How Like Wolves
Luke’s car was an old Mustang, not made for much room, and covered in dirt and mud on the wheels. In the back were grocery bags filled with water, sodas, and snacks. Andrea leaned over and dug through them. He’d arrived as the sun rose over the trees, and she’d grabbed a hoodie to cuddle up in as they drove.
“This is still a weird date,” she said as she dug out an iced coffee.
“Yeah but you agreed to it.” He grinned at her.
She settled back in the seat as they started down the road. They wouldn’t even reach the main highway for a while, and his car bounced down the country roads. Rome was just waking up, with some people going to their jobs, others about to head home, but it was mostly quiet. As they left the town proper, it was just farmland and open fields. The Rolling Stones played on his car stereo, which still had a tape deck in it.
“Is this your car?” she asked.
“Yup.” He turned on cruise control and relaxed in the seat.
“You drove it all the way down here?”
He shrugged. “I like having my stuff. Plus I didn’t want to pay for a rental this whole time.”
“This seems pretty early for you, huh?” She noted the coffee that he was drinking and the few extra bottled ones in the back.
“I’m a night person. I’d be much happier if I didn’t see daylight at all.”
“I always thought there was something nice about waking up early,” she said. “You get more time to do things and more time to chill.”
He made a grunt and reached for his coffee. She curled her legs up onto the seat and watched the land pass. It always felt so hard to get out of Rome. She could run for hours as a wolf and still be in it, and even once you got out of the town it was more farmlands, more trees, more flat squares of tall grass that were going nowhere. She looked at Luke. Sunglasses were perched on his face, and his tired expression gave him a surlier look than she’d seen on him before. He still wore his jacket, and the AC was on full blast. He was so strange, she thought, and quiet. He’d asked her all about her family and Rome, but what did she know about him?
“Is it weird for you?” she said. “Coming to Texas? Staying here?”
“Kind of.” His hands dropped on the steering wheel. “Everything’s so spread out, you know? I’m not used to being far away from things. But Rome feels a lot smaller too.”
“I bet. Do you live in Massachusetts? Or is that just where you’re going to school?”
“My family’s up there. My parents live in Lowell.”
“What’s it like there?” she asked.
He shrugged again. “Kind of cool. We’ve got the canals and some nice places. I can’t say we’re the most exciting place.”
“More exciting than Rome.”
“Sure.” He gave a smile. “There’s always that.”
Andrea looked around his dashboard. She popped open the glovebox and was surprised when actual cassettes fell out. She picked one up with a grin.
“What is this?” she asked. “Who even has these anymore?”
He reached over to close it. “Those are classics.”
“These are dinosaurs. Are any of these mixtapes?”
“Absolutely not.” He shook his head. “Most of them my dad gave to me. I’ve never had to get rid of them.”
“I cannot deal with this.” She grabbed one, whose death metal scrawl made it impossible to read the band name. “Do you own vinyls too?”
“Those are classic!”
“Those are for old people.” She was still laughing. “My sister calls me old because I keep CDs in my car.”
“I like old stuff,” he said, but he smiled as he did. “So sue me.”
“I think I can.” She stuffed them back in, pleased with her discovery. “Is this how you pick up girls? Drive around in your deathtrap of a car and then show off your cool cassettes? What do they usually say to you?”
He looked at her. “Why do you assume I’m such a ladykiller?”
“Um, because the first time we ever talked you hit on me.”
“What? I need the receipts on that.”
“The first time,” she said, “on the side of the road you leaned in and went, ‘Hey, baby, you want to lead me to Barker’s Forest?’”
He laughed. “That is not how I said it.”
“One hundred percent.” She smiled. “You act like I haven’t heard a line before.”
“What’s flirting like in Rome?” he asked. “When guys ask you out, what do they say?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard too many. The problem here is everyone knows each other. If anyone around here asks me out, I’ve already met their grandma.”
“That sounds rough.”
“Yeah! God forbid I date in the families. I’ve memorized their genealogy charts.”
His expression shifted. “You know, I was reading more after you told me that story. About the families.”
“Oh, yeah.” She cursed. Of course she shouldn’t have said anything, but what was the harm in repeating history everyone knew?
Luke’s hands tapped against the wheel. “I looked more into the stuff about them changing into monsters. You said they were killed as wolves.”
“I did say that.”
“You said anyone who shared blood was affected. If that were true, and the families were still around…”
“Luke,” she said, “honest question. You told me you were hunting for a real life witch. Do you believe in that sort of thing? Magic? Curses?”
He gave her a look. “Werewolves?”
She stared at him. Well that was it, wasn’t it? The real reason she could never escape Rome. Staring her in the face.
