If I fall asleep right now, I'll get five hours and twenty three minutes of sleep before I have to go to get up for school.
I pulled the covers up to my chin and fluffed my pillow a little, but my brain was still too wired to let me relax. I stared up at the ceiling, trying to coax myself into falling asleep, but my eyes kept being drawn to the digital clock on my dresser. Half past midnight.
At first, Stark's decision to send Kimberly and me back to school had been a welcome one. As much as I liked being in the Silverpack, especially compared to my last pack, that didn't mean I wanted to spend the rest of my life cooped up in his cabin. Admittedly, he didn't force us to stay here, and he gave us free range of the woods his property contained. Still, without school or any kind of job, cabin fever had begun to sink its teeth in. As weird as it sounded, I was actually looking forward to going back to school. The mind numbing routine would provide a sense of normalcy in my life, even if it was just an illusion.
I tossed and turned for another hour before finally getting out of bed.
"This is your fault," I grumbled to myself as I put on my slippers and headed downstairs. I wasn't sure if my wolf side was able to hear me, but even if it could I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have cared. It was above petty human insults.
We have a weird relationship, me and my wolf. Technically we're the same person, but our personalities are so wildly different that we may as well be two people living in the same body. When I shifted, I became the wolf, both in mind and body. It was still me, but the way I thought and acted changed. I was more impulsive and confident, two of the traits that would help a real wolf survive in the wild. I also had a much shorter temper. Judging by the new nickname it had given me, I didn't think it liked me all that much either.
As I rifled through Stark's fridge looking for a midnight snack, I tapped into my wolfish side to figure out what would calm it down.
Ham sandwich. And grilled chicken. And hamburger. And...
I grabbed a leftover hamburger patty and shut the door. My stomach growled, but my wolf would have happily cleaned out the whole fridge if I'd let it. I ate the hamburger cold while heading back upstairs to my room, licking the barbecue sauce off my fingers. I stepped as softly as a predator, trying to keep from waking anybody up, but I froze when I heard my mom's voice coming out of her bedroom.
I rolled my eyes and suppressed a groan. Mom never liked it when I got midnight snacks. She said they would make me fat, even though I was growing more and more convinced that werewolves weren't capable of getting fat.
"Just a little hungry, Mom," I whispered. "I already finished it."
"No, you... don't go with them."
"I'm going back to..." Wait, what?
I peeked into my mom's bedroom and saw her lying in bed. She was muttering to herself.
"Don't touch me... where's my daughter?"
Her hand suddenly shot up, like she was trying to hit something, and she moaned.
"Aw, crap," I said, and ran to her bedside. "Mom, wake up. Wake—"
I put my hand on her shoulder, and she lashed out again, this time slapping me right on the cheek. I flinched, and her eyes shot open.
"Wha- what?" she asked, groggily, and sat up.
I rubbed my cheek. "You were having another nightmare, Mom."
"Oh, I... I'm fine," she said, even though the way her hands were trembling told me she was lying. "I didn't hit you, did I?"
"It's fine, you didn't hurt me." It wasn't even a lie. Her slap had barely stung to begin with, and I couldn't even feel it anymore. One of the benefits of being a werewolf.
"You were dreaming about him again, weren't you?" I asked, sitting down on her bedside.
I frowned. "Mom..."
"He had those arms," she finally said, shivering. "They came out of nowhere, and they were cold, and..."
"I know," I whispered, putting my hand on her knee. "I've seen them. He can't get you here, Mom."
"I know. I just can't stop seeing him whenever I go to sleep."
She had stopped shaking, but I could see the rings under her eyes. I think she was having nightmares about the Octopus every time she closed her eyes, because she was hardly sleeping at all anymore. If anyone was capable of keeping someone awake all night, it was Hendricks' giggling little crony. She made up excuses, like wanting to cook us breakfast, but the truth was that whatever they had done to her in the month she'd been a captive had left a mark on her. The kind of mark you couldn't see on the outside.
"I still think we need to get you some kind of medicine," I said. "You can't keep staying up all night like this."
Mom stubbornly shook her head. "No, Amber, I'm not going to take sleeping pills."
"Your father didn't like them."
My argument died in my mouth, just like that.
"He thought they gave you cancer," she said.
I nodded slowly. "Yeah, I... I forgot about that."
