Archive for March, 2012


This is a three-parter. Click here to read Part One or here to read Part Two.

A warning to my squeamish friends: Blood. 

Morning dawned. Bree lay on the forest floor, her eyes fluttering as she watched her blood pool in the leaves around her. Her heart pumped in vain as each pulse only pushed more blood out the long gash extending from her right ear to her left breast. The pain no longer bothered to her. She watched her blood pool with idle interest rather than panic. Since she must die someday anyway, what did it matter that she die now, in the forest, near the love of her life, or if she die slowly, mind addled by pills, or locked away in some home for the mentally ill. The fascinating swirl where each drop landed, the smell of iron mingling with the mulchy smell of the forest floor, the darkening toward the edge of the pool, all served as entertainment now as she watched her life ebb slowly out of her.

Somewhere, faintly, she heard human voices. She thought of calling, but the lovely red pond fascinated her and she preferred not to share it. Her mind felt quiet and empty, as if her thoughts were washed into the pool of blood and now floated there like vacationing, middle-class yuppies balancing on their inflatable pool toys. Hands touched her arm. Something lifted her. She watched while the pool of blood moved slowly away, partly regretting leaving it behind, partly wondering if she should bother hoping she might survive.

It took two transfusions to save her. Her wound required dozens of stitches. Jess visited her daily, pretending to be the mommy-blogging diva while anyone lingered nearby, then whispering her true self into Bree’s ear when they were alone. When the time came for Bree to go home, she went to Jess’s house, where nothing reminded her of Paul. During the day, she stared at the kitchen wall, wondering why she never felt so exhausted at night anymore. At night, she lay in Jess’s guest bed and stared at the ceiling, pondering what the Alpha whispered in her ear just before he left her to bleed to death.

The scene replayed itself in her mind a dozen times each night. Each time, she winced a little at the remembered pain. His teeth wrapped around her neck, she waited for the fatal snap, but instead he let go of her. “They are loyal to me now,” his hot breath stung against her wound. “If you want them back, you’ll have to win them.” He turned to walk away, leaving Bree slumped against the tree, her eyes blurring as she began to faint. Just before consciousness slipped away, she heard, “If you live, that is.”

She didn’t understand. How could she win Paul back? He wanted to move on, to forget her. Perhaps he meant she needed to kill him, but she doubted the pack would give her a chance. She traced pictures on the ceiling, trying to let her mind go blank to give herself some chance of getting some sleep.

Little Conner fussed in the nursery. Bree heard Jess’ bed creak and called out, “I’ll get him.” Jess bed creaked with the weight of the woman falling back into bed. In Conner’s room, Bree lifted the baby and gently bounced him until his crying hushed. A little head draped itself over her shoulder and little hands wrapped themselves around her neck. Bree gently rubbed her cheek against the soft hair and breathed in the clean-baby scent. Suddenly, she knew what to do. She waited a little longer to be sure Conner fell asleep completely before laying him down and rushing to Jess’s room. The tired woman groaned and tried to wave Bree away, but Bree flipped the lights on and yanked off the covers. By the time she finished explaining her plan, Jess was fully awake and eager to get started.

Noon found the two women standing next to the tree where the Alpha attacked Bree. A number of predatory animal tracks surrounded the tree, no doubt attracted by the scent of blood, but not the giant wolf tracks Bree hoped to find. It didn’t matter. They probably knew how to hide their tracks. She tied the outgrown baby booties and one of Paul’s favorite T-shirts to a branch of the tree. “I don’t understand why you didn’t bring something that would remind him of you, Bree.” Jess half-scolded.

Bree shrugged, “I never keep much of anything. All I have to bring are his things or the things I don’t want to lose.”

“Even for this?” She gently untangled Little Conner’s fingers from her hair. “Those baby booties are more precious than you think. First pair of shoes. A lot of people bronze those, you know, and I’m leaving them out in the middle of a forest.”

“Even for this.”

