“The bathroom is right there, and the towels are in the second cabinet from the top. If you need anything else, let me know.”
“Thank you,” Tiffany says. On the way home, the most I got out of her was that she’s seventeen and a senior in high school. She didn’t offer anything else so I didn’t pressure her to. She told me several times that I don’t have to do this, but I do. I couldn’t have left her there knowing she didn’t have a home to go back to.
“Are you sure you want to do this? We don’t know her,” Logan says, the two of us in the living room.
“Yes. She has nowhere else to go.”
“Do we really know that for sure?”
I squint at her. “What do you mean?”
“When I asked her about her parents and her home and stuff, her heart rate sped up,” Logan says.
“Meaning she’s lying.” I put my hands on my waist and look around the room, trying to comprehend what she said. It does sound suspicious, but that doesn’t mean she’s a bad person or out to get us. She was probably just nervous. I believe her.
“Maybe she was just nervous, Logan.”
“Nervous because she’s lying.”
I close my eyes. “Let’s just give her the benefit of the doubt, okay? She doesn’t have to stay here forever.”
“Fine. But she’s sleeping in your room.”
I give Tiffany some clothes of mine to wear, but she’s a lot taller than me so even my biggest clothes are a little short on her. The jeans she's wearing stop around her ankles.
I make us dinner, which is gone within a few minutes, and show Tiffany my room. I tell her to make herself at home–probably a bad choice of words–and I give her the TV remote to mess with. She seems content so I head back into the living room with Logan, plopping down on the couch next to her.
“You realize we weren’t supposed to stay here alone, right?” Logan says.
“Yeah,” I say, “but we can’t just take her with us to someone else’s house, and we can’t leave her here alone. Besides, I really doubt anything is going to happen in this one night.”
“I guess so,” she says, turning back to the TV, before remembering something else. “Hey, whenever you two wake up, wake me up, too. I’m going to the hospital to see Mom again in the morning.”
“Okay. She’ll probably have to get up for school so we can get up then, too. I’ll go with you.” She nods and I try to stay in there and watch TV with her, but I can’t. I can’t get Elijah’s bruise and the behavior from his dad out of my head. In a way, it all makes sense now. Why Elijah always wears long-sleeve shirts, the cryptic things he says sometimes, why he’s never let me meet his father, why Kai got out so fast after high school. I can’t help but feel guilty. I didn’t pay enough attention. I should’ve known something was wrong, but I ignored all the warning signs he gave me and it’s my fault it’s gone on as long as it has. I can’t imagine what he’s been through.
Besides that, everything else that has happened keeps repeating in my head. The car wreck with the man–Marcus–walking toward me, that day in the alley, Luke and I fighting over the gun. Diana bleeding out on the porch. I can still see it happening in front of me: the torn skin, the blood pouring from the slashes down her neck, seeping into her clothes and onto the porch steps and floor. I can smell the metallic scent wafting up my nose and suddenly I can’t just sit in this chair anymore.
I get up and race down the hall and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. My body heaves over the toilet until it eventually empties itself, throwing everything up. I flop onto the ground, covering my eyes and trying to get the picture of her out of my head. I do, but then it’s replaced with the car wreck. Flipping, screaming, seeing my family bloody and injured, eventually coming to a halt. Then I replace that memory of Mom at the hospital, weak and crying in bed. I can’t sit here any longer. If I do, I could go on like this all night. Instead, I force myself up, dart into my room to grab a hoodie, and go back to the living room. I notice Tiffany has already fallen asleep on my bed, but I ignore her.
“I’m going for a run. I’ll be back later.”
“Whoa, wait,” Logan says, getting to her feet. “Are you sure your legs are ready for that?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m obviously not normal, and my legs aren’t either. If they were, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve done so far. So, I’m going for a run. I haven’t done it in years.”
“Okay, well where are you going, at least?”
“I don’t know. I’ll be back. Bye.”
“Julia–” I fly out the door before she can finish. I just needed out of there. It’s so closed in and I needed to clear my head, think about something else. Plus, I want to run so badly, and, like I said, I haven’t done it in years. What I said was true: had Marcus not bitten me I would’ve never recovered so quickly. Actually, I might not have recovered at all. Now my legs feel like they were never paralyzed at all. I can run again. It’s hard to think that before yesterday, I was condemned to a life of being in a wheelchair, but now I have an infinite number of steps in front of me. I can run again.
