Moonlight: Part 6, Puppy Love

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Part 6 Puppy Love

 

I got into the habit of meeting Steph to go jogging around the reservoir in Central Park.  She said it was something she did everyday when she was in the city, and invited me to join her when possible.  It had sounded good, except for the long bus ride.

“Jenny and I aren’t doing great.”  I said as we passed a lone jogger wearing headphones.

“I didn’t have a real boyfriend when I changed, but I get the impression that prechange romantic relationships don’t continue to work afterwards.”  Steph answered with a shrug.

“Everybody just ends their marriages or breaks up with their girlfriends and boyfriends?”

“I’ve known a few people who managed to stay in marriages, but it always shifts if they do.  It becomes a platonic partnership more than a romantic one.  Tom and his wife stayed together, but they have separate bedrooms and stuff.”  Steph paused as a guy running fast passed us, then continued.  “I don’t go there and hang out all the time, but I have spent some time with the two of them.  I’ve never seen them kiss or anything like that.”

“So we’re doomed to spend our lives living like nuns?”

“No.  No, of course not.”  Steph assured me.  “I have an ex-husband, and the divorce had nothing, well little anyway, to do with werewolf stuff.  We had a pretty passionate relationship while it lasted.  We broke up because I just couldn’t see myself moving to Montana and living off grid, which he’d become obsessed with.”

“So, how did you make it work at all, didn’t the human smell bother you?  Did you find a way to tell him what you are?”

“Adam was also a werewolf, so he smelled right and knew what I was from the very start.”

“Well, it’s not like I’m going to bite Jenny and turn her into one of us, so her smelling human isn’t going to change.”  I pointed out.  “I’d like to be honest with her though, but  I don’t know how I can tell her and get her to believe me.”

“If you could just tell her and she would simply believe you, do you think that the relationship would still work?  You’re still not going to feel passionate about her.  You’re still going to be a different person than you were when you guys got together.”  Steph pointed out.  “Maybe trying to explain it to Jenny is just going to be a distraction, when what you really need to ask is, if the relationship has a future still.”

“She’s been so great to me these last few months, I don’t want to hurt her.” I groaned.

“Dragging out a relationship you know isn’t going to work isn’t sparing her hurt, it’s just wasting her time.  Time she could use to figure her life out and find her new path.”

I knew Steph was right.  It really did just suck anyway though.  That night, with lots of crying on both sides, I broke up with a confused Jenny.

 

A week later as Steph and I once again were jogging around the reservoir, I was feeling the consequences of the ways my life had shattered.

“So, how has it been being back home with your parents?”  Steph asked, her voice sounding casual, her smell giving away her concern though.

“I know it would have been wrong to stay with Jenny just to keep the apartment, but if I’d thought through the whole living arrangement thing first, I might not have broken up with her.”  I joked.  “I’m torn between which is worse, having to listen to them talk about how glad they are that I saw the light about the lifestyle Jenny was dragging me into, or the commute from Queens.”

“What commute?”  Steph sounded a bit confused. “You don’t need to feel obliged to come here to jog if it’s that inconvenient.”

“Oh, yeah.  Dr Stewart signed off on me being ok to go back to work.  I started on Monday.”  Feeling bad that it had slipped my mind. “So I have to come into Manhattan anyway.”

“You’ve been back at work two days and haven’t told me?”  Steph complained.  “So, how’s it going?”

“Not like I hoped.”  I admitted, trying not to sound too gloomy even though I knew Steph could smell the unhappiness.  “It’s not like before.  People avoid me.  Conversations die when I walk into rooms.  I can tell they are looking when they think I can’t tell, from the way they look away as soon as I look back.

“You know, last time I was out, after the attack, when I got back they ordered a ‘welcome back’ cake.”  I continued, suddenly feeling tears in my eyes.  “I was only out an extra week past my planned vacation, and I got a cake.  This time I was gone for over a month and nothing, not even a card.”

“I’m sorry.”  Steph said as she slowed her pace to match my faltering one.  “How about the work itself?”

“How do you think?” I asked as I gave up jogging and headed over to the nearest patch of grass.  “How well do you think I’m doing at trying to sit still and concentrate and actually use my fucking brain while staring at that stupid little screen?”

