The Bearfield Baby Heist(4)

By: Jacqueline Sweet





He left Mina at home with a stack of baby books, two fresh bags of scones from Saturday, and a kiss on her lips. Matt needed to get some air, to check in with the Bearfielders, and to get some bear time. Because while the man who was Matt was anxious with thoughts of baby monitors and diaper changes and the proper way to swaddle a newborn, the bear that was Matt was full of a peaceful bliss.

Matt walked out of his home, the peaceful sounds of his cub still snoring inside his mate drifting on the breeze. He stripped down and folded his clothes into a backpack—a trick his brother Michael taught him—and shifted. Or rather, tried to shift. He focused and willed the change, the blurring of the edges between man and bear. But nothing came. His skin didn’t fizz. The light didn’t change as his eyes became more sharp. He didn’t feel the weight of the bear fall upon him like a winter coat.

Matt couldn’t shift.

He jumped up and down, shaking his hands like he was preparing for a race, and tried again. He could feel his bear inside, sleepy and warm and dreaming of honey-soaked apples. But he couldn’t shift.

Panic edged up Matt’s spine.

He quickly got dressed and drove into town to seek out expert help.

He found his brother, Marcus, in his usual booth at the the Gizzly Griddle diner. On the counter, near the cash register, a glass fishbowl had a photo of Matt and Mina smiling with the caption “Name our baby!” written on it. Matt flinched when he saw it.

“What’s this?” he asked. The fishbowl had twenty folded scraps of paper inside.

“It’s tradition,” the waitress, Crystal Rhodes, said. She wore a faded pink uniform, a white paper hat, and a tired expression. She and Matt had been in school together, but were not what you would call friends.

“I don’t remember a naming jar for your kids,” Matt swirled the bowl around, trying to peek at the names.

“Well, I didn’t have a shifter baby, did I?” Crystal said. The duh was implied. “Naming ceremonies are important. Your kid won’t just be yours, y’know? He’ll be a symbol for all of us. A reminder that the great bear spirit hasn’t forgotten our town and that prosperity will rain upon us.”

Matt looked around the diner. Besides him and Marcus, only two other customers were taking up seats, both of them old-timers. “Prosperity, huh?”

“Oh you be quiet, Matt Morrissey.”

“It’s a she, by the way.”

“What?”

“The baby. It’s going to be a girl?”

“How do you know that?” Crystal asked. “Did the ultrasound work this time?”

Matt shook his head. “No, but Mina feels it. A mother always knows.”

Crystal snorted. “I was so sure I was going to have girls both times that I didn’t even bother looking up boy names. Took us a month til after my little guy was born before we knew what to call him.”

“It’s a girl,” Matt said. Crystal hadn’t heard the certainty in Mina’s voice. He had. It was going to be a girl.

Matt grabbed a mug from off the diner counter and poured himself a cup of coffee while Crystal scowled at him. “Can I get a blueberry pie please?” he asked.

“One slice?”

“The whole pie, thank you.” His bear woke up at the sound of pie and yawned with excitement.

Matt took his coffee and squeezed into the corner booth opposite Marcus. His older brother was an enormous man, fierce and cranky. He held a newspaper out—the Bearfield Gazette—and in his massive hands it looked as small as a comic book.

Matt sipped his coffee.

Marcus read the paper.

Matt sipped louder.

Marcus read the paper.

Matt slurped his coffee in a long drawn out bubbling hiss until Marcus folded the paper and regarded him with suspicious eyes.

“You have a beard!” Matt yelled in shock.

“Woke up like this.” Marcus rubbed a hand against his jaw. A thick brown beard shot with red rustled under his fingers. “Mina okay?”

“Yeah, mostly. She’s not exactly ready to take it easy. And our little cub isn’t making it simple for her. She keeps getting these flashes of like super strength or enhanced senses. Like for a few seconds she’s becoming a shifter like us. The other night, while we were sleeping, her senses turned on and she made me go sleep outside. Said she could smell everything I’d eaten for the last week on my skin.”

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