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Found Out About You

Pages 212 through 297 inclusive. Total pages: 86

Chapter 6 | Chapter 8


Please pardon our appearance as we put this page together.

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On the sidewalk to the left of the Red Moon Cafe sits a planter shaped like a giant teacup brimming with pale pink flowers, a sure sign that spring is coming. Pulling open the door to the cafe, Elias encounters the long line of customers waiting to be served. Malaya and Charlene are busy at the counter, rushing to fill orders. After calling attention to himself, Elias gets a broad grin from Malaya, then he asks if she needs help. She offers to pay him with food when the line dies down if he'll bus tables. He's on it with a thumbs up.[1] Speaking aloud while bussing a table, Elias wonders if it's always this busy. They all stay busy as the morning rush slowly trickles down until all customers are served. Charlene and Malaya give each other a high-five as Elias comes back with a tub full of dirty dishes, Charlene chortling how they are mostly clear until lunch.[2] Malaya takes the full tray and tells Elias to let her know what he wants to eat, so she can pay him for his help. He hums and says he's gotta think about it. He turns to find Charlene watching him intently. She mentions something's up with him, calling him wolf boy, then telling him his energy is off. Looking dumbfounded, he has nothing to say. Just then, Malaya touches his arm and asks how the talk with his mother went.[3] Looking distraught, he admits the talk wasn't great. He relates what his mother told him about how the meeting went…

Speaking to the other members of the Werewolf Council using an online app, Sara is saying she didn't give Elias permission to get involved, and she has made it clear he would be expelled if he dealt with the rogues on his own. She goes on to tell the council there are five young werewolves involved, and probably a witch in the house, too. Irena Vardinogiannis tells her it doesn't matter what Elias found, he could have dragged them all into this mess without permission, so it's Sara's pack's problem now. These weirdos are on the border of the Ross's territory, they can deal with them. Irena's pack votes to stay out of it. Phil Massey chides Irena, saying she'd vote to keep her pack out of the yearly potluck if they let her. She complains that no one ever eats her damn potato salad. Sara hangs her head, feeling a migraine coming on. Pumpkin tries to comfort Sara by resting her head on Sara's.[4]

Elias finishes the story with how they ended up creating a subcommittee to discuss formalizing an emergency procedure, bringing the bureaucratic nightmare to completion. In a nutshell, Elias was expelled pending further notice to "discourage action without the mandate of the council" by any other werewolves. Charlene feels this is harsh, asking if the pack isn't everything to werewolves. She questions him about never being a free agent before. He admits he's still allowed to stay with Marin and Marisa, and he still has some of his Hanukkah money that will tide him over until he can get a job, but he's always been his mom's right-hand man. That was his life, that was supposed to be his future. He wants to know what he should do now. Hearing what he's saying, Malaya offers him a job at the coffee shop if he wants, to which he replies with a nonplussed "Really?"[5] She assures him she's serious, noting if he can't go back to his pack for now, he can join her pack and make coffee for weirdos. Stunned for a moment, Elias grabs her up, catching Malaya off guard, leaving her to awkwardly pat on his back. Pushing her away at speed while holding her shoulders, he blurts out that he doesn't know anything about making coffee. She offers a trade, coffee lessons for werewolf lessons. He considers that a fair plan. Charlene chimes in, saying if he's going to be around even more, maybe they can get their heads together and figure out what's up with the house in the woods. Elias thinks that's a good idea; they still need to figure out the big picture.[6] Malaya is shocked by the notion that they still need to worry about the other pack, concerned that they're not dead or whatever. Charlene tells Mal she's willing to bet they're more "whatever" than dead. Elias notes thoughtfully that even if they are dead, they need to know why they were there in the first place, if they're connected to other packs that might retaliate, who's casting the magic around the house, and so on and so forth. Malaya is disgruntled by this; Elias agrees.

