“There’s a boy at school,” Peter says. “He doesn’t have a heart.”
Lynda makes a tsking noise. “Poor boy. It’s a terrible thing.”
Peter takes another bite of his dinner. “I don’t think he knows, though,” is what he decides, and Lynda sends him a sharp look before dumping more meatballs on his plate.
There’s a story among Peter’s family, and like so many stories there are as many versions as there are tellings. But the bones are always the same --
There is a Romani man who lives in a forest. He falls in love with a girl who is sometimes Romani like him, and sometimes a gadjo. Sometimes the girl is a witch who can transform into a wolf, or who has been cursed to become one. Sometimes the wolf is her familiar, or her pet.
There is always a wolf.
Sometimes the witch must be vanquished before the lovers can be together. Sometimes the wolf-girl wants a wolf-husband to chase through the forest. Sometimes the man loses his heart and the girl must save him. Sometimes the story is a romance, or an adventure, or a tragedy. But it will always end in the lovers sharing the wolf-heart.
“For the Rumanceks have been werewolves ever since!” Nicolae would declare, sometimes jovially. He preferred to tell the story as an adventure.
Peter bought more into the tragedies himself.
Roman Godfrey is beautiful. Roman Godfrey is a monster. Roman Godfrey makes Peter’s teeth ache whenever he gets near. The wolf wants to tear his chest open like a crackerjack box, angry there’s no toy inside.
Instead, Peter makes a friend. They bond over dead girls and thinking each other is a murderer, but, hey. Still.
“You are so stupid,” Destiny tells him. She has a heart that beats fast and precise, a foxtrot maybe, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, dizzying. “Honey, I’m not trying to be mean, but a boy with no heart? You know what that means?”
Lydna has only one rule, the rule that has been driven into Peter’s head since he was a boy - tell no one what he is. Every twenty-eight days Peter eats his heart and grows another. Nothing else in the world can do such a thing. There is nothing in the world as grotesquely miraculous as a werewolf.
Roman watches Peter transform, watches him devour his skin and his guts and his heart, and he calls him beautiful.
Peter doesn’t know what else to say. There are any number of girls at school who would gladly have given Roman their heart, or at least offered to share them. Roman doesn’t know - Roman doesn’t even realize he’s missing anything.
“Forget it,” Peter says. “Can you help or not?” and before he knows it he’s making plans to rob a grave.
“What’s it like?” Roman asks. They’re sitting outside the trailer drinking beer. The cat is twining in and around their ankles, yowling whenever they reach down to pet it. Cantankerous.
“What’s what like.”
“You know,” Roman says. He sounds plaintive, almost like a little kid. “What’s it like?”
Peter shrugs. “I don’t think it’s really something you can translate.” Trying would be useless.
Roman seemed to accept that, but only for a minute. “Have you always been a werewolf? Why isn’t Lynda, or Destiny?”
Peter pauses. “It’s not blood. Well, it’s not genetics. Anyone can be a werewolf. If you eat a werewolf’s heart.” Peter steals a look at Roman, but Roman only stares back with his ridiculous, coke bottle green eyes.
“Gnarly. So. After Nicolae died, it had to be someone. Someone has to have it. Because otherwise, someone always finds it, you know?”
“Like a fairy tale,” Roman says after a moment.
Peter nods. “When a werewolf dies, someone takes the old heart and puts it in their chest. And on the full moon, the wolf eats the old one.” Symbolic, or some shit, probably. “When I was just a little kid, I mean - knee high to fucking grasshopper, I don’t even know, little - Nicolae told me it had to be me, that I had years yet. He’d dreamed about it.”
“Well. Shee-it,” Roman says, and they clink their beers together.
They find another girl in the steel mill. Well. They find half a girl, and that’s when they realize her heart is gone. Ripped out. Gnawed on. Stolen from her body before she’d died, and all of a sudden Peter can’t do this anymore. can’t fuck around with the Godfreys, and this whole fucking town and the sick feeling he gets between his ribs. Something is wrong here.
“We’re done,” Peter says, over and over, yelling into Roman’s face. Roman looks like his heart’s breaking but he doesn’t even have one, Peter reminds himself.
And if Peter’s is cracking, well, he’ll grow a new one soon enough.
Peter likes Letha because her heart is quiet, serene, maybe too honest; it flashes in steady, low intervals, sending out everything she’s feeling. Shelley’s is as monstrous as the rest of her, and it speaks when she can’t, shining like a beacon. Olivia has a heart, hilariously, frighteningly, because Peter would bet his last dollar it wasn’t originally hers. It’s too big for her; it seeps out of her chest and people mistake it for beauty. Chasseur’s is hidden, deliberately, inscrutable as her face and her motives. Lynda’s is well-worn but strong. Sometimes Peter rests his head on her chest to feel the warmth she radiates like no one else.
But Roman has no heart, Peter thinks, listening to the machines beep around them. The little statue of Ganesh he brought sits near the headboard.
Peter presses his clenched fist into his own chest. The beat underneath is hard, pulsing. There’s a dull ache. He’d pull it out, he thinks, but who knows if it would help anyway.
“I stole it,” Christina confesses. “Just a bit, just a little piece, so small you didn’t even notice.”
Peter feels faint. Light-fingered enough to steal the heart from a Gypsy’s chest, isn’t that a surprise. This is what being friendly gets you.
“I just wanted to know,” she continues. She’s weeping now, sobbing, white hair falling around her face like a curtain. “I thought I wanted to know.”
Shelley snaps Christina’s neck, but Roman is the one to eat her heart.
“Will it do anything?” Roman asks, holding it in his hand. It’s bloody red, and steam rises off it in the cold of the church.
“I don’t know.” Peter shrugs. He’s never heard of anything like this, any of this. Maybe they should ask Destiny.
Roman looks at it for a moment before holding it out towards Peter. “It’s yours. Sort of.”
It is, sort of. And probably wolf enough to not let it leave the room one way or another.
Peter closes his eyes. “You go ahead.” He pats his stomach, filled with his own heart and skin and guts, the ones he’s wearing now all shining and new from changing back. “I’m full up.”
He feels Roman hesitate. He doesn’t watch.
But he can still tell when Roman takes the first bite.