“Futaba, Bernadetta, or Hinata? Or I guess I could just go Touko!”
Hui was all but bouncing on her bed as she looked over the patterns on her laptop. The second hand Cricut would make it easy enough to print any of them off, though with the way McCall was these days she could probably just wait until they put a pattern out that all but ripped off one of the characters and do it that way.
“You do a cute Touko.” Esme shrugged “But I don’t know how many people would get it. Especially at our school. At least with Naruto and Hinata it’s mainstream enough that people wouldn’t be pestering you for who you are all night.”
“Since when has anyone in our school given a fuck?” Becky sighed as she mowed on a sliver of cookies and cream pocky. “Though if you went that route you’d only have to sew something up for Justin. Probably save some time, right?” The badger smirked, then her smirk faded a bit, her green eyes flashing as she leaned in. “Right?”
“I mean, he’s not the ‘best’ Byakuya…” Hui trailed off “It’s so cute though, trying to watch him play all high and mighty that way. He keeps saying sorry after every insult like he thinks I’m gonna get upset for him being in character.”
“That’s called being a normal boyfriend.” Esme noted. Her long scaly tail wrapped around her legs as she thumbed though the Joann website for patterns. “Besides isn’t it a bit late to start sewing something?”
“I mean if we were doing a competition or something, sure.” Hui shrugged. She tried desperately to hide the blush on her face. Becky caught it. Becky always caught it. But as usual Becky said nothing.
“I think you should go Futaba.” Becky chimed in as she shifted back into her small corner of Hui’s bedroom “You could probably just order most of it off of Amazon anyways without that much markup and it at least comes with a jacket for when it gets cold.”
“Jacket and short shorts.” Esme added “Though I guess mom-Hinata doesn’t fare too much better does she. Man, what does it say when the one with the skirt is probably the warmest option.”
“Well the warmest if you aren’t counting Bernadetta. She… uh, no. I guess not.” Hui sighed “Why do we have to live somewhere so cold?”
Becky pulled the last strip of pocky from her pack and started to scrape the coating off of the cookie. “Because if we lived anywhere warmer we’d have to deal with spiders, and feral snakes, and heat stroke, and drought, more frequent tornados, earthquakes thanks to all the fracking-”
“Ok ok I get it.” Hui snipped. She sighed and pulled herself up looking between the two “Well, how about we just go to the Joann and see what they have in person. That way I can help you guys out too, right?”
“Are you asking one of us to drive?” Becky muttered. The redhead pulling herself up and bristling a bit at her friend.
“Fine” Hui sighed “Would you mind driving us to the Joann, Becky? I promise I’ll ask mom to give us some gas money.”
“I’ll take some BK money instead. Got a full tank.” Becky started to make her way out of the room without another comment. Hui sighed and pulled herself up to follow along. Instead she found herself face to face with Esme, the gecko squinting up at her friend using her sky blue Hajib like the brim of a fedora to emphasize the look of concern to an unintentionally comical degree.
“Uh, something up?” Hui blinked. The hand on her shoulder causing the wah to fidget just a bit and once again curse herself for some of the thoughts she’d had about her friend now and then.
“I need to tell you something.” Esme noted
“Something you can’t say with Becky around?” Hui blinked
Esme shook her head. She was blushing. Dozens of horrible thoughts about what the other girl could be thinking surged though Hui’s mind wondering what on earth could be making her blush. Not that it was hard by any means. The reptile was almost comically oblivious when it came to anything deeper than holding hands.
“Well, out with it.” Hui finally chirped. Her tone far more anxious than she had wished.
“It’s about your brother.” Esme muttered. “Look, I was down getting some stuff for mom at the grocery store the other day and…” She paused, biting her lip and just glancing down at the floor. “I think I saw him.”
“Ok…” Hui blinked. She waited for her to continue.
Esme glanced down and bit her knuckle, clearly agonizing over what she had to say. When she finally turned her head back up she did her best to look strong and confident. It didn’t help much, but she tried.
“I saw him in the store.” Esme said softly “At least I think it was him. He was… he was wearing cloths. Girl cloths.”
