Wolf Children - Yuki's Next Chapter

Chapter 8

Ever since Ito made a few good friends at daycare, the days seemed to just fly by. Ame didn't return to the clearing to meet us. We had no way of knowing of Jasmine had given birth, or if she was still expecting, but I was sure once Ame felt safe having someone see his newborn, he would show us to his den. I didn't want to intrude. I knew from experience that the wolf instinct to protect a new pup was very strong, even for someone like me who had chosen the path of people. Attendance was growing at the daycare, and Martha and I talked it over, deciding it might be a good idea to put on a play. Our play was about the story she told us of how wolf children came to be. I was given the role of the wolf deity mentioned for the sake of realism. No prop could match my ears and tail, after all. It didn't feel right to me, being the star of the play when it was supposed to be the kids' time to shine. None of them seemed to object, especially Ito, who enjoyed his role as the first wolf child born of the wolf deity and her lover. When the time came for the curtain call at the end, I simply couldn't steal the spotlight. I removed the ring made for the proposal from the man to the deity. I couldn't stand wearing it. Even knowing it was a prop, it felt wrong to wear a ring other than Souhei's. When the curtain call ended, I overheard all the praise Ito received. He was very humble about it, just scratching his head and saying he was lucky to have been a wolf child.
When we returned home, he tugged my skirt a little. “Mama, what does it mean when a girl kisses a boy?” he asked.
“Hmm? What do you mean, baby?” I sat on the couch, Ito sitting beside me.
“Well, you know that girl Lexi? The 6 year old? When everyone was telling me I did a good job and asked me to change into a wolf, I did, and as soon as I did, she kissed me on the nose. Then she ran away giggling.”
I couldn't help but chuckle a bit. “Aw, Ito. That means she's got a little crush on you. It means she likes you.”
“Huh? What should I do then? Should I kiss her nose?”
My laughter burst forward as I must have seemed like a total lunatic. “You don't have to, Ito. If you want to, I don't think it would hurt anything, but what you should do it just keep being her friend like you have been. It's that simple.”
“But what if the other kids pick on me because a girl kissed me?” he asked.
“Well, let me ask you this, Ito. Lexi is your friend, right?” He gave me a nod in response. “Then it doesn't matter if they make fun of you. What matters is that you keep being a good friend, and as long as you don't let them know it bothers you if they pick on you, they'll stop.”
“So just...keep being her friend?” he asked with his head tilted.
“That's right, Ito.” I gave him a gentle pat on the head as he turned to his half wolf form. I began to rub his ears, which made him cuddle against my hand. It was always a cute sight. When he fell asleep, I looked at the picture of Souhei with his trophy up on the mantle. “I miss you, Souhei. It's been 2 years to the day since you left. I'm staying strong for our son, but I'm missing you so much at the same time.” I sighed a bit, closing my eyes, dreaming of the time we met.

