She heard a barking sound, and Misty looked down dumbly, realizing that it was Domenico she was looking at just before half of her family barreled into her.
“Here are its things.” Matteo handed her a leather bag, which she guessed contained Domenico’s belongings.
“Will you guys stop pushing me?” she exclaimed after throwing Matteo a harried look. Pets were not something Nanette allowed in their home, so her siblings’ excitement at seeing an immensely beautiful four-legged creature like Domenico’s Lyccan form was understandable.
Matteo gave her a brief bow before leaving, which made Misty wince and her siblings glance at her oddly as she closed the door, with Domenico padding in arrogantly.
“What’s with the dude bowing?” Kevin asked.
“He does that to all the women. He’s Italian.”
Nicole’s eyes narrowed. “I’m familiar with Italian culture and---”
Knowing it was imperative to put a stop to Nicole’s know-it-all words, which could land her in the hot seat, Misty exclaimed brightly, “This dog is ours!”
Andy gawked at her, an adorable wide-eyed look on his cute face. “No way!” Then he ran to Domenico as fast as his chubby legs could carry him. Everyone gathered around Domenico then, chatting excitedly.
Only Nanette wasn’t around. Her siblings thought she was away on a vacation with a distant relative, but Domenico had told her earlier he had given her foster mother a one-way trip to the destination of her choice to…avoid trouble. Domenico’s term had been less polite, but she preferred not to think of Nanette’s absence that way.
“Will Mom allow this?” Nicole wondered out loud.
“Even if she did, where are we gonna keep him?” Kevin asked.
“Who cares? I say we keep him!” Kelly said.
Just then, The Baby – no, it was Dylan now, since Kelly had texted her the baby’s name earlier after getting it from the social services registry – let out a loud wail, and Misty quickly went to the crib to pick Dylan up.
“Poor baby,” she cooed. “Everyone woke you up because of the dog.”
“But I want to know what its name is!” Andy insisted.
They all laughed. “Ah?” Kelly teased. “His name is Ah?”
She blushed because she could almost imagine Domenico smirking at her as well. “A…ristotle,” she blurted out. In the periphery of her vision, she saw Domenico’s eyes boring through her. She winced. It was a nerdy name, but it was the best she could think of. He was lucky she hadn’t blurted the first word that came to her mind, which was Aborigine for some reason.
“So nerdy,” Nicole said, rolling her eyes. “It’s a good thing he doesn’t look like it though.”
Domenico went to the living room and the family followed behind him.
Misty shook her head. Domenico was already being a leader to her siblings, and they didn’t even know it.
He settled at the foot of an armchair, which Misty quickly occupied, with the baby slowly settling to sleep in her arms.
“Did you buy him?” Nicole asked dubiously.
She understood the reason behind Nicole’s doubt. They all knew how she hated spending money unnecessarily, and for all intents and purposes having a dog was exactly that: an unnecessary expense. Misty also realized that Nicole’s question was the opening she needed.
“Actually, someone gave Aristotle to me.”
Everyone stared at her in shock.
“You have a boyfriend?” Kelly asked tentatively.
“Boyfriend,” Andy repeated the word distastefully, making everyone laugh.
“Whenever Misty says ‘actually’, it’s almost always a good thing,” Nicole said. “I mean, a good bad thing. Like the time she told us we could become absent from school---”
“Or the time she told us to forget about saving money once,” Kevin added.
“Hey!” Misty protested. “I’m not sure if you’re insulting or complimenting me.”
“The latter, of course,” Nicole said, eyes twinkling. “We’re just saying that you tend to feel guilty whenever you let us do things like that.”
“So what’s this actually about?” Kelly demanded.
Misty decided to speak plainly. “I’m getting married.”
Everyone burst into laughter.
“No, really I am!”
The laughter immediately stopped.
“T-to who?” Nicole was pale.
“To my boss.” And because she knew they’d ask how, when, and where it happened and she knew lying would only make things stranger, she decided to be as honest as she could. “I can’t explain how it happened. I just know that I trust him and that I l-love him.” She blushed right after she said that. She deliberately avoided Domenico’s gaze after saying the words.
After their initial shock, her family warily accepted the news. Misty steadily assured them that they’d still be together, but she could see they only half-believed her. Still, they were a good bunch and it seemed like everyone mutually decided to just change the subject and soon enough, they were back in normal footing, teasing each other.
Misty managed to get everyone to bed at half past midnight, with Kevin carrying Andy to the room he shared with Nicole. “Where’s the dog sleeping?” Nicole asked, yawning.
Misty blushed again. “Uhh, in m-my room.”
Misty locked the door behind her. Turning around, she saw Domenico still in his wolf form. “Are you going to change back?”
Domenico shook his head.
She didn’t know what to make of that but nodded anyway.
When Domenico was sure Misty was asleep, that was the time he changed. Fully naked, he got into the bed and wrapped his arms around her from behind before pulling the covers over them. It was the first time for him to feel simply content holding a girl in his arms. Lying on the bed, which was the smallest and most uncomfortable he had ever slept on, Domenico dwelled on the memories he had of Misty and her siblings spending their time together. Hers was a happy family, and it inevitably reminded him of how his family had been – before Danilo died.
Eventually, his mind drifted to the words she used for explaining his presence in her life.
She loved him, he thought, absently stroking her hair.
He had known the words were true the moment she uttered them.
And he had been elated, triumphant, and – strangest of all – humbled, too.