I was rather surprised to find myself sleeping in the lounge when I woke up the next morning, Greytail still curled up with me, until I recalled the events only a few hours ago. I smiled to myself as I remembered every moment of our love-making. Then I looked at the clock perched above the mantelpiece.
"Shit!" I exclaimed as I hastily got to my feet, unceremoniously waking my sister from hir slumber. "Hey!" shi protested groggily. "What's the big idea!"
I pointed at the clock, which showed 8:41am in a big LED display. "Class starts in less than twenty minutes! We slept in! Well, I slept in, but still...!" I rushed out of the lounge into my room, where my textbooks and homework were sitting on the desk in tidy disarray. Picking them up, I shoved them into my black leather satchel, then padded out again. "No time for breakfast. I'll see you when I get home." I gave Grey a quick lick-kiss, then skedaddled.
The halls of the Mathematics block were eerily silent when I padded in fifteen minutes late. Reaching the door to my classroom, I peered in through the glass, grinning slightly with relief when I saw the professor wasn't at the board. Looking toward the far side of the room, I saw Kerisa sitting at her usual place. The desk in front, where I sat, was empty.
I sneaked in quietly, closing the door behind me with a light 'ker-snick', and made my way over to my place, sighing with relief when I sat on my haunches behind the desk.
"How nice to see you this morning, Shir Sandwalker," came a resonant tenor voice from the back of the room. "I trust you have a good excuse for being tardy?"
"Damn," I muttered under my breath. "I knew it was too good to believe." I swivelled my head to regard Professor Mallein, a rather grizzled wolftaur of slate grey colouring, who was now walking down the aisle toward me. "Um...that sort of depends on what you define as an acceptable excuse. I had one of those nights...." I pricked one of my ears up in a version of the 'raised eyebrow', injecting a subtle suggestive tone into my voice.
Most of the class was human, so they didn't really pick up on the meaning of my statement, but the remainder were 'taurs of various types, including a couple of chakats, who grinned in understanding. Kerisa's eyes sparkled a bit, and she hid her smile behind a hastily placed hand.
The professor, I was glad to see, picked up on my reference, and merely grunted in reply, the edges of his mouth pulling upward in a tiny smile. "I see. Well...just don't make a habit of it too often, eh?" He padded down to the front of the room, and faced the class. "All right, class! I assume you have all, with the exception of Sandy, done the problems I set you? Good." With that, he turned around and erased the board with a few quick swipes of his arm. He then wrote up some more equations, pausing to refer to a textbook on his desk.
The rest of the class began to copy down and work on the equations. I turned around to Kerisa and asked, "What were you doing before I came in?"
"Exercises 45 to 47." She grinned at me then, and leaned over to whisper in a low voice, "Have fun last night, did you? I sometimes envy you chakats. You have a great sex life."
"Yeah, well, we have it both ways, so we get double the fun out of it. I was a little sexually distracted yesterday. Me and Grey decided Deepriver was the source of my problem, and she indulged me." I grinned and turned around again before the professor could call me to task, and began to work on the board's equations.
The first three classes of the day went by rather uneventfully. When the bell for lunch rang at noon, I made my way to the cafeteria, pleased to find that I was near the front of the line for once. As I waited I looked over the menu for the day. "Hmm...chicken and mushroom casserole, pumpkin soup or the Mystery Meal...." I thought to myself that it seemed to be a tradition in all schools to serve a dish named along the lines of 'Mystery Meat'. "I wonder what the Mystery Meal will be today," I mused quietly to myself.
"I don't know, but I remember last week it was roast beef, so it's not all bad." The wolf morph in front of me turned to smile at me. "Following the current trend, I'd take a guess at something unpalatable today. Like baked roadkill."
I wrinkled my muzzle up at that suggestion. "Gee, what a pleasant thought, and right before lunch too...." I started laughing, joined a few seconds later by the wolf. "I don't think I'm seen you before...are you new? Or have we just missed each other?" He was a little taller than I was, probably just under six feet. His fur was a pale brown, streaked through with black and silver. A tail of pure black fur moved around behind him like a furry snake. Eyes of mild green gazed at me curiously, roving over me as if he hadn't seen a chakat before. If he hadn't, he hid the fact extremely well.
"It's a pretty large uni, so that's entirely possible." The wolf extended a well-manicured paw. "Name's Leon Kavanaugh Runswift the Fourteenth. Most people call me Leon, oddly enough. Or 'Kavvy'."
I blinked rapidly, staring at Leon. "The Fourteenth? And with that British accent...." I held out my hand, a bit stunned. Was I in the presence of royalty?
