"No! Absolutely not!"
"Mom, seriously," I groaned, falling backwards onto the couch. "I—"
"Don't you 'Mom, seriously,' me, young lady," she snapped, walking around the couch to wag her finger in my face. She's lucky she was my mom, or I might not have resisted the wolfish urge to bite her finger off. "You are not leaving this house."
I threw my hands up in the air. "I can't believe you're doing this again!" I yelled back. "Because it worked out so well last time, right?"
"This isn't up for discussion, Amber," she said, stamping her foot for emphasis. "You're not going anywhere. Nobody is!"
Stifling a yawn, I sat up and glared at her through dark-ringed eyes. I hadn't slept a wink last night. As brave as I was trying to act around my mom, I was just as terrified as she was. Maybe even more so. Still, this whole situation had helped me realize that there was one thing me and my wolf side could agree on wholeheartedly: even if Becky was out prowling the woods around Stark's cabin, neither of us wanted to stay cooped up inside. I may not be an alpha, or even a particularly dominant wolf, but I wasn't going to let an oversized hyena take control of my life.
"Good thing it's not your decision, then," I growled, and turned toward the door just as Stark opened it and stepped inside. "Stark's the alpha around here, not you. He gets to decide whether we're confined to the pack house or not."
"And I know he'll make the right decision," Mom snapped, folding her arms as well and tapping her foot on the expensive living room rug. "I know he won't make my daughter and a helpless little girl leave the house when there's that- that monster hunting them!"
Stark looked back and forth between me and my mother, tossing his gloves on the floor and rubbing his hands together to warm them. He looked even more tired than I was, which wasn't surprising. Against both my and Mom's protests, he had gone right back out after dropping me off at the cabin. He'd stopped back a few hours later to warm up, and explained that he was putting up some security measures around his property. He admittedly didn't know much about Becky, so he could only guess at her weaknesses, but hopefully they would be enough to keep her out. I wasn't so sure. I'd once seen the world's largest man hit her with a sledgehammer that could have totaled a bus, and it had barely staggered her. Whatever Stark had done in the woods, I doubted it could stop her if she really wanted to get here.
"Turn on the TV," he grunted, throwing his coat on the floor with his gloves and sitting down in his favorite recliner.
"Turn on..." my mom stammered. "Stark, we're talking about something important!"
"Just do it!" he snapped, his lack of sleep stealing away his usual excessive amount of tolerance.
I reached to grab the remote before Mom did, and turned on the TV. Stark was my alpha, after all, not hers. If he gave an order, someone who was actually in his pack should carry it out. The TV came to life, and a Tom and Jerry rerun appeared on the screen.
Stark growled in irritation. "Turn it to the news, Amber."
I did as he asked, and we all fell silent as the morning's headlines flashed past us. Someone in Florida had adopted a two headed dog, something I might have found interesting if more pressing matters hadn't been weighing on my mind. Stark didn't seem to be paying any attention to that, though. His eyes were on the bar of scrolling text on the bottom of the screen.
Mom and I realized what he was thinking at the same time.
"Whoa, really?" I asked.
"No!" Mom yelled.
"Looks like they got the roads cleared after all," Stark said, putting up the footrest and leaning back in his chair. "Go wake Kimberly up and get ready for school, Amber."
"No, no, no!" Mom hollered, moving to stand between my and the hall. "How could you—"
"Jennifer, I told you before," Stark growled, his eyes already closed. "I'm not letting Hendricks turn us into prisoners in our own home. Becky is a giant animal, and that means that she won't try anything during the day."
"People would spot something like her a mile away if she were to appear in the middle of town," he went on as if she hadn't spoken. "Hendricks doesn't want that kind of publicity, not when Majestic's still out to get him. If Amber and Kimberly go straight to school and come straight home, they'll be fine."
Mom stared at him in shock, as if he'd just suggested I take a running leap into a volcano.
"How could you?" she finally asked, her voice soft and heavy with betrayal.
Stark cracked an eye open. "It's not up for discussion, Jennifer."
Whether she had a wolf's pack mentality or not, when my mom saw the look in his eye, she backed away. I felt bad for her. After all, she was just trying to keep me and Kimberly safe.
I didn't feel bad enough to pass up the chance to leave, though.
"Amber," Stark said just before I set foot in the hallway. I froze, and turned to see that his eye had turned to me now. "Straight home. Both of you. Understand?"
I nodded, and he closed his eye again, effectively dismissing me. I hurried down the hall and knocked on Kimberly's door. I wasn't too disappointed. I hadn't planned on staying out late anyway, not after running into Victor and Becky in one day.
"What do you want, Amber?" Kimberly asked without opening her door.
"School wasn't cancelled," I said. "Stark says we're going, so get up."
I heard her grumble something behind her door, but ignored it and turned away. Just before I set off for my room, though, I paused.
"How did you know it was me?" I asked, turning to face the door again.
"Because I could smell you, stupid!"
I raised my eyebrows, impressed. It had taken me half a year to learn how to identify people by their scents, and Kimberly had only been a werewolf for a little more than a month. Something one of my former packmates had said once came back to me. He'd said that she was showing signs of becoming an exceptionally strong wolf. Part of me felt proud of her, but the other part was...
I shook my head and banished those thoughts. It was time to get ready for school.
Forty minutes later, Kimberly and I both stood at the side of the road, waiting for the busses. I could tell Kimberly wasn't happy about going to school on what should have been her third or fourth snow day of the month, but... well, she wasn't happy about anything anymore, it seemed.
