Daily Life with a Monster Girl Fanfiction: Everyday Life as an American Host - 28. Chapter 28 Interview 5: Centaur part Two
- Daily Life with a Monster Girl Fanfiction: Everyday Life as an American Host
- 28. Chapter 28 Interview 5: Centaur part Two
I do not own Everyday Life With Monster Girls.
Chapter 28: Interview with a centaur. Part two.
After setting the dice, character sheets and the board on the far end, there was plenty of room in the dining hall for every single guest.
“We should probably use the rec room downstairs next time.” Dawn commented while setting one of the chairs aside to make room for Verandys. “It’s kinda what it’s there for.”
“Yeah.” Jack chuckled. “I got a little excited when my Mamazon stuff showed up the other day and got carried away.” He stacked another three full-size subs in a Jenga like pattern just within reach from his end of the table.
Tetra and Isaac made their own sandwich stacks at roughly equidistant points along the table.
“I’m going to get the others.” Jack announced and waved while exiting to the hall.
Figuring they’d need time to wash up, he headed to the gym to retrieve Syleris and Verandys. As expected the two were attempting to create their own cyclone and blow off the roof.
The speedsters rounded the track at least four times, laughing all the while, when Jack got to the edge of the mat and tried to wave them down.
Both spared him a glance and then looked at each other. They nodded and rounded one more lap before pausing before him. They both ran in place, trying to stay in motion.
It looked a little odd to Jack though. Verandys needed to keep two hooves on the ground to keep from falling over. So her front knees didn’t rise very far. Whereas Syleris could almost touch her own forehead with her knees if she leaned forward a few degrees.
“What’s up Jack?” The harpy asked with nary a sign of exertion.
“Food’s here.” He stated and looked up at the centaur. “I made sure to include salads with the sandwiches.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I didn’t know which one you preferred, so I ordered one of each.”
“I…thank you.” She said. “I’ll… let you know which ones I like?”
Jack nodded. “That’ll work.”
“Ugh.” Syleris folded her arms and raised up her chin while setting her talons on the floor. “Tasteless greens. I’ll never understand why you like that stuff.”
“Pfft.” Verandys scoffed. “Maybe if you tried something other than fatty meat for a diet you might actually beat me in race.”
The harpy dropped her arms and about-faced. “Excuse me!” She poked a wing at the centaur. “Who’s the one who cried about the curvy trail in the preserve and who’s the one that left the other in the dust?”
Verandys’ eyes flashed. “Oh really? Who’s the whiner that insisted the paved roads by the farms was too hard and- oh that’s right.” She lifted a finger and tapped the side of her chin thoughtfully. “I actually didn’t hear that part.” She smirked. “I was too far ahead.”
The harpy was incensed. Her feathers perked up around her wings. “Why you!” She stepped up and lifted a fist in the centaur’s face. Jack raised his hands in panic
“Whoa, wait a minute girls.” He insisted. “I,I thought you two were friends?”
Both ladies stopped and stared at him briefly. They glanced at each other. Then they started giggling.
Jack blinked and retreated a step in confusion. “Uh…”
Verandys smirked and placed her hands on her hips. “You’re right, he is fun to mess with.” The host blinked and rattled his head.
“Told you.” Syleris grinned. “He makes the funniest face when he’s caught off guard like that.”
Jack blinked and lowered his arms. “I…wha?”
The centaur covered part of her lips with a knuckle and leaned forward. “Hehe, we’re not actually fighting Jack.”
“We just wanted to see what you’d do if you thought we were.” The harpy snickered. “And you didn’t disappoint.”
He lowered his eyebrows. “You…staged that?” Both nodded confidently.
Jack darted his eyes between both of their faces. “That’s… not cool.”
Syleris lifted a wing. “Oh? Like your ‘fights’ with your brother are real arguments?”
Jack opened his mouth and lifted a finger to protest. After a few seconds he closed it and both girls giggled again. He waved that finger and sucked on his teeth. “Alright. So that’s how its gonna be.” He nodded and mock frowned. “Duly noted.”
He turned around marched out of the gym. “Another guest that plays little mind games.” He turned the corner and headed for Sula’s room. “Yeah, that’s juuuust what I needed.”
He sighed as he approached her door. It opened right before he reached it and the three younger echidna’s slithered out.
“Oh Jack, perfect timing.” Sula poked her head out. “Can you watch them for a bit? I wanna… catch up with Joey. For a while.” A creeping grin stretched her mouth. “A looong while.”
Jack caught a glimpse of the tanned husband slipping out of his shirt at the back of the room. “Ah.” He exhaled in understanding. “Right. Can do.” The three daughters grinned to themselves as the door closed.
He clapped his hands loudly for their attention and gazed over them. “You ladies hungry?”
“Mmm, Yeah.” The blue haired one exclaimed.
“Good.” Jack said and strolled through them toward the end of the hall. “Lunch is ready. Come on.”
He pretended not to hear the muffled thumps emanating from Sula’s door.
Each of his guests, sans the married couple, selected a spot and started drawing out sub sandwiches and /or salads. The constant crinkling of paper wrappings and plastic chip bags made conversation difficult so Jack elected to wait until folks were settled in before starting any questions.
He finished the only sandwich he was going to eat ,for now, and raised his hand to get everyone’s attention. The sidebar talks and commentary slowed and stopped until all were staring at him.
He cleared his throat. “First of all, I’d like to formally welcome our new guests.” He waved at the centaur at the end with one hand and the three lamia kids along his left with the other. The rest gave nods of acknowledgment.
“Since there’s so many new faces today. How about we go around and introduce ourselves.” He lifted a finger. “And for clarity’s sake, please state your species and something that interests you. Agreed?” He heard a smattering of positive responses and then stood up.
“Well, I’m Jack Keysman. Human. And in case it wasn’t obvious enough, I’m interested in liminals.” There was a series of low chuckles from the veterans. He waved to the woman on his right.
Tetra straightened her back and surveyed the table. “I am Tetra.” She placed a hand on her chest. “Arachne.” She reached to her left, grasped her host by the collar and drew him in for a light kiss on the cheek. “And my interest…” Her eyes lowered suggestively and her voice dropped an octave.”Is Jack.” The rest of the table chuckled.
He struggled uselessly against her grip. He’d been about to sit back down when she pulled him to her. So he was awkwardly leaning over the corner of the table and trying to push himself out.
“I meant.” He grumbled. “What made you…” His right arm managed to slide between her thin bicep and his shoulder. “Want to join the Exchange, in the first place?”
Tetra gave a devilish grin. “Well I heard about generous humans that open their homes to people like me and let us live there. It seemed like a simple way of getting a free meal or two.” She picked up the half a sandwich she was still working on. “And it seems to be working out for me.” The table chuckled again.
Isaac folded his arms and lifted an eyebrow “You came all the way from Africa for the free meal ticket?”
Tetra shrugged one shoulder and winked at him with three eyes. “Why else would I be here?”
He shook his head a little. “I’m sure I don’t know.”
The arachne smirked but turned her head in toward Jack. She whispered something quick and short by his ear and Jack stopped trying to get out.
After a silent second he murmured. “Okay.” And his girlfriend let him go. She resumed on her meal and Jack composed himself and straightened his shirt.
“Dawn?” He intoned and eyed the slim blonde at the arachne’s other side. “How about you?”
