Playing Favorites – Chapter 7


Jacinda

I’m fine, everything is fine.

My paw, closed into a fist, strikes the punching mannequin with a deafening sound that resonates in the gym. Jab, jab, hook, pause, straight, uppercut. Rinse, repeat. Then, the kicks. My hits are mostly synchronized with the rhythms of the new Wantage Wonder Warriors album I’m listening to on my earbuds –More Than We Could Ever Nightmare, real fucking good so far. I’ve been walloping that mannequin for a while now. My paws and feet hurt, but it’s a good pain. It’s the kind of pain that reminds you that you’re alive. Also, the kind of pain that puts your mind off things. Not that I need that.

Why would I? I’m fine. Everything is fine.

Better than fine, actually. My plan to get back at the jerk is working nicely. For this, I had to wear clothes I never thought I’d ever wear again, but it’s a small price to pay for victory. First, I did the “dropping my keys” thing, complete with “accidentally” letting my top slide off. And, judging by how tight his pants looked, I’d say it worked like no tomorrow. Oh, his face was a picture.

And speaking of pictures, step two worked even better than expected. I took a quick photo of my uncovered stomach and sent it to him while in class, with just enough underboob to make sure it’ll be burned in his mind; I made sure to give him a stupid excuse that I knew he wouldn’t buy. Then, I turned off my phone to prevent any retaliation. The operation achieved its objectives, and then some: not only was he clearly set off, but he actually sent a picture back -which I only took a look at long after I was out of reach for him. I knew he had some nice abs, but damn. He even manscapes.

Step three hit a little bit of a snag, though. The plan was to meet him again during a group study session, and then double down on the teasing, using the fact that Hayley is there so that he wouldn’t be able to do anything. Then, having established my superiority, retreat back home and celebrate with chocolate.

Unfortunately, Christopher was busy. No biggie. It happens. That’s fine. Everything is fine. Step three can wait until next Monday. Gives me more time to prepare, actually. Anyway, after he told me he couldn’t make it, I decided to have the group session with just Hayley. If I can’t have fun, I might as well do some work, I thought. But as it turned out, Hayley was busy too. She didn’t tell me she was busy, no. Christopher did. Both of them are busy at the same time. Isn’t that funny?

Right jab, right jab, left hook, pause, left straight, right uppercut. Low kick, middle kick, low kick, middle kick.

Yeah, pretty sure the stud got himself a date. Which is fine. I’m fine. Not like it came completely out of the blue. I saw the looks Hayley was giving him during our last study session, and the way she talked to him. The way she brushed her hair, the way she laughed at his jokes…

All right, let’s work on my one-two. Then, I should practice my front kick. It’s been a while since I did, my accuracy must have gone down some.

I didn’t notice him reciprocating, but it makes sense. Hayley is the definition of a dateable girl. She’s got straight, blonde hair that doesn’t look like a furry mess, and a kind smile without angry-looking fangs. She’s rather on the tiny side -five feet four tops-, and she has a thin silhouette; she’s not the kind of gigantic gal that freaks boys out, that’s for sure. I bet she can walk around in high heels without looking like a fucking drunken crane -you know, those birds with hilariously long legs. Hell, she probably doesn’t look the least bit ridiculous in a dress. And that’s fine, good for her.

My front kick misses the mannequin’s chin, and I lose my balance. Thankfully, I manage to recover before I kiss the floor. As I get back into position, I notice a male Oni waving his arm at me. Judging by his body language, I’m guessing he’s been trying to get my attention for a little while now.

“Yeah?” I say, taking out one of my earbuds.

“Miss, we’re closing the gym soon.”

I look at my smartphone. Oh, yeah, it’s almost six. Guess it was time for a break anyway.

“Ah. Okay, thanks.”

One quick shower later, I’m strolling around on campus. What to do now? I could just go home. And I should, right? At any rate, I have no reason to stay on campus. I mean, it’s Friday evening. I should be out doing… things. Things that people do on Friday evenings. Like, they go clubbing, they go see movies, they go on drives… Or, you know, they go on dates.

Hey, since I accidentally and completely organically brought up that subject, I wonder how Christopher’s date is going. I should send him a text. Let’s see… “How’s it going?”. No, that sounds weird and vague. How about: “Are you having fun on your date?”. No, that could come across as sarcastic. “Enjoying your date with Hayley?” Even worse, he would find that catty. “So, where are you taking her on your date?”. Ugh, and that sounds like I plan on stalking them.

Stalking them! That’s the last thing on my mind, right now. I don’t think I could do that, even if I wanted to. I mean, I could, in theory. Like, I could smell around the dorms until I picked up his scent, then follow it. My nose is not as trained as my Mom’s, but I got some chops. 

