Kitty Saves the World Page 9

“Remind again me what our cover story is,” Ben said.

“I’ve gotten a chance to interview a Hopi medicine woman who’s only going to be in Albuquerque this weekend. We’re making a vacation out of it.” I sounded disgruntled.

Ben sat back, sighed. “Vacation. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

“We can still call the whole thing off.”

“How about this: we get through this standoff with He Who Must Not Be Named, then take that vacation you’re telling everyone about. Deal?”

I tried to imagine the weight that would come off my shoulders if we could really and truly get rid of Roman. It sounded like heaven. “That’s a deal.”

“All right, then. Eye on the prize.” He patted my leg, and we hauled ourselves out of the car for our evening of domestic normalcy.

The noise started as soon as we opened the door. “Kitty!” my mother announced, sweeping out of the kitchen to plunge at me for a big hug. I could explain to her that to a wolf, a too-enthusiastic hug looked like an attack—arms out, forward movement. But she wouldn’t get it, so I tamped down Wolf’s growls and accepted the love as it was intended. Ben, too. We’d both had a lot of practice at this. Then came Dad, solid and benevolent, who like Mom had never really processed the me-being-a-werewolf thing, so we let it go. Brother-in-law Mark, then sister Cheryl, who out of all my family had some idea of how weird my life had gotten, and when I told her not to ask questions, she usually listened to me.

“Kitty!” The loud squeals came from Nicky and Jeffy, niece and nephew, who roared in from the living room and attempted to tackle me. Nine and six, they’d gotten articulate and willful enough to be interesting. So I had Jeffy hanging on my arm, trying to pull me to a pile of plastic cars and trucks, insisting he had to show me something, and Nicky standing there, looking up at me, very serious—her “I’m a grown-up” face. “Aunt Kitty, Mom said I should tell you about the thing that happened at school last week.”

“Oh?”

“The teacher gave us some homework to write a story about someone in our family, and so I wrote about you, but the teacher didn’t believe you really were a werewolf, she said I was making it all up and called Mom to tell her that I was lying, and, well, Mom told her that it was all true. And now the teacher looks at me funny when I come into class.”

I looked over Nicky’s head to Cheryl, questioning. She gave a silent, grim nod, confirming the story.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s cool that you picked me to write about, but I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”

“It’s okay. I just don’t understand why she has to be like that.”

“Neither do I, kid. Your teacher probably never thought that someone she sees every day might know a werewolf. You gave her something to think about, and she didn’t like that.”

Nicky’s nose wrinkled. “I can’t wait until this year is over and I get a new teacher.”

I smiled and gave her a hug. I remembered years like that.

The grand entrance continued with small talk and assurances that everything was fine, nothing was wrong, we were doing well, work was going well, and so on. I asked Cheryl about her new job, and was pleased at how her eyes lit up. With both her kids in school now, she decided last year to head back to work and promptly had a midlife crisis. Her IT credentials were out of date, and she was daunted by the thought of going back to school. Instead, she switched gears and now managed an art gallery on Broadway. Back to her alt-punk roots—she wore jeans to work. She explained how it was the best of both worlds—a job that made her feel useful, the chance to get her foot back in the real world, but still enough time to be there for her kids. Seeing her happy made me happy.

It was like I had two packs, human and wolf. An embarrassment of riches, and that much more to protect and worry over.

After a pure comfort food dinner of pasta and chicken Parmesan, we retreated to the living room for talk and drinks. I watched Ben with the kids. Nicky was telling him a story about a school field trip to the Museum of Nature and Science, while Jeffy was trying to get him to help color a page in his superhero coloring book. Ben didn’t just tolerate them, he engaged, asking Nicky questions while somehow simultaneously giving Jeffy advice about what color Spider-Man’s mask should be. I never would have expected it, except in hindsight. He wasn’t a lawyer for the money—he’d gotten into the field wanting to help people. He was thoughtful. He listened. It didn’t matter if the person in front of him was six or sixty. The kids sensed it, and they gravitated to someone they felt would take them seriously. Watching them gave my heart a room-sized glow.

I wanted kids. I’d wanted kids for a few years now—pretty much since I learned I couldn’t carry a baby to term myself, I’d wanted one. The paradox of denial, wanting precisely what you can’t have. Usually the feeling was abstract. I’d wanted kids because it felt right. But the thought “Ben would be a great dad” popped into my head, and my heart ached and tears welled.

We’d talked about adoption. After this trip, after this confrontation, after we didn’t have to worry about the Long Game anymore. We could make it happen.

Grandma came in and announced ice cream, the kids screeched with delight and bounded to the kitchen, and Cheryl shouted after them to calm down, leaving Ben and me looking across the living room at each other. His smile was bemused, and I had no idea how I looked, but he must have suspected what I was thinking, because he came over, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed my forehead.

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