Tori R. Hayes
I didn’t know what was harder to believe…that Shay knew my name or that he had just insulted me straight to my face.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“You heard me,” he shot back.
“Well, luckily I don’t make decisions about my appearance based on the opinions of guys I don’t know,” I said to him.
And with every ounce of strength I had left, I turned around again and stormed off into the night.
But I swear, as I walked I heard the sound of his footsteps following after me.
I didn’t dare look back.
I just kept walking, or practically running, toward the meeting point, my vision blurring as I tried to feel my way through the darkness.
“Rieka?” a voice called out to me.
And I was relieved to hear that it was Archer.
I stopped running as he approached me and rested his big hands on my shoulders.
“Woah,” he said, “is everything alright?”
I turned my head and peeked behind me, expecting to see Shay standing there. But the street was totally empty.
He had vanished.
“I’m fine,” I said, taking a deep breath.
“Your hair!” I heard Everly exclaim, as she appeared beside me and Archer.
“Yeah, I’ll explain later,” I said. “Let’s just get out of here.”
They walked me over to where their bikes were parked under a tree. I had already planted mine there earlier in the day.
Everly’s bike was ordinary like mine, but Archer had a motorcycle with a noisy motor, and we had to make sure not to wake anyone up.
We weren’t in a hurry, and I took the time to forget about the strange interaction that I had just had with Shay, and enjoy the sparkling stars lighting up the dark sky.
They were even better in real life than through the amazing pictures I had found online.
Archer turned off his bike when we made it to a small clearing.
“We have to walk a bit from here,” he said.
Everly and I placed our bikes next to his and followed his lead to the top of the hill, where I could see a small picnic setup. It was beautiful.
The small area was lit up by lanterns and torches placed around a carpet.
“Happy birthday, Rieka,” they said simultaneously.
“This is the best spot for moon gazing,” Everly quickly added. “Especially since the moon is so big and bright tonight. They call it a supermoon.”
It was true. The moon was big tonight. Much bigger than I had imagined it could be.
The size was mesmerizing, and I forgot to look where I was walking.
My foot got caught in a root, and I tripped, but Archer was fast and reacted before I hit the ground.
He grabbed my wrist and saved me from the horror of ruined pants and an abrasion. “Thanks,” I said, relieved.
“I know that you’re excited, Rieka, but maybe watch the ground too.” He laughed. I pushed him forward for laughing at me, but I was secretly hoping that he hadn’t noticed my red face.
“So…,” Everly said. “Care to tell us about the new look?”
Archer turned around and gave me the same wondering eyes.
“My mom finally let me dye it as a birthday present. Not that I don’t like the color of my hair, but it can just draw so much attention sometimes, and I would like to know what it’s like to be a little more normal…
“Do you like it?” I asked and ran my hand through my brown locks, thinking of the words that Shay said to me earlier.
Archer cleared his throat. “It… It looks good, I mean… I was kinda curious to see your old hair in the moonlight.”
I could feel the warmth rising to my cheeks for the second time. “Really?” I tried to say without sounding flustered.
“Yeah, but it looks nice on you anyway.”
I felt very embarrassed and lost for words.
Everly gave me an elbow to my ribs. She had a teasing smile on her face, and her eyebrows were moving up and down repeatedly.
I knew what she was implying, but I stuck out my tongue to wave her off. She shrugged but put it to rest.
Archer threw the bag of food beside the carpet and turned around to look at me again.
He stared at me with his golden eyes. I had convinced myself a long time ago that someone must have selected them carefully to match the color of his blond hair so perfectly.
The light from the moon almost made them glow.
“I will admit that you actually do look a lot like your mother like that,” he acknowledged.
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard that today.” I chuckled.
“I still liked it better before,” I heard him mumble before he reached for something in the pocket of his jacket.
“Happy birthday,” he said and held out a small black box in his hand.
Everly came running from behind and almost pushed me onto Archer’s lap. “We were supposed to bring presents!? I thought we had agreed not to!”
“I’m sorry, Everly,” Archer said with a crooked smile. “I couldn’t help myself when I saw it.”
I accepted his present and opened it. Everly widened her eyes when she saw it.
It was a necklace. At the end of the long chain was a round figure representing a full moon like the one I could see right in front of me. “It’s beautiful, Archer. Thank you.”
“Here,” he said and reached out his hand. I gave him the necklace and turned around. “There.”
I let my hair fall and turned around so he could see.
“It suits you,” he said and smiled. It reached almost to the middle of my stomach, but it was the most beautiful present I had ever received.
