DYLAN knew right after lunch that today he’d be cutting it close. The day leading up to the full moon was not a time to have everything else go wrong. But already a meeting had run much longer than scheduled. A client was being difficult. The budget was tight. Blueprints had to be adjusted. Tempers were frayed. As a result, it was well past four o’clock when he finally escaped the architectural firm. He mumbled an excuse to the secretary about an art show opening as he fled out the door and into another of Portland’s overcast afternoons.
The situation still might have been under control, but Dylan made a stupid mistake, choosing the Hawthorne Bridge instead of the Marquam. Just as he came to the bridge, its red lights began flashing, and traffic stopped. He watched the center span rise at a glacial pace. The waiting cars were too tightly packed for Dylan to back up and take another route, so he waited, not listening to whatever was on National Public Radio, his fingers drumming impatiently on the steering wheel. He couldn’t see what sort of vessel was passing under the bridge or why the hell it was taking so long.
In the Chevy next to him, the driver was using one finger to carefully excavate his nose. Dylan’s windshield wipers swiped back and forth, swish-squeak, swish-squeak, each movement counting off more of his dwindling time. He took slow, deep breaths to quell his racing heart and jumpy nerves.
When he finally reached the other side of the river, Dylan was certain the sky was beginning to darken a little, although it was hard to tell for certain through the everlasting gloom of the clouds.
Fortunately, traffic on the west side was a bit lighter than usual, and Dylan drove as fast as he could, swerving around a bicyclist, running a light just changed to red, making pedestrians scowl. And then, just before he turned onto Jefferson, he got stuck behind a lumbering city bus with a seemingly narcoleptic driver. For several slow blocks, Dylan glared at the roaring tiger and trumpeting elephant emblazoned across the rear of the bus, but ultimately, he felt a certain sympathy for the wild denizens of the Oregon Zoo.
By the time he finally merged onto the freeway, the evening commute had begun in earnest, and traffic was crawling. Dylan tailgated and lane-switched and swore under his breath. His jaw ached, and his back was itching as if he were wearing a fur coat inside out. He gripped the steering wheel so tightly the plastic nearly cracked.
And then he came upon an accident. It wasn’t a bad one—just an ordinary fender bender. A tow truck had already arrived, and several people were standing there in the drizzle talking on cell phones. Both of the vehicles involved had managed to pull onto the narrow shoulder, so traffic should have been able to pass unimpeded. But everyone slowed down to gawk as if they had never seen such an amazing sight, so all three lanes were stop and go. And stop. And go.
Dylan’s nerves thrummed, and his skin felt too tight.
The one small grace was that his exit lane was open, so he shot down the off-ramp and zipped down the last mile of surface streets, silently praying that there were no police nearby, that no more impediments would appear. That he would make it on time. There was no question at all now; based on both his dashboard clock and the darkening sky, the sun was nearly set.
He parked his Prius in the driveway with a screech of brakes and ran for the front door. As he fumbled with the lock, his hand shook so wildly that he dropped the keys. No, no, no, a panicky part of his mind gibbered as he swooped up the keys and managed to get into the house. His bones were beginning to reshape themselves agonizingly, and his clothing was already ripping at the seams as he stumbled through the kitchen, down the hall, and into the spare bedroom. He growled through a lengthening jaw as he slammed the metal door closed. Without fingers to remove the remains of his clothing, his last coherent human thought through the blinding pain was that he’d ruined yet another pair of Diesel jeans.
HE AWOKE as unpleasantly as always in the spare bedroom. He was naked, cold, and ravenous. He ached from sleeping on the hardwood floor. Ugly bruises had formed on his shoulders—he must have spent a good part of the night throwing himself against the door. Worst of all, though, was the emotion that seemed to pervade every molecule of his body. He didn’t know a name for the feeling; maybe a name didn’t exist. The closest he could come was need or frustration, but neither of those approached the intensity of what he felt. It was a little like being incredibly horny, only with no hope of ever getting laid again—a situation that was also unhappily familiar.
He stood and stretched and groaned, and he glared down at his incongruously perky cock. It was always much more optimistic than the rest of him. As usual, he decided to let it subside in favor of his bladder, which couldn’t be ignored much longer. He resisted the urge to piss on one of the metal-sheathed walls and instead unfastened the complicated lock that he’d installed near the top of the door. The lock was too high for him to have reached during the night and too complex to be opened with teeth or claws. Opposable thumbs were handy things.
