It was honestly rather nice. Nicer than Leah had thought. The way Ms. Delacroix always talked about it she made it sound like her home town was, well, a bit backwards. Looking back on it Leah was a bit ashamed of the presumption. It might well have been her own projections or some prejudice lingering in the back of the rats mind which got her thinking that way. Then again She'd also heard the house where Ms. Delacroix grew up was a run down box, and it didn't seem to be that way at all.
Well, apart from the heavily outdated cooling. And the noises of the place shifting in the night. And the tacky old carpeting slowly coming up from the center of the stairs where it was nailed. The broken upstairs window pane covered with cardboard and duct tape. Then there was the deck with its assortment of shaggy broken beams and boards for both railing and flooring. The whole left section from walking out of the front door looked like one bad step would send her under the deck in a heartbeat and probably land her in the hospital.
She still had a few days before she could fly back, apparently. Not that she had any control over the situation. A sudden ticket back would have been hard to afford at the best of times and even then it seemed like Ms. Delacroix wouldn't really accept that. She'd insisted on paying for the flight, on booking the flight, on taking any flack for Leah's absence with the home office. Even paying to have her car driven back.
It felt weird. In many ways it was the kind of crap she hated about her mom. The vixen was controlling and disapproving. She insisted on doing everything and insisted on making all of the decisions leaving the fully grown and technically past mid 20s Leah feel like some powerless know-nothing kid. Without agency. Without control. Just a spectator in her own life. She hated it, she hated it more than words could say. It was condescending and smothering and she wished every day that she could just make it all stop and show the woman that she was an adult. She made her own decisions. She ran her own life. If only her mom wasn't so god damn obsessively smothering.
Yet at the same time. At the same time when Ms. Delacroix got that way it made Leah feel... well she didn't really know what she felt. But it was something.
The rat rolled the thought around in her head as she slowly paced down the good side of the deck towards the far end. Bathing in the sun as it hit the deck at a nice pleasant corner on its way up towards noonday. She yanked her phone out of her pocket and sighed softly. It was a call she had to make some time, and it was best to get it over with now.
Leah leaned back against the corner post and hit the speed dial for her mom. She slipped the phone up to her big floppy hear and kicked softly at some of the dirt resting on the porch. She kept going until one kick knocked up some splinters and paint flecks. Leah quickly backing away from the incidental damage and wincing hard as her eyes darted back and forth nervously. Her heart dropped into her stomach at the incidental damage. As could be predicted that was the moment her mother chose to pick up.
``Yeah I know I said I'd have to call you back yesterday.''
``Yeah. Things kinda sorta got really out of hand here a bit.``
``What? N-no, no mom I'm fine. Really.''
``Yes I mean it.''
``No, n-nobody kidnapped me at a rest stop, mom. Seriously. I told you when I got here. When would that happen? ``
``No, no I'm sorry. Look I can make it up for the party but I won't have time to go shopping first.''
``Because Ms. Delacroix is paying for the ticket back and she's getting the first reasonable thing out.''
``Yes. Yes mom. Mom yes I know her birthday is important.''
``Yes I know she wont' have many more of them.
``Mom I'm not going to miss the party. I just need to order something online instead.''
``Yeah probably Amazon.``
``Mom, mom no. No we aren't `killing' anything.''
``Probably because nobody wants to spend thirty bucks on nachos, a sandwich and coke with a bit of rum in it.''
``What do you mean?''
``I'm not being Sn-''
``Mom I don't drink. Why the he- Why do you think I would drink?''
``Mom that's not my point I. Look I was just-''
``Ok. Ok. Alright mom. I love you. I know I'm sorry. Look I promise I'll order something nice and it will be there when I get there. Love you. Bye.''
She fell back, drained, and sighed. Leah dragged herself to the porch swing nearby and gave it a few soft taps at the top of its ragged wood to make sure it didn't instantly collapse in on itself. When she was sure of it, she turned and slowly sat down on one end. ``Why do I keep doing this to myself?'' she sighed even as she already knew the answer. She made sure to find which side of the swing gave her the better signal before scotching a bit that way and throwing her feet up on to one arm of the swing, her head laying flat on the cracking, creaking wood as the old swing started to rock itself and the porch channeled a cooling breeze over her.
