>For an autumn morning it wasn’t terribly cold, the chilly draft unable to pierce your layers of clothing unlike most other days.
>As you swing the doors open and rush to clock in, you can’t help but let out a sigh when you remember what day it is.
>Week in and week out, Fridays manage to simultaneously be the most liberating and hellish part of your work week.
>On one hand, you got off work an hour earlier than usual, something you were grateful for despite the larger workload.
>On the other hand, it’s not like you used said hour for anything other than getting to the gym earlier in an attempt to avoid the Friday rush.
>Despite how early in the morning it was, you were already exhausted, your morning run draining what little energy you normally had.
>Grabbing a rag and spray bottle from the back, you quickly got to work on your morning duties.
>Every step you took while making your way around the store wiping down every chair, table and counter made you feel that crippling soreness in your legs.
>Maybe jogging and squatting on the same day wasn’t the greatest idea you’d ever had.
>You were definitely an idiot for jogging the morning after that though.
>Short of a single elderly woman who’d come in earlier, the store was empty.
>You were hard at work cleaning the drip trays of the frozen yogurt machines when Kevin put a hand on your shoulder, making you jump a bit.
>”Hey bud, you got a second?” he asked, ”Want to talk to you about something once you’re done here.”
>”Yeah sure, give me a minute to finish up here.”
>You quickly wrap up, washing your rag in the sink before joining Kevin behind the counter, “So, what’s up? You wanted to talk about something?”
>He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head, ”Well.. it’s more of a favor I wanted you ask you, really.”
>”Sure I guess, what is it?”
>”Well, Melanie wants to have a date at some fancy place downtown and I’m freaking out about it.”
>”So what do you need from me?”
>”I was wondering if you know anyone you could bring, make it a double date, you know?”
>You thought long and hard, listing every person you still kept in touch with that might agree to come along as your date, even if just for the prospect of a free dinner.
>All that came to mind were a few girls from college you still kept in touch with through social media on occasion, and maybe that one flirty girl from the local coffee shop.
>As you continued to mentally list your options, things weren’t looking good, thinking you might even have to resort to Tinder to find someone on short notice, god forbid.
>”What about that one girl, Ruby?”
>Ruby hadn’t even registered when you were thinking of potential options, your mind blocking her out for the sake of avoiding an awkward conversation.
>You waved your hand, “Nah, out of the question.”
>”What, seriously?” he asked, “She’s not going to say no to you, come on.”
>”Look.. it’s more complicated than that, I don’t know how she’d take it if I asked her,” you said, “And even if she did agree, I don’t want to put her on the spot like that.”
>”What do you mean, complicated?”
>”I don’t want to get into it, just take my word for it, alright?” you said, “Look, I’ll find someone, but I don’t know her well enough to ask.”
>”How long do I have to find a date anyways?” you asked, “I swear if you tell me I’ve got until tomorrow I’m going to kill you.”
>”Melanie hasn’t given me an exact date yet, maybe this Sunday or sometime next week though?” he asked, “But take it easy dude, you make it sound like this girl is some kind of princess.”
>”Look, we’re just friends and I don’t typically go around dating all my friends, alright?”
>He puts an arm around your neck, ”I’m just busting your balls my guy, if you don’t want to invite her then don’t sweat it.”
>”Find someone though, or it’s my ass on the line,” he said, “I owe you big time on this one if you come through.”
>”I’ll try my best, no promises though.”
>The hours slowly passed by, customers quickly coming and going until you finally went on break.
>You’d actually bothered to pack something for yourself today, determined to stick to your diet plans.
>It was nothing special, just some chicken, rice and some assorted vegetables; at least the chicken wasn’t bland from the marinade you’d given it.
>As you ate, you considered asking Ruby when she got off work today, seeing as you got off much earlier than usual.
>You shot her a quick text asking her when she got off work, continuing to eat as you waited for a response.
>A few minutes later, your phone buzzed, “Same time as usual, why?”
>You text back, “It’s a surprise, just tell me when you’re off.”
>She quickly shot back a photo of herself, mock pouting.
>You couldn’t help but grin upon seeing it.
>As you got up to get back to work, you were quickly reminded by your aching muscles that you were in no shape to go to the gym today.
>Your sore body begging for some recovery time, you decide to give the gym a skip for once.
>But what would you do with your Friday night instead?
>Eventually, you settle on swinging by the mall, thinking of nothing better to do with your Friday night.
>What could be better than doing a little window shopping and indulging in some terrible food from the food court?
>Maybe you’d catch a movie or something if anything caught your eye.
>Regardless of what your plans for later were, you still had a few hours before you were free to do what you desired.
>You went to go get a mop and some cleaning supplies in preparation for the afternoon rush when you noticed Kelly’s office door was ajar.
>Taking a closer look, you notice the lights are off, slowly creeping towards the door to take a peek inside.
>You opened the door with the utmost care only to find Kelly fast asleep, face down on her desk, putting a satisfied smirk on your face.
>If the tall stack of completed forms was any indication, Kelly had stayed late to wrap things up.
>You had to admire her dedication sometimes, even if it was her job on the line this time.