No, that’s crazy, I’m being crazy. He probably drove to his date, I can’t track a car. Actually, I don’t think he’s got a car. Well, he probably took the bus, then. I guess if I could figure out which line he-

Oh, for fuck’s sake! No. Stalking. Good fucking gods, what the hell is wrong with me? I grab the back of my paw between two claws and pinch hard. Bad girl, Jacinda. Now stop being a moron and go home. It’s already getting dark. And I’m… Where the hell am I? I don’t think I’ve ever been on this part of the campus before. Is it even part of the campus? Wait, I see a sign. Goddamnit, I’m near the dorms; right next to the one where, according to Manny, Christopher lives.

That’s all right, Jacinda. Just turn around and prance off before anybody sees you; what you’ve done so far doesn’t reach the level of stalking yet.

I’m about to do just that, when I hear a violent noise just as the song playing in my earbuds finishes. It sounds like someone is banging on something. Huh. Yeah, there’s some guy in a dark sweatsuit knocking on a building’s door like there’s someone on the other side who owes him money. He doesn’t look like a student, either. Dude’s gotta be in his forties, although he’s rather good-looking for his age; his black hair is graying, but he barely has any wrinkles and still looks pretty buff. He’s got a pretty strong jaw covered by a five o’clock shadow. His eyes deserve some mention too: green, bloodshot, and filled with rage. Weirdly, he kinda reminds me of someone.

What the fuck is he doing here, making this ruckus at this hour? I doubt he’s a student. Probably some meth head, high as a kite. I’ve been told there’s a drug dealer near campus. Maybe I should call the campus police or something. Wait, what was that?

I heard something else. A gurgling noise, coming from behind the corner of the dorm. Worried -that was clearly a person making that noise-, I move closer to its origin. My eyebrows almost jump off my head when I see another man sitting on the concrete floor, leaning on the building wall, curled up with his legs against his torso. His head is lowered and I can’t see his face, but I recognize his smell immediately.

“What are you doing here?”

Christopher doesn’t react, and I go from worried to alarmed. I don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on here, but it’s gotta be bad. Kneeling down, I place my paw on his shoulder. Bad call on my part. Christopher freaks out at my touch, and recoils, slamming against the wall.

“It’s me,” I say, holding my paws in front of me, palms towards him.

He stammers a curse under his breath. I’ve never seen him like this. There’s no hint of his usual confidence on his face, no trace of snark, not a single hint of cockyness. Every single one of his facial traits displays fear. No, not just fear: full-blown terror. Is he having some kind of panic attack? His scent has taken a strong acrid tone, too. Looking alternatively between him and the crazed stranger, I mentally add two and two, and come up with: let’s get Christopher the fuck out of here.

“Come with me. Can you stand?”

He nods, and stumbles to get up. I reflexively grab his arm to help him keep steady. This time, luckily, there’s no freakout.

“I’m taking you to my car, okay?” I say softly.

His answer comes out as a mumble. I’ll take that as a yes.

The parking lot is five minutes away from there. I let go of Christopher, as he seems able to walk on his own. He remains completely silent, however, which I find disquieting. The normal Christopher would have already made about a hundred sarcastic comments on my sweat-drenched gym clothes -I felt too lazy to change back to my regular clothes-, and probably some grilling on what the hell I’m doing here. I’m silent too, having decided to hold off on the questions, even though I have about a bajillion of them bubbling up in my head. We both get in my car, and the onboard computer comes alive, along with my stereo. Oh, shit. I hammer the volume down button until the music can barely be heard. Yeah, I tend to like my music really loud when I drive.

Speaking of driving, I let the autopilot take us home instead of driving myself. Pretty sure Christopher’s stress levels don’t need that. We get on the road, both still quiet. It’s only after a couple of miles that the realization comes to me that I’m taking Christopher to my house. But… that’s fine, right? That doesn’t mean anything. This is just to protect him from whoever the aggressive nutjob was.

After five miles of tense silence, he says something. Well, tries to. His voice breaks; he clears his throat and tries again.

“I can’t sleep in my dorm tonight.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

Well fucking done, Jacinda. That was definitely the right way to phrase that, given the circumstances.

“I mean, uh, yeah. I understand.”

“Manny lives on campus too,” he says. He sounds like he’s talking to himself rather than to me. “His mom’s house is in San Jose. Can…”

He takes a deep breath, like he’s afraid of what he’s going to ask. No… Like he’s afraid of what I might answer.

“Can I crash on your couch?”

“Yeah, of course,” I say. Did he really think I hate him so much I’d deny him some basic courtesy? “Actually, we’ve got a guest room that’s available.”

“The couch is fine. It’s just for one night.”

“Where are you gonna sleep tomorrow then?”

“I’ll be back in my dorm.”

“What if that guy comes back?”

“He won’t.”

Bullshit. And I can tell from his voice he doesn’t believe that either.

“Look, just take the guest room. You can stay at least for the weekend. It’s fine.”

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“It’s not a bother,” I say. 

Shit, do I sound testy? I guess his freakout is freaking me out. I mean, I doubt Christopher is a coward. If he’s scared, there must be some serious shit going on. Who was that guy? What did he want?

