Bryn grabbed a greasy square piece of sausage pizza and went to sit in the cafeteria in their usual corner. She caught the eye of her human friends across the room, broke into a large smile and waved. Melanie, Melissa and Tim. The Terrible Two and their Token Gay. They waved back, Melanie putting her hand up in a “call me” sign.
“Who are you signaling?” Rowan asked as she shrugged into the seat across from Bryn, dropping her tray with a clatter and her backpack with a thump.
“No one,” Bryn said and Rowan released the subject having known perfectly well who Bryn had been saying hi to.
Rowan swept her long red hair over one shoulder and flipped the bun off the top of her cheeseburger. She picked at the patty and then sighed. “Well done.”
“I’m not even sure mine is real meat.”
“This school has a serious lack of respect for carnivores.”
“They’re just worried about childhood obesity.” Bryn laughed and her friend smiled, but she pushed the tray to the side and brought out an AP calculus book from her backpack. Bryn eyed the high honors homework with respect but zero envy. Torolf pushed and Rowan thrived under the pressure. Bryn’s parents had a more hands-off approach, which allowed her to pursue her passion. Right. Because she wasn’t such a large disappointment. They hadn’t even bothered her about college.
“Mother Moon, there’s nothing to eat!” Frey lamented as he joined them. It would just be the three of them: Frey, the freshman and Bryn and Rowan, the seniors.
“We need a new topic.”
“So when is your next gig?” Frey asked Bryn as he dug into one of two cheeseburgers on his tray.
“Two Fridays from now.”
Frey got a dreamy look in his amber eyes as he chewed. “Sweet Loki, I wish I could go. Can’t you get me one of those fake ID’s? I know you have one or else you wouldn’t be playing in all these places.”
All werewolves were built short and compact but Frey was especially small and skinny and the Scene clothes he wore did nothing but emphasize this fact. His dark hair, more like a shade of thundercloud than black, was spikey and hung in eyes. He was clean shaven and boyish. Bryn threw a wadded up napkin at his face. “They’d never let you in. Besides, they’re freaking expensive.” She stood with her tray and slung her backpack over one shoulder. “I’ll see you guys later.” Frey looked crestfallen and Rowan just grunted.
On her way back to her locker, Bryn noticed that someone was matching her steps on the linoleum. She spun in the otherwise empty hallway, resisting the urge to pull her knife from her wrist sheath where it rested hidden by her long-sleeved shirt. But it was a face she recognized.
Alexander don’t-call-me-Alex Adler smiled hesitantly at her. He had his hands tucked into his bulky football letterman jacket. It was maroon with white piping and a large white “G” over his right breast—Gardiner high school colors. Go bears!
“You startled me,” Bryn confessed.
He dropped his eyes to his sneakers. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s ok. My problem.” Her locker was close by so she made her way to it. It was dented, especially around the spinning lock where she manhandled the old metal thing almost every day. It opened with a creak and she shuffled books from backpack to locker and back again preparing for the rest of the day.
Alexander leaned a shoulder against the closed lockers on her left side. The fluorescent lights lit up his ash blond hair making it appear yellower than it was. It was a short cut grown wild.
“Listen. I wanted to ask you something.”
Bryn closed her locker and faced him, hugging her backpack to her chest. “Ok.”
He looked down; he looked up. He glanced at her face. He looked left; he looked right. He finally settled back on her face. “Would you go…out with me…on, like, a date?”
“Oh.” Surprise must have registered on her face for he began to stutter.
“Look, you don’t have to. It was just an idea.”
“Uh, I don’t know. This Friday?”
Bryn bit her bottom lip, feeling her heart do tiny flips in her chest. She had gone on dates but she had never been asked on a date before. But there was the small problem of Alexander being a homo sapien. Or was that really a problem at all? She wasn’t sure who in the Pack would protest and who wouldn’t. Did the rules really apply to her anyway? Ultimately it was her life wasn’t it?
She realized Alexander was waiting for an answer in her silence as she battled it out in her head. A little embarrassed, she said, “Sure,” and offered him a small smile.
