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Chapter Twenty Nine

"Come on in," I said, ushering Stacey through the door.  I turned and gave Majestic's room one more look, and then closed it.


"That was awesome," Stacey said. "Any chance doing that gave me, like, magic powers?"


"I'm pretty sure it didn't," I answered. "Here, check this out."


I opened the door again, and sure enough this time Stark's hallway was on the other side.


"Whoa," she breathed. "So, you can go anywhere you want through your bedroom door?  Why do you still take the bus to school?"


I laughed. "Because I'm not the one doing that.  It was those idiots who stuck you in that room with that stupid paperweight."


"Hey, don't insult that thing!" Stacey snapped. "They said it could give me telepathic powers if I watched it long enough." She paused. "On second thought, can we go back for a minute?  I want to grab it."


I shook my head. "I couldn't take us back if I wanted to.  Don't worry, I think I have a stapler that can make you shoot fire from your fingers if you feed it your blood."


"Whoa, seriously?"


"No, Stacey.  No."


I led her into the hallway and, cupping my hand around my mouth, hollered, "Mom?  Stark?  I brought a friend home!"


Mom peeked her head into the hallway from the living room. "You wha— oh, Stacey!" Her eyes lit up a little, and she came to greet her guest. "I haven't seen you in months!  How have you been?"


"I've been fine, Mrs. Pace," she answered.  My mom was one of the only people who Stacey was unfailingly polite to, probably because she was my mom. "Are you a werewolf too?"


Mom jumped so high she nearly cracked her head on the ceiling, and I slapped my forehead.  I was hoping Stacey would be smart enough to keep her mouth closed about that.  Then I would have been able to skip the lecture about letting our secret get around.  I'd probably have had more luck grilling up a well done steak, wrapping it in bacon, and expecting Stacey to eat it.


"No, my mom isn't a werewolf," I groaned.


"She knows?" Mom asked, giving the goth girl a wary look.


"I'll explain later, all right?"


"Okay," she said hesitantly.  Then a puzzled look crossed her face. "Wait a minute, did you just come home through your bedroom door?"


"Mom, I'll explain later.”


Mom sucked in a worried breath, but finally nodded. "All right.  Are you staying for dinner, Stacey?"


"She's spending the night," I answered for her.


Finally, a somewhat motherly look appeared on my mom's face. "Not on a school night, young lady!"


Luckily, we were saved from further argument when the front door opened and Stark came in, stomping his boots on the rug to knock the snow off. "Jennifer, I got the driveway cleared if you still want to... who the hell's in my house?"


"He must have telepathy!" Stacey whispered as his heavy footsteps drew nearer.


"Nah, he just smelled you," I replied.


"Rude," she muttered just as my alpha came to join us in the hallway.  I felt a quick pang of anger when I saw him, but I pushed it to the back of my mind.  I had the rest of my life to be pissed off at him, but I only had tonight to make things up to Stacey.


"Stark, this is my friend, Stacey," I introduced. "Stacey, meet my pack's alpha, Stark."


Stark looked at her hard for a few seconds, and I began to wonder if I'd made a mistake bringing her here.  We were all werewolves, minus my mom, and wolves were, well, territorial.  Stark's expression darkened, and I tensed my muscles, ready to grab Stacey and run if things turned bad.


"Welcome to my home, Stacey," he finally said. "If there's anything you need, just let Amber know."


I didn't miss the jab in his words.  His home, but I would take care of the guest.  Then again, I guess I couldn't complain since I'd dragged her here without so much as calling beforehand.


"She's spending the night," I told him, trying to sound as respectful as I could. "Is that okay with you?"


Stark looked from me to her, and then said, "Fine."  Without another word, he brushed past us and went to his bedroom, closing the door behind him.


"Oh, dear," Mom muttered.


"That guy's your alpha?" Stacey asked pointing her thumb over her shoulder?


"Yep, that's him," I answered.


"So, like, you let a man boss you around however he wants?"


I rolled my eyes. "It's not like that."


Stacey rolled her eyes right back at me. "Sure it isn't, Amber." Then, under her breath she added, "Friggin' patriarchy."


"Come on, let's get started," I said, taking her by the elbow and leading her back to my room.


"What are you two going to be doing?" Mom called after us.


"Movie night!" I called back just before shutting the door.


Mom sighed. "All right, but do your homework first, got it?"


"Yeah, no," I muttered under my breath.  Then, turning to look at Stacey, I asked, "What do you want to watch first?"


Stacey gave me a skeptical look. "You know, I wanted to do this at my house because I have every single one of his movies.  I doubt you're as dedicated to Mr. Burton as—"


"I have them all too," I said, going to my closet and getting out the box I kept all my DVDs in.  "You got them for me on my birthday a few years ago, remember?"


Stacey's eyes went wide. "Oh yeah, I'd forgotten about that."


"So, what do you want to watch first?"


