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The Leaves of Fall Act 3: Something That Matters

Oliver_Hart Sep 22nd, 2019 (edited) 1,716 Never
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  1. The Leaves of Fall (Or: How Anon and His Friends Saved The World) -- Oliver_Hart
  2.  
  3. Tags: [Reverse Trap], [Anthro/Human], [Autumn], [Halloween], [Slow Burn], [High School], [Anon], [Nostalgia], [Adventure], [Rabbit]
  4.  
  5. Cover: https://imgur.com/a/vZS4Q
  6. Sam (drawn by Akella of /hmofa/) https://imgur.com/a/nk3t1wT
  7. Accompanying Playlist (WIP): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J
  8. SoFurry link: https://www.sofurry.com/view/1479078
  9. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  10. Summary: You've never really 'fit in' with the heavily divided Ranchview High School crowd. Jock, Goth, Prep, Cheerleader, Nerd...you were never any of these. But as Halloween approaches, strange things start happening, and a dark ritual begins with the finding of a curious red book. It's a race against time for you and your friends to stop a group of students from ushering in an age of darkness, and to also figure out just what the hell is wrong with that rabbit.
  11. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  12. READ ACTS 1 AND 2 https://pastebin.com/gyfAjY5M
  13. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
  14.  
  15. Act 3: Something That Matters
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3IvQjtNp5I&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=19&t=0s
  17.  
  18. >Wednesday morning
  19. >Your eyes crack open
  20. >You feel Sam against you, his form is as familiar as your own clothing at this point
  21. >WOW he feels warm, even through your clothing
  22. >Like a little ball of magma clinging to you
  23. >What time is it?
  24. >You check your phone
  25. >It’s only 6:30 a.m.
  26. >That explains the lack of light showering in from the crucifix-shaped window
  27. >You have another hour-and-a-half before school
  28. >You stretch out delicately as Sam shifts, his leg kicking, snared in a dream
  29. >Dawww
  30. >Usually when one of your friends falls asleep on you, you feel mildly uncomfortable
  31. >But this is not like one of these times
  32. >It just feels right to have him next to you
  33. >Alex snores away like a bulldozer crushing a field of glass bottles
  34. >You’re about to shut your eyes again when you hear someone moving around on the old wooden bench
  35. >You turn your head
  36. >Jenna is up and moving, smoothing her sweater, running her paws through her unkempt fur
  37. >She must not notice you, because she starts licking at her arm, smoothing it out with her thin, pink tongue
  38. >You wonder what it’s like to groom yourself with your tongue
  39. >It’s like always having a brush on hand!
  40. >Part of you wants to try, but the lucid part of you knows how disgusting that would be
  41. >Jenna turns to start on her other arm and bends her neck low to reach her thin wrists
  42. >When your eyes meet
  43. >…
  44. >You swear, you can almost hear the little voice inside Jenna screaming with shame
  45. >The vixen glows beet red
  46. >She tries to play off her grooming as her smoothing out the fur on her arm, briskly running her paws across her fur, back and forth
  47. >Ruffling and un-ruffling
  48. >”Morning…” she whispers, still glowing red
  49. “Were you just-”
  50. >”NO!” Her voice rings out in a thin staccato, fueled by embarrassment
  51. >She catches herself quickly and claps a palm over her muzzle
  52. >Sam shifts his body and mumbles something you can’t hear
  53. >Whatever
  54. >Not a big deal. You’ve been caught picking your nose plenty of times
  55. >Jenna points to the exit doors of the church
  56. >Immediately you know what she wants
  57.  
  58. >Untangling yourself from Sam is more of a challenge than you expected
  59. >You worm your way away from him, trying to get him to lean against the back of the pew instead of on you
  60. >Gravity has other plans
  61. >The bunny slides downward, his head landing directly into the crook of your lap
  62. >…Right on your-
  63. >Yeah
  64. >You flush red and stifle a frustrated groan that swells in your throat
  65. >Fucking hell
  66. >Now what do you do?
  67. >You look to Jenna, desperate for help
  68. >But the vixen is fucking useless
  69. >She’s bent over, fighting the giggles
  70. >You can hear each one of her fits pop inside her mouth like little balloons
  71. >Foxes and their gekkering
  72. >You blush even harder as your eyebrows slope downward into a viscous scowl
  73. >Which makes you just look constipated
  74. >And makes Jenna laugh even harder
  75. >When you get out of this you swear you’re going to tell everyone she still licks herself to groom
  76. >Don’t most mammals grow out of that?
  77. >Whatever
  78. >You still gotta get Sam off
  79. >…
  80. >OF YOU
  81. >Not ‘off’
  82. >Fuck
  83. >You slowly, very slowly, slide his head over your thigh
  84. >You plunge your hands into the tangles of his hair and fur, holding him in place so when you slip out from under him, his skull doesn’t smack the hardwood of the pews
  85. >He feels INSANELY hot to the touch
  86. >His body radiates warmth like a tiny little engine
  87. >If Sam were an engine, he’d be a dirtbike or something
  88. >You bite your lower lip
  89. >Shit
  90. >What if he’s getting sick?
  91. >With all of this going on, the last thing you need is a sick bunny
  92. >Before school you’ll go to the store and get him some medicine
  93. >But he NEEDS to be in class
  94. >You’re not going to ruin his life and get him expelled for absences
  95. >You’ve already ruined his life in one way
  96. >If he makes it out of this alive, you’d rather not have it ruined academically
  97. >Here goes nothing
  98. >You gently lift his head
  99. >Slide out underneath him
  100. >And then lay gingerly back down on the pew
  101. >As if he were made of delicate glass
  102. >That dumb little bun just curls in on himself and doesn’t seem to even notice you’re gone
  103. >When you stand up, you have to brush off the stray strands of Sam’s fur
  104. >Uselessly doubled over on herself, Jenna is now gasping in the quiet air as she chokes back laughter
  105. >You swallow the knot of shame that’s lodged in your throat
  106. >Keep it together, Anonymous
  107. >Burn that image of her licking herself into your retinas
  108.  
  109. >Jenna is still laughing as you two slip out the back doors, but once you’re outside in the brisk air, she stops
  110. >She gives you a very inquisitive look, one of her eyebrows raised in confusion
  111. >She inhales deeply through her nose
  112. >”Hold still,” she commands, before-
  113. >What the hell?
  114. >-Putting her nose on your side and sniffing
  115. >You flush red grab her by the ears and pull her away like she was a clingy toddler
  116. “What the hell are you doing?” You demand
  117. >Jenna takes one last whiff before pushing your hands off her sensitive ears
  118. >”You smell like a female in heat.”
  119. >Wat
  120. >”I smelled it last night,” she continues, oblivious to how uncomfortable and confused you are right now.
  121. >Must be instinct
  122. >“But I can’t figure out why… I’m not even close in my cycle, and even if I were, I take estrus blockers.”
  123. “C-Could be anything!” You assure her
  124. >But you’re really only assuring yourself
  125. >You have absolutely 0 idea why you’d smell like a female in heat, but the idea that you reek of something like that frightens you
  126. >Who knows how you’ve smelled this entire time? All throughout high school even?
  127. >Like a sex-drunk bitch, walking down the halls, dragging a trail of pheromones off of you?
  128. >Christ
  129. “How do you know it’s a… female’s scent?” You say, holding onto a modicum of hope
  130. >Jenna shakes her head
  131. >”Oh, no, I’m sure of it. A female in heat will be pretty noticeable. It smells a little bit like sweat or onions, only more…” she looks to the sky, as if the words were written in the fading darkness “… more sensual, seductive? Like a perfume you really like.”
  132. >Oh
  133. >You can’t say you’ve smelled anything in the church other than the lingering wisps of incense — charred and aromatic, burning your nose, but in a pleasent sort of way
  134. >”I must just be losing it. After all, I’m fighting vampires and werewolves with you guys, right?” Jenna shrugs her shoulders. “And unless you’re secretly a girl, then I’m just imagining things.”
  135. >You manage to smile a bit
  136. >Who would pretend to be the opposite sex? Like LMAO what would you gain from it?
  137. >Only an awkward weirdo would do that
  138. “I promise you, I’m not a female in heat,” you assure
  139. >the vixen nods
  140. >”Yeah I thought so. Shame though. I think you’d look cute as a girl. Anyway, plans? What are we doing?”
  141. >Ah yes, plans
  142. >You’ve been /so/ good at making and implementing those
  143. >Shit, you were just planning to run to the store really fast and get everyone some breakfast
  144. >And Sam some medicine
  145. >You tell Jenna, who volunteers to stay behind and wake up Alex
  146. >”I just wouldn’t go to The Shop N’ Save down the hill with Mike. I’ll explain later,” Jenna assures you
  147. >Sure, whatever
  148. >You’re long past the point of needing explanations for things
  149. >Though Mike is still asleep in your car
  150. >You wonder if he’d be up for a ride this early?
  151. >Afterall, it’s still dark
  152. >And cold
  153. >And Sam has your jacket still
  154. >You wrap your arms around your shivering body and stride towards your car, your chattering breath disappearing in wisps of steam
  155.  
  156. >Upon investigation, you don’t find him in your car
  157. >You instead locate him a little bit down the hill, taking a leak on some low scrub brush
  158. >Probably also taking advantage of the fact that nobody /ever/ comes up here
  159. >Except your gang of degenerates
  160. >And the occasional group of punks to get drunk or trip acid
  161. >”Can I get some privacy here?” He asks, speaking to you with his back turned
  162. >He must have heard you coming
  163. “Sure, just a quick question: I’m going to the store. Want anything?”
  164. >His stream halts abruptly with ringing clarity
  165. >I M P R E S S I V E
  166. >”The Shop N’ Save?” He says, stressing the words
  167. >You clear your throat
  168. >It’s kind of awkward having to talk to him while he’s obliterating this bush
  169. >Yet, you soldier on
  170. “Yeah, Jenna told me not to take you down there-”
  171. >He raises his hand as if he were unpausing the conversation and starts peeing again
  172. >”Yeah, she’s got a point. If you’re getting food, bring back some donuts and maybe some Halloween candy. Peanut butter cups’ll do.”
  173. “And what do we say?”
  174. >All he has to do is say please
  175. >You don’t like being ordered around, especially by him
  176. >Instead he says the wrong thing
  177. >”I’ll pay you back. You know Mikey’s good for it,” he says, bending his neck around so you can see his smile
  178. >And the fangs that push between his teeth
  179. >You’re reminded that he still owes you like a whole six pack
  180. “Not what I meant, dude. Try asking again.”
  181. >His smile collapses as he sighs
  182. >You can even see him do a quick eye roll
  183. >”Shit, right. Sorry. PLEASE would you get some donuts and Halloween candy?”
  184. “That’s better.”
  185. >You wring a smile out of your minor victory
  186. >Shit if he just asks nicely you’ll get all kinds of candy for him
  187.  
  188. >You grab your keys, plug your phone into your cigarette lighter which hosts a charging plug, and soon you’re off, traveling on barren roads under lightening skies
  189. >Brilliant orange sunlight strokes the clouds, tracing them in flame
  190. >The little shops and the houses lay dormant and dark, save for the occasional parent meandering to their car for their morning commute
  191. >Still plenty of time to get to school after breakfast, and you could use the solitude right now
  192. >You’ve always been introverted, as evidenced by your small squadron of friends and relatively brief social interactions
  193. >Or you’re just a boring, shy, coward
  194. >Nah, you’ve got a lot of positives
  195. >You’re patient
  196. >You flick your turn signal on and coast into the Shop N’ Save’s lot
  197. >You’re brave
  198. >You slide easily into a parking space, given that there’s practically nobody here this early
  199. >And you’ve got this kind of wisdom that only years of introversion and observation can cultivate
  200. >It’s not street smarts, but you do think you’ve got a good head on your shoulders
  201. >You’re gonna make it, brah
  202.  
  203. >Walking into the Shop N’ Save, you’re assaulted by colors like you owe them money
  204. >Namely orange and black
  205. >There’s plastic pumpkins on a big pile of hay at the front
  206. >Halloween streamers run the length of the candy aisle, which is completely stocked and loaded up with massive packages of chocolates and sweets
  207. >Fake plastic skeletons hang their feet on top of the shelves, and for a fleeting moment you’re reminded of the fact that there is a skelington inside of you right this very moment
  208. >v v v v spooky
  209. >Anyway, the pharmacy is closed, but there’s still plenty of over-the-counter pills to go around
  210. >You can’t help but notice the ‘feminine care’ section is picked clean
  211. >All the scent masks
  212. >All the estrus blockers
  213. >Completely gone
  214. >Well, you didn’t come here for that stuff
  215. >You swipe a bottle of pain pills off a high shelf
  216. >Turning over the bottle, you see that it also advertises itself as a fever reducer
  217. >There, this’ll set Sam straight
  218. >Heh, ‘straight’
  219. >You still never found out if he was gay or not…
  220. >… Or if you are at this point
  221. >Too bad you chickened out
  222. >Not like it matters anymore
  223. >He only makes your heart beat a little faster
  224. >And you only care a lot about him
  225. >Y-You’re just good bros
  226.  
  227. >With the peanut butter cups, donuts, a gallon of iced coffee, and medicine for Sam, you cruise on back to the church just as the light is beginning to hit the roads
  228. >It drains through the retreating clouds, washing everything in a delicate salmon-pink
  229. >You take your time getting back to the old church, slowing down as you take a short detour through a couple neighborhoods
  230. >The houses are all strung up with cheesy decorations like fake graveyards and glowing plastic jack-o'-lanterns
  231. >To be honest, you fucking love Halloween
  232. >It feels like the border between the living and the dead becomes thinner right around the 31st
  233. >And with all the grass and leaves dying, you can totally see how your ancestors would have thought this was a sacred time where magic abounds
  234. >Unfortunately, given all that’s happened… they weren’t entirely wrong
  235. >But hey, some good has come of this
  236. >Mike is your friend again, maybe more so than ever
  237. >You’re going to save the world
  238. >Alex is still Alex
  239. >Jenna is on your side
  240. >And Sam
  241. >You got to know that little faggot who you used to hate, and you found out he’s a lot braver than you think
  242. >He’s just a good kid in crappy circumstances
  243. >You almost wish he was here next to you, enjoying the scenery
  244. >He probably doesn’t celebrate any holidays because of his shithead father
  245. >Your stomach ties in knots
  246. >His dad is still lurking somewhere
  247. >Hunting you and his son
  248. >Like some kind of primitive animal stalking its prey
  249. >The thought is enough to make you floor it back to the church
  250.  
  251. >You all sit on the caved in hood of your car, munching down on the sickly sweet donuts, watching your chilled breaths disappear into the lightening sky
  252. >Every bite tastes fills your mouth with pillowy dough and semi-sweet chocolate
  253. >Sam holds his donut in front of his face
  254. >He cautiously sniffs it, his pink nose twitching as he drinks in the rich scent of freshly fried dough and glazed chocolate
  255. >Alex laughs, sending bits of mushy donut onto the pavement
  256. >”Don’t tell me you’ve never eaten a donut before,” he says, taking a large, messy bite out of his own
  257. >Sam looks at Alex, his mouth forming a soft and nervous frown
  258. >Which says everything
  259. >”JHESHUS CHRISHT” Alex says through mouthfuls of donut
  260. >You pat Sam on the head, lightly digging your fingers into his oily fur
  261. “Just try it, dude. I promise you’ll really like it,” you say, ignoring Alex’s obvious wink
  262. >You don’t care
  263. >You’re going to comfort this lil’ bunny while he has his first fucking donut ever
  264. >You almost feel like you should be recording this
  265. >Like a baby’s first steps
  266. >As you lightly scratch at the skin beneath Sam’s fur, his leg starts softly kicking
  267. >Almost like you found some kind of button connected to his stout haunches
  268. >And even though everyone is looking at you, you don’t care
  269. >It’s cute as fuck the way his powerful legs pound into your door
  270.  
  271. >Sam opens his mouth and extends a rounded edge of the donut past his teeth
  272. >He takes a meager bite
  273. >Almost instantly his eyes shoot open with glee
  274. >Then he takes a huge bite out of his chocolate frosted donut, chewing thoughtfully and savoring the taste
  275. >When he looks up into your eyes, their bright with pure affection and adoration
  276. >As if he was silently singing praise unto you for introducing donuts into his lowly existence
  277. >Y-You too
  278. >You stop scritching his fur and instead draw an anxious hand to the back of your neck
  279. >Those big gooey eyes make you all gooey inside too
  280. >You don’t even want to LOOK at Alex right now
  281. >But you can’t help but look over
  282. >And yeah, his eyebrows are shooting up and down, his face painted with an expression that says ‘You gonna kiss him?’
  283. >But it’s Jenna’s confused glare that catches your attention more
  284. >She’s staring in disbelief right as Sam as he mindlessly hews off hunks of his donut with his quick moving mouth
  285. >Jenna’s nose twitches like mad as she sniffs at the air
  286. >Her head tilts to the side in astonishment
  287. >What is so perplexing about the way Sam smells?
  288. >You can only smell the damp earth and the cold coffee…
  289. >…Which Sam is now taking massive swigs of
  290. >Oh boy caffeinated rabbits
  291. >Jenna shakes her head in disbelief and focuses her attention back on her half-eaten donut
  292. >”Thanks for the food, Anon,” Mike says, leaning back onto the hood with a cup of coffee in hand. “It’s been way too long since I had proper food, you know?”
  293. “Don’t mention it. And hey, if you need blood-”
  294. >”Pass,” he waves a vacant hand at you
  295. >You can’t help but feel slightly offended
  296. >”I’ll be fine for a while longer. Besides, your blood probably tastes terrible.”
  297. >Okay now you’re actually kind of offended
  298. “Implying there’s good tasting blood?”
  299. >Mike just stares off at the empty space
  300. >”I’m sure there is, dude. I’m not really all the way into this yet.”
  301. >He looks pretty zoned out
  302. >Or angry
  303. >But not at you
  304. >Like, his future is basically over
  305. >And he seems to know it
  306. >But a part of him — a part of you — wants to fight for that future
  307. >And you can feel it
  308.  
  309. >School drags on with all the urgency of a stoned turtle
  310. >You spend most of your time pacing outside of Sam’s classrooms, checking inside every so often to make sure that he’s okay
  311. >Almost always he’s near the back, idly doodling on a loose scrap of paper or staring out a window
  312. >How the hell this kid makes any passing grades is beyond you
  313. >You guess that if you had to put up with the shit that he does back at home, school would be pretty low on your priorities list as well
  314. >You’re just thankful that he doesn’t have any classes with any goths
  315. >And that his dad hasn’t come to school yet
  316. >You feel like a helicopter parent
  317. >You spend the few minutes you have not stalking Sam fraternizing with Jenna, Mike and Alex, who all rode with you to school with you
  318. >And are damn sure leaving with you. No more running away separately
  319. >The plan, you all decide, is to head to your house after school and get some supplies and hang out there versus sleeping in the church
  320. >Your half-baked ‘plan’ seems to be the only thing with some semblance of stability
  321. >Because your fellow students sure as hell aren’t acting like shining beacons of peace, tolerance and stability
  322. >All the fighting and violence you saw yesterday?
