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But, what must be done must be done, and I was only sixteen at the time. My parents were thoroughly enjoying the move to California. I, of course, complained the whole way there. As soon as I sat down in my aisle seat on the plane from Baltimore, Maryland to San Francisco, California, I began to complain. "Hey Doc, remind me again why we're moving." My father sighed, rubbing his temples. "Because they need me in the main lab- I told you that." I frowned. I remembered him telling me, of course, but I just felt like hearing him say it again. I lightly nudged the seat in front of me. "Mom?" I heard my mother sigh wearily and twist around to look back at me. "Yes? What is it?" I shook my head. "Sorry. Nothing." She tucked a lock of her dark brown curls behind her ear. "Don't worry, honey." She said, tilting her head to the right. "California won't be so bad." I crossed my arms over my chest, slumped down further in my seat and pouted. "I don't like the city- every time we go to California we're always in the city." "California's not all cities." My father said, leaning into our conversation. "San Francisco is, though." I reminded him. "We've been there before." "But we're not living in San Francisco." My mother said. "Our new home will be in Cascade Town." I looked at her through partially closed eye lids. "Oh yay. Cascade Town." "It's on the beach." My father offered. "You like the beach." I looked up at the plane's artificial lighting. The recycled air blew into my facesoothing on a hot August day like it had been. "Yeah, I guess…" I trailed off. My father put his hand on my knee, rubbing the cap with his thumb. "It won't be horrible. Promise." I looked over at him- his blue eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled, square glasses resting delicately on the bridge of his nose. "Hey Doc," I said innocently. He raised an eyebrow. "You look like Sean Connery." He recoiled, leaning against the back of his seat. "Does Sean Connery have blue eyes?" My mother asked. She twisted around to look at my father. "Now that you mention it…" We laughed. My father sighed heavily and closed his eyes. The captain's voice sounded over the speakers, and I buckled up. I hated flying- despised it. Something about being thousands of feet in the air made me uneasy. "Your flight today is estimated at about six hours." I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut. "Can't be any worse than school." I opened my eyes just long enough to see my father wink at me. I leaned on his shoulder and fell asleep. When I woke up, four hours had gone by. There was a kink in my neck, and I had to use the facilities. The seatbelt sign was turned off, so I quickly got to my feet and headed to the back of the plane…where there was a line for the restrooms. Still groggy, I leaned against a vacant seat, thinking that its AWOL occupant must've been in line as well. As the line slowly moved, the plane shook like a rollercoaster (I hate those too, just as an FYI) and I grabbed onto the seat in desperation. I tried to stand and steady myself, but another sudden jolt made me lose my balance and I hit my head on an overhead compartment door that had popped open (Luckily, nothing fell on me). My eyes closed involuntarily and I felt strong arms pull me to my feet as I clutched my throbbing head.
"Here, sit down." Strong hands forced me into the empty seat I'd been leaning on. I tried to open my eyes, but as I did I felt a strong wave of nausea force me to close them again. I moaned in agony. "Nod if you can hear me." I moved my head maybe half a centimeter, it felt like, and tightened my grip on the arms that were still holding onto me. "Here." I felt something hard and plastic gently placed onto my lips. "Drink this. It's just water." I slowly opened my mouth and the cool liquid easily slid down my throat. "Better?" The bottle was pulled away and I nodded. "Can you open your eyes now?" I very slowly cracked my eyelids only to stare at the most handsome guy I've ever seen in my entire life. His hazel eyes stared at me- wide as he examined my face. "Are you okay?" He asked carefully, slowly enunciating each syllable. I found my voice. “Yes. Thank you.” He smiled warmly- his eyes sparkling in the artificial lighting. “Well that is a relief. The last thing we need is someone passing out.” I tried to laugh, but I didn’t think it was too funny, personally. I let go of his arm, revealing finger shaped bruises already beginning to form. He winced. “Sorry! Sorry…” I exclaimed, quickly drawing my hands back. He chuckled. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” The marks I had left stood out against his pale skin. “Besides, this can’t be worse than the bump you’ll have on your head.” I blushed- I felt it. “Well…yeah…I should go back to my own seat…” I tried to stand, but his strong hands pushed me back down. “You could have a concussion.” He said simply. “Doubtful” I told myself. “I have a thick enough skull.” But I humored him. “Watch my finger.” He held up his index finger and moved it to the left. My eyes followed. Then to the right; again I followed. Then up, then down, then in a circle until he moved closer to my face and lightly tapped me on the nose. I went cross eyed and winced. “Ouch.” He smiled. “Sorry about that. One more test.” I glared, my head throbbing. “Promise?” He held up both of his hands. “I swear.” I sighed. “Okay, one more.” He held up his index finger again. “Touch your nose and touch my finger.” I followed his instructions, chasing his finger down as he moved it around in front of him. “Good.” He noted. “Better than average.” He grinned. “Thanks. So can I go now? To tell you the truth, I need to use the bathroom.” He moved from his spot kneeled down before me, and I slowly stood. He reached out to me, and I jerked back. “Forgive me.” He bowed his head. “I wanted to make sure that you’re okay.” I relaxed my shoulders. At first, I was put off by him touching me, but he was only making sure I was alright…”Thank you.” I said. “I didn’t catch your name.” He smiled warmly at me again. “Nathaniel. Nathaniel Walker. And you are…?” I returned his smile. “Jill King. Do you live in California?” “I do. Are you going there for vacation?” He asked. I groaned. “No. We’re moving there…Unfortunately.” He chuckled. “California isn’t bad. The weather is fairly temperate to say the least.” “I’ll miss the snow.” I said, pouting. He laughed, his hazel eyes sparkling. “Well, prepare for none of it- especially if you live in the city.”
I shook my head. “Thank god we’re not. My father got transferred to a lab in Cascade Town…Which according to him isn’t in the city.” He raised his eyebrows. “Cascade Town, eh? Well he’s right- it certainly is not like San Francisco.” I noticed a vacant restroom and decided to make a break for it before it became occupied. “I’m going to go now.” I said, walking slowly towards my destination. “Thank you again for your help. Nice meeting you!” He nodded. “It is my pleasure. Enjoy that five hour bus ride to Cascade Town.” He walked back to his seat, giving me some privacy. It wasn’t until I had made it back to my own seat that I realized what he had said. “Long line?” My father asked me. “I wanted to go, but the line looked too long.” He peered over the seats, checking out the wait for the restrooms. “I suppose I should go now or never.” I got up again to let him out, but stopped him before he could walk away. “Doc, how long is it from San Francisco to Cascade Town?” I asked. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Nathaniel, but I needed to double check- just in case. He pushed his glasses further up onto the bridge of his nose. “Oh, about… four, five hours? Ask your mother, but I think that’s it.” I frowned. “’Kay, thanks.” I glumly sat back down, and didn’t even bother asking my mother for the information. I already knew the answer. I spent the rest of the plane ride arguing with my dad about whether or not it was possible to spontaneously combust. My mother would peek back at us every so often to input her opinion or to tell us to give it a rest…not that she stopped us. By the time I had made my argument about why people don’t randomly burst into flames, the flight attendants were coming by, telling us to stow our items and return our seats to their full upright positions. The landing (the worst part, in my opinion) was fairly smooth. I didn’t feel any better about our flight when the passengers began to applaud when the plane had ceased movement. “Oh praise the Lord we did not crash!” My dad mumbled playfully. I gently elbowed him and he winked at me. We exited the plane in an orderly fashion, got our luggage from the baggage claim, and stepped outside and into San Francisco. I hated it. “Hungry?” My mother asked me as my father called the shuttle company. “Is the ride to Cascade Town really five hours?” I asked instead. She laughed. “Yes, about five hours. Maybe we should get some food first, huh? Terry!” She called to my dad. He said something into his cell phone and looked up. “We’re going to get some lunch- do you want anything?” My father shook his head, and my mother grabbed my arm. “Let’s go!” She pulled me back into the airport and into a souvenir shop, where she grabbed water, pretzels, starburst, and beef jerky. “This is lunch?” I asked. She waved her hand at me impatiently. “Yes. Go get something.” I shrugged- it was her money. After wandering about six feet, I was able to bring back gummy worms, more pretzels, cheez-its, and goldfish. “What about Doc?” I asked. “I’ll share.” She said. I noticed that the amount of items in her arms had tripled. We rang up our junk food lunch and walked back outside where my father was waiting with a shuttle bus. “Our luggage is already on board.” He said. “Let’s go! Off to our new home!” He seemed a little too enthusiastic about this whole moving thing, if you asked me.
I climbed aboard, opened my gummy worms, and relaxed to a little Chopin with the help of my mP3 player. Luckily, there wasn’t too much traffic, and soon the route turned scenic. The presence of mountains so close was intimidating, and I knew it would take me awhile to get used to it. “Surfing in the morning, hiking in the evening.” My father promised me. “It will be such a healthy lifestyle- fantastic!” I rolled my eyes and bit into another gummy worm. “You’re going to sleep well tonight.” My mother said, looking a tad weary herself. “Travel does that to a person- not to mention the time change.” I checked my watch- it said 8:17. I set it back three hours and groaned. This would not be a pleasant first week. “You’re lucky.” My father said. “If it hadn’t been for Doctor Symonds, we’d be unpacking tonight. We should invite her over one night for dinner…as a thank you for setting up our house.” I kind of wondered why one of my father’s co-workers would be willing to move our stuff into our new house and set it up just like the old one. If you thought about it, it’s actually pretty creepy. But, this meant less work for me, so I wasn’t about to complain. After what seemed like ages, the shuttle finally exited the freeway and began to drive along the beach…which I didn’t think was safe at all. “Do cars always drive on the sand?” I asked. “Not in town.” My father answered. “This is supposed to be a short cut.” “Is it safe?” “Hmm…” He looked around at the landscape. “No.” I groaned and leaned against the window. “Are we there yet?” “Almost. About ten more minutes.” My mother said. A wave of relief washed over me when the shuttle drove up onto an actual paved road. There was a sign on the beach that read “Cascade Town” with a picture of the ocean’s waves and a moon painted on it. As we drove through town, my father insisted on pointing everything out to me. “There’s your school…and here’s the shopping center…over there is the gas station…” “Okay Doc, I get the picture.” I said, rolling my eyes. He laughed. “Planning on figuring things out for yourself, eh?” He asked. “Well that’s fine with me. Just be safe.” I looked at him. “A little paranoid, there Doc?” He shook his head. “Doctor Symonds- Tracy - told me about some disappearances lately. She was talking about suspected serial killers, but there have been no bodies to show for, so they can’t be completely positive.” Oh great. My parents decided to move us to the ‘Salem’s lot of California… Fantastic. “I’ll be careful.” I promised. The shuttle drove past the small town and off towards a large cliff. It finally pulled to a stop at the base of the cliff. “We have to walk the rest of the way.” My mother said, getting our luggage from the shuttle driver. I grabbed my suitcase, thankful that there wasn’t much in it, and got off the bus. My mother was waiting for me, but my father had already started walking off. The two of us ran to catch up with him, and he smiled at us. “You both will love our new house.” He said. “It’s small, cozy, and right near the beach…” We walked further along the shore and a house slowly came into view. It wasn’t on the beach, however, but up near the forest.
“Surfing in the morning, hiking in the evening.” My father repeated, winking at me. I have to admit, I did like it. I liked the fact that it was close to the ocean, yet still hidden by the trees, almost nestled into the mountain. We walked inside, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything reminded of home- in Hunt Valley. I left my suitcase in the middle of the living room and collapsed on the couch, closing my eyes. I knew that if I tried hard enough, I’d be able to trick myself into thinking that I was still in Maryland. “Honey, if you’re going to sleep, go to your room.” My mother’s soft voice interrupted my pretending. I groaned. “Why?” I heard my father’s footsteps as he entered the room. “Because your mother and I are expecting company, and we don’t want you asleep on the couch when they get here.” He explained. I sat up and blinked wearily. ‘Who?” “Doctor Symonds, Brian Jenkins, Alice Martsnough, and Diego Alvarez.” I made a face. Both of my parents were scientists- my father was the head researcher for some experiment on genes…That was the whole reason why we moved- the others wanted my parents at the main lab in California. The people he had listed as visitors were the other scientists. I got up and stumbled lazily into the kitchen. I grabbed an apple and wandered out of the back door. It opened up into the forest, and I wandered out. I forgot about my father’s request to be safe…but seriously, how much trouble could I get into? I bit into my apple and thought about it some more. I snorted. “How much trouble could I get into?” “You’d be surprised.” I jumped slightly and looked up. There was a guy walking towards me from the forest. I wanted to run back into the house; lock the door and call for my dad, but I stood my ground. He walked closer to me, and I felt my heart rate speed up. “I’m not going to eat you.” His words startled me. “What?” He pointed to the apple in my hand. I hadn’t noticed, but I had gripped it tighter, and now it was turning to mush in my hand. I tossed it off into the woods to decompose. “Sorry.” He smirked. “You’re new.” I made a face. “Yeah? Is it that obvious?” “It’s getting dark.” He stated. “Nobody goes out alone after dark.” “You’re out here, aren’t you?” I asked, pointing at him. “I see how it is.” He joined me on my back porch and held out his hand. “Darren Wilx.” I shook his hand with the one not covered in apple gore. “Jill King.” He nodded towards the forest. “Walk with me.” I hesitated. “I thought you said nobody goes out after dark.” I said warily. He chuckled. “I said nobody goes out alone after dark. You’ll be with a local. You’ll be fine.” He held out a hand. I still wasn’t convinced. “Why? In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a little uncomfortable walking into the forest with a complete stranger.” “You’re a smart one.” He said, turning away from me slightly. “Good. I’d be worried if you’d blindly agreed.” I nodded slowly. “Glad we cleared that one up.” I muttered. A wolf howled in the distance, sending shivers down my spine. The sun had almost set completely now, and Darren looked like nothing more than a shadow. “I think I should go now.” I said softly, half hoping he couldn’t hear me.
“That’s a good idea.” He said, just as softly. It sounded as though he was closer than I’d remember wrist stopped me. “What-” My words died in my throat as he pulled me into his chest, wrapping his arms around me. My first instinct was to reach around and dig my nails into his kidneys, but I found it difficult to move. “Stay away from the leeches.” I recoiled, breaking out of his hold. “What?” I heard him chuckle, and then he was gone. “That was weird.” I muttered to myself, walking back into the house. The visitors my parents were entertaining hadn’t left yet, so I snuck into my room. My watch said 10:11, and so I crawled into bed to lie down. I had barely started drifting off to sleep when I heard a knock on my door. My father walked in. “Going to bed?” He asked. I nodded. “Or at least I was trying to.” He smiled. “Get some rest- it’s been a long day.” He walked over and kissed me on the forehead. “I’m going to open your window to get some air in here. You’re lucky- your room is the only one that faces the ocean.” “Mmm.” I smiled. “Good.” I closed my eyes, and heard him walk over to the window and slide it open. “Night, Jill-pie.” “Night Doc.” I heard the door close, and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore gently lulled me to sleep. I woke up to a bright sun, shining into my room. I looked at my watch, which read 1:25. Groaning, I rolled over. “I should probably get up.” I said softly. “Do you always talk to yourself?” I jumped and looked to the window where Darren was leaning on the sill. “What are you doing??” I demanded, drawing the covers up to my chest, despite the heat radiating into my room. He shrugged. “I was walking along the beach, and I heard you talking to yourself. Maybe you shouldn’t leave your window open. The leeches could get in.” I groaned and got out of bed. “What is this obsession you have with leeches?” I asked, joining him at the window. “That’s the fatal flaw.” He said. “That you don’t know about them.” “Well I sure am lucky to have you around then…aren’t I?” I sneered. He smirked. “Of course.” “Then if you’ll excuse me, my parents will probably want to know that I’m awake now.” I turned to walk away from the window. “They’re not home.” I froze. Damn. “How do you know?” “Because they’re at my house.” He said. His know-it-all tone frustrated me. I was torn between calling them and believing him. I returned to the window. “Stay there- I’ll be out in ten minutes.” He rocked backwards and folded his arms. “I’ll be waiting.” I shut the window and closed the blinds…But even the thought of him standing there made me uneasy, so I gathered my clothes and went to change in the bathroom. I brushed my teeth and pulled my hair up before walking outside to meet him. Now that it was light outside I could actually see him. He was about ten inches taller than me, even without shoes on. He wasn’t wearing a shirt either, as though he was showing off his upper body- tanned and well sculpted…Hey, I’m only human, of course I was checking him out. “So my parents are at your house?” I asked for clarification.
