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A Roo'd Awakening: Chapter Six


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You can scarcely make out the end of the paved trail just up ahead, every muscle in your body screaming as you push yourself to your physical limits. Your lungs feel like they’re on fire. Countless beads of sweat pour down your face as your legs continue carrying you forward at a pace you never thought you could maintain.

With one final push, you force yourself to your absolute limits. You pick up the pace until you finally reach the end of the trail, sending a feeling of accomplishment over your exhausted body and mind. You couldn’t believe it, but you’d finally done it; beating Ruby to the end of the trail for the first time in the two weeks you’d been jogging together. Even if it had only been by a few seconds, you still felt proud about beating a seasoned runner at their own game.

“I... finally... beat... you....” you say, panting between words as you struggle to catch your breath, bending over and placing both hands on your knees for support.

“Not... fair... you cunt....” she pants as she takes a seat against a tree stump, equally as wiped out by the intense jog. “I had to... slow down at... the bend....”

Once you catch your breath you take a few shaky steps towards her, trying to regain feeling in your legs. You take a quick glance at your watch and realize you only have thirty minutes before you’re late for work. Leaving the house later than you'd intended really threw a wrench into your already tight schedule.

“I think someone’s just a sore loser,” you smirk, offering your hand to help her up. “Remember last week when you were telling me to try and prove you wrong?”

“I don’t remember saying anything like that, but if you say so, mate,” she pants, her breath visible in the chilly morning air. “Give me a second though, I feel a little... lightheaded.”

You didn't think it was possible for her to be equally as worn out as you from jogging, but judging from the damp, dark shade of fur on her face, you had really given her a run for her money today. Despite wanting to give her some time to rest, you knew Kelly wasn’t going to be quite as lenient if you were late again this week. "Hey, I gotta get to work, Ruby. My manager is going to kill me if I'm late again... You mind if I just... carry you to the car?"

“C-carry me?” she stutters out, shaking her head fervently at your offer. “N-no thanks, I’d rather walk; besides, you look as tired as I am.”

She tries to get up, putting a hand on the tree stump for support, only for her to let out a muffled cry of pain as her leg buckles beneath her.

“Shit, you alright?” you ask, leaning down to examine her leg for any injuries. “Where does it hurt?”

“I-it’s fine, really!” she groans, squirming away from your touch as you run your hands over her furred leg and ankle. “It’s probably nothing Mike, I’ll just have to walk a little more carefully.”

It becomes glaringly obvious to you that she’s in no condition to get up, let alone walk as you watch her attempt to get up again, only to fall back down. Her tail slaps the ground but fails to keep her from landing flat on her ass with a yelp. Since she refuses to admit to you where, or even if it hurts at all, your hands continue to explore her furred leg in an attempt to find the source of her pain. You try to avoid letting your hands linger in one place for too long, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling the firm musculature of her thigh and calf. When you apply some pressure near her ankle she fails miserably at stifling a yelp. “Jeez… Look, you shouldn’t put weight on that leg for a while, so at least let me carry you to the car, alright?”

“What, were you thinking of carrying me all the way to work?” she asks, pouting at the mere idea of being carried.

“Only if you want me to.” You smile as you carefully reposition her leg into a more comfortable position.

“Hnn… okay, but only because I can’t walk on my own,” she mutters, averting her gaze as she waits for you to pick her up.

You face away from her before crouching down. “Can you grab on?”

“You’re... going to give me a... piggyback ride?” she asks as you feel her furred arms wrap tightly around your neck.

“What, would you rather I princess carry you instead?” you ask, a smirk forming on your face.

“Sh-shut up,” she mutters, though with how close her muzzle is to your ear you can hear her perfectly.

“Hold on tight back there, don’t want you to fall,” you say as you stand back up to your full height, taking a careful step to test your balance. “Heavier than I thought.”

“A-am not,” she stutters into your ear as you slowly start walking towards where you parked your car. “You’re just a weakling, Mike.”

“Oh yeah?” you grin, turning your head slightly to look back at her. “I think you’re forgetting that this weakling beat you not ten minutes ago.”

“Dumb luck,” she grumbles, still unwilling to admit defeat.

You can’t help but smile at her response, knowing she’ll try even harder to beat you on future jogs together. While you’re fairly bundled up in a long-sleeved hoodie and sweatpants, the weather still feels just as nippy this morning as every other for the past two weeks. It only serves to remind you that autumn is just around the corner. Despite that, the chill in the air doesn't affect you too badly with the way Ruby is pressed against your back, her fur brushing against your exposed skin. It almost feels like you’re wearing a thick, fuzzy scarf around your neck with how tightly she wraps her arms around you. The fur on the underside of her thighs presses against your forearms, tickling at your skin while simultaneously warming you. As you continue to walk, you can occasionally feel her thick tail swat against your arms, the impact gently rocking them. You can even feel what you suspect is her chest pressing into your back, though it doesn’t feel like anything you’ve experienced with other girls you’ve carried this way. It feels odd, not quite like a breast, though you can probably chalk that up to the fur covering her skin.

“I think I can manage from here, Mike. Can you put me down so I can try walking?” she asks, loosening her grip on your neck.

You decide to mess with her a bit, suddenly bringing your forearms up in order to provide more support, which in turn makes her squeeze your neck tight as she squeaks in surprise. Almost too tightly, as you soon find yourself having difficulty swallowing with the death grip she has around your neck. “Ruby, you- you’re choking me.”

“Shit, sorry,” she says, and you feel her grip on your neck quickly loosen.

“It’s alright. So... skipping the gym today or are we still on for that?” you ask, slowing your walk a bit as you step through the grass.

“I’ll be fine, I’ll just put some ice on it during my lunch break or something, let my foot heal up a little,” she says, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Sounds to me like you’re the one that wants to weasel out of a workout, Mike.”

“I think I’ll be fine so long as- wait. Oh god, please don’t tell me it’s leg day today, Ruby,” you groan as you try to recall your gym schedule.

“No, it’s chest day today, you dork,” she says, alleviating your worry. “Did you even read the schedule I sent you Monday?”

“I may have... skimmed through it,” you lie, not having read the whole thing when she texted it to you.

“Uh huh,” she says as you suddenly feel a pressure on your shoulder. You shift your eyes and see she’s resting her chin on you.

You continue to trudge through the grass, taking in the many beautiful sights that accompany the shifting seasons. Everything from leaves slowly changing in color to seeing your breath lingering in the chilly air. Despite the rapidly dropping temperatures, autumn and winter are amongst your favorite parts of the year. You continue taking in the beauty in your surroundings, but you're distracted when you hear something very close to your ear. It sounded like... a faint sniffing sound? It was quiet enough that you could ignore it for a little while. Only the sound returns, becoming louder and more forceful as time passes. You eventually turn to face the source of the noise. “Ruby? What are you... doing?”

“N-nothing,” she stutters, desperately trying to avert her gaze as you watch the insides of her ears and cheeks turn a rosy pink the longer you continue staring at her.

“Then what was that... sniffing I heard?” you ask, hoping you hadn’t misinterpreted what she was doing.

“I-it was just... I was just clearing my nose, arsehole!” she says, bringing a hand away from your neck to push at your cheek, forcing you to look away from the blushing mess she currently is.

You aren’t going to fight her on this, but you can’t help but think back to what Kevin had told you about dealing with Melanie, the conversation about her sniffing him all over still fresh in your mind. Was Ruby... sniffing you? Has she done this before? And if she had, then why were you only starting to notice it now? The best you could hope for is that having confronted her about the sniffing will get her to stop doing it. And for a little while you think she's stopped, that is, until you hear another loud sniff.

“Ruby?” you ask, looking back at her again and catching her by surprise for the second time in the last few minutes. “Everything alright?”

“Y-yeah, it’s just allergies, ya’ know?” she mumbles, still not daring to meet your gaze, her cheeks still the same rosy pink they were before. “It smells like you poured a gallon of cologne on your neck though, Mike.”

“I’ll have you know I only use half a gallon of cologne every morning, thank you very much,” you tease as you finally reach your car, opening the passenger side door and crouching down to let her climb inside. “Sorry if the smell is too strong for you though, I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

“It’s fine, Mike,” she smiles as she settles into her seat. “Thanks for helping me to the car, my leg is feeling much better already.”

You can’t help but smile upon seeing her own. “No worries, though my back kind of hurts now....”

“Am I going to have to carry you later then?” she retorts as she goes to close the door.

“Only if you want to.”

On your way to work you think about what happened, wondering if the allergy excuse is legitimate or just her trying to save face after being asked about the sniffing. You figure asking her about it directly probably won’t go over too well, so you instead plan to ask Kevin what he thinks about it once you get to work. While you still think it’s a bit odd that anthros do that kind of thing, the thought of her liking your scent is kind of growing on you. Your thoughts are soon interrupted by the sound of her voice.

“Hey Mike, you mind dropping me off a bit closer to work today?” she asks, looking at you as she massages her sore leg with both hands. “Can’t exactly walk too far on this leg.”

“Why don’t you just tell me where you work so I can just drop you off there directly?” you ask, taking your eyes off the road for a quick second to look at her. “That way you don’t have to walk there in the cold every morning.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mike. Just drop me off at the gas station on Prestdale Avenue, it’s only a block or two away.”

“If you say so. Don’t come complaining to me when you catch a cold though,” you say, changing course and going just under the speed limit in an attempt to make it there quicker. “With my luck, you’d get me sick too.”

“Takes more than a little cold to get me down, Mike. Even if I did catch one, it’s not like I’ll be sneezing on you,” she says, still massaging her ankle.

“I don’t know... with those allergies you’re having I wouldn’t be surprised if you did catch a cold,” you say, carefully structuring your sentence to probe for a response from her.

“What allerg- oh, allergies, right,” she says, sniffling in what you think is an attempt to throw you off and stop you from asking further questions. “Yeah, they usually start hitting me pretty hard during fall.”

“So what’s making your allergies act up? Pollen?” you ask, curious since you’ve never been one to suffer from seasonal allergies.

“What else would it be, Mike?” she asks, looking at you in confusion. “It’s not like I’m allergic to the leaves or anything...”

“Wh- Then how come you said they only hit you in the fall? Don’t you take any allergy medication?” you ask, doubting her allergy excuse even more now.

"B-because my usual brand goes out of stock! What is this, an interrogation or something? Why don’t you get off my back about it!” she exclaims, looking away from you before resting her chin on her palm, pouting as she stares out the car window.

“I was just wondering what it was like to have allergies is all,” you lie, hoping she’s not mad at you for prying about her alleged allergy. “How’s your leg feeling now?”

“Don’t think it’s sprained or anything,” she mutters, still holding that pout that you find adorable. “Think I’ll be good to walk on it for now, might not be able to jog with you on Monday though.”

“Might be able to sleep in for the first time in a while,” you chuckle, relieved to hear you’ll finally get a break from the usual routine.

“What, you’re not going to jog without me?” she asks, sounding surprised at your words. “It’s not like you don’t know the trail by heart, Mike.”

“Yeah, but it’s a lot more fun with you there. Besides, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone, right?”

“Well, maybe except this one time with my ankle....” she laughs as she continues massaging her leg.

“Alright, fair,” you chuckle, though you can’t help but feel responsible for her injury.

“Gonna hold you accountable since you’re the one that made me hurt myself,” she says, adopting a small smile as she playfully elbows you in the side.

“Oh please, it wasn’t my fault and you know it,” you say, rolling your eyes for effect. “Besides, I never hold you accountable whenever I hurt myself.”

“Like the time you charged headfirst into the bushes?” she asks, laughing even harder than before. “Besides, you’re too nice to make me owe anything like that.”

“So you’re saying you’re rude enough to get away with it?”

“Your words, not mine, Mike,” she says, a smirk on her face.

You slowly pull into the gas station, hopping out of your car to help her to her feet. “You sure you don’t want me to just drop you off at work directly? I can still make it to work on time and you won’t have to freeze out here.”

“I’ll be fine you big baby, I’ve got this coat of fur for a reason, you know?” she says, running a hand over the tuft of fur peeking out from the neck of her hoodie.

“Alright, alright, if you say so,” you concede, not wanting to impose. “Meet you at the usual spot after work then?”

“Wouldn’t dare miss it,” she smiles before walking off to her job, a slight limp apparent in the way she moves.

You watch intently as she begins to walk down the sidewalk, and you quickly notice her irregular gait. Even at this distance you can tell she's relying on her healthy leg to walk and you wince as her limp slowly becomes more pronounced. A pang of guilt courses through you, and you feel as if letting her walk to work in this weather would be irresponsible, despite her insistence on it being no big deal. You fight back the urge to yell out her name for fear of attracting unwanted attention, but an idea suddenly pops into your head. You quickly hop back into your car and try to catch up to her on the sidewalk, slowing down to a crawl as you pull up next to her. Seemingly, she doesn't notice that you're trailing alongside her. Upon closer inspection, you realize she has a pair of earbuds in. You decide to honk your horn twice in order to grab her attention. The second the sound rings out, she flinches and instinctively dodges to the right, practically jumping out of her skin… or rather, fur, in the process. You can’t help but grin at her reaction, though it quickly fades as you watch her frightened expression turn to one of irritation as she reaches up to pull her earbuds out. You roll down the passenger side window as she stomps towards your car, bracing for the worst.

“What, my ankle wasn’t enough for you, mate?” she asks as you finish rolling down the window. “You trying to see if you can stop my heart too?”

You want to grin, but you do your best to suppress it as you apologize. “Sorry, but you had earphones in and I didn’t want to stop traffic until you noticed me.”

“Well, out with it then,” she says, leaning against the open window. “What was so important that you couldn’t just text me about it instead?”

“I’m not going to let you limp to work in the cold, Ruby.”

“Ah, you worry too much, mate,” she smiles, waving a hand dismissively at your offer. “I told you I’d be fine, didn’t I?”

You’re dead set on not taking no for an answer, and you lean over to pop open the passenger side door. “Yeah, well, I’ve learned to ignore you when you insist you’re fine. Now, c’mon, hop in.”

“Fine, fine, but only because I know you’re hard headed enough to follow me all the way to work if I don’t,” she says as she climbs into your car, and you hear the click of a seatbelt shortly after she settles into the seat. “...Thanks though.”

“No problem,” you say with a grin, and you quickly take off before you earn the ire of the drivers forced to move around you.

Not even a minute later, you feel her elbow jab at your side. You quickly glance over at her to see what she wants. “What?”

"Don't think I didn't catch your little joke, you big dork," she says, failing horribly at masking a slight smile.

“Huh?” you ask, putting your eyes back on the road.

“Don’t play dumb, Mike, it doesn’t suit you,” she says with a laugh, lightly jabbing you in the side again. “Hop in… that was pretty bad, mate…”

You didn't even intend to crack a joke, though it felt nice to make her laugh. Despite her words, her smile betrays her thoughts on your unintentional wordplay. “Thanks. So, you want to plug in the address? Because I have no clue where we’re going.”

“Oh shit, right. Sorry about that, let me just…” she says, reaching for the cheap dash-mounted GPS you’d bought recently before plugging in the address. “Alright... there you are.”

For a moment you’re positive you misheard the GPS’ voice, so you take a quick glance to confirm the destination on the screen matched up. But there it was on the screen, clear as day, the destination set to Coral Coast Elementary.

"Huh... You, uh... You work there or are you just picking-" you start to ask, before quickly being interrupted by Ruby.

"Yeah," she responds, though with the way her tone suddenly shifts, you quickly realize you shouldn’t pry any further.

You want to ask her exactly what she does there, though you doubt you'd get even so much as a peep out of her considering it’s taken her two weeks to tell you where she works. You can't really imagine her being a schoolteacher, but you could definitely see her being a P.E. teacher with her dedication to fitness. The thought of her shouting words of encouragement at the kids brings a small smile to your face, even though it’s just as likely that she’s an office worker. Hell, it’s even possible that she has to fill in for absent teachers on occasion.

