How to flirt with a nake.., p.8
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       How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, p.8

         Part #1 of Naked Werewolf series by Molly Harper  
Page 8

 

  “You walked into my apartment unannounced, found me in bed with Ray Ridley, and didn’t bother walking back out!”

  “Oh, baby, you know I don’t care about that sort of thing. I’ve always told you that sex is the most natural expression of your inner being. ”

  “That’s the problem, Mom. You don’t care about that sort of thing, but I do. Most men do not want to stay naked in bed with a woman while her mother is sitting on the foot of said bed touting the benefits of tantric sex. ”

  Mom sniffed dismissively on the other end of the line. “Well, any man you date is going to have to understand that loving, involved parents are part of the package. That’s why I never saw things working out with Tom. ”

  “It was Tim. And men don’t want to date families, Mom. It’s hard enough to find someone who likes you for all your flaws. Adding two more people into the mix is just too much. But that’s not why I left. I just need to be alone for a while. To find out who I am when I’m away from you. I need some space. I need to breathe. ”

  “Oh, you’ve always been your own person,” she huffed. “I don’t know where you get the idea that we’ve had any sort of influence on you. You use plastic grocery bags, for heaven’s sake. But your father says that if we want to make our own choices in life, we have to respect yours—even if they go against everything we’ve tried to teach you. ”

  “This isn’t about what you’ve tried to teach me. This is about me, what I want to do with my life. You and Dad want to fight the system. Fine. Personally, I like the system. The system brings electricity to my home, schools to my neighborhoods, Ben and Jerry’s to my local Wal-Mart. ”

  “You shop at Wal-Mart?” Mom screeched.

  I held the phone away from my ear as my mother launched into a diatribe about the evils of a homogenized, centralized retail empire that treats its employees like chattel. “Yes,” I said. “Now you know my secret shame. ”

  “So, you’re just going to sit in the middle of nowhere, shop at Wal-Mart, and breathe for as long as it suits you?” she asked derisively.

  “No, I’m also cooking in a restaurant. I’m meeting new people every day. I’m involved in the community. I like it here. ”

  “What sort of restaurant?” my mother asked, suspicion tinting her voice.

  “A normal restaurant with normal food with seminormal people. ”

  I could hear her teeth grinding on the other end of the line. “So, you’re charring animal flesh again?”

  “Yes, the restaurant serves meat,” I told her, waiting for the inevitable clang as Mom struck her “anger gong” to release her negative feelings. The anger gong had to be replaced when Mom found out I’d been cooking at the Tast-E-Grill for six months before telling her. I’d ended up fund-raising for PETA as penance for that one. But the minute I turned eighteen, I went right back to working at the drive-in after school and during the summers while I was in college.

  Mom dealt with it by pretending that it wasn’t happening. And beating the hell out of a gong.

  “I’m not going to get angry,” Mom intoned now, although I could hear the faint, reverberating ping of the gong in the background. “I am the master of my feelings. My feelings are not the master of me. It’s obvious that you don’t care about what we think or feel. And that you’ve totally abandoned the principles we’ve tried to instill in you. I’m not going to lecture you on the horrors of the slaughterhouse or what the consumption of animal flesh does to the interior of your colon. ”

  “Mom, I am not going to pay roaming fees to talk about my colon. ”

  She exhaled loudly through her nostrils. “I’m just going to ask you, as your mother, the woman who gave you life, who suckled you and nurtured you and loved you, to please give me your new address and phone number so we can contact you when we need to. ”

  I stayed silent, mostly because I really hated it when she said the word “suckled. ” If I gave her my home phone number, the receiver on my nightstand would be ringing morning, noon, and night. I could turn the cell phone off, at least, or I could send her calls to voice mail. More important, it was a piece of information I could keep in my control, one more boundary I could maintain. I chose my words carefully. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ll call you when I can. And you can always e-mail me if you want to. ”

  This was a dirty trick, and I knew it. My parents had yet to invest in a computer. I was pretty sure they believed that e-mails arrived in envelopes that popped out of the disk drive.

  “But how will I get ahold of you?” she cried. “What if there’s an emergency? What if your father has another episode?”

  “Call my cell phone and leave a message. ”

  “Sweetheart, please, don’t do this!” I could hear her beg while I pulled the phone away from my ear and hit “end. ” I blinked back the hot moisture gathering in my eyes. It was stupid to cry, to feel guilty. I wasn’t wrong to want a life on my own terms. Maybe I’d gone to extremes to get it, but there was no taking that back now.

  5

  When Options A and B Both Suck

  THE CHOCOLATE CHESS SQUARES were a big hit during the next day’s lunch rush. Gertie Gogan bought a half-dozen, which she said she was going to take to Nate’s office. But when I saw him later, he had no idea what I was talking about. Abner Golightly upped his offer to warm feet and a permanently reclined toilet seat, and he’d break down and buy a color TV if I moved in with him. I kissed his cheek and politely declined. Even Buzz, who seemed to be resenting his mummified hand less and less, had to admit that they were “pretty damn good” and asked if I would bring another six dozen the next day.