He nodded once, crossing his arms. “They’re in a meeting.” A meeting? The two of them? That didn’t make sense. “What do you mean?” He chuckled. “I forgot- you’re new. I live with Diego Alvarez. He works at the lab with your parents.” Well that made sense. “How long will they be there for?” He shrugged. “All day, I suspect. You have the rest of the day to yourself.” The rest of the day…Yeah, after I’d slept through most of it. Well, I could always figure out where everything was in town…Maybe I could even find a bike shop- it seemed like the only logical way to get around this place. “Um…Thanks, then…I guess.” I said. In truth, I thought that Darren was extremely good looking, and standing in front of him while he was half naked was making me just a tad bit uncomfortable. “I’ll see you around.” I turned to walk awayoff to town, but I heard him sigh loudly and follow me. I groaned, but kept walking. He chuckled. “Well you can’t just go running around town by yourself if you’re new.” When had he gotten so close to me? I ignored it. “Can’t I?” “No you can’t.” He said. “Which means I’ll have to show you.” He held out his hand, his golden eyes gleaming. I groaned and rolled my eyes at him. “Please. I’m not a baby. I can take care of myself.” He said nothing-only followed me as I continued to walk into town. It was just a tad bit awkward, walking around with a half naked guy who I had only met yesterday. The silence made me uncomfortable, so I decided to strike up a conversation. “I didn’t know that wolves lived around here.” I said, speaking of the previous night. “I mean, this is a petty interesting geographic spot…beach, forest, mountain…” He chuckled. “It is odd…but we do have a small wolf population…” The way he spoke was somewhat detached, as though he’d rather not talk about it. “Any other sorts of wildlife I should watch out for?” I asked. I was joking, but he nodded gravely. “The leeches, of course.” I frowned. “Do you really expect me to believe that there are leeches here? Do you think I’d be stupid enough to enter leech infested waters?” He looked at me. “And your parents work for the lab here?” He asked. “I understand that they transferred, but nonetheless…” “What are you talking about?” He stared at me for a second. “Do your parents discuss their job with you?” He asked. I shook my head. “No. I figure it’s none of my business.” He looked away from me, and inhaled deeply. “I suppose you’re right.” He said softly. He spoke slowly, as though he wasn’t sure of what to say next. “It’ll be easier if you don’t know.” I thought about what he had said. “What does my parent’s job have to do with leeches?” He immediately shook his head. “Nothing. I was just curious.” “Sure.” We kept walking in silence down the streets of Cascade Town. It was a fairly quiet town- the kind of place where everyone knew one another, I supposed. Every now and again someone would nod at Darren and he would politely acknowledge them. I stopped talking and paid more attention to what was going on around metrying to remember what was where. When we got to the school, I stopped. He kept going, but stopped when he realized that I hadn’t kept going. “What?” He asked me. “The school? You don’t strike me as the brainy type.” He grinned and tilted his head to the side.
I shot him a look. “Gee thanks. I just thought that I should familiarize myself with the place so that I don’t make a fool of myself the first day.” “Will I have to escort you there as well?” He asked, mocking me. “No! I’m not that pathetic…” I looked up at him. He only looked a year or so older than me. “How old are you?” He smirked. “I’ll be eighteen in February.” “Senior?” I asked. He nodded. “Me too.” He gave me a suspicious look. “How old are you?” I gasped playfully. “You’re never supposed to ask a lady her age! It’s rude!” “My dearest apologies.” He said, bowing. I laughed. “I’m sixteen. Seventeen in October.” He raised an eyebrow. “A young one then, you are.” I felt myself blushing. “Yeah, sure.” He chuckled. “It’s very easy to make you blush.” I glared at him. “Oh hush. You’re supposed to be ‘showing me around town’, aren’t you? So let’s go.” I started to walk on, but he stayed where he was. I looked back at him. “Come on!” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Is this town really so interesting?” He asked. I put my hands on my hips. “Well then what do you recommend we do? It’s already almost three o’clock.” He held out his hand. “Come. We’ll go to my house.” I was hesitant to follow him. “I just met you yesterday.” I explained. “Our guardians are there.” He reassured me. “Do you think I’m taking you there to rape you?” I tapped my chin thoughtfully. “Well you do seem the type.” He just looked at me. “Just come on.” I sighed and gave up, walking over and taking his hand, and following him back the other way. “You only need to remember the four parts of Cascade Town.” He said out of nowhere. “The beach is a neutral area. Town is for the humans. The forest is for the wolves, and the mountains are for the leeches.” He explained. I had no idea what he was talking about. “The wolves know to stay in the forest?” I asked. When he nodded, I continued. “And the people stay in town…or on the beach.” He nodded again. “So then what are these leeches you keep talking about? I don’t understand.” He sighed, sounding frustrated with me. “Jillian…” “Don’t call me Jillian.” I interrupted. He smirked. “Jill…Don’t worry about it.” I pouted. “Then stop talking about it, please.” He chuckled, patting me on the top of the head. “Whatever you want, Jill.” I was a little uncomfortable. He was not wearing a shirt, I just met him, he was leading me back to his house, holding my hand, and using my name way too much… Of course, I was too polite to say anything, but whatever. He led me back to my own house, and took me up into the forest. “I thought you said the forest was for the wolves.” I said, looking up at him. He nodded. “I did…But that’s where we live.” I took a deep breath. “Is it safe?” He chuckled again- I guessed that I said some pretty entertaining things. “Yes, we’ll be quite safe.” “Are you sure?” He stopped walking and looked me right in the eye. “I promise that you will be perfectly safe.” He gave me a small, reassuring smile and kept walking. Soon enough (sooner than I thought, as a matter of fact), I spotted a cabin that was hidden inside the forest.
“Hey Darren…” I said, thinking of something. “Where’s the lab?” He paused before answering me. “Did you see the cliff on the way here? Before your house.” I nodded. I remembered it from yesterday. “There’s a road that leads up that cliff and up into the mountains…That’s where the lab is.” I groaned- frustrated. “But…you said the mountains…and the leeches…” I let go of his hand and grabbed my head. “I’m confused.” He sighed and put his hands on my shoulders. “Jill, calm down. Don’t worry- I already told you not to worry.” I frowned. “Fine.” He took my hand again and led me to and into his house. Diego and my parents were sitting at a table in the front room. When we walked in, they stopped whatever they were doing to turn and look at us. Diego Alvarez stood up quickly, and my parents soon followed suit. “Now would be as good a time as ever for introductions, then.” My father said, adjusting his glasses. “Diego, this is our daughter Jill. Jill, this is Doctor Alvarez.” I mumbled a quick “hi” to him as he nodded at me. “And you know my nephew, Darren.” Darren smiled at my parents, who politely smiled back. “Darren, why don’t you take Jill and show her…” Diego waved his hand behind him. “Show her the back. The back.” He repeated. Darren nodded and gently took my arm, leading me past them, through the kitchen, and out the back door- to the forest again. “Maybe we shouldn’t have interrupted them…” I said, looking back at the house. I shook my head. “Nope. So wait…Diego is your uncle?” He nodded. “Yes…My mother and his wife were sisters.” I didn’t think that I should ask about the ‘were’ part of his statement, but after a quiet sigh he continued anyway. “My parents sent me to live with him after she died almost six years ago.” He said, looking down. “Because he wasn’t faring well without her.” “Oh.” I said softly. “I’m sorry.” He smiled to match my words. “You’re a kind soul.” I could feel myself blushing again. “Oh…Uh…Thank you.” He laughed lightly. “See? I was right- it is easy to make you blush.” I saw no use in arguing, so I said nothing. Instead, we walked quietly through the forest together. He waited awhile before he took my hand again. I didn’t think anything of it- his hand was cool and refreshing over mine on the hot day. I began walking closer to him without even realizing it, and he moved in closer too. “Where are we going?” I eventually asked him. He smiled and shrugged. “Nowhere, I suppose.” “The forest is your backyard.” I mumbled, smiling. I took a deep breath and exhaled with a sigh. A wolf howled in the distance. Darren looked up, his green eyes scanning the woods. I looked at my watch. “Didn’t you want to bring me here this time last night?” I asked him. He nodded. “But you should go home now…Before it gets too late.” He reversed his direction and led me back home. We kept walking in silence until we got all the way back to my house. “Well, thanks for today.” I said. “It beat being alone.” He smiled. “I couldn’t let you walk around town by yourself on your first day.” He said. I slowly inched my way towards the front door. “Have a safe walk back home.” I told him.
“Jill.” He stopped me. When I turned to face him, he was closer than I’d suspected…just like the previous night. “Don’t leave your window open tonight.” “Leeches?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm. “You catch on quickly.” He gently pressed his lips to my forehead, and walked off. I stumbled into the house and collapsed on the couch. Groaning, I rubbed my eyes. I stayed on the couch for an hour, just lying there, before my parents walked in. “Productive day?” My father asked, chuckling. I cracked an eye and grunted at him. My mother shook his head. “Well at least you got out of the house for part of the day.” “Did, er, Darren show you around town?” My father asked. Well that wasn’t exactly what he did, but it was close enough. I nodded. “Yeah Doc.” “Good. He’s a good kid.” My mom said, wandering into the kitchen. “Are you hungry?” My dad patted me on the shoulder. “C’mon Jill-pie. Let’s get some food.” I reluctantly stood and followed him into the kitchen. My mom took some pasta out of the cupboard and put a pot of water on to boil. My father and I sat down at the kitchen table. I thought about what Darren had told me- about closing my window because of the leeches. “Hey Doc…” I said. “Are there any leeches around here?” My father gave me a puzzled look. “Leeches? As in the parasite?” I sighed. “I guess…I mean, Darren’s been talking about them and I assumed…” I stopped talking when I noticed how my parents were staring at me. “What?” “What did Darren tell you about leeches?” My father asked me. I shrunk back into my seat. “Nothing, actually…He just kept telling me to watch out for them. What’s he talking about?” My parents shot each other a look…I couldn’t tell whether or not it was a bad thing. I waited patiently for them to tell me. “Don’t worry about it.” My father said, looking away from me. “It’s fine.” I didn’t give up. “He told me not to sleep with my window open because of the leeches.” I didn’t add that he was the one who had opened my window the previous night. My mother loudly plunked a bowl of salad down on the table. “It’s fine.” She echoed my father. “They’re just like any other animal. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” I frowned. That didn’t answer any of my questions…But I didn’t want to get into an argument with my parents, either. Instead, I nodded. “Okay Mom.” She forced a smile and put a plate down in front of me. “Come on. Let’s eat.” I was quiet for the rest of the night- it was obvious that my parents weren’t going to tell me anything, which meant that I had to get all of my answers from Darren. It was unlikely that he’d clue me in but there was a slight possibility. Before I went to bed, I made sure that my window was closed and locked…Just in case. The next day was Wednesday, and my parents left early to go to work in the lab. I remembered the bike that I had planned to search for the previous day, and decided to go into town again. I hopped in the shower and grabbed some frozen waffles before heading out. When I got into town, I found someone who had a red bicycle, and approached them. “Excuse me.” I said. “Where did you buy your bike?” The owner grinned at me. “Not in this town.” He spoke with a thick, Russian accent. “I have been trying to sell it. Would you be willing to buy it from me?”
I kicked a rock at my feet. “That depends, I guess. How much do you want for it?” He shrugged, looking down at the bike. “When I first bought it, this was a good mountain bike…But I have had it for some time, so it isn’t in brand new condition, so…one hundred dollars.” I smiled with excitement. “That’s it? Just one hundred dollars? Seriously?” He laughed at me. “Yes, just one hundred.” “Oh man, thank you!!” I put my hands in my pockets, only to find that I had left my wallet at home. “Um, sorry…Could you wait right here, for maybe ten minutes?” He smiled warmly at me. “Of course. Why rush on a brilliant day such as this?” “Thank you so much! I’ll be right back, I promise!” I raced back to town in ten minutes flat. “Here!” I held out a small wad of bills, and he took it. “One hundred dollars.” He said, grinning. “Thank you.” He handed me the bike, and pointed down the street. “At the general market store they sell helmets. I would offer you mine, but…” He laughed sheepishly. I laughed with him. “That’s okay, thanks. I appreciate it.” “You’re welcome.” He pocketed the money. I hopped on the bike and took off back to my house. When I arrived, Darren was waiting for me. “Is that Vladimir Rasputin’s bicycle?” He asked me. I dismounted it and looked at him. “Is he about six feet tall, black shaggy hair and dimples?” I asked. He nodded. “Yeah, why?” He paused, thinking. “Nothing. Do you have a helmet?” I bit my bottom lip. “Um…No…I was going to buy one, but I think I spent all of my money on the bike itself.” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Well, come on, then. I have one you can have.” “Wait, I can’t take your helmet!” I told him, shaking my head. He shrugged. “I don’t use it. You’ll need it; trust me.” Again, I saw no point in arguing with him, so I wheeled my bike around the side of the house, and followed Darren to his home. I waited for him out front while he went inside in search of the helmet. He emerged fifteen minutes later with a motorcycle helmet. “I can’t wear that!” I exclaimed. “I’ll look ridiculous!” “But you’ll be safe.” He said, handing it to me. “And that’s what’s most important.” I groaned. “You sound like my dad…Why do you have this, anyway?” “It used to be my aunt’s.” He said, tapping it with one finger. “My uncle still has his, but he doesn’t ride anymore…This one will fit you better.” I didn’t say anything. I figured that was how she had died, but I didn’t want to touch on a sensitive subject. “Well…Thank you, then.” He smiled. “You’re welcome.” I tucked the helmet under my arm and smiled at him. “So…What do you want to do today?” He shrugged, chuckling. “Since school starts Monday…We shouldn’t do too much.” “Monday already?” I asked. “Well if that’s the case, I’m going back to bed…” I turned and started back to my house. I heard Darren groan and follow me. “No, come on…” He grabbed my hand and tried to drag me back into the house. “What are you doing? You fiend!” I laughed. “Seriously, what are you doing?” He stopped pulling, and I pouted at him. “I didn’t mean for you to go home. We can watch a movie, or something.” I sighed. “Well if that’s the case…”
He yanked on my arm again, and I tumbled forward into his arms. He smirked. “A movie it is.” I told him, keeping a tight grip on the helmet. He released me, and I took his hand as we walked into his house. He led me into the living room and I sat down on the floor. “Which movie?” He asked, going over to the entertainment center. “You can pick.” I stretched out on the floor, closing my eyes. I pushed the helmet into a corner, out of the way. “Something…scary. I’m in a morbid mood.” I heard him chuckle. “Horror it is, then.” I heard the sound of white noise as he turned on the TV, then the sound of him putting a disc into the DVD player. I opened my eyes when I heard his footsteps and saw him standing in front of me. “Move.” “Why?” I asked. “You can have the couch.” “Heh. No. Move.” To make his point, he gently kicked me in the leg. Groaning, I sat up with my back against the couch. “Better?” He sat down beside me. “Much.” He grabbed the remote and hit play. The scary movie he picked was truly terrifying. It was so gory that I resorted to hiding my face in his shoulder. He chuckled at me each time. ”Maybe we should’ve gone with a comedy…?” I frowned. “Oh hush.” When the movie was finally over, I snatched up the remote. “Okay I’m picking now.” I settled for a stand up comedian special. “This isn’t even funny.” Darren complained to me. “Well it’s better than the projectile bleeding in the other movie.” I shot back. “You don’t strike me as a squeamish person.” He said, raising his eyebrows. “I’m not, but that was overboard. You can’t deny that.” He laughed, but nodded in agreement anyway. We ended up arguing over what to watch and flipping through the channels without actually watching anything. Finally we found an action movie and settled down. I thought it was kind of boring, and rested my head on his shoulder. He draped his arms around me, and soon I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was laying on my side on the ground in front of the couch. Darren’s arms were wrapped around me, his knees against the back of mine. His steady breathing tickled the nape of my neck, letting me know that he was asleep as well. I looked at the clock on the VCR; it was 4:38. “Darren!” I whispered. He grunted. “It’s almost five.” I felt him stir slightly before settling again. “And your point is?” I stifled a yawn. “Won’t my parents and your uncle be coming home soon?” “So?” I groaned. “Never mind then, I guess.” He chuckled. “Alright. Get up.” I stood, and he rose with me. “Let’s go walk on the beach.” I didn’t say anything- only followed him out of the front door. We walked along the shore, hand in hand, enjoying the silence. “Thank you.” He said, breaking the silence. “For what?” I asked. He ignored my question. “I’ve enjoyed spending time with you.” I shook my head. “Darren, what are you talking about?” It was his turn to shake his head. “Just do me one favor.” We reached my house and he led me to the front door. “What?” I asked. He took my hands in his and rested his forehead against mine. “Stay-“ “Away from the leeches?” I guessed, interrupting him.