  323. >It’s only escalated
  324. >The hallways are no longer fast-moving streams of hormonal bodies, but are giant moving clusters of mammals surrounding fight after fight, fur flying into the air and claws rending into flesh
  325. >When two groups pass each other, it’s liable to end in friction
  326. >Like two gears moving in opposing direction
  327. >You just try and stick to yourself as the hours count by, as teachers rush bruised and bloody students to the nurse’s office, and as the administrative staff grows increasingly worried that they won’t be able to weather this storm
  328.  
  329. >By the time school ends, you’ve nearly been jumped twice just for being a human
  330. >Or not belonging to any social cliques
  331. >And every time a rival group jumped in to save you — not that they intended to. They just happened to have a bigger problem with the group that was assailing you than you than they had with boring, lonely old Anon
  332. >Primarily, it was jocks who targeted you, looking more and more feral with each passing moment
  333. >The humans were starting to grow facial hair and unsightly body hair, rippling out of their cliche letterman jackets, shearing the red and white fabric
  334. >They’re getting taller and bulkier too, shoulders pulling outwards more with muscles bulging underneath their skin
  335. >And the other mammals? They’re starting to look more wolfish — their ears are coming up in points, their snouts are narrowing into aggressive muzzles
  336. >You observe all of this as you plaster yourself against the wall outside Sam’s classroom
  337. >The bell rolls over and kicks itself as the proverbial floodgates open up
  338. >Students pour out of open doors in great throngs, but all too quickly there’s more skirmishes between the different groups of mammals
  339. >Sam wanders out of class (last, again)
  340. >Your hands shoot out and find his own before he can register what’s happening
  341. >He gives a startled squeak until he realizes it’s your own hands that are pressed into his
  342. “God damn, kid. What took you so long?” You say, tugging him down the hall
  343. >He evens up the pace and falls in line next to you
  344. >”A-A-Are you mad at me?” He says, looking up at you
  345. >You slink past a pair of ugly looking punks by pressing yourself and Sam into the lockers
  346. >The colorful group of mammals — mostly hyenas and weasels — pass by without incident
  347. “No, just… you know that there’s people out there who want to hurt you, right?” You say
  348. >Okay maybe you’re a little upset
  349. >He was taking this whole thing too lightly, you feel
  350. >”S-Sorry,” he says pointing his eyes to the floor
  351. >Sudden pangs of guilt wash over you
  352. “I just want to keep you safe, is all.” 
  353. >You’re filled with determination
  354. >Your march is bold, proud, determined… Your face says “DON’T FUCK WITH ME OR MY BUNNY”
  355. >And nobody does
  356. >Not even when you pass Vanessa
  357. >She just stares after you from behind a black veil, her eyes sunken in from all the eyeliner and sleeplessness
  358. >Swallows of black coffee and cigarettes hold her body aloft 
  359. >She wouldn’t risk an attack in the open, would she?
  360. >Afterall, her two most important targets are right in front of he-
  361. >Ah
  362. >Mike joins you at your side
  363. >That’s why she hasn’t attacked yet
  364. >Mike look especially pissy today, his eyes simmering with the desire to belt someone in the face
  365. >And then Jenna falls in beside him, her head on a cautios swivel
  366. >She steers your walk down an even busier hall that leads out to the parking lot
  367. >Not the direction you’d take, but hey, you’re not going to complain
  368. >It’s fairly roundabout, but anything to keep the bun safe
  369. >Alex casually brings up the rear, his gaunt form looming over the group
  370. >”Same plan?” He says
  371. “Same plan,” you acknowledge, still glaring straight ahead
  372.  
  373. >When you get outside, you see that the parking lot is absolute chaos
  374. >Cars dart in every direction — almost as if they’re tyring to ram one another
  375. >But you’re not playing this game
  376. >Not even when an SUV nearly clips Mike
  377. >Your short, stocky friend, reaches out his hand…
  378. >…And scrapes into the SUV’s paint, peeling up the metal like he were a human can opener
  379. >Jesus Christ
  380. >That’s some real vampire shit
  381. >Mike only scowls as the driver lays on the horn and stomps on the brakes
  382. >”C’mon kiddies, everyone to Anon’s shit beater,” Mike says, casually strolling towards your car, paying the driver he just clawed no mind
  383. “Well fuck you too, buddy. You can walk,” you say sarcastically
  384. >”Bet I’d still beat you there.”
  385.  
  386. >You all pile into your car, just like this morning
  387. >The sun was already starting on its way down, shooting godrays across your dashboard
  388. “Anyone need the heat?” You say
  389. >Mike climbs up in the passenger seat
  390. >”Not when I’m here,” he jokes
  391. >hurrrr durrrr
  392. >But he might be right,
  393. >You look behind you, and everyone is crammed so closely together you can’t help but assume that they’re trading body heat
  394. >Alex is sitting in the center
  395. >Jenna and Sam are at his flank, looking incredibly uncomfortable
  396. >Especially Sam, whose pink nose is wrinkling in earnest
  397. >He probably smells something really strong, because his face is once again pulsing with a blush
  398. >Maybe Alex farted…
  399. >No, because Jenna is squinting at Sam, processing something wordlessly
  400. >You just remember you forgot to give Sam his medicine
  401. >Well, when you get to your house, you’ll remember
  402. >Because everything will be as it should be, and you’ll finally get some reprieve
  403.  
  404. >Everything is not as it should be
  405. >Ohhhh everything is far from that
  406. >Let’s start with your kicked in front door
  407. >It sits in two splinters, loosely suspended on its hinges
  408. >”It could be the wind,” Alex observes quite dumbly
  409. >No, it was not the wind
  410. >It was someone with huge, powerful legs
  411. >Or… something… 
  412. >Moving into the house, there’s more shit that’s fucked up
  413. >First off: everything is in disarray
  414. >Tables and chairs knocked over
  415. >Couches on their sides
  416. >Jesus Christ someone had to be really strong
  417. >Or really mad
  418. >To do this
  419. >The TV sports a massive hole in it that’ll cost you your non-existent college fund
  420. >The fridge is open and food is everywhere
  421. >And
  422. >You sprint to your room
  423. >It’s completely destroyed
  424. >Everything is upside down, smashed, or seemingly tossed against the wall
  425. >That includes your PC
  426. “Muh rig,” you whisper, staring down at the shattered and snapped silicone pieces
  427. >”I’m just going to assume you don’t normally live like this,” Jenna observes with suspicion, speaking low. “So it looks like someone knows where you live.”
  428. “Right,” you say, bending over a torn sleeping bag from the night that Alex and Sam slept in your house. “So, we’re sure as hell not staying here for until Friday. Take what we need — extra clothes, money, beer…” your eyes quickly sweep over Sam, who is sniffing at the air. “Soap…”
  429. >”Speaking of soap,” Jenna cuts in. “I want to shower.”
  430. >”Same,” Mike agrees
  431. >You’re dumbstruck
  432. “My house just got broken into and trashed and you want to shower… here… now?”
  433. >”It’s not like they’ll come back. They already broke in and didn’t find what they were looking for,” Jenna says, kicking at your tossed up bedsheets. “Besides, I have something I want to test.”
  434. “What did you want to test, if humans bathe with their tongues?” You fold your arms across your chest
  435. >Jenna blushes
  436. >”Oh fuck off… I just want to test something with Sam. You go get him to shower.”
  437. “Is this really urgent? Like, do we need to do this now?” You hiss
  438. >Mike is already stripping off his clothes
  439. >”You two have five seconds to get out of here before I’m naked
  440. >Jenna’s neck turns on a dime
  441. >Her blush only strengthens when she sees Mike’s half-naked body struggling to get out of a pair of jeans
  442. >Sam comes rolling in to the room with a Dr. Bepper in hand
  443. >”W-What’s going on in he-”
  444. >You shield his delicate little eyes from the sight of Mike’s stocky, shirtless body
  445. >Nobody deserves to see that
  446. >Jenna squeals and slaps Mike on the back
  447. >”God damnit, put your clothes back on until you get to the bathroom!” She cries
  448. >Mike lurches forward from the blow
  449. >”Jesus! Claws!” He wheezes. “Fucking snapjaw!”
  450. >You gasp
  451. >Sam gasps
  452. >Jenna snarls
  453. >”What did you just say?”
  454. >”I-” Mike struggles his shirt back on his head. “It just kind of slipped ou-”
  455. >Jenna growls deep in her chest and bares her fangs
  456. >”Go shower, Sapone, or I’m going to bite your dick off.”
  457. >”I’m going, Christ. Watch the claws next time!” He hobbles through the doorway, past Sam, his pants still barely on
  458.  
  459. >You lead Sam up to your shower, grabbing a towel from your room
  460. >He’s still slurping on his Dr. Bepper
  461. >”W-Where are we going?” He asks as you flick on hallway lights
  462. “Jenna thinks it’s best if everyone gets a shower in,” you grumble, clearly unhappy with the decision
  463. “It doesn’t look like whoever fucked up your house did anything to the bathrooms, strangely enough
  464. >Sam pales
  465. >”S-Shower?! I-I-I don’t need to s-shower or b-bathe with yo-”
  466. >Wew lad
  467. “Slow down there buddy, you and I aren’t showering together. You’re showering by yourself. And yes, you do need a fucking shower.”
  468. >Man, you’re awfully pissy
  469. >You run the water in your bathroom
  470. “There’s shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap,” you say, pointing to all the dark blue bottles lining the shower floor
  471. “Oh, and this is for you. You’ve been burning hot since this morning,” you practically throw the little pill at him
  472. >”W-What is this?” He squeaks
  473. “Just take it,” you sigh. “I’m going to go keep watch. You know how to use a shower, right?”
  474. >Damn
  475. >You’re REALLY pissy
  476. >The bunny nods, clearly hurt,
  477. >His greasy bangs fall across his eyes
  478. >You shut the door on him as the hiss of the shower starts up
  479. >You slide backwards with a tremendous sigh. “Fucccck,” you mutter as you lean into the door
  480. >You were hoping to be able to spend the rest of the week here, where there’s beds and bathrooms and showers
  481. >But now either Sam’s dad or the goths know where you live
  482. >They could have easily got your information from the school
  483. >Or followed you one day
  484. >Or
  485. >Bleh
  486. >It doesn’t matter
  487. >If your information is compromised, then so is everyone elses’
  488. >There’ll be no holing up at Jenna’s, Mike’s, or Alexi’s
  489. >Nope, just more nights at the fucking church
  490. >Jehsush Chroist
  491.  
  492. >You are Sam
  493. >Oh shit oh fuck oh fuck
  494. >It smells like Anonymous in here
  495. >Every breath you take coats your lungs in his scent
  496. >Your insides are starting to feel hot and confused, like balloons knotted together
  497. >The illustrious human musk — kind of sour, masculine, spicy, is your drug
  498. >You’ve been addicted to it ever since you met Anon
  499. >Or maybe it’s just him?
  500. >You run your hands through your long-ish hair
  501. >You are really, really greasy, and you do need a shower
  502. >But the whole room is spinning something awful
  503. >You quickly down the pill Anon gave you
  504. >Maybe you are getting sick?
  505. >Or…
  506. >Worse… You’re in your cycle
  507. >You gasp, but that only serves to put more of Anon in your lungs
  508. >Being in heat right now is absolutely not what you or anyone else needs
  509. >Christ, why are you such a burden to everyone?
  510. >Even Anon seemed pissed off at you
  511. >You jump 10 feet into the air when you hear a light rapping on the door
  512. >”Yo, dude, are you going to shower? Because I have to go after you,” Anon says, his voice tired and uninterested
  513. “Y-Yes!” You stammer, shucking your ratty hoodie and whipping it onto the sink
  514. >“Good,” Anon says with a flatness to his tone. “Just don’t clog the drain with fur.”
  515. >”R-Right!”
  516. >You tug on the waistband of your pants with hesitation
  517. >Your eyes flick over to the door
  518. >As quiet as a mouse (though they’re not that quiet, in actuality. One of your neighbors was a mouse and she was up all night ‘squeaking’ most night) you jiggle the knob and find that the lock holds
  519. >Unlike back home
  520. >But you’re not thinking of /that/ home. You don’t live there anymore.
  521. >You finally lose the pants
  522. >And there you stand, in the mirror, wearing a stained white undershirt and a pair of old boxers
  523. >Your meager breasts stand like little bumps against the thin white fabric of the sahirt
  524. >You delicately palm them and wonder why you even have them?
  525. >You’re still a woman, you know that much is true
  526. >You’re just not a good woman
  527. >You could never make Anon- Y-You mean, any man, happy
  528. >So why do you care so much?
  529. >The most feminine feature you posses, you think, is your hips and thighs
  530. >Because of your slender, delicate frame, your prominent haunches look simply ridiculous
  531. >Even as emaciated as you are, your thighs are rounded and powerful, nature-built for sprinting and kicking
  532. >Put all of this in one body and you’re like a badly cobbled together art project
  533. >Your proportions are all wrong
  534. >You lift your shirt just a little bit, blushing all the while
  535. >Here goes nothing
  536. >One a quick motion you jerk your shirt off, tugging it over your long ears
  537. >And there you stand, again
  538. >A brown Mini-Rex rabbit, wearing nothing but her boxers, blushing furiously
  539. >It must be the scent of Anonymous in here that’s throwing you off
  540. >You shake your head again to try and loosen your… urges…
  541. >But it’s no use
  542. >Maybe a shower will help?
  543.  
  544. >Building a curtain of steam, you take probably longer than you should under the rinse
  545. >But…
  546. >… You actually got to shower for the first time in a /long/ time, and that feels like heaven
  547. >You look into the fogged mirror, wiping aside a layer of mist with your paws
  548. >With your fur freshly scrubbed, hair shampooed and conditioned and laying in thick, wet stracnds across your face, you feel…
  549. >…Cute?
  550. >Pretty?
  551. >Oh god
  552. >Are you pretty?
  553. >No
  554. >This is just the heat talking
  555. >You’ve n-never been pretty
  556. >You’re just a dumb useless rabbit
  557. >Still
  558. >When you lean in closer, you can’t help but feel a gentle tinge of heat come into your cheeks
  559. >You drop your slender, rounded shoulders and summon a deep, misty breath
  560. >With unsure eyes, you scan over your body, lightly twisting your long, floppy ears that hang down like two useless snakes growing from your scalp
  561. >You let a wandering finger trace their pink insides before smoothing the fur out across your face
  562. >Your nose and whiskers wrinkle at your own gentle touch
  563. >You run your hand through your hair and push it back
  564. >It’ll dry soon
  565. >Now, it’s time for the real moment of truth
  566. >You close your eyes and slowly exhale a knot of nervous air
  567. >The towel drops in a damp pile around your feet
  568.  
  569. >You’ve done it
  570. >You’re totally naked
  571. >You haven’t been totally naked in…
  572. >… Well it’s been a long time
  573. >With appraising eyes and wandering fingers you scan over your still sodden body, its fur matted down with warmth
  574. >You have a thin, almost emaciated midsection that draws down from your upper torso
  575. >Dotting your chest are two pink nipples, suspended on your two palmable breasts, hanging softly above your quite visible ribcage
  576. >Your bones are delicate and fragile, almost hollow
  577. >Like a bird’s
  578. >You travel down further to where your waist pinches in
  579. >And then bows out again gently with noticeable exaggeration
  580. >Set back powerfully are your haunches, which meld into your rather apparent thighs
  581. >And between them…
  582. >You shiver as you brush a finger over your sensitive clit
  583. >… Is the pink slit of your sex
  584. >You’ve never known how to feel about this, since girls aren’t tough, and vaginas aren’t either…
  585. >… Is what you tell yourself
  586. >Jacob wanted you to be tough
  587. >Dad wanted you to be his son
  588. >But you couldn’t be either of those things
  589. >You don’t feel like a boy — you know you’re not
  590. >No matter how hard you try, you can’t make it happen
  591. >You can only pretend for Jacob’s memory and Dad’s approval
  592. >You’ve done it for so long that you hardly know your feminine side. But it’s there, lurking beneath your sensitive skin
  593. >And you don’t feel brave
  594. >You just feel like a weakling
  595. >So you pretend to be someone you’re not, so you can be strong
  596. >Just like Jacob would have wanted
  597.  
  598. >Still…
  599. >You give a quick spin
  600. >Your poofy tail flairs out, and you catch a quick glimpse of your naturally padded buttocks
  601. >Glutes from all the running and from what nature gave you
  602. >And that’s just how rabbits are built, you guess
  603. >Oh god
  604. >Your face flushes as you think back to the cheerleader who absolutely M O G G E D you in the hallways yesterday
  605. >D-Do you honestly compete with her?
  606. >Better question: do you think you do?
  607. >God, deep in your tiny, fluttery little heart, you hope so
  608. >But you’d never admit that
  609. >Nobody finds you attractive
  610. >Anon is just so nice to you since you’re his friend
  611. >Yeah
  612. >You’re friends
  613. >You don’t have feelings for him!
  614. >Even though being near him makes your heart start to race
  615. >And when you’re with him all the noise in your head just goes quiet
  616. >It’s like nothing else matters
  617. >He’s handsome, and kind, and brave, and you’re so glad he’s your…
  618. >… friend
  619. >Oh who the hell are you kidding
  620. >He’s you knight in shining armor, Jesus fucking Christ
  621.  
  622. >Your knight in shining armor bangs loudly on the door, sending you 10 feet into the air
  623. >”Yo Samuel. Sammy. Sammethy. You done in there?”
  624. “J-Just a minute!” You scramble to throw on your clothes
  625. >And you check one last time for hair in the drain
  626. >Thankfully, you managed to scoop all your loose trimmings into the trashcan
  627. >You don’t want to offend Anon
  628. >After all, he’s probably not used to having anthros in his house
  629. >You and Jenna need to set positive examples
  630. >You open the door and slip on out, fully clothed, but still damp
  631. >A trail of steam follows you
  632. >Anon looks up at you, his trailing his eyes from the red book suspended in his palms over to you
  633. >You nervously brush your hair out of your eyes
  634. “I-I’m done,” you say
  635. >For whatever reason you feel extra self-conscious, just standing there in the hallway, still wet, wearing some crusty old clothes
  636. >Anon studies you with interest before slapping the red book shut and loosening his tie
  637. >”Lookin’ sharp, kid. My turn.” Anon slides past you, and you just stand there like some kind of gawking idiot
  638. >“I promise I’ll be quick,” he says
  639. >The door slams with a *WHOMF* and the hiss of the shower can be heard not long after
  640. >You… You don’t know what to do now
  641. >You’ve always waited for someone to tell you what to do and where to go
  642. >Your eyes scan the hallways, lined with shattered family portraits
  643. >You bounce a little on your heels
  644. >What now?
  645. >Ah
  646. >Wait
  647. >Doesn’t Anonymous have a comic book collection?
