We stood in front of the Alpha in silence as he glanced between Alexander and I. “Thank you for waiting, Alexander… Aria,” he started. I still couldn’t read his face, his expression not giving me any hints to the results.
“The council and I have discussed this at long length and the result was… a tie.”
My mouth opened in shock as I stared at Tytus. A tie? What did that even mean for us then?
“It appears we were completely split in half, five to five. And so, Alexander….” “Yes, Alpha?” my cousin replied, straightening his back as his name was called. “You may continue with your training for Beta….” “Yes!” my uncle yelled out, ecstatic with the victory. I almost couldn‘t believe he had spoken s o childishly in front of the entire council.
But my heart sank at Tytus’ words. Had I really failed? In my head, I instantly began to think o f ways I could overturn the decision and have someone change their deciding vote.
“And if William would have let me finish…,” the Alpha continued, breaking my thoughts.“… Aria, you are to take up training also.” Tytus glared my uncle down as he spoke. “We intend to have you both train for the position until Aria comes of age. Upon that time, both parties will undertake an exam… and will also duel for the right to succeed as Beta.”
I couldn‘t help the small tug of a smile that played on my lips at this announcement.
Whilst no one could disagree that the exam would be easy for me, I knew most here would think I was at a clear disadvantage with the proposal for a duel. My cousin, being one year older than me, would be seen to have the upper hand having had at least a year to learn how to fight in his wolf form by then; something that takes time to master.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone in this room though, I was already well acquainted with my wolf. It was true I wasn’t a fighter in the past, but I had mastered moving in her body flawlessly over the six years I had been able to shift. I knew when she eventually came back to me that it would be like greeting an old friend. I had missed her dearly already.
Of course, I would have preferred to have been given the title straight up, but this didn‘t seem like the worse compromise either. The exam would be a piece of cake, and a battle wouldn’t be that difficult if I kept up with my training. If it meant working hard for another three years, then so be it. I would defeat my cousin, avoid becoming Luna, and get to see the heartbroken look on my uncle’s face as I reigned victorious, all at once. Everyone in the room was a little unnerved by my mildly pleased reaction but I didn’t care. “I accept,” I said calmly. I locked eyes with Tytus as I said this and saw he had that same look of curiosity in them that I’d gotten to know so well now. The look that said he was eager to see what I’d do next, almost as if I was his favourite pet to watch. Well, I wasn’t one to divulge the old man, but I certainly found his idea of resolving the dispute creative.
And so that’s how I became a probationary Beta heir… subject to approval.
My life definitely became busy after that.
Much to my disappointment, I still wasn’t allowed to drop school to focus on more important matters. The only benefit of this was that it allowed me to still see Myra, someone who I’d otherwise be too busy to see regularly anymore. Every day after school, and several hours over the weekend, I now spent with my father either training or learning about the new role requirements. Many of the duties for the Beta seemed not too dissimilar from the things I’d been looking after as a Luna. Because of this, I was picking up the differences very quickly.
The rest of the time that I wasn’t in training or school, I was either attending council meetings or completing small errands. Some of which were with Aleric.
Typically, the Alpha and Beta heir were meant to start working together from around the age o f sixteen onwards. Since I was still short of this age, most of his time was therefore spent with Alexander instead. I, of course, didn’t mind this in the slightest.
But the times we did spend together, I found it was becoming slightly easier with every meeting. I did my best to ignore how nervous I was around him by throwing myself into my work And whilst I still jumped and flinched whenever he came too close, it was definitely a lot better than it had been several months ago. But, that being said, as much as I’d managed to improve, it still didn‘t stop me from leaving the very second we were done with whatever our task was for that day.
By the time five months had passed, I felt like I was finally in a good place and had a clear path to achieving my goals.
And so, today, I found myself with a day off, much to my surprise given my normally very busy schedule. My father was out of town on a Beta errand and there were no meetings to be held for the day. I considered helping Lucy with managing some of the investments we’d recently looked into, but I’d forgotten she was seeing the private investigator today and wouldn’t be back until tonight.
It was only the second time I‘d ever had so much free time to myself and, once again, I felt a little at a loss for what to do. But, if it was true what people said and good things came in threes, I was hoping it wouldn‘t be the last time I‘d get some of the much–needed downtime. With having nothing better to do and with no one to tell me otherwise, I did the only thing I could think of; I went to see Myra.