  I sensed victory on the horizon. Caught up in my sugar-based triumph, I didn’t even mind when Evie left the saloon in my care during the predinner lull. She needed to take Buzz to the clinic for a followup visit. But then Ben, the night bartender, got sick halfway through his shift, which left me alone with Lynette. She was, at best, an indifferent helpmate. I ended up pouring drinks, washing glasses, and keeping tabs while she hung out by the pool table and flirted with Leonard Tremblay.

  I made a mental note to call Darby and let her know that there might be some hope for her yet.

  Most of the thin crowd consisted of regulars, who were patient when it took me longer than usual to fetch their beers. Heck, they were willing to wipe the counters down for me if it meant they could stay to watch the last few minutes of the game while I washed dishes.

  “Hey, honey, you in the kitchen. ”

  I looked up from the sink and wiped my hands on my apron. There was a stranger sitting at the counter. He was tall and muscular, with big brown eyes and dimples that winked from the corners of his mouth when he smiled. Given the worn green jacket advertising Harris Transport, I guessed he was a trucker. They frequently stopped in Grundy to catch some sleep at the Evergreen Motel or a hot meal at the Glacier. Most of them were nice, family guys, a little lonely, who came into the Glacier for a side of conversation along with their food. If you asked them to see pictures of their kids, they’d tip you forty percent.

  But something about this guy put me off. It wasn’t just the three days’ worth of growth on his cheeks or the long, appraising look he was giving me while I dried the last of the dishes. I shook off the little shiver of apprehension and pasted on my most polite smile. “Can I get something for you?”

  “Beer,” he said, flashing those dimples again. “Why don’t you have one, too?”

  “I don’t drink on duty, but thanks. ”

  He dipped his head in an exaggerated hang-dog expression. “That’s a disappointment. So how does a pretty girl like you end up behind a bar at this time of night?”

  “A trusting boss and the ability to sling beers with laser precision,” I said, stacking dried pilsners carefully under the bar. I wanted to keep busy. I didn’t want to encourage this guy, to make him feel he had too much of my undivided attention. But Buzz and Evie wouldn’t want me ignoring a lonely customer, either. It was a fine line to walk.

  Trucker Guy focused those baby browns on me, tilting his head as he asked, “Don’t you have someone waiting for you at home, honey? Somebody to keep your feet warm?”

  “Yes, a very thick pair of wool socks,” I told him solemnly. He laughed, and I couldn’t help but smile in return.

  “Luckiest damn socks on earth. ” He snorted. “Wonder how they’d look rolled up on my floor in the morning. ”

  “See, you were doing so well, and then you ruined it by using the tired ‘clothes on the floor’ thing. Sorry, I have really strict rules about men who use bad pickup lines. ”

  He winked. “Well, you know what they say, rules are made to be broken. ”

  Before I could answer, Walt Gunther, one of the Hockey Night crowd, beckoned me over to his table. I excused myself with a nod and made my way to him.

  “That outsider fella bothering you, Mo?” Walt asked.

  I offered him a grateful grin. Something about the way Walt said “outsider” made me feel sort of warm inside. I was included. I wasn’t an outsider. “Nah, he just can’t take a hint. ”

  “Well, honey, if he gives you any trouble, me and Abner know where to hide a body,” he said.

  “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Can I get y’all another round?”

  Walt rubbed his bulbous belly absentmindedly. “No thanks, Jeanie’s already going to skin me over being out this late. Don’t want to add half-drunk to her list of complaints. ”

  I poured Walt a Coke and kept Abner in peanuts through the third period. Walt kept a careful eye on me while the trucker finished his beer. Trucker Guy refused another and left me forty-six cents as a tip, which cinched my feelings of ill will toward him. He had long since disappeared by the time I laughingly chased Abner and Walt out the front door and flipped the “Closed” sign over. Walt insisted on walking me to my parking spot in the alley before climbing into his truck. I smiled and waved as he pulled away.

  I’d gotten as far as putting the key in the ignition when I realized I’d forgotten to take out that night’s garbage. The lunch special had been oyster stew. If I put it off until the next day, the kitchen would stink to high heaven in the morning.

  Grumbling to myself all the way, I went back through the kitchen entrance and grabbed the garbage bags. I pulled my jacket closed, noting how thin and insubstantial it felt against the growing evening chill. In just a few short weeks, I would probably need to upgrade to the heavy down parka I’d just ordered over the Internet. I was about to lock up when I heard footsteps crunching on the gravel behind me. I whirled, raising the bag of garbage like a plastic-coated hammer. My hope was that I could gross out whoever it was with day-old garbage, giving me time to run away.

  No such luck. It was the outsider, the trucker from before.

  “Hey, here we are again,” he drawled. His smile was friendly, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Some instinct had me putting my back against the wall, my keys clutched between the fingers of my right hand. “I think I left something on the bar earlier, a blue knit cap. Did you see it?”

  I shook my head, trying to keep my face a blank, pleasant mask, despite the frisson of fear rippling up my spine. “No, I checked the bar over when I was closing up, and I didn’t see anything. But maybe if you come back in the morning, you might find it. ”

  He furrowed his brow, his expression one of practiced disappointment. “Well, I’m heading out early, before dawn. I won’t have time to stop by. It would only take a minute for us to duck in and check. It’s my favorite hat. You don’t want me wandering around bare-headed, do you? I could catch cold. ”
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