• Lycanthropy
    Chapter 1: Decisions

    “Do you believe in magic, Rory?” A boy whispered in my ear. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

    You see, I was sitting on the biggest rock in this field, trying to cool off after a fight that I had with my best friend Alexander Frazier. He got mad at me because I was supposedly not listening to him and staring at some girl. I’m not really interested in girls so why would I be staring at one? But, anyway, we started to fight and he said something that really hurt me, so I ran away.

    It was late afternoon, about an hour after school. No one ever comes around here, so there’s no one to disturb me. I could clearly hear and feel the cool October breeze blowing through the few trees and long grass of the empty area. The only tangible things making noises were the birds and cicadas. Therefore, if you were here, and someone you couldn’t see suddenly whispered in your ear, you’d jump too.

    I looked at him warily. He squatted beside me, his shaggy, shoulder blade-length, and burgundy colored hair bounced a little with the force of gravity. He was probably older than I was, by at least a year, if not two. He stared at me as I stared at him, his sharp forest green eyes boring into mine. He was smirking arrogantly at me; he had an otherworldly, predatory look to him. Like one of the big wild cats. Over all, he was very handsome...

    “Who are you and what do you want?” I asked him.

    His smirk grew, and he pointed his thumb to himself, “Call me Xyen.” He winked at me mischievously. “What do they call you, boy?”

    Most people thought I was a girl at first glance, but he knew that I was a boy!

    “Uh… My names Gregory Candelory, but my best friend and big sister call me Rory for some reason.” I answered, nervously playing with the zipper on my jacket. I only remembered later that he knew my name before I even knew he was there.

    Xyen reached out and ruffled my thick, blonde, fuzz ball of hair playfully. “I can see why, it looks like a lion’s mane there on your head.” He said smiling widely; showing off straight, white teeth, running his hand through the aforementioned puff.

    I felt my face heat up a little. This guy was really touchy; some people are like that. You know, the ones who always touch whomever they’re talking to? I don’t mind them once I know them, but it is a little weird if you’ve just met, you know? He must really like hair or something. The only people who play with my hair are Alex and Max. Max is my big sister. Her full name is Maxine, but nobody calls her that, except for our mother.

    Xyen rose gracefully and elegantly held his hand out to me. “Come here.” He said softly.

    My blush deepened as I stared at his hand. It was pale, and it was bigger than my own tan ones. Before I realized what I was doing, I grabbed his hand. It was as if his voice just compelled my body, before my head could think it through. He pulled up and close to his stronger body. Xyen was taller than me, by at least half a foot. My red blush got as dark as his hair. I was so embarrassed by how much I was blushing I just wound up blushing more! Geez, talk about stupid.

    “So… Rory,” He said in a quiet, deep voice, “Do you?”

    I looked up at his handsome face, “Do I what?”

    Xyen chuckled low in his throat, bending his neck so his face was closer to mine. “Do you believe in magic?” He repeated.

    “’Magic’? What do you mean ‘magic’?” I questioned, the blush fading from my face as I forgot a little about how we were standing.

    The redhead’s voice was mesmerizing; it made it hard to think. It was almost ethereal. Which, I guess, is somewhat accurate, in a way? “Well, what if I told you that I wasn’t completely human, and that you weren’t either?” He said, in that smooth, stupid voice of his.

    I knitted my eyebrows together and tried to move away, but I couldn’t because of the arm around my waist. I hadn’t even noticed him snaking it there. “What do you mean?” What was he talking about? It was so hard to concentrate on what that voice was saying. “Of course I’m human! What else would I be?” I asked, trying to pull away again.

    Xyen simply tightened his grip and pulled me even closer, as if there was no effort involved; I could feel his defined chest against mine. He grabbed my chin gently and pulled my face closer to his. As he talked, I could feel his warm breath on my lips. I tried pulling away from his too-close-for-comfort everything, but his strong arms held me in place. Trying not to blush again, I looked away from his intense eyes and let my gaze wander down. He was so predatory it almost made me uncomfortable.

    “You and I are what are called Lycanthropists.” Xyen whispered in my face. I shivered as the hand that was holding my chin ran lightly down my neck and past my collarbone, stopping at my heart. “Inside here, is an animal spirit. It corresponds directly with your personality. Mine is a panther, by the way.”

