Laska and Me – 9

June 18th, 2008

Bill. Bill. Credit card application. Bill.

Typical mail day, or so I thought until I got to a bulky envelope at the bottom of the pile. An envelope adorned with the seal of the city’s school district on it. While I had been expecting Laska’s test results, the thickness of the envelope was rather mysterious.

Heading from the door to the kitchen, I paused to yell up the stairs. “Laska, come on down – need to talk you to about something.”

“Okay, just a second!”

Everything not the mysterious envelope was left on the counter as I made my way over to the table. Tearing open the envelope and extracting the contents, I discovered a booklet and a few pamphlets in addition to the few sheets of results.

The title on the booklet got my heart beating a little bit faster. ‘Is Advance Placement Right For Your Child?’

I didn’t need to read through her scores to know she’d done well. Very well. Each successive beat contained a little bit more fatherly pride than the last. Best of all, however, was how she’d proved her snide instructors wrong. ‘Wouldn’t get anywhere with her attitude,’ my ass.

“What’s up, dad?”

“Got a bit of mail from the school,” I said, placing the booklet on the table face-down.

Laska’s ears perked up to match her eyes. “How’d I do?”

I let my inner grin spread out just a tiny bit. “Pretty good, I think.”

“You think?”

Her tail was swishing nervously, the tip snapping back and forth.

“I have a hunch.”

“A hunch?” One of Laska’s brows dropped in suspicion.

“Indeed. So let’s see if my hunch is correct,” I said, taking care – too much care – in unfolding the slim stack of stapled papers.

Laska was fretting herself to pieces as I skimmed down through her results, flipping the pages and hmming very clerically. Everything was just as I expected, but there was no need to let her know just yet. A bit on the cruel side, I suppose, but I seldom got the chance to tease her.

“Why won’t you say anything? How’d I do? Let me see!”

“Oh Laska,” I began very morosely, handing the sheets over to her.

She nearly gasped, but as she claimed her prize I finally let myself bask in her achievement. “You did great!”

Paws trembling as she read, all sorts of emotion played across Laska’s face. Worry, anxiety, trepidation – though really they’re just variants of the same thing. Confusion and then disappointment settled on her as she read through the last page.

“What’s wrong?”

“When you said great I thought I would get all 100s or something,” Laska said as if all her hopes had been dashed.

Now it was my turn to be confused. Momentarily, anyways, as I quickly realized she’d slightly misinterpreted her results. I plucked the papers from her paws and laid them out on the table.

“What’s this score?”

“…A 92? That’s only a B…”

Barring that she thought a B was a poor grade, I was spot on about her misunderstanding.

“These are percentiles,” I said, pointing to the word at the top of the page.

“What’s that mean?”

“It means that these scores are how you compare to other kids your age. Now, what do you think that 92 means?”

She pondered for a second, her ears swiveling up and down. “I’m… better than 92% of the people who took the test?”

A quick scratch of her ears for a reward. “Pretty much, though it can also mean ‘as good as.’ So if there were a hundred kids, you did as well or better than 92 of them.”

“So then this 95— and this 99?!”

—Means you did great,” I said warmly, swelling so full of pride that bursting entered as a possible outcome.

But something rapidly changed within her. The rising excitement and joy within her vanished as her features clouded over.

“I guess,” she mumbled.

“You guess? Laska, you were in the 99th percentile in math.”

“Yeah, ‘cause it was easy,” she said somberly.

Her logic could twist in the most interesting, or disturbing, of ways. Only Laska could somehow think that doing better than most of her peers meant that the test was too easy.

“If it was easy, other kids would have scored better and you’d have wound up getting a worse score.”

“Maybe they just didn’t try,” she reasoned.

“Believe me, they tried. You did well.”

She sort of sighed and gave me a look of conflict. Probably part of her agreed with me, the other bit firm in its belief that her accomplishment was not much of an accomplishment at all. As neither side appeared to be winning any time soon, I decided to give a helpful shove. I turned up the booklet and allowed Laska to read the cover.

“Because you did well, they want to put you in advance placement classes.”

“What?” She read over the cover carefully, then searched me as if looking for any signs of deception. “Those are the smart kid classes, right?”

“Yup,” I said with a nod.

There had been talk of putting her in AP classes before, but the maddening staff at the school constantly shot down the idea. Too much of a troublemaker, needs to learn to behave, won’t get anywhere unless she does her homework. What a bunch of geniuses – punish a bored kid by forcing them to stay in the class that’s boring them and then wonder why my little girl isn’t behaving. Just thinking about it all boiled my blood, but that was then. The now was a new school, new people. New opportunity.

Slowly but surely that inner fire returned to her eyes, lending them a particular twinkle. “Really? They’re not gonna say I can’t go to them?”

I’d never read the booklet, actually. Immediately I regretted telling her she was eligible. As inconspicuously as possible I thumbed through the pages.

“That’s… no, of course not. It’s a new school, isn’t it?”

“What’re they like? Do you think I’ll like them?”

“I don’t see why not. They teach you more advanced stuff to try and challenge you,” I said, continuing my search for some sort of confirmation within the pages.

And again, Laska’s rising mood came to a screeching halt. “Sounds neat, but… but what about Zoe?”

Ah, yes. I’d forgotten about her in all this. I knew and Laska knew that, despite Zoe’s feral cunning, she wasn’t the most academically gifted dire wolf around. She was a sweet, kind thing and could figure out a puzzle like no one else, but I’d seen her struggles with certain topics first hand.

Laska and I shared a silent, knowing moment.

“I don’t wanna be in a class without her,” Laska said in a strained tone. “She’s my best friend! She’s…”

“I know, sweetie. I know.” I gave her ears a few reassuring scratches. “But it’s not like you’ll never see each other again, right? You two are always hanging around – you just won’t be in the same class.”

“But without her I won’t have anyone to talk to or anything in class. I don’t want to be alone in all my classes.”

Her eyes implored me for some sort of answer. Something that’d make everything alright.

“Why do you say that? You could make new friends. I doubt you’ll run into many of your former classmates in your new AP classes.”

Laska’s rapidly falling expression indicated it was the wrong answer. If I had to guess, it’d be because it required her to put herself out there without someone she could easily fall back on.

“I don’t—“

“There’s one problem,” I said, interrupting her.

“What’s that?”

