Gabriel and I start off slow, taking our time browsing through each shop we enter until I realize that we're gradually laughing at certain things and disliking the same items. Despite our obvious personality differences, we actually get along really well… for the most part.
"Oh come on, how can you turn this down?" I ask, holding up a short sleaved button up shirt to his chest. It's a tropical print with various neon colors.
His arms are crossed and he's shooting me an unimpressed look, "You're right, it's totally my style." I grin and take one last look before placing the shirt back on the rack.
"This is the fifth place we've been to and you still haven't picked anything out yet," Gabriel mentions, spinning the rack full of post cards quickly, making the pictures blur together. If I did something like that, the stand would probably fall over and I'd end up breaking everything in the store like a line of crashing dominos.
I shrug, "I've only got thirty bucks on me and I was hoping for a hoodie eventually."
"Avery, I won't let you use your own money," he says, his tone leaving little room for discussion. Luckily, I don't need to discuss this; it's simply not up to him.
"I don't think you have a choice," I murmur loud enough for him to hear as I look through some sweaters that my grandma would love. Thinking about my grandma makes me wonder whether she's a werewolf too. I mean, obviously she is, but it digs the knife in a little deeper. If you'd said I'd be feeling this way a week ago, I would've laughed at you because my family obviously doesn't keep secrets. How blind can one person be?
"Avery, what kind of Alpha am I if I can't even support my own mate?" he growls slightly, drawing my attention away from my thoughts as he tries to stay quiet so nobody else in the little shop can hear us.
I frown, "Do you know that whenever you're mad at me you say my name?"
His face wrinkles in confusion, "What?"
I make my voice lower as I imitate him, "Avery, you can't use your own money. Avery, I'm Alpha. Avery you're a werewolf. Avery don't speak to me like that." I switch back to my natural voice and look up at him, "At least I don't have to wonder whether you know my name or not."
He sends me an exasperated look and steps closer to me. His arms are crossed in front of him until one reaches out and cups my shoulder, sending goose bumps up and down my back. "I just want to take care of you," he whispers.
I smile, ignoring the flutter in my chest at his words, "I know you do, and that means the absolute world to me, but I don't need to be taken care of." I pause for a moment, "Okay, I do need to be taken care of but that's only because I'm suddenly not with my parents and I don't have a job. But these things," I lift a snow globe with the Astoria bridge in it, "aren't necessities and you don't need to worry about them."
"But I want to worry about them," he sighs yet again as I refuse to accept what he says.
I turn away from him and say, "You know what, this is suddenly feeling way too serious for a day of adventures and fun. How about we talk about this later?"
"As long as you promise we can actually sit down and discuss it. No interruptions or anything."
I nod and smirk a little, "If anything, it'll be harder for you to hold up your end of the bargain, King Gabriel." I bend into a deep bow, making sure he can see that I'm teasing him.
A deep, but soft, growl resonates from within him as his eyes light up with what I assume is happiness, "I told you not to call me that."
The first time I called him that when we first started looking for stuff. His annoyed reaction made it too enjoyable to not call him that again.
I laugh, "But it's so cute." He narrows his eyes at me, clearly hating being described like that.
We move on to the next shop and I finally find a hoodie I want. It's simple, black with white letters spelling out Astoria on the front. I grab it in a size way too big for me and start heading for the register when Gabriel stops me, "Won't that be too big for you?" he asks.
I nod and hold it up, "Absolutely. I love wearing guy's clothing. Especially when it smells like the guy I got it from," I explain absent mindedly.
I'm so busy looking at the hoodie that I don't see the change in Gabriel until I turn to leave and he doesn't move an inch.
"What's wrong?" I ask, instantly worried about everyone back at the house. He's frozen in place, looking like he wants to kill someone.
"What guys are you borrowing clothes from?" he asks, his jaw tight and hardly moving.
I frown, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what guys do you know well enough that you spend your time smelling them?" I realize now that he's not mad, or ready to kill someone. He's hurt. Something about me liking the smell of men's clothing has hurt him.
I don't even notice what I'm doing as my hand moves to hold his large one and gives it a small squeeze. The change in Gabriel's demeanor is significant as he relaxes and it's almost like I took his hand knowing that would happen. But I didn't. It was instinct.
"I have a feeling that smelling somebody means something different to werewolves than it does to humans, so what exactly are you asking me right now?" I ask him softly.
"You are my mate," he whispers fiercely, cupping my cheek in his free hand. "You're not allowed to wear any man's clothing unless it's mine."
