a doctor order is 0.125 g of ampicillin CHAPTER ONE
The obsidian water sparkled in the moonlight that shone through the tall trees; their leaves rustled, creating an almost lullaby to my ears. I stood at the edge of the shore, my naked human flesh crusted with dried mud, blood, and sap. The cold water lapped at my feet, sending a chill up my spine.
Nothing else disturbed the sweet song the wind sang to me; I was safe, for once. No more running, at least for a second. Stepping forward, I entered the lake. With the water up to my breasts, I swam forward, until my legs no longer touched the rocks at the bottom. The crusted gash on my right hip stung, but I ignored the discomfort to turn over onto my back and float in the water.
White light from the moon peeked through the thin branches of the trees, shining down onto me. I closed my eyes, drinking it in.
The radio played Fleetwood Mac’s Seven Wonders. I reached over to switch the station, but my dad nudged my hand away. “This song is magical, Jasmine. Let it sing to your soul.”
I pulled my knees up to my chest, rested my feet on the seat, and wrapped my arms around them. Days of running, days of driving. A never-ending scenery of road in front of us. My entire fifteen years of life reduced to two suitcases that laid in the back seat with six boxes of files.
“I’m sorry that we had to run like this because of me. If I could’ve just seen the signs sooner, we could’ve left with more of our things. It’s not fair that you’ll have to start over in Colorado.”
His knuckles turned white as he hummed to the song. “I promised your mother I would keep you safe. To do that, we had to leave our old life behind. I’ll always follow you where you need to go to be safe.”
Hot tears gathered in my eyes. I brushed them away before they fell and made my skin tight. I hated that I caused so much strife in his life.
He turned up the music.
I opened my eyes and hummed the song into the darkness of the night. “If I live to see the seven wonders, I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end…” My voice came out hoarse into the night.
A twig snapped in the distance, and I sat up, listening before rushing back to the shore. I stayed still for too long.
My wet feet slipped on the rocks of the shore, jagged ones ripped at my heels. I pushed on. I didn’t have time to cry over how much it hurt. A branch rustled in the distance, not far from the lake.
Why was I so stupid to think I’d be safe enough, even for a second, to bathe my human self? The shadows of the trees covered me in their protection as I concentrated on shifting my body. My vision changed to black and white as moonlight made everything sparkle. My large orange paws hit the ground, the black stripes twirling and dancing up my arm. As my nose elongated into a thick snout, my ears moved to the top of my head.
The shift always wore me out, but I didn’t have time to rest and let my organs get used to the different configuration. Darting away from the lake, I wove in and out of the trees, leaping over logs and large rocks as if they were mere twigs and pebbles, keeping my steps as silent as possible.
“Miss Lockwood! We know you’re out here!”
I stopped and changed direction, spraying one of the nearby trees in the hopes of throwing them off with my scent being all over the place before darting another way. I couldn’t stay on one path; taking many directions kept me safe. Their shifters’ noses were some of the best.
Rushing water hit my ears, and I went for it. A small river tumbled in front of me, a perfect escape. My scent would fade. The rocks looked uninviting, but I leaped into the icy waters and used all four of my paws to wade. It careened me forward down the current, and I let it take me where it traveled. No sense in fighting it; I would drown.
The roar of rapids crashing as a waterfall grew closer made my heart speed up. Two choices stood in front of me. One, I could escape the water before the fall and potentially be caught, or two, I could take the hit, even though there was a chance shallow waters below would kill me.
Closing my eyes, I let myself go. If death wanted me bad enough, she could have my soul. The water swept me up faster. I fought to keep my head above the water as it tried to pull me under. The specks of water from the crashing rapids stung my eyes and snout before the curve over the edge came.
My tail swung in the air as the waterfall forced me to fall backward. I twisted my spine around, facing the basin before putting all four paws down in front of me. The surface hit hard, making the air leave my body as I crashed through it. Death didn’t want me. Forcing my jelly legs to move, I resurfaced and snorted water from my nose before I made it out of the water that pummeled from overhead.
I searched for land and swam for it. Mud covered the shore. I used my claws to pull myself up onto the bank before I rolled over and over in the mud. At least it would cover my scent for a little while. Long enough for me to put more distance between the people who hunted me.
“You’re not like other Deviants, Jasmine. You’re special. They want you because you’re special. You must stay out of their grasp and make your way to the safe house in Black Canyon, Colorado. I have friends there; they’ll help you.”
I held onto his hand as blood poured from the gash in his forehead. The airbag pressed against his face. The dashboard crushed his legs, pinning him in the car. Blood pooled around one of his thighs. A stag’s large body lay on the hood. He came out of nowhere.
Tears blurred my vision, my chest burned, and I couldn’t breathe. “I’m not leaving you, Dad! I don’t even know where Black Canyon is!”
He let go of my hand to pull at the chain around his neck. “Your mother’s ring has powers; it’ll show you the way. Do you remember last week when you became that tiger? You have to do it again. The ring will stay with you.” He pressed the ruby ring into my hand and curled my fingers around it.
A helicopter’s blades chopped through the air in the distance.
