XXIII | Different (Read: Dangerous)

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I'm not afraid of the dark. I'm not afraid of the dark. I'm not afraid. 

Kaia wasn't sure how she felt. Maybe it was fear, even though she kept reminding herself that it most certainly wasn't. She felt shaky, yes. But maybe that was just adrenaline. That wasn't even the worst part, though. The hard part was the crawling on her skin. It was like she'd felt when she'd spoken to him, like spiders on her skin. 

Only this time, it was made even worse by her guilt. She felt exhausted, like someone was holding on to her ankles while she walked. She supposed it was natural, but she couldn't stop thinking of Kaleb, of the look on his face when she'd left. Kaia wondered if he would have to shift alone again; she didn't know how it all worked or how often lycanthrope changed. 

Even in his sleep, still a wolf, he'd looked distressed. He knew she was leaving, helpless while trapped in a dream. She'd touched his fur, feeling its roughness underneath her hands. She'd tried to comfort him. But it seemed useless now. 

As she walked down the street awkwardly, still in her dress from the Lunar Ceremony, there were only two things that occupied her mind. Kaleb, of course, took up more space than was reasonable. And the other was fairly obvious, and maybe took up less space than it should have. Him. Her mom's murderer. 

She wondered if she hadn't put enough thought into this. It sure felt like it, walking towards the Neighborhood, trying to shield her face from weirded out strangers on the street who were judging her for her getup. The only thing that could have made her more pathetic would be having a limp; Kaia even had mussed hair and a couple of scrapes from sprinting through the forest. 

She didn't know which she preferred: to arrive at her usual coffee shop sooner or for the trip to take years. Surely she could escape from wandering stares once inside her usual shop. But it was what was waiting there for her that slowed her steps. 

Still, despite her hesitance, she had to go. And soon enough she found herself out front, the sign reading Neighborhood Coffee in curly letters. The town wasn't that big in the first place, and the coffee shop matched it perfectly. It was a tiny place, wedged in the corner next to a used book store. 

There was some cute art on the walls. The counter was stocked with elegant pastries. Most of the sitting space was up above, on a loft level; it was the only way they could fit an entire coffee shop in such a small building. But Kaia loved it that way, because of it's coziness. Usually, it filled her with a sense of peace. 

But not today. Today, there was that spider feeling, that dark, oozy dread. She couldn't see him just by walking in the door, the little bell tinkling its song. If he was here, he was up on the loft. "Good morning," chimed the girl behind the counter, "What can I get for you?" 

Kaia hesitated a moment too long, and the girl gave her a confused look. She seemed sweet enough, with her mousy brown hair and freckles. But Kaia couldn't really pay her any attention. There was a thick black fog filling the room, making it hard to breathe. At least, it felt like there was. 

"Nothing." She wasn't hungry. "I'm...meeting someone." Kaia pointed to the loft. She knew she was doing the right thing, had faith that she was strong enough to do this without Kaleb or Cole to hold her hand the whole way. 

The girl smiled, her eyes understanding, "You're meeting that nice gentleman? With the blue eyes? It's slow right now, so you two will have the loft all to yourselves." 

Kaia practically choked. She'd seen him? She'd talked to him? She'd thought he was nice? He killed my mother! Kaia wanted to scream at this girl. But that was unfair. She couldn't take everything out on someone so innocent, especially someone who hadn't said a thing about Kaia's strange wardrobe choices. Kaia cleared her throat, "Thanks." 

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