Hazel smiled when she saw him waiting at the fork in the road again. He got to his feet, giving her a shy smile as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Aatu, it’s good to see you again.” She said, her smile warm. “And you’re wearing the scarf I made you.”
“Well yeah, I always wear it, you gave it to me after all.”
She cupped his cheek. “You’re so sweet Aatu, ready for our walk?”
“Yes, of course.” She took his hand as she always did and his ears gave a little twitch.
“So cute.” She said and he blushed.
“Don’t say that, men aren’t cute.”
She giggled and kissed his cheek. “You’re definitely cute. I love how cute you are.”
“Stop Hazel, you’re embarrassing me.”
He was so different from the angry beast she had first met. She still remembered her attack vividly and the way he had come out of the woods, his nails turned to razor sharp claws, his canines lengthening into dagger like points that he sank into the throat of the nearest bandit. Her first meeting of him had been one of blood and anger on her behalf that had quickly turned to concern and apologies for scaring her. He had made sure she was okay then went to a stream to clean the blood off his hands and face. After that he had been like a sweet puppy. She just wished she could introduce him to her family, but he didn’t trust any humans except for her and she wasn’t sure how her family would react to her being friends with a wolf.
He was coming to mean more and more to her though so she knew one day she would have to talk to her family and make them understand he was good. She had a kind family but everyone was so closed off to wolves she was scared their hearts wouldn’t be open enough to accept him an d try to get along. Last thing she wanted to do was reaffirm his fears of humans by telling her family and them trying to dispose of him to protect her since often others decided they knew what was best for other people regardless of what they wanted and thought.
“Would you like me to carry your basket?” He asked softly and she handed it over, making a smile appear on his face. She squeezed his hand and he looked at her, his eye warming. She couldn’t believe the cruelty of some people. She had never known a creature more gentle than Aatu yet he had lost so much. “Are you coming back tonight or are you staying with your grandparents?”
“I’ll be staying this time.”
He frowned, but that was the extent of his disappointment. “I’ll be waiting by the river until you’re return.”
She smiled, warming his heart. “Just stay safe please, I don’t like the idea of you getting hurt. Promise me?”
“Yes, of course.”
He took her to their normal parting point and they hugged, Aatu lingering in it longer than normal. He hated being without her and would do anything to be with her more. She waited for him to let go. She could have hugs any time and she knew she was the only one who hugged him. When he was as ready as he could be for them to part again he let go and she finished her journey. He watched her until he could see Hazel no longer. That all too familiar sadness filled him and he began walking to the river.
“Hazel, you made it.” Her grandmother stood up from her seat on the porch and opened her arms for a hug.
“It’s a little chilly, shouldn’t you be inside?”
“Fresh air is good for these old bones. Why don’t you take the food inside, there are cookies if you’d like some.”
“Thanks grandma.” She went inside and sat her basket on the counter then grabbed a cookie and went back out. “Where’s grandpa?”
“He insisted on going fishing today.”
“Fishing?” She tried to hide the hint of worry in her voice. What if her grandpa had taken his gun and he spotted Aatu. She noticed her grandma staring at her and blushed. “That sounds like fun, should I go check on him?”
“No, no, he might be old, but he’ll be fine. How have you been sweetie?”
She shrugged. “Alright I guess, mom still wants me to get married, but daddy tells her to just let it go. You know how she is.”
“Your father is smart, never rush a woman because she’ll go twice as slow if she has too. My daughter needs to understand that not all women marry the same.” She looked around. “So, do you have someone? It’ll be our little secret.”
Her cheeks reddened. “Well, sort of, but…” she wanted to tell her grandma the truth, but it stuck in her throat, “it’s sort of complicated.” Her grandma smiled and Hazel felt her heart give a leap. Did she know and if so would she tell? She didn’t voice her worry in case she was reading to much into it.
Hazel normally was completely at ease at her grandmothers so she knew over the course of the day her grandmother had to know something was up since she couldn’t fully relax. She just couldn’t shake the worry her grandpa might see Aatu and hurt him. She didn’t know if her wolf would ever be willing to meet her family if he had to get over a run in with her grandpa and a gun. At least if her grandmother did know she still wasn’t saying anything to her about it. They just talked and hungout as they normally did.
