“Nope. Just the usual. What am I doing? Am I thinking of her? How the hell am I supposed to answer that? Yes, I think about you every minute of the day. Seriously? Sure I think about her. Not always in the way she means.” He grinned. “But obviously I like her or I wouldn’t be with her, so why do I have to say it ten times a day? Sometimes I think you have the right idea. Next town? No girlfriends.”
“Well, not right away. I have to start getting to know them better first.”
“Like spend twenty minutes talking to them before asking them out?”
“Hey, I’m usually not the one doing the asking. Anyway, I won’t regret leaving this place. I’ll feel bad about not telling Lily, though. Maybe I can text her before Dad makes us trash the phones.”
We fell silent for a few minutes. Simon checked his watch.
“Okay, this is stupid. We know which way Dad’ll be coming, so we might as well start walking.”
When we rounded the corner to our street, we saw Dad’s van parked in the driveway.
“I thought you didn’t like it here.”
“Not particularly, but I like moving even less.”
I peered through the van’s windows. There was just the usual crap—no bags or boxes. Simon glanced in and his smile widened, taking this as a good sign.
He ran to the side door of the house, used his key and yanked it open.
“Hey, did you forget to call?” he yelled inside. “Or did you screw up our cell numbers again?” He glanced back at me. “That’s the problem with making us change them every three months, huh?”
Simon kicked off his shoes and thumped into the house. When I followed, the first thing I noticed was the quiet—no TV, no radio, no CD. Dad always has something on. He jokes that after fifteen years with Simon, silence makes him nervous. If we were gone, he always had something on—CNN or NPR or, if he was in the right mood, Eighties pop music crap.
Simon brushed past, calling for Dad, some hesitation in his voice now. He turned slowly, looking and listening, then swung back into the hall where I still stood. As he headed for the door, I grabbed the back of his shirt.
My look silenced him. I pointed at the table just outside the kitchen. Dad’s keys were there. The door had been locked, which was normal—Dad always locked it even when he was inside. But he’d never lock it, leave, and forget his keys.
I motioned for Simon to stay behind as I eased into the hall, looking around, but mostly listening and sniffing. Werewolves get better night vision, but my regular sight is normal. As soon as my other senses kicked in a couple of years ago, I’d instinctively started relying on them more.
I walked silently down the hall, inhaling as I went. Even as I kid, I’d had a slightly better sense of smell than humans, so it wasn’t like I’d woken up one day to realize people had different scents. Getting my full wolf senses only meant I could pick up those smells in the air and on the ground, too.
The only scents in the house, though, were ours and faint traces of Simon’s friends from the weekend.
I glanced back at Simon, still near the door. I motioned him up behind me—it felt safer that way. I crept through the main rooms, but there was no trace of anyone. I returned to the side door, dropped and inhaled deeply. Just our scents. I tried the front. Dad’s—strong, like he’d definitely gone out since this morning. To grab the mail? Or for something else? No smell could tell me that.
I straightened and looked around. The small house only had two exits, other than the windows, and there was no sign that anyone else had come in through either door. All the windows were shut. None were broken. No scent trails crossed any of the doorways. If Dad left, he left on his own.
I supposed so, but it opened more questions than it answered. Maybe some guys would grab their wallet and head down to the corner store for a paper, forgetting to pick up their kids. Not Dad.
I moved through the house again, going room to room, examining every window, including the basement ones. I even opened the hatch into the attic, in case someone snuck in that way. Nothing. No one had been here in the last few days except us.
I told Simon we could stop sneaking around—clearly no one was here. But he stayed close to me, worried and quiet. I returned to the side door and followed Dad’s trail through the house.
He’d gone straight from the side door to the kitchen.
“Grabbing something to eat,” Simon said, checking the dishwasher. “Yep, extra coffee cup and a plate.” That was the only way to tell Dad had eaten—he never left a mess . . . unlike some people I could name.
It was low, as I expected—a combination of exercise, stress and getting close to dinnertime. I made him a sandwich—ignoring his grumbling—then continued through the house.
Next Dad had gone into our room. There was a suitcase on each of our beds, the closet emptied into them. Simon’s top drawer was open and partly empty.
“He was packing our stuff,” Simon said between bites of his sandwich. “Then he stopped.”
Interrupted. But by what?
I walked into the kitchen and checked the phone. The last call had been the one the night before, from a blocked number.
Something buzzed beside me. I looked over to see Dad’s phone vibrating on the counter, tucked under some mail. Simon was on his cell, calling Dad’s number. We both grabbed for the phone. I won.
I checked the call log. All the recent ones were from Simon and me. Before that, there were only three calls, all from Albany numbers. Work, I guessed, people touching base after Dad left early.
I closed the cell phone and put it on the counter.
“What are we going to do?”
For the next hour, we didn’t do anything. Nothing useful anyway. We tried to act like there was a perfectly logical explanation and Dad would show up at any moment. I reheated the pizza and got out the salad as Simon struggled to do his homework, as if we were heading back to school the next day. He knew better, but we just didn’t know what else to do.
After dinner, I took a shower while Simon finished packing his suitcase. When I came out, he was waiting in the hall.
“We need to do something,” he said.
“I know. I just—” I stopped before admitting I had no idea whatto do. I could feel the weight of his stare. He was looking to me for a plan because that’s how it always worked. Simon took the lead in simple stuff, like where we’d eat lunch or what movie we’d watch, but solving problems was my department.
“You can follow his trail, right?” Simon said.
“Dad’s trail. See which door it went out and where. It’s getting dark, so no one’s going to see you sniffing the ground.”
The dead obvious solution, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it. I went out the side door first. There were two trails from Dad here. One came straight from the driver’s side of the van. The other went out to the curb and reeked from a slug-trail of leaking garbage sludge. Dad had put out the garbage. That was one of my regular chores, but I’d completely forgotten it that morning and of course he hadn’t reminded me, given the circumstances.
The circumstances. What I’d done. The reason Dad was missing. Because I couldn’t control—
I straightened. “Just to the van and a garbage run.”
I went back to the front door. His trail was thicker there, like he’d gone to the door a couple of times. Once he’d just stepped out—the mail probably. But another trail continued down the front walk, then cut across the grass to the curb, then . . .
Dad’s trail ended at the curb. No matter how hard I tried to find it through the stink of the road, it obviously didn’t go any farther. Nor did it double back to the house.
“He got into a car, didn’t he?” Simon said behind me.
“Whose car? Can you pick up his trail?”
I went back to the front door and sniffed. I did a lot of sniffing, following for at least fifteen minutes before finally giving up.
“There are at least a dozen trails,” I said. “People delivering mail, flyers, parcels, takeout.”
“Can’t you pick out the ones you don’t recognize?”
“Can’t you follow those ones?” he asked. “See where they lead?”
“We need to know what happened here.”
“No shit. But your guess is as good as mine, okay?”
We looked at each other, then turned to stare out across the front yard until I caught a movement behind the window across the road. Our nosy old lady neighbor peered out.
“We should get inside,” I said.
Simon nodded and followed me.
“We need to go,” I said as I closed the door.
“Dad’s missing. Vanished. We have to get out of here.”
“Why? If it was his old employer, they won’t bother us. If it wasn’t, then this is all a mix-up and he’ll be back, expecting to find us here.”
“I don’t care what Dad always said. I’m sick of hearing what Dad always said.” His voice rose, crackling with panic. He looked away and I knew he was scared—for us and for Dad—and I wanted to tell him it was okay, that I’d caused this problem and I’d fix it, but I had no idea where to even begin.