Falling Leaves Ch 5

Still wobbly from the beer, we headed downstairs to the parking lot. With no benches or anything to sit on, we parked ourselves on the curb. Thankfully I had the good idea of bringing another two cans of beer with me. We said cheers and waited for her cab to arrive.
 
Folds of heat and humidity from the night winds kept us warm and whipped pieces of trash around the parking lot. Phoenix in the summertime meant a lot of hot and sweaty nights. At least I had the chance to spend mine with company.
 
Jun, a new fan of beer, took a big gulp. “Phew. Thanks for inviting me, Lennard.”
 
I sipped. “Mhm.”
 
Unlike our sarcasm-laden merriment in the apartment, we remained quiet outside as the minutes passed. Maybe we were trying to be polite to my neighbors. All the lit windows told me plenty of people were still awake. We didn’t need to make anyone else’s night any more difficult.
 
For the past week, much of my thoughts were taken over by the tanuki sitting next to me, always going back and forth about things like lies and being lonely. I really needed a good evening of eating and drinking. It was something I missed from my life of unemployment and job hunting. I’d forgotten how fun drinking in moderation could be.
 
A night well-spent.
 
I looked at her and broke the silence with the final words of the night. “Thanks for coming, Jun.”
 
She didn’t say anything. Instead I caught a glimpse of a small, if sad, smile as her taxi approached.
 
The scent of beer and salty snacks held fast to the apartment long after she left. Spritzes of alcohol littered the floor, but were easy enough to clean up. I opened the windows to let out the smell and, by the time I cleaned everything, the heat from outside flowed in. My sweat dampened the sheets before I could shut my eyes.
 
It was a good time.
 
And it left me empty. I believed I could be more honest with her. More real. Or maybe just more drunk. I almost regretted that nothing else happened. But then, what could have happened? We were nearly strangers. Such preposterous guilt filled my bowels.
 
* * *
 
I needed to talk to someone.
 
Sunday morning I sat on a bus heading to the ASU campus.  Getting off on University Drive, I took a right and a left between the boxy buildings and parking structures, and came upon the Psychology North building. Like every other day, it was hot as a desert. The reflective windows on all the buildings didn’t help. At least the school paid good money to keep things cool inside most of the time.
 
Hands in my pockets, I walked through the lobby like I owned the place and made a B-line for a certain professor’s office. Seeing the old stomping grounds created a feeling of pride, letting look around with my head held high.
 
A wooden stop held open the door with “Madison” written across the window, just below “Guidance Counselor and Professor of Developmental Psychology.”  
 
I rapped my knuckles on the door and called inside, “Hello? Professor?”
 
Boxes, bookshelves, and leaning stacks of paper filled the room to the ceiling, aside from a path leading to the door and an area around the large desk in the center. The open window of the sun-facing room kept it much warmer than the rest of the building.
 
As I stepped inside I heard a rustle of papers and a low moan from the desk. Navigating my way around it, a small sweater-clad woman came into view, resting her head on the desktop.
 
“You alright, Professor?”
 
“Ugh, who’s there?” A head of long black hair and crooked round glasses rose. Professor Madison, a short woman for her species, stared wide-eyed at me for a moment. She decided to dress modest in a knit and patterned sweater on that hot summer day.
 
I couldn’t help but smile. “Good to see you, Professor.”
 
Before I could reach out to shake her hand, she stood up on her long serpentine body and lunged into my chest. Wrapping her arms around my middle, she coiled all fifteen feet of her green-scaled tail around my legs.
 
“I didn’t expect to see you today, Lennard!” she cried. “You should’ve called!” My legs popped a little with one last squeeze before she let go. “Oh my, what have you been up to lately? Tell me everything!”
 
I coughed and braced myself against the edge of her desk. “Good to see you too.”
 
Prof. Madison adjusted her glasses and fixed her sweater with a sigh. “Sorry about that. The office is just so cool these days that I get drowsy.”
 
“No problem.” The sunlight peeking through the blinds gave me an idea. “Want to go around the campus for a bit?” Asking to “walk” was a faux pas I quickly learned to avoid with her.
 
She looked around her office, hands pointing and waving about as she took note of the various papers and files scattered across the space. In all the years I knew her, I never understood her organization system.
 