    “H-how would you know that? H-have you been watching me?” I stammered, blushing for fourth time today. “I was born human! I can’t be anything else!” I exclaimed, frantically shaking my head. I pushed hard against his chest, harder than before, but I felt his grip tighten around me. He was too strong. I felt like a rat in a trap, and panic started scrabbling about in my stomach.

    “I will not answer your first question, at least not yet, but yes, you were born to humans. The animal merges with you soul in the time between death and reincarnation. He or she usually to makes them self known when the host is a child, and they usually develop together.”

    Xyen’s arms relaxed around me, and his eyes looked slightly pained as his gaze strayed up over my forehead. Great. I probably had dandruff. I was feeling slightly hysterical. I mean, this weird dude jumps me in a meadow and starts doubting my humanity. “But sometimes, for reasons unknown, the animal spirit, or Familiar, is sealed, often if the child is not from a Lycanthropist family. If it is not released, it can be dangerous for both the host’s and the Familiar’s psyche.”

    His eyes cleared and he fixed his intense gaze on me. My eyes darted to look at his chest. It was a bit embarrassing, someone staring at you like that. “Your Familiar has been blocked. If I do not release it, or remove it from you before three days have passed, then you never be allowed to live.” He said sternly, trying to get through trough to me as I blushed at his chest.

    “W-what do you mean by ‘never be allowed to live’?” I asked, panic rising up into my chest. Xyen rested his chin on my head and stroked my hair soothingly, pushing my face into his chest to do so. My sister used to do that when I was little when I was upset, and the familiar sensation made me feel relax a little. His chest wasn’t too bad, either.

    “If the animal, or Familiar, is suppressed, when the host turns sixteen, the animal forcefully merges with its human.” I heard the pain creep back into his voice. “This happens because the Familiar’s spirit is always stronger, having had sixteen years to gather its strength to break out of its small prison, deep inside the soul of the host. The host’s body becomes something monstrous, not human, not animal. The forceful combination of their beings damages both badly, making the resulting monster very unstable and dangerous. Sounds bad, yeah?” He finished, raising an eyebrow. He paused in his petting my hair, craning his head back to gauge my reaction. I couldn’t help but notice the tiniest of pauses before he said “monster.”

    I nodded in agreement, “How can you stop it?” I asked, looking up at him worriedly.

    The pain drained from his voice. “If you wish to be a Lycanthropist, I will release your Familiar. If you don’t want to be one of us, I will remove it.” Xyen grabbed my chin gently so he could be sure that I was paying attention. At least I think that’s why. Like my mind could stray at a time like this. “But remember, if you choose to let me awaken your Familiar, you have to leave all your friends and family and come with me.”

    I nodded numbly, biting back my fervent protests and questions. This was very overwhelming. I was too busy trying to calm down to form coherent sentences.

    “Meet me here tomorrow night with your decision, okay, Rory?” he asked gently, stepping away. I was surprised that while his stepping away relieved me, I immediately missed the warmth and comfort of his body. Especially his chest. I struggled to keep my surprise from showing, and unfortunately, I felt heat creeping into my cheeks again. I took a shaky breath to calm myself enough to talk.

    “A-alright, Xyen. B-but could you show me yours? Just so there are no doubts on my part.” I asked hurriedly, trying to distract him from noticing my reactions. Some cranky part of my mind couldn’t help but point out in addition to all the blushing, I’m stuttering way too much.

    “As you wish.” He said smiling.

    I watched as he closed his eyes, his smile fading away into a serene expression. His body began to emit a soft golden light. Suddenly, his green eyes snapped open, glowing an eerie yellowy-green, and a feral snarl ripped from his lips, and I to jump like a scared rabbit. I FELT like a scared rabbit.

    There was this bright flash, and a gigantic black blur burst from Xyen’s chest. It landed gracefully in front of him, curving slightly, yet standing tensely. My eyes widened in disbelief, and a little fear. A great black panther stood in front of Xyen, snarling menacingly at me.

    When a loud roar ripped itself from the feline’s throat, I couldn’t stop myself. I yelped with surprise and fright, taking a step back. I managed to trip on something, too. The beast prowled predatorily toward me, and I scrambled back as fast as I could. It looked like it would eat me and probably wanted to.

