THE SAVIOR: Chapter 4
My pulse starts racing once the plane lands, reality hitting harder than before. It’s like that moment after a fight, that moment when the adrenaline wears off and the pain finally sets in.
Oregon is beautiful, the more I see it the further I want to explore it. I cannot get over how green it is here—massive moss encased trees surround me everywhere I turn.
Yes, I am a little bit nervous, to say the least, about meeting Logan’s siblings. Hopefully they like me. I keep going over their six names in my head, trying to remember them all. Logan, of course, is the oldest. Hannah comes next, and afterwards Brianne popped out the twins Erin and Rowan, followed by Connor and then last but not least is Little Miss Noah. Add me into the picture and that’s kiddo number seven.
We cruise along a twisted country road through West Salem, passing several houses before finally turning onto a driveway that brings us to a small one-story house. Dark forest surrounds most of their home, a couple acres spaced between their neighbors. Separated to the left of the house, Brianne pulls into a two-car garage. On the opposite side of the garage sits a silver minivan.
This is it, I think and with a deep breath I open the car door and climb out.
Juna seems unnecessarily tense, her movements stiff and unnatural. I want to tell her to calm the freak down, tell her there is nothing to worry about. I mean, after all they’re just my siblings, but on second thought that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to be worried.
Everyone gathers tightly in the entryway as we enter the house. I am surprised Erin and the boys aren’t downstairs playing video games and even more surprised to find Hannah without a book.
My mother’s good friend, Leah Hathaway, watched the kids while we were out of town. “Hi guys,” she says while pulling her duffle bag toward the door.
“Hi Leah,” Mom replies in a strained tone. “Thanks for—”
“So who is this?” Leah stops to stare at Juna.
“This is Juna,” Nellie says in a completely natural tone. “My niece was recently killed in a car accident. This is her daughter.”—Nellie touches Juna’s shoulder—“Brianne is Juna’s Godmother, so she’ll be living here for now on.”
That was brilliant. How the heck did she come up with that so quickly? Wait a second, I think, that would make Juna my second cousin.
“Oh dear,” Leah says, her mouth curving into a frown. “I’m terribly sorry about that.”
“It’s ok,” Juna says in a glum tone, playing along. “I’m here now.”
“Yes,” Leah whispers.
An awkward silence fills the room.
“Well,” Leah says, leaning toward the door, “I better get going.”
“Yes, I’ll walk you to your car,” Mom escorts Leah outside.
Nellie places a second hand on Juna’s shoulders and then says, “Kiddos, I would like you to meet the savior.”
Juna’s eyebrows pull together awkwardly, pulling away from Nellie’s grip “Hi. I’m Juna,” she corrects.
Nothing but wide, gaping mouths and unbelieving eyes stare at her.
Speak! I want to shout at them.
They all look alike. Each child possesses the same dark amber eyes, dirty-blonde curls, and pale complexion as their eldest brother.
The youngest one smiles at me. Noah, I say her name in my head. “Hi,” she squeaks.
“Hi,” I say, glad to see life sparking into at least one of these kids.
“You’re pretty,” she tells me, smiling widely. “I’m Noah, but I am not a boy.”
“Ok,” I say, holding back a chuckle. I pull a few strands of stray hair behind my ear and then add, “Nice to meet you.”
Silence again. From the looks of it they are as confused and as shocked as I feel inside.
“I know the rest of you got names,” Nellie tells them. “Don’t be rude. Introduce yourselves!”
“I’m Erin,” the second oldest girl tells me, seeming to snap out of her trance. Her hair is slightly blonder than the rest, pulled back in a high ponytail, very sporty looking. She is dressed in a gray Nike t-shirt and red basketball shorts. I like her already. “I’m thirteen,” she adds.
“I’m Rowan,” the second eldest boy tells me. His hair is longer than the other two boys’, going for the shag look. He, too, is dressed in a simple t-shirt and a pair of navy blue basketball shorts.
“They’re fraternal twins,” Nellie tells me.
What? I think sarcastically. They’re not identical?
The fourth child to speak is the youngest boy. His hair is the darkest out of the bunch and is the only one who wears glasses, round spectacles that kind of remind me of Harry Potter. Dressed in tattered army shorts and a black Star Wars t-shirt, he murmurs, “I’m Connor,” failing to meet my eyes.
“Your age dear,” Nellie urges him in a slightly irritated tone.
“I’m eleven,” he answers.
“Oh wait!” Noah’s hand shoots up as if raising it to answer a question in school. “I forgot to tell you—I’m six!”
I smile at her and then look to the oldest girl, waiting for an introduction. Hannah, I assume. Several bobby pins hold back her golden bangs, hair longer than the other two girls’, almost as long as mine. Wearing blue faded jeans and an oversized floral print cardigan I watch her lips press into a firm line. Refusing to look at me directly she mumbles, “I’m Hannah. I’m fifteen.”
“There you have it. Your new family,” Nellie says, patting my shoulder roughly.
Brianne enters the house. “Well, Juna,” she begins, sounding out of breath as she pushes past everyone. “Lets show you to your room.”
“Ok,” I murmur, grabbing my bags.
Erin and Noah follow their mother down the hallway, while Logan and the boys depart down the stairs. I didn’t realize that this house was two stories. Hannah and Nellie veer to the right of the door into the kitchen. As we move through the hallways, I am reminded of St. Marks, admiring the colorful school art projects hanging on the walls—most of them made by Noah and Hannah. Wooden frames containing baby pictures and school photos accompany the artwork.
Brianne opens the first door on the left. “You will be bunking with the girls, so I hope you don’t mind sharing a room,” she says.
“Nope,” I say. “I had to share a room with twelve girls at St. Mark’s.”
“Wow, that is a lot,” she mutters. “Well, good. Bring both your suitcases in here then.”
Grabbing my gear, I follow Brianne and her daughters into the room. Baby blue walls surround two bunk beds that dwell to the right of the door. Glancing over to the left, I examine the shelves claiming the entire top half of the wall. There are six rows. The very top two packed tightly with books, followed by two rows crammed with nothing but trophies and team pictures. Every sport that every existed seems to be represented up there from what I can see. Model horses, a few medals, and several pictures of Noah and her sisters line the next two rows.
“Wow. Who does all the sports?” I ask.
Brianne sighs, leaving the room swiftly.
“I do,” Erin says proudly.
“That one is huge!” I point to the basketball trophy.
“That’s what she said,” Erin chimes.
I roll my eyes, like I haven’t heard that one before.
“What’s that mean Erin?” Noah whines, stomping her foot. .
“What?” Noah asks, totally confused.
“You have a black belt,” I say, changing subjects to something more PG.
“Yep, but I don’t do karate anymore. Do you play sports?” she questions.
“Uh, yeah. I played soccer, softball, and basketball when I was younger,” I admit. “Been playing racquetball at my high school for the past two years.”
“Sweet.” Erin nods. “I’m pretty sure they have racquetball at West.”
“Awesome,” I say, but then immediately wonder if sports are an option for me in the future.
“I’m trying out for West’s soccer team this year,” Erin says proudly, “since I’ll be a freshman.”
“Cool,” I say, turning my eyes to Noah now. “So, you do gymnastics?”
“Uh-huh,” she giggles.
“Dinner,” Nellie calls from down the hallway.
Noah grabs my wrist and tugs me out of the room.
A large oval table set for nine sits in a narrow nook of the kitchen, surrounded by tall windows. Hannah, already situated in the far left corner of the table, reads a Harry Potter book. “Which number is that?” I ask her.
Raising her chin, Hannah’s eyes flicker with annoyance. “The fourth one,” she mutters and then proceeds with her book.
“Aha,” I say, pressing my lips together.
Noah taps my arm and I peer down at her. She points to Hannah, makes a book shape with her two small hands, and then slides her index finger across her neck. “Don’t talk to her when she weeds,” she whispers.
Hannah rolls her eyes.
I give her the ok sign and then Noah gives me the thumbs up.
I take a seat, having to squeeze between Erin and Noah.
Nellie gleams at me in satisfaction. I hope she stops staring at me like that because it’s kind of getting annoying, not to mention creepy. I smile to be polite and then shift my eyes elsewhere.
“So, Miss Werewolf, when do I get to see you transform?” Erin teases me. “Because that’s something I’ve never seen before.”
“Well,” I begin, turning to her, surprised, unsure of what to say.
“She hasn’t done it yet on her own darling,” Nellie informs Erin. “We have to train with her.” And now I feel like I have been adopted from the Humane Society rather than an orphanage.
Brianne places a bowl piled high with cloud-like mashed potatoes, a plate of grilled chicken, and a bowl of salty green beans with roasted almonds onto the table. It smells delicious.
Just like at home there is a tangled, rolling mass of hands and arms and plates and various eating utensils moving about the table. This familiarity I once found as an annoyance at St. Mark’s relaxes me in the smallest of degrees.
