“But I bet your sister doesn’t look like you tonight. Now I have to go to the drum.”
Mallory had expected a band with different instruments, drums among them. Instead, six boys and young men, aged about sixteen to twenty-five, sat in a circle, each with a drum made of wood and leather, some decorated with ribbon, some polished but plain, some painted with bears. At a signal from Cooper’s cousin, one of the young men gave a cry that startled Mallory with its tang of wild sweet mourning. Then all of the men joined in. There was a pattern to their cries and words, but it took time for Mallory to follow it. At first, all the words sounded like “Ay-ee, Ay-ee,” but gradually she heard other words, words that sounded like “token-ah-ah-ah” and “bree-ah-toe-ah.” The “Ay-ee” was the chorus, the part of the drumming that followed each stanza. When the last cry died away, there was a final thump of the drums.
“That was a song for the women, to ask them to bring the children up to be healthy and well,” Eden explained. “This next one is a lullaby. It’s about a baby who’s afraid his father won’t come home, but his mother is telling him the father has gone to find turtle shells and not to be afraid.”
Raina and the other younger girls began to beg, “Dance, Coop. Do the Southern Dance.”
“No way! I can’t! I play hockey now!”
“Come on!” Raina cried.
“I forgot how!” Cooper said modestly.
“Come on,” said the man called Ash. “It’s wrong not to honor your family on the time of your birthday.”
“Okay. Guilt always works. I’ll give it a try.”
Cooper began by trailing one arm before him as he swooped and turned. But quickly, the drumming increased in speed, and so did Cooper. His white boots, not like Eden’s but cowboy boots with heels, kicked and slid in intricate patterns that repeated, each time with a new variation and a speed that went faster, then faster still. Cooper’s two-step, one-step rhythm increased with it, and finally he leapt and whirled, ending with his clasped hands to his forehead.
The gathered crowd didn’t applaud but cried out their approval. Cooper shook his head and walked away.
“I can’t do it at all anymore,” he told Eden.
“Now we’ll dance,” Eden said. “Come on.” Mallory didn’t think she could stand. She imagined what she felt about Cooper was like being drunk. “This is called the friendship dance. It’s to welcome new wives and husbands, and new friends, like you.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Oh, it’s not like the men. It’s like a line dance. See, two steps, two steps, one and two. Two steps, two steps, turn and one and two.” To the slow beat, Mallory circled with Eden beside her and Eden’s littlest sister, the one everyone called Honeybee, behind her. She was so busy concentrating on her feet that she didn’t notice when Eden stepped into the center of the circle and with a sad, sweet smile on her face, swept her dress right and right, then left and left, reaching her hands up toward the stars, out toward the hills, and circling to encompass the ground. Mallory expected Eden’s mother to beam with pride, but Wenona looked as though she might cry. Mally stepped back, out of the light, and backed right into Cooper.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Excuse me. I got caught up in watching Eden.”
“She turns eighteen very soon. It’s her time,” Cooper said.
“She . . . you know about Eden.”
“I know some things.”
“You know about the lion.” Mallory tripped and Cooper caught her arm. A moment later, when he asked her to take a walk with him, she agreed without a word.
LAP BABY MOON
hey walked along the edge of the woods. Campbell had always told Mallory to trust the voice inside her in any situation, and Mallory felt nothing but safety from Cooper, despite what he’d just said.
When they stopped, Cooper faced her. “I know you’re close to Edensau. And so you know. My sister is in trouble. She loves a boy she can’t marry.”
The sweet smell of the pitch pine from the rows of silent trees that would fill the picture windows in Ridgeline and down in New Jersey and Manhattan was too intoxicating. Mallory couldn’t get enough of it. She kept sneaking glances at Cooper, still resplendent in his white jacket and leggings, and forgetting that she was supposed to talk. Even the way he brushed back his hair, long enough in back almost to touch the upper part of his shoulders, was like part of his dance.
Finally, Mally shook herself and spoke up in Eden’s defense. “I know she’s too young. But someday? There are Indians here with red hair. Somebody must have married
who isn’t all Cree.”
