Today's First Chapter Friday is from my super sweet romance, PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE. It's the third book in my Shifter Towers series, and includes dates at the park and the children's museum.
Enjoy the first chapter of PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE (Shifter Towers #3)
“I’m going to miss you so much.” The kiss I placed on Odega’s fuzzy head didn’t seem like enough, but it would have to do. I had to leave him behind and catch the bus or I would be late for my first day back to work. “I’ll only be a few hours. Until I get back, Uncle Malone and the girls will take good care of you.”
I kissed my son’s head again then rushed out the door, waving goodbye to him, my brother, and my nieces. My stomach churned all the way to the bus stop, guilt consuming me for leaving Odega behind. It was the first time I’d gone anywhere without him. But I couldn’t bear to be apart from him. Not ever. Not with how I’d lost his father.
At the same time, I couldn’t expect my brother’s husband, Thadeus, to financially support me and my son forever. Thadeus and Malone had been kind enough to take me in after I found out I was pregnant. Widowed and a single parent at the age of twenty-three. But Thadeus wasn’t my alpha, my mate. I needed to repay him somehow.
When the bus pulled up to the stop a couple houses down from my brother’s, I trailed on behind the other passengers using the same mode of transportation. They were mostly young omegas who hadn’t been claimed yet, and a few claimed ones as well. On the bus, a couple young alphas sniffed around like they were selecting their choice of delectables from the dessert cart. Yet not one omega gave them the attention they wanted.
I turned my back to them, hoping I still smelled of Daniel’s claim even though it had been over a year since he was killed in a car accident. I didn’t want any alpha sniffing around me. I had a young child to take care of and didn’t have time to date. Plus, I never wanted to go through the pain of losing someone I loved ever again.
When the bus reached the transfer station, I piled off with the rest of the passengers then rushed to catch the light rail transit. A route I was familiar with, but one I hadn’t taken since going on paternity leave. The train would take me right to the center of town, the stop in the courtyard immediately behind Shifter Towers. I’d made it, and no longer had to worry about being late for work.
Yet other issues plagued my mind. I didn’t think I would ever stop worrying about Odega. I’d never left the house without him since his birth, and those outings were rare. I was a homebody, had a couple acquaintances who were also busy as new fathers, but spent most of my time with my family.
Then there was work itself. I hadn’t exactly left there on the best of terms with some of my coworkers. Didn’t help that the manager we had was known to play favorites and often pitted all of us against each other when it came to who worked the most and best hours, and who got the best positions. I’d worked hard, more concerned about making money than friends, so I’d secured a favorable status. But after taking my six month leave, I could only hope the manager remembered my work ethic.
Walking in between the back two skyscrapers, I headed to Tower One of Shifter Towers. NJ Fresh Foods was on the main floor, with the head office for the chain on the thirtieth floor. Apparently those who were promoted in the company, even at store level, got the chance to visit that office. Though I hadn’t yet. Not even for my original interview. So, that was my goal. I wanted my hard work to be recognized. I would visit the head office one day. I would be promoted so that I could one day afford an apartment for just Odega and I.
Walking into the store, I glanced around for the manager, Hayley. When I called two weeks ago, she’d given me my schedule and then emailed me the paperwork I had to fill out and send to head office to indicate I wanted to come back before my full paternity leave ended. But she wasn’t around. Instead I saw someone else wearing a manager uniform.
No, not him. My stomach twisted and I felt my skin itch, my body wanting to shift.
My nemesis, Randall Bickell, turned around then sneered. “Milo. I heard you decided to come back early.” I’d have believed he’d stolen the uniform if he didn’t have a nametag with his name engraved into it with the words Shift Manager underneath.
With clenched fists, I struggled to remain in my human form. I’d be fired right away if I let myself shift. I wanted to back away and spin around before running out of the store. This wasn’t how my first day back was supposed to go. Instead, my feet refused to move. I was stuck there under his scrutinous gaze. “Hi. Yes, I’m back.”
