She was tired. The past few weeks had seen her stomach knotted twice over in the kind of heavy set anxiety that could be confused for a slow acting toxin. Schoolwork haze still weighed on her, blurry scantrons and already forgotten textbooks dragging through her skull as they faded. Every part of her hand hurt, from her wrists to the tips of her claws from pecking at a metallic keyboard for essay after essay that had to be and would be better than the rest of the class’s essays.
Her stomach churned and she tossed in bed. For weeks her body accepted only water and thin wafers, so fixated was it on schoolwork that it had begun to shut down the rest of her functions in pursuit of a student both academic and feral. The second she arrived back from college, she consumed everything within reach. Within two days she had consumed her weight in greasy burgers and myriad junk, ignoring her stomach’s begging with a detached glee. Today, mid afternoon on her 3rd day back, her stomach tooks it revenge in painful churns.
All Priscilla had wanted was, after a blistering first semester in college, was to come back home and be. At. Peace. To do nothing, but eat and sleep in humdrum suburbia, away from big city college life.
The little shit hadn’t even given her a week before he had ruined it.
Priscilla had woken a few hours ago to the buzz of her phone and a text from Angie. More specifically, she had woken up to see The Picture.
Angie’s text read, “Saw it on Warbler a few minutes ago. Saved it then asked the girl to take down. Don’t want Mama Tiger killing her cub. Not till we get to fuck with him >=D”
“How many likes?” She texted back. “Did people see?”
Angela rattled off the story. There were no likes on the post. She didn’t know if people had seen it, but she saw The Picture the instant it went up and pinged the girl, “NikkiKnockers”, to take it down. She did, and was apparently “very polite” about it. It had no text other than “Young Love”.
“Dunno if someone saw or not, Cilla.” Angie finished. “Your family might not know this, but guys do this all the time. I only care cause it’s the twerp =D”
“Thanks. Know the girl?” Priscilla needed to hear her say it.
“K. Talk to you later.”
“Send pics <3”
The guilty party would be home soon. The worst of Priscilla’s stomach pains were waiting for their turn, but she roused herself from bed. Sitting upright almost made her ill entirely, as she was forced to face Donny Trivid and his teal booty shorts.
In her absence, her sister’s side of the room had bloomed into a grotesque caricature of a preteen girl’s interests, ripe with stuffed animals either putrid pink or a deathly yellow, heaps of clothes so carefully spaced apart they seemed calculated, and worst of all were the boys. Tween boy idols lined her wall in a collage, each one uniquely gaudy. The largest of these was Donny, frozen in a frame of him either dancing or pretending to walk like a crab. His pink tank top was soaked with sweat, his oversized sunglasses empty and judgemental.
That was to say nothing of the large poster of him that was splayed on top of their ceiling, a headshot making a kissy face and with the same dark sunglasses Priscilla imagined watched her as she slept with the detached emptiness of an all seeing automaton.
She checked her phone. 3:23. They would be back any moment.
Tail twirling in frustrated habit, she paced the room and formed an exploratory trail around the mountains of tiny socks and jackets. After Priscilla finished skinning her brother, she would have to correct her sister next. The state of this room surely existed only because Mother had not peeked inside, not to mention her own absence. Dad never knew how to discipline his youngest and it showed. She had gone wild in only 6 months without a sister to oversee her.
Odette’s scowling, muggy little face popped into mind and Priscilla scowled. She would throw every kind of fit, sling every kind of insult, put up every kind of obstacle until Priscilla corrected her.
Brother-dearest would take her side, of course; she knew he would. Priscilla’s fangs began to pop up and she focused to will them back down. Just another mess to clean up, nothing more.
The front door opened so loudly she heard it from her room on the 2nd floor, along with the sound of Odette’s excited gibbering. Priscilla collected herself to wait at the top of the stairs, to intercept them in the corner hallway where all the children’s rooms were. She glanced out of paranoia to her sisters’ room, door open but lights off from her father cleaning, and down the hall to where her parents room was.
Her parents were out: her mother at work and her father shopping, yet the door still made her anxious. A part of her mind she tried to keep locked away believed with certainty that any minute Mother would emerge from the white door, and smite all three of them with a chilling glance.
Odette’s rambling brought her back to reality.
“Who gave it to you?” Odette giggled, with a thump as she hopped onto the carpeted stairs. “Was it a girl? Was it a gift from your lover?”
“Shut up, Odie.” And there was Milo. He was putting on the voice he used when he was being a ‘man’, forced raspiness with a crackle of a whine. “It’s just some stupid jacket.”
“No it’s not!” Odette sang. “It’s super cool, that’s why it can’t be yours!”
Odette was hopping up the stairs backwards, looking back to jeer at Milo. Priscilla cleared her throat in the style of their mother, and Odette turned to stare at her with a small grin.
