Emeral breathed with concentration, counting in her head. Her arms were stretched behind her, fists pointed down at forty-five degree angles. The muscles in her back and shoulders tingled with a satisfying twinge as they were loosened.
She let out her breath, relaxing and dangling her arms and fingers to recover from the stretch. The wind blew, and the trees all about the rusty, abandoned playground deep within the park shook their limbs in much the same way.
She looked up at Ket, who sat at the top of the swirling slide.
He tossed the basketball they had brought up into the air, catching it in his hands. He slipped in his judgment, and it took a trip down the slide. He followed.
She smiled, looking up at the monkey-bars above her.
Between the fringes of the trees, she could see the dark-gray sky overhead. Another gust of wind blew, rattling the leaves and setting the window she gazed through into a gentle sway. She took the moment of observation to tuck her shirt into her shorts, before poising.
She leapt into the air, catching onto the rungs. Her feet swayed just a bit, before she settled. Then, she pulled herself up, holding her breath and flexing her stomach to balance out the strain in her arms.
She dropped, letting out her breath, only to repeat the action. Her eyes squinted as her nose barely clipped the rung she grasped.
She dropped again, this time not quite as violently, and pulled back up.
She started to hang for a second or two when she dropped. Her breathing became a bit labored. Her arms began to burn.
The pads of her hands began to feel sore from how tightly she gripped the rung.
Her muscles trembled as she fought to barely get her nose to even touch the rung.
She dropped with a gasp, and held on as best she could. She tried to pull up once again, kicking her feet, but it was no use. Her arms had gone weak. She gathered her flailing kicks into a concentrated swing. After a few tics and tocs, she used her last burst of strength to pull up as she swung forward, catching the soles of her shoes on one of the rungs in front of her.
She managed to get her right foot through, followed by her left, until the rung nestled into the backs of her crooked knees. She let her fingers uncurl, despite their awkward desire to keep the tight grip that they had so strained to maintain.
Her hair whipped in gravity as she swayed upside down, tingling fingers pointing to the ground when she managed to resist their urge to curl. Sprinkles of numbness trickled through her arms and fell into her fingertips, like flecks of shells drifting to the bottom of water.
When the heavy pulse in her temples calmed, she folded her arms across her torso, gripping onto her sides. She took another deep breath, and curled against gravity. These inverted crunches were actually a bit deceiving; they looked difficult, but they weren't much harder than regular crunches. That didn't mean they wore her out any less.
Ket watched as she curled and uncurled. Her hair swung and rippled in a single wave with each repetition. He counted up to twelve reps before he set the ball on the slide, and walked closer to her.
After several more, she finally groaned and released her posture, letting her arms and hair dangle down to the ground once again. She opened her eyes, and saw the blue shoes with silver laces just to her right. Despite the tension in her strained muscles, she angled her head so she looked up to his face. She reached out, silently asking for help.
He took her hand as he moved beside her, letting it hook about his waist. He braced her stomach and back, and let her know he was ready.
After a countdown, it was a bit of a clumsy fall on her part. But she was supported, and touched the ground with her feet. She leaned against him, her legs still tingling and her arms still feeling like wet noodles. The wind blew rather fiercely, whipping tresses of her hair up and tickling both of them on the cheek.
Giggling, she stood on her own. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a hair-tie. Despite the weak feeling in her arms, and their reluctance to be lifted, she managed to corral her hair into a pony-tail, save for a few loose strands that still floated up in the gentle gusts.
He went in for a quick kiss on her cheek, reaching behind her head. He ran his fingers over the bundle of hair, starting at the base, guiding the end of the tail to over her shoulder.
Her neck and shoulder squirmed in response to the ticklish way he placed her hair over her collar-bone, but ultimately allowed it. The way he sometimes treated her hair was touching, for she hardly had paid attention to it as anything more than a nuisance before his attention. Were it not for her mother's insistence, she would have had it shorter. But, in a way, she didn't want to look too boyish.
The world suddenly dimmed. They both looked up to see a dramatic scene within the clouds. The afternoon sun turned part of the sky into a gleaming pool of light. The other half was taken by a cumulonimbus cloud that looked like a looming, floating fortress scudding across the sky.
While they marveled at the tide above them for a few seconds, watching as the clouds slowly fought towards the streaming light, a song erupted between them. The melodic tune broke the atmosphere of the moment, sending her into a few chuckles as she snuck her hand into his pocket to pull out her phone.
His face in shock at the gesture, she flipped it open and answered.
”Hello?” She took a half-step away from him, her free hand idly pinching and rolling the ends of her pony-tail between her fingers. “Okay, we'll head home.” She hung up, slipping the phone into her own pocket. “Your mom says she's done shopping and swinging by Micky D's, and wants us to head back to your house. If we time it right,” she crossed her arms a bit sarcastically, bobbing her head to her words, “we get to help unload the car. Yay,” she smiled.
He smiled back, knowing she was just teasing. “If we head back fast enough, we can have a bit of time before she gets home.”
”My legs don't really wanna go too fast,” she admitted. “I just did like a hundred gravity-crunches,” she was quick to justify.
”Eighteen,” he corrected with a smirk.
”Psh, close enough.”
”Why were you doing 'em anyway?” He asked curiously, leading them over to the ball at the slide.
”Cuz,” she said, grabbing at her shirt. “I'm trying to get rid of my baby-fat.” She lifted her shirt enough to show off her stomach, looking down at it critically. When she looked to her boyfriend, his hands were frozen on the ball and his eyes blinked and flitted to her stomach and then somewhere aside a few times, as if nervous someone was watching them.
She grinned, flexing. “Pretty soon I'll have abs like you did,” she dropped her shirt and patted his belly.
”I'm not that fat,” he retorted, only a little self-consciously at her use of past-tense, covering his stomach with the ball as he started walking.
”It's not that you're fat,” she clarified, keeping in stride and talking in a light-hearted manner. “You've just actually had more things to eat besides Pop-Tarts.”
All of a sudden, she was gone from his periphery. He paused, and looked back. “What's wrong?”
Her eyes were caste downward. “I mean...” She curled her hands into fists. “Y—your mom did what she could... I didn't mean to sound like...” Her thoughts trailed.
Just as soon as he began to understand where her words were leading, her eyes squinted shut and she sniffled sharply. He dropped the ball and dashed the few steps back to her. “Hey...” He said, gently, reaching out to her arm. As soon as he touched it, she opened one eye. He watched a tear slip free and fall down her cheek.
She rubbed at her eyes with her wrist and the back of her hand. “I'm sorry,” she said with a bit of a flutter in her voice. “That didn't come out right at all...”
He patted her arm. “I didn't think you meant anything mean by it at all,” he consoled. “Besides,” he shrugged, “I could have eaten better,” he admitted, snagging the ball back up from the ground. “It's not that we didn't have food, I was just too lazy to do anything more than put Pop-Tarts in the toaster—and most of the time I didn't even do that,” he smiled.