“Lucky me,” he mumbled, though definitely loud enough for me to hear. “Well, since it’s been a long time since you’ve worked here, and I don’t have time to retrain you, you can be responsible for restocking and cleaning.”
I rolled my eyes. He knew damn well I knew what I was doing and didn’t need to be retrained. It wasn’t as if we had a new or complicated checkout system. He just wanted to punish me for all the times I’d proven I was better at the job than him, rub it in my face that he had been promoted during the time I’d become a father. “Fine. But I can still do the job better than you.”
“I am a manager.” Randall tightened his jaw as his face reddened. “And you will not talk to me like that. You got your first warning. And your work period hasn’t even started yet.”
“Whatever.” I darted past him toward the staff room to drop off my stuff in a locker. I’d get through today and hope most of my time at work had anyone else as the manager.
The first hour started out fairly slow. The morning crowd trickled in over a couple hours, so there was no rush for anything. I stocked as I got the chance, and cleaned up the occasional spill as needed. No one really sat at the tables or used the washroom as most customers picked up their order to take to work with them. Nothing I couldn’t handle. At the same time, I knew what to expect at lunch. I had everything stocked and made sure overstock was easily accessible to keep up with the upcoming demand. The first group hit NJ Foods at 11:30 a.m. During that time, those in the food prep stations kept their own area stockpiled with various offerings. I focused on keeping drink refrigerators and snack food racks filled. And when an occupied table became free, I quickly cleaned it for the next patron. When I had a chance, I also checked the bathrooms to make sure the stalls had toilet paper and no one had left a big mess.
The rush at noon was much bigger and lasted longer. Customers were in more of a rush making them much more careless. The lines at cash were long, and everyone was in the way of someone else. I spent more time cleaning up during that hour than anything else. So, by the time the last lunch crowd arrived at 1 p.m., I was still on the floor, trying to fill shelves as fast as possible.
Randall had been too busy trying to speed up the cashiers to bother with me, but at the sound of his cackly laugh, I cringed. He was over at the pizza booth, flirting with one of the employees there. Whatever. As long as he stayed away from me.
I squatted down to fill a half empty chip rack with various flavors. An easy task, and out of the way. Or so I thought until burning liquid slid down my back. “Fuck!” I jumped up and untucked my shirt as fast as possible to get the material away from my skin.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry,” I heard someone say. But his words didn’t matter. My clothes were ruined, and I had another mess to clean up. What a great first day back.
I sat at my desk, watching as the anchor, meteorologist, and head of sports and entertainment signed off for the noon news. My quick two minute report about the car that drove through the front window of La Sandwich Shoppe at West First Avenue went well. In that short amount of time, I’d shown the accident site and interviewed the officer sent to the scene, the owner of the shop, and even a mouse shifter named Herbie, who was a witness. Everything had been pre recorded earlier in the day and I’d even had a quick chance to edit the footage before submitting it for the noon hour program. My first on screen story.
“Nice work!” The producer patted my back on his way past my desk. “Got a special interest story for you next. You’ll have the information after lunch.”
“Thank you,” I called after her. I’d been at Saramto Shifter News Network for several months already, hoping my paid internship position would turn into a fulltime job. Or even part time. Just something more permanent. Until this week, I wasn’t sure that was possible considering I’d never been assigned my own stories. I simply shadowed another news correspondent to gain an understanding of how the equipment worked and what was expected in a report. But when Dannie went on vacation, the station trusted me to tackle some stories on my own. A nice change, but I didn’t know how long this opportunity would last, whether I’d go back to being a shadow when my mentor returned, or whether this was the beginning of me working on my own. Time to shine and prove myself, I guess.
When I’d originally come to Saramto after graduating from Highland University with a Bachelor of Communications Studies, I’d expected to easily find a job. Especially being an alpha. But, it turns out, in this city shifter alphas are given even more priority over regular human ones. And even though I’ve never seen anyone shift in public, the residents of Saramto all seemed to know who was a shifter and who was not. Namely me.
