Vixen

Dakotah knocked wearily on the metal door, her flats were tucked beneath her arm and her hair was matted to her neck with blood. Gage opened the door of his tiny apartment wide when he saw it was Dakotah. "You look like shit," said a voice from inside.

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1. GREEN EYES


CHAPTER ONE

“Green Eyes”

 

 Dakotah pressed her long body into the warm brick of the pool’s retaining wall. She had just swum fifteen laps in the large pool and was exhausted. Her best friend, Brooklyn Gray, languished on the diving board, complaining about her boyfriend, Gage.

Brooke,” said Dakotah, “Give him a chance to explain. I’m sure there’s a reason he had a foreign thong in his dresser.” Brooke scowled, contorting her delicate features. Dakotah glared at her pretty friend. All curves and curls. Why, with those huge grey eyes and the flawless skin, was Brooke worried about men? Never mind the vanity—it was easy to ignore. “It could be a birthday present, or a surprise gift,” suggested Dakotah sweetly. Brooke shot her a dirty look and continued worrying.

Dakotah paused to study herself. She was tall, and toned; her skin was the shade of warm toast, and her shoulder length hair was inky black. She had the body of a runner and the striking Native American features of a half-breed. Exotic.

 From her position on the diving board, Brooke watched Dakotah, upside-down; she reminded Brooke of a desert lizard, sunning itself in Arizona heat.

“Have you girls packed the car yet?” yelled Brooke’s mother from behind the Nevada Appeal she read every Saturday.  Dakotah rolled into the pool with a splash and  swam over to where Angela Gray stood, looking expectantly at the girls.

“Yes’m,” said Dakotah. “We packed this morning and we’re going to head out around 4:00 this afternoon.”

“Get your butts into gear; it’s already 4:10 p.m.” Mrs. Gray smiled and winked. It was only 3:40 but those girls were slow as slugs. 

Brooke and Dakotah both scrambled for towels and flip-flops. Within minutes, the girls had shrugged off their bikinis inside the pool house. Brooke tugged on some Capri’s and a nautical top that displayed the freckled skin of her shoulders.  Dakotah changed into khaki cutoffs and an old t-shirt campaigning for Pedro. With a hurried look at the wall, they realized it was only just 4 o’clock.  Brooke and Dakotah broke into relieved giggles.

“Your mother had the right idea,” concluded Dakotah as she was scrubbing her face in the tiny sink of the pool house kitchenette.  "I was ready to fall asleep until I thought we were late." 

Brooke laughed and then shook her head. "I know what you said earlier, about taking first shift, but I'm awake and you could use a nap. Why don't you let me drive?"

With a tired smile, Dakotah dug for the keys and deposited them into her friend's cupped palm. "You have to adjust the seats again—I was too tired to fix them back when we got here."

They had spent most of the brief Nevada spring at Brooke’s mothers. She had taken Dakotah under her wing and converted the guest room into one Dakotah could call her own. With two weeks before summer classes started, the girls were heading back to enter their junior year at the University of Washington. 

“Bye, Mama,” said Brooke. “I’ll call you when we get there, yes.” She kissed her mother on the cheek and gave her a final hug before swinging her leg into the car.

There was a tiny cooler resting on the floorboard of the passenger seat; the back seat remained clear, except for their pillows and a zippered CD case with music from the past two decades and no clear preference for genre. Dakotah’s suitcase was tucked inside the trunk along with Brooke's large rolling suitcase and a stray tennis shoe. 

Dakotah hugged Mrs. Gray goodbye. The older woman pulled Dakotah aside before she could slip into the backseat for a nap.

“Happy early birthday, dear,” said Mrs. Gray. She pressed a folded envelope into Dakotah’s messenger bag and then patted her on the hip. Having adjusting the seat and the mirrors, Brooke was now fiddling with the radio dials.

“Thank you, Mrs. Gray!” Dakotah hugged the woman’s neck tightly and then spun away, eager to get back into Washington.  The best Dakotah could do at the moment was slide into the back of Brooke’s car. Angela Gray waved the girls off from the mailbox and pretended not to cry.

***

Dakotah used Brooke's driving time to rest from swimming that afternoon. Brooke pulled onto the highway a few minutes after leaving her neighborhood and had to settle the radio on a sappy love song.

“Teardrops on my guitar,” scoffed Brooke. "The song is at least three years old!" snarled Brooke who despised most Pop artists. Dakotah groaned and handed her a CD from the case she found inside the console. Placating the driver was step one to a good nap. Step two was making use of both your own pillow and the driver's pillow. 

