Bee has always loved stories of wolves finding their destined mates. As a young pup Bee would beg her mother to recount those stories to her every night. Told over and over, until her mother forced her to bed. After story time was over, she would lay in bed and stare at the pink of her canopy, fantasizing about her mate. In her younger years she would wake swearing that she had dreamed of him. She would see flashes of a blinding smile and feel phantom sensations of a hand holding hers.
Those dreams stopped nine years ago, when her mother woke her in the middle of the night and took her away. Bee had never known what happened, but she never saw her father again. She remembers a lot of running and her mother crying. It all blended together to form a blur of terror and confusion. That deluge did not end until they were kneeling in front of Alpha Randall Holman. Bee will never forget how those pale orbs met hers a moment before he agreed to take them into his pack.
They were the eyes of a predator. They weighed and measured her. Even as a child ignorant of pack law, she had known enough to pray that he would not find her lacking. The relief in her mother's scent after he agreed is still burned into Bee's memory.
From there, they were given a small three-bedroom home in Cedar Falls. It is a housing development populated entirely by wolves. Mother managed to find work as a cashier at a retail shop a few miles down the street. It turned out to be perfect when they found out she was pregnant. That was how Bee got her baby sister.
The house is located near the entrance of the housing development. Unlike the other houses in the neighborhood, it was not well cared for. When they first moved in the place smelled offensively of other wolves. Stale scents of rogues and members of other packs that had breezed through Alpha Randall's territory. It was the designated guest house. Not all wolf packs had them, but it was almost expected of a pack as large and well-connected as Alpha Randall's.
While her mother worked, Bee went to school. The other children did not like her much and she found herself alone a lot. Luckily, their home was stocked with an extensive collection of books. They pertained to pack law, with a few picture books and novels for younger pups. This was a good thing, because Bee's mother did not have the time to teach her about the intricacies of pack life.
The single mother was always working to provide for her pups. Scent and instinct only went so far in dealing with pack politics. They are wolves, but they are also human. Bee learned the rest from observation. As well as careful study of the five volumes of pack law available in her new home.
Now, nine years later, it is six in the morning and Bee is making breakfast for her little sister. Hailee is jabbering about how she and her friend Celestia had gone on an adventure during recess the day prior. Bee smiles and engages her by making the appropriate exclamations. The older sister had heard this story yesterday after picking her up from school but did not mind hearing it again.
This is the usual routine. Mother always works the graveyard shift at the retail shop, followed by a morning shift at a diner in the same area. She comes back to sleep after they have left for school and is still in bed when they get home. Bee always gets up, makes breakfast, takes Hailee to school, goes to school herself, and picks Hailee up. Then they come home for dinner and homework. The usual routine.
Bee hums under her breath as she prepares their lunches. She takes bites out of her pancakes in-between. Hailee is still rambling when Bee notices the time and urges her to finish before they are late. The eight-year-old shoves the rest of her breakfast into her mouth with a happy twinkle in her eye. From there, Bee hands the hyperactive child her hello kitty backpack and they head for the door.
Hailee grabs Bee's hand and swings it between them as they exit the neighborhood. The little girl does not let go until they get to the elementary school. From there, she spots Celestia waiting at the front entrance and bids Bee farewell. Once she is inside, Bee hitches her bag up and starts in the direction of her own school.
This area had been colonized by wolves two generations ago. There were still some humans and other supernatural creatures in the area. But it is almost exclusively populated by the wolf pack that calls it home. One thing that the Alpha had made sure of was that the elementary, middle, and high schools were close to Cedar Falls. That made the walk bearable in the mornings, though it still took anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. Luckily, classes at the high school started an hour after the elementary school. She had time to drop Hailee off every morning.
Bee slipped her earbuds in and hit shuffle, singing along to We Found Love as she walked. Alone with her music and nothing but one foot in front of the other for an hour, Bee often thought. What she would think about varied. Sometimes it was what she would cook for dinner, other times it was the meaning of life. Always varied, always dependent on her mood.
