Coming-of-age/coming-out story, set in mixed human/furry world. 18+ for 2 hard swearwords.
|Bright morning sunlight filtered in through the curtained windows, drawing Ray out of the uncomfortable sleep he'd fallen into. Rolling onto his back, he opened his eyes slowly, then, at the sight of the unfamiliar ceiling and wall, closed them again with a groan. "Oh god, it wasn't just a dream."
Despite how much he wanted to go back to sleep, however, certain other priorities intruded, and, with another barely-voiced groan, Ray pushed himself up out of bed. A glance at the other side of the room found an empty bed, apparently unslept in. Ray's brief, guilty frown quickly turned into a scowl, as his gaze continued around the room and he realized another implication of dormitory living.
With a sigh, Ray picked up his suitcase where it had been left by the closet on his side of the room and propped it on his bed, opening it to pull out his toiletries bag and clean clothes. Finding the towel that had been left on his dresser, and the accompanying note about where to get towels in the future, he swallowed, and slipped out of the room to find the showers.
* * *
Ray practically ran back into his room, just short of slamming the door behind him, trying to calm the furious blush on his face. At least it was better than the gym showers, with individual shower stalls instead of a big shared shower room. Even so, the towel-snapping contest between a fox and horse in the bathroom gave him an unexpected real-world example of the difference between human and furry anatomy, and he .. just had to get out quick. He couldn't even admit to himself why.
Shaking his wet head, he dropped his toiletries bag in his closet and finished toweling off, then dressed in whatever was closest at hand, deciding what to do during the day to avoid thinking about the bathroom scene earlier. He figured he should at least find his classes, and probably read the school paperwork, even though he was sure it would be full of stupid School Mottoes and anthems and stuff.
He finished dressing and grabbed the new student packet off his desk. Turning to the door, he once more noticed the un-mussed bed on the other side of the room, and sighed. "You really were a jerk to him, Ray," he muttered to himself, then decided he'd find the kid and apologise. He had to live with him, after all, whether he wanted to or not.
With that resolved, he finished turning around and headed back out the door. As his stomach grumbled, he added to the mental list of things to do, "#1 - eat breakfast!"
* * *
Ray looked around the crowded cafeteria, finally choosing a table against one of the walls where not many people were already sitting. He threaded his way across the room carrying his tray, containing a glass of milk and a plate of sausage links and canteloupe - a result of the indecision caused by the confusing complexity of the breakfast buffet line. He'd expected pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, had been slightly surprised at the myriad of fruits and vegetables, but was completely caught offguard by the section offering raw steak, fish, and even some small birds. As he sat at his chosen table, he gave a quick glance around, sighing with relief when he didn't spy anyone at the table eating the raw stuff.
Removing his schedule from his student packet, he smoothed it carefully onto the table next to his tray, looking it over as he started slowly eating his breakfast. Part way through, he stopped and groaned. "They didn't..." he mumbled around a mouthful of sausage, then quickly looked up to see if anyone caught him talking with his mouth full. Seeing no stares of reproach, he balefully looked back down at his schedule, glaring at the third course listed.
1 - A-23 - Survey of English Literature
2 - B-14 - Geometry
3 - B-11 - Public Speaking(*)
4 - G-1 - PE - Team Sports(*)
5 - - Lunch
6 - A-15 - World History
7 - S-3 - Chemistry 1
(*) Courses marked require sign ups. See instructor in classroom on free day before classes begin.
Ray swallowed the suddenly tasteless mouthful, then muttered, "I can't believe they did that to me..."
"Gee, that's just what we were saying," a deep voice answered on Ray's left, causing him to jump with surprise. A matching voice on Ray's other side followed up, "Except it wasn't to us, it was to our little brother."
In almost simultaneous movements, the two german shepherds sat down on either side of Ray, close enough that if he hadn't reflexively pulled his arms in against his body, they would have been rubbing elbows with each other. That didn't stop the two sheps from leaning in close and draping their arms across his shoulders, one atop the other.
Ray frowned, ducking with a bit of a squirm. "Hey, cut it out, I don't even kn--"
Without even appearing to listen to the discomfited human, the shepherd on Ray's right asked, "Now why do you think our brother would run into our room last night..." Then from the left followed, "Saying that he was a freak and his new roomie hated him because of it?"
