Dear Pen pal,
My name is Wesley. I am 12 years old, and I am in 6th grade at Crescent Lake Elementary in Northern California.
I’ll be honest, I am only writing this letter because my teacher said we have to. She said if we don’t, we’ll get an F, and I am not about to fail an assignment and ruin my track record of perfect grades. Plus, my dad would probably ground me or something.
Anyway, I don’t really want a pen pal. I have friends here at school already, so why would I need to make friends with somebody who doesn’t even live here, someone who I’ll never actually meet?
So, yeah. That’s really all I feel like I need to say to you. There’s no point in telling you anything else about myself, since it’s not like we’ll continue to write to each other, or meet each other, or anything like that.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. It’s nothing against you. Like I said, I don’t even know you. You’re probably a really nice person, and I’m sure that you, just like me, have plenty of friends at your school, and don’t need a friend who lives hundreds of miles away in a different state.
Thanks for letting me write you this letter so I can get an A.
“All right, class, make sure you address your envelopes the way I demonstrated on the board, and be sure to seal them properly before you leave them on my desk. I plan to put them in the mail to Colorado today after school, so hopefully by next week you will have an answer back from your pen pal! Now please, pack up your bags, and line up at the door in a single file line so we can head out to dismissal for today. Don’t forget to put your letters on my desk!”
I rolled my eyes at Mrs. Appleton’s words, exchanging an annoyed look with my best friend, Reid Thomas. He was just as unenthusiastic about this assignment as I was, but I knew I had to turn mine in. Otherwise, my dad, Alpha Harrison Stone, would make me run extra laps and do extra push-ups and sit-ups at training.
He had high expectations and standards for my brother and me. Well, mostly me, since I would be the alpha of our pack someday.
“What did you write?” Reid whispered to me while we both made our way down the aisles to drop our letters off on top of Mrs. Appleton’s desk.
I shrugged. “I told whoever they are that I only wrote them because my dad would kill me if I got an F on an assignment that is as easy as writing a letter to a random person in another state.”
Reid followed me back through the rows of desks to the back of the room, where we kept our backpacks. My black bag and his gray bag hung next to each other on the hooks below our names.
Even though we were 6th graders, Mrs. Appleton liked to keep her classroom set up the same as all the primary grade classrooms. Alphabetized everything: seats, backpacks, book boxes, even our line when we left for recess and lunch. It was a little childish, but I was not the teacher, so I tried not to complain. Often.
“I told mine to never write to me again,” Reid explained, throwing his backpack over one shoulder and placing his baseball cap backwards on his head.
Hats weren’t allowed inside, but somehow Reid always got away with wearing it. He would just flash his signature cheeky grin at the teachers and they would just pretend they didn’t even notice he was breaking the rules.
If it was me, on the other hand, everyone would notice and make a big fuss. Because Future Alpha Wesley Stone should always be the picture perfect student. Future Alpha Wesley Stone should lead by example, even at only 12. No pressure, right?
“I’m just glad Mrs. Appleton isn’t going to be reading them before she sends them to her sister’s class. Can you imagine the volcanic eruption that would take place in my dad’s office if he got a call telling him what I wrote?” I flinched and grimaced, and Reid laughed.
We were finally in our line, waiting for the bell to ring so we could make our way through the halls and off the campus, where the sprawling pack grounds waited for us to spend the rest of our day training and goofing around.
It had always been my favorite time of day. Getting to be outside, running through the forest and then throwing a football or bouncing a basketball around with my friends — nothing could beat that.
The anticipation spreading between all of my classmates was high. Not only was it the end of the day, but it was also Friday, which meant two whole days with no school. What kid, human or werewolf, didn’t love the weekend?
The bell finally rang, and we all tried our best to not run out of the door. The kids at the front made a decent effort, but by the time Reid and I made it out, (with our last names being Stone and Thomas, we were always one of the last in line and out the door) we were all running, pushing past each other to be the first one through the gate at the front of the school near the office.
With werewolves, almost everything ended up being a competition, especially between young males. Being the first student out of the gate had always been one of those things that everyone automatically fought for. It was an unspoken tradition. No one ever declared it was a race, it just was, and always had been.
Even though I was still only twelve, and there were students one and two years older than me at our school, I’d had the honor of being first out of the gate since I was eight. I think, at first, the other kids were scared to beat me, afraid to be the one that made the future alpha come in second place. But at some point, I actually became the fastest.
Part of it was genetics. Werewolves born with alpha blood became Lycans and were genetically predisposed to be stronger, faster, and bigger than other werewolves. But it was also because I trained harder and longer than any other kid in our pack.
I reached the gate first — of course — followed closely by Reid and our other best friend, Nolan Shepard, who was one year older than us. Not far behind him was my little brother, Sebastian. He’s two years younger than Reid and me, and three years younger than Nolan, but the four of us had been inseparable since we were pups.
Our parents were the current leaders of our pack, and the four of us would take over for them in the future. Once we were ready, of course. And once I found my mate.
“Ugh, Nolan, be glad you’re a year older than us. Mrs. Appleton made us do this STUPID assignment. We have to write letters. To pen pals. It’s just… so dumb and childish!” Reid complained as he punched Nolan lightly on the shoulder.