“You knew,” she said. “The whole time.”
“I suspected the whole time. I didn’t want to start accusing people without actual evidence.”
“You motherfucker!” She slapped his arm. “I’ve been freaking out this whole time!”
He held up his elbow as a shield. “Also your friends literally turned into wolves while we were out.”
“I am going to kill them. They couldn’t be cool for five seconds.” She sat back in her seat. “You’re not freaking out about this.”
“What, about werewolves?” He shifted in his seat. “I’ve been studying folklore and mythology for a long time. You are not the weirdest thing I’ve come across.”
“Yes I am! You’re telling me you’re standing in front of a real live werewolf and I’m not the weirdest thing.”
He didn’t say anything to that. Andrea settled back, picking at the label on her iced coffee. It came off in her hands.
“Your family’s obsessed with blood, right?” he said. “Mine’s obsessed with history. Both my parents have PhDs, it’s ridiculous. I’ve seen them track family lines and fly off to interview people and translate journals written two hundred years ago. I grew up with this stuff. It all felt real to me. I guess I’m just… not surprised.”
“You know,” she said, discarding the pieces of eaten up paper, “I think that’s the most you’ve ever said about yourself.”
His lips became a line. “Is it?”
“All of this.” She gestured between them. “It’s not just because you expect me to know secrets, right?”
He smiled. “I can honestly say when I came here I did not expect to meet you. I promise this is not my usual method of research.”
“Okay.” She relaxed, just a little. There were no secrets in Rome. How could there be?
They drove in silence for a long time, until they hit the highway. The land was mostly featureless, and the only thing to break up the monotony were billboards and McDonald’s signs. Small towns clustered together with the promise of Whataburger or Starbucks or clean restrooms at the gas station, and then broke away into seedy adult stores and RV parks. Half the billboards were advertising that they could be advertised on. The other half were pro-life pictures of babies and Bible quotes. Some promised attractions in New Braunfels or San Antonio. She told him about tubing in the summer, and he told her about his parents driving him to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail and visiting the Lincoln log cabin. Eventually they exited off the highway and drove into a small city. Surrounding them were quaint suburbs, small shopping centers, and small roads that criss-crossed each other. The library was located in the city center, where the normal concrete roads were replaced by brick in an attempt to give it an old world feel. They pulled into a parking lot and gathered up their trash.
The repository wasn’t large. A red bricked building with white columns stared out onto the street. They’d given it a domed top, and Latin was printed over the front door. They entered, where Luke spoke to a librarian, and they were pointed to the second floor. The elevator dinged as they entered, and the building was dead quiet. There was almost no one in there besides the librarians and one or two others. The stacks were close together and smelled of must. The whole air was filled with dust. Andrea covered her nose, wishing she’d never bothered changing, and looked around at the file storage boxes, all the same shade of ancient blue, with stickers across them showing complicated letters and numbers. The fluorescent lighting inside the building was low, but it was helped by the windows in the dome, which let in sunlight.
“How are you supposed to find anything?” she whispered as they took up a table.
He pointed to the bins. “Call numbers. Don’t worry, I know what I’m looking for. Give me like five minutes.”
He dragged out a number of things. Most of the documents were kept in wrapped envelopes with stickers in their corners with their call numbers. He’d also carried back three tubes that carried maps in them, and she helped him unfold them. They were all of central Texas, specifically surveys of the areas around Rome. One was just of their town. The farmlands were plotted out into neat rectangles, and the houses spread out across neighborhood streets. Andrea spread a hand across the laminated map, looking at the familiar areas.
“They did surveys of everything a while ago,” he said. “Probably some land developer or something. I think they’ve got some historical maps too, but I couldn’t find them online.”
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“Whatever I can find. I want the full picture, you know? Where all the families were, where they are now, how the town has changed.”
“And you’re looking for her cabin.” She traced the outline of Barker’s Forest. “You want to find Crooked Aggie.”
“Sure, that’s part of it.” He pulled out his own binders full of research and photocopied documents. “You’re the one who knows all this stuff. It has to look familiar.”
Too familiar, she thought as she sat down. “Yeah, probably.”
He pointed along the the edge of the forest. “Everyone back in the day knew where Crooked Aggie lived, so they didn’t bother writing it down. Do you have any clue where it would be?”
“Deep in the forest.” She pulled her hair back. “But that was three hundred years ago? Most of it’s been cleared away.”
The other night replayed in her head as she stared at the map. What had she seen out there? Was it anything? Her head felt fuzzy as she tried to remember, and instead she grabbed a folder of historical documents and opened it.
