Our finals behind us, only
a few days remained until our wedding day. Mom had contacted the
minister to perform the ceremony right at the country house. It would
be just Souhei, Mom, Shino, Grandpa Nirosaki and his family, and
myself. I held the hope that Ame would find his way back to house
too, but I didn't expect that to happen. Still, the information he
gave us had nearly led to a breakthrough. With all the lore and
legends we found on the Honshu wolf, we had a lead on a possible town
that considered them to be guardians, or even deities in some cases.
The most promising lead was the town of Shizuoka which had Makami
shrines erected in honor of the Honshu wolf and believed them to be
spiritual protectors. It was agreed once we were married we would
head to the town and gather some intelligence in person, despite how
far it was. It had the potential to be our new home.
That night, Souhei stayed with Grandpa Nirosaki, due to the traditional belief that it was bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. Mom and I stayed at the country house, recounting stories from our time together before high school and our time apart during. “To tell you the truth, Mom, I'm a bit nervous about tomorrow.”
She tilted her head, putting her hand on my shoulder. “Are you having doubts? Yuki, if you're not certain of this, you need to say something.”
I shook my head with a smile. “No, no. I know I want to do this. Souhei has always made me feel like a priceless treasure. It's just such a big change. It's natural to be a bit nervous, isn't it?”
“I suppose you're right. It was the same way between your father and me.” she held my hand, looking into my eyes. “There's nothing to worry about. I can tell, you two are going to have a wonderful marriage that will last for many, many years.” As she pulled me into a gentle hug, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, before hearing a somewhat subdued howl. Mom bolted up, running over to the door. When she opened it, to our surprise, there stood Ame in his half-wolf form. “Ame, is everything okay? Are you hurt?”
He shook his head as he came inside “Tomorrow Yuki's wedding. I wanted to be here.” I felt myself overcome with joy. My hopes had come true. My brother had returned for my wedding day.
“It's wonderful to see you again,” I said, hugging him tightly. He gave me a smile and a soft, happy growl as he hugged me in return.
“I'll sew you a nice outfit,” Mom said, heading to her sewing machine promptly. She hadn't lost her skills as a seamstress.
Grudgingly, Ame changed
completely back to his human form. After throwing him a robe to put
on, I looked at Dad's picture on his driver's license. “Wow. It's
almost hard to believe, Ame, but you grew up to look just like our
father. Every hair in the exact same place, face perfectly the same.
It's uncanny, really.”
“You grew into beautiful woman, Yuki,” he replied. “Souhei is very lucky man.”
I gave him a nod as I backed up. “Yes, and I'm lucky to have him. Uh...Ame? You might want to take a shower. You smell like the mountains, and I think people might wonder if they smell that on you.” With a growl, he nodded, heading to the bath. He wasn't excited about being back in a human home again, even if for only one night, but it meant a lot that he was back. I sat outside the bathroom to talk with him. “Ame, that lead you gave us seems to have paid off. We can't say for sure, but our research suggests that town is in fact, Shizuoka.”
“I have no details. Chase your dream, Sister. I wish you to be happy.”
I looked down as he spoke. “Ame...if Shizuoka is indeed such a town, would you consider coming to live there? I'd like to at least have my brother close by.”
There was a long silence. I wasn't certain if he was angry at me asking such a thing or if he was just contemplating the idea. “I cannot promise that. The mountains here need guardian. What good would it do to go there for me? I am happy living as wolf.”
“But you have not totally turned your back on your life as a human,” I replied. “If you had, you would not have come to us when you were hurt, and you would have left the next morning. You wouldn't have come here today just to be present at my wedding. Ame, I'm not asking you to come there and move into a house, living as a human. There are mountains around there and forests. You could live in the wild and be guardian of the town like in the legends. That and you'd be close by when Souhei and I have wolf children of our own that you could teach them. We can research the Honshu wolf as much as we want, but we can only learn so much.”
“True. There are things they can only learn wild. Things I could teach them.” He went silent again for a while longer. “If Shizuoka is town like that and you tell me such, I will go after I train a guardian to take my place in this mountain.”
I let a smile adorn my face as I heard his reply. “Thank you, Ame.”
