She watched his demeanor shift a bit. The way he subtly tensed, like a light was being shone on him; his quick blinks spaced a few seconds apart.
She stood, gesturing with her hand. “C'mon, up.”
”What... Makes you think...?” He asked, his voice trailing.
She glanced back at him. “I think I know you well enough to tell when something's troubling you,” she told him, walking to his desk. She picked up his chair, and started hobble-walking it toward the couch. “Besides, even Lyza could tell. I gave it a while, but it's still on the back of your mind.”
”I'm... I'm f—”
”Let's...” She said, with a soft huff, as she set the chair down next to the head of the couch. “Let's not even bother playing the 'I'm fine; don't worry about it' game.”
She turned the chair so that it faced toward the other end of the couch, scooting it another few inches away. She leaned on it with one knee, and patted the armrest of the couch.
The tiger stood, and walked toward the couch. “Want me to get you a notepad so you can draw a picture of a monkey wearing a tower of hats?” He asked, referencing the trope they had seen in several cartoons.
”Snarky comments to dodge talking about what's really bothering him: check,” she remarked, as he sat upon the center cushion. She sat within the chair, letting the light in the room brighten for a moment. “Lay down,” she instructed.
With a sigh, he reclined so that his feet were up by where she sat in the chair.
She let out a quiet sigh, and her feet set on the carpet. She hooked her fingers beneath the chair seat, and lifted it, walking the chair to the other end of the couch, turning about-face, and planting the chair by that armrest. She set one knee over the other. “So... How do you feel?”
”Fine,” he said, somewhat genuinely.
”Mmhmm,” she replied. “But, there is something on the back of your mind,” she pointed out. “So, maybe it's not bugging you that much, but enough that other people can see it. Is it something you can tell me about?” She asked.
She watched as his feet sort of fidgeted, crossing so that left was over right, and then right was over left. His toes curled, as if trying to pop them again.
”Can I make a hypothesis?” She asked. After a moment of him not saying anything, she took that as at least not a no. “Well, I believe it is a combination of symptoms,” she began. “The most obvious one is about next year: uncertainty about the future can lead to mild anxiety, distress, and worry.
”But,” she said, uncrossing her legs and adjusting her sit. “One thing... That I know,” she started, taking a few pauses as she decided one what words to use. “Is that... About... This time of year, last year... You had... A lot of... Changes, going on... So, it is also natural... To recall that time with this one, by association... That can also cause some of... Those feelings... To come back.”
His fidgeting stopped, and there was a pop from the window as the glass and frame got comfortable from a change in temperature now that the sun had been shining on it for a few moments.
He took in a breath. “Those are good guesses,” he said, scooting back so the armrest was lower on his back. “But... It's not either of those,” he replied.
”Hm...” She rested her elbow on her knee, thinking. “But it is something, then,” she pointed out, reflecting on his response. “Is it... Something to do with me?” She asked, with a bit of concern. “Cuz if so, you remember Second Rule, right?”
”It's...” He folded his arms. “It does... Have to do with you, but... Not... It's not something you did, or anything like that.”
”Something you don't want to tell me?” She asked.
”...It's not that,” he replied. “It's... I'm probably... I dunno.”
She touched his shoulder. “I'm listening,” she assured him.
He squirmed a little. “...Something... Something's going to happen to you.” He stated.
”Okay,” she replied, and then asked: “What is going to happen to me?”
”I... I dunno,” he sank back down on the couch again. “I don't know what... I don't know when...”
”How do you know, though?” She asked.
”It's... Just a feeling,” he answered. “That's why... I mean, if I knew something... If something was actually going to happen, I would warn you,” he assured.
She turned her chair to face the couch. “What gives you that feeling?” She questioned.
He sat up, and they were now almost as they had started.
”Four weeks ago—five, maybe?” He began. “That day I had to stay home, sick. You told me about how Will spewed all over Kimmy, cuz of the expired milk, right?”
The tigress nodded. “Yeah. I found out I got some on my clothes, too, but I was able to wash it off real easy.”
”Then, a few weeks later, at the pool party. Kelly's hair gets cut by scissors.”
”...Yeah, that was really weird,” she remarked. “She still avoids that Max kid, and I don't really blame her.”
”Then, just last week,” he extended a third finger. “That girl and Justin get chemical burns.”
The tigress took a moment's pause of silence. “That was... Pretty serious. I still haven't seen her back, yet.”
”William likes Kimmy,” the tiger stated. “Max liked Kelly-Elly. Justin liked Candice. Three boys that liked three girls; three girls that had something happen to them, in which the boy that they liked was involved.”
”Okay, okay,” the tigress nodded. “I see where you're going with this.” She raised her fingers to her forehead, gently rubbing it. “...I should've put that together,” she muttered, mostly to herself. “Heck, two of them I played a part in.
”But, wait,” her hand fell back to her knee and she sat up. “You wouldn't do anything to me. At least... I mean, unless you're trying to tell me something.”
”Not me,” the tiger said, shaking his head slowly.
”Well, see? You break the pattern.”
”Ritzer likes you,” the tiger stated.
The light from the sun fell away again, leaving the room with a cold luminance.