    “Rheya! Leave him be!” Xyen said sternly, placing a hand on the back of the panther’s powerful neck, and amazingly, holding it still.

    “I don’t like him, Xyen. “ It snarled angrily, the voice deep and smooth, female. She looked at me with obvious distaste.

    “You are just being jealous.” Xyen chuckled, rolling his eyes while rubbing her sleek head playfully. He stopped after a short moment and, releasing her neck, walked over and helped me up.

    “Do not worry,” he whispered in my ear, slinking his arm around my shoulders. “Rheya will not hurt you. She always gets that way when I flirt with people.” He laughed, “You should have heard her while we were talking! She was ready to bite my head off! Figuratively speaking, of course.” Rheya plopped onto her haunches, now looking more surly than predatory. She was still scary.

    My mind didn’t really register what he said at first. I was too preoccupied by the ferocious, growling panther. She was huge! Her paws were probably as big as my head. She had beautiful yellow eyes that could probably see for miles, and her teeth! They were gigantic! Rheya was most definitely a force to be reckoned with.

    As I stared, what Xyen had said before finally sunk in. I felt a flash of heat in my cheeks, and looked indignantly up at him. “You were flirting with me!?” I exclaimed, pushing his arm off my shoulders indignantly.

    “I could not help myself. You are simply too cute!” he cooed, pulling my cheek playfully. I hit his hand away, half because I was angry, and half before Rheya decided to eat me or something. Xyen laughed again as his partner growled. “He’s stupid!” she protested angrily, rising again and treading to Xyen’s other side. Then, staring at me, “You really must be dense not to notice. What else did you think it was? And you were playing right into his hands.” The fur down her back rippled with her outrage.

    “Rheya, this is Rory. We are going to release the seal on his Familiar.” Xyen said, patting her head and ignoring her comments.

    “I know that, but why? He’s too scrawny; he won’t be of any use.” She said distastefully, leaning forward to glare at me better.

    “I’m not scrawny!” I yelled indignantly. Well, yelped more than yelled. “And I’m not stupid, either! I just-" My face lost color as my voice trailed off, realizing that I was yelling at a giant, ferocious panther, who hated my guts in the first place. A vicious snarl tore itself from her throat, but as she rose up, probably to maul me, Xyen rested his hand on her neck again, pinning her in place as efficiently as if he’d slapped a collar around her and chained her to a tree.

    “Ooooh…. You are one of the first people to ever yell at Rheya! You must be pretty damn brave!” Xyen laughed, retracting his arm from around my shoulders long enough to elbow my side jokingly. He rubbed her affectionately along the neck. “Or have a death wish.” He added thoughtfully, even though it was obvious he was joking. At least I hope he was. He then laid his hand on top of Rheya’s head. “Alright, Rheya, time to come back now.”

    Their bodies began to glow, and I stepped away again. Suddenly, in a flash, Xyen and I were alone again, but not really, I guess. Xyen elegantly cleared his throat and began to walk toward me. I backed away from him once more; I didn’t want him to keep hitting on me. I didn’t need that psycho cat any madder at me.

    “Why are you backing away, Rory?” Xyen asked, smirking slightly. Is he leering at me? He looks like a predator stalking his prey, which would be me!

    “N-No reason!” I stammered, felling the all-too-familiar heat crawl back into my cheeks again. God! I must be on a roll today! I haven’t blushed this much since the time when Max made me model one of her new dresses. It was really bad, because Alex was over at the time, and when he saw me, he ran out of the room with this weird look on his face. It was so embarrassing! Or that time Max almost got into a huge fight at the movies because some guy knocked into our stuff and didn’t apologize or anything. She got us thrown out than time. Or the other time, when we were at this concert and she was a little tipsy and jumped onstage. I guess she does manage to embarrass me a lot. But it was unusual to be so embarrassed because of someone I didn’t know.

    “I’m just a little overwhelmed.” I said quietly. I stopped moving away, and Xyen lost the predatory look. I let him come close to me again.

    “Oh, okay. Then I shall take my leave for the night. But,” his hand cupped my cheek, “I will need your answer tomorrow night. Same time, same place.”