“Hi Prissy!” She yelled. There was a hiss and a swear from the bottom of the staircase. “Wanna see Milo’s new jacket?”
Priscilla leveled a steely gaze at her, then called out, “Hi, Milo.”
“….Hey, Priscilla.” The tough voice was gone, the whimpering whine back in its place. She didn’t know if he knew how pathetic it sounded. Like most things he did, she imagined he thought it was rebellious.
Milo reached the top of the stairs much more slowly than Odette, his footsteps plodding and his gaze downward. Odette leaned against the railing at the top, twisting on the pads of her feet eagerly.
“He’s got a girlfriend.” Odie whispered to Priscilla and giggled.
“No, I don’t.” Milo mumbled as he finally surfaced from below.
Priscilla had plenty to say to both of these statements, but the words caught in her throat as she got her first good look at Milo.
From the top of him, it was almost something he could have hidden. His hair was frowzy, but it was haphazardly arranged in the style it always was: short and carefully cropped until it almost hung over his eyes, the back ever so slightly shaggy. She imagined it was the style of some hazbin male role model he was trying to emulate. The muss of his hair was odd, but the red lashes below his chin were odder still. Claw marks, certainly, almost as frightful as the red rings bitten around his lips.
And somehow, it got worse below the neckline. The little twerp was wearing a jacket that Mother would have burned with him in it if she ever saw it. It was far too large for him and covered in leather that faded at the bit. It was for a full grown monster who would have frequented a leather bar, not some boy who was standing with his chin tucked into it in shame.
Below even that…..was whatever in Hell had happened to his pants. They had been reduced to almost vertical stripes of fabric, like ribbon streamers. The pasty white of his legs were visible between them, much to her horror. All together, Milo looked like he was trying to disguise himself as a homeless biker fresh from a scrap.
Priscilla couldn’t even open her mouth at first. Unlike Milo’s legs, she had entirely too much material work with.
Once again, Odette broke the silence with a snicker. “I bet she wanted to give him more than that, but Milo got all shy.” If Odette was phased by Milo’s half mauled state or if she had even truly noticed that over her fixation with his jacket, she gave no sign of showing.
“Odie, I really, really need you to stop talking.” Milo moved towards his bedroom door….then stopped when he realized. Priscilla was leaning against it cooly, sizing him up with a sneer.
“….Priscilla, I need to change.” His voice carried annoyance, but also an air of caution. He had caught on fast that something was about to happen, but he wasn’t sure what yet.
“How was school, Milo?” Priscilla asked. She didn’t budge.
He shrugged. “Real fucking bad, thanks for asking.”
“Tell me about it.”
Odette cut in. “He’s just lovestruck, Prissy! Leave him alone!”
And there it was. Her tone was still singsong, but she was picking up that a confrontation was forming and was moving to aid her brother. A twinge of irritation hit Priscilla as she realized this.
“I’ve told you a thousand times, Odette, do not call me that.” The response came automatically. Priscilla’s plan consisted of just confronting Milo, she had neglected to think of how to shoo away Odette, and already she was suffering for it.
“And I told you not to call me Odette! I’m Odie!” She stomped her paw on the ground, smirk breaking for the first time since she’d been home. “And stop being so prissy then, Cilly!”
Priscilla scoffed, the kind of scoff that was just to vent anger. “Odie is a name for dogs. I’m trying to keep you from getting laughed at in school.”
Odette scowled, and the peppy little girl that had been hounding her older brother, who for his part was currently huddled awkwardly in the corner, vanished. In her place sprouted an indignant, pouty looking little cub who looked like the perfect partner in crime for a boy in a biker jacket and a sliver of jeans.
“Actually!” Odette started, “My friends laugh at me because they like to talk to me.” she puffed her cheeks and Priscilla rolled her eyes as she waited for the insult. “Maybe if anyone liked talking to you, you would get that.”
“Scathing, Odette. Go away now, I’m talking to Milo.” She heard Milo groan as she said it, concentrating to not let it agitate her.
Odette glowered and attempted to bare her fangs. The result was a gummy frown with a shaky bottom lip. “At least I can talk to boys.” She growled out.
Priscilla in response actually bared her fangs, making eye contact with as murderous a gaze as she was capable of. “Scamper. Now.”
“Odie.” Milo called out, cutting off the next stage of the fight. Odette turned to look at him, confused. “Just go hang out in your room; we’re fine. We’re just talking.”
Odette lowered her stance slightly, uncertain how to proceed. She cast an uncertain look to Milo, a baleful one to Priscilla, then shrank into her and Priscilla’s room with a huff.
“Glad she can behave for someone.” Priscilla said, contempt fully unmasked.
