Authors: Jason Starr
At the glass, instead of doing the Michael Phelps bit and flipping around and swimming in the opposite direction, Gus didn’t stop. Instead, with full momentum, the tremendous animal extended himself into an upright position and pounded the Plexiglas with his huge paws and claws extended. The impact shook the glass so violently it seemed
as if it might actually shatter. Then Gus backed up a bit and charged forward and attacked the glass again, his huge mouth wide open, revealing his long, sharp teeth, like some horrific Halloween mask.
Though the bear’s behavior was frightening, no one, not even the children, screamed. Everyone was probably too shocked to react, collectively thinking,
What the hell is going on?
At least Simon knew why
wasn’t reacting. He was mesmerized by a combination of fear, surprise, and disbelief over the bear’s absurd behavior. After all, Gus was the star of the zoo, the old pro, and Simon had seen him maybe a dozen times over the years and he’d always been calm and playful and had never acted remotely like this. But the freakiest, most terrifying part of all of it was how as the bear continued to pound the glass, his dark eyes were fixated on Simon, leaving no doubt about who had incited his rage. Then Gus gathered momentum and slammed against the glass with such force that it seemed as if he could actually break through. Simon imagined the nightmarish scene—the water flooding out, the screaming crowd, and the crazed bear ripping everyone to shreds.
With Jeremy back in the stroller, Simon rushed away from the polar bear area, back through the zoo, toward the exit. Now he was vaguely aware of screaming and panic behind him, but it was fading as he was running away, dodging people like a running back. He wasn’t running as fast as he could, but he was still going pretty damn fast.
He didn’t stop until he had left the zoo and was exiting the park about five blocks farther downtown, across from the Plaza Hotel. He was aware that his behavior during the last few minutes was far from normal—so much for being mindful—and he had been so caught up in the feeling that he had to get away, that his life was in danger, that he hadn’t checked to see what effect this was all having on Jeremy.
Simon checked the stroller, expecting to see Jeremy angry or crying or at least looking horrified. What he didn’t expect was to see Jeremy smiling, and then, when he saw Simon, suddenly laughing giddily. Simon figured it was probably some kind of defense mechanism, his way of dealing with the traumatic experience.
“Did the bear scare you?” Simon asked. “It’s okay if he did. He scared everybody.”
Jeremy continued laughing so hard that it took him maybe a minute to get a hold of himself. Then he finally calmed down enough to say, “It’s true.”
“True? What’s true?” Simon had no idea what he was talking about.
Jeremy laughed for a while longer, then added, “I do have the most silliest daddy in the world.”
aybe Jeremy was unfazed by the experience with the polar bear, but Simon wasn’t. To him it was yet another indication that he was just kidding himself, thinking he could ride this out and hide from his condition indefinitely. The animals knew what he was, and eventually everyone would, unless he figured out some way to deal with it.
Simon didn’t relax until he was midway into his lunch—four bunless Angus burgers at McDonald’s on Seventy-first and Broadway. The protein surge energized him, which was at least a good distraction from his other problems. Jeremy was happy as well, with his McNugget Happy Meal. After lunch, Simon put Jeremy back in the stroller and pushed him uptown, and things almost seemed normal.
Jeremy fell asleep in the stroller, which was perfect because his naps usually lasted about an hour and a half and Simon wanted to
run. Simon veered toward Riverside Park—as usual, around the grass and trees he instantly felt at home, at peace—and jogged downtown. To maintain a normal speed, he drafted behind another jogger, a thin young guy. It was a little annoying because Simon was full of energy from the burgers and was dying to blow past the guy, but he managed to control himself and enjoy the moment and appreciate his good fortune. After all, if Jeremy hadn’t fallen asleep they probably would have returned to their cramped two-bedroom Columbus Avenue apartment. While the apartment wasn’t small by New York standards—it was actually on the big side, about fourteen hundred square feet—being in there for too long made Simon anxious and edgy. But aah, jogging along the Hudson, with the open space of the river to his right and the trees, grass, and other vegetation to his left, along with the fresh air, or at least fresh
air, along the Hudson, was as enjoyable as running in the Ramble in Central Park, and just about the closest he could come to bliss in Manhattan. Simon remembered just a couple of months ago telling someone at his old job how he couldn’t imagine ever living outside New York City. He’d said, “I think I’d either die of boredom or shoot myself.” God, had he actually said that? Wow, he really
changed. He could barely imagine how incredible it would be to go for a run on a country road or—oh, man—in the woods, the
woods? Last summer, he and Alison had gone away for a weekend with Jeremy to a B&B in the Berkshires, and she had had to practically drag him out to go for a hike. What had he been thinking, almost blowing an opportunity to experience real nature? If he lived in the country he would go for hikes and runs in the woods every day. Did the people who lived in rural areas realize how great they had it?
Lost in thought, Simon had left the pace-setting jogger well behind. Jeremy was sleeping soundly and the path was smooth so he thought,
What the hell? Why not air it out?
So he picked up the pace, taking rapider, deeper breaths, loving the rush and euphoria that overtook his body. He tried to tell himself that he was making a mistake, that he shouldn’t be flaunting his physical abilities, but he was enjoying the experience too much and his thoughts faded and then disappeared entirely. Like earlier, there was a gap—or really a long, pleasant buzz—and when his awareness returned he saw he was much farther downtown, approaching Chelsea Piers. Suddenly realizing the huge mistake he’d almost made, he turned around and ran away fast, but not too fast, in the other direction, not slowing until he was maybe a mile back uptown.
He couldn’t believe he’d been so thoughtless, with Jeremy in tow no less. If he’d gone another couple of miles, he could’ve run right by the Battery Park playground where Michael, Charlie, and Ramon often hung out with their sons.
