"They sure do look happy together, don't they?"
"What?" I ask, pulling myself out of the trance I had somehow crept into and looking at my friend.
Mabel shrugs. "Liam and Casey," she says, gesturing to the Alpha couple that walked side-by-side in the middle of the pack, surveying the preparations happening around them.
"They do," I say, forcing a smile onto my lips when Mabel looks at me. "They look tremendously pleased with one another."
Mabel quirks her eyebrow. "Sure..." she drones, handing me a long line of streamers. "You don't have to use long words to make your point clear, Adhi."
I scoff. "Long words?" I repeat. "I'm not using long words, Mabel. It's called being sophisticated."
"Sophisticated my ass," Mabel snaps, glaring down at me as she climbs up the wooden ladder I'm standing beside. "Hold the ladder steady, Adhira! If I fall, you're paying my medical bills."
"As if," I snort, but adhere to her command. I stand in front of the bottom of the ladder, gripping the two edges on either side to support Mabel as she climbs up to the posts holding the wooden circle above the pack square.
For as long as I can remember, we've always celebrated Red Moon Day.
It's a pretty simple holiday if I'm being quite honest. All we do is worship the red moon as it rises to its throne in the sky, beaming down on its loyal subjects, the werewolves. We dance and sing - play games and make fun. We also find our potential mates at exactly midnight, when the moon is the brightest for us. The Moon Goddess gives us her blessings through the power she emits at night, helping us seek out and profess to our one and only.
Or...at least, that's how the legend goes. Quite frankly, most wolves just celebrated Red Moon Day for the mating and the drinking. The legend and love behind the holiday slipped into the shadows as the years went by.
I didn't forget about the truth, though. I never forgot about the real Red Moon Day, the one I used to celebrate when I was a child - a mere pup. Every night on that night, while the new couples would dance with one another and the games would continue nonstop, I would gaze up at the moon, praying and wishing to the Moon Goddess that one day, I'd be the one dancing and swaying to the beat of the romantic tune with my mate - just the two of us in an endless swirl of haze and passion.
"Adhira!" Mabel calls loudly, bringing me once again away from my wonderful dream and into the harsh reality of the world. "A little help here?"
"With what?" I call back, cupping my mouth to enhance the sound of my voice. "I'm already busy with holding the ladder!"
"Throw me the streamers," Mabel says, dangling one of her arms from the edge of the ladder.
"And she says I'm paying her medical bills," I grumble, narrowing my eyes as I throw up a roll of pink streamers, watching as Mabel catches them with one hand.
"Nice," I shout. "Now hurry up and tape them already! I have my patrol soon!"
"Whatever you say, Beta," Mabel replies, already peeling off a long stretch of tape. I sigh, shaking my head. She's the reason we have to keep buying new rolls of tape, I realize, what with the size she rips off from the roll.
I gaze up at Mabel as she works, simply staring at my best friend. She and I have known each other ever since we were in diapers, playing with each other in our respective cribs. Mabel is also my sister's mate, so it helps that she lives close by. We see each other much more often now, and sometimes my sister complains that I steal Mabel away from her. I don't care, though, because I knew Mabel first. Without me, my sister never would have met her!
Speaking of my sister, Lia, I see out of the corner of my eye that she's walking towards me, a huge grin on her face as she does so. I shove down the groan that threatens to push out from my lips, rolling my eyes. Sometimes, Lia's like a tail to me. She's the older one, yet she's always trailing after me like some lost, silly puppy. It's weird, but after I while, I gave up on asking her about it. It's no use, after all. She won't give me a solid answer.
"Hey, Adhi," she says, giving me a brief hug. I let go of the ladder for a moment to return the gesture, keeping a close eye on it as it wobbles under Mabel's weight.
"Oi! Hands on the ladder! Not my mate!" Mabel yells, glowering at me, then at Lia.
"Whatever," Lia rolls her eyes, but does let me go back to holding the ladder. "How's my favorite sister doing?"
"Lia, I'm your only sister," I chuckle. "But I'm doing alright. I'm helping Mabel here get the decorations done for the Red Moon ceremony tonight."
"That's tonight?" Lia yelps, clapping her cheeks. "Damn! Time flew by fast, hasn't it?"
"Not exactly," I mutter, looking down at the grass underneath me. "It feels like it's going by too slowly."
"Eh, when you're older, you'll see how quickly time flies," Lia says, putting some of her weight on one side of the ladder. I look up, gazing at the streamers that blow gently in the wind. They look like octopus tentacles, I think, especially with their bright pink color.
"So," Lia begins. "Do you think you'll find your mate this year?"
I don't even look at her as I reply. "No."
"But why?" Lia's voice has taken on a whiny path. "Everybody who's mateless finds their mate on mating day, Adhi! Why do you keep trying to ignore yours?"
"I don't keep trying to ignore mine," I snap, narrowing my already thin eyes at her. "I just never have any luck finding him or her."
"What do you mean?" Mabel asks, sliding down the ladder. She jumps into Lia's open arms, kissing her so passionately that I have to look away as I answer.
"Every year, I get so excited for the mating day," I begin. "I dress up, put makeup on, and I even do my hair!"
"Good thing she does, too," Lia murmurs. "Cause her hair looks like a rat's nest."
"Hey!" I scowl. Lia and Mabel break out into snickers, but I only sigh, smiling ruefully.
"Sorry, sorry," Mabel says, wiping her eyes. She chortles, wheezing. "Continue."