I yank my hoodie on over my head and take off, wanting only to feel my legs burn, feel my heart beating against my chest. No thoughts, just the world around me. My footsteps pound against the sidewalk and I can feel my legs stretching out more and more, until I reach a full sprint. I’m working muscles I haven’t worked since I was seven. I’m not sure where I’m going, probably nowhere at all, just running. At least that’s what I think before I come to a stop in front of Elijah’s house.
I stand there and stare at it for a moment, then I suddenly find myself on their porch, knocking on the front door. It’s not too late, I think. The sun is already down, but it’s only around seven or eight. A tall guy with short, honey-brown hair and and chocolate-brown eyes answers the door. At first, I’m extremely confused as to who this is, but when I really stare at him, I realize he has the same nose as Elijah. This must be Kai. He’s a lot . . he’s different from what I imagined.
“Who are you?” he asks. His voice is brassy, reminding me of trumpets.
“I’m Julia,” I breathe, “Elijah’s girlfriend. Is he here?”
“Julia . . .weren’t you in a wheelchair?”
“Yep. You missed some stuff. Kai, right?”
“Yeah,” he says. He glances back then faces me again. “Look, we weren’t really expecting anyone and Marshall’s home right now, so just wait here and I’ll go get him.” He walks away and I just stand there awkwardly, not knowing why I even came here in the first place. However, I know that something brought me here and I’m not quite ready to go home yet, so I wait for him to come back.
I peer into the house and see Milton doing something in the living room, which is plenty visible from the doorway. He sees me and waves. “Julia?” He steps toward me a few steps, sees that it’s really me, then smiles and gets excited. “Hey! Come here, I want to show you something.” He grabs my hand and drags me inside before I can object. I reach out and shut the door on the way in as he continues to pull me into the living room.
“Who are you?” asks a gruff voice from behind me. I spin around, finding their dad standing there, and for the first time I have a close-up view of him. His stomach carries an extra 15-20 pounds, and his face is hardened by many wrinkles. His eyes are the same color as Kai’s, but . . they’re different somehow. Lacking something. No, not lacking, it has something that Kai’s doesn’t. Hate. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. They’re also bloodshot, like he’s been drinking, with dark circles underneath. He reeks of alcohol. If you looked up middle-aged drunk in the dictionary, this would be the picture you’d find.
Milton lets go of my hand and I raise both of them beside my waist defensively. “Sorry. I’m Julia, Elijah’s girlfriend. I didn’t mean to come in unannounced. M–” I start to say that Milton dragged me in, then decide I better not bring him into this. Something tells me he’ll be angry about it later.
Elijah and Kai walk in from the hallway, Elijah’s eyes falling on his father and me. “Juliana, what are you doing?”
His dad looks between us, then stays on me. “Are you staying for dinner?” he asks.
“Um . . no, I already ate. Thanks. I just need to talk to Elijah, Mr. Galloway.”
Once again, he looks between us. “Go ahead, then. But I want to talk to you before you leave. Stay awhile.”
“All right, um, thanks, I’m just gonna–” I point toward Elijah and Kai, then follow them down the hallway and into Elijah’s room, holding Milton’s hand the whole way.
“What are you doing here? When did you even get out of the hospital?” Elijah asks.
“You were in the hospital?” Kai says, his voice full of surprise.
I look at him. “Yes. That’s what happens when you drop out of someone’s life. Things keep going, even if you aren’t there to see it.” He looks taken aback from what I said.
“Julia–” Elijah starts.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I say, waving my hands. I glance back at Kai. “I’m glad you’re back. I am. But I don’t think you realize how worried he was about you while you were gone. You didn’t call for months–”
“Julia,” Elijah interrupts. “Why are you here? Is something wrong?” I stop speaking and gaze into his eyes, breathing heavily. My anger is getting the best of me, I know that, but he just makes me–
“Hold up,” Kai says, stepping forward. He furrows his brows at me. “Did your eyes just glow?”
“What? No. Did yours?” I say. Smooth, Jules.