When the next morning arrived, I felt strangely tired when I woke up. Once Ito was awake, we made our way to the daycare, but it felt like I had no energy at all. “Are you all right, Miss Yuki?” Martha asked. I looked up quickly, nodding. “Are you sure? You don't look well. Your cheeks have no color.”
“I'll be all right,” I said with a smile, getting up as I saw Ito dashing towards me in his wolf form, wanting to play. I don't well remember what happened next. One moment, I was opening my arms to catch Ito, the next I was waking up in my bed back home. “Huh? How did I get home?” I asked, looking around. Martha was sitting at my side.
“You passed out,” she said. “I enlisted the help of a couple of the parents to get you home. Itonami is in the living room. You had quite a fever.” I reached up, taking the washcloth from my forehead, trying to get up. Martha gently stopped me with her cane. “You are in no condition to be going anywhere. What you need is rest.”
“Wait, if we're both here who's watching the daycare?” I asked.
“Do not worry. A couple of the parents agreed to watch the place until I could get back.”
“Thank you, Martha, but I can't just lay around in bed. I have a 4 year old son who I need to take care of. I need to-” I stopped short as I heard the clack of her cane on the floor.
“Enough.” Her voice was calm, but it commanded authority. “I have cared for many children and many adults in my life. You need to take your time to recover. I can call on some parents to help at the daycare, and I will take care of you and Itonami until you recover.”
I didn't have the energy to keep fighting, lying down and resting. “Thank you, Martha, though it might be easier if you call my mom, Hana.”
“I know how to take care of a fever, girl. Your mother doesn't need to rush out here that full 24 hour drive.” She rose to her feet, heading to the kitchen. Ito made his way in.
“Mommy? Are you okay?” he asked.
I gave him a smile. “Yes, baby. Mama's all right. She's just feeling a little sick is all.”
“Why is Miss Martha here still?”
“She said she wants to take care of me until I'm better. I told her I would be okay, but you know when she clacks that cane, you just can't tell her no.” I rubbed his head gently. “You'd better take some vitamins. You don't want to catch whatever I have.” He nodded, heading out of the room.
Martha soon returned with a tray for in the bed and a bowl of hot soup. “Eat up.”
I sat up with a smile. “Thank you Martha.” I knew it would be a few days before I'd be all right again, and I was glad to have a small town like this. I knew people around here. They were willing to help me just as they would any other neighbor, and I was happy to help them when I could. We moved there so my children and I could be wolves and people freely, but we had found so much more.

Martha was a wonderful caretaker, though I felt uncomfortable being treated like a child again by someone other than my mother. It was only 2 days before I was feeling better. My fever had broken, and I had my strength back. It felt good to be able to take care of my son and help out at the daycare again, 2 things I felt truly passionate about. The kids were glad to see me back, and I was glad to see them. It was wonderful to see Ito playing with his friends again, especially Lexi. Just as I had told him, he didn't make a big deal over the crush she seemed to have on him, and he continued to treat her like a good friend.

We had a new development when Ame came to our door. “Ame! I haven't seen you in over a year.” I pulled him into a hug, smiling at seeing my brother again. Jasmine had come with him, and at their side, they had a young girl, walking in her wolf form. “That's your daughter? She's adorable.”
“This is our daughter, Utsukushii. Utsu for short. She is nearly 2 years old, and she is at the time in her life to learn. As agreed, I wish for her to learn her human side.”
I gave him a nod, smiling a bit at the opportunity. “You've done so much to help me and help Ito learn. It's the least I can do. I'm a bit surprised we haven't met her before now.”
“It is wolf instinct,” he said. “Though I feel I waited too long.”
“Can she speak?” It seemed doubtful, growing in the wild. At the least, I expected that she had very little, if any ability to speak.
“Little,” Ame said. “Less than I when I came back to Mom's house hurt.” I gave him a nod. That was about what I expected.
“Then that's part of what I need to teach her. Is there anything I need to know or get before we start?”
“Clothes,” Ame said. “She remains mostly in her wolf form, but while human, she wears clothes made of marten fur.” Jasmine had the crude outside, which was actually well constructed, given how they chose to live. I ran a hand over it with a smile.
“It's quite soft.” I gave him a smile. “I'd be glad to.”

It took weeks before Utsu trusted me enough to allow me to teach her. Having been raised in the wild so far, it was understandable, but Ito was able to help me connect to her. To make her more comfortable, we stayed in our half-wolf forms. It took time, but once she trusted us, she was all too eager to start learning, much like when I started pre-school. It proved to be a true challenge of its own, training someone who had only experiences in the wild. I was thankful to Ame for his time he spent teaching me. Otherwise, I would not have known how to handle her wild tendencies. It was a blessing she didn't tear the house apart like I did at that age. Within 2 weeks of practice, she had learned basic speech, and she was comfortable to be in her human form. We had bought her a green dress to wear while she was at the house or out around town with us.