"Right..." I say flatly, my eyes half-lidded with annoyance as I look at both of them laughing at my hair. "So, anyway, I look good and do my best, yet I never find my mate, no matter how hard I try to."
"Maybe your mate is in another pack?" Lia suggests.
"Maybe," I shrug. "In that case, I'll probably never know my mate."
"Why do you say that?" Mabel asks, her eyes drawn together in sympathy.
I bite my lip, rubbing my elbow. "Guys, I'm twenty-five already. I'm getting older. Plus, I'm the Beta. I have to be in the pack most of the time in case the Alpha King is busy."
"And with a wife like Casey, you'd better believe that he's busy as hell," Lia grumbles. Mabel nudges her with her elbow roughly, and Lia coughs.
"Sorry," she mutters.
"It's okay," I say. "I've stopped looking for my mate, honestly, because I don't get the point of it. I mean, I'm tired, guys. I have so much work as it is - having a mate would only bring more responsibility for me!"
"Mates are supposed to ease the amount of stress and responsibility you have, Adhi," Lia sighs. "Not bring more of it. Your mate would never do that to you!"
"And how do you know?" I clip.
"Because I do," Lia says firmly. "Adhira, any guy or gal would be lucky to be mates with you."
"Yeah!" Mabel chimes in. "You're smart, beautiful, and kind! You never fail to be on time and you always give your hundred percent, both in family life and work. Plus," she wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. "You are the Beta."
"Beta female, too," Lia adds. "The first Beta female ever. Who wouldn't want that."
I snort, rolling my eyes. "That's kinda like gold-digging," I say.
"Well, you do make a lot of moolah," Mabel says, rubbing her fingers together with a sly grin.
I laugh, tossing my head back. "I do," I chuckle. "But Liam makes more than I do."
"Liam makes more than anyone does," Mabel scoffs. "He's the Alpha King. Of course, he makes more money."
"I wonder just how much he makes," Lia murmurs thoughtfully.
"Technically, I make 100k an hour," Liam's bright, almost sly voice chirps from behind us. "Multiply that by ten, and you get how much I make a day. It's the same salary for all Alpha King's, ladies."
"Liam!" I exclaim, whirling around on my heel as I come face to face with my best friend. Liam grins at me, showing off his pearly white teeth.
"Adhi," he nods. "Mabel. Lia."
"Alpha King," both Mabel and Lia bow. I can't help but smirk to myself. Being Beta female and best friend to Liam has some perks to it, I decide.
"Chill guys," Liam says, chuckling. "I heard your voices from miles away - at least when you started to talk about me."
"Liam," I deadpan. "You stopped at the eastern border. We saw you. You weren't miles away from us."
"I know," Liam scoffs, scratching the back. "I was just trying to spice up my story, that's all."
"We know," Mabel chirps. She cranes her head to the side, frowning. "And speaking of spice..."
"Liam!" A woman's sing-song voice called. I groaned, and Liam visibly cringed.
"Casey," he muttered under his breath, forcing a smile onto his mouth. Mabel and Lia both beamed.
"Aww! Look how excited he is!" Mabel whispers, squealing. "They really are in love!"
"Sure..." I drawl with a roll of my eyes. I cross my hands over my chest, cocking my hip to the side as Casey nears us.
She goes directly to Liam, ignoring us as she places a large, sloppy kiss on his cheek. He closes his eyes, leaning an inch away from her.
"Casey," he says through gritted teeth. "Hey!"
"Where did you go?" Casey asks, drawing her finger up and down the muscle line poking through Liam's shirt. "One moment you were with me by the slides and the next-!" She gasps. "You were gone!"
"I...took a walk," Liam says. "I needed to speak to my Beta."
"Oh," Casey levels me with a disgusted look. "Hello, Adhira."
"Hi," I say quietly, bending my head. I may have the right to speak openly with Liam, but when it comes to Casey, all those rights vanish immediately.
"Are you done talking?" Casey asks, completely ignoring Mabel and Lia. "I need you to help me."
"Help you?" Liam's brow furrows. "With what?"
Casey tilts her head arrogantly to the side. "I just...need you," she says, her voice a low purr. It makes my stomach sick.
Liam looks like a deer in headlights, blushing madly. "Um...well...not right now, Casey," he stammers, taking my hand quickly. "You see - I need to do something with Adhira. We have...work stuff to do."
"Work stuff?" Casey quips, her eyes narrowing angrily. "And your work stuff is more important than your own wife?"
"I never said that," Liam defends. "I'm only saying that I have some...business to attend to. I promise, once I'm done, I'll come and...help you."
Casey stares at both of us for a moment, contemplative, them hmphs, taking Liam by the wrist and dragging him to the Alpha Palace.
"Wha-Hey!" Liam just barely manages to exclaim. "Casey!"
"No." She snaps. "I'm not waiting for you, Liam. Adhira just has to be patient." She glowers at me as she speaks, stomping away.
Once they're both gone, disappearing into the house, Mabel is the first to speak.
"Well..." she says. "That was...eventful."
"Tell me about it," Lia murmurs, wrapping her arms around Mabel's shoulders. I watch them silently, my heart plummeting in my chest. Why can't I get something like that?
"Well, now that that's over with," Mabel grabs my wrist. "Come on!"
"What?" I ask, my eyes widening. "Where?"
"Where else?" Lia smirks, looking up at the darkening sky. "To get you ready for Red Moon Day."
Thank you for reading!