Rooting around in the tip jar, Charlene claims that she knows there's a witch in that house; if she can get her hands on something the witch touched, she can use that to fuel a vision or two. At the coffee station getting Elias's coffee ready, Malaya pops out with "Vision?" Counting out the tips, Charlene tells her she can see bits and pieces of a person's past and future, never a complete picture, but enough to give clues.[7] Expressing amazement, Malaya asks Charlene what else she can do. Self-deprecatingly, she replies that's about it. She explains she gets random vision, like the one that sent her to find Malaya, or if she has an object she can get specific visions. She goes on to say her primary skill is creating illusions, but it feels like a whole different type of magic. Malaya thinks witches are so neat, what with magic being real and stuff. Out of the blue, Mal asks Elias if he wants a coffee. He asks for a vanilla latte and then agrees with her statement, saying that witches are the bees knees. With a negligent wave of her hand, Charlene unpretentiously says she's happy they think her skills are praiseworthy. She further ventures that if they can find a way to put them to use, maybe they can finish dealing with this other pack and move on with their lives. Hearing the last part of Charlene's response, Marisa, who has just come trotting into the cafe, asks who they all are making the moves on.[8] She and Eli banter back and forth for a moment, then Marisa asks why Eli is behind the counter. He answers that they were discussing the creepy house in the woods. Passing it off, Marisa says she can't stay long 'cause she's off to work, but she needs caffeine first, something just short of strong enough to kill her. Malaya hands Elias his latte and then recommends she try The Mannheim Rocket. She lists the ingredients of the drink: Two shots of espresso, ginger, a bit of cayenne pepper, milk and honey. Marisa enthusiastically agrees to take it, asking for a medium and to use soy milk. por favor. Elias asks when she will get done tonight, and she answers midnight, with one more twelve hour shift tomorrow. He asks if they're still going shopping Saturday, and she eagerly answers "Yep!" Turning to Charlene and Malaya, Elias sweeps his arm and tells them they should go shopping with them.[9] Charlene begs off, saying it's not that she doesn't like them, but she doesn't need to be spending more money. She tells them she spent enough moving here from New Orleans. Malaya starts to say she'll be working that afternoon when Charlene peremptorily offers to swap shifts. Not entirely sure about going, she tells them she hasn't gone to an actual store since she was little … before she was bitten. She says she buys everything online, or her mother buys it for her. Charlene thinks it's a great idea, and assures her she'll have two werewolves along to stop her if she tries to shank someone with her claws, but she's still unconvinced.[10]

Malaya brings Marisa's finished coffee to the counter and sets it down. Picking it up, Marisa asks what she owes, but Malaya waves her off, urging her not to worry and saying it's on the house. Marisa thanks her in her energetic way. Checking her mood, Elias asks if she's okay. She gives a halfhearted answer, saying shopping may be fun. He tells her she's not very convincing. Holding her hands palm-facing about an inch apart, she tries to explain that she's gotten used to living in this very narrow, comfortable space. If it meant not mauling strangers, then limiting herself always seemed justified. Flinging her hands apart and turning in place, she says home, the coffee shop, the occasional brief walk to campus to meet Vincent, the forest around her house sometimes … she got to interact with people on her terms, so it was fine… But getting the hang of this werewolf thing means she won't need those limits anymore; she can do whatever she wants. She tells him that's kind of exciting, but it's sort of terrifying, too.[11] Elias promises her that if she goes shopping with them, they won't let her tear anyone's face off. Marisa promises to stop Marin from trying to dress her whenever Mal decides she's exhausted her patience. Looking thoughtful and undecided, Malaya offhandedly offers that she supposes she can give it a shot. Elias frowns at his chiming cell phone as Marisa heads out, offering a heartfelt "Awesome!" She tells Malaya to hang in there; they'll make sure it's fun-ish. Suddenly, Elias declares he has to go too, giving the hesitant excuse of having a thing. Malaya calls out that she still owes him food. He tells her it's cool, he ate all of Marisa's eggs and bacon for breakfast. Charlene calls it, saying that wasn't sketchy at all. Malaya says she kind of wants eggs and bacon now.[12]

The bare trees lining the Crescent Lake University campus entrance show spring hasn't arrived yet. Vincent is headed toward the main entrance, but something has caught his attention. Looking over his right shoulder, he lets out a considering "Hmmm…" He sharply spins around and faces the arched campus gateway leading back to the street. He quirks a suspicious eyebrow, the he pulls out his phone and dials a contact.[13] Putting his phone to his ear, he continues watching the walkway leading from the street. Coincidentally, another phone starts ringing, the sound coming from behind a nearby tree trunk. Knowing he's been caught, Elias steps out from behind the tree and waves to Vincent. Now standing face-to-face, it's easy to see that Elias is about a half-head taller than Vincent,[14] causing Vincent to look upward at Eli. Stating the obvious, Vincent mildly accuses Elias of following him. Eli agrees, saying he's sorry, but he wanted to make sure no one was following him to, and in a small voice says, kidnap him again. Rephrasing Eli's words, Vincent asks if Elias was following him to stop other people from following him. Elias meekly says "Yes?" Taking it all in, Vincent tells him he didn't have to hide, then he asks how Elias knew where he was.[15] Trying to keep it a light-hearted funny story, Elias tells him that Vincent's mother gave Elias his schedule. He admits to telling Maria that he wanted to make sure Vincent wasn't in danger of being stolen again, and she made him promise to keep Vincent safe, which he was going to do anyway, 'cause he still feels like this is all kind of his fault, but … you know … and then he followed his scent to figure out where he was on campus, but not in a creepy way … and he blocked out time on his schedule for sleeping, which he thought was really cute… He told Vincent he didn't say that… Vincent thinks about all that for a moment, his natural reticence fighting with his desire to trust Elias. Coming to a decision, he tells Elias that it sounds like his mother. He then haltingly gets out that if Elias wanted to sit in on some of his classes today, that would be okay, or good, He'd appreciate it, he guesses. Turning down the walkway, Vincent heads with a purposeful stride to class with Elias following close behind. Elias responds eagerly that he can do that. He says he's never been to a college class before. Stopping suddenly and turning to Elias, Vincent asks disbelievingly if Elias had followed his scent. Pointing to himself, Elias reminds Vincent that he is a werewolf, to which Vincent can only say "Okay…"[16]

