"I'm sorry," she said. "I only..." She gave a sad twist of a smile. "I only wanted to speak to you. You seemed like such a nice girl." I caught a glimpse of Derek, out of line now, striding over and glowering at the snickering boys. The woman got to her feet and leaned across the table again. "I was very nice talking to you, dear." She put her hand on mine...and it passed through.I leaped to my feet. "I'm sorry," she said again.The look on her face was so sad that I wanted yo say it was okay, it was my fault. But before I could get a word out, she faded away, and then all I could hear was the laughter around me, the mutters of "crazy" and "schizo," and I stood there, rooted to the floor, until Derek took my arm, his grip so soft I could barely feel it. "Come on," he said. "Yeah," the laughing guy called. "I think your girlfriend's day pass has expired." Derek slowly raised his head, lip curling in that too-familiar look. I grabbed his arm. He blinked and nodded. As we turned to go, the other guy at the table chimed in. "Trolling for chicks at the psych ward?" He shook his head. "Now that's desperate."As we passed the front window, I swore every eye inside followed us. I caught a few looks: sympathy, pity, distaste, disgust. Derek moved between me and the window, blocking my view as we walked. "They didn't need to do that," he said. "Those kinds, sure. They're idiots. But the grown-ups should know better. What if you were mentally ill?" He led me around to the parking lot then stopped at the back, under the shadow of the building overhang. "You'll never see them again," he said. "And if they'd treat a real mentally ill person like that, then you shouldn't care what they think. Bunch of morons."
"Derek's a good kid, Chloe. He always has been. Responsible, mature...Kit used to joke that, some days, he'd rather have a dozen of Derek than one of Simon. But the wolf is coming out now, and he's struggling with it. I always told KIt..." He exhaled and shook his head. "The point I'm making is that I know Derek seems like a normal kid."Normal? I could have laughed at that. I don't think anyone ever mistook Derek for a normal kid. "But you need to remember that Derek is different. You need to be careful." I was sick and tired of hearing how dangerous Derek was. Different, yes, but no more than a dozen guys I knew from school, guys who stood out, didn't act like everyone else, followed their own rules. He could be dangerous, with his superhuman strength. But how was he any worse than Tori, with her uncontrollable spells? Tori had a track record of trying to hurt me, but no one except the guys had ever warned me away from her.Unlike Tori, Derek was struggling to control his powers. But no one ever recognized that. They didn't see Derek. All they saw was the werewolf.
"Derek?" I called.No answer.I took a few more steps, then called a little louder, "Derek? Are you out here?" A branch snapped in the woods. I pictured Derek, in the middle of a Change, unable to respond, and hurried toward the forest's edge. The noise stopped and I paused at the end of the path leading in, peering into the dark woods, listening. Another snap. Something like a groan. "Derek? It's me." I stepped in. It took only a few paces for the morning light to fade and darkness to envelop me. "Derek?" I jumped as he rounded a corner down the path. I didn't need full daylight to see the expression on his face at all to know I was in trouble, just the set of his shoulders and he long strides as he bore down on me. "I—" I began. "What the hell are you doing, Chloe? I said we'd come out here later and try to contact that ghost. Key word? We. If you're here—" I lifted my hands. "Okay, you caught me. I was sneaking out on my own, hoping no one would notice. That's why I've been calling your name."
Of the Phoenix kids, the one Derek got along best with was Daniel. In him, Daniel had found a good sparring partner. And a plotting partner, too. Derek wasn’t just the biggest and strongest in our group. He was also the smartest. Scary, off-the-charts smart. That intimidated Daniel a little at first—he’s bright, but he needs to work for his grades. But Derek wasn’t a show-off or a know-it-all, so they got past that and we would hang out together, the two guys, Chloe, and I planning and plotting our future, bouncing ideas off one another.
"You're thinking too much, as usual," I said.A dismissive snort as he got to his feet. He tried running again, and didn't fall, but did more lurching than loping, his legs threatening to tangle at every step. "Apparently this could take a while, so how about you practice and I'll head back to the house—"He darted past me and veered to block my path.I smiled. "I knew that'd work. So as I right? It's better when you act, not think?" A sigh whistled out of his nostrils, condensation hanging in the frigid air. "You hate that, don't you? We should keep a scorecard, see who's right more often: me or you." He rolled his eyes. "Not a chance, huh? You'd never live it down if I beat you. But I am right this time. Your body knows how to move as a wolf. You just need to shut your brain off and let your muscles do their thing."