After jotting down a customer’s order, I drop a copy of it off at the kitchen and then scan the rest of the tables in my section, checking the satisfaction of my other patrons. Aside from the occasional request for drink refills or to-go boxes, I keep busy with table cleaning and checking on previous order statuses. Periodically, I’ll circulate and do table sweeps; however, most of my customers, even after finishing their meals, tend to linger and chat, so I just keep an eye on them and once they pack up and leave, I wander over, collect my tips, and clear off the dirty dishes.
At the sound of my name, I glance up and spot some guy, over by the pool tables, waving. Blanking on his name, despite the fact that everyone in Mystic Falls passes through the Mystic Grill at some point, I plaster on a smile and wave back; he’s either a regular or a student at Mystic Falls High. It’s my junior year there and while I’m not a complete outcast, thanks to my friendship with Tyler Lockwood, the football captain, I’m not quite a part of the popular group either. Most of them ignore me anyway, which I don’t mind as I prefer the sidelines where I can observe people and often use them to inspire my drawings.
Once finished wiping down a booth and preparing it for the next customer, I lug the dirty dishes into the kitchen and rinse them off, even though it’s not part of my main responsibilities. The kitchen dishwasher offers me a grateful look and I smile back, glad to make his shift easier. Upon exiting the kitchen though, I bump into the Grill owner, Robert, who asks if I can sort through several boxes of new inventory shipments. I nod and head back into the stockroom, spending the next fifteen minutes alternating between my serving duties and unpacking stacks of napkins.
Abruptly the doors swing open.
Startled, I spin around but relax as it’s just my co-worker, Matt.
“Thanks again for coming in on such short notice, Jere.” Matt swipes his arm across his forehead and then rolls up his sleeves even though the AC’s running. “I would’ve died if I’d needed to bartend and bus tables, especially with Vicky out of town and Ben home sick with the flu.”
I roll my eyes at his over dramatization of the situation, especially since we’re in the lull between lunch and dinnertime rushes. “Oh yeah I can see how crazy it is out there.” I chuckle at his sheepish expression and wave aside his apology. “It’s cool, Matt. Sure beats my original plans.”
“Translation,” he says, shooting me a knowing look, “Tyler’s still ignoring you.”
I wince at the implication; does everyone in Mystic Falls know about my feelings for Tyler, except him?
“No,” I fight to keep my expression passive, “I think he’s still up visiting Mason and Jules.”
“You think? You mean he hasn’t contacted you since he left?” I shake my head and Matt releases a low whistle. “Wow, usually you two are joined at the hip.”
Ducking my head, I bite back the urge to say, “That’s how it was when we were kids but not since he learned about his werewolf heritage” and pray Matt doesn’t question my sudden silence. I’ve never been good at lying and most people can read my body language. Since I developed feelings for Tyler though, I’ve perfected some secretive techniques and while I’m not as transparent as before, close friends and family can still read my moods.
If only I could do the same with Tyler.
Before his impromptu trip to his relatives, Tyler spent most of his free time with me but for the last three months whenever I approached him either in the school hallway, in the cafeteria, or around town he acted like I didn’t exist and found some excuse to turn and head in the opposite direction. He stopped inviting me over to hang out and even his texts diminished. For the first few weeks, I tried to disregard the confusing twinge of hurt and convinced myself he was busy, but as time progressed I couldn’t deny it anymore: he didn’t want me around and that hurt worse than his avoidance. If he no longer wanted my friendship, why didn’t he just say something?
I didn’t like this alienation.
About a week later, he called me, sounding more like his old self, and asked if I wanted crash at his place for a long overdue Guys’ Night. Normally I would’ve been thrilled, but his sudden mood change didn’t sit well with me; despite all that, I still agreed to come over and as I drove to his house, a cold sense of dread consumed me. Did he somehow figure out my secret? Was he only asking me over to beat me up in private? Would his teammates show up and help?