She cued up an episode of `wait wait don't tell me' from a folder on her phone and shifted over to a fresh tab for Amazon. Truthfully it would probably be fine just ordering a candle or something. But considering how pissed her mom was Leah figured it was better to hedge her bets and just go with something arguably thoughtful and considerate.
If nothing else it felt nice. Her eyes slowly half-lidding as the sun played off of her fur and the wind cooled her with just enough frequency to be aware without being annoyed. Outside of her soft and low volume radio recording the area around was quiet. Almost shockingly so. Boston had a hum to it in parts which you really couldn't escape. You didn't notice it when you were in the city itself, or even when you got away from those parts where it was more constant. It was this loud busy background drone which came from people. People doing work, people partying, in her neighborhood especially there were Harvard kids looking to break their concentration on their Concentrations with as much rum and tequila as they could manage.
It really hadn't appealed to her at the time. Not the act itself anyways. Risking everything your future had to dump chemicals down your throat until you could no longer claim to have any control of yourself? Leah didn't need chemicals to do that. She could just call home.
She swayed and twitched her non-existent abs slightly to get the old swing rocking. The loud creak cut in to her show a bit. Rolling out though the quiet stillness of the woods around her. Leah would alternate between checking over bits of jewelry or rock-simple electronics that might make Bubbah's life easier and then resting the phone between her chest and looking up at the peeling white paint resting above her. Soon the intrusiveness of the loud rocking had faded, and it was actually the makeshift pod cast which was cutting in to everything else. Much to her own annoyance.
She stopped the program only a few minutes from going to the next one and instead sprawled back out on the swing with her tail hanging lazily off the side, flicking its tip against the wood and slowly tracing itself up and down the texture of the wood making the backslots of the swing. The thick furless appendage moving in time with the rocking and creaking. Up and down. UP and down. Back and forth.
It was an odd sensation. Something the hazy rodent struggled with even as she went though it. Twisted, tangled emotion slowly manifesting themselves to her. Some twisted thread that felt rapped and tangled around her spine. As if it had always been there and she as just now noticing. She continued the odd, almost ritualistic movements. Up and down with the tail, back and forth with the swing. Up and down. Back and forth. Clutching the warm, almost radiating phone to her chest. Like she could feel the fields around it with her bare hands. Could feel everything around her moving softly and smoothly and quietly. The beaming sun as it moved. The twisting wind. She could almost feel that impossibly long and twisted strand of stress and anxiety loosen a bit. As if some unseen force was tugging and pulling it free of her bit by painful bit. Long, arduous tugs like one might take when getting string and hair out of a vacuum roller.
She simply laid there. Drifting in and out. Her chest swelling and falling slowly with air that felt worlds different from home. As ridiculous, as physically impossible as it was, Leah couldn't help but wonder if this was the first time she'd felt any real relaxation in her life. A wonder which continued right up until a loud creak snapped her back to reality.
``Ms. Leah?'' A familiar voice asked.
The rat opened one eye slowly and blinked the haze free. One soft, honey-brown iris moving its way over hazily until it slipped just free of the rims of Leah's glasses, catching sight of the blurry kit sitting on the banister half-framed by sunlight.
``Oh, hey. Sorry about that. I didn't' see you there.'' Leah said as she started to get up. Stopping and whimpering softly. She moved half way to sit back up and then winced, stopped, and slumped back down again. Instead simply turning to glance at the normally bashful kit. ``Nice out here, huh?'' Leah asked, not sure what more to ask.
Lucretia shrugged a bit and mmphed quietly. She looked out at the woods a moment and up to the sky while the sun made its lazy climb upwards. ``It's kinda quiet.'' The girl muttered softly.
``Yeah it is.'' Leah nodded. ``I gotta admit it's kind of a change from how things are in Boston, huh?''
The kit nodded back as she leaned herself to the side and half-rested her back on the corner post with her body finding a comfortable balance on the banister itself. The feat seemed casual and fluid in a way that caused Leah to quirk her brow. Shocked at the sudden display of physical prowess. Though most of that was probably just the rat inserting her own gawky childhood as a baseline.
