WARNING: This chapter contains strong language and content that some might find inappropriate/offensive.
Three years later…
Linley’s sweet sixteen had come and gone, and she embraced the new age with excitement and anticipation. Though her parents hadn’t gotten her a car for the occasion, she nonetheless had a lot to be grateful for.
She was now in high school, her friendships with Chelcie, Craig, and Skyler still going strong. Only in the case of Craig, it was more than a friendship. Linley had finally gotten the courage to confess the truth to her parents, and they’d been very skeptical at first, and they were adamant that Craig never know the truth, but after that was established, Linley received their blessing. Chelcie had been a little jealous at first, but she'd found some other cute guys to chase so there wasn't even an issue with Linley dating Craig.
Now, the four friends were in high school, and their lives were reaching new heights. Linley once again joined the newspaper staff, while Chelcie tried out for the cheerleading squad. Skyler auditioned for the drama club and Craig tried out for the football team. Their schedules were busier as they got older, both with school and extracurricular activities, not to mention job hunting, so it was hard to always get together to just have fun. But somehow, they always worked it out.
Still, despite their busy schedules, changes were something that never ceased to creep up on them. The first was a week before Linley’s sixteenth birthday party, when Skyler made the shocking and brave announcement that he was gay.
“It’s not something I chose,” he confided in them as they sat in his bedroom one afternoon after school. “I’m just attracted to guys instead of girls, and I love clothes and such. I can’t help it, it’s just who I am. I thought you guys should know since you’re my best friends.”
“Hey, you’re still the same Skyler to us,” Chelcie said encouragingly. “We still love you.”
“Yeah, but no offense man,” Craig cut in, “I don’t swing that way, so, just in case you had any ideas…”
Skyler chuckled and replied, “You’re cute, don’t get me wrong, but you’re going with Linley, and I’m not the kind of person to steal someone else’s boyfriend. Besides, you’re not my type. You’re too athletic for me; I prefer guys who are more into art and things like that.”
“Well then, at least we know where we stand.”
Linley was as perplexed as her friends that Skyler had come out of the closet, but she shared the same opinion as Chelcie and Craig. Unfortunately, not everyone was as understanding as they were.
Word got around school that Skyler, who now went as Sky, was romantically attracted to boys. Several students ignored him, others avoided him at all costs, while some went out of their way to spread vile rumors and taunt him.
Derek, the boy from elementary school who Chelcie had described as being a jerk to everyone, was the worst. He hadn’t matured any in the past several years, and Sky’s confession gave him a whole new reason to make the lives of others miserable.
“Hey fairy,” he taunted him one day in the hall. “Got a boyfriend yet? No? Oh right, that’s because boys only date girls, not each other!”
Linley and Craig were walking through the hall when this confrontation transpired, and Linley picked up on the verbal assault quickly thanks to her keen sense of hearing. She grabbed Craig’s hand and rushed him through the crowded hallway until she saw Derek, in the asinine trend of wearing his pants lower than his boxers, tormenting Sky.
“What’s wrong with your brain?” he demanded as he bluntly pushed his forefinger into Sky’s head. “Why would you want to get nailed in the ass? You’re a sick freak.”
Linley had heard enough. She dropped Craig’s hand and stalked toward the two boys, her fists clenched at her sides and her eyes glowing an ominous shade of yellow.
“Is there a problem here?” she demanded hotly.
Derek whirled around and faced Linley, his expression smug. “No, no problem here, unless you think it’s okay for guys to like guys.”
“Sky’s life is none of your business. He’s not hurting you, so just stay out of it.”
“Or what? What are you gonna do, teacher’s pet? Tell on me? Go to the principal and be a tattle tale? Why don’t you just be normal and admit that this guy’s a freak?”
“I only see one freak, and I’m looking right at him.”
“Oh, I’m the freak? Last time I checked, it was normal for guys to like girls, not for guys to like guys. What, are you a lesbian or something? Or wait, you must be bi, since you’re dating that dude behind you. Just so you know, bi means you’re even easier than a slut because everyone would have a shot at getting with you.”
Linley, forgetting that she was in a human environment, zipped toward Derek and pushed him hard against the wall. The sound was almost deafening as his back collided with the cinderblock, and his expression was one of pure surprise mixed with fear.
“You’ve been picking on people since third grade and I’m sick of it,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Just because they’re a little different from you, you think you’re better than they are. News flash, Derek – you’re not. You’re nothing but a coward and a bully who gets off on putting others down. Well, I won’t let you do that anymore, and especially not to my friends. So you back the fuck off or I’ll rip your fucking head off. If I ever see you treat Sky or any of my friends like shit again, I’ll kill you.”
Linley’s hand wrapped around Derek's throat, nearly cutting off his air supply. He gasped for breath, his eyes wide as his heart rate sped up immensely. He was shaking in Linley’s arms and by this time a small crowd had gathered around the cacophony. Craig’s face was one of utter shock and disbelief as he watched the scenario that unfolded before him.
Only when Derek nodded in a frightened stupor and promised not to pick on Linley’s friends again did she release her grasp from his neck. Derek fell to the floor and coughed while Linley turned to face the audience that had watched this dramatic change of events.
Linley had been known as the teacher’s pet since third grade, and now she was suddenly confronting the school bully face to face, practically killing him in the hallway. Everyone had an expression of terror and bewilderment painted on their faces.
