Twelve hours later Maya was walking through the crowded, D-Wing hallways of Goose Creek High, with her head hung low as she clutched one strap of her backpack with two, white-knuckled hands. Walking the halls as a human was one thing, but since she’d been turned Maya found that she could feel the emotions of people around her.
When she asked Still about it, her sister told her about auras and that all Extras could manipulate their own as well as see and feel basic emotions from others. It took hours of practicing with Cecily before Maya could pull her aura back enough for her to stop broadcasting her emotions; and hours more for her to learn to close herself off from feeling others. Now her nerves were getting the better of her, and she was feeling everything.
Calm down. Maya thought as she took a deep breath and began counting the steps as she walked; using the repetitious beats to help slow down her breathing and pull her aura back.. "I can do this,” she whispered to herself once she accomplished her task. “Just a hundred more feet.”
“A hundred more feet till what?” Brendan Brevard whispered, inches from her ear.
Maya jumped, and in a credit to her determination to do better and not let Still down, she didn’t turn and deck the newcomer. But she did growl and pull her bag tighter. “Careful,” she said when recognized Dr. Brevard’s son. “What if your mom sees you with me? I’d hate for you to get grounded for hanging with the town pariah.”
“Sometimes our parents’ love for us drives them to do stupid things,” Brendan said with a shrug. “That doesn’t mean we have to go along with the stupid.”
“Speak for yourself,” Maya countered as she waved a hand through the air. “My parents thought this was what’s best for me and here I am. There was no way around it.”
“And sometimes we think the right decisions are stupid because we can’t see past our own feelings. That’s when we need to step back and look at it from another point of view,” Brendan offered.
Maya eyed Brendan from the corner of her eye before turning and holding out a hand. “Hi, I’m Maya Merkinson, and you are?”
“The name is Brendan Brevard,” the beaming teenager replied as he slipped his hand into Maya’s and gave it a shake. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m pleased to finally make your acquaintance.”
“Oh, I’m sure you have,” Maya mumbled. “I’m almost certain I’d cringe if I knew what the people around here thought about me.”
“You’ve just got to give people a chance to get to know you,” Brendan smiled. “Then I’m sure they will come around.”
“If you say so,” Maya said as they walked. “Um, not that I’m not happy to see someone that doesn’t curse the ground I walk on, but at the risk of sounding skeptical, why are you following me?”
“Who says I’m following you?”
Maya looked down and pointed at the chemistry book in his hand. “If Chemistry is your next class then you’re in the wrong wing. Last time I checked math classes were on this hall.”
“You said that like you know your way around,” Brendan laughed.
“That’s because I do. When my sister enrolled me yesterday we walked the grounds a few times so that I wouldn’t get lost today.”
“And you’ve just rendered me useless,” Brendan frowned as he slipped his book into the messenger back at his side.
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”
Brendan reached in his pocket, pulled out his school id, flipped it over, and held it up so that Maya could see the back.
“I’m a student liaison. When new students enroll, we are assigned to kind of be their buddy to help them get acclimated to new surroundings.”
“Is that so,” Maya frowned and went on the defensive. “Well, today is your lucky day, Brendan. I can find my own way around, so you don’t have to be seen with me. Your reputation is spared,” she said and turned to walk away. She didn’t get very far because Brendan reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“What if I don’t mind being seen with you?”
Maya stayed silent, but she didn’t storm off, so Brendan moved to stand in front of her.
“I know your time here hasn’t painted our pack in the best light, but not all of us are antiquated assholes. I’d really like to be your friend, Maya.”
The shrill sounds of the first bell ringing made both of the young wolves jump. Maya turned and pointed at the door behind her and smiled.
“Being late on my first day isn’t a good look. I appreciate your kindness, Brendan. Maybe I’ll see you later,” she smiled, then turned to hurry inside her first class of the day.
Maya walked into the room and everything went quiet. She looked at the students and sighed when she saw quick flashes of glowing eyes blink in and out. Just great, Maya thought as she looked at the teacher and held out her class schedule. “Excuse me for interrupting, Ms. Tomalson. Today is my first day.”
The teacher scanned the slip of paper and smiled as she pointed at a vacant seat at the rear of the room. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Merkinson. You can take the seat near Ms. Norris. I haven't had a chance to go over your transcripts yet, so for today you can just listen and take notes. I won’t put you on the spot and call you to the smartboard until tomorrow,” she laughed.
Maya nodded and began making her way down the aisle to her appointed seat. When she got halfway to her destination, someone kicked a backpack into her path. Maya’s feet got tangled in the straps and she went down, hard. Maya hit the ground with a loud ‘oomph’ and the contents of her backpack went sliding across the floor.
“Who did that?!” Ms. Tomalson yelled from the front of the room. “I want answers!” she called out as she rushed to help Maya up.
“Are you alright, Ms. Merkinson?”
“Nothing hurt but my pride,” Maya said through clenched teeth. She was teetering on the edge of her control and fighting to keep her wolf from bleeding into her eyes.
She took the offered hand and pulled herself upright, then frowned when she saw her open, half-empty backpack.
