April 2021—Present Day
“I can’t do SoHo this weekend. I have that networking event on Saturday, and on Sunday, I have a thing with Glenn.” I balanced my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder as I reached into my desk drawer for my purse.
“I know you do, but remind me, why can’t you skip the networking event?”
“Christie, you know I can’t skip it. Ken expects me to be there.” I clicked around on my computer, closing out programs and saving documents.
“Ken just wants to sleep with you, though!” Christie exclaimed.
I rolled my eyes and shut down my computer. “Regardless of his creepy ulterior motives, he’s my boss, and he expects me to be there.”
“I still think you should fuck him just to get him to leave you alone. Do a horrible job in bed and wail way too loud like the pornstars do.”
“Right. I’ll let you know how that goes.” I stood up from my desk chair, switched my phone to my other ear, and left my office, purse on my shoulder. I tried to suppress the shiver of disgust that jolted through me at the thought of having sex with Ken.
“Do you want to come by for dinner tonight?” Christie asked, finally changing the subject. “Nathan is working third shift, so he’s asleep right now. He’ll be leaving for the hospital at 10-ish.”
“Sure,” I agreed, as I made my way past a ghost town of cubicles that had all been abandoned for the night, towards the elevator. “Let me stop at home and change out of these stupid heels.”
“You got it. See you around 6?”
“See you then.”
Click. I slipped my phone into my pocket as the elevator doors opened up. I didn’t usually leave work this late, but I had a closed a big deal, and I had lots of paperwork to do. That day, two of my employees had left early. One had a dentist appointment. Told me he’d been putting off getting this cavity filled for months. Now it was starting to cause significant discomfort, and he knew he couldn’t wait any longer to deal with it. The other employee left just after lunchtime to pick up her sick kid from school. She apologized profusely for having to leave, and told me with a frown that her son just couldn’t seem to shake this cold. She was clearly flustered. She was a single mom who was trying her damndest to make ends meet, but New York City didn’t care who you were or what you were trying to do.
Between being down two bodies for the majority of the day, and the mountains of paperwork that absolutely had to be done, I was just grateful I was able to leave at all.
I exited the elevator and walked through an empty lobby. Our receptionist, Leah, was probably long-gone. I pushed open the glass front doors and couldn’t help but smile as I stepped out into the streets of Manhattan. I’d been here for almost two years, and I still loved the city just as much as I did the very first time I visited.
The sun was still high above the skyline, but the late-afternoon breeze was a little chilly. Springtime in the city was gorgeous and the weather was, too. Not too hot during the day, not freezing at night. There was a cluster of trees planted along the side of the road, including a Schubert cherry tree that was beginning to bloom. People were dressed in light jackets and rain boots, which was a stark contrast to the big, faux fur-lined puffer jackets, scarves, and gloves from just a couple of months ago.
I walked home from work every day. I didn’t mind the walk, even if it was usually in high-heels. I hated high-heels. However, I liked people-watching. I didn’t think it mattered how I traveled to and from work—I could people-watch from anywhere. On the subway, in an Uber, from the window in the living room in my apartment…it didn’t matter, but I liked the walk, too. I ambled along, just like I did every morning and evening, politely returning smiles at passerby, my shoes clicking on the pavement with each step.
I had spent about a year in Augusta, and then the job that I held there took me on a business trip to New York City, where I fell head-over-heels in love. In Augusta, I rented a cozy little ranch-style single-family home. It had a detached garage and a pretty deck and a big yard. I broke my lease without hesitation, packed up, and moved into an apartment in Manhattan. I lucked out and found an absurdly gorgeous brownstone on a picturesque tree-lined street. My unit was on the top floor. It was more expensive than my ranch-style in Augusta, but I didn’t mind.
Back in Maine, I forged a bachelor’s degree in advertising, threw together a studded résumé, and got a job managing a small advertising firm. I took my studded résumé and amped it up even more, for the likes of New York advertising firms. I found a new job within a week of moving, and I was still gainfully employed at that same firm.
