Shiver, page 32part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Isabel made an irritated little noise. “You see the photos. He’s alive. He’s right there. ”
I looked back at Jack, staring out of the woods. He looked cold in his new skin. “I don’t know what you want me to say. What do you want from me?”
She seemed to be struggling with herself. For a second, she looked like she might snap at me, and then she closed her eyes. She opened them and looked away, at the whiteboard. “You don’t have a brother, do you? Any siblings, right?”
“No. I’m an only child. ”
Isabel shrugged. “Then I don’t know how I can explain. He’s my brother. I thought he was dead. But he’s not. He’s alive. He’s right there, but I don’t know where there is. I don’t know what that is. But I think—I think you do. Only you won’t help me. ” She looked at me and her eyes flashed, fierce. “What have I ever done to you?”
I stumbled over the words. The truth was, Jack was her brother. It seemed like she ought to know. If only it wasn’t Isabel asking. I said, “Isabel…you have to know why I’m afraid to talk to you. I know you haven’t done anything to me personally. But I know people you’ve destroyed. Just…tell me why I should trust you. ”
Isabel snatched back the photos and stuffed them back in her bag. “What you said. Because I’ve never done anything to you. Or maybe because I think whatever’s wrong with Jack—I think that’s what’s wrong with your boyfriend, too. ”
I was abnormally paralyzed by the thought of the photos that I hadn’t seen in that stack. Was Sam in there? Maybe Olivia had known about the wolves for longer than I had—I tried to replay exactly what Olivia had said during our argument, trying to remember any double meaning. Isabel was staring at me, waiting for me to say something, and I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I snapped, “Okay, stop staring at me. Let me think. ” The classroom door thumped as students began strolling in for class. I ripped a page out of my notebook and jotted my phone number on it. “That’s my cell. Call me after school sometime and we’ll figure out someplace to meet. I guess. ”
Isabel took the number. I expected to see satisfaction on her face, but to my surprise, she looked as sick as I felt. The wolves were a secret no one wanted to share.
“We have a problem. ”
Sam turned in the driver’s seat to look at me. “Aren’t you supposed to still be in class?”
“I got out early. ” Last class was Art. Nobody was going to miss me and my hideous clay-and-wire sculpture, anyway. “Isabel knows. ”
Sam blinked, slowly. “Who’s Isabel?”
“Jack’s sister, remember?” I turned down the heat—Sam had it set to hell—and shoved my backpack down by my feet. I explained the confrontation to him, leaving out how creepy the Jack-human photo was. “I have no idea what the other photos were. ”
Sam immediately bypassed the Isabel question. “They were Olivia’s photos?”
Worry was written all over his face. “I wonder if this has something to do with the way Olivia was at the bookstore. With me. ” When I didn’t answer, he looked at the steering wheel, or at something just past it. “If she knew what we were, it makes her entire eye comment very logical. She was trying to get us to confess. ”
I said, “Yeah, actually. That would make a lot of sense. ”
He sighed heavily. “Suddenly I’m thinking about what Rachel said. About the wolf that was at Olivia’s house. ”
I closed my eyes and opened them again, still seeing the image of Jack with his arms wrapped around himself. “Ugh. I don’t want to think about that. What about Isabel? I can’t really avoid her. And I can’t keep lying; I just look like an idiot. ”
Sam half smiled at me. “Well, I would ask you what sort of person she is and what you thought we ought to do—”
“—but I suck at reading people,” I finished for him.
“You said it, not me. Just remember that. ”
“Okay, so what do we do? Why do I feel like I’m the only one in panic mode here? You’re completely…calm. ”
Sam shrugged. “Total lack of preparedness for such a thing, probably. I don’t think I know what to plan for without meeting her. If I had talked to her when she had the photos, maybe I’d be worried, but right now, I can’t think of it concretely. I don’t know, Isabel sounds like a pleasant sort of name. ”
I laughed. “Barking up the wrong tree there. ”
He made a melodramatic face, and the twisted rueful agony in it was so overdone that it made me feel better. “Is she awful?”
“I used to think so. Now?” I shrugged. “Jury’s still out. So what do we do?”
“I think we have to meet her. ”
“Both of us? Where?”
“Yes, both. This isn’t just your problem. I dunno. Someplace quiet. Someplace I can get a feel for her before we decide what to tell her. ” He frowned. “She wouldn’t be the first family member to find out. ”
I knew from his frown that he couldn’t be talking about his parents—his expression wouldn’t have changed if he had. “She wouldn’t?”