He chuckled. “No…But you are a quick learner. I was going to say ‘stay in town’.” “Why?” He smiled warmly at me. “You’re so adorable.” I felt myself blushing. “What are you talking about?” He ignored my question again. “I have to leave.” “Well…good night, then.” He closed his eyes. “Good bye.” I tried to pull away- to walk inside- but he kept a firm grip on my hands. I looked up into his golden eyes and heard his breath catch in his throat. “Jillian…” He paused as though to say something else, and instead lightly touched his lips to mine. He pulled away slowly and I bit my bottom lip. “Night, Darren.” I whispered. I stood up on my toes and pressed my lips against his. He embraced me tightly before letting me go. I stood there and watched his retreating form with my hands clasped together over my heart. When I could no longer see him, I opened the door and walked inside. My parents came home a little while later; neither of them mentioned the previous night’s conversation. “What did you do today?” My mother asked during dinner. ”Hung out with Darren again.” I noticed them glance sideways at each other again. “And I bought a bike.” It was then I realized that I had left my helmet at his house. It wasn’t a big deal- I could always retrieve it the next day. “Oh? Where’d you buy a bicycle?” My father asked. “I bought it off of someone. What was his name…? Something Rasputin.” ”Vladimir Rasputin?” My mother asked. She seemed almost hopeful. “Oh he’s a nice boy. Very polite. Comes from a good family.” “His father’s one of the main researchers at the lab. Very well educated man.” My father added. “Sure…” The conversation died there, along with any of my hopes for an entertaining evening. I wound up going to bed early, making sure that my window was locked before I turned off the light. I woke up at one again. I showered and ate before heading out. I remembered Darren’s words. “Stay in town.” What had he meant? I wasn’t about to go wandering off into the forest without him, but maybe he was talking about his own home? Why was he talking so strangely? Well, asking myself wasn’t going to get me very far. Taking his words into consideration, I headed off into town. I decided to walk, since I didn’t have a helmet. It wasn’t a far walk from my house to Cascade Town, and when I got there, I found myself with nothing to do. I walked around for awhile, and found a small salvation in my new town: a book store. I went inside and was greeted by a blast of cool air from an oscillating fan. “Welcome!” The girl behind the counter greeted me. “Let me know if you need help finding anything.” I smiled at her. “Okay; thanks!” I browsed the shelves, not really looking for anything, and wound up in the back of the store when I heard the door open and close. “There you are!” I head the counter girl say. “I’ve worked your shift for almost a whole week now!” “Lacy, I just got back a few days ago.” “That’s no excuse! Why didn’t you get your little friend to help out while you were off?”
“Lacy, calm down please. I’m here now, aren’t I?” I heard Lacy sigh. I kind of felt guilty for listening in on their conversation, but they were talking rather loud…Their voices stopped, and I resumed my browsing. Not quite paying attention, I took a step backwards…bumping into someone. “I’m so sorry!’ I gasped, recoiling. The person I’d bumped into chuckled. “Not at all.” He looked up, and smiled at me. I recognized him. “Nathaniel?” I asked tentatively. “Hello, Jill. I had a feeling we’d meet again. How are you?” “I’m good…Why didn’t you tell me that you live here also?” I asked him, demanding to know more than anything else. He laughed quietly. “Well, I didn’t think it was important. We were bound to run into each other sooner or later…” “So you figured later over sooner?” I grinned. He shrugged. “If you would like to look at it that way, yes. Enough about that, though; how do you like Cascade Town so far?” I sighed. I hadn’t really thought about it. “I guess I like it…The people are really nice…My parents have a job, so that’s all that matters, I guess.” He laughed loudly, smiling widely at me. “I assume they are happy as well?” I nodded. “That’s very selfless of you.” He said softly. I started to blush. “Um…Thank you?” “Nathaniel!” I heard Lacy call in a shrill voice. Nathaniel looked over his shoulder. “Shouldn’t you go over there?” I asked. “I’m not on the clock. She can’t boss me around.” He said. “NATHANIEL!” I winced at the sound of her voice. “Maybe you should go anyway…” I recommended, just so she would shut up. He sighed in defeat, and reluctantly returned the call with a loud groan. He waved at me as he walked over to her. He disappeared behind another book shelf, and I tried harder not to eavesdrop. But it didn’t work. Their voices were low, and I moved closer, straining to hear. “Do you know who that girl is?” Lacy asked, in a violent whisper. “Of course I do.” Nathaniel calmly replied in a low voice. “Her father is-“ “I know who her father is!” Lacy cut him off. “Everybody knows who both of her parents are; that’s not my point!! Do you really think that the doctor would appreciate it if-“ “Elizabeth, please, calm yourself. I assure you, it is not a problem.” There was an optimistic tone in Nathaniel’s voice. “Well how do you know?” Lacy demanded to know. Her tone was venomousher words like poison. “Because Tracy told me.” The conversation paused. Tracy? As in Tracy Symonds, my parent’s friend? I had known Tracy since I was born…but she’d never mentioned Cascade Town beforeI’d never even heard of it until my parents told me we were moving here a month ago. “Tracy told you everything?” Lacy asked cautiously. There was a pause. “Well I can see where her loyalties lie.” She sniffed. “Whatever. I don’t even care.” Nathaniel chuckled. “Lacy, please. It isn’t that she doesn’t trust you, but-“ “But she just trusts you more. I get it. Does Vlad know? What about Tessa?” “Nobody knows but Tracy, you, and I…And it shall stay that way.” He said sternly. “Understand.” Lacy sighed. “Fine.”
When I thought that they were starting to move, I quietly slinked off to the back corner, looking at the “Reference” books. Nathaniel soon joined me. “Do you see anything that’s worth your money?” He asked. I shrugged. “I’m not really looking to buy.” I turned my pockets inside out. “I’m broke.” I confessed, grinning. He laughed. I didn’t think it was very funny that I had no money, but apparently it was quite amusing. “Well…here.” He scanned the shelf, selected a small paperback book, and handed it to me. “Think of it as a free sample.” I took the book and cocked my head to the side. “You’re giving this to me?” Nathaniel smiled. “Yes. I’m sure you’ll make good use of it.” I returned the smile. “Well thank you. I’ll take good care of it.” I checked my watch. “I should get going.” Nathaniel nodded. “Will I see you again, soon?” He asked. “Well it’s a pretty small town…I’m sure we’ll meet again.” He looked over his shoulder, at Lacy who was busy at the counter. “Jill…Would it be awkward if I asked you out to lunch?” I bit my bottom lip. “Um…No…But I have no cash, remember?” “Don’t be silly. I asked you out; I’ll pay.” He said. “I couldn’t impose like that…” “Jill.” He looked at me. “I asked you. It’s fine.” I sighed. “Well…Okay then. If you insist.” He smiled and took my arm. “Shall we?” I returned his smile. “I suppose.” He led me out of the bookstore, giving a slight nod to Lacy who turned her nose up at him on our way out. “Don’t mind her.” He said to me when the coast was clear. “It takes awhile to warm up to her.” “She seemed pretty nice when I walked in.” I told him. “Well then maybe it was just me.” He shrugged. “Where would you like to go for lunch?” “You pick.” I said. “Since you’re paying.” He smirked. “Alright. We can go to the Blue Moon.” I thought about it. “That’s…the local diner, right?” When he nodded slowly, I continued. “Hey- be nice. I’m still trying to get used to this place.” “No matter how small it is?” He teased. I snorted. “Yeah. Even so.” “Well, don’t worry. It’s not too far from here.” He assured me. He was right. We walked arm in arm for maybe three blocks before the Blue Moon diner came into view. We entered and a blonde girl dressed in Lolita greeted us. “Nate! Hey! I didn’t expect to see you here!” She grinned, and then looked at me. “Oh, who’s your friend?” Nathaniel motioned to me. “This is Jill. Jill, this is Tessa, my cousin.” I remembered Lacy and Nathaniel mention someone named Tessa when I was eavesdropping. Tessa gave me a bone crushing hug. “Great to meet you! Let me get you two a table.” She grabbed Nathaniel’s hand and my hand and led us to a booth in the back. We sat and she pointed at Nathaniel. “The usual?” He nodded.”What about you, hun?” She asked me. I thought about it. “Surprise me.” I told her. Tessa’s face lit up. “You got it. I’ll be right back, you two.” She left us, humming to herself as she went along. “She’s your cousin?” I asked once she was gone. Nathaniel nodded. “Our fathers were brothers.”
I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew I shouldn’t ask, but I did anyway. “Were?” He inhaled deeply. “They both died a few years ago…In a hunting accident.” He looked down. “Oh.” I said quietly. My thoughts immediately shifted to Darren, and the story of his aunt. “I’m sorry.” “That’s why we’re here.” He continued. “Our mothers sent us here to live with our aunt.” “Your father’s sister?” He nodded. “It’s confusing…I suppose.” “Not really.” I said carefully. He smiled up at me. I blushed. Tessa returned, killing the conversation. She set a hamburger down in front of Nathaniel, and a plate of pasta in front of me. “Thanks.” I said, smiling at her. “It’s your favorite, right?” She winked. I stared at her. “How did you-“ “I had a hunch.” She laughed. “Enjoy.” She sauntered away. “Bon appetite.” I took a bite- it was delicious. I made a mental note to remember to suggest this place to my parents. “Good?” Nathaniel asked, smiling at me. I nodded enthusiastically. We both stopped talking to eat half of our meals, and then began to converse again. “Nathaniel…” I said slowly. While I was eating in silence, I’d had time to think, and an idea formed in my mind. “I don’t suppose you know anything about leeches… do you?” He slowed his eating. He slowly finished chewing and swallowed. “Why do you think there are leeches around here?” He asked me carefully. I took a deep breath. “Because Darren…Uh…Darren Wilx was always telling me…To…” I saw the look in his eyes that was apprehensive and maybe a bit frightened. I bit my bottom lip. “Never mind.” He chuckled. “Darren Wilx?” I nodded. “And you believed him, I’m assuming?” He smiled now, but it was one of uncertainty…As though he was covering something up. “Should I not have?” I asked, leaning back in my seat. He chuckled again. “Darren Wilx is not what I would call a reliable source of information. Not someone I would recommend socializing with.” “My parents seem to like him…What’s wrong with him?” I pouted. He sighed. “Don’t worry about it…You wouldn’t understand.” I frowned. “That’s it? ‘You wouldn’t understand’?” That frustrated me. “What wouldn’t I understand?” He eyed me. “Jill…Please calm down.” I exhaled and dropped the fork that I had been holding. It was bent slightly, so I suppose ‘clutching’ would be a more appropriate word. I stood up to leave. He stood with me. “Jill, please; stop.” He looked around nervously. “I have to go home before it gets dark.” I said, grabbing the book he had given me and turning to storm out. “Jill-“ He reached out and took a hold of my wrist, but I ripped my arm away from him. His nails accidentally scarped my hand, and I pulled it close to me. Blood droplets formed on the surface and as soon as they did, it felt like the whole room froze. Nathaniel gazed up at me with wide eyes, frozen on the spot.
“It’s fine.” I mumbled, moving my hand to my mouth. But in an instant he was beside me with his hand on my arm again. “Let’s go.” He said coldly. He briskly led me out of the diner and out onto the streets. Outside, the wind was blowing. I heard wolves howling in the distance. I shivered, and Nathaniel pulled me along. “Where are we-“ “Don’t speak.” His eyes scanned the area haphazardly, as though he was looking for something. We walked quickly through town- back to my house, I soon realized- and when we stepped onto the beach I heard a deep, throaty laugh. “Step aside, Nathaniel.” I didn’t see who was speaking, however, as Nathaniel moved in between him and I, maintaining a firm grip on my wrist. “Go home, Vlad.” I recognized that name…And not just from earlier that afternoon. “Vladimir Rasputin.” I whispered. I heard him chuckle darkly. “Perhaps you should let her decide.” He purred, sending chills down my spine. “Vlad, you aren’t being rational.” “You aren’t either, my friend. You are being unnatural.” “You know who she is.” Nathaniel’s tone was harsh and accusing- something I never would’ve guessed he’d be capable of. “What would Tracy say?” There was Tracy’s name again. What was going on? “You cannot protect her forever, Nathaniel.” Vlad was changing the subject. “Why don’t you sleep on it, Vladimir?” Vlad chuckled again- his thick accent adding to the deep, rich sound. “So protective of her…It’s fascinating.” Nathaniel’s grip tightened slightly. I wondered if my hand was turning blue, but I was too afraid to turn my head and look. “Go, Vlad.” And then all was silent. I assumed that Vladimir had left, and I knew I was safe when Nathaniel let me go. He turned to face me with concern in his eyes. “We should talk.” I nodded slowly. “Yeah, we should.” He hurried me into my house and sat me down on my couch. “Since you asked…and since…” He trailed off, but I knew what he meant. “I now see the need to explain to you.” I took a deep breath, bracing myself for what he was about to tell me. “Okay. Please continue.” “I’ll start with the leeches.” He said. “Since you seem to be most interested in them.” I said nothing, trying instead to read his expression. “Cascade Town is quite conveniently located. There’s the town, the beach, the forest, and the mountains.” So far he was telling me things that I already knew. ”And…the leeches reside primarily in the mountains. Nobody quite knows why…But that’s just how it’s always been. They typically keep to themselves…But have been known to occasionally stray…” “You aren’t making any sense.” I interrupted. “And you’re basically telling me what I already know.” “I’m sorry…I-“ He stopped, and turned to look at the front door. “Your parents are home.” I couldn’t understand how he knew that…my parents didn’t own a car. He stood up swiftly and turned to leave. “Keep your windows closed tonight.” He said. “And read that book I gave you.”
