She looked around. The house was comfortably appointed in classic furniture, all dark woods and comfortable cushioning. The kitchen looked newer than the rest of the house, probably recently renovated with modern appliances. She walked through the living room – and gasped.
The largest room on the first floor was dominated by the elegant curves of a baby grand piano, gleaming in the sunlight that shone through large windows. Her beloved-but-battered upright was settled in one corner in rough contrast to the flawless gloss of the new instrument. Elegantly stenciled lettering showed a brand that told her it cost as much as a small house.
“We already bought the piano when we started looking for a music teacher,” the alpha explained. “If you want, we can remove it…”
Leena barely heard the words, irresistibly drawn towards the exquisite piano. She could not resist testing the sound. She seated herself at the bench and lifted the cover over the keys. It was almost hard to force herself to actually touch the keys, but after she began playing… Oh, the sound was beautiful, resonant, true, and perfectly in tune.
It was not until she finished the song that Leena realized she had kept the alpha waiting for over six minutes while she played one of her favourite waltzes. “I’m sorry,” she hurried to say, “it’s such a wonderful instrument…”
The werewolf’s eyes had lightened from dark brown to amber, and he had gone very still. After a moment, he visibly shook himself back to normal, eyes darkening back to their more human shade. “Thank you,” he said gravely, as if she had given him a gift. Without further words, he gestured for her to continue exploring the house.
Upstairs showed a bedroom, a study, a bathroom, and a laundry. It was a small house, but more than enough for one person. “This is wonderful,” she said. “I’ll move right in and start lessons as soon as possible.”
“There’s one more thing you need to know before you agree.” Logan led her downstairs and out the back door. It led to a wraparound porch that looked into the music room.
Behind the house, wilderness began. There was a small grass yard that then changed to evergreen forest. “I’m not afraid of living this close to the edge of town…” she began.
Logan shook his head. “Wait.”
After several long minutes, movement among the trees revealed a large wolf. Black fur tipped in silvery white demonstrated the colouring that had earned the Frostwind pack its name. It padded forward into the yard, but came no closer.
“This is Ms. Leese,” the alpha introduced. “She’s moving in here and will teach the pups music.”
Leena found herself under scrutiny from the wolf’s arctic blue gaze. After several long seconds, she remembered not to hold eye contact and looked down. As soon as she did, the wolf disappeared as silently as he had appeared.
Logan sighed. “That is my brother, Ren. He’s been feral for a year now. It happens, sometimes, that our people abandon one shape or the other. He is no danger to you, but you will probably see him around. If that makes you uncomfortable, I can try to move you into a different unit, but…”
“It’s fine.” Leena could not deny that the idea of living so close to a feral wolf made her nervous, but so did the entire idea of becoming the live-in music teacher for the children of a werewolf pack. She did not want to further inconvenience Frostwind when the pack had clearly gone to time and expense to make her comfortable here.
Several pack members and their children came to help Leena move in while becoming acquainted with their new teacher. She had little in the way of personal items, but there were many heavy boxes filled with sheet music and music history textbooks. The children treated her with a level of deference she was unused to, bowing their heads if they accidentally made eye contact and instantly obeying her hesitant requests to have items placed about the house.
Finally, everything was in place and Leena was left alone to settle into her new home. Exploring her kitchen, she found it fully stocked, even with cans in the pantry and groceries in the fridge. She prepared herself a light dinner, eating it while looking at the forest outside her windows. The ambient sound around her was so different from what she was used to in the city; at first, it seemed quiet without the whoosh of passing cars and thumps of closing doors, but soon she began to hear the more subtle rustling of trees and occasional birdcall.
She wanted to add her own music to the air. Sitting once again in front of the wonderful baby grand, Leena began to play. It felt suitable to play some of Debussy’s dreamy nocturnes in the still evening. One song transitioned into another, then another, until the sun departed and the moon rose. It was far too dark to read sheet music, but Leena could play her favourite songs with her eyes closed. In her current state, lost in the realm of sound, she often did.
When her eyes happened to open, her unfocused gaze stumbled upon arctic blue. She gasped in surprise, fingers freezing on the keys. Ren the wolf had appeared on her porch and was watching her through the window. When she stopped playing, his ears went down in a way that looked sad to her. He lowered his head until she could no longer see him above the window ledge.
