Breakfast became an all hands affair. As people came to see who was home and meet Dr. Abrams and Jelka, the house just filled up. Jenny and Marie started moving children about. The rest of the couples were slow to trickle in as many were still out running. At one point, the noise got a little much and Jelka began to fold in on herself. Alexander was trying to get to her, but was surprised to see tiny crabby Celia take her by the hand and lead her out onto the porch. He didn’t know whether to panic or not. When he finally did get out the door, he found the two of them sitting on the porch near the meadow side of the cabin. Jelka had her head in Celia’s lap. She was asleep.
“Is everything okay Celia?” Alexander asked in a whisper.
“Aye. She jus had too many people. Where you find this wolf?” Celia asked.
“In a concentration camp. She was a prisoner. A gypsy,” Alexander said.
Celia nodded. “Lots of gypsies are shifters. She strong, but ver tired. She shift much?”
“No, no time or safe place,” said Alexander.
“When she wake up, you take this girl out to the meadow. Let her scent it. Let her shift. And you be good to her,” Celia said. “Else I have a ver’ sharp knife!”
Alexander nodded. There had been a rumor that she’d gutted a rapist during the Great War when all the men were gone. Now, he didn’t doubt it. He went back inside to the noise and chaos.
Brian and Natalie lay in the meadow looking up at the sky. His hand wrapped protectively around Natalie. They had run part of the night, made love, slept, made love again and were now relaxing in the sunshine.
“I was so afraid I never see you again,” said Brian.
“Aye. Me too. Every day them papers print names. All dead. I stop reading the papers,” said Natalie. “Quintus and George, they read. They go to the cine, see them war reels. Tell me they think they see you, Jacques or Henry. I can’t go. Too afraid,” she said.
“You afraid? Me, I am in that damn war. Damn Buster got three more medals. Good thing Henry like his papa. Else he sell me to them Greeks or English we fight with. They love Buster. Feed him well, and me, I’m happy. I get good food, kill Germans. Finally get to come home my wife, my family,” he said.
“Aye, and lots of family. Gonna have more soon. Jenny, she pregnant. Bet more pregnant real soon. All these men come home,” laughed Natalie.
“You, have to worry about that?” he asked suddenly thinking about it.
“Non. I am 49, all that stop, thank gods. No heat for two, three years,” Natalie said.
“Okay. How many them war babies? And Betty? She have baby?” asked Brian.
“Betty, she die soon after that baby. Bertie, he a big boy. Near two years. Marie’s Jack is here, he is five? George, that Maggie and Henry’s boy, he is twelve? Mebbe 13. Then all them other babies. All left by them damn English. Oldest is five? That be Mary. She Alice’s shadow. Last count, twenty-two. We have this whole damn puppy pile all the time. Celia she is some kinda pissed off. Won’ even talk her grandson’s wives. Tilly and Georgina, they good women. Help with all those babies even though they have their own,” said Natalie.
“We need bigger house,” said Brian. “Others need houses. That Alexander, he bring home this gypsy woman. She is shifter, but a bit crazy like Wild Girl. Then there is the Doctor,” Brian started. He explained as much as he knew about the doctor and why he’d come home with them. Natalie nodded. She knew he’d smelled odd, but had been so wrapped up in Brian that she hadn’t had time to think about it.
“You hungry?” she asked at last. With her head on his stomach, she could hear it rumbling.
“Aye. We better shift. Don’ want to piss off Celia. She cut off my nuts,” Brian teased as he shifted. Natalie realized that the scar showed even through the fur. She’d have to thank the doctor for saving her husband. She shifted and they ran back to the cabin.
Wolf and his mate ran and ran. It felt so good to smell home, rabbits and no sour enemy. They loped up to the two-legged den. Two legs were everywhere. His mate tugged at his ruff and ran to a window. She leapt into it and he followed. The room was full of children that laughed when they saw them. Wolf and his mate ran for a quieter part of the den.
