I sighed in relief when Kimberly's eyes finally opened.
“Hey there," I said, smiling as I sat on her bedside. “How do you feel?"
This time, instead of answering, she tried to sit up. I almost pushed her back down, but decided against it. The ice pack slid down off her forehead, and she jumped a little when the cold, wet thing landed in her lap. That was good, I thought as I reached down and pressed it back up against her bump. She was alert enough to feel the ice pack, which was a big step up from the braindead state she'd been in that morning.
“Keep that there, okay?" I said.
She nodded, and put her hand up to keep the ice pack in place.
“Can you talk, sweetie?" I asked. “How do you feel?"
“My head hurts," she answered. Her voice was still weak, but this time it just seemed like she was groggy after taking a nap.
“That's what that's for," I said, pointing at the pouch pressed against her head. “And here, the doctor gave you some medicine to take for it."
“Dr. Yauhn?" she asked, giving me a confused look. Yauhn must have been her family doctor.
“Nope," I said, hopping up to retrieve the painkillers. “He's a new doctor. His name is Dr. Munse. I took you there while you were… asleep."
I tipped one of the pills into my hand, and then went to the refrigerator to fill a cup up to the brim with water. She'd been asleep for almost a whole day, so my guess was that she needed as much water as she could drink right now.
“Take this," I said, handing her the pill, “and then drink all the water in this cup, okay?"
“Okay," she agreed. She kept one hand to her forehead to keep the ice pack in place, and with the other she took the pill and popped it in her mouth, and then took the cup from me. She drank in small sips at first, but then it turned into longer and longer gulps until the she had drained the cup of every drop of water. That was good too.
“You want some more?" I asked, taking it back from her.
She shook her head, and then stopped to think. “I'm hungry, though."
“What do you want to eat?"
“Macaroni and cheese," she said right off the bat. Then she paused. “With bacon."
I laughed, and got up to check the pantry.
“You're in luck, we've got mac and cheese!" I said after digging around for a minute. “And bacon bits too!"
“And ice cream for dessert!" she added.
I checked the freezer. “How about a popsicle?"
She nodded her agreement, and I grabbed the milk from the fridge and went about mixing all the ingredients together. After throwing it in the microwave to cook, I went and sat down on her bed again.
“How much do you remember from last night?" I asked.
She thought for a minute. “You turned into a wolf. And so did your boyfriend."
“Don't you start that," I warned her, and was rewarded with a little smile.
“I was petting you and throwing sticks for you, and you were acting like a great big puppy. He wouldn't let me touch him, though."
I guessed that he must have been Tyler. Somehow, I wasn't surprised that Kimberly didn't know her own packmates' names.
She stopped and thought again. “That's all," she said. “Then I woke up here."
The microwave beeped, and I stood up to go get the food. Without a word, and without looking at her, I spooned it into two bowls. It was good that she didn't remember how she'd tried to change, I decided. That meant she didn't remember who had hit her, either. I'd let that stay the way it was. She had enough going on that she didn't need one more thing to worry about. Besides, I thought as I turned around to bring the yellow noodley goop to her bed, there was something else I needed to talk to her about.
Maybe it's not a good idea to bring it up so soon after she woke up, I thought as I watched her eagerly shovel macaroni into her mouth. I let my spoon slide down into the bowl, my appetite already nonexistent.
No, I had to tell her today. I didn't want to do it, but that was exactly the reason I had to. I knew that if I kept putting it off, I'd never do it. I waited for Kimberly to finish eating, even letting her tip the bowl back to lick the cheesy water out, and then jumped up to fetch her a popsicle.
“Try not to drip it on the sheets, okay?" I said, not knowing what I was so worried about. The clothes washer Majestic had left us was more than adequate at removing stains. I had to tell her… but I hesitated when I saw how happy she looked, with that ice on her head and in her mouth. Wouldn't it be a shame to— no, no I had to tell her!
“Hey, baby," I said, my gently voice belying the way my mind was racing to find a way to say this that wouldn't destroy her little world all over again, “remember what we talked about when you first came to live with me?"
Kimberly pulled the popsicle out of her mouth, her lips already stained grape-jelly purple. They curved downwards in a frown, and I immediately knew there was no way I could tell her this without upsetting her.
“You said I was going to stay with you, and you were going to take care of me," she said.
Nice one, kid, I thought, cringing as she effectively stuck a knife into my emotions. No sense in only one of us getting hurt tonight, huh?
Of course, thinking that only made me feel even worse. I sighed and looked her in the eye.
“Yes, but I meant the other thing. The thing about… what we are."
Slowly, Kimberly nodded. She no longer looked interested in her popsicle.
“You turn into a wolf," she said. “And you said I'm going to too."
Here it was. The moment of truth.
“That's right, honey. Well, um, I don't know how else to say this, but it's almost time for that to happen.
The purple popsicle fell out of Kimberly's hand and landed on the spotless white bedsheets. I wasn't upset about that, but I was very, very worried about the blank look she was giving me. For a split second I thought her wound was making her go brain dead again, but then I realized she was just in shock.
“Kimberly? Are you okay?"
Her eyes slowly moved so that she was looking at me again. “How long?" she asked.
All that light that had been in those eyes less than a minute ago was gone. No more happiness, no more playfulness. Just emptiness because she knew that there was nothing she could do to stop what was coming. Even at five years old, she was smart enough to figure that out— and it broke my heart.
“Five nights," I whispered. “Then the full moon comes up and you'll change."
Her gaze dropped again, and she finally saw the popsicle making a mess of her bedsheets. She didn't pick it up, she pushed it off the side of the bed with the back of her hand and then laid back down again.
“Kimberly, I promise I'm going to be there to take care of you during it," I said, a tear running down my cheek. I wanted to promise that it wouldn't hurt, that she would hardly even notice it, or something equally ridiculous, but I didn't. She was a big girl. She deserved the truth, and the most comforting truth I could give her was just that I would be there with her when it happened.
She didn't respond. Instead, she just rolled over to lie on her side, looking away from me, the ice pack stull clutched against her head. I waited a minute, hoping that she would come around and talk to me, but eventually I just nodded and stood up.
“I understand, Kimberly. It's okay. Good night."
I didn't know if she'd be able to sleep through the night after being unconscious for most of the day, but I let her be. If she wanted to be left alone, she deserved to be left alone. I had other things to take care of, anyway.
D.K. was the real problem here. Kimberly's first change would be hard, and being with that idiot would only make things worse. With Stark gone, and Tyler moping in his room, I had nobody else to turn to for help. The only thing I could do was make the best of what I had now.
I went to the kitchen part of our room, opened the drawer, and pulled out a long, sharp steak knife. I could see my reflection in it, and the look on my face made my own blood run cold. I pushed the fear away, though. Just like I'd had to tell Kimberly about her first change, this was something else I had to do. I turned toward the door, gripping the knife handle so tightly that my knuckles turned white. Victor's words echoed in my ears: “I did not put you in that pack to sit around and be abused." If I wanted Kimberly to be safe in the Swag Pag, truly safe, then D.K. couldn't be alpha anymore.
And for that to happen, I would have to kill him.
NEXT TIME: Oh snap, you guys. Snap, crackle, and motherlovin' pop! Is she really gonna do it? I think she is. Oh man, the suspense is killing me! I'm dying here. I'm just going to blow up from all this excitement and die!