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Samantha Werner looked up from the cup of coffee she was staring into as somebody next to her said her name. Suddenly nervous, she smiled tentatively and asked, “Samuel?”
“Yeah,” the young man said with a smile to match her own on his face. “Nice to finally meet you.”
“You, too.” She gestured to the empty metal chair across the table from her. “Sit down. We are on a date, aren’t we?”
“Yeah. It’s been a while since I’ve been on one. I kind of forget the etiquette.”
“That’s all right. I never knew it.”
He laughed, and as he sat down, Samantha found herself looking into his eyes and finding them strangely familiar. They were green, a bright, healthy, enticing color that reminded her of emeralds and clovers, the color seemingly shifting to a new shade every moment that passed. She felt that she would have remembered immediately anybody with eyes like those, especially if they looked as good as Samuel, and yet the feeling persisted, though she couldn’t remember seeing his face before in her life.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “This is going to sound weird, but...have we ever met before?”
“Um, no. Not that I remember. Why?”
“Nothing. Sorry.” His eyes seem so familiar....
He looked at her hand. “Is that ring silver?” he asked, and she looked down at it.
“No. I don’t wear silver. It’s that imitation-silver thing.Got it last week.”
"I don’t wear silver, either.”
“Are you allergic?”
He smiled wanly at her. “Something like that,” he said, and let the subject drop.
“Have you lived in Wood Creek long?” she asked him.
He ran a hand through his dark brown-blond hair. “In or around here my whole life,” he replied.
“I can’t believe that we’ve never met before last week,” Samantha said, thinking about this. And if not, how come his eyes are so familiar?
“Yeah,” Samuel said, smiling back. “I can’t believe it, either.”
They had met last Friday night, at the local movie theater, which had been showing a double feature of The Wolfman, both the new and original, 1941 version. She had been alone and he had been alone; they had ended up talking outside the theater after the show was over.
“You wanna go somewhere?” Samantha asked him.
Strangely, he looked up at the overcast sky for a moment before he answered her, like the answer was written up there instead of in his head.
“Can we stay here?” he asked her, and she felt the scar on her chest beginning to burn. She frowned slightly; it hadn’t done that in a while.
His face dimmed, and she quickly realized that he thought she was frowning at him; to assuage him, she replied with a wide smile, “Of course we can.”
His smile returned. His teeth were startlingly white.
“Are you all right?” he asked suddenly. “You keep touching your chest.”
“Oh.” She looked down at her collar. “Old habit.” She hadn’t even realized she was doing it. “I have a scar there. I was attacked when I was six. In the woods.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” Samuel blurted out. “I didn’t mean to...I didn’t...Sorry.”
“It’s all right.” Samantha laughed slightly. “I won’t bite your head off.”
Her mind trailed away for a few moments, though, as the heat built up inside her again at the memories of the blurred, painful, shaky night eleven years ago that had brought down her world and taken her life--her old one, anyway, away from her; it had been stolen away like it was a material thing, and then it had been brought to and buried down in a world too far away and dark for her to ever find it again.
She had learned to adjust, somewhat, to what the attack had done to her, but she doubted she would ever fully be able to claim that she was all right again. Now a mantra kept running through her head whenever the burning and pain shot through her again, coursing through her blood and body like liquid fire: Be careful of the woods, Sam; there are monsters in them.
She knew that now. She wished she had known that then.
Samantha and Samuel stayed and talked until it was night, although from the sky you couldn’t tell it; the clouds had been making it look like night all day. When the date was over and Samuel got up to go, Samantha felt a tugging in her heart, and she wished she could tell him to stay, but she knew deep down that she couldn’t. It would be safer that way.
Still, she couldn’t keep a smile on her face from blossoming when they exchanged cell numbers and he promised to call her in the next couple of days, sometime over the weekend.
Great, she thought as she said the same thing aloud. What she thought next, though, was completely for herself, and she kept it locked away inside her head lest he should figure all her secrets out. Perfect timing. It usually takes me a few days to recover, anyway.
“All right,” she said, and surprised herself by standing up and hugging him. He hugged her back, and his arms were strong against her back and held her tightly, like he would never let her go and would protect her, always. The touch lasted just long enough, and she could hear the strong beat of his heart even when he let her go--for just a perfect moment, it lingered in her ear like a whisper before it disappeared into the night.
“See you soon, I promise,” Samantha said as they broke their embrace.
He nodded, lowering his stunning eyes at her, and then he turned and walked away, following the sound of his heartbeat into the dark. She stood and watched him go for a few seconds more, and then a cool night breeze blew across her face and wrapped itself around her, scattering candy wrappers and empty coffee cups into the rough tar of the streets, and as she tilted her head back and inhaled its strong scent, the clouds rolled back at last, revealing a clear, perfect moon in the sky above her.