“… And?” Hui blinked
The gecko deflated a bit at that. Hui shook her head and tried to dial back. She put a paw on Esme’s hand and tilted her head “Sorry. It’s just, I mean you remember when we were following Justin around, right?”
Esme nodded. Then paused. Then blinked, her eyes going wide. “No, you don‘t mean.”
“Didn‘t wonder why I said you could go ahead and go?” Hui sighed.
“But, but you kicked her. I saw you.” Esme yelped “You went up and kicked her-”
“Him“ Hui noted grimly
“Him, right between the legs. But that means… oh dear.” Esme stumbled back a touch. She gazed at her friend expecting a punch line. Sure this was a joke. It had to be a joke.
It wasn‘t a joke. Hui sighed and leaned in looking Esme square in the eye. The stern look on the wah‘s face only growing worse.
“Look, just, don‘t go telling this around, ok? When he wants to talk about it, he‘ll talk about it. Just try not to worry about it too much, ok?”
“Ok.” Esme parroted dumbly. “Though, don‘t you think we should at least tell Becky? I mean, it seems only fair.”
“Absolutely not.” Hui snapped “Look, I‘m sorry. But for right now it‘s just not a good time to talk to Becky about any of this. Trust me. I‘ll… try to explain it later.”
Esme knew she should push more. Something about this felt wrong. Most things, really. Every fiber of her body insisted she should protest. Instead she simply took a few deep breaths and plastered a painfully fake smile on her face once more. “Well, we can talk about it later then.” The gecko sighed “For now it‘s probably best if we hurry up. Don‘t want that crazy lady buying all the interfacing we need again. Probably just does it cause were ‘creepy little costume girls‘.”
They both snickered, but Esme knew Hui was on edge now. Truth be told, so was Esme.
It really wasn’t much of a party. The school gym stuck up with a few extra bits of cheap Spirit Halloween decorations and a huge bowl of cheap punch, little more than a couple different types of pina colada and some Vernors dumped into one of those bowls with a dry ice puck at the bottom. Bowls piled high with cheap candy and snack mix and pans of cheap Halloween themed brownies.
Collin could barely imagine what was going though the minds of the parents who had set this up. All the pearl clutching as they talked each other up on what outdated things might lure their kids away from the dangerous and subversive behaviors of devils night. Everyone going online to find bands or activities even a dweeb like him knew to be out of date.
The wah wandered into the mostly empty gym amidst a set of flickering strobes and curling dry ice vapor from the one corner where the effects had been centered. He recognized a few faces. People from class or back when he was in chess club in middle school who’s names he’d probably once recalled. Some of them standing around an ancient looking Guitar Hero setup that had been placed at one of the schools TVs and wheeled out here as a ’fun’ activity. He saw Bug’s little sister, who’s name he never could remember, bellied up to the snack table trying to decide what to fit on her plate. The store bought Moana costume sitting awkwardly on the square-shouldered badger girl. The poor lil freshman looked particularly uncomfortable, likely not helped by the fact that her big brother was probably out at the lake in his pickup with his usual crew downing Miller they scammed someone into getting for them.
Kathoey probably would have gone up and said something to her. Tried to help a sister out, as it were. Show her that she didn’t need to live in her big brother’s shadow and maybe even share a few anecdotes of Collin’s erstwhile friend from when he still hung out with them more regularly. But it wasn’t Kathoey tonight. Not until ‘She’ said otherwise.
Collin waited a bit to give the poor girl space before making his own way up and filling up on some of the various sweet offerings parents had managed to scrounge up from Meijer and dress up to look homemade. He paused at the punch bowl and took a look around, filling one glass and then lingering. His eyes darting for someone in particular. Someone he knew, or at least hoped, had to be there.
“Well hey there!”
The voice nearly drove Collin out of his skin. He squinted at the long black robe striding towards him. A giant zipper jingling in time with each stride. The imposing figure in the too-big hoodie cloak managed to cut a menacing swath with each heavy boot step along the gym floor. He actually found himself recoiling right up until the figure was before him. Only then did he notice the thick famiilar braid of hair sticking out from the hood and the moddled snoot barely cutting out from the heavy shadows.