  648. >Oh my fuck he does
  649. >You bound off down the hallway, using your nose to sniff out Anon’s room
  650. >Finding his is easy: It’s the one that smells the most like a mix of sweat, cologne and human musk
  651. >The smell hits you like a massive wave, and in an instant, you’re dizzy
  652. >You steady yourself on the doorframe
  653. >Your head swims through the musk, drawing your legs into a mechanical trot through the doors
  654. >Unwashed clothes are strewn about the floor like land mines of pheromones
  655. >Wew
  656. >You can hardly think straight
  657. >And it’s by sheer luck that you manage to wander over to Anon’s book shelves
  658. >You find the comics, but you’re barely reading
  659. >Mostly just sitting there with an open copy of Superman, rubbing your thighs together absentmindedly
  660. >It might be time to admit your heat is getting to you
  661. >…
  662. >Nah, you’ll be okay. You can control this
  663. >Anon casually strolls into the room wearing nothing but a towel
  664. >[Thigh rubbing intensifies]
  665. >You squeak loudly and shield your eyes with a copy of The Man of Steel
  666. >Anon jumps back
  667. >”Oh FUCK, dude!” His hands fly to his waist
  668. >He tightens the towel around his midsection
  669. >But your eyes still creep over the top of your hastily constructed visual barrier to catch a glimpse of his bare, hairless chest
  670. >”What are you doing in here?” He asks breathlessly
  671. >You can’t tell for sure, but is his face going scarlet?
  672. >You forget to answer
  673. >You’re just…
  674. >Staring
  675. >Possibly drooling
  676. >Anon snaps his fingers
  677. >”Yo, dude. I need to change. So just like… turn around or something.”
  678. “W-WHAT!?” You practically shriek
  679. >Anon looks at you with an expression of confusion
  680. >”I’m going to change. In my own room. Is that not okay with you?”
  681. “Y-You mean like you-your’re g-going to b-b-b-be naked?”
  682. >A moment of silence passes
  683. >Anon blinks a few times and droops his shoulders
  684. >”I mean… yes. I planned on it. I’m not wearing anything except this towel right now.” He pats his hip
  685. >You can’t help but watch the whole thing, eyes wide
  686. >come to think of it, you don’t think you’ve ever seen a naked human before
  687. >Sure you’ve seen shirtless humans (briefly), but never…
  688. >Oh god
  689. >Your heat is so fucking bad
  690. >This is bad
  691. >Anon, oblivious as fucking usual, turns around and starts grabbing underwear, socks and a pair of jeans from his drawers
  692. >”I-” you stand up, still shielding your eyes with a copy of superman
  693. >Just put down the comic
  694. >C’mon
  695. >His back muscles are probably so hot
  696. >Maybe the towel will slip off
  697. >And maybe he’ll turn around
  698. >And maybe he’ll say to you:
  699. >’Sam, I want to make sweet, gentle love to you.’
  700. >OH GOD WHAT IF HE DOES GET NAKED WITH YOU IN THE ROOM
  701. >HE STILL THINKS YOU'RE A BOY
  702. >You open your mouth to stammer out an apology, but the sound of heavy, damp fabric hitting the carpet makes your heart stop
  703. >He did it
  704. >He’s naked
  705. >”Turn around a sec,” Anon says quite casually
  706. >You oblige, absolutely GLOWING RED in the face
  707. >Quickly you drop the comic and start tugging painfully at your ears
  708. >Stupid
  709. >Stupid
  710. >Why did you think you could just WALTZ right into Anon’s musky room and start going through his shit?
  711. >Stupid
  712. >Well, he doesn’t seem to care too much, so maybe this isn’t entirely a fuck up on your behalf
  713. >Maybe he’s just really mad at you and he isn’t showing it
  714. >Oh god, he’s probably so mad
  715. >Well good going fucktard, you fucked up something else
  716. >Dad was right
  717. >Still clenching your ears, you (very stupidly and impulsively) turn around and begin to apologize profusely
  718. >…Which was the wrong move
  719. >Anonymous, bare-chested and in a pair of boxers, stands in front of you, one leg shoved down the length of his pants
  720. >Your eyes meet
  721. >And for a brief second, nobody moves
  722. >You’re pretty sure your heart stopped beating
  723. >Anon is glowing red, his mouth working like he’s trying to say something
  724. >You slut
  725. >”Sam?”
  726. “Y-Yes…?”
  727. >”Are you gay?”
  728. “…I g-guess not.”
  729. >Anon slips his other leg into his pants and hikes them up to his waist
  730. >He studies you
  731. >”…Because if you are, I won’t judge you.”
  732. >You don’t realize you’re breathing hot, sultry breaths
  733. >Or that you haven’t taken your eyes off of him
  734. >Or that you’re gently rubbing your thighs together
  735. “I…” you start to answer, but Anon interjects impatiently
  736. >”Would you… just… turn around, or something?”
  737. >…
  738. >Ah, right
  739. >You blink yourself back to reality
  740. >You turn to face Anon’s bookshelf in shame while Anonymous throws on the rest of his clothes
  741. >”Do you feel better?” He asks in a concerned tone
  742. >What?
  743. >NO! There’s a fire in your heart!
  744. >…A-And between your legs
  745. “Wh-What do you m-mean?” You ask, because you’re curious
  746. >”From the fever. You were burning up this morning. Thought I was going to have to pretend to be your dad and get you out of school or something.”
  747. “O-Oh.” You nervously dig your feet into the carpet
  748. >He thinks you have a fever
  749. >Can you imagine if he really knew the truth?
  750. >You clutch your ears tightly
  751. >He can never know
  752. >Nobody can ever know what a weak bitch you really are
  753. “Y-Yeah, I f-f-feel a lot b-bett-tter. T-Thanks for the m-medicine. B-Besides I-I don’t think I-I have an-any more s-s-sick days left.”
  754. >”Christ,” Anonymous says. “Did your dad keep you home a few days?”
  755. >You struggle to keep your eyes forward
  756. >All you want to do is turn around and drink in Anon’s unremarkable body
  757. >Sure, he’s not ripped
  758. >He’s just… average build, slightly tall
  759. >But to you, he’s your superhero
  760. >He’s your Man of Steel
  761. >Geeze, humans must take awhile to get dressed
  762. >”Sam?” Anon asks again
  763. “S-Sorry. I w-was t-thinking. Yeah I-I got sick f-for a week an-and some d-d-days I just ca-can’t go to sc-school. T-T-T-Too much g-going on a-a-at home.”
  764. >”With you and your dad? Where’s your mom in all of this? And your brother? You mentioned you had a brother, I think.”
  765. ”Mom is…” your eyes fall to the copy of Superman at your feet
  766. >Your courage seems to drain out through your toes
  767. >No
  768. >You’re brave, damnit
  769. >You promised Jacob you’d be brave and strong
  770. “…Gone. I d-don’t kn-know where s-she w-went. Dad said s-she ra-ran away because of me and Jake.”
  771. >Anon hums In thought
  772. >There’s a quick hiss as he applies a shot of cologne to his chest
  773. >The sweet, slightly bitter scent hits your nostrils instantly
  774. >It’s pleasant and sharp, and your nose seems addictied to it
  775. >”Jake… is that your brother?”
  776. ”Uh-huh.”
  777. >”Were you two tight?”
  778. “W-What?”
  779. >”Sorry. Were you two close?”
  780. >Your heart catches in your chest
  781. >Yes, you were close
  782. >But at times, you were distant
  783. >Jacob was your protector, your guardian angel
  784. >He tried to teach you how to be strong
  785. >How to defend yourself
  786. >Stand up for yourself and others
  787. >But he had too much of dad in him
  788. >Too much bitterness swallowed down like each hard pull on Dad’s bottles
  789. >Too much vitrol, spite, choking on it at times
  790. >He’d turn against you sometimes
  791. >Other times he was downright psychotic
  792. >But you knew it was always done out of a desire to make you tougher
  793. >Like an Indian Summer, he wouldn’t be around forever
  794. >And he must have known it, somewhere deep inside of him, where the whiskey rotted his guts
  795. >You only helped accelerate that
  796. >When you…
  797. >You know…
  798. >On the tracks-
  799. >”Dude!”
  800. >Anon drags your hands away from your ears, his heavy fingers ringing around your slender wrists
  801. >”You’re going to hurt yourself!”
  802. >Your eyes crack open
  803. >Anon has your hands forced against your sides before you even realize what you’re doing
  804. >For the first time in years, pain rings dully in your ears, like a pulsing heartbeat
  805. >”Christ almighty, kid. You scared me.”
  806. “S-Sorry,” you squeak helplessly. “I-I didn’t m-mean t-to do it. I j-just th-thought of my-”
  807. >”Brother?”
  808. >You nod
  809. >”You don’t have to talk about him if you don’t want to. I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was so hard for you.”
  810. >You squeeze your eyes shut again, and all you see is Jacob’s worn face, eyes sunken in and smoldering with anger, like Dad’s
  811. >He haunts the pinks of your eyes and the space behind your skull
  812. >The image of that day on the tracks comes rushing back to you, and your legs start to tremble
  813. >God DAMNIT! Jacob didn’t die so you could continue to be a coward!
  814. >You aren’t alone anymore! You have people that care about you
  815. >People that love you
  816. >The fact that you’re even in a friend’s house right now is proof of that
  817. >Your trembling subsides into little tremors that you press into the carpet
  818. >You suck in some of the cologne-y diffused air
  819. >Here goes nothing
  820. >Time to play all of your cards (except, obviously, your most important one)
  821. “M-My brother is d-d-d-d-dead,” you say, exhaling the tightness of your chest on the last syllables
  822. >Anon tightens his grip, as if anticipating another anxiety attack
  823. >You slacken the muscles in your shoulders and arms
  824. >Like some kind of scared animal injected with morphine, your tension stymies
  825. >”I had no idea. I’m sorry,” he says, after a silence that drags on for far too long
  826. >His grip comes loose as he feels you go soft
  827. >You inspect the scarlet rings pressed into your skin encircling your wrists
  828. >Nothing you can’t handle
  829. >Strange, this time it was done out of concern, and not out of rage
  830. “I-It’s okay. W-We were cl-close, b-but i-it was f-four years a-ago,” you breathe out, still not able to turn around and face Anonymous. “I-I need to g-g-get over i-it already.”
  831. >”Shit, right before you started high school?”
  832. “Y-Yeah. T-The summer before…”
  833. >You wait for another question, but only feel Anon shifting behind you
  834. >You feel two pairs of gentle, stiff arms slip around your scrawny midsection
  835. >Anon pulls you against him, into a hug
  836. >You can feel the rigidity of his whole body against yours
  837. >The sharp angles of a boy, the arc of his body bent over yours
  838. >The gentle fabric of his shirt
  839. >The coarseness of his jeans digging into your back
  840. >You take in a whiff of his cologne, his clean-smelling deodorant, his freshly scrubbed hair and skin
  841. >Your legs go weak, and you dissolve backwards into your friend
  842. >That’s right
  843. >You’re safe
  844. >He’s your friend
  845. >”You know?” Anon’s voice is deep and scratchy so close to your ears
  846. >You like the way it sends shivers up and down your body
  847. >Like little veins of electricity
  848. >You even like the feel of his chin digging into your shoulder flesh
  849. >You just like… him
  850. >”For all the shit you’ve gone through, you’re really strong.”
  851. >Your heart sinks in your chest
  852. ”I-I-I d-don’t th-”
  853. >”It’s true,” he says in a low, gentle voice, sending more electricity coursing through your nerves. “You’re one of the strongest people I know.”
  854. >How can he say that, after what your cowardice did — what it continues to do to people?
  855. >But you thank him meekly anyway, hoping he never lets go
  856.  
  857. >You are Anonymous
  858. >And there’s a trillion things you pretend not to notice, as you buckle your seatbelt
  859. >You pretend not to notice how wet from the shower everyone still is as they pile into your car
  860. >You pretend not to notice all the doe-eyes Sam is making at you as he buckles into the passenger seat
  861. >…Though you secretly like it
  862. >You pretended not to notice (or care) when Mike and Alex come out of your house with armload of beer and Dr. Beppers
  863. >You just want to go
  864. >Because you’re pretending not to notice the rusted sedan down the block
  865. >The one that’s been idling there for some time
  866. >”Everyone done pillaging my house?” You ask, sounding annoyed and slightly nervous. “Because I’d like to get a move on before Dracula over there bites my dick off.”
  867. >”C’mon baby, you know I’m good for it.” Mike massages the shoulders of your seat. “Besides, you know Comrade Alexi will give us a proletariat’s discount to get more.”
  868. >”I think I’m fired,” Alex says, quite unconcerned
  869. “Was it me?” You ask
  870. >Alex shrugs. “Nahhhhh I haven’t showed up in a couple of days.”
  871. >Mike’s smile is brighter than Jenna’s chance at making Valedictorian
  872. >”Awwww hell yeah man, I didn’t know you were on the schedule. Nice going.”
  873. >”Also when we rescued you, I may have attacked my boss.”
  874. >”Alex, I’d kiss you right now if it wouldn’t make Anon jealous,” Mike says
  875. >You sigh and pretend not to notice Mike’s bullshit as you put the car into gear
  876. >You do NOT have time for this
  877. >Nor the fortitude either
  878. >As you slip out of the neighborhood, that rusted sedan follows, but turns left when you go right
  879. >Must have just been someone lost
  880.  
  881. >Still…
  882. >As you drive you can’t help but see that rusted sedan everywhere as you sail down the main road and up the hill
  883. >It’s just never right behind you, at least for long
  884. >Always turning out of shopping centers and then breaking a hard right down unassuming neighborhoods, and then popping up again somehow
  885. >You roll into the church’s cracked lot, the sedan an even distance behind you
  886. >Everyone, carelessly, piles out of the car
  887. >The sedan pauses on the road running past the church
  888. >Alright something is going on
  889. >Something you really don’t like
  890. >Sam is fast asleep next to you as everyone else piles out
  891. >You nudge him with your elbow
  892. >His eyes delicately flutter open
  893. “Hey.” You lean over and whisper in his ear. “Stay down, okay? Don’t sit up. Not for any reason.”
  894. >He looks around impulsively, and then, meeting your eyes, nods
  895. >You lean back in your seat as well, keeping an eye on the crossroads that lead into the church
  896. >The rusted sedan rolls on by without interest
  897. >You try to make out who might driving, but the windows are so dark that it only just reflects back your shitheap vehicle like a fun house mirror
  898. >It only serves to make your car even more awful looking
  899. >Apparently uninterested, the rusted vehicle continues on down the road, and then down the hill, until it disappears and melds into the rest of traffic
  900. >At last, the car disappears in a cloud of dust down at the end of the road, tanking down the hill
  901. >You lean up fully and stretch your arms
  902. >Sam follows your lead
  903. >You swear you’ve seen that car once before, but you can’t place where
  904. >…
  905. >It’s not unlikely it was just trying to get to the opposite end of town while avoiding traffic
  906. >That’s what most of the cars who pass by the church are doing anyway
  907. >”W-What was that?” Sam asks
  908. >His seatbelt comes undone with a janky *click*
  909. >The belts are old and probably do more harm that good at this point
  910. “Probably nothing,” you admit. “I’m just being paranoid.”
  911. >And maybe you were
  912. >”O-Oh.” Sam looks around
  913. >His hair is feathery and soft looking when its washed
  914. >It falls across his face like a wispy spools of brown thread
  915. >If he didn’t look feminine before… BOI, now he does
  916. >He looks like he’s got something he wants to say as his mouth does that thing where it half-opens and half-closes, accented by little murmurs
  917. >”Th-Thanks for letting m-me s-s-s-shower and fo-for listening to m-me back there,” he says in his strongest voice.
  918. >Ah, straight to the point
  919. >He’s getting bolder
  920. >You like this new Sam
  921. >And liking him makes you smile
  922. “Don’t mention it,” you say as you undo your own seatbelt
  923. >It’s already starting to get cold in the car as the sun slopes downward in the western sky
  924. “C’mon, let’s get inside,” you say, popping open your door
  925.  
  926. >Mike is waiting patiently on concrete steps to the church
  927. “You gonna crash in my car again?” You ask, fully ready to launch the keys at him
  928. >He nurses a beer
  929. >One of your dad’s beers, you might add
  930. >Ah well, everything is fucked anyway. Dad’ll understand.
  931. >”Sam?” Mike jerks his chin up at the rabbit. “Can you go wait inside with Jenna and Alex? There’s something I want to talk to Anon about.”
  932. >Sam looks up at you, as if seeking approval
  933. >You nod and flash a quick smile
  934. “They don’t bite,” you assure him. This seems to do the trick, as the rabbit hesitantly leaves your side and makes for the back of the church
  935. >You and Mike watch him disappear into the dark
  936. >”He’s got it bad for you, dude.”
  937. >You sigh deeply
  938. “That’s what everyone keeps saying, but Sam tells me he’s not gay. I don’t know what to make of it.”
  939. >There’s a long pause
  940. >And then the sound of a train rolling by down the steep hill punctures the night and presses little earthquakes into the dirt
  941. >”Well, look. We’re not here to discuss Sam’s sexuality — or yours either.”
  942. >You flip him off, but his reaction is steady and cold, never taking his eyes off you
  943. >”I’m just wondering if I need to stay at home. Sit this out.”
  944. “What? Mike Sapone does not sit things out. Whatever happened to breaking every finger on th-”
  945. >”Do you think we’re safe here?” He interjects “And I mean, do you think that whoever or whatever fucked your house up… knows where the rest of us live?”
  946. >You shrug
  947. “I suppose it’s possible, if they found my house. That information is at the school anyway.”
  948. >Mike sucks on his beer. The top of the bottle comes loose from his lips with a hollow *piff*
  949. >”Do you see what I’m getting at now? Shit… If they hurt my bitch of a sister, I…”
  950. >He squeezes the bottle
  951. >It explodes in a shower of amber glass as it pops like a cheap balloon in his vampiric grasp
  952. >”Shit,” he says without urgency, watching shards fall from his loose grip
  953. “Happen a lot?”
  954. >”More than you’d think. I’ll get another one later.”
  955. >He sighs and levels his gaze out at the car and at the crossroads
  956. >C’mon Anonymous. Say something…
  957. >…Helpful
  958. “I wouldn’t worry about it. If they’re not attacking us in the hallways — or if Sam’s dad isn’t seen running around the school — then it’s safe to say they won’t go after us so boldly. My house was ideal because nobody was there.”
  959. >Mike leans back on his palms
  960. >”You think they were looking for something?”
  961. “…Or someone…” you add, and you know Mike knows who you’re talking about
  962. >Sam’s insane father
  963. >Don’t want to rule out any possibilities
  964. >”Fucking hell,” Mike runs a hand through his freshly scrubbed hair. “You know Thumper is a liability to us now, right?”
  965. >Liability
  966. >The word makes him seem like he’s a burden to you and the entire group
  967. >But he’s not
  968. >Sam is more than just dead weight to you
  969. >You wince at the utterance of the word, but keep your composure
  970. “It really doesn’t matter whether or not someone is looking for him. In fact, this is the best case scenario,” you reason. “If he wasn’t here, he’d be with his shit head father, or captured by Vanessa and her merry gang of retards.”
  971. >Mike snorts with laughter
  972. >”God, they are fucking cringe, aren’t they? Like, it’s 2019 — who the fuck is still a goth?”
