I didn’t know what to feel after I left. My thoughts whirled around, making my head spin. It distracted me from the throbbing on my wrist, but I wasn’t sure if this feeling of shame was better.
Why would George share such things? With people, we work with every day. I wondered what they thought of us now. James might say they wouldn’t think any less of us, but what if they did? Maybe they laugh at us behind their backs. It shouldn’t matter to me what others think about us, but it didn’t let me go.
I walked around the compound, seeing all these families out and about. With all the activities targeted towards children, we have many families visiting. Parents can relax while their children get entertained. The further I walked, the fewer people I encountered. It lifted a burden from my shoulder I didn’t realize I had carried. Usually, I wasn’t bothered by the busy life, but today it was almost suffocating.
I continued following the road for a little longer before stepping into the woods. There was a small path leading through it. It wasn’t used too often, as bushes and branches already tried to cover up its tracks, but sometimes people seem to get lost here. Or maybe they were also looking for a way to hide.
After pushing several branches out of my way, I stumbled upon a small pond. In all these years I lived and worked here, I haven’t seen this one yet. I thought I had seen every little spot in this place, but apparently, I was wrong. A small duck family swam from one side to the other, quacking.
I sighed. “Families everywhere.”
I guess fate wanted to rub salt into my wounds. I sat down on a small rock close to the water and lazily threw leaves into the water. The ducks didn’t seem to be bothered by the disturbance. They probably also didn’t realize they were around a previous predator. I laughed. I was nothing but a harmless human now, and Gunnar saw me as a wolf. It was laughable.
I continued staring at the ducks, and slowly a sense of calmness caught a grip of me when a rustling in the bushes startled me. My pulse picked up, and I didn’t understand why. It was broad daylight, and I doubt anyone would be out of their way to find me here. I was safe, but here I was, holding my breath.
Eventually, a small gray pup made its way through the thick green bushes, stumbling over every little branch and root it could possibly fall over. It came to a startling halt when it spotted me, pure panic in its eyes. I raised a brow. I suppose one of Gunnar’s pups got lost.
Getting down on my knees, I held out my hand. “What’s wrong? Are you lost? You can turn back to a human and tell me what happened.”
My first instinct was to let it know I knew it was more than a wolf. As expected, the small pup sighed in relief. But it didn’t turn back into a human. Was it too afraid, or was there something wrong?
“Did you lose your way?”
The pup nodded, slumping to the floor. I smiled and crept a little closer. I still held my hand out, in the hopes it would gain enough trust to let me pat it.
It lifted its head and eyed me curiously, before leaning forward to sniff my hand. I stroked through the soft fur on the back, glad about the trust it put in me.
“Are you part of Gunnar’s pack?”
It closed its eyes and nodded. I told him it would be dangerous to keep the pups running around like this, but he didn’t listen.
“Do you know how to go back home?”
It shook its head and let out a puff of air. I frowned. There was no way I would leave it here, but I didn’t want to have a reason to go back to his house again. Especially not after what had happened in the garden and my conversation with James.
But young pups can be unpredictable. They might lose control over their transformation or react aggressively to stressful situations. The further they are away from their pack, the worse it gets. They seek comfort and energy from the people close by. It grounded them. A pup so far away from their home was not only a danger to themselves, but to everyone else, too.
“Come on, I will bring you back home.”
It slumped down flat to the floor, looking up at me with wide, teary eyes.
I smiled. “Don’t worry, it will be fine.”
I didn’t know Gunnar well, but I doubt he would punish a pup because it got lost in a foreign environment. He wasn’t such a person. He might seem slightly rough around the edge, but I believed he cared for his pack and loved them dearly.
I stood up, stretching my legs. They have gotten numb and an uncomfortable tingling sensation rushed through them. The pup also raised again, and I gestured to follow me. It didn’t take long before I realized it would take the entire day to return, seeing it was still falling to the floor every second step. Its breathing was quick, too, and the tongue hung out of the mouth, panting. The pup must be too exhausted to reach back home.
I crouched down and picked it up, my wrist protesting in pain. With clenched teeth, I moved the pup to the other side, hoping to ease the weight on my wrist a bit. The pup snuggled closer to me, shivering ever so slightly. I had no time to waste. It had to be returned to its pack as fast as possible.
I hurried through the forest, branches hitting my face. Mentally, I already thought of all the things I wanted to tell Gunnar when I reached his house. About how easygoing he was, and how he should take better care of his pups.
It took me quite a while to reach his bungalow, and the pup grew heavier and heavier with each step. For some reason, I thought this would be easy, but a wolf pup is a lot heavier than it looked.
Sweat ran down my face, and the pain in my wrist almost made me want to scream. But I held it in. When Gunnar’s bungalow finally got into view, I picked up my pace and rushed towards the front door.
I kicked the door twice, as I didn’t have a hand free to knock.
I held my breath until the door swung open, revealing Gunnar, a stern expression on his face. It softened when his eyes landed on me.
I didn’t wait for him to say something and handed him his pup. “I found part of your pack wandering around, far away from here.”
I stretched out my arms when the weight disappeared and sighed in relief. My wrist was pulsating in time with my racing pulse. I knew I did the right thing, but it still hurt a lot.
Gunnar looked back and forth between me and the pup, seemingly out of words.
“Don’t give it a hard time. It probably got lost and panicked.”
A woman shouted from inside, and soon after she rushed outside, and grabbed the pup out of Gunnar’s hands. She held the pup close to her, pressing her face into its fur. “I was so worried.”
The little pup whimpered, licking her neck. My heart clenched and dread filled me. I was happy the pup was safe, but seeing them like this made me remember things I didn’t want to think about.
“Okay, I will be on my way then. Have a good day,” I said and was about to turn around when the woman punched Gunnar’s arm, raising her brow and gesturing towards me.
“Okay, okay. Calm down, jeez,” Gunnar said, and turned to me again. “Why won’t you stay for lunch?”
I wanted to decline when he shook his head. “We insist.”
I glanced over his shoulder at the woman. Her gaze was strong. It almost pulled me inside the house, telling me if I won’t enter this house now, she would follow me home and drag me back if she had to.
I gulped as a cold shiver ran down my spine. “I will be glad to.”
Gunnar stepped out of the way, and I entered the house. When the door fell close behind me, I wondered if I made a big mistake, though.