First Day of School
By Assilsasta, VerbMyNoun, & Talon2Point0
A Crossover featuring:
The Fletchers, Dark Riders of Marblecliff, It’s Not Rape If..., A Daughter’s Love, Poor Jordan
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>August 19, 2013<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Part A: Manticore Middle<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
Arelia turned to the voice that spoke to her. The hare-raccoon hybrid just looked at her as she leaned against the tree. “What?” she asked as she glanced down at the homemade version of the school uniform.
“I was just wondering what you did to your uniform,” The other girl said with a smile. She looked around quickly as she said, “You might want to step into the shade; you stand out like a sore thumb in the sun.”
The mink looked down at herself again, noticing the excessive shine to the material that she hadn’t noticed in the shop or the attic lighting. “Oh, hell,” she muttered as she started looking for a place to escape to.
“Come on, there is a good spot over here,” the crossbreed said, tilting her head to the side. “I’m Illyana, by the way.”
“Arie,” Arelia replied as she followed the girl through the courtyard, the wolf boy all but forgotten between the quick glances over her shoulder. “It’s my first day and I didn’t think about how shiny this was.”
“Who do you keep looking at?” the young hybrid asked as the she led the way to a small cluster of trees.
“Um.. No one…” Arelia stammered as she tried to think of a reason to be looking around. “It’s just weird to see everyone wearing the same thing.’
“Everyone but you,” Illyana said with a bit of a smile.
“Oh, yeah. I made it last night,” the mink said before realizing how strange that might sound.
“Waitafuckinminute... You made this? Yourself?” the hybrid girl asked as she walked around Arelia, inspecting her craftsmanship. “You know, my mom used to be a model, and my sister wants to be a designer. I bet she’d love to see this.”
“I.. uh… make most of my own clothes. They don’t really have too much in the style I like in stores around here,” Arelia said shyly. “I didn’t like how the uniform fit, so I made a new one. But, I didn’t think about what it would look like in direct sunlight. Am I going to get in trouble for this?”
“Yeah, you might get busted for it, but it’s so worth it,” Illyana said as she pointed to a small group of boys obviously looking at the pair. “Talk about making an entrance on your first day.”
“How do you know they aren’t checking YOU out?”
“Because they know that you’re more my type than they are. Don’t worry, I’m spoken for,” the crossbreed girl replied.
“Excuse me, ladies,” the adult voice called from behind them. As Arelia turned she noticed the look on Illyana’s face. She looked up at the older skunk as she ran through the scenario she came up with in case someone did say something about her outfit.
“Yes, sir,” the mink said as calmly as she could.
The skunk looked down at Arelia as he said, “Miss, it’s been brought to my attention that you are wearing an altered uniform.”
“But, sir, it’s not technically altered; I made it myself. And according to the student manual,” she knelt down, opened her backpack and pulled out a copy of the book with tags poking out the sides. “According to this, it is the proper shade of yellow and it does meet the basic standards of size and fit. The skirt does extend down to the right location, and the sleeve length is correct.” She flipped open the book to one mark and held it up to the skunk. “The only issue that I can see is that I didn’t take into account the shine of the fabric in the sunlight. But if it is an issue, I did bring a basic uniform with me.”
“You might have a point there, young lady,” the older skunk said with a little smirk on his face. “But there is a difference between following the letter of the rules and the spirit. Part of the point of the uniforms is to generate a sense of discipline and equality among students. If I were to allow one student to disregard the spirit of the rules it would undermine that sense of discipline. It was smart of you to bring the basic uniform with you, and I would like you to change into it as soon as you can.” He turned to look at the hare/raccoon girl and added, “Miss Black, could you please show her to the Locker Room so she could change?”
“Yes sir,” Illyana said quickly as she grabbed Arelia’s paw and nearly pulled her arm off as she sped away from the skunk. She looked over her shoulder at the mink and said, “I can’t believe you said that to the Headmaster like that. You’ve got guts, girl.”
Arelia’s eyes became the size of dinner plates as she asked, “That was the Headmaster? Oh my god… I didn’t… Oh god.” She picked up her pace to match her new friend as they made their way to the locker room to change her into the standard uniform.
River stopped in the hallway and glanced at her schedule, making sure that she was at the correct classroom before stepping inside. Certain that she was where she needed to be, she entered the room and immediately noticed how high-tech the equipment was compared to last year. Brand-new interactive workstations had replaced the old tables, and another one was mounted on the wall next to the teacher’s desk. Another detail that caught her eye was that each station had three-to-four name cards on them. Her green eyes quickly scanned the classroom, and she spotted her name at a table where a hamster girl sat talking to a young equine girl.
The two girls smiled warmly at her as she approached. As she drew closer, River noticed that the small rodent girl, Daphne, according to her name card, was in a wheelchair. Both girls gave her slight waves, and she started to speak. Before she could introduce herself, though, the class quieted down as the teacher arrived.
The middle-aged canine walked casually into the classroom, humming a song that she didn’t recognize. He made his way to the desk and set his satchel down before pushing two fingers into his maw and whistling loudly, getting the attention of any of the students in the room who were still embroiled in their own conversations.
“GOOD MORNING, CLASS!” he yelled out, “My name-” He turned his back to the kids, took up the electronic marker, and began writing on the interactive board as he spoke. “-Is Lewis Henshaw. This class is seventh grade Social Studies and U.S. History.” He put down the faux-marker and turned back to face the students. “Now! I’m going to give you all five minutes to find your friends and talk. Once those five minutes are over, I’d like for you to take your seats, and I will pass out the day’s first worksheet. These seats will be assigned for the rest of the year, and I hope to learn all of your names quickly. Hopefully, we can all be friends before Winter Break.” He went back to the desk and sat down, beginning to organize his papers and setting up a shiny old metal label maker.
“Hi,” the filly girl said, getting the conversation started. “Since I don’t see any of my other friends in here, I’ll talk with you two. I’m Juno. Uhm… I like to read and take pictures. You?”
“I’m Daphne,” the wheelchair-bound hamster girl replied. “I like making jewelry. Most of my free time I’m either braiding friendship bracelets or stringing beads. Here,” she said, digging into the bag draped over the side of her chair, “I’d like for you both to have one.” She pulled out a Zip-lock bag full of skillfully-oven bracelets and spread them out on the table for the other girls to see. “Go ahead, take whichever ones you want. I have a lot more at home.”
“Thank you,” Juno said politely, taking a neon green and orange bracelet.
“Thanks,” the otter girl added as she picked out a purple and yellow bracelet and slipped it around her wrist, “My name’s River. Let’s see… I like sports, mostly soccer and swimming, but I’ll play other things. As long as I can stay active.”
“How about camping?” Juno asked with a smile, “My Girl Scout Troupe goes camping, hiking, and canoeing a lot.”
“How about arts and crafts?” the hamster asked, genuinely interested in hearing more.
“Yeah, we do a lot of that stuff, too,” the young filly answered proudly. “In fact, I do a lot of scrapbooking. Maybe I could show you sometime?”
“That’d be neat!” Daphne said excitedly.
“I’d like to hear more about the physical activities,” River requested, then looking at her handicapped classmate, added, “No offense, I like looking at pretty pawmade things, but I’m not very artsy.”
“No problem! I enjoy watching sports, too!” the hamster girl announced, not taking any exception to where the conversation was headed. “I go to a lot of Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox games, and I’ve been to a few Revolution games, as well.”
“The Scouts are all about playing fair and inclusiveness,” Juno answered happily. “In fact, we could probably -” She was cut short as Mr. Henshaw placed three worksheets at their table and took his place back at the beginning of the room. “I’ll talk to you more later on, okay?”
River and Daphne both gave quick nods, settling down as the older Dalmatian called out, “I’ve given each of you a packet. Inside, there are several questions covering a broad assortment of history topics that you should have learned in your previous years of education, but I know that not all of you attended school here last year, or perhaps you may have forgotten. Don’t worry about getting the answers right or wrong; this is only intended to assess what I need to cover before we move on to new material.” As Mr. Henshaw spoke, the young otter looked down and began to read the questions. She let out a soft sigh of frustration as most of the questions were completely unfamiliar to her.
“I swear to God, sometimes I just want to run away,” the Dalmatian girl said as she walked down the almost-empty corridor, talking to the Doberman girl that was the closest thing to a best friend she had ever known. “It’s like no matter how hard I try, nothing I do is ever good enough for him!”
“Then stop trying so hard,” Kyle replied. “If your Dad can’t accept you for who you are, that’s all on him. You can’t change who you are, and only trying is just going to make you more miserable. At least you have your mom and your sister.”
“My sister moved all the way out to goddamn Colorado, Kyle,” Vanessa huffed. “I get to talk to her like once, maybe twice, a week, and I haven’t seen her since Christmas. And my mom is passed out half the time!”
“Still, they love you,” the Doberman girl said reassuringly. “If you run away, think about what that will do to them… to me, even. I’m your friend, ‘Nessa.”
“I know, it just hurts so much that my own father hates me for being -” The thirteen-year old Dalmatian girl shut her mouth as the door to the girls’ room swung open, just as she was about to go in, causing them both to jump slightly, startled.
