Shiver, page 30part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Mom squeezed her arms around herself. “If he hadn’t been there, though…”
“Yes, I would’ve died, blah blah blah. But he was there. Why is everyone more worked up about this than I am?” Many of Shelby’s teeth marks had already become ugly bruises instead—though I didn’t heal nearly as quickly as Sam had when he was shot.
“Because you have no survival instinct, Grace. You’re like a tank, you just chug along, thinking nothing can stop you, until you meet up with a bigger tank. Are you sure you want to go out with someone with that kind of history?” Mom seemed to warm to her theory. “He could have a psychotic break. I read that people get those when they’re twenty-eight. He could be almost normal and then suddenly go slasher. I mean, you know I’ve never told you what to do with your life before now. But what if—what if I asked you to not see him?”
I hadn’t expected that. My voice was brittle. “I would say that by virtue of your not acting parental up to this point, you’ve relinquished your ability to wield any power now. Sam and I are together. It’s not an option. ”
Mom threw her hands up as if trying to stop the Grace-tank from running over her. “Okay. Fine. Just be careful, okay? Whatever. I’m going to go get a drink. ”
And just like that, her parental energies were expended. She had played Mom by driving us to the hospital, watching the nurse tend to my wounds, and warning me off my psychotic boyfriend, and now she was done. It was obvious I was going to live, so she was off duty.
A few minutes after she’d left, the door clicked open, and Sam came to the side of my bed, looking pale and tired under the greenish lights. Tired, but human.
“What did they do to you?” I asked.
His mouth quirked into a smile completely without humor. “Gave me a bandage for a cut that has healed since they put it on. What did you tell her?” He glanced around for Mom.
“I told her about your parents and said that’s what was wrong with you. She believed me. It’s cool. Are you all right? Are you—” I wasn’t sure what I was asking. Finally, I said, “Dad said she was dead. Shelby. I guess she couldn’t heal like you did. It was too fast. ”
Sam laid his palms on either side of my neck and kissed me. He pressed his forehead against mine so that we were staring at each other and it looked like he had only one eye. “I’m going to hell. ”
His one eye blinked. “Because I should be feeling bad about her being dead. ”
I pulled back so I could see his expression; it was strangely empty. I wasn’t sure what to say in light of that information, but Sam saved me by taking my hands and squeezing them tightly. “I know I should be upset right now. But I just feel like I’ve dodged this huge missile. I didn’t change, you’re all right, and for the moment, she’s just one less thing for me to worry about. I just feel—I feel drunk. ”
“Mom thinks you’re damaged goods,” I told him.
Sam kissed me again, closed his eyes for a moment, and then kissed me a third time, lightly. “I am. Do you want to run away?”
I didn’t know if he meant from the hospital, or from him.
“Mr. Roth?” a nurse appeared in the door. “You can stay in here, but you should sit down for this. ”
Like me, Sam had to get a series of rabies shots—standard hospital procedure for unprovoked animal attacks. It wasn’t like we could tell the staff that Sam knew the animal personally and that said animal had been homicidal, not rabid. I shuffled over to make room for Sam, who sat beside me with an uneasy glance toward the syringe in the nurse’s hands.
“Don’t look at the needle,” the nurse advised as she pushed up his bloody sleeve with rubber-gloved hands. Sam looked away, to my face, but his eyes were distant and unfocused, his mind somewhere else as the nurse stuck the needle into his skin. As I watched her depress the syringe, I fantasized that it was a cure for Sam—liquid summer injected right into his veins.
There was a knock on the door and another nurse stuck her face in. “Brenda, are you done?” the second nurse asked. “I think they need you in 302. There’s a girl going crazy in there. ”
“Oh, wonderful,” Brenda said, with deep sarcasm. “You two are done. ” To me, she said, “I’ll get your paperwork to your mom when I’m done. ”
“Thanks,” Sam said, and took my hand. Together we walked down the hall, and for a strange moment, it felt like the first night that we’d met, like no time at all had passed.
“Wait,” I said as we passed through the emergency room waiting area, and Sam let me pull him to a halt. I squinted across the busy room, but the woman I thought I’d seen was gone.
“Who are you looking for?”
“I thought I saw Olivia’s mom. ” I squinted across the waiting room again, but there were only unfamiliar faces.
I saw Sam’s nostrils flare and his eyebrows draw a little closer to his eyes, but he didn’t say anything as we made our way to the glass hospital doors. Outside, Mom had already pulled the car up to the curb, not knowing what a favor she had done for Sam.