He swallowed hard as his eyes rolled in his head. “You have to go now. Government Agents are on their way. Run, baby, run.” His hand went limp.
My eyes widened. “Dad?” I shook his shoulder, but his head lolled to the side. “Dad! No, don’t leave me!”
The helicopter grew closer. Flames erupted from the engine, and the stag’s fur caught fire. I watched as it shifted into the naked form of a young man. His dead eyes stared at me.
I gasped at the sight of him; The young man took his own life to capture me. “Dad! We have to get out of here!” I tried to feel for his pulse but didn’t know where to touch. I couldn’t feel anything.
The flames jumped.
Using my feet, I kicked out the window before crawling out of it. I ran from the crash with my mother’s ring still in hand. The car blew, the heat from the blast hitting my back and sending me onto my hands and knees. The light from the helicopter scanned the area off in the distance.
A sob erupted from me as I forced myself to stumble from the ground into a run, shoving my mother’s ring onto my thumb, the only finger it would fit. I headed for the cover of the forest.
It’d been ten days since I left my father’s body to burn in the car wreck. They hadn’t been far behind me since. I learned quickly they used other’s like me to smell me out, but my dad taught me enough on how to keep ahead. I just hadn’t known that’s what all his weird training had been for.
The mud stuck to every inch I could cover before I ran for the trees. Once enough dense coverage surrounded me, I shifted back into my naked human form. My teeth chattered as the mud’s chill seeped into my bones. I stuck the thumb with my mother’s ring into my mouth, licking the earth from the ruby, before spitting the grit onto the ground.
Even though darkness covered me, the stone still gleamed as if polished and in a lit case. I held it close to my mouth. “Show me the way.”
A laser beam sprung from it and pointed into the far-off distance. At least the river didn’t take me too far off course. When I crouched on all fours, the crusty, oozing gash in my hip protested the movement. A hiss escaped me; the thing burned like a son of a bitch. The shift began.
I gasped for air as I ran. Their hyena cackles followed me as they grew closer. I shut my eyes, trying to make the shift that happened the week before all hell broke loose happen again. I needed more speed than my two ill-functioning legs could gain on their own.
The problem was, I didn’t have a clue how I did it the first time. It just happened while I slept.
Tiger. Tiger. Tiger. I pictured all the tigers I’d ever seen at the zoo or in pictures. Warmth invaded my skin as tingles washed over my arms. Orange hair sprouted from the tops of my hands and traveled up to my shoulder. My bone structure shifted, my organs changing their placement.
The sensation grossed me out. I stumbled when my feet turned into paws and my body pitched toward the ground. Their laughter neared. Shadows appeared all around. One hyena swiped at my back leg, slashing into my fur and flesh.
I let out a roar and turned my body to slash at them. I caught their snout with my claws and hooked into their lip. They yelped and stumbled before ripping their face away from my paw.
Picking up the pace, the others in the group caught up and continued to try to slow me down. I swiped at them every chance I could. A cliff neared us with every stride. I had no way to know how far it was to the other side, but if I didn’t try jumping, they would have me.
If I could’ve screamed, I would’ve as I used every ounce of energy I had to propel my speed. They slid to a halt as I pushed off the cliff with my back legs and leaped across the chasm. My stomach plummeted as it felt like I’d been in the air longer than I should’ve. My front claws scrapped across the rock on the other side. I roared as I pulled myself up and looked behind me.
They laughed at the edge of their cliff, pacing back and forth. The one with the ripped lip almost seemed to stare into my soul. I ran from them.
The mud would cover me for a while. I needed to put distance between us and tread carefully to not give them prints to follow. Weaving through the trees helped me choose places to step with dead leaves or rocks. The cuts on the pads of my back paws screamed, but I couldn’t stop. Not until I found the safe house. I had no idea how close I was, or if I’d even made it to Colorado yet. We were in Montana before that suicide agent ran out into the road and my world turned even more upside down.
I’d ran ever since. Only taking small half-hour breaks, never getting fully rested. Rabbits had become a staple for a quick meal. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to eating raw, bloody meat as a tiger, but it kept me from starving.
The ring couldn’t tell me how far anything was, but it led me down a path with lots of woods to hide in.
My vision blurred as exhaustion and pain pulled even more at my mind, urging me to stop for a moment to sleep. When I shook myself, dry mud went flying before I pushed on.
Something acidic hit my nose, and I stopped. Fire?
Looking around, I moved to a tree before shifting and holding up my ring. “Show me the way.”
The beam continued to point forward, but when I squinted, it bounced off something in the near distance. I shifted back into my tiger self and ran straight ahead. My heart hammered. I didn’t know what to expect.
A small shack peeked through the trees at me. Smoke billowed from a chimney. I stopped to hide behind another tree before I shifted back to human. “Show me the way.”
The red laser pointed at the shack’s door. My brows came together. That was it? How could that rundown, tiny thing be a safe house?
I peered down at my naked form. My clothes lay somewhere in the woods back where I shifted for the second time. But how would the people respond to a mud-covered tiger? My eyes scanned the area before I put my arm over my ample breasts and a hand over my groin. I ran for it and knocked before recovering myself.
