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Gray Back Alpha Bear

By:T. S. Joyce

past a pair of rocking chairs, across the cedar planked porch, and through a door.

The master bedroom led to a kitchen and living room combo. The walls were a light gray color, and the kitchen cabinets were antique white with gray-veined granite countertops. Someone had a bit of taste in this place.

“Oh, except Easton’s home. His trailer is definitely not nice and updated because he dragged it off into the woods with his bare hands when he got pissed off at Matt a couple of years back. At some point, he stripped all the fancy shingles off the sides. I haven’t actually been inside, but I imagine it’s full of leaves and spruce tree limbs like an actual bear den. He’s a little…feral.”

“Easton sounds lovely.” If Willa heard her sarcasm, she gave no sign. Instead, she poured two glasses of what looked like homemade lemonade into a pair of glasses, then led Gia back to the porch.

“You can let PB out here if you want,” Willa offered. “Let him stretch his little legs after the trip. Did you drive straight here?”

Thankful for the small talk, Gia took the offered glass and sank down into a rocking chair beside Willa. “I stayed the night in a couple of cheap hotels. It was awful. I got a tick in my armpit in one of them.”

Willa almost spit her drink out mid-slurp and tried to cover her laugh, bless her. “Well, did you pick it off?”

Gia nodded miserably. “With tweezers. It was traumatizing.”

Willa frowned as if she was working something out. “Wait. Why didn’t you stay in a ritzy hotel? Cheap has never been your thing.”

Gia offered her an empty smile. “Because my parents emptied the rest of my savings when I told them I was pregnant with a bear cub.”

“Gia,” Willa whispered. “Why did your parents still have access to your accounts? You’re twenty-four.”

“Yeah, well I wasn’t raised like you were.” Gia gritted her teeth and dragged her gaze to the carrier by her feet as she unzipped the top and released the hound—hound meaning ten pound show-quality Shih Tzu.

“Well, girl,” Willa said, eyebrows arched high and serious, “time to pop your momma’s titty out of your mouth and cut that cord.”

“No shit.”

“Now,” Willa said grandly with a twirl of her wrist, “you may apologize to me at your leisure.”

“What do you want me to say?”

Willa loudly slurped the pink straw she’d shoved in her lemonade, and then sank into her chair until her legs were spread out like the bottom half of a starfish. Leaning her head back on the rocking chair, she murmured, “I don’t know. Dig deep. I want to like you again.”

Deep, sharp pain slashed through Gia’s chest. Willa didn’t like her anymore? Gia opened her mouth, but only a tiny shocked sound came out.

Willa sucked at her straw until her glass was completely empty. She gulped and said, “I’ll help get the ball rolling. Why did you and the bombshells invite me on that road trip? Was it to make fun of me? Was it to ditch me and remind me how unimportant I am?”

“No! God, no. We invited you because I told Brittney I wasn’t going unless they let you come, too. That was the pact. We were supposed to road trip together.”

Willa frowned and sat up straight. “Oh. You wanted me to come?”

“Of course.”

“Then why was Brittney such a bossy trollop the whole time? She was trying to get rid of me.”

Bossy trollop was actually the perfect word combo for Queen Bee Brittney. “I don’t know, Willa. Brittney’s always been like that, and it wasn’t just you she was being mean to. I had to stay away from her and Kara for a week after we got back just so my self-esteem could recover. That wasn’t an awesome road trip for any of us.”

“Wait, but I’ve never seen her treat you bad.”

“Yeah, well, she was being a brat about Matt going for you, and when I stuck up for you, she made the rest of the week a living hell.”

Willa looked really disturbed. “Gia, you said you had nowhere else to go. Why aren’t you staying with Brittney or Kara? What did Brittney say when you told her about…you know…your furry bundle of joy?”

More pain in her middle, and she was not going to cry. “She said congratulations—”

“Oh, that’s surprisingly nice of her.”

“You didn’t let me finish. She said ‘Congratulations, Gia. You’re just as stupid as I always thought you were.’”

“And there’s the lovely Brittney I know and love to hate. Let me guess. She’s shunned you?”

“Yeah. She told Kara not to answer my calls, either. Kara texted to tell me that part. So you call us the bombshells?” That word really bothered her for some reason.

“That’s how I’ve always thought of you. You three are perfect, and I’m…well…not.”

“Nah, you’ve got it wrong. You were always the best of us. That pissed Brittney off to no end, but truth be told, I was really proud of you for sticking up for yourself and not taking her crap anymore. I wasn’t brave enough, but it was really cool seeing you pull away like that. You’re my shero.”

“Shero.” Willa scrunched up her face and nodded. “I fuckin’ love that.”

Gia huffed a laugh and canted her head. “You seem really different now.” She couldn’t put her finger on what had changed about her childhood friend, but this Willa wouldn’t take crap from Brittney anymore. She wouldn’t take crap from anyone. Perhaps living in a commune with a bunch of ill-mannered mountain men had thickened her skin. Good for her.

“Willa, what are you doing here?”

“You don’t want to talk about the bear-child you’re growing?”

“No.” Friend or not, she needed to talk to Creed about all of this before anyone else.

“Are you sure it’s Creed’s?”

Another wave of hurt flooded her veins and made her heart thump painfully against her chest. “I heard what you said to Matt at the bar that night. When you were going into the restroom? You told him the brunette was really easy, but you were wrong. Creed is the only person I’ve been with in two years.”

“Oh, Gia, I’m sorry.” Willa looked ill and shook her head. “I didn’t mean it. I was just mad at you three fo