Prologue: The Dying Girl
Prologue: The Dying Girl
Death is nothing at all. It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
She watches him or instead stares at him, knowing full well this isn't a good sign. She was too pale, too knobby-kneed to be called healthy. She also didn't have any hair anymore, and she doesn't feel like she's getting any better. Hope is such a funny thing or rather a treacherous emotion that she has no control over.
What am I doing? She mentally shakes her head at herself. She knows that there is nothing and yet her whole body still hopes for something. I hoped. Hope. Two words that are the same, but have such different meanings.
The doctor, with his eyes soft, clears his throat. He's uneasy that much is easy, but it comes with the job, and she knows that this is as hard for him as it was for her. He checks the ECG and the other machines to try to slow the inevitable, but it doesn't work. It would never work since the truth has always been that she is, in fact, dying.
Even though he did everything he could to repay her mother for saving his daughter, he couldn't save her. All he could do was let her live, do what she wanted, walk around again, and let her choose her own path. How long has it been since she made any of her choices? How long has it been since she lived her own life?
"You're dying" he finally said the words that both of them already knew "In a year is our calculation. Your body has rejected every treatment there is, and it all came back."
Iona laughs, and she shakes her head, which once had those beautiful dark locks, and leans back on the hospital bed. The regular treatments took a toll on her body, took a toll on her soul. The only reminder of her mother, her hair, is gone now, and hopefully, it will come back.
Her assumptions were right, how could she not be right? Even though her eyes glowed with life, her body was still filled with bruises that she couldn't begin to count, and her body was as thin as paper. Injuries that heal as slow as paint drying. Her once radiance was gone like her hopes and her dreams. All she could do was smile and laugh while trying to tell the others that she was fine, but she wasn't. What else could she say? What story can she tell people? When all your life, you lived in this solitary life.
All she knew was the hospital and her brief public education when she was young. So, short that she barely could remember any of it. She barely had any friends at that time since she was still fresh from remission, too fragile even when they thought she was okay. Plus, she started in a class that grew up together since they were in kindergarten. How could she compete with that?
"Doc, we all know that I'm dying, you just gave me a deadline" Iona chuckles. She can't help it since she inherited her mother's dark humor that no one could fathom. She puts her hand on top of the IV catheter on the back of her hand. "Well, there isn't any more news, right? I guess I should get going."
"Hold on, let the nurses do that, or at least let me do it" The doctor smiled at her boldness, "And yeah, you should live your life. Well, I will sign the papers to discharge you."
Iona smiles, "Thank you, doc... For everything"
"You're welcome," the doctor then extracts the IV and puts it away. He puts enough pressure with a sterile cotton ball to stop the bleeding, and though he looks professional, she notices the slump on his shoulders. The sadness on his face. "Well, I could... call your uncle to tell them about your condition... at least or if you want me to."
"I would like to do it," Iona shrugs. She pats his arm to comfort him somehow, and she hopes he gets the message. "Maybe someday... on my own, but not now, I don't want to tell them yet since they still don't know that mom is dead. Maybe, I'll drop off at their house once I am ready to say goodbye."
"You have no plan on telling them now?" the doctor asks, surprised. He refuses to meet her eyes, he doesn't want her to see how he disapproves of this. She understands.
Iona laughs, "Doc, there's a right time for everything."
"Yeah, perhaps" He takes one more longing look at her hand. How he cursed at himself for being so weak-willed. "I won't tell Synthia till you're ready as well."
3 months later
Iona faces the door of her Uncle's house. Her nerves make her handshake, knowing all too well how protective her Uncle is towards her and her mother. After all, they were family, but when her mom went to Africa because of her work, the next thing she knew, she was being dragged by her drug-addict asshole of a father, away from them. At least she has to tell us a story about people she met because that's the only exciting thing to know about her life.
Oh, Hi, stranger! Really? You had a pet lizard when you were five? Me? I didn't have one, because my addict of a father beats us instead.
This made Iona smile a little bit, imagining the shocked and horrified faces of the stranger in her imagination. God, she has turned into such an oddball. Probably, the effect of someone who wasn't exposed to a lot of social interactions or she just inherited her mom's dark, dark, dark humor.
Iona had grown out her hair. It came out in small elegant curls and stopped in the middle of her back. A lot had changed in 3 months, her naturally tanned skin was still too pale to call healthy, even though she thought she'd be able to hide her paleness if she had tan skin, but it didn't work. Her black eyes are still full of life and glossy, and her lips are barely going back to their color. She wore her long-sleeve wool shirt and some jeans, to hide her accumulated bruises. At least her hair grew out at an abnormally fast rate, right? A good this is still a good thing as her grandmother used to say.