“Just… okay, whatever,” he says. “But it’s just temporary.”

“Fine,” I say.

“Fine.”

Fine.

It’s long past seven P.M. when the car pulls up at my house. Fucking traffic. Damn, Mom and Dad won’t be happy I’m so late. One of the house rules is: if you don’t help set the table or make the food, you don’t eat dinner. Starving a Hellhound should qualify as a hate crime, but my parents are really strict about that one. Thankfully, as I make it to the living room, with Christopher following me, I can smell that today’s dinner is not ready, so I might be in the clear. The air carries the scent of water boiling, raw meat being cut, and vegetables being peeled. Hmm! Smells like Dad’s making us his pot-au-feu-infernal.

“I’m home!” I call out happily, hoping I can cute my way out of trouble.

“Hey, pup,” Dad says from the kitchen.

“Hi. You’re late,” Mom says, sitting on the couch and watching some old cartoon on TV, with her work laptop on the coffee table. Her AR glasses are turned on, giving her eyes a blue-ish glow.

My mother has been described as a bigger version of me. Of course, that was before I turned seventeen and became taller than her. It’s true that I owe the vast majority of my genes to her -I mean, we are both Hellhounds. We have the same nose, the same hair color, the same fur -both in length and in texture-, and our claws even have the same slightly bent shape. I’ve been told our eyes are quite different, however; mine are closer to red, and hers to orange. Same goes for our facial lines. Over the last few years, a few gray hairs have appeared on top of her head, almost invisible among the many black ones.

“I have a good reason,” I say.

“I hope so, because you didn’t call to let us know either.”

Shit. Didn’t I call to say I’d be hanging out at the gym after class? I’m pretty sure I… didn’t. Damn it. Guess my mind was elsewhere. Sure wonder why…

“Err…” I mumble.

“Who’s your guest?” she says, standing up, and putting her folded laptop under her arm.

“I’m Christopher Baldini,” he says, coming out of my shadow and holding out his hand.

“Ah!” Mom smiles. “You must be the hot jerk Jacinda is always talking about.”

“Mom!” I call out.

“That’s me,” he says, returning her smile. Figures this would be the moment he’d choose to recover his cockiness.

“I’m Niasa. No handshakes in this house,” Mom says, hugging him tight with her free arm. I see him wince in pain. Good. She turns to me and adds: “I don’t mind you bringing extra guests, honey bunny, but you should really warn us ahead of time.”

“Honey bunny?” Christopher says, his smile growing larger.

“You didn’t hear that,” I growl between my fangs. “I’m sorry I didn’t call, Mom. It’s just, I hit the gym after the classes were over, and I got so into it I lost track of the time.”

I don’t think Christopher would want me to tell them what really happened, so this half-truth will have to do.

“All right,” Mom says. “Are you hungry, Christopher?”

“You can call me Chris. And yeah, I sure am.”

I’m sent to go get my sister so the two of us can set the table. Predictable as it is, the large smirk she gives me when she sees Christopher -Chris- in the dining room still irks me.

“You’re already introducing him to your parents, huh?” she whispers to me as she grabs the plates.

“Don’t start,” I retort as I fetch the glasses.

“Hi, I’m Jacinda’s sister, Nova,” she says to Chris, inviting him to sit at the table, right next to my usual seat -of course. Everything is soon in place, all that’s missing is the food.

“Yeah, I saw you a couple of times in college. Nice to actually meet you.”

“I feel like I already know you, with all the stories Jacinda told me.”

“I hear she talks about me all the time.”

“I do not,” I protest, but nobody’s listening.

“She does,” Nova says. “I’ve been told you like spending time at the library.”

“Wow,” I say. “Don’t even bother being subtle about this.”

“Wait, you told her about…?” Chris says, shooting me an anxious glance.

“Oh, girls talk about everything,” Nova says. “Especially sisters. Especially, especially twin sisters.”

“Great, that’s… that’s great.” He grabs a piece of bread from the basket at the center of the table, and munches on it.

“Dinner’s ready!” Dad calls out as he steps out of the kitchen, holding a big cooking pot in his hands. “Hello, by the way,” he says to Chris. “I’m Duncan.”

“Chris. Nice to meet you.”

Dad places the pot on a black iron trivet, and removes the lid. A powerful aroma invades the dining room, enchanting every nostril in a twenty feet radius. Carrots, potatoes, leeks, onions, bell peppers, banana peppers, cabbage, beef, and a touch of red wine, all marinating in broth. Yup, that’s Dad’s pot-au-feu-infernal all right. My mom, my sister and I cheer. Chris looks around his plate, frowning. Turning to me, he asks:

“Err… You don’t use cutlery?”

“Ah, right,” my dad says. “We usually don’t. But we have some, if you’d prefer.”

Chris accepts, and Dad gets him a fork and a knife.

