I woke up comfortable and disoriented before I remembered where I was. I was at my newly-found older brother’s house. It was May 17, the day before the twins’ birthday. I had never been good at giving gifts, so it always took me forever to find something to give them, but this year would be different. It was their 16th birthday. If Kaden was okay with it–and I’m sure he would be–I would ask them to move in with Kaden, Zach, and me.
I heard a knock at the door and a voice saying, “Marie, breakfast is ready.” I did the obvious thing and hid under my covers, pretending to be asleep. The door opened, and an amazing smell hit me. I sat up quickly and looked around. Kaden was standing at the door laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your hair,” Kaden said, his face turning red. I stuck my tongue out at him and hopped out of bed.
“Did the smell of breakfast get you out of bed?”
“I knew it would do the trick. It always works.”
“How did you know it would work?”
“I used to do it to Dad on Sunday mornings. You know, you two are so much alike.”
“Yeah, I know. Mom used to say that all the time,” I said sadly.
“Dad used to say I was a lot like Mom.”
“But you look so much like him,” I said.
“We all got Dad’s looks, didn’t we?”
“Emma and Alex have a little bit of Mom.”
“I want to meet them.”
“If I didn’t know them already, I would too,” I remembered my birthday present to the twin troublemakers. “The twins’ birthday is in two weeks, and I was hoping that you would be okay with them moving in with us.”
“I thought you were against the idea of them joining the ‘team’.”
“I thought about it overnight and decided they would be an excellent addition to this team. I’m overprotective, and I was around ten when I started hunting down Mom and Dad’s killer. They’re also smarter than I was at their age, so why not.” They were all valid reasons to let them come.
“Then, of course, they can come and stay with us.”
“There is also a slight possibility of their brother Ace wanting to go with them, so if that happens, can he stay too?” Kaden thought for a moment before giving me an answer.
“I guess, but that would make sleeping arrangements harder.”
“We can figure it out when the time comes.” Just then, Zach came into the room.
“What’s going on?” he said sleepily.
“We were talking about how Emma, Alex, and possibly Ace are moving in and joining us.”
“Let’s go eat now. I don’t think you want to eat a cold breakfast,” Kaden said, leaving the room. Zach followed. I brushed my teeth and hair and left to eat breakfast.
Breakfast tasted as good as it smelled. It was the biggest breakfast I had had since I was seven. We had bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, and hash browns. Zach had devoured half of what was on the table, leaving the other half for Kaden and me. I stuffed myself, but I didn’t eat as much Zach. Kaden ate whatever was left. No one talked. It was a comfortable silence, though.
Once we were all done with our breakfast, we went to the small, cozy living room to discuss all of the arrangements.
“This apartment has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. Since we’ll have two, possibly three people joining us here, we’ll have to figure out sleeping arrangements,” Kaden said from his spot on the futon.
“If just Alex and Emma come, I can share with Alex and Marie can share with Emma. If Ace comes, too, Alex and Kaden can share, Ace and I, and Marie and Emma. Does that work?” Zach suggested. He sat on the floor in front of me with my feet propped on his shoulders. I was in a blood red armchair, not paying much attention to anything.
“That works for me. What do you think, Marie?” Kaden asked.
“Yeah, sure. Whatever, “I said yawning.
“Are you paying attention, Mar?” Zach asked.
“Nope,” I coolly replied.
“Fine. Then you’ll make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few weeks?” Kaden asked.
“Sure, whatever.” Then his words hit me. “WAIT, WHAT?! NO!”
“Too late. Your fault for not paying attention,” Kaden laughed.
“Please, I can’t make anything to save my life.”
“She really can’t, but I love watching her fail at cooking,” Zach teased. I stuck my tongue out at him and huffed at their childish teasing.
“Marie, if you got Dad’s cooking skills, I’m not letting you near the stove.”
“I did. I got food poisoning last time I made something for myself.”
“I remember that,” Zach said.
“We should start talking about how we’re going to find the person who’s been sending people after Marie,” Kaden suggested.
“Security cameras, the buddy system, and we always have weapons with us,” I said, now paying attention so I wouldn’t get tricked again.
“That’s a good idea,” Kaden said thoughtfully.
“Yeah, but you still need to work,” Zach said.
“I’ve survived most of my life like this, but if it makes you feel better you can work on your research and stuff there,” Kaden said.
“Alright. If a shifter comes for us while you’re working, we can take care of it on our own,” I said.
“There’s a library right next to the Starbucks I go to before work. I’ll take you there, and you’re going to find out what this thing is, all right.” Kaden said.
“All right.” I didn’t know what it was. There were a lot of possibilities. The one thing I did know was that the monster that killed my parents wasn’t human. There was obviously more than one, too.