A muffled voice came from the other side. “When does the rooster crow?”
I fished a french fry out of the bag. We stopped only long enough to grab burgers and fill up on gas. I handed it to Dad as he drove.
He hummed his approval. “Jasmine, let me ask you something. When does the rooster crow?”
I frowned as I opened my burger. “Uh, in the morning?”
He shook his head. “At midnight.”
I snorted before I chewed a bite of my cheeseburger. “How do you figure that?”
“Just something to stick in your head.”
A cool breeze washed over my naked body, and my teeth chattered. “At midnight.”
Several locks clicked from the other side, and the door opened. A guy with shaggy blond hair and ice-blue eyes, hidden behind oval wire-rimmed glasses, stared at me before his gaze traveled down and back up my naked form.
Pink bled into his cheeks. “Uh, Gideon! There’s a naked girl at the door!”
A voice came from far inside the shack. “A naked girl, huh? Do you think I was born yesterday, Luck?” The voice grew closer as it spoke.
My teeth chattered as another guy stepped into the doorway. His long brown hair fell to his ass in a ponytail, and his green eyes widened. “Holy shit! Jasmine Lockwood? What happened to you? Get in here!”
When he pulled on my elbow, I stumbled inside while still trying to retain some dignity.
He brushed a strand of muddy hair out of my eyes. “What happened to you? Where are your clothes? Why are you covered in mud? Did anyone follow you?”
The other guy, Luck, threw something around my shoulders. It took a second to recognize the soft material as a large blanket. I wrapped it around my shoulders, covering my nakedness from their eyes.
“Thank you.” I shook my head. “Some hyenas have been chasing me, but I lost them about two hours ago, as far as I can tell. I swam down a river, then covered myself in mud to hide my scent.”
Gideon, the taller of the two, frowned. “Lochlan, the traitor. That was always his favorite form for a chase. Good thinking on the mud.”
Luck cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about my brother, Lock. He’s a bit lost at the moment.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around myself. “My dad said this was a safe house, but how do I know I can trust you? You know the name of one of the guys who chased me.”
My eyes scanned the room; nothing more than a small kitchenette, bed, and table with four chairs. Nothing about it said safe.
They glanced at each other before their gazes went to mine. They lifted their right hands with rings similar to my mother’s on their middle fingers.
I shrugged. “That really doesn’t mean anything to me. So you have the same rings as my mother’s. Doesn’t mean you aren’t bad guys.” I kept my body tense. “I won’t be afraid to maul you both to death if you try anything.”
Luck raised an eyebrow. “We aren’t going to hurt you. Your parents are very important to our school. If it wasn’t summer break, we would be there now, not manning this safe house, so you’re lucky there’s even someone here to help you. Where is your dad? We received word he would be with you and bringing his work to keep safe.”
I bit my lip and looked to the floor. I’d been running for so long I hadn’t taken a second to take in what happened. “He’s dead. When we drove through Montana, a stag ran out in front of our car, a suicide Agent. He crushed the driver side and Dad bled out. The car caught on fire with all our stuff, including our files in it. I’ve been running for the last ten days to get here, taking detours to lose them. The mud and river helped this last time.” I swallowed hard. Even though my heart ached over my father being dead, the tears never came. Reality hadn’t hit, yet.
Luck reached out for me, but I took a step back. He sighed. “Come, I’ll show you where the showers are, and we should have some extra clothes around here somewhere. You need food and rest.”
Gideon nodded. “And medical attention. The gash on your hip looks infected. It has to be with all that mud on it. I’ll call Casper and have him come in to make sure you don’t need more than just antibiotics.”
They both walked to an area of the room next to the dining table, and Gideon pulled on a box of sugar that sat on the kitchenette counter. A door slid open in the floor.
I tried to shuffle my legs to join them, but they wouldn’t budge. My feet burned, the hot pain seizing up my calves, and my knees refused to bend. They had far exceeded their physical limits.
Luck motioned with his arm. “C’mon, I promise we won’t lock you in a dungeon. This area is just for show if random people find this place.”
Trying again, I manage to get my right leg to obey, but my left stayed in place. I fell onto my knees. “I’ll stay here and rest for a bit. My legs aren’t listening to my brain.” I moved onto my side and curled up in a ball.
Gideon hurried over to me and tsked. “Look at the state of your feet! They look like shredded kabob meat.”
Leaning over, he placed an arm under my knees and the other under my back before lifting me with a small grunt.
I didn’t have the energy to fight him. “Put me down. You’ll hurt your back. In case your eyes have failed you, I’m fat.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “You’re chubby. I wouldn’t call you fat. You’re still less than what I bench in the mornings.”
Ignoring my protest, he carried me down the stairs. Luck followed before the door closed.
I was officially trapped with two guys I didn’t know. Hopefully, I wouldn’t die.
Tadalafil Oral Strips Online CHAPTER TWO
He laid me on the tile floor of a shower in a massive room with three other shower stalls inside it. I stared up at him, the blanket still wrapped around my body. He took the shower-head wand out of the clip that held it in place and went to turn it on.
