Shiver, page 13part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“Like a wolf. Gray. ” Rachel saw my withering look and shrugged. “I don’t know, Grace. Bluish-gray? With mucky gross scratches on its shoulder. It looked scruffy. ”
So it was Jack. It had to be. “It must have been total chaos,” I said.
“Yeah, you should’ve been here, wolf-girl. Seriously. Nobody got hurt, thank God, but Olivia completely freaked out. The whole school was freaked out. Isabel was totally hysterical and made a huge scene. ” Rachel squeezed my arm. “So why didn’t you pick up your phone, anyway?”
We walked into the school; the doors were propped open to let in the balmy air. “Battery died. ”
Rachel made a face and spoke louder to be heard over the crush of students in the halls. “So, are you sick? I never thought I’d live to see the day that you didn’t make it to class. Between you not being in class and wild animals roaming the parking lot, I thought the world was coming to an end. I was waiting for the rains of blood. ”
“I think I got some sort of twenty-four-hour bug,” I replied.
“Ew, should I not touch you?” But instead of moving away, Rachel slammed her shoulder into mine with a grin. I laughed and shoved her off, and as I did, I saw Isabel Culpeper. My smile faded. She was leaning against the wall by one of the drinking fountains, her shoulders hunched forward. At first I thought she was looking at her cell phone, but then I realized her hands were empty and she was just staring at the ground. If she hadn’t been such an ice princess, I would’ve thought she was crying. I wondered if I should talk to her.
As if reading my thoughts, Isabel looked up then, and her eyes, so similar to Jack’s, met mine. I could read the challenge in them: So what are you looking at, huh?
I looked away quickly and kept walking with Rachel, but I had the uncomfortable sense of things left unsaid.
CHAPTER TWENTY • SAM
As I lay in Grace’s bed that night, jarred by the news of Jack’s appearance at the school, I stared, sleepless, out into a blackness interrupted only by the dim halo of her hair on her pillow. And I thought about wolves who didn’t act like wolves. And I thought about Christa Bohlmann.
It had been years since the memory of Christa had crossed my mind, but Grace’s frowning account of Jack lurking where he didn’t belong had brought it all back.
I remembered the last day I saw her, when Christa and Beck were fighting in the kitchen, the living room, the hall, the kitchen again, growling and shouting at each other like circling wolves. I’d been young, about eight, so Beck had seemed like a giant then—a narrow, furious god barely containing his anger. Round and round the house he went with Christa, a heavyset young woman with a face made blotchy by rage.
“You killed two people, Christa. When are you going to face up to that?”
“Killed? Killed?” Her voice was shrill to my ears, claws on glass. “What about me? Look at me. My life is over. ”
“It’s not over,” Beck snapped. “You’re still breathing, aren’t you? Your heart’s still beating? I can’t say the same for your two victims. ”
I remember shrinking back at Christa’s voice—a throaty, barely understandable scream. “This is not a life!”
Beck raged at her about selfishness and responsibility, and she shot back with a string of profanity that I was shocked by; I’d never heard the words before.
“How about that guy in the basement?” Beck snapped. I could just see Beck’s back from my vantage point in the hall. “You bit him, Christa. You’ve ruined his life now. And you killed two people. Just because they called you some nasty words. I keep waiting to see some remorse. Hell, I’ll just take a guarantee that this won’t happen again. ”
“Why would I guarantee you anything? What have you ever given me?” Christa snarled. Her shoulders hunched and twitched. “You call yourselves a pack? You’re a coven. You’re an abomination. You’re a cult. I’ll do what I want. I’ll get through this life how I want. ”
Beck’s voice was terribly, terribly even. I remember being suddenly sorry for Christa then, because Beck stopped sounding angry when he was at his worst. “Promise me this won’t happen again. ”
She looked straight at me then—no, not at me. Through me. Her mind was someplace far away, escaping the reality of her changing body. I could see a vein standing out right down the middle of her forehead, and I noticed that her fingernails were claws. “I don’t owe you anything. Go to hell. ”
Beck said, very quietly, “Get out of my house. ”
She did. She slammed the glass door so hard that the dishes in the kitchen cabinets rattled. A few moments later, I heard the door open and shut again, much quieter, as Beck went after her.
I remembered that it had been cold enough out that I was worried Beck would change for the winter and leave me alone in the house. That fear was enough to make me slide out of the hallway into the living room, just as I heard a massive crack.
Beck quietly let himself back into the house, shivering with the cold and the threat of the change, and he carefully laid a gun on the counter as though it was made of glass. Then he noticed me, standing in the living room, arms across my chest, my fingers clutching my biceps.
I still remembered the way his voice sounded when he said, “Don’t touch that, Sam. ” Hollow. Ragged. He’d gone into his office and laid his head down on his arms for the rest of the day. At dusk, he and Ulrik had gone outside, voices low and hushed; through the window, I’d seen Ulrik get a shovel from the garage.
