Shiver, page 25part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
My eyes followed the rows and rows of books. “Books are more real when you read them outside. ”
I bit my lip, eyes flitting from shelf to shelf. “I don’t know where to go first. ”
“I’ll show you something,” Sam said. The way he said it made me believe that it was not only something but a very amazing something that he had waited all day to show me. He took my hand again and led me through the store, past the uninterested cashier, and up the silent stairs that swallowed the sounds of our footsteps and kept them.
Upstairs was a little loft, less than half the size of the store below, with a railing to keep us from tumbling back down to the ground floor.
“One summer, I worked here. Sit. Wait. ” Sam guided me to a battered burgundy love seat that took up a large part of the floor space. I took off my hat and sat, charmed by his orders, and checked out his butt while he searched on the shelves for whatever he was looking for. Unaware of my stare, he crouched, running his fingers along spines like they were old friends. I watched the slope of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, the way one hand braced, fingers spread crablike on the floor, as he knelt by the shelves. Finally he found what he was looking for and he came over to the love seat.
“Close your eyes,” he said. Without waiting for me, he pressed his hand over my eyelids, shutting them for me. I felt the love seat shift as he slid in beside me, heard the inexplicably loud sound of the cover opening, the pages inside scraping against each other as he turned them.
Then I felt his breath on my ear as he said, voice barely audible, “‘I am alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make each hour holy. I am lowly in this world, and yet not lowly enough for me to be just a thing to you, dark and shrewd. I want my will and I want to go with my will as it moves towards action. ’” He paused, long, the only sound his breath, a little ragged, before he went on, “‘And I want, in those silent, somehow faltering times, to be with someone who knows, or else alone. I want to reflect everything about you, and I never want to be too blind or too ancient to keep your profound wavering image with me. I want to unfold. I don’t want to be folded anywhere, because there, where I’m folded, I am a lie. ’”
I turned my face toward his voice, eyes still fast shut, and he put his mouth on mine. I felt his lips pull from mine slightly, just for a moment, and heard the rustle of the book laid gently on the floor, and then he wrapped his arms around me.
His lips tasted cool and sharp, peppermint, winter, but his hands, soft on the back of my neck, promised long days and summer and forever. I felt light-headed, like I wasn’t getting enough air, as if my breath was stolen as soon as I took it. Sam lay back on the couch, just a little, and pulled me into the circle his body made, and kissed me and kissed me, so careful, like my lips were a flower and if he touched them too roughly, they might bruise.
I don’t know how long we were curled against each other on the couch, silently kissing, before Sam noticed that I was crying. I felt him hesitate, salt water on his tongue, before he realized what the taste meant.
“Grace. Are you—crying?”
I didn’t say anything, because that would only make the reason for my tears more real. Sam rubbed them away with his thumb, then pulled his sleeve over his fist to wipe the tracks away with the fabric.
“Grace, what’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?” Sam’s yellow eyes were flickering over my face, looking for clues as I shook my head. Downstairs, I heard the cashier ringing up another customer. It seemed very far away.
“No,” I said finally. I rubbed another tear out of my eye before it could fall. “No, you did everything right. It’s just that—” I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t.
Sam didn’t flinch. “—that this is my last year. ”
I bit my lip, hard, and rubbed away another tear. “I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready. ”
He didn’t say anything. Maybe there wasn’t anything to say. Instead, he wrapped his arms around me again, only this time he guided my cheek onto his chest and ran his hand over the back of my head, clumsy but comforting. I closed my eyes and listened to the thud of his heart until mine matched pace with his. Finally, he rested his cheek on the top of my head and whispered, “We don’t have time to be sad. ”
The sun had become brilliant by the time we walked out of the bookstore, and with a shock I realized how much time had passed. On cue, my stomach pinched with hunger.
“Lunch,” I said. “Immediately. I’m going to wither away to absolutely nothing. Then you’ll be racked with guilt. ”
“I don’t doubt it. ” Sam took my little bag of new books and turned to put them in the Bronco, but he froze partway toward the car, his eyes fixed somewhere behind me. “Crap. Incoming. ”
He turned his back to me and unlocked the car, shoving the books onto the passenger seat, trying to look inconspicuous. I turned around and found Olivia, looking disheveled and tired. Then John appeared behind her and gave me a big grin. I hadn’t seen him since before I met Sam, and in comparison, I couldn’t fathom how I’d ever imagined he was good-looking. He looked dusty and ordinary in comparison beside Sam’s black flop of hair and golden eyes.
“Hey, gorgeous,” John said.
That turned Sam around in a hurry. He didn’t move toward me, but he didn’t have to—his yellow eyes stopped John in his tracks. Or maybe it was just Sam’s stance beside me, shoulders stiff. In the space of a second, I had a flashing thought that Sam might be dangerous—that maybe he normally quieted the wolf inside him far more than he let on.
