“But Oscar, you have to help us. It’s going to be epic!”
“Zander, I’m not helping you prank the Pack. I don’t care that it’s April Fool’s Day. Your father would kill me.”
“He’s not that bad,” Macie insisted. “I’m sure he won’t kill you. Punish, demote, toss in the caves of doom, sure, but death? That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”
“Don’t listen to her. Macie’s been infatuated with the cave prison ever since the mudslide. We’re not supposed to explore them or even talk about them.”
“But that’s like leaving a piece of candy on the table and expecting me not to eat it!”
“You two are getting way off track,” I said.
I didn’t want to get pulled into one of their schemes. Ever since Macie moved to Westin Pack after her parents reconnected, those two had been thick as thieves and always finding trouble.
“So, you’ll help?” Macie persisted.
“No! Look, I’m babysitting my brother and sister tonight. I have to go.”
“We could help and talk about it some more,” Zander offered.
“Not happening, kid, and I’m not helping you two.”
“Let him go, Z. He’ll come around.”
I shook my head as I walked away. I’d been feeling on edge and a little agitated lately. Now was not the time for those two to annoy me with yet another one of their crazy schemes.
I picked up my pace and ran the rest of the way home.
“Mom?” I yelled as I walked into the house.
“Oh good, he’s here. Yeah, I’ll be ready. Yes, I promise I’m not going to bail on you again.”
Mom groaned as she hung up the phone.
“Are you okay with this?”
“I’m fine. Of course I’m fine.”
“I’m fully capable of watching Sara and Enzo, you know.”
“I know, sweetie, it’s just…”
“You get a little anxious leaving us. But it’s only one night. I’m sixteen years old. I can handle this. Plus, I have a full arsenal of aunts and uncles at my disposal if anything goes wrong.” I cringed. “Not that anything will go wrong, just…”
She hugged me tightly.
I noticed her bag was actually packed and by the door, unlike the last time she and Dad had plans for a night away. That had to be a good sign. She and Dad deserved some time alone. This was a good thing, and I’d show them I was responsible enough to care for my siblings in their absence. Everything was going to go perfectly smooth. It was just one night. How bad could it be?
A car honked outside.
I laughed. “He’s not taking any chances this time.”
“I know. I should probably say bye to Sara one more time and check on Enzo. He’s down for a nap right now.”
“Mother. Leave. I’ve got this. You’ve probably told Sara goodbye a dozen times already and Enzo’s sleeping soundly or the monitor in your hand would be going off. Give me that,” I said taking the device from her and then escorting her outside where my father was waiting.
Liam Westin wasn’t my biological dad. He adopted me when he married my mom. It had just been me and her for a long time before that, well, Mimi and Papi too. We lived with them until moving to Westin Pack.
I sighed, pushing down the memories and the darkness that threatened to consume me.
Mimi wasn’t with us any longer. She’d been killed in the war with the Raglan. Some people said Papi had something to do with it, but I couldn’t believe it. He loved her. He loved all of us.
I knew he wasn’t taking her death well, none of us were. Sara cried for Mimi every time she thought of her, or someone mentioned her. It was pretty surreal and still hard to believe she was gone.
I tried calling Papi at least once a week. I was worried about him. A part of me still expected to hear Mimi’s voice every time I dialed their number. I hadn’t heard from Papi in a few weeks, though. He wasn’t answering his phone anymore.
Dad had someone checking in on him, bringing him meals, and cleaning up the place, so we knew he was okay, or as okay as he could be.
I feared a part of him died with Mimi.
“Oscar, are you listening?”
I shook my head. “What?”
I could see the stress in her eyes. “This isn’t a good idea,” she said more to herself than anything. “Enzo’s too young. He needs me. Sara’s such a handful these days.”
“No, mom, you have to do this. Dad needs time with you too and you’ve bailed on the last four weekends away he planned, even before Enzo was born. You’re not even staying the whole weekend. It’s just for tonight. We’re fine. I promise. Just go and have a great time.”
“Kiss our boy and get in the car,” Dad said taking her bag to load in the trunk of the car.
Much to both our surprise, she did.
“Promise you’ll call if there’s any problem at all.”
