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According to the clock in the taxi, I was incredibly late for my appointment with Baby North. Tardiness is not one of my multiple vices, and normally this would have bothered me. But nothing could knock me at the moment. I buzzed with the pleasant anxiety spurred by the razor line of Isabel’s mouth.
When we had met, I had just saved my life by becoming a werewolf, and her brother had just died trying to stop being one.
Isabel had been the only thing in Mercy Falls sharper than I was.
She was the only one who knew me.
Above me, the sun glowed in the sky, one thousand times more brilliant than the sun over Minnesota. Everything in this place was concrete and invented grass and palm spikes.
“What’s the street again?” asked the cab driver. He wore a hat that was from a country that was not L.A., and he looked tired.
“Ocean Front Walk,” I said. “Venice. If there are two.
Probably not. But in the case of duplication.”
“That’s not a driving street,” he replied. “It is on the beach.
I will have to let you out. You will have to walk.”
I didn’t know if it was because I hadn’t been to the West Coast for a long time, or because I hadn’t been anywhere but Minnesota for a long time, but I kept being surprised by the fact of California. As we grew closer to Baby North’s home, everything seemed familiar and dreamy, seen before on tour or in a dream or movie. The names of the streets — Mulholland Drive and Wilshire Boulevard — and the names painted on the signs — Hollywood, Cheviot, Beverly Hills — called up thoughts of blond hair, red cars, palm trees, endless summer.
Los Angeles. The first time I was here, a Yankee usurper, a bumbling almost-there, I snapped a photo of a Hollywood Boulevard street sign and sent it to my mother with a text: guess what i’m famous.
Now I actually was famous, though I didn’t text my mother anymore.
It felt good. It was like when you had been unhappy and didn’t know it until you weren’t anymore. I had thought I was fine in Minnesota. Bored, lonely, fine.
California, California, California.
I could still feel the realness of Isabel in my arms. It was like the sun on my eyelids and the ocean scent in my mouth as I sucked the air in over my teeth. I’d been here before.
This time was going to be different.
I called my friend Sam back in Minnesota. He surprised me by answering immediately — he hated talking on the phone because he couldn’t see the other person’s face during the conversation.
“I’m here,” I told him, picking at the taxi company decal on the interior of the car window. In the front seat, my driver had a hushed and intense phone conversation in another language.
“My face is relaxed and content. My lips are curved upward.”
Sam did not laugh, because he was immune to my charms.
“Have you been to the place you’re staying yet? Is it okay?”
“I’m fine, Mother,” I replied. “I haven’t been yet. I’m going to go see Baby now.”
“I had the worst nightmare about you last night,” Sam mused. “You went around Los Angeles and bit about twenty people so you could have a pack of wolves there, too.”
There is that old chestnut that when someone tells you not to think about a specific image, you cannot not think of it. Sam had in effect forced me to consider the idea of multiple werewolves in Los Angeles, which should have occurred to me before now, but hadn’t. It was not an entirely unromantic vision.
Wolves galloping down Sunset Boulevard at dusk.
“Twenty,” I scoffed. “I would never bite an even number of people.”
“When I told you that it was a terrible idea, you told me you didn’t want to be alone.”
That did sound like me, but there was no way I’d go around biting myself new friends. While I dazzled into wolf form for only a few minutes at a time, most people had to wear their lupine bodies for months on end. Which was exactly what had happened back in Minnesota. That left me with only Sam and Grace, and they’d both decided to go to college, of all places.
Summer school. In Duluth. Who did that?
“The worst part,” Sam went on, “was that the clock was set to radio and when I woke up, your stupid song ‘Villain’ was playing.”
“What a great station you must have had it set to.” The taxi was slowing. I said, “I have to go. The future is here, decked in flowers and fruit.”
“Wait —” Sam said. “Have you seen Isabel yet?”
My fingers still felt the shape of her. “Da. We embraced.
Angels sang, Sam. Those fat ones. Cherubs. Cherubim. I must go.”
“Don’t bite people.”
I hung up. The taxi driver put the car in park. “Now you walk.”
I opened the car door. As I handed him some cash, I asked, “Want to come with me?”
He stared at me.
I got out. As I shouldered my bag on the sidewalk, a posse of young skater kids zoomed by. One of them shouted at me, “We’re skateboarding!”
The others behind him keened joyfully.
My lips still tasted like Isabel’s perfume.
The sun beamed overhead. My shadow was tiny under my feet. I didn’t know how I could stand to be in my own head until dinner.
Baby North lived in a Venice Beach house that looked like it had been built by a caffeinated toddler. It was a collection of brightly colored blocks of different sizes stacked on one another and next to one another and joined by concrete stairs and metal balconies. It faced the endless tourist-dotted beach and the touchable blue ocean. It was a more mirthful establishment than I had expected.
People were afraid of Baby North. This was because she was a home wrecker, I thought, in the sense that she had destroyed the lives of the last seven people she’d put on television. It was sort of her brand. Get a train wreck, put it on television, wait for the explosions, toss a fluttering paycheck over the scene of the wreckage.
Everyone who signed a contract with her thought they would be the one to escape unscathed with their dignity and sanity, and they were all wrong.
None of them had seemed to know it was just a performance.
I climbed the concrete stairs. When I knocked on the door, it fell open. There was no point calling for her. The music inside was so loud that nothing was for sure except the purest of the trebles in the vocals and the ugliest of the bass from the drums.