“Esme.” Collin sighed. “Jesus, here I thought one of those damn basketball jackasses was sneaking in here to get back at me”
“Get back at you for what?” The gecko girl blinked “I thought Justin was the one who went all, well, Justin on em.”
Collin shrugged and once again pushed the heavy fabric of his blue skirt down as flat as he could get it. Only now did it occur to him that a Bridget costume should be making him feel embarrassed or ashamed. That there were probably people starting beyond the few sets of eyes he hoped to catch. Esme in particular was giving him a strange look in spite of her cheery smile. But the wah did his best to push the sudden anxiousness down and shoot back a confident smile. “You know how those assholes are. It’s his fault for stepping in and playing hero. My fault for not taking their abuse quietly. Everyone is at fault but them, and three to one they’ll end up being the ones to replace their parents as the backwards little hicks filling up this town.”
“Gee, tell me how you really feel whydon’tcha?” Esme snorted. She shoved the over-long sleeves of her organization 13 jacket into the equally overlarge pockets and shifted back in her boots. The smile on her face slowly turned to concern the longer she looked at Collin. Hidden, at least partially, by the dark shadows of the party being amplified further by her own costume. Not hidden enough that Collin didn’t see the judgment in her eyes though. His thrift shop sneakers grinding awkwardly into the gym floor.
“So, your sister around? I kinda figured you two would show up together.” Esme sighed “Or that someone would stay outside to meet me at least.”
“I haven’t seen anyone else yet.” the wah shrugged “Wasn’t sure you’d show up honestly. Not like you could possibly be surprised at how all this turned out.”
Esme looked around though narrowed eyes. She was trying to wear a mask of smuggled superiority, failing utterly at the ’Nobody’ look before finally slumping her shoulders and turning back to Collin. “So, Any guess who I’m supposed to be?” She finally snickered.
“An organization 13 member, obviously.” It wasn’t Collin. The source of the voice instead slipping by between the two and taking her place to Collin’s side. Her outfit was a mass of neon and leather along with cheap dye at the tips of her headfur. A pair of cheap mirrored sunglasses sitting precariously on her muzzle.
“Funny, I figured you’d wait until next year before doing a cyberpunk 2077 costume.” Esme snickered as she gazed the badger girl up and down.
Becky crossed her arms and did her best to look cool in spite of the slight. Her eyes narrowing though the cheap blue fur dye used to emulate woad. “I’m a Shadowrun character.” She snapped “I told you I figured it was easier than bugging Hui to sew me up something on the fly. And who are you supposed to be anyways? Sure don’t look like Larxine.”
“Nxjeimas.” Esme said proudly “With a strong heart like Princess Jasmine you can’t be surprised that she’d leave behind a potent Nobody.”
Collin gripped the teddy bear prop he’d brought with him and swayed from foot to foot while the two girls took playful pot shots at each other. His eyes traced the crowd looking for anyone else. All the while some small part of him aware of just how close Becky was being. Struggling to avoid her gaze as he sought out a bigger figure. The figure he really wanted to see.
That train of thought snapped as Becky reached past him suddenly. No warning given, no words said. A moment later a familiar wah girl in a black school girl uniform was hauled in to the little circle. An otter in a simple suit and bad wig hauled in along with her.
“Holy carp! I didn’t see you guys.” Hui yipped. She rubbed the arm that had been grabbed and took a step back against Justin. The wah girl looked down and started to poke her index fingers together in a gesture quite close to that of the character she was playing. Even though it was a gesture she’d adopted years ago when first beating Dangenronpa. “Isn’t that right, M-m-master Beyakuya?”
Justin rolled his eyes and grunted. He was trying to put on the air of undeserved toughness. Not that it helped too much with the deep blush on his cheek. Everyone else present jumped when he smacked her rear though. Leaning in and whispering into her ear “Did I tell you that you could talk, you pathetic little pet bitch?”
It was Hui’s turn to blush now. Not that it stopped the suddenly ashamed looking Justin. Both of them glanced at their three friends and then away at the floor with only the otter able to stammer while Hui simply whined and hugged herself nervously.
