Sam went to clean rooms and started with the ground floor. The family with the baby had left that morning, much to her relief. When she finished that room, she headed for Buster’s. She knocked and when she got no answer, she unlocked the door. The room was empty and very tidy, which bothered her for some reason. After a week, she’d expected the old man to have made some sort of presence. Then she noticed the note on the desk.
I am to damn old. I go the woods, and will not be back. You take care my stuff, give it to charity, or find someone who need the stuff, When they find me, there is money, the box, for my burial. The key, it is with my truck key. You sell my truck. Keep money. Keep money what left, I don’ need it.
Don’ be upset. You good woman. Ver’ good cook. Jus sorry I can’ eat more.
Sam sat on the bed stunned. She’d never had a suicide before. Looking around the room, she just closed it up and hoped that he’d change his mind. She’d wait until Monday though before she reported him. Last thing she wanted was to upset him. He was a sweet old man, and had been polite to her. Plus, the sheriff wouldn’t be back until Monday. She closed the door and went on with her cleaning.
Wolf went out into the mountains. He wasn’t ready to go, but the two-legs was. Still mourning for their mate. He walked out to the deadfall he’d found and curled up to sleep. The night was long and cold.
Sunday evening, Sam thought she heard a noise at the back door. There on the other side was a huge old mangy husky. The muzzle was shot with gray and he was wheezing. Sam went into the laundry room and grabbed an old wool blanket and a bowl of water. She didn’t normally bother with stray dogs, but there was something about this one that just pulled her heart strings. She went outside and the husky was off to one side, laying on the concrete. Sam put down the water and the blanket. Then she went back inside. Ten minutes later, she thought she heard a chair being dragged on the patio. She went out to investigate and found Buster sitting in a chair with the wool blanket wrapped around him.
“Buster! You okay?” she asked.
“Mebbe. I try, go die. It don’ work. Old bastard no let me die.” he said.
Sam looked carefully at Buster. Besides more scar tissue than she’d ever seen on a live person, she realized that his ears were a little pointed and his beard was fuller than she’d seen it. Then it struck her. “Buster, are you… a shifter?”
Buster looked at her, didn’t smell fear and nodded.
“Let’s get you inside and warmed up. I just put dinner away, but I have stuff I can warm up,” she said helping the old man inside. She left him at his room and then went back to the kitchen. She warmed up a bowl of stew and grabbed a cup of coffee and two peanut butter cookies. When she got back to Buster’s room, she balanced the tray and knocked.
Buster, dressed in a bathrobe and pajamas opened the door. “You don’ have to do this,” he said.
“No, I do.” She put the tray down on the table in the room and gestured for him to sit and eat. Buster sat down and slowly at the food.
“Buster, you need to know you aren’t the first shifter I’ve had here. I know you noticed the door handles and that chocolate isn’t the only dessert on the menu.”
“Aye. I saw,” he said.
“I’ve been renting rooms to them for nigh on thirty years. First one scared the hell out of me. Next few, well, they helped me make this place shifter friendly. That damn bar across the street draws them like flies.”
“Aye,” he said eating one of the cookies.
“So, the wolf part of you wasn’t ready to die? Is that right?” she asked.
“Aye. I too damn old, but that wolf, he don’ want to die. Don’ know what to do. Don’ have no family I can find. Have trouble shifting. Get stuck, like my ears. Mebbe it be okay, I live here? I got plenty money. Easy pay you to stay here. Mebbe some evening this damn wolf let me die?” he said.
Sam thought about it for the moment. She didn’t want the old man’s money, but knew that some morning she might open the door to find a wolf or a corpse and figured it was better it was her and not someone else. “Buster, you can stay here. I rarely rent out all the rooms, and we’ll come to some arrangement about how much you owe. Let me take these dishes and you get a shower. I’ll see you in the morning,” she said taking the empty tray.
Buster nodded and crawled into bed. It was much softer than the ground.
