“News Journal and Reporters Fined $15,000,000 for Fallacious Journalism!” read the headline in the morning papers. Luc smiled and Ginny literally bounced with happiness as she flitted around the office. She even brought in maple doughnuts for everyone. Hopefully now they could all breathe a sigh of relief. The intense media attentions were wearing thin on everyone. Especially the shifters. None had dared shift for fear of some idiot with a camera lurking in the bushes. Now, maybe they might relax.
Luc had left the courthouse the day before with a feeling of grim satisfaction. At the suggestion of one of the lawyers, all the companies with ‘wolf’ in the title joined together to file suit against the reporters and the newspapers who had perpetrated the break-ins, vandalism and stories to stir people up. It had taken a month, but today saw all of the victims earn a final reprieve. The newspapers and the reporters got reamed. Fines, injunctions and a few got jail time. They were the reporters that had gotten caught on the security cameras at Alpha Wolf and two other companies.
Each of the companies got a payment for damages. Luc put part of his towards paying for the rental of Buttercup and Fezzik. The rest he put in the bank. Now to get back to work without worrying about what was lurking in the bushes or painted across his signs. He reviewed his schedule, grabbed his tool bags and headed out the door.
“See you later!” he hollered to Ginny as he left.
“Bye!” she called. “Don’t forget the picnic tomorrow night!”
“I won’t!” he called back over his shoulder.
Angie and George were sitting on the back porch of the B&B. They had ‘buried’ Buster on Friday. After a month of ‘Buster’ getting more and more fragile, they had faked a trip to the vet and had him put down and cremated. At least that’s what they told everyone. A few had brought flowers by for Sam. A couple had offered Angie and George a free beer in honor of ‘Buster’. Otherwise, it had gone without a hitch. No reporters, no newspapers, nothing. The court case Luc had just finished up helped immensely.
“It’s going to be nice to sleep with you all night long,” said George.
“Yeah. And it will be nice not to have to sweep wolf fur out of the bed,” Angie teased him.
“Bigger question is what now?” asked George.
“I’m not sure. I know what I’d like to do, but is it fair? Is it the right choice? Or, are we just avoiding the inevitable?” Angie asked.
“I don’t know,” said George as he stretched out on the deck. He was sore and tired. He’d spent the afternoon removing Buster’s house. He’d taken it apart rather than destroy it and had stored most of it in the shed where Sam kept the snow plow blade, the snow blower and the gardening tools. The corner looked empty.
“You know, the more I look at that corner, the more I think it needs a tree or landscaping of some sort,” said Angie.
George blinked to wrap his brain around the total change of subject and looked over at the empty corner. “Hm… I think you’re right. Guess we’d better ask Sam,” he said.
“Ask Sam what?” said Sam who’d walked up behind them just then.
Angie turned around and smiled at Sam. She was holding up better than any of them had expected. “I told George that the corner of the yard needed a tree or a bit of landscaping,” she said.
Sam thought about it for a moment. “Yeah. One of those Canadian Maples,” she said and walked back into the house.
Angie and George looked at each other and laughed.
“Shall we get in the truck and head down to that landscape center, or go clear into the city?” Angie asked.
“Let’s go clear into the city. That will help us with the other decision too,” he said.
Angie thought about it for a moment and then nodded in agreement. They grabbed their things, got a shopping list and money from Sam and headed out.
Meg felt like a whale. She was trying to get things ready for the picnic and felt like she was moving through molasses. Finally, she gave up and sat in the chair to catch her breath.
“Ginny, how do women cope?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Never made it that far, nor had twins. I do know that we’ve always had family around to help,” said Ginny.
“I appreciate it. If it wasn’t for ‘Solda helping around the house and Bitty at the office, we’d all be in trouble. I don’t know if I’m going to make it another 2-3 months though,” Meg said.
“You’ll be fine. Mom always said this point was the roughest. Halfway despondency she called it. Plus, all the tension of the attacks and the court case has had everyone on edge. When was the last time that Luc fully shifted?” Ginny asked trying to change the subject just a little.
“Oh geeze… I think the last time was just after Buster’s funeral. What’s that, over two months ago if not longer?” said Meg.
“Exactly. None of us have. We’ve been too wary and nervous to even dare shift. And, to be honest it puts us all on edge. You may not shift, but haven’t you missed waking up wrapped in that big old furball?” Ginny asked.