“So, uh, you guys found us I guess. Maybe we shoulda talked about meeting up outside or something. Still, Becky’s got that camera jockey perception roll still, huh?”
“Well I mean it’s not like it’s too hard to spot you guys. Especially with you two rocking the most predictable outfits imaginable.” Becky snickered to herself and shot Collin a small glance. Her eyes tracing up and down the corssplaying wah carefully. “Though now that I think about it, I didn’t call this one. Here I figured you weren’t down for getting teased for the rest of the year.”
Collin glared at her and pouted the worst mock pout he could. “I guess that’s why you were keeping your distance then?” He muttered
“Well that and I had to at least make sure Ginny was ok.”
Collin stared at her blankly. His head racing though the rolodex of people he should know trying and failing to hide his mounting panic and discomfort.
“Ginny.” Becky said again. “you know, Ginny? My cousin? Bug’s lil sister?”
The red panda’s expression went from worried confusion to outright shock. “Cousin?” He blinked “I didn’t know you and Bug were related.”
“Well yeah.” Justin snickered “Their grandma and grandpa are the ones who run the vets office out past the Schroder cherry farm. Remember when I had to dogsit for Ryan and we had to take Tank to the vet? That was them.”
“How do you even know ‘that’?” Collin blinked.
“Well if we’re going to get technical about it, Becky’s grandma married Ryan’s grandpa’s younger brother. So that technically means she and I are cousins too. Like, third I think? Maybe?”
Collin just stood there shocked. His jaw slack as his brain bouncing on a loop as he looked between them. Ears folding back and perking again while words failed to slip past his lips. “Ryan is your cousin?” Collin whimpered “but, he’s a bear.”
“Well yeah.” Justin shrugged “Son’s my gramma, remember?”
“I… that… he… How is everyone in this god damn town related?!” Collin finally snapped.
“Wow.” Hui blinked “Think Baba knows he moved us to Hobbiton?”
Esme smirked and glanced sidelong at Collin from under her hood. “Well don’t worry, Collin. You’ll be able to start making all of those claims about being related to people once Justin and Hui end up tying the knot. Then half the people in town can talk about ‘grumpy cousin Collin who still lives down the road from his folks so he can check on them’. Heck, find the right house and they may even use you to give directions!”
“You know what?” Collin snapped. “I’mma get a refill, and then I‘mma walk around. Screw all you guys.” He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead stamping his way off into the admittedly pathetic crowd of the dance. Small protestations and simpering apologies from his friends falling on rightly deaf ears.
He wandered for a bit. Most of the gym was empty. They’d tried doing this on Halloween proper, and that saw the whole place bare. Still most of those who showed up were simply those with nowhere else to go on devils night. Not that it mattered to him. He’d have probably just stayed home, if not for the figure standing by the locker room entrances.
“Hey.” Collin muttered the words as he walked up to the jumpsuit-clad woman. Familiar green eyes flashing from behind a dented up old hockey mask. He did his best to offer up a confident smile. A sly winking nod. Instead the poor boy was only able to manage a soft blush and a nervous nip at his own lower lip as he offered up a glass of punch to the towering teacher.
Tabs stayed still for a long moment. Her eyes fixed on the drink, then back to the boy who was, for once, openly crossdressing at the one time of year someone could get away with it. The wolverine woman finally took the drink offered and took a long sip of the painfully sweet punch. Twenty years ago she’d have spiked this shit with a big old jar of Everclear. She still would today, if it wouldn’t fuck over her job.
“Not enjoying the party I take it, Mr. Sang?” Tabs snickered. “Here I figured you’d be flaunting that cute outfit all over the place tonight.”
Collin spared his Mistress a few moments to look over the outfit. Part of him had hoped for something a bit more flattering. Something mad-maxish perhaps. Big and brazen showing off far more bare fur and lots of leather. Even a ‘sexy’ Jason would have been fine with him, really. He went to lean in to the bundle of cheap brown cloth all the same. Instead blinking in shock as his cheek thudded on hard brick.
“Tired?” The wolverine muttered. Her tone making plane just how badly her little toy had fucked up.
