I was more than ready to accept change. I couldn’t wait for change.
After living in shame and embarrassment for months, I was all too willing to leave Pennsylvania and settle down in Oregon.
On my seventeenth birthday, I changed. Drastically. Not only was I now able to get a driver’s license but I also shifted into a wolf.
Four paws, fur, canines—the whole deal.
This sudden change in appearance not only scared my parents, it also drove them a little insane.
But then again, I imagine that watching your daughter turn into a wolf while blowing out her birthday candles would do some damage to anyone’s mental health.
My parents were eventually deemed unfit guardians, and were dragged off to the loony bin.
All because of me.
Being an only child meant I made the cross-country trip from Pennsylvania to Oregon alone.
I was going to live with my Aunt Sarah, my mother’s sister. She was an outgoing, successful lawyer in the peak of her career.
The last thing she needed was a screwed up she-wolf teen to deal with. If I were my aunt, I would’ve left me to rot in foster care.
But Aunt Sarah had a kind soul, and as much as it pained her, she was taking me in.
I watched as the tiny buildings grew larger as the plane got closer to the ground.
Before we were officially on solid earth, people around me started to shuffle and gather their things, a habit I found completely pointless and annoying.
I squeezed my eyes shut as a baby started to cry. People began to complain about sitting on the tarmac, and the person next to me started an agitated shuffling in his seat.
This would be a less painful experience for all of us if everyone could just shut up.
My wolf wasn’t making the situation any better. She was yearning to go for a run, to stretch her legs.
That was something I’ve been denying her ever since she’d scared the shit out of my parents.
She howled loudly, the sound echoing through my brain, sending a painful jab to the base of my skull. I gritted my teeth and rubbed my temples, willing her to be calm.
“—thank you for flying with us, we hope you had a good flight. Please wait for the stewardess to dismiss your row and have a nice day.”
The pilot’s voice boomed over the cabin's P.A. system and fell on deaf ears—everyone was too busy complaining to listen.
Finally, we were herded off the plane and out into the open airport.
I looked around for my aunt, my stomach gnawing with anxiety when I didn't see her after a few scans of the crowd.
I had only seen her in pictures, due to the distance between us, but I recognized her short black hair and creamy complexion when I spotted her.
I walked over to her slowly, trying to think of something appropriate to say, but coming up blank.
I’d just had an entire plane ride to think of something to say, but here I was, stuttering as I approached my only sane, living relative.
I shot her a small smile, trying not to seem like too much of a freak. My worries were squashed when, without saying a word, she grabbed my shoulders and dragged me into a hug.
“You poor thing,” she mumbled, hugging me tighter. “You’ve been through so much.”
The cover story back in Pennsylvania was that my parents had been attacked by a rabid animal, and were forever emotionally scarred.
The story was a little lacking in evidence, but it was the best lie I’d been able to come up with when child services asked.
Unfortunately, the first lie you tell is the one you have to stick with.
“Hey, Aunt Sarah, it’s nice to meet you,” I replied, awkwardly hugging her with one hand while holding my carry-on with the other.
“Oh Haven, dear. I hope your flight was okay and everything?”
I smiled and nodded, letting her tug me away to get my luggage.
I wanted to add something else, but my mouth gaped open like a fish as I floundered to think of something relevant to share.
“I decorated your room, but don’t be afraid to tell me if you hate it,” she continued. “I would hate to think you’d be trying to spare my feelings—we are family after all. If you don’t like what I’ve done with it then just tell me and we’ll get it fixed in a jiffy!”
I nodded numbly, still smiling as we settled into an almost comfortable silence. I turned on the radio before she could start overcompensating again.
The car ride from the airport to Aunt Sarah’s home wasn’t too long, just over an hour. I watched as the main city fell away until we entered a more modest-looking area.
It wasn’t tiny, but it wasn’t as big as the city. It was a nice, medium-sized town.
Oregon was filled with forests, the outskirts of the town were surrounded by them.
My wolf didn’t mind that; in fact, she rejoiced.
Now we have somewhere to stretch our legs. Her voice echoed in my head. Well my voice—just more feral. I chose to ignore her and watched the trees flash past.
I couldn’t help but list the differences between Oregon and my home state. Already I was starting to feel the weight of homesickness, the uneasiness of it.
Finally, we turned onto my aunt’s street. The road had large maples on either side of the road.
Their age had made them tall and strong. Their branches hung over the street, twisting together and forming a sort of canopy over the road.
We passed a huge, mansion-type house that sat well beyond the tree line. When I asked Aunt Sarah who lived there she just shrugged.
“I don’t really know,” she said. “I see people come and go from the house, but no one is familiar. They keep to themselves.”
I decided to leave it at that.
Just down the street from the mansion was my Aunt Sarah’s house. It was by no means the size of the mansion, but it wasn’t exactly a shack either.
It was white, with dark brown shutters and trim. There was an elaborate garden that somehow managed to look both untamed and well kept at the same time.
It was the perfect house for a successful, single, suburban lawyer.
“Home sweet home!” Aunt Sarah sang as she pulled into the driveway.
I caught her looking at me from the corner of her eye and assumed she wanted to see my reaction to the house.
“Wow, what a beautiful garden!” I exclaimed, hoping it was enough. Aunt Sarah’s worried expression broke, and her whole face changed as she conjured a huge smile.
“I’m so glad you like it. Now, let’s get you settled in. You’ll want to rest before school tomorrow!”
I grimaced and got out of the car. I looked around again, my wolf prickling against the back of my skull as I eyed the trees behind the big house.
I fetched my bags from the trunk before following my aunt onto the porch.
