«

Sep 26

Print this Post

Bitch Session

Summary:

A woman who lives in the middle of nowhere finds herself with an unexpected guest when she takes pity on a bedraggled wolf who wanders onto her property.

Author’s Note: Do not read this unless you’re caught up with the series! This story takes place after Book 7 and serves as a “previously on” to refresh people’s memories before continuing on into the next books. It doesn’t cover every single plot point, obviously, but it covers enough that you might feel spoiled for the bigger moments. If you have read the books, this is less of a clip show and more of a walk down memory lane. Enjoy!

Irene Such liked living in the wilderness. She liked the isolation, knowing her nearest neighbors were at least a half mile away. She didn’t mind traveling forty-five minutes for groceries every two weeks. She had always sought out isolation and solitude and now she finally had it. She was fifty-two, with only a touch of grey in her close-cropped curls, her dark skin delicately lined from the stresses of a life mostly lived in the city, a life filled with happiness and loss in equal measure.

Her cabin was just large enough for her needs on a plot of land that she could ten without much effort, and it looked out on a drop that let her look out over miles of unspoiled wilderness as far as the eye could see. Sometimes an elk or a deer wandered by and stared as if they hadn’t expected to find a human so far from the rest of its kind, but she never gave them any reason to be afraid of her, so they moved on at their own pace.

Sometimes the animals that arrived on her property were bigger, more cause for concern. It was almost sunset on one of the last days of summer when she looked up from the firewood she was stacking and saw the wolf slowly strolling out of the trees toward her.

Irene remained still. The wolf’s head was down, its fur matted and dirty. It looked healthy but exhausted. It stopped in the clearing and looked at the cabin with what seemed like longing, and then swung its head toward her as if she’d made a noise or announced her presence somehow. They stared at one another, human and wolf, neither risking a first move. Irene had a gun on her hip but she knew that even an exhausted wolf could close the distance between them in the blink of an eye. She didn’t want to shoot it. She didn’t want to kill an animal for the crime of walking in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if it threatened her, if it smelled the food from her cabin and decided to attack, she…

The wolf bowed down to her.

It stretched out both forelegs and laid its head on them. Irene blinked in surprise at the obvious sign of supplication and actually stood up straight when the wolf rolled onto its side. It was now showing its belly to her. Irene furrowed her brow and stepped over the firewood. The wolf didn’t move. If it hadn’t been so large, and if they’d been in the city, she might have assumed it was a pet that got out. In fact, now that she’d gotten closer, she could see the dark strip around her throat was actually a collar.

Irene remained cautious as she approached, but now the wolf was watching her with wide, trusting eyes. When the wolf didn’t react, she crouched next to the wolf and, holding her breath, reached out and touched its fur. She moved her hand up to the collar and examined it for a tag or any kind of identification. Nothing. Why give it a collar without some kind of contact info?

“What the hell are you doing way out here?” she asked.

Up close she could see that it was dirtier than she’d originally thought, and its exhaustion was even more apparent. It was panting heavily, and now she understood why it had looked at her cabin with such longing. She stood up and walked to her porch. When she looked back she saw the wolf had rolled over to watch but remained on the ground. Irene found an old bucket and filled it from the pump.

She motioned the wolf over and it jumped up without hesitation. It came to her and began drinking greedily, making a mess and splashing all over Irene’s slacks, but she didn’t care much about that. She was now confident enough to run her hand over the wolf’s back, smoothing down its fur and undoing a few of the worst tangles.

Irene looked around. The light was fading fast. The night would probably be cold, and she didn’t like the idea of this poor trembling thing out in the wild all alone in this condition.

“Oh, this is a dumb idea,” she muttered.

The wolf looked at her. It licked its lips, the whole of its muzzle beaded with water. Irene sighed and her shoulders sagged.

“Don’t look at me like that. That’s not fair.”

It licked its lips again, eyes somehow growing more desperate.

“You’re a wild animal. I cannot bring a wild animal into my home, no matter how pathetic it might look.”

The wolf dipped its head and stood up. It shook its whole body and turned away from her and started walking. Irene stood as well, positive the wolf had understood her argument and was respecting the decision. She knew that was stupid. She knew this was how cityfolk got mauled. They saw a wild animal and mistook it for Fluffy or Pookie back home and got their fingers bitten off trying to pet it. She was no fool.