  973. “Talking a lot of shit for someone who is literally a vampire,” you shrug
  974. >”Ah, right.” Mike examines his pale flesh
  975. >In the dusk you can better appreciate the way his eyes shimmer with a predatory glow
  976. >”I think I’m getting hungry,” he says at last
  977. >You take a cautious step backwards
  978. >”Relax, fagtron. I’m not going to attack you. But I do need to figure this out.”
  979. >Still, he might… eventually
  980. “What if we got some good, bloody beef or something? There’s a butcher at the Shop N’ Save.”
  981. >Mike deflates at the mention of the store
  982. >”Can’t really go back there. I think it might be a little unsafe for me.”
  983. >Christ
  984. >Where can you go?
  985. “Well, what if I went? Not tonight, but maybe tomorrow or Friday?” How long do you think you can hold out for?”
  986. >”Long enough,” Mike stands up, his shoes scraping against the concrete
  987. >He stretches out wide
  988. >”I’m not helpless. If I need to, I’ll make a ‘shopping trip’ down to the town.”
  989. “If you could avoid spawning new vampires, that’d be awesome,” you say, folding your arms across your chest
  990. >”Fine, fine. But let’s speed this along. You know Mikey ain’t patient. Now…” he holds his open palm out and clears his throat. “If I could PLEASE have your keys, that’d be great. Guess I’m spending another night here.”
  991. >You fish your keys from your pocket and drop them in his waiting hands
  992. >”Thanks man. Beats sleeping in the gutter.”
  993. “No less than you deserve,” you add with a half-chuckle
  994. >He shoots you some dismissive finger guns and starts walking over to your car
  995. “Hey, wait. One more thing,” you call to him
  996. >Mike doesn’t bother turning around to address you
  997. >”Want a goodnight kiss?”
  998. “You’re… you’re with us, right? Like until the end?”
  999. >This time he does turn around
  1000. >He looks at you, a fire glowing behind his eyes
  1001. >”Until the very end, fagtron. They took my future from me. The least I can do is make them pay for it.”
  1002. >You stand frozen on the steps as Mike stares daggers at you — but you know it’s not meant for you
  1003. >He turns back around
  1004. >”Goodnight.”
  1005.  
  1006. >Inside the church Alex and Jenna are asleep on the floor instead of on the rickety pews
  1007. >Sam is curled up in a tight little bun-ball on the carpet
  1008. >Aside from Alex snoring, the church is dead silent
  1009. >Sam looks so peaceful the way his nose wrinkles and his chest delicately rises and falls as he obeys the gravity of sleep
  1010. >You can’t fight back a weak smile
  1011. >It’s good to see him at peace, see his face without tension or worry
  1012. >A train snores by in the night
  1013. >It’s so close that you can feel it rumbling underneath the floors
  1014. >You can imagine the holy water basin at the front entrance of the church is trembling
  1015. >Sam’s face tenses up and lines appear in his forehead
  1016. >His legs start kicking softly — almost as if he were twitching, or running from something
  1017. >You lay down next to him to try and get him to stop…
  1018. >…You tell yourself
  1019. >His body tenses up in his light doze
  1020. >As gingerly as you can, you pull him close to you and feel him tremble against your chest
  1021. >You feel helpless, just watching him have an anxiety attack in his sleep
  1022. >God, it’s no fucking wonder he’s so anxious
  1023. >His dad is insane
  1024. >He lives in squalor
  1025. >His brother is dead
  1026. >His mom is gone
  1027. >He’s never had any friends
  1028. >Until he met you
  1029. >You’re sorry for how you treated him up until now
  1030. >He didn’t deserve it
  1031. >Your eyes feel heavy as buckets of water
  1032. >Even though the carpet is uncomfortable, just holding Sam like this and feeling him safe is a greater comfort than any bed
  1033. >And the train rolls on in the night
  1034.  
  1035. >”Unwanted.”
  1036. >The words fall from your father’s lips like they were 20 tons apiece
  1037. >His face is stern and hard; carved out of granite and limestone, weathered by whiskey
  1038. >”And that’s all she’ll ever be. A burden. Hold her arm out,” he commands
  1039. >Jacob is still
  1040. >You tremble all over, fear tracing cold fingers up and down your spine
  1041. >Tears swell up in your eyes, but you can’t look away from Dad’s hard stare
  1042. >Be strong
  1043. >Be brave
  1044. >Your brother puts his hand on your shoulder while Dad sucks on his cigarette
  1045. >Smoke tendrils — midnight black — wisp up into a cloudless sky and evaporate into the sunlight
  1046. >”No,” Jacob says, his voice clipping hard in his throat
  1047. >He’s nervous, standing besides the car, parked at the rail yard
  1048. >”You don’t need to hurt us. We learned our lesson already,” Jacob says
  1049. >You look up into your brother’s bruised face
  1050. >His jaw is set hard and stern — just like Dad’s
  1051. >His eyes burn with heat and anger
  1052. >And despite the fear and trembling in his words, he’s still Jacob
  1053. >He’s still his father’s son
  1054. >”What’s the matter with you?” Dad rises to his full height, standing at eye-level with Jacob. His ears stick straight up like pillars. “You were always a good boy, not like this runt here.” He motions to you with a half-assed shrug of his shoulders. "First I catch you two with my gun…” he lifts his greasy work shirt up a little to reveal the pistol tucked in his waistband “…and then I catch you two trying to run away?”
  1055. >Dad jerks his chin to a pile of old clothes, two backpacks, and a gleaming aluminum baseball bat sitting besides his rusted sedan
  1056. >”You got something to prove?” He asks giving Jacob a hard look
  1057. >Your brother doesn’t answer
  1058. >Dad scowls harder, his lower lip trembling as rage boils and churns in his guts
  1059. >”You think you’re some kind of man?” He asks again
  1060. >Your mind is cast back to the last time — in the kitchen — when Jacob said he ‘was a man’
  1061. >The blow your father dealt him still makes your heart skip
  1062. >After silence, Dad bends down to your pathetic height, curving his knarled spine
  1063. >You’re just 14, Jacob 20, and even for a girl, you’re small, thin and delicate
  1064. >You’re trying to be strong, but you can’t help the tears
  1065. >Dad’s expression is cold
  1066. >His dead eyes look directly through you
  1067. >”Roll up your sleeves. Hold out your arm.”
  1068. >Jacob grips your shoulder tight
  1069. >You know what’s coming next
  1070. >Dad holds the cigarette lighter from his car up to you so you can see
  1071. >Its coils glow angry and red with trapped heat
  1072. >”Dad,” Jacob starts, looking down at you. “Don’t. She didn’t do anything wrong. I was the one who came up with the idea to run away. I made her do it. If you have to punish anyone…”
  1073. >Jacob’s courage falters as he looks down at the hot lighter, still bright orange
  1074. >”Punish me. Not her,” he says with a hard swallow
  1075. >Dad squats down and roughly grabs your thin arm with a fierce scowl, still chewing on the end of his ciggarette
  1076. >He rakes back your sleeve, exposing your thin, brown fur
  1077. >”Don’t worry,” he says. “You’ll get yours. You two wanna act so brave? Thinkin’ you two can just run off?”
  1078. >You’re shaking something awful
  1079. >Jacob’s hands dig into your flesh
  1080. >You try to focus on his presence and not your dad ringing his heavy hand around your delicate wrist
  1081. >”All you’ll ever be is a burden,” Dad says to you
  1082. >”Be strong,” Jacob says in a whisper
  1083. >Your eyes slam shut
  1084. >You jerk your head to the side and grit your teeth
  1085. >Dad slams the lighter onto your arm, just below your shoulder
  1086. >The pain hits you like a fucking train, searing into your fur and then your tender flesh
  1087. >You can hardly hold back a scream
  1088. >Your heavy feet stamp into the dirt as dad lazily twists the lighter against your fur
  1089. >The scent of gravel
  1090. >Of dust
  1091. >Cigarette smoke
  1092. >Of burning fur
  1093. >You suck these in deeply and let them pollute your young lungs
  1094. >You want the cancer
  1095. >Anything to produce an absence in you
  1096. >Void the soul
  1097. >Cash the check
  1098. >How do you disappear completely?
  1099. >What would Samurai Outlaw do right now?
  1100. >Dad’s grip on you tightens and an anguished scream rakes itself out of your chest
  1101. >Samurai Outlaw would fight back
  1102. >Your brother’s baseball bat
  1103. >You could make a break for it
  1104. >You could… stand up for yourself
  1105. >For Jacob
  1106. >Move it
  1107. >Move your FUCKING FEET
  1108. >Fuck
  1109. >Your arm is starting to feel numb as the pain resides
  1110. >Dad releases his vice grip on you
  1111. >When your eyes unglue, you hesitantly look down at your arm
  1112. >There’s a ring of singed fur where the lighter was pressed against your tender flesh
  1113. >Beneath that your pale skin is bright red and oozing blood and pus
  1114. >It looks boiled over and ugly
  1115. >You try delicately touching it, but draw your hand away when even the slightest probing sends shockwaves of agony through your body
  1116. >”Your turn,” Dad says between his smoke
  1117. >He grabs Jacob’s arm and shoves his sleeve upwards
  1118. >”We’re not done — not yet.”
  1119. >A train whistle sounds over head
  1120.  
  1121. >You stand on railroad ties, facing the tunnel as if it were the barrel of a loaded gun
  1122. >”When I was your age, my father used to take me out to the tracks and make me dodge trains until I could barely move.” Your Dad takes a long swig out of his bottle
  1123. >Jacob stand off to the side, watching you with nervous eyes
  1124. >”And I know you two been out here. I know all kinds of shit you two been up to. Jacob been bringin’ you out here so he can jump ties, just like his old man. But not like you.”
  1125. >He spits into the dirt and mashes it with his heels
  1126. >”You ain’t blood.”
  1127. >You stare straight ahead as a train whistle shrieks in the tunnel
  1128. >An advancing light begins to burn in the fathoms of darkness
  1129. >The sun on your fur glazes you in a nervous sweat
  1130. “I-I’m sorry!” You cry
  1131. >You’re a coward
  1132. >The worst kind
  1133. >Without your brother you’re not even a coward
  1134. >You’re nothing
  1135. >A train horn drowns out your pleading
  1136. >Dad can only laugh in sharp fits
  1137. >”Everyone’s always sorry but nobody wants to own up to it.” He takes another heavy pull on the bottle. “Now, I want a good clean dodge. No bullshit. No jumping too soon. You may be a bitch but I ain’t raise no cowards.”
  1138. >Jacobs voice reaches your ears
  1139. >”You’re not a coward, Sam. C’mon, just like we practiced. One good jump. Then I go. And then we go home. Okay? Just a good dodge.”
  1140. >You can hear the hurt and worry in his voice
  1141. >This isn’t like those other times
  1142. >This is under the eyes of that bastard father.
  1143. >When you look over, he’s standing next to Dad, his mouth set in a hard, determined line, as if to say ‘I know you can do this.’
  1144. >You can feel the ground start to tremble as the train presses little earthquakes into the tracks
  1145. >It’s getting closer
  1146. >That small bulb of light is now stretching its limbs
  1147. >Growing like a beam of sunshine shot through the darkness
  1148. >The horn blares
  1149. >The train rolls on
  1150. >Surely the conductor must see you standing there?
  1151. >What does it matter? It’ll take miles to stop
  1152. >Vomit rises in your throat and you start to choke
  1153. >You’re a coward
  1154. >A gut-puking coward
  1155. >The horn shrieks again
  1156. >You force the vomit back down into your gut
  1157. >You can’t move
  1158. >Oh fuck
  1159. >You can’t…
  1160. >…Can’t even think straight
  1161. >The train blows out of the tunnel in a hurricane of steel
  1162. >It’s barreling forward
  1163. >”GET READY!” Your brother calls
  1164. >You can barely hear him
  1165. >Or the train
  1166. >You can’t even feel the ground shaking anymore
  1167. >All you feel is that rush taking over your head
  1168. >Blood pulsing in your temples
  1169. >Heart racing in the thin cage of your chest
  1170. >Knees knocking one another
  1171. >And always the train racing against the tracks
  1172. >Draining fuel, chugging thick tendrils of black smoke
  1173. >Unstoppable…
  1174. >And the warm blood rush
  1175. >And your brother shouting “JUMP!”
  1176. >”JUMP!”
  1177. >JUMP!
  1178. >You feel the heat burning off its front, hear the ear-shattering blare of its horn, see the worried face of the conductor
  1179. >Its horn shrieks one last time
  1180. >Everything goes quiet
  1181. >And… You want it to hit you
  1182. >You want that oblivion
  1183. >J U M P
  1184. >With your eyes shut tight, you pretend you’re Samurai Outlaw
  1185. >And this is your tragic end at the hands of a diabolical villain
  1186. >But you’re too scared to even die, aren’t you?
  1187. >Too much of a coward to let this train hit you
  1188. >And yet, you can’t move
  1189. >”MOVE!”
  1190. >Unwilling in life to stand up for yourself
  1191. >Unwilling in death to die
  1192. >You’ll exist in a temporary stasis
  1193. >Just a few simple feet of track between you and oblivion while the train bolts forward, so close it begins sucking air from your lungs
  1194.  
  1195. >”SAM!”
  1196. >Jacob leaps…
  1197. >…Throws his full, protective weight at you…
  1198. >…Lunges forward, onto the tracks…
  1199. >…Knocking you to the other side…
  1200. >…Sending you crashing into the dirt
  1201. >Your father starts forward, and for the very first time in your entire fucking life, he looks scared
  1202. >Jacob sits up on the tracks
  1203. >His amber eyes meet yours with the most worried kindness you’ve ever seen
  1204. >And all you can see is relief spreading across his face, for just a fraction of a second
  1205. >His mouth starts working to say something, forming shapes and letters and syllables borne out of love
  1206. >And, as if he was never there to begin with, Jacob is gone in a storm of steel
  1207. >The train rolls on
  1208.  
  1209. >The cops ruled it as a suicide
  1210. >But you know it wasn’t
  1211. >When the nice human investigators came to your house, you followed along with what Dad told them
  1212. >”W-W-We tried t-t-to stop h-h-him,” you stammered, leg pounding anxiously into the air as you sit at the kitchen table
  1213. >You’ve never been tall enough to reach the floor
  1214. >You tried not looking them in the eyes. Somehow, you thought, they’d know it was you that killed him
  1215. >You washed up
  1216. >You brushed your fur
  1217. >You put on some of Jacob’s clean clothes (they smelled like him; they made you feel like he was still here to protect you)
  1218. >Had to look presentable for the officers, after all
  1219. >You tried talking loudly but your voice only came out in squeaks
  1220. >And in the back of your mind, sitting at the freshly cleaned table, you can only hear one word on repeat, over and over again, a nauseating carousel of unbridled and unkempt self-hatred: “murderer”
  1221. >”We’re deeply sorry for your loss,” the investigators say, almost in unison
  1222. >But it’s not that scripted, forced kind of sympathy either. They exude kindness
  1223. >One of them claps you softly on the shoulder, his deep blue eyes meeting yours
  1224. >Those eyes are drunk on starlight and concern, half closed, as if pressed down by the investigator’s heavy, troubled brow
  1225. >”Listen, if you ever feel like you need to talk to someone…” the friendly investigator produces a pamphlet from his back pocket “…Just call the number down here.” He points to a long telephone number with his pen
  1226. >You take the pamphlet from him with trembling little hands and look it over
  1227. >It seems to be about loss and grief
  1228. >The number is for a free counselor
  1229. >”The state offers resources to families like yours.”
  1230. >Your dad’s eyes are hard and set forward on the other officer, who seems to be regarding the kitchen with a modicum of disgust
  1231. >”So you’re saying he didn’t leave a note?” The other officer asks, curious
  1232. >”Nope, no note,” Dad returns in a calm breath. “Just up and got himself killed on those tracks”
  1233. >Jotting quick notes, the officer continues his assessment of your kitchen
  1234. >”How about his mother?” He holds an expectant breath as he meets Dad’s gaze
  1235. >”She’s gone,” Dad says sharp enough to cut the officer’s throat. “She was a cheat. Up and left. That’s all that happened.”
  1236. >The officer nods and mutters something to his partner, still scribbling notes with a free hand
  1237. >Dad’s eyes flick to the open notepad
  1238. >A scowl contorts his features. ”What, don’t you believe me? My own son is dead and you’re— you’re-”
  1239. >”Standard procedure. I just need to document all of this for my report, Mr. Garlen.” He jots a sentence shut and stares with disdain back at Dad
  1240. >Dad nudges you with his feet
  1241. >You understand his language
  1242. >The unspoken gestures
  1243. >All the language he makes out of violence
  1244. >He wants you to say something
  1245. “J-J-Jacob was a-a-always talking about… it… but I n-n-never thought he’d a-a-actually g-go through with… it…”
  1246. >God, you liar
  1247. >You’re worse than Dad
  1248. >You know you got your brother killed
  1249. >Dad knows
  1250. >You just want to hop up on the table and scream from the heavens ‘YES! I WAS THE ONE WHO GOT JAKE KILLED! IT WAS ME!’
  1251. >But you shrink further into your brother’s old hoodie without saying a damn fucking word
  1252. >The other, kinder officer, nods in approval. “Jesus, nobody should have to go through this. Nobody.” He rises from his seat. “Got everything, Clemens?”
  1253. >’Clemens’ follows suit
  1254. >”Yeah, I think that should do it.” His eyes sweep the kitchen one last time.
  1255. >They linger on Dad, and his mouth falls open, almost as if he’s about to say something
  1256. >Then his eyes flick over to you, shrunken in your seat, feeling like the smallest thing in the world
  1257. >He levels his pen towards you
  1258. >”Actually… Samantha? Can I speak with you in private?” He says
  1259. >Dad raises an eyebrow
  1260. >”What for?” He huffs
  1261. >Whatever semblance of pleasantness he put on was slipping down his face in the form of sweat
  1262. >The officer gives Dad a hard stare
  1263. >”I just want to speak to her.” He turns back to you and smiles sympathetically. “Is that alright?”
  1264. >…
  1265. >This might be your chance
  1266. >You could tell this officer everything
  1267. >All the years of neglect and abuse
  1268. >All the endangerment
  1269. >The scars and welts on your body and arms
  1270. >You could get out of here
  1271. >But you’d be getting out alone, wouldn’t you?
  1272. >No Jacob anymore
  1273. >Not after you killed him
  1274. >You don’t deserve anything
  1275. >Somewhere, deep inside, you fight down the urge to go back to the tracks yourself and hurl yourself in front of a train
  1276. >If only you weren’t such a goddamn coward
  1277. >Like the bug that you are, your eyes flick towards Dad
  1278. >His ashen face is cold with hatred
  1279. >You know exactly what he’s trying to say, all without ever having to utter a single word
  1280. >’Don’t make it worse for yourself’
  1281. >You look back at the officer, who waits expectantly
  1282. ”N-N-N-No. I-I don’t t-t-think I can t-t-talk a-anymore about thi-this,” you say, throwing your face to the side to try to hide the lie in your eyes
  1283. >The officer frowns a bit, and then bites down on his bottom lip a bit
  1284. >”Well, if you ever want to talk to us, you have our card. And if you ever need to… talk… to someone, just call the number on the back of that pamphlet. Okay?”
  1285. >You can’t even look him in the eyes
  1286. “O-Okay.”