“Great. I’ll um, text you no—call you, no—both.” Then he turned on his heels and was headed back to the cafeteria. He looked behind his shoulder once and waved.
Bryn watched him go, tucking a stray strand of hair behind one ear.
After school, Bryn waited at the curb, watching the assorted trucks that flooded the small parking lot, leave in a crowd of honking and shouts. A couple of SUVs and Rowan’s sixteenth birthday surprise were left. It began to snow and Bryn pulled the hood of her heavy coat over her head, hiding behind the circle of rabbit’s fur that decorated the edges.
Forty-five minutes after the bell rang, Rowan and Frey emerged from the front doors. Bryn watched her friend float over the snow in her huge sunglasses and knee-length embroidered coat—Frey, underdressed and shuffling sullen at her side.
“We’ll work on chapters forty six and forty seven next time,” she was saying as they closed in on Bryn’s spot. “And don’t forget about your American History test this Thursday!” Her voice rose as Frey turned right and without a goodbye, headed home.
“How was tutoring?”
They moved in sync towards the shiny red, American-made truck in the middle of the parking lot. It was only two years old and smelled like Hawaiian flowers and leather inside. It purred to life at the touch of Rowan’s keys. Cream-colored and absolutely clean inside, Bryn always felt bad for the snow and dirt she dragged in on her combat boots. The girls shoved their backpacks together in the middle of the bench seat and Rowan turned on top forty country radio. She sang under her breath for a couple of miles, and sang well. Most wolves did. They had been in choir together through middle school.
“So,” Rowan flipped the radio volume on low, “I heard a rumor.”
“That Alexander Adler and you are an item.”
Bryn whipped her head around from gazing out the window and scowled. “We’re not an item.”
“So it’s true.”
“He just asked me out on a date.”
Rowan laughed. “You and Alexander. The football player and the rocker queen of Gardiner high school? Oh, Romeo, Romeo.”
“Seriously. You’re a cliché, Bryndis.”
She reached over and slapped at her grinning friend’s arm until they both dissolved into laughter. But soon, Rowan sobered.
“I wonder what Dad would say.”
“Doesn’t matter. The rules don’t exactly apply to me, remember?”
They rode in silence for a while and the snow fell heavier over their little corner of Montana. Pulling into one of two suburbs, Rowan navigated the truck up to a blue and white ranch style house.
“ ‘Now this is the law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky; and the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.’ ” Rowan quoted her favorite work of Kipling’s in a singsong voice but finished it with, “Just think about it, ok?”
The Wolf that shall break it must die. A chill went through Bryn. She pushed down a flashback and held her tongue. She stuck it out at Rowan instead to break the tension and then hopped down from the truck.
She grabbed the mail and headed inside. She knew her parents wouldn’t be home from the restaurant yet and did her homework quickly at the kitchen table. In the third bedroom at the back of the hallway, she entered her sanctuary. There was a full size bed, a desk with a laptop on it and a dresser crowded into her room. Every inch of the walls were covered with band posters and cork boards filled with concert stubs and scrawled signatures on scrap paper. She loved it all—from indie music, to blockbuster European metal bands, to philharmonic orchestras. She waded through the dirty clothes on the floor to her computer and looked up The Law of the Jungle that Rowan had quoted. She read it again and again, nearly memorizing the thing. Her phone buzzed.
Pick u up at 6 on Fri?
A lump formed at the base of her throat as Rowan’s concern echoed through her head. She ignored the text and picked up the violin that sat on the wooden stand by her bed, rose to her feet and began to play. The string music filled her room. She shut her eyes and played by memory a bittersweet song.
In her mind’s eye she could see the sparkly white dress that her mother had surprised her with and feel the velvet seat beneath her small hands. Her mother, black and gray hair pulled back in a low bun, leaned over and murmured something to her with a smile. The Billings Symphony Orchestra began to play and it was like the night sky had given up its stars just for Bryn. She was six years old. That’s when she fell in love with music.
That was just before it all changed.