I gently emerged into the apprentices' den, clutching a sparrow in my jaw. My eyes glanced around the den, floating over the apprentices who were whispering in large groups, huddled together in excitement.
I sighed, realizing that I never would have someone to sit and eat with. I was nothing but a loner in my Clan.
And so I would remain.
My teeth tightened around the sparrow as I worked my way to the back of the den, where I promptly sat down and began to tear into the meat.
A few minutes into my meal I was interrupted by a loud, booming voice.
"Hey, Shimmerpaw!" I snapped my head up to see a tabby brown tom beaming at me, from a little further off in the den, his grin terribly confident as a band of four other apprentices chattered with each other, from right beside him.
"Hey!" I quickly chirped, feeling the excitement that arose in me every time I spoke to someone that wasn't my mentor, and the Clan leader; Spottedstar.
"What is that you are eating?" Scarpaw, the handsome tom called at me, "A sparrow?"
"Yeah," I shyly nodded.
"No wonder," he shook his head up and down, and I could trace the slightest bit of malice moving along with them, "It's easy to tell that you like to eat."
"What?" I gently looked down at the sparrow, "Do you think I'm fat?"
"I know you are fat."
"Oh," I felt hot tears rushing to my eyes and I quickly pushed them back as his whole group of friends broke into sniggers. I felt my heart drop when the one that looked like me; Reedpaw- for he had black fur as shiny as mine, laughed as well.
I couldn't really explain why, but I could just feel my heart falling as I tried to ignore his laughs among those of the other cats.
I pushed the sparrow away from me gently with my paw, no longer the slightest bit hungry. Pushing myself up to my paws, I promptly exited the den, before making my way out of camp as well, with quick footsteps that echoed blankly in my mind as I walked.
Once greeted with the gentle wind outside, I stretched my legs, before gently letting them run and carry me alongside the wind.
Only once I was far enough from camp did I let go of my tears, as they calmly slipped down my face, and hit the ground, each a fallen dream of a happier life in BirdClan.
Can I admit something? I felt really, really horrible about what Scarpaw did to Shimmerpaw. Okay, maybe I felt horrible that I'd done nothing to stop it, but come on. No one stands up to Scarpaw and gets away with it. The group would never let me forget about it.
But it didn't matter, because I couldn't forget it myself anyway. Seeing the light fade in Shimmerpaw's beautiful- uh, let's go with bright, green eyes, and watching her turn away without cursing out Scarpaw the way he deserved to be. It was heartrending, more especially since I was, in part, doing this to her. And one more thing. She was completely not fat. Her slender frame desperately needed that sparrow. My eyes fell on it, lying at the back of the den, while my friends laughed and joked. I could take it to her. But if Scarpaw sees me...
Making up my mind before I had a chance to chicken out, I mutter, "Better put this thing to good use," and pick up the sparrow, hurrying out of the den.
"Ew! You've got Shimmerpaw-pox!" giggles Tansypaw, falling all over Scarpaw in the process; he doesn't seem to mind. His amber eyes lock with mine, waiting for me to laugh and drop the prey. I don't.
As I pad out of camp, I wonder where Shimmerpaw went. She's so quiet and reclusive most of the time that I have no idea what she does to pass the time, or where she goes. Glancing about the silent woods, I see no sign for her. Another idea comes to mind. I hurry back to camp.
"Come on Reedpaw! Your turn to face the undefeated champion!" Scarpaw crows, prancing around the middle of the camp. I laugh and pad towards him, flicking my tail back and forth.
"Prepare to go down, Scarpaw!" I yell, springing towards him. We roll about on the floor, kicking out at each other, mostly for the benefit of Tansypaw and her gorgeous sister, Goldenpaw, who watch with round eyes, pretending to be impressed with each kick and scratch.
Finally, we call it a draw(after more arguing then actual fighting), and flop down in our group's special spot, under the branches of a large willow at the corner of camp, where we can hide from our mentors and duties while watching over the proceedings of the Clan. It's an exclusive place for us apprentices. Well, all of us besides Shimmerpaw. Even Mosspaw is allowed to come here occasionally, as long as she keeps her distance from us and doesn't try to butt in.
It's evening now, and the BirdClan camp has never looked prettier. It casts shadows over Goldenpaw's pale honey coat as she stretches. Goldenpaw and I are supposed to be an item; it's just the way it worked out. Tansypaw and Scarpaw, me and Goldenpaw, and the others get what they can. Although, sometimes I think she's incredibly shallow, despite her pretty, pointed face and large hazel eyes.
"Let's go back inside and tell jokes," suggests Tansypaw, a shiver running through her delicate mist-colored frame.
"Sure," Scarpaw says, wrapping his tail around her small body protectively. I do the same to Goldenpaw, and we enter the apprentices' den. Shimmerpaw raises her head when we enter, and her eyes meet mine. The smallest hint of a smile crosses her lips, and I know she knows I did it. She found the sparrow I buried in her nest. I return the tiny smile, then turn back to Goldenpaw.
It was no big deal. Just one random act of kindness. Shimmerpaw's world was miles away from mine. They could never cross.
But just for one tiny moment, there was a link. And I stayed awake for the rest of the night, wondering what it meant.
What's wrong with me? I wonder as I miss yet another catch that day. I try to convince myself its hard to concentrate with Reedpaw and Goldenpaw madly flirting ahead of me.
But they aren't even speaking.
He just has her tail curled around her slender body, obviously much slender than mine considering how much I weighed; according to Scarpaw at least.
Maybe just seeing the two together disturbed me a little.
Especially after I know that Reedpaw saved the sparrow for me. A part of me feels like he is really a kinder tom than he dares to let on.
And that he deserved better than Goldenpaw.
I leaped through the air again, trying to reach for a mouse, but I missed it and it was soon too far away for me to catch up to.
"Nice try, Shimmerpaw!" I heard Reedpaw calling to me and quickly whirled around, to find our eyes locking again for another moment as I realized he was sincere.
Next to him Goldenpaw snickered and I felt my face turning red as Reedpaw gently joined her, not daring to defy her sense of humor.
I felt my stomach gently turning.
Who was I kidding? There was no one in the Clan better than Goldenpaw.
I hated myself for even considering that I might have been an option.
Because I wasn't.
