Perfect scents, p.6
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       Perfect Scents, p.6

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 5

  Like most everyone else in the world, Mondays weren’t my favorite day of the week, but today was an exception. It started out like every other Monday, until Gram went to start the car and I ran to grab my backpack.

  Her hair-raising screech at the door stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t like Gram to do more than gasp when something startled her, so with the hair on my arms and neck standing on end; I made my way to her frozen form at the door.

  Rising to my tip toes, I peered over her shoulder at what she was staring at, but I was still too short to see. Whatever it was, it was on the ground.

  Noticing me peering over her shoulder, Gram moved aside, revealing a large dead rabbit lying on the welcome mat outside the door. It was the largest rabbit I’d ever seen in my life, but it was the puncture wounds around its neck that caught my eye. No doubt they were made from sharp tiger teeth. A rabbit would amount to a snack for a tiger of Kev’s size.

  There wasn’t time to think on it as Gram mumbled under her breath about stupid cats and their need to deliver dead animals to humans as she strode to the garage to grab a shovel. My eyes were locked on the animal, and when Gram disappeared into the building, I crouched by it and extended my hand, so it rested mere centimeters from the furry body. There was still warmth coming from it, so it hadn’t been dead long.

  My eyes turned up to watch my surroundings in the dim morning light as I stood back up, catching the scent of mint on the breeze. The muscles in my back loosened, reacting to the scent. I’d noticed the tension in my muscles as I’d gotten ready for the day. It hadn’t taken long to convince myself that it was my concern for Kev’s safety that caused it, and not the need to smell him.

  When Gram reappeared, shovel in hand, I hopped over the dead animal and hurried to take it from her. After disposing of the rabbit we were once again on our way; all the while Gram shot me wary glances. She couldn’t have known from one dead animal that there was a weregal around, could she? It was unlikely. I was likely paranoid and making it up in my head. Usually, during our morning ride I stared out the window, but today I paid attention to her. Yeah, it was me being weird.

  The first bell had already rang by the time I arrived at school, leaving me racing for my locker to drop off my jacket and other nonessentials. The only open seat left in my first hour class happened to be to the left of Michael, whose spearmint smell was stronger than usual today. Ignoring his presence and persistent glances in my direction, I grabbed a pen, ready to take the pop quiz the teacher was handing out.

  When lunch came, I took my usual spot at the farthest table from the trash bins. Today I’d forgone the book. Something told me I wasn’t going to need it, and as Chrissa plopped down across from me, I knew I’d been right.

  “I take it this seat’s open?”

  “Wide open,” I confirmed, taking a bite of my turkey sandwich. Salisbury steak was on the menu, and since I wasn’t a fan I’d brought my lunch, but the smell still made me want to hold my breath.

  “Good.” She pulled a Tupperware full of salad and diced vegetables from her lunchbox and poured salad dressing over it.

  “You’re not from around here, are you?”

  “Nope.”

  “So then how’d you end up here?”

  Chrissa grabbed a fork and began to pick at her salad. “I was born and raised in California. Then my dad got offered a job here that he couldn’t resist, so he and my mom packed us up and moved here in April.”

  “Mom and I moved here in June after I finished the school year in Michigan. I didn’t try to socialize with anyone then.”

  “Nah, I get it. I spent the summer with my grandma in Cali anyway so I wasn’t around much until school started this fall. How do you like it here?”

  My loud, drawn out sigh should have been answer enough. “It’s growing on me. If we’d moved here for another reason, I think I would love it already. It’s beautiful, though. Mom grew up here, but I can see why she left. There’s not much to do.”

  Chrissa twirled a lock of her golden hair between her fingers as she watched a table of jocks. They were watching her too, and I wondered how many of them would end up swooning from her attention. When she turned back to me, her expression was bland with boredom. “You are so right, Joey, there is nothing to do, which is why we’re going to be hanging out more.”

  “Sounds good to me,” I replied, taking the last bite of my sandwich while Chrissa continued to play with her salad.

  No wonder she was so skinny. She didn’t eat.

  Taking a deep breath for courage, I plunged into a question I’d been curious about since Saturday morning.

  “Can I ask you a weird question?”

  “Sure.”

