“It was the fifteenth of June when she walked in my life. It was the first time someone said hello with her eyes.”
I’d had my eye on her ever since I’d first seen her face in a headshot. “Wow, she’s gorgeous!” I’d said, as I pulled the eight by ten glossy across the table toward me. She looked like Pam Anderson in her picture, but she was even prettier in person.
When our director, Nigel, brought her over to meet me on the day of our video shoot, my heart skipped a beat. Granted, that may have been because it was grossly enlarged and in need of surgical repair, but I’d like to think it was because, deep down, I already knew she was the one – the woman I would one day marry.
“Brian, this is one of the models, Leighanne Wallace,” Nigel introduced her, and I immediately let go of my basketball. It bounced right off my toe and rolled away as I reached out to shake her hand, oblivious to the pain.
“Hi, I’m Brian,” I said, and she smiled.
“It’s so nice to meet you!” she chirped back. Her voice was girlish and sweet, with a light Southern lilt.
“You sound like a Southern gal,” I said, exaggerating my own Kentucky drawl so that I sounded like some antebellum plantation owner. Then I raised my eyebrows at her. “Am I right?”
She blushed and ducked her chin, embarrassed. “You called it. Marietta, Georgia – born and raised. I’ve been tryin’ to lose the accent; my acting coach says it’s harder to get roles when you have an accent.”
“Aw, it’s not that noticeable. I could just tell ‘cause I’m a Southerner myself – Lexington, Kentucky.” I smiled proudly, but Leighanne scoffed.
“Kentucky? Why, that hardly counts as the South, mister. Where were y’all during the war for Southern independence?”
I blinked. “You mean the Civil War?” I suddenly pictured this petite, pretty blonde driving a big pick-up truck with the Confederate flag emblazoned across the back and a horn that whistled “Dixie,” like in Dukes of Hazzard. My eyes must have gotten wide because she burst out laughing.
“Relax, I’m kidding!” She rested her hand on my arm, and my heart reacted again. So she wasn’t just a beautiful blonde with big boobs – she had a sense of humor, too! I was quickly realizing that I may have just met my ideal woman.
“Oh, good,” I said, grinning at her like a total goon, I’m sure.
She smiled back and winked at me. “It’s nice to know I’m not the only Southerner on the set.”
“You’re not. Kevin over there’s from Kentucky, too.” I pointed him out. “He’s my cousin. I’ve known him all my life.” That was Kevin’s line, but I had to steal it that time; I couldn’t think of anything else to say! Besides, it made more sense when I said it, since Kevin really hasn’t known me all his life, seeing as how he’s three years older and all.
“I’m lookin’ forward to meetin’ the rest of the group. Care to introduce me?”
I didn’t want to share her, but, figuring I should be polite, I said, “Sure!” and offered her my arm. I guess I was trying to woo her with the whole “Southern gentleman” act.
She hooked her arm through my elbow, and I walked her around the set, introducing her to the other guys. They were all real friendly to her, except for Nick, who barely stopped bouncing my basketball long enough to look up at her face. All he said to her was “’Sup?” I guess he was pouting because I’d stopped playing with him to go talk to her. He had enjoyed having me all to himself ever since I’d gotten dumped by my last girlfriend, Samantha.
I wasn’t looking to get into another relationship so soon after our break-up, but there was something special about Leighanne. Wanting to know more about her, I said, “Well, since it looks like neither of us are needed on set anytime soon, you wanna check out the catering table?”
This was a test as much as it was an excuse to talk to her. I was curious to see if she’d be like the other models I knew and barely eat a thing. I grew up on good, Southern home cooking, and I like a girl who can not only cook, but eat what she cooks! So I was relieved when Leighanne smiled and said, “Sure!”
We walked over to spread of food that had been set out for us. I grabbed a couple of plates and handed her one, letting her go through the buffet line first. I was happy to see her fill her plate, and not just with fruit and vegetables. We sat down on the curb and watched while the crew finished dressing the outdoor set. As we made small talk, I watched her work her way through the food on her plate, polishing off just about all of it. I had a good feeling about her and was happy with the way things were going so far.
And then I made a fateful mistake.
While I was looking down at the plate perched on her lap, I happened to notice the sunlight shining off some fine, blonde stubble on her knees. And before I could stop myself, I blurted, “Oh my god, your knees are so hairy!”