Souhei's night was not so
easy from what he told me. Grandpa Nirosaki and the others took him
out for a big celebration. The men cut loose, drinking and hollering,
while Souhei tried to keep out of the way. He harbored no love for
strong drinks, preferring a soda or milk instead, but he wasn't about
to tell the others not to enjoy themselves. Grandpa Nirosaki was the
worst of the bunch. After a few drinks, he didn't know what he was
saying anymore. One thing that he did understand was when Grandpa
Nirosaki sat him down to talk with him. “Boy, that Yuki became like
my granddaughter after a few years here. I hope you plan to treat her
right and stay faithful to her. I won't tolerate you breakin' her
heart. You be sure you take care of her, or I'm gonna make you
sorry.” Souhei gave him a nod, knowing it was best not to argue the
point. As soon as he could, he removed himself from the situation,
sitting outside to watch the stars. The party wasn't his idea of a
good time, but he also knew he couldn't come back to the house for
the rest of the night. Quietly, he made his way to Grandpa Nirosaki's
house to lie down and rest for the night.
When the next morning arrived, I awoke bright and early, my whole body tingling from a mix of excitement and nervousness. As I donned the dress, I couldn't help but let out a little squeal of delight. Today was going to be the best day of my life. I was certain of it. Ame seemed rather uncomfortable in his new clothes, though Mom kept them simple. He wore a pair of khakis she had sewn together, and a long, ordinary button down shirt. She tried her best to make sure they were comfortable, knowing they were being worn by someone who'd worn only wild wolf fur for several years. With the bouquet in my hands, we headed outside, the small clearing near the garden having chairs set up for all those in attendance. Ame made his way around the back, watching in secret. He still preferred to remain off the radar for the most part, but it meant a lot to me to have him there. Souhei waited at the trellis, dressed in a wonderful black tuxedo. His face turned red as he saw me approach. The white dress was paired with a set of elbow-length white gloves and had two blue ribbons along the hem. Mom held my arm as we walked down the aisle. Souhei stuttered a bit when I reached him, smiling at him from behind the veil. We had written our own vows, and Souhei went first.
“Yuki, the day I met you was its own roller coaster. As I reached out to you, I feared I had offended you when you avoided me, and I tried so hard to find out why. The details of that day are a bit fuzzy to me, but I knew I couldn't give up until you were my friend. I was thankful when you finally started talking to me, and I loved getting to spend time with you. Those years we were apart, I never forgot you, and I always dreamed of meeting you again. That night, when you said yes to me, I felt like I was flying high above the clouds. Yuki, I would gladly lay down my life for you in a heartbeat if necessary. I promise I will always protect you, and I will never let my heart stray. You are safe with me, and I will never betray you. Even if you were to turn into a monster, and an angry mob came threatening to kill you, I would never leave you, my beloved.”
I felt a tear in my eye at his vows. He had carefully remembered to omit the fact of my wolf form. I pulled my own vows to read for him. “Souhei, for the longest time, I knew you were a wonderful friend. Trustworthy and kind, you always greeted me with a smile. When everyone else followed the rumors on that day, you alone knew the truth, and you helped me to get back my confidence to face them all again. When we were together, I felt like a true treasure, and when you asked me to marry you, I felt...no I knew I had found where I belonged. You are as much an invaluable friend and treasure as you have made me feel. I will never leave you, Souhei, and my heart belongs to you alone.” When he heard the words, “You may kiss the bride,” he wasted no time in lifting the veil and holding me close in a long kiss. As he did, I heard a loud wolf howl echo through the mountain range. Ame had apparently hidden behind the house to mask his location, but his howl was his way of cheering for me. The others had already started cheering before Ame started to howl, and they didn't seem to pay much attention to it, but I knew. I could feel it.
“This is the happiest day of my life, Souhei.”
“And it's only going to get better,” he said, holding me close. I gave him a nod, closing my eyes and tossing the bouquet into the crowd. I heard a squeal of delight as Shino caught it, making me chuckle a bit. We made our way inside the house, where Mom had prepared the reception. I managed to sneak out the back where Ame was waiting.
“Thank you for coming, Ame. I promise I'll find you once we've been to Shizuoka.” He gave a nod, quickly turning to his wolf form and taking off before anyone could see him.
