Before I could slip the key into the lock, Eralia rested a paw on my hand. “Don’t you think you should knock first?
“You’re about to to barge in on a couple of kids who think they’ve got a couple hours to themselves,” she said in a harsh whisper.
I chewed on my lip; in my haste I’d overlooked that possibility. Or maybe I just backslid into my old habits and ways of thinking. “All the more reason to stop them, then.”
“At least give them a warning first.”
“Yeah, guess I should,” I said with a long exhale through my nose. She had a point, who knows what I might see if I were to just blunder in.
Balling my hand around the key, I rapped on the door a couple times. “Laska, Zoe – I know you guys are in there. Open the door.”
Nothing but silence – so far as I could discern. However, Eralia’s tall, pointed ears were making subtle twitches. Something was going on in there, all right.
I counted to ten, then twenty.
“Open the door!”
And finally, thirty. Still, the door remained closed.
At forty, her ears ceased their movements. I took that as my cue.
“I’ve given them long enough,” I muttered, sliding the key into the lock before Eralia could stop me again.
With a clack the deadbolt retracted and I threw the door open. The living room was a straight shot from the entrance, no need for me to do anything but look inside. There were the four of them – Laska, Zoe, and Dave on the big L-shaped couch, along with someone I’d assumed was to be Zoe’s date for the night.
Zoe and Laska were next to each other on one section of the couch, Dave and the fox on the other – Zoe was half standing, like she was about to answer the door. Laska was half splayed out, most of her laying on the couch. The other two were quick to assume some kind of ‘normal’ sitting posture, but they all had varying degrees of shock and horror writ across their faces.
When I gave the new guest a closer look, they appeared to be a girl – a red-furred fox at that.
To add to the mystery of what they’d been up to, the television was off and the coffee table was empty – no games or anything they liked to play.
Eralia spilled in right after me, mouth opened to say something, but no words came out.
Laska was the first to break the silence, shooting to her feet once she’d managed to collect herself. “Dad! What are you doing here?!”
“Lydia called me because Zoe wasn’t answering her phone. She forgot to lock the door when she left and wanted me to tell you,” I said, pointing a finger right at the Zoe, “to head home and lock it.”
Zoe smacked her forehead. “I was wondering why it was open…”
“Well, now you know,” I said, standing in front of the coffee table, planted square in the middle of the kids with my arms crossed. They each looked away in turn, refusing to meet my eye. “What I want to know is why you lied to us about what you were doing tonight.”
“Not like we ran off somewhere dangerous,” Laska said, staring at her feet.
“That’s what I don’t get. I wasn’t expecting to find you all here, but Eralia knew you were, somehow. Why lie about where you were going if you’re just going to Zoe’s?”
Laska’s head snapped up. “So if you knew, why barge in here all pissed?”
“Because you lied! What don’t you get about that?”
Dave and the fox pressed themselves into the back of the couch, Zoe couldn’t decide if she should stand, sit, or try to make herself as unseen as her accomplices. Eralia’s lips remained sealed.
Compared to her friends, Laska was far bolder. “So what?”
“So what? So what?!” No, I couldn’t let myself get so worked up. Running, or more like tugging, a hand through my hair, I shook my head. Voice back to calm, reasonable levels, I continued, “All I ask of you is to be honest, I need to be able to trust you. Doesn’t matter what it’s about. We’ve talked about this before.”
Laska laughed bitterly, “So what, I have to tell you everything I do? If you knew half of what I did…”
What should have been a quick vent and scolding for her deceit was taking a turn I hadn’t anticipated. This wasn’t the Laska I knew. “No, of course not, but why make up some story about going to a go-kart track and then come here instead? Why not just tell me straight out you wanted to come here?”
“And you’re telling me you would have been fine with it, the four of us? Knowing Zoe’s parents were gone?”
She got me there. “Well, no—“
Laska stabbed a furred finger at me. “See! That’s exactly why I lied!”
“Yes, how dare I want to make sure you’re safe!”
“What the fuck, dad! I’m sixteen! Six! Teen! I don’t need you fucking watching me all the time!”
Oh ho ho, like hell I was going to let that slide. “Don’t speak to me like that, Laska,” I said in a low boom, “and apparently I do because you can’t control yourself!”
Eralia darted between us, shoving Laska back down into the couch and pushing me a good few steps away. “Knock it off, both of you!”
My forehead, cheeks, and ears all burned. I about snapped at Eralia, but knew better.
“Don’t touch me,” Laska snarled, but just as Eralia had done for me and Laska, Zoe moved to create some space between the two.
“You’re both acting like children. What’s even gotten into you two? Forget it. You, what’s your name?”
The fox who had been trying desperately to hide among the cushions winced. “Uh, Sam.”
“Sam,” Eralia said, stalking right up to the edge of the couch, forcing her and Dave to crane their necks, “Were you aware of any of this?”