With an affirming nod she said, “Yes! That would be wonderful! Let’s go!”
 
Her small garden snake frame never quite suited the massive wooden frame. Many times I passed through her open office door while I was in school. Truth be told, her office felt more like home than my parents’ place. Every time I acted like a spoiled teenager towards monsters, off to Prof Madison’s office I went. Once the terror of my school days, she seemed so much taller back then.
 
If only she remembered to close the door behind her.
 
“So tell me, Lennard,” she said as we exited the building, “what brings you here today? Good news, I hope?” I kept my hands in my pockets. She saw the tell, and yanked them out before proceeding beside me. “Maybe something hard to talk about?”
 
“Well, for one, I got a job.”
 
A gasp. “With a salary?”
 
I smiled. “With a salary.”
 
Professor Madison threw her arms up. “Well, look at you. All grown up now. Haha! Congratulations!” She hit my shoulder. “So what do you do now?”
 
“I’m in marketing. So, editing documents, doing stuff on the company blog, stuff like that.”
 
“Oh! Oh my, that’s so good!” Her hands clasped together with reverie, her wide eyes marveling at the news.
 
“And I moved out of AJ’s place.”
 
Her head tilted. “’Is that so? I thought you and AJ were good friends? Did something happen?”
 
We passed by the south Psych building. “Yeah, but I, uh, wanted a change of pace.” She didn’t need to know about the DUIs. “And I got all my loans paid off, so everything’s going pretty good now.”
 
“I understand. Good for you, taking a step like that.”
 
“But, uh, some other stuff’s been going on, too.”
 
Her pointed ears twitched at the thought. “Oh, please go on.”
 
“I dunno. It’s… You know what? Nevermind, it’s dumb.”
 
“Please, I want to hear it!” Her big reptilian eyes shined bright as a child’s.
 
“You know how I’ve always had trouble with monsters.”
 
“That’s ‘extra-species’ to you.”
 
“Sorry.” I sighed. “Anyway, I think— well, I’m actually pretty sure— one is interested in me.”
 
The lamia stopped slithering and caged her fingers over her mouth. “Oh my. That’s wonderful, Lennard! Just— oh my! Congratulations!” Once more she hugged me around the waist and nuzzled her cheek against my chest.
 
“Come on, get off.” Not like I was embarrassed or anything. Not at all. “Not even sure she means it, to be honest. It’s not a real thing right now.”
 
She released me, though with a few more twirls of happiness than might have been appropriate. “So. Tell me all about her. Oh, I can’t wait! Is she a lamia? Or maybe a dragon? Actually, a lizardman might suit you. This is so exciting!”
 
Few people I knew got as excited as her about anything, much less my personal life. It almost brought a tear to my eye, but I brushed it off.
 
I had to look away. “Actually, that’s why I came to talk to you. Need a little advice.” The lamia nodded her head in expectation. “She’s a tanuki.”
 
Professor Madison’s back straightened and her arms stiffened. The once-thrilled look on her face turned to one with attentive, unblinking eyes.
 
“A tanuki,” she repeated. She smacked her lips. “You know, I remember that girl you were involved with before.”
 
My gut wrenched at the thought. “What about her?”
 
“From what you told me about her, she had tendencies similar to tanuki.” She continued before I could respond. “Chronic liars, cheaters, and business-minded. In every study conducted by my peers, only a very small percentage of tanuki did not exhibit these traits.”
 
I nodded, mentally tallying off all those things that apply to Jun. She had the first and third in spades, but both with a qualifier. She only lied because of the poor work environment for extra-species in the area, and might not have known much about business if her mother didn’t drill it into her from childhood. Of course, it all could’ve been a tall tale.
 
“Now,” she clasped her hands on her chest, “I’m not saying this girl is like that. However. I want you to be careful. You’ve been burned once before. We both know this, and you’ve bounced back from it. But Lenny, don’t make a habit of involving yourself with girls like that, or they’ll burn you down to a crisp.” I looked straight ahead, down the sidewalk. “Hey.” Madison snapped her fingers in front of me. “Are you listening?”
 
“Yeah.” Regardless, my stomach clenched up at the thought of my last two years at ASU.
 
