That's right, got another post from Taylor, and she's staying with the story she started a couple weeks ago.
I'm really enjoying this; she's building the tension nicely, with good combination of action and revelations.
On the way back to the Bronco, Ember gave me his jacket again. He'd worn it in the diner, so it was comfortably warm, and I wrapped it around me with a contented sigh. The sky was pale and grey and the snow was falling again. Our breath fogged in front of us as we slid into the car. It occurred to me that, while sitting in the booth, I'd been so engrossed in my food that I had completely ignored about what Ember had done. I remembered it now: his deep breathing, the top of the salt shaker unscrewing without the aid of a hand, the graceful movement of his wrist and fingers, the top going airborne.
Without a word, Ember drove us out of the parking lot. I couldn't get over the way he'd called himself a "freak" in the diner. It stung me in ways it shouldn't have. My stomach churned, threatening to reject my breakfast. A hot lump rose in my throat and I couldn't swallow. I hardly knew this boy, yet I felt so sorry for him I wanted to cry.
A buried memory surfaced, unbidden:
“You're a freak… You're a freak… You're a freak!"
My tiny body was wedged into a corner. My hands pressed over my ears. My eyes were squeezed shut. My foster siblings were ripping pages out of my books, the books that meant so much to me. They kept me sane when there was no food, no comfort, no love. They were my escape to other worlds, worlds of werewolves and the supernatural. They were thrown into the fireplace. I could smell the words, my precious words, burning.
"Are you okay?"
I shook off the past. Ember was looking at me, his eyes full of concern. We were stopped at a light.
"I'm fine," I lied.
My words were rushed and insincere. Now I was truly in danger of vomiting. I swallowed hard.
"No, you're not," Ember said.
He reached up and brushed a loose strand of hair away from my face. My skin tingled under his fingertips.
"Talk to me."
I stubbornly stayed silent, looking out the window. Mercifully, he didn't pressure me to speak. I suppose it was selfish; to request so many answers from him about who he was while refusing his request.
I leaned back in my seat and breathed in the scent of Ember's jacket as we drove back to the motel. The more my nose registered, the more I remembered.
In the few yearsI was in my last foster home, the woods had served as my place of safety. Even with my abusive siblings, the lack of food, my careless parents, one glimpse out the window at the woods was all I needed to feel comforted. Every day that I lived in that house, I'd awake an hour before dawn and head into the woods. Surrounded by trees and underbrush, I'd sit against a stump, a tree trunk, a rock, and marvel at my time alone. If my foster parents hadn't waited, if my youngest foster brother hadn't died in his bed from pure neglect, I probably would've stayed. I would've waited until my 18th birthday before I ran. I would've enjoyed those woods for as long as I could.
For a brief moment, I wondered if that's where he was taking me, to a place of fresh air, trees and soil, a place where children never died. I felt a jolt of happiness then, happy to be with this boy, to be traveling into a world unknown but promising better.
I was surprised when, instead of turning into the motel parking lot, Ember steered the us into a completely different parking lot, parking in front of a drugstore.
"What are we doing here?" I asked as he turned off the car.
"Getting you some anti-nausea pills." He paused, taking out his wallet. "You'll be feeling sick for a while."
My stomach knotted.
"How do you know that?"
He opened his door.
"I'll tell you when we get to where we need to be."
My cheeks were hot.
"You'll tell me now!" I snapped.
He turned to me and grabbed my lower arm.
"Keep your voice down!" he whispered harshly.
I sat, startled by his intensity. After a few seconds, he let me go, then looked at his hand with a mournful expression, as if he were ashamed of the way he had grabbed me.
"I'm sorry," he said, voice low. "It's just… They could be tracking us right now. It's not a good idea to draw attention to ourselves. We have to lay low."
I shuddered, knowing who "they" were. He took my hand and squeezed it.
"When the time is right, I'll tell you everything, I promise."
I took a pill and laid down when we got back to the motel. I was unimaginably tired. I wanted to sleep, but Ember's restlessness made it impossible to do so. Even when my eyes were closed, I could feel his eyes on me, hear him checking the lock on the door. I could see him pacing the floor in my mind's eye, following the sound of his footsteps. It took me a moment to realize what he was doing. He was guarding me, keeping watch for the men who were after us, after me. They wouldn't hurt me if they found us. Ember would make sure of that.