“Little one. You don’t get it. She can’t marry anyone.”
Mally stopped. They were almost out of earshot, the laughter and music of the powwow like the sound of a carnival far away. She stared up at Cooper. “She said that. I thought she was just mad at your parents. She didn’t mean it literally.”
“She did mean it. Mallory, my sister is our medicine woman.”
“It is a big deal. It’s the biggest deal. Her life is to be here, to advise and teach and see, for all of us.”
“How do you know?”
“What do you mean?” Cooper looked honestly puzzled.
“Did she get elected or something? Why not one of your other sisters? What do you have? Five?”
“She tells me what you see in your dreams.”
“That’s private!” Mallory told him.
“Not if it’s about her. She’s my sister,” Cooper said. “What if it were your sister?”
“I see what you mean. But . . . she tells you what I dream? About the . . .”
“The lion, yes,” Cooper said.
“This is way too serious a talk for two people who met fifteen minutes ago. And I wasn’t ready,” Mally said.
“I know. I’m sorry. But there’s no one else on earth I can talk to about it who won’t just say, ‘Oh well, it’s the law.’ And it’s getting to me. The lion is . . . is . . .”
“Don’t,” Mallory told him. “Just don’t.”
“Eden is the shape-shifter. She’s the one with the power. She was born that way. It’s her gift.”
“She told me about shape-shifting. She said it was an old myth.”
“It’s not,” Cooper told her gently. “It’s real. It’s her gift.”
“Not to her! I bet not to her! I have a gift too, and it’s no gift!”
“Nothing,” Mallory said bitterly. “What’s a shape-shifter?”
With one hand, Cooper indicated a place where they could sit. It was an old fire pit, surrounded on four sides by split-log seats. With a branch, Cooper swept one of the seats clean. Just one. Mallory had no choice but to sit down at his side. She could feel the heat of his arm next to hers.
After a moment of perusing the sky, Cooper said, “It’ll rain tomorrow. It’s already getting cool. We’re lucky it didn’t come tonight.”
Mallory shifted to face him. “We weren’t talking about the weather.”
Cooper answered, “I know. But I don’t want to talk about it any more than you want to hear about it.” He paused. “It’s enough to enjoy a beautiful night with a pretty girl when all you do is spend all your time cramped up in a dorm studying.” Mallory’s chest was still thrumming from his description of her as a pretty girl when Cooper said, “You know what a shape-shifter is.”
“No, I don’t.”
“If you don’t, then you won’t believe me.”
“Trust me,” Mallory said. “I’ll believe it. I could tell you things . . .”
“You could?” Cooper stood up. He studied the rising moon with its cloak of misty cloud over Mallory’s head. Then he sat back down, carefully taking one of Mally’s hands and holding it lightly in both of his. “Really? I thought there weren’t many others like us.”
“Like you . . . what?”
“You know . . . things regular people wouldn’t believe.”
Cooper looked hard at Mallory. “At the full moon, Eden changes, for three days, into her totem. And her totem animal . . .”
“It’s the lion.”
“Yes, Mallory. It’s our guide, our spirit animal.”
“And mine,” Mally said dully.
“She led me to see that a girl was going to be badly hurt. She probably saved my sister’s life last year. She’s probably been watching me since I was a child, or so it seems. I guess I was assigned to her by the stars. That’s probably the only reason she’s my friend.”
“She’s your friend because you make her laugh.”
Mallory smiled and said, “She said that? I don’t make most people laugh.”
“My sister says I’m the world’s biggest social zero. But I think most things kids do are dumb.”
“So do I.”
Both of them stood then. It seemed natural for Cooper to go on holding Mallory’s hand as they walked in silence for another few minutes toward the thick dark line of the trees. At last, Mallory said, “And I don’t do as much as other kids either, because of my
. It wears me out.”
“Tell me about it.”
Mally said, “You wouldn’t believe
Cooper smiled and reached out, hesitated for just a second, and then stroked Mally’s hair. “I see another reason you’re close to my sister. You have hair like Eden. You must be sisters in the spirit way.”
