I want you to want me because you want me, not because of grief, not because he is not here. I want you to love me for me. I want you to kiss me first and not because you need me to help you, but because you need to kiss me.
You know, life fractures us all into little pieces. It harms us, but it's how we glue those fractures back together that make us stronger.
What I have learned lately is that people deal with death in all sorts of ways. Some of us fight against it, doing everything we can to make it not true. Some of us lose our selves to grief. Some of us lose ourselves to anger.
You will be a great queen when you come back, you know. And someday you'll love me the way you love your wolf.
You know, life fractures all of us into little pieces. It harms us, but it’s how we glue those fractures back together that makes us stronger.
Losing people you love affects you. It is buried inside of you and becomes this big, deep hole of ache. It doesn't magically go away, even when you stop officially mourning.
He’s fine. Every time any of us are late you imagine we’re dead. You are no longer allowed to imagine anyone is dead.”“I’m not imagining he’s dead,” I whisper, but I’m totally imagining him bleeding to death on the snowy forest floor. Crows circle above him. A pixie arrow juts out of his beautiful chest. It’s the same thing I imagined about Devyn last week when he forgot to check in.“You are such a liar-liar pants-on-fire.” Is kisses my cheek in her sweet friend way. “But I love you.”“I just worry about people,” I whisper back. “If I’m not the one out there I feel so helpless.”Coach Walsh notices we’re talking. “Girls, pay attention. And no kissing.”Everyone starts snickering. I let go of Issie’s goose-bump covered arm. My face gets hot, which means I’m in insane blush mode. Nick thinks insane blush mode is cute. I bend down and check on my ankle bracelet that Nick gave me. It’s gold and thin-chained. A tiny dolphin dangles off of it. The dolphin reminds me of Charleston because they swim right off the Battery. Next to it dangles a heart, which just reminds me of love—corny but true. I’m so afraid of losing the anklet, but I can’t take it off. I adore it that much.
It's a lot easier to understand things once you name them. It's the unknown that mostly freaks me out. I don't know the name of that fear, but I know I've got it, the fear of the unknown.
Who am I really? Am I still the same person if I'm not even technically a person anymore? Does being stronger make me different? Will it?
She smirks.Are you attempting to stop me, little one?Excuse me? Did you just call me 'little one'? What are you? Like, four feet tall? I ask.
Are we taking the Subaru?”“No. We’ll run.”Running is not part of my plan. Stopping right here is my plan.“I’m not actually supposed to run,” I try to say. “The arm and everything.”“I’m sorry about your arm.”“Really?”He swoops me up as if I weigh nothing, leans me against his chest, and carries me the way grooms are supposed to carry brides over thresholds. He is cold now, away from the fire. He smells of mushrooms. “Are you afraid of heights?”He keeps my good arm against him, and doesn’t even jostle my cast arm. It’s smooth and quick and I don’t have time to ...He sets me down on the rolling ground in a large clearing in the middle of tall pine trees. My breath whooshes out like I’d been holding it.“Oh, that was amazing,” I say before I realize it.“You’re glowing. I thought you hated me.”“I do. But flying? I don’t hate flying. I read this book once where—”“You read?”“Yeah.”“Good. I like philosophy myself. It’s good to have a daughter who reads.”I swallow, shift my weight on my feet. They won’t be able to follow us here; we left no tracks. I can’t believe we flew. “Can all pixies fly? Because I was totally unprepared for that. I mean, I didn’t read that.”“Only ones with royal blood. You can.
So, I’m a bear,” she explains, eyeing us all. “Wait? Is Issie something?”“Nope,” Issie pouts. “All human. All the time.”“The coolest human ever,” Devyn says, reaching down and ruffling her hair.
Nick leans down and kisses my eyelids. “Loving you, Zara, is a full-time job. It’s a great job, don’t get me wrong. It’s the best job in the universe. But it is not easy, because you tend to . . .”“Get hurt?” Betty suggests. “Find trouble? Pass out? Break arms?”“All of the above.” Nick laughs.My hand finds Nick’s wrist and I grab onto its thickness. “You know, I’m the patient here. Where’s the bedside manner? Where’s the sympathy?”“Zara, sympathy is just a good excuse to buy greeting cards and make sorry eyes and secretly gloat over how glad you are that you aren’t the person whose crap is hanging out there for the world to see,” Betty says.