When I arrived, Tyler met me at the door with a genuine smile and gave me a perplexed look at my guarded greeting. Thankfully he didn’t press me for answers. As I followed him inside, paranoia seized my mind and I kept glancing around, waiting for an ambush.
Instead, he led me into the game room, where he hooked up his PlayStation3 and loaded Halo 3, an older game but one we both favored. Soon the two of us fell into our usual routine of laughter and teasing as we battled each other. Hopefully this meant he’d fixed whatever issues were bothering him and our lives could return to normal.
Unfortunately, because of my Hollywood melodrama life, that didn’t happen.
About halfway through our latest mission, my character manages to hide out on a rooftop, snipping and killing Tyler’s. His eyes blazing, Tyler leaps off the couch and swears as he tosses his consol aside.
“Tyler, relax,” I say, stunned by his reaction; he never used to act like this. “It’s only a video game.”
Without looking at me, he stalks out of the room, breathing hard, his fists clenching and unclenching. Five minutes later, he’s still gone so I go looking for him and find him in the kitchen, his head hanging between his arms as he grips the counter, his knuckles a stark white.
“Tyler?” No answer so I move closer and place my hand on his shoulder. “Tyler, are you all right?”
“Get the hell off me!”
Unexpectedly, he spins around, jerking away and shoving me. Unprepared, I fly off my feet and crash into a nearby chair, the wood cracking and splintering upon impact, before dropping to the ground. Silence falls over us as I, too stunned to move, stare up at my best friend, my mouth hanging.
“What the hell is your problem?”
“Jere…I don’t know.” He steps closer and when he offers me a hand, I crab-walk backward and scurry across the floor until I’m beyond his reach. He frowns, drawing back, his arms hanging limp at his side, his gaze pained. “Jeremy, I’m sorry…I didn’t…I didn’t mean…I’m so sorry.” Sighing, he runs his hand through his short-cropped hair. “What is wrong with me?”
I climb to my feet and brush away the wooden fragments lingering on my pants. That’s what I’d like to know too.
Turning, I spot his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood, standing at the entrance of the kitchen. Instantly, my gaze snaps towards the broken chair and I swallow. How are we supposed to explain this mess?
“Tyler,” his mom says as she moves to her son’s side, “come into the den. There’s something your father and I need to tell you.”
As Tyler follows her, Mr. Lockwood fixes me with a stern look. “It’s time for you to go home, Jeremy.”
I sigh and restrain the urge to demand the right to stay and hear what they’re going to tell Tyler. For some reason, Mr. Lockwood never approved of me and has tried countless times to break up my friendship with Tyler, so of course this would be a family discussion.
“No.” I pause in mid-step at Tyler’s firm tone; even his parents look shocked. “Jeremy stays. I just threw him across the room with more strength than humanly possible! If you’re gonna tell me something to explain that then he deserves to hear it too.”
Mr. Lockwood growls as he and his son lock gazes, a silence war for dominance raging. I glance over at Mrs. Lockwood; she looks just as concerned.
“Honey,” she says and lays a hand on her husband’s arm, “they both need to know.”
Left with no choice, he grunted his consent, gesturing with his head for Tyler and me to follow. Once in the den, they admitted that after Tyler’s birth, when they discovered he carried the werewolf gene that passed down from father to son, they paid a surgeon to implant a medallion inside him to keep this “curse” dormant and protect him until his eighteenth birthday. However, because his body could no longer suppress and resist the call of his heritage, the amulet broke down and that’s why, three months before he turned eighteen, Tyler’s bouts of anger and agitation spiked. As expected, Tyler wasn’t thrilled with his parents interfering in his life but he didn’t move out or at least not to my knowledge. The next week, his parents shipped him off to Miami, Florida to visit his Uncle Mason and Aunt Jules, who would teach Tyler the basic werewolf dos and don’ts.
While he was away, I tried calling Tyler; yet my messages went straight to voicemail and my texts were ignored too. Though I’m not someone dependent on constant human interaction, I don’t appreciate Tyler’s recent hot ‘n cold friendship. Besides, I was there when he found out about being a werewolf. When that didn’t scare me off, I would think that would solidify my loyalty and prove that I’ll support him in whatever way possible.
