The early morning sun began to rise, filling the vast middle class suburbia with dullish orange light as it peeked over the horizon, heralding a humid heat that is the standard of summer. Well-kept trees and lawns dotted the landscape, with paved grey streets filled with cars parked or moving along them in a lazy drone. The birds sang their early morning songs, joined in the sky by the harpies beginning their day who tried their best to not sing alongside them, for fear of embarrassment from any early morning ears that have risen to start the day.
Groggy husbands and wives started to move through the houses, wiping their eyes and some men still groaning from the extracurricular activities that occurred during the night, while their wives or girlfriends smirked happily. Another day of work laid ahead for them in the daily tedium of their lives, and they moved in their set pattern that has long been ingrained in them. Engines started to rev up and cars pulled out into the street, and amongst the new hubbub of a new day was the clopping of a pair of hooves.
She ambled on the sidewalk, waving to the men and women who have long grown accustomed to seeing her make these early morning walks, smiling at each greeting. She even stopped to listen to an excitable Ocelomeh and her husband as they gushed about their child starting to walk, but excused herself before long as she could not deviate from this pattern she bestowed upon herself, conscious of the groceries in the bags she carried. The ice cream would melt in this humid heat, and she herself didn’t much appreciate the heat: it always poofed up the thick fur that came up to her knees.
Waving as she left, she moved with quicker purpose towards her destination before she at last stopped at it. It was an unassuming house–one story, a couple of windows with the curtains drawn and a pathway that led up to the door. A garage to its side that had a pick-up truck parked in front, the paint starting to peel and rust forming arounds its rim. The most conspicuous thing about it that separated it from the rest of the houses was the unkept yard, grass long and dandelions dotted along it. Standing in front, she grumbled about how he let it become like this, at some point she had considered just paying for landscaping herself, but she knew he would be upset if he learned she did that; he was already upset about her coming here with food.
Sighing, she shook her head and made her way up the pathway to the door where she settled the bags on the ground before knocking. She didn’t know why she did this, maybe it was to be polite, but she knew, as has happened many times before, he wasn’t going to answer, but she figured she should at least be formal about it. She waited a few moments, her sensitive ears not picking up any noise from within before she snorted and reached into one of the bags on the floor and procuring a key. She put it in the lock and twisted it open before putting the key safely back into the bag and stepping inside.
The house was dark, all the lights off and the curtains drawn, but, much to her everlasting surprise, it was spotless. It was always odd to her how well-maintained he kept the inside, but refused to do anything about the yard; he only ever muttered that his mother would prefer it this way. It was a pretty house, and she wished he would take better care of the front, but she supposed she should be happy that she didn’t have to clean it too when she came. The inside was much like the outside in that it was small, with everything almost crammed on top of one another. The living room was only a few feet away from the kitchen, with only a wall and a doorway separating the two. The kitchen was small with only enough room for a table, a stove, and a fridge, with a diminutive pantry for food and other things set off into a corner room that also served as the entrance to the garage.
She put the bags on the table and emptied all the contents, putting where all the food needed to be in the pantry and fridge. Once done, she got out a pan from the cabinets above the stove and slicked it up with butter. She supposed today would be pancake day–he really loved that day. Grabbing another bowl from the cabinet, she moved quickly to grab all the other ingredients and began to sift them all together until they were mixed and she deposited the batter onto the pan.
Turning the flame on, she began to hum as she cooked, her eyes drifting down towards the counters next to the oven. On it were some letters and mail, most of it appeared to be marketing some kind of landscaping or roof repairs, but one in particular caught her eyes. In lush green letters it spelled out “Belmont Assisted Living,” and the top of it was torn haphazardly enough that she was able to make out some numbers. She pursed her lips: even after everything that man had done to James, he still found it in him to help.
A light tap on her shoulder tore her eyes away from the bill as she gasped, her heart jumping out of her chest as she turned around. What greeted her were a pair of hazel eyes almost hidden under unkempt brown hair that fluttered down his forehead. They were still heavy with sleep, and the previous fright from before was replaced with a certain rage from many similar encounters. She pushed the man, who, not prepared for the sudden shove, stumbled backwards into the table, with only his swift reaction to place his hand on the edge of it saving him from spilling on the floor.
“Damn it, James!” She shouted, glaring daggers at the wide-eyed man. “I told you I hate when you sneak up on me like that!”
James looked a bit stunned, she would even say afraid at the sudden outburst, but he shook his head and returned a deadpan look at her. “Yeah?” He said, pulling a chair out and taking a seat at the table, “While I hate when people break into my home.”
