"I love you too. One day…I'm going to find you, Maddy." Maddy's eyes filled with tears. She stubbornly blinked them back as Rhydian held her.
"We'll find each other," she said, and though her heart felt like breaking, deep down Maddy held out hope that it was a promise they could keep.
Three Months Later…
Chapter 1 - The Unspoken Ultimatum
Maddy flung her rucksack on the kitchen countertop on her way upstairs, tossing herself face-up on the bed in her disaster zone of a room. She closed her eyes but it was too late. The sting of tears was already there. She sniffled and tried to choke back the sob that threatened to burst out. She rolled onto her side, trying to even out her breathing.
All I need is Mum and Dad seeing me like this again. Come on, Maddy, turn off the sobfest. It was no use talking herself into a state of mind she couldn't feel though, and deep down she knew it. Her halting breaths caught between sobs and newly formed tears, and the wolfblood girl could only think of Stoneybridge, her lost home, the people there, the pack that she'd lost. Dear friends Jana, Tom and Shannon had been ripped out of her life. Rhydian too—the boy she'd grown to love.
Maddy cried until she fell asleep, drained and exhausted. She wasn't even aware when Emma came in, saw her in her school uniform with her shoes still on, and quietly took them off before tucking the blanket around Maddy and closing the door.
An hour passed, almost two. Groggily Maddy opened her eyes and saw the dusky red glint of the waning sun peeking through her window. She heard voices downstairs and her wolfblood hearing snapped to full alertness, bringing the rest of her consciousness with it. She stayed quieter and stiller than death. Listening.
"You don't think I know that Emma?" Her dad's voice. Agitated…on the way to angry.
"Dan, you know this isn't healthy. The first few weeks I expected it. We all had trouble adjusting and I knew Maddy would take this especially hard."
"Of course she does! She still blames herself for what happened with Dr. Whitewood." The sting of self-accusation punctured Maddy like a hot knife.
It WAS my fault though she thought fiercely. If I'd just left Dr. Whitewood alone, if I hadn't stolen the old wolfblood bones from the dig site, then none of this would have happened! Maddy tried to hold back fresh tears, succeeding just barely. It was still a raw wound in her memory - their flight from England after the forensic archeologist Dr. Mira Whitewood had taken that fateful DNA sample. The damning evidence which had proven to Whitewood that Maddy and her parents weren't quite human. They had destroyed the evidence and disappeared to keep Dr. Whitewood from ever proving the existence of the wolfblood race, what human mythology called 'werewolves.' Would it be enough though? Would anything, in the end, given modern tech and human curiosity?
More and more it seemed to Maddy that making attachments was all so much doomed effort. Why make friends, why care about other people when you would just have to leave them sooner or later? When would the next threat to the closely-held secret of their wolfblood identity rear its horrific head and force them to go on the run?
Maddy just had more and more trouble seeing a point to an existence based on constant fear. She tried to listen more closely as her parents talked downstairs in the kitchen. Their anxiety drifted up to her like invisible smoke.
"What do you want me to do, Emma? I've tried talking to her. I've tried comforting her every way I know how."
Emma sighed, and Maddy's throat caught. It hurt to hear the pessimism in her dad's voice.
"I know you have. We both have," Emma said with a sigh even bigger than the last. "I just wish I didn't feel so helpless. I wish I didn't feel like she was going through all of this completely on her own. I'd hoped that she would start making some friends at the new school by now, that it would help her get through the worst of this. It's been three months, Daniel. Three months! She hardly talks to anybody."
Maddy rubbed at her face, which was still a little sticky from her air-dried tears. She took a deep breath. You can do this. Be strong for Mum and Dad. Be strong for your pack. It was true, even though her friends and the boy she loved were an ocean away, she still had her parents and they were her pack. She didn't want to let them down. That was the one thing still propelling her, making her try at the new school, making her at least get by going on fumes. She did yearn to do more than that. Part of her wanted to snap out of it, to pick herself back up…and just didn't know how.
The wolfblood girl quietly sat up, her hearing still hyper-vigilant.
"What would you have us do? Hire a psychologist?"
"If it would help, yes. But no…I'm not arguing for anything so drastic. I just want our daughter to show some sign of improvement. I'll take anything at this point. Interest in a new club, some extracurricular school activity—that would be a start. Inviting a new friend over, for goodness' sake. These aren't monumental goals but I think they would put my fears at ease."
"Agreed. So question number two - how do we make that happen?"
Maddy's eyes narrowed as she waited for the other shoe to drop, heard her mum's reply laced with that iron determination that all alpha females were so capable of.
"Maddy has homework from school, does she not? She manages to keep up with it all right, even in her dejected frame of mind. Let's give her some homework of our own. We're her parents. We can do that surely."
"Homework?" Maddy felt a surge of relief at the skepticism in her dad's tone, but her hope quickly burst.
"Yes, homework. She has to join one school club and attend its events. Surely she can do that."
"Emma, I'm not sure this is going to accomplish what you think it will…."
