Playing Favorites – Chapter 17


Jacinda

How long have I been staring? It can’t have been too long. I’ve been awake for… what? Five minutes? Ten? Okay, it might have been fifteen, and I might have done nothing but stare. But that’s still a reasonable amount of time. I think.

Maybe I should do something else. Where’s my phone? Right, in my pants’ pocket. Where are my pants? I raise my head and look around the bed. Wow, what a mess. The floor is littered with our clothes. Our shirts, our socks, and our shoes have been thrown haphazardly over the carpet like some kind of incomprehensible art project. My panties have somehow ended up on top of the window sill. Chris’ jersey -the one I was wearing- is covering my nightstand. The one he was wearing is halfway between the bed and the door.

I finally locate my pants, hidden beneath the covers which have fallen off my bed. Damn, they’re too far. Hmmm, but I don’t want to stand up. It’s so very comfy here. Maybe if I use my foot instead… Ah… Almost… Rrrgh… Yeah, here we go. Now, what- Shit! As I pull up the pants, my phone drops from one of the pockets. I have to lean down to retrieve it, because of course it bounced on the carpet and went under the bed.

Holding it firmly in my paw, I lay back down and turn it on. Oh shit, wow. It’s past five already? I must have slept longer than I thought.

First, I check my messages. Oh, I’ve received one from Judith! Dated from seventeen minutes ago.

 

Judith: Date number three is going very well.

 

The text is accompanied by a picture… A picture of a male chest, bare and very hairy. As far as the muscles go, not bad, but no cigar. I’d give it a B. I just so happen to have an A on hand right now, so I take a picture of it (with my paw on a pec for size) and send it to Judith for referencing purposes. Also, for bragging purposes. The reply comes about two minutes later:

 

Judith: NO WAY! Is that who I think it is??? DID YOU JUST DO WHAT I THINK YOU JUST DID??????

Jacinda: That’s right. I kidnapped Jeffrey Larsen and am holding him naked in my basement. His family has agreed to pay the ransom. Do you know any money launderers?

Judith: Pfffft. Of all the Hollywood actors you could kidnap, you went with Jeffrey Larsen? You don’t even like romcoms.

Judith: I know a literal money launderer. He owns a laundromat, you can wash your money in it.

Jacinda: Perfect. I like my money warm and properly ironed.

Judith: Huh-uh. Now back to reality.

Judith: Tell me you rode him all day long, all the way to Valhalla.

 

A smile stretches my lips, and my tail starts wagging.

 

Jacinda: Not all day long.

Judith: HUZZAH! Congrats on bringing down the walls of Fort Virginity.

Jacinda: You’re weird, Jude.

Judith: Totally.

Judith: So spill. How many times? How many positions? How many orgasms? HOW MANY ACCESSORIES?

Jacinda: Two, two, three, and zero.

Jacinda: Well, technically four orgasms, including his.

Judith: Bah, his doesn’t matter. Men are objects, put on Earth solely for our pleasure.

Jacinda: Interesting opinion. Is Francesco reading our exchange?

Judith: From above my shoulder? Nah, he’s too busy with my feet.

 

With her feet? Wait, are they…?

Oh.

OH.

 

Jacinda: Are you seriously texting mid-fuck? Follow-up: WHY are you texting mid-fuck?

Judith: He’s a big fan of free use, as it turns out. And, as it turns out, I’m a big fan of being used. Plus, I can’t decently ignore my best friend, can I? Especially when she’s talking about sexing up her boyfriend for the first time!

 

Wow. Date number three seems to be indeed going very well. I wonder if Chris would be into that kind of thing too. Or if I would. Yeah, I could see myself using him for my own selfish enjoyment, making him satisfy my every needs… Let’s make a mental note of that.

 

Jacinda: “Being used”, though? What happened to “men are objects”?

Judith: Oh, they totally are, but women are objects too. See, we are all objects being played by the Goddess of Lust, in a giant game that will end with everybody fucking. One huge, world-wide orgasm that shall bring eternal peace. At which point, we shall all fuck some more.

Judith: Oop gotta go need to grab some tissues

Judith: Nope Francesco wants to take a picture first

Jacinda: Wow. TMI.

 

I bet Chris would definitely be into that. He certainly enjoyed the pictures of myself I sent him over the last few weeks, and those were -mostly- decent and clean of any body fluids. As for me, I think I could get behind taking pictures of his face covered in my juices. Oh yes, I could most definitely get behind that. And on top of that, if you’ll pardon the predictable pun.