A thought crosses your mind, causing you to silently chuckle and crack a slight smile. In an attempt to lighten the mood, you ask, "So, you want me to carry you all the way inside too, or...?"

"N-No!" she responds, her reaction only causing your smile to widen. “I can still walk, you know…”

"I’m kidding, Ruby," you say, and you briefly wonder why the idea of being carried flusters her so much.

"Yeah, b-but... I know you'd try and do it anyways, you dumb dag," she grumbles, a quick glance revealing a light pink hue on her cheeks.

Within minutes you find yourself pulling into the school’s strangely empty parking lot, coming to a stop in front of the school’s main entrance. “Here we are. You sure you don’t want me to carry you inside?”

“Not as funny the second time around, Mike,” she chuckles as she slings a small gym bag over her shoulder, which you assume contains a change of clothes. “Thanks for… you know, dropping me off.”

“No problem,” you reply with a smile. “Is it uh, normal for there to be nobody here this late?”

“School’s still out, Mike,” she explains, chuckling again. “They make us come in two weeks before to get everything ready for the new school year. It’s kind of a pain in the arse, but at least we get paid for it.”

“Oh,” you say, embarrassed by your lack of knowledge regarding teacher schedules. “Well, I should probably get going before I’m late for work. You want me to swing by later and pick you up?”

“Yeah, that’d be... great, actually,” she says, tucking away an errant strand of hair behind one of her ears. “I’ll shoot you a text message when I get off work.”

"Cool, see you later then,” you say, wincing slightly as you watch her limp towards the building.

She’s almost halfway to the doors when a thought suddenly strikes you. "Hey, wait!" you shout, causing her to stop and look back at you. "Should I pick you up at the usual spot or here at the school?"

She blankly stares at you for a moment, your question seemingly catching her off guard. After almost a minute of silent contemplation she finally answers, the uncertainty in her voice palpable. "Uh, well... sure, here’s fine, I guess. I know you'd just bug me about it if I said the usual spot works for me."

"Oh come on, I’m not that bad. I’ll see you later then," you say, flashing her a smile before she turns back around. You continue watching and wait for her to step into the building before closing the car door.

As you pull out of the parking lot, your mind wanders to earlier events, still unsure if her sniffing was really caused by allergies. Maybe she has a good reason for it that she doesn't feel comfortable sharing with you? You shake your head slightly and briefly wonder if you're just overthinking things. Either way, you take solace in the fact that you have Kevin to help settle those thoughts. A quick glance at the dash shows you only have five minutes before you’re officially late for work. As you drive to work, you hope to god that Kelly had to call in sick this morning.

You aren’t exactly thrilled to be coming into work this early in the morning, but the thought of a three day weekend keeps you going. While coming in an hour earlier is a slight inconvenience, knowing you’d be able to spend more time at the gym with Ruby was a worthwhile tradeoff. It never made very much sense to you as you would rarely have customers coming in for ice cream this early in the morning, especially given the chilly weather. In fact, you considered the weather an upside as you didn’t have to rush to prepare the store for customers. You make your way inside and clock in for your shift, before taking a quick detour to the bathroom to change into your work clothes. After switching out your sweat soaked clothes for the dry outfit, you walk into the back to greet Kevin.

“What’s up man?” you ask, sauntering over to Kevin before putting a hand on his back. “Kelly wasn’t looking for me, was she?”

“Nah, she’s holed up in the freezer taking inventory,” he says, struggling to stifle a yawn. “I don’t think she even noticed you weren’t around yet.”

“Thanks for covering for me, man. Melanie still keeping you up, I see,” you grin and his expression quickly turns to a glare. “Speaking of, she ever tell you when this date thing is supposed to go down?”

The moment the words leave your mouth it’s as if a light bulb suddenly turns on in his head. You can only watch in intrigue as he starts snapping his fingers, as if trying to recall something.

“Fuck, I forgot to tell you, didn’t I? Please, please tell me you found a date to bring already,” he says and you can immediately see the worry in his eyes.

“Slow down, forgot to tell me what?” you ask, putting a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him down.

“I forgot to tell you on Wednesday before I clocked out, but the date is tomorrow,” he says, his head now in his hands. “Fuck. Melanie is going to kill me.”

“Look, just calm down, alright? There’s still plenty of time to figure something out,” you say, tightening your grip on his shoulder to try and snap him out of his panicked state.

“She’s been looking forward to this for weeks, if she finds out it’s my fault you couldn’t find a date in time, she’s going to be pissed.”

You feel bad for him, but at the same time you realize the blame lies squarely on him for forgetting in the first place. It wasn’t like you hadn’t been trying to find a date since the very first time he mentioned the double date, you just weren’t having much luck in getting anyone to take you up on the offer. Some said they’d be busy that day and others just flat out turned you down. You’ve been praying it wouldn’t have to come to this, but Ruby was looking like a more attractive option with each passing day, in more ways than one. And what Kevin had said the week before had some truth to it, it wasn’t like she was going to turn you down if you asked. Or at least, you don’t think she will, right? If she turns you down though, Kevin's going to be in some hot water with his girlfriend, and you really doubt you'll find someone else in time.

You can’t help but feel guilty for only thinking of Ruby as a last resort option. Especially considering how much time you were spending with her as of late, jogging every morning and working out together on most afternoons. As much as you hate to admit it, she’s starting to grow on you, even if her brashness can be a bit much to handle at times. It was unfair to her, but one of the reasons you wanted to exhaust your options before even thinking of asking her was how she’d reacted to your harmless jokes before. Even when she gets upset at the things you say, you can’t help but find her exaggerated gestures of anger cute in an odd way. And for whatever reason, you can feel a knot forming in your stomach at the mere thought of asking her out, a feeling you haven’t felt since high school. With the date slated to happen tomorrow, you’ll have to ask her today at the latest in order to give her some time to prepare. You take a moment to think about when the best possible time to ask her will be. After giving it some thought, you ultimately settle on asking her on the way to the gym, ruling out the possibility of doing it over the phone.

“Look, don’t worry about it man. I’ll find a date even if it kills me, I promise,” you say, giving him a firm pat on the back.

“You’re a fucking lifesaver, Mike, really,” he says, breathing a sigh of relief at your words. “Are you going to ask that one girl? What was her name again? Could’ve sworn it started with an R...”

“Ruby,” you say, finishing his sentence. “Speaking of, I was going to ask you for some advice while we’re on the subject.”

“My man's looking to score, huh?” he asks, a shit-eating grin forming on his face. “Now you get to share in my pain too, fucker.”

“Nah, it’s nothing like that, man,” you say, sheepishly rubbing at the back of your neck. “It’s just... she did something today that has me kind of confused.”

“Well, what is it?” he asks, putting a hand on your shoulder. “Shoot.”

“Alright, this is probably going to sound dumb, but what exactly does it mean when an anthro girl sniffs you? I’ve been trying to figure it out all morning and it’s driving me crazy.”

He skeptically raises an eyebrow at you. “What... were you doing that had you close enough for you to notice her sniffing?”

“Look, it’s a long story, but I was giving her a piggyback ride when it happened,” you explain, hands gesturing as you talk. “She says it was just her allergies acting up but I don’t buy the excuse at all.”

“Come on, you can’t just say something like that and then not fully explain it, man,” he laughs, slapping your back. “You can trust me to not say anything to anyone else, I swear.”

“It’s not that interesting of a story, really. She just twisted her ankle this morning and couldn’t walk on her own so I gave her a piggyback ride through the park, that’s all. The sniffing part happened on the way back to my car; it started kind of quiet at first so I didn’t really pay it much mind but after a while it started getting louder and louder.”

He scratches at his chin for a moment before responding. “Honestly, it’s kind of hard to say, man. It could just mean she likes your cologne, or maybe you just smell nice to her. Either way if you’re going to ask her out it’s definitely a good sign.”

The knot in your stomach only tightens upon hearing his explanation for her behavior. For some reason, the thought of asking her out and her taking it the wrong way worries you more than just outright rejection. You don’t want to ruin the friendship you’ve developed over the last two weeks, but at the same time, leaving your best friend hanging isn't an option. The conundrum makes your head ache slightly, but you try your best to power through it as you plan a course of action for when you meet Ruby later today. Maybe it’s best if you’re direct instead of trying to weave the question in during conversation? A million thoughts fly through your head before you feel Kevin shake your shoulder to get your attention.

“You alright, Mike?”

“Y-yeah, yeah, just... thinking about some stuff. Don’t know what to make of the whole sniffing thing, really. Especially since she said my cologne was too str-”

And just like that everything clicks; it all makes sense now. She was complaining about your cologne being too strong earlier which meant she was actually trying to smell... your scent? Was your cologne getting in the way of her doing that? What if it really was just her allergies acting up and you were just over-analyzing things? You try your best to not think about it for the time being, figuring you’ll get a definitive answer if it ever happens again.

“You were saying, Mike?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just something silly I was thinking about,” you say with a dismissive wave of your hand.

“If you say so,” he says, shrugging before going back to wiping down the counters.

You check the time on your phone and groan when you realize only half an hour has passed since you clocked into work, your shift seemingly spanning an eternity with how slow time appears to be passing. You head towards the freezer to get a headstart on bringing the tubs of yogurt and ice cream to the serving areas. Oddly enough, you’re hoping you run into Kelly to help pass some more time. Sure enough, she’s exactly where Kevin said you could find her, clipboard in hand. She apparently hasn’t noticed your presence, seemingly too busy tiptoeing to count some things on the upper shelves of the massive walk-in freezer.

“Morning, Kelly.”

“Morning, Mike,” she says, not looking up from her clipboard as she greets you. “You mind helping me out for a second? Can you count how many tubs of sprinkles we have on the top shelf?”

You take a quick peek at the shelf she’s pointing at. “Sure. I count five, six, seven tubs.”

“Thanks, Mike; oh, and one more thing I was going to ask you,” she says, looking up to meet your gaze. “Would you be available to come in Sunday? Someone on the afternoon shift called in sick and they’re offering overtime to anyone willing to cover.”

You want to say no, but you remember just how much money you spent on formal clothing the week before. It’s a pretty tempting offer to get paid overtime for an entire shift. “I’ll probably be able to, what time do you need me to be here?”

“Just try to be here before 2pm if possible. You’ll be closing up the store too so you’ll get paid for the extra hour as well.”

“Alright, but no promises though, I’ll make sure to call if I can’t make it.”

“Sounds good to me,” she says, flashing you a quick smile before going back to doing inventory.

You grab as many tubs of the ice cream as you can carry and make your way back to the front, placing them down on the counter before going back for more. Kevin is hard at work wiping down tables and counters while you load up the serving area with toppings and enough varieties of frozen yogurt to make anyone’s head spin. You decide to strike up another conversation with him while you wait for customers to start trickling in.

“So, what restaurant did your girlfriend decide on for this thing? You forgot to mention that too.”

“Oh, right, sorry. Some fancy place downtown called la Morsure Marocaine, if I’m even pronouncing that right,” he says, shrugging. “Either way it’s supposed to be really good, and it took Melanie a week and a half to get reservations for four.”

“Really good, and really expensive too, if I had to guess,” you groan, trying not to think about how much money you’ve spent in the past two weeks. “I hope it really is as good as you say it is.”

“Trust me, you’re going to like it,” he says, playfully jabbing you with his elbow. “Plus it’ll be one hell of a first impression for that Ruby girl.”

“You say that like I’m good with dinner dates or something,” you say, struggling to recall the last time you went on one. “I’m rustier than a shipwreck when it comes to dating.”

“You’re exaggerating man, weren’t you and Kelly dating a few months ago?”

“Yeah, but my dates with her were way different than... whatever this is supposed to be,” you explain, rubbing at the back of your neck. “I had to buy new clothes for this because none of my old dress shirts would fit me anymore.”

“You could’ve just asked to borrow one of mine man, I would’ve helped you out. Though I’m not sure if my stuff would fit you.”

“The damage to my wallet is already done, but thanks.”

The rest of the day goes by with nothing of note happening, though you draw the short straw and end up having to clean the men’s restroom after the lunch rush. Which, coincidentally, almost made you lose your lunch after seeing the state it was left in. After that horrible task is over with, you’re left counting down the minutes until you can leave for the afternoon, though you’re still thinking about what you’re going to say to Ruby later, reciting potential lines in your head.

‘Hey Ruby, are you going to be busy tomorrow?’ you think before scrapping it in favor of something else.

‘You want to grab dinner with me tomorrow?’ It’s not bad, but it still sounds too forward and you aren’t sure how she’ll react to that.

No matter how many sentences you brainstorm, none of them seem suitable for her. Everything you can come up with seems either too direct or something she can easily misinterpret. You just hope to god your brain will come up with something satisfactory before it’s time to ask the question. Your stomach does flips at the thought of it all. It really does feel like you’re back in high school again, berating yourself and wondering why something as simple as asking someone on a platonic date is giving you so much trouble. You find yourself wondering if you can really consider this a platonic date at this point. Are you just telling yourself that so you can feel better about things if they end up going south? Not that you want them to go south, but after everything you went through with Kelly you aren’t exactly sure how or even if you could avoid having future friendships and relationships blow up in your face. You realize prematurely psyching yourself out is the wrong way to go about it. Trying your hardest to think positive thoughts as you stare at the wall-mounted clock, you groan a little when you realize there’s still nearly an hour left before you get off work.

You pull out your phone during the brief reprieve you have from serving customers to see if anybody else had responded to you about coming along as your date. Nothing of note besides an extremely shaky maybe from a girl you knew back in college. Admittedly, maybe you are coming across a bit desperate since you’re contacting people you haven’t really talked to for a few years, but letting down a stranger is infinitely easier than letting down someone you care about. That thought gives you momentary pause; is that really how you feel about Ruby? Someone you... care about? It’s not like friends aren’t allowed to care about each other, but you can’t shake the feeling that the two of you have something unique, not quite a relationship, but not a purely platonic friendship either. It’s something that’s been on your mind for almost a week now, ever since that night the two of you spent at the mall. In hindsight, the two of you acted more like a couple than what most would consider to be just friends; only emphasized further by her friend mistaking the two of you for a couple. You chalk it up to your bad habit of reading too much into things that aren’t there and try to get your mind off things by shooting Ruby a text.

‘Still on for the gym in an hour?’

‘You know it, a bum leg isn’t going to stop me, Mike,’ she replies, and you can’t help but smile at her determination. “I’ll shoot you another text when I’m off work.”

Ruby's insistence on making it to every gym session and jog through the park, no matter how tired she may seem, always manages to send a surge of motivation through you during your workouts. You greatly respect her can-do attitude in regards to exercise, especially with how much you’ve struggled to stay consistent in the past. You realize she hasn’t missed or skipped out on a single jog or workout session in the past two weeks, not even on days when she admitted to not sleeping very well. You tried not to show concern over how frequently she seemed to have trouble sleeping, but you always wondered if something serious was causing it. However, you always ultimately decide against asking her directly. You know that dancing around the issue isn’t exactly the greatest way to go about things, going off of prior experiences. You justify your actions by remembering the way she reacted before to your prying about her personal life, namely when the two of you first met. The experience left you afraid to talk about anything serious with her, a fear you’re going to have to get over real soon. You would be lying if you said you didn’t feel a little anxious at the thought of asking her on a date, though it might just be your lunch disagreeing with you.

You decide to approach Kevin again in order to ask him a few things about the date. “Hey, so what time am I supposed to show up at the restaurant?”

“The reservation is for 9pm, but try to be there by 8:30 if you can, Melanie won’t let me live it down if you’re late.”

“Got it, anything else I should know?”

