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The Return

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It had been ninety-five days since I’d last seen him; that was ninety-five too long.
Over three months of sleepless nights and lonely days. Three full moons.

I kept a temporary reminder of the countdown; the number of rings I wear on each
hand. Eight rings in total, eight months to go. Just looking at them makes me think I
can’t do this much longer – we’re not even halfway and I’m already sick of it.
Every glimpse I catch of them –every time I write, type, hold something- those
pretty little loops send a stabbing pain through the very centre of my chest. It’s
as if they’re not decorating my hands but caging my heart. Gripping tighter with every
passing dawn.

“Why do you wear so many rings?” The perky voice behind me asks. Great.
I hadn’t noticed her, too encompassed in my own thoughts. ‘She’ being the female
high school student who’s assigned herself as my chaperone ever since I’d arrived.
And who hadn’t once left my side whenever I set foot on the premises, despite my
best efforts of evasion. She sniffs to push her glasses up her nose, her chin-length bob
swaying slightly.
“One for each finger of my hands.” I lie, stopping myself from subconsciously
twiddling the platinum hoop encircling my left ring finger. The one he gave me.
“Oh.” The voice says, its owner bumping me in the back with her lunch tray. She is
enforcing I move along in the cafeteria queue because there is a millimetre gap
between me and my predecessor. Man, she’s persistent.

When I don’t move fast enough, Lexie, my companion, shoves her tray hard into my
spine and I jerk forward.
“Sorry!” I splutter, almost falling into the varsity jacket of the person in front. It’s a
tall guy who turns around angrily –never interrupt a grizzly bear at feeding time- until
he sees me. Then his determined look of aggression melts into forced nonchalance,
his chubby face turned upwards in a smirk.
“No problem. Hey, you’re the new girl. I haven’t met you yet.”
I recognise his expression instantly. Predatory, analytical, judging the fresh meat. I
grimace. Varsity guy offers a hand and I awkwardly take it, breaking my thoughts.
Even after three months, I’m still labelled ‘new girl’ by the humans. He holds my
hand too long to remain comfortable. I feel the sweat of his palm and wrinkle my
nose, tugging my hand away.

“So, do you have a boyfriend?” he asks, refusing to move along now the queue has
shifted. He smiles down at me, completely ignoring Lexie who’s giving him the death
stare.
“Nope.” I shake my head. If only he knew.
“Do you want one?”
“Not really.”
“You sure?”
“Yes. Why, are you offering?”
“Maybe.”
“Then definitely not.” I smile politely and step around him. Then, a few metres
behind, I hear a deep, throaty chuckle. Suddenly I’m paralysed and Lexie nudges me
out of the way, propelling herself towards the food.

‘Relax’ I tell myself; a now-permanent mantra I moan every time I think he’s here.
Because it’s impossible he could be here, so I’m safe so far. Yet whoever chuckled
just then, I swear they have the same voice as him. Slowly, I allow myself to turn
around, to face my fear and reassure myself that he’s not here, but instead some
eighth-grade kid at the salad bar.
Then, finally, when I have turned, I see him and the breath catches in the back of my
Throat.

Eight spaces back, I see the tall figure stooping his head, embarrassed by his
overshadowing stature. Peeking out from underneath the hood of his mid-length black
coat are those two eyes that never fail to stun me into having no thoughts at all.
Suddenly all tension in my hands flow free as the undeniable urge to run to him hits.
Luckily, my reflexes are far faster than humans’ and I catch the tray slipping from my
fingers. I hope nobody notices.

Of course, he will have noticed - verified by his low chuckle imperceptible to human
ears, the slight inclination of his head as he nods, our eyes never breaking contact.
“Are you ready?” Lexie returns to my side. “Even if you haven’t got any food you
should still sit down with us.”
The animal side of me wants to scream at her, but I realise this might just attract
some unwanted attention and is slightly antisocial. When I don’t move, she follows
my gaze to the man staring at me in the high school canteen queue, mockingly
holding a lunch tray. Outside of this situation, this would be hilarious.

I sense Lexie’s subtle hyperventilation and her flushed cheeks and irrationally I
become territorial. How dare she like him??! Then I realise that every female in the
room has stopped eating and/or talking, because he is now the centre of their
attention. And why wouldn’t he be? Physically, he’s amazing. Those eyes look as if
they have light shining from them. That smile makes even the strongest woman weak.
And if they could only hear his voice, oh my!

“Let’s eat.” I say and walk to the furthest table possible. For once, Lexie obediently
follows, too dumbstruck to argue. I huff into my seat and grab an apple from the fruit
bowl. Even though my stomach growls I cannot eat, so the apple is simply a
distraction, something to play with.