”I don't know what,” he repeated, “I don't know when.”
”He's been all bark and no bite,” the tigress pointed out. “If... If he was involved in the chemical-burn thing, that's pretty serious... But otherwise, Kimmy and Kelly-Elly were... They're almost more pranks than anything.”
”I don't mean to be a jerk,” he prefaced, “but you don't know Ritzer like I know Ritzer,” he said, with an ominous tone. “It's true, he hasn't... Been too crazy this year, but last year... I mean, remember the mole-kid I told you about?”
”That was the blind kid he punched, right?” The tigress asked.
He nodded. “Ritzer and I are actually a lot alike, with just a few key differences,” he said. “He uses his speech impediment and doesn't get good grades to come across as dumb, but he is smart—when he wants to be.
”You've seen it.” He looked to the tigress. “In fact, you've already had it happen to you...”
Just then, she saw it: the moment a realization hit him. Pupils narrowed, and his eyes flicked to the left for just a second.
”So I think he's not only telling me something's going to happen to you... He's reminding me that something already did.”
”Hey, uhm...” The tigress interrupted. “...I think... It's probably time we had our at-least-five-minute hug... Whaddaya think?”
He closed his eyes, and nodded.
”And... Maybe... We upgrade it to a cuddle, today,” she mentioned.
”Sure,” he agreed, lying back down and getting comfortable against the back of the couch.
She scooted the chair away a bit further, and joined him.
They quickly fell into their cuddle, at first with his muzzle under hers, in the crook of her neck. But, very quickly she found her muzzle beneath his, in the crook of his neck, and his arms over hers.
She didn't mind it, but when that change happened, she always noticed it. He was never one to be held for long; always quickly becoming the holder.
Soft silence swaddled them.
The whispering crape of the unbalanced ceiling fan as it stirred the warm air set an even, gentle beat for their hearts to match to and follow.
Outside, a few birds angrily cawed at one another. They were drowned out when an airplane passed by overhead.
After the first of their at-least-five-minutes, his free hand began to move. His fingertips found their way to the lip of her shirt, and snuck underneath.
He sifted through the fur at the small of her back. Hers was softer, and shorter, than his. She went to get hers groomed more often, while he left his to get long and scraggly for a month or so at a time.
His rubbing and scritching brought her to purring. It was soft and rapid at first. But, as he went up to the middle of her back, it deepened and slowed.
His fingertips crept upward every few moments, alternating from one half of her back to the other before inching up, further and further toward her shoulders.
His fingers froze, and her purring cut.
Tentatively, his fingertips went back to the thing they had just encountered. There was another piece of fabric, snugly clinging to her back. His fingertip had inadvertently disturbed a thin trim of elastic, beyond which was a very smooth, silky-feeling article that his pad slipped over.
He felt her squirm, and his hand jerked away. When she slipped from the crook of his neck, her cheeks were flushed and red.
Then, abruptly, she tore from the couch, dashing to the bathroom with heavy foot-falls, and slammed the door shut.
He sat up, alarmed, but frozen. His throat tightened, and his stomach started to bubble. His temples thundered, and then the thundering paused when his pulse skipped a beat.
The door opened.
The tigress stepped out of the bathroom, her hands clutched together, with what appeared to be a couple of red strings hanging out from her clasped palms.
”D—” The tiger started to say, as she took a step out of the bathroom.
Her cheeks were still roaring red.
”I'm... I'm sorry, was I n—D-Did I... Do something wrong?”
She closed her eyes, and let out a nervous mew. But, then, she started to approach him. Dodging his gaze, she sat down next to him, and took a deep breath. She loosened her balled hands, and the strings that were hanging down were shown to be attached to something larger.
She let it fall in her lap, and quickly fumbled her fingers over it. She held it by the strings that had peeked out from her hands, lifting it into the air.
It was colored a deep red, but had a sheen to it such that the wrinkles made a light-and-dark red contour. It looked like a spaghetti-strap top, like one she wouldn't be allowed to wear at school, but also one that would barely go halfway down her torso. That length would show off much more than a midriff, which girls also weren't allowed to have.
”I guess... Since I've seen your underwear... It's only fair...” She mumbled. “I mean... I've even worn yours...” She added, her voice soft.
”U—Underwear?” He questioned.
She let out a soft whine. “This is so embarrassing...” She twisted to him, and used her fingers to set the straps of the article at her shoulders, letting it drape over her shirt.
Again, she saw that look of realization on his face, but this time, it was followed with a blush of his own.
”O-Oh... I-I-I'm... S-Sorry, I d-didn't mean...”
”N-No, it's okay...” She said, bundling it in her hands again. “I... I wasn't even thinking... I should've... Told you...”
He looked down at it in her hands. After a moment, her hands lifted, and she held it up again.
”You, um... Like it?” She asked.
His cheeks burned even more, not realizing he had been transfixed at it. “I-I-I d-din't even kn-know you had one of those,” he said.
She giggled. “Wh-Why are you stuttering s-so much?”
He let out his own grumble of nervousness.
She idly held it by the body. “Um... Remember... When I went shopping with mom like... A while back. Oh, you know, you called me while I was in the changing room, remember?”
