Wolf Children - Yuki's Next Chapter

Chapter 7

The time we spent that winter at Mom's house seemed to passed as if in a dream. We visited our old neighbors, and they all took a shine to Ito almost immediately. I was glad he kept his wolf form under control. The question came up a few times about the scar on my hand, but I passed it off as a kitchen accident. It was a tough sell sometimes, given the shape of it, but they didn't make too much of a fuss. The beautiful sunrises in the morning, and all the stars shining at night were sights you just couldn't see anywhere but the country side. It was a granted wish having my entire family together like that. I wanted that time, those nights to last forever.

Inevitably, we had to return to Shizuoka, but we had plenty of wonderful memories from our time there. I remember when we returned, the next day felt as if I had awoken from a dream to find myself trapped in a nightmare. Souhei seemed so distraught, but he didn't say anything. I could see it in his eyes, though. I tried to get through the day without paying it any mind, but I couldn't hide how much I was worrying about him. I wore a smile at the daycare, but the kids and Ito alike could tell I had something weighing on my mind. I couldn't act like nothing was bothering me, so that night, after Ito went to bed, I sat down with Souhei to talk to him. “Souhei, is there something wrong? You seemed very distant and upset today. Did I do something to make you mad?”
He shook his head. “No, no. You've done nothing wrong, Yuki. It's just...” he stayed silent for a short time. “Yuki, I feel like I'm not living up to my full potential. I have a wonderful wife and a great son, but we're barely getting by in terms of our finances. I only had the skills to do manual labor, and the head of sanitation job was basically handed to me because of our status with you being one of the last few Honshu wolves in existence. If it weren't for Shizuoka revering the Honshu so much, I fear we'd be broke and homeless, Yuki. I want to be able to provide for my family if we should ever get into a position that we had to leave this town.”
“I don't understand, Souhei. What are you saying?” He reached out, gently taking my hand.
“I've been doing some research. There's a business college in America, and when I submitted an application online...I got an offer to go for the interview. If I were to be accepted...it's a 3 year program. With it being so far away, I wouldn't be able to come home so easily, even during breaks.”
I looked down, my heart sinking. It hurt to admit, but he was right about our situation. The only reason we were getting by was because of the townspeople who revered the wolf blood in me. Without them, we would be in a desperate struggle. “But Souhei...This is the kind of place I've dreamed of living. It's small, and we do well based on what I am, but we've got a great community of friends around here.”
“I know it's a lot to take in, Yuki, but you have to think about what might happen if we were to lose this town. Where would we go, and how would we get by? It's a big decision, Yuki, I know. I haven't told the dean of admissions my decision of whether or not to go yet. I have until tomorrow at 5pm. This would affect you and Ito so much...” he sighed a bit, looking at our joined hands. “That's why I want you to make the decision, Yuki. I already know what I want to do, but if your heart isn't in it, I want you to tell me to stay.”
I closed my eyes, shaking my head. It was a lot to take in, and it was a major life-changing decision. If I said no, we'd have no backup plan should we ever need to leave the village. If I said yes, I would have to raise Ito alone for 3 years. “Can I...Can I have the night to think about it, Souhei?”
He gave me a nod. “Of course. I wouldn't want you to answer without searching your heart first. And if tomorrow at 5 you can't decide, I won't go. I won't walk out on you.” He gave me a kiss. “I'm going to try to get some sleep.”
“Okay. I'll...be in later.” He headed to the bedroom, while I sat on the couch in front of the fireplace. It was a huge decision. There were losses to consider on both ends. We could lose out on a stable backup plan if anything should go wrong in Shizuoka, or Souhei would end up missing the most important years of Itonami's childhood. More than that, he had left it all on me to decide, but I didn't know which decision was right.

