Trapped - Anonymous
"No, no, no, no, no, FUCK!" The cheetah paces around the dark elevator, gnawing at his claws. "I got all dressed up and everything, and now I'm gonna be late! How could this get any worse?"
"It's probably just another blown transformer or something," you say. "They've already called a mechanic to check out what's going on."
"And how long do you think that's going to take?" He snaps. "I have big things ahead of me, and if I can't get out of here soon, then all of those plans are going to burn up in smoke."
"It's out of our hands, Julian, it's best to just stay calm. Whoever it is you have plans with will understand."
The cheetah man covers his face, leaning up against the wall of the elevator. He doesn't even acknowledge what you said.
Ambitious seems like an understatement for describing Julian. From what little you knew of him, every single move he made seems calculated to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. Whenever there was a party in the office, you always saw him trying to rub elbows with the higher-ups rather than mingle with you and the rest of your colleagues. He followed the motto of "Dress for the job you want" to a T, showing up to work in some of the nicest suits you've ever seen.
And damn, did someone have good taste. Every single suit you caught him in fit him perfectly in color, size and style, complimenting his near-golden fur and slim figure. Only queers have fashion sense like that, you think. You wonder who dresses him.
Not that Julian himself wasn't pleasing to the eye, quite the opposite in fact. You would even consider bedding him if he didn't have such a royal stick up his ass.
And now you and him were stuck in this elevator together on a Friday afternoon, with no one else in sight.
The cat slams a fist against the door to the elevator behind him, the sound bringing you out to reality. "2:05, they probably started without me. Damnit..."
You try to reassure him. "I'm sure there'll be more chances to shine in front of the board, dude, you already carry yourself well."
"Anyone could carry themselves well compared to you. Don't give me that shit."
You're taken aback by the personal attack. "What's your problem, jackass?" you rage. "All I did was try to help, don't talk to me that way."
"You don't know the first thing about me, what I worked through to get here. So just shut up!"
You roll your eyes. God forbid he ever shows any amount of respect for someone who isn't a superior. You pull out your phone and start a sudoku puzzle.
When you finish your first, you hear sobbing from the other side of the elevator. Julian is holding his face in his hands, having a lot of trouble keeping it together. At first you shrug it off, figuring the prick deserves it for the way he acts around everyone else. After your second puzzle, though, you realize he probably isn't going to stop. "What am I supposed to say to Dad?" you hear him ask through shaky cries."
"You OK, Julian?"
He looks up. "What do you want?" Still as spicy as ever.
"You've been crying for at least ten minutes. I want to know if there's anything I can do to make you feel better."
"I already said you wouldn't get it."
"Sometimes you just need to vent," you say. "Maybe I can't understand your problems. But maybe I will, and either way it'll feel better to get them off your chest."
"Whatever," the cheetah retorts dismissively. He can't even make eye contact with you any more, and he has his legs curled up to his chest.
"I had a meeting with Mr. Tsuzuki yesterday," he starts. "He came into my cubicle and told me my promotion would be in the bag if I had a good showing at today's meeting. I made sure that every thing was perfect for my presentation, got dressed in my best suit, and it all went to shit anyway."
"But there's going to be more chances to get that promotion, Julian. You're going to lose your mind and soul if you focus too hard on climbing rank."
"I've already lost that stuff long ago." You can here the bitterness in his voice. "I've been a salaryman since I turned five. My parents never accepted any failure from me growing up. I'd go the night hungry if I lost at a swim meet or I came home with a bad test grade. Messing up wasn't- isn't an option."
"So they knew you were up for promotion and you're scared you're going to let them down?" you ask. "Julian, I don't know how cold your parents are but it seems like you've already come very far. They have to be proud of you."
"This is why I said you wouldn't get it," the cheetah growls. "They aren't going to be happy unless I claw my way to the top, and drive stupid fancy cars, and marry some dumb lioness bimbo as a status symbol. I don't want any of that, any of this, but I feel like I can't change course, like this is the path that's been decided for me, and I never had agency."
"It's funny, because I do get it," you say. "I grew up in a conservative household, went to church every sunday, you know, we were that kind of family. My parents always pushed me to follow the teachings of the lord, to never let myself get corrupted by sin, and to stay self-sufficient. Can I tell you something, Jules?"
"If it's relevant."
"I'm a homosexual."
The cheetah's jaw drops. "You're... gay?"
"Is it so much of a surprise?" you ask. "When I told my parents as an adult, they called me a disappointment and eventually cut contact. I get why you feel the need to kowtow to their every whim. But if this isn't the person you are, or that you want to be, you need to become your own man so you don't end up a miserable husk."
"How did you work up that strength?" Julian looks you in the eyes. "I can't imagine ever telling my parents... if I had a secret like that, I mean. Was it hard for you to let go?"
