Mom runs up after the Alpha leaves. Her footsteps reverberate along the stairwell, taking the stairs two at a time I imagine. She bangs my door open, and it thwacks against the wall with a loud crack.
She’s staring at me. Just standing in the door frame staring at me. I think she’s crying, too, but she’s backlit so all I can see are her shoulders shaking.
“Mom,” I groan.
“Oh, baby, come here.”
But she’s the one rushing into the room toward me. She flings her arms around me, and I hug her back, squeezing as hard as I can. I’m scared, angry, and ready to lash out, but I’m also sad, lonely, and desperate for reassurance. Yours, really, but it’s my mom who’s there rocking me back and forth.
“I made a mistake. So stupid,” I say.
Mom’s hand stops stroking my back. “What did happen? Alpha didn’t say.”
I sniff. “She didn’t?”
“No,” she says. She moves her hand to pet my head. “And… Can you tell me why she came to see you? Did something happen at school, or—“
“No, no,” I interrupt her. “No.”
But I don’t say more. It’s hard enough sitting in the puddle of shame the Alpha left me in. I don’t want to drag my mom into it, too. I don’t think I can handle her disappointment. Even if I know I have to.
“It’s okay, baby,” she says. “You can tell me.”
I take a deep breath. “I promise you I didn’t do anything that dangerous. I was so careful. I would never want to hurt one of the fledglings.”
“Sweet Earth, Erikhó:wa.” Mom’s face pales. “A fledgling?”
I hesitate, but I nod into her shoulder.
“Okay. Okay.” Mom pulls me closer. “Well, it can’t be that bad if the Alpha didn’t bother to tell your Dad and me. Okay. It’s going to be okay.”
She expels a long breath, then pulls me up so I’m looking at her face. She looks so serious. Not the angry kind, but there’s no way she’s not even a little bit mad.
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
I spill my story with sobs and sighs. In hindsight, I probably exaggerated little bits here and there. And yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking, I kind of make Tsis out to be a little bit more than persuasive. I think I tell Mom that she kicked me in the shins or something, but please don’t judge me for the little lie. I’m feeling so low in the moment, and after what the Alpha said, I’m also feeling resentful in a way I haven’t felt since puberty.
I hadn’t hurt Tsis. I hadn’t scolded or punished her when it’s not my place. I might have been dumber than dumb for a few lonely minutes when Tsis got the best of me, but that shouldn’t be a crime.
Mom hushes me. “Shh, shh, shh, baby. Slow down. You need to breathe.” She rubs my back.
“It’s just not fair,” I say.
“Oh, baby.” Mom’s tone drops, sounding more pitying than soothing.
“It’s not!” I insist.
“You know there’s no use in feeling sorry for yourself. You already said it: you made a mistake. We’re just lucky that Alpha didn’t listen to Tsis’ parents.”
“No buts, baby. You broke the rules.”
“Yeah, I broke the rules,” I say. I’m losing control of my frustration and it’s making me almost start to yell, but I’m too triggered to calm down. “But Tsis said she’d been up in the tree tops loads of times! With her own family! They’re being such hypocrites. How can you be on their side?”
Mom drops her hands so they’re lying in her lap. Her eyes are big with tears but her voice is steady. “Don’t make me into the bad guy. This is not how Hollows behave. You know better than that.”
“Oh yeah? I bet if I weren’t a Hollow—“
“Stop!” Mom stands up, her anger radiating off her. “Not another word, Erikhó:wa Ohstò:seri.”
I snap my mouth shut even though I’m too pent up, emotions that are too big and too much to process flooding through me.
“You… you haven’t even said you’re sorry. Not in front of me, not to me…”
Bitterness makes me harsher than I should be. “Why should I even apologize to you, huh?”
Mom flinches, her hurt evident in the way she backs up from me. She starts to walk out of my room, but turns to look at me. She hesitates, holding her breath, but she holds back what she wants to say.
I actually think about running away that night. Not like a serious plan, but more just that overwhelming sensation that if I can just get away, if I can just leave it all behind, I won’t feel so bad about everything I regret. I won’t be lonely, I won’t be in trouble, and I won’t be a disappointment to the label I’ve lived with all my life. Hollow. I want to run away from that word more than all the rest.
But I don’t, because no matter where I go, it won’t bring you home any faster. And that’s what I really need: you.