I got no sleep that night, my mind and heart weighed down with the decision. Souhei had to head out for work the next day, leaving Ito and I at home alone. Ito didn't understand what was going on, but he stayed by my side. “Mama? What's wrong?”
I shook my head, covering my eyes. “Ito, Daddy...Daddy is trying to decide whether or not to stay here with us, or to go far away for a few years. If he went away, when he came back, we'd be able to make more money, so that if we ever had to leave home, we'd be able to make a living. If he stays, and something happens that we have to leave Shizuoka, we might not be able to get by.”
“Why would we not get by if we left?”
“Because here in Shizuoka, everyone loves wolves. You, Ame, and I are the only wolves left, so the people here treat us nice to help us, but in other places, people don't like wolves so much. We may not find friends and neighbors who would be so willing to help us. Daddy...Daddy wants to make sure we can get by without needing so much help.”
“Is Daddy going to leave?” Ito asked, his eyes watery.
“Well, it's...up to me. He knows he wants to go, but he said he won't go if I don't want him to. That's what I can't decide. I want him to stay with us, but at the same time, I know we need a backup plan just in case.”
Ito hugged me gently. “Would he come back?” I smiled a bit, hugging him as I nodded. “Would you leave?” I shook my head.
“No, Ito. I would still be here.”
“I'd miss Daddy, but...maybe he should go.” I looked down into his eyes, seeing them watering.
I gave him a nod. “I know. I know. I just...I don't know if I can stand to have him away so long.”
“Don't worry, Mama. I'll be the man of the house.” I chuckled a bit at Ito's bravery, a few tears falling from my eyes.
“Then I should be okay, shouldn't I?” I gave him a smile, sniffling a bit. “I know what to tell him, Ito.” I pulled him close, hugging him gently.

That evening when Souhei returned, he sat beside me on the couch, putting his arm around me. I leaned in resting my head on his shoulder. “I know my answer, Souhei.” There were tears in my eyes that I couldn't hide. “If you're sure you'll be okay alone for so long, and you promise me you'll come back...I'll be strong for me and Ito. I will be waiting for you, Souhei. I promised I would be loyal to you, and I'm not going to turn my back on that, no matter how long you're away. Whether it's 3 years or the next time I see you is on my death bed as a 100 year old woman, I will be waiting for you, Souhei. So promise me...just promise me you'll come back no matter how long it takes.”
He pulled me close, kissing my head. “I will come back, Yuki. I made the same promise to you. Loyal and true until the day I die, and I'm not going to die without coming back to your side. You and our son.” He held me for such a long time, before he stood up, getting his computer and sending the e-mail to the dean with his decision. I looked down. Even with out cell phones and laptops, the time zone difference would leave us with very little opportunity to talk. I knew I had to be strong.

The time leading up to his departure, we filled with as much family togetherness as we could. His hands shook as he was packing, and more than once, I saw him touching the scar on his ear, as if recalling the day we met. I wore a smile, as sad as I was, a trait I inherited from my mother. Ito stayed by his father's side any chance he got, making the most of the time they had left before the big departure. When he was away from his father, he was in his room, working on a few drawings. The smile on Souhei's face when Ito presented them was like a treasure of its own. One of the pictures showed Ito and me smiling as we looked out at the stars with a line down the middle. On the other side, Souhei was standing looking up at the sunrise. Ito said it was the two of us watching the stars like we did at Mom's house, waiting for him to return, and Souhei looking towards home in the morning before he went off to classes. Souhei pulled his little man into a gentle hug, and as he pulled back, he place a carved figure of a wolf into his hand. “It's a good luck charm,” he said with a smile. “When you look at it, you can think of me.” He placed one in my hand as well, but the one he gave me more closely resembled my half-wolf form. I pulled him into a hug, knowing it was going to be just as hard on him as it was on us.

2 weeks later, we bade each other farewell at the airport. I held back my tears until the plane was up and out of sight in the distance, but once it was gone, I forced a smile as a tear rolled down my cheek. I had faith I would see him again, but until then, I had to be strong for myself and our son.