I held up a hand. “Are you going to bathe me with the blanket on? You’ve seen enough of me for a lifetime already.”
“Here’s a chair!” Luck came around the corner of the stall with a metal chair and placed it down near me and the showerhead.
Gideon released the shower head and let it swing before he bent over to pick me up and place me in the chair. “Don’t worry. I have no intentions of helping you bathe. I was just making it easier for you to get to the wand without standing. Casper will have to look at your feet, too.”
Luck put his hands on his hips. “I went looking for clothes, but all I could find were huge sweatpants and shirts that must be left over from Maru’s time here. We may have to tie a rope around your waist to keep them up, but it’s something. I put them on the stool outside the stall. When you’re ready for them, holler, and I’ll scoot them inside here without looking. Just toss the blanket over the wall once we leave.”
I shrugged and nodded. “I’m not picky about clothes, as long as I have something to put on. You two can go now. I really want to get this mud out of my hair. Thank you for your help so far.”
They both nodded before turning to leave, Gideon closing the curtain behind him. I waited a moment before I shrugged off the blanket and stood for only a second to get it out from underneath my ass. With a grunt, I balled it up and heaved it over the shower wall, then sat back down.
Reaching over, I shoved the shower knob over to hot, and the water sprayed from the showerhead at the wall before I picked it up and faced it toward my body. It ran over my hair, and I watched as brown water slid off my body and went down the grate drain at my feet. My feet! It would take forever to scrape all the dirt from underneath my nails. I looked at my hands; they were just as bad. Bringing my fingers close to the spray, I tried to get some of the water underneath my short nails to clean them out with a power wash.
A cubby inside the wall in front of me held washcloths, rolled up towels, and bar soap, along with two tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I doubted they would be able to wash all of my hair; it went down to the middle of my back.
On the edge of my seat, I leaned forward and took one of the washcloths and scrubbed the dirt off my skin. I gasped while I wiped around the gash on my hip. My teeth dug into my bottom lip. I didn’t want them to come running, because I let out a scream, so I kept quiet. The water hitting it almost made me blackout.
Once most of the cloth turned brown, I tossed it to the side and got another one to use with soap. As soon as the citrus scent of the soap met my nose, my body relaxed. After a little while longer, my body felt clean, and with the help of the little shampoo, my hair didn’t stick together in clumps.
I turned off the shower and grabbed two of the towels, one for my hair and one for my body. With my hair up, and the towel around my body. “Okay, I’m ready for clothes!”
A moment later, footsteps entered the shower room, shoes heavy on the tile. A hand pushed a stool with clothes piled on it into the stall.
Grunting, I stood for a second to grab them. He wasn’t kidding. I’m fat, but these clothes could fit two of me. That Maru guy must’ve been huge. I tossed the towels to hang over the side of the wall.
I put the shirt on first, it hung down around my neck and the hem went to right above my knees. If I had underwear, that would’ve been enough, but they didn’t give me anything like that. Though, I’m glad they hadn’t tried to give me that guy’s underwear. When I put on the sweatpants, not only did they pool around my feet, but even with the string band pulled tight, they still slipped off my love-handles.
At least wearing clothes this big gave me a bit of self-confidence about my actual size. All I ever saw in the mirror were gigantic rolls of fat. I wrapped one of the long strings around my waist and brought the other over the side to tie them as tight as possible before rolling the pant legs up to below my knees.
Gideon cleared his throat from the other side of the curtain. “Are you dressed? Casper is here to look at your wounds.”
I sighed. “As dressed as I’ll ever be. That Maru guy is big.”
Gideon pushed the curtain aside and laughed when he saw me swimming in the quadruple X-large shirt and pants. “Yeah. He can increase his size at will to crush things, but he’s not a tiny human in his regular form, either. I’m sure we’ll be able to get you some better fitting clothes soon.”
Stepping up to me, he bent over to pick me up, but I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do we have to do this whole bridal-style thing, again? I can walk with some support. My feet are just tired, not dead.”
He shook his head. “You have open wounds on your feet. Casper would kill me if he saw me letting you walk on them to meet him.” He placed one arm under my knees and the other under my back.
I sighed and wrapped an arm around his neck. “Just so you know, I don’t find this romantic or anything. It’s horrifyingly embarrassing, okay?”
He laughed. “What? Most girls would kill to have a prince charming like me come in and literally sweep them off their feet. Especially since I’m so dashingly handsome.”
I rolled my eyes. “Someone has a high-opinion on his looks.”
He grinned and walked out of the showers and into a gym area before going past it to a side room that looked like a doctor’s office. Luck and a guy with flaming red-hair stood from simple chairs as Gideon placed me on an examination table.
The guy with red-hair grinned. “You must be Jasmine. I’m Casper Ashwood.”
I stared him up and down. “You don’t look much older than me. Are you a doctor?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m not a doctor, yet. I’m a healer-in-training. My mentor should be along shortly to make sure I don’t kill you.” When a frown pulled at my lips, he laughed. “I’m kidding. I doubt I’ll kill you.”
I snorted. “Well, that’s comforting.”