The once-dead girl nodded and stood up. “As Jack said I am Dawn Walker.” A beat. “I’d have to say that I was ,at least, once a human.” She lifted a hand. “I am not entirely sure what I can be classified as now.”
The blue haired echidna across the table cocked her head. “Now? Did something happen to you?”
“…Yes.” Dawn stated. “I died.”
The veterans didn’t react but the newcomers looked at Dawn with something between trepidation and awe.
The still silence was shattered by the red haired echidna. “So your a zombie?” Dawn blinked a few times in surprise. “I think I saw a zombie at the the agency building.” Her golden eyes scanned the woman across from her. “Are you a new zombie? You don’t have any stitches.”
Dawn chuckled and held up a hand. “No, no I’m not a zombie…exactly.” She nodded her head side to side. “A zombie ,as I understand it, requires treatments to keep their bodies preserved. And they don’t grow or replace cells.”
She waved a hand toward herself. “My body still grows. Just very, very slowly.”
Jack placed a knuckle on his lips as he considered her words.
That.. actaully makes sense. The girl in the ice I saw didn’t quite have her height. But if that’s true… He narrowed his eyes a bit. How long ago was it when she…?
“So.” The blue haired echidna folded her arms. “You’re dead but you still grow.” She narrowed her eyes. “Umm…how?”
Dawn smirked. “Because of her.” She leaned her head back. And Kuro faced forward, blue eyes glowing.
The three lamias blinked and stared. Verandys, two places down, sucked in and held her breath.
“Greetings.” The other spirit’s deeper tone emanated from the same mouth that had just been speaking.
She held up a hand. “I am Kuro. I am the spirit or soul of a yuki-onna that shares this body with Dawn.”
“Whooooaaa.” The green haired one awed.
Verandys blinked a few times. “I’m sorry. Did I hear that right?” She sidestepped with her rear legs to get a better angle. “Shared? Not…possessed?”
Kuro nodded while turning her head a few degrees. “That’s right. I’m not a wraith…or…” She nodded her head side to side and her eyes rolled up. “I’m not a malicious one at any rate. Dawn and I are in this particular state by choice.” She faced forward and folded her arms. “We didn’t exactly know this is how we would end up…but we are not dissatisfied.”
The centaur kept a skeptical expression. “I’m not sure I understand.”
Kuro blinked slowly and nodded. “I can show you later if you like.”
Confusion creased Verandys brow. “Show me?”
“It’s really cool!” Syleris blurted and pumped a fist. “She touches you and then you go into this dream like place and then she snaps her fingers and stuff changes and-” The harpy waved her arms around and
sputtered on about her particular shared dream…and Verandys had absolutely no freakin’ clue what her friend was on about.
“Syleris.” Jack called. She ignored him and kept talking about how she ‘cured’ flatulence.
“Syleris.” Kuro placed an arm on the harpy’s shoulder.
The woman stopped and glanced down. “What?
“Perhaps you should introduce yourself next.” Her other arm swept toward the three lamia girls, each of whom held an individual, randomized expression of befuddlement.
“Oh. Right.” Syleris held her arms up. “Sorry about that.” She cleared her throat and placed a wing-hand on her chest as she stood. “I am Syleris and I am a terrestrial harpy.” She closed her eyes briefly and held up her chin. “I came to America to become a medical student.”
The red head lamia suppressed a chortle. “A…h-harpy doctor?” Her voice went up as she spook. She looked like had she just seen a snail perform a back-flip. “H-how the…” She giggled. Her sisters glanced between themselves like they were confirming they’d heard the same thing and failed to hide their own amusement at the ludicrous idea.
Syleris narrowed her eyes and she breathed out. “After an ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack with evidence of atherosclerosis, patients who had a target low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level of less than seventy milligrams per deciliter had a lower risk of subsequent cardiovascular events than those who had a target range of ninety milligrams per deciliter.”
The entire room fell silent. All eyes stared at the harpy.
“That,” Her eyes flashed wide. “Is a conclusion from an article from the latest New England Medical Journal that I’ve read.”
She glared at the three slack-jawed golden-eyed doubters. “I remember everything I read and I am certainly going to try to remember the look on each of your faces.” She smirked. “For the rest of my life as well.” She folded her arms triumphantly.
A few more seconds of quiet…then Jack chuckled. “Gee Syleris. Beat them over the head with it why don’t you?”
She turned her nose up. “Hmmph.”
He shook his head. “How about you go next?” He waved casually toward the newest official member of his homestays.
The four-legged brunette cleared her throat and recomposed her outfit. “I am Verandys. I am a svelte centaur, and I am a massage therapist.”
Jack blinked a few times and swiveled one of his ears forward. “I’m sorry. What kind of centaur did you say?”
She faced him promptly. “Svelte.”
Syleris looked over at him as well. “Her people are sometimes called light centaurs or racing centaurs, but they don’t really like that name.”
The host leaned his head back and nodded. “Okay. Noted.”
Isaac raised his hand across from the svelte centaur. “Shall I go next?”
Jack shrugged. “Why not.”
He leaned forward. “Well, I’m Isaac Keysman. Human.” He eyed the arachne. “And my interest is my brother’s well-being.”
She pointedly ignored the jab and continued eating her sandwich.
“I’ll be fine now Isaac.” Jack stated. “Thanks again for coming.”
He shook his head. “Matt’ll get a kick out of this.” He smiled wryly. “You know he’s gonna want to write a story and try to film something with you.” He waved a finger casually near his head.
Jack folded his arms. “Documentary. If we all agree on it.”
His brother snorted. “Those can still be fun.” He snickered. “When edited correctly.”
The other sibling rolled his eyes. “Let’s move on.” He waved a hand toward the lamia next in line.
He didn’t have a lot of time before but now Jack could actually sit and study the three lamia children. The farthest one with the red hair had a cute face like her mother but something about the narrowness of her eyes lent the impression that she was the fiercest of the trio. Her hairstyle was a short rebel cut that he’d seen at concerts and sported by ‘edgy’ celebrities.
She leaned forward and casually lifted a hand. “I am Maria. Echidna, obviously.” She waved her claws at her chest. “And I’m here for the free food that mama told us about.” She closed her eyes and grinned vainly.
Most of the table chuckled at that while Tetra saluted her with the remains of a sandwich. Her sisters huffed and rolled their eyes.
The middle lamia had a longer face that her deep-green chin length bangs framed nicely. There were dark red beads dotted around inside her straight haircut and a black choker with a butterfly motif around her neck.
She took a breath and raised her head. “I am Priscilla. Also Echidna, and I wanted to see mama again.”
The older members of the table smiled lightly at her words, but her sisters frowned.
“Ugh. You can just call her with the phone ya know.” “Yeah, it’s not that hard.”
Priscilla grimaced, folded her arms and closed her eyes. “I don’t care. It’s not the same.”
Her siblings were about to start arguing when Jack cleared his throat loudly. The trio stopped and stared at him with worried anticipation.
“No, it’s not the same.” He agreed. “I’d want to see my mama too.”
Each of them sucked in a little breath.
“Oh, that’s right.” Maria murmured.
“Yeah,” Priscilla assented and dipped her chin. “Mama told us you lost yours.”
The blue haired one who had yet to introduce herself slid her hand toward him. “How do you live? Without your only mama and papa?”