Craig’s face was the first to see. Linley felt immediately guilty when she saw that his eyes were glazed over with trepidation, and he promptly took a step back when she approached him.
“Craig,” she said softly, “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stand to see him pick on Sky because of who he is. I’m tired of seeing him bully people.”
But Craig’s main concern didn’t lie in what Linley had said to Derek, but rather what she’d done to him.
“You…you got to him so fast,” he sputtered, his eyes wide as saucers, “and you pushed him so hard against the wall we all heard it. And then you grabbed his neck, and I swear his feet were off the ground. You were holding him up with just your hand.”
Now it was Linley’s turn to be astonished. Had she really grasped Derek’s neck so hard that she’d lifted him off the ground? She’d been so angry and full of adrenaline that she hadn’t even noticed. She also hadn’t noticed that her determination to defend Sky had caused her hybrid speed to kick in.
But she knew she had the strength to do so. The older she got, the stronger she became. And she was so blinded by fury and determination that she’d caused quite the ruckus in the hallway, and there were several witnesses who could attest to that.
But that didn’t stop Derek from running to the principal and tattling, like he’d accused Linley of doing only minutes before. He even brought some cronies with him who backed up his story with what they’d seen.
For the first time ever, Linley found herself in the principal’s office for disciplinary reasons. When she explained the situation, the principal wasn’t impressed. Even though she’d been defending her friend, she’d threatened Derek’s life, used strong profanity toward him, and physically assaulted him. If it were up to him, he said, she’d be expelled.
But because this was so unlike Linley and only a first offense, he scheduled a mandatory meeting with the counselor for her and called her parents. They were less than thrilled and were as shocked as the onlookers in the hall had been. They were so shocked, in fact, that they insisted Linley come home from school early, and the principal thought that might be the best option for the moment.
For once, Linley didn’t enjoy getting out of school early. She’d done so before on occasions when she’d gotten sick and had to come home, or sometimes the weather would cause school to close early, but she’d never been sent home for such a serious accusation.
So when she got home at last, she found her parents waiting for her right in the foyer, their expressions beyond pissed off.
Her father was the first to speak, and his reaction was less than serene.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs. It was a good thing vampires couldn’t get deeper, louder, more frightening voices, because the neighbors probably would have heard his outburst.
Though Linley doubted that, even if vampires didn’t possess that ability, her father’s voice would have been any more menacing. His eyes were more full of fury than any other time Linley had seen them. Her mother’s were identical, though concern was also mixed in with the anger.
“You beat up some kid in the hall, and threatened his life?!” her father continued in an irate voice. “What is wrong with you?! Why would you do that?!”
“Because he was picking on Sky!” she shot back, trying to defend herself. “He was calling him all kinds of names and saying how weird he was for being gay! Was I supposed to just let him get away with that?”
“Yes! At the very least, tell him to stop, and then go tell a teacher or someone. For God’s sake, you practically slaughtered him in front of an audience! You pushed him against a wall, probably hard enough to leave a crack in the bricks, and you grabbed him by the throat! Hell I heard someone saw you lift him off his feet. What’s gotten into you? You used to be so level-headed. This is so unlike you.”
“I’ve had to see Derek picking on people since third grade. He’s a bully, that’s how he gets his kicks, but he crossed a line when he went after Skyler like that. Think of it this way – I have wolf blood in me, so I was protecting my pack.”
“Call it what you want, but you still lost control, Linley. We’ve warned you to be careful, but your emotions are going to be heightened as a hybrid. You have to be extra careful, and quite frankly, that wasn’t being careful. It was being foolish and reckless.”
Linley lowered her head in shame and covered her ears. She felt genuinely guilty for what she’d done, yet at the time, it had felt like the right thing to do. She’d been defending her friend from a bully, and she’d gotten through to him.
But her tactic had come with a price – she’d attracted a crowd that had witnessed her definition of justice, and that crowd included Craig. The fear she’d seen in his eyes wouldn’t soon be forgotten. She had to call him and explain.
Only how could she possibly explain? She couldn’t tell him the truth, that she was a hybrid who was acting on her animal instincts. But she couldn’t deny that he’d seen her do supernatural things. Her speed and strength alone were enough for questions to start buzzing through his head. What would become of them now?
Finally, Linley apologized profusely, though she knew that wouldn’t be good enough for her parents. So she sauntered upstairs to her room where she closed the door and stretched out on the bed. She laid an arm over her face and replayed the scene in the hall over and over again, trying to remember what all she might have done that people had seen.
It was like watching a horror movie on repeat, or playing a bad song on shuffle as the repercussions of the event played behind her eyelids. How could she have been so impulsive? Her father was right – she’d been foolish and reckless. And how would this affect her relationship with Craig? Would he think she was completely insane and dump her? She hoped not, but if that were to be the case, she couldn’t say that she’d blame him.
Turning into her side, she contemplated what to do next. Obviously going through the entire school saying how sorry she was wouldn’t change things. No one would be able to erase what they’d seen, and they sure wouldn’t be able to forget it. It would be a nightmare walking through the halls now, with everyone staring at her, afraid to do something that might cross her and make her threaten them too. She wanted to call Craig and try to reassure him, but he was still in class. It was unlikely that he’d want to talk to her anyway.
Finally, with lack of anything else to do but wallow in her own self pity, Linley closed her eyes to take a nap, hoping that nightmares wouldn’t invade her dreams.