“I don’t know why you’re pissed, you’re the one who’s always a bitch to her.” The indignant, whimpering tone of Milo trying to be assertive scraped against her ear like nails. Restrained annoyance for Odette gave way to something harsher as she turned to him.
“Any reason you decided to dress as a stripper today, Milo?” She kept her words apathetic and flat, but couldn’t help the dark scorch of something harsher from flashing in her eyes. It went unnoticed.
“Can you get out of my way please?”
“I thought we were talking.” She felt like making him squirm first.
“Priscilla, I’m half naked here.”
His lip quivered. It always did when he was mad. “Fuck off?”
“Try again.” She didn’t move.
Milo reached for the handle behind her and pulled with all his might. She didn’t move
“Of course.” She opened the door for him. He tried to disappear into the room alone, but was met with her on his heels as he turned to close the door. He moaned the most snotty, immature sound he could make then went to change in his closet. Priscilla bit her lip and sat on his desk chair.
She considered his room in the lull as she waited for him to change, and snorted to herself. Dad never touched the rooms of the kids who still lived in the house, and yet Milo’s was immaculate. She knew why too; Mother only ever inspected his room.
It had been that way since they were children. Odette would have been skinned and turned into the new family rug if Mother ever saw the current state of her room, but likely she never would. She had no reason to barge into her childrens’ room and never had, except for Milo. This was because Mother knew how important it was that a boy grow up knowing how to keep a clean living space. She inspected his room weekly since the time Milo was old enough to read and burned into Milo’s brain the absolute need for cleanliness.
Priscilla allowed herself a single laugh. She tried to imagine a rebel who kept his room clean so Mommy wouldn’t get mad at him.
“What?” Milo asked from behind the closet. She must have laughed louder than she thought.
“I was just thinking I’m behind the times,” She responded, pivoting to why she was here,
“I didn’t know about the butt floss leggings movement. Is that popular at your school?”
“Priscilla, come on.”
“What does Mom think of it? I should ask her about it when she gets home.”
Milo emerged from the closet in a rush, newly clothed and with his unmentionables covered. “Look, what do you want?”
Priscilla tapped a claw to her cheek, regarding him. He was still trying to maintain a facsimile of stubborn pride, but it was cracking quickly.
“Tell me about school today. That was what I asked earlier, wasn’t it?” She positioned herself to look unconcerned in the chair. She held the cards, she knew, it was time for him to appease her for once.
“It wasn’t great.” Milo responded, rubbing his neck and sitting on his bed. They were still somewhat close, the distance between his desk and bed only a few feet. Milo had the only single bedroom, but had the tiniest room by far.
“And why was that?” She signaled him to continue, and understanding snapped onto Milo’s face. He assumed a pout, possibly meant as a scowl.
“Well, Priscilla,” He raised his arms theatrically in the direction of his face. “I got into a fucking fight today, and for some fucking reason my sister wants to hear about it.”
“A fight,” she clicked her tongue. “Right. And who was this fight with? Did another boy come to school wearing your outfit?”
“What the fuck is your problem?” Milo asked, standing up and gesturing in what might have been meant as a willful gesture. “I got my fucking ass kicked, what do you wanna know about it?”
“Swearing is a nasty habit, Milo.”
He moved to put his finger in his face, to say something else vulgar. She was already standing and in his face before he could react.
“SIT DOWN.” Her voice boomed it, a copy of her Mother’s authoritative tone from her worst fights with Jeanine. Milo bowled backwards onto the bed, utterly stunned and suddenly quite meek looking. With a nearly a foot in height difference between them, he was far from intimidating when stacked up next to her. She cleared her throat then said, “We’re talking like adults right now, Milo. So you’re going to watch your mouth and tell me what happened today.”
She stayed standing for a second, awkward, then sat back down. She hadn’t had time to practice a speech for this, but she knew how she wanted this to go: calmly. The law was going to be laid down tonight, and it was going to happen without a scene.
“Milo,” she began. “I can keep directing you to go on like a child, or you can do it yourself.” She crossed her arms proudly, tilting her nose up at him like she had found a bug underneath her heel. “Which will it be?”
There was a pause. Not quite a ceasefire, the tension in the room was too palpable for it, but Priscilla felt the energy of the room shifting towards her. Read it in Milo’s lowering gaze, in his aggression melting away into the reticent look he had now.
“At lunch today,” he started, “I got a call from Mom.”
Priscilla notched an eyebrow. “What about?”
“It doesn’t really matter.” He looked to see if that was acceptable, then elaborated when he saw the look in her eye. “She’s taking me to a restaurant this weekend. With Hilda.”
“Mmm.” She had plenty to say about this, specifically the way he said Hilda’s name like it dripped with slime across his tongue, but held off for now.
