You're walking down the streets of Versa, your hometown. It's a clear day, a few clouds in the sky. Not too hot, not too cold. It's hard for you to feel comfortable outside, but today, you've hit a sweet spot. You jingle as you walk, and you like the sound of it, it's cheerful.
That changes in a hurry, however. You see a pack of boys coming towards you from the opposite direction, all canines, all dudebros. You also hear them, loud, and getting louder. They're not paying attention to you, yet, but you can already feel your fur standing on end.
You consider crossing the street, but there's too much traffic, so you hug the buildings and hopefully slip by unnoticed.
They have other ideas, however, and they start calling for you. "Hey, pretty girl, bark for us, hey, c'mon, bark for us~"
You pretend that you didn't hear them, and slip past. You can hear them calling after you: "Hey, stuck-up bitch, what's your problem? All I wanted was one little bark."
You turn around. They're looking at you now, and there are more of them, and you want to run, but you've been rooted to the ground by your own fear. You feel like your fur should be puffing up, but it's not.
You swallow, and look them over. You don't feel safe ignoring them, and you don't feel safe refusing them, so you decide to give them a few yips. They cheer, and they almost seem more interested in congratulating each other over getting you to do it than they are in you doing it. It feels awful to make those noises, they feel wrong in your mouth, but they seem satisfied, walking away, imitating your yips and loudly speculating about what they would have done to you in bed to induce those kinds of noises.
You decide to move on before they ask anything else of you, and find somewhere to breathe and tremble and put yourself back together before work.
Couldn't they see you're a cat?
You make it to your work, a chain grocery store, where you're a cashier. The job is fairly simple, if boring, but you like numbers, and you consider it a point of pride that you've memorized almost all the PLUs of the produce section.
You walk into the back and put your coat on the rack, and punch in. You open the register, and a lineup from another register splits off into yours, and you begin your shift.
You lose yourself in the work for a bit, asking people how hey are, ringing them up as efficiently as possible, and giving people Duchenne smiles. You've practiced in front of a mirror, and even though you hate the way you look, the smile, at least, looks genuine. You offer to bag packages of meat and double-bag eggs, you make sure nothing heavy ends up on top of the tomatoes, you're ready with a sticker for cases of soda.
You try to ignore the people who give you looks. It's not like you're in any position to confront them, right? The customer is always right, even when they're wrong, and it'd just come back on you.
Someone decides to chat you up while you ring in their order, which is quite large. He flashes a smile of his own (you look at the corners of his eyes, and see nothing). "Hey there, woof woof~" he makes a show of peering over to see your name tag. "Ginger."
You're just glad he didn't go for the last name, which is inexplicably printed on the tag as well. You never really liked your given name -- you get it, your fur is golden-orange -- but you /loathe/ your last name. "What time do you get off work?"
"I have a boyfriend," you say.
"Whoa, hey, I'm not asking you out on a date," he says. "I just wanted to see if maybe you wanted to hang out later." You wish his hurt tone didn't make you feel so guilty. "So c'mon, when do you get off work?"
"Oh, you know, I've got lots of stuff to do today, I'll need to head right home," You say. "Lots of studying to do."
"I can be very quiet," he says. "You'd never know I was there."
The thought terrifies you, not only the concept of this guy you don't know in your house being out of sight, but the concept of him seeing you in your sanctuary at all.
"I'm sorry, I'm sure you're nice and all, but I'd rather not," you tell him.
"His eyes flash with anger, and then the smile is back. "Fine, sure," he says calmly, and then makes a show of looking over his order. It's already broken a hundred dollars, and is only halfway through being scanned. "Oh, you know what, I forgot something, you don't mind if I just go grab it, do you?"
He's gone before you can protest. You watch him walk out the door, and suddenly, hundreds of dollars of groceries are now your problem. His cart blocks the aisle of your register.
You sigh resignedly, and pick up the phone.
"Meat, frozen, produce, grocery to register six please, meat, frozen, produce, grocery to register six for returns."
Your manager pulls you aside during your lunch break, which always fills you with dread and anxiety. He's not a bad guy, not really, he's he's just rarely the bearer of good news, and every interaction you have with the management structure of the store has been fraught or complicated or both. He's a tomcat, white with grey patches, middle-aged, and soft-spoken. You look at him like this conversation is the one you want to have right now.
"So, it's been a few days now, and I like to think of myself as being very lenient when it comes to the dress code, but I have to draw a line somewhere," he says, and panic fills you.
What have you missed? You look down at yourself; your blouse is tucked in, your pants are pressed, you even have dress shoes on instead of the sneakers most of the cashiers opt for, and which /are/ against the dress code, but nobody cares about that. "I don't understand."
Your manager looks uncomfortable. "It's, uh, it's your collar."
You give him a blank look, and glance at his neck. Saying the collar is against the dress code is like saying that wearing a shirt is against the dress code. It was right there in the rules, a part of the uniform includes a plain dress collar. You bought it for this job. It's black leather, brass buckles, very professional... "What's wrong with the collar?"
"It's... it's not the collar itself, it's, uh..." he tries to diffuse the tension with a smile. His eyes don't move. "You've got a bell on it. I'm sorry, but it's happened too many times. I'm going to have to send you home, and you'll need to come to work without the bell next time."
Your stomach lurches into your throat. "You're sending me home?" you say. "Over a /bell/?"
"Look, it's -- we all have to maintain a professional appearance on the job. You /did/ have a rather large return order earlier today. Who's to say that didn't play a part?"
Anger and pain fills your stomach. You want to yell at him, but no words are actually forming at the moment. No anything is forming at the moment. You feel yourself becoming dangerously blank, thoughts filling with static snow. "Anyway, it's an easy fix, right? Just come to work without the bell next time." He checks his watch. "Anyway, I've got a meeting."
He walks away, leaving you to pick up the pieces of the conversation, and you try not to hear the chime of the bell around his neck as he does.
You get home, and you're really proud of the fact that you made it to your front door without crying.
But when you do, oh when you do, the water works start, and they do not stop. You lean against the door and sob, hiding your face in your hands. You don't fucking get it, why can't people just treat you like you are? You lock your door and immediately seek the safety of your bedroom. You jingle as you walk, and you hate the sound of it, and you yank the bell off the collar and throw it down the stairs.
You pass your reflection on the way by, and stop, and stare at it. Your ears flop when you move your head to wipe your tears on the curly, short, coarse fur on the back of your hand. Your tail curls and wags. Your long, broad muzzle trembles with emotion, and through your tears, you can barely read "Ginger Spaniel" on your own name tag.
You can't take looking at yourself for one more moment. You look ridiculous. You hate your fur, you hate your muzzle, you hate your ears, you hate your everything. You retreat to your room, and slam the door, and fall onto the bed, rolling onto your back.
"MEOW," you call out to nobody. "MEOW, DAMMIT. MEOW. THAT'S WHAT I SAY, BECAUSE I'M A CAT. MEOW. I WEAR A BELL, BECAUSE I'M A CAT. MEOW." The tears keep coming. You're a cat, dammit, you wear a bell on your collar, you don't bark, you don't fucking bark!
You keep meowing through your tears, It sounds just like it does in those vocal training videos you bought. Video 4: Sounds of distress.