Leighanne looked down at her legs, then up at me. She laughed, but I could tell she was embarrassed. Her cheeks were bright pink. “Well, thanks for pointing that out!” she said sarcastically. “I usually don’t shave ‘em cause the hair’s so blonde, it’s hard to see. At least, I thought it was.” She looked mortified. I’d sure put my foot in my mouth that time. I was about to apologize, when she suddenly stood up. “Well, I should go see if they need me in wardrobe soon. Catch ya later.” Then she stalked off, pitching her plate into the trash with way more force than necessary.
Way to go, Brian, I scolded myself, my shoulders slumping. She’d barely given me a chance, and I’d already blown it with her. I sighed. So much for that…
After shooting all day, I left the set late that night with her number written on a piece of paper in my pocket, but I knew she’d only given it to me because I asked, not because she wanted to. I’d made sure she had my number, too, but I doubted she would call. She’d probably already ripped it up, laughing at what an ass I was.
Lying awake in bed, I sighed to myself as I replayed our conversation in my mind over and over again. What had possessed me to say something like that to her? I wished I could take it back, but it was too late. She had already seen how immature I was. Who was I kidding? Leighanne Wallace was way too much woman for me.
But still, even when I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
She was still on my mind the next morning, when we boarded our tour bus and set off for wherever our next show was. I didn’t care where we were going; I just wished I could leave my thoughts of Leighanne behind. But she stayed with me the whole way.
“Where the heck are we anyway?” I wondered as I looked out my window. It was already getting dark, but we didn’t appear to be anywhere near a city. We were driving down a winding road with thick woods on both sides. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d seen another car go by.
No one answered me. None of the guys seemed to know either. Maybe we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. I hoped we weren’t lost.
All of a sudden, I heard a sputtering sound, as the bus started to slow down. “Are we there?” I heard AJ ask hopefully, as I looked out the window again. I still saw nothing but trees.
“We can’t be.” Kevin was frowning. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Do you think the bus broke down again?” Howie wondered.
Nick looked worried. “Maybe we ran out of gas!”
“We didn’t run out of gas, Nick. The bus driver wouldn’t let that happen.” Kevin got up. “I’m gonna go check and see what the deal is.”
We watched him walk up to the front of the bus, leaving us to speculate amongst ourselves as to what the problem could be. When Kevin came back, his face looked grim. He sighed and said, “You were right, Howie. The bus broke down. Looks like we’re not goin’ anywhere for awhile, fellas.”
“Aww, man, not again!” whined Nick.
“Well, I dunno about you all, but I’m sick and tired of being on this bus. I’m getting out!” AJ announced.
“Me too!” Nick quickly followed his lead, and since Nick was going, I decided to get off the bus, too. Kevin and Howie could have taken advantage of the situation and stayed behind to enjoy some peace and quiet on the bus for once, but I guess they didn’t want to be left alone, or maybe they just thought we needed supervision. In any case, they got off, too. Soon all five of us were standing around on the side of the road, watching our driver fumble under the hood of the bus.
Howie tried to call for help on his cell phone, but he couldn’t get a signal in the middle of the woods. Meanwhile, Kevin kept making suggestions for how to fix the bus, none of which were remotely helpful, since Kevin didn’t really know anything about engines. Nick and AJ and I were just goofing off, playing hide-and-seek among the trees with the bus as base, and I guess the driver got sick of listening to us all because he finally said, “Look! Let’s just find somewhere to shack up for the night, and we’ll get it fixed in the morning.”
Kevin’s caterpillar eyebrows furrowed as he frowned. “But that’s gonna throw our whole schedule off. We’ll never make the next show if we wait till morning to get back on the road.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but havin’ ya’ll out here ain’t helpin’ anything,” said the driver, sounding annoyed.
“Well, where are we going to stay? We don’t even know where we are.”
“We’ll walk until we find somewhere.” The driver took charge, clapping his hands together. “C’mon, boys, grab your bags. We’re goin’!”
There was a lot of complaining as we set off down the road. It got darker and darker the further we went, and the woods started to feel more and more dangerous. Without a flashlight, I actually found myself getting a little spooked. I stayed close to the other guys and jumped at small noises. Why we couldn’t have just spent the night on the bus, I don’t know, but we trudged on until we came to a clearing in the woods.