Jess shook her head, “I’ll never understand you, Bree.”

Bree shrugged again. She hated to tell Jess about the disappointed look in Paul’s eyes. In her heart, she doubted her ability to win him back. “I’m trying to remind him of what he used to be.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I’m trying to remind my husband of what he is: a father.”

“Just don’t leave any diapers.”

“Ha. Ha.”

The women left as soon as Bree managed to get the T-shirt and booties secured well enough that she felt sure they would stay there until the wolf pack arrived. She wanted to stay and see what happened, but she knew better. She drove down the hill slowly, appreciating the view of the city and wondering what she was missing in the woods behind her.

The women took tokens of their homes every weekend. At first, they found the items in the same place they left them with little indication of whether the wolf pack visited or not. After two months, the items began to disappear. Bree thought it must be other hikers or possibly the ranger service, but after about three months, she noticed something different about the site. She kept quiet about it, on the off chance Jess missed the signs. Bree knew the former outdoorswoman once out-tracked many men, but a full year of pills surely drove some of the finer points from her mind.

From that week on, every time they visited, Bree noticed more evidence of the pack visiting the tree. She didn’t like what she saw. Jess grew more nervous as well. She took to leaving the baby with her parents for their weekend trips, which spurred nagging questions about her medication levels and frequency of her psychologist visits. The two women stopped trying to tie the mementos out of reach of the normal wildlife and started throwing them at the base of the tree before running back to the car.

Five months after they started leaving their reminders for their husbands, the women returned to the tree to find unmistakable signs of wolf activity along the way. The large wolves as well as a pack of smaller wolves both left their marks all over the area. The women froze as soon as they saw the tree clearly. It bore claw scratches and bite marks deep enough to expose the tender core.

“What do we do?” Jess mouthed.

Bree pursed her lips and shook her head. They each took one very quiet step backwards, then another. After backing several yards, Bree realized she still held the bag of things they meant to leave for their husbands. She signaled to Jess to keep moving back. Jess frowned but obeyed. Bree moved forward as silently as a hunter stalking its prey until she reached the tree again. She forced her lungs to breathe as if she were sleeping, suppressing her fear to keep its scent from attracting the beasts. She bent slowly, placing the bag at the base of the tree. Around her the woods resounded with over-quietness. She knew what that meant. She kept in the crouched position and glanced around, trying to determine which direction the wolves planned to attack from. No shade of fur or glint of eye met her gaze. She stood again and turned silently toward Jess.

Jess stood still as a statue, her eyes wide. Bree’s heart sank. They lost the chance to escape the moment she remembered the bag. She let out a heavy sigh, relaxed her body, and walked casually toward Jess. Jess gaped at her in horrified disbelief, but remained still and silent. The creatures stayed out of sight, but Bree felt their studious eyes on her. She felt their sudden confusion as well. They knew she knew. Why didn’t she cower like Jess? Or run? Bree told her survival instinct to hush. No point now, she reminded it.

When she reached Bree, she pulled a pen from her pocket. She scrawled words on her arm for Jess to read. “You have to get back to the baby. We won’t both make it. You need to leave me.”

Jess’s eyes hardened. For a moment, Bree feared Jess might try to stay with her. The moment passed, however, with a barely detectable tilt of Jess’s head.

Bree mouthed “one.” Jess followed with “two.” As Bree formed “three” both women pulled cans of bear spray from their pockets. Jess bolted deeper into the woods, away from the waiting ambush. Bree ran headlong toward the car. She tried to listen for some indication of whether the beasts tried to follow Jess instead of herself, but her boots pounding the undergrowth and the sound of howling drowned out any sound more than a few yards away. The predatory song of the beasts gained volume until Bree’s ears rang with it. She felt their breath on her back and pressed her feet harder into the ground, trying to gain as much time as possible for Jess.