The party lasted well into
the night, and when it was all over, both Souhei and I were
exhausted. Even so, we had trouble getting to sleep that night.
Excitement of our plans for the next day, making our way to Shizuoka,
kept us awake nearly the entire night. Mom was generous enough the
next day to drive us. The trip took us an entire day and night. As
the sun rose the following morning, we still had a ways to go. “Who's
to say how they will react if I tell them I have evidence of a living
Honshu wolf?” I asked Souhei with a smile.
“Just be sure they take that well before you go showing them your wolf side. We still have to consider safety.”
I gave him a nod in return, letting my ears out in my half wolf form for the rest of the ride. “I certainly hope they do. It'll be nice to have a place where I can live without having to hide. A place where I can let my wolf side finally come to the light. Yuki the wolf has been locked away and sleeping inside me for so long now. I'm sure she wants to wake up and be free again, and live along side Yuki the human.”
Souhei let out a laugh at my little analogy. “Well, let's hope she wakes up, but stays part of you. If you became two separate Yuki's, I wouldn't know what to do.” His hand gently rubbed my wolf ears as we rode along.
“Don't worry. She and I will work things out,” I added with a laugh. The time left to reach Shizuoka seemed to pass like a dream. Soon, we pulled to a stop in front of the shrine to the Honshu wolf outside the town. Before stepping out of the car, I returned to my human form. “Well, that seems to support our theory.” As we entered, we were greeted by a woman who could only be described at the welcome wagon lady. After a friendly introduction and shaking hand, I looked her right in the eye. “I can't help noticing you have a monument to the extinct Honshu wolf here.”
“Yes. We have long honored the wolf of Honshu as our guardians, though it has been over 100 years since anyone has spotted one.”
“I see.” I closed my eyes, trying to think the best way to phrase my questions. “Let me ask you a question then. If I have evidence of the existence and location of a living Honshu wolf, to whom would I speak about that?” At the mention of that, she nearly fell over.
“You...You know where we can see a Honshu?!” she began to leap in excitement. “Wait here. I'll go get our town's mayor right now!!” she ran off without giving me a chance to get another word in edgewise.
“Uh...I'm not sure. Did that go well?” Souhei asked with a chuckle.
“I think so. At least it seems the rumors of them honoring the Honshu wolf were not merely rumors.” We waited until the nearly-hysterical lady came running back with an older gentleman following her. “See? See, mayor? This is the girl who says she knows about a living Honshu wolf!”
The man put his hand on the lady's shoulder. “Laney, head on home before you pass out. I will talk with her.” At his behest, the lady ran off, still screaming her head off about it. “I apologize for Laney's fanatical behavior. Her father often told her stories of the Honshu wolf when she was young, and he actually claimed to have seen one a few years ago, though we never could confirm it. Is yours another arbitrary claim or is there some validity to it? I do not want to waste resources on a search for a mirage.”
“I assure you, the one I know of is no mirage,” I told him, a little nervous. “I will be glad to share the details with you if we can go somewhere not so open.”
With an understanding nod, he motioned for us to follow. Mom, Souhei and I went with him through the streets. He led us a few blocks to his home, then brought us to the living room within. “As requested, we are not in the open here. I live alone, so it is simply the four of us.”
I gave him a nod, taking a deep breath. “Before I say anything, answer me this. If you found a living Honshu wolf, what would you do?”
“Assuming your claim is true and we actually found the wolf, we would attempt to photograph it at the least, but we would not attempt to capture it.”
“And if the wolf came to your town, or the natural areas surrounding it?”
He stroked his beard in contemplation. “So long as it posed no threat, we would consider ourselves blessed to have a protector and guardian of ancient times about.”
“One final question. In the legends we read, we have heard the Honshu wolves were exceptionally intelligent, and in some cases, it was believed they could speak and came into villages and towns to speak and commune with humans. Would you allow such a thing in your town?”
He let out a laugh, shaking his head. “If the legends were true and a speaking Honshu wolf came to our town, we would heed whatever wisdom it had to disclose.”