Aatu pitched rocks into the river, letting out a loud sigh as he stared at the ripples. He wanted to be with Hazel more than anything, wanted to hold her and kiss her. He reached up, touching his eye patch. There was no way, not even if he showed he was no threat, he would be shot on sight. He looked down into the water, down at his reflection. For the first time he hated being a wolf. The sound of footsteps had his head snapping up. He pushed away from the water and ducked into the woods, staying just out of sight as he waited. The wind blew his way and he scented. A smell that was like Hazel, but not her drifted toward him. It was tinged by the scent of fish and gun oil. It had to be her grandfather. He had seen her grandparents a couple of times from a distance and her grandfather smelled like a hunter.
The older man came into view and Aatu pulled a little further back as he watched him. Old age had not taken anything out of his step, he was all muscle and tall. The beard he was sure had once been the shade of Hazel’s hair was completely white and sharp brown eyes stared out over the water. A hunter, but a hunter of what? Hazel had explained that her grandmother had met him a long time ago in a far away land. He was supposedly famous there and had moved away after marrying. Aatu was curios, so curious that he leaned out a little too far studying him, causing a twig to snap under his boot. The old man spun, fishing pole dropping and gun coming up.
“If anyone’s in there you best show yourself now or lose your life.” Aatu didn’t move, hoping he would just think it was a squirrel or something.
Her grandpa didn’t seem to be wavering in his stance but Aatu kept still. He heard the gun cock, this man was absolutely serious. Aatu came out, prepared to die. This was a family member of Hazel’s. He couldn’t hurt Hazel by hurting him. “what’re you doing?”
“I was just here waiting for someone. I won’t hurt you. Please let me be” He lowered the gun, seeing plainly this wolf wasn’t a threat. How quickly this man lowered his weapon surprised Aatu despite the fact he was a relative of his sweet Hazel. “sorry to have scared you then. Who are you waiting for?”
The old man sniffed. “A friend huh?”
“Yes sir, I promise to be on my way then.”
“Stop with the sir, it’s a bit annoying after all these years. Call me Henriech.” He sat his gun against a tree and picked his pole up. “You wait here often?”
“I like the river.”
“Do you fish?”
He looked up at Henriech. The man was trying to gauge his character and gather information. “Most wolves do, just not with a pole.” He pointed at the river. “May I show you?”
Henriech gestured for him to continue and Aatu squatted down and dipped a hand slowly into the water. He waited patiently, focusing then like lightening he snatched up a large trout. “Impressive.”
Aatu handed him the fish and Henriech strung it onto the line he had at his waist. He then glanced at the gun. Bad memories came flowing back and he slowly stood, taking a couple of steps away. “You hunt.”
“Just about everything back in the day, now it’s just for deer and protection.”
“Oh, I see.”
“You don’t need to be so uncomfortable. I understand, people are afraid of wolves and when people get scared they’ll attack if it’s warranted or not but if you’d scent me you’d understand I’m nothing for you to fear” Aatu tilted his head in confusion “You sniffed earlier”
“Yep, and I know you’re not just waiting on any friend you’re waiting on my grandaughter. I find it hard to believe you think I’m just a human”
“But Hazels a human, I’ve been with her so much. She would have told me if someone in her family wasn’t human”
“she doesnt know, we’ve felt it’s better for her. Humans aren’t understanding. They dominate every other race out of fear. She doesn’t need to live being scared somebody will know what I am. Besides, she’s human enough”
“So, what are you then? I can’t smell anything different.”
“They call us Allzei, a sort of shapeshifter. We are born human, but once we reach a certain age we transform into a half human half beast, kind of like you werewolves, but unlike you we are struck with amnesia upon our first transformation. We can learn to change back, but it takes a lot of strength.”
“It’s something you seem to have in abundance.”
Henriech chuckled. “So I’ve been told. I worked for a king in another land as his hunter. I killed deer, boar, bear, even wolves then I met Mirum.”
“She wasn’t bothered by what you are?”
“Not Mirum, she’s too stubborn. She’s never known the meaning of the word fear.” He glanced at Aatu. “She’s the one who noticed you first.”
“I thought I was being careful. I never want to cause trouble for Hazel, I just want her safe. She’s the first person to ever speak to me instead of just attacking.” He touched his eyepatch. “I…I love her.”