She sighed and whistled. The wolf looked back at her. Irene pointed at the house and started walking. The wolf hesitated, but then hurried to catch up.

“One night,” Irene said sternly. “You get some food in your belly, a good night’s rest, and then in the morning, you head back out in the safer light of day. You got me.”

The damn wolf yipped, and Irene rolled her eyes as she opened the front door to let it inside.

Another good thing about living in the middle of nowhere was there would be no one to tell the authorities how stupid she was being.

 

#

 

Irene’s sole attempt at redeeming her credibility was that she restricted the wolf to the laundry room. It had tried to go into the living room, then the bedroom, but she used the collar to steer it to the small room just off the kitchen. It wasn’t happy but seemed to understand it was being sequestered. It waited while she filled a plate with some leftovers and put it on the floor next to the washing machine. She also gave it another bowl of water and watched as it quickly emptied both.

“I might give you a bath in the morning. Maybe. We’ll see what happens.”

She left the wolf locked in the laundry room and went to bed. She expected to be woken by howling, whimpering, maybe a bark or two. Instead, just before midnight, she heard a quiet but distinct knock of knuckles on wood. She lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, half-convinced it was a dream until the knock came again, slightly louder this time, and distinctly coming from inside the cabin. Not just inside the cabin… from the laundry room.

Irene slipped out of bed already in sweats and a T-shirt. She grabbed the bat she kept next to the bed and walked across the kitchen on the balls of her feet. The weapon was held against her shoulder and she never took her eyes off the laundry room door as she approached. There was a strip of light along the edges; she was positive she had turned the light off when she left. She was finally right in front of the door, but she was reluctant to actually open it and see what was inside.

“Hello?” she said.

After a moment, a woman said, “Um. Hi.”

Irene shuffled back a step, repositioning the bat, eyes widening. “Who…” She didn’t know which question to ask first. “A-are you…”

“I know this is extremely confusing to you. I wish I could have just slipped out of the house, but this door is locked.”

“It’s not locked, it just jams. You have to shoulder it a little.”

“Oh. Well, that would have woken you up anyway, and then we’d be in the same situation.”

Irene said, “Who are you? Did you hurt the wolf?”

“No. I promise, it’s… no, I didn’t hurt the wolf. I’m not going to hurt you, either, if that’s a concern.”

Irene wet her lips and flexed her fingers on the hilt of the bat. She debated her options but eventually decided the only choice she had was to open the door. Another downside of isolation: no police to call when a phantom appeared in your laundry room.

“Okay. I’m going to open the door now. No funny business.”

“I swear.”

Irene reached out with one hand, twisted the knob, and pulled hard. The door came loose of the frame and she shuffled back a few steps to give herself a chance to fight back if the mystery woman lunged at her. The woman was standing as far back against the wall as possible, both hands up with the palms facing out. She was white, with long center-parted hair, and she was wearing a Seahawks jersey. No, she was wearing Irene’s Seahawks jersey, the one which had been hanging above the dryer. It was just long enough to reach her thighs, revealing she wasn’t wearing pants in addition to being barefoot.

And the wolf was gone. It couldn’t have gotten past her. The dishes were still there, and there was nowhere it could have been hiding except maybe in one of the machines… but it seemed much too big for that. She narrowed her eyes and looked at the woman’s face again.

“Where did the wolf go?”

“That’s a really long story,” the woman said. “Maybe I can come out and we can have a conversation about it.”

“I still don’t know who you are, and I want to know what the hell you did to that wolf.”

The woman sighed. “My name is Ariadne Willow. And I was the wolf.”

Irene raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“Like I said.” Ariadne sighed. “It’s a really long story.”

 

#

 

Irene invited Ariadne to get something to drink from the kitchen while she turned on the living room lights. Once she was able to truly examine the stranger, Irene noticed she did seem to be wearing the same collar she’d seen on the wolf’s throat. She remained in the living room where she could see her uninvited guest with the safety of a kitchen counter between them. After Ariadne filled a glass and drank half of it in one swallow, Ariadne looked out the window with a look of confusion on her face.

“Where are we, exactly? It looks like the middle of nowhere.”

“Close,” Irene said. “We’re just south of Gardiner.” Ariadne thought and then shook her head with a slight shrug. “Discovery Bay,” Irene clarified.