She returned a meager smile back. As she followed him down the brush-laden path, she had a thought on her mind. “You like my hair in a pony-tail, right?”
He tossed the ball up, and replying: “It makes you look cute and cool at the same time.”
She reached out, hooking onto one of his belt-loops. “Not what I asked,” she admonished. “Remember what I said over ice cream?—”
”All I really care about, is—”
”Whether or not I like something,” he finished the thought along with her. He tossed the ball up again, but before it lazily fell into his hands she snatched it from his awaiting catch. He acquiesced, letting her keep the ball. “I like your hair any way you have it,” he stated.
”That a challenge?” She joked. “But, really. Is there anything you wouldn't like?” She spun the ball against her right hand to keep it in the air. “What if I colored it?”
”I'd like green the best,” he replied without missing a beat.
It would have been a convincingly sincere and genuine response to anyone who even knew him pretty well. But she knew him—more deeply than perhaps anyone else, she liked to think—and she knew the response was crafted just for her. It was also her knowledge that kept it from getting her goat right away. “I'd rather be bald,” she retorted.
”Now that I wouldn't like.” This time, his response was sincere. He extended his hands for the ball, and she relinquished it to him.
The rest of their walk home was relatively silent. As soon as they emerged from the trees to the kids playing on the courts, words between them were sparse. For no particular reason than the world around them had gotten louder. As they walked along the streets, the wind and the bustle of cars would have made listening to each other's voices a frustrating annoyance.
The air was crisp, the temperature cool. It even brought a bit of a shiver to their shoulders. Debris, mostly of dead leaves and the occasional plastic grocery bag, skittered about in the breezes. Wind-chimes from no distinguishable location could be heard along a stretch of the street, the wind giddily playing them like a toddler's xylophone.
Their shoes rapidly hit the concrete sidewalks. They became a blur of silver and gold. Not a race, for he could not pass her without impolitely tromping upon someone's lawn or putting himself in the line of a speeding car; and yet, a race, which he would never win.
It ended, supposedly, when she snagged the handle of the door with her hand, declaring her victory. She then leaned against the door as the lactic acid took its toll.
Not a few seconds later, with heavier breaths than her, he arrived. He pulled the key from his pocket, dropping the ball so that it rolled into the corner of the porch. The teeth ground along the pins, and the door opened with a heavy crunch as he depressed the tab, and stepped in.
”I crossed the threshold first,” he countered.
”I...” She huffed, exhausted from running so soon after working her muscles on the monkey-bars. She made her way to the table, supporting herself by a chair.
He went to the sink and washed his hands, then turned about to retrieve a couple of glasses from the cabinet. From the freezer, he grabbed a handful of ice and dropped it into one glass. From the fridge, he retrieved the pitcher of raspberry Kool-Aid, filling both glasses up.
When he proffered her glass, she accepted it and immediately took a gulp, before saying “thanks,” and wiping the red tinge left behind on her lips with her wrist. “The goal was the door-handle.”
”I couldn't pass you,” he retorted.
”Sounds like a personal problem,” she teased back.
They continued to sip and recover their breaths in the day-lit kitchen. When their drinks were just under half-way full, another chirp came from Emeral's phone. She fished it from her pocket, flipping it open.
”What's up?” He asked, after a moment.
”Dad's letting me and mom know he's at the hotel,” she said, her finger tapping out a response and then her palm closing the phone. Just as she was about to put it back in her pocket, it buzzed again. “Ugh, sorry.”
”Now he's talking about the weather,” she said, including him in the conversation. “Dad says it's sunny where he is.”
A sudden honk startled the kids. Ket went to the door, and peeked out. “Mom's home,” he said, slipping out.
Emeral quickly tapped out a message and went for the door. When she opened it, a blast of wind caught her face, making her balk. She went out fully, leaving the door with just enough tension that it wouldn't swing open. She trotted out, meeting Ket halfway, and he was carrying a couple fast-food bags.
”Can you take these and man the door?”
”You mean woman the door,” she teased, taking the bags of food.
”Whatever, I'm gonna grab a couple bags at a time.” He jogged back to the car, passing his mom. He looked in and saw only two other paper grocery bags left. He was expecting more, but maybe she didn't have to get as much. One bag was heavy, and the other was only three-quarters full. He crumpled the emptier bag up from the top, and settled it between his chin and the neck of the other bag as he hooked his hands around the base of it.
Counting to three with his breaths, he flexed his gut and lifted away. He hobbled, the other bag awkward to hold for his size, and the smaller bag making him lift his chin up uncomfortably.
”To your left, a bit.”
He heard Emmy tell him, her voice carried by the wind. He struggled against it, too, as it picked up again. He felt the bag in his arms steady, and another set of hands bumping against his wrists.
”Sheesh,” she chuckled, guiding him into the house.
Back inside, she helped him set it down. When he straightened up, his back felt sore, and he whipped his arms a couple of times.
”You guys can start pulling out the food, I'm gonna go park the car.” Momma R. said, as she went to the door with her keys jingling in her hand. “Thanks for your help, Emmy,” she added, before it closed behind her.
As Emeral went to wash her hands, Ket began digging in the bags of fast food. He found the one which held the burgers, and pulled out a couple. He looked at them, seeing no special sticker on them. He set them on the table and dug in more.
”Heeeeey,” the white tigress said to get his attention. “Stop messin' with food when ya got dirty hands,” she admonished.
He rolled his eyes, releasing the bag. “I was just looking for my burger. I didn't touch anything.”
She looked in the bag, seeing the other two burgers. She pulled them out, setting them down on the table. “Um...” She flipped each one over. “I don't see the sticker. Your mom wouldn'ta forgot,” she reassured.
”Maybe they just forgot to put it on?”
”Well, this is the only double,” she pointed out, separating the larger burger from the three smaller ones. “So, open it up. Let's check,” she slid it over to him.
He unwrapped it, and lifted up the bun. Underneath, atop the patty and melted cheese, were two pickles, and many flecks of diced onions. He let out a sigh of dismay.
Emeral exchanged glances with him.
”It's fine,” he dismissed, when he saw her cringing sympathetically. “Don't worry about it.”
”We can just pick 'em off,” she suggested, rather quickly, as if trying to keep him from getting upset. “Here, I have clean hands, okay?” She offered, setting her fingertips on the edge of the paper. With a nod, she slid it over, and delicately began picking off the pieces of diced onion, setting them on a napkin. “Might as well go wash your hands,” she suggested.
Grumbling, the tiger went to the sink.
Just as he sudsed his hands, there came a knock at the door.
”Uh oh, I have greasy fingers,” she remarked, glancing at him over her shoulder.
He hurriedly tried to rinse the soap off his hands and rub them haphazardly on the towel to dry them, then dashed to the door, but just before he could open it, the latch crunched.
Momma R. slid in, supporting a foam tray of drinks in one arm. “Don't all get up to help at once, now,” she teased. “Whoa,” she stepped away as the door was pushed open by the wind.
