Originally written in 2011. The story of Violet and her eyas, Pip, is true, but had an unfortunately sad ending. I like my version better. There is a sequel, Pip.
"Elijah, it's for you," Sean said, and handed him the kitchen phone. "It's Jeanne from the wildlife
"Oh hey, Jeanne," Elijah said. Pause. "No, I haven't been. What's the matter?" He listened intently. "That's terrible. They can't let that happen. What are they going to do?"
Sean could faintly distinguish Jeanne's voice but not what was she saying. Elijah's expressive countenance, however, showed clearly that it wasn't good. His blue eyes flickered to Sean a few times, and they were grave.
"I need to talk to Sean, but of course you can count on me," Elijah eventually said, setting alarm
bells ringing inside Sean. Count on Elijah for what? The next flicker of eyes escalated the ringing to a very loud clanging. He recognized that look. It said more clearly than words that whatever was going on, Sean definitely wasn't going to like it.
"What's their phone number?" Elijah reached for the pen and notepad they kept on the kitchen counter next to the phone. He scribbled some numbers. "Okay, got it. Thanks, Jeanne. I'll be in touch." He hung up the phone and gave Sean a hesitant look.
Sean said nothing, but simply waited for the bomb to drop.
"I have to go to New York again, Sean," Elijah said. "There's a red-tailed hawk nesting on a ledge there and she's been injured. Whoever banded Violet's leg put the band on too tight and her leg's swollen and possibly infected. It wouldn't be such an emergency except that she's got a week-old eyas to care for, and if anything happens to her, her mate Bobby can't raise him alone."
"I recall seeing something in the Times recently about those hawks," Sean said calmly, suppressing his instinctive, powerful rejection of the idea of Elijah leaving the Pines for any reason, especially to return to New York. "Didn't NYU set up a webcam so people can watch?"
"Yeah, that's what Jeanne said. There are thousands of people all over the world who've been watching on the Internet, and they can see that she's hurt. They're worried."
"Talk about pressure." Sean knew a little about that from his days as a corporate CEO. "So what are they planning to do to help her?"
Elijah's face tightened. "The so-called experts want to tranquilize her with baited food and take her and the eyas to the Bronx Zoo."
"But what about her mate? He'll come back to the nest and find them gone," was Sean's first reaction, his mind returning to a fox in the eaves of the woods and to his own feelings of incompletion and grief during the endless months of separation from Elijah.
"He'll be heart-broken," Elijah said. "But Sean, that's not the worst of it. The zoo will separate Violet from her baby. He won't imprint on her. She won't get to raise him and teach him what he needs to know to survive in the wild."
If any human could relate to that scenario, Sean thought, it was Elijah. "What will that mean?" he asked quietly.
"He'll live out his days in captivity... or else they'll euthanize him so he doesn't have to." Elijah's hands clenched into fists; his eyes burned with an intensity as fierce as any raptor's.
"Jesus Christ. That can't be allowed to happen. We need to get you there asap." Sean's brain was already racing, making plans.
"Sean." Elijah threw his arms around him and hugged him hard. "Thank you. I was expecting an argument and instead you're one step ahead of me."
"If I've learned one thing from you, Woodjin, it's that every single life is precious and we have to do what we can to help those in need. But," Sean added soberly, "that doesn't mean I'm crazy about the idea of you going to New York, because I most definitely am not."
"I know," Elijah said. "And I'm not crazy about going. My place is here and if something were to happen..."
Sean placed his hand over Elijah's mouth. "Shh. Nothing's going to happen, Elijah. I won't let it. We'll take every precaution possible and get you in and out of NYU as quickly as possible. This is going to be a Woodjin call made with surgical precision," Sean said. "Think Navy SEALs taking out bin Laden." He glanced at Fred, who was regarding him dolefully from his station at his dinner bowl. "Sorry, Fred. You're going to have to sit this one out. I'm afraid your days as an upscale turtle are over. No more Trump Tower for you."
Elijah giggled, as Sean had hoped he would. "Poor Fred." Then he sobered. "Jeanne gave me the number of the rehabilitators who've been consulting with the university. They've been arguing against capturing Violet, and Jeanne is certain they'll be willing to let me help if it means keeping Violet out of the hands of the zoo."
Sean plucked the paper from countertop before Elijah could. "I'll do the talking. You're to stay out of it."
"Because you're going to have to go to New York in disguise. We can't have thousands of people seeing the real you, Elijah. You've got to be protected."
"In disguise? What kind of disguise?" Elijah asked suspiciously.
"Let's just say you'll need Hannah's help with it."
"Sean, I'm not going as a girl!" Maggie, who had been listening to the conversation with interest, let out an indignant meow. "I'm sorry, Maggie. There's nothing wrong with being a girl, except when you're not."
