“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”  Farley Mowat

There is something about a man’s face when he has dropped all defenses.  It’s a mixture of two things.. the shadow of boyhood, an age where true responsibility is yet unknown and freedom is taken for granted; where peace is found easily within the comfort of one’s own skin and belonging isn’t even a question.… and the light of manhood, where everything is exposed, naked, raw and vulnerable.  Sometimes it happens by design, as when he chooses to trust a woman enough to create a private life with her, opening places inside of him where few are allowed to tread.  And sometimes it happens completely by accident, like a rare anomaly.. a deviant orbit in a distant sky.     

Isabel saw all of this pass over Jack’s features in the span of a single moment as he stared at her across what had only minutes ago been a chasm that was miles wide.  It was a subtle shift that caused the closing of that gap, marked only by silent tears and the howling of one man, and one wolfdog. But it was one she would remember for the rest of her life and one she would come to fiercely protect.  She looked away long enough for him to brush the back of one hand across his eyes and then she turned to him and smiled, pulling a leash out of her pocket and attaching it to Maya’s collar.  She handed it to him and he took it gratefully, focusing on keeping the dog close to his side on the way back down to the Lodge.  

They chose not to speak at first, though each had unanswered questions.  Doing so, would have tested a tenuous bond that needed more time to strengthen and neither was willing to risk it just yet.  Isabel shoved her hands down into the pockets of her jeans and hunched her back against the chilly wind.  She had only been letting the dog out and hadn’t planned on straying too far from the Lodge.  When Maya took off, she’d followed her a good mile before realizing too late, that she wasn’t properly dressed.  Jack took his jacket off without being asked, and gave it to her.  It was still warm from his body and she put her arms in the sleeves, welcoming the feeling, hands lost about three quarters of the way down.  It made him smile to look at her.  She was grateful for it.

The ground was soft under his feet, pine needles laying a path before them. Maya walked beside him as if she had been doing it forever. They always say that animals just know somehow.  He was good with dogs.  When he was a boy, he’d had a German Shepherd who was his constant companion. He had learned a lot from that dog about what it meant to be a leader and it came naturally to him now. 

This dog was an Alpha female… he could feel it, no doubt. Yet she responded to his lead, suggesting that Isabel had done well in training her.  He wondered where she’d been hiding and thought maybe the old girl had been at a neighbor’s house up the road.  He hadn’t seen or heard her at the Lodge last night. He was sure he would have noticed.  Maya was aware of Isabel’s presence at every turn and she never let her owner out of her sight.  She was absolutely beautiful.. more wolf, than dog.  Her eyes were a beautiful golden amber, and she had a thick coat of gray and white fur that had been meticulously cared for.  She was alert to her surroundings, but relaxed as she padded through the woods beside him.  He already liked her a great deal.  It would appear that the feeling was mutual.

As the Lodge came into view, he noticed an SUV parked up at the top, a woman leaning against it, smoking.. a large black dog sitting obediently beside her.  He didn’t move a muscle as they approached.  Both woman and dog were looking at him, cool and level, sizing him up as he came down the drive.  He wasn’t sure what to make of her, but beneath the hard exterior, he detected a twinkle in her eye and a soft spot for Isabel when she looked at her.  When they got within fifty feet of them, he had trouble holding on to the leash.  Isabel stepped up and took it from him, unclipping it from the dog's collar and rubbing her head. 

“Ok, go Maya! Go now… go see Ollie!”  It was impossible not to smile.  The dogs were acting as if they hadn’t seen each other in years, when in fact, it had only been an hour.  He wished people were more like that.

“I was just about ready to send a search party out for you,” she scolded, dropping her cigarette on the gravel and twisting it dramatically into the ground with her toe.  “Really darling, if you’re going to invite your editor way down here to the forgotten Shire.. you could at least be present.”

Isabel rolled her eyes and turned to Jack with a grin.

“This old grump, is my editor and very dear friend, Alex Page,” she said, stepping forward and hugging her warmly.  “I’m sorry, she finally apologized… Maya ran off and I had to go catch her, Lex.  You know how she is.”

Alex softened at that.  If Oliver was her rescue baby.. Maya was her adopted one.  She always took her in when Isabel traveled and couldn’t bring her along. Ollie and Maya had been practically raised together and Maya looked to Alex for leadership when her beloved owner was away.  Izzy and Alex had been friends for years.  Isabel had been looking for an editor when she stumbled across the name G. A. Page in a publication she read frequently and in her head it sounded like Gee, a page!  Delighted, she had squealed, “That’s it… it’s fate.” What more could a writer ask for, than an editor whose name is Gee! A PAGE!!! Maybe she wasn’t funny to the rest of the world, but sometimes she amused herself in her own little universe.  She picked up the phone and called her on the spot and was impressed to find that Alex answered her own phone. She requested a meeting, expecting the run around, and instead, found open arms and an immediate invitation to her office.  Accepting happily, she spent an entire day with her, watching her work her creative magic with a few well-known authors, never dreaming that she might be one of them some day. They’d been friends ever since.  

Alex had coaxed more than one faltering manuscript out of obscurity, into blazing literary works of art that repeatedly landed on best seller lists.  Isabel attributed much of her success to this woman but Alex had always brushed that off, calling it hogwash.  She insisted that all she did was polish up what was already shining.  Isabel knew better.  In addition to being an editor, Alex was a published photographer.  She understood beautifully how important two perspectives on one subject were, making the value of collaboration something they both prized.  They had spent many a lunch date, editing a manuscript, line by line, and looking at a table full of photographs from every angle.  Eventually, their favorite restaurant had simply given them a table for eight, instead of for two, sometimes even serving them dinner, in addition to lunch.  Their success did have its perks. 

By now, the sun was beginning to go down and the three of them decided to head down to the dock with a bottle of wine.  The dogs scampered playfully down the stairs after them, enjoying the run.  In spite of everything, it had been a beautiful day, an important day and one Jack would remember for a long time.  He sat quietly beside the two women, listening to the easy way they talked, taking it all in with an occasional nod.  But he was far away in his thoughts and Isabel knew it.  As darkness approached, he stood up and excused himself, saying he’d like to read awhile before calling it a night.  The look that passed briefly between he and Isabel, was not lost on Alex, but she didn’t comment.  

He was thankful for the lights that turned on automatically outdoors at dusk, as without them it would have been tough to see.  He heard her, before he saw her, her cold wet nose, nuzzling his hand.  He intended to send her back, but Maya wouldn’t go.  When he took a step, she would follow and he thought for a moment that he’d have to walk all the way back down to the dock to return her to Izzy.  But when he looked up, she was already there on the landing and she said, “If you don’t mind, I think she wants to go with you.”  

He slept like a rock that night, his hand curled into Maya’s fur.   If he dreamt anything at all, he didn’t remember.  He woke early, when the light was just beginning to come up in the eastern sky behind the cabin.  He opened the door to let her out, grabbing a bowl out of the cabinet and filling it with water.  When he knelt to put it down for her, he saw the small envelope tucked under the door and he picked it up, curious.  Inside was a card with a picture of a wolf on the outside, signed in her delicate script.  He flipped it open with one hand while holding the screen for the dog to come back inside.  There was only one word.