A tall bonfire cast an orange glow on the beach in the distance as I sat on the deck, sipping a glass of wine. I was sick of beer, so Simon brought me a bottle of red wine. After that brief, uncomfortable exchange with Derrek last night, he hadn’t been as talkative. In fact, I’d seen little of him and Adam today as I finished the paperwork to send out for housing vouchers.
Derrek had to cut my swimming lesson short since they needed him back on the beach, and he spent the rest of the evening entertaining friends around the fire with his guitar. I thought about joining, but I’d feel like the odd man out. Most of them were surfers or much older friends of his, and after getting lost in the lingo for several minutes with no one to talk to, I broke away to watch the moonlight ripple over the waves.
After a few more minutes, the music died and the crowd on the beach whittled to only Derrek and Adam. They seemed serious, but I was too far away to hear any of the conversation. The half-turn jumped to his feet and made a few angry gestures, but Derrek remained straight-faced. This seemed to upset Adam further, and he kicked sand at Derrek before running toward town.
After the heated exchange, the werewolf stared at the ocean, strumming a gentle tune while swaying in time with his tail. Derrek was someone I couldn’t quite pin down. He was laid-back, funny, and talented, but at the same time he was stern and almost honest to a fault. As unsure as I was of him, he seemed just as uncertain about me.
I stepped barefoot onto the sand, still warm from the residual heat it absorbed from the sun earlier. Though the confrontation wasn’t any of my business, I wanted to make sure everything was okay. After approaching the crackling fire, I sat next to the huge werewolf who was still playing a gentle tune with his eyes closed.
The music wasn’t the folk he played earlier, but something classical. Despite how large his fingers were, they effortlessly glided along the neck of the instrument with prodigy-like precision and emotion. Even as the music shifted from gentle to complex, his tranquil expression stayed the same until he was done.
“You’re amazing,” I whispered, staring up at Derrek as he inhaled deeply through his nose and opened his eyes. He didn’t look over at me, though a slightly toothy smile parted his lips.
“Thanks.” He sat the guitar to the side. “My dad taught me when I was kid.”
“You’re not classically trained?”
“I never said that.” He let out a gentle laugh. “Sorry about our lesson earlier.”
“That’s fine. I needed to get all this housing stuff taken care of anyway.”
“Have you heard anything?”
I shook my head. “I’ve been calling, and I keep getting the run-around. No one has a straight answer for me, and I’m starting to wonder if there really are any houses.”
“Don’t feel like you have to rush to leave. My place may be small, but I don’t mind you guys staying for a while longer.”
“That’s kind of not the vibe I’ve been getting from you.”
Derrek’s smile faded.
“What happened between you and Simon?”
The werewolf took a deep breath and laid back on the sand, his hands cupped under his head as he gazed at the stars. “I’ve known the guy since I was a half-turn a couple of decades ago. Time sure has a way of getting away from you the older you get.”
“How old are you?”
“I’ll be fifty-eight in a month.”
My mouth hung open.
“I guess that’s something I can look forward to,” I said, tossing him a grin. “I get to keep my boyish good looks for a while.”
“Why are you with him?” Derrek asked abruptly.
“Convenience, I guess. I don’t know. Everything happened kinda fast.”
The werewolf hummed in contemplation, looking back over at me. “Simon and I were inseparable back in those days. We were best friends, and he taught me a lot about what to expect when I finally turned into this handsome beast. He also introduced me to a lot of drugs and shady people. It was fun at first, but that wore off real fast, especially when I saw who Simon turned out to be.” He let out a disgruntled sigh. “Nah, he didn’t turn out to be like that. He was always like that. I just never noticed until he started getting high more often.”
“I’ve never seen him do any hard drugs.”
Derrek shrugged. “Maybe he really has cleaned himself up.”
“Have you talked to him?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
I laid back against the sand and turned to face him. “Actually, there is. He’s obviously changed since you last saw him, so maybe you can find some common ground?”
Derrek bared his teeth. “That ship sailed years ago.”
“Why? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to talk about it.”