Five minutes later, we were both seated my beanbag chairs , a bowl of microwaved popcorn sitting beside us while we watched a barber slice someone's neck open on the TV, splattering strawberry syrup everywhere.


"So, wait," I said, munching on a piece of corn, "people actually think this guy is sexy?"


"He is sexy, girl!" Stacey shot back. "He's totally goth and hot, you know?  I'd marry him in a heartbeat."


"He'd probably kill you," I said. "And then turn you into a pie."


"Not me!  I'm special.  I see things his way.  We'd fall in love and then buy a house by the sea!"


I rolled my eyes. "You're just as crazy as he is."


Stacey was about to argue some more, but then a knock came from my door.


"Who is it" I asked.


"Are you watching movies?"


"Is that you, Kimberly?" I kicked myself.  "Yeah, of course it's you.  Who else would it be?"


"Can I watch?"


I glanced at the TV, and cringed when someone poor sap's innards got ground into pie meat.


"Sure, honey," I said, and then whispered to Stacey, "Put on something that's okay for kids."


"This is fine for kids!" she hissed back.


"Just do it!  We'll finish this one after she goes to bed."


Stacey groaned, but ejected the disc anyway.  I let Kimberly in, and she hopped onto my bed since both my beanbags were taken.  Once Stacey had put in a new movie, we lapsed into silence.  About an hour into it, though, Stacey turned to look at the little girl on my bed.


"So," she said, "is she a werewolf?"


I looked up with my hand in the popcorn bowl. "Who, Kimberly?  Uh, yeah."


Stacey frowned. "So you'll give a kid Mother Gaia's greatest blessing, but you won't give it to me?"


I froze with my hand halfway to my mouth, and then inadvertently crushed the popcorn in my fingers. "Stacey," I said in a low voice, "I really, really don't want to talk about that right now."


Stacey's face turned a little bit redder. "Well excuse me for wanting a little bit of—"


"Shut up and watch the movie, will you?"


"Why do you wanna be a werewolf?" Kimberly asked. Stacey and I both turned around in our seats to look at her. "Aren't you a vampire?"


My eyes went wide, and for a minute the only sound in the room was Alice complaining about how rude her dreams were.  Then I couldn't hold it in anymore, and I burst out laughing.  That seemed to break the ice, and soon both Kimberly and Stacey were laughing with me.


"Do I really look like a vampire?" Stacey asked a minute later, her face pink with laughter now.


I thought back to Daniel, the vampire who's almost jumped me at Dr. Munse's office. "Just a little," I admitted. "Their skin is way paler than yours."


"Really?" she scoffed. "I worked hard on this look.  Can't believe it's still not authentic.  Can you, like, bring me a picture of a vampire so I can see what they look like?"


I shrugged. "I dunno.  Aren't they supposed to be impossible to photograph?"


"I thought it was mirrors that did that."


We were quiet for a few minutes, and then I said, more softly, "Trust me, Stacey, you don't want to be a part of this world."


"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I do."


"It isn't nearly as cool as it sounds.  It pretty much sucks, in fact."


"But Mother Gaia—"


"I don't work for Mother Gaia, Stacey.  I don't work for anybody.  I'm just trying to have a normal life." I sighed. "You know those guys we were with before we came here?"




"Well, they're the bad guys.  They want to lock me in a cage and run tests on me."


Stacey rolled over when she heard this. "Animal testing is abusive!"


I raised my eyebrows. "Yeah, you're telling me.  But I guess the magic world hasn't figured out civil rights yet, because nobody's going to stop them."


"We should protest them!"


"How?  Nobody even knows they exist.  And it's not just them, either.  There are... other things out there too that are even worse than they are."


Things like demons with black eyes and pointy teeth.


"Then we tell them, duh!"


"And who would believe you?" I insisted. "Stacey, this isn't Harry Potter or Narnia, or some crap like that, this is real life!  Things don't work always out the way they should." I settled back into my beanbag chair. "Trust me, I know."


"No, I don't think you know," Stacey shot back. "I don't think you know just how big a thing this is to me.  You just told me that there's a whole 'nother world out there that I've only ever dreamed existed.  Even if it's not all fairies and unicorns, I still want to be part of it."


I tried to argue, but now Stacey was on a roll. "Okay, so there's a lot of things I don't understand.  Well, fine, then help me understand it.  Don't just throw me out and expect me to pretend it doesn't exist.  What, do you think I could just forget about all this?"


I looked away, unable to meet her gaze.  Yeah, that's pretty much what I expected her to do, wasn’t it?  Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look at her again... and this time I saw something I never thought I'd see.  I saw a woman who was stronger than I'd ever given her credit for.  A woman who'd had her entire reality shattered, but instead of curling up into a ball and crying, she'd rolled with it.  Embraced it.  That's something even I hadn't been able to do.  Looking at her now, I could actually imagine her diving into this world of monsters and magic head first, and not only surviving in it, but thriving in it if I were to just give her the chance.