When Jack didn’t answer right away, Isaac leaned back in his chair. “We manage.”
The room fell silent again.
Jack sighed and nodded at the lamia child nearest him. “How about you? I think I’ve seen you before”
She swallowed and nodded. “Yes. I’m Lissa. Echidna.” She faced him and gave a little smile. “Mama wanted me to talk to you about the tribe.”
He smirked and leaned back. “I remember, during our interview. That was quite enlightening.” He nodded at her. “Thank you.”
She displayed a small smile. “You’re welcome.” She shook her head. “Anyway, I am here because I’m curious about the world outside the island.” She casually lifted a hand. “My papas talk about their homelands anytime we ask but…” She glanced forward and her eyes unfocused. “It’s not enough.”
Jack smirked. “I’ll make sure to take you around town while you’re staying here.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really?” Her torso perked up like she was ready to sprint out the door right that second.
He chuckled and lifted a hand. “Not now, but I do need to take the girls out to see more of the town anyways.” He waved in a general direction above her head. “With, your parents permission of course.”
Lissa clasped her hands together. “Oh that would be so exciting. Thank you Mr. Keysman.” Her upper half started bouncing in place.
He laughed lightly, remembering a similar promise he made. “Call me Jack.”
Verandys narrowed her eyes and raised a hand. “I’m sorry, but I gotta ask.” Several eyes peered at her. She only focused on the three echidnas across from her. “You have multiple fathers in your tribe?”
Maria blinked once. “Uh, yeah.”
Jack inclined his head, mentally preparing himself to intervene if the conversation turned in a direction not to his liking.
The centaur closed her eyes breifly and shook her head. “I’m sorry but,” Her narrowed eyes held a glint of accusation. “I thought lamia tribes only had one human male in them.”
Lissa stopped bouncing. She and her sisters stared across the table. Verandys held her gaze.
Jack silently held a breath and noticed Tetra had dipped a hand under the table. She’d placed her sandwich down as well.
Priscilla sighed loudly and leaned forward. “Our tribe doesn’t take men. Our papa’s travel to our island willingly.”
Maria lifted a finger. “And stay willingly.”
Verandys ever so slightly squinted. “Forgive me, but…” She look a long breath. “I used to visit a lamia village in northern Mexico with my father as a child. We would trade with them, discuss current events and such.”
“Then one day I saw him.” She blinked once and tilted her chin up a degree. “The only human male in the village. He was the saddest, most pathetic, defeated creature I’d ever seen.” She shut her eyes tight and shook her head lightly. “His eyes.” She uttered wistfully. “His…lifeless eyes.”
Jack swallowed and scanned the entire room. The lamia girls were saddened but determined. Isaac had placed his palms on the edge of the table, ready to push against it or slip under if need be. Syleris stared up at her friend. Jack couldn’t read her face from this angle.
Kuro glanced at Tetra to her left and briefly made eye contact with her host. During that link a clear message of warning was sent.
Jack noticed it too.
His arachne girlfriend had gone completely still. Her eyes were perfectly aligned to observe every person in the room except for him.
“I didn’t know who that was at the time.” Verandys continued. “He was escorted away almost immediately and a lamia closed the door.” She faced back down, her eyes unfocused. “My father called me back.”
“I asked him who that man was but he shushed me. He wouldn’t talk about it while they could still hear us.” She blinked slowly. “When we gathered our goods he whispered that he’d tell me when we got home.”
She closed her eyes and formed a fist with one of her hands. “I knew then, I had seen something bad, something wrong.”
Jack gauged the lamia trio for a reaction. Lissa was staring at the table listlessly. Priscilla looked like she was about to vomit. Maria had clenched her jaw, her golden pupils bore into the centaur woman.
“My mother and father called me to the shack by the trees.” Verandys continued. “They explained what a communal husband was.” She snorted and shook her head. “Mother made a joke about it. Something like:” Her voice raised an octave as she impersonated her parent. “It’s a good thing we aren’t like our bigger cousins, or an oath of chivalry would force us to declare war and rescue him.”
She waved a hand flippantly. “I didn’t really understand the full implications at the time, so I didn’t get it. I still don’t, really.” She sighed once. “And I’m sure I wouldn’t know any hard facts unless I investigated myself but…” She held her head up and faced back to the trio. She paused, finally seeing how her words were affecting them.
A casual observer would’ve missed the small waver in her eyes. Just as quickly it had appeared however, it vanished and she pressed on.
“…After the Exchange laws passed and certain details came to light…”
“That’s not us!” Maria insisted with a frown and pressed a fist into the table. “We’d never treat our papas like that. That’s just wrong.”
Jack swallowed and glanced at Tetra briefly. She hadn’t moved. It’s like she wasn’t even breathing. He swiveled his head around. The rest of the table was just as tense.
Syleris kept looking between her friend and the kids. Isaac inched away from Maria as much as he could without falling off his chair. Kuro’s eyes darted around trying to take it all in. Jack prayed to whatever deity would listen that a fight wouldn’t break out.
The centaur held her gaze and tapped a finger on the table.
The tapping was the only sound in the room. It had a slow steady rhythm, and seemed disproportionately loud.
“Before today, I would not have believed you.” Verandys uttered. Her finger stopped.
Maria blinked and lost some of her scowl. Lissa and Priscilla lifted their eyes at her.
“The lamia tribe I knew, I am sure, would never have allowed their communal husband to leave.” She relaxed her hand. “But your father, Joey?” She cocked head slightly.
“Papa Joseph.” Maria corrected. “Only Mama Sula calls him that.”
Despite the potentially dire situation, Jack filed that little factoid in his memory.
“…I see.” Verandys replied. “May I ask who your other ‘papas’ are?”
Jack suppressed a snorted laugh and shut his eyes. When no one else spoke, he blinked them open. Everybody was staring at him.
He lifted a hand. “Sorry, sorry. Just remembering when I asked that same question.” He smirked and turned to Lissa. “You wanna answer that one?”
The lamia girl lowered an eyebrow for a moment. Then clarity dawned and her face lit up. “Oh, oh that’s right.” She patted her waist frantically. “Oh, oh. Where’s my phone? I have pictures. I have pictures.”
Maria scrunched her face in. “Pictures of what?”
“Of our papas, duh.” Her sister waved distractedly at the centaur.
Priscilla slipped out her smartphone. “I have a few on mine – HEY!” Her sister snatched the device out of her claws and dashed around and under the table. She placed the phone on Verandys right and started pressing the screen buttons rapidly.
The svelte centaur lifted an arm away from the child and side stepped warily.
“Ugh.” Lissa grunted in frustration. “What’s your stupid password?”
Priscilla sighed and slid out of her chair deliberately. “If you would allow me…” She turned and slow-slithered the long way around the table. “I will show her my gallery of our papas.” She shooed her thieving sister away and reclaimed her property. Lissa frowned and folded her arms. Obviously disappointed that she wouldn’t be the one to allay the stranger’s suspicions.
Priscilla tapped a combination on her screen and pressed her thumb on an app. Then she flipped her device around and pulled out the standee. She placed it in front of Verandys.
“Here.” She swiped a claw. “This is Papa Yatsudo and Mama Yanmei.” Jack couldn’t make out the image from his position but he could see the tension in the centaur’s shoulders ease off.