Because human food tastes vile to my preferences. Because I am not human.
Because I am a female werewolf, who, for her own protection and under the order of
her pack alpha, has been sent away from her former life and who must now
acclimatize to the human world. Who, for the last three months, has coped pretty well
and has gone almost unnoticed. Who, until two minutes and fifty seconds ago, would
have been absolutely fine to live out the next eight miserable months as a human. But
who won’t be able to now. Because her werewolf mate has just disrupted everything
and broken every rule of our pack to be here.

I wrinkle my forehead and desperately try to search for answers, aware that I’m
receiving confused glances from the humans surrounding me. I’m acting weird, I
know that. But I don’t care. I don’t care that I’m not engaging in small talk about
makeup or school dances or cheerleading like usual, or that I’m not trying to stomach
the lunch food when really it tastes disgusting. Because I need to know what’s going
on...Why is he here? Does our alpha know? What’s gone wrong? Is the plan over?
Are we safe? How does he even know where I am hiding? Did he pick up my scent?
Where are the others? So many unanswered questions whiz around my brain until my
head hurts. Then something really bad happens.

I feel the space opposite me disappear as a tall, hooded figure slides into the empty
seat. He places his tray down and skims my hand with his, causing me to jump from
the small bolt of electricity that passes between us.
“Hi!” Lexie says.
“Hello. My name is Reinder. Who are you?”
He asks politely, purposefully ignoring me. I kick him under the table –hard- and
glare at him. I don’t care anymore. The jig is up and I’ll be leaving here tonight. The
humans can think what they like – I just need to speak to him alone and him
pretending to be one of them isn’t helping.

“My name is Lexie. This is Farris and this is Hannah and this is Dylan.” She says,
using her hands to indicate the others in her friendship group, her face beaming at
being chosen to speak.
“And this is?” Reinder points at me indifferently. I bite noisily on my apple, eyebrows
raised, glaring at him. He still refuses to look at me, instead focusing his gaze on
Lexie as if she’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. Yet I see the minute smile
tugging at the corner of his mouth, threatening serious laughter.
“Oh. Her name is Lauren.” Lexie glances at me with boredom.
Finally, Reinder turns his eyes to me, letting his full lips turn into a glorious smile.
Everyone in the vicinity seems to be leaning in, wanting to hear him speak. Even
teachers seem curious.

“Lauren. That’s an interesting name.” He says feigning seriousness, mocking me.
Laughing at my attempt to break away, to become -in part- human. So desperate to
blend in that I would change even my name. Without telling him. He must have been
tracking me for months.
“You were supposed to wait for me!” I hiss in our native Swedish. A murmur rustles
throughout the tables of those who can hear us. To them, it is odd; two apparent
strangers start talking in a foreign language, together
“Couldn’t wait, darling. You didn’t even tell me where you were going.”
“I couldn’t. You know I couldn’t.”
We stare at each other, all playfulness gone. His chin is raised slightly so that he looks
at me through narrowed eyes. This is his defence mechanism, because he is in public.
I feel the tears welling up in my own eyes and bite down on my lower lip to stop them
from falling. A long lock of my dark hair falls into my face as I bow my head.
Reflexively Reinder brushes it behind my shoulders, letting his hand linger on my
cheek.

Our moment of tenderness is broken as we realise the room is silent, all twenty
hundred staff and student body mesmerised by the small, raven-haired girl sat holding
the hand of the huge blonde-haired boy. Adrenaline thumps through my ears and I am
standing, flying away from the table. I don’t need to look behind me – Reinder is
already out of his seat, our instincts so entwined it is as if we are one.

We run out of the school into the light rain and across the damp gravel of the parking
lot, leaving behind the gasps and shrieks of our audience. It does not matter. As long
as we do not expose our true nature of being werewolves, our pack will not care what
mayhem we stir up. Ditching high school is hardly criminal, considering we both
graduated nearly three years ago. Still, we are running and never stop, even at the
point where lungs and thighs should be burning. We sprint to the edge of the forest, to
where the grey chain-link fence peeks out under the wet canvass of fir trees. I glance
right and find him looking at me, seeing the challenge in those magnificent eyes. I
laugh and outrun him, hurdling over the fence as if it is nothing. Now in the forest, I
hide, hearing the crash of metal and of curse words. A giggle escapes me because I
know he didn’t jump over the fence; he went through it.

I scuttle up a tree and perch on a branch above a small clearing. He will catch my
scent soon enough, but I’m having far too much fun to stop this game. He bolts into
the space, frantically searching as if he might lose me forever. I laugh and jump,
landing on him until we roll to the ground, tumbling through the bark and soil and
ferns as one.

Finally we stop and he locks he in his hold. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t move
from under his grip, his strong arms keeping my face just inches from his. I inhale and
close my eyes, tantalized by his earthy scent. Finally, when I open my eyes, I see only
him.
“Never leave me again.” He whispers, running a hand through my dark mane. I reach
up, letting my own hands run through the dark blond curls that halo around his head.
“I love you.”





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