“Oh, uhm…” the white deer girl said, equally surprised to see the two canines about to enter the restroom. “Sorry, ya’ll! Ah didn’t mean ta catch ya’ll witcher pants down. Ah was just ‘bout ta skedaddle back ta class.”
“Not so fast,” Vanessa said, placing her paw on the young doe’s shoulder and pushing her back into the restroom. “Watch the door, Kyle.” The Doberman looked on nervously as her friend forced the Southern belle back against the sink counter. “How much did you hear, ‘Lissa Jo?” she demanded to know.
“Ah reckon ah didn’t hear much, on account o’ the faucet an’ the walls, ‘Nessa,” the girl replied. “Ah just heard somethin’ ‘bout yer Pa hatin’ ya, but that ain’t no reason ta fly off the handle at me.”
“You’d better not say a damned thing to anyone about this, do you understand?” the Dalmatian girl growled. “I can’t risk some low-life, country-bumpkin, hayseed trash running off at the mouth and hurting my dad’s career!”
“Now hold up a minute,” the cervine girl said, shoving off from the counter to get back in the Dalmatian’s face, “Ah ain’t in high cotton like some folks, but there’s no way Ah’d ever go back on mah raisin’. Ah’ll give ya one chance ta take that back ‘fore Ah get ta givin’ down the country.”
“Is that a threat?” Vanessa snarled. Kyle walked away from the bathroom door to back up her friend. She looked back over her shoulder, smiling at the uneven odds, and said, “Are you sure you want to do this, Dixie?”
“Ya’ll ‘re just too big fer ya’lls britches,” Melissa retorted, “Instead o’ mendin’ fences, ya had ta start stuff. Well, my Pa always told me that if someone wants ta start trouble, Ah’d better finish it.”
“Ladies! That’s enough!” a woman’s voice called out from the entrance to the bathroom. A second later, a paw grabbed Melissa by the arm and pulled her away from the bullies. Her rescuer placed herself between the young doe and Vanessa and Kyle. With the adrenaline coursing through her veins, it took a moment for it to register who had broken up the altercation.
“All three of you, to the office! Now!” Laura Summers ordered, pointing to the exit of the restroom. The older red squirrel marched the three young girls down to the office on the first floor, keeping the two canines ahead of her, while the click-clack of Melissa’s hooves echoed throughout the hallway behind her. “Really, girls, on the first day of school? We’re going to need to call your parents.”
“All Ah wanted ta do was cop a squat an’ git ta Science class,” the young deer muttered softly. “But Ah accidentally ran inta those two, an’ got the short end o’ the stick.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine, ‘Lissa Jo,” Mrs. Summers explained. “You have a clean record. You’ll probably just fill out an incident report and get sent home for the rest of the day.”
“Well ain’t that the berries. Ah guess Ah’ll just go home an’ mess with mah Arduino,” the young doe sighed. “Ah just hope Illyana doesn’t fret too much on account o’ me.”
Opening the door to the office, the squirrel woman pointed to a seating area to the left. “You two, over there until Mister Etheridge sees you. Miss Parker, Principal’s office. Kayla, please call all three girl’s parents. These young ladies were all involved in an altercation upstairs.”
“Yes, Mrs. Summers,” the pretty young fennec said from behind the desk.
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Space at the Table<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
At lunch, Arelia followed Illyana to a table that was filled up with several other girls, all chatting excitedly amongst themselves. As they approached, a young ferret girl noticed them and spoke up, “Hey, Illyana, who’s your new friend?” The girl grabbed her open books of sheet music - which she obviously wasn’t really paying any attention to - and made room for the newcomers. The small gesture filled the young mink with a sense of belonging.
“This is Arelia,” the hybrid girl said, introducing the mink to her friends, “It’s her first day here. Arelia, these are my friends: Kaitlyn, Jordan, Abby, Taybra, and Skyla.” As Illyana spoke, she indicated to each girl, who returned the introduction with a gesture of acknowledgement.
“So, Arelia, where are you transferring in from?” the civet girl, Taybra, asked.
“My mom pulled us out of public school last year to homeschool us,” she answered nervously as she found herself suddenly surrounded by the same group of girls she had hoped to someday be part of. “But my mom’s practice is doing well enough now that she can afford to send my sister and me to private school.”
“That’s awesome! What does she do?” Taybra asked. It was becoming obvious who the unofficial leader of the group was.
“She’s a psychiatrist,” the young mink answered, starting to feel like she was being scrutinized. “She works with troubled youths to help them overcome their pasts.”
“Dr. Fletcher,” Kaitlyn said, patting the space next to her, indicating that Arelia should sit down. “I’ve had a few sessions with her. She’s really nice.” The young mink quickly took the offered seat, and the ferret girl leaned in, whispering, “Don’t mind Taybra. She’s really nice and sweet, she just has a big personality.”
“How’s the first day going so far?” Skyla, the flying squirrel, asked.
“Not too bad,” Arelia replied, “I had a minor dress code violation to start my day, but after getting changed, no issues since.”
“You should have seen it! Girls, Arelia makes her own clothes! By paw!” Illya exclaimed excitedly. “And she’s really good! She made her own uniform, just like ours, but a slightly shinier material. It really looked amazing. She probably would have gotten away with it, if Mr. Etheridge hadn’t seen her out in the sun.”
“You’ll just have to be more subtle,” the Snowshoe Cat, Abby, explained. “Maybe mix-and-match pieces of the regulation uniform with some of your custom works. But we’d love to see them!”
“Hey, Arelia,” Skyla interrupted. “Do you like muffins? My mom runs a bakery, and I usually bring some in for the group.”
“What’s your mom put in those things? Damn, girl, your boobs got huge over the summer!” Taybra called out, which got a giggle out of the rest of the table and caused the flying squirrel to grin.
“I don’t know,” Skyla replied, casually putting her paws beneath her breasts and lifting them slightly, before letting them drop with a slight frown, “but it’s weird getting used to wearing a real bra all the time like this, both uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time. And, I couldn’t believe how expensive they were when my mom took me shopping. I still can’t get over how much they charge for a few flimsy pieces of fabric! And we were in the stores all day for fittings and...” She trailed off, realizing she had strayed from her original topic. The group of girls giggled as she broke off, seemingly used to this from the flying squirrel girl.
Before Skyla could speak up again, Abby teased, “I saw Sky getting stared at by guys all day long. Mike Hanson actually tried to pretend like he was drinking from the water fountain when she walked by, and ended up getting the water in his ear.”
This caused even further laughter among the girls, before Skyla asked, “But, back to the question: What kind of muffins do you like?”
“Any kind, I guess,” the mink answered as she pulled out her brown bag lunch. “My dad makes most of our lunches because we have to watch what my sister eats. She has a special diet and we all go by it. It’s actually pretty good stuff, just a lot less sugar and stuff. But, I can try them, it’s not like I’ll be bouncing off the walls or anything.”
“Speaking of guys,” Taybra said, “Have any of you seen Lucas yet today?”
“No, why?” Abby said as she took a bite of her salmon.
“I don’t know. He just seems different. More confident. Not arrogant or anything like that, just… self-assured,” the civet girl said. There was a faint sadness in her voice that made Arelia think something had happened between her and this Lucas boy in the past. “Jordan, you’re his best friend; do you know anything?”
Kaitlyn nudged the cheetah/tundra lion hybrid, who had remained quiet so far, rousing her from a daydream. “Huh?” she asked, getting a chuckle from Kaitlyn and Abby.
“She’s always daydreaming,” Kaitlyn explained quietly to Arelia. “She’s a very talented and versatile musician, and she’s always writing lyrics composing songs in her head.”
“I don’t know, really. He came back from the cruise that way. Like, he knew more about who he was and what he wanted in life,” she explained. “But he also seemed kind of sad, like in order for him to reach this understanding he had to lose something important. He didn’t really want to talk about it, though.”
“What about you? Are you a musician, too? I saw your books of sheet music,” the young mink asked her new friend, still surprised by the fact that she was at the same table with the girls she had hoped to meet.
Taybra gave a bittersweet smile, and replied, “Well, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Thanks, Jordan.”
“I play the cello,” the ferret answered. “My dream is to play in the Boston Symphony Orchestra someday. I love classical. Jordan is more contemporary, and well-rounded.”
While they were talking, Illyana was busy sending text messages and anxiously glancing around the cafeteria. Abby noticed, and asked, “Hey, Illya, did something happen with ‘Lissa Jo?”
“Who?” Arelia asked, leaning in more towards Kaitlyn.
“Illyana’s girlfriend, Melissa,” Taybra answered before Kaitlyn could open her mouth. “She should be in the cafeteria by now.”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” the hare/raccoon mix said, sounding very frustrated. “But she’s not replying to my texts.”
“Hey,” a male voice called from behind and a little left of Arelia, “Any room for one more?” Turning her head, Arelia saw him: the wolf boy that had haunted her sexual fantasies since the day she first saw him. Up close, she realized that he wasn’t pure wolf, but a mix with some other canine breed, causing his fur to be shock white.
