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Book 1 – Chapter 4 – Still Receive Your Kiss – Part 3

Kristen parked the car in front of a yellow sign lit up behind black letters advertising an insanely low price for Michelob beer. There had to be a college nearby.

I followed her through the automatic doors into the supermarket-sized Liquor World. The entrance had gumball machines and candy dispensers from the Rotary club. The next aisle had stacks of wine, priced over fifteen dollars a bottle so I couldn’t tell if it was quality stuff. I bet someone could repackage that Sutter Home crap at that price, and I would still buy it.

I chose a Merlot and carried it towards the counter while Kristen selected her beer several aisles away. The clerk noticed me and stopped chewing her gum. Her hair was tied flat and it pulled her eyebrows straight. She looked at me with complete horror, and stammered, “You take that thing outside.”

I showed her the bottle and checked around me. I had no idea what she wanted.

“That thing behind you. You get it out of my store, now!” Her index finger shot toward me with the thumb extended. She whipped it towards the sliding doors.

I lowered the wine to the floor and put up my hands. “This is just my tail,” I said.

“I don’t care if it’s your momma’s. You take that out of my store and you don’t come back until it’s gone. If you’re not out in five seconds I am calling the cops, and they will tell me what you have in there. Four. Three.”

My coat wasn’t buttoned, but I ran for the door. I hurried into the cold and ducked behind the yellow sign where she wouldn’t see me. I held my arms close to my chest. My tail rattled as it hit the wall. I’ve smoked exactly three cigarettes in my life, and I was jonesing for one then. I did the next best thing.

I thought about spaceships, big white ones out of 2001, where everyone has go-go boots and skin-tight tops. I thought about watching a freaky party on the ceiling while finding a clue that their punch had been poisoned, but I was too late. They fell away, slowly gasping and clawing at each other in zero gravity. I tore apart the cabins hunting for the murderer. There was the engineer chief, with a devilish glint in his eye and too many stacks of porn in his bedroom. There was the first mate’s wife, a preternaturally blonde creature who laughed at the thought I could touch her. There was the thing in the basement, but I don’t believe it had killed yet. Of course, there was I, but I didn’t know anything about future poisons.

I could have written all that down and posted it to clawscratches, to see who could figure out the culprit. Perhaps I would have inspired someone to write their own.

The yellow sign had a few black spots inside, the size of June bugs, hung against tiny ledges. I tapped one to make it dance. The sign must have been filthy.

The doors rolled open and Kristen ran out. Her eyes were twice as wide as usual behind her glasses. “Oh no,” she said. “I’m so incredibly sorry. I bitched out the clerk for you. Are you going to be okay?”

I nodded. “She scared the crap out of me,” I said.

“I’ll bet she did.” Kristen wrapped her arm over my shoulder. It was slender, and didn’t hold me too tight. She guided me into her car and turned on the radio for me. “Hang on for a few. I won’t be long.”

She rested her hand on my shoulder, and I lay mine over hers. “I would have waited. It’s no big deal.”

She left the keys in the ignition before she went in for her beer. I hunted for the perfect song on the radio, but I had caught the stations during commercial time. I popped the trunk for her when she came out with a case in both arms. I tried to help her when she returned a second time, with a case and three brown bags, across the icy lot. She laughed and insisted that she had it under control. I helped myself to the bags and wedged them beside the cases. She couldn’t stop me.

She swept up one of the bags. “Take it with you,” she said. “Really, you don’t have to make it up to me.”

I hefted it gently. I had the money, but I couldn’t out-insist her. “This is too sweet,” I said. “It hasn’t touched the cork, has it?”

She opened my door for me. “We’re lucky if that’s all it’s touched,” she said.

I gathered my coat and tail so that neither would become caught in the door. It happened a lot to that coat.

Kristen drove with more care on the way home. “I would have come to you sooner,” she said, “but I didn’t know she was shouting at you. I thought a kid had brought a bomb in, and I hid. I figured it out after I couldn’t find you.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I overreacted. I’m not used to anyone freaking, that’s all. Stuff happens.”

She wagged a finger at me. “No, I’ve seen the people that ‘stuff happens to’ all the time. They get paranoid, and they twitch at everything when I’m trying to talk to them. I’m amazed Trisha is as together as she seems to be.”

“It’s her hair.”

“I know it’s her hair.”

“She spends an obscene amount of money on it at this snazzy salon.”

“She has her priorities straight.”

I pointed to my backside. “Yeah, but mine’s not so easy to maintain. You know, I can’t wait until everyone has one, so they’ll stop making such a big deal over it.”