Every minute without Souhei was rough for Ito and I. We had just grown accustomed to him being around more, and now, we didn't get to see him at all. The first two weeks were the roughest, especially for Ito. He was far less talkative and energetic. I knew I had to be happy for both of us and give him an example to follow. I thanked my mom for her example; how she was always smiling when things were rough. After the first two weeks, it got easier when we received some mail from Souhei. It included a letter and a package as large as Ito, but surprisingly light. My little wolf child jumped up onto the couch, turning back to his human form. “What is it, Mama?”
“It's a letter and a present from Daddy,” I said, sitting beside him as I opened the letter.
Dear Yuki and Ito,
I hope you're doing well. I already miss you, but I think of you every night. Every morning before I leave for class, I look at the picture Ito drew for me. My roommate laughed the first time he saw it, but when I told him it was a gift from my son back in Japan, he didn't say a word about it after that. When we had some time to sit down and talk, he began to ask me about the two of you and what sort of things Ito likes. He was a bit surprised when I mentioned how cool Ito thought wolves were. Don't worry, I didn't say anything to give away our secret, but he did manage to find where I could get a gift for you, Ito. It's in the box.I paused reading there, giving Ito the chance to open the gift he had received from his father. As he tore open the cardboard box, inside was a wolf plush doll as big as Ito. The little guy let out a gasp as he scooped it up, hugging it close. I turned back to the letter as he sat beside me, hugging his new friend.
The shop where I bought this, they make you come up with a back story for your new friend. It took some time to think it through, but I came up with the perfect one. His name is Lloyd, a wolf of legend. Long ago, wolves and humans were at war with no end in sight. Lloyd never joined the fighting. He watched from atop a distant mountain his heart sad as his people and the humans fought. As he watched, he was joined by a woman whose heart was equally heavy from their plight. The two felt a bond between them, and a new mission. The two raced to the battlefield, trying to put a stop to the fighting. A lone wolf hiding nearby attacked the woman and she didn't make it. Grieving over the loss, Lloyd returned to the mountaintop, but as he got there, he lifted his head in a mighty howl that echoed across the lands. Both sides stopped fighting, looking at the majestic wolf in the distance. As the humans were distracted, the wolves retreated, vanishing from the human's detection. The fighting had stopped, and both sides could live at peace in their own homes.
I know, it sounds cheesy. The guys at the store said the same thing, but wouldn't it be something if it were true? Story or no, I hope someday, you grow up to be brave and strong like the Lloyd of the story, Ito. Regardless of what you choose to be, human, wolf, or anything in between, be strong and brave, Ito.
Yuki, you are what I miss most about my home. It's rough here without you, especially since I never was able to get a wedding ring. All the girls think I'm single because of it, but I just tell them I have the best girl in the world already, and I'll always tell them that. Don't ever forget that, Yuki. You are the best girl in the world, and I look forward to holding you in my arms again.

-Love

-Souhei

I began to tear up as I read his wishes for Ito and his promise to me. Ito turned to his wolf form, putting his paws on my arm as he licked my face gently. I pulled him into a hug. “Thank you, Ito.” He gave me a cute little bark. “Do you want to help me write a letter back to Daddy?”
“I don't know how to write yet, Mama,” he said with a chuckle.
“You can tell me what you want to say to him and we can write it together.”
“How about I draw Daddy a picture?”
I gave him a nod. “I think he would like that.”

That evening Ito set to drawing, trying to figure out what he wanted to show his father. I took the time to write back to him.
Dear Souhei,

It hasn't been easy getting used to you being gone. I don't think I'll ever totally get used to it. I don't want to. I long to have you back at my side. Ito loved his new friend, and he's starting to make some new friends at daycare. The kids all think he's so cool, being half wolf. It seems he may already be finding his own pack. I'm happy for that. It's good that he has friends so early on. I didn't have even one until I got to first grade, and even then, I had to change so much about myself to fit in. When I acted like me, they all ran away screaming. I don't think Ito will have that trouble. Don't worry. I'll be mother and father both until you return. Just as you promised to be faithful, I will too. I know how many of the men around town have their eyes on me, but if they try anything, they'll be dealing with Yuki the wolf and her claws. Concentrate on your studies. I want you to do well so you can come home as soon as possible. Ito sends his love, and a picture as well. I'll keep you in my heart forever.

-Love

-Yuki and Ito

Ito soon came back with his picture. When he flipped it over, it was a picture of Souhei, him, and myself together with Sohei in the middle, but he had drawn us with our wolf ears and tails. I gave him a chuckle. Others who saw it would probably just think it was the scribbles of a little boy, or that they were fake ears and tail. The three of us in the picture were standing together and smiling, Souhei's arms around the two of us. Across the middle, he wrote “I luv U Daddie.” I gave a smile as I folded it and tucked it in the envelope with the letter. “He's going to love it,” I said, kissing his head.

