Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(29) by Connie Suttle
"Mom, what do Megan and Terry Smith have in common?" Ashe asked.
"I don't really know," she said, puzzled at Ashe's question.
"They do have something in common," Ashe said. "Terry was human and married to a werewolf. Megan was human and either a girlfriend or potential girlfriend, of a werewolf."
"Ashe, what are you saying?" Adele stared at her son.
"I don't know," Ashe shrugged. "If Pat Roberts wasn't dead, I might say he had enough prejudice to do it."
"You think this is a hate crime? That someone is that prejudiced?" Adele was shocked, Ashe could tell. "What about whoever attacked me?"
"Mom, everybody thinks I'm human. I'll be shipped off to the human school next fall if I don't manage to prove them wrong. And Dad's a vampire. Somebody killed Old Harold, probably because he was vampire."
"But what about James's death?"
"I'm still working on that," Ashe said, draining his cup of hot chocolate. He wasn't about to tell his mother that James's best friend was human. And not only human, but one who'd been ordered, at risk to his own life, never to contact the community again.
"The kids are getting cabin fever," Denise DeLuca explained when she came to pick Ashe up Sunday afternoon. A beautiful April afternoon enveloped Cloud Chief, the sun was shining brightly and the weather was perfect for outdoor games. "We're gathering on the school grounds so they can play football, basketball or whatever they want," Sali's mother added. Sali grinned mischievously at Ashe, who held his old, tooth-marked Frisbee in his hand—Sali wanted to play as werewolf.
"I think I'll come, too," Adele rose from her seat at the kitchen table. "Maybe some sunlight will do me good. Ashe, will you get those lawn chairs out of the garage?"
"Sure. Come on, Sali." Ashe hauled Sali out the kitchen door. They hadn't gotten to go outside to do anything for ages. Denise drove them to the school, where others had already gathered. Most of the older boys were already engaged in a game of football; a few of the younger ones, both boys and girls, were shooting hoops. Sali turned to werewolf before getting out of the car; he was running immediately while Ashe flung the Frisbee in his direction. Ashe laughed as Sali leapt and caught it neatly.
"Look, it's the dog playing with his human," Jeremy Booth hissed the insult behind Ashe's back while Sali was trotting back with the Frisbee in his teeth. Ashe whirled and glared at Jeremy.
"It's about to be the panther playing with the wildcat, and the panther cheats," Cori snarled at Jeremy. Jeremy had been so focused on getting to Ashe he failed to notice that Cori followed him.
"Be careful, empty, your friends won't always be around to protect you," Jeremy, his golden-brown eyes filled with hate and anger, snapped before stalking away. He was outnumbered at the moment and he knew it.
"Wonder where his sniveling friend is," Cori muttered, loud enough for Jeremy to hear.
"Cori, don't aggravate him," Ashe said softly. "We have enough trouble as it is."
"How's your mom?" Cori asked, turning back to Ashe and Sali.
"Better. You can ask her yourself if you want. She's sitting with Sali's mom." Ashe nodded at his mother. Adele waved weakly from her lawn chair that sat beside Denise DeLuca's car.
"I will after a bit," Cori said. "How about I go down there and toss the Frisbee back after Sali catches it?" she offered. Sali yipped an enthusiastic agreement, thumping his tail on the ground.
"I think that's a yes," Ashe laughed and tossed the Frisbee, chortling and snorting when Sali took off like a rocket to chase it, paws scrabbling on new grass and fur rippling as he raced away.
* * *
"Marco, why didn't you come with the others?" Cori had gotten a ride to the DeLucas when Denise offered everyone something to drink after the get-together. Marco was in the kitchen having a soda when Cori, Sali and Ashe trooped in behind Denise and Adele.
"Didn't feel like it," Marco mumbled, sipping his drink.
"Marco, it'll be okay," Cori gave him an unexpected hug. Marco stared at her in surprise as she moved away and accepted a soft drink from Mrs. DeLuca.
"Would any of you like to stay for dinner and watch a movie?" Denise asked.
"Ashe, if you want to stay," Adele said, "I can go on home and wait for your father to wake."
"Mom, I don't like it if you're there by yourself." Ashe wanted to stay but didn't want his mother to be in the house without anyone else awake and capable of helping her.
"We could go to Ashe's house instead," Marco suggested, surprising his mother greatly.
"That's a great idea. I was going to make burgers anyway; I can do that there," Denise agreed.
"What are we doing?" Marcus walked into the house with Winkler, Jason and Trace.
"Going over to the Evans' to make burgers and watch a movie," Denise said. "Come on, wash up and we'll go." That's how Ashe ended up peeling potatoes while Sali cut up tomatoes and Cori and Marco washed and tore lettuce and sliced onions for the burgers. Adele watched all of them working in her kitchen, a slight smile on her face. Sali teased Ashe about wearing his mother's apron while he worked.
