Shiver, page 26part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Sam didn’t say anything, but it was all right. I was going over and over what Olivia had said, trying to figure out why the conversation seemed so awkward. Trying to figure out what wasn’t being said. I should’ve said more to her after she told me that she was sorry. But what else was there to say?
We traveled along in silence back toward the house, until I realized how intensely selfish I was being.
“I’m sorry, I’m ruining our date. ” I reached over and took Sam’s free hand; he squeezed his fingers around mine. “First I bawled—which I never do, for the record—and now I’m totally distracted by Olivia. ”
“Shut up,” Sam said pleasantly. “We’ve got plenty of day left. And it’s nice to see you…emote…for once. Instead of being so damn stoic. ”
I smiled at the thought. “Stoic? I like it. ”
“Figured you would. But it was nice to not be the wishy-washy one for once. ”
I burst out laughing. “Those aren’t the words I’d use to describe you. ”
“You don’t think of me as a delicate flower in comparison to you?” When I laughed again, he pressed, “Okay, what words would you use, then?”
I leaned back in the seat, thinking, as Sam looked at me doubtfully. He was right to look doubtful. My head didn’t work with words very well—at least not in this abstract, descriptive sort of way. “Sensitive,” I tried.
Sam translated: “Squishy. ”
“Dangerously emo. ”
“Feng shui. ”
I laughed so hard I snorted. “How do you get feng shui out of ’thoughtful’?”
“You know, because in feng shui, you arrange furniture and plants and stuff in thoughtful ways. ” Sam shrugged. “To make you calm. Zenlike. Or something. I’m not one hundred percent sure how it all works, besides the thoughtful part. ”
I playfully punched his arm and looked out the window as we got closer to home. We were driving through a stand of oak trees on the way to my parents’ house. Dull orange-brown leaves, dry and dead, clung to the branches and fluttered in the wind, waiting for the gust of wind that would knock them to the ground. That was what Sam was: transient. A summer leaf clinging to a frozen branch for as long as possible.
“You’re beautiful and sad,” I said finally, not looking at him when I did. “Just like your eyes. You’re like a song that I heard when I was a little kid but forgot I knew until I heard it again. ”
For a long moment there was only the whirring sound of the tires on the road, and then Sam said softly, “Thank you. ”
We went home and slept on my bed all afternoon, our jeancovered legs tangled together and my face buried in his neck, the radio murmuring in the background. Around dinnertime, we wandered out to the kitchen to find food. As Sam carefully assembled sandwiches, I tried calling Olivia.
John answered. “Sorry, Grace. She’s out. Do you want me to tell her anything, or just to call you?”
“Just have her call me,” I said, somehow feeling like I’d let Olivia down. I hung up the phone and ran a finger along the counter absently. I kept thinking about what she had said: Stupid thing to argue about. “Did you notice,” I asked Sam, “when we came in, that it smelled out front? By the front step?”
Sam handed me a sandwich. “Yeah. ”
“Like pee,” I said. “Like wolf pee. ”
Sam’s voice sounded unhappy. “Yeah. ”
“Who do you think it was?”
“I don’t think,” Sam said. “I know. It’s Shelby. I can smell her. She peed on the deck again, too. I smelled it when I was out there yesterday. ”
I remembered her eyes, looking at mine through my bedroom window, and made a face. “Why is she doing this?”
Sam shook his head, and he sounded uncertain when he said, “I just hope it’s about me and not about you. I hope she’s just following me. ” His eyes slid toward the front hallway; distantly, I heard a car coming down the road. “I think that’s your mom. I’m going to vanish. ” I frowned after him as he retreated into my room with his sandwich, the door closing softly behind him, leaving all the questions and doubts about Shelby out here with me.
Out front, the car’s tires rolled into the driveway. I got my backpack and settled down so that by the time Mom came in, I was sitting at the kitchen table staring at a problem set.
Mom whirled in and tossed a pile of papers on the kitchen counter, dragging a rush of cold air in with her. I winced, hoping Sam was impervious behind my bedroom door. Her keys jangled as they slid onto the floor. She picked them up, swearing lightly, and threw them back onto the papers. “Have you eaten yet? I’m feeling snacky. We did paintball on the outing! I mean, his work paid for it. ”
I frowned at her. Half of my brain was still thinking about Shelby, lurking around the house, watching Sam, or watching me. Or watching us together. “What, for group bonding, I guess?”
Mom didn’t answer. She opened the fridge and asked, “Do we have anything I can eat while I watch TV? God! What is this?”
“It’s a pork loin, Mom. It’s for the slow cooker tomorrow. ”
She shuddered and closed the fridge. “It looks like a giant, chilled slug. Do you want to watch a movie with me?”
I looked past her toward the hall, looking for Dad, but the hall was empty. “Where’s Dad?”
