* * *
I was here to run.
When you’re an untagged wolf in San Francisco, you take whatever you can to roam as free as you might need or want.
Though I caught the occasional scent of another wolf, I never saw one during my runs. I don’t know why. The park seemed like the perfect place to get out some of the urges that often threatened to overwhelm me during the day. They thrived on randomness, it seemed. Anything could trigger them. A beautiful blonde’s perfume. The slope of a burly stranger’s shoulder. A car backfiring. I’m sure if I brought it up in group, any of the others might be able to explain why it happened, but I would never let it get that far. They might find value in talking about the trauma that bound us together, but I didn’t. I only went because if I didn’t, Corey would find out, and since I relied on Corey’s generosity for a place to stay, I couldn’t do anything to piss him off.
He didn’t know about my runs, either. Another reason why I chose coming so early.
I blocked out thoughts about my day to day, to better concentrate on my few minutes of freedom. Here, now, I was wolf. I couldn’t claim this territory as my own, but I could pretend, and that was all I needed.
Around the tree.
Through an unseen puddle.
My lean muscles burned as I challenged them with greater speed.
There was no such thing as too fast.
I lost all concept of time. I measured my run in terms of heartbeats and the color of the sky, occasionally tipping my nose up to see its sooty spread shift and fade. Getting caught by dawn could strip my one liberty away if someone saw me. At best, wolves were considered second-class citizens. At worst, we were feared. If the wrong person caught me out…
I angled toward the tree where I’d stashed my clothes. The worst had already happened to me when I’d been kidnapped for the sadistic pleasure of men and women rich enough to afford my company. I wouldn’t do anything stupid to risk getting trapped again.
Though shifting back into my human form was the last thing I wanted, I did it. I’d been a wolf for almost a year now, and it still wasn’t easy. Where others could change shapes back and forth at will, I had to force my thoughts to images of what I looked like standing on two legs instead of four, with bare skin instead of fur, with the face that looked back at me in the mirror instead of the muzzle I lifted to the moon to howl. Corey said going to group would help me learn how to balance the two parts of me, but what did he know? He was a lawyer, for Christ’s sake. He wasn’t even wolf. He couldn’t begin to comprehend the struggle I went through on a daily basis.
Lowering my nose to the grass, I breathed in and out, waiting for my pulse to slow. Shifting was easier that way. Adrenaline turned me into a walking time bomb. Once it didn’t feel like my pelt was vibrating in time with my heart, I let the shift begin.