The werewolf gritted his teeth for a moment before relaxing. “Eh, it’s fine. Just thinking about it makes me want to rip something apart.” He must have sensed my unease and began vigorously rubbing my head. “Relax, Art. I let go of the rage years ago. Werewolves can’t dwell on shit like that, or it gets dangerous. I put it out of my mind for so long, but then he showed up out of nowhere one day and it all came back.” He took a deep breath and smiled. “My dad was one hell of a musician when he was alive. There wasn’t an instrument the man couldn’t master, but the guitar was what he loved the most. Some of that musta rubbed off on me, because when I held his guitar, it just felt natural.
“My dad noticed and started teaching me right away when I was about seven. Mom died when I was a toddler, so I never really knew her—just have flashes of memories now and again. Dad was my world, and he taught me a lot. The guy was a chain smoker, and he wasn’t a werewolf. It eventually caught up to him and he died when I was seventeen. He left me his guitar that was worth more than most luxury cars, and that was the only thing of value he owned. Of course, I’d never sell it, and I kept it safe for years… until I met Simon.”
“No way,” I muttered.
“One night we were both fucked up pretty bad, and I woke up the next morning to a missing guitar and no Simon. I immediately put two and two together, and that was the first time I actually howled. It was the most painful feeling. Not only was I pretty hungover, but I felt betrayed by my best friend, and I lost the only thing left of my dad. All at once.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, not really knowing how to respond.
“I eventually tracked him down and beat the ever-living shit out of him. I’d never lost control like that, and I almost killed him. But he was so out of his head that nothing I did mattered. He blacked out on the sidewalk and that was the last I saw him. I went to every pawnshop in the area looking for that guitar, and I did eventually find it.” He shook his head. “The guy at that shop knew exactly what he had, and Simon practically gave the thing away for his next fix. There was no way I could afford to buy it back, so I left it and left town soon after. I hopped on a bus, came here, and set up a tent on the beach. I threw everything I had into surfing, became a lifeguard, quit the hard drugs, and I live a pretty good life now.” He sat up and grabbed his guitar. “It’s not Dad’s, but I realized later on in life that I never lost the most valuable thing he left me.” He strummed out a gorgeous riff, gently tapping the strings with his claws. “When I hit my full turn, it was harder to play with these monster hands, but I adapted a new way… my way.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said, swaying in time with the music. “It seems like you’ve got a lot of friends here.”
“I do. All walks of life, werewolf and human. I met a lot of people on this beach, even met someone really special, but I’ll save that for another time.”
“Do you have someone?”
Derrek stopped playing and let out a deep laugh. “Sure do. He’s not much of a swimmer, though.”
“He’s a lucky guy,” I said, pushing myself to my feet. “You gonna stay out here for a while?”
“Yeah. Got a lot to think about. Looks like Simon’s been gone all day.”
“I don’t know where he went. He didn’t say anything to me.”
“You’re better off without him, but since he gave you those kuu—”
“We’ll have a talk about things when he gets back,” I interrupted, turning toward the direction of the small beach house. “If he’s still using, I’ll get out of this somehow.”
“If you need a place to stay, my house is always open.”
I looked back and smiled. “Thanks, Derrek.”
Sleep wasn’t going to come easy tonight, and Simon still hadn’t come back. I thought about what Derrek told me earlier, and despite it all, I wanted to believe Simon had changed. Given how I was still up, lying on the beach while worrying meant I actually cared about him. He’s been by my side for emotional support—in his own annoying way.
“Yer gonna get fleas again,” Simon said from behind.
I sat up and turned toward the lumbering werewolf, silhouetted by the moonlight overhead, his eyes glowing a soft orange from inside the hood he had pulled up over his head.
“Where have you been?”
“Out,” he replied, sitting next to me. “Here.” He took my hand and pressed a wad of cash into it.
“The deed to my lake house,” he retorted in a light-hearted tone. “You’ve really been helping me out, and I wanted you to have some spending money.”
“Gotta save this for food.” I slipped the cash into my pocket. “We’ll have spending money when I start working.”
“Let me worry about the necessities. That’s for you.”
“Where’d you get it?” I asked, trying not to seem suspicious.
“Apparently, aside from Derrek, there ain’t many werewolves in this town. Got offered a job at a nightclub nearby as a bouncer. The pay was nearly double what I made in the city, and they pay under the table.”
