Shiver, page 43part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Olivia stayed with me overnight, shaking and kicking so much that she eventually made a nest of blankets and my sleeping bag next to the bed so that we could both sleep. After a late breakfast, we went to get Olivia some toothpaste and other toiletries—Mom had ridden to work with Dad so that I could use her car. On the way back from the store, my cell phone rang. Olivia picked up the phone without answering the call and read the number off to me.
Beck. Did I really want to do this? I sighed and held out my hand for the phone. “Hello?”
“I’m sorry to call you,” Beck said. His voice sounded flat. “I know the last couple days must’ve been hard for you. ”
Was I supposed to say something? I hoped not, because I couldn’t think of anything. My brain felt cloudy.
“I’m here. ”
“I’m calling about Jack. He’s doing better now, he’s more stable, and it won’t be too long before he changes for the winter. But he’s still got a couple weeks of swapping back and forth, I think. ”
My brain wasn’t too cloudy to realize how much Beck was trusting me at this point. I felt vaguely honored. “So he’s not still locked in the bathroom?”
Beck laughed, not a funny laugh, but nice to hear, anyway. “No, he’s graduated from the bathroom to the basement. But I’m afraid, um, I’m going to change soon—I almost did this morning. And that would leave Jack in a very bad place for the next few weeks. I hate to ask you this, because it puts you in danger of getting bitten—but maybe you could keep an eye on him until he changes?”
I paused. “Beck, I’ve been bitten already. ”
“No, no,” I added hurriedly. “Not recently. Many years ago. ”
Beck’s voice was strange. “You’re the girl that Sam saved, aren’t you?”
“And you never changed. ”
“How long have you known Sam?”
“We only met in person this year. But I’ve watched him ever since he saved me. ” I pulled into the driveway but didn’t turn the engine off. Olivia leaned over, cranked up the heat, and lay back in her seat with closed eyes. “I’d like to come over before you change. To just talk, if that’s okay. ”
“That would be more than okay. But it’ll have to be soon, I’m afraid. I’m just getting to the point where I can’t turn back now. ”
Crap. My phone was beeping another call through. “This afternoon?” I asked. When he agreed, I said, “I have to go—I’m sorry—someone is calling me. ”
We said good-bye and I clicked over to the other call.
“Holy crap, Grace, how many times were you going to let it ring? Eighteen? Twenty? One hundred?” It was Isabel; I hadn’t heard from her since the day after the crash, when I’d filled her in on where Jack was.
I replied, “For all you know, I was in class, and I was being murdered for my phone ringing during it. ”
“You weren’t in class. Anyway. I need your help. My mom saw another case of meningitis—the worse sort of meningitis—at the clinic where she works. While I was there, I drew the guy’s blood. Three vials. ”
I blinked several times before I figured out what she was saying. “You what?! Why?”
“Grace, I thought you were at the top of the class. Clearly the sliding scale has done wonders for you. Try to focus. While Mom was on the phone, I pretended to be a nurse and I drew his blood. His nasty, infected blood. ”
“You know how to draw blood?”
“Yes, I know how to draw blood! Doesn’t everyone? Are you not getting what I’m saying? Three vials. One for Jack. One for Sam. One for Olivia. I need you to help me get Jack over to the clinic. The blood’s in the fridge there. I’m afraid to take it out in case the bacteria die or whatever it is that bacteria do. Anyway, I don’t know where this guy’s house is, where Jack is. ”
“You want to inject them. To give them meningitis. ”
“No, I want to give them malaria. Yes, stupid. I want to give them meningitis. The main symptom is—tada—a fever. And if we’re being honest, I don’t give a crap if you do it to Sam and Olivia. It probably won’t work on Sam, anyway, because he’s a wolf already. But I figured I had to get enough blood for all of them if I wanted to get you to help me. ”
“Isabel, I would’ve helped you, anyway. ” I sighed. “I’m going to give you an address. Meet me there in an hour. ”
CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT • GRACE
Being in Beck’s basement made me both the happiest and the saddest I’d felt since Sam had changed into a wolf, because seeing Beck there, in his own world, was like seeing Sam again. It started when we left Olivia puking in the bathroom and met Beck at the top of the basement stairs—it was too cold for him to meet us at the front door—and I realized that Sam had inherited so many of his mannerisms and movements from Beck. Even the simplest gestures: reaching over to brush up a light switch, inclining his head for us to follow him, awkwardly ducking to avoid a low beam at the bottom of the stairs. So much like Sam that it hurt.
Then we reached the bottom of the stairs and I caught my breath. The large, main room of the basement was filled with books. Not just a few. It was a library. The walls were lined with recessed shelves that climbed to the top of the low ceiling, and they were stuffed full. Even without getting close to the shelves, I could see that they were categorized: tall, fat atlases and encyclopedias on one shelf; short, colorful paperbacks with rumpled edges on several others; big photo books with block letters on their spines; hardcover novels with glistening dust jackets. I stepped slowly into the middle of the room and stood on the dusky orange carpet, turning slowly to see them all.