He motioned for me to scoot back on the table so he could look at the bottom of my feet. Placing white gloves over his hands, he held my foot up and ran his thumb over the cuts. I hissed but managed to not jerk my foot out of his grasp.
“What did you do? These cuts are varying in depth.”
I sighed and rolled my head to look at the wall. “I was stupid. I thought I’d lost them for a while and found a lake. It looked inviting, so I shifted back to my human form to bathe. I must’ve gotten lost in thought.” I swallowed hard. The song Seven Wonders came back to the front of my mind. “I came to when someone stepped wrong and broke a twig. The shore was covered in rocks, and in my haste, I stepped wrong on a few, and their sharp edges went into my feet. They didn’t become a bother until I stopped running, and my mind could focus on the pain.”
He let go of my foot and went to a cupboard, where he pulled out an oblong bowl, long tweezers, and a spray can of something. “You have some debris stuck in the cuts.” He pulled out another device I didn’t recognize. “I’m going to clean them out and flush them before sealing them so they can heal. Do you have any more wounds I need to look at?”
Gideon cleared his throat. “She has a nasty gash on her left hip. It looked really infected. Lochlan got her.”
I glared at him. “I can speak for myself, thanks.” I untied the strings of the pants and pushed them off my hip with a hiss, showing him the thick, crusted gash that went from the top of my left hip down to the edge of my inner thigh. It oozed with yellow pus.
“Shit! I need to take care of that first. It’s surprising you aren’t sick with a fever and going into shock. Let me just grab you a painkiller that’ll help you sleep. I’m going to need to scrape the infection out before stitching that up. It looks too deep for a simple sealant. You may have a scar, but after it heals, I can give you a treatment for the scar tissue.”
He went to another cabinet for a vial of something and a syringe. I shook my head. “No painkillers. Just give me something to bite down on and do what you need to.”
Luck’s mouth fell open. “Are you crazy?”
Casper glanced over his shoulder, hesitating to lift the vial from the shelf. “Why? It’ll be easier on you without being able to feel it.”
I shake my head. “No painkillers. My mother was addicted to them, and I have no plans of becoming like her. I don’t want to try them at all. I’ll stay still.”
He sighed. “You two are witnesses that she refused the painkiller.”
Gideon frowned. “You’re giving her a choice?”
Casper nodded. “I can’t force her to take something if she refuses it.” He pulled out different tools in sterilized packages, then pulled out a large, flat stick. “Bite down on this.” He handed it to me before placing the tools on a rolling tray. Grabbing a tall stool, he pulled them over to the table.
Both of the other guys frowned as I stuck the stick into my mouth and bit down.
Casper pulled my pants down farther but tried to keep from revealing my groin area again to them all. He lifted the spray bottle. “Disinfectant for the surface area.”
The cool spray met my skin and the gash, followed by an intense burn. My fingers gripped at the table. I knew I could do it. I just had to find that corner of my mind. The safe place in my head, like Dad taught me.
His voice rang in my memory. “There will come times in your life, Jasmine, when you have to do things you don’t want to do. Experience pain and other hardships. You’ll need to go inside yourself, and find that place in your mind where nothing can touch you.”
“You must stay still; one flinch could cause me to go too deep and nick possibly exposed nerves.” Gideon leaned closer to my hip.
Luck cleared his throat. “Would you like some music?”
I took the stick out of my mouth for only a second. “Fleetwood Mac’s Seven Wonders.”
“I’ve never heard of that one. Liri, play Fleetwood Mac’s Seven Wonders.”
A robotic voice spoke over a speaker. “Playing Fleetwood Mac’s Seven Wonders.”
The beat came on, and I focused on one of my last memories with my dad. His scalpel settled on top of the wound before he cut away at the crusty layer. I bit down hard on the stick, tears gathering in my eyes.
His scalpel clinked against the bowl before he came back to cut off more of the top layer. “You’re doing good, Jasmine, keep holding still. I need to get this top layer off to see if I can push most of this pus out.”
I nodded and tried hard to focus on the music. It switched to a similar song.
“You can’t let pain rule you, Jasmine. You’ll feel pain all your life. Both emotional and physical pain will do you no good.”
A small sob escaped me at my dad’s voice in my head. I white gripped the sides of the table, keeping myself still.
Casper stopped cutting. “Are you sure you don’t want me to give you something for the pain?”
I shook my head. “No!” I cried around the stick.
Luck stood and came over to me. He reached for my hand. “Squeeze my hand, it’ll help.”
Gideon cleared his throat.
Luck looked at him. “I’m just holding her hand, nothing else.”
I didn’t want to be touched, but his warm hand brought an odd sense of calm to my mind.
After several minutes, Casper sighed and sat back. My entire hip burned as if flames sat inches from my flesh. “I’ve got the top layer off. All of this is pus.” He stood and pulled a device from a different cupboard. “This will suck up the infection but keep healthy tissue safe.” The machine turned on with a low hum before he pinched the sides of the wound and used the suction to vacuum out the pus.
I growled around the stick. “Fuck!”
My hand gripped Luck’s for dear life, my consciousness slipping into the pain. Hot tears cascaded down my face and over my ears, tickling them. The pain increased the closer he got to my inner thigh.