The walk to and from work took me 50 minutes, give or take. I thoroughly, genuinely enjoyed it each time. I marveled at tall buildings, reveled in various smells that drifted out of bakeries and restaurants, and gaped at pretty dresses displayed in boutique windows. I smiled at children who whizzed past me on their scooters while their mothers trailed behind them. Seeing couples and families didn’t hurt me anymore.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and answered the call without so much as a passing glance at the screen. I already knew it was Kate.
“Hey, Nat!” She sounded chipper.
“How are you feeling?”
“Feeling great! Had that appointment with the pack doctor this morning. Little baby pup is looking healthy!”
“I’m so glad to hear that. Send me ultrasound pictures?”
“Of course. Jesse and I are on our way out to Augusta right now. Baby shopping.”
“As usual,” she repeated. I could hear a smile in her voice.
Kate and I talked for the duration of my walk home. By then, she was nearing some baby boutique, and she said she wanted to hit up Target, too. She reportedly loved the attention that her swollen belly brought her every time she set foot outside her house. Everybody loved babies, regardless of their species. Kate had always been a wallflower, but pregnancy seemed to bring out a confident, extroverted side of her I didn’t know existed. I was happy for her. She was due in mid-August, and she was going to be an excellent mother.
While seeing couples and families out and about didn’t hurt, Kate’s pregnancy announcement did sting a little. I’d never show it, though. I genuinely was happy for her, but I was secretly jealous, too.
I’d had several boyfriends. I always made sure to break it off if I thought things were getting too serious. I was content with the idea of dying alone. I was comfortable, and I didn’t mind that I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever return to my home in Maine, but if I did, I would still rather be alone forever than take a chosen Mate. I could still vividly remember the pull of the fated Mate-bond, and I wasn’t interested in anything less. Still, after all these years. My Wolf agreed.
Now, as I turned the corner and approached my brownstone, I thought of Glenn, my current boyfriend. He and I had been an item only for about two months. We both acknowledged that we were together, but it seemed rather noncommittal. I liked it this way. We went out for dinner and drinks, we had sex, and we sometimes spent our weekends together. Although it was still early in the relationship, he didn’t seem interested in anything serious. Neither was I. Someday, at some point in the future, I would leave Glenn, just like I left everyone else, because humans at our age don’t just date to date. Humans date to marry. I date in an attempt to satiate my sexual needs with ease.
I ascended the stairs to my front door and let myself in. I hung my keys on the hook over the entryway table, set my purse down, and kicked off my shoes. As I walked down the hall, past the living room and the tiny half-bathroom and the laundry room, towards the kitchen, I took my chestnut brown hair down. I shook out my curls with both hands, and made a beeline for the refrigerator. I rummaged around for a moment, found some leftover Chinese food, opened the Styrofoam container, and sniffed it.
I stood at the counter next to the fridge and ate my leftovers cold. My eyes wandered to the display on the microwave—it was 5:43. I needed to get to Christie’s. I scarfed down the rest of my lo mein, tossed the container, and hurried to my bedroom to change my clothes.
By the time I knocked on Christie’s front door, it was 5:58. I was nothing if not prompt. Albeit, she lived in the unit just below mine, so the trip between our residences was not terribly long.
I waited for only a few seconds before the door swung open, and there stood Christie, smiling broadly with a bottle of wine in her right hand.
Christie worked as a middle school science teacher. She taught seventh grade. Her husband, Nathan, was an ER doctor. They had plants hanging from the ceiling in their living room. They used to have a cat who answered to Senator, but he passed about six months ago. They were from Ithaca, and they had come to the city for Nathan’s job.
Christie and Nathan worked opposite schedules. Even when they didn’t, Nathan’s position was demanding and unpredictable and he was frequently on-call. Christie got lonely, especially after Senator died. The very first time she invited me over for dinner, she pulled a bottle of merlot out of the fridge while I leaned against the kitchen counter. She waggled her eyebrows at me and gave me a goofy smile as she cradled the bottle in her hands.
