“I’ve never seen any of them,” Shirley said. “Are they good?”
Brenden shrugged, trying to stifle a grin. “They’re kinda involved, I guess, if you haven’t been reading the comics. It could be hard to keep track of the names and backstories. But you know, they are what they are: big dumb summer blockbusters. If you just want to be hit in the face with entertainment, that’s what they’re good at.”
She grinned, sunlight glinting off a tooth, and poked at the ice in her tea. “That sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe we could go out and see one sometime…?” Her eyes flashed, and a breeze teased her blue, precise bangs.
He laughed nervously and said maybe, leaning in his iron chair to look for a waiter.
“Something wrong?” She smiled again at his blush, and he felt her foot brush against his; he jerked his shoe away, banging the heel on his chair.
“No, it’s cool, it’s just…” He stared at her, as though searching for the next word actually pushed his brain off a cliff. “So, how long have you, uh…”
She perked up. “Have I what?”
Brenden looked at the tables around him, on the bistro’s sidewalk. Everyone was having pleasant conversations, digging into their lunches, looking dreamily at the sun-bathed street. This was the city’s first reprieve from a punishing winter, and the population came out in force to soak it up. There was a tension in the air, as well, as cabin-fever melted away, converted into a frisky arousal that everyone seemed in on: lingering glances, unguarded laughter, light touches on arms and shoulders. In all honesty, Brenden was not immune to this seasonal urge either. That was what provoked him to hit up the singles apps and sites once more. But this date nearly sent him back into his man-cave.
“I’m sorry, do you have somewhere else to be?” The brightness in Shirley’s voice was diminishing. She sat up indignantly, spreading the linen napkin across her thighs. Brenden could not help but notice how proudly her chest stood out with this one slight gesture, so subtle yet so effective. The smile returned to his date’s face when she caught him so gracelessly gawking at her. “Like what you see?”
“Oh, fuck,” he sputtered, whipping his head away so violently he nearly collided with a tray of dirty dishes being hauled away. The busboy gave him a dirty look and scuttled off. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, it’s fine!” She smoothed out her T-shirt over her belly and tilted her head up, licking her teeth. “I was wondering if you’d ever notice. You’ve been so withdrawn and uncomfortable all afternoon. I don’t mean to make it worse, but it’s very noticeable. Is there something I’ve done to upset you?”
“Oh, I noticed. I—” He smoothed his hair and watched a car go by. “I mean, I don’t want to be one of those guys, you know, staring and being all rude. I don’t think of women like that.”
Her face melted into an exaggeration of disappointment. “That’s too bad. I was hoping to get laid tonight.” A woman at a nearby table toasted her with her wine.
Brenden rubbed his forehead, hiding his face behind his palm. He noticed how much he was sweating. “I didn’t mean that,” he stammered. “I’m not, I mean, I’m not into, you know, guys.”
She threw back her head and guffawed. He couldn’t tear his eyes from how her throat churned. “I’m just messing with you! Come on, loosen up, guy. If you want to split I can flag one of these waiters down.” She wadded up her napkin and dropped it beside a mangled, rare steak and pristine silverware.
They walked to a park a few blocks away. Shirley thanked him for picking up the tab, he insisted it was no problem. She asked him what he did for work, and his gaze lifted as he spoke rapidly about programming, the user experience, full-stack web development, and topics peripheral to these. His date nodded and said “uh-huh” and “cool,” grinning at his enthusiasm, but when she reached for his hand he nearly jumped out of his skin.
She wheeled on him, in the shade of the first trees at the park’s entrance, and planted her feet. “Goddamn it, Brenden! I don’t get you at all! What’s going on?”
He cringed defensively, glancing around to see who was staring at them. “What are you talking about? We’re just, you know, going for a walk.” His nervous laughter annoyed even him.
“It’s a beautiful spring afternoon! There’s music in the air, birds singing, children laughing! Everyone’s out and about, making eye-contact with strangers!” She advanced on him. “And you’re out on a successful first date with a beautiful, kick-ass bitch, but you’re acting like you just want to crawl under your bed! The fuck is your problem?”
Without thinking, he snapped back at her. “Are you? Are you, though? I mean, what the fuck even are you?”
Shirley’s jaw hung open. Chatter subdued around them, birds quieted down, even traffic seemed to reach a lull. “Excuse me, what did you just say?”
Frost spread through Brenden’s chest. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean… I’m under a lot of stress. This has nothing—”
“Talk to me,” she said, sadly. “Just fucking talk to me, Brenden, please. Tell me what’s going on.” She reached for his arm, and her face crumpled when he jerked away.
Wincing, he met her gaze and straightened up. “All right, if you really want to know, fine. Yes, you’re really beautiful—”
“No, you are, and I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.”
“Bullshit. You look like you want to vomit, seriously.”
Brenden’s cheeks flushed. “Hey, listen. I’m trying to talk. It’s hard for me to talk openly about because I’m kinda freaking out.” Shirley’s nostrils flared as she drew a long, deep breath, but she merely nodded. “I don’t know what you are, okay? You’re a beautiful woman, but also? Honestly? You look like a wolf.”
She tilted her head and parked her paws on her hips. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“Seriously, you look like part wolf, part human. Not like a werewolf, but like…” He strained to find the least-offensive terms, then gave up. He surrendered himself to the mystery. “You look like a Disney character, but live-action. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it. I thought it was a costume at first—hell, I thought it was just a cute icon in your profile—but I really think all that white fur is growing out of your arms and face and everything.”
She straightened up again, crossing her forearms beneath her chest. “I guess only a cartoon character could have tits like this, huh?”