Looking thoughtfully up the side of the college building, Elias muses aloud that maybe that's what he can do with himself now … go back to school. He could at least apply, maybe. Curious, Vincent says he thought Eli's mother was grooming him to take over the pack or something… With no regret in his voice as they walk through the campus, he tells Vincent he got kicked out of his pack, so now he has a lot of spare time he doesn't know what to do with. With emotion not typical of Vincent, he asks "What?", clearly in shocked disbelief. Elias explains with no rancor that he'd disobeyed standard procedure by saving Vincent without the consensus of the Werewolf Council. Having trouble putting his thoughts into words, Vincent asks what it means to be kicked out of his pack. Trying to frame his answer in human terms, he tells Vincent it's kind of like if your family said they loved you, but then they shoved you out the door with whatever money you had in your pockets. And you can't contact the rest of your family without permission, so you're crashing on your friends' couch because that's the only place you can go without getting into more trouble. Disheartened by Eli's explanation, Vincent can only respond with one syllable words.[17] Looking down, Vincent laments that he can't really make it up to Elias for saving him. He offers that if Elias ever needs anything, it there's something he can do, to let him know. Elias thanks him with a smile. Vincent asks if Elias would like to get lunch after class, his treat. Eli checks if he's sure, saying werewolves eat a lot. Vincent informs him he can afford two sandwiches. As they continue on, Elias asks how Vincent knew he was behind that tree. Vincent explains his logic, saying he figured if anyone was following him, it was either Eli, or he'd come help Vincent if it was someone else. Elias emphatically replied that he would. He would come find Vincent and he'd beat up that someone else. Vincent points out it's broad daylight, and Eli comes back with yes, but then he'd owe him three sandwiches … and bail money.[18]

Malaya's work apron sails through the air, landing on her bed. Musing aloud as she pulls bobby pins out of her hair and tosses them into a bowl, she tells her reflection that going to the mall shouldn't be such a big deal for someone who's already twenty-five… Tossing her hair behind her, she goes on. But, she says, when you could potentially maul a stranger in a moment of panic while they're just trying to pick out a new shirt… She decides she needs to run off her anxiety before dinner.[19] Wearing comfortable white canvas slip-ons, Malaya runs through the woods, the wind of her passing tugging at her legs and blowing through her hair. Coming up on where a creek has cut into the land, she wonders if she can make it over the crevasse. She proudly proclaims that yes she can as she sails easily and gracefully over the water rushing over stones and between crumbling banks. Her foot hits the ground with a solid thud when she reaches the other side.[20] Speeding along at a clip only a werewolf can attain, Malaya thinks about why she runs. It's the only way she knows how to shut out the world for a little while, where her senses don't feel overloaded, where all the possibilities for the future don't seem so overwhelming… Stopping so suddenly her hair fans in front of her face and speaking her thoughts aloud, she realizes she has run back to the clearing near the weird house without thinking … and again she's surprised when this time she realizes she's not alone. Trying to duck behind a tree, she sees that one of those other werewolves is sitting there by the fence.[21] Malaya hears the other call out that she can hear her. Aubrey declares she's not going to do anything to her, that she couldn't if she wanted to. Understandably paranoid, Malaya suspects a trick and fears an ambush. Aubrey assures her it's not a trick and tells her she nearly passed out getting up the hill. She then pleads with Malaya not to kill her since she can't run away either. Malaya calls out she doesn't believe her, so Aubrey tells her to leave. Somewhat reluctantly, Malaya says no. Approaching the fence cautiously, she gets Aubrey's name wrong, calling her Audrey: Aubrey listlessly corrects her. Stopping halfway to Aubrey, Malaya tells her she put her family through so much lately. First she tried to fight her in the alley, then she left a dead deer on her lawn, then she kidnapped her brother and tied up her friend…[22] Aubrey continues apathetically, saying she knows an apology's not worth much, but if it helps… She tells Malaya she doesn't have to worry about her, or the others, anymore. Mama is dying, and they're going down with her. She laments that they're all used up, like a car battery with no juice. Moving closer to the fence, Malaya responds, saying that's complicated and then offers uncertain condolences. Thinking about what Aubrey said, she seizes on "Mama". She assumes Mama is another werewolf, and questions whether she's mother to all of them somehow. Aubrey corrects her assumption, saying she's the only one related to Mama, no one else, and she's not a werewolf. Finally reaching the fence, Malaya leans on a fence post. Knowing Aubrey is a werewolf confuses Malaya; Aubrey addresses that, saying her mother's a witch. Shocked, Malaya blurts out that her mother is the witch they've been looking for. Aubrey gives that an uncertain response.[23] Malaya is now confused at how a witch gives birth to a werewolf. Simply put, Aubrey says her father was a werewolf. Curious how a witch can birth a werewolf, she asks, and Aubrey agrees to tell her, if only to stop her asking questions.

