“…and that’s one, for a total of one. One, see? That’s what I can do with it” Woodrow said, sticking his hands in his pockets and turning away from the ball.
“Aww, don’t give up after the first try Woody” Kiana coaxed, bouncing the ball from one knee to another.
“Hup, hup, see? Easy”
Her knees came up to her chest when she kicked and she jumped a little every time, her heels never returning to the ground. Cats had that way of walking, with just the balls of their feet touching the ground. It seemed so natural coming from her. Woodrow had made note of the fact that this particular posture had the same effect as high heels when it came to accentuating the buttocks, but he hadn’t said anything to her in case she took it the wrong way. Kiana probably wouldn’t, but still…
The way they met wasn’t exactly the kind of romantic moment that great love stories are made out of. It was certainly an absurd idea to relate such a story to your offspring. And yet that was the way they had met, and they were both better off for it having happened. Did it have to happen just that way? Maybe not, but what matters is that it did.
Woodrow had been riding on a subway. He’d been heading home from a D&D game at the house of an acquaintance of one of his friends. He hadn’t really taken to it or to the people involved but he’d promised to continue the campaign the next week out of a sense of duty. While on the subway he’d pulled out his trusty PSP, put on some headphones and lost himself in some 1970’s tactical espionage action. His second failure for the day came in the form of an interactive cutscene that reminded him of the fact that his fingers weren’t all that strong despite all the gaming he did. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t summon the strength and endurance to mash that button hard enough to get past the scene. After too many tries he’d cursed aloud, causing people around him to shift away and some old lady even left the car. They must’ve thought he was dangerous for whatever reason.
And then there was Kiana. She’d just sauntered up to him, but of course by then his eyes had been trained on screen again so he didn’t notice her leaning over him to look at what he was playing. After he failed again she said something, but because of his headphones he didn’t hear. So she tapped him on the shoulder, making him jump.
Far be it from Woodrow to say it was love at first sight. If it had been a regular girl leaning over him and smiling it might’ve been, but Kiana wasn’t human. The fact that her eyes had no whites, the fluffy, round ears, the sharper than normal teeth, the hairy hands with their concealed claws… it’s not like he had a problem with these people, not at all, it’s just that he’d never expected to end up face-to-chest (he was sitting, she was taller than him) and that made him freeze. Like a deer in headlights.
Kiana had said something again. He hadn’t heard because of his headphones so he’d just stared at her. Like a rabbit stares at a fox. So she’d taken them off of his ears.
“What’re you playing?” she’d asked.
“You kinda suck at it”
There had been no real judgement or derision in her tone. She seemed to be happy to tell him this, and the sunny look in her yellowish-green eyes somehow made Woodrow feel like this criticism was acceptable. And then his pride kicked in.
“Am not” he said, like a big man would.
“You’ve been trying to beat that same part for like 20 minutes” she said, making Woodrow’s belly turn to knots. 20 minutes? Then he’d…
He checked the name of the next stop. He should’ve gotten off already. Several stops ago.
“Shit!” he said, getting up in a hurry and trying to stuff the PSP in his pocket at the same time. This resulted in him bumping into her as he got up, and her being bigger, stronger, and heavier and having a better balance remaining perfectly still while he was pushed back down by gravity.
There was an awkward moment of silence between them before Woodrow got up properly and then ran off. He almost fell over again when the subway came to a halt and he wasn’t holding on to anything but he somehow managed to scramble out and began heading to the surface to see about navigating his way home. It’s not like his situation was that bad, a couple stops here or there wasn’t a big deal for someone young and healthy. He’d be home maybe forty-five minutes later than he’d thought…
On the surface Woodrow noticed his pocket felt empty. The PSP wasn’t there.
“Shit!” he cursed again and a person wearing a Greenpeace vest and holding a binder who had been approaching him decided to switch targets.
There was nothing to do about the PSP now, he must’ve dropped it in the subway and that had already gone its merry way. He’d have to go looking for it later at a lost and found office, wherever that was. What a pointless hassle.
“You dropped this” a voice said from behind him and he turned to see the cat girl again. This time he really looked at her. He saw she was wearing sandals with no socks, and she had hairy, clawed toes. Like a big cat. She had a tail hanging out from behind her, orange with black dots. She was carrying a duffel bag and dressed up in wind-suit. The skin she was showing was tanned, her hair black and straight. And she was holding his PSP.
“Oh” he said like a true diplomat. He held out his hand for it even though there was a distance of maybe five steps between them. She came to meet him but then didn’t hand the device to him after all.
“You know I could probably beat this” she said, waving it around.
“Yeah? Be my guest” Woodrow said, feeling it would’ve been rude to refuse. He totally wasn’t intimidated by her or anything so he could’ve refused if he’d felt like it.
She stared at the PSP and then at him.
“How do I use this?”
Woodrow actually gasped.
“You think you can do better than me and you don’t even know how to turn it on?” he asked, incredulous.
“Don’t need to know how it works brainiac, I just need to know how to mash one button harder than you. I can totally do that. Check this out!”
She dug around in her bag and took out an apple, which she threw to him. Woodrow barely caught it with his butterfingers.