Ariadne blinked. She looked outside again. “Discovery Bay?” She spoke softly, obviously to herself. “That’s… far. How… how the hell did I get to Disc– did I take a ferry…?”

“Somehow I doubt it. I don’t see any pockets for a ticket.”

Ariadne pondered the mystery. She stared at the window and furrowed her brow. “Wait. Wait, no, if I’m in Discovery Bay, then how is it still… how is it still night?” The answer came to her almost immediately. “What day is it?”

“It’s Wednesday night.”

“Wednesday…” Ariadne sagged against the counter. She had gone pale, eyes wide. “I need a telephone. I need to borrow your telephone. Please, it’s urgent.”

Irene could see the desperation in Ariadne’s eyes. It was the same look that had made her bring the wolf into the cabin against her better instincts. Part of her was still worried this might be some elaborate con game, but she truly couldn’t imagine anyone going to these lengths just to get into her house. She went into the bedroom and came back with her phone. She put it on the counter and slid it across to Ariadne.

“Speaker phone.”

“What?”

Irene shrugged. “Seems like a prudent move. Just in case you’re actually calling some evil cohorts to come rob me blind.”

Ariadne smiled, even though the haunted look didn’t leave her expression. “I like you, lady.”

“Irene.”

“Irene.” Ariadne picked up the phone and closed her eyes. She seemed to strain for a moment before she tapped the screen and began punching in a number. Her hand was shaking when she hit send and brought the phone up in front of her mouth, holding it flat. It buzzed once before it was answered by a woman who sounded like she was just barely keeping calm.

“Hello?”

“Dale, it’s me. I’m safe.”

A shaky breath, tinged with something like a sob. Another breath. “Where the hell are you, puppy?”

“Uh, Discovery Bay, apparently.”

What?”

“Yeah, I don’t… I don’t know, babe.” She pushed her hair away from her face with her free hand. “But I’m safe. A nice lady took me in. She, um, she knows about… well, she knows everything. She rescued the wolf and then I showed up.”

Dale laughed. It sounded like she was crying now. “Gee, I wonder what that would be like.”

Ariadne laughed, too. She leaned against the counter. “I don’t expect you to come and get me. There won’t be any ferries until morning–”

“Fuck the ferry,” Dale said. “I’m coming to get you.”

“Dale, that’s… I can figure something out.”

“Puppy.” The other woman’s voice was firm now. “I’ve been worried sick for three days. If you think I’m waiting until morning to see you again, you’re nuts. If you think I’m getting any sleep tonight, you’re even crazier. Just tell me how to find you.”

Ariadne looked at Irene. “Uh…”

Irene motioned for the phone. Ariadne handed it over. “Hello. This is Irene. Was it… Dale, right?”

“Yes…”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Seattle.”

Irene raised her eyebrows and looked at Ariadne. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. No wonder you looked so worn out when I found you. Okay, Dale. You can probably get to Gardiner using your phone…” She proceeded to give Dale a list of landmarks to look out for, and turn-by-turn directions to the cabin. “If you need me to text any of that to you, let me know. Feel free to call if you get turned around.”

“I think I’ve got it.” Dale sounded distracted. Irene assumed she was dressing. “You’re pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, huh.”

She smiled at the repetition of what Ari had said. “Sort of.”

“Ari’s lucky she found you.”

Ariadne was still on the other side of the counter, staring at her hands. She had her fingers splayed on the tile, and she seemed almost hypnotized by them.

“You said… you said she looked, um, worn out when you found her…”

“She’d apparently been running for a long time.”

Dale said, “Yeah. Is she okay?”

Irene’s heart broke at the fear in Dale’s voice. She knew these two weren’t just friends. “Yeah, she’s okay. She probably needs a hot shower and a night in a familiar bed, but she’s fine.”

“Thank you,” Dale said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Is Ari still there?”

“Yeah.”

She held the phone out. Ariadne, Ari, seemed to snap out of her haze and took it from her.

“Hey.”

“I’m on my way, puppy. I love you.”

Ari smiled. “I love you, too. Bye, Dale.” She hung up and put the phone down. Without looking at Irene, she said, “Thank you.”