Aubrey explains that Mama used to be a kind of a big deal. She was sort of famous as far as witches go, but Aubrey doesn't exactly know what that means. She was going out with a local werewolf named Thomas. She's never told Aubrey more about him than his name. She ended up pregnant with Aubrey, and Thomas left Mama after she begged him to stay. Mama never told Aubrey much about how magic works, but she did say that to make a werewolf, you need magic … a lot of magic.[24] Mama has collapsed to the ground at this point of the narrative. Aubrey continues, saying that when Thomas left Mama, Aubrey guesses she kind of sucked Mama dry. The pregnancy took all she had and then some. Aubrey grouses that Mama likes to bring that up a lot … that she nearly died just to have her. Aubrey doesn't know how she turned the rest of her … family. She's not really allowed to ask questions. Mama reaches out and grasps a small plant that is hardly bigger than her hand. It quickly shrivels and dies. Aubrey is pretty sure Mama turned Malaya too. Malaya responds to that with patent disbelief. Aubrey hesitates, then says she can't guarantee anything, but Connie said Mal belongs with their pack, so she's guessing that's what Connie meant.[25]

Recalling what Charlene said about getting visions from objects, Malaya tells Aubrey that if she can get an object her mother has touched, her friend might be able to use it to inspire a vision and find out more about Aubrey's mother. Aubrey tells Malaya her mother's name is Connie. Acknowledging that, Malaya replies they can find out more about Connie's deal, and maybe they can get all of them out of that house. Aubrey appreciates the offer, but she maintains they're dealing with the situation. Malaya pleads with her, asking if it isn't worth at least trying to see if her friend can help instead of waiting around to die. Aubrey despondently agrees. Malaya teasingly asks if she can get something Connie has touched. Aubrey offers a noncommittal maybe. Getting frustrated, Malaya asks if she means "maybe" as in she doesn't know if she can get an object from the house, or "maybe" as in she doesn't want to.[26] Aubrey grouchily replies that it's "maybe" as in why would she help them. If Malaya just ignores them for a little longer, they'll all be dead and it won't matter anymore. Beginning to understand, Malaya tells her she mostly wants to help because she's not an asshole, and it's the right thing to do. Aubrey claims that's not a real reason and wants to know what's in it for her. Taking her time, Malaya responds that if she helps them, she'll feel better knowing they won't come around to attack her family. Aubrey grumpily offers that she should leave them to die; they won't attack her family if they're dead. Malaya snarks that she doesn't want to live near a house full of dead werewolves, because it's creepy.[27] Standing with her arms crossed, Aubrey stares toward the house, thinking unhappy thoughts. Still distrustful, she wants to know, if Malaya helps them, then what? Not understanding the question, Malaya asks her what she means. Responding with heat, Aubrey clarifies her question, saying, so they get away, Malaya's friends find some way to save them, then what? Aubrey wants to know what's her life after living in that shitty house for twenty-four years? Malaya tells her she doesn't know. She's got a lot of questions about the future, too. She admits she's terrified of going to the damn mall this weekend, so she can't really help her there. Replying with despair, Aubrey feels that at least this way she dies with all of them. She dies alongside whatever counts as her family. Malaya shoots back, asking what about what they want? Wouldn't she rather live alongside them? Mal advises that the future might be scary, but she wouldn't be alone. Gentler than before, Aubrey says maybe.[28] Both of them are looking toward the house as Malaya offers advice that had been given to her by her mother. She'd said that it's normal to be afraid in the face of new challenges, you just have to be brave until new challenges turn into old ones. Aubrey muses that Malaya's mother sounds nice. Malaya thinks she is. Looking down, Aubrey says she should be able to get her something. She says apologetically that she can't go much farther than this, but she'll find something small in the house that Connie touches a lot. Malaya thanks Aubrey and states emotionally that if she can help, it would mean a lot. Aubrey looks thoughtfully at Malaya for a moment, then says she should get home. She can feel Connie pulling all the energy out of her a little harder. Being closer to her, she doesn't feel it as badly.[29] Malaya says she should go home, too, and says her goodbyes, calling her Aubrey with a "B" as in "bird." Malaya has nearly made it into the woods when Aubrey calls out to her, telling her it's okay if she can't help, she won't blame her. Malaya looks nonplussed for a moment, then she replies with some heat that she won't give up. She doesn't know what she can do, but she won't give up. With a timid smile, and perhaps a little hope, Aubrey says maybe. With that, the women head out in their separate directions home.[30]

