"Aiden, show Vivian the rest room in the basement, will you, so she doesn't have to go traipsing upstairs again," Mrs. Teague said.
To keep me away from his bedroom, you mean, Vivian thought. When Vivian had come downstairs, Mrs. Teague had stared at her as if Aiden had left handprints all over her dress.
Aiden took Vivian through a door into a workroom. Guns hung on the wall and a workbench was scattered with parts and tools.
"Dad's hobby," Aiden explained. "He collects and repairs antique guns."
Vivian was fascinated. "What's that?" she asked, pointing to some equipment on the bench.
"He makes his own bullets for some of them," Aiden said.
"Isn't that hard?"
Aiden shook his head. "No. He taught me."
Vivian was surprised. "I wouldn't think you were into guns."
"I'm not. That was a long time ago. He used to take me out hunting," Aiden said. "You know, like a 'real American' father and son are supposed to do. I hated it. There should be more to being with your father than going out and killing something together."
Vivian didn't speak. She'd give anything to be able to go out and kill something with her father again. This made her feel sadly distant from Aiden. She took his hand from her waist. "I'll meet you back outside," she said.
"Oh, yeah. The bathroom. Over there." He pointed to a door near the stairs.
Coming out of the bathroom, Vivian heard voices upstairs from the direction of the kitchen.
"She seems rather sophisticated for Aiden, don't you think?" said Mrs. Teague.
"She does seem mature." Vivian could hear the innuendo in Mr. Teague's voice. It made her skin crawl.
"You watch yourself." Mrs. Teague didn't sound amused. "You'd better have a talk with that boy."
Vivian heard the sound of a screen door closing. Have a talk with him about what? she wondered. What had she done wrong? Why did Mrs. Teague not want a mate for her son?
The rest of the visit was ruined for Vivian.
"Your parents don't like me," she said on the way home.
"That's a good sign," Aiden said. "They don't like any of the people I care for."
But it wasn't only his parents.
Vivian took a deep breath. "People weren't friendly at school, either," she said. "Is there something wrong with me?"
Aiden didn't say anything else for a while, but just when she thought he had nothing to add to the topic, he spoke. "You're, like, so beautiful and cool and sure of yourself, I think the kids at school were frightened of you."
"Frightened of me?" Vivian laughed with surprise. These people didn't have enough sense to know what to be frightened of. She could show them frightening.
"Well, you know," Aiden continued. "Afraid that maybe you wouldn't tolerate lesser mortals, so why bother."
They pulled up in front of her house. "So, are you afraid of me?" she asked, trying to keep the amusement from her voice.
"Terrified," he said as he reached for her.
Vivian stopped him with a gentle touch. "Why weren't you like the others? Why didn't you freeze me out when I talked to you the first time?"
He studied her while he thought. "Well, apart from the fact that you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, curiosity, I suppose."
He looked down into his lap as if shy of telling her. "Until you drew that pentagram in my palm, then I knew we could be friends. That you might be . .." He bit his lip and flung his head back, eyes closed. "Oh, man. This sounds dumb."
He was so endearing. She leaned over and touched the tip of her tongue to his cheek. "What does?"
"That you could be my soul mate." He said it fast, looking everywhere but at her. "That I could bare everything to you and you would understand."
Vivian was stunned. He was exposing his belly to her. A rush of warmth filled her. "Sweet puppy," she said. "Bare everything and you would certainly have my undivided attention." Her tongue touched his ear.
"You're making fun," he said, his anxious eyes finally meeting hers.
She sat up straight. "No, I'm not. I'm honored," she answered seriously. She didn't want to hurt his feelings.
He relaxed and the smile came back to his eyes. "See you tomorrow?" he asked.
Was she Aiden's soul mate? Vivian wondered up in her room. Wouldn't she know if she were? Maybe if she made him the mate of her flesh first, then she would know.
