The snow crunched satisfyingly under my boots as I led Kimberly up the hill toward the bus stop. A chilly breeze caressed my face, making my hair feel hot and itchy inside the beanie I had stuffed it inside.
"Your bus will get here first," I said, turning around to look at Kimberly, who was dawdling behind me. "You'll probably get back before me too, so Stark or my mom will be here to pick you up, okay?"
"Kimberly," I said, "answer me."
I frowned, but left her alone. I had thought that going back to school might improve her mood, but it looked like she was determined to prove me wrong. She kept her stony eyes trained on the snow in front of her, pointedly not stepping in my bigger footprints. I tried to think of something to say that would cheer her up, just like I did every time we were together, but nothing came to me. How did you cheer up a little girl who'd lost everything?
We arrived at the road where the busses would come, and waited. Stark's cabin was so far away from town that, honestly, I was surprised the buses were willing to drive all this way to pick us up. Not that I was complaining, of course. I could have made the run to school in a fraction of the time that it would take the bus to come get us and drop us off, but that would involve hiding clothes around town to change into once I got there. Plus, the last time I'd wolfed out in the middle of town, it had made the local news. I didn't want to think how people would react to seeing the infamous man-eating dog running through the streets with a bright purple backpack on. Besides, I would've had to leave Kimberly behind.
"So, I was thinking," I piped up, my breath steaming in front of my face, "after we get home tonight, maybe we could play Barbies again?"
For half a second, Kimberly's eyes lit up, and my breath caught in my throat. Then, just like that, the cold expression was back again. I kept watching her, chewing on the inside of my cheek. She had let her guard down, even if it was just for the blink of an eye.
"I hate Barbies," she spat. "They're stupid."
I sighed, and couldn't hold back the twinge of annoyance. I had been close. So close.
"Then the polite thing to say is 'no thank you,'" I snapped before I realized what I was saying.
She looked up and glared at me. "No thank you, I don't want to play with your stupid dolls."
The bus rolled up before I could say anything back, and Kimberly got on board without another word. I watched her go, fuming silently. I meant what I said about not expecting her to forgive me, but couldn't she see that I was trying to make up for everything? Couldn't she at least make an effort to reciprocate?
She has no family because of you, that annoying, nagging voice in my head told me. Just a pack of kidnappers who won't let her go home.
My bus rolled up a few minutes later, and I climbed inside and sat down in the first empty seat I saw. There were lots of other kids on board, but I didn't feel like talking to any of them. The door closed with a hiss, and I settled in for the long ride, sitting with my back against the window and feet propped up on the seat.
"Excuse me. Pardon me. Move your leg, jerk!"
My head snapped up, and I saw a mass of black and purple fighting its way toward the front of the bus.
"Oh no..." I groaned.
It wasn't that I didn't want to see Stacey. She was my best friend, and probably my strongest tie to the normal world. Still, I was kind of in the middle of something.
"Hey," she said, nonchalantly pushing my feet off of the seat and plopping down next to me. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming back?"
I shrugged, inching over to give her a little more room. "Sorry, things have been crazy."
And the understatement of the year award goes to...
"Well, you could have at least called," she said, taking out a tube of purple lipstick and applying it liberally to her mouth.
Looking at us side by side, you would never have thought that Stacey, the biggest goth in school, would ever be friends with me. She wore only the best Hot Topic had to offer, complete with an assortment of Tim Burton themed pins and jewelry. I wore whatever I could find that didn't smell too bad. In fact, my sense of style probably had more in common with Stark than it did with the bubble gum chewing girl beside me.
"So, you gonna tell me what's going on now?" she asked, looking at me through her thick rimmed glasses.
I shrugged again. "My mom and I are living with my uncle in his cabin. After what happened, we just needed a little time to get back on our feet."
"Hmm." Stacey blew a bubble and popped it with a pointy fingernail. "Did they ever find out why your house fell down?"