He stares at me, then does something so bizarre I don’t even know how to react: he leans forward and sniffs me.
“You’re a werewolf,” he says, whispering the last word only loud enough for me to hear.
“She's a what?” Elijah asks, super confused and looking between us.
“So are you,” I whisper, staring at Kai. That’s the only explanation for him sniffing me, the only way he could know what I am. When did this happen?
“Will one of you please tell me what’s going on?” Elijah asks, though neither of us move to say anything.
I’m about to speak up when I hear someone yell from across the hall. “Elijah! Come here!”
Elijah closes his eyes and sighs, then drops his head. “I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Kai says, his eyes still locked on mine. Elijah walks out, shutting the door behind him.
“Is there a reason you seem to have some kind of animosity toward me?” Kai asks.
I grit my teeth to keep from yelling. “Because you left. You left them both here, and that’s bad enough as it is, but now that I know about your dad–”
“My dad? Did–did he tell you something?”
“No,” I say. “But I notice things with him. Bruises. How I’ve never met his dad. Some weird things he says at times. And if I’m right, it’s not happening any longer.
He stares at me. “How long have you been dating?”
“Long enough to know that he deserves better than the both of you.”
“Are you–are you in love with him?”
I tilt my head and squint my eyes, confused by why he’s asking me this. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
He leans back a little, seeming to relax. “Huh.”
“What? Is there something wrong with that?” I demand, my anger spiking again.
“No, no, of course not. It’s just, when I first saw you I didn’t expect you to be like this.
I furrow my brows at him. “What–”
“Why are you fighting?” Milton asks, finally speaking up.
“We’re not fighting,” Kai says.
I look at him. “Yes, we are.” We hold the stare for a long time, neither one of wanting to give in, but I eventually look away to talk to Milton. “I’m sorry, Milton.” I really don’t like fighting in front of him.
“It’s okay. I’m used to people fighting,” he says. Ouch. That one hit where it hurts.
“Let’s just...just talk, okay?” I say, going back to Kai. “Am I right about your dad?”
“You’ll–” The door swings open, interrupting him. It’s Elijah.
“Hey. Dad wants us all in the kitchen and he wants you to stay for dinner, Juliana. Whether you eat or not. But you obviously don’t have to. It might be better if you go home.”
I swallow. I should be getting home, since I left Logan with Tiffany and said I’d be back, but this seems much more important. I need to know what exactly is going on with their family, and I still haven’t gotten to talk to Elijah about it. This could be the night I find out everything. I can’t just leave. “No, no, I’m staying,” I say.
Elijah looks worried. “Okay, just...be careful what you say. Both of you,” he adds, glaring at Kai.
We follow him into the kitchen, where I see his dad sitting at the far side of the table, his plate already filled with food. The rest of the table has been set with silverware, but even if I was hungry, I wouldn’t be able to eat because I’m so nervous. The silence seems louder than anything else as I sit down a space away from their dad, and wait as they get their food.
Kai sits across from me, Milton sits next to me, and, after sitting down a glass of water for me, Elijah sits down on the other side of me, next to his dad. Between us.
“So,” Mr. Galloway says, while chewing some kind of meat, possibly steak. “I heard that you were in a wheelchair. I don’t see no wheelchair.”
“Well, after I was in a car wreck, my spine was knocked around pretty bad and the doctors found a way to fix it afterward. It got knocked into a better position.” That’s a terrible lie, I know, but it was the best I could do on the spot. Hopefully, he knows nothing about anatomy.
“Really,” he says bluntly. I grab my glass and drink the water before he can ask me another question. I can feel his eyes on me.
We sit in an awkward but welcoming moment of silence, until he interrupts by saying, “You’re not as pretty as Elijah said.” He takes me by surprise so much that I choke on my water.
“Dad,” Elijah says. I cough some more and eventually get it down my throat.
“So, what do you do, Julia? Do you have a job? Do you do anything?” Mr. Galloway asks.
“Dad, stop it,” Elijah hisses.
His dad’s anger turns on him. “Don’t talk to me that way, boy.” Now he’s starting to piss me off. Not because of the personal insults, but because of how he’s treating Elijah. I need a moment alone to calm down before I do something I’ll regret.