Had he left? Hesitantly, Leena approached the window. She found the wolf hunched down, clearly trying to hide. When he saw her through the glass, he crouched even lower, pressing himself against the side of the house in an attempt to stay out of sight.
She laughed softly. “It’s okay for you to be there. I was just startled.” She spoke to Ren as if he understood, as the alpha had earlier. “Do you like music? Make yourself comfortable; I don’t mind if you listen.”
The wolf pricked his ears. After he settled into a more comfortable-looking pose, Leena returned to the piano. While it was true that she did not mind playing for other people, knowing there was an audience made her slightly nervous about making mistakes. She tried to put those thoughts aside. The master-quality sound of the piano before her helped.
Another few hours passed until it was quite late. Leena decided it would be appropriate to end on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Lingering on the last note, she let it fade into the night.
She returned to the window. The wolf on the porch looked relaxed and content. His ears pricked upon her approach.
“I’m going to bed,” she said softly. “Good night.”
The wolf stood. Leena wished she knew more about wolves’ body language so that she could tell what Ren was trying to say. A last glance at her and he vanished into the trees.
Days passed and settled into a comfortable routine. Leena gave the pack’s children individual weekly lessons in the afternoons, starting them on her upright piano until their fingers developed enough strength to handle the baby grand. She found her students to be enthusiastic about music and diligent in practicing every day, and was pleased to be able to report an impressive rate of improvement to their parents. On Saturdays, she gave lessons to the whole group, training them in music theory and music history.
Other than those lessons, her time was her own. Leena found herself with more free time than she had ever had before. She read through an astonishing number of books, kept her house cleaner than she normally would, and played music for hours in the evenings. More often than not, Ren would show up on the porch to listen.
At first, the peace was helpful in getting her used to her new surroundings, but before too long, she began to feel restless and lonely. The Frostwind community was hours away from any city, and several days’ drive from her hometown. She kept in touch with her friends and family through phone and Internet, but it was not the same. The pack here treated her with careful respect, an attitude that was not conducive to making easygoing friendships.
One evening, Ren showed up at the usual time while Leena was feeling down. Instead of sitting at the piano bench, she wrapped herself in a blanket and settled next to the window. She was close enough that if she opened the window, she could touch his frost-tipped fur.
“I’m sorry, I don’t feel like playing today.”
The wolf pricked an inquisitive ear.
“I think I’m lonely,” Leena confessed. “I generally like spending time alone, but this much alone time is too much.”
Ren stood up. Instead of heading off the porch and into the trees, he walked sideways, disappearing out of the window’s view. Leena wondered where he had gone until she heard scratching at her back door.
Still wrapped in her blanket, she opened the door, coming face-to-face with the wolf. Her heart beat faster; she was not quite able to convince her hindbrain that it was safe to be this close to him without a barrier in between.
Ren lowered his head, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. After a moment, Leena cleared her throat and said, “Come in.”
The wolf walked through the doorway, looking so out of place among the man-made objects in the house that Leena’s brain flipped a switch and reclassified Ren as a person rather than a wild creature. She followed him into her living room. He settled himself comfortably on the carpet, so she sat on the couch, wondering what she should do.
Leena did not really know anything about wolves, but she thought the creature before her was beautiful. Her hand started reaching out before her mind caught up. “Um, do you mind if I touch your fur?” she asked, hand hovering uncertainly in the air.
Ren indicated his agreement by pressing his head against her fingers. He felt warm and soft. Leena hesitantly stroked his head, gaining confidence when he did not seem to mind.
She knew she had found the right spot behind his ears when he leaned in harder. Smiling, Leena pressed with firm, massaging pressure and Ren seemed to go boneless with relaxation.
Leena ended up sitting on the carpet next to Ren. Between him and her blanket, she was comfortably warm. When she became sleepy, it seemed natural to curl up next to him and drift into slumber.
Sunlight through the window woke Leena up the next morning. She drowsed, warm and comfortable where she was. It was only when she realized that the pillow under her head moved up and down with breathing that she bolted upright.
“I’m sorry!” she said to a drowsy Ren. It seemed that during the night, she had chosen him as a pillow. “You should have made me move,” she said, mortified. Heads were heavy; she could only imagine that Ren had been uncomfortable, unable to move while she squashed him with her weight.