I was just that strange, lonely cat who would always watch him from the side lines, relishing the few moments of that strange link we shared.
The only one who knew the other side to him.
Sighing, I forced myself to paddle away from the couple whom others may have regarded as terribly cute but I found disgusting.
The other side of him didn't matter anyways.
Not if he loved Goldenpaw too much to bring it out.
And that, obviously, was the case.
I nod absently at Goldenpaw, trying to pay attention to her ceaseless, mindless chatter. It's hard enough normally, but with the feel of Shimmerpaw's eyes at the back of my pelt as we head back to camp, it's near impossible. I long to turn around and see the expression on her face, but I can't, so instead I wrap my tail closer around Goldenpaw's slim body, to make up for my absentness from the conversation.
I hold in my grasp several sparrows and a vole, tokens for Goldenpaw's admiration, rather then prey caught to provide for the Clan. Sometimes I wonder what on earth BirdClan will do when all the practical senior warriors are gone, and our generation is in charge. Yikes.
"Reedpaw? Hello? Anyone in there?" Goldenpaw waves her tail in front of my face, a gesture which I usually find adorable, but now just find annoying.
Forcing back my irritation, I say, "Sorry. What were you saying?"
She gives me a baffled look. "I was asking what color flower I should wear in my ear when we go to the Gathering. It's only a week away, you know, and I'll need to look gorgeous. I mean, even more gorgeous."
I grin and touch my nose to her ear. "You'll look pretty no matter what you wear."
Goldenpaw smiles, a beautiful smile, but it evokes no feeling in me, because there's nothing behind it. Nothing true or real.
We reach the camp. Scarpaw is sitting outside the apprentices' den; if any other cat did that, they would look lonely and dumb, but he just looks like he's letting us all have the pleasure of admiring him while he grooms his fur. He gives us a cool nod as we enter, and we pad over to him. Tansypaw emerges from the den as well, and we face each other, each in our assigned spot of the square, like we're drawn to each other by a mutual feeling of "coolness". But is that only in our heads?
"Oh my StarClan," Tansypaw says crossly. "My mentor made me run laps around the training clearing for sassing him. It totally messed up my pelt, and I broke a claw doing his dumb fighting moves!"
Goldenpaw murmurs a word of sympathy, while Scarpaw and I roll our eyes at each other, acting tough, like we don't care(which I certainly don't).
"Oakfur says I did excellently. He says I'll make a great warrior, or deputy, someday," Scarpaw boasts.
I shove him playfully. "Not if I become deputy first!"
"In your dreams!"
We get into a little play-fight, wrestling with each other on the floor. I've just pinned Scarpaw down when I look up and see her. Shimmerpaw, sitting timidly by herself near the fresh-kill pile,- not eating anything either, I notice with a stab of guilt- a sweet, yet sad, expression on her small, pretty face. I freeze, locking gazes with her, and Scarpaw manages to scramble up and land a blow on my shoulder, knocking me back over.
"Weak, Reedpaw!" he exclaims, leaving me to pull myself to my paws.
I wink at him, but I'm not in the mood for games anymore. Getting up, I mutter hastily, "I'm going to get something to eat," and pad over to the fresh-kill pile.
I can feel Shimmerpaw's soft gaze on me as I bend over the prey, sorting through it. Picking up a squirrel, I glance up at her; she turns away. "Hey," I say quietly. "You're not fat, you know."
"What?" she blinks.
Feeling like an idiot, I ramble, "I mean... You shouldn't listen to Scarpaw. He's... wrong sometimes." I know I have to be careful what I say, in case it goes back to him; my friend is not forgiving. "You're definitely not fat; in fact, I'd say you ought to eat more."
A shine comes into her emerald eyes, making my heart give an odd leap. "Thank you," she says.
When she still doesn't make a move to eat, I nose the squirrel towards her, about to offer to share, when a loud voice from behind me booms, "Well, look what we have here!"
I stop as if paralyzed, fear trickling down my veins like ice. Not now, not here, not her.
Luckily, Scarpaw brushes past me. Then I feel sick for being relieved, especially since I know who they're going to pick on. Tansypaw and Goldenpaw trail behind the tom like sick, mewling kits, looking for a handout. "Ew, look at her fur," mews Tansypaw. "It looks like a buzzard's nest."
Shimmerpaw's face falls. "I was hunting, and it must have gotten messy," she says to the floor.
Scarpaw grins charmingly at her. "Don't worry about it. I think she looks gorgeous." He takes a step closer to her, working his best lady-killer pose. For some reason, even though I've seen him play dozens of she-cats before, I feel like ripping off Scarpaw's head and hurling it into the air. Frantically, I try to think of a way to stop him. Shimmerpaw looks frightened; I can see she's uncomfortable with this.
Finally, I can't stand it any longer. "That's enough Scarpaw."
Everyone freezes and stares at me. Goldenpaw's jaw actually drops open. Scarpaw looks cool and collected, but I can see he's shocked at my outburst too. Desperately, I add, "You don't want to be falling for another she-cat with Tansypaw right here. She might get jealous."
Tansypaw laughs airily, and Goldenpaw does too, probably relieved that her boyfriend didn't send her plummeting down the social ladder. Scarpaw merely says, "Like I'd ever fall for a cat like Shimmer-ew." But I can see in his eyes that I've crossed a line. And there's no going back.
Still, when I look past him, into the grateful face of Shimmerpaw, I think, It was worth it.
I'm still not sure why Scarpaw decided that flirting with me would be a good idea when he obviously hates me so much; he was the one that had called me fat.
And I was stunned as the group of four paddled away, all looking amazing and in control, Reedpaw looking the most perfect while Goldenpaw was the shabbiest, but still rather pretty.
I felt even more stunned, however, by Reedpaw's sudden outburst and how infuriated the flirting with me had made the black tom become.
I forced myself to shrug off the excited feeling, gently swirling in my stomach, and looked down at my feet to the prey Reedpaw had delivered.
Reluctantly, I bent my head down and began to chew into the meat, relishing Reedpaw's scent with slight guilt, as I was aware he and Goldenpaw were already an item.
A rock appeared to drop at the core of my stomach, at those thoughts but I refused to pay attention to it, as I quicly wolfed down the prey Reedpaw had brought me, and turned around; looking for my mentor Featherheart.