Today, she thought about mates. One reason she listened to peppy love songs all the time is because she absorbs the lyrics and imagines how she will meet her mate. Sometimes she daydreamed about a fabled coffee shop meeting with him as the barista. It would happen while she was in college, far away from the confines of this small town. He would be smitten with her. Other times she thought about running into him at her firm. The one that she would work at after achieving her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Either way, he will be perfect. Tall and dark haired with deep eyes and a breathtaking smile. Most importantly, he will love her unconditionally. He will be her lifetime companion, suited to her in every conceivable way. A deep sigh left her as she pictured it, feeling giddy and hopeful and—
Her earbuds pop out of her ears and she startles, turning to face the grinning jock to her right. The euphoric feeling dissipated, leaving behind an age-old weariness that weighs down her bones.
"Give them back Aeneas" she said.
"Where did you get these Dipity the clearance bin at the dollar store?" he asked, inspecting the buds with a faux-critical expression.
The nickname was something that the Aeneas had given her shortly after she moved into town. It was a shortened form of her first name, Serendipity. He says it is perfect for her because she is stupid and slow. He had probably taken dipstick to the next level, but who was she to critique the thoughts of such a minor primate?
She pursed her lips and refused to answer his inquiry, still holding her hand out to receive the buds. He made a show of dropping them on the ground. Watching with that massive grin on his face as she leaned down to pick them up.
"Something you need?" she asked. Bee's tone was measured. Aeneas may be her main bully, but he is also the son of Alpha Randall and his successor. Why he wastes his time making her life horrible is anyone's guess. She remains civil throughout his shenanigans because of her position on the opposite end of the totem pole.
"Just wanted to say hi to the resident hobbit before first period" he replied before walking away to rejoin his clique on the opposite side of the street.
Bee realized that she had already made it to the front gates of the high school. She wondered where the time had gone before heading for the front entrance.
Tamara Vessot and Gale Caldwell were waiting by the front steps smacking gum, as usual. Their eyes were beady as they zeroed in on Bee. She hitched her bag further up her shoulder nervously as she approached. Both are the children of mid-level betas. They have no real authority in the pack. They are not members of the inner circle. For that reason, they take pleasure in hounding Bee. She is one of the few members of the pack lower on the totem pole than they are.
"Well, if it isn't the bitch" Tamara drawled.
"Same nappy hair and second-hand clothes" Gale mused, snapping another bubble to go with the judgement.
Bee ignored them as she passed. Their outraged exclamations drowned out by the hustle and bustle of the school halls. Her locker was closest to the door, which made it difficult to get her books. Even more so this morning, as someone had roped her locker off with caution tape. Three guesses who it was. She sighed and tore it from the door, careful to stand off to the side as she dialed her code.
A pie to the face last semester had taught her not to stand directly in front of the door as she opened it.
She turned and smiled as her best friend Charlene slid into the space beside her. Standing next to Charlene used to make Bee feel self-conscious. Her dull hair and mud brown eyes were nothing compared to Charlene's vibrant red hair and emerald orbs. But the ginger had grown on her. Being best friends from childhood helped too. Charlene was one of the only members of the pack that treated her as equal. She was also the child of a member of Alpha Randall's inner circle. That gave Bee hope that not everyone at the high end of the pack hierarchy was a snob.
"How are you?"
"Fabulous! My dad finally gave me that advance on my allowance and I was able to get this." Charlene produced a tube of lip gloss from her pocket. To Bee it looked the same as the tube she had been carrying last week, but she did not point that out. Instead she nodded as Charlene explained how this tube was different from the thousands of others she had in her vanity drawer.
The discussion continued on the way to their first class, only halting when someone shoulder checked Bee and knocked the books out of her hands. Charlene scowled at the crowd in search of the offender, but they had already disappeared. The conversation after that was dominated by the red-head promising a bloody death to all Bee's bullies. Bee tried to convince her that jail was not worth it.
"Hey guys!" Paxton exclaimed, arms draping over their shoulders.
Charlene shrieked loud enough to wake the dead and elbowed Paxton in the gut. "Good…morning to you too" he wheezed.
"Paxton! Don't do that!" Charlene cried, smoothing the nonexistent wrinkles from her blouse.
He apologized, probably more because Charlene looked ready to castrate him than because of any actual remorse. The dark-haired trickster was even kind enough to hold the classroom door open for them in further apology. He grinned at Charlene as she entered with a narrow-eyed squint thrown over her shoulder.