She swiped again. “This is Matriarch Paula and Senior Papa, excuse me.” She held up a hand in apology. “Senior Father Elijah.” She swiped again. “This is Mama Madison and Papa Owen.” She swiped again. “This is…
Jack slid a hand over the table and rested it on his girlfriend’s elbow “Hey.”
She twitched and jerked her arm up. Her eyes locked on the thing touching her. Time froze. Jack stayed as still as he could, keenly aware of the position of her claws.
Then she closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. She laid her arm flat on the table.
Jack inclined his head. “You alright?” She kept her eyes closed but gave a small nod.
“Good.” He smiled. “Good.”
It took him a little while but he noticed Maria looking at him keenly. Jack twisted his neck an inch at her. “Yes?”
Maria glanced at Tetra then back to Jack. “I wasn’t going to do anything.” He only blinked. “I wasn’t going to attack her.”
Jack leaned back with a small smirk. “Maybe not. But I’m responsible for everyone under this roof.” He eyed her. “Even you.”
She narrowed one eye skeptically. “What would you have done?”
He smirked harder. “Run away and scream most likely.”
She snorted and closed her eyes for a moment. The lamia daughter shook her head and smirked back. “Mama said you were honest.” She folded her arms. “A good man, just like our papas.” She scanned him up and down. “Could use some more muscle on you though.”
Jack chuckled and nodded lightly. “She’s working with me on that.” He slid his chair out and stood up while gathering his sandwich wrappings. “Speaking of work, I should get some chores ticked off.”
He waved to get Tetra’s attention. “Think they’ll be fine now?” He gestured at the centaur with his chin.
She glanced behind her and then back to her host. “Yes.” She said very quietly. Almost like she was under duress.
Jack blinked and looked her over, trying to find any reason for her anxiety. He was about to ask when she stepped away from the table swiftly. Her rearmost legs advanced up the wall behind her and her whole body tilted downward as she back-skittered toward the ceiling.
“Excuse me.” Was the only thing she said before she cantered under the door frame and disappeared down the hall. Jack squinted at her the whole way but didn’t move.
“Something I said?” Maria asked casually.
Jack didn’t look away. “I don’t know.”
After another silent moment Kuro spoke up. “Do you want any help with your chores Jack?”
He rattled his head and refocused. Speculations of what could be disturbing his arachne guest he set aside and faced the blonde woman who’d spoken.
“Um, no. I’ll be fine.” Her expression fell and he blinked a couple times. “Uh actually…” She righted her head at him. “Could you take the Starfinder stuff down to the rec room? I think Reggie got us a big enough table for that.”
She smiled and stood out of her chair. “He did.” She turned and walked toward the back of the room.
“Starfinder?” Maria’s perplexed expression was almost comical. The tip of her tail even curled around like a question mark.
Jack almost laughed. “Why don’t you help her out and ask?”
The redhead shrugged and slithered off her chair. “Okay.”
The daily chores, as always, was a fairly dull affair. But it required Jack to be in various locations of the mansion and he could check in on all his guests.
To his mild surprise, Jack observed Dawn and Kuro actually helping Maria roll up a Starfinder character. A Lashunta Operative he surmised from the brief factoids they discussed. The lamia girl flipped through the pages of the handbook asking questions and admiring the artwork.
Jack smiled to himself and started two loads of laundry then climbed back upstairs.
Syleris and Verandys, accompanied by Priscilla and Lissa, returned to the ‘track gym’ ,as the harpy liked to call it, and were actually doing something other than just racing each other. They had folded up and placed all the large treadmills to one wall and placed jump ropes end to end bisecting the whole room.
When Jack walked in to collect and replace the garbage bag, he heard the squeal of laughter and a loud ‘pong’ sound he was all too familiar with. He paused a moment just inside the door and observed with caution.
Verandys, wearing light gray tights around both of her hips and her chest, charged from the north side of the room with two large red rubber balls in her hands. She bellowed a war cry, raised her left arm and hurled the projectile at her friend. The harpy ducked all the way down to her haunches, narrowly dodging the missile and then rolled to her right. The centaur’s momentum shifted as she turned to her left sharply and held out the other weapon.
Jack instantly recognized that tactic from his grade school days and he smiled bemusedly.
Dodgeball. They’re actually playing dodgeball.
And they weren’t alone. Two of the echidna sisters, also changed into gym attire, had thrown their lot in with one of the friends each. They launched bright red projectiles at each other with gleeful abandon. They weaved and ducked and darted around their side of gym like live power cables. One of them, Priscilla, even pulled off a Matrix dodge: bending her torso all the way back to her tail. If she hadn’t righted herself half a second later and fired a counterattack, Jack would’ve thought she had snapped her her own spine.
Not to be outdone, Lissa lashed her tail sideways before her and caught the missile. She utilized her momentum and spun around. Her tail swung counter clock-wise and whipped the ball at her sibling. Except it went pretty wide.
Upon seeing her sister exposed and harmless, Priscilla slithered to her right and was about to pick up more ammunition. Unbeknownst to her however, Lissa had intentionally thrown her projectile wide and with even greater force. It rebounded off the opposite wall at a high speed and she rearmed herself as it bounced back toward her side. The cunning lamia chucked her ball with a quick grin and nailed her sister on the scales.
“Ha! Got you.” She crowed and pumped a fist.
“Wha? How?” Priscilla exclaimed. Her eyes flitted around trying to piece together what the hell had happened.
Jack couldn’t help but smirk. “Clever girl.”
Outnumbered, Syleris side stepped to the center of her territory and stood on her talons like a MMA fighter. She held her arms just in front of her and waved them in circular patterns, ready to catch an incoming shot. Her lips peeled apart with a ‘come and get me’ leer.
Her opponents shared a brief look and nodded. They turned and flung four of their projectiles at the same time, trying to overcome Syleris’ agility and lithe frame with uncompromising mass fire.
The harpy sprang backwards, spun and kicked out to her right. Her maneuver oriented her body horizontally. Two of the missiles passed inches over and under her hips. A third just brushed by her chin. She thrust one hand out on the ground, twisted and faced backwards.
Lissa had thrown the fourth ball kinda wide and with more force again. It was an attempt to recreate the tactic that had defeated her sister on Syleris. Except the observant harpy had apparently deduced that trick.
She hopped on her wing-hands at the rebounding projectile, scooped it up with one of her taloned feet and cart-wheeled upright toward the lamia. Lissa blinked in surprise and reverse slithered, astounded that her trick hadn’t succeeded.
Syleris grinned maniacally, raised her arms and dove. She curled her midsection in and somersaulted forward. At the apex of her rotation she kicked and released the ball. It impacted right below Lissa’s chest.
“Gufh.” The lamia daughter held her arms to her belly, closed her eyes and grunted. Out of surprise more than any pain.
Not yet finished, Syleris stood straight and caught her own ball as it bounced off her opponent. She rotated and launched it at the unready centaur.
Verandys had relaxed her guard momentarily, believing that her rival would have to retreat to rearm. Her miscalculation proved her undoing as the rubber missile slammed just in front of her rear hips.
“What?” She blinked and one of her arms stretched back too late to intercept.
The harpy raised both hands again and shouted. “The Winner!” She pivoted and started marching a victory lap around her side of the gym.
Jack shouted. “WOO!” And started clapping. He honestly could say he’d never seen such a deft athletic display quite like that in person. It deserved any and all the praise.
