Sunny, 85 degrees, light wind. It was supposed to be a nice day at an amusement park.
“Peter, can you come to Finstock’s? I need help with– I can’t even with this shit right now.”
“Is that screaming I hear?”
“Just,” she watched as Derek closed in on Fluffyballs, the Finstock’s FunStockyards’ mascot, who was screaming murder, literally, and moving surprisingly fast, now that the bottom of the suit had torn and the kid had full use of his legs, ”just come. And don’t tell mom.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Really, she should have expected this. Laura still remembered the first time she watched Derek run down a kid during recess and sit on him to establish dominance. A sudden perking up of the head was all the warning she got before he tore across the playground. It was a scene that played out a couple of times before she became savvy to the sudden-onset creepy stalker eyes which indicated “TARGET SIGHTED” and “ATTACK IMMINENT”. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t always catch him in time. Derek wasn’t the strongest in the pack, but he was definitely the fastest.
So it was only a matter of time before the teachers expressed some concern. And a matter of time before Derek changed schools, ostensibly because of their better curriculum.
“He’ll grow out of it,” Mom always said.
He didn’t grow out of it. If anything, he grew into it. The creepy stalker eyes were now surrounded by bush-man eyebrows and the stubble and the nigh-permanent scowl combined to form the very model of a violently obvious serial killer. Though there were no more incidents, Derek would still occasionally snap his head in a particular direction, sniff the air, and narrow his eyes. It happened when they were grocery shopping, when they were getting gas, when they were having coffee. And they would have to beat a quick retreat back to the car.
“You’d think he was raised by–”
“Peter, be nice. But seriously, Derek, I can’t take you anywhere.”
“Then don’t. I wanted to stay home anyway.”
And she would gladly leave his ass at home, except Mom’s always going on about how “If you’re going to be an Alpha someday, you have to learn to look after your pack members.”
Which led them here: Finstock’s FunStockyards, a Beacon Hills institution. It used to be, like the name suggests, a stockyard, which meant that it had some old barns and cattle pens, which were converted to house a variety of attractions. Fluffyballs, the unfortunately named mascot, was a dingy-looking, dingy-smelling bunny costume that didn’t walk so much as twitch erratically and was the stuff of local children’s nightmares.
Laura had an irrational love of the place. Derek had never been. Maybe Derek was so grumpy all the time because people never took him to fun places. Fun! Finstock’s FunStockyards, it was even in the name!
In hindsight, bringing Derek to a place where there were masses of people and scads of heavy machinery was a terrible idea. Really, only a zoo could have been worse. Say what you want about Talia Hale’s parenting skills or misplaced faith in her children, but she knew how to keep her kids off the front page of the Beacon Hills Ledger.
It started out okay. They’d arrived after lunch (it was too dangerous to let Derek out of the house hungry) and gone on all three rides, and Derek didn’t even so much as snarl at anyone in line. She was feeling pretty proud of herself. And of Derek, of course. Until she pointed out Fluffyballs and realized she’d lost Derek’s attention. He’d already sighted the sorry-looking rabbit mascot and was making laser-guided murder eyes at it.
“Are you kidding me, that thing actually smells like a tire fire. If you touch it at all, so help me, you are walking home. I’m not letting you in my car. Do you hear me, Derek?”
No, he did not. Wait, was he muttering “Alpha, Beta, Omega” under his breath?
“Derek S. Hale, you will lock down that shit right now because these jeans are new and I am not running in them and destroying the seams.”
The girl guiding Fluffyballs had noticed them and was whispering to the person inside the suit, too quiet for her to hear. Whatever she said, the mascot began shuffling a bit quicker down the path. She could hear Derek’s pulse pick up. Laura Hale was not going to get banned from Finstock’s FunStockyards this day, no sir.
She grabbed her little brother by the biceps. “Derek. Eyes here. Look at me. You are a grown-ass, 20-year-old college student out in public. We are not gradeschoolers playing hide-and-seek in the preserve. You know that’s not actually a rabbit – there is a kid earning minimum wage in that suit. I need you to calm the fuck down because you’re going to get your sorry ass arrested. Do you want explain to mom that she’s going to have to cancel her afternoon meetings and come to the police station because her dumbass son went native on an amusement park mascot and shredded the costume in front of a crowd of horrified schoolchildren and gave some poor teenager PTSD? No? I don’t either. Okay, Derek?”
“Okay… okay. You’re right, sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
It worked! Ha! Suck it, mom! True Alpha material, right here. Time to put a bow on it and bring the package home and RUB IT IN HER FACE.
“Happens to all of us. Let’s just get back to the car and we’ll go for some burgers. Forget all this. Sound good?”
“Sounds good. Yeah, sounds gr– I’m so sorry, Laura, just– I just gotta–”
And there he went, a leather-jacketed blur cutting through the crowds.
“Derek! FOR THE LOVE OF… ah shit.”