During his visit to the bathroom he couldn’t help but catch sight of himself in the mirror. He looked as bad as he felt: hazel eyes bloodshot, skin pale, sandy curls in wild snarls. He considered calling in sick, but he’d done that last month and the month before, and he was worried that someone might notice a pattern. Nobody would be suspicious if a woman felt miserable every twenty-eight days, but people might wonder about a guy.
Fine. Shower it was. He shaved too, removing the dark-blond bristles from his cheeks and neatening the little patch on his chin. Then he brushed his teeth and tamed his hair and wandered into his bedroom to dress. His bed was still made up neatly, of course, big and comfortable, covered in a cozy down duvet. It would have been a lot more comfortable than the hard floor of the spare room. He swallowed a sigh and pulled on briefs and Levis, a navy and yellow Decemberists tee, and a plaid button-down. Hooray for casual Friday, when the already loose dress code was abandoned. He wasn’t sure he could have survived a shirt and tie today, when his skin felt too tight and his bones felt too loose.
His now standard breakfast no longer horrified him: a package of wine-cured bacon, raw from the plastic and sort of gummy in his mouth; a half dozen cage-free eggs cracked into an oversized mug; a triple espresso with a teaspoon of sugar stirred in. He had once been vegan.
He pulled on socks and boots and his favorite gray hoodie and drove through the drizzle to work.
He probably looked hungover, or maybe stoned. The secretary raised her eyebrows at him but didn’t say anything. On the other hand, his office-mate, Matty, had no problem speaking her mind. “Wild night, Dylan?” she asked.
He had to suppress a desperate laugh. “Not really.”
She was sitting at her desk, squinting through glasses at her computer screen. She had a big cardboard cup from Stumptown cradled in one palm, and Dylan’s wolf-enhanced sense of smell registered the cranberry muffin she’d had for breakfast. Low-fat, no doubt. She wore her usual black blouse and gray cardigan, and although he couldn’t see her lower half, he knew there would be black slacks—and red flats because it was Friday. She smiled at him. “Come on. Give a girl a thrill. Spill.”
“Sorry, Matty,” he said with a shake of his head. She assumed that his social life was a lot more exciting than it really was. “I stayed home. Really.”
“You don’t look like a guy who stayed home.”
He held up a hand in a mock Boy Scout salute. “I solemnly swear I went straight home and didn’t leave again until this morning, when I came straight to work. Um, after the Starbucks drive-through.”
“Fine. You went straight home. With whom?”
“Just me. I know I look like hell today, but it’s not because I had fun last night. I feel a little under the weather.”
She gave him a skeptical look but then turned her attention back to her computer. Dylan sagged a little with relief and collapsed into his own chair.
It was hard to concentrate on work, but he tried. The Maywood Drive clients had decided they wanted five bedrooms instead of four, and that meant he had to make adjustments to the roofline and to the supports that would keep the house from toppling down the hill. He wasn’t happy with the way the balcony was wrapping around the southwestern edge of the house. And he’d really hoped to build a deck around a couple of stately Douglas firs, but now he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to pull that off without some pretty major adjustments.
He declined Matty’s offer to join her for lunch. Instead, he grabbed a sandwich and chips from the little deli across the street and ate them at his desk.
At 4:12, as he was congratulating himself on almost getting through the day, his phone rang.
Dylan smiled at the nickname that had driven him crazy when he was younger. “Hey yourself, Dickhead.” His brother preferred to be called Rick. Where was the fun in that?
“Thanks, but I think I’m gonna—”
“Wasn’t an invitation, kid—it’s an order. Seven o’clock, Hopworks.”
Dylan knew better than to waste time arguing. “Fine,” he sighed. “But is Kay gonna—”
“My better half will not be attending. Her sister’s coming over, and they’re going to make stuff for that craft fair they’re doing next weekend. I think it involves putting mustaches on drinking glasses… or something nuts like that.”
“Thus your dinner plans.”
“That and other reasons,” Rick said enigmatically. “Seven o’clock, Dyldo.”
Before Dylan had a chance to mumble a reply, his brother had hung up.
There wasn’t much point in driving all the way across town and then coming back, so Dylan stayed at the office, working on those plans. He waved at Matty when she left, refilled his mug from the coffeemaker in the corner, and by 6:40 he’d actually made some headway on the house.
The restaurant was crowded and noisy, but Rick had arrived early and snagged them a table, one of the tall ones with high seats. As soon as Dylan entered, Rick waved him over. Rick already had a plate of hummus and a pint of beer in front of him. “Organic IPA,” he said as Dylan took his chair. “Want one?”
Dylan shook his head, then scooped some hummus onto a little pita triangle. With his mouth full he replied, “Stout. And meat. Lots of meat.”