Steph sat down next to me and wrapped her arms around me, holding me tight.  I let myself fall into the embrace, resting my head against her shoulder, and feeling the short hairs against my cheek as I just gave into the sobs that rippled through my body.  We just sat there embraced till the sobs began to subside.

“Thanks, but we’re fine,” Steph said to the third jogger who asked if we needed help, then asked me as she gently stroked my back, “Do you want to go up to the center early?  We could catch a train and ask Liz to pick us up from the station in Utica.  I don’t need to do anything more down here in the city before the retreat as far as I can tell, and if something comes up, I can just come back down.”

“I’m having a hard enough time convincing Nancy that my taking just a couple of days off around the full moon is necessary.  Dr Stewart keeps insisting I explain why I have to attend the retreat before he will write something saying I need to.”

“So, forget about the job.  Put in your notice.  How long do you think it’s going to be before they find an excuse to fire you anyway?”

“I can’t just quit, I have debt.  What would I do for health insurance?”  I asked, looking down at the patch of sparse grass we sat on.

“We’ll find you something.  Most of us either work for the institute or have freelance jobs.”

“My skills are rather specific to sitting in an office 9 to 5.”  I explained.  “I don’t even know why I’m bothering to live these days.”

“Ok, we’re definitely heading up to the center, before you let something like that slip while talking to Dr Stewart and end up on a 72 hour psych hold.”  Steph stated firmly.  “We’ll call you out sick, and you can think more about whether you want to put in notice while we’re away from the city.”

 

The train ride up with the changing leaves was breathtaking.  Then when we got there, Liz was waiting for us on the platform.  She was even more breathtaking.  She wore a camel colored cashmere cable knit sweater, light tan corduroy trousers that looked like they’d been tailored for her, and brown leather boots.  Her short dark hair, with the streak of gray so perfectly placed, fell flawlessly even though it was a breezy day.  She was the epitome of casual elegance.  And, her face broke into a bright smile when she saw us.

On the hour long ride up to the center, Steph sat up front in the passenger seat next to Liz, leaving me stuck in the back.  They seemed to mostly talk business as we rode.  I mostly just listened to the melody of their voices and ignored the subject of the discussion.  I breathed Liz’s delicious scent in.  I watched the gold and flame colored hillsides we passed.  I drifted off to sleep.

I dreamed: I was standing naked in a small dimly lit room.  Liz was in there too, also naked.  She circled me like the predator she is, sniffing, getting so close but never quite touching.  She shifted between wolf and human constantly.  Then, I felt the brush of fur on my leg, then fingertips on my shoulder, then lips on my cheek.  The touch, never enough to satisfy, just enough to tease.

“Time to wake up, puppy.”  Liz’s voice broke into my dream accompanied by the sound of gravel under the tires.  “That must have been some dream you were having.”

Steph chuckled at the remark, and I felt my cheeks flush.  Not too surprisingly, the Institute seemed quieter as we arrived at it than it had been the week of the retreat.  No lights on inside, no people sitting on the lawn or porch, nobody walking in the garden, and there was only one vehicle parked in the lot, a very utilitarian looking pick up truck that I figured was also Liz’s.

Steph and I got settled back into the room we had shared the previous month, though this time we had to go find fresh linens in the laundry room.  Steph and I spent some time just hiking and talking, but most of it was spent helping Liz get through the long list of tasks to get the aging lodge and out buildings ready for winter.

 

One evening, just a couple of days before the next retreat was scheduled to begin, we sat in front of the fireplace sipping sherry and talking.  Liz was in one of the William Morris armchairs with her feet up on an ottoman.  Steph and I shared the newer couch.

“Would you have made it through the list if Diana and I hadn’t come up?”  Steph asked.

“I’d have managed.”  Liz said with a defensive edge to her voice that told me we’d hit on a touchy subject.  “Worst comes to worst I could have done what I did last year and hired a local handyman.”

“I know nobody could ever replace Barbara, but I think it’s time to hire a full time groundskeeper.”  Steph said with extreme caution.  “The Institute can afford it right?”