Syleris cut her circuit short and jogged up to her host. “Oh Jack, did you see, did you see?”
He nodded appreciably. “I sure did. Well done.”
She giggled. Then whirled and placed her wings-hands on her hips while addressing her defeated adversaries. “Now, what shall my prize be?”
Lissa rattled her head in confusion. “Prize? We weren’t playing for any prize.”
“Ugh.” Verandys rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “She always does this.” The harpy grinned impishly. “Anytime she wins,” The centaur shot her friend an accusatory glare. “-At anything.” Her tone turned mockingly childish. “She wants a trophy.”
“Hmmph.” Syleris closed her eyes briefly and stuck her thumb at her chest. “Winners…” She relished smugly. “Get prizes.”
Jack did his best to suppress his laughter and pressed his lips closed. He shook his head and continued his duties.
“Hey.” Priscilla slithered up to the harpy’s side. “If there’s going to be any prizes handed out, I want my cut.”
“There is no prize dummy.” Her sister chided. “She’s just gloating.”
He considered turning back and intervening but he didn’t read any anger in their voices yet. Exasperation and condescension aplenty, but nothing like the tension at the dining hall.
He placed a hand on one of the handles for the double doors of the ‘fight’ gym and leaned into it. Except the handle barely nudged and the door stay firmly closed. He stopped himself a finger span from faceplanting.
“What the?” He reared his head and blinked.
“Oh Jack.” Verandys turned around and trotted toward him. “Don’t go in there.”
He scrutinized the unresponsive handle and tried it again. “I don’t think I can.”
“No Jack stop!” Syleris held out her hand to him and jogged up as well. “Tetra’s in there and she-
There was a click and the doors flew open at his immediate left.
“I told you not to-” The resident arachne angrily stated then halted herself. Her eyes settled on her host. “Jack.”
He stepped back and studied her face. The tension he’d seen at the dining hall was back. She was sweating and her hair was damp against her face and throat.
Something’s really bothering her.
He swallowed and hefted the garbage bag he just collected. “Hey, just doing the rounds.” Her expression didn’t change. “You mind if I…?”
Her abdomen twitched and then jerked to the side. Without even looking she snagged the fight gym’s garbage can with her webbing and yanked it to herself. She lifted her right hand, caught the object and dropped it neatly at Jack’s feet.
He took the cue and replaced the bag with a fresh one from his pocket. He tried to not let her gaze make him too nervous. He kept his eyes down and focused on his work. He felt like he was back at his old job, when one of his managers would stand over his shoulder and ‘observe’.
Only this was a hundred times worse. ‘Cause this was Tetra. And she was angry(?) about something.
He finished up and stood back. “I-is there something I can-“
“No.” She cut him off.
He blinked once.
She grimaced and pressed all her eyes closed. “Not, right now.” The strain in her voice was disturbing, sickening. Like she had swallowed rotten meat and was about to vomit. Her left hand trembled and she clenched it.
Jack thought about reaching out when the doors slammed shut. There was another click.
And that was that.
He stared dumbfounded, blinking erratically. His brain ran every possible scenario that could cause her such stress and came up with nothing. Nothing plausible as he could see. He badly needed more information.
Jack turned back to his other guests. The four of them appeared to have sighed collectively in relief. He looked at each of them.
“What?” He thumbed behind himself with a free hand. “What was that?”
Syleris stepped up. “We don’t know.” She didn’t raise her eyes. “She just told us she’d be in there a while and to leave her alone.” She wrung her wing-hands over themselves. “She looked even angrier then.”
Jack narrowed his eyes in contemplation. “She didn’t say why?”
Verandys shook her head slowly. “Nothing.” She casually waved at the two lamias in the room. “We don’t know her, we just got here.” Her head nodded at her friend. “And if Sylly didn’t know…”
He nodded lightly. “Alright.” He looked back at the door a moment and then turned back. “Alright.” He let out a breath. “Syleris you got your phone?”
The harpy nodded positively and waved at a tray on a small table by the other door. “Yeah, it’s over there.”
“Good.” He nodded. “Let me know right away if anything changes.” He slipped his own phone out, held it up a second, and then replaced it to his back pocket.
He started walking away when there was another click. He turned back and one of the fight gym doors parted a centimeter.
“Jack.” Tetra called softly, just above a whisper.
He took a step forward. “I’m here.”
“…I’m sorry Jack.” He stepped a bit closer. He could just make out a sliver of her legs through the crack. “I’ll call… I’ll… text when I’m ready to talk.”
He swallowed. “Alright.” He reached out but didn’t touch the door. “Whatever it is Tetra, I’ll help.”
“I know.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “I know Jack. I’ll…need a favor.”
He took a confident step. His heart burned. “I’ll do it.”
She giggled softly. “I know you will.”
The door closed and clicked.
Jack gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut. He padded forward and leaned with one hand on the door.
Tetra was in pain, and his heart clawed at his chest, punishing him for his inability to console her.
I really do love her.
It wasn’t a revelation. He knew it as a fact. But now the concept was so deeply embedded in his very being that he hadn’t realized how her emotional distress would affect his own. Not until something had upset it. It’d been a long time since he endured an ache like this.
He opened his eyes and tried to remember the last time he felt this way for someone else. He knew, he knew, that he had felt like this before. For another woman. Some time in his past he had.
He couldn’t quite recall-
Jack’s shoulder’s slumped.
*Chestnut hair tickled the small of her back. She waved with a sad smile. A flash of an incomplete rainbow reflected off her nails as she slipped through her side door.*
He blinked, sighed and stood up. Jack turned back to resume his duties. He hadn’t realized how quiet it was. The four ladies in the room stared at him. He stared back. Then he nodded lightly and started walking away.
“Jack?” Syleris asked. “Are you alright?”
He stopped but didn’t look her way. “No.”
Verandys lightly stamped the ground. “Is there anything we can do?”
He shook his head. “Just keep having fun girls.” He put effort into a smile. “That’s how you can help.” He took a few steps forward ignoring the disappointed expressions from each of them.
“Who’s Felicia?” Priscilla asked.
He halted and blinked. He finally turned toward them and stood still a few seconds.
“Someone I” Failed. His eyes fell. “Someone I knew.”
Jack sighed. “No more questions please.” He proceeded to the unlocked gym doors. She’s better now. She got out.
He forced another smile for himself, recalling the last time he had any meaningful communication with Felicia.
“Yeah. She’s better now.” He assured himself and went about his chores.
Jack took his time folding laundry. Letting the mundane task set his mind into the routine. Distracting him from his memories and feelings. Keeping him from freaking out over his girlfriend’s odd and somewhat disturbing behavior.
She’s a big girl. She can handle herself.
He hefted the last basket of clean clothes up the stairs and down the hall. It was unusually quiet just outside Sula’s room. The bevy of muffled moans, sighs, creaking furniture and thumps were entirely absent.
Not that anyone in the house minded. The place was big enough that even if Sula, and/or Joey for that matter, was a screamer, everyone could get on with their day without being interrupted.
But all that commotion was gone. Jack slowed as he approached her door, debating whether he should give it a knock and check in on them. Then he thought better of the situation.
They’re probably just asleep. He smiled lightly. Best to just leave them alone.
He was about to set the basket down and leave when the door suddenly flew open. A tanned, sweaty naked man stumbled out. He pivoted and sat with his back against the opposite wall, breathing heavily.