Buster and Sam came to a set of arrangements. He was her ‘guard dog’ and she made him a fancy house out back for those nights he couldn’t shift back. That was happening more and more. There was a big soft pad in there and blankets. He gave her the lock box and key as well as the title and key to his truck. Sam tried to protest, but gave up in the end. On occasion, he headed out to the woods, but always came back. The wolf wasn’t ready to die even though the man was.
Wolf smelled others. They walked into the wooden den. He watched from the back yard. He was tired. Wolf walked back to his den and slept. That night, he watched the two wolves run out into the forest. He whined, but couldn’t get his hips to co-operate. He went back to sleep.
Wolf woke up the next morning and smelled the woman and a male shifter. He poked his nose out of his den and realized that they were standing there looking at him. He finally walked out and over to the woman. He walked around the two two-legs and rubbed up against her, marking her as his. Then he sat down and leaned against her. The male two-legs got down to eye level.
“You really should tell her you know,” he said and stood up.
Wolf just looked at the shifter and then sneezed. Something about that shifter smelled familiar.
Wolf walked into the wooden den. He smelled something familiar, and followed the scent. He climbed up to the top floor of the wooden den and walked into a room where the scent was stronger. On the bed was the two two-legged shifters. He put his head on the end of the bed and took in the female shifter’s scent. Pack!
“Ginny, hold very still,” Patrick said quietly in her ear.
Ginny froze and then slowly opened her eyes. There at the end of the bed was a very large and shaggy wolf. His head was resting on the bed and he was watching them. Ginny could hear him wheeze as he breathed. His muzzle was gray and his eyes had that cloudy look to the edges of them.
“Buster?” Ginny said softly.
The old wolf wagged his tail slowly. Pack! Pack! Wolf thought.
Ginny moved and brought her hand near to him, even though she knew he’d already scented her. He nuzzled her fingers and then slowly crawled onto a corner of the bed. Turning around a few times, he settled down and curled up nose to tail. He snored.
Wolf woke up and smelled his treats. Lumbering off the bed, he walked over to the table and ate his treats. His two-legged made good treats. A two-leg walked into the room with the male shifter.
“How ya doin’ Buster?” Doc said to the old wolf.
The wolf ignored the two-leg. He gave his pack member a glance and then walked slowly out of the room.
The two wolves ran through the forest for a short while. Wolf wheezed and coughed. The other wolf slowed down and walked next to him. They sat under the starlight and watched the world go by. As the sun started to come up, they headed back to the wooden den. It took a long time as Wolf couldn’t run. He wheezed.
When they got to the big wooden den, he watched as the other wolf shifted and dressed. He walked into the room that smelled good. His pack member and his two-legs was there. Wolf walked over to her, rubbed against her and then walked back outside to his bed. He barely got curled up and comfortable when his two-legs came with food. It smelled good and he ate what he could. Then his two-legs took the empty plate after scratching him between the ears. He went to sleep.
Wolf woke from a nap on the grass outside his den to see the male shifter and his pack member standing next to him. The male crouched down and scratched Wolf under the chin.
“Take care old man.”
Wolf slowly wagged his tail and made a growling sing-song noise deep in his throat. The pack member reached over and scratched him under the jowls. He watched them walk away and went back to sleep.
Wolf hurt. It was hard to breathe. It was hard to walk. There was something he needed to do. He felt himself topple over and couldn’t get up.
Buster blinked. He was naked in the hall of the Bed and Breakfast. He didn’t remember leaving his room. All he remembered was that he needed to tell Sam something.
“Buster?” said Sam staring at him.
“Help me up,” he said in a whisper. Each breath hurt and he felt like his heart was thumping in his ears. Sam helped him up and into her room. She put him down on her bed and covered him up.
“Buster, whatever made you shift back?” she asked.
“Wanted to tell you goodbye and that I love you for all you did for me,” he said.
“Oh Buster, you didn’t have to do that,” Sam said with tears beginning to run down her face.
“Seeing those two, I wanted to come back and talk. Now it’s almost too late,” he said. His voice was so soft, Sam could barely hear him.
“No, it isn’t. It’s never too late,” said Sam.