“Let’s go. I’ll take you to the library before we go to work. Check out whatever you need to, I don’t have to go to work today, I can just call in sick,” Kaden said.
“I want to go shopping too,” I said.
“Shopping? Why?” Zach asked.
“Shoes, clothes, and new weapons, of course.” I hadn’t been shopping like that since before Mom and Dad died. I sometimes snuck in and out of stores hoping I wouldn’t get caught stealing. Other times I had just enough money to get a crappy t-shirt or two, maybe a pair of jeans, and only shoes if I need it. Food was a different story. I either got food from Ace or I spent a little on a burger.
“I think it’s a good idea. You can be a typical teenage girl and fill your closet in one shopping trip,” Kaden said.
“Why would I do that? I like to budget my shopping trips.”
“Fine, your budget’s $600.”
“That’s a big budget. I already have five tops, five bottoms, and shoes. I only need a new pair of shoes and maybe a new shirt.”
“What about weapons?”
“I know how much a gun costs!” I yelled.
“I know what I’m doing, too! I gave you a budget, and that’s it. No more, no less,” Kaden decided. “Anyways, a nice, strong gun can cost a lot of money. You’re going to need a big budget.”
“Fine.” We left the building and got in Kaden’s car to head to the library. It was a quiet 15-minute drive. The library was a large white building, and it looked like it held every book I could think of.
“Here it is,” Kaden said. We went inside and immediately started searching for the mythology and lore section. When I found it, I was amazed at how big the section was. I thought about all the possibilities. The monsters always had the face of someone I cared about. I went to the S’s and found books on shifters. I knew shifters changed their face to torture people and made them go crazy by making it look like the person they steal the face of is dead. I had read books with monsters like that, but it was hard to imagine something so horrible could be real.
“Shifters?” Zach said from behind me.
“Yeah. I thought about what the things could be, and my mind went to shifters,” I explained. We grabbed four books each on shifters and went to the front desk where Kaden was waiting. “We got what we needed.”
“Good,” Kaden said. We checked out the books and left. We got in Kaden’s jeep and were on our way. I was sitting alone in the backseat staring out the window when I saw her. I saw Liz. I yelped. She turned her head, pulled a knife out of her belt, and shoved it into her stomach. I suddenly felt my cheeks getting wet, and I started sobbing.
“Marie? What’s wrong?” Zach asked.
“I saw Liz. S-she, she took a knife out and stabbed herself,” I sobbed.
“You know that wasn’t her. That was the monster. It’s trying to make you weak. You need to be strong,” Kaden said quickly, glancing back at me. I nodded and wiped my tears away. “I want to know more about Liz. Why is she so important to you?”
“Liz was my best friend, she helped me when I needed her and was there for me. She died protecting me. We knew each other for three or four years before she died.”
“I never went through something like that, so I can’t say I know how it feels and I don’t think I could imagine what it felt like,” Kaden said. We drove the rest of the way in total silence, giving me plenty of unwanted time to think. Tomorrow my little brother and sister would turn 16 and join me in tracking down our parents’ killer, find out they had an older brother, and put their lives in danger. That was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t break my promise to Alex and Emma.
When we entered the Starbucks, Zach and I, with books in hand, went straight to an open table in the corner. We sat down, opened a book each, and started our search for information on these monsters. It took me maybe 15 minutes to find something that could be useful. ” ‘Shifters are human-like creatures that have different abilities that range from mind tricks to control over elements,’ ” I read out loud.
“So, these monsters are people you’re close or related to. That is not many people,” Zach said, deep in thought.
“All right, let’s make a list of individuals that are close to me. One column for the dead, and one for the living.” Zach got up, grabbed a napkin, pulled out a pen, and started writing.
“Let’s start with the living.”
“No one. I have never seen anyone that is still alive. I guess shifters can only take over a corpse. A soulless sack of meat.”
“All right. Then let’s do the dead.”
“Mom, Dad, and Liz.”
“What about your relatives?”
“Relatives? I know my mom had a brother. I met him a few times, and I think he came over more when Kaden was around, but never after Alex and Emma were born. I never met my grandparents, and my dad was an only child. The only one I’m not sure about is my mom.”
“We can ask Kaden later. He is your big brother, after all,” Zach suggested.
“Okay.” We kept looking for helpful information. We didn’t find anything useful for another two hours. Then Zach found some on shifter history.
” ‘For hundreds of years shifters ruled the world, feeding on weak humans’ minds. They slowly were wiped out, and now there are only three full-fledged shifters.’ That could help if we find out which of these people are shifters.”
“Well, I found something on how to kill them. They can’t be killed with any weapon. They can be tortured and injured but not killed by any type of weapon. Powerful shifters can kill weaker shifters with mind-related abilities,” I said. “What’s for lunch?” As soon as I said the word lunch, my stomach started rumbling.
