Some days I just want to fly away from everything. Just leave it all behind without a seconds glance. I want to break out of this cage and soar into the freedom that fills the sky. But I can't. As a shifter, a shape shifter, I have to be able to fit into the world somehow, despite my obvious differences. That means becoming my original shape: a human, and actually committing to the life that comes with it.
I wish I could live as a bird or something that can at least make its own choices, I think to myself. My parents are sitting with me in a nice Italian restaurant downtown. Alyssa, my younger sister, is also present, her sulky teenage face drooping with disgust as she surveyed the menu. Her long pink nails tap on the table annoyingly to a random pattern.
"Dear, please stop," my mom says patiently. Alyssa glances up with a frown and picks up her coke to take a sip, halting the noise.
"This restaurant sucks," she comments rudely, slapping the menu down on the table and making everyone jump. "Can't we go to like, Osaka or something?"
My dad looks over at his daughter with a shocked expression. "This is Tucci Benucch's! They are a classic Italian masterpiece of a restaurant! I've loved this place ever since I was young." He shakes his head incredulously. "You can't find anything on the menu that you'd like?"
Alyssa's oval shaped head shook, her blond curls waving along with the movement. "Not one thing. So I say we ditch and go somewhere else."
Alyssa was not the most agreeable person on the planet. Even though my parents tried hard to keep her happy, she was in her worst teenage years, currently 16, and being bitchy was her occupation. I was glad my parents never had to deal with that when I was her age. Reading and keeping to myself was what I did. No drama or horrible attitude with me.
"Don't you like pizza? They make fantastic pizza here," dad offered, showing her the pizza picture on page 2.
Alyssa balked. "Dad, do you know how many calories are in one piece of pizza? It's like, 300!"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, like Osaka is any better. They fry everything with a shit ton of salt."
"It is so better, Ari! Better than any Italian crap-"
"That is enough," my mom broke in, her voice still calm but you could hear the edge in her tone. Alyssa immediately shut up, knowing that mom was not afraid to ground her if any fighting occurred. I , however, was 18 and therefore could never be grounded again. So she would take all the punishment while I got off the hook.
Mom smiled at us both, but her eyes held a warning. "There will be no more fighting tonight, are we clear? Alyssa, this is a fine restaurant and you will enjoy the food they have to offer because you won't be getting anything else. Now find something or go hungry." She sat back and began reading the menu again. "This is supposed to be a nice supper. Ari is going off to college tomorrow and I won't have anyone ruining my last night with her."
Oh, college. Wonderful, amazing college.
I was not looking forward to the notion of it as much as my parents were. They didn't even know that I didn't want to go. And that's what made my life even worse. I wasn't going to tell them because….well, I'd be disappointing them. And their approval of me was something I cherished with all my heart. And I loved them so much that any sort of failure on my part for anything made me feel awful because they think I can do better than letting failure win. I was their perfect child, and I would do anything to keep that from soiling.
Looking at my parents made my heart warm. They were such wonderful people. Mom, a short red haired woman in her late forties, always had this regality about her. I swear she was a queen in her last lifetime, if that were a real thing. People respected her like she was some legendary hero to them. And dad, well, he was just lovable. Gray hair covered his entire head, and a small growth of a beard lined his jaw nicely. His character was comical, full of amusement and drollness. He's one of those people who you know is just good inside and out. And even though he was fifty years old, he reminded me of a young kid.
"Gosh, this seafood dish looks so delicious!" dad said. "I know what I'm having. Did you find anything yet, Alyssa?"
My sister nodded curtly, mumbling, "A salad."
"Boring! You should be a little more adventurous than that." He switched his bright blue eyes onto me. "And you, my dear Arriana?"
"I'm going to have the chicken alfredo. It's always been my favorite."
"Oh, yes, that does sound good. I'll probably take a bite of it."
In a minute our waitress showed up and took our orders. Then she turned and headed to the kitchen. The low lamp above us dimmed slightly for the evening, making the room seem soft and hazy. It was crowded as well, with tables shoved together, barely having two feet between the parties around the tables. I could smell the strong odor of wine on the man's breath next to me. And even though I could not see anything behind me, I smelled a lot of beer and heard loud laughter. A group of men on their way to being drunk occupied the table in the middle of the room.
