Shiver, page 11part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
The mattress groaned as she crashed onto it, her face close to mine. “Are you always this apologetic?”
My voice was muffled by her pillow. “I’m trying to make you think I’m a decent person. Telling you I saw you naked while I was another species does not help my case. ”
She laughed. “I’ll grant you leniency, since I should’ve pulled the blinds. ” There was a long silence, filled with a thousand unspoken messages. I could smell her nervousness, faintly wafting from her skin, and could hear the fast beat of her heart carried through the mattress to my ear. It would have been so easy for my lips to span the inches between our mouths. I thought I could hear the hope in her heartbeat: kiss me kiss me kiss me. Normally I was good at sensing others’ feelings, but with Grace, everything I thought I knew was clouded by what I wanted.
She giggled quietly; it was a terribly cute noise, and also completely at odds with how I normally thought of her. “I’m starving,” she said finally. “Let’s go find breakfast. Or brunch, I guess. ”
I rolled out of bed and she rolled after me. I was acutely aware of her hands on my back, pushing me through the bedroom door. Together we padded softly out into the kitchen. Sunlight, too bright, blared in the glass door to the deck, reflecting off the white counter and tile in the kitchen, covering us both with white light. Because of my previous exploration, I knew where things were, so I started to take out supplies.
As I moved about the kitchen, Grace shadowed me, her fingers finding my elbow and her palm brushing along my back, finding excuses to touch me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her staring unabashedly at me when she thought I wouldn’t notice. It was as though I had never changed, as though I still gazed at her from the woods and she still sat on her tire swing and watched me with admiring eyes. Peeling off my skin / leaving just my eyes behind / You see inside my head / Still know that you are mine.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, cracking an egg into a skillet and pouring her a glass of orange juice with human fingers that seemed suddenly precious.
Grace laughed. “That you’re making me breakfast. ”
It was too simple an answer; I wasn’t sure if I could believe it. Not when I had a thousand thoughts competing for space in my head at the same moment. “What else are you thinking?”
“That it’s very sweet of you. That I hope you know how to cook eggs. ” But her eyes lifted from the skillet to my mouth, just for a second, and I knew she wasn’t only thinking about eggs. She whirled away and pulled the blinds, instantly changing the mood in the kitchen. “And it’s too bright in here. ” The light filtered through the blinds, casting horizontal stripes across her wide brown eyes and the straight line of her lips.
I turned back to the scrambled eggs and tipped them onto a plate just as the toast popped out of the toaster. I reached for it at the same time as Grace, and it was just one of those perfect movie moments where the hands touch and you know the characters are going to kiss. Only this time it was my arms somehow accidentally circling her, pinning her against the counter as I reached for the toast, and bracing against the edge of the fridge as I leaned forward. Lost in embarrassment over my bumbling, I didn’t even realize it was the perfect moment until I saw Grace’s eyes close, face lifted toward mine.
I kissed her. Just the barest brush of my lips against hers, nothing animal. Even in that moment, I deconstructed the kiss: her possible reactions to, her possible interpretations of, the way it made a shudder tighten my skin, the seconds between when I touched her lips and when she opened her eyes.
Grace smiled at me. Her words were taunting, but her voice was gentle. “Is that all you’ve got?” I touched my lips to hers again, and this time, it was a very different sort of kiss. It was six years’ worth of kissing, her lips coming to life under mine, tasting of orange and of desire. Her fingers ran through my sideburns and into my hair before linking around my neck, alive and cool on my warm skin. I was wild and tame and pulled into shreds and crushed into being all at once. For once in my human life, my mind didn’t wander to compose a song lyric or store the moment for later reflection.
For once in my life,
I was here
and nowhere else.
And then I opened my eyes and it was just Grace and me—nothing anywhere but Grace and me—she pressing her lips together as though she were keeping my kiss inside her, and me, holding this moment that was as fragile as a bird in my hands.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN • SAM
Some days seem to fit together like a stained glass window. A hundred little pieces of different color and mood that, when combined, create a complete picture. The last twenty-four hours had been like that. The night at the hospital was one pane, sickly green and flickering. The dark hours of the early morning in Grace’s bed were another, cloudy and purple. Then the cold blue reminder of my other life this morning, and finally the brilliant, clear pane that was our kiss.
In the current pane, we sat on the worn bench seat of an old Bronco at the edge of a run-down, overgrown car lot on the outskirts of town. It seemed like the complete picture was starting to come into focus, a shimmering portrait of something I thought I couldn’t have.