“That’s great!” I said, scooting closer to him. “You like it?”
“It’s okay. Not as fun as my cosplay porn idea, though.”
“Oh yeah. That.”
“You sound like I took a shit on yer face or something.”
“The idea would be better if it didn’t involve me. You should ask Adam if he’ll do it. Sounds like something he’d enjoy.”
“I’m not gettin’ involved with that high-maintenance little shit.” A jagged grin parted Simon’s maw. “Plus, it’s hotter with you.”
A flash of heat ran down my face and the rest of my body.
I gave him a playful shove. “Trying to butter me up to make porn with you. Classy.”
“Is it working?”
His hand slipped around my waist. “Ever had sex on the beach?”
“No, and it sounds awful. Sand everywhere.”
He pulled me closer to him, his warm tongue circling the crook of my neck. “It’s fun.”
“Someone’s gonna see us.”
“It’s after two in the morning, Art.”
“What? Someone could be walking around.”
He pushed me against the sand before climbing on top, pulling down his hood. “If they’re out this late, they ain’t gonna care.” Simon’s tongue slipped into my mouth, and his clawed finger hooked through the drawstring of my shorts, pulling the fabric away, leaving me exposed under him. There was a slight taste of whiskey, which added to the mood.
I pulled away, whining out a breathless “fine” before our mouths met again in a rough rhythm, our growls complementing the waves crashing on the shore. There were other things on my mind I needed to discuss with him, but I’d push that back for later. At that moment, I needed what Simon had to offer.
The next day…
A light drizzle pattered against the tin roof of the small beach house, and the three of us sat in front of the television eating pizza. I was approaching my limit after the third slice, but Simon and Derrek were already halfway into their second pies, furiously smacking as a bit of drool roped from their mouths. I had to turn up the volume of whatever show was on just to cover up the sounds.
“Can you guys eat a little quieter?” I asked, my annoyance increasing the louder they ate.
“You try eating with a dog mouth and see how quiet you are,” Simon said, sputtering some of the pizza he was in the middle of chewing.
“At least chew with your mouth closed.”
“Can’t,” Derrek chimed in, taking another bite. “I’ve tried. It doesn’t work out too well.”
I tossed my crust into the box, and Simon immediately snatched it up before tossing it into his maw.
“What are you, twelve?” he asked.
“The crust is just a handle for the edible parts,” I said before leaning against the couch. We were all sitting on the floor since Derrek didn’t have a table. I looked out the window and sighed. “It’s supposed to rain all day.”
“I know. It’d be perfect surfing weather if it weren’t for the damn lightning,” Derrek said under his breath. He’d been irritable all morning and into the afternoon since the weather confined him to the house. The werewolf had been going stir crazy, sometimes going outside for a few minutes before coming back completely drenched.
“Why don’t we do something tonight?” Simon said, closing the empty box before leaning back and scratching his stomach. “Lots of bars downtown.” He gave me a half-cocked grin, and his tail began to pound the floor. “Lots of karaoke bars.”
“I don’t sing in public,” I said. “And I don’t have any ear plugs for when you bark out a song like you did the other morning.”
Derrek cocked his head to the side. “You heard Simon sing?”
“Yeah. He woke me up with it.”
“Oh…” A smile finally cracked Derrek’s stone-like expression. “He used to do that to me, too. His singing is actually pretty good when he’s not intentionally being annoying.”
I looked back at Simon who flashed his brows at me. “Why are you such a troll?”
“It’s fun.” He scooted closer, putting his arm around my neck. “C’mon. Let’s have some fun. Get a little drunk and sing with me.”
“I’d have to get a lot drunk to do that.” I turned to Derrek. “Do you sing too?”
“Oh God, no. The guitar is the extent of my musical abilities.”
“Remember when you used to play yer guitar, and I’d—” Simon went rigid when Derrek snorted aggressively.
“I think karaoke is a great idea,” I cut in, trying to disperse the tension. “You guys wanna leave when the storm calms down?”