“So, I go to the stairwell to take it and when I’m done….I kinda bumped into someone.”
“Her name’s Isha, I think.”
The response almost made her ill. He was right, but he actually wasn’t even sure. He wasn’t sure if he knew the whore’s name!
Milo continued, “I kinda…..well I was in a bad mood so I said some shit to her. She didn’t like it.” Milo’s head had been kept low for his story, but he raised it to look at her. She looked back with agitated puzzlement, waiting for him to finish.
“Um, I lost.” he finished. He gestured vaguely to his neck.
Priscilla blinked, then rubbed her temple in utter bewilderment. “This is fucking unbelievable.” The words came out like a poisonous hiss. She continued before he could respond with his next lie. “I’m not stupid, Milo. I saw the picture.”
Oxygen emptied from the room, or it might as well have for the flush that overtook Milo. His eyes had widened, fit to pop out of the socket. Blood was draining from his face to leave it something whiter than pale.
“Picture?” he croaked.
Priscilla reached for her phone for the evidence. A spark of glee was welling up within her; she tried to pretend she wasn’t feeling it. She scanned her phone for the photo….then stopped.
The house was quiet, she realized. It hadn’t been until just this moment. From the moment she had cornered Milo, there had been the faint buzz of trashy pop music coming from across the hall. Priscilla had focused so hard on ignoring it she hadn’t even noticed that it had actually stopped.
She glanced at the floor. When she saw the shadow peeking out from under the door, she slammed her foot against the wooden frame and was greeted with a shrill squeak from behind it.
“Odette!” She yelled. “Go to your room!”
The door ripped open and the cub marched straight up to Priscilla. On her tiptoes she didn’t even come up to Priscilla’s chin, but she assumed a snarl and the self-assured confidence that only a twelve-year old being bratty could manage.
“Stop telling me what to do.” Odette hissed. “And stop being a bitch to everyone!”
“Excuse me!” Priscilla yelled, “You don’t get to talk to me like that, little girl!”
Odette’s ears went flat on her head, lips peeled back in another amateur attempt at baring fangs. Her arms went awkwardly at her side, poised with uncertainty. She was mirroring the natural stance of rage Priscilla was in, but Priscilla was too furious to notice. Perhaps if she had, she would have seen the fight for the immature spat it was.
“Stop acting like you’re in charge!” Odette yelled back at her, “You aren’t Mom just because you have the same stupid stick up your butt!”
“You don’t get to talk to me like that, little girl! I’m in charge of your life until Mom and Dad get home!”
“Shut up! You’re not in charge of anyone, Prissy!”
Priscilla roared, a primal sort of thing. It shot out of her paired with an instinctual flare of standing her ground. A few hundreds of years ago, she might have done it to assert her standing to an upstart rival in the tribe. Today, she did it in a feral bid to make her sister behave.
It was to no avail. Odette matched the roar with her own, more of a rising hiss than anything else. She had now raised her claws in an amateur gesture of showing her claws, but the claws numbered randomly across her paws. At her age she still couldn’t make them pop reliably, and succeeded only in a belligerent pantomime of her sister.
It would have been a very extended standoff if not for Milo speaking up.
“Odie,” he called. “It’s okay.”
The cub withdrew, glare at Priscilla softening to a concerned look at her brother.
“We’re just talking.” His smile was soft, his voice quiet. Odette hung off the words, staring up at her brother with bright blue eyes as the thin slits of her pupils widened.
“You guys don’t just talk. There’s always something going on.” Odette’s had flattened downwards now, downcast. She acted like Priscilla had left the room or else vanished into vapor. It was yet another insult laid at the elder sister’s feet, but she waited for Milo to dismiss her.
“It’s fine.” Milo reassured her again. “It’s really fine, Odie.”
Milo had, from Priscilla’s point of view, been many things since he had walked through the front door. A joke of a bad boy, a horrible liar, and a snot nosed little brother. Yet with Odette, he had managed to remind her, just for a moment, of what he was once; the sweet younger brother. The one who held her hand on his first day of kindergarten and cried when she left him behind, who ran to her after school and wouldn’t detach until the bus had taken them home. The little boy who snuck into her room at night to watch scary movies, who, in a far away memory, had once looked up to her in awe and wonder.
They were warm memories. But right now, looking at the boy cooing to his youngest sister and waiting for them to turn to her with looks of contempt and scorn, the memory stoked a quiet burning rage. It reminded her why she was here; to bring that boy back. To make sure he would look at her that way again.
Odette turned to her. The look she predicted was there, perhaps slightly diluted. Priscilla had fallen out of the conversation to be distracted by her thoughts, but it seemed Milo had appeased her. She slinked out without even slamming the door.