“That word – ‘don’t.’ Or ‘can’t,’ or ‘won’t.’ Laska,” I said, placing my hands on her shoulders and kneeling down to her level, “This is all new, and you’ve already decided it won’t work out. That’s like, like not playing a game or something because you’re telling yourself you won’t beat it.”

My words sank into her, leaving telltale signs that she agreed with me yet disagreed at the same time. The turmoil in her mind played out physically in the form of her eyes constantly lifting and falling, her mouth opening and closing as she began to speak but decided against it and swallowed her words.

“I guess, maybe.”

“You guess? Maybe? Well, it’s a start,” I said with a chuckle. “You’ll make new friends, and you’ll see Zoe plenty.”

“How can you be so sure? What if Zoe doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore?”

Once again she searched me, pleaded with me. Everything always came back to her certain fears. I couldn’t blame her for thinking that way, not after what she’d been through. If anything it made me feel like I’d done a poor job of raising her since those fears still existed.

“Zoe will understand, I’m sure of it. In fact, I’m sure she’d encourage you to take the AP classes. She’s a sweet friend, and I know she’d want to see you make the best of yourself.”

A tiny crack of a smile meant I was finally getting through to her. On this particular topic, anyways. “You know,” I said, taking a seat at the table and motioning for her to sit as well. “If Zoe got upset that you wanted to go into an advanced class and she couldn’t, I’d say that means she isn’t a real friend since she’s thinking only of herself.”

Having flopped forward onto the table, Laska was occupying herself by squeezing her furry digits. With every squeeze one of her claws would pop out, then quickly retract as she moved to the next finger.

“…I guess…”

“Look Laska,” I said with a deep sigh that drew her focus. “I know Zoe means so much to you, I really do. I know you mean a lot to her, and I can say with certainty that we’d both want you to take this opportunity.”

“Mmm…” she mumbled, idly playing with her claws.

I sighed again. “I had a pretty similar choice when I was a kid.”

Her ears perked up. I took that as a signal to proceed.

“I had a friend that I thought I was really close with. I was eligible for AP classes, he wasn’t. He was the only kid I got along with, so I stayed with him. Long story short, we weren’t the best buddies I thought we were and he pretty much ditched me within a year. It hurt quite a bit.”

I stared down at my hands resting on the table, tapping the tips of my fingers together. When I looked back up I caught my daughter’s gaze. One deep breath later I continued.

“I lost all interest in school, including the people I had, looking back at it, started becoming friends with. I just cut everything related to school out of my life. Went from a model student to failing every class and I lost eligibility for AP classes.”

Laska was giving me a certain kind of look. “Ah, not that I’m trying to scare you into AP classes,” I said holding my hands out in front of me. “Just something to think about.”

“…Do you think Zoe would do that to me?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’ve had a few chats with her when you’re not around. I can safely say she cares about you just as much as you care about her.”

She didn’t say much, but I spotted a grin on her face. I’d won – for now.

“But you don’t need to decide right now. In fact, why don’t you talk to Zoe about it next time you two hang out?”

“Okay,” Laska said, propping herself back up as some signs of life returned.

By that point I figured Laska was going to accept and enroll in the AP classes, but I wanted her to feel like she’d made the decision on her own rather than being pushed into it by me. The last thing I wanted was her to resent me if things went poorly. Plus, I imagine it was nice for a youngster like Laska to feel like she had control over her life.

I also wanted to do something a bit special for her as a reward.

“I was thinking of something,” I said, gauging her reaction carefully.

“Of what?”

“Well, I was thinking of going somewhere on a little day vacation.”

“Really? Where?” Laska chirped, excitement filling her eyes.

Behind her, the tip of her tail twitched back and forth. Even after all the years together I still found her cat mannerisms quite charming – mainly due to how readily they betrayed her emotions.

“Up to you, provided it’s not too crazy.”

“Really?! Can Zoe come too?”

“Er, I’d prefer if it was just us two,” I said, scratching at my cheek.

For a moment Laska seemed a bit deflated, but bounced back in a hurry. She put on her thinking face, humming and hmming while tapping her paw on the table. I was about to tell her she didn’t need to decide right then when she blurt out her answer.

“Six Banners!”

“Really? You want to go there again?”

Last year we’d gone with Zoe and her family, but unfortunately Laska was too short for nearly all the rides. She was more than a little grouchy at having to walk around all day and watch everyone else have fun.

“Ya! I’m tall enough now, it’ll be fun this time!”

“You sure? Let’s find out,” I said as I stood and began rummaging through our little miscellaneous ‘stuff’ drawer for a tape measure.

“I feel a lot taller than last year,” Laska said, taking her place against the kitchen doorframe. I found it amusing I didn’t have to say anything.

Next to her head were a few notches and dates, marking her growth every so often. The latest mark was shortly after her birthday last year, and sure enough she’d grown some. Not a whole lot, but there was an appreciable difference.

“How much taller to you think you are?” I asked, bending down to slip the end of the tape measure under heel

“Six inches!”

“…A bit on the optimistic side,” I said with a grin as stretched out the measure, marked a notch on the frame and then let the tape measure retract.

“How tall am I?!” she said, turning about to look at the mark I’d just made.

“Just a touch over 53 inches.”

“Yes! I’ll be fine! …Right?”

“Why don’t you go look it up on their webpage?”

“Alright!” Laska said as she dashed out of the kitchen.

I already knew it was going to be a close call, considering how I was reminded quite often last year that Laska failed to meet the required 54” height for most of the rides. With some thick-soled sandals she should be able to make it in, assuming the person handing out the wristbands was feeling benevolent that day.

In what had to be two or three minutes at most, Laska came racing back down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“Dad! I need new shoes!”

Apparently she’d managed to reach the same conclusion – very impressive.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” I said with a smile. “But, it’ll be a close call – they might turn you down anyways. Still want to try it?”

Laska nodded sharply. “Ya!”

“Alright – but no complaints. Also, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow and if we go on Friday I’ll be packed. So we’ll go next week, okay? And hey, no need to look all pouty. Patience is a virtue, you know.”

“Hmph…Okay…”


 

June 24th, 2008

Creeping sun, chirping birds, and the grating tone of an alarm clock. Seven in the morning was far too brutal when I’d already gotten used to sleeping in. It was summer, after all. There was no need to get up so early.

Silence the demon. Return to the warm embrace of bed. Sleep.

My thoughts were generating their own siren song, but I had to get up. Six Banners was a solid two hour drive and we still had to get ready. But sleep.