"Allowed?" I'm unimpressed and he knows it. "You're not going to tell me what I am allowed to do in my life, Gabriel. I don't know exactly what your life has been like until now. I'm sure people are quick to do whatever you say and never question it. But I'm not one of those people. The more you tell me what I can or cannot do, the less I'm interested in being around you, and I am not making an empty threat here. I don't know what the future holds, but I can guarantee it's not you controlling my every move."
"I'm sorry," he says quickly, "I didn't mean it like that. I mean, I did, but you're right. I shouldn't be trying to control you. I don't want that for either of us."
I nod my head. "I promise to only wear your clothes from now on, if you can promise to chill out a little bit."
His eyes light up. "You're only going to wear my clothes?"
I groan and roll my eyes, "You know, and mine…"
He chuckles, apparently over his little freak out now.
We head to the cash register and I take our time waiting in line to ask, "So, what exactly does smelling somebody mean?"
He scowls, "Scenting each other can be a form of intimacy. In wolf form, we use our sense of smell to become familiar with the people or wolves around us. You learn their scent and you'll never forget them."
"So my remembering the smell of sweatshirts I used to wear was like me remembering the person who smelled like that?" I ask, clarifying.
"Yes, but it's more than that. Smell is the strongest form of nostalgia. You getting a sweatshirt because you like borrowing hoodies and smelling them instantly had my wolf ready to…" he pauses, looking at me carefully before clearing his throat, "let's just say we were fully prepared to go to Arizona."
Despite the seriousness of what he just said, I can't be mad at him for it. Instead, I kind of like it, which has me a little bit worried about my state of mind. When he sees that I'm affected by him, his expression changes from one of hesitancy to one of lust. I watch in slow motion as he bends down, bringing his face closer and closer to mine. My heart races. I know that last night I decided I would let him kiss me, but I was distracted by pizza and… I don't know, I was just distracted last night. There's nothing to distract me now. If this kiss happens, it's all on me without any excuses. We're inches from our lips touching when the bell above the door goes off, welcoming a new customer.
I step back and clear my throat. "I'm up."
I know that I've only known him for less than twenty-four hours, but it feels more like a lifetime. When his hand holds mine, it's right. When his eyes meet mine, it's right. When I hear his voice and it puts all of my worries at ease, it's right. It's all happening so fast, and I can't seem to wrap my head around it. I want him. That much I can admit. But why? Why am I okay with this?
Almost like he senses my thoughts, Gabriel's hand slips over mine as we wait for the cashier to finish ringing up the hoodie. "Don't worry about it," he whispers so the woman won't hear us. "It's too soon. I understand." That just makes me feel even guiltier because he's right and he wrong and I don't even know how to begin to explain it to him.
I bite my lip and nod, hoping I don't look as confused as I feel. A minute later we walk out of the store together. As soon as the doors close, Gabriel steals the bag from me and takes the sweatshirt out before pulling it over his head. I smile, knowing that he's making an effort to smooth out our awkwardness after that almost kiss.
"What are you doing?" I ask, laughing.
"I want you to only smell me," he says, serious but kidding at the same time. I roll my eyes with a grin on my lips, secretly thrilled that I didn't have to ask him.
Gabriel takes my hand again and starts pulling me up a hill, passed a bunch of shops we could stop to look around in.
"Where are we going?" I ask, already slightly out of breath despite the short distance we've gone.
"I have a surprise for you."
"I hate surprises," I huff. The hill is getting steeper.
Gabriel laughs and swoops me off of my feet and onto his back in one graceful motion. I wrap my arms carefully around his neck so I don't choke him, and wrap my legs around his waist. Once we're walking again, or he's walking again, Gabriel says, "You actually love surprises, you just don't want to know that the surprise is coming. You'd rather have it be a secret surprise."
My jaw drops, "How do you know that?" He couldn't be more accurate.
"You took an evaluation about four months ago. At this point, I'm assuming your parents weren't honest about its purpose, but you described yourself in detail for it."
I frown, he couldn't mean the college evaluation, could he? "What kind of questions were there?" I ask cautiously.
"Nicknames, hobbies, favorite books, favorite songs, talents, whether you like surprises or not…" he trails off.
"Wow," I murmur. How could I have not realized that no college asks those questions? "What did you need it for?"
"I like to learn a bit about the newcomers before they join the pack. That evaluation is the easiest way for me to see where they'll fit," Gabriel explains.
"Where do I fit?"
"Right here with me," he replies after a moment of hesitation.