Her bus came first, and I waved goodbye as she climbed aboard. She didn't wave back.
There has to be a way to make things up to her, I thought, putting my hands in my coat pockets to ward off the cold.
Well, Stark was planning on reuniting her with her parents as soon as this all blew over. That would definitely cheer her up, but I still wasn't happy about it. Taking care of her was my mission. It was like she and I were on two opposite ends of a scale. What made me happy made her miserable, and what made me miserable was the only thing in the world that could make her happy.
My bus arrived while I was lost in thought, and I almost didn't notice it.
"This is absolutely insane," Stacey said when I sat down next to her. "What's wrong with people these days?"
"Mhmm," I grunted, not really listening. Luckily, Stacey had a speech prepared, and didn't much care whether I talked back or not.
"There should be, like, a civil right against having to go to school on days like this," she went on, smacking her gum. "We're no better than slaves, Amber. They ship us all to the brain washing facility no matter what the weather's like, and we don't even get paid for it."
"It's because they know if we miss even one day, we'll start thinking for ourselves and fight back. That's why the people need to stand up and rebel against the government, otherwise we'll all turn into zombies and..."
She prattled on, and I was content to let her. Her rants sometimes provided a nice layer of background noise for when I tried to think. When we pulled up at the school and got off the bus, she was still going on about how there were chemicals in our cafeteria food that took away our ability to reproduce, and soon all our children would be genetically altered test tube babies— it was true because she read it on the internet. From what I gathered from the conversations of the other students, she wasn't the only one who wasn't happy to be here today, though she was probably the only one who thought it was a government conspiracy. I got to the door, but paused when I felt the hairs on the back of my stand up.
Something was watching me.
Reacting on instinct, I spun around to look, but couldn't spot who was looking at me. There were too many people around, any one of them could have stolen a glance at me—
The shadows in the trees at the edge of the schoolyard shifted. A moment later, the feeling went away and my blood turned to ice.
"What's wrong with you?" Stacey asked, poking my shoulder.
"Inside. Now." I said, grabbing her by the shoulder with one hand, throwing the door open with the other, and hauling her in after me. I pulled her all the way to the cafeteria, where I hoped the crowd of people would be able to hide me, and sat down. Stacey hesitated, but then sat down opposite me.
"What was that about?" she asked. She arched an eyebrow. "You know, I've been asking you that a lot lately, but you never give me a straight answer."
And I wasn't about to start. A stray thought occurred to me then. If Becky was following me around, then she probably knew about Stacey. Stacey didn't have anything to do with this, but would a Nandi Bear care about that? She could be used as leverage over me... then again, it seemed more like Becky's style just to make a snack out of her. Neither option made me feel any better.
Maybe I should talk to Stark about letting her move into the packhouse, I thought, but immediately discarded the idea. If we were to invite everybody we were worried about to live with us, pretty soon Stark's cabin wouldn't have enough room to sit down. Add three nervous werewolves into the mix, and I'd give it a day before either the bodies started piling up, or our guests became permanent members of the Silverpack.
"Hey, Amber," a new voice said, snapping me out of my thoughts. I looked up, and bit back the growl that rose to my throat when I saw Edgar standing beside our table.
"Get lost," I snapped. "I don't feel like dealing with you today."
Edgar looked like he wanted nothing more than to scuttle away, but he held his held his ground and swallowed hard. There was actually nervous sweat starting to bead his forehead.
"I- I just thought you ought to know that there's going to be a sub in history class today."
I drew my eyebrows together. "A what?"
"A substitute teacher. Mr. Ragg's home sick, so they got a substitute to cover for him."
I shook my head. "Why the hell should I care about that? Go away before I break your scrawny little arms."
"I just thought that..." he bobbed his head. "Yeah, sorry. Okay."
Without another word, he turned and hightailed it to the other side of the cafeteria. I watched him retreat, fuming, and then turned back to see Stacey giving me a weird look.
"Still gonna tell me you're just Larping?"
"What can I say?" I replied dryly. "Larp is love, Larp is life. Larpetty Larp Larp."
"Yeah, sure," she said, and rolled her eyes. "If you ever decide to quit lying, I'll—"
The bell rang, and I jumped up before she could finish and headed down the hallway. I wished she would quit prying like that. I admit, I wasn't a great liar so she could probably see through everything I said, but did she really have to act like I was slapping her in the face every time?
No, that's not fair, I thought, shaking my head. I'm her best friend. She shouldn't have to wonder if I'm telling her the truth or not.
But even so, I couldn't tell her the truth, could I? Even if she believed me, that would just put her in more danger than ever. Becky was tailing me, so I needed to keep Stacey out of way as much as possible.
Still lost in my thoughts, I wandered down the hall and into history class, and took my seat without looking up. The second bell rang, and I pulled out my textbook, planning to brood on my problems all the way through class, until...
Someone tapped on my desk.
I looked up, and jumped so hard I nearly somersaulted backwards out of my seat.
"Hey," Dex said, smiling impishly, "I'm trying to take role here. Are you Amber Pace?"
NEXT TIME: DEX IS BACK! *Fangirl squeal* Haaaa-lay-loo-yuh it’s a Christmas miracle! What’s he doing taking roll in Amber’s classroom, though? And why? And how many times is Amber going to want to kill herself before class ends?