>But you couldn’t resist the opportunity to snap a photo, figuring it might come in handy if you needed a day off in the future.
>After taking the photo you left the office, closing the door as gently as possible, not being cruel enough to wake the poor girl up.
>You went back to Kevin, unable to resist showing him the photo, “Dude, check it.”
>”Wait, when did you take this?”
>”Just now, she’s out cold back there,” you said, “Don’t go waking her up though, I could use the peace and quiet for once.”
>The afternoon rush came and went, having cleaned up enough spills to make you feel like you were working for BP instead.
>You and Kevin were working double time on getting everything cleaned up, neither of you wanting to stay a minute longer than was absolutely necessary.
>By the end of things, you had the place looking spotless; no table, chair, counter, nozzle or drip tray left dirtied.
>In some strange way you were proud of how clean the store looked, only ruined by the fact that you’d have to do it all over again on Monday.
>Before leaving for the evening you figured waking Kelly up might be a good idea, not wanting next shift’s manager to find her asleep.
>You gave the door a loud knock, waiting a bit before knocking again, louder this time.
>You heard the sounds of papers being shuffled around, “Come in!”
>Looking at her, it was hard to stifle a laugh, her hair a complete mess, “Still hard at work, I see.”
>”Something like that, had to take work home with me last night though,” she said, yawning, “Got it done though.”
>”Hopefully I helped you out a little bit.”
>”It was a huge help, I really appreciate it Anon.”
>You smiled at her praise, ”Glad I could help, just thought I’d come by and check on things before I left.”
>”I’m good here,” she said, ”See you Monday.”
>You grabbed your bag, taking a quick detour to the bathroom to change into a plain white tee and some dark jeans.
>The beautiful thing about your mall outing was that you worked within a stone’s throw of the place.
>Every time you went to the mall you were never anything short of impressed with the layout and decoration.
>The layout as a whole was pretty ingenious, an outdoor shopping section laid out to look like a main street of sorts, well lit and decorated with gorgeous plants.
>The outdoor portion ended where the indoor portion of the mall began, an entire upper floor of stores to shop at, with an amazing movie theater to boot.
>If that wasn’t enough, an escalator lead to the lower section of the indoor mall, where the food court and other entertainment was located.
>Construction of the entire thing took ages, but it put your relatively small town on the map, providing a ton of jobs and consistently bringing more people to the area.
>Once it was finished though, the place was constantly packed, arguably the best place in town to hang out and grab a bite to eat.
>Throwing your bag into the backseat of your car, you headed off to the mall.
>Once you’d gotten out of your car and started walking around, you realized coming to the mall had been a great decision.
>It was a beautiful afternoon, not too chilly or too humid; the perfect temperature to walk around without a jacket.
>You never got tired of walking around the outdoor portion of the shopping center, always bustling with activity.
>All around you, couples of all ages smiled and laughed as they went in and out of stores.
>In a weird way, you missed all the times you and Kelly had walked down this very street most weeks.
>You couldn’t appreciate it as much then as you do now, always being in a good mood when you spent time with her.
>It wasn’t enough to put a damper on your mood, but you couldn’t help but think back to the good times as you continued to walk down the street.
>The ice cream shop you two frequented was in your sight, remembering her favorite order by heart.
>Two scoops of black raspberry and a scoop of cherry, three scoops of mint chocolate cookie for you.
>It was a small family owned place but despite that, business was booming.
>Neither of you would ever dare admit it at work, but the ice cream and frozen yogurt there was pretty sub-par in comparison to this place.
>You walked in, the colorful and familiar decoration helping you recall even more good memories.
>The place was absolutely packed, not a single seat available inside.
>“Hey! Long time no see, Anon.”
>You’d been to this place so often you knew the staff by name, ”It’s been a while Sam, how’s the wife?”
>”Pain in my ass, like always,” he laughed, “What can I get you? The usual?”
>”Let me get a coke for now.”
>”You got it boss,” he said, popping the cap off a bottle.
>You take the bottle in hand before heading outside to find a seat, taking some time to gather your thoughts.
>By the looks of things, tonight was shaping up to be another Friday night spent alone.
>You were sick and tired of feeling sorry for yourself, but it was hard to feel any other way when you thought about the direction your life had taken over the last few years.
>You didn’t even know why you felt like life was so awful; you were young, in the best shape of your life, had a job that let you make ends meet and had few but dependable friends.
>So why did you feel so alone sometimes?
>As you sipped your drink, you decided it was a good idea to get a head-start on finding a date for that favor Kevin asked of you.
>Unlocking your phone, you quickly open Tinder and get to work swiping right on every conceivable image.
>After exhausting all your potential options, you looked and saw you had eight matches to work with.
>You immediately discarded two of them upon seeing their pictures, still having some semblance of standards left.
>That left you with four human girls and two anthro girls to try and woo with some “witty” pickup lines.
>You didn’t even have the energy in you to come up with anything on the spot, choosing to instead drop a few variations of “what’s up?” instead.
>Only three messaged you back within the hour, one human girl and the two anthro girls.
>They were all fairly cute so you tried for all three, not having much room to be picky considering the short notice Kevin had given you.