    I bit the inside of my lip for a moment, thinking, before I looked up at him and nodded. Xyen let his hand drop and began to walk away. I watched him go for a few seconds, chewing my lip and thinking, before I turned away myself.

    “Oh, and by the way,” he called back abruptly. I turned back toward him halfway, curious and nervous at the same time.

    “You have quite the nice a**!” Xyen called out, winking. My face immediately turned beet red as he moved his eyebrows and let his eyes appreciatively roam south.

    “Hey! Don’t look at me like that!” I yelled as I twisted around and my hands shot down involuntarily to cover my rear. I picked up a pebble and threw it at him. It landed a few feet behind him as he left, laughing. I glared at his back until he reached the forest, and glared at the trees he vanished between for good measure.

    After I was sure he was far enough away to not see me, I huffed and stomped away, too indignant to think about the momentous decision that I had to make. I calmed down after a few minutes, and the thought of leaving my life behind reared its ugly head and swallowed me whole.

    What do I do? What do I choose? I want to know what’s inside me, but I don’t want to leave Max and Alex, I love them too much.

    Max and I have been alone for a while now. Our father is dead; he died when I was ten. Poor Mom, she was never the same. After a while, she just couldn’t take care of anything anymore. I ran the house until I was thirteen, and was taken out of my mother’s custody. Max, who was twenty-three at the time, became my legal guardian. How would she feel if I left? Would she resent me for being ungrateful enough to leave her after three years of social sacrifice? Or would she be understanding, and support any decision that I made?

    Alex and I have known each other since we were kids. There’s nothing that one of us doesn’t know about the other: our likes and dislikes; our fears and dreams. Alex even knows about me being gay; he wasn’t very surprised when he found out, too. He’s the big brother that I never had and always wanted.

    What will they say? Would they tell me to stay and get rid of my Familiar? If I decided to get rid of it, would the guilt nag at my conscience until I go mad? I’d always been against abortion, even though I’m not a girl, and that’s pretty much what ‘getting rid of it’ sounded like. But the worst part, and the question that frightened me most was, what if Xyen was wrong? What if I am nobody special, just a guy? What if there really isn’t anything else in my body but my own soul? What would happen then? I shivered and tried not to think of that.

    I was at the top of my street and I could see my house. It isn’t big, but not small, either. It has two floors. On the top floor, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms. On the bottom floor, we have a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. Max was only able to buy it with the money social services gave her to help accommodate for my sudden, unexpected presence, and a little of her own emergency savings, as well as the money from Mom. I mean, I couldn’t live in her college dorm, right?

    As I approached our home, I could see the lanky form of my best friend pacing tensely on the front porch, back and forth, back and forth. When I got to the top of the driveway, Alex spotted and ran up to me, hugging me around the shoulders. He was taller than me, too, but not as tall as Xyen. I guess I’m just doomed to be short…

    “I’m sorry for calling you a f*****t earlier, Rory. I swear that I didn’t mean it like that!” his arms tightened, “I was just having a really bad day. My parents were fighting again. About Tyler.” Alex’s parents are getting a divorce, and they fight a lot, past and present. It really upsets him, especially when they drag Tyler, Alex’s little brother, into it. They get into yelling matches over who the better parent is, over who loves who more, that kind of thing.

    It made me feel really bad. Here I was, thinking about leaving him, my best friend, forever, when he was having such a rough time, but still had time for my problems, worrying so much about saying he was sorry.

    “I know that you’re sorry, I know. You didn’t mean it.” I said soothingly, hugging him back. Alex has been like this for a while. Since his parents started fighting, he became more short-tempered than usual. Even though he doesn’t want to, and is trying hard to keep cool, he snaps and takes it out on me more and more lately.

    “I just… I wish I could take him away from there, you know?” Alex stiffened, and I hugged him tighter. “But… But I-” He let me go and backed away suddenly, his light blue eyes catching mine. “What’s wrong?” he asked worriedly.

    I really didn’t want to tell him just then. I was surprised he noticed something was up. Alex can get possessive sometimes, he’ll probably get mad at me, and he was already so upset. It was just proof to how great a friend he is that in the middle of all his problems, he notices mine. I really didn’t want to burden him with more trouble, but there’s no way I couldn’t tell him. “I-I have something important to tell you.” I mumbled, grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the porch stairs and motioning for him to sit. I sat down next to him, fidgeting nervously.

