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Chapter 6

After the initial shock of my early birthday present wore off, Aiden insisted he teach me how to drive. As my Mom and Dad had no need for a car, neither had the chance to teach me. I had been begging them all year to take me to our neighboring city four hours away, to finally get my permit. I hadn’t a clue about driving, but couldn’t imagine a better teacher than Aiden.

With Adley clutching the passenger headrest in the back seat, Aiden slid into the passenger. We drove around the barren field by his house for hours. A field that had once been sprawling with emerald grass and sun-kissed flowers, now looked like a dry burial ground. The dead grass sprouted from the ground in clumps, any traces of lingering flowers had been washed away with the rain months ago. Aiden had run through what each button does, and how to shift into different gears. The inside of the old mustang smelled of leather and gasoline, a pleasant smell that reminded me of Aiden.

Driving in circles behind his house, I promised myself to end the negative thoughts I had surrounding my friendship with Aiden. I had always been attracted to his lopsided grin and wide chocolate eyes, and remembered the fluttering in my chest that appeared whenever he came near. Aiden had been my anchor to this small town, keeping me from floating away and leaving everyone behind. He was a constant bright spot in this stagnant and decrepit town.

When the sun began to dip behind a cluster of clouds, sending navy hues scattering along the sky, I pulled the car into his driveway. Needing to prove a point to myself, I wrapped my arms around Aiden’s broad shoulders and hugged him closely. Make musk mixed with the scent of gasoline and car grease, a familiar and comforting smell. I could feel Aiden’s hammering heart beneath my stained tank-top, and smiled as it increased in speed. Aiden’s hands left my skin heated as they snaked their way around my waist. I held him close for a few minutes, only pulling away when my heart sped up to match his own.

“Thank you so much, Aiden.” I breathed, pulling away to beam up at him. Even with the setting sun, I could see the light blush that stained his cheeks.

It wouldn’t be so bad being Aiden’s mate. There would be little passion and mystery, but there would be endless love and comfort. That was enough for me--it had to be.

Adley dropped me off at home, giving me a brilliant smile as she promised to come over tomorrow. As I walked inside, Mom and Dad sat at our plastic dining table, their heads inches apart as they talked in hushed tones. Upon my entry, they snapped away from each other, eyes scanning me in surprise as I stepped into the kitchen.

“Everything alright?” I asked, eyebrow raised as I looked between the two of them.

I headed to the fridge and grabbed a clean cup, downing a glass of sweet tea before I could truly taste it. I took my time on the second, grimacing as I tasted the syrup-y sweet tea. Dad had always been horrible at making sweet tea, but insisted on helping Mom whenever he could.

“You shoulda let me make the sweet tea.” Mom chuckled at the grimace on my face, yet the humor didn’t reach her eyes. “We were talkin’ about Zack. He’s had a rough go at school this past year, and we were talkin’ about homeschooling him.”

“Home school?” I frowned, “I thought you couldn’t afford homeschooling.”

“Well--we can’t.” Mom sighed, running a hand over her face. All of the fine lines on Mom’s face seemed to stand out, making her look much older than what she was. Laugh lines circled her lips, and creases ran along the sides of her eyes. She had never looked a day over thirty in my eyes, but I could see the exhaustion that she hid in her gaze. Dad had the same troubled expression on his face, as though this conversation physically hurt him.

“I’d have to start working again, full-time.” Dad grimaced, the same expression I had seen on Zack a handful of times. “We would need your help, Rachel. We could manage a babysitter while you’re in school, but we’d need your help watching him after school and on the weekends.”

“What?” I frowned; plans I had discussed many times with them running through my head. “You know I plan to leave shortly after my birthday.”

They had never understood my incessant need to leave this town, to see the brilliant colors and sights of the world. They could never quite grasp how I managed to dislike this town, as if it were everything they could ask for. Through the library’s horrible selection, I had spent years within the pages of books. Books that spoke of rolling hills, dense forests covered in moss and sap, and crystal streams with icy waters. They didn’t understand that the need to leave was so deeply embedded in my bones that I couldn’t stand the thought of staying. In their minds, they assumed I’d be mated to Aiden and built a life here in town. A stagnant and horribly dull life, even with Aiden by my side. I had never once considered what would happen if Aiden weren’t my mate, and how that might affect our life-long friendship.

‘We’d still leave.’ Rayna murmured, ‘We’d go and search for our mate.’

“What’s another year, Rachel?” Mom frowned, the disappointment in her tone nearly bringing me to my knees. I hated upsetting my Mom, but countless times they had dismissed my plans. “We really need the help watching Zack. I’ve been trying to make everything work, but I haven’t been making as much, and the Library’s been struggling. When you and Aiden are fully mated, why wouldn’t you want to stay? He’d be leaving his family behind as well.”

Irritation bubbled in my gut, and I spoke without thinking. “And what if Aiden isn’t my mate?”

A picture of Aiden flashed through my mind, one where his chocolate eyes clouded in disappointment, his full lips turned down. Guilt curled in my stomach as I found myself not caring that my mate might be someone else. Dad blinked a couple times, as if the idea had never occurred to him. Mom’s face looked near the same, a look of perplexity and denial. It was clear neither of them had thought that Aiden might not be my mate.

“Why wouldn’t he be?” Dad shook his head, throwing Mom a confused glance. “You two have been inseparable since you were kids. On rare occasions, you can feel the mate-bond before your eighteenth.”

“I felt it with your Dad.” Mom shook her head, and I knew this conversation wasn’t going anywhere. “Pulled me right to him when I was only fifteen. I knew your Dad was my mate the moment I met him.”

‘This is different.’ I wanted to shout, ‘I’m not sure how I feel about Aiden anymore.’

I wasn’t sure where my revelation had come from months ago, but it had left me feeling uncertain. I used to believe the same thing as my parents, that there was no doubt Aiden was my mate. I wasn’t sure what to believe, and the hours were slowly draining away at my nerves. Building a life with Aiden would be easy and enjoyable, but I couldn’t ignore the looming pit in my stomach.

“I love you guys, but I can’t stay here for the rest of my life.” I sighed, my shoulders sagging wearily. “I want more than this, no matter who my mate is.”

“Listen, Rachel. The world isn’t going anywhere, and we’re going through a rough patch. We need all of the help we can get.” Mom frowned, letting out a short sigh. “If you stay for another year, we can figure something out. I get a Christmas and New Year’s bonus; I’ll give you half of them to put into your savings.”

Mom knew I would never take her money, but I still couldn’t imagine spending another year in this town. School had been over for a month now, and I had managed to stay that long. I didn’t see it as leaving my family behind, I saw it as a break. I was suffocating in the monotony of this town, of the repetitive routines and bland sights. Rayna longed to shift and run through the dense forests that spanned the world, not hide behind patches of withered trees and shrubs, avoiding the eyes of humans.

“Just think it through.” Mom smiled softly, and I knew the conversation had come to an end. “You could be happy in this little town if you tried, Rachel. The world might be beautiful, but it isn’t kind.”

Comments (41)
goodnovel comment avatar
Sonia L Marks
Does this get better it’s so slow 😩
goodnovel comment avatar
#realtalk with Anna
Started off boring
goodnovel comment avatar
Rekiya Adeshina
interesting story
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