July Fourth Weekend – Queen Anne Hill – Vector
Vector caught himself checking his phone more often than might have been considered polite, but luckily the other members of his pack were too busy with grill prep to call him out on it.
He’d asked Lachlan if he wanted to come to lunch, but he’s been afraid of sounding too insensitive about the invite when the man had just lost his best friend. He wasn’t sure Lachlan was going to show up today, and he couldn’t blame him if he didn’t. It was a lot to ask of anyone, to meet someone’s extensive extended family, on a holiday weekend, and following a traumatizing event. Too much maybe.
Still, a large part of Vector was hopeful that Lachlan would find the energy to attend Pack McClanahan’s annual Fourth of July BBQ Cookout. They were all assembled at the pack’s main house—out in the large backyard that sloped down in a rolling green hill behind the old Victorian house. There were three grills going, one for meats, one for sides, and a third for overflow. Men and women—cousins, uncles, aunts, and in-laws—crowded the house’s kitchen, all of them angling for a bit of counter space to put the finishing touches on their potato salads, pastas, deviled eggs, and cakes, pies, and cookies.
“You’re looking a little overwhelmed there, cuz, you feeling okay?” Grace Clanahan asked—one of Patrick’s younger sisters—appearing at his elbow with two frosty beers in her hands. She gave one to him, snapped the tops off with a keyring bottle opener, and toasted him with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m all right,” he replied, taking a long sip. He didn’t drink a lot, didn’t always enjoy the way the alcohol dulled his razor-sharp senses. Getting drunk was a lot like chopping off a limb: unpleasant to say the least. But he could appreciate the flavor of the local IPA and the soft, low buzz it gave to the world when he was safely surrounded by family.
“I’m glad you make it this year. We all are.”
“So am I.”
“You should visit more often,” Grace reproached him.
Vector sighed. “I would if I could.”
“Mom said we weren’t supposed to bug you about it.”
Grace laughed and shoved her sharp elbow into his side. All of Patrick’s sisters were brats, but they meant well. “Oh, don’t be such a Debbie Downier, V. I’m only saying it because I miss seeing your face around here. Nothing’s like I thought it would be,” she murmured, tapping the edge of her beer against her sharp, white teeth.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “Figured you’d be married and settled by now.”
“Excuse me?” he choked, drawing a little away so he could stare.
“Oh, come on! I’m not the only one. I was shocked when you decided to take off, move across the country, and never speak to any of us again.”
“I already apologized to Auntie about that.”
“Hmm. So, who are you expecting a call from?”
She gave his phone a significant look.
“I invited someone to the BBQ.”
“Oh yeah? It’s not your boy from back in the day, is it? Oh, god, don’t tell me it’s your FBI partner?”
He shook his head. “The former, not the latter.”
“Oh, cool. It’s not like we’ve been waiting literal years to meet this guy or anything.”
“Patrick’s met him.”
“Like that means anything,” she snorted. “Have you seen Patty yet? I wanted to talk to him, but I haven’t been able to find him.”
Vector relaxed his shoulders and brought his nose up into the puff of wind winding across the yard. It might have been difficult for the average wolf to pick out a single scent where there were so many werewolves commingling on the property, especially when they all smelled distinctly of pack, but Vector’s extra sensitive nose was able to sift through the individual signatures like someone flipping through a Rolodex.
“I don’t think he’s arrived yet.”
Grace’s mouth turned down into a small frown.
“Why?” Vector asked, brushing their shoulders together lightly.
“He’s been acting weird lately. Figured I’d try shoving a couple drinks down his throat, see if I could get him to lighten up about it.”
“Could be work. Summer is always a busy season for us.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s something else. He’s been busy because of work before. And he’s always a little grouchy.”
Vector chuckled under his breath and shared a knowing look with Grace who smirked for a second before her face grew serious again. He realized all of a sudden that she was really concerned about Patrick.
“But he seems more grouchy. I’m saying it right.”
“I’ll let you know when he gets here, how about that?”
Grace’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that your hint for me to get lost?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“No—no, it’s fine. I know when I’m not wanted,” she said, holding up her hands in mock hurt.
“Obviously not,” he retorted. Vector’s attention was ripped away from Grace faux outrage the next second when a distinctive scent made its way to his nose. It wasn’t his absent cousin—it was Lachlan.
“Will you excuse me for a minute?” he asked Grace, already snaking his way through the crowd, around the side of the house, to the street where Lachlan was parking his Honda.
His ex-partner met his eyes and made an abortive wave.
“Is it okay if I park here?” Lachlan asked, not bothering to raise his voice louder than a conversational level. It made Vector’s heart leap in his throat.
He smiled at Lachlan and nodded vigorously. The other man returned the smile, even if it wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, and crossed the street.
“Hey,” Lachlan greeted him. He had a plate covered in foil in one hand.
Vector hesitated for half a second before giving into the urge to grab Lachlan’s hand and pull him into a quick hug.
“Hi,” he breathed, feeling his heartbeat get away from him. “What’s that?” he jerked his chin at the plate.
“Brownies. But before you get the wrong idea, my neighbor baked them. She heard about—” Lachlan cleared his throat awkwardly. “About Alan. But I don’t think it’d be a good idea to eat them all myself. So I thought, who better to dispose of them then an entire werewolf pack. Am I right? You’re not all allergic to chocolate, are you?”
Vector shook his head. “We’re not actually dogs.”
“Well, that’s good. I just realized how terribly this gesture could have gone.”
“You didn’t have to bring anything. I’m glad you came though.”
The human shrugged. “Don’t take it the wrong way, but it was a good excuse to avoid my mother’s church invite.”
“You told her about this?” Vector felt his eyebrows creep up his forehead as he led Lachlan into the house.