There is nothing more nerve-wracking than inviting childless girlfriends over when you have little kids. And there is no such thing as a quick errand when those toddlers are twins. My version of cleaning for my friends today was tossing all the toys in a laundry basket and calling it a toy chest. But when I pulled out graham crackers and juice for appetizers earlier, I realized I needed to go to the grocery store for grown-up snacks and wine. Because I could really use a drink that packs more punch than vitamin C.
“Mommy!” cries out Adam. “Hungry.” He reaches over and grabs Ava’s piece of cheese she hasn’t finished yet, and my daughter’s little face scrunches up as she begins to cry.
I reach down into the grocery cart designed like a child’s toy car and take Ava’s snack out of Adam’s hands. “Honey, you don’t get to take your sister’s food when you finish yours. We’ll have dinner as soon as we get home.”
“No!” he screams as he reaches for the cheese again.
I grab his hand to stop my son, but before I can use a stern voice to tell him no again, a low rumble forms in his throat and fur sprouts on his skin. Oh no! I glance around to see if anyone is watching us, but we’re the only ones in our aisle. Even so, we have to get out of here fast.
In a split second, I call upon my witch powers and act. A small fireball flies from my fingers toward a display of cans, knocking it over and causing a commotion. I grab my kids out of the shopping cart and tuck Adam face-first into me with the hope his clothing will hide the fact he’s turning into a bear. Fortunately, a screaming Ava is under my other arm, and as I practically run out of the store, I convince myself people will think I’m just another mother abandoning her cart because of a child having a temper tantrum.
The side door to my minivan automatically opens when I hit the remote, and by the time I get to the car, I’m able to squeeze in the back and close us off in tinted-window privacy. I let out a whoosh of air. “Well, that was fun,” I say. I smooth back Ava’s hair and notice she still has a piece of her cheese clutched between her chubby little fingers. I lift her hand. “Look.”
Ava’s tears stop instantly, and she smiles as she begins to eat her food. I place her in a car seat and then turn to Adam. The door lock clicks annoyingly as he fiddles with it, and I notice he’s back to his human form. I wonder if he even realizes what just happened. Since me freaking out usually means my kids will follow, I maintain my cool. “And you, little man, no more stealing your sister’s food. Got it?” I tickle his belly, and he giggles as I put him in his car seat too.
I let out a heavy sigh and think about how lucky I am. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been in love with Marcel, a sexy werebear who makes my pulse race every time I see him. But I used to be sure I could never have him. No werebear clan would ever allow a witch like me to be more than their medicine woman. Not that Jean Luc, the alpha I serve, ever made me feel as if I weren’t part of the clan, but witches and werebear didn’t entertain romantic relationships. Not publicly, anyway. Let alone get married with the alpha’s blessing.
I fasten my children’s seat belts and climb into the front of the van. Fortunately for Marcel and me, a lot has changed in the secret world of werebear over the last five years. A clan in Maine put out a spiritual call for half-werebear women to come and bear children in order to remedy the curse that had made their females barren. The next thing we knew, the halves started to appear for other clans too, and they even made it to my Canadian clan of Ouellettes.
So I suppose that’s why Jean Luc allowed the marriage between Marcel and me. Humans and werebear have been sneaking off together for decades, and while the affairs and children produced by them were kept secret, it was believed werebear traits in halves were dormant. It was the hope that with three-quarters-werebear blood, the offspring of a half and a full werebear could become new members of the clan that so desperately needed them.
I maneuver my way through the grocery store parking lot, and my blinker ticks as I wait for the traffic light to change. As with many things in life, Kimi, the medicine woman who put out the call for half women to come to her clan, couldn’t have predicted what would happen. It was discovered that once those half-werebear women were bitten, they became werebear too. I shudder as I recall watching the excruciating process that spontaneously happens when a half is bitten. Full werebear never have to endure that. Instead, they learn to shift once puberty hits.
In theory, Marcel and I knew our children would have the choice to let their werebear side lie dormant or change. And Jean Luc assured us they’d be allowed the opportunity when they became adults. When I was pregnant, Marcel worried that our children would torture him with magic, and maybe one day, they will. I discovered my powers around the age of five, but they only amused my grandmother, the previous Ouellette medicine woman who raised me. And since full-blooded werebear don’t shift until they’re teens, it never occurred to me to be concerned about little children tormenting me with their bear side. Until now.
I glance in the rearview mirror when I hear giggling and notice Adam licking the smeared remains of cheese off Ava’s fingers, and despite my worry, I smile. I swear my twins spend their time trying to make each other laugh. And I’m convinced when they’re older they’ll have a secret language just so they can communicate what might set me off in a hissy fit for their further amusement.
Whatever set Adam off earlier, though, is long gone. I recall that one of the ways teenage werebear learn to shift is to dredge up something that is embarrassing or makes them mad. Adam’s shift had to have been his anger at being told he couldn’t have Ava’s food. While the shifting isn’t a big concern—my children are half werebear, after all—I’m not sure how to control it in a small child. And that makes me worried about what this means for the safety of our clan. The people in this town cannot find out werebear are in their midst if we want to survive, and if my children can shift before they understand the implications of their secret getting out, they’re not going to be allowed to have the normal childhood Marcel and I so desperately want for them.
One of the mandates of most werebear clans is that children assimilate with the humans they’ll share the earth with. Witches are accepted more easily by humans, and it’s never been a concern for my kind to keep what we are secret. Especially since most people think we’re not nearly as powerful as we are. But Marcel is not a big fan of me nurturing our twins’ magical abilities as we discover them for a good reason. Before we were allowed to be together, I unleashed my magic, and many werebear and witches in the area now know of my strength. So not only does my husband fear the twins won’t be old enough to understand what their power means, but using it where the wrong people might see it isn’t a good idea. So I agreed to a compromise. We’d deal with only the abilities the twins discover by accident until they’re teens, at which time we’ll teach them to shift and uncover their magic.
The idea that our children would accidentally shift wasn’t even a consideration, and now we’re going to have to figure out how to teach two-year-olds to control their intense emotions. I realize that’s hardly the end of the world, but my stomach is in knots just the same, and my insecurities rush to the surface.
What’s upsetting me is more than the fact my son shifted; it’s that I’m not equipped to deal with the werebear side of my children. I feel as if I’m living on borrowed time as it is, because werebear have true mates, and those true mates are other werebear, not humans with magical abilities. No matter how much Marcel thinks he loves me now, one day, his true mate could come along and make him regret the fact he’s tied to me. My throat tightens, and I inhale sharply as I imagine the pain. When that day comes, my world is going to shatter into tiny pieces I’m afraid I’ll never be able to put back together.
I shake off my pessimistic thoughts and try to focus on the more immediate problem. Not that it makes me feel any better, though. I’d bet my last eagle talon Jean Luc never would have agreed to let Marcel and me have children if he knew our two-year-olds would be shifting because we put the entire clan at risk of discovery.