Henriech sighed. “You should probably have dinner with us tonight, surprise my little Hazel a little bit.”
“But her family, outside of you two”
“I’ll just tell them about me. They’d have to reject us both to reject you and they wouldn’t do that. Have dinner with us. Mirum and I have been wanting to meet you. We just didn’t want to push Hazel” He was afraid but he would truly do anything for Hazel. He loved her to his very core and wanted to be her mate. He’d never get that far with her if he didn’t eventually stop hiding. “Thank you, I’ll come” Henriech patted him on the shoulder “good, lets go ahead and head back. No doubt Mirum has told Hazel where I am and she’s worrying about you. I think she loves you too Aatu”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because she’s never been so happy”
Hazel sipped on a cup of hot cocoa while her grandma chopped potatoes to go with the fish she knew would be brought back. Her leg bounced as she worried about Aatu. Her grandma always refused to let her help so all she could do was think the worst. She knew if Aatu and her grandpa crossed paths, he wouldn’t fight back. He would try to run and would more than likely end up with a bullet in his back. She found herself staring out the window and was only distracted when she heard footsteps on the front porch. She gripped her cup as the door opened, waiting to be told her wolf had been killed. Her mouth dropped open when she saw Aatu follow her grandpa inside.
“We’ve got more company sweetheart.” Henriech said and Mirum looked up, smiling. “I found this pup out by the river and he looks half starved.”
“Aatu?” Hazel was finally able to say as she stood. “What…what’s happening?”
Aatu’s eyes warmed as he moved over to her and took her hand. “I’m alright.”
His other hand rested gently against her cheek and he brushed his thumb over her cheek. “Your grandfather invited me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We’ll explain later, but dinner first.” Mirum said. “Henri will you get the fish on?”
“Of course my love.” Henriech kissed his wife’s cheek.
Aatu pulled Hazel into a chair with him so he could hold her. She held him back, it didn’t really matter to her why or how. He was here with her and that made her happy beyond measure. Somhow with Hazel in his arms even around her grandparents he was feeling pure bliss, not a single ounce of fear in him. It did however startle them both a little when her grandmother called them to eat. They had gotten so lost in eachothers comforts. Hearing someone elses voice had been like a jerk out of another place.
“So Aatu, tell us about yourself.” Mirum said as they ate.
He glanced at her then back down at his plate. “There’s not much to tell. I’m twenty-five, I live in the forest, um…my only friend is Hazel.”
He swallowed and Hazel reached over taking his hand. “No ma’am, they were killed when I was young. I’ve been on my own for a long time.”
“Hunters.” Henriech said and Aatu nodded. “They took your eye.”
“I was eight, they thought it would be debilitating enough for me to eventually starve to death.”
“You don’t have to talk about it.” Hazel said, her tone gentle.
“It’s alright, they should know that I have nothing to hide.”
“I’m sorry” Her grandfather said and he shook his head. “I’m an open book. Ask me anything…I want you two to trust me with Hazel” Hazel blushed and her grandmother said “she is a smart girl. If she trusts you we do”
“If there was any more to share about me I would but I can’t think of anything. Um..can I hear about Hazel?”
“Like childhood stories?”
“I have a million of them” She started going on and on about Hazel growing up which everyone at the table enjoyed. They could have been talking about anything and Hazel would have been happy simply because Aatu was finally interacting with her family. Mirum really did seem to have endless stories. She talked about her grandaughter all the way through lunch.
“So can we talk about all this now?” Hazel asked once the table was cleared and the dishes clean. “I mean grandpa just brought him home like it was nothing. I mean, I’m happy, but I thought you two would disapprove.”
“You should probably sit sweetie.” Mirum said and aatu pulled her onto his lap as he dropped down on the couch.
“Is it something bad?”
“Not necessarily.” Henriech answered. “We don’t want you to be mad, but it’s about time you know the truth about who and what you are.”
Hazel looked confused and Aatu wrapped his arms around her waist. “What does that mean?” She asked.
Henriech let out a little sigh then scratched his beard. “I’m not human and technically by this countries standards, neither are you. I’m a type of shapeshifter called an Allzei.”
“What?” She looked at her grandma and Mirum nodded. “But you were a hunter.”
“I killed only when it was needed, I didn’t track down young wolves and slaughter their families.”
“So, does that mean I’ll shift too.”