Everybody starts digging in, one at a time. Mom insists that our guest fills his plate first. Chris seems a bit frightened by the portion size offered to him -no such thing as “small” in our house, especially not when it comes to food portions-, but he is too polite to say anything. He plants his fork in a potato, and takes a bite off it. After chewing for a few seconds, his cheeks darken, then the rest of his face turns a nice tomato color.

“Holy…” He bites his lip to prevent the second part of that curse from coming out.

“Oh, shoot,” Dad says. “We like our food spicy here. Sorry, mate, I should have warned you.”

“It’s not that spicy,” I say, engulfing a big piece of beef.

“Are you serious?” He coughs. “It’s like I just swallowed fire.”

“Geez, you’re such a Human. Bet you find mayonnaise spicy too.”

“Jacinda,” Mom says in her Mom-voice.

“I can cook something else,” Dad offers.

“No, no, it’s all right,” Chris says. “It just caught me off-guard. This is actually really good.”

“Thank you. Home recipe.”

Chris tries the food again, with much smaller bites and a lot of bread, and actually seems to be doing better. Meanwhile, Nova and Dad start a convo about some TV series that’s premiering on JabberWatch; something about parallel dimensions and spaceships, from what I hear. Apparently, Uncle Gordie’s already a big fan. Mom grabs a big bone from her plate, snaps it in two, and offers me one half. We both start sucking on the marrow; Mom seems amused by Chris’ reaction to the noise we’re making. That reminds me I need to ask her something.

“Err, Mommy?”

“Uh-oh. You only call me Mommy when you want something.”

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, it’s not for me. It’s for Chris.”

“Okay?”

“Ahm, can he spend the night at our house? His dorm is getting fumigated or something.”

“And he only found out tonight? Didn’t they warn the residents in advance?”

“Err, well, actually I guess it was like there was a… a water leak and, uh…”

Damn, I never could lie to Mom. Thankfully, she decides to put an end to my squirming.

“All right. But you’re not sharing a room,” she adds, raising a claw at each of us.

“No, I’m not- It’s not-” Great, I’m blushing again. “He really just needs a place to stay tonight. And, erm, maybe tomorrow, too. Well, for the weekend, I guess.”

Maybe it’s what I said, maybe it’s the way I said it, but the mood changes around the table. Mom’s eyes jump from me to Chris, then back to me. Oh shit, I know that look, that Mom-look. It’s the look that says she hasn’t been fooled for a millisecond by the story I gave her -shocker, I know-, and is slowly piecing together what’s really happening. The same look I got when I had my first car accident, and told Mom the self-driving software fucked up. I mean, I knew those things had a black box, but I didn’t know it also recorded when you turn off the autopilot.

“No problem,” Mom says with a hospitable smile.

“I actually cleaned the guest room this morning,” Dad says.

“Thanks,” Chris says. “Guess it’ll be the first time I sleep in fresh sheets since the beginning of the school year.”

My family laughs.

After three servings of pot-au-feu for each Hellhound around the table, plus two for Dad and only one for our guest, the pot lies empty.

“Okay,” Dad says, clapping his hands. “Who’s ready for dessert?”

Everyone cheers, except Chris.

“Jesus, how much can you eat?” he whispers in my ear -well, to the side of my face, since his mouth is too low to reach my ears. “I’m surprised you can stay so fit.”

“This body needs the calories,” I say, tapping my abs. “And the proteins.”

“Is this a regular meal for your family?” he says. “Or is it because it’s Friday night?”

“Nothing regular about our meals,” Nova says. “But that’s pretty much how it is on most days, yeah.”

Mom retrieves the dessert from the oven. Once again, we can all smell it before we see it. A couple of good, old-fashioned apple pies. My favorite American tradition. Well, except Dad makes his with cinnamon and frangipani. And homemade whipped cream. Oh fuck yes, that homemade whipped cream. Normally, my sister, my mother and I would attack the pies with our claws not one second after they’ve been placed before us, cutting ourselves some big slices. But once again, our guest gets the first share.

“Hmm, pretty rich flavor,” he happily comments after trying it.

It sure is. I grab my own slice in my paw and shove it in my mouth. I don’t swallow it whole, though, I’m not an animal. Plus, I can’t properly savor it without chewing. As my fangs stab into the fruity deliciousness, I notice Chris’ eyes are riveted on my lips.

“You shtaring again,” I mumble with my mouth full.

“You got some…” He makes a circling gesture around his mouth. “A lot of it actually.”

Heh, figures. I pull out my tongue and circle around my lips. Better not waste any of it. Somehow, I managed to get some pie on my nose too.

“Better?” I ask, giving my right cheek another tonguing.

He doesn’t answer; he’s staring more intensely, his mouth gaping slightly. A moment later, he recovers, gulping his saliva, and says:

“Yeah. Better.”

I peek at Nova, sitting in front of me. She’s smirking again.

“Shut up,” I say preemptively.

After dinner, I lead Chris upstairs to show him to his room.