“I’m sure if I went over the books, I could find the money.”  Liz said, twirling her glass.  “But this lodge isn’t just the retreat center for the institute, it’s my full time home now.  I rent out the Upper Eastside apartments, and sold the Hamptons beach house. This is my only space now.  It’s hard enough to share it part time, I don’t think I’m up to sharing it full time with someone who doesn’t count as family.  Barbara and Gail were family.”

Then Liz got up with a certain finality, and announced, “I’m off to bed.  Please make sure the fire is out before you ladies head to bed.  Goodnight Steph, goodnight puppy.”

I waited till I could no longer hear Liz’s retreating foot falls to ask Steph,  “Is it bad that we came up early?  Are we invading Liz’s privacy?”

“Don’t worry, I most certainly count as family.  She doesn’t mind you being up here either, she likes you even if she isn’t up to admitting it yet.”

“If Liz likes me, why does she keep calling me puppy?”

“Because you are one.”  Steph chuckled and stroked my head.  “She’ll stop when you’re ready to embrace being a full grown bitch.”

“Barbara is the one who was bitten at the same camp Liz was attacked at, right?”  I asked, trying to sort through what I’d heard.  “Who was Gail?”

“Yes, Barbara was a C.I.T. at the summer camp Liz attended as a little girl, Liz’s parents hired her to be groundskeeper when they found out she was also a werewolf.”  Steph confirmed.  “Since Liz grew up changing with Barbara every month, they shared a deep bond much like sisters.”

Steph paused and sighed deeply before continuing.  “Gail became a werewolf in her late 20s.  She was the love of Liz’s life.  They got married when it became legal in New York.  They were happy.  All 3 of them were happy.  I could see it when I was living up here with them as a teenager.”

“So, what happened?  Why did they leave?”  I asked.

“Barbara and Gail were driving down to Rome to run an errand.  It was just a really bad accident.  Head on collision with a sleepy driver who drifted into their lane.”

 

The next morning over breakfast, Steph got a call from Gerald.  He had a lead he needed Steph to help follow up on.  There was a man in Jersey who’d been bitten by what was reported as possibly a coyote while taking out the recycling on the previous full moon.  So, she borrowed the car so she could drive straight to Jersey to meet Gerald there.

I stood in the door frame watching as Steph and Liz met at the car.

“I’ve booked a couple of rooms in a nearby motel for two nights.”  Steph explained as she tossed an overnight bag into the back of Liz’s car.  “Gerald and I will be up here before the full moon, but probably not in time for the start of the retreat.  And obviously, I won’t know if it will be just the two of us or if we will be bringing a newby till after we’ve talked to him.  I’ll call when I get down there, and then again before Gerald and I head back up.”

“Ok,”  Liz said, embracing Steph.  “Drive carefully.”

“Be nice to Diana while I’m gone.”  Steph whispered in Liz’s ear so softly I could only just barely hear it.

Liz stood watching as Steph got in the car and drove off.  Once the car was too far down the drive to see or hear anymore, Liz turned to me and put on a tight smile.

“I guess it’s just the two of us,”  Liz teased as she walked back to the door I was waiting at, linking arms with me when she reached me.  “Let’s go see what kind of trouble we can get up to.”

 

Of course the only trouble we actually got up to was retreat preparations.  Putting away food deliveries.  Sorting linens and towels.  Dozens of other little things.  Then I made penne primavera.

“I hope I haven’t imposed too much on your willingness to be helpful.”  Liz said over dinner.  “This is very good.”

“I don’t mind.  It’s good to feel competent again.”  I said, possibly a little over excited by the minor praise.  “It’s nice to get to cook for someone who appreciates it again.  My parents refuse to eat a single vegetarian meal.”

“How are you doing coming to terms with the hunger?”  Liz asked obliquely.

“I’ve gone back to being vegetarian.”  I said emphatically.  “I figure I won’t be able to control what happens when I’m a wolf, but if I try to really pack on the protein I should be able to control the cravings while I’m human.”

“We’re never fully human anymore.”  Liz said in that neutral tone I was coming to recognize as her *I know you don’t really want to hear this* tone.  “It waxes and wanes with the moon, at times more human while other times less human, but never fully human anymore.  Have you considered being vegetarian 3 weeks a month?”