Eyebrow beginning to throb, I take a deep breath, reaching for the plate of chicken and just as I’m about to stick my fork into grab one, two images flash through my mind—a forest thick with trees followed by a deer leaping out of the bushes—and then all at once everything clears.
I gasp loudly and everyone freezes to glance up at me for a second, wondering what the hell my problem is.
What the hell is my problem?
Swallowing hard, I ignore what just happened and stick a slice of chicken onto my plate. Scooping up a pile of mashed potatoes, I then load my plate with a side of green beans.
“What happened to your mommy and daddy?” Noah asks me curiously.
Brianne flashes Noah a stern look.
I’m startled for a moment. No one has flat out asked me that before. “Well, I don’t really know,” I begin, suddenly overwhelmed with a surge of dizziness. Heaviness infuses my entire body like an invisible force weighing me down and I struggle with the words I have to force out of my mouth. “But my”—I gulp—“my dad…he was probably a loser since he abandoned me at some hotel in the city.”
Her eyes widen in horror. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Noah whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok,” I say, shrugging. “I went to a good place.” I take a bite of my mashed potatoes and something about them makes me nauseated. Desperately wanting to spit them back out, I realize it’s not that the potatoes that disgust me or that their texture is unbearable, but rather my body does not accept it.
Swallowing, I force the food down, which hurts.
Skipping out on the potatoes I try the chicken next. Placing a piece in my mouth, I begin chewing. Better than the potatoes, but there is still that odd feeling of rejection. I swallow again, forcing the food down my throat, whether my stomach wants it or not.
The throbbing behind my eyebrow intensifies.
“Juna,” Nellie begins. Not now, I think in frustration. “I’m interested in your name. How did you get it?”
“Well, um,” I begin, rubbing the pads of my fingers over my temple. “The guy at the hotel named me. Before I went to St. Marks he and his wife took care of me, while”—I cringe at a pain jutting down my spine—“the police tried to figure out if I actually belonged to someone. Don’t know why they named me Juna McCall Brooks. It’s pretty much the most random name ever.” My fork drops from my hand and the metallic object clatters noisily against the ceramic dish.
“No, no, not at all. It’s fascinating,” Nellie answers, chuckling. “Rolls off the tongue quite nicely.”
“There was this girl at my basketball camp last year named Hudson,” Erin tells us, “because that is where her parents had sex. Doesn’t that suck?”
Noah bursts into laughter.
“They had it on the Hudson?” Rowan asks smugly.
“No dummy.” She rolls her eyes. “They did it on a boat on the Hudson.”
“That’s enough Erin and don’t call your brother a dummy,” Brianne tells her daughter sharply. “Noah finish eating your green beans.”
“I will,” Noah whines.
“Tone young lady.”
Connor struggles holding back a smile, but one cold look from his mother and it vanishes within seconds.
The throbbing behind my eyebrow intensifies, the pain goes deeper, a pinching I’ve never felt before. Saliva floods my mouth at a ridiculous rate, my body’spromise for puke. So, I shoot up from the table.
Blood rushes to my head and I nearly black out.
My words bleed together as I say, “Ineedtogotothebathroom,” and then I’m gone.
With heavy steps I rush for the bathroom, slamming into the hallway cupboards as I fight my way to the toilet. The bathroom door closes with a loud bang and I don’t bother locking it.
Knees strike the floor, followed by my hands.
Spasms ripple across my body and I wonder if this qualifies as a seizure for I have never experienced one before.
Like a loud relentless drum, the throbbing in my temple worsens, makes everything around me blurry. Two jerky images flash through my mind again—a forest thick with trees followed by a deer jumping out of the shrubs—a sharp tug pulls me back into reality, back to the linoleum floor of the bathroom, gasping.
You panic, you die. You panic, you die, I think, desperately trying to clear my mind, to will my body into calmness.
Another shudder, a convulsion heaves through my body and I feel like I might die. Swallowing hard, I fight to control the rhythm of my breath, but that’s when everything goes black.
I glance up from my ice cream bowl to Hannah, still reading a book at the end of the dinner table. How the heck can she act so calm? Like nothing happened. Like Juna never even came into our house or into our lives for that matter.
I just don’t get that kid.
I turn my attention back down to the bowl of melted ice cream centered between my hands. Aimlessly stirring the soupy matter around and around, I’ve completely lost my appetite, which is a definite sign of the apocalypse.
I sigh and think about my dad. I wish he could have lived long enough to prepare me for the world of girls. He could have given me tips on how to act and what to say around them, but even if he did hang in there a little longer I don’t think he could have ever prepared me for a girl like Juna.
Juna ran out of the bathroom like some madwoman, dashing into the woods behind our backyard as though under some sort of trance. Did she really turn into a wolf, eat a wild animal, and then transform back into herself all within two hours?
Nellie seems to think so.
Later Juna stumbled out onto the lawn and collapsed. Nellie made Rowan, Mom, and me carry her inside, which was incredibly awkward for all of us. I was afraid she’d wake up in the process of us carrying her, but thankfully she did not. In fact, she’s still asleep downstairs. Well, at least I think she is, because see, the minute I set her down on the couch I sprinted up the steps and came here to have some ice cream because, frankly, I think I’ve done enough spying on her while she sleeps.
I swim up from the darkness into the noise of my blood pulsing. Something cool and moist rests on my forehead. I open my eyes to an unfamiliar room. To the left of me is a wall, containing several bookcases, shelved with literally hundreds of DVDs and books. At its center is a TV, swamped with various video game cords and connectors.
What the hell happened? I wonder, disorientated.
I try sitting up, but cry out in pain, falling back onto the pillow. My brain rolls around in my head and I think it’s been shaken loose. It hurts to keep my eyes open and so I close them again, groaning.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” someone beside me says.
I slowly turn my head, following the voice.
Nellie sits on the couch to the left of me, legs crossed, staring at me in fascination. “How are you doing sweet-heart?”
“Um,” my voice is a moan. “Not…um…I’m not so good.” Lifting my hand to touch my forehead I feel a wet cloth has been placed there.
“Leave the towel alone,” Nellie warns me. “It will help.”
Dropping my hand, I rest it on my chest, sighing.
“So, what was it like?” Nellie questions me, leaning forward eagerly in her seat, eyes wide and bright.
“What was what like?”
“You know. Transforming. You went hunting didn’t you?” she questions, curiosity buzzing in her voice.
“Hunting?” I ask and after I say this several blurry images flash through my mind like pictures rotating through someone else’s slideshow—trees whiz past me, a deer jumps over a blackberry bush, and then two large paws outstretch before me—and when I blink the images vanish.
“Yes,” she tells me, smiling. “I completely forgot you will prefer animals over human cooked meals. You are a wolf after all.” She smacks her forehead. “How stupid I can be sometimes.”
How the hell do you forget something like that? I want to scream at her.
My head hurts even more now and I’m really not in the mood to hear anything else.
“I assume you haven’t eaten well in a while, huh?” she asks. “Or, to better put it, you have eaten well, but what you’ve eaten has not satisfied you.”
“That’s what I thought,” she says aloud to herself. “Your animal instincts took over.”
Teeth clench together and I pray to god that she shuts up soon.
“Don’t you remember anything?”
“No,” I groan. “I was in the bathroom. My head really hurt and I felt like I was gonna puke.”
“Anything else?” she presses.
“Did you have any visions?”
“Yeah,” I tell her. “A deer was running away.”
“A-ha,” she whispers excitedly. “You sensed its presence and were too hungry to ignore it.”
“What happened?” I ask. “You know, like how did I get here? On the couch, I mean. Last thing I remember was blacking out in the bathroom.”
“See that’s exactly what interests me. You don’t remember anything do you?” she questions.
“No, I don’t,” I say, swallowing the irritation that creeps into my voice. I mean, didn’t I just say that? “Do you mind telling me?”
“You came out of the bathroom, stormed past us in the kitchen, out onto the porch, down the stairs, into the backyard, and then into the woods,” she tells me. “Then you walked out of there about two hours later and then collapsed in the backyard. I had Logan, Rowan, and Brianne carry you inside about thirty minutes ago.”
They had to carry me in? Ugh, god, that’s embarrassing.
“Juna is awake,” Noah informs me as she toddles into the kitchen.
I don’t say anything.
Noah’s eyes bore into mine, waiting for me to take action. “Don’t you want to see her?” she asks, tiny feet fidgeting on the ground, making the linoleum floor creak.
See her? Of course I want to see her. Don’t want to hover, though. She probably feels a little, well, weird right now and if I were Juna I wouldn’t want the entire Newberg clan closing in on me at this particular moment.
“Come on,” Noah pleads, tugging at my shirt.