“Fight once and never have to fight again, or let them think we are weak and we will be always been seen as weak,” her wolf growled.
“You are right,” Maya replied as she collected her stuff from the floor, “But it’s not that simple. This is high school and the rules are different here. I’m begging you, let our rational mind handle this.”
Maya breathed a sigh of relief when she felt her wolf retreating to the recesses of her mind. When she stood upright she’d found everything except two comics and her signed Jazmine Sullivan CD. “Come on, where are you,” she muttered to herself as she leaned over searching the floor.
“Looking for these?”
Maya looked up to find a girl with wide, doe eyes, shoulder-length finger coils, and golden copper skin holding her Uncanny X-Men comics. “Thank you,” Maya sighed as she claimed her comics.
“Not many people run around with keys in their backpacks,” the comic savior smiled. “They’re gonna get messed up like that.”
“They’re just reader copies,” Maya shrugged as she slipped them back into her bag.
“Never underestimate the value of something based on looks,” the girl replied. “A busted and beat-up reader could still be worth a lot. It all depends on how bad someone wants it.”
“Touche,” Maya said, unable to keep the corner of her lips from pulling into a smile. So many not everyone here is an asshole. Now she just needed her−Crunch.
Maya spun around to see a blonde boy pulling her CD from under the heel of his shoe. It took a minor miracle for her to hold back the string of curse words that she was dying to unleash.
“Oops,” he frowned as he held up the cracked case for Maya to take. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t see it there.”
“Sure you didn’t,” Maya frowned as she jerked the record from his hands.
“Alright, class,” Ms. Tomalson called out. “We’ve had enough excitement for the morning. Ms. Merkinson, if you will take your seat. Everyone else, I expect my backpack bandit to take ownership of their actions at the end of class, or everyone except Ms. Merkinson will have extra homework for the next week.”
A collective groan rolled through the class. Underneath the groans, someone was whispering. The words were so low that the humans in the room couldn’t hear them.
“Next time apologize when you run people down in the woods, freak,” the cd crusher smirked.
The rest of the class was lost on Maya. All she could think about was the concert at the Fillmore when she and her twin Malia waited half the night outside of the back entrance to get their CDs signed. I’m not sure how I’m gonna make you pay, but I will, she thought as she sat staring at the back of the wolf-boy’s head.
When the bell rang, she hurried from her seat and made a beeline for the door, intent on putting as much distance between her and her classmates as she could, but one girl was hot on her heels.
“Hey, wait up,” she called out. Maya tried to ignore her, but she kept coming. Maya dropped her head and skipped to a stop, then turned to face her classmate.
“Can I help you?”
“Boy you’re fast,” the girl laughed before holding up both of her hands. “I promise I come in peace.”
“That’s not an answer to my question,” Maya blinked at the girl.
“After what Tod did in class I don’t blame you for not wanting to talk to anyone,” the girl mumbled. “I just wanted to let you know that not everyone in Goose Creek is like that,” she said as she held out a hand. “I’m Tiffany Norris, but everyone calls me Tiff.”
Maya glanced at Tiffany’s hand as a group of wolves, led by CD killer, Tod, walked by. Every one of them scowled at her and a few growled as they looked from her to Tiffany.
That was interesting, Maya smiled to herself as took Tiffany’s hand and gave it a firm shake.
“Nice to meet you, Tiffany. I’m Maya.”
“So what do you have next?” Tiffany asked as they started walking again. “Maybe we have the same class.”
“Um, I actually have a free block,” Maya replied. “I planned on spending it in the library, studying.”
“How’d you manage a free block, and why would you spend it studying?”
“I was taking a college course at home, an evening class. When I moved I technically should have been kicked out, but my older sister pulled some strings and they agreed to let me take it remotely. Then the principal here said that he would count it as a class, as long as I did it during school hours. So they gave me a free block.”
“A free block that isn’t a free block,” Tiffany smiled. “I’m not sure if you’re lucky or not, but I’m impressed. You must be super smart if you’re taking college courses during your junior year.”
“It’s a precursor to a Communications Arts program,” Maya shrugged. “I’m not sure if I would say I’m all that smart, but I do have a pretty good imagination. I plan to study graphic design and video editing.”
Maya looked up and say that they were outside of the library. “Looks like this is my stop,” she smiled and pointed to the entrance. “Thanks for walking with me. I hope it’s not going to make you late for your next class.”
Maya felt the presence of other wolves and looked up to see her comic savior walking by, surrounded by four other girls. Maya couldn’t help but smile. The comic savior returned Maya’s smile but when she saw Tiffany, it disappeared. Then she cut her eyes at Maya and frowned.
“Ignore them,” Tiffany frowned. “They think they run the school, but they don’t.”
“Every school has cliques,” Maya shrugged, trying to ignore her hurt feelings. She glanced at her watch and pointed to the library doors. “Thanks again for walking with me. I need to get inside and find a room. See you later?”
“Sure thing. If we have the same lunch block I’ll look for you.”
“Bet,” Maya nodded.
