Shiver, p.4
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       Shiver, p.4

         Part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
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Page 4

  The class erupted in whispers at her audacity, and Officer Koenig looked as if he really did have due cause to shoot her. But all he said was, “I’m not really authorized to talk about the details of any ongoing investigations. ”

  “It’s an investigation?” a male voice called out from near the front.

  Elizabeth interrupted, “My mom heard it from a dispatcher. Is it true? Why would someone steal a body?”

  Theories flew in quick succession.

  “It’s got to be a cover-up. For a suicide. ”

  “To smuggle drugs!”

  “Medical experimentation!”

  Some guy said, “I heard Jack’s dad has a stuffed polar bear in his house. Maybe the Culpepers stuffed Jack, too. ” Someone took a swat at the guy who made the last comment; it was still taboo to say anything bad about Jack or his family.

  Officer Koenig looked aghast at Mrs. Ruminski, who stood in the open door of the classroom. She regarded him solemnly and then turned to the class. “Quiet down!”

  We quieted down.

  She turned back to Officer Koenig. “So was his body sto- len?” she asked.

  He said again, “I’m not really authorized to discuss the details of any ongoing investigations. ” But this time, he sounded more helpless, like there might be a question mark at the end of his sentence.

  “Officer Koenig,” Mrs. Ruminski said. “Jack was well loved in this community. ”

  Which was a patent lie. But being dead had done wonders for his reputation. I guess everyone else could forget the way he’d lose his temper in the middle of the hall or even during class. And just what those tempers looked like. But I hadn’t. MercyFalls was all about rumors, and the rumor on Jack was that he got his short fuse from his dad. I didn’t know about that. It seemed like you ought to pick the sort of person you would be, no matter what your parents were like.

  “We are still in mourning,” Mrs. Ruminski added, gesturing to the sea of black in the classroom. “This is not about an investigation. This is about giving closure to a close-knit community. ”

  Olivia mouthed at me: “Oh. My. God. ” I shook my head. Amazing.

  Officer Koenig crossed his arms over his chest; it made him look petulant, like a little kid being forced to do something. “It’s true. We’re looking into it. I understand the loss of someone so young”—this from someone who looked maybe twenty—“has a huge impact on the community, but I ask that everyone respect the privacy of the family and the confidentiality of the investigation process. ”

  He was getting back on firm footing here.

  Elizabeth waved her hand again. “Do you think the wolves are dangerous? Do you get lots of calls about them? My mom said you got lots of calls about them. ”

  Officer Koenig looked at Mrs. Ruminski, but he should have figured out by now that she wanted to know just as much as Elizabeth did. “I don’t think the wolves are a threat to the populace, no. I—and the rest of the department—feel this was an isolated incident. ”

  Elizabeth said, “But she got attacked, too. ”

  Oh, lovely. I couldn’t see Elizabeth pointing, but I knew she was, because everyone’s faces turned toward me. I bit the inside of my lip. Not because the attention bothered me, but because every time someone remembered I was dragged from my tire swing, they remembered it could happen to anyone. And I wondered how many someones it would take before they decided to go after the wolves.

  To go after my wolf.

  I knew this was the real reason why I couldn’t forgive Jack for dying. In between that and his checkered history at the school, it felt hypocritical to go into public mourning along with the rest of the school. It didn’t feel right to ignore it, either, though; I wished I knew what I was supposed to be feeling.

  “That was a long time ago,” I told Officer Koenig, and he looked relieved as I added, “Years. And it might have been dogs. ”

  So I was lying. Who was going to contradict me?

  “Exactly,” Officer Koenig said emphatically. “Exactly. There’s no point vilifying wild animals for a random incident. And there’s no point creating panic when it’s not warranted. Panic leads to carelessness, and carelessness creates accidents. ”

  My thoughts precisely. I felt a vague kinship with humorless Officer Koenig as he steered the conversation back to careers in law enforcement. After class was over, the other students started talking about Jack again, but Olivia and I escaped to our lockers.

  I felt a tug on my hair and turned to see Rachel standing behind me, looking mournfully at both of us. “Babes, I have to rain check on vacation planning this afternoon. Step-freak has demanded a family bonding trip to Duluth. If she wants me to love her, she’s going to have to buy me some new shoes. Can we get together tomorrow or something?”

  I had barely nodded before Rachel flashed both of us a big smile and surged off through the hall.

  “Want to hang out at my place instead?” I asked Olivia. It still felt weird to ask. In middle school, she and Rachel and I had hung out every day, a wordless ongoing agreement. Somehow it had sort of changed after Rachel got her first boyfriend, leaving Olivia and me behind, the geek and the disinterested, and fracturing our easy friendship.

  “Sure,” Olivia said, grabbing her stuff to follow me down the hall. She pinched my elbow. “Look. ” She pointed to Isabel, Jack’s younger sister, a classmate of ours with more than her fair share of the Culpeper good looks, complete with a cherubic head of blonde curls. She drove a white SUV and had one of those handbag Chihuahuas that she dressed to match her outfits. I always wondered when she would notice that she lived in Mercy Falls, Minnesota, where people just didn’t do that kind of thing.

