Shiver, page 29part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
I didn’t look at her when I answered. “Methinks the mom doth protest too much. ”
I heard her sigh. “I guess everyone wants their kid to turn out like them. All Grace cares about is numbers and books and the way things work. It’s hard for me to understand her. ”
“And vice versa. ”
“Yes. But you’re an artist, aren’t you? You must be. ”
I shrugged. I had noticed a guitar case sitting close to the door of her studio, and I was itching to find chords for some of the tunes in my head. “Not with paint. I play a little guitar. ”
There was a long pause as she watched me looking at a painting of a fox peering out from beneath a parked car, and then she said, “Do you wear contacts?”
I’d been asked the question so many times that I didn’t even wonder anymore at how much nerve it had taken to ask it. “Nope. ”
“I’m having a terrible painter’s block right now. I would love to do a quick study of you. ” She laughed. It was a very self-conscious sound. “That’s why I was ogling you downstairs. I just thought it would make an amazing color study, your black hair and your eyes. You remind me of the wolves in our woods. Did Grace tell you about them?”
My body stiffened. It felt too close, like she was prying, especially after the run-in with Olivia. My immediate wolfish instinct was to bolt. Tear down the stairs, rip open the door, and melt into the safety of the trees. It took me several long moments to battle the desire to run and convince myself that she couldn’t possibly know, and that I was reading too much into her words. Another long moment to realize that I had been standing for too long not saying anything.
“Oh—I don’t mean to make it awkward for you. ” Her words tumbled over each other. “You don’t have to sit for me. I know some people feel really self-conscious. And you probably want to be getting back downstairs to Grace. ”
I felt obliged to make up for my rudeness. “No—no, that’s okay. I mean, I do feel sort of self-conscious about it. Can I do something while you paint me? I mean, so I don’t have to just sit and stare off into space?”
She literally ran over to her easel. “No! Of course not. Why don’t you play the guitar? Oh, this is going to be great. Thank you. You can just sit over there, under those lights. ” While I retrieved the guitar case, she ran across her studio several more times, getting a chair for me, adjusting the spotlights, and draping a yellow sheet to reflect golden light on one side of my face.
“Do I have to try to stay still?”
She waved a paintbrush at me, as if that would answer my question, then propped a new canvas against her easel and squeezed gobs of black paint onto a palette. “No, no, just play away. ”
So I tuned the guitar, and I sat there in the golden light and played and hummed the songs under my breath, thinking of all the times I’d sat on Beck’s couch and played songs for the pack, of Paul playing his guitar with me and us singing harmonies. In the background, I heard the scrape, scrape of the palette knife and the whuff of the brush on the canvas and wondered what she was doing with my face while I wasn’t paying attention.
“I can hear you humming,” she said. “Do you sing?”
I grunted, still fingerpicking idly.
Her brush never ceased moving. “Are those your songs?”
“Have you written one for Grace?”
I had written a thousand songs for Grace. “Yes. ”
“I’d like to hear it. ”
I didn’t stop playing, just modulated carefully into a major key. For the first time this year, I sang out loud. It was the happiest tune I’d ever written, and the simplest.
I fell for her in summer, my lovely summer girl
From summer she is made, my lovely summer girl
I’d love to spend a winter with my lovely summer girl
But I’m never warm enough for my lovely summer girl
It’s summer when she smiles, I’m laughing like a child
It’s the summer of our lives; we’ll contain it for a while
She holds the heat, the breeze of summer in the circle of
I’d be happy with this summer if it’s all we ever had.
She looked at me. “I don’t know what to say. ” She showed me her arm. “I have goose bumps. ”
I set the guitar down, very carefully, so the strings wouldn’t make any sound. Suddenly it seemed very pressing to spend my moments, so precious and numbered, with Grace.
And in the moment I made that decision, there was a terrific crash from downstairs. It was so loud and so wrong that for a moment her mother and I just frowned at each other as if we couldn’t believe that the sound had happened.
Then there was the scream.
Right after, I heard a snarl, and was out of the room before I could hear any more.
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX • SAM
I remembered Shelby’s face when she asked, “Would you like to see my scars?”
“From what?” I replied.
“From when I was attacked. From the wolves. ”
She showed me anyway. Her belly was lumpy with scar tissue that disappeared under her bra. “It looked like hamburger after they bit me. ”
I didn’t want to know.
Shelby didn’t pull her shirt back down. “It must be hell when we kill something. We must be the worst way to die. ”
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN • SAM
A riot of sensations assaulted me as soon as I got into the living room. Viciously cold air stung my eyes and twisted my stomach. My eyes quickly found the ragged hole in the door to the back deck; partially cracked glass hung precariously in the frame and thin, pink-stained shards lay all over the floor, winking light back up at me.