“The pain isn’t real, Jasmine. It’s just a signal to your brain something is wrong. You know what’s wrong. Ignore it. Don’t give into the pain. Don’t let it rule you. You’re strong! Pain doesn’t exist anywhere but in your head. Push it down!” My dad’s voice thundered in my mind.
I closed my eyes and focused on the darkness. One, deep inhale. I relaxed my grip on Luck’s hand. I took the stick out of my mouth. Two, exhale. Pain just warned the mind. I didn’t have to give into feeling it. I opened my eyes to look at the white wall.
“The pain isn’t real. I feel nothing.” The whispered words left my lips. “The pain isn’t real. I feel nothing.”
My leg relaxed.
“You’re doing good! Keep holding still, Jasmine.” Casper’s voice sounded a million miles away.
“Hello? I brought lunch for everyone! Who’s our new recruit?” A girl’s voice echoed in the distance, pulling me back to reality. I forced myself not to jolt and tense. The pain once again sunk its claws into my mind.
Luck let go of my hand. A blonde girl came to stand in the doorway, grocery sacks hung off her arm. She must’ve stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine; she was the opposite of everything I was. Pale, blonde, skinny, and beautiful. She side hugged Gideon before he leaned down to give her a kiss.
My heart sank a little at the fact he had such a pretty girlfriend.
She came into the room farther and stared at me before giving Luck a side hug and kiss as well. My mind raced, trying to figure out the dynamic they had, before she placed her hand on Casper’s shoulder, causing him to pause and kiss her as well.
Of course, a gorgeous girl like her had not only one, but three hot boy toys. How?
Her green eyes glinted with something I couldn’t place as another roll of pain went through the gash. I’d lost my focus; she caused it to break.
Hand still on Casper’s back, she peered down at my wound, and her nose wrinkled. “I have no clue what happened to you, but it looks gross!”
Luck cleared his throat. “Jasmine, this is Eden Aval. Eden, this is Doctor Lockwood’s daughter, Jasmine Lockwood.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “So, you’re his daughter? You look different than I expected. He’s so…”
“White?” I stuck the stick back in my mouth and gripped the table as Casper went deeper with his suction. The conversation would help the pain let go.
She hummed. “You said it, not me.”
The stick muffled my words. “I’m Korean because I’m adopted.”
“Well, that’s cute! I’ve never met an adopted person before. By the way, they’re my boyfriends, if you were wondering.”
I gritted my teeth against the stick. “How progressive of you.”
Casper bumped something within the gash, and pain ripped down my leg. It jerked of its own accord. “Luck, hold her leg. I’m in nerve territory, and she won’t be able to control it.”
Luck moved to do as directed, but Eden held up her hand. “I’ll do it. Giddy, take the food.”
She held the bags out to him before she took hold of my leg just above the knee. Her nails dug into my flesh. ‘Bitch, don’t think you can have any of them. They’re mine.’ Her voice echoed in my mind.
Casper sat back on his stool. “Your feet are all good now. The sealant should keep them from getting infected and allow you to walk on them. But I think we should keep you in a wheelchair for a few days so the gash on your hip doesn’t have to contend with you walking, and it’ll allow your feet to heal faster.”
Gideon and Luck went somewhere with Eden, and an odd sense of longing filled me at the fact they weren’t in the room.
I sighed while leaning back on my forearms. “I haven’t been in a wheelchair since I was a kid. It was hell, but if it allows me to walk easier later, then I guess it has to be.”
He stood to open a closet door, his hand lingered on the gold knob. “Why were you in a wheelchair as a kid?”
I sat up and scooted to the edge of the exam table. My hip down to my inner thigh felt raw and on fire. The massive pants, which brushed against it with feather touches, only made it worse. “I have a mild form of CP, Cerebral Palsy. As a kid, it made both my feet turn inward and I walked on my toes. Doctors extended my Achilles muscles in both legs; it made them less tight and I could control them easier. But the surgery also caused me to be in non-walkable lower-leg casts for six months, and then six months of me being in ones I could walk in with assistance.”
“Wow.” He pulled out a chair and two wheels from the closet, before setting it up.
My heart hammered with trepidation. Nothing inside me ever wanted to be confined to a chair, again. I always feared they botched the surgery and I would be unable to ever walk again.
“I would never have guessed you have CP. You seem normal to me.”
I shrugged. “There’s varying levels of CP that affect different parts of the body, or all of it. I’m one of the ones that got lucky and mine is mild. My gait is a little off, still. If I’m in pain from doing too much, it’s more apparent, but I don’t let it hold me back. It doesn’t seem to affect me when I’m shifted. At least, I didn’t notice anything.”
“You’re a strong person. I’ve never met someone my age that could handle what you just did without morphine or something to knock them out.”
I shrugged, again. “I’m nothing special. I just really hate painkillers of any kind. Even the store stuff.”
“Caspy, are you almost done? Your food’s getting cold!” Eden’s valley-girl voice called, growing closer to the room.
He locked the breaks on the chair. “Yes! I was just putting together a chair for her.”