We’ll fight them. We took down my dad. We’ve taken down so many since then. We’ll take down these jokesters too.”“I will never let anything happen to you,” Nick growls into my hair. “I will die before you get hurt again. So help me God, Zara. I will die.“Me too.”“What?”“I will die before I let anyone hurt you or Issie or Dev or Gram or . . .” I stop and pull my head away from his chest so I can look up at him. “This list is getting kind of long and melodramatic, isn’t it?”He laughs. His hand moves slowly up my spine. He starts leaning down for a kiss. “Yeah. It is.
That's what people who love you do: they hold you and lie. They tell you that you're worthy, that everything will be all right, and they do that even when you both know without a doubt that this is not true, that is it nowhere near the truth.
That's when I realize how much I don't want to be alone, how sobbing should not be a solitary sport..
We kiss for a long time, a good long time. I don’t even notice that it’s cold and I forget to be afraid because that’s just how good a kisser he is. His lips move above my lips. My lips ache for the touch of him, the softness of his skin. We keep kissing. My hands wrap themselves in his hair. His hand presses me close into him, as close as I can be against him, and he is solid, strong, amazing. My hands leave his hair and journey down to the sides of his face, still tingling.“We should keep going,” he says, voice gruff and husky again. I love when his voice sounds like that, deeper than normal. His lips puff out a little more, too. “You’re blushing.”I pull my lips in against each other like I’m still trying to taste him. I move my snowshoes off of his snowshoes. It’s tricky.“You’re a good kisser,” I say.“So are you.
His eyes are so beautiful and dark and they do look like that dog’s—I mean, that wolf’s. They are kind and strong and a little bit something else and I like them. I like them a lot. No, I like them way too much. Something inside me gets a little warmer, edges closer to him.The fire crackles and I jump again, jittery, nervous, but I don’t jump away from Nick. I jump toward him. Nick in the firelight with just a blanket on is a little hard to resist, no matter how crazy he might be. His skin, deep with heat, seems to glisten. His muscles are defined and good but not all steroid bulky. He is so perfect. And beautiful. In a boy way. Not a monster way. Not a wolf way.“Are you going to kiss me?” My words tremble into the air.He smiles but doesn’t answer.“I’ve never kissed a werewolf before. Are were kisses like pixie kisses? Do they do something to you? Is that why you never kissed anybody?”He gives a little smile. “No. It’s just I never kissed anyone because I never thought I could be honest about who I am, you know? And I didn’t want anyone to get attached to me because . . .”“Because you’re a werewolf.”“Because I’m a werewolf,” he repeats softly. Watching his lips move makes me shiver; not in a scared way, in more of an oh-he-is-too-beautiful way.I put my hand against his skin. It is warm. It’s always been warm. He smells so good, like woods and safety. I swallow my fear and move forward, and my lips meet his, angel-light, a tiny promise. His lips move beneath mine. His hands move to my shoulders and my mouth feels like it will burst with happiness. My whole body shakes with it.“Wow,” I say.“Yeah,” he says. “Wow.”Our mouths meet again. It’s like my lips belong there . . . right there. One tiny part of me has finally found a place to fit.
Oh.” I touch my cheeks. “You licked me.”He laughs and leans over, giving a tiny tongue swipe to my hand. “You’re very lickable.”I try to hit him. He laughs harder and grabs my hands.“No fair! Mere mortal against werewolf,” I complain.“Fine.”He lets go, but first he kisses my fingers, each of them. I sigh happily.
Do you admit that you are not the only person, or half-person genetically, that can save other sentient beings?”He crinkles his nose. “I do.”“And do you admit that you have a bad temper, a cute car, and a nice girlfriend?”I hold my breath.“I have an amazing girlfriend,” he says. And then he kisses me, which is, you have to admit, the perfect boyfriend thing to do. The kiss is soft and speckling like star promises in a night sky. I stretch into it, wishing that I could hold onto it forever, even though I know that kisses can’t last forever—can they?