I looked down at the book and when I looked up again he was gone. I heard the doorknob turn and the front door opened. My parents walked in. “Oh, Jill! I didn’t expect you to be home.” My mother said, smiling at me. I returned her smile, but it wasn’t genuine. “Usually you’re out gallivanting with that Darren boy.” My father added gruffly. He walked past my mother and I into the kitchen. “I was actually with someone else today.” I said, following him. “Nathaniel Walker?” “Tracy’s nephew?” My mom asked, joining us. “He’s a good kid. Very responsible.” “That’s what you said about Darren, like, two days ago.” I muttered, hopping up onto the counter. I saw my parents shoot each other those “we’re keeping secrets from her” looks again. It made me nervous. “So Jill, school is starting soon.” Leave it to my father to be the one to change the subject. “Do you need anything?” “No.” I grumbled. “It’s fine. Everything’s fine, right?” I asked, mocking them. “Don’t be like that.” My mother said, lightly tapping me on the knee. “It’s not a very becoming attitude for a young lady.” I said nothing. I was angry at the two of them for keeping secrets from me. I hopped down off of the counter, and stalked off to my room. “Aren’t you hungry?” My mother called after me. I grabbed my book off the sofa. “No.” I said angrily. I went into my room and closed the door. What I needed was some music; something classic. Walking over to the closet I took out a box and opened it. It was full of CDs. I selected my favorite and placed it gingerly into the CD player on my desk. I hit play and the powerful sounds of the orchestra resonated through the still air. Bach was my all time favorite composer- his pieces always left me in a good mood. I settled onto my bed and opened the book without looking at the title. It confused me, and I didn’t read more than the first two pages. I set it down and closed my eyes. My room was stuffy- it was hot inside and out- but I didn’t want to open the door because of my parents. I looked at the window. “Don’t leave your window open.” I mentally swore. After about ten minutes of just laying there, I couldn’t take it anymore and opened the window anyway. A cool gust of wind blew the salty air into my room, cooling it down a bit. I returned to my bed and picked up the book again, deciding to try and read it once more. The cover read “Legends of the Coast: Limited Edition”, and the table of contents had a wide variety of cities in the United States that were located on the coast. Cascade Town was on page 125. I flipped there and began to read. “Though one of the lesser known areas of the Pacific Coast, Cascade Town is shrouded in legend and mystery. Founded in 1924 by Cory and Astrid Conrad, Cascade Town was named for its brilliance right on the beach. However, it is for its mountains and woods that this town is known. From out of these mountains, creatures called ‘leeches’ are said to have come, infringing on the territory of the wolves in the forests. Though nobody has actually seen one of these ‘leeches’, there are rumors about where they come from. “Shortly after the city was founded, Astrid Conrad helped construct a building high in the mountains, which she called her lab. It is unknown what she did at this lab, but today it is used for genetic research. According to the lead doctor at this lab, Tracy Symonds, the ‘leeches’ were a result of an experiment conducted by Astrid in the late 1940’s. However, no definite facts are known, and today still, wolves can be heard on warm evenings.”
“But what are the leeches?” I whispered to myself, frustrated. The book was virtually useless- I had no clue why Nathaniel even gave it to me. I tossed it aside and put my head down on my pillow. They say you aren’t supposed to go to bed angry, but I did it anyway. I stayed in the house the next few days; I was too depressed to go out or do anything. Monday came soon enough, and since I didn’t have a helmet, I woke up at six-thirty to get to school by seven fifteen. It honestly wasn’t a long walk, but I dawdled, enjoying the scenery. I arrived and walked to the office. This school, unlike my old school in Maryland, was outdoors, and had no lockers. It was intimidating, but I supposed I would adjust. “What do you need, sweetheart?” The receptionist asked me in a nasally voice. I cringed. “I’m Jill King. Uh…I’m new to this district. Can I get my schedule?” The lady peered at me behind thick rimmed glasses. “Jillian King?” She asked. “The daughter of Doctor Terry King?” I groaned. “Yeah. Can I get my schedule please?” She grabbed a manila folder from off the top of the desk and flipped through it. She handed me a piece of paper. “Better get going.” She said as I skimmed the schedule. “The bell will ring in two minutes.” I nodded at her and quickly left, looking for room 125- Calculus. The office was room 501, and as I looked across the quad, I frowned. It would be a long day. I eventually found room 125, and when I walked in I took a seat in the back. There were already one or two students there, and I waited patiently as the others filed in. As they did, I recognized Tessa from the Blue Moon, but she sat at the front and didn’t see me. She was dressed in her Lolita fashion, which I had previously assumed was just for the diner. The second bell rang and the teacher stood in front of the class. “Good morning everybody, I am your teacher Ms. Weiss. Welcome to Calculus AB.” Ms. Weiss spent the rest of the period explaining the logistics of the class and what we’d be doing for the rest of the year. I, having absolutely no attention span whatsoever, fell asleep. The bell woke me up with a start fifty minutes later. I groggily gathered my things and stalked off towards my next class- dance. Let me say one thing: I do not like to dance. I had no idea why I chose to take a dance class instead of regular P.E., but I did…and I regretted it. I walked into the dance room where a group of girls sat in a circle with the teacher, who looked about twenty three. She had unnaturally blonde hair and was laughing along with my classmates. I contemplated running, but I knew that I wouldn’t get very far. Reluctantly, I sat down in the circle, keeping to myself. The second bell rang, and the teacher clapped her hands. “Hi girls! Most of you already know me- I’m Ms. Schneider, but I want you guys to call me Tanya.” I hated her instantly. “Just hang tight for a second while I call roll.” Roll call? Did Ms. Weiss do that in first period? If she did, I slept through it. Oh well. I half listened to her call off names and quietly raised my hand when she got to mine, telling her to call me Jill- not Jillian. When she finished, she clapped her hands again. “Alright! Now I want to introduce you to my TA- he’s a dance veteran who’s my star dancer, so be nice!! C’mon out!” She called behind her. There was a door in the back of the room leading to what I assumed to be her office. Out of it stepped Vladimir Rasputin.
My blood ran cold- my mind flashing back to that day on the beach. I could still hear his deep voice ringing in my ears. “Hello everybody.” He said. I shivered. “It’s nice to see some familiar faces in this class again.” Most girls smiled back at him dreamily. A few gave him looks of uncertainty. Three of us (including me) just stared. “Cool!” Ms. Schneider- sorry; Tanya said. “You guys may have free time today! But bring workout clothes tomorrow and we’ll assigning P.E. lockers!” She smiled at us one last time before retreating into her office. As soon as she was gone, everybody split off into their separate cliques. The majority of the class sat in a giant circle together, shutting everybody else out. The rest paired off- they at least had one friend in the class. I was left by myself…or so I thought. “How is the bicycle working for you?” My breath caught in my throat, as Vladimir Rasputin was suddenly sitting on the floor right beside me. I looked at him out of the corner of my eyes. “Fine.” I lied. In truth, I hadn’t really ridden it yet. He chuckled lowly. “Do you have a helmet?” “Yes.” I answered defensively. I had a feeling that he saw right through me. He lowered his face, bringing it closer to mine. “Are you alright? You look pale.” I tried extremely hard not to breathe. “I’m fine.” He lightly touched my arm, and I flinched away. He smiled warmly at me. If at one point he hadn’t confronted me as he had on the beach, I would’ve considered him as friendly and polite…Probably how my parents regarded him. But, as that was not the case, I sat there- frozen in fear. He sighed. “Did Nathaniel not explain to you?” I refrained from turning towards him. “No.” I said simply. “You do not have to be so afraid of me.” I slowly turned to look at him. He was leaning back on his arms, looking at me with a sincere expression. “I’m not afraid of you.” I whispered. That was also a lie. “You should not be.” He said slowly. “I will not hurt you.” I waited for him to continue, and spoke when he didn’t. “You wanted to.” He said nothing then- only looked down. It didn’t feel justified…I hit below the belt with that one. “I’m sorry.” “You’re right.” He looked at me. “I am the one who should be sorry.” We were both silent for awhile, until I began to feel awkward. “What was Nathaniel supposed to explain to me but didn’t?” I kind of already had a feeling, but I wasn’t too sure yet. Vladimir looked around. I noticed that people tended to do that when they talked with me, as though other people weren’t supposed to hear. “The leeches.” He said softly. “How did I know?” I muttered underneath my breath. “Well then…will you explain it to me?” He chuckled. “I owe it to you.” I felt my heart rate speed up- I was finally going to be clued in. “When?” “Lunch.” He replied immediately. “After the next period.” I pulled out my schedule. “I have physics…room 215.” Vladimir shook his head. “Then I will meet you outside of that room. Wait for me.” I nodded. “Okay.” The bell rang. The two of us stood. As we went our separate ways, I called out to him. “Vladimir!” He stopped walking and looked back at me. “Thank you!” He grinned. “You are welcome.” He turned and kept going.
I made it to physics and paid absolutely no attention in it. The bell rang after what felt like an eternity, and I stood outside of the room, waiting for him. True to his word, he soon after came walking up. “Long time no see.” He joked, his brilliant hazel eyes smiling at me. He held out his arm, through which I looped my own. “Shall we?” “Take the lead, maestro.” I grinned at his puzzled expression. “I used to play in the band at my school back in Maryland.” I confessed. “Alto saxophone.” He nodded. “Quite a talent.” He took me through the quad and to a secluded hall near the front of the school where nobody was. “The others will come soon.” He said. “But for now, I will start.” “Okay.” I sat up against the building and he began to speak to me. “Long ago, this land was home to both the wolves and the ones that they call the leeches. The two coexisted fairly well, until the humans arrived to settle the land. The wolves liked the humans- saw them as friends and companions. The humans would care for the wolves- taking care to respect their homes in the woods. However, the leeches despised the humans. The humans destroyed the leeches’ homes and even the leeches themselves. This enraged the leeches, who began to hunt and kill the humans. This, in turn, angered the wolves, who retaliated against the leeches. It was clear to all three that one group would have to either leave or die for life to continue peacefully. The only option seemed to be to fight until someone gave up or lost. “But then, a very smart woman decided to end the fighting without a loser. She carefully divided the area into four parts- the mountains for the leeches, the woods for the wolves, the town for the humans, and the beach as a neutral zone. This woman was known as the peacemaker, and was greatly respected. She built a large building in the mountains where she spent her days studying the leeches- learning their secrets. “All was well in this region…until she passed on. She left a son in her place, who continued her studies. This son took things further- trying to change humans to be more like the leeches and the wolves. He created a wolf-man hybrid creature, which had the appearance of a man and the mind of a wolf. He did not stop there, and continued his experimenting. “The leeches approved of this, and helped him greatly, but the wolves did not approve. They ordered him to cease or leave…He chose the latter. Some say he left his unfinished project behind…some say he took it with him. Nobody knows for sure.” Vladimir shrugged. “That is it. Not too exciting.” My mind was racing. Some of his story sounded familiar, but…”Was this woman’s name Astrid Conrad?” He nodded. “Nathaniel gave you the book.” “I did.” I looked up to see Nathaniel arriving with Tessa and Lacy. He smiled warmly at me. “Hello, Jill.” “Hi.” I quietly replied. “Did Vlad do your job??” Lacy demanded to know, viciously turning on Nathaniel. “You were supposed to tell her!” “Elizabeth.” Vladimir said softly. “It is fine. He can tell her the rest.” She seemed to calm down, but pouted nonetheless. I looked at Nathaniel. “The rest?” He sat beside me. “There are…” He sighed wearily, as though tired of telling the same story over and over again. “Missing pieces.” “Such as…” “What else do you want to know?” “That isn’t how this works!” Lacy exclaimed, hitting Nathaniel on the arm. “You were supposed to tell her everything! Not play games like this!”
Tessa and Vladimir said nothing. Lacy was fuming at Nathaniel’s nonchalant demeanor. “Okay.” He surrendered, turning towards me and away from Lacy. “Jill, do you know want the leeches are?” I sat in silent thought for a moment, trying to put all of the puzzle pieces together. I thought of every science fiction and every monster movie I had ever seen. I thought of what Vladimir had hinted at, and what I had already known. There was a key to this puzzle- I knew it. “The wolves.” I mumbled absent mindedly. Who- in every clichéd book and movie out there- were the wolf’s sworn enemies? But the wolves in Vladimir’s story weren’t just any kind of wolves…”Werewolves.” Nathaniel raised his eyebrows at me. Hopefully I was on the right track. “The leeches have to be vampires.” I concluded. “Because of the wolves. Wolves are always enemies with vampires.” “I told you she’d be able to figure it out.” Nathaniel said to Lacy, who frowned at him. “Very good, Jill.” But I was still confused. “So you’re telling me that there are werewolves and vampires in Cascade Town? Is that a story that people usually believe?” I asked them. Tessa laughed. “Well it isn’t like we tell every other person we come across.” “Then why me?” All four of them exchanged glances. “Give me a break!” I groaned, rubbing my forehead. “I just moved here, and my parents don’t tell me anything.” “So you don’t know who your parents are?” Lacy asked me. I glared at her. “Well obviously not. Care to clue me in?” “Your father.” Vladimir intervened. “Is the son of Astrid Conrad.” The son of Astrid Conrad…But then that would make my father the scientist who did the experiments. I shook my head. “He can’t be.” “Have you ever met your grandmother?” Vladimir asked me. I had to stop and think about it. “No.” “Why do you suppose that is? You have lived in Maryland your whole life, have you not?” He continued. “Yes.” I replied quietly. “Maybe you are right…” He chuckled. “Maybe. I am right.” I took a second to let it all sink in. “So…My father was able to create the first werewolf- that you know of- and is experimenting on how to create more?” I asked slowly. “He’s a genius.” Lacy said flatly. “This human experimentation…” Her eyes lit up. “Of course it’s all consensual.” Tessa said quickly. “The people that they’re experimenting on all volunteered.” “What’s he working on now?” I asked, looking at all four of them. “We don’t know.” Nathaniel said quickly. “Tracy won’t tell us.” “Tracy Symonds…” I repeated. “Hey.” I realized something. “How do you guys know all about this? If my parents won’t tell me, how do you know?” They all looked at each other. It seemed as though people did that a lot when I was involved in the conversation. It was Tessa who spoke. “Well…Now you know about the leeches…But you don’t know who they are.” I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach of what she was going to say next, so I didn’t speak and let her continue. “That’s us.”
I’m pretty sure that all of the blood drained from my face. “No, no, no, no.” I repeated, slowly shaking my head. “You are not telling me that you four are vampires.” “Especially me, no?” Vladimir asked. I thought back to that day on the beach- when Vladimir had confronted Nathaniel. “Never mind.” I muttered. I felt Nathaniel’s hand on my shoulder. “Jill, you have nothing to worry about. What do you think your father would do if one of us hurt you?” He reassured me. “Oh fantastic.” I rolled my eyes. “So I’m only safe because my dad is some kind of god to you people.” “No.” Tessa said. “Even so- you’re in just as much danger as everyone else in this town.” “But nobody else knows.” I pointed out. “Only the wolves.” Lacy said. “They’re the real problem.” I thought about the wolves. I hadn’t heard them recently…did that have anything to do with Darren telling me to stay in town? Darren… “What about Darren Wilx?” I asked abruptly. “Does he know?” I already knew that he had some idea- he had always been talking about leeches- but I needed to see if they would be honest with me. “I told you what you need to know about him.” Nathaniel said in a defensive tone. “I would stay away from him, if I were you.” “Nathaniel!” Lacy hissed, glaring at him. I looked down. They weren’t telling me something important… “I think he was right when he said that I should stay away from the leeches…” I muttered, bringing my knees up to my chest. Nobody chose to speak. It was probably the most awkward moment of my life. When the bell finally ran, signaling fourth period, I quickly gathered my things and dashed off to Government. When I got there, I took my seat in the back and put my head down, trying to let all that had happened during lunch sink in. I looked up when someone sat down beside me. It was Darren. He either didn’t notice me, or was just ignoring me. I said nothing, but made sure to sit up a little straighter. The teacher began to talk, rambling on about the class and how it would go, and nobody paid attention. Almost immediately, the whole class turned to each other and began to talk. The teacher eventually gave up and retreated to his desk. I put my head back down on my desk. I turned my head to Darren. “Hey.” He looked at me. “You didn’t listen to me.” He said simply. I sighed. “I know…I probably should’ve, huh?” “Maybe.” He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I haven’t heard the wolves in awhile.” I said, staring intently at him. His golden eyes rolled, but he didn’t say anything. “I thought you would know why, since you already knew about the leeches…” “I never said I didn’t know.” I refrained from asking any more questions about the wolves. “Why haven’t I seen you in awhile?” I changed the subject. He looked away from me. “My grandmother came to visit.” Grandmothers. This made me think of Astrid Conrad- my alleged grandmother. He glanced back at me. “I trust they told you about yours.” I gently nodded my head. “I didn’t want to believe them.” “You shouldn’t believe everything people tell you.” He said. I paused and chose my words carefully. “Then how do I know who I can and can’t believe?”