Running into the woods at a fast pace, Malaya begins to slow until finally, she stops. She stands on a rock-strewn path in the dense, hazy air of the woods, her face turned up into a sunbeam, her hair flowing out behind her in a light breeze, a moss-dappled log in the foreground. She twists to face behind her for a moment, a thoughtful look on her face. Turning back and taking a slow pace, she tells herself she's got bigger issues than shopping.[31]

«·-·-·-·-·-«♦»-·-·-·-·-·»

It's Saturday morning, and Marin is driving down the highway in her dark gray SUV. Marisa, Elias, Malaya and Vincent are riding along as passengers, all heading for the mall. Marisa very briefly recaps what Malaya has told them about Connie, ending with how Connie is now using werewolves as batteries. Malaya reluctantly agrees with the summation, but admits she doesn't get why. Marisa asks Eli if he's ever told Malaya how magic works differently in werewolves and witches. He equivocates for a moment and then confesses he hasn't. Marisa explains to Malaya that witches get their magic from plants and animals. She describes how magic flows into the witch, it gets used, and then most of it is sent back into the earth. She makes the point that you have to be born a witch; humans can't access magic at all. But, she says, werewolves are like yogurt.[32] Vincent and Malaya both react with a surprised comment. Marisa answers them, saying all that is needed is a little bit of fresh yogurt added to some milk, and the bacteria multiplies, giving you lots more yogurt. Marin gently lets Marisa know she needs to explain how that works. Realizing she's right, Marisa explains that to make a new werewolf, a werewolf will 'seed' a bit of magic into a human through a bite. As long as the original werewolf is powerful enough, the magic will multiply in the new werewolf. Every full moon will make that magic a little stronger. Werewolves have an internal reservoir of magic that is slowly and consistently upping its game. Just like bacteria in yogurt growing in milk.[33] Marisa continues explaining there's lots of ways to make werewolf or witch babies, but the mother must have access to magic. The issue for a werewolf fetus isn't that it need magic to get started, but it needs it all throughout the pregnancy. A witch will usually join her mate's pack so the pack can provide the energy. Marisa holds up a chart showing the possibilities of a human, witch or werewolf being conceived (for birth chart, see here). Malaya asks why a witch can't simply draw the needed energy from the earth, to which Marisa replies with a definitive Nope! She says a witch can't just keep taking from the earth, because at some point, the earth will simply cut her off. And if she takes magic by force, eventually there will be consequences.[34]

Deep in thought and oblivious to her surroundings, Malaya mutters "consequences" under her breath. With a cheery smile, Marin announces they have arrived. Vincent tells Malaya not to freak out, and she admits she was too distracted to be nervous, until now. Looking out at the expansive parking lot with an enclosed elevated walkway leading to the massive architecture of the mall, Malaya expresses a sense of wonder. Being practical, Marin tells her to enjoy it while it lasts. She says that with consumer spending shifting to online shopping, and the combination of stagnant wages and decreased middle class buying power, malls will be obsolete in their lifetimes. With a fond look for her lover, Marisa says it's weird shit like that is why she loves her. Marin simply answers that she knows.[35] Malaya asks why everything smells like cheap perfume and french fries. Elias joyfully tells her it's the smell of capitalism. She grumps that capitalism needs to take it down a notch. Looking back, Marin asks Malaya if she's ready. Malaya tells her not really, that this is still kind of terrifying. Elias advises her not to worry. The mall is just regular stores punctuated by pretzel kiosks. Malaya's indifferent response is "clothing and bread?" Elias cheerily replies it's bread tied in a knot, which makes it taste better. Vincent's offering is that it's elaborate bread. As she approaches the entrance, a breeze teases at Marin's golden hair. That same breeze seems to be taunting Malaya as she stares at the entryway.[36] Issuing the battle cry of mall shoppers everywhere, Marin urges Malaya forward as Marisa tugs her hand, saying let's buy stuff we don't need. The boys trail along behind. Walking with Vincent and Eli, the first thing Mal sees is a pretzel kiosk. The three of them window shop, passing more pretzel shops, while Marin and Marisa get sidetracked by a lingerie shop. The proliferation of pretzel shops finally gets to Malaya, and she begins to become angry. Marin breaks her train of thought, grabbing her and telling her she's found a store she'll like.[37]