She got operated on again since she was having a hard time not getting involved in fights. She did inherit her mother's sense of justice and guts, besides a dying girl isn't afraid to lose her life. She mentally laughed at that last thought.
Plus, she lives on the wrong side of town. There was this time when a thief snatched a woman's purse, and before she knew it, her feet were carrying her in the man's direction. Sure, it was an idiotic thing to do, but the self-defense lessons she had from her uncles were handy.
Now here she was, She never thought she'd be in front of her Uncle's door this fast since it had just been three months, and she was already saying goodbye. Isn't it a little bit too fast or too quick? How would they react? What will they do?
They can't save her, that's for sure. No one can.
Questions keep swarming in her mind, but she knows herself. She knows that if she overthinks, she'll turn and never come back. Sighing and summoning up the last ounce of her courage, she lifted her knuckles and knocked. Stopping her brain from overthinking for a few seconds, since that is how long she can keep it blank.
She glanced at her hand, the small bruises formed from the contact faded in about 14 seconds, not that she was counting.
Thank you, meds.
A few moments later, someone opened the large door, and a woman with brown curls that lay on her right shoulder opened the door. Her cerulean blue eyes were warm and familiar. The woman's eyes were confused at first, trying to make out what she was looking at, but soon widened in realization. "Io...Iona?"
"Iona is that...is that you?" she whispers in disbelief. She raises her hand to cup Iona's cheek. She furrows her brows at the coldness of it but blames the unpredictable weather.
The warmth of her hand was heaven to Iona, It's not just because she was cold, she is always cold, but it also felt familiar, it felt a bit like the home she had a lifetime ago. The burst of her werewolf aunt's heat exploded in her hand.
Iona nods. "Hey, Aunt Farah"
Farah suddenly pulled her into a hug while tears fell from her eyes "My gosh! Ten years of not seeing you were enough to drive us crazy."
Iona laughs, it feels a bit off. It's been a while since she genuinely laughed at the ridiculousness of something. Even her aunt's smell brings an emotion deep into her chest. So, so familiar.
"Ten years of not seeing you guys was enough to drive me crazy, too," she says truthfully.
She was close to turning insane, especially when she knew she was going to die in a year. She never told anyone, but the truth is she was depressed. When she arrived in the safety of her new apartment that the doctor gave her, she bawled her eyes out until it was blotchy, and it hurt to close her eyelids. It was already hard enough to accept that she was dying, and the thought of not seeing her uncles and aunties was absurd.
Farah tucks Iona's hair over her ear and hugs her once again "Oh, your Uncle Fredo is going to be excited to see you. Jared and Keith will be happy to see you too!"
Iona smiles, "I'm excited too."
"Oh no, go in, go in. it's cold out here, don't stay in the cold, especially when you're a human," Farah insisted as she pushed Iona in, even though it was summer. "Your body is so cold! High heavens, what were you up to human?"
Iona looked around the cabin-like house, it was warm with the brown wood and all the carpets and mahogany furniture. As soon as Iona entered, she was in the living room with four couches surrounding a coffee table, a fireplace with the fire lit on the corner, and some more Persian carpets.
God, I keep forgetting how big their houses are.
Iona was astounded at the design and space, it was more significant than any house that she had ever seen. She looks around, especially eyeing the pictures on the fireplace and the walls.
There were many pictures on the wall, proof that there were people who lived in the house. But it was apparent how important the photos of the Alpha's family were, there were a lot of pictures of her Uncle's family which included her and her mom.
Her mom is the only girl in her generation since girls seldom happen in her family.
Her mom never had a mate, but her uncles, who were human, had Alpha Werewolf mates. This is because the males in her family often carried the "Mating Gene," and her family is known for taking strong ones. Her Uncle was lucky while her mom was stuck with a drug addict douchebag who says he loves her mother but didn't stop with the meth or cocaine for her mother's sake.
"You've grown so much, but you are thin as a stick," Farah commented as she held Iona's hands with hers "Well, we'll fix that, come on." Farah pushed her niece to the dining room and made her sit on one of the mahogany chairs with varnished tables and gold linings "Stay there, I'm going to get some food."
Iona watched as Farah left, and decided to look around yet again. She wasn't known to follow orders well. The intricate design of the rug beneath her shoes was captivating, it looked complicated and rich in stories. It seems a bit tribal in all honesty.
She also noticed that the dining room was big enough to fit twenty men, and there were more pictures on the wall, thinking maybe it was the pack members. She studied them further, hoping to see familiar faces that she must have stumbled on before.
After a few minutes, Farah was carrying four plates that were even on her arms, and laid them on the table, she smiled and looked at Iona with mock disappointment "Didn't I tell you to stay still and sit?"
Iona gave her a sheepish smile, "I wanted to look around."
"Shush, child" Farah chuckles, "just eat."