“Sure.” Any suspicion or anger she may have still harbored were destroyed by the conversation she’d just eavesdropped on. “Are you really okay?”

“I think so. Yeah. I’m… my head…” She held up a hand next to her temple and waved it back and forth. “I’m really foggy on a couple of things. For a second, I couldn’t remember Dale’s number.”

Irene said, “Well, that’s partially because these damn phones have ruined our memories. I used to know the number of twenty people. Now I have to think when people ask for mine.”

Ari chuckled. “Look, you… you don’t have to stay up to wait for her. I can lock everything up when Dale gets here. And I know you have no reason to trust me, but I’m a private investigator. I’m friends with the cops. Well, one cop. If you would feel more comfortable, I can change back into the wolf and wait for Dale on the porch.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m like your girlfriend. A werewolf shows up in my laundry room, and you think I’m going back to sleep tonight? Don’t be ridiculous. Do you drink coffee?”

“Yes, yes, I do. I couldn’t impose…”

Irene was already going to get the grounds. “I’m going to need it. Besides, your girl is definitely going to need it if she plans to drive two hundred miles tonight.”

“She doesn’t really drink coffee. She prefers tea if you have it.”

“Let me look.” She searched the cupboards and, by some twist of fate, found a bag of caffeinated tea. She filled a pot with hot water. “So are you really a private investigator?”

Ari said, “Yeah. Bitches Investigations.”

Irene chuckled. “Okay. I like it. Dale, too?”

“She’s my assistant. Slash secretary, slash office manager, slash… everything. I don’t know what I would do without her. We actually sort of met the same way you and I did. Some kids were harassing me when I was in wolf form. Dale swept in to the rescue, took me home, and I transformed after she went to bed. After she stopped screaming, I explained who I was and what I was, and she came to help me out at the agency. We were friends. I loved her. Then I was in love with her. We wasted a lot of time fighting it but eventually… I mean, it was inevitable.”

“Would you mind going back to the ‘what’ part again? I’m assuming werewolf, but I don’t think there’s a full moon tonight.”

Ari smiled. “That’s a myth. I can change whenever I want. We can go a few weeks without changing but after about four weeks, the wolf forces it to happen. That’s where the full moon thing comes from, I think.” She held up a finger. “Oh, and the term is canidae, not werewolf.”

“Is it a slur?”

“Sort of. It’s complicated.”

Irene said, “Okay. I’ll try to use the correct terminology.” She moved the teapot to the stove. “I’m sorry for asking all these questions.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You have a right to know everything about the mystery woman who showed up in your house. Besides, it’s helping clear the cobwebs in my brain. So please, anything you want to know, don’t be afraid to ask.”

“Well…” She gestured to the living room. Ari went and sat down in the cane chair near the window. Irene sat on the couch facing her. “Does this happen a lot? Dale said that you’d been gone for days, you’re a hundred miles from home…”

“No, I tend to stick close to home. Seattle has enough parks and woodland around it that I can get my fill there. But this was a special circumstance. I… I, uh… okay, I realize I’m about to say something that could make you kick me out of your house but I want you to know it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

Irene said, “I’ve braced myself.”

“Six months ago, I was in jail for murder.”

Irene pursed her lips.

“I was framed. I was totally cleared of all charges. But I had to spend a few months behind bars. As you can imagine, I couldn’t exactly transform into a wolf when I was being watched twenty-four, seven. So the prison doctor knew about canidae, and she had a drug that could temporarily keep me from transforming. The only problem was that it came in six-month doses. So even though I’ve been free for a while, I couldn’t change until it wore off.”

She scratched her neck just below the collar. “This was the first time I’ve been able to transform since prison. I remember Dale drove me to the park. We knew it was probably going to be a long run, so I told her not to wait up.” She smiled a little. “She probably did anyway. That’s… she’s always there for me even when I tell her she doesn’t have to be. Uh. So… I got in the backseat, I undressed, and I let the wolf loose. Everything after that is a blank.”

Irene said, “Does that usually happen?”

“Yes and no. Sometimes. It depends on my state of mind. If I need to remember what happens as the wolf, my memory is usually pretty good. But if it’s just a run, I let the wolf take control. I guess maybe that was a bad idea after keeping it in a cage for so long.”

“Maybe so,” Irene said. “So I guess being framed for murder is just part of your job?”

