Shiver, page 47part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Isabel taught me browsing in the cookbook section until I was restless, and then I left her behind and wandered through the store. I didn’t want to, but I climbed the burgundy-carpeted stairs to the loft.
The snow-clouded day outside made the loft seem darker and even smaller than it had before, but the love seat was still there, and the little waist-high bookshelves Sam had searched through. I could still see the shape of his body curled in front of them, looking for the perfect book.
I shouldn’t have, but I sat on the couch and lay back on it. I closed my eyes and pretended as hard as I could that Sam was lying behind me, that I was secure in his arms, and that any moment I would feel his breath move my hair and tickle my ear.
I could almost smell him here, if I tried hard enough. There weren’t many places that still held his scent, but I could almost detect it—or maybe I just wanted to so badly that I was imagining it.
I remembered him urging me to smell everything in the candy shop. To give in to who I really was. I picked out the scents in the bookstore now: the nutty aroma of the leather, the almost perfumey carpet cleaner, the sweet black ink and the gasoline-smelling color inks, the shampoo of the boy at the counter, Isabel’s fragrance, the scent of the memory of me and Sam kissing on this couch.
I didn’t want Isabel to find me with my tears any more than she wanted me to find her with hers. We shared a lot of things now, but crying was one thing we never talked about. I wiped my face dry with my sleeve and sat up.
I walked to the shelf where Sam had gotten his book, scanned the titles until I recognized it, then pulled the volume out. Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. I lifted it to my nose to see if it was the same copy. Sam.
I bought it. Isabel bought the cookbook on cookies, and we went to Rachel’s place and baked six dozen thumbprint cookies while carefully not talking about Sam or Olivia. Afterward, Isabel drove me home and I shut myself in the study with Rilke, and I read and I wanted.
And leaving you (there aren’t words to untangle it)
Your life, fearful and immense and blossoming,
so that, sometimes frustrated, and sometimes
Your life is sometimes a stone in you, and then, a star.
I was beginning to understand poetry.
CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR • GRACE
It wasn’t Christmas without my wolf. It was the one time of year I’d always had him, a silent presence lingering at the edge of the woods. So many times, I’d stood by the kitchen window, my hands smelling of ginger and nutmeg and pine and one hundred other Christmas smells, and felt his gaze on me. I’d look up to see Sam standing at the edge of the woods, golden eyes steady and unblinking.
Not this year.
I stood at the kitchen window, my hands smelling of nothing. No point baking Christmas cookies or trimming a tree this year; in twenty-four hours, I’d be gone for two weeks with Rachel. On a white Florida beach, far away from MercyFalls. Far away from Boundary Wood, and most of all, far away from the empty backyard.
I slowly rinsed out my travel cup, and for the thousandth time this winter, lifted up my gaze to look to the woods.
There was nothing but trees in shades of gray, their snowladen branches etched against a heavy winter sky. The only color was the brilliant flash of a male cardinal, flapping to the bird feeder. He pecked at the empty wooden base before wheeling away, a red spot against a white sky.
I didn’t want to go out into the backyard with its unmarked snow, devoid of pawprints, but I didn’t want to leave the feeder empty while I was gone, either. Retrieving the bag of birdseed from under the kitchen sink, I pulled on my coat, my hat, my gloves. I went to the back door and slid it open.
The scent of the winter woods hit me hard, reminding me fiercely of every Christmas that had ever mattered.
Even though I knew I was alone, I still shivered.
CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE • SAM
I watched her.
I was a ghost in the woods, silent, still, cold. I was winter embodied, the frigid wind given physical form. I stood near the edge of the woods, where the trees began to thin, and scented the air: mostly dead smells to find this time of the season. The bite of conifer, the musk of wolf, the sweetness of her, nothing else to smell.
She stood in the doorway for the space of several breaths. Her face was turned toward the trees, but I was invisible, intangible, nothing but eyes in the woods. The intermittent breeze carried her scent to me again and again, singing in another language of memories from another form.
Finally, finally, she stepped onto the deck and pressed the first footprint into the snow of the yard.
And I was right here, almost right within reach, but still one thousand miles away.
CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX • GRACE
Every step I took toward the feeder took me closer to the woods. I smelled the crisp leaves of the undergrowth, shallow creeks moving sluggishly beneath a crust of ice, summer lying dormant in unnumbered skeleton trees. Something about the trees reminded me of the wolves howling at night, and that reminded me of the golden wood of my dreams, hidden now under a blanket of snow. I missed the woods so much.
I missed him.
I turned my back to the trees and set the bag of birdseed on the ground beside me. All I had to do was fill the feeder and go back inside and pack my bags to fly away with Rachel, where I could try to forget every secret that hid inside these winter woods.
CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN • SAM
I watched her.
She hadn’t noticed me yet. She was knock, knock, knocking ice off the bird feeder. Slowly and automatically following the steps to clean it and open it and fill it and close it and just look at it as if it was the most important thing in the world.
I watched her. Waited for her to turn and glimpse my dark form in the woods. She pulled her hat down over her ears, blew out a puff of breath to watch it swirl a cloud in the air. She clapped the snow from her gloves and turned to go.
I couldn’t hide anymore. I blew out a long breath as well. It was a faint noise, but her head turned immediately toward it. Her eyes found the mist of my breath, and then me as I stepped through it, slow, cautious, unsure of how she would react.
She froze. Perfectly still, like a deer. I kept approaching, making hesitant, careful prints in the snow, until I was out of the woods and I was standing right in front of her.
She was as silent as I was, and perfectly still. Her lower lip shook. When she blinked, three shining tears left crystal tracks on her cheeks.
She could’ve looked at the tiny miracles in front of her: my feet, my hands, my fingers, the shape of my shoulders beneath my jacket, my human body, but she only stared at my eyes.
The wind whipped again, through the trees, but it had no force, no power over me. The cold bit at my fingers, but they stayed fingers.
“Grace,” I said, very softly. “Say something. ”
“Sam,” she said, and I crushed her to me.