"Shimmerpaw," I tuned my head around expecting to meet Featherheart but discovering that it had been Reedpaw that had addressed me.
"Hey Reedpaw," I could feel my insides squirming for an unknown reason as I tried to calm them down but hold a friendly smile with Reedpaw.
"I'm sorry," He shrugged, "About what Scarpaw did," His voice didn't seem to sincere however as he apologized, "I know that no one had ever flirted with you before; not really a question why, and having Scarpaw flirt with you might get you really excited..." He paused, shrugging, "Over absolutely nothing. Because no apprentice, certainly not a popular one like Scarpaw or, say, me, will ever truly like you in the sense that Scarpaw had almost been taking across," His eyes were shallow as he faced me.
"Thanks," I responded dully, quickly snapping around, "But I think I can take care of myself, thank you very much," I glared him down, and for a moment it appeared as he would shrink away.
Then he barred his teeth at me, "You should watch the tone you use when you speak to me," He claimed, "I'm stronger and more popular than you. Come to think about it, everyone is."
I felt more brambles coming at my heart as he continued to speak, gently tears reaching the edges of my eyes as I could barely stand to look at him.
"So those words about how I wan't fat, that prey you brought to me, when you complimented me on my good try while I was hunting," I glared at him, "If I'm too lowly for you to say anything the slightest bit positive-or nuetral- to, then what were those?"
There was a tense moment of silence before he sighed and turned around, "Stop being so hopeful, Shimmerpaw, it will bring you nothing but pain."
And then he was gone, as I glared after him angrily, not sure how I could have ever thought he was a different cat than he appeared to be.
When he was no different than the rest of them.
"I've decided on a yellow flower," Goldenpaw announces, tucking a small butter-colored blossom into her glossy golden fur.
I glance at her pretty face and force a smile. "Cool. You look gorgeous."
Scarpaw stretches and stares up at the full moon, his eyes glowing with surpressed excitement; even the cool can't-faze-me tom can't pretend he isn't looking forward to the Gathering. Briefly, he touches Tansypaw's ear with his nose. "I wish you could come."
Goldenpaw puts on a pouty face. "I know right? I'll have to get new friends, so I don't look like a lonely loser, like some people." Her sky-blue eyes lock on Shimmerpaw, who is gazing up at the sky with rapt eyes, but still flinches when she hears the comment.
Mosspaw waves her tail at us. "Have fun guys!"
Shooting her a cold glance that says I guess I'm stuck with you for the night, Tansypaw mews, "Come on Mosspaw. Let's go inside."
Just then, Spottedstar calls from the BirdClan camp exit, summoning everyone going to the Gathering. We leap to our paws and trot over, Goldenpaw on one side of me, her fur brushing mine, and Scarpaw on the other, jabbering on about how dumb the PetalClan and FlameClan cats will be. I'm quiet as we leave the camp, lost in my own thoughts.
Most of them, I have to admit, are about Shimmerpaw.
All of them.
I can't help it. I'm mentally kicking myself for being so mean to her. No matter how many times I try to assure myself that I was merely doing her a favor by telling her the truth, I can't convince myself. When I see Red Rock, the color of blood against the dark sky, I'm relieved, hoping that the Gathering will get my mind off of my actions.
It appears we're the last Clan to arrive, FlameClan and PetalClan cats are already there, staring each other down with hostile eyes. Spottedstar has barely finished giving her news when Silverstar takes over and accuses FlameClan of stealing prey. I tune the bickering Clans out after that, glancing around. Scarpaw nudges me mischeivously, and I follow his gaze to a beautiful red she-cat, batting thick lashes over amber eyes at us. We exchange grins.
As soon as the Gathering's over, I pad over to her. "Hey, gorgeous," I say.
"That's Redpaw to you," she says coyly. Scarpaw joins us, all macho and flirting. I feel a strong gaze on my back, and turn around, expecting to have to explain myself to Goldenpaw. But it's not her. It's someone else, someone far prettier, and someone who makes my heart pound inexplicably as I turn back and pretend not to care.
I don't get why I can't shake off the thought that he cares about me. Because I know that if I don't, it will only come back and bite me harder each time.
And I suppose I had no right to be angry with Reedpaw for going all over the ginger she-cat. She was gorgeous and it was Goldenpaw's place to get jealous.
Certainly not mine.
But I couldn't help the way my heart had pounded so furiously and uncontrollably at the sight of him throwing himself into another she-cat.
I tried to tell myself that he didn't deserve any she-cat, even Goldenpaw, but I knew that deep down I highly disagreed with that statement.
He was rather good-looking and he always seemed to make those around him laugh, when he was doing anything with them.
Not that I would be checking to see where he was and quietly watching him the whole time or anything. And even if it was it was just because I was curious.
As to why he was one of the rules of the apprentices' den in BirdClan.
I heard a loud call from Spottedstar and turned around, paddling away from the sight that had unraveled before me, and shouldering my way past a pretty PetalClan she-cat who seems disturbed by the gathering.
Probably afraid of a war for her Clan.
Well, that was one thing I had to be grateful for.
At least my Clan's leader wasn't as mousebrained as that of PetalClan and FlameClan, who seemed completely unable to avoid any conflict.
We all knew it was coming to war.
"Hey, Shimmerpaw," I am surprised to hear Reedpaw calling my name and quickly glance over, unable to help myself from getting excited.
"Yes?" I asked, failing at keeping my voice dull.
"Your pelt looks beautiful under the moonlight," he commented, before turning around and dashing back to Scarpaw leaving me wondering what had just happened.
Can't he find a personality and stick to it?
"What was that about?" Scarpaw asks.
I try to keep my face as innocent as possible. "Huh?"
"You know. Why were you talking to," he flicks his tail disdainfully towards Shimmerpaw, "her?"
Gulping, I ransack my brain for an answer. The truth is, I myself don't know why I felt like I had to tell Shimmerpaw her pelt looked beautiful under the moonlight. The compliment just bubbled up inside of me when I saw how it shone like polished ebony, the silver flecks inside twinkling like a mirror image of the stars in the sky above. I couldn't resist telling her, making those lovely emerald eyes light up from the inside. Even if I already knew she hated me.
"Uh... I wasn't really talking to her. Just-"
"Reedpaw! There you are!" It's Goldenpaw, back from flirting with a ginger FlameClan tom. She purrs and rubs her fur against mine, as if she had never even considered another tom. "Did you enjoy the Gathering?"
