Written in Red Page 113

She didn’t know what to say, so she focused on the colored bits and pieces on the table. “A puzzle?”

“A pleasant diversion on a winter afternoon.” He gestured to the other chair. “Sit and join me if you wish.”

She sat and picked up several pieces, one after another.

“You have never put together a puzzle?” Henry asked.

Meg shook her head. “I’ve seen pictures of games, including puzzles like this, but there was no need for us to play them in order to recognize them in a vision.”

“Then it’s time for you to experience the world instead of just identifying its pieces.”

She watched him work for a minute before she began to look for connecting pieces. There was an easiness to the silence between them. In fact, they didn’t speak until she returned from the laundry room, having put the clothes and towels in the dryers.

“Are we the only ones in the complex?” she asked when she took her seat at the table.

Henry nodded. “Most are spending the day with their kin in the other complexes. The Coyote is enjoying a run.”

“And Tess?” Meg put four puzzle pieces together before picking up her thought. “I’ve seen her only in her human form.”

“None of us have seen her other form. We know she is terra indigene. We know how to read her warning signs. But what she is when she sheds her human skin—that is something known only to Namid.”

Deciding she’d asked enough questions, Meg worked on the puzzle with Henry until her laundry was dry. She packed up her laundry bag, bundled herself for the quick walk, and headed back to her apartment.

Halfway there, she saw the Wolf rushing toward her in the fading afternoon light.

“Sam! No!” Simon’s voice.

The pup ran past her instead of leaping on her, then turned back and tried to grab a corner of the laundry bag.

“If you rip the bag and I have to wash all these clothes again, I’ll wash you with them,” Meg warned.

His head cocked. His tail wagged. And she wondered if she had just put a very bad idea in a puppy’s head. But he wouldn’t actually try to climb into a washer. Would he?

Sam spun around and rushed toward Simon, who was standing near his own apartment door. The pup leaped up, barely giving Simon enough time to catch him before leaping down and running back to Meg.

Once she was close enough that he was bouncing between them, he began talking at her.

Smiling, she shook her head. “I don’t speak Wolf.”

“No shifting out here,” Simon said firmly. “It’s cold.”

Sam talked back at his uncle.

As a reply, Simon opened his apartment door. “Go inside, and I’ll ask her.”

Sam bounded into the apartment, sliding as his wet feet hit the bare floor. Shaking his head, Simon closed the door and looked at her.

“Everything all right today?” he asked.

“It was quiet,” she replied. “Peaceful.”

He shifted his feet and looked uncertain. In fact, he seemed reluctant to look directly at her.

“Mr. Wolfgard?”

“After Sam has his bath, we’re going to watch a movie, and he was wondering—we were wondering—if you would like to join us.”

Emotions were harder to define on a real face than on a labeled picture, so she wasn’t sure which message she was supposed to reply to. He had invited her to join them, but . . . “You would prefer if I found a reason to decline?”

“No.” The word was snapped out. Then he took a step back, and she heard the soft, frustrated whine.

Simon must have gone to school at some point, must have received the kind of education that enabled him to run a business and a Courtyard, but she suddenly understood what Henry meant about the difference between dealing with humans and having one live among them. Having one they treated as a friend.

He wanted her to come over and watch the movie, but something was making him unhappy about it.

“I spend a lot of time in this skin on the other days.” Simon thumped his chest and looked at the snow piled in the center of the complex’s courtyard. “Earthdays are the days I can be Wolf. But I want to encourage Sam to shift, and that means wearing the human skin for a while every day now.”

She took the words apart, as if they were images that would be put back together to make a prophecy—and understood. “You’d like to spend the evening in your other form.”

“Yes.”

“Well, after you make the popcorn and put the movie on, why can’t you do that?”

Now he looked at her. “You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Seven o’clock?”

She smiled. “I’ll see you at seven.”

She felt Simon watching her as she climbed the stairs to her apartment. She heard Sam howl. And she wondered how many residents of the Courtyard knew she was going over to her neighbor’s place to watch a movie.

* * *

Simon washed the dishes and swallowed impatience. He couldn’t wait to get out of this skin, this shape. It had a few advantages over the pure Wolf form, but it wasn’t natural, and having to remain in that skin after it began to scrape on the heart and mind could push a terra indigene into a crazed rage.

Not all that different from what had happened out west, except the crazed rage had occurred while the Others were in animal forms.

Not something a leader who had to look human so much of the time wanted to consider might happen to him.

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