Monday, September 3, 2012
Laurie came from a large, close-knit family, so backyard holiday gatherings were nothing new to her. A Labor Day barbecue with a wolf pack, that was new, for both her and Digger’s kin. The wolves kept looking askance at Digger’s other guests.
“Dog,” his fellow delta-ranker, Stefan, said in a mutter that nevertheless carried the length of Digger’s yard, “those are bunnies.”
“So, are they appetizers or what?”
“That’s Lorelei and her buck and some of their friends. They’re cleaning out the garden for me. The growing season’s pretty much over.”
“Yeah,” Stefan said uncomfortably, “about that. The garden, okay. It’s a rabbit trap. That’s good. The flowers, I dunno, I guess if you say they’re for your she. It’s okay if you want to date a human—scat, who hasn’t?—but palling around with bunny shifters? I don’t know about that.”
“It’s not your house, or your yard, or your life. You don’t have to know about it.”
“I get that, dog. But word’s getting back to Boone.”
“Boone’s not here,” Digger said. “You want a wiener or a burger?”
He opted for the burger. No matter how they felt about the bunnies, Laurie noticed the wolves had no trouble helping themselves to Digger’s grilled venison burgers and home-made sausage. They also raved about the taste, the result of additions from Digger’s veggie and herb gardens. Laurie herself quickly adjusted to the lack of alcoholic beverages. The wolves drank beef broth and blood-based drinks. The bunnies had brought kegs of carrot juice and V-8, which they shared with Laurie. Digger even let them use the grill for their veggies. “Just don’t blame me for any meat aftertaste,” he warned them.
When Laurie first came to Talbot’s Peak, in the wake of her sister’s marriage to a grizzly shifter, she’d wondered how a human could fit in when the carnies and the herbies barely got on with each other. The bunnies here mostly kept to themselves (and the garden), but none of the wolves had tried to eat them, and a couple of brief but non-aggressive conversations had already taken place. It gave her hope for the future, in particular a future with Digger.
Until the alpha showed up.
No one had to point him out. His swagger announced his rank. The other wolves’ reaction served as Laurie’s head’s-up. Every wolf went still, like a game of Statues, then sidled away from Digger. The bunnies retreated to the veggie garden and formed a line around it.
The alpha had two betas with him, big, burly wolves who flanked him and glared the pack into submission on their leader’s behalf. None of Digger’s guests stepped up to provide similar support, so Laurie moved to Digger’s side and pointedly took his arm. The alpha flicked a glance her way, then proceeded to ignore her.
“So this is where everybody got to,” the alpha said. “What’s up, Digger? Backyard barbecue? I don’t recall getting an invitation.”
“That’s because I didn’t send you one. This is a private party, Boone. No alphas.”
“There’s no such thing as private in a pack. You know that, Digger.” He swept his glare around the yard, at the huddled bunnies in particular. “So the rumors are true. Or are they on the buffet?”
“They’re guests, Boone. You’re not. If you’re here to see throat, you’re scat out of luck. That’s only at the lodge and for pack meetings. This is my party, my yard, my guests, my turf. It’s only half an acre, but it’s mine. I’m the alpha here.” He took a step toward Boone, and Laurie went with him. “Say your good-byes and be on your way.”
Boone shook his head. “This is what we get for letting the pack spread out. The low-ranks start getting delusions. We should have stuck to communes. Those were the days. Let me refresh your memory. I’m alpha of the pack. I own you dogs. If I want to drop in unannounced for a burger, you’ll serve it up with a smile. Unless you think you can challenge me?”
The alpha looked around, then down. Lorelei’s buck, Bobby, was big for a rabbit shifter, but still only came up to Boone’s collarbone. “On behalf of our host, and since wolves can’t even scratch fleas without orders, I’d like to invite you to go hump yourself.”
Boone sneered. “So this is the new pack you’d rather run with, instead of your own alpha. You’re a bunny, aren’t you, shorty?”
“Yep,” Bobby said. “Y’know why bunnies have big feet?”
He demonstrated without waiting for a guess. Along with big feet, Bobby had excellent aim. Laurie, herself a mistress of the time-honored knee maneuver, winced at the impact. Boone howled and hit the ground.
The betas stared nonplussed at their writhing alpha, then looked up to find themselves ringed by rabbits. The does had moved to the forefront. They flexed their long, lacquered nails. The betas swallowed hard and took a long step backward in tandem.
Digger nodded to Bobby. “Thanks.”
“Forget it. We owe you for the free salad bar. That, and you’re the only wolf in Talbot’s Peak who isn’t a dick. You like to dig. We relate.”
“Uh-huh, right. Just please don’t say those things in front of the pack again, okay? Dogs,” Digger said to the betas. “Let me get you something for the road.”
The betas left, carrying their groaning alpha and a chinette platter with three burgers and two sausages in buns. “Happy Labor Day,” Digger called after them.
With the alpha’s departure, the festive mood quickly returned to Digger’s yard. The wolves seemed a lot more at ease with the bunnies now, Laurie noticed. Maybe it was spurred by self-preservation, but hey, whatever worked.
“And now,” Digger announced, “it’s time for the traditional Labor Day touch football game. We’ll be moving the party over to the high school athletic field, where we’re going to trounce your puffy little tails.”
“In your dreams. Rabbits invented broken-field running.”
“And wolves invented teamwork. Losers clean up the yard.”
Lorelei sashayed over to Laurie and offered her a cup of juice. “Wolf or bunny,” the doe remarked, “men are always men.”
“Amen to that,” Laurie said. They clinked their plastic cups together, grinning.