“Maybe,” Mallory said briefly, electrically aware that a boy was touching her, like a girl, for the first time. “So why can’t this just leave her alone?”
“Eden doesn’t want it, that’s for sure,” Cooper admitted.
“I don’t blame her,” Mallory cried, near to tears. “I don’t want what I have either. That’s why Eden missed the year of school. It wasn’t because of your little sister’s birth.”
“No, she had to take a year for her instruction and be with the women, the aunts from Canada and all over the country.”
Mally said, “Cooper. She doesn’t just not
it. She’s furious.”
“That’s why we’re talking about it.”
“No. It’s more than the gift itself. She thinks people at school believe she was left back. She doesn’t say it was because your mother was sick after Tanisi was born.” Tanisi was Eden’s three-year-old sister, who was born when Mrs. Cardinal was over forty. Mallory knew it was more dangerous for women that age; her mother always said so.
“She was sick, my mother, but part of the way that my sister helped her . . .”
“Was Indian superpowers?”
“Yes,” Cooper said. “Eden learned the words and motions. She made her own ceremonial clothing. She learned the prayers and the . . . things I don’t even know. She used the herbs for healing the spirit. She learned when she would change and how, and where to go when she did.”
“And lost a year of her life! Why didn’t she tell me the truth?” Mally asked. She looked back at the longhouse, listening to the laughter and the music, the joyful cries as more and more people arrived. All of it seemed false now, like a big, unkind joke on Eden.
Cooper asked, “How could she take a chance? She had to wonder. Would you still be her friend? Would you be scared?”
“No. My twin and I . . .”
“That’s right. You’re a twin. Of course. Eden writes about your sister too. That’s powerful medicine.”
“Whatever it is, it’s apparently part of our package. We can’t get rid of it. But I hate that this has to happen to Eden. She’s my . . . best friend.”
“She’s my best sister. I don’t like it much either. Are you cold? Do you want my vest?” Cooper asked. “You shivered.”
Mallory did want his vest, but with him inside it. She pushed the thought away and said, “I shivered but not because of the temperature of the air. It’s because, well, I already knew. I . . . can tell. Like intuition.”
Cooper said softly, “It’s more than that.”
“Yes. It’s more than that.”
“Eden is scared for you. And your sister. It’s a huge thing, having to know.”
“You bet it is,” said Mallory. “Every day, I wish I would wake up cured. If I had a . . . I don’t know what . . . a light sword or a wand and I could just banish the bad things . . . but I can’t. We can’t. We have to be this way our whole lives. I’m afraid too. I’m afraid for Eden.”
“I know she’s dangerous to James. I don’t know how.”
“I don’t either. I know he threatens our clan. But if he saw her change, it would be bad.”
“Bad luck?” Mallory asked.
“No,” Cooper said slowly, his hand on Mally’s shoulder. “She would have to kill him.”
LOOK BOTH WAYS
re you nuts?” Mallory measured the distance from where she and Cooper stood to the longhouse. She hadn’t felt this way since she and Merry faced David the first time in the deserted building site—where he threatened to break their arms or worse. Drew wouldn’t come barreling along to save her now. And then Mally measured her emotions, as Campbell had taught her, this time separating out her attraction to Cooper, which she couldn’t deny was making her breath come faster, against the fear his words kindled.
Cooper stood an appropriate distance from her, motionless. What he said about Eden, he said with infinite grief. Mally relaxed. “Kill James? I knew it was bad, but not this bad.”
“The shape-changer has to kill whoever might see her change shape. It’s the law.”
“I’ve heard all about
! At least mine,” Mally snapped. “And I think it’s bullshit, personally.”
“She has to, or the whole tribe is betrayed. We lose our medicine. We lose our power.”
“Power to what? Why should she give up her life for you guys?”
“Mallory, years ago, my auntie Abulay ran away. She gave up the power. And so we fell. The men died at sea. The fish didn’t come. We moved here from Canada, my mother and father and her sisters who were left. We started over. My older sister, Bly, is studying to be a doctor at Johns Hopkins. My brother Rayner is in law school. The kids will change the lives we live. That’s because of Eden’s medicine.”