  At the moment, Isabel was staring into her locker as if it contained other worlds. Olivia said, “She’s not wearing black. ”

  Isabel snapped out of her trance and glared at us as if she realized we were talking about her. I looked away quickly, but I still felt her eyes on me.

  “Maybe she’s not in mourning anymore,” I said, after we’d gotten out of earshot.

  Olivia opened the door for me. “Maybe she’s the only one who ever was. ”

  Back at my house, I made coffee and cranberry scones for us, and we sat at the kitchen table looking at a stack of Olivia’s latest photos under the yellow ceiling light. To Olivia, photography was a religion; she worshipped her camera and studied the techniques as if they were rules to live by. Seeing her photos, I was almost willing to become a believer, too. She made you feel as though you were right there in the scene.

  “He was really cute. You can’t tell me he wasn’t,” she said.

  “Are you still talking about Officer No-Smile? What is wrong with you?” I shook my head and shuffled to the next photo. “I’ve never seen you obsess over a real person. ”

  Olivia grinned and leaned at me over a steaming mug. Taking a bite of scone, she spoke around a mouthful, covering her mouth to keep from spraying me with crumbs. “I think I’m turning into one of those girls who likes uniformed types. Oh, c’mon, you didn’t think he was cute? I’m feeling…I’m feeling the boyfriend urge. We should order pizza sometime. Rachel told me there’s a really cute pizza boy. ”

  I rolled my eyes again. “All of a sudden you want a boyfriend?”

  Olivia didn’t look up from the photos, but I got the idea she was paying a lot of attention to my response. “You don’t?”

  I mumbled, “When the right guy comes along, I guess. ”

  “How will you know if you don’t look?”

  “As if you have ever had the guts to talk to a guy. Other than your James Dean poster. ” My voice had gotten more combative than I’d intended; I added a laugh at the end to soften the effect. Olivia’s eyebrows drew closer to each other, but she didn’t say anything. For a long time we sat in silence, paging through her photos.

  I lingered on a close-up shot of me, Olivia, and Rachel together; her mother ha
d come outside to take it right before school started. Rachel, her freckled face contorted into a wild smile, had one arm firmly wrapped around Olivia’s shoulders and the other around mine; it looked like she was squeezing us into the frame. Like always, she was the glue that held our threesome together: the outgoing one who made sure us quiet ones stuck together through the years.

  In the photo, Olivia seemed to belong in the summer, with her olive skin bronzed and green eyes saturated with color. Her teeth made a perfect crescent moon smile for the photo, dimples and all. Next to the two of them, I was the embodiment of winter—dark blonde hair and serious brown eyes, a summer girl faded by cold. I used to think Olivia and I were so similar, both introverts permanently buried in books. But now I realized my seclusion was self-inflicted and Olivia was just painfully shy. This year, it felt like the more time we spent together, the harder it was to stay friends.

  “I look stupid in that one,” Olivia said. “Rachel looks insane. And you look angry. ”

  I looked like someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer—petulant, almost. I liked it. “You don’t look stupid. You look like a princess and I look like an ogre. ”

  “You don’t look like an ogre. ”

  “I was bragging,” I told her.

  “And Rachel?”

  “No, you called it. She does look insane. Or at least highly caffeinated, as per usual. ” I looked at the photo again. Really, Rachel looked like a sun, bright and exuding energy, holding us two moons in parallel orbit by the sheer force of her will.

  “Did you see that one?” Olivia interrupted my thoughts to point at another one of the photos. It was my wolf, deep in the woods, halfway hidden behind a tree. But she’d managed to get a little sliver of his face perfectly in focus, and his eyes stared right into mine. “You can keep that one. In fact, keep the whole stack. We can put the good ones in a book next time. ”

  “Thanks,” I replied, and meant it more than I could say. I pointed at the picture. “This is from last week?”

  She nodded. I stared at the photo of him—breathtaking, but flat and inadequate in comparison to the real thing. I lightly ran my thumb over it, as if I’d feel his fur. Something knotted in my chest, bitter and sad. I felt Olivia’s eyes on me, and they only made me feel worse, more alone. Once upon a time I would’ve talked to her about it, but now it felt too personal. Something had changed—and I thought it was me.

  Olivia handed me a slender stack of prints that she’d separated from the rest. “This is my brag pile. ”

  Distracted, I paged through them slowly. They were impressive: a fall leaf floating on a puddle, students reflected in the windows of a school bus, an artfully smudgy black-and-white self-portrait of Olivia. I oohed and aahed and then slid the photo of my wolf back on top of them to look at it again.

  Olivia made a sort of irritated sound in the back of her throat.

  I hurriedly shuffled back to the one of the leaf floating on the puddle. I frowned at it for a moment, trying to imagine the sort of thing Mom would say about a piece of art. I managed, “I like this one. It’s got great…colors. ”

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