“I didn’t break in, moron,” She said, rolling her eyes. “I knocked like I do every day and you didn’t answer as usual.” She snorted, “I have a key anyway.”
“A key I gave you, Holly, because I got tired of waking up to you trying to open my kitchen window to sneak in.”
Holly huffed, crossing her arms across her chest, “Sorry for making sure you weren’t dead from malnutrition.”
James leaned back in his chair, squeezing the bridge of his nose as he stared up at the ceiling. There was never a reason to argue with Holly like this; she wouldn’t change her mind anyway, stubborn like the minotaurs at work. It was her way, or there was no way at all. Sighing, he looked back to her, watching her pout at him eliciting a small snicker from him; he could see why kids liked her so much. She wore a simple gray top with a black skirt that hugged tight to her curvy body, but despite the adult body she truly had the temperament of a child sometimes.
“Whatever…” He said, pointing to the stove. “The pancake is gonna burn if you leave it like that for too long.
Her holstaur ears perked up and her eyes widened, “Shit!” She exclaimed, before turning back to the stove and flipping the now thoroughly burnt on one side pancake and depositing it on the plate she set to the side for them. “This is your fault!”
“My fault!” James said incredulously.
“Yeah, you distracted me and now look!” She stomped her hoove on the tiled floor, “This one is yours!”
“No way! You’re th–” She glared at him, causing him to freeze as her eyes bore into him. He shook his head, “Fine, whatever. Just…keep cooking.”
She nodded and poured more batter onto the pan, humming again as she began to wave in rhythm to the tune. James got up from his spot and moved to the fridge, grabbing the carton of milk from it and grabbing a cup from the cabinet next to Holly. He opened it before a sudden thought entered his mind and he turned to look at the humming holstaur.
“You got this from the market right?” He asked, as she flipped the pancake in the pan. She didn’t answer, so engulfed in her cooking that she didn’t hear him, or she simply chose to not respond. “Holly…”
“It’s from the market! Jeez, so stupid about milk anyway–Milk is milk!” She answered at last, shaking her head.
“Yeah, but that’s milk from cows I don’t know.”
“Why should it matter!”
“It’s just weird!”
“It’s not!” She retorted, her ears perked in outrage. “I’d much rather prefer something like that from a person I knew than a stranger. At least you know I’m strong and healthy!”
James waved his hand and just poured the milk into a glass before sitting down at the table again, pulling out his phone from his pajama pocket. He saw that he got a text from his boss saying that he didn’t need to come in today, something that he had mentioned yesterday was a possibility. The job they had was just about done, and he only needed a couple of his workers to come in today to finish setting up some rails and doors.
“Looks like I’m off today, Hol’” He said, taking a sip from the milk, noting how rich and creamy it was.
“That’s good,” She said, putting another pancake on the plate, this one thankfully not burnt. “I still got to go into the daycare today though; parents always busy and the children never sleep.”
“Mhmm,” James responded , another ping from his phone causing him to look at it.
It was from his Greg. His brow perked up: Greg never usually texted or called him this early in the morning, always so busy with work. Holly began to set the table, putting down the plate full of pancakes in the middle with some syrup and silverware, as he opened the message from his brother.
“Hey, when are you free today?”
“I got off of work today. I’m just at the house.” James typed back, putting his phone down to grab a pancake, but it pinged back before he even set it down on the table.
“Oh good! I’ll be over for lunch, so don’t eat a big breakfast.” Greg responded, adding a big burger at the end of the message.
Holly took the seat across from him as he finally set the phone down. “Gotta go into work today after all?” She said, grabbing one of the pancakes off the top with a fork before lathering it with a large amount of syrup.
He shook his head, placing a pancake on his plate as well, though putting less syrup on it than his holstaur friend. “Nah, Greg wanted to come over for lunch.”
“Oh, Gregory? How’s he been? Still ancy about the kid?” She said before cutting a large piece of the pancake off and shoveling it into her mouth.
“He’s been alright, his wife is about six months along now, so any minute now I should be an uncle, but we’ll see how he handles being a dad.”
James shrugged, “I’m sure he’ll be fine. Greg always had a habit of getting in his head too much about things. You know how he finally asked his wife out?”
Holly rolled her eyes, “Yeah, yeah, he had to ask you how you asked me out. That line was still cheesy.”
James smirked, “It worked, didn’t it?”
“Only because I had felt bad for you.” Holly said, tilting her head with a condescending smirk on her face, the illusion ruined by the milk mustache she was growing.