“I know you said earlier you already went clothes shopping, so I don’t have to tell you to dress nice,” he says, pausing for a moment to think. “Oh yeah, make sure you tell your date that too.”

“Yeah, yeah, you worry too much, man. I think that girl is starting to rub off on you, in more ways than one,” you smirk before giving him a firm pat on the back.

“Ha, ha, real funny. Help me finish cleaning up so we can get out of here early, will you?”

“Sure,” you say, doing your best to stifle a laugh.

Through your combined efforts you have the store tidied up in no time. Before you know it every chair is neatly stacked on its respective table, both counters are absolutely spotless and all the tubs of yogurt are tucked safely inside the freezer to be used another day. As much as you hate to admit it, while you don’t exactly love coming into work, you’re starting to feel an odd sense of pride for keeping the store shipshape throughout your shift. You’re sure Kelly appreciates your efforts going off what she told you about the franchise owner being a neat freak. After putting away the cleaning supplies, you sling the gym bag you’d stashed earlier over your shoulder and make your way outside after saying your goodbyes. Once you pop the trunk of your car open and toss your bag inside, you unlock your phone to send Ruby a text asking if it’s okay to swing by the school this early. You hear some rustling in the bushes behind you, briefly turning around to look for the source of the noise before going back to what you were doing. You send the message and move to put your phone back into your pocket, but you briefly pause as you hear a ding past the rustling of the leaves behind you. You look down at your phone in confusion, only to find there’s no notification from the messaging app. You let out an audible "Huh," chalking it up to be a glitch.

Suddenly you feel two hands grip your waist tight and a loud ‘boo’ coming from behind you, the noise nearly enough to make you jump out of your skin. You feel your chest grow tight at the sudden contact and you quickly flip around only to find a laughing Ruby with the biggest grin you’d seen on her in a long time.

“Oh man, I got you good, didn’t I?” she asks, that same shit eating grin still plastered on her face. “Didn’t know you were so easy to scare, Mike...”

“Shit, you act like that wouldn’t scare just about anyone you tried it on,” you say, still clutching at your now pounding chest. “You trying to give me a heart attack or something? I won’t be able to give you rides to work everyday if you kill me, you know.”

“Was it really that bad?“ she chuckles, looking up at you with a hint of concern showing on her face. “Just wanted to surprise you is all. And maybe get a little payback for scaring me earlier.”

“It’s fine,” you say once you manage to catch your breath. “How’s your leg feeling now? Wait, you didn’t walk here did you? I just texted you about coming to pick you up and then-

"Relax, mate, I didn't walk here. I was going to wait for you to pick me up, but they let us go early so I bummed a ride off Lily. Was going to come in for a cone, but then I saw you leaving the store and decided to spook ya'," she smirks, playfully nudging your side. "If I didn't know any better though, I'd almost say you've been worrying about me."

“What, friends aren’t allowed to worry about each other anymore?” you ask, rubbing the back of your neck as you feel your cheeks burn. “Plus it kind of was my fault...”

She chuckles again before jumping up to sit on the trunk of your car, her tail swaying ever so slightly.

“Don’t be such a dork, I was just kidding about it being your fault,” she says, gently poking you in the ribs. “Though I do want a rematch next week, and I won’t take no for an answer.”

“I mean, if you want to lose again... who am I to say no?” you grin, and you throw the passenger side door open for her. “Really though, how’s your leg?”

“Still hurts a little, but the ice I put on it during my break helped,” she says, bending down a bit to poke at her ankle. “So long as I don’t do any leg exercises it should heal up quick. Let’s get going before it gets dark on us though.”

You help her down from the trunk and into her seat before taking off for the gym.

While your outer appearance could fool someone into thinking you’re relatively composed, internally you’re anything but. You occasionally take your eyes off the road to glance at Ruby, only to find her looking out the window or checking something on her phone. You’re sweating bullets and your stomach is doing flips, reminding you of the time you’d worked up the courage to ask an older girl out during your freshman year of high school. For the life of you, you can’t figure out why you feel this way. You instead focus your thoughts on coming up with something to say when the time comes; you hope the feelings go away when you finally do. For a brief moment you entertain the idea of asking her right now, on the way to the gym. You quickly shake the offending idea out of your head as you consider other options. Maybe it'd be better to ask her after your workout together? Or maybe on the way to her house, just before saying your goodbyes? Even with so many good opportunities available to you, you're left feeling frozen and terrified at the thought of approaching her. What the hell is wrong with you? Just the thought of it alone is enough to make your chest tighten and your breaths grow shallow.

“So, about that date you mentioned, Mike.”

“W-what,” you stammer out, almost choking on your own saliva at the mere mention of a date.

“The date you said you were going on last week, how’d that go?” she asks with an eager look in her eyes.

“O-oh, that,” you say, trying to compose yourself before she figures out something’s up with you. “Still haven't worked out a good day for it, been working pretty much every day this week.”

“You figure out who you’re going with yet or that strictly need to know?” she chuckles, playfully elbowing your rib.

You smile at the fact that she still remembers your secret agent shtick from last week. “Not yet, kind of makes it more fun that way, I think.”

“Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, if you ask me,” she says as you pull into the gym parking lot. “Then again, so long as you make sure she’s not crazy you should be fine.”

You take a deep breath before popping your seatbelt out and leaving the car. You open the trunk of your car and sling your bag over your shoulder before closing it. You start walking towards the gym only to stop when you realize Ruby isn’t by your side, turning around to see she’s still standing by your car, eyes glued to her phone.

“Ruby!” you call out, getting her attention as you watch her quickly look at you and put her phone away. She ducks back into the car to lock it before closing the car door behind her before slowly making her way over to you. You can tell she was being honest about her leg still hurting, her discomfort apparent in her expression with each step she takes. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, sorry, just got a text about some work stuff I’ve got to deal with this weekend.”

You quickly make your way inside, shuddering a bit at the drastic change in temperature. If you had to name one good reason to keep coming to the gym during the fall and winter, it would be the fact that they keep it nice and toasty. You quickly make your way towards the locker rooms to get changed before going back outside, doing your best to think positive thoughts the entire time. You do some stretches while you wait for Ruby to change, figuring your session today is going to be extra grueling to make up for her lost pride earlier; something you aren’t exactly looking forward to considering your arms already feel like noodles from your last workout. Still, you’re no quitter and the stretches will help you get through things, at least, you hope they will. After you finish your set of stretches you notice Ruby making her way out of the locker room, a light blush shining through the light brown patches of fur on her face. You berate yourself for it, but the first thing your eyes are drawn to when she comes up to you are her impossibly tight workout clothes. She’s wearing a sports bra and a very, very revealing pair of black bike shorts, something you’d never seen her wear since the two of you met. You were far more used to seeing her in hoodies, sweatpants, jeans or chinos if she was feeling particularly fancy. The muscle definition in her legs only serves to accentuate her wide hips and thighs, making it a feast to the eyes as she stretches and flexes the muscle in her legs. You’re thankful her skin is covered in fur, because otherwise the sights you’re taking in would’ve been enough to awaken Mike Jr. from his slumber. You don’t even want to imagine what her ass looks like in them, considering how much you struggle to avert your gaze when she wears tight fitting sweatpants. Today’s workout is shaping up to be an interesting one with the temptation facing you.

“My eyes are up here, Mike,” she says, her eyes darting around as she avoids your gaze, ears and tail twitching as if they have a mind of their own.

Your thoughts come to a loud crash as you try to come up with an excuse for gawking at her like a moron. “S-sorry, just not used to seeing you dressed like that.”

“I left my gym bag at work, had to make do with the stuff I left in my locker....” she stammers, seemingly trying her best to keep a stoic face despite the blush tinting her cheeks.

“So, what do you want to do today? Free weights, machines?” you ask, changing the subject while giving her options as to not force her into a hard workout with an injured leg.

“How about we just do some body-weight stuff, a couple of machines and then finish up on the punching bag, sound good, mate?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

The two of you make your way towards the unoccupied bodyweight exercise area of the gym and start doing some stretches to warm up. You do your best to avert your gaze as she bends over to touch the tips of her toes, fighting the temptation to look down at her toned rear. After you’ve both stretched sufficiently, you grab a mat and set it down on the floor, getting into position to do some push ups. Your arms struggle to keep you up by the fortieth pushup, and you do your best to make it to fifty before calling it quits.

“Come on, Mike, don’t tell me you’re giving up already,” she says while repeating the same motions on an adjacent mat.

“Easy... for you... to say,” you grunt, pushing off the mat once more. “You don’t weigh nearly as much as I do.”

You watch as she stands to her full height again, finishing her set without even breaking a sweat. She crouches down to stare you in the face as you continue to power through your last ten reps. Unfortunately, in doing so she’s unintentionally given you front row seats to stare directly between her thighs and you avert your gaze the second you feel Mike Jr. start to wake from his slumber. You already have enough on your mind as is, and explaining why you have a half chub to Ruby is the last thing you want to do right now. You instead opt to focus your gaze on the mat beneath you.

“Weren’t you saying I was heavy this morning, Mike?” she smirks, resting her elbows on her thighs. “I think you’re just being a soft cunt and making up excuses. If you want to tap out, cough cough, andbeabitch, nobody’s stopping you.”

“I’m- nghh -making up excuses?” you grunt as you push out your last rep, pushing off the mat with enough force to stand upright again. “I distinctly remember a certain kangaroo belting out excuse after excuse this morning.”

“Come on, that’s not fair….” she mutters, also getting up from her crouched position. “My leg starting hurting halfway through, and you know it.”

“There she goes again with the excuses,” you grin as you walk towards the free weight rack, pulling two fifty pound dumbbells off it. “It’s alright to be a sore loser so long as you own up to it, Ruby.”

“Wha- What do you mean by sore loser?” she sputters, glaring at you as you continue to hold your smug grin. “I did hurt my leg earlier, you smug little arsehole. You can’t even say I’m lying about it because you had to carry me to your car.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll make an exception this one time,” you smile as you start your first set of curls. “Jokes aside, how’s your leg feeling now? Still hurt to walk on it?”

“A little bit, but nothing I can’t ignore,” she says, walking over to the rack and pulling two thirty pound dumbbells off it. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re still feeling a little guilty about it, Mike.”

“What, I’m not allowed to ask how your leg is feeling?” you ask, reracking your dumbbells before retrieving a heavier set from the rack. “I really didn’t mean for you to get hurt.”

She performs her first set of curls with near-perfect form, something you rarely see from anyone with the exception of the odd bodybuilder. Your gym isn’t exactly exclusive to those who are serious about lifting, but the location’s nice and the price is very agreeable when compared to other gyms in the area. Plus, if you went to any of those other gyms, you might’ve never gotten to know Ruby in the first place.

“I’m just uff-” she grunts, struggling to complete her second second set of curls. “-messing around with you, Mike. I already told you earlier it wasn’t your fault.”

As you work through your second and third set of curls, your mind wanders to your earlier thoughts about when and where to propose the idea of a double date, while minimizing the risk of putting yourself in an awkward situation. At first you figure it’d probably be best to ask on the way to her house, but you quickly strike down the idea as you realize it would only put more pressure on her to give a definitive answer. After giving it some more thought, you decide it’s in the best interest of both of you to wait until you drop her off at her apartment to pop the question, where the odds of causing a scene anyone would witness are significantly lower. With that dilemma solved, you push through your final set before re-racking the weights.

You watch her re-rack the pair of dumbbells, following closely behind her as she makes her way towards the lateral pulldown machine. It's hard to resist the urge to smirk as you watch her unorthodox method of operating the machine. First, she sets a pin on the appropriate weight before hopping up to grab the bar, pulling it down with her before sitting down on the bench. You never admitted it to her for fear of getting the wind knocked out of you again, but something about the way she hops is really cute to you. As you make your way around to the other side of the machine, you're surprised when you notice exactly how much weight she's lifting. Despite her relatively compact frame, she still has a surprisingly amount of upper-body strength, pulling down a fairly impressive 140 pounds with each rep. You can tell she's pushing herself to her limits, though you're unsure if it's related to her defeat this morning or if she's motivated by something else entirely.

You do your best to hold back a chuckle when she finishes her sets, watching as the weight pulls her completely off the ground once she gets her legs out from under the knee anchors. She lets loose a surprised yelp before quickly letting go of the bar and dropping back down to the ground. She turns to face you as she stretches her arms, trying her hardest to pretend what you just saw hadn't happened. You can’t hold back a quiet snicker, though it quickly dies in your throat when you realize she probably heard the noise, judging from her quickly narrowing eyes.

“What’s so funny, arsehole?” she asks, the look on her face telling you she wasn’t buying your suddenly stoic expression.

“Nothing,” you say, trying to think of an excuse for your snickering. “Just saw someone almost eat shit on the treadmill over there.”

“Hmm….” she says, as if unsure whether or not she should buy your excuse. “Alright, hurry up and get your sets done, I need to get home early today.”

You take a seat on the bench and adjust the weight before pulling the bar down to neck level, starting your set. “Why’s that? Is it that work stuff you mentioned earlier?”

“Yeah, though it’s really not a big deal, just some paperwork I’ve got to fill out, really,” she says, cracking her knuckles as she continues to stretch. “Figure I might as well take care of it today so I don't have to fill it out last minute. Speaking of, you doing anything this Saturday? Maybe we could hit up that laser tag place again.”

“Oh, so you did have fun playing laser tag,” you smirk, pausing your set to take a short rest and a swig from your water bottle. “I’ll be busy tomorrow, but we can probably do something on Sunday if you want, I’m free then.”

“Sounds good, I’ll shoot you a message then.”

You pick back up where you left off, continuing to plow through your penultimate set when you notice Ruby doing something out of the corner of your eye. It isn’t immediately obvious but you can tell she’s staring you down as you continue your set, watching as she occasionally tears her gaze away before quickly training her eyes on you again. It's beyond flattering, but at the same time, being stared down like a piece of meat makes you feel a bit uneasy. Is this how she might've felt if she noticed your wandering eyes? You feel a bit guilty, though you cast the thoughts away as you continue your set. You reckon if she had noticed your near drooling state from earlier, you wouldn't just hear from her about it, you'd have another fresh bruise somewhere below the belt line for the trouble.

'Then again, you doubt she could hit very far above the belt line to begin with,' you muse, breaking a smirk at the thought as you near the latter half of your set.

Still, you can't help but silently appreciate her unspoken compliment. You do your best to not let her know you're aware of her actions. For a moment you wonder if this has anything to do with her sniffing from earlier, which she still claimed was just her allergies acting up. You finish up your set and the weight clangs down onto the rest of the stack when you let go of the bar.

“All set, is there anything else you wanted to do?” you ask as you wipe down the seat.

“Not really,” she says, not quite meeting your gaze despite shamelessly ogling you just moments before. “Don’t feel like changing back into my other clothes though, so I’ll just wait for you out front.”

“Be right back then,” you say, grabbing your water bottle and making your way towards the locker rooms to change back into your street clothes.

Gym bag in tow and feeling refreshed after a good workout, you make your way to the front of the gym at a brisk pace. However, you stop as the nerve wracking feelings of dread and anxiety return at the realization that you still have yet to pop the question. You try to reassure yourself that it's just an irrational worry since, best you could tell, she was into you, at least physically. The fact that asking something so simple has become a problem for you, especially when you never had any issue asking women on dates in college, is a little concerning. You'd think the reason you're struggling to come up with the right words to say is because you're afraid of how it'll affect your friendship with her. You wouldn’t call her an angry person, but the way she’d taken perfectly innocent questions from you in the past made you wary about the way you phrased things around her. Being sensitive didn’t make her a bad friend exactly, since you’d come to enjoy her company in the two weeks you’ve known each other, but you desperately wished she wasn’t just to make things easier on yourself. You push open the door, stepping back into the bitter cold.

