Skin Deep (A SkinWalker Novel #1)

By: T.G. Ayer

(DarkWorld_ SkinWalker)




CHAPTER 1





THE DOOR STOOD OPEN AND my supervisor walked back and forth, already arranging the chairs in a cozy circle. Clancy grinned as I entered. "Hello, Miss Tardy," she teased. I stuck my tongue out at her and stashed my backpack behind the desk.

I always arrived at least thirty minutes early, something she teased me for often enough. Today I was only fifteen minutes early, so technically, she was right and I was late.

I'd headed to the group therapy session in spite of the dull headache pounding my skull with the feverish tenacity of a jackhammer. While these sessions weren't compulsory for the clients, my attendance was mandatory as far as I was concerned. I'd never missed a session since I started working for the Sandhurst Centre for Rehabilitation--also known as the Rehab Centre.

"You okay?" Clancy's voice cut through my thoughts and I realized I still stood at the table, stock still.

I nodded. "I'm fine, just a headache." I squeezed my forehead, trying to massage the throbbing away. The pain had crept up on me, so unbearable now I couldn't swallow without feeling it pulse in my throat and in my skull.

Clancy tucked her long, dark hair behind her ear and walked over to me, her green eyes narrowing on my face. "Look, take off if you're not feeling up to it, okay? Go home and sleep it off."

I shook my head and regretted it immediately as a sudden throb gripped my head in an agonizing vice. Swallowing a groan I said, "No, really, I'll manage."

"Alright. But you look like crap. What will our kids think?"

A giggle escaped my lips. "Yes, Ms. McBride. I'll put on a happy face for the kids," I answered, my voice still dry but filled with laughter.

Clancy grinned and rummaged through the desk, rearranging paperwork, her hair hiding her features. Our coloring--hair, eyes, even skin tone--was so similar many people assumed we were related. I took it as a compliment. Despite being Human, Clancy embodied everything I wanted in a friend and mentor. And she always had my back.

But she didn't know I wasn't Human. And I had no intention of finding out how she would react to my true identity. What would she think if she knew her bright young counselor was a Panther shapeshifter? Humans weren't known for their acceptance of the unknown and I wanted our relationship to remain just the way it was.

A hum in the corridor announced the first arrivals, who usually waited for company before they entered. Clancy and I fiddled with paperwork until the group settled. Still officially in training, a qualified counselor often joined me for assessments. And each class proved an educational experience for me.

The stragglers trickled in and the group began to settle.

Todd Denfield, one of our regulars, sat back in his chair, almost melting into the metal backrest. A picture of enforced, bored non-attention. When Todd's rough voice broke the usual beginning-session silence, nobody in the room was more surprised than myself.

"How do you become gay?" Heads turned as the fourteen-year-old boy voiced the question, eyes downcast.

Silence smothered the group, palpable and thick. My jaw stuck, unsure how to respond. But even as Clancy and I shared a quick glance to decide who would respond, one of the other patients answered the question.

"There's nothin' wrong with bein' gay, Todd." Sam answered. He was one of the older, already-rehabilitated kids, who returned often to attend the open forum. He admitted it reminded him of what he had to lose, of how hard he'd worked to pick himself up from where he'd fallen. "Maybe tell us why you're askin'?"

Todd gave him an impatient glare and shook his head. Eye-wateringly bright fluorescent light glazed his dark hair, gelled and spiked to stand straight up in places, while curtaining his eyes in oily fronds. "So-- how does it happen? I mean, how do you know you're...gay?"

"You just do, like knowin' you're straight." Sam looked around the room. He received a chorus of nods. It seemed the simplest answer, and the best one.

"And can you stop?" Todd asked. "Like today you're gay and tomorrow you're straight."

"There are people who are bisexual, which means they find both sexes attractive. But I don't think a person's sexual orientation can change overnight." Sam sat back, satisfied with his explanation.

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