Story Three - Beauty and the Beholder
"Emily, will you marry me?" asked Victor, gazing up at her from his down-on-one-knee position. Her response was to throw her arms around his neck so suddenly that they both tumbled over onto the grass. They landed with him lying underneath. "Watch it! I nearly dropped the ring," he said, holding the slim gold hoop in front of her, the single diamond flashing in the sun. She snatched it out of his fingers and slipped it on her own, moving her hand this way and that to see the effect.
"Alright, then," she said at last, apparently happy with the way the ring looked on her finger. She looked down at him, saw the bemused look on his face and laughed. "Of course I'll marry you, silly! Only... you do realise you'll have to ask my father, too?"
"But I don't want to marry your father," he pointed out, tickling her ribs and making her beg for mercy. He rolled her onto her back whilst she was helpless, then allowed her to catch her breath. "Seriously, though... this is the twenty-first century. You're not suggesting I need to ask him for your hand in marriage, are you?"
"Not exactly but he is kind of old fashioned. You do need to talk to him, tell him that you'll be able to keep me in the manner to which I'm accustomed, that kind of thing."
"Is this a Woolfe family joke at my expense? I ask his permission and you all start howling with laughter. Wolf... howl... get it?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yes I get it. I mean, I've never heard that one before."
"Didn't think you would have. So, do I need to set up an appointment with the old man or what?"
"Just talk to him when you come round tonight. I'll have a chat with him, too, soften him up a bit."
"I feel sooo much better now," he grinned down at her. He placed a light kiss on her nose and then stood, holding out a hand to help her up. "Come on, lunch time's nearly over. Time to get back to the daily grind."
Emily's attempts at 'softening up' her father did not go well.
"He asked you to marry him?"
"And you said, 'Yes'?"
"Yes, Dad! I know who and what he is. I've been going out with him for two years."
Her father frowned. "But we have traditions... heritage. We've never allowed..."
"Allowed?" Now it was her turn to frown. "This is the twenty-first century, Dad. You can't forbid me to marry the man I love."
Her mother attempted to soothe the situation. "Of course, not, darling. That wasn't what your father meant at all. It's just come as rather a shock to him; to us both, in fact."
Emily sighed. "I know, Mum, I know. I probably wouldn't have chosen to be in this situation but... love is love, isn't it?"
"Of course it is, darling. I just hope you've thought all this through. Really thought it through."
"I thought it through when he first asked me to go out with him. I thought it through after a week, after a month, after the first year. Then I stopped thinking it through because it was getting in the way of me enjoying him and the time I spent with him. I know there may be difficulties but..."
"Love conquers all?" asked her father with a sneer that he could not quite hide.
"Yes, Dad, it does!"
He opened his mouth as if to say something more and then closed it again. "Well, if you're determined," he said at last, "I'm sure nothing I say will change your mind."
Hurrying across the room, she curled up with him on the couch. "Thank you, Daddy! I knew you'd see it my way, in the end."
He gave her a side-long glance but said nothing more.
By the time Victor arrived, the whole family was all smiles and ready to welcome him with open arms.
The civil ceremony was low-key with only their closest family and friends invited. The honeymoon was reasonably exotic but not ostentatious and they returned to their tiny two-bedroomed house quite prepared to settle down into a life time of domestic bliss. Within a couple of months, Emily discovered that she was pregnant and both felt that life could not get any better. The pregnancy proceeded normally and the birth passed with no more than the usual excitement. Their daughter - Rosa - was the most beautiful baby ever born. Victor felt that two week's paternity leave was far too short and added a week from his annual leave entitlement. Even then, he was reluctant to go back to work, worried that Emily would be too tired to cope alone.
"For crying out loud, Victor, I've hardly moved a muscle in three weeks! You've been running round me like a mother hen. I'm not ill, you know. I'm more than capable of taking care of myself and a three week old baby for a few hours. Now, please, go to work before I bite your head off because I'm beginning to think that's the only way to get you to shut up."
"Well, when you put it like that..." he said. He grinned to let her know he saw the joke, kissed them both and left.
