They had such an impact on my life, and on my school, and on basically everything. They numbered so many. They were truly everyone. It was just that some people chose to take advantage of their kindness. While this was to be looked down upon, they came out of it changed, transformed into beautiful, kind people where there was only a shell before.
I had never heard of the Poddar family until I first made semi-friends with TreKell and Abhijit Poddar. They were both juniors, like me, and they were both in my math class. They also had a sweet younger sister, Braelynn. Both TreKell and Braelynn had been adopted near their birth. Out of all the children that the Poddars would eventually have, Abhijit was their only biological child. And I say “semi-friends” because I didn’t really consider them friends. More like classmates I could talk to if I felt like it.
I mentioned that the Poddar family was super-nice. When I say that, I mean that they would literally adopt any kid who wanted or needed to be. There were a few good examples of that. Like the Corbin Poddar twins. They were both nonbinary, but their parents were not accepting. So, like villains, they disowned both of the twins, whose names became Liberation and Alex after the Poddars adopted them. The other good example of that was the Evans Poddar siblings. Last year, Abhijit had volunteered with a school club called Everybody Can, a club that went to the impoverished local community in the neighboring city of Walterson and tutored and gave classes to them in order to help them in school. There, he met the Evans siblings, nine extremely impoverished kids whose parents were desperate enough to literally give them up if they had to. All nine of them were adopted by the Poddar family. By the beginning of October of my junior year, the Poddar children numbered thirty-seven.
But then, in the middle of that month, on October 15 (we didn’t have school October 14), the family announced that they were moving away. And they were moving—get this—to Sweden. Not the same town as Crystal and Christian, but still. What a coincidence! It seemed almost like it wasn’t. But not so. It was a coincidence.
The family had to go in groups, since many of the planes didn’t have so many seats. Mrs. Poddar, who had misheard Mr. Poddar’s last day at work, had scheduled to begin her job in Sweden a bit less than a month before her husband would start his. She went first, taking the nine Evans Poddar siblings with her, as well as two of the family’s other adopted children. Mrs. Poddar’s mother, the sickly Mrs. Dattachaudhuri, was the next to leave the country. She took five of the family’s adopted children with her. Next came Mr. Dattachaudhuri, Mrs. Poddar’s father. He chaperoned eight of the family’s children, including the Corbin Poddar twins. After this, I don’t remember much about the flight details, other than the last two. The second-to-last one included TreKell, Braelynn, and Abhijit, plus a few of their other siblings. And the last flight was just Mr. Poddar, who had to “hold down the fort” and finish up his job. He left the United States on November 10 to join his family in Sweden. Remember how I said that I’ve always heard that Sweden was full of nice and happy people? I had a feeling that the Poddar family would fit in there. And maybe Crystal and Christian would be brought to their senses and sort of just become nice by proximity. Maybe. I wasn’t holding my breath. But anyways.
The reason I mention the Poddar family is because of the fact that they left. Their leaving made the school feel emptier, even though they had left in waves, and so the school should’ve felt emptier already. Maybe it was the fact that they were now all gone that made the school seem as empty as it was. Since I was semi-friends with TreKell and Abhijit, I’d given them gifts before they left. That meant a guitar for TreKell (who was really into music) and a big collection of American history books for Abhijit (whose favorite subject in school was history). It also meant that, since Rip was also in our math class, the whole thing affected Rip, too.
“It’s kinda weird that they’re gone,” he said at lunch. “I wasn’t friends with them or anything, but it’s just that so many people who were in my classes are now just not there.”
I agreed. The fact that they weren’t there would take some getting used to.
“Wonder if there’ll ever be anyone to refill those spots. Like maybe some new kids’ll come.”
“Doubt it, Rip. House prices are rising.”
“Maybe crazy rich kids.”
“Ugh. That’s the last thing we need.”
“Yeah. Someone’s gonna come here, though.”
Mortas wasn’t there that day. It was a full moon tonight, so we knew exactly where he was. He’d taken to sitting at lunch with us, but obviously, if he was running around in the forest in werewolf form, it’s not like he’d be sitting with us today. He told us he’d let us visit if we really wanted to, and promised not to kill us. We planned on visiting him after school today.
▒ ▒ ▒
The hike up to the cave was far easier in broad daylight. Instead of the two hours that it had taken in the middle of the night, this time it took only an hour. Plus, we knew where we were going this time. That helped a lot.
When we reached the cave, I knocked on the side of the rock with my fist, as if it were a door.
He heard. As soon as I ceased knocking, the sleek werewolf came bounding out of the cave, golden eyes staring at us happily. I stroked his soft fur and followed him inside.
And then we presented Mortas with our gift to him: the whole chicken we’d bought at Sprouts. He devoured it happily, but it was obvious to us that at the end he was still ravenous.
Rip took a look at Mortas’s pleading eyes.
“You know what, I’m going back to Sprouts,” he said. And he left without another word.
Great. Alone time with me and the werewolf. Sure, Mortas was sweet, but he could still rip me to shreds at any moment. His werewolf form scared me a bit. I entirely trusted him when he was human, but the fact that he’d lost control once and killed a human being and then ate him was just a bit too much.
All of a sudden, he padded over to his leaf bedding and lay down on his furry belly. I felt a sudden urge to lie down with him (no, not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter). As soon as I joined him, he looked at me, surprised but accepting.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I woke up, Mortas’s long forelimb was curled around me. His chest was touching my back, and there were Styrofoam packages that had once held meat scattered all over the floor. Some Sprouts labels and Saran wrap lay in shreds on the ground.
I looked up at his canine face. His golden eyes were closed. His tongue hung out of his mouth. His breath was warm. Of course, it reeked of raw meat, but I didn’t really care.
And then, laying there, looking at his canine face, I remembered his human face. His eyes. His long eyelashes. His smile. I realized that he was impossibly, unnaturally gorgeous, no matter what form he was in.
It was then that I realized how much I loved being around him. He was always the sweetest thing to me, always the most brilliant guy I’d ever met. Unflinchingly honest, and, of course, smoking hot.
And that’s when I realized the truth. The truth that I’d been avoiding, that I’d been hiding from everyone, including myself.
I was totally, hopelessly, uncontrollably in love with Mortas.