Ari shrugged. “Sort of. I suppose. Most of the time it’s just stakeouts. Watching for vandals, looking for stolen property. Stuff that isn’t big enough for the cops to worry about. But every now and then something bigger pops up.” She looked away. “Seems like bigger things are popping up more often than not lately.”

Irene said, “You sound kind of overwhelmed by that.”

“No. Not really… no. I like taking down assholes, whether they’re big or small. But sometimes I feel guilty for dragging Dale along with me.”

“Judging by what I heard on the phone, you would have a hard time forcing that lady to do anything she didn’t choose to do.”

Ari chuckled. “Yeah. That’s true. But when we met, she was just going to be a secretary for a crappy little detective agency. Answer the phone, file client records, mundane stuff. Instead, she’s fighting in a war that doesn’t even involve her species.”

“Wait, a war?”

“Yeah.” Ari sighed. “Okay, there’s a group of humans called Hunters. They’ve made it their mission to eliminate canidae from existence. They’ve been trying to take us out for at least a thousand years. A few years ago, some of them tried to restarts the war in Seattle. They came up with a drug called wolfsbane that would make us go feral, and give them an excuse to kill us. Dale spent the whole war with a group of wolves who could have gotten exposed at any moment and attacked her. It didn’t involve her.”

Irene said, “Of course it did. The woman she loved was in danger. It’s perfectly normal for you to feel guilty about that, but I absolutely understand why she made the decision.”

Ari looked down at her hands. “She makes so many sacrifices for me. I don’t make any sacrifices for her. That’s a rotten thing, huh?”

“Of course not. Relationships aren’t about balance. Sometimes one partner requires more help than the other. If you had a terminal illness, or if you required a wheelchair, would you expect to help Dale as much as she was helping you?”

“No, but that’s…”

Irene held up a hand to stop her argument. “Relationships are never fifty-fifty. Parts of it can be, of course. Alternating chores, joint bank accounts… you’re both women so you can probably share clothes.”

Ari smiled and shook her head. “Not really. Dale’s a little bustier than I am, so my shirts aren’t really her size.”

“Regardless,” Irene said, “we all have different needs. We’re all taken care of in different ways. You aren’t roommates trading favors. You’re two people building a life together. You told me that you and Dale work together. I assume that means you’re responsible for her income.”

“Well. Sure, I mean, yeah, but she’s working for it…”

“At the agency you started. The agency where you’re the detective. You gave her a job. That’s not nothing.”

Ari shrugged. “She helps me. The agency wouldn’t exist without her. Plus, look at me! A hundred miles from home without even the shirt on my back. And Dale is driving two hours in the middle of the night to come get me. Where’s the reward for that?”

Irene smiled. “I’m looking at it, stupid. Does Dale resent the things she does for you?”

“No. She doesn’t seem to…”

“No. I just overheard one conversation, but it sounds to me like she’s a lady who is waiting to jump to someone’s aid. You help her by… needing her help.”

Ari smiled and raised an eyebrow. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

“We all need help sometimes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t waste time looking for a one-to-one exchange of action in your relationship. You’re not going to find it. And it’s not because you’re being lazy. It’s because Dale is going above and beyond. All you have to do is make sure she’s appreciated. Do you do that?”

“I hope so,” Ari said.

Irene leaned forward a little. “I’ll let you in on a trick… set a goal and never assume you’ve reached it. I don’t care how long you’ve been together. Just act like you’re trying to win her over. Pick up her favorite dinner. Offer to rub her feet when she’s tired. Make her breakfast.”

Ari said, “But that’s just…”

“Being in a relationship? Loving someone?”

Ari sighed. “She does that stuff for me, too. Times ten.”

Irene got up and went into the kitchen. “When I told you I was going to put on some coffee, the first thing you said was that Dale prefers tea. You didn’t tell me what you preferred. Your first instinct was to make sure Dale would have something to drink even if it meant you had to go with your second choice. That’s a relationship. Just keep trying. There’s no finish line, because there shouldn’t be. It’s about running the race.”

Ari pondered that while Irene worked on the tea. When she came back into the living room, she brought a package of apple crisps and tossed it to Ari.

“You’re probably still pretty starved.”

“God, yes. Thank you. I’ll have Dale repay you for all the groceries I’m devouring.”