My heart swells at that, but something feels odd about his answer. "Where was I going to fit if I wasn't your mate?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter anymore. You are my mate, so that's all we need to worry about now."
"Gabriel, tell me."
He sighs, "You were catagorized as an Omega."
I frown, "So my place in the pack is with the people you feel are only worthy of doing your laundry and dishes?"
He groans, "No, that's not it at all. It's just that your answers didn't connect you to any of the Betas or Deltas. I mean, your answers make more sense now that I know you thought you were only human, but at the time it didn't make sense that a Were would prefer staying in the air conditioning when it's a bright sunny day. You said you hated running. You also said you work better on your own or as the leader of a team. It kind of seemed like that one was you offering yourself to me," he chuckles, "Kind of ironic, right?"
"All of that stuff is true though," I say softly. "I love staying inside. Running was designed as a way to torture me. And I always end up slacking off when I do team projects unless I'm the one telling everybody what to do." I pause for a second as a realization rolls over me, "I'd be a horrible pack member."
"No you wouldn't." he says immediately. "Your answers are all perfect for an Alpha female. You're in charge of the pack house and making sure it runs smoothly, not that you have to stay there all the time, but that's generally your responsibility so you do get to stay inside a lot. As for running, it's not for everybody and I'd rather have you safe at the house than out endangering yourself in the woods. And, as my mate, you're a leader. It's your duty to lead the women of the pack and watch over them."
We reach flat land again and Gabriel sets me on my feet and turns to hold my face in his hands, "You are going to be an important member of the pack, you're strong enough to handle it and I believe in you. Don't doubt yourself." He leans down and places a soft kiss on my forehead. For some reason, that small kiss means more to me than any other kiss I've had.
"Come on, we're almost there," he says, pulling me along again.
Finally, we come to a stop in front of a beautiful restaurant. It's clearly expensive, and, even though I've never been to one before, I can see that it's a sushi restaurant.
"Where are we?" I ask, peering inside at the linen table cloths, lit candles, and wine glasses.
"This is one of the best restaurants in Astoria," he says.
"This is your favorite place to eat?" I ask, feeling a little disappointed.
"Well, my favorite restaurant is called Geno's, but it's not really the kind of place you'd probably choose."
"Why not? What do they serve there?" I ask, frowning.
"Pizza and burgers. There's also an arcade."
I send him a weird look, "What part of that doesn't sound like me?"
He laughs, understanding what I mean. I'm definitely not the type of girl to choose sushi over a burger, and most of my childhood was spent accompanying my brother to arcades.
"I don't mean to ruin your plans, but could we maybe go to Geno's? I feel like I'll be more comfortable there."
"Are you sure? Everybody loves it here," he says, looking hesitant.
I nod, "I'm positive. Maybe sometime I can dress up a little nicer and we can come back, but I'd be too uncomfortable to enjoy my meal right now."
He nods and tries not to look too disappointed as we start walking back the way we came.
"I'm sorry. If you really want to eat there, we can. I didn't mean to make you mad," I say, feeling incredibly guilty. Here I am, a visitor in his hometown, and I completely shot down his plans.
My words seem to pull Gabriel's attention away from himself and he takes my hand. "I'm not mad. I just kind of keep expecting you to be one thing and then you're the complete opposite. It's weird feeling like I've known you for an eternity but then realizing I barely know the first thing about you."
I sigh, "I'm sorry. I swear I'm not trying to be difficult."
"You're not," he assures me. "Now, let's head to the car and then we can get some lunch."
In the car, we drive for about five minutes before coming to a small brown building with a sign reading ‘GENO'S | Pizza-N-Burgers'. Even though the restaurant sits next to the street, there are houses all around it.
He guides us inside and I end up having the most delicious burger of my life. I never would have guessed the quality would be so amazing from the way Gabriel described it, but I would have to give the place a strong 10/10.
"They definitely need a Geno's in Arizona," I say, rubbing my stuffed belly as we get back in the car.
"Why would they need one there?" he asks with a frown.
It seems kind of obvious… "Because that's where I live?"
"You live here now, with the pack."
"Arizona is my home. It's not like I'm going to suddenly move here just because I found out I'm, supposedly, a werewolf. That's insane. Everything I've ever known is there."
"Avery, that's part of what it means to be in a pack. That's what being Alpha female means. Your life is with us now," Gabriel talks slowly.
My eyes widen, "You can't be serious."
His silence speaks volumes.
"Gabriel, I'm not going to live here. I was born and raised in Arizona and it's where I always thought I'd stay. I can't leave that all behind," I say, panicking.