Ray suddenly stopped squirming when the two leaned in closer, letting him hear the rumbling deep in their throats. "Let's play pretend for a minute," the one on the left said, followed once more by his brother, who growled, "Let's pretend you're our little brother's roomie. Wouldn't the right thing to do be to go and apologise and make things all better?"
Ray felt one of the arms shift, and suddenly a hand was on the back of his head, forcing it up and down in a forced parody of a nod. "Oh good, I'm glad we see eye to eye," the dog to the right said. Just before getting up from his seat, the one on the left finished, "And if you ever upset Taco again, you'll regret ever coming to this school. No pretending." Then the two canines were standing and walking away, leaving Ray rubbing the back of his neck and shivering.
"You're too late for that," he said after the two were out of earshot, then sighed, looking back at his unfinished plate and his schedule. Appetite gone, he shook his head and put his schedule back in his packet, then picked up his tray to go dispose of the still-mostly-full plate.
* * *
Entering the gym, Ray looked around to try to find room G-1. The only doors were on the opposite end of the large open space, so he headed in that direction, staying to the side of the gym to avoid the 2-on-2 basketball game on one of the courts. One of the players, a tall jaguar, looked over while resting between plays and called out, "You lookin' for someone?" At Ray's nod, the jaguar stood up and walked over, shoes squeaking on the court. "Bah, I hate new shoes," the jaguar grumbled, looking down at the objects of his dislike, before back up at Ray. "Well?"
Ray blinked, then shrugged. "A Mister Robinson, in G-1."
The jaguar grinned, then turned around. "Hey Jake," he yelled, "your old man in his office?"
The wolf on the court who was idly dribbling the basketball looked back at the jaguar with a grimace. "Don't diss him, Mike, he'll have you running laps already. Yeah, he's.."
"I'm right here," a new voice joined in. Ray turned to the older wolf stepping out of one of the offices as he glanced at the people on the court, then flicked over to Ray and the jaguar.
"No, we won't be running laps today," he said, walking over towards Ray and Mike, who breathed a sigh of relief. "No, I think it's push-ups today. Shall we say 30, Mister Stadler?" At the jaguar's plaintitive, "Aw, mann..." the wolf cocked his head. "In that case, 50. You may begin any time, Mister Stadler." As Mike nodded and dropped down to start doing push-ups, Mister Robinson turned to Ray. "May I help you, young man?"
Ray swallowed and nodded, "Yeah, um, I guess I need to sign up for something in fourth period team sports."
The wolf didn't move, or even change expression. "And you are..?"
Ray flinched in embarrassment. "Oh, sorry, I'm Ray Spencer."
The wolf finally nodded, then spun on his heels. "Very well, Mister Spencer, follow me," he said, already walking back to his office without waiting to see if the boy followed.
Once in the office, the wolf sat down behind his desk, opened a drawer, and dropped a file folder on his spartan desk, all in one fluid movement. "Now then, Mister Spencer, perhaps you could enlighten me as to why you didn't sign up for a particular sport when you registered?"
Ray sighed; already in trouble with a PE teacher who seemed to hand out exercise like candy? "I, um, didn't register, sir, my parents did."
Mister Robinson nodded. "And if you had, in fact, registered, Mister Spencer, would you have chosen this class?" he asked, folding his arms in front of him atop the still-closed folder on his desk.
Ray blinked, then shrugged. "I guess. I mean, PE's required, and one class is as good as another, right?"
The wolf responded, "One class is as good as another. Of course. And I'm sure the only reason they have different names is so the poor teachers don't get confused about which class is which, right?"
Ray visibly winced this time, despite the teacher's almost jovial tone of voice. "No, I didn't mean.."
"Then perhaps you might say what you mean, Mister Spencer," Mister Robinson said sharply. "I believe the question at point, is `would you have chosen this class?'."
Ray swallowed, and nodded once more. "Yes, sir," he responded. "I can't answer your question, because I don't know what PE classes are offered. I didn't know what classes I was taking until this morning. I never saw the catalog or the registration forms." Ray didn't realize his voice was rising as he nearly yelled, "I didn't even know I was attending this stupid school until two weeks ago!"