So why is he avoiding me?
“Guess he’s busy,” I tell Matt, shaking aside my thoughts and focusing on the present.
“His loss is my gain,” Matt says, draping his arm across my shoulder and hugging me close.
Chuckling, I brush him off with an affectionate roll of my eyes. Though he and I don’t share the same bond as Tyler and me, Matt’s still a buddy and I enjoy his company. Besides, he’s straight and only has eyes for Caroline Forbes. Despite their rocky relationship start, it’s obvious he’s in love with her and I wouldn’t be surprised if he proposes sometime in the near future.
After Matt leaves, my smile vanishes as my mind once again tries to figure out why Tyler’s dodging me. Once his parents told us the truth, he and I exchanged uneasy looks but his Lycan lineage explained a lot, specifically his spike of irrational anger around the full moon. While unsure of how to handle having a werewolf as my best friend, I was determined to find a balance. The previous weeks had shown me what my life could be like without him and I didn’t like it. Tyler felt the same and we worked towards repairing our friendship. Though the next six days were difficult, we succeeded in restoring a semi balance that allowed us to once again resume hanging out and spending time together.
So what caused him to shun me again?
Sighing, I glance around the stockroom before grabbing a large bag and picking up the trash littering the ground. As I reach for a pile of papers, I pause. Is Tyler avoiding me because of that night before he left? Even though nothing happened, maybe he read something in my expression that clued him into my feelings. Hoping that I was imagining things, I call up the memory and relive everything that either happened or was said.
After getting ready for bed, I lie down but unable to find a comfortable position, I roll over onto my side, draping the covers over my head before kicking them off when it becomes too hot. Sighing, I glance over at my clock and wince at the bright number’s display; with a groan, I shift onto my other side. Five minutes later, I turn over again. Finally I settle on my back and lie, staring up at the ceiling, my body too wired to sleep. Outside, a light breeze whistles through the treetops, rustling the leaves and tickling Aunt Jenna’s wind chimes, silver bell like music filling the air. I close my eyes, hoping that combined with the chirping crickets and cooing birds will lull me to sleep; if not, I’m drugging myself with Benadryl.
Scuffling near my window startles me awake.
I stiffen, hoping it’s just nocturnal animals; however, when the noise continues, I try to remember if I have anything I can use as a weapon on my bedside table. There’s my bat but that’s hidden in my closet. Silently cursing and wishing I was a vampire, or at least possessed their speed, I calculate how quickly I can reach my bedroom door before alerting the possible intruder.
Not quick enough.
My window creaks as fingers curl around the bottom and lift up, allowing a cold draft to enter my room. Fear paralyzing me, I can only watch as a leg stretches over the sill before the rest of the body follows. Curtains blown aside, moonlight pours inside and highlights my “intruder’s” face as he climbs the rest of the way into my bedroom and drops into a crouch with a soft thud. Recognizing Tyler’s posture, I relax as he straightens and turns towards my bed.
“Jeremy?” His soft-spoken voice breaks the silence. Without knowing why, I remain quiet, my breathing slow and steady as his footsteps inch closer. “Jeremy?” His hand rests on my shoulder. “I know you’re still awake. Are you all right?”
Am I all right? Aside from my werewolf best friend sneaking into my room and almost giving me a panic attack, I’m fantastic. However, I suppress the sarcastic remark and stay quiet as a somewhat uncomfortable silence falls over us before the mattress shifts under his added weight as he settles beside me, our shoulders brushing. Unconsciously I shift away.
“Don’t.” He seizes my arm. “Don’t run from me.”
His grip tightens as his other arm reaches over and turns me so we’re lying face to face. Swallowing, I study my best friend and take in the paleness of his skin and the dark circles under his eyes; however, it’s his deadened expression that startles me the most. In the past, Tyler’s always been so full of life, but the truth of his lineage hit him harder that I suspected, which makes sense as he spent almost eighteen years ignorant of his werewolf half. Usually, I’m the first to notice when he’s upset, but, too focused on my own feelings, it slipped passed me.