Trying not to feel sorry for myself, considering the new opportunity in front of me, I headed down to NJ Fresh Foods on the first floor to get a bowl of soup and a sandwich for lunch. I might as well be prepared for when my next assignment was given. Dannie had taught me to always eat when I had the chance because I might not get another break for several hours when covering a story. And I wasn’t exactly one to make my own food. I could burn a pot of water. And had many times. So, I simply bought my meals from the various food shops around Shifter Towers. La Sandwich Shoppe, the place I went to for the accident, was absolutely delicious. I first learned about them when they’d catered a network lunch. But most of the time, I went to NJ Foods. They had meals that were prepped daily, and a great selection of choices from various cultures around the world. I never grew tired of eating food from there.
When the elevator doors opened on the first floor, I darted through the crowd now finished their lunch break, and heading back up to work. Though I was hungry, I actually preferred to have a later lunch. Without the crowd, I could take my time selecting exactly what I wanted to eat, and most of the time didn’t have to wait in line to pay for my food.
At the soup station, there were always six to choose from along with the basic chicken noodle and chili. Today they had Kusksu, a traditional Maltese soup, which looked and smelled delicious. Food I never would have had a chance to enjoy back in Malton. Everything there was so traditionally greasy, tasting of fat and salt. I scooped some of the Kusksu into my reusable bowl then slid over to see what they had for sandwiches.
I hadn’t watched where I was going, my eyes too focused on the food. And I tripped over someone. My soup fell out of my hand, and when the container hit the person I tripped over, the lid opened and the soup spilled down his back. I gasped as he jumped up, cursing under his breath. I grabbed a handful of napkins to wipe it off him, but he spun away from me, untucking his shirt in the process.
“Sorry!” I grabbed his arm, trying to get him to hold still so I could help. I felt horrible. “I’m so sorry.”
He shook me off. “Whatever. I need to clean up this mess now.”
“Let me.” It was all my fault. He shouldn’t have to clean up after me because I wasn’t paying attention. I just hoped he was okay, that he wasn’t badly burned.
Wiping up as much as I could off the floor with the napkins, I tossed them in the closest trash container. The guy returned with a mop, the back of his shirt untucked. Though he’d managed to wipe the soup off, the material was still wet from my clumsiness. I reached for the mop. “I’ll do it. It’s my fault.”
“No.” The guy, Milo according to his nametag, sighed at me. “Just get more soup and go. This is my job. Don’t worry about it.”
Easier said than done. I’d hurt him and made a mess. It was my fault, and yet he’d suffered for it. “Your shirt. Is it ruined? How much does another one cost?”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Enjoy your lunch, sir.”
How was I supposed to respond to that? I hadn’t fixed anything and only felt worse. Releasing a heavy breath, I heard my dad’s words in my head. You’ll never find a mate if you don’t start acting like an alpha.
I’d heard that advice over and over since puberty. The moment my results had come back. That had been a surprise to me, and an even bigger one to my parents. So much so, they’d had me tested again. Same thing. When I announced I had an internship in Saramto, my surviving father had been overjoyed. He’d believed I would learn to be a proper alpha in a big city. His only restriction was that I stay away from shifters. Kind of hard to do in this metropolis. I definitely felt like an outsider here. And my mentor was a non-binary beta black panther shifter. Great at their job, but not exactly what my dad had in mind.
I didn’t care. I’d always been this way, and I didn’t plan on changing. So what if I was too sweet or not dominant enough for some. When I found the right person or shifter, that wouldn’t matter.
Glancing around, I realized Milo had finished cleaning my mess and had rushed off somewhere. Probably away from me. I refilled my bowl, found a sandwich—though my appetite had dwindled since my spill—and headed for the checkout.
