Chapter 16: Home
We left the next morning for home; Mabel and Marge took over the back seats while I rode shotgun and Remi drove. Our luggage was stowed in a waterproof box in the pickup bed. Traveling at this time of year can be interesting in the mountains, and I had ordered chains to ensure I could get through snowy mountain passes. We had good weather, though, and arrived back at my hometown by dinnertime.
Calling it my “hometown” was stretching it. Belden, North Dakota is a ghost town. It was founded in 1904 and named after W.L. Belden, the agent-at-large of Indian affairs who was stationed at a nearby reservation. The town never exceeded a population of 25 at its peak, and its one resident sleeps above the gas station. My home sat on 2,000 acres of mixed prairie and tillable land between Belden and the Missouri River. The Pack still owned thousands of acres more of land in the area; we had sold the mineral rights but kept the land, and the land was now managed by a trust to give each member a solid income stream.
We didn’t have any food yet, so we stopped to eat at the Ranchman’s Saloon in New Town, down by the reservoir. I ran into a bunch of people from high school, happy to see me yet sad over what happened. The official story was that my parents died in the car accident, and my thumb was ripped off in the crash. Many others stopped by to pay their respects; Tom had arranged for my parent’s funeral service to be held while I was still in the hospital. It took two hours to eat and get out of there. Mabel had us stop at the grocery store and came out with a bunch of bags. It had gotten dark during dinner, and it was almost ten by the time we headed home.
My home was at the end of a long road, and I passed the now empty homes of those Pack members who had left suddenly for other Packs. The sudden disappearance of so many people in the same area had not gone unnoticed by the humans around; I had been asked about it several times in town. My answer was simple, an investment trust had been sold and people were taking their money and leaving. It wasn’t that uncommon in the area with the Bakken oil boom.
Just a few weeks ago, the long run of houses served to protect the Pack as we all were in one area and could help each other. Now, there were bound to be for sale signs in the yards and I realized more humans would be moving in. I resolved to buy the houses closest to me, I wanted more of a buffer and I could use them for guests. My upbringing was too ingrained to allow humans so close to where I lived.
Finally, Remi pulled in front of the four-car detached garage that was to the left of the large house, a covered breezeway connecting them. It was two stories plus a full basement, with a covered deck wrapping the entire front and the opposite side. The roof was steeply pitched to shed the snow, with four dormers on the second floor to give more room and a better view in the upstairs bedrooms. The roof was metal and it had cement siding and brick facing on the main floor, and all of the windows had sliding metal shutters off to each side. It had all the look of a well-designed rural house that could withstand a wildfire, but I knew better.
The house was made from poured concrete, the walls ten inches thick and reinforced. The shutters were steel plate, capable of blocking rifle fire, and adjustable so it could leave a narrow opening to shoot out of. The Alpha’s house was also the Pack safe room. The home had been built entirely by Pack members and trusted friends, and was far more extensive than it appeared. The house was bigger underground than above; the basement connected via a secret door to a huge buried safe room that took up much of the front yard and driveway, including under the garage. Secret hatches in the garage and the garden allowed Pack members access. The safe room was buried under six feet of soil and spanned over 8,000 square feet, including a full kitchen, bunk rooms, medical room and storage. It was designed to hold our fifty members for at least 30 days.
I looked back at Mabel as we got out. “Mabel, why didn’t you guys head for the safe room when the St. Cloud pack members came?”
She frowned. “Well, they didn’t all come at once. Two men showed up, they said they were there to pay their respects to the Alpha. When Darryl got to the door, he recognized the pack they were from and tried to close the door, but they forced their way in. He could see six more coming from the treeline, and one already had a gun to my head. I guess we didn’t anticipate them taking us hostage, we only thought a neighboring Alpha might try to take our Pack over, and that was already disbanding.”
Marge opened the door to the kitchen. “It won’t happen again, I promise you that.”
We walked in to the spacious, modern kitchen and set our bags down in the hallway. I froze when I got to the refrigerator and saw the photos on it; photos of our family and Pack back when they both existed. Remi came up behind me and wrapped her arms around me as I broke down. “I feel like Mom could walk through that door and this all has been a dream, Aunt Remi.”
“I wish it was a dream,” she said. She led me to the living room and sat me on the couch next to her.
A double urn sat in front of me on the coffee table; it was beautiful, each hand painted with panoramas of mountains and trees. A brass plate near the bottom said, “Mitch and Emma Grey, Together Forever” with their dates of birth and death listed underneath. I reached out my hand and sobbed as my fingers touched the plate. “I never got to say goodbye,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. I love you.”