“No, it’s diluted enough that that won’t happen.”
“So, what do you change into then?”
Mirum laughed. “Isn’t it obvious, a great old growling, grizzly bear.”
“That honestly isn’t surprising.” Hazel said and her grandfather chuckled. Can you still shift into your bear form? I would love to see it. I bet you look amazing grandpa” He looked at his wife who said “Try, it’s been a long time but it wouldn’t hurt for you to try Henriech”
“alright, lets go outside and where we can’t be seen”
Hazel was excited and she waited patiently with Aatu holding her from behind, his chin resting on her head. Her grandpa’s shifting was slow and he actually gave a little grumble as he stood up on the hind legs of his bear. Hazel pulled out of Aatu’s embrace and reached up, rubbing the side of the massive animal’s face. “It really is you, how cool.” She hugged him and he shifted back.
“I keep forgetting I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Old or young, you still make a handsome bear.” Mirum said and Henriech reached for her so she walked into his arms, joining her granddaughter.
“And you’re still my gorgeous angel.”
“Oh hush you old fool.” Hazel enjoyed the teasing and smiled at Aatu who looked anxious to get her back. “Look at that boys face, reminds me of the first time we met.” Mirum said and Aatu blushed.
“Hazel is the only thing that makes me feel completely at ease.” He admitted. “She’s always been so kind.” He played with his scarf. “She made this for me because she thought I’d get cold. She’s the only one who has cared for me in a long time. I really love her.”
“good, you better always. This old bear wont take to anyone hurting her”
“If I hurt her, I’d welcome him coming for me” Hazel left her grandfathers arms and went into Aatus again. She just couldn’t resist after a comment like that. They stayed out and enjoyed the night and nature all around them. With a wolf and a bear at their side Hazel anbd Mirum had no worries of what lurked in the dark.
“Would it be alright if I stayed here tonight?” He asked her grandparents. “I can sleep outside if you’re worried about anything.”
Mirum laugh and patted his head, making him blush. “I think that’s something you should be asking Hazel, she’s an adult after all.”
It was Hazel’s turn to blush. “Uh…well…I mean y…yes of course.”
“Are you sure, I won’t be mad if you wish me to stay out here.”
“No, please stay in my room with me.” Her heart was beating so fast she thought it might explode.
“Our little Hazel is as pure as fresh snow. She’s never had anyone in her room that wasn’t family.” Mirum explained.
“Grandma, hush.” She was mortified.
Mirum and Henriech both laughed and Aatu pulled her a little closer. “It’s okay Hazel, I won’t do anything bad. I mean I know I’m a wolf, but I can restrain myself.”
She blushed, her heart hammering. She knew he could hear it which made it even worse. They soon went inside and he joined Hazel in her bedroom. The two snuggled close in her bed as they held eachother. Aatu epitome of happiness as he held his mate. He had thought about this so many nights outside alone. He had been wanting to just hold her like this for so very long. He took in her scent, letting the sweetness of it wash over him and relax him to his core. “I love you so much Hazel” he whispered.
“I love you too.”
“From the first moment I set eyes on you and breathed your scent, I knew I was lost. Thank you for not running away, thank you for everything.”
She pressed her forehead into his chest, not wanting him to see her tear up. He gave a sigh of happiness as he buried his nose in her hair and let her sweet scent carry him away. She told herself not to cry, not wanting to wake him when he was so relaxed. The only thing she was worried about now we’re her parents. She loved them with all her heart, but it would be devastating to be suddenly thrown away. She wouldn’t leave Aatu though, no matter what was thrown at her. He was her wolf and he deserved all the love in the universe. She fell asleep half an hour later, lulled to sleep by Aatu’s warmth.
The next morning Aatu woke first and smiled down at Hazel’s adorable sleeping face. Her mouth was partially open and she was snoring softly. He wondered if she knew. He kissed her forehead and slipped out of bed, pulling the blanket up to her chin before leaving the room. “Good morning Aatu.” Mirum said when he entered the kitchen. She was rolling mixing dough for biscuits.
“Would you like some help?”
“I’m fine, how was your first night with us?”
“Good, Hazel makes me feel safe.”
Mirum smiled. “You’re such a good boy.”
“I hope her parents are as accepting. Henriech said they don’t know about him and I don’t want Hazel to have to choose between me and her parents if they try to make her.”
