I stepped into the room with Stacey, and our eyes met. I heard a click behind me, signaling that Wrogan had locked us in together. The silence was deafening as we faced each other, the only sound the whir coming from the weird gizmo had in her lap.
Stacey was the first one to break the silence.
"Amber," she said, speaking slowly like she wasn't sure I was really there.
Well, I thought, taking a deep breath, better get this over with.
"Omigawd why didn't you tell me you were a quis lupus mulier est?"
The next thing I knew, all I could see was black and purple as Stacey leaped from her bed and gave me a huge, bone crushing huge. Seriously, I'm a werewolf, and that hug still came close to breaking my rib cage.
"This is amazing!" she screamed. "My best friend is a shapeshifter! Omigawd, Amber, do you know what this means?"
"Uh, yeah," I said, managing to pry her off of me. I pushed her back a little to give myself some space, but she was still bouncing on the balls of her heels with the biggest smile I'd ever seen spread across her face. "I've been like this for about half a year now. I think I know what that means."
"It means," Stacey went on, like she hadn't heard me, "that you're one of Mother Gaia's most trusted servants! Holy crap, Amber, this is amazing!"
She still wasn't listening to me. She spread her hands and leaned her head back. "Mother Gaia, we thank you for this gift you've bestowed upon Amber! May she use it well..."
"And do her part to end the tyranny of the human race..."
"Can I say something?"
"And bring freedom and equality back to the animal kingdom..."
"For yours is the kingdom and the power and the—"
Her head snapped forward to face me again. "Yes?"
"I am not a... a whatever you said."
"A quis lupus mulier est," she said again.
I waved my hand. "Right, I'm not one of those. I'm just a werewolf."
I don't know how I expected her to react to this, but she surprised me by putting her hands over her mouth and giggling like Kimberly used to when she accused me of having a crush on Tyler.
"You don't know anything, do you?" she squealed, her face turning bright pink with mirth. She grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the bed. "Sit down, I'll tell you everything you need to know!"
"Um, okay," I said, reluctantly taking a seat. This conversation wasn't going at all like I'd planned, but, well, she looked so happy. I couldn't bring myself to take that away from her. Let her have her fun for a little bit longer.
"Okay, so, first of all, werewolves aren't real," she said, holding up her hands like she expected this to blow my mind.
I frowned. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure they are. You know, since I am one."
"No, no, no you're not!" she shook her head wildly, making her black and purple hair fly around and almost whip me in the face. I leaned back a little. "They're just made up. Fairy tales, okay?"
I sighed. "What am I, then, oh wise one?"
She leaned in closer. "I already told you, you're a quis lupus mulier est!"
I gave her a flat stare. "You keep saying that like you expect me to know what it means."
"It's Latin for the woman is a wolf!" she explained, bouncing up and down so hard on the bed that it rocked the entire thing. "They're warriors for Mother Gaia, the Mother of All. She created them to bridge the gap between man and beast, and someday end the—"
"The human's tyranny," I finished for her.
Her eyes grew even wider. "So you do know something!"
I shook my head. "Nope, you just said that part already."
"Oh... well, that's okay, because now I'm here, and I can teach you all about how to be a quis lupus mulier est!"
It was a little weird, hearing her speak Latin. Not because she spoke it fluently, but because... well, the opposite, actually. The way she said it, with a slight southern accent, made her sound like some kind of American Harry Potter.
Stacey crossed her legs on the bed and looked at me. "You've got a lot of work to do, but don't worry because I'm going to be with you every step of the way! Anything you don't understand, I'll be here to explain to you."
"What kind of work?"
"Ugh," Stacey leaned back and slapped her forehead, "would it kill you to listen? We're going to dismantle society as we know it!"
I frowned. "What if I don't want to—"
"Just you wait! When we're done, you won't even recognize the place."
"The earth, duh!"
I couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't know whether to laugh or whack her upside the head. If this was anybody else, the situation would be hilarious. Stacey, though... I had a feeling that if she got hold of the right resources, she would actually try and do this. In fact...