“Meg thought about it. “Yeah, I have. You must feel like part of you is caged,” she said.
“Oh yeah. It shows up in dreams. If we wait much longer though, some of us will go crazy. It is part of the reason we use to live far away from people,” Ginny said.
“I can understand that. What did people in the military do though? People like Buster?” asked Meg. They’d been sorting some of Buster’s stuff. Boxing and preserving things as well as reading the diary.
“We’ve been fighters for a long time. Berserkers were most likely shifters. Battle rage and all that. As for modern military… Don’t laugh, but a lot of them were in K-9 corps. Only thing is, one shifter would be the handler and the other would be the dog. Others went crazy. If you go through the records and look at cases where someone slaughtered people with their bare hands, you probably have a shifter who lost it. Or, someone who walked out of a battlefield with his uniform shredded, bloody and dazed, but not a mark on him, he probably shifted mid battle and when he came to, didn’t have a clue,” said Ginny.
“Okay. Some of that makes sense. I can see the whole K-9 thing too. Have you found what Buster did yet?” asked Meg.
“No. He had two sets of diaries. I’m only in the first one as he wrote in the Metis dialect,” said Ginny.
“Okay. At this picnic, I take it that since it is up on Jeff’s land that most of you are going to shift?” asked Meg.
“Yes. Jeff has something like 500 acres. Heavy forest. It’s registered as a wolf rescue, so no one thinks twice about seeing wolves running. I know I’m looking forward to it,” said Ginny.
“And us mere mortals will just sit around?” asked Meg.
“Meg, you’ll get to meet most of the wives and kids as well as some you already know. I think that there are five or six pregnant, so you’ll feel right at home. Don’t worry about it,” said Ginny knowing that Meg was nervous. It was the first really big celebration she’d been at since meeting Luc.
“I’ve been trying not to worry. Will Angie and George be there?” Meg asked.
“No. They have their hands full up at the B&B, and to be honest, I don’t know if they will come home,” said Ginny.
“You think they’ll stay?” asked Meg.
“Yeah, I do. George has never been comfortable in the city. And you tell me, have you ever seen or heard Angie happier?” asked Ginny.
“No. Even with the house sold and money in the bank, they haven’t moved.,” said Meg.
Ginny nodded and finished up the salad they’d been making. She put the lid on the big plastic bowl and then stuck it in the fridge. Ginny quickly wiped down the counters and got them both a glass of iced tea. They had almost finished when Luc bounced into the kitchen. He was dressed in old jeans, flip flops and a worn teeshirt.
“You ladies ready to go?” he asked.
“No, but lets do it anyway,” said Meg.
They packed up the car and headed for Jeff’s.
Angie and George stood back and looked at the small landscape they had created. Two maple trees, shrubs, bark mulch, flowers and a couple of rocks. Last of all, a small plaque. It read:
This garden is in honor of Brian Davy and Buster.
Sam’s Best Friends
“I think it’s time we let her come out and look before she explodes,” said Angie.
“I agree. Plus we all need to talk,” said George.
Angie nodded and George went off to get Sam. He came back a moment later and Sam took a good look at the garden she had only seen from the window. It was full of local flowers and shrubs. The two trees which would flame red in the autumn were the only foreigners. Then she saw the plaque and the tears began to run down her face.
“Oh you two,” she said.
Angie wrapped her arms around the older woman and held her while they both cried. George stood behind the two of them with an arm around each. After a moment, Sam looked up at George.
“Thank you George. Thank you for everything,” she said. “Couldn’t have done it without you.”
“You’re welcome,” said George.
“And I take it you two will be off back to the city in the morning?” said Sam.
“Well, that’s up to you,” said Angie.
“What in the hell kinda answer is that?” asked Sam sounding more like herself.
“When we went to the city the other day, we had a good look around. Did some shopping and a lot of thinking. We decided that we really didn’t want to be city dwellers anymore. So, Will you let us partner with you on the B&B?” asked George.
Sam looked up at George and blinked. It was the last thing she had expected to hear out of those two. “Um…” she stuttered. She sat down on one of the benches in the garden.
