“…Is that a phone?” he asked, still appearing shocked.
And he immediately walked over to me, starting to scan the area around us. Almost as if he were checking to see if anyone else had seen me.
“Quickly put it away,” he said.
“What’s wrong, Kieran?”
I asked the question but still did what he requested, stuffing it back into my pocket.
“Communication and recording devices like that aren’t allowed here,” he said. “It’s the only way we keep ourselves safe. They potentially jeopardize our entire kind’s secrecy. You’d be best to just leave it switched off in your suitcase and don’t let anyone know you have it.”
…I guess that made sense. I’d been wondering myself how they’d managed to keep their existence so unknown all this time. If someone started taking videos of people turning into wolves, I could see how that would quickly uncover the truth.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” I said. “My friend was worried about where I disappeared to. I just called to let them know I was safe.”
“You don’t need to apologize. It’s my fault. I should have told you before we got here.” He then exhaled and relaxed, the danger now gone. “It’s slowly becoming a little better ever since we started a business with humans.
We even have a landline phone for that reason now. I guess if you wanted to call someone, I could ask permission for you to access it. Its use is monitored by the Elders.”
I thought about it for a moment but realized that if I used a public phone, I would have limited freedom in what I could and could not discuss openly.
Especially if mentioning things related to my father or the drugs, it could make all of this effort to keep it hidden pointless.
“Thank you… I’ll be sure to let you know.”
I didn’t enjoy lying to Kieran but, for now, this was the only way. So much was riding on that call from Zac that it didn’t leave me with many options. No, I would need to keep my phone nearby and hope for the best.
“Come on,” he said, touching my shoulder. “I’ll show you around some more places. We’ll need to be back at the house by about five o’clock though. We’ve got that dinner tonight.”
In amongst everything happening, I’d almost forgotten about the dinner planned for tonight. It sounded as though everyone who was even remotely important would be attending, which was a little nerve-wracking.
“Sure,” I said.
And we left soon after.
It was a fun day, in the end, all things considered. After a stressful morning with the doctor’s appointment and the cell phone incident, it managed to recover back into an enjoyable time spent with Kieran.
And though it was slow, I was starting to learn more things by being around him. Like his sense of humor… his smile… the way he laughed. And I noticed how easy it was for me to open up because of that.
Every now and then I would find myself stopping after realizing how comfortable I seemed to be, so contrasted to my normal guarded nature… and I would sneak a look over at him.
But every time I would do so, I would find him already watching me, his hazel eyes instantly sending little butterflies through me.
…And I would wonder what he saw when he looked at me.
By the time five o’clock came around, I was almost sad to see the private part of our day come to an end. Now, with the expectation of meeting important figures tonight, I knew that I would need to be on my best behavior, careful about how I presented myself.
‘Best behavior’… no, that was how I used to describe working assignments for my father. But I wasn’t going to the dinner tonight for him. I was going… for me.
This was something that I wanted to do.
“…You look beautiful,” Kieran said as I approached a little while later.
My cheeks burned in response, his words catching me off-guard.
I’d spent the last hour quickly getting ready for dinner, so I was relieved to hear he thought so.
But he, himself, looked exceptionally handsome too, something that made it hard for me not to stare. It was as if every time I saw him, I was struck a little bit more by his features.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“Everyone will be waiting already.”
And so we began walking to where I remembered the dining area was. Only, as we entered back into the large space, I was amazed by how different it appeared.
It had been completely rearranged and now resembled a fancy restaurant more than the casual eating area I recalled. Everywhere I looked, I saw pristine white-clothed tables with candles and flowers.
Many nicely dressed people were also already seated and chatting amongst themselves.
“Kieran!” a voice said, and I turned to see a young man speaking. “It’s good to finally see you. Sorry I couldn’t come by earlier.”
“Camren,” Kieran greeted. “It’s no trouble. I’ve been busy showing Raven around anyway.”
“Oh, right,” said the man, his eyes turning to me.“ The talk of the pack. It’s lovely to meet you, Raven. I’m Camren, the Gamma heir.”
He did a bow and I gave him a smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”
The conversation then reverted to the topic of things Kieran had missed whilst in Rockdale City, all of which I didn’t really understand, but perhaps it was caused by my lack of concentration.
Because in the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but notice the stares I was receiving from a group of girls seated nearby.
Or maybe ‘glares’ was a better word for it.
Immediately, the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I watched them. Almost as if I had a weird urge to glare back at them. I wasn’t sure why though.
It wasn’t the same as the feeling I’d had with Allison. This felt less dangerous and more… protective.
“Ignore them,” Kieran whispered to me.
I jumped a little in surprise, him addressing the encounter I was having with the girls; much to my embarrassment. I’d been so absorbed by the whole thing that I hadn’t even realized Camren had left. It was now just the two of us once more.
“…Did I do something to offend them?” I asked, confused.
But upon Kieran looking over at them, they instantly turned their heads, acting as if they were merely talking to each other.
“They’re just jealous,” he said. “It’s not worth your energy.”
“Jealous? Jealous of who?”
“Of you. Seriously, don’t give it any thought. Now come on, we’re expected up the front.”
I didn’t ask anything further but it stuck with me regardless, wondering just how anyone could feel jealous of me.
I would happily trade places with any person in this town if it meant avoiding the upbringing I’d had. Hell, if it meant avoiding the issues with my father both past and still pending.
… Though what if they were jealous for a different reason? Like… how I was here with Kieran? Were some of them perhaps ex-girlfriends? Lovers? I could see how he’d be incredibly popular. He was bound to have a history here. It would be silly to think otherwise.
But then another thought came to me. One creeping into the back of my mind.
…If I somehow managed to stay here, to find a way to move my life to Ashwood without fear of my father, would I, too, find myself at that table one day? Scornfully looking over at whatever woman Kieran came to dinner with?