I nod, struggling to detatch myself from her. "Yeah."
Luckily, Spottedstar calls BirdClan at that moment, and I free myself from Goldenpaw's clutches and go running over. I am definitely ready for this Gathering to be over.
"Reedpaw! Get up!"
Yawning, I blink open my eyes. It's my mentor, Graymask. Her small charcoal-colored frame is dwarfed by the entrance to the apprentices' den. "Huh?" I say blurrily, my voice still laden with sleep.
She gives me a crooked smile. "It's about time you got up. I just wanted to let you know that we have training this afternoon."
"Then why do I have to get up now?" I moan, staggering to my feet.
She laughs. "You'll survive."
After Graymask pads away, I come out into the BirdClan camp and select a squirrel to eat, taking it over to where Tansypaw and Scarpaw are chatting by the willow tree.
"Hey," Tansypaw greets me. "Goldenpaw had hunting lessons." She shudders. "Imagine! Why do we need to learn how to hunt? That's the warriors' jobs."
I roll my eyes. "We're training to be warriors. That's the whole point of being apprentices."
"Whatever," scoffs Scarpaw. "It's not like there's going to be some huge foot shortage or something. The rule that we have to eat last and wait for the elders and queens is ridiculous."
I bite my tongue to stop from lashing out at the shallow tom. He may be a great hunter, but what good are skills that are wasted? Hunting is to feed the entire Clan, not just to show off for your girlfriend. There are more important things in life. Of course, I can't ever let on that I have these thoughts. Sometimes I think that my friends will never grow up, and that BirdClan will be filled with terrible warriors who only think of their pelts and themselves. But they have to learn someday. Doesn't everyone?
As I glance around the camp, I can't help searching for Shimmerpaw. She's just entering, several pieces of prey in her jaws. She definitely understands how important feeding the Clan is. There's a cat that will make an excellent warrior and queen someday. For some reason, the image of Shimmerpaw as a queen, with tiny black kits scrambling over her, conjures up a strange, warm feeling inside my chest. I imagine the kits, and am shocked to find one of them with blue eyes... like mine.
A hot flush covers my cheeks, and I look away from the unsuspecting she-cat. As if she'd fall for me, ever. One compliment didn't make up for what I'd done to her.
But I could at least apologize. And that was what I intended to do.
When my friends are looking the other way, I pad towards her. "Hey Shimmerpaw. Can we talk?"
"What?" I can't barely keep my tone dull as I face him.
"I..." He hesitated for a moment.
"Yes?" I snapped, feeling my heart gently shattering as I stared at his face. Why did he have to look so sweet but yet be so cruel?
"I'm sorry," He sighed.
He sighed loudly, "I was just so mean to you, Shimmerpaw, I neglected your feelings and what I said wasn't really the truth. I just guess it was because I was scared that..."
"That?" I felt my heart beating wildly as I stared into his blue eyes.
"That..." He seemed unable to continue.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Scarpaw is calling me," He sighed, and I knew that he was lying by the expression on his face. He was trying to get out of confessing something.
And the only reason I let him go is because I can feel my heart blooming at his apology, as much as I tell myself that he isn't worth the emotion.
But I know that deep down, that's not the only reason I let him off.
Because in my heart there was a swelling hope to what he might confess, and I knew that as soon as he spoke that hope would be shattered.
And he's shattered my heart too much lately.
I watch him running off for a moment, wondering if that deep hope might have been a gently possibility. A simple chance that ...
He might love me.
Actually, Scarpaw wasn't even in the camp. He was out hunting with Tansypaw; I really should've come up with a better excuse. Surely an intelligent cat like Shimmerpaw would have figured out. But she let me go anyway. Unable to resist looking back, I throw a seemingly casual glance over my shoulder. Her gaze is focused on the sky, and she has a dreamy expression on her face. My heart aches when I see how beautiful she is. I shake off the thought. There's no way-
It's no use. I can't deny the way I felt, talking to her. I knew I had to get out of there, quick, before the words came spilling out.
And so I ran.
Cowardly? Maybe. But I couldn't help it. There was no way I could become friends with Shimmerpaw. Scarpaw would laugh in my face if I even suggested such a thing.
Yet, a small voice in my head kept whispering, So? Scarpaw doesn't control your life. Shimmerpaw is important, you can't deny that.
And I couldn't. Even though we barely knew each other, I felt a strange connection with her. The other side of my life, the part I had thought was my life till I met her, seemed to fall away when I was around her. Somehow, it just didn't matter anymore.
Was this what love felt like?
When Scarpaw came back in, he was holding several pieces of prey. Tansypaw had absolutely none, but she was clinging to him like a leech. I suspect she didn't even try to hunt and just checked him out the entire time.
Trying to hide my disgust, I pad over. "Hello."
"Hey guys," purrs Goldenpaw, sauntering over. Her honey-colored fur glows, and her perfectly long lashes flutter at me. I blink back warmly, but then I glance over her shoulder at Shimmerpaw. My face goes hot, and I turn away, though I know it shouldn't matter what she thinks of me and Goldenpaw.
Unfortunately, Goldenpaw doesn't notice. She leans forward and touches her nose to mine, purring all the while, then licks me on the ear.
Scarpaw complains loudly. "Get a bush, you two! No one needs to see that."
I pull away from Goldenpaw rather roughly. "Uh..." I try to come up with a smart response, which is hard, since I'm completely focused on Shimmerpaw. She meets my eyes for a second, gives me a regretful smile, and vanishes out the BirdClan camp. "I, uh... need to go."
Leaving my friends staring after me, I bound out of the camp.
"Good catch!" I felt a feeling of deja vu reaching over me as I spun my head around to find Reedpaw standing across me; wondering why he has to look so cute.
When all he could do was break my heart.
"Thanks," I murmured gently, bracing myself for the gentle laugh that had followed last time when he complimented my hunting. But it didn't come.
"I'm serious," He whispered.
"Thank you," I smiled again.
We were quiet for a few moments before the silence was broken by the sound of scattering leaves and we whipped our heads to the side, spotting a squirrel.
We exchanged a quick glance before splitting up, both approaching it from opposite angles with gently pawsteps. I couldn't help noticing his deep blue eyes every time I looked up at him, while we crept upon the prey.