>Both anthro girls made it a point to tell you that you were the first human to swipe on them early into the conversation, something that made you feel a bit uneasy.
>Despite that, you hit things off with all of them pretty well, making some small talk before you thought to give them your phone number and spring the question on them.
>Pitching the double date to all three of them went better than expected, getting numbers from all three but no promises that they’d be available for it, all of them looking to do something that same night.
>Maybe you’d take one of them out to do something, not wanting to spend a beautiful Friday night sulking and feeling sorry for yourself.
>As you typed out a response to the cute ocelot girl, a text notification from Ruby came through.
>“Where are you?”
>”Outside Dairy Goddess, why?”
>”Thought we were hitting up the gym tonight?”
>”Felt like doing something else for a change.”
>”Stay put, wuss.”
>Well, at least it looked like you wouldn’t be spending tonight alone, by the looks of things.
>Another half hour passed by, more and more people steadily pouring into the streets.
>Was she even coming?
>You went to fish your headphones from your pocket when you felt a tap on your shoulder, quickly turning around.
>Looking behind you yielded no results, chalking it up to some passerby trying to scare you.
>As you turned back around you jumped again, a grinning Ruby staring back at you, “What’s the matter, did I scare ya?”
>You’d never really seen her in casual clothing before, a black blouse and some white chinos looking great on her frame.
>”Trying to give me a heart attack or something?” you asked, smiling, “Sit down.”
>She took at a seat next to you, “So I can hear your lame excuses? Going to have to.”
>”You ever heard of a rest day?” you asked, leaning back in your chair, “Sue me for wanting to have some fun for once.”
>”Your idea of fun is sitting outside an ice cream shop after working at one all day?”
>”See anywhere else that sells soda out here?” you asked, “Plus, have you ever tried the ice cream here? It’s that good.”
>”Nah, don’t eat ice cream too often, trying to stick to a diet.”
>”Cheat meal now and then won’t kill you, I’m living proof of that,” you laughed, “Come on, my treat.”
>You went back inside together, watching her eyes light up as she looked at all the various flavors.
>This placed looked like your average ice cream store but they really pulled out all the stops when it came to having unique flavors.
>”What’s up Anon, you want the usual?”
>”Yeah sure, give me a scoop of pistachio too, will you Sam?”
>You looked down at Ruby, “What flavors you want on yours?”
>She looked up at Sam, pointing out the flavors, ”One scoop of toffee and two scoops of rocky road.”
>You quickly paid for both cones and headed back outside, taking a slow stroll down the sidewalk, taking in all the sights and sounds as you went.
>As you walked around, stopping at various stores to do some window shopping, you noticed Ruby’s normally upbeat expression fade.
>You knew for a fact it wasn’t your fault this time, opting to make some small talk, ”I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of coming here.”
>She took a few licks of her ice cream before responding, ”I moved back here when they were first starting construction. Switching high schools was a right pain in the arse though, let me tell ya.”
>”Can’t say I envy you,” you said, “How was that?”
>”Even though I moved back here at the start of junior year, I’m kind of glad I did,” she sighed, “The other school I was at was... less than great.”
>She looked away from you, choosing instead to stare at the ground, “Don’t worry about it.”
>There it was again, that look that told you something was upsetting her.
>You remember what you’d promised yourself about prying, but she looked like she needed someone to talk to, “No really, tell me.”
>She looked anxious almost, her breathing speeding up, ”It’s fine Anon, really.”
>”Look, it’s only fair after you heard me out,” you said, walking over to a bench, “Come on.”
>You took a seat on the bench, scooting in close and looking down at her, “Seriously, what’s bugging you?”
>”Just work being a pain in the arse,” she said, flashing you a weak smile, “I’m fine Anon, really.”
>You put a hand on her shoulder, ”Look, I know I haven’t given you much reason to trust me, but you can. I know I said I wouldn’t bug you about it but after what you did for me I can’t help but try to repay the favor.”
>She looks up at you, locking eyes with yours, ”Mate, you don’t owe me anything. It’s what friends are for.”
>”Some real good friends you’ve had then,” you laugh, “I’ll ask again, what’s the matter?”
>”Look, I’ll tell you, but it’s going to sound real stupid,” she said, “Promise ya won’t laugh?”
>You put a hand over your heart and smile, “Swear to god I won’t.”
>She rolls her eyes, lightly jabbing you in the ribs, “You’re such a dork.”
>“Hey, I can’t help it,” you laugh, “Spit it out though, what is it?”
>”Do you think I’m too short?” she mutters, “I can’t remember the last time I saw a girl my age that was as short as me.”
>”What kind of question is that?” you asked, “I already told you before, your height is cute, it suits you.”
>She quickly broke eye contact, a blush covering her features, “I want a real answer mate, no beating around the bush.”
>You weren’t sure how much better of an answer you could give her, “Like what?”
>”If a girl my height asked you dinner or something, what would you say to her?”
>”I’d ask her where she wants to go,” you said, shrugging, “Look, height isn’t a big deal to me.”
>”You don’t really mean that,” she said, “What if two girls asked you on a date, one tall and the other as short as me?”