I gave her one last hug and closed the car door after she slid into the passenger seat.
“Thank you,” Dad mouthed to me, giving me a quick hug before running for the driver’s door and speeding away before Mom could change her mind again.
I watched them go then turned and walked back inside.
I found Sara in the living room watching television and building something out of Legos. I was pretty sure my little sister was a genius who was destined for big things in life. Her ability to build things out of nothing fascinated me.
“Did they leave?” she asked.
“Finally. Thought for sure Mom would ditch again.”
“Me too,” she confessed.
“Is Enzo still asleep?”
“Yup. He’s good and we’re going to be okay, right Oscar?”
“Of course we are. It’ll be fun. I’m ordering pizza for dinner, unless you want to go out to Pino’s tonight?”
She lit up. “Only if you promise Cold Shack ice cream afterwards.”
“You drive a hard bargain little lady. Let’s head over as soon as Enzo wakes from his nap.”
It was Friday night, so of course Pino’s was already going strong. My plans to try and arrive early had failed. Waking the baby, changing the baby, feeding the baby, changing the baby again, and then getting him into his car seat to make the short drive over to Pino’s was a lot harder than Mom made it look.
We managed though, but the place was already packed by the time we arrived. Sara wound her way through the crowd to snag us the last open table while I kept Enzo with me to go up and order pizza.
During the week it was a decent sit-down restaurant. But on the weekends, they got so busy that they started doing walk-up and phone orders only. You could still sit and eat, but no one was going to be waiting on you. I didn’t mind, though.
After I finished ordering our food, I found Sara sitting at a table with Bailey Rogers. Bailey was a year behind me in school. She was cute and sweet. We had a few classes together this year.
“Hi Oscar. Sara told me you’re babysitting tonight, and the best big brother in the world.”
I grinned. “That’s only because I promised her Cold Shack if she ate dinner.”
“It’s true,” she confessed.
Bailey and Sara chatted while I settled Enzo into a highchair and packed blankets around the little guy to help keep him upright and secured. Nothing was going to happen to him on my watch. I was still in shock that Mom had actually left the baby with me. I thought for sure I’d only have Sara. I had no idea what Dad had said to her to make her think this was okay, but I wasn’t complaining. I wanted to show them that I was growing up and responsible enough for them to count on me.
“You have your hands full tonight,” Bailey said.
I shrugged. “It’s not so bad. We’re doing okay, right guys?”
“I mean, they’ve only been gone a couple hours,” Sara said. “There’s plenty of time still for everything to blow up in your face.”
I scowled at her. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
She gave me a sly smile and shrugged.
Our pizza was ready, and I invited Bailey to join us.
“Oh, I haven’t ordered yet,” she admitted.
“We have plenty. I got a large. Enzo doesn’t eat real food yet, and I’ll be lucky if Sara eats a full slice. Dig in.”
She seemed a little hesitant but finally caved.
I enjoyed hanging out with her. We joked and laughed. It was easy being with her. Sara seemed to like her too, and she even managed a few rare giggles from Enzo.
“This was fun,” she finally said.
“Yeah, it was. We should do it again sometime,” I surprised myself by saying.
“My mom’s working tonight, so if you need any help or just want to hang out, I’ll be around,” she said sounding a little hopeful.
I knew her dad was dead, and I’d heard her mom worked a lot of third shifts at the human hospital down the mountain. I didn’t think she had any siblings and suddenly imagined just how lonely her life must be.
Family was everything to a Westin.
Even with my parents away for the night, there were a dozen other people ready to step up and help me out if I asked. I had everything. What did Bailey have?
I suddenly wanted to know more about her. I wanted to know everything.
“Maybe. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
She perked up and smiled. “Okay.”
Suddenly her eyes widened.
I turned to look in the direction she was staring with her jaw dropped as if she were in shock.
“Oh wow. What happened to you guys?” I asked staring at the duo of destruction who looked like they had signed up for clown school.
Bailey laughed. “I know there has to be a story here.”
“I tried to prank my dad this morning by putting orange dye in his shampoo bottle,” she confessed. “Before he could shower, Silas called an emergency run. He does that sometimes. So Dad left and said he’d just shower at Westin Force after their run. My plan was foiled by the grumpy one.”
