Chapter 15: Thanksgiving
I felt terrible for Alpha Dennis Coleman; he would never know if his daughter’s mating was forced or not, at least if Alpha Tanner didn’t admit to it. I couldn’t just kill Tanner now. I needed to capture him alive, and Dennis would be with me. He’d get his answer. If Tanner was responsible for what happened to Kim, I’d let Dennis have his kill. I had already taken three of the Tanner sons, and once I had taken everything else from the Alpha I’d be satisfied.
Doug had talked to me afterwards about my long game, and how it was important to have other Packs as allies or at least neutral while I tried to isolate and destroy those Packs. I had a unique status, knowing fully the Werewolf world while no longer being an official part of it. When it came to Pack law and treaties, I was human and didn’t count.
I took some afterwards to take notes on each of the Alpha pairs and jot down my impressions of their reactions. I would have some time in December, and decided it would be good to make some personal visits to build those relationships. I might need their help or their protection someday. I received some w calls, mostly from Lunas with questions they didn’t want to ask on the phone. I made several friends over the course of the week, and was invited to visit by some.
It was a little weird for me how the pairs differed. The Alphas were all much older, and tended to minimize my importance because I had no Pack and no wolf. They listened to what I said and made their decisions, then moved on. The Lunas all felt for me, and didn’t want to take even more away by isolating me from Pack life any further. Several wanted me to meet with their unmated females to share my story and help them understand why their parents and Alphas were so protective. By Wednesday, I had secured invitations to enough Packs to make it worth the trip. I mapped it all out so I could stay overnight and travel each morning, avoiding the territories of the four bad Packs. Since I was doing my school on the internet, I set the trip up for the second week in December, thinking that would give me enough time to get settled at home before heading out again.
Thanksgiving was always a lively affair for the Pack. Any holiday that consists of eating to excess before watching football and playing sports was a favorite of werewolves; the only difference from human celebrations was that we didn’t get our meet from the local butcher. On the Wednesday night before, there was a Pack hunt where families had an informal competition to see who could bring back the best meat. In my Pack, we all would hunt together, but three hundred adult wolves would be too much for anything smaller than a herd of buffalo. Their method made more sense, and I watched as groups between five and thirty headed in different directions in search of game. The groups were outfitted with packs carrying butchering equipment, ice and insulated saddle packs; some groups would travel over fifty miles to get to their favorite hunting grounds. Young wolves were brought along to gain experience in tracking, even if they were too small to participate in the takedowns.
Since I couldn’t hunt as a wolf, I had adapted and overcome. I had borrowed a shotgun, and had bagged a pair of wild turkeys earlier that morning. They were currently butchered and marinating in my Mom’s secret recipe in the refrigerator room of the kitchen. It helped me feel less left out that night, knowing I was still able to provide something for the feast.
I woke when the first groups returned, howling in victory, and smiled as they unloaded their bags and talked about the hunt. The younger ones were the most excited. I was regaled with stories of bravery and hunting skill, along with promises of even bigger game when they grew up. After an hour, I decided to go back to sleep as some groups would not return until the morning.
Thanksgiving arrived, and I joined the ladies early in the huge Pack kitchen. We spent the morning preparing the food, which was another informal competition over cooking. I laughed along with them as we prepared our dishes, the conversation was ribald. The older females teased me about my “booty call” with Mark, and others touched my belly hoping my fertility would rub off. I gave as good as I got, but I wasn’t embarrassed much. Werewolf females had high sex drives, especially after mating, and they weren’t shy. I just about snuck under the table when they started comparing favorite sex acts and positions.
I got my turkeys in one of the many ovens and then joined some of the Pack members in the dining room for bagels and cream cheese before returning to the kitchen to clean up. I was just finishing when there was a loud roar from the dining room. I looked out, wolves were parting like Moses at the Red Sea. A man moved forward through them, nose high, and yelling “MATE!” at the top of his lungs.
I looked around then behind me and saw Amanda, who had been putting a pie into the oven. She was frozen in place, the oven door open, as she sniffed the air. Her eyes had changed showing her wolf was forward. She finally turned just as Derek charged into the kitchen, gathering her into his arms and raising her up in the air. “MINE,” she said, as she brought her lips to his.
The pair was oblivious to the cheers and congratulations of the people around them as they continued their lip lock. Luna Remi rushed into the kitchen, smiling wide as her son recognized his long-time girlfriend as his mate. She touched him on the back, causing the pair to finally come up for air. “Oh Luna, I’m so happy for you two!” She kissed both on the cheek as they turned red with embarrassment, having finally seen everyone looking at them.
