Shiver, page 41part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Beck slammed his phone down on the counter and turned away from Paul and me. He linked his arms behind his head. The motion was so Sam that it pierced me.
“I’ve got it open. It stinks. There’s crap everywhere. There’s nothing—oh. ” She broke off, and her breathing came through the phone, heavier than before.
“Wait a sec—shut up—I’m taking my coat off. He’s here, okay? Sam. Sam, look at me. Sam, I said, look at me, you bastard, you’re not turning into a wolf right now. Don’t you dare do this to her. ”
I sank slowly down beside the counter, cupping the phone against my head. Paul’s face didn’t change; he just watched me, still, quiet, dark, wolf.
I heard a smacking sound and a softly breathed swearword, then wind roaring across the speaker. “I’m getting him inside. Thank God my parents aren’t home tonight. I’ll call you in a few minutes. I need both my hands now. ”
The phone went silent in my hands. I looked up at Paul, who was still watching me, wondering what I should say to him, but I felt like he already knew.
CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE • GRACE
Sleet danced off my windshield as I turned down the Culpepers’ driveway, and the pines seemed to swallow the headlights. The hulking house was nearly invisible in the darkness except for a handful of lights shining in the windows of the ground floor. I pointed the Bronco toward them like I was steering a ship toward lights on shore, and pulled up next to Isabel’s white SUV. No other cars.
I grabbed Sam’s extra coat and leaped out. Isabel greeted me at the back door, leading me through a smoky-smelling mudroom full of boots and dog leashes and antlers. The smoky smell only increased as we left the mudroom and made our way through a beautiful, stark kitchen. An uneaten sandwich sat, abandoned, on the counter.
Isabel said, “He’s in the living room next to the fire. He just stopped throwing up before you got here. He puked all over the carpet. But that’s okay because I like having my parents pissed at me. No point interrupting a constant pattern. ”
“Thank you,” I said, more intensely grateful than the phrase conveyed. I followed the smell of smoke to the living room. Luckily for Isabel and her nonexistent fire-building skills, the ceiling was very high, and most of the smoke had drifted upward. Sam was a curved bundle next to the hearth, a fleece blanket wrapped around his shoulders. An untouched mug of something sat beside him, still steaming.
I rushed over, flinching at the heat of the fire, and stopped short when I smelled him: sharp, earthy, wild. A painfully familiar smell that I loved so well—but didn’t want to smell right now. The face he turned to me was human, though, and I crouched beside him and kissed him. He took me carefully, as if either I or he might break, and closed his arms around me, laying his head on my shoulder. I felt him shiver intermittently, despite the small, smoky fire that was nonetheless hot enough to burn my shoulder nearest to it.
I wanted him to say something. This deadly quiet scared me. I pulled away from him and ran my hands through his hair for a long minute before I said what needed to be said. “You aren’t okay, are you?”
“It’s like a roller coaster,” Sam said softly. “I climb and climb and climb toward winter, and as long as I don’t get to the very top, I can still slide back. ”
I looked away, into the fire, watching the very center of it, the very hottest part, until the colors and light lost meaning, burning my vision to white dancing lights. “And now you’re at the very top. ”
“I think I might be. I hope not. But God—I feel like hell. ” He took my hand with frigid fingers.
I couldn’t stand the silence. “Beck wanted to come. He couldn’t leave the house. ”
Sam swallowed, loud enough for me to hear it. I wondered if he was feeling sick again. “I won’t see him again. This is his last year. I thought I was right to be angry at him, but it just seems stupid now. I just can’t—I just can’t wrap my head around it. ”
I didn’t know if he meant wrapping his head around whatever had made him angry with Beck, or the roller coaster he was riding. I just kept staring at that fire. So hot. A tiny little summer, self-contained and furious. If only I could get that inside Sam and keep him warm forever. I was aware that Isabel was standing in the doorway of the room, but she seemed far away.
“I keep thinking about why I didn’t change,” I said slowly. “If I was born immune, or something. But I wasn’t, you know? Because I got that flu. And because I still am not really—normal. I can smell better and hear better. ” I paused, trying to collect my thoughts. “And I think it was my dad. I think it was when he left me in the car. I got so hot, the doctors said I should’ve died, remember? But I didn’t. I lived. And I didn’t turn into a wolf. ”
Sam looked at me, his eyes sad. “You’re probably right. ”
“But see, it could be a cure, couldn’t it? Get you really hot?”
