In the Shadows of Dryden

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CHAPTER 2 - Oversized Husky

We walked for another three hours. Clarisse just wouldn’t shut up about the adonis we saw in the lake. What did we need to find out, what could his name be, what kind of food he liked, and so on? The list was a never-ending compilation of what, what, what, followed by whatever answer she already had formulated in her brain to the same questions she was voicing out loud.

“Let’s stop by those boulders there.” I pointed in the direction of the said boulders standing between some pine trees. “There is plenty of shade for us to rest.”

“Yeah, sure! Good plan!”

I went to sit over one of the boulders, placing my backpack beside me after taking my water bottle and chocolate bar out.

“Serious now, Claire. What would you do if you found out who that guy is? Would you date him?”

“I don’t know! Maybe I’d try to talk with him first. Why?” somehow, my chocolate bar got incredibly interesting as I stared at it, trying to look indifferent. “He was really handsome but… I don’t know. I never really got attracted to any guy before, so why would it change now? Have you ever felt that way?”

I gave her a side-glance as I tried to look unfazed by the subject at the same time I took a bite of my chocolate.

“Yes and no. Sure, we always get attracted to someone, otherwise, we would never date anybody.” She paused to watch me for a bit, the corner of her lips slightly going upwards. “... but I don’t believe it was in the same way you seem to be feeling now.” I choked on my chocolate, having to gulp down some water to get it down the right track. Tears had accumulated in my eyes.

She laughed at the same time that she hit my back, helping me unchoke.

“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about! It’s not like he’s the one anyways. So, are you nervous about tomorrow’s interview?” She gave me a sly wink, congratulating herself for her suspicion while I still felt like I was choking, though this time, It was from embarrassment.

Silence took over while we drank and ate.

“Hey, Claire. There is a trail here that leads all the way to the abandoned Kodoku’s castle. Wanna go there?”

“Hm, not today. Think we’ll need a machete to cut all these tall wild grass. They have already cut me everywhere and I don’t feel like collecting more cuts for my already growing collection. Besides, there is that howling detail…”

Clarisse glanced around, frightened that a wolf could be lurking around.

“On that note, maybe we should start heading home. Next time, I will be bringing a shotgun, just in case.”

“Sis, wolves rarely attack people unless they are extremely hungry. They are so pretty.”

Her eyes immediately shot up at me with a face that said: ‘You’re crazy!’

“You know I have always been afraid of them. Specifically, after all those nightmares, I endured as a child.”

“Yeah, I know. You would always wake up crying and run to mom and dad’s bed.”

*Sigh* “I’m just glad it all passed.”

We got up to start walking back home as a loud howl echoed throughout the forest. Seconds later, there was a *WOOSH* sound of a gust of wind passing by us, and I swear I saw a pair of eyes looking back at me.

My mind went straight back to the guy in the lake. Gosh, why do I have to think about him that much? It’s impossible to have seen his eyes. People just don’t run that fast!! I thought to myself, concluding that I had imagined it. Must have been just the wind and nothing else!

*AWOOOOOOOOOOoooo* There was another howl but this time it sounded like it was several wolves howling together. Were they hunting? Clarisse was shaking like a leaf as she grabbed my hand, almost hiding behind me.

“SHIIIIIIT, Claire! We’re wolf food.”

Her entire body started to shiver in fear as soon as we saw a pack of wolves growling at full speed past the trees.

*AWOOOOOOoooo* The leading wolf howled, stopping right in front of us as the other wolves continued running past us.

The wolf was huge, with iridescent sky blue eyes. His white and black fur reminded me of an oversized Husky. He wasn’t growling at all but had his eyes pinned down at my sister. To my surprise, she was staring right back at him as if she was hypnotized or was having a mental conversation with him. She wasn’t quivering in fear anymore, in fact, she seemed very calm. Suddenly she let go of my hand and took a few steps forward, nearing the oversized Husky. The animal smelled the air frantically as he approached her little by little.

“Clarisse??? What are you doing?” My hands flew out, trying to take a hold of her arms and stop her from getting any closer to the beast but she immediately pushed me away. Calmly resuming her steps. My heart sunk with incredulity. What the hell was she doing? What was she thinking? She didn’t even need to crouch down to be at eye level with that monster mastiff-husky look alike.

“Clarisse, please…”

The wolf’s head came face to face with her as he smelled her face. His iridescent irises were transfixed on hers when her hand began to stroke his luscious fur.

*AWOOOoo*

Another short howl sounded throughout the forest.

The oversized Husky promptly turned towards the direction of the howl before facing her again. His eyes seemed to apologize with a sad glow to them as he let out something sounding like a sigh, before licking her cheek and running along.

