Answer the Damn Phone, Aria
I delete the voicemail as I walk into work, shrugging out of my jacket and hanging it in the closet in the foyer. If my mother doesn’t take a hint soon, I’ll have to get a new number. I’ll speak to her when I’m good and ready.
“Good morning, Dr. Grey,” the receptionist, Annie, greets me. “Matt is waiting for you in the kennels. He says it’s urgent.”
I roll my eyes. With Matt, I’ve learned that it’s always urgent. He doesn’t know the difference between a splinter and canine ehrlichiosis when it comes to a scale of importance.
I nod at her. “Good morning, Annie. I’ll be with him in a moment.”
I walk past the front desk to my office. Sitting next to my desktop is a vase of sunflowers. I promptly toss them in my trash can, not bothering to read the note—I can’t take anymore apologies. I set down my bag and log into my email, checking my schedule for the day. It’s uneventful—the perks of a small town, I suppose.
I make way way past exam rooms, greeting nurses as I go, heading back to the kennels. Before I even open the door, I can hear the vicious, guttural growls. When I enter, I find Matt, the local animal control officer, pacing back and forth.
“Aria,” he sighs, relieved when he sees me. “I think somebody hit him with their car. He’s in bad shape and he’s feral—being aggressive with the townsfolk, walking down Main St. like he owns the place.”
I gasp when I see it. “That is not a dog, Matt.”
“I know,” he nods, his voice even. “It’s a wolf. I need you to put him down. Even if we released him, there’s no way he’d make it on his own. He’d probably just find his way back to town and get himself shot. Putting him out of his misery would be the humane thing to do.”
I look at the wolf long and hard, my heart racing. What do I do?
The thing snarls at me, backed into a cage, baring his canines at me, his amber eyes angry and scared. He’s young, too.
“Can you do me a favor and get Annie to grab my bag, a tranquilizer, and the pentobarbital, please?”
Matt nods. “Sure thing, doc,” he says, ducking his head before heading out the way I came in.
I’m instantly on my hands and knees in front of the cage. The wolf growls. “Shh…” I whisper. “Listen to me,” I command. “When he gets back, you’re going to let him hold you down and I’m going to tranquilize you. I am going to pretend to put you down. I will get you somewhere safe, and check your injuries. Blink twice if you understand me.” He blinks twice. “Great. Now blink twice if you’re going to cooperate. I promise I’ll take care of you.” He blinks twice again. “What happened to you?” I whisper mostly to myself as my eyes roam over his bloodstained black fur, trying to figure out what the extent of his injuries are.
“I’ve got the stuff you asked for,” Matt calls as he stomps clumsily back into the room.
“Perfect,” I say, taking my things from him. I fill a syringe with acepromazine maleate, and take a deep breath. “Okay, so hold your hands out and calmly walk towards him. Talk to him, let him know you’re not going to hurt him.”
“You think that’ll work?” He asks, skeptical.
“I know it will,” I tell him confidently.
He sighs, his eyes wide, and runs a nervous hand through his shaggy, odd-colored orange hair. He clears his throat and rubs his chin before taking a careful step forward, unlocking the cage gently.
“Hey, mutt,” he says in a cheerful voice. I frown at him disdainfully, but he can’t see me. “We ain’t going to hurt you, boy.”
The wolf growls nervously. I follow Matt into the kennel, holding my hands out.
“Hey, buddy,” I whisper. “This will be over in no time. You won’t feel a thing.” Matt grabs him, holding the wolf down as it panics. I administer the tranquilizer quickly, smoothing the fur on top of his head down reassuringly. He goes still, breathing softly. “Great work,” I tell Matt. “Thank you. You’re good to go, I can handle the rest.”
“Anytime, Aria. I’ll catch you later,” he chuckles, putting emphasis on catch you. “Animal control joke,” he explains unnecessarily.
I follow him out, stopping at the desk.
“Annie, could you please see if Linda can fit in my appointments today? I believe it was Mrs. Johnson and her cat, and a new patient. An emergency has come up.”
“Of course, Dr. Grey. I’ll ask her now. I hope everything is okay.”
“It will be fine,” I assure her. “It’s just something a little time sensitive.”
I pull my Subaru Forester around back and put the back seats down, laying down a few blankets in preparation to get the wolf in. I retrieve my medical bag, and then comes the hard part. He may be young, but he isn’t small. Somehow I manage to get him in, my hair a mess, and my forehead dripping sweat.