It wasn’t until the fog of pop noise crackled back to life that the two left in the room acknowledged each other.
“Wow, Milo,” She said, “You’re such a good brother.” There was a dull wave of anger rippling through, the black pit of rage that sparked so deeply ingrained in her psyche that she was only vaguely aware of what agitated her.
“Lay off her, Priscilla.” he snapped back. “Why are you always on her ass?”
“Because if I’m not, then Mom will be.” Milo rolled his eyes with practiced drama and Priscilla had to concentrate from popping her claws.
Milo spoke, “Stop acting like you’re the fucking, the fucking….” he gestured listlessly for a moment, then brought his hands together with purpose. “The fucking arbiter! Of what Mom wants, okay? I can take care of my own shit.”
“What shit would that be?” She decided to remind him. “Wolf shit?”
She enjoyed watching the indignation drip off his face, the milky wave of fear settling back into place. He swallowed, still trying to look undaunted. “You said there was a picture?”
She pulled it up, and he recognized it from across the room. On sight he burrowed his face into his hands and moaned.
The Picture was….well it was quite bad. Awful, in fact. For him, for her, for just about everyone in the photo and who had the misfortune of handling it.
Barring the wolf, perhaps. Her eyes held such smug glee as she looked at the camera that Priscilla could practically see the warped sneer outlined through Milo’s skull. Speaking of, Milo for his part in the picture clung to his lupine lover in a hungry grip, as if begging her to never release him. It was less a photo and more a magical artifact that churned stomach acid.
Milo uncoiled from the sniveling mess that he was to make a clumsy lunge for the phone. Priscilla held it out so he could grab it, then let him fall belly first onto the floor. There was a cathartic thumb as he landed, unacknowledged by Milo himself as his finger slapped at the screen.
Priscilla resigned herself to enjoying the spectacle, focusing not to let a smile crease her disappointed sneer. It proved more and more difficult, especially as Milo’s cusses turned to hysterical grunts of exertion as he tried to force the phone to read his touch. Monster phones were made for pin-point claw pressure, not a monkey trying to bash it against his thumbs.
Eventually, and with a gibbon screech, Milo chucked the phone across the carpet like it had been burning in his hands. It landed at her feet, and she allowed him to gawk at it in fear-fueled reverence before retrieving it.
“You do understand that Angela still has the photo, right?” Priscilla asked. She was about to mention her message history also still had it, but Milo was on the move again.
“Priscillla, you gotta make her delete it.” He limped over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
She looked him dead in the eye.
He removed his hand from her shoulder.
“Priscilla, please. You know what Mom will do to me?” His voice was shaking.
Priscilla honestly couldn’t even imagine. Her best guess was homeschooling in an underground bunker, but she knew what Milo thought: that he would be sent to “Courtesy College”.
Courtesy College was a spectre of a rumor that Milo had lived in fear of since Middle School. That a boy who misbehaved and talked back to his betters would be whisked away to a college in the secluded mountains on the edge of state. No one knew its real name, only what the “survivors” looked like: pretty, well groomed zombies with hollow eyes and coiffed hair. They kept their heads bowed at all times and sat in their desks with posture as rigid as dolls with rusted joints.
This was all nonsense, obviously, as were most of Milo’s lunatic ravings on the invisible war he fought. Every boy he thought was a victim of the courtesy college Priscilla could personally name the girl who had claimed them just before their attitude shift. Monsters were preying on humans as they always did, and the one person who had kept Milo from falling victim to that was being lectured by how it might happen to him. Once again.
Yet as she looked at her brother, the good for nothing loudmouth who caused her nothing but trouble, she still couldn’t find the steel or hate to leave him to his mess.
“Mother won’t know.” Priscilla said finally.
He had started to thank her before she finished, and she bit down the annoyance of that observation to raise a claw.
“Don’t thank me, because I’m going to tell you why this isn’t going to happen anymore.”
“I’m dealing with-” He started.
“Not the girl. All of it. The whining, the ingratitude, the victim act. I’m done with it and so are you.”
He actually tried to respond. Part of her regretted not hearing whatever mewling tirade he was about to defend himself with, but with a single question she cut him off and shot straight to the heart of things:
“Do you remember Harriet, Milo?”
Milo looked alarmed. Then confused. The name visibly bothered him, but even he could tell that the conversation was veering somewhere he wasn’t prepared for.
“Harriet….the Griffin? From 9th grade?” He asked, in the tone of someone who hoped they were asking the wrong question.
“Yeah….I remember Harriet.” He muttered. He tried to look detached, scrambling to prepare for whatever was coming.
“Do you remember why she stopped groping you in the hallways?”
He scowled. “You fucking knew?”