“I just want to try.”

“Ok,”  Liz said in a tone that suggested she had no real belief it would work.  “I can spare a few hours tomorrow and take you into town for a haircut before people start arriving the day after that.”

“I know you’ve been a werewolf a lot longer than me,”  I said, poking at my food, torn between just wanting to agree with Liz because I liked her and not wanting to be told what I should do,  “but maybe it won’t be the same for me.  Maybe I can manage being vegetarian, and handle having long hair.”

“You’re welcome to try, puppy.”  Liz said in that damned neutral tone, then added in a warmer tone.  “It’s nice having someone to have a quiet meal with.   Steph comes up sometimes, but way too often she has to rush off like she did today.”

“Is finding werewolves her official job?”

“Officially, her title is outreach coordinator for the Institute,”  Liz said as she speared a piece of broccoli with her fork.  “But basically she goes out and finds werewolves and convinces them to spend the full moon somewhere safe.  It’s a job more easily done from the city, since it involves a lot of last minute travel.”

Liz paused to eat her chunk of broccoli then continued.  “We’ve started working on her learning other aspects of running the institute though, since she will take over when I’m ready to retire or if something were to happen to me.”

“Are you planning to retire soon?”  I asked, feeling my brow wrinkle.

“No, not soon.  Stuff sometimes just happens though.  The plans we make can all fall apart in the blink of an eye.”  Liz took on a melancholy tone.  “So it’s always good to have a plan B.”

“Some things are hard to plan for.”  I admitted, being rather oblique myself.

“Yes, the unpredictable and the too painful to imagine. ”  Liz agreed, then looked at me.  “ Somehow we find a way to keep going though, don’t we?”

“I guess we do.”  I smiled ironically and took another large forkful of pasta.

 

Steph and Gerald didn’t make it to the retreat till the second day.  They’d had a hard time getting a meeting with the man who’d been bitten.  When they finally did, it turned out that the possible coyote was probably an exaggerated red fox according to the wife.  So it was just Steph and Gerald, with no new person.  I got the feeling that was how it went most of the time, that for every werewolf they found, they checked out a dozen false alarms.

The second day was also the day I gave into my craving and started eating meat again.  I was so disappointed in myself.  I was angry that Liz had been right.

The morning of the full moon, I made sure my hair was combed completely smooth and began braiding it even though I was finding it uncomfortable.

“That doesn’t work.” Steph informed me.   “You can wear it like that for the day, but this evening when you change it won’t stay in.  It will just very painfully get pulled out of the braid.  It’s better to just wear it loose.”

“I just was hoping to reduce the tangles.”  I said in frustration and threw my hairbrush across the room, because I just had no patience left.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not the first person to try that.”  Steph said.

I walked over to where the brush had landed.  It was one of the ones Jenny had bought me.  It’s handle was broken.

Liz cleared her throat from the open door.  I looked up from my broken hair brush.  She was wearing light weight loose black yoga pants, a white silk tank top, and a long gray cardigan.  Even at such a very casual level of dress, she managed to be elegant and put together.

“Do you want to go to the otherside of the lake Diana?  It will give you a little more privacy.”  Liz asked in her maternal tone.  “You could try changing with the pack this time, but I don’t really think you’re ready for it puppy.”

I wanted to go to the other side of the lake.  Changing in a large group sounded pretty scary.  Well changing at all sounded scary, but I didn’t have much choice about that.  However there was a desire I had that was even stronger, which was to stop being seen as the puppy.

“I think I can handle changing with the group.”  I said defiantly.

“There’s going to be nudity.”

“There was nudity last time too.”

“Male nudity.”  Liz warned gravely.

“Do you think I’ve never seen a naked guy before?”  I challenged.

“I really hadn’t given it much thought till you asked me.”  Liz said in that slightly condescending amused tone, that made me incredibly angry but I also found frustratingly attractive.  “But from the scent you’re giving off puppy, I’m pretty sure that you haven’t ever seen a guy naked.”

