New Short Story: Alyssa Finds Out

Greetings Monster Hunters!

So last week, I asked you to find the one true item about MA5 in a list of 10 things…and no one guessed it right. I’ll admit, I made that game fiendishly hard, but the correct answer was #2:  Mamie develops a raging sugar addiction. You’ll understand why within the first third of the book.  And now you know what’s false, so you can cross those off the list of things that might happen in the book. : )

Last week I also promised to post a new short story as a thank you to everyone who funded the Kickstarter. The story below is an extension of a deleted scene from Bloodlines (MA4). Because it was deleted, the timing might not totally tick and tie with the final book, but it’s still such a fun story, I’m happy to post it. Enjoy!

 

 

Alyssa Finds Out

Matt

 

Summer started, and for once I was home, uninjured and able to enjoy the time off. Or I would be if CNN would stop giving me nightmares. By Fourth of July, news of “mass delusions” of unnatural creatures, mysterious disappearances and, yes, ritual suicides were all the cable networks would talk about. Uncle Mike called to check in regularly, but he didn’t have any news on deployment.

“I hate this waiting around,” I told him in mid-July, while making a peanut butter sandwich to tide me over until dinner. “We need to be out there hunting.”

“I know,” Mike said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it right now. Until then, hang tight, and I’ll see you in October before the eclipse.”

“Will do.”

But hanging tight grew harder every day. Tink was restless off the hunt, appearing at random times to lecture me on staying sharp. Or to nag me about Ella. Or to make me run ten miles on the treadmill when all I really wanted to do was go for a bike ride.

“This is weird,” Will said a few weeks later. “Sitting in Ella’s backyard, swimming like we’re normal or something. Coach Shaw is driving me crazy, telling me to get out there. He won’t shut up, even when I explain—over and over—that we can’t go.”

“Tink’s been almost as bad. We should be on assignment somewhere, taking out the trash. People are dying and we’re hanging by the pool.”

Ella’s arms slid around my neck from behind and she bent down to kiss me on the ear. “It’s not all bad, is it?”

Doing some quick calculations on how much room I had, I bent forward, lifting her from her feet, and swung around to pull her into my lap. “No. The perks of being at home far outweigh MREs and bunkmates who snore like drunken Wookies.”

Will sensed we needed space, because he picked up Penn, jogged to the pool and jumped into the deep end with her still in his arms. Once they resurfaced, they promptly started making out under the diving board.

That seemed like a good idea, so I put a hand on the side of Ella’s face and slid it around to tangle in her hair. One side of her mouth turned up in a little smile as I pulled her closer and she was still smiling when I brushed my lips against hers.

“God, I love you,” I whispered. Hardly able to help myself, I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her like I meant it. I could drown here, stay forever—

“Hey, you two,” a cool, slightly grossed out, voice said. “PDA.”

My mouth popped off of Ella’s and my face turned red. Not because Ella’s older sister caught us kissing, but because of what else I’d been thinking of doing before we were so rudely interrupted.

“Alyssa, really?” Ella said, glaring at her. “We’re not doing anything to warrant a chaperone.”

Yet, I wanted to add, but wisely kept my mouth shut.

Alyssa’s cold expression grew frosty as she smoothed her long blond hair tighter into her ponytail. Her ponytail wasn’t the only thing wound tight. I decided not to say that either, even though I’d seen it firsthand when we saved her and Ella from those Bears three years ago. She’d gotten so worked up, she’d passed out. In a way, I was glad she had no idea Will and I had been there—I had a hard enough time passing inspection when she was around.

“Mom asked me to keep an eye on you,” Alyssa said.

“And I’ll be eighteen in three months. You don’t have to watch us every minute,” Ella said.

Alyssa narrowed her eyes at me. “Yes I do, because I know exactly what he’s thinking.”

God, I hoped she didn’t know exactly what I was thinking. She might kick me out into the street. Alyssa put her hands on her hips and gave me a shrewd look. Yeah, I was getting kicked out.

Will climbed out of the pool and called, “Everything okay?”

Alyssa went utterly still, staring in his direction. I couldn’t decide if she was having an aneurysm because she was angry at me or if something else was wrong.

He came to the edge of the patio, dripping all over the bricks. “What’s going on?”

So one of the benefits of a military fitness regimen—and the knife spirits’ “encouragement”—was that Will and I often received a few extra glances from girls, especially if we happened to be wet and shirtless. But Alyssa’s reaction went beyond an appreciation of good pecs. She kept looking between us, her eyes popped open wide.