But Maggie wasn't done, and she gave Elijah a talking-to that would have done Katie proud. Sean tried desperately hard not to smile, but failed. Watching Maggie lecture Elijah for his own good never got old.
"All right, all right." Elijah threw up his hands. "Fine, I'll go dressed as a girl. But I swear, Sean, if you say one word about how pretty I look, I'll... I'll... well, I don't know what I'll do, but it'll be epic."
Next morning Hannah arrived at the house with armloads of clothes, several wigs and a makeup case. After telling them they were both insane and promising to kill Sean if anything happened to Elijah, she'd entered into the scheme to transform her brother into a female with her usual effervescent enthusiasm.
She dragged a reluctant Elijah, who unlike his sister was not entering into the scheme with any enthusiasm whatsoever, off to the spare bedroom and shut the door squarely in Sean's face.
Sean philosophically retreated to his office, passing the time firming up their travel plans on the phone and watching Violet on his computer via the Times webcast. He could clearly see the swelling in her right leg below the metal band that cruelly confined it, and knew that the only hope for her survival and that of her adorable ball of fluff hatchling, lay with the young man who was currently in the process of being turned into a young woman.
Rocky, sitting as usual on Sean's shoulder, watched Violet and her eyas with avid interest and offered a running commentary that Sean couldn't interpret but thought was complimentary.
Almost an hour later, Hannah, looking pleased as punch, appeared in the door. "Okay, we're all done," she announced. "Sean, let me introduce you to my older sister, Ellie Wood."
"Oh gollykeeper, do I have to do this?" Elijah's complaining voice came from just behind her.
"Yes, you do, Ellie. Now come on. I can't wait for Sean to see you."
And with that, Elijah stepped into the room. Or rather, Ellie did.
Rocky took one look, chattered in agitation and fled, heading no doubt for the safety of his nesting box. Sean guessed he was a little freaked by this change in his beloved Elijah - the squirrel was not big on change. Well, Sean was a little freaked himself by the completeness of his partner's transformation into a woman, although he had no desire to hide his eyes. Far from it. Pretty wasn't even close to the mark, he thought, dazed. Elijah made a stunning woman.
He was wearing tight fitting white jeans tucked into Ugg boots, a thigh length turquoise blue blouse over a white knit top that clung to a pair of modest false breasts, and a silver and turquoise belt that cinched his narrow waist, causing the blouse to flare and lending an illusion of female curves. More turquoise adorned his fingers, distracting from the squareness of his hands and overshadowing the silver ring that had been passed down from Woodjin to Woodjin for more than two centuries. Hannah had applied foundation, blush, mascara and eyeliner to Elijah's face, not heavily, but subtly and skillfully, and with a dark brown chin length wig framing and softening the edges of his jawline, turned a beautiful but undeniably masculine face into one that was equally beautiful, but very, very feminine.
"Well? What do you think?" Hannah asked.
"I think you're a genius, Hannah," Sean said with perfect truth.
"I think so, too," Hannah replied immodestly. "Although it's totally not fair that my brother looks better in my clothes than I do," she added, tweaking the silver scarf she'd tied around his neck to disguise his Adam's apple. "Damn you, Elijah."
"My feet hurt," complained Elijah. "These boots are too tight."
"But they're trendy and they disguise the fact that your feet are too large for a woman."
Elijah sighed and grimaced. "I feel ridiculous, Hannah." He shifted his gaze to Sean, whose stomach turned somersaults as those already extraordinary blue eyes, now outlined in softly smudged black so that they appeared even bluer and larger, met his. "Do I look as ridiculous as I feel?"
"I plead the fifth, Elijah. If I told you the truth, you'd start preparing that epic retribution you promised."
Elijah scowled, and Hannah burst into laughter. Sean held out his arm. "Come on, Ellie darling, our chariot awaits."
Elijah scowled harder - but he stilled looked beautiful.
Hannah drove them to the Lakewood airport where their chariot, which was in fact a helicopter, awaited them. Forty-five minutes later, the helicopter set down on the helipad on the East River, the same one where Sean had said a sad farewell to Elijah almost exactly five years earlier. A cab was idling by the curb, waiting to drive them uptown to Washington Square Park.
Everything was going, as Sean had anticipated, like clockwork. And a good thing, too, he thought, since it wasn't only Hannah who would kill Sean if anything happened to Elijah, but Katie and Bill and Ian and Martha, who had been let in on the secret and were no doubt watching the Hawk Cam anxiously at that very moment, waiting for Elijah to appear. Sean wondered, with unholy amusement, what Elijah's reaction would be when Katie told Elijah, as she inevitably would next time she spoke to him, that he'd looked pretty as a picture on camera.
