Shiver, page 28part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“You’re not like that. You know you’re not,” he said. “They’re just silly, selfish people, that’s all. I’m sorry I asked, okay? Let’s just watch this dumb movie. ”
I laid my cheek against his chest and listened to the thump- thump of his heart. It sounded so normal, just a regular human heart. He’d been human long enough now that I almost couldn’t detect the faint odor of the woods on him or remember what it felt like to bury my fingers in his ruff. Sam turned up the volume on the aliens and we sat like that, one creature in two bodies, for a long time, until I forgot what I’d been upset about and I was myself again.
“I wish I had what you have,” I said.
“What do I have?”
“Your pack. Beck. Ulrik. When you talk about them, I can see how important they are to you,” I said. “They made you this person. ” I pushed a finger into his chest. “They’re wonderful, so you’re wonderful. ”
Sam closed his eyes. “I don’t know about that. ” He opened them again. “Anyway, your parents made you who you are, too. Do you think you’d be so independent if they were around more? At least you’re someone when they’re not around. I feel like I’m not who I was before. Because so much of being me is being with Beck and Ulrik and the others. ”
I heard a car pull into the driveway and straightened up. I knew Sam had heard it, too. “Time to vanish,” he said.
But I held on to his arm. “I’m tired of sneaking around. I think it’s time for you to meet them. ”
He didn’t argue, but he threw a worried glance in the direction of the front door.
“And now we come to the end,” he said.
“Don’t be melodramatic. They won’t kill you. ”
He looked at me.
Heat flushed my cheeks. “Sam, I didn’t mean it like—God. I’m sorry. ” I wanted to look away from his face, but I couldn’t seem to, like watching a car crash. I kept waiting for the collision, but his expression never changed. It was as if there was a little disconnect between the memories of Sam’s parents and his emotions, a slight misfire that mercifully kept him whole.
Sam rescued me by changing the subject, which was incredibly generous. “Should I play the friendly boyfriend or are we just friends?”
“Boyfriend. I’m not pretending. ”
Sam edged two inches away from me and pulled his arm from behind my head, resting it on the back of the couch behind me instead. To the wall, he said, “Hello, Grace’s parents. I’m Grace’s boyfriend. Please notice the chaste distance between us. I am very responsible and have never had my tongue in your daughter’s mouth. ”
The door cracked open and both of us jumped with matching nervous laughs.
“Is that you, Grace?” Mom’s voice called lightly from the hallway. “Or are you a burglar?”
“Burglar,” I called back.
“I’m going to wet myself,” Sam whispered in my ear.
“Are you sure that’s you, Grace?” Mom sounded suspicious; she wasn’t used to me laughing. “Is Rachel here?”
Dad came first into the living room doorway and stopped, immediately spotting Sam.
In a barely perceptible movement, Sam turned his head just enough that the light didn’t catch his yellow eyes, an automatic gesture that made me realize for the first time that Sam had been an oddity even before he’d been a wolf.
Dad’s eyes were on Sam, just looking. Sam was looking back, tense but not terrified. Would he be sitting so calmly if he knew that Dad had been one of the hunting party in the woods? I was suddenly ashamed of my father, just another human that the wolves had to fear; I was glad I hadn’t said anything to Sam.
My voice was tight. “Dad, this is Sam. Sam, this is Dad. ”
Dad looked at him for a split second more, and then smiled widely. “Please tell me you’re a boyfriend. ”
Sam’s eyes became perfectly round and I let out a big breath.
“Yes, he’s a boyfriend, Dad. ”
“Well, that’s nice. I was beginning to think you didn’t do that kind of thing. ”
“What’s going on in there?” Mom’s voice was distant. She was already in the kitchen, rummaging in the fridge. The food at the brunch must’ve been bad. “Who’s Sam?”
“My boyfriend. ”
With Mom’s presence came an ever-present cloud of turpentine vapors; she had paint smeared on her lower arms. Knowing Mom, I guessed she’d intentionally left herself that way when she went out. She looked from me to Sam and back to me again, her expression quizzical.
“Mom, this is Sam. Sam, Mom. ”
I smelled emotions rolling off both of them, though I couldn’t tell which ones, exactly. Mom was staring at Sam’s eyes, just staring and staring, and Sam seemed fixed in place. I punched his arm.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, voice automatic.
“Mom,” I hissed. “Mom. Earth to Mom. ”
To her credit, she looked slightly abashed when she snapped out of it. She said to Sam, apologetic, “Your face looks very familiar. ” Yeah. Right. As if even an infant couldn’t tell it was a transparent excuse for staring at his eyes.
“I used to work at the bookstore downtown?” Sam’s voice was hopeful.