Over the next three months, many times at night, when it was time for Ito to go to bed, I overheard him howling softly. Once, I opened the door, looking in at him. He was looking out the window towards the stars. It was as if he was calling out to his father, the lost member of his pack. I didn't have the heart to stop him, and he wasn't being very loud. That night, I watched as he kept howling until he fell asleep. Perhaps it was his way of consoling himself, but it made me smile to see him embracing his wolf blood so readily. I made my way in quietly, tucking him in gently and giving him a kiss, putting his wolf plush in his arms. He snuggled up to it as if it were his father. I knew I had to do something to take his mind off Souhei, and I had just the thing in mind. I made my way out of the house to the outskirts of town, letting out a howl as I tried to call Ame. It was answered by two howls; his and Jasmine's as the two made their way to me. Jasmine was starting to seem closer to a wolf more and more as she lived in the wild with him. I almost expected to see her grow a tail and wolf ears.
“What's wrong, Sister?” Ame asked, sitting in front of me in his wolf form.
“I'm trying to find something to take Ito's mind off Souhei while he's away in America. Do you think maybe you could take him with you for a while? Let him live in the wild with you and teach him how to hunt like your Sensei taught you?”
“If I teach him, he may grow to embrace his wolf side as I did. You wish to risk that?”
“It wouldn't be a risk in my opinion. He is free to live his life as a wolf child here, and if he feels the call of the wolf as strongly as you did, I want him to heed it. Just as Mom gave us the freedom to choose, I'm giving him that same freedom.” I put a hand on Ame's head with a smile. “Besides, that's still a way off. Even in his wolf form, he's still just a pup. You and I didn't start resembling adult wolves until we were about 10 years old.”
He grumbled a bit, then nodded. “Okay. I'll teach him, but you have to be willing to learn, too. Lead by example.” He looked back to Jasmine. “I may well need your help on the same matter in the future.” I looked at the two of them, their meaning going completely over my head. “How did you say it to Souhei? There is another wolf child on the way. This time, it is mine and Jasmine's. As you say, I want our baby to have the freedom to choose, but I no longer know enough about being human to teach, and Jasmine did not get to live as a human for much of her life, having to live in the wild alone.”
It took a moment for the surprise of his announcement to wear off, before I gave him a nod. “Yes. If you teach Ito, I will gladly teach your child. They have that right to choose.” Ame stood up on his back paws, his front ones wrapping around me in a hug. “Thanks, Ame.” Quietly, I made my way back to the house, slipping in and going to my own bed.

Bright and early, I jumped out of bed, waking Ito. He rubbed his eyes, looking up at me. “Mama, what are we doing up so early?”
“I thought it might be fun for us to go spend the day with Uncle Ame and he can teach you more about being a wolf. How to run through the trees, how to find water, what the clouds mean, how to hunt. All those things that I don't know, and I'll be right by your side learning with you, my little wolf pup.” He gave a big smile, turning into a wolf as he leaped in the air, barking excitedly. I chuckled a bit as I remembered Mom telling me how I did that anytime I wanted to go for a walk and she said yes. “Okay, okay. Let's get something light to eat, then we'll head out to meet him.” I began to make a small breakfast. It wouldn't do for us to be weighed down by a big meal while learning to hunt. “Oh, and he had some good news when I talked to him. You're going to be a big cousin, Ito. He and Jasmine are going to have a baby.” He giggled a bit as he heard that.
“Is it a boy?” He asked, sitting down to eat.
“Well, we can't say for sure yet. It's too soon.” I chuckled a bit as I sat down along side him to eat. “It will be a while before you and I can really keep up with Ame. He's been living as a wolf for quite a while now, while we've been living as humans.” I gave him a smile. “He also said when the baby is older, he wants me to teach the little one how to be a human. That way, the baby can choose, too.”

“Can I teach the baby, too?” he asked, tilting his head.
“Of course.” It was nice to see Ito so eager to help out.

