"Mom, I'm going outside to brush Bandit," a twelve year old Chloe Beale called out as she grabbed her coat off the rack and put it on. Her mother stepped into view from the kitchen and tipped her head at her, a gentle smile on her face.
"Okay sweetie but don't be too long, it's getting dark out there," Claire Beale reasoned as she slung a tea towel over her shoulder. The little redhead nodded and went outside, making her way straight for the paddock where Bandit, her horse, was standing by the fence grazing.
"Hey Bandit," she beamed as she moved closer to the fence, stepping up onto the little bench her father had placed their specifically for her. Bandit trotted over and came to a stop just where she stood, standing obediently as Chloe stretched her arms out as far as they would go to groom his mane.
Growing up on a ranch had been heaven for Chloe. She loved the wilderness and the freedom of wide open spaces. They owned so much land and the forest behind them made for great hiking ground. Even though the ranch was only twenty minutes from the nearest town and Chloe's closest friends, still she preferred the peacefulness of the secluded country side.
While her friends Aubrey, Stacie, Jess and Ashley had all leaned into the preteen longing for trips to the mall and gossiping about boys, Chloe remained true to her country girl roots. She didn't care for boys, or spending hours browsing through shops at clothes they couldn't afford with their allowance.
She preferred going horseback riding and taking care of the other horses on the ranch with her dad. From a young age, she would follow him around, "helping" as her mother would say. While her two older brothers and older sister were forced to do ranch chores for an allowance, Chloe actually enjoyed it.
She was her fathers daughter, she loved the work and she loved the feeling of having accomplished something at the end of the day. As soon as she was old enough, Jack Beale taught her how to ride and from that day on, Chloe was her dad's second in command, the apple of his eye and the one her siblings were well aware, he clearly favoured. Though they didn't mind so much, they doted on their baby sister just as much so they could understand the attachment.
Chloe Beale was as sweet as they come. Gentle and kind, she would always do what was asked of her and never caused any trouble. She had a bubbly personality that made her instantly charming to people she met and she exuded warmth and compassion for everyone and everything.
Yes Chloe Beale was a ray of light, impossible to miss by anyone who encountered her, even those watching from a distance…
As Chloe finished grooming Bandit she stepped down from the bench and hung the brush up on the hook next to her. At that moment, Bandit began to flare his nostrils and stamp his hoof into the ground in warning. Confused, Chloe turned around just in time to find a wild coyote staring her down and creeping closer and closer.
Chloe made to take a step back but tripped over the bench, landing with a thud on the ground. The coyote flashed his canines and continued to move in, at that point Chloe screamed.
"What was that?" Claire asked as she bolted up from the living room couch. Jack Beale instantly dashed for the closet under the stairs and pulled out his rifle, loading it up with two rounds, his eldest son Ben following behind. They raced out onto the porch and when Jack saw the problem, he saw red.
Claire and her daughter Libby trailed behind, their focus caught between Jack and Chloe. Jack pointed his rifle and looked for the shot but couldn't find it. The coyote had Chloe pinned. No matter what way he took the shot he couldn't guarantee that his daughter wouldn't also take a hit.
"Dammit," he growled, "I can't get the shot away."
Ben stepped up beside his father and gestured to an area to the side of where Chloe and the coyote were currently positioned.
"What if I create a distraction and lure him away? That'll give you a better shot," Ben said and his father shook his head.
"Too risky. If he sees you move he might get antsy and attack." Jack kept his rifle trained on the animal, trying to figure out what to do and knowing that time was of the essence. His little girl needed him.
Just then, a flash of brown fur tackled the coyote and sent it flying across the yard. Chloe sat there stunned into silence, watching as a small brown dog? wolf? came to stand in between her and the coyote.
Jack lifted his head at the action and watched the two wild animals face off. He noticed when the coyote went to move forward that the wolf took a step back towards his daughter, not out of fear but out of what he thought looked like protectiveness.
Before they knew what was happening, the coyote lunged and the wolf leaped up, catching the neck of its enemy between its sharp teeth and pushing him back away from Chloe and out into the open. At the last second the wolf stepped back and Jack took his shot. The coyote falling dead on the ground.
