We sat in the auditorium listening to the principal’s closing speech. Josh and Jane sat next to me- they were a couple now, how I didn’t understand it. Josh had built a huge tolerance for Jane’s constant nagging but he’d also been able to turn the bitch in her down a notch. But nothing he did could save us from her constant complaints of how the light blue gown was taking out the shine in her blonde hair.
How was that even possible?
George stopped talking to me after I cancelled our date. I didn’t mind, in fact, he took that awkward situation out of my hands. Having Casanova off my back was a relief. Ash had his own unfounded aggression towards him. He didn’t like George anywhere near me, but he liked Josh better- now that Jane was his girlfriend.
When the ceremony was done, we ran out cheering and screaming, glad that the four years of high school torture was over. My family was waiting for me; they were all smiling, even Billy looked happy to see me.
“My daughter is a graduate!” My dad said emotionally hugging me tight.
“Its high school dad not varsity,” I pulled back and looked at him.
His eyes were teary which made me feel like I was going to cry. I used to dread this day, when my classmates would walk out of the auditorium with their parents and I would be alone. But through some crooked twist of fate, my dad was here- yes I do have Maria and Ann but this was my dad, my real family, my blood- as a wolf or human. I didn’t care all that mattered to me was that he was here and I wasn’t alone.
“It’s not very wolfy to cry dad.” I teased as I pulled away and hugged Ann then Maria. They were emotional too. Now I was really going to cry. I pulled away quickly before Maria started a tear fest that Ann and I would end up joining.
“Congratulations.” Joe gave me a peck on the cheek and a hard pat on the back with a clown smile on his face.
I laughed- he was always the strange one. Billy just nodded, but his smile looked sincere. I knew we were in rocky waters so I appreciated the small gesture, it was better than nothing.
Ash stood there like a dream staring down at me. He looked gorgeous in his black leather jacket and blue jeans. His grey shirt accentuated his broad chest. I imagined his biceps and how tight the sleeves were caressing them. I couldn’t believe this beautiful creature loved me.
“Congratulations Lee.” His velvety voice gave me goose bumps. He stepped closer to me and bent low enough to reach my ear and whispered, “Mi amor, you look dazed.”
I felt my stomach flutter, listening to his voice. His intoxicating scent made me dizzy. To think I should have gotten used to him by now. Sometimes I think he does this on purpose, to humor himself by watching my dazzled empty headed reaction to him.
He chuckled softly, “Do you want me to step away?”
I reached up and held onto his jacket for balance. “No,” I whispered back. I was still trying to find my bearing and reorganize my mind. How is it he had this effect on me?
“Okay, but you need to look alive, your father isn’t too happy about your zombie state.”
Dad! I’d forgotten the rest were still around. I blinked a couple of times then shifted to Ash’s side and leaned against him. Dad looked at me, an impatient irritated look on his face.
I wasn’t going to move back into Ash’s room anytime soon.
“Lee!” Jane came running towards us, Josh walking fast behind her. She crushed into me hugging me tight, then she tip toed and kissed Ash on the cheek, “Hi Ash.”
Did she really coo?
“Hi and congratulations.” He flashed his earth shaking smile. Her eyes widened as she stared at him sheepishly. Well, time and distance didn’t change the reaction she had to that and it still annoyed me.
“Jane, Josh is behind you.” The irritation in my voice was noticeable and I didn’t care. Billy chuckled as he stared at Jane’s stunned face.
“Josh, oh right Josh.” Jane came out of her daze just in time when Josh put an arm around her waist and kissed her before he turned to us. Billy just laughed even louder.
“Hi Lee, Ash it’s nice to see you again.”
Ash gave him a curt nod, “Same here.”
“So how do you guys know each other?” Billy had his mischievous tone on which only meant there was trouble to come. Well at least he was loosening up.
“Lee and Josh would have been dating if she hadn’t gotten into that accident and I would have been dating Ash if he hadn’t cancelled on me,” Jane answered him. She then turned to Josh and pinched his cheek, “but everything worked out. Lee is with Ash and I’m with My Joshy woshy.”