She shook her head so fast her ears looked like they were about to fly off.
“How’d you get here?”
“Rode my bike, ma’am, I live kind of close…”
“Don’t call me ma’am,” Eralia said, flicking her tail in annoyance, “But whatever, go on, get out of here.”
Sam held a long look at Dave before she bolted for the door, slipping her shoes on and disappearing in a blur of fluffy tails.
With the fox gone, Eralia turned her attention back to the trio. “Now then. Before we have any more hissy fits, I want to set a few things straight. Laska, do you understand why your father is angry?”
“Laska. You’re smarter than that.”
Laska again pointed at me. “He’s overreacting! You know it just as well as I do!”
“Curtis, do you understand why Laska is angry? Do you think you’re overreacting?”
I leaned back onto one leg. “Like hell I do, I give her plenty of freedom.”
“Yeah, okay, is that why I have to tell you everything I do?”
“What, am I supposed to just let you loose and not give a damn about your safety?”
“I give up.” Eralia massaged a temple with her paw, “You two are impossible. Fine, whatever, go at it.” She shifted her focus to those afraid they might be breathing too noisily, “You two.”
Dave and Zoe both answered in tandem, “Yes?”
“Follow me. I want to have our own chat.” Not leaving the with any room for disagreement, Eralia placed a paw on each of their shoulders, made them stand, and dragged them off to the kitchen in a way only a mother could manage.
And, with that, Laska and I found ourselves alone in the living room. We held our tongues, staring each other down. Laska was first on the draw.
“So, what, you think I’m stupid or something?” She spat the words like a curse, glaring at me like I’d seldom seen before.
“No? Of course not, I know you’re smart, too smart for your own good, even.”
“Then why do you treat me like I’m a fucking idiot?!”
“Because you’re acting like one right now!” I lunged forward a step, coming down hard on the floor with a dull thump.
“So are you!”
We both growled in our own ways, letting our heated argument fall back into a tense silence. What made it all the more difficult was the fact she had a very valid point. Knowing I shouldn’t have been so livid just pissed me off even more. Funny how that works.
“Wanting to make sure I know you’re safe doesn’t mean I think you’re stupid,” I said, straining to keep an even tone, “but that isn’t even the point here.”
“Then what is?” Laska responded in kind, strain tearing at her words.
“I have to wonder how much you’ve lied to me in the past, considering you said, and I quote, I don’t even know the half of it.”
She snorted and looked away. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Damn it! That’s exactly what’s pissing me off!” Our eyes locked; her gaze never wavered. Of all things, she grinned for a fleeting moment. The sort of grin made between smoldering glares when one’s jabs got exactly the reaction they wanted.
“Why are you doing this? Why can’t you understand how I feel?” By now I was clenching and unclenching a fist and my shoulders heaved with each breath.
Laska jumped to her feet. “Understand how you feel? How about me?!” She slapped a paw over her heart and bunched up the shirt underneath. “Do you have any idea? No, of course not!”
“How am I supposed understand when you never tell me anything!?”
“Eralia seems to understand just fine,” she said, muscles bunching at her jaw, “ain’t that something?”
“That’s because you… actually talk to her,” I said, growing quiet, rather unintentionally. In that thought, my anger quelled – overwhelmed by the same kind of emotions I’d felt way back when we had our first real fight. I swallowed hard.
Laska’s ears, which had been flat against her head for nearly the whole time, came up. “…Not as much as you think.”
“You know…” I fell short, words all tangled together. I studied the lines on my palm, then the arrangement of the wood floorboards before I could meet Laska’s brilliant orange eyes again.
“Know what?” Laska said, full of suspicion.
Adding a deep breath, I shook my head. “Forget it – never mind.”
Ears flat again. “Same to you, then.”
“You don’t talk to me either.”
There was that spike of anger again. “Are you serious? I try to talk to you all the time, but you just blow me off.”
“The hell you do! You just ask me how my day is, and you just change the subject if I tell you I feel like shit.”
“That’s…” Did I really? I tried to remember to just the other day when I’d asked her how she was, but nothing in specific came to mind. That was telling in its own right.
“Yeah, that’s right,” she said, crossing her arms – not across her chest, but around it – “Let’s ask Laska how she’s doing to make it seem like we care, then tell her to get fucked when she has a problem.”
Now that was a step too far. “I’ll admit I might change the subject or whatever, but I’ve never once disregarded you when you came to me a problem. Remember how we used to talk when you were in grade school?”
She paused to think. “Not really…”
“Well, you’d just tell me about whatever was bothering you, straight up. We’d talk.”
Without piss and vinegar to fuel her, she slid bonelessly back onto the couch. “Yeah, well, it was different then.”
“How? What’s changed?”
Her furred digits sank deeper into her arms. “Everything.”