“Like tattoos?” she said.

“Right, but tails and hair can’t be covered up,” I said.

“Unless you want them shown,” she said. “You can see the one on my foot when I wear sandals to work.”

“What is it?”

“A cat. The others are hidden.”

She had a self-satisfied glow, and I couldn’t let it pass. “Like what?”

“I could show you at my place,” she said. “Would you like that?”

Her skin was a few inches from mine. My skin did want to be naked with a girl, but I didn’t know which one. Then again, casual flirting with girls usually isn’t any more than that. Even when it leads to sex, the sex is supposed to be nice. You aren’t supposed to take any of your crap to bed with you.

“I can’t,” I said.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she said.

Kristen knew too many people. “I can’t,” I said.

She pursed her lips inward. She let my words hang between us and floored the gas. She kept her attention on the road until we stopped in her driveway. “Do you want to take a case in?” she said as I unbuckled myself.

“Sure.” She dropped the heavy package in my arms by her trunk. I pried the house door open with my few free fingers. I stashed my Merlot under my armpit.

Crazy people are disposable, but we’re easy help.

Not much had changed at the party. The Duet girls had claimed Heidi and Bess’ spots on the couch, and were paired against Elory and a geek boy at a trivia game. I hauled my package past the television as the boy whacked his controller and the speakers announced, “Incorrect! Five points from the blue team.” He started to explain how the game was wrong as I left. I didn’t look at Elory at all.

The card games broke up when I entered the dining room, and many hands tore open the case I held. Some of the guys helped themselves to three so they wouldn’t have to get up again. I dumped the rest, and poured myself a plastic cup’s worth of wine.

I zoned out the rest of the night. The couples started to leave around midnight. Kristen was flirting with this familiar guy, and she wasn’t subtle. Trisha was in good spirits, probably with a girl’s phone number in her pocket. Simon had lost his jitters, and spoke in full sentences with clauses and everything. Elory stopped by to collect the remaining pieces of pie. “It was great to meet you all,” she said, and acknowledged me quickly before she flew out the door. “And good to see you again.”

“Have a safe drive home,” I said.

Simon waited until my last round of Lunch Money before he collected me. Trisha cooled her heels around the latest Saturday Night Live and actually enjoyed it. I interrupted Kristen to hug her goodbye. She kissed me on the cheek. “You’ll bring your tail next time, won’t you?” she said.

“It depends,” I said, but she had lost interest already, with an arm around her new boy.

Our energy went flat once we were outside. I squeezed myself behind Simon’s seat, and Trisha almost hit me when she stretched out her arms to yawn.

“That was fun,” Simon said. “Did Elory tell you about Tuesday?”

The alcohol had planted Cranium Swirls in my skull, and I struggled through them to answer. “No,” I said, “what’s happening?”

“She’ll be stopping by SarnMUCK, on-line.”

Trisha had her fingers on her temples, too. “Wonderful,” she said. “She can miss out on everything that’s been censored.”

“It’s not as bad as what Univore said he wanted to do with it,” Simon said.

“I know, but it bugs me,” she said. “No more leashes in public. What’s the big deal with them?”

I crept around Simon’s headrest and tapped him. “Hang on. Why is she coming on, then?”

“You know Arnyoptrix?” he said. “She knows her mom, Nova. She said she wanted it to be a surprise.”

“And Elory told you this because…?” I said.

“She must like me. I’m good with Auntie types,” he said. “During the trivia game, she asked about the next MassFur meting. I told her it had moved on-line now for all intents and purposes. SarnMUCK came up as a spot I had seen the organizers.”

I rapped on him again. “Wait. I already told her MassFur was almost disbanded.”

“Maybe she forgot,” Trisha said.

“Anyway, she was into MUCKs and bulletin boards in the eighties,” he said. “She said she was going to tell you before she left.”

“She must have forgotten that, too,” I said.

“Who cares,” Trisha said. “I have a date on Monday. My life is complete.”

“Rock on,” I said.

“Way to go,” Simon chimed in.

“Wish me luck,” she said. “And who was that guy Kristen was all over?”

“Brandon something,” Simon said. “Network engineer, I think.”

“Eh, they’re all network engineers,” I said. “Or computer whatsits or college administrators.”

“How much wine did you have?” he said.

I counted the glasses I remembered on my fingers. “Three or five,” I said.

“Lush,” Trisha called to me.

I had my reasons.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 4 - Still Receive Your Kiss.

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