The tears didn’t stop until I fell asleep on the couch. I woke up the next morning in my bed, with the winter sun shining bright into my eyes. It had snowed overnight, a few inches of fluffy powder covering everything. I went into my bathroom and got ready for the day.
Looking around my room, it seemed like years since I had been here. I was a completely different person than the happy teen who had been looking for a college. All those plans were gone. I tore the band posters and girly decorations off the wall and put them in my trash. That girl didn’t exist, a woman was here now.
The smell of bacon filled the kitchen as I walked in. Remi was at the table, eating and checking the news on her laptop. Mabel was cooking, and Marge had already eaten and was starting to clean the living room. “Good morning,” I said to them all.
“What’s your plan for today, Ella?” Remi looked up at me, I could see the relief in her eyes that I seemed to be doing better.
“I want to go through the master bedroom with you and Marge,” I said. “We can box up Dad’s clothes and stuff, and anything you don’t want of my Mom’s closet we can box up as well. We’ll make a spot in the garage for things we are donating to charity. I also want to go through Mom’s jewelry. When we are done, we’ll start on their offices. I want Mark and Tom to help with that, so it will wait until next week.”
Marge looked over at me. “Are you going to be all right with this? You don’t have to do anything right away.”
“I need to do this, I don’t feel comfortable in my own room any more, it feels like it belongs to someone else. My parents are gone, and I need to move on too. I want to move into the master bedroom and turn their study back into a nursery.” The smaller room had a door to the hallway, but Mom had put in a door to the master so she could check on me easily. “Besides, Aunt Remi is only here so long and we have a lot of stuff to go through.”
“What about the furniture and bed,” Mabel asked.
“I’ll keep them for now, at some point I might change things out but I’m not in a hurry for that. I still have finals to get through for school, and I plan to visit the other packs in a few weeks. I think if we can go through their stuff and I can decide what to keep and what to give, that will be enough for now.” Mabel placed a plate full of toast, eggs and bacon in front of me with a glass of orange juice, I smiled my thanks.
She handed me a note. “Tom Harris left a message, he can meet with you at 9 am on Monday. He said he cleared the whole day for you.” That was nice, I wonder if he hadn’t planned to work that day. “I wrote down all the people who called here,” she handed me a list. “Most were offering condolences or asking about arrangements. I’ve also got the guest book here from the funeral service.”
I frowned, there was SO much work to be done just to deal with my parent’s estate. “It will have to wait, I guess.” I looked through the list and circled the people I would need to call back, I could do that tonight. “Anything that might be relevant to the estate, we need to keep in the office so I can bring it to Tom on Monday. Did he say anything else?”
“Just that the will reading would be ready, and that he had already filed paperwork with the state as he was named executor in the will. He doesn’t think it will be overly complicated, but he needs to work with you. He said the tax implications alone need my input.” I hadn’t paid taxes in the past, but I had helped my Mom. I knew that estate taxes would eat up a healthy chunk of my inheritance, and I also knew I couldn’t manage a business empire like my Mom had. “Meanwhile, he said he has invested the liquid assets and the proceeds from the Pack liquidation into index funds until you can direct how you want them invested.”
Index funds were something my Mom recommended, they had low fees and she didn’t trust the ‘money managers’ to beat the market enough to make it worth their added costs. I finished my breakfast and walked it over to the sink. “What is your plan, Mabel?”
“I plan to give this place a good cleaning while you guys are working, since it’s been sitting idle for weeks. Don’t worry about me, I have plenty to do before I make lunch.” I gave her a hug, then Remi joined me in heading to the master bedroom. Marge went to the basement to get storage bins and boxes.
Opening my parent’s bedroom as a human may have been easier, because their scents weren’t as strong to me as they would have been. It smelled like them, but also a little stale; no one had been in this room in almost six weeks. I cracked the window open to let in some fresh air, then walked to their large closet. I flicked on the light and leaned against the door, getting myself ready for the memories to come. When I was ready, Remi and I removed my father’s clothing and shoes and set them on the bed. By the time we were done, Marge was already bringing up boxes. She started putting together the garment boxes, which were tall and square with a hanging bar near the top. We used four of these to pack up his suits, dress shirts and ties. The rest of his clothing and his shoes went into normal moving boxes, Remi would be taking it with her. Their Pack had a clothing bin, since werewolves occasionally shifted without changing, we went through a lot. The T-shirts, sweats, shorts and socks went in there too. The shoes and fancy clothes would be taken to the local Goodwill. Marge got a hand truck and started moving them to the garage while took a minute before moving on to my Mom’s stuff.