Lucretia stayed sullen as she slumped. Wriggling a bit as she settled down in place and sighed softly. ``Hey, Miss Leah?'' the kit asked softly as she leaned her head back and whimpered ``you're going back in a few days, right?''
``I think so. That's really up to your mom and when she got the ticket for, right?'' the rat nodded as she popped her neck a bit ``I mean let's be honest. I don't really have much say in that. Especially since she won't let me drive home.'' Leah watched the despondent air drift around the girl slowly. Thick emotions that the normally inward and isolated Leah struggled to put her finger on. She just watched the poor girl struggling though her emotions. Leah glanced back at her phone every now and then though it was more just to distract her. Gazing at the sewing machine she'd already decided probably wasn't going to be of use to a woman who still relied on a fifty year old vintage model.
She still bookmarked it for herself though. Computer assistance was always nice.
``Miss Leah. Do you really think it's nice here?'' Lucretia finally muttered as she slumped.
``Well yeah'' Leah nodded ``I mean sure my connection is a tad slow out here in the trees and It'd be nice if they had a dedicated satellite or DSL line in. But... well I mean yeah it's cool.''
Lucretia winced. ``More than Boston?'' she asked nervously.
Leah finally managed to pull herself up and look at the kit squarely. Her body aching a tiny bit from the odd coldness as parts that had been in sun hit the partial shade. ``What's wrong? Something you need to talk about?'' She whimpered softly ``I thought you always liked coming down here before.''
The question simply caused the kit to slump a bit further and hug a knee to her chest. She hung her head and glanced sideways at Leah letting the other leg hang free and scrape along the banisters of the railing. ``I just feel kinda wrong, I guess. Kinda really wrong. Anxiety wrong. Like the stuff the school therapist talks to me about.''
``Wrong...'' Leah blinked a bit and sighed ``Like, were your cousins picking on you or something? B-because I'm sure they didn't mean it. I mean I don't know much about your card game but maybe I could help you out with, I don't know something.''
It's not that'' Lucretia snapped. She sighed and pushed her forehead to her knee with a soft whimper. ``S-sorry. It's not that. I just feel anxious. Like I don't belong here. I think I wanna go home. I mean I know we can't right now cause of gramma and the woods and everything but I really just don't feel too okay.'' She shut her eyes and sighed. Leah could see the poor girl twitch and fidget. It was a familiar posture, one the poor woman knew far better than she would have liked.
``S-say...'' Leah sighed ``Look I don't' know if this will help or anything but, maybe we should take a walk? I mean people like to say that's really good for you when you feel kinda bad, right?'' she asked as she titled her head and slowly pulled herself up.
``A walk?'' Lucretia blinked a bit ``Why would that help?'' the kit pouted
``Oh you know. Endorphins and adrenaline and neurons and other, sciency things. Walks. That's a thing people do.'' she walked up to the fox girl and smiled her best smile.
It drew a small laugh from the deadpan kit before she nodded and glanced at the slightly overgrown grass at the other end of the shrubs which had been planted around the deck. For a moment it seemed the kit was considering if she could jump it. Predictably timidity won out and she just hopped down beside Leah looking up at the older woman with a small nod. ``So, uh, which way do we go, Ms. Leah?'' she asked softly. The kit seemed less than sold on the idea. She glanced out nervously at the woods and started to sway just a bit trying desperately as some of that anxiety bubbled to the surface.
``Well I mean we don't have to.'' Leah whimpered ``I don't want to pressure you or anything. I just thought it might help a little. You know, because, walks and stuff.'' she sighed softly and shook her head ``Sorry.''
``No, it's ok Miss Leah. I just don't' really think walks are my thing. I guess I don't have anything else to do though.'' She muttered softly. The kit made her way down the stairs and started to walk down the roadway towards the woods.
Leah sighed and shook her head as she walked up towards the woods, the kit following along behind her and twitching softly. Lucretia had always seemed a bit withdrawn to Leah before, but this was different. She wasn't quite sure how. But the girl seemed far more distressed than usual.
The woods were nice enough. Cool and shady with just a hint of that indescribable `woodsy' smell that always sticks in your head. The two slowly made their way down the path. Nice professional loafers crushing twigs and leaves loudly underfoot.