Squeals of delight greeted the two wolves as they tried to get back into the cabin and alerted Quintus that his parents were home. He went to look and saw tails disappear into Natalie’s room. He walked over and pulled the door shut. He smiled, caught Bertie up in his arms and headed back to where the other children were playing.
Wolf was surprised when the two leg closed the door. He turned to his mate, and licked her jawline. He nipped at her and hoped he’d get to mate once more. She smelled so good. She curled a lip at him and she shifted back to a two leg. He dropped to the ground and let out a deep sigh.
“Come on! Shift back Brian,” Natalie said as she washed up with water from the basin in the corner of the room. “We have company. Lots of them by the scents. Move!”
The wolf got up off the floor and shook. Then he shifted and Brian stood there naked. He smiled at Natalie and got a washrag thrown at him. He caught it and got cleaned up. As he started to get dressed, he scented a person he didn’t expect to ever see again. “Natalie, your maman, she is here,” he said.
“Merde! I hope she is behaved today. She is so old and crabbie, that she is more trouble than good,” said Natalie.
Brian nodded. Natalie had explained how Celia had acted during his absence. He wasn’t surprised. The day Big Joe died had killed something in her. He put on civilian clothes for the first time in years and was happy they still fit. They walked out to the kitchen which was a mass of people.
“Bout time you showed up,” said Jacques. He had Alice on his lap.
“Like you been here long!” teased Henri. That made everyone laugh. Most couples were still missing unless they got hungry. As the women had been cooking at Natalie’s, it was natural to congregate at her house.
“It is good to be home, aye?” said Brian. He too held onto Natalie.
“I thought Maman was here,” said Natalie.
“She is. She is outside with Jelka, Alexander’s woman,” said Quintus.
“Alexander has a woman?” said Natalie.
“Aye, she is like Wild Girl,” said Quintus and he pointed out the window to where Celia sat with a sleeping woman on her lap. Alexander sat next to Celia.
Natalie nodded as if one more miracle was just fine with her.
Conversations ebbed and flowed as people talked, got reacquainted with children, grandchildren, and extended family. Natalie and Marie started cooking while Tilly and Alice tended clingy husbands and children. It was noisy, messy and just short of heaven.
By late afternoon, Sally had opened up the saloon and the beer was brought up the hill along with trestle tables, chairs and food. Raphael, Tomas and others brought out fiddles, accordions and guitars. Food was piled on the tables and everyone gathered outside. Celia stood on the top step of the porch and banged a spoon across a pan. Everyone went quiet, even the babies.
“Today is a celebration! Our men are home. Eat!” she said and then with the help of Natalie and Quintus, she moved to the tables. Food passed, people talked. Children moved from person to person, trying to figure out who all these men were and see what they might be fed. After most of the food had been eaten, Raphael and the other musicians began to play. Raphael started out with the Lost Woodsman’s Jig and then moved into Red River Jig, Battle of Seven Oaks and others. Men and women got up to dance to the fiddle music.
David Abrams watched the people and found himself tapping his foot to the music. He was surprised when Marie grabbed his hand. “Come dance,” she said.
“But..” he started.
“Non! Dance!” she said and pulled him out to the hard packed earth. So David got up and joined the crowd of dancers under the late summer skies.
Alexander and Jelka stood off to one side. He noticed that she was tapping her toes. He smiled and slowly pulled her towards the music. Jelka shook her head no, but Alexander refused to relent.
“Aleksandr,” she said.
“Jelka, please,” he said and pulled her closer to Raphael and Tomas. They smiled at her and played as if she was the only one in view. Tears began to form in the corner of her eyes and she danced with her Aleksandr.
Slowly in ones and twos, people gathered up children or partners and headed home. When the music finally stopped, the only two still dancing were Alexander and Jelka. She kissed the musicians and then walked home with Alexander, still nodding her head to music only she could hear.