Shiver, page 24part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Because she told me to, I could.
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO • GRACE
The first thing Sam said to me the next day was, “It’s time to take you on a proper date. ” Actually, the very first thing he said was, “Your hair is all funky in the morning. ” But the very first lucid thing he said (I refused to believe my hair looked funky in the morning) was the date statement. It was a “work day” for the teachers at school, so we had the entire day to ourselves—which felt indulgent. He said this while stirring some oatmeal and looking over his shoulder toward the front door. Even though my parents had disappeared early for some sort of business outing of my dad’s, Sam still seemed worried that they would reappear and hunt him down with pitchforks.
I joined him at the counter and leaned against it, peering down into the pan. I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of oatmeal. I had tried to make it before, and it had tasted very…healthy. “So about this date. Where are you taking me? Someplace exciting, like the middle of the woods?”
He pressed his finger against my lips, right where they parted. He didn’t smile. “On a normal date. Food and fun fun fun. ”
I turned my face so his hand was against my hair instead. “Yeah, sounds like it,” I said, sarcastically, because he still wasn’t smiling. “I didn’t think you did normal. ”
“Get me two bowls, would you?” Sam said. I set them on the counter and Sam divided the oatmeal between them, releasing a sweet scent. “I just really want to do a proper date, so you’ll have something real to rem—”
He stopped and looked down into the bowls, arms braced against the counter, shoulders shrugged up by his ears. Finally, he turned and said, “I want to do things right. Can we try to do normal?”
With a nod, I accepted one of the bowls and tried a spoonful—it was all brown sugar and maple and something sort of spicy. I pointed an oatmeal-covered spoon at Sam. “I have no problem doing normal. This stuff is sticky. ”
“Ingrate,” Sam said. He looked dolefully at his bowl. “You don’t like it. ”
“It’s actually okay. ”
Sam said, “Beck used to make it for me, after I got over my egg fixation. ”
“You had an egg fixation?”
“I was a peculiar child,” Sam said. He gestured to my bowl. “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it. When you’re done, we’ll go. ”
That was all I needed to hear. That oatmeal was gone instantly and I had my hat, coat, and backpack in hand.
For the first time that morning, Sam laughed, and I was ridiculously glad to hear it. “You look like a puppy. Like I’m jingling my keys and you’re jumping by the door waiting for your walk. ”
Sam patted my head on the way out and together we ventured into the cold pastel morning. Once we were in the Bronco and on the road, I pressed again, “So you won’t tell me where we’re going?”
“Nope. The only thing I’ll tell you is to pretend that this is what I did with you the first day I met you, instead of being shot. ”
“I don’t have that much imagination. ”
“I do. I’ll imagine it for you, so strongly that you’ll have to believe it. ” He smiled to demonstrate his imagining, a smile so sad that my breath caught in my throat. “I’ll court you properly and then it won’t make my obsession with you so creepy. ”
“Seems to me that mine’s the creepy one. ” I looked out the window as we pulled out of the driveway. The sky was relinquishing one slow snowflake after another. “I have that, you know, what’s it called? That syndrome where you identify with the people who save you?”
Sam shook his head and turned the opposite way from school. “You’re thinking of that Munchausen syndrome, where the person identifies with their kidnapper. ”
I shook my head. “That’s not the same. Isn’t Munchausen when you invent sicknesses to get attention?”
“Is it? I just like saying ‘Munchausen. ’ I feel like I can actually speak German when I say it. ”
“Ulrik was born in Germany,” Sam said. “He has all kinds of interesting children’s stories about werewolves. ” He turned onto the main road through downtown and started looking for a parking space. “He said people would get bitten willingly, back in the old days. ”
I looked out the window at MercyFalls. The shops, all shades of brown and gray, seemed even more brown and gray under the leaden sky, and for October, it felt ominously close to winter. There were no green leaves left on the trees that grew by the side of the street, and some were missing their leaves entirely, adding to the bleak appearance of the town. It was concrete as far as the eye could see. “Why would they want to do that?”
“In the folktales, they’d turn into wolves and steal sheep and other animals when food was scarce. And some of them changed just for the fun of it. ”
I studied his face, trying to read his voice. “Is there fun in it?”
He looked away—ashamed of his answer, I thought, until I realized he was just looking over his shoulder to parallel park in front of a row of shops. “Some of us seem to like it, maybe better than being human. Shelby loves it—but like I said, I think her human life was pretty awful. I don’t know. The wolf half of my life is such a part of me now, it’s hard to imagine living without it. ”
“In a good way or a bad way?”