Ame brought Utsu over almost every day for a full 3 months for her to learn with us, and fortunately she was a fast learner. We even brought her to the daycare a few times, but her had to be extra careful. She didn't fully know how to control her wolf temper yet, but this was the time in her life she needed to be around other children to begin socializing. The fortunate part is that she was more willing to be around people than Ame. I was very proud of Ito, helping and protecting his little cousin. He was already starting to become a good and helpful young man, and he wasn't even 5 years old yet. One could only dream of the kind of man he would grow up to be. The kids all seemed to be excited to have a new wolf child among them, but Utsu's discomfort with people made her almost unapproachable.

Even with all the difficulties and struggles they brought, those 3 months seemed to fly by like a dream. At the end, Ame gave me his thanks in the form of a wolf hug. His visits became less frequent, but in the interest of keeping Utsu educated so she could make her own decision someday, they still stopped in at least once every 2 weeks. He was true to his word, wanting his daughter to have the knowledge and freedom to make her own decision about what sort of life she wanted to live in the future.

As December set in, fewer kids came to the daycare, many parents taking time off to spend at home with their families. It felt lonely at home. Spending time with Ito was nice, but the house still felt empty. I needed to get out, so Ito and I took a trip to the town square, where a number of people had built ice sculptures. Looking over the sculptures, they were so well done. A few were of wolves, which was no surprise. There were many different sculptures, though. Some of families, some of bears, deer, and other forest animals. It was a wonderful distraction, especially with some hot, spiced cider for the two of us. Ito soon began to get very tired, so we made our way home. As we got to the house, I reached for the doorknob, finding the door unlocked. My hair bristled as I turned to my half wolf form, fearing someone had broken in. “Ito, stay behind me.” I made my way in, growling deeply as I looked around. The lights were all off, and I didn't hear anything.
“It's been too long,” I heard a familiar voice say. A smile spread across my face as the lights turned on. My eyes filled with tears. “2 years, 8 months, and 10 days to the day, but I'm finally back. To stay. And I couldn't have picked a better day.”
“It's wonderful to see you again.” I stepped forward, pulling him into a hug, tears filling my eyes. “Welcome back, Souhei. I missed you more than words can say.”
He pulled me into a hug, opening his arm when our little wolf pup Ito jumped into the hug as well. “December 20th. Happy birthday, and happy anniversary, Yuki. I love you.”

