There is no way for me to explain what I have just seen, no way to determine the magnitude of what it means, or what it could mean, to the people of the small town of Red Wolf, Texas. Because of that, I simply walk, slowly but surely advancing down the road that will take me home, trying my hardest not to think about what I saw. Several times, I cast a glance over my shoulder—not out of fear of being tracked down by the creature, but awe over the possibility of its existence—and begin to wonder.
Wolves? Back in Texas?
How could this be possible?
It can’t, I am quick to tell myself. You were just seeing things.
J’vonte has always said that I preferred daydreaming over studying, the fantastical happenings inside my head over the reality that existed outside of it.
Though I want to believe that they are gone, a part of me speculates on just what I could’ve seen.
It couldn’t have been a coyote, or a fox, or a coydog, or anything of the sort, because it was too big, too proud, too regal. For that reason, I have to think that, maybe, just maybe, the wolves hadn’t been extinct this whole time. Maybe they’d just been hiding, like people suppose the Tasmanian Tiger does in Australia. Maybe they’re just so elusive, so out of place, that people haven’t been able to see them.
After a moment’s consideration, I shake my head.
No, I think. That’s ridiculous. People would know wolves were around. They make prints, and howl, and eat deer. Surely they would’ve found some evidence of them if they happened to still exist in the wild.
Right, I think, and nod.
I can’t get my hopes up for something that can’t possibly be real. For that reason, I continue to repeat the mantra inside my head.
There are no wolves in Texas. There are no wolves in Texas.
“There are no wolves in Texas,” I say, and sigh.
I continue to pout like the child I still seem to be as my home comes into view—as the brickwork that frames the outside of the house rises like a monument to a dead civilization. The house is old—terribly so—but Mom and Dad, they’ve been renovating it for years, stripping the old window frames out, reworking the front porch so it won’t cave in on us, paving a new driveway so people can actually visit. Given their salaries, I’m not sure they’ll be done until after I move out.
But today, this isn’t what catches my attention.
It’s the moving truck in the drive across the road that does.
Is that— I start to think.
But before I can finish, a young man emerges from the back of the moving truck. It’s hard to make out what he actually looks like from this distance, but as I draw nearer, and as he makes his way down the ramp leading into the truck, subtle details become more obvious—including his dark hair, which is flecked with hints of ruddy blonde, and the muscles on his arms, which are thick and bulging with the effort of carrying a massive box.
Though my mother has always told me not to stare, it’s hard not to, all things considering.
My first thought is: who would move into the old house across the road?
The second thought is: who is this guy?
I am like a moth to a flame—fluttering my wings, drawing nearer, anticipating the sweet light at the end of the dark tunnel.
The young man lifts his eyes to face me as I begin to cross the road and says, “Hey!”
“Hey!” I call back, and lift a hand.
“You’re gonna tri—“
But before he can finish, I feel myself going down like the unfortunate soul that I am.
Thankfully, I’m able to pinwheel my arms, so I don’t fall on my face. Instead, I hit the ground on my butt and grimace as pain shoots up my spine.
The young man drops the box and comes running up to me. “You okay?” he asks.
“I’m… fine,” I manage, gritting my teeth as I tilt my head up to look at him.
The moment I set my eyes on his, I blink, stunned.
“What?” he asks. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Your… eyes,” I say, as I look into their brown depths, as I gaze upon the gold flecks throughout them.
He laughs. “Yeah. I get that a lot.” He extends a hand toward me. “My name’s Jackson. Sorry I made you trip.”
“You didn’t,” I reply, automatically reaching out to take hold of his hand.
The moment his palm touches mine is the moment I lose all sense of self.
Don’t act stupid, J’vonte would’ve said. Just be cool, and normal.
Normal, I think.
Sure. Like I could be normal in front of a guy like Jackson.
As he pulls me to my feet, and as he reaches down to lift my backpack that has fallen in the wake of my fall, I am able to get my first good look at him—and am surprised when I don’t immediately start blushing. His eyes are pretty, his hair soft and wavy. His face is covered in about three days’ worth of stubble; but unlike the guys at school, it actually suits him. He’s undoubtedly gorgeous, which does little to keep me from feeling—and, potentially, acting—like a fool.
He extends the backpack. “Here you are.”
“Thanks,” I reply, hugging the backpack to my chest. I swallow the ever-developing lump in my throat and look down at the box he was carrying. “I hope there wasn’t anything fragile in there.”
“No. Just old books and stuff.”
“You like to read?”
“My dad does. He’s trying to get me into it, but… I’m more of a nature guy myself.”
“Me too,” I offer.
I turn my head to hide my blush before lifting my eyes to my driveway.