Iona sat back down and looked at the beef stew, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and spaghetti.
"How did you cook all this?" Iona says, eyeing unsurely if she can finish all of these, but she quickly grabs a plate, a spoon, and a fork then digs in.
"Well, it was just sitting in the kitchen. Waiting to be served, because if you've seen how much the pack members eat, you'll be amazed."
Iona stops and puts down her spoon and fork "Aunty, it's food for the pack you shouldn't have given it to me."
Farah frowns, "No, just eat, don't worry about it. There's a lot of food in the kitchen, they wouldn't mind if you eat some."
With that in mind, Iona started to dig in, She hadn't seen this much food since her mother died. In 30 minutes, the roasted turkey was almost gone, and the mashed potatoes were truly gone, some of the beef stew and the spaghetti only had a quarter left.
Iona makes a satisfied sigh, and looks at her happy aunty "Thank you for the food."
Farah smiles, "You are always welcome. Oh! Look at the time they'll be coming home now. Come on, Iona, let's greet them in the living room."
Iona nods and follows her. Her palms sweating and going clammy at the thought of having the conversations that she practiced in her head a hundred times. They took a seat on the couch, talking to pass the time.
Farah didn't ask much because she was quick to notice how Iona closed up at intrusive questions. It made her worry about what her little niece could be hiding, but then people started to enter, eyeing the strange human that had a weak scent for a bit but chose not to comment on it.
Three figures that only mattered came through the door. The man in the middle is taller than the teenagers on each side of him.
"Dad, please, it's just this once! Please raise my allowance," Keith says. His dirty blonde hair goes under his brows, his strong jaw tense as his blue eyes look pleadingly to his father. Keith was wearing a blue shirt and his designer jeans, looking fresh and stylish.
Jared rolls his eyes, his brown hair long enough to cover his left eye. His hair was side-swept to the side because of the wind outside the house. He had blue eyes and fair skin, just like his mother. He had a lip ring on his lower lip and wore a tight black shirt with skinny jeans
Fredo looks unfazed, his black hair tousled, and his dark eyes devoid of emotion until he sees Iona. His broad shoulders tense up, straining the skin on his massive muscles.
"Iona?" he whispers, unsure while worry and disbelief cloud his eyes.
Iona smiles and nods, "Hey, Uncle."
Fredo was filled with joy, and before they knew it, he was twirling around the room with his niece in his arms. Pack members came in and looked at them curiously and even a bit amused by their leader's joy. When he finally stopped, he let her go, and Iona, as usual, got dizzy and ploped back down the couch.
"Where have you been? Where's your mother? Are you all alright? Are you alone? Are you with your good for nothing, father?" Fredo asks, not taking a breath. He looks around, trying to scent any other humans in the vicinity. Worried as hell about his little sister's antics and his niece's life.
Iona suddenly looks vulnerable. She tried to feel for the words she practiced the whole time, but her voice was nowhere to be found. Her voice fades at the mention of her dead mother, a conversation she wasn't read, but she has to tell.
It was hard, to tell the truth, but she never lied before, so it would be easy to know if she was lying. She tried to get the words out that his little sister was dead, and his niece was dying in less than a year. But she wasn't heartless enough to tell to him that quickly and easily, it was her mom for god's sake and it's her life! But she just couldn't pull the words out of her tongue like her tongue couldn't get around the shape of the words
Fredo sensing his niece's distress, ordered the pack members to give them some privacy through the mind link, while Keith and Jared took a seat on the couch on either side of their mother as they watched their father interrogate their long-lost cousin.
"Uncle," Iona whispers as she suddenly feels her tears threatening to drop her eyes. "Mom is...Mom is dead."
Fredo watches his niece's tears fall, and the realization hits him, his baby sister is dead and gone. It felt like one of those slow-motion moments in a movie. You could hear a fucking pin drop to the floor at the tension in the air. The sadness emanating from them is palpable.
Fredo pulls her in a hug. He tried to comfort her, but her tears wouldn't stop, and he felt there was another reason than just her sister dying.
Iona pulls back from him and stands, away from the eyes, that stare at her expectantly. She wipes her tears, but it won't stop. She looks at her cousins, hoping that they'll still remember her since they used to play together when she was six years old and close back then.
That was a lifetime ago, Iona.
"Iona, is there anything else you're not telling us?" Farah says, her lips on a straight line. She reaches for Iona's arm to make Iona look at her "Because we can take care of you. You don't have to--
Iona suddenly yelped when Farah held on to the wrong spot. She pulls her arm away and looks at her aunt, who is confused and concerned.
Fredo turned a little bit impatient since her niece was taking a long time to tell them. He wants to fix the problem that is making Iona anxious. His grief and pain from losing his little sister were set aside, for now.