We all stopped and stared up at the large, scary-looking castle that loomed ahead of us, high on a hill. What was a castle doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere? I wondered, but no one questioned it. It was the first sign of civilization we’d seen in miles, so we started walking towards it without a word of protest. It was only once we got closer to the castle that the complaints started up again.
“I can’t believe this happened!” Nick cried, raking his hands through his hair. “This is the second time the bus broke down!”
“That ain’t my fault,” said the driver, pushing open a pair of double doors.
We stood in the doorway, looking into a large, empty ballroom. I had a bad feeling about this place. I was beginning to see that Kevin was right. “Yo, we’re never gonna make the show.”
“No, wait, I’ll try to get a hold of management,” Howie said, getting out his phone again. Maybe he would finally get a signal now that we were somewhere. Then again, I wasn’t sure this place even had electricity, let alone a cell tower nearby.
We were all talking at once, while the driver just stood there, smoking his cigar. I guess we were stressing him out. “It ain’t my fault,” he kept saying, but no one was listening to him anymore. Finally, he raised his voice over all of ours and shouted, “LOOK!” That got our attention. “The bus broke down. I’ll get it fixed,” he promised. “Y’all just chill here for a-”
That was when we erupted in protests again. “No way, I’m not staying here! This place is creepy!” Howie exclaimed, which was what we all must have been thinking.
“Look, look!” The driver held up his hands in defense. “I’ll be back… Backstreet!” While we were still rolling our eyes at his really bad pun, he stuck his cigar in his mouth, turned around, and left!
We watched him walk away, then looked at each other worriedly, all of us wondering the same thing. Should we go after him? Or should we stay there and wait? We were all tired of walking, but what if he didn’t come back?
Kevin glanced at his watch, squinting to see the numbers in the dark. “Look, it’s getting late, fellas,” he said finally. “I don’t think it’s safe to keep walking through the woods in the dark. Let’s just stay here and try to get some sleep. I’m sure he’ll find some help and have us out of here first thing in the morning.”
No one seemed to like his idea much, but what else were we going to do? Howie still couldn’t find a signal on his phone, and Kevin was right about us walking in the woods. We really had no choice but to stay. So we went inside, still hoping we might find someone who could help us.
“Hello?” we called, as we walked slowly through the castle, staying close together. But it soon became clear that no one had lived there for a long time. The place was dark and deserted, with cobwebs in every corner and a thick layer of dust covering all the furniture. At least there was furniture. We would all have a place to sleep.
I almost wished there weren’t so many rooms. I would have rather shared a bed with Nick than slept alone, but somehow I found myself stuck in a musty-smelling bedroom with creepy, cobwebby, stuffed animals – as in, real animals, not the teddy bear kind – staring down at me from the walls. There was no way I was getting any sleep in that room, but I knew I should at least try, so I turned down the covers and reluctantly crawled into the ragged canopy bed.
It had started to storm outside. I could hear the wind raging outside my window. I lay awake, listening to the rain and wishing I was anywhere else, except still walking in the woods. I wondered if our bus driver was still out there somewhere. I hoped he had made it to safety before the storm started.
Even with all those worries on my mind, as I closed my eyes, I couldn’t help but picture Leighanne. It was her smiling face that finally soothed me to sleep.
I woke suddenly in the middle of the night with the feeling that something was very wrong. I felt itchy, like my skin was crawling with spiders. I sat up quickly and started to brush off my arms, but instead of bugs, I felt… hair? Gasping, I looked down at myself. I was covered in fur! At first, I thought one of those creepy animals on the wall must have shed all over me in my sleep, but when I tried to wipe off the hair, I realized it was coming out of my own skin. It was mine!
I scrambled out of bed and stumbled across the moonlit room to a standing mirror in the corner. Wiping away a layer of dust and grime, I leaned closer to look at my reflection. What I saw made me jump back in horror. That couldn’t be me. The man in the mirror wasn’t a man at all…
He was a monster!
But it was me. Looking down at my body, I couldn’t deny it. I dared myself to take another look. Swallowing hard, I steeled myself, then stepped in front of the mirror again. My heart raced as I stared at my reflection. I was covered in brown hair, from head to foot. My blue eyes shone from the center of my furry face, wide and scared, the only thing human about me. My mouth hung open, exposing sharp, yellow fangs.
I was the monster.