Beyond the car, tiny snowflakes swirled, the cold delicately embodied. Sam’s eyes were on the trees on the other side of the parking lot, barely visible in the streetlights. I wondered if he was thinking about the deadly chill that seeped through the cracks in the door, or about Shelby’s broken body that would never be human again, or if, like me, he was still thinking about that imaginary syringe full of liquid summer.
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE • SAM
My patchwork life: quiet Sunday, coffee on Grace’s breath, the unfamiliar landscape of the lumpy new scar on my arm, the dangerous smell of snow in the air. Two different worlds circling each other, getting closer and closer, knotting together in ways I’d never imagined.
My near-change of the day before still hung over me, the dusky memory of wolf odor caught in my hair and on the tips of my fingers. It would’ve been so easy to give in. Even now, twenty-four hours later, I felt like my body was still fighting it.
I was so tired.
I tried to lose myself in a novel, curled in a squashy leather chair, half dozing. Ever since the evening temperatures had begun to pitch sharply downward in the last few days, we’d been spending our free time in her father’s largely unused study. Other than her bedroom, it was the warmest and least drafty place in the house. I liked the room. The walls were lined with dark-spined encyclopedias, too old to be useful, and stacked with dark wooden award plaques for marathon running, too old to be meaningful. The entire study was very small and brown, a rabbit hole made of dark leather, smoky-smelling wood, and manila folders: It was a place to be safe and productive.
Grace sat at the desk doing homework, her hair illuminated like an old painting by a couple of dull gold desk lamps. The way she sat, head bent in stubborn concentration, held my attention in the way that my book didn’t.
I realized that Grace’s pen hadn’t moved in a long while. I asked, “What are you thinking about?”
She spun the desk chair around to face me and tapped her pen on her lip; it was a charming gesture that made me want to kiss her. “Washer and dryer. I was thinking about how when I move out, I’ll either have to use the laundromat or buy a washer and dryer. ”
I just looked at her, equal parts entranced and horrified by this strange look into the workings of her mind. “That was distracting you from your homework?”
“I was not distracted,” Grace said stiffly. “I was giving myself a break from reading this stupid short story for English. ” She whirled back around and leaned back over the desk.
There was quiet for several long moments; she still didn’t put pen to paper. Finally, without lifting her head, she said, “Do you think there’s a cure?”
I closed my eyes and sighed. “Oh, Grace. ”
Grace persisted, “Tell me, then. Is it science? Or is it magic? What you are?”
“Does it matter which?”
I didn’t open my eyes. “One day a wolf bit a man and the man caught it. Magic or science, it’s all the same. The only thing magical about it is that we can’t explain it. ”
Grace didn’t say anything more, but I could feel her disquiet. I sat there silently, hiding behind my book, knowing that she needed words from me—words I wasn’t willing to give. I wasn’t sure which of us was being more selfish—her, for wanting something that no one could promise, or me, for not promising her something that was too painfully impossible to want.
Before either of us could break the uneasy silence, the door to the study pushed open and her father came in, his wire frames fogged from the temperature change. He scanned the room, taking in the changes we’d made to it. The underused guitar from her mother’s studio leaning against my chair. My pile of tattered paperbacks on the side table. The neat stack of sharpened pencils on his desk. His eyes lingered on the coffeemaker Grace had brought in to satisfy her caffeine cravings; he seemed as fascinated by it as I had been. A child-sized coffeemaker. For toddlers who needed a quick pick-me-up. “We’re home. Have you guys taken over my room?”
“It was being neglected,” Grace said, without looking up from her homework. “It was too useful to let it go to waste. And now you can’t have it back. ”
“Obviously,” he observed. He looked at me, sunk into his chair. “What are you reading?”
I said, “Bel Canto. ”
“I’ve never heard of it. What’s it about?”
He squinted at the cover; I held it out so that he could see it. “Opera singers and chopping onions. And guns. ”
To my surprise, her father’s expression cleared and filled with understanding. “Sounds like something Grace’s mother would read. ”
Grace turned around in the desk chair. “Dad, what did you do with the body?”
He blinked. “What?”
“After you shot it. What did you do with the body?”
“Oh. I put it on the deck. ”
Grace pushed away from the desk, exasperated. “And what did you do with it after that? I know you didn’t leave it to rot on the deck. ”
A slow, sick feeling was beginning to knot in the bottom of my stomach.
“Grace, why is this such an issue? I’m sure Mom took care of it. ”
Grace pressed her fingers into her forehead. “Dad, how can you think that Mom moved it? She was with us at the hospital!”
“I didn’t really think about it. I was going to call animal control to pick it up, but it was gone the next morning, so I thought one of you guys must’ve called them. ”
Grace made a little strangled noise. “Dad! Mom can’t even call to order pizza! How would she call animal control?”
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