It was wonderful to have Souhei back. That night, he spent his time talking with Ito, telling him stories until the young boy fell asleep. After tucking my wolf child in, Souhei and I sat on the couch together. “I made sure to get you a present for our anniversary, Yuki,” he said with a loving hug. I found a velvet box pressed into my hand. When I opening it, I saw the most beautiful ring. The band of gold had been custom designed to look like two wolves, their tails intertwined at the bottom, their noses coming together at the diamond. “I promised you, I would get you a ring someday. I know it's a few years late.”
“I would have waited until I was a 90 year old woman, Souhei. It's so beautiful. How could you afford it?”
Souhei gave me a smile. “Because I managed to get a small business going while I was there as part of my course work. The branch I started there is under new management, but I'm still considered the owner, and thus I can open a business of the same name here. I own the name.” He gave me a smile, kissing my head. “So, what happened while I was gone?”
“It's been busy, that's certain. We trained with Ame, learning more about our wolf side, we met and trained his daughter, Utsukushii, or Utsu for short, and we heard a wonderful story about how wolf children like us came to be. We can't say for sure if it's true or not, but it was a nice story to hear.”
“Really? How are Ito and Ame's girl getting along? How did Hana react when she met her granddaughter?” My eyes went wide at the realization. In all the excitement, I had completely forgotten to call Mom!
“I...I haven't told her. Ame didn't even tell us about Utsu until she was a full 2 years old.” I shook my head, finding it hard to believe I'd forgotten something so obvious as that.
Souhei took the ring from my hand, sliding it onto my finger with a smile. He then put his phone in my hand. “Call her now then. I'm sure she will want to know.”
With a nod, I dialed Mom's number. It took a few rings before she answered. “Hello?”
“Hi Mom.” My voice was cheerful as I spoke to her. “It's been too long.”
“Yes, it has. It's nice to hear from you again, Yuki. How have things been?”
“It's much better now that Souhei is back. He just got back today.” I smiled as Souhei put his arm around me. “But I have even bigger news that I should have told you sooner. I just got so caught up in everything that I forgot.”
“I'm listening,” Mom said, her voice very eager.
“Mom, you have two grandchildren now. Ame and Jasmine have a nearly 3 year old daughter named Utsukushii. Ame didn't even let us know about her until she was over 2 years old. We've spent the past few weeks teaching her about humans. I wish I had called sooner, and I'm sorry.”
Mom let out a bit of a laugh. “The lone wolf has finally started a true pack of his own. It's funny when you think about how shy and reserved he used to be. Even in his later childhood, he was never social. And now he's a father.”
“Yes. And he's a great father, to the best of his abilities. He's helped to teach Ito and I about our wolf side, and in return, I've been teaching Utsu. You need to come out and see her some time.”
“I intend to,” she said with a laugh. “So, what about you and Souhei? It's wonderful that he's back. I'm sure you've both changed quite a bit.”
“We have. He got me a wonderful gift, but you'll have to see it in person. Words can't do it justice.”
“I'll drive out as soon as I can,” she said. “Until then, love you, Yuki.”
“I love you too, Mom.” I wore a smile on my face as we hung up. “You need to meet her, too, Souhei. She reminds me a lot of how Mom described me when I was younger, but a little less destructive.”
“That's a bit surprising, since she was raised so far by a wolf.”
“Well, she was afraid of us at first,” I told him. “But not for long. She and Ito have warmed up to each other. Even though they aren't siblings, they very much act like it. Ito stands up for her at the daycare if she starts to get overwhelmed, partially for her safety, and partially for the safety of the other kids. I hate to think what would happen if Utsu got cornered.”
“Much like I did to you,” Souhei said softly, his arms around me. “I got away with a scar on my ear, but you had much more restraint as a human from all that time of forcing yourself not to turn into a wolf. Utsu doesn't have that though. She's just starting in life and has been raised by a wolf so far, not counting the time she was with you. If she were cornered, it could turn bad.”
I gave him a nod. That was my prime concern as well. I began to think it might be better if the kids went to visit Utsu outside the town, an environment where she felt more comfortable and wouldn't feel as confined. Perhaps she would open up more. We would need to get permission from the children's parents before that, though. “Ito and Utsu haven't gotten to spend much time outside the town together. I'd like that for them. So far, their time together has been almost exclusively in the house or at the daycare. I want them to grow up helping and supporting each other like siblings. Sure, they may have fights and disagreements, but so did Ame and I, and you see how we are now.”
Souhei gave me a nod, holding me. “Yes. But we can worry about that tomorrow. Tonight, I just want to spend my time with you. Almost 3 years we were apart, I've wanted to feel your fur against me.” With a joyful tear, I turned completely to my wolf form, wrapping my paws around him. He nuzzled me gently, letting out a content sigh. “I missed you, my wonderful wolfie wife.”

Three days passed as we waited for Mom to arrive. I wore the ring Souhei had gotten for me with pride. Other than our child, it was the greatest symbol of our marriage, of the bond we had formed. I never needed a ring to know and to let others know, but it was still wonderfully crafted and it carried Souhei's love.

