Shiver, p.17
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       Shiver, p.17
 

         Part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
Page 17

 

  Sam slowly lowered my wrists and released them. “I’m glad,” he said, very quietly.

  My arms still hung by my sides, right where Sam had put them. I frowned at him. “You were supposed to kiss me. ”

  “I thought about it. ”

  I just kept looking at the soft, sad shape of his lips, looking just like his voice sounded. I was probably staring, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted him to kiss me and how stupid it was to want it so badly. “Why don’t you?”

  He leaned over and gave me the lightest of kisses. His lips, cool and dry, ever so polite and incredibly maddening. “I have to get inside soon,” he whispered. “It’s getting cold. ”

  For the first time I paid attention to the icy wind that cut through my long sleeves. One of the frigid gusts hurled thousands of fallen leaves back into the air, and for a single second, I thought I smelled wolf.

  Sam shuddered.

  Squinting at his face in the dim light, I realized suddenly that his eyes were afraid.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE • SAM

  37°F

  We didn’t run back to the house. Running would’ve meant acknowledging something that I wasn’t ready to face in front of her—something that I was. Instead, we walked with a giant’s strides, dried leaves and branches snapping under our feet, our breaths drowning out the other sounds of the evening. Cold snaked under my collar, tightening my skin into goose bumps.

  If I didn’t let go of her hand, I’d be all right.

  A wrong turn would lead us away from the house, but I couldn’t concentrate on the trees around me. My vision flashed with jerky memories of humans shifting into wolves, hundreds of shifts over my years with the pack. The memory of the first time I’d seen Beck shift was vivid in my mind—more real than the screaming red sunset through the trees in front of Grace and me. I remembered the frigid white light streaming in the living room windows of Beck’s house, and I remembered the shaking line of his shoulders as he braced his arms against the back of the sofa.

  I stood beside him, looking up, no words in my mouth.

  “Take him out!” Beck shouted, his face toward the hallway but his eyes half-closed. “Ulrik, take Sam out of here!”

  Ulrik’s fingers around my arm then were as tight as Grace’s fingers around my hand were now, pulling me through the woods, leading us back over the trail we’d left earlier. Night crouched in the trees, waiting to overtake us, cold and black. But Grace didn’t look away from the sun glowing through the trees as she headed toward it.

  The brilliant nimbus of the sun half blinded me, making stark silhouettes of the trees, and suddenly I was seven again. I saw the star pattern of my old bedspread so clearly that I stumbled. My fingers clutched the fabric, balling and tearing it under my grip.

  “Mama!” My voice broke on the second syllable. “Mama, I’m going to be sick!”

  I was tangled on the floor in blankets and noise and puke, shaking and clawing at the floor, trying to hold on to something, when my mother came to the bedroom door, a familiar silhouette. I looked at her, my cheek resting against the floor, and I started to say her name, but no sound came out.

  She dropped to her knees and she watched me change for the first time.

  “Finally,” Grace said, tearing my brain back to the woods around us. She sounded out of breath, as if we’d been running. “There it is. ”

  I couldn’t let Grace see me change. I couldn’t change now.

  I followed Grace’s gaze to the back of Beck’s house, a flash of warm red-brown in this chilly blue evening.

  And now I ran.

  Two steps from the car, all my hopes of getting warm in the Bronco were crushed in the moment it took for Grace to uselessly tug the locked door handle. Inside, the keys swung from the ignition with her effort. Grace’s face twisted with frustration.

  “We’ll have to try the house,” she said.

  We didn’t have to break into Beck’s house. He always left a spare key stuck in the weather lining of the back door. I tried not to think of the car keys hanging in the Bronco’s ignition; if we had them, I would’ve been warm again already. My hands shook as I pulled the spare key from the lining and tried to slide it into the dead bolt. I was hurting already. Hurry up, you idiot. Hurry up.

  I just couldn’t stop shaking.

  Grace carefully took the key from me, with not even a hint of fear, though she had to know what was happening. She closed one of her warm hands over my cold, shuddering ones, and with the other she shoved the key into the knob and unlocked it.

  God, please let the power be on. Please let the heat be on.

  Her hand on my elbow pushed me inside the dark kitchen. I couldn’t shed the cold; it clung to every bit of me. My muscles began to cramp and I put my fingers over my face, shoulders hunched.

  “No,” Grace said, her voice even and firm, just like she was answering a simple question. “No, come on. ”

  She pulled me away from the door and shut it behind me. Her hand slid along the wall by the door, finding the light switches, and miraculously, the lights flickered on, coming to ugly, fluorescent life above us. Grace pulled on me again, dragging me farther away from the door, but I didn’t want to move. I just wanted to curl in on myself and give in. “I can’t, Grace. I can’t. ”

  I didn’t know if I’d said it out loud or not, but she wasn’t listening to me if I had. Instead, she sat me on the floor directly on top of an air vent, and she pulled off her jacket to wrap around my shoulders and over the top of my head. Then she crouched in front of me and gathered my cold hands against her body.