Had to practically throw myself out of bed to escape the grasping claws of the sleep demons. They didn’t completely let me go. Still clinging to my feet they forced me to sprawl half out of bed, face on the floor and legs still in bed. One way to start the day.

Stumbling half asleep into Laska’s room, I nearly panicked when I couldn’t find her. Turned out she was buried so deeply under her covers that the only thing visible were the tips of her ears. Deep indigo fur on dark sheets was an easy thing to miss.

After peeling back the covers to expose her face, I gave her a few gentle shakes. Wanted to avoid too rude of an awakening. But, like me, she was used to the easy life of staying up and sleeping in. Laska just rolled slightly, went ‘nyaa,’ and batted at my arm with her paws. Then all motion fled and I found myself with my hand sandwiched between her paws.

Came very close to triggering my ‘Aw, how cute’ reflex, but I steeled myself with the resolve of a weary war veteran. We had things to do, places to be. A few more pokes and prods and all I could get out of her was some more meowing, purring, and a tiny bit of drool. Desperate measures were needed.

Shaking her paws off me, I took hold of her blankets and with a mighty tug I threw them off. Nothing could get someone up like the sudden wash of cool air on… bare skin. I got an answer to a question I never asked: Did Laska sleep nude? Yes she did.

She was very awake. Our eyes locked. I bit my lip.

“Sorry!”

In a flash I was out of her room and back out in the hall. My ears and cheeks burned hot. Couldn’t believe I was stupid enough to do that to my daughter. She wasn’t a kid anymore, she was… growing. Needed her privacy.

Snatching my change of clothes from my room I hurried into the shower before Laska came out of her room. While I was embarrassed as could be, I could only imagine how bad it was for her. A long shower sounded like a good idea. Something to give me – us – enough time to forget that’d ever happened.

Two steps out of the bathroom and Laska emerged from her room, bundle of clothes in hand and wearing her nightshirt. Eager to use the bath, I supposed.

“Ah, bathroom’s all yours.”

Laska regarded me most curiously. It was as if she was waiting for me to say something else. Was she expecting another apology? No, she wasn’t embarrassed or angry in the slightest. Just… expectant. Possibly hopeful. Several long, probably-awkward-only-for-me moments later, she let out a breath she’d apparently been holding.

“Okay, thanks,” she said listlessly, shuffling by me and towards the bathroom.

I nearly called out to her, but decided to swallow my words. Something was going on, but I had no idea what. Better to just let things lie.

During the rest of the morning adventure in the house, neither of us breathed a word of what’d happened. Laska seemed to return to her normal safe after coming downstairs. It was for the best; forget and move on. No need to linger over embarrassing moments. Though with the ‘fun’ moments happening as of late, there wasn’t exactly much to do but pretend it never happened.

We stopped at a diner she liked for breakfast, then began our short journey to the amusement park.

After about an hour, there was some helpful signage that declared the road was closed and to follow the detours. It would’ve been nice if the online direction planner had included that little tidbit. The detour signs were laid out quite well, however, so there wasn’t too much to be concerned about.

The new road was remarkably road-like, filled with signs and stop lights and… billboards. One billboard in particular was advertising a new motocross park a short distance away. I didn’t think much of it, but Laska’s wandering eyes had found it of interest.

“What’s a ‘moto cross park’?” Laska said, looking from out the window to me with that particular sheen to her eyes. The sheen of someone unhatching a rapidly developed plan.

“Oh? It’s a place where you can ride dirt bikes around,” I said nonchalantly.

“You mean like the ones you watch on TV?”

“Yeah, probably.”

I thought that would be the end of that considering Laska had never once mentioned any kind of interest in the topic at all.

“Didn’t you used to ride them?”

That gave me a short pause. I don’t recall ever telling her I used to ride. She must’ve overheard me talking to Steve about it at some point.

“I did, yeah. Long before I met you.”

Laska was sporting a wry little smirk. Things were coming together just how she’d wanted, I imagine.

“Was it fun?”

I gave her a lingering glance before traffic necessitated I turn away from her. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun.”

“If you liked it, why’d you quit?”

Her inquisitive nature manifested at the strangest times and from the most random of things. I sighed. The real reasoning was kind of long and complicated, far beyond what she wanted to know or what I wanted to tell her. So I decided on the abridged version of events.

“Ran out of people to ride with. Not very fun to ride alone all the time.”

“What if I liked dirt bikes too? Would you want to ride them again?”

So that was her end game. Still, this was all so suspicious and rather convenient. Her questions were far too ready and far too pointed. Steve was involved in this, somehow. I had been trying to convince him to get into the hobby, but he was dragging his feet. Still, it was a stretch to think the conspiracy somehow came to us seeing that billboard.

Another sigh escaped me. “You’ve never talked to me about them before. Why the sudden interest?”

Instead of the snappy response I expected, Laska looked down and fidgeted with her paws. “I dunno, we never do anything together anymore.”

“What? We do…”

I came up short. When I thought about it, we didn’t even really play games together anymore. Hell, other than school and such we didn’t even talk as much as we used to. Guilt plunged into my back like a knife wielded by her furry little paws. No wonder she was so eager to go to the amusement park with me.

Still, I had my doubts that Laska would be interested in dirt bikes or motocross. Besides, how would she find out if she liked it or not unless I bought all the equipment for her. That’d be an expensive gamble.

She knew that I knew we didn’t do much. It was written all over her face. And ears. They only pointed at me like that when she knew she’d come out triumphant in a discussion.

“Fine,” I said, giving in to her stare. She lit up with victory. “I’ll think about it.” Her victory dimmed slightly.

“We can’t try it out now?”

“What? You need a bike for starters. We don’t really have one with us.”

“So? We can use theirs – look, it says they have rentals!”

“…What?” I asked, narrowing an eye at her.

Laska pointed out towards another billboard. Same facility, same ad of a werewolf woman sailing through the air after a double jump. The difference was, sitting at a red light, I noticed a few bullet points. One of which had ‘Rentals available for kids and adults!’ written next to it.

This was all just a massive conspiracy. There was no other explanation.

“You know if we stop there we’ll lose time at the rollercoaster park, right?”

“I know, but it looks fun! You said it was fun, too.”

Such determination wasn’t easily swayed. It wasn’t far away, but it was early morning on a weekday. A place like that was something I’d expect to be open on the weekends and late afternoon. At worst we’d lose a few minutes of our time if they turned out to be closed.

