Her voice is pure steel as she demands to know. Would we stop her? I would be tempted to, but the dead eyes in her face and blankness of her voice tells me perfectly well that we just might not live through the experience. She is so dominant. Even Julian is struggling to keep eye contact.
“If you truly wish to leave, then we won’t force you to stay,” Julian says in a wobbly voice laced with his pain. “All I ask is that you not leave for the sake of leaving. You have your own home here. We know that to you we are little more than strangers so we aren’t going to ask that you stay with us.”
“No matter how much we might want you to,” Maria’s tears were running down her face still, but she smiled reassuringly at her baby.
We fell into silence again, not an entirely uncomfortable silence, but I couldn’t help my fidgeting. I wanted to ask so many questions.
“I imagine you have questions for me,” Willow said, mirroring my thoughts.
We three exchanged glances, but it was Maria who asked first.
“How did you grow up?” The fear in her voice was clear as she anticipated a negative answer from Willow, but she stayed strong. Willows face remained blank and I could still sense no emotion coming from her wolf. She was on auto pilot.
“I was told that my mother died in child birth. The man I believed my father was distant. We rarely spoke, even when I was a child, and I was raised by a female in the pack. I was permitted to go to school, the only female ever to be permitted such a luxury, and I was even permitted to go to college. I realise now that he was simply trying to convince me not to leave the pack. He was trying to keep as strong a hold on me as he could.”
I held in my rage, honing in on her schooling rather than her ‘father’.
“What did you study in college?” I asked, locking my jaw to keep my canines in my gums.
“I studied ecology and photography. I travelled with my professor on several occasions to photograph rare or newly discovered flora and fauna. Many of my photographs are in national geographic and have won wildlife photography competitions worldwide.”
Her voice is matter of fact, completely blank. She’s just stating facts, not even sounding impressed or proud of her own accomplishments.
“That’s incredible,” says Maria, and her pride is right there for the world to see.
“I will not leave tonight. I haven’t had a chance to find transport or accommodation,” she says, abruptly standing up and stepping out of the garden. We scramble to stand too, waiting to see what she is going to do.
“You mentioned someplace I could stay,” she prompts, looking to Maria and Julian.
They flounder for a moment but, very impressively considering the days’ emotional upheaval, they pull themselves together quickly and motion for us to follow them.
I was going to walk behind them but Willow’s wolf set off a vicious growl the second I was out of her line of sight, the sound not stopping until I was level with her. Even then, her eyes kept flicking to me to make sure I was right where she wanted me. I was proud. I don’t know what I expected when she woke, but I imagined a lot more tears and fear and trauma. The complete emotionlessness was concerning, but she still seems so strong.