Research turned out to be pretty boring. Luke had his head down as he examined documents, looked over maps, and added notes on his computer. She added detail where she could, but her knowledge was all carried down from the families. The documents detailing the trials back in the 1700s were interesting only because she’d never seen them before. Crooked Aggie was mentioned in several places. They had decided against charging her for witchcraft, and she wondered if it was out of fear, or if they sympathized with the young man in forest. The heads of families were blamed. Later documents listed it as a reaction to an increased wolf population. For a while, it seemed like they wanted to sweep it under the rug. But the families were still there. They’d held onto some of their prominence. They’d survived.
Around noon they took a break for lunch. He gathered up all his stuff and they walked across the street to a small cafe. Andrea picked at a roast beef sandwich while Luke made doodles in his notebook. The small city was busy enough. Workers made quick orders before running back to the office. Cars were plastered with bumper stickers. The warm summer day made her drowsy, but she was glad to be here. Anything to be out of the house.
“I never considered college,” she said as she flicked the lettuce off her sandwich. “I just assumed it wasn’t going to happen.”
He looked up at her. “Is it uncommon in your family?”
She laughed. “I don’t think I can name a single member of my family who went to all four years of college. I thought Christine might. She’s way smarter than she thinks.”
“It’s not that exciting,” he said. “Lots of classes. I take history classes so sometimes they’re super dry and boring.”
“I wonder what I miss out on. I feel like my world is so small.”
He smirked. “You’re an actual werewolf, right? That’s way bigger than most people’s worlds.”
She smiled at that. “It’s just, I have friends who are doing it, who are going to move away, who have lives now, and I’m still going to be in Rome. I can’t leave my sister alone with my dad. I don’t know what would happened.”
His hand touched her arm. “You’re allowed to be selfish.”
“I’m really not though.”
“School isn’t the only way to get out of places,” he said. “And you can be a distance from your family without abandoning them. Your sister will still have you.”
These were the conversations she used to have with Rosemary, she realized. Rosemary was so much more aggressive about it. She’d tell her to drop her dad and take her sister somewhere else, like it was so easy. Luke was looking at her like he understood. Maybe he did.
“Do you have any other family?” she asked.
“Distant.” His hand drew back. “And I don’t really see my parents that much.”
“You’re an only child.”
“Unfortunately.” He grinned, all pearly white teeth. “Trust me, my family is not half as interesting as yours.”
They spent the rest of the day reading and working, and by four they were too exhausted to go on. They piled back into his car, photocopies made, snacks replenished, and they started the trip back to Rome. Andrea hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks now, and the slow rhythm of the car on the highway, combined with the soft orchestral music he played in his car, and the day spent looking at words, caused her to fall asleep.
She must’ve slept for a while, because when she woke they were nearly back. She recognized the long rows of cotton and grain. In the distance was an old barn that was falling apart. The grass had overgrown, and the road was chipped away by potholes. They were stopped, she realized slowly as she came out of her slumber. In the distance she could see the black shape of Luke. He was holding something in his hands. She pushed open the door and climbed and then stopped.
The barn was familiar, as was the road. A deer crossing sign had been graffitied, and next to the road was a low ditch for water drainage. She knew where she was. John Gibbons had never let his daughters out here, but after the blood was cleared away, she and Christine had come to put up the small cross covered in garlands of flowers. Jason had died here. His body had been left here. His blood had coated the ground.
She was suddenly weak, and her knees hit the dirt. Her hands curled around grass, and Luke turned. He was walking back to her. Her vision swam. He looked like a shadow moving towards him. She felt sick.
“Are you okay?” his voice was distant. A hand reached out to her, and she grabbed it desperately.
She shook her head. “Why are we here?”
“I saw something. Can you stand?”
“I can’t be here. Luke, I can’t be here.”
“Yeah, okay. Hold on.”
He helped her into the car and grabbed her a water bottle out of the back. Her hands were shaking as she grabbed it. He turned back around.
“Where are you going?” she pleaded.
“I saw something in the barn. Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back.”
She watched him walk away, her breath short, her heart pounding. What had happened here that night? She could imagine Lester Kinney’s cop car flashing red and blue across the cotton fields, and the people crowding around. The body was dragged from the ditch, and there’d been blood everywhere. Sammy had come out here after he heard there was a Gibbons involved. He’d come to the house next day and tried to tell her what he saw. She’d been so desperate for answers then. Who would do something like that? Who would split a man’s throat in the middle of nowhere? And what had he been doing out here in the first place?
Her fingers gripped the bottle tight enough to bend it as she waited for Luke to return. A minute passed, and then two. A breeze passed through the fields of grain. The cicadas screamed as the sun dipped down. The clock read close to six. She nearly got out of the car again to find him, when Luke appeared out of the barn, walking towards her. He fiddled with something and placed it back in his pocket. He slid into the driver’s seat without a word.
