“Near genius doesn’t count.” I shoved him. “Moron.”
He clutched his chest. “I’m hurt by your name calling.”
“Good.” I grinned. “Your ego could stand to lose a few pounds.”
“What’s wrong with knowing that I’m awesome?” He messed up my hair.
When we were on the way back with the pizza, a strange sensation tingled through my body. It was like a weight had settled over me. This intense sense of foreboding mixed in my blood making me cold.
By the time we got home, it was dark. Axel went into the house, but I lingered outside for a minute, sitting on the porch swing as I tried to figure out what was making me feel that way. I knew that staying outside after dark was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself.
Goosebumps ran up and down my arms. The full moon hung low and yellow. The crazies would be out tonight, or so Mom always said when it looked like that. I smiled. I was outside, so she had a point.
I hadn’t even realized that there had been noise outside until it was suddenly gone. The cicadas song cut off. The owls stopped hooting. There was no rustling of the leaves. Everything was still. A healthy dose of fear pumped through my veins.
A wolf crashed out from the woods. Then three more. They were playing, not really noticing I was there as they rolled around on the ground and pawed at each other. I probably should’ve been scared, but in that moment, I wasn’t. They were on the other side of the driveway, and I felt safe on the porch. I relaxed in the swing as I watched them. One of them bit another one’s tail, making the bitee yelp. I laughed.
One of them suddenly stopped playing and looked straight at me.
Dumb. I was so unbelievably dumb. These weren’t wolves in a cage. These wolves could actually come over here and eat me.
I thought about darting inside. It probably would’ve been the smarter choice, but I didn’t want to spook them by moving.
One of them came closer to the porch.
I stood up, torn between going down the stairs to pet it and rushing inside. I wasn’t stupid, but the way it was moving—with its head down and tongue out—it looked more curious than dangerous.
Before I could do anything, another wolf jumped out of the woods. It was beautiful, mostly white with patches of gray sprinkled along its face and back. The coloring seemed much more regal than the shades of brown the others were. It slid to a stop in between me and the approaching brown wolf, snarling.
Shit. That one was pissed and was more likely to eat me. I should’ve gone inside.
The new wolf stared down each of the others, and they started to whine and rolled over, exposing their stomachs. It had to be the alpha of the bunch. It howled and the others scrambled up, fleeing back into the woods.
The alpha turned to me.
My heart pounded. I stepped back into the front door until the doorknob of the screen door dug into my back. The wolf sat down on the ground to watch me.
Something about it seemed familiar. I couldn’t quite place it, but the face and its eyes just had this quality like I knew I’d seen it somewhere before. But I knew I hadn’t.
“Tess!” Axel swung the front door open. “You’re eating or what? The pizza’s getting cold.”
I turned away from the wolf for a second, and when I looked back, it was gone.
My breath came in short gasps as I looked back to Axel and then to the drive again.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.” I moved out of the way so Axel could open the screen door. He grabbed my gloved hand and pulled me inside.
“Come on,” he said softly. “You need to eat.”
I let him pull me inside. The whole exchange with the wolves went by so quickly that I wondered if it had actually happened. For the second time since I’d arrived in Texas, I was questioning my sanity.
Yet another thing to add to the weird and new category.
The next morning I must’ve changed a million times. I finally settled on casual. My favorite band T-shirt—a vintage Orb from their album Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld—plus jeans, chucks, and black loose-knit gloves with deep purple accents. It didn’t look like I was trying too hard. Even if no one else my age knew who The Orb was, the design was cool.
Mom and Dad were in the kitchen when I got downstairs. I did a spin. “What do you think?”
“Beautiful,” Mom said. She was still in her pink fluffy robe, with the belt knotted at her waist.
“That’s not helpful. You have to say that. You’re my mother.” I looked down at my T-shirt. “Too weird? I might not need any extra help in that area.”