Chapter 23Mature

Afterwards, Alex felt his stomach and caught it rumbling again. The thought of having his steak in his hands right then made him lick his lips, but looking outside, he would have to expose himself to his friends. Even if the truck had stopped most of the sounds of his shifting from reaching them, the looks on their faces as his hands turned into paws was still fresh in his head. 

“Guys,” Alex began. “if you want to, you can drop me off at my house.”

“What about your bike?” Catherine said.

“It’ll be fine.”

When Marcus returned with the first round of their things, Alex heard Nathan bring up what he’d suggested. “If he wants to.” was all Marcus said in response, his tone hinting at frustration or tension. Alex shook the tone off of his own emotions, telling himself it was only because of how sudden all this was. “Here. Need to get our meals, and then we’re out of here.”

While at first expecting Nathan to hand him his things, one of the passenger doors opened and Alex heard a pair of muffled sounds. Then footsteps before another door opened.

“You sure you’re OK?” Nathan said into the bed.

“Very, and I heard.” Alex replied before his friend closed the tailgate.

Hoping that a drive would lessen the unease between everyone, he tried to relax as they went, eagerly awaiting being able to get out. With the tailgate closed, the bed again felt more like a cage. Not helped by the stops and turns that occurred when he couldn’t see them, or how little room there was between the floor and cover. Smelling gas at several stops the truck made, a mental roadmap formed in his head.

Eventually, he felt the truck go up a small incline after hitting a bump. Taking a sniff of the air again, burning charcoal and fresh cut grass were present. A good sign they were in his neighborhood.

“We’re clear out here, man.” Nathan said once the tailgate was down again.

“Thanks.” Kicking his discarded clothing away, Alex crawled over to the opening, peeking his head out first. Without a bright moon above them, or the streetlight nearby working, the area was very dim, illuminated mostly by the light reflecting in his eyes.

Figuring his friends were waiting for him to get out, Alex grabbed the edge of the truck and with a quick tug, slid himself out. Landing on his rear paws and left front to a welcome sense of freedom, he was able to catch a glimpse under the truck. Nathan was standing nearby; Marcus and Catherine were still inside. The truck his father owned wasn’t there.

“You guys OK?” Alex asked, still crouching.

“Yeah,” Nathan began. “but I won’t lie. I’m still shaking a bit.”

Alex sighed. “I’m sorry, man.” While he was trying to think of what to say next, a quick breeze blew over him, along with the scents of meat and spices. “You have my steak?”

“Right here.”

A crinkling sound of parchment paper came to Alex’s ears after that. He licked his teeth in response, checking to make sure his stomach wasn’t starting to gurgle. Nothing, even though he felt drained inside. Rather than replying however, Alex slowly stood up and peered over the bed cover.

Nathan was standing on the left side of the truck, close to the open passenger door. His lips were closed, but he saw his throat bulge with a swallow. Or something close to that. Inside the truck, Catherine was looking at him with a hand covering her mouth, curled instead of flat like she was thinking. If she was, her eyes betrayed that. Marcus however was trying his best to look calm. Or maybe he was already.

The End

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