And she didn't know it, but I'd already taken that chance away from her.


"Can you two be quiet?" Kimberly asked. "I can't hear the movie."


"Yeah," I agreed quietly. "Let's finish the marathon.  We'll talk more about it..." I choked a little on my emotions. "We'll talk tomorrow."


We finished that movie, and popped in another one.  Not long after that, Kimberly yawned and I told her she'd better get to bed.  It was a school night, after all.  The minute she closed the door, I started to yawn too.  Stacey let out a huge one of her own.  I glanced at the clock, and saw that it wasn't even 10:00 yet.  Why were we both suddenly so...


Oh no.


They were coming.  They were trying to put us to sleep so they could take Stacey away without causing a scene.  Adrenaline flooded my veins, trying to wake me back up, but whatever magic Majestic was using was stronger.  Beside me, Stacey nodded off, having no idea what was happening. I struggled to get to my feet, but they gave out underneath me and I collapsed on the floor.  As soon as my head touched the carpet, I lost consciousness.


When I opened my eyes, I woke up so quickly that it was like I'd never gone to sleep at all.  I gasped, and scrambled to my feet.  A quick glance at my clock told me only five minutes had passed.  The movie was still playing, even though nobody was watching it.


Stacey was gone.


"No," I whispered, sinking down to my knees.  Tears rolled down my cheeks. "No, no, please... what have I done?"


Stacey... I had failed her.  Just like I failed everyone.


My mind strangely numb, I sat back down in my beanbag chair and watched the movie.  I didn't absorb a single line the characters said, but I don't think I blinked once until the credits started to roll.  Then, moving like a robot, I ejected the disc and put another one in.  I watched this one all the way through as well.  Why was I watching these stupid movies?  I couldn't tell you.  It just... it felt like the right thing to do.  Like watching all your home videos after someone you know dies, watching these old movies was my way of remembering Stacey.  The Stacey who... who...


The best, and only, friend I'd ever really had.  The one who had stuck with me through everything, no matter how weird.  The only person I could have ever hoped to accept me now that I was a werewolf.  The one I had lied to, yelled at, even tried to kill, and she'd still forgiven me like it'd never happened at all.  The one who would wake up tomorrow morning, and forget she'd ever known me.  I tried to tell myself that it was for the best.  At least now she wouldn't be in Hendricks' line of fire anymore.  But at what cost?


I sat in that beanbag chair all night long, playing movie after movie until the sun rose and Mom knocked on my door to wake up me up.  She'd been confused as to why Stacey wasn't with me, but I didn't feel like explaining anything to her.  I trudged out of my room in the same clothes I'd worn the day before, skipping breakfast, and walked Kimberly to the bus stop in silence.


"Where's Stacey?" she asked while we waited.


The only answer I gave her was a shake of my head.


A few minutes later, Kimberly's bus came and picked her up, leaving me alone.  I watched the road with tired, unblinking eyes, waiting for my own bus.  When it came rolling over the hill, I dared to feel a little bit of hope.


I bit my lip.  Stacey would be on that bus.  Maybe something had gone wrong.  Maybe the memory wipe hadn't stuck.  Maybe Mr. Wrogan had decided to have a freaking heart and called the whole thing off.  It was a stupid thing to hope for, and I knew I was just setting myself up for more heartbreak, but I needed something to hold on to.  I needed it...


The bus came to a stop in front of me, and the doors hissed open.  After a moment's hesitation, I stepped up into it and looked down the aisle.  There she was, busy painting her nails that ridiculous purple color.  She didn't even glance up at me when I got on, but... well, that didn't mean anything did it?  Slowly, I made my way down the bus, my eyes glued to the crazy black and purple girl sitting by herself near the back.


What should I do?  Sit down next to her and try to start a conversation?  Straight up ask if she remembered me?  I didn't know.  My heart pounded in my chest as I drew closer, and at the last minute I settled for sitting down in the seat across from hers.  The bus started rolling, but she still didn't look up at me.


Just do it! I urged myself. Say her name.  Tap her shoulder!  Just do something, anything, to get her attention.  You'll never forgive yourself if you—


"What the hell are you looking at?"


I blinked in surprise.  Lost in my thoughts, I hadn't noticed her finally turning to look at me.


"I- I- uh," I stammered, suddenly completely at a loss for what to say.


"Screw you, I ain't no freak," she spat, giving me the most venomous look I'd ever seen.  The kind of look she'd never give to a friend. "You're the freak, so leave me the hell alone."


With that, she went back to painting her nails.  I stared at her for a few seconds, my brain still trying to catch up with what had just happened.  And then, slowly, I turned away, rested my forehead against the window, and cried.



NEXT TIME: Be here next week for another chapter, guys.  Sorry, no jokes this time.  No silly talk.  I don’t think I could manage it.  Just… see you next week.

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