Billy mouthed ‘Joshy woshy’ to Joe with a clown face, his lips twisted around as he moved his hands around an imaginary girlfriend- which I am sure kept him company during the decades women couldn’t stand his obnoxious God’s-gift-to-women delusions. I bit my lips together to hold a laugh. I looked around at my family; they were making an effort not to laugh. Josh looked embarrassed and he ducked his head behind Jane.
He should have been hiding from her right from the start.
I had to lie to Jane about my shoulder. If I had given her an edited version of what really happened it would only open the door to a zillion questions. I also didn’t think telling them my new boyfriend beat my old boyfriend into a bloody broken pulp wouldn’t have been clever after the length we went to, to keep it secret. Billy and Joe had replaced everything by the next morning. We quit working at Luke’s after Sabrina’s attack and constant lurking around the place. My sisters’ and I always had to go out with an escort, which I didn’t mind because I spent more time with both Ash and my dad.
“Josh and Jane, meet my family. You remember my sisters?” I spoke fast to save Josh before he shrunk an inch more.
“Yes. Ann and Maria, it’s nice to see you again.” Josh answered politely.
“That’s Billy, Ann’s boyfriend and Joe, Maria’s boyfriend.”
“Lucky girls,” Jane muttered under her breathe as her eyes travelled over Billy then Joe. Josh wasn’t too pleased about it, but he hid his displeasure under his polite smile.
“And this is my…” I stopped, not sure how to introduce my dad. Everyone knew I was an orphan, calling him my dad will rouse questions none of us wanted to answer, “This is my uncle.”
“I thought as much, there is a slight family resemblance. It’s nice to meet you sir.” Josh shook his hand respectfully. My dad smiled, impressed by him. “We have to go, but it was a pleasure to meet all of you.” He pulled Jane away. She was still ogling at the guys.
“That girl is your friend?” Ann asked bemused.
I shrugged, “Not really. She only used to hang around me because Josh liked me. I just got used to having her around.”
“Why didn’t you date him?” My dad asked perplexed.
“I suggested it but it only upset her. He would have been perfect for her.” Ash spoke with a laugh in his voice. I gave him a cut look before I answered my dad.
“I don’t know. He’s just not my type.”
“Steve and Ash are? You are beyond saving.” My dad said shaking his head.
“I’m a rebellious teen dad. My job is to give you sleepless nights and an ulcer.”
“You are excelling at that perfectly. Come on let’s go home.” He turned and headed for his Range Rover.
I followed them but Ash pulled me back. “We aren’t going with them. I have a surprise for you.”
“A surprise,” I said with dread, “Please tell me it’s not expensive.”
He laughed and pulled me closer to him, “You made yourself very clear on the price tag of my gifts. I’m giving you an intangible gift.”
“What is it?” I was glad he hadn’t spent any money on me. I kept the diamond pendant tucked away in my shoe box but today I wore it because Maria had insisted on it. I’d worn it twice just to please Ash, but it always felt like an expensive noose around my neck.
“You’ll see,” his face dropped and then he looked behind his shoulder. “Someone wants you.” He sounded annoyed. I shifted to look behind him, George was walking towards us.
I laughed. It was amusing seeing Ash so irritated with someone he didn’t know- all because he asked me out. “I should have dated him.”
“That’s not funny,” Ash said harshly.
“Hi George,” I stepped out of Ash’s embrace to talk to him. I was actually surprised he wanted to talk to me at all.
“Hi Lee and Lee’s current boyfriend,” George stressed on the current as he glanced at Ash before he put all his attention on me. Ash didn’t even answer- he just stared at George, his face tight and his eyes lethal. I needed to end this chat fast.
“I wanted to invite you out. Remember the rain check?”
I heard a rumble roll in Ash’s chest. I shifted to stand in front of him, between him and George. “Sorry, I have plans today.”
