“Congrats! Though really, I knew it was gonna work out,” said Laska, beaming at me from her cross-legged position on the couch.
“Oh, and how did you know that?” I asked.
“Eralia asked me the same thing you did like a week earlier.”
“…You did?” I said, glancing to Eralia, who just looked away innocently – though she couldn’t wipe the grin off her face.
“Welllll, you know. Just wanted her opinion. And to make sure she was fine with it.”
“You sought her approval?,” I said with a chuckle, “Normally the parents are asked for approval when someone wants to marry their daughter, not the other way around.”
“If I’m to be her step-mom, she should get a say in it, isn’t that right my cute little daughter-to-be,” Eralia said, pinching Laska’s cheek and making her voice high-pitched and cutesy, or what she thought was supposed to be cutesy.
Laska swat away Eralia’s paw and pressed herself into the safety of the cushions. “Don’t start with that already!”
“You know you like it.”
“No way! Hah, how about this! How do you like it!”
Laska lunged forward off the couch and got a pawful of Eralia’s cheek, and with the same high-pitch to her voice growled out “Aren’t you soooo cuuuute!”
Immediately the jackal’s paw came up and again pinched Laska’s cheek, leaving them standing in the middle of the living room telling each other how cute and adorable they were with their cheeks stretched to the limit.
Neither showed signs of yielding in their desperate struggle.
Though, something that struck me watching them was the fact Laska wasn’t all that much shorter than Eralia these days. When they’d first met, Laska was a fair bit smaller, but now only a few inches separated them. Granted, given her age she probably wouldn’t be growing much more, but still, seeing the difference having to shrunk to almost nothing dredged up all kinds of wistful feelings and memories.
On that note, spending all that time around Eralia had rubbed off on Laska. She’d never admit it, but they were becoming mother and daughter.
…Or maybe they reached that point a while ago. So different, yet so much the same. Felt like not so long ago Laska didn’t take to Eralia, to put it mildly. Now here they were.
Time flies and all that.
My bemused, wistful trip down memory lane was unfortunately detoured as I realized neither of them were going to yield in their little struggle any time soon.
“Are you two about done, or do I have to put the both of you in time out?”
“Schee schtarted it!” Said Laska, having brought her other paw into play to get at both of Eralia’s cheeks.
“No, you schtarted thish!”
I gave them both my sternest dad face. They scowled, insomuch as they were capable of, but relented and broke off their assaults.
“Such a rebellious child,” Eralia said, rubbing her cheek, “But it’s okay, mommy’s here now to teach you how to be a prim and proper lady.”
“Like hell! One, you’re not my mom! She’s—“ Laska trailed off, then looked down for a moment. “You’re not her,” she said in a breath above a whisper. Whatever else she’d intended to say died on the spot.
“You’re right, I’m not,” said Eralia, resting a paw on Laska’s head, “Though my daughter may have the wrong color fur and her tail isn’t nearly as fluffy, she’s still beautiful and strong.”
Laska didn’t say anything for a long second, her eyes locked with Eralia’s. A few moments later they rolled ‘round and she shook off the headpat. “Very funny.”
“What? Don’t you believe me?”
“How dreadful! Mine own daughter thinks me a liar,” Eralia said, clutching at her chest, “My heart has been rent!”
See, it was times like these when even I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or just poking fun at Laska. I mean, I was pretty sure she was being serious in her own strange way, but to what extent remained a mystery. Would I ever figure her out? No, probably not.
Though that’s probably what made her so much fun.
Not yet complete with her drama, Eralia turned to me, wiping away non-existent tears from her eyes. “You’ve raised such a cruel daughter.”
“What are you- No, don’t drag me into… whatever you’re trying to drag me into,” I said, but I had a thought. “How terrible,” I added, bringing a hand to my forehead, “that I am to wed a woman lacking in all graces and feminine sensibilities!”
“Oh come on,” Eralia said, making a sour face, “Not all graces. I still have a few lying about somewhere. Under the bed, maybe.”
Laska coughed into a fist. “…You sure about that?”