When I sat down at my desk to eat my lunch, I found a new message from the producer. My next assignment. I spooned soup into my mouth as I read. Nothing like any of the stories I’d covered with Dannie. This one involved preparing a five minute piece about the upcoming Children’s Festival on Sunday. the event was a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital, and I had to interview the organizer, some of the participants, and even the children it would be benefitting. The segment was supposed to promote the festival, of which our station was a major sponsor, and encourage those who didn’t have children to donate as well. Not only that, but I was expected to volunteer at one of the booths the day of. Not a problem since I didn’t have any plans anyway. My dad would recommend I go to a local church to meet a “nice omega,” but the Children’s Festival sounded far less torturous.
After I finished my lunch, I made various phone calls to arrange interview times for tomorrow. They all ended up being spread throughout the afternoon at the Children’s Hospital. Good because it meant I didn’t have to travel back and forth throughout the day, but it would lead to a late night tomorrow since the piece needed to be ready to be approved the following morning, and then aired on Thursday’s lunch, evening, and late night news.
Since there wasn’t much else I could do at the station, I decided to go home. I would do more research on past events there, and come up with my own interview questions. Something different than what had been done in past years.
I had just stepped away from my desk when my phone rang. My dad. What part of “Don’t phone me while at work” did he not understand? Though sometimes my hours varied, I was always working this time of day.
I rushed to the bathroom and answered the call. Talking to him at my desk would only distract the other correspondents who were busy with their own stories.
“Hi Dad? Are you okay?” I wanted to somehow make sure he understood not to call unless it was an emergency.
“Fine, Yoni. Why wouldn’t I be?” He sounded confused, having no idea why I would ask that. I wasn’t going to win this argument.
I guess I simply had to stop answering when I was working. “I’m at work. What do you want?”
“No need to take such a harsh tone with me. But at least you’re sounding more like an alpha.”
I rolled my eyes. Why were conversations with him so painful? I know things had been difficult when my alpha father had passed away, but he’d seemed fine before I left, encouraged me to go. He’d said his younger sisters would be his company. Maybe they’d all pissed each other off and weren’t talking. Wouldn’t be the first time. “How are you, Dad? And what is the purpose of your call?”
“Now you’re just being silly.” He chuckled a little. “Anyway, I called to see if you’re coming home this weekend. It’s a long weekend, so I assumed you’d have some extra time off.”
Oops, I’d forgotten all about the holiday on Monday. But, that didn’t matter. I already had plans. “Sorry, I have an assignment on Sunday. I can’t make it.”
“How dare they make you work on a holiday weekend! And a Sunday at that!”
I had to hold the phone away from my ear at the sudden change in his tone. I preferred not to be deaf.
“You’re supposed to come home, go to church with me, and meet a nice omega I’ve been talking about you with. He’s very interested, and very cute.”
My stomach churned. My father’s taste in guys and my taste never seemed to mesh. And no matter how many times I’d told him, he wouldn’t accept the fact. “Well, it’s too bad I have other plans. I’m actually volunteering at the Children’s Festival, a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital here in Saramto. It’s part of my current assignment, and I just couldn’t say no.” And neither could he. Not when it involved charity work.
“Oh, well then. I guess that’s okay.”
I could hear the disappointment in his voice, but I really didn’t feel bad.
“Hopefully he’s still single the next time you come home then.”
Hopefully not. For his sake and mine. Because I was sure we wouldn’t work out. “Maybe. But, I’ve got to go, Dad. I’m just starting this assignment, and I have a lot to do.”
“Oh, sorry. I’ll let you go then.” He acted as if I hadn’t already told him I was at work. “Make sure you do well on this assignment. I’m proud of you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.” I hung up the phone and shook my head. When would he stop? Being an only child had been nice while growing up, but now I wished I’d had a sibling simply to take some of his attention off me.