Scooting closer, I reach out my hand and give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, communicating without words that I’m here for him. His mouth twists up in a slight smile and he presses his forehead against mine. Unable to resist, I lift my hand and run it through his hair, enjoying the warmth radiating from his body and flashing back to when, as a child, I used to crawl into his bed after waking up from a nightmare and curl up in his arms. It never bothered me that he was an older guy or how in a few years I’d be too old to sleep in his bed. Tyler was the only one who could comfort me and he never complained about my impromptu visits.
Seconds later, Tyler draws back. As a soft whine in protest leaves my lips, he pauses and stares at me. I swallow and struggle to come up with an explanation; the words catch in my throat, however, when he cups my face. Blinking, I stare at him but his gaze doesn’t meet mine, focusing instead on his finger as it circles around my eyes, across my cheeks, and down my nose. Involuntarily, my eyes close and I lean into his touch. As his hand comes to rest beneath my chin, my eyes reopen and I shiver at the intensity in his gaze.
“What-what are you doing?” I whisper my lips barely moving.
“I don’t know,” he replies, his tone bitter while an inward war rages within his eyes. “I never know what I’m doing around you.”
I frown; that’s not exactly a comforting thought.
Slowly, hesitantly, he throws one leg over mine and straddles my waist, his hips pressing into mine. My stomach tightens at his proximity as he bends forward and rests an arm on either side of my head, trapping me beneath the sheets.
“Why so tense? It’s just me.”
I swallow hard, unable to respond, and lick my lips. At my prolonged silence, Tyler tilts his head to the side, shifting closer and his lips hover dangerously near mine. My eyes widen, yet I can’t look away.
Instantly his weight vanishes.
Startled, I sit up and watch as an indescribable expression cover his face when he backpedals and stays on the other side of my room, his back up against the wall and lips pressed in a thin line, as if afraid he’ll tackle me; absently I bite my lower lip. If given the chance, would he have kissed me?
“Tyler?” I say, my voice trembling.
When he doesn’t respond, I push aside my covers and swing my legs over about to stand, but my movement must’ve jumpstarted his brain because the next thing I know he’s straightening up, skirting around my bed, and returning to my window.
“Good night, Jeremy.”
At the finality of his tone, an uncomfortable silence hangs in the air before he disappears out of my window; seconds later it slides shut with a soft click and I glimpse him racing across the lawn towards his Camero.
“Good night, Tyler,” I whisper, collapsing across my bed and releasing a frustrated sigh. Damn it!
Shaking my head, I slump against the wall and sink to the ground, bringing my knees up against my chest and burying my head in my arms. Although I was careful, he must’ve sensed something; why else would he stay away? Perhaps he’s ashamed and second guessing his decision to have a gay human as his best friend. As numerous thoughts plague my mind, I try to sort through them. True his sudden vacation interrupted our attempts at rebuilding our friendship, but he said he wanted me around so why renege on that now?
Sometime later, Matt reappears and informs me that I’m needed as the dinnertime rush has started. Picking myself off the floor, I exit the stockroom and fake a smile while greeting a group of regulars. Leading them over to their table, I pass out the menus, recite the evening specials, and take down their drink orders before giving them an opportunity to look over their dinner choices. Over at the bar, Matt seems just as busy as he mixes and pours alcoholic beverages. Several guys, while waiting for their drinks, lean back against the bar counter, eyeing two girls over by the pool tables. One girl, a brunette, her hair tied up in a bun and her clothes form-fitted, chalks her cue while her friend, a blonde wearing a black tube top and skin-tight jeans, circles the table, bends down, her cleavage on full display, positions herself, and shoves her cue forward, sinking two stripped balls. I smile to myself before hurrying to tend my next customer.
