I intended to ask Russell about his former lack of punctuality the next time we saw each other, but I never got the chance. It happened instead.
What is it, might you ask? It was when he started eyeing the roadkill.
The collector had either missed this one or hadn't made his rounds yet, because there was unmistakably a dead raccoon in the middle of the road. Russell had already been complaining about his hunger pains (his words, not mine), so I wasn't perturbed when I heard his stomach growling. What did throw me, however, was when he muttered, "That looks really good right now."
I looked around, but couldn't spot anything even vaguely appetizing. "What looks good?" I wondered.
Mutely, he gestured to the dead animal.
We had been making our way to the college's on-campus restaurant for lunch, but when my brain made the fateful connection I halted almost in mid-step. I looked at the raccoon, to Russell, and back again. Then I demanded, "Are you shitting me?"
"Why are you surprised?" he asked blankly. "I told you what I am."
"Nonono, what you told me was a joke. You said that you were a werewolf—"
"And don't you think that, as a werewolf—which is part canine, which eat anything but onions and chocolate—I would find that appetizing?" He pointed to the roadkill again, just in case I hadn't gotten the message.
"No!" I exclaimed, throwing up my hands. "Don't even joke about that. That is disgusting. Raccoons are filthy, oversized rodents with diseases and—"
"You're not listening: canines eat shit like this all the time. I've eaten raccoon dozens of times, and I haven't died yet. Canine's digestive tracts are made to handle stuff like this, and so are mine. It's part of who I am."
And he was so calm, so casual—I couldn't stand it, really. There was no possible way that he could be a werewolf, so what was I doing working myself up to begin with? Obviously this had to be a joke, because there wasn't anything else it could be.
When I didn't respond fast enough Russell merely shrugged and pulled a plastic Target bag out of his backpack (why he had one in the first place was mystery). At first I had no idea what he was going to do, but then he squatted down and started scooping the dead animal into the bag.
I freaked out. Rushing over and yanking him to stand by the shoulders, I cried, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Aw, you made me rip it."
I looked over and, sure enough, one of the raccoon's legs lay severed from its body, about a foot away. A slight breeze ruffled the mangled creature's fur in what was probably the most unattractive way possible. Then the wind shifted, and I got a nostril full of its—ahem—fragrance.
I think we were both lucky that I had a strong stomach. Russell's stomach, on the other hand, gurgled obnoxiously.
"You seriously want to eat that thing, don't you?" I said quietly, not wanting anyone else to hear this conversation. I didn't want to sound crazy or anything. That was Russell's job.
I'm only partially joking, by the way.
Russell gave me a poorly masked look of annoyance. "No," he drawled. "I'm just trying to pick it up to gross you out."
"You might be, for all I know."
He looked me in the eye, then, and the metaphorical force of it was like getting hit by a car. Just like the raccoon. "I'm not, believe me," he said in a voice that was a serious as death. "I wouldn't do that to you."
And really, with an attitude like that, it was hard not to believe him. I let got of his shoulder and straightened up. "Okay."
I heard his stomach sound off again as he went about bagging the raccoon, which was quite possibly the strangest thing I have ever seen. And I could hardly wrap my mind around the concept, could hardly stand seeing it, but the way he looked at the thing once it was all gathered up was genuine. I bet everyone who saw this thought my boyfriend was doing a community service, scraping the dead animal off of the asphalt for the collector.
Little did they know that he had every intention of eating said animal. Oh my god, this was seriously happening.
Holy crap, I thought as we started walking again, I just let that happen. He's walking with a dead raccoon in a bag, and he intends to eat it, and I'm letting him do it.
"I am not going into the restaurant with you if you're holding onto that," I told him with a decisive gesture to the plastic bag.
"I figured you'd say that," Russell said with a roll his eyes, albeit a relatively good-natured one. "I was going to hide away and eat it now, actually, because I don't have anywhere else to put it."
I was skeptical. "Hide away? Where are you going to go?"
"It's not the first time I've done this, you know."
My eyebrows rose into my hairline. "It's not? Tell me you haven't kissed me with roadkill mouth."
Not that I totally believed he would eat it—if anything, I wanted to see for myself—but that wasn't the point.
"Don't you think you would have noticed if I had?" he retorted.
Oh. "That's a point."
"So…" I wasn't usually a shy person, but this case seemed to be an exception. There were always exceptions. "Where do you go?"
"You think I'm telling the truth?"
"Not completely, but I'm curious." Well, it wasn't a lie. Maybe that would help something.
He glanced at me sideways, entirely unimpressed. "I'm a werewolf, not some giraffe at a zoo."