  “Did Milly, the librarian, smell weird to you?”

  “Define weird, like BO, dill pickles, French fries? What?”

  I squirmed in my seat. I’d been trying for years to avoid telling anyone about my ability to smell everything around me. My need to know why Milly and Tom smelled funky wasn’t enough to expose the truth just yet.

  “Never mind. It’s nothing.”

  “No, really, what’s up?”

  “She smelled a little funky to me, that’s all. I can’t describe it. Maybe my nose was having an off day or something.”

  “Hmm, I didn’t get close enough to smell her. I asked where you were, and she pointed me in the right direction.” She smiled wide, her eyes full of mischief. “I’ll pay closer attention next time we’re at the library. Now you’ve got me curious.”

  “Going to spread your own gossip?” That wasn’t what I’d intended, and I doubted she’d smell anything wrong since Gram and Aunt Gwen hadn’t smelled Tom’s disgusting odor.

  “No, like I said, just curious. But speaking of the library, have you found out anything else?”

  “Tom Hildebrant came over and had dinner with us last night. He’s the guy whose son was killed by weregals. Gram told him about my essay and he gave me a little more information.”

  She hung on my every word as I filled her in on the new information that Tom had provided about weregal aging and losing their mates. It wasn’t much, but from the way she leaned across the table, you’d think I was selling government secrets or something.

  “This essay is going to be so weird,” I complained as she speared some lettuce leaves and began eating. “There’s supposed to be sources for everything, and they’re not supposed to be hearsay sources. I guess I’ll have to keep looking for something legit.”

  “You mean ‘we’ll’ have to keep looking. I’m having more fun with your essay than you are. Actually, this is the first essay I’ve ever had fun with. Although, sitting at the library and finding practically nothing was a bit boring, but otherwise, it’s fun.”

  “You’re just in it for the drama.”

  “Always,” she told me with a wink.

  I shook my head at her as I laughed. She had no idea how interesting this essay had become to me. I’d literally met a weregal, and that knowledge ate at me to tell her. If I hadn’t told Kev I wouldn’t say anything, I’d have blurted it out already.

  “Have you given any thought to what you’re dressing up as for the Halloween party?” Chrissa asked as the bell rang, ending lunch. She’d managed to eat half her salad since she’d spent the whole of lunch picking at it. Meanwhile, I could’ve eaten another three sandwiches and still have been hungry.

  “I don’t know. My first thought was going as a tiger.”

  “Dude, that’s so freakin’ awesome. Why didn’t I think of that?”

  “Because I was only going to do it in rebellion for this silly essay.”

  “No, Joey, this is great. We should go as a pair of tigers!”

  “And get shot while in the process. Chrissa, you live here. You know everyone has a gun.” I stood up and pushed my chair in. The lunch room was clearing out, so it was easier to get to the door without having to push through anyone.

  “We’re going to an abandon
ed house in the middle of nowhere. There’s only going to be high school kids and college students there. No one’s going to care.” She began to follow me as I weaved between tables to get to the exit. “And who said anything about us being weregals. We’re tigers. Huge difference.”

  A smirk crossed my face at her obvious exaggeration. From what I’d seen with Kev, there wasn’t that huge of a difference between tigers and weregals when in cat form. Kev was bigger than a tiger but looked about the same otherwise. Tiger costumes, on the other hand, would be different than a real tiger, but the thought was still the same. I didn’t want some crazy, scared redneck taking a cheap shot at us because he saw tiger stripes moving through the woods.

  My smile grew, and I shook my head as I pictured Kev’s face if he saw Chrissa and me in tiger costumes. Not that it mattered what he thought, but it would be kind of funny to see his face. If he was even going to be around until then. My heart sunk at that thought, but I kept the smile plastered on my face.

  “What’s that smile for?” Chrissa asked with her own grin when she noticed mine.

  “I was thinking about what Gram would say if she knew about all of this,” I lied.

  “That good, huh?”

  I pictured Kev’s face, not Gram’s, as I replied. “Yup, that good.”

  “Then we are so doing this.”

  I laughed to myself at the irony of this situation. Gram wanted me to make friends and had been bugging me about being alone all the time. Now that I had a friend, someone she thought would be good for me, I was sure she’d rather I had fewer friends. Too late. I liked Chrissa more and more.