Even more anxious to leave the station, I loaded my laptop and phone into my messenger bag, and then headed to the equipment room to sign out what I would need for the interviews tomorrow. I was still too new to get a station vehicle to use, but my daily travel costs were paid for, and the hospital was easily accessible by public transportation between both my apartment and the station. Plus, it wasn’t as if I had to travel anywhere near Jackson Street. That’s one neighborhood Dannie had warned me to avoid, no matter how big the story seemed. So, I usually left my car at home, unless I drove back to Bolton.
Before catching the light rail transit to the stop near my apartment, I returned to NJ Foods. I wanted to grab something for dinner, and try to apologize again to Milo. I searched the entire store, even tried to listen beyond the customer areas for his voice. But, I think he had already left. I’d have to keep coming back until I had a chance to see him once again. For some reason, I couldn’t let what had happened rest, couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even when on the phone with my dad, I’d pictured Milo when my father talked about finding an omega for me. I don’t know why. I was sure the guy hated me. But I had to make it up to Milo somehow. I just needed to figure out a way.
Today's First Chapter Friday comes from IT TOOK A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. This was a story I wrote at the end of 2016 when I was dealing with a lot of grief and anger. It was also when I was watching a lot of shows and movies about zombies. (The best is still Train to Busan! Fact!) I wrote this story incredibly fast to help me deal with a lot of my emotions then. Now, this story doesn't have chapters. It only has three parts. So, below is the beginning of Part 1: The Kiss.
Enjoy the beginning scenes of IT TOOK A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE...
RJ strolled through the booths at the fun fair. Another gathering where people either glared at him or pretended he didn’t exist. Growing up in West Vitula, one would think he’d be used to it. But a lifetime of not being welcome in the small town never came easy. Why couldn’t his father have secured a position at a hospital in Ostrander, only an hour away?
Women stood behind rows of wooden tables, selling pies, bread, and jams to other women. Some men gathered in various groups, drinking beer from plastic glasses and telling recycled stories from their youth or checking out the college girls who had returned for the summer. Just as RJ had come to do. Yet, he hadn’t seen anyone worth his time. If not for the anniversary of his mother’s death, he would have stayed away from this town and insisted his father take some time off to visit him.
Kids ran from games to rides to carts selling cotton candy and candy apples, spending their parents’ money like it would never run out. But the longest line was for a booth at the very end of the park. Males of all ages, from kindergarteners to seniors who needed a walker to travel ten feet, lined up in front of a hand-painted sign reading $5 for a kiss, and beside the words, a pair of bright red lips.
RJ bypassed the line to see who was so in demand with the male population. Sidney Flowers, former captain of the cheerleading squad and all-around bitch. The disgusted look she gave the crowd after she’d kissed various men on the cheek proved she hadn’t changed. Yet, no one in line seemed deterred. Only him.
No way did he crave the touch of the girl who’d falsely accused him of killing his own mother and sending his father to the psych ward. All because RJ had caught Sidney helping her boyfriend cheat on a test. Though the rest of the school knew his mother had been killed on the highway by a drunk driver, they seemed to like her version of the story better.
He turned away. He wouldn’t pay a penny to receive a kiss from anyone in this town. Well, except one girl, but he hadn’t seen her yet this summer, not since two years prior when she’d left for Cremshaw without a backward glance.
“Melissa Ruth Smith, I insist you come back here at once.”
Missy rolled her eyes as she stormed away from her father. The man had helped her celebrate her twenty-first birthday yesterday—with a simple birthday cake and a glass of wine—yet still treated her like a child. “It’s to help Billy and the band, remember?” she shouted over her shoulder. “That’s why I came home.” Though she wished she hadn’t. Not with only two weeks off between her summer classes and fall term.
“But, the kissing booth?” Her father rushed to keep up with her. “Jesus wouldn’t approve.”
The religion card. What a surprise. “Jesus wouldn’t approve of half the shit that goes on in this town, especially how you treated that family next door.” She spun around and faced her father with her hands on her hips. “And you certainly haven’t been struck down yet.”