The wolf looked calmly back at the red-faced Ray. In a quiet voice, he said, "Mister Spencer, you will kindly control your temper while you are in this gymnasium. Anger has no place in sports, nor in any other civilized occupation. Now, I know some young men have trouble controlling their anger, so I'll help you make sure it's under control. Please sit on the floor and do 10 sit-ups, and when you're done, you may take your seat and tell me - calmly - that you will not lose your temper again."
As the wolf stood up and walked around the desk, Ray, face still red, from shame instead of anger now, stood up and unshouldered his backpack onto the chair, then dropped to the floor, folded his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes as he began the sit-ups.
"Slow down, Mister Spencer, this isn't a race. I want to hear the clock tick twice between each of your counts."
A few seconds later, "Back straight, Mister Spencer; let's not injure ourselves just yet."
After the tenth sit-up, Ray opened his eyes, then blinked as he watched the teacher finish his own sit-up, before standing and walking behind his desk again. Ray stood up as well, turning towards the wolf, and said, "I'm sorry, sir, I won't lose my temper again."
"You may sit down, Mister Spencer. I'll accept your apology on the condition that you retract your statement saying that you're sorry. You're not sorry until you've been shown to be so in my class. Only two students in the last three years have proven thus, and I hope you shall not be the third."
Ray blinked a couple more times, before he realized the Mister Robinson was waiting. "I'm.. I apologise, I won't say sorry to you again."
With a nod, the wolf finally opened the file folder on his desk. "Very well. You have two choices. You may stay in my class and play basketball this summer, or you may transfer to Mister Baker's class for football. So, Mister Spencer, which shall it be?" With a sudden, unexpectedly friendly, grin, the teacher finished, "The evil that you now know, or the evil that you don't?"
Ray grimaced at the other choice, football being his least favorite of all PE activities, even counting swimming. Then he jerked his gaze back to the wolf's face at the change in tone at the end, and laughed before he could stop himself. "B-basketball, sir. I'll stick with the lesser of two evils."
Mister Robinson responded with his own laugh, "Very good, Mister Spencer. In that case, I'll see you tomorrow. Have a pleasant day, Mister Spencer."
Ray nodded, then scooped his backpack out of the chair and walked out.
* * *
"A-ha, if it isn't the affable Ray Spencer," the deer behind the desk said as he walked into the classroom. "I was wondering if you'd bother showing up."
Ray frowned at the heavyset deer, recognizing her from the orientation meeting last night. "You're Mrs. Matty?" he asked sullenly.
"Of course I am," she replied, " and don't take that tone of voice with me, young man. In my class, you won't get away with nonsense like last night. And don't dawdle and waste my time, get over here so you can sign up for the debate."
Ray sighed and made his way to her desk. He started to ask, "What am I signing--" when she started talking over him.
"And don't interrupt! I don't know where you learned your manners, but around me you'll keep a civil tongue in your mouth or I'll have you in the principal's office so fast your head will spin."
Ray rubbed his ears, starting to get a headache from her high-pitched, overly loud voice. He opened his mouth to try asking once more, but didn't even get a chance to get a word out this time.
"You think you can just walk in and break all the rules, well, it won't work in my classroom. And you're dawdling again, why haven't you signed up yet?" She sat, looking accusingly at him.
"You haven't even told me what I'm signing up for yet!" he shouted exasperatedly.
Her scowl deepened, and she started tapping a piece of paper on her desk. "Don't you dare speak to me like that. The sign up sheet is right here in front of you. Just because you're too stupid to read it doesn't mean you can make free with yelling at ME. After you've chosen, you just march yourself down to the principal's office and explain yourself to him. I'll call and make sure he's expecting you."
Ray stared at her openmouthed as she turned (with difficulty) in her chair and picked up the phone. Eyes beginning to glisten, he shook his head and looked down at the sign-up sheet, scrawling his name on one of the lines without even looking at the rest of the page, before turning and running out of the classroom.
* * *
"And then she called me stupid and told me to come here," Ray said, trying desperately to keep the whine out of his voice through his narrative.