Zara.” He sighs. The wind bellows outside. “How can I make you understand this? I need your mom. If I don’t get her, more boys will die.”“That’s ridiculous.”“No, it’s just how it is.”I think for a second. “If that’s true, then why did Ian try to turn me?”He loses his composure. His face shifts into something worried, something almost human. “Did he kiss you?”“Almost. Betty killed him first.”He almost smiles. He pulls his hand through his hair. “Betty is fierce.”“Is that why you stay away when she’s here?”“Not even a pixie wants to tangle with a tiger.”He blows on the ember in his hand. It turns to dust.“You seem like you could handle almost anything,” I say.“This?” He smirks. “Parlor tricks.
My eyes meet his eyes.“You were a jerk,” I say.His hands move to my cheeks. “I’m sorry.”I pull away, but I can only go an inch before I bump into lacrosse sticks, not that I really want to go any farther. “Nope. No way. You do not get to kiss me yet.”He pouts.
And do you admit that you have a bad temper, a cute car, and a nice girlfriend?”I hold my breath.“I have an amazing girlfriend,” he says. And then he kisses me, which is, you have to admit, the perfect boyfriend thing to do. The kiss is soft and speckling like star promises in a night sky. I stretch into it, wishing that I could hold onto it forever, even though I know that kisses can’t last forever—can they?
So there’s this annual dance in a couple of weeks.”“The Winter Ball,” I interrupt. “There have been signs up everywhere.”“You want to go?”I think about it for a half second. “Will you dress up?”He nods.I move forward so my hands are flat on the towel and my face is much closer to his face. Something inside my chest warms up like a nice kind of heartburn and I say, “And will we slow dance?”He nods again. His bottom lip turns in toward his mouth for a second, just disappears and then comes back.Stretching out my spine so my lips are nearly touching his I say, “And will you press yourself against me and we’ll move really close together and then your hand will stretch out across the back of my head and your fingers will wrap into my hair and then . . .”He doesn’t nod. He just tilts his head down, moves his fingers into my hair, and his lips touch mine in a forever kiss. His lips are soft and hard all at once. His breath mixes with my breath. Everything inside of me whooshes out.
He roars, “What have you done?”I don’t answer. My heart beats crazy happy just to see her get across the iron. She’s not burned. She’s still human.“Zara.” His voice is measured. “I need her to maintain control.”“You don’t need to be in control. You’re all trapped. So there’ll be no more stealing boys, no more shooting arrows in the woods, getting people lost. It’s all over.” The metal is cold on my fingers.Devyn grabs more wire, starts another flight. A group of pixies leaps for him, screaming, a wild, chaotic mess. They start clawing at each other, lost in fear and hunger, angry. A pixie in a pink dress shrieks when another wearing a black gown lashes at her, slashing through the skin on her arm.“Zara?” The king tries to be calm and nice. He tries to look human. It doesn’t work. “Do you know what this means? Do you know the power that I’ll lose? The need? We will fight in here. We will kill each other.”“I know,” I say and my voice shakes as I stare at him, this man who is in my blood, but not me. He is not me. Still, I understand his need, his fear. He is stuck in this awful place where there is no moral way to move forward. “I’m so sorry.”And I am.
How does that put me in danger?” Nick asks. It’s the first question he’s asked the entire time. Devyn, however, has been Mr. Nonstop Wondering Question Guy.“Because . . .” I don’t know how to say it, struggle for the words. “Because you and I are a thing and you’re a threat.”“You better believe I’m a threat,” Nick growls. The entire car seems to shake with his energy. Little hairs on my arm lift and vibrate.“He’s going macho again,” Dev says, totally nonchalantly, while he unlocks the door.“He’s always going macho,” Is adds. “It must be the wolf thing.”“I am not going macho. I am always macho,” Nick says, and for a moment the tension ratchets down, but then his face muscles become rigid again.
My fingers try to grab onto the net. I’m pulled away too quickly, dragged through the snow. Everything is white and flying and painful.“Nick!”I claw at the snow, trying to slow down. There’s nothing to hold on to. I kick and kick. The hands clutch my ankles. Flipping my torso over I get one quick glance of their backs. They’re wearing parkas and hats and look normal, like people, but faster. I smash onto my face again and lift up my head just in time to see Nick snarling inside the net. He’s transformed again.“Nick!” I yell, but snow pours into my mouth. Sharp cold pain smashes through my teeth and into my skull. I cough and try again. “Nick!”He raises himself up onto four legs and howls, a long, searing cry of anguish and rage.My heart breaks for him, caught there. I have to help him escape. I have to get free.I kick again. “Let me go.”Pain shoots through my head. Fireworks. Explosions. All inside my brain. The white world goes dark and I know what’s about to happen. I’m the one leaving. I am the one gone.