“Thank you, Mom.” He let Amanda slide down his body to the floor but kept his arm around her and pulled her tight to his side. I could tell his wolf was on edge as she wasn’t marked yet, but mated men and females weren’t a threat.
“YOUR SON IS MY MATE,” squealed Amanda. “I’m so happy!”
“I’m proud you are family now, Amanda.”
I walked behind them all and shut the oven door before someone got hurt. I tapped Amanda on the arm and got her attention. “How long on the pies?”
“Forty minutes,” she said without looking away from him.
“I got it, you go have fun, and congratulations.” The happy couple walked out just as her parents got there. It took them another twenty minutes to escape back to his room. There was laughter and teasing in the kitchen about what would happen next, and whether they would make it to dinner.
I was so happy for them, yet I was overcome with anger and sadness. I knew I’d never experience what I just saw, and it crushed me. I left the room quietly to compose myself. After a quick pity party, I decided I needed a distraction. I went into the kitchen and asked if anyone wanted me to watch their young ones for a bit so they could have a break. I was immediately volunteered, and soon was playing with the cubs on the playground outside. The children made me laugh, and reminded me of what was truly important.
At noon the entire Pack gathered in the dining room, awaiting the arrival of the Alpha family. Since they still considered me a guest Alpha, I was walking in right behind Doug and Remi. As we entered the room, the hall fell silent and we made our way to the elevated tables at the front. The silence only lasted until Derek and Amanda, sporting fresh mating bites on their necks, walked into the room behind their parents and older brothers. The hall erupted in hoots and hollers as Amanda tried to hide her face in his chest. When they got to their chairs, the sound of forks on the wine glasses built and built until Derek took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. The pair waved and then the hall fell silent again as Alpha Doug gave thanks to Luna for the favor of the past year.
The meal was served buffet style, with five long tables packed with food and ten lines. The tastes and smells were amazing even to my dulled human senses. Elk, deer, wild boar, trout, antelope, mountain goat and even bear were available in the meat section, and the sides and desserts didn’t disappoint either. The families would keep their eyes on their secret recipes, each hoping theirs would run out first. There were four small colored paper squares at each place setting, and small boxes next to each dish. The best appetizer, meat dish, side dish and dessert would be decided by the number of vote squares each received. The winners got trophies and bragging rights for the next year.
Having five hundred people eating at the same time was an experience for me. My own Pack had been a tenth this size, so it was more like a family gathering than an Army division! Even so, the tables filled with friends and family, the great food and warm welcome made for a great memory.
My turkeys were gone soon after the word was given that they could get seconds. I had to laugh as the men and boys almost ran to get clean plates and get into line again! Of course, they had to wait until the young ones and their parents and all the pregnant females went first. Packs valued babies above all else, so they were going to ensure they had first dibs on food. I was stuffed, but I went through the line again to make my votes and get more of Elder Whitfield’s chocolate mousse cake.
There were a lot of hugs and words of encouragement for me after Alpha Doug announced that I was returning home tomorrow. Marge and Mabel, the only two remaining Belden Pack members who had refused to find other Packs, were going back with me. “Ella has shown us all that being an Alpha is more than just being a strong wolf. It is about loyalty, courage, self-sacrifice and honor, all things she has retained in spades. I am proud to call her family.” I blushed as the Pack let loose with their feelings for me.
Marge and Mabel couldn’t be talked out of staying with me. I had talked to them, even Aunt Remi had made a personal appeal, but they refused. “I’ve been running the Alpha’s household for most of my life, and I’ll be in charge when you build our pack up again,” Mabel stubbornly told me, ignoring that I had ordered the pack dissolved. Marge was just as determined; “I used to change and burp you, young lady, and I vowed to care for you as one of my own. I’m not stopping now.” To be honest, I was glad I wasn’t going to have to face that big, empty house alone.
The young men and women of the Pack played a game unique to werewolves that evening. A cross between Aussie Rules football, polo and sumo wrestling, it was played in wolf form on a large grass field behind the Pack House. The ball was a rugby ball that was mostly deflated, making it easy to grip. Two teams of twenty, identified by different colored paint marks on their heads and sides, lined up across a center line. The end lines were the goal line, and the first rule was how to score. If you ran the ball across the opponent’s goal line you got one point, but if you tossed it across the line and it was caught in the air you got two points. The rectangular field was marked with paint, and that led to the second rule: if you left the field, you could not return, and that included the goal line. This kept one wolf from dominating the game, and handicapped the higher scoring team. The third rule was no biting. The game ended when one team scores five points.