    Alex ran his hand through his dark brown hair and sighed, staring off at the horizon tiredly. “What is it?”

    I told him everything, and I mean everything. His face was completely frozen with shock, except that whenever I would say something about Xyen or his flirtatious ways, which I hadn’t really realized how flirtatious he’d been until just now, his face would do this weird twitch. It was as if he had Tourettes except no swearing, and he doesn’t have Tourettes anyway. When I was done, I was slightly red in the face. I held my breath, waiting to see some kind of emotion instead of shock.

    “So… there’s this animal thing inside you body?” Alex asked slowly. I nodded. “And it’s stuck?”

    A nodded again. “Uh-huh, and if I don’t get it released or something, I’ll go I insane and… and probably be… killed.” I said slowly, putting my face in my hands.

    I felt him put his arm around my shoulders comfortingly. “Well, you know what you need to do, right?” I shook my head and leaned into his side, my forehead resting on his shoulder. “No, I don’t. That’s why I need your help, Alex”

    “You need to get rid of it.” Alex said with finality, patting me firmly on the back.

    My head shot up and I jerked away from him. “What do you mean?!” I exclaimed, eyes wide, not expecting this bluntness.

    “You’re not seriously thinking of keeping that spirit thing are you? It’s not right!” Alex said, surprised. He reached out to me, but I slapped his hands away and stood up. “You can’t do that! It’s not YOU. It’s a strange thing inside you.”

    “How could you say that? Maybe I do want to keep it. If I wanted to keep it and live with it, you shouldn’t care! In fact, you should support me! You’re my best friend!” I yelled, blinking fiercely, my eyes blurring with unshed tears.

    “But I’ll never see you again! You can’t do that to me! You’re the only real friend I’ve got! Now you’re even considering betrayal, leaving me behind while you run off with some weirdo pervert? Are you kidding me?”

    “Alex, I can’t just kill this life because it’s inconvenient for you! What are you thinking?! You and your needs don’t govern my life, you know! I have thoughts and- and needs and hopes and fears, too! I can’t live my life to help you live yours all the time! I have one I need to live!” I was so mad! Lately all he thought about was himself! The more I thought about it, the angrier I realized I was, and the angrier I got with him.

    “Oh, so your just gonna go? Do the years we’ve known each other mean nothing to you?” He yelled, his face twisted with anger and jealousy, and, maybe, a little betrayal. I’ve never seen his face like that, and it was scaring me, making me forget my own boiling anger.

    My eyes widened and tears began to leak from the corners of my eyes and down my cheeks. “Of course it means something to me! It means everything! Why do you think I asked you or talked to you about it at all, Alex?”

    “Obviously it doesn’t!” His voice was almost completely different from what it normally sounded, full of rage. “You’re not leaving me!” Alex yelled, grabbing my upper right arm and squeezing it tightly.

    I cried out in pain and tears began to pour freely down my face. I struggled as much as I could, but couldn’t make him let go. He just grabbed my other arm. “You can’t!” He yelled angrily. I could feel my skin bruising. “You can’t leave me-” His voice broke. I wasn’t looking at his face, but I saw tears that weren’t mine falling softly, slowly, to the porch steps. His arms were shaking, and he squeezed tighter. His voice was not demanding but begging me. “All- You can’t… leave me… all alone… Please don’t... I-”

    A bight light began to flood the area as Max’s car drove down driveway. The car’s headlights seemed to make Alex snap back out of himself and he let me go. I stumbled back and clutch my upper arms in pain, watching him with fear in my eyes. He staggered back, the headlights of Max’s car casting him into shadow. He raised his palms up a little, as though staring in disbelief at them. I couldn’t tell. When Max’s car door opened, he turned and ran away, into the darkness.

    I closed my eyes and turned my face away from the retreating form of my “best friend”. Instead, I faced the silver VMW rabbit that Max drove, slowly opening my eyes again. As she was stepping out of it, I could tell that she was tired, and worried. She’s in her junior year of law school at the moment, and she has a job as hostess at that really nice Italian restaurant downtown. As she walked hurriedly down the walkway to me, she began to loosen some her formal hostess clothes. Max unbuttoned the cuffs to her white, mid-sleeved blouse and undid the elegant bun that I had made with her shoulder length blonde hair this morning. Her black pumps clicked along the cement, and her black skirt swished as she walked.