 

Judith: BTW, wanna do something this weekend? It’s been so long since last time.

 

“So long” is an understatement. Like I mentioned earlier, we haven’t hung out since high school.

Well, let’s put an end to that slump. I’ve been complaining for a while that Judith and I have been growing apart, but, much to my shame, I haven’t done much to affect that. Well, that’s about to change.

 

Jacinda: Hell yeah. What did you have in mind?

Judith: How about a double date on Saturday night, two weeks from now? I’m feeling Uncle Rhino’s. Let’s say at eight?

Jacinda: I’ll ask Chris, and I’ll let you now. Talk to you soon.

 

Chuckling happily, I put my phone away, then go back to enjoying my new favorite pillow. I lift myself on my elbow, supporting my head with one paw. With the other, I brush the small hairs on his chest, humming softly when I sense his heart beneath. I should probably wake him up. It won’t be long before my folks start coming back home. But he’s just so damn cute when he’s asleep.

Fnff, fnff. Ah, that post-orgasm scent is gone; he’s back to smelling like he normally does. Which is good too, but… You know. Ah, no matter, it probably won’t be long before I can sniff it again. And this time, I’m going to inhale it. Make myself sick from it.

His eyelids flutter as he awakens.

“You’ve been watching me while I sleep?” he mutters.

“I prefer to think of it as watching over you while you sleep. Less creepy, more romantic.”

Throwing his arms over his head, he stretches and yawns.

“What time is it?” he mutters, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“Quarter past five,” I say, checking my phone.

“Oh.” He scratches his chin. “I should get up, then.”

He tries to, but I don’t budge.

“Uh… Can you move?”

I stare into his eyes.

“What did you say?” I ask.

“I said: “can you move?”.”

“No. Before that.”

“I asked what time it was.”

“Not that!” I say, swatting his chest. “Before I fell asleep, you said something. What did you say?”

He smirks and shrugs, faking innocence. I thought so. Slowly placing my hands on the sides of his muscled torso, I repeat:

“What did you say?”

“I don’t recall, your honor,” he says.

“Yes, you do. Come on.”

Chris just shrugs again. Fine, then. If he wants to play it that way, I’m happy to oblige. My claws move slowly to his armpits and… start to tickle him. Chris yelps and jumps, but I just clamp down and keep going. He writhes on the bed, desperately struggling to dodge my cruelly delicate claws as they seek the softest part of his flesh.

“Stop!” he screams. “Stop, stop, stop!”

“Talk!” I scream back. “Talk, talk, talk!”

We fight for a solid minute (well, I call it a fight, but it’s actually pretty one-sided), until I magnanimously decide to offer him a rest. He falls back on the bed, out of breath. He’s got a boner again. Do we have time for… Nooope. Focus, Jacinda.

“Jesus Christ,” he soughs.

“I’m pretty sure I know what it is,” I tell him. “So just say it already.”

A hint of seriousness lights up in his eyes. “How about you say it?”

“Huh?” I feel myself blushing.

My boyfriend immediately seizes the opportunity of my being taken aback to launch his counteroffensive. His fingers run along the sides of my ribs, and my nerves react in a nanosecond. A weird, super silly noise escapes my mouth, sounding like “Nyeewauk!”. I jump, and lose my balance. I grab Chris’s arms to try not to fall off the bed, but only manage to bring him down with me. Which is fine too.

We drop on the floor, me first, and Chris on top of me. His head is cushioned by my boobs. Like Hell he didn’t do that on purpose… I wrap my arms around his head, and my legs around his hips, preventing him from standing up.

“You’re not getting up before you say it,” I tell him.

“You seriously need to come up with better threats, furball,” he retorts, nuzzling my interboob (The space between my boobs. That’s what it’s called, right?).

“I could tickle you again. How’s that for a threat?”

I block his arms to make sure he doesn’t take the lead on that one. With a grunt of protest, he clamps his teeth down on the side of my tit.

“Aww, is that supposed to hurt?” I say. “Try harder, honey.”

He does try, but gives up in frustration when he doesn’t get any reaction from me. His shoulders drop with a weary sigh, and he finally says:

“I love you too.”

I bite my lip to avoid giggling like a silly teenage girl. He slides out of my arms as I release him, and kisses me.