After several tense moments, standing closely on opposite sides of the squirrel both of us leaped at it, with oustretched claws.
Before we could catch it, however, it had dashed away.
"Shoot!" I sighed in frustration only to look up and find myself nose to nose with Reedpaw.
"Erm..." He stammered for a few moments, but didn't move away.
I found myself unable to do it either.
"Nice try," I whispered gently.
"Thanks," This time he was the one that was blushing as we still stood standing right next to each other, blushing wildly, and unsure of what to do.
"Reedpaw!" I heard high-pitched voice calling.
Before we could snap away from each other, however, Goldenpaw burst through a pair of bushes, and gasped seeing us so close together.
"What are you doing with him?"
For a few seconds, Shimmerpaw and I are paralyzed with shock. Goldenpaw's icy blue eyes rake over us. She voices her question again. "What are you doing?"
"I- We- Hunting," I stammer.
"Hunting what?" Her eyes travel around the clearing. The stupid squirrel, our only alibi, had vanished. We were on our own. I was on my own, I reminded myself. It didn't matter what Goldenpaw did to Shimmerpaw-which would be quite bad, considering her and Tansypaw's popularty- only what she did to me.
Except that wasn't true. I do care what happened to Shimmerpaw. I don't want her to be punished because of me. It wasn't fair. And what hurt the most was... I don't even care what Goldenpaw thought. I just want Shimmerpaw to be happy, which wasn't going so well.
"We missed," I stutter uncomfortably.
She raises her eyebrows and saunters over to me, deliberately placing herself in between me and Shimmerpaw. Then she leans against me, draping her tail across my back. "Is that so?" she coos. "No surprise there, considering Shimmerpaw's terrible hunting skills."
My heart breaks at the look of hurt that flashes across Shimmerpaw's face. "Like you've ever caught anything," I snap before I can help it.
Goldenpaw tenses against me, turning slowly to face me. "Excuse me?" she asks, her lashes fluttering stupidly, like she can't believe what I just said.
"You heard me. Now, if you aren't going to help, please leave. You're scaring away all the prey."
Shimmerpaw gives a startled noise. "We're still hunting? Together?"
I lock gazes with her. "If you want to."
Pure rage appears on Goldenpaw's face. "You will have to grovel for this Reedpaw." She stomps away angrily.
I know I'm dead once we get back to camp. But just for now, I want to enjoy the time I've bought with Shimmerpaw. I grin at her, and she smiles shyly back at me, peering out from under thick lashes. She's so pretty it hurts.
I clear my throat. "How about that hunt?"
Her eyes sparkle. "I thought you'd never ask."
"It was a good hunt," I claimed, as I placed a mouse in my jaw.
"I agree," Reedpaw nodded, his pelt jumping up and down with each step he took. He seemed a lot happier than I had seen him in quite a while.
"I'm sure Goldenpaw would be proud," I claimed, trying to watch him too intensely.
But it was hard considering how adorable he was.
Reedpaw's smile instantly dissolved into a frown and he quickly shrugged at me, turning his head away, "I don't know what Goldenpaw will think..."
"I dissed her earlier today. She won't take that well."
"I'm sure she'll forget about it eventually," I found myself secretly wishing that Goldenpaw wouldn't forgive Reedpaw for whatever wrong he had done.
Not like I would stand a chance either way...
I sighed, and Reedpaw glanced at me.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I replied gently, allowing myself to stare into his deep blue eyes for several long moments and just wish that they could be mine.
But that wasn't possible.
I was little Shimmerpaw, the ugly and fat outcast who nobody liked.
And it would remain that way.
"Hey, Reedpaw!" Scarpaw was standing at the entrance to camp as the two of us approached. Sighing, I began to brace myself for another set of taunts and teasing by the apprentice.
He could never feel anything at all towards me.
And it was harsh.
But it was the truth.
Going back to hanging out with Scarpaw is like leaf-bare after a taste of new-leaf. More than anything, I wish everyone but Shimmerpaw would just disappear, and we could spend more time together.
But that wasn't going to happen, and besides, I have bigger problems to worry about. Goldenpaw was going to kill me as soon as she could, and I wasn't looking forward to it.
"You okay, man?" Scarpaw asks, false concern showing on his face.
I swallow back the bitter taste in my throat. "Yeah. Fine."
"Okay, because I wouldn't want to crush you too badly in wrestling if you're sick," he replies nonchalantly. "You hungry?"
My stomach is too twisted in knots to even think about eating; I shake my head. He shrugs, then pauses. A smirk appears on his face. "Hey, dude, your girlfriend does not look happy. You'd better go make it all better. Girls go nuts over that stuff."
A frown settles on my brow as I follow his gaze. He's right. It's Goldenpaw. And I'm so completely absolutely beyond dead.
Though I feel her frosty gaze pass over me, she doesn't walk over right away. Instead, she saunters towards the willow tree indirectly, pausing to bat her eyelashes and suck up to any warrior who crosses her path. When she reaches us, her grin cements, and every trace of faux sunlight seeps from her face. "Reedpaw," she says in an icy tone. "We need to talk."
I raise my eyebrows. "What about?"
Her jaw drops, as if she's shocked I didn't start groveling at her paws instantly. "Say you're sorry! I don't want you to hang out with other she-cats, especially not-"
"Okay, okay," I cut her off. Scarpaw's eyes widen in curiosity.
"Who was he hanging out with?"
I clamp my tail over Goldenpaw's mouth. "No one! She's... Okay. I promise." I give Goldenpaw a lick on the cheek. "You're worth more to me than anyone, I swear."
She relaxes against me, her slender tail lying on my back briefly before she pulls away. "Well, that's settled. Toodles!" We watch as she heads towards Tansypaw.
Scarpaw raises his eyebrows at me, obviously expecting an explanation, but I don't offer one. Instead, I begin to make my way to the apprentices' den. My heart stops beating when I see the cat standing in front of it, her green eyes wide with hurt.
"No one?" she asks. "Is that who I am to you?"
"Shimmerpaw, I can explain-" I begin, but she cuts me off.
"It's okay. I get it. We can't ever be seen together again." Her gaze evades mine, and I see the shine of tears beneath her long lashes. The thought that I made her cry causes me an undeniable amount of pain, so much that it's physical.
