Shiver, page 44part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
I found the mugs in a little cubby above the coffeemaker and pulled two of them out. “But he didn’t. Milk?”
“A little. Not too much. ” He sighed. “It’s hell for him. I made a personal hell for him. He needs that sort of self-awareness to feel alive, and when he loses that and becomes a wolf…it’s hell. He is absolutely the best person I’ve ever met in the world, and I absolutely ruined him. I have regretted it every day for years. ”
He might’ve deserved it, but I couldn’t let him get any lower. I brought him a mug and sat back down. “He loves you, Beck. He may hate being a wolf, but he loves you. And I have to tell you, it’s killing me to sit here with you, because everything about you reminds me of him. If you admire him, it’s because you made him who he is. ”
Beck looked strangely vulnerable then, his hands wrapped around the coffee mug, looking at me through the steam above it. He was silent for a long moment, and then he said, “The regret will be one of the things I’ll be glad to lose. ”
I frowned at him. Sipped the coffee. “Will you forget everything?”
“You don’t forget anything. You just see it differently. Through a wolf’s brain. Some things become completely unimportant when you’re a wolf. Other things are emotions wolves just don’t feel. We lose those. But the most important things—we can hold on to those. Most of us. ”
Like love. I thought of Sam watching me, before we had met as humans, and me watching back. Falling in love, as impossible as it should’ve been. My gut squeezed, horribly, and for a moment, I couldn’t speak.
“You were bitten,” Beck said. I’d heard this before, this question without a question mark.
I nodded. “A little more than six years ago. ”
“But you never changed. ”
I related the story of getting locked in the car, and then explained the theory of a possible cure Isabel and I had developed. Beck sat quietly for a long moment, rubbing a small circle in the side of his mug with one of his fingers, staring blankly at the books on the wall.
Finally, he nodded. “It might work. I can see how it might work. But I think you’d have to be human when you got infected for it to work. ”
“That’s what Sam said. He said he thought if you were killing the wolf, you shouldn’t be a wolf when you were infected. ”
Beck’s eyes were still unfocused as he thought. “God, but it’s risky. You couldn’t treat the meningitis until after you were sure the fever had killed the wolf. Bacterial meningitis has an incredible fatality rate, even if you catch it early and treat it from the beginning. ”
“Sam told me he’d risk dying for the cure. Do you think he meant it?”
“Absolutely,” Beck said, without hesitation. “But he’s a wolf. And likely to stay that way for the rest of his life. ”
I dropped my eyes to my half-empty mug, noticing the way the liquid changed color just at the very edges of the rim. “I was thinking we could bring him to the clinic, just to see if he’d change in the heat of the building. ”
There was a pause, but I didn’t look up to see what expression Beck wore during it. He said gently, “Grace. ”
I swallowed, still looking at the coffee. “I know. ”
“I’ve watched wolves for twenty-odd years. It’s predictable. We get to the end…and it’s the end. ”
I felt like a stubborn child. “But he changed this year when he shouldn’t have, right? When he was shot, he made himself human. ”
Beck took a long drink of coffee. I heard his fingers tapping the side of the mug. “And to save you. He made himself human to save you. I don’t know how he did it. Or why. But he did. I always thought it must have had something to do with adrenaline, tricking the body into thinking it was warm. I know he’s tried to do it other times, too, but he never managed it. ”
I closed my eyes and let myself imagine Sam carrying me. I could almost see it, smell it, feel it.
“Hell. ” Beck didn’t say anything else for a long time. Then, again: “Hell. It’s what he would want. He’d want to try. ” He drained his coffee. “I’ll help you. What were you thinking? Drugging him for the trip?”
I had been thinking about it, in fact, ever since Isabel had called. “I think we’ll have to, right? He won’t stand it otherwise. ”
“Benadryl,” Beck said, matter-of-fact. “I’ve got some upstairs. It’ll make him groggy and put him enough out of it that he won’t go crazy in the car. ”
“The only thing I couldn’t work out was how to get him here. I haven’t seen him since the accident. ” I was cautious with my words. I couldn’t let myself get hopeful. I just couldn’t.
Beck’s voice was certain. “I can do it. I’ll get him. I’ll make him come. We’ll put the Benadryl in some hamburger or something. ” He stood up and took my coffee mug from me. “I like you, Grace. I wish Sam could’ve had—”
He stopped, put his hand on my shoulder. His voice was so kind I thought I would cry. “It might work, Grace. It might work. ”
I could see that he didn’t believe, but I saw, too, that he wanted to. For right now, that was enough.
CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE • GRACE
A thin layer of snow dusted the ground as Beck walked into the backyard, his shoulders dark and square underneath his sweater. Inside, Isabel and Olivia stood with me by the glass door, ready to help, but I felt like I was alone, watching Beck slowly walk out into his last day as a human. One of his hands held a gob of red, raw meat laced with Benadryl, and the other shook uncontrollably.