“I take it you’re my neighbor?” he asks as he flicks his eyes toward the red brick house.
“Yeah,” I reply.
“It’s nice to meet you, Miss…”
“Smith,” I say, then blush again as I realize I’ve forgotten to introduce myself. “My name’s Oaklynn.”
“Nice to meet you. I wish it could’ve been under better circumstances, though.”
“It’s fine,” I reply. “I mean, I’m fine.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Jackson turns and reaches down to take hold of the box. “I’ll see you around, Oaklynn.”
“Yeah,” I reply. “See ya.”
He offers one last smile before turning and making his way into the old house.
Though I would love nothing more than to retreat as humbly as possible, I know that’s not going to happen.
I find myself hobbling the entire way home.
“You won’t believe what happened,” I say as I hold my cell phone steadily before me, careful to take baby steps in order to not aggravate my sore tailbone.
“I won’t?” J’vonte says, then frowns before asking, “Why are you limping?”
“And that’s what you’re calling to tell me about?”
“No, no.” I say, but grimace as I settle down upon the bed.
“I met someone.”
“You… met someone,” J’vonte offers, while raising a single brow.
“No! I mean, yes!”
“There’s a new guy across the street from us.”
“You mean, someone actually bought that old piece of—“
“Language!” I hear J’vonte’s mother say in the background.
“I didn’t say anything!” J’vonte replies.
“Well, don’t!” her mother continues.
J’vonte shakes her head before returning her gaze to me. “So… new guy across the street?”
“What’s he like? What’s his name? What’s he look like?”
“I’m not really sure what he’s like,” I reply, “but his name’s Jackson, and, well… he’s… uh… absolutely—“
“You didn’t,” J’vonte says as a horrified look strikes her face.
“Didn’t what?” I ask.
“Make a fool of yourself in front of a cute guy.”
“I fell, J’von. I don’t see how I couldn’t make a fool out of myself after that.”
My best friend shakes her head, making small tsk tsk sounds as she does it. “Oaklynn, Oaklynn, Oaklynn,” she says. “I can’t believe your luck.”
“Neither can I,” I reply. “I mean, I meet a hot guy, only to fall on my—”
“Language!” J’vonte’s mother interjects.
“Mom!” my friend cries.
“Sorry, Mrs. Fawn,” I say, as J’vonte’s mother peeks her head into the frame. “And hi.”
“Hi, dear. Did you take something for your bottom?”
“Well, your mother will have a fit if you don’t.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
Mrs. Fawn pulls out of frame to resume her cooking.
J’vonte leans forward, places a hand on her chin, and asks, “You think he’s gonna come to school with us?”
“I have no idea,” I reply. “He seems like he’s our age, but… he could’ve already graduated. I don’t know. I just… ugh. J’von.”
“Why do I have to be so stupid?”
“Because that’s the way you are,” she replies, “and I love you for it.”
“Thanks,” I mumble, although a bit hesitantly at that.
My friend laughs and reaches forward. “I gotta go,” she says. “Mom’s making snickerdoodles and she needs all the help she can get.”
“You mean to eat them!” Mrs. Fawn offers.
J’vonte smiles and say, “Bye, Oakie.”
“Bye,” I say, and toss my cell onto my bed, only to receive an annoyed meow in response.
“Sorry, Belle,” I say.
My little black cat comes scooting out from under the covers and acknowledges me with a simple glare.
“Did you get tired of watching the neighbors move in?”
She meows and butts her head against my hand before jumping off the bed to saunter out of the room. I reluctantly follow to search for medicine.
In the kitchen, I pop a few painkillers, swallow them down with water, then turn my eyes toward the window to find that the moving truck’s rear door has been pulled down. Jackson is nowhere to be seen.
You could’ve helped if you hadn’t have hurt yourself, I think.
Then again, would I have wanted to help? It’s not like I have anything better to do. And besides—it would’ve given me a chance to get to know the neighbors better.
Sure it would, J’vonte’s voice echoes in my head. You want to ‘get to know the neighbors.’
“Shut up, J’von,” I mumble as Belle jumps onto the counter to look out the window with me. “Maybe I do want to get to know him. Maybe it’s time I tried to make new friends.”
I turn my head to look back outside, only to see a figure in the window across from me.
Though I raise my hand to wave, the person inside—who looks like he could be Jackson’s father—doesn’t respond. He simply draws the curtain and disappears from sight.
“That’s weird,” I mumble.
Belle trills and bumps her head against my hand.
“Okay, okay, I’ll feed you.”
As the cat jumps down, and as I turn to gather the cat food from the cupboard, I can’t help but wonder what purpose Jackson’s family has in the town of Red Wolf.
I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.