After a minute of sprinting Bree dared a glance over her shoulder. The wolves loomed dangerously close. She considered giving up, knowing full well the wolves could have killed her already. Instead, she put on another burst of speed. Before long her legs burned and her lungs huffed under the insupportable pace, forcing her to slow. She tried to suck in air slowly enough to calm her heart while keeping up the run. Behind her the death howl rang again, chilling her blood and draining her energy. She thought of Jess and the baby and kept running. She needed to give Jess some time. She didn’t know why the wolves let her keep running, but as long as they allowed her to live, she needed to use the time.

The sky grew dark. Bree thanked God for all the marathons Jess talked her into. Behind her, jaws not yet exhausted by the twenty mile chase snapped too close for comfort. The wounded came into sight again. The howls grew triumphant and she understood why they never attacked before. They wanted to end it where it began. Bree put on a final burst of speed to reach the tree. She whirled and squatted, holding out her cans of bear spray and warding off attackers as they came in. Teeth and claws scratched at her, but retreated quickly, their owners whimpering and pawing at their eyes. When Bree heard the spitting hiss of her cans running out, she tossed them aside and curled into the smallest ball possible, sobbing and waiting for the teeth to rip her apart.

Instead, the woods grew silent. Not the dangerous silence that warned of impending danger, but peaceful stillness, like a child sleeping in his father’s arms. Bree looked up, her quiet sobs and ragged breath the only noise disturbing the warm quietness, to see the wolves surrounding her once again. This time, all but three lay on the ground, some in little family heaps, others on their own. She looked questioningly at the large Alpha wolf. He only looked back. Finally, she dared ask, “Why am I still alive?”

Her whisper barely resonated in her own ears, but the Alpha nodded his head in the direction of the two other standing wolves. “You win.”

With that, he walked over to a female wolf and settled down next to her, resting his muzzle on her head. She snuggled a little closer to him and both closed their eyes.

 

Wolf prints

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Conner and Paul approached her slowly. Gradually, the wolf shapes exchanged themselves for man shapes. Bree wanted to throw her arms around Paul, but held back, unsure of whether he welcomed his old form. Conner stood awkwardly by, looking around for something to cover himself. Bree led the men back toward the car, not really expecting it to be there. She assumed that Conner’s presence indicated Jess’s survival, but whether she circled back to the car or just ran the quickest way down the hill to Mr. Delszeki’s house, Bree couldn’t know.

The car still sat in its lonely spot. No one talked on the way down the hill. Bree didn’t know what to say. She guessed the men didn’t either. Bree stopped at Mr. Delszeki’s to inquire after Jess. He said he gave her a ride home and that she seemed unusually upset. Bree thanked Mr. Delszeki and drove Conner to his house. . She waited in the driveway just long enough to see the front door open before she drove off, smiling over Jess’s delighted squeals.

Back in their own home, Paul looked around. He seemed to feel out of place. Bree didn’t say anything. She just watched him take everything in. After a few minutes, he looked her in the eye for the first time since returning to his human form. “Jess brought things to remind Conner about her and the baby, but you only brought things to remind me of… me. I don’t understand.”

Bree looked at the floor for a while. She shrugged slightly. “I could tell you were happy as a wolf. I wasn’t sure I’d be enough for you.”

Paul hung his head. After a minute he looked up. Bree saw his eyes fighting back tears. He never cried. Never. He wouldn’t now, but it was somehow comforting to see his struggle against it. He approached her slowly, a little like a cautious wolf, she thought, and held her lightly. “I’m so sorry.”

Bree drank in the words, not greedily, but thirstily, as water to a long parched heart.  “I forgive you.” She whispered back.

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This is a three-parter. Click here to read Part One or here to read Part Three.

Sunlight filtered through the trees, giving the woods a warm glow. Nevertheless, a chill ran down Bree’s spine as she stepped into the woods and toward the danger she knew dwelt within. At first, her steps felt leaden, as if her legs wanted to turn her in the other direction. The familiar feelings of wonder and quietness returned, however, and by 3:00 she walked on with a steady gait that allowed her to take in and appreciate her surroundings yet maintain a pace that less experienced backpackers often found more than slightly uncomfortable.

