The way back out of the forest felt longer than the way in, but it might all be because every step hurt. I was glad Gunnar’s hand was still resting on my back, scared I would tumble over without him behind me.
When we reached the road again, and the ground got more stable, I sighed in relief. The bumpy underground of the forest floor made the pain a thousand times worse.
We walked alongside the road in silence when a car approached us. It got slower and slower the closer it got, and my heart rate picked up. This was a weird behavior, and I was bracing myself for danger. Gunnar appeared to think the same and stepped in front of me. I first wanted to complain and push him away, but I only took one deeper breath, and the pain reminded me I was in no condition to fight for myself.
The door opened, and I held my breath, wondering who would stop here in the middle of nowhere right next to us.
My heart sank, realizing it was George. Thoughts whirled around in my head, unsure of what to do now. My eyes had two different colors, my dress had brown and green stains all over it, and bruises covered my skin from the fall.
I took a step away from Gunnar, letting my hair fall into my face. “Hello, dear. Are you on your way to your parents?”
“I was, but what are you doing here? Who is this?”
I smiled weakly. “This is Gunnar. He and his family invited me to celebrate Beltane with them.”
“Beltane? What is that, and why do you know those people?”
I glanced up at him. His face was red as he glared at me. The open hostility he showed towards me took me aback. We fought before, but he was usually a calm person whenever we argued and never showed anger that way.
“I met them at work. Don’t you remember him? He took part in our archery course with his children.”
“I do remember. But I didn’t know you were hitting it off with him, though,” he muttered.
My breath hitched hearing him saying those words. “What are you talking about?! I did no such thing. Gunnar has a wonderful wife and children, and we did nothing you are accusing us of right now. They were just nice and wanted me to celebrate with them.”
He laughed dryly. “For someone who did nothing, you sure look very guilty right now. I mean, look at your clothes. Did you roll on the ground together?”
I took a deep breath, wincing. It’s not that I didn’t understand where he was coming from and that this all seemed wrong, but I expected more trust. “I had an accident and I don’t feel so good now. Gunnar was only taking me home.”
“I will take you with me to my parents. We can talk more there,” he said, his voice cold. I stepped behind Gunnar again. Not a million horses would bring me to his parent’s house in this state. Or any state for that matter.
“I don’t want to go to your parents!”
“I don’t care what you want right now. Step away from that man and get inside the car!”
I shook my head and tried to keep the tears at bay that threatened to spill over. Before I could respond, Gunnar took a step forward.
“Listen up, beanpole. It would be great if you dropped this behavior right now. Apparently, you don’t seem to care about the current state of your fiancé and rather prefer to be jealous of me. It’s not the time for that. If you hadn’t pressured her the way you did, she might not be hurt right now. But she felt like such a failure that she tried everything she could to give you what you want. Go back in your car and move on for tonight. I will only say it this kindly once.”
I stared at Gunnar’s back, out of words. Anger radiated from him, and I swore I saw his wolf growling under his skin.
George fell quiet, the air tense between us. I didn’t dare to look at him, not ready to see his face. Eventually, he walked back around his car and closed the door with a loud bang, driving away like a maniac.
I stared down the road long after George’s car was out of view, feeling hurt and confused.
“Are you okay?” Gunnar asked.
“I’m not sure if I’m angry with you or not,” I said, and finally turned around to walk back home.
He hurried after me. “Why are you angry at me? What did I do?”
“You put your nose into my business, which had nothing to do with anyone except him and me. And you confronted him with something he probably didn’t even realize he did,” I said. “I didn’t realize it myself, either.”
“I told you before that you were forcing it."
I shook my head. “That’s nonsense. We simply tried all we could. It’s normal for a couple that wants to conceive.”
As the words left my mouth, I knew deep down that he was right. George never really pushed me into a corner. He never blamed me or did something I didn’t want. He is a lovely and caring person. But perhaps, unintentionally, his words and actions stressed me out. I never spoke to him about it, and I also never shared my feeling of being a failure with him. But since Jelto told me about the conversation George had with him and their co-workers, all the little voices in my head were screaming. It proved the fears I didn’t want to face. In truth, he felt like all our attempts were so devastating and frustrating that he was lost, too. He would never blame me for it alone, but what if I was actually at fault? Because I wasn’t just a human. But an ancient wolf.
Why did all of this had to happen today?
“What is happening to me?” I whispered, more to myself than to Gunnar. I knew he wouldn’t be able to answer my question either.
