Maddy looked down at her parents faces, extremely nervous. It wasn't often that her parents told her that they needed to have a serious chat. And it was even more uncommon that they'd keep her from getting to school on a Friday morning, just to talk.
She sat down nervously at the breakfast table, her finger twitching with anxiety. Before her was a spread of her favorite foods, which was another sign that whatever news her parents had, wasn't good. They had gone all out, making pork, steak, and bacon, just for breakfast!
As much as Maddy wanted to dig into the food, she couldn't. Not until she figured out what was going on.
"Mam," she sighed, staring at her mom and dad. "Please just tell us what's going on. I'm almost a wolf now, I can handle it."
Though Maddy still hadn't had her first transformation, she felt that she was no longer a cub. Besides, she would be transforming at the next full moon.
"Madeline," her mom said, and Maddy realized it must be worse than she thought if her mom was using her full name. "We have something that we need to tell you. It's something you should have learned along time ago but-"
"Your mom and I were hoping we'd never need to discuss it with you," her dad interrupted. "Just know that you're probably going to be mad at us, and we will understand. Just try not to get too upset."
"Will you just please tell me," Maddy begged. "You're making me nervous with all this buildup."
"We're very sorry about this, Pet," her mother sighed, reaching for her hand. "The first thing you need to know about is wild wolfbloods."
"Wild wolfbloods?" Maddy exclaimed. "But I thought you said that all the other wolfbloods lived like us! Concealing themselves from the human world."
"The wild wolfbloods do keep themselves concealed from the humans, but they're very different from us," her mom explained. "They live and hunt in the wild, and they have no contact with the human world. In fact they despise it. They hate humans and they also fear them. They feel the same way about us, which makes them very dangerous."
"Is there one here?" Maddy asked. "Is that why you're telling us this?"
She sniffed the air, trying to see if she could pick up any scent that was out of the ordinary, but she found nothing.
"No, they're aren't any wild wolfbloods here," her dad responded, but he and Maddy's mom shared a secretive look. "Just let your mom finish the story."
Maddy frowned, but nodded to her parents, allowing them to continue their story. After all, she was very keen to learn what all this fuss was about.
"When you were about a year old, a pack of wild wolfbloods crossed into our territory," her mom continued. "The pack was too large, to strong for us to drive them out. We tried to reason with their leader, Alric, but he refused to listen. He said that tame wolfbloods didn't deserve these lands."
Maddy stiffened, and let out a growl. She may not run around in the wild, and fear humans, but she was anything but tame. And the thought of her family leaving Stoneybridge made her sick.
"Calm down Maddy," her dad said gently and Maddy took a deep breath.
"We were ready to leave," Maddy's mom said. "I know this is our home, but we didn't want a fight. Not with you, our little cub, at risk. So we tried to escape into the night, but Alric caught us. When he saw you, he claimed that he would take you away. He said we were unfit parents, and that we would break your inner wolf." Here Maddy's mom paused as some tears leaked down her cheeks. "We were desperate to save you, so we made an arrangement."
"Mam," Maddy whispered as fear clenched in her stomach. Her inner wolf was telling her that something was very wrong.
"Pet, I'm so sorry!" her mom cried. "But there was nothing else we could do."
"Mam please," Maddy said, biting her lip. "You're scaring me."
"We made a deal with Alric," her dad said, continuing the story since her mom seemed close to hysterics. "And we never told you about it because we've been trying to find a way to get out of it. We had hoped by the time that Alric was back we could have found a way."
"But you haven't," Maddy said softly. "You haven't found a way out of it, and now Alric is back."
Her dad nodded sadly. "We spoke with him last weekend while you were at Shannon's."
"And what was the deal you made?" Maddy asked, her stomach clenching. "Please, tell me it isn't something bad."
"Alric agreed to leave you here and leave Stoneybridge alone on one condition," her dad said. "That you would be betrothed to one of his own. A wild wolfblood."
Maddy's vision went black as she heard her dad's words. It couldn't be true! She couldn't be...betrothed. She would be spending her life with someone she'd never even met. This couldn't be happening.
Maddy's breathing started speeding up, and she felt her eyes go yellow. She knew she couldn't transform yet, but she was pretty close. She began to hyperventilate as her mind was still whirling.
"Pet," Maddy's mom reached out to her, but Maddy swatted her hand away.
"Betrothed!" Maddy screamed. "How could you do this to us! I thought I had a right to make my own choices in my life."