“Ok,” I say in defeat. “Let me put my bowl away first.”
After setting my bowl in the dishwasher, Noah grabs my wrist and drags me to the stairs. “Come on,” she grunts.
I walk faster. “Noah, stop it. I’m coming,” I tell her, shaking my hand free.
We make it down the stairs, turn the corner, and enter the game room. Juna sits upright on the middle couch, holding a wet facecloth against her forehead. She glances at me for a second and then immediately shifts her attention down to her toes.
Noah grabs me by the wrist again, yanking me to the couch and I fight the urge to kick her in the butt.
I take a seat on the third couch, which is empty and to the right of Juna and Nellie. Noah joins me, trying to sit on my lap, but I lift her away, setting her down on the spot beside me instead. Nellie smiles at us and then turns her attention back to Juna, asking, “Thirsty sweet-heart?”
Juna nods. “A little,” she admits.
Nellie’s eyes flicker between Noah and me. “Will one of you fetch her some water please?”
“I will,” Noah beats me to it, springing from the couch. “Want ice Juna?”
“Sure,” she replies and Noah races for the stairs.
Juna removes the washcloth from her forehead, starts twisting it back and forth in her hands, staring at it like it’s the world’s most important object. Her cheeks redden. “You should keep that on,” Nellie insists.
“I feel better,” Juna says. “I don’t think I need it anymore.”
“Oh, excellent.” Nellie smiles, sinking back into the cushions.
Juna glances at me for a moment and she looks awful, her expression both pained and flustered. Wish I could do something for her, but what? What can I do?
Noah tiptoes dramatically into the room, trying not to spill the overly filled glass of ice water. My sister hands it to Juna and then sits beside her on the couch, staring.
Noah, I want to yell, stop gaping at her!
Juna leans her lips into the glass, sipping the water diligently as she focuses on not spilling. Once the top half has been sipped clear, Juna holds the cup less carefully, cocking it back now as she gulps it ferociously like she hasn’t had a drink in weeks. After finishing, Juna places the cup between her legs, keeping her eyes locked on it.
“Wow,” Nellie comments. “Didn’t realize you were so thirsty. Would you like some more water, honey?”
“Thank you, but I think I’ll be good,” Juna answers groggily. “I just want to go to bed.”
“Oh, of course.” Nellie jumps to her feet. We all stand up and head for the stairs.
Noah leads Nellie and Juna into the girls’ room. I watch them go in, standing out in the hallway for a couple of minutes until I realize that by doing so I am being a complete pervert.
I go back downstairs and head for bed too. This week has been too much for me to handle.
I strip down into my boxers, snatch my iPod, and hop into bed. I blast the Violent Femmes as I sink into my pillow, stare at the blackened ceiling, and think of nothing but Juna.
“Anything else I can get you?” Nellie asks me for what feels like the millionth time.
“No,” I try to answer politely.
“Ok, then,” she says, wrapping those flabby arms around me, her enormous boobs pressing against my lungs. I remain rigid and breathless in her arms and when she releases me she just leaves the room without hugging her grandchild. Only saying a simple goodnight to Noah before closing the door.
I turn to Noah apologetically, but when I meet her lovely golden flecked amber eyes she seems unperturbed. In fact, she seems absolutely delighted. “This is your bed,” Noah tells me, pointing to the lower right bunk.
“Ok,” I say. “Where are your sisters?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says in surprise as if completely oblivious to their existence. “Erin, Rowan, and Connor are watching a movie and Hannah is reading in the kitchen. Hannah normally comes to bed before Erin.”
“Oh,” I mumble. This must be routine, I think, glad that I haven’t shaken up their lives entirely.
Noah tugs on a white Disney princess nightgown, while I change into my Joan Jett tee and a pair of red striped pajama shorts.
Giggling, Noah leaps into her bottom bunk, snatching up a large stuffed alligator from underneath her bed. “This is Sampson,” she tells me, hugging the fluffy green toy against her body. They are the same length.
I smile at her as I move to my bed. A wave of nostalgia washes over me as I pull away the sunflower duvet, sliding into the bed. It looks a lot like my comforter at St. Mark’s. Never thought I would miss that bed. Settling into the mattress I turn on my side away from Noah.
Noah jumps out of her bed and the next thing I know I am encased in her arms. “Goodnight Juna. I love you,” she whispers into my ear, her voice beaming with such sincere love that my heart feels as though it will burst. “Sampson loves you too.”
My throat swells, but I’m able to whisper a goodnight back to her.
Noah toddles to the door, turns off the lights, and then hops back into bed.
Tears stream down my face, immediately drying before dripping off my cheek and onto the pillow. Taking a deep gulp of air I fight to keep the pain out of my breath.
I press my leather bracelet up to my lips, the only thing I have left of home—left of Max—and notice that it has twisted inside out. As I am fixing it I realize that Max has inscribed something into the leather, but since my eyes have not adjusted to the darkness yet I have to wait.
And there it is, one torturous word: Promise.
Since I couldn’t stay asleep, I hike up stairs early this morning, surprised when I find Juna already sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a glass of water. My pulse quickens. “Hi,” I say, hating how shy my voice sounds.
She chugs the rest of her water and then sets the glass back down on the table, emerald eyes locking onto mine. “Morning,” she says.
I grab a bagel from the fridge, pop it in the toaster, and turn the dial to seven. I glance over at her while I wait, wondering why I’m having such a difficult time standing naturally. I fold my arms across my chest as I lean against the edge of the counter top, feeling like I literally have to hold myself together. “You’re up early,” I say.
“You too,” she adds, those gorgeous green eyes boring into mine and like the coward that I am I have to look away. Feels like Marley all over.
“I tried to sleep in,” I explain, “but the sun was too bright in my room. Couldn’t fall back asleep.”
“Same here,” she admits.
“Sorry,” I mumble, wondering why the heck I’m apologizing.
“But I’m usually up this early anyhow.” She shrugs. “I like mornings. I like the quiet.” Juna peers down at the glass of water clutched in her right hand, eyebrows furrowing.
“I know what you mean. My two younger sisters are always at each other’s throats first thing in the morning. Drives me insane,” I chuckle lightly, my shoulders loosening a bit.
“Noah’s such a sweetheart.” She looks to me again, eyes softening.
“Yeah,” I agree and I mean it, but Noah can also be absurdly annoying too, especially with that ridiculously literal brain of her’s.
My bagel pops up and I flinch. Grinding my teeth I turn and snatch it from the toaster, smearing a thick glob of peanut butter on it before sitting across from Juna. “Want some cereal or something?” I offer.
“No, thanks,” she sighs. “This is going to sound really bizarre, but I don’t like normal food anymore. I want to eat it, but just can’t. In fact, that deer or whatever the hell I ate last night has made me feel so much better.”
“Oh,” I mumble.
With intense eyes she asks, “Is this as weird for you as it is for me?”
“What?” I ask, hoping she is not referring to our conversation.
“This whole savior thing,” she groans.
“Oh, yeah.” I raise my eyebrows, nodding my head vigorously. “Definitely.”
“Good.” She grins. “It’s nice to know that this isn’t as normal for you as it is for Nellie.” I smile. Well, at least we have that in common.
“Oh hi you two,” Nellie shrills, wobbling the kitchen as my muscles cramp up. Well, speak of the flabby fat devil. “Sleep well Juna?”
“Yes, thank you,” Juna answers.
It is not long before everyone is up and about.
After breakfast Nellie ushers Logan and me into the family room. “Juna, I really think you should practice on-demand transformations today,” she tells me.
“Uh… what?” I ask, not following her.
“You heard me,” her voice is stern. “Training must start today. Why else do you think we adopted you?” She doesn’t wait for my response. “Logan, take her down to the meadow to practice. You can help her.”
“What?” His mouth gapes open. “Help her? How the heck should I know what to do?”
Groaning, Nellie grips both of us by the upper arm, nails digging into our flesh as she drags us to the front door, shoving us outside. “Get on the ATV and take her to the meadow,” Nellie demands Logan.
“Logan, I’ve got enough butt”—She slaps her rump—“to deal with already, so get going,” Nellie’s voice is severe. She shoos us away. “Now!”
“Why aren’t you coming?” I ask. It seems out of character for her not to come.
“Oh,” she says and I hear the smile in her voice. “I can’t ride the ATV and I surely can’t walk all the way out to the meadow—too far—but I have faith in you two. You’ll work it out somehow. Just let me know what happens when you get back, alright?” Shooing us one last time she wobbles back into the house.
“Lets go,” Logan grumbles, rolling his eyes.
“Um, ok,” I answer a little dazed.
I follow him to the garage. Inside sits a bright cherry red ATV. I’ve never ridden one before, but have always wanted to, suddenly buzzing with excitement.