When he arrived at work, he arranged with his line manager to take slightly extended lunch breaks for a week or two so that he could pop home, promising to work a few hours over the weekends to make up the time. Promptly at 12 o'clock, he locked his computer and left the building. He stopped by the little sandwich shop on the high street and picked up Emily's favourite sandwich, then almost ran the rest of the way home. Never had he been so glad that he lived within walking distance of work.
At home, he let himself in quietly and slipped off his shoes. He went into the living room first but it was empty, so he tip-toed into the kitchen. There was no sign of Emily and the baby in there, either. Perhaps they had gone out? No - the pushchair was folded up under the stairs and the baby carrier was hanging on the row of hooks by the door. Probably, the baby was having a nap and her mother was taking advantage of the quiet to have one herself. Returning to the kitchen, he placed the sandwich on the counter where she would find it when she woke up.
He was about to let himself out again but he could not resist the chance to peep at his sleeping daughter. As silently as he could, he climbed the stairs. The door of the main bedroom was ajar and he gently pushed it open. The sight that met his eyes made the blood freeze in his veins.
A huge female dog lay sprawled out on the bed. A tiny pup lay next to her, suckling greedily and making little grunts of pleasure. There was no sign of Emily or Rosa.
He let out a cry of fear and surprise and the dog's eyes snapped open. The pup, disturbed from its meal, turned to look at him. When it saw him, its tail began to wag and it tried to waddle across the bed towards him. The mother, however, picked it up by the scruff of its neck and placed it behind her. Her eyes never left Victor.
He stood in the doorway frozen with horror. Nothing he had ever experienced had prepared him for this. Whatever breed of dog it was that had, apparently, eaten his wife and child, it looked quite capable of taking his head off in one bite. Something about that idea nagged at him but he was too busy watching for the moment when it would leap at him to think about it too closely.
When he had stood there for several moments and the dog had not pounced on him, however, he began to wonder at its strange behaviour. It had not moved in all the time he was there, except to nudge the pup back behind it. Whilst it never stopped staring at him, it had not barked or even snarled at him. He decided to risk calling the police. As his hand reached for the mobile ;phone in his pocket, however, the dog's top lip curled up and it gave the tiniest of growls.
"OK, OK! No 'phone." He held up both hands to prove his good intent and then wondered how he expected a dog to understand him. "How about I just leave you and the little one, alone?" he asked, taking a step back. The dog continued to watch him but made no move to stop him. He took another step back and another. Outside the room now, he leaned against the wall and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now to call the police, he decided and reached into his pocket again.
He almost dropped the 'phone in surprise. In front of him stood Emily holding the baby. Both were naked.
"Em... Emily? But the dog... How?" And then he simply threw his arms around her, sobbing with relief. "I... I thought..."
"Hush, now," she murmured against his hair. "Everything's OK."
She led him back into the bedroom, tucked the baby into her Moses basket and then sat down next to him on the bed. He was staring at the place where the dog had lain, a horrible, impossible suspicion growing in his mind.
"There was a dog in here. A big dog. I didn't imagine it."
"No, Victor, you didn't."
"There was a dog and a pup. But no sign of you and Rosa."
"That's not quite right, dear."
He looked at her, noticing as if for the first time (although they were the things that had attracted him to her in the first place) her beautiful gold-brown eyes and the thickness of her hair. And just how sharp her canines were, which had bothered his mother for weeks he now remembered.
"You're... you were the dog..."
"Wolf," she corrected him, gently.
"Dog, wolf, what does it matter?!" he shouted at her, his voice rising with each word.
"It matters," she told him, quietly but in that way she had that told him to take heed.
His stomach went suddenly cold. "And... Rosa...?"
"Rosa is a werewolf, too. As you saw."
"But how...? Doesn't it need to be full moon, or something?"
"Clearly not," she replied dryly.
They talked for an hour, beyond the time Victor was supposed to have for lunch, so rang in to work, claiming that Rosa was ill. In the end, she persuaded him that they could make a life together, that they owed it to their daughter to try. And, against all the odds, they did.
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