February 3rd, 2010
Today was somehow even more dreary than yesterday. Sunny it may be, it did little to brighten the mood.
We got back at night, Laska more or less went straight to her room, and I told Eralia about all that’d transpired. As I expected, she lamented how she hadn’t come along – apparently she would’ve “Set Bela straight.”
So yes, I made the correct call in not bringing her along.
I decided not to bother Laska too much, just knocked on her door to let her know breakfast and then lunch were ready. She never came down.
“You can’t let her smolder alone like this,” Eralia said a short while after we’d finished lunch.
“I’m not. You know her, she needs time to sort herself out,” I said as I rinsed off the last of the plates and stuffed them in the dishwasher.
Eralia leaned back in her chair and gave me one of those looks reserved for times when she thought I was being stubborn – the kind of look where her nose scrunched up a tiny bit and her ears swiveled off to the sides. “She does, but she also can’t ruminate about it all day or it’ll eat her alive.”
“We’ve had this conversation before,” I said with a deep sigh, “I can’t just barge into her room and drag her out.”
Her ears flipped back to focus on me, but a wolfish smirk appeared at the same time. “Doesn’t have to be you.”
“…What are you getting at?”
“Well,” Eralia said, tracing a random pattern on the kitchen surface with a paw, “Since we’re old, uncool, and obviously don’t understand what being a teenager is like, I called Zoe.”
She was something else. I didn’t know if I should applaud her foresight or scold her for not asking me first. “You did what? When?”
“A little before we ate. I told her to stop by around one, so she should be here any moment.”
“And what if Laska still refuses to come out? Zoe’s kind of sensitive about… things.”
“I know, but more importantly, Laska knows. She won’t want to hurt her best friend, right?”
Images and memories of all the times Laska had secluded herself bubbled through my mind. “She won’t want to, but it might happen anyways.”
“Maybe,” Eralia said, adding on a curious hum at the end.
The doorbell halted our conversation. 1:01pm. If Zoe was on-time, matters had to be dire indeed. “Well, I hope your plan works,” I said as I left the kitchen for the front door.
She answered with her grin.
Upon opening the door, I was greeted with a familiar sight; the kind I had to look upwards to see eye-to-eye with. “Afternoon Zoe. Come on in,” I said, standing aside and holding the door open.
“Hi Curtis! How are you doing?” Zoe said, full of bubbly cheer. She kicked her boots against the step to knock off any snow and practically skipped inside before she came to a halting realization and whirled. I knew what was coming, but I was powerless to stop it.
Zoe wrapped me up in one of her crushing hugs – complete with a furiously beating tail that’d been the reason we kept everything knee-high and taller away from the entry.
My ribs creaked and popped, and for a moment I saw the light. Thankfully she let me go before I hit the point of no return. “Could be better,” I said after sucking in a deep breath to force my ribs back into position with a wince of pain. “Yesterday was pretty tough.”
“I heard, Eralia told me all about it,” Zoe said, as if she’d suddenly been drained of her energy. But, like a light switch that’d been flipped off and on in a hurry, she rebounded in an instant. “So that’s why I came over. Not that I need a reason to, but, you know. Laska’s really important to me!”
Zoe may have been the older of the pair, but she was always the little pup I knew from way back when.
“Glad to see you, Zoe.” Eralia had poked into the hall, adding a wave to her greeting. I knew why she lingered in the kitchen, but she didn’t wait long enough.
Zoe took a step. Before she could take another I barked a single word like a dill sergeant. “Shoes!”
Faster than should have been possible, Zoe kicked off her boots and bolted for her prey. “Eralia!”
Eralia tried to back away, but her speed was no match for the young wolf’s. Hanging her head in resignation, she accepted her fate. Not even any flailing limbs today; just a few muffled groans.
“Where’s Laska?” Zoe said after freeing Eralia from her smothering embrace.
I shot a glance up the stairs, “Up in her room.”
Halfway up the first step, Zoe paused and looked at me expectantly.
“Go ahead,” I said, waving her on. Was a bit late for her to be asking if she could come in, but I suppose it was nice to see the thought crossed her mind.
Answering with a smile to outshine the sun, Zoe rushed up the stairs. Moments after she hurdled the last step, there came a sharp knocking. “Laska! Open up!”
Well, I’d leave the wolf to her task. Shifting my attention, I saw Eralia was still recovering from her ordeal, making faces and arching her back. “Still think it was a good idea to invite her over?”
Eralia twisted in place, like she was trying to get one final kink out of her spine that just wouldn’t free itself. “Your concern is touching. I almost died there, you know.”
“I got the same treatment,” I said, lending Eralia a hand to aid her stretch, “and I’m doing fine.”
“Laaaaaaskaaa! I know you’re in there!”
Both of us glanced up. Seemed negotiations were going to take a bit of time.
“That’s because I’m a delicate little desert rose,” Eralia said, making her voice soft as a breeze – quite the contrast from her iron-grip on my arm as she used me for leverage to get the last krick out of her back.