How had this happened? My mind raced, as I looked at my surroundings. This house had to be haunted or something. But could a ghost cover me in fur and turn me into a… a werewolf… or… whatever I was? How did I get to be so hairy?
I gasped, as a thought occurred to me. I heard myself telling Leighanne, “Oh my god, your knees are so hairy!” And suddenly, I knew. I wasn’t being haunted…
I had been cursed.
“She did this!” I said out loud. Well, at least I still sounded like me. “She placed a curse on me, to get back at me for calling her hairy! She’s some kind of… enchantress!”
In my mind’s eye, I could picture Leighanne laughing when she got a good look at me. “Who’s the hairy one now?” she would say, with a smile and a wink.
I shook my head. What was I supposed to do? There was no way I could shave all this off. And my fangs… I couldn’t just file down those bad boys! I buried my furry face in my hands – no, paws – and growled with frustration. Then I did the only thing that seemed natural: I threw back my head and let out a long howl.
That felt good.
I didn’t stop to question how Leighanne could have cursed me. I just wanted to find out how to break the curse! But I’d seen movies like this before…
“I just have to find someone to fall in love with me,” I told myself, brightening. That seemed simple enough; there were lots of girls who loved me. “Someone who can look past the fur and fangs and see me for the man I am on the inside.” Then again… maybe not so simple.
I sighed, as despair started to set in. How was I ever going to find someone who would love me while I looked like this? No one would even recognize me as Brian from the Backstreet Boys with this hair all over my body. My situation was hopeless.
But I had to do something. I couldn’t keep pacing back and forth in this creepy bedroom all night; it would drive me crazy! I already felt like bouncing off the walls. I wondered if any of the guys were still awake. Maybe they’d be able to help somehow… once I managed to convince them I wasn’t going to rip out their throats with my teeth. With that thought in mind, I left the room and wandered down the darkened hall. Then, when I got tired of wandering, I did a few back flips. Hey, the hallway was empty! Or, at least, I thought it was.
I rounded a corner, and that was when I ran into Howie. He was just standing out in the middle of the hallway with his arm around a strange girl in a red dress. “Howie?” I said in surprise, forgetting that I didn’t look like myself. But I wasn’t the only one. Howie looked different, too. His hair seemed to have grown at least a foot overnight; it hung past his shoulders in long waves. His skin was suddenly paler than mine. And his teeth! He, too, was sporting a pair of pointed fangs up top. “Howie, what happened to you?” I gasped. “And… what are you wearing?”
Howie removed his top hat and took a bow, his long black overcoat swinging as he swept his cane in front of him. “Do you like it?” he asked, once he straightened up. His voice sounded silky and seductive. He gave me a smoldering look from the shadow of his top hat as he replaced it on his head. If it hadn’t been for the girl at his side, I would have thought he was hitting on me.
I shook my head. “I don’t get it. What’s happened to us? And… and who is that?” I pointed to the brunette.
“Brian, meet Bella,” he said. I relaxed a little when he said my name. At least he recognized me! “Bella went for a hike in the woods and got lost. She’s going to be staying with us for awhile… as long as she likes.” There was a strange gleam in his eyes as he said that. He leaned down, bringing his fangs dangerously close to her exposed neck.
“Ooh, a vampire and a werewolf?” Bella gave a little shudder of pleasure. “This just keeps getting better and better!”
But for me, it just kept getting worse and worse. Unable to find any of the other guys upstairs, I went down a servants’ staircase in the back. I thought it would take me to the ground level, but instead, I found myself underground, in a creepy basement that looked more like a dungeon. I could hear water dripping as I wandered through a dark passageway, looking around at the moldy, stone walls. It was drafty down there, but it was more than the cold that made me shiver. The sickly sweet stench of decay filled my nostrils, and I knew I didn’t want to go any farther down the passageway. I was about to turn around and go back upstairs, when I heard a familiar cackle.
I froze. The sound had come from somewhere deep in the bowels of the dungeon, but I’d know that laugh anywhere. “Nick?” I called.
“Brian?” his voice shouted back. “That you?”
My heart lifted with relief. “Yeah! It’s me! Where are you?”
“In here! C’mere, bro!”
I followed the sound of Nick’s voice into a small chamber off the main passageway. There, in the doorway, I stopped dead in my tracks and stared. “Nick!” I cried. “What are you doing?!”