He did not seem upset. Standing and shaking himself off, he touched his nose to hers. A moment later, he wandered to the back door. All the doors in the house had handles instead of doorknobs; Leena saw why when Ren deftly opened the door and left for the woods, closing it gently behind him.
After that evening, Ren came inside when he visited. He scratched at the door, waiting to be let in, until Leena told him he was welcome to enter as he pleased. Sometimes Leena played on the piano, sometimes she talked to him about her day, and sometimes she just sat in silence, enjoying his company.
He always left in the morning. It made her wistful over breakfast, a simple affair of cereal and juice.
“Is it okay to feed Ren?” she asked Logan one day.
The alpha frowned in surprise. “Do you see him often?”
“He visits every day.”
Logan shook his head. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll talk to him.”
“No, no,” Leena protested. “I enjoy the company.”
Logan studied her for a long moment, face unreadable. “You can feed him if he’s willing to eat what you give him. Werewolves can eat anything you can eat, but he’ll prefer meat that’s warm, but not cooked.”
The next night, Leena delayed her dinner and defrosted a steak, heating it slightly in a pan. When Ren showed up, she placed her meal and the steak on the coffee table in the living room. Sitting on the floor to use the low table for eating, she asked, “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
Ren froze in surprise, then warily approached. He inspected the meat with eyes and nose.
Afraid she had done something wrong, Leena said, “I could fix you something else if you’d like. Logan said—”
At the mention of the alpha’s name, Ren’s ears had flattened. Certain she had made a mistake, Leena began to pick up the plate. “I must have messed it up. I’ll just make another—”
Ren stopped her from standing with a paw on her leg. He nudged at her hand until she put the plate back and began to eat. After a moment, Leena started on her own food.
She began to leave snacks on her coffee table, to the delight of her students. Despite what Logan had said, Ren appeared most partial to a brand of cookies with strawberry filling. He still left in the morning, but would visit her throughout the day, making her realize how much time he had needed to spend hunting. The amount of meat she bought at the grocery store tripled.
“Bye, Ms. Leese!” One of her students had missed a lesson and Leena had rescheduled it to a free time slot in early evening. As he left, the student grabbed the last two strawberry cookies off the variety plate on the coffee table.
Leena frowned at the plate. Ren liked to eat those for dessert. She glanced at the sun’s position. She would be cutting it close, but she thought she could make it to the grocery store and back before he arrived. She grabbed her car keys and headed out.
Ren loped towards his Leese as the sun turned orange in the sky. He let himself in, and something felt wrong. Her scent was fainter than it should be. He checked all the rooms; she was definitely gone.
She was never gone at this time. Sometimes, she went out in the morning or early afternoon, but she was always back at sundown. Always.
Something bad must have happened. Ren tried to think, but his wolf was very now, and panic made it hard. He paced.
Logan. His brother would know what happened and what to do. Logan was the smart, responsible one who could be trusted to keep the whole pack safe. Ren needed to find Logan.
Words. He had to have words to talk to Logan. The wolf did not have the right mouth shape for words. He needed to shift.
It was hard. He barely remembered the other shape anymore. He knew Leese’s shape, but his human was different from her. The panic did not help. Slowly, too slowly, he regained the details of skin and muscle and bone. He shifted.
He panted on his hands and knees, trying to remember how to move a human body. Grasping a wall, he pulled himself to his feet.
Humans needed clothes, he remembered. There were always extra clothes stashed around. Ren found sweatpants and a shirt in the back of the linen closet.
He was making his way down the stairs when the front door opened and Leese walked in.
Leena froze at seeing a strange man in her home. When he rushed at her, she let out a small scream of surprise. He engulfed her in a tight hug.
Her mind caught up to events, processing a flash of arctic blue. “…Ren?” she asked uncertainly.
She felt him nod silently.
Still confused about why he was suddenly human, Leena forced herself to relax and patted his back comfortingly. “Did something happen?”
Ren swallowed. “You weren’t here.” His voice sounded rusty from disuse.
“I’m sorry,” Leena apologized. “I went to buy more cookies.” It had not occurred to her that her absence would make Ren worry. “I’ve been out of the house when you’ve visited before…” she said in a questioning tone.
“You’re always here at sundown. Always.” Ren’s grip tightened until her ribs protested. Leena tried to stay relaxed, but he must have sensed something. He let go so suddenly, she staggered.