“Oh,” she squeaked. She turned to Ella, and her face had gone pale. “How long have you known?”

“Crap.” Ella slid from my lap and put her hands on Alyssa’s shoulders. “Just calm down. You’re okay.”

“Okay? Okay!” She jerked away. “I’ve been looking for him for two and a half years! And now I find out you knew all along? And he’s…he’s your age!”

Oh, no. She knew who we were.

Penn climbed out of the pool and drifted to Will’s side. “Who’ve you been looking for?”

Alyssa pointed at Will. “He saved my life.”

“To be fair, we both saved your life,” I said.

She whirled around to face me. “All those scars you have…you were the one who killed the monster in the woods that night, weren’t you?”

I nodded, not sure what she was going to do. Probably punch one of us for lying to her all this time. Instead, she wobbled over to Will. Penn scooted over to stand in front of him with an expression that clearly said, “Mine. Back off.”

“How old were you?” Alyssa asked Will.

“At the time?” He shot me a worried look and I bit back a smile. This should be fun.

“When I kissed you.”

“She kissed you?” Penn said. “Okay, Giant Will, when was this? Because if it was anytime in the last six months, your ass is grass and I’m a freaking tractor.”

Will smiled down at Penn. “I love it when you speak Okie to me.”

Penn growled, not unlike a very angry bobcat. “Answer the lady’s question.”

“Lady? I’m not that old,” Alyssa snapped.

I grabbed a handful of chips, thoroughly enjoying myself. Ella rolled her eyes, but I was hungry and I always ate during a show.

“Fifteen,” he murmured. “I was fifteen.”

Alyssa jumped back like a cat who’d been pelted with a snowball. “Oh, sweet mother of…you were fifteen? That means…”

“He’s younger than me,” Ella said, sounding like she was trying not to laugh. “He won’t even be eighteen until December, so he’s off-limits until at least then.”

Alyssa jabbed a finger at Ella. “I wasn’t planning on kissing him now.”

“You better not be,” Penn warned. She was looking quite fierce, standing up tall at her full five feet. “Because he’s off-limits for good, or we’re throwing down.”

“I need to go inside,” Alyssa said weakly. She waved a hand at Will. “Anyway, thank you for saving my life.”

As she went into the house, I called, “I helped!”

Nothing. Not even a nod. Some people were impossible to please.

“You kissed that lady? And you were only fifteen?” Penn said. She stomped on Will’s foot and he skittered away, barking a shocked laugh. “You big…faker. I feel kind of sorry for her. She probably thought you were older.”

“She did,” he said, circling the pool as Penn stalked after him. “She thought I was seventeen or eighteen. She was twenty at the time. But if you feel sorry for her, I could go inside and apologize, maybe kiss her some, until she feels better.”

Penn stopped chasing him. “You’re a complete mess.” She glanced at the clock mounted on the brick wall of Ella’s patio. “Millicent should’ve left for her Bingo game. Time to take me to your place and prove I’m the only girl you like.”

“Love. The only girl I love,” Will corrected. He came over and hefted Penn over his shoulder. “Because I love you, Destroyer.”

She giggled. “And don’t you forget it.”

They made a hasty retreat to Will’s car. I couldn’t blame them. In fact, I was glad to see them go, because Ella and I could be alone now, too.

“What do you think Alyssa’s doing?” I asked, slowly backing Ella up against the wall at the side of the house—the side not visible from the kitchen windows.

“Whatever it is, she’s probably not going to come outside for a bit,” she whispered.

I ran my hands down her shoulders to the small of her back. Her skin was so soft under my rough fingertips. It reminded me that the world wasn’t always an ugly place. I leaned close to breathe in the scent of her shampoo, which clung to her hair despite our swim.

I pulled back slightly, so that our lips were an inch apart. “Good.”

Alyssa never came back outside.

 * * *

Ella

 

After Matt left, I went inside, slamming the backdoor good and hard to get my sister’s attention. “Alyssa?”

No answer. She was probably in her room pouting. I sighed. Alyssa’s tight control rarely cracked—which was really annoying sometimes—but when it did, the result was spectacular.

“I’m going to order pizza!” I called.  “Want some?”

Still nothing. Okay, I’d order pepperoni and mushroom. That was Alyssa’s favorite and would be sure to wrench her out of her room.