He was wrapped in bandages from head to toe, his face barely visible through the criss-crossing layers of dirty white cloth. With him was not just one, but two girls, both wrapped up like mummies as well. Nick looked up at me and laughed. “Hey, you’re just in time for the striptease!” He giggled and spun around, while one of the girls started to unwrap his bandages. “I like the new look, by the way,” he added, staggering around dizzily.
I shook my head. “What the heck is going on here?! How did this happen?”
“Well, I was just sleeping in my sarcophagus here,” Nick said, flinging his hand casually toward a big, stone coffin that stood in the corner, “when I woke up to the sound of these two girls calling for help. I guess they came across this castle while they were out in the woods. They were cold, so I covered them up with these bandages and invited them to stay. And now we’re in love! Love you, Neferrari!” He leaned over and kissed one of the girls on the lips. “Love you, too, Necrofiti!” Then he kissed the other one.
I blinked. “C’mon, Nick, you can’t love two girls at the same time!”
He just shrugged his bandaged shoulders. “Why not? The ancient Egyptians practiced polygamy.”
“You’re not an ancient Egyptian, Nick! You’re not a mummy, and I’m not a werewolf! We’re Backstreet Boys, not monsters!”
Nick looked at me and laughed. “Um, I’m pretty sure you are a werewolf, bro. Have you seen yourself in a mirror lately?”
I growled with rage, wanting to rip all my hair out. Why wasn’t he freaking out like I was?
“Yo, Brian, calm down, man! It’s all good!” Nick insisted, patting my shoulder with his bandaged hand. “You just need to find yourself a girl or two so you can chill out and enjoy this. It’s fun being a monster – you’ll see!”
I shook my head. “Are you kidding me? I’ll never find a girl who would want to be a guy who looks like this. You said it yourself – have you seen me lately?”
“Don’t give up hope, Frick. You’ll find someone. I know you will.” Nick smiled, stretching the bandages on his face. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get unwrapped. We’re gonna play a little game of ‘Mummy, May I?’” I couldn’t see his eyebrows through the bandages, but I could tell they were waggling underneath.
I rolled my eyes. “Sure, whatever, Nick. Have fun,” I muttered and walked away.
I went back upstairs to the main level, where I did a few more back flips across the ballroom. My body had never been stronger, and suddenly, I had this amazing agility. Might as well use it to my advantage, right? But I wasn’t having any fun. I was even more freaked out than before.
I flipped into the dining room, and that was where I found AJ. To my astonishment, he was sitting at the head of a long table, surrounded by not just one, not just two or three, but four lovely ladies in beautiful red and black ball gowns. Compared to Nick and Howie, he looked relatively normal, except for the fact that he was wearing a silver mask across the left side of his face. The skin underneath was badly scarred, like he’d been burned or something.
“Bone?” I asked. “What happened to your face?”
AJ looked up. “Oh, hey, Rok!” he said jovially. “Wanna join us for dinner? Sit down!” He gestured to an empty seat at the other end of the table.
I shook my head. “No, thanks. I’m not hungry.”
“Really? You look like you’re ready to rip into a side of beef with those teeth of yours.”
I sighed. “That’s not funny, AJ. Why are you guys all treating this like it’s a joke, like it’s all one big party? We’ve clearly been cursed! Why am I the only one who seems to care?”
AJ snorted. “Who said anything about a curse? I mean, look at me, dude!” He put his hands over his heart, then made a sweeping gesture around the room. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m surrounded by beautiful women. What more could a guy want?”
“Well, look at me!” I shouted, flecks of spit flying from my mouth. It was really hard to talk with those big fangs in the way. “What woman’s going to want to be with me?”
AJ’s scarred face softened. “Aw, Brian… is that what this is about? Listen, I know how you’re feeling. I was worried my face would get in the way of finding true love,” he said, gesturing to his mask, “but it didn’t. In fact, I found it four times over!” He grinned around the table at all the ladies, who batted their eyelashes and beamed back at him. It was sickening. “Or, maybe I should say, love found me,” he amended. “I didn’t go looking for it. These ladies were just lost in the woods and found this place, and well… the rest is history, right, girls?”
The girls giggled, while I rolled my eyes. “We’ve only been here for a few hours! How can you possibly be in love? With four women, nonetheless?” This was a rhetorical question, of course; I knew AJ would go for any woman with a pulse.