Swinging his leg over the quad, Logan’s eyes flicker from the back seat to me. I step up and swing my leg over. Logan reaches out to the side, grabbing two helmets, one black and one blue. I take the blue one from him, fastening it over my head.
After securing his helmet Logan says, “You can either hold on to the sides of the quad or on to me”—He swallows—“but we’ll be going pretty fast, so you might want to hold on to me.”
Not too keen on the idea of wrapping my arms around him I answer by holding onto the sides.
He nods, sighing, quickly starting the engine and then the next thing I know we’re off, zooming around the house, through the backyard, and into the woods, following a beaten path. The temperature cools by several degrees beneath the sheltering trees. Sweet air fills my nose, smelling of blackberries and sun-roasted pine needles. I’m almost tempted to open my mouth and catch the flavors on my tongue, but instead my hands grip tighter around the sides of the quad as we go whizzing through the forest.
Just do it Logan! I think, hyped up on adrenaline.
This could end one of two ways, either A.) she holds onto me or B.) she falls off the quad.
Here it goes.
I shift into a higher gear, plunging my thumb into the gas.
We launch forward and I lose my balance, having no other choice than to wrap my arms around him. Logan laughs.
Smooth, I roll my eyes, trying to forget the action, but find it difficult when his pulse vibrates up my arms.
Eventually the forest opens to a small clearing. The golden uneven and bubbly terrain makes it feel as though the earth is boiling beneath us.
Logan slows the quad down, cutting the engine. I dismount immediately, yanking my helmet up and over my head and as I do this I look over to Logan who removes his helmet slowly, glancing up at me shyly. His face is tomato red. “Alright Master Newberg, now what?” I ask him.
He gives an awkward chuckle, shrugging, and then says, “I don’t know.”
“What’s the secret to transforming into a wolf?”
“Maybe,” he begins, “you could try and like, um, I don’t know, but maybe you could try running and then jumping.” It rolls off his tongue like a question.
“Running and then jumping,” I repeat his words and then think about them for a minute. I finally nod and go with this suggestion. I mean what else is there to do? Ok, I think, let the madness begin.
“Where’re you going?” he asks.
“I’m giving myself room to run and jump, ” I say curtly even though I am not mad at him.
I turn around once I think I’ve given myself enough space. “Run and jump?” I verify a second time before giving this a shot, having to yell because of the distance.
“I guess so,” he shouts, shrugging again. “Nellie says the savior can just run, jump, and then burst into a wolf.”
An image of puss exploding across a bathroom mirror from a pimple enters my mind at the word burst.
“Ok,” I mutter under my breath. “Burst. Great. Well, here goes nothing.”
I sprint toward Logan, feeling like a complete idiot as my feet pound across the grass. I jump into the air as though I were lunging off a diving board and then… CA-THUMP!
“Owe,” she moans.
I chuckle nervously, regretting it the second she rises from the ground. Juna spits something out of her mouth, expression hardening as her hands travel along her ribcage. She glances at me. “Don’t laugh!” she barks and then laughs a little herself. “Geez, I feel like a moron.”
“Need help?” I offer, walking toward her.
“No,” she says stiffly, holding out her hand like a stop sign. “Think I should try it again?”
“Um, only if you want to, I guess. Sure,” I say. “Why not?”
“Yeah, why not?” I hear her mutter as she turns around.
Juna walks out further this time and as she wheels around a second time her expression twists with determination, lips pressing firmly together as she concentrates on the impossible task before her. Juna closes her eyes for a brief moment, takes a deep breath in, and when they reopen she is sprinting toward me. At the halfway mark she leaps into the air and then—
“Owwwwe,” I groan, remaining still. This is humiliating.
What hurts the most is this stupid grass. You would think that grass is soft and perfectly fine and dandy to fall on, but nope, not during the summer when it’s dried out and prickly. It pokes at my skin like tiny needles.
“Are you ok?” Logan asks me with sincere concern in his voice.
“Oh yeah,” I grunt sarcastically, pressing my knuckles into the uneven ground as I pop back onto my feet. “Doing fantastic, you know... apart from the hives though.” I point to the red bumps, running up my right forearm.
“Want to head back?” Logan asks me.
“Ok,” I murmur, lumbering over to him to board the ATV. Wrapping my arms around his body I let out a ragged sigh, my ribcage throbbing like a boom box. My jaw tightens as Logan starts the engine and off we go.
“So,” Nellie begins, eyes gleaming as I shut the front door, “tell me.”
“I couldn’t do it,” Juna says gruffly. “No surprise.”
“Oh,” Nellie says dejectedly. “What a shame. No worries, though, that’s why they call it practice.”
“Oh, goody,” Juna says in mock excitement. “Cannot wait for tomorrow.”
“That’s the spirit,” Nellie says radiantly and like Noah is immune to sarcasm.
Mom loads plates with spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread. She has Rowan and Connor deliver everyone their plates, except for Juna’s.
Once Mom takes her seat I pop a piece of garlic bread into my mouth and man is it delicious—salty, warm, and oozing with cheese. Yum.
Crickets chirp outside the kitchen window and our clock ticks away. Everyone’s eyes turn to Juna, waiting…
Juna gets that sick look in her eyes again, pushes back from the table, and then dashes for the bathroom. Midway down the hall she comes to a screeching halt, her entire body quivering.
Thirty seconds pass and she’s still standing there.
“Juna…honey?” Nellie calls out cautiously like she’s treading across thin ice.
Whipping around, Juna bolts down the stairs.
Nellie springs from position, scurrying to the sliding glass door and then wrenching it open. All seven of us scramble behind her onto the porch.
Below, Juna streaks across the grass, dives into the forest, and the last thing I see is a tail dissolving into the trees.
Let me repeat that: A FREAKING TAIL!
“See that?” Nellie screams, flailing around and her chubby hand smacks me in the face.
“Ouch,” I spit out, touching my burning cheek.
Nellie claps her hands excitedly, bouncing up and down like a bowl of Jell-O, repeatedly yelling, “She transformed! She transformed!”
“I saw Nellie,” Noah squeaks triumphantly. “I saw!”
The rest of my siblings are quiet, nothing but wide eyes and pale faces.
I glance over at my mom. Her bottom lip trembles severely and I’m guessing she needs a change of dry pants. “Mom,” her voice is childlike and frightened.
“Well, don’t look so scared,” Nellie tells us. “This is so cool! Okay, lets finish dinner.” She waddles back into the house like nothing unusual happened.
My mother and siblings follow Nellie back to the kitchen, while I continue staring out toward the woods, heart pounding furiously in my chest.
A cool, damp washcloth rests on my forehead when I open my eyes. I shift my position on the comfy cushions of the downstairs couch, searching for signs of life.
“Hey there,” Logan says, sitting on the couch Nellie sat on last night.
“Hey,” I mutter, not wanting to crane my neck around to look at him.
“How’re you doing?” he asks and I can hear the couch squeak as he leans forward in his seat.
“Ugh, I don’t know. Weird…I guess,” I admit, sitting up fast and immediately regret the action as pain blisters around my joints. Teeth grit together as I clamp my eyes shut.
“I saw you transform,” Logan tells me.
“You what?” My eyes pop open.
“We all did,” he says softly and I turn my head to look at him. He’s a little fidgety in his seat, eyes to the floor. “Just barely, though.”
I burp unexpectedly. “Ewe, sorry,” I apologize, covering my mouth. “I think I ate a really big deer or something.” My hand roves across my stomach and I feel gas pushing through my intestines. Lovely, I think.
He laughs and then I start laughing too. It’s the first time in what feels like forever since I’ve cracked a smile or sincerely laughed at something.
“Well, that’s different,” he chuckles, finally looking me in the eye now.
“I know, right?” I add, smiling at him.
“Do you remember anything?” Logan asks.
“Actually,” I begin, removing the washcloth from my forehead, sitting up a little straighter on the couch, “I did. It was a bit blurry, though, but way better than seeing nothing like last time. I saw a deer before I left the table and seriously thought I was gonna puke. So, I headed for the bathroom, but figured since the feeling was so strong I ought to try transforming on my own. The last thing I really remember was running out into the backyard. Later, I saw glitchy bits and pieces of when I attacked the deer, but eventually I just blacked out entirely.”
“Wow,” he says, “that’s intense.”
“Yeah, I know,” I agree and then add, “and the weirdest part is that it didn’t feel wrong. It felt kind of natural and good.”
“Yep, you’re right,” he laughs, nodding, “that does sound weird, but I guess that’s the way it’s gonna be around here from now on.”
“Yes sir.” I nod and for some reason feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Nellie toddles down the stairs. “Oh Juna!” She coos, bouncing toward us. “I’m so proud of you sweetheart. Good for you for knowing what to do.”
“Um, thanks,” I say, yawning. “I’m exhausted.”
“As you should be.” Nellie nods. “It’s eleven.”