Jack froze and tracked the unusual sight with his eyes, but kept the basket strategically placed to avoid (ahem) inappropriate examinations.
The man placed a hand on his forehead to wipe some sweat away and tried to catch his breath. He didn’t seem to notice the other person standing there.
Jack stood stock still and considered just backing away slowly and returning later when the naked man lowered his hand finally. “Oh. Hey.”
Jack tried to smile like this was completely not bothering him and answered with a “Hey.”
Joseph swallowed and waved weakly. “Ah my apologies. She’s really, really feisty today.” He glanced at his pantsless legs. “You mind handing me something…”
Jack nodded lightly and braced the basket on one of his knees. He plucked out a white long sleeve shirt and tossed it. Joseph caught the garment and hastily tied the sleeves around his waist, leaving the body covering his thighs halfway to his knees.
“Well, I just wanted to drop these off and…” Jack mentioned and leaned over to place the basket down.
“Oh don’t go just yet.” Joseph raised a hand. “I have to thank you Mr. Keysman.” He placed his other hand on his chest and attempted to slow his breathing. “While I… have a moment.”
Jack raised an eyebrow and smirked as he stood back up. “For delivering the laundry?”
Joseph blinked and barked a weak laugh. “No, no. I have to thank you.” He waved his hand palm up. “For taking her in.” He tilted his forehead at the open door.
Jack shrugged and casually gazed toward the room as well. “She needed a place to stay. Someone to accept her.” He nodded lightly. “It’s worked out.”
Joseph shook his head. “It’s more than ‘worked out’.” He eyed the other man seriously. “This is more than just another house to her. You’re more than just her host.”
Jack lost his smile but he didn’t disagree.
“You’ve called her your friend.” Joseph stated. “You’ve called her family.”
Jack breathed out slowly. “I did.” A beat. “I have.” He closed his eyes a moment. “I…she is…a very good friend.” A pause.”I guess I just didn’t want to…suggest anything more.”
The husband chuckled. “I’m not jealous Mr. Keysman. As I said, I’m grateful. After all the time she waited and hoped, ” His tone dipped a degree. “After all the rejections…well I wouldn’t be fully honest if I didn’t say that I’d worried that she would give up.”
He smiled sharply. “I consider myself privileged to meet you actually.” Jack jerked his head over. “Not sure any of my wives have threatened to murder someone for any of us.”
Jack tucked his chin, recalling the promise the echidna made to his abductor the night of the full moon. “That was…kind of a special case.”
“You are special. To her.” Joseph drew his legs under him and stood up. “And because of that, if you wanted, I’d be honored to call you a brother.” He held out one hand in offering.
Jack stared at it a moment. He knew exactly what the other man was suggesting. Then he faced him directly. “No thanks.” He dead-panned. “I’ve got two brothers already.” He thumbed behind himself. “They’re a pain in the ass.”
Joseph jerked his head forward incredibly. Then he suppressed a chortle. He closed his eyes and laughed openly while facepalming with one hand. “Hehehe…hahahahah.”
He shook his head after a few seconds of mirth. “You know,” He nodded. “I think I can respect that Mr. Keysman.”
The host shrugged and smirked. “Call me Jack.”
The other man nodded. “Alright. I can do that. Jack.”
“Joey?” Sula called from inside the room. “Is someone out there?”
A very naked lamia opened the door the rest of the way and stood in the frame. Her host quickly averted his eyes toward the ceiling and opposite wall.
“Oh.” She placed an arm and a hand in strategic places over her torso. “Ah, sorry Jack what’re you…?” She glanced down. “Ah my clothes.” She smiled and hooked her tail around the basket. “Thank you.”
He continued to study the very interesting ceiling. “No thanks necessary. Just a part of my duties as host.”
She slid the basket into her room. Then retrieved an extra large shirt and donned it, sliding her long hair out with her arms. “It’s safe to look now, Jack.” She sing-songed and grinned.
He rolled his eyes. “Sure it is.” Jack only lowered his chin to an even level.
“Seriously though Jack.” Her mischievous tone was replaced with concern. “I have to ask you something.”
He blinked and then faced her. As she said, it was ‘safe’. No inappropriate examinations for him.
She held up a hand. “How’re my girls?”
He nodded at her and smiled. “They’re fine. No trouble.”
“What’re they up to?” Joseph asked.
Jack held out two fingers. “Well, Priscilla and Lissa are playing dodgeball with Verandys and Syleris in the gym.” He lifted another finger. “And Dawn is teaching Maria the basics of Starfinder in the basement.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh cool.” She placed a knuckle on her chin and glanced to the side. “I would’ve thought Maria would be playing a sport.”
Joseph shrugged. “She’s..calmed down a bit since you left.” He tilted his head side to side. “Matured, to some degree, one might say.”
Sula merely hummed thoughtfully. “Okay.” She looked up at her host. “Would you mind keeping an eye on them a little longer, Jack” She snaked an arm around her husband and pulled him in. Her eyes narrowed to half and a sinful glint flashed from a fang. “I’m not quiiiite finished with him yet.” Her tail curled around one of his legs.
Jack snorted and lifted a hand. “Not a problem.”
Joseph gave out a much-put-upon sigh. “Work, work work…” He leaned in, almost resting his forehead on her shoulder.
Her lips pulled back further as she drew him into the room and back to her bed. “Oh yes, I know exactly what you’re going to ‘work’.” Her tongue flicked out. “Starting with my-“
Mercifully, her tail shut the door before whatever completely wholesome and innocent suggestion passed her teeth. Jack rattled his head and closed his eyes, attempting to get a rein on his imagination.
He strode forward murmuring to himself. “Just keep going, just let them be.” He resolved himself to make preparations for the evening meal. “Nothing to do with you. Still more chores to be done.” He continued assuring himself and distracting his mind so much that he almost shuffled into his own brother.
“Oh uh.” Jack felt embarrassed, realizing his own inattention might have caused an accident.
“Hey.” Issac hefted a backpack on one shoulder. “I’m about ready and my driver says he’s on his way.”
Jack sighed and nodded. “Thanks for coming bro.” He unfocused a moment. “I really needed you.”
Isaac shrugged like it was no big deal. “Family looks out for itself.”
Jack hummed in agreement and looked back. “Still, man. Thanks for being there.”
His sibling’s eyes fell. “Yeah well…I had to be for one of us at least.”
Jack blinked and stood back. “What? What’re you..?”
“I just…” Isaac muttered. “Leaving here…feels so much different from the last few times.”
Jack stayed silent.
“I don’t know.” Isaac looked to the side. “I guess I just wasn’t really expecting it to be so different.” He took in a slow breath. “There’s…so much life here now…but mom isn’t.” He faced forward gradually. “It shouldn’t. Not without her.” A beat. “Maybe it should have been me. Maybe I should have stayed for her. Things might have been diffe-“
Jack thrust his arm out and slightly pushed while placing his hand on Isaac’s shoulder. “Hey. No.” His sibling blinked and his jaw hung open. “Don’t regret moving out there. You and Matt needed to. I completely understood. Believe me.” He squeezed his grip a bit. “I was so happy for both of you. Every time you guys announced some new project or you met some new celebrity or you spent a day at some sunny beach, I was happy.”