  “Okay, well I’ll see you later for English,” Chrissa said as we exited the room.

  She turned left, and I went right. We didn’t see each other again until English. After we’d all found our seats and she’d taken attendance, Mrs. Huckabee announced we’d be working on our outlines for our essay. Sitting next to me, Chrissa groaned, dropping her head onto her desk with a thump.

  “If you need to go to the library to research, come see me. Otherwise, you’ll stay in your seats and work on the outline. Let me know if you have any questions. Okay, go.” Half the class stood at once to go to the library. I figured most of those wanted to escape to do absolutely nothing all hour.

  I wasn’t one of them. So far I had all the information I needed to start an outline, only I still didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I needed to organize my thoughts and see what information I had or still needed.

  However, the essay was the last thing I wanted to think about. Now that my mind had time to wander, it did…right back to that rabbit left on my front porch. I knew who left it, but I couldn’t figure out why. It had been a fresh kill, so the meat would still have been good. Was it a weregal custom to leave people dead animals? If it was, Gram was not going to be happy.

  My thoughts continued to revolve around Kev and our exchange yesterday until Chrissa tapped her finger against my shoulder hard enough I was certain I’d bruise.

  “Earth to Joey. Dude, you’ve been staring at that paper for over a half an hour. What gives?”

  I looked over to Chrissa, who’d filled an entire page in her notebook with her outline. Looking down at the blank paper on my desk, then up at the clock, I realized she was right. It sure didn’t feel like twenty minutes.

  “Sorry, was just lost in my thoughts.”

  “Obviously. I thought you were going to finish the outline before me since this is your thing and not mine, but you haven’t moved a muscle since we got started.”

  I groaned loudly. “I just don’t know where to start. I think I need to do a bit more research to know what direction to take this. Plus I have a lot of holes in the information that I have.”

  “Well, I hate to tell you, but I don’t think you’ve got enough time before class ends to hit the library.”

  “That’s okay. I’ll find some time to look it up later.”

  There were ten minutes left of class then the day would be over, and I’d be free to execute my plan to meet up with Kev if he was even around. He’d said he would be, but I didn’t know him well enough yet to trust him. Either way, my plan revolved around Gram picking me up and letting me take a short walk before dinner, that way I could find Kev, talk to him for a few minutes, then head home. It could work.

  When the bell rang, I wanted to run out the door, but I restrained myself. The last thing I needed was to draw attention from anyone, especially Chrissa. A few extra minutes wouldn’t kill me.

  “You sure you’re okay?” Chrissa asked when we reached our lockers. “You seem really spacey since lunch.”

  Holding in a sigh, I pulled my backpack from the locker. “I’m fine, really. Just tired or something.”

  “Maybe you’re getting sick? If so, stay away. I don’t want it.”

  We were almost to the exit when I saw the rain coming down in heavy droves through the open doors. My hope of finding Kev and talking to him vanished. I wasn’t fool enough to go anywhere in this, and Gram would never allow it. Chrissa had given me an idea, though. I hoped it wasn’t raining in the morning.

  Letting out squeals, we ran from the building. Like everyone else, we were soaking wet by the time we reached the parking lot.

  “Gram, I feel like crap,” I whined in the most depressed voice I could muster. It also helped that I hadn’t slept much the night before so my eyes were puffy, glazed over, and barely open. My face was also paler than usual. I’d checked my appearance in the bathroom mirror after I’d woken up to make sure I looked as crappy as I was supposed to feel. The truth was I felt fine, tired, but fine nonetheless.

  I slipped into a kitchen chair as she turned to look at me with an appraising expression. “Is this about your parents again?”

  I wanted to bang my head on the table, but that would not have helped my plan any. “No, Gram, I think I’m coming down with a cold or something. My head hurts like crazy, and my brain is all fuzzy and I can’t breathe.”

  “You don’t sound like you can’t breathe.”

  “Ask Chrissa how I feel. She noticed something was wrong yesterday. I think she was right.”

  Letting out a long sigh, Gram turned back to the counter where she was making Aunt Gwen’s lunch. My aunt had slept through her alarm since she’d been up way too late crocheting, so Gram was trying to help her get ready.