Geez Louise, I think.
Logan and I head for our rooms.
All three girls lie nestled beneath the thin sheets on their beds. Erin and Noah are zonked out, but Hannah sits, fully awake, in her top bunk, accompanied by a purple flashlight and the fifth Harry Potter book.
With awkward movements, I close the door behind me, trying to be as quiet as possible. Don’t want to freak them out or anything, but I am afraid that is too late.
I slip into my pajamas, a white Beatles shirt and my plaid hunter green cotton shorts. Next, I hop into bed. Hannah sighs, turns off her flashlight, and then snuggles underneath her covers. The room suddenly pitch black. It isn’t long before I hear that her breath is deep with sleep.
It’s not fair. My body is fatigued and begging for sleep too, but my mind is wide-awake, alert and ready to go. Go where though is my question.
Before I can shift into a more comfortable position I hear my name uttered angrily outside the room. Quickly but silently I climb out of bed and tip toe toward the door, pressing my ear against the wood.
I hear Nellie’s voice and she sounds angry. “Brianne,” she begins, sighing in frustration. “The first couple of months are going to be difficult, but she is progressing well.”
“Mother,” Brianne groans. “I don’t want my children to be involved with her. It just isn’t healthy for them.”
I sink to the carpet, ear still pressed to the door.
“Brianne, you are overreacting—”
“Overreacting?” Brianne’s voice is hysterical. “Of course I’m overreacting. There is a child living under my roof who can turn into a wolf! A fucking wolf mother! And if that isn’t enough reason for overreacting, then I don’t know what is. Of course I’m overreacting! Why wouldn’t I be overreacting?”
“Brianne shhh,” Nellie tries to soothe her. “Lets not wake the kids. Honey, I need you to take a deep breath.”
Brianne inhales and then sighs deeply.
“Now, what you say is understandable,” Nellie begins, her voice calm, quieter than before. “And I get where you’re coming from, but Juna did not ask for this. Ok? This is not her fault. We are here to help and support her in any way we possibly can because frankly, we’re the only ones who can.”
“Why can’t she live with Noel or Ava?” Brianne begs through tears. “I mean it’s hard enough as it is raising six kids on my own. Now this . . .” her voice lowers to a whimper, “I just want Tobias here. That’s all I want.”
Blood pounds hard in my head and tears sear my eyes. I blink and they drip down my cheeks, drying within seconds. Sharp pain plunges deep into my chest, twisting and burning for extra emphasis as though the initial pain wasn’t bad enough.
“She has to be with Logan. It’s important that they strike a bond. She needs someone to rely on. Splitting them up would be disastrous,” Nellie explains. “She needs a safe environment where people understand her. Besides, Ava has enough children as it is…”
Brianne lets out a huff.
“Brianne stop being so selfish. I didn’t raise you this way.”—Brianne makes a loud snorting noise at her mother’s comment, but Nellie goes right on ignoring her—“We’re the only family she has. Her mother is most likely dead and God only knows where her father is, but he obviously didn’t want her.”—A hole burns in the pit of my stomach—“She’s almost an adult and never truly grew up with a stable family. Now with all these crazy and drastic, unfathomable changes going on in her life…she needs us. More than ever now, alright?” Nellie concludes.
Brianne sighs. “I just want what’s best for my family.”
“Juna is a part of this family now. You agreed to that. End of discussion,” Nellie says firmly. “Besides, Noah has never looked happier. The kids will get adjusted, you’ll see sweetheart. Now, I suggest you get to bed. I’d be discouraged if my yoga instructor seemed tense at tomorrow morning’s class. Goodnight Brianne.”
Footsteps enter the hallway, so I scramble to my bed, diving beneath the sheets, trying to appear as though I were there, sound asleep, the entire time. A hand grips the metallic door handle, twisting it open with a tiny mouse-like squeak. Through squinted eyes I watch as Brianne peers into the room, closing the door with a dejected sigh after thirty seconds.
My lower lip trembles as another tear slips from the corner of my eye. I rub my leather bracelet, clamping my eyes tighter together as I beg my mind to dream of happier days from the past.
After breakfast Juna and I take the ATV out for another exciting round of practice. Nellie forced us out the door again today, but I think Juna genuinely wants to give it another go. There is a flicker of determination in her eyes that wasn’t there yesterday, so I’m hopeful today will go better.
Juna’s arms wrap tight around my torso as I start up the ATV. A grin to spreads across my face. When I look up, I catch sight of Erin and Noah staring out at us through the kitchen window and it takes me a second to realize that Erin is wiggling her eyebrows at me in that smug way of her’s. If it weren’t for Noah standing right next to her I’d probably have flipped her off by now.
I press my thumb into the accelerator and off we go, speeding around the side of the house, through the backyard, past the trampoline, and into the woods.
As we zip through the trees, the wind hitting my face and Juna’s arms wrapped securely around my body, I realize the meadow is a lot closer than I thought.
Logan stops the ATV at the edge of the meadow. Smart. I wouldn’t want to sit in the boiling hot sun either if I had to wait for someone to attempt the impossible.
In one swift motion I swing my leg up and over the quad, removing my helmet and then grabbing my thermos for a quick drink before putting on a freak show.
Hopefully, later in my life, I’ll look back fondly on this moment and wonder why the hell it took me so long to figure out.
I mean one can hope, right?
Handing the thermos back to Logan I step into the sunlight and then jog across the crunchy, uneven terrain until I feel like I’ve given myself enough room to do my thing.
That’s a polite way of putting it.
Remaining still for a few moments, I clear my mind of all things except one.
Obviously, I’ve done it before, but lets see if I can do it now, now that I’m relatively sane and not crazed with hunger.
Closing my eyes, I reach for the far corners of my mind, desperately trying to drag up those blurry images of when I went hunting. Trying to remember the way the dirt felt beneath my paws, vaguely recollecting how the rush of trees flitted past me as my muscles pulled me deeper into the woods.
When my eyes reopen I’m sprinting toward Logan, the balls of my feet pushing hard off the ground, gaining speed with each step. Once I reach what feels like my maximum speed I dive in the air and—
I stand up from the quad, “Are you—”I begin, but she cuts me off immediately.
“I’m fine,” she yells, pushing herself off the ground and then wheeling around to do it all over again.
I don’t know how long she goes at this, but what I do know is that every time she tries again the sun has dragged itself further west like it doesn’t want to watch her either.
Unfortunately, the only help I can provide is supplying her with water. Logan the water boy—for some reason I knew it’d eventually come to that.
Watching her smack the ground for the millionth time, I cringe like it’s the first time I’ve seen her fall and then say, “We should probably head back now. It’s getting late.” Hopefully, I mustered enough authority into my voice to convince her.
“Ok,” she mutters submissively. A couple steps later she says, “Maybe we ought to go to the library and see if they have a Transforming Into a Wolf for Dummies book.”
I chuckle and then say, “Good idea, but I doubt they even have one for smarties.”
She smiles at my comment and I get that urge to kiss her again, except this time I’m not dreaming.
Before boarding the four-wheeler, Juna grabs the nearly empty thermos and gulps the rest of the water down nosily. Some of it dribbles out the corner of her mouth and runs down her chin. I watch as three streams spill down her milky-brown neck, drying before they reach the edge of her black Kiss t-shirt.
God that tongue creeps me out…
She peeks at me from the corner of her eye, probably thinking I’m a perverted freak whose fantasying about what she looks like topless.
And, of course, that’s exactly what I’m thinking about now, so my eyes quickly find a spot on the ground to stare at. Oh looky here, I think. An ant!
After finishing up her water I start up the quad and try to drive as smoothly as possible.
Logan and I enter the house through the front door when I would have preferred to climb directly into my bedroom through the window. I want to crash onto my bed and fall into a deep coma for a couple of weeks until my life decides to shape up for the better.
My body aches and a constant throb pulsates down my spine and legs that no matter how hard I try I cannot shake off.
Nellie bounces up from the couch. “How’d it go?”
The answer lies in my eyes.
She nods and then plods into the kitchen. “Help me get dinner started, Logan,” Nellie snaps. “The twins are at camp for the week and yourMomwon’t be joining us tonight, so it will just be the six of us.”
“Fine,” Logan groans, following her into the kitchen.
Nothing happens during dinner that night.
I just sit there on the edge of my seat at the kitchen table and wait for the madness to begin.
I wait and I wait and I wait.
Nothing. No twitches up my arms, no dizziness in my head, no hunger pinching at my stomach.
Instead, my muscles have relaxed some and I feel as though I can breathe better than normal, deeper than usual.
Everyone stares at me in shock, wondering where my craziness has hidden.
I smile at them, glowing inside because I desperately needed this break.
After dinner I tug on my pajamas and go into the office to check on my email before heading to bed. Two messages linger in my mailbox. The first one is from Max.