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT??????” Now that the pack of oversized dogs was gone, I felt infuriated at her reckless reaction.

“You could have… WE could have been that thing’s meal!!! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” I couldn’t help seeing red. My arms were outstretched beside my body and my hands closed tight into fists.

But she was gently rubbing the cheek where the wolf had licked her. And it wasn’t in a ‘EWWW’, disgusting way to have dog saliva on your face. It was like the most handsome man in the entire universe had just kissed her! She seemed out of herself, daydreaming. I waved a hand in front of her to check her reaction.

“Sis? Please, talk to me.” My rage quickly turned into worry. I’ve never seen her like this.

“He… was gorgeous!” Her blissful face emanating happiness beyond words. “He kissed me.” *giggle*

“O…. K… you’re definitely NOT feeling well or not in your right mind to have that kind of reaction from a humongous dog! A WOLF, might I add, NOT a hot guy! Com’on, let’s get going! Think we’ve had enough adventures for today.” There were definitely more times than not that I felt like I was the older sister.

Hastily, I grabbed our things and dragged her along the trail back home while she was in her own little world.

A minute before we got home, Charisse finally woke up from her dreamland.

“Claire, wait… don’t tell mom and dad about what happened today. Please?” My head spontaneously tilted sideways.

“And what was I supposed to tell them? I don’t feel like being placed in a mental institution!” She gave me a disconcerted look before we went in.

Our parents were hard at work, building some new furniture they had bought. We said hello like it was the most natural thing to say after experiencing that ’adventure” and went upstairs to get our showers. When I got out, I found Charisse laying on her bed with a silly smile plastered on her face while she wrote in her journal. I sighed internally and went to read a book.

***

I woke up with Clarisse getting ready. She had a light yellow floral dress on with matching color ballerina shoes and a light pink trench coat for her interview day. She was fixing her hair bun with some pins but leaving some loose strands out for a more relaxed appearance.

“Wooow, you look radiant today. Is that the Husky effect?” *giggled*

She put her tongue out at me in a jokingly way.

“I gotta look presentable for my interview day, silly. Are you getting ready?”

“Yep yep.”

I got up off bed at a sloth pace, taking a pair of jean shorts, and a light blue vest to change into and putting on my blue sneakers. My hair was combed backward, fixing my long bangs with a couple of pins on one side so it wouldn’t fall over my eyes.

*TOC TOC TOC*

“Girls…”

Clarisse opened the door before mom could finish her sentence.

“We’re already on our way.”

“What efficiency! All that for your interview day or are you going out on a date without telling me?!”

*Giggled* “Isn’t it? I thought the same thing too!” My lips turned into a smirk prior to grabbing my jeans jacket, giving Clarisse a knowing look in the process.

“Whatever! Can’t I look presentable for my interview?” She blushed lightly, swiftly pinching her cheeks in front of the mirror to disguise it.

*giggled* “But of course, you can, darling.”

As all three of us headed downstairs together, I noticed that dad wasn’t there.

“Hmm… where is dad?”

“He went to work. He needs to get acquainted with everything and everyone there. That being said, I’m heading to work as well.” Mom looked at Clarisse, adjusting the collar of her drenched coat. “Good luck on your job interview, darling!” She grabbed her purse and jacket, walked to the door, and grabbed her car keys from the key holder beside the door, before leaving with a wave. “Enjoy exploring the town, honey.”

When we were both done with breakfast and ready to go, Clarisse did the same thing as mom and headed toward the door to get her car keys.

“Do you want a ride? I’m leaving for my interview.”

“Yes, please. I will just mount my bike on the car really fast.” Claire got all the things she would need for the day into her backpack before going outside. Clarisse’s car was a silver Taurus with a bicycle rack on it. They often took their bicycles out on some mountain trails together.

October had just started and autumn was settling in. The trees were gradually turning from the vivid green to the red, orange, and yellow of the season.

The road from our house into town was paved with small irregular stones and waist tall pillars of stone connected with a thick rope along its side. Every now and then, there was a part where the row of pillars would finish and then begin again, just so animals could pass through more freely.

Clarisse dropped Claire and her bike off by the diner first and then headed to the left side of the central park for her interview.

The daycare was near the basketball field. It was a simple white two-story building with a kid’s playground attached to it and a fence going around. She parked the car on the side street and went in. Inside, she found herself in a tiny room with 2 doors and a shower in between them.

‘How odd.’ She thought to herself.