And now, here I was, lying in Grace’s bed, and somewhere out there was Jack. Angry people didn’t make good werewolves.
While Grace was in school, I had driven by Beck’s house. The driveway was empty and the windows were dark; I hadn’t the heart to go inside and see how long it had been unoccupied. Without Beck to enforce the pack’s safety, who was supposed to keep Jack in line?
An unwelcome sense of responsibility was starting to pinch at the back of my throat. Beck had a cell phone, but I couldn’t remember the number, no matter how long I riffled through my memories. I pressed my face against the pillow and prayed that Jack wouldn’t bite anyone, because if he became a problem, I didn’t think I was strong enough to do what would have to be done.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE • SAM
When Grace’s alarm went off the next morning at 6:45 for school, screaming electronic obscenities into my ear, I instantly shot straight up into the air, heart pounding, just as I had the day before. My head was stuffed full of dreams: wolves and humans and blood smeared on lips.
“Ummmm,” Grace mumbled, unconcerned, and pulled up the sheets around her neck. “Turn that off, would you? I’m getting up. I’ll…be up in a second. ” She rolled over, her blonde head barely visible above the edge of the blanket, and sank into the bed as if she had grown into the mattress.
And that was it. She was asleep and I was not.
I leaned back against her headboard and let her lie by my side, warm and dreaming, for a few minutes more. I stroked her hair with careful fingers, tracing a line from her forehead around her ear and down to just the top of her long neck, where her hair stopped being hair proper and was instead little baby fluffs that went every which way. They were fascinating, these soft feathers that would grow up to be her hair. I was incredibly tempted to bend down and bite them, ever so softly, to wake her up and kiss her and make her late for school, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Jack and Christa and people who made bad werewolves. If I went to the school, would I still be able to follow Jack’s trail with my weaker sense of smell?
“Grace,” I whispered. “Wake up. ”
She made a soft noise that, roughly translated, meant piss off in sleep language.
“Time to wake up,” I said, and stuck my finger in her ear.
Grace squealed and smacked at me. She was up.
Our mornings together were beginning to have the comfort of routine.
I heard my breathing stop without feeling it. Photographs, nestled amongst her neatly folded socks. Pictures of the wolves. Of us. Carefully, I lifted the stack out of the drawer and retreated to the bed. Turning my back to the door as if I were doing something illicit, I paged through the pictures with slow fingers. There was something fascinating about seeing these images with my human eyes. Some of the wolves I could attach human names to; the older ones who had always changed before me. Beck, big, bulky, blue-gray. Paul, black and clean-looking. Ulrik, brownish-gray. Salem, with his notched ear and running eye. I sighed, though I didn’t know why.
The door behind me opened, letting in a gust of steam that smelled like Grace’s soap. Grace stepped behind me and rested her head on my shoulder; I breathed in the scent of her.
“Looking at yourself?” she asked.
My fingers, flicking between the photos, froze. “I’m in here?”
Grace came round the side of the bed and sat down facing me. “Of course. Most of them are of you—you don’t recognize yourself? Oh. Of course you wouldn’t. Tell me who’s who. ”
Slower, I paged through the images again as she shifted to sit next to me, the bed groaning with her movements. “That’s Beck. He’s always taken care of the new wolves. ” Though there’d only been two newly made wolves since me: Christa and the wolf that she’d created, Derek. The fact was, I wasn’t used to younger newcomers—our pack usually grew by other, older wolves finding us, not by the addition of savagely born newbies like Jack. “Beck’s like a father to me. ” It sounded weird to say it like that, even if it was true. I’d never had to explain it to anyone before. He had been the one to take me under his wing after I’d escaped from my house, and the one who carefully glued the fragments of my sanity back together.
“I could tell how you felt about him,” Grace said, and she sounded surprised at her own intuition. “Your voice is different whenever you talk about him. ”
“It is?” Now it was my turn to be surprised. “Different how?”
She shrugged, looking a little shy. “I dunno. Proud, I guess. I think it’s sweet. Who’s that?”
“Shelby,” I said, and there was no pride in my voice for her. “I told you about her before. ”
Grace watched my face.
The memory of the last time Shelby and I had seen each other made my gut twist uncomfortably. “She and I don’t see things the same way. She thinks being a wolf is a gift. ”
Beside me, Grace nodded, and I was grateful to leave it at that.
I flipped through the next few photographs, more of Shelby and Beck, until I paused at Paul’s black form. “That’s Paul. He’s our pack leader when we’re wolves. That’s Ulrik next to him. ” I pointed to the brown-gray wolf beside Paul. “Ulrik’s like a crazy uncle, sort of. A German one. He swears a lot. ”