“Delicate? I watched you low-side while going faster than freeway traffic, only to get up and start kicking your bike when you both tumbled into the grass. You also swore for like, hours after.”
With one more tug her back popped loud enough for me to hear. Relief washed across her face, intermingled with a bit of devilishness.
“Even delicate roses have thorns.”
“Is it still a rose if it’s nothing but thorns?”
She gave me a playful little punch on my shoulder and tried to scowl, but she couldn’t quite suppress her grin.
“See what I mean? All the abuse I have to put up with…”
“If you don’t open up I’ll force myself in! You know I can!”
The scary part was I knew Zoe could easily break the flimsy lock on Laska’s door. Probably wouldn’t even have to transform. I shot over to the foot of the stairs and just as I was about to yell for Zoe to avoid destroying pieces of my home, I heard a door click open.
“Laska! About time!”
There was some kind of shriek, followed by silence. A third victim had been claimed, no doubt.
I thought about going up and seeing what was going on, but then again making a big deal out of Laska emerging from her room was likely to just make her want to retreat.
“See? What’d I tell you,” Eralia said, brimming with more smugness than should be possible for any one person.
A short while later Zoe and Laska came downstairs. Zoe was chipper and upbeat as always, though Laska’s bed-raggled hair and wrinkled clothes gave the appearance of someone who’d been forcibly extracted.
Still, seeing Laska out of her room was cause for at least a tiny bit of celebration. “Hey you two. What’s up?”
“Not much,” Zoe said, wrapping her arm around Laska’s shoulder, “I was just telling Laska I’ve got a surprise for her outside!”
I suspected this was another part of whatever Eralia had cooked up, but when I turned to her, she just gave me a look that said she was as curious as I was. “Oh yeah? What is it?”
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise!”
“If it’s for Laska, why do I need to be surprised?”
“That’s ‘cause it’s for you two as well!”
“Outside? I don’t know,” I said, sounding like she’d asked me to complete some Herculean task.
Zoe gave a little pouty stomp of a foot. “Come on!”
“Nevermind him,” Eralia said, hauling herself up from the couch. “We’d love to see what you’ve got planned.” She gave me an eye. “Isn’t that right?”
Seemed she’d bought too deep into my joke, though given how I usually acted, I couldn’t really blame her. “Certainly, I’d love to,” I said as I stood.
Bursting with new-found energy, Zoe skipped towards the entryway. Laska, on the other hand, sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. “Yay, surprises…” She said, just loud enough for me to hear.
Bright sun was a rare treat in a month full of dreary grey. It’d have been almost enjoyable were it not for the snow reflecting the sun straight into my eyes. Once I’d adjusted to the blinding light, I glanced around in search of the surprise, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Zoe must’ve hidden it somewhere, or maybe it was just on the other side of the house or something.
Laska stood off to the side a bit, paws stuffed deep into her coat pockets with her hood pulled up and cinched tight. About the only thing I could make out of her face were her orange eyes peering out over the top of her collar.
“Well then, what’s the surprise you want to show us?” Eralia said, a cloud of vapor billowing out in front of her.
“It’s a secret!”
“So you’ve said, but so far I’m not seeing much…”
Zoe ambled about in a lazy circle, remaining unusually quiet. For her, quiet was the most suspicious thing. The entire time she tromped around, she kept her eyes fixated on Laska. They held each others’ gaze for a while, but then Laska turned away.
At last, the opportunity presented itself and Zoe capitalized.
In the blink of an eye her gloved hands dipped into a bank of snow, compacted the mount of icy fluff, and hurled it at her unsuspecting victim.
A shower of snow-shrapnel sprayed from the impact square on the back of Laska’s head. The blow pitched her forward, but didn’t topple her.
So that was her plan.
For a time, Laska remained motionless. Then, she began to laugh a short, dry laugh – the kind that left no doubt as to the crazed expression she had to be wearing.
In one smooth motion Laska stooped and whirled, gathering up two great pawfuls of snow. Her vengeance flew forth, but the wolf was prepared; it was an easy dodge. “You can do better than that,” Zoe said pityingly, “can’t you?”
Laska huffed and snorted and laughed some more. She plopped to her knees in the snow, gathering up a massive pile against her chest. Like a snap of fingers, she vanished.
I told her time and again no teleportation shenanigans, but either she forgot or just didn’t give a shit. Either way, Zoe’s cocky smile was wiped off in an avalanche of white, dropped square on her head.
“That’s cheating!” Zoe said, frantically wiping away the snow – only to arch her back and let out a yelp, “Ah! It’s down my shirt!”
“You don’t stand a chance,” Laska said as she scooped up and packed a small snowball. With a lazy throw it paffed against Zoe’s chest and crumbled to the ground.
Well, that was the most Laska had said since the hospital.
As I was about to say to Eralia how nice it must be to be young and playful, I caught Eralia’s pitch with my face. Of course.
“Oh! I didn’t think you’d turn right then!”