“Fine, we’ll check it out,” I said with that tone reserved for use whenever I’d been ‘convinced’ by my daughter.

“Yes!” Laska cheered – even did a fist pump. “Thank you daddy!”

I rolled my eyes and looked away before she could see the grin on my face. Not that I was starting to look forward to checking the place out or anything.

Surprisingly, they were open. Open, but empty, save for our car and a motorcycle in the parking lot.

Laska bound from the car in a rush, only to stand and tap her paw while waiting impatiently for me. As we walked to the small building I took to be the storefront, she kept her eyes glued on the large dirt course that lay behind the fence and building.

She was genuinely excited, so much so that it spilled from her and infected me. It’d been an awful long time since I’d been anywhere near a course. Being the only ones there meant we’d be able to explore at our leisure, and if they had rentals – meant we’d get the track to ourselves for at least a short while.

The inside of the building was rather barren. Just a few odds and ends related to the sport along with advertising. Nor was anyone behind the counter.

“Hello?” I asked loudly while Laska darted off to look at a small bike that I presumed to be one of their rental models.

Next to the counter were another set of doors that lead out to the back. I considered going out and poking around, but figured it’d be best to just hold tight for a while. So I wandered over towards Laska to see what she was up to.

She was circling the kid’s bike, ducking and kneeling, looking and inspecting.

“This is cool! I’ve never seen one up close!”

It looked to be about her size, but the controls were designed for someone with more human hands rather than her large paws.

“What, you really think it’s cool?”

“Ya! It’s got little wheels compared to my bike, but I bet it’s really fast ‘cause I won’t have to pedal it!”

“Yeah, it’ll be a fair bit faster than your bicycle,” I said, watching Laska become increasingly bold with all she touched.

Then came the fated question. “Can I sit on it?!”

Before I could tell her no, a deep, female voice from behind us answered Laska’s question.

“Go ahead, that’s what it’s there for.”

Just slightly startled I whirled around. Heaving a box onto the counter was a wolf-woman of some sort. She smiled cordially as our eyes met, dusting her paws off on her mid-thigh denim shorts.

“So what brings you two in?” she asked in that friendly shop keeper tone.

I tried to guess at her race, but couldn’t place her features. Her tail, pointed ears and bushy tail were definitely wolfish, but her dark skin was far beyond a tan. The jet black fur and hair was something of a mystery as well.

“Well, we saw some advertisements for this place and decided to check it out.”

“Oh, I see. So you two are interested in motocross, then?”

“Ya!” Laska chimed in.

She’d finally gotten herself astride the machine and looked quite pleased with herself, even if her large paws weren’t quite capable of gripping the bars properly.

The wolf woman glanced towards Laska and I braced myself for that moment. The slight wince everyone had when they saw my daughter’s scars for the first time. But, no wince or tightening of the eyes ever happened. She just smiled at Laska.

“Ever ridden before, cutie?”

“No, but I wanna!”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place then,” the wolf woman said, then shot a wink at me.

Bushy tail swaying with every step and bounce of her hips, the wolf padded over to Laska. Then, as if studying her, she began to walk in a circle around Laska. Rather than shrink under the attention as my daughter so often did, she seemed to glow instead, as if waiting for whatever verdict the wolf might issue.

 

“Not bad,” she said, nodding. “But – like this—“ The wolf bent down and adjusted Laska’s feet on the pegs, took Laska’s hips in her paws and drew her back on the seat, then pushed her back forward to give her a bit of a lean.

“There, now you really look the part,” the wolf said happily, brandishing a wide smile. “Plus, now you’ll be able to stand on the pegs. Go ahead, you won’t fall over.”

A bit hesitant at first, Laska stood up fully on the pegs while still holding onto the bars. She looked herself over, then grinned at me. “This is how they look when they take those big jumps!”

Had to admit, she did look like she was already having fun. Most folks are pretty nervous the first time they sit on a bike, let alone stand, but Laska had no problem with it. “Looking like a pro already,” I said mostly so I didn’t seem like I was ignoring her.

“By the way,” the wolf said as she padded over to me and then stuck out her paw. “I think I forgot to introduce myself. Name’s Eralia; I’m one of the managers here.”

“Curtis,” I said, shaking her paw. “And on the bike there is Laska, my daughter.”

“Hi!” Laska trilled as she fiddled around with various body positions.

“Cute,” Eralia said with a smile. “Well, since this is your first time here, would you like me to show you around?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Alright, let’s head out back – if you’ll follow me…”

I called out to Laska and we both followed Eralia outside on our little narrated tour. It was a somewhat smallish track and looked a little on the easier side, but did look well-maintained. We were led around the outside of the course and Eralia pointed out a few things, including how they were trying to purchase more land so they could build another track or expand the current one.

“So, that’s our little campus,” Eralia said once we got back to the office building.

“Not bad at all. I do have one other question, though,” I began, only to be cut off by Laska.

“Can we ride on it?!”

“What she said,” I said with a chuckle, ruffling Laska’s hair and ears.

“You didn’t happen to bring a trailer full of bikes and gear, did you?” Eralia asked in that way someone might when they already knew the answer.

I shook my head. “No…”

Eralia cracked a wolfish smile. “I told them having rentals would be a good idea. But,” she said, raising her paws in defeat. “I can’t leave the front unattended for long, so you guys’ll have to wait until one of the other employees comes in.”

“How long’ll that be?”

“Should only be about 20 minutes. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure,” I said, then turned to Laska. “That’s fine with you, right?”

Laska rolled her head to a side and sighed. “I guessss…”

With little else to do in the office and business to settle, I paid for an hour of time – bikes and leathers included.

“What got her interested in motocross?” Eralia asked after handing me the receipt, pointing at my daughter with her eyes.

I shared a glance. Laska was studying the forks on the bike, her tail squiggling back and forth in a manner I’d come to associate with curious excitement.

“Hell if I know,” I said with a shrug and a grin. “We were driving to Six Banners when we saw a billboard for this place. Out of nowhere Laska asked if we could stop in. I guess she knew I’d ridden before and wanted to try it out herself.”

“That’s cute,” Eralia said with a girlish giggle. “She must really like you.”

When she smiled little crow’s feet appeared at her eyes and she had the barest hints of laugh lines. I pegged her at late 20s or early 30s, but her bronze skin made it difficult to pin down an exact age.

“Yeah, though I don’t know why,” I said with a chuckle as I leaned forward onto the counter. “Probably because I’m always indulging her. Kinda like now.”