“So what? You forgot about that or decided to bathe each other in it instead?” I asked.
“No,” Zander said. “We were going to scare some of the moms and kids down by the pond in the park, but the firecrackers didn’t go off like they were supposed to.”
“By the time they did go off, no one was around. Well, except Alfred and Miriam, who were swimming on the pond.”
Macie looked absolutely miserable telling the story.
“They were so mad at us, Oscar. I’ve never seen them so mad,” Zander explained.
“They pooped on our heads!” Macie exclaimed.
“It’s true. I couldn’t go home and tell Mom what we’d done, so we went back to Macie’s.”
“Mom wasn’t happy about it, but she wasn’t exactly surprised either. She threw us into the tub in our clothes and started hosing us off.”
“And then, she shampooed our hair,” Zander said with a frown.
“The only saving grace is that she thinks my dad did it trying to get her today, but the truth will come out eventually. It always does.” She sighed dramatically.
I tried not to laugh, and I could see tears forming in Bailey’s eyes as she tried to keep it together.
“That’s, um, quite the story.”
“Just go ahead and laugh already,” Zander said sounding resolved to his fate.
Bailey and I burst out laughing so hard that Enzo started to fuss.
“I should probably get these two home now.”
“Ice cream,” Sara instead. “You promised.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know, Sara. Come on.”
“I’ll see you later,” Bailey said. “Call if you need any help tonight. I mean it.”
“Wait, Oscar, please, just call Cole and tell him the tattoo parlor is on fire,” Zander begged.
“We have to redeem ourselves. This has been the worst April Fool’s Day ever,” Macie whined.
“I’m on kidlet duty, so you two are on your own, though I’d call it quits if I were you before something worse happens.”
They straightened up and turned wide eyes towards each other.
“Worse?” they asked in unison.
“You never know. I wouldn’t chance it if I were you. That’s all I’m saying.”
I chuckled to myself as I wrangled Enzo back into his carrier and took Sara’s hand as we left Pino’s and walked the short distance to the Cold Shack to fulfill my promise to Sara.
I should have accepted Bailey’s help. If for nothing else, at least she could have kept me company in the nightmare that was bedtime.
Sara insisted on staying up while Enzo was used to his routine that only Mom seemed to understand. I’d watched her do it a hundred times, but when it came time to duplicating it without her—forget it!
Enzo screamed for over an hour as I tried everything to calm him.
My anxiety was at an all-time high and something from dinner wasn’t agreeing me. I felt off, and I didn’t think it was just the responsibility of two little kids.
I probably should have called Mom and begged her to return. I could have called Aunt Shelby or Aunt Kelsey. There were plenty of people that would have come to my rescue. Stubborn determination had me handling things alone.
I walked the halls bouncing Enzo as I’d seen Dad do when he was cutting his first tooth. I prayed to God that he would just make him stop screaming. Anytime Sara needed something, she just yelled over top of him which didn’t help the situation at all.
I looked down at my watch. One hour, fifteen minutes. How much longer would I have to endure this before I cracked?
I was starting to get this creepy crawly sensation running down my spine and I itched all over, certain I was going to break out into hives over the stress.
How could one tiny baby make so much noise?
Just as I was breaching my breaking point and ready to call in the troops to assist, Enzo went limp in my arms.
The silence was deafening.
My heart stopped beating in my chest as I stared down at his lifeless body in my arms.
Then he sniffled and sighed.
Relief flooded me. He had finally cried himself to sleep.
Very carefully I walked to the nursery and laid him down in his crib, holding my breath for fear I’d wake him and the screaming would begin all over again.
Every time he made the slightest peep I froze, holding my breath until he stopped.
At least he was sleeping.
I took a moment to watch over him. He was cute and peaceful, even if his face was still red and a bit tear streaked.
My phone rang from the kitchen. It sounded so loud it was as if it was echoing around the room.
I took off sprinting to retrieve it before the noise woke the baby.
Grabbing it off the counter, I wasn’t at all surprised to see it was Mom.
“Hey,” I whispered.
“How’s it going?” she whispered back.
