"This is good," Rebecca mumbled with her mouth full of cheeseburger and my mom's homemade french fries. "Like, really —effing— good."
"Thank you," Mom said. She sat on the other end of the table, and her words were as stiff as her posture. The way she looked down her nose at our guest told me everything I needed to know about what was going through her head.
Swallowing what should have been enough to choke a girl her size, Rebecca didn't waste a second before cramming five more fries into her mouth, followed by another enormous bite of her burger. Ketchup squirted out the other end, landing on her plate.
Is that what I look like when I go hunting? I wondered, idly tracing patterns with in my own ketchup with a fry. My burger sat in front of me, only one bite taken out of it. My stomach growled with hunger, but watching Rebecca, it seemed wrong somehow to eat right now. Like, my measly attempts at eating would be considered an insult compared to the absolute majesty of Rebecca's gluttony. If I tried, she might inhale me from across the table for my insolence. Judging by everyone else's plates, I wasn't the only one who felt that way.
"Seriously, my dad never cooks," she said, her voice muffled by all the food she'd crammed in there. "We have ramen, like, every freaking day."
It took her less than five minutes to make every scrap of food she'd been given disappear, and then she belched and sat back in her chair, looking sleepy. As if that was some unspoken signal, the rest of us finally picked up our burgers and began to eat. I noticed how slowly everyone else was chewing, like they were trying balance out the chaotic display Rebecca had just given us.
"Does your father know where you are?" Stark asked in between bites. His voice was stern, but not judgmental like Mom's had been. That made me feel a little better. I knew he wasn't happy that Rebecca was there, but at least he didn't blame her for it.
"No," she answered with her eyes still closed. "Y'all won't let me call him, remember?"
Stark nodded. "It's better that way, at least for now."
Rebecca snorted. "He probably hasn't even noticed. If anything, I bet he's happy I'm gone."
"Now, I'm sure that's not true," Mom piped up. "I bet your father loves you very much!"
"Mmhm," she mumbled. "He loves me so much he can't even remember when my friggin' birthday is. Why not? It's not like he has a job to think about. I saw him scratch his butt once. I think that's the only time I've ever seen him move."
"You shouldn't talk about your dad that way."
Everyone's heads swiveled around to look at Kimberly in surprise. Even Rebecca opened her eyes. Kimberly's face blushed bright pink, but she didn't back down.
"M- My dad thinks I'm dead," she mumbled, hiding behind her cheeseburger. "My mom does too. You should be happy you still have yours."
Dang, I thought, setting my burger down. So much for getting through a single meal without crying.
She'll get to see them again. I'm going to make sure of it.
"That's beautiful," Rebecca drawled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Like something out of a crappy teen book."
I sat up straighter in surprise. Suddenly, I didn't feel like I liked Rebecca quite as much as I did a minute ago. It didn't look like I was the only one, either.
"Young lady," Stark rumbled, "you should show a little more respect when you're sitting at someone else's table."
"Or what?" Rebecca grinned. "You'll throw me out? You already said you won't."
"I can change my—"
"Can I be excused? Thank you!" She leaped from her chair and headed for my room before anyone could answer, leaving her plate on the table. A moment later, the door slammed.
"Ungrateful little..." Stark grumbled, followed by a few choice swears I hope Kimberly was too young to understand.
"You should throw her out!" Mom said, her face red.
Stark took a deep breath, looking in the direction Rebecca had gone, and then let it out slowly. He shook his head. "No, not yet. That could be a death sentence right now. Give her a few more days, and then we'll kick her out."
"What if she tells people about us?" I asked.
Stark turned to look at me with piercing eyes, and I almost winced. He still blamed me for her being here, and I wish I could say he was wrong. But nope, stupid Amber had to fight the stupid demon and bring the stupid druggie into the stupid house. God, I was so stupid...
The atmosphere around the dinner table had gone down considerably during the course of that conversation. Everyone else ate silently, so I took the hint and did the same. A few minutes later, Stark cleared his throat.
"So," he said, still ominously red in the face, "full moon is next week. Everyone needs to be ready for it."
Across the table, Kimberly's hands began to shake, and her burger fell from listless fingers. If anyone else noticed, they didn't say anything.
"Basic procedure," he went on. "Everyone be here before nightfall. I'll probably come get you from school early."
"Sounds good to me," I said, smiling.
"That includes you, Jen," Stark added, looking at my mom. "With everything that's going on, I'd rather have you here." He motioned to the rest of us. "We'll all be out in the woods, so I want to know you'll be somewhere safe."
Mom took a deep breath and set her hamburger down. When she looked back up at Stark, her eyes were more solemn than I'd seen in a long time.
"Don't worry," she promised him, "I'll be here."
Okay, I'm not stupid, and neither is Stark. When Mom said that, we both shared a look.
"Is there something you need to tell us, Jennifer?" he asked.
Mom's fists clenched, her knuckles turning white, but her expression was completely calm when she shook her head and said, "No."
"You're acting a little—"
"The full moon isn't the only thing we need to talk about," Mom cut him off. She turned to me, making me jump. "Amber's birthday is this Friday."
Now everyone was looking at me. Again.
"It's your eighteenth birthday," Mom said, her face brightening again. "Have you thought about what you want to do?"
Holy crap, Mom, do you really think right now is the best time to discuss this?
"You're turning eighteen, honey!" she insisted, leaning toward me over the table. "We need to do something special. Something we haven't done since..."
Her voice trailed off, but I still knew what she was thinking. Something we hadn't done since Dad died...
Because of the man sitting next to me.