Irene waved the offer away as she sat down. “It’s worth it for the company. Although I’m willing to listen to any exciting private eye stories you might have.”

Ari laughed. “You know, a couple of years ago, I would have told you it was pretty boring. But then I got hired by Katherine Gavin to investigate her daughter…

“Wait a second,” Irene said. “I actually read about that. I was still living in Seattle when it happened. You were the private investigator accused of killing her, but then you helped clear her name. I was one of the people who thought she was a vapid rich girl. You changed my mind about her.”

“Good,” Ari said, looking out the window with a haunted expression. “Laura was a good person. She didn’t deserve what happened to her.”

“I would think that would be a proud memory.”

Ari shrugged. “She was alive when I met her. If I’d been smarter or faster, I might have been able to save her life. Clearing her reputation isn’t a victory in my eyes. It’s a consolation prize, if that.” She smiled weakly. “Sorry. I don’t really see that one as a win.”

Irene nodded her understanding. “Then tell me about a win.”

“The case right after that,” Ari said immediately. “A little girl had disappeared. Missing Melody. Flyers on every lamppost, updates on the news every night.”

“I remember her.”

“There was also another girl who went missing around the same time. Jenna Morris. Her family wasn’t as rich as Melody’s–”

“Or as white,” Irene said. “I remember her, too. Both of them were found safe. Was that you?”

Ari nodded. “Yeah. I found them.”

“Wow. I had no idea I was rescuing a bona fide hero.”

Ari thought for a long time before she spoke again. “There are people out there who have enough power and money to ignore the rules. And then there are people who do everything right and still can’t seem to win. The deck is stacked against them. I have a secret weapon. If I can use that to help balance the playing field, then that’s my job.”

“Noble.”

“Not really. I’ve been down and out. I know what it’s like to not have anything or anyone to count on. I know how it feels to believe no one cares. I can take that feeling away from people.”

Irene lifted her cup of tea. “Dismiss it all you want, Miss Willow, but I still believe you’re a hero. I’m honored to have you in my home.”

Ari dipped her head in appreciation. “It’s an honor to be here. How did you get here? It’s a long way from anywhere, and you don’t seem like the hermit type.”

“I definitely am. I don’t like the noise of the city. I lived there most of my life because my parents did, and then my husband was teaching at the university so a commute didn’t really make sense. But when he passed away, I saw my opportunity. David would have wanted me to take the risk, to finally live where I’d always dreamed of living. I’ve never regretted it.”

“Why would you? The view alone.”

Irene nodded thoughtfully and sipped her tea.

“Seattle has a hockey team now,” Ari said after a few minutes had passed. “I was hired to do background checks on the players. The team owner wanted to be sure there weren’t any skeletons in the closet waiting to be found by the media.”

“Wow. Find anything juicy?”

“About the players, not really. But the coach was so worried about me discovering he was drugging his teams that he tried to have me killed.”

Irene’s eyes widened. “My god. Prison and assassination attempts. You’ve had quite a life, Ms. Willow.”

“Yeah. I don’t know if that means things will finally calm down or if there are even bigger things waiting around the corner.”

“Good thing you have a trustworthy copilot.”

Ari said, “Amen to that. I once left her for three months… not, I didn’t… I didn’t leave her… It used to hurt me when I transformed. It was really bad. Before we were dating, Dale would give me massages to help with the pain. She’s also the one who figured out how to fix me. I was only partially canidae because…” She sighed and tilted her head, brushing over the broad strokes of a story she’d obviously told often. “I was born without the ability to change. My mother gave me a blood transfusion which gave me the wolf, but I wasn’t true canidae. That’s why it hurt so much every time. So Dale figured out that if I was bitten, it would put things right.”

Irene said, “So biting really does make someone else a werewo– sorry…”

Ari waved off the word. “Technically. But if you’re bitten as an adult, your body doesn’t know how to handle the transformation. It’s a death sentence. A particularly painful one. But my body knew how to do it because I’d been doing it all my life. I had just been doing it wrong. So I got bitten and I became a full-fledged canidae. It was a lot to take in. Not to mention the fact I had an… estranged relationship with my mother which we were trying to mend. So we went into the woods so I could get used to the new situation.”

“Dale was okay with you leaving?”

