I couldn’t get used to being handcuffed. It made me so claustrophobic to have my hands bound, especially when they were behind my back. But the quieter and more cooperative I was, the quicker they’d take the damn things off, so I kept my head down and my mouth shut as the two guards walked me down the hall.
The guards deposited me in the room I shared with 5 other shifters—Nina and Samantha being the only two I’d known before arriving. I was let into the room, but the handcuffs weren’t removed until the door was locked firmly behind me. Only then did the guard slide open a trap in the door big enough for me to stick my hands through. He unlocked the cuffs, then closed the trap so fast he nearly took my knuckles off as I snatched my hands back from the slider.
Everyone looked at me, but I only responded with a nod before crossing to my thinner-than-a-twin bed and plopping down on the mattress, sending the springs squeaking in protest.
In ten minutes, give or take, the guards would come by and declare lights out for the night. The cell would be cast into shadowy darkness, and that was when conversations would begin. Samantha, her cot next to mine, would roll over and ask me how Cecelia was doing and if she’d said anything about Drake. I’d visited Cecelia twice before tonight, but this was the first time I’d be able to tell Samantha that Drake had been mentioned—if I told her. Cecilia had been scared when she’d begun to wake up—scared and asking for Drake, asking where he was. It had scared me, to be honest, to hear her say things that didn’t make sense. Cecelia had always, at least in the short time I’d known her, had everything together. She’d always known just what to do, and exactly what to say. She was always so calm, so self-assured, and strong. Now though…
When I’d first been shown to this cell, about a week ago, I’d been terrified. Having been arrested in Nebraska, then hauled halfway across the country in handcuffs, I was so relieved when I saw Nina and Samantha’s faces. I mean, had they been at the top of my list of favorite people I’d met since becoming a shifter? No. But seeing anyone I knew at all was more than I had dared hope for, so I certainly didn’t complain. They’d both been really nice to me, introducing me to the others in the room and helping me learn the ropes around here—like the scheduled routine we adhered to each day, and which guards to stay away from. So my second night here, when a nurse found me during dinner and asked me to follow her, I looked to the two of them for guidance.
They had both nodded with expressions that said this was okay, so I’d followed the nurse to a part of the building I’d never seen. It was like a hospital, with rooms instead of cells, and art hanging on the walls. They’d led me into a room and inside had been Cecelia, sitting in a hospital bed with covers over her lap and an IV in her arm. She’d smiled when she saw me. But when I’d asked her what was wrong, she’d skirted the subject.
“Just a silly medical thing,” she’d said. “How are you doing?”
We’d talked, mostly about safe, vague things like what the weather had been like when I’d seen it last, and what shows she had been watching on television with her “new-found free time.”
A few days later, the nurse came and got me during dinner again. This time, Cecelia had been sitting in a chair. She’d put a book down when I’d arrived, and the fact that she’d been reading seemed like a sign she must have been getting better. She’d asked me more questions that time—where we had been when we’d been taken, how Collin was doing and who I was rooming with here. She’d left any mention of Drake or Leah completely up to suggestion, having never said their names, but referencing them in sentences like “So you were in Nebraska? Were you with…?”
I’d nodded, because yes, I had been with “…” and they had gotten away—at least as far as I knew.
We’d been right on their heels, Collin and me running at a flat-out sprint with Val not far behind. But then Val had tripped. She’d slammed into me, and I’d gone down hard. Collin could have kept going—he could have outrun them on his own—but he’d turned back. He’d fought with an officer or two, and Val and I had done the same, but in the end, we hadn’t won anything except some bruises. Collin had a bad ass black eye to show for his efforts.
Two rhythmic bangs on the cell door announced bedtime and brought my thoughts back to the present. Thirty seconds later, the room was cast into shadow when the lights turned off. It wasn’t completely dark—safety lights cast a subtle gray glow—but it was dim enough I couldn’t see much distance beyond my bed. I kicked off my shoes, laid down and drew the covers up under my chin. Sleep came to claim me like a tidal wave. I could feel it rising up over my head.
Queue Samantha King.
I forced my eyes open. “Yeah.”
“How was Cici?”
“She was fine,” I replied. “She slept for a good part of my visit.” And I could have woken her, but I just hadn’t been able to bring myself to actually do it.
“Did she say anything… did you get to talk at all?”
“Only for a minute or two,” I said truthfully. “There wasn’t enough time to talk about anything really.”
She didn’t respond, but I heard her nod in the crinkling of her pillow.
“Hey Samantha?” I asked after a moment.
But then I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I almost asked her if she knew what was wrong with Cecelia, but I couldn’t make myself do it. “Nevermind. Good night.”
Night was always the worst. It was too quiet and too dark to keep my brain occupied. And while sleep had first come quick and effortless, the interruption and ensuing conversation, however brief, had diverted the tidal wave so now it was nothing more than a gentle tide.
So instead of trying to go to sleep, I thought about him. About Collin. Like I did sometimes when I was nervous, or sad, or scared, I thought about moments in time we’d shared: The first time I saw him; the first argument we’d had; the first time he told me he loved me. I let scenes like those wash over me because the memories were so consuming; more than just watch these movies, I could smell them, hear them, taste the air, taste his skin when I put myself back in those places in my mind. When lying in bed at night, I would I challenge myself to remember every smallest detail. And in the process, I usually found myself asleep and dreaming good dreams within minutes.