Satisfied with his answer, I looked back to Souhei and mom, both of whom nodded. I felt my heart beating out of my chest as I looked back to the mayor. “What I'm about to show you will shock you.” slowly, I began to change to my wolf form. My hands began to extend into claws, fur starting to appear on my face. The mayor went wide-eyed in a stunned silence watching. My face elongated into a wolf muzzle as my ears shifted up onto the top of my head, becoming canine in shape. My legs began to change shape, and soon, I stood before him on all fours, my dress tied loosely around my neck as it often did when I was younger. I stood before him now, completely a Honshu wolf. “I knew there was a living Honshu wolf because I am that very wolf,” I told him. For a time, he sat without a word, until his voice returned in a surprised squeak.
“H-how?” was all he managed to say. I looked to Mom, who could explain it better than I could.
“Because her father possessed the same ability, having the blood of humans and wolves in his veins. It's very difficult to explain his origins, but suffice it to say, his blood was passed down to our daughter.”
“Are you...the last of your kind then?”
I shook my head. “No. I have a brother, but he is not here, and per his wish, I will not reveal his location.”
The mayor nodded, leaning forward and taking my paw. “Miss, your presence here is a true blessing to this town. All of us who live here have longed to see a Honshu wolf, even if it is just once. Would you be willing to show them? Let them hear your howl? Just once?”
I gave him a small chuckle. “I was hoping to live here if the rumors and legends turned out to be true. Since it seems they are, I think you'll be seeing a lot more of me. However, if you can gather the people of the town, I would be willing to transform for them all to see. Is there a place I can climb up to for them to get a good view?”
He nodded vigorously. “Yes, yes! We have a statue in the plaza much like the mountains the Honshu wolves were said to live in. You could climb that!”
I returned to my human form, my dress back on me as I did. “Then go gather your people. I want to make sure they can all see it at once.” He hurried out, alerting as many people as he could. I sat beside Souhei and mom, my heart racing. “This is it. Soon, the entire town will know.”
“This is what you hoped for, Yuki,” Souhei said, holding me close. “This was your dream. A place where wolves, humans, and half-wolves can live together in peace.”
“You're making history here, sweetie,” Mom said, holding my hand. With a smile, I nodded to her. We waited about 2 hours before the mayor returned.
“The people are making their way to the plaza now. Store owners have closed their doors for the day. This is a momentous occasion for us!”
With a nod, I followed him out to the plaza. Everyone watched as I approached, many with whispers about what was to happen. Slowly, I began to climb the monument, allowing my wolf transformation to progress further and further with each step. When I got to the top, I was in my full wolf form, and though I felt very nervous with all those eyes watching me, I felt something more. I felt my wolf side awaken. I turned my head to the sky, letting out a howl that would have made Ame proud as it echoed through the entire town and for miles around it. I knew it was true now. I had found a place where both sides of me could live freely. I was free to be both Yuki the person and Yuki the wolf.
“How did you know that would go well?” Mom asked as we were on our way back to the car.
“To be honest, I didn't,” I said. “My heart was beating out of my chest the entire time. They very well could have seen me turn into a wolf and thought I was a monster and killed me.”
“But sometimes, you just have to throw all your cards on the table,” Souhei said with a smile, holding my hand. “Isn't that right, Yuki? It's the same thing you did with me that night. And the same thing your father did for your mother.”
I gave him a nod in return. “Yes. I'm glad it played out well. My heart rate should return to normal soon. At the very least, the mayor did tell us they have some homes they're trying to fill, but I don't know that you and I can afford one, Souhei.”
As we got back in the car, Mom paused for a moment, lost in thought. “Well, what about the rest of the money I was saving up for your wedding? It wouldn't be enough for a large house, and the one you get may need some work, but you'd have a place to live here.” It was just like when Ame and I were young, and Mom bought the country house. It was easily affordable for her, and even knowing how much work it would need, she was not deterred.
“Thank you, Mom. I wish I didn't need to ask for so much like that, but it would get us a starter home.”
At that mention, Mom left out a laugh. “You wish you didn't need to ask? I set that money aside just for you, Yuki. Even if you didn't use it now, I'd have kept it waiting for you. To me, it was your money already.” She started the car, and we made our way home, knowing we would still need to get our belongings, and we needed to tell Ame if we could find him. The long drive took nearly a full day before we pulled back up to mine and Souhei's apartment.