We finished up our breakfast, heading out to the woods to meet up with Ame. He was waiting for us, while Jasmine stayed behind in the den. Ame was a protective mate and soon to be father. Both Ito and myself changed to our wolf forms, ready and waiting. Ame motioned with his head for us to follow, leading us without a word in true wolf fashion. We followed him through the trees. He started slow, before he took off in a dash. We took off, trying to keep after him, but we had much more trouble getting around the trees than he did. It was to be expected, with as little experience as we had at being wolves. He made his way back, helping to show Ito in a slower run how to work around some of the trees. The young wolf followed after him, as did I. We kept to the paths he ran commonly, starting out with what was familiar ground for Ame. It was a chilly early spring morning, but our fur and our activity kept us warm. I managed to get the hang of it before long, but Ito on the other hand had a great struggle with it. It was sure to be difficult for such a young wolf, but at the very least, he seemed to be having fun with it. He was a determined little guy, that much was certain. Many times as we were navigating rocky trails, I had to go back to help him. In time, I knew he would learn, but he still had many years ahead of him, and he was just in the opening stages of his life. He didn't need to decide anything so quickly, but when we made it to the top of the mountain, his eyes went wide, a smile across his face as he looked out over the view. “I was the same way when Sensei showed me the sights in the mountains,” Ame said, standing next to me. “But I can sense Ito does not share the same love of the wild that I do. At least not yet.”

We spent the entire day out with Ame, running the trails and learning the ways of the wolf. He led us safely back to the town, a rabbit he had caught in his mouth. It was a meal for him and Jasmine. Ito was one tired little wolf pup by day's end. I had to pick him up and carry him home as he fell asleep, a smile on his face.

Our days were filled with fun and laughter. Ito and I ran along with Ame, learning how to be wolves. My heart was still set. I was still a human at heart, but Ito was learning more about both side of him so he could decide in the future. Things got interesting when Ito asked me a question that neither of us could answer. We were back home, sitting in front of the fireplace. He looked up at me, scratching his head. “Mama?”
“Yes baby?” I asked, looking at him.
“We're wolves and people, right? But the other people here aren't wolves. How did we become both?”
I scratched by own head a bit. “I know my mom said that my dad had both wolf and human blood in him.”
“But how did he become wolf and human? Where did wolf children come from?” I went a bit wide-eyed. I had never stopped to consider that, and I didn't even know where to begin looking for an answer to such.
“I have no idea. I did a lot of studying about the Honshu wolf, but none of the legends ever mentioned wolf children.” I put my hand to my chin, thinking. “Maybe the people of the village know something, or Ame might have learned something. I'll ask around tomorrow, because you just got me very curious, my little wolf pup.” He giggled a little bit, before giving a big yawn and falling asleep.

The next morning, I made my way out to talk with Ame, leaving Ito at the daycare to hang out with his friends. Ame met me in our usual meeting spot. “You have not brought young Ito, Sister. Is something wrong?”
“There's nothing wrong in particular, but a good question came up last night while Ito and I were talking. Ame, from your time with the animals in the wild, have you learned anything about the origin of wolf people? How those of us who carry both wolf and human blood came to be?”
“The animals of the woods know many things, but other than Father and us, the Honshu wolf has been extinct for 100 years. It has been long enough that specific tales have vanished. I cannot help.”
I let out a small sigh. “All right. Thank you, Ame.”
“The people of Shizuoka have long revered the Honshu wolf. It is possible they know something that I do not.”
“At the very least, they may have tales and legends, even if there is no fact behind it. I'll go talk to them to find out what they know.”