“Beck’s wife knew. ”
“Breast cancer. It was long before me. I never knew her. I only found out about her from Paul, and by accident then. Beck didn’t want me to know about her. I guess because most people don’t do well with us, and he didn’t want me thinking I could just go out and get me a nice little wife of my own, or something. ”
It seemed unfair, that two such tragedies should strike a couple. I realized, too late to comment on it, that I’d almost missed the unfamiliar bitterness in his voice. I thought about saying something, asking him about Beck, but the moment was gone, lost in noise as Sam turned up the radio and hit the accelerator.
He backed the Bronco out of the parking space, his forehead furrowed with thought. “To heck with the rules,” Sam said. “I want to meet her. ”
CHAPTER FORTY-TWO • SAM
The first words I ever heard Isabel say were: “Can I ask why the hell we’re making quiche instead of talking about my brother?” She had just climbed out of a massive white SUV that basically took over the Brisbanes’ entire driveway. My first impression of her was tall—probably because of the five-inch heels on the ass-kicking boots she wore—followed by ringlets—because her head had more of them than a porcelain doll.
“No,” Grace said, and I loved her because of the way she said it, no negotiation allowed.
Isabel made a noise that, if converted into a missile, had enough vitriol to obliterate a small country. “So can I ask who he is?”
I glanced at her in time to see her checking out my butt. She looked away quickly as I echoed, “No. ”
Grace led us into the house. Turning to Isabel in the front hallway, she said, “Don’t ask any questions about Jack. My mom’s home. ”
“Is that you, Grace?” Grace’s mom called from upstairs.
“Yes! We’re making quiche!” Grace hung up her coat and motioned for us to do the same.
“I brought some stuff back from the studio, just shove it out of your way!” her mom shouted back.
Isabel wrinkled her nose and kept her fur-lined jacket on, stuffing her hands in the pockets and standing back while Grace shoved boxes toward the walls of the room to clear a path through the clutter. Isabel looked profoundly out of place in the comfortably crowded kitchen. I couldn’t decide whether her perfect artificial ringlets made the not-quite-white linoleum floor look more pathetic or whether the old cracked floor made her hair look more perfect and fake. Until now, I hadn’t ever seen the kitchen as shabby.
Isabel shuffled back even farther as Grace shoved up her sleeves and washed her hands at the sink.
“Sam, turn on that radio and find something good, will you?”
I found a little boom box on the counter amongst some tins of salt and sugar and turned it on.
“God, we really are going to make quiche,”
Grace’s mom came in then, smelling of orange-scented turps. “Hi, Sam. You’re making quiche, too?”
“Trying,” I said earnestly.
She laughed. “How fun. Who’s this?”
“Isabel,” Grace said. “Mom, do you know where that green cookbook is? I had it right here forever. It’s got the quiche recipe in it. ”
Her mom shrugged helplessly and knelt by one of the boxes on the floor. “It must’ve walked off. What in the world is on the radio? Sam, you can make it do something better than that. ”
While Grace fumbled through some cookbooks tucked away on a corner of the counter, I clicked through the radio stations until Grace’s mom said, “Stop right there!” when I got to some rather funky-sounding pop station. She stood, holding a box. “I think my work here is done. Have fun, kids. I’ll be back…sometime. ”
Grace barely seemed to notice her leaving. She gestured at me. “Isabel, eggs and cheese and milk are in the fridge. Sam, we need to make plain old piecrusts. Would you preheat the oven to four-fifty and get us some pans?”
Isabel was staring inside the fridge. “There’s, like, eight thousand kinds of cheese in here. It all looks the same to me. ”
“You do the oven, let Sam get the cheese and stuff. He knows food,” Grace said. She was standing on her tiptoes to get flour out of an overhead cupboard; it stretched her body gorgeously and made me want in the worst way to touch the bare skin exposed on her lower back. But then she heaved the flour down and I’d missed my chance, so I traded places with Isabel, grabbed some sharp cheddar and eggs and milk, and threw it all on the counter.
Grace was already involved with cutting shortening and flour in a bowl by the time I’d finished cracking eggs and whisking in some mayonnaise. The kitchen was suddenly full of activity, as if we were legion.
“What the hell is this?” Isabel demanded, staring at a package Grace had handed her.
Grace snorted with laughter. “It’s a mushroom. ”
“It looks like it came out of a cow’s rear end. ”
“I’d like that cow,” Grace said, leaning past Isabel to slap some butter into a saucepan. “Its butt would be worth a million. Sauté those in there for a few minutes till they’re nice and yummy. ”
“Till they’re yummy,” I repeated.
“You heard the boy,” Grace said. She reached out a hand. “Pan!”
“Help her,” I told Isabel. “I’ll take care of yummy, since you can’t. ”