  “Can I stay home and miserably sulk and hope this is a quick twenty-four-hour thing? And eat lots of soup?”

  “You know this is what you get for riding that bike of yours in this cold weather. Oh, and running half naked in it too.”

  I rolled my eyes at her back. She’d never let me ride my bike to school again this year, and if I wanted to run I’d have to dress in layers. Yay.

  “Mom, let the poor girl be. It’s not like she’s missed a day of school so far, and you remember Meg always saying she was a straight A student. I think we can let her skip one day for not feeling well,” Aunt Gwen said as she came into the room to grab her lunch. She always showed up right when I needed her to referee between Gram and me. Not that we needed a ref often, but it was good knowing I had one, and that she had my back even if I was lying between my teeth.

  “You always side with Joey,” Gram complained, handing over the lunchbox.

  “Because she shares her junk food. You won’t even let it in the house,” Aunt Gwen winked at me, then left the room to put on her jacket.

  “That stuff you both eat will lead to an early death.”

  On her way out the front door, Aunt Gwen yelled back, “Then we’ll die happy. See y’all later.”

  “I’m going back to bed,” I told Gram and dragged myself to my feet. Another hour of sleep would feel great, anyway.

  “All right,” Gram grumbled, conceding to the fact that I was staying home, and she’d lost the argument. “I’ll be gone most of the day, remember?”

  I nodded. This was why I was staying home today. Every Tuesday Gram would go to the local ret
irement home to see her friends who had moved there. Sometimes they went shopping, which meant that she’d be gone longer. I wouldn’t need her gone that long, just long enough for me to sneak out for a few hours then come back.

  “Have fun,” I told her as I shut my bedroom door. With a satisfied sigh, I crawled back into bed, curled under the soft covers, and fell asleep.

  Sunlight illuminated my room as I woke up to a quiet house. I knew before I looked at the clock that Gram had left. The TV was off. When Gram was home alone, she always had it playing for background noise. Though I had plenty of time, I hurried to take a quick shower and get ready for the day.

  As I stepped outside, I pulled the zipper of my jacket up higher. This was the coldest day so far this fall, with a light frost on the house roof. There was a steady breeze which was trying its best to get down the back of my jacket to my neck. I ignored it and headed toward the driveway. The rain from yesterday caused the grass to crunch under my feet.

  The coolness added a crisp smell to the air that caused my insides to go all giddy like it was springtime. I liked spring, but autumn was my favorite. I’d left my headphones at home so that I could hear the sounds around me, like the crunch of the leaves under my feet. I wanted to enjoy my walk without the extra noise. Sometimes quiet was better. And I could hear Kev approach this time.

  Enjoying the walk through the forest, I let my mind wander. My thoughts jumped from what I wanted to ask Kev, to my mom and dad, and to what Gram would say if she knew what I was doing. I never wanted to have that conversation. Just the thought of it chilled my skin and made me shiver.

  I’d been walking for so long in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the smell of mint until a melodic voice spoke from right behind me.

  “Are you lost?”

  I yelped and nearly jumped out of my skin. My hands, balled into fists, came up to protect my face as I pivoted on my foot to face him.

  “No, but you’re going to lose an eye if you scare me like that again.”

  His mischievous grin tangled my stomach in knots as his eyes sparkled in the rising sunlight. I’d have smiled back, but I was still too momentarily ticked off at him for scaring me. Hadn’t he learned the last time we’d seen each other that it wasn’t a good idea to scare me? Obviously not. The boy would have to learn quickly, or I really would give him a black eye, or try to anyway.

  His smile faltered as he fought to look apologetic, but it didn’t stick. He was grinning and chuckling again in seconds.

  “Smarty pants,” I mumbled with a shake of my head. Turning around, I continued walking down the trail, knowing he’d follow me.

  “I’m sorry for scaring you. I thought you heard me coming. I tried to be loud.” He was by my side in a few strides, his longer legs carrying him farther than my short legs could carry me.

  I looked sidelong up at him. “Are all weregals as tall as you?”

  His laugh was rich and full and called to me like a siren’s song. I had to make myself listen to the river before I said, or did, anything stupid. No wonder human women had fallen for these creatures. They pulled you in, and you couldn’t help it. Even his scent called to me.