“Now say it back,” he says.

Butterflies pop up in my stomach, and it feels like they want to escape through my mouth. I swallow, then reply:

“Ayuhvyoo.”

Fuck. He chuckles, and scratches my ears.

“Once more with feeling, furball.”

“Soooo… this is gonna be my official nickname, then?”

“Only in public.” He grins impishly. Right, he also decided on my private nickname. My lower lips wetten as I remember it. Jerk. Wait until I find you a private nickname.

“I love you,” I finally mumble.

“Louder.”

Geez. “I love you,” I say out loud.

Behind his grin, something melts. I was not prepared for how vulnerable he looks at this moment. With a little laugh, he says:

“You know you’re the first person to say that to me?”

My ears drop. I am?

“What about-”

Your mother, I almost say. His smile saddens just a smidge as he guesses my thoughts.

“My mom loved me -loves me. I know she does. But she never actually said it.”

Ah, hell. I can’t even imagine such a thing. How can a mother not say that to her own kid? My mom tells it to me all the time, especially when there are classmates around.

“Hey now, let’s not get sad,” he says, kissing me again. “Not today. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I say. Huh, it gets easier. Good. I can’t wait to say it again and again. And to hear it again and again.

“But what about Amy?” I can’t help but ask.

“Our relationship didn’t go that far.”

“Ah…” Is it bad that I’m kinda happy about that?

“And as for my mother, we’re getting better.”

“I’m glad, Chris. I really am. You deserve good things happening to you.”

“Thanks.” After a few seconds, he adds: “Was that a segue to a blowjob or…?”

I slap his chest again, right on his winged tattoo, and he laughs.

“Are you thinking about getting more?” I ask, brushing his ink.

“Tats? Yeah, definitely. I need to finish this one first, but then I’m thinking of doing the rest of the chest.”

“Hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm,” I say, nodding energetically as I picture every part of his muscled chest covered in tattoos. “Yeah, yeah. Totally.”

“What about you? You ever thought about getting inked?”

“On a black skin? Fat chance.”

“It’s got to be possible. I mean, black Humans can get tattoos.”

“Yeah, but my skin is really, really black. I don’t think it would work. Although…” I consider the inside of my arm. “Mom tells me there’s this Hellhound called Cleo, who apparently got a shitload of tattoos. So maybe it is possible. Like, with some kind of special ink or something.”

“Say it is possible,” Chris says. “What would you get?”

“Hmmm.” I ponder the question for a moment. “I don’t know, maybe a… Well, it’s kind of silly, but I’ve seen these luminescent tats online, and they looked really cool. I think I’d like something that can glow in the dark, to freak people out.”

“You don’t need a tat to do that.”

I bare my fangs and fake growl at him, and we both chuckle.

“What kind of tattoo would you see on me?”

I regret asking that question as soon as I see his devilish expression.

“How about “Chris’ bitch” right on your ass cheek? With the outline of a hand.”

“I’ll tattoo your ass if you keep this jokes up,” I snarl. “Won’t need any ink, either.”

He laughs. I clear my throat.

“But, uh, the idea of getting a tattoo of your name is, um, well, I’m not completely opposed to it,” I say.

Chris brushes the fur on the top of my thighs.

“You do know tattoos are irreversible?” he asks softly.

“Well, they make some that can be removed easily with a special chemical treatment, but yeah, I know.”

Both our hearts are beating faster now. I stand up so quickly you’d think I was sitting on hot coals.

“Erm, I should drive you back to campus. It’s almost half past.”

“Right.”

Chris and I pick up our clothes. He looks kinda disappointed when my bra comes back on; I smile at him, wordlessly telling him that it’s not the last time he’ll see the girls. Far from it.

“We should take a shower before we leave,” I say as we leave my bedroom.

“Good idea,” he says, his eyes twinkling.

“Separately.”

“Less good idea, but I suppose I could use a wash.”

“Yeah, you really could. You super smell like me right now. One sniff and my mom and my sister will know what’s up.”

“Is that such a bad thing, that they know?” Chris asks.

“I mean, no, it’s not. It’s just that Mom was very clear about us sharing a room.”

“Also your sister is gonna tease you mercilessly.”

“That too, but I’m resigned to that,” I sigh.

I let my boyfriend use the shower first. He does a quick job of washing himself of our recent hijinks; too quick, in fact.