“Because I swear, if another girl does that to you.” She couldn’t finish. The narrow pupils in her eyes contracted along with the venom she put into her words.
 
I put a hand on her shoulder and kneaded it for a moment. “I know, Maddy.”
 
The lamia sighed and patted my hand. “Just be careful.”
 
We exchanged daily schedules and phone numbers before I left.
 
* * *
 
For the rest of the week I did my normal work, participated in projects with the team, and Jun and I had chances to speak in the break room a couple times. She started speaking in her own voice instead of Sylvia’s. If I faced away from her it felt like she wasn’t in disguise at all. It took one or two minutes to get her pitch back on track before she went back into the office, though.
 
She might’ve faked her credentials and disguised herself as someone who probably didn’t exist, but she worked harder than anyone on the team, and had more than enough know-how to be the supervisor. If she started four or five years ago, that made her nineteen or twenty when she started. At that time I was probably in Economics 101 or getting chewed out by Maddy.
 
Aside from the daily drudgery, many thoughts and ideas itched at the back of my mind.
 
So, I started Googling dating advice specifically regarding tanuki women. By Thursday I honed my reflexes to naturally close browser windows before anyone nearby could see them. I had to clear the cache every time someone wanted to use my computer, too. And I swear to God, if I saw another little pink heart dot an “i” I probably would’ve snapped.
 
With clock-out time fast approaching, Sylvia was busy teaching things to Angela at the former’s cubicle, giving me ample time to search the internet.
 
Online, one man claimed a tanuki drugged him, removed his kidney, and left him in a tub of ice with an ambulance on the way. Wasn’t that the plot of a movie?
 
A woman told the story of how her tanuki best friend stole her husband, children and all.
 
Several men said it’s a bad idea all around to try dating one, because if you aren’t perfect they’ll drop you like a bad habit without a penny to your name.
 
Select few gave any real advice, such as: “Always let them pay for dinner. It’s how they show they care. It’s actually rude to split the bill or pay it all yourself. That said, they appreciate gifts more than anybody.”
 
Everything seemed to be on a case-by-case basis. In a way, it was like dating any other human woman. I certainly couldn’t tell which one would be worse than the other. And, in a fashion, both were monsters to deal with.
 
A minute into the next article and I detected something “off.” I could tell from the smell that someone on the team smoked, but it was too close. I turned to see Scott leaning over my shoulder. His hairless head shined bright in the fluorescent light, every crevice and dent of his skull visible beneath his skin.
 
Of course he smirked like an asshole. “Hey, bud. Reading some pretty heavy stuff today, huh?”
 
The scowl I wore couldn’t cover up the red in my face. “Need something?” My hand reflexively moved the mouse to close the browser without my having to see the screen. I may or may not have been a little proud of the achievement.
 
Scott shrugged and adjusted the sleeves of his skintight t-shirt. “Nah, I’m done for the day and, uh—” he looked around and leaned in close, “— you’re going after a tanuki?”
 
I rose up from my chair to see if Sylvia or Angela were looking our way. They were not. “I’m just, you know, checking some things about them. To make sure.”
 
“Why? She crazy or something?”
 
My mouth opened to say something, but closed before I could. “I don’t think she’s crazy, per se, but. Eh. She told me a pretty big lie.”
 
Scott scoffed. Heh. “Lemme tell you a secret.” He muttered into my ear, “Everybody lies sometime.”
 
I glanced over at Sylvia, whose lesson with Angela finished. “People are saying tanuki lie all the time and take advantage of you.”
 
“Sounds like every girl I’ve been in a relationship with to me.” He nudged my shoulder. “Man, just go for it. Get that ‘nuki.”
 
I did my best to contain my laughter under a hand, but it broke through easily. An image of Jun on a bed wearing nothing but sheets, beckoning me with a finger and saying, “How about some ‘nuki?” left me leaning over my armrest clutching my stomach.
 
“Yeah, see? Nothin’ to be scared of,” Scott said with a pat on my back. “Just try it out.”
 
Angela hopped over to us by the time I recovered. “What’s so funny? I wanna hear it!”
 
“Nothin’ big. Lennard’s just hopin’ for some tanuki ‘nuki this weekend.”
 