I wasn’t certain if she was responding to me talking softly or if she was hiding from Dad trying to discreetly check up on us.
“Why are you whispering?”
“Why are you whispering?” I challenged.
“Because you are.”
“She’s not hiding. I’m right here,” Dad said with a laugh. “How’s it going there?”
“Fine,” I said again.
“Are the kids sleeping?”
“Yup. Just got Enzo down.” I walked out into the living room and found Sara passed out on the couch. “And apparently Sara fell asleep on the couch while I was doing that.”
“That’s great,” Mom gushed. “I’m so proud of you, Oscar.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said scratching at my arms. “You don’t have to check in on us. We’re find. Enjoy your kid-free night already.”
Mom giggled and I could hear some wrestling through the phone.
Gross! I tried really hard not to picture what a child-free night would look like for them. TV and fuzzy pajamas, I thought. Boring adult stuff.
I was old enough to know I’d still be an only child if that were the case.
I shivered in disgust.
“Um, have fun, I guess. I’m going to move Sara to her bed now. Goodnight and stop worrying.”
“Love you, buddy,” Dad said.
“Love you guys, too.”
I hung up and stared at the phone for a minute before shivering again. I couldn’t let myself think about my parents alone in a hotel room. Yuck!
I picked up Sara and gently carried her to her room. I laid her down on her bed, surprised that she didn’t wake in the slightest.
I wasn’t certain how long it was going to last. Enzo had only recently started sleeping through the night and I knew it was a crap shoot whether he’d do it tonight or wake up a dozen times. I walked back to the living room and collapsed onto the couch grateful for just a few minutes of peace.
Was this how my mother felt at the end of each day? It must be exhausting to be her.
That uneasy feeling was returning quickly. I scratched my arm, but when I looked down expecting to see hives, there was nothing there.
I knew I couldn’t take Benadryl because it would just knock me out. I couldn’t do that in case one of the kids woke up.
My mom used to take Benadryl a lot. She would always have phantom hives.
I froze and gulped hard.
They weren’t actually hives though. She was trying to shift. It had been a sign that her wolf wanted out. She had ignored it for years, subduing her wolf with Benadryl.
Excitement and fear fluttered in my gut combining into a sickening feeling.
I could shift tonight. I didn’t even know what to do, plus I had to be here for Sara and Enzo.
The more I freaked out, the more I could feel this tickling presence at the back of my neck.
Bailey, I thought. I need to call Bailey.
I lunged for the phone, trying to control my breathing as I dialed her number.
“B-bailey? I need your help. Come quick.”
“I’m on my way,” she said without even asking a single question.
Within minutes she was knocking at my door.
“Oscar, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I need you to stay here and watch the kids. Can you do that?”
She nodded. Again, I noticed that she didn’t even question it.
Was she really just that trusting, or did I look that bad?
“You’re kind of freaking me out. Just tell me everything’s okay.”
I nodded frantically. “I think I’m going to shift,” I blurted out.
“Oh,” she said surprised. “Well, do you want me to stay with you or do you want to go into the woods and do it by yourself?”
She was being entirely too practical for me.
“I don’t even know what I am,” I confessed. “I should go. Are you sure you’re okay to babysit? They’re sleeping.”
“I’m fine. You don’t have to go through this alone, Oscar.”
“I think I do,” I admitted as much to myself as to her. I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, and I wasn’t even sure why. “Thanks, Bailey.” Then I turned and left the house.
I wandered aimlessly around the backyard for a bit. I had no idea what to do or even what to expected. Sure, I’d had “the talk” with my parents, and my teachers had stressed the signs of shifting to all of us as well, but none of that really helped prepare me for this moment.
Shifting should be exciting and perfectly natural. I was sixteen so it was still a little on the early side, but not uncommon. The problem was, I really didn’t know what I was.
My bio dad is a tiger and my mother is a wolf. So what did that make me?
Time was soon going to tell.
Please be a wolf. Please let me be a wolf, I begged to the universe.
I had barely made it into the woods behind my house when a shiver wracked through me so hard I dropped to my knees.
I watched in horror as black and orange fur sprouted across my hands.