“I can still smell myself on you.”

“That’s to be expected, isn’t it?” he shrugs. “We spent most of our days making out.”

“This is not what making out smells like.”

“Well, you still have the option to jump in the shower with me and wash me to your satisfaction,” he says, waggling his eyebrows.

Gods, I want that right now. Run my claws in his wet hair, spread soap all over his muscles, release that bulge in his pants… But I mustn’t. It’s now 5:25 PM, and it’s already a small miracle no one has come back home already.

I advise him to use some body spray, and run into the bathroom. Circumstances dictate that I should take my shower cold to calm my lady bits down, but the contact of cold water with my skin irks me and sours my mood. I do my best to keep my hair out of the way, as I don’t want to spend half an hour drying it. Even my fur barely gets brushed when I pop out of the cabin a few minutes later. It’s going to get kinky and knotty, but most of it will be covered by my clothes, so it doesn’t matter.

Chris is not in the hallway when I get out, nor is he in my room. I figure he’s probably waiting in the living room or by my car, and go down the stairs. He is indeed waiting on the living room’s couch… and so is my mother.

“Mom!” I squeak. “You’re home early.”

“No, right on time, actually,” she replies calmly. I check my phone again. Right. She is. Gods damn it.

I shoot a glance at Chris, sitting on her right. There’s a look of defeat on his face, although he is smiling.

“Come sit with us, honey bunny,” Mom says, patting a post on her left side.

Oh, joy. I get my ass down next to her, mentally preparing myself for the worst.

“So!” Mom says, scarily perky. “Did you have a good day?”

“Sure, yeah,” I mutter.

“By the way, congratulations, Chris!”

Chris flinches. “Um, thanks?”

“I heard you scored a home run.”

My boyfriend pales for a second, then realizes she’s talking about the game. Probably?

“Oh! Right, yeah. Well, more than one,” he adds with false modesty.

“Yes, but I mean one of those home runs when the ball is still on the field.”

“You mean an inside-the-park home run. Yeah, I did one of those.” His eyes shine with pride.

“Well done! I don’t follow baseball, but I’ve been told those are pretty rare.”

“Oh yes, very rare,” Chris says. “That was actually my first. In fact, it may be my last. There are some batters who never score an inside-the-park home run in their entire careers.”

“Once in a lifetime, huh?” Mom chuckles. “Well, congratulations on popping that cherry.”

“MOM! What the fuck?!” I exclaim.

“That’ll be two more dollars in the swear jar, honey bunny,” she says, still irritatingly and worryingly calm.

“Just come out and say it already!”

“Why, whatever do you mean, Jacinda?”

Ugh!

Chris sniggers.

“Is this my punishment?” I say.

“Punishment? Did you do something that warrants being punished?”

“Stop it! You know exactly what I mean. What gave us away?”

“Oh, honey bunny.” Mom pats my leg. “A mother always knows.”

“So, um…” Chris says. “What’s gonna happen now?”

Mom only answers with a guttural chuckle.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I say. “You told us not to share a room, and…”

“And you did the opposite?” Mom says with faux horror. “Imagine that! Teenagers being told not to have sex by their parents, and doing it anyway.”

Holy shit, this is worse than torture.

“Listen, I truly am sorry. I just… I…”

I just really, really needed to fuck my boyfriend, I almost say, but that doesn’t sound like that’s going to make things better for us.

She smiles. “Oh, it’s all right, Jacinda. I understand.”

Wait, really? I dare to breathe again.

“So we won’t be punished?”

The hint of malice in Mom’s smile makes my stomach drop.

“Hey, Chris,” she asks nonchalantly, “would you like to see some pictures of Jacinda when she was a kid?”

What?… No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Oh Gods no.

“I would love to,” Chris says, deliberately ignoring me waving my paws and shaking my head, as well as the expression of terror on my face.

Mom pulls out her tablet and turns it on. Oh my gods, she has a folder of pictures labeled “Jacinda”. And holy crap, that folder contains more folders. She opens the one named “Seventh birthday”. I’m doomed.

“Her father made her a salted caramel pie for her birthday. As you can see, she really enjoyed it.”

With great trepidation, I dare gaze upon the picture. It’s me as a puppy, with my face covered in caramel and cream, and a great big smile shining through it. Mom slides her claw across the screen, and of course there’s more than one photograph of that. Damn, and she made sure to cover every angle of that disaster. How the fuck did I manage to get some in my ears?