John had a weird, unreadable expression that made me wonder if all those months of pretend flirting had been more real than I’d thought.
“Hi,” Olivia said. She glanced at Sam, whose gaze had been fixed on the camera slung over her shoulder. He looked down and rubbed his eyes as though he’d gotten something in one of them.
Sam’s discomfort was catching, and my smile felt insincere. “Hi. Funny bumping into you guys here. ”
“We’re just running some errands for Mom. ” John’s eyes flicked toward Sam and he smiled a little too pleasantly. My cheeks warmed at the silent testosterone battle waging; it was kind of flattering, if a little weird. “And Olivia wanted to hit up the bookstore while we were out. It’s friggin’ cold out here. I’m going to go on in. ”
“They let illiterate people in there?” I teased, like old times.
John grinned then, all tension gone, and grinned at Sam, too, like, Yeah, good luck with that, before heading into the store. Sam sort of smiled back, eyes squinted shut, still acting like he had something in them. Olivia remained on the sidewalk just outside the door, arms hugged around herself.
“I never thought I’d see you out of the house this early on a non-schoolday,” she told me. Talking to me, but looking at Sam. “I thought you hibernated on days off. ”
“Nope, not today,” I said. After this much time not talking to her, it felt like I didn’t know how to do it anymore. “Up early to see what it feels like. ”
“Amazing,” Olivia said. She was still looking at Sam, an unasked question hanging in the air. I didn’t want to introduce them, since Sam seemed so uncomfortable around Olivia and her camera, but I was hyperaware of the way she was looking at us: the space between the two of us, how it shifted as either of us moved, connected by invisible strings. And the casual contact. Her eyes followed his hand to my arm as he touched my sleeve lightly, and then moved to his other hand, still rested on the handle of the car door—comfortable, like he’d opened it many times before. Like he belonged with the Bronco and with me. Finally, Olivia said, “Who’s this?”
I glanced at Sam, for approval. His eyelids were still lowered, shadowing his eyes.
“Sam,” he said softly.
There was something wrong with the tenor of his voice. He wasn’t looking at the camera, but it seemed like I could feel his attention on it. My voice inadvertently echoed his anxiety when I said, “This is Oliv
I expected her to comment, but instead she said, “I recognize you. ” Beside me, Sam stiffened until she added, “From the bookstore, right?”
Sam flicked his eyes up to her, and she nodded, almost imperceptibly. “Yes. From the bookstore. ”
Olivia, arms still crossed, fingered the edge of her sweater but didn’t take her eyes from Sam’s. She seemed to be struggling to find words. “I—do you wear contacts? Sorry to be so blunt. You must get asked a lot. ”
“I do,” Sam said. “Get asked a lot. And I do wear them. ”
Something like disappointment flashed across Olivia’s face. “Well, they’re really cool. Um. It was nice to meet you. ” Turning to me, she said, “I’m sorry. It was a really stupid thing to fight over. ”
Whatever I had been planning to say disappeared when she said I’m sorry.
“I’m sorry, too,” I replied, a little feebly, because I wasn’t really sure what I was apologizing for.
Olivia looked at Sam and then back at me. “Yeah. I just…Could you call me? Later on?”
I blinked with surprise. “Yeah, of course! When?”
“I—actually, can I call you? I don’t know when will be a good time. Is that okay? Can I just call your cell?”
“Anytime. You sure you don’t want to go somewhere and talk now?”
“Um, no, not now. I can’t, because of John. ” She shook her head and looked at Sam again. “He wants to hang out. Later will be good, though, definitely. Thanks, Grace. I mean it. I’m so sorry about our stupid argument. ”
I pressed my lips together. Why was she thanking me?
John stuck his head out of the bookstore’s door. “Olive? Are you coming, or what?”
Olivia waved at us and disappeared into the bookstore with a little ding from the bookstore’s doorbell.
Sam cupped his hands around the back of his head and heaved a huge, shaky sigh. He paced a small circle on the sidewalk without lowering his hands.
I stepped past him and pulled open the passenger-side door. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on? Are you just camera shy, or is it something more?”
Sam came around the other side of the Bronco and got in, slamming the door shut, as if shutting Olivia and all the weirdness of the conversation out. “I’m sorry. I just—I saw one of the wolves the other day and this Jack thing just has me on edge. And Olivia—she took pictures of all of us. As wolves. And my eyes…I was afraid that Olivia knew more about me than she was saying and I just—freaked out. I know. I acted totally whacked, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did. You’re lucky that she was acting more whacked than you. I hope she calls later. ” Unease crept through me.
Sam touched my arm. “Do you want to go someplace to eat or just head home?”
I groaned and put my forehead into my hand. “Let’s just go home. Man. I feel so weird, not finding out what she was talking about. ”