“I’m sorry it smells like cleaning products here,” I say, turning on the lights. “Dad went a bit overboard.”

“Smells fine to me,” he shrugs.

“Right. I’m more sensitive to those things.”

“Do Werewolves have a better sense of smell? I guess that makes sense, what with you being canids and all.”

Werewolves. Right.

“So, uh… Good night, I guess.”

“Good night? It’s barely nine.” He chuckles. “Do your parents have a curfew, or are you such a good girl that you go to sleep at this hour even on weekends?”

“No! It’s just… I don’t know, I thought maybe you’d want to relax after all that shi- that mess.”

This softens him a little.

“I’ll be fine, thanks. So, if you don’t sleep in early, what do you do in the evenings?”

“Depends on the evening, I guess,” I say. “Sometimes I play video games, sometimes I exercise, sometimes I watch sports games…”

“What kind of sports do you like?”

I snort. “What kinds don’t I like?”

“Snooker?”

“… Yeah, okay, that one. Mostly, I like tae kwon do, boxing, savate, mixed martial arts…”

“Big surprise,” he says, and suddenly his smug smirk is back. “You really like violence, huh?”

“It’s not about the violence,” I say, rolling my eyes. “More like the beauty of the fight. You don’t think there’s more to, say, MMA than just beating the living shi- crap out of the other? There’s technique, and finesse. Cunning, too.”

“Cunning?” he repeats, giving me a “really?” look.

“Yeah, cunning! When you’re fighting someone, you have to understand how they fight. You have to guess what they’re gonna do next from the way they move, what their weaknesses are from the way they defend themselves. Some fighters are so good, they can read their opponents’ minds, and predict their attacks! And…”

I’m ranting. And accompanying my rant with gestures. Chris chuckles again.

“What about you?” I say, my face heating up. “Do you do anything outside of playing baseball and studying?”

He sits down on the bed, leaning against a pillow.

“Actually, not really. I hang out with Manny sometimes, but other than that… Yeah, I guess I’m focusing on my studies.”

“You picked your major yet? Unless you’re planning on going pro?”

“No, no major yet. As for baseball…” He scoffs humorlessly. “Yeah, that’s not an option.”

“Why not?” I say, arching an eyebrow. “You’re a pretty good player.”

“You’ve seen me play?”

“No,” I say too quickly. Damnit, do they give Lying 101 classes in college? I should look into it. “I’ve just, uh, I hear people talk about our team sometimes.”

“Huh-uh. Well, it’s not really a matter of skill. I just… I’d rather not seek the spotlights, you know?”

One of my ears flops.

“It’s because of him, isn’t it?”

He shoots me a quizzical look.

“That man, back there. You don’t want the spotlights, because you’re afraid he might find you.”

Chris lowers his head, and I mentally slap myself. Me and my big mouth. Like he couldn’t make it more obvious he doesn’t want to talk about this. I clumsily step away, pointing at the door behind me.

“Sorry. I’ll just, um, I’ll just go. I’ll text you the password for our Wi-Fi.”

My paw grips the handle like I’m about to rip it off.

“Wait.”

I turn back to him. He scratches the back of his neck.

“Can… Can you stay?”

Something inside me thaws when I notice his expression. His cockiness is gone again, chased by anxiety. Never thought I’d miss the former. It’s almost physically painful to see him like this. But, at the same time, there’s something… charming about it; well, maybe not charming, but disarming at least. I go back and sit on the bed, about one foot away from him.

“Huh, so…” I say. “You want to talk about… You know?”

He exhales, dropping his forearms on his lap.

“I mean, you don’t have to,” I hurriedly add. “If you don’t want… We can just… I don’t know, err…”

“No, it’s okay. I… I think I’d actually feel better if I talked about it.”

“Oh, okay.”

He kicks off his shoes, and curls his toes. His lips flinch like he’s about to speak, but he doesn’t.

“Who was that guy?” I ask. Yeah, I know, I should let him tell his story at his own pace, but I can’t help myself. Seeing him so defenseless got to me.

“My dad,” he sighs.

Double take. What?

“Your dad?” I repeat stupidly. “That was your dad banging on your dorm’s door, screaming bloody murder?”

“Yeah.” His voice rings hollow.

“But… why? What’s going on?”

“I stole his money,” he chuckles, but there’s once again no humor in his laughter.

“You…”

“Well, that’s how he sees it, at least.”

He drops down on the bed, his arms crossed under his head. I can’t help but stare at his abs as his shirt accidentally lifts a little. There’s a bit of ink on the right side, likely the bottom part of another tattoo.

“My dad is…” he begins. He tuts, then continues: “He’s a nasty piece of work. He put me and my mom through Hell. Screaming, insulting, gaslighting, stealing… He’s one miserable asshole, and he wanted us to be every bit as miserable. The only things he likes more than being a dick is gambling.”

