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.“Tell me,” Mary-Lou repeated, posture stiff and face unhappy.She would listen to them.She would listen, and then she would decide what she is to do about it all.“Your birth parents,” Emma tried again, words stilted and unsure.She would rather keep this from her still, Mary-Lou saw – keep lying to her.What twisted kindness.Mary-Lou forced herself to stay and listen even as everything in her longed to escape.“They were – are,” Emma corrected herself, “like Jonas.”“What?” Mary-Lou startled, eyes darting to Jonas’ still figure.Blue eyes captured hers for a moment, narrowed in consideration.“You mean they are—”“Shape-shifters,” Jonas offered, “Yes, they are.Irma is a tiger-shifter, and Jonathon – a coyote.I have had the honor of changing alongside them for many years now.”A dull, deaf darkness seemed to descend upon the room with each uttered word.Mary-Lou felt faint.“Irma and Jonathon?” she mumbled, “Those are their names?”“Irma and Jonathon Stevens,” Emma confirmed.Fear flickered in her eyes but Mary-Lou did not care to comfort her, could not think well enough to comfort herself.“We were classmates, all four of us, and friends for many years.It was not until much later – after you were born, dear – that they confided in us.Someone had been threatening them, threatening you.In the end, when it became truly awful, they were forced to ask for our help.Your parents loved you very much,” the older woman finished, almost pleading.“So much they left me with you,” Mary-Lou laughed, the sound hysterical and high.“Am I going crazy?” she wondered, “Is this a dream?”“Mary-Lou,” her father grasped her arm, voice sharp and urgent, “Snap out of it.You are fine.”“Am I?” Mary-Lou twisted out of his grip and rose, stumbling back and away from the couch, “How exactly am I fine? You have just told me that my parents are not only alive, they can turn into fucking animals—”“Mary!” Emma exclaimed.Eyes wet, Mary-Lou ignored her, nervous energy urging her into stilted motion.“Why can’t I shift, then?” she demanded, eyes downcast as she paced along the length of the room, “What, am I defective? Is that why you got stuck with me? Sorry, doc, normal human babies just aren’t in right now—”Mary-Lou stumbled on her next step, body bouncing off Jonas’ muscular chest.The man threw an arm around her to keep her steady, hooded blue eyes sparkling angrily beneath a fringe of gold hair.“Stop,” he rumbled and Mary-Lou froze, jaw clicking shut.Her hands trembled where they lay against his chest; he covered them with his, gentle even as his voice remained firm and angry.“Never speak like that again – not about them, and not about yourself.”Mary-Lou nodded, more out of surprise than agreement.“Why, then?” she asked Jonas, voice plaintive.“To protect you,” he told her, “To hide you from those who would have done you harm.”“But I can’t shift,” Mary-Lou mumbled, “Or was it because of that? Am I a weak link some purist group wants gone?”“Quite the opposite,” Jonas sighed and released her, hands lingering large and warm on her upper arms before dropping to his sides.“While you cannot become an animal, you are a Shifter.You simply take… a different form than most.”Mary-Lou’s nose wrinkled, “It’s something horrifyingly ugly, isn’t it.”Jonas rolled his eyes, a smile finally lifting the uneasy frown marring his face, “No.Nothing ugly, I promise.”“You are special, Mary-Lou,” Emma called out, voice unsteady.She had obviously been crying; Mary-Lou swallowed in shame, reminding herself that she had been justified in her anger.She whispered a quiet “I am sorry” nonetheless.Her mother shook her head, “No time for that now.You must listen.You are special – important, in a way that is both wonderful and incredibly dangerous.Your parents almost died trying to protect you—” Emma gulped down a sob, “You almost died, Mary-Lou, they tried to kill you and you were but an innocent child –” Ronald enveloped his wife into his arms, trying to calm her with soft words of comfort.“I don’t understand,” Mary-Lou glanced from her parents to Jonas, eyes wide, “Someone wants to kill me, has been after me for years?”“It is not one particular person,” Jonas corrected her.“A lot of Shifters would feel better with you gone.Your existence heralds the coming of a revolution.” Jonas’ lip quirked up in a mockery of a smile, “Our kind is ironically uncomfortable with major lifestyle changes.”“I can’t be that important,” Mary-Lou protested.“What am I, the messiah?”Jonas said nothing.Curled up in Ronald’s side, Emma, too, fell silent.Mary-Lou glanced around the room in open disbelief.“I am not the messiah,” she told them.“Near enough,” Jonas mumbled and that was it, she was done.“Where are you going?” her father demanded after her, his voice lost beneath her mother’s worried, “Mary-Lou!” Jonas let out what sounded like a protesting growl and moved to grab her, almost succeeding in halting her mad dash for the door.Almost.Mary-Lou stumbled out of the front door in a daze and hit the pavement, running.***Mary-Lou ran, without a direction or a purpose.Houses and people blurred at the edges of her vision, melted together in a single colorful mass.She ran past a grocery store, a club, over a bridge and into the older part of town, all without a single spark of awareness.Her legs were going numb, her lungs heaving, yet she could not stop – could not even begin to think to do so, her mind an anguished mess.Her parents were alive.Mary-Lou focused on the thought, latched onto the happiness that its meaning inspired within her even as the rest of the story threatened to drown her in despair.: Her parents were alive, and they were Shifters, and so was she – a rare, special breed that others wanted extinct.Mary-Lou ducked through a rusty green gate, stifling a hysterical giggle.Eventually, she had to slow down, to stop – her body was too weak from repeated shock and physical exertion to allow for a lengthy run.The fact that she had sprinted half across the city did not help matters.Mary-Lou sighed at her own stupidity, only now feeling the burn in her lungs and legs.Her throat was parched, and she wondered if there was a store nearby, or a kind person she could ask for water.Mary-Lou looked about, surprised to find herself in what appeared to be someone’s backyard.Crumbling stone walls surrounded the well-sized plot of land on three sides, the fourth occupied by the side of a red-bricked house [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]