A few hours and over a third of the day later, Maya walked into the large cafeteria with her stomach rumbling. She pulled a container with leftover lasagna out of her bag and looked around for a microwave. Once she spotted it, she made her way over, ignoring the multitude of side-eyes that various people were throwing her way.
As she stood there heating her lunch, she heard footsteps approaching her from behind. Instead of turning to see who it was, Maya sniffed the air. After eliminating the food odors, Maya smiled to herself when she was able to isolate Tiffany’s unique scent.
“Looks like we do have the same lunch block,” Tiffany smiled. “Ooh, that smells yummy. Someone is a good cook.”
“My sister-in-law,” Maya nodded. “We usually cook together, but every once in awhile my sister will handle dinner. She’s not a terrible cook, but Dee is better,” Maya laughed.
“Sounds like you have a big family. That’s cool. I’m an only child.”
“Yeah, I have two sisters, two sisters-in-law, and two brothers,” Maya replied, then frowned. “Make that one brother. My oldest brother died about a year ago.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Tiffany offered as she watched Maya retrieve her lunch from the microwave.
“Thanks,” Maya mumbled.
“So, I’m not sure how the rest of your day has been, but I know you had a rough morning. Would you like to sit with a friendly face?” Tiffany asked as she pointed across the room towards a table where a small group of teenagers sat. A handful of them began waving when they saw Tiffany pointing.
“Sure. Why not,” Maya smiled. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t have high hopes for today,” she offered as they crossed the room.
“Why not−if you don’t mind my asking?” Tiffany said as she pulled out a chair and motioned for Maya to take the seat beside her.
After a quick round of introductions, Maya took a bite of her food and shrugged a shoulder. “Um, well, I moved here from a larger city and I wasn’t sure how I would like living in a smaller town, for one,” she said around a mouthful of pasta.
“Understandable,” a brunette girl with Clark Kent glasses nodded.
“What’s two?” Tiffany asked.
Maya was unsure if she should mention her tension with the town’s werewolves. After a few moments of thought, she shrugged a shoulder and sighed. “I haven’t exactly had the warmest of welcomes from some of the townsfolk,” she mumbled. As soon as the words left her lips, Maya frowned and turned her head to find her comic book savior scowling at her.
Tiffany and a few of her friends followed her line of sight. When she saw who Maya was looking at, Tiffany took a bite of the cold pizza in her hand and frowned. “That bunch has been giving Maya a hard time,” Tiffany explained. “First Tod and then Reagan.”
“I’m not sure if a frown counts as giving me a hard time,” Maya offered, “but Tod, he is most definitely an asshole.”
“Don’t make excuses for those animals,” Tiffany frowned. “My dad works for Waters Building and Construction. He says that they think they own the town and can do whatever they want because they’re the town’s biggest employers.”
“Hey, wait a minute−” Maya started, but someone else began to talk, cutting her off.
“Yeah, and my cousin says it’s only gotten worse since their pack got a new leader. He says she’s suggesting all kinds of new rules and that the sheriff is just going along with them.”
“I’ve tried to find out what happened to the old alpha,” Tiffany yawned. “But my dad said the wolves closed ranks at work and wouldn’t tell the humans anything.”
“Maybe some old farmer shot him one night while he was sneaking into their chicken coop,” another boy laughed.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maya’s wolf was roaring inside her, fighting to get free and give action to the whirlwind of emotions that were raging inside of her. Maya lowered her head with tears in her eyes as she slowly pushed her food away from her.
“Did you ever think it was none of your damn business how he died?”
“What?” Tiffany stammered. Her face was red with embarrassment.
“People that say ‘what’ can hear,” Maya growled as she stood up. “But just so there’s no confusion, how my brother died is none of your damn business.”
A collective hush rolled through the cafeteria and all eyes were once again on Maya.
“Your brother?” Tiffany asked. Her confusion was as evident as the nose on her face. “But, the way the werewolves are treating you, I just assumed.”
“You thought that I was human. And what are the first three letters of the word, assume?” Maya spat as her eyes began to glow. “You know, you’re sitting over here making assumptions and judging all werewolves based on what? What did they ever do to you? Can you name one thing a werewolf has done that has affected you personally? And I’m not talking about petty, high school crap. I mean something with real world, lifelong consequences. I’ll wait.”
When no one spoke up, Maya knowingly nodded and sighed. That’s what I thought. That makes you just as bad as you think they are!”
Maya slammed her chair into the table and had just grabbed her bag when Brendan appeared from out of nowhere and wrapped a hand around her arm.
“Don’t let the humans make you do something you’ll regret,” he frantically whispered. But his words didn’t calm her. He only pissed her off even more.
Maya jerked her arm away and rounded on him. “Oh my god, please stop!” Maya yelled. “You don’t have to worry about the freak shifter losing control and hurting one of the sainted werewolves! Jesus!”
Maya slung her bag over her shoulder and turned to walk away, pausing long enough to glare at Tiffany.
“ If I catch any of you talking shit about my sister again, I’ll do a lot more than fuss and cuss,” she growled. Then she shoved her way past a quiet Brendan and got out of the cafeteria as fast as she could, flipping off everyone, wolves, and humans, as she went.