“Do you have a bathroom?” I ask Elijah.
“Of course we have a bathroom,” Mr. Galloway says. “What house doesn’t have a bathroom?” I clench my jaw to keep from spitting out, I wasn’t talking to you.
“It’s down the hall, last door on the right,” Kai intervenes.
“Thank you,” I say, and shoot daggers at Elijah’s dad as I get up. He glares right back. I dart into the bathroom, immediately shutting the door and gripping the sink. I can feel my heart racing and my hands feel tingly. Then, I hear scratching on the sides of the sink and open my eyes to see that claws have literally come out of my fingertips, rubbing against the sink. My head shoots up and I look into the round wall mirror, but instead of my blue eyes reflecting back, I see glowing green ones. Just like Logan’s. No, not right now, not right now.
Breathing heavily, I grip the sink until my fingers turn white and I try to calm down. I close my eyes, and, try as might not to, I feel teeth pierce against my lips. One look in the mirror reveals that I’ve completely shifted over now. My teeth have drawn out and my ears elongated into a point, along with my green eyes and clawed hands. I can’t stop it.
“Julia,” Kai’s voice says as he knocks on the door. “Are you alright?”
I’m holding onto the sink like it’s a life raft but I still try to speak. “I–I can’t–” I struggle to get anything out. Kai opens the door, considering I didn’t lock it, and finds me standing there. His eyes widen and he quickly shuts the door behind him. I feel his hand on my shoulder.
“Julia. Julia, breathe. You need to shift back.”
“I–I can’t,” I say between breaths. “I don’t know how.”
“Okay, um . . god, I don’t know how to do this,” he says.
“Just say something,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Okay. Okay, okay, okay,” he says, getting it together. “Just listen to me. You need to focus on something, anything. Like your heartbeat. Try slowing it down. If you can slow it down, you’ll be able to shift back.” I do as he says and listen to my heart beating, but I can’t make it slow down. I need something else to think about.
“Keep...talking,” I say. “That helps.”
“Okay, what do you want me to talk about?”
Is he seriously worried about the subject right now?
“Anything.” I keep my eyes locked on the sink below me, surprised it hasn’t cracked yet.
“Um...okay. I’ll tell you why I left then," he says slowly. "I got bit, and I knew if I stayed, I would kill Marshall, and if I took Elijah and Milton with me, I might’ve killed them. I needed to be alone and learn how to control myself. It took me a lot longer than expected, and I didn’t want to come back until I completely trusted myself not to hurt them.” By the time he gets to the end, my heart rate has slowed down some.
“Um....well, you’re exactly right about Marshall. After our mom died, he got into drinking, and with the drinking came the beating. Now that I’m safe to be around, I came back for Elijah and Milton and I’m getting them out of here–”
“No, something else, something else,” I say. I’m hyperventilating now. That made it much worse.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t focus on my voice, maybe just think about someone you love. Someone who’s not connected to any bad memories.”
Almost everyone in my life is connected to bad memories, but I eventually settle on my dad, along with thinking about what Kai said. How he left because he was afraid he’d hurt his family, and finally, finally my heart slows down enough for my claws to go back in. When I check myself in the mirror, I’ve gone back to normal, my blue eyes staring back.
Well, if I wasn't sure I was a werewolf before, I'm sure now.
My breathing starts leveling out and I lean against the wall behind me, sliding down to the floor. For the first time, I notice how tiny the room is.
“Thank you,” I say. I rub my face in my hands. Kai sits down in front of me, crossing his legs.
“Can you control it now?”
“Yeah, I–I think so. I just got a little angry.”
“Yeah,” he scoffs. “A little.”
A laugh a little at that and bring my eyes up to his. “All that stuff you said–is all that true?”
He gulps. “Yeah,” he practically whispers, his eyes averted to the floor. “I–” A loud crash interrupts him, coming from the kitchen. We shoot to our feet and race into the hallway, where I can see Milton standing at the edge of the kitchen from here. Right on Kai’s heels, I run to Milton, freezing when I see what it is he’s staring at. Elijah.
Mr. Galloway has Elijah by the throat, slammed against the kitchen divider. Elijah is turning red in the face and tearing at his dad's hands with no luck. He's choking.