I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. My mind kept trying to justify his actions, justify how he’d treated me. Really, it was probably my fault for thinking we were closer than he felt we were. I’d realised too late that I‘d built up some sort of reliance on him without even knowing. It was such a bittersweet feeling to have had something I craved so close, only for it to be taken away having never realised it was there. And the worst part was that the entire time I’d been back, I’d been telling myself not to get close to anyone again… and yet here I was, crying over a stupid teenager of all people.
It had been self-indulgent of me to begin with given the circumstances. I didn’t know why I felt I deserved to feel validated by him. Did I think that, if we became friends, then what I did i n my past life to him would be forgiven? I still carried that burden around with me, one which still weighed heavily on my shoulders. It was something I’d completely buried within myself, had forced myself to forget, only for it to be dredged back up again once I’d found out who Cai really was. I stayed in the classroom for at least another half an hour. It was silly but, even though I knew Cai would have well and truly left already, I couldn’t make myself move for fear I’d see him whilst trying to get home.
When I did eventually manage to pick myself up to leave, I could feel my muscles were sore and ached all over. I hadn’t noticed it before, but my body had been shaking the entire time I’d stayed slumped on the cold ground. It had been too much stress, too much emotion to handle all at once, and my tiny young body had struggled to compensate.
I now wanted nothing more than to be left alone and to be allowed to think over everything that had just happened, everything I’d just done. And so, I arrived back at my house and entered silently, being greeted by an attendant at the front door as I walked past.
“Welcome home, Saintess,” she said, bowing slightly. Ordinarily, I probably would have just ignored it but having the fresh reminder irritated me after everything I’d just been through.
“I‘m not a Saintess yet,” I snapped, narrowing my eyes at her.
“You’re right,” said a voice behind me. “You‘re not. And do you know why?”
I turned around and saw my mother leaning against the doorway to the living room with a stern look on her face. Her arms were folded as she looked down at me.
“Because you still haven’t fulfilled the Elders’ summons for you to have your confirmation completed,” she continued, not waiting for me to reply. “They sent yet another letter today…
-wait, have you been crying?” “No,” I answered flatly, hinting at her to drop it. “And I don’t want the confirmation. Just the mere possibility of having the mark is already terrifying enough to most of the pack, why would I want to make that worse?”
She sighed. “As much as I’d like to agree that you’re safer without the official formalities, you can’t just ignore them and expect that they‘ll stop asking you.”
“Screw the Elders,” I said flippantly and tried to keep walking to my room.
Her voice was one of warning that I’d gone too far, stopping me in my tracks. I wanted to scream at her that I didn’t want to deal with this right now, but I didn‘t want to take my frustration out on her.
“Fine,” I said, forfeiting. “Do you have one of their letters I can look at?”
She handed me a silver envelope with a wolf insignia on it and I read through it carefully, looking for anything that might help me. “It doesn’t specify how many Elders are actually required for the confirmation.” “Well… no, why would it?” she asked confused. “Does it need to be all of them or is only one technically required for the inspection process?”
“I’d need to check… but I’d assume just one would be sufficient…,” she said slowly.
“Fine then. Set a date. But I have one condition.” I handed her the envelope back and started walking to my room again. “I‘ll only go if it‘s conducted by Elder Luke, and only Elder Luke.” “Aria, wait. Do you want to talk about what’s going on? I can clearly see you’re upset,” she called up the stairs after me.
“I’ve had a long day. I need to rest.”
I locked myself in my room after that and fell asleep quickly.
All night I was plagued with nightmares of Cai‘s death and the names of those I’d hurt before. The ordeal with him at school must have been prevalent enough inside my mind for my inner guilty conscience to drag up the unpleasant memories. I eventually awoke in the morning feeling more exhausted than when I had gone to sleep. It was a Saturday and so I, unfortunately, wouldn‘t be able to stay in bed for long; I would be expected to show up for Luna studies. The classes usually covered topics such as etiquette, event organisation, names of important figures and more. I had been trying to play along the last few months, pretending I didn’t know the material she was teaching, but it was beginning to feel tiresome at this point and the tutor could probably tell.
Normally, the lessons should have been taught by a dowager Luna but, since my succession was still not confirmed via an official mate bond, I was given just an experienced tutor instead. She was an older lady named Helen Stewart who I think stemmed originally from a Beta family in a neighbouring territory. Her mate had been no one of importance, having been born the youngest in a family of five, but she had been close friends with the Luna of her pack before their passing, hence her vast amount of knowledge on the subject. And so, I found myself sitting at the dining room table across from the old lady, wishing I was anywhere else. She was going through and listing off all the influential houses of the northern packs in excruciating detail.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“And that brings us to the next family,” she said. “There is the Lycroft family with their Alpha
I’d interjected so we both said the name at the same time.
She gave me a side-eye look of caution but continued anyway. “…And his three sons—.”
“Jeremy, Thomas and Peter.”
She stopped talking and looked at me face-on, a little annoyed that I’d interrupted with the answers. I sighed, finally too tired to keep up the charade.
“Look, Helen,” I said, addressing her by her actual name for the first time. Typically, I would have had to address her as ‘Mrs Stewart’. “I know you’re a smart woman and so I know you’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve been feigning ignorance over everything you’ve been teaching me these last few months. I’m not even mad. In fact, I admire your commitment to not telling my parents in order to keep getting paid.” “…Pardon...?”
“So, what I‘m going to do is,” I said, pulling out my cheque book. “I‘m going to give you your full days pay right now, and then when my parents come home tonight, you’re going to tell them that I’m coming along nicely with all my studies. They will then proceed to also hand you your full days pay and you will get to walk out of here with double your wage. All you have to do is tell them I was here the whole day whilst I go out. How does that sound?”
Her eyes went as wide as saucers having been taken completely aback by my very sudden change in attitude.
“Won’t they notice when two debits for my pay come out of their account?”
“Oh, you mean because of this?” I asked, pointing to the small booklet. “Don’t worry about that. This is my own personal account. My parents have no control over these funds.”
She looked as if she didn’t know how to reply. It was almost as if I could see her brain turning, trying to figure out exactly what was actually happening. “I really feel like we can come to a mutual understanding that will benefit both of us here, Helen.”
She took a few moments to consider further before mutely nodding her head in agreement.
“Brilliant. I’ve always thought you were a very, very intelligent woman, Helen. One of the many things I admire about you,” I said as I started writing out her cheque. “I’ll be back before my parents get home tonight.”
I stood up and walked past her towards the front door, placing the cheque in front of her as I went without even looking back. Even when I had left the house entirely, she still never managed to say a single word to me. t
I stepped outside into the fresh air that smelt like freedom and wondered what to do. This would be the very first Saturday off to myself out of both of the lives I’d lived.
So… what did young girls do when they had too much time on their hands and an abundance of wealth? And then suddenly I had an amazing idea.