Shiver, page 22part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
But when I opened the box, there were two lonely letters and some junk fliers.
Someone had been here. Recently.
CHAPTER THIRTY • SAM
“Do you mind if I go by Olivia’s?” Grace asked, climbing into the car, bringing in a rush of cold air with her. In the passenger seat, I recoiled, and she hurriedly shut the door behind her. She said, “Sorry about that. It got really cold, didn’t it? Anyway, I don’t want to, you know, actually go inside. Just drive by. Rachel said that a wolf had been scratching around Olivia’s house. So maybe we could pick up a trail near there?”
“Go for it,” I said. Taking her hand from where it rested, I kissed her fingertips before replacing it on the wheel. I slouched down in my seat and got my translation of Rilke I’d brought to read while I waited for her.
Grace’s lips lifted slightly at my touch, but she didn’t say anything as she pulled out of the lot. I watched her face, etched into concentration, mouth set in a firm line, and waited to see if she was ready to say what was on her mind. When she didn’t, I picked up the volume of Rilke and slouched down in my seat.
“What are you reading?” Grace asked, after a long space of silence.
I was fairly certain that pragmatic Grace would not have heard of Rilke. “Poetry. ”
Grace sighed and gazed out at the dead white sky that seemed to press down on the road before us. “I don’t get poetry. ” She seemed to realize her statement might offend, because she hurriedly added, “Maybe I’m reading the wrong stuff. ”
“You’re probably just reading it wrong,” I said. I’d seen Grace’s to-be-read pile: nonfiction, books about things, not about how things were described. “You have to listen to the pattern of the words, not just what they’re saying. Like a song. ” When she frowned, I paged through my book and scooted closer to her on the bench seat, so that our hip bones were pressed together.
Grace glanced down at the page. “That’s not even in English!”
“Some of them are,” I said. I sighed, remembering. “Ulrik was using Rilke to teach me German. And now I’m going to use it to teach you poetry. ”
“Clearly a foreign language,” Grace said.
“Clearly,” I agreed. “Listen to this. ‘Was soll ich mit meinem Munde? Mit meiner Nacht? Mit meinem Tag? Ich habe keine Geliebte, kein Haus, keine Stelle auf der ich lebe. ’”
Grace’s face was puzzled. She chewed her lip in a cute, frustrated sort of way. “So what’s it mean?”
“That’s not the point. The point is what it sounds like. Not just what it means. ” I struggled to find words for what I meant. What I wanted to do was remind her of how she’d fallen in love with me as a wolf. Without words. Seeing beyond the obvious meaning of my wolfskin to what was inside. To whatever it was that made me Sam, always.
“Read it again,” Grace said.
I read it again.
She tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. “It sounds sad,” she said. “You’re smiling—I must be right. ”
I flipped to the English translation. “‘What then would I do with my lips? With my night? With my day? I have no’—bah. I don’t like this translation. I’m going to get my other one from the house tomorrow. But yeah, it’s sad. ”
“Do I get a prize?”
“Maybe,” I said, and slid my hand underneath one of hers, twining our fingers. Without looking away from the road, she lifted our tangled fingers to her mouth. She kissed my index finger and then put it between her teeth, biting down softly.
She glanced over at me, her eyes holding an unspoken challenge.
I was completely caught. I wanted to tell her to pull over right then because I needed to kiss her.
But then I saw a wolf.
“Grace. Stop—stop the car!”
She jerked her head around, trying to see what I saw, but the wolf had already jumped the ditch on the side of the road and headed into the sparse woods.
“Grace, stop,” I said. “Jack. ”
She hit the brakes; the Bronco shimmied back and forth as she guided it to the shoulder. I didn’t wait for the car to stop. Just shoved open the door and stumbled out, my ankles crying out as I slammed onto the frozen ground. I scanned the woods in front of me. Clouds of sharp-smelling smoke drifted through the trees, mingling with the heavy white clouds that pushed down from above; someone was burning leaves on the other side of the woods. Through the smoke, I saw the blue-gray wolf hesitating in the woods ahead of me, not sure he was being pursued. Cold air clawed at my skin, and the wolf looked over his shoulder at me. Hazel eyes. Jack. It had to be.
And then he was gone, just like that, plunging into the smoke. I jumped after him, taking the ditch by the side of the road in one leap and running over the cold, hard stubble of the dying winter woods.
As I leaped into the forest, I heard Jack crashing ahead of me, more interested in escape than stealth. I could smell the stink of fear as he bolted ahead of me. The wood smoke was heavier here, and it was hard to tell where the smoke ended and the sky began, snared in the bare branches overhead. Jack was half-invisible in front of me, faster and nimbler than me on his four legs, and impervious to the cold.
My fingers, half-numb, stabbed with pain, and cold pinched the skin of my neck and twisted my gut. I was losing sight of the wolf ahead of me; the one inside me seemed closer all of a sudden.