“Missy, please don’t talk to your father like that.” Her mother hooked an arm through hers and paraded her closer to the booth she was scheduled to volunteer at. “It’s just, aren’t you concerned about the germs? The diseases you could catch?”
“C’mon, Mom. I’m just kissing them on the cheek.” She glanced over at Sidney who tapped her watch before kissing Old Man Samson on the small patch of cheek not covered by his fluffy white beard. “Besides, you asked me to come home and help with this fundraiser.”
“I know, but there are other things you could—”
“I’ve gotta go, Mom. Sidney’s waiting for me to take over.” Jogging over to the booth, Missy took her place beside the bench.
Sidney grabbed her purse and left without a word, no different than when they’d attended high school together. Hence, why Missy had fled West Vitula right after graduating high school. No one who stuck around seemed to change.
The line thinned out with the departure of her former classmate, but there were still plenty of cheeks to kiss and a plethora of greenbacks deposited into the jar, money that would help her brother and the rest of the band get to Nationals. And maybe they would see there was life beyond this backward town.
After numerous kisses, her lips burned. She reached into her pocket for her lip balm and took a break to apply it and let it soak in. When she glanced back at the line, everyone had disappeared. All the males except the one her parents would blow a gasket if she kissed. Which made her want to lay her lips on him even more.
“Fifty dollars for a kiss.” RJ held the bill and waved it across the counter. “It goes in the jar if I get a kiss from you.”
“I’d do it for five.” She pointed to the paper sign on the jar. “But if you’re willing to donate more, go ahead.”
He walked into the booth and sat on the bench. “You misunderstand me, Missy. I don’t want a peck on the cheek. I want a real kiss, your lips on mine.”
Her cheeks reddened, making her all the more adorable, and she stepped back. “I, um.... It’s not.... I can’t.”
“It’s one kiss.” He waved the money around again, enjoying her discomfort. “The same money you’d make kissing ten old guys with beards, or ten creeps who gawk at your cleavage when you bend over to kiss them.”
The flush on her face disappeared. Maybe he shouldn’t have included that last observation.
“Hey.” He needed her attention back on him. “One kiss, and you never know, you just might like it.”
“Really?” She placed a hand on his knee then waltzed in front of him with a confidence he’d never seen from her before. “You’re that confident of the power of those full brown lips, are you?”
Before he had the chance to think of a response, she snatched the bill from his hand, leaned between his spread legs, and kissed him. He barely had a chance to close his mouth when it was all over.
“Thank you so much for your support.” Missy curtsied then stuck the money into the collection bottle.
RJ gripped the bottom of the bench, trying to process the fact the kiss had already happened. He’d hoped for so much more.
“Another.” He stood and yanked his wallet from his back pocket. “I’ll give you one hundred dollars if I can kiss you.” Yanking the bill from inside the leather fold, he held it out in front of him to prove he was good for it.
“Now, that’s against the rules.”
Her jaw shifted to the side, but when she tilted her head, he hoped she was actually considering his proposition.
RJ hopped off the bench and took a tentative step forward. He’d didn’t want her to automatically say no. “You know I’ve never played by the rules. Why would I start now?”
With a laugh, Missy playfully pushed on his chest. “You’re trouble, RJ. And you’re looking to get me into trouble with you.”
Returning to the stool, he stared into her crystal-blue eyes and smiled. She hadn’t said no. “Just a kiss.” He nodded to a patch of bushes with a bench set amongst them. “No one will see us over there.”
“Is that brown boy bothering you, Missy?”
The twang in the woman’s voice bothered RJ more than her reference to the color of his skin.
“No, Shelley.” Missy turned her back to him. “He was just leaving.”
“Good.” Shelley, another of their classmates, sized up the jar of money. “’Cause we don’t need his cash. We’re doing fine here without it.”
