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Chapter Twelve

"Three... freaking...  days!" I moaned, opening my blinds and resting my forehead against the cold glass.  My blood was burning, my muscles tense, begging to be used.  My breath fogged the window and I stepped back, staring longingly at the blindingly white landscape outside.


True to Dex's word, it had snowed harder than ever the night after he'd given me his warning.  The wind had howled all night long, making the branch scratch incessantly at my window, but that wasn't what had kept me awake.


She was out there.


I could feel her the same way I could feel when someone was watching me.  She might not have been able to see me, but she was still there.  I didn't know anything about the wards Stark had put up, so I had no idea whether she'd been able to get past them or not.  Maybe the fact that she wasn't prowling around the house itself meant they had worked.  Still, her presence was enough to make the hairs on my next stand up, and I was constantly having to fight to keep my wolf from breaking out.  It wouldn't have gone out to challenge Becky, not with Stark having given a direct order to stay inside, but that didn't mean that it wouldn't still cause some destruction around the house.  My mom wasn't a werewolf, and I didn't intend to change that just because I had a case of cabin fear.


That first morning, after lying awake all night, I slid out of bed and went to check the front door.  Dex had promised there would be no school that day, and I believed him, but I wanted to see for myself what they had done.  Somehow, I wasn't surprised that Majestic could control the weather, but the thought was still enough to make me shudder.  Putting that much power into the hands of idiots like them was a recipe for disaster.


I had opened the door, and then blinked in confusion when I saw nothing but pure, unbroken whiteness in front of me.  It took me a few seconds to realize that I was looking at a wall of snow that stood taller than I was.  Only a few scant inches of gray sky were visible through the crack between the snow and the top of the door.


"Holy crap," I had whispered. "He wasn't kidding!"


It didn't matter if they got every snow plow in the state out working, there was no possible way we were going to school today.  They would have to drop a nuke just to clear the roads, and I wasn't sure if I was happy about this, or—


"I thought I told you this house was on lockdown!" Stark had yelled, appearing out of nowhere beside me.  Before I could even jump, he'd slammed the door shut and locked it.


"I- I'm sorry," I'd stammered backing away from the door, my submissive side immediately taking over.


Stark had rounded on me, the bags under his eyes showing that he hadn't gotten any more sleep last night than I had, and I ducked my head.  My common sense told me that I was being stupid.  Stark wasn't like D.K.  He was a good alpha.  He wouldn't hit me just for opening the door... right?  My wolf side was having a hard time believing that, and fully expected to be punished for my insubordination.


After a few seconds, Stark's face softened and he put a hand on my shoulder. "It's all right," he said.  I could hear the weariness in his voice.  Between dealing with Becky and whatever this new, unnamed threat was, he was stretched thin, and I felt bad for giving him even more to do.  Becky was here because of me, after all.


He bent over a little so we were at eye level.  I was almost as tall as him, so he didn't have to lean far. "This isn't your fault, Amber," he said, squeezing my shoulder. "We're a pack, you hear me?  A family.  We deal with these kinds of things together."


Finally working up the courage to look him in the eyes again, I nodded.  Stark took his hand away, and sighed.


"This isn't how it's supposed to be," he grumbled, shaking his head. "Your pack are the last people in the world you should be afraid of.  Dalton's lucky he's dead, or I'd kill him for what he did to you."


"Thank you," I said, my voice barely a whisper.


Stark turned and gave the door a wary glance. "Just... don't go outside until Majestic gives the word, okay?  I don't trust them as far as I can spit them, but if they're telling the truth I'd rather let them deal with it."


With my sensitive ears, I was able to hear Stark's heart begin to beat faster, and a chill ran down my spine.  When Becky had shown up, it had made him angry, like a wolf being challenged for his territory.  Whatever Dex had warned me about actually scared him, and that, in turn, scared me.


"What's out there?" I asked. "What could possibly be worse than Becky and Hendricks?"


Stark stood up and closed his eyes, rubbing his temples. "Don't worry about.  It's better if you don't know."


I frowned. "That's what Dex said too."


"Yeah, and for once he wasn't lying.  I said don't worry about it.  As long as we stay here, we'll all be safe."


I wanted to press him for answers, but the tone of his voice told me the discussion was over.  Just as he was turning to go back inside, though, I stopped him.


"What about Stacey?" I asked.  "If she's out there with this... whatever it is, will she be okay?"


To my surprise, Stark just waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry, she's already safer than any of us."


