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Chapter Twenty Two

From where the Swag Pag lived, the shopping mall should have been a twenty minute drive away.  When D.K. swerved into a parking spot less than five minutes after we'd left the house, I reached past Kimberly to open the door and almost pushed her through it so I could get out.  I stood, leaning against the car for a few seconds, my knees threatening to give out under me, until I felt like I had regained my balance.  Poor Kimberly was staring vacantly at the car, as if it were yet another monster I'd introduced her to, looking as if she were about to throw up.
“Get a move on!" D.K. commanded us, getting out of the car and immediately making for the entrance.  Kaylie shoved me out of her way so she could walk next to D.K., and Tyler followed behind them wordlessly.
“Come on," I said to Kimberly.  “We have to go with them."
“I don't want to go with them," she protested.  “I don't like them."
“I don't either," I agreed.  I wanted to follow that up with an encouraging comment about how things would get better soon, but I'd had enough of lying to her.  She bit her lip, and for a second I thought she was about to cry, but then she reached out and took my hand again.  As I followed the Swag Pag into the mall, I couldn't help but feel a little bit of hope.  This time, Kimberly had taken the initiative in holding my hand.
I don't like them, she had said.  I wasn't going to fool myself into thinking that she liked me, but it was encouraging to know that she liked the Swag Pag even less.
D.K. made his way through the mall like he owned the place, one arm wrapped around Kaylie's shoulders while unashamedly pushing people out his way when they got too close with the other.
“Skinnies," I heard him mutter, followed by a few other words I'm not willing to repeat.  “Always on my turf.  Ain't got no freakin' respect."
It took me a minute to realize that by “skinnies," he meant the humans.  I wasn't sure what he meant by “his turf."  It was a public mall, not an exclusive werewolf club.  Still, I was coming to realize that it didn't take much to convince D.K. that something belonged to him- and that if it didn't, it should.
The food court was bustling with people, even this early in the morning.  I couldn't help but shy away from them as much as I could without falling away from the pack.  They're just normal people, I kept telling myself.  None of them are wizards, or demons, or… whatever the heck else might be after me.  I couldn't quite make myself believe it.  Only a couple of the restaurants were open, the ones that served breakfast, and the tantalizing scent of food drifted into my nose, reminding me that I hadn't had anything to eat in a long time.  D.K. stopped to scan the crowd for a few seconds before choosing a table as far away from everybody else as he could get.
“Tyler," he said once he was lounging comfortably in the wiry chair, “go get me something to eat, since somebody didn't get my breakfast made in time."  He shot me an acidic glare when he said this, and I submissively looked away.
Had I been in my right mind, I probably wouldn't have let that scrawny, underdressed twerp say something like that to me.  I had never been one to go looking for a fight, not even after I became a werewolf, but I wasn't one to just roll over and let bullies have their way with me either.  Now, though, I went pale just for thinking such things about my alpha.  I hated D.K. even more than I hated the idiots at Majestic, but at the same time I was completely and totally loyal to him- just like Dex had said I would be.
Tyler got up without a word went to the nearest restaurant.  While he waited for his food, D.K. sat up a little straighter and looked around, searching for somebody in the crowd.
“Honey boo," Kaylie purred, rubbing his chest through his shirt, “after you're done here, can I have some money to go shopping?"
D.K. looked at her with his eyebrows raised expectantly.  “I dunno, babe.  Money's a little tight."
“Ooh," Kaylie moaned, and leaned in to kiss her alpha on the cheek, “I'll make it up for you later.  Promise!"
“Oh, all right," D.K. gave in.  “Anything for my sexy little woman!"
“Yay!" Kaylie squealed, and hugged D.K., pressing herself harder against him than was really necessary.
“What you looking at?" D.K. demanded when he saw me watching them, and slammed his fist on the table.
“Sorry," I mumbled, and looked away, cheeks burning.  Suddenly, I understood why Kaylie was on D.K.'s good side.  If that's what it took, I thought, then I would have to get used to being at the bottom of the pack for a long, long time.
