Rejected by Jaymin Eve

1





From the ashes, the phoenix will rise.

I reread that line from my college assignment. English Lit had hit us with our first big task of the year: we’d been asked to discuss in detail a novel that was not without some serious flaws. Firstly, its constant use of allegory to instill “meaning” into the story all but drove me insane. Not to mention the prose. Oh, man, don’t get me wrong—in the right story, I was all over a stunning usage of words with sentences flowing in a circle of emotions and light, making my heart soar and brain flutter. Other times, though, I wanted to scream for the author to just “get to the fucking point.”

My mom always said I couldn’t possibly be her child because she’d been born of stars and moonbeams and I’d been born of facts and figures. Whatever the fuck that meant. Probably meant she would have enjoyed this English Lit story—if she wasn’t drunk, that was.

As for me, I hadn’t gotten to choose the tale, and the report had to be written. I wrote better with a connection, so I’d searched for one and found it in that line. It ran over and over in my head, consuming my thoughts and dominating my day.

All because I would love nothing more than to rise from my own ashes.

Twenty-two years old; senior in college; born into the most powerful shifter pack in the world. Life should have been roses and chocolates. Or stars and moonbeams… if I wanted to twist the knife a little harder. And maybe it would have been if Dear Old Dad—a.k.a. Lockhart Callahan—hadn’t decided to die via challenging the alpha, making my family persona non grata. We were lower than shit in this pack, and the only reason we were still here, according to my mom, was because the enemy you knew was better than trying to make it out there as lone wolves. A fact I had my doubts about.

“Mera!”

Mom’s drunken holler reminded me that I was avoiding her this morning. She wanted money and my hard-earned cash was hidden away for a reason: the moment I shifted for the first time and had control over my wolf, I was getting the hell out of here.

Just a few more weeks.

All shifters turned for the first time, under the winter solstice full moon, in the year of their twenty-second birthday. It was already November, I had quietly turned twenty-two last month, and very soon, I’d be able to escape from this fucking mess of a town.

Throwing my barely-holding-on tablet into my ratty old bag, I slid one strap over my shoulder and jumped out the window, landing gracefully on the ground below. Our apartment was a two-bedroom POS in the middle of Torma, a town on the edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. The town was owned by the pack. Our alpha was the alpha of all American packs, and that made us the best.

According to that sanctimonious asshole anyway.

Personally, Torma was my own version of hell on Earth, and I couldn’t wait to be rid of it.

Heading toward school, I tightened my hold on my backpack and lowered my head to keep from drawing attention. The pack’s punching bag would do well not to advertise herself. Stay low. Stay alive. Survive one more month.

And rise from the ashes.





2





There was one school in Torma. Pack school. Ranging from Pre-K all the way to college. I’d never left this town—getting permission to leave was a mission in and of itself—and had attended pack school since the first grade.

I had exactly one friend to show for my many years stuck here.

“Hey, girl,” Simone called as I walked through the front gate, making my way up the garden-lined path.

“Hey, Sim,” I said, reaching her side in a second. “Still working on that braid, I see.”

Simone had fantastic hair; it was dead straight to her waist, thick, and so black, it almost looked blue in the sunlight. She loved to experiment with hairstyles, and for the last few weeks had been attempting to fishtail braid it. Attempting being the operative word.

Her expressive face screwed up into a tight knot of annoyance. “Why the fuck is it so hard?” She gestured to where most of the strands had already fallen loose. “I watch the videos online and those bitches braid to their ass in like five seconds, one-handed while filming it, for shifter’s sake. Bullshit, if you ask me.”

I snorted out some laughter, elegant as always. “Keep working at it. I definitely think you’re getting better.” White lies kept the world spinning, right?

She shot me an I know what you’re doing but thanks for being a great friend stare as we continued into the school. Whoever had built this monstrosity of a brick building in 1847, hadn’t thought much outside of practicality, because no one would design anything to be this ugly, squat, and depressing, unless it had just been the easiest style at the time. The only redeeming character was the wood-lined gardens, filled with flowers and herbs, that surrounded the perimeter.

Poor attempt to cover up the fact that it needed to be bulldozed and started again.

“I’m not sure I can stay here for another year.” Simone sighed, her dark brown eyes dropping dramatically. “I mean, is it even legal to stop us from traveling and meeting new people? I’m sick of all these assholes.”

She wasn’t the only one, but legal or not, we weren’t allowed to step foot outside Torma without permission. Leaving us stuck here, with the same shifters whom we’d grown up with. Shifters I hated.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up about leaving until you’ve shifted and learned to control the beast,” I said, repeating the cardinal rule while holding open the glass doors to the building for us to enter.