>”If they were both equally attractive?” you asked, “The one that’s more fun to hang out with, I could care less about height.”
>”Now let me ask you, why does it bother you so much?”
>She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck, ”Fuck if I know mate, all the jokes get to you eventually, I guess...”
>You laugh, ”Fuck em’, they’re missing out by not knowing you.”
>”S-stop it...” she says, choosing to stare at the ground instead of you.
>”I mean it, you’re fun to hang out with,” you said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “Better yet, you’re a good listener and an even better friend, seriously.”
>”You’re just saying that to cheer me up.”
>You could tell she desperately needed something to lift her spirits, but if your honeyed words and ice cream wasn’t enough to pull her from her slump you don’t know what would.
>Mentally going through every possible option for a little while yielded no useful thoughts, until you’d thought back to something you always did with Kelly.
>When Kelly was feeling down, the only that without fail could cheer her up was holding her hand and telling her that things were going to be alright.
>Maybe Ruby would respond similarly to that?
>Kelly and you had been dating then though, you didn’t know how Ruby would react to the advance.
>Fuck it, might as well go for broke, right? Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all.
>You reached your hand down while she was distracted, taking her furred hand into yours and interlocking your fingers.
>The warmth radiating from her hand was enough to make goosebumps erupt from your forearms, the sensation akin to wearing a fuzzy mitten.
>While you had your fingers interlocked, you left your grip loose enough to allow her to pull away if she wanted to.
>You mentally braced for a slap or scream once she realized what you’d done, but it never came.
>She quickly turned back to look at her hand, then looked up at you with a scowl on her face, “What. Are. You. Doing?”
>”Trying to get you to believe me.”
>”Look, you can pull away whenever you want,” you said, “If I don’t care about who sees us like this, then you shouldn’t care what other people think about your height.”
>Her scowl only intensified at your choice in words, ”Not. Helping.”
>”Okay, listen, that sounded a lot better in my head,” you said, “Look, I’ll show you what I mean.”
>You got up from the bench, hands and fingers still intertwined as you continued to window shop.
>She’d given up on trying to get her hand out of your grip after a while, paralyzed by the fear and embarrassment of being seen like this.
>The apathetic look on her face told you that you weren’t out of the woods yet, ”What’s the point of this, Anon?”
>”I want to show you that people don’t care about this stuff as much as you think they do.”
>”People think anthro and human couples are weird but do you see anyone staring or bothering us about it?”
>”They’re just afraid to say anything because you’re here,” she muttered, “You are pretty strong..”
>You smiled at the compliment, “I’m glad you finally acknowledge it.”
>”Don’t let it get to your head or anything, wanker...”
>You continued to walk down the sidewalk, getting closer and closer to the fountain at the entrance to the other portion of the mall.
>You didn’t know exactly how to feel about what was happening right now.
>It wasn’t like nobody had ever held your hand before, but this just felt so different to any other time someone had.
>Your heart was racing and your breathing was heavy, praying to the gods that he wouldn’t notice.
>Why were you just letting this happen? He was going to think you were some kind of ditz for going along with this without much resistance.
>You felt confused, embarrassed, upset, angry but most of all, safe.
>Why exactly you felt safe by his side, you had no idea.
>Sure, he was handsome and buff but.. it was something else.
>How he always goes out of his way to make sure you’re happy, how he’s willing to put up with you when everyone else would’ve given up by now.
>A million questions flew through your head as you continued to walk by his side.
>Did he really not care about all the times you’ve lashed out at him? Like the time you’d hit him, called him names?
>The fact that he didn’t care about your height was a relief, but what did he think about you? Your friendship?
>It was going to be difficult, but you promised yourself to make an effort to be less aggressive and abrasive.
>Even if it was just around Anon, he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment from you.
>You had to admit that it was kind of a nice feeling to be held like this, even under these circumstances.
>It’d been a while since you’ve had any physical contact with a guy, having either scared most of them off with your personality or having them be total assholes from the get-go.
>You took a few deep breaths as the two of you approached the fountain, fingers tightly intertwined with his as you subconsciously tighten your grip on his hand.
>It was a little concerning, but was it really so strange that you didn’t want him to let go either?
>The way his smooth skin felt against your fur was unlike anything else you’d felt before, fighting the urge to shudder from the contrast.
>He held your hand tight but not uncomfortably so, his fingers occasionally shifting between yours as your fur tickled his skin.
>His large and rugged hand almost fully enveloped yours, warming it much like a pair of mittens would.
>As much as you hated to admit it, you could really get used to this feeling.
>He said something as you finally reached the fountain, pulling you out of your stupor.
>You fished a quarter from your pocket as you reached the fountain and handed it to her, “Make a wish.”
>She closed her eyes for a moment then tossed the coin into the water, “Done.”
>You smiled, “What did you wish for?”
>She smiled back, meeting your gaze again, “It’s a secret.”
>”You’re the worst, you know that?” you laughed, “Feeling better now?”
>”A little bit, yeah,” she said, “Could use something to eat though.”
>You continued to hold hands as you walked into the mall, “I’m glad.”