Mom wagged a finger at him. “I’ll bet that’s it. ” She beamed at Sam then, used her hundred-watt smile, erasing any social atrocity she may have just committed. “Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m going to go upstairs and work for a while. ” She displayed her painted arms, indicating what she meant by “work,” and I felt a brief flash of irritation toward her. I knew her serial flirtation was just habitual, a knee-jerk reaction to any unfamiliar guy who had reached puberty, but still. Grow up.
Sam surprised me by saying, “I’d like to see the studio, while I’m here, if you don’t mind. Grace told me a little bit about your art and I’d love to see it. ” This was partially true. I’d told him about a particularly nauseating show of hers I’d gone to where all of the paintings were named after types of clouds but were portraits of women in bathing suits. “Meaningful” art sailed over my head. I didn’t get it. I didn’t want to get it.
Mom smiled in a plastic sort of way. She probably thought Sam’s understanding of meaningful art was similar to mine.
I looked at Sam dubiously. This sort of sucking up seemed unlike him. After Mom had vanished upstairs and Dad had vanished into his study, I demanded, “Are you a sucker for punishment?”
Sam unmuted the television in time for a woman to be eaten by something with tentacles. All that was left after the attack was a fake-looking severed arm lying on the sidewalk. “I just think I need to make her like me. ”
“The only person in this house who has to like you is me. Don’t worry about them. ”
Sam picked up a sofa cushion and hugged it to himself, pressing his face into it. His voice was muffled. “She might have to put up with me for a long time, you know?”
His smile was amazingly sweet. “The longest. ”
Sam’s lips smiled, but above his grin, his yellow eyes turned sad, as if he knew it was a lie. “Longer. ”
I closed the distance between us and settled into the crook of his arm, and we went back to watching the tentacled alien slowly creep through the sewer system of an unsuspecting town. Sam’s eyes flickered around the screen, as if he was actually watching the futile intergalactic battle, but I sat there and tried to figure out why Sam had to change and I didn’t.
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE • SAM
After the sci-fi flick ended (the world was saved, but civilian casualties were high), I sat with Grace at the little breakfast table near the door to the deck and watched her do her homework for a while. I was unimaginably tired—the colder weather gnawed at me like an ache, even when it couldn’t get a tight enough grip to change me—and I would’ve liked to crawl into Grace’s bed or onto the couc
It was easy to find; there were only two doors in the hallway upstairs and an orange, chemical smell wafted out from one of them. The door was slightly ajar. I pushed it open and blinked. The entire room was brilliantly lit by lamps fitted with bulbs meant to mimic natural light, and the effect was a cross between a desert at noon and a Wal-Mart.
The walls were hidden behind towering canvases that leaned against every available surface. Gorgeous riots of color, realistic figures in unrealistic poses, normal shapes in abnormal colors, the unexpected in ordinary places. The paintings were like falling into a dream, where everything you know is presented in an unfamiliar way. Anything’s possible in this lush rabbit hole / Is it mirror or portrait you’ve given to me? / All of these permutations of dreams will patrol / this lovely wasteland of color I see.
I stood before two larger-than-life paintings leaning against one of the walls. Both were of a man kissing a woman’s neck, poses identical but colors radically different. One was shot through with reds and purples. It was bright, ugly, commercial. The other was dark, blue, lavender, hard to read. Understated and lovely. It reminded me of kissing Grace in the bookstore, how she felt in my arms, warm and real.
“Which one do you like?”
Her mom’s voice sounded bright and approachable. I imagined it as her gallery voice. The one she used to lure viewers’ wallets into sight so that she could shoot them.
I tilted my head toward the blue one. “No contest. ”
“Really?” She sounded genuinely surprised. “No one has ever said that before. That one’s much more popular. ” She stepped into my view so that I could see that she was pointing at the red one. “I’ve sold hundreds of prints of it. ”
“It’s very pretty,” I said kindly, and she laughed.
“It’s hideous. Do you know what they’re called?” She pointed to the blue one, then the red one. “Love and Lust. ”
I smiled at her. “Guess I failed my testosterone test, didn’t I?”
“Because you chose Love? I don’t think so, but that’s just me. Grace told me it was stupid of me to paint the same thing twice. She said his eyes are too close together in both of them, anyway. ”
I grinned. “Sounds like something she would say. But she’s not an artist. ”
Her mouth twisted into a rueful shape. “No. She’s very practical. I don’t know where she got that from. ”
I walked slowly to the next set of paintings—wildlife walking through clothing racks, deer perched on high-rise windows, fish peering up through storm drains. “That disappoints you. ”
“Oh, no. No. Grace is just Grace, and you just have to take her the way she is. ” She hung back, letting me look, years of good sales training in subconscious practice. “And I suppose she’ll have an easier time in life because she’ll get a nice normal job and be good and stable. ”