My name is Val Sherwood, and I’m a lycanthrope. That’s a werewolf, for all of you not-so-furry types out there.
I’m also a junior at Hillside High—and if you have to ask which one of those two things causes me the most physical pain and mental anguish…well, all I can say is you’ve never been in high school.
Think about it. Being a wolf only takes up one night every lunar month. School, on the other hand, has got me all day every day, five days a week and two hundred and seventy days a year, give or take a couple of snow days. And once the full moon goes down, I don’t have to be a wolf again until the next time. No such luck with your basic school-going teenaged me: five foot three and skinny all over.
As wolves go, I’m a fairly big specimen, especially for a female. For a human, unfortunately, the same body mass translates out into something fairly small. If I were drop-dead gorgeous like my old friend Diana from junior high, nobody would ever notice; if I were somebody like my new friend Elise Barbizon—pale and delicate, like my grandmother’s bone china cups—nobody would care.
I’d first met Elise Barbizon that summer, in the public library. It was right after my first year in high school, at a time when I was feeling short of friends, long on bad luck, and generally disgusted with the world. Di was still at her private school on the East Coast and planning to spend the summer in Maine with her relatives; to make things worse, I’d only gotten two letters from her since last December. Neither letter had said a word about what had happened the previous summer, when I got the bite that made me into my current sometime-furry self—and when Jay Collins, the werewolf that did it, tried to kill everybody in our old junior high crowd who knew his secret. He was two down and three to go before the rest of us stopped him.
I couldn’t blame Di for wanting to forget about all that, but I sure didn’t think it was fair that she and Freddie Hanger—who’d been through the bad times right along with me—got the chance to forget and I didn’t. However much the stuff with Jay might have messed up their heads, at least neither one of them was out wearing a custom-made fur coat once a month, every month. Something like that makes it real hard not to believe that bad things are real.
Between one thing and another, I’d spent most of my sophomore year feeling grouchy and stand-offish, not to mention lonesome. My grades stayed up, mostly because I didn’t have anything else to do with my time—and, I suppose, because I thought that doing well in school would prove that I was a good person. Burying myself in class-work and doing without a social life meant that I’d been spending a lot of time in the town library, and the habit stuck even after school let out in June.
The day I met Elise, I was in the fiction section, looking for something thick to get me through the hot-weather doldrums. Elise was sitting between two of the stacks on one of the librarians’ footstools, with a pile of books on the floor next to her, and I’m ashamed to say that my first thought was, That’s impossible. She’s too pretty. She can’t really read that much.
But there she was, her perfect, zit-free nose buried deep in a copy of The Three Musketeers. She glanced up from the page when I came close enough for her to hear me, and followed my gaze back down to the book again.
“Oh,” she said, “did you need this one?”
I shook my head. In fact, I had been thinking about checking out The Three Musketeers and reading it again, just for the pleasure of fighting imaginary duels with the Cardinal’s Guards all over seventeenth-century France, but I couldn’t see snatching the book out of her fingers to do it. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll read The Count of Monte Cristo instead.”
I almost didn’t say anything else—the easy thing would have been just to take a book off the shelf and go about my business—but it wasn’t every day I ran into somebody who shared my taste in reading material. Instead I nodded at the book she had in her lap and said, “If you like that one, they’ve got Twenty Years After and all the other sequels. Nobody ever checks them out, either.”
“It’s got sequels?” she said. “That’s great. I’m going to need to fill some time.”
“I haven’t seen you around before,” I said, with my usual social charm. “I thought I knew everyone who hung out in here.”
“My family moved into town last week, and I’m still wearing the new off my library card.”
“They’ve got some good stuff,” I said. “Not much for research”—especially about werewolves; I’d already seen what kind of half-sense, half-nonsense items most of the so-called “sourcebooks” had in them—“but a lot of really great fiction.”
We got to talking after that, about books we liked and so forth. She was at the library a lot that summer; I kind of got the feeling she didn’t stay home much if she could help it. When I asked about the rest of her family, she didn’t say much. I wondered if there was some kind of problem there, but you have to know somebody more than a few weeks before they’ll talk to you about things like that. I mean—I hadn’t told her everything about my life, either.
I did find out that she was going to be a junior at Hillside High, just like I was, and when school started we turned out to have the same lunch period and a lot of the same classes. I still didn’t have much of a social life, but once she’d settled in, Elise had enough social life for two people. Before long she was dating Steve Barnett, who was good-looking enough and popular enough that some of the girls were jealous.
I would have been jealous myself if I’d thought I had a prayer of attracting somebody like Steve. As it was, when it came to the dating thing I wasn’t really sure what I thought about Elise. She was from California, for starters, and she’d grown up in a lot bigger city than anyplace I was used to. I envied her because she didn’t have any trouble acting clever and sophisticated, just like the high-school kids on television. She had the right accent for it, and all the right clothes. And the looks, of course, like I said before. If she hadn’t also been a lot of fun to hang around with—not to mention being the only other kid I’d ever met who’d actually read The Prisoner of Zenda—I might have been too intimidated by her even to say hello.