>As you made your way to the food court you could see her expression soften, Ruby returning to her upbeat self.
>You were happy that you could help in the end, and a little relieved that she hadn’t freaked out at your sudden advances.
>She seemed to be in way more of a rush than you were to get to the food court, practically dragging you by the hand.
>The beauty of a food court lied in the seemingly limitless amount of options, none of them healthy yet all extremely satisfying.
>”What should we get, Anon?”
>”I’m kind of feeling Chinese food right now,” you said, “How about you?”
>”Chinese is fine.”
>You eyed the three different options for Chinese food, “Yeah, but which one?”
>”Chinese Gourmet Express for sure, I know one of the girls who works there.”
>You walk up the counter, eyeing up the menu options, “Let me get some Lo Mein with the orange chicken, teriyaki and two egg rolls.”
>Grabbing your tray and paying for your order, you waited nearby for Ruby to do the same.
>You saw her greet the panda girl that took your order, chatting for a little while as you sat there waiting.
>The panda snuck glances at you as she spoke, Ruby occasionally turning back to look at you with the faintest hint of a blush on her face.
>What the hell were they talking about?
>Trying your hardest to eavesdrop without being obvious proved difficult, only being able to hear snippets of their conversation as you inched closer.
>”Are you and him... a thing?”
>Oh, so that’s what they were talking about.
>A devilish idea popped into your head, sauntering over to the pair with tray in hand, “Hey sweetie, I’m gonna go sit down, alright?”
>”Uh sure...” was all Ruby managed to say before you turned around and walked away to find a seat.
>You were most definitely going to live to regret that one later, but the opportunity had been too good to pass up, chuckling to yourself as you went.
>It seemed you were going to regret things sooner than you thought, watching her rapidly make her way towards you, slamming the tray down on the table, “You. Fucking. Dick.”
>You couldn’t help but grin at her words, ”What’s wrong, sweetie?”
>”Now she’s going to tell everyone we know I’m dating a human.”
>”But you aren’t,” you said, “What’s so bad about dating humans anyways?”
>She continued to glare at you, ”You know what people think of anthro and human couples Anon, don’t play dumb.”
>”Can you just go tell her it was a joke, please?”
>You couldn’t say no to that pouting face, ”Alright, look, if it bothers you that much I’ll tell her it was a joke after we eat, alright?”
>”Fine,” she says, sitting down, “Why do you have to go and make me look like a fuckwit?”
>“Come on, it was funny,” you say, shrugging, “Plus, you’re adorable when you’re angry, what more reason do I need?”
>”Arsehole,” she mutters.
>You sit in silence as you both tear through your meal, both of you not having eaten anything for several hours.
>Between mouthfuls of food you shoot her a question, “You want to catch a movie after this or something?”
>”Nah, think I might go home in a little bit.”
>”What, this early?” you asked, “There’s tons of other shit we can do if you don’t want to catch a movie.”
>You sat there for a bit, trying to think of something fun you could do together, when it finally came to you.
>If you remembered right there was a new laser tag place that opened up in the mall not too long ago, supposedly they’d snatched up a pretty large space too.
>“I’ve got it,” you said, ”Two words, guess.”
>She sat for a minute, trying to think of what it could be, “Alright, I give up.”
>You smiled, “Laser tag.”
>”Laser tag?” she asked, “What are you, twelve?”
>”You don’t like laser tag?” you asked, appalled, “How could anyone not like laser tag? It’s fun as hell.”
>”I don’t know, I’ve never played it before,” she said, shrugging, “And it didn’t sound that fun to me.”
>You cocked an eyebrow, ”You have to play, I can’t believe people like you even exist.”
>”I don’t want to play,” she said, “I’d probably be no good at it anyway.”
>”That’s crazy talk, someone as fast as you would kick ass at laser tag.”
>”You’re just saying that...”
>You look her square in the eyes, ”Seriously, you’re in better shape than I am.”
>She laughed, “Not exactly a challenge, Anon.”
>”Laugh it up,” you say, “We’re playing though, it’s on me.”
>”Can I at least think about it?” she said, “It’s not even that late yet, lets do something else first.”
>”I actually need to pick up a gift for a birthday at work,” she said, “No idea what to get em’ though.”
>”How about we play a few games of laser tag then I’ll help you pick something out?”
>”Just one game though,” she said, “Alright?”
>”Yeah, that’s what I tell myself every time I play too,” you chuckled, “Still want to me to talk to your friend?”
>”Can’t hurt, I guess,” she said, shrugging, “Though knowing her, she already spilled the beans.”
>You got up and began to walk back to the counter, the panda girl watching as you did.
>She smiled, “Can I get you anything else sir?”
>”Ruby just wanted me to let you know we’re not actually dating,” you said, “I was just messing around.”
>The panda girl just winked at you, “Got it.”
>You weren’t sure she understood what you were telling her, “No seriously, we’re just friends.”
>She frowned at your statement, “Really? You two would make a cute couple, no offense.”
>“None taken, but that’s what they keep telling us,” you laugh, “You two known each other long?”