Malaya peeks out of dressing room #3 while Elias urges her to show them how 'it' looks. She suspiciously asks why he has his phone out, and he tells her he's documenting this for history. Malaya steps out, showing off a cute little dress. Marin says it looks nice; Malaya tells her Vincent suggested it. A fashion show ensues, with everyone getting into the act. Having made their purchases at this store, Marisa tells her they have a lot to cover. Malaya answers with a nervous "okay."[38] Another store and another fashion show, this one with a much more relaxed Malaya enjoying herself. While she dances with her brother, twirling her skirt around her knees, Elias looks on, watching the two of them fondly.[39] Holding up a cute long-sleeved shirt, Marisa asks Elias for his opinion. Elias snarks that just because he's gay, it doesn't mean he knows anything about fashion. He tells her he just wears whatever the internet says will make him look pretty. Looking at shirts on a rack, Elias questions why women's shirts have no shoulders; Marisa says it's because women don't have shoulders anymore. Looking around, Elias sees Vincent offering Malaya an outfit, and Mal saying they were really cute. Elias gets a suspiciously thoughtful look on his face.[40] Turning to Marisa, Elias frantically asks if that was a sign. He wants to know if she think he swings both ways. Getting in his face, she berates him, telling him that he just got done telling her that gay dudes into fashion was a stereotype. Elias tries to pass it off, saying that was Old Elias. New Elias wants Vincent's good taste to mean they can date. Marisa suggests he could just ask him, saying it's not that complicated. Dismayed by Marisa's words, he tells her that was fantasy advice for a universe were the two of them weren't hopelessly awkward.[41] Throwing a pile of clothes into her arms, Marin tells Malaya there is one more round to try on. Malaya quips it feels like they been at it for hours. Marin tells her she's right, and she needs to use that werewolf stamina. Another fashion show ensues.[42]

Walking along, Malaya looks exhausted. She puts her hand to her head, an obvious sign that she's feeling the strain of the day. Surrounded by an overload of unfamiliar sensations, and hypersensitive due to her werewolf nature, Malaya is becoming badly stressed.[43] Looking down at her hands, Malaya is badly startled by the discovery that her hands are transforming. The sound of her cramming her hands into a paper bag alerts the others to the fact that something is wrong. She hesitantly tells them she needs a break, preferably somewhere quiet.[44] Marin and Marisa take her to a part of the mall where the stores are all closed for a big renovation. Malaya is sitting slouched on a bench with her head resting on the back with Marisa checking on her. She is badly startled when a large salted pretzel suddenly appears before her. With a completely straight face, Vincent is offering the pretzel. He tells her she's too easy to scare for a werewolf. She looks down at the fresh pretzel in her hand, then she looks over and sees an open pretzel shop. She grumbles, wondering how that is still open.[45] Seeing that everyone has settled in for the moment, Marin announces she's going off to find slacks for work, something that usually takes forever. Marisa tells her honey goodbye, also telling her they were going to talk about her while she was gone. She calls out only good things and is told no promises. Smiling contentedly, and holding an as yet uneaten pretzel, Malaya tells Marisa that her and Marin are really cute. Marisa answers proudly that they're disgusting. Elias says it gets grosser, and that she should tell the story of how they met. Malaya responds to that with a puzzled sound. Marisa perks up, saying she only gets to tell the story when she finds a werewolf she doesn't know already.[46]

When she first met Marin, she was assigned as a nurse in her ward of the hospital. Her chart said she had a primary glioblastoma, a brain tumor but really hard to treat. Every time she checked on Marin, she never had visitors and no one was logged to see her. Marisa felt bad, so she tried to stop by her room as often as she could. Marin didn't say much, but she always smiled at her. One day, Marin said she knew Marisa was busy, but could she read a bit of the newspaper to her? She said she was following a case, but she couldn't see well. The tumor made her vision too blurry.[47] Marisa agreed, then asked her about the case. Marin told her it was a lawsuit, prompting Marisa to ask if she was a lawyer. Marin stammered out that she would be, but she didn't think that with this… She had a year left until she was done with law school, then the bar exam… Marisa was amazed, then said you never know what could happen. Marin told her she knew the chances. Marisa answered that she was supposed to avoid being depressing if she could help it, though. Marin told her she appreciated the effort. Marisa asked her if she had always wanted to be a lawyer. She said no, that she didn't think having a job was an option. She was supposed to get married and have a bunch of kids. So, Marin told Marisa all about her childhood.[48]