Tyler came back a few minutes later with three Egg McMuffins, two hashbrowns, and a large coffee.  D.K. immediately unwrapped one of the sandwiches and dug into it, and didn't stop shoving it into his mouth until the last bite had been swallowed.  After licking his fingers, he took a long swig of the coffee.  The smell of food wafted to my nose again, and I couldn't keep my stomach from growling.  D.K. must have heard it, because he paused with the second sandwich halfway to his mouth and gave me a dirty look.
“Fine, then," he snapped, as if I had demanded something.  “Take it."  He put the sandwich back on the table and scooted it across to me.
“Those Majestic freaks wouldn't be happy if you starved to death, I guess," he grumbled, already unwrapping his third sandwich.
I knew the fact that D.K. didn't see feeding his pack as high priority should have bothered me more than it did, but at the moment all I really cared about was the food.  I was tempted to stuff the whole thing in my mouth at once like D.K. had done, but I reminded myself that I wasn't the only one at the table who was hungry.
Kimberly was staring at the Egg McMuffin with wide eyes, as if it were the most magical thing she'd ever seen.  I knew that if I kept her like that long enough, she would start to drool, so I quickly took the sandwich apart and divided it up into two piles.  The egg and the sausage, I pushed toward her, while I kept the English muffin and the cheese.  Kimberly's hand shot out to grab it, but when she met my eye she froze.
“It's okay," I said softly, hoping D.K. wouldn't notice.  “You can have it."
She hesitated for another second before whispering, “Thank you."  With that, she grabbed the food and gobbled it up faster than I would have thought possible.  When she looked back up at me, hoping for more, I had to look away.  This was no life for a girl her age to be living, and she had me to blame for it.
“What took you so long?" D.K. demanded, making me jump.  I looked up to see a timid looking man walking up to join us.  He was middle aged and thin, with hair that was just beginning to turn gray.  He was also a human.  I wasn't sure how I could tell just by looking at him, but after spending a few hours with other werewolves for the first time in my life, I was beginning to notice subtle differences that the human eye would not have been able to pick out.  I could also sense how frightened he was.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, sir," he said meekly.
“Sit down," D.K. instructed him with confidence that told me he had done this several times before.
The man obeyed and took the empty chair across from him.  The way D.K. was lounging in his chair, with Kaylie hanging off his shoulder and Tyler standing watchful behind them, I was reminded of one of those cheesy crime movies.  D.K. almost looked like Don Corleone, getting ready to force some poor civilian into paying tribute to him.  When the man pulled a fat wad of bills out his pocket, I realized with a jolt that that was exactly what was happening.
“I've got your money, sir," he said, putting it on the table in front of him, “just like you asked."
D.K. leaned forward and looked critically at the money before turning hard eyes on the man.  “How much?" he asked.
“Two thousand, sir, just like always."
D.K. picked up the money and flipped through the bills as if he could actually count them like that.  “You sure about that?  You know I don't like it when people cheat me."
The man nodded like a bobblehead.  “Yes, sir, it's all there.  I promise!"  He hesitated, and then added, “I wish I could give you more, sir, but $2,000 is all I can afford right now."
D.K. growled in his throat, but then pocketed the money.  “Fine, then.  I hope you're telling the truth."
“I am, sir.  So, does this mean my family is…"  His voice drifted away, as if he were afraid to finish his sentence.
D.K. stood up.  “See you next month."
The man looked like he was about to cry, but he only nodded and said, “Yes, sir," one more time.
“Come on, Swag Pag," D.K. ordered us, and we all stood up too.  He led the way out of the food court, leaving the poor man behind, swaggering as if he owned the place- which, I remembered, he thought he did.  I thought he was going to lead us back to the car, but as soon as the food court was out of sight, he stopped and turned to Kaylie.
“Here you go, babe," he said with a grin, taking the money out of his pocket and handing her three one hundred dollar bills.  “Go get yourself something pretty."
With a squeal of happiness, Kaylie snatched the money out of his hand before hugging him and giving him loud, dramatic kiss on the cheek and taking off towards the nearest clothing store.
“Tyler, you come with me," D.K. said, already making his way to the cigarette store.  He paused and pointed at me and Kimberly, “You two… I don't care.  Just don't bug me until it's time to go."
And just like that, Kimberly and I were alone in the crowded mall.
NEXT TIME: Alone in the mall with Kimberly.  Maybe Amber can find something to make the poor girl feel better?

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