"You expect me to believe something like this just because you say so? In this day and age?" I meant for that to come out reasonably, but instead my voice was harsh and pointed.
I could not describe how that made me feel. We argued, yes, but it was mostly banter. We were the sort of couple that, for some unfathomable reason, didn't fight for real. Our disagreements were always settled some other way, and I personally liked that about us. I didn't want it to suddenly change now.
"Maybe you could try trusting me," said Russell softly. The pressure was probably supposed to be faint, but to me his eyes were like fifty-pound weights as they rested on me. A part of me was afraid to look into them.
I did anyway, because after the way I had spoken I felt like I kind of owed it to him. When I did we stopped walking and shuffled off to the side so other people could pass us. His plastic bag dropped to the ground as he matched me gaze for gaze.
And this was definitely the wrong place to be talking to each other like this, but we had no other place to go. Not living on-campus at a university.
"I think this goes beyond that," I said, trying to get my point across through my tone and not quite sure I was succeeding. "Trust is knowing you aren't doing anything with that girl you're tutoring in math, even though she's prettier than I'll ever be." Russell opened his mouth, but I held up my hand. "Don't even try it. She's gorgeous and we both know it." His mouth closed reluctantly and my hand dropped, my blithe demeanor long gone.
"But this—do you even realize how fake saying you're a werewolf sounds? Look at this through my eyes, Russ: twenty-first century, the world's still clinging to the fading Twilight fad, and I'm prone to skepticism. So you said you wanted to eat the roadkill. Until I see you actually take a bite you're just saying shit to mess with me. I'm not turning over a new leaf, here."
At first Russell only looked at me, eyes searching and too serious for my tastes. I didn't know if he was considering or planning some form of rejection, or something else entirely. I had never seen him like this before. To be frank, I really kind of hated it.
In time, though, he told me, "Making you watch me eat roadkill is the most un-sexy idea in the world."
For some reason, that lightened the atmosphere right up. I grinned and retorted, "You didn't have any problems salivating over it a few minutes ago. I don't see how that's any sexier."
"Trust me, babe, the difference is pretty substantial," he said with a relieved-sounding laugh as he picked his bag up again and slung the other arm around my shoulders.
I let him walk in silence for a little while, trying to wrap my mind around what I was getting myself into. My boyfriend was insisting that he was a werewolf, and I was just going along with it. Did that make me as crazy as him? Worse? I couldn't tell, and at the moment I really didn't want to.
Man, if anybody else knew what was really going on right now they would have us both thrown in the loony bin.
That was about the time I noticed that I didn't recognize where we were walking. "Where are you taking me?" I asked.
Russell let out an enigmatic snort. "Weren't you the one who wanted proof?"
"Well, yeah, but I didn't think you'd actually—"
His arm synched around my shoulders and before I knew what was happening he had twisted me around and planted a strong kiss on my mouth. I was completely caught off guard, but that didn't stop anybody. I opened my mouth and kissed him back with a force that was unbecoming, all things considered. It probably sounds weird, but when Russell kisses me he's all I can focus on. Sometimes I think I'm too passive for my own good (or passionate, depending on the way you look at it).
He bit me gently, but it was a bite all the same. And if he was trying to hide that animalistic edge to his body language, he was doing a fantastically poor job of it. I considered it fortunate that I liked it.
If he really was a werewolf, it would explain a lot about his kissing style.
He kept close even after we severed the lip lock, his breath deliciously uneven and pupils swollen and focused only on me. "Go ahead, ask why."
"What if I don't care?" I said, brushing my fingertips along the waist of his jeans. Alleged roadkill eating werewolf or not, he was still freaking sexy. I couldn't help the way I was attracted to him.
I spotted the goosebumps sprouting along his jaw, but he pretended he wasn't reacting to me. "Ask anyway."
"Fine." I stuck my hands boldly into his back pockets and looked him straight in the eye. "What in hell possessed you to make out with me just now?"
Russell returned my gaze with such intensity that I prickled as if he had given me the kiss of all kisses. "Because I'm serious about you," he said, voice pitched low in a way that simultaneously grounded me and made me shiver inside.
"Good to know." I started to tilt in again, but froze when he leaned away. "What?"
"I wouldn't be trying to tell you about what I am if I wasn't serious. You know that, don't you?"
That made me stall, my light and flirty mood evaporating. "You don't keep jokes going this long if I don't take the bait," I admitted in an undertone.