”Got it!” Ket barked, reaching past his mother to catch the edge from banging against the wall. He pulled it shut, and locked it.
”I got our drinks, and I got sundaes for dessert,” Momma R. stated, setting the drink-tray down, and picking out the small sodas. “Sprite for Emmy, HI-C for Ket. I'll put the sundaes in the freezer,” she carried the tray over. “You doing burger-surgery, Emmy?”
The tigress giggled. “Ket's burger had onions,” she explained. “I'm picking them off.”
”Ugh, what?” The mother tigress scoffed. “I told them no onions!” She opened the freezer and put the sundaes in. “I'm sorry, Ketso,” she apologized, shutting the freezer door firmly. “I'll try to remember to check next time.”
The tiger shrugged, pulling out two large fries. “It's fine. I would've eaten it either way.”
”Done!” Declared the burger-surgeon, wiping her fingers off on the napkin. “I tried not to touch all over your cheese and stuff,” she reassured. “Oh, and the pickles were on top of each other, so I spread 'em out.”
Momma R. sat with them at the table. “What are you gonna do with that little collection?” She asked the tigress.
”More onions for me!” She replied, grabbing her burgers.
The three began readying their meals: unwrapping burgers, distributing fries and ketchup, and pushing straws through lids.
The first to take a bite was Ket, followed almost immediately by Emmy, while Momma R. snatched all the bag-fries. In the relative quiet, there came a howl.
Emeral looked about with perked ears, and when the howl became stronger, she was able to locate it. She looked at the window, the one that had been replaced after the break-in.
”Huh,” Momma R.'s chair screeched as she scooted out to stand up, and went to the window. She examined it. “Guess it's not set in quite right,” she reasoned, as another gust whipped by and she could feel a draft of cool air seeping through the seam in the lower left corner. “I'll have to call the company,” she sighed. “There'll probably be a service charge.”
”It got kinda crazy all of a sudden,” Emeral observed, seeing the wind picking up in the treetops outside before the curtain rested back into place.
”Yeah,” Momma R. agreed, flicking on the light. “There's a big ol' storm a-comin'.” She sat back at the table, unwrapping her burger.
Emeral straightened up. “How... how big?” She questioned.
Momma R. grinned. “Aww, is Emmy a'scared of a little t'under shtorm?” She teased.
”Mom,” her son said.
Emeral watched as the Rachauns held each others' gaze for a few seconds, and then went back to their meals.
”Sorry, Emmy,” the mother tigress said. “The weatherman said it was a combination of a few systems, so it's expected to start pretty soon and last into the wee-hours of the morning.”
Ket swallowed his mouthful. “Is Isis going to mourn?” He asked.
His mother chuckled.
Emeral's ear flicked. “Hm...” She took a bite, thinking. “Hey... yeah, I remember,” she said, shoving her food to one side to speak. She finished her bite before her thought. “Momma R., you said something about that when we got back from the beach. I wanted to ask what you meant.”
”I did what, now?” The mother tigress asked, raising her brow.
Ket started lightly rapping at his sternum, before tilting his cup and sucking down some of the liquid through the straw.
”Well don't take such big bites,” his mother admonished, when he let out a sigh of relief. She looked at the tigress, expectantly.
”Um... I was just remembering when I was helping Ket clean his room. Mom almost stepped on his figurine of Isis, and you said something about flooding the Nile?” The tigress finished.
”Huh,” the mother tigress said, at a loss. “You remembered more than me,” she admitted with a shrug.
”You had a lot on your mind,” Ket reasoned. “My guess is you were just referring to what I was referring to.”
”Which is...?” Emeral remarked, “I wanna be in on the joke, too,” she mockingly pouted.
Momma R. chuckled. “Don't leave her hangin'. Tell her,” she ordered her son, bapping his shoulder with the back of her hand.
”You made the joke, you tell her,” he replied. “Besides,” he took a bite, “Mmmf hamf maff hrrf mff moff ffm,” he mumbled.
His mom shook her head. “Okay, okay. It's nothing too special, Emmy. It's just...” She set her burger down and went to her fries. “Have you ever heard about how Set trickled Osiris into a box?”
”Oh, yeah!” The tigress replied, her ears perking up. “Ket told me that story on the same day, actually,” she recalled.
”Well,” the mother tigress said, “if Ket told it right,” she glanced at her kid in teasing, “Osiris got turned into confetti and Isis grieved for a bit before using her magic to find all of his pieces, right?”
”Mm-hmm,” the tigress nodded, sipping her drink.
”Well, the ancient Egyptians believed that, during her mourning, she cried enough to stir up a storm and flood the Nile.”
”Oh, okay, that makes sense, now,” Emeral nodded. Then, she smiled. “I guess it's kinda silly to say it, but I never thought about you knowing Egypt-stuff, too,” the tigress remarked.
”I'd certainly hope I do,” Momma R. joked. “Ket's grandad and my dad are the same person,” she clarified.
”And you still called it the Nile?” Ket stated, with a hint of a smirk.
”I did it for Emmy's sake,” his mother replied.
”Did what for my sake?” The tigress asked.
”Your turn,” Momma R. said. “Since you brought it up.”
Ket shrugged. “Ancient Egyptians called the Nile Iteru,” he explained. “Basically means river.”
”Maybe both of you knowing all this stuff isn't so fun, anymore,” Emeral joked.
”So... kid,” his mother began. “When you told her the story of Set's trick, what did you say about you-know-what?”
”I didn't.” The tiger replied.
”What you-know-what?” The tigress said, feeling left out again.
“Your turn,” Ket smiled at his mother. “Since you brought it up.”
Momma R. took a handful of fries and shoved them in her mouth, “Wff mff mmwafwamawa...”
Emeral wrinkled her nose. “What's going on?” She questioned. “Why are you guys acting all weird?”
Ket shrugged. “Isis couldn't find every piece of Osiris.” The tiger explained, nonchalantly. “She couldn't find his part 'where the sun don't shine,' so she used a piece of wood and was like 'that's good enough.'” To punctuate the statement, he took a casual bite of his burger.
The tigress blinked, an awkward moment of silence thickening. She broke it with a slight cough, and then managed to remark, “Your grandpa must've told the weirdest bedtime stories...”
Momma R. cleared her throat. “That's just the way the myth goes,” she replied. Then, she tapped the table nervously. “Please don't tell your mom we had this kind of table-talk. We usually don't.”
Emeral shrugged. “Mom tells stories about all the blood and guts she deals with over dinner, sometimes,” she admitted. “No big deal.” Just then, her phone began to ring. She pulled it from her pocket, and looked at the screen. “Speaking of...” She flipped it open. “Hello?”
Ket took another bite, trying to chew quietly while he listened to the barely-audible sounds of Momma B. speaking into Emeral's ear.
”Okay, sure,” the tigress said, and proffered her phone over to her secret-boyfriend's mother. “Mom wants to talk to you,” she said.