The next few hours pass in a blur with me jotting down orders, refilling drinks, serving meals, and cleaning up tables. By the time we close, I’m exhausted and just want to go home, curl up in bed, and go to sleep. Glancing over at Matt as he stacks the chairs, I take in the slump of his shoulders and the circles under his eyes, all reminders of the countless double shifts he’s pulled in order to cover house expenses and provide for himself and his sister while their mother is off gallivanting who knows where.
“Go home, Matt,” I say and push him towards the door. “I’ll lock up.”
Though he protests, it’s halfhearted and when I don’t back down, he agrees, handing me the keys and disappearing into the break room only to reappear seconds later. Before leaving, he places his hand on my shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze. I smile my thanks and wave as he heads to his car. Alone, I hurry around the Grill, sweeping the floors and stacking the rest of the chairs. Once finished, I check to make sure all the back doors and windows are shut and locked before grabbing my stuff and heading towards the entrance.
A body slams into mine.
Stumbling, I throw out a hand to catch myself before two hands seize my shoulders, flip me around, and slam me back first into the wall, my breath whooshing out in surprise.
“Damn it, Matthew! Don’t do that to…” my voice trails off as I take in who’s in front of me. “Tyler?” Where did he come from? I don’t even remember seeing him enter the Grill. Has he been here all night? Why didn’t he come up and say hi? Shaking my head, I shove his shoulder and hiss at the sharp flare of pain lancing through my arm; must’ve bruised it when Tyler threw me against the wall. “What the hell? You know I hate it when you sneak up on me.”
“You need to stay away from Matt.”
Mouth dropping, I stare at him. What no “Hi, I’ve missed you” or “I’ve sorry for hurting you”? He’s been gone for three weeks, refusing to answer my calls and texts and now he shows up at the Grill, scares the crap outta me, and orders me to stay away from Matt? Who died and made him my alpha?
“O-kay …since when is Matt off limits territory? We’re just co-workers…you know buddies? We also live in the same town so it’s a bit hard to avoid someone in that tight of space…though you managed.” As expected, the jab hits home and a low snarl erupts from Tyler’s throat. “Oh for goodness sakes, Tyler,” I throw my hands up in exasperation, “control yourself! I’d think you’d be better at it now; you were sure gone long enough!”
“I mean it,” he says, ignoring my comments. “You need to stay away from Matt.”
“Excuse me but last time I checked I’m not sporting a tail, fangs, or an innate urge to shift every full moon so you,” I stab a finger at him, “don’t get to order me around.”
“Jere, if you know what’s good for you…”
“Oh so you’re threatening me now? Look, I get that you’re going through a difficult situation what with finding out about what you are and having to adjust to all that but don’t take it out on me. You’re my best friend and I want to help you, but in order to do that, you need to talk to me, something you haven’t been doing a very good job of lately. If I don’t know how to help you then…”
He shuffles closer and invades my personal space. I blink up at him as my stomach twists in knots. Why is it, whenever I’m pissed at him, I can’t stay mad because he looks like a puppy deprived of his favorite toy?
“Am I scaring you, Jeremy?”
“What do you think? Ever since you found out you’re a,” I pause and cast a quick glance around even though I’m positive we’re alone, “werewolf, you’ve been different. Your temper has a shorter fuse than before and you spent months avoiding me. What am I a disease? Or are you just ashamed of getting help from a mere human?”
His eyes narrow as the tips of his canines peek out below his lips. “Are you really stupid enough to believe all that?”
“Well I don’t know what to believe anymore, Tyler because my best friend refuses to confide in me and now you show up to the Grill after three weeks of complete silence, slam me against the wall, and demand that I stay away from Matt? Excuse me if I’m not the welcoming committee.”
He sighs and shoves a hand through his short hair. “I don’t want you to be the fucking welcoming committee! I want you to stay focused on me!”
“Well it’s pretty hard to stay focused on someone when he isn’t here!”
Growling, he seizes my shoulders, yanking me towards him and crashing our mouths together. Too caught off guard, I can only stand there, jaw slack, as he grips my chin and angles my head in a way that allows him to deepen our kiss. Whimpering, I grip his shirt with both hands. When he pulls away, far too quickly in my opinion, I blink and briefly press my lips together, tasting him before swallowing hard.
