Fantasy Novel: Chapter 26
Joanne glared at her watch, willing the time to slow down. This Sunday the pack was taking their sweet time to return from their weekly run in the woods. A merciless sun beat down on the open area, simmering heat forced her to take refuge in the shade at the edge of the woodlands as soon as the wolves faded into the undergrowth.
In the open area in front of her, the tables and chairs were scattered all over the place, ready for the returning people. Only the catering area was set up in the shade, waiting for the feasting to commence. The families stopped using the Pack House built near the edge of the woods some time ago. It was now the domain of the male pack members. Families had to make do with the outside facilities.
Joanne leaned against her favorite tree on the edge of the forest and the pack-common area. It was the ideal spot when waiting for the wolves to return. She could keep an eye on the picnic area and listen for the returning pack at the same time. Dressed in camo pants, faded green t-shirt and tattered army jacket she was barely visible amongst the undergrowth. Her jacket was rolled into a pillow and rested her head against rough canvas cloth.
The smell of damp earth and rotting plants wrapped around her like a blanket. Last nights' lack of sleep was making her drowsy, and she nodded off. She jerked awake every time she fell asleep, unable to rest. She was also tormented that no matter how desperate she wanted to get away, she could not leave Wolfville. She has to skulk around until Julia was safe.
The families clustered in their usual groups before the pack-run earlier that morning. Susan, Joanne, and their kids had formed their little family cluster since before Joanne’s marriage ended. Although, recently it seemed to her that the pack accepted her new role without scorn. Nobody commented or even really talked to her that morning, all they did was to greet her.
Joanne’s mind was still reeling from Julia’s shocking revelation that her stepfather was pressuring her into having his baby. The steel band that slammed around her chest last night was squeezing her ribcage in its vice-grip, like a balloon ready to pop.
Joanne relived the scene over and over in her head. Thoughts on how she should approach this without destroying the last scrap of her relationship with her daughter whirled in Joanne’s mind. Joanne sighed and reflected on how to approach the bombshell dropped by Julia. She prayed for guidance and wisdom to handle the hateful request with delicacy.
Last night Joanne had lifted her eyes, and they connected with Julia’s scared brown eyes. Julia’s expression hopeful, like the innocent little girl she was. Her mother’s heart broke in pieces, and Julia’s fear was almost too much for Joanne’s self-control, but Joanne knew she had to be careful in answering Julia’s question.
She inhaled slowly before she responded, “What do you want from your life?”
Julia stared at her mother in irritation, “What do you mean Mom?”
“Well, just that. Do you want a career where you can one day be independent? Do you want to live here in Wolfville forever?” Joanne bit off the bitterness in her voice.
“I do not know Mom? Why does it matter? Jeez, I should have known you would not give a straight answer,” cried Julia falling backward on her bed in frustration.
“It is a straight answer, darling. What do you want? Do you want a career and experience life outside Wolfville? Do you want to stay in Wolfville for the next fifteen years, giving up your life? In the end, being pushed aside like Susan and me. Or does the idea of having a baby appeal so much to you that you do not mind being stuck here. That is how long it takes to look after your child. It is awful for a mother just to leave her baby. Why do you think I am here every weekend?” asked Joanne as she waved an arm around encompassing the room and the town.
“Because of me and Jakes?” whispered Julia, her eyes wide.
Joanne’s eyes glinted with steely determination when she said, “Yes, because I love you so much, even though it is often difficult to see you just on weekends and sometimes not even then. If I only see you for a few hours, I will take it. But know this, I will continue to do so until you are independent.”
Joanne looked into her daughter’s concerned face and sighed deeply before she could answer, her voice devoid of emotion.
“Do you think that is something a father should ask of his daughter? The person that has to protect you?”
Julia had shrugged indifferently, “I dunno,” mimicking the way she answered as a toddler caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
In response to Julia’s questions, Joanne poured out, “You know, I often wondered why your father married me. Do you think he would have done so even if he knew about Paul beforehand? And this mating thing that is supposedly this wonderful gift to shifters,” said Joanne and moved up against the headboard to look at Julia. Pulling her legs up, resting her chin on her knees before she continued.
“Maybe he thought the chance to mate was a longshot, a fairy tale, you know, like our dresses. Or did he believe that should he be lucky enough to find his mate, I would just magically disappear?”