The jaguar nodded, but remained otherwise silent as he gazed at his newest student for a few moments longer, hands meshed beneath his chin. Finally, he nodded once more, dropping his hands to his desk. "Mister Spencer, even though this is a fairly large school, we still try to maintain a community feeling here. Part of that feeling comes from the respect between the students themselves, as well as between students and teachers. Please demonstrate respect to your peers and teachers in the future, even..." His voice raised sharply, to cut the boy's protest off. "Even when you feel that respect is not being returned to you. That's all, you may go."
Ray sighed, his softly whined, "But she..." trailing off at the expression on the principal's face. Face falling, he stood up and walked back to the door, then stood there as the soft voice came from behind him.
"Mister Spencer, this won't go in your record. I don't believe you intended to be disrespectful. However, next time you're sent to me, I'll be forced to take official notice." A short pause, followed by, "Please shut the door on your way out."
Ray felt his shoulders slump with relief; nothing in the record for his parents to see. He nodded without replying otherwise, and slipped out, shutting the door behind him.
* * *
Ray stepped out of the administration building and immediately leaned against one of the lintel posts, covering his eyes with a hand. Around him, scattered through the grassy quad surrounded by the main buildings of the school, groups of students talked together or played games; frisbee over there, a volleyball game over near the gym, and an impromptu game of tag football in front of the cafeteria. He saw none of it; eyes closed, fingers clenching at his temples, he just tried to figure out how he was going to survive what he already thought of as a prison.
He ignored the rumbling of his stomach, trying to remind him that lunch time had come and gone; ignored the feel of the sun on the side of his face, the breeze through his short-cut hair, and the sounds of other furs walking along the paths nearby. It took a few moments before he steeled himself, straightening back up with some modicum of resolve. "Find the rest of your classrooms," he muttered ot himself, "and find, um, Tad. That's all you have to do, and you can go hide again." With an imperceptible nod to himself, he started across the quad, cutting across walkways and plush lawns without noticing, making a beeline for the classroom building with the last of his classes in it.
* * *
He headed down the hallway to the last classroom to check. Most of the rooms were closed, not even the teachers spending their afternoon cooped up inside. Midway down the hall, he paused, hearing soft noises from the one room lit ahead of him.
Ray peeked through the door, then stepped in to take a better look. Instead of desks, like the other rooms, this one had eight tables set up in four rows with an aisle in between; each table held three personal computers. One one screen was lit at the moment; in the middle of the second row from the door, a small furry sat typing away, looking intensely at the screen. Just before Ray was about to turn and leave again, he suddenly recognized the dog-morph. Swallowing, he stepped around the intervening table and next to the other boy. "Hey, um, Tad?" he started, voice soft.
The shep quickly looked around and up in surprise, his expression quickly dropping into a suspicious frown. "What?"
Ray sighed at the boy's expression, and looked down at his own feet. "I just.." he started again, then rushed to finish, "Look, I was a jerk last night. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called you names."
"Oh." Ray blinked at the short reply, then shrugged and started to turn, when Tad continued, "Yeah, you shouldn't have. It's not nice." After another short pause, the shep asked in a small voice, "Are you really sorry?"
Ray turned back, looking at Tad for a moment, then nodding. "'m sorry." After another moment of silence, the human extended his hand. "M'name's Ray. Friends? Or at least, not enemies?"
Tad suddenly giggled, his expression clearing as if he'd never been upset at all. "Okay, not-enemy-Ray." The shep put his palm against Ray's, then slid it back and curled his fingers into a hook.
Ray almost jumped when Tad touched palms, not expecting at all the feel of the fur edges and thick pad of the furry's hand, er, paw. He was surprised enough that he almost missed the cue for the "cool" handshake, and just got his own fingers curled in time to catch Tad's for the quick jerk of a shake. Blushing at his surprise, he grinned at Tad. "Cool. Um, I'll see you later, then." At the sheps nod and "Sure, see ya" response, Ray gave one longing glance at the computer the other boy was working on before turning and heading out.
* * *
The bedsprings squeaked warningly as Ray let himself fall heavily onto the bed. Curling up and burying his face in his arms, he decided he just didn't want to move for a while.