"Don't say anything unless you absolutely have to," Sean quietly reminded Elijah in the cab. "And remember, you're just 'Ellie', no last name."
"Like Cher or Adele?" Elijah quipped, and Sean was glad to see his sense of humor intact.
He'd not been happy with Sean's fictitious characterization of 'Ellie'. Sean had prepped Bob and Cathy Horvath, the hawk rehabilitators, with an entirely bogus background for Ellie, who had an unusual rapport with animals but was painfully shy around people and shunned any spotlight resulting from her 'gift'.
When they reached the Bobst Library where the hawks' nest was located, the Horvaths were waiting for them outside the entrance. Brief introductions were made, and Sean could see that the rehabilitators, confronted with the mysterious 'Ellie', who kept her eyes shyly averted and spoke barely above a whisper, were wondering what they'd let themselves in for. Well, Sean thought, they'd soon find out.
He kept up a flow of conversation, asking all the questions Elijah would have about Violet's situation, as they were led into the library and onto the elevator, which whisked them to the twelfth floor, where the hawks had built their nest outside a window.
To protect the hawks from gawking humans who might scare them away, the area around the window had been cordoned off, and Sean was relieved. It meant fewer people to get a close look at 'Ellie'.
The Horvaths had everything Elijah would need to remove the band and treat Violet's leg stored in a small nylon gym bag. They also had a harness that they intended Elijah to wear for protection as the ledge was narrow and sloping, and it was a sheer drop to the pavement below. Sean suspected, however, that Elijah, being Elijah, wouldn't cooperate, and so it proved.
For the first time, he regretted inventing 'Ellie's' shyness, because he'd dearly have loved to argue when Elijah simply shook his head, refusing the proffered harness, picked up the bag and headed for the window.
Bob and Cathy exchanged worried looks, no doubt envisioning 'Ellie' plummeting twelve stories to her death, but Sean said with more confidence than he actually felt, "Don't worry. Ellie will be fine. She's not at all afraid of heights and she has superb balance."
All of which was true, except perhaps for the 'fine' part.
Elijah stood still and silent by the window for some minutes, and Sean knew that he was communing with Violet on the other side, introducing himself, explaining why he was there, and reassuring her that he could fix her injured leg.
Finally he opened the window, dropped the nylon bag onto the ledge and without the slightest hesitation or a backward look, swung a leg over the sill and followed it, disappearing from view.
"Let's move forward," Sean said to the Horvaths. "Violet won't mind us watching. Ellie will explain that we don't intend to harm her or her baby."
"Are you sure?" Bob asked, holding his wife back. "It could be disaster if Violet panics. In fact, this entire idea is starting to seem..."
But Sean, already positioned by the window that let in the sound of city traffic and the fresh wind that was swirling around the building, gestured him forward. "Come and look."
The Horvaths joined him and looked out, and Bob let loose a low whistle. "If I wasn't seeing this with my own eyes," he said in a hushed voice, "I'd never believe it. My god, look at her."
Which is exactly what an Internet audience of several thousand people was also saying at that very moment after being treated to the sudden, unannounced and unexpected appearance of a young woman on the Hawk Cam. The blogosphere and twittersphere went instantly wild with speculation as to whom she was, what she was doing there and what her appearance on the ledge would mean for Violet and her hatchling.
With seeming unconcern for the fact that she was on a narrow ledge twelve stories above the ground and confronting a wild hawk with a baby to defend, the young woman had crouched beside the nest. And to the utter amazement of the riveted audience, which was growing by leaps and bounds as word spread with viral swiftness, Violet remained calmly in place instead of flying away in a panic or attacking the stranger with her lethal looking beak and claws. The woman began speaking, and though it was impossible to tell what she was saying, Violet held up her injured right leg, as if in response to a request.
The woman took Violet's leg in her beringed hands and the hawk offered no resistance as she examined it and the swollen claw with gentle thoroughness and palpated the area around the metal ID band. It was clear that Violet understood the necessity of remaining still. When she was done with her examination, the woman turned away from the camera and moments later turned back, holding a bolt cutter in her hand.
While every single person watching the Hawk Cam held his or her breath, she balanced Violet's leg on her thigh, set the edge of the bolt cutter to the band with exquisite care and with a deft motion severed the metal, first on one side of Violet's leg and then the other. It had to have hurt, with the band so tight around the hawk's leg, but Violet didn't even flinch. The woman removed the band, cleaned the areas where it had cut into Violet's leg with Betadine pads, and finally applied an antibiotic ointment to them.
And then came the most singular, most incredible moment of all.