Sure, I probably should have taken the extra time to do some training alone, but it was such a rare opportunity that I didn’t even care. I’d been working so hard the last few months and felt that I deserved to treat myself.
And what better way to treat myself than with junk food from a certain cottage cafe?
Within two hours, I was seated across from Myra with a plate full of fries in front of me. She stared at me with a fascination as I ate, her head resting against her hand as she watched.
“You know… they have other options to eat,” she said. I didn’t even reply as I was too absorbed in the food before me. Having experienced it for myself now, I could see how junk food could quickly become addictive.
She sighed. “You are a marvel, Aria.”
Myra then began eating her own food, a sad-looking chicken salad. It probably was actually delicious but it was the sort of food I was eating basically every day now. I still had a love and appreciation for it… but it wasn’t enough to make me want to order it of my own volition.
“So, what have you been up to?” I asked, sipping at some sort of vanilla milkshake thing. It had random pieces of cookie in it and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Regardless of the weird addition, it still tasted nice, albeit a bit strange. “Not much,” she replied. “To be honest, I’ve mostly been busy helping my parents out… but, o h! …Actually….”
Her face changed, a small crease forming between her brows.
“I wasn’t sure if I should tell you…,” she said slowly, “but I heard from Cai the other day. He sent me a letter.”
I tensed up at hearing his name.
“Oh…?” was all I could say, now staring intensely at the milkshake in front of me.
I hadn’t prepared myself for her to say it and so I wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t want to sound too interested but I couldn‘t lie that I had been curious over how he’d been going. We hadn’t spoken about Cai since the last time we were here as Myra knew it was a sensitive topic. But it wasn’t as fresh for me anymore and I reminded myself there wasn’t any reason to get upset. I’d been doing great over the last few months, having much more important things happening in my life.
But I still thought of him now and then. In fact, I had made several attempts at writing him a letter over the months he’d been gone… but every time I ended up throwing it out, having thought better of it. Based on the last time I saw him, I knew that if he wanted to talk to me he would reach out himself.
“And how is Cai?” I finally asked.
She pursed her lips a bit to the side, trying to gauge my reaction. “He’s going well. Busy, he said. He’s begun his full training for Alpha heir now. He asked how I’ve been and wanted to check in to see if everything was still going well here in the Winter Mist.” I nodded my head, absentmindedly. “That‘s good.” I could feel her eyes on me as she spoke and I tried to act as casual as I could. But after what felt like at least a minute she finally continued reluctantly.”…And he asked how you were.”
I snapped my eyes up to her then, unable to now hide my interest. Cai asked… about me? “…And what did you reply back with?” I said cautiously.
“… haven’t replied yet,” she admitted. “I was sort of procrastinating talking to you first.” I inhaled deeply, thinking it through. Cai asked how I was… Did that mean he wasn’t angry at m e anymore? But if he wasn’t angry, then why didn‘t he just send me a letter directly himself? Why would he go through Myra to find out how I was going? …Was he just asking her to sound polite since he knew Myra and I were good friends? “You can tell him that I’m fine and leave it at that,” I finally concluded.
“Aria…,” she said, disappointed. “Wouldn’t it be better to tell him what you’ve been up to? Maybe it’ll help fix things between you two.” “No,” I said, a tone of finality in my voice. “If Cai wants to know how I’m going then he can reach out to me himself. And I mean to me, not via a third party.” She sighed. “You’re too stubborn sometimes.”
I ignored her, concentrating on the small cookie pieces inside my drink as if it were suddenly the most interesting thing at the table. Myra ended up having plans for the afternoon and so we finished up our breakfast earlier than I would have liked. The absence of having any plans left me with too much time inside my own head, mulling over things I would have rather moved on from. Or at least, I thought that would be the case. Instead, I arrived back home only to find an attendant I didn’t recognise in my house. “Saintess,” they greeted me, bowing. I groaned internally at the title. “Yes?” “I have been sent today to inform you that you are to prepare yourself for dinner with the Alpha heir,” they said. “He will be arriving tonight at around seven o‘clock.” My face paled. “Arriving… where?” “Here,” they confirmed. “You will be hosting the Alpha heir here, tonight, at your residence for dinner.” Ah… well, f**k.