“She was. At first. She didn’t know it was going to be three months with barely any contact. She was a little miffed when I got back, but we got through it. It actually cemented the idea that no matter what happens, Dale is the only person in my life I’ll never give up. I could lose my mother again. I could lose my friends. I could lose my house, the agency. But as long as I have her… that’s all that matters.”

Irene smiled. “Be sure she knows that, okay?”

“I try. But I’ll still try harder.”

They lapsed into silence. Irene thought Ari was staring thoughtfully at her hands but, after a moment, she heard a slow intake of breath. She tilted her head and saw that Ari’s eyes were closed. She smiled and sat silently, letting the poor girl sleep. She kept an eye on the clock and tried to guess where Dale might be on her journey. Like Ari said, the ferry was not an option, so she would probably be close to Olympia by this point. Maybe even farther, without traffic getting in her way. Plus she had incentive to speed. So maybe halfway.

Ari’s fingers twitched in her lap while she slept. She slumped further and Irene considered getting up to transfer the girl to the couch. Instead she got up and went into the kitchen to refill her cup. She retrieved her book and brought it back to the chair. Ari hadn’t moved an inch while she was gone, so Irene settled in and started reading.

She didn’t realize how much time had passed until Ari suddenly breathed in deeply and sat up straighter. She stared at Irene, looked to the left and to the right, then seemed to remember where she was. She took another deep breath and pushed both hands into her hair.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. You’ve had a long couple of days and I know how comfortable that chair is. How are the cobwebs?”

“Much better, thank you,” Ari said. “Wolf brain can be hell, but eventually things settle down and get back to normal.”

Lights swept the front of the cabin, shining through the window like spotlights. Ari stood up and went to the door, pausing to look back before she got there.

“Do you want to meet her?”

“Absolutely I do,” Irene said.

Ari opened the door and motioned for Dale to come inside. Irene smoothed down the front of her pajamas, suddenly self-conscious. She’d heard so much about this woman that she was worried about making a good impression. A car door closed and, a few seconds later, Dale appeared on the porch. She put her hands on Ari’s hips and the two kissed. Irene looked away to give them a hint of privacy, ignoring their whispers – “–okay?” and “yes, I’m–” and “–really okay?”

Dale looked around the living room. “Puppy, is… is this where you called from?”

“Yeah.” She took Dale’s hand. “Let me introduce you.”

“Ari,” Dale said, “this place can’t have a phone. It must have been abandoned ten years ago. There’s nothing here, puppy.”

Ari stared at Dale, then looked at Irene. Irene was probably more confused than Ari was, and just barely stopped herself from bringing up both hands to pinch her arm to make sure she was really real. The confused worry evaporated when Dale’s expression shifted into a grin.

“Sorry,” Dale said. “That was awful. I thought of that on the way up here and I couldn’t resist. But a miraculous cabin in the middle of the woods? It was too much of a ghost story not to mess with her a little bit.” She held out her hand. “Dale Frye. Your home actually is stunning. It’s very beautiful.”

Irene smiled and clasped Dale’s hand. To Ari, she said, “I think I like her.”

Ari still looked shaken. “Yeah? Make me an offer, I might let you keep her.”

Dale rolled her eyes and went back to Ari. “After all the worry you’ve put me through the past few days, you deserved a little hazing.”

“That’s fair,” Ari said, putting her arms around Dale. “If you’re ready, we should probably get out of Irene’s way. She’s lost enough sleep because of me. I can drive if you’re too tired.”

Irene decided to change the plan. “You know what, no. No, I don’t feel comfortable sending you back out there tonight. My bed is big enough for two, and I’ve slept on this couch more times than I want to admit…”

“Absolutely not. We’re not kicking you out of your bed,” Ari said.

“Well, you can’t both fit on the couch. And I refuse to let you start a drive back to Seattle at this hour. You can both get a little sleep, have some breakfast in the morning, and head out rested. It’s the only option that makes even a little bit of sense.”

Ari and Dale looked at each other. Dale shrugged and said, “I did bring a change of clothes for you. So you wouldn’t have to steal her jersey.”

“That’s true,” Ari said. She considered the offer again, then said, “Okay, but you have to let us pay you back for groceries at the very least.”

“Fine, if it will keep you off the road. It’s a deal.”

Ari nodded. “I’ll go get the clothes out of the car.”