The punch to the gut that used to come with such ignorant comments never came. Some people refused to change, especially in this town. But he’d always believed Missy to be different. Maybe he’d been wrong.
“Are you taking over for me, then?” she asked Shelley.
“Yeah, your dad followed me around for the last fifteen minutes to make sure I was here on time. He was really freaking out about your kissing guys on the cheek.”
RJ walked away. He’d been dismissed. And if Missy’s father was that upset, he was probably waiting with disinfectant or something.
No, there was nothing good about coming back to West Vitula for the summer. His dad still worked the same long hours, so except for the day spent together on the anniversary of his mother’s death, RJ was spending his summer alone.
He turned with the hope Missy was talking to him for some reason.
And she was, standing right in front of him. She grabbed the money he still held in his hand. “You forgot to put this in the jar.” Without giving him a chance to question her, she jogged back to the booth and shoved it through the glass bottleneck.
Did that mean he was going to get his kiss?
For today's First Chapter Friday post, I'm sharing the first chapter of Demon on Jackson Street. It was published January 18, 2021 with Decadent Publishing. It's the fifth book in my Shifter Towers series, and is about a young omega shifter who can't shift, and the demon whose been tasked with claiming his soul. Readers have said it's darker than the other stories in the series, and I agree. All the books in the series can be read as stand-alones.
Here's the first chapter of DEMON ON JACKSON STREET...
“Here’s your money.”
I took the bills from the shift manager as she closed the cash register. Forty dollars for a ten-hour shift. Not even minimum wage, but it was money I didn’t have to claim on my taxes. Money that would go toward paying for my grandmother’s weekly medication and allow me to pick up a few groceries as well. “Thank you. Would you like me to come in tomorrow?”
“Naw.” Becky waved her hand in the air. “We don’t need you again until Thursday. Eleven a.m. Don’t be late.”
I nodded, though I didn’t understand why she always said that to me. I’d never been late since she’d been promoted to manager after a month of working at the secondhand store or for the two years I’d worked there before she’d even started.
I grabbed my jacket from the staff room at the back then left the store. At the other end of the strip mall was the drugstore where I had Mimi’s prescription filled.
Mr. Gilli had the medication ready for me when I stepped up to the counter. “Good evening, Toby. How was your day?”
“Fine, thank you.” My response never varied. Because nothing in my life ever changed. I worked a dead-end job for next to nothing, and, when I wasn’t there, I was with my sick grandmother. Never anywhere else. And it’s not as if there would ever be any departure from the monotony that was my life.
“Well, say hi to your grandmother for me.”
“I will. Thank you.” After paying for the medication and tucking it into the inside pocket of my coat, I walked through the aisles to get a few groceries. I picked up a couple cans of chicken broth, a bag of egg noodles, a jug of milk, and some bananas. At the cash register, I gave the last of my money to the clerk then took the paper bag of food and headed home.
The sun had already set, so I walked on the side of George Street with the streetlights. Some of them had been burned out for months, but it was still better than the dark shadows on the other side.
As I made my way to my apartment building on the corner of George and Jackson Streets, I continuously looked behind me to see if I was being followed. As an omega, it was imperative I constantly know of my surroundings. But being one of only a handful of non-shifters in the whole metropolis of Saramto made me an even bigger target for alphas looking to cause trouble. I couldn’t shift to escape danger or fight back, so I had no choice but to stand there and take their harassment until they got bored with me.
I was nearly home, only a block away, when I heard a wolf whistle. Heart racing, I paused, trying to figure out my best course of action. I darted around the corner, only steps away from the front entrance when the noise came again. From right in front of me.
“Look who we have here.” Benji, a wolf shifter who was the self-proclaimed head alpha on the block, stepped into the glow from the streetlight up ahead. “A lonely omega with a bag full of groceries for us. How kind.”
As his three cronies stepped out of the shadows, I clutched the bag to my chest. It was all the food I had for my grandmother and I until I got paid again. I couldn’t afford to part with it.