”Oh, okay,” she received the phone, and stood up, “I'll just go to the other room, one sec.” She put the phone to her ear. “Hey, Momma B.”
”Hey, Momma R.”
”So y...ar... abou...”
”I'm sorry? You're breaking up a bit.”
”Ugh, o... se...n...” A bunch of static came over for a few seconds, before the call cut.
Micah glanced at the phone, worried she had done something wrong. “Hey Emmy?” She said, starting to walk back to the kitchen.
”Huh?” The tigress asked, before she heard her phone ring again.
”Oh, one sec...” Momma R. answered. “Hello?”
”Hey, sorry, guess reception is terrible,” Momma B. answered.
”Oh, no prob,” Micah waved her hand at the kids and went back to the living room. “So, what's up? Again,” she chuckled.
”Well, I was sayin': So you heard about the storm, right?”
Micah sat on the couch, “Oh yeah. April really wants to go out with a bang this year.”
”Yeah, for sure.”
”I was just feeding the kiddos, and then I was gonna take Emmy back home.”
”Um... yeah... about that,” Momma B. said, but then it sounded like she was interrupted by someone on her side. There was a brief exchange, and a bit of rustling as her hand covered the mouthpiece to muffle what was going on. It cleared, and her voice came back, “Still there?”
”I was actually calling to talk to you about Emmy. See... we're expecting to be really busy with this storm... Y'know, cars plus wet roads, and all.”
”Right. I bet you guys see a spike in emergencies,” Momma R. commented.
”Yeah, we do. So, I'm... I decided to stay overnight, to help out so we're not understaffed. I also don't wanna be caught driving in it, y'know?”
”Sure, sure. Bet it pays a little, too,” she joked, Garne matching her chuckle.
”So... Since Bery's at that convention, I was wondering if Emmy could spend the night over there? I would call Lyza, but I really don't want anyone on the roads at all right now. I'd hate to sound all gloomy and paranoid, but I just don't want to see anyone I know getting rushed down the corridor in a crash-cart.”
”Trust me, I understand your worries. We'll take care of Emmy.”
”Okay... I'd hate to dump that on you on such short notice—”
”Nah, don't worry about it. She's practically family over here, now. We'll make popcorn and watch a movie or something, stay inside. Nice and safe.”
”Hey, thank you for saving lives, right?” Momma R. countered.
”I wish I didn't have to,” the nurse said with a sigh. “That came out weird. Okay, just gonna give Kval a call to make sure they're okay, then back to work. No telling when the storm will hit, so stay safe.”
”Will do, good luck tonight.”
”Thanks. Call me, if you have any trouble.”
”I'm sure I won't, but I will if I do. Bye,” she looked at the phone, and pressed the red button. She stood up, and headed back to the kitchen. “Emmy?” She called.
”Mm?” The girl asked, finishing the last of her fries.
”Can you make sure I hung up the right way?” Micah asked, returning the phone back to its owner.
”Mhmm,” she replied, and took it. She gave a thumbs-up, closing it and putting it back in her pocket. “What did she wanna talk to you about?” She questioned.
”She wanted to talk about what to do with you tonight.” The mother tigress said vaguely.
”What to do with me?” The girl repeated, hear ears flattening worriedly. “Am I in trouble or something?”
Micah smiled. “Nope. Your mom just wants you to spend the night here. She's going to stay overnight at the hospital. She's expecting to be busy what with the storm coming in and all.”
”Oh... uh...” The tigress looked about.
”You okay with that plan?” The mother tigress asked.
”Uh... y-yeah, I just,” she looked at Ket, but then looked at the fries. “Um, I just... is it okay with you guys? I dunno where I could sleep... and I don't have any pajamas,” she commented, “these clothes are kinda dirty...” she looked over her shirt.
”We'll figure something out,” the mother tigress replied.
”We can make up the couch in the living room,” Ket thought. “And I think I have some pajamas Emmy can borrow.”
”What about a bath?” Emeral asked. “I usually take mine at night...”
”You may wanna hold off on that,” Micah replied. “You don't wanna be in the bath when the storm rolls through.”
”When is it supposed to happen?” The tigress questioned, standing up. “Maybe I can take a quick shower?”
”Don't worry about it,” Momma R. waved her hand dismissively. “No one's gonna say anything if you don't smell like lemon and sunshine.”
”She could take a shower,” the tiger said, standing up as well. “Just a quick one, right away. I'll take one, too.”
”Well, okay.” The mother tigress shrugged, acquiescing rather readily. “I'll warn you if I hear some thunder.”
Taking his girlfriend by the wrist, he led them up the stairs.
”You can go first,” she offered.
”We have two showers,” he replied. “Mom's shower is really nice, you'll like it,” he assured, as they passed the threshold to his bedroom, from firm carpet to soft.
”I... can't use yours?” She asked, in a low voice.
He paused, fingers caught in the loop to his dresser drawer. “You... wanna use mine?” He replied.
She smiled, hiding her hands behind her back. “I mean... if you don't want me to, I—”
”No, I just...” He pulled the drawer out with a scrape, leaning over to look inside and pull out folded clothes to lay on top. “I don't have any nice-smelling shampoos or anything... and it's been a little while since I cleaned it.”
”I don't care,” she said. “I just... wanna use your shower... if it's... okay...” She admitted.
He glanced to her, and saw a light blush on her cheeks. He smiled, feeling the same way she did, he guessed. “Here we go,” he pulled out a pair of jersey shorts that looked to be a size small for him, crammed at the bottom-back of the drawer. He set it atop the dresser and put the other shorts back. Then, he sifted through the shirts, finding one in particular. It fit him a bit tightly, but maybe for her it would be all right.
”Do you care if it's Ninja Turtles?” He asked, holding up the shirt.
She shook her head. “Of course not.”
”Okay.” He said setting the shirt down on the shorts, and picking them both up. “Here you go.”
”Um...” The blush on her cheeks got a bit deeper. “Wh-what about... um...” She reflexively pressed a finger to her forehead. “C-can I... borrow a pair of undies?” She asked, and then elaborating rather quickly with: “It'd just... feel yucky, wearing the same pair too long, y'know?”
The blush on his face deepened in turn. “Um... Yeah, sure,” he agreed, and went to another drawer. He pulled it open, sifting through. He pulled out a dark-red pair of boxer-briefs.
”Ooo,” she said with intrigue, in part to deflect some of her nervousness, “when did you start wearing boxers?”
”Oh, um,” he placed the pair of underwear between the shirt and shorts, as if to hide it. “I got new packages, cuz of the break-in, and...” He blushed. “I just wanted to get more grown-up underwear so if it happens again, there aren't a bunch of tighty-whities everywhere.” After an awkward moment of silence, he proffered the clothes. “They're actually boxer-briefs,” he corrected, “And I haven't worn this pair at all,” he said, in a reassuring way as if the disclaimer was needed.