>”Almost five years now, known her since high school,” she said, “I was honestly surprised to see her with a guy, she’s never been one to hang out with them much.”
>”No clue, but she hasn’t had a boyfriend, much less a guy friend since I’ve met her,” she said, “Be good to her, alright?”
>You gave a mock salute, “I’ll do my best.”
>”Hope so, she’s a good friend,” she said, “Name’s Lily, by the way.”
>You reached over the counter to shake her hand, “Anon, but you can call me ‘Non if you want.”
>”See you around, Anon.”
>”Nice meeting you.”
>You walked back to Ruby, “Crisis averted.”
>”What took you so long?”
>”She thought I was joking at first,” you said, “Ready to kick some ass?”
>The two of you made your way to the laser tag arena, eyes bombarded by bright, flashing lights as you stepped inside and made your way to the counter.
>You felt bad for the guy manning the register, working this late on a Friday night must be hell, “How much for a game?”
>He pointed at the sign behind him, “Five dollars per game, three for ten dollars or an unlimited day pass for twenty-five dollars.”
>”I’ll take three games.”
>You paid and he handed you three tokens, two vests and two taggers.
>Handing Ruby her equipment and pocketing the tokens, you quickly strap on the vest only to find out it’s a little small on you.
>She seemed to be having the opposite problem, vest looking more like a dress on her frame.
>”Think we’ve got the wrong vests.”
>She laughed when she got a good look at you, “Didn’t know they made bras for men.”
>”I didn’t think you wore dresses either.”
>You both take your vests off and swap, then head to the waiting area for the next game.
>While you wait, you figure it’d be good idea to give her a rundown on the basics, “Alright, so you’re going to want to aim for any of the sensors on the vest, but it helps if you shoot their gun too, disables it for a good bit.”
>”Anything else I should know mate?”
>You take your tagger and show her some of the features it has, ”When you need to reload this light here will turn red, just smack the button on the side and it’ll reload.”
>Shortly after that the current game ended, then the referee came out to the waiting area to give a quick rundown on the rules and collect tokens from everyone, “Alright so we’ve got 8 people, go ahead and split into two teams of four.”
>You and Ruby link up with another couple standing nearby, awaiting further instructions.
>”First team to twenty tags wins, if you get tagged walk back to the starting area then come back in if you still have lives,” the referee said, “Each player has five lives. Any other questions before we start?”
>Nobody had anything to say as the instructions were pretty clear, “Alright, follow me.”
>The arena was a lot larger than you’d anticipated, looking like one of those training areas swat teams used.
>It even had a catwalk overhead for the referee to stand on and oversee the whole match without interrupting.
>It was extremely dark though, the only illumination available coming from your taggers and flashing lights strewn about the arena.
>You looked down at Ruby, who looked a bit nervous about the whole thing, “You good?”
>She looked up at you, flashing you an uneasy smile, ”Yeah, just worried I’m going to be dead weight.”
>”Don’t sweat it, you’ll be fine,” you said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “Can’t be any worse than my first time, got two tags in four lives.”
>The referee started counting down from ten, both you and Ruby getting into a position to sprint out into the arena.
>With an explosive dash, you quickly slide into cover behind some stacked tires, Ruby following closely behind.
>Each of you occasionally peeked out from behind your cover on different sides, waiting for someone you could tag.
>You looked over at her and saw she was pointing in that direction, telling you someone was coming.
>As quietly as possible, you sneak out of cover and make your way into the makeshift room nearby in an effort to get around.
>You sit still under the single windowsill in the room, watching the entrances as you listen for footsteps.
>It wasn’t long before you heard the sound of someone stepping around nearby, popping up from underneath the windowsill and tagging them when they got close.
>Soon after that, Ruby joined you in the room, following close behind like a sick puppy.
>You both slowly made your way into enemy lines, Ruby watching your back as you cleared each individual room, each of you tagging people as you went.
>As you exited the next room your tagger began to vibrate, signaling you were out, “Fuck, out!”
>As you walked back to your spawn room you couldn’t help but smile when you saw Ruby tag the guy who’d gotten you.
>The moment you hit the spawn room you ran right back into the action, noticing Ruby making her way back to the spawn room.
>”Dickhead got me from behind,” she said, as she walked, “Give em’ hell.”
>You grinned, ”I plan on it.”
>Both teams traded blows as time went on, you being down to three lives after getting pinched by the opposing team without any backup.
>Looking at the score indicator on your tagger told you it was neck and neck, your teammates being down to one and two lives respectively.
>They’d been scoring a few tags here and there but they were bleeding lives like nobody’s business.
>From where you were huddled behind, you could see Ruby using her height to her advantage, leaning out from behind a metal barrel to tag anyone unaware enough to come into her line of sight.
>You saw someone making their way behind her, sprinting out from behind cover to tag them but getting tagged by another one of their teammates yourself.
>Both of you were down to two lives with the opposing team having five lives left spread out among three people.
>It was going to be hard to pull out a win, but if you stuck together it was still possible.
>You tried to find Ruby as you headed back into the arena, hoping she hadn’t gotten tagged out again.
>As you rounded a corner you tagged someone who had his back turned to you, making sure to slink off before his teammates noticed you.
