“Hi, Dad.” Rhea smiled for about a second at her dad and slammed the front door. He glanced up, and then continued reading the paper. Just like always, he didn’t care if she was home or not.
“Rhea, will you please stop wearing that stupid shirt?”
Rhea scowled at him. He knew as well as she did that he could have said something when they bought it. She frowned at him and stormed to her room.
“I don’t want to hear about it.” She slammed and locked her door and stared into her mirror at her black shirt with a howling wolf. Her dad was angry because he made his money by selling chicken eggs and fresh vegetables to produce stores, and also shooting and skinning wolves and selling the pelts to fur companies. Rhea thought it was surely illegal but he insisted it wasn’t.
“Well, it should be,” Rhea had muttered. Rhea was the complete opposite of her dad. Most people thought they weren’t related because Rhea had short brown hair and hazel eyes, and her dad had black hair and dark brown eyes, but Rhea knew the main difference was in their personalities. Rhea was a vegetarian. Her dad liked steak. When wolves were skinned, she snuck out of the house to the Animal Society and played with the animals until she felt that everything was over. Her dad’s hunting was actually the reason her dad and mom had divorced. Her mom had walked out the door a year ago, after her dad had shot a young wolf for, Rhea thought, no reason at all. And now, more than ever, Rhea wished that her mom had taken her. Rhea was torn from her thoughts by an ear-shattering gunshot coming from outside.
“Not again!” she groaned in disgust. She decided to peek outside to see what her dad had killed this time, and fell backwards onto her bed when she saw the faint outline of a dead wolf lying on bloodstained grass in the forest behind their house. Her heart was pounding like a sledgehammer, and the only thing she could do was lie on her back in complete shock. So that’s exactly what she did for a long time.
Finally, her dad called her downstairs for dinner. She sighed, and slipped off her bed, her bare, sweaty feet sticking to the wood floor of her room. As she went down the old staircase, it creaked on every step. Her dad was eating chicken, and he muttered, “Your dinner is by the sink.”
Rhea pulled her ravioli from the counter and sat down as far away from her dad as possible. They sat that way very silently for a long time and finally Rhea asked her dad, “Can I volunteer at the Animal Society?” She already knew what the answer would be.
“Rhea, we’ve gone over this before. You’re too young to go anywhere without adult supervision . . .”
Rhea was suddenly tired of his excuses. “Dad, I’m twelve years old and it’s only three blocks away!”
She dropped her fork and ran into the backyard. For a long time she sat on the ground, staring at the newly turned soil. A tiny beetle was crawling across a pebble, trying to get to a leaf, but every time it tried, it just fell back again. The third time it tried, it was flipped onto its back. Rhea picked the flailing beetle up and set it on the leaf.
“I wish I were a beetle,” Rhea thought out loud. “Then my only goal would be to get to a leaf, instead of making my dad stop shooting.” Rhea smiled sadly. It seemed hopeless.
The next morning, her dad told her he was going to kill the wolves attacking the henhouses.
“Don’t get any ideas,” he said suspiciously. “I know you don’t like me shooting, but if wolves are killing our hens then you know I have to shoot them.” She smiled angelically, but deep down inside she didn’t agree one bit.
As soon as their old Toyota pickup was out of sight, she grabbed her bike and pedaled in the direction of the woods.
“He didn’t really think I would stay!” she reassured herself. She figured that if she went straight through the woods instead of around them, she could beat him to the chicken coops. By the time she arrived, her dad was already there. He was pointing his gun at a female wolf guarding her baby.
Her dad took aim, and she ran toward him, trying to stop him, trying to do anything, but even before she started running, she knew she was too late. The shot rang out, and Rhea prayed for the wolves to run away in time, but the poor, faithful mother wolf protected her baby until death. She howled in pain and her beautiful gray fur was soaked in blood.
Tears poured down Rhea’s cheeks as she saw the orphaned baby whimpering and nudging his mother’s lifeless body, wondering why she wasn’t moving. Rhea fell to her knees and sat there until her dad came over.
“Rhea, stand up this instant and come home with me.” Her dad sounded mad and she didn’t understand how he could just ignore the fact that the pup no longer had a mother. She dried her tears and was overcome with anger.
“I hate you!” she screamed. Rhea stood up and grabbed the pup in her jacket, bundling him up like she was wrapping a present, and ran as fast as she could to the Animal Society. When Rhea got to the front desk of the Society she quickly told them what had happened.
“I see.” The person at the front desk spoke soothingly. “Don’t worry, Rhea, we’ll take good care of your wolf.” Rhea nodded, gave the squirming bundle to the front desk, and started to walk out.
“Rhea, wait!” Rhea turned around. It was Joe, one of the volunteers. “You can visit this wolf anytime you want.”
She smiled. “Thank, Joe.” Rhea walked home thinking about the wolf the whole way.
As soon as she stepped in the door, her dad said angrily, “You know you shouldn’t run off like that. Do you know how dangerous it is to pick up a wild animal?”
No way was she going to answer that. “Dad, I have to visit the wolf tomorrow at the Animal Society.”
Her dad frowned. “You’re not going anywhere. You are grounded for a week. You know better than to do that. You could have been killed!”
“But Dad,” pleaded Rhea, “You don’t understand . . .”
He raised his eyebrows. “I don’t need to. Go to your room and stay there.” Rhea ran up the stairs and halfheartedly flipped the channels on her tiny TV. That week, Rhea could barely stand not leaving the house. So the next week, and the next, and the next, Rhea visited the wolf. And finally, after almost a year had passed, Joe informed Rhea that the wolf was ready to be released into the wild.
The next day, Rhea dragged her dad to watch, hoping it would change something in him. Before the wolf was released, Rhea talked Joe into making her dad pet some of the animals in the injured animals section and actually learn something about animals. A bit later, she told the wolf that he would be free soon, and noticed her dad and Joe talking about something in the rodent section. She wondered what they were talking about. Her dad looked solemn and Joe was obviously trying to convince him about something. By the way they occasionally glanced in her direction, she figured they were talking about her.
A few minutes later, Rhea and her dad walked to where the wolf was being set free. The cage creaked open and the nervous wolf stepped out and sniffed the fresh summer air. He kept looking back, as if he was expecting the cage to close any minute. In about ten seconds he realized that the cage wasn’t going to close, and bounded out to the freedom of the forest in the distance.
Rhea smiled through her tears and watched the joyful wolf until he faded out of sight. As she and her dad were walking home, she asked what he and Joe were talking about. Her dad grinned.
“I won’t tell you,” he said suspensefully.
“Come on!” Rhea pleaded.
“Well, OK,” he said. “Joe convinced me to let you volunteer there. He gave about a thousand examples of how responsible you were with animals, and how much you liked wolves. He also mentioned that you went over there and cried when I shot them.” Rhea’s cheeks burned.
“So are you going to stop shooting?” she asked hopefully.
He sighed. “Rhea, I can’t promise you anything, except that I’ll stop shooting wolves to sell the pelts. If a wolf puts us in danger, I’ll have to do something about it. Do you understand?”
Rhea nodded and hugged her dad happily. She felt like a huge weight had just been lifted off her. And that night, as she was drifting off to sleep, she thought she heard a wolf’s howl of freedom.