Did this really mean something or was it a heat of the moment kinda thing?
“Wow, I’ve rendered you speechless; that’s a first.”
Annoyed, I shove him but because of his newfound werewolf strength, he doesn’t even move an inch. Damn werewolf balance. “What the hell was that?”
“Wasn’t it obvious?”
Did he really just ask me that? Rolling my eyes, I glare up at him.
“I’m well aware what it was, Tyler, what I wanna know is why? You don’t just ignore someone for three weeks, kiss him, and then expect him not to be surprised! Besides, you’ve never shown any interest in me despite…” I wince at my near slip and hope he didn’t notice. “You never said anything and went out of your way to push me away. What am I supposed to think?”
Without warning, he crowds me against the wall, his body pressing into mine while his nose nuzzles my neck and sniffs me. “I left because I not only needed to know how to control my wolf but also because I wasn’t sure…I wasn’t sure about you.” At that, I blink up at him in shock. Me? How did I confuse him? “The night before I left…you were different, so responsive. The way you let me touch you and how your body yielded to mine, it’s almost like you belonged to me.” His hands slide down and grip my hips. “You mean more to me than I know how to say.” He rests his forehead on my shoulder. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?”
“Wait what?” I blink and shake my head, my mind still reeling from what he just admitted.
He smirks. “Don’t play dumb with me…” Lifting his hand, he runs his fingers through my hair and this time I can’t suppress my whimper of content. “I’m talking about you and your attraction to me. Don’t bother denying it, Jere,” he says, cutting off my protest and pointing to himself. “I’m a werewolf and I can smell your arousal.”
“Tyler,” I chew on my lower lip and glance down at my hands, taking several deep breaths. If he already knew about my feelings, why not just say so instead of teasing me? Is this some kind of werewolf kink? “I don’t really know how this works…with a werewolf; just tell me what you want.”
“All right, here it is in a language you’ll understand.” Leaning down, he moves until his mouth hovers beside my ear. A shiver ripples down my spine at the warm puffs of air caressing my skin. “I want you and so does my wolf…if you’ll have us.”
At that, I turn towards him, my lips brushing his cheek. “You mean that?” He nods. For a moment I stay silent and search his eyes for any doubts or hesitation. Finding none, I smile wider and wrap my arms around his neck. “Well I guess I can stand to belong to you two.”
“Oh you can, huh?” He places his hands on my hips.
I nod. “Given our close friendship, I guess it was only a matter of time before I became the property of your wolf.”
He grins and tugs me closer, curling one arm around my waist while the other slides up my back and grips my neck, massaging the skin there. An involuntary whimper slips out of my mouth; his eyes flashing a feral yellow, he crashes our lips together. Instinctively, my arms wrap round his neck and I kiss back.
Gripping my thighs, he lifts me up and stumbles across the floor before laying me on top of a table. I groan at the hard surface beneath my back and kiss him harder as his body covers mine, whining in protest when our lips separate and crying out when he attacks my throat, leaving open-mouth kisses while the tips of his fangs graze my skin. Arching up, I bend my head back and arch up into him, hooking my legs around his waist and crossing my ankles.
When his lips return to mine, he catches my lower lip between his teeth, biting down and sucking on it. I squeeze my eyes shut; this is better than any of my fantasized scenarios. Without breaking the kiss, Tyler sweeps his tongue across my bottom lip, pleading for entry. I relax my jaw and tremble as he enters, engaging in a brief duel before submitting to his control and digging my nails into his back. He groans at the feeling and pushes against me before slowing the kiss down to a caress. Pulling away, he props himself up on his elbows and stares down at me through slightly dilated eyes.
“I’m never letting you go, Jeremy,” he says, his voice dropping into a husky whisper.
I smile and cup his face. “I can live with that.”
“Glad to hear that,” he says before leaning down and reconnecting our lips again.