Iona sighs, "And...Uhm I-I-I'm going to die."
Farah looks confused. How could this teenager who barely lived a life be dying? When Iona looked at her cousins, she noticed how confused and bewildered they were.
Keith stands, "What do you mean dying?"
"i-I-I have... Cancer" Iona struggles to say it, but she finally says it, proud at herself she goes on "It's stage four, I have 9 months to live, 9 more months."
"Where's your father?" Fredo interjects
"Out there looking for me, blaming me for mom's death and his misfortune of being poor," Iona says. She then slides up her sleeves, the giant bruises on full scrutiny and their eyes widen at the sight of them
"I'm dying in 9 months," she repeats with no particular reason.
"Since when did this happen?" Keith says. He gingerly grabs Iona's shoulder to look at her fragile cousin
"Ten years ago, the doctors said it was even a miracle for me to live until now," Iona explains, "I'm dying, I guess."
Keith couldn't resist pulling her small frame into his arms with such a pang of sadness and worry. "I finally get to see you again, and you're just here to say you're dying."
Iona hugs him back, "I'm sorry."
"So, what happens now?" Jared's voice broke, but he withheld any emotion. He is not going to break as smooth as his voice.
"Uh, I have to go, I have to live my life as the doctor said," Iona says, trying to make it sound casual.
"NO!" Fredo's voice echoes inside the house, "You will not, you will stay in this house."
Iona shivered in fear but regained herself with Keith's hold. She slowly looks at her Uncle again. "Please, uncle, I have six months to live, 3 months ago my doctor said I have a year left, but due to what I have done I'm not sure."
"What do you mean by what you have done?"
"I sorta beat a guy on an alley because he tried to snatch a woman's purse, and I sorta went back and forth to the hospital because I was trying to be a hero," Iona said in one breath.
Fredo was beyond pissed, he was furious. His hands formed fists and gone white, his eyes almost bulging out of his head, and veins started to show on his neck, "You did what?! This! This! This is what would kill you! You have the very same attitude as your mother; that's why she got herself killed you should stop Iona or God help me, but I am going to take drastic measures!"
Iona froze, scared. Suddenly, something moves in his eyes, his wolf.
"Fine," she whispers, "but in one condition."
"What?" Fredo suddenly turns calm as soon as his niece agrees but doesn't let his guard down just yet.
"Let me go to school with Keith and Jared," Iona says
"Please, uncle, I haven't gone to a normal school for a while, and you know that," Iona says.
She had never gone to a proper school since she was known to be a girl. Every one of her Uncle and aunts has disagreed with letting her go to a school, knowing she's delicate and fragile since she was a girl. No wonder her mother was aching to break free from the family.
Fredo sighs, he looks at his sons who look determined in some way, and Fredo already has what he needs to know. "Fine, since the two of them will protect you, but if you ever feel anything weird, go straight back home."
Iona smiles, "Thank you, then I have to go."
"Where are you going?" Standing up, ready for an argument, or even a fight.
"Don't worry, Uncle, Keith, and Jared are going with me. I just need to get my things in my apartment."
In the Car
Iona is in the passenger seat while Jared drives and Keith lies in the back. She was nervous since she hadn't had a decent conversation with them in ten years, and back in the house was the first time she had talked to them.
"So, where were you in the past ten years?" Iona asks,
"You know here and there, but the real question is, where were you?" Jared tried to sound teasing, but it just came out cold and harsh.
Iona smiles, not minding it at all. She expected as much "The hospital, for ten years, I was in the hospital, but I try to sneak out if I can, or I'm well enough to do so."
Keith puts his hand between the crook of her neck, checking her temperature "You do not have a fever, right?"
Iona shakes her head "No, I am just pale because of my c-condition."
Keith sighs in relief, but concern still lingers in his eyes. "How did you get this apartment?"
"Doc gave it to me," Iona says.
Jared raises a single brow, "For free?"
She nods, gripping at the leather seat while looking straight ahead. If they thought she was pale in the house, she is even paler in the car.
"Why?" Jared asks, suspicious. Who in their right mind would give a teenage girl who is close to dying a fucking apartment?
"Because he feels a bit obligated. Mom saved his daughter's life, and as payment for the past ten years, he tried to save mine. When he couldn't, he tried to make my life as comfortable as possible." Iona sighs, "I feel bad for him."
"Why do you feel bad for him? You should feel bad for yourself," Jared let out a low growl, his hands turning white on the wheel.
"Because the thought of my death will haunt him. Because he didn't save me and hasn't gotten the chance to save me," Iona says, looking out the window, "and besides, if I feel bad for myself, then it will be hard for me to live my life since my time is running out. I don't have that much time left."
The two turn silent, not knowing what to say and not knowing how to take the pain from their chests away.