Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(12)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(12)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“Like to talk? Are you…missing anything in your life?”

“Like what?” she asked again.

Juno shrugged. “I don’t know… Are you lonely?”

Okay, she needed to put a stop to whatever was happening. Ash hung her apron on the hook behind the registers, grabbed her purse and jacket from under the counter, and marched to the table, leaving Juno to trail behind.

She plopped her perfectly cushioned ass on the bench seat across from them and pulled her jacket on. “Look. You have something to say. You are worried about something. Just tell me. You know I like things black and white. I’m not good at guessing, and this is all very…very…”

“Very what?” Remi asked in a soothing tone, arching her delicate eyebrows.

“Very frustrating!”

“Well, I can imagine so. Grim isn’t easy to—”

“I’m not frustrated with Grim. You two are acting so weird.”

“Not weird,” Juno argued. “Protective.”

“Really? Because when you told me about Rhett, I supported you right away. And when you told me about Kamp,” she said, jamming a finger at Remi, “what did I say immediately? Without even waiting a second, what did I say?”

“That you were happy for me.”

Ash huffed a breath and then plopped her chin onto her folded arms on the table. “Then you owe me. Be happy for me.”

Juno scrubbed her hands down her face and growled. “It’s not that easy, Ash. You’re…you’re…and Grim is…well he’s…”

“Just say it.”

“You’re too good for him.”

Ash shook her head, digging her chin into her wrist. “You never just say what you mean with me. And it used to be okay because I just wanted you to keep liking me. And so I was quiet when something bothered me.”

“Oh my gosh,” Remi said in a small voice. “Like what things? What things weren’t okay?”

“The way you talk for me sometimes. Like when we are out and someone pays attention to me, you talk for me. I used to like it because it meant I didn’t have to talk or try to be smart to other people, but right now, I don’t like it. You both moved away, but I’m still here, and I…changed. I don’t need you to talk for me anymore, but you still do it when you come back home.”

Both of her friends were quiet and exchanged a glance that said something big, but one she didn’t understand.

“I know I’m simple,” she murmured. “I know it. I know I’m submissive. I barely graduated high school because stuff is so confusing. But I do know how to talk. For myself. And I know the things I want.”

“What things?” Remi asked quietly.

Grim. “A mate someday. If you block me from anything real, I’ll never find it.”

“You think Grim is real?”

Ash shrugged. “He feels different.”

“But…he’s, well…” Remi said, struggling. “He’s bad, Ash.”

“Only half-bad, same as everyone else. I got bad in me. I got hungry at lunch and wanted to steal a sandwich before I even paid for it. Bad. You drank whiskey before you were even eighteen, and me and Juno had to hold your hair back while you got sick in the men’s bathroom because the women’s bathroom was all full and that was a gross night. Bad. Juno, you got all wrapped in your career like duct tape and stopped visiting your parents for a long time and they got sad. Bad. You both left me.” Ash’s eyes filled suddenly with tears and her lip trembled, so she buried her face in her arms to hide her crying. Her voice broke on the word, “Bad.”

“Aw, shhhhit,” Remi muttered.

Ash was going to get it all out, all the poison in her mind, because if she didn’t do it now, she never would. She couldn’t look up at them, though, or she would turn chicken-bear, so she just talked into her arms instead. “You both went and got big lives and you stopped calling me and you stopped telling me your inside jokes and you left me behind. I still existed while you were away. I waited. I was happy for you both, but I waited because I wanted things to go back to when it was just the three of us running around here. But you left, and it made me be more independent. And then right when I was getting used to being more independent, you come back and speak for me again.”

“You really like Grim?” Remi asked.

“Yes. And I can tell he likes me, too.”

“How?”

“Because his good lion watches me.”

“Wait, what?” Juno asked.

Ash sniffed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She probably had mascara smeared everywhere now, but she didn’t care. “The green-eyed one. He comes out for me.”

“Grim doesn’t have green eyes,” Remi whispered. “He has brown eyes and he has gold eyes.”

“The good part of Grim does have green eyes,” Ash assured them. “You just haven’t seen them. I do.”

Now Juno and Remi looked as confused as Ash always felt. “Huh,” Juno puffed out on a breath.

“And look.” Ash pulled out her phone and showed them the first picture that popped up in her Grim the Hottie album. It was the one where he was chopping wood. “He did this without me even asking him to. When we were hanging out at the firepit last night, we ran out of wood, so he got up early before I took him back to town and chopped more wood. I snuck this picture.”

Juno and Remi stared at the picture with eyes that were round as pepperonis.

“Okay,” Remi said.

“Okay?” Juno asked her.

Remi nodded and looked back at Ash, then gave another nod. “Yeah. If Grim hurts her, we’ll just kill him.”

“Yeah. Okay, we’ll just kill our Alpha, no big deal,” Juno said.

“Then it’s settled,” Ash said. “No more speaking for me, okay?”

“Deal,” said Juno.

Remi’s lips curved into a smile.

“What?” Ash asked.

“Well…I’m just so proud of you.”

“Me, too,” Juno said. “This is a side of you we haven’t seen before. Good for you, Ash. You should go get the life you want. And we shouldn’t be standing in the way of anything. That’s not what friends do.”

“And we are friends,” Ash said with a nod. She wiped her damp cheeks. “Best friends. Things are different, but we are still best friends. You will always be my best friends.”

Juno and Remi reached for her hand at the same time and clutched it hard.

Remi’s eyes were leaking. “Yeah.”

“Always,” murmured Juno.

Chapter Eleven

She was definitely being stood up.

Ash wrung her hands again to warm them and blew out a long, frozen breath. It was really cold sitting out here on the front porch. She loved stormy days and gray clouds and usually she didn’t get cold easy, but she was nervous, and that wasn’t helping.

She’d dressed in layers, her purple sweater, leggings, snow boots, a jacket, and a scarf that was the same shade of blue as her hair. She’d done her make-up like those internet videos she’d watched after Juno and Remi left Damon’s Mountains and everything got boring. She was pretty good at eyeliner now but not contouring her cheekbones. That was witchcraft and rocket science.

He’d said five o’clock, and she’d been sitting out here for a whole hour. She should probably go inside, heat up a TV dinner, watch a movie, and try to forget about how much her chest was hurting right now.

Boys did that when they threw girls away. They hurt them in their chests. She’d wanted Grim to be different, though.

“Goodnight, Wanda,” she muttered to her ancient charcoal-gray Dodge Ram pickup. Her dad had given her his old truck for her sixteenth birthday, and they still fixed it together when it broke down. She would never get rid of it because she and Dad had put so much love into keeping the old girl running.

Sad down to her bone marrow, Ash stood and made her way across the creaking front porch to her front door. But right as she reached for the handle, the soft hum of a car engine sounded.

And just like that, the hole in her chest filled with hope.

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