“What was it?” she asked. Her breath was coming back, but tears threatened.
“I thought I saw someone hurt,” he said. “But there’s nothing.”
Eyes playing tricks. Shadows in the trees. She leaned back and closed her eyes, suddenly desperate to be home.
Andrea didn’t see her family as she came home. A microwave bowl of Mac’n’cheese was her dinner, and then she collapsed onto her bed. After a while she stood, pulling back the curtain of her window. Nothing called to her tonight.
She fell asleep without much effort, and as they had been the past few weeks, her dreams were turbulent. She stood on the side of the road, where the trench dipped down. A black shape lay there, but when she reached a hand down it wasn’t Jason’s face that stared with blank eyes up at her. It was Luke, his dark hair matted against his blood stained face. A large hole was in his chest, and it bled out all around her. The grass was coated in blood, and she could see someone standing in the distance by the dilapidated barn. The figure was hard to make out and seemed to flicker in front of her. In the distance, she heard police sirens, and someone was shaking her.
“Andrea,” the figure whispered. “Wake up.”
Her eyes opened, and Christine was standing over her. A panicked look had spread across her sister’s face, and she shook Andrea’s shoulder. Tears were drying on her cheeks. Andrea sat straight up, grabbing her sister’s arm.
“What happened?” she asked.
“It’s–I think it’s bad.”
“Christine, what happened? Are you hurt?”
She shook her head, ponytail coming undone as she did. “I don’t know what’s going on, but the Heddins are flipping out.”
“The–” Andrea was climbing out of bed, grabbing a flannel shirt to pull over her night tank top. “Why are the Heddins flipping out?”
“They said one of them got attacked. Sheriff Kinney’s already there. I think someone’s been–I think–”
She didn’t finish her sentence, and she didn’t need to. Andrea was putting on shoes, and she grabbed her keys from the table. Christine’s phone was going off at a text a minute.
“They’re down by Mill Road,” she said. “The Dixons are there too.”
“Was it a fight?”
“It’s Calvin. He’s hurt.”
They drove quickly down the winding farm roads. At night, it was pitch black outside, the only lights the occasional flashing cross light. As they drove to Mill Road, where the tall trees pressed against the thin road. A lot of other cars were lined up on the side of the road. Christine shoved her door open before Andrea even had it in park, and Andrea chased after her as they raced to the scene. There were mostly Heddins there, including Marty and Norma, who were head of household. Valerie Dixon stood beside her father, and Frank Luppen was having a heated conversation with Sheriff Kinney. Leon Tyre was there too, and Andrea approached him first.
“What happened?” she asked.
Christine had run to the edge of the crowd, where she stood nervously near Valerie Dixon. Leon watched the people mill around, eyes narrowed. Sheriff Kinney shook his head at Frank Luppen and was moving to the Heddins.
“Someone got bit,” Leon said.
“What?” She tried to see over the crowd. “Who was fighting?”
“No one, far as we can tell.”
Lester Kinney parted the group, sending some people away. Calvin stood, hand pressed against his shoulder. Blood poured out of the wound, and a hole was torn in his shirt. Marty had a hand on his son’s shoulder, and Ernest was there, looking ready to fight. Andrea’s gaze jerked to the right when she saw her father, who was stooped over slightly as he and Victor Riser talked quietly.
“Dad!” she called, pulling on his shoulder. “What’s going on?”
He looked at her with bleary eyes. His clothes smelled overwhelmingly of liquor, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he murmured.
“Someone was hurt!”
“Where’s your sister?”
She turned desperately to Victor Riser. “Does anyone know what happened?”
“Far as I can tell, the Heddin boys were running and one of them got hurt.” Victor gave a shrug. “No one’ll cotton to it.”
“Where’s your sister?” her dad repeated, scanning the crowd.
She held onto him. “Leave her alone, okay? No one’s–he’s fine, right?”
“Bleeding pretty bad.” Victor seemed unconcerned by that. “Dolores will get him fixed up.”
“And where are your children?” Norma Heddin’s screech rang above the crowd. She was marching at Valerie Dixon. Christine jumped back, and the crowd spread away from them.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Valerie shouted back. “You’re thinking my Lewis could take on a boy four years his senior without the rest of the brothers knowing it?”
“I wouldn’t put it past them! Any of them! You and the Gibbons have gotten in more scrapes with my boys than anyone else?”
Vincent Heddin reached forward, trying to pull his mother back. “Mom, come on.”
She shrugged him away. “You’re always looking for excuses to cause trouble. My boy was bit! Who here thought it’d be clever to start a fight as a wolf? I see you, Christine Gibbons.”