Collin awkwardly slipped himself against the wall and nodded. He masked the disappointed whine in his throat with a heavy glug of his drink. A dozen words dying on his lips as he gazed down at the familiar gym floor.
“You don’t mind just sitting around here like this?” The wah muttered. “I mean, everyone else is dancing or partying a bit. Isn’t it kinda boring just standing here like this?”
“It’s my job.” Tabs laughed “What, you thought I came to school to hang out on my day off?”
“Y-you didn’t?” Collin bit back the disappointment in his voice. He was slowly aware of the big bushy tail wrapping around his legs.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m starting to warm up to the ‘dweeby’ kids a bit. But I mean, this is all for you guys. Young, dumb, happy.” Tabs glanced out at the two dozen different costumed figures milling about. The gym teacher pulled her hockey mask up a bit and took a heavy swig of the painfully one note punch. This time leaving the thing up, leaving her melancholic smile a bit too plain for Collin.
It was several songs before the boy was able to glance back at his Mistress again. Those shimmering green eyes were on him. In spite of everything, it made his heart skip a beat. A sea of warmth crashing in over his anxiety and confusion. “Sure you don’t at least want to dance?” Collin asked. His voice cracking ever so slightly as he did and his ears perked up as he tried to offer his cutest, girliest smile.
“Dance?” Tabs blinked.
The look she gave him silenced any further questions. Not that she needed to say it. The boy knew how stupid it was to ask. Even now he could feel some of the eyes on the two of them. Kids almost as unpopular as he was taking moments from their awkward courtships or the various games set up around for the youth all to try and process why one of the schools least athletic students was cozying up with the gym teacher. The bottom fell out of his gut in that moment. Fear and rage twisting in a hopeless anime clash deep inside the boys brain. He looked up at her pleadingly with those soft brown eyes. So many things he wanted to say. So many things he should say. After all, he was an adult. He knew what he wanted. Who he wanted. He knew he wasn’t going to get another real chance at this. Not outside of prom at any rate.
“Part of me kinda regrets bailing.” Tabs muttered the words though the cheap plastic cup and downed the last of her drink. The wolverine woman tapping her cheap plastic machete nervously on the wall. She never took her eyes off of Collin. He felt them locked on. Strung to him like a leash. He loved it and hated it all at once. Thrashing anxiety swelling in his heart while the boy just swayed in his costume in that limbo. Feeling the longing wash over him, nearly barreling him over.
“You should dance.” Tabs finally muttered.
“You want to?” Collin blinked out of his semi-trance and glanced up at his Mistress. Big wide eyes full of hope. It took everything he had in him to resist pouncing her. Knowing that if he let slip his emotions for even a second he’d probably embarrass them both to no end.
Tabs laughed. Her face contorted into a sarcastic smirk playing his words off as a joke. Collin turned his eyes back to the floor and gripped the hem of his skirt. It took a while to look back up at her. Look into the eyes of the grey furred woman. When he did, he could almost imagine sorrow there. Almost.
“Hey!” Tabs called out “Little miss wrecking ball. C’mere!”
Collin turned his eyes to the crowd. He saw Becky moving slowly, picking her way though the people. A few frosted rice crispy treats sitting on a paper plate that was balanced with all of the care the clumsy badger could muster.
“Look, if this is about the fitness test, I’m sorry.” Becky blurted the words out before she’d even gotten close. “I wasn’t trying to disrespect you bringing a bag of skittles in. I was just really hungry and…”
The older woman rolled her eyes and sighed. Without warning she gripped hold of Becky’s free paw, the other taking Collin’s, and before either of them knew it the two were pressed together.
“I think this young lady would like a dance.” Tabs muttered
“D-dance?” Becky yelped suddenly. A blush taking her cheeks. “Coach, I really wasn’t. I mean I didn’t think, I mean I still got some food left-” No sooner had the words left the badger’s maw than the small plate was snatched away. Tabs smirking and taking an extra big bite of a treat as if to drive her point home.
“I wasn’t talking about you.” She muttered though a mouth full of food “I was talking to you.”
Collin stood in stunned silence, gazing at the red head who now held his paw. He glanced back at Tabs for an eternal moment, seeking something in her eyes. Anything. Trying like hell to plumb answers he knew wouldn’t’ come.