“I hurt you,” he said, starting to sound panicked. “I hurt people when I’m not wolf. I don’t need words anymore. I’m changing back.”
“Wait!” Leena leaped forward and put a hand on his wrist, stilling his frenetic movements. “I just… Please wait.”
He froze with a careful stillness. She took the opportunity to really look at Ren-the-human.
His eyes were the same arctic blue. His hair was black. She could see some resemblance to his brother Logan, but he was taller and thinner, with sharper features. She could not tell whether she found him attractive because he was, or because she knew he was Ren.
“Will you stay like this with me for a little while?” she asked softly.
A pause, and he nodded jerkily. The idea clearly distressed him, but he was willing to try for her. Her heart softened.
She led him by the hand and seated him in the chair she used to give lessons before sitting at the piano bench. Music would calm him down. She played, keeping herself relaxed and serene.
The piano worked its usual magic, catching Ren in its spell. When she stopped playing, he tilted his head in a familiar expression, as if he wondered there the music had gone.
“Do you feel better?” she asked.
He nodded. “It’s not safe if I’m not wolf,” he said solemnly.
She held up a hand and entwined her fingers with his. “I don’t think you’ll hurt me. Why don’t you think it’s safe?”
For a long time, he stared down at their hands without a word. “A crash,” he said finally.
“A car crash?”
He nodded stiffly, eyes still downcast. “I couldn’t stop. The wolf can always stop.”
Heart aching at the tragedy, Leena drew Ren into a hug. She did not know the details, but she was sure that he was not at fault in whatever accident he had been involved in.
She sighed. His arms felt so right around her, but she accepted that he might never be able to stay in human form for long periods of time. She drew back just far enough to press her forehead to his.
“I love you, man or wolf shape.” The confession fell easily from her lips. “I like just being with you. But I also like talking with you and holding your hand. I’ll miss that if you stay wolf forever.”
He took a deep breath. “I like this, too. But I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I don’t think you will.” Her lips quirked in humour. “I’ll drive.”
He straightened, looking at her in surprise. “You’ll drive,” he said in a tone of wonderment, taking her joke seriously. His smile was breathtaking.
Leena smiled back. “Come on, let’s make dinner.” She led the way to the kitchen, scooping up the box of cookies she had dropped in the entranceway.
That evening, Leena went up to her long-unused bedroom to grab a pillow. She smiled in amusement when Ren glared at it. He had shown distinct jealousy when she tried to use one instead of sleeping on him at night.
“The pillow’s for you,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “You still get to be my pillow.”
She could not help giggling when Ren immediately relaxed.
They settled in their usual spot in front of the fireplace of the living room. Leena was just about to fall asleep when Ren suddenly said, “Humans sleep in beds.”
Leena blinked repeatedly, trying to wake up enough for conversation. “Normally yes,” she agreed, “but I thought you might be—”
Her sentence ended in a squeak when Ren suddenly picked her up and carried her to the bedroom, along with the blanket and pillow. He deposited her gently on the bed and lay down beside her.
Leena snuggled close, sighing in contentment. The carpet downstairs was plush, but the bed was still more comfortable. “I could get used to this,” she mumbled before falling into slumber.
The next morning, Leena woke up and smiled. The smile disappeared when she reached over to find Ren gone.
She scolded herself for being surprised. Ren always left in the morning. He’d be back later. She sat up and prepared to get out of bed.
When Ren appeared in the doorway with a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice for her, she began to cry.
She tried very hard to stop, seeing that her tears made Ren very distressed. He put the breakfast on the floor in the hallway, out of sight, as if the food were at fault, which made her laugh with her sobs. “I’m not hurt,” she reassured him between breaths. “It’s just – I thought you left. I’m being silly. I’m happy you stayed.” She wiped at her eyes impatiently.
When she had calmed down, Ren looked very grave. “I need to go out and run wolf sometimes,” he told her.
“I know. Just… Not first thing in the morning, please. And not without a goodbye kiss.”
For the first time, Leena saw Ren’s eyes darken from arctic to deep blue. He looked very much like a man when he repeated, “A goodbye kiss?”
“And a hello kiss when you come back,” she added breathlessly.
He leaned in very close. “I’m going out now,” he said seriously, his deep blue eyes intent on her lips.
“Have fun,” she whispered.
He smiled, and they spoke no more.