“You just have to stop looking for love and let it find you,” AJ insisted, completely ignoring my questions. I gave up. As I walked away, I heard him call after me, “Hey, some chicks dig hairy guys!”
I had one last hope, and that was Kevin. Why I didn’t just go looking for him first, I don’t know. Kevin always knew how to solve our problems; he could fix anything. Assuming he was as cursed as the rest of us, he was probably already wearing a hole in the carpet as he paced back and forth, trying to figure out how to get us out of this one. I knew he would understand. He would be able to help me.
I found him sitting at an ornate desk in a room that looked like a library, with walls of floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books. He was wearing glasses and holding a briefcase, which I found odd, but otherwise, he didn’t look any different. Was it possible he hadn’t been cursed like the rest of us? I approached him carefully, clearing my throat to announce my presence. I didn’t want to scare him. “Hey, Kev,” I said quietly. “It’s me… Brian.”
He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, without turning his head toward me. I expected him to react with shock when he caught sight of all the fur, to gasp and fall out of his chair or something, but he didn’t even do a double take. Instead, he just said, “Oh, hey, Brian,” quite normally.
“Kevin… the rest of the guys and I… we’ve been cursed! Do you see that I look like now?”
Slowly, he turned his head to look at me directly, but when I saw his face from the front, I was the one who gasped and nearly fell over. “Kevin!” I cried. “What the heck!”
“Kevin isn’t here right now,” he said in this weird, nasally, high-pitched voice, as he spun around in his chair, flinging his briefcase to the floor. I stared at the right side of his face in profile. While the left side had looked totally normal, the right side appeared almost reptilian, with scaly blue-green skin. He reached out with one bony, green finger and poked at the spine of one of the books. The book seemed to disappear into the wall, and suddenly, the whole bookcase shifted, sliding sideways to reveal a hidden doorway, through which I could see a small room with bright green walls.
Kevin rolled his chair backward into the room, and I followed, not sure what else to do. Looking around, I realized it was some kind of laboratory. There was strange equipment all over the walls and around the room. “What is this place?” I wondered aloud. “Kevin, will you please tell me what’s going on?!”
At the sound of his name, Kevin hissed like a cat, taking a swipe at me with his long fingers curved like claws. Then his head suddenly whipped to the side, and I caught sight of the half of his face that was still human-looking. With his left hand shaking, he reached out and picked up a beaker of something green and bubbling off the lab table. I watched in horror as he raised it to his lips, threw his head back, and downed half of it.
“Sorry about that,” he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve and setting the beaker back down. From the left side, he looked totally normal again. He sounded like himself again, too. Looking around the laboratory, he suddenly asked, “Where’s Becky?”
I blinked. “Becky?”
“Yeah – Becky!” His left eye grew wide, his heavy eyebrow hitching itself high up on his forehead. “She didn’t leave, did she?” he said in a panic. “She promised she would stay here forever! She was the only one who loved me for me – the real me, not my… darker side…”
“Hang on, man, who’s Becky?”
He was still looking all around, frantic. “Becky, she’s my… my…” Suddenly, he gasped and started to charge toward me. Fearing I was about to be tackled – and I knew what that felt like, being the younger cousin of a former high school football star – I jumped out of the way, but Kevin didn’t change his course at all. Instead, he rushed right past me, back into the library, and dropped to his knees on the floor, scooping up the – “…briefcase,” he whispered, stroking the side of the briefcase in a way that I could only describe as sensual.
I stared down at him in total bewilderment. “Huh?”
He brought his lips down to the smooth leather and gave it a kiss. “Oh, Becky,” he moaned. “You had me so worried, baby. I thought you’d left.” He held the briefcase up in front of his face, I guess so he could make out with it for a few more seconds.
“Kevin, what the-?”
Then he lowered the briefcase, and I found myself looking at his monstrous right side again. “No!” he hissed, in that weird, high-pitched voice again. “It is Kevin who keeps leaving! I am here to stay, a-ha-ha-ha!”
Oh, my sweet Jesus, I thought, as I backed away slowly, watching him with wide eyes. My cousin’s gone crazy!
I turned and ran from the room. Fearing Kevin would come after me, I raced back to the ballroom and made a beeline for the double doors. Cursed or not, I couldn’t stay in that creepy castle another minute! I pushed on one of the doors, but it didn’t budge, so I tried the other one. It, too, seemed to be stuck. Maybe I had to pull? I looked around, but there was no handle. So I started banging on both doors, throwing my body weight against them in an effort to force them open. But it was no use. The whole castle was under the curse, and apparently, we weren’t allowed to leave.