“Rieka! It’s almost midnight!” Everly shouted. “Are you ready to turn eighteen?”
I took a deep breath of the moist night air. “It’s going to be the best birthday ever,” I replied eagerly.
It was quiet. All I could hear was the wind and my friends.
“Sit down,” Archer said and patted the pillow beside him. So I sat down and found a nice position.
I was less than a minute from turning eighteen, and I was here with my two best friends. Nothing could make this night any better. Almost.
Archer put his arm around me and pulled me closer, which made my heart race.
Everly put her head in my lap and had her phone show the time down to seconds so we knew the exact time of my birthday.
Five seconds from midnight, I heard Archer whisper, “Happy birthday,” and he kissed the top of my hair.
It surprised me. He had never done anything like that before.
I was about to turn my head to look at him when the clock struck midnight. My head exploded, and everything darkened.
I woke up to the howl of a wolf. Archer and Everly were both standing above me with worried looks on their faces.
“Rieka! Can you hear us?” Archer shouted.
I sat up. “What happened?” I asked and tried to wrap my head around it.
“You just… fainted,” Everly said.
My head was throbbing as if someone had hit me with a bat but without the bruise.
“Let’s get you home, Rieka,” Archer said and helped me to my feet.
We reached the bikes, and I went for mine, but Archer grabbed me by my waist and lifted my body onto his motorcycle.
“Don’t even think about it,” he said. “You’re riding with me. There is no way I am letting you ride by yourself.”
“But…,” I complained.
“You are riding with me,” he repeated and tightened his grip around me. I knew that voice, and I knew that it was stupid to try and argue with him again. I wouldn’t win that fight.
He gave me his helmet and placed me in the seat behind him.
I grasped a small part of his T-shirt to avoid falling off, but within the next moment, he grabbed my wrists and pulled my arms around his waist.
“Rieka,” he said and looked back at me. “You have got to hold on tight.”
I nodded without looking at him in the eyes.
My face was pressed against his warm back, and as he started the bike, I could feel his muscles work underneath the shirt. I tensed up, and I wondered if he could sense it.
None of us said anything on the way home. Archer stopped the bike in the same spot, with distance to my house.
I took off the helmet and handed it to him. “Thanks,” I mumbled.
“No worries,” he said. “Are you able to walk from here by yourself?” I nodded, and he helped me off his bike.
The second my feet touched the ground, my legs disappeared underneath me.
“Rieka!” Archer shouted and was with me again in seconds.
I was short of breath, and my whole body was aching. What was happening?
“Can you stay here, Everly? I’m going to help her home.” Everly nodded with worried eyes.
He took one of my arms and put it around him so that I could use him as support. My parents couldn’t know.
“Archer…,” I whispered. He looked at me. “Please don’t tell my parents.” I could see his jaw tighten, but he said nothing. “Please,” I begged.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he was going to listen, but the sound of my pain was enough for him to surrender. “I promise. But if it becomes worse, I don’t think I have a choice.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
He lifted me into his arms so I didn’t have to walk the rest of the way. Normally, I would have rejected it, but right now, my body was so weak that I could barely walk, even with his support.
I had never been sick. Not one day in my entire life. It was very unnatural for me to feel like this.
Archer couldn’t help me inside without waking my parents, so I had to find my way upstairs without making any sounds.
I finally reached my bed and couldn’t wait for the soft pillows to keep me comfy and warm.
My body and my mind were exhausted, but the memories were clear as day.
I could still feel Archer’s body heat. My hands on his muscular body. I held on to that memory until my mind gave up, and I drifted into sleep.
I was running through the forest. It was foggy. My feet were bare, and all I was wearing was a delicate nightgown.
Was I being chased? I couldn’t remember. All I knew was to run.
The cold air of the night made it difficult to breathe and my throat was aching. My eyes were watery, and it made my surroundings unclear.
I stopped to rub my eyes and rid them of excess water. When I opened them again, I was standing face-to-face with a white wolf.
It was just standing there, looking at me. I didn’t fear it like a normal person might do. I felt spellbound.
The white fur was dancing in the wind, a hypnotizing swaying. It was beautiful. So alive. It was like the wolf was waiting for something… For someone.
Without further hesitation, it took off into the night.
“Wait,” I shouted. But it didn’t. It kept going.
I tried to keep up, but it was too fast.
My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched the wolf disappear into the darkness.
My feet were hurting, but I couldn’t slow down. I had to reach it.
“Find me…,” a voice whispered.
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