    “Rory! What’re you doing out here? What happened?” Max asked, as she got closer, her face creased in anxiety for me. I turned away slightly so she couldn’t see my face, trying vainly to wipe it dry. “Was that Alex I just saw? Did you two get into another fight?” She put her hands on my shoulders and turned me around. She her bight green eyes shone with concern for me as she stared at my tearful face.

    “I-I-I tried to tell A-Alex someth-thing important, and h-he got so m-mad…” I stuttered through my tears. Max sighed and pulled me to her. I buried my face into her neck and let it all out. She rested her chin on the top of my head and softly sighed.

    “It’s okay, honey, it’s okay. Alex will probably be back tomorrow saying that he’s sorry, and everything will be okay.” She said soothingly, stroking my hair. I couldn’t help that, even through all the tears, a single thought leaked out from the back of my head. ‘Just like Xyen did earlier.’

    After a minute or two of standing there and letting me cry, Max began to walk us toward the stairs and house with a little difficulty. I eventually got a little bit of a grip, and started to walk with her. Once inside, she sat me on the couch and asked if I was all right. I told her I was because I knew she wanted to get out of her restricting work clothes. When I told her for the fifth time, she instructed me to sit and wait for her so she could change her clothes.

    As I waited, I thought about Alex’s reaction to my news. He did not react well, not well at all. That stupid jerk! How could he say those things to me?! I would never say or do anything like that to him! Not that I could, even if I wanted to.

    Gingerly, I took my jacket off and looked at my arms. Just as I thought, there were misshapen, hand-like, bluish-purple bruises on each arm where Alex had grabbed me. I touched one of the livid blotches tenderly, wincing as a jolt of pain shot up my arm and shoulder.

    Max chose that time to come back down the stairs. She was dressed in a pink tanktop and a pair of baggy sweatpants. She saw the bruises and ran to my side. “Rory? What happened? Who did this? I’ll kick his a**, I swear-” Max stopped her ranting, and her face softened. “Was it Alex?”

    “Y-yeah” I gulped. I didn’t like it when she got all worried, because she never stops. She ran her fingers over one of the bruises lightly, I winced in pain.

    “You poor thing. I’m gonna kill him! He shouldn’t have done this to you.” Max said angrily, pounding her fist onto the couch arm. “This happens all the time! Rory, you need to step up! Don’t let Alex push you around. Just because he’s bigger doesn’t mean he’s stronger. Just say, ‘You better listen to me, or I’m walkin’!’” I grabbed her hands, held them in mine, and stared at her urgently. She stopped ranting and raised her eyebrows at me.

    “I need to talk to you about something.” I said quietly, dropping my gaze to break eye contact. “Please don’t get angry about it, too.”

    From the corner of my eye, I could see Max smiling warmly at me. “Why would I get angry? I would never get angry at you, sweetie.” My eyes flicked up to meet hers shyly and she squeezed my hands reassuringly.

    I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and told her everything. As I recounted the events that occurred in the field, I opened them slowly to look at her face. It slowly became serious, but not angry or scared or anything like that.

    When I was finished, I watched nervously. She wasn’t talking, but thinking, or at least I think that was what she was doing… “Max?” I asked nervously, as I tried to get her attention by waving my hand in front of her face. “Earth to Max!”

    She blinked hard a couple of times, coming out of her reverie, and shifted a little in her seat next to me on the couch. Shaking her head, she looked to me. “I’m sorry Rory, I was just thinking.” I wanted to laugh at that for some reason. Sometimes for Max, thinking can be a destructive endeavor, even though she’s in law school and really smart underneath it all. Although part of me wanted to laugh, a bigger part was too worried about what her reaction to my news would be.

    “Are you mad?” I asked, “Please don’t tell me that you’re mad! I don’t want you to be, because then both the people I care for most will hate me.” I almost started crying again as I pleaded.

    Max smiled soothingly and ran a hand through my hair. “I would never hate you, Rory. What would make you ever think that I would hate you at all?” I looked up at her, smiling tearily. My sister smiled back sadly and put her arms around me, pulling me close to her. I felt the comforting warmth that she tended to give off, calming down instantly. Sometimes she’s more like a mom than a sister, and sometimes she can be pretty childish, too.