“Why George, I think you rendered her speechless,” said Angie. “Sam, I’ve got $150,000 in the bank from the sale of my house. We are willing to invest $75,000 in the B&B. We’d like to help run it just as we have been doing and most of all, we want to give you a vacation. You need a break too.”
Sam blinked again. “Angie, I don’t know what to say,” she finally said.
“It’s simple. Yes, you want two crazy people as partners, or no, you don’t,” said George.
Sam thought for a moment, started to speak, and stopped. She looked from Angie to George and back to Angie. “You mean this don’t you,” she said.
“Yes, we do Sam. I bet you haven’t left this place other than to shop in twenty years,” said Angie.
“Thirty-seven to be exact. Are you sure? Are you damned sure you want to do this?” asked Sam.
George knelt down next to Sam. “Yes. We’ve been talking about it and checked with our banker and lawyer too, before you ask. We’ve looked at your books while we were doing up the monthly bills. You own everything free and clear, there are no hidden debts, and you actually make a profit. It is a good investment for us and we like it up here,” said George.
“If, just if I took you on as partners, what kind of changes would you make?” asked Sam.
“To be honest, add an elevator to the top floor. Mainly for ease of cleaning, but also for the occasional guest. I’d strengthen the floor in the back bedroom and add a better bed. Other than that, maybe build a small cabin at the back of the property,” said Angie.
“And who’d that be for?” asked Sam even though she knew it would be for them.
“For you Sam. So you could have a bit of privacy,” said Angie.
Sam’s jaw dropped. “You’d wha?”
“We’d build you your own cabin so that you could have some privacy while we could live in that back bedroom and keep an eye on the daily business. You’d have your choice of whether to work or not and if you didn’t want to, you could sit and read your westerns to your hearts content. Or, you could invite that dear gentleman who keeps showing up at dinnertime for dinner,” said George with a smile.
“I… I um. Well um,” said Sam totally flustered. She hadn’t thought of having her own place. She’d thought they’d want one. “Are you damn sure you want to do this?” she asked again.
“Yes!” said Angie and George together.
“Fine. It’s a deal,” said Sam and held out her hand. “And how soon are you two kicking me out?” asked Sam.
George laughed. “Sam, we aren’t kicking you out. You can go on vacation anytime you want. Bigger decision is where do you want to go?” he said.
“Aw hell! I don’t know. Where would you go?” asked Sam.
“I don’t know, but we got you a bunch of brochures while we were out,” said Angie.
“You were damn sure I’d go for this cockamamie idea,” said Sam.
“No, but we figured if you wouldn’t let us buy into the B&B, that we could at least get you to go for a vacation,” admitted Angie.
“Alright. Let’s go get some papers signed,” said Sam.
Two hours later, Angie and George were partners in the business with Sam. Sam had tickets to Fiji and New Zealand for a three week vacation and a rush order in on a passport. While George went to the lumber yard to order supplies for the construction work, Angie and Sam headed back to the B&B to make a list of what Sam would need for the trip. Sam wasn’t due to leave for three weeks, but Angie knew they’d be heading to the city to get Sam something other than cowboy boots, jeans and flannel shirts.
Ginny sat the salad and bread down on the table and helped Meg find a seat. The picnic area had twenty tables with lots of people milling around. Luc brought Meg a glass of iced tea and then started bringing people over to introduce them to Meg. The smell of steaks, hot dogs and sausages floated in the breeze.
Another very pregnant woman came over and sat down next to Meg. “Hi, I’m Gina, my mate is Dave over there cooking at the barbecue,” she said.
“I’m Meg, Luc’s mate,” said Meg.
“When are you due?” Gina asked.
“Not soon enough. I’m having twins,” Meg said.
“I’m due next week. I’m so tired,” Gina said.
“Me too. Is this your first?” Meg asked.
“Nope. Third. Or, I should say second pregnancy, third child. I did the twins thing first time around. They’re over with the rest of the kids,” Gina said pointing to a large play area with probably sixty kids and fifteen adults watching them.
“Oh god. Did you deliver early or on time?” Meg asked.
“Late. Three days, but it felt like three months,” said Gina. “What I’m really looking forward to is shifting.”
“Oh… that’s right. You shouldn’t when you’re pregnant. I’m not a shifter,” said Meg.
“I know. I can smell the difference, but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just hoping that they cook enough food before they all shift and go for a run. It’s been so hectic that even those of us not involved in that court case have been wary,” said Gina.