In a strained voice, I say, "It's not like that. I really do like you..."
When she speaks again, her voice is regretful and soft with sorrow. "You can't live with your paw in two worlds, Reedpaw. You may have a lot, but you can't have it all."
"Good bye, Reedpaw." She turns and walks away.
All I can do is stare after her, openmouthed, wondering if I just threw away the best thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
And now it's too late.
I don't get why I can't make my mind up about him.
Why he can't make his mind up about me.
One moment I just know that he is the love of my life; that we were destined and meant to be together, despite Goldenpaw. But other moments...
I wonder why StarClan even granted him the right to live.
I can't tell if it is me or him that is constantly changing their minds and their actions along with it. I could tell Reedpaw was hurt when I snapped at him.
But that doesn't make it easier to forgive him.
Hearing my harsh thoughts coming out of his mouth was my worst possible nightmare...
And he had to bring it to life.
I forced back harsh tears as I continued to paddle away from the tom that had broken my heart too many times to count within the past sunrises.
Why can't I accept that we can never be together?
On my own, while taking walks I could come to term with that fact.
Then I would look into his eyes and realize that it was impossible to hope for anything other than him. And that no matter how hard I tried to keep him from doing so he would always hurt me.
I sighed, finally letting the tears escape my eyes.
Why does love have to be so cruel?
Through the gaps in the woven roof of the BirdClan apprentices' den, I can see bits of star-flecked sky. They remind me of Shimmerpaw, of the way the silver flecks in her black fur shine with the glow of StarClan. And her eyes, those beautiful green eyes...
"Hey Reedpaw," whispers Goldenpaw, crawling over to me. For once, her fur brushing against mine doesn't make me happy. I scooch away from her and glance at her casually.
Unable to take a hint, she purrs and leans her head against my shoulder. I sigh and rest my head on my paws. What am I going to do about this? I'm caught between two worlds. Can I really just push away all my old friends for Shimmerpaw's sake?
I run faster, my breath coming in short gasps, my eyes intent on the flash of ebony-and-silver fur ahead of me. No matter how hard I run, I can't get close enough; she's always just a little bit ahead. "Wait!" I cry out once more.
She turns around, her eyes cold. "Nice try, Reedpaw, but you've lost your chance. We're done."
"No!" I yell. "I never got to tell you that-"
My eyes fly open. Goldenpaw is watching me, her blue eyes narrow and obviously concealing a tidal wave of rage. "You never got to tell Shimmerpaw what, Reedpaw?" she asks again.
The words are right on the tip of my tongue. I can't believe it, but they're there, and incredibly, they're the truth. That I love her. But I can't say that. Goldenpaw would have a fit, and then she'd kill me and eat my remains. Grusome, but true. "I... Was I talking about Shimmerpaw?" I stammer faintly.
"Yes," she says firmly, menacingly. "What were you dreaming about?"
Making a split second decision, I say, "Not much, actually. We were all becoming warriors, and Shimmerpaw was the loser, as usual. We were kind of making fun of her." I hold my breath, hoping this isn't a trick question. If Goldenpaw heard my entire dream, and she's just seeing if I'm telling the truth, I'm so dead.
Luckily, she seems to buy it. "Good. Speaking of which, want to go make fun of her right now?"
"I-" What kind of question is that? What's wrong with her? I can't believe I once thought I was in love with Goldenpaw. She sickens me now. "I..."
"Great." Her smile is huge. "Come on."
Linking her tail through mine, she drags me out into the camp. I have no choice. But that doesn't make it right. Nor does it make it any less hard.
And you say you love her, I think to myself bitterly. I wouldn't blame her if she hates you after this.
It's the truth, and it hurts. But is it enough to stop me from making a huge mistake?
"I...I've made my choice."
"I'm done with my friends," Reedpaw whispered, "I...I chose you over them."
I blinked curiously, wondering what kind of game Reedpaw was choosing to play on me this time; and how much begging it had taken from Goldenpaw.
"I'm not taking the bait this time, Reedpaw," I whispered, "You've broken my heart enough. I won't let you do it one more time."
"I'm serious," His voice croaked.
But I knew what a good actor Reedpaw could be.
And I wasn't willing to take the chance that he actually may be sincere this time.
"How can I know that?" I replied harshly.
"You can't," He whispered, "You just have to trust me..."
I found myself looking deep into his eyes; and as always, unable to resist them as I finally sighed, and placed my pelt against his.
"I'll give you one last shot."
"Thank you," He breathed.
"What are you doing with her?" Goldenpaw snapped, approaching us quickly, "You do realize your pelts are touching. You could be getting Shimmergerms."
"Back off, Goldenpaw," Reedpaw snapped at her, "I'm tired of you!"
And suddenly, I knew that this time he really meant it.
He really did.
Sunlight reached my eyes and I blinked them open, trying to adjust to the brightness outside and the darkness deep in my heart.
So Reedpaw had been honest for the very first time.
But it had been in my dreams.
Suddenly, Reedpaw passed by me, not even bothering to send a glance in my direction as his pelt molded against Goldenpaw's, their tails entwined.
Just give up, Goldenpaw
And I could convince myself that I would do just that, before I looked into his eyes and suddenly he wasn't something I could ever give up on.
Oh StarClan, please just end this already!
Another day without Shimmerpaw talking to me. It was almost too much to bear. I was so tired of this. And yet... I still couldn't muster the guts to dump Goldenpaw. What it would mean for my social standing was just... too much to contemplate. Call me a pampered pretty-boy, but I'd lived my whole life in the Clan's inner ring of society. I wasn't about to give all that up without another thought.
Sighing, I decide I need some place to just get away from it all. All the decisions, all the trappings of my life. Somewhere I could be myself.
Except the only place where I felt like true self was Shimmerpaw's side.
Shaking off the thought, I trot out of the BirdClan camp. A hunt was just as good, right?
I snatch up the limp squirrel and prance around the clearing in a little victory dance. It was an excellent catch, one which I can be proud of. To celebrate, I throw the fresh-kill up in the air, catch it, and do a queer hop-skip.
Despite the fact that no one's around, I pause, suddenly self-conscious. Brushing off my kit-like spasm, I walk over to a sturdy oak tree, bury the prey, and continue with my hunt.