Mom arrived on the morning of the 4th day after we talked on the phone. We brought her inside so she could sit and rest after the exceptionally long trip. “I'm sorry it took me so long to get out here. I had a few crops I had to get harvested or the animals would have dug them all up,” she explained to us as she took a seat. I offered her a hot mint tea.
“That's all right, Mom. I knew you would make it out when you could.” Souhei and I sat beside her on the couch, each with some tea of our own. “Ame's been a good wolf father so far, and I'd like to hope I've been a good human aunt. Between the two of us, we know a lot about being wolf and person, but it would be so much easier if we didn't live such different lives.”
“I see your father so strongly in the both of you,” she said, making me gasp a little. She hadn't talked about Dad is so many years. “Yuki, even as a young girl, you wanted so much to go to school. To learn and have friends. Your father was the studious type, sitting in on college lectures that he couldn't afford credits for, just to expand his breadth of knowledge. In the same way, you did whatever you had to in order to go to school and learn. You even forced yourself not to change into a wolf.”
“It was hard at first, but as time went, it became easier to leave it behind. I suppose, I did become like Dad. Never showing it to anyone.”
“Yes, but the stark difference between you and your father is that he grew up alone. You were blessed to have friends who accepted you, and one who accepted you even when he knew the truth.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Your brother is much like your father was. He honored his roots as a wolf, which your father did even when he had to hide it. He wasn't ashamed of it. He was scared of those who would not accept him. Because of that, he chose a life alone, just like Ame did. Ame chose to live as a wolf, and to live alone, until he met Jasmine. It was just like your father.”
“Until he met you,” I said with a smile. She nodded in response. I could see her point. She was the kindred spirit in whom he could place his trust, just like Souhei was to me. I really was my father's child. “I'll go call Ame,” I said, turning to my wolf form. To my surprise, the ring Souhei had picked out still fit well, even when my hands turned to paws. How he had gotten a measurement that perfect, I couldn't say.

I made my way to the outskirts of town. As usual, I called out to Ame with a howl, receiving two in return. One from him, and a smaller one from Utsu. They came with Jasmine at their side to meet me. “Mom has come, Ame. She wants to meet her granddaughter. After all, it's been 3 years and she has yet to meet young Utsu.”
Ame nodded. “Yes. It will be good for her.” With a nod, I led him back to the house.
Upon arriving, Utsu became defensive, unsure of this human who had no wolf blood and was not her mother. Mom simply sat with a smile, showing the outstanding patience she had modeled so exceptionally while we were growing up. Slowly, the semi-feral wolf made her way over, sniffing her grandmother. It was odd to watch a girl who had been born and raised as a wolf, and taught a few lessons on how to be a human, meeting her human grandmother for the first time. Mom's patience seemed to be able to win her many friends, and Utsu was no different. In a matter of a few minutes, she climbed up into Mom's lap and curled up, snuggling against her. Ito smiled a bit, turning into a wolf and joining her. Utsu had warmed to Ito quite a bit in the few times she had met him. Being the closest in age to her among the wolf people remaining, it seemed only natural that he would become a fast friend.
“You've done a good job raising her so far, Ame,” Mom said. “Is there anything I can help you with? Any questions you might have?”
“I know in my childhood, you gave your best effort to allow me to choose my own path, even when it made you sad to see me leave. I want to know...how can I prepare for that day? The day when...she leaves?”
Mom shook her head. “You can't. You can try to prepare yourself all you want, but when that day comes, all the preparation means nothing. You're never ready for your children to leave, but you know it has to happen someday. For you, Ame, it happened much earlier than I expected. When I saw you walking away, I felt like everything I had done was meaningless. Like I had given you nothing that you could keep in your heart. I felt like I hadn't been able to teach you anything important.”
“But you did,” Ame said. “When you asked me what you had taught me, I chose to show you, rather than tell you. In that howl, I was showing that you had taught me to be free, and to make my own decisions. I watched you do it so much when we were growing up.”
“Even before we were born,” I added. “When you first met Dad, you chose to make the first move and offer to share your book with him. When he showed you his wolf form, you made the choice to accept him, rather than reject him like the rest of society. When you lost him, you made the choice to be strong, and be both parents to us. When we had no way to hide from the prying eyes in the city, you chose to move us to the country side so that we could be free to choose our own path, rather than letting society choose for us. You were never once a victim, and you never let anyone tell you what you had to do, Mom. You were a strong woman who took the situations as they came and made the decisions you thought were best. Both Ame and I learned from you all those years.”
She gave a teary smile. “I suppose you have.” She looked at Utsu, who had fallen asleep on her lap. “And look what you both have to show for it. You each have a loving mate, and you have each started a wonderful family. Looking back now, if I could go back to that day that Ame left, knowing what was going to happen, I would do it all over again.” She took a deep breath, wearing her smile. “I love you all so much.”