That was three days ago, and now I was on the verge of going crazy with pent up energy.  I understood that Stark was trying to protect us, but he hadn't denied my mom's wishes to keep us locked up out of defiance.  We were werewolves.  Wild animals made up at least half of what we were, and being locked up did not make us happy.


I growled in frustration, turning away from the window, and my voice turned deep and guttural on its own accord.  I felt my muscles bulge underneath my pajamas, and I realized just in time what was happening.  I was too agitated, too pent up, and my wolf was fighting its way free whether I wanted it to or not.  There was nothing I could do to stop it, nothing I wanted to do, so I stripped out of my pajamas just as the change came over me full force.  A few seconds later, I was on all fours, shaking to straighten out my newly grown fur.  I sighed in relief, as much as a wolf could sigh.  I may not have been free, but shedding my human form did a lot to ease my mind.  I padded over to my bedroom door, nudging the handle with my nose until it unlatched, and into the hallway.


The TV was playing in the living room, so I headed that way and found Mom in there, watching one of her soap operas.  She smiled when she saw me, and patted the sofa seat next to her.  Putting my front paws up on the cushion, I hopped up beside her and laid down, resting my chin on her lap.  She wasted no time in scratching me behind the ears, and a few seconds later my tail was thumping loudly on the armrest.


I wasn't human.  I didn't even look like the girl she'd given birth to.  But that didn't matter to her one bit.  Whether I was a wolf or a person, I was still her daughter, and she loved me no matter what shape I decided to wear.


Have I ever told you what a great mom she is?


"You're watching the all day marathon of Stars in Her Eyes!"  the announcer on TV said as the credits rolled past.  "Coming up next is another episode of Stars in Her Eyes.  Stay tuned!"


I rolled my eyes and gave a pitiful whine, looking up at Mom with my best puppy dog eyes.


"That's not going to work on me," she said. "I'm not changing the channel."


I bared my teeth playfully, and she bared hers right back, giving me a mock growl.  I could tell she was happy that the packhouse had been put on lockdown.  She tried not to show it, and I tried not to hold it against her.  After all, all she wanted was for us to be safe.  After losing her to Hendricks for a month, I wasn't about to let something like this get between us.  Sitting up, I gave her a wet doggy kiss on the cheek.


"Great," she said wryly, "now I probably smell like deer guts."


I laid down again and let her resume massaging my ears.  It really did feel nice.  It's something you just can't understand unless you have a dog's body.  Or a wolf's, in my case.  It was enough to soothe the rest of my agitation, and I felt sleepiness begin to cloud my mind.  All that lost sleep was taking its toll on me, even if my body was full of nervous energy.  It was like I wanted to fall into a coma and run a marathon at the same time.  Right now, I finally felt comfortable enough to fall asleep, so I closed my eyes...


"You know, your birthday is coming up in a few weeks."


My eyes shot open again, and I looked up at her.


"You look surprised," she noted. "Did you really forget about your own birthday?"


I gave an embarrassed growl and looked away.  What a dunce, right?  Even with everything I'd been going through, how could I have forgotten my own birthday?  This wasn't just any birthday, either...


"You'll be turning eighteen," Mom said, taking my neck in her arms and hugging me. "Oh, I can't believe it!  My little girl's going to all grown up!"


The thought made my heart skip a beat.  This was it, wasn't it?  The official end of my childhood.  In just... I counted in my head... four weeks, I was going to be an adult.  I wasn't sure how I felt about that.


"I don't suppose you'll be looking to move out or anything like that," Mom went on.  I looked up at her, and saw that there were tears in her eyes.  "Stark's probably going to want you to keep living in the packhouse."


I let out another whine, this one more heartfelt.  This was a happy thing.  I was going to be a grownup!  And yet, with everything that was going on, I wasn't able to enjoy it properly.


"I know, honey," she said, stroking my fur. "Don't worry, everything's going to get better."


She was right about one thing, I decided.  I'd only been in two packs, one of which had been a huge letdown, but the general impression I'd gotten told me that werewolf packs lived together in the same house.  I found that I wasn't at all upset by this, though.  The outside world was crazy and dangerous, but I was safe in Stark's house.  Plus, I had my mom with me.  And Stark.  And... Kimberly.  They were all people I could depend on.  Even if Kimberly hated my guts, I had a feeling she would stick with me if things got bad.  She just probably wouldn't be happy about it.


An almost-eighteen year old girl who doesn't want to move out of her parent's house.  That makes being a werewolf seem downright normal in comparison, doesn't it?  Mom hugged me again, harder this time, and I felt her nails digging into the flesh beneath my fur.  I looked up, and saw the tears were running down her face, splattering on both of us.


