As usual, Sue peeked in at her sleeping children before turning in herself. Seth's face, relaxed in sleep, looked younger than his 16 years. His dark hair framed his deceptively cherubic face. Sue had to smile as she gazed on her rambunctious teenager, who seemed never to slow down unless he was asleep. Clothes were tossed haphazardly toward the desk and chair, though most of them had landed on the cluttered floor. Seth's aquarium covered most of one wall, filled with the strangest assortment of marine life that he could manage to amass.
The next door down the hall opened to Leah's room, austere in comparison with her brother's. Wolves stared from every direction, from posters, photos, and statues, not surprising considering most of Leah's friends and relatives were shape shifters. Her features were never totally relaxed, even in slumber, and Sue felt a pang of sympathy for her only daughter. Leah couldn't seem to get past her rejection by Sam Uley, though Sam hadn't really had much of a choice in the matter either.
Sue sighed as she entered her own room and closed the door. She sank to her knees and thanked God for her children and her home, never quite filled to capacity since her husband's death. As she climbed into bed, her thoughts strayed to Charlie Swan. Charlie had been Harry's best friend and constant companion, and since Harry's death his role had bent toward Sue – first as her friend, then companion, and now there was a new flavor to their relationship. Sue smiled as she recalled Charlie's hesitant kiss as she had left his house tonight. It had taken her by surprise, and when she regained her composure she had kissed him back. They had both laughed, slightly embarrassed, when they recovered from the unexpected softness and warmth of that second kiss.
At 5 a.m. the touch of a wolf's nose on her bare arm shocked Sue into instant wakefulness. "Seth! What on earth are you doing?" she gasped. Leah appeared behind Seth's lupine form as Sue snaked her arm around his shaggy neck to hug his warm, furry body.
"Sam called us. I just wanted to let you know before we go," Leah explained. "Quil is on patrol and put out a call for the rest of the pack. I don't know what's going on, but we'll check in when we know."
As her children hurried out the back door, Sue donned a robe and fired up the coffee pot. There would be no more sleep for her while Leah phased into wolf form and the siblings sped off into the night. The large, powerful wolves had little to fear from animals in the forest, but there was always the threat of vampires, or humans with weapons for that matter.
With a cup of steaming coffee before her, Sue tried to relax, but introspection would be as elusive as sleep when her children might be in danger. So, with a sigh, she turned on the oven to preheat and proceeded to gather ingredients for cookies. The entire wolf pack knew that the Clearwater cookie jar was never empty, and Sue enjoyed the rough-and-tumble camaraderie of the pack. With their elevated body temperature and energetic lifestyle, the wolves burned through fuel like the most inefficient SUV on the road. Sue smiled to herself as she contemplated what her grocery bill might look like if she was feeding normal teenagers instead of hungry wolves.
The hours ticked by slowly, as Sue filled the cookie jar and a couple of plastic bags with cookies, then swept the kitchen and started sorting laundry. She smiled as she found a pair of Seth's shorts, shredded in his haste to phase into wolf form, and threw them in the trash. One of these days that boy was going to get caught with nothing to wear when he phased back to human form.
The jangle of the telephone made Sue jump, and she reached it before the second ring. After a momentary disappointment that it wasn't one of her kids, and the realization that they wouldn't be contacting her by phone anyway, she was happy to recognize Charlie's voice on the other end of the line. "Hi, Sue, just calling to say 'good morning' and tell you that I was thinking about you," he said.
"Well, that's an amazing coincidence, Charlie," she flirted back. "I was just thinking about you too," she purred into the phone. They chatted for a few minutes and made plans to meet at Charlie's for dinner the following day. It was a little risky to invite him to the Clearwater house, since Charlie had not a clue about the existence of werewolves. One never knew when a wolf might come bounding through Sue's back door, momentarily forgetting the "no wolves in the house" rule that was haphazardly enforced. That would require some fancy explanation, so it was less risky to just go to Charlie's and cook in his seldom-used kitchen.
Just as she hung up the phone, Leah appeared in the back door, apparently out of breath, accompanied by Jacob. Before Sue could ask about Seth, Leah gestured for her to come outside. There, on the porch, lay a wounded wolf that Sue recognized instantly as Seth. He appeared to be unconscious, and his left front paw was bent at an impossible angle.