Like a wounded dog, I snuck back to the house with my tail tucked between my legs. Both rage and embarrassment swirled around me until my path became clear. Fuck this place. I was leaving. I needed to get back to normalcy and my dead end job. There my life didn't consist of any of this insanity. There I was human.
Once safe in the bathroom I let the hot water run till it fogged up the mirror and pulled out my cellphone to call the first number on my speed dial, after that I'd be calling for a taxi and with my luck I'd get the same taxi that had dropped me off earlier in the afternoon.
Sheila answered after a few rings. "I thought you said you'd be calling me as soon as you landed?" She joked with her sharp tongue.
"I hate this fucking place. Why'd you let me come back here?" I shot back into the phone.
"Oh, girl. Sounds like you didn't waste any time getting into a fight."
"You could say that." I wiped away what remained of the warm tear on my cheek with the back of my hand. "Listen, I'm gonna call a cab and get out of here. I'm not sure what flight I'll end up getting, but do you think you could pick me up at the airport if I land early enough?"
Their was pause on the other end, one I hadn't been expecting. "Whoa. Wait a minute. You get in one fight when you get there and you're ready to run away?"
To hear her say it made me feel a bit foolish. "One of my uncles...we just don't get along, and I don't think I can-"
"Screw him." She said. "Don't let him win. You leaving is exactly what he wants. That way he can trash talk you when you're gone. Trust me, I know dysfunctional families."
"Mine's different, Sheila."
She laughed. "Trust me. It isn't."
I took a few deep breaths and actually ran her words over again in my head. She was right. Desmond wanted just that, to chase me away from Wolfcreek so I wouldn't bother him or his plan, whatever it was.
"You've got three days. You're gonna watch them bury your grandfather, do your duty, then you'll be home in no time. Jenny was even talking about throwing you a party when you come back. I think you freaked her out good last night."
Somehow I managed to laugh at that. "If it gets me some free drinks out of her I guess it was worth it.
I looked through the condensation on the window and watched Dad and Warren moving tables around on the patio, getting ready for dinner. She was right. I couldn't leave yet, not without so much as an explanation to my father. And I couldn't let Desmond win. I might be an omega now, but I could win a battle of wills. That could be my triumph.
I wanted to say that I couldn't leave my childhood friends behind either, but I assured myself they would have forgotten our brief reunion and easily continued on with their lives, willing to keep me as just a far off memory.
"Fine, you win. I'll see you in three days."
The shower was much longer than it should have been. By the time I got out I knew everyone had started eating without me, not that it mattered. I needed to remind myself why I was staying more than I needed to eat. I'd promised myself I'd see Old Bear buried and I wouldn't go back on my word. He deserved that much. For him, I'd take what Desmond threw at me.
Lani greeted me as soon as I stepped out onto the patio, all fresh and clean. The sun was about to be replaced by the moon and string lights cast an inviting glow on the tables. For a split second the funeral tomorrow was forgotten, and this was just another family dinner to kick off the summer. The only difference now was that there were no children running around, playing games only they understood.
"There you are. Your father told me you were here but I couldn't find you." The Native American woman hadn't changed much since the last time I'd seen her. That pin straight hair of hers was still silky and flawless. She hugged me without once hesitating. I was the one who felt awkward, again not knowing what to do with my hands until I gave in and wrapped them around her slender frame. Before pulling away she gently kissed my collar bone.
"I needed a shower. Jet lag's the worst." I said, motioning to my damp hair.
"I'm sure it is." As far as I knew Lani had never experienced jet lag and never would. Her family had always been here and in the neighboring town. There was never a reason for her to go elsewhere. "Well come this way. You're apparently sitting next to me tonight." She took me by the arm.
"There's assigned seats now? When did that happen?"
"Desmond thinks this would be best, given the circumstances, and Warren is too busy mourning to say other wise." Even now I could see she refused to say anything negative about her Band Mates, especially the father of her children. She let her less than genuine smile say it for her.
As I'd expected dinner had started without me. One large, rectangle table had been reserved for the Elders. My father,Warren, Desmond, John (Rhys and David's father), Willow, Carey, and a few others took up seats there. Beside them was a table for Hades and the rest of Wolfcreek's children. Although I didn't see them I assumed The Twins were also expected to sit there as well.
Lani and I on the other hand had been ostracized further away from Dad and the rest. A small circular table set off to the side had been reserved for the Omegas.
"Wow. They might as well have made us eat on the roof. Someone should let Desmond know we get the point."
Lani laughed. "It's just for one night. Besides, Bo told me you we were only getting you for a few days. What's the worst he can really do in that amount of time, other than throw his weight around."
He can piss on me, I wanted to say.
There was an unfamiliar face at the table that looked up at me from behind thick glasses. A new face meant only one thing. Newly turned.
"Hi. I'm Mark."
I cringed. I could see a forced conversation I'd rather not have in my not so distant future. I mumbled a hello and turned my body when I sat so that I faced Lani more than him, hoping he'd get the hint that I wasn't up for talking.