“She’s a daddy’s girl, huh? Bet it makes her mother a little jealous,” Eralia said, subtly shifting tones.

An odd sort of twinkle took in her hazel eyes, not too unlike Laska’s whenever she had some sort of agenda.

At the mention of Laska’s mother I dropped my head for a moment. “Ah, it’s just us two,” I said quietly.

Eralia’s half-grin froze, though I couldn’t tell if she was trying to avoid frowning or something else. “Er, sorry, didn’t mean…”

I waved a hand in the air to dismiss her worries. “Don’t worry about it. But yeah, it’s been just us since she was six.”

“That’s gotta be a bit rough. How old is she now? Ten?”

“12, actually. Yeah, she’s a bit short for her age, but she’s catching up,” I said with an exaggerated sigh. “For better or worse.”

Eralia kept on grinning, but also nodded her head in understanding. “Yeah, that’s a rough age, alright. I still remember when I was that young,” she said, rolling her eyes and matching my sigh. However, she quickly smiled again and leaned down on the counter alongside me. “So, how long have you been riding?”

“Me? I haven’t ridden in a long while. Used to when I was younger, but got kind of bored with it, I guess.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie, but the way she narrowed an eye at me and how her ears shifted made me think she didn’t believe me in the least. Not many folks got ‘bored’ with two wheels on a track.

“How about yourself?” I asked in a hurry. “How long’ve you been riding? I assume you do, anyways.”

“Since I was just a little pup,” Eralia said after she let her quirked eyebrow fall.

Apparently my eyes asked the question ‘and how many years ago was that?’ considering her bemused smirk. “Which was a while ago. I’ve been riding on and off in both dirt and on asphalt for about 30 years now.”

She shifted a little, leaning forward further onto her crossed arms. Though I was sure she wasn’t doing it on purpose, her breasts rather sizeable chest was getting squished out. Not that I was the sort to look just a little too long at her cleavage or anything.

At any rate, seemed I was right about her age. “Since you were a pup, huh? You ever race professionally?”

“Here and there, but I never stayed with any one team for long. I was good enough, but not good enough, if that makes sense.”

“Really? I think that’s pretty impressive. Not many folks can get paid to do what they love.”

Eralia let herself sprawl out on the counter and stretched out her paws in a decidedly un-professional manner. She looked over at Laska for a moment and smiled. “True enough. I’m happy just to be able to work around my passion these days.”

Her eyes wandered back to mine. Between laying out on the counter and bangs that half-covered her face, she had a certain playful charm to her. Pretty cute to boot, if a little plain. Guess it made sense for someone in this hobby to be pretty laid back, even if she was a manager.

“Say, do you mind if I ask you something?” I asked, figuring she wouldn’t mind if I was too rude.

“Oh? You want to know about me?” She said playfully, her tone accented by a few swishes of her bushy tail.

“Now, I can tell you’re a wolf – of some sort,” I said, grimacing when I heard my own words. Didn’t sound quite so… forward in my head.

“…And you can’t figure out what kind, right?”

Eralia’s canines poked out from her smiling face. Either she was used to the question or found it amusing.

“Sorry, I’m just wondering-“

“Why I’m so good looking?”

She was definitely playful. And teasing. I sighed, unwilling to say anything else. Her grin spread and she consoled me with a few pats on the shoulder.

“I’m an Anubis, a type of jackal,” she said matter-of-factly.

Soon as she said ‘Anubis’ it clicked and I felt rather stupid for not realizing it.

“Ah, right, sorry,” I said.

“Don’t sweat it, I get asked a lot,” she said, inching a little closer. “One of the ‘perks’ of being a rare species.”

Eralia didn’t have any accent I could tell, so she’d probably been born here. Asking her about the vast deserts of her homeland would probably be pointless. Not to mention probably a little personal when considering we’d known each other for less than an hour.

“Though in return, mind telling me what kind of werecat your daughter is? I can’t quite figure it out.”

“Fair enough,” I said with smirk. “She’s a Cheshire, actually.”

“Really? A Cheshire with black fur?”

She cast a stare at Laska, who by now was getting bored of the bike. Hearing her name, she whirled around to face us – staring at us as we stared at her.

“What? What’s wrong?” Laska asked with a tinge of nervousness.

“Nothing, just talking about how adorable you are,” I said.

“Really?” Laska asked, perking up. She hopped off the bike and padded over to us.

“Yes, we were just talking about how lucky Curtis is to have a little cutie like you for a daughter,” Eralia said, laying on her sugar-sweet tone thick as frosting.

And Laska ate it all up. “That’s what I’ve always been telling him!” She said with a smile that could only be borne from such heavy flattery.

Had to hand it to Eralia, she managed to get Laska on her side almost instantly. Maybe it was the environment or the excitement of doing something new that lowered her guard.

“Please, I already know who’s the cutest little girl in the world,” I said with a nice saccharine tone to match Eralia’s. Then I snatched Laska up in a bear hug and laid a big kiss on her forehead that forced out a squeal of delight.

“Dad! It’s embarrassing!” She protested, wiggling in my arms.

Of course, I knew she could teleport away at any time if she really didn’t like it. Her smile and effortless struggle gave her away anyways. Besides, it was a father’s right to torment his daughter in public. Even if it wasn’t actually torment.

Eralia laughed throatily, enjoying the display immensely. Almost looked like she wanted to join in and make it a group hug. Sadly my torture of Laska was cut short when someone else walked into the office and paused, obviously confused by what was going on.

The smile vanished from Eralia’s face as she turned on the man. “You’re five minutes late, Marco,” the wolf said, he voice dropping to a low growl.

The man named Marco looked as if he’d been shot, apologized, and then Eralia told him to watch the front while she took care of her customers.

Following Eralia outside again, she took us to a large garage and threw open the sliding door. Inside were almost a dozen various bikes and along one of the walls was an impressive selection of gear in all shapes and sizes.

“How tall are you, Laska?”

“Uh, 53 inches. Just measured this morning!”

Eralia thought for a moment, sifted through a few of the child-sized suits, and then plucked one from the rack. “Here, try this on. Changing room is over there,” she said, motioning towards a corner of the garage.

“Okay,” Laska said, accepting the garment.

However, instead of going to the changing room she simply began to drop her clothes right there – after turning her body invisible, at least.

“Laska! Not in public,” I groaned, too late to actually stop anything.

“Why? No one can see me,” said her scowling, disembodied head.