And the smell—the smell of Sam was everywhere in this room, like he was here with me, holding my hand, looking at all these books with me, waiting for me to say “I love it. ”
I was about to break the silence by saying something like “I can see where Sam got his reading habit” when Beck said, almost apologetically, “When you spend a lot of time inside, you do a lot of reading. ”
I remembered, then, abruptly, what Sam had told me about Beck: This was his last year as a human. He would never read these books again. My words were stolen from me, and then I just looked at Beck and managed, stupidly, “I love books. ”
He smiled, like he knew. Then he looked at Isabel, who was craning her neck as if Jack must be stuffed on one of the shelves. “Jack’s probably in the other room, playing video games,” Beck said.
Isabel followed Beck’s gaze to the doorway. “Will he tear out my throat if I go in there?”
Beck shrugged. “No more than usual, I’d think. That’s the warmest room in the house, and I think he feels more comfortable in there. Though he still changes every so often. Just pay attention. ”
It was interesting how he talked about Jack—more animal than human. As if he were advising Isabel on how to approach the gorillas at the zoo. After Isabel had vanished into the other room, Beck gestured toward one of the two squashy red chairs in the room. “Have a seat. ”
I was glad to settle down into one of the chairs. It smelled of Beck and a few other wolves, but mostly of Sam. It was so easy to imagine him down here, curled in this spot, reading and developing an obnoxiously large vocabulary. I rested my head against the side of the chair to pretend I was curled in Sam’s arms and turned to look at Beck, who sat down in the chair opposite. Not properly, but crashed back into it with his legs kicked out. He looked tired. “I’m sort of surprised Sam kept you a secret all this time. ”
He shrugged. “I guess I shouldn’t be. I didn’t tell him about my wife. ”
“He knew. He told me about her. ”
Beck laughed, short and fond. “I shouldn’t be surprised about that, either. Keeping a secret from Sam was impossible. Not to be cliché, but he could
We were both referring to him in past tense, like he was dead. “Do you think I’ll ever see him again?”
His face was faraway, unreadable. “I think this year was his last. I really do. I know it’s mine. I don’t know why he got so few years. That’s just not normal. I mean, it varies, but I was bitten a little over twenty years ago. ”
Beck nodded. “In Canada. I was twenty-eight, a rising star at my firm, and I was hiking on vacation. ”
“What about the rest of them? Where are they from?”
“From all over. When I heard that there were wolves in Minnesota, I thought there was a good chance they could be like me. So I went looking, found out I was right, and Paul took me under his wing. Paul’s—”
“The black wolf. ”
He nodded. “Do you want coffee? I could murder for coffee, if you don’t mind the expression. ”
I was intensely grateful. “That would be wonderful. If you point me in the direction of the pot, I’ll make it. ” He pointed it out, hidden in a cranny between the shelves, next to a tiny refrigerator. “And you can keep talking. ”
He sounded humored. “What about?”
“The pack. What it’s like, being a wolf. Sam. Why you changed Sam. ” I paused, coffee filter in hand. “Yes. That one. I want to know that one in particular. ”
Beck crumpled his face in his hand. “God, the worst one. I changed Sam because I was a selfish bastard without a soul. ”
I measured coffee grounds. I heard the regret in his voice, but I wasn’t letting him off the hook. “That’s not a reason. ”
Deep sigh. “I know. Jen—my wife—had just died. She was a terminal cancer patient when we met, so I knew it was going to happen, but I was young and stupid and thought maybe a miracle would happen and we’d live happily ever after. Anyway. No miracle. I was depressed. I thought about killing myself, but the funny thing about having wolf in you is that suicide doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Did you ever notice that animals don’t kill themselves on purpose?”
I hadn’t. I made a note of it.
“Anyway, I was in Duluth in the summer, and I saw Sam with his parents. God, this sounds awful, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t like that. Jen and I talked all the time about having kids, even though we both knew it would never happen. Hell, she was only supposed to live for another eight months. How could she have had a baby? Anyway, I saw Sam. There he was, with his yellow eyes, just like a real wolf, and I was totally obsessed with the idea. And—you don’t have to tell me, Grace, I know this was wrong—but I saw him with his silly, vapid parents, them just as clueless as a pair of pigeons, and I thought, I could be better for him. I could teach him more. ”
I didn’t say anything, and Beck leaned his forehead into his hand again. His voice was centuries old. I didn’t say anything, but he groaned. “God, I know, Grace. I know. But you know the stupid thing? I actually like who I am. I mean, not at first. It was a curse. But it came to be like someone who loves summer and winter. Does that make sense? I knew that eventually I’d lose myself, but I came to terms with that a long time ago. I thought Sam would get over it, too. ”