Chasing Comet Tails
Animal Rescue Shifters
A short story from the world of Animal Rescue Shifters.
The meadow had seemed a lot closer when they’d walked to it that afternoon, and, Pearl thought, readjusting the tote bag on her shoulder, the path a lot clearer. Right now, close to eleven in the evening, the walk felt longer than it should have. Even with the help of her red flashlight, the path twisted and turned more than she remembered.
I better not be lost, she thought, carefully stepping over a root running across the trail. Cass would laugh himself sick.
At least having a wolf shifter boyfriend took most of the worry out of wandering a national park at night. She’d never be lost for too long if Cassidy was around, and even that quick thought made her smile in the darkness. Sometimes she wondered how long it would take before the new-relationship giddiness died down, but seven months in, it showed no sign of fading yet. Some part of her, the part that had looked at him in the middle of a Colorado deluge and known right away that he was hers, thought that it never would.
He really is the most–
She yelped, the sound echoing off the trees when something cold and wet pressed against her bare elbow. She spun around too fast, might have fallen, but then there was a furry wall pressed against her side, steadying her on her feet and nuzzling happily at her hip.
“You brat, you scared me!” she exclaimed, but she was unable to keep the laugh out of her voice.
In his shifted form, Cassidy was an enormous timber wolf, his back almost level with her waist. She saw a brief flash of his green eyes, a quick wolfy grin, and then he stood up in front of her in his human shape, tall and lean with broad shoulders that still made her sigh.
“Sorry,” he said. “Do I still get a kiss?”
He leaned in to drop a light kiss on her lips, and then to Pearl’s pleasure and utter lack of surprise, it turned into a deeper one. She couldn’t get enough of the taste of him, how soft his mouth was and how sharp his teeth were. She whimpered as his hands came up to cup her face, holding her steady as the kiss went on.
“Oh, baby, what you do to me,” he murmured reverently.
Pearl knew exactly what she did to Cassidy, and that was why she pushed him back with a hand to the center of his chest.
“Come on, cowboy. Save it for later.”
Cassidy sighed, but he took the tote bag from her, throwing it over his own shoulder.
“I’m holding you to later,” he said, and she giggled, taking his hand.
“Counting on it.”
They were closer to the meadow than she had thought. Just a few minutes later, they broke from the trees to the wide expanse of grass. There was a mown spot set aside for hikers, and Cassidy took the blanket from the tote bag, spreading it out on the ground before looking in the bag again.
“You brought snacks,” he said with pleasure, pulling out the small stack of plastic containers.
“Of course I did. And drinks. There’s water for both of us and Gatorade for you. I thought you could use the electrolytes after your day.”
She settled on the blanket as he set out the food, shutting off the flashlight. Out from the trees, the half-moon gave her plenty of light to see. Now she could make out Cassidy’s shape clearly as he came to sit beside her, taking a grateful gulp from the Gatorade bottle.
“Thank you. I had to go all the way up to Whitecap Ridge before I spotted the pack.”
“Everything look good?”
“Yeah, looks like all the cubs survived, and they’re getting real big. Cute as hell, too, and everyone seems healthy.”
Their friend Teagan, who freelanced for a variety of conservation groups, had asked them to check in on the local pack on their way east, released into the wild just two years ago. Cassidy and Pearl had been more than pleased to pause their journey and help out, especially when it would take them to some beautifully clear skies.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Pearl murmured, stacking some sausage and cheese on a cracker and handing it to Cassidy. He popped the entire thing in his mouth before making one for her, but instead of handing it to her, he held it up to her mouth instead. Laughing, she ate it in neat nibbles, finishing with a saucy little lick to his fingers.
“Is it later yet?” he asked, and even in the darkness, she could feel his eyes on her, hot and sweet like summer.
She wanted very much for it to be later, but instead she checked her phone.
“Nope, not unless we’re okay missing it.”
“And we’re not?”
“Not after I hauled a picnic out.”
They ate their fill of the food she’d brought, and then they lay back on the blanket, her head on his shoulder, their hands clasped lightly over his chest. It was how they slept together every night, and Pearl could feel her eyelids drifting closed in pleasure and content.
“Hey, no sleeping,” Cassidy whispered, shaking her hand a little. “Just a little longer, right?”
“Right,” she said, turning so she could look up at the sky.
They’d done plenty of stargazing on their trip out east, and even for a Colorado girl raised to the splendor of the mountain skies, she never got tired of it. Out in the wilderness, the sky revealed itself to be a vast expanse of deep blues, the Milky Way a sparkling path cutting across the velvet darkness. The light from thousands upon thousands of years ago shone down on them, and it never failed to make Pearl’s chest hitch at the wonder of it.
“Well,” she said very softly. “Here we are.”
A soft kiss to her cheek.
“Nowhere I’d rather be.”
They watched the night sky as time slipped around them. Pearl spotted a shooting star, a bright fast burn through the atmosphere, and then Cassidy did as well. Mostly though, they were silent, listening to the forest around them, the light rattle of the wind through the grass.
I could do this forever, Pearl thought, even though she knew it wasn’t true. They had friends to meet on their trip, a life to get back to in Colorado. Right now, though, in this little piece of forever, she was completely content, love as wide as the sky, happiness too big for her chest.
“Hon, are you crying?” asked Cassidy, concerned, and she smiled, wiping her eyes.
“Little bit. It’s a good thing.”
He nuzzled her gently, but then she gasped sitting up and pointing.
There was a streak in the sky that hadn’t been there before, its tail fainter than the shooting stars they’d seen previously. Unlike the shooting stars, however, it didn’t disappear. Instead, it continued steadily, east to west, the bright head a steady gleam, the tail long and soft.
“Oh wow,” Cassidy murmured. “That’s our guy?”
“That’s it. There are binoculars in the bag. Let’s take a closer look.”
SH-1039 wasn’t a terribly impressive comet as these things went. It wasn’t as famous as Halley’s Comet or the Hale-Bopp, certainly not as bright as some of the long-period comets that had lit up the sky in the previous centuries. Instead, it was small and dull, outclassed by the mad diamond scatter of the stars around it. Still it was beautiful for what it was as well as how it looked, and Pearl swallowed down a lump in her throat.
“The last time it was around, the pyramids were being built,” Pearl whispered, staring up through the binoculars. After a moment, she handed them to Cassidy, who whistled softly as he gazed up at the celestial wanderer.
“How long before our pal next comes through?”
“6500 years or so, give or take.”
“Give or take,” Cassidy echoed, setting the binoculars aside to take her in his arms. “Well, what do you say to coming back here and catching him again? Might be nice to make a habit of it.”
“It’s a date,” she said, and she leaned into a perfect, starlit kiss.