As I head towards another of my favorite hunting spots, a familiar scent drifts towards me on the breeze. I freeze.
Instantly, as if my paws are acting on some hidden instinct, I start walking towards the scent. As I enter the edge of a grassy meadow, I see her. The sunlight turns her black pelt to liquid. The silver patches in it wink and flash out at me. Like a stalker - I can't help it, I really can't - I watch as her lithe form becomes airborne. She leaps through the air, lands gracefully, and raises her head with a rabbit in her jaws. Quickly, I duck down behind a bush.
"I know you're there, Reedpaw.
Fox-dung! Now she'll think I'm a creep who follows her around all day and watches her every move.
Sheepishly, I get up and pad towards her, babbling like an idiot. "Sorry! I was just hunting, and I noticed you, and I thought-"
She laughs, a tinkling sound that warms my heart. "It's fine. Did you catch anything?"
"Yeah! Uh..." I glance at my empty paws. "I buried it." Ugh. At least try to make it seem like you're not lying. I want to assure her that I did catch something, but she doesn't seem to mind.
"Cool." Her tone is friendly, but there's an icy tinge to it. I know why, of course, and it's my fault, but that doesn't stop it from hurting.
A gentle breeze blows around us, rustling the grass and bringing with it the smells of heather and magnolias. The silence should be awkward, but it doesn't feel like it. Not with Shimmerpaw's eyes so bright, and her face so sweet and open, turned toward me. Gentle, slowly, like in a trance, I lean towards her. My eyelids slowly droop, till all I can see is her face.
I know I shouldn't be doing this. Shouldn't be saying the things I want to say. But surely this is a dream? No she-cat could be this beautiful in real life.
It doesn't matter what you do in a dream...
I feel myself being shoved towards the fresh-kill pile by a blurry shape, and a let out a small yelp as I loose my footing, gently crashing to the ground.
When I open my eyes again, to apologize to whoever I had accidentally run into I find myself facing a gorgeous golden pelt and eyes that are seething with hate. And, after a few moments, they are also filling with tears of betrayal, and I can't help stifling a bit of sympathy for Goldenpaw.
I know how it feels to hear the one cat you love the most, telling another she-cat that you mean absolutely nothing to them. The difference for Goldenpaw however, was that she had been together with Reedpaw since the beginning of their apprenticeship.
And nothing was getting them back together now.
I could still remember everything about the previous day right before sunset, when I had been wandering along and Reedpaw had approached me. There was a dreamy trance to his gaze, something that made it seem like his world was being unrealistic at the moment. I remember the tree that was standing right next to us when he made his revelation, I remember the way he leaned into my ear and his muzzle brushed my ears, I remember the trance that his sweet voice put on me as he whispered words to me.
Words about how pretty I was, about how all he ever wanted to do was be with me, but he couldn't because of Goldenpaw. About how he really couldn't care for Goldenpaw when I was still there, and the only reason why she stuck with her was for his popularity. About how he never thought he'd feel anything as real as the connection between the two of us. And about how all he could ever want was me.
And it was perfect, until Goldenpaw jumped out of the bushes, an accusing look on her face, and a cracked voice when she snapped at Reedpaw, ending their relationship, before turning around and running back to camp.
Reedpaw had just smiled and shrugged, before giving me a soft lick on the cheek and walking away, the dream-like expression still on his face.
Now Goldenpaw just snarled in my face, hot tears continuing to run down the sides of her face, before whirling around and marching away.
I had never felt as bad in her life.
But I also felt free to now know that Reedpaw could love me freely, if he had actually meant all of those words that he had spoken to me. They could become mates, and freely be able to love each other. Everything I had ever dreamed about could become true.
Almost as if on cue, Reedpaw gently exited the apprentices' den, a tired look on his face, but I still thought he looked adorable.
Grasping all of the courage within me, I straightened my back, and began to paddle over towards Reedpaw, to finally sort our relationship out.
Once and for all.
What have I done?
There was no doubt about it; I'd screwed up everything. Again.
Goldenpaw would ruin Shimmerpaw and I's lives. We'd be miserable. Exiled to the outmost rings of the Clan society. I could think of no worse punishment then that... except if Shimmerpaw wasn't there with me.
Just that thought makes me look up- and see her padding towards me. There's an innocent, childish sort of hope in her green eyes that makes me want to rush forward and embrace her and never let go. Managing to restrain myself, I get up and give her a gentle smile when she's within earshot. "Hey."
"Hey. I just wanted to know... are you mad at me?"
Shocked into silence, it takes a few seconds for me to recover enough to reply. "Mad at you? Why would I be mad at you? Are you mad at me?"
"Huh? No! I just meant... with Goldenpaw and all."
"That wasn't your fault," I assure her. "Don't you get it? I can't help the way I feel about you. It's as natural as breathing, and just as pure. It's..." Here words failed me, and I just gazed into her sweet, delicately-featured face, sure that I could never get enough of it.
And then I realize something. No matter what Goldenpaw did to us, with Scarpaw and Tansypaw at her side, if I had Shimmerpaw with me, I could face it all. Nothing could be worse then losing Shimmerpaw. Who cared about social status when you had the sweetest she-cat in all the world beside you? What was an arrogant, vain thing like Goldenpaw compared to a beautiful goddess like my Shimmerpaw?
My Shimmerpaw. And I intend to keep it that way.
It's evening when Goldenpaw puts her plan into action. Shimmerpaw and I are sitting side by side, pelts brushing, blissfully unaware of anything but each other. That's when my former friends - Tansypaw, Scarpaw, and the Evil One - strut past. Goldenpaw's lashes are lowered demurely over her hazel eyes, and a cunning smile plays across her lips.
"Did you hear about Shimmerpaw and Reedpaw?" she says loudly. Instinctively, I tense and wrap my tail around Shimmerpaw. A slight tremor runs through her slender body as she presses against me.
Obviously clueless to Goldenpaw's plan - or maybe that's just her natural state - Tansypaw mews confusedly, "Yeah. Didn't Reedpaw dump you for her?"
Briefly, I have the satisfaction of seeing Goldenpaw let out a hiss of anger and flatten her ears. Scarpaw smirks at her, enjoying her embarrassment, but when his gaze locks with mine, his eyes are cool and unhelpful. Not exactly unfriendly, but their message is clear: You made your choice. I made mine. I can't be held responsible for the consequences.