"It still is," you say, "but the grass is greener on the other side, knowing that you're living for yourself."
"I... Thanks. Anon, right?" That was the first time he's called you by name.
"The one and only."
You can see a smile start to form on his face. "This situation still sucks, but I appreciate the advice, I needed to hear it for a while now."
You return his smile with one of your own. "I'm glad."
"When we get out of this mess, do you want to go out for drinks?"
"Assuming maintenance doesn't forget about us in here? I'd love to."
Julian scratches the back of his neck. "I suppose that's the most important condition! Did you hear anything from anyone?"
You check your messages. "Marty from our department told me the power was out for the whole building. It looks like our elevator might be stuck between floors."
"Ah, shit. How long you think we'll be stuck here?"
"Technicians say three hours at most. I'd hope so because I can't imagine going to the bathroom in here."
"I don't even want to think about that." he says.
"Then let's talk about something else. Tell me about yourself, I feel like I've just met you."
He starts to give me a canned answer. "Well, for starters, I'm diligent and dedicated to the company, and-"
"Come on, now," you interrupt. "I want to know the Julian under the mask."
The cheetah seems a bit more apprehensive. "Work has kind of become my personality. Sorry to disappoint you, Anon."
"We'll see that for ourselves. What kind of stuff do in your free time, or do you fall asleep reading income sheets?
"When I'm commuting, sometimes I like to read books on my phone."
You're caught off guard. "Commuting? I always figure a man who dresses as well as you had his own chauffeur, or at least a sports car."
The cheetah blushes. "Ah! If only I could afford either on my current salary."
"How long does it take you to get to work?"
"About half an hour," he says. "I usually get a chapter in each way."
"And what kind of books do you like to read? Any specific genres?"
"I'm gonna sound so lame," Julian whines. "I love Fantasy and Romance. I go through at least two books a month."
"That's impressive," you comment. "Fantasy and Romance, have you ever read the Burning Battalion by Stahl Letterman?"
The cheetah's eyes widen with excitement. "Only like three times!" He lists off his favorite aspects of the story, from the well-paced action scenes, to the tight plot, and finally the character drama. "All of the members of Dawn Battalion felt so real, and I really liked how the friendship between Zach and Barney grew into a realistic romance. A lot of other books kinda shove in gay pairings without thinking about what characters mean to each other."
"I really loved their relationship, too," you say. "Barney reminds me a lot of my ex. Both are complete softies once you get to know them."
"Ex, huh? Are you single right now, Anon?"
"Why?" you tease. "Are you interested?"
The cheetah blushes "Oh shit! I'm sorry Anon, I didn't mean to pry. I was just a little curious."
"No harm in asking," you say. "I've been single for about a year now." You and your ex broke it off last spring. He fell in love with someone else, and you both agreed to just end things there in the hopes of preserving the friendship. And while you're glad the two of you could still get along well, it felt bittersweet to see him happy with someone else.
"And what about you?" you ask. "You said your parents were trying to get you with a lioness. They're crazy in bed, I've heard."
His face turns sour. "I hope I don't have to find out."
You beckon for him to elaborate.
"It's about being forced to tie myself to someone because of social pressure. If I want to stay in the good graces of my family, I need to at least try to make it work. But I know I'm never going to love her, so it's going to be a miserable arrangement. The most I could hope is that I can delay it or beg for a different match, and even then my parents are growing impatient. I'm in my mid-twenties!"
"Why don't you think you can love her?" you ask.
He looks at you for a second, clears his throat, and says: "She isn't my type."
Immediately any doubt you had about Julian was cleared. You could probably pin him down to admit it from this point in the conversation, but it wouldn't accomplish anything more than making him hate you. You choose instead to give him the same advice you have before. "You can respect your parents without having to sacrifice your happiness to a loveless marriage. You need to be your own advocate."
"It's easier said than done," he grumbles.
"It's always easier said than done. How about we talk about something else?"
"That's probably for the best. What are you interested in?"
"I'm a lot like you," you say. "Reading and movies when I get home, and sometimes I like to treat myself with a meal at a nice restaurant."
He scratches above his collar. "Huh, I would have figured you were a lot more social. You get along with the rest of our coworkers just fine."
"They're all interesting enough, but they're work friends, if you know what I mean. I'm not really close with anyone. It was different when my ex was still around." You and him used to go try new foods together, drag each other across the city to see the skyline from new angles, and dance the night away at the club. It's been too quiet without him.
"I guess it makes two of us," he says, getting up to sit next to me.
The cheetah's normally piercing red eyes soften as he lowers his guard. Up close you can really appreciate how well trimmed his fur is. The black spots on the side and back of his head strike you as both exotic and oddly familiar, reminding you of a field of sunflowers. You thought Julian was hot since you first saw him, but when you're together like this, he's just... beautiful.
"I really misjudged you," he says.