Dale handed her the keys. “In the front seat.” She watched Ari go, then looked at Irene. “So she told you the whole story?”

“Pretty much, yes. Canidae. Some crazy cases you two have had.”

“Yeah.” Dale sighed and lowered her head slightly, as if bracing for something. “You can go ahead and ask.”

Irene raised an eyebrow. “Ask…?”

“I’m a human and she’s a wolf. She’s a whole other species, why would I be with someone so different. Why put myself through the hassle?”

“Oh.” Irene smiled and went to the mantle. She came back with a framed photo, which she handed to Dale. It was a picture of her in a red parka, wrapped in the arms of a white man in a blue parka. “That was taken on our third anniversary. We were together almost thirty years before he passed away. I would never ask anyone that question because I heard it far too many times, even from people who never actually spoke the words.”

Dale handed the picture back. “I didn’t know.”

“You had no way of knowing.” Irene returned it to the mantle. “Love is illogical and senseless. You would have loved Ariadne Willow if she was a human like you or… I don’t know, a mermaid.”

“We met a mermaid.” Irene spun to look at her. “She didn’t tell you about that one?”

“No, she did not. Around here?”

Dale said, “Not far, actually. An island in the Strait.”

“Well, how about that. I wonder what other mythical creatures are roaming round up here.”

Ari had just come back inside. She was wearing her jeans and a T-shirt. The jersey was folded in her hands. She had overheard Irene’s last question and said, “We actually met a mermaid a few years ago.”

Irene and Dale laughed. “You don’t say,” Irene said.

Ari handed her the jersey. “Thank you. For the hospitality, for rescuing me when you thought I might be a dangerous wild animal, for putting yourself out like this…”

“Think nothing of it,” Irene said. “Come on. I’ll show you to the bedroom.”

 

#

 

Irene didn’t want to admit it to Ari and Dale, but she didn’t sleep well when there were other people in the house. It was one reason she had to move away from Seattle. Apartments were too close together and a house was too expensive for just her, so she went out into the wilderness. She knew telling them about her issue would make them leave, and she didn’t want to risk them getting into an accident. She dozed for a while on the couch before she gave up and went out onto the porch.

She was still there when she heard movement in the house. A minute or so later, the door opened and Ari joined her. The sun was just beginning to reach them, tinting the sky and making the animals in the trees start chattering to each other. Ari leaned against the wall next to the door and they shared the dawn in the comfortable silence of old friends.

“Dale’s still sleeping,” Ari said.

“Ah.”

“That’s a great bed.”

Irene chuckled. “Yeah. I like it.” She sat up straighter, stretched. “I’m worried that you two are going to leave and I’m going to think this whole interlude was a dream.”

Ari said, “That might help. Wolves and canidae, it’s a lot to process.”

“If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended: that you have but slumber’d here while these visions did appear.”

“Shakespeare,” Ari said. “I’m impressed.”

“Everyone can do that speech.” She tilted her head. “Well, everyone who was married to an English professor. I don’t want to forget it happened. I want to remember the world is bigger and stranger and more wonderful than anyone knows. I want to believe there are people like you, wolf or not, who are fighting to do the right thing every day. That’s a good thing to remember.”

Ari said, “Yeah. Yeah, that’s something you’ll want to hold onto.”

They were still watching the sunlight slowly spread across the forest when they heard the sound of cupboards closing inside. Irene twisted and looked through the window to see Dale was arranging a pan on the stove with one hand while opening the fridge with the other.

“I was going to cook for you,” Irene said.

“Too late,” Dale said. “Eggs?”

“In the door,” Irene said. She faced Ari. “She really doesn’t have to do that.”

Ari was smiling when she shook her head. “If you think you can stop her from doing stuff she doesn’t have to do, be my guest. It’s been ten years and I still haven’t figured it out.”

“Have you been trying very hard?”

“Not lately,” Ari admitted, her smile widening. She pushed away from the wall. “Let’s go in. If we’re late, she might yell at us.”

Irene stood up. “Wouldn’t want that.”

She held the door for Ari and looked back over the forest one more time, breathing in the smell of a new day. “More things in Heaven and Earth,” she muttered, then followed Ariadne inside to see what she could do to help Dale with the breakfast prep.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/bitch-session/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>