Mom spent a few weeks with us, glad to be visiting with both of her grandchildren. What she had said about how we were like our father resonated with me. I had the blessing of having found a place I could be myself, and where I could start and raise a family of my own. Ito had made me proud as my little boy, and he continued to make me proud all throughout school. He was the scholarly type, always doing his best and getting very good grades. That wasn't what made me the most proud of him though. All throughout his time in school, he was always the best kind of friend. He had a wonderful group of friends as he and the other kids started to grow up. I believe he would have fought full out in his wolf form if he had to in order to protect any one of them, and I was thankful he never had to. There was one other factor that stood out to him.

If ever someone came to school who was new or different, Ito was the first to introduce himself and make friends. Even more than that, he played the role of a guardian. Whenever he saw someone being picked on or bullied just because they were different, he was the first to step in to help. I still remember the first time I saw him do it. In the 3rd grade, a new student joined who had been in an accident and had lost an eye. Many of the other kids made fun of him for wearing an eye patch, but not Ito. He stepped in, saying. “Why are you laughing at him? Is it something he did, or something he said?” The other kids were quiet. “Is it because he's different? Is that why? You should be making fun of me, too then. I'm different.” He changed to his half-wolf form, surprising the new student whose family was not from Shizuoka originally. “I'm the most different. What happened to him could happen to you, but none of you will be able to change into a wolf.” The kids began to look away, starting to feel bad for making fun of the new student. “Just remember, if you want to pick on someone for being different, start with the most different person; me.” It sounds cheesy, I know, but his words rang true. All too often, he used the same words to help out if another new student was picked on. For years, I watched him, and I was proud. He was growing into a fine young man over the years, and I was enjoying the time we had together. But as time went on, I began to grow fearful. I felt the day was approaching when he would leave. I had hoped it far off, but it was like Mom said. It was coming faster than anyone could have predicted. I knew he was going to start asking more questions as the time came, but there was one I wasn't prepared for.

It came when he was in the 8th grade. Souhei and I were working in the little garden we had started some years ago. Neither of us needed to work every day since Souhei's business had taken off. Ito was helping us when he stopped and sighed. “Mom, Dad. Why is it people always try to victimize those who are different?” he asked us. I took a deep sigh of my own.
“That's...not an easy question to answer, Ito. It seems to just be part of human nature. Even those who try their best to be completely fair still have some sort of prejudice. It's like an innate fear of that which is different from them. That which they do not understand.”
Souhei nodded. “Yeah. When I first learned your mother was a wolf, I admit I was a little scared, especially since I learned by being on the business end of her claws. I think perhaps I was lucky that happened in the 4th grade. I was at that age where things were still fascinating, even if I was becoming a teenager and things were starting to change.”
I gave a nod, sitting down for a moment. “Your father and grandmother are two very rare cases. People who can accept those who are different.”
“But the rest of the world can't,” Ito said, looking down. “That...that has to change. Mom, Dad. I think I know what it I want to do with my life. I want to travel. I want to go wherever I can and try to find those who will be able to accept those who are different, and change the minds of those who can't.”
I wore a serious expression as I looked to him. “It's a noble goal, Ito, but do you really think you can? You're one person, and the people able to put away their prejudice and accept others, regardless of how they differ, are few and far between.”
Souhei put his hands on my shoulders. “They conform to society, wanting to fit in. They go along with the stereotypes they grew up with, or that they see every day. The majority of people can't accept those who are different, and the few who can refuse to show it because they don't want to be treated like outcasts. They don't have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. Not like you do, Ito.”
“One person can make a difference, can't they?” Ito said, tilting his head. “Grandpa made a difference for my grandmother. And Dad, you made a difference for Mom. Mom, you made a difference for me, and for an entire town of people. You made a difference for the entire town of Shizuoka by showing you weren't afraid to show your true nature. If you could help an entire town, I should be able to at least do the same.”
I sat silent for a time. “And...you are sure this is what you want to do?”
“I'm...still not 100% sure, but I have some time left in school to think about it, don't I?” He gave me a smiled and a hug. “You aren't losing your baby just yet,” he said, making me smile a bit. He had big plans for his future, but he was right. We still had some time before that happened.