Camp is stupid right now. I hate it. Those girls have been bugging the crap out of me lately. I need you here to protect me.
I’ve been feeling like crap lately too. I don’t know what’s wrong, but it’s definitely getting annoying. I haven’t slept well in a while because of it.
What’s going on with you? Email me soon.
I miss you.
Wow. I haven’t heard him sound this whiney since his last yearly physical exam with the doctor, which was months ago and I chuckle at the thought of it, but eventually my face pulls down into a frown.
The next email is from Leslie.
Hey Miss June Bug,
I just wanted to check in on you and see how you are doing. How do you like Oregon? I’ve only been there twice. It’s a lovely state isn’t it? My parents took Abbey and I when we were just munchkins. Our papa drove us up to Mt. Hood to go skiing.
I actually have a friend up there I’ve known for as long as you’ve been alive. She comes down to the bay area twice a year on vacation and we always get together for coffee. Her name is Delaney. I don’t think you ever met her though. She lives somewhere close to Portland I think. Maybe I’ll go stay with her when I come up to visit you in a couple months.
Camp is going well, but definitely isn’t the same without you. You are deeply missed by all the kids, especially Max. Many of the girls wrote you, so you should be receiving one big envelope with all their letters in it soon. I really miss you kiddo. Hope you are doing well.
Sadness seeps through me, knotting the muscles along my shoulders as I stare down at the keys, not knowing what to type.
What do I type? I ask myself, because I certainly can’t tell them everything.
I drum my fingers against the wooden desk until, finally, I figure out what to write. While I can’t tell them the entirety of my story I can reveal bits and pieces of the truth. I tell them about the forest behind the house, about the quad, about little Noah, about Brianne’s great cooking, anything I can possibly tell. And even though it’s just the tip of the iceberg, I feel better, because at least I told them something.
The next four days are spent following the same routine.
11. Wake up. Check.
22. Eat breakfast. Check.
33. Get kicked out of the house by Nellie. Check.
44. Spend hours out in the blistering hot sun, trying to transform into a butt-sniffing animal. Check.
55. Fail. Check.
66. Go back home. Check.
77. Disappoint Nellie. Check.
88. Have dinner. (Or rather sit at the dinner table, while everyone else dines.) Check.
99. Take a shower. Check.
110. Look at my emails and then go to bed. Check.
I was desperate for a change.
On the bright side: No more involuntary transformations.
And least not lately…
Who knows why this is, but it must coincide with the fact that I haven’t been hungry in the past couple of days, which is definitely an odd thing to get used to, since I generally devour everything in sight. Must have something to do with that huge deer I ate.
The fifth day plays out much the same. Logan and I go out and practice the impossible once more in the scorching hot sun—well, let me rephrase that because I’m the only one who does any sort of practicing, but hell, I certainly wouldn’t mind swapping roles for a change. I’d love to see Logan give it a shot.
Anyhow, nothing gets accomplished other than the usual self-inflicted torture.
After parking the ATV in its designated spot in the garage Logan and I enter the house. My bones are on the verge of disintegrating and I feel as though my next step will bring me to my knees.
And to our utter amazement, Nellie doesn’t greet us at the front door. Her hopes in me are most likely waning.
Logan glances at me and I can tell by the look in his eyes that he is thinking the exact same thing. I give him a shrug at which point he asks, “Do you want to watch TV or something?”
“Sure.” I nod, following him into the family room, feeling as though I’ve aged seventy years since this morning.
I plop down beside him on the couch, wincing at the pain in my sides, sharp pins and needles that jut into my ribcage.
“You okay?” Logan asks softly, noticing my expression.
I close my eyes, grit my teeth, and nod, “Mmm-hmm.”
Logan flips aimlessly through the channels, glancing at me every now and then to see if I take any interest in one. Honestly, I could care less what we watch. All I need is a dose of distraction, even if it lasts only a minute or two.
“Hey you two,” Nellie yawns, eyes puffy from a nap. “How’d it go today?” she asks, but looks as though she already knows the answer.
Logan turns to me, but I say nothing. I’m too damn tired.
“It was…ok.” Logan replies.
“What is the problem?” she asks me directly.
“I just can’t do it,” I answer, staring at the screen as jerky images flash across it.
“Don’t worry Juna,” Nellie tells me kindly. “Your day will come.”
Brianne’s car cruises up the driveway, back home from work. The window in our room is propped open, so I can just about hear everything she does, from the faint unbuckling click of her seatbelt to every clip-clopping footstep taken as she approaches the house.
Noah rushes into the room with a bouncing head of curls.
“Dinner is ready,” she tells Hannah and me.
I push myself up and off of my bed, following Noah into the kitchen with heavy steps. Hannah’s eyes never stray from her book’s pages as we shuffle down the hallway. I am amazed by how quickly she reads. She finished the Harry Potter series within days and is now reading Of Mice and Men.
I sit down in my normal spot at the table, glancing at Connor hunched in his seat, noticing how gangly he is. His round spectacles slide down his nose. He pushes them back up with his index and middle finger, shyly peeking at me from under his thick, dark eyelashes. I give him a small smile and then look away.
Brianne meets my gaze and she forces a smile, the skin around her mouth twitches as though the act is painful. It makes me sick to my stomach, knowing what she thinks of me—nothing but a burden.
Sometimes I feel like I have to win her approval in order to be accepted into this family. But what exactly do I need to do in order to win that approval?
Eyes turning to Hannah, I wonder what she thinks of me? Sometimes it feels as though she doesn’t even know I exist or at least doesn’t acknowledge this fact.
Brianne nudges Hannah in order to remind her that it’s time to eat and so Hannah mournfully sets the down the book and sighs.
Logan and Nellie set out bowls of split-pea soup for everyone, along with a small plate of salad. All I have sitting in front of me is a large glass of water.
Logan gives me a small smile before taking his seat and when he scoots in his chair toward the table his foot accidentally bumps into mine. His face reddens immediately and eyes dart to his bowl of soup.
An image of Max flashes across my brain, making my heart ache.
I bring the cup up to my lips and as I begin gulping the water down a horrifying shriek rings in my ears. Slamming down the glass, I gasp. Water splashes onto the daisy-printed tablecloth, some of it sizzling away on my hand.
Everyone flinches. Their expressions puzzled like they have no clue as to why I did what I did. “Now what on earth was that all about?” Nellie booms.
“You didn’t hear that?” I ask, my eyebrows pulling together incredulously.
“Hear what?” Brianne scoffs.
“You seriously didn’t hear it?” I ask them, heart pounding against my ribcage.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Noah tells me softly.
What? No way. They had to have heard it. It was so loud. I don’t understand.
“No one heard that?” I ask, leaning forward in my seat.
They all nod.
Cold rushes down my back and fills my chest. “Someone screamed,” I say emphatically.
Brianne looks at me like I’m stupid, and then says, “No one—”
And just as she is about to tell me that no one screamed I hear it again, racked with such intense fear that it curdles my blood. Dark blurry images flash through my mind: a wooden bat crashes through a glass table, an enraged man growls as he commits this destruction, and a woman scrambles off the floor. John, don’t! She wails. SHELBY, RUN!
Reality snaps back into focus and I gasp.
Six perplexed faces stare back at me.
I swallow hard, trying to figure out what the hell is happening.
“What’s wrong Juna?” Brianne demands, voice harsh, but wavering.
I really wish I could answer that, I think, but say nothing. Instead, I bring my hands up to the sides of my face, rubbing my temple furiously with the pads of my fingers, desperately trying to drag the voices out of my skull.
What the heck is going on? This isn’t her normal crazy breakdown. No. This is something completely different.
“Juna!” Nellie shouts. “Transform. You need to transform! Get up,” Nellie instructs and then jumps out of her seat, throwing her fleshy flapping arms into the air like a mad woman.
She and Juna shoot for the front door and I follow after them, stumbling over something on my way out of the kitchen. As we force ourselves through the door’s opening Juna’s arm brushes against mine and a strange whimper comes out my mouth. Her skin feels like a freaking skillet!
We stand on the porch for a brief second until Nellie shoves Juna harshly down the steps and screams, “Transform! Run down the driveway and do it. I know you can. Now GO!”
Without hesitation Juna sprints down the pavement, feet barely touching the ground as she runs. Her arms swing back for a second as she prepares for her dive into the air and BAM! She explodes into a wolf and just like that she’s gone.
I can’t believe it! I transformed! I transformed into a freaking wolf for goodness sakes and the greatest part about this is that I have not slipped off into some dizzying unconscious state. No. This is all my doing and it feels great.
Adrenaline surges through my veins. Muscles bunch and release in an effortless rhythm as the trees blur into a sea of blackness, flowing around me. Miles disappear in seconds and I feel as though I am flying.