“Sounds good,” Simon replied, giving a dangerously quiet Derrek a sideways glance. “Listen, Derrek—”
“Not a good time,” the larger werewolf interrupted before climbing to his feet. He then took a few steps toward the front door, opening it. “Karaoke’s fine. I’ll be back later.”
With that, he disappeared outside, the door clicking shut behind him.
Simon looked down at the floor. “I’m sure he’s had some nice things to say about me.”
“You could say that,” I whispered, the tension tightening like a noose around my neck. “Can’t blame him for still being upset.”
“I know. I searched for that damn guitar for years, even though I knew the thing was long gone. Part of me thought he’d moved on when I brought you here.”
“Did you ever apologize?”
“Art, what the fuck am I supposed to say? Sorry, I sold the most important thing in your life for smack. That was my lowest point, and I still hate myself for it.”
“You should tell him that.”
“I can barely look him in the eyes, and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s bigger than me.”
“Well, at least you heal fast.”
“That ain’t funny.” His tone was a lot more serious than it had been.
“I fucked up with him, and I lost a good friend.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” This was a good segue into what I really wanted to ask him. “You are clean, right?”
“Almost twenty years,” he said, his ears pointing a little higher.
“Then let that be the starting point. Find a way to make it up to him and apologize. If there wasn’t a chance, he would have never let us stay here. The fact that you two can even sit in the same room together proves that.”
“Let’s see how tonight goes. It’s up to him if he wants to hear me out.”
“Just don’t get too drunk, please.”
Simon let out a whine. “Aw, c’mon. That’s half the fun.”
“Yeah, but it’s not going to be much fun when you start doing stupid shit that makes things worse.”
The werewolf grunted. “Alright. I won’t have that much to drink, but you gotta sing a song with me.”
“It’s gonna happen, even if I have to drag yer ass on stage. I’ll make you have fun if it kills me.”
“Don’t tempt fate, old man.”
“Damn. Is this real?” I asked, my eyes locked on Simon as he took command of the stage, his powerful voice effortlessly changing pitch. He was incredible, and people were crowding in off the street just to see what was happening. I kind of envied his ability to get up there with such confidence.
“He always knew how to work a crowd,” Derrek said, taking another swallow of beer. He’d been fending off friends all night to keep me company. “You should have another drink.”
“Am I that obvious?”
Derrek nodded. “You’re a good-looking guy, and you’re fun to talk to when you aren’t so closed off.” He picked up a pitcher of pale-yellow ale and poured it into my glass.
“I’m worried,” I muttered, eyeing Simon before drinking half of the glass in one go. “He’s gonna embarrass me tonight; I just know it.”
“Been thinking about him a lot today, and maybe you’re right.”
His eyes followed the singing werewolf as he began belting out the high notes of Bohemian Rhapsody. “He’s changed. Simon always had a distant look on his face, and he never was sober for more than a few hours. Even though he could sing all those years ago, he’d slur and forget lyrics, usually making shit up on the spot. The old wolf’s got more life in him now than he did decades ago.” He looked back at me and grunted.
Derrek took the beer out of my hand. “Maybe I was wrong. I kind of like you all uptight and boring.”
“I need alcohol, Derrek. He’s looking at me.”
“There’s a half-turn in here that’s just itching to come sing,” Simon barked through the microphone. “I see it in his eyes.”
“I’m going to kill him. I swear to God—” Simon’s huge hand grabbed a hold of my arm and pulled me up on the stage. At first, I locked up, feeling like I was going to vomit at any moment. Then I saw the warmth of Derrek’s face, and no one in the noisy bar was paying much attention. “Simon, please,” I whispered, trying to inch back off the stage, but the werewolf held me tight.
“What’s a song you love to sing?”
“C’mon, you got five seconds before I choose, and I think Aqua might suit ya. You can be Barbie and I’ll be Ken.”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” I said, keeping my voice low while covering the microphone with my left hand. “Please don’t make me do this.”
Simon let out a sigh before draping his heavy arm over my shoulders. “Everyone’s here to have fun and pretend like they’re famous. If you can sing, great. They all cheer. If you can’t they cheer anyway, because fuck it, we’re all drunk as hell.”
I scanned the bar again, and he was right, everyone was there to have fun, not to impress. They all seemed to like Simon, and tonight he was a lot more than that bum I saw at the bus stop a month ago.