He said it rather loud that time. Sylvia choked on her coffee upon hearing him while I did my best to keep out of her line of sight.
 
Angela, however, lit up with high-pitched laughter. “Haaaa! Oh wow, that’s a new one! Oh! That reminds me of another one my friend from school said one time. This’s a good one. This’s good— shut up.” The harpy looked down at me, leaned against the other side of my cubicle wall, and said in a silky, seductive tone, “Hey there, pal, you lookin’ for a little ‘coon poon?”
 
I lost it.
 
The office echoed with the sounds of our laughter and Sylvia choking on her coffee. Angela hopped to her rescue and asked if she was okay while Scott and I recovered. Tears squeezed past my eyelids. I couldn’t remember the last time that happened from laughter. Being in the same room with Sylvia was just icing on the cake.
 
Sylvia coughed again and forced herself to say, “I’m fine. Kuh. Just went down the wrong way. Excuse me.”
 
The whole office heard her cough for several more minutes. Good thing she could magic her makeup back to normal after crying it all over her face. We couldn’t talk to each other that day. She probably feared embarrassment, but I feared I would burst out laughing again.
 
* * *
 
Things more-or-less returned to normal for Friday because, well, it was Friday. The team got lunch at a little sushi joint before getting back to complete the framework for an east coast ad campaign. Since we fell into random order at the sushi bar with me on one end and her on the other, Sylvia and I didn’t have much opportunity to talk. Cramming into Chelsea’s car on the way to and from the restaurant took longer than the trip itself.
 
Scott and Angela joked around while the rest of us went back to our cubicles. Chelsea went far ahead as if to keep from being associated with them. I didn’t blame her. If someone heard any amount of laughter from across the office, it was probably those two. Then again, I might’ve been counted among them given how loud I laughed at their dumb jokes.
 
As I sat down, a heavy presence leaned on our corner of the office. The hair on my arms stood up as a figure cast a shadow over my desk. She wore a dark red suit, tailored to fit over her scaled limbs, wings, and tail, each the color of smoldering earth. Her reptilian eyes glinted within her own shadow. Clutched in one claw was a tiny to-go bag.
 
“Lennard,” Tia said with a slight bow of her head. Her breath alone increased the heat and humidity within my cubicle.
 
I glanced around to see if I had any backup, but found none. “Tia.”
 
She pointed a clawed thumb behind her shoulder. “Got a minute?”
 
“Yeah, sure. We just got back.”
 
As I stood from my chair, Tia pointed at Sylvia. “You, too.”
 
She hopped right from her chair and followed the dragon with a confirming nod.
 
I always forgot how close Tia’s office was to our group. She hardly left it except to go to or from lunch or meetings. Only once did I actually see the inside of her office, which was for my second interview. When we got inside, the dragon closed the door behind us and let herself collapse into her giant office chair with a crash.
 
“Okay,” Tia said, resting her chin on her knuckles, “here’s the thing.” With her other hand she turned her computer monitor towards us. My blood ran cold when I realized it showed the browsing history of, possibly, the entire team. The various, predominantly pink, icons of the sites I visited throughout the week stood defiant in my face as if to mock me for trusting Incognito Mode.
 
A squeak of surprise sounded from Sylvia, except in Jun’s voice. Curious, I looked closer. Among the list of web pages were other sites I never personally visited. The titles I could pick out included: “Getting Him to Notice You,” “Date a Human Man in 10 (Legal) Steps,” and “How These Five Happy Interracial Couples Met!” A surge of blood rushed into my head.
 
Tia turned the monitor back around and sighed. “Now, let’s put all our cards on the table, here.” She looked at Sylvia. For a moment, they held eye contact. Then, in what felt like a rush of warm wind, Tia’s golden eyes glowed in their sockets. As the wind hit Sylvia, a puff of smoke smothered her figure.
 
I bolted out of my seat and stood back as the smoke cleared, revealing a wide-eyed and slack-jawed Jun in a very loose business suit. The glow left Tia’s eyes.
 
“Buh— Ah— Wha—” Jun’s mouth trembled.
 
Did Tia just find out? Did our rampant internet browsing just blow her cover?
 