“Yes, very sure,” Eralia said, paws on her hips.
“I dunno about that,” I said, bring up my hands to forestall any rebuttals, but still earning a petulant scowl, “But can we please get back to the point?”
The three of us glanced at each other several times, after which Laska asked “What was the point again?”
“Right,” Eralia said, clearing her throat, “I suppose we got a little sidetracked. Now then. Marriage. We’re planning on having the ceremony late May or early June.”
“Something small,” I said, picking up where she’d left off, “So we’re planning on going to the courthouse for the marriage, then having the dinner party and such here in our backyard.”
Laska cocked her head to a side, eyebrows all scrunched up. “Courthouse? That doesn’t seem very… romantic.”
“And a church is?” Eralia said.
“You know what I mean. Going to a courthouse makes it seem really, I dunno… Boring?”
Eralia took a seat on the arm of the couch next to Laska. “The party afterwards is where all the fun really is. All the food, drink, our friends, what little family we have that still talks to us…”
Eralia and I shared one of those sighing laughs.
“…You don’t need to have some overblown affair to be romantic. Besides, not only is this way much cheaper, but everyone actually hates those stupidly long ceremonies in a church, and then certain people get all steamed because only one religion is being represented. I don’t give two shits either way, but-” Eralia caught herself and stopped.
We’d had that particular conversation on the drive back. Eralia was as a devout practitioner of the religion she’d been born into as I was to mine, which meant trouble with the couple family members she’d managed to make amends with. So, a nice, simple, and secular wedding at the courthouse had several advantages.
“-But this way is much cheaper, too. Leaves us more money for other things. Like going to the track during the summer. I mean, we could rent out a church and get a giant cake that costs as much as your bike did, but then…”
“You know what, the courthouse is a really good idea,” Laska said, unable to control her twitching tail.
“I figured you’d come to see our side of things. Besides,” I said, coming up from behind Eralia to give her a big dopey hug and kissed one of her ears, “It’s not like we need to yell to the whole world how we feel.”
“When’d you get so charming?” Eralia cooed, stroking the underside of my chin with a paw.
Laska shuffled away a couple steps as if readying herself to dart from the room, eyeing us warily. “Could you not?”
Much as I hated to admit it, teasing Laska could be fun at times.
“Whatever do you mean?”
That remark earned me a glower.
“Hey, we’ve had to deal with you and Zoe – Speaking of which, where is she? I thought she’d be waiting here for us with you.”
In the span of a heartbeat Laska’s demeanor sagged and she looked away. “She was busy.”
Busy, huh.“Did you two have another spat?”
“No,” Laska said, shaking her head, “Look, I don’t wanna talk about it now, ‘cause hey, you’re getting married and stuff!”
She didn’t sound too upset, but that could’ve just meant she was getting better at hiding her feelings. The two of them bickering like, well, teenage girls wasn’t uncommon – especially when they became a thing – but there was something else going on here.
“Well, you know if you ever want to talk about it-“
“-You’re there for me. I know, I know.”
We both put on forced smiles. “All right, sweetie. Anyways, there’s not much to it. Afterwards we’re planning on taking a trip, though we’re still not sure where.”
“Somewhere nice and warm,” Eralia said, staring off into space at a scene only she could see, “With sand and surf and as many margaritas as I can hold in my paws…”
“And then you get sun stroke and I have to drag you to a hospital.”
“What’s a honeymoon without a trip to the hospital? Boring, that’s what.”
“Whatever you say,” I said, not daring to tease the subject out further for fear of where Eralia’s dark mind would venture to.
“Coward,” said Eralia with a knowing smirk.
“It’s a tactical retreat. But yeah,” I said, diverting course before Laska’s pure and innocent mind finally worked out what Eralia was getting at, “That’s our plans. Nothing big. And it’ll be right after your graduation, too, so lots of excitement for the month.”
Laska leaned up against the back of the couch. “Hah, my graduation… It’s sure coming up fast, isn’t it?”
“Something like that, I guess.”
