Sorry for the long absence, but I have a legit excuse this time. I took an unplanned trip to Venice, and didn't bring my laptop. Sorry about that. Anyways, here's the next issue. I'm open for commissions, let me know if you're interested. Details on my profile.
I padded out the door, my head swimming with mixed emotions. How could this day get any worse? I'd met Nyoka, who had shown how easily it was to guess what was going on. I'd been inadvertently sending off gay signal flairs, letting anyone with a brain stem know about me and Garreth unintentionally. And now Ms. Tere had almost definitely seen him kiss me, and if she had, she definitely knew. The day couldn't possibly go any further downhill than it had.
Even as I thought these things, though, I knew they weren't true. I was only choosing to look at it from a negative point of view. That morning, I'd met someone else at school that was going through the same things I was going through, it was no wonder he might have guessed my secret. And in art class, hadn't Gare just said he wanted to be with me? The memory sent tingles down my spine. Ms. Tere might have seen us kiss, but so what? She was probably the best teacher to have seen it, being a counselor as well. If I thought about it from that point of view, I was having a remarkable good luck streak.
I swam through the sea of students, the roar of excited chatter in my ears. I walked past the cafeteria, ducking left and right between the bodies, the smell of cooking food wafted into my nostrils, nearly making me vomit with the stench of half-baked pizzas, dripping with grease. If there's one thing I cannot stand, it's disgusting food. It's not as if the school didn't have enough money for a better lunch program. If they could afford advanced chemicals for chemistry students, I'm pretty sure it wasn't too much to ask for a little fruit.
I continued on my way through the corridors, brushing into people as I weaved my way between them, occasionally saying "Sorry!" as I stepped between people in the middle of a conversation. I finally stepped into my brightly lit chemistry classroom, and took a seat, glancing somewhat disapprovingly at all the expensive chemicals lined up in shelves around the room. My lab partner walked in just after me. His name was Jake, the same otter I had winked at in the locker room. My mind grew fuzzy as I tried to recall what had happened. According to Gare, I'd been holding my tail straight up, giving all the guys a view, and sending out a musk cloud so thick he had to distance himself from me to avoid losing control.
The silence told me that he remembered the event. There was no greeting, not even a friendly wave. Jake dropped his bookbag on the floor and slid into his chair next to me, wordlessly. As he sat down, I tried to make eye contact, but he seemed pretty damn focused on the corner of the desk. Just then, the bell rang, and Dr. Tollen got up from his chair in the corner of the room, and took his place at the podium in front of the board. The object of the podium was to make him seem more important and imposing, while making him the center of the room. I have to agree that he accomplished this perfectly.
He was the only bird that taught at the school, and no one knew why he was there. He had at least eight degrees in various fields, and a Ph.D. It was required in his classroom that you called him doctor. At first everyone forgot, like it was some silly rule that he made up. That is, until someone forgot one time too many, and he forced that student to write "Dr. Tollen" on the board several hundred times. By all accounts, he was a strict teacher, and his physical features seemed almost perfectly sculpted to match his personality.
He was a vulture, standing with a hump on his back, like a camel. He was cloaked in feathers that had started out as midnight black, but were now turning grey with age. His beak was jagged and wicked, one more suited to tearing apart the raw flesh of unfortunate carcasses than giving out lessons and assignments to a group of high schoolers. Almost as if to contrast his imposing image, he wore a shirt with the school logo on it, a cute looking left paw, in grey, with the caption, "SouthPaw High School" emblazoned in blue, my favorite color.
"Everyone be quiet, the bell rang." He spoke in harsh tones, practically spitting the words at his pupils. The three desks closest to the podium were often referred to as the "line of fire" seats. Jake and I sat in the far back. I stared straight into Dr. Tollen's eyes the entire time, not daring to glance at Jake again. I could practically feel his eyes burning a hole in the back of my head. "Today," Dr. Tollen continued, "You'll be working with blocks of sodium. I'm trusting you- No, that's not right. The school is trusting you to be very careful with these blocks, as you'll be submerging slices of sodium into water. Sodium, when submerged in water, explodes. Why are they trusting you? I've no idea. Grab your materials from up here on my podium, and get a very thin slice of sodium. This is expensive. Do not get it wet before the lab sheet tells you to, and handle it with gloves and safety goggles at all times. You may begin."