Ame was having some difficulty of his own. Utsu seemed to be growing away from the wild. More and more, she would wander into town, and much like her grandfather, she would attend school whenever she got the chance. With all her time in the wild, few of the kids recognized her. While Ame wasn't ready to accept it, he had given her the freedom to make her own choices. Much like our mother did for us, he still wanted Utsu to have her own choice of what to become in life, and it was starting to look like she would choose to be a human, just like I had. He even came to me once, seeming all frazzled. “Yuki...Sister. Utsu is starting to choose her own path in life. She is starting to choose your path, the path of a human. I want her to have freedom to choose, but...” he let out a heavy sigh, almost sobbing. “It hurts to let go.”
“You're not losing her, Ame,” I said, pulling him into a hug, even as he was in his wolf form. “She'll likely still be here in the town for a while with her schooling. She may leave after that.”
“How does a parent say goodbye to their child, though? I shouldn't have a problem with that. Wolves form packs and leave their parents in life, but why is it I'm having so much trouble accepting this?”
“Because you still have some human in you, Ame. It's like we said before. You can't ever get rid of it, and no matter how you try, it's going to affect you. You don't want to see your baby go. It's human. It's...It's how I feel about Ito. He's already got plans to leave as soon as he's done with school. Plans to travel and try to improve society, and make people more accepting of those who are different. I know he has a difficult, and maybe impossible task ahead of him, but if it is what he chooses to do, I don't want to hold him back.” I held my brother gently. “We have to be willing to let them go. To let them choose their own lives, and pursue happiness in their own way. And if you want, I'll be by your side when Utsu leaves. I'll stay with you and help you through it.”
“Thank you, Sister,” he said, jumping up and putting his paws on my shoulders in a hug.
“It's no problem, Ame.”

We knew Ito has his heart set. We couldn't stop him. We could only take solace in the years we still had with him. We knew it was hard on Ame, too. He had to deal with the fact that he was going to lose Utsu. She had made her decision too. Like me, she wanted to make her human side her main identity. She was starting to spend more and more time in town, learning whatever she could. It was truly shocking to see her leaving her wolf side behind. That was what she grew up with for so long. Still, Ame didn't hold her back, much as it hurt to let her go.

