Authors: Celia Kyle
God hated Trista and the proof was taped to her door. The evidence fluttered in the breeze, words printed with black ink on bright yellow paper.
The wind picked up again, blowing harder this time. Empty cans clinked across the grimy concrete floor. A plastic bag followed in their wake, flying over the filthy ground. A ball of yellow, the hue matching the notice on her apartment door, tumbled by.
Someone else was being evicted. Well, at least she wasn’t the only one who’d be miserable and homeless. Not that she wanted others to suffer, but misery loved company.
Clutching her keys, she traced the page taped to her door. It flapped, as if trying to flee, but she slapped her palm over the thin sheet.
Final Notice of Eviction.
Funny how she’d never received an initial warning. Then again, it’d only been a matter of time, right? She should have expected this after she heard of Bru’s death, but she hadn’t. She’d held onto hope that she could float idly along and pretend her landlord hadn’t been killed and a new owner wouldn’t be coming in to take over.
Trista slid her hand over the notice, letting her palm skim the rough door. Paint flaked off and pricked her skin, reminding her she was alive. And soon to be living on the streets.
Wouldn’t be the first time. Except she hadn’t been alone the first time, or the third or the fifth. No, she’d had her mother then. And now…
Her eyes stung, familiar tears welling, and she blinked them back. The piece of paper danced in the breeze again. Reminding her of what needed to be done. She didn’t have time to cry. Besides, it didn’t solve anything.
That didn’t stop a tear from falling past her lower lashes and snaking down her cheek. It didn’t stop the second either. Or the third.
“Fuck.” She leaned against the door and balled her hand. “Fuck.” She banged her forehead and fist against the scarred surface. “Fuckery Fuck McFuckerson.”
With each syllable, more tears fell. One time, just once in her life, she’d love things to go her way.
“Fuck.” She whispered the word and took a deep breath.
Memories of her mother filled Trista’s mind. She imagined her mom pushing open the apartment door and brushing past her fifteen-year-old self.
Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it, Trista Ann. We’ve got work to do and no one but ourselves to do it.
She allowed one last tear to trail down her cheek and one last curse to leave her lips. “Fuck.”
There, now she needed to get her things packed before she left for her night job slinging drinks at the bar down the street. Come morning she’d apartment hunt between when she got off and her day job started.
Okay, she could do this. Even if she didn’t have her mom by her side, she was an adult. She’d lived through worse, she could get through this.
Trista grasped her doorknob, careful to hold it in the right position to get the thing unlocked. It was a finicky bitch and it hadn’t mattered how many times she’d complained to Bru.
It works, don’t it?
God, he’s an asshole
. Oh, right, he was dead. Okay, he’d been an asshole.
Unfortunately, when she turned the knob just right—two inches right and then one back left—it didn’t click like it should. Mainly because the door simply opened, swinging on silent hinges to reveal…
A bare apartment. Completely, utterly, empty of her possessions. The sagging couch remained along with the rickety table in the kitchen, but they’d come with the place.
things were gone. Her pictures and mess of clothing that generally littered the floor. She had no doubt the money she’d hidden throughout the space was gone as well. She and her mom hadn’t trusted banks, especially not those run by her father’s “friends.” When her mom pissed off her dad, their account typically suffered a “computer glitch.”
Now, all of her belongings gone, it… it was too much. The rage that’d burned inside her from the moment her mother disappeared, the anger over fucking life fucking shitting on her every fucking day, boiled over.
Trista tilted her head back and screamed at the cobweb-laced ceiling, opening her mouth as wide as possible as she released the guttural roar. “
The yell went on and on, echoing off the concrete block walls of the hallway. The scream’s never-ending boom mocked her, reminding her over and over that she was alone.
“My mim says you shouldn’t curse. She says it’s bad.” The tiny, tinkling voice came from beside her, the tone of a high-pitched youth. She looked to her right, down at the child, and the little boy stared up at her with guileless eyes.
The part of her that hated being challenged, particularly by a
, roared its displeasure in her mind. God may hate her, but Trista
that piece of feral animal inside her even though she knew it’d never disappear.
Snapping her mouth closed she turned her raging attention to the little one at her side. She snarled at him, curling her lip. This behavior wasn’t
, it was
, but she couldn’t halt the aggressive attention she gave the boy. “When she pays my bills, I’ll be fucking happy to quit my fucking cursing.”
Now she was really going to hell. Squeezing her eyes shut, she leaned against the doorframe and slid down its length. In no time she went from standing to a dejected pile on the floor.
Working two part-time, dead-end jobs left her bone tired and now everything she owned was gone. Poof. The new owner must have decided he’d take her possessions in trade for her back rent. Nice.
When tears threatened once again, she swallowed hard and shoved them back. She’d had her little pity party, it was time to get her shit together.
A soft scrape of a shoe on concrete reminded her the child lingered. She opened her eyes to stare at him while he narrowed his and stared through orbs entirely too old for his little size.
As if her day couldn’t get any worse, he took a deep breath and the brown of his irises bled to black. No, not amber like a lion or yellow like a wolf or even copper like a hyena, but black.
Yup, right there was proof that God declared Monday “Shit on Trista” day.
Because, of course, the small child before her
to be a werebear and Trista
to be part werehyena and wonderful of wonderfulness, the bears hated the hyenas. Well, she hated them just as much and wasn’t that
“You’re not supposed to be here,” the boy snarled, baring his rapidly sharpening teeth.