"Our first target needs to be big," she was saying. "Someone people will notice, you know? I'm thinking the President."
I blinked. "The President?" I asked. "As in, of the United States?"
"Duh!" she said again. "What other president is there?"
I bit my tongue, not because I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but because I couldn't decide which of the thirty smart aleck remarks that immediately popped into my head to use.
"Sooo..." I said a minute later, "how do you know about these queer lump things..."
"Quis lupus mulier est."
"... Yeah, them. How do you know about them if even I don't know about them? Like, who told you?"
"Oh, nobody did," Stacey said, waving her hand. "I made them up."
I rolled my eyes, but couldn't keep from chuckling. "Of course you did," I said.
Stacey kept chattering, but her voice faded away into a dull buzz in the back of my head as I began to think. I couldn't keep beating around the bush. Mr. Wrogan was waiting outside, and I was already working on borrowed time. I had to break the news to her, and I had to do it...
"Helloooo? Earth to Amber!"
I blinked. "What was that?"
Stacey gave a dramatic sigh. "I said, that maybe you need more help than I thought. I've been doing some extensive research—"
"Research into the subject you made up?"
"Hey, do you want my help or not?"
No, I thought.
"Of course I do," I said.
"Well then," she said, and held out her arm. "Go ahead."
I stared at her arm for a few seconds, and then looked back up at her. "Are you telling me to give you an Indian burn or something?"
"No, you dummy! I want you to bite me!"
I froze. Then, in a sudden burst of anger, I stood up from her bed. "Say what now?"
Stacey stood up just as quickly, still holding her arm out in offering. "My research says that your powers can be transferred through bite. I want to help you, so—"
I crossed my arms in front of me. "Absolutely not! You have no idea what you're asking me to do!"
"Come on," she whined. "Don't hog it all. Let me serve Mother Gaia too!"
"Will you please stop saying that?” I yelled, walking to the other side of the room to get away from her. "I am not a qui lumpus whatever the hell you keep saying. I don't work for Mother Nature. I'm just a werewolf, and I'm so sick of all this crap!"
I put my back against the wall and sat down, burying my face in my hands. I could hear Stacey calling my name from the other side of the room, but I ignored her. It had been a mistake to insist I be the one to tell her. She was getting her memory erased. It wasn't like she'd hold it against me. All I'd done was prove Wrogan right, hadn't I? How could I promise to control my temper for the rest of my life if I couldn't even rein it in for five minutes?
I looked up to see Stacey still sitting on her bed, watching me anxiously.
"You okay?" she asked.
I shook my head. "No, I'm not okay. Don't worry about that, though. There's something I need to talk to you about."
"Girl, you know you can talk to me about anything."
I frowned and stood up. There were a couple chairs by the wall, so I sat down in one of them rather than join Stacey on the bed. Sitting on the bed would have felt wrong for some reason. Like, you only ask your friends to sit on your bed with you.
Aw, hell. How do I explain this? To her, finding out I was a werewolf was like getting a lifetime's worth of Christmases all in one day. In July. I'd effectively opened the door to a world she'd always wished was real, and now not only was I planning on slamming that door in her face, I was going to make her forget the door was there at all. It was like I had become the door to Dr. Munse's office, which was surprisingly more depressing than you'd think.
"So, what'dya need to talk about?" Stacey asked, her eyes alight with wonder.
It's for the best, isn't it? I thought. It's like Mr. Wrogan said, as long as she's with me she's in danger from Hendricks... and from me, too. What if I go berserk again? Can I even trust them to stop me if that were the case?
No. No I couldn't.
"So, what else is real?" she asked. "Are there vampires? Zombies? Ghosts? Mermaids? Do you, like, get invited to Monster Mash parties, or—"
"Please, stop," I said, covering my ears with my hands. "Your corniness is going to kill me faster than half the stuff that's chasing me."