A dozen yards from the house, Beck halted, dropped the meat to the ground, and then walked several paces toward the woods. For a moment he stood there, his head cocked in a way that I recognized. Listening.
“What is he doing?” Isabel demanded, but I didn’t answer.
Beck cupped his hands around his mouth, and even inside, I could hear him clearly.
“Sam!” He shouted it again, “Sam! I know you’re out there! Sam! Sam! Remember who you are? Sam!”
Shaking, Beck kept shouting Sam’s name to the empty, frigid woods, until he stumbled and caught himself just before falling.
I pressed my fingers to my lips as tears ran down my cheeks.
Beck shouted Sam’s name one more time, and then his shoulders hunched up, buckling and twisting, his scrambling hands and feet scarring the layer of snow around him. His clothing hung on him, vast and tangled, and then he backed out of it, shaking his head.
The gray wolf stood in the middle of the yard, looking toward the glass doors, his eyes watching us watching him. He stepped away from the clothing he would never wear again, and then he froze, turning his head toward the woods.
From between the stark black pines, another wolf emerged, head low and cautious, snow dusted over his ruff. His eyes found me, behind the glass.
CHAPTER SIXTY • GRACE
The evening was steel gray, the sky an endless expanse of frozen clouds waiting for snow and for night. Outside the SUV, the tires crunched along salted roads, and sleet tapped on the windshield. Inside, behind the wheel, Isabel kept complaining about the “wet mutt smell,” but to me it was pine and earth, rain and musk. And behind it, the sharp, contagious edge of anxiety. In the passenger seat, Jack kept whining softly, halfway between animal and human. Olivia sat beside me in the backseat, her fingers knotted so tightly in mine that it hurt.
Sam was behind us. When we had lifted him into the SUV, his body was heavy with drug-induced sleep. Now, his breaths were deep and uneven, and I strained to listen to them over the sound of slush spraying from the tires, to maintain some kind of connection with him when I couldn’t touch him. With him drugged, I could’ve sat with him and run my fingers through his fur, but it would’ve been torment for him.
He was an animal now. Back in his world, far away from me.
Isabel pulled up in front of the little clinic. At this hour, the par
“I stole the keys from Mom,” Isabel said. To her credit, she didn’t sound nervous. “Come on. Jack, can you try the hell not to savage someone before we get inside?”
Jack muttered something unrepeatable. I looked in the back; Sam was on his feet, swaying. “Isabel, hurry up. The Benadryl’s wearing off. ”
Isabel wrenched up the parking brake. “If we get arrested, I’m telling them you all abducted me. ”
“Come on!” I snapped. I opened my door; Olivia and Jack both winced at the cold. “Hurry up—you two need to run. ”
“I’ll come back to help you with him,” Isabel told me, and leaped out of the SUV. I turned back around to Sam, who rolled his eyes up toward me. He seemed disoriented, groggy.
I was momentarily frozen by his gaze, remembering Sam lying in bed, nose to nose with me, eyes looking into mine.
He made a soft noise of anxiety.
“I’m sorry,” I told him.
Isabel returned, and I came around back to help her. She pulled off her belt and expertly twisted it around Sam’s muzzle. I winced, but I couldn’t tell her not to. She hadn’t been bitten and there was no guarantee of how Sam would react to this process.
Between the two of us, we lifted him and crab-walked to the clinic. Isabel kicked open the door, which was already slightly ajar. “The exam rooms are that way. Lock him in one of those and we’ll do Olivia and Jack first. Maybe he’ll turn back again, if he’s in the heat long enough. ”
Isabel’s lie was extraordinarily kind; we both knew he wasn’t changing without some kind of miracle. The best I could hope for was that Sam had been wrong—that this cure wouldn’t kill him when he was a wolf. I followed Isabel to a little supply room, cluttered and stinking with a sort of medicinal, rubber scent. Olivia and Jack were already waiting there, heads ducked together as if they were talking, which surprised me. Jack lifted his head when we came in.
“I can’t stand this waiting,” he said. “Can we just get this the hell over with?”
I looked at a bin of alcohol wipes. “Do I need to prep his arm?”
Isabel gave me a look. “We’re intentionally infecting him with meningitis. It seems pointless to be worried about infection at the injection site. ”
I swabbed his arm, anyway, while Isabel retrieved a bloodfilled syringe from the fridge.
“Oh, God,” Olivia whispered, her eyes frozen on the syringe.
We didn’t have time to comfort her. I took Jack’s cold hand and turned it so that it was palm up, like I remembered seeing the nurse do before our rabies shots.
Isabel looked at Jack. “You’re sure you want this. ”
He lifted his teeth in a snarl. He stank of fear. “Just do it. ”
Isabel hesitated; it took me a moment to realize why. “Let me do it,” I told her. “He can’t hurt me. ”