``Miss Leah?'' Lucretia called out from a path not far over where she'd apparently slipped though the brush with little difficulty.
``Yes dear?'' Leah asked as she picked her own way though the tangled bushes and brambles and plants that seemed to go a good ways in to where the sun hit the forest floor.
``You sure this will be ok? I mean we don't have a compass or anything.''
``I'm sure. don't worry.'' Leah nodded confidently ``I mean there are paths Here. We just stay on the path and if we feel like we're lost follow it until it comes out or ends. Worst case we end up a bit lost for a while and come out somewhere I can call your mom for help.'' She closed all of the apps she reasonably could and nodded confidently to herself as they walked though the sun splattered path down deeper into the forest.
It's hard to say why Leah thought that this would help put the girl more at ease. Probably instinct. People always talked about how kids need to go outside, after all. Fresh air and physical activity to up dopamine receptors and create a more functional state of mind.
It started to sound rather stupid after the first five minutes passed and her legs already started to cramp up.
``So, Lucretia.'' Leah muttered awkwardly.
``Yes Ms. Leah?'' the girl asked softly as she half glanced at the rat
``You sure there's nothing you want to talk to me about?'' Leah asked
The kit took a moment to think on it before shaking her head and shrugging. Leah could feel a knot of frustration growing in her gut.
``You sure? I mean, I know you're upset but it's good to talk about things when you're upset.'' The rat winced and shook her head a bit as she just winced and started to fidget with her hands again. It felt like there was something obvious she should be saying, or doing, something. The angst and nervousness all but radiated off the poor kit and the silence wasn't helping.
The two marched their way though the woods slowly. The snaps of twigs and loud rustle of dirt under their feet hitting a sort of off-rhythm as Leah kept glancing between the kit and the sun smattered scape before them.
Leah opened her mouth to ask the question yet again. The compulsion growing ever stronger the longer the silence drew out. She caught herself and instead jammed her hand into her pocket, withdrawing a small handful of foil wrapped ovals and glancing over to the cub nervously.
``Want a few Gramma candies?'' Leah chuckled as she offered her paw up to Lucretia.
The young girl stopped dead in her tracks and glanced back. She eyed the small rounds of Toffee with a look of forced disgust. The overwhelming forces of angst tugging against the natural childhood inclination to vacuum up any candy offered or not within line of sight. As one might expect the latter won out, though not without a small scowl to really drive home the displeasure she insisted on feeling at the situation.
A small snickering laugh slipped out of Leah's lips at that despite her own best efforts. She tugged the wrapper open and popped one of the candies into her mouth, letting it slowly melt down in the back corner of her muzzle. ``You know, I do get it. Moms can be hard sometimes.'' The rat sighed.
``But you like mom. You're always on her side or doing whatever she asks.'' Lucretia muttered flatly. The words drawing a small and very unwelcome blush to the rats face.
``That's different kid. She's my boss. It's my job to be on her side. But at least she gives me a fair shake. And it means I get to hang out with her cool daughter every once and a while.'' Leah giggle-snorted and snerked a bit wider in the hopes that the girl would do likewise. Instead she watched the kit simply start down the trail again with a painfully forced pout which screamed volumes.
Leah pushed her orthopedic shoes to the limit as she struggled to catch up to the girl. Feet straining as she tried not to twist her ankle in the loamy dirt or trip over one of the sticks Lucretia seemed to avoid so easily. ``Oh come on, what did I say?'' She whined ``At least tell me so we can stop running though these trees like bad fairy tale heroines.''
``I'm not running.'' Lucretia noted flatly.
``Yeah well you're probably in better shape than I am.'' The rat sighed in return. ``Look If you really don't want to talk about it then that's fine. I just want to help you that's all.''
``You mean because Mommy would be happy?'' She muttered.
``Well I'd hope so.'' Leah sighed ``But you say that like it's a bad thing. I don't see any problem with wanting people to be happy. Your mom is under a ton of stress. If I can help her by making sure you feel a bit better, well that's a win all around, right?''