When she was done, the young woman laid her hand on Violet's back, and the hawk pressed her proud head against her forearm, as if in gratitude. For what seemed endless seconds to the awestruck audience, many of whom were in tears, human and hawk remained that way, in silent communion. Then the young woman gently pressed her lips to the top of Violet's head, murmured something and sat back. Moments later she disappeared from the camera - and didn't return.
Violet flexed her now band-free leg several times, her relief almost palpable, and then she settled down beside her hatchling to rest.
A large crowd was gathering in Washington Square Park and reporters were arriving, too, sent by every media outlet in the city. Word of the amazing events at the Bobst Library had spread like wildfire, and everyone was eager to meet or interview the mystery woman who had just performed a feat that most were calling magical and miraculous.
But Sean, observing the swelling crowd from the window and well-versed in the ways of the media, had no intention of allowing anyone to get near the magical mystery woman. Elijah's Ugg-booted feet had hardly touched the ground inside when Sean had a firm hold of his elbow and was moving. In and out with surgical precision he’d told Elijah, and he meant it. And now was the most dangerous time of the entire endeavor.
"I'm sorry," Sean said politely but implacably to the Horvaths, who clearly wanted to express their thanks to Ellie at length, "but we've got to go. Ellie doesn't like cameras, reporters or crowds of people. She'll freak out."
"But what about Violet's leg?" Bob asked.
"It's going to be fine," Elijah quickly said. "Nothing's broken and there's no sign of infection. Oh, and in case you’re interested," he flung over his shoulder as Sean dragged him away, "Violet told me that her eyas is a boy."
"She told you?" Cathy Horvath gasped, but if she was expecting an answer, she was doomed to disappointment, because Ellie was gone.
Sean had studied a floor plan of the Bobst Library the previous night and knew exactly where the closest stairwell was located. He steered Elijah toward it, an arm draped protectively around him.
“Keep your head down,” he warned.
“Yes, Mom,” Elijah said.
“No more of your sass, Ellie, or I'll tell you how pretty you look.” They hurried down two flights of stairs to the tenth floor and exited the stairwell. “The men’s room is just down here on the left,” Sean said.
“I hope no one is in there. That will be awkward.”
“Classes are over for the semester, Elijah. I doubt anyone much is around right now. But I’ll go in first and give you the all clear.” Sean went into the men’s room and discovered that luck was on their side. It was empty. “Okay, come on in,” he said, holding open the door. He handed Elijah the backpack holding a change of clothing that they'd brought with them, and stood guard while Elijah went into a stall and transformed back into a man.
“Whew,” Elijah said when he emerged, wig-less, boob-less and wearing his usual jeans, white tee, red plaid shirt and black Chucks. “I’ll never again take for granted not having to wear a bra, let me tell you.” He scratched at a spot between his shoulder blades.
Sean grinned. “It’s the small things in life, Elijah,” he quipped. “Now go wash your face so we can highball it out of here. Not that I don’t think you look hot in eye make-up, because you do, and you can feel free to add a little eyeliner any time.”
Elijah went to the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. “You think so?” he asked.
“Well, considering how awesome you’ve been about this, I promise to keep it in mind.”
Elijah lathered up his hands with soap and scrubbed away the make-up, which took some time. When he was done, Sean handed him several paper towels to dry his face.
“There. I’m myself again,” Elijah said with satisfaction, crumpling up the damp towels and pitching them in the trash.
“I gather transforming into a woman isn't quite the same as transforming into a stag,” remarked Sean. "And I'm not even counting the air-shifting and flashing lights."
“Transforming into a woman is a lot harder, Sean,” Elijah replied with feeling.
Sean pulled Elijah into his arms and held him, breathed him in. “Thank you, Woodjin,” he said. “And I’m saying that not just for myself, but for the thousands of people who would thank you if they could - and probably make you offers of marriage."
“Sean!" Elijah giggled. "But seriously, I don’t need their thanks or offers of marriage. My reward is knowing that Violet is safe and that her eyas will grow up in the wild with his parents, not as a captive in a zoo. I couldn’t have borne that. No wild creature should be made captive against its will.” A shudder went through him and Sean held him closer.
“Nevertheless, you, and Ellie, have our gratitude and thanks.”
“You deserve them, too, Sean. I couldn’t have done it without you, my magician.”
They left the men’s room and descended the stairs to the library foyer. They quickly crossed to the exit, and emerged into Washington Square Park, where dozens of people had binoculars and cameras with telephoto lenses trained on the hawks' nest, hoping for a glimpse of Violet, and news vans and camera crews were setting up shop hoping to interview the woman of the hour.
No one paid the least notice to the slight young man in jeans and a red plaid shirt moving through their midst, not even when he stopped and gazed up at the nest on the ledge high above him and said softly, as he had after kissing Violet on the head, “My blessing on you and your family, Violet, now and for always. Fly free.”