Sam shook his head. He was very pale. “I don’t think so, angel. How hot was that bathwater you had me in? And—Ulrik—he tried going to Texas that year—it’s one hundred and three and one hundred and four degrees out there. He’s still a wolf. If that’s what cured you, it’s because you were little and because you had a crazy-high fever that burned you from the inside out. ”
“You could induce a fever,” I said suddenly. But as soon as I said it, I shook my head. “But I don’t think there’s a medication to raise your temperature. ”
“It is possible,” Isabel said from the door. I looked to her. She was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over her chest, the sleeves of her sweater filthy from whatever she’d had to do to get Sam out of the shed. “My mom works in a low-income clinic two days a week, and I heard her talking about a guy who had a fever of one hundred and seven. He had meningitis. ”
“What happened to him?” I asked. Sam dropped my hand, turned his face away.
“He died. ” Isabel shrugged. “But maybe a werewolf wouldn’t. Maybe that’s why you didn’t die as a kid, because you were bitten right before your idiot dad left you in the car to cook. ”
Beside me, Sam scrambled to his feet and started coughing.
“Not on the frigging rug!” Isabel said.
I jumped up as Sam braced his hands on his knees and retched without throwing anything up. He turned around to me, shaky, and something that I saw in his eyes made my stomach drop out from under me.
The room stank of wolf. For a dizzying moment, it was me and Sam, my face buried in his ruff, one thousand miles from here.
Sam squeezed his eyes shut for a second, and when he opened them, he said, “Sorry. Grace—I know this is an awful thing to ask. But could we go to Beck’s? I have to see him again, if this is—” He stopped.
But I knew what he’d been about to say. The end.
CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO • GRACE
Driving on cloudy nights had always unsettled me. It was as if the low cloud cover not only hid the moonlight but also robbed the headlights of any power, siphoning away their light the second it hit the air. Now, with Sam, I felt like I was driving down a black tunnel that kept getting ever narrower. The sleet tapped the windshield; both my hands gripped the wheel as the car tires bucked on the slick road.
The heat was on absolute high, and I wanted to believe that Sam looked a little better. Isabel had poured his coffee into a travel mug, and I’d forced him to drink it as we drove, despite his nausea. It seemed to be helping, more than the external heat sources had, anyway. I took this as a possible reinforcement of our new theory of internal heat.
“I’m thinking more about your theory,” Sam said, as if reading my mind. “It makes a lot of sense. But you’d have to get your hands on something to induce the fever—maybe meningitis, like Isabel said—and I’m thinking that’s going to be unpleasant. ”
“Aside from the fever itself, you mean?”
“Yeah. Aside from that. Like dangerously unplea
“Hardly funny. ”
“Better than nothing. ”
Sam reached over and touched my cheek. “But I’d be willing to try it. For you. To stay with you. ”
He said it so simply, so unaffectedly, that it took me a moment to get the statement’s full impact. I wanted to say something, but I felt like I had no breath at all.
“I don’t want to do this anymore, Grace. It’s not good enough anymore to watch you from the woods, not now that I’ve been with you—the real thing. I can’t just watch anymore. I’d rather risk whatever could happen—”
“Yeah, death—than watch all this slip away. I can’t do that, Grace. I want to try. Only—I think I’d have to be human for it to have a chance. It doesn’t seem like you could kill the wolf while you were the wolf. ”
I was trembling. Not because it was cold, but because it sounded possible. Horrible, deadly, awful—possible. And I wanted it. I wanted to never have to give up this feeling of his fingers on my cheek or the sad sound of his voice. I should’ve told him, No, it’s not worth it, but that would’ve been a lie of such epic proportions that I couldn’t do it.
“Grace,” Sam said, abruptly. “If you want me. ”
“What?” I said, and then realized what he had said. It seemed impossible that he had to ask. I couldn’t be that hard to read. Then I realized—stupid, slow me—that he wanted to hear it. He told me all the time how he felt, and I was just…stoic. I don’t think I’d ever told him. “Of course I do. Sam, I love you, you know I do. I’ve loved you for years. You know that. ”
Sam curled his arms around himself. “I do. But I wanted to hear you say it. ” He reached toward my hand before realizing I couldn’t take it off the wheel; instead he made a knot of my hair around his fingers and rested his fingertips against my neck. I imagined I could feel his pulse and my pulse syncing up through that tiny bit of contact. This could be mine forever.
He slouched back in his seat, looking tired, and leaned his face on his shoulder to look at me while he played with my hair. He started to hum a song, and then, after a few bars, he sang it. Quietly, sort of half-sung, half-spoken, incredibly gentle. I didn’t catch all the words, but it was about his summer girl. Me. Maybe his forever girl. His yellow eyes were half-lidded as he sang, and in that golden moment, hanging taut in the middle of an icecovered landscape like a single bubble of summer nectar, I could see how my life could be stretched out in front of me.
The Bronco lurched violently, and a heartbeat later, I saw the deer roll up over the hood. A crack raced across the windshield, exploding a second later into a thousand spiderwebbed fractures. I hit the brake, but nothing happened. Not even a whisper of a response.