“I don’t know. I doubt any of us saw something like this happening before, but I think your wolf might fight back right now. You didn’t believe me before, but I’m sure your wolf was never gone. Maybe you couldn’t feel her, but there was this hint of your wolf since I first saw you. It was weak, way too weak for most other wolves to decipher. But I’m a very strong wolf, and that’s why I could.”
He spoke so highly of himself, but it didn’t come across as arrogant at all. It was more like he was stating the obvious, and his confidence impressed me a bit.
“At first I thought you might be a very weak omega,” he admitted and glanced at me from the side.
I snorted. Before my pack died, I used to be the daughter of the alpha, and I have been far away from being an omega. I always stood up for myself and everyone respected me. I felt pride remembering those times until sadness took over again, my heart clenching painfully. There was no way my wolf returned to me. Not after all these years.
“Maybe it’s just some kind of ancient magic from the bonfire, and it will disappear soon enough.”
“I doubt it. The weak power I could feel grew a lot stronger. I’m sure almost every wolf tonight recognized you belong to us. You can’t deny it anymore.”
I shivered, partly because of the cold air biting on my skin, but also because the thought of changing back into a wolf scared me. I stared ahead and counted my steps, trying to distract myself. The path was barely lit by streetlights and I still smelled the smoke from the bonfire in the air, only reminding me of what had happened. I don’t want things to change. Or do I?
Gunnar carefully placed his jacket over my shoulders, and I pulled it closer around me. “Thank you.”
“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
I sighed. “I hope so.”
“Even if no one knows what is going on, we can figure it out. The only thing I worry about is your wolf breaking out and you losing control over it.”
“Why should I lose control?” I was bothered by his statement, angry even. I’m not weak, and my wolf and I were always on good terms. There was never a time I couldn’t control her.
“I didn’t mean to insult you, but your wolf has been shut away for years. We don’t know what happened to her. She may be very unhappy, especially considering you are the last of your pack.”
It made me wonder what he knew about the incident years ago, but he wasn’t wrong. I had years to get over the loss and started a new life. My wolf, on the other hand, didn’t get the chance to.
In the distance, I saw the entrance of the park, and despite the pain in my bones, I walked faster. I couldn’t wait to reach my home and fall into bed.
“I wonder if it’s a good idea to leave you alone in the middle of so many humans,” Gunnar said, keeping his place next to me with ease.
I furrowed my brows, not liking what he was saying. “What do you propose, then? Should I hide in the woods until my eyes are back to normal, and I’m still a human?”
“You could stay at our place until then.”
I huffed. “No, thank you. I don’t know you, and that I joined you for a big party in a forest was crazy enough already.”
“We don’t mean to harm you. We only want to help you.”
“I appreciate the gesture, but I have been fine on my own for years.”
We crossed the road, and the closer I got to my house, the faster I walked.
“You may be a danger to everyone around you.”
I stopped in my tracks and glared at him. He also stumbled to a halt, concern and worry plastered all over his face. I swallowed some of my anger. He was responsible for all kinds of wolf-related incidents in his territory, and maybe he wasn’t too wrong about my wolf. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with her for a long time, after all. There was the possibility that she had changed, and if what he said was true -which I still couldn’t believe- he had at least some reason to worry. But everything that happened must have been a weird coincidence, nothing more. “I understand your concern, but please leave me alone for a bit. I promise you, nothing will happen.”
Gunnar was visibly fighting with himself. He probably didn’t want to risk it, but also didn’t want to push me further. “I will let you stay here, but don’t be angry if I let someone watch you.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
He crossed his arms. “No, you don’t. But your wolf might.”
For a moment we only stared at each other, not moving an inch, until the stabbing pain of my wounds stopped me from remaining stubborn.
“Fine,” I said and walked into the park with quick steps. We didn’t exchange a word until I reached my front door. I unlocked it and turned around to him. He appeared paler than usual, as he stared at me with furrowed brows and pursed lips.
I smiled weakly. “Don’t worry. I’m sure this is all just a fluke.”
“It’s hard not to worry when I see you like this,” he muttered and ran a hand through his hair.
I still felt bad for making him feel that way and ruining his celebration. But he was the one dragging me there in the first place. “I will go to bed now and sleep it off. Maybe tomorrow everything will look a lot better again.”
He nodded. “I hope you feel better tomorrow. And if you need anything, you know where to find us.”
“Thank you. Have a good night, Gunnar.”
“Good night, Amalia,” he said and turned around without looking back again.