The handsome interviewer smoothed his shiny red tie. “Says you’ve worked at the docks for practically your whole life,” he said, scanning Gwen’s resume on the other side of the desk. “That your crew unloads—whoa—a hundred ships a day? Is that true?”
Gwen nodded uneasily. Everything on her resume was indeed true, though nothing on it conveyed her growing distaste for the grotty dock work, or her panging desire for a more refined career. Not to mention that she had strategically left certain things off, such as her foster-care homeschooling and also, of course, her werewolfism. She was a lonesome species of one, as far as she knew, and not for lack of searching.
“Dang, you must be tough. But so now you want to switch to office work?”
“Yes, but only at a fashion company,” Gwen said, trying to put some spunk into her voice. “I want to make something beautiful.” Here, too, she was omitting things. This was her last hope; all the other fashion companies had denied her an interview. She felt itchy and even gawkier than usual. Her desperation was like a filthy, ill-fitting coat.
“Thing is, Ms. Keener, this is entry-level. A big pay cut, probably.”
“Oh, I don’t mind starting at the bottom. I love fashion, especially paisley.”
The interviewer smirked. “Yeah, your outfit makes that pretty clear.”
Gwen winced. She had hoped that the vintage dress, a yellow paisley seersucker, would make her stand out; now she saw that it made her look foolish. “Well, but not just paisley,” she said, panicking, “but also stripes and madras and polka dots and just, you know, everything. I’ve actually sketched some designs myself, I’d be happy to email—”
“Look, Ms. Keener. I appreciate your coming in. But I don’t think you’d fit here.”
Gwen sensed that this wasn’t open for debate. Shock enveloped her, then anger.
Vile man. There had been no mention of her looks, or her age, but she felt certain that if she were a wispy young girl, instead of a mannish middle-aged woman, the job would be hers. On a pretty girl, the paisley dress would be judged adorably kooky. She considered going with the flow of her anger and transforming. Give him a fright he’d never forget. But what the hell good would it do? Her life would still be stuck in grotty waters. Anger melted into sorrow. The interviewer shook Gwen’s hand, then led her out of his office and through an open workspace, where brightly dressed young people sat at sleek desks happily working on sketchpads and computers, then left her in the empty reception area. Exhausted, breathless, Gwen sank into a couch and stared at the floor, woozily reflecting.
Her life was letdowns. After the orphanage, she had lived in a trailer with a foster mother, who showered her with love for one sweet year and made her feel like a smelly worthless burden for the following six. To earn money for her own apartment, as well as to save for design school, she had started working at the docks, where they paid well and promised to give her days off for classes but never actually did. Best cherished plans! Ruined like moth-ravaged silk. Craving love, she had recently asked out a hardware store manager, who gave her two quenching weeks of happiness but then dumped her because, no offense, but he wanted a girlier girl, which was far from the first time she’d heard that.
The interviewer appeared in the doorway, scowling. “You’re still here?”
“Just resting,” Gwen said, peeved but trying to stay calm. “I just needed a—”
“Ms. Keener, go home. Please. I mean, this isn’t, like, a bus station.”
Screw it. Gwen let herself transform. Her chest bulged and furrified. Her dress fell off in paisley shreds. Gasping, the interviewer stepped back and slammed the door. Gwen smacked it off its hinges with her huge black claws, then entered the hall and cornered him, snouty-fanged and sniffing hotly. When he buried his face in the wall, moaning, skin reeking fear, Gwen felt only mildly satisfied. The power to scare was the paltriest gift. Turning away, dropping down to all fours, she lunged back into the reception area and then, smashing through the glass door, out into the parking lot. Dusted with glass specks, thumping with sick emotion, she darted past her car and made for the nearby forest.
It was a day Gwen knew might come. The day she exposed herself and had to leave the human world forever. Not even her vile foster mother had known her secret. The forest as she plunged through it was like a dark musky vortex. She passed a pack of lazing wolves, who glared at her with drooling, teeth-baring contempt. This stung but was no surprise; wolves had never liked her either. Her conception, her birth, had been nothing but a cruel blunder. So she would go to the field above the cliff to live. Or not live? Oh, God. She had so much love in her heart, for fashion, for art, for music, but these things were at the margins of her life and she had lost hope that they would ever be at the center. Tears blurred her vision. It was just so confusing—to love pretty things and not be pretty, to feel frilly and look brutely. Her paws tramped on mulchy ground. Her lungs burned. In the distance, the sunny clearing appeared. As she raced toward the cliff’s edge, she felt a clutching sorrow but also a swelling relief that, at long last, home was near.