Authors: Patricia D. Eddy
By the time Mara had rinsed her plate in the sink, he’d devoured all of the remaining meat and half of the water. He sat up with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, panting, and watching her.
Mara leaned against the counter. Her jeans hung loosely, the green sweater hugging her curves and brightening her eyes. “So.” She twirled the syringe in her hand. The wolf growled.
She laughed. “I didn’t think so. You look practically healthy now other than how skinny you are. You need a bath. And some time with a brush. But I don’t think you need this.” Mara dropped it on the counter. “But what should I do with you? You’re a wild animal, yet you’re sitting there like a puppy.”
The wolf cocked his head. They’d been in the car for a long time. They had to be far away from the bad woman. He wanted to stay with Mara. Mara was nice.
Mara knelt down next to him and rubbed his head. He leaned into her, asking for comfort, protection. She wrapped her arms around him and he nuzzled her neck. Pain lanced through him and a small, high-pitched bark escaped before he could stifle it.
“I should call Adam. You’re in pain.”
The wolf growled, shook his head, and nudged her chin. Heart-shaped lips pursed as she trapped a bit of the rosy flesh beneath her teeth. He whined, forced a happy, contented sound from his weakened body. He had to make her understand. He wanted to stay with her. No one else.
“Where’d you come from? Someone did this to you. Were they hurting other animals too?”
He didn’t understand her and cocked his head. The pain lessened enough for him to take a deep breath and nudge her again.
“I feel better when I touch you, you know that?” Mara smiled, righting his entire world with that single gesture. He licked her neck and she laughed and pulled away with a little shriek. “Gross.”
Mara got to her feet with a groan, steadying herself against the counter. The wolf pressed against her, suddenly worried. But after a couple of deep breaths, she straightened and stroked the top of his head. “C’mere.”
He followed her to the couch where she curled up with a small, black screen. He knew what that was.
Words were coming back to him. The most important one was
followed closely by
He needed her help. If only he could figure out how to ask for it.
The wolf slept the entire day. Every couple of hours, he’d succumb to a nightmare. Mournful whines, angry growls, and spasms wracked his whole body. Mara stroked his side or talked to him until he calmed. Sometimes he woke up, looked at her with pain in his eyes, and nuzzled her hand before he fell asleep again.
“Who did this to you?” she asked once, dropping down next to him and comforting his haggard body. “Someone hurt you, starved you.” Mara wasn’t sure why she expected him to answer her, but the vocalization he made almost sounded like a yes.
Mara read for a few hours, napped, and when her lunchtime alarm went off, rose to fix herself a sandwich. She was rarely hungry these days, but she forced herself to eat whenever she could. Aunt Lillian shopped for her now and always made sure she had plenty of Kraft Singles and white bread on hand. As the butter sizzled, Mara’s stomach growled, hungry for the first time in days.
Now this is one perk of dying. Comfort food for every meal
. The rich, cheesy scents of childhood, of her mother’s love, filled the kitchen and reminded her that she wasn’t dead yet. There was still joy in her life, bits of sunshine amid the clouds, and for now, there was an animal who needed her.
She glanced over at the sleeping wolf. Nothing about him made sense. How could so powerful an animal be reduced to a mangy, dying, haunted shell? And what else could she do to help him in the little time she had left? Biting into the golden brown, oozing sandwich, feeling the hollow in her belly lessen, she realized she didn’t have anything left in the house he could eat. Her keys glinted in the winter sunlight. She felt good enough to drive. He needed food and she’d make sure he had it.
The aisles of Whole Foods were packed the day before Thanksgiving. Mara wove in and out of the crowds, browsing articles on her smart phone to figure out what gray wolves ate. Primarily meat, but also some berries and even fresh vegetables if they came across them. She piled the cart high with ten pounds of beef, six pounds of bison, several bags of baby carrots, blueberries, and blackberries. For herself, she added a chocolate bar, some coconut milk eggnog, chips, and a box of Christmas-themed sugar cookies.
The checker was as frazzled as the crowds, but after the fifth package of beef, he stopped and stared at Mara. “Wow. That’s a lot of meat.”
“My family doesn’t do turkey,” Mara said, forcing a smile. “And we eat a lot.”
“You? You’re skin and bones.”
The smile fell away. “Yeah, well. Lucky, I suppose.”
And dying. With a wolf waiting for me at home.
He was not only waiting for her, he was excited to see her. Or perhaps he’d been frightened by her absence or her return, or both. When she walked in the door, he yipped and pressed his whole body against her legs, shaking.
“Whoa there! Someone woke up. You need to go out?” Mara slid past him and set the bag on the counter. He followed, watching her intently. “I guess not. Okay then. Food?” She pulled out a package of bison and held it out. His mouth watered and a bit of drool fell to the floor with a
. Mara grimaced. “Ugh. I guess so.”
No sooner had she put the plate of bison down on the floor when the phone rang. Mara glanced at the caller ID. Adam.
, she thought.
How the hell am I going to explain to him that the wolf is still here and I have no plans to call Fish and Wildlife?