Leon seemed to read my thoughts, and grinned as he shook my hand. "No, I'm not royalty, thought it seems that way. I'm merely the fourteenth male in our family named Leon. The Runswift line goes back about two hundred years...give or take a decade or two. Just treat me as you would any other person." The line moved forward a few places, allowing him and myself to serve ourselves. "I highly recommend the casserole," he said, spooning himself a large helping, grabbing a heap of bread, then moving on again to select a small apple pie for dessert.
"I'm not particularly fussed about mushrooms," I said, regarding Leon's plate warily. It did look inviting though.... "But I guess I'll give it a try." I scooped up about half of what Leon had taken, then grabbed a bowl of soup. "Pumpkins, on the other paw, I'll eat quite happily."
For my dessert, I thought I'd indulge myself with the 'Death by Chocolate' cake. Leon stared at me, a wry grin on his face when he saw what I'd selected. "Got a sweet tooth, have you?"
"Not particularly. I just felt like having something different." After picking up a couple of Cokes from the vending machine, and paying for the food, we made our way to an empty table. Leon sat down, gesturing for me to do the same before he realised how pointless it was. We 'taurforms don't need to sit, really, but I took the gesture with a smile. I picked up my fork, looking down at the chicken and mushroom casserole with trepidation. "Here goes," I muttered to myself.
Just as I was about to take the first bite, I saw Kerisa enter the room, followed a few seconds later by Deepriver. "Oh, hell!" I swore, a look of sudden recollection on my face.
"What?" Leon stopped in mid-chew, peering at me with concern. "Is something the matter?"
I waved a hand in the general direction of the queue of people waiting to serve themselves. "I said I'd eat lunch with my friends. Care to join us? I'm sure they wouldn't mind...one of them needs to make new friends, anyway."
Leon shrugged. "Sure. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine, or so the saying goes." He stopped eating for the moment, while I tried to get my friends' attention. After a few waves of my arms, Kerisa noticed and grinned at me, nodding her head in understanding.
"So who's this?" Kerisa inquired when she padded up to the table, taking the position to my left, Deepriver taking the right. "Introduce us, why don't you?"
"Kerisa, Deepriver, this is Leon...Runswift," I said, deciding to drop the rest for his benefit. "Leon, my best friend Kerisa, and a friend we met only yesterday, Deepriver." Kerisa wasted no time in giving Leon a big, chakat-style hug, much to his bewilderment. Deepriver merely nodded, a vague smile on hir face. "Nice to meet you, Leon."
"Nice to meet two such lovely lad...er...." Leon trailed off, not quite sure how to group the two additions to our table collectively.
"Ladies will do fine," I said, giving Leon some help. "She's female --" I pointed to Kerisa, "-- and we chakats always look outwardly female, so it's just easier to refer to us as ladies. We don't mind, really."
Kerisa tapped her fork on her plate impatiently. "Can we eat already? I'm starving! I haven't had anything since breakfast."
I snorted at that. "I didn't even have time for that this morning, so count yourself lucky." I dug up a forkful of the cooling casserole, and put it in my mouth, wondering how it would taste. To my surprise, it barely tasted of mushrooms at all. The flavourful spices in the dish masked the bitterness, yet added to the chicken's tastiness. "Oh, Leon, you were right about this casserole. It's lovely!"
Leon smirked a little at me. "Trust me when it comes to food. My father was a great chef, and he taught me a lot about cooking, including spices." He grinned as I took another large bite and savoured the taste.
Kerisa looked down at her plate, upon which rested a brown amorphous mass that I assumed was the Mystery Meal, then at my plate. "I think I'm not hungry any more. I have utterly no idea what this meal is."
"Um...." Deepriver looked at her Meal, cut off a portion and ate it. "Ugh. Tastes like...like...." Shi groped for a suitable description, giving up after a few seconds. "It's inedible, anyway." Both shi and Kerisa looked at Leon and me. "Do either of you want ours?"
"No, thanks," we said together, shaking our heads. While we continued to eat our wonderful-tasting lunch, the other two just shifted their food around with their forks. When I moved onto my cake, Deepriver's eyes lit up. "Are you going to eat all that?" shi asked hesitantly. "Chocolate's a rare treat for me, and I didn't have enough change on me to buy it."
I broke the cake, which was actually quite a big slab, into two pieces, giving the larger portion to the other chakat. I bit into my piece, and was almost overwhelmed by the incredibly rich sweetness. "My gods!" I exclaimed, my facing screwing up into a comic expression. "This is sweet! No wonder they call it 'Death by Chocolate'."