There was a squeak of chairs as the class walked toward the safety equipment. In this classroom, if you had a tail, you were required to keep it strapped to your back, so that any stray wagging wouldn't knock over a very expensive phial, or send a slice of sodium flying into a cup of water prematurely. Not that there was ever any tailwagging in this classroom. It wasn't exactly a happy room.
I fastened my tail to my back, and then slipped a leather jerkin over my clothes. It looked like something out of a smithy, like it didn't belong in a science classroom. Goggles followed, fitting awkwardly and uncomfortably over my muzzle. I pulled on a pair of clear plastic gloves, the kind you see stylists use when they dye people's fur. I looked at myself in the mirror, which was set up so you could make sure your equipment was strapped on properly. I looked like a freak, like I was just as suited to create artificially conjoined twins as I was to drop sodium into water. I glanced over at Jake, who was analyzing his own hazmat suit. It was hard to tell because the goggles were tinted black, but we might have made eye contact for the briefest of moments before he turned away.
We walked up to his podium and grabbed a single paper sheet from it, some tongs, a beaker of water, and cut ourselves a paper-thin slice of the volatile metal. Jake and I acted as a separate units, wordlessly splitting up supplies and turning away from each other whenever possible. Or rather, he turned away from me whenever possible. While my initial timidity began to fade, his seemed to grow over time. While handling the beaker, his hand shook so badly it seemed for a moment as though he were about to drop it. I reached my paw out to steady his. A completely innocent gesture of kindness and caution, though he whimpered quietly all the same until our paws ended the contact. It may have been my imagination, but he seemed to linger on my paw longer than necessary. I grabbed a pen and wrote my name at the top of the lab sheet, then passed both pen and paper to Jake.
"Uhm... here, write your name." I said stupidly. As if he hadn't known to write his name on the sheet. He gave a non-committal grunt and grabbed the pen from my paw. His fur tickled.
"So, er..." he mumbled, uttering the first words of the class period. "I went into Ms. Tere's room earlier. Just after first period ended. She's not my second period teacher or anything, I just had to talk to her about something." I knew she wasn't his second period teacher. This was second period. I let him go on regardless, my heart sinking and fluttering simultaneously as I caught on to what he was hinting at. "Urgent stuff, sorta. But that's not what I wanted to ask about...." He let the silence hang in the air, unable to finish the thought. He filled the beaker. Emptied it. Refilled it. I waited, swallowing past the lump in my throat, wishing he would get it over with.
"Yeah, what?" I said, a little bit irritably. My fear of being found out was aggravating me. While before I had fervently wished Gare and I could be open about our feelings for each other, I now saw only terror in the abyss of being openly gay. I had no idea how people would react to the news. We were both well-known throughout the school for our long history together, would it shock the school? Anger them? I hadn't a guess. Perhaps it was smarter to keep the relationship a secret. Maybe it would provide a greater sense of intimacy than being an open gay couple. Assuming Gare was ready to come out too. I'd just realized that coming out was a package deal with us. And what about Nyoka? I hadn't even put him into the equation yet. This was a whole lot of stress that I just couldn't deal with right now, or ever, for that matter.
"Jake, get Miles on task. Drop the sodium into the beaker and record the results. NOW." Dr. Tollen spat towards us, spurring us onward towards our work.
"Nothing, it's stupid...." Jake looked embarrassed as he grabbed the slice of sodium with the tongs. Already, the pops and cracks of the other groups' experiments were fading, replaced by the giggles of excited students. He held it over the beaker and unceremoniously plopped it into the liquid, observing the pop and fire, and writing down some observations on the lab sheet. "It's just... I thought I saw you and Gare..." He blushed through his smooth otter fur and finished writing down his observations. Just as he was about to set the pen down and lift his paw from the table, I slammed down on top of his and looked him pleadingly in the eye.