As Ito's final year of high school was nearing its end, Utsu's was about to begin. Souhei and I tried to prepare ourselves, but just as Mom had said, there was no way to truly be ready. We knew he was going to leave, and it was tearing us up inside. Souhei held me as we sat on the couch. Ito was away at school, and I looked over a number of the pictures. “I know we need to let go. To let him go out into the world and chase down his dream, but...it's tough.”
Souhei held me close, pulling me close so my head was resting on his shoulder. “I know. Yuki. I know. It's not easy for me, either, but think about all the good times we've had with him. It's been a full 18 years. He's grown into a wonderful young man. It means we've done our job. We've prepared him to go out into the world and make his own decisions. He's going to change the world someday, Yuki. Just you watch.” I gave a little nod. “Now, how about showing me those wolf ears? You know how much I love to rub them.”
I gave him a smile, my wolf ears appearing as I changed to my half wolf form. Even over the years together, I never grew tired of his affection, and I never stopped loving when he rubbed my ears. “You always know just how to make me feel better.”
“I just wish I could help Ame feel better, too,” he said as I lay down with my head in his lap. “I know how much he's stressing about Utsu's choice to leave the wild for town. I just...I can't understand how he feels. Unlike Ito, who will head out and travel wherever, Utsu will be right here in town. For a few more years at least, Ame could come see her.”
“I think to him, it's just like when he made the decision to be a wolf. That was when he left Mom. To him, I think it's the same situation here. His daughter is choosing a life path that will separate them, even if they do still have some time together. I guess he's trying not to drag it out.”
“That sounds about right,” Souhei said, hugging me gently. “It'll be fine. Both of you are strong.”

In the woods, Ame was beside himself. Even with Jasmine by his side, he had trouble finding peace. Utsu came to him, dressed in the normal clothes a human girl in the town would wear. She looked to her parents with a smile. “Mom, Dad. Thank you. I love you so much, and I appreciate all you've done for me. Are you...are you really okay with me choosing to be a human?”
“It's not for us to say,” Ame said. “My mother gave my sister and I the choice. To be human or wolf. We are giving you the same choice, Utsu. It is your choice to make, not ours.”
Jasmine gave a nod. “I want you to be happy. That's what matters most to me, Utsukushi. You are truly a strong young woman. Do what you wish. Be happy. That's our wish for you.”
Ame gave a nod in his wolf form. “Yes. We may be sad for a while that you are leaving, but we will be happy in time.”
Utsu gave a nod. “I will never forget you, and I'll be sure to visit.” She gave her parents a bow and a hug, kissing both of them. She made her way to town, Ame letting out a howl as she walked away, as if calling to the departing member of his pack. I couldn't help but feel sad when he told me about it later on.

Our time was not much easier. Ito and his childhood friend, Lexi, were nearing their graduation. They had become the best of friends, and they even reminded me of Souhei and myself in grade school. I remember to this day watching them play together as children in the daycare, and now, they had become great friends. I hoped it would be a lasting relationship between them, whether it blossomed into anything deeper or not. Even so, she seemed to very much support his ideals. His dreams. She declared she would help him, like a true friend would, and I was glad to see he had someone who would help him to fulfill his dream. It made me feel better about him setting out with such a big goal in mind. Even so, we weren't prepared.
Watching him in his cap and gown, going to get his diploma, Mom and Souhei both beside me, I realized just how much had gone by. I remembered all the way back to the day we had moved in. The day I found out I was pregnant. All the time I spent isolated as an expecting wolf mother. That rewarding day when Ito was born. The heart stopping moment when we almost lost him, to something as simple as chocolate. That second scare when he fell into the same stream Ame did. Those wonderful winter days staying at Mom's house. Watching him grow with his friends, and seeing how much he loved his family. Seeing him choose his own path. It felt as though the time had passed in a dream, just like Mom said it did when she was raising us. 18 years had come and gone. My little boy was all grown up, and now, following his graduation, he was preparing to leave home. We sat together that night, reliving the memories of our time as a family. The next day, as he prepared to leave, I wore a smile. I didn't want him to worry and change his mind because of me. It was rainy that day as he prepared to go, and with a final hug, he and his friend Lexi set off into the world.

Souhei held me close. “All this time, we knew it was coming. He's grown into a strong man,” he said. “He'll be safe, and he'll do great things. I just know it.” I felt Souhei plant a gentle kiss on my cheek. “No more crying.”
I forced a smile as I shook my head. I took Souhei's hand watching as Ito slowly vanished from sight along with Lexi. “I'm not crying.” With a true smile on my face, I looked off into the distance. “It's just rain.”

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