Upside Down: Jared's Story
"You look tense for your first day back. Are you nervous?" Paul asked me as we pulled into the school parking lot.
I briefly considered lying to him, but I knew he'd find out the truth tonight. When we're in wolf shape there are no secrets. No privacy. I may never get used to sharing my thoughts with the pack. I decided to tell a half-truth.
"Nervous…about phasing in class? Nah," I shrugged.
"It'd sure shake up history, wouldn't it?" he laughed. "That class is so boring, I think Mr. Hughes could fall asleep during his own lecture!"
I chuckled with him as we slung our bags over our shoulders and walked toward the school. As I pulled open the heavy door for our building, I saw my reflection in the glass. My hair is cropped short, no more ponytail. The earring I sported two weeks ago is gone too. Grudgingly I changed my "rebellious hottie" look to "clean-cut werewolf". But those were exactly the changes that the beast inside of me demanded.
Two weeks ago my seemingly perfect life turned upside down. I phased into a werewolf. At the time, I thought I was having a nightmare. Nothing so terrifying, so strange could happen in real life. But it could. And it did. Now my perceptions of reality resemble an amusement park mirror. Distortion is the norm. Superstition and myth are now true. The absurd and the unbelievable are commonplace. Sometimes, I wonder which way is up!
But it wasn't my haircut or even the possibility of phasing in public that had my stomach in knots this morning. Paul had been right. I was nervous…about her. Courtney. I had just dumped the most popular and beautiful girl in school. And she was going to make my life miserable because of it.
Paul and I passed her in the hall as she flirted with some senior guy. Her eyes widened as she took in my shortened hair. And then it came, like I knew it would. She snickered. And soon she had everyone within earshot doing the same thing. We ignored them and kept walking.
"Dude, don't worry about her," Paul reassured me. "Her gossip is vicious, but it'll die down in a few days…or weeks…"
I rolled my eyes. "I know, I know. Let's just get to class, okay?"
I didn't want to talk about her. Like my hair and earring, my dating career had become another casualty in my overturned life, another sacrifice for the monster within. No girlfriends. That was the rule, unless you were like Sam, and had imprinted on someone. I shuddered at the possibilities. Courtney may not have been my smartest choice for a girlfriend, but at least she was MY choice. I don't want some mystical werewolf instinct to choose my next one.
My next girlfriend? I smiled to myself. Old habits die hard.
No girls…for now, I sighed. Actually, with the way Courtney is acting, bachelorhood is sounding better all the time. I think I can stand being a single guy for a while.
Paul's elbow in my side brought me to a stop. I followed his stare to a gangly teenager laughing with his short friend across the hall.
"Black," Paul whispered.
Ah, the famous Jacob Black. Sam and Paul have told me about this kid. Poor guy. There's no way he can escape this werewolf thing, not with his genes. He hasn't got a chance. His life is about to be turned upside down, just like mine.
As if he had heard my thoughts, Jacob looked up at me and then at Paul. The laughter on his face died and his eyes narrowed slightly. He murmured something to his friend, who glanced uneasily over his shoulder at us. Then they turned and walked away.
I shook my head and followed Paul into our classroom.
I ignored the stares, the questions and the comments and dropped into my seat. It was going to be a long day. Maybe too long, I decided, as I heard Courtney's laugh cut across the room. I felt the sidelong glances of her admirers on me. I wanted to glare back, to challenge them, to make some sarcastic remark…but I didn't trust my control. Not yet.
I could hear her words, the lies falling from her lips…taunting me…
My heart began to hammer in my chest.
Why can't she just leave me alone? It's over. Why does she have to do this? I should--
A feather of heat raced up my spine and a tremor washed over me.
My eyes shut and I clenched my fists. I concentrated on keeping my emotions calm. Breathe slowly, I reminded myself. I willed my heart to beat slower. I tuned out the rude voices. Inhale. Exhale. Gradually, and with great effort, I relaxed my fists and opened my eyes. I was back in control.
Luckily, Courtney will never know how much of a monster I really am.
At that moment, the bell rang and everyone started taking their seats. Mr. Hughes huffed in, dripping wet and lugging his briefcase. His asthmatic voice began wheezing out information about our upcoming exam, before his raincoat was even off. I groaned to myself. Two weeks was not near enough time away from this class!
I gritted my teeth and started rummaging through my bag for a something to write with. But I couldn't find anything, not even a pencil stub. A quiet curse of frustration escaped my lips. I tried to catch Paul's eye, but he wasn't paying attention to me. Great! I'm already behind in this class, and now I can't even take notes.
Desperate, I turned to the girl next to me.
"Psst. Hey, Kim," I whispered.
At first I thought she hadn't heard me. She didn't move. Then her eyes closed and the strangest look crossed her face. Was she ignoring me? Was she sick? I couldn't tell. But I didn't really care. Kim's a straight "A" student and always comes to class prepared. She had to have an extra pen handy.
Mr. Hughes' breathy voice muffled as he turned to write on the board. With his back to us, I figured it was safe to talk to Kim, again.
Tapping her on the arm I asked, "Kim, do you have an extra pen that I could…"
I never got to finish my sentence, because she turned and looked at me. The moment her eyes met mine, everything around us disappeared. The classroom, the students, and Mr. Hughes faded into oblivion. I was aware only of her. Kim.
My life, which had been turned upside down, suddenly righted itself. It was disorienting, yet thrilling. Looking into her face, I knew, somehow, I knew that she was the one. She would become my world, my whole reason for existing.
Her cheeks were turning red. Was she blushing? Did she feel it too? Does she know?
She dropped her head and turned away.
No! Don't look away. I want to see your eyes, your face. Please.
She thrust a pen at me, keeping her head down. A pen? Why…I didn't want a pen.
I wanted her eyes on me. I wanted to see her smile, at me. I wanted to hear her voice, speak my name.
Slowly, I reached out and wrapped my hand around hers. It was soft and small inside mine.
Would she have me?
Hesitatingly, she turned. Her eyes were glistening. Tears? Oh please, let them be happy tears!
"Thank you…Kim," I whispered, letting her sweet name linger on my tongue. I smiled and gently squeezed her hand.
"You're welcome, Jared."