"Exactly." He cupped my face and I leaned into him without thinking. His touch was a magnet, and I was a heap of pathetic iron filings that had no choice but to keep near him. "The only reason I'm doing all this shit is because I think this could work, in the long run. I don't know if you—"
"I do," I said somberly. "I wouldn't be tolerating this kind of talk if I didn't agree."
The corners of his mouth tipped up. "Good. Then let's get this over with."
And just like that, Russell was grabbing my wrist and hauling me through the passing students and between dormitories, towards the forest.
"I didn't know there were hiking trails over here," I said, impressed.
Oh. "Alright, then, I'm shutting up."
"It's about time." He had obviously been here before, because he didn't even hesitate before plunging into the understory, right in between two mid-sized birches. I followed with less confidence, and was shocked to see what looked like a deer trail.
Except this forest had no deer. They had all been hunted.
"Did you make this?" I asked.
Russell snorted. "No."
Well, it had seemed like a valid question to me. There was a deer trail in an area with no more deer—what the hell was I supposed to think?
The trail continued, but about twenty-five meters in he stopped at a spot that was a little wider than usual and turned to face me. "Okay. Are you ready for this?"
I rolled my eyes, but the action was rendered moot by the fond smile playing on my lips. "Dramatic much?"
He pointed at me, a vaguely annoyed expression marking his handsome face. "Don't mock me," he said. "I'm not doing this for my good health."
"Okay, okay, I apologize. Show me the werewolf, Russ. I'm ready."
Obviously my tone wasn't serious enough, because I got a dirty look as Russell set his backpack down next to me. He took a step back, let out an enormous breath, and caught my gaze. He held it, too, held it like he never had before, and all I could do was keep standing there, keep looking back.
Then he transformed, and I mean that in a very sci-fi sort of way. One second he was standing there, familiar and 100% Russell, and the next he was… well, not 100% human. Use your imagination—your favorite werewolf stereotype will do.
I have to say, though, the structure of his face in this form did seem faintly inbred. You know what I'm talking about: you can't really blame it on a specific feature, it's just… that feeling. You know what feeling I'm talking about.
For a minute or so we simply continued to stare at each other, and then Russell took a tentative step closer. The leaves and twigs he trampled were curiously loud in my ears, louder than anything I had ever heard.
After all his insisting I wasn't surprised to see this. Not completely. I was in shock—I knew I was—and yet it wasn't as bad as the stereotype claimed. No, I wasn't sure if I loved him just yet, but I cared about Russell way too much to lose him. If this was a part of him, then there wasn't a thing I could say about it because words didn't have the power to change a person's genetic makeup.
Did you know? Shock makes for oddly clear perceptions.
"Nevermind," I said, taking a step of my own and putting my hand on his warm, real face. "I take back every skeptical comment I ever made. If this isn't werewolf I don't know what is."
Yeah, that would be the eating my words part I mentioned in the summary.
Well, after the initial astonishment wore off I felt like I was being bulldozed by reality. I was a little shaky—i.e.: awkward—about werewolf-related conversation for close to a week. That's a personal record, by the way; I have never held onto negative emotions that long before.
Not that I beat myself up about it or anything. I figured that I had a right to be uncomfortable that my boyfriend had proved he was a werewolf with a hankering for raccoon pancake. It didn't last much longer than that week, however, because it's like I said: I care for Russ too much to let even the supernatural stop me. He was my best friend. With benefits.
Then Geography class came along and Phoebe reminded me of something. She just planted this seed into my brain, and its metaphorical germination rate was incredible. Soon I had a hulking redwood towering inescapably in the background of every thought. I couldn't help my curiosity (and I'm sure we're all familiar with the way I handle that by now), so I figured I should ask already.
"Hey, when was the last time you were late for something?"
We were in my dorm room, sans roommate because she was off partying (I think; pretty sure), studying for our up-coming midterms with flashcards of various colors. And just an FYI, the latter was Russell's idea, not mine. He says he has a mild learning disability, and the colors helped him. I personally don't see how, but that's just me.
As it had been my turn to quiz him, he stopped thumbing through his color-coded notes and looked at me. His expression was at once cagey and sheepish. "I don't remember showing up late for one of our dates," he said.
"You haven't, but I met this chick I forgot to mention the day I found out you loved roadkill—"
"—You know, when you say it sounds like a bad thing."
"I don't care if you're part dog and have special enzymes in your digestive tract or not, you still should have died from eating that raccoon. That was fucking sick. At least go for deer or something."
"There are no deer in these parts, genius. And I told you, I shouldn't have died because I'm built for it." Can you tell that we've had this conversation 1,000 times already? I can.