We ate dinner in front of the TV, and together, we drank the whole bottle of merlot, and half of a second one. It would take a whole lot of alcohol to affect me, but I acted tipsy as to not set Christie off. In retrospect, I doubt she’d have noticed. She was a weepy, drunk-off-her-ass mess by the end of the night. She poured her soul out to me and cried to me about every problem she’d ever had.
I didn’t mind. I helped her get into bed and cleaned up the kitchen before I left to go back to my own unit.
This became a weekly thing. Not the excessive drinking, but the dinners. At first, it was only once or twice a week, but soon it became three or four times a week, consistently. We’d spend our weekends wandering around the city or laying out on the beach at Coney Island. Nathan tagged along when he could.
I was very attached to Christie. So was my Wolf. She was one of the only humans I allowed myself to get close to, when I wanted nothing from her but her friendship.
I watched as she plated our dinner: pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans, and buttermilk biscuits. She made sure to clarify that they were Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits, because what does she look like? A goddamn pastry chef?
She wasn’t a great cook, but she did enjoy cooking.
“More?” she asked, eyeing me, the serving spoon poised above the bowl of mashed potatoes. She held my plate in her other hand. She knew very well that I had an unnaturally large appetite.
I shook my head. “That’s a good start, thanks. I’ll serve myself seconds.”
Christie snorted. She passed me my plate and we both dug in right away, standing at the island in the kitchen.
“So,” she paused to swallow a mouthful of green beans, “how was Kate’s appointment today?”
I smiled. “She said it went really well. Baby’s doing great.”
“Did she send you ultrasound pictures?”
Without a word, I picked up my phone from the counter and pulled up the text message thread between me and Kate. She had sent me ultrasound photos and a few cheesy photos of her and Jesse grinning and posing in front of baby’s crib in their nursery, both of them with their hands on her belly. I gave my phone to Christie and she squealed with pure delight as she swiped through the photos.
Christie didn’t know what I was. She didn’t know where I really came from, either—I gave her limited information about my past. She thought I was from Augusta, and she knew I had a brother, and that was about the extent of it. But I had, of course, told her about Kate, and they had spoken countless times via video chat. They asked about each other a lot. Sometimes it hurt my heart knowing they’d never meet in-person.
She gave my phone back to me with a heavy, dramatic sigh and said, “I’m so excited for her. She looks awesome. Fucking radiant.”
“I agree,” I said with another smile.
“How’s she feeling?”
“Says she’s feeling good. She sounded good. She and Jesse were on their way to do some shopping when I talked to her.”
“Did she make a baby registry like I asked her to?”
“Yeah, she sent me the link over email. I’ll forward it to you later if you remind me.”
“I’ll definitely remind you. I’ve got to send that baby some love from Auntie Christie.”
I laughed, and then we ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes. I looked around her kitchen fondly. She had put so much love and effort into this place, and I didn’t understand why—it was, in fact, a rental. Christie said that she wanted to make it feel like “home”. She had removable plywood covers cut to fit over her countertops, and she’d used peel-and-stick tile to add a backsplash. She’d taken the time to swap out the ugly, standard, rental light fixtures with chic brass ones. She’d gotten our landlord’s permission to paint her cabinets teal, so long as she promised to repaint them white when she and Nathan moved out.
I hadn’t even framed a single photo in my own apartment. Hadn’t mounted a single shelf. Compared to Christie, I was hopeless when it came to interior design, but I didn’t mind. My home was functional. She tried numerous times over the years to try to convince me to let her redo just one room, and she swore that then I’d “catch the design bug”. I just couldn’t be bothered.
Christie and I finished eating dinner while gossiping about our coworkers and about my love life. She pulled a strawberry cheesecake out of the fridge for dessert, and I lit up. Cheesecake was my favorite. We watched an episode of Bridgerton. Eventually, Nathan emerged from their bedroom, wolfed down his dinner, and left in a hurry to get to his shift at the hospital. I left for home at a little after 10pm.
I emailed Christie the link to Kate’s baby registry without even being reminded, and then I took a shower and went to bed, content, with a full belly, and not a care in the world.