“Well, we should get lunch now. Kaden gave me some lunch money before we got out of the car.” Zach got up to get lunch. We had gone here to eat together enough to know what we both got. I always got a mocha Frappuccino and a chocolate croissant, while Zach always got a strawberry banana smoothie with the same pastry I usually got. I watched Zach order and the girl at the counter flirt with him. I didn’t know what it was, but something inside of me bubbled when I looked at that girl flirt with him.
“Is that jealousy I see?” a voice said. I looked over.
“Kaden? What are you doing here? I thought you went to work.”
“That’s Chelsea. She flirts with any cute guy that comes around, and I was distracted, so I said I was sick and I left.”
“Oh. I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous? Why would I be jealous? How do you know her, anyways?” I asked trying to change the subject.
“He would be jealous if someone started flirting with you,” Kaden said, ignoring my last question.
“No, he wouldn’t. Zach and I have been good friends since before we could walk or talk. I would’ve noticed by now.”
“Marie, you’re dense. I mean, he obviously likes you. Even I can see that.”
Zach came over and asked, “Why does Marie look like she wants to kill you?”
“Because I was-.” I put my hand over his mouth and glared at my incredibly annoying brother.
“He was annoyed,” I said to Zach with a sweet smile.
“Okay… Well, Marie isn’t acting normal. Did you fry your brain reading about shifters, Marie?”
“No, of course, I didn’t, idiot,” I said, wondering why idiots surrounded me.
“Well. Here is your lunch.” Zach handed me my croissant and Frappuccino. “I may have drunk a little bit of yours,” I growled at him. He should have known by now not to take my food. I hated when people stole my stuff, especially my food.
“Mine,” I grumbled.
“Marie doesn’t like people taking her food. Noted,” Kaden laughed.
“I learned that the hard way. A few years ago, she almost bit my hand off when I took some of her chocolate,” Zach said. I remembered that. I love chocolate. It’s one of the best things ever.
“Anyways, what did you guys find out?” Kaden asked.
“Why would the shifters want anything to do you, Marie? Why would they kill your parents?” Zach questioned.
“I don’t know, maybe the universe hates me, or maybe someone in my family is secretly a shifter. Maybe mom or dad was a shifter, and they kept it a secret. Then when we were born, they didn’t care about us and just wanted to keep their family going because they were super powerful and needed an heir. Now that they are dead and all of us are old enough to take care of ourselves, the shifters are coming after me to make me their queen. I don’t know, but it would be kind of weird if everything I just said were true,” I said. The two idiots stared at me. “What?”
“That’s an interesting theory,” Zach said.
“Wait for a second, if our parents were shifters, wouldn’t their bodies disappear, or, I don’t know, they would dig themselves out of the ground?” Kaden realized.
“You’re right, that’s going to be hard to figure out. How do we find out if your parents’ bodies disappeared?” Zach asked.
“You two can work on that and get some more research done before we go back home to drop the books off, then we can go shopping,” Kaden said getting up. “I don’t like talking about corpses. It makes me nauseous.”
About three hours later, Kaden got out of work, and we headed back home. I sat up front with Kaden this time. I was staring at the dashboard the entire 20-minute ride home. I didn’t think about anything for too long because I didn’t want to overthink anything, like the fact that someone I trust or trusted was trying to kill me.
When we got home, I went to my room, dumped the books on the bed, and went back down the stairs in less than a minute. I was eager to shop. I hadn’t been shopping in a while. I could only have as many clothes would fit in a bag, so I never had too many. Right now, I had five shirts and five bottoms, so of course, I was excited.
We went to a nearby mall and were there for about two hours. I bought one pair of shorts and one pair of sneakers. I spent less than a hundred dollars, and Zach only bought a t-shirt that said ‘Normal People Scare Me.’ The weapons shop wasn’t too far away. It was a tiny shop called the Gun Shack, and of course, it was filled with guns. Zach and I got permits to carry around guns a few years ago, and Kaden had gotten one of his own when he was 18. He didn’t plan on getting a new one, so Zach and I looked for small handguns and silver hunting knives so we could at least distract or injure any shifters that came after us.
We left the Gun Shack with two blades and a gun each. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use any of our weapons anytime soon. Emma and Alex were turning 16 tomorrow, but there was no way I was going to give them a gun. Maybe a knife or two, but no firearms until they were until 18.
We were going to leave to see Alex and Emma tomorrow morning. Since Kaden had a car, we wouldn’t need to leave and walk all night to get there early in the morning. In a car, it would take less than an hour to get to the twin’s house. It had been almost two days since I had seen the twins, but I’m glad I left when I did.