"We're sorry Madeline," her dad sighed. "We never wanted this for you."
"I can't let this happen," Maddy muttered, almost speaking with herself. "You can't legally betroth me, can you? It's been years since people had arranged marriages here. You can call it off, or I can run away."
"It's not like that Maddy," he mom said sorrowfully. "We've thought of everything. There was an ancient wolfblood ritual that bound you and your betrothed. There's nothing that can undo it now."
"Nothing?" Maddy pleaded, and she felt tears slip down her face as she watching her parents shake their heads.
Maddy couldn't stand it anymore. She couldn't stand being next to the people who had put her in this mess. She dashed out the door, not looking back as she ran towards the forest.
"Maddy!" she heard her mom call, but she didn't falter.
As she ran, her dark brown hair streamed out behind her. The cold morning breeze brushed past her cheeks, making her feel awake. The faster she went, the louder she felt her blood rush in her ears and the more her thoughts fell away. Finally, her mind was blank as she flew past trees and plants.
It wasn't until Maddy was completely out of breath, that she finally slowed down. She fell back against a tree, taking deep, gasping breaths as she tried to calm down.
Though the news her parents had given her was still hanging over her shoulders, she felt much better after her run.
She also felt more determined. As she had ran, her wolf had surged up inside and reminded her who she truly was. She was Maddy Smith, a wolfblood, and she was not going to let her future be decided by her parents or anyone else. Maybe they had accepted her fate, but that didn't mean she had to.
By the time Maddy had run back to her house, she had decided on her plan. Around her parents she would act fine, like she was going along with this ridiculous proposal. But any second she had, she would research and plan, trying to find a way to break free.
Before Maddy even made it to her front door, both of her parents rushed out to greet her.
"Are you alright?" her mom asked, as she pulled her into a hug. "We were so worried, but we knew you needed space."
"I'm fine, Mam," Maddy said through gritted teeth. "I'm just going to go get my things for school. I'm already late enough."
She pulled out of her mom's hug and walked past her dad as she entered the house. She knew her mom and dad would begin talking about her as soon as she left, but she really didn't care. They could talk all they wanted to.
Maddy headed up to her room, and ignored her urge to just curl up in her bed forever. Instead she got dressed for school, and grabbed her things before returning back downstairs.
"Maddy," her dad said, as she walked back into the kitchen. "Your mom and I have been taking, and we've agreed that you don't have to attend school today. We know everything we've told you is a lot to take in, so if you'd feel better staying here, we'll call and say you're sick."
Maddy really wanted to take them up on their offer, but she knew it would be better if she went to school. Right now she needed a distraction, and nothing was more distracting than school drama.
"Thanks Dad, but I'm fine," Maddy said stiffly. She pushed past him and quickly walked to the door.
"There's one more thing you should know," Maddy's mom said, making her freeze. "The boy you're betrothed to...he's coming over for dinner tonight."
Every hair on Maddy's body stood on edge as she heard what her mom said. Her stomach clenched again, and this time she felt that she might actually vomit. She wanted to scream, wanted to yell at her parents for inviting him over, but instead she remained impassive. She let herself go numb, calming down her rage.
"I'll make sure I'm here then," she said coldly, before slamming the door behind her.
Maddy ran to school, but it took her longer than usual, since she was already exhausted from her earlier jog. By the time she got there, the school day was already well in session.
"Maddy Smith," Mr. Jeffries said, and he raised an eyebrow at her as she walked into his classroom. "How nice of you to join us this fine morning."
"My parents will call you later to explain," Maddy blushed. "Our car had a flat tire."
"In that case," Mr. Jeffries responded, "take your seat."
Maddy sighed as she looked around. Her best friends Shannon and Tom were already sharing a desk, so she took a seat in an empty desk behind him.
"Where were you really?" Shannon asked, as soon as Maddy sat down. "You know I can tell when you're lying, Mads."
"Oh, leave her alone Shannon," Tom sighed. "She just got her."
Maddy smiled her thanks at Tom before turning to Shannon. "I'll tell you later, ya? I don't want any more trouble with Jeffries this morning."
Shannon frowned but nodded her agreement, before turning back to face the front of the classroom.
The rest of the hour, and for all of her classes until lunch, Maddy had tried to pay attention. Yet, all she could think about was her problem, and what would be happening that night. Who was this guy she was set to marry? Was he completely wild? Would he hate tame wolfbloods?"