“Damn, that’s a handy ability to have,” Eralia said, very impressed.

“Don’t encourage her, hard enough as it is.”

A deep, wolfish smirk appeared. Instantly I knew something was afoot.

“I wish I could do that. If I were to change right now you’d be able to see everything.”

Eralia was looking at Laska, but she was talking to me. Made me wonder if it was a wolf-thing to be such a tease all the time. Just as I began to wonder what she’d look like, she helped things out a little.

People usually don’t look back over their shoulder at you as they pick something up. People also don’t usually bend over that far, or sway their hips. Or make sure their bottom is pointed at you. She definitely had curves in all the right places, and was definitely making sure I was looking.

Then, as if ignorant of everything, she turned about and handed Laska a pair of boots.

“How about you?” Eralia asked as she straightened up.

“What about me?”

“How big are you?”

“Uh, five-ten.”

“Is that so?” She said with an exceedingly coy expression.

The double meaning quickly dawned on me. “That’s so,” I said, unable to contain my grin.

I’ll admit it’s not something I thought often, very much, or even at all – sometimes – but something about her was growing on me.

“Well, this should work then,” she said as she picked a suit off the rack.

“Thanks, uh, guess I’ll use the changing room then?”

“Sure,” Eralia said.

Thankfully Laska missed our entire exchange as she struggled mightily to get her suit on. I just shook my head and head into the changing room.

The years had not been kind to me – my stomach wasn’t quite as flat as it used to be. Zipping up a one-piece suit had never been that difficult, and made me feel a tiny bit worse about myself. Or a lot. Maybe I’d start up an exercise routine, or getting back into motocross would be a good workout.

Emerging with my too-snug leathers on, I was greeted with the sight of Laska decked out in her suit and armor, complete with over-sized boots and gloves for her paws.

“Dad! This is so cool!” She mumbled through her helmet. Then she proceeded to punch herself in the chest. “I can’t feel anything!”

On one hand I was happy she was so excited. On the other I had that dawning realization that my little girl was about to try something that necessitated that sort of protection. Well, she was mostly protected and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t get fast enough to really risk any injury.

To her side was Eralia, sporting a similar black leather outfit, though it was obvious hers was tailored. Didn’t sag or bunch anywhere like Laska’s. Instead it clung to her rather like a second skin. Leather looked mighty good on a woman like her.

“Oh, you’re riding too?” I asked innocently.

“Sure. It’ll be a bit more fun with someone else out there with you guys,” she said with a wink.

“But first,” Eralia said, walking over to a small dirt bike. She then waved Laska over and began to explain some of the basics, such as clutch control and shifting while I put on the rest of my gear.

Once the basics were covered, Laska nodding along sagely all the while, Eralia wheeled three bikes out onto the dirt.

“Alright, hop on,” Eralia said to Laska as she stood in front of the bike.

Laska licked her lips in anticipation and then swung her leg over the seat and flipped the kickstand up as she sat down. There was a bit of a scare as she tilted over to one side just a little too far for comfort, but she righted herself before Eralia had to grab onto the bars.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Laska said nervously. “Just lost my balance a little…”

“It’s okay, happens to everyone – even pros,” Eralia said warmly. “Anyways, go ahead and turn the ignition on and then hit the starter button like I showed you.”

Laska fumbled with the over-sized ignition switch, trying to pinch the key between her large, glove-clad paws. Took a short, frustrating moment, but she was able to fire up the bike. As the little engine roared to life and the first thing Laska did was look at me and grin.

I returned her smile, along with a thumbs up. She was only moments away from actually riding a motorcycle her first time. A few visions flashed through my mind, mostly of scenarios that people make videos about. Such as folks that ride for the first time and wind up heading straight into trees or frences, or simply fall over for no reason at all.

And as Laska managed to click it into gear and let go of the clutch, I got to experience my own live and in-person video. Instead of slowly letting the clutch out, she simply let it go. While rolling on the throttle just a little too much.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my daughter’s first wheelie, followed by her first wreck as she shot forward into one of the dirt jumps and flopped over.

I’d only made about three steps forward before Laska popped up – fortunately the bike hadn’t fallen on her. Eralia was already half-way over as Laska began struggling to lift the bike up onto its wheels. The Anubis was quick to lend a hand, hauling the thing up in an instant.

To my amazement, Laska was happy as ever. “That was awesome! I didn’t get hurt at all!”

Even more amazing, Eralia was actually laughing. “That’s why we make you wear all your gear all the time,” she said cheerfully, her tail swishing inside its leather pouch.

“Really? You’re fine? That didn’t spook you or anything?” I said more than a little worried as I pat Laska all over, making sure was she unhurt.

“Aw dad, you worry too much” Laska said as she backed away from me. “But now I know what happens when you let out the, uh, clutch? too fast…”

“Right, you gotta let it out slooooow,” Eralia said, then pat the seat. “Wanna try again?”

“Ya!”

And again Laska was seated, fired the bike back up, and tried again to set off. And promptly stalled the thing.

“More throttle,” I said as evenly as possible, still coming down from the adrenaline rush of watching her crash.

“…But not too much,” Eralia added.

It took a few more attempts, but soon Laska had figured out how to get moving without drama or stalling. She’d puttered down the dirt a few dozen feet, looking as happy with herself as someone who was riding on the ragged edge.

“Okay, turn around!” Eralia shouted.

Laska looked over her shoulder at us and began attempting to steer back our way. And then promptly got a paw-full of brake, locked the front wheel, and spilled over again. Once again she was up in an instant, though I ran over and helped her get back on instead of Eralia.

“You okay?” I asked after dusting her off and hoisting the bike back up. By now I’d gotten used to her falling over – insomuch as a father could.

“Ya, I’m fine. The brake is a lot stronger than I thought!”

“Yeah, though on dirt like this it’s easy to lock a wheel,” I said as Laska hopped back on.

“What you want to do is use the rear-brake when you’re going slow. You won’t fall over if you lock it.” I pushed down on her right foot-paw with my hand for emphasis.

She pushed down on the rear brake herself a few times and nodded at me. “Got it!”

With a bit more dexterity she started back up and meandered over towards Eralia, then turned and came back to me. One turn down. Then two as she went back. Round and round she went, both Eralia and I giving her little tidbits of advice as her speed gradually increased.

“Alright, let’s try the full course,” Eralia said. “I think you’re ready.”

Laska kept up her circles while the Anubis and I mounted and started our bikes.