"It's better than wearing tomato juice," Ashe pointed at the red stains and tomato seeds that decorated Sali's old T-shirt.
"Sal, you should be wearing the apron, I don't think potatoes stain," Marco said, chuckling at Sali's predicament.
"Like lettuce is gonna leave a mark," Cori tapped Marco's chest with a finger. Marco's grin widened a fraction.
"It may. I might have lettuce scars," Marco pretended offense. Cori smiled a very pretty smile at Marco and things went well after that. Ashe dumped cut up potatoes into the deep fryer, the burgers were placed on the grill and the meal was served not long afterward.
"We should do this more often," Marcus patted his stomach later. "That was really good, everybody."
"I can't wait until the tomatoes come out of the garden," Ashe said. "And the potatoes are always better than what we can buy at the store."
"Having a bit of a party?" Aedan smiled at the gathered crowd after he and Radomir climbed the stairs to the kitchen.
"I think you should take the night off to spend with your guests," Radomir said to Aedan. "I can get by on my own, I think."
"No, I'll come with you," Winkler volunteered. Both walked out of the house moments later, the dishes were washed and everyone settled into the Evans' media room to watch an old comedy. Ashe grinned and ducked his head when he saw his father's arm slip around his mother's shoulders. They shared the sofa with Marcus and Denise DeLuca. Ashe, Sali, Cori and Marco all settled on the floor and laughed at the antics of the actors on the screen.
* * *
"Have all your homework?" Adele smiled at Ashe as they loaded into the old blue truck. Adele was going to drop Ashe off and Jason and Trace were going to run the store for a while; Aedan had talked Adele into taking two weeks off.
"I have it," Ashe dumped his backpack onto the floorboard and climbed in.
"Hon, you're definitely growing again," Adele sighed as she slid onto the driver's seat.
"Mom, my shoes are a little tight," Ashe admitted.
"Then we'll have to drive to Clinton or something. I wish I felt up to taking you to Oklahoma City, but that may have to wait."
"Clinton is okay," Ashe said, closing his door. "We can find shoes there."
"Maybe some jeans and cargo pants, too," Adele said. "I'll see if Denise and Sali want to come."
* * *
"Ashe," Mrs. Rocklin called on him first thing. Ashe found it difficult not to change in front of the class. He could take the teasing over the tiny bat easier than the shame of being called empty. Nevertheless, he kept the promise he'd made to himself. Sali was asked to transform after Ashe sat down again, his face flushed with the effort not to turn.
"I miss Old Harold's cleaning," Sali toed a black streak left on the cafeteria's tiled floor as they stood in line to get a tray.
"I wouldn't care if he never cleaned again if he were still here," Ashe said. "And James and the others, too."
"Yeah. I think we're getting chocolate cake for dessert." Sali craned his neck from their place in line. "Makes up for the potato soup."
"You always complain about potato soup, but you eat it anyway."
"Goes without saying," Ashe agreed, hunching his shoulders.
"Empty," Chad whispered as he passed Ashe in line.
"Muck for brains," Ashe hurled back, borrowing one of Jason's insults.
"What did you say to me?" Chad twisted in mid-stride. He'd caught the last of Ashe's insult.
"I called you muck for brains," Ashe said clearly, glowering at Chad. "Go ahead, hit me. Mr. Harris is watching." Ashe jerked his head toward the door where Mr. Harris stood, monitoring the cafeteria. Ashe was completely taken off guard when Chad punched him in the face.
* * *
"Ashe, what happened?" his mother bent over him in the tiny teachers' lounge. He'd been stretched out on the sofa, a cloth filled with ice held to his right eye. Ashe had barely seen the punch coming. Feeling embarrassed while three teachers and his mother stared down at him, Ashe attempted to sit up. "No, hon, lie back down," Adele said. "Tell us what happened."
"Chad called me empty, so I called him muck for brains."
"Ashe," his mother sighed.
"I know. Take the high road and all that," Ashe said, trying to nod. Nodding hurt. He stayed still.
"You'll have a nice black eye for a few days," Mr. Harris observed. He, Mrs. Rocklin and Mr. Dodd were the three teachers inside the room. "Chad's been suspended for a week—three people said the same thing you did; that Chad started it and then punched you." Ashe wanted to say that Principal Billings probably wanted it the other way around, but didn't. Billings was a werewolf, just as the three teachers were who stood behind his mother. They thought Ashe completely human. He had no trouble believing that they'd back the werewolf Principal if push came to shove. The comment Chad had made earlier that Principal Billings was on his side still rankled.
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