  1287. >The two officers turn and thank your dad
  1288. >”And again, we’re deeply sorry for your loss,” ‘Clemens’ says, before tipping his hat and heading out the front door
  1289. >It bangs shut, leaving only you and Dad in silence
  1290.  
  1291. >Dad watches as their car rolls on down the block and disappears around the corner where the streets have no name
  1292. >He turns to you, and you can see the fire in his eyes
  1293. >You push back from the table, the chair squealing in protest
  1294. >”Don’t you run, boy,” Dad says. “Not this time. Not this time.”
  1295. >’Boy’?
  1296. >”That’s right, ‘boy’, because you’re going to pay back what you stole from me.” His voice begins to break in a slurred staccato. “You’re going to give me my son back, you bitch.”
  1297. >And for once in your life, you can see tears welling in your father’s sunken, bloodshot eyes
  1298. >They saturate his unwashed fur and burn a path down his cheeks
  1299. >You can’t be Jacob
  1300. >Jacob was too much like Dad
  1301. >And you’re nothing like that. But you can use what Jacob learned. You can be tough and strong and brave
  1302. >You think
  1303. >Dad advances forward
  1304. >”You bastard son of a bitch,” he says
  1305. >You try to stand at your full height and puff out your meager chest
  1306. >”And you ain’t even my kin,” he sobs loudly
  1307. >He enters the kitchen and pushes the table aside
  1308. >”Well, you smarmy cunt. One day you’re going to pay back what you owe. You’re going to pay me back-” his voice breaks. “-One way or another.”
  1309. >Your eyes shut tight and you tremble, still trying to hold yourself as tall as your brother once was
  1310. >But you’re not him
  1311. >You’re not brave or strong or fierce like Jacob
  1312. >You’re Samantha- no, SAM Garlen
  1313. >You’re weak, spineless, and you deserve everything that’s coming to you
  1314. “I-I’m sorry,” you whisper, though you don’t think Dad can hear you through the cloud of rage
  1315. >Your fingers reflexively clench onto the pamphlet the cops gave to you like it was some kind of life raft in a terrible storm
  1316. >And then the pain comes
  1317.  
  1318. >The weak light of Thursday, October 30th, pins warm pink tones to your inner eyelids
  1319. >You had just strayed into a waking dream, trapped in that purgatory between the full gravity of sleep and waking lucidity
  1320. >In truth, you hadn’t slept well
  1321. >Anxiety drove its barbs into you
  1322. >Earlier in the week it was one distraction after the other
  1323. >And this whole business happening on Friday night never felt real
  1324. >It felt like college — some kind of concept people whispered about while staring at the city from a high school rooftop — not an actuality that was approaching
  1325. >Like a storm on the horizon
  1326. >But now the sky is swollen and ready to empty its fury
  1327. >Friday was one day away from rearing its bald fucking head at you
  1328. >You had:
  1329. >The Behemoth
  1330. >The goths
  1331. >Sam’s Dad
  1332. >All out hunting for you right now
  1333. >All gearing up for Friday night
  1334. >And what did you have?
  1335. >A shopping cart full of garlic and squirt guns
  1336. >Oh, and Sam’s baseball bat in your trunk
  1337. >Speaking of Sam, the bunny is stirring in his sleep, murmuring half-sentences and clenching his body tight
  1338. >Your heart really does go out to the kid
  1339. >He’s really had a rough go of it, and all he wanted was to have one actual Halloween 
  1340. >You guess you’ve taken holidays for granted, because they’re, in a way, a symptom of a healthy and happy home life
  1341. >All this dumb bunny wanted was to have a little bit of what everyone else gets
  1342. >And now you’ve involved him in some weird cult and put his life in danger
  1343. >You  clutch your head as you feel a wave of guilt come over you, pounding in your temples like railroad spikes
  1344. >Dear God
  1345. >What have you done?
  1346. >All he wanted was one crummy dance with you
  1347. >YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT SCHOOL OR THIS SHIT, WOULD IT REALLY HAVE BEEN THE WORST THING TO SPEND ONE. FUCKING. NIGHT. WITH. HIM? 
  1348.  
  1349. >Before you can tear any further into yourself, Sam sits up and rubs sleep from his eyes, belting out a yawn
  1350. >You quickly scoot a heterosexual distance away from him
  1351. >He doesn’t seem to notice as he blinks himself awake
  1352. >”M-Morning,” he says, as if in a daze
  1353. >He might have slept, but it doesn’t appear to have been all that restful
  1354. >Bad dreams, maybe
  1355. >”Morning,” you say, making no effort to keep your voice low
  1356. >You check the time on your phone
  1357. >Plenty of time to kill before school
  1358. >Alex is still sawing logs, so you decide to let him peacefully sleep
  1359. >It’s the least you could do for your comrade after he rescued Mike
  1360. >Ah, and speaking of-
  1361. >Your gaze sweeps the church pews
  1362. >Jenna is weirdly absent
  1363. >You check the bathrooms (even the boy’s room) and she’s still missing
  1364. >Shit
  1365. >Did she ditch you guys in the middle of the night?
  1366. >…Would you blame her?
  1367. >You mean, you can understand the betrayal
  1368. >She’s involved now and had no good reason to be, other than wanting to save Mike
  1369. >Not like he needs saving anyway
  1370. >He’s not helpless anymore now that he’s partially given up on his future
  1371. >He’s drunk on that dumb, reckless nihilism that tends to infect people bereft of their hope and means of escape
  1372.  
  1373. >You and Sam slip out through the fire exit ‘round the back of the church
  1374. >Your lungs tingle as you fill them with frosted air
  1375. >You stand outside the church and watch as your your breaths disappear into thin clouds of vapor
  1376. >Sam makes like he’s blowing on a cigarette and pushes a steady knot of warm out from his chest
  1377. >You both watch it ascend and join back up with the clouds
  1378. >He looks up at you, giggling a little
  1379. >You smile despite the chill
  1380. >Wrapping your arms around your midsection and shivering in your thin fucking baseball t-shirt (good choice, idiot), you pace towards your car (parked like you’d gotten three margarita’s deep behind the wheel last night)
  1381. >You get about halfway across the parking lot when the sight of a busy fox-tail sticking out of the rear driver side door grinds your legs to a frosty halt
  1382. >Wat
  1383. >You hear Mike’s husky voice echo: “Hold it still, you’re getting it all over the upholstery.”
  1384. >Jenna replies: “I’m trying, but you’re shaking. Just… okay, hold on. How about now?”
  1385. >You don’t know why you did this, but you assume a crouched stance, evenly distributing your weight across your body
  1386. >Stealthy, like a fox (just not Jenna)
  1387. >”A-Anon-” Sam calls after you
  1388. >You hush Sam with a finger against his lips
  1389. >Jenna’s ears twist in your direction like a pair of antennas honing in on a signal
  1390. >Her tail, ordinarily swishing back and forth, freezes up, standing stiff and alert
  1391. >”Someone there?” Mike asks from inside the vehicle
  1392. >God knows what the fuck they’re doing inside the car
  1393. >YOUR CAR
  1394. >Jenna slides herself out of the car very slowly, her back facing you, fingers wrapped around her left wrist, as if she were pressing upon a wound
  1395. >You can guess her back is turned because she’s blushing
  1396. >Do vixens blush beneath the orange fur?
  1397.  
  1398. >She’s still wearing the same green sweater and pale blue jeans, but with her tail plastered between her legs, she looks more like a kid who just got caught looking at her christmas presents too early
  1399. >”Anon?” She says, slowly, her voice trembling, stumbling and striving for the courage to say-
  1400. “It’s not what it looks like?” You offer
  1401. >Mike slides easily out of the vehicle
  1402. >He wipes his palm across his mouth, and then onto his pants
  1403. >He evasively turns his head to the side and peers into the car?
  1404. >Why do they both look so guilt-
  1405. >”A-Are you okay?” Sam lurches forward. “Y-You’re b-bleeding…” he says in a low voice
  1406. >He weakly aims a finger at Jenna
  1407. >She still doesn’t turn around
  1408. >The vixen tries hiding her left wrist behind her body
  1409. >”I’m fine,” she blurts, her posture stiffening up to its full, pathetic height. “J-Just go back inside. Nothing to see here-”
  1410. >Bleeding?
  1411. >IN YOUR CA-
  1412. >Oh, bleeding
  1413. >You’re not a total idiot
  1414. >You look towards Mike in disgust
  1415. >Mike shrugs, still not meeting your gaze
  1416. >”She offered, I was hungry. I don’t see the problem,” he says, sounding almost embarrassed
  1417. “Oh fuck.” You take a small step backwards. “Does this mean you bit her? You sucked her blood? Is she going to turn into-”
  1418. >”Eww!” Jenna spins around, fury printed onto her features (and a touch of blush). She clutches her left wrist, but you can still see the blood seeping through the cracks between her claws
  1419. >”He didn’t /bite me/. I cut my wrist and… and…” her blush only reddens, like hot coals whose smolder had been stoked with gasoline
  1420. >Mike sticks his tongue out and points to it
  1421. >Ah, that makes some sense
  1422. >He… licked her arm
  1423. >Which is disgusting, but logical
  1424. >Sam is the first to react
  1425. >”T-That’s so sw-sweet,” he stammers. He looks up at you for entirely too long, as if to ask ‘would you do the same thing for me if I were a vampire?’
  1426. >You make a disgusted face and flick him lightly on the nose
  1427. >He shrinks back from you
  1428. >Jenna, on the other hand, seems less than thrilled. Still wearing her blush, she explains that Mike is an asset to the team and he needs to be taken care of
  1429. >You only buy that a little
  1430. >You suspect that there are some ulterior motives at play here, but don’t want to dig too deeply
  1431. “Well, if you’re all done bleeding into each other’s mouths, why don’t we wake Alex up and start talking about a plan,” you declare.
  1432. >”Fine by me,” Mike says, look very satisfied with both Jenna’s embarrassment and his satiation
  1433.  
  1434. >Alex is already up and eating a balanced breakfast of yesterday’s peanut butter cups
  1435. >He waves as you enter
  1436. >”Ahoy comrades. Care to share some breakfast with me?”
  1437. >Sam bounces forward, all too excited at the idea of having candy for breakfast
  1438. >Christ, he’s like a little kid
  1439. >Just wait until you guys go trick-or-treating…
  1440. >At some point, either before or after you stop Vanessa and The Behemoth and… Sam’s Dad…
  1441. >Your heart sinks to same depths as it did this morning when you were contemplating everything stacked against you
  1442. >But if Sam has those thoughts, they don’t seem to bother him
  1443. >”C-Can I h-have one?” he stutters, bounding down the aisles of the church, his words miles behind him
  1444. >Alex cocks back his arm and fires a wrapped chocolate at Sam’s head
  1445. >It donks off his forehead and lands at his feet
  1446. >The bunny is undeterred
  1447. >He skitters to a halt and pounces on it like a starved wolf, shucking the candy’s foil in visceral carnage and plopping the little chocolate nugget within into his mouth
  1448. >…Kid really likes sugar
  1449. >He doesn’t notice everyone staring at him until he stands up to find all eyes turned towards him
  1450. >He swallows nervously and forces his hands behind his back
  1451. >”S-Sorry. H-H-Hungry.”
  1452.  
  1453. >You manage to drag Alex outside to talk with Mike, which is no easy task
  1454. >Alex, the little (big) commie is lanky, tall, and has little to protect him from the jagged knife that is the cold, October morning breeze
  1455. >Now, assembled around your car (again), you pass the bag of candy around, Sam taking generous handfuls and stuffing them in his hoodie’s pockets
  1456. >You don’t mind
  1457. >Honestly, you’ve eaten enough chocolate for five Halloweens over
  1458. >…If you live that long
  1459. >And that depends on your next steps here
  1460. >You’ve got a decent idea, but you’re not sure everyone else would go for it
  1461. >”Anon, you wanna enlighten us as to what our next move is?” Mike says, not with an air of renewed vigor. “Because Alex looks like he’s going to freeze his ideologies off.”
  1462. >He looks less pale than before, his face and skin touched with color
  1463. >The blue veins that spider webbed beneath his porcelain skin seemed to have retracted or melded back into the warmth of his body
  1464. >Guess a little Type A in your system will do that to you
  1465. >Alex’s body is shaking and spasming with chills, but that’s what he fucking gets for wearing shorts and long sleeves and no jacket (not that you’re any better, you just have proper pants)
  1466. “Well hey we’re all wearing weather appropriate clothes, that’s not our fault.”
  1467. >”W-W-Worry not c-c-c-comrades,” Alex says, his teeth ramming together with every syllable, sounding like he was guillotining the words. “I’ve slaved at The Shop N’ Save in worse.”
  1468. >You nod at Comrade Alexi
  1469. >He is indeed a brave, dumb soldier
  1470. “Alright, I’ll try to keep this brief. Tomorrow is Halloween. And more importantly, tomorrow is the night of the Spooktober Fest — when the dark rite, ritual, what the fuck ever, can be completed. And also when it can be stopped. That’s our Death Star.”
  1471. >”D-Death Star?” Sam says
  1472. >”Do-Don’t te-tell me y-y-you haven’t s-s-seen Star W-Wars either,” Alex chatters
  1473. >The rabbit hangs his head in embarrassment
  1474. >”Jesus Christ,” Mike whistles. “We gotta get this kid up to speed when we’re done.”
  1475. >”Anon, please continue,” Jenna smiles, obviously not interested in being out in the cold either, despite her fur and sweater
  1476. >You nod 
  1477. “Right. So we’re going to that dance-party-function-thing. All of us.”
  1478. >A bright gleam leaps up into Sam’s eyes. ”W-We are?”
  1479. >Surprisingly, everyone nods in agreement
  1480. >You expected more resistance than this
  1481. >Well, to be fair, your plan is extremely basic
  1482. >With a slight twist
  1483. “And I’m also proposing that we go in costume shopping after school,” you say, expecting similar agreement
  1484. >Mike stuffs his hands into his pockets
  1485. >”Why? I’m too damn old to do that shit still,” he says
  1486. “Two reasons: one, we’ll have to infiltrate the Spooktober Fest in costumes so we don’t instantly get caught by Vanessa and the others. And two…” 
  1487. >You look down at Sam, whose eyes are shining at the idea of getting to wear a costume
  1488. >You quickly glance up and hope nobody notices your pleased smile
  1489. >”…There is no second reason. We just go.”
  1490. >Well, there is actually a second reason
  1491. >You’re going to give Sam as close to a normal Halloween as you can get at your age
  1492. >But then again, your best Halloween memories are only scant recollections of traditional holiday fare — trick-or-treating, dressing up, carving pumpkins — the real memories began when you and Mike and Alex would fuck around, get drunk, play vidya, puke into each other’s sinks and pass out in your basement
  1493. >Is a storybook holiday really right for him? Maybe a party with kids his age would help diversify his experience
  1494. >You look down again quickly, and Sam is wearing the cutest, dopiest grin across his effeminate face
  1495. >Yeah, at least costume shopping will be good for him
  1496. >Mike seems less than thrilled at the idea
  1497. >”I’m 18. I’m too old to be doing this crap. What, you wanna go trick-or-treating next?”
  1498. “We’re all 18,” you say, “and I don’t hear anyone else objecting.” 
  1499. >He crosses his stubby arms across his chest in casual defiance. ”Well, I don’t have any costume ideas. And I want something cool.”
  1500. >A smile creases your lips
  1501. >Mike looks like he’s seen something wretched
  1502. >You dig into your back pocket and draw out two neatly folded sheets of notebook paper
  1503. >You unfold them — Sam’s drawings from Tuesday — and hold them up for everyone to see, like you’d just found the map to some buried treasure
  1504. “Sam’s already got costume ideas for all of us.” 
  1505.  
  1506. >School rushes by in an orange blur, and really, you do mean an orange blur
  1507. >As the administration preps for the Spooktober Fest, everything gets a fresh coat of orange and black plastic varnish
  1508. >Fake jack-o-lanterns line the hallways (where they remain upright and not filled with trash by the students for a good hour)
  1509. >Streamers hang from rafters
  1510. >Someone set up a scarecrow outside the front entrance, complete with a smiling pumpkin face that certainly doesn’t broadcast terror or fear
  1511. >You have to remind yourself that this is a public school function
  1512. >Its been neutered of any true culture and color
  1513. >The only really scary things are the budget cuts this time of the year
  1514. >The custodial staff (really, just Stella) hauls tables into the gym while volunteer students and teachers and haul ‘sp00ky’ supplies from the equipment room, which include a gigantic fog machine, some fake gravestones, and even a faux skeleton
  1515. >Yep, it was going to be a major suckfest, and be about as fun as a school-sanctioned event can be
  1516.  
  1517. >Though while you’re tailing Sam (again) the whole day, you do overhear a convenient little piece of information outside of Sam’s class
  1518. >Four preps, humans and neatly dressed with clean sweater and sharp haircut to match their even sharper tongues, are loudly discussing the one thing that high school kids care more about than getting the FUCK out of their hometown: where to acquire tons of alcohol for tonight’s costume party at one of their fancy suburban homes
  1519. >And this ain’t like your house, no, the homes where the preps come from makes your house look like Sam’s
  1520. >The idea of a party intrigues you
  1521. >You’ve never been to one before, at least, put on by kids your own age
  1522. >Were they as full of debauchery as the movies say they are?
  1523. >Also, you have nothing really going on tonight other than get costumes…
  1524. >God, it’s your last year in high school EVER
  1525. >Why shouldn’t you show up, get plastered and make an anonymous ass out of yourself?
  1526. >You’ll bring the whole gang
  1527. >Especially Sam, who has probably NEVER been to party in his life
  1528. >…Yeah, you’ll do it for him, you lie to yourself
  1529.  
  1530. >You pen down the address on your hand, and then later transfer it to your phone right as the bell kicks itself and students saturate the hallways
  1531. >Sam is the last out the door (as usual), lagging behind a particularly mean looking panther jock, buttoned up in his letterman's jacket that screams ‘I peaked in high school!’
  1532. >But the large feline pays no attention to you, and instead directs a death glare at the four assembled preps
  1533. >Ah yes, the two natural enemies of high school life — preps and jocks
  1534. >One group had money, the other group had brawn
  1535. >You’re not sure why any of that really matters, but people are superficial
  1536. >And in a less-than-superficial gesture, the preps fire back at the panther with a few raised middle fingers
  1537.  
  1538. >”Oh fuck off, cunts,” the panther directs a rolling growl in their direction
  1539. >You casually step to the side and fold yourself against a locker
  1540. >You pull Sam against you and shimmy away as fast as you can
  1541. >This could get ugly very quickly
  1542. >Everyone is at each other’s throats this week, thanks to Vanessa
  1543. >One of the preps steps forward
  1544. >”What are you going to do about it, razor mouth?”
  1545. >This does enough to spike the Panther’s blood pressure
  1546. >Yep, time for you to go
  1547. >You’ve endured enough supernaturally prompted aggression for the rest of your life
  1548. >With Sam trailing closely behind you (not like he has much choice), you steer your way down the hallway, nudging past students who (appropriately) nudge back
  1549. >With all the strength your skelly body can muster, you manage to stay upright as you’re jostled to and fro by bodies in motion
  1550. >Sam seems to have plenty of experience getting knocked around, so he’s a lot better at staying on his feet and dodging wayward elbows
  1551. >When you look behind you, you see the crowds parting for a teacher and school resource officer (and really, they’re just cops) sprinting down the hall, shoving through throngs of teenagers, heading back to where the panther and the preps were
  1552. >Guess you were right
  1553. >It did get ugly
  1554.  