His afternoon had been spent sitting against the corner of the gym, watching people in the quad. Never getting up the nerve to join into one of the ever-changing groups playing volleyball or frisbee, nor to intrude on the different clusters of friends talking to each other under the two large trees in the middle of the quad, he'd instead spent the time denying to himself that he was hoping someone would come up and introduce themselves, even a furry. Finally, the sun starting to sink behind the buildings, he'd pushed himself to his feet and joined the line of people heading for the cafeteria.
At dinner, he'd gotten his food, then found the room too crowded to get an isolated seat. Swallowing, he'd picked a table at random and headed for it, only to have the open seat disappear when the other occupants of the bench spread out. His cheeks aflame with flush, he'd noticed one of Tad's brohters staring harshly at him; swallowing his upset, he'd found another table, even daring to sit next to a wolf with a raw steak on his plate. He'd been prepared to ignore a savage display of teeth and claws when the wolf ate, but was pleasantly "disappointed" by the wolf's civilized use of utensils. Taking a quick glance around, he'd realized that none of the furries were doing anything worse than what he'd expect at home; looking back to his plate with a frown, the thought forming that some of the horror stories he'd been told about furries might not be true.
It was what happened after dinner that he wanted to forget. After getting up and picking up his tray, he'd been headed for the dish return line when he'd suddenly found himself flying and landing face-first on the ground, his tray clattering in front of him. He'd quickly pushed himself back to his feet, looking around with cheeks glowing fiercly from the laughter around him, but hadn't seen anyone who was acting guilty. After shaking his head and gathering his tray, he'd started on his way again, only to find another leg hooked around his. This time, at least, he'd been able to catch himself before tripping, stumbling a few steps and providing more amusement for the people around him. He hadn't thought he could be more embarrassed, until at the last few tables, people started clapping him on the back, hard, and saying things like, "Have a good trip" or "Haven't you heard, *fall* sememster started in September".
He'd finally made it to the tray return and escaped the cafeteria, only to discover someone waiting in the now-dark quad to give him another dose. This time, face and hands scratched up from the cement walkway, his tormentor had stepped on his back, with a harshly whispered, "Not a word to anyone, or things'll be worse than you can imagine next time." By the time he'd stood back up, there was no one around.
Now, laying here, all he could think of was home, his old school, his friends... then, even that refuge was lost when he remembered his friends snubbing him after he found out he was being sent here, all except Maria, at least.
The door opened, and he heard a soft voice say, "Ray? Um, are you alright?"
He started to respond even as he looked up, until he saw Tad's brothers standing behind him in the door. Suddenly, the voice from the pathway clicked, and he swallowed, shaking his head. "'s n-nothing. Hey Tad." Maybe if he didn't acknowledge 'em, he wouldn't have to deal--
"Okay. Hey, I wanted to introduce you to my brothers, Putt and Chip-- er, Paul and Chad. Those others are nicknames, 'cuz they like to play golf a lot, and I'm Taco 'cuz I like mexican f-- ow!" Tad's tumbling stream of words cut off as Paul lightly knocked the top of his head.
"Do you ever let anyone else talk?" Chad asked, his voice light and a grin on his face. Paul followed with, "Yeah, put a windmill in front of you and we'd have the world's cheapest power source."
Tad turned to stick his tongue out at Paul, at which point Chad grabbed him and tickled his sides. The younger shep dissolved into peals of laughter, sounding much younger than a high schooler. When Chad finally let up, Paul scuffed a hand through the boy's hair. "Speaking of tacos, they've got 'em at the cafeteria, if you get there before they close this time. So go, scoot!"
Tad, calming down, squealed once more, and darted between the brothers and down the hall, chanting "Tacos, tacos, tacos!"
Chad chuckled, then gave Paul a more somber look, before turning and leaving as well. The remaining brother, though, came the rest of the way into the room, letting the door close behind him as he strode to the side of Ray's bed. Leaning down, he pushed the human back down onto the mattress, poking him in the side as he whispered, "Remember, not a word. This was just a taste of what'll happen next time you fuck with our brother."
Ray grimaced, glaring up at the shep. "And it'll be worse if I *fuck* with you, right?"
Paul shook his head. "We can take care of ourselves." With another jab in the side, he turned and walked out.
Ray listened to the door shut again, then rolled over and stared at the ceiling. "Yeah. Welcome to Paradise, Ray."
* * *
(To be continued...)