Andrea ran up to her sister’s side as Vincent Heddin kept tugging on his mother. Valerie Dixon stood in front of her, taking in a breath so she raised up to her full height, Cliff right beside her.
“You’re going after children, Norma Heddin,” she said in a low tone, the wolf growling underneath.
“Someone’s going after my child!”
Sheriff Kinney had stood up from talking to Calvin, and he placed a hand on Norma’s shoulder. All of them went quiet.
“Won’t do no good to shout,” he said in dark coffee voice. It was any wonder he was given the sheriff title. Despite the Kinneys historically siding with the Heddins, his presence was calming, and he always acted the reasonable man. “No one here attacked your child, Norma.”
“And how do you know that?” she said, spitting venom at him.
“‘Cause your boys would’ve smelled anyone here in a second, and I’m not so sure a wolf did this.”
A shock reverberated through Andrea’s body hearing that, and she could feel Christine go stiff beside her as well. Suddenly a lot of people were trying hard not to look at them.
“I’m taking your boy to Dolores,” he continued. “You and yours are welcome to come with. Everyone else–” His voice raised so everyone could hear. “–I’m telling to go home. It’s not worth making a show out of it. Don’t think I won’t be making enquiries in the morning.”
Andrea held tight to her sister as they watched Lester Kinney take Calvin to his police cruiser, where Norma got in with him. The other Heddins piled into Marty’s truck. Ernest gave her a look as he walked by, but she couldn’t even summon the anger. People milled around. No one was saying a word.
“Dad,” she said as she and Christine returned to his side, “we’re going home.”
“You get there safe,” he said, patting her face.
She grabbed his hand. “We’re all going home. Right now.”
His shoulders raised, as though he were going to argue, and then he let out a breath. They walked back to her car together. Her dad got in the backseat, and Christine curled up in the front, staring at her phone. The dashboard clock said it was three, and the radio played gospel music. She considered flipping stations, but she didn’t want to think about it.
Her insides felt cold, despite the summer heat, and her throat was dry. She’d been dreaming about Jason night after night, and here they were. Called to the side of the road in the middle of the night, blood on the ground. Lester Kinney didn’t think a wolf had done it. Calvin Heddin hadn’t been bit. He’d been stabbed, with all that blood on his shirt, and she wondered if his brothers hadn’t been running with him if they would’ve found him in the morning, thrown into a ditch.
Christine said nothing beside her. After a few minutes, her screen lit up, and her fingers started tapping across the screen. Andrea wondered who’d texted her. None of the kids had been there except the Heddins. Leon had wanted to warn them, or Valerie was concerned. In the backseat, John Gibbons gave an upheave and then swallowed it down. She watched him in her rearview. Did he even understand? How far gone was he?
They said nothing as they came to the house, and they all went to their own rooms without a goodnight. Andrea didn’t sleep. She sat up, listening to the howl go up. After a while she got out her phone, wrote half a text to Luke, deleted it, and texted Sam instead. He responded back almost immediately, and she described the scene to him. A lump formed in her throat, and she knew she was crying. Her phone dropped out of her shaking hands, and she curled around her pillow, letting the fabric swallow her sobs, tears rising up from the well so deep inside her. She cried and cried until she didn’t have the breath anymore, and then she lay there, staring at the ceiling, until the sun rose.
Sleep was officially a no go. Andrea opened at the Food Town that day, so she stood in the middle of the Exxon, watching the three dollar coffee fill a styrofoam cup, trying to keep her eyes open. She didn’t even notice Rosemary walk over to her, a nervous look in her eyes.
“I heard something happened last night,” she said.
Andrea added the cap to her coffee. “Calvin Heddin got hurt.”
“Don’t know. Lester Kinney said it might’ve been a stabbing.”
Rosemary’s concern grew. “You said that’s not how werewolves fight.”
Andrea looked at her, certain the weariness was all over her face. “It’s not.”
The door jingled, and they both recognized Mitch Kinney. He looked every bit like his dad, the strong jaw, the chestnut hair, the broad shoulders. He looked just as tired as Andrea felt, and as soon as he saw them, she could see the regret go into his features. He’d probably get a hundred questions today, many of which he couldn’t answer.
Andrea couldn’t help herself. She strode across the gas station.
“Mitch,” she said. “What’s going on?”
He shifted, glancing at Rosemary. “Dad’s been dealing with the families all night.”
“Is Calvin okay?”
“Yeah. Mom stitched him up. Look, I’m not supposed to be talking about it.”
“No, yeah.” She squeezed her hands around the styrofoam cup and jumped when the plastic top popped off. Quickly she fumbled to put it back on. “I just wanted to know–I wanted to be sure–if–if–”
“He’s just worried,” he said in a quiet voice, and she knew he was trying to keep Rosemary out of it. “He doesn’t think it’s one of the families, but he thinks they’re going to fight over it.”
