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By:Terry Bolryder

open. Think you’ll be okay if I can get you free?”

He nodded.

“Good,” she said. She narrowed her eyes on the springs as she picked up the first clamp, and he tensed in preparation. It took several minutes and all her effort to get one spring held down in the clamp. Then she got to work on the other side. He could feel his heart thundering in his chest.

As she managed the other side of the trap, he felt it spring open and quickly yanked his small leg out as quickly as he could. They both scrambled away from the trap and sat panting together, bear and girl, in the dark forest.

An owl hooted in the distance, making the girl jump and look over at him.

“I guess I should get back,” she said, looking wary now that he was free. She brushed off her knees. He liked her slightly chubby form. She looked… huggable. “And you should get back to your mom.”

He blinked. Oh, right. Back to the compound.

But he had a feeling he’d be back soon. Back to the meadow, to meet her as a human instead of a bear. He walked forward, limping, though he could feel tingling there, almost as if his wound were already healing.

Somehow, he knew he’d be okay now. Thanks to her.

She was still as he approached, her blue eyes widening, lit by the flashlight. As if she were scared by him, but not scared enough to move.

He leaned forward, hoping she would take the hint and put her hand on his head again. Touch him just once more so he could take the warmth back with him when he went to the compound.

Instead, she brought out her blanket and wrapped it around him. Then, impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed the top of his bear head. His fur.

That’s it. The girl was crazy.

After that, she scampered back into the woods, her light leading the way into the distance. He crawled after her, following her until he saw her go in through the gate at the edge of the forest that led to the meadow where the house sat.

When she was safe, he let out a breath and became aware of his body trembling. He suddenly felt if he allowed it, he could change back.

With a shaky breath, he shifted, feeling the world blur and his claws retract. He felt dizzy and nauseous and aware that the scratchy but warm blanket she’d brought was still around him. He pulled it over him and started his walk back to the compound.

Probably, even bleeding from his leg and naked under a blanket, no one would notice when he slipped back into the compound while the men were out drinking.

He couldn’t see his leg in the dark, but it was already feeling better. It would be okay.

Still, tonight had changed everything, and not just because he’d nearly died.

He was free from the bear trap, but he had a feeling he would never be free from the way he felt about the girl who had helped him. The girl with the kind blue eyes and soft hands.

He had to see her again, soon. As a boy. Become her friend and then see her again and again. There was something between them. He felt it all the way down to his bones.

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