True to my word, I made my way around the town, asking nearly everyone I met if they knew anything. I must have seemed obsessed, but it seemed to raise their curiosity as well. Everyone I asked had little to no idea, though a few mentioned tidbits of legends they had heard. There wasn't enough information to even cobble together a decent bedtime story, but I wasn't about to give up. I wanted to know the history of my people if there was a way to find out, but the only people who may have known were my father and his parents. What little bits of information I manged to gather barely sounded believable, let alone true. I kept going around town for the entire day, trying to find whatever information I could before I had to head to the daycare to get Ito. As we were about to leave, Martha, the daycare owner, met us at the door. “Miss Yuki, I have heard through the grapevine that you have been asking around town, trying to find out about the origin of your people.”
“Yes, I have, but I have not been able to find much. I doubt I could make a 5 minute story out of what I did learn.”
“There is a story that has been passed down in my family for generations. It may prove pertinent. I cannot say for sure if it is truly the origin of wolf people like yourself, but I would be happy to share it with you.”
“Oh, certainly! I would love that.” I gave her a smile. “Let's go to my house.” She gave a nod, following Ito and I to the house. I put a fire in the fireplace to warm the house before taking a seat in the easy chair, Ito on my lap.
“This story goes back hundreds of years. Mine is a family with a long lineage, and this story has been part of our lore for the entire time. It is said that long ago, there was a wolf who was actually a deity. She was of great size, easily large enough for a man to ride, and unrivaled majestic beauty. She often walked among people in the guise of a young woman, yet even in her human state, it was said her wolf ears and tail were present, and she had to hide them within her clothes. Her name has long been lost to time, but she held little love for humans, walking among them only to learn more about them to protect the wolves. Any human who discovered her secret were met with a horrible fate. Either they were traumatized into total silence, or never heard from again. One day, however, she came upon a very peculiar human. He was a young man, and he happened to notice her ears when her hood was lost. She changed to her massive wolf form, but he showed no fear. Even as she bared down at him with her claws and fangs exposed, he never once flinched. Like a complete idiot, he reached out and place a hand on her muzzle. Never before had she been so bewildered by the behavior of a human.
“She stared him down, but he never moved. Normally she would have had no hesitation to take him down, but for reasons unknown, she couldn't bring herself to fight. That was the first time she ever spoke to a human. She said, 'Who are you that you do not fear, even when staring your demise in the face?' He closed his eyes, not giving her a reply for a time. When he finally answered, he said, 'You walk among humans in our form. Who are you that you masquerade as us?' She was shocked that someone had the audacity to speak to her in such a way, yet she still could not bring herself to attack. 'I am learning about humans so that I may protect my kind. So that I may protect the wolves.' He looked at her, still no fear in his eyes. 'If you wish to learn, why did you not ask to be taught?'
“She was taken aback by his attitude. Truly this man knew no fear. She returned to her human disguise, standing before him. She didn't know how to explain it, but from that one assertion, she had come to respect him. He agreed to teach her, as long as she promised not to attack anymore humans unless they threatened her first. She agreed, and he began to teach her. It is uncertain how things happened between them, but it is said even when she learned all she wanted to know about humans, she didn't leave. She chose to stay with him. As unlikely as it was, she had begun to fall for him. Years passed as they spent time together, and in an even more unlikely event, he asked her to marry him. Never before had she been so surprised. Knowing what she was, he still loved her. The two wed, the girl hiding her ears and tail the entire time. Their first child was able to change between a human form and a wolf form at will, much like you, your brother, and your son. Their child was the first wolf child, born of a wolf deity and a common human.”
“What...what became of the wolf deity?” I asked, hugging Ito.
“No one knows for sure, but its said that she lived with her lover for the duration of his mortal life. When he passed, she attended his funeral in her massive wolf form. She didn't care who saw her, and true to her promise, since the humans did not attack her, she brought no harm to them. She left a few strands of her fur on his grave before she vanished, and she was never seen since. It's not clear if she gave her own life to go be with her lover or if she is still alive, watching over her wolf children.” Martha gave me a smile. “I cannot say for sure if this is your true origin, or if it's simply a tall tale handed down in my family, but I am glad I was able to share it with you.”
I gave her a nod, Ito listening with wide eyes. “Thank you. It's truly an inspiring tale. If it's true, I hope I could meet her someday.”
“We should all be so lucky, Miss Yuki.”