His feet started to move before he knew what was happening. Without word he pulled the girl out on to the dance floor. His own stumbling footfalls threatening to pull them both down as he tried to weave them though the mass of warm bodies. All the while glancing back at his Mistress now and then. His eyes wide and full of confused longing. Hers covered almost entirely by the damn hockey mask. Leaving her looking cold. Leaving him utterly adrift.
Soon the teens were standing face to face. Both swaying awkwardly to some synthetic electronic beat pumped out from whatever collection the AV club president had managed to load from his phone. Collin had no idea how to move, how to act, what to do with his hands. The only thing he knew for sure was that Becky didn’t seem to be doing much better. The normally confident badger girl shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot in something that could generously be called pace with the beat. Her ears were actually pinned back as she kept glancing around at the floor, at others on the floor, at Collin’s costume.
“I’m guessing Hui didn’t sew that for you.” She finally muttered. “Sorry. Wasn’t really sure what to say. Coach kinda…”
“Yeah.” Collin muttered “I, I really wasn’t expecting her to do that.”
“You weren’t?” Becky’s tone wasn’t what the wah expected at all. Not that he could place it. Not that he could think about much of anything. All he could do was stand there, wondering what to do, wondering what to say. His mind kept coming back to the paws resting in his. The odd sensation of someone holding his hand. A girl. So different from the forced affection between him and Justin. Different even than Mistress. That simple fact made him squeeze her hand tighter, hating how pleasant it was.
Somewhere between the erratic heartbeats the droning cacophony stopped. The whole dance floor shifted. Over-thick fog and colored lights shifting from oranges and greens to soft blues and pinks. A soft guitar solo plucking in. Slowly twisting like a wave over everything.
Collin wasn’t sure why he pulled her in. Why suddenly he was holding Becky. Close. Arms around her middle. His hands seeking out some comfortable middle ground between what he’d seen in shows and what felt ‘right’ in the moment. His cheeks bloomed into a dizzying blush as Becky draped her arms loosely on him in turn. A look of nervousness on her face that simply made the badger girl seem so different in the soft blue light.
Neither of them said anything as their eyes met. Neither of them knowing what to say as the music simply played on.
‘If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there would still be you and me-’
With two of the other chaperones now in the place, Tabs was finally free to get some air. The stink of teenager and smoldering hot electronics was something she’d once thought was left gratefully in the past. Yet now here she was, another year of keeping an eye on the kids so the ‘real’ teachers could have a night off of babysitting.
The wolverine looked up into the night sky listlessly. It was so easy to miss the stars.. Most of these kids had probably never even looked up at them at night. Most of them had never slept out under them. Never bathed in their strange light away from the dull yellow pollution of their small town. Never mind the eternal day of bigger cities.
She found herself pulling a paw out of her pocket and clutching empty air. Another thing she’d left in the past. Not that you ever quite kicked nicotine. Even now it felt like exactly the right time for a smoke. Instead she leaned back on the building once more and rolled her shoulders. Everything felt so… odd. As if each moment was pulled out into an elastic infinity that she savored, and yet longed to draw out further. Longed to keep it as long as she could. Or maybe she just longed to go back, and have her own.
“Wonder if it woulda cost that much back then, too.” Tabs let her eyes slip shut. Fifty bucks. The creepy little extortionist fuck was worse than some drug dealers she’d kicked the shit out of in her time. It’d been worth it though. Seeing her two boys out there, on the floor. Blushing, smiling, content. Everything as it should be.
“Wonder how much it’d cost for him to play all of Led Zeppelin II. Be better than any of this new shit at least.” Tabs chuckled to herself as she said it. It wasn’t like things were any better in her youth. Lord knew they’d have probably just put on some nu metal or krunk rap. Not that this new stuff sounded any different to her.
One last breath of cool air and Tabs turned herself back to the side door she’d propped open. She paused, her thumb sliding under the small strap holding the two keys on her neck. Tabs gazed at them for a long moment before reluctantly tucking them back under her boiler suit. Allowing the heavy metal door to once again seal away the starlight.