My gut tied itself into knots. “Tia, what just happened?”
 
She leaned back in her chair and muttered, “Just dispelled her little illusion thing.”
 
Jun trembled in her seat. “How long have you known?”
 
“Your first interview here.”
 
Her brow flattened. “And you didn’t say anything?”
 
The dragon shot a glare at Jun. “Would you rather I didn’t talk to Big CEO-Man Charles about it? I could’ve tossed you out on grounds of falsifying your credentials if you wanted.”
 
I sat down. Too much. Just too much.
 
Meanwhile, Jun gently fumed in her seat. “Why didn’t you, then? You could’ve at least told me you knew! I-I mean— Just—!”
 
“Because Charlie is actually a pretty cool guy. I told him and said we should throw you out, but he was all like, ‘Nah, the job market’s terrible for tanuki. Let ‘er stay!’ I mean, whatever, right? Anyway, I just took off your Sylvia so it’d make more sense why I brought you two in today. At least to me. Sylvia throws me off.” She pointed a claw at her screen. “I’ll get in trouble if you guys keep going to these sites instead of working. So, quit it, ‘kay?”
 
Both Jun and I stared at her.
 
“Wait,” I said, “that’s it?”
 
Tia, the ever-powerful red dragon, picked her nose. “Myeah. Looking up stupid dating advice and stuff on the internet is fine I guess, but come on, don’t do it work.”
 
Jun slumped in her chair. I did very much the same thing. It felt like someone aimed a pair of heat lamps at my ears.
 
“Also.” I straightened up as Tia flicked what looked like a ball of soot at her computer screen. “If you guys think you’d be cool with it, go ahead. I don’t really know or care what you two’ve been up to, but Lennard,” she looked me dead in the eye, “dating your supervisor’s probably a super-bad idea.”
 
A mixture of confusion and embarrassment swirled in my head while Jun quietly retrieved a leaf from one of her pockets. I refused to look at her for fear she would see my face balloon with red. All I felt was a puff of air before a fresh Sylvia rose from her seat.
 
“Ahem. Are we finished here, Tia?” Sylvia asked. She sounded right as rain.
 
The dragon since started twirling a pen between her claws. “Yeah, sure, you c’n go.”
 
I lingered in my chair for a bit before hauling myself out of it. “By the way.”
 
“Hm?” It looked like she just started up Farmville with her free hand.
 
“How did you know about Jun?” I made sure to wait for the door to close behind Sylvia before asking.
 
She shrugged. “You think a little raccoon trick can get by a dragon?”
 
Good enough, I guess.
 
A lungful of air leaked out of my mouth as I left. My clothes felt heavier and less comfortable as I walked around the office. Without much direction I soon ended up in the break room. No idea where Sylvia went. Either way, my throat felt parched. One chugged cup of water later and I sat at one of the little tables. With all the different colored table tops it felt like daycare. It fit, in a way, given how stupid I felt. The Incognito Mode on my browser even had a disclaimer saying it wouldn’t keep my employers from seeing my history.
 
At least Tia seemed okay with things, for the most part, but I wondered what kind of “things” that entailed.
 
A figure approached from my peripheral. “Uh, hi.” Sylvia, of course.
 
“What’s up?” Though I turned to look at her, I didn’t feel my head heat up at all.
 
Sylvia fidgeted, elbows to her side and hands clasped in front. “This might be rude, but, well. Ahem. I think I could really use a drink tonight. Would you like to, um, join me?”
 
Being outed as a hopeless romantic stung, but not as much as the thought of another Friday night alone. I took a moment to think about the offer.
 
Thankfully, it didn’t take long. “Yeah. My place around seven sound good?”
 
* * *
 
More beer, more snacks, earlier start time, and smooth jazz instead of swing. She wore an old-looking t-shirt and cargo shorts along with a pair of flip-flops. On opposite ends of the couch and an excess of chips sitting between us, we were ready as hell. We had four hours-worth of Jeopardy to watch and nothing to do but make a drinking game out of it. For every question we got wrong, we took a drink.
 
Both of us blew through several cans before the first hour ended.
 