Deep breath. Rub my temples. Just calm down. “That doesn’t help me. Laska, I want to understand, I really do, but you’re not helping.”
“How could you understand?” Accusation filled her tightly drawn eyes.
“I sure as hell can’t – Look, being a teenager is a shitshow, believe me, I know. I never had parents that gave a damn, but I do. Just…” Revelation swept across me. In that instant, everything I knew of my past changed. But, the past would have to wait. “Just give me a chance. Whatever you want to talk to me about, I’ll listen.”
“What good is listening going to do?” Laska scoffed, releasing her hold on herself. She slumped back against the cushion. “Waste of time.”
Gods. Why was she making this so difficult? “Okay, so you complain I don’t make an effort to talk, then you tell me it’s a waste of time. You gotta work with me here.”
Instead of responding, Laska decided the ceiling, walls, and stray fibers on the couch were more worthy of her attention.
“Forget it, it’s something I need to figure out on my own. Sorry for being a bitch.” All the fire had gone, leaving her deflated.
But something in what she said stood out to me – It? This wasn’t something I could forget, she knew that. So what was it she needed to figure out?
“Okay,” I said, coming up to the arm of the couch, “So just so I’m sure, you lied so you’d have some time to yourself and with your friends?”
“But couldn’t you have done that at the place you said you were going?”
“Fuck’s sake, you two are both dumb as a box of rocks!”
Both of us snapped to Eralia as she barged into the room from the kitchen, dragging Zoe and Dave behind her. Had to admit, the sight of Eralia manhandling Zoe into submission put a bit of a whimsy into my otherwise dour mood. For the moment, anyways.
“You’ve been listening all this time?!” Suddenly, Laska had reinflated.
The two kids were shuffling awkwardly; Zoe even had a faint blush going.
“No, not quite,” Eralia said, tapping a foot against the floor. “I was asking these two what was going on, then I waited patiently for you two to work things out since you seemed to be heading that way, but surprise! You managed to avoid solving anything.”
“What did you ask them about?” I said, choosing to ignore the last part of her statement.
Eralia stayed fixated on Laska, tail swishing about. “I had my suspicions. Thankfully, these two confirmed it.”
“I’m sorry! She’s just very… persuasive…” Zoe blurt out, every part of her hanging in shame.
“That doesn’t tell me what you grilled them about.”
“I think your daughter should be the one to tell you,” Eralia said, leaning to a side to rest against the doorframe to the kitchen.
All eyes turned to Laska and a hush fell across the room. Laska made herself tiny and squirmed like someone under a police interrogator’s lamp.
“What’s the big secret? Did you guys have,” I bit the corner of my lip just a tiny bit, “sex, or something?”
Unable to do anything besides stare at her paws folded up in her lap, Laska shook her head.
“Were you going to?”
“What’s it matter?” Laska grumbled under her breath.
My response died before I could even think of speaking, killed by one of Eralia’s looks that spoke volumes about what the correct answer should be.
“It does matter, just, sex has a lot of… weight to it. Emotions and such, you know. You’re still young, not to mention even with protection you could still get,” I grit my teeth, “pregnant.” My chest tightened and my guts churned.
“…That’s not a problem,” said Laska, her eyes flicking to Zoe. “Look, I’m sorry, whatever, can we go now?”
“What? Why wouldn’t it be a problem?” Maybe they were just going to engage in oral or – no, no that was definitely not something I wanted to think about. I was fully prepared to just accept her apology and move on by now, but Eralia’s baleful glare was more than hinted this was not over.
Even Laska got a healthy dose of motherly sternness. Just like a cattle prod, it jolted her into action. “I don’t even know, okay? I’m still… confused.”
“Confused about what?”
Laska lifted herself out of the couch again and meandered across the room to the far wall, a place as far away from us as she could manage, wringing her paws together all the while. With a deep breath she turned about and said, just above a whisper, “I think I like Zoe.”
My first notion was something like “of course,” but common sense was quick to shove aside dad sense. “Wait, do you mean like, as in…?”
Attention fell to the tallest person in the room, the grey dire wolf. Zoe stiffened and turned an even brighter shade of crimson, but under Laska’s eyes she softened. “I think I like Laska, too…”
Among the many emotions I felt were relief and even a bit of joy. I didn’t know if that’s what I should have felt; maybe it was because after our shouting match just minutes ago and everything else, I’d learned something about Laska she’d kept buried deep inside for who knows how long. Trying to keep something like that buried within her – it was easy to see why she’d been so moody and standoffish as of late.
Of course, who she liked didn’t matter much at all to me. “That’s all? You think you’re a lesbian?”
Laska blinked. “That’s all? You don’t care?”
“Not really, why would I? I mean, you’re still young, exploring yourself,” I said, taking a seat on the arm of the couch, “No matter who you choose to love, I’ll still always love you.”
