Despite Stark's promise, it was past ten when we finally pulled into a motel parking lot. The place looked like somewhere a bunch of stupid teens would go in a slasher flick. Luckily, we weren't a bunch of stupid teens— we were one stupid teen and an old man.
Middle o' Nowhere Nights, the sign said as Stark guided the car into a parking spot. The last motel in a hundred miles!
“I'm pretty sure that's false advertisement," I said as we got out of the car.
“'Course it is," Stark grunted, slamming his door and heading for the lobby. He really did look tired, I thought as I went after him. Even after eleven straight hours of driving, only stopping once to eat and use the bathroom, I only felt like I needed a nap. Then again, I had slept a little during the car ride. Stark, on the other hand, looked ready to collapse at any second. A bell jingled above us when he held the door open for me, and the bags below his eyes made me wonder if he was still awake enough to count money.
“Hey," the greasy haired clerk said, leaning on the counter. “Need a room?"
“Two rooms," Stark said, wiggling his fingers to emphasize his point. “Not m'daughter. Not m'girlfriend."
I gave him a weird look, and the clerk smirked.
“That's good to hear, sir. Rooms are forty five dollars a night each."
“Deal," Stark agreed, pulling out his wallet and slapping it on the counter. Then, realizing he wasn't done yet, he opened it up, fished out a handful of bills, and handed them to the clerk.
“Um, sir?" he said, his eyes going wide. “This is way more than you owe."
Stark nodded apathetically. “Keep th' change. Gimme my keys."
Still rich, I see, I thought as he grabbed both sets of keys from the clerk and handed one to me. He tipped an imaginary hat at the clerk, and then stumbled back outside.
“Good job," I said, coming out after him. “He probably thinks you're drunk now."
“I'm fine with that," he replied without looking back. “Rooms're this way. Don't forget to stand outside for a while."
He unlocked his door and was halfway inside before he paused. He turned back towards me. “If you need anything, wake me up."
“Okay," I agreed, walking a little ways out onto the motel's lawn, “I will."
Stark shut the door behind him, and I turned to look around. The motel was, admittedly, in the middle of nowhere. The only other things in sight were an old gas station, a barbecue, and a video store. I looked up at the moon. So fat. Only one night away from being full. I shivered, and pushed the thoughts of Kimberly away. I couldn't help her way out here, so there was no point in agonizing over it. Instead, I held out my arm, letting the pale light shine on it.
The effect was almost instantaneous. The tingling in my arm grew weaker and weaker until it was gone. Not only that, but some of my fatigue went away too. It wasn't enough that I didn't still need to sleep, but I suddenly found myself thinking more clearly than I had before. I flexed my newly cured arm, and felt the muscles tighten beneath my skin. I felt strong, like I could fight someone twice my size. In fact, I probably could have, if that person were human.
It was then, standing there, basking in the moonlight, that I was finally struck by just how much I'd changed in the last seven months. Thinking back, remembering the girl I'd been before, I couldn't find the connection. The Amber of the past was someone completely different from the Amber of the present. Amber the Silverblood werewolf. When human Amber had been picked on in middle school, she'd sat down in the corner and cried. Amber the werewolf had killed someone without a second thought, and attempted to kill someone else. Amber the human had been in shock after seeing her father be dragged away by the original Silverblood. Amber the werewolf had immediately climbed into a car with another werewolf that had just torn a man limb from limb.
Mom was right all along, I thought, a shiver running down my spine. I'm not the girl she raised anymore. I couldn't be if I tried.
All this time, I'd been fighting to make things go back to normal, but “normal" had abandoned me the night I was bitten. After Majestic, and Hendricks, and the Swag Pag, there was no going back to normal. This was normal. And the most surprising thing of all was how okay I was with it. I mean, sure, there were definitely things I would change. My dad would still be alive, Kimberly and my mom would never have gotten involved, Hendricks wouldn't know I existed, and I'd have never moved in with the Swag Pag. But on the whole, thinking about who I had become this past half a year, I was at peace with it.
I can't change what's already happened, anyway, I thought, turning to go to my room. All I can do is keep trying to make things better.
I can do this, I told myself. I could help Kimberly, take care of my mom, and find a way out of the Swag Pag. I could do it because I'd already been to hell and back, and I'd survived. There wasn't anything else the world could hurt me with. I was done being the poor little victim. I was a wolf, and it was time to start acting like one.
The room Stark had got for me smelled like mold and mouse crap. I glanced at the bed, judged it to be too full of bugs, and decided to sleep on the floor instead. After three days of sleeping in a metal floored cage, even the crusty motel room carpet would feel like a cloud. First, though, I went to the bathroom and turned on the sink. I gave it a few seconds to let the water lose its nasty brown color, and then splashed some on my face. There weren't any washcloths, so I rubbed the water on my face until I felt like I'd gotten most of the sweat and oil off it before shaking my head and looking up.
I found myself looking right into the mirror. My reflection stared back at me, tired but confident. Hesitantly, I pulled my shirt off and looked at myself. Just like I thought, there were muscles on me now where, even as a werewolf, there had once been flab. I had never been fat, really, but now I definitely wasn't. Anyone who saw me might think I was an athlete.
Or a soldier…
“You are strong," I whispered to the girl in the mirror after putting my shirt back on. “You are Amber, and you are proud of who you've become."
I came out of the bathroom and laid down on the floor.
“Good night, Amber," I said to myself, and then closed my eyes.
NEXT TIME: Twenty four hours. Amber has less than twenty four hours to get home before Kimberly changes. Can she make it?