“What’s the matter,” Eralia chimed in, “Just a couple weeks ago you were ready to wash your hands of, how did you put it, ‘Those assholes and cunts?’”
What? I had to replay that in my mind several times; this was new to me. Laska never used that sort of language when we talked. “Assholes and cunts?”
Laska tried in vain to pull her paw out of the cookie jar, but had to settle for an awkward smile of apology. “Well, they are.”
In that moment, I had a sort of miniature revelation. If I wanted her to feel like she could talk to me about whatever…
“Which is which?”
“Who are the assholes, who are the cunts?”
Eralia gave an amused snort and Laska blinked.
“Does it matter? They all are, all the time.”
“Fair enough,” I said, unable to hide my amusement. “But Eralia has a point. What’s got you all down about getting out of there?”
“I dunno. Just… it’s hard to explain.”
I hummed, then said, “Don’t worry, I understand.”
I nodded in sympathy. Her ambivalence was something I understood well; I felt the same way when it came time for me to leave high school behind. I hated them all, yet it marked the end of an era – an era that could never be replayed, never be redone. The years would never roll back.
“Don’t get too stuck on what ifs and what could have beens.”
“I guess, but, well… Well you know,” said Laska after some paw wringing.
“Yeah, I do,” I said, giving Laska a quick pat on the head for old time’s sake. Her ears flicked and for a moment she didn’t recoil away and stare daggers at me.
“Besides, I think you’ll find college a lot more fun – which reminds me-“
“I know, I know,” said Laska, rolling her eyes, “But it’s not that easy. I don’t want to get stuck having to learn some shit for four years only to find it I hate it or whatever.”
“Still thinking about engineering?” Eralia said as she wandered into the kitchen.
“Yeah, a little. I guess.”
The fridge opened and shut and plates clattered.
“Why not try to practice some of the work on your own? I know there’s all kinds of information and whatnot on the internet.” said Eralia amidst the sounds of drawers and cabinets opening and shutting.
“I have, actually. Like, I like all the math and science and stuff, but…” Laska’s head lolled to a side and if she deflated any more she’d fold in half backwards across the back of the couch.
“…But?” I asked.
Her eyes followed some invisible line on the wall behind me. “But, it’s not like I’ll get to help make something cool, like design an engine or frame for a motorcycle. No, I’ll get stuck testing doorknobs or something and having to do piles of paperwork on why some shitty little spring in it failed after a key was inserted 5,000 times instead of the 6,000 it was supposed to.”
And there the last bit of air went, leaving her draped over the couch like a towel.
“Well, that’s… Doorknobs are useful. I mean, everyone needs them. Couldn’t get into a house without one.”
Laska gave me a look that fell somewhere between despair and incredulous.
“Yeah, great,” Laska said, still bent over backwards, “Hey there Laska, what do you do? Well, I watch a machine put a key into a doorknob a couple thousand times and then fill out a ten-page report that no one will ever read, but god damn if I don’t do it someone will find out.”
“Now you’re just being dramatic. I mean, someone has to do all the boring shit somewhere. You just have to make sure to do well in school so you don’t have to be that someone.”
“Yeah,” said Eralia, re-appearing in the living room, sporting three sundaes in her arms, “Do well and you can be the girl who supervisors the doorknob testers.”
Though immediately after her dry remark, her nose twitched and she bolted upright, tail twitching energetically.
“What’s with the ice cream?”
Eralia laid out the dishes on the coffee table, each one had a full compliment of just about everything you could put on a sundae. Including a few candles – the sparkling sort leftover from Laska’s last birthday. “I figured we could use a small celebration. An announcement of our marriage and to Laska’s future career as peon in a faceless corporation!”
“Well, I’m already dead inside, so I guess I’m prepared for the job ,” Laska said as she rolled down the couch onto the cushions and dragged a bowl towards her face. At least the sight of ice cream brought some light back to her eyes. Could’ve just been the candles, though. I also couldn’t tell if she blew them out or just sighed that deeply.
“To being an adult!” Eralia cheered, lifting her bowl.