Chloe sat trembling, not quite believing what she had just seen. The little wolf had saved her, literally saved her. Her family watched from the porch, Jack and Claire slowly making their way down the steps towards their daughter.
The wolf, seeing Jack approaching with his rifle still raised, lowered its head in submission and then proceeded to lay down on the ground to show they were of no threat. No one could believe what they were seeing.
The wild animal was acting like a, domesticated pet? It didn't make sense. Chloe slowly stood up and brushed herself off, keeping her eyes trained on the wolf. She hesitantly took a step forward and flinched when her fathers voice suddenly broke the silence.
"Chloe, stop, it's a wild animal," he whispered harshly. Chloe looked at her father briefly, then turned and looked the wolf in the eyes. She wasn't sure why but she could feel something inside of her telling her that it was okay.
With a few more hesitant steps, she reached out close enough that her hand was hovering in the air just near the wolf's nose. Jack Beale tightened his grip on his rifle, waiting for any sign that something was wrong and Claire watched on with baited breath.
The wolf seemed to hesitate, the sight of the gun an all too real warning that one wrong move and they were toast. But it also wanted to make contact. Slowly, it began to sniff around at the hand that was hovering close to its face. It carefully inched it's head higher and higher until it's snout was touching the palm of Chloe's hand.
Chloe huffed out a small chuckle, as she felt the wolf rub its face against her palm by way of greeting. Feeling a little braver, the redhead began to pet the wolf, softly caressing it's snout and scratching behind its ears.
She was mesmerised by its shiny coat, the moonlight making it glimmer in the night air. But most striking, was the pair of navy blue eyes that gazed at her as if they could see deep down into her soul.
Claire watched in disbelief as the wolf slowly sat up, making sure that all contact was initiated by Chloe. The redhead continued to giggle when the wolf began to rub its head into her side.
"Mom look, she likes it," Chloe beamed, and Claire shot her a look.
"Her, how do you know it's a her?" Claire asked, her weary eyes remaining on the wolf. Chloe scoffed and gestured downwards with her hand at the wolf.
"I think it's pretty obvious," Chloe remarked, her gentle scratching now becoming more playful as both hands began to rub at the wolf's fur.
Jack Beale watched the wolf and noticed the way she leaned into Chloe. The wolf gave no signs of being a threat and it seemed to understand the importance of submitting to humans so no harm would come of her.
"She's so small for a wolf. Do you think she's a pup?" Chloe asked, turning her gaze to her father who finally took his eyes off the wolf to look at his daughter.
"Could be. Be careful Chloe wolves are wild animals," he said as he returned his attention to the wolf. He lowered his gun to his side and snapped his fingers, gesturing to his feet.
"Come," he called out, and the wolf seemed to bristle at his harsh tone. Chloe continued to gently stroke its fur and whispered that it was okay. Slowly, the wolf got up on all fours and carefully made her way over to Jack. When she was close enough, she came to a stop, her head hanging low, ears flat.
"She's scared," Chloe pointed out, noticing the wolf seemed to be trembling, a complete contrast to the animal that had helped take out a wild coyote. Jack could see in the wolf's body language that his daughter was right, and his demeanour changed.
Reaching out a hand, he placed it on the wolf's head and gave it a soft pat before rubbing it gently.
"You saved my daughter from harm," he said, and the wolf's ears seemed to perk up in recognition of what he had said. A soft smile graced Claire's face as she watched the way the wolf responded to Jack.
It wasn't a wild animal, it was an animal that happened to be in the wild. Everything she had seen of this wolf so far told her that it was anything but a danger. Which was strange because everything in her, everything she knew of wolves told her to be weary. This wolf was giving off a different vibe.
Claire slowly stepped away so as not to spook the wolf and made her way inside the house. She returned moments later with a raw stake sitting on a plate. Walking down the steps of the porch, she placed it on the ground and then tapped her thigh.
"Come," she said, her tone much softer than the one Jack had used. The wolf acknowledged her but didn't seem to move. Until Chloe saddled up beside her.