“I…” Buster started and then was wracked with a cough. It shuddered his whole body. “I want you to send my stuff to those two young wolves,” he finally got out between coughs.
“You mean Patrick and Ginny?” Sam asked.
Buster nodded. He coughed and wheezed.
“Let’s get you comfortable,” said Sam.
“Okay, never thought I’d end up in your bed,” Buster said half joking.
“Oh you!” said Sam. A smile broke thought the tears still streaming down her face. She turned because she heard a noise. There in the doorway stood one of her guests.
“Is everything okay?” asked the man.
“Yes, just an old friend not feeling well,” said Sam.
“I’ll call a doctor if you want,” the man said.
“No, no need, I’ll call Doc Rogers in a minute once I get him settled,” said Sam.
“Are you sure? It’s no problem,” he said again.
“I’m sure. I don’t want any fuss. I’ll call the doctor in a few minutes. It ain’t like he’s gonna do more than hold his hand anyway,” said Sam getting frustrated.
“Okay,” said the man and went back down the hall.
“Damn tourists,” mumbled Sam.
“Sam, my name is Brian Davy. Don’t think I ever said,” said Brian.
“You told me once, but told me to call you Buster. Never explained that,” she said. “I’m gonna call Doc and I’ll be right back.” Sam patted his hand and left the room.
Sam came back into the room and Brian could smell she was irritated.
“That idjet called an ambulance. I called Doc and he’ll try to cancel it, but we may have a few more people than I expected,” she told Brian.
“No hospital,” he said.
“No, I understand. Won’t let them take you. Now, I’m going to get some pajama bottoms on you afore Doc gets here,” she said. She turned to a dresser and pulled out a pair of pajamas that had belonged to her husband. She’d kept them all these years and never knew why. Now she had a reason. Between the two of them, they got the pajamas on and Brian back under the covers.
A few minutes later, there was noise out in the hall. Brian woke with a start to find Doc Rogers and two strangers walking into the room. Two of them started touching him and Brian tried to move away from them but he was just so tired he faded in and out of consciousness.
“Hey! I said leave him alone!” cried Sam. “He’s asleep!”
“Sam, we gotta do our job,” said Dave. He said it loud enough, that it startled Brian.
“Who? Wha!” Brian called.
“Sorry Brian, these idjets can’t listen. I said you were sleeping, and that you didn’t want to go to the hospital, but they can’t listen,” said Sam.
“Mr… um…. Brian, now we are hear to help you. We’ll take you to the hospital and get you fixed right up,” said Matt who was trying to take Brian’s blood pressure.
“Get that thing offa me! I not going to hospital. I want stay here at Sam’s. If I die, so be it, but get away from me!” shouted Brian as he ripped off the pressure cuff and threw it in Dave’s face.
“I told you to leave him alone,” said Doc and Sam almost at the same time.
Dave turned to Sam and started pushing her out of the door. “Sam, I think you aren’t the best person to have around at the moment and you are upsetting the old man,” he said as he tried to shove her out the door.
Brian felt the wolf rise in his mind. He growled at the man who’d tried to take him from his Sam. He started to shift, felt the wolf try and take over and then slumped and almost fell out of the bed as the two men screamed.
Doc and Sam ran towards Buster/Brian and caught him as he fell off the bed.
“Oh Brian,” cried Sam. She and Doc put him back on the bed.
Brian was half shifted and knew that his body was failing. There was noise in the room, but he couldn’t follow it. He looked up to see Sam. Tears were running down her face.
“I love you Sam. You remind me of my daughter,” gasped Brian. He coughed and wheezed.
“Oh Brian,” was all Sam could say as the tears rolled own her face.
Brian felt her wrap him in her arms. He swore he could see Natalie, Grandma Davy, George, and other members of his family standing at the end of the bed. They shimmered in the light. He smiled. Brian coughed again and shuddered as it subsided. Sam just rocked him slowly back and forth. His breathing became shallower and shallower until it was just a rattle in the back of his throat.
Wolf looked up and relaxed. It was time to go at last.