Eden came around the edge of the door just as he motioned to lift me from the table. Her eyes glared daggers into my soul.
I held up my hand. “I can get down on my own.”
Sliding off the table, my feet wanted to die, and I was grateful for the chair. “Fuck, I’ve never felt more like kabob meat.” Using my arms, I lifted my body, positioned myself farther back in the chair, and grabbed the seat-belt to clasp over my lap.
Eden folded her arms over her chest. “I don’t understand why you won’t even take some ibuprofen. You’re being stupid.”
I unlocked the breaks and moved the wheels to get a feel for it. The surrealness about it all made it that much stranger. I hadn’t been in a wheelchair for a long time. I never wanted to go back to one once I learned how to walk again and built up the strength in my legs.
“Everyone has a preference for something. I don’t see why my preference to avoid pain medications should matter to you.” I pushed forward, past her, and around the corner.
Exhaustion seeped into my bones. Part of me wanted to sleep for several days. Another part didn’t want to sleep at all when I didn’t know where I was or how much I could trust the people around me. Yes, they’d helped me–well, the guys had–but I didn’t trust Eden at all, and the feeling seemed mutual.
She sighed. “Then, you shouldn’t complain about your pain.”
As they came to walk next to me, she took Casper’s hand.
I didn’t know where to go, so they would need to show me. “I won’t say a word. Don’t worry.”
“You should let me know when there’s something wrong, though. You’ll be on antibiotics for a week, which should keep you from getting another infection. But you need to tell me if anything feels off.” Casper frowned in my direction as I glanced at him.
“Don’t worry, Doc in training, I’ll let you know if something bad happens.”
We turned a corner and a dining area came into view. Gideon and Luck sat at a medium, round, light-wood table with matching chairs. Deli foods from a store sat out. My stomach growled. I hadn’t had good food in over a week.
Gideon raised an eyebrow. “You put her in a chair?”
“It was the best option to keep the gash from opening. It’s only until her skin fuses enough movement won’t make her stitches rip.” Casper and Eden went to sit at the table.
I sat back, not wanting to assume I was invited to their food. They might have protein bars or something to feed people seeking protection.
Luck looked at me. “Come, get some food. You don’t have to stay over there.” He stood to pull a chair away from the table, but I stopped him.
“You don’t have to do that.” I rolled over to the chair and locked my wheels by it. I undid my belt and lifted myself up and over into the slightly higher chair easily. It felt odd to be able to fall back into sync with remembering how to do things in a chair.
“Wow, you did that so easily!” Luck grinned at me.
“Happens when you’ve done something before.” I scooted the chair closer to the table, my feet protested the movement. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and some nugget shaped things sat before me on the table, along with paper plates and forks.
Gideon cocked his head to the side. “You’ve done it before?”
I grabbed a plate and fork before putting food on it while suppressing a sigh. I didn’t want to repeat everything. I kept my portions small, not wanting to seem like a pig in front of them. “I was in a wheelchair a lot as a kid. I have CP and had a surgery that kept me off my feet for over a year while I was healing and in rehab.”
Luck perked up. “Cerebral Palsy? Lock has that, too. It affects his left arm. We always said it has a mind of its own.”
I paused in taking my first bite of human food in over a week. “Lock? The same guy that gave me this gash? He has CP? You’re shitting me. I know it’s common, but come on.”
He shook his head. “I’m not shitting you, he does have it. Right, guys?”
They frowned. Eden nudged the coleslaw and mashed potatoes around on her plate. “It’s so sad he felt the need to go to the other side. All because they promised him power. I miss him.”
The hairs on the back of my neck and arms stood on end. Something about her demeanor didn’t fully fit the emotion she tried to portray. Was she lying? I took a bite of my crispy chicken breast and almost cried at how good it tasted with bits of honey in the spicy southern seasoning. It didn’t compare to the Korean fried chicken my mom made, but it was good.
I finished chewing the bite. “So he went to the other side? Wanted to work for the Government is a load of bullshit. They never gave my mother anything other than addictions.”
Luck sat back in his chair. “What was it like?”
I shrugged. “I don’t remember a lot. They were mainly trying to get my powers to manifest faster, but nothing they did worked. They weren’t happy about my CP, either. I would get locked in a closet when I didn’t do one of their physical tests fast enough. So I excelled at their mental games. They were convinced I was some type of special Deviant that would have more than one power. Turns out I’m nothing special. Just a typical shifter. Not a child they could use as a weapon of war.”
Gideon frowned. “How did you escape?”
I swallowed a bite of mashed potatoes. “My mother knew my dad, Doctor Lockwood, was thinking about switching sides. She begged for him to take me from there and raise me with his wife. I was small then, too, and was able to fit into one of his file boxes the night he ran.”
An ache pulled at my heart. I kept expecting him to show up and be fine, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I could feel later; I didn’t want to cry in front of them.
“Sorry, I’m late! I had to get all the paperwork squared away!” A male voice echoed through the place as he rounded the corner to the dining room.
A man around my dad’s age grinned at us. His greying brown hair and beard made the bags under his blue eyes more apparent. “You must be Jasmine, you’ve grown up so much! I knew you when you were little. Your dad talks about you all the time. Where is the man? I’m Doctor Peter Ackles, by the way.”