Stark raised his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. "I think I'm gonna turn in early," he grunted, picking up his plate and dumping his unfinished burger and fries into the trash. Before any of us could object, he was gone, and I heard his bedroom door close and lock.
Mom watched him go, and then turned back to me. "Well?" she wheedled.
I shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it. I mean, it's kinda hard to think about things like that when you've got demons trying to break into your house."
"Amber, please," she said, her voice growing softer. She reached out and took my hand in her own. "Please let me do this for you."
Well dang, how could I say no to that? Things hadn't been easy on her since Dad died. The fact that she was hooking up with the guy who killed him probably wasn't as comforting as it was... I dunno, but it probably wasn't comforting. I guess planning her only kid's birthday party was a way for things to go back to normal, if only a little bit.
I sighed. "You know that pizza place we always used to go to? The one that serves pizza as big as your table?"
Mom nodded energetically.
"Think you could make reservations there?"
"Of course!" she exclaimed without a moment's hesitation. She jumped to her feet like she was planning on doing it right now, but then remembered it was the middle of the night and sat back down. "Of course, sweetie. Don't worry, I'll take care of everything!"
I couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm. "Are you going to get a cake?"
Mom snorted. "Am I going to get a cake?"
"Well, just make sure it isn't chocolate, okay?"
"Amber, really, I'm your mother! Give me a little credit."
I chuckled, and glanced across the table to see Kimberly smiling behind her burger too.
"Have you ever been to Pepperoni Nation?" I asked. She shook her head. "They make you pizzas this big," I waved my arms to encompass the entire table, "and if you eat the whole thing, it's free."
"We've never been able to do it," Mom chimed in, looking reminiscently up at the ceiling. "But I have a feeling it won't be too hard with three werewolves going at it."
Thinking of the hot, cheesy, gigantic pizza, my stomach growled and I had to take big bite out of my burger to shut it up. Even after Rebecca's outburst, my spirits were already beginning to rise again. Maybe a birthday party was a good idea...
I finished my burger and fries a few minutes later —with a lot more dignity than Rebecca did, I'm proud to say— and got up. "Please excuse me."
Mom nodded, and I brought my plate over to the sink, along with Rebecca's. I don't think I've ever asked to be excused from any table before, but right now it felt like the right thing to do, just to balance out Rebecca's disrespectfulness. I rinsed the plates off and put them in the dishwasher, and then clapped Kimberly on the shoulder.
"You've got school tomorrow, so don't stay up too late, got it?"
I tweaked her nose. "Watch it, or I'll start call you Buttbiter."
I caught the look Mom gave me, and shook my head before heading for my room. What a freaking day. A scolding from Stark, an unplanned breakfast with Dex complete with cryptic threats, a crazy romp in the woods with Kimberly, and all the drama that Rebecca brought with her was enough to wear even a werewolf out. It wasn't even nine o'clock yet, I realized when I put my hand on my bedroom doorknob, but I was ready to collapse on my sleeping bag and slip peacefully into a coma. I pushed the door open and saw Rebecca sitting crosslegged on my bed...
With a syringe poised just above the vein in her arm.
We both froze. "Amber," Rebecca said a minute later, the needle still hovering above her vein, "its not what it—"
"Stark!" I shouted. I don't know why my first impulse was to call for my alpha, but he came thundering down the hall and into my room less than a second later.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, but he didn't need me to say anything because as soon as he came in he saw what Rebecca was doing. For a second I thought Rebecca was going to jab it into her arm anyway, but then Stark moved across the room in a flash and plucked it from her fingers.
"Nuh uh, not in my house!" he roared, holding the syringe up out of her reach.
"No!" Rebecca screamed, her face immediately contorted with rage and she leaped at Stark like an animal. Her fingers clawed at his shirt, as if she were trying to climb him and get her drugs back, but Stark pushed her back onto my bed with a firm hand. She continued to fight him, thrashing under his strength, howling like a dying cat the entire time. "Gimme! Gimme now! I need... I NEEEEEEED IT!"
"I said no!" Stark said again. Grabbing her by the front of her shirt, he lifted her up off the bed a little ways and then slammed her back down on to the mattress. It wasn't hard enough to hurt, but the sudden jolt did stun her. She went limp in Stark's hand for a second, and he let go and stepped back, breathing heavily. "If you want to poison yourself, that's your business. But while you're in my house, you're staying sober!"
"No," Rebecca moaned. She stretched a shaky hand out after him, but that seemed to be all the strength she could muster. "Please don't. I- I need it."
Stark gave the needle a dark look, and then carefully put it in his breast pocket. "If you have any common sense at all, girl, you'll thank me for this someday."
With that, he stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him, leaving me and Rebecca alone together. I eyed the drug addicted girl warily, feeling more afraid of her than I figured I had any right to. She was still just a human, after all, and one that had been completely drained of energy, at that. She lay on her back, arms dangling uselessly over the edges so her fingers brushed the carpet. She was sobbing quietly.
"I need it," she whispered hoarsely when she saw me looking. "I need it!"
"You'll be fine," I said, moving hesitantly toward my sleeping back. "Just try to get some sleep."
"Weak," she whined. "Weeeeak!”
"What?" I asked.
"I'm w- weak. I need it. It... makes me strong. I need it!"
I swallowed, but didn't say anything else as I got dressed for bed. She was still whimpering when I flipped the lights off and slid into my sleeping bag.
"Make me... strong... again..."
NEXT TIME: You guys want to talk about the crazy drug girl? Be I do not want to talk about the crazy drug girl. Let’s talk about something else— LIKE PIZZAS AS BIG AS YOUR FREAKING TABLE! Great, now I’m hungry.