”Why not?” She asked, taking the set of clothes.
”They're from the first pack I got just to try and see if I liked them. Those were a little too small for me, but I think they'll fit you,” he said, as the bundle of clothes exchanged hands.
”Thanks,” she replied with a flutter in her voice, holding the bundle to her chest. “I... really appreciate it.”
”C'mon,” he bid, trotting out of his room and toward his bathroom. He instructed her on how to change the faucet from tub to shower, and pointed out where the shampoo was. He also retrieved for her a fresh towel, taking his down and setting it on the ground, since they had thrown out the soiled rug and hadn't gotten a new one, yet.
She smiled as he slipped out of the room, closing the door. She went to the knob and turned the privacy lock. She looked at herself in the mirror, seeing the deep blush on her face. Embarrassed at herself, she tried to bury her nose in the bundle of clothes she still held.
Her nose caught the smell of the detergent. A smell she had come to associate with him. Her face warmed up even more, and she squeezed the bundle. Finally, she set the clothes down upon the sink counter, and looked at the tub, a thrill tingling all over her.
A part of her was a little upset she would have to shower quickly. She wanted to take her time, the thought of showering where he did every day making her feel giddy and silly. It was like the night she slept in his bed, and for a moment she sort of hoped she might get the chance again.
But as she pulled out the faucet knob to start warming the water, she knew that with his mom home this shower would be the best she could get.
Micah was eating the last few bites of her burger when she heard the footfalls coming down the stairs. Her son appeared in the hall. “Hey,” she called, stopping him.
He flinched, and turned, carrying a change of clothes in his arms. “Huh?”
”Is,” she pointed up, where they could hear the water running, “that Emmy using your shower?”
”Um... yeah, why?” He asked, hoping his nervous blush had calmed.
His mom shrugged. “I just... figured she would use mine.”
”She wanted to use mine,” he admitted, and then quickly elaborated; “She wanted to get the water started quicker, and my shower was closer, so...”
Micah let out a bemused chuff through her nose, smiling. “Long as you don't mind cooties,” she teased.
He turned, shouting as he trotted toward her bathroom: “There's no such thing!”
She spent some time finishing up her fries, and took a sip of his drink. She crumpled all of their trash, packing it into the fry containers, and went to throw them away. Catching a glimpse through the parted curtains of the window in front of the sink, she drew them aside.
The sky was getting angry. The wind, too. The tree-limbs were whipping, the leaves shifting and intertwining like seaweed in a current. Dusk was coming about an hour and a half early, the atmosphere tinting blueish-purple as the veil overpowered the sun.
She spent the next few minutes putting the non-perishable groceries away. The task was cathartic. She had grown a disdain for clutter, having lived in it for a couple of years. It was a reflection of her state of mind; or, perhaps, the reflection was the other way around. Besides, if she were ever to get to the point where she brought a man home, she wouldn't want him to be put off because of something so petty.
Then again, that was probably not the person she would want to bring home, anyway. She collected herself, trying not to dwell on the anxieties of dating when she felt past her prime.
At first, she thought the water was rushing through the pipes a little strangely, until it donned on her that the rain had started. The street-lights had turned on outside, and she could see the droplets whizzing by the window as they bent the light. Every few moments it would rain sideways through a gust.
She just barely heard a rumble. It was hard to tell if it was thunder, or if it was just the sky growling from the winds high above. But, to keep on the safe side, she went to her bathroom. She knocked on the door, and tested the knob. It opened, and she peeked in. “Hey, sweetie?”
”Uh... m-mom?” He tentatively asked, as he could not tell whose voice from the water rushing over his scalp, and in truth either one might call him that.
”I might've heard some thunder, so don't spend too much longer.”
”Okay, I'm almost done,” he told her. “Can you lock the door?”
She pushed in the button. “Was already gonna,” she said, before she shut it. Returning to the kitchen, she grabbed one of the grocery backs and folded it up. She quietly trotted upstairs with the bag in hand. The rain was already picking up, tapping out a percussive jam on the gutters. When she arrived at her son's den, she was genuinely surprised to see he had kept it rather clean. There were some books and papers here and there, but nothing that wouldn't take more than a few minutes to pick up.
She first went to the bathroom in which their guest was. She knocked, “hello in there?” She called out.
”Ket?” The tigress called back.
”Nope, sorry,” she said with a chuckle. “Just wanted to let you know I might've heard thunder, so—” Just then, the water cut off. “You don't have to stop now,” she remarked with an apologetic tone, “it was far away and it may not have been thunder.”
The door opened just a crack, and her emerald eye peeked out from within. “That's okay, I'm finished anyway. Is Ket waiting?”
”He's probably just finishing up, too. Should I tell him to wait downstairs?”
”Huh-uh, he can come up. I have a change of clothes.”
”Here's a bag you can put your dirty clothes in,” the mother tigress said, slipping it through the crack.
”Thanks,” said her guest, and with a tug the bag was exchanged.
The door closed, and the mother tigress walked across the room to the closet, avoiding stepping on the occasional puzzle magazine or piece of scratch paper. The closet was no longer filled to bursting, kept stable by sheer tension and luck. After two rounds of cleaning, most of it had been put in a better place, or thrown out.
She reached up to the linens and pulled down a set of sheets in plastic, thankful that they had recently had to clean so that not much dust would rain down over her. She also retrieved the duvet, and slung it over her shoulder. Too encumbered to retrieve a pillow, she decided she would let her son take care of that, and headed back downstairs.
She turned into the living room, set the folded sheets down on the couch as she passed, and draped the duvet across the lounge chair. Then, she definitely heard thunder.
”Whoa, just in time,” her son commented, opening up the door and turning off the light. “I hope Emmy's done.”
”She is,” his mom replied as he passed into the living room. “I just came from upstairs. I brought down the sheets and the heavy blanket, so you grab her a pillow.”
”Yup,” he acknowledged, cradling his bundle of dirty clothes and heading for the stairs. With each step, his heart started to beat a bit faster, though he didn't quite know exactly why. Maybe he was just nervous because he was beginning to reflect on how she requested to use his shower.
Or, maybe he was nervous because of the last time they had slept near to each other. Though he didn't quite know what to expect later, that she was sleeping under the same roof was enough to help him recall both the day they had declared their love in this very room, as well as the day he had made her cry in the tent.
As he dumped off his clothes in the laundry sorter, he felt that he wanted this night to be more like the night at the motel, than any other. Except, this time, without having to carry on the fib. He felt guilty about the white lie; but, in the end, did it really matter? It was such a minor slight, and the rest was all true. He was surprised she remembered; not because he didn't expect that of her, but because what he chose was something she happened to be able to draw upon later.
In hindsight, he should have just said a friend's house. That would have been closer to the truth.
He realized he had been lost in thought when he heard the toilet flush. He stepped out into the den proper, and lifted a knee to rest upon the arm-rest of the couch, propping him up as he watched the door.