We didn't have much, and what we did have wasn't fancy or expensive, but we were going to get by. It seemed a better idea to stay at Mom's house for the night, rather than trying to drive all the way back out again. It wasn't easy on Mom to stay awake that long. That night, when the lights in the village nearby had gone out, I sneaked up to the mountain trail. Turning to my wolf form, I let out a loud, echoing howl, in hopes it would get Ame's attention. The first howl yielded no answer, so I gave another. The second how received a howl in return, and I stayed in my position until I saw him approach. I turned back to my half-wolf form, sitting down with a smile as he came to my side. “Are you well, Sister?” he asked.
“Yes, Ame. I am. And I need to thank you. You were right. In Shizuoka, the residents highly honor the Honshu wolf, even considering them guardians or spirits. They want Souhei and I to live there, to have a Honshu wolf nearby, now that they've seen my wolf form. I didn't tell them I have a brother yet.”
He seemed surprised at the mention of having shown them my wolf side. “You showed them? Why?”
“I had to be sure,” I told him, a serious expression on my face. “I had to know it was a place I could live as both a person and a wolf. A place where my children can freely live both sides of their heritage. I knew it was a risk, but one I felt I had to take.” I took his front paw in my hand. “And I believe you made a promise, Ame. That if I found such a place, you would come and live at least in the area surrounding it as soon as you trained a new guardian of the mountain here.”
He gave a small growl and a nod. “I will keep promise. I will come to Mother when training is done.” That was what I wanted to hear for now. I wanted to know he would keep his promise.
“Then when the time comes, I look forward to seeing you again, and having my brother close.” He went back to the mountain trails as I returned to the country house. The following morning we returned to Shizuoka.
Our discussion with the mayor ran quite smoothly, and thanks to the money Mom had saved, we were able to get our first home. It was a small place, feeling no bigger than our old apartment, but the important thing is that it had a bed to sleep on and the home was in good condition. It didn't need any major repairs, so we were cleared to move in immediately. Mom dragged out her time there as long as she could. She didn't want to say goodbye again so soon. Much as she did when I first left to live in the city, I gave her a wonderful smile. It was then she knew that I would be okay. With a wave and a tear, she drove away, leaving Souhei and I to our new home, and our new community. Once we had everything unpacked, we settled in to enjoy our new life.
First thing on our agenda was for at least one of us to find a job. Souhei took his time to ask around town that day while I was unpacking, and he did not return empty handed. When he came back, he had a big smile on his face. “I start in 3 days working days at the general store helping with stocking and the like. It's not the most glamorous, but at least it's a place to start.”
I gave him a nod, hugging him. “I should find a job, too. It won't be easy with just one of us working.” We sat in front of the fireplace as we talked, warming ourselves from the cold winter's day. “But I'm not entirely sure what I want to do.”
“You just need to take your time,” Souhei told me. “Figure out what it is you love. You don't have to decide today, tomorrow, or rush yourself into anything.” He held my hand as he talked, giving my cheek a kiss. “I want you to be happy.”
A small blush on my cheeks, I gave him a nod. “Thanks, Souhei.”
Bright and early the next morning, Souhei left for work after I made him breakfast. The house was in order after we had unpacked, and I had the day to myself now. It felt a wonderful day to let the wind blew through my wolf ears, so I turned to my half-wolf form and headed out with a light jacket on. Between the jacket and my fur, the weather was quite comfortable. As I walked, it was a strange feeling, seeing people accept me as a wolf. They didn't treat me any differently than they would any other neighbor, though they did seem grateful I was there. Before long, I came to a small playground. My ears perked up as I heard someone imitating a howl. I drew closer with a smile, watching some of the kids. “No, she howled like this!” the one girl said, letting out a strong howl for a girl so young.
“You wish! Guardian Yuki's howl was much bigger. Like this!” The young boy let out a howl of his own, and I couldn't help but chuckle.
“Really?” I said, approaching with a smile. “Because I thought it sounded a lot more like this.” I tilted my head up, letting out my own howl, though it was much quieter than when I gave the whole town my wolf demonstration. They squealed in delight at seeing me.
“Guardian Yuki!!” they jumped at me as if I were a big sister they hadn't seen in years. The surprise knocked me down, laughing all the way. It seemed I had respect from the adults and the admiration of the children.