    Max took a breath and cradled the back of my head with her hand, hugging me tighter, but being mindful of the bruises on my arm. “Xyen was right; you can feel the presence of the animal in your body.” She murmured softly; very softly, as if she didn’t intend for me to hear it, but I did.

    My mind broke out of its blissful comfort, and I lifted my head from the crook of her neck. “You know Xyen?! How?!”

    Max pulled away a little so she had the space that she required to be able to speak to me. “Well, a couple weeks ago, I caught him spying on you. At first, I was gonna call the cops on his a**, but he somehow convinced me to hear him out instead. I honestly thought that he was crazy, but then he let his familiar out….” She paused, obviously trying to remember something. I figured out what she forgot in a few seconds.

    “Rheya, Xyen’s familiar is named Rheya.” I said knowingly, shivering a little when I remembered the way the panther looked at me.

    Max smiled and nodded, “Yeah, yeah, that’s her name. So after that he explained what was going to happen. So I’ve had a couple weeks to mull it over.” She paused long enough for me to interject.

    “What should I do, Max?” I pleaded, clutching at her arms where Alex had clutched me.

    “I think you should do it, Rory. Let Xyen wake you up. I mean, what have you got to loose?” She said seriously, patting me gently on the back.

    I looked at my sister in awe; she’s never been this serious about something before, except for wanting to be a lawyer. “But what about you? Do you want me to go?” I asked.

    Max smiled brightly, and kissed my forehead, then held me close for a bit. She really is like a mom. She released me and moved back a bit. “It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else wants, Rory. What matters is what you want.” She stood up and held her hand out to me, smiling toothily. I smiled back and took her hand, letting her pull me up.

    “You know what you need?” Max asked playfully, pulling me toward the kitchen.

    “What?” I asked, cocking my head to the side as I walked after her. I had a slight feeling what it would be.

    “Ice cream!!” She cheered, throwing her arms in the air. I just stared at her at first. I mean, Max’s twenty-six years old, an adult, and she still gets all excited over ice cream like some little kid. Even though this was very silly and childish, I still laughed along with her.

    As we got out the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, our favorite, and scooped it into these big mugs we have, Max chattered away about her day at school and at work. I zoned out lightly to the familiar sound of her voice. I was listening enough, though, and learned about this extremely rude, perverted, fat old man who kept trying to grope her. He ended up being kicked out by Max’s manager and close friend, Mark, and this strange guy; or at least that’s what I’m told.

    My ears perked at the mention of my sister talking with the guy, the one who came to her defense and helped get rid of the creep. “You met a guy?” I asked, raising my eyebrows in fake innocence as I accepted my mug of frozen delight. I was genuinely interested, really. I mean, Max hasn’t really been going out on dates like she used to. She was and still is very popular with the members of the opposite sex and her own alike, but since she’s so busy with school, work, and making sure that I’m taken care of that she never has time to go out with anyone anymore.

    Max giggled, “Yeah! He was really, really hot! He was tall and tan, and he had a good body, not to muscular, but not flabby, either. His hair was, like, everywhere, but not in a bad, dorko way, and it was this really hot, bright red color.” Max has a thing for redheads. She paused for a moment as she thoughtfully licked her spoon clean. “Oh and you know how I like piercings?” I nodded. “Well he had his lip, ears and eyebrow pierced! It was so sexy! And his eyes! Oh, they were this gorgeous purple color. They looked so real, not at all like contacts, either”

    “Did you get his name and stuff?” I asked excitedly as we sat down at the table across from each other. This is quite normal for my sister and I, the talking about boys thing anyway. Max was one of the few people that I’ve told about my sexuality, and she was probably the most comfortable with it, too. It’s not like I can gush to Alexander! He says he’s straight, so I think he’d feel uncomfortable about that stuff.

    “Yep! And, he was so totally flirting with me. He wants to get together with me sometime, and we even swapped numbers!” Max squealed, holding up the rumpled napkin bearing his number she’d snatched from her pocket in triumph. She was so exited that she forgot to tell me this “hot” guy’s name. I looked curiously at her, as a way of asking, and her face clouded with confusion for a second, but she figured it out soon from the way her face lit up. “Oh, and his name was Veoso! Sounds foreign doesn’t it?” She finished, looking at me expectantly as she popped another big spoonful of ice cream into her smiling mouth.