She breathed deeply of the forest. The spruce trees with their acrid sap, the smell of chlorophyll, the soft wafting of flowers, and even the moldy scent of the soil all felt like old friends welcoming her back to where she belonged. Where she walked, the ground pressed back against her boots, but a faint trickle to her left cautioned her not to venture too close, lest her boots squish into the soft mud and slow her progress. Occasionally, a bird sang or a moose called.

On her usual hikes she brought along bells to alert the wildlife of her presence. The noise announced “there is a human in the vicinity” to any animal distracted or up wind enough not to smell her coming. Here, in the barely touched wilderness, animals did not become habituated. Even the bears still knew to fear humans. The simple caution of a bell staved off many an attack from startled creatures. But Bree didn’t come as a hiker today. Today, she came as a hunter. Not with gun or bow, but with hope and love. She carried no bells. Once, she heard the sad cry of a baby bear whose mother moved out of sight. The sound simultaneously touched the mother-nerve in Bree’s heart and sent chills up her spine. She climbed a tree and waited until the sow and her cub moved away.

By the time Bree descended the tree, the sun’s rays slanted in sideways between the tree trunks. Bree set a fast pace as her mind wrestled with itself, flailing among the desires to press on, to flee, or to get ready to fight. In the thick of the trees, the fading light of day vanished quickly, leaving Bree in shadowy twilight long before the world outside the forest expected sundown. The descending darkness only fueled Bree’s desperation. She gathered every ounce of will she found among the crowding emotions that now urged her to go back and broke into a full run, hoping to reach the spot where she lost Paul before the darkness descended completely.

Something howled behind her. Bree pressed her run into a sprint, her flight instinct now fully in control of her muscles and spurring her on too quickly for her to process her surroundings. The fear-spawned speed only lasted for a few minutes before her body needed relief. She spotted a tree wide enough to cover her back and ran toward it. As soon as she pressed her back against it, her knees buckled and her legs crumpled underneath her.

She looked around desperately to see if they still followed her. She saw nothing in the moonless black of the wood, but she felt them. Her mind raced unhelpfully. She inhaled and exhaled a shaky yoga breath while her ribs muscles and diaphragm fought against her control. The action brought only the tiniest bit of calm, but it was all she needed to steady her mind. She reached behind herself into a pocket of her backpack to grab a glow stick, quickly activating it and holding it out in front of her, immediately regretting the decision.

WolfA pack of wolves more than double their natural size surrounded her in a mere five foot radius. Lips curled back over the sharp pointed teeth of the wolf closest to her, it’s breath coming in hot puffs of steam, its eyes boring into hers. Bree tried to look away in case the creature took the eye contact as a sign of challenge, but her fear-gripped mind kept them locked in place. The creature held its ground and stared Bree down, its rib cage expanding and contracting with rapid, heavy breaths. A low growl brought her mind back from its panic-stricken state and she looked hastily down at the beast’s paws. One swipe of those powerful claws could disembowel her.

Bree’s heart pounded against her chest as she tried to breathe the fear away and keep calm. She needed to do what she came to do. She took her pack off, slowly, and fumbled in her bag until she caught hold of a soft piece of fabric. She laid it down on the ground in front of her. The low growl continued to rumble from the chest of the animal in front of her, but to her right, one of the creatures made a quick jump forward and gave a short bark. Bree lifted her arm to her face, bracing for the attack, but the creature did not strike. It pounced just short of the baby blanket and sniffed before sitting on its haunches and letting out a mournful howl. The hound directly in front of Bree laid down, seemingly satisfied that she posed no threat and looking… is it amusement in his eyes? Bree wondered.