“That’s another thing! Why do you have—” He choked on her word. “I mean, if you’re a wolf, shouldn’t you, like, have teats running down your stomach?”
“Who says I don’t?” Her paws clutched at her shirt, tugging it up over her tight jeans, until Brenden grabbed her wrists and forced them back down.
His mind raced at the touch. Human wrist bones, solid and lined with meat, filled with blood, covered with glossy, coarse fur. He was fascinated; he was repulsed. “I don’t get it. I’ve never seen this before. I don’t know why some parts are human and some parts are clearly wolf and some, honestly, just look improvised.”
Her claws scraped and tapped the sidewalk as she readjusted her stance. “You know, I’m starting to think you genuinely don’t know how incredibly offensive you’re being right now. I almost feel sorry for you.”
He flung his arms wide. “Fine! Feel sorry for me! Hate me! At least one of us will have crystal-clear ideas about the other! Because I don’t know what the fuck to think right now!” A woman hustled her large, off-roading, three-seater stroller away, shooting him a dirty look. Shirley snarled back at her: Brenden’s heart skipped a beat, to stand so close to such primal power. It alarmed him… and something else.
“Let’s keep walking,” she said, starting without him. He stared at her narrow waist wrapped in a baseball T-shirt, round hips rolling beneath tight jeans, and that big, fluffy tail swinging sullenly behind her. How did that even… He jogged to catch up with her.
“What do you mean, you don’t know what you feel,” she asked. “It sounds like you think I’m some kind of freak of nature. That’s a pretty clear statement.”
“Well, no, it’s not that simple.” Blood pounded in his head. “I just don’t know how much detail you want to get into. Or hear about.”
She laughed darkly, her long, pink tongue flickering in the late afternoon air. “I think at this point there is nothing left to lose. Speak freely, little man.”
He did a double-take at her expression. “Okay. Yes, it is really weird for me. I’m sorry to say that, but I’ve never, ever seen anyone like you. I don’t know how you’re even possible.” He waved behind him, in the restaurant’s direction. “I don’t know why no one else was freaking out. Everyone’s acting like this is completely normal. I mean, is it? Have I been missing something? Is everyone in the entire fucking world in on this? Because if that’s true, I’m probably going to have a goddamn breakdown.” He laughed giddily. She flinched at his wild-eyed expression. “And that’s not even the fucked-up thing.”
Her voice was soft and warm. “Tell me about the fucked-up thing.”
“Oh, you’re not even going to—” His hands paddled erratically. “Fine. Okay, fine, we’ll just move right along. The fucked-up thing? I’m attracted to you.”
Her laughter was one short bark. “Is that a fact? Could’ve fooled me.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I’m sounding like an asshole right now. But as weird as this is for me, you’re hot. You’re really hot. I want to knock you down and pin you in the grass and make out with you. Though, I don’t know how that would work.” He started to reach for her long, whiskery muzzle, then wisely thought better of that.
“It’s just my big tits, right?” One judgey eyebrow rose and arched judgily.
“No… no. It’s everything.” Brenden stopped walking and faced her. “The human bits and the wolf bits. I want to stare into your glowing blue eyes for hours. The word ‘sapphire’ comes to mind. Your haircut’s driving me crazy, it’s so cute, the way your ponytail dances every time you speak. And yeah, I want to bury my face in your tits, fur and all.” His gaze turned a shade haunted. “I bet the fur would feel amazing, actually.”
“I want to… my fingers, they’re…” He held up his hands: his fingers were curled and twitching, clawing the air. “I want to dig my fingers into your thighs, or haunches. I don’t know. I don’t know, but I want to learn. Oh, my God.” He clutched his hair and turned aside. “I don’t understand this at all. Where I come from, we don’t fuck animals. Except Alabama. But I look at you, and… My heart’s pounding. My palms are sweating. I can hardly breathe. And I’m—”
Shirley stepped right up into him and grabbed his crotch with a swat. “OwO,” she said.
“What do I do? I don’t know what’s going on.” Brenden started to whimper, gasping with a deep, alien longing at the scent of steak on her breath.
“Well, if that’s got you freaked out,” she murmured, stepping back, “then this is really going to toast your muffin.” She shucked her jeans and tugged her shirt over her head. “I don’t want to ruin them. I actually like them.” Before he could ask what she meant, she growled with increasing resonance. Other people in the park suddenly looked up and began to move away, stumbling, walking, then running. Her eyes shone with glacial light and she slammed one paw into the other with a thunderous crash. Instantly, her body expanded in all directions and shot up toward the sky, setting off car alarms and, soon after, a chorus of screams.
Brenden collapsed and sprawled before a row of architecturally compelling toenails, bold curves plastered in iridescent metallic polish, digging into the park’s soil. His eyes ran up the snowy coat over her lower thigh and stiffle, over her glossy six-pack and her imperiously proud breasts, jutting with defiance at reality itself. So far overhead, her immense muzzle swung through the air, surveying the greater metropolitan area, before lowering to grin wolfishly at him. “What do you say to this?” Her voice spread like the shock of an atom bomb.
His intense pulse and hyperventilation made it incredibly difficult to think, but he managed to choke out, “Take me,” after a couple false starts.
Sunlight shone in savage streaks upon her teeth. “Little man, you were mine the moment we sat down at that overpriced bistro.” She snarled overpriced in the direction of the restaurant, but looked down at him as she raised one hind paw. She flexed the broad, gray pads of her toes a couple times, spreading and closing them as though a form of greeting, then slowly lowered her foot down, down, down upon the tiny man.
As the bristly fur between her toes settled around his clothes and over his face, salty air filling his lungs, he wept with a body-shaking prayer of thanks.