    “It does…” I began, my train of thought wandering off. This man’s name was odd, and now that I thought about it, so was my new “friend’s” name, Xyen. Could the two be related in any way, shape, or form? I dug my spoon into the delicious ice cream, and stuck it in my mouth, sucking on it hard, making the cream melt down my throat. I stared at the mug as if it could answer my question, even though I knew that it couldn’t.

    My eyes darted up to see Max smirking at me. “What?” I asked around my spoon.

    She chuckled slyly as she got another spoonful. “You’ve heard about my potential boyfriend encounter, now tell me about yours.” Max purred, waggling her eyebrows at me suggestively. I felt my face heat up so much I thought it’d melt off, and choked in surprise on a cookie dough chunk, making my spoon fall out of my mouth and onto the table in front of me. The innuendo in her question was way too embarrassing for my fragile naïveté. “Max!” I yelped indignantly. “I mean, when I first met him, even I thought that he was sexy. ‘Cept he’s way too young for me.” My sister said, giggling at my furiously blushing face as I cleared my throat again, reaching for the ice cream tub for more.

    “W-well, he was nice to me…” I stammered, remembering the gentle way that he held me and talked to me at the right moments. And his chest, it was so nice…

    Max ate some more ice cream and laughed. “He better have been nice to you, or I would’ve kicked his a** if he hadn’t.” She said jokingly, although I had a feeling that she was serious.

    I laughed nervously, and hurriedly stuffed another spoonful of ice cream in my mouth. Max smiled brightly as I sucked on the cream, waiting for me to keep talking. I swallowed noisily, trying to think of another conversation topic. My blush deepened with what came out of my mouth next. “Also, apparently, he was flirting with me the whole time! Me! I didn’t even notice it, and he kept touching me and pulling me really close to him. Maybe I should’ve but, I mean, it’s not horrible, his chest and all, but, I mean, when he left, he yelled that I had a nice a**! Can you believe that?! It was so embarrassing!” I was unable to cobble the words together efficiently, although I wasn’t stuttering anymore, at least. And the part about his stupid chest just kinda leaked out. I hoped she didn’t notice.

    My sister stared at me for a moment, and then she burst out laughing.

    “D-don’t laugh at me!” I blurted, childishly hitting the table with fist. The damn stuttering was back, too. Max never even paused in her laughter, but just laughed harder. “Max!!”

    She wiped the tears from her eyes and sighed as she calmed down. “I’m sorry, but most people would take that as a compliment.” Max paused for a second and continued, “And don’t be so surprised when a guy flirts with you, Rory. You’re cute, and you do know that a lot of girls would die for a figure like yours.” I frowned at being compared to a girl and shoved another huge scoop of ice cream into my mouth grumpily.

    After a moment of silence, Max something as an after thought. “Xyen likes you, you know. He told me so himself, that just watching you for a few weeks made him start having a crush on you.” I blushed at the thought of Xyen having liking me like that. I don’t think that I would mind that being true. He is pretty hot, and he’s nice too. I don’t like the idea of him spying on me, though, especially in my most private moments, or Max keeping it a secret from me. “Don’t get all pissy at me for not telling you. The peeping tom said that it was his assignment to observe you.” She explained, I giggled a little at the peeping tom bit.

    “Besides,” Max said teasingly, “It’s not like he doesn’t have a chance, what with his nice chest and all.” Crap, she did catch it. I glared at my ice cream as my face heated up so much I was certain it was melting. Max giggle uncontrollably for a while, before calming down.

    We sat for a minute in a companionable silence; I sucking on my spoon in thought, she putting the ice cream back in the freezer. I pulled it out after a moment, and set it down. “I need to visit Mom tomorrow.”

    Max half turned to face me and looked at me, surprised. “Huh? Why? We just saw her a couple days ago.” She asked as she put her spoon and mug in the dishwasher.

    I took a deep breath, and my eyes caught hers with a determined stare. “I need to tell her goodbye before I see Xyen tomorrow. “I said, my voice solid, with no room for doubt.