“T-took you long enough,” she mutters, her teeth chattering as she rubs her furred arms for warmth. “I’m f-freezing out here.”

“Sorry, just got caught up thinking about some stuff,” you say, your own honesty surprising you.

“You still worried about that date stuff, mate?” she asks, looking up at you with a concerned expression. “A guy like you? I’m sure it’ll go fine no matter who ends up being your date. Hell, any girl would be lucky to have you as their date.”

“Thanks, Ruby,” you smile, her compliment lifting your spirits and chipping away at your anxiety.

“You’re welcome, now let’s get going before my f-fur f-freezes in place, ya’ cunt,” she shivers and you feel her icy touch on your bare skin as she takes hold of your forearm and begins to drag you towards your car.

You pause outside your car for a moment as you think about what she’d said to you just moments ago. You're not the greatest at picking up on social cues sometimes, but even you can recognize that she’d meant something else by her expression and tone. Was she hoping you’d ask her out instead of whatever girl she thought you were going to ask instead? Or was she just being respectful and trying to lift your spirits? There aren’t many other ways to interpret her saying that ‘any girl would be lucky to have you as their date’ though, which makes you even more confident she isn’t going to turn down your proposal when you ask.

You throw your gym bag into the back before getting in the driver’s seat and starting on the car. You figure she’d appreciate some warmth given her earlier shivering, so you fiddle with the knobs on the console to warm up the car a bit. The unit doesn’t work too great considering the car’s age, but anything is better than nothing. You quickly pull off the parking lot, not even needing your GPS to make your way to her apartment, knowing the route by heart now.

“Thanks,” she mutters, a quick glance over telling you she’s staring out the window.

“For what?”

“For turning on the heating,” she says, shifting in her seat to face you. “I owe you tons of gas money for all these rides home.”

“Eh, don’t worry about it, it’s not like your apartment is far from where I live.” You shrug, twisting the knob one more click for just a bit more toastiness. “Plus, what am I supposed to do? Just let you freeze to death walking home? I wouldn’t hear the end of it if my mom ever found out I did something like that.”

“Well, if you put it that way,” she laughs, putting a hand over her mouth to muffle herself. “Be sure to thank your mom for me then. I still feel like I owe you something though. Tell you what, next time we go for lunch together it’s on me, mate.”

“Alright, fair enough. I’m not going to say no to free food.”

The rest of the car ride is fairly uneventful, the two of you making a bit more small talk before finally reaching your destination. You take a deep breath as you park the car, mentally preparing yourself for what you’re about to do. Despite still not having figured out the exact words to say, you’re fairly confident that you can get your point across without messing things up. You start to speak, but the words die in your throat as her voice rings out and interrupts you.

“So, are you up for lunch and laser tag on Sunday, then?" she asks as she gathers her belongings before opening the passenger side door.

“It’s a date,” you say, the words leaving your mouth before you can stop yourself. “I-I mean, uh… yeah, a lunch date. Sorry, still thinking about that date tomorrow.”

“Okay....” she says, not sure what to make of your panicked outburst. “I’ll give you a call Sunday morning then, alright?”

“Yeah, that’d be uh, great, actually,” you say, cursing your tongue for betraying you. “Have a goodnight and good luck with taking care of that busywork.”

“Thanks, Mike,” she says, flashing you a smile before hopping out of the car. “You have a goodnight too and… have fun on your date tomorrow.”

“Ruby, wait-” you mutter, far too quietly to grab her attention, not wanting to shout and risk startling her.

You watch as she walks up the small stone steps to her apartment, waiting until she’s safely inside to turn the car back on.

“Fuck,” you curse under your breath. “What am I going to do now?”

You feel like a dipshit the entire way home and then some, letting out a long drawn out sigh as you unlock the door to your apartment. You toss your gym bag onto the floor near the couch and empty the contents of your pockets onto the living room coffee table. Once you plop yourself down onto your comfortable couch, your mind begins to race as you try to come up with a way to rectify your collosal fuckup. Kevin is still counting on you to have a date for tomorrow and with such little time left, Ruby is the only person you can think to ask. And you blew your one chance to do so spectacularly, your tongue tying itself into a knot the one time you need it to cooperate with you. You reach for the remote and turn on the TV as you try to come up with a solution, leaning back into the soft cushions. Apparently you’d left it on the news channel judging from the stern news anchor that suddenly appears on the screen.

‘Thank you for joining us tonight, I’m Lucas Ross and you’re tuned into the Channel Nine evening news, providing the latest breaking stories to the greater metropolitan area. Our top story tonight, in an unprecedented move from several governors and state lawmakers; the states of Alabama, Tennessee and Texas have joined Georgia, Florida and Arizona in legalizing human and anthro marriages at the state level. Whether this trend and movement will continue to gain traction in other states or possibly even at the national level remains to be seen. We’ll have more on this breaking story following the weather report on the hour, don’t go anywhere.’

The second the camera switches focus from the anchor to the weatherman, you start to lose interest in the channel, though you don’t want to switch channels for fear of missing the rest of the story. Despite its current legal status in your state, human and anthro relationships still aren’t seen as normal to most people, though thankfully it’d never escalated to any kind of violence as far as you were aware, just discrimination by some individuals. The more you listen to the weatherman’s grating voice, the more you want to just change the channel, though you instead opt to turn the volume down until the news anchor returns. You lay down onto your side, resting your head on the armrest of the sofa before letting out a long yawn, the combined effects of little sleep and post-workout fatigue hitting you full force. Resting your eyes for a short moment couldn’t hurt, right? Just for a little while…

Your eyes slowly flutter open, and you realize you’re still laying on your couch. You shiver slightly, now keenly aware of just how cold it is and that you’d neglected to turn on the heating the instant you got home. Getting off the couch, you make a beeline for the thermostat, the light emanating from the TV helping you guide yourself through your apartment. After you manage to get the heating on, you head to the kitchen to fix yourself a quick late night snack, flicking on the light before glancing at the stove to check the time. The sight practically sends you flying into a panic, realizing it's 11pm instead of 8pm. You swore it wasn't this late at night when you sat down to watch the news. You let loose a curse out of frustration when you put the pieces together and realize you’d fallen asleep for a few hours. This was going to throw your sleep schedule out of whack an- Wait. You didn’t call Ruby before you fell asleep.

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ you think to yourself as you comb through your hair with both hands in panic.

Now not only did you have to ask her out on a double date that was scheduled for tomorrow, but you’d likely have to wake her up in the process. You just can’t catch a break with this date business, you think to yourself before making your way to the living room to grab your phone. Once back in the kitchen, you find yourself staring down at the phone on the countertop in hesitation. You’re unsure if you should think on things some more or just wing it. You pace around your kitchen, continuing to run your fingers through your hair as you try to get your breathing and heart rate under control. After a few more minutes of pacing a surge of confidence runs through you and you decide to pick up the phone, quickly navigating to the contacts page and dialing Ruby’s number. The instant you tap the screen to dial you know there’s no turning back, not wanting to wake her up and waste her time with a frivolous phone call.

You hold the phone up to your ear and patiently wait through the silence for her to pick up. All you could do is hope she isn’t a heavy sleeper or you would be truly screwed. Another thirty seconds pass and you begin to lose hope that she’d pick up.

“Mmnn... hello?” she asks, her drowsy and hushed voice coming in clearly through the phone. “Jesus, Mike... it’s almost midnight, what’s going on?”

“Listen, I uh….” you start, your plan of winging it already failing spectacularly as you continue trailing off. “I was wondering if you’d be alright with…”

“Alright with what, mate? Spit it out already, I promise I won’t bite.”

You decide to just come out with the truth and be as straight to the point as possible. “Would you want to… I don’t know, be my date for tomorrow? I know it’s kind of last minute and that I probably should have asked earlier, so it’s alright if you’re not up for it.”

The silence after you finally ask the question almost makes you wonder if she’d hung up the phone. You take it away from your ear to glance at the screen. To your surprise she’s still on the line and you hear her voice come through again after a few moments. You quickly bring the phone back up to your ear.

“Uhhh... I think that’d be… I m-mean uh, y-yeah I’d love to! I just don’t know if I have anything to wear and I don’t even know what kind of date this is going to be,” she stammers through her words, speaking at a hurried pace.

You realize far too late that you’d neglected to mention the venue and- Shit. You forgot to mention this was going to be a double date. “Yeah, it’s going to be a dinner date at a pretty fancy restaurant an-”

“So, I take it that means no jeans and a shirt then?” she asks, still speaking so fast you almost can’t keep up with what she’s saying. “Shit, I don’t know if I have a dress that fits me mate… b-but I could go buy one in the morning! What time is the reservation for?”

“Eight, but we should probably try to be there earlier because-” you say, cut off again by an overeager Ruby.

“I can swing by the mall in the morning and pick out something to wear then,” she says, the excitement in her voice only rising as your conversation goes on. “When should I be ready for you to pick me up?”

“Look, I don’t want to go and make you buy something just to wear it once,” you say, her eager tone giving you cold feet. “I’d feel terrible making you waste money on something for me. I can just ask someone else and save you the trouble, sorry for waking you up an-”

“Don’t be a downer, Mike,” she says, her tone quickly becoming one of concern. “If I’m offering to it’s because I want to, so don’t worry one bit about making me waste money, because it’s not a waste. Besides, it’s not like I’m only going to wear it this once if it’s a nice dress.”

“You’re sure it’s not too much to ask?”

“Not at all, I meant what I said to you earlier today,” she shoots back, her reassurances calming your nerves slightly. “Go on then, what time should I expect you?”

“I’ll probably swing by there around six-thirty or seven just to be safe since the restaurant is all the way downtown,” you say, mentally bracing for her reaction to finding out it’s a double date. “Oh yeah, I should mention that this is a double date with a good friend of mine, are you alright with that?”

“Oh.” You faintly hear a muffled curse come through the phone before she continues. “Yeah… that’s fine, I just thought... Nah, it's fine. No problem at all, mate. Though it might be a bit awkward since I don’t know your friend and all.”

The disappointment in her voice is almost palpable even over the phone. ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ you think to yourself, closing your eyes and bringing your hand up to your face, using your index finger and thumb to pull back at the skin around your eyes in a display of frustration.

You do your best to come up with something you can say to cushion the blow. “Ah, don’t worry about it, he’s a good guy. Plus, we’re still on for that lunch date Sunday, right?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she says, her normally upbeat tone returning and bringing you some relief. “I’ll see you tomorrow night then, Mike. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Ruby. And thanks for agreeing to be my date on such short notice, you’re a lifesaver.”

“It’s nothing, mate, after all, what are friends for?” she asks, the way her tone shifts when saying the word ‘friends’ alone being enough to make you wince. “You better be wearing those clothes I helped you pick out or I’m dragging you back to your apartment.”

“Alright, alright, I promise I’ll be wearing them,” you laugh, her attitude bringing a smile to your face. “I’ll give you a call when I’m heading out towards your place then. Goodnight.”

“It’s a date then,” she giggles, likely poking fun at your earlier screw up. “I’ll call you if anything comes up.”

“We’re really at bad at saying goodnight, aren’t we?” you chuckle as you realize how many times you’d said goodnight without hanging up the phone.

“You’re bad at saying it, not me,” she chuckles back. “Goodnight for real this time, Mike.”

She hangs up the phone immediately after saying that and instantly you feel as if someone has lifted a giant weight off your shoulders. You can't believe that she actually agreed to come along, especially after you clarified that it was a double date. But now you’re much more concerned about other things, namely how crushed she sounded after you told her it wasn’t just a date between the two of you. There’s a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that tells you this might’ve been a bad idea, but it’s too late to do anything about it now since taking things back would only hurt her feelings even more. You decide to make the most of things and vow to show her a good time tomorrow, hoping everything would go as planned. Hopefully things go well enough that Kevin wouldn’t regret asking you for a favor. Plus, you feel it’ll be interesting to meet the girlfriend he’s told you so much about. You decide to turn in instead of preparing that late night snack, instead pouring yourself a glass of water before making your way to the bedroom.

You decide to change into some comfier clothes, stripping down to your boxers before opening your closet. You grab a plain white t-shirt and a pair of baggy sweatpants to toss on before jumping under your covers, making sure to turn off the lamp on your nightstand. The thoughts running through your mind are making the prospect of getting to sleep a difficult one. You continue to toss and turn until you settle into a comfortable position. You know for a fact that if you were going on this date with anyone else, you would’ve slept like a baby, but you can’t help but feel like you have some obligation to Ruby. You want her to have a good time, especially after she’d asked you why she was your first anthro friend. It was the absolute least you could do to repay the favor she’d done by listening to you vent about your worries. After another hour of shifting about on your bed, you manage to close your eyes and finally drift off to sleep, aided by the faint howl of the wind outside.

(-----)

You try to ignore it, but now you feel like you drank a full liter of soda after that call. For a moment you almost wonder if you’d imagined it, pinching yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming. The last thing you’d been expecting was a phone call from Mike, much less one in which he asked you out on a date. Your chest is still pounding hard long after the call is over and you take deep breaths to calm your nerves. You groggily get up from bed and blindly stumble towards the kitchen. Your feet nudge and kick aside whatever clothes you’d left to pick up some other day as you shuffle through the dark hallway. You figure a glass of water would help calm the tingle of butterflies in your stomach. You stand on the tips of your toes as you rummage around in your cabinets looking for a glass. As you fill the glass from the sink, your mind wanders back to the phone call, wondering if your excitement had bled through despite your best efforts to suppress it. You turn off the light before carefully navigating through the hallway back to your room. You climb back into bed, laying back onto your soft pillows and closing your eyes in an attempt to lull yourself back to sleep. After a few minutes of adjusting and cocooning yourself in your sheets, you realize sleep isn’t going to come easy. You hate to admit it to yourself, but you can't help but feel excited at the thought of the date, even if it is just a double date. Your tail twitches and shifts to and fro beneath the covers, and your heart beats at a quickened tempo. Having to go last minute shopping sucks, but the thought does nothing to suppress the giddiness coursing through you.

'God, I haven't gone shopping for dresses ever since I was in-’ you think, cutting your mental recollection short as you remember why that was the last time you went dress shopping.

You pray your date with Mike won’t go the same way. You lay your head back into the pillow as the cold feeling of anxiety mixes in with your eager anticipation. You hope this date will go well.

(-----)

If you thought you felt anxious yesterday, the way you feel as you get dressed for your date puts those feelings to shame. You curse in frustration as one of your shirt buttons continues to be a hassle, slipping from your fingers as you try to do it up. The shirt was a much tighter fit than when you’d tried it on with Ruby, though you blamed dryer shrinkage for that. You finish buttoning your sleeves and adjusting your collar before moving on to the difficult part, the tie. You aren’t exactly the best at tying one since you only really wear them on special occasions. Thankfully, your dad had taught you an easy way to do so without having to resort to using clip-ons instead. The memory of him teaching you how to do so for your first job interview is still vivid in your mind, and you mentally retrace the steps before looking up at the mirror to see if you’d done it correctly. You make a few adjustments until you’re satisfied with the way you look, then you grab a belt and a pair of dress socks from one of your drawers. She wasn’t lying when she said the stuff she’d picked out for you looked good, admiring yourself in the dresser mirror once you’re fully dressed. You walk over to your nightstand and grab a small jewelry box, making sure the contents are still inside before tucking it away in your pocket. It isn’t much, but you’d gone out that morning to buy a gift for Ruby, thankful the gold necklace she’d been eyeing a week ago was still in the very same display case. You figure it's the least you can do to thank her for coming along at the last minute, even willing to put herself through the trouble of buying clothes just for the occasion. Despite never having seen her wearing jewelry before, you hope she’ll like the present, your plan being to give it to her at the end of the night.