“Sam!” Grace shouted. She grabbed the back of my shirt, pulling me to a stop, and threw her coat around me. I was coughing, gasping for air and trying to swallow the wolf rising up in me. Wrapping her arms around me as I shuddered, she said, “What were you thinking? What were you—”
She didn’t finish. She pulled me back through the woods, both of us stumbling, my knees buckling. I slowed, especially when we got to the ditch, but Grace didn’t falter, hooking my elbow to haul me up to the Bronco.
Inside, I buried my cold face into the hot skin of her neck and let her wrap her arms around me as I shook uncontrollably. I was acutely aware of the tips of my fingers, of each little pinprick of pain throbbing individually.
“What were you doing?” Grace demanded, squeezing me hard enough to force the breath out of me. “Sam, you can’t do that! It’s freezing out there! What did you think you were going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I said into her neck, balling my hands into fists between us to get them warm. I didn’t know. I just knew that Jack was an unknown, and that I didn’t know what kind of person he was, what sort of a wolf he was. “I don’t know,” I said again.
“Sam, it’s not worth it,” Grace said, and she pressed her face, hard, against my head. “What if you’d changed?” Her fingers were tight on the sleeves of my shirt, and now her voice was breathy. “What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t,” I said, truthfully. I sat back, finally warm enough to stop shivering. I pressed my hands against the heating vents. “I’m sorry. ”
For a long moment, there wasn’t any sound but the uneven rumbling of the idling engine. Then Grace said, “Isabel talked to me today. She’s Jack’s sister. ” She paused. “She said she’d talked to him. ”
I didn’t say anything, just curled my fingers tighter over the vents as if I could physically grab the heat.
“But you can’t just go running after him. It’s getting too cold, and it’s not worth the risk. Promise me you won’t do anything like that again?”
I dropped my eyes. I couldn’t look at her when she sounded like she did now. I said, “What about Isabel? Tell me what she said. ”
Grace sighed. “I don’t know. She knows Jack’s alive. She thinks the wolves have something to do with it. She thinks I know something. What should we do?”
I pressed my forehead against my hands. “I don’t know. I wish Beck were here. ”
I thought about the two lonely envelopes in the post office box and the wolf in the woods and my still-tingling fingertips. Maybe Beck was here.
Maybe it wasn’t Jack I should’ve been looking for.
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE • SAM
Once I’d let myself think that Beck might still be human, the idea possessed me. I slept badly, my mind skipping over all the ways I could try to track him down. Doubts crowded in there, too—it could’ve been any of the pack members that had gotten the mail or bought milk—but I couldn’t help it. Hope won over all of it. At breakfast the next morning, I chatted with Grace about her calculus homework—it looked entirely incomprehensible to me—and about her rich, hyper friend Rachel and about whether or not turtles had teeth, but really, what I was thinking about was Beck.
After I dropped Grace off at school, I tried for a brief moment to pretend that I wasn’t heading straight back to Beck’s house.
He wasn’t there. I already knew that.
But it couldn’t hurt to just check again.
On the way over, I kept thinking about what Grace had said the other night about the electricity and the milk in the fridge. Maybe, just maybe, Beck would be there, relieving me of the responsibility of Jack and eliminating the unbearable weight of being the last one of my kind. Even if the house was still empty, I could still get some more clothing and my other copy of Rilke and walk through the rooms, smelling the memories of kinship.
I remembered three short years ago, back when more of us were in our prime, able to return to our real, human forms at the first kiss of spring’s warmth. The house was full then—Paul, Shelby, Ulrik, Beck, Derek, and even crazy Salem were human at the same time. Spiraling through insanity together made it seem more sane.
I slowed as I headed down Beck’s road, my heart jumping as I saw a vehicle pulling into his driveway, and then sinking when I saw that it was an unfamiliar Tahoe. Brake lights glowed dully in the gray day, and I rolled down my window to try and catch a bit of scent. Before I’d caught anything, I heard the driver’s-side door open and shut on the far side of the SUV. Then the breeze played the driver’s scent right to me, clean and vaguely smoky.
Beck. I parked the Bronco on the side of the road and jumped out, grinning as I saw him come around the side of the SUV. His eyes widened for a moment, and then he grinned, too, an expression that his smile-lined face fell into easily.
“Sam!” Beck’s voice held something weird—surprise, I think. His grin widened. “Sam, thank God. Come here!”
He hugged me and patted my back in that touchy-feely way that he always managed to pull off without seeming gropey. Must’ve come from being a lawyer; he knew how to schmooze people. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wider around the middle; not from fat. I don’t know how many shirts he must’ve been wearing underneath his coat to keep himself warm enough to be human, but I saw the mismatched collars of at least two. “Where have you been?”
“I—” I was about to tell him the whole story in a nutshell of getting shot, meeting Grace, seeing Jack, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t. Certainly it wasn’t because of Beck, who was watching me earnestly with his intense blue eyes. It was something, some strange scent, faint but familiar, that was making my muscles clench and pasting my tongue to the top of my mouth. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. My answer came out more guarded than I’d intended. “I’ve been around. Not here. You weren’t here, either, I noticed. ”