A moment later, she opened it, the bag Momma R. had given her crinkling as she returned her free hand from switching off the light.
”Whoa!” She flinched, the bag protesting as she hugged it tightly. “You scared me,” she said with a breathy laugh.
”Sorry,” he apologized, pushing off the couch and walking toward her.
She flicked her wrist, tossed the bag upon the couch, and held out her arms.
He paused, for just the slightest of seconds. Seeing his clothes on her sent a nervous, but welcome, feeling of adoration through him. “You look cute,” he whispered, resting his hands on her shoulders, and sliding further to wrap her in embrace.
She wrapped her arms about his back, and took in a deep breath. “You smell like peaches,” she giggled.
”You...” he started to reply on impulse, but her damp hair smelled only of water and suds.
She released the hug, taking a step away, and let out another giggle.
”I should've brought the nice-smelling shampoo up,” he mumbled.
”Nuh-uh,” she shook her head. “I wanted to use yours,” she replied, using her toes to cover his, as if in their school-kissing gesture.
”Was it okay?” He asked. “You had a good shower?”
”Mm-hmm,” she nodded, shifting from heel to heel. “I almost wound up taking a bath, anyway.”
He raised a brow. “Why?”
She smiled, blushing. “I... had to use the potty, and I almost fell in.”
”Are you okay?” He asked, holding her shoulder.
”Yeah, yeah, I'm fine,” she reassured, shrugging it.
”I'm sorry. I should be used to leaving the seat down.”
”Huh-uh,” she shook her head. “If that was my bathroom, yeah; I'd probably yell at ya,” she said with a finger-wag, and then pointed to the door, still shifting from heel-to-heel, “but that's your bathroom. I should be used to checking the seat.”
”Still...” He tried to counter, but all she did was cock her head and raised up one foot, balancing on the other. “Do you need to sit down?” He asked with concern, noticing how she sort of bounced and shifted from side-to-side.
Her heel dropped, and she lifted the other. “No. Why?”
”You're doin' this,” he said, demonstrating her agitated movement.
She set the heel down and tugged at the hem of the shorts she was borrowing. “Oh... um...” She twisted at her waist a bit. “It's just... your clothes are kinda... 'roomy,'” she tried to explain.
His pupil looked down and back up really quick, “I'm sorry, I thought they'd be small enough. You're not that much smaller than me...”
”No-no, they're the right size,” she reassured, resting her hand on his bicep. “It's more... um...” She pressed a finger to her forehead, failing to keep from blushing. “I... I hear from this myth or something that guys... have, y'know,” she lowered her voice, “an extra piece of wood... So... they're underwear is... y'know... 'roomier,' than girls', cuz of it; y'know?”
He shared some of her blush. “O-oh,” he looked down, and then nervously to the side. “I... I didn't think about that.”
She giggled, hugging him. “I um...” She looked slightly up into his eyes. “I-I... I l-like them,” she admitted with a stammer. “Th-They're... 'breathable?'” She blurted. “Plus, they're my favorite color.”
He let out a nervous chuckle, returning the hug. “As... as long as you're comfortable,” he said, rhetorically.
She gently pressed her nose to his. With a rush of nerves and with warmth in her cheeks and neck, and with half-lidded eyes, she whispered in a slow and relaxed inflection: “Very comfortable.” She met her lips to his, and let out a nervous huff through her nostrils when he stumbled back a step. She followed him, holding the kiss for a good few seconds, before it parted with that delightful pop.
She took a half step back, watching his expression; lips ajar like a fish, cheeks tinged red, eyes flitting about, hands nervously clutching the sides of his sleep shorts. She brought a hand to cover her mouth, trying to hide her own blush.
”I... uh... th— uhm...” He looked about, stumbling over his words as tingles settled like a blood-rush and his heartbeat came back under control. “I... need... to... need to...” he raised his hand to his temple, desperately trying to think of what to say, “get you... a...” he turned, looking about and spotting the closet door. “A pillow,” he finished, pointing to it. “You... need a pillow... to sleep on,” he explained.
”That... would make sleeping easier,” she agreed, not in any position to really tease him for calling upon Captain Obvious. She followed him to the closet, peering in as he opened it up. One of the few times she had seen the closet open, it was full to the brim with all kinds of things; camping equipment, coats, boxes, and the like. A precarious pile of things that looked it was kept from spilling out by some mystical force. But now, it was rather sparse, and very organized.
On a shelf set into the back wall, he retrieved a pillow, its lining, and a case from within a plastic bag. Just as he did so, the house shook with a rumble. Behind him, he heard an anxious mew, and felt a pair of hands clutch his tail. He glanced back, to see his tail snared, the tip tucked against her neck. “You're... really scared of it?” He asked, genuinely.
She let his tail free as he turned about. “Well, I wasn't... until the beach,” she admitted. She held onto the pillow case while he fitted the liner on. “I mean, I didn't like it before that, but I wasn't scared or anything.” Another soft rumble shook the air, and she glanced at the blinded window. “But, now that I know what it feels like to get shocked like that...” She let her words trail, holding out the pillow case so he could slip the pillow in. She flicked it up and down to settle it in, and hugged the pillow. “Just... makes me a little nervous,” she finished.
”We're inside,” he comforted, raising a hand to sift it through a lock of damp hair. “I promise nothing'll happen.”
She smiled, and twisted a bit. “We better get downstairs.” She said, leading the way.
”There you guys are,” Momma R. commented, when she heard the footfalls rushing down the stairs. “Was wondering if you were ever gonna come down. You hidin' under the bed from the thunder?” She teased, looking at Emeral.
”No,” the tigress said back, mocking defiance. “It was actually my fault. I wanted to—” Just then, a bright flash of light streamed through the curtained windows, and it sounded like someone had smashed a baking sheet onto the floor. After the storm's outburst, Emeral lowered her hands from her ears; the pillow she had been holding before was on the ground, covering her feet and resting on her ankles.
”Whoo!” Momma R. exclaimed after the rumbling settled. She went over to the window in the living room and pulled the curtain aside. Another few flashes of lightning sparked in the distance. “Good thing we're on the high-end of the slope,” she commented, watching as water poured from the dimming sky.
Ket squatted down and picked up the pillow, holding it. “You okay?” He whispered, resting a hand on her back.
She nodded, taking the pillow back to hug it.
”Guess your mom made the right call, Emmy,” the mother tigress remarked, “If I had taken you home, we woulda been caught in this somewhere along the way.”
”I know it's not the best...”
Micah looked behind, seeing her son picking up the folded sheets.
”But, it's better than a sleeping bag on the ground with a tiny camp pillow.”
His friend hugged her pillow with a smile. “S'okay. It's actually pretty comfy, at least when we watched those movies.” She gave him a smile, twisting gently with the pillow in her arms. “I can sleep on it,” she said with confidence.
Another flash came from outside, and the mother tigress closed the curtains. She saw the anxious look on the white tigress's face as the seconds ticked by. Two... three... four...
