I tried not to sigh in exasperation. Being a werewolf was a serious business. So why did it feel like I was constantly being mocked for it?
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Claire’s parents had been let in on the secret. That wasn’t par for the course, naturally, but what else could I do? I didn’t want them to think I was stalking their kid. And they had to understand that I wasn’t going to age. At least, not until she hit 25. If she was even able to think about me that way once I’d filled her childhood with memories like this. I tended to worry about that too often. After her mother woke up from the swoon, they’d agreed to let me see her. That was tantamount to taking in the whole pack. So, most of us were in and out of their house the same as Emily’s or Jake’s.
When Jacob and Embry came knocking on the door, I was sitting on the floor in the tiny living room cross-legged. Beside me was a pile of pastel-colored hair accessories. Claire stood behind me, putting my hair into pigtails. She didn’t have an older sister, you see, and she’d asked months ago if I would grow it out just so she could do this. And I’d done it – given up the crew cut I always wore, and the convenience of being properly shorn in wolf form – just to entertain a four year old. I couldn’t believe I had ever laughed at the old stories. If nothing else, I was learning to be properly humble.
Considering her age, she’d been remarkably gentle with my hair. My scalp didn’t even tingle, as it had when my mother had brushed it, years and years ago before I’d started shaving it. Or maybe that’s just because I hadn’t let it get knotted up before handing her the brush? Hard to say. But I could feel her little hands in my hair, and by the time her mother answered the door with a hastily hidden smile, I was grimacing at the carpet. I could smell who was arriving. I knew I was in for it.
Sure enough, Embry plopped down on the couch beside where Claire was standing. “Whatcha doin’ there, girlie?” he asked playfully.
“Fixin’ his hair.” Her cute, childish voice brought a smile to my face in spite of myself. It was wiped away an instant later.
“Aw, I wasn’t asking you sweetheart,” Embry responded, trying to keep the laughter out of his voice. “I was asking your girlfriend, here. What’s her name?” Claire put her hands to her hips, all the hair on the right side falling down in my face as she defended me.
“That’s Quil! He’s a boy!” she declared. Jacob, who’d made himself comfortable on the floor, was shaking with silent laughter. I tried really hard not to growl at them. I didn’t manage it.
“’S’okay, Quil. Jakey is next.” Her tone left no room for argument, and suddenly I was grinning again, and it was Jacob who looked embarrassed.
“Sorry, Claire. I can’t stay to have my hair fixed up. Maybe next time. We’re here because Quil’s out of time for his beauty treatment, too. He has to go home.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Embry smiling at that. The look on my face, however, was more like worry. Claire tends to react badly when I leave before the timer goes off.
Sure enough the brush came down a little too hard on my head as she tried to get the unsecured half of my hair into her little fist again. I winced, but she couldn’t see it. “Can’t go yet! Buzzer says so!”
“No, not yet,” I assured her, knowing the timer was going to go off in a few minutes anyway. And really, if three minutes more of letting her put my hair in messy pigtails was enough to make her happy, I wasn’t going to deny her. Even if the guys were clearly going to be jerks about it. I knew I was going to hear about this all afternoon.
Fortunately for me, they seemed to see the determination in my face, and decided to let it go for now. “We’ll just wait outside for you, then,” Jacob said. He was always the generous one, and Embry generally followed his lead. “When you’re pretty, come join us,” he added, snickering again. I rethought my previous opinion and scowled up at him.
“He’s always pretty,” Claire said belligerently from behind me. Embry couldn’t contain a snort at that. I looked back down at the carpet, pressing my lips together to keep from laughing, myself. She was so adorable sometimes.
Shortly after the door closed behind them the timer went off. I waited a few more minutes at her request because she hadn’t quite got all my hair up. Soon enough, though, I was turning around so she could see her handiwork. I had a feeling it was awful, but I couldn’t help but smile. She was pouting.
“It’s crooked,” she said sadly. “And you can’t stay for try again.”
“Not today,” I said, trying to sound sad. “You can try again next time, okay?” She perked up right away, and gave me a hug. Her mother had come back out of the kitchen, and before I realized what she was doing, she’d snapped a picture with a Polaroid camera. Of me, hugging Claire with my hair in crooked pigtails. I tried not to sigh in exasperation. Being a werewolf was a serious business. So why did it feel like I was constantly being mocked for it?
“Claire?” her mother began. “Go take this to Jakey and Embry, okay, and tell them goodbye. Quil’s got to go home now.” Claire skipped off, happy to have a job to do, and distracted from the fact that I was leaving. I stood up.
“That wasn’t very nice,” I tried to scold her. It would have worked better if I hadn’t been smiling.
“Who do you think she’s going to practice on until you get back?” she asked, smiling ruefully back at me. I couldn’t help but laugh. Claire’s mother really was a great sport about all of this.
“Fair enough. Thanks for everything.”
“Don’t stay away so long next time,” she replied easily, as Claire came back inside, thrilled with her successful delivery. I scooped her up and gave her another hug before handing her to her mom.
“I’ll see you again soon, okay?” I asked.
“’Kay!” She waved me out the door. I was thankful. Sometimes when I left she screamed. Apparently her nap had gone well today.
Jacob and Embry were waiting for me in the driveway, and they were staring at me. It wasn’t the usual ‘you look like an imbecile’ stare, either. They both had their heads down and were looking up at me through their lashes, batting them in what they must have thought was ‘come hither’ fashion. I growled.
“Whatdaya think, Jake? I could just about imprint on that pretty lady,” Embry said wickedly. I couldn’t help it. I launched myself at him and we both were rolling in the mud before he had time to react. I jabbed him in the side until he was out of breath. We were all laughing, though. It was so good to have my friends back. I was still thankful that I’d finally joined the pack. The months without them both had been horrible. And, of course, if I hadn’t become a werewolf, I’d have never found Claire.
Jacob hoisted us both out of the mud, another reminder that he was way too strong for his own good, and we took off down the road at a run. I turned and waved, so that Claire would know I was okay – she always watched out the window until I was gone, and sometimes she didn’t understand the fighting. As soon as we were out of sight of the house, I yanked out the offensive purple hair ties. I held them out in my hand to look at them since I hadn’t had a chance to see what exactly she’d chosen for me. “Hello Kitty?” I said disgustedly. But instead of throwing them into the mud, I stuffed them in my pocket. They were her favorites, in spite of all my efforts to get her interested in dogs. Jake and Embry laughed all the way home. I couldn’t help but join them.