Marin has a lot of siblings. She told Marin all the names once, but she couldn't remember them all. Her parents were super conservative and really religious. When she was a teenager, Marin kept getting set up with boys from church so they could … court? (Marisa thinks that's what Marin called it) It didn't go over well. Her parents eventually gave in and let her go to college, but only if Marin went to a conservative school and majored in Religion. It got Marin out of the house, so she agreed.[49] Unfortunately for her parents, college opened Marin's eyes to why all those boys they tried to make her date never worked out. And since she didn't grow up with any context for what being a lesbian was, Marin went to talk to her school counselor. And because the college had rules and shit, and that counselor was a dick, he called Marin's parents.[50] Marin's parents disowned her. The school let her stay until the end of the semester since Marin's tuition was already paid. All those siblings Marisa can't remember the names of … kids Marin helped raise over the years … she wasn't allowed to call or talk to them anymore. But Marin being Marin, she made a plan. She got a bus ticket, transferred to a state school, got a full ride, and took up studying law, because she wanted a major that was difficult enough to keep her mind occupied, and she wanted to help people.[51] But, you know, Marin was still gay, and her family still wouldn't talk to her. So, Marin got her Bachelor's degree, graduating with highest honors; no one came to watch her receive her diploma.

Finishing the tale of her childhood, Marin says her grades and her LSAT scores got her into a great law program and an internship with a civil rights firm. Marin looks at Marisa and comments on how sad she looks. Marisa says that it's just, well, none of that was fair to Marin. She tells Marin she's bisexual, and her family just shrugged when she started dating women. Marin tells her it's okay, but Marisa says it's not okay. Marin answers that, saying that she knows, but she's supposed to avoid being depressing if she can help it.[52] After that, Marisa kept coming by Marin's room to read the paper after her shift, mostly to keep her company. Sometimes she'd read the whole paper to her, even the ads for garage sales and the weird column about playing bridge. But Marin kept getting worse. Marisa watched over the sleeping Marin with a mournful expression.[53] Marisa admits that she occasionally used her magic to help patients heal a bit faster. Little stuff, like scrapes and bruises, and only when she couldn't get caught … but she couldn't cure cancer. Spells have their limit. Marisa calls Marin's name, and she says she's listening. Marisa asks her if she's really still invested in the lawsuit, because she can read something else. Marin replies, saying she knows she probably won't be around to see the outcome of the case. She says she knows she won't be a lawyer now, but she's worked so hard. She doesn't want to give up.[54] Marisa's expression spoke of her worry for her new friend, and perhaps something else. She tells Marin she has an idea. She has to make some phone calls, then she'll be back. Marin hesitantly acknowledges her.

Marisa tells how there are boundaries she's supposed to observe as a professional. She's supposed to be kind but unattached, putting the patient first … but she crossed those boundaries for the first and only time, and did the dumbest, best thing she'd ever done. Outside of the hospital, in a secluded corner, Marisa makes a phone call. Getting back to Marin, she tells her that she has someone who can help. She explains that she's not going to believe it, and it might not work. If it doesn't work, she might die. She tells Marin she doesn't have to do it… Marisa goes on, saying she explained the whole werewolf thing to Marin. She thinks she kind of blew her mind, but she was on board in the end.[55].

Eli's mom, Sara, came by the next day. After knowing the Ross family her whole life, casting spells for them with her parents since she was little, this was the only favor she ever asked for in return. Sara greeted Marin, telling her she was going to try and help. To the sound of beeping monitors, Sara explained the whole werewolf thing again, just in case, but Marin wasn't very responsive by that point. Sara asked if Marisa was sure she was able to understand her. She said she wasn't going to bite someone who couldn't consent. Marisa sudden reached out and grabbed Sara by the shoulder. "Yes. Do it," she told her, with pain-filled eyes.[56] Taking Marin's hand, Sara said okay, then warned her not to scream. Sara began her change with a carnivore's grin before transforming into her werewolf form. Marin watched as her friend was inducted into a whole new world.

And it worked! Sara stayed by Marin's side and helped keep her transformation secret and under control. Her primary doctor was … confused about her recovery, to say the least. I think he finally chalked her progress up to a miracle after the tests came back. Marin was discharged after a few days.[57] And Marin made a great werewolf! She spent time training with the Ross Pack out in the woods. Marisa only saw her occasionally. She was proving to be a capable werewolf.

As Marin's former caretaker, Marisa tried to maintain some distance, plus she was busy with law school and werewolf practice. But they still saw each other at the Ross Pack picnics throughout the summer.[58] During one such picnic, Marin thanked Marisa again, saying she wouldn't have all she had without her. Marisa pays it back, saying Marin had worked too hard for it to not pay off. Then she tried to claim she just did what anyone with werewolf friends would do.