She continued pretending to ask pensively, “Maybe he did not think at the beginning that I would fall pregnant. But what about you, by then he knew I could have wolf babies? You see, this is the same with you. What if you find your mate and you are forever linked to Paul, would your mate want you?”
Julia’s big brown eyes stared at her mother, wide with fright. When Charles brought Paul into their home, Julia lashed out at her mother for not being in ecstasy that her father had found his mate. She could not stop talking about how brilliant it would be to discover her lifelong partner and how courageous she thought her father was to embrace his fate.
“Mom, what are you’re saying?” whispered Julia.
“Some men do not want anything to do with another man’s child, and your mate could be one of those. He would then walk away from you and then what would happen to you? Stuck in this town without a future.”
“Like you?” asked Julia softly.
“Sort of like me. Why do you think I leave this place on Sundays? I am building a life outside the borders of Wolfville.”
“My darling, you said I had to leave, and that you were ashamed of me, but the thing is, I cannot abandon you, so I am hanging on like a burr.”
“Oh, Mom,” sighed Julia, tears streaming down her face.
“My darling, I knew you were hurt and confused,” said Joanne her voice husky with tears. She sat on Julia’s bed and hugged her daughter tightly in her arms, the warm body of her child a comfort to Joanne. The hug strengthened her courage to fight for her daughter.
“But my life is not yours, and you have other options, and you have me in your corner to help you.”
Joanne calmed her daughter down and sat with her until she fell asleep.
“Thank you Mom, I knew you would know what to do,” came a sleepy voice from the bed. Joanne stroked her daughter's head.
A branch snapped behind Joanne bringing her back to the present. After that different scenarios flashed through her mind, the overarching theme, “Kill the bastards, slowly and painfully.” Maybe it was the naphthalene fumes from the old dresses they worked on yesterday that were putting the murderous ideas into her head. That Paul had the audacity even to ask such a thing of Julia, shows how much Charles had let down his family. It should be the time for teenage girls to experiment with make-up and other girly things, in their journey towards being a woman, not dealing with life-altering choices. “How dare Paul demand and how dare Charles agree to it!”
Behind her, she could hear the wolves returning. Joanne signaled to Sandy, standing on guard duty, that the pack was returning. He waved at her and spoke into a handheld radio. Joanne calculated that it would take the families another hour to eat, discuss pack issues before they would go to their respective homes. She counted the wolves that strolled past her, back in their human form and fully dressed.
As soon as everyone returned, Joanne sauntered between the families to where Pete and Julia were waiting at their table, large glasses of soft drink, wet with condensation in front of them. The basket full of savory and sweet goodies stood open. Pete stared at the meat pies devouring them with his eyes.
Sandy sank down on the bench next to Joanne. He also dropped hints on how delicious the pies looked. To get the boys out of earshot, Joanne sent Pete and Sandy to get more soft drinks.
While the boys were gone Joanne asked her daughter, “Darling, I have been thinking, is it not time for your term tests? Last year Tiffany stayed at our house so you girls could study together. Why do you not go and ask Holly if you can stay with them to study, just until the exams are over? I will make sure I am at Susan’s on the weekends. Just until we sorted out Paul's demand.”
Julia looked so relieved that Joanne teared up again. With irritation, she wiped at her eyes, as she watched her daughter run over to where Holly and Susan were organizing the catering. Less than a minute later Julia returned together with Pete and Sandy, shouting, “Goals, Mom, goals!”
A look of utter confusion flashed across Joanne’s face, and Julia scoffed at her mother, “It means yes Mom. Oh, you’re so old-fashioned.” Joanne relieved laugh bubbled out, her daughter was back to being normal, happy and relaxed.
If all goes well, she should be able to escape by four o’ clock, giving her ample time to get to the Centre while it was still dusk.
Then the horrible day went to the dogs as Alpha Arthur’s big black Range Rover roared into the parking area.
Sandy jumped up and rushed over to the black SUV. Joanne watched in dread as Arthur and Eric, the Head Enforcer got out of the black vehicle.
Joanne rose reluctantly, and she moved to stand amongst the people milling around trying to get their stuff together. When the pack saw Arthur walking towards them, it was as if an arctic wind blew over the families. Reaction rippled through the gathering. The people feared Arthur and were thankful that they rarely saw him. Beta Ben dealt with the pack family matters for so many years that few had any dealings with the pack Alpha.
Arthur started his usual rant on the importance of pack life, for what seemed like hours to Joanne, before he explained why he really showed his face at the pack run.