“Shit,” I drop. Screw the swear jar. Pretty sure I wasn’t loud enough to be heard through the closed door anyway.

“Yeah… So, in addition to everything else, he basically spent all of our money on his addiction. His salary, my Mom’s salary -she worked in a grocery shop-, our savings… Sometimes, he even helped himself to whatever I earned working odd jobs.”

“Odd jobs? What did you do?”

“Pretty much everything that could get me some money. Mowing lawns, babysitting, dog-sitting, painting fences, running errands… Dad wasn’t much of a provider, so sometimes I had to buy my own food, clothes, school supplies…”

“This is fucked up!” Okay, this time I was pretty loud. But I don’t care. “How old were you?”

“When I took my first job?” His eyes swivel to his left as he thinks. “Ten, I think.”

“You were working at ten,” I say. And to buy his own food, no less. Jesus fucking Christ. Is this really twenty-first century America?

“Yup.”

“But… Shit, why didn’t your mom just grab you and run away from this asshole?”

“How could she?” he says. “She had no money, no friends, and barely any family; Dad rarely even let her out of the house. And God knows what Dad would have done to her if she had tried. He was never physically abusive -that bastard knew how to cover his tracks-, but I know he was entirely capable of violence. I had heard some stories… even before he attacked me.”

“He attacked you?!” My blood is boiling. Gotta keep cool. Keep the anger under control. This is not the time to fly off the handle.

“A few days before my seventeenth birthday, our grandfather -my mom’s dad- passed away.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be, I wasn’t; I never knew the guy. My mom wasn’t particularly sad either. Apparently, her dad was not the loving type either. The thing is, grandpa had some money set aside -he was a real penny-pincher apparently-, and Mom was his last living relative. Dad was over the moon about that; he actually cracked some jokes about my grandfather’s passing. He assumed that although Mom would inherit the money, he’d be the one spending it, like he always did.”

“Except that’s not what happened,” he continues. “As soon as Mom got her hands on that money, she went behind Dad’s back, and contacted a lawyer. Then, she put all the money in a trust fund for me. Neither Dad nor I even suspected a thing. It’s only when she secretly told me to apply to out-of-state colleges that I began to understand.”

“She had given you a full college ride,” I say.

“That’s right. She had paid for my tuition, and left enough for me to buy my textbooks, and even pay almost a year of rent.”

“Go Mom!”

“Yeah…” There’s a twinkle in his eye. “Given how little money we had, and how little my dad cared about me, I didn’t even think I’d be going to college at all. And then, out of nowhere, I got accepted into Berkeley. There are still days when I can’t believe it. So, the day after graduation, I packed my bag -just the one bag-, and I bought a train ticket to San Francisco.”

“Unfortunately, my dad caught me as I left the house. I…”

The fear in his eyes slowly turns to terror. Worried he might have another panic attack, I carefully place my paw over his hand. He takes a deep breath and calms down.

“He attacked me. I had never seen him like that. There was… There was murder in his eyes. I really thought he was going to kill me. I don’t remember much of what happened that day; I probably blocked it out. The next thing I know, I had run away from home -literally ran– all the way to the train station. From there, I went to San Francisco, took a cab to Berkeley, and there I am. Never looked back.”

A little smile appears on his face. I try to return it, but I can’t. The story’s not over, and I’m guessing the next chapter is not a happy one.

“What happened to your mother?”

A darkness clouds his face as the smile disappears. Man, I just know what to say.

“She… She’s still with him. Last I checked, at least. We’re not in contact. Mom told me never to call her; Dad might find out… and he might find me.”

“But he did find you,” I point out. Like I need to. Yeah, Jacinda, rub it in. That’s gonna make him feel better.

He nods, his lips stretching with tension.

“You should call the cops,” I say, trying to be more helpful.

“I doubt that’ll do any good.”

“Why not?”

Chris sits back up.

“Because he is a cop.”

Fuck. Holy fucking fuck, with a side of fuck, and extra fuck on the side. Just when I thought his story couldn’t get worse. How can such a piece of shit be a cop?! Fuck! I want to kill that fucking asshole, then lodge his badge up his asscrack.

“So yeah…” he says. “Everything we throw at him is almost guaranteed to not stick. Never did in the past.”

“I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. It sucks. Look, I… Shit, I know it doesn’t mean much, but if there’s anything I can do…”

“I appreciate it. But, really, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s fucking not!” I insist. “Stop saying that. That piece of shit was at your dorm. And you had a panic attack! And…” I slap my paw against my forehead. “And now I’m yelling at you. I’m so fucking stupid.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, so far.”

“Hey, you-”

I bite back my barb. His smile is back, and this time without any hint of sadness or worry. It’s his good old cocky, smarter-than-you smile. I’m actually glad to see it again. It’s a good thing: not only is it getting him out of his slump, it’s pulling me out of mine. Let’s keep that bearing. I’m not good with the heavy stuff, but the snarking, the bantering, the teasing? I could make those my major.