Grace ran her fingers over the Bronco’s steering wheel with a thoughtful, fond touch, and then turned to me. “Let’s play twenty questions. ”
I was lying back in the passenger seat, eyes closed, and letting the afternoon sun cook me through the windshield. It felt good. “Shouldn’t you be looking at other cars? You know, car shopping usually involves…shopping. ”
“I don’t shop very well,” Grace said. “I just see what I need and I get it. ”
I laughed at that. I was beginning to see how very Grace such a statement was.
She narrowed her eyes at me in mock irritation and crossed her arms over her chest. “So, questions. These aren’t optional. ”
I glanced out across the car lot to make sure that the owner hadn’t returned from towing her car yet—here in MercyFalls, the towing company and the used car company were one and the same. “Okay. Better not be anything embarrassing. ”
Grace slid over a little closer to me on the bench seat and slouched down in a mirror image of my posture. I felt like this was the first question: her leg pressed against my leg, her shoulder pressed against my shoulder, her tightly laced shoe resting on top of my scuffed leather one. My pulse raced, a wordless answer.
Grace’s voice was pragmatic, as if she didn’t know the effect she was having on me. “I want to know what makes you a wolf. ”
That one was easy. “When the temperature drops, I become a wolf. When it’s cold at night and warm during the day, I can feel it coming on, and then, finally, it’s cold enough that I shift into a wolf until spring. ”
“The others, too?”
I nodded. “The longer you’re a wolf, the warmer it has to be for you to become human. ” I paused for a moment, wondering if now was the time to tell her. “Nobody knows how many years you get of switching back and forth. It’s different for every wolf. ”
Grace just looked at me—the same long look she’d given me when she was younger, lying in the snow, looking up at me. I couldn’t read it any better now than I could then. I felt my throat tighten in anticipation of her reply, but, mercifully, she changed her line of questioning. “How many of you are there?”
I wasn’t sure, just because so many of us didn’t become humans anymore. “About twenty. ”
“What do you eat?”
“Baby bunnies. ” She narrowed her eyes, so I grinned and said, “Adult bunnies, too. I’m an equal-opportunity bunny-eater. ”
She didn’t skip a beat. “What was on your face the night you let me touch you?” Her voice stayed the same for this question, but something around her eyes tightened, as though she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.
I had to struggle to remember that night—her fingers in my ruff, her breath moving the f
Part of me felt a little sad that she had to ask, but of course she did. She had every reason not to trust me. “It wasn’t his—that boy’s. ”
“Jack,” she said.
“Jack,” I repeated. “I knew the attack happened, but I wasn’t there for it. ” I had to dig deeper into my memory to trace the source of the blood on my muzzle. My human brain supplied logical answers—rabbit, deer, roadkill—all of them instantly stronger than my actual wolf memories. Finally, I snatched the real answer from my thoughts, though I wasn’t proud of it. “It was a cat. The blood. I’d caught a cat. ”
Grace let out a breath.
“You aren’t upset that it was a cat?” I asked.
“You have to eat. If it wasn’t Jack, I don’t care if it was a wal- laby,” she said. But it was obvious her mind was still on Jack. I tried to remember what little I knew of the attack, hating for her to think badly of my pack.
“He provoked them, you know,” I said.
“He what? You weren’t there, were you?”
I shook my head and struggled to explain. “We can’t—the wolves—when we communicate, it’s with images. Nothing complicated. And not across great distances. But if we’re right by each other, we can share an image with another wolf. And so the wolves that attacked Jack, they showed me images. ”
“You can read each other’s minds?” Grace asked, incredulous.
I shook my head vigorously. “No. I—it’s hard to explain as a hu—as me. It’s just a way of talking, but our brains are different as wolves. There’s no abstract concepts, really. Things like time, and names, and complicated emotions are all out of the question. Really, it’s for things like hunting or warning each other of danger. ”
“And what did you see about Jack?”
I lowered my eyes. It felt strange, recalling a wolf memory from a human mind. I flipped through the blurry images in my head, recognizing now that the red blotches on the wolves’ coats were bullet wounds, and that the stains on their lips were Jack’s blood. “Some of the wolves showed me something about being hit by him. A—gun? He must have had a BB gun. He was wearing a red shirt. ” Wolves saw color poorly, but red we could see.
“Why would he do that?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. That’s not the sort of thing we told each other. ”
Grace was quiet, still thinking about Jack, I suppose. We sat in the close silence until I started to wonder whether she was upset. Then she spoke. “So you never get to open Christmas presents. ”
I looked at her, not knowing how to respond. Christmas was something that happened in another life, one before the wolves.
Grace looked down at the steering wheel. “I was just thinking that you were never around in the summer, and I always loved Christmas, because I knew you’d always be there. In the woods. As a wolf. I guess it’s because it’s cold, right? But that must mean that you never get to open Christmas presents. ”