“Nice and easy,” Eralia said as she lead her parade around the course nice and slow.

Two laps later and she was riding lazy circles around us as I kept with Laska’s crawling pace. Fortunately the jumps weren’t full-width, letting Laska skirt around them on the sides.

Lap by lap Laska got faster, and lap by lap I tapped into my old skills and began speeding up as well. Leaving Laska behind made me feel a bit bad, but when I passed her she waved at me – something I took that she was fine with it. Plus, maybe watching me would give her some ideas on how to get faster.

Excuses for myself to really ramp it up, mostly.

Years old feelings and memories boiled up in a rush when I ripped open the throttle on my first ‘real’ lap. Thrills and surges of adrenaline, boosting me to highs I’d long forgot. The corners – the way the rear end would slide ‘round and I had to force the bike underneath me and balance with a foot. The rush of the first jump, then the second as I soared through the air for what felt like an eternity.

I just began to laugh and shake my head as I aced a landing. I was so stupid to ever get out of this hobby. I could only imagine how Laska felt; I caught a glimpse of her taking her first jump. She may have only gotten a few inches of air, but I knew how it felt the first time. Nothing could compare.

But, I’d forgotten about someone else. Just as I thought to myself I was hauling along at a good clip and pat myself on the back for a well-executed double, I got a nice reminder. Eralia tore ass past me on the outside of the turn just after the jump, rear tire spitting dirt and the whole machine squirmed as she forced the thing to the limits of grip.

And she looked right at me, shit-eating grin and all. She even had the audacity to wave at me mid-turn just as she began to pick the bike up and straighten out. It was on.

If she could do it, why couldn’t I? Nevermind she was good enough to go pro. This was a challenge; a gauntlet, one that I wasn’t going to let reason stop me from picking up.

The race was on.

Well, I tried to make it on.

No matter how hard I shoved the bike into the dirt or how recklessly I took a jump or how little I used the brakes I couldn’t touch her. She knew it, too. She’d let me catch up, think I was doing good. Then she’d look over her shoulder and just like that she would effortlessly pull away, bounding through the air on jumps as if they weren’t there.

I quickly learned that I couldn’t quite manage her pace. Burning into a turn a little too cavalier, the bike slid out from underneath me as I pitched it over. The world rolled and dirt slid underneath and things shook.

Then it call came to a merciful standstill. I sat up. Nothing really hurt. My bike was over there. Shook my head to clear the last of the shock.

Eralia coasted on by, showering me with dirt as she snapped the throttle open and shot out of the turn leaving a rooster trail behind her. Muttering and cursing as I got up to stand my bike back up, I neglected one of the most important rules of the track: Don’t fucking stand around on a live track.

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I forgot about Laska. Apparently witnessing her dear old dad eat it in the corner startled or surprised her. Worse yet, she was obviously staring at me. While moving along at a solid pace.

She wasn’t going to stop.

I wrenched my body and threw myself out of the way, more like a bouncer had ejected me than some kind of clean dive. I hit the dirt and rolled onto my back just in time to watch Laska hit the wall in horrifying slow-motion, courtesy of adrenaline.

The wheel hit, bringing the whole thing to a jarring halt. The rear end picked up off the ground, still very intent on moving forward. Laska’s body had much the same idea. Together they worked in tandem to launch her up and over the bars and into the wall. She hit the wall with a dull thud that I’m sure was only in my mind, and then collapsed onto the ground in an awkward heap.

My legs were already scrambling underneath me, bringing me up and rushing over to aid my fallen daughter. But I wasn’t needed.

Laska was already standing on wobbling legs and had flipped up her visor. “Ugh, I felt that one,” she groaned with one eye closed.

“Are you hurt?!” I practically yelled and dropped to my knees, patting her all over.

“I’m fi—“

I pulled her into a tight hug and let out a long breath.

“Dad!” She yelled, pulling from my embrace. “I’m fine! Just… kinda woozy.”

“Riding into a wall’ll do that,” Eralia said.

Didn’t even hear or see her come up from behind us.

“You two okay, then? I watched all of that – good thing she wasn’t moving too fast when she hit,” she said with an exaggerated wince.

I sighed a fatherly sigh. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Shit happens.”

That it does, I thought.

“Well, you just learned an important lesson,” Eralia said as she walked over to the fallen bikes.

“What’s that?” Laska asked, more or less having regained her steadiness.

With a grunt Eralia righted Laska’s bike for what was probably the tenth time that day. “You go exactly where you’re looking,” she said while inspecting the machine for any damage.

Hopefully things were fine – I didn’t ask if damages were covered in the rental fees.

“Uh, anything broken?” I asked

She shook her head. “Nah. If anything the rim would’ve bent, but it’s fine.”

“What do you mean I go where I’m looking?” Laska asked, already moving to hop back on. She really could be fearless about some things. Eralia didn’t move to stop her.

“Well,” Eralia began after taking in a deep breath. “If you had looked through the corner the entire time you would’ve been fine, but you stared at your dad and so that’s exactly where you went – just like a fuzzy little missile locked onto him.”

“But if I don’t look at him I might hit him,” Laska said with a confused face.

“And you still nearly ran me over,” I said dryly. “Eralia’s right. On a bike you tend to go wherever you’re looking.”

Laska’s shoulders slumped. “I didn’t mean to…”

“I know sweetie,” I said, patting her back. “Don’t worry about it. I think you’re doing pretty good for your first time on a motorcycle.”

“Yeah, don’t sweat it. You’re doing great for a newbie. I think you’ve got some natural talent for this.”

Under both our praises Laska puffed up considerably as if her spill moments ago was a long forgotten memory. Brave, reckless, or forgetful – maybe all three. Those were the qualities someone needed to get good at this, much as I was loathe to admit it.

She fell over quite a few times, nearly ran me over, hit a wall and got pitched over the bars, and yet her spirits were higher than ever. Not just hers, either. Riding around like that was easily the most fun I’ve had with my daughter since, well, maybe ever. Also easily the most terrifying for me I’ve had in a while, but the good was outweighing the bad.

Already I was thinking about the costs of buying a trailer and a pair of bikes. I’d need to make a couple budget adjustments for the year, but it’d be worth it. But, something more pressing quickly made itself known to my thoughts.

 “Hey, how much longer do we have?” I asked, calling out to Eralia as she walked back to her ride. We’d easily been out for over an hour.

She whirled around and began walking backwards. “Don’t worry about it,” she said with a wink then did another about-face.

