Wolf ran. In his dreams, his mate was always just ahead of him, the tip of her tail just disappearing over the next rock, or behind the nearest bush. He was never quick enough. He’d woke to find himself in a strange forest. It was cold and there was frost on the ground. He drank thirstily from a small stream and then turned back the way he’d come. His pads were sore from all the running he’d done.
That night, he brought down a deer. He had started to save the liver for his mate and only after pulling it from the warm body did he remember that she was gone. He dropped the liver and sat back on his haunches. He howled his pain to the moon. When he was hoarse, he finally ate his fill. He loped off from the carcass and left it to the crows and small scavengers.
He fell into a pattern. Run, eat, sleep. Soon he was back in familiar territory. He’d left the frost ground behind. For the first time in many nights, he saw another wolf. Yips and growls were exchanged and the two wolves continued on the trail together. He found himself in the meadow where his mate was buried. He slept above her on the rock.
When dawn began to break, he loped to the wooden den and leapt through the window. Curling up on the squeaky metal bed, he turned around three times and slept.
By the time Brian returned from his run, all the company was gone. He woke up naked on the bed. His nose was buried in Natalie’s pillow. Rolling over, he looked around at the room which had held so much joy and pain. No one had touched anything in the room. He stretched, found some clothes and wrapping up in his bathrobe, walked down to the bathroom. While he could hear people moving around, he saw no one. He bathed, dressed and looked at himself in the mirror after he dressed. Finding his scissors, he trimmed up the beard that reached nearly to his chest.
“Been gone long time,” he thought. Cleaning up the hair, he headed for the kitchen.
“Hello Papa,” said Jenny. She’d heard him come in after Henri reported that he’d found Brian in the forest.
“Hello Jenny. How long I been gone?”
“Two nearly three weeks. Family says to tell you they love you. Let them know if you want come live with them,” she said placing coffee, eggs, bacon and toast in front of him.
“Aye. I have a house. You help me go through your Maman’s stuff today? I wan’ pack things up to save them.”
“Aye. Tilly can run the clinic today.”
It didn’t take long for Brian and Jenny to sort through Natalie’s things. Some stuff went to the rag box while others went to the basket for clothes going to the clinic. They went for people who needed them. Brian packed Natalie’s keepsakes in the same box as his uniforms, medals and photos. Then he came across a book in the bottom of her desk.
“What this?” Brian asked Jenny.
“The birth and death book. We keep track of everyone. Make sure no one marry too close. Like that Estelle and Quintus. They second cousins. Last thing Maman add is Libellue.”
Brian nodded. “You keep this. You family head now.”
“Papa,” Jenny tried to give it back.
“Non. Women, they run this family so long I don’ know. You keep that book. Someday, mebbe someone need it.”
Jenny gave up and took the book. She hugged her papa. “What about that box?”
Brian picked up the jewelry box. He looked through it. Picking out a couple of items, he handed it to Jenny. “Give to your sisters or you keep.”
Jenny nodded and took the box. Everything else was cleaned and put away, because it belonged more to the house and the family than any one person. Brian took the box and put it back in the attic.
Libellue raced from the car to Grand-pere Buster’s cabin. “Grand-pere! Grand-pere! ”
“I am here, Libellue,” said Brian. He’d been napping in the rocker in the kitchen and woke when he heard his name called. Looking around he found Marie and Libellue standing in the kitchen.
“Marie? Why you come visit?” he asked.
“I… I need a little vacation.”
Brian looked at her and noticed that there was no Andre. “That Andre, he go that Vietnam War?”
“Aye. We talk long. He is doctor there,” admitted Marie.
“What make him go this time?” asked Brian as he put the kettle on for coffee.
“You know he start that clinic for shifters? With Maman’s money?” asked Marie.
“Aye. Lot of family down in that United States,” said Brian. Lots of his family and other shifters like the Chinese tiger he met in Vancouver.