“Of course I knew. I’m the one who broke her arm.” The restraint in Priscilla’s voice held, barely. The rest of what she wanted to say was forming on her tongue, waiting to be unleashed.
The cocksure semblance of anger on his face slid off. His words came out in a mumble. “She, she changed her schedule.”
“After, yes. I told her it was in her best interest to avoid having classes with you. She agreed.” She held a claw up. “I’m not finished. Do you remember Selma, the arachne? What about that shark girl Luna, or what about Agnes from the wrestling team?” She counted the names off on her fingers theatrically.
“I chipped my claw off Junior year making that salamander give you your gym shorts back. I had to hide my claws for all our holiday photos. Oh! And do you remember that awful amazon who wouldn’t stop following you home? Do you know what you said to me the night after I had beaten her senseless?”
Milo was rigid, head downcast. He had shrunken visibly as the revelations buffeted against him. He offered only a defeated, “I don’t know.”
“You said, ‘Get out of my life, you bitch.’ Do you remember? It was right after graduation, when I told you I wouldn’t be around anymore to keep you out of trouble.”
“I didn’t know, Priscilla!” Milo yelled. The moment he did, the gates broke inside Priscilla. The prim, stuffy voice of a superior talking to a subordinate broke down. The raw rage that only a sibling could have for a sibling seethed out into her voice.
“You never knew because you didn’t want to know!” She yelled back at him. “All you want is to be the stupid, little ingrate who’s cooler than everyone else! The only reason you’re not chained at the hip to a slug was me keeping your ungrateful ass safe!”
“I didn’t fucking ask for your help!” He raised his voice higher than hers, trying to outmatch her in the only way the little human could.
She lunged at him, claws sinking into the blankets, rooting her advance. Milo had slammed himself against the wall, body trapped underneath her. Priscilla hung from her claws as if a switch had been flipped inside her to halt her. She only barely could feel herself, the feeling of fangs poking from her lips told her body she was snarling.
“How dare you?” she didn’t recognize the sound of her own voice. It rippled through her throat like something primal, the sound of something that remembered darkened canopies and out the lungs of thrashing prey.
“I didn’t mean that, to say that.” He was sorry. He was scared.
“I don’t give a shit what you meant!” Her claws dug in deeper to the mattress. The distance between them closed instinctively as Milo forced his skull to push into the wall. “A fucking lifetime spent watching out for an ungrateful brat, and that’s the thanks I get?”
“I didn’t know, okay?” His voice was tinted with the slight accusation. She conjured future deflections of guilt and grew more furious. She ripped her claws away in clean swipes that tore through the blanket and sputtered fluffs of snowing cotton into the air.
“Dude!” Milo yelled, “I’m sorry! I can’t process this right now, okay?”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Priscilla cried out. The bubbling predator had dissipated back into primal memory, the enraged sister finally back in control to yell at her brother, “I busted my ass for you, I ruined my life for you, and you tell me you didn’t ask me?”
“Thank you!” Milo attempted.
“Shut up!” Priscilla fired back instantly.
She trudged to the corner to bury her face into her paws and think, hopefully to stop thinking. Her claws prodded at her as she did, resisting her twitches to retract them.
When the thoughts came to her, organized into some kind of coherency, they were dour. The brat was worse than they thought. He had to keep his head below the water for ONE year without her at his side, and he hadn’t even made it to break.
Even sending Hilda his way hadn’t been enough.
“Alright.” She sent away the crowd of thoughts and focused herself on the boy melting into the wall.
“I wasn’t thinking.” He said before she finished, unsticking himself. “Okay? It’s really hard to think straight right now.”
“You and this girl are done now.” She said.
“I agree completely Priscilla, okay? I’m working on it.”
“No, I mean it’s over by tomorrow night.” She continued even as a croak of an argument tried to escape him, “When you come home from school tomorrow you’re going to tell me how you did it; lie to me and I’ll scent the chickenshit from you and drag you to Mom myself.”
“I need time!” Milo cried.
“I just gave you time.” She said. She turned at the sight of him crumbling into his seats, cutting out pity with the swift thought of him no longer tied at the hip to a werewolf. A tired rage was still warm in her cheeks as she thought to leave the house for a walk in the cold.
“Corey Bovich.” Milo called the name out in a squeak.
A wave of white swept across Priscilla’s brain; a smoldering sensation that seared her senses. When it passed, she was back to standing in front of a freshly terrified Milo.
“Say that name again.” The words crawled from her in an icy hiss.
“I, I still have the texts.” He was trying to sound brave. In control. The cretin.
“There are no texts.” She was speaking through clamped fangs. “Jean promised.” Priscilla had made her swear it, when she had held her hair in the bathroom.