Paxton is barely a step above Bee in the pack hierarchy. Despite that, he is not the pariah that Bee is. He is not stereotypically large and intimidating like the wolves on the football team. But he is outgoing and funny. His clearwater blue eyes and brown curls, when paired with his Star Wars t-shirts and trickster attitude, make him likeable in a backhand way.
Ollie was already there when they took the cluster of desks in the center of the room. His glasses had slid down his nose while reading again. He pushed them up as they approached, barely looking up from his novel to greet them.
Ollie is one of the few humans that attend Creek High. He is blissfully unaware that he is surrounded by supernatural creatures. He is short and nerdy with huge, wire rimmed, coke bottom bottle glasses. He had transferred from his old school in the middle of their sophomore year and Bee had been the one to find him in the library, nose buried in a book. The book was Neil Gaiman's American Gods. They had gushed over the book for the better part of an hour before Bee invited him to eat lunch with them. Ollie has been with them ever since.
A piece of wadded paper hit her in the back of the head. There was a round of snickering from the back, where she knew the jock straps sat. With a sigh, she leaned over and picked up the wadded piece of paper. Years of this kind of treatment had made her a crack shot. The paper ball flew from her hand and landed in the trash bin across the room.
"Ten points!" Paxton cheered while pounding his fist on the desk, "It's all net!"
A paper ball struck him between the eyes and Charlene laughed at the offended look on his face. Another one hit Bee in the back of the head. Three more rained down on Ollie, one managing to knock his glasses askew. Grinding her teeth, Bee whirled around and locked eyes with Aeneas, who had been pulling his arm back for another shot.
"What do you want?" she questioned.
"Science experiment" he replied, "wanted to see if the paper would damage that hot air balloon with a wig you call your head."
One of the guys sitting next to him burst out laughing and they high-fived. Bee shook her head and turned around. It went on like that for the rest of the period. Either the teacher did not notice, or she did not care. They left Charlene alone. Paxton got a few good shots to his shoulders. It was Bee and Ollie who took the brunt of it, the latter more than the former. Toward the end of the period, they started sticking torn pieces of erasers and pencils in the paper balls to give them more impact.
All those went to Ollie.
They were all grateful when the bell rang.
It took Bee the entire day to realize her book was missing.
She had already read it three times, going on four. Her mother had given it to her for her last birthday, commenting that it had been one of her father's favorites. It was rare that her mother mentioned her father. Bee had packed it in her book bag in the hope that she could get a few pages in while she walked to pick up Hailee. But when she reached for it after her final period was over, it was gone.
Charlene had asked if she needed help finding it, but Bee had waved her off. It was probably in her locker. The halls were bustling with her classmates and peers as she dialed the combination. The book was on top of her stack of textbooks and she snatched it up. Closing the door and tracing her fingers over the top in search of her bookmark—
Someone ran into her and shouted for her to watch it before shouldering around her. Bee could barely hear them over the ringing in her ears.
SERENDIPITY. DIPPY. DIPPY. DIPPY. DIPPY BEE. DIPPY BEE. Scrawled all over the pages.
That cursed nickname again. Her official title among her peers since age seven. The label that Aeneas had put on her the first recess of her first day at Creek Elementary. That was where it had started.
From there it escalated. Suddenly her hair was too plain and frizzy. Her eyes were huge and dull. Her skin was too pale. All the boys had joined Aeneas, following their future Alpha like any good pack member would. Later, they commented on her acne and freckles. The girls started scoffing at her second-hand clothing and lack of makeup. Aeneas was the worst. He stole her books and played keep away with his friends. One time in middle school he tripped her into a mud puddle in front of the entire school.
She had to deal with mud in her hair all day and was forced to wear over-sized clothes from the lost and found. Her mother had to pay for the library book that had gotten a mud bath with her. Bee had not been allowed to check out library books for the rest of the year.
All that she endured. Nine years of bullying that she had ignored for the sake of her family. They still lived in the shabby three-bedroom house that the Alpha had provided for them. Bee knew that it was the equivalent of a pack hotel, a place for passing guests to stay before moving on. Or at least it had been before they moved in.
They have nowhere else to go and, unlike Bee, Hailee is well-liked by her peers. She is popular. She has a future here.
