"Joan Goes To The Moonlight Howl", Part One

This story takes place about three months after "Lucky's Story".

Lucky finished brushing Joan's tail with a pine cone she held in her mouth. She spat the cone out and stared at her mother in amazement as she said "Wow, Mom! I didn't know you could look so beautiful!"

Joan, still sitting, quickly turned and looked back sharply at Lucky over her shoulder, ears up, eyebrows raised. Then her gaze softened and her ears and eyebrows went down. "Thank you, dear. I'll take that as the compliment I know it was."

Joan actually did look beautiful, her light gray head-fur moving in unison with her gently swaying brownish-gray body as she got up and took a turn around the den, her head and tail high and proud. She tried to keep up the courage she needed to help her go through with going to the Howl.

Then she sat down heavily and sighed. "I haven't been to a Moonlight Howl since your father..." Her voice tapered off. She hung her head sadly, her emerald-green eyes dark with sorrow.

"Well, it's about time you went then, Mom." "Clumsy" said, looking directly at Joan, his brownish-green eyes serious, his ears up. "I know Dad wouldn't mind. He'd want you to be happy."

He hung his head down, narrowed his eyes and shook his head from side to side sadly, then said, head still down "Every Moonlight Howl since I can remember, you've gone to the ledge just outside this den, sat down and howled alone, crying most of the time. It's time you went to Howling Rock. With a howling partner. To be with your pack for the Howl in more than just spirit."

"I know, dear. It's just that..." Joan's voice trailed off again. Her head still hung sadly. Tears were starting to well up in her green eyes.

"Look, Mom!" Lucky grinned, her amber eyes bright, her ears laid back. "I didn't put all this work into making you look good, just to have you sit here and feel sorry for yourself. Go! Just go and have fun. You know that's what our Moonlight Howls are about. Fun."

She looked at her mom and cocked her head to the side, still grinning, and added "You know..." Her eyebrows raised and her eyes widened at the last word "'Fun'?".

Joan sniffled slightly, looked at Lucky, and laughed, "Ha-ha!" Her eyes were sparkling through her just-begun tears. She brought up a paw and wiped them away. "Yes, Lucky. I know what fun is. Just because I'm an Alpha doesn't mean I don't know how and when to have fun. You don't think I'm that uptight, do you?" She frowned and narrowed her eyes, suddenly serious again.

"Ummm..." Lucky sat and shrugged her shoulders, looking down at her paws, shifting her weight from paw to paw, slightly uncomfortable. "Well..."

"You know you can be honest with me, sweetheart... I guess you just have." Joan chuckled "Hmmm, hmmm. Look at me, all nervous, like a yearling. Well I'd better go. I can't keep John waiting much longer or some other she-wolf will be howling with him. The old rascal."

Joan needn't have worried. Just before she reached the entrance to the den to leave, who should strut up but John. He was all "spiffed-up" and looking good, and he knew it.

John was the eldest Alpha, at six years old. He was built strongly, with broad shoulders, narrow hips and a strong back. His fur was a brownish-tan color, with white from his chin to his belly. He had cream-colored markings, one above each of his blue eyes, just like eyebrows. His head-fur was a shade lighter than his coat, going down to his shoulders in the back. His grin could charm the hardest heart.

"Hey, hey, Joanie! You are lookin' hot tonight, girl!" John grinned, his ears laid back, tail wagging high, blue eyes dancing. Joan giggled like a yearling, with a smile to rival the brightness of the full Moon outside, her earlier sadness temporarily forgotten. They briefly touched noses in greeting, then he asked "You ready to go have some fun?"

"I have it on good authority that that's what our Moonlight Howls are about." Joan said, giving "Clumsy" and Lucky a smile and a wink. They each were giving her the "run along" sign - a flicking motion in the air with a front paw.

"Oh, by th' way, Joanie, I have somethin' fer ya." He sat and scratched, pulling a purple mountain daisy out of the thick fur on his neck with his right hind foot, transferring it to his mouth. "Here ya go," he said as he carefully placed it in the fur just under Joan's right ear. "Can't have ya bein' without a flower fer yer big night out."

Joan smiled shyly, slightly lowering her eyes, and said "Thank you, John. It's my favorite."

"Yeah, I know." John winked and grinned, "You're welcome."

Then they turned to leave, silently walking side by side, both looking at each other and smiling.

"Have a great time, you two!" Lucky smiled and called out as they left. "We'll see you there a little later on."

As soon as they had left the den, Joan saw the full Moon hanging huge and bright in the clear eastern sky in front of them, just above the surrounding mountains. "Oh!" she gasped, laying her ears back, "It's so beautiful tonight!" She stopped, and John stopped beside her. She stood and stared, taking a deep breath of the crisp early fall evening air. The sky was the color of late twilight, an ever-deepening shade of dark blue. The stars were just starting to come out in force. She fought the urge to throw her head back and just start howling right now.

"It sure is," John agreed, seemingly entranced by the scene himself. Then he looked at her, her gray fur shining in the moonlight, her emerald eyes sparkling. He laid his ears back, his gaze melting, looking at her as if seeing her for the first time. "But not as beautiful as you."

Joan suddenly turned to look at him sharply, ears up, green eyes wide with surprise. "Why, you old wolf!" Then she softened her gaze, and lowered her ears again. She looked down at her paws, slightly embarrassed. "Thank you, though."

"'Old'?" John puffed out his chest, acting hurt. "Psssshhhh! Who ya callin' 'old', little girl? Yer only as old as ya feel, ya know! And right now, with a pretty girl by m' side, I'm feelin' like a yearlin' again!" He gave a "play-bow" in front of her- front end low, back end high, ears back, tail high and wagging. He wore an ear-to-ear grin.

"Oh, you! Hmmmph!" Joan said, and stuck her nose into the air, ears back, pretending to be put-out by his flirtations. She carefully hid a small smile. She walked past him. As she did, she lightly brushed the tip of her light gray tail across his muzzle.

He jumped back up and trotted towards her, still grinning, tail wagging. "I'd follow you anywhere, now," he said wolfishly.

She looked back over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow. "Then follow me to Howling Rock," she said in a low voice. She started walking, her hips and tail swaying. He fell in line behind her.