The bell rang, interrupting our conversation. I stood up to leave, but he gently grabbed my wrist. I felt his cool breath on the back of my neck and my breath caught in my throat. “You can believe me.” He whispered before pushing past me out of the room. I entered photography in a daze. The girl I sat next to looked at me sideways. “Is the heat getting to you? You look out of it.” She said, concern etched into her facial features. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” I assured her. “Thanks though.” “I’m Lea.” She said, smiling at me now that she knew I was alright. “Jill.” I introduced myself, returning her smile. “Jill King?” She asked. I groaned. “Oh no. Let me guess, you-“ “Know your father?” Her smile turned sheepish. “Guilty as charged…Sorry.” I sighed. “No, don’t be sorry…That’s just how everyone around here knows me.” “Of course.” She agreed. “Your dad’s some kind of legend around here…If you’re the right kind of person, that is.” She grinned. “Not you too!” I gasped melodramatically. “Let me guess.” I over exaggerated looking around to make sure no one was listening. “Are you a leech?” “Ugh!” She recoiled, making a face. “Don’t insult me! I run with the wolves, thank you very much.” I was kind of relieved…kind of. She saw my hesitant look and laughed. “Sorry- did I frighten you? I have a tendency to do that sort of thing.” I shook my head slowly. “No, I’m not frightened…It’s just that…You’re the first I’ve met.” She stared at me, dumbfounded. “You mean you only know leeches?” She grasped at her heart. “You poor, poor girl! I have to introduce you to the pack! We out number the leeches, mind you, and are way more fun.” “Awesome.” I said. “After school, meet me by the school library. I’ll take you to meet everyone.” I nodded, and spent the rest of the period actually listening to the teacher. After photography I had English, which went by pretty quickly. When the final bell rang, I made my way over to the library. Lea was easy to spot with her bright orange hair, and as soon as she saw me, she led me away from the school. “We typically hang out pretty deep into the forest, but I have a motorcycle so it’s completely chill.” She said. I gulped. “A motorcycle?” I asked. She looked at me. “Is that okay? You don’t get motion sickness, do you?” “Eh…”I took a deep breath. “No…But still…” “I have a helmet you can borrow and everything.” She tried to assure me. “And I’m a really safe rider- I promise. I‘ve gotten in the least number of accidents out of all of us.” She said proudly. “That makes me feel…better…” I forced a smile. “Lea Stevens, she is not getting on a motorcycle with you.” We turned to see Darren walking behind us. Lea scowled. “Oh, what do you know? We’ll be fine- c’mon, Jill.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “He gets on my nerves.” She said once he was out of earshot. “And he’s a complete hypocrite, too.” She shook her head. “But I guess that’s guys for you, huh?” I kept quiet, but nodded in agreement. She led me through town and we stopped out in front of her house. “I’m going to get my bike- wait here.” She told me. She walked around the back, hopped the fence, and vanished. A couple minutes later, the gate to the back swung open, and she wheeled out her motorcycle, a helmet on her head. She tossed me one, and I strapped it onto my head. She climbed on top and I followed suit.
“Hang on tight.” She said, revving the engine. I wrapped my arms around her stomach as she took off through the town. “Let me know when it’s over.” I yelled to her, closing my eyes. I could barely hear her laughing over the roar of the bike. It felt like ages before we finally slowed to a stop. “You can open your eyes now.” Lea laughed. I slowly cracked my eyelids and let go of her. She got off and so did I, taking my helmet off and placing it on the back of the bike. We were deep in the forest, standing before the largest tree I had ever seen in my entire life. “This is it.” Lea said proudly. “Beautiful, huh?” The tree was enormous. The trunk was probably the size of my house- its leaves bigger than my head. I stood gawking up at it with my mouth hanging open. Lea grabbed my arm again. “Let’s go!” She dragged me off towards the tree. When we got right up to it, she knocked in an irregular beat on the trunk. The bark slowly peeled up, revealing a very scrawny boy with a head full of dark, spiky hair, standing in the tree’s entrance. “Look who decided to show up.” He mumbled with a blank look in his eyes. “And with a guest. How exciting.” He sounded uninterested. “Oh shut up, Zak. Move.” She pushed him out of the way and pulled me inside. The inside of the tree was furnished just like a living room. There were two sofas and some armchairs, a cooler sat on one end, and a table was in the middle with boxes around it. About five other people were lounging inside, and looked up when we entered. “Hey guys- this is Jill.” Lea said, gesturing to me. “Jill this is Tammy, Sidney, Casey, Max, and Anika.” She jerked her thumb behind her. “And you know Zak.” I looked at the people she had just pointed out. Tammy smiled widely up at me, her braces shining even in the damp dark of the tree trunk. Sidney nodded his head in my direction, barely choosing to acknowledge me. Casey lifted a hand and mumbled a barely audible “yo”. Max, who was lying stretched out on a couch with his nose in a book, waved to me with his foot. Anika said nothing and didn’t move. Zak clapped me on the back before sitting down on the ground next to the cooler. “Hi.” I said quietly, suddenly intimidated by who Lea called “the pack”. Casey laughed loudly, looking over at me. “God Lea, what’d you do to her? She’s paler than Zak. “Watch your mouth, bro.” Zak said, leaning up against the cooler. Lea rolled her eyes. “Cool it. All I did was give her a ride on the back of my bike.” As if on cue, all of them groaned. Lea glared at them. “Hey!! I’m a careful rider! We didn’t hit anything!” “This time.” Anika said, causing the others to erupt with laughter. “Jill, you got lucky.” Tammy laughed. She was visibly chewing a large wad of sticky pink gum. “Usually people who ride with Lea don’t get out alive.” I felt the blood draining from my face- they laughed at me again. Zak opened the cooler and tossed a soda at me, which I caught. Casey nodded approvingly. “Nice reflexes.” I bit my bottom lip. “Thanks.” I tapped the top of the can before opening it and taking a sip. “Mmm…Root beer.” I tried to smile, but I was still nervous. “You guys are scaring her!” Tammy said, pointing at me. “Look! She’s shaking.” I looked down at the undulating can in my hand. I guessed I was more nervous than I originally thought. Max jumped to his feet. “Here- sit down.”
I obeyed, carefully sinking into the couch he’d been lying on. Lea took a seat on one of the boxes by the table. “So Jill.” She said. “How old were you when your old man let you in on the little secret?” I looked down. “Oh…yeah…About that…” Max sat down on the floor in front of Lea. “Your parents weren’t the ones who told you?” He asked. I shook my head. “I found out earlier today…From Nathaniel Walker and Vladimir Rasputin.” A collective growl was heard. “The leeches?” Zak asked, his nostrils flaring. “When were you hanging out with leeches?” “I wasn’t hanging out with them.” I said defensively. “And it didn’t look like anybody else was going to clue me in.” I took another sip of root beer. “I would’ve told you.” Sidney said quietly. “If I had known you.” “Thanks.” I mumbled. “What did they tell you?” Tammy asked, blowing a bubble. I shrugged. “Just how everything started…About Astrid Conrad and my dad.” I took another sip. “About how the wolves liked the humans but the leeches didn’t… And how the leeches gave my grandmother and my dad the okay to experiment.” “Is that it?” Casey asked. All of them were sitting nearer to me now, listening intently as I spoke. “Pretty much.” I said. “I understand…But I don’t exactly know why I needed to know all of this.” “They didn’t tell you what your dad’s working on now?” Max asked. I shook my head. “No…Should they have?” “Damn.” Casey swore. I looked at them, puzzled. “We don’t know either.” Zak said softly. “But we know it can’t be good…and we were hoping that you could tell us.” “She can be our double agent!” Tammy said, laughing. “Double agent, eh?” Max considered the idea, thoughtfully stroking his chin. “I like the sound of it…But what if they find out?” “They are pretty tricky.” Sidney breathed, staring down at the ground. “Maybe we shouldn’t risk it.” Lea suggested. “Who knows what they’d do if they found out?” I hesitated before asking my question. “Would they kill me?” Everybody laughed again. “Oh God, no.” Lea said. “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Think about it, Jill.” Max told me, putting his hands on my knees. “If the leeches killed you, how do you think your father would react?” He had a point; I hadn’t thought about that. “Okay.” “Now the flip side of your idea, Tammy…” Max continued. “How do we know that Jill isn’t the double agent…working for the leeches?” All eyes were on me now. My blood ran cold. “You don’t.” I said, wondering where this new found courage was coming from. “You just have to trust me.” They sat there for what seemed like the longest five seconds of my life until Anika spoke. “That’s good enough for me.” The others similarly agreed. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Glad to get that cleared up.” I groaned. The tension that was momentarily in the air rapidly disappeared. I finished my root beer and relaxed, lying down on the couch and joking with the pack about my first day at Cascade Town High School. We were in the middle of making jokes about Government when Zak cleared his throat. “It’s almost six.” He said in his unnaturally quiet voice.
“My watch says 5:08.” Lea said. Mine did too. Zak stood. “Jill should get home.” He was talking solely to Lea now. Lea stood as well, confronting him. “Then I’ll take her home.” Zak took Lea’s hands, looking into her eyes. “Let me take Jill home.” I saw Lea’s lips twitch, and her gaze locked on his. “Fine.” She eventually said, tearing her hands away from his. Zak smiled gently, now turning to me. “Come on.” He said, equally as gently. I stood up, and he took my hand. “Bye guys!” I said with a huge smile on my face. “Same time tomorrow, Jill!” Tammy told me, grinning equally as wide. I gave her thumbs up. “Sounds like a plan.” The others waved and said goodbye as Zak lead me out of the tree. “Thanks for offering to take me home.” I said to him. “You’re welcome.” He spoke so quietly that I could barely hear him. “I hope that you don’t mind the walk.” So that was why he was eager to leave so early. “I’m not a fan of motorcycles.” He said. I shook my head. “I second that.” A small smile crept onto his face. I noticed that he was talking more now than when we were in the tree. “This is much more comfortable.” He added, his smile slowly growing. I smiled back at him…It was contagious. He spoke again. “I’m glad you chose to go with Lea today…To come and meet all of us.” “I’m glad too.” I admitted. I hesitated. “Can I tell you something?” He looked at me. “You can trust me with anything.” “I feel way more safe and comfortable with you guys than I did when I was with the leeches earlier.” I said, feeling my cheeks growing warmer. Zak rubbed the top of my hand with his thumb. “I think that’s the way things are supposed to be. Originally, it was the wolves who were close to the humans, before your father began his experimenting.” I winced. “Do you guys hate him?” “Yes.” I expected that. “So then why don’t you hate me?” He chuckled. “Why would we hate you? You haven’t done anything to us. I believe that one shouldn’t hold grudges…especially against ones family members.” I felt relieved. I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of anything, and knowing that the pack didn’t have any sort of gripe with me made me feel much better. “Thank you.” I said quietly. “Thank you.” He countered. “For sharing your feelings with me. Now it is only fair that I share something with you.” I tilted my head to the side, perplexed. “You don’t have to-“ “Yes.” He interrupted me. “Yes I do. It’s only fair.” I nodded. “Okay then. Shoot.” I grinned. “This part you already know: all of us that you have met today, the pack and the leeches, were experimented on by your father.” That I did know. Nathaniel and Vladimir explained that to me earlier. “But, this experimentation varied from person to person. The leeches were always vampires. Your father’s experimenting only added to their abilities. With us, in addition to taking us regular people and turning us into these wolf hybrids, we also got…ability boosts.” I followed his words intently, sucking in all of the new information like I was a vacuum. He looked over at me and smirked, something I thought that he was incapable of doing. “Are you ready to hear what I can do?”
My breath caught in my throat. “Why are you so eager to tell me all of this?” I asked him. “You need to know.” He said simply, providing no further explanation. “Are you ready now, or not?” I took a deep breath. “I suppose. Go ahead.” I told him. He gently pulled me closer to him. I felt his breath against my neck, and I immediately thought of Darren. “I,” He spoke barely loud enough for me to hear him. “Can control your mind.” I stopped walking- he stopped with me, slowly pulling away. “What?” I asked. “What do you mean?” He chuckled at me. “I have the power to control your mind.” At first I didn’t believe him. “I don’t…I’m sorry, Zak, but I just can’t…” He gently placed a finger on my lips, silencing me. “Would you like me to show you?” His eyes gleamed dangerously. I nodded. I was afraid, but I was more curious. Zak took both of my hands in his and looked me straight in the eye. His eyes were a mesmerizing dark, midnight blue color that made all of the blood rush to my face. I felt the overwhelming desire to lean in and kiss him, then. I didn’t see his lipsI wasn’t looking at anything but his brilliant eyes- and yet I still leaned in and hesitantly pressed my lips to his. I pulled away slowly and he broke eye contact with me. “Was that it?” I asked in a whisper. “Yes.” He responded just as quietly. “See? It wasn’t scary.” He let go of my hands and we continued walking toward my home. “How do the others deal with that? You always getting your way…” I wondered aloud. “There are rules.” He said. “I need to make physical and eye contact…And they usually don’t fall for it.” “Like Lea did?” I asked, laughing lightly. “Lea lets me.” He said with a different smile than before. We arrived on the beach then, and he stopped. “This is as far as I go.” He told me. I nodded. “Okay then. Thank you, Zak…For everything.” He smiled at me. “Goodnight, Jill. See you tomorrow.” He waved at me before disappearing back into the forest. I walked into the house and was greeted by my parents. “How was the first day of school?” My mother asked. I shrugged. “Alright, I guess.” “Make any new friends?” My dad asked. “No.” I immediately answered. Then I thought about it. “On second thought… Yeah I did. I met some really cool people.” “Like who?” “Lea Stevens.” My parents gave each other that look again. This time they held it for more than a fraction of a second. Seizing the opportunity, I cut in. “What’s wrong?” My mother gave me an extremely phony smile. “Oh nothing, sweetie. It’s good that you found some friends on your first day.” “Sure.” I said to myself. I had a feeling that I already knew what that look was about…But I wasn’t ready to tell them that I knew. Not yet. “What was your favorite class?” Of course my father would be the one to change the subject. “Either Government or Photography.” The two classes I had with a friend- the two classes where I didn’t actually have to do anything. “That’s good.” He said absentmindedly.
I rolled my eyes and wandered into the kitchen. “What’s for dinner?” I called out to my mom. “Chicken!” She called back. “It’s in the oven already.” I turned the stove light on; it looked good. The phone rang, making me jump. I walked over to answer it, but my father yelled at me before I could touch it. “Leave it!” He ordered. “The machine will get it!” I assumed that it was work related, but his job had a whole new meaning to me now. I stuck around to listen to the message. “Terry, it’s Diego. It’s ready.” I frowned. That didn’t tell me anything. It didn’t matter- maybe in the morning I could ask Lea, or someone else in the pack, and they would know. It was a start. “’It’s ready’?’ Max asked when I had found him at school the next morning. “Are you sure that’s what he said?” “Wait, who left your dad the message?” Casey asked. “Diego Alvarez, and yes, I’m positive that’s what he said.” I told Max, Casey, Lea, and Zak. “And that was the whole message.” Max frowned. Lea and Zak exchanged worried glances. Casey sighed. “What? I’m sick of being left out.” I said, frustrated. “We aren’t trying to leave you out.” Lea promised me. “But you’re new, and we sometimes forget that you don’t know.” That was understandable. “So will you explain?” “Diego was speaking of your father’s latest project.” Max said. “Whatever it is, he’s done with it.” “So it could be a new werewolf, or…what?” I asked. “The ‘or what’ part.” Casey said. “Nobody knows what it is. Not yet, anyway.” “Fantastic.” I said sarcastically. “So we just have to wait and see?” The four nodded solemnly. The bell rang, and I headed off to Calculus. Sitting down, I saw Tessa, and wondered if she knew about my friendship with the pack. I decided not to tell her unless she asked. But, Tessa shied away from me, and Calculus was spent relatively peacefully…Well, as peaceful as math could be. However, when second period came, and Tanya told us to partner up, I found myself paired up with Vladimir. “We’ll start with partner fan kicks. Now the bigger of you will hold your partner as the smaller of you fans their legs out and over to the opposite side.” She explained. I looked at Vladimir. “You know what she’s talking about, right?” I asked. He chuckled. “Of course.” He gently placed his hands on my waist. “Come closer.” I moved so that my back was against his hip. In one fluid motion, he lifted me up and spun me across his hip. “Again, but this time fan your legs out, so that you twirl yourself.” I followed his directions, and to my surprise, I did not fall. “Good.” He said. “You catch on quickly. Shall we do it again?” I shrugged. “Sure.” We practiced over and over again until Tanya stopped the class. “That’s it for today! Head back to the locker room to change.” We went back, changed, and when I emerged, three girls were waiting for me with their arms crossed and scowls on their faces. “Uh…Hi?” I tried cautiously. “Don’t act cute. We saw you all over Vladimir.” The first girl, I think her name was Leila, said. “Well he’s kind of my partner…So that only makes sense.” I said.