“Spoon,” said Dakotah. “You know you like them," She teased. Brooke sighed in relief and began tapping her fingers on the steering wheel along with the pulse of the music.

“Thank. You.”

“Don’ mention it,” mumbled Dakotah as she curled around her seat-belt to get comfortable, thankful for the secondary pillow.

In her dream, she was a child again. She was cornered in a dark house, her father’s, it seemed. The wood floors creaked under her weight and sweat beaded along her curved spine where she hid, inside her childhood closet. She sat there for what might have been hours, barely shifting her stiff body for fear of being discovered. The fabric of her Pocahontas nightgown clung to her trembling shoulders and did nothing for the sudden chill creeping through her muscles. Dakotah didn’t know what she hid from, only that it had nails and they clicked across her bedroom floor, like a dog. The twitching black nose and large, velvety muzzle of what had to be an unusually massive creature poked eagerly underneath her door. The animal snorted and pulled back. She stumbled backwards into a rack of shoes and books, her breath hitching in her throat. Suddenly, a big amber eye blinked from the crack between the door and the floor. Dakotah got ready to scream.

The dream scream turned into a heavy yawn, three hours later, when Dakotah stretched her toes lazily, like a cat. She kept her green eyes slitted to block the last of the evening sunlight slanting through the windshield. From the backseat she could see Brooke driving along a country road; all she could see of Brooke was the mass of chestnut curls, a round cheek, and the tips of thick eyelashes.

“Pull over. I’ll get the food out,” said Dakotah, “I can drive while you eat.”          

Brooklyn Gray slowed the tan Toyota Camry to a stop on the shoulder of the road. A green SUV whizzed past their car, shaking it in its wake. She twisted her dark hair off the back of her neck and sighed. The interior of her brother’s hand-me-down Camry no longer stank of stale pot and musty beer. The leather upholstery was worn white in places and a palm sized dent was visible on the dashboard, courtesy of Hanley, her fire-cracker brother.

Brooke broke out of thought when Dakotah waved a turkey sandwich in her face. Her stomach rumbled in appreciation.

The two girls wiped crumbs from their laps and belched loudly, clinking their bottles of cream soda together in a belated toast.

“So much for driving while you ate,” muttered Dakotah. She hopped to her feet with a grin, “Let’s go, before everyone thinks we’ve been ravaged and tortured to bits!” 

***

“Hey, Brooke!” hissed Dakotah, “Wake up!” Dakotah had been driving for two hours when she saw it. She tried hard not to slow down and stare but her foot found the brake pedal anyway.

“Are we there?” asked a bleary-eyed Brooke who sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Not quite…” replied a nervous Dakotah. She motioned with her hands for Brooke to look through the windshield towards the tree line where a large, bi-pedal thing loomed over a male deer. The six-point buck was frothing at the mouth from exertion and its thin legs quivered beneath it. The predatory figure slashed at the exhausted deer and dipped its snout into the steaming wound, nuzzling the flesh further apart. A moment later, the creature snapped its dark head around to stare at the two gaping girls. From thirty feet away, the eyes looking at Brooke and Dakotah were a luminous, poison green, rimmed in darkness. They were reflective—like cat’s eyes.

Dakotah’s breath caught. She recognized those eyes. She floored the gas pedal and tore past the unlucky buck and the grotesque beast.

After five minutes of reckless driving, the two girls looked around, watching for anything that might have followed their car. Dakotah eased up on the gas and breathed deep.

“What was that back there?” asked Brooke. Dakotah shrugged, shaken.

“I have no idea. Maybe it was a Grizzly?”  

“I don't think it was Bigfoot.”

"Then it must have been a very deformed bear."

Eager to disregard those radioactive eyes, Brooke hesitated but she nodded, eager to believe anything that didn't involve Sasquatch. 

“It’s only about an hour or so before we reach campus,” said Dakotah. The clock glowed the same noxious green as those eyes. It was 3:39 a.m.

“I’ll just drive the rest of the way.” Dakotah offered, afraid of what might happen if she didn’t keep busy. Brooke readily agreed with wide eyes before she fell into a dreamless sleep. It hadn't been long when Dakotah spotted the huge figure loping through the crowded woods. She swallowed, realizing how easily it was keeping pace, even as Dakotah pushed 80 mph.

“Go away, go away, go away!” she chanted to herself quietly until an eerie howling broke her concentration. The car swerved onto the shoulder when Dakotah let go of the wheel to cover her ears. Brooke woke with a jolt, swearing profusely as she tumbled onto the floor when Dakotah slammed on the brakes.