“IT WILL BE FINE.”  I yelled so strongly it made my throat hurt.  “AND STOP CALLING ME ‘PUPPY’”

I pushed my way past Liz and ran out of the lodge.  I kept running till I collapsed at the edge of the woods and started sobbing.  I felt Liz sit down next to me.  She started rubbing my back.  I turned and fell onto her shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”  She said gently as she held me.

“I want to go across the lake.”  I admitted, between sobs.

“Ok.”  Liz said.  “Do you want it to be just you, me, and Steph?  Or would you like me to invite a few more women along so you can ease into changing with a larger group?”

“What do you think is best?”  I was ready to admit that Liz probably knew best.

“How about I invite Grace, Christine, and Laura?  We can pack up a nice picnik.”

“Ok,”  I agreed softly.

 

The six of us set out a little while later.  I only felt slightly the odd man out in the jovial group.  When we unpacked the picnik, I noticed Liz had included two vegetarian proteins, scrambled eggs and “very plain” hummus.  At sunset, the 6 of us waited wrapped in wool blankets for the change to begin.

The next morning I awoke snuggled against Liz on top of one of the blankets we’d left on the ground the night before.  She was shivering slightly as she too awoke.  I looked around.  Steph, Christine, and Grace were cuddled together a little way off on one of the other blankets.  Laura had made herself a nest of blankets that she was curled up in.

“What do you remember?”  Liz asked me as she sat up and started tucking the blanket around me even though I knew she was shivering.

“I remember drinking from the lake.”  I just spoke as the images came to me, and Liz went to get herself a blanket.  “I remember chasing a deer.  I remember the bear threatening Grace and I.  I remember you chasing off the bear while Steph protected Grace and I.  Then Christine and Laura caught a deer.  You stood guard over us.  then we came back here.  Grace curled up first, and Steph curled around her protecting her, then I curled up and you wrapped yourself around me.”

“You remember a lot,”  Liz praised as she began to wake the others.  “Your mind is accepting, adjusting.”

“I’m cold.”  Grace muttered softly as she woke, Liz placed the blanket she’d been wrapped in around Grace.

“Let’s all get inside the cabin and get ourselves warmed up.”  Liz announced to the group.   “We don’t have our warm fur coats anymore.”

The mention of the change between fur and hair was a reminder.  I raised my hand to my head.  I felt the mud and blood and twigs and grass matted into my hair yet again.  I felt defeated.

 

Inside the cabin, Laura and Grace took turns combing stuff out of eachothers bobbed hair while sitting in front of the wood stove.  Christine’s hair was so short there was pretty much nothing for stuff to get stuck in.  Liz and Steph, each did need to run a comb through their short hair, but it was a pretty simple matter.  I sat on the settee wrapped in a blanket not wanting to deal with my own hair.

“Get dressed puppy.”  Steph finally ordered me.  “It’s time to head back to the lodge.”

I was once again still working on trying to get all the mats out of my hair on the last morning of the retreat.  I had taken a break from it and was alone in the room packing stuff, when Liz knocked on the door that was ajar.

“Hey,”  I greeted her.  “What’s up?’

“According to Steph,”  Liz started sounding a bit unsure in a way I’d never heard her before,  “you don’t have any reason to rush back to the city.”

“Theoretically, I have a job, but I’m pretty sure I’m just days away from getting fired at this point anyway.”  I admitted.  “I’ve broken up with Jenny.  Oh, and my parents and I are both pretty unhappy with the living arrangements.  So, yeah I guess you could say I’m not in a rush to get back, but I don’t really have anywhere else to go, so…”

“Do you want to stay?”  Liz asked.  “Steph keeps pointing out all the ways I need help up here, and she thought maybe you’d be willing?”

“I’m not super handy.”  I warned Liz, because as much as I would like to stay, I didn’t want it to be under false impressions.  “Like I saw ‘clean gutters’ on the list for this month, and I don’t know how to do that.”

“It’s not the groundskeeper position, just a little helping out.  If you’re up for just doing some of the basics like dealing with load after load of sheets and towels that have to be washed each month it helps.”  Liz assured me.  “And, I can teach you some of the other stuff if we do it together.”

“I thought you wanted privacy?”

“There’s a really fine line between privacy and loneliness.”  Liz admitted.

“Ok, that would be great then.”  I said, suddenly realizing I didn’t need to finish packing.