"I guess they'll be happy together," Goldenpaw goes on, recovered from her setback. A cruel edge is in her voice. It doesn't affect me, but I feel Shimmerpaw recoil from its sharpness, and I long to knock Goldenpaw's head off. "What with Shimmerpaw being so fat and greedy and all; she probably just chose Reedpaw so he could hunt for her."
Shimmerpaw's eyelids lower, and a single tear slides down her cheek. I lower my head and whisper, "You know that's not true, right?"
That's it. I am so done with these cats.
Without anymore thought, I march up to Goldenpaw and her posse, and prepare for the fight of my life.
And its for the love of my life.
"You are really, really stupid, you know," My whiskers twitched as my eyes searched his body to see just how badly he had been hurt, "Before you tried to defend my pride you should have considered how badly yours would be damaged when the Clan realized you can't even fight off a she-cat."
"Goldenpaw took me by surprise," He laughed, wincing as he did so which caused me to realize just how deep Goldenpaw's wounds had been, "She shouldn't have said that stuff though."
"You didn't have to attack her," I whispered, "You could have insulted her, but no, you had to prove your strength and jump on her with unsheathed claws."
"She was asking for it," He sniffed again.
"You still owe her an apology."
"I suppose I do."
Despite the fact that he was wounded, and lying in the medicine cat's den, where I would be unable to spend most of my time with him, I was still as happy as I had ever felt in my life.
He had proven, truly, this time that he did love me and I really did believe him this time. And I loved him too. I finally felt happy.
While it was true that I was teased more than ever before when walking by the popular apprentices, for the first time, I couldn't care what they said because I had Reedpaw and nothing else needed to matter.
In my eyes, they were now nothing but petty.
"I can't wait until you get better," I sighed, "I can't wait for you to get back to the apprentice den. Your defeat really gave Goldenpaw more confidence."
"They aren't pushing you around, are they?" Reedpaw hissed through his teeth.
"No it's fine," I quickly whispered, "I have to go now. I love you."
As I turned around to walk away, I heard him gently whispering, "I love you too."
I hate Goldenpaw. So much. Have I ever mentioned that?
It's not that she hurt me that much, exactly. She spends too much time flirting and chatting during fight-training to actually know any battle moves. The most she could do was claw at me helplessly- and I didn't really want to hurt her either. I mean, I wasn't a complete jerk.
But seriously. Being cooped up in the medicine cat's den when I was finally be free to be with Shimmerpaw? That really blew.
At least, for once and for all, I had finally proved my where my heart lay to her. I had shown her how much she meant to me. Yes, I didn't think I'd ever deserve her. Her beauty, her compassion, her sweetness... it was all too much to ask for. But by some miracle, she loved me back. What more did a tom need in the world?
A free pass out of the medicine cat's den, that's what.
When I'm finally dismissed - under the condition that I don't exert myself too much for the next two days - I head straight for the apprentices' den. I can't wait to see Shimmerpaw again. Of course, she's been visiting me in the medicine cat's den(the best parts of my day) but there's nothing like actually being with her.
Unfortunately, when I walk into the den, there's no sign of a smiling Shimmerpaw; she must be out on training. There is, however, a scowling Goldenpaw, a smirking Scarpaw, and a smug Tansypaw.
"Hey," I say awkwardly.
No one replies. Instead, they watch me like birds of prey, waiting for the right moment to strike. I walk over to my old nest, noticing it's been pushed away from the center, by my old friends. But that's fine with me, because now it's right next to Shimmerpaw's. As I sink into it, her familiar scent breezes over me, still clinging to the grass fibers. It's rejuvenating. I'm no longer scared of Goldenpaw's posse.
Resting my head on my paws, I remember Shimmerpaw's words. You still owe her an apology. Ugh. Why did she have to be so good and pure and right all the time? "Hey, Goldenpaw?"
She looks at me like I'm dirt, not replying.
"I'm sorry about what happened," I say feebly. "I shouldn't have gotten so angry." Yes I should've, and if you bother Shimmerpaw again I'll-
"Hmph," she sniffs, turning her head away.
That's when something unexpected happens. Scarpaw gets up, yanking away from Tansypaw, and pads over to me. "What's up?" he greets me, like nothing ever happened to us.
Cautiously, I stare at him. "Nothing much. Finally out of the medicine cat's den."
He laughs, then seems to realize he owes me an explanation. "Listen, it can't ever be like it was before now. You understand that, right?"
"I don't want it to be that way," I say hotly. "I have Shimmerpaw now, and she's better than anything."
Scarpaw frowns at me, as if realizing exactly how much I care for her. Briefly, I wonder if he even truly loves Tansypaw. Probably not. "Well, anyway, I know we can't be a group like we were before, but I don't want this to ruin our friendship. We can still remain buds." He ducks his head. "I mean, if you want. I was kind of a jerk to you and Shimmerpaw."
Figuring that's the closest to an apology I'll get, I nod. "Sure. We can still be friends."
Just then, voices come from outside the apprentices' den. Mosspaw and Shimmerpaw duck inside, side-by-side. I'm glad to see that Shimmerpaw's made a new friend- but all that falls away when our eyes meet. She gives a little shriek and races over to me, completely ignoring Scarpaw; it's probably the first time in his life that a pretty she-cat has given him the cold shoulder. "You're out of the medicine den!" she exclaims, touching her nose to mine.
I gaze deeply into her lovely green eyes. "Yeah. I'm fully yours now."
A purr rumbles in her throat, and she curls up beside me. Goldenpaw watches us, then turns her back on us.
Mosspaw smiles and winks at me. "I'll see you around, Shimmerpaw."
"Okay," Shimmerpaw says happily, flopping down in her nest right next to mine. I glance at her, amused.
"So I take it you've made a new friend?"
With a nod, she says, "Mosspaw's awesome. But you know you'll always be number one in my heart."
Sappy, yes. Adorable? I think yes.
"Shimmerpaw? Promise me one thing," I say.
I raise my head to make eye contact. "Promise me that if Goldenpaw or anyone else ever tries to bully you again, you'll stand up to them. Oh, and another thing."
Unhappily, she says, "Fine. And what's the other thing?"
Gently, I place my paw on hers. "As soon as we're warriors, will you be my mate?"