“Aya, Morihime, leave her be.” An older woman approached, the kids running back to her. “I'm sorry, Miss Yuki. The kids have always been so easily excited.”
“Oh, it's no problem. Believe it or not, I used to be a lot like them. It was fun, really.” I brushed the snow off of me, flicking my tail to clean it.
“Guardian Yuki, what was it like growing up half wolf?” the young girl asked.
“Aya, you shouldn't just ask her that,” the older woman said.
I shook my head with a smile. “No, no. It's all right. I have some time, and it would be fun to recount some stories of my past.” I made my way over to the bench on the playground, the kids running over and sitting on the ground to listen.
“As you might imagine, in other cities and towns, a wolf child like me isn't really seen as a guardian. My mom feared that people would get too scared when they saw me and might even hunt me like a wild wolf. Back then, I couldn't control when I went in and out of wolf form. Mom could never have company over, because there was no telling when I'd change. We even ended up having to move because the apartment we lived at didn't allow pets, and the landlord always heard me howling at night.” The kids stared at me with rapt attention.
“So did you get kicked out?” Aya asked, wide-eyed in wonder.
“Not quite. We chose to leave. Mom found a big house way out in the country. It was very old and broken down, so it was almost free. She didn't bring anyone in to help fix it up, doing it all herself. It was a good fit. The nearest neighbor was at least 5 miles away and the property was very large, so I had lots of room to run around either as a girl or as a wolf. Mom said she wanted me to have a choice to live either as a human or a wolf. We didn't know about Shizuoka at the time, so we didn't know there was a way for me to live as both like I can now.”
“What happened to your dad?” Morihime asked me, at which I looked down.
“We don't know exactly. One night it was raining hard and he stepped out. We don't know what he was thinking, but when we found him, he was in the canal. We don't know if it was a car accident, or if he fell in and drowned, but it was too late. He was in his wolf form, so Mom couldn't even have a proper funeral. I was little over a year old at the time, so I don't remember him well, other than my mother's stories. But one thing I always knew about my dad. He loved my mom, and he loved me. That was never a mystery.”
The older woman wiped a tear from her eye. “He sounds like a wonderful man. I wish I could have met him.” I gave her a nod in return, knowing how she felt. “Well, Aya, Morihime, we need to be going. Thank you very much for your time, Miss Yuki.”
“It was no trouble,” I replied with a smile. “It was actually kind of fun, being able to share my history.”
“The kids seemed to very much enjoy your story. I run the local daycare. Perhaps you could join us sometimes. I'm certain Aya and Morihime's friends would enjoy your stories as well.” With a smile, I gave a nod, my tail swaying a little.
“Yes, I think that would be a wonderful idea. When would be good to stop by?”
“Well, the daycare opens late on Sundays, so in about 2 hours. You can stop in whenever you'd like,” she replied as she extended her hand to shake.
“Then I'll see you there,” I said, shaking her hand and waving as they left. Perhaps I'd found my niche. I couldn't say for sure just yet.
I spent some time exploring the town over the next 2 hours. It seemed to pass in the blink of an eye before I made my way to the daycare. The building seemed to be in need of repair, though not nearly as much as the old country house when Mom first moved there. Even the sign out front was heavily faded and falling apart. I headed inside, meeting the kindly old woman from before. “Miss Yuki. It's wonderful to see you here,” she said. In the distance, I heard Aya shout, “Hey, it's Guardian Yuki!!” as she did, a number of kids ran over toward me, only to be stopped by the tap of the older lady's cane against the floor. “Kids, run along and play. Miss Yuki and I need to talk a bit.” With a groan, they headed off.
“What happened to this place?” I asked, looking around. “It's so run down.”
“Yes. My husband used to work hard to fix it up. You see, I own this building, but 10 years ago, he passed away while out cutting lumber. He was attacked by a wild boar, and strong as he is, he didn't make it. Since then, I've had no one to help me here and no money to pay for repairs.”
I shook my head as I heard her story. “Then that's something we need to prioritize. I can talk to the mayor and see if we can't get something worked out.”
“You're very kind, but I've been trying to get in to see the mayor for so long now. Any time I do, there's always something that disrupts us. He almost doesn't see the need for the daycare anymore. Few families bring their kids here with it in such disrepair.”