You make your way into the living room to pass some time before heading out to pick her up. A quick glance at your watch tells you it’s only five in the afternoon. Despite your relatively composed outer demeanor, your nerves are shot. You want to make this a night she’ll remember fondly, though you fear your anxiety will make itself present with a downpour of nervous sweat. You leave for the kitchen to get yourself a glass of water, hoping it’ll help calm your nerves. When you open the cabinets in search of a glass, something else catches your eye instead; a forgotten, half finished bottle of whiskey. You pull it from the shelf and examine the label, deeming it to be a decent quality bottle from the aging alone. For a moment you think about taking a few swigs from it. How much harm could one drink do, after all? You start to unscrew the cap before remembering the promise you’d made yourself keep way back in college. You hadn’t broken your promise once since the day you’d made it, vowing that you’d never drink alone if you could help it. Once you realize it’s a dumb idea, you put the bottle right back where you found it, tucking it away for a day when you have company over. Plus, you’re likely going to be the designated driver since Ruby doesn’t have a car of her own, so anything besides a glass of wine or two is immediately out of the question.

You sit down on the couch and wonder if she feels similar anxieties about your upcoming date. How are you even supposed to feel about the fact that she sounded eager to be asked on a one-on-one date with you? It’s exceedingly clear to you now that she has some kind of feelings for you, but do you feel the exact same way she does? Sure, you’d be lying to yourself if you said she was just a regular friend to you, but... You aren’t sure if you’re ready to pursue someone romantically again. Especially with the risk of abruptly ending a friendship you’ve come to very much enjoy. Even in the hypothetical scenario that Kevin and Melanie don’t show up to the restaurant, would you even feel right being alone on a date with her? What would you even talk about together? You realize you hardly know anything about her, only yesterday learning where she works. Did she have other hobbies besides fitness? Had venting about your own problems turned her off from getting to know each other better? You realize flooding your mind with these questions just before your date is a terrible idea. Instead, you opt to head out early and clear your mind on the drive there. You quickly throw on the dress shoes you’d bought along with your black blazer, but before you head out, you remember to send her a text message.

‘Be there in thirty minutes.’

(-----)

Heavy bags in hand, you slowly trudge up the steps of your apartment. You had told Mike last night that shopping for clothes wasn’t going to be a problem, but you could not have been more wrong. You unlock your apartment and quickly step inside, letting out a sigh of relief after you finally set down the numerous bags you were holding. You take your wallet, keys and phone out of your pouch and set them down on the counter before checking the time. Thankfully, you still have a good four hours to get ready for your date before he’d be here to pick you up. You’d rushed home in a hurry when you realized how little time you had left. You had intended to try on two of the three dresses you'd bought, but you quickly forgoed the idea in favor of having a little more time to prepare, both physically and mentally. It isn’t a huge problem if the dresses don’t fit you well since you can always just return them. After resting your arms for a little bit, you grab all the bags and take them into your bedroom, taking each individual dress out from its respective bag before carefully laying it out on your bed. If you thought buying them was an overwhelming experience, choosing between the three was going to be an even worse experience. At the suggestion of the helpful, albeit pushy store employee, you’d bought: a ruby red flared dress, a grey slit dress, and a black two piece dress. You thought the grey slit dress was far too revealing, though still worth trying on, and the black two piece you picked yourself that partially exposes your midriff is currently your favorite of the three. There had been another gorgeous knee length dress you would’ve preferred over the slit dress, but the absence of a tailhole made it difficult to justify the purchase. You really didn’t have enough time to get it tailored before your date, and using scissors to cut an impromptu hole would ruin it.

You strip down to your underwear and decide to try on the red dress first. After tussling with the dress for a few seconds, you manage to get it on your small frame. You walk in front of the mirror to see how it fits you. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look… awful? It’s a little big on you, as the bottom of the dress covers your knees rather than stopping just above them, but you still think you look cute in it. The more you look at it though, the less you’re sure about it being a good choice. It isn’t a problem with the design of the dress itself, but more an issue you took with the color. It feels almost... too bold for a dinner date. You worry the vibrant red will only call more attention to yourself, or worse yet, more attention to you and Mike as a couple, which makes you anxious just to think about. Plus, what if everyone else is wearing something with darker colors and you’re left looking like the odd one out? The thought alone is enough to make you reconsider your choice in attire entirely, causing you to wonder if you should give your older sister a call. She’d probably be able to help, seeing as she’d practically built your entire wardrobe for you. After mulling it over for a bit, you decide calling is probably for the best, though you’re still going to try the other dresses on first. You fish out your phone from your pouch and quickly take a picture of yourself to show your sister how you look. You take off the red dress and slip into the gray one and your fears about it being far too revealing are quickly confirmed. The problem isn't immediately apparent, but the second you take a single, small step forward, your hips and thighs are quickly exposed to the open air. While you’d already caught Mike staring you down a few times, it's far too embarrassing to be an intentional tease. You’re already mortified that Mike had to see you in those small bike shorts yesterday. You pray to whoever’s listening that the last dress is more presentable than the previous two as you close your eyes and put it on. You take a deep breath and open your eyes, the sight a pleasant surprise. It isn’t perfect, but the two piece dress suits you far better than the other two could ever hope to. The top piece feels a bit loose and the frill at the bottom is meant to call attention to the chest area, which worries you since your bust doesn’t really... meet the proper requirements. The skirt isn’t too long and the bottom ends around the middle of your thighs, but it’s a bit more snug than you would’ve liked it to be. You try to pull the bottom of the skirt down further to see if it would cover just a tiny bit more of your furred thighs, to no avail. Overall, you like this dress the most, though you'd prefer to take your sister’s advice into consideration before making a decision.

Luckily, you have a solution regarding the top piece of the dress. You slide the loose top off before walking over to your dresser to find your black push-up bra. You quickly throw it on before glancing at your reflection again, the bra doing an excellent job at making your breasts appear fuller. Though you briefly consider adding a bit more padding, you ultimately decide against it in favor of throwing the top back on and seeing how it fits you first. You carefully examine yourself in the mirror, adjusting the push-up bras position until the dress fits snugly around it. Satisfied, you take a picture of yourself before going back to debating whether calling your sister is a good idea or not.

You’re a tiny bit nervous about calling her, both because of the nature of the call and the fact that you haven’t talked to her in a few weeks. Hell, the only person you’d told about the nature of your relationship with Mike or the date you were going on had been Lily, but that’s only because she’s your best friend. You dial her number and wait for her to pick up.

“Come on, come on,” you mutter, silently hoping she’s not too busy to take your call.

After a few seconds of waiting, you suddenly hear a few assorted voices in the background and the faint sound of clacking keys every so often.

“Hello?” she asks, your mind going blank upon hearing your sister’s voice. “Hello? You there, Rube?”

“Y-yeah, sorry... I’m here, Jade,” you manage to stutter out. “I was just calling to ask you something if you’re not too busy.”

“I’m at work right now, but I think I can sneak in a quick phone call for my little sister; what’s up?”

“I, uh, bought a few dresses and I wanted to make sure they looked nice for my-” you mutter, cutting yourself short when you realize you said far more than you intended to.

“Look nice for what? Hang on, I think the damn call is cutting out, the reception in here is total arse.”

“I-I bought some dresses because... someone, uh… asked me out on a date,” you mutter, quietly enough to where you almost couldn’t hear yourself speak.

“Awwwww… my little Rude Rube got asked on out a date? That’s so sweet… So who’s the lucky bloke, eh? Someone you met at work or what?”

You can feel your cheeks burning just from hearing your old nickname.

“It doesn’t matter, I just wanted to ask you which dress you think looks best on me, alright?” you say, not wanting your sister to know more than what's needed.

“Come on, you can’t just tell your big sis you’re going on a date and not spill any of the juicy details,” she pleads, the clack of keys still sporadically coming through the phone. “I’m bored out of my skull in this damn office.”

“Alright, alright,” you say, forgoing your previous plan in the interest of saving what little time you had left to get ready for your date. “I’ll tell you if… you help me out with this first.”

“You’re no fun sometimes, Rube, but it’s a deal,” She sighs, pausing for a moment before continuing. “Send me some pictures so I can take a look at them since I can’t video call with you right now.”

You pull the phone away from your ear and send her the pictures you’d taken. “Alright, so be honest, which one do you think looks best on me?”

“Well for starters, if you wear that red one you’re never going to live down the ruby red jokes, that much I can guarantee ya’. That dress is a real beaut though; what kind of date you going on that ya’ need something fancy like that?”

“It’s a dinner date,” you begrudgingly admit to your sister. “Some nice place downtown I think, though he hasn’t told me the name of it yet.”

“I can already see it now, my little Rube all dressed up over a candlelit dinner, the two of you staring into each other’s eyes….”

“Jade….” you say, already feeling embarrassed over something that hasn’t even happened yet. “Can you quit the shit and just tell me if the dresses look good, please?”

"Alright, alright, don't get your knickers in a bunch, I'm looking right now," she says, chuckling to herself. You hear a snicker break the small laughs before she speaks again. "You really tryin' to impress him with bigger knockers, sis?"

You were hoping she wouldn’t notice that you’re wearing a push-up bra, but it seems like even that is too much to ask for. "The hell does that mean? It's so I can fit in this stupid top!"

"Relax, relax... It's just real obvious when looking at the other two pics. Though I’m dying to know what this bloke looks like if you’re going through all this trouble," she says, her snickering finally coming to an end. “Really though, the black one’s not bad, though knowing most blokes he’s going to crack a fat the second he sees your thighs and hips in that thing, Rube. Don’t know if you want to torture the poor guy like that, but if you do, then go with that one.”

The butterflies in your stomach begin to flutter wildly after hearing what your sister thinks. Why are you putting so much effort to impress on a purely platonic date? You feel deep shame and embarrassment at the thought that you really only put the bra on to try to appeal to Mike. Hell, you don’t even know if he cares for bigger breasts in the first place and for a moment you consider stripping off the dress to take the bra off. You ultimately decide against it when you realize the bra is one of the few things holding your top up, a wardrobe malfunction being the last thing you want to experience tonight.

“No, I don’t want him… cracking a fat, Jade,” you say, fairly sure your blush is now the same color as your namesake. “What do you think of the black one, then?”

“Ooh, this one’s pretty spiffy, shows off your abs too. I really should start hitting the gym sometime, I’m jealous.”

“You don’t think showing my midriff and pouch is… I dunno, too much?”

“Nah, I think it’s still pretty modest Rube, you should see some of the dresses people are wearing these days, sheilas running around half naked on the dance floor…”

“Alright, I’ll go with that one then, thanks,” you say, hoping your sister had forgotten your end of the bargain.

“Hold on just a minute Rube, you still owe me some juicy details about this date of yours. Tell me a little more about this bloke, is he scrawny? Built like a brick shithouse maybe? I remember seeing those magazines of yours way back when so I know how you like ‘em.”

You really don’t want to tell your sister much about him since the two of you are still just friends, but you owe her for helping you out on such short notice. Plus, it would be good to talk about things with someone other than your best friend and maybe shake off some of those pre-date jitters you’re having. What harm could a little bit of conversation do, right?

“First of all, it’s a double date, so don’t be getting any ideas in your head or anything,” you start, not wanting to let your sister know just how much you wish that wasn’t the case. “Second of all, he’s a good friend of mine who just… happened to need a date to come along, alright?”

“Rube, you’re either the worst liar I know or completely oblivious. If a bloke asks you out on a date to such a fancy place, it’s probably because he digs you, friend or not. Now go on, tell me a little more about him, what he looks like, how the two of you met each other.”

“I’ll tell you so long as you swear not to breathe a word of this to mom and dad, alright? I don’t want to worry them for no good reason.”

“You have my word, now out with the good stuff.”

“There’s really not that much to tell; I met him at an ice cream shop I go to a lot, made a little small talk with him and it turns out we go to the same gym. We’ve been going on jogs every morning for a while now, but I wasn’t expecting him to ask me on a date.”

“So he IS built like a brick shithouse then? Or are you building him into a hunk to keep all to yourself?”

You don’t know how to answer that question without dying of embarrassment, stumbling through your explanation. “I mean, I guess he’s plenty uh, muscular and… handsome as is, though I’ve been pushing him to do more cardio every morning.”

“I suppose the two of you aren’t doing another type of cardio together yet, right?”

“What do you mean?” It takes you a second to understand what she’d meant. “No! God, no, we’re not… doing whatever it is you think we’re doing, Jade!”

“Just making sure I’m understanding things right. He better show ya’ a good time or I’m going to march up to that ice cream shop and shove a cone into his face.”

“Don’t worry about that, he’s actually pretty nice, at least when he’s with me,” you admit, momentarily thinking back to all the good times you’ve shared over the last two weeks. “Plus, I think things will go alright, at least I hope they do.”

“Something tells me you want to be more than just friends with him then, Rube.”

“Maybe... I'll just have to see. You got any advice on anything I should do before the date?”

“You know what kind of stuff he likes? Maybe you could try wearing some makeup if you still have that kit I bought you for your eighteenth birthday.”

“God, I’ve barely touched it, I don’t even know how to do makeup properly. All I know how to do is apply eyeliner and mascara, but that’s only because you taught me how.”

“All you need is that, a little bit of blush and some lips-” she cuts off, interrupted by some muffled talking in the background. “Yeah, yeah, I know I took my break an hour ago Ed, I’m no drongo. Just gimme a minute and I’ll be off the phone, alright? Talking to my sister about something important.”

“Anyways Rube, what kind of guy is he? Might help you decide how much makeup you really need.”

“Well, he’s uh….” you say, squirming in your seat as you mentally brace for your sisters reaction. “Not an anthro, for one.”

“A human bloke? Can’t say I was expecting that, but that actually helps more than you might think. Human guys must absolutely love makeup, because the human girls at work are absolutely caked in it. Just don't go overboard and you should be alright.”

“You sure?” you ask, unsure if your sister’s advice is sound.

“Trust me, they talk about it all the time on break. You’ll be fine, I promi- Yeah, yeah, I’m getting off the phone now Ed. Alright, I gotta shoot through now, Rube. Good luck with your date, be sure to call me tomorrow and tell me all about it, alright?”

“I will, I promise,” you smile even though she can’t see it. “Thanks for everything Jade, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Anything for my little Rude Rube,” she says, hanging up the phone.

Well, at least you won’t have to change out of your current dress. You’re thankful she picked up the phone because otherwise you might’ve spent the rest of the afternoon trying to decide between the three. With that squared away, you now have a much bigger challenge to tackle: putting on makeup. It’s been years since you’ve had to apply makeup, not finding much use for it outside of special occasions, family pictures and christmas cards; really, only where looking presentable is more of an expectation than an option. You rummage through your drawers looking for the makeup kit your sister had gifted you so long ago. You’re almost positive it’s gathering dust by now. After a little searching under piles of folded clothing, you finally find it. You take it to the bathroom and set it down on the counter next to the sink before opening it up and staring down at the assortment of makeup.