“Angela texted me, Pris. Not Jean. Where would she have gotten Jean’s number?” The little mongrel had almost stilled the tremble in his voice. She could ruin his life. She and mother could put him through things that would make him dream of courtesy school. “I asked Jean to get you.”
“What do you mean she texted you?” Angela wouldn’t have, there was no way.
“She, she said she didn’t want anyone else to see. But I didn’t believe her at first.” Milo swallowed, pausing. The silence in the room was heavy like a migraine, waiting for the next painful pulse. “So I made her take a picture.”
Priscilla felt herself starting to shake. “What did you see?” she asked.
“I saw you. With uh, with his underwear.”
Nothing had happened. They played grab ass and rolled their tongues around in the corner of a near abandoned party. Alcohol had been involved, enough that Corey had forgotten the day after it had even happened. No one knew it had happened except for Angela.
It wouldn’t matter. Mother would never look at her the same if she knew. Neither would Adeline, looking down at her over the rim of her designer sunglasses for the rest of their lives.
Milo glanced around before continuing. Priscilla’s lack of response must have thrown him. “Yeah, uh, yeah. So, give me until, uh, January.” Sweat was beading on his forehead, even as he forced his lips into a sneer. “And you’re gonna help keep Mom off my back too.”
The information lined up in a row in her mind, like a finger raking across files in a cabinet:
She tried to help.
He was ungrateful.
She gave him a chance.
He blackmailed her.
She tried to be a good sister.
He spited her.
She walked to him, as he was beginning to speak again. His grin had cracked, lost purchase on his face when she was silent. He was so unprepared when she grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him he couldn’t scream.
“I slaved away my entire life in school to get to this fucking college. To get in with honors, with scholarships, with recommendations from those miserable old teachers.” The words came again autonomously; old wounds she had thought long forgotten. There was a clarity that gripped her so rigidly it chilled her.
“Priscilla?” Milo whispered. He was scared. It reminded her of elementary school; the little boy clinging to his sister as their parents left. She ignored it and continued.
“I hate being a business major, I hate being in a rich school full of pampered little ingrates who won’t ever have to worry for a minute of their fucking life about proving they’re good enough. I never had that, Milo.” She shook him without meaning to; he slackened in her grip. “You don’t know. You’ll never know how Mother looks at you when your older sister was valedictorian and you’re struggling to keep an A in Advanced Chemistry.”
She pulled Milo to her face, nearly nose to nose. Her eyes bore down into his; she could almost see tears forming.
“You’ll never know what it feels like to be all alone. So go run to your bitch. I’m done helping you.”
She released him just as he went limp in her grasp; his eyes looked up at her in confusion. Suddenly he was the little brother again, lost and looking for his sister. A crackle of speech tried to escape him, but it fizzled out as she shut the door behind her. She went down the stairs neither slow nor fast and blocked out the sound of tiny paws scrabbling behind her.
A gust of chill hit her as she left the porch; natural fur and a thin jacket were plenty to stop it. Father would be home soon, and Priscilla didn’t feel like seeing anymore of her family at the moment. She snaked around the corners and streets of the neighborhood, past frosted windows of giggling children and through thin strips of snow that filtered down.
She thought she left without a destination in mind, realizing she had one in mind only when she reached it; the thin concrete trail tucked into the corner of the suburbs, trickling out into the patchwork of trees that flanked the neighborhood. She had passed its entrance before she even thought of where she was going.
The nature path was built through hollowed out embankments. Dead weeds and leaves were piled up in the trenches and crept out along the edges of the cracking cement trail. Trees lined up post-mortem at odd intervals, wire-frame bushes sprouting in their cracks.
She found the patch of grass after a few minutes walking, spread out in a patch where the road forked to avoid it. A few pale white picnic tables dotted the rest zone, situated around the large oak in the middle. Snow crumpled neatly onto the benches as Priscilla walked towards the tree and she remembered to shake the flakes collecting in her hair loose.
Her family came here sometimes. Not often, but enough for memory pangs to come to her. Rough housing with her sisters, hide and seek at the tree edge with Milo and Odette, the smell of father’s cooking as a breeze spread it across the park; the thoughts flashed around her as the cold dug through her fur to prick at her skin.
The oak tree pulled her from the haze; that is to say the scratches carved into the bark did. They were scattered in disorder starting from a few feet above her head and stopping right where the head of branches formed a handful of feet above. She recognized the ones from her own claws near the top, right below the marks that reached the branches.
Adeline’s marks. The ones she could never reach.
She dug a claw in the bark, testing it. It broke away cleanly despite herself.
“Gentle yet firm, Cilly. Gentle yet firm.” Adeline’s voice rang in her head. Chiding. Smug.