They were always at parties, or at the movies, or hanging out at someone's house, always in the midst of Aiden's friends, the Amoeba. Even when they were alone together he was very careful in how far he went, as if he was afraid to scare her off. This made her smile. Soon, baby, I'll let you know how scared I'm not, she thought.
Then one evening, when he took her home, Aiden had bad news. "I have to go on vacation with my parents." He flushed with embarrassment as he told her. "I thought I could get out of it," he said. "I'm too old to get dragged to the beach with Mommy and Daddy. But they went on and on, you know, about how I'll be in college soon and it's our last chance to have a family vacation together, blah, blah, blah." He smiled anxiously at her. "I'll miss you."
"And my birthday," Vivian said sulkily, then immediately felt bad because he looked so stricken. She kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger there as she whispered a kind of apology. "Never mind, bring me back a shell or something." She could feel his skin grow hot as he responded to the warm flutter of her breath.
"I'll be back just in time for the Fourth of July," he promised, slipping his arms around her. "We'll go see the fireworks at the park. I bet someone's having a party." Someone was always having a party.
Apparently there wasn't to be a birthday fuss this year. Vivian found presents from Rudy on the kitchen table with a note explaining he would be out late and, after tossing her own contribution down, Esmé went off humming to talk on the phone for hours. Thanks for sticking around to see if I like it, Vivian thought as she unwrapped a silky blouse. Once her birthdays had been celebrated by all the pack.
At eight that evening the doorbell rang. "Go answer it," Esmé called from upstairs. "It's my date."
Great, Vivian thought. She's leaving me alone on my birthday.
But when she opened the door the Five surged in. They swept her back to the living room with hugs and licks and love bites and cries of "Happy birthday!" Gregory carried a big paper bag stuffed with packages.
Esmé ran down the stairs, giggling. "A woman should have plenty of men around on her birthday," she declared.
The doorbell rang again and Esmé went to answer it this time. She came back with Gabriel.
Oh, I get it, Vivian thought. Bring your own babe.
But Esmé looked surprised. She swept her hair back with long fingers and managed to undulate while standing still. "Gabriel." Her voice was suddenly husky. "Come to take me somewhere good." She crooned the last word.
"I came to wish Vivian happy birthday," he said.
"How nice," Esmé said, dropping the purr.
Great Moon, he's politicking, Vivian thought, like he has to win votes for leadership instead of win a fight. "Kissing babies?" she asked.
"I'd hardly call you a baby," he replied, looking her over with a grin.
Jerk, she thought.
Esmé ran to the kitchen and came back with a six-pack of Coke and two bags of chips, which she dumped on the coffee table. That was her idea of being a good hostess.
Rafe rolled his eyes when Vivian passed him a Coke. He took a big gulp; then, as soon as he thought Esmé and Gabriel weren't looking, he took a small flask from his back pocket and added an amber fluid to the can.
Gregory tipped the contents of the bag he carried onto the table beside the refreshments. "Presents," he declared unnecessarily, and settled his gangly frame upon the couch. Vivian noticed he was growing sideburns. He'd grow a small beard soon, she knew. He always copied Rafe.
While Esmé exclaimed over the tumbled pile of gifts, Ulf fidgeted and nudged till Rafe handed him the flask. Gabriel saw this time. He didn't say anything, but his lip rose in a snarl. Who died and made you God? Vivian thought. Rafe glowered back defiantly, but he put the flask away. Ulf pouted, his red locks falling around his face.
"Aren't you going to open your presents?" Finn asked.
Vivian gave in and picked up a parcel. Inside she found a scant, lacy slip. "Don't tell me," she said. "You went shoplifting at Victoria's Secret." The Five collapsed into hysterics, and Willem pushed another gift into her hands. Esmé and the boys howled with laughter as Vivian opened box after box of provocative gauzy underwear.
"Try them on," Willem urged as she held aloft another pair of frilly panties.
"Yeah, we wanna make sure they fit," said Finn, grabbing them from his twin.
"In your dreams, wolf-boy," said Vivian.