Maddy could practically hear Emma bristle, strange as it seemed. Sometimes one pack member could just sense another pack member's emotions or movements when they were near.
"What do we have to lose, Daniel? Look, if you don't feel comfortable with it I'll drive her to all the club's events myself and make sure she goes properly. You don't have to do anything except for back me up on this, Mister. Do we have a deal?"
There it is Maddy thought. Her mum's alpha personality was indeed firing on all cylinders now. Maddy wracked her brain for a way to avoid or deflect her mum's interference. She just needed her space….So why couldn't her mum just understand that? She swiped at her eyes a few more times and slowly eased her feet to the floor. She was just starting to walk into the upstairs hallway when she heard her dad surrender to her mum's not-so-brilliant suggestion.
"OK Emma. You're right, we may as well try." There was a soft chuckle. "But I'm letting you break the news to Maddy, and when you do I'll be elsewhere."
Ugh. I can't believe this is happening. Maddy had almost resolved to see which of the clubs at school had the fewest events and involved the least amount of effort when another idea surged to the forefront, a glimmer of something bordering on hope. A desperate gambit… but well worth considering.
Joining some lame club? No way. I'm not going down without a fight. Maddy had learned even as a cub that to win a battle with her parents, especially when they presented a united front, usually called for one of two strategies. Avoidance or prevention.
Maddy made a show of slowly walking down the stairs, making as much noise as possible as she sleepily rubbed at her eyes. She yawned just to make it extra convincing, and then sat down at the kitchen table before going bolt upright in her seat.
Her parents turned. Emma's eyebrows quirked up and Daniel gave his daughter his patented brow-furrow.
"I forgot, I was supposed to go over to study with one of my classmates tonight. We have a test in sociology next week. Can you drive me? I don't want to be late." Maddy wanted to direct the question to her dad, but that might give her away that she'd heard them talking.
Emma and Daniel exchanged a look. Emma nodded and Maddy's heart sank. "Okay Maddy, I'll get my keys." She was already scooping them up out of the basket by the front door, swinging it open as Maddy slung her rucksack over her shoulder and rushed outside.
Think…think fast. She had thrown this plan into motion immediately because she didn't want her mum broaching the 'parental homework' idea, and that left one big problem.
"So, where are we going? Who are you studying with tonight?"
Maddy couldn't remember most of her classmates' names, let alone where they lived, at least not for a spur-of-the-moment lie that needed to sound convincing, so instead the wolfblood girl blurted out the first name that came to mind.
"Jared Aimesley. I forget the address. Can you just look it up on the GPS?" Immediately Maddy wanted to smack herself. Jared Aimsley! She had just named one of the most popular boys at school. A natural athlete, girls swooned over him in numbers beyond what she could count on her two hands and oh, by the way, he also had a brain cell or two beyond the typical sport-obsessed boy. If the goal was to stay under the radar and create a fake friend to make her mum feel better, Jared Aimesley was probably the worst possible choice.
Maddy suppressed the urge to sigh as the cobalt-blue SUV took a hairpin curve and then headed south toward the valley. The roads hugging the forest-blanketed Canadian hillsides were solidly paved but also narrow. Maddy tried to stare out the window at the flashing blur of the safety rail as her mum drove, content to drift off inside her own head. They had maybe a minute or so of blissful quiet before Emma began.
"Maddy, we need to talk." Uhoh. Evasive action.
"Mum, can this wait? I'm nervous about this test and I'm not sure who else Jared is bringing over to study with us tonight and…look, I just really need to focus, OK?"
She gave her mum a beseeching look. There was a pause, and then Emma refastened her attention to the road ahead.
Nailed it. Yes! So far the avoidance tactic was working. Maddy turned back to her mum, deciding to follow up her victory with a little redirection.
"Are you and Dad happy here?"
Emma gave her daughter a look, one alpha female to another. "Of course we're not 'happy' here Maddy, but we are trying to make the most of it." She didn't say it but Maddy heard it in her mum's tone. You should be doing the same young lady! Maddy didn't trust herself to speak. The only sentiments bubbling to the surface at the moment were angry retorts or sarcastic comments, and she was pretty sure that either one would bring her another helping of 'Maddy we need to talk.'
She bit her lip. Her mum patted her hand. "I know you miss Rhydian and all your friends, pet, but this is a chance for a fresh start too. Can you look at this at least a little bit as an opportunity? It can't hurt you to, can it? I'm glad you're studying with some of the other kids. Tell me more about this young man…this Jared."
I'd love to, but I haven't met him yet. Maddy swallowed, desperate to steer the conversation anywhere but there. She threw her head back against the headrest and grumbled.
"I don't want to play twenty-two questions now. Can you just get us there?" She closed her eyes, pretending to fall asleep. Fortunately the tactic worked. In fact it worked a little too well, the rhythmic motion of the car soon putting the wolfblood girl under the spell of a nap—and with it a disturbing dream.
~End of Chapter 1~