She ripped into the bark and cleaved a chunk of it cleanly off the battered oak tree; pale brown flesh revealed itself as the childhood carvings were sheared off. She screamed a roar as she shucked yet more of the bark.
She thought of her brother. Surely now Odette was with him, tending to his ego.
She thought of Adeline. She would be taking her holiday from work soon; back to bask in mother’s praise.
And yet, most of all, Priscilla thought of the wolf. The one with the black hair and blacker irises. The way she looked so natural in victory. Like she had a year ago.
And the claw marks on Priscilla’s back burned fresh.
It had been less than 5 hours since Milo had told a werewolf in a secluded basement to fuck off. So far, his great act of rebellion had not resulted in whatever it was he had thought it would at the time.
As he lay in his bed, finally back in clothes but now in a bed with open-air blankets, he reflected on more or less everything. His head swirled in the maelstrom of the day, the rolling line of horrible decisions and scary women laid out in his head like an art gallery of self-demise.
Prissy took up his mind most for the moment. He would have rathered she didn’t, but he would have rathered a lot of things that weren’t his current troubles.
He hadn’t meant to say those things to her.
Well, he hadn’t meant to say them like that.
Which was to say — that he didn’t really know what he had wanted to say to her. Telling her he didn’t need her was probably the wrong thing to say. Blackmailing her was also….regrettable. But she forced him to say it, she wouldn’t listen!
Cold air settled on the wounds around his lips and he shuddered. He felt like the pain was questioning him, squeezing the truth out of him. He let the thoughts come as he stared at the ceiling.
Milo had always known about Priscilla protecting him. He wanted desperately to say he didn’t, but her revelation had hit the wrong way for that to be true. Rather than being shocked to his core, he felt more like he was being punished for a mess he had made years ago and tried to hide. For years he had let himself believe he was as clever and as crafty as he wanted to be; that the years spent unclaimed were solely because of his own ingenuity.
It wasn’t true. He was here unclaimed only because a monster willed it. Now he would be claimed because a different monster was taking over his life.
He would be claimed.
Milo turned in the deathroes of his blanket to check the time. 4:38. 14 hours and 52 minutes until the end of his life. Whether that end would come from claiming or being dismantled limb from limb like a straw doll he didn’t know yet. But he was on his own now, he supposed.
He was on his own now. The thought wrapped around a pernicious gear deep in his mind. The oasis of self-awareness began to dry as the thought came to him; if he dealt with Isha all on his own, then who was to say he was only still unclaimed because of Prissy? This was the reasoning he lapsed into as accepting reality grew too complicated.
The door swinging open nearly made him scream; the figure leaping onto his bed absolutely made him scream. At the flash of stripes he was terrified Priscilla had come back to finish him off, until the messy head of brown hair rose to peek up at him as the rest of it lay on his chest.
“Why is she such a bitch!” Odie cried, dragging the end of her sentence into a humming whine. “She just got back and she’s already like this!”
“Odie.” Milo groaned. Her landing had caused a few knitting wounds to pop open again. “You’re crushing me.”
“Sorry,” Odie didn’t actually seem to be, adjusting herself to lay beside him over the covers. Her face was twisted up in concentration, a conspiratory glint in her eyes. “I bet she’s just mad you beat her to dating someone.”
“I think she’s mad about a lot.” Milo mumbled.
Odie turned to look up at him, pouting. “Why’s that our fault?”
“It’s….” Milo hesitated. “It’s not your fault.”
“It’s not yours either!”
“I guess.” The rumbling pit of some kind of guilt was tumbling around in Milo’s stomach, but he wasn’t quite ready to give it a voice. In the puzzle cube that was the immediate perils of his life, he thought it was prudent to zero in on the shortest ticking clock.
“She’s not my girlfriend.” Milo said.
Odie forgot her agitation as she peered up at her brother, blue eyes sparking with a mischief he’d normally only expect from his older sisters. “Milo, that’s awful. You can’t just let her use you for your body.”
“Odie, can you get out of my room please?”
“No.” she replied, bored. “Wanna play Smash Streets?”
“I kinda got a headache.”
“And a buttache.” she snickered.
“If I scratch your ears will you stop talking?”
She thought about this. “Maybe.”
And so he did, and so she was quiet. Eventually Odie talked to him about her day and her friends, and in the dull dreary death row of his mind he was grateful for the company. When their father came home, she went down and told him Milo was skipping dinner because of his stomach. When his mother got home and his father told her this, she knocked on his door and told him she hoped his stomach would be better by tomorrow night, which meant that it would be.
He didn’t sleep, but at some point he stopped remembering the night. He rose early in the morning, dressed in Isha’s leather jacket and then in his puffy overcoat. He waited until the house stirred, then quieted, then left for school by his lonesome.
And at 7:15, promptly, he was at her den again.