“Henriech and I talked about building Hazel her own place. He was so excited about the idea that he went out to survey some prospective places. You should go out and find him and make sure he knows, he has his gun.”
“Okay” Aatu quickly left and followed Hazel’s grandfathers scent. When he could tell he was getting close to Henriech he slowed. When the man came into view Aatu called “It’s me Henriech, Aatu!” Henriech stopped what he was doing and came over “You like this piece of land? I think Hazel will”
“Yeah, Thank you”
“Little Hazel means the world to me”
“Your wife is making breakfast”
“Lets head back then. I probably should have eaten before coming out. I just want to get to work right away” They walked back and he asked “so how was the first time holding your mate over night? I still remember how I felt the first time I got to do that with Mirum” Aatu blushed “It was amazing”
“anytime she spends the night you’re welcome”
Hazel was still asleep when they got back so Aatu went straight to her room and sat down next to her. She was so beautiful and looked so peaceful, he wanted to just let her sleep, but he knew she should eat breakfast. “Hazel.” He said softly as he stroked her cheek. He smiled when she didn’t wake and leaned down, his lips pressing gently against hers. She shifted in her sleep, her eyes fluttering open and he pulled back to watch her face. The moment she saw him, she turned red and her heart beat faster. “Good morning my love.”
“Aatu?” She reached up and touched her lips, making him smile. “You kissed me.”
“If it bothers you, I won’t do it again.”
“Don’t say that, I really liked it.”
“Can I carry you to breakfast.” She nodded and he lifted her out of bed, making her grow warm. Both of her grandparents smiled when they came out, making her want to hid her face. aatu sat her in a chair then took the one next to her.
“Aatu and I found a nice place to build you a house.” Henriech said.
“You’re old enough to have your own and now that you’re mated to this guy, you need it. Besides, we’re going to head out today to talk to your parents.”
“Maybe we should wait until the house is built.”
Henriech shook his head. “They need to know about you and him and it’s about time I came clean about myself.”
“You know you can always live here if things go wrong honey.” Mirum said. “I think even if they were upset, they would come around eventually, especially if you two decide to have babies. There’s no way your mother would miss out on her grandchildren.”
“okay, if you guys think it’s best” She just didn’t want them to upset Aatu or try to hurt him. She didn’t care how they reacted to her, she did but if they didn’t like her being with him that was their problem. She did however really care about them hurting Aatu emotionally or physically. Aatu could feel how worried she was and he took her hand, lifting it to his lips to give her another gentle kiss “It will all be okay. As your grandfather said, they have to accept or reject both he and I. I doubt she would suddenly hate your grandfather” Hazel nodded lightly then began eating.
“at least I’ll get your amazing food every morning if I’m here grandma” Her grandmother smiled proudly “You’re pretty good yourself” she turned her attention to Aatu “has she cooked anything for you yet?” She had given him a lot of food but never specified if she had made it or not so he looked at her “have you?”
“Once, those peanut butter cookies”
“Then you are an amazing cook” Hazel blushed and took a bite of pancake for something to do.
After breakfast, Mirum packed a basket with snacks and juice. Henriech took it from her and handed it to Aatu then lifted his wife into his arms. “You old bear, put me down before you break something.”
“Not a chance beautiful, letting you walk all the way would be cruel.”
Aatu and Hazel smiled at her grandparents affection for one another. Even old it was easy to see they still loved each other very much. “Oh fine, just stop looking at me like that you silly bear.”
“Would you like a piggy back ride Hazel?” Aatu asked when they stepped outside.
“Sure.” He squatted down and she climbed on his back.
“Yes, thank you.”
“When we get there remember to let Mirum and I go ahead of you. Our son in law is a good guy, but I don’t know how he’ll react seeing you.” Henriech said.
“I understand, there are a lot of horror stories surrounding my kind.”
“Just remember we won’t let them hurt you.” Mirum added.
“I know, I trust you.”
Aatu and Hazel couldn’t help but be nervous when they arrived at her parents house. As planned her grandparents were first to the door, standing in front of Aatu and Hazel. Their daughter answered “Hey! Where is Hazel?”
“Um, right here mom” Hazel said from behind her grandparents. They moved out of the way only slightly and her mother looked a bit confused. Now her husband came up behind her “what is this? Why is that wolf holding her?”