The door handles were all the way up, about the same height of an adult’s head, instead of the normal place for them to be. She went through the left door thinking: ‘It shouldn’t matter which door I take anyways.’ On the other side of the door, she saw a metal shelf rack along each side of the wall with plastic boxes on top and name tags on each of them. There were kids jackets and coats hanging from under each box and shoes placed right under them.

“Oh, hello!” A woman around her forties greeted her, offering a hand to shake. “I’m Penelope Rosewater. Call me Pen.” The short brown hair lady smiled.

“Hello, Pen! I’m Clarisse Minett. Pleasure to meet you.” The two women shook hands.

“Ah! You must be the lovely lady coming for the interview today. Gaston and Sofia were just informing us. They are the owners of the daycare.” Pen explained, gesticulating with her hands as she talked.

“I hope I’m not late!” Clarisse gave a quick peek down at her watch, slightly nervous.

“Nah! We were just going to sit down for some coffee and talk about this year’s program and activities. Come, they are probably wondering where I went.” Pen giggled before turning right into a white corridor painted with little hands in all sorts of colors. On the way, were two bathrooms and a change room for diapers. The corridor went down to three different rooms with different age-appropriate toys. ‘It’s impressive.’ She thought to herself.

“The kids are off today so we could have this meeting and program everything.”

Pen and Clarisse went into the room at the end of the corridor. It was the biggest of the three rooms. The far end of the room was a door leading to yet another room. By the door was a big plastic table where three people were sitting around with their coffee mugs talking.

As they entered the room, Clarisse noticed the tall bulky man look up at them and get up. Without waiting, the guy walked over to them.

“Hello there! You must be Miss Clarisse Minett?!” He immediately extended his hand for a hand-shake as he curled his mustache with the other. “I’m Gaston Payne and this is my wife, Sofia Payne.” He pointed at his wife, who was waving from over her seat, with his entire hand. Sofia and Gaston were around forty and much like her husband, she had dark hair, the only difference between them was that his hair was short and hers long.

As the two women sitting by the table got up to greet them, Clarisse approached, shaking their hands as they introduced themselves.

“Hello! Pleasure to meet you!” Said Sofia.

“Hi! I’m Emma Wolfbane. Pleasure to meet you!” Emma motioned to Clarisse to take a seat next to her. Emma was younger than her co-workers sitting by the table. She was in her thirties, had long blond hair and green eyes.

“Would you like some coffee?” Asked Pen, already with the coffee can in hand, ready to pour coffee into a mug sitting on the table in front of Clarisse.

“Yes, please.” Clarisse held the mug while Pen poured the black liquid in it, and then placed the milk carton forward for her to use. “Thank you!”

Gaston had a blue folder in his hands, which he was reading through before looking at Clarisse.

“I see you’ve just finished your education and you practiced in two different places. Right?” Clarisse nodded as Gaston continued. “I’ve checked your reference. They all said great things about you.” He paused, staring down at the papers for a bit. Silence took over the room, increasing the suspense level a notch. She held her mug between her hands, trying to hide her nervousness. When he finally looked back at her, she gave him her best smile as she tried to look casual. His hazel eyes seemed to change color for a second. “The question is… why should we hire you?”

Clarisse averted her eyes from him to stare down at her coffee for a few seconds before looking back up. It was now or never! She knew it was important to make a good impression. Her gaze made contact with each one of them, making sure to grab their full attention. She took a deep breath, gathered her thoughts, and answered.

“Even though I’m fresh out of school and have only done my internship in two places, I can guarantee that working with kids is not only a dream for me but also my absolute passion in life. They bring a light into our lives that it’s difficult to describe. Every kid is different, like a mini intricate puzzle that we have to comprehend to get their trust and interest. They make me want to be a better person each and every day. Being able to spend time playing with kids and discovering their different moods, ups, and downs and getting to know them maybe a job to some people but to me, it’s so much more. Doing something so amazing and rewarding and getting paid for it has always been my dream job. The best of both worlds in one, so…” She paused and looked straight into Gaston’s eyes. “… with all due respect, you would be stupid NOT to hire me.” She finished with a smile at the same time as she relaxed the tight grip on the coffee mug.

There were a few seconds of silence in the room and she began worrying if she had offended him when she really didn’t mean it that way. The corner of her lips gradually descended as the level of nervousness built up inside her. Out of the blue, Sofia started to laugh. Clarisse turned to look at her and saw Gaston giving his wife a big grin too before joining in on the laughter.

“I like you, Clarisse. You have guts!” He let out while still laughing. “I just have one more question for you.”

“O… oh?” She eyed him questioningly.

Gaston glanced at his wife and the others around before turning back to her.

“When can you start?”


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