Simon inhaled deeply but couldn’t detect any unusual scents. But just because he couldn’t smell the guys didn’t mean they weren’t there, and it didn’t mean that
. For all he knew they were tracking him right now. He continued trying to pick up a werewolf scent as he ran uptown. He didn’t smell anything unusual and it began to set in that his reaction might have been pure paranoia. After all, he’d been miles from where the guys sometimes hung out, and he had no idea if they were even there today. And the idea that they were following him didn’t make much sense either. If the guys wanted to find him, how hard would it really be? He wasn’t exactly hard to track down. His number was listed and he was easy to find on Facebook and Google. Wouldn’t calling him or sending him an e-mail be an easier way of getting in touch than stalking him in the Ramble or waiting for him to stumble on them in a playground? And since they could easily contact him, the bigger question was, why hadn’t they?
Michael had gone to such lengths to lure Simon into his pack, and now he had completely forgotten about him? It didn’t make any sense.
Then Simon shuddered as he thought,
What if they’re gone?
They could have left the city, or the country, or they could even be dead. But this idea didn’t give Simon any comfort because, while he was worried about the guys exposing him and trying to get him to fully join their “pack,” the idea that he was alone, that he was the only werewolf in the world, somehow seemed much, much worse.
imon had jogged the entire way back to his apartment and had been on the move almost nonstop all morning, but he was barely winded and actually was in the mood to go out to run some more. He was considering having some sliced turkey and maybe a can of tuna fish for a protein jolt and then heading out again when he noticed that Jeremy was stirring in the stroller, rubbing his eyes.
Forcing himself to be upbeat for Jeremy’s sake, Simon said, “There’s my big guy,” and he undid the straps, lifted his son out of the stroller, and held him up in front of him so that his face was at eye level. “Did you have a nice nap?”
Jeremy didn’t answer, just yawned widely; his “sleep breath” seemed particularly pungent but Simon didn’t mind it. Actually, in an odd way, the stale aroma was comforting.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Simon said. “Are you hungry? You want some turkey or tuna fish?”
“I just had a Happy Meal.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Sometimes Simon forgot that he was the only one in the family whose appetite was practically insatiable.
“I have to go potty,” Jeremy said.
Helping Jeremy in the bathroom and then setting him up with a
puzzle on the living room floor were good distractions for Simon. He played with Jeremy the rest of the afternoon until Alison returned home from work. After she kissed and hugged Jeremy hello and told him how much she’d missed him, she said to Simon, “How was your day?”
Though she said this in a normal, friendly way, Simon detected an edge in her voice, leftover tension from last night and this morning.
“Pretty good,” Simon said. “We went to the zoo.”
“The zoo, wow, that must’ve been fun.”
Recalling how Gus had been pounding against the Plexiglas as if he were rabid, Simon said, “Yeah, it was a blast.”
“Good, I’m glad you did something different for a change,” Alison said without making eye contact. “Don’t you have a therapy appointment today?”
Simon had completely forgotten that he had a fake psychiatry appointment this evening.
“Not till seven,” he said.
“Oh, well maybe you want to leave early, you’re probably feeling cooped up.”
feeling cooped up—what else was new?—but he didn’t like feeling as if he were being kicked out of his own apartment.
“It’s okay,” he said, “I have time. And, besides, it’ll be nice to have dinner together.”
Alison, not smiling, asked, “Did you go food shopping today?” as she went past him into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
Alison had asked him to go to Whole Foods today to stock up on food and he’d promised he would.
“Sorry,” he said, “but I can go now.”
“Never mind, we’ll order in Vietnamese.” She let the fridge door slam shut. “What about the laundry?”
Simon had completely forgotten about this as well. He said, “I was about to do it before you came home, but I’ll do it now.”
“It’s okay, I’ll do it,” she said, but she didn’t sound happy about it. “Did you pay the bills?”
Simon’s mouth opened as he was about to say,
But Alison cut him off with, “This just isn’t fair, Simon. I have to work all day and you’re here at home. You have to do your share. I can’t do everything.”
“You’re right,” Simon said. “I’ve been distracted with other things lately, but from now on I’ll do more. I promise.”
Alison ordered the food and then went into the bedroom to get out of her work clothes. When she came out in sweats and a T-shirt, Simon had set the dining room table.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “And I’m sorry I jumped down your throat before. It’s just things get so overwhelming sometimes.”
“No, I’m the one who should apologize,” Simon said. “I know I haven’t been the best husband in the world lately, but I’ll try harder.”
“Can I kiss you?” Alison asked.
“Of course you can,” Simon said.
She kissed him on the lips and he distracted himself—imagining he was still running along the river—so he wouldn’t get too aroused.
“What about me?” Jeremy asked. “What about me?”
Jeremy, who hated to miss out on hugs and kisses, had come over and was extending his arms, wanting to be picked up.
“Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about you,” Alison said.
She lifted Jeremy, holding him between her and Simon; when they kissed his cheeks simultaneously he grinned widely. Simon was enjoying the family moment and was thrilled that there was a shift of focus.
A few minutes later dinner arrived. Alison had thoughtfully ordered a beef dish for Simon—
bo luc loc
. Simon did his best to eat the delicious cubes of marinated beef at normal, human pace. As he chewed the first bite ultra slowly he thought,
Don’t wolf it down
, and couldn’t help laughing at the unintentional pun.
“What’s so funny?” Alison asked.
“Oh, um, nothing,” Simon said. “I’m just enjoying the food, that’s all.”
The explanation didn’t make much sense, but Alison didn’t seem to mind, as she was involved in cutting up pieces of marinated chicken for Jeremy.
But then Jeremy started laughing and said, “Daddy was very silly today. At the zoo he even made the animals act silly.”