Apologize she may have, but once the stinging had faded and I blinked away the snow in my eyes, she wasted no time in packing another ball.
And thus I was roped into a battle I had no desire to fight;, I just wanted to go back in and be warm. “That’s how it’s going to be, is it?” I said, turning my back to her.
“I didn’t mean to hit you in the face, really!”
But I wasn’t about to turn the other cheek.
“Aw honey, I’m sor—“
When she put her paw on my shoulder, I took that as my cue to give her a face full of powder. Her head snapped back like she’d been punched and she clutched her face in her paws. If she had held back her thrashing just a smidge, she might’ve almost fooled me.
I just laughed, earning a scowl when she peeked out from between her digits.
“Oh you bet your ass that’s how it’s going to be!” She said, stooping down to reload.
More snowballs flew and I retreated, taking refuge behind a bush. Arming myself, I peeked around the corner, only to narrowly avoid a streaking projectile. “You missed!”
Eralia howled in mock rage, whipping a reckless barrage at me. Most missed their mark by at least a mile, but a couple came close.
And so the battle raged.
What had once been a blanket of untouched, pristine snow was transformed into a cratered war-zone. Snowballs crisscrossed the battlefield, every combatant out for themselves. I’d taken some hits, but nothing serious. I could still fight.
The question was, as I laid on my back, propped up against an impromptu snowy barricade, how. Eralia was to the north somewhere, doubtlessly biding her time and waiting for me to poke my head out. The running engagement between Zoe and Laska had circled around to the south – threatening to push up and catch me.
I needed a plan, and I needed it fast.
Movement caught my eye.
Time wasn’t on my side.
Laska and Zoe tore around the corner, winging snow at each other from point-blank range, all laughter and shrieks. The moment they saw me, an unspoken cease-fire was agreed upon, but their weapons remained at the ready.
Scrambling to my feet I took flight, desperate to escape the two toothy-mawed predators closing in behind me. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten about the Anubis; I just had no choice.
Perhaps that was why she rounded the garage so confidently, a twisted sneer on her face and massive white orbs in each paw.
There was no where to run, no escape. I held up my hands. “You guys got me! Truce?” I said, flashing my best smile.
Three pairs of arms readied themselves.
“You wouldn’t, right? Not when dear old dad is out in the open, all defenseless and ganged up on?”
There was no mercy to be found from any soul.
Blankets, hot cocoa, and dry clothes – all we needed was a fireplace to cluster around, rather than the coffee table. Eralia and I laid claim to the coveted couch seats, leaving the girls to fend for themselves on the floor.
“That was tons of fun,” Zoe said, wearing her blanket like a cloak – whenever someone spoke her large ears would perk up and swivel, making for an amusing display. “I haven’t had a snowball fight like that in forever!”
“Same,” I said, sinking deep inside my quilt and cradling my mug. “Except for when you all ganged up on me. That wasn’t very fun.”
Eralia took a sip of her cocoa, holding the cup up to her face as a shield for her smirk. “That just means you’re popular with the girls. It’s just how we show our love.”
“By standing above him and raining down icy death while he pleads for his life?”
“A woman’s heart is a complicated thing, you know.”
“If that’s love, I don’t want to know what hate is like…”
Zoe showed just a little bit of guilt, averting her eyes when I glanced at her.
Since we’d gotten back in, Laska hadn’t said much, but stood a little taller, a little less morose. She sipped at her mug quietly, though like Zoe her ears made sure no word went unheard.
“How about you, have fun?” I said, directing my question to my silent daughter.
She shrugged. “I guess.”
“Whaddaya mean you guess? No need to get all shy,” Zoe said, prodding at Laska’s ribs.
Laska recoiled, scooting away from the source of the poking. “It was okay! I mean, I’m still damp and cold…”
“You’re cold?! You put like, all the snow in my pants!”
Laska’s stern façade cracked. “You shoved a snowball down my shirt, it was only fair.”
While I would like to have claimed the moral high-ground and put an end to their argument, I may have tackled Eralia and white-washed her when we were going inside as my final act of revenge. Fortunately for me I scurried inside before she could react, but I knew I’d pay for it eventually. Even now as she was all jokes and smiles, I could sense her machinations and ill intent.
“What about me,” I said, placing a hand over my chest and furrowing my brows together, “I was innocent, and you blasted me anyways.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re dad,” Laska said nonchalantly, “you’re never innocent.”
I forced an exaggerated gasp of disbelief. “What? Such vicious slander; I’m as pure and innocent as new-fallen snow!”
Eralia, never one to miss such an opportune moment, was quick to interject. “Oh, I know all about your purity…”
That remark earned her a dirty scowl from Laska. Gone were the days we could make jokes in front of her…
“We haven’t done anything all together in a while, have we?” I mused, lounging back against the deep cushions. “Might have to make it a regular thing. What do you think?”
Zoe nodded feverishly, Eralia agreed, and Laska – Laska smiled a little and said a quiet “Maybe.”