Rick’s bushy eyebrows drew together in a frown. “I forgot. It’s that time of the month again, isn’t it?”
“Last night. I’m good now.”
“You don’t look so good, Dyldo.”
The waitress appeared at that moment. She was tall and lean and muscular with stars tattooed on her bicep. “What can I get you?” she asked. He ordered his drink and a burger as rare as they could get it, while Rick made a face and asked for a chicken wrap and another IPA.
“Two beers?” said Dylan with a smirk. “Really living it up tonight, huh?”
“Shut up. When’s the last time you went out with someone you weren’t related to?”
“Fuck you,” Dylan repeated.
Rick smiled and scooped hummus onto a pita. “I didn’t actually invite you here to nag about your social life, though.”
A shrug. “Haven’t seen you in a while. Wanted to know how it’s going.”
“’M all right. Work’s busy. How about you and Kay?”
“Still trying on the baby thing.” He took a long swallow of his beer. “She’s got all these little charts. Man, it takes all the romance out of things when you gotta worry about ovulation cycles and the right position and all that shit.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Dylan replied, not without sympathy. He knew how badly Rick wanted a kid.
“Yeah, well, if it doesn’t work this month her doc says I gotta get tested. You know, jack off into a cup, see if the little swimmers know what the fuck they’re doing.”
“That sounds fun.”
“Remember back in high school? When me and Jessica had that scare?” He shook his head slowly. “Who knew that fifteen years later I’d be rooting for the other side?”
The waitress appeared with Dylan’s stout and Rick’s refill. Dylan took a grateful sip.
“You had another close one, didn’t you?”
Dylan didn’t realize he’d closed his eyes until Rick asked the question, and then Dylan looked at him sharply. “I’m fine.”
“No you’re not.”
“Look, Ricky….” That childhood name went way back, all the way to when Rick was Dylan’s god: the Big Kid who rode a bike without training wheels and wore a Spider-Man backpack to school and didn’t need a safety railing to keep him from tumbling out of bed at night. “It’s under control, really. Yesterday was a fluke. The meeting went late, and the bridge was up and—”
“How many flukes, Dyl? In the last six months, how many times have you just barely made it?”
Dylan didn’t answer. He looked away, over at the table next to them where a group of college students was laughing over a text message on someone’s phone. And Rick didn’t push it, so the brothers sat there drinking silently until the waitress came by with their dinners. Dylan’s burger was good, and he was hungrier than he’d realized. Before he knew it, his plate was empty except for a piece of wilted lettuce. He looked up at Rick, who was still toying with a strip of tortilla.
“I don’t know what you want me to do about it,” Dylan said quietly. “It’s not like I can hire a babysitter to make sure I’m locked up safely. Or… or a goddamn petsitter.”
“Move in with us. We can rig something in the basement.”
“Yeah? Are you really willing to trust me around Kay?”
“Kay knows the risks. She’s willing.”
Despite his despair, Dylan felt a touch of warmth for his sister-in-law. Poor thing didn’t have a clue what she was marrying into a couple of years ago, but she’d loyally stuck around. Too loyal, maybe, because it didn’t sound like she and Rick had thought through all the consequences. Dylan sighed. “And what happens when that baby finally appears?”
Rick winced a little and looked down at his plate. “That’s not gonna be for a while yet.”
“I know. But I’m not going to find a miraculous cure in the meantime.”
“But you can’t just go on like this, Dyl. Sooner or later you’re gonna be just a little too late, and then….” He didn’t finish his sentence, and he didn’t have to. Dylan knew what his brother was thinking: And then it’s going to be like the first time.
Dylan couldn’t argue because he knew Rick was right. In fact, he knew if he ever screwed up again, it was going to be a hell of a lot worse than the first time, because now Dylan was stronger. Hungrier. He dropped his head into the palms of his hands and rubbed at his brows. “Maybe I should move to the wilderness. Alaska or something. Somewhere… far.”
“You can’t live by yourself.”
“Well I can’t fucking live with anyone else!” Dylan replied, louder than he’d intended. People nearby turned to stare for a moment before looking away again. They all had normal problems, like cheating boyfriends or crappy bosses or cars that kept breaking down.
Rick, bless his stubborn hide, didn’t take offense. He knew that Dylan tended to react angrily when he was actually scared. “How would you even survive?” he asked reasonably. “I mean, I guess once a month you could, um, hunt. But what about the other twenty-seven days? Gonna take to designing igloos? I bet you’d make really cool ones. Green materials and energy efficient.”
