Tilly stood there, her mouth open in surprise. She’d been expecting the mousy husband of a shifter who was due to give birth any day. Instead, she found Andre and standing near a huge truck, a group of men, that were thin, and worn. Shifters. Near the front of the truck, three Natives.
“Oh Andre!” She hugged him as if she would never let go. Finally, she did just that. “Come in. All of you come in. Oh lord.” She turned towards her assistant that night, Betsy. “Betsy, start tea. And get out anything there is to feed these men.”
Betsy ran for the little kitchen wondering what she’d find. Realizing that there was little to eat for two, let alone over a dozen men. She put the kettle on and ran for her mum’s house.
Tilly pulled out chairs, cushions and blankets for the men. She counted three Natives, Andre and twelve shifters. The kettle boiled and she went to see to it. As she poured tea and wondered where Betsy had gone, she looked out the window to see Betsy, and her sisters Jane and Mary coming down the road, arms heavy with baskets. Tilly opened the door and helped the girls set down their burdens.
“Mum says if’n you need more food, she’ll get it,” said Jane.
“Thank you dears. Help me take the food out to the men. They look starved.” Tilly grabbed the first tray of tea cups and the pot and headed out to the main room of the clinic. Tea was handed round, followed by sandwiches, cold chicken, potato salad and bread rolls.
Andre took a cup of tea and sipped it as if it were the best thing he’d ever tasted. It wasn’t so much the drink, as the kindness that poured from Tilly and the girls. The men murmured thanks and ate until there was nothing left. Even the lemon biscuits and welsh cakes were nothing but crumb memories. The girls cleared up the plates while Tilly added wood to the stove. Then she sat and waited for the men to tell their tale.
“Then this man, Big Bear with his son, helped us on the train and then to the truck out there. Uncle there drove for a bit until George remembered how. Tilly, you are the best sight I’ve seen in nearly three years.”
“Andre, you have no idea of how glad we are to see you.” She smiled and wiped more tears from her face. She looked at the men, some of which had fallen asleep. “And all of you are welcome too. We will help you find your families.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
“Good to be home.”
The rest of the men echoed the sentiments.
“Please sleep where you are comfortable. There are rooms, or if you want to puppy pile, I understand.” Tilly turned to the three Cree. “I have bedding for you as well.
“Thank you. We have bed rolls in the truck,” said Big Bear. He nudged his son who got up to get the bedding. Uncle just smiled.
“Thank you for helping my family.”
“You have a good heart. Not shifter, but good heart,” said Uncle.
It was Tilly’s turn to nod.
Tilly woke to the sound of pounding on the clinic door. “Just a moment!” she called. Grabbing her sweater, she headed for the door. When she opened it, she found a number of people standing there. Some had come by car or horse. Others had walked. “Yes?”
“Our men. We hear that they have come home, yes?” said one woman.
“Aye! Hear that Andre, he ghost walk home with family.”
“You! Let us in!” growled an old man, who was more wolf that man.
“Of course. They were asleep, although I suspect that they are all awake now.” Tilly stepped aside and let the people filter in. She moved across to where Andre slept and crouched down next to him.
“It seems that my homeless men have homes that missed them,” he murmured softly as he watched families welcome home the lost amidst tears and cries of joy.
“So it would seem.” The scene unfolding in her clinic reminded her of when the men came home from war. Even the two men who swore they had no family had people come to them and greet them.
“Thank you! I thought he was lost,” said one old woman.
“Bout time eh?” said another as the lost man and his family moved towards the door.
“You! Good job!” The old man with the tufted ears smiled as he walked out with George on one arm.
Tilly just smiled. In the years that she had lived with shifters had shown her just how changeable life could be. One instant, all was quiet. The next, life exploded. As the families reunited, they thanked Andre and Tilly and then left. Soon, the only ones left were the three Cree, Andre and herself. They had almost gotten back to sleep when the door rumbled again under the pounding of a fist. Andre opened it this time to find a small man standing in the moonlight.
“Me wife. The baby. I… I need Tilly!”
Tilly appeared behind Andre before he could turn. “First child. Want to come?”
Andre took a whole second to decide. “Let’s go.”
“Bbbbut?” the man stuttered as he looked at Andre.
“He’s a doctor too,” said Tilly as she began to head up the road at a fast pace. The man and Andre followed.
By the time they had returned to the clinic, Betsy had cleaned up, fed Big Bear, Pasquah and Uncle and was readying the clinic for the day. Andre sat at the table while Tilly headed upstairs to shower.
Big Bear looked over at Andre. “We head back to Calgary. You need us, this the number of Uncle’s garage. Just tell him to get us.” He handed Andre a phone number.
“Thank you.” Andre folded the paper and put it in his pocket. Then he stood and hugged each of the men in turn. Big Bear hugged him while pounding him on the back. “You a good man. Strange, but good.” Then, before Andre could say anything, the three men walked out of the clinic, climbed into the truck and drove off.
Betsy brought more tea and a plate of hot pancakes with bacon and eggs to Andre. He thanked her and began eating.
“You the talk of the valley, Uncle Andre.”
“Uncle?” Andre was confused. “Honorific or family?”
“Family. My papa Brian. His papa be Henry and his papa be that Brian married to GranMere Natalie. Jane and Mary my sisters. Twins.” Betsy ticked family off on her fingers.
Andre blinked and then nodded. If he had ever seen Betsy before, she’d have been an infant. In his mind, logic dictated that the family had expanded. Then he realized that the girls would be about the same age as Libellule. Libellule! He stood up and walked to the stairs. He was about to head up when he realized that Tilly might still be in the shower. He returned to the table and finished his breakfast while he waited for Tilly.
“Where did the Cree go?”
“Home. Tilly, where is Libellule?”
“Oxford. Once we buried Marie, she went back to school. Her heart wasn’t in it, but she knew that she’d go stir-crazy sitting here.” Tilly nodded thanks to Betsy as she began to eat.
“Can we go to her?”
“Of course. Do you want to call her first?”
“No. I couldn’t cope with just hearing her voice.”
Tilly nodded. “We need to get your papers in order. I’ll make arrangements later this afternoon.”
Andre nodded. “Marie?”
“She is in the cemetary, next to her granmere Celia. We brought her home.”
Andre nodded and left the clinic.
The wind blew his hair as he knelt next to the stone that marked Marie’s grave. Tears traced down his face. His fingers dug into the rough grass. If he could have howled, he would have. “Marie…” A shadow eclipsed the stone for a moment and then David, Micah, Paul and Felix were there beside him. They looked at his tear streaked face and nodded. They understood his pain, as they felt it too.
Tilly turned towards the cemetery as the sound of howls rose and curled in the wind. Tears came to her eyes as Andre and his ‘pack’ honored Marie.