Emeral squeezed the pillow and braced as the thunder shook the house, enough that a tinny rattle came from somewhere nearby.
”That's about a mile away, right?” The tiger asked, gently whipping the sheet, making sure to do it in the direction of the couch so that it didn't get on the floor.
”Little less,” his mom replied.
The tigress relaxed a bit. “What's a mile away?” She questioned, noticing another flash of lightning outside.
”One... two... three... f—” The thunder boomed again. Micah went to help her son as she explained: “Count the number of seconds between the flash and the boom; every five seconds is one mile between you and the lightning.” She snagged a corner.
”I got it,” the tiger said, half whining.
”You know what you're doin', huh?” She teased. “I never see your bed made.”
”I make it,” he huffed, spreading the sheet out a little. “At least when you wash the sheets...” He had to admit.
”Want me to—” The tigress whined and hugged the pillow tightly, looking up as the lights dimmed a little and the tinny rattle went on for a few seconds longer than before.
”Getting closer...” The mother tigress pointed out.
Ket finished tucking in the back-end of the sheet, but then he looked down at his work. “Wait...” He looked up at his mom. “This is the top sheet. Where's the bottom sheet?”
Emeral giggled, setting the pillow on the back of the couch. “You tuck the corners under on the outside, silly,” she said, tugging at the sheet to undo his work. “Then you tuck the middle of it back here...” she paused, as a shallow boom just barely vibrated the air. “...And then the top half rolls over me, like I'm a little taco.”
”Since you've got this covered, Emmy, why don't I go start to make some popcorn and we'll watch the movie you picked out last time.”
”If Ket's okay watching a chick-flick,” she said, glancing up at him with a grin while she tucked her sheets under on the correct side of the couch.
He rolled his eyes. “Is Lady and the Tramp really a chick-flick?” He questioned aloud, in a tone that disguised whether or not it was genuine.
”It's a love-story,” Momma R. replied, heading toward the kitchen.
Just after she left, another flash of lightning flared into the room.
Emeral paused in her work, in mid-squat to lift the center cushion and tuck the middle of the sheet under. She counted three seconds, before a leading crackle came. At first, she thought that was all that was going to happen, so she started to go back to tucking the sheet in; but, the leading crackle soon turned into a full-on eruption.
Ket leaned over and rested his hands on her shoulders out of reflex when she wrapped her arms around his calves, resting her forehead against his knees. He held her steady from shaking as best he could while the thunder ran its course. When it was over, he patted her to coax her to stand.
”If I can't sleep it's not gonna be cuz of the couch,” she whispered, looking slightly away out of embarrassment. She relaxed a little when he gave her a hug. “You're... gonna be just upstairs, right?” She asked. “If I want to I can just... go up?” She looked to the window, bracing for the next flash of lightning.
He looked at the window; the curtains were parted, enough to get a peek at a few flickers of light from outside. He patted her. “I'll be right back, okay?”
She let out a worried mumble. “Where you gonna go?” She asked.
”Just in the kitchen. I'm gonna ask mom something and then I'll come back to help you with the sheets.” When she gave him a reluctant nod, he patted her again before shuffling to the kitchen, just as another boom gently rattled the house.
”What's up, kid?” She replied, wiping the electric stove with a cloth.
”Um... I wouldn't... really feel right if... if Emmy slept in the living room by herself,” he said, trying to sound as plain as possible while bringing up that premise. “Where did you pack the sleeping mats? Maybe I can camp out on the floor, just so she doesn't feel all alone.”
”Aww,” she cooed, walking over to him and tousling his hair. “Gonna keep her company so she's not so a'scared?”
”No,” he retorted, “Just... feels rude, or something.”
She chuckled, heading back to get a pop-top tin from the cupboard. “Okay. I'll do you one better and get the cot down from the closet. How you gonna be on-guard and protect her if you're on the floor, huh?” She teased, turning on the stove with a few clicks of the dial.
”Where is it, I'll get it,” he offered, rather than grumbling back at her like he really wanted.
”It's up high. I'll need the step-ladder to get it. You just help her make her bed and maybe go up and get your things. We'll get it out after the movie.”
He nodded. “Okay... thanks.”
”Mm-hmm.” She said with a smile, watching the stove as it brightened and softened, warming up.
When he arrived back in the living room, his girlfriend was just finishing tucking the sheet into the back part of the couch, where he had originally started. He waited while she reached the end of the last cushion, and stood up.
A rattle of thunder distracted her from looking at him, but as it passed she met his eyes once again with a smile, and closed the few steps between them. “I heard you,” she whispered.
His pupils darted away and back a little nervously as he spotted, “Y'know... I figure you don't wanna be alone,” he replied, as if he needed to explain himself.
She gave him a hug, but made it quick just in case his mom wandered back into the room. “I think I'm all set.” She declared, lifting up the top part of the sheet and sliding under, letting it settle over her. “See? Emmy taco.” She demonstrated with a smile, staring up at him with her head exposed from beneath the white linens, dappled with pale-green leaves.
He picked up the pillow and tossed it at her, so that it covered her face when it landed.
”Heeeeeey...” She said, her voice dampened. “Das noss how pillows works,” she popped her head up, sending the pillow tumbling off onto the floor. She shared a giggle with him, turning to sit so that the covers still draped over her shoulders.
”C'mon. I'm gonna need a pillow if I'm gonna camp down here,” he said, extending his hand.
In relative quiet, she took it, and stood up. The covers gently slid off her shoulders, settling back into a rumpled mound. She followed as he led her up the stairs. Just as they were approaching the mid-landing, a bright flash hit their eyes from the window. He squeezed her hand as she flinched, and turned about to rest his other hand on her shoulder, bracing her until the thunder came.
It rattled them, starting off gentle at first but then grew a bit rowdy as a few more bursts compounded together.
After it was through, he eased his bracing and she relaxed. They continued up to the top of the stairs, before he remarked in a hush: “I thought you were playing it up for mom.”
”Maybe a little...” She admitted, as they crossed his den toward his room. Just as he turned on his light, and when she felt safely away from his mom's ears to speak a little more naturally, she let out a tentative, “hey.”
He turned, “hm?”
Her gaze tilted downward, at his chest. “Um... a-about earlier... I hope I didn't... didn't weird you out or... or anything...”
He smiled, and was about to step over to her, when a flash of lightning from his window distracted her. He stepped to it and closed the curtains, just as the thunder rumbled. With the window covered to keep the flashes from startling her, he approached her again. “What did you do that would weird me out?” He asked.
She couldn't tell if he was really asking, or just being rhetorical. “Your clothes,” she said, tugging the collar of her borrowed shirt. She caught her nervously twitching tail between her ankles. “I mean, they are comfy... and I really do like wearing them, I—”
Another boom of thunder shook the house, and without the preamble flash of lightning it caught her a little off-guard. But he was quick to wrap his arms around her, and hold her tightly.