And maybe I was feeling a little guilty. I should’ve told her about Matt and Will—she could keep a secret better than anyone I knew…she was like an airtight container for secrets. Anything I’d ever told her was locked away, even about Matt’s seventeenth birthday. Sure, now she watched him like a prison warden, but I had to tell somebody. It had been too big, too important, to keep to myself and telling Alyssa had been easy. No matter how cold people thought she was, I knew better. She dried my tears after I broke up with Matt and she was the first person to make me laugh then, too.

No one would ever believe it if I told them, but she’d put on an Easter bunny mask and brought me candy to cheer me up that weekend. I’d spent two days crying in my room when she showed up with a big bag of peanut butter cups because those were my favorite. She was the best sister, despite spazzing out on occasion.

Even though I confided in her about almost everything, the secret about the knives wasn’t mine to tell. The guys could get into real trouble if it went public, and neither of them hunted monsters for glory or attention anyway. They liked a low profile, which was another reason I was in love with Matt Archer. He saw a problem, he fixed it. No complaining, no excuses, no procrastination. He just acted, and it was a beautiful thing.

Besides, it would’ve stressed Alyssa out to know and I didn’t want her to act weird around my boyfriend. Or silently lust after his best friend. This whole situation was already hard enough.

I ordered the pizza then went upstairs to take a shower. I needed to buy more shampoo, and the thought made me smile. Even if I was in the mood to try a different brand, I never would. Matt had a thing for my hair. I had no idea what started it, or why, but if he liked vanilla, I’d wash my hair with the same shampoo for the rest of my life.

And if I got too old to do it myself, I’d ask the nursing home lady buy me some.

When I came back downstairs, Alyssa sat curled up on the couch. The pizza had arrived and she was picking at a slice.

“Did you laugh at me?” she asked quietly. “About kissing him?”

My face flamed. I had laughed about it the night I found out. But now that I was older and understood better what all this really meant, I felt terrible about it. Intense situations make for intense reactions—some good, like spontaneously kissing a fifteen-year-old you don’t even know. And some bad—like breaking up with someone because you don’t understand the forces pulling you apart, only to figure out later it was all bullshit and you killed something that should’ve lived. Lucky for me, Matt believed in second chances…and Tink realized that she wasn’t totally in charge.

“I laughed. Matt and Will didn’t,” I murmured. I sat and put my arm around her shoulders. “But I’ve learned some things since then, and it’s not funny at all. We could’ve died that night, if it weren’t for them.”

“I’m sorry I reacted badly earlier. I guess I’d built everything up in mind, you know? That I’d meet him…um, Will, and he’d be twenty-one now and…it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. There are still times when I look at Matt and think ‘Oh, my God. That’s my boyfriend…who hunts monsters!’ and I fangirl a little bit. Most of the time, though, I just hope that someday this will all be over so we can be together all the time instead of when he’s home between missions.”

“Missions,” Alyssa said. “That sounds so strange. When you moped around the house like you’d lost your best friend, I thought you were moody because you were in high school. If I’d known your boyfriend was halfway around the world, putting himself at risk…” She sighed softly. “I would’ve been nicer to him, at the very least.”

I gave her a hug. “I think he’d settle for you acknowledging that he helped save your life. But not glaring at him at every turn might be helpful, too.”

Her expression went from wistful to stern. “I’ll promise to try. I stand by what I said, though…I know what he’s thinking, and the last thing I want is for you to get hurt.”

“Matt’s incapable of hurting me,” I told her. “That damage last year? That was all me.”

“Wow, you really love the kid.”

I laughed. “Oh, so now he’s a kid? Because the way you were looking at Will earlier…”

“That was shock.” Alyssa’s tone was prim, but I could tell she was trying not to laugh with me. “And admiration of a fine physique.”

“Girl, that was gawking. If he’d been a steak, you would’ve gone to dinner.”

“No, I wouldn’t have,” she said, but she was giggling now. “He’s too young, and I have some scruples. Besides, I think that tiny demon he calls a girlfriend might’ve killed me with her mind if I’d come any closer.”

“No doubt about that. Penn’s pretty terrifying. I like that in a friend.” I looked into her eyes. “You okay?”

“I will be.” She took a bite of pizza. “Oh, I meant to tell you. I met a guy last week. We’re going out next weekend.”

Her smile was shy and it made me feel better. She’d be okay. And if for some reason she wasn’t, I’d go looking for that Easter bunny mask and a bag of peanut butter cups.

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