The chair at the breakfast nook was knocked over. It looked like someone had splattered red paint on the floor, endless erratic shapes dropped and smeared from the door to the kitchen. Then I smelled Shelby. For a moment I stood there, frozen by the absence of Grace and the frigid air and the stench of blood and wet fur.
It had to be Grace, though her voice sounded strange and unrecognizable—someone pretending to be Grace. I scrambled, slipping in the spots of blood, gripping the doorjamb to pull myself into the kitchen.
The scene was surreal in the pleasant light of the kitchen. Bloody pawprints pointed the direction to where Shelby shook and twisted, Grace pinned to the cupboards. Grace was struggling, kicking, but Shelby was massive and reeked of adrenaline. I saw a flash of pain in Grace’s eyes, honest and wide, before Shelby jerked her body away. I’d seen this image before.
I didn’t feel the cold anymore. I saw an iron skillet sitting on the stove and grabbed it; my arm ached with the weight of it. I didn’t want to hit Grace—I smashed it on Shelby’s hip.
Shelby snarled back at me, teeth snapping together. We didn’t have to speak the same language to know what she was telling me. Stay back. An image filled my field of vision, clear, perfect, riveting: Grace lying on the kitchen floor, flopping, dying, while Shelby watched. I was paralyzed by this clarion picture dropped into my thoughts—this is how it must’ve felt when I showed Grace the image of the golden wood. It felt like a razor-sharp memory, a memory of Grace gasping for breath.
I dropped the skillet and threw myself at Shelby.
I found her muzzle where she was clamped onto Grace’s arm, and I felt back to her jaw. Pressing my fingers into the tender skin, I jammed upward, into her windpipe, until Shelby yelped. Her grip loosened enough for me to push off the cabinets with my feet and roll her off Grace. We scrabbled across the floor, her nails clicking and scraping on the tile and my shoes squeaking and slipping in the blood she dripped.
She snarled beneath me, furious, snapping at my face but stopping short of biting me. The image of Grace lifeless on the floor just kept going through my head.
In my mind, I could see perfectly what it would look like to kill Shelby.
She jerked away from me, out of my hands, as if she’d read my thoughts.
“Dad, no, watch out!” Grace shouted.
A gun exploded, close by.
For a brief moment, time stood still. Not really still. It sort of danced and shimmered in place, the lights flickering and dimming before reappearing. If that moment had been a real thing, it would’ve been a butterfly, flapping and fluttering toward the sun.
Shelby fell out of my grip, deadweight, and I fell back into the cabinets behind me.
She was dead. Or at least close, because she was jerking. But all I could seem to think about was how I’d made a mess of the kitchen floor. I just stared at the white squares of linoleum, my eyes following the streaky lines my shoes had made through the blood and finding the one red pawprint in the center of the kitchen that had somehow been perfectly preserved.
I couldn’t figure how I could smell the blood so strongly, and then I looked down at my shaking arms and saw the red smeared on my hands and over my wrists. I had to struggle to remember that it was Shelby’s blood. She was dead. This was her blood. Not mine. Hers.
My parents counted backward, slowly, and blood welled up from my veins.
I was going to throw up.
I was ice.
“We have to move him!” The girl’s voice was piercingly loud in the silence. “Get him someplace warm. I’m all right. I’m all right. I just—help me move him!”
Their voices tore into my head, too loud and too many. I sensed movement all around me, their bodies and my skin whirling and spinning, but deep inside me, there was a part that held completely still.
Grace. I held on to that one name. If I kept that in my head, I would be okay.
I was shaking, shaking; my skin was peeling away.
My bones squeezed, pinched, pressed against my muscles.
Her eyes held me even after I stopped feeling her fingers gripping my arms.
“Sam,” she said. “Don’t go. ”
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT • GRACE
“Who could do that to a child?” Mom made a face. I wasn’t sure if the face was because of what I’d just told her or because of the pee and antiseptic smell of the hospital.
I shrugged and wriggled uncomfortably on the hospital bed. I didn’t really need to be here. The gash on my arm hadn’t even needed stitches. I just wanted to see Sam.
“So he’s really messed up then. ” Mom frowned at the television above the hospital bed, though it was turned off. She didn’t wait for me to respond. “Well, of course. Of course he is. He would have to be. You don’t live through that without being messed up. Poor kid. He looked like he was really in pain. ”
I hoped Mom would quit babbling about this by the time Sam was done talking to the nurse. I didn’t want to think about the curve of his shoulders, the unnatural shape that his body had formed in response to the cold. And I hoped Sam would understand why I’d told Mom about his parents—her knowing about them had to be better than her knowing about the wolves. “I told you, Mom. It really bothers him to remember. Of course he freaked out when he saw the blood on his arms. It’s classical conditioning, or whatever they call it. Google it. ”