Separate conversations were happening all around us. The Elders seemed more focused in their talk, as if it were official business. Hades, Rhys and David on the other hand were trying to be secretive, even I could see that. If only I'd gotten to sit over there maybe I'd finally figure out what was going on and what the hell had happened the night before.
"So, Bo's your dad?"
My eyes slid over to Mark beside me shoveling food into his mouth. He seemed more or less normal. His khaki pants, ironed polo shirt, and loafers told me he was a desk man. More comfortable in an office than hard labor.
"Yup, that's my dad."
He seemed to mull that over for a second.
"You don't seem... I mean if you don't mind me saying..."
"Yes, my dad's black and no I'm not. If that's what you're referring to." I nearly explained more to him, about how my mother had been pregnant when he'd found her and how he'd sworn to raise me as his own, not once begging her for a child that had his blood running through their veins and not some no name rogue who used her as a breeder. Those were details not worthy of a stranger.
"Of course, sorry. I don't know why I even asked." He moved his food around on his plate nervously. "He's a good man is all. Was just hoping to know more about him, I guess."
Lani cleared her throat while daintily cutting into the hearty helping of fried fish. It smelled good. Shame my nerves wouldn't allow me to eat. "Your father's the one that found Mark when him and Hade were out cleaning up a rogue nest, if I'm not mistaken. Apparently some rogues were picking off the elderly in a retirement home."
He nodded and pulled up his shirt to show the healing scar on his midsection. "I picked a bad time to be out walking my dog. Didn't even see them coming till it was too late. But Bo patched me up after...dealing with them."
Killing them was what he wanted to say but couldn't quite get the words out. He wasn't ready to fully immerse himself in this world where life and death constantly hung in the balance. Not yet. I knew because I was having a taste of it now that I was back.
"Well its good to see that you survived your first change. Some aren't that lucky." In an effort to steer the conversation away from the topic of death I went to the next logical subject. "Are you a local?"
"Before the attack I was an ER doctor in Lexingham, which is about an hour or so from Pointree. That's a bit out of the question now so I'm trying to open a small practice outside of town." He nodded at that and gave me an uneasy smile. "Its a lot harder than I thought it'd be."
There was more talk about his profession and plans now that he needed to be closer to the Band to help him through the changes that came with being what we were. I barely listened and interjected just enough to keep talk flowing. Lani, as usual, never let her smile falter, and didn't explain the absence of her children. My eyes on the other hand were focused on watching the guys at their own table. Suddenly I was thrown back to high school, banned from sitting at the popular table where I knew I deserved to be if only ranks hadn't held so much weight.
Hades was talking about me. That much was certain. I knew this mainly by the way he signed my name. First the sign for 'S' then he pointed to his eyes. My blue eyes had spawned the nickname I'd never be free from long ago. I don't know who coined Bluebird first. It could have been my mother, or at least that's what I liked to believe. What memories I had of her were wonderful, but far too few. As a kid I jumped at the chance to make up more when I could.
After dinner I helped Lani stack the dishes. Not because it was my duty but because she started and I couldn't simply sit back and watch. The two of us had something in common now, even more so than before when I found myself wishing she were my mother. We'd both left and now returned. Unfortunately she was able to get in her car at the end of the night and head back to the place she called home, and I was stuck with all my old ghosts.
When I was ready to escape to my room for the night, I was less than enthused to find out that Desmond's room was still right next to mine. But what did it matter. I wasn't eight anymore, he couldn't scold me for sneaking out of the house.
For what felt like an eternity I laid on my blankets in the dark, staring at the Dirty Dancing movie poster still on my wall after all these years. The whole room was a time capsule for where I was six years ago. Thankfully my taste in movies had been decent back then. The blankets on the other hand were still from high school and the band whose logo was printed all over them had long since broken up and faded into obscurity.
Eventually fitful sleep took me. When I awoke I knew I wasn't alone. I could hear his breathing, strong and deep somewhere in the darkness. My mind told me exactly who it was. My body on the other hand didn't care. In the city you lived by a fight or flight mentality and to choose wrong meant you'd get both beaten and robbed in your own home if you dare hesitate.
I went from laying down to on my knees and swinging in seconds. Hades grabbed my fist before it made contact. When the other came at him he grabbed it too and spun me around in a tight bear hug that constricted my arms. A beat went by where neither of us moved. His warm breath pushed against my bare shoulders in strong gusts while his heart beat hard and steady into my back. Mine felt as if it were dancing on hummingbird wings.
"I waited for you." Hades' low, gravely voice was whispered into my ear. Slowly his strong arms loosened and I turned to him. It was a relief to see he'd gotten rid of that silly shirt and let his blond hair fall around his face.
He was right. I had promised him we'd run after dinner. But that was before Desmond had decided to pull rank.