"Please. Please don't tell anyone. Not yet."I whispered. My eyes filmed over with unexpected emotions. He looked back into my pools of desperation, trying to see if I was playing him or if I was telling the truth. "Please. If anyone found out about it.... Please." I sat there with my paw on his, not letting up on the pressure even a little. In my head, I had thought I would just hold him here until he promised, but what if he said no? What if he went and told everyone anyways? The thought sent tremors through my fur as I rebelled against it. I would not compromise my happiness because of some stupid otter that had a problem with it. He stared pointedly at the desk, his eyes wide and mouth slightly open in shock. He clenched and unclenched his paw repeatedly, before smiling a tiny, barely perceptible grin. He glanced over at me shyly, and my quizzical expression must have spoken for me.
"I won't tell." I heaved a huge sigh of relief, keeping my eye trained on him and my ears perked. He wasn't done talking yet. "By the way, I know that you and Gare spend some time every day in that old classroom." I slid my paw off his, freeing him. "And I was wondering if, maybe... I could drop in some time?" He slumped over somewhat, twiddling his thumb-paws nervously. I laughed out loud. I hadn't meant to, it had just slipped out. A hurt look spread across his face. "If you don't want me there, that's okay too..." he said, somewhat testily now.
"Oh, no, I think it would be fun." I said, feeling a little bad for my outburst. "Meet us afterschool in the classroom. You won't be the only new person today. Have you met Nyoka?"
"Nyo?" He blushed. "Uh, yeah I met him. He's nice." The timer on Dr. Tollen's desk dinged, signaling the end of the lab, and that it was time to clean our stations. I unceremoniously spilled the cloudy water into the sink and packed up my papers, as Jake did the same. "I'll see you there?" We stood by the counter, taking off our safety equipment.
"Yeah, can't wait." I replied. "Bye!" I grabbed my bag and slung it over my shoulder. I waved goodbye to a very happy looking Jake, and rushed through the crowd of my classmates, hurrying to finish the school-day, hurrying to see Gare again. I was so excited, and nervous, that I couldn't sleep through history like I normally did. Mr. Donnelly was a bit worried at my anxiety, as I was normally ever the quiet one. Never saying much, but making my words count. He said nothing, though and just cast a glance every few seconds in my direction. The entire school-day, my mind was elsewhere. I couldn't focus on anything at all. I wondered if Gare was experiencing similar symptoms. Was he thinking about me?
Also on my mind were our two new members. Nyoka was apparently bisexual, though he hadn't gotten to explain himself very thoroughly before our schedules tore us apart. He was a little odd, his personality seemed to be the polar opposite of his body. With his rippling muscles and midnight black fur, you'd expect more of an imposing, confident spirit. He, however, had the mental disposition of a puppy. Sweet and shy, but quick to trust. He was the kind of guy who you would really feel bad about if you hurt him in any way.
And then there was Jake. He had behaved so oddly in class. Normally he was such an on-task otter, but today, he'd managed to barely finish the lab, and had asked to join a group of gays after school. Was he gay? It hardly seemed likely. Although, I'd noticed over the last few days, he was rather cute. And he had known about me and Gare when he asked to join us. What about how he blushed when Nyo came up? My thoughts turned to Garreth's reaction to this. Would he be angry that I had invited someone else into the group without asking him? Would he feel put out? Disappointed? Threatened? My mind darkened and lightened as conflicting emotions of black and white swirled around inside me, adding their winds to the hurricane that had recently been taking place in my heart and head. I was struck once again by how much had changed in such a short span of time. I could hardly wait for class to end to find out how all of it would end up this afternoon.
Just then, the bell rang. "Speak of the devil...." I mumbled, grabbing my things off the teacher's floor. I waved at Mr. Donnelly as I headed out the door, and he gave a nervous wave back. The hallways were slowly emptying out as the students left the school, hitching a ride with friends, or riding the bus home. I walked through the thinning hallways, walking down one, then another, winding through the corridors until I came to the room I was looking for. I turned the handle, slowly opening the door with a loud creak.
My eyes fell on the dusty desks, clean of all debris except the gray powder which coated them. The smell of the dust seeped into my nostrils, then coating my tongue as I breathed in, tasting like nothing. Gare sat in a corner, alone, his orange fur blazing in the filtered sunlight let in through the windows, looking like a warm fire to curl up around. I waved. He waved back.
I stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind me for Jake and Nyoka. Jake. I still hadn't told him about that.
"Hey." I said nervously. My paws fiddled with each other behind my back as I stood several feet away from my husky.
"Well," he said, "Have a seat while we wait." I nodded, admiring his confidence in this mess. He seemed so sure of himself. I started towards the chair next to him, but as I reached it and made to sit down, he said, "No. Not there." I looked at him quizzically, then around the room, to see if he was joking around. Where else was there to sit? Sensing my question, he patted his lap gently, gesturing for me to sit. I smiled slyly and blushed profusely, but nevertheless did as he asked. I maneuvered myself uncomfortably into the desk so that I was straddling him, still looking into those beautiful eyes. Once in the position, it was a lot more comfortable. I wrapped my arms around him, running my fingers through his soft, flaming fur, breathing in his thick, musky scent. Nothing could ruin this moment.
From the doorway came a grunt of someone clearing their throat. I reluctantly opened my eyes and glanced in the general direction of the noise, my eyes falling on little Jake. "Oh," I whispered apologetically in Gare's ear, "I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you. I told Jake he could come today. I promise, he's the last person. I'm sorry I forgot to tell you." He rubbed my midriff reassuringly.
"It's okay, puppy. Jake is nice. But no more, okay? Soon, there won't be any more time for us. And I'm not sure I want people to know about us just yet." I nodded my agreement, thinking of the panic I had felt earlier when I'd thought our secret was sure to be exposed, and acknowledged Jake for the first time.
"Hey! Glad you could make it. Nyo's not here yet, have you seen him?" As I said the words, the dark, looming form of Nyoka appeared behind Jake. Jake smiled and said, "Yeah, I found him." They both smiled and sat together, a short distance away from us, whispering softly.
"What do you think they're talking about?" I whispered in Gare's ear. Quiet laughter came from Jake.
"I don't know. I don't think we should say anything though. Just watch." We did so. We watched them touch each other, smile, and stare into each other's eyes. It reminded me all too well of the night before, that Garreth and I had spent in this very room, laughing, and touching, and smiling. The suspicion returned to me, and I barely restrained myself from voicing it. Jake must be gay. There was no other reason that he would be talking this easily to someone like Nyo, touching him so tenderly, and looking into the shining pools that were his eyes so eagerly. I held Garreth close in my arms, the happiness in the room almost palpable. Jake put his paw on Nyo's desk, where Nyo's hand lay just inches away. He inched it just a bit closer to the wolf's hand, trying to be sly but noticeable. Nyo saw, and inched his closer, and closer and closer. Within seconds, they were holding hands, Jake looking happier than I could ever remember seeing him with a girl. Gare squeezed me all the tighter, caressing my sides smoothly as we inconspicuously watched. I think they might have noticed us once or twice, but I also think they wanted us to. They wanted us to know that they were happy too. And I wanted them to know that we wanted them to be happy.
Nyo made eye contact with me, his eyes asking a silent question. I nodded, mouthing the words Go for it silently. And then he smiled at me and shrugged, as if to say Why not? They clasped hands, the two unlikely friends. They were a cute couple, I decided. I silently blessed their relationship, hoping to whatever gods there might be that it would flourish under some careful nurturing. My eyes widened with giddy excitement as I saw Nyo pat his lap, mimicking Gare's movement, gesturing for Jake to hop on, which he nervously did. He sat on the larger wolf, straddling only one leg, because of his smaller size.
"What's going on?" Gare whispered in my ear. I realized that because of his position, with my head resting on his shoulder, he didn't get a view of the goings on. I filled him in. "Good." He said, giving a light laugh. "I'm glad that there's another happy couple here. But it's Nyo's first day. I can't believe he already got so lucky. It took us years." I didn't like to recall those years. The years that I could have spent like this, with the husky that I wanted to be with. If I had known myself better, the time could have been spent so much more worthily. But time spent is time gone, so there's no use dwelling on it. Instead, I burrowed my head into Gare's muscular shoulder, and shut my eyes, happy for the new couple, free of envy. They might have each other,
but I have better.