He shrugged one shoulder and glanced up briefly. “A little envious, sure. Who wouldn’t be?” Jack faced his brother directly. “But you guys needed out. I don’t regret a thing.”
Isaac held his gaze a moment and then started nodding lightly. “Thanks Jack.”
The host smirked lightly and folded his arms. “Besides. It had to be me, to stay for mom.” Isaac tilted his head with an odd look.
Jack’s lips split in a grin. “I’m the strongest. So I fought the Big Bad, while my brothers escaped.”
Disgusted discontent settled into Isaac’s face. “Ya know…” He lifted a finger. “I think some of that ‘arachne ego’ has rubbed off on you.” Jack’s grin stretched across his entire face. “And I don’t think I like it.”
Isaac narrowed his eyes and folded his own arms. “Alright. I’ve decided.” He scanned his sibling up and down. “I hate your girlfriend.” Jack chuckled lowly. “And when I get back to California, I’m going to poison Matt against her.”
Jack shut eyes, shook his head and snorted. “You asshole.” He dropped his arms.
“Arrogant Jack-ass.” Isaac threw back the old insult.
The brothers gave each other a quick fierce hug.
“Douche.” Jack muttered.
“Prick.” Isaac answered as they released.
“I’ll get the others to the front room.” Jack quipped. “To see you off.” Isaac nodded and headed in the opposite direction.
Jack approached the ‘fight gym’ first, figuring he’d need time to coax Tetra out. He gave a light knock and waited.
He couldn’t hear much commotion inside and he wondered if he had to knock harder to get her attention.
Jack lifted his knuckles and almost resolved himself to knock again when-
“Yes?” Tetra’s voice came through the door. She still sounded stressed.
Jack felt guilty for a moment but he pressed on. “Um, can you come out to say goodbye to Isaac?” A long silence. Then a click as the doors unlocked and swung inward.
Tetra still looked disheveled. Her shirt was stained with sweat and her legs lifted and lowered in succession. Like she was prancing in place.
He stared up at her eyes. Her face was contorted into tight neutrality, trying too hard to not betray anything. He swallowed and his heart clawed at him again. Without thinking he leaned forward and hugged her.
“Jack don’t-” She leaned back and held her arms up. “Jack…ugh.” He ignored the stench and clutched her. She clenched her teeth and held her arms up. “Jack I’m all sweaty and gross and I really don’t want…”
He peeled his face from her as he stepped back. The garment clung to his cheek and he brushed it away with a hand. “Just a few minutes. Please?”
The awkward alpha predator stared down at her host. She shut her eyes and shook her head. “Well this is embarrassing.” She lifted a hand casually. “The proud independent arachne, scourge of the forest and goddess’ perfect hunting machine…” She planted a fist at her hip. “Emotionally manipulated by a mere human.”
Jack opened his mouth to protest her deliberate exaggeration.
“No no.” She poked a claw on his forehead. “Don’t deny it.”
He frowned and eyed her seriously. “You know that’s not what I’m doing.”
She ignored his argument and planted a thumb on her chest. “I’m the one who’s supposed to by pulling the strings around here, Jack. Literally and figuratively.” He snorted and closed his eyes briefly.
She stepped back and lowered her upper half. One hand gripped his collar and pulled his face to hers. “You’re upsetting the natural order of arachne dominance in their relationships, Jack.” She smirked. “I’ll have to punish you.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Natural order, sure.” He grumbled halfheartedly. “Like you needed an excuse.”
She let him go and chuckled “How did I ever let myself get like this?” She righted herself, folded her arms and smiled ruefully.
He stared right back at her confidently. “You know why.”
She took a deep breath and he could almost feel her distress being expelled. At least some of it. “Alright.” She reached for a towel and began patting herself down. “Let me change into something clean and I’ll be there.”
Jack stepped back to let her by and watched her ascend the stairs. “Thanks Tetra.” She gave a casual back-wave. He pivoted and proceeded to the other gym’s door.
As expected the four were engaged in some rough energetic exercise. He lifted a hand and his voice to get their attention.
The four stopped and stared at him.
“Isaac’s taking off for California in a few minutes, mind seeing him off?”
Syleris’ eyes widened and she stepped away from the others. “Oh right. Hold on a sec. I gotta get something.” She jogged at the door. “Don’t let him leave yet.”
Jack furrowed his brow and was about to ask…but she already disappeared down the hall.
“Right.” He blinked. “Anyways.” He faced back to the others and thumbed over his shoulder. “Just meet in the front room. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Jack made his way to the basement and called down to any occupants. “Hey Dawn! Isaac’s leaving soon.”
A beat. “We’ll be there Jack.” Kuro answered.
He nodded and turned away.
The front room was pretty crowded right outside the main doors. Jack took stock and accounted for everyone except Syleris, Sula and Joseph. He surreptitiously sidestepped by Lissa and leaned down by her ear.
“Sula and Joseph are still ‘catching up'” He whispered. A small grin creased her lips. “Should I…?”
Lissa shook her head and faced up to him. “You don’t want to interrupt an echidna and her favorite husband, Jack.” She flexed her smaller but no less dangerous claws with one hand. “Laws against harming humans are all well and good but…” She trailed off.
Jack held up both hands and straightened up. “Say no more.”
She smirked and held up a palm. “She has your brother’s number right? She can say goodbye then.”
He nodded. “Yeah that’s probably best.”
Isaac made the rounds and shook hands with the newbies, hugged the veterans. “Umm..where’s…”
Everybody heard a stamping behind them. “I’m here. I’m here.” Syleris announced as she dashed into the room. She carried a colorful garment in her hands.
“Here.” She stepped up and handed Isaac a poncho. “This is from all of us.”
Jack’s brother smiled and held it up. The poncho held four different designs in each quarter of it: A bright yellow snake curled from the hem to the shoulder over a green background and a winter field with two women dancing on the snow. Isaac turned it over and revealed a spiderweb pattern with a black background paired next to light brown bird wings against a blue sky.
He smiled and slipped it over his head. “Little warm for summer.” He commented lightly. “But I love it.” He faced up to her. “Thanks.”
She smiled brightly. “I asked Tetra to make it for you, from all of us.”
The arachne flexed her claws on one hand. “At no charge.” She stopped and eyed Syleris. “This time.”
The harpy ignored the caveat and took one of his hands. “Something to remember us by.” She leaned forward inches from his face. “And this…”
She kissed him.
She kissed him good.
The veterans all smirked at the display. The newbies held looks of shock. Jack hummed and folded his arms. Good for them.
“That.” Syleris backed her head. “Is to remember me by.”
Isaac’s eyes widened in surprise. “Tha-thank you. I’ll…um…I’ll see you in California?”
“You’d better.” The harpy answered and looked back at her host. “Right Jack?”
The other human in the room nodded his head. “Only a couple weeks away.”
“Good.” She answered and faced back to Isaac. “I’ll see you then.” She turned away and proceeded back down the hall. Verandys followed her friend.
“Wait Sylly. When did this start?” The centaur fired questions in her wake. “Why didn’t you tell me about him? Sylly?”
Isaac picked up the last of his luggage and waved to the rest. “Bye guys. See you in two weeks.” He walked out and shut the door.
The others cleared out of the front room and went back to their business. Jack power walked and caught up with Tetra. “Hey thanks. You feeling better?”
She waved a claw casually. “Not really.” She answered. “I need some more time Jack.”