“Now try to squeeze it so hard it breaks” she said, and Woodrow did. First with one hand, then with two. Nope. The damn thing was hard. It had probably been in a fridge less than an hour ago. He shook his head and handed it back.
“Told you” she said and crushed it with one hand, then gobbled up the pieces, seeds and all. Her bulging cheeks looked pretty comical for a bit before she managed to chew it down and swallow.
“Yeah, that’s great. First I did all the hard work to soften it up and then you get all the glory” Woodrow said with unusual smoothness. He wasn’t feeling all that nervous anymore for whatever reason.
“Come on let’s sit down” she said and walked to a nearby bench. As she turned around Woodrow got his first sight of that highly pronounced buttocks and the tail hanging above it. The gait of her walk was unlike that of a human’s, and it ended with her turning around and sitting down to hide that sight far too soon. Woodrow joined her and explained how to turn the handheld console on. She wouldn’t let go of it so he had couldn’t just do it for her. He had to show her how to load the game and how to turn down the volume since the headphones wouldn’t fit her non-human ears. When she asked what the game was about he replied it was too difficult to explain. She said the game had a dumb name. He said it was just how the Japanese were. She had no idea what he meant by that.
And then the cutscene started. She shut up and focused on it completely. You know how cats get when they see their prey and begin to stare at it, closing out everything else around them, all muscles tensed for the pounce? She was like that, only she was holding the PSP in her hands instead of waiting to pounce, but even then Woodrow could tell she was tense. The electrocution began and so did the mashing. The first time she passed with no commentary. The second time she smiled a little. Then came the third one, the long, hard one that had made Woodrow’s thumb hurt after repeated failures. Her thumb became a blur. To Woodrow’s surprise she cleared it just like that. Her fingers were way better off than his; that was for sure.
She grinned at him smugly, holding the console up for him to admire. A sort of low, growl-like purring noise emanated from down her… insides.
“Told ya” she said.
“Yeah. Thanks” Woodrow mumbled.
“So anyway, what’s this game actually about? Now that I cleared this bit for you, you owe me that much” she asked, still holding on to the console. “This one of those Japanese dating sims? You into electric shocks and stuff?”
Woodrow’s face turned red with embarrassment, shame, and a little bit of anger.
“N-no…” he muttered.
“Aww, don’t be so upset about it, I’m just kidding. Seriously though, what’s it about?”
“Why do you care so much?”
“Why do YOU care so much?”
“You got really emotional over it back there, like you might’ve gone berserk. You missed your stop too, right?”
That was true, all of it.
“So I figured if a guy cares THAT much about a game, there’s got to be a reason for it, you know? I mean it’s got to be fun enough to be worth getting mad over. Like, who would even get mad over nothing, right?”
Woodrow felt a pang of guilt because all things considered he had gotten mad over nothing. But he couldn’t just tell her that, first of all because it would disappoint her but secondly because it wasn’t even true. Peace Walker was TOTALLY worth getting mad over.
“It’s like this story about this mercenary group and some, uhh, nukes I guess, I mean the plot’s really complicated but, look, it’s way easier if you just watch the intro…” he began and after instructing her on how to save the game returned far enough back for her to watch the opening cutscene.
A considerable while later the cat girl who Woodrow didn’t yet know was a Jaguar called Kiandra nodded his confirmation. She’d gone full-on tunnel-vision again as soon as the game had started and had allowed nothing to disturb or distract her from it. Now however she handed the console back to him, just like that.
“I guess that’s neat but that’s way too much talking and way too little action for me” she said and jumped up as agilely as, well, a cat.
“Hey you didn’t even play one mission of it!” Woodrow protested.
“Didn’t I? You already forget how I beat the electric-shock therapy part for you?”
“What? No! No, that’s wasn’t, look, just sit down and… look here…”
And then she played through the first mission with full focus. It took very little coaxing despite her initial attitude. The only time her expression showed a significant change was when she first saw the fulton recovery system in action. This elicited a smirk. She proceeded to use it excessively for as long as she played. The purring sound returned as well.
Having finished the first mission she got up and handed him back the console.
“Yeah, that was fun. I might have to get me one of these” she said and waved at him as she left. Woodrow was a little dumbstruck by this sudden, unceremonious departure. Then the cat stopped and turned around as if remembering something and came back to him.
“What’s that thing called?”
“Peace Walker, I told you”
“No I mean that thing” she said, motioning with her hands to form a rectangle.
And then she left again. Woodrow was confused again. He hated to watch her leave, but he did love to watch her go… oh well.
It hit him as a little unusual that she didn’t even know what a PSP was on sight but had known what a Japanese dating-sim was. That was odd. But then again her, uhh, people, were a little odd to begin with. Maybe they used games like that to train for human interaction. Nah, probably not. But still…
“Hey wha…“ he was going to ask what her name was but for whatever reason his mouth decided on something else, “..t species are you?”
Indeed. Again, Woodrow didn’t think of himself as a racist, but that’s what came out of him at the time, and whoo-boy did he regret it instantly.
The girl stopped in her tracks, her ears turned backwards to listen, and then turned around, one hand on her hip, the other brushing her hair behind a fluffy ear.
“I’m a Jaguar” she said, smiling quite happily. She didn’t seem at all upset about his question, thank the gods.