“So, what are we eating tonight?” Chad yanked on my sleeve then wrestled the bag from my arms.
Dan pushed me away as I tried to grab it back. He peeked inside. “Not much by the looks of it.” After pulling out the jug of milk, he tossed it to Mark.
“C’mon, guys. This is all I have.”
There’d been too many days recently where they’d taken all my food, and I’d gone without, sacrificing what I could find for my grandmother. Until recently, Lester, a racoon shifter from the neighborhood, would tell them to leave me alone, but he’d disappeared last month. And Mrs. Apple was too ill and bedridden to chase them away with her broom.
“You’re wrong.” Mark twisted the jug open then began to drink my milk. He wiped his mouth after chugging half of it. “It’s all we have.”
As he dumped the rest of the milk into the sewer, Chad took out a can of the soup broth and whipped it at the abandoned car across the street, smashing the last unbroken window.
“Bananas.” Dan grabbed the bunch. “Do you and your granny get freaky with these? You know, if you need a fuck buddy during your heat, you can always call one of us.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and wiped my eyes to stop the tears threatening to fall. What I needed was for them to leave me alone. And I never wanted an alpha like any of them. Even if I ever did go into heat. I’d rather be by myself for the rest of my life.
Benji knocked the bananas out of his hand and stomped on them. My food was being ruined before my eyes, and I could do nothing to stop it from happening. I’d tried before and ended up with a black eye and various other bruises.
Chad dumped the bag of noodles and the last can of soup onto the sidewalk before kicking the packages onto the road. Then he tossed the empty bag away.
“Let’s go.” Benji nodded up the street. “He doesn’t have anything good so let’s see who else we can find.”
I never had anything good, but at no time had that ever stopped them from checking. Sometimes I got home safely with all my food, but, on nights like this, I wished for someone to protect me from them.
As soon as I was sure they’d left, I walked over to pick up the package of broken noodles and the dented can of chicken broth. Everything else was ruined. We’d have to make do again, but at least there was something salvageable left this time.
I stepped into the apartment building with tears streaming down my cheeks. Why did this always have to happen to me? I’d never done anything wrong in my entire life. I went to school and had done well throughout my childhood, and, when Mimi got sick, I gave up everything to take care of her, finding the first job I could to keep a steady flow of income. Then my hours kept getting cut, and my grandmother’s home care workers kept canceling. I was doing so much on my own yet continued to get further behind. And now I had Benji and his gang after me for no reason.
I leaned against the wall outside our one-bedroom apartment and tried to gain some composure before going inside. I couldn’t let my grandmother see me in this condition. She often called me her guardian angel for taking care of her. Though, she’d done the same for me, raising me from a baby. I had no idea what had happened to my parents. No matter how many times I asked, she refused to tell me. She said I had her and nothing else mattered. But I wouldn’t have her forever. She got worse every day, even with the medication. And in the future, when she finally succumbed to her illness, where would that leave me? Would I get my own guardian angel?
I shouldn’t think like that. I wiped away more tears. I had to focus on her right now and not be so selfish. I had to be thankful for all I did have.
As I stepped inside, my grandmother called for me. “Toby, is that you? Why are you so late?”
“It is me, Mimi.” I put the noodles and broth on the kitchen counter then took her medication from my jacket pocket. Thank goodness no one had gotten hold of that. “Just got out of work a little late. Are you okay? Are you hungry?”
“I’m okay. I was simply worried about you.” She smiled at me from her bed in the living room. “I’m glad you’re home now. Marlene was here a couple hours ago. She actually showed up for a change. But I am hungry. Could you make me some soup?”
“Sure, Mimi. Anything for you.”
I’d have to ration our food until I worked again, but as long as my grandmother got something to eat, I’d be okay. I didn’t know how much time I had left with her, but I wanted to keep her around as long as possible. She was the only family, the only friend I had.
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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