Right now, she really wished she could shift. If only her lovely father had given her that gift.
“And yet, I am,” she retorted, but didn’t expect him to understand the intricacies of the law and she wasn’t about to get into that kind of argument with a six-year-old. At least, she thought he might be six. He seemed to be the right height, but he was also a shifter kid, so she wasn’t all that sure.
It became a moot point when the distinctive
of bone echoed off the walls.
“You smell like
.” The words were garbled as the child’s mouth transformed into a cub’s.
It finally registered in her mind that this was happening. She was truly sitting in the doorway of her ransacked apartment with an eviction notice attached to her door. She had two jobs and no money and now she was about to be attacked by a cub.
Trista’s life had become a very sad, very twisted, werecountry song. The only thing missing was a dead dog. Though the dead dog could be her since she was part hyena and a lot of people thought they were dogs even though biologically they were more like cats and—
“Holy fuck!” She scrambled to her feet, the cub’s claws barely missing her face and colliding with the door frame instead. Wood splintered and showered the ground with the small pieces, but she couldn’t focus on the damage. Not when the little he-devil from hell growled and rushed after her, his little feet slipping on the mess he’d created.
“Parker!” A woman’s voice rose above the growls, and the shout had the boy freezing in place.
Movement near the door had Trista wanting to look at her savior, but she didn’t dare take her attention off the little ball-o-death.
“Parker, you back down right this instant, young man. Wait until I tell your parents.” The yelling continued long enough for Trista to recognize the woman ranting at the boy.
“Lauren?” The boy narrowed his eyes, but didn’t move closer. “Lauren, is that you?”
Please let it be Lauren.
Especially if her friend knew Parker. Before Bru’s death, Lauren had been her neighbor and passing acquaintance. Trista and her mom were always too busy to stop and chat, but she did exchange smiles with the woman often. Though, if she’d known the woman was involved with the bears, she wouldn’t have done that.
In a split second the raging cub went back to a human child. He spun, presenting her with his little back as he propped his fists on his hips. “Aunt Lauren, Mim said—”
With the kid distracted, she looked toward her entryway and sighed. It truly was Lauren, and Trista changed her mind and didn’t care that Lauren was involved with werebears. Not if she could prevent Trista from being dinner.
“Not another word, Parker. Not one,” Lauren snapped and tore off her cardigan, wrapping it around the now naked child. That had the kid whimpering, but the woman didn’t release her anger. “To the car. Right this second.”
The child kicked at the ground and shuffled away, his head hanging low. He grumbled the whole way. “Girl… Those… Dirty… Purge…”
Parker only repeated what others said about her kind. She was one of
, she was
, and she should be killed because of the
ordered by the Grayslake Itan. The knowledge didn’t lessen the pain, though.
“I don’t want to hear it.
Wow. Lauren could yell.
It didn’t take long for the boy to disappear from sight and Trista didn’t move until she could no longer hear the kid’s stomping steps. Even when she figured he was gone, she was slow and careful in her movements. It was obvious Lauren knew of the bears; she hadn’t blinked an eye at the cub’s near attack, which meant this next bit would not be an enjoyable experience.
“Uh, Trista.” The woman squirmed. “I don’t know what to say. Do you need to be sedated? You don’t have any guns, do you? I’m sure we have a therapist on hand to help, er… The thing about it is…”
Trista furrowed her brow. “What are you talking about?”
“So, sometimes, during evolution, nature takes a different course and…” Lauren nibbled on her lower lip. “Damn it, they need a handbook for this. What to Expect When Telling Humans About Shifters.” The woman shrugged. “At least you’re not running, screaming, and locking yourself in a room while holding the Itana hostage with an empty gun. That really pisses people off, by the way.”
“Lauren, you’re not a shifter, huh?” Otherwise the woman would have identified Trista long ago. When Lauren shook her head, Trista breathed a relieved sigh. “Okay, well, I am. Sorta. The point is, I know about shifters, which is why I’m not freaking out. I’m fine. You’re fine. The psychopathic cub is fine but could really use some training in control. We’ll leave it at that.”
“I’m good. No need to worry about me.”
“But I haven’t seen you at any of the clan runs. The Itana says—”
“If I had to adhere to clan laws, you’d be right.”
Argh, they were getting nowhere. “Look, Lauren, thanks for saving me from the crazy cub, but I have things to do. Mainly, work and find a new place to live.” Trista flicked her gaze to the door and the woman’s attention drifted to the eviction notice.
She shook her head. “No buts. Regardless of what you think you know, it no longer matters. I’m moving.”
Lauren nibbled her lower lip. “Okay, well, the clan is taking over the building and we have a new manager”—then Trista’s day got so much more awesome—“and I have to tell Ty about you.”
There was so not an ounce of caring left in her. Especially not if the clan took possession and not one of Bru’s relatives. “Look, tell whoever you want—tell the NC for all I care—but I gotta go.”
She hated being mean to someone who obviously hadn’t finished her shifter education, but enough was enough. “Okay, I’m guessing you’re real new, huh? You recently mated someone in the clan?” When Lauren nodded, Trista continued. “Okay, so go to your mate and ask him about the NC and the laws of visitation. Better yet, go to your Itan and Keeper. If you, or your clan, still has issues, they can find me at Jerry’s Gas Station down the street until seven and then at the Left Bank bar in Boyne Falls at eight.” With that, she headed toward the bathroom. “Lock up on your way out? Just twist the little knob on the handle and it’ll lock when it closes.”