Chris laughs. “Did she try to eat it with her eyeballs?!”

“Right? She pretty much smashed her face in it. Of course, she left it to her dad to clean up after her, and to me to give her a shower. She spent the rest of the day whining about caramel sticking all over her fur. Who would have thought? Caramel being sticky.”

I cross my arms and look away, my cheeks burning.

“And to think you gave me hell about that chocolate milkshake,” Chris says.

“Shut up.”

“Next is our trek in Castle Rock State Park,” Mom announces. “Jacinda has always been the outdoorsy type, so we took her there when she was ten. The trip was a blast; Jacinda loved throwing herself in the bushes, especially those with lots of thorns.”

Dear Gods make it stop. Mom goes on to tell a few stories about that trek, including the part where I chased a black-tailed deer and tried to bite it. Then comes the trip to Bangladesh, and the story of how a monkey stole my lunch, and I chased it and tried to bite it. By the time Mom gets to the story about Mr Schultz’s greyhounds, I’m considering opening my arteries with my own claws. As for Chris, he is laughing out loud, his shoulders shaking and his eyes tearing up. It warms my heart to see it, even if it’s at my expense.

If that wasn’t enough, Nova has gotten home in the meantime, followed later by Dad. And, obviously, both of them have joined in on the punishment. So here we are, the five of us, sitting on the large couch, browsing an impressively large collection of embarrassing pictures of me. Family fun, isn’t it just the best?

“Jesus, you were so adorable as a kid,” Chris says, wiping his tears. “You know, when you weren’t busy trying to devour half of the Earth’s fauna.”

“All right, all right,” I say. “Am I done being punished? I still have to bring Chris back to campus.”

“It’s getting pretty late,” Mom points out. “He might as well stay overnight, unless you want to get stuck in traffic for hours.”

“We don’t have any rooms available,” I say.

“He can sleep on the couch,” Dad says. “Is that alright with you?”

“Sure!” Chris says. “I always love staying over at your house.”

“Hey, we could have a Jacinda slideshow after dinner,” Nova says.

My mouth almost bursts with contained vulgarity.

“Better make that tomorrow,” Dad says. “There’s the new episode of Daemon Spider tonight.”

Never thought I’d be thankful for that show existing. Not that it’ll be enough to convince me to watch one more episode of it. From what I heard, there’s time travel involved now.

“Okay,” Dad claps his hands as he stands up from the arm chair. “I need to get started on dinner. Girls, please set the table. Chris, mind helping me with the vegetables?”

“No problem.”

They head to the kitchen, while Mom catches up on work on her laptop. Nova grabs a pile of plates and puts them on the table.

“So I suppose congratulations are in order?” she says.

“We are not talking about sex,” I say.

“No, I would prefer it if we didn’t. Still, I’m happy your relationship is moving forward.”

We sure made a leap forward today. Two, as a matter of fact.

“Do I want to know what that smile is about?” Nova says, flopping an ear.

I open my mouth to answer, but she shushes me by placing a finger on my lips.

“No, wait, let me guess.” She hums. “Let’s see. Silly smile, ears perking up, tail wagging quickly… This is something good. More than that. You’re positively beaming!”

She taps her index claw on her chin. “I’m going to take a wild guess here… Did he say the L-word?”

I try putting on a poker face. Not that I’m back to being in denial, but I want to at least make it somewhat of a challenge for her. It’s evidently not any good, because less than a second later, Nova exclaims:

“He did! Wow!”

“I know!” I say, excitedly hugging her. “And I said it too.”

“Oh, Jacinda, I’m so happy for you.” She releases me, and adds: “But this is getting too sappy for me, sorry. Can I get back to snarking you?”

“Wouldn’t recognize you if you didn’t. Snark away. Oh, before you do, how are things with you and Viv?”

Nova’s poker face is miles better than mine, but she’s still my twin sister. While other people might have easily missed the twitch at the corner of her mouth and her left ear tipping slightly, I notice them. Uh-oh?

“We’re doing fine,” she says.

Oooh boy. Should I prod? Probably not. She doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Wait, what the hell am I saying? When our positions were reversed, she certainly didn’t hesitate before sticking her nose in.

“What’s wrong?”

My sister licks her lips, like she always does before giving an elaborate answer, but then she only says:

“Things are complicated.”