  “No, not all. The males are usually larger, the females smaller. Most of the time anyway. My mother could give my father a run for his money; is that the right saying?”

  My laugh matched his. “Yeah, that’s right.”

  “Okay, good. At least that’s one thing I got right. I thought I knew enough about the human world to fit in, but I’ve since realized I know very little.” It took him a few steps to notice that I’d stopped walking. “What’s wrong?”

  I watched him for a few moments as I nibbled on my lip. The wind blowing through the trees and the river’s bubbling chorus were the only sounds as Kev waited for me to respond to him.

  “Can we talk?”

  “What would you like to talk about?” he asked as I caught back up to him and we started walking side by side once more.

  “You said you thought you knew enough of the human world, which would imply that you come from another world. Where do you come from?”

  “A land very far away yet so very close I could get there in a day.” He watched me shake my head at him, obviously enjoying the riddle he’d made and the confused expression I wore on my face.

  “You drive me crazy; you know that right?”

  His apologetic look was back, and this time, it stayed. “Is that bad? If so I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to. I was only trying to make you laugh. You seem so sad, and I like to see you smile.”

  I had to give the cat credit, for being half animal he was perceptive. That shocked me enough I didn’t know what to say to him. Without further pushing, he continued his explanation, this time with a direct answer.

  “My world is called Fairimorr. There’s a passage in these mountains between this world and my world. It was found almost one hundred and fifty years ago. Since then we have been traveling through the passage to and from your world.”

  “Fairimorr.” I tried the name on my tongue. “Wait, you said that you’ve been coming here for one hundred and fifty years. How is it that we only have records or known history for the last seventy-five?”

  “I believe a lot of that timeline involves the weregal and human disagreements. Those started seventy-five years ago, or close to that time. Before that, humans and weregals lived peaceably together.”

  “So then why would weregals kill humans?”

  He shook his head, kicking a rock further down the trail. It kicked up leaves as it rolled, and the breeze caught several sending them spiraling around us. “I don’t know. No one knows for sure what happened or why. Most of us are peaceful even though we are predators, but not all of us are.”

  “So why come to Earth?”

  “Why not? I’m not old enough to remember life before the passage was found, but I remember growing up hearing stories of this world and about humans. Humans are so different from us, but also similar. Their inventions and technology are far more advanced than ours. We’ve learned so much from them. Of course, some weregals thought it was a bad idea to continue coming into this world. They saw only the violence of humans, not the potential for peace and the chance to continue learning.”

  He paused his explanation to give me time to digest it, then continued when I nodded. “We don’t know why the worlds are connected, but since they are there must be a reason. There is potential for our kind to learn from humans, but we must move beyond violence.”

  “How much do you know about human violence?”

  He smiled shyly and watched the ground, his cheeks blushing. “Not much I’m afraid. I’ve heard stories, but I’ve never experienced it before. My parents have, and many of my people, but this is my first time in this world. I had to prove to my father that I was capable of surviving in this world, but by the time I did the passage had been sealed.”

  I halted mid-step. “Wait, what?”

  He stopped a step ahead of me, cocking his head to the side.

  “The passage was sealed? Why? Who did it?” This was big news. A new world, new creatures, and now drama? Oh yes!

  He was encouraged by my curiosity and smiled again. “We don’t know who did it or what did it. One day the passage was fine, and the next it had collapsed. You see, it’s a mountain tunnel. Maybe it was an act of nature or instability between the two worlds.”

  “Well, that’s too bad.”

  “Yes. It was a bad time for us. Since most humans don’t know about the passage, there was little help on this side to clear it. We were able to finish removing the last of the blockage over a year ago.”

  My hand played with the zipper of my coat while I thought about what he said. “Why was it a bad time for you? Because you couldn’t interact with humans?” It seemed lame, but it was the only thing I could think of.

  He shook his head while taking a few steps ahead. I followed on his heels. “No. The passage being blocked meant that some of our kind were trapped h
ere. Many mates and families were separated, with some being on one side and the rest on the other. Some weregals who came with me have been trying to locate those trapped here and help reunite them with their families. A few others, including myself, are trying to ‘test the waters’ I guess, to see if humans still hate us as badly as they did.”

