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Chapter Fifty Five

Just as it always did, my fur was the first thing to come.  Thick, brown hair sprouted all over my body, covering me more thoroughly than human clothes ever could.  Then, all at the same time, my tail and snout grew, and I fell forward onto four paws.  I stood there for a few seconds, letting myself readjust to my new body, and then looked at Kimberly.
She was sitting five feet away, with her back against a tree, curled up into a frightened little ball.  Now that I was a wolf, I could smell her fear even more strongly than I could see it.  Despite everything I'd said, she was still terrified.
Can you blame her? I thought, trying to think of a way to make her feel better without having to turn back.  The last time she'd seen me in wolf form was that night at the funeral home, when I'd fought Stark.  That definitely hadn't left a good first impression.  I took a hesitant step forward, and Kimberly reaffirmed my suspicions by whimpering and trying to push herself even further into the tree.
Come on, think!  You're a great big dog.  How do you make a little five year old girl not be afraid of a great big dog?
The answer came to me suddenly that I'm surprised a little lightbulb didn't appear over my head.  I was a dog!  Technically I was a wolf, of course, but a little girl like Kimberly probably didn't know the difference.  I thought back to how she'd reacted to seeing the husky puppy back at the mall.  Maybe, if I played it just right, I could use that to my advantage.
I sat down and let my tongue loll out the side of my mouth.  Think like a dog, I told myself, trying to think back on every dog I'd ever seen.  What would a dog do?  I looked at Kimberly, panting even though it was cold out, and cocked my head to the side.
We stayed like that for over a minute, staring at each other.  I turned my head every once in a while to keep things from being too still, but apart from that I waited for her to make the first move.  And, eventually, she did.  It was a small thing, and I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been watching her so closely, but when she relaxed her muscles a little and leaned forward, I knew it was working.
“Amber?" she asked at last, in a quiet, timid voice.  She was still scared, but at least she'd gotten over her initial fear of my wolf form.  The shock of seeing me change had worn off, so now I just needed to convince her that I wasn't going to hurt her.
I perked myself up when she said my name, and wagged my tail.  Act like a dog, act like a dog.  Tentatively, I stood up and took a step toward her.  She shrank back again, but this time it was just in caution instead of outright fear.  I closed the distance between us, taking it slow so that she wouldn't get freaked out, and then sat down again directly across from her.
“H— hi," she said, looking right into my big, brown eyes.  I barked in response, and she flinched.
Stop being so scared! I thought in frustration.  I told you, it's still me!
I leaned in closer to her and started sniffing her face.  There wasn't anything there that I hadn't smelled a hundred times before just by being near her, but it was something dogs did, so I did it too.  She shied away again at first, but when my cold, wet nose touched her cheek she calmed down.
“What are you doing?" she asked.
I barked again, more softly this time, and then gave her a lick on the cheek.
“Ew!" she giggled, wiping it off.  “Gross!"
It was working!  I let my mouth hang open and started to pant again, and then flopped down at her feet.  If anyone else had been there, this would have been embarrassing.  Call it a wild instinct or whatever you want, but there was just something about pretending to be a dog that felt demeaning.  I was a wolf, dang it, not some purse-riding pooch!  Still, for Kimberly, I could deal with it for a while longer.
“You're just a big puppy!" she said, getting to her knees and running a hand through my fur.
Perfect!  She's taking this so much better than I…  Her hand went to the back of my head, and she started to scratch behind my ears.  Oh… oh wow, that actually feels really good.
She laughed as my back leg started to kick, and scratched me even harder.  For a few seconds, I stopped caring whether I was a dog or a wolf— I would have agreed to be a werechihuahua for the rest of my life if would just scratch a little… to the… left.  Yeah, right there!  Ooooh, that was—
Another soft bark came from in front of us, and we both froze where we were and turned to look.  There was Tyler, as big and fearsome as ever.  His black fur was almost invisible in the darkness, but the dude was just so huge that it would have been impossible to miss him.  Beside me, I heard Kimberly's breath catch in her throat, and I immediately got to my paws.  I should have been worried about that, I realized.  If she was afraid of me, she would have been terrified of Tyler.
He's not scary! I wanted to say to her.  He's like a big, black teddy bear!
That wasn't true of course, but I knew that he wouldn't do anything to hurt her.  So, trying to look nonchalant about it, I pranced up to him, wagging my tail.  Tyler stared at me, and I could see how weirded out he was, even through his wolf-face.  I got down low, like a dog wanting to play, and barked at him.
I swear, if Tyler had still been human, he would have rolled his eyes.  After watching me for a couple seconds, he shook his head and walked around me.  Kimberly gasped when she saw him coming straight for her, but the huge wolf only sat down beside her.  I watched them for a minute, waiting to see Kimberly's reaction.  She seemed to be taking it pretty well, now that her initial shock had worn off.
“Is… that's him, right?" she asked, looking to me.  “Your boyfriend?"
I gave a mock growl, and came to join them.  Kimberly, growing more comfortable by the minute, reached out to pet Tyler just like she had me.  Her hand brushed Tyler's pelt—
Tyler's eyes shot open wide, and instantly he was back on his paws.  Kimberly yanked her hand back against his sudden movement, and shrank back against the tree again.  There was a look in Tyler's eyes now— a very unhappy look.  So, I ran to stand between them.  What was he doing?
Tyler glared at Kimberly for a few seconds. Then, looking thoroughly confused, he walked to the other side of the clearing and sat down again.  I almost followed him to find out what was going on, but then I felt Kimberly's hand on my side.  I couldn't just leave her alone on a night like this.  Besides, Tyler wouldn't be able to tell me anything until we turned back in the morning.
So I laid back down with Kimberly, feeling just as confused as Tyler looked.
NEXT TIME: Well, that was weird!  Wonder what made Tyler do that?  But at least Kimberly's taking this pretty well, right?  Well, the night's not over yet.  Plenty of time for things to go wrong!

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