I awoke to a drawn out scream and scraping on the floor as I bolted upward, confused and disoriented.
No, no, no!
They were here, I was sure of it. As I prepared myself, fight or flight, I heard a long high-pitched wall, part human and part animal, and it stopped me in my tracks. I looked over the the bed. Laying there in the dim moonlight, in Ember's place, was a black wolf.
The animal seized and twisted, clawing at the floor, its long legs tangled in blankets and clothes. The pillows were torn to shreds around it. I was frozen. The wolf stood on trembling legs and looked at me, wearing Ember's eyes. Its lips curled back into a snarl. Something clawed inside of me, pressuring me to bolt, but I stayed where I was. This beast, this monster that threatened to destroy me, had Ember's eyes, so familiar, so human, even with pupils the size of pinpoints.
Slowly, the wolf's pupils dilated, and a look of comprehension dawned on the animal's face. Not so much comprehension as recognition. It recognized me. The snarl faded. We sat looking at each other, this wolf and I, for a fraction of a minute. Then the wolf cried out. It curled into itself in an unnatural jerking motion. I winced. It trembled and shook, its dark fur peeling away to reveal human skin. I sat shaking as I looked at Ember, the boy. He stayed curled into a ball, his head pressed against his knees, gasping and coughing.
"I'm sorry Mama." He choked. "I'm so sorry."
He repeated himself, his voice breaking on "Mama"
I stared at him, hoping that this was all a horrible nightmare. Ember rose and looked at me, tears streaming down his face. He reached for me, his hand inches away from the bed and I recoiled.
"Please," he whispered.
He withdrew his hand, throughly examining his fingers
When I spoke up, my voice was barely a whisper. "Are you… Are you okay?"
He didn't answer. He sat there, staring at his fingertips, at the clump of black fur caught in his fingernails. I didn't know what to say, what to think, what to do. We were broken, this boy and I, in ways that couldn't be fixed. Slowly, I slid out of bed, onto the floor and sat in front of him. His shoulders rippled and shook. He grimaced and groaned, closing his eyes.
I took a blanket from the bed and draped it over his head and around his shoulders. He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, as if he was struggling to fight off the wolf inside him. I took his hands in my own. At my touch, he opened his mouth and spoke, his voice hoarse.
"I-I don't want to be a monster."
He fell into my arms. His human body shook with uncontrollable sobs. In my arms, he seemed helpless, not at all like the boy who had given me my life back a couple of days ago. A lump rose in my throat. But when I felt like crying, he composed himself, standing up slowly.
"We have to move." he said, his face wet.
Then, just like he'd done the first day we'd met, he held out his hand and helped me to my feet.
We left before dawn. Ember was driving us to another motel, further along the interstate. The road was lined with trees and lush greenery. We sat in anuneasy silence. Ember contemplated how he would explain his transformation. I struggled to comprehend everything that I'd seen.
I thought fantasy was something I would only experience in the pages of a book. Yet here I was, sitting in a car with a boy who was also a wolf. This couldn't be happening. But it was. And I needed answers.
"You're a werewolf."
Ember glanced at me, his face tense.
"No," he said.
"No? Then what did I see?"
He chuckled and it only made me angrier. But then he turned his head to me and said, "Werewolves howl at the moon, they're afraid of anything that's silver, and they're easy to kill."
He paused for a moment, studying my reaction, then faced the road again.
"Our pack howls to communicate, like other wolves. Some of us are able to retain our human thoughts, but some never learn to tame the beast that lives inside of them."
He paused again, inhaled a deep yet shaky breath and swallowed. Something in the way he did it made my heart sink.
"Anyway, we're not afraid of anything, as long as we have each other. And, we're very, very, very, hard to kill."
My mind flashed back to his scars, to the uneven trails of pale skin that puckered under his shirt. My chest tightened. My heart thumped. My breath caught. I wanted to say something, anything to comfort him. But before I could open my mouth, I heard the crunching of metal and felt the Bronco begin to roll.