  1555. >Battered plenty, you’re able to make it down the stairs, to the lunchroom, and then out to the parking lot where the kiss of cold air against your skin is a relief from the sweltering heat inside
  1556. >Sam seems to agree, as he tugs at the collar of his hoodie with his one free hand, letting out some trapped heat
  1557. >Strangely enough, you don’t see anyone you need to avoid other than angry students 
  1558. >No goths
  1559. >No Sam’s Dad
  1560. >No Stella
  1561. >Just cars in motion, kids cutting each other off, clusters of teenagers strutting around, looking for something to sate their boredom
  1562. >On the way to your car, you steer clear of a group of punks, but they only offer ‘fuck you looking at?’ glances from behind the curling cigarette smoke trailing off their lips
  1563. >You see Mike waiting on the hood of your car like he owns it
  1564. >Jenna is at his side, talking to him
  1565. >Neither of them notice your approach 
  1566. >Mike must have cracked a joke, because Jenna slouches in her ordinarily rigid and prim stance
  1567. >She throws her vulpine head back and laughs from her belly
  1568. >You think that’s called gekkering for foxes? But you’re not sure
  1569. >And when she recovers, she absent-mindedly runs her fingers through the fur on the top of her head, twisting it earnestly while Mike prattles on about something you can’t hear
  1570. >As you approach, Mike throws a quick glance at you and the bun
  1571. >His cheer seems to drain to a half-smile, as if he were glad to see you, but you had interrupted something important
  1572. >”There’s the chauffeur and his sidekick,” he says with a weak laugh
  1573. >He seems… in good cheer
  1574. “Nice to see you too, Edward.”
  1575. >”Edward?” Mike tilts his head
  1576. “Nevermind, you don’t read,” you fire back quickly
  1577. >Jenna giggles. “Well probably not those types of books.”
  1578. >She puts a lot of stress on the word ‘those,’ drawing your curiosity
  1579. “So you read trashy young adult fiction too?” You prod
  1580. >”I live for it. I’d get The Deathly Hallows tattooed on my arm if I could… you know… see it under all of this fur.”
  1581. >You internally wince
  1582. >You can hear your inner elitist yelling:
  1583. >’Who, past the age of 12, reads Harry Potter?’
  1584. >Thankfully Mike silences your inner critic counters by calling you both ‘book reading morons,’ promptly ending the discussion
  1585.  
  1586. >”Guess we’re just waiting on Comrade Alexi,” Mike observes from the back seat
  1587. >He’s sitting in the middle seat, squeezed up close to Jenna, who doesn’t seem to mind
  1588. >Sam is in the passenger seat, as usual
  1589. “Guess so…” you observe, drawing out the last syllable so you can ease your transition into your next request
  1590. >Smooth like butter, you can taste the transition on your tongue
  1591. “….Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we… I don’t know… went to a costume party?” You propose, your voice stumbling into a pathetic whisper
  1592. >So much for your initial success with the transition
  1593. >Mike seems to hear it well enough, though
  1594. >”A costume party? Like at the school? Fuck no-”
  1595. “Not at the school,” you interject, before he kills your idea. “At someone’s house. I think it’s happening at Braydon Smith’s place tonight.”
  1596. >The car is silent, and the sudden guilt you feel burdens you like a millstone around your neck
  1597. >Really, it’s a selfish request
  1598. >You just want to go to the party because you’ve never been to one
  1599. >And because Sam needs to have an experience! A good one! Something that reminds him Halloween isn’t just trick-or-treating and fake fog machines and happy scarecrows
  1600. >”Will there be booze?” Mike asks
  1601. >”What? Hell no, count me out if there’s underage drinking.” Jenna crosses her arms across her chest in a pout
  1602. >Mike issues a snort of laughter. “So you’ll steal a shopping cart and five pounds of garlic, but you won’t drink with us?”
  1603. >Jenna reddens. “I-I left a $20 at the counter, so it’s alright.”
  1604. >”Whatever. If there’s booze I’m in. Not like we had any plans tonight.”
  1605. >Your eyes shift from Jenna to Mike
  1606. >She frowns
  1607. >”Well, I’m not drinking.”
  1608. >”PERFECT!” Mike practically jumps in his seat. “You can be the driver. Anon, Sam, Alex and I will make sure we handle most of the liquor. I’ll drink enough for the both of us.”
  1609. >You pass a look down at Sam, who seems apprehensive, given that he’s thoughtfully stroking his ears, threatening to tug on them 
  1610. >You do your best attempt at a reassuring smile
  1611. “It’ll be fun. I want you to have something close to a normal Halloween experience. Okay?”
  1612. >He flashes a nervous smile
  1613. >”O-Okay,” he says, but you can hear the mistrust, which sounds like little silvery knives in your heart
  1614.  
  1615. >Alex arrives well after the rest of the cars are gone
  1616. >His light brown hair curls down in uneven tangles from his golden beanie — disheveled from exhaustion
  1617. >And the rest of him is a sweaty mess
  1618. >His ordinarily pale cheeks look flush with color and exhaustion, and as he limps across the blacktop, you can see that he’s wearing damp sweat stains underneath his long maroon shirt
  1619. >He throws open the door without a word and grunts his way next to Mike
  1620. >”Where the hell have you been?” Mike asks
  1621. >Jenna and Sam both pinch their nose in unison, as if they were following lines from a script
  1622. >”Ghrisd,” Jenna says, her  voice a high, nasally whine. “Ydou reeg,”
  1623. >”Huh?” Alex says, barely perceiving anything as he throws his head back against the seat
  1624. >His chest heaves
  1625. >The vixen unplugs her sensitive nose. “I said you REEK.”
  1626. >”Oh.” 
  1627. >Alex hears the complaint, but doesn’t seem to register it
  1628. >You snap your fingers at the poor kid in some attempt to bring him back to reality
  1629. >It seems to reel him back in enough for an exhausted explanation
  1630. >”Coach Griswald made me run an extra mile today for calling him a fascist.” His voice comes out in tired puffs
  1631. >”Nice one, dude.” Mike says
  1632. >”Ygou woudnd gnow whad fagscism is iv id pud ids bood on ur negg.” Jenna says
  1633. >Alex rolls against the door panel and shuts his eyes. “Fascist,” he whispers to the door panel, who whispers nothing back but the cold rattle of loose metal as you twist your keys into the ignition
  1634. >You’ve wasted enough time here
  1635.  
  1636. >Imagine the most generic Halloween movie soundtrack possible, and you’d have a rough approximation of what’s playing overhead at the costume store
  1637. >For the first time in what feels like a very long time, you are assailed by corny ghost moans and anything-but-bone-shaking thunder
  1638. >And the cherry on top?
  1639. >Squealing bat sound effects that sound like they got ripped from 1960s Scooby-Doo reruns on TV
  1640. >As the sliding door opens, and all these sounds strike you in one aural gut-punch, you breathe deeply and squeeze your eyes shut
  1641. >You’re home, back in your memories
  1642. >You’re a little kid again, trying to find a costume that will draw the least amount of attention because you didn’t know, back then, that you had a crippling fear of judgement
  1643. >Mike shrugs past you, aiming to get this over with as soon as possible, tossing you out of the nostalgia
  1644. >Jenna is close behind him, but the glow of joy in her eyes is enough to tell you that she’s plenty excited to be here, and not out stealing things from a liquor store, like Mike had initially suggested
  1645.  
  1646. >Sam bounces from clothing rack to clothing rack, grabbing packages and pre-made costumes, turning them over in his tiny hands like they were precious gems
  1647. >From a firefighter to a skeleton to an anime character… he seems immensely pleased by all of it
  1648. >It’s like he’s been dosed with rocket fuel. You’ve never seen him so reckless and excited
  1649. >And as you dig through a bin of shitty plastic props and discount costumes, you can’t help but smile
  1650. >You feel like you’re doing the right thing
  1651.  
  1652. >You’re sorting aside discount costumes (mostly just wigs with gum in them) when you hear Sam beside you, breathing hard from exhaustion in little wheezes
  1653. >You straighten your back and look down
  1654. >The bunny has no less than 10 separate costume pieces stacked high, burdening his already thin arms
  1655. >”A-A-Anon,” he stutters, nearly out of breath. “I-I-I want to t-t-t-try these on.”
  1656. >… It’s not like he needs your permission
  1657. >Oh
  1658. >Wow
  1659. >He’s probably been clothes shopping once or twice in his life
  1660. >Jesus Christ that’s surreal
  1661. >You take clothes shopping for granted every time you go
  1662. >Does he…
  1663. >Need instructions?
  1664. “Go find the changing room,” you tell him, as you pick a package of cheap ‘priest vestments’ from the refuse of the discount bin
  1665. >He throws you a confused glance at the mention of the word ‘changing room’
  1666. >”W-W-What is that?”
  1667. >You’re not sure if this is irritating or adorable
  1668. “It’s a room where you get naked and try on the costumes,” you say, trying to dismiss him so you can find your other co-conspirators
  1669. >When you got into the store you all fanned out in alternate directions
  1670. >Except Sam, who clung to you like he was glued to your hip
  1671. >He really likes hanging around you, you tell yourself
  1672. >Or he’s getting really touchy
  1673. >One of the two
  1674. >Sam looks unsure of his instructions
  1675. >You groan internally and point a lazy finger towards a hanging sign that says ‘changing rooms’
  1676. >Sam fixes you with a ‘I’m sorry’ look, and then bounds off in the direction of the changing rooms, jockeying his stack of costumes
  1677. >What the hell does he even need those for?
  1678. >The designs he came up with for himself —  ‘Samurai Outlaw’ — couldn’t be simpler: a hoodie, some baggy pants, a bandana, and a baseball bat
  1679. >Whatever
  1680. >Let the kid have his fun
  1681. >You smile at the thought of Sam getting to finally enjoy what you’ve taken for granted for years
  1682. >You hold the costume you picked — a priest’s robes — up to the light
  1683. >It’s fairly standard — there’s a picture of a rhino wearing them, and despite the rhino’s size, the long, flowing, cheap cut of cloth hangs off his arms and around his waist in huge swaths
  1684. >They’re primarily an off yellow, sickly like vomit, with a definite gold stripe running down the center of the piece with two lines branching towards your shoulder, like a ‘Y’ with a spike down its center
  1685. >They match Sam’s drawing for you
  1686. >The kid has talent, that much is true
  1687. >But the costume is a scant reflection of Sam’s vision
  1688. >In fact, like all Halloween costumes, it’s cheaply made, and the cut is a bit large
  1689. >You’ll have to go try it on
  1690.  
  1691. >As you make your way to changing rooms, you pass by Alex
  1692. >He smirks and pulls the brim of a fedora lower, having tossed his signature yellow beanie aside
  1693. >His whole body is clad in cheap cloth that’s been textured to look like a striped suit
  1694. >But you know? The cut is tapered in at the sides and shoulder, so from a distance, he really does look like some kind of 20s-30s gangster
  1695. >The fedora tho, invokes your inner elitist again
  1696. >Too much time on the internet
  1697. >”Nyyeeh sheeee,” he says in the worst accent you’ve ever heard
  1698. >The utterance of those words causes something physical to seize up inside you
  1699. “Listen, Alex, comrade… Never say that again like that, okay?”
  1700. >He nods in agreement
  1701. >”Save my charisma for Friday. Gotcha.” He winks at you
  1702. “That’s not what I meant, but aright. Save it for Friday.”
  1703. >”Was it good?” He asks, already having decided for himself it was Oscar-worthy
  1704. >You agree with him, in the way that a parent agrees with their child when they say they’re going to grow up to be ‘The President of the Moon’
  1705. “Don’t change a thing, Alexi.”
  1706. >He fires dual finger guns back at you, and you almost wish they were real so you can be spared an encore performance
  1707. >You can feel a shiver still running up your spine as you pace off towards the changing rooms
  1708. >If only you were dead
  1709.  
  1710. >There’s only two available changing rooms
  1711. >Hmmm
  1712. >You try the one on the left and get a metal rattle as the lock catches
  1713. “Sorry,” you say, face going flush with blood
  1714. >You probably just scared the piss out of someone who is stark naked in there, trying on a slutty ‘nerd’ costume or something
  1715. >But the response you get back is as empty as your wallet is about to be
  1716. >There’s sadly no dividers for your voice to carry over
  1717. >The sound isolation must be insane
  1718. >These are just closed-in rooms with mirrors pasted onto walls and signs that say ‘changing room’ glued on the windowless doors
  1719. >Classy
  1720. >Alright, Sam must be in the one on the left, you reason
  1721. >Meaning you’ve got the one on the right to try
  1722. >You find it’s not locked, and you hear no voices of protest as you crack open the door
  1723. >Good!
  1724.  
  1725. >You twist the nob and slip inside, snapping off the endless chime of cheap Halloween sound effects as the door shuts with a meaty *thunk*
  1726. >A distinct, girlish falsetto shrieks behind you
  1727.  
  1728. >You don’t even think about the consequences of what you do next, because your body moves autonomously
  1729. >You don’t consider how turning around changes your life almost completely in less than a fraction of a second
  1730. >So much can happen in the resonate space between heartbeats
  1731. >A car wrapping around a tree, impaling the driver who held his eyes down at his wheel for one pulse too many
  1732. >A baby’s first, catching lungfulls of air, and the exhaustive sigh of the mother who was told her son would be a stillborn
  1733. >The small gap between the barrel of a gun and the temple is one heartbeat across
  1734. >This is one of those moments
  1735.  
  1736. >You turn around and behold Sam Garlen, who has one bulbous leg down the throat of a pirate costume’s trousers, and is standing, otherwise, stark naked, all of his clothes scattered around him in a pile
  1737. >”A-A-A-Anon!?” He shrieks, voice rising and rising in pitch
  1738. >But his words bounce off your useless eardrums 
  1739.  
  1740. >Your eyes sweep over him, up and down, focusing on absolutely everything all at the same time, soaking in the near-flatness of his chest, the slenderness of his shoulders, but also the play of the overhead light on his body, like he was the lone actor in a very bright spotlight, directing your eyes downward
  1741. >And downward
  1742. >Past the pink of his nipples, the meager puff of his breasts, the slender and exposed bones of his ribs (still mysteriously bruised)
  1743. >Down the tuck of his midsection, pinched inward…
  1744. >…Which only emphasizes the girlish bow of his hips…
  1745. >…To the pink slit of his sex, begging for a gentle hand to spread it like a flower that only blossoms in the fall
  1746. >And then you look up at him, feeling drugged, completely senseless, like your head was a balloon floating away from the stalk of your neck
  1747. >And then you open your mouth
  1748. >And you say the DUMBEST fucking thing anyone could possibly say in a situation like this
  1749. “Dude, where’s your dick?”
  1750.  
  1751. >He?
  1752. >He has no?
  1753. “Are you a eunuch?” You say
  1754. >Where’s his dick lmao
  1755. “Sam? Do you hear me? I’m- I’m trying- where is your dick, man?”
  1756. >Sam isn’t hearing you
  1757. >His face is pulsing bright red, his jaw heavily slacked downward
  1758. >Powerful tremors shake through him and dislodge words and thoughts from the hollows of his skull
  1759. >And even though he looks like he’s just been shot, he doesn’t move to cover himself 
  1760. >And neither do you, because there’s a block in your ability to process things right now
  1761. >Your eyes mindlessly flick between his bare groin and the way his eyes explode out of his face, and then to a circular scar encrusting his right shoulder, like a vivid burn mark
  1762. >Your brain is doing the analytical equivalent of 2+2=5
  1763. >You open your mouth to ask him where his dick is agai-
  1764.  
  1765. >Sam plummets backwards like a statue cleaved off of its stand
  1766. >You watch him crash, unable to will your body to move and try to prevent his oncoming concussion
  1767. >All it takes is one heartbeat
  1768. >You hear his skull bounce off the floor with a dampened *pomf*
  1769. >And you stand there like some kind of leaden idol, feeling nothing but your heart pounding
  1770. >Looking at nothing but the pile of poofy pirate pants and Sam laying on the floor, unconscious
  1771. >And thinking nothing except “where’s her dick?”
  1772.  
  1773. >You drown in the pinks of your eyelids, eyes shut, as if to reset your nervous system
  1774. >Wow
  1775. >It’s roomy behind your eyes and above your throat
  1776. >Lotttaaaa empty space
  1777. >Maybe the distant echo of your inner-self pounding his head against an imaginary wall
  1778. >Dunno
  1779.  
  1780. >Did that really happen?
  1781. >You bend your fingers inwards, squeezing them into a weak fist
  1782. >Then you wiggle your toes
  1783. >You can… move
  1784. >Yeah
  1785. >When you open your eyes, Sam is still there in that pile of himself(herself?)
  1786. >Still dickless
  1787. >You creep over to him(her?) as if your feet were made of fragile glass
  1788. >He(she?) still has his(her?) right leg halfway into a pair of canvas-white pirate pants
  1789. >Your eyes travel upwards from the pants
  1790. >You know that’s only a distraction from the real investigation you’re trying to conduct
  1791. >Steeling yourself, you let your gaze settle on his(her?) crotch
  1792. >…
  1793. >Yep
  1794. >That’s EXACTLY what you think it is
  1795. >You swallow hard, and your mind feels like it’s trying to rebuild itself after being reduced to a chunky, dysphoric slurry
  1796. >So… the whole time… Sam has been a girl?
  1797. >He- shit, SHE has kept it under wraps this whole time? Why?
  1798. “Why the hell…? What’s the point of hiding this?”
  1799. >You want to wake her up
  1800. >You want to grab her and shake her and ask why she’d keep this from you, and what it put you through
  1801. >Instead, you do the next best (and right) thing
  1802. >Your feet barely touch the ground as you tip-toe to the opposite side of the dressing room, all the while keeping one eye on Sam
  1803. >She still has shock pressed into the lines of her young face, which looks more feminine than before — less angled and softer at the cheeks and at the jaw
  1804. >But her eyes are clamped down and her mouth is screwed shut, and, thanks to the her decision to strip bare, you can see her meager chest rising and falling with unconscious grace
  1805. >It’s like watching a very small and weak balloon inflate and then deflate
  1806. >It takes everything in you not to try to stir her awake
  1807. >Watching her fall unconscious was hard enough
  1808. >But this… this was like standing by, helpless, while a beautiful bird with broken wings drifts struggles uselessly to take flight again
  1809. >You want to rescue her
  1810. >But you don’t. You do what you think you should
  1811. “Please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up,” you beg the unconscious bunny, whose eyes scrunch together and whose brow furrows
  1812. >She looks like she’s in pain
  1813. >You hover over her, holding her ratty old hoodie
  1814. >Sweat beads from your forehead and down the bridge of your nose, threatening a high-dive onto Sam’s own forehead
  1815. >You drape her ratty old hoodie across her rounded hips, hovering over her body like a crane trying to defuse a small bomb
  1816. >And all the while, you keep flicking your gaze over to her bare crotch and the pink slit that is her sex
  1817. >You still can’t believe it
  1818. >You swear, the next time you blink, you’re going to wake back up in your bed on Friday night of last week
  1819. >And all of this is going to be a dream
  1820. >There will be no horrible plot to destroy the earth
  1821. >Mike will be normal
  1822. >You will have never have fought
  1823. >Your house will have never been destroyed
  1824. >You will have never made that pact with the goths
  1825. >You will have never stolen Sam
  1826. >In fact
  1827. >When you wake up, you’ll still hate him… her…?