“Want me to tell you something you don’t know?” I say. “You should have just said. How about the birds and the bees?”

“You really think I don’t know about that?”

“Well, given how you never miss a chance to peek at my features, it looks like you don’t. Like it’s nothing you saw before.”

“Peek?” he repeats with a mocking smirk. A bit of red colors his cheeks. “You’ve been basically throwing those features at me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

As I say this, I fake yawn, and stretch my arms behind my back, pushing my chest forward. Like a good Pavlovian dog, he immediately looks down. Catching himself, he forces his eyes to meet mine. Good. I want him to see the victory in them.

“Sure you don’t,” he says.

“Nope. Sounds to me like you’re just looking for excuses.”

“Sounds to me like I didn’t hit hard enough last time.”

Okay, gotta admit, that was a good one. My butt actually tightened when he said that. Damn him! I won’t let him win this one.

“Oh, I’m sure you tried your best. Your best just happened to have been… irrelevant.”

He breathes in sharply. I don’t even need to look at his face to know the effect that had on him: the smell of anger and arousal coming off him is undeniable. Well done, Jacinda. And this time, I’m being sincere. Now, stand up, and walk out of the room while you still have the parting shot. Don’t forget to sway your hips with your tail raised.

“Well, good night!” I say before closing the door behind me.

It’s half past nine when I shut myself in my own bedroom. Still way too early to get some shut-eye. Not that I can think of sleeping right now anyway. My last skirmish with Chris might have… backfired. Somewhat. In trying to rile him up -and succeeding-, I may or may not have riled myself up. A little. A lot. It’s not my fault! I didn’t expect his scent to take such a musky tone when I turned him on.

That’s fine. Everything is fine. I’ll just keep myself busy until my hormone levels are back to normal. Pushing problems away is the best way to solve them, right? Right. Okay. Let’s boot up my computer. First of all, check my mails. Hmm… Nothing but some spam that got past my filter somehow. Next, let’s see if Judith is online. Nope. Too bad, I could have used with someone to talk to. I’ll just send her a message, ask her if we can hang out sometimes.

Now, I’ve got a few games to watch. Let’s start with MMA. Holy shit, Lana “Knockout” Knoxville got defeated by Molly O’Hara. Sure didn’t see that one coming. And neither did the audience, judging by the amount of salt in the comments. Normally, I too would be mad as Hell that my favorite got trounced in the semifinals, but this is O’Hara’s first official championship. Pretty fucking impressive. That dark horse may just win the title. What’s next? Nothing new in football, American or Australian. Italy just lost to Wales in the Six Nations Championship; don’t care, I’m rooting for Scotland. What else, what else… I browse my newsfeed. Basketball? All quiet on the WNBA front. Soccer? Never been a fan. Baseball? Ha ha! Nice try, Satan, but I’m not going to think about hi- Shit.

All right, nevermind the computer. If watching sports doesn’t work, how about some actual exercise? Yeah, no. My biceps are still sore from my session earlier, and it’s way too late to go jogging. Video games, then. None of my friends are online, and I don’t feel like playing solo. I mean… Ugh, you know what I mean. Maybe I should watch one of those sad movies Nova loves so much? That always gets me down. Yeah, that could definitely work.

But… no.

The thing is, I don’t want to kill my arousal. As frustrating as it is, it kinda feels… good, actually. It’s a lot more powerful, more energizing than usual, like I’ve just discovered a new kink I didn’t know I had. I want to explore it more. It’s quarter to eleven now. I should go to bed anyway.

Getting rid of my clothes, I turn off all the lights using the house AI, then turn off my phone and hide it under my pillow. Finally, I lay down in my bed. And now that both of my hands are free, let’s get to work.

Foreplay is kind of redundant at this juncture, so I begin by directly slipping a claw inside me, while my thumb tickles my clit, and my other paw fondles my left tit. I draw little circles on the moist walls of my pussy and pinch my nipple. The pleasure comes quickly… but it’s not enough. All right, I’m just getting started. I slip in one more claw, and start rubbing quicker. At the same time, I lift my breast until my tongue can reach it, and lick my now erect nipple. Better, but even after going at it for a couple of minutes, I realize I’m still some ways away from the orgasm I’ll clearly need if I want to enjoy some sleep tonight.

All right, I guess I’ll need my imagination in addition to the stimulation. I put my paw under my pillow to grab my phone and turn it back on, but change my mind. Something tells me that even all of my porn stash put together won’t do the trick. So, I picture him. Naked, of course. Not a single piece of cloth to protect him from me. Naturally, that visual alone isn’t sufficient, so I bring up the memories we made in that library. The time I showed him my tits, and the look of lust and hunger he gave it. And of course, the spanking. I do my best to feel those hits on my ass again, and that wonderful foggy feeling that invaded my brain. I’m fingering myself as hard and as quickly as I can now. My fangs chomp down on my nipple, sending bolts of pleasurable pain through my tit.