Arelia felt her mouth drop open in disbelief as she saw the impossible so close she could touch it. Only a week ago she had thought that being in that close to Jordan would be a way to get closer to the wolf boy, but never imagined either would happen on her first day. She swiftly snapped her mouth shut, hoping she had not stared at him long enough for it to look awkward. She blushed through her white fur as she looked over her homemade lunch, slightly embarrassed by a note from her dad scribbled on a napkin. The closer look had shown off the slightly older boy’s toned but not overly muscular body, which brought the images of her night’s ‘educational research’ almost instantly to her mind. She swiftly crammed a Ritz-and-peanut-butter sandwich in her muzzle in hopes that she wouldn’t be expected to say anything until she figured out how not to sound like a moron.
“Hey, Lucas, you can have my seat,” Illyana said as she stood up, “Not knowing what the fuck’s going on is driving me nuts. I’m gonna go spark up - hit my cell if ‘Lissa shows up, ok?” She looked at Arelia and said, “Sorry to bail on you, I’m just stressed out not knowing what’s going on with my girl. These are good people, so you’ll be fine. I’ll see you later, ok?”
The mink looked up, eyes wide with disbelief as she was left with the group she wanted to be included in, unable to say anything with a mouth full of crackers and little orange crumbs and powder on her muzzle. Uncertain of what to do as the group of friends moved and continued around her, she crammed another cracker sandwich in her mouth.
“Don’t mind Illyana, she’s dealing with a ton of crap right now,” Taybra whispered to her. “Her dad died unexpectedly in a car crash earlier this year, and she’s taken up weed to help her cope with things. She can be fine one minute and stressed out all to hell and back the next. I’m sure that ‘Lissa Jo is fine, but her brain is probably telling her that her girlfriend could be dead. It’s tragic, really. I wish we could do more besides be here for her when she needs us.”
Arelia coughed cracker crumbs into her paw as she tried to swallow her mouth full before talking. “That’s what my mom does, deal with kids in situations like that. It’s sad and hard to deal with alone. I wish I knew earlier.” She looked over at the rest of the group as they began to question the wolf boy about his vacation.
“So, Lucas,” Kaitlyn said, “How was your summer?”
“Not bad,” he answered. “My dad and I finished restoring Grandpa’s truck; it looks factory new and runs better than some modern cars. I only wish I could have gotten more sleep. Ever since we went on that cruise, my parents have been going at it almost non-stop. Mom’s actually pregnant again, and to make things worse, my brother has a really cute new girlfriend, and she’s over now one weekend a month. Her first visit, they were even louder than mom and dad. I pretty much lived in the shower the last month of my break!” The group of girls broke into a fit of laughter over their friend’s misfortune, and Arelia decided to laugh along, not knowing the people in the story, but not wanting to appear rude. As the giggles subsided, she noticed that he was looking right at her, giving her a friendly, welcoming smile. “You changed clothes. Hi,” he said as he reached across the table, offering his paw, “I’m Lucas.”
The mink looked around awkwardly as she felt as though every fur in the cafeteria was looking at her. With a slight shake in her paw she reached up and took ahold of his. Never before had the warm feel of a paw felt so strange yet welcome as he squeezed hers firmly in his. “I’m… um… Arelia?” she said almost as if she was uncertain of her own name. “The... um… Headmaster said… um… made me change… um.. because it … um …” without finishing her thought she grabbed the last of her bite-sized cracker sandwiches and shoved it in her mouth in hopes of not making too much more of a fool of herself. She realized he had noticed and was looking at her earlier, and her face burned with a blush that showed through her light fur.
“That must taste delicious,” he said playfully with a smile. “Did you get them from Skyla’s mom?” He reached into his lunch bag and pulled out a crisp green pear and took a bite out of it.
Without thinking she opened her mouth to speak, blasting a breath full of crumbs right into Lucas’s face. She slammed her head into her crossed arms on the table as she mutter a muffled, “Just kill me now.”
The other girls tried to suppress their giggles, and the wolf boy chuckled as he brushed cracker crumbs from off his blazer. “Okay, those aren’t from the Flour Shop,” he said, before noticing the young mink’s embarrassment.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. First day at a new school, and you don’t know anyone. I get it. We’ve all been there. It’s fine, really. I’ll be right back, just going to grab a napkin.”
As Lucas walked away, she carefully peeked her head up, dreading the judging looks she was sure would be waiting. Instead, Abby, Kaitlyn, Jordan, and even Taybra were all giving her knowing smiles. “You like him, don’t you?” the civet girl asked. “It’s okay if you do.”
“NO!” she protested, knowing that none of the other girls would believe her anyway. “I… it’s… He...” She dropped her head back into her arms as she muttered, “Where’s a rock to crawl under when you need one?”
“That’s too bad,” Abby told her. “You two have a lot more in common than your white fur and grade level.”
“Really,” Taybra explained, “if you’re worried that I might not like you for dating my ex, don’t. I want him to be happy. He’s a great guy. He and I just weren’t meant to be.”
Arelia picked her head up and looked at Taybra and asked, “You went out with him?” She glanced over her shoulder and back to check the boy’s progress on getting napkins before leaning into the group, blushing as she asked, “Did you ever… um… you know?” Realizing just how improper the question was for the first time she had met someone, she quickly looked down at her untouched ham sandwich and muttered, “Never mind.”
Even though she had retracted her question, the expression on Taybra’s face told the young mink she had struck a chord, and she instantly regretted ever asking. “No,” Taybra said with such calm that it gave Arelia the chills, “And sometimes I wish we had. Maybe things would have worked out differently.” The civet girl stood up and told the others, “I’m going to go freshen up before next class. I’ll see you around later on. It was nice meeting you, Arelia.”
The mink looked around the group expecting scornful looks as the other girl left, “I’m sorry. I didn’t… I shouldn’t have said anything. Maybe I should go.” She was certain she had ruined any chance she had of being part of the group.
“Don’t,” Jordan said, speaking up for just the second time during the entire conversation. “Abby’s right. You two have a lot in common, and I think you guys would hit it off. Even after I introduced them, I never really understood how he and Taybra got to dating. She’s a sweet girl, and we all love her to death, but like Kaitlyn said, Tay has a big personality.”
“That’s right,” Skyla added, “and I wouldn’t worry about making a fool of yourself, either. I think we all were sticking our footpaws in our mouths the first time we were introduced to the group here… I know I did.”
“Listen,” Jordan said, trying to make her feel better, “Just look at his blazer very carefully when he gets back and sits down, ok?”
“Shh!” Abby warned, “He’s coming back now!”
Lucas returned to his seat, taking his place across the table from Arelia. “Where’d Tay run off to?” he asked as he wiped the few remaining crumbs from off his outfit. “How does this look? Any better?” He held his arms out to the sides, looking down and inspecting himself for more food particles.
“She had to go freshen up before class,” Kaitlyn answered. “She said she’d see us after lunch.”
As Lucas checked his clothing for crackers, Arelia paid very careful attention to his sport coat. At first glance, it seemed very basic and boring, just like all the other boys’ uniforms she had seen that day. Then, something caught the young mink’s eye: the buttons on his jacket weren’t black, like all the others, but rather, a very deep mahogany red, so dark that unless one was trying to spot a difference, he or she would likely not notice it. She looked up at him as she said, “I think it should be made out of cotton instead of the polyester blend, and the lining is all wrong against the fur. I went with silk, but all I had was black. That and I didn’t realize just how shiny the fabric was in the sunlight. I’ll have to see if I can do better tonight.” She glanced around at the sudden silence at the table as they looked at her talking plainly to the boy for the first time. “Oh... um… I mean… I think you got all the crumbs,” she said more shyly before cramming half her sandwich in her mouth.
“Wait, did you really make your own uniform?” the wolf crossbreed asked, surprised by her comments.
“Yes, she did!” Abby said excitedly, wrapping her arm around the mink. “I can’t wait for you to meet Svetlana, Illya’s older sister. She just started at Chimera Prep this year, but she wants to be a fashion designer. I bet you two would be great friends! She’s kind of like the big sister to the whole group.”
Arelia pulled out the jacket she had made late the night before and passed it across the table. “Here, someone can have it if they want it. It’s not like I’m going to wear it again. It’s not really my style. I’ll just have to make it again and see how close I can get it. Maybe they won’t stop me tomorrow.” She looked at the big breasted squirrel, “I could let it out a little in the chest if needed; I was hoping to wear it more than once when I made it.”
“Oh, ummm…” the flying squirrel girl replied, looking over the homemade garment. “It is pretty, but I don’t know where I’d be able to wear it. It’s already been said that Mr. Etheridge made you take it off.”
“It’ll just get scrapped and made into something else, I guess,” the mink replied. “I think I have a few things that I could use it for. The panels are still big enough to make a few bows out of. Maybe a skirt or ruffles for sleeves.”
“It’d be a shame to scrap such a nice jacket,” Lucas said. “You said you could let it out? I know a girl that might like it. She doesn’t go to school here, but I bet she’d be able to use it, and it would win me over some points with my brother.”
The mink shrugged as she said, “I would just need measurements to see if I can let it out that far, I made it a bit tight across the chest to star…” She trailed off as a blush reddened her cheeks and she looked down at the jacket. Just as she felt like she couldn’t make herself look any worse, the bell ending the lunch break sounded. Arelia swiftly grabbed all her stuff, cramming it hastily into her backpack as she started to walk briskly away from the table, “I’ll need to find my next class. I’ll see you guys later.” She looked down at the floor as she struggled not to run from sheer embarrassment.
Cassandra Amrine and Lyra Voss had settled into a nice, empty part of the athletic field, kicking a soccer ball back and forth between them and juggling it with their footpaws. “So how was your summer, Cass?” the Glaucus Marinaras girl asked as she bounced the ball off her head tendrils towards her serval companion.
“Kind of rough, honestly,” the feline replied, quickly taking two steps left and bouncing the ball back up into the air off of her ankle. “My Aunt Beth is pretty sick, and only getting worse, so my mom has been down in West Virginia most of the past few months, helping to take care of her.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry to hear,” Lyra said softly, letting the ball hit the ground and roll towards her, stopping it with her footpaw. “I hope she gets better soon. Are you two close?”
“Not really, no,” Cassandra remarked. “I’ve only met her like three times, ever. Now, I wish I knew her better, but the doctors are only giving her a few more weeks. She’s on hospice now.”
“Ouch,” the sea slug replied. “Well, I’m here if you need to talk about it.” She picked the ball up and bounced it up off her knee, back at her friend.
“Thanks. On a lighter note, how was your summer? Didn’t your family go on a cruise? I bet that was a good time,” the serval girl said as she let the ball glance off her small breasts and drop towards the ground. She quickly kicked her footpaw out and bounced it off her toes and back up into the air before heading it back at her friend.
“It was fun,” Lyra said. “You should have seen all the looks we got! I tell you what, that tropical ocean air is good for our skin! My purples really stood out, and Odette and mom were a perfect shade of blue. More than a handful of guys tried to hook up with mom on that trip!” She bounced the ball up off her knee again, then her other knee, before kicking it back to Cassandra. “I wish the air here was as nice as it is there. I’m tired of looking drab gray all the time.”
The pair was so focused on their game and the conversation that neither of them noticed the Red Fox girl standing to the side until she cleared her throat and spoke up. “Excusez-moi,” she said sweetly, “But may I join you, s’il vous plaît?” She was standing there with a soccer ball of her own tucked under her arm, watching them intently.
“Sure thing,” Cassandra said, “Let’s see how good you are.”
The new girl took up position on the grass, the trio now in a triangular formation as the serval bounced the ball off the crown of her head and sent it flying towards the vixen. She skillfully let it roll down her body and with a quick jerk of her leg, sent it sailing over at Lyra.
“Nice!” the Glaucus Marinaras girl said. “What’s your name, Frenchie?”
“Merci! Je m’appelle Leslie Echols,” she answered. “My family and I just moved to Marblecliff from Winnipeg, Canada, last month. Comment t’appelles-tu? What are your names?”
“I’m Lyra,” the sea slug answered as she kicked the ball back over to her friend, “Lyra Voss.”
“And I’m Cassandra Amrine,” the feline said as the ball sailed over her head. She quickly backed up several steps and hit the ball off of her forehead, but was unable to play it from there. As the ball landed dead in the grass, she looked at the fox and added, “My friends just call me Cass.”
“Bonjour, Lyra. Bonjour, Cass. Je suis très heureuse de faire ta connaissance,” Leslie replied. The two other girls stared blankly at her, and she laughed. “It is nice to meet you.”
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Thy Sister’s Honor<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
“Abby!” an unwelcomed voice called out.
The young Snowshoe Cat made her way through the crowd of students as they poured out of the middle school doors, trying to put some distance between herself and the source of that voice: her ex-boyfriend, Mastrantonio Prichard.
“Abby, wait!” the Italian Tabby shouted, pushing his way through the throng as his ex tried to rush around the corner. Abby wasn’t very good at hiding, but the waves of people rushing home after the first day of school made it hard for him to catch up to her.
As Prichard shoved his way through, he replayed everything that happened between them. All the times they went out, her cute smile, the way she laughed...
“Dio dannazione,” Prichard cursed to himself as he rubbed his eyes, choking down the rising pressure in his throat. He didn’t notice until he ran into a smaller feline.
“Sorr-” Prichard started to say, before seeing who it was. “Blake! Ciao, could I ple-”
“No!” Abby’s older brother yelled. He shook visibly, and some students stopped to see what was going to happen. Mastrantonio was stunned; Blake had reason to be mad for sure, but he was certainly way more worked up than Prichard would have expected.
“Blake, amico, please just let me talk to her.”
“No, you... piss off, Prichard!” Blake retorted as the Italian tabby stepped back, stunned.
People started whispering as Blake continued to chew into him, readjusting his glasses after their collision. “She doesn’t want to see you. Can’t you take a hint? She doesn’t want anything to do with you! She found someone better. Someone who will treat her right, after you hurt her. After you went and spread lies about her behind her back! You betrayed her, and she wants nothing to do with you, so back off!” Blake may have been a year older, and in the ninth grade, but he was still short, only about Abby’s height. The Snowshoe cat’s scrawny build and bookish demeanor made it look like Mastrantonio was arguing with a younger kid.
“Shh, shh, Blake, please listen to me. I know, ok?” Prichard urged, trying to calm the other boy’s nerves. “I just…” Prichard trailed off, his arms falling to his sides. He didn’t need to look around to know a crowd had gathered. He remembered everything he did wrong, the way he played with her head, the stupid things he told the boys in the locker room, the false praise he got from his brother...
The Italian boy swallowed hard, and said, “The thing is, you’re right, Blake.”
Blake was obviously taken aback, but kept a stern look on Mastrantonio as he continued, “I messed up, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for me, and for her, and... Let me talk to her? Please, Blake, just let me say something to her. No tricks, no lies, I just need to apologize to your sister. For me, and all I’ve done... can you let me do that? Of all things, your sister deserves at least that.” Prichard finished, looking at the other male with pensive eyes.
Blake looked conflicted, and before saying anything he turned and looked straight at Abby. Prichard followed his gaze, meeting eye contact with the young feline girl before she turned and ran for the parking lot where Layla was waiting for them.
“Abby, wait! Aspettare!” Prichard raced off before her brother could interject again. He made his way out into the less crowded schoolyard and caught up with her there. She defiantly kept moving forward without looking back at him, Prichard slowing his pace to match hers. “Abby, babe, can I just-”
“DON’T.” Abby growled, stopping dead in her tracks. “Don’t call me babe. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to ever see you again.” She started to move again. Prichard followed her as he tried to talk. “Abby, I’m sorry, and you’re right!” She stopped for a bit but still kept her back to him. Blake had caught up and was shooing onlookers away, giving Prichard dirty looks from afar. “I... I fucked up, okay? Or, not okay, because I never meant to hurt you... but I did.”
Abby looked at him, still spiteful but curious.
“And everything you’ve said about me and more is right. I shouldn’t have said... what I said. You were good to me, and I let you down.” Prichard dropped his gaze in shame and balled his paws. Blake caught up to listen to what his sister’s ex had to say.
“I can’t undo the damage I’ve done, or excuse the way I acted. My brother... he is what Americans call a ‘playboy,’ and I admit that I felt... insufficiente. But he always treats his girlfriends like shit, and I promised myself I wouldn’t but... I turned out just as bad as him.”
When Prichard looked up into Abby’s pretty pale blue eyes, he saw hurt there that crushed his heart.
“All I want to do is apologize. You didn’t deserve that. You deserve so much better, someone like him,” Prichard said, motioning towards Blake. “Who really, really cares and treats you with the respect you deserve. That you’ve always deserved. I’m sorry I let you down, and I won’t ever talk to you again. I hope you won’t hold me against any other guys you meet... and I hope whoever you found can really make you happy. Goodbye... Abby Xiao.”
Prichard put his paws in his pockets and started to walk away. Just then, Abby called out to him “Prichard!”
Prichard turned and looked. Blake was right next to her, as she held up a paw and waved at him “Arrivederla… Tony.” Prichard tried to choke down his tears, giving her a quick wave back before turning and heading towards the line of buses.
“Bye, Jordan! Bye, Lucas! Bye, Arelia, it was nice to meet you!” Kaitlyn shouted behind her as she ran down the sidewalk towards the student pick-up area in front of Manticore Middle School. She saw her sister there, waiting patiently for her on her motorcycle. “Kiki!” the younger ferret girl shouted excitedly, rushing up and throwing her arms around her big sister’s waist. “How was your first day of school?”
“Eh. Same pile, different style,” Kiki muttered, then noticed her sister’s confused look. “It’s the same shit every day, just arranged differently. Today, it was in the shape of a moose. High School’s just a bunch of drama. You’ll understand when you’re older,” the bigger ferret said, flipping the visor to her helmet down while the younger girl climbed up behind her. She looked back over her shoulder and asked, “How was your day?”
“Not bad,” Kaitlyn answered with a big smile as she put her helmet on and fastened the chin strap. “I made a new friend today. Her name’s Arelia, and she lives out in the country. That’s her dad over there with the horse and wagon.” She pointed across the pick-up area to where the older mink was waving at his daughter.
“Did you get to see Jordan?” Kiki asked.
“I did! She and I have the exact same schedule this year, and I sat next to her at lunch and all the classes that didn’t have assigned seating.”
“That sounds so cute! Did you tell her about how you feel about her?” the older sister asked.
Kaitlyn blushed bright pink. She had the biggest crush on the cheetah/tundra lion girl, but she was terrified of saying something and ruining their friendship. “No, not yet. I just don’t know how to bring it up.”
“Well, how about you bring her over sometime? If I get to know more about her, I might be able to help you figure out how to go about things,” Kiki explained.
“Could you?” the smaller girl asked, wrapping her slender arms around her big sister’s waist. “Thanks, Kiki. I love you.”
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Part B: Sphinx Elementary<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Looking for a New Start<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
Susan pulled the dirt-covered Willys Jeep into the visitor parking near the office of Sphinx Elementary, the grade school associated with the Mythic private school system where Lilliana had gotten hired on as a teacher. It had crossed her mind to try and get a job as an office worker at the high school with Lilliana until she was informed they had just started a new administrative assistant that year. As a secondary option she decided to try the grade school. She figured why not try there before heading into town to look for work. There was one position open in the office that she managed to get set up for an interview for. She thought she was almost certain she was a sure bet for the job.
The twenty-something chinchilla picked up her attaché case and stepped out of the almost ancient vehicle. She brushed the minute amount of visible dirt off the brown outfit and checked herself in the large side mirror before starting her walk toward the building. She had never worked at a school before, and never really dealt with children of any age before Cecily had come into their lives. Susan watched as the cubs scurried across the open area, congregating in their groups. As she surveyed the area she noted the usual collection of new kids, each standing by themselves with a confused and lost look on their faces as they waited for the day to start.
As she walked toward the school buildings the sight of the large Clydesdale horse and buggy brought a smile to her face. The slightly older mink that had given Daisy a ride back to the house when Cecily panicked and ran was dropping his child off at the school also. She picked up her pace, not wanting to get caught in the wave of cubs she was sure were going to swarm the horse any moment, and made her way to the office.
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>Wound up Watch Spring<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
Brent tied the large Clydesdale to a tree as he set out to walk his youngest daughter to her new class. He was rather surprised that he didn’t have to fend off a crowd of cubs. The one thing he was sure of at the moment was that he needed to let Petra’s new teacher know that she might be a little off-kilter for a few days as her medication started to take effect again. He could almost feel the young mink vibrating in his paw as they walked. The combination of the first day of school and the thought of all the new friends she would make only made Petra more energetic than ever.
He stopped outside the classroom and knelt down by the black and white mink as he said, “Now, Pet, try your best to behave, and do everything the teacher tells you to. I know you’re excited, but you need to be a good girl for me, okay?”
“Yes, daddy,” she said as she looked up into his eyes. He could see that she was still a bit scared of him.
“That’s my good girl,” Brent said with a smile. “Now give me a hug and we’ll get you into class.” They walked paw-in-paw down the hall until they found room one-twenty-one. Beside the door was an ornate paw-drawn sign with ‘Mrs. Ashbacher’ surrounded by flowers and vines. “This must be the place, Pet. You ready for this?”
Petra nodded her head as Brent stepped through the open door. As soon as the pair of minks were inside the class the middle-aged sable that stood by the door greeted them. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Ashbacher, and who is this little ball of energy?” She said as she looked down at Petra. The small mink nearly vibrated in place as she desperately tried to stand still.
“This is Petra, and I am Brent Fletcher,” the older Mink said as he flashed a quick smile that he knew was not reflected properly in his eyes. “I have to apologize for her energy level. I let her forego her medication for the summer and it might be a bit to handle while it builds up in her system again. She is on Quillivant, and the prescription will be in the nurse’s office.”
“I’ve had to work with others on the same medication,” she said with a reassuring smile, “and I have a list of all her special classes. Those will start next week once we get the little ones settled in.”
“I’m sure you have,” Brent replied. He watched her eyes while he wondered if they were looking into his as intently as they appeared, or at the long gash above his left eye. “The missus picked the school out shortly after she got the ADHD diagnosis for the programs that you have for children like her.” He knelt down by the small mink and looked her in the eyes, “You’re going to be fine; Mrs. Ashbacher is a really good teacher.”
As he looked at her he could see that her mind was racing while her eyes darted around the room. “I’ll be good, Daddy, I promise,” she said as she lunged forward and hugged him. Almost as soon as she embraced him she turned and bounced into the room toward the other cubs. Brent smiled, unsure how exactly to express the mix of emotions as he watched his youngest child skip away.
He stood up and held out his paw to her teacher. “It was a pleasure to meet you. If there are any issues the office has my number and I will be in town all day.”
With a smile the sable took hold of his paw, “It was nice to meet you as well, Mister Fletcher, and I am sure everything will be fine.”
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>She’s All Grown Up<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
“I’m fine. Really,” the little caribou girl said quietly, clutching her book bag closely to her chest. “You don’t need to walk me all the way to my classroom.”
“I know, Honey. I’m doing it because I want to,” Tunerk said, fighting hard to hold back his proud tears. “I wish your dad could be here to see this.”
“He’s working. It’s ok. There will be lots of other days when he can drop me off,” she sighed. K’eyush Kunayak just wanted to be back in Alaska right now. Back in her old school, with her old friends, when things were simpler. It’s not as though this was her first day of kindergarten or anything, but her parents were making a big production out of this. She wasn’t the one that wanted to move all the way across the continent; she had her father, Qilak, to thank for that. He accepted a new, high-paying job, and both of her parents were extremely excited. She wondered why she was the one holding it together while they were having a meltdown. “This is my room,” she said as she stopped in front of the classroom door. “Mrs. Ashbacher, room one-twenty-one.”
“Here, why don’t you put on your backpack for a second, and give me a brave smile,” Tunerk said, fishing his cell phone out of his pocket. “I want your dad to see this. Say ‘cheese.’”
“Oh my God, you’re embarrassing me,” she sighed, slipping her little arms through the straps and adjusting the way the backpack rested on her shoulders. She gave her father an unamused expression and said flatly, “Cheese.”
She blinked at the flash from his phone as he took the picture. “Look at you! You’re so precious,” he said proudly as he forwarded the pic on to his mate.
“Okay. I’m going to go in now. You go home. I’ll see you after school,” K’eyush said as she turned around and started to head in to join her new classmates.
“I love you,” her father said, his voice laced with proud, bittersweet tears.
The young caribou stopped in her tracks, then quickly spun around and rushed back to her father. Her tiny hooves click-clacked across the tile floor and he knelt down, opening his arms wide in a hug. K’eyush flung herself into his embrace, snuggling her muzzle against his collarbone. “I love you, too,” she said softly. They held each other for a moment before she finally let him go and walked back into the classroom.
“Rough start to the day?” a middle-aged sable woman asked, approaching Tunerk from inside the classroom. “Hi, I’m Melinda Ashbacher. This is my room.”
“Hi,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. He dried his paws on his trousers, and said, “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I didn’t think it would be this hard. I’m Tunerk Kunayak. That there is my little K’eyush.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said, offering her paw. “She’s a cutie pie! Don’t worry, I’ve been teaching here for eleven years now. She’s going to do great. You take that picture for her mom?”
“Technically speaking,” he explained, “her mom, my sister, is back in Anchorage. My mate and I wanted to conceive, but that was impossible, so my sister agreed to artificial insemination with my mate’s sperm. It was the closest we could get to a biological daughter.”
“I see,” the teacher said with a warm, friendly smile. “That was a wonderful gesture on her part. Well, welcome to Marblecliff. Tell me, Mr. Kunayak, you and your mate, what do you two do for a living?”
“I’m still looking for a new job, truth be told,” he said, scratching at the base of his antlers awkwardly. “I don’t even really need to work, other than for the sake of my sanity. My husband, Qilak, is the breadwinner in the house. He’s a nuclear physicist for Marblecliff Electric.”
“Very nice,” Melinda beamed. “It sounds like you and your mate love her very much.” The bell rang, signaling the start of the school day. “Well, Mr. Kunayak, it was very nice to meet you, but I should get inside and start class. I look forward to seeing you and your husband around later this year.”
As the sable woman closed the door to the classroom, Tunerk turned and started walking back to the main office to sign himself out and turn in his visitor pass. He pulled his phone back out and called Qilak’s cell. On the fifth ring, it went to his voicemail.
“Hi, Babe. I just dropped Kee off for her first day. God, you would have been so proud of her. So brave, so strong. Anyway, I sent you a picture, I hope you liked it. Call me on your lunch break. I’d like to tell you more. I love you. Bye.”
“...and that’s how she came to be in my care,” the impala said, leaning back in his chair. He lifted his coffee mug to his lips and took a long, slow sip. “Just like that, and I have a six-year old living under my roof. Instant parent.”
“That’s awful,” said the ornate dragon sitting behind the desk. “Thank God you were there for her, old friend.”
“You know, it’s situations like hers that make me agnostic,” Mason commented. “I mean, I don’t like the idea that we’re just the result of some happy accident, alone and unprotected in the universe, but if there is a God, and He’s supposed to be perfect, how could He allow something so terrible to happen to such a precious little girl?”
The Headmaster of Sphinx Elementary just grinned at his boss, and answered, “I’m not taking sides in the debate, but one could argue that the same God brought her to you. One could also argue that happy accidents, big and small, happen every day. You’ve been completely engrossed in work ever since Hillary died. It’s refreshing to hear you talk about something else for a change.”