She had already decided that no matter what, she was not going to like this guy. But that didn't stop her curiosity, and her mind from imagining all types of scenarios of how dinner could go.
Finally, lunch rolled around, and Maddy knew she would need a good excuse to get Shannon and Tom off her case. They had both been able to tell that something major was wrong, from the sad look on Maddy's face and from how distracted she had been.
"Spill Mads," Tom commanded, as soon as they took their seats in the cafeteria. "I can't take the suspense any longer."
"It's really nothing," Maddy replied. "I'm just a bit distracted, ya know?"
"Oh come on Maddy," Shannon laughed. "We're your best mates. You know you can't fool us."
"Okay," Maddy sighed, desperately trying to think of a good lie. "It's just that...a family friend is visiting from out of town, and I guess I'm a bit nervous."
"Seriously?" Shannon asked. "You've been worrying all day about meeting a family friend?"
"Give us a break," Maddy defended. "I've never met him before and-"
"Wait," Tom interrupted. "Him? As in a guy?"
"Yeah," Maddy said cautiously. "What about it."
"Nothing," Tom said, a little too quickly. "I was just curious. So is this guy our age?"
Shannon rolled her eyes at Tom, but she seemed interested in the question as well.
"I've never met him," Maddy responded. "But I think so."
She really really hoped that this guy was the same age as her. Not that she had any intention of marrying him, but she wanted to believe that her parents wouldn't have paired her up with someone much older or younger.
"Would you like us to come over as well?" Shannon asked. "So you're not so nervous."
"Thanked Shan," Maddy replied, smiling weakly, "but I'll be fine."
After that, her friends seemed to drop it, though they did give her curious looks throughout the rest of the day. She knew she hadn't completely convinced them, but she hoped that by the time next Monday rolled around, she'd have a better story.
The rest of the day flew by quickly, and soon she found herself approaching her front door. She opened it to the smell of meat, and her senses immediately perked up.
"Maddy," her mom smiled. "Are you feeling any better, Pet?"
"I'm fine, Mam," Maddy said sharply. "I just...do you know anything about this guy?"
"I know quite a bit about him," her mom replied. "I would have told you more this morning, but I didn't want to pile to much on ya."
"Yeah, I guess one shock at a time is bad enough," Maddy sighed.
Her and her mom sat down at the table, as her mom began talking about the wild wolfblood.
"His name is Rhydian," her mom said. "And from what I've heard, he has quite the story."
"What do you mean?" Maddy asked. "Have you met him?"
"No, but Alric was kind enough to let us in on some details," she replied. "First, Rhydian hasn't been raised by the wild wolfbloods his whole life. When he was young, he was found by humans in the forest and was put in the foster care system. It's was only recently that he rejoined his pack."
"But don't the wild wolfbloods hate humans?" Maddy asked. "Wouldn't they hate Rhydian as well?"
"I don't think Alric likes him very much," her mom said thoughtfully. "Which is probably why he's glad to get Rhydian off his hands."
"What do you mean?" Maddy asked, and her mom tensed. "Mam, what do you mean by, 'get Rhydian off his hands?'"
"Like you said, Maddy, too many shocks at once isn't good," her mom said nervously.
"Tell me," Maddy demanded, a slight growl in her voice.
"Oh alright," she sighed. "Rhydian isn't just coming to dinner tonight. He's coming to live in Stoneybridge. He's going to be living with some foster parents, and attend school with you."
"Mam!" Maddy yelled. "Why didn't you tell us this! How could you let another wolfblood live in our territory?"
"I'm just trying to do what's best for you," her mom defended. "I don't want you marrying a boy you just met. I thought if you two could learn to be friends, before your married at eighteen, it might be easier for you."
Maddy had opened her mouth to yell a reply, but she was interrupted by the doorbell. She sniffed the air, and this time she was able to catch a scent. It was definitely a wolfblood, it smelled a lot like her parents, but different in some ways.
"Oh my," Maddy's mom sighed. "That will be him."
"I haven't even changed out of my uniform," Maddy whispered, looking down at her green tie and white shirt. It wasn't that she wanted to impress him, but wolves were proud creatures. She wanted to make sure she put up a strong front when she met him.
"Get the door Maddy," her mom demanded. "I'll get the food."
"Why do I have to get the door?" Maddy whined, but her mother ignored her.
Maddy slowly crept towards the door, trying to stall as long as possible. She clenched her sweaty fists and tried to calm herself. Finally, she reached for the door, and swung it open.