James put his hand to his chest and mimicked being shot, “My lady! You wound me!”
Holly snorted as she shoveled another bite in before downing it with a long drink of her milk. “Whatever. But it’s exciting, isn’t it?”
“Being an uncle, you idiot!” Holly said, reaching across the table and slapping him lightly on the head. “I’m never going to be an aunt, so it’ll be nice to live vicariously through you.”
“Hey, I don’t gotta raise the kid myself, so it’ll be nice to teach her how to mess with my brother.” James said, rubbing the top of his head as he forked in another bite of his pancake.
Holly sighed, “I kind of envy your brother…I wish I could raise a kid of my own some days.” She looked down at the table, a frown stretching across her face.
“Holly…” James said, frowning at the sudden shift in the mood. “You can always find another guy…”
She shook her head before breathing out another heavy sigh, “No, that’s alright…I don’t think my heart is really set on that type of stuff anymore.” She smiled, though James could tell it was forced. “Plus, I got a bunch of idiot kids at work I have to babysit everyday, so it’s not like I’m missing much of the experience.”
“I guess so…I’m jus–”
“Just drop it, James; I told you, I’m okay with that, really…anyway, I have a big baby right in front of me I have to take care of.” She said, an honest smirk on her face.
“You don’t have to come, you know.”
“I know, but then my big baby here might starve.”
“Fine, you wanna change my diaper too then.”
Holly blew her tongue at him, “That’s one thing even I won’t do for you.”
James let out a laugh and the conversation veered into more mundane facets of life as the pile of pancakes gradually disappeared from the plate until he got to the dreaded burnt one, Holly laughing as he struggled to gulf down the burnt crust. He was glad the more pleasant mood returned to their conversation regardless of the burnt taste feeling in his mouth, but he really did wish Holly would put herself out there again. She is a beautiful woman with a…voluptuous body that she could use to woo any man, but she always got upset whenever he tried to convince her that he just dropped the subject completely.
Holly’s eyes turned down the clock on the stove, a heavy sigh escaping from her mouth as she saw the time was approaching nine. He stretched his arms behind his neck as Holly took her last glass of milk and downed it, wiping her sleeve across her mouth to cleanse the large mustache that had grown there.
“Time to go?” He asked more out of formality than as an actual question.
She nodded and got up from her spot and deposited her plate in the sink before grabbing her bag off the table. She started towards the living room and James followed her, stopping by the front door and turning to give James a short hug, which he returned with an awkward pat on the back.
“You know I can drive you to work?” He said, pulling the keys off the hanger by the door. “It’s pretty hot out.”
She shook her head and smiled at him as she released her hug, “That’s alright. I love walking off all the food I eat here.” She said, readjusting the bag of toys and other playthings she brings to the kids at the daycare. “Plus, you got Gregory coming over soon.”
“It’s like a ten minute ride.”
“Nope, go get ready, you stinky boy.” She said smirking, opening the door and letting in the humid heat to the air-conditioning home.
“Do I really smell that bad.”
“Well…I didn’t want to say anything…”
Holly laughed as she slammed the door in his face and he could hear the clopping of her hooves as she walked down the concrete pathway. James listened for a few moments before turning around and rolling his neck around, getting rid of some kinks that had worked up while he was sitting and chatting with her. Sighing, he sat down on the couch in the center of the living room and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the groaning of the A/C.
He hated days like these: when he had nothing to do. A part of him was hoping that his boss would call him in today because he disliked sitting around the house all day. He turned his head towards the small table on the side of the couch, a lamp sitting on top of it with a small picture frame resting near it. He reached for it and turned it towards him, a small smile spreading across his lips.
The picture showed a hearty Kiki, not dressed in the standard maid uniform for their work, but instead a floral-patterned dress, holding two different age kids–one looking to be a couple years older than the other–close in a hug with large smiles stretched across their faces. He remembered when this picture was taken; Greg had just graduated middle school, and their mom had taken them out to that spot in the forest they liked for a picnic. James had gotten Holly to take the picture for them, though a small part of him regretted not getting her in the picture too.
Clearing his throat, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he gaze shifted towards the kitchen. Well, his mom would not appreciate the mess that was left in the kitchen, and, sniffing his armpits, he realized that Holly might have been right, which he knew his mom would definitely not appreciate. So, with a groan, he stood up from the couch and began to move to start his lazy day off. Just one thought paraded through his head as he walked to the sink to start washing the dishes.
He really hoped Greg got his order right this time.