I decided not to get into it again and said, "Anyway, so I met this crazy writer chick, Phoebe—"
Russell blanched. Seriously, the moment I said that the color just dropped from his face. It was that fast. "You did not."
"I did, and she said—"
"—Don't listen to—"
"—That when you guys were dating you were a punctual disaster," I plowed on without a care for his protests. "So now I want to know. If you couldn't get somewhere on time to save your life before, why and when did it change? When was the last time you were late for something?"
"Erm. Well, that—that's kind of a tricky question." Sweat dotted his forehead, and his hands wouldn't stop moving. Oh my god, he was actually nervous.
"What? Are you honestly embarrassed about being late?"
"What? No, I'm late for everything," he said with a suddenly dismissive wave. Then he seemed to catch himself. "Uh. Well…"
"Yeah, I was just going to say, you're never late for our classes, or any of our dates." Wait a minute. There was a trend there. I looked at Russell disbelievingly. "You're kidding."
"I didn't say anything."
"Yeah, but I get it anyway. And seriously?"
"I don't know how it happens," he mumbled, organizing his notes with a flustered air. It was kind of cute, actually. "There's usually never enough time, or it slips away from me at the last moment when I think I've got it all under control. Like that math class I have while you're in Geography? I'm never on time for that."
It was a wonder he had the tutoring job at all, honestly. I had always thought he was a punctual person because of how he was with me, but…
"Oh yeah," I remembered. "First week of the semester you were late for every class, without fail." The first time Phoebe and I talked about it has resurrected some of the memories, but not this much. How could I have forgotten that? That was how I had originally noticed Russell. He had always been hideously late for such a charismatic, good looking guy.
It's amazing, what a semester and a half can do to a person's memory.
Russell smiled sheepishly. "Yeah…"
"Wow." I rested my chin on my knuckles and peered at him in a new light. "That is something else. What is it that I do to you?"
He was shuffling his papers now, tapping them on his knee and angling and re-angling them whenever he set them down. Then repeat. "I wish I knew," he grumbled. His cheekbones were stained with pink, and he wasn't looking at me, but it was oddly endearing anyway. "Time never gets away from me when you're going to be there."
"Aw, Russ, that's too sweet," I cooed in a half-serious, half-teasing sort of way.
"It's a subconscious thing. I don't even mean to do it."
"Phoebe said you were always standing her up."
"I'm always forgetting things," he confessed. "It's actually pretty amazing that I managed to become a sophomore."
"I'd say so, especially since I wasn't there to subconsciously nag your subconscious."
He knew I wasn't being serious, but instead of playing along like he typically did Russell merely muttered, "I knew I shouldn't have told you about that."
Okay, so maybe I went too far with that last one. He looked hurt. Starting to feel bad, I sobered up and scooted closer to him on my bed, where we were studying (there is no couch or big enough desk in the dorm, so it's all we had). I pried his notes out of his hands and put them where I had been sitting, then slid our fingers together.
"I didn't realize this was a touchy subject. Sorry," I said as genuinely as I knew how.
He pulled his hand out of mine and inched away. "Stop it. I'm not some ten-year-old who needs comfort from his mommy."
I probably wasn't as offended as I should be. "I think it's a subconscious compliment. It means that you want to be with me, right? Not that I know anything about psychology, but still—"
"Please, just shut up."
I'm not exactly sure why I grinned, all I know is that I did. Maybe it was because he used please and shut up in the same sentence and it seemed a little oxymoronic. Or maybe it was the look he was currently giving me—it was pretty funny.
"What should I do instead?" I asked with false innocence.
Russell was already turning towards me, and I could feel from the electricity sparking between us that something good was about to happen. "Just never speak of this again," he said lowly, sexily. "It makes me sound whipped."
I didn't say anything, merely grabbed his face and kissed him, hard. If his subconscious punctuality made him sound whipped, then I didn't even want to know what my behavior around him indicated. I wasn't 100% sure I loved him yet—more like 97%—but the smile and confidence that I developed in his presence was in no way subtle. And it meant something.
I knew I would never be totally sold on the idea of being his werewolf bride, but I had a sinking feeling that such reservations wouldn't hold me back for long. With Russ, they never did.
I probably should have waited a little longer to post this, but I don't want to forget that I've started it, either, so here we are--all done! :D I hope you were entertained right up until the end, and hopefully (for those of you who commented on it) the main character has displayed a little more depth. And maybe I should have mentioned it before, but this is kind of a parody-story. You might have picked up on that already, what with Russ trying to eat roadkill and all that, but I just thought I'd put it out there. ;P
Comments/questions/criticisms all welcome. :D