“What the hell?” yelled Brooke, confused and swallowing a mouthful of blood. She had bitten her tongue.

Dakotah gingerly let her hands drop and rubbed the sweat from her palms on the bare skin of her thighs. “Sorry,” she stammered.

Dakotah began driving immediately, not giving Brooke the chance to situate herself. Eventually, the sun came, burning the early morning fog away and melting the light frost that clung to the vegetation. Brooke had remained silent for the last hour and a half. Dakotah’s thighs itched where she had wiped her sweaty hands; scratching provided no relief. When she glanced down, her skin was coated in a crusty film of rust. Dakotah licked her finger and distractedly rubbed at one stain. The second time she licked her finger, the taste of old pennies infected her mouth. Brooke had her eyes focused outside, staring into the dense woodland for any deer or coyotes, which were equally abundant in the Washington area. She didn't notice Dakotah until the Camry slowed to a stop before a dingy gas station.

Dakotah squeaked a quick, “Gotta pee!” before leaping outside and hurrying to the outdoor restrooms. A splinter of sunlight gave Dakotah’s black hair a crimson tint. Brooke sank into her seat and frowned.

Inside the fluorescent-lit room, Dakotah stalled. First, she went to the bathroom, and then she vigorously scrubbed her hands—she didn't look in the mirror. Grabbing a wad of brown paper from the wall-bound dispenser, Dakotah wet it and began washing the blood from her thighs. When that was done and tossed into the garbage, she finally looked into the mirror; she vomited.  

Wiping the spittle from her chin with a paper towel was like dragging sandpaper over her skin.

Her hands shook as she lifted her hair away from her face.

Dried blood was caked onto her skin, clogging her ears, and gluing strands of hair to her cheek. She frantically cleaned and scrubbed her skin until it was a deep pink against her dark skin and features. With a damp paper towel, Dakotah wiped the red streaks from her hair and twisted it up into a bun. A last glance to the mirror showed a perfectly frightened, normal, teenage girl.

“What took you so long?” questioned Brooke. Curiosity colored her face; suspicion tainted her words.

“I had a nosebleed,” answered Dakotah, easily covering her tracks. Brooke lightened up considerably.

“Yeah?” she said. “I had one the other day, too. It’s all this dry air.”

“Tell me about it,” muttered Dakotah. She shook her head and smiled at her friend, “You ready?”

“Ready when you are, babe.” said Brooke with a grin. Heaven knows how bad she wanted to immerse herself back into her normal social life. Angela may be her mother, but two weeks was all Brooke could handle of Angela-Concentrate, even with Dakotah to dilute it.

Brooke’s fingers tapped away at the keypad of her cell phone.

“I can't wait to see Gage,” she said wistfully.

“And I'm sure that he can’t wait to see you, too.”

“Dakotah,” began Brooke. She was about to launch into her, “Women Need Men” spiel again. Dakotah was already rolling her eyes.

“Brooke,” warned Dakotah. She gave her a hard glance in the rear view mirror.

“All I'm saying is that Gage knows a guy…a sexy guy....” she trailed off mysteriously, hoping to provoke some sort of interest in the stubborn girl. “Are you sure that you aren't a lesbian? ‘cause I know people!” insisted Brooke.

“I’m positive,” said Dakotah, annoyed. “You remember Owen.” Dakotah fingered the lace-like scar tissue on her right arm. Brooke looked ashamed and sorry she'd said a thing at all.

***

 Owen Cary had swept Dakotah off her feet the moment they met. He had been so beautiful and charming, with mahogany eyes, tan skin and dark ginger hair that curled carelessly around his face. His thin lips had usually been attached to Dakotah’s skin, in shameless affection. After dating through most of Dakotah’s freshman year, he began to get possessive. It had bothered Brooke, the things that Dakotah had told her Owen did. Like when they first had sex and he bit her. The mark was visible against the tan skin of Dakotah’s shoulder, and it bled profusely.

When Brooke showed concern, Dakotah wrote it off as enthusiasm, because he liked biting as it was. What was wrong with him getting carried away in the heat of the moment? Brooke had complained about how Owen was treating Dakotah to Gage; Gage shrugged and said that he’d speak to the “weirdo”. Gage had come back that evening, white-faced.

“What?” asked Brooke. “What’s wrong with you, are you sick?”

“Owen is gone.”

“Gone?”

“Dakotah is waiting back at the dorm; you should go and talk to her.” Gage said, wiping the look of horror off his face. He had remained tight-lipped and wouldn't speak to Brooke so she grabbed her keys and headed back to her dorm for the night.