“Does he think it’s… related?”
His expression was genuine sympathy. He must’ve been there last year, seeing his father handle Jason’s body, wondering who would do something so grisly. They’d never been close to the Kinneys, and though Mitch was only a few years older than her, she’d never really chatted with him. His hands were nervous, his eyes down. He had no idea what to say to her.
“He can’t say anything.” Mitch laid a hand on her shoulder. It was the friendliest gesture he’d ever given her. “But if it changes anything from the past year, you’ll be the first to know.”
Rosemary checked out his items while Andrea fiddled with the granola bars. As soon as he left, she brought them up, fighting back tears as Rosemary looked at her.
“It’s bad, huh,” she said.
Andera put down her money. “We don’t know yet.”
“You just seem…” She pushed the register close. “You don’t seem good.”
“I’m not.” Andrea grabbed her coffee. “And it’s not your problem.”
It was meant as a slap and it seemed to work. Rosemary’s fingers curled, but she didn’t say anything. Andrea grabbed her things and went back to her car. Lester Kinney wouldn’t say anything until he was sure because he didn’t want it to be like last year. The families all blamed each other, and even after it was decided it had to be someone from out of town, there was tension. It’d been a long time since was blood was spilled. The families policed their own, because the alternative was torches, pitchforks, burnings, hangings, and the end of the families for good. And if one of the families was doing this, it’d be bloodshed, which would lead to all the rest.
Work was unbearable, but she forced herself through it. By noon just about everyone had heard about something happening with the Heddins. Those who didn’t give her suspicious looks asked obtuse questions. She ignored everyone until the end of her shift. The exhausted part of her told her to swing by for coffee, get something warm and soothing, and then curl up at home until she felt something again. The rest of her wanted to skip the coffee and something warm. Another restless night of sleep awaited her, she was sure.
She was surprised when she walked through the Food Town parking lot and saw Vincent Heddin waiting nervously by her car. She stopped and stared at him. He instantly ducked his head down.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I, um.” He swallowed thickly. “My brother’s okay. I wanted you to know that.”
She had her keys in her hand, an unnecessary precaution for a woman that could turn into 120 pounds of fur and fangs, but habit nonetheless. He stood between her and the driver’s seat, and she would’ve given anything to just shove him out of the way. But right now that was dangerous. Everyone would be walking on broken glass.
“I’m glad,” she said, and meant it.
He seemed bolstered by that. “I know what you guys went through last year, and I didn’t want you to think–I didn’t want you to be scared.”
“Do you?” Sarcasm made her tongue bitter. “Do you know what we went through? What do you want, Vincent? Because none of your brothers would bother with this.”
“No, I know.” His eyes went down. “I just wanted to be sure that–that you and your sister were okay. In case.”
“We got through the last year.” She walked up to him. Vincent wasn’t very tall, and she had half a head on him. “I don’t need your sympathy. Go back to your brother. That’s who needs you right now.”
“But, uh–” He caught her expression and shrank back. “Yeah, okay. I’ll–yeah.”
He ran off, and she watched him go. What was the point of that? Had Ernest sent him to mess with her? Or was he genuinely concerned? She felt momentary regret for sending him off. It wasn’t often a Heddin offered sympathies to a Gibbons.
It was getting close to dinner time. She drove back, no music playing in her car. The road felt endless, and she pulled into her driveway, body barely keeping her up. The house was quiet, her dad snoring loudly in his bedroom, her sister curled up in her own. Andrea knocked on her sister’s door. Christine sat inside, headphones on, and she glanced up as Andrea came in.
“I ran into Mitch Kinney,” she said as she sat down. “He doesn’t know anything.”
“Lester won’t say anything.” Christine slid off her headphones. “How bad do you think it is?”
“I don’t know.” She sat on her sister’s bed and wrapped her arms around her.
“I just know it means the families are going to keep fighting.” Christine gave a sigh. “It’ll be worse than ever.”
“Oh, yeah. Vincent Heddin was at my car.”
Christine pulled away. “What? What did he say?”
“He said he wanted to see if we were okay. It was so weird.”
“No, I bet.” She picked up her phone and started flipping through her messages. “Did he say anything else?”
“I scared him, I think.” Andrea shook her head. “I wish I could do that to his brother.”
“That’s so weird. He–he was nice, though?”
“Cool.” She put her phone down. “That’s kind of cool.”
Andrea looked at her and shrugged. “I guess it is.”