  1828. >You layer the hoodie gently across her lower half  as she begins to stir
  1829. >When will you wake up?
  1830.  
  1831. >You don’t wake up
  1832. >She does
  1833. >Little slivers of rusted gold peer up at you, shuddering with dim recognition
  1834. >Her mouth starts to move, and you freeze, hovering over her, obscuring her in your shadow
  1835. >”I’m s-s-sorry.”
  1836. >You take a safe step backwards, face burning with hot blood
  1837. “I don’t understand,” you say, trying not to look at her. You direct your eyes anywhere but at her
  1838. >Sam props herself up on her palms, still shaking
  1839. >”P-Please…”
  1840. >She makes a spinning motion with her fingers
  1841. “Oh, right! Christ, I’m such an idiot.” Berating yourself feels like the only sensible thing you can do right now (other than turning around)
  1842. >You do a sharp spin and face the corner like a child who’s being punished
  1843. >Sam pulls on her boxers first, then hoodie, and then sweats — none of which are done with anything resembling speed or urgency
  1844. >Mostly just defeat
  1845. >”O-O-Okay, y-y-you can turn a-a-around.” The sadness in her voice is almost as powerful as your shame
  1846. >And your curiosity
  1847. >When you face her, she’s still the same old Sam you’ve known for years
  1848. >The Sam who you’ve grown to call a friend
  1849. >The Sam you care about
  1850. >The Sam that still furiously blushes when you so much as lay a finger on her
  1851. >This may be the same bunny, but you can sense a change
  1852. >So you’ve gotta know now
  1853. >But first, something very important:
  1854. “I’m… REALLY sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean to barge in on you like that. I though you were in the room next to this one, and… I don’t really have a good explanation other than the fact that I’m a fucking idiot.”
  1855. >Sam points her eyes downward at her feet
  1856. >”I-I-It’s okay. O-Or, I m-mean, it’s n-not okay. I do-don’t know. I do-don’t kn-know anything.” 
  1857. >There’s an awkward pause, where you’re staring hard at Sam but she’s focusing all of her attention into avoiding eye contact
  1858. >Guess it’s now or never
  1859. “Why?” You say, and you think you know what to say next, but your tongue seems to swell in your mouth
  1860. >Nothing comes out but stupid noise and the hissing of your throat
  1861. >She forces her hands behind her back to try and abstain from pulling at her ears
  1862. >”W-What?”
  1863. “Why. Why did you keep this from me? Does Jenna know?”
  1864. >Ah, truth at last
  1865. >She shakes her head, sweeping her bangs into her eyes
  1866. >”N-Nobody kn-knows ex-except Dad.”
  1867. “Just dressing and acting like a guy is one thing, but pretending to be one? Are you trans?”
  1868. >You pause
  1869. >Was that the wrong thing to say? Shit
  1870. >What are you supposed to say when someone comes out to you
  1871. “Because I swear I won’t be mad at you if you are. I’m just confused. Help me understand.”
  1872. >Again she shakes her head
  1873. >”I-I’m not… no… I do t-t-this be-because…”
  1874. >Her eyes start to blaze in the light, and you can see the frustration pressed into her face
  1875. >Maybe this was a mistake
  1876. >Actually, not maybe. This whole thing is predicated on your mistake
  1877. >Well, you better make it right you fucking moron
  1878. “You don’t need to tell me-”
  1879. >”Be-Because m-m-my br-brother is d-dead-d-d-dead-”
  1880. >Gentle sobs start to clip the last of her syllables
  1881. “I know. You must have really loved hi-”
  1882. “bBec-c-cause of m-m-me,”
  1883. >Wat
  1884. >”I k-killed him.”
  1885.  
  1886. >Wow
  1887. >You felt that one like a lead fist in the ribs
  1888. >Right about where your dusty old heart shudders and pumps dried blood
  1889. >She looks like she wants to cry, but isn’t allowing herself to
  1890. >Not yet
  1891. >She wipes her nose with a snotty sleeve
  1892. >Her voice plummets into a hoarse whisper
  1893. >”J-J-Jacob tried to m-make me tough a-and st-strong- so I could s-stand up for m-myself.”
  1894. “You ARE tough and strong! With all the shit you go through-”
  1895. >Now you see something you haven’t ever seen before:
  1896. >An angry Sam
  1897. >”GIRLS A-A-AREN’T STRONG!" She blazes, chest heaving. “G-Girls are w-w-weak and I-I have to b-be strong. I-I h-have to b-be strong f-f-for J-Jacob… I h-have to be the s-s-s-son my d-d-d-dad d-didn’t get to h-have.”
  1898. >She doesn’t strangle her ears this time around
  1899. >Instead, she tightens all of her anger and remorse and sadness between her fingers and closes her fists around them
  1900. >You just stand there, feeling limp and useless
  1901. >And more than that:
  1902. >Guilty
  1903. >She looks at you, flush in the face, chest swelling with hot air that she pushes in and out with each ragged breath
  1904. >You’re not sure if she’s going to start yelling again
  1905. >But she doesn’t
  1906. >She looks at you one last time with that fire in her eyes, and then…
  1907. >She slams her eyes shut — hard
  1908. >She shakes her head, throwing her dangling ears around violently, trying to dislodge her confusing and conflicting thoughts 
  1909. >Her fingers spread outward, and her body stops trembling, like a rocket struggling to fire off the launch pad
  1910. >All that’s left between you two is silence, the sound of Sam trying to get her breathing under control
  1911. >And outside the door, the muffled drone of Halloween music marches a steady beat
  1912.  
  1913. >Now is the time to say something, because this silence is worse than driving pins and needles into your skin
  1914. >It’s selfish
  1915. >You know that?
  1916. >It’s selfish to want to distract yourself from this pain
  1917. >Maybe it’s something you need to face, for yourself
  1918. >For Sam
  1919. >”I-I’m sorry,” she says weakly. “I d-don’t… I d-d-didn’t mean to s-s-shout.”
  1920. >Now it’s your turn to sigh
  1921. >God it’s such a relief
  1922. >You don’t know if you could handle Sam being mad at you
  1923. “The only thing you have to apologize for is not thinking you’re strong. God damnit, kid, you’re tougher than me and Mike and Alex combined. I don’t know how you got it in your head that you’re weak… that you need to replace your brother, or anything like that.”
  1924. >Sam looks wounded, but you carry on
  1925. “I have spent my entire life up until Tuesday afternoon being a gutless coward. I don’t see myself in you — not even a little bit.”
  1926. >”B-But you s-s-saved me from m-my d-d-dad. Y-You d-d-did wh-what I couldn’t,” she counters. And it’s a fair counter — if you leave out the fact that you were aided by a supernatural curse
  1927. >You shake your head
  1928. “That wasn’t me. Or, it wasn’t the real me. Everything brave and important I’ve ever done has been because I sacrificed Gloria Duchene to the goths. But not anymore. On Tuesday, I made that choice to quit living like a fucking coward.”
  1929. >You pause, searching for a truth in the vacant silence
  1930. >You’re not tough
  1931. >Not an asshole
  1932. >Not strong
  1933. >You only know one thing:
  1934. “I’m scared of everything,” you say with a heavy sigh. You turn your eyes away from her. “Why do you think I haven’t decided on my future yet, or sacked up and picked a college? Why do you think we’re hiding in a church instead of out looking for your dad to confront him? Christ, Sam, there’s a million things I wish I could say to you right now, but they die on their way out. But every day I get a little stronger. Every day I learn more and more what I’m capable of.”
  1935. >You squat down and meet her height
  1936. >Her eyes are still and fixed on your own
  1937. “I keep telling myself, if Sam can hit her dad with a baseball bat, then I can make it through until tomorrow — even if it kills me.” 
  1938. >Neither you, nor the rabbit, say anything for awhile
  1939. >You stare into one another
  1940. >And at one point, you swear, you traded brains for a second
  1941. >And a brain is a private, intimate place
  1942. >You felt what it was like to have someone wander around in the garden of your thoughts and memories
  1943. >First violation, then admittance, and then wonder
  1944. >And you, too, spent what felt like an hour inside of Sam’s mind, uprooting her pain, hearing distant rushes of train whistles felling forests and arcing blows of fists across your tender bone
  1945. >And then the connection severed
  1946. >You retrieved yourself from Sam, and her from you, and you tried desperately to memorize all that you had seen or done
  1947. >Sam must have felt the yank of separation, the cascade of sensory data overwhelming her synapses, because at last she blinked
  1948. >And then you blink, staring lucidly into one another’s eyes, but seeing more than just your own reflections
  1949. >Your eyes lock on her lips pink lips — the color of a ripe peach
  1950. >And you lean forward
  1951. >She shudders, her eyes falling shut in resignation
  1952. >Of mind first
  1953. >Then of body
  1954.  
  1955. >…
  1956. >You pull back at the last possible second, your lips a hair’s width from brushing one another
  1957. >When you open her eyes, her lips are still curled, her eyes still shut
  1958. >Waiting for you
  1959. >And you are full of shame
  1960.  
  1961. >The minute you retreat back into yourself, you feel the immense weight of guilt and shame
  1962. >Shoulda done it when you had the chance
  1963. >Coward
  1964. >No
  1965. >Not now
  1966. >Not here
  1967. >This isn’t the time, nor the place
  1968. >You’re glad you didn’t
  1969. >Sam’s eyes flutter open, and you see her flash a look of confusion
  1970. >And then the shame comes
  1971. >She throws her head downwards, her shoulders sloping with her gaze
  1972. >”I-I-” she starts, but you’re not going to allow her to do this to herself
  1973. >She’s too good of a person, drowning there in her hand-me-down hoodie and sweats, ears lopping carelessly behind her crop of hair that you’ve come to find beautiful on her
  1974. “Your secret is safe with me,” you say, trying to cut the tension
  1975. >”It…” she stops herself, uncertain in her next fumbling words
  1976. >”I-It doesn’t have t-t-to be a s-s-secret anymore.”
  1977. >Wat
  1978. “… Are you sure? You want people to know?”
  1979. >She hesitates for a moment
  1980. >And then, drawing herself up with a deep breath, she fixes you with a determined stare
  1981. >”Yes.” Her voice is steady as steel
  1982.  
  1983. >You gather a sharp-dressed Alex, a Jenna dressed like a bumblebee, and Mike, who has done little more than acquire a slick leather jacket that’s slightly too big for his frame, outside the costume shop 
  1984. >You’re dressed up in your white priest vestments, which are a loose cut of pale-yellow cloth with cheap gold thread running down the center
  1985. >Beneath that, you have a white robe, and Gloria’s crucifix dangling around your neck
  1986. >You look like a priest, if the Catholic Church were in a severe budget crisis
  1987. >”You two done making out yet?” Mike groans. “It’s getting dark and I’m getting hungry.”
  1988. >Indeed, the sunlight was dissolving away into the blue dusk
  1989. >People were inside having dinner by now with their families, so the clean-swept sidewalks were barren
  1990. >Meaning the party was going to be soon
  1991. >The one you were all crashing
  1992. >That harvest moon was rising, huge like another earth looming overhead
  1993. “Quit yer’ bitchin’, my son.” You waggle a finger at Mike, who playfully bites the air around it
  1994. >Jenna giggles
  1995. “I helped Sam with HER costume, so it took awhile,” you say, taking care to really draw out the ‘HER’
  1996. >You sweep the group with your eyes, looking expectantly from face to face
  1997. “I said, I helped Sam with HER costume, so it took awhile.”
  1998. >This silence tastes like need-smarter-friend-juice
  1999. >They don’t seem to understand
  2000. >Except Jenna, who cocks her head
  2001. >The sharp ears on top of her head twitch with curiosity, like a live wire jumping with current
  2002. >You lean forward
  2003. >Here it comes
  2004. >The big moment
  2005. >
  2006. >”It took you THAT LONG to get him his costume? What is he going as anyway?” She says
  2007. >”I bet his costume is really elaborate. Lots of moving parts. Did you cop a five-finger-discount on it?” Alex says
  2008. >…
  2009. “Actually,” you start, “you’re not even wrong. The costume was almost free. We just had to buy a little rope for HER bat.”
  2010. >Mike, that pale motherfucker, shivers, and says: “why do you keep saying it like that?”
  2011. >Bingo
  2012. “Like what?”
  2013. >The vampire fledgling folds his arms across his chest
  2014. >”’Her.’ You keep saying that instead of ‘him.’ Say it right, man. I’m too cold to deal with this.”
  2015. “Ah, you stupid bitch. Maybe there’s a reason for that?” You prod
  2016. >Jenna’s face lights up with a sudden alarm
  2017. >”You’re not messing with us, right?” She says, eyes going wide. “Are you saying what I’m thinking you’re saying?”
  2018. >You fight to keep the smile growing on your face from betraying your pointless ruse
  2019. >The fox shakes her head. “You’re just messing with us. Right?”
  2020. >Her pleading expression and Mike/Alex’s cluelessness is the straw that breaks the camel’s back
  2021.  
  2022. “Okay Sam, you can come out now!” You call
  2023.  
  2024. >The bunny totters around the corner of the building, trying her best to keep her hands away from her ears and to keep the blush from overpowering her ‘costume’
  2025. “I give you: Samurai Outlaw.”
  2026. >You gesture towards Sam like she were a prize on a game show and you were a beautiful hostess
  2027.  
  2028. >She stands before you all, as short and as self conscious always
  2029. >Her hood is thrown over her head, with two holes sliced out of the top so her ears can dangle down behind her 
  2030. >And a red bandanna obscures every feature of her face except the amber glow of her eyes
  2031. >Her brother’s baseball bat is strapped to her back with a bit of rope and cord
  2032. >Other than that, not much has changed about her
  2033. >It’s a simple costume, but dead close to her idealized drawing of Samurai Outlaw
  2034.  
  2035. >”Is that it?” Mike says
  2036. >You scowl
  2037. “Don’t you think it’s cool?” You say, ignoring his jab
  2038. >”I mean, it’s pretty simple, is all. I don’t know why it took you guys so long.”
  2039. >”I think it’s really fucking cool,” Alex says, encircling the rabbit, who is frozen in the metaphorical spotlight
  2040. >Too much attention on her all at once
  2041. >Jenna is dead-frozen, staring fixedly at Sam
  2042. >”She really does look… good…” she says, stiff and distant, her mind trying to reconnect its crossed wires
  2043. >”Awww not you too,” Mike says, now encircling Sam with Alex, like two sharks honing in on a bleeding whale
  2044. >He’s a little more interested than he lets on, you think
  2045. >The simplicity of Sam’s design is its main strength
  2046. >You could see Samurai Outlaw as some kind of urban antihero or something in a comic book
  2047. >Sam flinches and shrinks away from the prying eyes of Mike and Alex as they comment on how cool the baseball bat prop is
  2048. >Jenna loudly clears her throat, drawing everyone’s attention from Sam’s bare-bones costume
  2049. >”Sam,” she says, a cautious warmth tinting her words. “Is what Anon says true?” She threads her fingers together and folds her hands down at her waist
  2050. >The bunny points her eyes down at her feet in response to the sudden question
  2051. >You open your mouth to spill the metaphorical beans for her-
  2052. >”Y-Yes. It’s true. I-I-I-I’m a girl,” she says suddenly
  2053.  
  2054. >The boys come to a sudden halt
  2055. >”You’re fucking with us,” Mike says, glancing between both her and you. “Actually, you’re both fucking with us. Stop that.”
  2056. >”I KNEW I SMELLED A FEMALE’S SCENT,” Jenna says, and the joy of being right gleams in her eyes — brighter than her polished fangs
  2057. >Instinct takes over, and Sam shrinks back away from the fangs and the claws, holding her bat out in front of her like an aluminum shield
  2058. >Jenna recoils quickly and mutters an apology
  2059. >”A-Anyway,” she continues, looking incredibly harmless as a bumblebee. “I thought I smelled something… strange. But I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. This explains so much.”
  2060. >Alex looks dismayed
  2061. >”So wait, Sam, you’re really a girl?”
  2062. >Overwhelmed, Sam shoves her bandanna back over her face to hide her blush
  2063. >”Yes,” she says, behind the cloth. “I-I’m not lying-”
  2064. >”Wait, if you’re a girl…” He looks at you, and then back to Sam, steam practically pouring out of his ears
  2065. >Guess his mind is really cranking on putting these two facts together
  2066. >”If you’re a girl… And Anon is a boy… And you two…”
  2067. >You feel a steady knot of anxiety and embarrassment settle in on your chest
  2068. >It spreads quickly to your face
  2069. “Alex… Don’t…” you caution him
  2070. >…Okay, maybe there’s a little rage there too
  2071. >His mouth drops open, his smile almost as wide as his face
  2072. >”ANON ISN’T GAY!”
  2073. >Strangely enough, he looks to Mike for confirmation
  2074. >And that fuckass is smiling, nodding, as the realization slowly dawns on him with all the speed of a turtle and the grace of a rhino
  2075. >”Anon’s not gay,” Mike repeats, more to himself than to the rest of you
  2076.  
  2077. “I’ve been saying that from the very fucking start; I’m not gay, you goddamn idiots,” you counter, face pulsing red
  2078. >You almost hate that they care more about you being not-gay than they do about Sam’s true identity
  2079. >”Thumper, you’re really a chick? Like, pussy and everything?” Mike leans forward, smiling like a total shithead
  2080. >The bunny flinches backwards, and you know Mike’s just doing it to fuck with Sam, but you can’t help but internally cringe on her behalf
  2081. >You imagine her blush must be the same color as her bandanna
  2082. >”MIKE!” Jenna cries. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
  2083. >He spins around with a wounded look on his face
  2084. >God you really are glad Jenna can keep him under control
  2085. >Mike mutters an apology while Alex claps you on the shoulder
  2086. >”I’m seldom wrong,” he says, “but you played the long-con with me. Good work.”
  2087. >You smile at him — a warm smile that you hope communicates how fucking done you are with this whole joke
  2088. >He smiles back, and deep down, you still don’t think he understands
  2089. >”Hey,” Mike holds an open palm out to Alex. “You owe me 30 bucks.”
  2090. >Alex looks down at the pale palm, spider-webbed with blue veins, and then back up at Mike
  2091. >”You idiot,” he shakes his head slowly, a smile still warming his face. “You actually think I have any money?”
  2092. >”Nah,” Mike says, all too casually. “I just like knowing I was right.”
  2093. “Wait,” you turn to the vampire. “So you thought I was straight the whole time?”
  2094. >You still feel that warm pulse of shame and blood in your face
  2095. >”Nah, I thought you were bi. That’s why he only owes me 30 and not 60. You’re not bi, right?”