Dylan snorted a small laugh and even managed a smile when the waitress came to take their empty plates. He’d worked his way through school as a barista, and he knew how shitty it was when customers took out their hard days on their servers. When she went away, he said, “Maybe I could telecommute from the North Pole.”
The grin left Rick’s face; he was suddenly all serious. “Could you really do that? Telecommute, I mean?”
“Sort of. I could probably pull off going into the office, like, twice a week. For meetings and stuff. But I don’t really see myself hopping on a plane from the Great White North twice a week.”
“You don’t have to!” Rick was bouncing up and down a little with excitement, so much like his younger self that Dylan had to smile. “There’s plenty of boonies around here, Dyl. Get yourself a cabin in the Coast Range or something—that drive wouldn’t be so bad a couple of times a week. Could you time it so you’d be out in the woods every twenty-eighth day?”
Dylan swallowed the last of his stout as he considered his brother’s idea. He’d never been a back-to-nature type—they’d lived in the ’burbs when he was a kid, and he lived there now, albeit in a somewhat more stylish and expensive incarnation. He’d always thought it might be kind of cool to live right downtown, but that was… before. He spent a few minutes imagining himself loping through ferns and leaping over downed tree trunks, snuffling at the feast of scents, maybe finding a flat spot where he could finally run full out, his muscles bunching and flexing as he flew over the ground. And then leaping, feeling his powerful jaws clamp down as hot blood filled his mouth—
He looked up at his brother guiltily, feeling absurdly like he’d been thinking about sex. “That’s an interesting idea, Dickhead.”
Rick grinned hugely. “I guess big brother’s still got it, Dyldo.”
The waitress came by with their bill, and Rick pointed her in Dylan’s direction. “My little brother’s got it.”
Dylan pulled out his wallet good-naturedly. “Is that all this was? A way to scrounge a free meal?”
“You owe me.”
As Dylan counted out the cash, Rick slid off his stool and stretched a little. “I’m gonna head home, see if the little woman needs some help with her mustaches.”
DYLAN was always restless for a night or two after he changed, so knowing he wouldn’t sleep anyway, he decided he might as well get some work done. On the way home from Hopworks he did a drive-through for a Venti latte with a quad shot of espresso. It was still hot enough to burn his tongue when he walked into his house. He set the coffee and laptop on the kitchen table and went into the bedroom to undress.
The house was as neat as always. The reinforced door to the spare bedroom was, as usual, tightly closed so the shredded clothes and new claw marks on the walls were safely hidden. He’d need to go in and clean in a day or two. In his bedroom, everything was in place. He always made sure of that on the day before he changed, as if having a couple of throw pillows on the bed and the dresser thoroughly dusted would help remind him that he was human and civilized. He liked to think that his bedroom—and most of the rest of the house, for that matter—looked like a magazine spread. Dwell, maybe, or Wallpaper. But tonight it suddenly struck him that what his rooms actually resembled was a boutique hotel: attractive and sort of hip, but devoid of life.
With a touch of defiance, he kicked his shoes randomly across the bedroom floor and left his jeans and shirts in a heap near the door. It didn’t help, though. Now it just looked like a slightly messy hotel room.
He tended to run hot this time of the month and padded back into the kitchen wearing only his low-rise briefs. He sat down at the table and sipped his coffee while his MacBook booted up.
He tried to answer a few e-mails from work and tweak his kitchen plans for the Maywood Drive project, but he couldn’t focus. “Fine,” he muttered to himself. He’d surf a few real estate sites instead. Maybe Rick’s idea wasn’t such a bad one.
Somehow, however, he found himself typing gay.com instead.
The photos varied: men in various states of undress posed in front of mirrors; men looking rugged beside waterfalls or atop boulders; men in suits and ties; men in plaid shirts, grinning, with their arms around their pals; men close up and smiling; men in black and white, striking models’ poses. Men with muscles and men with pudge; bulky men in leather and fey boys with eyeliner; men with forests of dark fur on their chests and men whose skin was bare and oiled. Young men and old. Men who looked scary and men who looked like tax attorneys. Handsome men. Plain men.
These men listed kinks aplenty: BDSM and cross-dressing and role-playing and spandex and exhibitionism and watersports and threesomes and medical play. There were some kinks Dylan had never heard of and a few others he hoped he’d never hear of again. But with all this variety—a rainbow of gayness—not a single man mentioned the one thing that mattered the most to Dylan: not one of them said a word about having a thing for werewolves.
His chest tight, Dylan slammed the laptop closed without shutting it down, ignored his cooled latte, and wandered into the living room to see if House Hunters was on.