No matter how much I told myself a solution was possible, though, I only had to think back to that moment when I saw the knife, when the knife was the onlything I saw, and I knew there was no solution. In that moment, the wolf took over and there was no way the human part of me could have stepped in because there’d been no human part of me. My brother was in danger and nothing else mattered.
I stayed in the shower until it ran cold and Dad knocked and said, “Using up all our water, bud?” I turned it off, grabbed a towel and stepped into the hall.
“I’m fine,” I said, then shouldered past him into my room and shut the door.
I lay awake until I heard Simon come in just before eleven. I pretended to be asleep until his snores told me hewas. Then I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, looking for answers I couldn’t find.
It was midnight when the phone buzzed. Dad answered from the kitchen on the first ring, meaning he’d been waiting up for the call.
With werewolf hearing, I can eavesdrop even when I don’t want to, but Dad knew that, and lowered his voice so I could only catch a murmur, growing distant as he walked away.
I slid out of bed. There was no sign of him on the main level. When I finally realized he’d gone to the basement, he was signing off before I caught any of the conversation.
I padded down the steps and found Dad in the laundry room, rubbing his hands over his face.
He jumped and forced a smile. “I swear I’m buying a bell for you. Preferably before you give me a heart attack.”
“Hmm?” He looked down at the receiver still clutched in his hand. “Oh. Just work.”
“Yeah?” I looked around the laundry room. I didn’t say anything, but he knew what I meant.
“Confidentiality.” He gave a crooked smile. “And it’s not the sort of case you guys need to overhear. Definitely not one I’ll be telling around the dinner table.”
I met his gaze with a steady stare. He only returned it. I wanted to push, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. It was like I was still a little kid who couldn’t be trusted with the truth.
I don’t know if I slept that night. It didn’t feel like it. When I got up, Dad asked if I wanted to stay home and get some sleep. He knew I didn’t need it. For me, a restless night only means I won’t have a restless day. What he really meant was that I didn’t have to go to school, and face the other kids, the teachers, the rumors. But hiding wasn’t how I handled problems. We had to do enough of that already.
Dad wanted to drive us in. Again, I refused. Simon joked about turning down his chance for a ride, and I know he was just teasing, but I snapped that hecould take the ride. They left me alone after that.
It was almost a mile to school and there were plenty of times on that walk that I really wished Simon had taken Dad up on the offer. When he wasn’t trying to cheer me up, he was scuffling along, feeling bad because he couldn’t.
Finally, I could see the schoolyard ahead.
“There’s Mark,” I said, gesturing at one of his friends from the basketball team.
“He’s looking over here. I think he wants to talk to you.”
I looked out at the kids standing around. When I’d first spotted them, they’d been in their usual clusters, goofing, talking, avoiding going into school until the last possible moment. Now those groups had started to join, a mob shifting our way.
When I tried to argue again, Simon’s eyes flared. “Enough of this bullshit, Derek. You’ve barely said a word to me since last night. If there’s something you wantto say, spit it out.”
“Like this is my fault. If I hadn’t egged those guys on, none of this would have happened.”
“You didn’t do anything. They came at you. I overreacted. You were just there.”
I could tell he didn’t believe me, but it was true. What happened was my fault. Only mine.
“Fine,” I said. “If you really want to walk with me—”
“I do. So shut up and walk.”
As we drew closer, Mark called, “Simon!” and started toward us before being swallowed by the mob. They kept creeping forward, whispers snaking through the crowd.
“I heard he just went off on the guy. For no reason.”
“I heard he was so doped up, they had to tie him down.”
“I heard he’s got a record. That’s why they moved here.”
Simon caught the last one and wheeled on the offender—one of the girls who’d cornered me in the hall yesterday. Catching Simon’s glare, she inched back.
“Dead?” he said. “Yeah, Derek killed a kid, but they’re letting him come to school today.” He turned to me and waved at the girl. “Check it out, bro. A living science experiment for you. Proof people can walk and talk without a brain.”
That was harsh, and the look on the girl’s face almost made me feel sorry for her.
“Drop it,” I mumbled to Simon, and tried to keep going, but the crowd shifted into my path, enough to make me tense, the wolf perking up.
“You guys want to know what happened last night?” Simon said. “I’ll tell you. Three of your local losers decided they wanted my ball court—and my ball. When I didn’t love the idea, they felt the need to point out that I’m not white, which was, of course, a huge shock to me. When that didn’t work, they decided to drive in their point with a blade. Derek didn’t approve of that plan. He threw the guy off me. One guy. One throw. Not a single punch. If anyone has a problem with that, let me know.”
“Yeah, Simon. I have a problem with it.” Mark shouldered his way through the crowd. “That loserDerek hurt is my brother.”
Mark scowled, like he couldn’t decide if Simon was offering condolences on what happened or on having an idiot as a brother.
I gave him a look. He paused, like he had more to say—Simon always did—but finally he backed down, saying, “Let’s get inside. I don’t much like the atmosphere out here.”
Mark stepped into my path again. “You’re not going anywhere, Derek. Let’s see how tough you are when you aren’t sneaking up behind someone’s back.”
He looked up at me and, for just a second, hesitated, and then said, “Yeah. I do.”
“Well, I’ll save you the trouble. You win.” I raised my voice. “Everyone hear that? Mark called me out. I backed down. He wins.”
I started to go around him, but he blocked me. I turned to head back the way I’d come. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lunge. Simon’s hand flew up in a spell and Mark stumbled back. The crowd tittered.
“Uh, no, I didn’t touch you.” Simon turned to the crowd. “Anyone see me touch him?” Silence. “Guess he got a better look at what he was up against and jumped back in fear.”
The crowd laughed. Then someone said, “Or maybe he just got a whiff of him,” and they laughed louder.
He hesitated until I whispered, “You aren’t making this easier for me,” and that backed him off.
But Mark wasn’t giving up so easily. He got in front of me again, saying, “We’re not done.”
Simon slid between us. “Well, Derek is, so if you really need a fight, you’re stuck with me.”
The kids parted to let the principal through. Mr. Thierry saw me in the center of the mob and said, “Oh,” then stood there a moment, like he was trying to decide if he could just walk away and leave me to my fate. Then he sighed and waved me forward.
“Come to the office, Derek. I need to speak to you.”
Simon followed me until we were walking past the secretary’s desk and she jumped up.
“Simon?” she said. “I think Mr. Thierry wants to speak to Derek alone.”
“Why? I was the one trying to start a fight.”
“I was. Derek refused, so I said, ‘Bring it on.’ ”
The secretary blocked Simon as I followed Thierry into the office. As the door closed, I heard her whisper, “I think it’s very sweet, sticking up for your brother like that.”
“I’m not trying to be sweet,” Simon said, raising his voice so Thierry could hear. “I’m trying to be fair. But apparently no one’s interested in that.”
He stalked off, shoes thumping as loud as he could make them, office door slamming.
Thierry waved me into the hot seat, a rickety folding chair in front of his desk.
“We have a problem, Derek. You assaulted another student on school property. Do you know what that means?”
“It means if you plan to expel me, you would have called my dad yesterday, which means you can’texpel me, probably because it was after school hours and I was trying to stop a fight, not start one.”
His lips tightened and I knew I should have tried harder to be respectful, but I was tired of trying. If people wanted my respect, they could earn it by not asking stupid questions.