Brian had dropped Lewis off at his mother’s house. It was late August, and Lewis was heading to University. He was planning on visiting Marie and Andre before heading back to the Valley. His first stop though was the Spinning Tiger Noodle House.
“Ah, Mistah Hǎng,” said Hu Chang. “You table is ready.”
“Always good to see you Hu,” said Brian as he sat down at the same table he had nearly twenty years before when he and Natalie had gotten lost. Natalie was on his mind a lot lately.
“And you. Same as always?” Hu asked.
Hu bowed, and headed to the kitchen where he shouted an order to his cook. He poured hot water into a teapot and brought it and two delicate cups back to the table and sat with Brian. After a minute or two, he poured tea.
“You visit that Lewis?” asked Hu.
“Aye. Last time I think. He go to University this year. His mother crazy woman. Drive us all crazy. Don’ want no crazy shifter in family, but calls all the time we have Lewis. Don’ let him rest, learn to be wolf. Damn stupid.”
“I undehstand. My daughtah, she marry man from Shanghai. He say it no mattah she Hu clan. Just like Lewis mom no respect Hǎng clan. My daughtah, she shift, he run. Scream. Bring back bride, bride price. Same thing,” said Hu, shaking his head.
“I worry ’bout Lewis. He so alone. Not good for wolf to live that way,” said Brian.
“Lewis always welcome this house. Hǎng clan and Hu clan no fights here,” said Hu.
Brian nodded. “I tell him that.”
A few minutes later, the cook brought his dinner. Orange beef, a double order. Brian smiled and began to eat the fragrant beef with fresh steamed rice. The cook brought Hu his battered and fried fish. Both men ate in agreeable silence.
“You greet Andhe and family for me,” Hu said as Brian paid for his dinner and prepared to leave.
“I will. That Libellue go University in England this year,” said Brian.
“Ah, Smart gihl. She do just fine,” nodded Hu.
“Aye.” Brian bowed and left the noodle house. He settled into the car and pulled into traffic. In just over an hour, he was in Everette. As he pulled up in front of Andre’s house, he realized that it was dark. Knocking on the door, he realized that no one was home, nor had been for a few days. On the door was a note addressed to him.
We were surprised that you didn’t come by to see Libellue off to England. We waited as long as we could, and then realized that Lewis had not called either. We figured that you must still be out camping. We will be home in a month.
Andre, Marie and Libellue
“Damn! I forgot the date.” Brian put the letter in his pocket and got back in his car. He headed for Spokane. It was late by the time he reached the hotel. They’d held the room for him. Same hotel, same room since 1954. He fell asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.
The next morning, Brian got up, and went to eat at the little cafe he always ate at only to find it closed. He had to go to a different place, and it was just enough of an upset to his routine that he felt at odds for the first time in ages. He ate his breakfast and then headed towards the Canadian border. As he drove through Idaho and the forests, he kept thinking he saw something at the edge of the road. He remembered the wolves that he and Natalie had seen the first time they’d traveled the highway. At one point, he swore that Natalie was sitting next to him. When he went to look, he almost ran the car off the road.
“Too damn old for this!” he said to himself. He pulled over at a rest stop and contemplated shifting and running in the woods. It was what he normally did when he was upset or unsettled. However, there was too much traffic. He stretched and got back in the car. Brian was frustrated when an hour later he realized he’d missed the turn to go see Quintus and family. Instead of turning around, he simply headed home.
At the Canadian border, he had to get out of the car and let the border guards search his trunk. He wasn’t happy. All new rules, and he didn’t like the change. There had been too many changes this trip.
“Don’t worry sir. Only a minute. New rules from Washington D.C. Have to check all cars,” said the guard with a smile. Brian nodded and looked across the border. Swaths of trees had been cleared. Change was everywhere.
“All done sir. Thank you for your co-operation,” the man said and raised the gate.
Brian got in his car, waved and headed home.
Brian arrived home to find that most of the family had gone to Calgary for the weekend. He sat in the cabin and ate a sandwich and drank tea in the kitchen. When he finished, he put his dishes in the sink and went to bed. Even at home, things weren’t the same. Caroline must have washed the sheets, for the bed didn’t smell of him. He tossed and turned as he tried to go to sleep. He was so tired, he couldn’t even shift. Grabbing Natalie’s pillow, he hugged it to his chest and tried to sleep.
He woke in the middle of the night. Sitting up, he thought he heard something in the kitchen. Walking quietly, he peered into the kitchen. Nothing. He sniffed the air. “Mice. Damn mice.” Brian shook his head and headed back to bed. He sat on the edge of his bed and realized for the first time in years that he was alone. Truly alone. He rolled over and picked up Natalie’s pillow once more. It no longer smelled of her. It had been too long and all the scent had dissipated.
Brian stared at the wall. The wall paper that he and Natalie had put up was faded and torn in some spots. He turned over and looked out the window. As he lay there holding Natalie’s pillow, his mind drifted back to that morning so many years ago when he’d held Natalie as she watched her last sunrise. The tears began to gather at the corner of his eyes. The sobs racked his body as he cried for the first time since Natalie had died. All those years, the wolf had grieved, but the man hadn’t. His tears soaked the pillow, and the dampness released the last traces of Natalie’s scent. Tears still ran from his eyes as the dawn broke and poured sunlight through the window.
Caroline came over to the cabin to make sure everything was ready for her Grand-pere’s return. She walked in to find the cabin a mess. She ran back out and headed for her Maman’s house. “Maman! Maman!”
“Aye?” said Jenny as she tried to open the clinic door. They’d gotten new supplies in Calgary and she wanted to put them away as quickly as possible.
“Grand-pere’s cabin. It is a mess!” Caroline said trying to catch her breath.
“Let’s go look, see what’s gone,” said Jenny. She and her daughter headed for the cabin. There was no sign of her Papa’s car. When they got to the cabin, she realized that things were scattered. “Look through those rooms. I’ll go check this way,” she said heading for her Papa’s room. When she entered the room, two things were evident. All of her Papa’s stuff was gone as well as Natalie’s pillow. She checked the closet to make sure and then she headed to the storage room. The boxes that held his uniforms and some of the older picture albums were gone.
“Caroline! Is there any kind of note? A letter?” she called as she walked back to the kitchen.
“Non! Why?” Caroline asked.
“Your Grand-pere, he did this. Crazy ol’ man. He do this and leave. No tell anyone. What the hell?” Jenny sat on a kitchen chair and cried.
Caroline, not knowing what else to do, continued to pick up the cabin. After a bit, her Maman stood up, blew her nose and started to help her. When they were done, they closed the door and walked home.
“No Jenny, no more money has been drawn from the account. Yes, we’ll keep it open. Yes, we’ll let you know if it is accessed again,” said the bank teller. She shook her head as Jenny left.
“Was it Grand-pere? Caroline asked.
“Had to be. Always same amount. Always next check number. What happen he run out of checks? You think he come home then?” Jenny asked.
“Mebbe. It been ten or twelve years?” Caroline said.
“Aye. Your Grand-pere is somewhere that Alaska this time. Hope he don’ get shot for bein’ wolf,” said Jenny. The whole family had tried to find her Papa. No one had seen him. The only proof that he was still alive were the occasional checks cashed against his account. The family kept the account open in hope of tracing Brian.