Like most kids, Graham Noel placed a superficial importance on turning thirteen, and was deflated when he woke on his birthday feeling no different than he had the night before. He rolled out of bed and leaned close to the mirror. His eyes were the same cinnamon brown, hair still thick and messy, teeth still slightly crooked at the bottom. He held up his hands and studied the backs, palms, and fingernails. Although the door was shut and locked, he still glanced around before tugging at the waistband of his pajama pants. Nope. Same as yesterday.
Hanging his head, Graham dressed. The smell of pancakes smacked him in the face as he opened his door. He left his disappointment in the bedroom and pounded downstairs.
“Smells amazing!” He pushed open the swinging door to come behind the counter.
“Uh-uh-uh!” Amber called. “Take a seat at the counter.”
Grinning, Graham chose the stool with the cleared view of the expo. He ducked to watch his mother as she cooked. She was wearing her uniform from the old restaurant, complete with apron. Her hair was swept up and pinned in a swirl. There was an assortment of pans in front of her, but no matter how much he craned his neck, he couldn’t see what was in them. He could smell pancakes and sausage, though.
“God, that smells good!” Kelsie’s voice preceded her feet on the stairs. “This place is starting to smell like a real diner!” She squeezed Graham from behind. “Morning, jerkface. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” He patted her arm and leaned across the counter. “Hey, Mom, I have a question.”
“What’s that, sweetie?”
“Is lycanthropy hereditary?”
A saucepan slammed down on the stove.
“Lycanthropy…” Kelsie snorted. “Nobody calls it that.”
“What? That’s the proper term.”
“Where did you hear that?” Amber studied him through the expo as she wiped her hands on a towel.
“The library down the street has, like, hundreds of books on werewolves.”
Amber cringed and shook her head with a funny smile.
Kelsie’s eyes lit up. “What’s the smile for?”
“Your father ordered all of those books when he was staying here.”
Now Graham’s face broke into a broad smile. “Really? So I’m reading Dad’s books?”
Amber nodded. She came out of the kitchen carrying three plates and set them on the counter: Sausage, fried eggs, pancakes topped with berries.
“When your father first brought me here, he had stacks of books all over the apartment. They were arranged like castles. He would check them out the night he returned, stack them, study them, and dump them in the return bin in the morning before he left.”
“That’s really cool,” Graham said. His mouth already full. He shoveled some more sausage in.
While Graham was focused on the food, Amber slid the keys across the counter. “Kel, could you – uh – run out to the car?”
Kelsie furrowed her brow. Amber nodded toward Graham.
“Oh! Yeah, I’ll be right back.” Kelsie tugged at his sleeve and whispered, “She didn’t answer your question,” just loud enough for Amber to hear. Amber narrowed her eyes at her daughter’s back as she ran out the door.
Graham forgot his plate and turned his inquisitive and hopeful eyes on his mother.
“Well…” Amber popped a blueberry from her pancake into her mouth and chewed slowly. “We were worried when we found out I was pregnant – both times. But we did a lot of research and consulted some experts, who assured us it was rare, and…” Her mouth took a funny shape.
“Well, according to experts, conditions… have to be… Your fa–” She snapped her mouth shut and sighed.
“Dad has to be a wolf?”
Amber choked and coughed. Clearing her throat, she nodded. “Yes, that’s what I’m trying to say.”
“It’s OK, Mom. I’ve had sex ed.”
Amber shook her head and covered her face as a red blush crept up her neck.
“Kel said she walked in on your and Dad last month, and he had a tail–”
“Oh, my God.”
“Does that not count?”
Amber laughed. “Apparently not!”
The bell over the door jangled as Kelsie struggled to open the door with her arms full of brightly-wrapped boxes.
Graham’s eyes shot wide. “Whoa!” He had been worried with the move that gifts would not be happening.
Kelsie smiled tightly. “Dad left you a gift, too.”
“Kelsie!” Amber hissed.
“It’s at the door,” Kelsie continued.
Graham slid off his chair so fast, he almost fell. He shot toward the door and shoved it open. Looking down, he froze.
“That is not nice,” Amber scolded. She came around the counter and followed Graham.
“What? It’s the thought that counts…”
Graham’s lip curled, then settled, then curled again. A large, dead hare lay across the welcome mat, its fur only slightly matted around the back of its head.
“He gave me… a dead rabbit.”
“Oh, Graham…” Amber ran a hand over his hair and smoothed it down.
“Is this a present?”
“Yes, it’s a birthday gift from your father.”
“I don’t get it.”
“The longer from the moon he is, he can get… a little confused.” She picked the hare up by its ears and inspected it. “He knows he loves you, and he knows it’s a special occasion, but…” She shrugged. “He’s a wolf.”
Graham stared at the hare. “Is this why we always have rabbit for my birthday? Dad was sending me a gift?”
“What about the birthday cards?”
Amber’s face reddened. “He signs them in advance.”
Graham stared at the hare, then nodded and trudged back to his seat. He stared at his breakfast, but his appetite was gone.
“Hey, at least we can eat yours,” Kelsie said, stabbing the yolk of her fried egg.
“Why? What does he bring you?”
“Birds. The most beautiful birds you’ve ever seen, but still… dead birds.”
Graham sighed and popped his own yolk. “Great… our dad is an overgrown housecat.”