Jun’s eyes fluttered closed for a second. “Hah~ By the way, I’m impressed. This is a very, well, romantic setting. With the jazz and whatnot.” She leaned against the reclined back of the couch and put an arm across the top, shooting me a smile. The light of the setting sun coming through the window made it harder to tell how red her face was.
 
I downed the rest of my can before the first question of the episode. “Thought it’d be nice, I guess.”
 
“Nice for what?” She set her drink on the floor and rested her head on her arms.
 
Reaching for another can and opening it, I took the first sip out of habit. “A nice, I don’t know, quiet place to drink and talk. Or something.” Every time I glanced in her direction she still looked at me. The fondness in her eyes kept me from making eye contact. “I’m no good at talking to people.”
 
“Pff. Come on, you do fine.”
 
“Well— wait a sec. I mean, talking to someone who’s, uh.” I couldn’t find the words. Tapping my palm against my forehead didn’t help. “I don’t know.” I took another sip. “I think it’ll be a lot easier to talk to you tonight when I’m a bit drunk.”
 
For several minutes we watched the show, drinking at our leisure. The occasional crunch of pretzels and chips made my eyes edge toward her end of the couch, but never directly at her. If anything, the ambient noise we made told me she had much more to drink than me. Soon the number of cans on her side of the couch increased to six or seven. I only had five.
 
The silence felt more like a quiet agreement. Almost like voicing our comfort without words, at least on my part. I couldn’t say the same for her.
 
During a commercial I heard several hard gulps from Jun. For the first time in half an hour I turned to see her chug a beer. Every gulp felt like it took a minute as the bottom of the can rose into the air. Finally, she leaned forward with a hard sigh of beer breath and frustration. She looked straight ahead, as if only just remembering a hatred for commercials.
 
“You okay?” I asked as she set the can on the floor next to her. Craning my neck a little, she had two more next to it. With five on the couch and three by her feet, she went through eight cans faster than I could through four. “Don’t go too fast, now.”
 
Another beer sigh. “Yeah. It’s just, do you really need to drink just to talk to me?”
 
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
 
She leaned on her knees, staring at the glow from the TV. “Then what did you mean?”
 
“Not that. Just, gah.” Then, I got that lightbulb over my head. “Interested. There we go.”
 
“What?”
 
“That’s the word I was looking for earlier. You’re interested. It’s… hard to explain.”
 
Jun moved a couple bags of snacks out of the way and scoot herself closer to my side of the couch. “I want to hear it. Because, I’m really confused right now.”
 
I turned off the TV and set my can on the floor. “Here’s something you should know about me: the last time a girl was interested in me, she turned out to be bad fuckin’ news. Long story short, I got really careful. And now you? You came up to me with all your secrets and magic and disguises and said you’re interested, too? You have no idea how many alarms that set off.” The lump in my throat made sure I felt guilty enough about it, too.
 
At my words, Jun smoothed out the fabric on her shorts, set both feet on the floor, and placed her hands on her knees with a shine of liquid in her eyes. “I-I’m a tanuki and all. Guess it’s not much of a stretch. Haha.” She tried to wipe something from her eyes as if nothing was wrong.
 
“Yeah. I wanted to get a little drunk so I could talk without a filter, or osmething.” With that, I downed the rest of my can and crushed it, as if the exertion would give me the drive to continue talking. Regardless, my eyesight started lagging a little. “I could’ve brushed off your little ‘confession’ with ‘she’s lying to me’ or ‘I’ll humor her with dinner’ or ‘she’ll get what’s coming to her when I find out she’s lying.’ It was like I was trying to find all the holes in your story or something. But seeing you– well, Sylvia– at work sort of made it moot. Yeah, I invited you to dinner but, mostly, I just didn’t want to spend another weekend alone.”
 
Jun’s lips quivered. “Yeah, I can understand that.”
 
“Thing is, I didn’t expect it to be fun. Inviting you here for drinks last week? That wasn’t part of the plan.”
 
She blinked. “Seriously?”
 
“Yeah. After that, I got curious. Asked a friend for advice, looked up crap on the internet, just trying to find something. I didn’t know what I was looking for until today.”
 
Her ears turned back. “Ugh. You mean the thing with Tia?”
 