“I think I can get my foot in the door,” I told her with a smile. “I'll talk to him on your behalf as soon as I can.” I looked behind her at the kids playing, chuckling a bit. “But I think that'll be after the children head home today. For now, we have a job to do, don't we?” With a smile and a nod from her, the day watching the kids began.
It was a wonderful day helping to watch the children. I left the daycare smiling, looking forward to going back another day, but I knew I had some business to help take care of first. The following day I planned to go see the mayor, but first, I wanted to tell Souhei the news. He wouldn't be off work for a couple more hours, though, so it was a good chance to head home and start on dinner. I had a feeling Souhei would enjoy Mom's kebab recipe. It didn't take too long to make, so I set to reading as I waited. When about an hour remained until Souhei's return, I got started. Dinner was ready and hot when Souhei returned. “Hey Yuki. Whatever you're making sure smells good.”
“It's my mom's kebab recipe, complete with the same dipping sauce she makes.” I quickly brought the food and sauce to the table for two. “Eat up!” Souhei wasted no time in sitting down to start into his dinner, and I had a strong hunger myself.
“Did you find anything interesting today?” Souhei asked between bites.
“I did. I was passing by the playground when I heard a couple of kids trying to imitate my howl. We got to talking, and they were interested in hearing some stories from my childhood. Their grandmother, or I assume she was, led me to the old daycare. It's in pretty bad shape, but I told her I'd talk to the mayor. I want to get them some help fixing it up.”
He gave a nod. “I think it's a good idea. You should have some pull around here I would think.” It was nice to hear the vote of confidence. “You're my wife. I know you can do it.”
The following day, just as I promised, I went to see the mayor. He made time to squeeze me in. As Souhei predicted, it seemed I did have some pull in Shizuoka. “What can I do for you today, Miss Yuki?” he asked, sitting in his office with me.
“Sir, are you aware of the state of disrepair the town's daycare?” He responded with a nod. “That place can be repaired with some work, and the town needs a daycare. If nothing else, it gives the kids a place to hang out and start making friends.”
“I understand your concern, but so few people even make use of the daycare anymore. Fixing up the building may help bring more people in, but do you believe that alone will be enough?”
“The building alone might not, but I think I can,” I told him with a determined smile. “The kids seem to love hearing my stories from growing up. It may not be instant, but if it brings the children together, it will foster greater community within the town in the future. That's the sort of village I grew up in, even needing to hide my wolf side. Everyone helped to take care of each other, and so long as you put in the work, you would get what you needed.”
He was lost in thought for a bit, before nodding. “Very well. I trust your judgment, Miss Yuki. I will get things rolling to get the daycare fixed up. It may not be the prettiest job, but we will make it structurally sound.”
“Leave beautification to me,” I told him. “I have a few family friendly ideas.”
The mayor was true to his word, putting things in place. Even during the work to fix it up, I loved getting to help the kids. As word began to spread about the work and the new help at the daycare, more and more parents brought their kids, and the daycare began to generate some more revenue from parent donations. Before I knew it, I was actually starting to receive a paycheck, and the building was starting to look much better. It took about 3 months, but finally, the daycare was fully repaired. Though simple in décor at the moment, it was well on its way. I had a wonderful idea for a mural to paint on the one wall, but I needed some help first.
I put a call through to Mom, glad to hear her voice again. “How is it going in Shizuoka, Yuki?” she asked when she answered. “Have you and Souhei settled into your new life well?”
“Yes we have. Souhei's been working at the grocery store, and I've been working at the town daycare as they've been fixing it. We're both making decent money. Enough that we can live comfortably. The daycare is actually the reason I called. I remember you saying on the day Ame left, you could remember every detail. Well, right now, the daycare has no decoration, and I think one of the walls should have a mural. I feel the mural should be a depiction of that day. A full Honshu wolf howling to the heavens atop the mountain, every detail poured into every brushstroke. If you could do even a rough draft painting, I could put it up on the wall.”
There was a long pause after I said that, and I think I heard Mom sniffle. “It's a wonderful idea, Yuki, but I think it would be better if I were to paint it.”
“I think I understand. If I paint it, I won't be able to convey the emotion you felt that day. For that, it would take your hand at the brush.”