“Oh, that’s not a good sign.”

“No, it’s not.”

Huh. I expected her to rebuff me, but she actually agreed? Is she zagging just because I expected her to zig?

“I’m sorry.” That’s the only response that comes to my mind.

“Yeah.”

I didn’t think setting the table in silence could be less fun, but add some awkwardness and voilà! I try to end the silence, but I’m not sure how. She eventually breaks the ice by asking:

“When did you know?”

“Huh?”

Nova puts Chris’ fork and knife, then stares blankly at the table, her expression still unreadable -even by me.

“When did you know you were in love?” she asks out of the blue.

I blink. That is not a question I would have ever expected my sister to ask.

“Oh. Err… Well, I’m not sure, really. It was, like, a gradual thing, I guess? I don’t think there was a switch in me that flipped from “not in love” to “head over heels”. At first, I was sort of wondering if maybe I had feelings. Then I suspected that I did. Then, I was pretty sure. And then, it was the most obvious thing in the world.”

“I see,” Nova says. She hesitates, then adds: “But… how did you know? I mean, were there signs or…?”

“I didn’t really think about it, to be honest. I guess I noticed that I was thinking about him a lot. Pretty much all the time, actually, especially when he wasn’t around.”

Nova nods.

“What’s that about?” I ask. “You think you’re in love with Viv?”

She sighs. “Would it be alright if we didn’t talk about it? At least, not now.”

“Oh… Yeah, all right.”

Oy. That whole thing sounds like the opposite of “doing fine”. What’s up? Is my sister falling in love? In theory, that should be great. But why the sour face, then? And why would that make things complicated? Hmm. Maybe my sister initially assumed this would just be yet another one of her flings, but then it turned into something… more. Better leave it alone for now, though.

A delicious smell of fried fish pokes out of the kitchen, accompanied by the unmistakable flavor of roasted cajun potatoes. My stomach wakes up with a start. Hopefully the boys will be done soon.

 

Christopher

That’s a loooooot of potatoes. Seriously, there’s got to be about twenty pounds on the table in front of me.

“So, uh… Do I have to peel them?”

Duncan laughs good-naturedly. “If you’re patient enough to peel all of those, have at it, mate. No, you just have to cut them into small enough pieces.”

“Oh, okay. Well, let’s get started then.”

Duncan is pretty handy with a knife. He goes through his potatoes like a guy with a cold goes through tissues. And he makes it look really easy, too. I suppose with three Hellhounds who basically eat their own weight in food at every meal, he has experience.

“I thought we could use that time to have a talk,” he says, one pound later.

“About Jacinda,” I say. It’s not a question. What other subject could we possibly discuss at this junction?

“Yes. More specifically, about Jacinda and you.”

“Okay.” I take a deep breath. Part of me anticipated this conversation. “You want to know what my intentions are regarding your daughter?”

He chuckles softly. “You’re an eighteen year old college freshman. I’m guessing your intentions are only to continue dating Jacinda, at least until you’ve graduated.”

True. To be honest, I haven’t given much thought about my future with Jacinda, other than to hope I have one. Don’t want to put the cart before the horse and all that.

“So what is this about?”

“Essentially, I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into.”

Wait, he’s worried about me? I did not see that coming.

“What do you mean?”

He licks his lips, his eyes wandering to the ceiling.

“I mean… Do you know what kind of person Jacinda is?”

“Oh, you mean the Hellhound thing? Yeah, I know about that.”

Duncan blinks. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that so nonchalantly.

“You do? Huh.”

“Yeah. She told me some time ago.”

He nods thoughtfully. “Okay… That makes things easier… And more complicated at the same time. What exactly did she tell you?”

“That her kind is living in hiding, or at least laying low, because of all the superstition. She told me that they are hunted, or were hunted, and that her mother… Err, actually, she said not to mention she told me that last part.”

“Hmmm.” Duncan resumes the peeling. “That’s the gist of it, but there’s more to the story; a lot more, actually. I won’t get into it, not today. What I want to know is this: you will keep all of this a secret, won’t you?”

“Yeah, of course.” With a little laugh, I add: “What, otherwise you’ll kill me?”

“I’m not a violent person,” he replies nonchalantly, “nor do I approve of violence as a solution to most problems. But my wife would probably castrate you, then have me sauté’d your testicles for her to enjoy as an afternoon snack.”