“Alright. I’ve got a song.”
The three of us staggered out of the bar, laughing with a few of Derrek’s friends. I never thought I’d be able to find my voice in front of a crowd, but when Simon and I sang together, something amazing happened.
“This was interesting,” I said, stumbling forward, Simon grabbing the collar of my shirt to keep me upright. “I actually had fun.”
“Told ya.” The older werewolf said, supporting me with his arm as we ambled slowly toward the beach house. “You sure as hell surprised me with that voice of yer’s. I think I’m in love,” he slurred, his tongue leaving a slobbery trail along my cheek.
I laughed and pushed him away.
“I bet you two could actually make a living doing that,” Derrek chimed in, patting me on the back. “Glad you had fun.”
“This was a one-time thing,” I said as we stepped up the wooden deck, Derrek leading the way. “Are you guys tired? Cuz I’m not.”
“It’s nice out now that it stopped raining,” Derrek said. “Why don’t we sit outside for a while?”
Simon stepped inside the house before peeking back out. “I’ll get the beer.”
“I really don’t want anything else to drink,” I said, laying a hand over my stomach.
Derrek and I sat on the mis-matched patio furniture around the makeshift table, staring silently at one another.
“Sorry I’ve been a downer lately,” he said, leaning back in the groaning chair.
“I’d probably be the same way.”
Simon stepped back outside, holding an armful of chilled bottles, his toe claws excitedly tapping across the wood.
“Yeah, but I told myself a long time ago that the past is the past. I just didn’t expect it to show back up at my front door,” Derrek continued, and Simon started to tense up. His ears dropped to the sides of his head, and he meandered a bit slower as he sat the beer on the table and took a seat next to me. “Did you really think I forgot, Simon?”
The older werewolf shook his head. “Nah. I just kinda hoped time had fixed what I screwed up.”
Derrek flicked the bottle cap off with his thumb claw and took a few gulps. “I always wanted to know why you did it, but I also knew that the shit you were on made you do things you normally wouldn’t do. I guess I just wanted to hear you say it.”
“I would’ve, but you kept beatin’ the shit out of me.” They both let out uneasy laughter and drank some more. “I tried for years to get that guitar back.”
“You’d never be able to afford it.”
“I’d find a way.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Derrek snapped. “I’ve got everything I want in life, and a guitar’s not gonna add anything.”
“I know I never said it because honestly, it’s just empty words, and you wouldn’t have forgiven me even if I did. But I am sorry.” Simon turned to me. “And I ain’t that person anymore, Art.”
“You better not be, because if the boy ever shows up on my doorstep as hurt as I was, I may just lose the rest of my temper,” Derrek said, holding up his beer before finishing the rest of it. I was going to object to being called ‘boy,’ but it wasn’t the time for that, and to be fair, I was quite younger than both of them. “The pack doesn’t hurt its own, Simon, remember? But you didn’t care about that.”
“I did. Why do you think it hurt so much when I got sober? Losin’ you as my family nearly killed me. I know it won’t ever be the same between us, but I still wish I had my best friend.”
Derrek grabbed another beer off the table, wiping away some of the condensation that pooled. “I can finally tolerate being around you. That’s a start.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Oh, you will be.” Derrek grinned like a predator about to pounce before looking over at me. “You may wanna stay outside for a little while, unless you want to see how Simon’s gonna apologize.”
The older werewolf’s tail pounded the railing behind him, and the unmistakable scent of his arousal graced my nostrils.
“This is… really weird,” I muttered as Derrek’s eyes glowed a dark orange. “What’s going on here?”
Simon jumped to his feet and quickly made his way inside, Derrek following before stopping at the door to answer.
“Remember a couple days ago when I said he was gonna make it up to me? Well, I think tonight’s a good night for him to apologize… the werewolf way.” He stepped through the door and growled. “This might take a while. I’ve got years of frustration to take out on his ass.”
I sat alone on the porch, still bewildered as the door slammed shut. When Simon let out a howl and a sharp whine, I swallowed hard and stood, making my way down to the beach…
But not before peeking into Derrek’s bedroom window.