>You sighed as you looked down at the score on your tagger, you were still outnumbered, each enemy still having a single life to their name.
>As you continued to walk the dark corridors you couldn’t see any sign of Ruby despite the indicator telling you she still had two lives left.
>Rounding another corner, you felt something suddenly tug at your sleeve, quickly turning to try and tag them before they got you.
>You were relieved to find out it was just Ruby trying to pull you into cover even if your finger had just almost pulled the trigger on her.
>”So what’s the game plan?” you asked in a low whisper.
>She put a finger to her lips then tapped one of her ears in response.
>This particular room she’d decided to hole up in was particularly open, two entryways and two windows that could be peeked through.
>Each of you watched one side of the room, crouched down low in corners in opposite sides of the room, using the darkness to your advantage.
>You sat in absolute silence and stillness, waiting for any sound that might indicate someone was coming.
>There it was, someone was coming close to your doorway and Ruby picked up on it too, both of you turning to face the doorway in anticipation.
>As soon as he came through the both of you blasted him, a satisfied grin on both of your faces.
>It was short lived though as both of your taggers began to vibrate, the rest of his teammates getting the drop on you from the other entry you’d neglected to cover.
>”Damn it!” you exclaimed, “Out!”
>”Fuckin’ agro cunts!” she spat, “Out!”
>You headed back to your spawn room together, trying to come up with a game plan you could use to win the match.
>It was neck and neck, both teams down to two participants and two lives, next encounter surely deciding the outcome of the game.
>You took a moment before heading back into the arena, discussing strategy with Ruby back in the spawn room, “So, what do you want to do?”
>”How about we give em’ a taste of their own medicine?” she asked, “You bait them like they did with their teammate and I pop out and tag them both.”
>”Why do I have to be the bait?”
>”You’re a bigger target than me, Anon,” she explained, “Besides, I think I’m a better shot than you anyways.”
>”Yeah okay,” you said, rolling your eyes, “Where do you want me to bait them to?”
>”Remember that barrel I was hiding behind?” she asked, “Bring them around there and I’ll take care of the rest.”
>A quick glance down at the scoreboard on your gun told you Ruby had actually been outscoring you this match, six tags to your four, “Alright, I’ll do it. Ready to go?”
>The two of you took off towards the center of the Arena, Ruby crouching behind the metal barrel, trying to stay as low to the ground as possible.
>She gave you a quick nod and you ventured forward into enemy lines, doing your best to not get caught out.
>If you’re going to be bait, you figure making some noise might be a good idea, banging your fist against a wooden wall, then hiding behind a corner.
>You keep peeking out from your corner every so often until you see the faint light coming off a tagger, exposing yourself just enough that he knows you’re there but can’t tag you.
>As soon as you see him turn, you start sprinting over to where Ruby had told you she’d be waiting, hearing the pitter-patter of footsteps close behind you.
>God, you hoped she knew what she was doing.
>You quickly reached the spot where she’d wanted to meet up but she was nowhere to be seen, quickly ducking behind cover as the other team approached.
>Did she mean another barrel? Did you come to the wrong place? You had no time to think as the sounds of footsteps grew closer.
>You pop up from the left side of your cover and manage to tag the gun of one, sprinting to the next set of cover before his buddy had time to follow up.
>It wasn’t the best situation to be in but at least you had a moment before it became a two versus one situation again.
>Where the hell was she? You didn’t on plan on going down without a fight.
>”Come out, come out, wherever you are,” they taunted as they approached your cover.
>You sit still for a short time before popping out from behind cover again, managing to tag one before the vibration of your gun let you know you’d been tagged out.
>For a moment you were almost upset, before Ruby popped out from the inside of the metal drum, tagging the last enemy in the back.
>All the guy could do is look up at the referee, “Oh come on, how is that fair?”
>The referee just shrugged, “There’s no rule against it, you’re out.”
>”Bullshit,” he said, walking back to his spawn room.
>You went over to Ruby, helping her out of the drum and pulling her into a quick hug before hoisting her into a sitting position on your shoulder, “You had me worried for a second there.”
>”Put me down Anon, this is embarrassing.”
>”Why?” you asked, looking up, “You carried our team to victory, only fair I carry you.”
>You start to chant her name, shaking a fist as you make your way back to the spawn room, “Ruby! Ruby! Ruby!”
>She starts laughing at your cheering, “Have I ever told you how much of a dork you are?”
>”Not enough times to get me to stop being one, apparently.”
>Once you reach the spawn room you set her back down again, taking your equipment off and heading over to the counter to hand it back in.
>Looking at her white pants you notice a stain, presumably from climbing into the drum, “You’ve got something on your pants there.”
>”Shit, I just washed these the other day,” she cursed, “Whatever, at least we won.”
>You play around with the remaining token, “Guess we’ll save this one for another time?”
>”Who said I wanted to play again?”
>”Admit it, you had fun,” you said, pointing at the scoreboard, “Plus, you even managed to outgun me.”
>”Just dumb luck,” she shrugged, “It was kind of fun though, can’t lie.”
>“Still going to buy that birthday present?”