She returned to her own room, stripping off her work clothes and changing into something comfortable. As she laid down to take a nap, her phone buzzed beside her head, and she rolled over to answer it. Sammy was texting her. Most of the words were filled with concern, but one or two mentioned the Luppens. She dragged herself out of bed and called him.
“What’s going on?” she asked as soon as she heard his voice.
“I was gonna ask you the same question.” His voice was quiet on the other end. She could hear arguing in the background. “Everyone is flipping out.”
“Did Lester say something?”
“Apparently. The Heddins got told something, and I think they passed it on to the other families.”
But not to them. Andrea still didn’t know.
“Who’s shouting?” she asked.
“Leon came by to talk to my dad, and now everyone’s fighting. I think Lester’s coming.”
“Okay.” She sucked in a breath. “I’m gonna come over, okay? I’m just–I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“I don’t know–”
She’d already hung up on him. Lester Kinney wouldn’t be ready to tie any of this back to Jason’s death last year, and he might think he was being kind keeping her in the dark. But the Heddins were reacting. The Luppens were reacting. And now the Tyres and the Risers would too. If things got out of hand, it’d be bloodshed again. It’d be blood all the way down.
There were a lot of cars at the Riser ranch. Their family congregated in the summer, usually, and the whole brood was living in their guest houses and extra rooms. She didn’t bother with knocking as she pushed her way through the front door, and she ran directly into Leon Tyre. He gave her a look that said he wasn’t surprised but he wasn’t happy. Victor Riser stood off with his wife Teri, who was talking in a very serious tone to one of the aunts, and there was Frank Luppen, arguing loudly and red faced. Sammy saw her amid the cousins and waved her over.
“Is Lester here yet?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Frank just showed up and started shouting down my dad. I think the other Luppens are running tonight, keeping an eye on things.”
“He doesn’t think it was one of you?” She turned to where Frank Luppen was shaking his fists. Victor raised a hand to him, palms out. “Lester would’ve smelled it if it were.”
“I don’t think common sense is driving this one.”
“You think one of our kin would do this,” Victor said, his voice calm despite the chaos around him. He was one of the few people around Rome that wore a suit to work, and his customer service tone was out. “Lester Kinney would’ve told us in two seconds. The Heddin boys would’ve pointed someone out that night.”
“We all know there are ways to hide your scent.” Frank jabbed a great big finger into his chest. “Your kin’s been taking over the woods at night. Y’all are everywhere.”
“Same as always, and there’s never been a scrape before. Besides, we know that’s now how wolves fight.”
“We all know that, sure, and it’s mighty convenient that the boy didn’t have a scratch mark on him.”
Teri bristled. “You think someone would be sneaky about a fight?”
Frank’s eyes leveled on her. “I think if someone was trying to kill. Last year the Gibbons faced a random death. Who’s to say it wouldn’t happen again?”
Andrea felt herself moving forward, and when she spoke the whole room quieted. “You’re saying someone’s using my brother’s death as a smoke screen?”
The heads of the families looked at her. Frank had the decency to look embarrassed. Teri’s teeth were grit, her chin locked, and Victor gave her a sad look.
“Because if you’re talking like that,” she continued, words spilling out of her mouth like water, “you’re saying someone saw my family’s confusion and grief and used that to take a stab at one of the Heddin boys. Or, you’re saying what happened last year wasn’t a random occurrence. That someone in one of the families planned it.”
“I think we put some rivalries to rest,” Frank said, “but we didn’t let them die. Blood’s been spilled before.”
“And we all got cursed for it, yeah.” She kept her eyes locked on him. It wasn’t sadness or rage inside her, but a tranquil coolness. “And if we keep fighting, what’s going to happen next?”
“We can’t blame the families for this,” Victor said. “If we’re going to fight, we’ll do it in the open, where everyone can see. There have never been secrets in Rome.”
“That’s a short sighted way of looking at it,” Frank said. “My kin’s out tonight, making sure no one else is getting into trouble. Next time someone attacks one of ours, there’ll be retaliation.”
“No there will not,” Lester Kinney’s voice boomed from the door. He wore the sheriff’s outfit, hat included, and Andrea knew he had to look official now. He couldn’t side with any of the families. “I’m the only who metes out justice here, Frank Luppen.”
Andrea stared at him. She wondered if he had to come to the Risers or the Dixons last year, to tell them the same, that there was no use blaming the other families, and whoever decided to fight about it would be dealt with by him. She wondered if he’d gone to the Heddins or the Luppens, and what he told them there. One man to keep a town of werewolves in check. A badge and a gun wasn’t enough.
Frank insisted on digging his own grave. “You say that to the Heddins?”
