After dinner, Max went downstairs to the fitness center for some weight training. When he worked normal hours, he liked to get his workout in early and get to bed early, wryly admitting that he was getting too old to survive on five hours of sleep per night.

For the first month wed lived together, Id joined him in his early workouts. It wasn easy pretending to struggle bench-pressing a hundred pounds when I could do five times that. Then came the day when I was so engrossed in conversation with one of our neighbors that I didn realize I was doing a sixty-pound lat pulldown one-handed and chatting away as casually as if I were pulling down a window blind.

When I noticed the neighbor double-checking my weights, I realized my goof and covered it up with some bullshit about an incorrectly adjusted machine.

After that, I restricted my workouts to between midnight and six, when the weight room was empty. Id told Max some story about taking advantage of a late-night second wind. He bought that, as hed readily accepted so many other of my quirks. When he worked late, I went down to the health club afterward with him and did my swimming and running workouts as Id done when we first met. Otherwise, he went alone.

I was watching the TV, Today Inside Scoop was following up on some psycho whod escaped from a North Carolina jail several months ago. Pure sensationalism. This guy had broken into the apartment of a total stranger, tied the man up, and shot him because he–quote–wanted to know what it felt like. The shows writers had peppered the piece with words like ”savage, ” ”wild, ” and ”animalistic. ”

What bullshit. Show me the animal that kills for the thrill of watching something die. The truth is if a werewolf behaved like this psychopath it wouldn be because he was part animal, but because he was still too human. Only humans kill for sport.

The show was almost over when Max returned.

”Good workout? ” I asked.

”Never good, ” he said, making a face. ”Im still waiting for the day when they invent a pill to replace exercise. What are you watching? ” He leaned over my head. ”you good? ”

”Better now that you
e here. ”

Max laughed and rumpled through my hair. ”How about a walk? Ill grab a shower while you finish your show. ”

”Sounds good. ”

Max headed to the bathroom. I sneaked to the fridge and grabbed a hunk of provolone that Id hidden amongst the vegetables.

When the phone rang, I ignored it. Eating was more important, and since Max already had the water running, he wouldn hear the ringing, so he wouldn know I wasn answering it. Or so I thought.

As I heard the water shut off, I shoved the cheese behind the lettuce and jogged for the phone. Max was the sort whod answer the phone during dinner rather than subject someone to the answering machine. I tried to live up to his example–at least when he was around. I was halfway across the apartment when the machine clicked on. My recorded voice sang out a nauseatingly cheery greeting and invited the caller to leave a message. This one did.

”Jaden? Its Alfred. ” I stopped in midstride. ”Please call me. Its important. ”

His voice trailed off. The phone hissed with a sharp intake of breath. I knew he was tempted to say more, to issue a call-me-or-else ultimatum, but he couldn . We had an agreement. He couldn come here or send any of the others here. I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue at the answering machine. Nyah-nyah-nyah, you can get me.

Maturity is highly overrated.

”Its urgent, Jaden, ” Alfred continued. ”You know I wouldn call if it wasn . ”

Max reached for the phone, but Alfred had already hung up. He lifted the receiver and held it out to me. I averted my gaze and walked to the couch.

”Aren you going to call back? ” he said.

”He didn leave a number. ”

”He sounded as if he expected you to have it. Who was it anyway? ”

”A–uh–the second cousin. ”

”So many mysterious orphans have a family? Ill have to meet this cousin someday. ”

”You wouldn want to. ”

He laughed. ”Turnabouts fair play. I inflicted my family on you. Nows your chance for revenge. After Beckys shower, youll want to sic your worst on me. Dig up the mad cousins whove been locked in attics for years. Though, crazy attic-dwelling cousins would probably be the best kind. Definite dinner party interest. Better than the great-aunts whove told you the same story since childhood and fall asleep over dessert. ”

I rolled my eyes. ”Ready for that walk yet? ”

”Let me finish my shower. How about giving 411 a call? ”

”And get dinged with a service charge whether they find the number or not? ”

”Its less than a buck. We can afford it. Call. If you can find his number, maybe you can get someone else who can give you his number. There must be more of these cousins, right? ”

”You think they have phone service in those attics? They
e lucky if they get electric lighting. ”

”Call, Jaden, ” he said, giving a mock growl as he disappeared into the bathroom.

Once he was out of the room, I stared at the phone. Max may have joked about it, but I knew he expected me to call Alfred back. Why wouldn he? It was what any decent human being would do. Max had heard the message, heard the urgency in Jeremys voice. By refusing to return what seemed to be a very important call, Id appear callous, and uncaring. A human would call back. The kind of woman I wanted to be would call back.

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