“Hey, Leah… What’s going on?” Collin had sounded cautious, a little worried even when he’d picked up the phone.
“It’s me,” I’d said in response. “Ferris.”
When he’d replied, there’d been relief and smile in his tone initially. “Oh, hey. What’s going on? Why are you calling from Leah’s phone?”
I’d had to swallow down hard on the sudden lump in my throat to get the words out. “My parents took my phone. I’m staying at Leah’s for a while.”
“Oh shit.” Lower voice now, in volume and tone. “Baby, are you okay? What happened?”
My breath shook when I sighed. I hadn’t let myself cry about this. I hadn’t wanted Leah to see me cry, or her parents, or anybody. I didn’t want to cry about it, alone or otherwise, but especially not in front of them. Not when she’d been so nice to invite me to stay—not when her parents had been so nice as to actually let me, no questions asked.
“Fey?” Collin pried when I didn’t answer right away. “Ferris, you okay?”
It was then the dam broke, sending tears careening down my face. “They invited a boy from Japanese School over,” I choked, furiously wiping salt water from my face even though there was nobody there to see the tears falling. “And after he left, they told me I couldn’t ever talk to you again, or to Leah. They told me I needed to be more serious about my future. My future!” I’d have laughed with anger if I hadn’t been crying so hard with it instead already.
“Holy hell,” he sighed. “Because I called last night?”
I got control of my tears, swallowing them down as I scrubbed the back of my sleeve against my eyes. “Not, it’s not your fault,” I croaked.
Collin calling is what had prompted it, but his call had simply been the final straw that broke the supports on the already significantly compromised structure of my place in my family.
I’d never fit in, and not in that way that everyone feels like they don’t fit in. This was fundamental—I’d never been in sync with anyone in my family. More than a square peg to their round holes, I was a parallelogram—different in more ways than I was similar. And when I’d turned seventeen, and I’d suddenly found myself able to change the way I looked at will, I’d considered it just another way in which I was completely and totally weird. But now, after the summer, after learning from Leah’s Aunt Cecelia, and meeting Collin, and living all that real life that felt like it was really mine—I knew now that being a shifter wasn’t simply another way in which I wasn’t like the rest of my family. It was the difference, the most basic example of my otherness—the ground in which all the other differences were rooted.
And I could never, no matter how hard I tried, change that about myself. And moreover, I didn’t want to.
So, in the end, I hadn’t left because of Collin. It hadn’t been Collin that had made me leave my parents’ home that night, even though his call had been that final straw, and my relationship with him was one of the things I refused to give up in an attempt to fit into my round-hole family. Collin hadn’t been the reason, but he’d been what had given me the courage.
“Shit, Ferris, I feel terrible,” he’d said. “I knew your dad was pissed when he answered your phone last night, but I didn’t think they’d throw you out over it.”
“They didn’t throw me out,” I replied with a sniffle as I drew my knees up more tightly to my chest.
“You left on your own?”
“Yeah. I couldn’t live there—not anymore. Not after… everything this summer. I just couldn’t.” I sighed and leaned my head against the wall I was propped against. I was sitting in the closet in Leah’s bedroom. When she’d handed me her phone, she’d told me that she sometimes sat in her closet to talk to Drake late at night so her sister and parents weren’t liable to overhear. Soundproof or not, it was certainly cozy.
“Damn,” was Collin’s response. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m, like, legit impressed.”
I smiled despite myself. “Impressed, huh?”
“And more than a little turned on.”
“I have a thing for the rebellious type, apparently.”
Collin was good at making me feel better. There was a quiet moment when neither of us knew what to say. I didn’t mind. Just having him on the other end of the line and sitting in silence was good enough.
“Seriously, though,” he said after a moment more, “I’m sorry that had to happen. You sound really shaken up.”
Funny how packing a duffle bag, confronting your parents, then sticking to your guns and actually leaving when you said that’s what you were going to do could leave you weak-kneed when it was through.
“I miss you,” I said quietly. Like, way more than I’d expected to when I’d left him at the end of the summer.
“Me too,” he agreed. “A whole hell of a lot.”
Another moment of quiet, this time because I didn’t know what to say.
“Look, I know we said we’d be cool and casual,” he said all of the sudden, referring to a conversation we’d had days and days ago. “With school starting back up and everything, I know we said this wasn’t an exclusive thing, but…” He sighed. “But I’m not doing this with anybody else. And I don’t plan to.”
Shocked speechless, I didn’t respond at first.
“Do you?” he pried when I didn’t say anything. “It’s cool if your answer is yes—I can take it.”
“No,” I said finally, my ears buzzing with the sound of my own blood speeding in my veins. “No, I don’t want anybody else.” Holy shit, had I just said that? Had he just said that?
“Awesome.” When he’d replied, there’d been warmth in his tone. “Okay, then… yeah.”
“Well… I should probably go. Drake wants to talk to Leah, which I guess means we can’t talk since you’re on Leah’s phone…”
“Oh, right.” Duh. I’d already forgotten. Weird how deciding to be exclusive with your summer boyfriend could redirect your thought processes so thoroughly. “I’ll…go get Leah then, I guess.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“And I’ll look into getting my own phone,” I added for good measure.
He’d laughed. “Good night.”