The words didn't seem much comfort to the kit. She simply slumped her shoulders and looked up to watch a few of the birds darting around in the upper branches. Little sparrows that flitted around calmly, chirping and screeching at each other in some elaborate ritual far beyond her understanding. The darting dance was enough to bring a smile to her muzzle, right up to the point where Leah moved up behind her, driving the birds off.
The dark haired kit gripped her elbow and took a deep breath as she slowly led the way down the trail. An miasma of bitterness surrounding her as she drooped her shoulders once more. Leah followed along dutifully. Her muzzle opening and closing every now and then as she tried to think about what to say or do, how exactly she could make the situation better.
The attempt was surrendered after a good half hour of tracing their way down trails. Nothing but anxiety and the steady trod of their footsteps to fill the gaps between the rat doe's anxious surface thoughts. It wasn't the first time she'd watched over Lucretia. Babysitting was honestly the most enjoyable part of the job. Looking at the cub now made it almost impossible to ignore just how much the girl resembled her mother. In looks, in the way she carried herself, even when it came to that calm quiet look she'd get when a conversation just got to be too much.
It wasn't at all like Leah and her mom. Her paw slipped to her pocket without realizing it as she gripped her phone. There were sure to be half a dozen voicemail messages waiting for her by the time she got out of the woods and back into tower range. Demands that they deal with the gift situation together. Criticism about how Leah dressed, about the cut of her hair, how `unflattering' her cloths were. Endless anecdotes about people from temple that Leah had no interest in and a half dozen attempts to set her up with `good boys' that probably just wanted to go out partying all night or some other nonsense. The kind of boys her mother always told her to dress for. The kind of boys she was `supposed' to impress.
That thought drew Leah's eyes downwards. Her own plain clothing suddenly feeling baggy and inadequate for some reason. It never had before, not in any of the hours of her mother harping on her about changing to impress others. Not when the girls at school picked on her for being out of fashion. It didn't feel like it should matter now. It was a statement, after all. A declaration of apathy. Leah knew she didn't need a man to complete her. She wasn't looking to impress anyone. She had her work, and her apartment. And...
Those honey brown eyes slipped shut as Leah tried to picture herself in something else. Anything else. Tight torn up cigarette jeans. Tattered mesh arm sleeves. She tried to picture one of those overly cropped crop tops. Slowly her mind churned and twisted though all manner of things she figured might be fashionable. Things from movies or books. Maybe the kinds of things from an anime now and then. It would all look silly on her naturally. She didn't have the build for it. Or the mannerisms. Not anything really. It felt good to think about, though. Trying to imagine herself looking a bit different. A new wardrobe. A better attitude. Maybe even a piercing or two, or more. Especially more. The kinds of things only Ms. Delacroix would get to see or use. With just a nice stiff ear cuff perhaps to hint at things. Leah hugged herself and squealed hard as she let herself sink into the idea.
``Are you ok, Miss Leah?'' Lucretia muttered. For all of her clear annoyance the girl was still considerate. A heart of tender ice, as Leah's' grandpa would say.
``Yeah, just have my mind on other things.'' Leah snarked. Technically true. Not that she had any intent of telling the girl what was dancing in the back of her mind. ``I guess I was just thinking about some things to talk with your mom about sometime. Maybe. I don't know.''
``Things about me, right?'' The cub sighed.
``Not really. I mean unless you want me to. If there's anything you don't' feel comfortable telling her yourself then I'd be happy to lend my services.''
Lucretia shifted from foot to foot and glanced up at her nervously. ``Ms. Leah, if I tell you something honest, do you promise you won't get mad?''
``Why would I get mad?'' Leah asked. ``You know I'm here for you.''
``No. You're here for mom. You drove down here because you didn't want her to deal with the teachers when we got back. You stayed in the office and did all that work because you knew it'd help her. I know you want mom to be impressed. I mean, it's kinda obvious.''
``It is?'' The rat gasped as she blushed hard.
Lucretia nodded softly. ``Yeah, well, I'm not trying to be mean. It's your job and stuff. But she always has you on her side. And I Don't really have anyone. We barely come down here so I don't really know my cousins or Uncle Joel and Aunt Carla that well. Grandma Keiko is really nice but she kinda feels... I don't know. I've always been able to go to Mommy for everything.''
