go anywhere. At least Tyler was only gone for a week. I was gone for months. I felt sorry for my parents. They hadn't deserved to lose me. They still had my straight A's, perfect sister, though. I guess that counted for something.

I sighed and closed my eyes. I should sleep. Christmas was the only day we got off. We could hear, still, but we needed a break, just one break, from running patrol. Besides, they were spending Christmas at some ski resort. By "they", I meant the Black Ones. I should sleep. I couldn't, though. Every time I closed my eyes, I had a nightmare. Living in the woods made you be on your toes.

"Just close your eyes already, Begaz. The world will still be here in an hour or two," Sawyer grunted, closing his own eyes. I looked at him before sighing, and, finally, obeyed.