  I shook and clenched my teeth to keep them from chattering, trying to focus on her, on being human, on getting warm. She was saying something; I couldn’t understand her. She was too loud. Everything was too loud. It smelled in here. This close, her scent was exploding in my nostrils. I hurt. Everything hurt. I whined, very softly.

  She leaped up and ran down the hall, her hands smacking light switches as she did, and then she disappeared. I groaned and put my head down on my knees. No, no, no, no. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be fighting anymore. The pain? The shuddering?

  She was back. Her hands were wet. She grabbed my wrists and her mouth moved, her voice ringing out, indecipherable. Sounds meant for someone else’s ears. I stared at her.

  She pulled again; she was stronger than I thought she was. I got to my feet; my height somehow surprised me. I shivered so violently that her jacket fell from my shoulders. The cold air hitting my neck racked me with another shudder and I nearly went to my knees.

  The girl got a better grip on my arms and pulled me along, talking all the time, low, soothing sounds with an edge of iron beneath them. She pushed me into a doorway; heat emanated from inside it.

  God, no. No. No. I pulled and fought against her hold, eyes locked on the far wall of the little tiled room. A bathtub lay in front of me like a tomb. Steam rolled off the water, the heat tempting and wonderful, but every part of my body resisted.

  “Sam, don’t fight me! I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to do. ”

  Eyes fixed on the tub, I hooked my fingers on the edge of the door. “Please,” I whispered.

  In my head, the hands held me down in the tub, hands that smelled of childhood and familiarity, of hugs and clean sheets and everything I’d ever known. They pushed me into the water. It was warm, the temperature of my body. The voices counted together. They didn’t say my name. Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. They were poking holes in my skin, letting what was inside get out. The water turned red in little wispy strands. I gasped, struggled, cried. They didn’t speak. The woman cried into the water as she held me down. I’m Sam, I told them, holding my face above the red water. I’m Sam. I’m Sam. I’m

  “Sam!” The girl ripped me from the door and pushed off the wall against me; I stumbled and fell toward the tub. She shoved me as I fought to regain my balance, sending my head smacki
ng against the wall and into the steaming water.

  I lay perfectly still, sinking, water closing over my face, scalding my skin, boiling my body, drowning my shudders. Grace gently lifted my head above water, cradling it in her arms, one foot in the tub behind me. She was sopping wet and shivering.

  “Sam,” she said. “God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. ”

  I couldn’t stop shaking, my fingers gripped on the side of the tub. I wanted out. I wanted her to hold me, so I could feel safe. I wanted to forget the blood running from the scars on my wrists. “Get me out,” I whispered. “Please get me out. ”

  “Are you warm enough?”

  I couldn’t answer. I was bleeding to death. I balled my hands into fists and drew them to my chest. Every caress of water over my wrists sent a new wave of shivers through me. Her face was full of pain.

  “I’m going to find the thermostat and turn the heat up. Sam, you have to stay in there until I come back with towels. I’m so sorry. ”

  I closed my eyes.

  I passed a lifetime with my head held barely above water, unable to move, and then Grace came back, holding a stack of mismatched towels. She knelt by the tub and reached past me; I heard a gurgle behind my head. I felt myself slipping down the drain with the water in red circling swirls.

  “I can’t get you out if you don’t help. Please, Sam. ” She stared at me as if she was waiting for me to move. The water drained away from my wrists, my shoulders, my back, until I lay in an empty tub. Grace laid a towel on top of me; it was very warm, as if she’d heated it somehow. Then she took one of my scarred wrists in her hands and looked at me. “You can come out now. ”

  I looked back at her, unblinking, my legs folded up the side of the tiled wall like a giant insect.

  She reached down and traced my eyebrows. “You do have really beautiful eyes. ”

  “We get to keep them,” I said.

  Grace started at my voice. “What?”

  “It’s the one thing we keep. Our eyes stay the same. ” I unclenched my fists. “I was born with these eyes. I was born for this life. ”

  As if there was no bitterness in my voice, Grace replied, “Well, they’re beautiful. Beautiful and sad. ” She reached down and took my fingers, her eyes locked on mine, holding my gaze. “Do you think you can stand up now?”

  And I did. Looking at her brown eyes and nothing else, I stepped out of the tub, and she led me out of the bathroom and back into my life.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX • GRACE

  35°F

  I couldn’t keep my thoughts together. I stood in the kitchen, staring at the cabinets, which were covered with pinned-up photographs of smiling people—the pack members as humans. Normally, I would’ve looked through them to find Sam’s face, but I kept seeing the broken shape of his body in the bathtub and hearing the terror in his voice. The vision of him shaking in the woods right before I realized what was happening to him replayed over and over in my head.

  Saucepan. Can of soup. Bread from freezer. Spoons. Beck’s kitchen was obviously stocked by someone who was familiar with a werewolf’s peculiar schedule; it was full of canned goods and boxed foods with long shelf lives. I lined up all of the ingredients for a makeshift dinner on the counter, forcing myself to concentrate on the task at hand.

 
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