“Well, he work there two days a week. Not many, but enough. He train shifters to be nurses. Our cousin, Petite Luc’s grandson, Ron? He a veterinarian. He work there too,” explained Marie.
“An how this work that Andre go that Vietnam?”
“One day, he get a call. Hospital. Have a soldier come that war back to Washington need surgery. Andre go. Come back ver’ sad. Soldier is minor surgery, but they try put him in crazy house.”
“The soldier, he a shifter?”
“Aye. He freak out. Sound like the stories you told us of Bizzet. Andre, he recognize that he a shifter, calm him down, keep him from getting that electric shock stuff for crazies,” said Marie.
“Andre feel he do better in the battlefield?” asked Brian although he knew the answer.
“Aye. So, I come here, get away from it all. All those protests, soldiers. Everette, Seattle, all crazy places,” said Marie. The fact that the Vietnam war was not popular had spilled out into the streets.
“Grand-pere Buster, I go run outside. Love you!” said Libellue and disappeared out the door.
Brian nodded and watched her head outside. “She don’ look nearly 14. More like 10. Is that because of Andre you think?”
Marie nodded. Her other concern was that Libellue would shift too soon. She didn’t know how things would go and figured that Jenny could help her.
“Well, you can have the back rooms. I don’ use them. I eat with Jenny and Henri. You want cook, fine,” said Brian.
“Thank you Papa. I told Andre I come here. Mebbe go back that Everette in September.”
The summer was full of Libellue and various cousins running through the house. Alexander and Jelka came with their son Andrew. He was about five and was playing with Mark, Henry’s grandson as well as other cousins. Jelka sat on the porch while Brian and Alexander talked.
“That little one, ver’ quiet. Looks like he sees things,” said Brian.
“Agreed. He’s like his mama, and she knows when people are sick or coming to visit before anyone calls. I’m teaching him about being a shaman,” said Alexander.
“So young?” asked Brian.
“Yes. I don’t think I will be around as long as you or Kent. Jelka, she has dreams of running in the forest alone. So, I make sure one son is family shaman.”
Brian nodded. He’d watched so many people leave and others training their children to take over their jobs. Jenny had Caroline working at the clinic along with Mary, the adopted daughter of Alice. There were days he felt rather useless. Other days all he did was run in the forest. Having Marie and Libellue there had at least kept him coming home on a regular basis.
“That Libellue, she is going to be a heartbreaker,” said Alexander.
“She is something special,” said Jelka.
“Aye. It like I hear her voice in my head when I run too long. I come back and she smile at me,” said Brian.
“Papa! I have letter from Andre!” Marie shouted as she ran back from the post office. She sat down next to Brian and opened the letter.
“My dear Marie and Libellue,
I hope this letter makes it home. This is letter #2. I’m saying the same thing in all the letters with extra bits. I don’t want things lost like Korea.
“I think he means he don’ want no one lost,” interjected Brian.
“Aye,” said Marie who kept on reading.
“This war is very rough on people. Lots of jungle and no place to feel safe. I am at a hospital base, and not in the midst of the fighting. I am very glad of this. I have lots of work and sometimes I wish for my quiet practice in Everette.
I have run into many cousins. You’d think in a war overseas that I wouldn’t find much family, but I have. I find it interesting that so many of our family have chose to be in what they call Special Operations. Some work with scouts. Others with the dog handling units which are so very important here.
I miss you and Libellue and I am looking forward to coming home soon. If you see Alexander or Jelka, let them know that I spent the evening with their son Ross. He is a good boy. He reminds me of Jacques and Henri.
It is very quiet here and maybe that means it will be over soon.
“I wonder how many shifters there are that Vietnam. It sound worse than my wars,” said Brian. He thought of all the terror he and family went through. Now the family was so spread out that it was difficult to tell who had gone.
“I think there be plenty. I hope the shifter clinic is okay. Mebbe Libellue and I go back that Everette and see if we can help,” said Marie.
“That be a good thing. You write that Andre, tell him you go home,” said Brian.
Marie kissed her father and then headed to her room to pack.