No! I cried. I can’t be a tiger. I just can’t be.
It was too late. With one final shudder, I transformed into a large tiger.
I roared in frustration, immediately at odds with the animal.
We stumbled around trying to find our footing as we both battled for dominance.
They’d warned us this could happen, but no one told me it would feel quite like this—helpless.
I wasn’t in control and that was a horrible feeling. My tiger was demanding I submit. I didn’t want to, but the second I hesitated, he took off deeper into the woods.
We ran right past Uncle Kyle’s house, and I was surprised I didn’t shit myself. The last thing I needed was for the Alpha to see me running in my stripes through his territory. My only saving grace was the realization that the back of the house was entirely dark, which meant they either weren’t at home or already in bed.
I tried to shake off the feeling of unease as we ran deeper into the forest.
I knew a place beyond the caves that would be relatively safe. The second I thought of them in my mind, the tiger changed coursed and ran towards that mostly forgotten section of Westin territory.
I started to relax a little, enjoying the feeling of wind across my sleek fur. We leapt across creeks and large rocks, and at one point he jumped high into the air easily landing on a branch as we took to the trees for a bit.
Cool! Dogs can’t do this, I thought.
Despite my initial freakout, I enjoyed my time in my fur.
Bailey, I thought having forgotten how I’d ditched my siblings on her.
I said a quick prayer that Enzo and Sara had both remained asleep as I managed to take control and make the tiger turn towards home.
Something clicked into place within me as we ran, or maybe within us. I had the power within me to subdue the beast. I could feel it and it was a powerful sensation. Many first-time shifters got stuck in their fur for days, sometimes even weeks, trying to overpower the animal to return to human form. I should have been concerned about that, but I wasn’t.
I’ll let you back out to run soon. I promise, but I have to check on the kids. Sara and Enzo need me, I thought to myself demanding the tiger obey me.
With a roar in my head, I shifted mid-run. I stumbled over my very human hands and feet to face plant into the ground as we reached my backyard.
I could have sworn I heard a chuckle in the back of my head.
Not funny, I spat out trying to clear the dirt from my mouth.
Filthy and smelling just a bit wild, I got up, dusted off as best as I could, and let myself inside.
Bailey startled, having fallen half asleep on the couch.
“It’s just me. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
She had a groggy look on her face as she checked the time.
“You’re back earlier than I expected. And you’re naked. Very naked.”
I looked down and shrugged. “I’m a shifter,” I said proudly, though I had reservations still about being a tiger. I didn’t want anyone to know about that.
Bailey blushed. “So, um, you’re a wolf then?”
I grimaced and felt like she’d just punched me in the gut.
“You can’t tell anyone.” I begged her.
“Who cares that you’re not a wolf. It’s not a big deal, Oscar.”
“It is to me,” I said sadly.
“Your parents are just going to be happy that you successfully shifted. And look at you, you’re back in control within hours. That’s unheard of. You did great.”
“You can’t possibly understand, Bailey. No one can.”
There was an awkwardness between us.
I cleared my throat. “I’m going to go shower and get dressed. I shredded my clothes in the woods. I’ll have to go find them in the morning and destroy the evidence. Promise me you won’t tell anyone about this.” She hesitated. “Promise me, Bailey.”
Finally, she nodded. “I promise.”
I left her standing there to go clean up. I was surprised when she was still there when I returned.
“So how was it?” she asked. “I mean that was your first time, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah. It was scary, exciting, exhilarating, and really draining. I’m starving.”
“Did you finish the pizza from earlier?”
“Nope, but now that you mention it, I’m about to.”
I got up and retrieved the pizza from the fridge choosing not to waste time heating it as I bit into a cold slice and sighed.
“Are you okay, Oscar?”
“Yeah, I am. I mean, there’s nothing I can do about it right? How were the kids?”
“Not a peep out of them.”
“Thank God. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get Enzo down.”
“They’re lucky to have you, you know. I wish I had siblings sometimes. Life gets pretty lonely as an only child with a mom who works all the time.”
I frowned. “You’re always welcome here, Bailey. You don’t have to be lonely.”
She shrugged. I knew it wasn’t the same, but it was the best I could offer her.