“He went out for wings with the new guys from work. You act like I’d only ask you because he’s not here. ” Mom banged around the kitchen, pouring herself granola and leaving the box open on the counter before retreating toward the sofa.
Once upon a time, I would’ve leaped at the rare opportunity of curling up with Mom on the couch. But now, it sort of felt like too little, too late. I had someone else waiting for me.
“I’m feeling a little off,” I told Mom. “I think I’d rather just go to sleep early. ”
I hadn’t realized that I’d wanted her face to fall until it didn’t. She just jumped onto the couch and grabbed the remote control. As I turned to go, she said, “By the way, don’t leave trash bags on the back deck, okay? Animals are getting into it. ”
“Yeah,” I said. I had a feeling I knew which animal in particular. I left her watching the movie on the couch, swept up my homework, and carried it all to my room. Opening my bedroom door, I found Sam curled on my bed, reading a novel by the light of my bedside lamp, looking like he belonged there. I knew he must’ve heard me enter, but he didn’t glance up from his book for a moment, finishing his chapter. I loved looking at the shape his body made while he read, from the curved slope of his neck bent over the pages to the long forms of his sock feet.
Finally, he stuck his finger in the book and closed it, smiling up at me, his eyebrows tipped together in their permanently mournful way. He reached out an arm as an invitation, and I dumped my textbooks at the end of the bed and joined him. He held his novel with one hand and stroked my hair with the other, and together we read the last three chapters. It was a strange book where everyone had been taken from Earth except for the main character and his lover, and they had to choose whether to make their ultimate mission finding the ones who had been taken or having Earth all to themselves and repopulating at their leisure. When we were done, Sam rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. I drew slow circles on his flat stomach with my fingers.
“Which would you choose?” he asked.
In the book, the characters had searched for the others, only to get separated and end up alone. For some reason, Sam’s question made my heart beat a little faster, and I gripped a handful of his T-shirt in my fist.
“Duh,” I said.
Sam’s lips curled up.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that Olivia hadn’t returned my call. When I called her house, her mother told me she was still out.
A little voice inside me said Out where? Where is there to be out in MercyFalls?
That night when I fell asle
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE • SAM
That night, for the first time in a long time, I dreamed of Mr. Dario’s dogs.
I woke, sweaty and shuddering, the taste of blood in my mouth. I rolled away from Grace, feeling like my pounding heart would wake her, and licked my bloody lips. I’d bitten my tongue.
It was so easy to forget the primitive violence of my world when I was human, safe in Grace’s bed. It was easy to see us as she must see us: ghosts in the woods, silent, magical. And if we were only wolves, maybe she would be right. Real wolves wouldn’t be a threat. But these weren’t real wolves.
The dream whispered that I was ignoring the signs. The ones that said I was bringing the violence of my world to Grace’s. Wolves at her school, her friend’s house, and now hers. Wolves that hid human hearts within their pelts.
Lying there in Grace’s bed in the dark room, I strained my ears, listening. I thought I could hear toenails on the deck, and imagined I could smell Shelby’s scent even through the window. I knew she wanted me—wanted what I stood for. I was the favorite of Beck, the human pack leader, and also of Paul, the wolf pack leader, and the logical successor to both. In our little world, I had a lot of power.
And, oh, Shelby wanted power.
Dario’s dogs proved that. When I was thirteen and living in Beck’s house, our nearest neighbor (some seventy-five acres away) moved out and sold his gigantic house to a wealthy eccentric by the name of Mr. Dario. Personally, I didn’t find Mr. Dario himself very impressive. He had a peculiar smell that suggested he’d died and then been preserved. He spent most of the time we were in his house explaining the complicated alarm device he’d installed to protect his antiques business (“He means drugs,” Beck told me later) and waxing poetic about the guard dogs he turned out of his house while he was gone.
Then he showed them to us. They were gargoyles come to life, snarling masks of froth and wrinkled, pale skin. A South American breed meant to guard cattle, Mr. Dario said. He looked pleased when he explained that they would rip a man’s face off and eat it. Beck’s expression was dubious as he said he hoped Mr. Dario didn’t let them off the property. Pointing to collars with metallic prongs on the inside (“Shocks the hell out of the dogs,” Beck said later, and made a jiggling motion to indicate voltage), Mr. Dario assured us that the only people getting their faces ripped off would be the ones sneaking onto the property at night to steal his antiques. He showed us the power box that controlled the dogs’ shock collars and kept them near the house; it was covered with a powdery black paint that left dark smudges on his hands.
Nobody else seemed to think about those dogs, but I was obsessed with them. All I could think about was them getting loose and tearing Beck or Paul to pieces, ripping one of their faces off and eating it. For weeks, I was preoccupied with the idea of the dogs, and in the heat of summer, I found Beck in the kitchen, in shorts and a T-shirt, basting ribs for the barbecue.