Suddenly—amongst this blur of blackness—streaks of light jet past me, twisting and bending all around me. The roar of cars, trucks, and motorcycles fills my ears.
Holy crap! I scream in my head. I’m on the freeway!
Please John! The woman wails. Please John no!
Before I know it, everything clears and I am trotting down a pebble-paved alleyway, splintered and broken fences guide my way toward a wooden house. A window on the left side of this building has been broken into; its jagged teeth try to dissuade me from entering, but this does not faze me and so I leap up the porch steps and sail through the mouth-like frame.
My paws hit the wooden floor carpeted by shattered glass, back legs skidding across the ground. The house itself is a dark and desolate place. Almost every piece of furniture has been knocked over onto its side. Photographs of strangers have been wrenched off the walls and now lay in a broken mess, scattered across the floor.
The scent of blood tingles in my nose, it raises my hackles and I catch the sound of someone panting heavily nearby, my ears flicking toward the kitchen.
I trot quietly through the house, entering the dinning room where I meet the foreboding backside of a tall, stocky man. For a brief moment, I watch how his shoulders rise and fall to the rhythm of his breath, a loud and jagged thing that sends shivers down my spine. Behind him, stands a woman, pressed into the corner of the room, defensively holding a chair in her hands.
Fear darkens her eyes, so intense it makes my stomach plummet, makes me angry with this man for pushing her to such a severe state. The right side of her head is matted with blood, her hair tangled and knotted and dripping with crimson. Cuts line her face and zigzag down her arms and what I am sure used to be an angelic white nightgown is now a bloody, shredded nightmare.
The man loosely clutches a splintered wooden bat, holding out his arms in a non-threatening gesture, but she is no fool. “Come on, Laurie,” he laughs harshly, his voice sounding as though it were cluttered with nothing but rocks and broken glass. “Sorry baby. You know I wouldn’t hurt you. I just lost my temper…that’s all.”
Cat and mouse—that’s all this is.
Blood dribbles down the side of her bruised forehead, her entire frame is shaking violently. Tightening her grip around the chair, she tries to shield herself from what is about to explode from this volcano.
“Put. Down. The. Chair,” he breathes.
Crinkling my muzzle back, a growl rolls through my chest.
Eyes glancing past the man, the woman locks her sights on me and a shriek tears out her throat.
The man swivels around and then drunkenly stumbles back two feet, eyes widening at the sight of me.
A snarl rips through my teeth.
Good, I think.
Hands shaking, he clutches the bat tighter, raises it a little higher, doing all that he can to appear dominant. “Go on—shoo,” he yells. “Get mutt!”
My ears pin back and a growl rattles up through my throat as I saunter toward him, now only a foot away.
He pulls the bat back, preparing to strike.
“No John!” The woman shrieks, but it makes no difference for the bat swings at nothing but air as I leap out of the way.
Breathless and bewildered he mutters, “What the . . .” but is unable to shake the rest of his words out.
The woman, seeing her chance to escape, drops the chair and makes a run for it, but the cat, being quicker than the mouse, lunges for her. “Oh, no you don’t!” He snarls, snagging her by the wrist and then wrenches her back to him, swinging the bat back.
But before it even has time to make contact with her already bruised skin I bound from the carpet, plunging my fangs through the thick tissue of his arm, jerking him to the floor. Releasing his hold of both the bat and the woman he yowls as his head smacks against the ground.
Down the hallway she sprints into another room, fleeing with a tiny girl pressed against her chest, whimpering. Mr. Asshole pushes at me with his opposite hand, tries to free himself from my grip, but my fangs sink deeper into his flesh. Blood streams and froths from my teeth, lingers on my tongue as I hold him prisoner. Another painful groan escapes him and it is not too long after that I hear the glorious call of sirens.
My brain throbs with a billion questions: What happened? Where is she? When is she coming back? Is she ok? Have I crapped my pants yet?
Needless to say I have a headache and am getting dizzier by the second here because ever since Juna left I’ve done nothing but walked around and around in circles in our kitchen, occasionally stopping by the window to search for her.
The front door opens abruptly and then slams shut. I run to it. There I find Juna leaning against the door, panting heavily. She pinches her eyes shut for a moment and when they reopen we just stare at one another for about a minute. She stands up straighter, eyes wide and alert.
I fight an overwhelming urge to hug her.
“What happened?” I ask, arms shaking at my sides.
She points to the kitchen. I follow her and we both take a seat at the table. “I don’t know,” she admits, extracting the rubber band from her hair and as she does this bright red blood drips from her hands and courses down her wrists.
“What happened?” I shout, bouncing back to my feet, pointing at them.
She glances down to her palms like she hasn’t gotten a clue as to what I’m freaking out about. “Oh,” she mutters, unbothered. “I forgot about the shards of glass.”
“Shards of glass?” I squeak—awesome Logan you’re such a tough guy—and then cough. “Come on. Lets get you to the bathroom.”
I grab the first aid kit, while she rinses and pulls chunks of glass out of her hands in the sink. Blood and water swirl together down the drain, reminding me of the shower sequence from Psycho.
I have to fight to keep my dinner down.
See this is why I don’t plan on being a doctor. Blood. It freaks me out. Of course I’ll pretend like it doesn’t bother me, but it does. Oh man does it ever. “Ouch,” I mutter. “That looks awful.”
“It doesn’t hurt now,” she tells me. “But, I’ll start feeling it once the adrenaline wears off.”
“Geez,” is all I can say as I squirt Neosporin on her hands and then wrap them up with gauze.
“Juna!” Nellie shrills, making us both flinch violently. She waddles toward us like a penguin running for its life. “Logan! Why didn’t you tell me she was here?”
I shrug dramatically and got that are-you-freaking-kidding-me-woman look on my face. “Um, because her hands were more important.”
“Oh my goodness gracious,” Nellie exclaims, covering her mouth with her pudgy right hand. “Well, come along.”—She grabs a hold of Juna’s upper arm and yanks her along—“Let’s talk in the kitchen. I want to hear everything!”
I shove the first aid kit beneath the sink, flick off the bathroom lights, and sprint down the hallway into the kitchen.
“You must be thirsty. Would you like some water dear?” Nellie asks Juna, both seated at the table.
“Yes please.” She nods.
“Logan,” Nellie says, snapping her fingers and then waving her hand at the cupboards.
You lazy psycho, I think as I snatch Juna a glass of water. She gulps it down within seconds and then smiles.
“So…” Nellie begins, eagerly leaning forward in her seat. “Tell us everything.”
Juna tells us of her adventure in full detail, from what she heard and saw at the dinner table, to the feeling of running on the freeway, and then to what happened at the house. She tells us of how she never let go of the man after the woman and child escaped and how she left the house just moments after she saw the red and blue glow of police cars outside, afraid that if seen they might try to shoot her or something.
“Wow,” I breathe.
“Wow indeed,” Nellie adds, nodding.
Juna is glowing. “Yeah,” she agrees, smiling.
“How did you transform back?” I ask, curiosity buzzing in my voice.
“Oh, ok,” she begins, bouncing in her seat a bit. “I was kind of nervous about that, but it was easy. I just thought really hard about what it felt to be human and kind of went about it the opposite way. I ran and then tried to stand up and then suddenly I was running as a human. It was so weird.”
“Amazing,” Nellie shrills, “this is phenomenal!”
“Is the mom and kid ok?” I ask.
“I hope so,” Juna says, her smiling fading at the thought. “I mean now that I look back on it…it was kind of scary. The woman lost a lot of blood and I only got a glimpse of the little girl, so I don’t know whether or not she’s ok.”
“I wonder what happened?” Nellie muses, leaning back in her chair, glancing up at the ceiling.
“I’m not sure,” Juna whispers. “I’m just really glad I was able to do something about it.”
“I am too, sweetheart,” Nellie tells her, popping up like a Jack-in-the-Box. “I’m so proud of you. You’ve made a huge break through!”
Several footsteps enter the kitchen. I turn around to find Noah, Hannah, and my mom standing at the entranceway. Noah throws her arms around Juna, squealing with delight. “Careful!” Nellie and Mom shout in unison, but there is a stark difference between their tones. Nellie means the cuts on Juna’s on hands, but I don’t know what my mom refers to.
“I saw you! I saw you!” Noah shrills, bouncing up and down like a Jack Russell puppy. “You transformed!”
“Yeah,” Juna laughs, squeezing Noah to her. “I did.”
Noah pulls back, taking Juna’s face between her hands. “You were amazing,” she tells her.
Noah, I think to myself, you took the words right out of my mouth.
“Juna! Juna! Juna!” Noah says, shaking my shoulders violently.
Eyes flash open as I twirl around in the sheets to see her. “What?” I ask, heart pounding in my chest at her tone.
“Get up! You have to come watch TV!” she yells.