>”If there’s enough time,” she said, “I was thinking about getting her some jewelry, what do you think?”
>You take a quick glance at your watch, ”Not a bad idea, but if you’re going to buy something make it quick, place closes in twenty minutes.”
>Both of you quickly head over to a nearby jewelry store, walking around the store and weighing your options.
>”I can’t decide, Anon.”
>”Well, what kind of jewelry does she normally wear?”
>She thinks about it for a second, ”Earrings and a pendant sometimes.”
>”Get her a bracelet then, she’ll probably like it.”
>Ruby picks out a simple silver bracelet after a while but you can’t help notice her eyeing a gold necklace in a display case.
>She pays for the bracelet and you both start making your way to the exit.
>The first thing you noticed when you stepped outside was how cold it was compared to a few hours ago, shivering a bit.
>As you walked you couldn’t help but think about all you’d done today.
>For a night you expected to spend alone, things had turned out pretty well; you’d spent some quality time with Ruby, ate some good food, and overall had a good time.
>Not much more you could ask for than that; it was the best night out you’d had in ages.
>Despite that, a single question lingered in the back of your mind.
>What the hell was this friendship of yours? It was unlike any other you’d ever had before, closer to being a couple than friends, without all the stress that accompanied a relationship.
>You couldn’t help but think you were doing it again, getting too attached, too close and catching feelings.
>It felt wrong to want to push her away though, you felt something there but that ever-present fear prevented you from finding out what it was and acting on it.
>Ruby’s voice temporarily dispelled your worries, looking down to see what she wanted.
>“Anon, it’s f-freezing out here, can you...” she muttered, teeth chattering, “Can you warm up my h-hands, please?”
>“Of course,” you replied, taking both her hands into yours and kneading them.
>She was right, her hands felt icy to the touch despite the thin layer of fur covering them.
>Not that your hands were much warmer, but after a while you felt satisfied with your impromptu massage, “Better?”
>”A little, c-can you hold them so they don’t get c-cold again, please?”
>You couldn’t help but grin but you weren’t cruel enough to deny her request either, “Yeah, I can do that.”
>Tightly taking her furred hand into yours for the second time that night, you continue walking down the streets to your car.
>That thin layer of fur warmed your hands but also tickled at your palms, suppressing the urge to loosen your grip.
>Oddly enough, she seemed content? Even with this bitter cold there was a hint of a smile on her face as you walked hand in hand.
>Maybe you were being hasty with all your worrying, things were going to be fine, right?
>Although you were praying she wouldn’t take notice at the goosebumps slowly making their way to the surface of your arms, something you wouldn’t be able to easily explain away.
>You eventually make it to your car, opening the passenger side door for her, letting go of her hand as she gets in.
>Getting into the driver’s seat, you start the car and start heading towards her house.
>”So, you still think the gym was a better choice?”
>”No... but I do still think you’re a wimp for skipping a workout,” she said, “I had a good time though.”
>”Nothing wrong with skipping a workout now and then,” you said, “I’m glad you had fun though, I did too.”
>You pulled up to the spot you usually dropped her off at, “See you tomorrow morning?”
>”Bright and early, don’t forget.”
>”How could I?” you asked, “The alarm sure doesn’t.”
>Ruby took you by surprise as she leaned over to hug you tightly, awkwardly wrapping an arm around her back in an attempt to return the hug.
>You couldn’t help but freeze up, brain unsure of how to proceed.
>She looked up mid hug and looked you in the eyes, “Thanks for everything tonight Anon, I really needed this.”
>You stammered out a response, a warm smile on your face, “N-no problem, I’m glad I helped?”
>Nice going Casanova, really turning the charm up to eleven with that one.
>The embrace continued for another minute, possibly the longest minute of your life, but the sensation of her fur on your cold skin made it all worth it.
>When she finally broke away, all you could do was stare into those alluring amber pools until she finally left, sticking around until you’d seen her safely make it home.
>The drive home gave you a lot of time to think over a few things you’d been meaning to do.
>You still hadn’t found a date for Kevin’s double dinner date, something you’d have to rectify over the weekend.
>You also had to change the oil on your car and do a little bit of maintenance, since you were hearing some worrying noises when you were out and about.
>Most importantly, you had no idea what to think about what just happened not five minutes ago, all the mixed signals not giving you much to go on with Ruby.
>The most important tidbit of information you’d gleaned that night came from her friend.
>It was odd that someone as attractive as Ruby hadn’t had a boyfriend or many guy friends unless she... no... there’s no way.
>You weren’t the best at picking up hints you’d admit, but there was no way Ruby was batting for the other team, was there?
>Maybe you’d talk to Lily again next time you swung by there again, but nothing she’d said hinted at that which was a relief.
>The fact that you were relieved at that was a little worrisome.
>You tossed your clothes into a pile when you got home, practically rushing into your bathroom to take a warm shower.
>Afterwards, you weren’t feeling hungry, but also not in a mood to do much else considering how late it was, deciding to instead jump into your bed and throw the sheets over yourself.
>For the first time in ages, you managed to quickly doze off, happy memories of the day’s events dancing about in your head.