But Stacey was on a roll, and nothing on earth short of Mother Gaia descending from the heavens was going to stop her. "It must be so freaking awesome being you! You're, like, closer to our animal brethren than I could ever be! Why can't you just bite me? Pleeeeease?"
She really wasn't going to give up on this, I realized. Not unless I gave her a really good reason to. Problem is, I'm pretty sure no such reason exists on Heaven or...
Wait a minute...
"You'd hate being a werewolf," I said, finally looking back at her. "Trust me, you'd regret it every minute of your life."
Stacey snorted. "You're kidding, right? Yeah, I'd totally regret being closer to my poor, oppressed brothers and sisters, and—"
"And eating them whenever you get a little peckish," I cut her off with a smile.
Stacey froze, and her skin turned pale. Oh yeah, that one got her.
"Th- that's impossible," she said, her voice suddenly sounding hoarse. "Mother Gaia would never stand for something like that!"
I shrugged. "Don't ask me. I'm not her."
Now Stacey looked completely flabbergasted. "But... but the animals are her children! How could she make you one of her most trusted servants, but still..."
"I dunno. All I know is that I've been a werewolf," I put special emphasis on that word, "for more than half a year now, and I couldn't stop eating meat now if I wanted to." I leaned toward her with a mean glint in my eye. "And trust me, I don't want to!"
By now, her skin had turned so white I was worried I might have scared her to death. I felt bad for her, I really did. Stacey had thought she'd found a way to make all her dreams come true. Telling her these things was like telling a three year old that Santa wasn't real. Or, maybe that Santa was real, but he had stopped by on Christmas Eve and killed your dog instead of leaving presents. I had to get her mind off this, though. Even if Wrogan was going to wipe her memory after we were done talking, it just didn't feel right to let her fantasize about something that would destroy her entire life— literally.
That didn't make me feel better, though.
"You've changed a lot, Amber," Stacey finally spoke up again. Her voice was weak. "I thought at first that you were just messing with me. When you started eating meat, though, that was when I knew you'd become somebody I didn't know."
I frowned, but didn't reply. She was right. While I'd never been as militant about it as she was, I'd spent at least five years of my life as a vegan too. She'd been the one to convince me to take up the diet when our class had gone on a field trip to a farm.
"Look at this poor little thing!” she had screamed, breaking away from the group and hugging a little calf that had wandered our way. "He's so sweet and innocent, and you monsters want to turn him into a hamburger!"
Everyone else had rolled their eyes. The teacher had given her detention for disrupting the tour. But when the calf had leaned its head up and licked Stacey's cheek, that had been enough for me to drop eating meat forever— or so I thought. Now I'm part wolf, and not many things make a wolf angrier than being told it has to eat prey food. To Stacey, that had been the ultimate betrayal. I hadn't wasted too much time feeling bad about it, not when it made my wolf side so happy, but I don't think Stacey had ever forgiven me.
And that hadn't been the only time I'd betrayed her over the past few months, had it?
"I've been a pretty crappy friend, haven't I?" I asked.
"The crappiest," she agreed without hesitation.
I smirked and then, almost without realizing it, I made a decision.
I wasn't going to tell her.
"Well, I can't make you a werewolf," I said, making for the door, "but I can at least make up for being a bad friend. Come on, you're spending the night at my house."
I said a silent prayer as I put my hand on the doorknob. Please don't let Mr. Wrogan choose right now to be a jerk. Let me have one more night with her, and then he can wipe her mind. Please, let me just make things up to her, even if it is just a little!
I turned the handle, holding my breath. Slowly, I pushed the door open, and revealed...
My bedroom at Stark's cabin.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Turning back to Stacey, who was staring at the doorway as if it had offered her the answer to eternal life, I gave her a smile.
"Come on, we're gonna have a Tim Burton Marathon."
NEXT TIME: Awright, sleepover time! Partaaaaay! Movies and pillow fights, and totally not wiping each others’ memories!