She didn’t back down. Now it was clear that she was the one with the problem, and the other two were simply her entourage. “I don’t care.” She snapped. “I want you to stay away from him.” “You are being so ridiculous.” I laughed, rolling my eyes and shaking my head. “It’s not like there’s anything going on between us.” “I don’t care!” She repeated, stamping her foot. She got right up in my face. “Stay away from him.” She snarled. This ticked me off. “Get out of my face.” I retaliated, glaring at her. She pushed me backwards, and I stumbled, still standing my ground. I felt the anxiety welling up in my stomach and my chest. “Wanna try that again?” I asked, prepared to punch her face in if she did. She grabbed my shoulders and my right fist shot out, colliding with her cheek. “You little-“ She didn’t finish her sentence as her own fist hit my face. I was extremely ready to keep fighting back, but Tanya soon scurried over to us to break it up. “Girls! Knock it off!” She said, becoming surprisingly brash. “Jill started it, Tanya.” One of Leila’s friends said. “No she didn’t.” Another girl said. “Leila started it.” I looked around to see many girls agreeing with her…I hadn’t noticed all of the people who were watching us. “Leila, go to the principal’s office, NOW.” Tanya ordered. She turned to me and gasped. “Jill! You’re bleeding!” I touched my cheek tenderly, but Tanya shook her head. “Your lip, honey.” I winced and licked my bottom lip- the taste of blood was pungent, strong and constant. “Okay ladies, go.” Tanya waved her hand at them, and everyone walked away. “Vlad!” She called backwards. He came running from the boy’s locker room on the opposite side of the gym. “No!” I tried to say, but it was too late. Vlad saw me and froze. “Yes?” He asked meagerly. I flashed back to a summer memory of Vladimir on the beach. “He had wanted me because I was bleeding.” I realized. What would become of my bloody lip and I? “Vlad, take Jill to the nurse.” Tanya instructed. “I’ll get her out of third period.” She turned to me. “Who do you have?” “Physics.” I told her. “With Sulliman.” She nodded. “He’s pretty understanding. Get going you two.” Vladimir held out his hand, and I took it. He led me off towards the nurse’s office. The bell rang, and the halls were suddenly inundated with people. Vlad pulled me closer to him, and I held my breath until the halls were cleared again and the second bell rang. “Are you okay?” Vlad asked softly, not looking at me. “Are you?” I looked up at him. His nostrils flared. “Yes.” I thought for a second. “Is this terribly different from that time on the beach?” I asked. He stayed silent for a second. “No. I apologize for that.” My heart sped up. “So on a scale of one to ten…One being the safest…How safe am I right now?” He stopped in the middle of the quad and his eyes gleamed. He moved closer to me, brushing the hair away from my face with his fingertips. “Hmm…” He hummed, smirking. “About…a nine…” “What-“ I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off, closing his mouth over mine.
My first reaction was to pull away and run- go to the pack and just hide- but I didn’t. Instead, I froze where I stood. When he pulled away, I noticed slight traces of my own blood on his lips. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He said, turning away from me. “I am so sorry.” “Why?” I asked. My lip had stopped bleeding. “Because now I have to do this.” He kissed me again, biting my bottom lip, and causing it to bleed again. “Vlad, stop.” I tried to say, but he wouldn’t let me. I pushed against his chest and he finally broke away. “Vlad…What are you doing?” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He ran his hands through his hair, turning away from me again. “I don’t have as good self control as the others…I’m sorry.” I gulped and took a deep breath. “What’s going to happen now?” “I can’t tell…” He seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. He took a shaky breath. “Jill, I’m sorry, but I can’t…” He shuddered and looked at me. His eyes were bloodshot. “I can’t control myself.” I knew that I was going to regret it, but I asked anyway. “Vlad…What do you need?” He looked at me hard- testing himself. “Give me your wrist.” He finally said. I hesitantly complied, offering him what he asked for. He brought it to his mouth, but stopped. “Calm down. Your pulse is racing.” He said. “This will hurt, but don’t worry. After, everything will be alright. I promise.” I closed my eyes, and felt his lips lightly graze my wrist before his teeth lightly scraped across the surface, then bit down. I gasped, and he wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me close to his body. I could feel his heart thundering in his chest, syncing up with mine. “Vlad…” I breathed, grabbing at his shirt with my free hand. He released my wrist, and I opened my eyes. The blood was beginning to clot, forming one massive scab. The veins around it had swollen and were throbbing. My whole left arm was in searing pain- a combination of a burning, stinging, cramping feeling that made me sick to my stomach. I felt Vladimir lift me up into his arms, and I closed my eyes again, my head throbbing. I rested my head against his chest, and fainted listening to his heartbeat. When I woke up, I was lying down in my own bed. Vlad was sitting by me, staring out of the window and at the ocean. I turned my head to him, and it exploded with pain. I was freezing, but I was burning up. I was sweating, but shivering at the same time. My left arm felt horrible- like it had been dipped in acid and set on fire. “Vlad…” I moaned, barely able to speak without feeling a strong wave of nausea. He turned to me, and was suddenly at my side. “Don’t speak.” I didn’t listen to him. “Vlad, make it stop. Please.” “There is no way to make it stop.” He said softly. “Vlad, I don’t want to be a vampire.” I said, tears spilling out of my eyes and rolling down my face. He chuckled deeply. “You aren’t going to become a vampire.” He said. “You would have to drink my blood to become a vampire.” Well that made me feel a tiny bit better. “Vlad…” I moaned again. “Please do something to make it stop. Anything…” “I told you already.” He said calmly. “There is nothing I can do.” Breathing heavily and deliberately, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I did feel better, but my arm and head were still throbbing. Vlad was still sitting beside me. “Better?” He asked. “It should feel tolerable now.” I was able to sit up. I looked down at my arm where a large oval shaped scab had formed.
“It will scar over.” He told me. “Do not worry.” “So that’s it?” I asked. “All of that pain and it’ll just scar over?” “What do you want?” He looked at me with innocent eyes. I felt something tugging at my heart. “You’re lying.” I accused. Vlad hesitated. “I had forgotten about that part.” “What part?” He took a deep breath. “Jill…I should’ve thought of this before I had bitten you and taken your blood. Because I did so without turning you into a vampire, you and I will now be connected. Your blood now runs through me.” I felt my heart sink. “What do you mean?” Vlad took my hands, and my heart rate sped up. “You and I are bonded now. It is hard to explain…you will see.” “That’s it, then.” I said. “You just go along on your merry way?” He sighed. “Your parents will be arriving home soon…So yes, I will just go… Until next time. You will see.” HE stood and released my hands. For some reason, I didn’t like watching him go. It hurt my heart in an interesting way, but I refrained from trying to stop him. When he was finally gone, I slowly stood and made my way to the kitchen where I got myself a glass of water. I was still shaking, and trying desperately not to drop the glass and break it when a knock on the back door shocked me into doing it anyway. I cautiously opened the door to Darren Wilx, who did not look happy. “Where in God’s name have you been?” He asked in a low voice. I struggled with my answer. “Well, I…A fight, with Leila, and then…I…uh…and Vlad…so I-“ “Stop.” He commanded. I obliged. “Vladimir Rasputin?” He asked. I nodded. “He brought me home.” I said quietly. “I have told you over and over again to stay away from the leeches.” He said slowly. I could hear the frustration in his voice. “And yet you continue to socialize with them. Why?” “It was an accident.” I argued. “She started the fight, and Tanya told him to take me to the nurse, but then I was bleeding, and-“ “You were bleeding around him?” He demanded to know, rubbing his forehead. “Again.” I added in a whisper. He looked up at me, alarmed. “You were bleeding around him twice?” “Yeah.” I admitted. “Do you know how dangerous that is?” He asked. I bit my bottom lip. “Yeah.” I whispered. I offered him my left wrist. Darren looked from my wrist to my face. “Vladimir Rasputin…bit you.” He said, mortified. “But that’s it.” I said. “I swear to you- nothing else happened.” He didn’t speak for awhile- just stood there staring at me. “Didn’t he tell you?” I hesitated. “Yes he did.” “So you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into?” “Yes.” He sighed angrily, shaking his head. “I’m not sure what to do with you.” I stayed silent and let him rant. “When I give you good advice, you don’t take it. Then I leave for about a week and look what kind of mess you get yourself into.” “I’m sorry.” I said quietly, looking down. “You should be.” He said sharply. “Because now you’re stuck in this situation and I don’t think that I can help you anymore.” Help me? Sure he’d been a good friend to me, but I don’t recall him actually helping me with anything.
“What do you mean ‘help me’?” I asked, looking up at him. “How have you helped me?” He didn’t react to my question. “Let me rephrase that. I don’t think that I can try to help you anymore. Is that better?” “No.” I admitted. We stood there in an awkward silence. “I’m sorry.” I said again. “I’m having a difficult time adjusting.” He suddenly embraced me, crushing me against his chest. “It’s not your fault.” He breathed. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.” “I still don’t understand.” I told him. “I mean I do, but-“ “You don’t.” He finished for me. He let me go just as quickly as he had pulled me into his arms. “Your parents are coming.” I heard the front door open. Luckily, you couldn’t see the kitchen from the living room. “Jill! We’re home, are you here?” I heard my mother call. Darren turned to leave, but I grabbed his wrist to stop him. “What are you doing?” He hissed. “I need to know.” Something that had been bugging me ever since I’d found out about this whole vampire and werewolf thing. “What are you?” He smirked at me. “Jill, are you in here?” I turned to the doorway, my mother’s footsteps growing closer. “Night, Jill.” I whipped back around, and Darren was gone. “Oh, here you are.” My mother walked into the kitchen. “How was school today?” I turned slowly to look at her. As soon as she saw me her face fell. “Oh, baby…My poor baby girl.” She crooned, pulling me into her arms. “What happened? How did this happen?” “Mom, I’m okay.” I said. She didn’t buy it. “This,” She said gently, lifting up my left arm. “Is not ‘okay’.” I pulled away from her. “I’m fine, mom.” I muttered, walking out of the kitchen and into my room. I stayed there the duration of the night, until about ten thirty when I briefly left to use the bathroom. On my way back, I stopped outside of my parent’s room when I heard them talking. “Well if she knows then this is just poor timing on our part.” My mother said. “No, it’s perfect timing. If she knows then she’ll understand and go along with it.” That was my father. “How do you know she’ll agree? She isn’t you, Theodore, she’s your daughterthere’s a difference.” “I know my daughter, Marie, and if she knows then she’ll understand. If she understands she’ll comply.” “I disagree.” “I’ll respect your opinion.” There was a pause in their conversation. “When, then?” “In the morning. Before she goes to school.” “Is that safe? For the other students?” My father chuckled. “Of course. They’ll be there. Nothing to worry about.” I heard the floor boards creak as one of them stood, and I scurried back to my room. They were planning something…that much was obvious. I had a feeling that it had something to do with my finding out about the leeches and the pack. Scratch that, I was positive. The only thing was that I was caught in the middle. Were the vampires right? Should I listen to my parents just like I always have? Or were the werewolves right?
I settled into bed and turned out the lights. I figured that tomorrow would be a big day, and would need my rest for it. After anxious tossing and turning, I eventually fell asleep. The next morning, my parents were waiting in the kitchen for me when I prepared to leave for school. “Jill, don’t leave yet.” My mother stopped me. “Your father needs you to come into the kitchen.” I remembered their conversation from the night before. “Sorry mom, I’m going to be late if I don’t go now.” I tried to get out of the front door, but my father’s stern hand on my shoulder stopped me. “It will be just a minute.” He said, leading me into the kitchen. A towel and a syringe were sitting on the kitchen table. “I didn’t know you were this kind of doctor.” I muttered, reluctantly sitting down. He ignored me, putting on gloves and swabbing my arm. “What’s this for?” I asked as he tapped the syringe, ridding it of air bubbles. He didn’t answer my question. I closed my eyes and felt the metal pierce my skin. It was over soon enough, and a small, circular bandage was placed over my wound. “Go to school!” My father ordered as I stood up. “If you feel sick, come home right away.” “Why would I feel sick?” I asked, heading towards the front door again. He ignored me, and I frowned, slamming the door behind me. I felt fine when I got to school, and couldn’t understand what he had been talking about. I quickly found the pack, who had news for me. “Jill!” Casey had yelled, calling me over to them. “Thank God we found you!” “We found out what Diego Alvarez was talking about.” Sidney calmly explained while Casey seemed ready to burst with anxiety. “My father’s experiment?” I clarified. “It’s extremely important.” Max said with a serious look on his face. “Because it concerns you.” My blood ran cold. “Me?” I asked meekly. “Why me? What did I do?” “You didn’t do anything.” Zak said quietly. “Not yet, anyway.” Lea told me. “That’s why we’ve gotta warn you.” The bell rang, interrupting her. “Dammit.” She swore under her breath. She turned to Max. “Can this wait ‘till lunch?” He eyed me. “Yeah. You’re not going anywhere, right Jill?” I shook my head. “I’ll see you guys at lunch, then.” I walked off to Calculus. When I got there, Tessa chose to sit down next to me. “Hi Jill.” She said, her eyes twinkling. “How have you been?” I eyed her suspiciously. “Fine…And you?” “Good, good.” She smiled widely, showing too-white teeth. “How do you feel today?” “Alright…” I answered carefully. She was up to something. “Should I feel any different?” “Oh no!” She said a little too quickly. “I was just curious.” “Well curiosity killed the cat.” I mumbled, turning away from her. She let me be for the rest of the period, and I was glad to be free from her presence when the bell rang. I stood up, and a horrible, dizzy, sinking feeling made me fall back into my chair. “Are you okay?” The guy who sat in front of me asked. I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I said, slowly standing up again.
Tessa, who had started to leave before I had, stopped and turned around. I tried to smile as though nothing was wrong, and she carried on her way. “Are you going to be able to make it to second period?” The guy in front of me asked as I staggered towards the door. I was extremely dizzy and having problems finding my balance. I briefly thought of the shot my father had given me and what the pack had told me about Diego’s message. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, thanks.” I said. I saw Vlad leaning up against a building and looking in my direction. Seeing him made my heart swell and my pulse quicken. The scab on my wrist throbbed. He walked over to me, and caught me as I stumbled forward. “Good thing I was here, no?” He asked, smiling down at me. I pouted. “Sure. Why are you here?” He shrugged, holding my hand and walking me to the locker room. His gesture reminded me of Darren during my first week in Cascade Town. “I had a feeling.” Vlad said, looking up at the sky. “Oh, right. The bond thing.” I said, turning my head away. We got to the locker room and he slowly released me. “I’ll live.” I reassured him. “At least for the next five minutes.” I chuckled, but he didn’t find it too funny. “Be careful.” He said, slowly walking to the boy’s locker room. I obeyed, sitting down on the ground as I changed for dance, and held onto the building as I made my way to the dance room. He was already waiting there for me, as though he’d been there all along. “See? I’m alive.” I said proudly, slowly walking up to him. He, again, didn’t find this funny. “Jill, please...” “Vlad, I’m fine; really.” I told him. But I wasn’t feeling too great, and I thought about what my father had told me that morning. “If you feel sick, come home right away.” I ignored his words for the second time. I was fine. I struggled through the dance class, but I didn’t fall down or pass out like I had expected to. When the period was over, Vlad pulled me into his arms before letting me go to change. “Vlad…” I groaned, reluctantly melting into his embrace. “Am I embarrassing you?” He asked softly, resting his chin on the top of my head. “No.” I replied. “But still…This bond thing is…different.” “It will take getting used to.” He released me. “Go now. Be careful.” I promised him I would be and went to change. When I got into the locker room, I noticed some girls with lighters and cigarettes. The smell of the smoke made me woozy and lightheaded again, and I struggled to keep my balance. I put a hand against the lockers to steady myself, but someone pushed past me and I completely lost my footing, falling towards the three tiny open flames. “Look out!” “The hell??” “Hey, girl!” The three girls quickly moved out of the way, and as I fell, only one of the lighters remained ignited. I briefly closed my eyes before I reached behind and caught myself, and opened them again when I landed safely. “Jill, your hair!” I could smell something burning and immediately knew exactly what she was talking about. Quickly getting to my feet, I spied my thick, dark, waist length hair on fire. “Somebody get Tanya!” “Somebody get water!” I remained silent, still in shock, watching the chaos unfold before me.