The kit has everything you could possibly ever need, even stuff anthros have no use for, like foundation. You reach for the eyeliner , opting to get the easy stuff out of the way first. You pull back at the skin behind your eye, applying the eyeliner and being careful not to get any on the surrounding fur. You do the same for the mascara, being careful to not apply too much of the compound on your lashes. With those two things out of the way, you’re left treading into completely unknown territory. You gingerly pull the eyeshadow, blush and lipstick from the kit at your sisters suggestion. You’ve never used any of them in your life, but how hard could they be to put on, right? Lipstick is straightforward enough, but are you supposed to apply it to just the front of your lips or all the way around? With humans it’s a no-brainer since their lips are small compared to yours, but with most anthros like yourself, there’s practically five times the length to cover. You can’t even call Jade to ask her the proper way to apply it since you’d feel terrible if she got reprimanded because of your advice seeking. You decide to just play things on the safe side and apply it the same way human girls do, covering the entirety of your lips in the crimson lipstick. Something about it looks a bit off to you, but it’s hard to tell exactly what since it’s your first time applying it yourself. Instead of dwelling on it, you move on to applying eye shadow, looking at the variety of colors the kit has to offer. You try to pick something that’ll mesh nicely with your golden brown fur and amber colored eyes. After looking over all the colors a few times, you decide on a shade that’s only slightly lighter than your fur. You take the brush and dip it into the powder before carefully brushing it onto both your upper and lower eyelid, making sure to not get any on the surrounding fur. Finally you move on to the blush, which despite its name and marketing, is anything but when it comes to anthros. The only anthros that can use the same blush that humans do are furless animals like egyptian sphinxes. Instead, blush for anthros is really more of a fur highlighter, meant to make the natural colors of your fur pop out. You carefully take the brush and dip it into the neutral colored powder before applying it to the fur around your eyes and cheeks, being careful to not apply too much for fear of any adverse effects it might have. After applying what you feel is the proper amount, you take a look in the mirror to admire the results. What you see doesn’t alleviate your worries any. You were expecting a completely different appearance and what you see in your reflection is just… underwhelming. You aren’t even sure if you’d applied the makeup correctly, your eyes nervously darting back and forth between the mirror and kit as you contemplate wiping it all off and starting over. It doesn’t look terrible or anything, but you begin to wonder if applying it in the first place was a mistake. You calm yourself down knowing that if anything’s wrong with it, Mike would point it out for you. After all, he’d want his date to look just as presentable as him, wouldn’t he? You take a deep breath before moving on to the next item on your mental checklist.

With makeup out of the way, you start to think about how you want to style your hair for this date. Your typical ponytail feels too low effort for an upscale dinner date and you don’t want him to see your hair in a bun just yet, which doesn’t leave you with too many options. After some thought, you finally settle on just letting it all down, which would have the added effect of hiding any improperly applied makeup if needed. You take the scrunchie out of your ponytail before starting the arduous process of wrangling the long, tangled mop of brown hair now resting on your shoulders. You grab a brush and start tugging away at the kinks and knots in your hair, occasionally stopping to splash some water on a few strands. It takes some serious elbow grease on particularly tough knots that force you to grit your teeth, but you manage to get it looking silky after a few minutes of the painful process. The longest hairs stop just after the fabric of your blouse ends since you’d been growing out your hair for a good while. After parting a few errant strands of hair that cover parts of your eyes and face, you take another long look in the mirror. For the first time that night you feel relief, your choice in hairstyle complementing your attire nicely. You go through your mental checklist once more, stopping abruptly when you realize you’d forgotten something important. How could you have been so careless to not realize you didn’t shower before trying on the dresses? You look at your phone to see if there’s enough time to shower and go through the painstaking process of applying makeup and styling your hair again. Two hours until Mike is supposed to pick you up, and you don’t feel like risking not being ready in time. You try to come up with a solution, your eyes darting around your bathroom for anything that can help. When your eyes finally land on a bottle of perfume, your mind lights up with an idea. You don’t think you smell bad, but in the event that you do, the perfume would be able to mask the scent fairly convincingly. You grab the bottle and apply it everywhere you think is reasonable, hair, behind the ears, the base of your throat and finally, your midsection. The aroma is a bit strong but you chalk it up to your heightened sense of smell, confident Mike wouldn’t find it as overpowering.

With all of that out of the way, the only thing you have left to take care of is finding the pair of dress shoes you know are somewhere in your apartment. You first check the hallway closet, rummaging through the messy pile of bags and boxes inside, only to come up empty handed. The only other place you could’ve possibly stashed them is your tiny walk-in closet, so you make a beeline for the bedroom. Once you peer into the closet you realize you’re practically the opposite of a typical girl, with only 5% of your closet space being dedicated to shoes. For a moment you start to wonder if there are other things you’re sorely lacking in compared to typical girl. You can feel the butterflies in your stomach begin to flutter a bit more violently at the thought. You do your best to cast your anxiety away as you continue your search. You fish out the box and brush away the thin layer of dust covering it before retrieving the pair of shoes inside. You carefully slip the dress shoes on, silently wishing you had a pair of heels to give you a few extra inches instead. You exit the closet and stand in front of the full-body mirror, examining your ensemble to make sure there’s nothing out of place that needs fixing. After you adjust your hair and pull at the bottom hem of your dress once more, you head out to the living room and wait. You sit down carefully on the couch as to not wrinkle your dress, taking another quick glance at your phone to see how much longer you’ll be waiting. When you see you still have another hour until he arrives, you can’t help but let loose a curse. You feel a pang of regret when you come to the realization that you would’ve had more than enough time to shower, style your hair and reapply your makeup; and you silently berate yourself for rushing into the first available solution instead of thinking things over. You reach for the remote on the coffee table in front of you, figuring a little bit of mindless television could help you take your mind off all the blunders you’ve made tonight. Not long after you start watching an episode of your favorite show, you feel the vibration of the phone inside your pouch. The message from Mike only reads, ‘Be there in thirty minutes.’ which is uncharacteristic of him considering how he usually writes his messages. Is this date a bigger deal to him than he’d let on? Maybe you’re reading too much into his punctuation and capitalization, but you can’t help but worry about cocking things up and making him look bad. A thought crosses your mind as you relax back into the couch: You don't know anything about his friend or his date. You make a mental note to ask Mike if there’s anything you should know about them on the way to the restaurant.

Halfway through watching a second episode you hear a knock at your door.

(-----)

While the drive over to her apartment had calmed your nerves a bit, you’re now contemplating something else entirely. Should you call and tell her to come down to your car or should you waltz up to her apartment and give the door a knock? The former almost feels too impersonal, but she’d never even so much as invited you into her apartment, so you aren’t sure if it’s proper to do so. Instead of wasting time you fish a coin from your pocket and let fate decide for you, heads and you’d call, tails and you’d walk up and knock on the door. You toss the coin into the air and catch it in your palm. Tails. You’re not entirely sure you’re just allowed to park on the sidewalk given how narrow the street is, but you ultimately decide to do it rather than risk being late. You step out of your car and lock it before quickly making your way up the small set of stone steps leading to her door. While you’re keenly aware that this is a fairly nice neighborhood, it never really sank in until now just how nice the outside of her apartment is. Well manicured shrubs surround the stone steps, and the bricks that make up the outside of the apartment are spotless. Once you reach the top of the steps and subsequently her door, you hesitate right before you knock, holding your closed fist in the air just inches away from the door. After taking a deep breath to quell your irrational worries, you give the door a firm set of knocks before standing back a bit to allow her to see you through the peephole. You wait for a couple of minutes, debating whether you should give the door another knock. Right as you go to knock again, you hear what sounds like someone rushing over to the door and a click as she unlocks the door. She doesn’t fully open the door, only peeking her head out through the small gap. The first thing you notice is that she’s wearing makeup.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be here so early, Mike,” she says, offering a slight smile.

“Sorry, is it a bad time?” you ask, briefly wondering if she’s in a state of undress behind the door before casting the inappropriate thought out of your mind. “Didn’t mean to interrupt you if you’re still getting ready, we still have another twenty minutes or so.”

“Nah, it’s fine, mate,” she says, her uneasy eyes darting around, not daring to meet yours. “I’m just about ready, just caught me a little off guard since you came early.”

“Sorry, just didn’t feel like waiting around the house an-” you say, your thought cutting off the moment she opens to the door to fully reveal herself.

Your brain ceases functioning for a moment, not having yet fully processed the sight in front of you. There’s no doubt in your mind that it’s Ruby, though you’d never seen her in a dress before, much less wearing any kind of makeup. While you’d never seen her with her hair in anything but a ponytail, the way she chose to let her hair flow freely fits her extremely well. You hate to admit it or even think of her that way, but she looks stunning and undeniably attractive in your eyes. Though you try not to ogle or stare, your eyes immediately focus on her dress and the way it fits on her, from the way her pouch partially obscures her visible abs, to the way her skirt hugs her hips and thighs. Your ogling is interrupted by her speaking up once again.

"Look... Just- Can you tell me how I look?” she asks, seemingly trying her hardest to meet your gaze as her blush turns the color of her namesake. “No bullshittin' or beating around the bush or nothin’, just... lay into me if I don't look good."

While you don’t want to risk hurting her feelings too much, you decide honesty is the best way to go here, especially since she’d asked for the truth. You examine her from top to bottom, starting by leaning down a bit to get a good look at the makeup on her face. The eyeshadow and mascara look good despite her already having long, full lashes to begin with. You bring your gaze down a bit and stop when you notice something you’re surprised you never noticed about her before. They’re faint, but you notice some thin, brown hairs protruding from around her mouth area that look a lot like whiskers. You’d seen other anthros like cats with more pronounced whiskers, but you’re surprised to see she also has them. Upon closer inspection you notice she’d accidentally smeared some lipstick on a few of the hairs. You also notice the fur around her cheeks is darker, but you’re not sure if that’s just due to the poor lighting, so you decide it’s not worth mentioning. Looking at her lips, you realize there’s something off about the way she applied it, even though you aren’t exactly sure yourself about how anthros are supposed to wear lipstick in the first place. It looks like it was applied sloppily, as it was slightly smudged into the fur surrounding her lips.

Aside from those things, nothing seems too out of place, though her dress looks a bit small on her frame. Both the top and skirt cling tightly to her chest, hips and thighs, a detail you fight against the urge to observe in further examination. You decide to get straight to the point with your observations.

"Well, uh... you got a little bit of lipstick on your... uh... on a bit of the fur here," you say as you point a finger at your own mouth, mirroring the general spots you noticed the smudges on her.

“Shit, well uh, just give me a second then,” she says before quickly ducking back into her apartment and shutting the door behind her.

You wait for what seems like an eternity before she finally emerges from her apartment again. The smile she flashed you before is now gone, replaced by an uncertain expression as she now actively tries to avoid your gaze. It seems like your honesty had done the exact opposite of what you intended.

“Everything alright with the makeup now?” she asks, adjusting the hem of her dress as she does. “Think I got all the smudges, but I’m not 100% sure.”

You give her a quick examination only to see that she’d gotten rid of all the smudges, though you notice that some of her fur got wet in the process. “Looks good to me. You ready to get going?”

She reaches into her pouch for a moment before responding. “Yep, just making sure I’ve got everything with me. Wasn’t sure who’s going to be paying for what so I’m bringing my wallet along just in case.”

Come to think of it, you yourself don’t even know who’s paying for the date. You assume each couple would pay for their half of the meal, which is completely fine with you. Hell, you’d be okay with covering the bill for both Ruby and yourself, given that you’d been the one to invite her along at the last minute. You can’t help but feel like you should do it, given you’d practically forced her to buy new clothes for the occasion. You’d set aside a bit of money in anticipation for the date, though most of it had gone on your attire. You just hope the check won’t bankrupt you.

“Alright, let’s get going then,” you say hurriedly, partly because you’re worried your car might be getting towed.

You lead the way to where you’d parked the car and open the passenger side door for her. You close the door and walk around to the driver’s side, careful not to get your dress pants caught on anything as you climb inside. As you plug the address into the GPS, you steal a quick glance at Ruby and realize you haven’t said a word about the way her dress looks. As you pull back onto the main road, you try to come up with something to say. However, you're so rusty in regards to dating that you’ve completely forgotten how to give a good compliment.

"Your dress looks really nice," you start, stopping when you realize you're only complimenting her clothing rather than herself. You quickly recover by following your observation with, "You make it look really nice."

“Ah, you’re just saying that, mate,” she says, her ears flicking and twitching as she continues to speak. “That’s sweet of you to say though, thanks. You, uh, look really nice too. Even better than when you tried it on at the store.”

You smile at the complement as you come to a stop at an intersection, glancing over at her. “Thanks. But you’re not just saying that because you picked the stuff out, right?”

“Nah mate, you make the clothes look good,” she says, returning your smile. “Honest.”

"If I make the clothes look good, do you think I could've gotten away with wearing nothing but an undershirt tonight?”

"I wouldn't put it that far, Mike,” she laughs, masking her smile behind her hand. “Think you need something else if you don’t want to be kicked out."

“So you’re saying a shirt and yoga pants would’ve been fine with you then?”

“You might look out of place in a restaurant, but I wouldn’t be against it either,” she says, smile still plastered on her face.

The rest of your trip is fairly uneventful and soon the two of you are parked outside the restaurant with plenty of time to spare before your reservation. While you didn’t spot his car as you pulled into the lot, you figure Kevin’s already inside with his date, waiting for the two of you to arrive. You get out of the driver’s seat and straighten out your blazer before walking around to the passenger side and opening the door for Ruby. It’s undeniably cheesy of you, but you offer your hand to her and help her out of the car. She also straightens out any wrinkles in her dress as you continue scoping out the lot for your friend’s car.

“Ready to head inside?” you ask, looking down at the dress-clad kangaroo.

“Ready if you are, mate,” she says, offering a weak smile. “Though, do you think maybe we should, uh… hold hands?”

You can’t help but smile at the way she phrased the question as you outstretch your hand so she can take hold of it. The way she has to reach up to put her hand in yours is oddly adorable to you, though you wonder if she finds the notion embarrassing. As you start to interlock your fingers with hers you feel something sharp poke into your palm, and you reflexively pull away.

“Shit, sorry,” she says, looking up at you to try to gauge whether she’d hurt you or not. “Did I hurt you? I usually file them down, but I forgot to an-”

“It’s alright, just reflexes,” you smile before offering your open hand to her once more. “See? Not even so much as a scratch.”

You interlock your fingers with hers and feel her grip tighten ever so slightly as you both take the first step forward. The familiar warmth of her furred hand/fingers against your bare skin is enough to make it break out into gooseflesh. While it’s certainly a feeling you can see yourself getting used to, you’d never admit that to her. The two of you start to make your way towards the restaurant entrance, though you can feel your arm being pulled back shortly after you begin. You look back at her, her expression an odd mix of excitement and worry.

“Something wrong?” you ask, looking down and meeting her gaze.

“It’s just… my leg still kind of hurts a little, mate,” she says, offering a weak smile. “I didn’t want to say anything, but I think my ankle might be sprained or something.”

You can’t help but crack a small smile. “So, you want me to carry you inside then?”

“Nah, mate, just… walk a little slower and I’ll manage,” she says, her weak smile now a more confident grin. “If it hurts too much to walk, you’ll be the first to know.”

You slow your pace and resume walking towards the entrance, your hand still engulfing hers. Once you finally reach the door, you allow her to enter first. A sharply dressed man standing behind a podium smiles as the two of you approach him.

“Good evening, welcome to la Morsure Marocaine. Do you have a reservation?”

“Should be under Abernathy,” You quietly wait as the man takes his time looking through a small ledger. “Table for four if that helps you.”

“Ah yes, Ms. Abernathy," he says, looking to Ruby. "Your table should be ready for you.”

"Oh no, she's not Ms. Abernathy," you say in her stead. "We're just the other half of her party. Is she not here yet?”

“According to this nobody has arrived claiming to be her, though I can seat the two of you if you’d like, it’s not a problem,” he says, tapping a pen against the black ledger.

“I’m fine with waiting, thank you though,” you say, taking a seat on one of the nearby benches with Ruby.

You glance down at your watch and see it’s still ten to eight, which makes you feel a little better about the fact that he hasn’t arrived yet. Probably just stuck in traffic if he didn’t take the highway route. You look down at Ruby and find her taking in the extravagant decoration the restaurant has to offer. A small fountain and statue decorate the center of the room, which pairs nicely with the ornate wallpaper, rug and hanging lights. What really catches your attention is the way her tail twitches and shifts about, as if it’s a python attempting to evade capture. You’d only noticed the behavior once before, though you always wondered exactly what it meant. Was she worried about something? Maybe regretting the fact that she’d agreed to come along in the first place? Another thing that catches your eye is the fact that you're still holding hands, and you realize that it might be the root of her behavior. You immediately move to rectify the problem and let go of her hand.