He let out another embarrassed grumble, but one one of affirmation.
She fidgeted with the article. “Well... Um... Kinda, one of the reasons we were even shopping... Was cuz... My mom's friend's daughter, that girl that I went with... She, um... She... Started... Y'know...” She fidgeted more, rubbing over the soft fabric. “Mom got... She got really weird... Like, really really weird... So we were going to shop for clothes and stuff, but... I also got... Um... A lot of these... And some... Some matching bottoms, too,” she told him.
His eyes flitted up, for he had once again found himself gawking at the article.
”It's so... Weird,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “There's entire stores just for... For bras,” she said, with a whisper, “and stuff,” she explained. “This is called a... A training-bra,” she said, once again lowering her voice and mumbling the most nervous word, holding it up again.
His hands reached out and touched it. His thumb and forefinger rubbed the smooth, silky fabric between them. The straps went slack over his knuckles, and he looked up to see she had let go, and he was entirely holding the garment.
She flinched when it was suddenly tossed away, draping over the far arm-rest of the couch. She giggled at him.
”I-I didn't... I w-w-wasn't...” He stammered.
She giggled, retrieving the garment and returning back next to him. “I like... How it feels, too,” she told him. “I mean, no one wants to wear sand-paper or whatever, right?” She joked.
He let out an agitated chuckle.
”Mom also got me some that... Um...” She slipped her palm behind the front of it. “Right here, instead of it just being, like, flat, there's this... It's just this really soft padding... Supposed to be like an actual cup,” she explained. “I-It's called a training-bra because it's, like, training me to wear a real one,” she explained.
”Th-That, uhm... Makes sense,” he replied.
”Okay, okay, I'll put it away so you don't feel all nervous,” she said with a nervous chuckle of her own, bundling up the garment and heading to her backpack.
”So...You've, uhm... You've... Been wearing them... Uh...”
She looked up as she squatted.
”I—I mean, d-did you... Did you wear one, yesterday?” Then, just as she burst the zipper open, he waved his hands. “N-Nevermind, forget I said—”
”Actually,” she said, “today was the first time I... I wore it to school,” she told him, stuffing the garment into her backpack and zipping it back up. “I've mostly been wearing them at night... Just to... Get used to them,” she explained, walking back to the couch.
He squirmed a bit when she sat next to him.
”I don't think anyone noticed,” she said.
”I didn't notice,” he told her.
She smiled. “I got that much. But, I think... I'll go without it, unless... I have to, or something. I dunno, I'm still getting used to it, it's weird.”
”I—” He started to speak, but immediately cut.
”...What do you think?” She asked. “Should I... I mean, I'm going to have to wear bras for the rest of my life... So... Should I just suck it up and start now, or... I mean, it's so close to the end of the year, and it's kind of embarrassing...”
He swallowed, “M-Maybe... I-If you're embarrassed about it, just... Wait and wear it in... In the summer.”
”So, you want me to wait to wear them until it's just you and me for a whole summer?” She asked with a smirk.
”No! Th-Tht's n-not—”
She burst into giggles, leaning against him. “C'mon, I'm just... Joking... I mean, I will,” she said. “Mom's like... When she does th laundry she always mentions when she doesn't see them. I started just putting them clean in the hamper so she doesn't,” she admitted.
The tiger squirmed again, when she leaned against him with a bit more force, almost toppling him over.
”Hey, uhm... Could you... Do me a favor?” She asked, looking into his eyes.
He nodded. “Uhm... Wh-What...?” He asked.
”So, like... The training-bras feel nice, but... They also... They kind of itch where the elastic is,” she told him. “We have to start our at-least-five-minute cuddle over, and... This time, when you rub my back, could you... Could you scratch around where the bra was, really good?”
Blushing furiously, he nodded. “I... Can do that, i-if you... Need me to.”
She giggled, and gently pressed him to coax him to lie down. They fell back into cuddling-position, cheeks still flushed and she still giggling occasionally.
After just a moment, his hand slipped behind her shirt once again.
”You don't have to walk up my back,” she told him, “I kinda... Just want you to start scratching up by my shoulders, okay?”
He answered by moving his hand up further. “Here?” He asked, scritching over a spot.
”Up just a bit,” she told him.
He moved up about to where the bottom of her shoulder-blades were, and scritched again.
”Yeah... Right there,” she told him.
He then began scratching, every few seconds moving along the line that the training-bra had wrapped around her back.
“You can scratch a bit rougher,” she told him. Her purring quickly turned into a soft murmuring. “Mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh,” she hummed, the noise influenced by his scratching motions as his scratching strokes broadened and hastened.
After a few full moments of the intense scratching, he took a short break. The exertion was actually bringing a bit of heat around them. Against his chest, he felt her hum again with satisfaction.
”You're in trouble,” she mumbled into the crook of his neck.
”Wh-Wh-Why am I in t-trouble?” He questioned.
She chuckled, pulling out from her nook and giving him a kiss on the chin. “Cuz,” she said. “Once I start wearing my bras more... I'm gonna need a lot more of these back-scratches.”