"What did you think was going to happen?" he asks, raising his voice a little as the frustration builds.
"I don't know!" I yell, "This is ridiculous. Yesterday I didn't even know that werewolves existed and now you expect me to live with them for the rest of my life and become their leader?" I stop and realize that this is all too much for me. "I can't do this," I tell him as we pull up to a stop sign. I quickly open the door and jump out, running away from the car as fast as possible, which, admittedly, isn't all that fast.
"Avery!" I hear Gabriel shout.
I ignore him and keep running, pushing harder as I hear his footsteps behind me. I know it's pointless to try outrunning him, but I can't give up without a fight.
"Avery, stop!" I hear him right behind me.
"Leave me alone!" I scream, racing into the middle of a street. All at once, I hear a car honking and turn to see it getting closer and closer to me. Time seems to stop as I squeeze my eyes shut brace myself for impact. The impact comes from the other side of me. When I find myself feeling no pain, I open my eyes and realize that I'm standing safely on the sidewalk with Gabriel's arms wrapped around me, holding me as close to his body as I can possibly get.
I can feel his chest heave up and down and his heart races, the quick thumping pressing against my temple.
"Tell me you're okay," he begs, taking half a step back and feeling all over me.
"Gabriel. Gabriel." He won't stop his search for anything that could be wrong. I take his face in my hands and force him to look at me, "I'm okay," I tell him, staring into his eyes. I've never seen, nor imagined, him looking like this. His eyes are wide and dark as night, his forehead wrinkled, his eyebrows bunched together, and his lips parted slightly as he continues gasping for air.
He gasps as he realizes that I really am safe. His hold tightens around me again as he yanks me to his body, almost suffocating me in his embrace. I have no time to contemplate what's happening when his lips crash down on mine, the intensity almost knocking me off my feet. His lips move furiously against me, yet it's the sweetest kiss I could ever imagine. One of Gabriel's hands tightens around my hair, making it impossible for me to move away as his arm keeps my lower body against him. My own arms wrap around his neck as my own fingers find his hair.
We're both gasping as our lips separate.
"I thought you were," he doesn't finish his sentence before his lips are back on mine. This goes on for a long time, until eventually somebody honks at us and yells something that makes my cheeks turn bright red.
"Why did you run?" Gabriel asks, looking and sounding devestated as he takes my hands in his.
"Because I'm scared," I say, struggling to find a way to describe it. "Not scared as in I'm afraid, but scared like everything is new and different and I don't know what to do. You all want so much from me, and even though you're willing to be patient, I'm nineteen years old and until I got here I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Now I'm supposed to take care of the pack house, and lead the women, and Omegas are calling me Miss, and you want me to live here forever. And on top of all of that decently normal stuff, I'm also supposed to turn into a wolf soon." I can't help the tears that fall out as I speak.
Gabriel doesn't say anything and instead pulls me so my head is resting against his chest again. His hand makes smooth circles on my upper back and he presses sweet kisses to the top of my head. Once I've calmed down a bit, he makes me look up at him.
"I know this is hard for you. I can't even imagine what you must be feeling, but I can promise you that I'll be with you the entire time. If you ever feel like anything is becoming too much, I'll help you out and we can take as many trips to Arizona as you want or we can bring whatever and whoever you're missing up here. I'll do anything for you. I can't lose you. But I also can't leave the pack to be with you."
I understand what he means, especially after that kiss. Despite my rollercoaster emotions, and every sweet thing he just said, I'm still thinking about that kiss and wanting desperately to do it again. I blink and focus my attention, "Thank you." I say, meaning it sincerely. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I think I just needed to know that I'm not alone, because it really feels like it right now."
"As long as I'm alive, you'll never be alone again," he says, sealing the promise with a kiss that makes my head spin.
"You know," I say as we pull apart, "Maybe I could get used to this whole mate thing."
He laughs and wraps an arm around my shoulders as we start walking back to the car. "I was wondering," he says, "and you can say no if you're not ready, if you'd be open to a party tonight."
I frown, "Why wouldn't I be open to a barbeque?"
"Well, because this party would have every member of the pack at it…" he trails off, looking at me with a hopeful expression.
My eyes widen, "You want me to meet the entire pack tonight?"
He shrugs, "Only if you're up to it. They're looking forward to meeting you."
I think about it for a minute before nodding, "I think I'd be okay with that."
Gabriel smiles a huge smile that makes his entire face light up and my stomach gets flooded with butterflies. Yeah, I could definitely get used to this mate thing.