“Oh, poor you, you had to write a letter! Meanwhile, I have a ten-page report on the history of the Moon Goddess due on Monday!” Nolan shot back, shoving Reid off of the sidewalk and towards the copse of trees we always cut through as a shortcut back to the packhouse.
“And let me guess… you haven’t even started it?” I asked with a smirk.
“No, I wrote some already!”
“How much? One page?”
Nolan paused for a moment, clearly deciding whether he wanted to answer me, before he finally, sheepishly, said, “A sentence.”
Sebastian, Reid, and I all exchanged looks, all three of us trying to hold in our laughter. Reid broke first, his laugh sounding like a cackle and echoing through the almost empty forest, scaring a flock of birds out of the branches of a nearby tree. Sebastian and I joined in right away, and even Nolan chuckled at himself a little.
Our pack was in the Redwood Forests of Northern California, close to the Oregon border, near a little known lake that was the shape of a crescent moon. Hence, the name, Crescent Lake.
Our pack was a decent size. Large enough to have our own elementary school on the pack grounds. It actually went all the way up through 8th grade, so I’d be attending school there for two more years before they shipped me off to the local high school. Once I was there, there would be a mix of werewolves — both from our pack and the two neighboring packs — and humans.
My dad built the elementary school on our lands early on when he first became alpha, to keep the younger pups in school without humans. It’s much easier for older students to keep our secret than it was for little kids.
My teacher, Mrs. Appleton, had a sister who recently found her mate in a pack in Colorado, so she had to move there. The elementary school her sister worked at was a mixed school, meaning humans and wolves all together, even from kindergarten. She’s the teacher whose class we were exchanging letters with, so I had to be careful not to reveal anything about werewolves in my letter, since I didn’t know if my pen pal would be a wolf or a human.
It was especially hard to not sign it “Future Alpha Wesley Stone,” since that was how I was used to writing my name and being addressed by most of the members of my pack.
Not that it mattered. Because there was no way I was going to be writing to my pen pal again. I did the bare minimum for the assignment. I would get my A, and then I would never have to write to them again.
My jaw clenched after reading his letter, and I tucked my hands beneath my thighs, trapping them between my legs and the seat of my chair, so no one could see how much they shook.
I blinked back the tears that shimmered in my eyes, trying to remind myself that it was nothing personal. It was nothing against me. He didn’t even know me, or anything about me.
He was just a kid, just a young boy, who obviously cared a lot about making sure he did well in school. He was just trying to be honest, trying to set the tone for what our communication would be. Or, I guess, wouldn’t be, in the future.
His delivery may have been a little harsh, a little blunt, but then again, he was only 12. He didn’t know me. He couldn’t possibly have known how his words would affect me, how deep they would cut.
I shouldn’t have let his words bother me. He didn’t know I was an orphan. He didn’t know someone left me at the fire station when I was a baby, wrapped in a deep purple blanket decorated with the phases of the moon, and my name, Haven Kenway, embroidered on one corner.
He didn’t know the social workers searched for any records of anyone with the last name Kenway having given birth in any nearby town, and that they found nothing. He didn’t know I had spent my life being moved from home to home to home. He didn’t know I was with my ninth family in the same number of years.
Again, it shouldn’t have bothered me. Because I was finally in a home where I felt comfortable and safe, where I actually felt the beginning of a connection to the people who were fostering me.
When I was a baby, they moved me early. I was what they called “high needs.” I constantly needed to be held, and hated to be left alone in any room, ever. I guess it was exhausting for my first family, because they moved me before I was even a year old.
The next family lasted longer, almost until I was two, before they decided I was too old, and they only wanted to foster babies. And after I turned two, it had been one home every year. Until it wasn’t.
My foster parents, Jack and Shirley Franklin, didn’t have any other kids in their home. Well, not anymore, at least. Their children were all grown up and moved out, so they wanted to open up their home to a child in need. A child like me.
I’d been keeping my fingers crossed that this placement would last longer than the rest. It had already been almost a year since I moved there, when I was eight.
Jack and Shirley had treated me with nothing but kindness. They bought me what I needed when I needed it, and even got me surprise gifts when there wasn’t any reason for them. They showed up for every school event, and Shirley picked me up from school in her air-conditioned car every day.
They even enrolled me in dance lessons, something I had been wanting to try since I was four years old and caught a snippet of someone dancing ballet on TV. Jack and Shirley even told me I could call them Mom and Dad, too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that yet.
My hands were finally back to normal and not trembling from my emotions, so I removed them from beneath my legs, and scanned the letter one more time, checking the address on the envelope so I could write the correct address on mine.
He said he didn’t want to continue to write to each other, but, just like him, my teacher was giving us a grade for this pen pal assignment. So I, of course, had to write him back.
I took a deep breath, calming my emotions and forcing the tears down. I was Haven Kenway, and I would not let some stupid, twelve-year-old boy get to me.
I grabbed my favorite pencil — one of the good ones, the kind with the type of eraser that didn’t leave annoying streaks on the paper — and I sharpened it with my handheld sharpener until it was as pointy as possible. My pencils always had to be sharp. I couldn’t stand dull pencils. I then took out a piece of my nice, crisp, white paper with perfect blue lines, and wrote back to my pen pal who didn’t want me.