UGH! Why the fuck isn’t that enough?! What more do I need? I try to focus my thoughts on another scenario involving him, one of my own making this time. But between my libido playing hot and cold with me and my frustration building up, my imagination just won’t do its freaking job. I slap a paw over my mouth as I growl my irritation.

Maybe… Maybe if I catch another whiff of his scent. Just one little sniff. That should really get me going.

Right. And while we’re on the subject of stupid ideas, maybe I should run around naked in the neighborhood while singing country songs. And buy some lottery tickets on the way!

No, this is dumb. How the fuck would I even do that? Knock on his door and ask him to let me in? What would I say? I could tell him I forgot something in his room. Like, my phone or something. I could look under the bed and drop it, then make it look like I just found it there.

Wow, I’m really thorough with my stupid ideas. Oh, what the hell, let’s try this. Can’t fucking sleep or cum, anyway, so I might as well. Worst case scenario, I look like an idiot, but it’s nothing I haven’t experienced before with Chris. At least this time my fur won’t be all sticky and chocolatey.

After putting on some pants, I leave my room on my tip-toes and skulk back to the guest bedroom’s door. The lights are off on the other side. Is he asleep already? I lean against the door and listen carefully. There are no sounds but his breathing, which seems slow enough to indicate he’s sleeping. Okay.

Okay. So obviously I’m not going to wake him up. I’m just going to go back to my own room, and forget about the whole thing. What else am I gonna do, sneak in his room while he sleeps? That’s nuts. Plus, he probably locked the door.

Oh. Unlocked. He must have forgotten. Well, then. Guess I’m inside his room now. I breathe in the ambient air deeply. Unfortunately, he hasn’t occupied this space long enough, and his smell doesn’t really linger in it. I get closer to the bed. I mean, I’m officially a creep already, so why stop there?

Okay, so what’s the plan now? I’m not stupid enough to masturbate while leaning over him. No, I mean for real this time. So what? Do I stick my nose against his neck, get a lungful, and go back to my room to finish myself off? Pah, like that would be enough. No, a marginally less crazy idea would be-

Huh. He’s sleeping shirtless. Interesting. A shame it’s too dark for me to finally see his tats. But that’s not what I had in mind. I duck beside the bed and palp the carpeted floor until I find what I’m looking for. His shirt. I press it against my face and breathe in. Yes. That’ll do. That’ll do just fine. I make a hasty exit before I get another brilliant idea like pulling down the covers to see if he didn’t take off anything else.

I make sure my door is locked before throwing myself onto my bed. I put the stolen shirt over my face like a mask, and take in the masculine musk. This time, my clit is so sensitive that I almost jump when I touch it.

In my mind, a scene appears, detailed and powerful like my brain is working on THX. He’s here, naked again, in his bed. I’m on top of him, not so much horny as frenzied. There’s both fear and attraction in his eyes; he’s not sure whether he wants to fight or flight. I make the decision for him by grabbing his wrists and pinning them down against the mattress. He struggles to escape, not realizing it’s both pointless and egging me on. I smirk down at him, baring my fangs and licking my lips.

I can only contemplate this feast offered to me for a few seconds before my animal instincts take over. With a growl, I plunge on him, opening my jaws. But, contrary to what he might think, I don’t plan on eating him. All I want is a taste. My tongue darts out of my mouth, and lies against his throat, caressing it slowly, very slowly. A gasp escapes his mouth. He clenches his jaw to keep from making any other sound, trying to deny me the delight of his moans. He still thinks he’s got the upper hand. Oh, but I’m just getting started…

Gods, I’m drinking in his musk. It invades my nose, fulfills my buds, drowns my brain. In my head, my fangs encroach on the side of his throat, and I suck in, hard enough to leave a hickey. A big one, one he won’t be able to hide. He tries to kick out, so I block his legs between mine, bringing our bodies closer.

My tongue moves down from his neck and on to the upper part of his chest. Oooh, he’s sweating already. Delicious. I trace the outline of his pecs with the tip of my organ. I lick, I prod, I tickle, I bite my way around. He’s biting his lip, trying as hard as he can to keep from moaning. I continue on my way downtown. My tongue swivels in and around his navel, wetting his body hair. He’s quivering, not so much in pleasure as in anticipation. My next destination is obvious…

But I don’t make it that far. My pussy has finally decided she’s had enough. A super strong wave of pleasure rocks my entire body, and I have to flex my core muscles super hard to avoid shaking the bed frame. No doubt the resulting earthquake would have woken up the entire house. Because hoooooly shit that was a big one. I’m seeing stars. I’m drooling too… on Chris’s shirt… which I still have.

Ah, fuck. Welp, guess I have to sneak back into his room. Hopefully, the shirt will be dry by tomorrow.

Luckily, after that, I go to sleep very quickly, ensuring I won’t pull any other crazy shit tonight. Here’s hoping I’m not a sleepwalker…

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