…Was I just the latest obsession? A pet project to help fix? Was that maybe why he didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone that we were romantically involved?
My chest hurt a little as that thought invaded me, but I pushed it back as much as I could. He’d been nothing but sweet to me so there was no reason to assume the worst. Not yet anyway.
As we made our way up to the front of the room, I recognized a group of familiar faces already seated. It consisted of the people I’d met the other day, plus a few more that I was sure were equally as important.
We did standard greetings to everyone, plus formalities to Victor, before taking our seats. But to my immense discomfort and dismay, I discovered that Allison sat near me.
Upon eye contact, I once again was overcome with the impulse to attack. A sensation that had no founding or explanation. Just… pure instinct telling me to end her.
…But I held myself back.
I’d promised Kieran that I would spend time with her. I needed to stay true to my word.
And so I gave her a smile, a wave, and took my seat to chat to her, all the while biting back the compulsion radiating inside me.
From now on, Allison was going to be my new best friend. Whether I liked it or not. It was not negotiable.
What was it I had told myself yesterday? That I was committed to being someone new and more positive? Well, talking to his sister nicely was surely a step in the right direction.
In fact, over time, I may even become close to many of the people around me now. I would need to tread extra carefully in these early days to not step on any feet due to my new social ignorance.
…But… first I needed to navigate how their strange government worked. A struggle to say the least, as I continually discovered.
“Sterling,” said a man, holding a hand out to me.” Pleasure to meet you.”
He sat himself down in Kieran’s chair and looked at me expectantly. And though I was confused, I still shook it, discreetly trying to look around the room.
Kieran had gotten up from the table only a minute prior and I now felt a little out of place without his presence. Especially with the ever-constant threat of making a mistake in this new environment.
“… Raven,” I replied politely.
He had familiar looking features and my mind quickly began trying to work out who he might be. Only, before I could come to any conclusion, he answered the question weighing on me.
“I’m Victor’s brother. Kieran’s uncle,” he said, pointing towards where Victor was seated further down.
Upon turning to look, I saw there was an active conversation happening amongst the ‘ranked’ members who I’d already been introduced to. Allison included. None of them paid us any mind.
However, this did now leave me in an awkward predicament.
I was required to show formal respect to Victor and I knew their hierarchy here was based around family lines. Did that then mean Sterling was under that same umbrella? Should I be bowing?
I attempted to look around the room once more for Kieran but he was still nowhere to be seen.
“Oh wow, the resemblance is uncanny,” I said in an attempt for conversation, choosing to risk it.
He laughed and took a sip of his drink. Though not before shooting me a wink. “I got the looks, thankfully.”
It was a comment I wasn’t really sure how to reply to, one that made me uncomfortable.
Smile, Raven,’ I scolded myself inside.
And I managed to force a smile in lieu of words.
There was something about him that was giving me a bad vibe. Though that was apparently becoming the norm with many people I met lately. Perhaps all my discomfort was just due to my insecurity; what with me being in an entirely new world.
Internally, I reminded myself to stop being so guarded and judgemental.
“Human city, right?” he asked bluntly. “What was that like? Terrible, I imagine.”
Was he drunk? The longer the conversation went on, the more I felt like he was saying whatever popped into his head.
“It was… very different from here,” I replied carefully.
He snorted at that and took another sip of his drink.” Yes, obviously.”
What was he expecting me to say?
But as I went to open my mouth to reply, it was then that Allison came back over, her eyes shifting between Sterling and myself.
“Ah, my favourite niece,” Sterling cheerily greeted.“ It’s always so wonderful to catch up. Please, take a seat.”
Though confused, Allison took her seat once more. The one she had already been sitting at basically the entire evening
“Sterling…,” she said, frowning.
Could she tell that he was a bit off too? It was the first time I’d seen Allison so serious. Up until now, she had been very peppy all night.
“How has the packhouse been? Did you go to the temple today?”
“Our Great Mother, Selene, blessed us with a bountiful feast today,” she replied. “I chose to stay here and help with the preparations for that.”
“Of course, of course…,” Sterling said. “Then I guess I can’t let the Moon Goddess’ blessing go to waste, right?”
And he proceeded to down the rest of his drink in one go.
I assumed that this was the religion Kieran had briefly mentioned to me, the one his sister had become involved in due to her grief. But it was a topic I didn’t end up getting a chance to ask about.
Because it was then that Sterling chose to place his empty glass in front of me, sparing me only the quickest of glances.
“Get me another one, will you, sweetheart?” he said, turning to resume talking with Allison.
…And I stared at the glass in shock.
Weren’t there attendants working for that reason? Was this a normal thing to ask?
But as I mulled on it for a second, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was due to the ranking system. Maybe he really was important and I’d shown disrespect by not bowing earlier.
…And it was a thought that ultimately made me reach out to grab the empty glass, forcing another smile on my lips.
“Sure,” I said, standing up.
“Raven, no-,” Allison blurted out. But I interrupted her by waving off her words.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
Good impressions. I was trying to make good impressions. Looking at Allison, she was only a reminder of that very thing. Showing courtesy to people couldn’t be a bad thing, surely.
“See? She doesn’t mind,” Sterling repeated pointedly.
Only, the way he said that made me start to wonder if maybe there was something I was missing.
Nevertheless, I left the table and went looking for the kitchen. A quest where I could feel the eyes of many people as I walked, but I attributed it to being an outsider in their town.
It wasn’t until I finally found the relevant hallway to the kitchen that I began to question that motive.
Because as I rounded the corner, I finally bumped into Kieran… and the look on his face held the same confusion I was used to seeing now. The one that told me I was doing something strange.
And immediately I sighed. …Here we go again.