"Sorry, Hade. I completely forgot. Coming back isn't the cake walk I guess I expected it to be."
His brow was knitted into a slight frown.
It's Desmond isn't it? Rhys told me he talked to you in the woods. Did he tell you to leave?
I shook my head. "Not in so many words, but he made it clear that I'm not welcome."
This didn't set right with him. This is my home. And you are welcome, Sara. You always are.
My hands grabbed hold of his to stop him from saying more. Tomorrow we'd be burying the only father he ever knew. The last thing I wanted was for him to stress over me. My thumbs slid over his large palms. At one time they'd been small enough to reach out at me under the basement door that had caged him in.
"I'll be fine. You know I can take care of myself." His brown eyes swept down my face. I knew what he was searching for. I'd opted for a tank top once I came back to my room and it left my neck uncovered. "And he doesn't scare me."
Hades stepped into me until I felt the warmth of his bare chest pressing into the line of my body. He lowered his head to the curve of my neck. I flinched, backing up a half step. There was hurt in his eyes but both of us pretended it wasn't there.
The guys are waiting for us. He signed.
We headed out into the cool night. Summer charged the air with warmth, but the wind sweeping across my skin made the weather perfect for escaping out into the forest. We didn't speak for the rest of the way. I followed silently behind, passing small markers of the past. The empty, rolling pasture, the burned remnants of where the barn had once been. Eventually we made it to what had once been our secret place. Now that we were adults this small area in the woods had lost some of its magic, but the nostalgia was still as strong as ever.
The bonfire was small but bright enough to cast an orange glow on both David and Rhys. Again The Twins were still nowhere to be seen. David stood when he saw me. This time he seemed a bit more sober than before and his hazel eyes a little less hell bent on destroying himself.
"Good, we haven't scared you away yet." I could tell he was worried he'd single handedly cause me to leave a second time.
"Wouldn't say that, there's still time."
David smirked and offered me a bottle of cheap vodka I hadn't noticed him carrying. I should have denied it, instead I snatched it out of his hand and took as big a gulp as I could muster. It tasted like battery acid sliding down my esophagus. It also dulled my anxiety.
"Alright." I said, handing him back the bottle. "I want to know what happened. Straight through. No stops."
Rhys ran a hand through his hair. I still wasn't used to seeing his brown curls cut away. The one green eye he had looked up at me from the log he sat on. "Old Bear had been acting...strange lately."
"Strange as in running by himself more and more often. Not telling the truth about where he was going if I asked him. I mean I could tell he was lying, right to my face. He'd never done that before, at least not without reason."
Hades touched my shoulder in order to get my attention.
I followed him one night when he was running. He was smart, knew I was following and ended up losing me after he left Wolfcreek and went down into Silverside Valley.
"Silverside?" I asked in a near panic.
Everyone knew the rule. You only shifted and hunted on Wolfcreek. This was our safe haven. To do so anywhere else risked uncovering our secret. Besides, Wolfcreek encompassed a whole mountain. There was more forest than any of us ever knew what to do with. What had called him off the mountain?
"Soon after that is when The Twins called me at home. They told me they'd been dreamwalking again and that..." Rhys looked to his brother who seemed lost in the bonfire. "...that one of us would die. It was something like, Six doves fall, blood fills the moon... You know how they talk."
"We thought he might be talking about you at first." David said. "You were the one that left the mountain, it seemed logical in a way."
"The next night was when Bo found him, after he'd missed their meeting. Warren and him both said it looked like wolves had come down into the valley and attacked him all at once.
Impossible. Hades signed. The wolves that could do that much damage wouldn't come that far south.
My father's sad and panicked voice played through my head again after Rhys had already secretly called and given me the news that rocked me right out of my stilettos and onto the bathroom floor.
If I thought our meeting would clear things up I'd been terribly mistaken. All I got out of it was more unanswered questions.
"That wasn't quite how I said it, Rhys, but it will suffice." The fire hid Trent's arrival, making it nearly impossible for me to peer into the darkness past the trees. The kid I'd left behind had vanished. A young man now stood in his place. His body was lean and his shiny black hair reminded me of his mother's, pin straight and long.
He moved around the fire which allowed me to see Luke only a few paces away. Unlike his brother his hair was short. An easy way for others to tell them apart.
"Hello, boys." I said. "Missed you at dinner."
Trent hugged me gently. "We were away, discussing things. Our true father is dead. Sitting around pretending as if he wasn't doesn't appeal to us."
"Now that I can get behind." David said after taking a short swig of vodka.
"Good." Rhys stood and dusted off his jeans. "Because I'm taking all of us out there."
"When?" David asked.
Hades' body stiffened beside me.
"I know I'm the one getting back in the swing of things, but shouldn't we wait for daylight? We won't be able to find any clues at night."
"We aren't looking for clues. We're looking for Old Bear's spirit, Sara. You know that." Luke finally spoke up and his voice was still identical to his twin's. "It will be he alone that can send us in the right direction."