“And we’ve been at the center of it,” said Meg quietly.
“Oh Meg! I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” said Gina quickly.
“No, but … does this sound dumb, I miss Luc’s wolfish side. I miss the furry warmth and even the sex,” said Meg thinking that she sounded really dumb. Sex should be sex, but sex with Luc shifted was different.
“That’s what my girlfriend says. She’s married to a shifter but is like you. I like sex, but furry or not, it seems the same to me,” said Gina.
They chatted for a few more minutes when Luc came up with a plate of food for both ladies. “Here you go,” he said with a smile and walked away.
“Thank god!” said Gina. “I think I could eat a whole cow at this point.”
“Where would you put it?” asked Meg thinking about how she was hungry, but didn’t have room for a big meal.
“I wouldn’t have room. But I’d gnaw on it all day long,” she said with a giggle as they started to eat.
Luc came back with his own plate and joined them. Forty minutes later, everyone had been fed. Jeff got up and started talking.
“Hey everyone! Glad to see you. This picnic should have happened ages ago, but as we all know this has been one hellish summer. A bower has been set up for the people to chill out in while the rest of us go for a run. As your doctor,” he started and had to pause because everyone started to laugh.
“As your doctor, I suggest waiting a few minutes before you go off running. There is plenty of food and dessert left. Some of the parents have opted to babysit so that others may run or relax. There is a tent off to one side with genealogy information with a new list of people related to Brian Davy, also known as Buster to some of us. He died a few months ago and shed some light on such families as Ginny’s and Luc’s. There are also plenty of baskets and bags for clothing on the other side of the pavilion. Enjoy yourselves and watch out for traffic!” Jeff finished.
People began to move. Some stripped off where they stood while others at least got out of sight. Within minutes, there were wolves everywhere. Nose bumps, tails wagging and hijinks.
“Meg, I’ll be back in just a bit,” said Luc as he pulled off his shirt.
“Luc, go run. Really run. It’s been way too long for you especially. I’ll be fine,” said Meg as she kissed him.
Luc smiled and dropped his jeans to the ground. He put them in a bag next to Meg’s feet and then shifted.
Wolf sniffed his mate. “Smells okay,” he thought. “Pups okay.” Wolf rubbed his head against his mate, licked her face and headed for the trees.
“Gaaaah! That is the only thing I don’t like,” said Meg to Gina as she wiped slobber off of her face.
Gina laughed. “I shift and I don’t like it in this form,” she giggled. That made both of them laugh. “Shall we move over to that bower Jeff talked about?” she suggested.
“Sounds good. I’ll be there right after I visit the little blue house in the forest,” said Meg heading for the porta potty.
Wolf ran hard. “Too long,” he thought. He ran up behind a pair of wolves. The female smelled of Ginny’s perfume, but he’d know her anywhere. He nipped at her heels. The bigger wolf running with her grinned as the she wolf tried to turn herself inside out to bite Wolf. The three of them tumbled in the undergrowth.
The wolves ran. Some in packs, others alone. They hunted and chased the wildlife in the area. All of them stayed clear of the triple chain link fence where the real wolves and those shifters who’d lost their minds lay. A few wolves curled up and slept in the leaf mold on the forest floor. Most of them ran, played and a few mated. One sat picking cactus out of a front paw and another one scared a skunk. He rolled and tried to scratch his face off to get rid of the stench. The rest of the wolves steered clear of him as he ran alone.
As darkness fell, some returned to the picnic area. While some remained on four legs, others shifted back. People felt their loved ones snuggle next to them as they slept in tents or the bower.
Others stayed out to run under the moonlight. On the top of a hill, Wolf sat and howled. He waited, and in the distance another howl answered him. A few minutes later Wolf heard a third howl as it passed along the hilltops. Soon others joined him and they all howled their throaty song.
Wolf returned near dawn. He’d had a very long run and was tired when he got back. He snuffed his mate and their pups. “Safe,” he thought. His mate’s belly moved as he nudged her over just a bit so he could lay down beside her. Wolf put his nose against her belly and felt the pups move. “Soon,” he thought.
Meg woke up briefly when Luc came in. He hadn’t shifted back, and while it was good to feel his furry body next to hers, he was hot. She turned so that her back was to him and went back to sleep.