We walked for only a few short minutes, my wolf making a solid appearance when we stepped into the woods, but we soon came to a stop outside of the most amazing home I’ve ever seen. It was a small cottage that looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale. Complete with an incredible flower garden and even fruit trees. The clearing was sunny, even though it was a few minutes into thick forestry. It would be a difficult place to find if you didn’t know it was here.
“This place was here for as long as we could remember and it was one of your favourite places to come out to play,” Julian told me, and a memory flickered by too fast for me to grasp. “We never gave up hope of finding you and a few years ago we realised that when you were finally home you’d need a place of your own. We had this place completely redone.”
He gave me a watery smile and my heart skipped a little, recognising something in the man who is supposedly my father.
“It was only right that it be yours. In some ways, it always was,” Maria adds, walking toward me.
For one nearly terrifying moment I think she’s trying to hug me and I step back, a low rumble vibrating in my chest. Guilt slices my chest as her face falls and I’m blasted by a wave of crushing sadness from Maria’s wolf. She drops a key into my hand and hastily steps back to tuck herself under Julian’s arm.
“Thank you,” I say, attempting a small smile.
I imagine it looks much more like a snarl, since I don’t think I remember how to smile, but it’s the effort that counts. I think.
Whatever my expression is, it makes Maria and Julian beam as they say they’re goodbyes and head out. Leaving me with Clayton, who seems as reluctant to leave as they did.
“The kitchen is fully stocked,” he told me as I moved toward the porch stairs.
He kind of just…lingers, so I sit on the stairs to wait for him to find whatever words he seems to be looking for.
He eventually comes to sit next to me, considerately sitting on the opposite side of the stairs, not even close to touching me. But he still hasn’t spoken and it’s making my wolf restless.
“I suppose you stayed behind for a reason,” I prompt.
He sighs, looking at me with an expression that I don’t recognise, and then turns his whole body towards me. He leans his back against the banister and props his foot up on the step.
“I wanted to ask you if you wanted to talk about what happened to you, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it without accidentally forcing a change if you got upset,” he finally says, not looking at me. I scent fear, but it’s faint. Is it nervousness? I’ve only ever really scented terror, so I can’t be sure.
“You have nothing to worry about, I have never changed.”