Most of the pack fell away, in pursuit of some scent Bree lacked the ability to detect. Only the now relaxed Alpha and two others remained. The one that sniffed the baby blanket ceased its cry and stepped cautiously toward Bree. It took every ounce of courage she could muster to stay put as the muzzle filled with inch long teeth approached her. The creature moved awkwardly closer to her. It seemed afraid of frightening her beyond her ability to control herself rather than of being suddenly confronted with a weapon. Bree stared at its eyes. The brow crinkled in just the way Conner’s brow crinkled whenever Jess’s adventurous spirit extended itself beyond even his taste.

Conner lowered his muzzle and gently nudged the pack. Bree understood at once. She took off the pack and started digging in it. She glanced nervously at the leader, who watched with a cool confidence that made her spine tingle. She dug out a picture of Jess and her baby. “Here,” she said, and laid it next to the baby blanket. The wolf stared down at the picture until Bree felt some explanation must be in order. “Her family made her take pills, you see, after the baby was born. They made her gain a lot of weight.” It felt strange explaining a woman’s sudden weight gain to a wolf, but he looked at her with such comprehension that her words began to tumble out. “And, the counselor they sent her too, he said it was no good for her to be out in the woods anymore, so she stays home all the time now. She blogs. She’s really famous, in a way, for being such a great mom after the tragedy. Everyone else thinks you’re dead. She had to make them think she thought the same thing, or they would have taken the baby away and sent her to a home. She doesn’t, though. She gave me the blanket and the picture. She told me to bring you back if I could.”

At this, the Alpha emitted another low growl and pulled his front feet under him to lift his head a bit higher. Bree glanced nervously at him and continued. “She said that if I couldn’t bring you back, to tell you she misses you.” She pointed at the picture, “She named him Conner, after you.”

Conner put a paw on Bree’s shoulder and gave her a quick lick on the cheek before gently picking up the baby blanket in his teeth and walking sadly into the darkness of the forest. The Alpha watched him go with eyes that spoke both comfort and approval. Bree watched him slip slowly out of the small circle of light, then turned her attention to the wolf that remained. It was Paul. She would have known his eyes no matter what form he took. They reproached her. He never wanted her to come. He never hoped to see her again. He needed to move on. He accepted his fate, but now she went and made it harder.

Bree quickly brushed away the tear she knew would both sting and annoy Paul. She turned to the Alpha to avoid Paul’s silent disappointment. “Jess also told me that if I could not bring you back, that I should stay.” The Alpha lifted his brows in a perfect expression of surprise. Bree kept her eyes on the Alpha, ignoring Paul, in case he disagreed with Jess. “She told me not to take the pills. She told me not to let them take my husband from me.”

The Alpha stood and approached Bree. Paul jumped between them, baring his teeth. The Alpha only lifted one brow a little higher, and looked behind Paul at Bree, clearly not intimidated by Paul’s aggressively protective stance over Bree. Paul turned back toward Bree and locked her eyes with the same gaze that never failed to hypnotize her when was a human man wooing his wife, not quite seductive, but brimming with love and affection that needed to find its way into her arms. The look lasted only a second before Paul bounded away after Conner, into the darkness, leaving Bree under the quizzical gaze of the Alpha. Paul wanted her to go back, to live out her life and forget him.

At first, the Alpha turned, seemingly content with Paul’s decision, but a moment later he turned back to Bree and looked her over. She met his gaze, not with panic this time, but with the resignation born of deep sorrow. The Alpha’s lips twitched into something like a warm smile before curling wickedly into a snarl just before he jumped at her throat.

This is a three-parter. Click here to read Part Two  or here to read Part Three.

A drop of water poised on the windshield. Bree watched as a tiny stream of water wriggled slowly toward the droplet, met up with it, and carried it rapidly down the window. She fixed her eyes on another sedentary droplet and waited for it to be joined by other drops, slowly growing, until it, too, slid down the windshield. Time oozed by slowly, the steady pattering of the rain on the roof of the car manipulating Bree out of her misery into numbness. She didn’t mind entirely, though she wondered idly if there might be some unwanted consequence to putting off her mourning again. Eventually she needed to deal with the pain, but there never seemed to be a good time for it. Behind her the gloom grew slowly gloomier. She shifted her eyes to the clock, then sat bolt upright and turned on the engine.