``But something happened? Do you feel like you can't now?'' Leah whimpered.
``I unno. Kinda.'' Lucretia almost spat at the words in her mouth. It wasn't a doubt she was used to. Certainly not the kind of thing Leah had seen in the kit before. ``My mommy is special. She and I were always super close. No matter what. I like it.'' Lucretia gripped her own shoulders tight in an action not too dissimilar from how Leah often would. ``Since we came down here she's been way more upset than usual. Something's wrong. I don't like it. I just wanna go home. I don't like how Mom's acting when we're down here.''
Leah moved up to the girl and bent down a bit to get eye level. She put a hand on Lucretia's shoulder and offered the best smile she could. ``Like I said, I'm here if you need me.''
``You're here if Mom needs you.'' Lucretia corrected ``Anything I say that would make her upset you'd tell her right away. I can't trust anyone with this but Mommy, and if I tell her she's acting funny she's just going to get mad. Like, yell or something. I don't want her to start being one of those mommies who yells.'' The girl muttered as tears started to form in her eyes. ``I just wanna know what's wrong. Everything is wrong. It's been wrong since we came down here and I wanna go.''
``Shh, it`s ok kiddo. It`s going to be ok.'' Leah sighed as she gave the girl the best hug she could. ``This isn`t an easy situation. I know that. Yes, I`m going to be on your moms side. But that doesn't mean I`ll be on her side if it hurts you. It`s fine if you don`t want to talk about it. But you can. Any time you want.'' She smiled softly and brushed a few tears away from the girls eyes. ``As for your mom, I know she`s doing the best she can. Trust me when I say she doesn't want to be down here right now either. I don't know all the details. But I have known her long enough to know you're the center of her universe. There's no way she's going to do anything to hurt you.``
Leah pulled herself to standing and slipped a finger into the rail straight black hair of the cub. She pushed some of it back behind her ear and gave her a small comforting pat on the head. ``But these sorts of things have a way of working themselves out. You'll see. I'm sure all your worry is just subconscious. My therapist always said a parents anxiety can often bleed off into the children even if neither one realizes it's happening. Then again.'' Leah laughed awkwardly to herself ``He may have just said that to spare my feelings some.''
The still of the forest snapped around them. Birds and woodland ferals daring off into the underbrush as they fled heavy footfalls that rained down on the disused trail. Both Leah and Lucretia nearly toppled over at the sudden jolt as they cast their eyes towards the town-side of the path. A familiar figure marching her way down the dusty trail with little regard for anything in front of her.
Leah could feel her throat going dry. Her tail curled around itself as she gripped the kit's shoulder firmly. She did her best to stand up straight and took a few deep breaths already dreading what she could see in that ravishing face.
``Miss Delacroix? Is that you?'' Leah folded her ears back and took a half-step out into the middle of the path. She watched her boss approaching slowly and deliberately. The look in the vixens eyes was distant and glassy. A scowl on her muzzle sent a shiver though Leah's spine. ``Miss Delacroix. I-is something wrong? What happened?'' the rat doe whined loudly and slipped out into the path,. She winced and struggled to offer some kind of gesture of support. A hug, an extended hand. Her body trembling as she felt the vixen all but walk though her.
Mary barely letting out more than a small grunt as she lumbered her way back towards the house. She then stopped and turned her head. Her eyes seeming to come into focus a bit more as she looked at the two figures on the path. She gazed at Leah for the longest time. Her face was pale and ashen under her fur. Her eyelids were dark black, her hair and fur sticking up in every direction.
``M-mom?'' Lucretia muttered softly. The kit moved up close to Leah, standing just behind the woman. She actually put her arm around Leah nervously and looked at the frazzled form of her mother.
Those words pushed Mary back into her stunned and glassy gaze. She resumed her slow stumble back towards the house.
Once Mary had slipped out of sight Leah was able to regain herself once more. She slipped an arm slowly over Luretia's shoulder and squeezed it tight. Her body struggling to suck in the confusion and anxiety from the poor girl as much as she knew she couldn't. ``Don't worry.'' Leah muttered ``I'm sure your mom just has a lot on her mind.''