"Felix!" my mother called from the kitchen. "Can you come get the big pot down off the shelf for me?"
"Be right there," I called back. I was going through my grandbearer's book of recipes, looking for something to make for full moon this May. I wanted something easy and quick, in case my sister Synthi went into labor on full moon night—the grannies all thought that was about when we could expect to see my new niece or nephew. I stuck a slip of paper in the old scribbler and closed it, careful to tuck the loose pages back inside. Maybe for Midwinter I'd ask for a new notebook or a binder to copy them all into so I didn't have to worry about wear and tear on Grandpap's old book, but for now all I could do was take extra special care of it.
I put it on the shelf above my bed, inside the carved wooden box that my alpha sister Norina had made for me for Midwinter last year, and wiggled down the mattress until I could get my feet on the floor. My room was small, but that was only to be expected. I was an omega too old for mating and not likely to ever be more than Uncle Felix, who lived in the little room off the back of the house and made mittens for all the pups in the family. After all, who wanted to mate an omega who was at least an inch taller than most of the alphas in the pack and was built like one too? The omegas who got all the attention were shorter, leaner, not built like 'a brick shithouse', as my oldest brother had made the mistake of saying in my hearing. Once. I'd beaten him up for it, already close to his size despite the five years between us in age. He'd never said it again, but the words had never stopped stinging.
When I stood up, the top of my head brushed the ceiling of my bedroom and I had to duck to get through the door. It was a bit better in the rest of the house, but my bedroom had been added onto the first floor of the house when Synthi had grown old enough for courting and needed her own space, and the ceiling wasn't quite as high as the original structure. But I was grateful to have my own bedroom—I knew families that made the omegas sleep in with their parents once they got to that fertile age.
Mom was busy putting the evening meal together, a mix of rice and vegetables and bit of meat leftover from other meals. Now that we were down to just the five of us in the house, she had a tendency to overestimate how much she had to cook, and we had leftovers at least twice a week. I'd offered to take over the cooking for her, since I didn't have any other jobs in the enclave, but the cooking was her thing and she refused every time.
I got the large pot down without any issue and handed it over. "Anything else you want me to do?"
She shook her head and began layering things into the pot. "No, I'm good. Oh, Francine asked if you were free full moon night to look after her pups, but I told her we were waiting on Sinthi's baby and you wouldn't know probably until that night."
"Thanks." Yep, that was me, good for getting things down from high places and looking after other shifters' pups. "I'm going through Grandpap's old recipes. Do you think Dad could get his hands on a haunch of venison?"
She paused with her hands full of sliced zucchini and looked at me over her shoulder. "You'll have to ask him."
"I can trade some gloves and hats for it," I said and reached around her to steal a slice of tomato. "Thanks."
She poked me with her elbow and smiled as she went back to layering the zucchini into the pot. "Saucy. I don’t think you need to trade for it, we can just get it with pack credits. Could you run some laundry down? We're almost out of towels again."
"Sure." Truth be told, I was grateful for anything to do. Spring was usually busy, but without my own house to look after, I usually ran out of things to do before I ran out of boredom to cure. I'd already dug up the garden and mixed in the compost, fixed the broken slats on the fence—and gotten scolded for doing something that an omega was supposed to wait on an alpha for—and done a deep clean of all the rugs in the house. The house itself was going to need to be painted this year, if Dad and and Mom could agree on a color. I was looking forward to it, because it was something I could stretch out, that would give me a task to accomplish for at least a couple of weeks. But until then, my life was a lot of sitting around memorizing recipes I'd never get to use, looking after pups that would never be mine, and praying for someone to need a chore done.
I found the laundry bags and began filling them, sheets and towels in one, dark clothes in another, lights in a third. It made for a heavy load, but not an impossible one, and I strolled out into the enclave, determined to take my time on the way.
"Afternoon, Felix," I heard someone call from my right. I paused and set the laundry down to greet my cousin Josh.
"How are you?" We didn't hug, or touch, me being omega and him being an unmated alpha. Not that it was my time of the year anyway, but the rules held all year long, because you never knew who was going to throw an early heat and get themselves in trouble. Although it had always struck me as being unfair that this rule only seemed to apply to omegas, and not to any other shifter in the pack.
At least I didn't have to take a chaperon about in the enclave like the young ones did. Being over the hill had some advantages.
"You think you could do me a favor?" He turned beet red as he asked me, and my currently metaphysical wolf ears perked up. This looked like fun.
"What kind of favor?" I asked carefully, determined not to spoil the entertainment by scaring him off.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed a foot in the dust of the path we stood on. "If you're talking to Clarissa between now and full moon, could you see if maybe she could save a dance for me? It doesn't have to be one of the courting ones, I'm okay with a pack dance."
I grinned. "What's it worth to you?"
He threw his hands up in the air. "Really? You're going to stand in the way of true love? I thought you omegas were all about that stuff."
"Oh, it's true love, is it? Well, for that..." I rubbed my chin and pretended to think about what I was going to ask him for. He practically danced with impatience in front of me, like a toddler waiting on a strawberry.
“Come on, Felix! It’ll only take you a couple of minutes. You’ve got the time.”
That put a damper on my amusement. Even if he was right. “If I see her,” I said, deliberately keeping my tone light. “But you’ll owe me a favor, delivery to be determined. Deal?”
He nodded and punched the air in excitement. “Thank you! And if you could get one of the courting dances…” He held his breath and watched me with hope shining from his eyes that would have rivaled a full moon bonfire.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said firmly. “Now, I have laundry to get washed.” I thought I’d drop in on my grandmother too while the clothes worked through their cycles, wash the taste of that unthinking comment out of my mouth. Some days in the pack it was like running through a swarm of wasps, a cloud of unintentional barbs, each one a pinprick of pain . There wasn’t any meanness behind them, but that didn’t make them hurt any less. And while one sting wouldn’t hurt a grown shifter, a whole swarm could.
I made myself say a polite goodbye and strode off in the direction of the laundry with steps maybe a little longer than they’d been before.