She didn’t have that many other female friends at Hillside (well, neither did I, these days, so that was one place where we were even) but as far as boys were concerned it was a different matter. By October she and Steve were what my grandmother would probably have called a hot number— nothing official, you understand, but spending a lot of time in each other’s company. If Steve hadn’t had second lunch period instead of first, I’d probably have spent all that autumn dining in lonely splendor at an otherwise empty table. Or maybe not. Elise would have been perfectly capable of dragging Steve over to join us if she felt like it.
Or me over to join him—Elise was also crazy enough not to care which way something like that went. And she definitely thought I was hiding my social light under a tightly woven bushel basket. So I should have known what she was up to the Friday in October when she said at lunch that she and Steve were going to the movies that night and having pizza afterward.
“Have a good time,” I said, without much enthusiasm. I haven’t felt the same about pizza since I turned werewolf—too much garlic. There’s something about having your stomach trying to heave itself inside out that kills your appreciation for Italian cooking. The worst of it is, I really used to like the stuff—I’ve got a lot of fond memories of the way it used to taste.
Elise gave me an impatient glance. “Hey, Val—I’m asking if you’d like to come along.”
I shook my head. “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t have a date.”
Even though Elise was my friend, I sort of mumbled that last bit. Friday night is the big night around town, and if you don’t have a date you’re supposed to be off hiding somewhere. Showing up in public by yourself means that you don’t have any friends.
Elise wasn’t in a mood to take excuses, though. “So ask someone to come with you.”
I put down my cheeseburger and stared at her. “Ask someone?”
“You heard me,” said Elise. “Come on, Val. This is the nineties. Girls can ask guys out if they want to.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next. It looked like Elise was going to drag me into the social scene whether I wanted to be there or not—what else are friends for, after all?—and was only waiting for me to name a likely guy. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but right then the only boy that I could think of was Freddie Hanger. And Freddie…well, he’d been a dependable friend ever since first grade—one of the few people in town who knew about my secret life as a wolf—but I don’t think he’d figured out yet that I was a girl.
One other thing about Freddie: he’d put a silver bullet into me one night last autumn, mostly by accident when things got confusing. He owed me for that, and I’d never collected. Maybe now was the time.
“I think I can ask someone,” I told Elise slowly. “But listen, if we do this, no pizza, okay?”
“No pizza?” Elise looked startled. I didn’t blame her. Not liking pizza is practically un-American, besides being enough of a social handicap to kill you on Friday nights.
“It’s a food allergy,” I said. “Garlic makes me sick to my stomach.”
Elise looked at my formerly full lunch tray. “I’d take your garlic allergy in a heartbeat,” she said, “as long as I could get your metabolism along with it.”
That’s another thing about being a lycanthrope: it takes a lot of energy. We’re tough; our bodies can heal themselves almost instantly; we’ve got more strength and speed and stamina than anybody looking at one of us would guess. But the fuel for all of that neat stuff has to come from somewhere, and I spend a big part of my time being hungry. Today I’d gone back for seconds on the cheeseburger and thirds on the fries. Sometimes I wonder how I’d handle it if getting enough food in human shape were ever a serious problem.
Elise’s tray had a salad and a glass of water on it, and she’d barely touched either one. “Your own metabolism is just fine,” I told her. “Believe me, you don’t want mine.”
“Well, I don’t want mine, either. Everything I eat goes right to my hips.”
I didn’t try to argue with her, even though as far as her hips went, I’d seen pencils with more excess fat on them. But you couldn’t convince Elise of that if you told her so until Christmas. So I said instead, “How do you go about asking a guy for a date? I’ve never done it.”
“Since it’s for tonight,” Elise said, “you don’t want to call after school…watch, I’ll give you a hand. Who’s going to be the lucky boy?”
Freddie had first lunch period this year. A quick glance showed me that he was sitting by himself a few tables over, eating a sandwich one-handed. With his free hand he was turning the pages of a book that he’d propped up against the salt and pepper shakers.
I gave a little nod in his direction. “How about Freddie Hanger?”
“The tall guy with the red hair? The one who’s got his nose in The Mysteries of the Supernatural?”
“You can tell what he’s reading from here?”
“No, I saw it during first period. We’re in social studies together.” Elise looked at him again, thoughtfully. “Well, Val, I’d say you’ve got decent taste. No zits, nice smile. All in all, he’s not bad.”
Not bad? Somehow Freddie and “not bad” didn’t fit in the same sentence. I glanced over at Freddie again, trying to look beyond the freckle-faced, Dennis-the-Menace clone with braces that I’d known ever since grade school. It was, as my dad would say, an enlightening experience. Freddie had definitely changed.
Oh, the freckles were still there, all right—but the braces were gone, and sometime between last year and this one he’d gotten taller. He’d been an inch or so shorter than me when school let out in June, but he certainly wasn’t shorter now. And with my luck, he’d keep right on growing, while I stayed five foot three and a quarter inches for the rest of my unnatural life.
Now Elise was watching me with an expectant expression. “So are you going to ask him, or not?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s now or never—the bell is going to ring any minute.”
“I don’t know how to do it.”
“Then watch me.” She got up and went over to where Freddie was sitting, talked with him for a minute, then came back.
“He’s picking you up at six,” she said. “And no pizza. We’ll think of something else.”