It was early morning, and Bear was resisting the need to get up, luxuriating in that hazy land between sleeping and waking. Then he heard feet on the floor, moving fast. He lifted his head just as the front door banged open. He lumbered up, walked curiously towards the open door, and peered out, still slightly enmeshed in sleep.
And saw Girl, wearing only her nightgown, running barefoot off into the meadow.
He furrowed his brow but then walked down the steps and started trotting behind. He decided he wouldn’t try to catch up to her, wondering, instead, what was going on.
After running almost to the edge of the forest, Girl slowed, then stopped, then slumped down onto the ground, her head in her hands.
Bear slowed to a walk and cautiously moved towards her while glancing around to make sure there were no dangers lurking.
“Girl?” he called softly.
She jerked upright and turned so her back was facing him. “Go away!”
He slowed once he was within 10 feet of her, and sat, facing her. “What’s wrong, Girl?”
She turned abruptly to face him and shouted, “I said go away!”
Bear sat, puzzled, but there was no way he was going to leave her here, at the edge of the forest. There were animals around, dangerous ones that were almost always hungry, like wolverine. And there was a wolf pack that even he didn’t want to tangle with. Fortunately, they didn’t see him as game – only as a potential rival for food and left him alone – as long as he left them alone.
But they would have no such hesitation with a human, especially one on her own – and without a rifle.
Meanwhile, he heard her sobbing, and it broke his heart. Finally, when he could take it no more, he got up and walked very slowly towards her, until he was standing over her shoulder. “Girl? Come back to the cabin. It’s cold out here – and it’s dangerous for you on your own.”
She stopped sobbing, but sat, silently. She said something so quietly that Bear couldn’t make it out. “I’m sorry?”
She whipped around, her face screwed up and red from crying, “I said ‘You should have left me by the side of the road!’” then slumped over and started crying again.
“Girl – what’s wrong? Please tell me. And no, there is no way I would ever dream of leaving you by the side of the road – even if I hadn’t known you were as lovely as you are.”
She jumped up, her face level with his, and said, “Leave me alone!” She turned and looked as if she was about to dash into the forest, so Bear stood, grabbed her, and held her tight. “No, Girl – don’t run off like that. It’s not safe.”
She started pounding him on the chest and shouting incoherently. He clutched her to keep her from running off into the forest but did nothing to try to stop her from hitting him.
Gradually, she ran down, and collapsed, sobbing into his chest. He held her for a time, then stooped and lifted her, carrying her weeping form back to the cabin.
When he got back to the cabin, he kicked the door shut with his hind foot, gently laid her on the sofa in the great room, then sat facing her. After a while, her sobbing stopped, and she lay still, her hand over her face, blocking him from seeing her eyes.
Finally, she dropped her hand and looked at him. “Why, Bear?”
He shifted slightly. “Why what, Girl?”
“Why did you pick me up from the side of the road? Why didn’t you leave me there? It’s clear you don’t have a very good opinion of humans – so, why?”
Bear looked at her and tried to collect his thoughts. “Well…if I saw a chipmunk or a bird, or even wolverine lying by the side of the road, hurt, I would pick them up and try to help them. It’s common decency.
“But I couldn’t just administer first aid and then leave you out in the cold. Humans can’t survive that way here. I had to bring you to the cabin, or else you would have died as certainly as if I had left you where I found you.”
He paused and looked away. “And then…then I found that…you filled a need. That you were smart, and funny, and…someone I could talk to. I wanted that. I needed that.”
Bear grinned, “You grew on me…kind of like athlete’s foot.”
Girl’s eyes, which until now had been clouded and troubled, went wide. She sat up on her elbow, “Athlete’s foot!” She grabbed one of the throw pillows and swatted him on the head.
“Ouch!” Bear said – although truthfully it hadn’t hurt. He ducked his head to avoid another blow, then knocked the pillow away, sending it skidding across the floor.
Girl sat up and threw herself at Bear, and lifted her palm as if to hit him…then stopped, and started sobbing into his fur.
He stroked her hair and patted her back until she ran down again. He pushed her gently back onto the sofa and sat back. She looked at him through eyes filmed with tears, her mouth pulled down into a heart-breaking scowl of pain.
He sat, looking at her, hoping she would say something – but she remained silent. Finally, he said, “What happened, Girl? Did you have a nightmare?”
She looked away from him. “My whole life has been a nightmare, and I’m the only common denominator. I’m a horrible person – worthless, and awful, and stupid, and ugly, and….it’s all my fault.”
Bear rocked back, unsure what to say. He knew little of the details of his friend’s former life, just enough to know she had been beaten, abused, and very badly treated.
Not knowing what to say, after a while, Bear leaned forward, and laid his head in her lap, soulful eyes looking up at her. “Wanna pet a snuggly animal?” he asked, then wiggled his eyebrows up and down.
She looked at him, nonplussed, then burst out laughing. “Oh, Bear! I can never stay mad at you!” She whapped him on the head again with another pillow.
“I know…because I’m so cute and adorable.”
“No! Because you’re so infuriating that you’re funny! It’s not fair!”
“Infuriating? Moi?” He lifted his head up and shook it, “Not possible. I’m the cutest, more adorable polar bear within miles! How can I be infuriating? Uhn-huh.”
Girl smiled, wiping her eyes, “Bear, you’re the only polar bear within miles.”
“See? I was right about that, too!”
Girl stopped and looked at him. “Oh, Bear…” and she fell forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. “You’re impossible!”
Bear smirked, and said in a slightly strangled voice, “I work at it.”