Our days training with Ame were actually a lot of fun. Now that I had the freedom to live as both a person and a wolf, it was wonderful to learn both sides. Ame was a wonderful teacher, able to lead us without a word. As the days wore on, he began to become more distant. More and more days, he didn't come to meet us. Ito seemed a bit confused, but it was easy to tell. He was spending more and more time with Jasmine, knowing his child would arrive soon. He was a wonderful mate, looking after and providing for his lover and soon to be mother of his child. We had learned much from him, Ito more so, being at the age when learning was easiest. A few months of training with Ame proved to be enough that Ito could easily make the decision to be human or wolf when the time came. I didn't want to think about that day. My little boy was only 3 years old, and our life as a family felt like it was just starting, even if Souhei wasn't at our side right now. Even so, our time at the daycare was a wonderful experience for Ito. He was a popular young boy because of his wolf blood, but he didn't let it go to his head. When they swarmed him with questions, he just came to me, hoping to avoid having to answer too much. “Mama, what does it mean when they say I'm cool?” he asked.
“It means they like something about you, Ito. It probably means they like your wolf side.”
“But does that mean they're my friends?”
I shook my head. “They are pals you hang around with, but not everyone is a true friend. A true friend is someone who will help keep you safe, even if it means they might get hurt. You can tell them any secret and they'll keep it for you, unless they know it's hurting you.”
“What do you mean? How can a secret hurt someone?” Ito asked.
“Well, say a friend told you they didn't know how to read, but they were keeping it a secret because they thought people would pick on them for it. That's the time when you should tell a parent or a teacher to get them some help.”
“Who's your best friend, Mama?” He asked, tilting his head.
“Your Daddy,” I told him. “Even when he's not here, like right now, I know he's doing what he's doing to help us. Someday, Ito, you'll find someone who will be your best friend. Even when you're apart for a long time, you'll still be friends when you see each other again, even if it's years later.”
He looked around. “Would I have to marry my best friend like you married daddy?”
I couldn't help but laugh a bit as he said that. “Marriage works a little differently, but that's a long way off. When you get married, you've gotten to know the person very well, and with everything you know about them, you know they are the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. You may have someone else you call your best friend at the time, like I had with Shino. Shino was my best friend when your daddy came to our high school. Daddy and I spent some time together dating, and he became an even better friend than Shino.”
“Was Shino mad that she wasn't your best friend anymore?”
I simply shook my head. “Shino was, and still is a true friend. When she heard that Daddy was my new best friend, and soon to be my husband, she was happy for me, because she saw that it made me happy.” I gave a smile, watching the kids play. “A true friend will be happy to see you happy and will help you out anyway they can. But never forget that you have to do the same. To have a true friend, you have to be a true friend.”
“Okay, Mama. I understand.”
“Hey, Ito! Come play!” one of the girls called. “We're going to play tag, and you're it!” In his excitement, Ito turned into a wolf as he jumped towards them with a smile. Luckily, he had learned to control his wolf form much earlier than I did. He actually had someone to teach him, something Ame and I couldn't say. Even as he chased them and pounced on them, he never hurt them. He never even gave them an accidental scratch. The girl who had called him to play was the first one he caught, and even as she fell to the ground with him pouncing on her, she laughed with a smile on her face. “Okay, you got me. I guess I'm it!” It did my heart good to see them playing. It seemed Ito had found his first true friend, and in the kids at school, he had found his own pack.

That evening, we returned home to find a letter from Souhei. It had been so long since he had written, I had begun to worry. Ito and I sat down together on the couch to read it.
Dear Yuki and Ito,
I know it's been a long time since I've written, and I'm sorry about that. My studies haven't been easy, but I'm making progress. I've even started a work study. It's got a decent payment, and it's worth extra credits. With luck, I should be able to graduate early. I'll keep you up to date if that holds true.
Ito's drawing touched my roommate's heart, though when he asked about the ears and tail, I told him it was a costume for a play. He said to tell you he sends his best wishes, and he hopes you're doing well, as do I. Finals for this semester are approaching, and I need to do well. I won't fail, but if I want to pass with an A, I'll need to get A's on all my finals. This will be nearly the first full year done, with 2 more ahead of me. I miss you both so much, it gives me a stomach ache sometimes. How are you both? Has Ito made any good friends at daycare? And how have you been spending your time? I've been filling my time with work and practice. A lot of my tuition is being covered by an athletic scholarship. Who would have guessed this school actually had a team and scholarships for martial arts? We just had our tournament last week. There were a lot of fierce competitors, but most of them were friendly and great sports.
I'll be sure to write again when I get a chance.
-Lots of love to both of you
-SouheiThere was something else inside the envelope. As I turned it up and gave it a shake, a picture fell out into my hand. I couldn't help but smile as I saw the picture. “Who would have guessed? I thought he'd be out in a second, but I guess I was wrong.”
Ito smiled a bit. “Daddy's the winner,” he said when he saw the picture of his father holding up the first place trophy.


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