What she saw when she opened the door was not unusual: the obnoxious violet couch was flush against the wall, facing the tiny TV set where it sat atop a low bookcase. It was off. Dakotah sat quietly on the couch, staring at an empty pizza box that rested on their coffee table. In the next room, through the open door, Brooke could see that the two beds were both unmade but Dakotah’s had brown stains splattered on the yellow coverlet.

“Hey,” said a cautious Brooke. She turned and locked the door behind her. “Gage told me Owen left?” Brooke looked around again and noticed how Dakotah had her shoulders hitched up and the blank stare as she gazed at the black television screen. Brooke sat beside her on the couch and remained silent. After a few minutes, Dakotah turned and tried to speak but she physically wasn’t able. She tried again and managed to say that Owen tried to bite her, to mark her as his. Gage had come in as Owen was gnawing at her shoulder and kicked him out with a death threat.

“Brooke,” whimpered Dakotah.

“Oh, come here, honey.” Brooke pulled Dakotah into a tight hug. They stayed like that until the blood soaked through Brooke’s shirt. “Let’s get a bandage,” she said.

“I should have—you were right.” Dakotah said dejectedly. Brooke focused on wrapping the gauze around the wound. It looked like Owen had scraped his canines, shredding and tearing the skin of her shoulder. The meatier part of her arm, just below the shoulder was messier. His teeth had made a myriad of spider-webbing marks; they were deep, as if made with a bone needle.

“Do you know what he told me?” asked Dakotah, it was a rhetorical question and Brooke didn't bother answering. “He told me that, the more he bit me and tasted my blood, the more he would become like me.” Dakotah turned her wide eyes to Brooke who was in the process of securing the bandage. They were clouded in a film of tears.

In ragged, gasping sobs Dakotah wrenched out almost incoherent words. “Why—what am I? What am I like?!” She became so distraught that Brooke had to pet her hair and squeeze her hand until she calmed down.

Brooke tried to remember where she had stashed her brother’s old hunting knife.

***

It took months until Dakotah returned to her happy, sarcastic self. She and Brooke had grown closer for it though, and Dakotah had developed a sisterly adoration for Gage; he had been the big brother that Micah never had been. Brooke could appreciate that even if she felt threatened. Dakotah wouldn't steal Gage.

In the time it took for Brooke to remember Owen Cary and his reign of terror, Dakotah had parked the tan Toyota outside their dormitory. 

“Home, sweet home!” said Dakotah, stretching and grinning over her shoulder at Brooke who worked a kink out of her neck.

They made quick work of their luggage, carrying everything to their room on the first floor in two trips. The room smelled musty and there was already a spider web stretching from the TV to the surface of the dusty bookcase. It was roughly seven in the morning after they unpacked, showered, ate stale Lucky Charms, and brushed their teeth.

They’d known each other since they became roomies freshman year and were as synchronized as the heartbeats in their ribcages.

“Gage is coming over in an hour,” said Brooke. She blew a pitiful bubble with the piece of Hubba-Bubba she’d found in her coat pocket.

“Tell him to bring any laundry he needs done on over,” called Dakotah from the laundry area.

“Will do!” piped Brooke. Her thumbs flew across her cell phone’s keypad. Dakotah dumped a load of laundry into the tiny washing machine the dormitory offered.

An hour later, as planned, Gage Vaiden showed up carrying a wicker basket of sweat-caked clothing. He kissed Brooke on the cheek, holding the offensive clothes away from them.

“Dakotah,” he nodded and smiled tenderly. She lit up and eagerly took the loaded basket from him; their fingertips grazed slightly. It sent a shock through the both of them.

Blushing, Dakotah turned her cheek and stared at the calendar above her bed, it was March 14th. She tried to ignore the kissing noises coming from Brooke’s side of the room. She crossed to the little enclave where the washer and dryer were nestled and set the laundry down gently. She had already washed most of her and Brooke’s clothes, a few pair of blue jeans were left. With a sigh Dakotah began another load, dumping the vast amount of dark clothes that Gage had brought into the upright washer. She was ridiculously used to doing this boy’s laundry. One of these days, she would have to sit down and explain just how simple it was to pour detergent into the dispenser and toss in darks or lights. And forget about fooling with the water temperature—Dakotah washed everything but sheets on cold; sheets she washed in hot water. It was so easy.

She dried her hands and glanced briefly at the couple, lounging on the tacky purple couch. She snagged her messenger bag, a sketchpad and her sunglasses. Keys and cell in hand, Dakotah slipped quietly from the room and headed toward her own car.

 

 

 

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