Eralia’s paw glanced across my shoulder, letting me know she was pleased with how I’d responded to Laska’s confession. Good to know I’d managed to do something right for once.
Fumbling with the hem of her shirt, Laska’s face scrunched all up. Reaching up to her face to wipe something away, she looked the other way at the same time. “…Thanks.”
I wanted to give her a big hug, but thought maybe she needed her distance right now.
“So,” Eralia said, clearing her throat, “Why were Dave and Sam here? If you two were planning on, well, you know.”
“He.” Zoe corrected, scratching at her cheek.
“What?” I thought she was just very flat, and I didn’t know many guys who wore skinny jeans and baby-doll t-shirts. So why were they… My minds eye conjured up the image of how the four of them were seated when we walked in. Quite a lot of experimenting was going on. “Oh.”
“Please don’t tell my parents,” said Dave, looking like a child who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Your secret is safe with us,” Eralia said soothingly, “He was quite the cutie.”
Dave made the kind of face that couldn’t decide between embarrassment and denial or agreement. Leave it to Eralia to tease someone at the same time she’s comforting them.
“Don’t tell mine either,” said Zoe, pleading with her entire body.
“Why not? I think they deserve to know what you were planning on doing in their home.” It wasn’t that I didn’t sympathize with her, but rather that it’d mean covering up the truth from Lydia and Steve.
“But if you tell them they’ll know!”
“I’ve been friends with them for years, they won’t care who you like, I promise.”
Zoe balled up her hands and shook her head. “You’re wrong!”
“Why do you say that?” Eralia asked, cocking her head to a side.
“Mom’s always talking about how she can’t wait for me to have kids of my own and stuff,” Zoe said, trembling like a leaf in the wind.
Piece by piece, their behavior and actions were beginning to make sense. I could understand Lydia’s – and probably Steve’s – desires for grandkids, hell, I imagined more than once what it’d be like for Laska to be all grown up and bring little bundles of fluff over to visit grandpa.
“It’s not like you can’t have kids if you’re gay,” Eralia said, “They know that as well.”
“You don’t know,” Zoe mumbled, leaning against a wall and crumpling to the floor with her knees brought up to her chest, “You really don’t.”
Laska, who had been quietly sniffling by her lonesome until now, rejoined the group. Her eyes were a bit red, but compared to earlier she was far brighter. “I dunno, dad and Eralia took it a lot better than we thought he would,” she said, sitting next to Zoe. Their tails mingled in the gasp between them.
I still thought they looked more like good friends than lovers, but then again, I’m sure when others looked at Eralia and I they saw the same thing.
Seeing as how I only knew Dave’s parents by name only, I didn’t feel any particular obligation to tell them anything. “Your secret’s safe with us,” I said to Dave, taking some of the tension out of him, “as for Zoe… Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure your folks already think you guys were having a, ah, foursome or something.”
Zoe’s ears drooped and she buried her face in her arms, effectively turning into a quivering ball of fluff on the floor.
She perked up, looking at me like I was her savior.
“…I can avoid telling them the particulars. I’ll leave that up to you.”
All smiles, Zoe bolted up and swept me up into one of her infamous hugs of death, complete with creaking ribs. “Thank you thank you – oh, sorry!”
“It’s fine,” I said with a gasp once freed from her clutches, holding a hand to my chest.
“Right, so what now?” Eralia said, giving me a smirk as she spoke. “Shall we go back home and let the kids hang out a bit longer?”
Somehow, the three kids all managed to share the same expression – one of confusion blended with awkwardness and hope.
“They’ll be back in about an hour and a half,” I said, glancing at my phone in an attempt to avoid making any particular answer.
“So? That’s plenty of time for everyone…” Eralia trailed off with a wink.
Why did she feel the need to test me so?
I suppose this was the point where I was to demonstrate to Laska, and Eralia as well, our argument hadn’t been for nothing. The time had come for me to allow Laska to do her own things – within reason, of course. But this, was this really something I could agree to? Closing my eyes, I sucked in a breath.
“Fine, but if you’re not at my house before Lydia and Steve get home they’re going to be angry with me. I’m not the only one who thinks you kids need to be kept under watch.”
“Really? You mean it?” Laska asked, stumbling in shock like she’d just seen a miracle.
“Yeah, I do. Just, don’t do anything stupid, okay?”
“I, we won’t,” Laska said, sharing smiles with her friends and especially with her lover.
Lover. I think I just took ten years off my age right there making the jump from dating teens to lovers. Well, with that, the kids were happy, Eralia was happy – everyone but me.
As reward for my decision, Eralia did more than just give me a light brush on the shoulder – crept up from behind and threw her paws around my neck. “I knew you could do it,” she whispered, stealing a lick on my earlobe for good measure.
Making a hastened departure, we left the kids to do their own thing while Eralia and I did ours.
I guess I was a little happy with the end result.