Disclaimer: I don't own Virals! All rights belong to Kathy Reichs. Thank you so much for giving us this amaaazing series!
I awoke to my alarm screeching at me from my iPhone. I tapped at the screen quickly, turning off the loud noise. I rolled out of bed, blinking furiously. It was eight in the morning, and the boys and I had decided to spend the first day of summer together. The summer stretched out before us like a fat and lazy cat, full of endless possibilities and laziness.
I stumbled into the bathroom and blinked at myself blearily in the mirror. I had pale skin with light freckles, bright green eyes, and wild red hair. I patted at it, disgruntled. My hair was tangled and stuck up wildly.
I stripped and stepped into the shower; the water was crisp and cool, quickly waking me from my stupor. I scrubbed myself and detangled my hair nimbly with thin fingers. I shut off the water and stepped out, toweling hastily. I brushed my hair quickly and wound it up into a tall, messy-bun. I brushed my teeth and grimaced at myself in the mirror.
I retreated into my room, tossing my pajamas on the floor. I'd put them in the hamper later. I rifled through my drawers, pulling out a swimsuit. It was one Whitney, or the 'she-devil', had gotten me. She was fond of buying me flashy, girly bikinis when I preferred my plain one-pieces. I was feeling more adventurous today and the suit I selected was a plain navy bikini with ample coverage and a sporty look. It was more Tory Brennan than the sparkly, pink, ruffled disasters that that looked more ready for lounging by a pool than for actual swimming.
I pulled out a soft gray V-neck tee from my closet and my favorite pair of denim shorts. I got dressed quickly, lacing up my new black Pumas. They were sleek and good for running, I noted. I was thankful when Kit got them for me. Whitney still insisted on bedazzled sandals. I was positive that I couldn't run from armed conspirators in them. I needed to be prepared.
Ben, Shelton, Hi, and I made up a pack- the Virals. Our DNA had been mutated by an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that we caught saving our wolf-dog, Cooper. We were rewarded for our efforts with 'flaring' powers that heightened our senses, granted us inhuman speed and strength, and gave me the ability to read the pack's thoughts. All evidence included, I seemed to be the pack leader, the Alpha. I wasn't sure how I felt about it.
I threw a towel, water bottle, sunscreen, and my iPhone into a plain bag and trudged down the stairs. The pack had agreed on meeting at the bunker at a quarter to nine and I didn't want to be too late.
Downstairs, Kit was watching Whitney make breakfast. I wrinkled my nose; she was here awfully early. Kit still looked sleepy, while Whitney was in here full outfit and makeup. I chose to ignore them, almost reaching the door before a voice called out behind me. I froze.
"Hey, Tory!" Whitney chirped. I gritted my teeth and turned slowly. She was smiling at me curiously. I nodded at her in reply.
"I got you some things! Oh, and don't you want any breakfast? I'm making blueberry pancakes!" She used the fork in her hand to wave at a bag on the counter.
I walked over to it and picked it up reluctantly. I looked inside and recoiled. It was makeup. Makeup took time and energy and got in the way. Since when did I need makeup? I forced a cold smile onto my face and looked at Whitney. She beamed.
"I know you're probably going to go hang out with those boys," she began, shooting me a disapproving look. I fought down a wave of annoyance. "But let me put some makeup on you beforehand! You'll look so cute!"
I shook my head wildly. "No! No makeup!" I shouted, too loud. Whitney pouted and looked to Kit. He tried to look at me sternly.
"Tory," he started. "Please be nice. Whitney got you these things, er, and it would be nice of you. Girl bonding…" He looked inexplicably uncomfortable. I glared back.
Whitney snatched the bag out of my hands, knowing she had won. It was unfair- they had ganged up on me again. "What do you say?! Eye shadow, blush, lip gloss, mascara, eyeliner!" she squealed.
I pursed my lips. I had to rain on this parade before I came out looking like Madison. "You can put mascara on me. That's it," I replied sternly. Whitney pouted for a moment before extracting a long pink tube from the bag.
"Come here," she ordered. She twisted off the cap and pumped the wand a few times. I sighed and stepped forward. I listened to her instructions and acted compliant while she slathered my eyelashes in black goop. She finished and put the cap back on with a squelch. She smiled at her handiwork.
A sudden though occurred. "I'm going swimming. Is this stuff going to come off in the water?" I muttered.
Whitney laughed. "No," she drawled. "It's waterproof!"
"Good to know," I mumbled. I didn't bother to look at myself and fled from the town house.
I walked briskly towards the bunker, already heating up. The remote island was humid and made running or even going outside a huge chore. Sweating profusely was a daily annoyance. I was still not completely used to it.
Seeing the beach not far ahead, I broke into a light jog. I followed the mental path to our bunker, my feet slipping slightly on the dry, loose sand. My breathing wasn't labored; I was in excellent shape. The bunker came closer into view.
I slowed to a stop in front and ducked inside, my skin sporting only the lightest sheen of sweat. Hi, Ben, and Shelton were already there. Hi was messing with something, sporting a vibrant Hawaii-flower print shirt and khakis. Shelton sat on a couch, thumbs tapping on his phone quickly. His dark brow was furrowed in concentration. Ben was in a corner, standing and brooding silently, dark eyes unreadable. My heart gave an odd thump at the sight of him. Now that was weird…
I flopped down beside the couch and Coop bounded up into my lap. I fell back, laughing, and rubbed his ears. Coop was getting big and heavy now. He wasn't the little guy he was when we first rescued him. Bright, happy eyes bored into mine and I pat his head, pushing him off of me. I sat up and peered at my friends around me. They had put away their distractions and were looking at me.
"Hey, Tory… What's up with your face?" the blunt Hi asked me. I blinked in surprise.
"What?" I asked, bewildered. Then it dawned on me. "Oh, Whitney got to me this morning. She put mascara on me." I rolled my eyes in annoyance.
The reason for our meeting today was that I realized with all our exploits with finding Katherine Heaton's bones, becoming Virals, and the search for Anne Bonny's treasure that we had grown to know each other as a pack but that we didn't know each other in a very personal way. Such as the little ticks everyone has that you notice before you learn anything else. I wanted to get to know my friends better.
I was acutely aware of Ben's eyes on my face. I willed the treacherous burn to stay away from my face but blood rushed up to my cheeks and neck anyways. I cleared my throat and picked at the hem on my shorts.
"You look… good," Shelton reassured me. I shot him a thankful glance.
"So why'd you drag us down here, Tory? Another murder to be solved?" Ben joked. I laughed and shook my head.
"Actually, I dragged you down here for plain, old bonding time. I feel like we need to get to know each other better. We know each other under pressure and our strengths and weaknesses, but we I feel like that's pack stuff," I explained, shrugging my shoulders.
"And how are we supposed to start the day, O Wise Alpha?" Hi remarked, eyebrows raised. I grinned mischievously.
"Why, a fun game of truth or dare!" I crowed. Three sets of shocked eyes reached my face.