“I’ve been talking to the Heddins all day, thank you.” He looked around the room, and his eyes rested on Andrea. The tranquil calm became ice cold. “Calvin Heddin was stabbed by a man. Now, that doesn’t put suspicion off anyone in particular, but does tell me most of the wolves around here wouldn’t bother with being so polite. Your boys are out there tonight?”
“You gonna tell me not to,” Frank said.
“No. Having a team of wolves picking up scents is only gonna help me. But if I hear a single instance of one family getting into it with another, whether it be you or your kids, if it’s Heddin versus Gibbons or even Dixon versus Tyre, I’ll drag everyone involved down to our jail cells and sort it out there.”
“But–” Teri started.
Lester’s eyes darted to her. “If I catch anyone fighting, I’m putting a stop to it. I don’t care. The last thing we need right now is more rivalries springing up. More than that, the in-towners are already hearing what happened. Right now we have trust in this community. We’ve spent centuries building that up. It’ll take one bad day to tear it all down.”
That seemed to be enough to calm the rising tide of anger. Lester pointed at Andrea and gestured her over. She gave a glance to Sam, who could only give her a worried look, and she followed him onto the porch. Night was starting to creep in. The sun set so late these days, but at the moment she was grateful for it. Frank Luppen had a point. What was fast enough to catch up to a werewolf, strong enough to stab it, and clever enough to disguise its scent?
Something was dawning in the back of her head, when Lester Kinney said, “How you holding up?”
She looked at him. He was nearing fifty, and he looked old, unlike a lot of the heads of families. His beard was peppered with greys, and his eyes had sunken in. Away from the others, hidden from the glow of the windows, his shoulders stooped, and he reached into his pocket for a cigarette. He offered one to her, but she shook her head.
“You talked to Mitch this morning,” he said.
“He didn’t say more than he had to.” She watched him light the stick. The end glowed red for a moment, and then smoke lifted into the air. “You don’t think it’s one of the families.”
“I almost wish it were,” he said. “It’d be easier. I’d drag ‘em off to jail. It’d get messy, sure. I don’t know if a werewolf’s ever been sent to prison before, but I’d have a pool of suspects I could talk to. When it’s random, it’s–it’s random.”
“Calvin’ll be okay at least.” It did bring relief to hear that.
“The Heddins are pitching a fit. The Luppens aren’t helping either.”
“They’re scared,” she murmured.
“I’m just trying to keep the peace.” He huffed on the cigarette. The paper burned away. “You think for two seconds the in-towners would abide us if we were fighting like the old days? Oh, they might tolerate us killing each other off, but it’ll spread. It takes one person dead.”
She thought of the young man in the ancient legend. Crooked Aggie cursed them this way so they’d kill each other off, so men could hunt them like wolves. Did the ghost of Crooked Aggie keep around, ensuring no more dead appeared? The thought made her shudder.
“I’m gonna make Frank Luppen drive back to his house,” Lester Kinney continued. “And Leon Tyre too. I’ll follow Frank all the way home, just in case. Then I’m going to check on the Heddins to make sure their boy is alright. I want you to go home too. Make sure you and your sister are inside. Your dad too, God bless him. Now’s not the night to be out as a wolf or as a man. Keep ‘em in, make sure they’re safe.”
“Do you think it’s related?” she asked.
He rolled the cigarette between his fingers. “It’s been a year since Jason died. I got no reason to suspect the person who attacked him would come back for more. People get hurt, even in Rome.”
Not like this, though, and not werewolves. Andrea swallowed down her words and walked off the porch. She’d left her phone in the passenger seat, and it was lit with text messages, but she ignored it as she pulled out of the Riser house and onto the winding roads.
Christine must’ve heard her leave, because she was waiting on the couch when Andrea got home. She looked at her expectantly.
“Lester Kinney doesn’t know anything,” Andrea said.
The bedroom door pulled back, and her dad appeared in the doorway. He looked better for some sleep, but he hadn’t trimmed his beard in days, and his shirt buttons were mismatched. He smelled rank, of beer and dirt and sweat. Andrea wished she was still angry, because she wanted to push him into the shower and force him to see how bad he’d become. Instead she sat beside her sister and grabbed the remote.
“We’re all staying in tonight,” she said.
Christine looked at her. “I had plans tonight.”
“We’re all staying right here!” Andrea heard herself shout, as though it were coming from miles away. “The Luppens want to brawl right now, and if any of us run into them out there, it’ll be bad news. So we’re staying here, on this couch, as a family.”
Her dad tramped in, and for a terrifying second she thought he was going to argue. Instead he collapsed onto the couch beside her, giving both girls a bounce. Christine gave her sister a pained look, and Andrea ignored her. She flicked through channels until she found something innocuous, sat back, and tried to forget what was going on outside.