I meet his eyes. They are deep and almost mesmerizing. Did I say deep before? Yeah, right. That’s not it. They have a pull to them, like currents, like Velcro or something, totally captivating, like when you see a convertible flipped over on the highway and there are body bags and you don’t want to look but you look because you can’t look, because you can’t not look, because you are just riveted and . . .Stop. Just stop.
We all line up except for this guy in a wheelchair, Devyn. He smiles at me when I line up, introduces himself. He has a movie star smile, just white teeth and charisma, big eyes, dark skin. He’d be perfect looking if he didn’t have such a large nose, but the truth is it looks good on him, natural and powerful. He winks at Issie, who blushes.“You can do it, Is,” he says.She rolls her eyes, twists her lip, and says, “As long as I don’t pass out.”“If you pass out, I’ll put you in my lap and wheel you across the finish line,” he says, and it somehow isn’t sleazy because you can tell by his eyes how much he cares about Issie. I instantly like him.She blushes worse. Her face looks like she’s already sprinted a mile.
Nick spreads cream cheese on my bagel for me because it’s hard to do with one hand. You need to hold the bagel and everything.“You are the nicest boyfriend ever,” I tell him and kiss his cheek.“Gag,” Devyn says.“You’re just jealous,” Nick teases him and points his plastic knife at Devyn. “Which is ridiculous because you are the star of the school now that the wheelchair is totally gone. Everyone is talking about you.”“Star of the school?” Devyn asks. He takes a swig of Gatorade.“All the girls.” Nick gestures to the girls giggling behind them. “They like miracles. It’s sexy. Remember how much play Jay Dahlberg got when he came back from being abducted?” He does not add by pixies because he does not have to.“Really?” Devyn does this cheesy and really fake eyebrow wiggle thing so he looks like some sleezy porn dog.
Daddy?”“I’m right here, baby.”Lumps form in my throat, going all the way down into the core of me.It’s his voice. His. Right there. I reach toward the doorknob but I don’t get to turn it.Nick smashes at me with his head, pushing against my lower jaw and cheek, like a blow. His muzzle moves my head away from the door. He presses his face in between me and the wood. Fur gets in my mouth. I spit it out and push at him.“That’s my dad. My dad.” I slap the door. “He’s on the other side. The pixies will get him.”Nick shows me his teeth.“I can’t lose him again, Nick.”The wolf snarls like he’s ready to bite. My head jerks back and away, but then I steady myself.“Get . . . out . . . of . . . the . . . way.”Pushing against his thick neck, I slam my hands against him over and over again, pummeling him. He doesn’t budge.“Move!” I order. “Move.”“Zara, is there a wolf in there with you? Do not trust him,” my dad’s voice says, calmly, really calmly.I grab a fistful of fur and freeze. All at once it hits me that something is not right. My dad would never be calm if I was in my bedroom with a wolf. He’d be stressed and screaming, breaking the door down, kicking it in like he did once when I was really little and had accidentally locked myself in the bathroom and couldn’t get the lock out of the bolt because it was so old. He’d kicked that door down, splintering the wood, clutching me to him. He’d kissed my forehead over and over again.“I’d never let anything happen to you, princess,” he’d said. “You’re my baby.”My dad would be kicking the door in. My dad would be saving me.“Let me in,” he says. “Zara . . .”Letting go of Nick, I stagger backward. My hands fly up to my mouth, covering it.Nick stops snarling at me and wags his fluffy tail.How would my dad know that it is a wolf in here and not a dog? How would he know that it isn’t pixies?I shudder. Nick pounds next to me, pressing his side against my legs. I drop my hands and plunge my fingers into his fur, burying them there, looking for something. Maybe comfort. Maybe warmth. Maybe strength. Maybe all three.
I sob and clutch my stuffed bunny. Nick leaps up on my bed and squashes his body against mine, nuzzling my face with his muzzle until I lift it enough for him to lick away my tears.While the pixie rages downstairs, I wrap my arms around Nick’s furry body and cry into him. My shoulders quake from the effort of it. He whimpers once or twice and tries to lick my face some more, but mostly he watches the door, and eventually I stop with the pathetic sobbing stuff and just keep crying.