“Thanks for coming through for me tonight.”
She blushed. “It was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing. It was everything to me,” I told her sincerely.
“They really aren’t going to care, you know.”
“I’m not going to risk finding out. No one can know about this. It stays between you and me. Got it.”
“I got it, but they’re gonna find out eventually.”
We stood there staring at each other another minute.
She sighed. “When your adrenaline wears off, you’re going to crash hard. Do you want me to stay?”
“I’m okay. We’re having breakfast with Aunt Kelsey and the kids. If I need to take a nap, she’ll watch them for me.”
“Okay then. I’m going to head home and get some sleep.”
She started to walk away and then turned back and threw her arms around me.
“I don’t care that you’re a tiger, Oscar,” she whispered before turning to leave.
Bailey was right. When the adrenaline wore off, I was knocked out only to be awoken from the shrill cry of Enzo.
It felt like no time had passed at all, and I wasn’t even confident that my own two legs could support me. I was so exhausted, but somehow, I managed to get the kids up and dressed. They even brushed their teeth, and I helped Sara comb her hair and put it up in a ponytail before we drove over to Kyle and Kelsey’s house.
I still couldn’t believe how close I’d been to their house in my tiger form. I was relieved nothing had come from it. I was going to have to be more cautious in the future if I was going to keep my secret, and I fully intended to do just that.
We let ourselves in as Sara ran off to find little Jason.
“But Mom, I’m telling the truth. I saw it!” Zander whined to his mother.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing much. How was your sleepover with the little ones?”
“Piece of cake,” I lied, setting Enzo down in his carrier and not even bothering to get him out.
Kelsey snorted. “Sure, piece of cake. You look like you’re about to topple over. You’re exhausted.”
“It’s nothing. Don’t tell Mom. This was good for them and if she thinks it was too much for me, she’ll never do anything like this again.”
“Was it too much for you?”
“Nah. I just stayed up too late worrying they might wake up or something.”
She smiled warmly. “We all have those nights. From the looks of things, you did great, Oscar.”
“Take a seat and I’ll make you a plate of breakfast. Where’s Sara?”
I shrugged. “Wherever Jason is, probably. I swear I brought her.”
Kelsey laughed before walking away to check on them.
“How did pranking the Pack go?” I asked Zander.
He huffed. “It was terrible, like mutiny or something. Everything we tried backfired in our faces. It was a disgrace to April Fool’s Day.”
“Did Cole fall for his place being on fire?”
“No. Apparently he went back to Collier this week. I hadn’t heard, but he monitors the place through security cams and has alerts set if anyone gets near it or if something happens.”
“Like if the fire alarms had gone off?” I guess.
“Yeah, that too.”
“Sorry, kid. Better luck next time.”
“But last night I really did see a tiger in the woods, and no one will believe me. I swear Oscar, it was real.”
I felt a little sick to my stomach that Zander had seen me, but I couldn’t let anyone find out it was me.
I gave him a skeptical look and shook my head. “Real or not, when you have a reputation for telling stories and pulling pranks it’s harder to get people to believe anything you say.”
In this moment, I was grateful for that fact.
He huffed. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I know. Mom was lecturing me about it this morning.” He rolled his eyes. “But I swear, Oscar, I’m not fooling this time.”
I shrugged. “Don’t know what to say. We have a lot of shifters come through here these days. Maybe it was just someone out for a run.”
“Maybe…” I didn’t think he was really buying it. “But you believe me, right?”
I was a little relieved to realize he cared more about someone believing him than finding out the truth of what had happened.
I was a tiger in a family of wolves.
I knew I could call my bio dad. Jack was great, but I knew he’d tell my parents. I wasn’t ready to deal with their disappointment. Bailey had already guessed the truth, but I had sworn her to secrecy. I didn’t think she’d narc on me, but only time would tell. In the meantime, no one else could find out.
“They’re gonna find out eventually,” she’d told me.
Not if I can help it!
I hope you enjoyed this short story from my Westin Pack series this April Fool’s Day. If you would like to read more about Oscar, check out Forever Mine. And if you are craving more of Macie and Zander’s antics, start with Collision Course where the duo of destruction first met..