He dipped his head. “Can we…can we talk about it?”
She didn’t slow down. “Tonight. We’ll talk tonight.”
He blinked. “Okay.” He kept pace. “What about this favor? What is it?”
She stopped and held her claws out a moment. She pivoted around and faced him. “I need to hunt Jack.” He tilted his head. “I need a forest I can hunt some game in. Tonight.” She closed her hands into fists. “Then…then I think I’ll feel… better.”
Jack scratched the back of his head. “Oh, okay.” He’d never hunted in his life. He didn’t know of any place that would allow…”Can it be any forest?”
He placed a finger on his chin. “There’s a forest preserve and a few parks around that might work.” He frowned. “But they usually close at night.”
She tapped a claw on his head. “I’ll be discreet.” She turned back to the end of the hall. “Come get me at sundown. No more interruptions.” That last part was a command.
He stopped and let her go ahead. She turned the corner and he heard the gym door open and close. “Give her space Jack.” He murmured to himself. “Just be patient.” He pivoted back the other way. “You’ve got other things to do. She’s not a priority over the others remember? You’ve got a job to do.”
He sighed and walked back over to the kitchen. “Just throw yourself into the work. She can take care of herself.”
He opened the fridge and noticed more gaps than he was used to seeing. “Hmm… I should ask Reggie for another refrigerator, and maybe a full freezer in the garage.”
He stepped into the pantry. Even more gaps. “Hmm. Really need groceries now.” He turned back and evaluated his options a moment. “Yep, need to go out.”
“Should take someone with me…oh duh.” In all the excitement of so many people staying and leaving he forgot to have his ‘interview’ with Verandys. “Better late than never.” Jack strolled back to the ‘track’ gym and opened the doors.
The four girls had dragged the mats onto the track and made an obstacle course for themselves. They were using their phones’ stopwatch function to keep time and a pen and paper notepad to record it all.
Jack stopped and observed.
Lissa ducked under one of the jump ropes tied to a pair of treadmills. She slithered up a ramp and launched herself over a patch of the track that had red rubber balls lying in place.
The echidna vaulted over it and sped along the curve toward a series of hurdles. She raised herself over the first one and ducked under the second, then aimed over the third in a wave like pattern. She cleared all twelve hurdles without even touching one and crossed the finish line.
“Woo!” Syleris pumped a fist. “Best time yet.” She announced. The others clapped and cheered.
Jack started clapping as well. Observing them pull off these stunts was well worth the price of admission.
“Oh hey Jack.” Priscilla looked back at him and waved. “Here to watch us?”
He shook his head sadly. “Sorry. I’d love to, but can’t.”
“What’s up Jack?” Syleris asked.
“I need to make a grocery run to prepare for dinner.” He focused at the centaur. “So Verandys, I know what every one else usually likes but you’re my first and probably only vegetarian.” He held up a finger. “So if you could come along, I’d like to make sure I get stuff you like to eat.”
She held a hand to herself. “Um okay. I can usually just eat anything edible that comes off a plant.”
Jack held up a finger. “Money’s no object with groceries. If there’s something you’ve never had that you see at the store, you can get it.”
“Oh okay, that’s certainly enticing.” Syleris stepped up to her and whispered something. “Oh ah. Can we get ice cream?”
He smirked and nodded. “We can stop by the Oberweis across the parking lot if you wish.” Verandys and Syleris exchanged smiles and giggled.
“Alright, let me clean up and I’ll be right there.” She trotted past him and out the door.
“Have fun on your date Jack.” Syleris called.
This time he didn’t let it get to him. In fact he stepped closer to the harpy. “Syleris, I have a very important job for you.”
She blinked and rattled her head. “Huh, whu-what?”
“While I’m gone, you and Dawn and Kuro are responsible for the house and all our new guests. Understand?” Jack implored. She focused at him and raised a wing-hand.
“Sula and Tetra are… occupied for the foreseeable.” He answered the obvious counter. “I need you to step up and keep things in order.”
She folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “A harpy. Keep order.” If a skeptical tone was dripping acid, there would be a fresh hole in the floor by her talons. “You do realize who your talking to right?”
Jack held a ghost of a smile. “A mature young woman who’s the most senior member of this household available to take over for me.”
She narrowed both eyes at him. “I get a double portion of ham tomorrow morning. And you tell me everything Isaac likes and dislikes in a woman.”
Jack snorted and nodded a few times. Well played.
“Can do.” He gave a salute. “Thank you Syleris.” He turned and left.
How he thinks he can responsibly take care of so many liminals in one house I don’t think I’ll ever understand.
Verandys trotted down the side ramp into the garage and waved at her host. He waved back and proceeded to the back of his van.
She gritted her teeth and hid a frown. Not so soon… She clopped over to the ramp but didn’t step on it.
Jack cocked his head. “Something wrong?”
She eyed the yawning emptiness of the vehicle like it was a cavernous pit. “I… don’t like to travel in…automobiles.”
Jack blinked and reared his head. “Oh.” He blinked a few more times. “I…I didn’t know…hmmm.”
She held a palm below her opposite shoulder. “I’m sorry. I can stay here while you-.”
He held up a hand. “No. No. I’ll think of something.” He placed a finger over his chin. “The store is not that far, even by walking. I just don’t know if I can carry everything we need.” He retrieved a notepad from his pocket with a pen clipped to the top. A list with numerical values by each entry was handwritten on it. “And we need a lot. Like, quadruple the amount of eggs I usually get.”
“I can carry the majority of it.” She offered.
He righted his head at her. “Oh I couldn’t ask you to do all that. Not when you just got here.”
She shrugged. “It’s really no issue for me. I even have packing equipment and bags for long trips.” Her host regarded her with a degree of incredulity. She stared right at him. “What?”
A beat. “I thought..centaurs…um…didn’t like being um…” He trailed off.
The svelte centaur folded her arms and sighed. “… being useful.” She sarcastically finished for him. Jack narrowed his eyes a bit and nodded silently.
She closed her eyes and breathed out. “My bigger ‘cousins’ have that whole obsession with ‘honor’ and ‘glory’ and think themselves above such menial tasks.”
She jabbed a thumb at her chest. “My people don’t have any qualms about such ‘lowly work’.” She opened her eyes and faced him. “If something needs to get done, then it needs to get done.”
Jack took a moment and evaluated her. “Huh, alright. If you’re willing…”
“I am.” She stated confidently. “I’ll be right back.” She turned and trotted back up the kitchen ramp and headed for her room. Four minutes and a donning of additional gear and packs and she was ready to go.
Three thick black straps lay across her equine back with two light brown canvas bags with zippers attached to either side. She also looped a large empty gray backpack around her arms.
“Good news.” Jack announced as she returned to the garage. He waved at a black and red bicycle leaning on the side of the wall. “My brother purchased something useful with my money.” He hopped onto the seat and set his foot on one of the pedals. “Now we don’t have to walk.”
Verandys nodded approvingly. “After you Mr. Keysman.”
“Call me Jack.” He replied and grasped the rubber handles while pushing off. “Come on. We’ll get ice cream first.”
A/N: Thanks for reading.
Yes, I’m still alive and my work is considered an essential business, so I’m still employed as well.
Stay safe out there folks. Good luck.
Oh. And Syleris was quoting this: nejmorg doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1910355