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     How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf

       part  #1 of  Naked Werewolf Series  by  Molly Harper / Fantasy / Romance & Love
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Page 2


“I’ll clean it myself,” I amended.

Instantly reassured, Mr. Gogan showed me the rest of the house, all four rooms of it. He offered to help me unload a few boxes from the truck, more strings to keep me from bolting from the little cabin. I refused, noting how dark it was getting.

“Mrs. Gogan will get worried,” I told him.

“That reminds me,” he said as he retrieved Tupperware from the backseat of his Bronco. “My Gertie sent this over. It’s her famous pot roast and potatoes. And some berry cobbler. She said a woman shouldn’t have to cook for herself after driving so far. She hopes to meet you the next time you come into town. ”

My reticence, heart, and nerves were instantly balmed by lovingly prepared starches. I smiled at Mr. Gogan. The “scenic view and available men” sales pitch I had expected, but not the neighborly gesture. I was wanted there, and that meant a lot. “Please thank her for me. ”

Mr. Gogan winked at me as he climbed into his truck. “Welcome home, Mo. ”

2

Dead Fish and Dying Elk

THE SILENCE WAS DEAFENING.

I thought my little suburban rental home in Leland, Mississippi, had been secluded, but even there I could hear the occasional snatch of conversation, the rumbling bass of my neighbors’ car stereos. Here it felt as if my ears were stuffed with cotton. My house was fourteen miles outside town limits and set back a half-mile from the highway by a winding gravel driveway. A bomb could have blown up half of Grundy, and I wouldn’t have heard it. I lay in the cabin’s little bedroom and listened for some noise. Something to prove that it wasn’t some sort of hallucination, that I wasn’t still living in my little ranch house, waiting for my life to start.

After Mr. Gogan left, I’d found I had a boatload of manic energy to burn off. Which was a good thing, because I spent my first few hours as a Grundy resident on the Great Dead Fish Hunt. There were dead fish piled in the fridge, dead fish in the bathroom sink, dead fish hanging from a string in my utility room. Fortunately, Mr. Gogan’s house-warming gift included all-purpose cleaner and paper towels. The worst part was, as much as I wanted just to chuck the decaying leftovers outside and forget about them, I figured that would be a signal flare to every bear in a hundred-mile radius that I was hosting an all-you-can-eat buffet on my lawn. So I carefully double-bagged the remains in heavy-duty trash bags and left them in my utility room. I hoped to be able to run them out to my locking garbage bin at the end my driveway in the light of day.

Honestly, I wasn’t terribly afraid of the prospect of bears, wolves, or anything else that Alaska could throw at me. I figured it couldn’t be any worse than going out to your carport and finding a six-foot alligator sunning himself behind your bumper. Which had happened twice in Mississippi. Not to mention the various snakes, possums, and other vermin that had found their way into my house.

Tired, sore, and stinking like dead salmon, I showered until my hot water ran out and warmed up Mrs. Gogan’s offering in my newly descaled microwave. While I ate, I gave in to my need to organize, to prepare. I made detailed lists of supplies I would need, furnishings and household items to be replaced, and the normal little moving chores such as establishing cable and phone service. I felt better for it. Lists and plans made me feel in control.

It was one of the many ways I differed from my parents, whose only remotely religious credo was “Man plans, the Greater Power says, ‘Ha!’”

That was it. That was my entire spiritual education, provided by the son of a deeply Orthodox Jewish family and the daughter of a Baptist deacon.

With my parents in mind, I took some deep, cleansing breaths, crunched my way through two Tums, and listened to my voice mail for the first time in a week.

“Sweetheart, I’m only calling because I’m so worried about you,” the messages all started. “We know that it’s important to have your own space. We’ve tried to respect that, but we didn’t expect you to take it this far. You’re our baby, our precious baby. We just don’t understand how you could do this to us. ” And then a litany of worries, complaints, and recriminations followed, each of which ended with my mother pleading, “Won’t you please at least call us, so we know that you’re safe? Even if you have to use your cell phone to do it . . . but you know, I worry about you using that silly phone so much, you’re going to get a brain tumor from all those rays being aimed right at your ear. I’ve told you time and time again just to use your phone at home . . . ”

And on and on it would go until my voice mail ran out of space.

I leaned my forehead against the counter, grateful for the cool, smooth Formica. And despite the fact that any number of studies had proven that my cell phone was perfectly safe to use, I was annoyed to find that I’d placed it on the far side of the counter, where it couldn’t zap me with its deadly brain-mushing waves. This was the problem with dealing with my mother. Sometimes she made just enough sense to get to me, and then I was all the way back to square one.

My mother was originally Lynn Duvall, from Brownsville, Texas. She met my father, George Wenstein, at a seminar on recycling in 1975 in Chicago, and they’d been together ever since. Still clinging to the free-lovin’, consequence-free Age of Aquarius, the closest thing they’d come to a wedding was their naming ceremony, in which Mom redubbed my father Ash Wenstein. Years later, I was not the only person who found it appropriate that my father had the temerity to name my mother Saffron, a spice that sticks to your skin and clings there for days.

Ash and Saffron had some very definite theories on how to raise a daughter. Those standards didn’t include little things such as religion, television, junk food, Western medicine, or pets. (The pet thing wasn’t an animal-rights issue. Dad was just allergic. )

There were literally no walls in my childhood home, a barely refurbished old barn that served as the central building of my parents’ very own self-sufficient, ecologically responsible commune for forward-thinking, government-hating vegans. Dad dubbed it Sunrises but eventually changed the name because people kept dropping their drugged-out teenagers at the front gate. They seemed to think it was a rehab.