"Are you nervous for tomorrow?" mom asked for the hundredth time today. I nodded honestly, a stiff smile playing on my lips. I really did not want to talk about college tonight. I just wanted one perfect meal with the people I loved and nothing else. No unhappiness, no uncomfortable conversations like the one coming up, just… a good time. But I could tell that wasn't going to happen.
"Sweetie, you know you can always come home if you don't like it," dad put in. "I know there's a lot of shit that happens in college, and you might have all the boys on campus chasing after you like drunken dogs-" he stopped when mom hit him lightly on the shoulder. "But home is always there for you."
"Of course home is," mom said. "But I doubt she'll want to come home after experiencing it. The classes may be difficult, but you're an intelligent woman, Ari. And I know you'll make many friends."
I nodded again, not wanting to say anything. They were being so kind, yet I knew in the back of their heads they were thinking other words. "Coming home means you gave up. And giving up is not an option. Failure is never an option." And I could not fail my parents. So I would go, and I would find my place there and things would be fine.
Finding my place wouldn't be hard at all, anyways. I was the loner. I had to be. Being a shifter made me that way because I always found it hard to relate to other people. While they talked about going to the movies or showing off their new phone, I dreamed about running in the woods, catching a rabbit as a fox and crushing its bones with my teeth, hot blood draining into my mouth and down into my stomach. I dreamed about the wild while they dreamed about a future in the world of humans. Now, how could I fit in with people who thought so differently from me?
However, despite being a loner, guys often were attracted to me. I admit to being pretty, and to some beautiful, and that's what caught people's attention. My red brown hair was long and wild, reaching down passed my butt. Bright hazel eyes glowed on an angular face. A lot of people said that I should go into modeling, but that would be absurd. Me, becoming one of those skinny little bitches who never eat or play in the sun or experience the beauty of the wild? I would rather die. But that's why the guys loved me. I had a "sexy body that chicks would kill for" and an appealing face. But I would always turn them down. No way would I be stuck dating any of those dumb humans that asked me out. I'd go crazy.
"Do you like your roommate?" mom asked, interrupting my thoughts. I had forgotten to tell her about my roommate. We had met yesterday, briefly, to talk and get to know each other before we moved in together. I liked her well enough. Shelly was a tall girl, pretty, with shiny blond hair and a well toned body. She looked like the kind of girl who goes looking for parties. Especially parties with alcohol involved.
"She was nice," I said, not daring to mention anything else. Shelly had told me straight off the bat that I might catch her in bed with her boyfriend occasionally. Not that she had one, but she said she was most definitely going to get one within the first month of college.
"Nice, huh? In other words…normal? Not the psycho type?" dad inquired.
"She's as normal as normal can get," I confirmed.
"Good. I'm sure you two will become good friends. I remember my roommate in college," mom said, retelling a story we all had heard multiple times in the past. "She was so strange. I would find her talking on the phone at two in the morning, just chatting it up while I'm five feet away trying to sleep. I swear that girl never slept. She also always refused to come to church with me, no matter how many times I asked her. She believed in some god called Odin, or something along those lines. So strange."
I chuckled. Mom thought anyone was strange, the bad strange, if they didn't go to church. Going to church made anyone normal. And that included me, I hope, even though I'm the strangest of all.
That thought made me feel distant from my parents. Even though I loved them dearly, and I knew they loved me, I had never told them the truth about me. They were not, of course, my real parents. They were my adopted family. I never knew my real family, if I have one. But knowing that I was a shifter and they were human, and they didn't even know my secret, always made me feel guilty and sad. It made me wonder if they would accept me even if they knew.
But I would never tell them. I would never tell anyone. It was a part of me that I would keep to myself for all my life. Because if anyone knew…
Who knows what they would do?
Alyssa piped up, mentioning something about her friend's birthday party on Saturday. I had fallen into deep thought again, unaware that the food was served and of the conversation between my parents and sister. My eyes focused on the window in front of me, and outside I could see the dark sky of night, orange lights illuminating the parking lot. There was so much world out there…so many people. I always wondered…
Were there more shifters like me?
Or was I going to be a loner forever?