  2096. >You answer him with a raised middle finger, while Sam stares holes into the sidewalk
  2097.  
  2098. >Parties
  2099. >Why is it that parties are a staple of entertainment for high school (and college) students alike? What is so alluring about 50-70 hormonal teenagers stuffed into a house, drowning in noise and drink?
  2100. >Because they’re fun, damnit. And you need to experience this. And Sam does too
  2101. >It’ll be good for you 
  2102. >And that’s what you tell yourself as you pull up to Bradyon Smith’s house, which is in one of the ritziest neighborhoods you’ve ever seen
  2103. >Cars that cost more than your mortgage choke the gutters for three solid blocks, making your rust bucket stick out like a festering wound on a super model’s porcelain skin
  2104. >You cut the engine and stare into the dash, trying to find the courage to move 
  2105. >You lost it somewhere between your gas tank’s ‘E’ and red needle inching dangerously close to the pits
  2106. >Mike pops the door and spouts a sharp and immediate whistle
  2107. >Jenna and Sam instinctively look over at him, expectant
  2108. >Despite your anxiety, you can’t help but grin a little
  2109. >They’re so cute
  2110. >”These houses make me sick,” Alex groans as he unfurls his wiry body and stands tall in the cold night air
  2111. >”Everything you see here?” He gestures towards the rows of gated homes, their windows polished and shining with domestication, their exterior paint as fresh as their lawns are green. “All the fruits of oppression. This is what you get when you atomize, sodomize, and demoralize the gentle laborer.” He spits onto the pristine sidewalks for effect
  2112. “Don’t you live in a neighborhood like this?” You offer, stepping out of your rustbucket
  2113. >You know he’s got a three-car garage, a house twice the size of yours, and a modest trust fund
  2114. >He just dresses poorly and bikes everywhere for loosely understood ideological convictions
  2115. >Alex tips his fedora at you like you were the body pillow he finally convinced his mom to pay for
  2116. >“I’ve only infiltrated their ranks. How does a virus kill its host?” He pauses, eyes flashing between your collective faces
  2117. >Impatient, he turns to Sam
  2118. >”Sam? How does a virus kill someone?”
  2119. >”F-From the inside…?”
  2120. >”Precisely!” Alex explodes. “As they say in the Art of War, ‘know thy enemy.’” 
  2121. >He seems to have gotten to know his enemy’s deep pockets well enough
  2122. >You clear your throat
  2123. “Save it for the revolution, comrade. We s-still have a party to go to.”
  2124. >Your voice stumbles a bit, betraying your nerves, as if the tension now spreading across your body could manifest itself in clipped syllables
  2125. >You feel a delicate, fuzzy hand sneak its way into yours
  2126. >When you look down, Sam is starting deadhead, but you can still see the blush pressed into her downy fur
  2127. >Her hand starts trembling, and a reasonable guess would tell you she’s far more nervous about this than you are
  2128. >Her experiences with alcohol and drunk people until this point have not been… positive
  2129. >You give her hand a reassuring squeeze, as if to say ‘I’m here for you’
  2130. >But what you want to say is ‘We don’t have to go. I’m not sure I want to anymore.’
  2131. >The chance you had to back out goes pacing off down the street when Mike and Jenna, walking awfully close to one another, start making their way towards Braydon’s house
  2132. >Alex jogs off after them, one hand plastered to the top of his skull to keep his fedora in place
  2133. >He throws a quick glance over his shoulder —  back at you — before siding up with Mike
  2134. >… Shit
  2135.  
  2136. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAFt9bMoKhs&list=PL9aXlzDRA49QKxgYsOV2JuDd410_nI-0J&index=11&t=0s
  2137. >Dressed in your priest vestments and standing off next to the keg itself, you feel your face burning, and not just from the alcohol
  2138. >This beer tastes like social anxiety
  2139. >Teenagers — entirely human in composition — mix and mingle with such grace that their sheer normalcy practically tips the last swallow of beer in your mouth when you see a girl in a skimpy ‘nerd’ outfit jam her tongue down Braydon’s throat
  2140. >You look down at Sam, who hasn’t taken a single sip of her beer
  2141. >She stares down at her feet, awkward and alone 
  2142. >”Hey,” you nudge her. ”You gonna drink any of that?”
  2143. >”Y-Y-Yeah,” she says
  2144. ”Alright. But don’t let this color your opinion of beer — or parties. Both are shit.”
  2145. >You debate detaching from the wall and wandering back into the crowd
  2146. >Is there a redemption arc in your future?
  2147. >…Evidently, there is one in Alex’s future
  2148. >He sticks above the crowd like a well-dressed beanpole
  2149. >His hands fly and curve and cut through the air while a rapt (and drunk) audience looks on
  2150. >They hold their collective breaths while Alex clears his throat
  2151. >He looks like a proud hawk standing atop as his kill
  2152. >”All I’m trying to say is that we’re complacent in the slow rape of the environment. I’m just as guilty as you are, people.” 
  2153. >He crushes a red plastic cup in his iron(curtain) grip, spewing shards of plastic and cheap beer about the crowd
  2154. >And yet, nobody revolts against him
  2155. >In fact, someone hands him their own beer like a feeble adherent in the presence of their enlightened cult leader
  2156. >He takes a mighty gulp and hands it back
  2157. >”Thank you, comrade. These hands-” he holds them up to the crowd for effect. “These are the hands that will tie noose around my bosses’s neck. But not yet. Not until all of you are free from your own bondage. You there!”
  2158. >He throws an accusatory finger towards someone in the crowd dressed like a hotdog
  2159. >”You there, dressed like a hotdog! Where do you work?”
  2160. >”At a coffee shop,” the hotdog replies
  2161. >”Bah, your stimulant juice only fuels the proletariat. I promise, comrade, we will dismantle your prison brick by miserable brick.”
  2162. >Someone shouts back at Alex, but the pounding music obscures both the retort and Alex’s reply
  2163. >You can tell by the smug look on Alex’s face it’s about to get heated 
  2164. >This was a bad idea
  2165. >”D-D-Does Alex h-h-hate his job?” Sam asks
  2166. “Yes. And as a bonus, he hates everyone else’s job for them.”
  2167. >”I-I only w-w-work so I c-can come home late. I don-don’t think I li-like my job very much. St-Stella is-”
  2168. “Insane?”
  2169. >Sam nods, sloshing her beer in her cup. She takes a weak sip and makes a sour face in response
  2170. >You swap your empty cup for her half-full one
  2171. “Like I said, parties and beer — they’re both shit. Well, most beer isn’t so bad. I take back what I said earlier. But the stuff they’re serving here? It tastes like piss.” 
  2172. >Sam giggles
  2173. >”H-How do-do you kn-know what t-t-t-that ta-tastes like?”
  2174. “When did you get so cheeky?” You say, and you genuinely are trying to be lighthearted this time around
  2175. >Sam’s response comes almost automatically
  2176. >”S-Sorry I d-didn’t mean t-t-that.”
  2177. >Christ
  2178. >You’re far too inebriated to explain the nuances of your prior statement
  2179. >There’s so much there, your addled mind muses
  2180. >You are SUCH a BRILLIANT communicator, especially when you’re drinking
  2181. >You tug at the collar of your robes, degassing some hot air trapped in the folds as your conversation drifts into awkward territory
  2182. >The sheer amount of bodies in this lavish house turns the marble-white walls into a kiln
  2183. >You’re roasting in your costume, and you’re sure Sam, with the shag of her fur and thick hoodie, is melting even more than you are
  2184. >Plus anxiety often turns up the heat in a person
  2185. “Fuck this,” you say, peeling off the wall. “It’s hotter than Auschwitz’s kitchen in here.” 
  2186. >Sam sighs deeply, all the tension draining from her face
  2187. >”Y-Y-Yeah it is,” she says
  2188. “Can’t even believe it’s October. All the normie-”
  2189. >You catch yourself before you complete the phrase
  2190. >Christ, you’re starting to sound like Vanessa
  2191. >You cough
  2192. “I mean, all the people crammed in this room are making it hot as shit. C’mon, let’s go somewhere else.”
  2193. >You take take another swallow of beer, your head spinning already from the drink
  2194. >This lavish house, with its top-of-the-line electronics and marble white walls, is starting to make you sick
  2195. “Folllowww meeeee,” you say in a sing-song voice, pushing through a throng of people dressed offensively like cats
  2196. >They give Sam uneasy stares as she follows in your wake
  2197. >By this point the stares don’t bother you
  2198. >You’ll flaunt Sam all you want, and everyone who thinks you shouldn’t be seen with her can suck your entire dick
  2199.  
  2200. >Wherever Mike and Jenna went is none of your concern
  2201. >You’re ascending the stairs to try and carve out a little bit of space between yourself and everyone else
  2202. >Sam labors behind you
  2203. >You can see the sweat glistening on her furry brow, and you pause halfway up the spiraling staircase
  2204. >If you didn’t know better, this house could be used to shoot porn in
  2205. >It just has that vibe, you know?
  2206. >Maybe you’ve seen it somewhere
  2207. >Sam joins you at your side, and instead of carrying on further, you grasp for her hands
  2208. >She’s tiny, but she reaches up to meet your efforts
  2209. >You don’t even care who sees anymore
  2210. >You just want to help her, see her grow and change
  2211. >And it feels good to have her tiny, delicate frame up against you, and you’re starting to get an idea of as to why
  2212.  
  2213. >At the top of the stairs you finally get what you came for. A bit of silence
  2214. >The thrumming bass from the music downstairs is like a distant memory, echoing off cave walls and dissipating into senseless noise
  2215. >You take a look around, sucking in hot air
  2216. >God you’re still out of shape, and Sam is no better
  2217. >She rolls her sleeves up to her elbows and throws her hood back
  2218. “I feel you on that one, sister.” You roll the sleeves on your priest robes as best as you can
  2219. >She looks uncomfortable being called ‘sister’
  2220. >You squint hard in the half-light that cloaks the upstairs portion of the house
  2221. >It’s just an endless sea of doors, presumably leading to bedrooms or bathrooms
  2222. >Wait
  2223. >Don’t people come up here to hook up during parties?
  2224. >Oh god
  2225. >You almost consider going back downstairs, when, at the end of the hall, you see an open door
  2226. >Okay
  2227. >Good
  2228. >This is good
  2229. >The door sways and wavers a bit, as if pulled by some kind of invisible force
  2230. >To you, that means there’s an open window
  2231. >And more importantly: a cooling breeze
  2232.  
  2233. >You and Sam labor down the hallway, struggling under the weight of your costumes and the clothes you’re wearing beneath them
  2234. >Christ
  2235. >Just getting to the room is like running a full marathon
  2236. >When you stumble through the door and into the moonlit darkness of the bedroom, the cold air that kisses your sweaty face makes it all worth it
  2237. >You raise your head off the floor as Sam stands in the entryway, the moonlight outlining her baggy figure in an other-worldly glow
  2238. >Two wispy white curtains flank a wide-open window
  2239. >They stir like captured ghosts as another gust cuts into the room
  2240. >The room is bone white and clean, with a single king-size bed in the center and a nightstand to the right of it
  2241. >Must be a guest room
  2242. >Wait
  2243. >You look back towards the window
  2244. >It leads outside (duh) but it doesn’t terminate into a sheer drop
  2245. >Instead, the roof extends far outwards beneath the frame
  2246. >Which means you can…
  2247. “Hey, come with me. I want to try something.”
  2248.  
  2249. >That something involves you shimmying out of the open window onto the roof
  2250. >You crawl out of the frame and plant two palms on the gritty shingles
  2251. >You notice three things
  2252. >One: the air out here is free, but it feels like swallowing ice water with every breath you take
  2253. >Two: the rooftop shingles paint black streaks on your palms and the hem of your priest robes
  2254. >Three: Above your head, the moon hangs like a fattened guillotine, so close that you swear to god with a good-sized ladder you could reach up and tear a hunk off like it was cheap styrofoam
  2255. >This HAS to be fucking up the tides and the oceans
  2256. >Full moons for a whole week? Yeah, shit is fucked in coastal towns
  2257. >You stand up at full height on the rooftop, staring up at the bold moon
  2258. >It’s hard to believe a bunch of angsty teenagers with a magic book could have this much of an impact on an ancient celestial body
  2259. >And it’s even harder to believe that a communist, an anxious bunny, a coward, an asshole and one perfectly normal vixen are going to push it back into place tomorrow night
  2260. >You hear the sound of struggle and turn to see Sam crawling out of the window
  2261. >With the bone-white light of the moon draped across her like a thin sheet, she looks like a specter
  2262. >When she looks up at you, sweat kissing her brow, she tries to smile, but the exhaustion is plain enough to turn her smile into a strained frown
  2263. “Careful now.” You crouch down on instinct. “One good tumble and you’re going over the edge.”
  2264. >She squeaks and freezes up halfway out of the window
  2265. >Good going Anonymous
  2266. >You scared her
  2267. “That’s just like, the worst case scenario. Let me put it like this,”
  2268. >You release your grasp on her and lock eyes
  2269. >You love the way her eyes shine like gold nuggets hit with flashlights in the dark
  2270. >You love the way they’re so full, like they could hold all of her troubles and pain in there, and blink them away
  2271. >You love the way she lives life as an art form
  2272. >You love he-
  2273. >”Y-Yes?” Sam says. “W-What w-were you g-g-going to s-s-say?”
  2274. >You must have been staring for too long, lost in the hurricane of your thoughts
  2275. “I meant to say: I may be drunk, but I promise, I won’t let you fall.”
  2276. >You extend a hand to her
  2277. >With a slight hesitation, she takes it
  2278. >Her palms are slick with sweat, and trembling from exhaustion yet you interlock your fingers all the same
  2279. >With a determined force, you pull Sam through the window
  2280. >And once again, you don’t know your own strength, or how weak Sam is, because she flings towards you with less-than-acrobatic grace
  2281. >Thankfully, you planted your feet deep into the shingles, so instead of knocking you down like a holy bowling pin, you steady her against you, like a storm in a tree
  2282. >Which isn’t all that hard, actually
  2283. >Her body is soft and small against your own, lithe and feminine
  2284. >You wrap your arms around the back of her neck and pull her tight to keep both of you from rocking backwards and taking an involuntary swan dive into a backyard without a pool
  2285. >It feels like you might break her if you squeeze too tight, but you can’t help it
  2286. >Instead, she returns your gesture, wrapping her arms around your waist to ‘steady herself’
  2287. >She cinches her body tight against yours
  2288. >And for a moment, in complete stasis, you two stand atop that rooftop, locked together like two pieces of a puzzle
  2289. >You can feel her heart hammering against your chest, the heat of her body radiating off her, the catch of air leaving her chest when she sighs into you
  2290. >She stands on her toes and looks up into your eyes
  2291. >And her smile is bigger than the moon
  2292. >”T-Thanks for c-c-catching me,” she says, color high in her cheeks
  2293. >You instinctively look away, hiding your relief and the embarrassment now pressing color into your nervous body
  2294. “I told you I wouldn’t let you fall.”
  2295.  
  2296. >From the corner of your eyes, you can still see her looking up into your face, finding serenity in your soft features and boyishness
  2297. >You settle on her thin, pinkish lips
  2298. >Magnets aren’t even attracted to each other this much
  2299. >You almost lean in and-
  2300. >Something catches your eye
  2301. >Something at the apex of the roof
  2302. >Two lone figures, silhouetted against the moon like two figures on a canvas
  2303. >One of them has a tail that’s fanning back and forth and a pair of sharp ears perked high into the air
  2304. >The silhouette couldn’t be more obvious to you
  2305. >Jenna
  2306. >And
  2307. >The person next to her must be Mike and
  2308. >Oh my god
  2309. >Your heart leaps into your throat as you see Jenna’s shadowy figure lean into Mike, her predatory face pressed against his
  2310.  
  2311. >”S-Something w-w-wrong?” Sam asks, still buried in your chest
  2312. “N-No, nothing’s wrong. In fact…”
  2313. >The world is just spinning a little too fast
  2314. >Or that’s the beer
  2315. >”Y-Your he-heart is beating r-really fast,” Sam coos. “I can h-hear it like a d-d-drum.”
  2316. >A cruel idea springs to mind
  2317. >You figure you owe Mike this for pummeling the shit out of you on Tuesday
  2318. >And really, just in general, for being a calloused ass
  2319. “Things are about to get better. Follow me, and be as quiet as you can,” you say, disengaging from Sam, much to the bunny’s disappointment
  2320.  
  2321. >You crouch low and try to distribute your weight as evenly as you can
  2322. >You even spread your arms to keep balance as you climb up the slope of the rooftop towards its shingled summit, where the lone figures of Mike and Jenna now sit, awash in the revealing light of the moon
  2323. >Sam is much better at this than you are
  2324. >She must have more experience being stealthy, because she manages to pass you on your way up
  2325. >She casts an expectant look over her shoulder
  2326. >Mike and Jenna don’t seem to be paying attention to anything except each other
  2327. >And to each other’s tongues
  2328. >And right when they break apart, staring romantically into one another, you announce your presence with crescendo of claps and whistling
  2329. >Jenna and Mike both jump almost a solid foot into the air, putting Sam’s jet-pack reflexes to shame
  2330. >You crawl up behind them both
  2331. “God, you two are precious, you know that? Just absolutely precious.”
  2332. >The vixen’s blush is so bright you swear you can her cheeks glowing in the dark
  2333. >And…
  2334. >Oh that’s just beautiful
  2335. >Mike throws his head to the side in a pout
  2336. >But really, it’s so you can’t see that he’s also blushing like a school girl
  2337. >”I don’t suppose it’s too cliche to say ‘this isn’t what it looks like?’” Jenna whispers
  2338. >Your smile widens as you and Sam scoot up next to them and plop down on the roof
  2339. >Happy now?
  2340. “Far too late, my dear. And you-” you level an accusatory finger at Mike “-Do you have protection?”
  2341. >Jenna pales
  2342. >”P-Protection?” She stammers, shrinking into her bumblebee costume
  2343. >”Anon, shut the fuck upppp.” Mike buries his face into his palms
  2344. “I’m serious. I know you don’t pay attention in Biology with Mr. Bolm, but you still have the right to bear your third arm — for now.”
  2345. >”His WHAT?” Jenna shrieks
  2346. >”Anon, don’t answer that,” Mike commands you
  2347. >Well, you’ve had your fun
  2348. “Awww you crazy kids.” Your tone is mocking. “I’m just teasing.”
  2349. >”I’m older than you are, you assfucker,” Mike hisses, turning his focus back onto the moon
  2350. >Anything to distract from the fact that his face is burning red, made all the more obvious by the fact that he’s hopelessly pale now
  2351. >Whatever happened to not liking anthro women?
  2352. >Quietly, Sam whispers in your ear: “D-Do humans h-have t-t-three arms somewhere?”
  2353. >You slap your palm over your mouth
  2354. >It’s all you can do to keep down the laughter
  2355. >Sam looks towards Jenna for guidance. The fox — still helplessly crammed between you and Mike — mouths something at the bunny
  2356. >And now you’re the only one not wearing hot scarlet across your face, as the realization strikes Sam with the expediency of an iceberg
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