“Yes. And I have some more good news.” She went silent for a moment. The next voice I heard made me gasp.
“Sister. New guardian is ready. I keep my promise. I come to Shizuoka.”
“Ame!” I felt tears in my eyes as I heard that. My brother would soon be back in my life again. “When will you and Mom come out?”
“Tomorrow.” I nearly dropped the phone. I didn't expect him to say it would be so soon. “We will be there tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Ame.” I wiped a tear from my eye. “I think the townspeople will be happy, too. Knowing another Honshu wolf is nearby.” As we hung up, I looked out the window with a smile. So many things were going right in my life. I almost felt like I was tempting fate and fortune.
My night was sleepless. Souhei fell asleep on the couch beside me quickly. He really gave his all at his job, and at home. I was very proud of him. The next morning, I nearly squealed in delight when I heard a knock on the door. Mom awaited when I opened the door, and Ame stood beside her in his human form. “Please, please, come in!” The two ushered their way in, Souhei still asleep, getting as much sleep as he could before work. He sat up groggily, scratching his head.
“Who's there, Yuki?” He rubbed his eyes a moment, looking around. “Oh, Hana and Ame.”
“Yes. It's nice to see you again, Souhei.” Mom gave him a bow of respect. He stretched a bit, getting ready to head out.
“I'll have my phone on me if you need me, Yuki,” he said, giving me a warm kiss before he left. He always made time for that.
“Do I need stay here long?” Ame asked.
“At least stay until the night. Please, Ame. I want you to get to meet the mayor and the kids at the daycare.” I held my head as I began to feel a little nauseous.
“Are you okay, honey?” Mom asked with concern.
“Yeah. I'm fine. This has been happening for a few days now.”
“Yuki, I think you need to see the doctor,” she said, putting her hand on my shoulder. I gave her a nod.
“I will, but since you've come all this way, let me at least show you the way to the daycare. Then I'll head over to the doctor's office.” She took my hand, but I gently pulled back, shaking my head. “I'll be okay Mom. I can head to the doctor on my own.” Grudgingly, she nodded, and I led them both to the daycare. I gave Ame a nudge. “Go ahead. Show them there's another Honshu wolf alive.”
He turned to his wolf form as the kids watched, but fearing he may scare them, he did not howl in front of them. Mom looked around at the walls. “I've gathered a number of paints, Mom. The kids said they'd like to watch you paint if that's okay.”
She gave a nod. “Yes. I don't mind.” As she started to work on the painting, I left the daycare, heading to the doctor as I promise. My visit didn't last two long, but when I left, I found myself shocked. I pulled out my phone. “S-souhei. C-come to the daycare. Please, hurry.”
I made my way slowly back to the daycare, where Mom had nearly finished her painting. She looked over as she saw me come in, nodding to me. With a few more strokes, the mural was complete, but I barely noticed. I had a lot on my mind. She came over, looking at me with concern. “Are you okay, Yuki?”
I just nodded. “I...I went to the doctor. I want to wait until Souhei gets here.” she sat by my side, Ame against my other side, a concerned sibling, wanting to support his big sister. Souhei soon came running in, panting hard. He stopped in front of me, almost unable to breathe. One of the children rushed over with a bottle of water for him.
“Yuki, is everything okay? On the phone, you sounded like you were hurt!” he put his hands on my shoulders, looking me over. “You don't look hurt.”
I shook my head. “You know how I've been feeling sick the past few days? Well, after I led mom here, I went to see the doctor. It took some time for me to absorb the news when he told me, and I couldn't wait until you got home. It's very important, and I'm glad all three of you are here for this.” I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. “Mom, Ame, Souhei. There's another wolf child on the way.” Mom gasped as I said that. Ame raised his head, and Souhei went breathless again. “It's confirmed. Souhei, you're going to be a father.” I took his hand gently, a tear rolling down my cheek with a smile on my face. Souhei seemed paralyzed at first, but soon, a tear appeared in his eye as he pulled me into a gentle hug.
“Yuki...Thank you for not waiting to tell me. I...I can't believe it. I'm actually going to be a daddy.”
Mom began to sob a little, that wonderful smile across her face. Ame looked into my eyes, and even without a word, I could tell how happy he was, though none as happy as Souhei and I. We were finally going to have a family.