I stared at my plate. They hadn’t reported my father’s death, yet? “He didn’t make it. As soon as my powers manifested, they were on our asses. We had made it to Montana when a stag darted in front of our car. It pinned him under the dashboard. He died before it blew up from a gas leak.” My chest tightened, but I suppressed the tears.
He stumbled over to a chair near me and sat. “Kenneth is dead?” He looked at me, tears glittered in his eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
I cleared my throat. The tears wanted to fight me, but I refused to cry with an audience of strangers. I pushed my plate away. At least my stomach didn’t gnaw at me anymore. “Life is what it is. Is there somewhere I can rest?”
Eden scoffed. “You just told us your dad died, and you’re like a robot. What’s wrong with you?”
Peter growled. “Eden!”
She folded her arms over her chest. “What?”
I wanted nothing more than to take my anger out on her. I clenched my hands into fists, suppressing the rage that replaced the sorrow in my chest. I didn’t need to cause trouble when I just got there.
I looked at Peter. “I remember you, by the way. You were one of the doctors to perform my Achilles extension, right? My dad trusted you, so I will, too. And he talked about you all the time. Is there someplace I can rest? I’ve slept maybe six hours over the past ten days, and it’s caught up to me. No more adrenaline to run off of.” Sliding off the chair, I landed back in the wheelchair.
He stood and cleared his throat. “I should take a look at your injuries. Casper said he had to pull a nasty infection from one of your wounds?”
I rolled around to his side of the table. “Sure, but the gash on my hip will be easier to look at if I’m lying down.”
“Of course, follow me. I’ll show you to one of the spare rooms.” He walked past me, and I used the left wheel to turn and follow him.
The guys’ chair screeched as they stood from the table.
Eden hummed. “Where do you think you’re going? You don’t need to be there for his examination of her.”
They sat back down.
I rolled my eyes and kept up with Peter.
He led me down a hall of doors. Each one had a whiteboard next to it with a name or two written in black.
I frowned. “How many people live here?”
Peter shook his head. “They don’t live here, but people pass through all the time. Some of them more often than others, so they have designated rooms. The boys were the only ones staying here for the summer. Now, you’ll stay here. Here’s an empty one.”
As he opened the door, fluorescent lights turned on overhead, and a low buzz entered my ears. I hated lights like that. I wheeled into the room. “Reminds me of the rooms at the facility. Do the lights turn off by clapping?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. The rooms at the school are homier.”
I moved my chair to the side of the bed and stood to get onto it. I grimaced, but the bed was a welcome relief. “Does Eden stay here, too?”
He snorted. “No, her father is the Principal of the school. She comes by almost every day to visit the guys. Just so you know, they’re all dating her. Why? I don’t know. Your generation does things different from mine.”
“Trust me, she’s already made that clear. Is she a psychic?” I laid back and pulled down the side of my pants far enough for him to examine the gash. Clear stitches held my skin together.
He came closer and peered down at it. “Looks like Casper did it by the book. The boy’s gifted. That’s why I wasn’t worried about him taking care of the wounds. And, no, she has what we thought you did, Unlimited powers. That’s why it’s so important we keep her out of their grasp.”
I snorted and pulled my pants back up. Pain rolled down my leg, but I ignored it. “Of course, someone pretty like her is the Ultimate. My feet got fucked up, too.”
Slowly, he lifted my leg and looked at the bottom of my feet. “She’s annoying and self-entitled because she knows she’s one of a kind. I honestly don’t know what they see in her, or how she got all of them to date her at the same time. Again, your generation goes over my head sometimes. Casper did a good job on your feet, too. I almost can’t tell there was anything wrong with them.”
As he lowered my leg, I looked at him. “They said someone named Lochlan gave me the gash on my hip. Luck said he has CP, too. What made him switch?”
Peter ran a hand through his short, graying hair. “Lochlan, or Lock, and Luck are identical twin brothers. But there were complications during their birth and Lock got CP from the trauma. I think he’s always felt inferior to the rest of them, and the power the Government offered him outweighed his loyalty to his brother. It’s sad.”
“That is sad.” Sitting up, I carefully scooted back to pull the blanket out from underneath me and slide beneath.
“You can cry about your dad. I know his teachings, but if you want to cry, I’m here for you.”
“I don’t cry in front of people.” I pulled the navy-blue blanket up to my chin and peered around the hospital-like room.
He nodded. “You’re your dad’s daughter. I’ll leave you be. Get some rest. I expect you’ll be out for a while. There’s a restroom directly across from your room if you need it.”
Turning on his heel, he walked to the door.
I bit at my lip. “Peter.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
“You were his best friend, too. Just so you know.” I clapped my hands and the lights went out.
“Thank you.” He closed the door and the darkness surrounded me. Hot tears coursed down my cheeks and the sob I’d held in burst from my throat.
I gripped at the blanket. “I can’t believe you’re gone, and it’s all my fault.”
If my powers hadn’t manifested, we wouldn’t have had to run. I cried until exhaustion helped me escape from reality.