“When you have time come down to my office to get a timesheet.”  Liz said with a smile as she began to turn to go.  “You have to submit one each week.”

“Wait, I get paid too?!”

“Of course puppy.”  Liz chuckled as she went off down the hall.  “Put in notice at your job before they fire you.”

 

That evening, I grabbed a towel to comb stuff out of my hair onto and sat down in front of the fire.  Liz was in the Morris chair again sipping sherry.

“How’s it going?”  Liz asked casually.  “Made any progress?”

“It’s fine, I’ll have it untangled soon.”  I grumbled, feeling annoyed.

“That is way more than just tangled, puppy.”

“I got the mats out last month, didn’t I.”  I said defensively.

“Really puppy, you know I can tell when you’re hiding something.”  Liz smirked.  “How were the mats removed last month?”

“Jenny helped.”  I admitted meekly.

“And what did Jenny do to get them out?”  Liz calmly queried.

“She just barely snipped a tiny bit upward into a few of the mats.”

“Hmm.”  Liz sighed.  “How many times do you think you can have that done before it’s going to show?”

“I’ll get the mats out.”  I said with almost no conviction.

“It’s ok, I can help.”  Liz said as she finished her sherry and stood up.  “I’ll just go grab the scissors and be right back.”

I sat watching the fire with so many mixed up emotions.  I was scared about how much Liz was going to cut.  I was desperate to please her.  I longed to feel her touch.

“Sit up on the ottoman puppy.” Liz instructed when she returned with a pair of scissors and a couple of sheets of newspaper.

“I don’t want a haircut.”  I moaned.

“I don’t give haircuts, I leave that to professionals.  I will just snip open the mats the way I assume Jenny did.”  Liz promised as she placed the sheets of newspaper between the ottoman and chair.  “I don’t think it will be all that noticeable.   You can go see Danny for an actual haircut later.”

I nervously sat on the ottoman as I had been instructed, and waited as Liz settled down perched on the edge of the chair behind me.  I felt Liz lift my long layered chestnut hair and spread the towel I’d brought over my shoulders.  Then she lowered the hair down onto it, spreading out the locks as much as was possible.

I thought she would start by trying to brush or comb, but she didn’t, she just went straight to cutting.  The sound of the metal blades crunching through multiple strands of hair, told me she was cutting more than Jenny would snip with that first slice, I just hoped that Liz would only do that once.  Jenny had taken smaller snips, but many of them.

I closed my eyes as I felt Liz begin to comb from the bottom of the mat she had so decisively sliced into.  There was another small snip at the mat, but soon it was worked out.

Sadly, it wasn’t the only mat, and Liz soon picked out another one and repeated the slicing into it.  I had no choice, but to sit there just wondering how much hair I was losing this time.

When Liz finally ran the comb through what was left of my long tresses, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to look.  I turned, and looked down.  The newspaper was covered in a jumble of various lengths of chestnut strands and quite a bit of debris.

Liz stroked my head gently and assured me, “It blends in with the layers pretty well.  It doesn’t look like someone has been hacking at your hair.”

“Even though someone did just hack at it,” I lamented.

“I didn’t hack.”  Liz said way more nicely than I deserved while she stroked me.  “I was careful.  You’re still a very beautiful young lady, puppy.”

“Thank you.”  I said, feeling so drawn to Liz it hurt.

Liz disengaged though, and just folded up the sheets of paper making sure everything stayed inside them, and tossed them onto the fire.

 

To be continued…

One response to “Moonlight: Part 6, Puppy Love

  1. This is a very good saga with tremendous potential. The problems encountered by Diana, Stephanie and Elisabeth remind me of some of the difficulties faced by one of our nieces. She is autistic and lives in a much different world than we do.
    Watching her, living with her makes us realise how many of our own reactions are learned. Many of the things she can’t abide are things that in a sane world would be intolerable, but to which we are taught and learn to ‘stifle our senses’ and accept.
    Sights, smells, noises… You’ve done a good job of addressing the question of odours and sentiments, feelings and impressions. As animals we can smell, taste and feel far more than we do and in turn, we can be much more than we are. Or, so my cat tells me.

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