The very thought made my stomach clench in fear. The final few months of school last year had been humiliating.
It wasn’t long before everyone had found out about my parents, and I was immediately labelled as an outcast.
My own friends had abandoned me. I was the freak with the institutionalized parents.
“So, what do you think?” I broke free from my reverie and looked around, stunned.
The room was large, and painted a deep purple. There was a desk on one side, and a large window facing the street on the other.
A short staircase led to another spacious area containing a large bed with a gray comforter, a walk-in closet, bathroom and small balcony.
“Amazing,” I breathed, not having to feign my excitement. “It’s perfect, thank you!” I turned to my aunt and threw my arms around her, hugging her tightly—too tightly.
I wasn’t that adjusted to my new found strength and was caught off guard by her coughing. I let go immediately and stepped back, blushing.
“Sorry, I was excited. I was on the baseball team last year and it built up my arm muscles.” Lying was becoming a little too easy—not that my lies were improving in quality.
I didn’t want to lie to my aunt, not after she’d kindly dropped her single lifestyle to babysit her estranged niece.
But she didn’t know about werewolves, and that’s how I wanted to keep it.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about werewolves, either. I only knew what I read online.
And I had already figured out that the internet wasn’t always the most reliable source.
For all I knew, I wasn’t even a werewolf, just some abomination. I could be the only one of my kind.
This, above all else—above losing my parents—made me feel hollow, and extremely lonely.
“No worries. Well, I’ll let you get settled; dinner will be in an hour.” She left my room, closing the door softly and leaving me to myself.
I sighed and flopped down onto the bed, feeling a pang of homesickness again. Actually, it was more like pre-werewolf-Haven sickness. I wanted my old life back so badly it hurt.
I got up and forced myself to unpack my clothes and most of my belongings. I was able to stay on task until I heard yelling.
I walked over to my window and shoved it open, letting in a crisp late-September breeze. Then, I heard a cry.
“Jude! Get back here!”
I watched as a girl with short blonde hair chased wildly after a boy—who I assumed to be Jude.
He was holding a small book, which I took to be the girl’s diary.
“Try and catch me, Rach!” The boy—who was also blonde—yelled over his shoulder. I watched as the two passed by Aunt Sarah’s house. Then, suddenly they stopped.
They went absolutely still, their nostrils flaring, and they turned to look at each other, fearful expressions on their faces.
Then the boy turned and looked directly up at me, as if he’d known I was there all along.
His brown eyes narrowed. Then they were gone, running away toward the mansion. They quickly disappeared from sight.
I was frozen, paralyzed by the strange events.
I forced myself to move, to close my curtains and step away from the window. I turned around and took a deep breath, trying to clear the looks on their faces from my mind.
It had almost looked as if they had…smelled me? The only explanation conjured a mixture of fear and hope in my chest.
If they were like me—
I stamped out the thought. I couldn’t let that idea take root in my mind; I’d only be disappointed.
“Haven! Dinner!” Aunt Sarah yelled. I shook my head to clear it and walked down the hall to the kitchen.
She was running around, trying to throw a few last-minute things together for the meal.
It looked as though we were meant to be having spaghetti and meatballs, but the smell coming from the stove said otherwise.
I took a deep breath and smelled burnt noodles. “Um, Aunt Sarah? Do you need help?”
She looked at me over her shoulder with a frazzled expression.
Her short black hair was sticking up on one side as she put her hands, which were adorned with oven mitts, up in the air like a helpless child.
“Oh, Haven! I tried to make a nice dinner, but I’m a terrible cook! The noodles got stuck to the bottom of the pot so I put butter in there to try and loosen it but the butter just melted and then crisped.”
She shook her head. “And I don’t understand how the meatballs are burned on the outside, yet raw on the inside! Oh, I’m sorry, dear. Is pizza okay?”
I grinned. “Pizza is perfect.”
I helped my aunt clean up the mess, and by the time we finished the pizza had arrived.
I went to the door and yanked it open; the boy holding the pizza looked me over and grinned cockily.
I just took a deep breath and paid him—no tip for checking me out. I closed the door and brought the pizza over to the table, where my Aunt and I dug in right away.
“I guess I’ll have to do the cooking around here,” I said, taking a big bite of my mushroom pizza.
She blushed. “You don’t have to do that, Haven, dear, I’ll just take a few classes and—”
“No really, I don’t mind at all,” I smiled. “I’m actually kind of good at it.”
My Aunt grinned, clearly relieved. “That would be awesome, I’ve been living off of microwave meals, pizza, and Chinese takeout for years!”
I could picture that. A younger, determined version of my aunt surrounded by a take-out graveyard as she studied to pass her law exams.
I laughed. “Well not anymore. Starting tomorrow we can have a balanced diet of takeout and home-cooked meals.”
We finished up the pizza—yes, we ate the entire thing—and put away the dishes before Aunt Sarah headed upstairs for the night.
“Try not to be up too late, Haven. Remember, you have school tomorrow.”
I smiled and nodded, and she seemed pleased. She kissed my head and disappeared.
I decided to watch some television and settled for a random program on a streaming service that we hadn’t gotten back in Pennsylvania.
It felt as though I was being watched. I looked out the window.
My aunt didn’t have a backyard. Her house backed directly onto the forest.
I could’ve sworn I saw a pair of eyes looking at me from the trees, but when I blinked again they were gone.
Once again my thoughts clung to that same desperate hope—that I wasn’t alone.
I tried to ignore the feeling, but I was too unsettled to watch anymore television. I flicked it off and headed up to my room.
As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep.