Gaige feels a sense of both confidence and hope as he walks home from work tonight. It may take the short red husky about four hours to do so, but it does not bother him in the slightest. He has just received his first paycheck that took his annual raise into account, he had successfully programmed two whole game mechanics from scratch by himself, and he managed to evade Joe and Mac, the two ligers who were always trying to pester him about having been a sort of “slave,” all in one day. They also annoy everyone else about how they are of the “superior race,” based only on the fact that the majority of the government is run by felids. Nobody at the office other than Joe and Mac seem to feel that way about feline superiority, but it sure is annoying how every time the two of them screw up, they manage to get away with it by using some kind of hypnosis or something of that sort that they practice outside of work. Nobody has bothered to look into it so far.
Gaige was more of a henchman than a slave, really. Nobody knows how Joe and Mac had found out about Gaige’s youth, but the only person who cared was the husky boy himself. During high school, Gaige missed about a month of school at a time, and nobody ever questioned it, to his relief. Gaige was never sick during this time, nor was he hurt, unless you count being shot in the shoulder by his master. The border collie, “master,” was named Julius Arno; at least he was before he was caught and arrested. Gaige was also caught, but when he convinced the police that he was under duress and had been forced into working for Arno, they released him and let him finish his senior year of high school without having to miss much more of it.
Gaige snaps to reality when a large truck blows its horn as it passes. The husky hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t walking since his flashback began, so he takes it as a wake-up call of sorts. Gaige takes a gander at the brick building to his right and sees a large “No Loitering,” sign hanging upon it. The husky boy thanks the timing of the horn in his mind and continues along the path of roaring traffic during the rush hour (which happens to be from around ten to one in the morning in this city).
As the scarlet furred husky boy walks down the metallic sidewalk while passing by several other people, he occasionally gazes at the skyscrapers towering above him. It is chilly tonight; it is dark, and the moon and stars aren’t visible due to clouds, so the husky can only see a few windows with lights on.
Later on, Gaige has left the center of town and is now in the ghetto-like hood. It’s dangerous here, because of the gangs and criminals that often roam the streets late at night. Stepping into the now-less-abundant streetlight becomes a relief for him. As a 21-year-old in the slums of New Olive, he must be vigilant of his surroundings; always keeping on his toes. For all the husky boy knows, there could be a gang lurking in the alleyway next to him, so he glances left and right and makes sure that he is not being followed. He keeps his paws in his pockets, as if trying to appear to be concealing a pistol. Everywhere you turn in this area, there's likely someone just itching to mug you. As soon as you're within range, they make their move, and you wake up in a ditch wondering what the hell happened, and where your wallet is.
What's worse is that the government outlawed guns, unless for use with the police force, several years ago. In a sense, the only way to have a gun in the state is if you’re a police officer. If Gaige could manage to join it, he would be on top of the world, metaphorically speaking. Self-defense is mandatory on the streets of New Olive, and firearms would make it much easier, especially since Gaige is far from a feat of strength; he doesn't have much noticeable muscle mass. He doesn’t meet the requirements to be a cop. Or at least not yet. Though he is working to build his strength, he still has a long road ahead of him. Plus, he has been in trouble with the law, so the husky is doubtful that he would even be considered.
Gaige finds the dim light of the lamp above him relaxing, and he discontinues his walking for a moment to catch his breath. It would take him about two more hours to walk home from where he is, and knowing that he is only halfway home is not comforting. He hasn’t stopped walking since he started, so he sits down and leans against the lamppost. He’s also asthmatic, which acts as yet another reason to rest.
But, the husky cannot stay for long. Someone will come for him. It’s late at night, and he is tired and hungry, but luckily, it is pay day, so Gaige could afford to spend the night at the hotel just across the square which he now notices. He doesn’t recognize the hotel as a part of his normal route, so he assumes that he took a turn too early or late, and he wasn’t paying attention. He looks at the street sign next to him, and sees that he is definitely not where he is supposed to be. The corner of Berry Street and Second Avenue is nowhere near his normal track.
There is no traffic here and now, either. Since this is usually the rush hour for most nocturnal people, it only serves to prove his theory that he is lost. All Gaige can hear and feel is the wind blowing in his face as he looks around the intersection. He sees no head lights from approaching cars. All is quiet.
He knows it’s only a matter of time before he is found, so he slowly takes the five steps backward that is required to have a good running start to traverse the poorly lit crossings. He must be quick on his feet, just in case some reckless driver decides to show up unexpectedly; only to show who’s "top dog" of the road. The cars can literally pop out of nowhere, and just because Gaige can’t see or hear them now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t zip by five seconds later.
He takes one final breath of preparatory air, crouches, and his body is in the perfect ready position. The gun fires in his head, and he is off. Now on the asphalt and completely leaving behind the safety of the concrete sidewalk, Gaige presses on. He can't stop now. Not when he’s halfway across the first road. As he continues to advance, he grabs the street sign, not letting go until the 90° turn is complete. He releases his grip on the sign, flinging him forward with an extra burst of speed, and he sprints across the second street. Finally, he can come to a halt, but then again, he doesn't have much choice since he trips over the curb at the last second, which knocks him to the ground.
It feels like he has sprained his ankle, but he doesn't care, despite the fact he is left limping up the small staircase into the hotel lobby. He’s used to things like this because he is often hurt by Joe and Mac in the locker rooms. They hate his guts, and they torment him for having agreed to serve Julius Arno. Surprisingly, they still haven’t figured out that Gaige is gay, so they don’t bother him about it.
Of course, like many stories, Gaige’s would become more eventful later on. Or at least the husky hopes so. His life shouldn't be boring, he believes. Nobody's life should be without any excitement. Many people still live monotonous lives anyway. Then again, do they have control over that?
At least Gaige has enough money to pay for the night. The wolf behind the desk looks very attractive, but the scarlet husky has a room to rent. No time for flirting, regardless how hot he is.
"Could I have a room for the night? Single bed," Gaige asks the silver furred wolf behind the counter.
"Smoking or non-smoking?" The wolf replies without looking up from his computer screen.
"Alright, I'll check my system, and see if something’s open," The wolf mutters under his breath. He seems depressed, like something is nagging him, keeping him from even pretending to be cheerful like he most likely should.
Gaige thinks, I have to cheer him up. I can't stand seeing someone like this. "Rough day?"
"I'm fine, but thanks," The wolf snaps rudely.
Well, excuse me for trying to help.
"Okay, I have room 102 open. It’s just down that hall, and it’s the first door on the right."
"Thanks." With the key card in his paws, Gaige begins to walk toward the hallway. He assumes the wolf must have noticed the slightly impaired walk cycle from when he tripped before, because he gets up from his chair behind the front desk to stop Gaige from going to his room.
"Wait." The wolf almost shouts as he says this, making the boy jump a bit.
Gaige sighs and replies sarcastically, "Yes?"
"I'm sorry. You were right." Now, in contrast to just a few seconds before, the wolf is almost whispering.
Confused, Gaige asks, "How do you mean?"
"I have had a rough day."
"Well, I’m one to forgive and forget. And I'm sorry to hear that. I guess if you want any help, business seems painfully slow. I bet your boss wouldn't mind if you took a breather?" Perfect. Make him an offer he can’t refuse. Wait, did I…? Dammit, I guess it just goes to show how prolific The Godfather was.
"Actually, I own this hotel!" Sticking his tongue out and smirking, he opens the door leading to the space behind the front desk. He locks the door behind him, which seems to be an automatic sign-turning mechanism. It flips the "Welcome" sign around so that it reads "ring for service" instead. Finally, a panel on top of the desk flips itself over, and there is now a bell on a little stand where there was once a solid marble and mahogany desk. "And yes, I'll gladly take you up on that offer."
Gaige winks at the stranger and motions for him to follow. The scarlet husky keeps in mind what he was told a minute ago, and remembers that his room is the first door on the right. He swipes the key card in the thin slot, which makes a little red light turn green, as well as a beeper go off for a second. Gaige turns the door’s handle, and leads the way inside the room.
Gaige finds the light switch almost immediately, and flicks it upward to illuminate the hotel room, which turns out to be very quaint in appearance. The wallpaper is a wavy-textured beige, and the carpet is a dull green, which has a yellow dot pattern embroidered upon it. There is a small oak coffee table in front of the old-fashioned TV which sits on a stand against the wall across from the pull-out bed loveseat, which the wolf sits down on.
Plopping his bag of work clothing down on the oak table, Gaige inquires, "So are you going to tell me what this is all about?" The wolf looks like Gaige is speaking another language. Okay, I guess we can do this the old-fashioned way... Gaige tells himself. "Well, first of all, what's your name?"
"Daron McSteele. But it’s spelled with an ‘o’ instead of an ‘i.’ Yourself?" He replies warmly.
"Gaige Lane, at your service. Oooh!" Gaige has just noticed the single-cup coffee maker resting on the counter in the small kitchen area. Gaige walks over to it and finds that there is complimentary French vanilla, mocha, and traditional-flavored coffee grinds, as well as a paw-full of bags of hot chocolate powder. As Gaige begins to make a cup of coffee for himself, he asks, "Do you want any coffee, or anything?"
Daron stutters, "No, I can't take from my guests like that..."
Gaige interrupts, "Please. I’m here to help you, and a hot drink of any kind always helps me feel better after a long day. I insist."
Daron hesitates, mulling it over. "Well... if you say so."
"Well, that’s a start.” Gaige takes out a second mug from the above cabinet. “Anyway, why is today such a bad one for you? Death in the family? Stock take a major blow?"
"My boyfriend left me. He said he was embarrassed to be around me, and that we had to stop seeing each other, and…” Daron sniffs heavily and covers his eyes with his paw for a second. “I’m sorry, but it was just out of nowhere. We were fine for years, even as far back as sophomore year of high school, and for him it was freshman year, but this morning he called, and he told me…" Now crying as he begins to trail off, Daron has tears pouring down his face.
Gaige puts his left paw on Daron’s shoulder as he walks over and sits down on the sofa to the right of the wolf, with two cups of steaming hot chocolate in his grasp. "WOAH, woah, woah. Hold up one second, now, buddy! You need to stop crying, and start acting like what you are. You’re a wolf, you're a guy, and you're huge compared to most wolves I know, and I mean that in a good way. Like, in reference to your muscles and whatnot. All this makes you strong, man. You just need to pull yourself together, and if he really doesn't want to see you again, you'll just have to move on. There's nothing that can be done at this point, buddy. Maybe it was never meant to be, and he probably understood that before you. Things like this aren’t worth beating yourself up over. I trust that you're a sensible guy, and you know what you're doing. It'll get better, and I'm going to make that a promise, Daron."
Daron doesn't stop sobbing into his paws, despite all this being said. Gaige is shocked right now. He cannot believe it; this complete stranger he had just met not even ten minutes ago is opening up to him with his personal problems, pouring his heart out. Daron finally stops crying after about ten minutes of sitting on the couch with Gaige rubbing his shoulder, trying to calm him down.
"Gaige, are you gay?" He finally says out of nowhere after getting control of himself. Gaige can see through Daron’s silver fur that he had gone red in the face as he said this.
"Am I really that careless?" It is almost an invitation for the silver wolf.
“More like the opposite, kid,” Daron chortles.
"To answer your question, I have to say yes. But you're the first person I've ever admitted it to except for what I said in a statement I once had to make from when I was arrested for helping out a drug dealer, doing his dirty work for him."
"Heh. I guess so."
"Well, I just…” Gaige hesitates, choosing his words carefully. He sighs and finishes his statement. “Could you keep this between us, though? I don't think I want to be so open about anything yet. In fact I’ve even gone to strip clubs just to hide it and make my friends think I was straight. Some girls actually tried to get with me.” Daron grimaces at this. “I know, it creeped me out too, but most of them were drunk or rolling. I still turned them down, though."
"Wow. Never heard THAT one before. Anyway, whatever floats your boat is cool with me, Gaige. So that brings me to my next question: how does a guy like you end up in a dump like this?"
Just to tease him, Gaige replies smirking, "I was going to ask you the same thing." They both chuckle a bit and Gaige continues, "Well I was just going home from work, but since my sister can sustain herself for th-" Gaige cuts himself off as he realizes that his sister doesn’t know where he is. “Crap! Is there a phone in this room?"
"I have an iPhone, here. I'm taking a shot in the dark and saying that you forgot to call her?"
"Be quiet a second, ‘kay?” He dials frantically. ”I can barely... Idaline...? Okay, I'm not coming home tonight, kid… Sorry kid, I had to close up, and I wouldn't have been there until at least 0200... Yeah, there's some noodle soup in the pantry you can have, if you haven’t eaten yet, but only one, okay? There had better be exactly 7 packets left in that box when I get home. Any less than 7 and I swear to God, I will personally... Idaline? Id-! FFFF-!" Gaige doesn’t actually swear for the sake of acting at least somewhat professional, but he has to catch himself at the last second. He throws his paws up angrily in the air, and flexes his arm muscles hard enough to make them vibrate as he hangs up and wipes the paw prints off the screen with the corner of his t-shirt. This makes Daron chuckle to himself quietly. "She hung up!” He sighs. “Sometimes, she's a…” He realizes before he continues that the rest of the sentence he had planned to say would again be unprofessional. Instead, he sighs again and continues. “And sometimes she's just an older brother's dream: a perfectly obedient angel without an attitude, taking care of herself, no reminders, no nothing."
"Well, she's your sister. You can't really pick and choose who you get, can you?" Daron puts on one of those sarcastic-but-frankly-honest faces as Gaige hands him his phone back. "You know, you're a really cool guy, letting me open up to you like this. And might I add that you're pretty cute?"
Gaige is now blushing violently as he asks, "Are you flirting with me, Daron?"
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't my intention, kid. Speaking of kids, how old did you say you are? I think my mother's short-term memory loss is kicking in again." He chuckles as he says this.
"It's not, don't worry. I just didn’t tell you. I'm actually 21, and I’ll be 22 in another month. But since I'm technically property of the government, they let me just go to work to support my sister and myself."
"Well, I may be 25, but I'm 17 at heart! And what do you mean by ‘property of the government’?" He gives another smile, and he means it.
"I used to work for this drug dealer named Julius Arno. The government found out about him, and they caught him. But they caught me too, and I had to convince them that Julius was threatening me and my family and that I had no choice but to do what he said. I was also still young, so they were a little more considerate than they would be now. They let me go under the condition that they randomly test me for drugs, search my house even if they have no warrant, and that I remain under surveillance.” Gaige stares into his lap and pauses.
“Wow. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. But I’m wondering if you meant it?”
“What you said to the people that caught you and him.”
“You think I’m lying?” Gaige’s eyes grow wide with shock. But when the scarlet husky thinks about it, he realizes that the way he said it to the wolf could be perceived as a lie.
Daron’s left eyebrow raises in response.
“Well, no, I didn’t lie. I’m not lying about it now either. He really found out where we lived, and he really threatened to hurt us if I didn’t work for him. I missed almost half of high school because of it, too.”
“Okay, I believe you, kid.” Daron raises his paws as if admitting defeat as he speaks.
“Anyways, Daron, if you want, I'm always willing to help you out if you need me. I have my license, but until I buy a real car, you can come by my second job, talk over some dinner or something...?" Gaige gives Daron a business card made for his second job, which is a small diner about half a mile from his house.
Gaige is propositioning in the most awkward way possible without realizing, but it works, because the next thing Daron says is, "Some hot chocolate maybe?" He gives Gaige a wink, and finishes, "Sure. I'd love to."
"Okay." Gaige smiles warmly and yelps quietly as Daron stands up from the pull-out and lifts Gaige to his feet as well. Daron leans down so he is only half a head taller than the scarlet furred husky boy, and Gaige can't help but notice another tear in one of Daron’s baby blue eyes as he holds Gaige closer to his chest. As Gaige sees the tear roll down his face, he takes his paw and uses the back of it to dry it from his cheek.
During this first embrace, the first of many, Gaige sees his reflection in the tears falling from Daron’s eyes, but he also sees something more. Gaige can’t quite explain or even understand it, but one could say he sees the future, because Gaige sees himself and Daron together standing under a Chuppah* in front of a rabbi. It is like he sees, deep in those light blue eyes, the wedding that could happen sometime in the future. But that's crazy, he’s not psychic. It's just wishful thinking, he tells himself. It's just wishful thinking...
"Er, I should probably go." Gaige understands that Daron is very confused and embarrassed as he says this. It’d be a lie if it was said that the feeling wasn’t mutual.
"Only if you want to," Gaige whispers back to him.
"I can't stay, kid... but I'll definitely stop by that diner. I have to get some sleep. I'm going to close up for the night. You know, if you ever need to spend the night, I'm always open."
Gaige thinks to himself as Daron winks again, Another one? Is he serious? Yes, he must be. What else could he be thinking!? He’s falling for me!
"Great! All my info for the diner is on that card. I just don’t work on Saturdays is all. And my cell number is on the back."
"Awesome! Good night, Gaige." He whispers with a warm smile as he slowly closes the door.
“’Night.” Gaige whispers to himself after the door is shut.
Now Gaige has a real problem. Dar-ge? So, yes, he can see them as a couple, but is now the right time? Maybe. All he has to go on is “maybe.” Is there another way out of it? There shouldn’t be. If there is a way to avoid a relationship, the real question is, ‘Do I WANT to get out of it?’ It COULD be a little bit of a problem, don’t you think? Gaige asks himself.
There are so many thoughts going through his head that even though he wakes up at 0900, he does not get out of the pull-out sofa bed until 1130. Noticing that he over-slept, he quickly springs out of the bed, and hops into the shower after undressing. He finds a small complimentary bottle of shampoo and equally small bar of soap sitting on a little shelf protruding from the green tiled wall. He uses the soap and shampoo to their full extent, completely cleansing the husky’s body, giving him the smell of Vanilla Bliss (apparently the name of the scent in the soap and shampoo).
It is about 20 minutes before Gaige is finally out of the shower, and he starts to dry himself. He looks at his reflection in the mirror as he uses two small towels to dry his body fur and tail. He leaves the bathroom and reaches into his backpack to pull out his work clothes which he only wore for a few hours the day before. He gives the set of clothing a sniff, and his extra-sensitive nose tells him that the body odor on it isn’t that offensive. Since Gaige has no other clothing besides what he slept in, he decides that he has no other choice but to put them on, which he does with reluctance after sliding on a bit of deodorant.
Gaige glances at the end table next to the sofa, and notices that he has stayed too long, as it is now past 1200. Not only that, he has missed out on the continental breakfast. Noticing outside through the dirty window the numerous cars zipping through the intersection he crossed the night before, he sees a taxi parked on the side of the road right in front of the entrance to the hotel. Its engine is ejecting plumes of smoke into the air, and there is a short brown otter in tattered overalls sticking his upper body under the hood with a tool box behind him.
The husky boy remembers what he is doing suddenly, and quickly rushes to clean and put away the coffee mugs and spoons he and Daron used the night before, as well as putting his dirty clothing back in his bag. As soon as all of his things are together and in his bag and he is dressed, he quickly throws his bag on his back and rushes out the door into the lobby.
Gaige notices that Daron is again sitting behind the marble and mahogany desk, creating a database on his computer screen, now wearing a pair of prescription glasses. He was not wearing them the night before, but Gaige doesn’t seem to notice. He decides to play a joke on Daron, so he gets down on all fours and quietly makes his way over to the desk. Once he is directly in front of the “Welcome” sign, he slowly stands upright, and inhales as if to say “Boo.”
To Gaiges dissatisfaction, Daron, without removing his gaze from his screen, says, “Did you sleep well?” before Gaige can do anything to surprise him. Gaige sighs in disappointment, pouting. “You were trying to scare me, weren’t you, kid?”
“Yeah, but you ruined it for me.” Gaige replies with a cute feminine voice.
“Gaige, one thing you should know about me is that I don’t get surprised very easily.” Daron adds with a careless but well-intended voice. “If you want to surprise me, it’s going to take a lot more than crawling on the ground without making noise, sneaking up behind me, or pretty much anything, really. I’m un-shock-able.”
“What’s your secret then? How did you know exactly what I was doing without even looking?” Gaige inquires with curiosity. As a response, Daron wiggles his ears and twists them into contorted positions that Gaige had never imagined possible, intriguing him greatly. “How did you… Your ears, they…” Gaige stutters in disbelief and confusion. “What?”
“Magic-Wolf-Ears. Another thing you should know about me is that I have a lot of hidden talents.” Daron looks up from his computer after saving his work, and smiles at Gaige from behind the desk. He returns his ears to their original shapes and positions, and taps them a few times as he elaborates, “One of them being that I have extremely sensitive hearing.”
“Is that genetic?”
“I have no clue whatsoever,” He giggles.
“Well, I have a heightened sense of smell, so I guess that makes us alike.” Gaige interjects gleefully. “Great minds think alike, eh?” The husky says without thinking. His body language changes suddenly from flirtation to embarrassment as he realizes the pointlessness and irrelevance of what he just said. Going red in the face, he stammers with a laugh of humiliation that he had just made a fool of himself, “Wow. I really need to work on doing that better. Now you think a lot less of me, and I probably should just check out and pay, right?”
“Well, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘doing that better,’ but first of all, I don’t think any less of you,” The metallic gray wolf replies.
“Really?” Gaige questions with hopeful eyes.
“I would have never said it if I didn’t mean it, kid,” Daron answers with a playful smirk. “Second of all, you already paid up front, remember?”
Blushing even more, Gaige looks to the floor, grinning out of embarrassment from making a fool of himself in front of Daron twice. “Well, NOW I do… Is there anything ELSE I can screw up this morning?”
“What? What are you talking about? You didn’t screw anything up, if I recall correctly,” Daron says with a warm yet concerned voice as he tilts his head slightly to his left, folding his ears back as if begging.
“Daron, what was last night about?” Gaige almost doubles back in fear out of what Daron could say in response, but he catches himself and continues. “Was it out of lust, or do you genuinely care about me? I think this is all going too quickly for me.”
“I get the idea, but if you really want to know, I’ll tell you. But first, you need to calm down, and stop pacing like that.” Gaige does not notice that he has been pacing absent-mindedly for the past minute until Daron points it out. “Look, kid, last night wasn’t out of any desire to simply have you to make a hit-and-run out of you, or anything like that. Truthfully, I did feel alone and helpless.
“Last night, I felt pathetic, and I hated myself. I was no longer confident with myself, and I was insecure and didn’t want to face my problems. I hid from them instead, and finally when I was near the point of thoughts of suicide, you walked into the lobby. I thought you were just a regular average kid lost in the slums of New Olive who could do nothing to help, but I was WAY wrong. When you invited me into your room, I was a bit skeptical at first, but when you offered and insisted on preparing some hot chocolate, I saw that I could really open up to you. I knew then that you’d be able to do more than help. On top of all that, as I said ‘good night’ to you, I saw in the tear that welled up in your eye, something really odd…”
Daron pauses a bit, and Gaige seizes the opportunity to ask. “Yes? What was it? What did you see?”
Fascinated at Gaige’s interest, Daron continues, “It’s crazy, but it was like I saw the future for a moment. I saw you and me in front of a priest or whatever, under a blanket-tarp-thing. The priest guy was reading from, like, the bible, but it was in Hebrew or something, so I guess it was a Rabbi…”
Daron begins to trail off, and Gaige interrupts and mutters to himself, but loud enough so that Daron can hear. “And said things like it was a wedding…?”
“Yes, actually.” Daron’s eyes grow wide as he continues, “How did you know?”
“I saw the same thing in your tears…” Gaige’s eyes grow wide as well, reciprocating the facial expression Daron gave him. They exchange speechless and bewildered looks, staring blankly into each other’s eyes.
They stay motionless for a minute or two until Daron breaks the silence. “Your eyes are green,” He says bluntly without thinking.
“And yours are blue. They’re cute,” Gaige replies with a smirk.
Daron smirks as well, proclaiming excitedly, “So you DO have the hots for me. I KNEW IT!” Gaige giggles effeminately in response. “I just finished checking you out. You’re free to go, if you want. I won’t penalize you for staying past your rental expiration, so you don’t have to worry about that, kid.”
“And I just finished checking YOU out,” Gaige giggles, indicating he is still trying to flirt with the large wolf. “Now, I’m gonna scram, and you’re gonna call me if something else happens and you have nobody to talk to. Do I make myself clear?”
“Kid, I’m gonna go right to you even if I DO have someone else to talk to. You’re more helpful to me than anyone else I’ve ever met.” Daron replies, his voice shaking a little as he nearly starts drooling over the husky boy before him.
“Oh! You never told me why you did that hug thing! Tell me!” Gaige squeals as he says these last two words.
“Well… I did it… because I want to see if our relationship might ever get to a point like that, or if we’ll just find other people. Boy, you’re amazing. You’re cute, smart, you have a good sense of humor, and you’re really skilled at making quick friends, What with you helping them out when they need it, and all. Overall, you’re just my type. I like you... And I want to thank you for letting me cry into your shoulder last night,” He whispers sincerely to the husky boy.
“Well, I just need some time to think... I wasn’t prepared to hear you say that.”
“I understand. Now, you go run on home to that little sister of yours. Idaline, was it?”
“Oh, right! Bye, Daron!” The bell above the door is knocked about violently as Gaige hurries outside the old hotel.
“See you ‘round, Gaige!” Daron shouts as he waves his paw above his head to the cute husky boy on his way out into the morning sunlight.
The bright sunlight nearly blinds the husky boy as he steps out of the hotel. He has to squint in order to get his bearings. Gaige turns his attention to the broken-down taxi next to him. It is no longer billowing smoke from the engine, though the short otter is still working on it. Gaige cautiously moves over to him and asks, “Do you need help with that?”
“Nah, but could you hand me the monkey wrench?” The otter holds out his left paw and Gaige picks up the tool from the box on the ground next to him. After handing over the oddly-shaped wrench, the otter continues, “And could you put these pliers in the green compartment?” The otter hands him the needle-nose pliers, and Gaige places them in the small, green bucket in the toolbox labeled: “Pliers.”
“Thanks.” The otter still does not remove his head from under the hood.
“Sure thing,” Gaige replies in a cheerful voice.
“Well…” He stops fixing the old car for a moment to make a point to the husky boy. He sighs, “When you see me, you’ll have questions, and it’ll be a big ol’ mess. I just want to prevent that from screwin’ with your mind, so… I don’t know, fuck it.” The otter finally stands upright, and Gaige’s eyes widen a bit when he notices the size of his breasts. Or rather, HER breasts. The husky boy notices that he must appear dumbfounded to the she-otter, so he fakes an I-knew-it expression and sighs heavily. She continues, “The name’s Linus. Linus VanDiesel. Still, most people call me by my stage name, Lala. How ‘bout you, cutie?”
Linus holds up a greasy and ash-covered paw to her face, which she spits on. She then reaches it out to Gaige for him to do the same to his own. “Er, Gaige…” He shows he is reluctant by holding his paws back and up to his chest, rubbing them together, and she notices.
“Gross? Too much for ANY city folk, I guess…”
“Yeah… But I’ll take the other paw, ma’am… sir… erm…” Gaige folds his ears back in both disgust at the spit and embarrassment as he smiles, showing his teeth; slightly yellow from not having tended to them since the morning before.
“If you want to address me by what I prefer, go with male pronouns.” Linus puts the monkey wrench in the paw he had spat on and holds out the one that was previously holding the tool. Gaige shakes it before continuing, “So, Linus, er… is there anything else I can do to help you? I mean BESIDES something that requires using a monkey wrench?”
“Actually I just have to tighten this last bolt, give it a kick, and it’ll be working again. But since I’m a cab driver, I can give you a ride, if you want.” Not willing to pass up the chance to shave hours off his trip, he accepts the offer without a second thought. “Now, if you’ll just give me one sec, I’ll get this working.” After Linus finishes tightening the last large piece of metal under the hood of the old taxi cab, he climbs into the driver seat and slides the key into the ignition.
He turns the key, and the engine starts to sputter, and he asks Gaige, “Kick it for me, would you?” The husky harshly, but carefully, kicks the bumper of the old taxi cab with his foot, bringing the clunker to life. The sudden loud snaps of the engine sluggishly turning on startles Gaige a bit, making him jump. After clicking the hood closed, Linus invites Gaige into the back of his taxi, and Gaige (still nervous from getting in a car with a near stranger) cautiously makes his way into the back seat.
As soon as the husky boy and the slightly older otter (by about seven years or so) are buckled in, Linus breaks the awkward silence. “So, where you headed, cutie?”
Gaige gives Linus the address of his diner before he asks him, “Do you have a cell phone on you?”
“Yeah, sure.” Linus fishes out an old flip-phone from the glove compartment and hands it to Gaige.
“Myself,” Gaige mumbles as he dials his own phone number.
Just then, Gaige feels a very slight vibration coming from his pocket as the taxi speeds down the main road toward the outskirts of the city. He reaches into it, and pulls out his iPod. During his free time, Gaige spends it tinkering with technology, reverse-engineering things and reprogramming them to do things they’re not designed to do. After getting a SIM card, 4G chip, and small vibrator mechanism, he installed them into and programmed his iPod to function as an iPhone. That is, except for the fact that it’s all crammed into a smaller package.
“I take it you found it?” Linus glances in the rear-view mirror and sees Gaige’s smile of relief while cradling his iPod like it was his own infant child.
“Then can I have mine back?”
“Sure, here,” Gaige replies as he hands Linus’s phone back to him. Faking a nonchalant tone as he tries to break the tension and lighten the mood, Gaige speaks without thinking, “So, I’m sorry for mistaking you for a woman back there. I just thought, with the… you know… packages... you know?”
“Oh, it’s fine, cutie. No harm done.” Linus replies, giving an indication to Gaige that it is okay to laugh, but Gaige does not feel the need to. He continues, “You’re not saying anything.”
“Well, I’ve just never MET someone who is trans before, despite having tried being trans once myself. Basically, it didn’t end well. I did it for all the wrong reasons, I believe. It was just so I could try to pick up some guys.”
Gaige had once gone out in public in a skirt and a spaghetti-strap shirt that read, “Free Hugs” on it. He also carried a leather tote bag on his shoulder, which had a gold buckle on it to keep the flap closed. Unfortunately, he ended up going bar-hopping like he was in Chicago. In the sixth and final bar on his route, he was very unaware of the fact that he was attracted to a chestnut horse named Geoff Sonnie, one of the other guys that was there.
Geoff had bought vodka martinis for the two of them (Gaige assumed the horse was trying to imitate James Bond). He started flirting with the drunken husky boy, but as soon as the equine said he would “Take the boy home for the night of his life,” Gaige understood that Geoff knew he wasn’t a girl. Geoff didn’t seem to care, so it can be assumed that he’s bisexual. Gaige immediately leapt from his stool and sprinted towards the exit of the bar, but he only made it halfway there before he tripped. He was too drunk to get back to his feet after he had landed on the hard wood floor. Gaige didn’t remember what happened next, but he assumed that Geoff or someone else that was in the bar had picked him up, brought him up to the second floor, and rested him on the bed in the living area of the building, because that was where he awoke the following morning.
He had made his way down to the bar area with an enormous hangover from the night before. Slowly and carefully, he walked down the stairs, and almost fell as he was going down, but he caught himself on the railing immediately before he landed. He’d noticed that a grizzly bear was behind the bar, who Gaige figured to be the bar tender, and he was making a break for the cute husky, rushing to help him to his feet. The old bear draped the boy over his shoulders, carrying him to a booth table in the corner of the bar.
He rested Gaige down in a position so that he was sitting upright. The old bear finally spoke, “Kid, do yourself a favor and don’t go bar-hopping at 15, y’hear?”
“How did you know I was 15? I never…” Gaige groggily replied, hiccupping violently. He stopped, speechless, because the bar tender pulled out a wallet from a pocket in his apron, and Gaige recognized it as his own. “How did you…?”
“As a bar tender, I probably shouldn’t have, but when you gave me your fake ID when I gave you your drink, I had to give you some credit. I really was fooled at first, but when I held it up to the light, I saw it wasn’t real. I knew I couldn’t let a kid lose all his money, so immediately when you blacked out, I jumped over the counter, and grabbed it when it fell out of your bag so nobody else could get to it.” Gaige has a clueless look on his face. “And I probably said that way too fast for you to understand, so here’s what happened: you fall…”
“You black out…”
“And I pick up your wallet so nobody takes it.”
“I see. Can I have it back now?” Gaige was then letting his head tilt limply to the side as his face appeared to be turning green.
“If you’re gonna spew, I just mopped, so do it in this. THEN you can have it back.”
After forcing himself to vomit into the trash can the bar tender had given him, the husky boy reached out his paw and took the wallet the bear had left on the table. He put the wallet in the small pocket of the tote bag he was wearing. Gaige finally asked, “You’ve been very kind to me. Is there a way I can thank you?”
“No need. It’s the least I can do for a confused kid stuck in New Olive. Just don’t do any heavy drinking until you’re 18, alright? That’s how you can thank me. By the way, the name’s Gus. Your name’s Gaige, right?”
“Yeah. It’s nice to meet you.”
The two of them shook paws before Gus spoke, “So do you want toast with eggs? I have a griddle behind the counter if you’re up for a hot breakfast. I was gonna make some for myself anyway.”
“Oh no, I can’t…”
“You, my friend, are not feeling well, and I insist on you eating. Now, what would you like?” Gus raised his eyebrow and smirked as Gaige thought it over.
“I guess toast is okay,” Gaige replied before trudging over to the bar stool and sitting upon it. “Why are you being so kind to me?”
“Do I really need a reason? Just be glad I’m not someone else. If I weren’t me, I probably would’ve said, ‘there ain’t no way he’s sleepin’ in MY bed.’” Gus widened his eyes jokingly, quoting as if he were someone else, moving his arm around like he was drawing a Z in the air.
“Wait, that was YOUR bed?”
“Yeah, but it’s fine. I was up late watching Star Trek, and I fell asleep on the couch.”
Gaige giggled quietly to himself and smiled, blushing, thankfully as he whispered, “Thank you.”
“Anytime, kid. Now eat up. You’d regret not doing so.” Gus set a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, and fried potatoes in front of Gaige and the cute husky immediately picked up the fork he was also given, and took a bite of the beautifully prepared potatoes.
Gaige is brought back to reality from the flashback of his first and only time out in public dressed as a member of the opposite sex by Linus’s voice saying, “Hey, cutie! We’re here. Wake up.”
“What? What happened?” Gaige looks outside the paw-smudged window of the old taxi cab to see his tiny truck-stop diner standing right in front of him.
“Are you sure you want to stop here? I’ll take you home, it’s no trouble. I saw the hours on the window, and it said it’s closed on Saturdays. Besides, winter’s just around the corner and the weather is definitely showing it. The thermometer on my dash says it’s a little under 45°.”
“It’s Saturday? Are you serious?” Gaige now realizes that the previous day was when he got his weekly paycheck, which he gets on Fridays. “Hmm, then I guess you can take me home. Here’s the address.” Gaige quickly pulls out the tiny notepad and pen he always keeps with him, scribbles his home address on it, and gives it to Linus. “It’s the gray one at the end of the cul-de-sac.”
“You live there?” The otter points to the near side of the mountain on the left side of the cab. It isn’t that far, but Linus knows that Gaige would have to go up a steep incline if he walked, causing him to be outside in the cold, early afternoon longer. He doesn’t want to make the poor husky boy suffer like that.
“That’s correct. Why, is that a problem or something?”
“No, no. I just figured you wouldn’t live somewhere as… well… rich. Just based on the hotel you stayed at, I mean.” Linus begins to drive the taxi towards the mountain and continues. “I’m sorry, cutie. That came out REALLY wrong. I didn’t think…”
“Linus, it’s okay. Most people who come over to my house think like that. They’re always like, ‘How the crap are you able to even AFFORD this!?’ Though they don’t say it, I know they’re thinking it when I see their faces.” Gaige chuckles loudly and blushes. “My secret, you ask? When both my parents were in the picture, they had enough money to pay the loan off in full, and they still had enough left over that we could still afford the basic necessities, like food, bills and what’s left of the loan; just nothing big like a car. That’s why I’m working two jobs.”
“That’s good and bad, then, I guess.”
“I guess you could say that. I really do want a Bentley, though I’ll probably never get my hands on one,” Gaige sighs as he slumps down, looking into his lap. Linus does not respond with anything other than a glance in the mirror and a friendly smile. He doesn’t keep up-to-date with new cars, so he doesn’t understand the topic well enough to participate. Gaige sees the confusion in the otter’s sparkling eyes, and discontinues the conversation.
Neither the husky nor the otter exchange any more conversational chatter throughout the rest of the car ride, since they have nothing else on their minds. They’re both utterly silent until the taxi comes to a stop in front of Gaige’s house. “Okay, we’re here. Now scram, cutie!” The otter woman smiles showing teeth as he squints playfully at the husky boy.
“How much do you want?”
“Actually, I’ll only charge you from the diner to here, so $5.50 should do it."
“Seriously?” The otter nods and smiles as Gaige hands him the money.. “Well, then it was nice meeting you.” The husky boy holds his paw in front of his muzzle, spits on it, and reaches out for Linus to shake, which he does so after spitting on his own paw with a smirk on his face. “Also, what’s the name of your band? You said your stage name was Lala, correct?”
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t want to see me perform…” Linus is now blushing violently and Gaige can see it, so he decides not to pursue the topic any further.
"Then maybe I’ll see you again sometime? Maybe I might flag you down in the city?” The husky boy asks jokingly and hopefully.
“Heh. Maybe. Bye, Little Husky.”
“Bye!” Gaige clambers out of the old car before shutting the door to the taxi as Linus drives away. Little Husky? Okay…?
“Idaline, I’m home!” Gaige shouts, his voice echoing throughout the entry hallway. The rest of the house doesn’t have much in it since it’s so big. Gaige is truly glad to finally be home after being out working for more than thirty hours. It is now just past 1400, and since Gaige hasn’t had a full meal since the day before, he decides to make himself a deli sandwich.
“FINALLY! I was starting to worry. So, what did you bring me this time?” The little, even more-so than her brother, bright orange husky behind Gaige stands leaning against the edge of the arch that leads to the living room where a game of Super Smash Bros. is paused in the middle of a match on the 60-inch HDTV. Idaline is now looking at her claws as if she had just painted them, and she then turns her head to look at Gaige with raised eyebrows and a pouting face. “Well?”
“Nothing this time, which sort of reminds me, but I don’t know how…” Gaige walks over to the pantry and looks at the top shelf. He finds a few bags of Ramen noodle soup sitting on the shelf, and counts out seven of them. “Well, I’ll be damned. There are EXACTLY seven bags of soup. Thank you for sticking to your word, Idaline.” Gaige turns to his sister and smiles warmly.
“Sure, whatever.” Idaline rolls her eyes with her arms now crossed.
“Now, do you want lunch?” Gaige asks with a concerned tone.
“I already had something.”
“Alright. Well, I’m going to eat my lunch, and then I need to go change and I’ll play Nintendo Land with you, alright?”
“Sure,” Idaline sighs sarcastically.
After finishing the sandwich Gaige had fashioned for himself, he hurries himself up the pine wood staircase into the master bedroom. He then closes the door and begins to undress himself until he is completely naked in front of the mirror bolted to the wall. Gaige stares at himself in the mirror for a minute admiring his small curves. He continues to change into, Something that goes with bright red… or I guess it’s more of a scarlet… Gaige thinks to himself as he picks out a black-and-white horizontal-striped polo shirt and brown slacks. He stares at himself in the mirror again, and decides that he likes the look. He prances into the master bathroom and searches for a bottle of cologne in the drawers of the counter, and gives his chest a few squirts of it before rubbing it into his fur.
Gaige decides that he has prepared enough for the remainder of the day, and makes his way back down to the first floor where he finds Idaline playing Super Smash Bros. Suddenly she yells, “Dammit! That was my last life!” Gaige is startled and nearly misses the last step as he walks down the stairs into the living room.
“Mind if I join?” Gaige inquires as he sits on one of the two recliners. Idaline is slouching in the adjacent one.
Idaline offers Gaige his favorite controller, saying, “Go ahead.”
“You’ll lose,” Idaline chuckles.
“Is that a bet or a mere challenge?” Gaige is now smirking as he puts nose in his sister’s face.
“Just a friendly wager of zero.” Idaline also smirks and puts her nose against her brother’s, staring into his neon green eyes with an eyebrow raised.
“Then what are we waiting for?”
After failing miserably at trying to win a match against Idaline, Gaige finally speaks and starts a legitimate conversation. “You’re too good for me little girl. I can’t… Huh?” Gaige’s iPod rings from the end table between the two recliners. The husky boy picks it up from its charging cable and stares at the caller ID. He does not know the number, so he answers. “This is Gaige, who is calling?”
“Gaige? Oh, thank God! I thought you had given me the wrong number. Listen, I need help. My ex is after me. I’m lucky I made it to the car before anything else happened. I know what you’re going to say, but he knows where all my family members live. He knows that I’d go to one of those places. In fact he’s probably on my way to my parents’ place right now!”
“Daron? Is that you? What happened? Are you okay? Where are you?”
“It’s okay, I’m fine. I’m at your diner. I just need to hide out for a few days. And from what I gathered so far, no one is here, but me.”
“Then you should stay with us. We have an extra room.”
Suddenly, Idaline whispers interrupting, “I don’t like this…”
Gaige puts his paw over the phone so Daron can’t hear him hiss to his sister, “It’s my decision, and I trust this guy.” Now talking to Daron again, “Yeah, it’s 14 Symblit Ct, the grey one at the end of the cul-de-sac.”
“Are you sure about this?” Daron stutters through the phone.
“Positive. You can stay as long as you need to. Like I said, I’m always available. I trust you can use your phone to get here right?” Gaige asks concerned.
“Yeah. I’ll see you in a few minutes, I guess.”
The doorbell rings about fifteen minutes later and when Gaige sprints to the door and answers it, he only opens the door to see a silver wolf leaning against the outer storm door with his right paw clutching his left forearm. It is bleeding profusely, and it makes Gaige need to cover his muzzle as if trying not to vomit at the sight of the enormous gash on Daron’s left arm. You’ve got to be kidding me. “Idaline! Get a first aid kit, now!” Gaige shouts across the house to his sister as he walks Daron through the entry hallway and eventually into the living room. As Gaige finally gets Daron to sit down in the leather recliner, Idaline returns with a small first aid kit in her paws. Finally Gaige continues speaking in a voice of dire concern. “What happened to you? Why wouldn’t you go to the hospital? You’re bleeding badly!”
“I’m scared he’d find me there. He knows hackers that regularly sneak behind government firewalls for fun! Anyway, he came into the lobby and went over to the front desk. I was about to ask him what he wanted, but before I could, that horse jumped me!” Daron grunts a bit as Gaige wraps bandages around his wound. Daron says nothing for a moment.
“That doesn’t explain your arm,” Idaline interjects.
“He jumped over the counter, grabbed my shirt by the neck and pulled me over the desk, and he threw me onto the floor. My nose was bleeding for a few minutes because of that, but I didn’t notice until it stopped. It’s not broken, though. Anyway, I couldn’t see it happen, but I heard him walk over to me, and I also heard a click, which I knew immediately to be that of a switch blade. I flipped myself halfway over in time for him to miss my back, and for him to get my arm instead. I kicked him in the balls as I got to my feet. I guess I did plenty of damage because I managed to get out of the lobby and into my car before he could recover. As I drove away, I could see him in the rear-view running after me, but I was too fast for him. I couldn’t see any other cars, so I guess I got lucky that he didn’t have one.”
“Damn, that sucks. I’m sorry, mister.” Idaline, contrary to her normal sarcasm, is very sincere as she apologizes.
“You’re both extremely kind. Thank you. I hope I won’t be a bother…” Daron hints that he is slightly uncomfortable with staying at a near stranger’s house.
“Please, Daron. It’s no trouble. You stay as long as you need to. Like I said, I’m always willing to help you out in any way I can. Idaline, can you leave the room for a second? Go get Daron some water and another shirt from dad’s closet, would you?”
“Whatever…” Idaline rolls her eyes as she turns to go upstairs to her bedroom.
“Thank you…” Gaige whispers when he knows Idaline is out of earshot. “Listen, she doesn’t know about me being gay, and I want to keep it that way, but I’m willing to let her figure it out for herself. She doesn’t mind gay people. She even has gay friends at school. I just don’t want to tell her. And no, I don’t want you to tell her either.”
Whispering at a volume that matches Gaige’s voice perfectly, Daron replies, “Sure.”
“Also one more thing: I decided that I would like to pursue a relationship of some sort with you. Even if it’s just being friends at first, I still want to go for it.” Gaige now leans down while still standing until he and Daron are at eye-level. Gaige closes his eyes and catches Daron off-guard by putting his paw under Daron’s muzzle and pulling the wolf in so the husky boy can kiss him on the cheek. Words cannot describe the feelings of jubilance that are felt by the two caninds.
Little do they know that they are under surveillance by one Idaline Lane, witnessing the intimate moments exchanged between the muscular silver wolf and scarlet husky boy. She is in absolute rage and disgust…
The next few days can only be described as awkward, because of that one conversation that created all the tension between Idaline and the boys.
“I can’t believe you, Gaige! How could you do this to me?” Idaline blurts out at the dinner table the first evening Daron had walked in the door with his mangled arm.
“Idaline, I know it’s a shock, but I didn’t realize that...”
Gaige is cut off by Idaline when she finishes his sentence with, “That I think being gay is the worst thing anyone could ever think to do? I figured. Knowing your memory, you’d surely forget about the fact that I stopped being friends with Vex BECAUSE he came out. Why did I think any different?”
“I’m sorry. Gaige, it’s my fault for letting you...” Daron is also cut off by the husky who takes a moment to compose herself.
“Daron, I don’t blame you. Your life is your business, not mine. It’s HIM I blame.” She points a finger at Gaige, making both Daron’s and Gaige’s eyes widen in shock. “Gaige Lane, how could you be gay!? It’s disgusting, and it’s wrong on too many levels to count! It’s a disgrace! And what’s more is that you lied to me about it! Ugh, I can’t believe you.” She puts her paw over her eyes, and begins crying, and she tries unsuccessfully to suppress the tears. She gets up from her chair and storms out of the dining room in a rage. As she swiftly goes upstairs, her voice echoes throughout the house. “I need to be alone!” The door to her room slams.
“Should I... or... never mind.” Daron discontinues his effort to help fix the situation.
“She’ll be fine. She does this sometimes when she doesn’t get her way. Like when I don’t let her go to the video store to rent a game. I used to do that sometimes. I usually just took a few minutes to calm down,” Gaige says between bites of broccoli.
“I don’t know. She looked really upset, but... hmm... maybe you’re right. After all, I don’t know her very well, so...” Each time Daron pauses, he indicates to Gaige that he wants the husky boy’s input, but Gaige never looks up from his plate of chicken and steamed broccoli. Gaige instead only sits staring at the half of the chicken breast that remains. Daron has no more food on his plate, and he brings himself to a slouch as well and stares up at Gaige from the opposite end of the table.
Gaige finally perks his head up and smirks mischievously when he sees the wolf grinning from ear to ear. “I wonder what thoughts could possibly be going through that brain of yours.”
“Only the thought of what you and I could do... together, if you’re catching my drift here.” Daron raises his eyebrows suggestively and winks at Gaige.
“Well, my sister wouldn’t want to know, so we should keep it secret... I know just the place.”
“And where would that be?” Daron is now leaning on the table with interest.
Gaige smirks and stands to consolidate the plates and silverware, except for Idaline’s dishes, since she still has a bit of food left. He then starts to bring his and Daron’s dishes to the kitchen, leaving Idaline’s for when she comes back down to finish it. He swishes his tail from side to side, inviting Daron to follow, which he does so almost by instinct. Leaning against the archway into the kitchen from the dining room, Daron watches Gaige as he puts the dishes into the sink after taking the chicken and broccoli from his own plate and storing the food in plastic boxes to bring to work for lunch.
Gaige rests his paws on either side of the sink and faces the silver wolf and speaks with a mischievous expression on his muzzle. “To answer your question, it would be my basement. It’s the farthest we’ll ever hope to get from my sister. Shall we?”
“Lead the way.” Daron grabs Gaige’s paw as they navigate the house, meandering through several cold, confusing, and pointlessly built hallways. The warmth of the husky’s paw is comforting to Daron, especially in the coldest part of the house. Gaige releases his grip on the wolf before coming to a glass door and opening it and switching on a light, revealing a carpeted staircase leading to the basement. Daron whispers, making Gaige’s ears flex backwards, listening, “I’ll probably need your help getting back to the main part of the house.”
They make their way down to the basement. It is much warmer than it is just outside the glass door, mostly because the entire room (including the bottom half of the walls) is carpeted in a shag-mink hybrid. “The carpet is designed to trap heat in the room. That’s why we don’t keep this room heated that much. Anyway, you’ll notice that this particular basement has its own bathroom, complete with a toothbrush and toothpaste, shower, and enough soap and shampoo to last a lifetime,” Gaige professes proudly in a boastful, but well-meant tone.
“Damn, how can you afford…”
Gaige interrupts without recognizing Daron’s statement as audible. “There’s also a fridge, couch, king-size bed, and a spare TV and a stereo system. Also if you look behind you, you’ll see my entire video game library. I have about every single game ever made for all of the Nintendo consoles. There was once a contest where if you won, you’d get to be a beta tester for all their games, and my dad won it when they had it back in ’85. By the way, most of the Nintendo games on this wall are fakes of sorts. They’re only the Beta versions, but I marked them with a sharpie.
“When my parents moved in, this place was just a laundry room. Concrete walls and floors… It was a mess. They renovated it so that it would act as a bomb shelter of sorts. The outer walls of this room are actually made of reinforced steel, and it’s about four inches thick, so we could get hit by a missile, and we wouldn’t even feel it. We’d only hear it. My parents were always a little on the cautious side with just about everything.” Gaige looks up and sees Daron’s muzzle hanging open in awe, and the husky clicks it shut with his paw. “You were drooling…” Gaige giggles.
“So… what to do now?” It’s more of an invitation than a rhetorical question.
Gaige replies, sticking his tongue out and tapping Daron’s nose with his finger, “Now we go have some fun!”
“Do you have what we need?” Daron inquires, not removing his dazed expression from his love-struck being.
“What are you talking... oh..." Gaige pauses, realizing what he's mistakenly gotten himself into. "That wasn’t what I meant, actually.” Gaige looks at the floor, but still focuses his attention on Daron. “I’m sorry for getting your hopes up. I’m just not ready for… that; at least not yet. I still don’t know you that well, and I’m not one to be that… well… adventurous with my life yet.” Gaige has a remorseful voice as he says this, and he turns his back on the silver wolf. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It was wrong for me to jump to that level, and if anybody should be apologizing, it should be me. So, I’M sorry,” Daron whispers. “What did you have in mind to do?”
“Well, Idaline loves first-person shooter games, so she hogs them and doesn’t let me play them. Portal 2 is my favorite split-screen multiplayer game, and I was hoping we could do that.” Gaige now completely focuses on Daron’s face, thinking about how much pain and embarrassment he may be causing him.
“Actually, I’ve never played Portal 2, but I once played the first one with Vinny, and I thought it was really fun. I’ve actually been looking forward to playing the second one for a while. I’m totally up for that.” Daron smiles warmly, causing Gaige to follow suit.
“Who’s Vinny?” Gaige asks, still happy about how Daron is handling the situation.
“My ex. Vincent Parish is his full name. He’s the guy who slashed my arm. Anyway, why don’t we pop that sucker in the PS3 and play some Portal 2?” Daron suggests.
“Why don’t we?” The husky boy agrees and runs over to the wall of games and quickly finds it alphabetized on the shelf labeled, “PlayStation.”
It is Sunday morning, and Daron wakes to the sound of birds coming from outside the window. Though the wolf is severely startled, he is not actually shaken. He remains motionless in the bed, and he notices that he is alone in a light blue bedroom. Clothing has been neatly folded and placed on top of the night stand next to the queen-size bed, which he assumes was put there by Gaige.
Daron also sees the painting on the wall across from the bed. It is a depiction of a city skyline, which the silver furred wolf immediately recognizes as that of Seattle when he sees the Space Needle. In response to a knocking sound, and now sitting bolt upright in the bed, he jerks his attention to the door in the far corner of the small bedroom. The silver furred wolf replies, "Yes, come in."
The knob turns, and the door slowly swings open. Idaline is the one who enters. "Oh, I’m sorry. I didn't realize you weren't decent." Idaline covers her eyes out of embarrassment after seeing Daron without a shirt on.
"It's fine, Idaline; I'm still wearing my jeans from yesterday." Daron reassures the husky that it's okay for her to enter, but she still insists on Daron changing first. She closes the door, and Daron can hear her leaning he back against it as he removes the sheets from his lap and stands up from the bed.
The muscular wolf takes the light blue t-shirt from the top of the pile of clothing, and he notices a post-it note underneath it. It reads: "Daron, you can keep this shirt if you want. I'm not growing anymore, and it's a REALLY big fit on me. I figured you might like it." That's nice of him, he thinks to himself as he dons the V-neck shirt.
Daron hears a loud snap as he slips his head through the hole, indicating a now-popped seam. “Great. Well, I guess there's no point in giving it back now. It looks a little too revealing...” The wolf thinks aloud without realizing as he looks at the full-body mirror next to the window, admiring the extensive amount of muscle that is shown off by the tight shirt. "Idaline, you can come in now."
The door opens yet again and a scared Idaline Lane steps through the grate. "Can I talk to you about something, mister?"
Blushing, the silver wolf replies. "You can call me Daron. No need for formalities with me. Anyway, what can I do you for?"
"It's about Gaige. This may take a little explaining."
"Well, have a seat and we can have a good, long talk." He pats the part of the bed next to where he sits down. Thinking about the husky boy makes Daron's ears perk up and his tail start to wag back and forth with excitement.
"I prefer to stand." Idaline sighs. “Look, I’ll talk straight to you. My brother is not gay, okay?”
Daron's mind is racing too much to create a response, so he lets out a simple, "Umm..."
Idaline walks toward the door, and looks back to see Daron still staring at where she had been sitting, his eye twitching. She finally speaks to the wolf. "I'll let that sink in." She steps out of the room and closes the door behind her, leaving the wolf alone.
Suddenly, Daron's ears perk up once more to listen in on the sound of running water being shut off. The wolf hadn't noticed until now that Gaige had been showering in the background, and he curses the selectiveness of his sensitive hearing. He rises from the self-pity of aiding his slight head injury, and immediately rushes to the pile on the night stand.
Daron double-checks and reassures himself that he has his phone, keys, and wallet before leaving the bedroom and walking downstairs. He saunters into the kitchen with a smile on his face, his paws in his pockets. He notices that sitting at the table is Idaline, eating her way through a piece of toast, which is severely burnt. She looks up at the wolf and back at her toast.
"What's up?" Daron inquires casually.
"Don't you know that he’s not gay?" Idaline asks with burning hatred.
"I was under the impression he was."
"Okay, don’t believe me?." She pushes her iPod over to the seat next to her. It depicts Gaige on a couch receiving a lap dance from a female lion.
As Daron approaches the device, he asks, "I see, but how does this matter to our relationship?"
Daron angles his head sideways as Idaline continues after another bite of toast. "He is straight! This picture is proof of that.”
For the first time this morning, Gaige walks into the kitchen and sees Daron sitting with Idaline. His muzzle hangs open for a few seconds, and the scarlet husky does not move even after he closes his jaw. His eyes follow Daron as he stands from his chair and walks over to the husky boy.
The only warning that Gaige has of what happens next is that the wolf doesn't stop moving even though he's already standing next to him. Daron looks back at Idaline and then turns back to the young husky boy and scoops him up in his arms, holding him like an infant. Gaige looks into Daron's baby blue eyes as they close and come rushing toward him.
The husky is confused, shocked, overjoyed, and clueless, so he releases the tension in his body and reaches behind Daron's head and pulls the two of them into a more comfortable position to be in as the silver wolf kisses him. The two male canines wrench apart, and Gaige is left stunned and confused.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?" Gaige rests his paws on his head and claws at his scalp, ripping off a small bit of fur at the same time.
"Funny you should mention..." Daron continues to whisper into Gaige's ear as Idaline leaves the room with a paw over her face. She goes to put on her coat, while Daron tells the husky about what he was told earlier that morning. Immediately after the wolf finishes and Gaige straightens out the picture (in that he was high from some drugs Julius Arno had given him as thanks for saving his life in the previous deal that had gone wrong), the husky glances at the oven clock and sees that it is 0555. He only has 5 minutes to get to the diner.
"Dammit, I need to go!" Gaige yelps loudly, hurting Daron due to his sensitive hearing.
"I'll drive you there. It's fine. Idaline wanted to take my order for some reason." Daron is almost whining as he rubs his ear.
"Well, we don't have time to debate it, and we need at least three minutes to open up, so... TO THE CAR!"
"Jesus, kid, I'm gonna go deaf if you keep yelling like that!"
"Sorry, puppy." Gaige places his paw over his mouth and blushes.
Puppy? Gaige and Daron share the thought.
It is 0605 when the diner is fully ready for business. Daron had taken the chairs off the tables and set them up. He also had put out the paper place mats that were covered in cut-out coupons and advertisements, as well as silverware already wrapped in paper napkins. Idaline, on the other hand, had taken up the tasks of brewing the coffee, slipping on an apron, and preparing herself by placing straws, a few pens, napkins, silverware, and a notepad in her many pockets.
When every part of the diner is prepped, Idaline walks over to Daron and reminds him of what they discussed in the kitchen. The wolf agrees with an okay-I'll-play-along tone, and sits down at the end of the long bar, almost squishing himself against the wood paneling of the wall. It is uncomfortable, so he moves to compensate. Idaline hands Daron a copy of the laminated menu with a spiral spine, and inquires, "Could I start you off with a drink? Coffee?"
"Sure, a coffee is fine; black, double sweet." Daron smiles at the husky as she walks to the opposite end of the bar, where the coffee is nearly finished brewing. With a swish of her tail and a pot of coffee in paw, she reaches for a saucer and mug, both a creamy white porcelain, and continues to walk back towards the wolf. She sets the dishes down in front of him, and fills the coffee mug with two packs of sugar, and the rest with the fresh coffee. "Thanks, Idaline."
"Sure thing. Have you decided what you want? Or do you need a few more minutes to decide?" Idaline is speaking like a professional waitress to one of her most loyal regulars.
Daron's ears perk up when the bell above the entry door rings quietly. Idaline, however, doesn't seem to notice, so Daron suggests, "Well, you might want to tend to the other customers who just walked in. I need a few more minutes anyway."
"Oh! I didn't hear the bell. Back in a few." Idaline rushes her speech as she begins to walk away to seat the family of badgers that has just entered. The male is short and rather heavy set, as well as his wife. Their children are slightly overweight as well, but the son, about thirteen, is the same height as his parents, and the two daughters look to be twins of about ten; they are about a head shorter than their brother and parents. The twins are each holding a 3DS in their paws, and the boy looks to be texting on a smartphone. "Good morning! Five?"
"Yes, but could we request a table, rather than a booth?" The father responds with a concerned expression.
"Of course. Right this way, please." Idaline answers cheerfully as she leads the badgers to their table. When they are seated, she treats them the same way she treated Daron a few minutes earlier. The parents each get coffees with cream and sugar, as well as the son. The twins ask for hot chocolate, and Idaline takes it upon herself to put whipped cream on the hot chocolate, which the twins are thankful for. They also need a few minutes to decide what they want, so Idaline makes her way back to Daron.
"I'd like just a cheddar omelet." Daron gives his order nervously, feeling slightly uncomfortable about asking for food from friends of his. Especially since Gaige and Idaline are the ONLY real friends that he has.
"Toast and home fries?"
“Sure, but I thought you hated me.” Daron shrugs as he rolls off his response.
“I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to serve you.”
After Daron finishes the meal Gaige had prepared for him from behind the pass-through window leading to the kitchen, the rest of the employees that have their shifts on Sundays begin to enter the diner. One by one, Hatori the raccoon, a lioness called Gilda, and a falcon, Samantha enter through the glass double doors. Several truck drivers who leave their rigs parked next door at the gas station follow them.
It doesn’t take very long for business to be in full swing. The morning rush piles a large amount of work on the Lane family and the rest of the employees. Hatori and Gaige are cooking the food without any problems, and Gilda and Samantha are waiting the tables; all the employees handle the situation like professionals. Since the diner is small, Daron is given a tip from Gilda, “as the morning comes to a close, it may be best for you to give up your seat. The rush isn’t over.” He sees no point in arguing, and he’s willing to leave the bar stool anyway due the discomfort it gives him.
Gaige finds a moment to direct the wolf to an area of the diner behind a curtain, which has gone unnoticed until just now. Daron is forced to lean down a bit to step through the archway and into the back of the diner where a small room awaits him. In the middle lies a circular metal table with four dining chairs, as well as a light blue folding chair. Windows fill the entire room with light, leading one to think this used to be sun room.
After bowing him in, Gaige pulls Daron down for a small peck on the cheek. The husky boy then whispers to the silver wolf. “There are four computers built into the table. The control panel is in the far corner, and you’re welcome to use them to do whatever. There are no restrictions on the guest account, but Idaline doesn’t know that. You wouldn’t mind helping me keep it that way, would you?”
“You’re too cute to argue with. I just might go as far as to say that I like you as more than a friend.” Daron embraces Gaige and holds him close to his chest. They stay like this happily until the husky points out that he needs to go back to work, and his partner releases him from his clutches. The silver furred wolf has a difficult time suppressing the impulsive urge to gently slap Gaige’s back side as he leaves the room. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a dream. Daron questions the reality of the situation in his mind.
Daron examines the desktop computers attached to the table, and notices an abnormality on the one labeled, “Gaige.” It is different from the other towers. There are blue lights glowing inside the case, unlike the others which have red lights. The wolf notices on top of Gaige’s keyboard a list of computer specifications, and he recognizes all the parts on the list for Gaige’s computer; ones of the most powerful computers money can buy. Daron immediately hops into Gaige’s chair, grinning from ear to ear. The silver wolf clicks on the GUEST account and logs in, and immediately notices that Steam was left open from when the last person used the guest account. Daron logs into his own account and opens up a game he often plays on his own time. The wolf contemplates without speaking, Of course he has it. Why wouldn’t he? What kind of Steam user doesn’t? I mean, besides the obvious. Nevermind.
“I see you like my rig, don’t you, Mr. McSteele?” Daron does not respond when Gaige walks behind the curtain and speaks while leaning against the polished maple grate of the archway. Daron cannot hear Gaige because he is wearing headphones he found in a cabinet under the glass table. Gaige decides to seize this, another opportunity to try and startle the silver furred wolf. The husky boy is careful not to make a sound as he creeps towards Daron. Just a few… more… steps… and… Daron pauses the game and wags his index finger just as the sneaky little husky is about to whisper a very naughty statement. “HOW DO YOU ALWAYS KNOW!?” Gaige shouts.
“I told you at the hotel, Magic-Wolf-Ears. Don’t you remember?” Daron smirks as he inquires to the cute husky.
Duplicating his body language from the last time he had failed to startle the wolf, Gaige responds, “Yeah, I remember. Just… *sigh* could you just shut it down and log out soon? It’s almost closing time.”
Astonished, Daron asks, “Wow, have I really been playing this one game for THAT long? That must’ve been, what, twelve hours? Minus the times I came out, of course. Right?”
“Yep. I’d say that’s about right. Now come on, puppy. We need to go. I’ll tell you what: if you can be out of this room with everything put away within the next minute, I’ll cut you a slice of cake.”
Daron widens his eyes and smiles widely with razor sharp canines, as he immediately shuts the game down, logs out, and places the headphones back in the cabinet under the table. He pushes in the chair as he asks, “Now then, shall we be off?”
“We shall. We’re off! (To see the wizard!)” Gaige wraps his arm through Daron’s, linking them like a chain as the two canines leave the meeting room, and enter the main dining area once again. He notices that the wolf is swinging their arms a bit as they walk to sit down in the corner of the diner. “My, my, you seem really excited for just a piece of cake!”
Daron blushes as he answers, “Oh, I guess you’re right. Sorry. I guess I just really like cake. Heh.”
“I have ice cream cake, carrot cake, New York cheesecake, red velvet cake, coffee crumb cake…” Gaige is cut off by a moan and panting coming from his “boyfriend.” It’s not official, but the husky hopes to not have to put “boyfriend” inside quotation marks at some point in the near future.
“Mmmm, I do love red velvet.”
“Then I’ll cut us both a slice.”
“Just don’t show favoritism. I don’t want Idaline or any of the other employees to get upset that you aren’t sharing with them. After all, don’t they teach ‘sharing is caring’ in kindergarten or something?”
After slicing the cake for Idaline, Daron, and himself, Gaige sits down at the booth in the corner with the wolf and the husky. Hatori, Gilda, and Samantha declined any of the cake, and they left a little before the huskies closed up. The entire diner is clean, dark, and ready for the business to come in the morning, and Gaige is confident that what he’s about to ask Daron will not be alarming. “I want to know two things, Daron. First, why did you really kiss me this morning? Tell me what really happened.”
The silver wolf rolls his eyes while he smiles playfully at the fact that Gaige is showing confusion even after receiving an explanation. He replies, “I told you, already. Idaline had a change of heart over the past few days, and she told me to do it in front of her so she could show that she approves of our relationship.” Daron pauses for a second before continuing, “And to answer the other question, which I assume is, ‘what are we to each other?’ I’d think that I know you well enough to say that you’re my boyfriend. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Gaige sighs heavily in relief at the thought of not having to put “boyfriend” in quotation marks when writing it out in his head. The husky boy’s eyes begin to close before he realizes that he’s drifting into a trance. He returns his attention to Daron’s statement, but it is too late as Idaline has already replied for him, “I think he would, Daron.”
“Would you mind not answering for me? I think I can speak for myself, thanks,” Gaige snaps at his sister next to him. The husky only smirks in response, as she feels that she’s had enough fun for the moment. “But, yes. You’re both right. I would agree. It’s just that I’ve been waiting for you to make the first call on that matter. I didn’t want to seem creepy by taking you in when you needed a place to stay, and then get to know you to the point where it’s intimate.” The husky pauses and sighs before finishing his statement. “I hope you don’t think less of me for hiding it.”
To his surprise, Daron chuckles loudly, “Kid, you just get better and better! Look, for future reference, just know that if you like someone, you should just come out and tell them. If they say no or whatever, just move on. But right now, you won’t need to worry about that, because that’s not the case, Gaige. If at all, now is the time to count your blessings.”
“Well, isn’t this nice?” Idaline interjects with sarcastic jubilance. “Here you two are discovering yourselves, while I’m sitting here with a piece of red velvet cake sitting inside my gut. After careful consideration, I have decided that I need to stretch my legs, so I might as well let you two finish this conversation alone. Gaige, if you wouldn’t mind letting me out?” The husky rudely, but playfully nudges her brother with her elbow before he stands from his seat and allows her to pass by. Idaline turns around with her paws behind her head and winks at her brother before swishing her tail and disappearing into the darkness of the diner.
“I guess that’s one way to kill the mood,” Gaige whispers to his lover. The scarlet husky is very glad that he no longer needs to put intimate words like that in quotations anymore. He does not plan to share this thought, so he forgets about it and focuses on listening to Daron. “It’s times like this when she’s annoying as all hell.”
“Well, I can see why you would say that, but I’d have to disagree,” Daron replies carelessly while staring at the city skyline outside the window underneath the starry sky. He turns his head back forward and faces Gaige again, and he squints playfully as he smirks. “I think she’s a bit cute. She’s definitely indecisive and I like that about her. But, that doesn’t at all mean that I like her more than you puppy.”
Gaige blushes as he replies, “Well, now that we’re boyfriends, I can accept puppy, and you can accept it too, puppy. Why? Because you’re my puppy, and I’m your puppy.”
“I guess that means you and I can kiss and it’d be okay, right?” the silver furred wolf asks, winking to the husky boy.
Gaige stands up from his seat and walks to the other side of the table where Daron is sitting. Daron does the same and meets his lover halfway. They meet in an embrace, which is followed by the silver wolf leaning down and meeting the scarlet husky boy’s muzzle with his own.
As this kiss is happening, in the other corner of the diner sits a little orange husky. She watches as her brother shares joy with his new lover. Well, I guess my attempts are null and void, she tells herself.