I thought wildly for a few seconds. I couldn't very well tell her that a demon tore it down after a trio of idiot wizards tried to keep him from kidnapping me, could I?
"Uh, structural damage," I finally answered, praying that it sounded legit, "around the baseboards and, uh, rafters. It just... you know, fell down."
Stacey stared at me for a few seconds, and I got the distinct feeling she had seen through the lie. I wasn't too worried, though. Even if she knew I wasn't being truthful with her, would her first reaction be that I was a werewolf fighting demonic crime bosses and getting whisked away for illegal dog fights?
"Okay," she finally said, turning around to face forward again. "I'm still trying to get Principal Sandusky to let me start the Vegan Empire. You know, if you want to help."
I snorted. "The club that would ban the cafeteria from serving meat? They're never going to give the okay on something like that."
Stacey's expression turned hard, and I felt bad for egging her on like that. She was a hardcore vegan, the animals-are-people-and-meat-is-murder kind. I had been too, even if I was never as obsessive about it as her, but my lycanthropy had chased that away as soon as it set in. My wolf had already taken to calling me "prey." Eating like a rabbit would definitely have only pissed it off even more.
"If I remember right," Stacey snapped, "the club was your idea in the first place."
I blinked. Had that stupid club really been my idea? Thinking back, I had a vague recollection of suggesting it to her. Huh. Memories like those felt like they belonged to a completely different person.
I shrugged and slumped down comfortably in my seat. "They're still not going to let you take over the lunch menu, Stacey."
"I wouldn't be taking it over, I'd just..." her voice trailed off. "Okay, fine, but it's what needs to happen and you know it! People are murdering our animal brethren left and right. It's practically cannibalism. I..."
I tuned her out, my thoughts drifting back to more important matters. The guy sitting in the seat ahead of us rolled his eyes. I didn't blame him. I loved Stacey to death, but dang! That girl needed to take a chill pill. Maybe even a whole bottle.
What was I going to do about Kimberly? As aggravating as she'd been the past few weeks, I still cared about her. On my last visit to the doctor, Dr. Munse had told me I'd developed something like a mother/daughter bond with her. I wasn't sure if it was quite that strong, but it was still enough to make me unhappy whenever she was unhappy.
I shouldn't have snapped at her, I thought with a sigh. That's only going to push her even farther away.
No. Snap at her. Bite her! Show her who's in charge!
I rolled my eyes and sank a little deeper in the seat, propping my knees up on the chair in front of me. That might have been what I'd do if we were wolves, but we weren't. Like Stark had said, there was no reason we couldn't act civilized. I would get through to her somehow, eventually, and I'd do it the right way.
Stupid, whiny, weak prey.
"I didn't know you had an uncle here in town," Stacey said, interrupting my wolf's string of insults.
"Yeah, he moved here about, uh, five years ago."
"And you and your mom are staying there with him and your cousin?"
I started. "My cousin?"
Stacey turned to look at me. "That girl you were holding when I saw you at the mall."
"Oh," I breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, her. My cousin. She lives there too. Yeah."
Stacey hummed in her throat and her lips turned down in a half-frown. "Okay, then. Want to tell me what's really going on?"
Something in her tone of voice caught my attention, and I sat up. Had I said something wrong? No, I couldn't have. She didn't know who Kimberly was, but she'd seen us together before so that shouldn't have surprised her.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
The half-frown turned into a full frown, but she shrugged and faced forward again. "Nothing. Forget about it."
I watched her for a minute. If I knew Stacey, she was going to wait until I relaxed and then hit me with something she thought would be the dramatic end-all comeback. Usually it was something trite, like, "Yeah, well you have a zit on your nose," so I wasn't too worried. I settled back in the seat, ready to get the argument over with.
Sure enough, she looked at me again and raised her lip in a sneer.
"It's just that last time, you said she was your niece."
NEXT TIME: Stacey: 1, Amber: 0. If she wants to keep her secret for much longer, she’s going to need to get her act together! Who knows what’ll happen if Stacey gets wind of all this?