“Nah,” I mumble, sighing, and then close my eyes again. “I think I’ll pass on the cartoons this morning.”
“No, no, no,” she squeals. “You’re on the news.”
“What?” I say, eyes reopening.
Noah grabs me by the wrist and yanks me forward, up and out of bed to the living room.
“Morning Juna.” Nellie glances at me for a quick second and then returns her gaze to the television. Brianne, Hannah, Logan, and Connor hover around the television as well, their eyes glued to the screen.
“SHH!” Nellie hisses, pointing her plump index finger at the screen. “Watch.”
I turn my attention to the television. A Chinese woman with the perpetual look of someone who has had her eyes done more than once sits in a News studio with a fake picture of Mt. Hood pasted behind her.
“Last night a Lake Oswego woman, Laurie Woolsey and daughter, Shelby, fled to the police station,” she begins as my eyes widen. “The two were being brutally attacked by Laurie’s ex-husband Jonathan Woolsey and when all seemed lost Laurie and Shelby were saved”—the woman’s eyebrows pop up—“by a wolf. KATU’s Duncan Gonzales has the rest of this remarkable story. Duncan?”
A ketchup haired man stands in front of a hospital with a microphone clenched in his right hand. He flashes a cheesy smile before beginning, “Yes, this is certainly an intriguing story to say the least. Laurie and Jonathan Woolsey recently finalized their divorce. Laurie Woolsey was granted full custody of their four-year-old daughter, Shelby, on May 18. Jonathan outraged, and drunk, barged into their house last night with an aluminum bat as his weapon, destroying nearly everything in sight and almost beat Laurie to death. Their four-year-old, helplessly, hid in a separate room as this terrifying scene unfolded.
“Then out of nowhere a wolf barges into the house and attacks Jonathan, giving Laurie a chance to escape the house with her daughter, ” Duncan explains, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. “Laurie ran with Shelby in her arms to a neighbor’s house, where they called the police. Laurie was then immediately taken to he hospital and Jonathan was arrested.”
The scene changes to a silver-haired woman. She explains, “No, I’m not sure what would’ve happened if it hadn’t come. Not sure I want to know either. Whatever happened was a miracle, an absolute miracle. Laurie whispered to me last night; told me that that wolf was her guardian angel and I’d say she’s right.”
The scene returns to Duncan Gonzales. “Jonathan was placed in the hospital and is being treated for severe wounds,” he informs us. “We are told he received twenty-three stitches and is being charged on accounts of attempted murder and attempted kidnap. Jonathan’s court date is still to be determined. Right now Portland officials are concerned as to where this wolf came from. Animal experts have no other explanation for this miraculous event only to say that it was simply…a miracle. Back to you—”
The television buzzes off. “Well done Juna,” Nellie says, slapping my back.
“Brianne,” Nellie says sharply. I turn to face her. “Don’t look so shocked! I told you she was the savior.”
“No, I know that mother,” she says, glancing at me for a moment, and just as I think she is about to say something more she leaves the room.
The silver-haired woman’s words replay in my head—guardian angel—and I smile.
For the first time since the night of my sixteenth birthday I feel as though something has finally gone right.
“Well, this is just wonderful Juna. I am so proud of you,” Nellie tells me giddily, clapping her hands together like a cheerleader.
“I can’t believe you ran all the way to Lake Oswego,” I say.
Juna turns to look at me. “How far away is that from here?” she asks.
“It’s about a forty-five minute drive,” I tell her.
“Oh, wow,” she says, eyes widening. “It didn’t feel that far.”
“No,” Juna shakes her head in amazement, “it felt like a minute at the most.”
“Wow,” I say for the millionth time and she grins at me. “Oh, hey?” I ask, touching her arm. “How’re your hands?”
“Oh,” she says likes she’s forgotten all about them. “They don’t even hurt right now. So, I’m guessing they’re doing fine.”
She unwraps the gauze from her hand. My muscles start tightening as I prepare myself for the gruesome sight, but amazingly her hands are completely healed. No traces of scarring left on either one of her palms. She looks up at me, puzzled.
I shrug my shoulders because I don’t have an answer for her and as if on cue, Nellie pushes between us to examine Juna’s hands as well. “I knew it!” she shrills bouncing like a bowl of Jell-O again.
“Knew what?” Juna and I ask in unison.
“Your blood does that,” she states, pointing to Juna’s hands.
“Does what?” Juna asks, forehead furrowing.
“It heals your body. Your blood’s extreme heat heals your wounds quicker than normal people, which is excellent since you’re likely to get more of these kinds of wounds in the future—perhaps even worse,” Nellie chuckles sickly at this as though it were no big deal, but it is a big deal to me.
About ten minutes into breakfast a white Volvo pulls into the driveway. Erin and Rowan hop out of the car with their dark blue duffle bags. In one swift movement Erin rolls her basketball into the garage as she jogs toward the house. Rowan shuts the car door and then follows his sister into the house as the Volvo backs out of the driveway.
When the front door opens Noah yells, “Hi!”
“Hi!” The twins call out at the same time.
The sounds of their duffle bags hitting the ground, I assume.
“Chocolate chip waffles?” Erin says, as she rounds the corner from the front door into the kitchen. “Yum! I’m starving. We got peanut butter still don’t we?”
“Here honey,” Brianne loads a plate with two large chocolaty waffles, while also snatching a jar of peanut butter off the counter.
“Thanks momma.” She grabs the plate and jar of peanut butter from her mother and plops down at the table.
Rowan enters the kitchen. I smile at him. He half smiles back at me, eyes instantly darting back to Erin.
Noah jumps up in her seat. “Juna transformed into a wolf and saved a mommy and her baby girl,” she says excitedly and then scoops a huge piece of waffle into her mouth. “It was on the news,” she says, but this is barely understood through the mush of waffles crammed into the side of her cheek.
“Noah!” Brianne scolds.
“Ha!” Erin exclaims, shooting up from her seat and pointing at Rowan. “I told you. Twenty bucks!”
Rowan’s head ducks down slightly, looking contrite.
“Yeah, we watched the news this morning at Sam’s house and saw it. I told Rowan it was Juna, but he didn’t think so,” Erin tells us. “And I mean, like what actual wolf would do that? Ha, I knew it! Now, I get twenty bucks.”
“Whatever,” Rowan mutters under his breath as he takes a seat between his two brothers after receiving his plate of waffles.
The telephone rings. Brianne wipes her waffle-battered hands against her pants before reaching for the phone. “Hello?”
Nellie looks to her daughter.
“Yes, just a minute,” she says and then hands the phone to Nellie. “George. Says it’s urgent.”
Nellie gasps, clutching the phone to her ear. “How is she doing George?” she asks excitedly. Who the hell is George? I think. “Oh dear. I thought she wasn’t due for another couple of weeks. No problem. I’ll leave today. Ok, bye George,” she concludes and then hangs up.
“What?” Brianne asks impatiently, taking the phone from her mother.
“Ava’s water broke. I need to go to the airport today,” she explains, her voice frantic.
“Alright,” Brianne says. Nellie gets up from the table and rushes to get her belongings out of the guest bedroom.
After Brianne and Nellie leave for the airport Erin gives me a high five, while mouthing the word yes and we both start laughing.
The next three weeks pass by in the blink of an eye.
Nellie made it in the nick of time for the birth of her twenty-fourth grandchild and I can easily say that she hasn’t been missed around here since her departure.
Over the course of these three weeks, Brianne has warmed up to me at the same rate ice melts in Antarctica. My only explanation for this is that she seems to smile at me more often than usual. Yes, her smiles remain forced affairs, but at least she doesn’t scowl at me in that way that makes me think she pisses icicles.
In the past three weeks I have gone out to save someone four times. Each of these times was a domestic violence related issue and only one of them had not been reported on the news, which I am actually kind of relieved about since some sort of animal control group is apparently out to get me.
I wish them the best of luck.
Something peculiar has happened during three of my four savings. Instead of running back home, my feet took me on a detour to this random white farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere and I haven’t gotten a single clue as to why this is. Every time I ended up there I felt as though I was missing something. It’s the same feeling I get when I walk into a room and suddenly forget why I went into there the first place. It leaves you with this cold, empty feeling of cluelessness.
The house was always pitch black and silent, apart from the two sets of heartbeats, which drummed peacefully upstairs. I mean nothing was out of the ordinary, so I figured it was just some sort of kink I’d eventually get worked out.
It’s been an interesting three weeks though to say the least.
Before going to bed I amble over to the computer to check my email, frowning when I see that my mailbox is empty. Max hasn’t emailed me in about a month now. What on earth is going on? I mean, for a while there he was sending me an email everyday.
What’s going on?
My eyes drift down to my wrist and I stare at Max’s gift to me, my lovely hand-carved bracelet with the dancing dolphins circling it.
Loneliness chokes my throat.