"It's okay, c'mon," she said, and the wolf slowly followed next to the redhead, watching the humans around her to make sure it wasn't some sort of trap. Jack stayed where he was observing the animal.
When they finally reached the plate, Chloe took a seat on the porch steps and watched the wolf who seemed to be sniffing the steak as if unsure whether or not to proceed. Chloe reached down and pulled a piece off, laying it in her hand and holding it out for the wolf.
The wolf carefully lowered her head down towards Chloe's outstretched palm and took up the piece of meat, chewing it up in two bites before swallowing. Chloe then pointed at the plate.
"Go ahead," she said, and with permission the wolf chowed down on the steak. Chloe and Claire sat with smiles on their faces. They couldn't believe they were actually sitting on their steps with a wolf. Ben and Libby slowly approached but kept a respectable distance so as not to surround the animal. Chloe suddenly looked up at her father with that look that told him he was in trouble.
"Can we keep her dad?" She asked, gently stroking the wolf's fur. Claire choked out a laugh as she regarded her youngest child.
"Chloe she's a wild animal, she's not a domesticated pet." Chloe just shook her head and turned to her father.
"No I don't mean keep her like that, I just mean let her come and go. You know visit and stuff."
Claire looked at her husband with hesitation. The wolf may be fine now but there was no telling what way things would go as it got older. Jack watched as the wolf finished the steak and licked its chops, before sitting down again and observing the humans around her.
Something about this wolf was different. It wasn't like any other wild animal he had ever encountered and that both intrigued him and made him fearful. But something like this couldn't go unobserved. So he had an internal discussion with himself before conceding.
"Fine. She can come and go on the ranch. But if she starts showing signs that she's aggressive or anything happens to any of the horses, she's gone. Understood?".
Chloe nodded her head happily and turned back to the wolf, scratching behind its ears, making the wolf loll it's tongue out the side of her mouth.
"Hear that girl, you can come and go whenever you want," Chloe beamed happily. Claire wasn't sure but in that moment, she could've sworn she saw a glimmer of happiness in the wolf's eyes.
In that moment, the youngest of the Beale boys, Scott, walked out into the porch, earphones in his ears and a portable PlayStation in his hands.
"What'd I miss?," he asked as he noticed everyone standing around. Ben nodded towards where their mother and sister were sitting explaining everything he had missed.
"I can't get a dog but Chloe can have a wolf? This sucks," he moaned, turning on his head and walking back inside the house.
Later that night, Jack watched his youngest daughter from the front door, the redhead sitting on the steps of the porch, the wolf now lying beside her, allowing her to stroke her fur.
Chloe gazed down at the wolf, pondering something in deep thought as she continued to pet her new friend.
"I think I'm going to call you Bella. You look like a Bella," Chloe said in all seriousness. The wolf raised her head gazing up at the young girl as if to acknowledge her new name.
Chloe was struck by the wolf's eyes. They were midnight blue, and they looked at her like they recognised her. It made Chloe frown for a second. There was no way a wild animal could possibly look at a human like that. Could they?
Then, from way off in the distance, came the distinct sound of a wolf's howl, and Bella stood up.
"What is it girl?" Chloe asked as she watched the wolf pace back and forth before emitting a howl of her own. It was then Chloe realised what was going on.
"You have to go don't you," She said, sounding sad at the thought of the wolf leaving. Bella dipped her head and licked Chloe's cheek, making the redhead giggle. Then bright blue eyes gazed up at the wolf.
"Will you come back? You're always welcome here," she said, feeling stupid at the same time. She was talking to a wild animal, it couldn't possibly respond. Just then a thought struck her.
"Here, take this," She said, as she removed a necklace with a C pendent from around her neck and gently draped it over the wolf's head.
"Now you have to come back," she smiled. The wolf let out a small bark, before another howl in the distance called out. Bella responded in kind before making a dash across the ranch and into the woods, disappearing from sight.
Chloe watched the wolf for as long as she could and when she was gone her shoulders sank. Gazing up she spotted a shooting star and she closed her eyes and made a wish, hoping against hope that it would come true and the wolf would return to her…..