“We could go out on another day, maybe this Saturday?”
“She won’t be available.” Ash said between clenched teeth. George gave him an unconcerned stare before he looked at me with a grin on his face.
“You’re eighteen, play the field a little. You’ll never have that chance if you glue yourself to one guy.”
Ash took a step forward, bumping into me in the process. I reached for his side and put my hand over his clenched fist. George was going to have a bad graduation day if he kept talking.
“George I’m happy being glued to him. We need to leave, and you need to go party. I’ll see you when I see you.”
“If you change your mind you have my number.” He leaned towards me and kissed the edge of my lips. I saw Ash’s free hand shoot up. I caught it, pulling it down before he could grab George’s neck.
“Bye George.” I pushed Ash back as hard as I could, he rocked on his feet but he didn’t move. George turned and left us. I waited until there was a good distance between us before I let go of Ash.
“One day I’ll rip his head off!” He growled.
Time to shift gears.
I drew circles on his chest with my fingers and whispered seductively, “How about you give me my present and we forget all about George?”
Ash’s face relaxed, his lips curved up in a crooked smile. “Let’s go.”
He led me to his car, opened the door and helped me in before he went to his side. We drove for a few miles before he pulled up at the beach. He got out and came round to open the door for me.
A perfect wolf gentleman.
“What are we doing here?” I was glad I wore jeans and a button down shirt under the gown. If I’d worn the girly dress and high heels Maria had picked out, I would have felt even more uncomfortable if we ended up in the water.
His lips rose in half a smile, “You’ll see.” He took my hand and led me towards the rocks at the far end of the beach.
“I’ve watched this movie before,” I started taking off my tennis shoes. “The girl always ends up washed up in the morning naked and stabbed a couple of times. Her eyes wide open in terror.” I tied the shoe laces together then hung them on my shoulder, “Would you like to know how it ends?”
Ash laughed, “I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
“They arrest the jealous boyfriend a few days later and give him the death penalty- the electric chair,” I said the last part with a little drama, like when they introduced vampires in the old movies. “But he didn’t even leave the court house jail because during the trail it was revealed that the man in question was a gay party planner. He hangs himself in his cell using his shirt. ‘Denise and Dennis forever’ written on the wall in blood.”
“Your humor is worrying.” His tone was a little too serious that it made me uncomfortable. I was acting weird again.
“It comes with the background.” I kicked the sand around, “In a disturbing way it’s kind of romantic.” I hadn’t even noticed he had stopped and turned to me. He looked worried. “What?”
He pulled me in a tight embrace. I placed my head on his chest. I felt so warm and completely safe there. Moving right now would be a brutal punishment. “Lee I’m sorry about your family.”
I wrapped my arms tighter around his waist, making myself even more comfortable in his embrace. I could fall asleep like this. “It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.”
“It was. I got there too late and now you and Dave are paying for my mistake.” He sounded sad and angry. This wasn’t the time for self loathing or regrets.
“I’m dealing with it and I’m doing well. I don’t have nightmares anymore. I haven’t been this happy since it happened so stop with the guilt trip and give me my present.”
He smiled but he still looked pained. “I love having you close to me.”
“You are growing on me too.” I yawned.
“Are you sleepy?”
I shook my head trying to clear the fog that was creeping inside my head. “No. I don’t know why but I’m feeling really tired.”
“Do you want me to carry you?”
“That’s so romantic, like a scene from a romance movie. Me in your arms, walking on the beach as the sun sets in the background.” I failed miserably trying to imitate a romantic.
Ash smiled down at me. “It’s four o’clock in the afternoon.”
“If you squint your eyes just right, the sun will look like its setting.” I said squinting my eyes.
Without warning, he scooped me up in his arms and started walking, “Normally it would take me ten seconds, but I’ll take ten minutes to get to the tent. So you can rest for the duration.”
I nodded. Giving into the fatigue, I placed my head on his shoulder close to his neck. His sweet scent filled my lungs. It was better than fresh air.