"Sorry, didn't realize I was still doing that," you attempt to explain when she looks to you in confusion.

"It's fine," she says, immediately breaking her gaze and going back to observing the decoration.

You want to say something, but your train of thought is quickly interrupted when you hear the sound of someone coming through the door, directing your gaze towards the source of the noise. You feel relief when you see Kevin walking into the restaurant, dressed to the nines. While you’d never seen him in anything other than casual attire, you have to admit he cleans up nicely. There’s something a bit off with his clothing though, and you immediately notice his crooked tie, along with his wrinkled dress shirt and pants. You get up and begin walking towards him to greet him but pause the second you see his date walk in through the door. She ducks slightly to avoid hitting her head on the doorframe, a testament to just how tall the dog girl in front of you really is. You can tell that she's a dog anthro just by her snout shape and thin, fluffy tail, though you can't pin down her exact species. Her fur coat is mainly black and brown, with just the slightest hint of grey sprinkled in, but what really catches your attention is her staggering height. You consider yourself pretty tall, but this girl easily has a foot on you, probably closer to two.

“What took you two so long?” you ask, smiling as you shake your buddy’s hand. “Don’t tell me you got stuck in traffic.”

“Just lost track of time, I guess,” he laughs, returning your handshake. “Before I forget, Melanie, this is my good friend, Mike.”

The dog girl extends her hand out, which you’re grateful for because there’s no way you could greet her otherwise.

“Nice to meet ya’,” she says, and you quickly take notice of her pronounced southern drawl. “Kevin’s told me a whole lot about you.”

“Only good things I hope,” you laugh as you let go of her hand. You realize you should probably introduce Ruby to both of them, despite Kevin having seen her at work before. “Kevin, Melanie, this is Ruby.”

You watch as she shakes both their hands, though you can’t help but internally wince when you see Melanie has to bend down slightly to do so. Though Ruby seems to have either not noticed or is unphased by the fact, something you’re thankful you don’t have to deal with at the moment. You guys stand around by the door for a few moments until someone finally speaks up.

“Shall we go inside then?” Melanie asks, arms now interlocked with Kevin’s.

“You and Ruby can go ahead and take a seat,” Kevin replies. “I wanted to talk to Mike about something real quick, won’t be too long.”

The two of them walk towards the podium together and you can faintly hear the dog girl ask about the reservation before they’re ushered into the restaurant. After they’re both out of your sight, you turn to face Kevin again, wondering what exactly it is that he wants to talk to you about.

“Jesus christ dude, she’s like seven feet tall,” you say, putting your hand on his shoulder. “I'm so sorry I ever doubted you. What took you two so long though?”

He cracks a smile before putting his hand on your shoulder and bringing your head closer to his. “Well, you know all those stories I told you at work? Things haven’t exactly gotten better for me and I had to uh, take care of her before we came here. Trust me, she’s a completely different girl when there’s something she wants.”

Your eyes wander downwards and you notice his pants are unzipped. “You, uh… still have your fly open, actually. I’m surprised you’re not in a wheelchair if the two of you go at it that often.”

“Oh shit, thanks. She’s a sweetheart though, even in bed,” he says, patting you on the back once more before letting you go. “So, how’d she go from giving you a concussion to being your date?”

The question catches you off guard and you cock an eyebrow at him in confusion. “What?”

“You know, she didn’t force you to bring her along or anything, right? What with the way she ‘greeted’ you in the parking lot last week, remember?”

“What? No, no, nothing like that,” you say, eager to jump to her defense. “I’m honestly surprised she agreed to come along in the first place.”

“I’m just messing around with you, man,” he says, patting you on the shoulder. “The two of you look really cute together, seriously.”

You smile at his kind words, feeling as if a bit more weight was lifted off your shoulders. “Thanks man, you and Melanie look really nice together too.”

“Alright, let’s get inside before they start wondering if we stood them up, shall we?” he asks, leading the way to your table.

The second you step into the restaurant proper, you’re taken aback at just how nice it is. While you’d seen fine dining restaurants on TV and in movies, you’d never been to one in person. Everything about the place screams class, from the decoration to the ambient music; and the way the lights are dimmed ever so slightly to set a calm, yet inviting atmosphere. That isn’t to say you aren’t worried about the state your wallet would be in after a date like this one, reminiscing for a moment on college days where you lived frugally to make ends meet. The thoughts are cast out of your mind the second you see Ruby and Melanie at the table. You can’t help but smile when you see the two of them talking, completely unaware of your approach. Melanie had seemingly pulled out all the stops when getting this reservation, noticing that she’d managed to nab a corner booth for the date. You slide into the booth and settle in next to Ruby, who quickly flashes you a smile before turning back to face Melanie and Kevin. It’s a relief to see she and Melanie are hitting things off, at least as far as you can tell. Soon after you all take your seats, an enthusiastic waitress arrives to take your drink orders and hand each of you a menu.

“Sparkling water for her and I’ll start off with a whiskey on the rocks,” Kevin says, handing off one of the two menus to his date. “Do you have a wine list we can take a look at?”

She hands Kevin a small sheet with a list of wines they carry before turning her attention to your side of the table.

You’re thoroughly impressed by the way he’s handling things and taking charge, and you briefly wonder if he’d been someplace similar before. “I’ll just take a glass of ice water if you don’t mind.”

“And for you?” she asks, directing her gaze at Ruby, pen still pressed to her notepad.

“Ice water as well, thanks.”

“I’ll be right back with your drinks,” the waitress says before sauntering off towards the bar.

With that out of the way, you turn your attention back to the couple sitting across from you, trying to find something to say to spark some conversation. You still can’t get over her stature, Kevin looking relatively tiny next to her despite his above average height. When you're close to coming up with something to say, your train of thought is interrupted by Melanie's voice.

“So, how’d the two of ya’ meet?” she asks, leaning forward in her seat as she sits up straight. “You been dating long?”

You’re surprised by just how forward she is and a quick glance over at Ruby tells you she’s too paralyzed by the question to give a good answer, let alone an answer in general. You’ve noticed it a few times before, but with the way her ears are twitching erratically, you can tell she’s either nervous or apprehensive towards answering the question.

You decide to clear things up, hoping you wouldn’t make the night awkward in doing so. “We’re actually not uh, dating. Not sure if Ruby wants me to tell the story about how we met, but we’ve only known each other for about two weeks.”

The dog girl looks embarrassed after your almost deadpan response to her question. “Sorry, I just assumed the two of ya’ were dating, you look cute together.”

You can’t help but chuckle a bit at her response. “Don’t worry, we get that all the time from other people, no need to apologize.”

You hear a nervous chuckle coming from Ruby before she speaks. “Yeah, we’re just friends. Guess you can tell the story if you want, I don’t mind.”

You know telling the story as it happened isn’t the right move and you instead opt to omit certain details.

“Don’t know if Kevin’s told you, but I work with him and one day... She comes in at the end of my shift as I'm up front, and I turn around and look and, well... don’t see anyone there," you grin. "So then I turn around and she scares the everloving shit out of me. We made a little bit of small talk and it turns out we frequent the same gym. We’ve hit it off pretty well since then, honestly.”

Ruby playfully nudges your shoulder before smiling. “He's conveniently leaving out the part where I have to drag his sorry arse through the park every morning.”

“I was just getting to that,” you say, smiling before the air fills with your combined laughter. “But yeah, that’s how we ended up meeting. What about you two?”

“Not quite as interesting as yer tale, but the two of us met a bar one night,” the dog girl not quite meeting your gaze as she tells her story. “I was a little bit tipsy and busy making an ass out of myself on the dance floor, and I ended up bumping into him, spilling his drink all over him. I was mortified, but he didn’t mind too much and we ended up talking for a good while at the bar and uh, here we are.”

“Been going strong for two weeks.” Kevin smiles before grasping her hand tightly. “Hopefully it stays that way.”

You try to steal another glance at Ruby to make sure she’s feeling alright, but the moment your eyes meet hers she breaks eye contact in an instant. She looks towards Melanie, her ears and tip of her tail twitching as she tries to feign ignorance. You decide to crack a joke in the hopes it’ll cheer her up a bit in the process. “I’m sure it will, so long as she keeps you in one piece.”

“I wouldn’t hurt a hair on his head, not that he has many to spare in the first place or anything,” she chuckles before putting her other hand over their already interlocked pair. “So, do y’all work out together, given ya’ go to the same gym and everythin’?”

“Usually after work if I’m not too tired, though she’s been bugging me to work a little bit more cardio in my routine,” you explain, nudging her under the table to get her to pay attention to the conversation. “Practically have to drag myself out of bed in the morning to go jogging with her, I don’t know how she does it.”

“Maybe if you didn’t stay up so late watching TV or whatever it is you do, I wouldn’t have to call you to wake you up in the morning, you goober,” Ruby chimes in, nudging you back from beneath the table. “Been trying to whip him into shape since the day we met.”

“You sure the two of ya’ aren’t dating?” she asks, focusing her gaze on Ruby as she speaks. “I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but yer practically arm in arm together laughin’ and doin’ stuff together. It’s just real cute, y’know? It’s not often you see two friends getting along so well.”

You hope it’s not visible, but you can feel your cheeks burn in embarrassment at her words, doing your best to come up with a reasonable rebuttal. “I promise we’re not dating, though I guess this does count as a date, right?”

You can see Melanie start to speak again, though the entire conversation is put on hold by the waitress quickly approaching your table. She sets down your drinks before whipping her notepad and pen out.

“Are you ready to order or do you need a little more time to think about it?”

“I think we’ve all made up our minds, though what would you recommend from the wine list, red wine in particular,” Kevin asks, handing the wine list back to the waitress.

“The Trouinon Clairet is very commonly requested, I can bring one of those out for you if you’d like.”

“That’d be great, thanks,” he says before rattling off his meal order to the waitress.

The rest of you follow suit and soon the table is cleared of menus, the waitress having long left for the kitchen to submit the ticket. You’re thankful that the topic of conversation prior had seemingly been forgotten by Melanie, Kevin having shifted it to griping about work. Even though your full attention isn’t on the conversation, you can glean he’s currently complaining about having to be on register duty three shifts in a row. While it might be rude to Kevin, your attention is solely focused on Ruby at the moment. You keep trying to glance at her without making your concern obvious to any onlookers, though you doubt you're doing a good job of it. She looks almost anxious as she plays with and tugs at strands of her long hair. You look into those amber-tinted eyes of hers and feel your chest tighten when you see what you think is panic. There’s nothing you can do without bringing attention to the matter, but you’re almost positive something’s bothering her, especially since she hasn’t actively participated in any conversation without you egging her on.

"Ruby? You alri-" you whisper before you're interrupted by the sound of her voice.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she says, in a wavering tone that isn’t typical of her.

Not wanting to confront her over something you’re not even sure is actually happening, you get up from your seat to allow her to leave. All you can do is watch as she speedwalks towards the bathroom, still toying with her hair before turning the corner and disappearing. You sit back down and shoot a look of concern to Kevin, who you aren't sure knows exactly what's going on with her.

(-----)

As you round the corner towards the bathroom, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe normally, feeling your heart pound as if it’s trying to leap out of your chest. You’d tried your hardest to keep your emotions under control but there was only so much you could take. Everything from that nagging feeling that everyone was staring at you to how little you’d participated in the conversation at the table. You felt like you didn’t belong. You know that wasn’t his intention, but it really felt like he’d invited you along as his date just to humor you, to have a laugh at your expense. Thoughts of how you shouldn't even be within a ten mile radius of this place continue to flood your mind, tormenting you with images of disgusted glares and whispers. One topic in particular is seared into your mind, your eyes burning as they struggle to hold back tears as you push through into the bathroom.

You enter the bathroom and quickly scan it to see if there’s anyone else inside, not wanting anyone to see you as you make a beeline for the nearest open stall. Once inside, you lock the door behind you and put the seat down. The moment you sit down, you can no longer hold back that first tear, the rest following in an unbroken stream. You place a hand over your eyes and mouth as you begin to sob, the tears wetting your fur and ruining what little makeup you felt confident was applied properly. You mentally berate yourself for being weak enough to let yourself cry, but that same conversation keeps replaying in your mind and it only makes you cry harder. Despite doing your best to muffle any noises, those thoughts only cause a pathetic sputter to burst forth from you, not helped by your now labored breathing. It feels like you’re drowning, not being able to take in enough air between gasps. You involuntarily gag as a hoarse cough forces its way out of you, suddenly thankful you didn’t have anything to eat recently. Your stomach continues to do flips, and a queasy feeling washes over you as you continue sobbing forcefully. The terrible thought of him seeing your ugly crying flashes in your mind, forcing another sputter from your lips as you imagine his disappointment and shame.

'He's probably already sick of me; he shouldn't even be with me. I'm such a fucking mess, crying like a bitch over a simple fucking date.’ you think to yourself, fresh tears falling and further wetting your ruined makeup. 'He probably knows it, too. Last minute... He wouldn't even have asked if he found someone that was actually a decent choice. Even said himself he'd just find someone else if I wasn’t up for it.'

You shake your head, sending drops of tears down onto your dress and the bathroom floor. While you try your hardest to cast doubt and worry out of your mind, you wonder exactly how long you’ve been away from the table, not wanting to worry anyone with your extended absence. It feels like you’ve been sitting in the stall for an hour, and a quick glance at your phone helps you take your mind off things, even if just for a brief moment. You let out a sigh of relief when you notice barely ten minutes has passed since you fled the table.

Your ears perk up when you hear someone approaching the bathroom, pulling your legs off the ground as you do your best to remain silent and motionless. You wouldn’t be able to live it down if anyone you knew saw you like this, much less one of your coworkers. From the moment the door opens, you close your eyes in the hopes that they’ll leave quickly, unsure of how much longer you can keep yourself silent. When you don’t hear the creak of the stall doors next to you, your eyes flutter open as you try to peer under the stall for signs of someone still being in the bathroom. Even with a hand over your mouth, you can’t stop yourself from inhaling sharply and sputtering as you choke on your own saliva. You can see someone standing in front of the stall you’re camped out in, the white fur covering their legs seeming oddly familiar to you.

“Ruby?” the woman asks as she lightly knocks on the stall door. “You in there, ‘hun?”

The voice is unmistakably southern in accent, and you’re positive it belongs to Melanie. Your cheeks burn in embarrassment as a few tears continue to further dampen the fur around your now bloodshot eyes. You figure staying silent is your best option, the alternative of revealing yourself to her being far too shameful to consider. It seems like no matter what you do, you aren’t going to come out of this unscathed. If you do say something it’s likely going to make its way back to her date or worse, to Mike. And if you don’t say anything, all you’re going to accomplish is worrying him further anyways. You feel trapped, paralyzed by two choices that both have unfavorable outcomes. If it wasn’t for the massive dog girl standing in the bathroom with you, the waterworks would continue to flow. You feel ashamed, pathetic and panicked all at the same time, as if any hope of tonight being a good night was suddenly snatched out from under you.

“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” she says, knocking on the stall door once more. “Look, I’m sorry if I said something I shouldn’t have.”

You don’t want to make someone else have a shitty night because of your own shortcomings, so you decide to say something against your better judgement. “I’m fine.”

There’s a brief pause before anything else is said, and the only thing you can hear is the sound of a fan circulating air. “You sure don’t sound it.”

You sniff a little bit to avoid your nose running before you speak. “Don’t worry about me, alright? I’ll be out in a minute.”