The red team, led by Next Alpha Dave, had a simple strategy. He had picked the largest wolves he could for his team, and planned to use their size advantage to knock their opponents out of the field of play and get a numbers advantage. The white team, led by second Alpha son Nathan, went with smaller and more skilled players. Their strategy was to use their speed and passing ability to get around the defense and score quickly while they had numbers. I was shocked when I was picked for the White Team. I protested that everyone else was in wolf form, but Nathan said he had a plan.
Most of the Pack had turned out to watch the carnage, lining the sidelines and looking out the windows. The captains gathered in front of the Alphas as everyone quieted down. “Dave, what is your team name?”
“Champions.” He was full of pride and I had to smirk.
Doug looked at our team. “And yours, Nathan?”
Before he could reply, I yelled out “Off Constantly.”
Everyone looked at me funny. “Hey, if we lose, it’s not like they can brag about it. Hey everybody, we beat…” Amanda clamped her hand over my mouth as our team lost it and the Champions glared at us.
Alpha Doug held back a grin as sent us to our respective sides. The teams lined up on the goal lines and he placed the ball into the center of the field. When he was clear, he raised his hand, and when he dropped it they were off. The field became a mass of fur and teeth, and the game was on.
Let’s just say that it was a good thing we had a competent medical staff and werewolves healed quickly.
The red team came out with the ball and ran a wide circle in formation. The single wing offense bulldozed the white team defenders, knocking them over or forcing them wide. I stayed clear of the stampede as it passed me in the center of the field. Six teammates were pushed out in the first minute, although they managed to roll and drag out two red team members with them. Dave’s confidence cost them, as they didn’t anticipate the white team wolves leaping over their line and taking down the ball carrier. Like a shot, Derek was off running with Amanda streaking past to his right.
I looked back as three red team back line defenders rushed out to meet the pair. Two moved towards Derek while the last covered Amanda. With a move worthy of the NFL, Amanda juked right then spun hard left. Derek leaped up between the two wolves, flipping the ball high and forward with his jaws just before he was knocked back ten feet, landing hard on his back. Amanda streaked to catch it like a frisbee dog before slamming it down in the endzone for two points.
“WOHOOO!!!! Go Amanda!!” I got caught up in the action, just like the fans. The jumping the line strategy didn’t work again for us. Their next possession, the red team went to a power V formation with two wolves flanking the ball carrier. Our smaller wolves couldn’t get around them, and when they leaped the line their blockers easily knocked us down. Derek got distracted when Amanda shifted on the sideline and started cheering for him before she got her clothes on. He froze, staring at his new mate with lust, and was steamrolled by his brother Dave. Amanda ran to him and pulled him off the field, holding his head in her lap until he woke up.
The red team scored the next four points.
The teams were down to a dozen players each, and that was when the field opened up for us. Nathan rubbed his snout against my leg and pointed to Jimmy. I trailed the rest of the team as they moved forward, and by now the red team was ignoring me since I wasn’t a threat. Nathan looped backwards and tossed me the ball as he ran past, and no one covered a streaking Jimmy down the right sideline. I threw the ball sidearm, like a fat Frisbee, over the red team defenders. Jimmy caught it for two to tie the game.
Nathan shifted to a keepaway strategy, using our team speed to circle around the larger wolves before passing it to a fresh player. I was rolled by Dave while running the sideline; he grabbed on to my jeans and swung me like a chew toy, tossing me out of play. I dusted myself off and joined the Alpha family again.
Ten minutes later, a victorious Nathan and his squad celebrated while Dave’s team collapsed on the field. The better conditioned wolves had eventually outflanked the defense and pushed the ball across for the winning point. I and the crowd erupted in cheers. Mates rushed out to greet their partners, who shifted and embraced them. It was getting dark, and some pairs just ran into the woods to rut. I watched the sunset and walked back to the kitchen to get some leftover pie before bed.
As I showered, I thought back to the day and realized that this was the thing I would miss the most about being a werewolf. The simple joy of the Pack spending time together. Would it have been better if I had just given to the forced mating? I’d be back home, my parents alive, my Pack would be whole, and I’d have a mate to lead by my side.
Too much had been lost.
My tears mixed with the water running down my face as I realized that no, it wasn’t better. If I could do it over, knowing the result of my refusal, I would have given him my neck before my parents were killed.
I hated them all for what they had done, and I hated myself for putting myself in that situation. I put my hand on my stomach, and felt for the future inside. I still wanted my revenge, but it wasn’t just me anymore. I couldn’t endanger my baby, so I had to do this carefully.
I got dressed and got my phone. I texted my lawyer, Tom Harris, and asked him for an appointment first thing next week. I also asked him not to let Mark know I was returning to town. I wanted to surprise him, and we needed to talk.
I didn’t want to have this baby alone.