She smiled, feeling the pain in the scar that was right above her breast roll through her one more time and then disappear, dormant until the next time, and then she turned and left, basking in the milky light that the moon poured down on her like lifeblood. It was time.
The woods were dark and getting colder when she decided it was time to go home; coughed back into her life, which seemed more and more constricting every time she was forced to return to it, she stood and began loping across the ground, leftover energy making her strong and carrying her back to her home, which was just on the edge of the forest. She had loved the house on sight, and now that she was what she was, well, it was the only place she could have ever called home--besides the woods, that was.
As she walked, she pulled her long, dark hair back into a ponytail, not afraid of the monsters in the woods tonight. They could not do anything to harm her; she was stronger than any of them could ever be. All the energy still stockpiled in her would not go away for several days, at least, and she could call on it whenever she wanted. It was just at its peak on nights like tonight.
She was halfway home when she smelled it.
She paused as another breeze blew the scent to her. Like Sam’s eyes, it was familiar, but unlike them, it was far easier to place. With the scent came the memory of a faded gray shirt, a rusty metal table, a voice saying “I’ll call you in a few days,” an embrace. Sam was out in the woods tonight, too. But why...?
She turned on her heel, sinking slightly in the clay-like mud that made up the forest floor, where it wasn’t thick, silky, emerald glass--the color, she realized now, that made up Sam’s eyes, but that wasn’t where she knew it from, she was sure of that. That, however, was a question for another time, she thought weakly, as she followed the scent and found herself in a clearing that she herself had just vacated. She could smell herself, too, patterned on the grass, but it was all but faded now, overpowered by the brightness and strength of this newcomer’s scent.
The monstrously large gray wolf ran through the grass of the clearing, bathing in the light pouring down from the sky and whipping his tail through the air. He was so large, his muscles so powerful, that one smack from his tail would be enough to send a grown man flying. His coat was as stormy gray as the clouds that had been tattooed on the sky earlier, and as he moved and seemed to dance, the heavier top fur shifted and swung, shaggy, and revealed a sparkling white undercoat. Smears of darker gray, like charcoal, were inked on him here and there, mostly near his back haunches, not large but not small, just big enough to be noticed.
And then there were the eyes.
Suddenly she knew where she had seen them before.
She stumbled back, heavy with the damp weight of long-repressed memories, thinking of that fateful night when her whole life had changed. She saw long, flashing fangs--like swords to her young mind--snapping across her path, felt the deep, searing pain in her breastbone, heard herself screaming before she disappeared entirely, felt the falling loss that had haunted her since she had woken up the next day, alone in the woods and covered in her own--now tainted--blood.
She fell down, sweating and anxious, closing her eyes and waiting for the giant wolf to find her again and finish the job this time. The moon lay bright on her like a blanket, and she drew it close like an old friend, feeling the ground rumble beneath the weight of the monster stalking the woods in front of her. Fearful, she passed out.
She woke up the next morning completely unharmed. There was a giant paw print next to her head.
Two days later, Sam called, like he had said he would. She had been waiting by the phone, snapping it up every time it rang and hoping it would be him. Finally, it was.
“Hey, Sam,” he said casually to her. “Would you like to meet up again? I had fun last time.”
“Yeah,” she said slowly. “So did I. And I’d like to see you as soon as possible.”
Later that afternoon, in the strong noon sunlight, Samantha sat at the table she had claimed before, waiting more patiently than she had thought she would be able to for Samuel to show up. She wore a gold heart locket on a thin gold chain around her neck, and she played with it unknowingly as she waited. The heart rested right above her scar, and was cool against the burning skin. In the aftermath of her evening in the woods, she felt restless and anxious, and her clothes constricting and too tight on her. The forest-green top that she had put on in a fit of momentary irony seemed like it was going to choke her, even though it was off-the-shoulder and didn’t touch her neck at all. She felt like she was going insane.
“Samantha?” She jerked up as Samuel said her name. “You look nice.”
“Thank you,” she said softly, and looked up at his eyes to make sure she was not about to make a huge mistake, the biggest mistake of her life. One glance at their leaf-green color convinced her that she wasn’t.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” she said, and his extremely tired face perked up, but it also grew wary.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her.
“I told you that I was attacked,” she said, and took a deep, shaky breath, holding the collar of her shirt tightly with one hand. If she had made some sort of mistake with this, that was it. Everything with Sam--wonderful, caring, funny, intelligent Sam--would be over before it even had a chance to start. She could feel her worry rumbling in her stomach like a storm, but there was also hope mixed in there: If she was right, then the lie would be over and she would be able to live again.
But that was a very big “if” to be riding everything on.