  While the thought of having families separated for this long was really sad, I laughed at the last part of what he said. “I hate to tell you, but they still hate you. At least here they do. I’m not sure how far away you’ve traveled, but in this little town, you’d better stay human. Either that or hope you run into someone our age. They don’t think you’re so dangerous. The older people will shoot on sight.”

  “Our age? How old are you?” His brows drew low over his eyes as he studied my face.

  I hesitated, sensing this was a trick question. “Umm, I’m seventeen.”

  “Seventeen?” He seemed more confused now.

  “Yeah, you know, after sixteen? Or do you count differently?”

  Placing his hands on his hips, he studied me again, from top to toe and back up again. This was ridiculous and unnerving, so I crossed my arms and gave him the stare down back. When his eyes met my glare, he didn’t even try to stop the grin that came to his face.

  “Well, you like what you see or is there another reason you keep staring at me?” I asked, not caring if I sounded nice or not. Maybe weregal females were used to getting looked over all the time, but I sure wasn’t a weregal female, and as a human, I didn’t like it.

  “I’m sorry. You confuse me is all.” Like his other apologies, this one held no remorse. In fact, he sounded rather entertained.

  “Look at me like that again and I’ll de-man you, got it?” My words were cold, but my voice and face were playful. His boyish grin melted my anger, which did nothing to strengthen my threat, which we both knew was a bluff. His soft chuckle, followed by an increase in his scent stole whatever anger was left inside me from his sweeping eyes.

  “I understand. Point taken. I thought you would be a few years older is all.”

  “Exactly how old are you?”

  “Sixty-five.”

  “Whoa, are you serious?” I shook my head like a dog with wet hair, wondering if I’d heard him right. “I thought you said you were sixty-five.”

  “I did.”

  “Seriously you don’t look older than twenty-five.”

  “And I just told you I’d proved to my father that I was man enough to come into your world when the passage collapsed. How many years ago was that?”

  “The closest I can come is that people stopped seeing your kind about twenty years ago.” My breathing was labored as I tried to take in this new information and do the math. Then I remembered what Tom had said about weregal aging. They lived to be quite old and aged slowly. “How old do weregals live to be?”

  “If we aren’t killed before we die of old age, some have been close to five hundred years old.”

  The ground began spinning after this revelation, so I decided it would be a good idea to sit. I’d spotted a bench around the next curve up the trail sitting beside the river on an earlier run in the summer. I started walking to it, and Kev followed, staying close and watching me like I’d fall on my face. Who knew, maybe I would.

  “Okay, so you’re sixty-five. You don’t look sixty-five.” I told him as I sat heavily on the bench before I fell.

  He sat beside me, running fingers through his dark haired ponytail. My fingers itched to do the same, and I had to remind myself that it was his intoxicating scent and male allure that had my brain spouting such crazy ideas, ideas that I shouldn’t follow through with. To keep my hands to myself, I threaded my fingers together and set them in my lap.

  “I don’t look like a sixty-five-year-old human, you mean?” I nodded. “Our physical aging slows once we start puberty. After that, our bodies will continue to age slowly the rest of our lives, which is why you look younger than what you are. By the time you’re my age, you’ll only look twenty-five as well. I’m surprised you don’t know this.”

  He was leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees as he stared at me, but he’d ceased to exist the moment he started telling me how my aging was slowing down. He was right. He didn’t know much about humans.

  “Kev, you do realize that humans age at a steady pace, right? By the time I get to be sixty-five I’m going to be gray-haired, wrinkly and wearing dentures from all the junk food I eat. I wish I’d look twenty when I get to be your age, but as a human, it’s not possible.”

  As I watched his face, his black eyes grew wider, and his jaw hung slack. He stared at me until I arched an eyebrow at him. Whatever caused that reaction didn’t leave a pleasant taste in my mouth. Dread filled me as my body went numb, and my heart all but stopped as he spoke.

  “You mean you don’t know?”

  “Don’t know what?”

  His next words were said with so much confidence that they were like a bucket of ice water pouring over me. “Joey, you’re a weregal. You aren’t human.”

 
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