The middle-aged impala chuckled at his friend’s wit. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I feel more refreshed, too. I think you’ll enjoy having Charlotte here; she is incredibly smart and independent. Likely out of necessity, I think, but it’s amazing how adaptable a cub can be. I only worry that her ordeals have caused her to mature beyond her new classmates.”
“Not to worry. Per your request, we put her in Mrs. Ashbacher’s class.” Jason reassured. “Like you said, she’s the best first grade teacher we have on staff, and she’s got an adopted daughter of her own. She’ll know best about how to proceed with your girl.”
“Thanks, Jason. I know it was short notice, but I appreciate it,” Mason Ebonshade said.
“Don’t worry about it,” the ornate dragon dismissed with the wave of his scaled paw. “You’re the boss. More importantly, you’re my friend. Hell, I was the best man in your wedding!” Checking the time, Jason sighed and said, “As nice as it’s been to catch up, I have an interview scheduled for a new administrator in a few minutes. But since you’re here, how would you like to observe a first day?”
Susan sat patiently in the office as the Headmaster finished a morning meeting. She checked her normal packet she brought with her on all interviews to be sure she had gotten it all in the right order: a fresh copy of her cover letter and resume, letters of recommendation from judges and other office managers she had worked with, a clean copy of her DD214, and finally a list of commendations and awards from her time in service. Her only real concern was whether enough time had passed that her name in the recent news coverage had either faded, or the news not reached Marblecliff.
She looked up at the office door as she heard it open, nervous about the interview. She maintained her military bearing as she stayed seated, waiting to be called in. Seeing the ornate dragon in a good mood as he showed an impala out of his office, she breathed a sigh of relief. Anyone in a good mood was often an easier interview.
The chameleon behind the desk fumbled awkwardly with a stack of files when he saw the impala exit the office, dropping the folders all over the floor and creating quite the mess. Susan had to fight hard to not smile at the ineptitude of the lizard; it seemed like they really needed the position filled, and she was certainly more capable than he was. She looked forward to being able to turn the office around with her well-honed military efficiency.
“Mr. Cameron,” the impala said, “why don’t you let me cover the office for a little bit? Take a short break, get yourself composed, and come back once you’ve calmed down?” The lizard blinked in disbelief, his mouth hanging agape for a moment before he gave a polite nod.
“Thank you,” Mr. Cameron said, as he walked out of the office.
“Miss Shelby?” the ornate dragon called over to her. As he approached, she rose up onto her footpaws, standing at attention. He reached out to her with his paw. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jason Ballard, Headmaster here at Sphinx Elementary.”
Susan reached out and gave his paw a firm grip and quick pump of a shake as she replied, “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
“Don’t mind the mess. Mrs. Dunbar’s stroke and sudden retirement left us in quite a predicament,” he explained as he showed the chinchilla woman into his office. “Until we find a suitable replacement, one of our substitute teachers is covering her desk. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to a comfortable-looking leather armchair, and walked around behind his desk, sitting down.
“Thank you, sir,” Susan said as she sat down and began to retrieve her interview packet from her attaché case and pass it to the lizard. “This is a fresh copy of my resume and supporting papers. I have plenty of experience coming into an office and having to get it back in order after an interim worker has temporarily filled a position.”
He reached out and accepted the offered packet and set it down in front of him. “Thank you. So, Miss Shelby,” he said as he opened his desk drawer, producing a clipboard and a pen, “How did you learn about our Administrative Assistant position so quickly? We haven’t even posted the position outside of our school system yet.”
“My niece’s grandmother works for the middle school, Laura Summers,” Susan offered quickly, avoiding mentioning Lilliana, knowing her reputation for first impressions. “It was mentioned over lunch the other day.” She finished her statement with only a half-truth, leaving out the fact that Laura had not been at the lunch where it was mentioned.
“Ah, Mrs. Summers,” he mused, scribbling something down on his note sheet. “Since she works at Manticore, I almost never see her except for company parties. Very nice woman, good family. Don’t mind me: I’m awful at remembering things off the top of my head. I’m just jotting down some notes to help me remember the interview.”
Pulling a small black notebook out of her breast pocket she said, “I often do the same thing. Do you mind if I take a few notes as well?”
Petra stood in the line of students against the wall while Mrs. Ashbacher called out names as she pointed to seats at the four-person tables. She could feel the tingling in her arms as she held them behind her back. She was desperately struggling to not run over and hug Tabitha, the tabby she had met a few weeks ago at the park, as she rocked back and forth on her footpaws.
“Charlotte Ebonshade,” the Sable said as she pointed to a seat. The sweet sound of her voice and friendly smile was reassuring and inviting. The young mink wanted to make a good impression and be a good girl so that she could still help with the horses, but standing still was so hard.
“Petra Fletcher,” the teacher’s voice sounded as she pointed to the seat next to the skunk. Without hesitation she jetted across the small room and into the chair. As she hit her target the chair rocked nearly to the point of falling into the other girl, only to drop back into place as the mink shifted enough weight to change the center of gravity between her and the seat.
She looked over at the skunk with a smile. The other girl sat with her paws in her lap almost perfectly still as the teacher went through her first day routines. “Hi, I’m Petra. You’re Charlotte, can I call you Charry? I like your hair it’s neat like my sister’s. Are you new to this school, too? My mommy said…”
Mrs. Ashbacher looked over at the pair, the smile still on her face as she interrupted the small mink’s flurry of comments. “Ladies, please try and keep it down while we do this. I understand how excited you all must be with so many new faces here. We will have time for introductions later.”
Charlotte wrinkled her brow as she looked over at Petra and said, “Be quiet, you’re going to get us in trouble.”
Petra turned in her seat, letting her paws rest on the table in front of her, tapping her fingers rhythmically in time with her footpaws tapping on the floor. She scanned the room as the teacher continued to seat the other students. The walls were covered with posters and educational media while the top of the room had a border of the alphabet and numbers one through one hundred.
“Trent Atwell,” Mrs. Ashbacher continued her seating assignments, “Brian Stout.” Then moved to the next set of four seats, “Tabitha Atwell,” she started seating the next group of two girls and two boys.
Petra leaned back in her chair as the tabby cat took the seat behind Charlotte. “Tabby, Tabby, Tabby, Tabby. Isn’t it cool we’re in the same class? We can have so much fun. This is Charlotte, she’s my friend, too. Maybe my daddy will let us have a sleepover on a weekend.”
The skunk turned and hushed the energetic mink as she retorted, “You’re going to get us in trouble. Can’t you be quiet for five seconds?”
“K’eyush Kunayak,” Mrs. Ashbacher continued, only smiling at the antics of the rambunctious mink as she was scolded quietly by her classmate. As the Caribou took her seat Petra spun in her chair, nearly juking it around with her as she opened her mouth only to snap it shut as the skunk gave her an annoyed scowl. “Travis Atwell and Ryan Littleton,” the teacher finished seating the students of her class.
The Sable walked to the front of the class as she placed her clipboard on the desk at the corner of the room. “And now we get to have a little fun as we get to know each other. We are each going to take turns as you stand up and tell us your name and what your parents to for a job.” Almost as soon as she finished telling what the class was going to do, Petra had her arm in the air waving it as she bounced in her seat. She smiled as she said, “Okay, class, we are going to start in the front with Travis Atwell, and everyone else is going to quietly wait their turn.”
The first of the raccoon twins stood up and spoke loud enough for the rest of the class to hear. “I’m Travis. My mom is a professional soccer player, and my dad is a fighter pilot.” The answer earned a mixture of admiration and jealousy from the other children, and an amused smirk from their teacher.
“Very nice, Travis. Please, sit down,” Mrs. Ashbacher instructed. “Next, Trent Atwell, please.”
The other raccoon boy stood up and responded, “I’m Trent, and my dad is ninja and my mom is a model.” This, too, earned a mixed response from the room, and the boy took his seat with a smug grin.
“Okay, how about we hear what your sister has to say?” their teacher suggested. “Tabitha, would you care to tell us what your parents do?”
The young orange Tabby stood up and smiled. “Yes, Mrs. Ashbacher. My name is Tabitha, and Trent and Travis are my step-brothers. Their mother is a bank manager, and my dad is a dentist.” The reaction wasn’t quite as impressive as her brothers’ lies had been, but the girl sat back down with a satisfied grin as their classmates regarded the boys with irritated stares.
“Thank you, Tabitha. Charlotte Ebonshade?” their teacher called.
The young skunkette stood up and straightened out her uniform before folding her paws demurely in front of her lap. “My name is Charlotte. I don’t have my real mother or my real father anymore. My adopted father is the CEO of a corporation that manages several private schools.” She noticed the surprised look the teacher gave as she took her seat.
“Very good, Charlotte. K’eyush Kunayak?” Mrs. Ashbacher called, and a young Caribou girl stood up, shyly looking down at her hooves.
“I’m K’eyush,” she said so softly that the rest of the class could barely hear her. “My mom lives back in Alaska, and works in a hospital taking X-rays. My dad just moved here and is still looking for a job, but he was a… a size-mall-o-jist... back home. My other dad is a new-clear fizza…. fizzysis… he’s a genius.”
“Thank you, K’eyush, that was lovely,” the sable woman said. The little reindeer sat back down before she could finish her sentence. “Okay, next, let’s hear from…” She broke into a broad grin as she looked at the hyperactive mink, practically ready to launch out of her seat. “Petra Fletcher.”
The rambunctious girl shot to her footpaws, knocking the chair to the floor. As she turned to pick up it, the other cubs giggling at her, she started her introduction, “I’m Petra, but my Daddy calls me Pet all the time. So do my sister and Mommy.” She stood, turned and continued without taking a breath as she righted the chair. “I like being called Pet, it’s easier than saying Petra all the time. Petra means rock, my Mommy gave me that name. She’s a pie… Pie… Pie kayak… Pie-sky-actorist. That means she helps furs who come and tell her their problems. Furs like my daddy who’s been through bad things. He was a soldier when I was really, really small and went to war in ask-an-i-stand… or was it I-quack... where he got really, really hurt really badly in the head when the bad guys blowed up the place they were staying. Now he has a really big scar over his eye where he was hit by scrap-nall. That’s a piece of metal that came off the bomb. Now I help him take care of feral horses that we rescued from furs that don’t treat them right. We have a Clides-tail, he’s really, really big and we get to bring him...”
Mrs. Ashbacher smiled at the mink as she said, “Okay, Petra, that’s good enough. We have to let the other kids have a turn also.”
Mrs. Ashbacher looked down at her list once more before calling on the next boy, who was busy staring out the window. “Brian Stout?” The Doberman boy flinched as his name was called, jumping up from his seat with almost as much quickness as Petra.
“My name is Brian Stout, I live on fifty-five hundred Grantwood Street, my dad’s work num-” Brain ranted off by memory before remembering the question. The other students gave a quick laugh as he recovered. “I mean, my dad is a doctor at the hospital here.” Brain explained. “We moved here about a year ago. My sister already goes to the middle school, but my cousin goes to the public school. I don't remember which. My mom worked-” Brian paused for a bit, and visibly swallowed before continuing more quietly. “I mean, my mom is a construction worker... building skyscrapers.” Brian quickly finished, taking a seat before anyone could say anything else.
“Very good, Brian,” Mrs. Ashbacher made a mental note of the boy’s change in tone and continued with the next student. “Ryan Littleton?”
A small Palomino Rabbit boy stood up and nervously adjusted the glasses on his nose. “My name is Ryan Littleton. My mom is a Dungeon Master, a skilled swordswoman, and an otaku. She owns The Rising Dragon Gaming and Anime at the mall.” He spoke excitedly and proudly of his mother, before politely sitting back down and allowing the teacher to move on to the rest of the class.
“That Charlotte girl is so weird,” Trent said to his older brother, “who would ever want to adopt her?”
“I know, right?” his twin, Travis answered as they rocked back and forth on the see-saw. “Where do you think she came from?”
“I bet she was living in an orphanage,” Trent guessed, “eating out of the garbage can after all the other kids had finished their meals. Did you see the look she gave Petra? That stare could kill a small dog!” Both twins laughed, remembering how many times the young skunk nearly snapped at the hyperactive mink sitting next to her.
“I think that both of her real parents died, and she just kept living with them, talking to them, cooking dinner, giving them baths and changing their clothes,” Travis said with a grin.
There was a quiet gasp to the side of the see-saw, and the twin boys looked over to see their young mink classmate, staring at them both with a shocked expression. Giving his brother a playful smirk, Trent asked the naive girl, “What? You didn’t know? Charlotte, that girl that sits next to you? She’s crazy! Do you want us to tell you more?”
Petra stood there, mouth agape and wide-eyed, and gave them a quick nod.
“Well, come closer,” Travis told her with a wave of his paw, leaning over to whisper at her. “We can’t be too loud. She might hear us.”
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>The Lords of the Playground<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
Ryan Littleton sat off by himself, close to the doors back into the building, not far from the recess monitors. The young rabbit was completely engrossed in A Wrinkle in Time, fascinated by the concept of a ‘tesseract.’ He was especially captivated by the character of Charles Murry, finding the young boy’s keen intellect something that he was able to relate to. It seemed, to him at least, that he was the smartest kid in his class, and he often got irritated by how slowly some of his classmates picked up on the lessons.
“Whatcha reading?” another boy asked, sitting down in front of him.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” he explained, glancing up for just a moment to see who had interrupted his reading. A Doberman boy, about his own age, was staring back. His eyes were bright and full of energy, and he wore an innocent smile which made it seem like he was genuinely interested in what Ryan was up to. “It’s a Science Fantasy novel.”
“What’s it about?” the Doberman asked.
“It’s about a family whose father disappears, but he was researching a concept called a tesseract,” Ryan explained, trying to dumb it down as much as possible to keep the other boy from becoming too confused. “A tesseract is basically a way to travel very far very quickly through space and time. Think of it this way,” he instructed, setting the book down on the pavement, wide open. “If Earth was here,” he pointed at the far left edge of the left page, “and Neptune was here,” he pointed to the far right edge of the right page, “which is the shorter distance to travel? This?” He drew his finger horizontally along the pages from the left-most point to the right. “Or this?” He picked the book back up and closed it, touching the edges of the pages with his fingertip.
“I think I understand,” the canine said, nodding thoughtfully. “It makes travel faster by rearranging space.”
“Exactly!” the young bunny exclaimed. “My name is Ryan,” he said, holding out his paw. “It’s nice to meet someone else smart enough to understand that.”
“Thanks,” the other boy said, taking the offered paw and giving it a friendly shake. “My name is Brian. What other books do you like?”
“I like science fiction and fantasy,” Ryan explained. “The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Ender’s Game, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Mass Effect… stuff like that.”
“Oh! I saw the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings movies,” Brian said eagerly. “They were all really good!”
“The books are even better,” the young bunny boy responded. “You should read them sometime.”
“I think I might,” the Doberman said. “Hey, do you feel like playing? We could act out our favorite scenes, if you want.”
Ryan looked up at his new friend and gave a huge smile. “Sure,” he said, marking his place in the book. “Do you mind if I get to be Frodo?”
“That’s perfect! I like making funny voices, so I was gonna be Gollum,” Brian explained. “Let’s go” The excited puppy ran off towards the playground as the young rabbit stood up and chased after him.
“Charry, Charry, Charry,” Petra chanted excitedly, practically bouncing the chair up off the floor with her bottled-up energy.
“What?” Charlotte sighed, though the little mink was completely oblivious to the annoyance in her voice.
“I heard that you got adopted because you killed your parents and performed evil rituals with their bodies. Is that true?”
“No,” the skunk girl huffed. “Now quiet, before we get into trouble.”
“I also heard that you’re really a space alien that was sent here to pretend to be a cub like us, but you’re really just killing us one at a time and eating our brains. Is that true? Is that true?”
“I’m starting to wish it was. I’d start with you,” Charlotte muttered, trying to tune out Petra’s excited rambling and concentrate on her classwork.
“And then I heard that your daddy is a mad scientist and he built you from leftover body parts and brought you to life in a thunderstorm. Is that true? Is that true?”
“For the love of God, where are you getting all of this nonsense?” the skunkette said agitatedly, putting her pencil down and looking at the mink. The raccoon twins broke out into a fit of giggles, answering the question for her.
“Charlotte, be quiet please and work on your class work, okay?”
“Yes, Mrs. Ashbacher,” Charlotte answered dejectedly. She picked up her pencil and sent a glare in the direction of Travis, who only grinned and stuck his tongue out at her in response.
Susan stepped out of the Headmaster’s office followed closely by the older ornate dragon. “I’m sorry, Miss Shelby. Your experience and work history are exceptional, but I don’t think you are a good fit for the office here. I am sure some local company will be lucky to have you.”
“I’m really sorry that you think it wouldn’t work,” the chinchilla said with a slight frown. “If you change your mind, you have my number. And honestly the entire Six Flags thing was a fluke. And I think the whole thing was highly exaggerated.” With an obviously forced smile she finished off with, “Have a nice day, Mr. Ballard.”
As the chinchilla woman exited the office, a voice called out from behind her. “Miss Shelby, may I have a moment of your time?” As she turned around, she saw the impala walking out from behind the counter, heading in her direction.
“Sure thing. Looks like I just cleared my schedule for the day,” Susan said as she finished the turn to greet him.
“Susan Shelby, unemployed, knife wielding, maniac slasher,” She said as she offered the older man a paw. “You’ll have to forgive me, my day hasn’t gone the way I was hoping so far.”
Looking back over his shoulder, he told the chameleon, “I’ll be back shortly.” The reptilian man nodded briefly and went back to sorting all of the files he had dropped earlier. “Sorry about that. But I think Mr. Ballard was right; some local company would be lucky to have you,” he said as he opened the door to the office and escorted her out into the empty hallway, a young gazelle girl entering the office before the door closed. “Hello, young Miss Sadek,” he said to the girl before continuing the conversation. “And I believe that Mythic Schools should be that company.”
Susan smiled as she said, “In case you didn’t hear, I didn’t get the job.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I support Mr. Ballard’s decision one-hundred percent. No offense, Miss Shelby, while I believe that you could no doubt organize this office and have it running at peak efficiency in no time flat, this is an elementary school, with worried parents calling in all the time. I think they could use a more nurturing and compassionate figure as their first point of contact. No offense,” he said apologetically. “But when you came into the office, I recognized your face. I couldn’t quite place it, but when Mr. Ballard called you back for your interview, I had a name to put with it, and did some quick research. You’re the young lady that was involved in the Six Flags incident over the summer. You’re also the public spokeswoman for the new Dark Rider House that is opening soon. I’m also close friends with Mayor Archer, and I’ve heard nothing but good things from him. It’s clear to me that you and your friends care very deeply for the kids, and as the parent of one of the children enrolled at this school, I’d feel better knowing that someone like you was looking out for them. So, how would you feel about a second interview, for Chief of Security? You would be working with Mr. Ballard, not for him. You would be reporting to me, instead.”
“And who exactly are you?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Her mind ran through the information she had gathered on the Mythic School system as she tried to place the face of the impala. Her eyes went wide with the realization of who the older man was. “Mister Mason Ebonshade, CEO of Mythic Schools…” She started rambling off the information she had found on the impala during her original investigation of the school system when Lilliana had informed her where the liger was going to be working. After she finished reciting the short version of the man’s official history she added, “You really should think about adding a photo or two to your profiles.”
Chuckling, he held out his paw and said, “That’d be me. Sorry, I sometimes take it for granted that people know my name and face around here.” Susan accepted the gesture and gave him a firm shake, and he explained, “But that sort of attention to detail is exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll cut to the chase, Miss Shelby. Earlier this afternoon, there was an incident at our high school, Chimera Prep. With the information available, it boils down to a case of he-said-she-said, with one student being placed on probation and a warning issued to one of our faculty members. While we have a contract in place with an outside company for security, that contract expires at the end of this school year. When that happens, I want to have our own internal security team in place. Before I can do that, however, I need someone in place to oversee everything from campus surveillance all the way down to personnel hiring and training. Looking at your credentials, I’d say you’re a good match. I’d just need to conduct a formal interview, just to be certain.”
“Not exactly the type of job I was looking for,” she said flatly, “but I’m sure it would be less politically-driven than my last job, and that’s what I want to get away from. I could call your office and set up a time, unless you have something in mind already, Sir.” She stepped up her reply, addressing him more by his actual position than the office worker she originally took him for.
“Well, Miss Shelby,” the impala replied with a smile, “Why don’t we just take this conversation to one of the offices down the hall.”
There was a gentle knock at the door to the classroom. All the young heads turned to see who was interrupting them, and the little skunk broke out into a huge smile. “Mister Ebonshade, Sir,” Melinda said with a welcoming smile, “Please, come in. Class, this is Mason Ebonshade, he is in charge of the company that runs this school. Say ‘hello’ to Mr. Ebonshade.”
“Hello, Mister Ebonshade,” twenty-three young voices chimed out, while the twenty-fourth cheerily said, “Hello, Father!”
“Do you mind if I take Charlotte while I’m here, or am I interrupting something important?” he asked. “If so, I can wait.”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing too important right now,” the first-grade teacher replied, “But before you do, may I speak with you for a moment in private?”
“Of course,” Mason said, stepping out into the hallway. Melinda followed him out, pulling the door closed behind them.
“When I saw the last name on my class roster, I thought it was just a coincidence,” the sable woman said. “Your daughter is incredibly talented, Sir. Every single lesson I passed out, she was the first one to complete, by several minutes, and the only one to answer every question correctly. You’ve done a remarkable job with her so far.”
“Thank you, but she’s only been in my care for a couple of months now,” the impala explained.
“Do you mind if I ask how she ended up with you?” Melinda asked.
“I don’t mind, but it’s a pretty long and emotionally-draining story,” Mason replied, “so maybe later. Simply put, I took her out of a really bad situation.”
“I see,” the teacher said thoughtfully. “That may explain her maturity.”
“Come again?” her boss asked.
“Well, the entire day, she has been extremely well-behaved,” the sable explained. “Not that any of the other children aren’t, but normally on the first day, the kids are so overloaded with excitement that they can’t help themselves. Charlotte, on the other paw, has followed every bit of instruction to the letter, except the occasional comment to her classmates to be quiet before they get her into trouble. Are you sure that she’s six years old?”
“According to her birth certificate, she’ll be seven in a few weeks,” he answered. “Other than that and her word for it, I couldn’t tell you. I only recently met her, myself.”
“Well, we’ll watch her progress closely, but truthfully, I think she’s gifted enough to skip ahead,” Mrs. Ashbacher said.
“We’ll see, but I requested that she be placed in your classroom specifically,” Mason explained. “I know that you have an adopted daughter, and I think that, having been there yourself with Kaitlyn, you might be able to help Charlotte adjust.”
“Well, we’ll see how she does and go from there,” the teacher said. “But, I should get back to my class; it sounds like they’re getting restless in there. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Sir.”
Melinda opened the door and stepped back into the classroom. “Charlotte, you can go now, Sweetie. We’ll see you tomorrow.” Mason stood in the doorway, patiently waiting as his new ward gathered up her things.
“Good-bye, Mrs. Ashbacher. Have a good evening,” the little white skunk said cutely as she walked to the doorway and gave her father a nice, welcoming hug. “Hello, Father. How was your day?”
“Eventful, but not bad,” he answered truthfully as he took her paw into his, father and daughter walking together towards the exit. “How about yours?”
“My classmates are idiots,” she grumbled.
“They can’t be all that bad,” Mason replied, looking down at her with a smile. “There has to be at least one that you could be friends with.”
“There’s one girl, K’eyush,” his daughter explained. “She’s very quiet. She just moved here from Alaska for her dad’s work. He’s a nuclear physicist, so hopefully she has some of his brains. I can also see myself being friends with Tabitha, but her step-brothers are annoying. They were spreading rumors about me all day.”
“Just ignore them, Honey,” he said. “They’ll stop after a while, especially if you act like you don’t care what they say. Responding will just encourage them to keep going.”
“It’s still annoying,” she muttered.
“I’ll tell you what,” her father said, “I don’t think either one of us feels like cooking. How about instead of going home, we go out to eat? Maybe that Japanese steak house you like?”
“That sounds excellent,” Charlotte sighed happily. “Thank you.”
∙∙∙∙∙•▫▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ☼)===>The Ride Home<===(☼ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫ₒₒ▫ᵒᴼᵒ▫▫∙∙∙∙∙•
“So, it looked like you made friends with that one girl from the park,” the older Mink said as they waited in the line of cars to pick up Petra. “Was that the boy you like sitting there?”
“Did he at least get to see the outfit you spent all night working on before you had to take it off?”
“Yeah,” the younger mink answered, “Everyone saw it, I think. They all liked it and thought it was neat. Illyana even though her sister would like it. Said her mom was a fashion model or something.”
“While I’m thinking of it, your mother said you tried to have a sleepover for your birthday last year. Did you want to try and do that again this year? It looks like you will have a few friends at least.”
Arelia looked down at the backs of her paws as she said, “What’s the point? No one goes to sleepovers any more. And I’ll probably be the laughing stock of the school by then.”
“And how exactly will that happen?”
“Same way it did before,” she said softly. “Everyone likes me now, but they don’t really know me yet. As soon as they find out about…”
“If they stop being your friends over something silly like that,” Brent interrupted her, “They don’t deserve to be called friends.”
“Then I’ve never really had any friends, dad.” She looked up at him as she spoke. “The first time someone found out… Mom ended up taking me out of school for the rest of the year.”
“It was much more complicated than that, Arie, and you know it. It’s more my fault than yours, and I intend to make that up to you.” Soon Brent realized he was unintentionally speaking in a scolding tone when he saw the look of fear in his oldest daughter’s eyes. “I.. I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
As he attempted to apologize to his daughter the buckboard rocked with the impact of the mink-shaped furry projectile that rocketed from the line to them in a matter of seconds. “Hi Daddy, Arie,” The small girl said as she climbed into the seat next to her sister. She waved frantically at a sable as she shouted “Bye, Mrs. Ashbacher!”
Before Brent or Arelia could utter a word of welcome to the youngest member of the family, Petra began to give them a rundown of her day. As they rode she told them about Tabitha and her brothers, “Their dad is a ninja fighter pilot dentist, he must be so cool, but not as cool as you. And I made a new friend, I sit right next to her. Her name is Charlotte, she was adopted after she killed her parents,” she paused for a breath long enough to hear the gasp from her family. “Oh, it’s okay. She’s really an alien made out of spare parts sent to eat our brains, so she’s supposed to kill people and stuff. But she’s really, really nice. She even reminded me to keep quiet and behave so I didn’t get in trouble. I really, really like her and she gets along with Tabby and everything. Can I have a sleepover?”
As the mink finished her nearly breathless rambling both Arelia and Brent laughed at her antics, wondering just who told her about her new friends and what might have actually been said before the story got lost in the ocean of excitement that was her young mind. “I’ll tell you what, Pet. If your mom says it’s okay and you continue to be really good in class and take your pills right, you can have your friends over when Arie has her birthday sleepover.” With his words, a broad smile crossed the tiny mink’s muzzle as she bounced quietly into her sister.