He looked at her cautiously. “Yeah,” he said, speaking slow, and then he took a half-step back, resting on the ball of his foot. She wondered if he was going to run from her before or after he found out what she had to say.
“I told you when,” she continued in a hollow voice.
“Yeah,” he repeated, walls going up. His brilliant green eyes dulled some. She was scaring him. Backing an animal up against a wall, especially one far more powerful than you, was never a good idea.
She had to do it. Otherwise she would never know.
“But I never told you by what,” she said, and quickly pulled her collar down.
His gaze flew down, lingering underneath the locket, where the smooth, paper-pale skin was marred by an ugly red smear, rough, puckered edges on a otherwise beautiful canvas.
They were bite marks.
“Oh my God,” he said, his voice horrified. He backed up, covering his mouth, and for an agonizingly eternal moment she was afraid that she had made that mistake.
And then he said, “I’m sorry.”
Relief flooded through her, and she sagged a little bit in her chair. She couldn’t say it was okay, because for the past eleven years she had hated him without even knowing who he was, but knowing exactly what had happened took her one step closer to it being so.
She said, “So you bit me.”
His face, drained of color, was tortured now as he realized exactly what he had done. His voice was strangled as he said, “Sam, I’m sorry. I didn’t to. I usually have better control of myself but you smelled so good and I was so hungry and wild and--I stopped as soon as I realized what I was doing, but it was too late....When I woke up, I had your blood in m mouth but I couldn’t remember who you were and I ...I didn’t think I would ever see you again. I’m sorry,” he finished weakly. “Every month,” he said, thinking of something. “Every month, do you...?” He trailed off and looked at her expectantly. “I mean, you know...”
She smiled patiently at him, wanting to hear him say it. “Do I what?” she asked. “Because I do do something every month, but I doubt we’re talking about the same thing here.”
Some color returned to his face, but in a blush. He replied lowly, looking discreetly around them, “You know. Change.”
She tugged her color down again her marks out in the open. “What do you think?” she asked him.
“Dumb question. Sorry. For everything.” He didn’t look at her. She got the feeling he couldn’t.
She slowly stood up and faced him. “Sam,” she said quietly, “for the past eleven years I’ve hated you. I wanted to find you and skin you alive. And now I have you right here in front of me.” She smiled, exposing teeth. He swallowed and took a step back.
“But now I realize,” she said, and she heard his heart rate decline, slowly dropping down to somewhat near a normal pace. “Now I realize that I’m a werewolf, and skinning you alive and hanging your pelt on my wall won’t change anything. So you can live.”
“Should I thank you?”
“That depend. Do you like being alive?”
“Even when you’re changed?”
“I said sometimes.”
“On what you’re going to do to me.”
She pulled him close and kissed him. His scent invaded her nostrils, and she waited for the pain to come, but it only briefly surfaced before diving back down again. His arms tentatively wrapped around her and held her tight. Both their hearts were beating loud enough for the other to hear it, and as their lips curled around each other’s Samantha felt him smile. She took a breath and decided that she could never let him go.
Yes, he had attacked her. But now she knew what life was like through a wolf’s eyes. She knew what hell it was to go through it alone, and how hard it got to control yourself when the moon was bright and strong and full and illuminating something that could be the greatest thing you’ve ever had. She would have bit him, too, if he had come upon her in the woods in the middle of the full-moon night in her other form.
She knew how hard it was to change, to let your old life go, to wake up on a mat of leaves with animal blood on your lips and the smell of the hunt still strong in your nostrils, your bones and muscles aching with the stretching and retracting that came with each transformation; she knew what it was like to go through that and trudge home without another wolf to understand you, hating a mystery face for making you this way. And she also knew what it was like to look in that mystery face’s unmasked eyes and realize that you loved them despite what they had done, to forgive them, to let go of all your hate.
After eleven years, it was a pretty nice feeling.
“What do you want to do now?” she asked him when they broke apart.
Surprised, he replied, “You still wanna date me?”
With a flirty grin, she replied, “Of course I do. Do you know how hard it is to meet a single werewolf in this city?”
He smiled back. “I have an idea.”
A month later, the large, starlight-silver wolf and the slightly-smaller, chocolate-brown wolf stood side-by-side at the entrance to the woods, heads tipped to the sky, waiting; a moment later a small but strong breeze blew the scent of a herd of deer to their nostrils, and they looked at each other, tongues lolling out of their mouths, a wide animal grin on both their muzzles. Her scar burned for a moment, buried deep beneath her fur, but she swallowed the pain down and eventually it went away. Hopefully it would not come back this time.
He nudged her shoulder, telling her to lead the way, and then she licked his face, whipped him with her tail, and led the mystery wolf she had once hated into the night.