I watched Deepriver as shi ate hirs. Hir eyes were closed, hir face serene as shi chewed. Every now and then shi'd emit a purr of bliss as shi consumed the rich confection. I glanced at Kerisa, then at Leon. Both were looking with interest at Deepriver. "I've never seen anyone with such a passion for chocolate," Leon murmured.
"Hmm? Oh!" Deepriver blushed when she noticed shi was being stared at. "I feel like such an idiot, acting the way I am...." Shi quickly finished off the cake without further comment.
"Yes, well, everyone is entitled to their personal quirks," I said, grinning. "Makes a nice change." I consumed the rest of my piece then leaned back, feeling there was something I'd forgotten. "Oh! Deepriver! Would you like to come round for dinner? My sister extends the invitation. I told hir about you yesterday and shi said shi'd like to meet you."
Deepriver regained hir look of uncertainty at the offer. "Um...I can't tonight. I have a test tomorrow that I should study for." Shi peered down at her congealed plate, not saying another word.
"Right...okay. Leon? Perhaps you might like to come for dinner? I don't normally make such offers to people I barely know, but you seem like such a nice guy...." And a very good-looking guy at that, I added mentally.
Kerisa quickly narrowed her eyes at me, as if she was saying, "He's mine, you hear me?" I caught the look she shot at me and nodded imperceptibly. You want him, you entertain him.
"I'm sorry, but I have a previous engagement with my folks. They're trying to palm me off onto another prospective mate. Honestly.... We're in the 2300s, and parents still try and act the Victorian matchmakers. It's ridiculous." Leon made a rude noise to show his disgust at such old-fashioned tactics.
"That's okay," I said, slightly relieved for some odd reason. "I'm glad my parents aren't like that -- though my mother is a little on the fussy side."
We spent the next few minutes until the bell rang for the end of lunch talking, getting to know each other a little better. At the end of it all, I was pleased that I'd made two new friends in as many days. One can never have too many friends, I thought as I padded off to a botany lecture.
The rest of the day proceeded normally. When I got home that afternoon, Greytail was at the kitchen table, a small pile of books sitting next to hir. I went into my room to dump my books and stuff, then came out to the dining area. "What are you reading?" I asked as I rummaged through the fridge for something cold and refreshing to drink. I came up with a large bottle of L&P1, shut the fridge with my tail and went to the table.
"I got those books you asked for," shi said, not looking up from hir reading. "Everything you've always wanted to know about growing exotic plants but were afraid to ask." Shi now put down the book and moved to give me a warm hug. "Tell me how your day was, before we go any further into the exciting field of plants."
I leaned into Grey's arms, encircling hir with my own while I thought. "It was...interesting. I was obviously late when I got to my first class, but Professor Mallein took my excuse well enough. I said I'd had 'one of those nights' again."
Grey laughed, the vibrations running into my body, giving me a small thrill of pleasure. "I used to use the same excuse when I was your age. Anyway, carry on. Did you have lunch with...what's hir name?" Shi prompted me to fill in the blanks.
"Deepriver? I did, yes. And I met a great wolf morph by the name of Leon Kavanaugh Runswift the Fourteenth. We all had lunch together. Well, he and I did. Deepriver and Kerisa mistakenly chose the Mystery Meal, so they didn't really eat lunch as such." I shrugged at such trivialities.
"Eh? The Fourteenth? What is he...some kind of nobleman? Surely there can't be too many with royal blood nowadays...." Grey backed up a step, staring at me with hir golden eyes wide.
I wasn't entirely sure myself, either, so I just shrugged again. "I don't think so. He said he was the fourteenth in his family to have the name Leon, so... Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. I asked both around for dinner, but they declined, at least for the time being."
"Well, I guess I'm not surprised," my sister said, moving back to hir previous spot at the table. "After all, they've only known you for a day. You'd be rather apprehensive if you were asked to dinner by someone you barely knew, don't you think?"
I picked up one of the books, idly flicking through the glossy pages. "Hmm...good point. Anyway, speaking of dinner...what is it?"
"Well, seeing as we're not going to have guests tonight, I thought we could just go out for pizza. I hear Pete's Pizzas are having a special on large Hawaiian pizzas. Two for $9.99 plus a 2 litre Coke for an extra ninety cents. It's been a few weeks since the last time, don't you agree?"
"That sounds great! But what are you going to have?" I grinned at Grey's disapproving frown, which suddenly dissolved into an open smile. "Very funny, Sandwalker. You're going to have to come with me. Only one special per customer, so you'll have to buy your own."
I shrugged. "Suits me fine." I looked up at the kitchen clock, which showed a few minutes to five o'clock. "Best we go now, before the rush hour starts."