Tanya came running up with two girls, each of who had an armful of water bottles. Tanya grabbed one, opened it, and started splashing water at me. I turned so my burning hair was in her shooting range, and the fire was doused. “Jill, are you okay?” She asked, putting her hand on my shoulder. I slowly nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine…Thank you.” She frowned and sighed. “Oh Jill…Your hair.” I gingerly touched the tips- they were burnt and uneven. The hair that was once at my waist was now to my mid back and shoulders. “Here.” She began to steer me towards the door as the bell rang. “Go to my office- I’ll fix your hair and call…You have Sulliman next, right?” She said, looking at the clock. “Wait, it’s okay, really.” I tried to change her mind, but she would not be moved. “No- go. Do what I say or I’ll go to the principal.” She ordered, pointing to the door. I liked how she had to threaten me. I listened to her orders and slowly started walking to her office in the dance room. When I got there, Tanya came running up and let me inside. She was holding a pair of scissors. “Come here.” She said, pulling out her chair. “I’ll fix your hair.” I didn’t move, and wrapped my arms around my body. Tanya sighed. “Relax. I’m beauty school certified.” Somehow, I was not surprised. I slowly walked to her chair and sat down. She ran her fingers through my damaged hair and began to cut. Snip snip. “That was quite a predicament.” She said as she worked. “Don’t you have a class to teach?” I asked, changing the subject. “Not this period.” Snip snip. Snip snip. “How long do you want your hair?” I freaked out. It just hit me that she was cutting off all of my hair. I tried to stand up, unaware of how much damaged had actually been done. Tanya gently pushed me down into the chair. “Chill. Jill, you need to calm down. I need to cut it at least to your shoulders for it to look relatively decent. Do you want it shorter than that?” “Then just cut it all off!” I nearly yelled. “I don’t care- I don’t even care anymore!” I felt the anxiety welling up in my chest again, and I knew that I needed a way to let it all out…But I didn’t know how. Tanya crossed her arms and looked at me. “Take a deep breath. You’re freaking out, and it’s unnecessary.” “You just don’t understand.” I wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead, I took a deep breath and sat back down. My hands, which had curled into fists, had relaxed and now hung limply at my sides. “Now, how do you want me to cut your hair?” She asked in a softer voice. I took another deep breath. “Chin length…Please.” I added. “That’s do-able.” Snip snip snip. “How did this happen?” She asked. “Some girls were smoking…And I lost my balance. There was an open flame.” I explained. “Who was it?” “I don’t know, and even if I did I wouldn’t rat them out.” Snip snip. Tanya chuckled. “I don’t know many teenagers who wouldn’t tell a teacher who did it to them…That’s an admirable trait.” A line from an old movie came to me. “I’m not a rat, Agent Cujon.”
“…What?” “Nothing.” Snip snip, snip snip. I sat in silence for the remainder of my hair cut, until Tanya sighed and put the scissors down. “There you go. Better than new.” I slowly stood and peered at myself in the mirror on her wall. My dark brown hair- once waist length- now hung at my chin in an A cut. She had swept bangs sideways across my face that grazed the tops of my eyes. “Not bad, eh?” Tanya asked, smiling at me in the mirror. “Sure.” I mumbled. It really didn’t look too bad, but I wasn’t happy with chopping off all of my hair. “My parents will kill me.” “You can go to class now.” She said, hinting at something. “I’ll walk you back to the locker room so you can get your things.” I nodded, feeling less dizzy and more lightheaded. At first it seemed like my head felt ten pounds lighter due to my hair loss, and then I realized that it had probably been because of the shot my father had given me that morning. “The shot…” Was that the experiment that Diego had called my father about? Me? There was only one way to find out- I had to call him on it. I arrived tardy to physics. “Ms. Schneider told me about your accident.” Mr. Sulliman said privately to me. “Are you alright?” “I’m fine.” I said. “What did I miss?” “Nothing- we’re doing problems out of the book. They’re on the board, so take a seat and get to work.” I did as I was told, sitting down and opening the book on my desk. “Nice haircut, Jill.” One guy whispered to me. “Yeah- much better than your old hair.” “Thanks.” I muttered. I still didn’t know whether it was a complement or an insult. I liked my old hair, thank you very much. “Very sexy.” My head shot up. Zak had made the comment. My face turned bright red and I hid behind the book. “Jill.” I grunted. I was afraid to look up at him. “Has your father done anything strange recently?” My first instinct told me not to tell him- but then I remembered that he was Zak, the mind controlling member of the pack. “He gave me a shot this morning, but didn’t tell me why or what it was for.” I whispered, wary of straying ears. “I think it’s the experiment that Diego was talking about.” “Jill.” He gently put his hand on my shoulder. “You aren’t freaking out like I thought you would.” “I feel strangely calm.” I admitted. “I know I should be a complete mess right now…But I feel fine.” “It was that shot.” He told me. “We haven’t figured it out yet, but we know that it’s nearly the same thing he did to us. He’s mutating your DNA and changing you.” The reality of the situation hadn’t hit me yet, and I wasn’t looking forward to when it would. “So what do you want me to do?” “Stay away from the leeches.” Had he heard about Vlad? It didn’t seem like he had, but I just couldn’t be sure. I nodded and he turned away from me- back to his work. When the bell rang for lunch, I started off towards the pack but was interrupted by Darren.
“What happened?” He asked me in a sharp tone. “Oh, it’s a long story. There was a fire, and the dance teacher-“ “Not that.” He cut in. I frowned. “What, then?” “Zak told me about the shot your father gave you this morning.” He said softly. “How could he have told you?” I asked. “I just told him this period.” He sighed, looking away from me. “Never mind.” “No.” He looked at me, a little shocked, but more amused. “Pardon?” I shook my head. “I’m not playing this game with you anymore.” I told him. “I’m sick of you leaving me in the dark. You started all of this and you’re the only one not cluing me into anything.” “Don’t you think I have my reasons?” He asked. “Well, yeah, but I think that I deserve to know, especially now that I’m kind of involved.” He looked around, sighed, and took my hand. “Walk with me.” We wandered around parts of the campus where less people were. “You know…everything now, am I correct?” He asked. “Everything but you.” He gave me a look, and I smiled innocently. “Right…But you know about the pack and the leeches?” “I don’t quite understand why they hate each other so much.” I mumbled. “That’s just something that’s always been. Why do cats and dogs fight? It’s just nature.” He explained. “Where do you fit into all of this? How do you know so much?” Darren looked at me and hesitated. “I…I can’t tell you that.” I let go of his hand. “Darren, I’m sick of this! You always act so close to me, but you won’t tell me why- you won’t tell me anything!” “It’s just to protect you, Jill.” He explained. “Maybe I don’t want anybody to protect me.” I told him. “Did you think of that?” He chuckled. “You need someone to protect you…Trust me.” “I have Vlad.” I argued. “He’s more than willing to talk to and protect me.” A muscle in his arm twitched, and his nostrils flared. “Vladimir…Rasputin…” “Maybe I should go ask him…” I started to walk away from him, but he grabbed my wrist to stop me. “Don’t.” He pulled me into his arms. I was more amused at his behavior than anything else. “You’re really strange, you know that?” “You hang out with vampires and werewolves and you call me strange?” I shrugged slightly- his arms still around me. “It takes one to know one, I suppose.” “Please don’t go to Vladimir.” He said suddenly. “Whatever you do.” “I can’t.” I mumbled into his chest. “You know that.” “Stay with the pack. Zak and Max will take care of you.” I frowned. “I told you, I don’t want anybody to protect me. And what about you? Are you leaving?” Again. I nearly added…I decided against it. I wasn’t that cold hearted. “I’m not leaving.” “Promise?” It was his turn to chuckle. “I promise. I’m not going anywhere.” “Good.” Just standing there in his arms made me feel safer than I’d ever felt before. Just the thought of him made my heart pang and twist with the kind of feelings I got
when Vlad was around…But Vlad and I were bonded, so what did that mean about Darren and I? He pressed his lips onto the top of my head. “I love you.” He whispered. I was taken aback, and nearly recoiled. I looked up at him. “What did you say?” “You heard me.” The bell rang, and I tried to walk away from him. “We have the same class…remember?” He smirked. I groaned, but walked hand in hand with him to Government nonetheless. “Can you come over tonight?” He asked suddenly. “What for? You aren’t going to rape and eat me, are you?” I asked, teasing him. “I thought we already had this discussion.” He rolled his eyes. I laughed as we walked into the classroom. As usual, we weren’t doing anything, but Darren opted to talking to another group of eyes who were asking him about the football game. I put my head down on my desk and fell asleep. “You need to get out of here.” “Darren, I, don’t-“ “Just go!” “But I-“ “Leave, now!” I woke with a start when the bell rang. Darren was laughing softly at me. “Have a nice nap, sleeping beauty?” He asked with a sneer. “Shut up.” I groaned, getting my stuff and standing up. “Lea will take care of you in photography…And Sidney will be in English.” He said as we walked to our next classes. “So you know everyone in the pack?” I asked. “Yes.” “How.” He smirked. “Bye, Jill.” He waved to me as he turned a corner. I pouted as I walked into Photography. Lea was waiting there, laughing at me. “Yo.” She said, waving a peace sign. “What’s up? How’re you feeling?” “Zak told you?” She nodded. “But I wasn’t worried about you. No siree. Tammy was all freaking out, and Anika had her doubts, and of course Max was being a worry wart, but I know you’d still be cool.” She grinned. I took a seat. “Yeah, thanks, Lea. So what’s the dealio with this whole experiment thing?” “Not too sure yet. We know it’s probably going to change you, but we don’t know how…They were all worried that you would cross over to the dark side.” She cackled wickedly and threw her hands up into the air. I rolled my eyes. “Wow Lea, you’re such a drama queen. Maybe you should’ve auditioned for Drama instead of signing up for Photography.” “Har har.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm as the teacher- Mr. Orr- cleared his throat to get our attention. He started droning on and on about taking pictures and the significance of photos when Lea and I tuned out to whisper to one another. “This weekend.” Mr. Orr said loudly, interrupting our conversation about music, “I want you all to get a camera and take ten to twenty photos on a subject of your choice.” He explained. “You don’t need to have them developed or printed, but make sure that there is some way for me to see them by Monday.” “Yo Jay.” Lea said, raising her eyebrows. “Jay?” “Yeah- Jay for Jill. Anywho, this weekend the pack and I were going to go camping. Wanna tag along?”
“Go camping where?” I asked. “We’re going deep into the forest- far away from the beach and the humans.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I don’t know if my parents will let me go into the forest with a bunch of werewolves.” She sighed and shook her head. “Details, details. Your parents are so racist. I bet if Vladimir or Tessa wanted you to go up in the mountains with them they’d let you go without a second thought.” “Maybe I should tell them that, then.” I suggested. “I could get Vlad to cover for me…” Lea stared. “You know, Jill, you are some kind of genius. What about the other leeches? I doubt they’d play along.” I frowned. “You’re right. Guess the truth’ll just have to do then, huh?” We shared a laugh. “After school tomorrow we’ll go buy cameras.” She told me as Mr. Orr walked by. I nodded in agreement. “Definitely.” As soon as he was gone we burst out laughing again. We chatted for the rest of the period and waved to each other while going our separate ways after the bell ran. I walked into English and sat down next to Sidney, who was reading our assigned novel: Crime and Punishment. I lightly tapped one of his broad shoulders and he slowly looked up at me. “Hi Sid.” I said, suddenly in a cheery mood. He smiled at me. “Hi Jill. How are you?” “Good.” I guess everybody in the pack was worried about me, just like Lea had said. “I might go camping with you this weekend.” “Very nice.” He said slowly. “Will your father let you?” “I don’t know. I really hope so.” “Me too.” The teacher walked to the board to get the class started, and Sidney shifted his focus straight ahead. She put vocabulary words on the board and instructed us to define them all before class ended. I pulled out my dictionary and got to work. I flipped to the “H” section and noticed that one of the pages was torn out. “Hey, Sidney.” I said, not looking at him. “Can I borrow your dictionary for a second?” He didn’t respond. I looked up at him. “Sidney?” Still nothing. “Hey!”I playfully punched him in the arm. “Wazzatfer?” He asked in a slurred voice, whipping his head around and glaring at me. “Sorry.” I said softly. “Never mind.” His features softened. “No, it’s my fault. I thought that Lea told you.” “Told me what?” I asked. He laughed softly. “I’m deaf. I lip read.” I felt my cheeks beginning to redden and my heart sunk. “Sidney I am so sorry! I honestly did not know! Man, I feel horrible now…” He laughed again. “It’s not your fault. Nobody told you, but…is it not that noticeable?” I shook my head. “It’s not noticeable at all…Wow, Sidney…” I was stunned. “Well now you know. Now, what did you need, Jill?” I showed him my tattered dictionary, and he silently handed me his. “Thanks.” “Anytime.” When the bell rang and class ended, I walked outside to see Darren waiting for me. He nodded to Sidney who kept walking.
“I’ll walk you home.” He said, taking my hand in his. “And then you can walk me home.” “That sounded really creepy.” He smirked. “I’ve been practicing.” I shook my head. “You’re so weird.” He said nothing; only continued walking with me towards the beach. He spoke again when we reached my house. “Get your things. I’ll wait outside.” I started to nod and walk into the house, but then I stopped. “Wait, what?” “You’re staying with me tonight…Remember?” I did remember our conversation but I didn’t remember ever saying yes. “But, my parents-“ I tried to protest, but he would have nothing of it. “Go. You have five minutes.” I dashed into the house and grabbed the duffel bag out of the hall closet. I crammed all of my clothes and toiletries into it as fast as I could and went back outside where Darren was waiting with his arms crossed. “Three and a half minutes.” He said. “Not bad.” I rolled my eyes and shook my head, slinging my duffel bag over my shoulder. He took my hand and we began walking off into the forest, towards his house. “Remind me again why I’m staying the night.” I raised an eyebrow, looking over at him. He smirked. “You’ll see.” That couldn’t mean anything good, but I went along with it nevertheless. It seemed to not take as long to reach his house as it had before…Perhaps because the route was semi-familiar to me. “Diego’s not home.” Darren told me. “And he won’t be until later tonight.” Speaking of legal guardians… “Won’t my parents notice I’m missing?” I asked him. “Don’t worry about it. Come here.” He led me into the house and down into the basement. “We’ll stay here tonight.” It was set up like a family room- not at all like a basement. I had no complaints. I dropped my duffel bag onto an armchair in a corner and sat down on the floor. “Are you going to talk to me now?” I asked. “You certainly like to get right to the point.” I pouted. That wasn’t the answer I was looking for. He turned his back on me and went upstairs, leaving me alone. When he returned, I stood up. “What am I doing here?” I asked, biting my bottom lip and fidgeting with my hands. He looked at me, his golden eyes smoldering. “Do you want to know the truth?” I sucked in a quick breath of air. “Of course.” I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear. “I’m keeping you here because they’re looking for you.” This news, however, didn’t surprise me. “The leeches?” “And the pack.” That part confused me. “Why the pack, too?” Were they looking for me, or hunting me? “So I’m safe here?” He shrugged. “You’re safe with me.” “How do I know?” I challenged him. He chuckled and casually wrapped his arms around me. “Haven’t you learned to trust me by now?”