Did she mean that we still had time or that she wasn’t keeping track of it? I had a feeling it was the latter, considering how much fun she was having.

All of us back on two wheels, I dialed things back and just followed Laska around. I was expecting to have an extremely slow, leisurely time of things. Instead I was amazed.

In hardly any time at all she’d pushed herself to the sort of pace I’d expect from someone with at least a couple weeks of experience under their belt. She even tried to imitate Eralia a few times and stuck her leg out, only to quickly pull it back in as soon as she touched. Couldn’t blame her; grinding your heel into the dirt while you’re still moving pretty quick is pretty scary the first few times.

Eralia dropped her pace as well to hang around us. She seemed to be looking at us more than the track, making me feel a tiny bit self-conscious. Sometimes she’d dart in front of Laska and pat on the tail of her bike, signaling for my daughter to follow her through a turn or try to copy what she did. Somehow the Anubis managed to look behind her nearly the whole time, and if Laska did well she’d flash her a thumbs up or wave.

The free coaching was a nice touch, though I suspected it wasn’t part of the typical rental package. Could be that Eralia was just a very amiable sort.

On and on we went, lap after lap. It was one of those things where I could spend all day, or until I couldn’t even stand up anymore – which based on the ache of my legs might not be too far away. (Un)fortunately, my bike made up my decision to quit for me by running out of gas. I managed to roll off the track and into the garage, quickly followed by Eralia and then Laska.

Eralia hopped off and stripped off her helmet. She wiped her sweat-slicked bangs back and shot me an impressed look.

Laska tried to dismount as well, but her leg caught and she nearly fell. The Anubis rushed over to her quick, steadying both daughter and bike.

“Careful,” she said.

I rushed over to direct Laska over to a chair as Eralia rested the bike on its kick stand.

“Sorry,” Laska said breathlessly as she removed her helmet and sagged down into the chair.

I had no idea she was so exhausted, but like Eralia she also had a very content expression.

“It’s alright, we were out there for quite a while. It’s a hell of a work-out, isn’t it?”

Laska unzipped her suit and began fanning at herself. “Ya, I’m beat! But it was so much fun!”

“I’m glad you two had fun,” Eralia said earnestly.

“Yeah, it was great – we’ll definitely have to do this again sometime,” I said as I fished my phone from my pants. We’d been there over two hours, three if you counted when we were standing around in the office building.

Eralia’s smirk turned into such a smug grin. She knew she’d gotten us hooked. “Oh, I agree,” she said with a certain tone and lifted one of her eyebrows.

I quickly realized her grin was not entirely related to the prospect of return customers.

Wriggling about in her seat, Laska was struggling to get her suit off. The leather clung to her sweaty skin and turned what was normally a simple process into an ordeal. I was having a few problems myself, and Eralia seized on the opportunity of a distracted Laska and a chance to get close to me.

“You weren’t bad out there,” she said in a low voice as she took one of the arms of the suit and tugged down on it, freeing me from its grasp.

“Oh, really? Well, wasn’t anything compared to you – I wish I could do half the things you did.”

“Well, if you like, I could teach you… personally.”

She winked with her last word. It was all I could do to not laugh – had to bit my lip to contain my grin. I’d seen less clumsy come-ons from drunken girls at the bar. But, really, why not? She was cute in that girl-next-door kind of way, seemed to get along with Laska – and knew she was my daughter – and had a pretty awesome hobby. Didn’t hurt I found her energy and enthusiasm charming.

“I’d like that,” I said, returning her silly wink.

For a moment it appeared that she was genuinely blind-sided by my agreement. “Great, I’ll give you my number when we get back to the office,” she said after recomposing herself.

I nodded and went into the little changing room to strip off the rest and change back while Eralia helped Laska out. Had to say, the day wasn’t going anything like I thought it would. Laska found a new hobby she seemed to take immense joy in, I rekindled a forgotten passion, and even got asked on a date. And we hadn’t even gotten to the amusement park yet. Assuming Laska still wanted to go; she did seem awfully tired.

Once Laska and Eralia had changed back into their normal clothes and we walked back to the office, I gave the Anubis my number and she gave me hers.

“So, did you want to go home or go to Six Banners?”

Laska gave me that look like I was crazy for even asking. “Six banners!”

“Really? You seemed awfully tired back there,” I said while crossing my arms.

“I’m fine! We still have a while to drive, don’t we?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, thinking that she was planning on napping the rest of the way.

“It was great meeting you two,” Eralia said with a wave. “Especially you, Laska. You’ve got potential!”

“Thanks! We’ll be back!” Laska said, waving goodbye as we left.

The Anubis simply smiled knowingly.

Sure enough, Laska conked out within minutes of getting in the car. I was mildly jealous, and also a bit annoyed. I’d have no one to talk with for the rest of the drive. At least until Eralia sent me a message to ask what my weekend plans were. Utilizing some amazing texting-while-driving skills, we went back and forth a few times and set up a dinner date on Saturday. I’d get Lydia and Steve to watch Laska for the night and Eralia would come over to my neck of the city, then probably stay the night at my place. She didn’t exactly say that, but I figured that’s what would happen. Not that I was complaining.

At the amusement park Laska was far more tired than she was willing to admit. While we did have fun on all the rides she often mentioned how they weren’t as fun as the dirt bike was. Had to agree with her there. Sure a rollercoaster was fun, but it couldn’t quite match the thrill of two wheels.

As night settled in and Laska grew ever more tired and a little bit cranky, we hit up the games. Through some combined effort we managed to start with the prize of a tiny stuffed animal and wound up with a fish larger than Laska. Of course, I had the carry the thing around. And then I had to carry Laska as she was so tuckered out she fell asleep on a bench. Cat slung over one shoulder, fish on the other.

I got a few odd looks while heading back to the car. Maybe they wondered where they could win a Cheshire Catgirl of their own. Maybe wondered if I’d lured her in with the promise of a stuffed animal and then knocked her out. Maybe I overthought things.

Heading back home, Laska clung to the fish the whole way, giggling and meowing in her sleep. I think she tried to chew on it a little.

But yeah, it had been a good day. And thinking forward, my thoughts immediately drifted to Eralia and Saturday. I found myself more smitten with her than most others, and I couldn’t explain why. Sure she was attractive, playful, and got on with Laska, but there was more. All I knew is that I was looking forward to our date.

Even if her choice of dinner plans struck me as odd.

 

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