“Mhm.” I looked at her, feeling some tingling in my eyes, myself. “I didn’t think you were truly interested in me. I’ve always been suspicious of people, and you being a tanuki didn’t help. But seeing what you’ve been doing? That really got me thinking about this. I tried to wring out every little lie I could find out of you, but I didn’t find a thing. And when I realized that, suddenly I turned into this stupid, shy guy trying to deal with the fact that someone’s into him or something I guess.” My head felt about ready to explode.
 
“Pff. Or something.” Finally she smiled again, but it quickly faded as she stared at the floor.
 
I grabbed the top of her head with one hand and turned her back toward me. “I’m not finished. Here’s the thing— and I can only say this now that ah’m a bit tipsy. The one thing I never ever expected was, well,” I reached out and put a hand on hers, “I want to go out with you.”
 
There. I said it. Full disclosure, everything in the open, enough beer to say it. No more questioning and doubting every little thing. Whatever happened, happened.
 
Her head lit up like a furnace. Mouth agape, she put her hands on her head as if protecting herself from something.
 
At least this time she could form words. “What? Did you just— what?”
 
I coughed. “Yeah, sorry. Bit sudden. I went back and forth for a bit, but yeah. Let’s, uh, try it. This whole ‘dating’ thing.” I took long enough to try again at all.
 
Her arms jerked back to her knees and she stared straight ahead again. “I see.”
 
I could just imagine some distant cricket noises as she sat stock straight next to me.
 
But I said it— something I hadn’t said for a long time. Always holding it in, the fear of the unknown keeping me at bay. But nothing kept me grounded anymore. I could take a deep breath and puff out my chest with real confidence for the first time in years.
 
“Whoa, man.” Her head teetered back and forth while her hands grasped at air to steady herself.
 
“Careful, there.” I reached out and steadied her with a hand on her shoulder and another on her head to keep her balanced. “You okay? You might’ve had too much to drink too fast or something.”
 
“Guh. I’m okay, just—” Jun looked up at me and we both realized how close we were. “Ahem. I don’t think it was the beer.” A sheepish look on her face, she sidled closer to me.
 
My heart skipped a beat at the contact. I almost had to force myself to let her. She guided my hand with hers behind her shoulders and nestled her head under my arm. Our hips touched and I thought I smelled vanilla again.
 
Jun closed her eyes. “You know, I’m glad you asked me to come over.”
 
My heart beat quicker. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
 
A deep breath, followed by a happy little sigh. “Your place smells like you.”
 
“Smells?” Reflexively I sniffed my other armpit.
 
She giggled. “Yep. Well, right now it smells like beer, but usually it smells like you.” Jun tilted her head back like an animal sniffing at the air. “Laundry detergent, old paper from the records, wood floors, deodorant, some sweat. And I have a good sense of smell. Before we even met at work, I smelled someone new in the office.”
 
“Awkward.”
 
“M-mm. Not at all. This might sound weird, but you smell really nice.” A shot of confidence burst through me. “Uh, d-do you mind if I stay like this for a bit?”
 
After a moment, I pulled her closer. “Only until your dizziness goes away.”
 
Jun nuzzled her cheek against my chest. “Thanks, Lennard.”
 
I never told her to stop.

 

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6 thoughts on “Falling Leaves Ch 5”

  1. Can’t tell if Tia is a bro or has just run out of fucks to give, if she ever had any in the first place.

    This is good! We’re cracking along! Feelings! Oncomming racoon-dog-gystle.

      1. Marketing, actually.

        Aside from that, raping and pillaging aren’t socially acceptable practices anymore. As for hoarding, we don’t know whether she does or not.

        1. >Tia opened the door to her flat, the first thing that hits you on entrance is the smell, but Tia had long since grown accustomed to it. The second thing to hit you is the 7ft high stack of newspapers beside the door: Tia, an old hat at this steadies the teetering spire with a wing as she picks her way deeper into her flat.
          >She added the contents of her briefcase to the correct pile. Everything in it’s place.
          >Every dragon must have her hoard, and so Tia had hers.

  2. the professor is great and has great taste
    tia seems like a pretty hot looking dragon, that’s maybe super bro
    and jun a qt, needs more headpats.
    there was a lack of those this chapter

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