People drifted in and out of the community constantly. And while I loved the laughter, the music, the energy that they brought to my home, I learned not to make friends. Kids would be gone in a few months’ time, their parents unable to make the transition into what my parents called “living responsibly. ” Even those who fit in rarely stuck around longer than a few months, their restless natures keeping them on the road.

Still, my days were filled with adventure and fun, whether it was my dad’s sudden decision to spray-paint the family VW van an Easter-egg purple or my mom toting me along to a nuclear-energy protest dressed as a radioactive Statue of Liberty. Every day brought something new, something exciting. And I adored my parents—their love, their generosity, and their attention to me. I loved being the center of their world.

But what’s fun for a toddler can prove tiresome to a growing adolescent. I was home-schooled until age thirteen, when I realized that if I didn’t get into public school, I would never get into college. My mother was my teacher, keeping complex and detailed lesson plans on hand for when the county education officials inevitably showed up for their surprise inspections. And while her intentions were always good, her lessons rarely went past the planning stage. She’d decide that some cause needed her attention, and suddenly my understanding fractions or knowing the state capitals didn’t seem so important anymore. Most of the time, she’d leave me alone to do “independent study. ” If my father hadn’t been a CPA in his pre-Ash life, I probably wouldn’t be able to balance my checkbook to this day.

When I rode my bike to the Bowdry County Public Schools office and asked to enroll, I had no proof of my existence beyond my birth certificate and an essay entitled “Why I Need to Be Enrolled in Public School—Right Now. ”

Fortunately, the superintendent was walking by as I tried to explain my plight to his secretary. After he established that I wasn’t being neglected or abused, he told me that every child had the right to attend public school. He even offered to go to my parents’ house and explain my wishes to them. But I was so afraid of the idea of him seeing our strange, colorful little world, that he would find me a lost cause—or, worse yet, that he would drink my father’s “sun tea”—that I declined.

That afternoon marked the first argument I’d had with my parents—well, with my mother. My father seemed to think that if my parents were going to encourage me to make my own choices, that should include supporting me when those choices included public school. My mother warned of dire consequences, peer pressure, the influence of uncaring and underqualified teachers, a revisionist curriculum that would only prepare me for life as a drone, and, worse yet, refined sugars in the cafeteria food. But she eventually signed the enrollment papers, and I was the newest student in Leland High School’s ninth grade.

My mother wept as I dressed for my first day of classes, insisting on packing my lunch with honey-oat cookies, a peace offering. I dropped them into the garbage in the cafeteria and bought my first school lunch with birthday money from my loving, capitalist grandparents.

When I look back, I realize that was the breaking point. I got to school and realized exactly how different I was from other kids my age, how unprepared I was for the outside world. And I was pissed. Every act of rebellion, whether it was wearing leather shoes or voting conservative in a mock election, made me feel more normal. I flourished in high school. I became just like everybody else. I made good grades. I had a best friend, Kara Reynolds, who was happy to school me in the customs and rituals of “regular people. ”

I even got a job as a car hop at the Tast-E-Grill Drive-In after school. That afternoon, I ate (and promptly threw up) my first bacon cheeseburger. But Bernie Harned, the owner, helped me slowly build my processed-foods and fats tolerance up to Frito Pie as I worked my way from car hop to manning the grill. I used my hard-earned wages to buy new clothes, CDs, makeup, junk food—forbidden little treasures that I kept in an old steamer trunk at the foot of my bed.

My enrolling at the University of Mississippi seemed to fry something in my mother’s brain. Well, more so than her concert experiences from 1966 to 1972. Her charming kookiness helped her get a security pass into my dorm and, later, my off-campus apartment building, so that she could, in her words, visit anytime. Mom used this access to “help” me sort through the things I didn’t need anymore, such as lunch meat (the fact that I was eating animal flesh was bad enough, but think of the nitrates!), nonorganic produce (poisons posing as nourishment), chemical cleaning products (baking soda and diluted vinegar work so much better). When she tossed out a full bulk-sized box of Hostess Sno Balls, I took to keeping my junk food in a locking plastic tub. And then I came home to find that she’d taken the tub to a recycling center.

Mom really thought she was doing what was best for me . . . in her own twisted, self-centered way. After all, how could I tell my own mother she wasn’t welcome in my home? How could I be mad at her for throwing away a bunch of junk that was bad for me anyway? She was only thinking of my health. And hadn’t she replaced it with nine-grain bread, tofu dogs, carob cookies—all the things I’d loved when I was a kid? Arguing with her was like trying to grab a greased eel; once I thought I had a grip, she’d squirm away and switch tactics.

So I studied hard and dreamed of using my marketing degree to get a job in Illinois, New York, California—as far away from Mississippi as I could get. I dreamed of solitude, of privacy, of owning a home that my parents couldn’t just barge into by virtue of the spare key they’d wheedled out of my maintenance man.

My dad embraced pacifism. As in, he didn’t want to get between my mother and me when we were fighting. And then, about a month before graduation, Mom and I were arguing over whether she and my dad would be coming to the ceremony. Mom wanted to attend a conference that weekend on pharmacological waste’s impact on the water supply. When I objected, she said I shouldn’t be participating in such an overblown, elitist, meaningless ceremony in the first place. I said it was my overblown, elitist, meaningless ceremony, and it wouldn’t kill her to put her multitude of principles aside for a morning and make me happy for a change.
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