“Well, what happened?” The blare of a car horn made her wince.
“Are you driving?” She tsk-tsked him.
“I’ve got a hands-free kit. You’re stalling. What happened with Fish and Wildlife?”
“I didn’t call them.”
“Did you bury him in the yard? Shit, Mara. That’s illegal.”
“Well, first of all, do you really think I care about being thrown in jail right now? I’m going to be dead in six weeks.” The wolf’s head snapped up. He stopped eating and watched her. There was something in that look: fear, longing, shock. Mara shook her head and unwrapped the chocolate bar. “Second of all, he’s not dead. He’s devouring a pound of bison as we speak.”
“He’s going to devour
soon. That’s not a dog you’ve got there. That’s a wild animal. I’m on my way over. Don’t go near him.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Adam. He’s sitting here right next to me and he’s as docile as can be. He’s not a danger to me. I can’t really explain it, but he needs me right now.” She didn’t know how to explain to Adam that she thought she needed the wolf too.
“I’m five minutes away.”
“The door’s unlocked. Come on in.”
Mara put the rest of the groceries away and went back to the couch. She needed to sit down. Or swim. She wasn’t feeling well. The wolf staggered over to her and lowered his body onto the blanket she’d laid out for him. “Don’t worry, bud. We’ll figure this out.” The wolf barked at her in agreement.
Adam was true to his word. Five minutes later he knocked twice and opened the door. “Mar?”
She waved at him from the couch. The wolf lifted his head and glared at Adam. His possessive growl warned Adam to stay back, but Adam set his bag down and withdrew a syringe, advancing towards the couch warily. The wolf growled louder.
“What the hell is that?” Mara asked, tightening her hand on the wolf’s scruff.
“It’s another sedative. Move away.”
“No.” She got up but instead of listening to him, she moved in front of the wolf. “He doesn’t need it. He’s fine and so am I.” As if the wolf understood her, he nudged her hand with his nose. Sitting up, his head came to her waist. He was massive, even with the how thin he was.
Mara dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around his body. He made a contented sound and leaned his head against hers. The headache that wanted to settle behind her eyes lessened, but a sheen of moisture covered her palms and the strange haunting melody that had been her frequent companion these past few weeks resonated in her ears. The signals her body threw at her were confusing. She felt better, but sweaty palms and auditory hallucinations were never a good thing. The wolf questioned her, nuzzling her ear. Could he sense whatever was going on with her?
“You’re being stupid,” Adam said.
“Dammit, Adam. You’re not my mother. Look at him. And me. Does it look like he wants to hurt me?”
Adam crouched beside the wolf with the syringe still in his hand. The wolf watched him warily, but stayed silent.
“Maybe he’s still drugged from last night.” He pulled back the wolf’s eyelid. The animal jerked his head away and bared his teeth until Mara stroked his side.
“He’s eaten almost three pounds of meat today. He
to go outside this morning and came back in fifteen minutes later. I watched him. He sniffed the whole yard, marked it, and then calmly sat at the door until I let him back in. Wherever he came from, he’s house-trained. Maybe someone on the island kept him as a pet or in some sort of zoo. He’s not going to hurt me. And—” Mara broke off and looked down at the floor. She didn’t know any other way to say it other than saying it. “I feel better around him.”
“I don’t feel as sick when I’m next to him. He makes me feel better,” she whispered. Absently, she scratched the wolf’s head. His tongue tumbled out of his mouth and he panted.
Adam’s brows drew down. “Well, therapy dogs are often used with cancer patients. We talked about getting you one—Lil and I. But the kids are allergic and the condo won’t let Lillian have dogs so we didn’t know what we’d do with it when you . . . couldn’t take care of it anymore. I still don’t like it.” He straightened up and set his bag down on Mara’s coffee table. Rummaging in it, he withdrew three more syringes, went to the kitchen for a glass, and dumped all four of the long needles in it. “There’s enough sedative in there to keep him flat on his back for at least a day. If he starts acting at all aggressive, you use one and call me. Or better yet, get out of the house. Will you promise me that?”
Mara practically melted with relief and sagged against the wolf. “Yes. I promise.”
“I’ve got to get home. Lisa has a to-do list as long as my arm. Dinner’s at three tomorrow, but come over any time, okay?”
Thanksgiving. My last Thanksgiving
. The idea of family tugged a smile from her lips, despite the finality of the day. Lisa’s turkey, Aunt Lil’s pumpkin pie, Jen’s stupidly delicious green bean casserole topped with Funyons. “Yeah. Sounds good.”
Standing, Mara reached for Adam to steady herself. He wrapped her in his arms. “I wish you’d move in with us,” he whispered in her ear. “I don’t like the idea of you here all alone. Not when . . .”
He didn’t have to finish his sentence.
Not when the end is almost here.
The wolf growled and forced his body between them. Mara wasn’t alone and the wolf seemed hell-bent on reminding her of that. “I love you and Lisa. And the kids. You know that. But this is my home and I’m not ready to leave it yet.”