When I arrive home, I pull into the garage, making sure to close the door. Getting him out proves to be much easier than getting him in. I do as thorough an exam as I can, finding multiple broken bones, but it’s hard to be sure without an X-ray. I have to reset a few and give him a few stitches for some rather large abrasions and then administer some pain meds, pulling him inside and getting him comfortable on a pile of pillows. He’s in for a painful recovery, but because werewolves heal fast, he should be healed enough to shift back into his human form by morning.
By the time I’m done, I realize I need to wash up and get dinner. I throw away my bloodied clothes and then shower quickly. Not feeling up for cooking anything, I call in an order to my favorite Chinese restaurant and go pick it up. When I return, bag of food in hand, he’s still knocked out , snoring loudly. I smile and curl up on the couch, watching a TV movie while I eat.
When I open my eyes next, there’s light filtering through my living room windows. I stretch and yawn. I realize with a start that the wolf is no longer on the pillows. I stand up, going to search for him when I trip over something. He huffs and looks up at me, an annoyed growl emanating from his chest.
“Good morning to you, too,” I’m mumble sarcastically, leaning down to check his wounds. “These look good,” I tell him. “Can you shift for me?”
He whines nervously.
“I know, it’s very scary,” I sympathize. “You still have to try, though. I can give you some privacy,” I offer. He nods. “Alright. I’ll go get ready for today and I’ll sit you a towel and some clothes outside my bedroom door. The guest bathroom is down the hall to the left. You can shower and dress, and then we’ll figure out how to get you home, okay?”
He nods eagerly and I head to my room. I go through my drawers, but I know that he won’t be interested in a sundress or crop top. Finally, in the bottom of my closet I find a pair of old sweats and a sports team T-shirt. This will have to do. I sit them outside of my door and head to my en-suite to brush my teeth and wash my face. As I’m doing my makeup I hear the wolf cry out in pain and I know that he’s shifted, the shower down the hall cutting on moments later. I dress quickly in a navy off-the-shoulder ribbed knit crop top with matching high-waisted shorts. I pair it with a simple gold necklace and slide on some sandals, and then go to check on the wolf.
“Wow, you’re pretty,” a little boy says from my couch. He’s small, his face bruised, but cute. He has tan skin, freckles dotting his slightly chubby cheeks, and caramel colored eyes. His hair is the same black of his wolf, but it’s short and neat.
“Wow, you’re really young,” I say back, surprised. I knew he was young but…
“Hey, I’m almost ten!” He grumbles, offended.
I sit next to him hesitantly. “What happened to you?” I ask him gently.
“My pack was ambushed. When I got attacked, I got scared, and I ran, and then I got lost.”
“That must have been very scary,” I whisper softly and he nods. “Do you know your parents’ phone numbers?” I ask. “We can call them, and someone can come get you. I bet they’re very worried. What’s your name?”
“Waylon,” he tells me.
“Hi, Waylon. I’m Aria. Let’s get you home, okay?”
He agrees eagerly, giving me his father’s number. I dial it in my cellphone, and then press it against my ear, listening to it ring. Finally, when I think no one will answer, there’s a click and a voice fills my ear.
“Talon,” a man’s voice says, his tone clipped and to the point.
“Um, hi, my name is Aria Grey,” I start, but he cuts me off.
“Excuse me, Miss Grey, but I don’t have time for pointless phone calls right now.”
“Wait!” I yell, just as he’s about he hang up. He huffs, aggravated, but he doesn’t end the call. “I believe I have your son,” I tell him firmly. “Waylon.”
“What do you want?” He demands and I suddenly have his full attention.
“For you to come get him?” I ask, confused.
There’s a pause on the other end of the phone. “What do you want in exchange?” He asks slowly.
“Uh… nothing? Look, I’m just a veterinarian. Your son was brought to me by the local animal control in his wolf form. They don’t know about werewolves so he was supposed to be put down. I brought him home and reset some bones and gave him a few stitches, but he’s doing pretty good now. Would you like to talk to him?”
“Can I?” He breathes, and I can’t see his face to be sure, but I think he’s crying.
“Of course,” I tell him, handing the phone over to Waylon.
“Hey, dad!” He says cheerily. “Yeah, I’m good. Dr. Aria took care of me. I am hungry though,” he says, looking at me pointedly and I laugh. I hold my hand out for the phone and he gives it back.
“Okay, so I can text you my address, and I’ll go get this hungry boy some sustenance and you can just let me know your plans. He’s in good hands until you get here, I promise.
“Thank you so much,” he gasps, and this time I know he’s crying. “Where are you located?”
“I live a few miles shy of Alston,” I tell him.
“Great, text me your address, we can probably get there in just over two hours.”
“Also,” Talon says quickly. “He will tell you he eats breakfast food, but he doesn’t, so don’t let him fool you.”
I laugh. “I know the perfect place.”