Aeneas is popular too. He is the top of the pyramid. He is the captain of the football team. Beloved by humans, wolves, and other supernaturals alike. He is the son of the Alpha for Lupa's sake! Why does he keep doing this to her? Is it not enough that he has the entire female population of the school falling all over him? Is it not enough that he has a nice house and a big family and gets to see his mother more than once a day?
'Why…?' Bee thought.
She is surprised at the lack of tears. She usually cries when he does things like this. But no, not this time. This time he had gone too far. This book had been a favorite of her fathers. It might not be the exact tome he held in his hands, but it was a part of him. Bee barely remembers him. Vague shapes of a tall man with curly brown hair and warm brown eyes.
That memory and their shared love for reading are all that she has of him. Mother had not even managed to salvage a picture of him from whatever tragedy took him away.
Fists clenched in white-knuckled fury, Bee sprinted out the front doors and toward the parking lot. Aeneas was there with his brother and a few other guys. Bee did not care about them. She focused on the chiseled jaw. The stupid side part of that blond hair. The sparkling blue eyes and the straight white teeth. All the features that make him so irresistibly attractive to all the girls in this stupid town.
She wants to punch him. Hit him so hard that all the good looks fall away and reveal the horrible person underneath. Instead, she hurled the book at his head. It hit him between the eyes and startled him so badly that it made him stumble back against his car.
"What the fuck!?" he shouted, holding a hand to his head as he straightened.
"What the fuck? What the FUCK?" Bee bellowed, "that's what I should be asking you!"
She stopped an inch away from him and stared him down. On some level, she recognized that her eyes were glowing a supernatural amber, but she did not care. The subsonic growl vibrating out of her chest made her feel better. The slight pain from her enlarged canines breaking free of her gums felt good.
"You think that it's okay for you to do this kind of stuff to me?" Bee asked, "I have put up with this for years. YEARS. I have no idea what kind of beef you have with me, but it ends today. You will not talk to me. You will not come near me. Hell, don't even LOOK AT ME! If you do, then you will have to explain to your father why you can't give him grandpups!"
Bee turned to leave, paused, and whirled back around. The three guys who had been frozen beside Aeneas tensed as she turned her attention to them. "That goes for all of you. If I see so much as a hair…"
She left the warning hanging, meeting each of their eyes for a long second before turning and stalking off. She was late to pick up Hailee.
A few hours after, Bee had been anxious. She could not believe what she had done! Assaulting the Alpha's son, his heir, the future Alpha! That was a one-way ticket to being booted out of the pack. There was no doubt that Aeneas would bring it up to his father, spoiled brat that he is.
She spent the rest of the week waiting for the other shoe to drop and was surprised when it did not. Aeneas and his friends did not come near her at school. They left Ollie alone too. Even the girls who had bullied her for years seemed to back off a bit.
By the time the weekend rolled around, Bee had relaxed. Further reaffirmation came the next week, which continued to be as peaceful as the last. Perhaps things were looking up.
Naturally, Bee was not that lucky. The illusion shattered the following Monday. She was yanked out the hall and into one of the infamous make out alleys that littered the school halls, leftover from some recent remodeling. A hand clamped over her mouth and another grabbed her wrist. Her free hand came up to clutch their wrist. Her assailant hissed as her claws punctured his skin -–definitely male with that grip— but he made no other sound.
Once the bell rung, he uncovered her mouth and pressed the hand down on her shoulder. It kept her pinned to the wall. Bee recognized Aeneas despite the Alpha red glow of his eyes.
"Listen up Dipity" he snarled, the scent of rage curling like a physical thing around her. "You will never talk to me like that again. I am your Alpha and I can make sure that these last two weeks are the eye of the storm for you."
He let that threat hang for a few moments before releasing her and disappearing around the corner. The brunette let out a breath and leaned against the wall, letting her weight carry her to the floor. Both hands came up to her chest, one clutching the bruises forming around her wrist. She ignored the tremors that wracked her frame.
Tears dribbled down her cheeks and she bit her lip to stifle a sob.
How could the universe be so cruel?
Her daydreams shattered. Vaporized and scattered like pollen in the wind.
She knew that she should have been utterly terrified of him at that moment and she was, but she was more terrified of the overpowering sense of Mate that had flowed through her when their eyes met. It was like molten honey, better than she ever could have imagined.
A sob built up in her throat and she muffled it in her sleeve.
She really had messed up this time.