“No.” I said, turning my head to the side as he began to rock me back and forth. He pulled me closer to him and pressed his lips onto the top of my head. “I’d beg to differ, but now’s not the time.” I saw opportunity calling my name. “So will you tell me where you fit into all of this now? Please?” He sighed and stopped moving, just holding me. “You don’t want to know.” I wiggled out of his grip. “Why?” I felt my heart rate increase. He took a long, deep breath, and I saw his eyelids flutter- his eyes rolling back into his head. “Darren.” I whispered. He shook his head. “No. I can’t tell you. You’re in enough danger as it is.” I couldn’t believe him. I was beginning to get desperate for him to clue me in. But, I thought I had a hunch as to what he was. “If I guess will you tell me?” I asked hopefully. He eyed me. “You’re up to something.” Damn. “But yes.” I grinned. “You’re a werewolf, because you despise the leeches so much and know everyone in the pack.” I said triumphantly. He said nothing, and my face fell. “No?” But then that had to mean… “You’re a leech, then?” I thought my pounding heart was going to explode. He hesitated. “You really want to know…Don’t you?” I looked at him with pleading eyes. “Please tell me.” He sighed. “Jill…I’m not a werewolf…Nor am I a vampire…Because I am both.” At first I thought I had heard him wrong…Then I just didn’t understand. “Both?” I asked. “How can you be both? Isn’t that like…being both a cat and a dog, or something?” He shook his head. “No…I was first a werewolf, but not a genetically engineered one. I inherited the genes from my mother, who was the very first person that Astrid Conrad experimented on. However, not too long ago, I was bitten by a vampire.” “How long ago?” He looked at me softly. “This summer.” I gulped. “Before I knew you?” “Just barely.” He said in a voice hardly above a whisper. I shivered, and then thought about Vlad. “You must have great self control.” “No.” He said gravely. “I have poor self control…but the urges I get are not as strong as Vladimir’s.” I winced when he mentioned his name. I felt as though he was using it against me. “I worked with your father.” He said suddenly. “On his newest experiment.” “On me?” I asked. “I told him that it wasn’t a good idea. That’s when he turned on me.” That was a relief. “So you didn’t advocate whatever he did to me?” He pulled me into his arms again. “I would never wish this kind of pain upon you.” “What’s going to happen to me?” “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.” He began to trace on my back with the tips of his fingers. “What do they want me for? What’s going on right now? Why do-” He shushed me. “Let me speak. What I think- but don’t know for sure- is that your father is trying to progress beyond just vampires and werewolves, both of which he has been able to create artificially. Why he chose you…I think because it will be sweeter the victory for him if his daughter becomes his greatest experiment. He gave you the shot this morning, so that’s why all of them are looking for you now.” He explained.
“What about Diego? He works for my father.” I pointed out. “Diego’s on my side.” This was news. “We had a long and heated debate over it but eventually he made the decision to side with me. Of course he finished it, but he also assured me that he won’t get involved past that point.” “And the pack?” “They just want to keep you away from the vampires.” I snorted. “And that makes you the unbiased third party? What’s your story?” “I already told you.” He insisted. “I love you. I only want what’s best for you.” It was kind of sweet, if you really thought about it…But still, it was also kind of creepy…Him proclaiming his love for me so openly. My heart rate sped up again, and I heard him laugh softly as he pulled me closer to him. I rested my head on his chest and closed my eyes. Did I feel the same way for him? I couldn’t tell- I’d never been in love before… or ever come close to it. But just thinking how he made me feel better every time I saw him…How I always blushed and felt my pulse quicken when he was around… “Darren.” I could barely hear my own voice over the pounding of my heart in my head. “I think I’m in love with you.” He said nothing. Had I blown it? Was that not what he meant when he had told me he loved me? “Darren…” he hushed me again. Gently raising my chin up, he leaned in and kissed me softly on the lips. I squeezed my eyes shut and clung to his shirt. He pulled away with a chuckle. “You’re adorable.” He commented, brushing hair out of my face. I broke free from his hold and sat back down on the ground. “So tell me…” I said, regaining my confidence after our deathly serious previous conversation. “Why me? Why do you love me?” He sat on the floor across from me. “I’ve known you your whole life.” He said quietly. “But you have remained oblivious. I lived in Maryland with my parents, and have been present throughout your whole life.” Now that was creepy. “Why? That seems…weird.” I shuddered. “Your father fled Cascade Town right before you were born. Once in Hunt Valley, he decided upon his new experiment- you. He and your mother knew that when the time came, you would need someone to…protect you…and that person is me.” He said, his lips twitching into something that resembled a smile. “That all changed when I stopped supporting him.” So many questions buzzed around in my head. “What do you mean, ‘someone to protect me’? Were you replaced? By who?” Darren replied calmly, despite the words that came out of his mouth- words he knew would hurt me. “Someone to bond with you to keep you in check- depending on what the experiment would do to you. I was replaced by Vladimir Rasputin.” That freaked me out. “Vladimir Rasputin?? Are you serious?” I looked down at the scab on my left arm which had begun to heal rather quickly. “None of that was a coincident. Situations were manipulated in order for you to be caught alone with him.” He explained. “But you always seemed so surprised when I talked about him.” He could see that I was confused. “Jill…Do you remember the last week before school started? When you didn’t see me?” I nodded. I hadn’t given it much thought, but now it seemed really important. “That was when I told your father that I didn’t want to help him with the experiment any longer. He kept me in the lab for that week so that your new protector could be decided.” I thought about what had happened that week…Then I remembered: that was the week that Vladimir had caught me on the beach with my bleeding arm. “When did you find out it was him?” “Yesterday, when he bit you.”
When he bit me…But, if Darren had been turned into a vampire… “Who bit you?” His eyes narrowed, and his hands clenched into fists. His nostrils flared, and his lips twitched. “You wouldn’t like it if I told you.” I leaned forward and took his hands in mine. “Please? I need to know.” He sighed. “I see this is one battle I cannot win. If you must know.” I looked at him expectantly. “Vladimir Rasputin.” He whispered. I recoiled, drawing away from him and pulling my knees up to my chest. “I told you. I shouldn’t have told you.” He ran his fingers through his hair. I crept back over to him, wrapping my arms around his torso and resting my head on his shoulders. “I’m sorry. Can I ask you another question?” He leaned his head on top of mine. “If you’re sure you’re prepared for the answer.” “Vlad told me that you can only become a vampire if you’re bitten and then drink that vampire’s blood…So…” I trailed off, hoping he understood. “He forced me. Well, he didn’t force me, but I would’ve died if I hadn’t. Drinking his blood was the only way for me to stay alive.” I lightly kissed his neck. “How does that work?” He sighed. “It’s complicated. He drank nearly all of my blood, so that I would only be saved if I drank his blood in return.” “Like a cycle?” “…Sure. That revived me; turned me into a vampire and granted me immortality.” “Eternal life?” I asked, sitting up straight. “Yes.” “So when you said that you’ll be eighteen in February…” He chuckled. “You remember that? That certainly is a shocker…” I scowled. “Darren! I’m being serious.” “Fine. When I told you that I would be eighteen in February, I lied. I will never be eighteen.” He said. I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. “It will be the same for you.” “What?” He was still serious, looking directly into my eyes. “It will be the same for you.” He repeated. “Because of the experiment.” I tried to speak, but no words would form. Me? Immortal? That wasn’t even remotely believable. I was just plain, normal, predictable Jillian King…Who had recently become extremely involved with both vampires and werewolves…Okay, so maybe it was kind of believable… “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you less bluntly.” Darren said, spreading his arms and motioning for me to go to him. I shook my head. “No…It’s not your fault…Thank you for being honest.” He managed to coax me back into his arms where I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. I woke up alone on the ground. Darren wasn’t in the room with me, as far as I could tell. My watch said 7:21. I groggily sat up and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands and yawned. It was already dark inside, which meant nothing to me. I didn’t feel safe by myself. Standing up, I climbed the stairs to the house and began to search for Darren. It was already dark outside. I found him in the kitchen cooking something. “Finally awake, I see.” He said softly when I had entered the doorway. “Yeah…” I nodded, even though his back was to me. “What are you making?” I joined him at the stove, where a pot of clam chowder was cooking.
“Hungry?” He smiled as he looked over at me. “You look like you could use some nourishment.” I walked over to the kitchen table and gingerly sat down- still only half awake. He soon sat a bowl of soup down onto the table in front of me and joined me at the table with his own serving. “How do you feel?” He asked me. “Okay, I guess.” I mumbled, taking a bite of my food. It was warm, creamy and delicious. I hummed in delight, gulping down another spoonful. “Overwhelmed.” He nodded. “I expected that. It’s okay, though. You’ll adjust. I know how scary it is at first.” I hummed in response. I wasn’t sure if it had positive or negative connotations, but it was a response nonetheless. “Diego will be home soon.” I looked from my bowl and up at him. “Is everyone still looking for me?” “Yes.” I turned in my seat to see Diego walking through the door to the kitchen. “But they’ll give up soon.” “How will I explain this to everyone tomorrow?” I asked him. Diego shrugged. “You’re a smart girl. I’m sure you’ll think of something.” I frowned and finished my dinner. Darren held out his hand, and I gave him my bowl. “I’m going to my office.” Diego told the both of us. “Don’t wait for me.” He vanished up the stairs. Darren led me into the living room and we both sat down on the couch- he pulled me into his arms and I closed my eyes. We sat there with each other in silence for awhile until he abruptly stood up. I gave him a puzzled look. “They’re coming here.” He said in a deathly low tone. I panicked. “What do we do?” I rose to my feet as well. “There’s nothing we can do.” He admitted in defeat. “It’s too late.” There was a knock on the door. As Darren went to answer it, I found that I could hear my thundering heart again. Vlad walked in. “There you are.” He sighed in relief. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” As soon as I saw him I began to calm down. I was able to walk towards him, and I even found my voice. “Why?” “Nobody knew where you were. I was worried.” He smiled warmly at me, and I felt my heart surge. “That’s enough, Vladimir.” Darren’s voice, harsh and deep, snapped me back to reality. “I am ordering you to leave my house.” Vlad chuckled darkly and turned to face Darren. “I will leave…But Jill is to come with me when I do.” “Woah, hold on…I don’t want to go.” I protested, looking to and from the guys standing in front of me. “I really didn’t want to get mixed up in any of this.” “Let her decide.” “You only say that because she is siding with you.” Vladimir accused. I felt guilty. Darren reached out and took my hands. “You only feel like this because of the bond.” He reminded me. I knew he was right. I took a step back and looked down. “Go home, Vlad.” I instructed. When neither of them spoke, I looked up. Vlad was staring intently back at me. “I cannot do that.” I closed my eyes and saw an image of Vlad poised above Darren, grabbing his throat and squeezing and tearing andI opened my eyes. “Then I’ll go with you.”
Darren furrowed his brow- glaring at me. I knew he didn’t- wouldn’tunderstand, but I had to trust my gut instinct. Vlad grinned and held out his hand. I took it and he led me out the door. “Bye Darren.” I said silently. “I love you.” Vlad closed the door behind me and led me back towards my own home. “Forgive me. I did not mean to act so rudely in there.” He said softly. “I was concerned about your safety.” “I was perfectly safe. I don’t think that Darren would’ve let anybody hurt me.” I protested. “I believe that. I was more worried about what he would do to you.” I couldn’t argue with that. He did get pretty touchy feely with me in that basement. “Vlad…Why did you bite me?” He stopped walking and looked at me. “I can’t lie to you.” “I know.” He hesitated. “Because your father told me to.” I knew it already, but what I really wanted was to hear him say it. “So you don’t feel anything for me?” “Jill…I feel for you in a way that I cannot feel for anybody else.” “Because of the bond.” I interrupted. He said nothing- I was right. “Vlad, why did you bite Darren?” Still he said nothing. I returned his silence. Standing there with him didn’t feel right. I knew where I needed to be. “I’m sorry.” I whispered, breaking into a run, heading back towards Darren’s house. “Jill!” I heard Vlad come after me, but I ran for my life, winding in and out of the forest. The forest belongs to the wolves. His voice rang in my ears, and I found the inspiration to run faster. I finally reached his front door and opened it. “Darren!” I screamed. He instantly appeared before me, worry present in his eyes. “I ran away from Vlad.” I said, panting. He rubbed my back, trying to calm me. “He was following me. I thought I lost him but he knows where I am.” I explained. No sooner did those words leave my mouth than Vlad burst through the front door- his eyes bloodshot and his hands clenched into fists. “I see how things are going to be.” He said, slowly walking towards us. “Vlad, please-“ Tears were rolling down my face now, preventing me from seeing things clearly. Darren moved to stand between Vlad and I. “We’ll end this here and now.” Too quickly for my eyes to see, Vlad had his hands wrapped around Darren’s throat. My vision grew fuzzy, and blurred as that same anxious feeling began to well up in my stomach. I closed my eyes, my tears were dried. My vision was fine- the anxious feeling was gone, and Vlad was lying on the floor. “Darren, what’d you do?” I asked softly. He was holding his throat. I could see the marks that Vlad’s fingers had left. “I didn’t do anything.” The stench of blood pierced my senses, and I kept my eyes on Darren, who was apparently trying to restrain himself. He moved closer to me and took my hands. They were bright red- stained with blood. “Me?” I asked meekly. He nodded. “How?” “I don’t know.”
We stood there for awhile before Diego came down the stairs. He froze when he saw the three of us. “Jill…” He said softly. “Do you realize what you’ve done?” I shook my head. Diego said nothing, turned and entered the kitchen. Darren followed him…I was too afraid to move. They both returned- Darren with my duffel bag and his own in his hands and Diego with keys and a small cooler. “Go.” He instructed, handing Darren a set of keys as Darren handed me my bag. “You know what to do.” Darren nodded, taking my hand and dragging me out of the house. “Where are we going?” I asked him. He said nothing while leading me towards the garage and opening it to reveal a big green pickup truck. “Get in.” I hastily obeyed, throwing my bag in the back as he climbed in on the passenger’s side, jamming the key into the ignition. He tore out of there at at least seventy miles an hour, struggling with his seatbelt. He was going south- away from Cascade Town. I chose to speak to him again as soon as he merged onto the freeway. “Darren, where are we going?” “Mexico.” He answered nonchalantly. “Diego’s parents live in Michoacán.” I understood. We were on the run. I looked out of the window and into the darkness of the night. The clock on the dashboard read 11:39. “They won’t be able to find us.” Darren said. “We should be okay- you’ll be alright.” But that wasn’t what I was thinking about. “How did I…” Kill Vlad? I couldn’t say it. He sighed. “I don’t know. I had begun to black out and didn’t see what happened.” That scared me. My father’s experiment…I was sure that it was more powerful than he’d ever imagined. He put his hand on my knee and rubbed the cap with his thumb. “We’ll work this out. Everything’ll be alright.” I looked over at him. He grinned- I could see his teeth flash in the moonlight. “I love you.” I said quietly. I saw him lean in towards me. My first thoughts raced to him keeping his eyes on the road, but then I dismissed it. “I love you.” He whispered back, gently kissing my neck.” I smiled wide as he returned his focus to the road. It was exciting: this whole new experience that I had once found overwhelming. I was headed to new places- off to meet new people and leave the leeches and my father’s experiments behind me. The best part of it was, I wasn’t traveling by plane. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and II took the one less traveled by And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost April 29, 2008- May 29, 2008 San Jose, California
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