Kitty Rocks the House Page 35

“Great. I’m leaving right now, I’ll be there in half an hour.” I grabbed my bag and left.

Cheryl lived la vida suburbia south of Denver, in Highlands Ranch. As I pulled into her driveway, I thought as I often did, this would have been my life if not for the lycanthropy. Some days, that made me sad. Some days, I felt like I’d escaped something.

Today, I was mostly worried about Cheryl. My big sister Cheryl. Growing up, she’d been bossy and rebellious, and could do absolutely no wrong in my eyes. She wore ripped T-shirts and denim jackets and spiked her hair and stayed out too late going to all-ages shows downtown, and every time she got in trouble felt to me like a blow for freedom. I was enough younger that she never took me along on her adventures, and was always a little cowed by her and her crazy friends. And now she was the one with the house and the two kids and golden retriever in the backyard, and I was the crazy one.

She must have been watching for me, because she opened the door as soon as I walked up. I met her over the threshold, and we hugged.

Her house was still, silent—except for the golden retriever yodeling in the backyard. Dog and I didn’t get along too well—I was a threat to the household, being what I was. Not that I really was, but the thing couldn’t tell the difference, and I couldn’t reason with it. So he stayed in the backyard when I came to visit. This way, I would never have to explain to my niece and nephew why I beat up their dog.

Cheryl herself was in transition. She’d stayed home when the kids came along. Now that they were older and had started school, she had decisions to make about what to do next. Go back to work, and if so, doing what? Her IT credentials were eight years out of date. I didn’t envy her position.

We settled in the kitchen, where I smelled pepperoni pizza baking. I wasn’t hungry.

She paced, kneading a damp tissue in her fist. Her footsteps padded on the linoleum.

“Kids in school?” I said. Nicky was eight, and five-year-old Jeffy was in preschool.

“For a couple more weeks.”

“Plans for the summer?”

“No idea,” she said.

The timer on the oven dinged, and she fussed over it, getting out plates and so on.

“So,” I said, growing impatient, my foot tapping on the linoleum. “What about this party you want to do?”

“You don’t really have to help if you don’t want to. I just thought it would be nice for you to be involved.”

“I want to help. Seriously.”

“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.”

Now I was getting angry. “Cheryl, what has gotten into you?”

She slammed a cupboard door, then stopped herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “Ever since Grandma’s funeral … I just keep thinking about what would happen if Mom got sick again.”

“Well, she’s not sick. Don’t worry about it until it happens.”

“That’s real responsible of you—”

“What is this, I have to help you plan a party to prove I’m responsible?” I flushed. I didn’t want to be fighting like this.

“What would you do, if Mom got sick?”

I was out of my depth. She was right—I hadn’t thought about it because I didn’t want to think about it. I shouldn’t have to think about it, not until it actually happened. “I don’t know. I’ll do whatever I need to, just like last time.” Like last time, when I’d returned to a territory I’d been banished from on pain of death, that was how far I’d go. Cheryl didn’t know about that part.

She continued, glaring at me with a challenge that Wolf couldn’t help but respond to, hackles rising.

“They’re getting older. They need us—”

“I’m not arguing with that,” I said. “But why are we talking about this now, like this?” I felt like I was twelve years old again and getting lectured by my oh-so-older and smugger sister.

Keeping her voice steady she said, “They’ll need us to be there for them—”

“And we will be—”

Her patience finally vanished. “But you’re never here! You’re always off on some weird trip or celebrity adventure. Tell me, how can you help if you’re not here? You never help—”

“You never ask!”

“I shouldn’t have to!”

Something inside me extended claws and growled. I felt a tension, like a leash stretching, then breaking. Snapping, with a satisfying whip crack. And I felt free. So free, all my limbs stretching outward. A prickling, bristling sensation sprouting just under my skin—

I had to go. I had to get out of here.

“Kitty—” Cheryl said, her tone demanding, as I turned and walked out. “Kitty, don’t go ignoring me, you can’t just walk away from this.”

A hand landed on my arm, and I turned, bared my teeth, made a noise— My sister stumbled away from me. I couldn’t guess what she saw.

I had to leave. I went out the front of the house, left the door open behind me, heard my sister call, “Kitty!”

But I didn’t hear, not really. I ran, past my car and down the sidewalk.

Wolf was trapped; we had to run, it was the only thing for it. Run, and run. But concrete and asphalt stretched all around us. Rows of houses, a concentrated mass of civilization hemmed us in worse than any chain or bars of a cage. We could run, but where could we go? We tipped our nose to the air and smelled, searching for the wide open spaces and natural shelter that would mean our release, our only release.

Too many people here. Too much prey. Wrong kind of prey. I couldn’t stop running, to try to get away from it. To run until exhaustion took me. I’d be running all day.

Then, we found green. A swathe of prairie had been preserved in the middle of this modern suburb, a creek-cut ravine covered with dry grass and cottonwoods. A dry, washed-out, hemmed-in version of nature. But it was open. It smelled clean. I ran, pulling my shirt over my head, dropping it, not caring, and steered toward a stand of cottonwoods. Wanted to hide. Wanted to run.

Wanted to be free, and Wolf slashed my skin with her claws and tore her way out. I hardly cared.

* * *

DOESN’T THINK of much of anything but the movement of her body, claws digging into hard earth, wind in her nose. This isn’t where she wants to be, but she’s trapped on all sides by steel. She will run in circles.

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