The smirk on Gabriel's face at her words made her seethe. She could put Finn down; he couldn't. What was he doing hanging out here anyway? He'd made his public appearance. Why didn't he leave?
She deliberately tried to make him feel he didn't belong by ignoring him and kissing all the Five thank you, despite their jeers and rude suggestions. Gregory put on some music – the hard pounding kind the Five loved – and she danced with them all except Gabriel. She was surprised to find she was having a good time.
Esmé glowed with contentment. She didn't even seem to be disappointed when Gabriel would only dance one dance with her. Instead she plied him hopefully with Jack Daniel's on the rocks.
Later, Vivian was rinsing some glasses in the sink when she felt someone behind her. Arms snaked around her. Hands came down over her breasts and squeezed rudely. She recognized the small spider tattoo on the right hand.
"Get off, Rafe," she said, continuing to swish hot water in the tumbler she held.
"Come on. You love it."
"I don't see you running," he said, and she felt his hot breath on her neck and his teeth testing her flesh.
Vivian put the glass on the counter. She twisted slowly around into his accommodating arms, face to face with his arrogant leer.
His grin widened. "I knew it."
She smiled back at him. Her hand traveled up his thigh and his eyes grew vacant with lust, his lips parted, waiting for hers.
That was when she grabbed his crotch and squeezed.
"Ahwooooooo!" he yanked at her wrist with both hands.
"Ah, come on. You love it," she said, gripping tighter.
Esmé called from the living room. "What's going on?"
Vivian glanced toward the door. She was startled to see Gabriel standing there. His eyes sparkled with laughter and his teeth gleamed white.
Vivian released Rafe. "Nothing, Mom. Just fooling around. Huh, Rafe?"
Rafe didn't say anything. He turned and sucked in a whimper of embarrassed rage when he saw Gabriel. He stalked out of the kitchen, his face clenched in anger.
"You can take care of yourself," Gabriel said, nodding in appreciation.
"And don't you forget it," Vivian answered. She caught the tangy whiff of his sweat as she swept by him, and felt a brief surge of fear mixed in with the heady tingle of sweet defiance. Maybe he would swat her for her insolence. Instead she heard a throaty chuckle.
She shouldn't have encouraged the Five. All the next week they were at the door or on the phone. She wouldn't run with them at night, but she finally gave up and spent some daylight time with them. Mostly they hung out and traded jokes with the bikers in front of Tooley's bar. Once they went to the mall, and the five cracked each other up menacing middle-school girls by wiggling long, long tongues at them. Vivian left in disgust.
The Five's continual bickering and jostling for rank got on her nerves. It was a relief to pick up the phone one day and hear Aiden's voice.
"Ready for fireworks?" he asked.
"Baby, are you?" she replied.
It was still light when Aiden arrived the next evening. He looked sleek and suntanned. Vivian wanted to bite the buttons off his shirt.
"I missed you," he said, and handed her a small, brightly wrapped package.
Vivian turned it over and over in her hands, admiring it as if it were a jewel. Was this the shell she had asked for? No one outside the pack had ever bought her a present. How exquisite and full of promise it was.
"You're supposed to open it," Aiden prompted gently.
"Oh, yeah." Vivian sliced through the tape with her nails and peeled off the paper, slowly savoring each crackle. Inside was a velvet box. "Ooooh!" She stroked its plushness, delayed a second more, then opened the box and found a sparkling silver pentagram on a silver chain.
Vivian was speechless for a moment; then she burst into laughter. He had given her silver.
When paired with wolf-kind blood, silver burned through the flesh like acid, doing more damage than even her people's amazing powers of healing could stop. That was why silver bullets were often fatal no matter where or how slight the wound. Silver was safe enough to wear as long as it didn't touch an open wound, but among her kind fights were common. Wolf-kind preferred to wear gold, just in case.
A legend told of the double-edged gift of Lady Moon, who gave them the ability to change, but also turned her light into the silver that could kill them if they abused the power. Aiden had given her a double-edged gift: the sign of her people made out of poison.