Pressing my back against the doors, I slid slowly down to the floor and raked my claws through the fur on the top of my head. What was I going to do? Stay like this forever? I couldn’t stand the idea of spending the rest of my life living in this castle full of girl-crazy – or, in Kevin’s case, just plain crazy – monsters, trapped in a werewolf’s body. I had to do something to break the curse.
Then I remembered what AJ had told me: “You just have to stop looking for love and let it find you.”
I suddenly thought of Leighanne, the way she had walked into my life so unexpectedly. I hadn’t been looking for her. It was her picture that had appeared on that table in front of me, like it was just meant to be. We could have had something special. Why had I gone and screwed it up?
That’s it, I thought. I just need to fix it! Do some damage control, apologize, and get her to fall in love with me. That should break the curse!
For a moment, I got excited, and then, just as quickly, I fell into despair again, as I realized how much easier this was said than done. I didn’t even know how to contact Leighanne. If I couldn’t leave the castle, how was I supposed to get in touch with her?
Then I remembered the little piece of paper I’d left in my pocket the night before. I patted my paw against my pants, feeling my heart leap with joy when I heard the paper crinkle. Lucky I’d put on the same pair of pants as yesterday! I pulled the scrap of paper out carefully, trying not to rip it with my claws. I unfolded it, and there I found Leighanne’s phone number, written in a round, girlish hand. But how was I going to call her? The only one of us who had a cell phone was Howie, and he hadn’t been able to get a signal.
I knew I had to try. It was my last hope. So I went back upstairs and asked Howie if I could borrow his phone. He had Bella wrapped up in his arms, his head buried in her neck, and barely replied, but he did reach down and fumble around in the front pocket of his overcoat until he found his phone. “Thanks!” I said, as he handed it to me without a word.
I backflipped back downstairs and stood in the middle of the ballroom, holding the phone up high over my head in hopes of getting a signal. When I brought it back down to check, there were still no signal bars, but I was desperate. I figured it was worth a try. If there was even the slightest signal, I might have had a shot at getting through. So I carefully and deliberately dialed each digit of Leighanne’s number with the tip of one claw, since my paws were too big and clumsy to punch it in quickly like I normally would have. Then I brought the phone up to my pointed ear.
I didn’t hear any ringing, but I did hear a click, followed by what could have been breathing. “Leighanne?” I said hopefully, but there was no answer. I sighed. “Leighanne, it’s me, Brian. Brian Littrell. Look, if you’re there… if you can hear me… I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for what I said yesterday, about your knees bein’ hairy. I didn’t mean anything bad by it – in fact, I found it sorta sexy! I know that must sound like I’m feedin’ you a line, but I swear, I’m not just sayin’ that. I like a girl who’s not too high-maintenance, you know? I think you’re absolutely beautiful on the outside, and that may have been what attracted me to you in the first place, but after I got to talkin’ to you yesterday, I realized I liked your personality, too. I kinda thought we clicked, up until… well… you know. Before you walked away, I was even thinkin’ of askin’ you out. But I never got the opportunity, so I’m askin’ you now… please, give me another chance. I swear I won’t screw it up this time.”
I swallowed hard so I wouldn’t drool, my teeth getting in the way of what I wanted to tell her. But what was the point? She wasn’t saying anything back. She probably wasn’t even on the other end of the line.
“Well…” I said. “I guess that’s all I wanted to say. I hope you’ll take it into consideration.”
Then I slowly lowered the phone, feeling like I’d gotten nowhere. I didn’t even know if I’d gotten through. With a dejected sigh, I trudged back upstairs to give Howie back his phone. Then I turned right around and headed downstairs again, figuring I’d try to kick down the doors this time. I didn’t know what else to do. But at the top of the staircase, I stopped dead in my tracks and stared.
She was standing in the doorway, looking radiant in a gold ball gown that made her long, blonde hair shine like rays of sunlight. As I stood there, stunned by her sudden appearance, she started gliding across the floor. I came to my senses and raced to the bottom of the stairs. We met in the center of the ballroom.