"I just wish," she whispered, "your father could be here to see it."


In the space of a moment, my heart shattered.  I just couldn't stand to see her in so much pain.  I'd lost a father the night the Silverblood attacked us, but she had lost a husband.  We were still here for each other, but that didn't fill the hole he had left when he'd...


I sat up and shifted back into my human body.  Then, without a word, I wrapped my mother in the biggest, tightest hug I had ever given her.  I don't know how long I sat there, holding her, and I don't care.  Time didn't matter.  She was doing so much to take care of me, even looking past the fact that I'd become the same thing that had killed dad, and there was so little I could do in return.  I knew that if I brought it up she'd just brush it off, saying that she was my mother and didn't need anything in return, but, frankly, screw that.  She deserved something in return.  She deserved better than this.


As if she could sense my regret, she put her hands on my shoulders and pushed me away a little.


"I love you, Amber," she said. "You're the only thing in the world that matters to me, so don't you think that I'm not happy here.  Not for one second, do you hear me?  As long as I can be here with you, being your mother, that's all I need."


Tears were running down my face too, and I choked on my own breath.  "Thank you, Mom," I managed to croak. "Thank you so much... for everything."


Suddenly, I felt someone looking at me.  With a gasp, I tore myself away from my mom and looked around before realizing the feeling had been coming from the wrong direction for it to be Becky. It was just Kimberly, standing in the living room doorway.


"Don't do that," I scolded her, putting a hand on my chest to calm my heart. "You scared me!"


She scowled at me in reply, and turned to go back the way she'd come.


"Kimberly, wait!" I called.  She froze, one foot in the hallway. "Come... come back."


Reluctantly, she turned to face us again.


"Come here," I encouraged her.


I don't know if she came because she wanted to, or because of Stark's lingering order for her to obey me, but she hesitantly stepped into the living room and came to stand in front of the couch.  As gently as I could, trying not to scare her off, I reached out and took both her hands.


"Listen," I said softly, "I know things have been hard lately.  I know you blame me for all of this, and I don't blame you." I paused. "I don't blame you for blaming me, I mean."


She didn't say anything, but her scowl didn't go away.  Mom shifted in her seat next to me, and I began to worry that she would intervene.  I hoped she didn't.  I needed to do this myself.


I squeezed her hands a little tighter. "Things are bad right now, but they're going to get better, I promise.  Once this whole mess gets cleared up..."  I paused.  I wanted to tell her.  I wanted so badly for her to be happy, but Stark had ordered me not to let on what our plans were.  "Things'll start to get better," I finished instead.


Kimberly kept staring at me, unblinking, and I couldn't read the expression on her face.


"You have every right to be mad at me for what I did," I said, leaning in a little closer. "But if you could find it in you to forgive me, it would mean the world to me."


She still didn't reply.


"Please, baby girl?" I asked.


I didn't hold out much hope that she'd accept my apology.  It wasn't the first one I'd given her, and she'd made it abundantly clear in the past that the only thing she wanted was for me to get out of her life.  Still, when she finally opened her mouth to respond, I didn't miss how her scowl faded just a little bit.


"I..." she began, but then hesitated.


I nodded encouragingly, my spirits rising just from that one little word. "Yeah?"


She took a deep breath. "I want to learn how to change like you."


I blinked in surprise. "You want... what?"


"You can change whenever you want to," she answered. "I want to do that too."


I let go of her wrists and glanced at my mom, who shrugged.  Looking back at Kimberly, I slowly nodded. "Yeah, no problem.  Of course I'll teach you!"


"Good," she said, and immediately made for the hallway.


I slumped back in my seat.  It wasn't what I'd wanted, but things had still gone better than I expected.


Kimberly paused at the door.  Slowly, as if second guessing herself, she turned and looked at me again.


"Thanks," she said.


"She's coming around," Mom said with a smile once we heard her bedroom door close again.


I nodded.  She was coming around.  I don't know if she was planning on forgiving me for what I did to her anytime soon, but this was definitely a step in the right direction.  If I did this right, I could start earning her forgiveness.  I had no idea how long that would take, but that didn't matter.  What mattered was that there was a way I could make her life better.


More footsteps came from the hallway, and I looked up just in time to see Stark step out of the hallway.


"Hey," he said. "Thought you two might want to—"


My pillow hit him right in the face.





NEXT TIME: Daaaw, Amber and Kimberly are making up with each other!  All Amber has to do is teach her how to transform at will.  Could this be where their friendship restarts, or could it mean… something else?

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