“Just calm down and let us talk to you”
“He needs to put down my daughter first”
“Dad, I’m fine, I want him to hold me.” Henriech put himself between them again “Calm down before I knock you down. Lets all go sit in the living room. You wont be hurting that boy” Aatu let Hazel slide off his back but he took her hand as they went inside. She was his mate and he would hold her hand proudly. Henriech revealed everything to Hazels parents and it was Hazels mom who was firts to speak “Why would you never tell me dad?” Not giving enough pause for him to answer she continued “and you Hazel, I thought we didn’t have secrets”
Hazel looked away, feeling ashamed. “I’m sorry mom, but you saw how dad reacted when he saw Aatu, that’s what I was afraid of. I didn’t want him to get hurt because of me.”
She raised her head. “He saved my life. I could have been raped or killed or both, but he saved me.” She squeezed Aatu’s hand. “I’m proud to be his mate, he’s kind and gentle and he’s been through more than anyone.”
“Oh Hazel, I just…” her father sighed, “wolves are just so dangerous.”
“Dad, look at him.” His eyes moved to Aatu. “Hunters killed his parents and took his eye yet he still walked in here with me. If I was him I would be terrified. Please try to understand.” Her eyes filled wit tears and her dad looked like he was about ready to panic. Many people didn’t know he was weak to the tears of his loved ones.
“Please don’t cry sweetie, I’m just worried.”
“I don’t want you and mom to hate me or grandpa and grandma.” Aatu hugged her and she wiped at her face. “What if someone asked you to leave mom, would you do that because she’s not completely human?”
It hadn’t occured to him when Henreich said he wasn’t human that meant his wife wasn’t “No, I would never leave her or you sweetheart. I’ll give him a chance okay”
“but dad, why you?”
“I thought it would be a burden to you, make you feel weird. You were such a popular girl. I didn’t want to risk hurting that” She still looked deeply hurt but he hoped she understood. She looked back at her daughter “Hazel we love you so much. I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t talk to me about..”
“Aatu, I guess I can understand your reasoning but please, talk to me about things. I want us to be open with eachother”
“we are mom. He is the only thing I’ve ever kept from you. I promise”
“I believe you, can I have a hug?” Hazel wiped her face again and hugged her mother then went to her father who had reached out for one aswell. Hazel stood in front of them and held out her hand for Aatu who came. “This is Aatu mom and dad. He’s my mate and I love him. He’s a good man who I know I’m safe with. He and Grandpa are going to make us a house to live in…dad…I’d like it if you helped…it would be a good way to bond with Aatu” Her dad nodded and looked at Aatu apologeticly “I’m sorry I was so rude when you first got here”
“It’s okay, I understand. She’s your only child and you would do anything to protect her.” He reached up and touched his eye patch. “A parents love should know no bounds. My own died protecting me.”
“We’re very sorry Aatu. Let us properly welcome you into our family.” Her mother said. “I’m Genevieve and my husband Jael. We’re very happy to meet you.”
Aatu smiled, feeling warm inside. He was getting another chance at a family and it touched his heart. They all spent time at Henriech’s and Mirum’s over the next five months while the men worked on the house. Hazel made trips to give them food and drinks, always distracting Aatu who wanted to spend time with her more than anyone. Henriech often had to call him back to work, a smile on his face at how excited the wolf was. Aatu had fun learning how to use tools and worked hard to make sure Hazel had her dream home. On the last night of the build, he stayed with Hazel at her grandparent’s home. His muscles were sore, but he was happy they had finally finished. Now all they needed to do was pick out furniture. Mirum had made him a head wrap to hide his ears so he could go into town with Hazel, not wanting him to miss out on anything.
“You look so happy.” Hazel said as she came into their room, still drying her hair.
“I am, I’m ready to explode with my absolute joy.” He held out his hand and she took it, allowing him to pull her down next to him. “You breathed life into me Hazel, I really and truly love you.”
“Stop, you’re going to make me cry.”
He chuckled and kissed her head then tipped her head back to get at her lips. Her cheeks heated and he grinned. “My heart, my sweet love. I’m yours forever.”
“Me too, I love you so much.” The words made his heart leap with joy and he fell asleep that night with a smile on his face.