“Cummon girl. Don’t wanna be up here at night,” she warned herself. She threw the car into gear and drove slowly down the hill back toward the city. Here and there lights blinked on below her, reminding her how rapidly the sun set this time of year. She grit her teeth and pressed the gas pedal, cursing herself for her foolishness. The sun raced her, descending on the horizon faster than she could maneuver the twists and turns of the hill. She mashed the pedal into the floorboard, wrestling her healthy fear of crashes under the weight of her irrational fear of nightfall on the hill.

Howling wolfThe sun beat her, its last rays laughing at her from behind the ocean. She slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid driving off the edge of a hairpin turn. Behind her she thought she heard a faint howl. Her white-knuckled hands clutched the steering wheel, trying desperately to keep her trembling from spelling her doom in a wreck. When she reached the bottom of the hill and saw Mr. Delszeki’s lights on, she stepped on the brakes and slowed down to a stop just in front of his driveway. He wouldn’t mind. He would know why.

She grabbed a paper fast food bag from the small trash receptacle between the driver and passenger seat and breathed into the bag. The scent of stale French fries and old ketchup met her nostrils, but she kept breathing in and out of the bag until her lungs cooperated with her. Tears started falling again, this time in gasping heaves instead of the slow motion waterfall that fell before the rain started. These tears bypassed grief to carry the adrenalin rush out of her system, so she let them run their course before pulling the car back onto the road and driving home at her usual cautious pace.

Outside her home she stared at the door, dreading it. She was a minimalist. Paul was a pack-rat. Everything in her home reminded her of him and she feared remembrance. She pulled her coat closely around her and nestled down into her seat. “You need pills, girl,” she told herself. “I’ll call Jess’s shrink tomorrow,” she answered.

Jess’s husband, Conner, went missing on the hill a year before Paul. She told Bree once what she thought happened to him. Bree didn’t believe in pills at the time. She thought Jess referred to a dream or maybe some horrific urban legend circulating at the time, but Jess’ family made her get pills. So she could take care of the baby, they said. Bree tried to talk her out of it at the time, but now… Well, now she’d be joining Jess, clamoring for her fair share of sanity in pharmacy lines.

Bree’s family, if the term even applied, lived far away. She lacked support except from the smattering of friends she managed to make over the last three years. Jess was one of them before she got the pills. Now she was just another woman Bree exchanged pleasantries with during chance meetings in the supermarket, a mommy-blogging husk of domesticity bemoaning the tragic loss of her husband just before her child’s birth while a couple thousand other women who simultaneously wished to share in her tragedy and compete with her unimaginably hectic life patted her on the back via long comments and mushy emails. Bree simply couldn’t relate to her anymore.

Bree pulled into Jessica’s driveway very early the next morning. She never bothered to ask what time the baby usually woke up, but she knew that Jess’s pills would be calling soon. When the light flicked on in the kitchen, Bree walked up to the door and knocked. She knocked three times before Jess finally answered the door, looking nearly as haggard and wretched as she looked the first few weeks after her husband disappeared, before the pills. She scowled out the door, not really looking at who disturbed her morning. “What?” she barked.

“I’m sorry to bug you, Jess, I just wanted the number of your psychiatrist.”

Bree blinked a bit and peered into the gloomy morning light. “Bree?”

“Uh huh”

Jess’s face softened. She backed and opened the door. “Come inside. You look awful.”

Bree walked in. The sudden warmth of the house reminded her of the chill that settled deep in her bones during the night. A small shiver escaped her spine. She looked around the perfectly kept home with a sense of awe. It seemed far more feminine than Conner ever allowed it to be, more feminine than Bree remembered Jess liking. Jess watched Bree study her home for a moment before jerking her head, “bathroom’s that way. Take a hot bath. I’ll get a set of my old clothes.”