My hand slips over my potato, and the knife narrowly misses one of my fingers.

“Uh…”

“Hellhounds don’t practice cannibalism, as far as I know, so there’s a possibility she won’t do that. I wouldn’t risk it though. I mean, on the off-chance…”

“Yeah, I get it, I get it. Ixnay on the attlingtay.”

“That is probably wisest,” he says.

Around ten pounds of potatoes later, Duncan puts the first load of what we’ve cut on an oven plate, and covers it with an orange-pink sauce he applies with a brush. He turns on the oven using voice commands, then goes back to cutting the rest.

“The second part of this conversation is a tad more awkward,” he says as he sits back down, his usual calm and detached self giving away a little. “I apologize in advance.”

“This is the part where you make sure we use protection?” I say with a little smile. Come to think of it, I’ve never had that conversation with my parents. Good thing my middle school had sex ed. And that I had access to the Internet.

“Niasa had the talk with our daughters years ago, and I’m fairly sure she’s been responsible. And on that subject, you might be interested to know that Hellhounds are immune to virtually every STD you can think of.”

“That’s, uh, good to know.”

“Yes. Now, what I was going to say is, erm…” He scratches his nose, just like Jacinda does when she gets embarrassed. “Hellhounds, as a general rule… Ah… Well, Hellhounds have a very high sex drive.”

I do a double-take.

“I, uh, I see,” I say.

“This is a subject I’d prefer not to discuss, especially with my daughter’s boyfriend, but I thought you could use the, ah, heads-up.”

“Right.”

“Hellhounds like to express their affection physically, you see. And when they’re in a relationship with someone they become intimate with…” Duncan takes a deep breath, then drops the bomb: “What I am getting at is, the only thing hornier than a Hellhound is a Hellhound in love.”

He quickly grabs another potato and all but attacks it with his knife. I cough, feeling hot behind the ears.

“Oh. So… What do you recommend?”

“Well, I’d recommend you take up a physical activity to ensure you have the proper cardio, but from what I’ve been told, you have that covered.”

“Um, okay.”

“So… there. I thought you would appreciate the forewarning.”

“I do. Yeah.”

We clear our throats in near-unison.

“How about we change the subject?” I say.

“That would be nice.”

Duncan then starts a conversation about baseball, and although it’s obvious he doesn’t know much about that sport, he seems willing to learn. As we finally run out of potatoes and he starts preparing the fish, I ask him a few questions about him, and his married life with a Hellhound.

“Been together twenty-five years, been married for twenty,” he says with a nostalgic sigh. “The only thing I regret is not meeting her sooner. She really changed my life for the better. Before her, I never even vaguely considered going steady with a girl. I thought of marriage as a burden, some kind of social or familial duty. It was “settling down”, literally: a step down. And yet when I met her, it was the most obvious thing in the world, to me, that I would be with her until the day I die.”

“Did you meet in America?”

“Yes. I have never gone back to England since I left when I was young.”

“What made you leave? College?”

“Oh, it’s a long story,” he says. 

One he won’t tell, I infer from the silence that ensues. In fact, quite a few of my questions about his past are met with vague answers. Did he used to be a spy or something? But after all, it doesn’t matter. I’m not his biographer. We eventually get to talk about life in San Francisco, when Niasa enters the kitchen.

“Need some help here?” she asks.

“I could use some sugar,” Duncan says.

I internally roll my eyes at the cheesiness, while the couple begins making out like I’m not even here. I wonder if they’re genuinely this syrupy sweet or if it’s an act they put on to make their audience uncomfortable. Either way, I can’t deny being a little envious. As much as those embarrassing couples who engage in PDA and call each other silly affectionate nicknames make me laugh, I kinda want to have that with Jacinda. And not just because calling her “cutie pie” and “sweetheart” in public would piss her off -although it is definitely part of the reason.

Dinner is finally ready, and it looks gorgeous. An entire school of fish, fried and covered with a variety of herbs, served with two large plates of roasted potatoes. Duncan even warmed up some leftovers, on the off-chance it won’t be enough. The foodstuffs are greeted with cheers by the twins.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Jacinda says as we sit down. “Judith has invited us on a double date with her boyfriend, two weeks from now. Dinner at Uncle Rhino’s. Does that sound good to you?”

“Sure, why not? Oh, one question though.”

“Yeah?”

“Who the hell is Judith?”

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