Sam looked at me, yellow eyes catching and holding me. “I miss being me. I miss you. All the time. ”
I dropped my eyes to my hands. “Not now you don’t. ”
Sam reached across the bench seat and touched my hair, running a hand down it until he caught just the ends of it between his fingers. He studied the hairs like they might contain the secrets of Grace in their dull blonde strands. His cheeks flushed slightly; he still blushed when he complimented me. “No,” he admitted, “right in this moment, I can’t even remember what unhappy feels like. ”
Somehow that made tears prick at the corners of my eyes. I blinked, glad he was still looking at my hair. There was a long pause.
He said, “You don’t remember being attacked. ”
“You don’t remember being attacked at all, do you?”
I frowned and pulled my backpack onto my lap, startled by the seemingly random change of topic. “I don’t know. Maybe. It seems like there were a lot of wolves, way more than I think there actually could’ve been. And I remember you—I remember you standing back, and then just touching my hand”—Sam touched my hand—“and my cheek”—he touched my cheek—“when the others were rough with me. I guess they wanted to eat me, right?”
His voice was soft. “You don’t remember what happened after that? How you survived?”
I tried to remember. It was all a flash of snow, and red, and breath on my face. Then Mom screaming. But there must’ve been something between all that. I must’ve gotten from the woods to the house somehow. I tried to imagine walking, stumbling through the snow. “Did I walk?”
He looked at me, waiting for me to answer my own question.
“I know I didn’t. I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember?” I was frustrated now, with my own brain’s inability to comply. It seemed like such a simple request. But I only remembered the scent of Sam, Sam everywhere, and then the unfamiliar sound of Mom’s panic as she scrambled for the phone.
“Don’t worry about it,” Sam said. “It doesn’t matter. ” But I thought it probably did.
I closed my eyes, recalling the scent of the woods that day and the jolting feeling of moving back toward the house, arms tight around me. I opened my eyes again. “You carried me. ”
Sam looked at me abruptly.
It was coming back, in the way you remember fever dreams. “But you were human,” I said. “I remember seeing you as a wolf. But you must’ve been human to carry me. How did you do that?”
I felt something fluttering in my chest, like hope. “You can make yourself change?”
“It’s not like that. It was only two times. And I haven’t been able to do it again, ever, no matter how badly I’ve wanted to. And believe me, I’ve wanted it pretty badly. ” Sam turned off the Bronco with an air of ending the conversation, and I reached into my backpack to pull out a hat. As he locked the car, I stood on the sidewalk and waited.
Sam came around the back of the car and stopped dead when he saw me. “Oh my God, what is that?”
I used my thumb and middle finger to flick the multicolored pom-pom on top of my head. “In my language, we call it a hat. It keeps my ears warm. ”
“Oh my God,” Sam said again, and closed the distance between us. He cupped my face in his hands and studied me. “It’s horribly cute. ” He kissed me, looked at the hat, and then he kissed me again.
I vowed never to lose the pom-pom hat. Sam was still holding my face; I was sure everyone in town was looking now. But I didn’t want to pull away, and I let him kiss me one more time, this time soft as the snow, barely a touch, and then he released me and took my hand instead.
It took me a moment to find my voice, and when I did, I couldn’t stop grinning. “Okay. Where are we going?” It was cold enough that I knew it had to be close; we couldn’t stay out here much longer.
Sam’s fingers were laced tightly with mine. “To a Grace-shop first. That’s what a proper gentleman would do. ”
I giggled, completely unlike me, and Sam laughed because he knew it. I was drunk with Sam. I let him walk me down the stark concrete block to The Crooked Shelf, a little independent bookstore; I hadn’t been there for a year. It seemed stupid that I hadn’t, given how many books I read, but I was just a poor high schooler with a very limited allowance. I got my books from the library.
“This is a Grace-shop, right?” Sam pushed open the door without waiting for my answer. A wonderful wave of new-book smell came rushing out, reminding me immediately of Christmas. My parents always got me books for Christmas. With a melodic ding, the shop door swung shut behind us, and Sam released my hand. “Where to? I’ll buy you a book. I know you want one. ”
I smiled at the stacks, inhaling again. Hundreds of thousands of pages that had never been turned, waiting for me. The shelves were a warm, blond wood, piled with spines of every color. Staff picks were arranged on tables, glossy covers reflecting the light back at me. Behind the little cubby where the cashier sat, ignoring us, stairs covered with rich burgundy carpet led up to worlds unknown. “I could just live here,” I said.
Sam watched my face with obvious pleasure. “I remember watching you reading books on the tire swing. Even in the most stupid weather. Why didn’t you read inside when it was so cold?”