I sat there on her bed, not saying anything. What was I supposed to say after that bombshell? The worst part was, I really had forgotten about that. Ever since I'd become a werewolf, my life had been one out of control ride after another. I'd been so focused on staying alive that other things had been pushed to the back of my mind. Important things. Now that Mom had brought it up, I realized that my dad had been one of those things.
And I was ashamed.
"I miss him too," I finally whispered, looking down at her bedsheets.
Mom leaned forward, and I felt her hand wrap around mine.
"He's proud of you," she said.
I stiffened. What Mom had meant to be comforting felt like a knife in my chest.
"How can you say that?" I asked, my voice suddenly hoarse. "Even if he was watching us from Heaven or something like that, how could he possibly be proud of me after everything I've done?"
Her hand tightened around mine.
"What happened to Kimberly was not your fault, Amber."
I pulled my hand away from hers. "Yes, it was. I'm the one who did it."
"And I've done even worse things since then. Things I haven't even told you about."
Mom hesitated. "What things?"
Things like murdering a whole gang of gremlins, robbing people for the Swag Pag, being used in an illegal dog fight, setting up one of my packmates to die, and then killing my old alpha.
I couldn't tell her about those things, though. Even if I wasn't the same girl I had been before I was bitten, she still thought of me as her daughter. She still loved me. I couldn't let her find out how much of a monster her little girl was.
"Nothing," I muttered under my breath.
Mom sighed. "Even if what happened to Kimberly is your fault, which it isn't," I looked up at her, but she kept talking before I could argue, "you took responsibility for her. You went and got her, and you've been taking care of her ever since. From what Mr. Stark told me, she would have died if you hadn't gotten her out of the funeral home."
That was true, at least. Dex had told me that if she wasn't exposed to moonlight she would never wake up, which meant her parents would have buried her alive. Too bad that had just been a ploy to get Majestic another test subject for their Silverblood project.
"I know it hasn't been easy," she went on, "especially since she's always so mad at you, but you've never given up. You've stood beside her this whole time, just like..."
"Like what?" I asked.
When she answered, her voice was so soft that I wouldn't have been able to hear it without my enhanced hearing.
"Just like a mother."
An unexpected flash of emotion ripped through me, and I stood up.
"Don't say that," I hissed. "I'm not her mother, and she doesn't want me to be."
Mom was quiet for a minute, but then she asked, "What do you want, though?"
"I... just want her to be happy."
"I just want her to be happy, Mom."
Mom sighed, but nodded. "All right, then. Well, if you're determined not to be her mother, then you should let someone else help out now and then."
I finally turned around to look at her. "What do you mean?"
"What you're doing is too much responsibility for someone who's not a parent. You should let somebody else take care of Kimberly now and then."
"I think you should. I'm not the only one who's been through a lot over the past couple of months. You've got too much on your plate, especially now that you're starting school again."
"Mom, I can't. Kimberly's my responsibility."
Mom huffed and crossed her arms. "You're so stubborn, young lady. Just like your father. Listen, you've done a wonderful job with Kimberly so far, but you don't have to do everything alone. Let me help."
I backed away toward the door. I didn't know what it was, but the idea of letting someone else take care of Kimberly the way I did made me sick. It wasn't that I didn't trust my mom, she probably could do a lot better than me, but something stopped me from saying yes. Kimberly was my problem, my responsibility. As much as I wanted to accept the help...
"I can't," I said, putting one hand on the bedroom door.
Mom looked like she was about to argue, but then thought better of it.
"All right," she conceded. "But if you change your mind..."
"I've got school in the morning," I cut her off, standing up. "Better get to bed."
I started to shut the door, but then paused. "Will you be okay?"
"I'll be fine, Amber. Good night."
I shut her door and made my way back to my room, where I stood in front of my bed for a good five minutes. There was no point in trying to go to sleep now, my brain was lit up with nervous energy.
Well, I guess there's nothing else for it, I thought. Now that the wolf was awake, there wouldn't be any sleep for me tonight anyway. Pulling off my clothes and throwing them into a pile in the corner, I shifted into my wolf form and hopped into bed. I wouldn't be able to sleep like that, either, but at least it would keep my animal side from getting too worked up.
After all, I had school in three hours.
NEXT TIME: Going to school. Into the abyss. Never to return. What horrors could possibly await her in that place of evil?