It's getting late, he says.
Your basket looks so heavy, he says.
I have a car, he says. Yuki-chan.
(All the wolves are after you, Yukiko, Chie says. Don't stray from the path - but that last part she never says aloud.)
The streetlights bloom through the fog as they pull from the Junes parking lot. She picks them with her eyes, one by one.
Adachi-san, she says. Have you ever met a wolf?
The fog presses against the windows, thick as trees, thick as branches. You're a little old for fairytales, aren't you? His cheek twists with a smile. But red is your color.
Isn't it, he says. Yuki-chan.
She'd assumed wolves in autumn would smell of wet fur and muddy paws, like a dog. She's wrong. They smell of too-loose suits and packaged natto. They smell of late nights and old coffee and hanging wires sharp against the sky.
No, she says. No.
The car swerves and the wolf's snarl is lost in the crush and crinkle of Junes plastic bags. She stares at her lap. Her hands are trembling.
How about a guy like me, Yuki-chan? His teeth are white and sharp in the windshield's reflection. Am I a wolf?
What big eyes you have, she thinks. What big ears.
(She knows how that story ends.)
What big guns you have, she blurts instead, and he starts to laugh. The lights of the inn twinkle down the road.
The better to protect you with, he says, and his voice grows grim and strained. The better to catch him.
She's silent. The engine's howl dies to a hum.
Safely at Grandma's house, he says, and unlocks the door, helps her gather her basket, bags.
Thank you, she whispers.
Yukiko, he says. Be careful.
I hear there's wolves about.