We collected our little body pouches in which we liked to carry our money and left the house. It took us only a few minutes to get down to Pete's, but when we got there, it seemed as if most of South Auckland had had the same idea we had. "Oh, man!" I grumbled as we took a place at the back of a line stretching some twenty metres from the door to the counter. "Is it really worth the long wait? What's wrong with Giuseppe's Pizzeria?"
"The pizzas are terrible. I should know -- I've had one of them before. It had way too much garlic on it." Grey looked around, then up toward the counter. "Um...Sandy. What did you say Deepriver looked like?"
"Sort of a dark red, with black and grey tiger stripes. Why? Is she here?" I craned my neck all over the place, looking like a silly tourist.
Shi pointed at the front, where said chakat was serving a customer. If I concentrated I could just make out hir words. "Two Chicken Pizzas with extra cheese. That'll be nineteen seventy-five, thanks." I watched with incredulity as the line moved forward a bit more, allowing us to see a little clearer. "That's hir all right, but shi said shi had a test to study for...unless that was just a cover up for the fact that shi works here. But what's wrong with working in a pizza parlour?"
Grey looked at me with an understanding expression on hir face. "Well, if you wanted a good job, but could only get one as low as serving fast food, wouldn't you be a little tempted to hide that fact from everybody?"
"Um...I guess you do have a point, though I've always thought working in a pizzeria was a great thing." I pondered it a moment longer before the line moved again toward its inevitable conclusion. "I wonder what hir reaction will be when shi recognises me."
"We don't have very long to wait before that question will be answered," Grey said to me in a low tone of voice. Only five more customers stood in front of us.
A few minutes later it was our turn to be served. "Good evening. What is your --" Deepriver broke off suddenly when shi realised who she was speaking to. "Oh, gods. YOU!" The outburst prompted a few curious looks from customers in other lines, much to hir embarrassment. "What is your order?" shi repeated in a more normal tone of voice, though the insides of hir ears were redder than I'd ever seen them.
"We'd like to order two of your Hawaiian specials to go. We're paying separately -- one for hir, and one for me." I looked Deepriver in the eyes until shi turned away to deliver the order to the kitchen. "They'll be a couple of minutes, if you'd care to wait?" When we nodded shi leaned over and hissed in a low voice, "What are you doing here! I've never been so embarrassed in my life!"
I nearly said, "I'm sure you have," but I wisely refrained from saying so. "We're just buying our dinner. We might ask you the same question, don't you think?" Before shi could say anything I butted in. "Look, there is nothing wrong with working in a pizza parlour. In fact, I'd love to work here, with all the smells, the customer interaction, the gossip...." I stopped when Grey gave me one of hir Looks when I said the word 'gossip'. "Anyway, the point is that there is nothing to be ashamed about. Look at it as a chance to learn people skills. You have, haven't you? After all, you're working with other people. You're not afraid to touch them, are you?"
Deepriver stared at me for such a long time that I was starting to get rather uncomfortable when shi said, "You're right." Shi smiled then, and quickly gave me a small hug over the counter. "That's the main reason why I took this job a week or two ago; to get used to being around people all the time. Truth is...I sort of like working here. The people are usually friendly, though I get the odd misfit in here who likes to stir up trouble, but otherwise...." Shi shrugged then, and turned to collect our pizzas from the slot behind hir. "Here you go. That's nine ninety-nine, plus a buck eighty for the drinks if you wish to buy them."
"We certainly do," Grey said, grinning at Deepriver. "When does your shift finish?" shi asked as shi took the pizzas and drinks, and paid for them before I could get my own money out. "Pay me later," shi whispered quietly.
"Uh...." Deepriver glanced at the large clock that was stationed above the kitchen door behind hir. "At six, actually. Why?"
"We'd like you to join us for dinner, if that's all right with you? We'll shout you, of course." Grey cocked hir head sideways in inquiry.
The chakat behind the counter looked rather surprised, but shi nodded, a small smile on hir face. "We'll be in the park across the street," Grey said as we left. Out of the corner of my eye I saw hir slip Deepriver a twenty dollar note with a sly wink. I grinned to myself. "Well, it looks as if things are about to take a turn for the better, and maybe we can get some excitement out of it as well," Grey murmured to me as we went out the door with our purchases.
"I hope so, because I really like that chakat." I pointed discreetly between my legs, causing Grey to grin. "Oh?" shi said without bothering to look. She knew what I meant. "We'll have to do something about that, won't we?"
1 L&P is a soft drink that is, to the author's knowledge, unique to New Zealand. It is slightly lemon-flavoured. L&P stands for 'Lemon and Paeroa', after the town where the original mineral water came from.