Marisa said it felt like they danced around each other forever. She didn't want Marin to feel obligated towards her, and she was still holding onto that "Don't date a patient" mantra in her head. During Thanksgiving dinner, Marin passed a bowl of mashed potatoes along and offered them to Marin. Their fingers touched during the exchange and they both blushed. Marisa felt they were kind of hopeless, though.[59] And when she graduated from law school that next summer, Marin had a larger cheering section the second time around.[60]

After the graduation ceremony, Marin and Marisa took a walk around the now quiet campus. Marin tried to thank her again, and Marisa modestly replied she didn't need to. Marin looked down at Marisa's hair, the mostly brown locks dyed pink along her bangs. "Your hair," she said, brushing at a curl of pink hair, "I like this color." Blushing brighter than her dyed hair at Marin's affectionate touch, she said she was thinking of dying all her hair pink, but she wasn't sure she was that brave. Marin assured her that she thinks she is.[61] Marin continues that line of thought, telling her that she felt like Marisa had been keeping her distance ever since the hospital. Marisa offered that they'd both been busy, but Marin calls her on it. Turning away shyly, Marisa told her she didn't want her to feel like she owed anything, that when she'd asked Sara to help, there weren't any strings attached. Looking fondly at her friend, Marin said that it was very noble of her, but then what if all she wanted was to be attached to her.

Marisa turns her face up to look back at Marin, the moment had arrived. Taking her in her arms, they share a gentle first kiss on the empty campus walkway.[62]

Flaring her hands, Marisa announces that is why she has pink hair. Vincent and Malaya look at her, stunned, with their mouths hanging open. She becomes concerned and asks Eli if they didn't like her story. He reassures her that they're just stunned that she had spent the last five minutes describing the first time her girlfriend held her hand. In detail. She responds with a surprised "Oh!" Eli points out that it's a good thing the pretzel guy didn't overhear the werewolf part.

From across the mall walkway, Marin lets them know she's back. With pants.[63] Marisa stands and they hug and share an affectionate smooch. Smiling happily at the couple, Malaya says they're cute. Vincent seems to agree, though the pretzel he's munching on prevents an answer. Eli tells her they're fun to live with, then as an aside he says they could use thicker walls.

Marin is eager to finish the trip, then suggests on last store. Malaya, Eli and Vincent lead the way, with Marin and Marisa following close behind. Look down on her diminutive lover, Marin says she hopes Marisa only told the others nice things about her. Marisa asserts that there are only nice things to tell. Except that Marin snores and can't cook. Marin allows that's fair.

Holding hands as they continue on their journey, Marisa asks that, when they get married, should one of them change their last name. Marin immediately offers that she will. She says that the last name "Grundy" sounds like a supervillain name. Marisa tells her it is, to Marin's surprise. Then, trying out the new names, Marisa says "Marin and Marisa Salcedo…" Marin comments that at least monogramming the towels will be easy.[64]

Picking up a pair of louvered eyeshades in the store the group has selected, Marisa complains she that although she's only thirty-two, she feels three hundred years too old for the store. Malaya says excitedly that she kind of likes it. The place has … a lot of options. Holding up an oddly puffy jacket, Eli agrees about the options, wondering whatever the jacket is. Marisa calls it a wearable land parachute.

Changing the subject, Marisa tells Eli that she and Vincent had picked out a bunch of outfits for the others already and suggests that he and Malaya go pick out some stuff on their own. Eli doesn't see why, saying all he needed was jeans, and that he's done trying stuff on. Marin stands there wearing an orange boa and over-size movie star sunglasses, and Marisa has on a fuzzy pink vest and is holding up a ragged t-shirt. Marisa tells him he doesn't have to buy anything, it's just fun to see what he'd pick out in a store filled with such beautiful clothing, she finishes sarcastically.[65]

Vincent calls check it out to Eli from deeper in the store. Turning to look, Eli spots Vincent sporting a pullover that depicts a wolf's head howling to the moon, with the words "Howl you doin'?" across the image. Pointing at it, Eli says it's amazing, and perfect, and he loves it. Vincent tells him he should buy it, but Eli says he has to pass. He only had enough money for new jeans. Looking disappointed, Vincent asks if he's sure, saying it's on clearance. Eli says he doesn't really buy clothes he likes too much, because eventually everything gets torn up in the line of werewolf duty. Vincent becomes thoughtful at his words.[66]

Standing in front of the changing booths, Marisa, Marin and Vincent watch as Eli and Malaya tries things on. Marisa urges them on, saying that it's the last entry in the day's shopping adventure, commanding they show them their outfits. Eli reminds her that all he needed was jeans. She informs him that no one cares, and tells him to get out there. The two come out wearing outfits that almost defy description. With a look of amazement on her face, Marisa tells them they look awesome. She tells Eli that it's so far outside his normal freakishly casual comfort zone, that it's like an eighties movie had dress him. Looking more bemused than amazed, Marin offers a questionable "Cute?" Vincent looks thoroughly buffaloed, saying that strange things are afoot at the Circle KCircle K is a chain of convenience stores based mostly in North America, but with stores all over the world, most with an attached gas station.. Completely serious, Malaya tells Eli she's buying the jacket she tried on. Looking sexy in his hip-huggers and belly shirt, Eli responds equally seriously, "Obviously."[67]

Chapter 6 | Chapter 8

References

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