There were a few dresses that Remi set aside, but most of it we boxed up so she could take it back. There were always Pack women who could use some new clothes for when they went out into the human world. We had the same size feet, so I left a few dozen in there and we boxed up the rest, and her casual clothing and lingerie got packed too. Wearing Mom’s negligee just seemed wrong.
We moved all the boxes out then broke for lunch, then started on the jewelry and photos. There were only a few things Remi wanted, mostly pictures of them as children and jewelry their Mom had given to Emma. I let her take as much as she wanted. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning out the bedside table (remind me NEVER to do that again, I didn’t NEED to know what kind of ummm toys they used in their bed), closet and dressers. By bedtime, we had the place cleaned out. I insisted on a new mattress and box spring, and ordered an adjustable air one over the Internet. Marge said she would take over cleaning.
I collapsed into my bed at the end of the day, physically and emotionally exhausted. The work had helped with closure, but there were still many times I would see something and just break down for a few minutes. I was glad I did this with help and not on my own.
I woke up at sunrise, and pulled on some exercise gear. I used to go for a run every morning before school, either in human or wolf form, and I needed to get back to that. Now that I was human, I knew I would have to work to achieve and maintain strength and stamina that I used to take for granted. I walked down to the patio door and laced up my running shoes; leaving a note for where I was on the table, I set out on the trail around our property.
By mile two I was sucking wind. I was so out of shape I didn’t recognize how stupid I was to take this trail, with all the hills and the eight mile loop. I gave up, turning around and walking for a while as I breathed hard.
When I got back, Remi was waiting for me in the kitchen, and I could tell there was something wrong by her face. “What is it, Aunt Remi?”
“There was a phone call while you were gone. It’s Alpha Tanner. He wants to see you.”
I almost fell, my legs were wobbly from the run and this was not expected. “WHY? Why would he think I would agree to see the man who killed my parents?”
She looked at me, pulling me to sit down next to her. “He wants to talk to you about his grandson.” I had to remember to close my mouth before I drooled on myself. “He has no male heirs now, if your child is male, he would be the next Alpha. He wants to ensure his future.”
I put my head on my hands, trying to figure this out. I didn’t want to be anywhere near him until I was watching him bleed out at my feet. Remi stroked her hand through my hair. “He said he would meet in a public place or with a neutral Alpha of your choice. He just wants to talk, he said.”
“What do you and Doug think?”
She let out a breath. “It’s dangerous. He’s not sure the baby is really his grandson; as you know, werewolves can only impregnate their mate and the mating bite didn’t take for you.”
“Yeah, but my wolf fought it off, and then I was human. Your Doctor couldn’t rule it out.” I thought for a minute. “You think there is something more?”
“We’re sure of it. He’s reeling from the losses, the other Packs probably blame him for what happened in the attack on us. He’s also bordered by several Packs who he now is not on good terms with. If he were to be attacked now, his line ends. I think he wants to make it clear that he accepts your baby as his eventual heir, and that stabilizes his Pack. It’s also possible he still wants to kill you, taking the chance that the baby isn’t related to him or he just doesn’t care. He’s number one on your enemies list, Ella, and right now that child of yours and our support are the only protection you have.”
I looked up at her. “Doug is still sending a few warriors up here to escort you back home, right?” She nodded. “Call him for me, tell him I won’t talk to him or meet him, but you and I will meet with Luna Kayla, mom to mom, if she comes alone. We can meet for lunch tomorrow at noon in Fargo, at the Longhorn Steakhouse. She can bring a driver but he sits elsewhere in the restaurant. If your warriors leave today, they can be our security for the meet.”
Remi nodded. “It would be best to find out what he wants. You’re not going in without your knives and a gun, though.”
I smiled back at her. “Wouldn’t leave home without it. I’ll make a call, I’m sure there is a human private security firm we can hire for extra help. We don’t need to tell them much, but it gives us an edge if they try anything because they won’t be able to scent more wolves in there.”
“Fine, I’ll call my mate and the Tanners. Now, what is the plan for today?”
I looked over to the living room. “Photo albums, stuff on the shelves and in the closets, the basement and garage. Nothing big, just looking for anything you want and anything I don’t want to keep.” Mabel had moved into the kitchen and was starting breakfast. “Thanks for being here, Aunt Remi.”
She gave me a hug. “You’re like a daughter to me, Ella, now more than ever. I’ll always be here for you.”