Bree accepted the offer, or rather, obeyed the command to bathe and wandered in the direction Jess indicated. A few minutes later Jess walked in without bothering to knock and deposited a robe on the closed toilet lid. “For when you’re done. The clothes were musty. I’m washing them.” She handed over a mug of steaming tea. “Drink it. You need to get that chill out.”

Bree took the mug and sipped at the apple cinnamon brew. When she felt her core temperature rise high enough to maintain itself for a while, she donned the robe and wandered around the house until she found the kitchen, where Jess sat at the table looking through an album. When she noticed Bree, she slid the album over to her. “It’s us with the guys.”

The elegant scrapbook lay open to the last picture of all four of them together. Five, really. Jess’s adorably pregnant belly seemed about ready to pop right out of the picture. She was a force to be reckoned with in those days, full of life and wonder, insisting that if Sacagawea could backpack through the wilderness with a baby, so could she. The woman who sat across from Bree now bulged with at least fifty pounds more than her pregnant weight in the photo and looked five years older. Bree knew the picture should make her cry, but she only felt numbness.

“Don’t take the pills, Bree.”

Bree shifted her eyes to study Jessica. She looked serious.

Jess shook her head. “Don’t take ‘em. Don’t let ‘em tell you you’re crazy.”

Bree shrugged. “Why not. I probably am.”

Jess shook her head more vigorously and spoke vehemently. “No. You’re not. I let them convince me. Now I can’t help my husband,” her expression and voice shifted suddenly to a pleading, “but you can. You can help them both. Or, at least, “ a tear slid down her cheek, “at least you can go back to your husband. At least, you don’t have to lose Paul.”

Bree shook her head, struggling to understand Jess. “I don’t know what you mean, Jess.”

Jess leaned forward, grabbing Bree’s hand with a vise like grip. “You can get to them. You saw it happen. I know you did. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t. Tell me you saw it! Tell me!”

Somewhere in another room the baby squalled. Bree tried to pull away. Jess glanced in the direction briefly. “He’s fine, he’s in his crib. Tell me.”

Bree studied Jess. Slowly she nodded. “I saw what you saw.”

Bree nodded, satisfied. “And you’re not pregnant?”

Bree shook her head slowly, “no.” She quickly pushed aside painful memories of the miscarriage, the resulting weeks of testing, and the final, dooming diagnosis. “No. I’m not pregnant.”

Jess nodded again. “Then you can go back. You can get Paul back,” She brushed away more tears. “Don’t let them take Paul away from you. Get him back. And… if you can, bring Conner back too.” She looked down at the picture, struggling to contain the emotion that overwhelmed her. Bree waited. “If you can’t bring them back, stay with them.”

Bree jumped up, knocking over he chair in the process, and backed away from Jess, shaking her head in disbelief. “What are you saying? You want me to… to…”

Jess stood slowly, her face a resolute waterfall, “It’s better that way. It must be! You don’t understand yet, but you will. It would be so much better to be one of them than it is to know that he’s out there, alive, and you’re not with him. So much better than hearing them, and fearing them, all the while wishing you had the courage and the power to get him back.”

Bree stared open-mouthed at the desperate woman in front of her. She thought about asking whether the doctors were messing around with Jess’s medication, but decided not to. Deep in her heart, she knew Jess was right. Nothing could be worse than not trying. The baby squalled again. Jess wiped tears from her eyes and hastily left the room. When she came back with the baby, she looked pleadingly again at Bree. “If you find Conner, tell him about his son, okay? Tell him I miss him. And here,” she handed Bree a receiving blanket, “take this.”

Bree nodded and let herself out. She drove back to her own home and jumped out of the car, rushing to gather her things before logic caught up with her. She ran through the house, almost instinctively grabbing the things she needed for an extended trip into the hills. She double and triple checked the list she kept by the door. It took her under an hour to get ready. Before noon, she stood on the thin game trail that lead to the last place she saw Paul, the last place Jess saw Conner.

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