”You wore my clothes before,” he pointed out. “Remember? It was cold, so I let you borrow some sweats.”
She shook her head, stepping away. “This time it's different,” she tried to express. “I dunno why, it's... feels...” She hugged herself, bashfully and comfortingly.
He chuckled. “Maybe it's the underwear?”
A roaring blush colored her cheeks. “No!” She exclaimed in an embarrassed whisper, just as the house trembled once again. “It's more than that... I-it's...” She whined, unable to come up with the words.
”I... I kinda like it, too,” he admitted, touching her shoulder. He also let himself blush a little, so she felt company in awkwardness.
”Well o'course, they're your clothes,” she said, trying to make a joke.
”No, I mean... I like seeing you in my clothes,” he clarified. “I mean y-you look...” his nose dipped, as if he was ashamed to admit it; “cute.”
She felt a warm rush sprout all over her, and buried her muzzle against his neck as she hugged him. Once she felt that thrill, she realized that was what she was trying to say: “I feel cute,” she replied, “'specially since you said it.”
”You-uhm... look cute in a lot of things,” he elaborated, “it's n-not just my clothes, really.”
She looked him in the eyes, “but, this is a special kind of cute, right?” She asked, stepping back and holding her hands behind her. “I mean... it feels special to me,” she said, bashfully averting her gaze. “Maybe it is the underwear...” she added, sheepishly.
”Maybe,” he shrugged, trying to work off the nerves. “It's definitely not the Ninja Turtles, that's for sure,” he joked.
She looked down, reminding herself of the shirt she wore. All the Turtles were standing in a fighting-pose with their weapons drawn, looking tough and fierce. She looked back at him, smiling. “Guess.” She said, raising up on her heels and dropping back down with the word.
He tilted his head. “Guess... what?”
She circled her finger around the image. “Guess my favorite,” she clarified.
”You have a favorite Ninja Turtle?” He further questioned, surprised.
”You've watched Ninja Turtles?”
”Ha-duh,” she replied with a giggle. “I wouldn't be askin' if I hadn't watched enough to know which Turtle was 'mah fave.'”
He could only stare blankly at her. “I... have no clue,” he said. “I didn't even think you'd like Ninja Turtles to begin with.”
”Well, I do,” she said, folding her arms. “Now c'mon, you're a smart guy. I bet you could use your brains to figure it out.”
He aside in thought. “Uh... um...” He blinked a few times, and then, something clicked. “Raph,” he announced, looking back at her.
She raised a brow. “Why Raph?” She asked.
”Because,” he reasoned, though he already lost a little confidence in his answer from her reaction; “You said just a while ago your favorite color is red, and Raph is the one with the red mask.”
She closed her eyes, inclining her muzzle almost appreciatively. “Points for being alert about my favorite color—coulda sworn I told you that before, though,” she thought. “Anyway, good guess, but way off; Raph doesn't follow First-Rule like, at all ever-ever, so he's my least-favorite,” she explained. “Take another guess.”
He scratched his head, looking out the window as a flash of lightning was bright enough to still distract him; or maybe he was just looking for a distraction. “Uhm... Mikey?”
”Kay,” she said, leaning against his dresser. “Why you think Mikey?”
”Cuz he's funny.” The tiger shrugged, “a lot of kids like him for that reason.”
”Yeah, but,” she bounced her head from side to side. “He's more annoying to me. Like, he doesn't take things seriously enough. Two down: you got a fifty-fifty shot.”
He smirked. “Okay, I think I know who it is now,” he said, confidently.
”A'ight,” she matched his confidence, folding her arms again.
”It's Leo. He's the leader, and the most experienced. You've got martial arts experience, and... you and he kinda act the same way.”
She smiled, a bit smugly. “I guess I was the one that took the lead saying I liked you first, huh?”
”Yeah, exactly,” he agreed with a nod.
”Mmm... except you're exactly wrong. Sorry, it ain't Leo, either,” she said, raising her arms up in a dismayed shrug.
His lips parted in surprise. “Don?” He questioned with surprise. “...Why Don?” He squinted, thinking. “Don's... boring and kind of a loser,” he said.
She pushed off the dresser. “You think so?” She asked, a bit disappointed.
”Well, I mean... Even Mikey's got personality. Don's just...”
”Smart.” She finished, and a drumbeat of thunder punctuated her word; she didn't pay it any attention. “I've always liked him, cuz he's... a little quirky,” she described; “not the strongest, or the bravest, or very aggressive...” She approached the tiger, raising her hand to rest on his shoulder. “He's kinda dopey around April, but he's really smart, and he uses his smarts a lot better than the other Turtles use their skills.
”I mean...” She smiled, raising up on her toes again so her nose matched height with his. “It shouldn't be that much of a shell-shock I'm fond of the smart guy, don't you think?”
He shifted nervously, this time taking his turn to blush at her words. “If... if you put it that way... it makes sense,” he agreed.
She smiled back, and then it turned to an almost mischievous grin. “I know who your favorite Turtle is.”
”Uh-uh,” he shook his head, stepping to beside her so he didn't feel so cornered between her and his bed. “You mighta somehow figured out my middle name, but there's no way you know who my favorite Turtle is.”
”That's because it's not one of the Turtles,” she declared, emerald-green eyes twinkling with assurance. “It's Master Splinter.”
His ears flattened and his pupils shrank; had a thunderclap happened even within a few seconds after he would have had an excuse for the expression. But as it was, there was no way he could deny how surprised he was.
”Yusss!” She cheered, giving herself a subdued fist-pump in victory.
”How... did you...?” He was at a genuine loss for words.
She collected herself. “Master Splinter is... old, and wise. He's their mentor, their teacher. Kinda like... y'know...” Of course, now the clap of thunder had to hit, just as she said: “Your grandfather.” She regretted her earlier gesture of celebration when she saw the expression on his face soften. “I'm sorry,” she was quick to say, “I shouldn't have been so smug, it wa—” Her throat tightened up when his eyes met hers.
She saw a tear bead up against the bridge of his nose, the droplet shimmering as it reflected both the light from above their heads, and his golden-yellow hue. She flinched when his hands gently cupped her muzzle, but relaxed when the gentle hold was soft and warm. She was coaxed back, and her calves pressed against his bed. She exhaled as she began to recline, the small of her back touching the sheets, followed quickly by her shoulder-blades.
Her eyes lidded as his nose lightly tapped against hers, and then fully pressed. Her lips closed as their whiskers tangled, his muzzle tilting just a little bit. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she moved her hand outward as his knee pressed onto the mattress, his other knee between hers.
As their lips met, she felt the tear fall onto her cheek, and she let out a nervous coo. She brought one hand to brace him at the waist, while the other rested on the back of his head.
She saw sparks in her eyes. Then, a furious blast of thunder louder than any she had ever heard in her life; like the storm itself was upset at their tender moment. Her heart leapt to her throat at a sudden and loud bang of noise that rippled through the air, and when she opened her eyes all she saw was darkness.