“Leighanne,” I whispered, holding out my hands – no, paws. I expected her to recoil in disgust, but she didn’t. Instead, she reached out and rested her delicate hands in mine. I wrapped my massive paws around them, being careful not to scratch her with my claws. “You got my message, then?” I couldn’t help but ask.
She just smiled and winked. “Let’s dance.”
I was suddenly aware of soft violin music playing from somewhere overhead. I looked up, and there were Howie, Nick, AJ, and Kevin, lined up across the balcony. They still looked like monsters, but they didn’t sound that way when they started to sing.
“Tale as old as time… tune as old as song… bittersweet and strange, finding you can change… learning you were wrong…”
Leighanne was petite, but she fit perfectly in my arms. I spun her around the ballroom, surprisingly light on my furry feet. Her gown gleamed in the candlelight, looking like pure, molten gold as it flowed across the dance floor.
“Certain as the sun… rising in the east… tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme… beauty and the beast…”
I bent her backwards over my arm, dipping her almost to the floor, until she was breathless with laughter. “Pull me back up, Brian Littrell!” she gasped, playfully slapping my arm.
“Sorry,” I said, with a wolfish grin, as I brought her back to her feet. “For everything.”
“Everything?” She smiled up at me, batting her long eyelashes.
“Everything,” I repeated. “Look, Leighanne, the truth is… I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or how hairy your knees are, as long as you love me. Or, at least, you know, kinda like me a little.” I flashed her a big grin, forgetting about my frighteningly large fangs.
To my relief, she laughed. Then, before I knew what was happening, she rose up on her toes, wrapped her arms around me, and kissed me full on the lips.
I was so surprised that I kept my eyes open at first, but a few seconds in, I let them close, relaxing into the kiss.
When I opened them again, everything had changed.
With a gasp, I sat bolt upright in bed. I ran my hands frantically up and down my bare arms, relieved to find them smooth and almost hairless. Then, holding them up, I realized my hands were actually hands again – normal, human hands, not paws! I looked at them and then down at the rest of myself. I was wearing the same black tank top I’d gone to bed in the night before, and all I saw in the places it didn’t cover was skin. No fur… just skin.
Someone was knocking on the door. I looked around, realizing I was still in my hotel room in Los Angeles, not some creepy castle in the middle of nowhere. The bus had never broken down. We weren’t even on tour. The whole thing had been a dream.
Sighing with relief, I scrambled out of bed and stumbled across the room to get the door. I opened it to find Howie standing in the hallway, looking like his old self again. “Hey, welcome back to the land of the living,” he said, laughing.
“One could say the same to you,” I muttered.
“Me? You must have been dead to the world; I’ve been out here knocking for, like, five minutes!”
I shook my head. “Yo, Howie, man, I gotta tell you about this dream I had last night. I was a werewolf, and I had hair… all over my body…”
“Well, that should help you get into character for our video shoot today,” said Howie, smiling. “Speaking of which, it’s five o’clock. We’ve gotta get to the set soon.”
In all the confusion, I’d almost forgotten we were supposed to be shooting another music video that day. It was the big-budget one for the first single off our soon-to-be-released second album, Backstreet’s Back.
As I sat in my makeup chair on the set, watching the artists transform me into the Wolfman for the video, I couldn’t help but remember my dream. I knew what I had to do.
“Excuse me,” I said to the stylist who was applying thick sideburns to my face. “Could I take a break for just a few minutes? I need to make a call.”
When she released me from the chair, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the slip of paper with Leighanne Wallace’s phone number on it. My hands shook as I dialed, and my heart was racing. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears as I listened to it ring and ring. She didn’t answer, so I left a message on her machine.
“Hey, Leighanne, it’s me, Brian. Brian Littrell. Look, I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for what I said yesterday, about your knees bein’ hairy…”
After all that, I was lucky enough to get a second chance. She called me back later that day, and we made plans to go out to dinner that night. She wore a short dress that showed off her legs – and her clean-shaven knees! It was our first date… but it wouldn’t be our last.
Three years later, she married me, and we lived happily ever after.
“And that,” said Brian, smiling down at his son, “is the story of how your mom and I met.”
Baylee rolled over in bed, pulling the covers up under his chin. “Dad?” he asked, as Brian stood up to turn off the light.
“Did you really have a dream like that the day you met Mom?”
“Really?” Brian hesitated, then shook his head. “No,” he admitted, and then he grinned. “But it made for a pretty good story, didn’t it?”