There’s no use staying locked inside the stall all night, since at some point you’d have to come out and face your fears. It takes a little while to muster up the courage, but you eventually reach for the lock on the door and undo it, pulling on the stall door to open it. You can only imagine how pathetic you must look to her right now. A grown woman sitting in a restaurant’s bathroom crying her eyes out like a scared little girl. You stifle another sob as you look up at Melanie with blurry eyes. You don't know what to say. You feel even more trapped than before you opened the door.

The shocked look on Melanie's face sends another wave of burning shame through your body and you have to fight the urge to retreat back into the stall. "Oh god," she says quietly. "I'm so sorry about whatever it was I said."

You try to steel your nerves and take a deep breath, cutting the silence with a loud sniff. "It wasn't anything you said."

Melanie looks a little relieved at your response, though she still looks worried. You try to get off the seat to leave the stall, attempting to wipe off the tear streaks on your furred cheeks. As you attempt to stand upright, you find yourself feeling lightheaded, your legs wobbling as feeling slowly returns to them. You quickly extend an arm out, using the stall walls for support as you try to regain your balance. You feel weak, and the queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you feel like you could puke at any second doesn't help matters any.

“You alright?” she asks, stepping forward and into the stall to hold you up by the other arm as your legs continue to betray you when you need them most. “You want me to get you some water or something?”

You feel a faint sting around your ankle due to the amount of weight you’re putting on it, a faint reminder of how you’d injured yourself yesterday. "I’m alright. It's just... fuck," you say as you work your way around her with uneasy and shaky steps, unable to find the right words to express your conflicted thoughts. You can feel your strength and the feeling in your legs return to you with each step you take, as if you’re forcing the fatigue out of your body through sheer willpower.

You look down at your hands only to notice streaks of black stained into your fur. You approach the sink and look at the mirror. You let out a sob you can't possibly hope to suppress and send several more dark mascara stains down your cheek when you see your reflection. You look exactly the way you did that one night everything went to shit so many years ago. Your makeup is streaked, staining your brown fur beyond repair, eyes red with more tears ready to fall, only made worse by the most pitiful expression you've seen staring back at you. It’s a perfect match to that hellish night. The visual alone makes you sputter for breath and sends several more black stained tears down your face. Your breath hitches again and you sputter as you start to sob with even more intensity than before, covering your face in an attempt to hide yourself away from Melanie. You instinctively recoil when you feel her hand on your shoulder, though you’re grateful that she tries again after the fact, feeling comfort in having someone by your side despite how ashamed you feel.

“What’s wrong ‘hun?” she asks, a look in the mirror showing just how concerned she is about your well being. “Whatever it is, you can tell me, I promise to keep it just between us gals, alright?”

“I’m a fuckup, I can’t even do this right,” you manage to choke out between bouts of sobbing. “I already looked like a gaudy bitch in this makeup and now I just look like a... whore.”

You try to wipe away the stains as you continue to sob, but no matter how hard you rub at the damp patches of fur and dark splotches, they don’t seem to fade. You’re not sure what to do, but the idea of just running out the door and restaurant is becoming more appealing by the second. You don't want to burden Mike with taking you home and potentially ruin a night he’s enjoying. Maybe you should just pretend to be sick and leave?

'No, no... He'd just offer to drive you home then. That wouldn't make anything better,' you think to yourself.

“You don’t look like that at all ‘hun, you just think you do,” she says, rubbing at your shoulder as you continue to cry. “You want me to help fix your makeup? I always keep some in my purse just in case. We’ll have you right as rain in no time.”

“That might help a bit,” you mutter as you try to bring your breathing back to a normal rate, taking deep breaths and slowly exhaling. “Thanks.”

“Go ahead and wash off all that old mascara then,” she says, reaching for some paper towels from the dispenser.

"I just wanted to look nice for once," you say, feeling even more embarrassment as you splash water on the stained areas. “Kind of cocked things up on this date, huh?”

"Aw, c'mon, don't be so down on yourself. You look plenty nice. Just had a few hiccups here is all,” she says as she dabs paper towels onto your wet fur. "But, besides all that, you look real nice in that dress. I’m sure Mike thinks the same thing too."

“I hope so, I spent a lot of time trying on dresses and putting on makeup today,” you chuckle, feeling a bit better upon hearing her words. “I wanted him to see me a little differently than usual, you know?”

She rummages through her purse and retrieves some mascara, eyeliner and lipstick. You’re thankful she doesn’t opt to reapply the ‘blush’ as you can now see your fur looks far better in its natural colors. She bends down before holding you steady by the chin, bringing the applicator closer to your face.

"Much better to have too little makeup on ya’ than too much," she says as she makes light strokes across your now dry fur. “You want me to touch up your lipstick a little bit too? I usually only like to put a little bit on the front, looks nicer that way.”

You nod and she continues to apply the mascara and eyeliner before using some damp paper towels to wipe away the excess lipstick, applying a new coat in a slightly darker shade of red. You feel relief when you see your reflection in the mirror, now with reapplied makeup. Though there’s still butterflies fluttering in your stomach, you take a deep breath and smile.

“Better? I can put on a little bit more if you want,” she says as she stands upright again, still holding the applicator.

“It’s perfect, thank you so much,” you say, looking up at the tall woman next to you and smiling appreciatively. “I’m sorry for just disappearing like that, I didn’t mean for anyone to get worried about me.”

“Don’t worry about it one bit. Pretty much live and breathe the stuff back home; ma always did like her mascara and fur makeup. Course, she was so tall, there wasn't nobody who could even see it,” she says, flashing you a quick grin. “So what’s got you so wound up tonight, ‘hun? Maybe I can help you out a little bit.”

You take a deep inhale before contemplating telling her the whole truth. The fact that she’d come to the bathroom out of concern for you means the world right now, and you feel she deserves to hear the truth. As much as it hurts to talk about, venting some of your worries might help you compose yourself enough to face Mike again.

“It’s him….” you start, the knot forming in your throat making it hard to speak. “I don’t know if I’m just being stupid, but... I feel like this is all my fault.”

“He didn’t do anything to you, did he?” she asks, and you quickly pick up on her now elevated, almost angry tone. “I’ll go out there and do something about it myself if he did.”

“No! No, no, he didn’t do anything to me,” you sigh, another glance at the mirror showing your smile quickly fading into an uneasy expression. “I just can’t stop thinking about what he said out there, I don’t even know why it’s bugging me so much.”

“What’d he say exactly that bothers you so much, hun’?” she asks, squeezing down on your shoulder a bit as she steps towards you. “Promise I won’t tell anyone, cross my heart.”

“It just… seems like he’s not interested in being anything more than just friends,” you say, feeling your cheeks burn at your own brazen admission. “It sounded to me like he was ashamed that you thought the two of us were a couple. I know it sounds silly, but it sounds like he’s just trying to let me down easy.”

“It sounds like you like him an awful lot. He seems to enjoy your company and friendship, best I can tell. So why do you think he’s ashamed to be seen with you? If he invited you out tonight, it’s because he thinks you’re good company, no?”

You rub at the back of your own neck as you think of how to respond to her sound reasoning, doing your best to not sound like an anxiety-ridden mess. “He asked me out, but I don’t know if it was because he actually wanted me along, or if it’s because… he just couldn’t find anyone else.”

You feel like crying again, though you realize it’s selfish and inconsiderate of you to ruin your makeup for the second time tonight, especially with the level of care Melanie had taken to make sure you look presentable. That nagging feeling that told you to flee starts to slowly creep up on you again, and with the way Melanie continues to rub at your shoulder to provide comfort, you feel like she can also pick up on your unease.

”It might not be my place to say it since I don’t know you two too well, but I don’t think he thinks of you that way at all. I don’t mean to make you worry, but part of the reason I came to check up on ya’ was because I saw he wasn’t lookin' too good.”

"Oh god... I don't want him to feel worse. I just... wish there was some way I could know how he feels without having to ask him,” you lament, letting out another sigh. “Even if he doesn’t feel the same way I do, I don’t want to ruin our friendship over it, you know?”

"I... think he might feel the same way about that," she says, finally letting go of your shoulder. “Look, I’ll tell ya’ the same thing my pop says a whole lot, Ruby. Ya gotta make your move if it starts lookin’ like nobody else is gonna. And if yer friend ain't lookin' like he's gonna make a move, then maybe you should make yers."

“I don’t even know where to start with that,” you stammer, thinking back to what he’d said when he asked you out last night. What could you even hope to say to him? What if because of one bad decision, you ruin your one chance to ever be anything more than just friends with him?

Your stomach does another flip as you try to imagine his reaction. But... you feel that at the same time, it's the best option to take. Maybe Melanie is right. Maybe you should take the first step, even if it's a blind leap of faith. Maybe you can make things work. You feel a surge of confidence pierce through the murky cloud of uncertainty hanging over you as you look at yourself in the mirror again. You're a different woman now.

Maybe things will be different this time.

“He did say we were going on a lunch date tomorrow. Do... you think I should ask him then?”

“You want my honest advice? You know him way better than I do, so just go with your gut and take the opportunity when it feels like the right time to strike. Don’t be afraid to do something on instinct, if he’s as good of a friend as you paint him to be, then he’ll understand even if he’s not immediately open to it.”

Her advice is solid, but you don't even know where to begin with tackling the issue of talking to Mike about the way you feel. Would he be weirded out if you spoke from the heart? He’s a sweet guy despite his rougher upbringing, but as you think about it, you realize you hardly know anything about the things he likes. Is he the type of guy who prefers a romantic and heartfelt confession? Or something more… physical? All these questions dance about inside your head as you try to come up with a game plan that would get you closer to finding out if the attraction was mutual. Through no fault of her own, your train of thought is interrupted by Melanie’s voice.

“You ready to get back out there ‘hun? Wouldn’t want them both to worry and come looking for us, yeah?”

You nod and look up at the massive dog girl again while flashing her an appreciative smile, one you hope conveys exactly how grateful you are for her help and advice. “I’m ready, but I can’t thank you enough for… well, everything.”

“Us gals have to look out for each other, right? So don’t mention it, though can I say one thing real quick?”

“Anything,” you say, happy to help her with anything in exchange for what she’d just done for you.

“Might just be a hunch, but I don’t think Mike cares too much about whether you have makeup on or not, he probably thinks you look great without it,” she says, opening the door to the bathroom and stepping aside so you can walk out. “If you need anything, just give me a nudge under the table and I’ll excuse myself so you can follow after me, alright?”

“Thanks Melanie, I’m glad you came looking for me,” you say, putting on your best smile before stepping out of the bathroom.

(-----)

You look down at your watch for what feels like the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes, wondering why Ruby and Melanie are taking so long in the bathroom. Initially you tried not to assume the worst, quelling your worries with the reasoning that girls typically spent more time in the bathroom. They’d probably just struck up a conversation and lost track of time, right? Though as time passes you continue to worry about her, no thanks in part to the panicked expression you swore you saw in her eyes before she got up. You chalk it up to date jitters, though you wonder if you'd said something you shouldn't have. Your leg continues to bounce as if it has a mind of its own as you continue searching for an explanation that just isn’t there.

“So... you aren’t dating her?” Kevin asks, pulling you from your train of thought.

While you’re taken aback by the sudden question, you feel a burning need to answer it. “No, we aren’t dating. Sometimes I get the feeling she might be interested, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for it again.”

“I know man… you’ve told me a bunch of times. Aren’t you afraid that you might be leading her on though, by asking her out on this date? I’m not trying to worry you or anything, but what if she sees this as you wanting something more?”

“Not like you left me any other option," you say, a feeling of regret immediately washing over you as the words leave your mouth. It’s wrong of you to accuse your friend of putting you in this situation when it’s your own shortcomings and desire to keep your friendship intact that caused you to consider Ruby a last resort in the first place. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just… I’m not trying to lead her on. Believe me, it’s the last thing I want to do.”

He takes a sip of his whiskey before speaking. “I know you didn’t mean it like that man, relax. I really appreciate that you even did this favor for me. Have you tried talking to her about it? Maybe she'd understand you're not looking for a relationship right now if you tell her how your last one went.”

“You make it sound so easy,” you sigh before chuckling. “I don’t even know where I’d begin talking to her about something like that, much less find a way to bring it up in conversation. Then again, we’re going on a lunch date tomorrow so maybe it’s not impossible for it to come up somehow.”

“Back to back dates, huh?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow at you from across the table. “See, that’s why I’m saying she’s got to be into you.”

“It’s not because of that, I just... lost a stupid bet one night at the gym, so now I owe her lunch somewhere,” you explain, taking a sip of your ice water before running your other hand through your hair. “I doubt it has anything to do with that, although…”

“What?” he asks.

“Is it weird that she sounded almost disappointed when I told her tonight was meant to be a double date over the phone? It could’ve just been me hearing things, but I swear she didn’t sound thrilled about it. But then when I mentioned going on a date with just the two of us tomorrow she sounded… happy about it. I dunno, maybe I’m just overthinking this stuff too much.”

“Dude, you’re my best friend and all so don’t take this too harsh or anything, but you sure can be one dense motherfucker sometimes,” he says, chuckling at your retelling of the previous night. “Show her a good time tomorrow, but don’t let her overstep your boundaries and if she does, then you can bring up the stuff about your ex.”

“I’ll try to remember that tomorrow, thanks man,” you say, confident that she’ll understand your situation once you explain it to her.

“Anytime, dude,” he says, nodding his head towards your direction. “Heads up.”

You turn around to see Ruby finally emerge again, Melanie following closely behind her as they both make their way towards your table. Her confident stride along with the smile she flashes you as she continues to approach helps alleviate some of your worries. When she comes near, you get up to allow her to sit closer to the center of the curved booth. There’s something about her that looks… different to you. You can’t quite put your finger on it though you’re glad that panicked expression you saw when she left the table is nowhere to be seen.

“Everything good?” you ask as she adjusts her dress a bit, tugging on the hem of her blouse and skirt.

She looks up at you, the very same smile still on her face. “Yep. Sorry to have you kept you two waiting.”

“Don’t sweat it,” you say, a smile of your own forming as you stare into those amber colored pools you’d grown fond of. “Sorry if I’m being kind of a worrywart tonight, by the way.”

You get a closer look at her face as a result of meeting her gaze, and you finally spot what’s different about her. The fur on her face is now a far lighter, more natural brown shade of brown like you were accustomed to seeing from her. You immediately think it suits her far better than whatever makeup she’d applied to make it darker. It makes you wonder if that was the reason behind her sudden disappearance to the bathroom, to wash off bits of makeup she was unhappy with. You certainly don’t mind it either way, though you wonder what caused her sudden change of heart.

“I think you worry too much sometimes,” she chuckles, leaning against you slightly. “It is kind of sweet of you though, so thanks.”

You feel yourself going red at her kind words, her confident yet joking tone causing your brain to freeze up and fumble your response. “T-thanks, I guess?”

Thankfully your verbal blunder is quickly ignored and forgotten about as Kevin starts up a new round of small talk at the table. It’s fun and you quickly find yourself laughing alongside Ruby, Kevin and Melanie. The conversation flows like water until it’s interrupted by Melanie spotting the approaching waitress, tray in hand. She quickly sets down everyone’s respective meals, along with any special silverware you needed. You ordered something fairly simple, a medium rare steak drizzled with garlic butter resting on a bed of roasted potatoes and herbs. The sight of the flowing juices along with the wonderful smell of the herbs is enough to make your mouth water, though you want to wait for a toast before you dig in. However, just before the waitress walks away from the table, you hear Ruby pipe up.

“Could I get a drink?” she asks as she unwraps her silverware.

“Sure thing, anything specific?” the waitress asks as she turns back around to give her undivided attention to Ruby. “And do you want that on the rocks?”

“The strongest thing you’ve got will do just fine,” she replies, tugging on the hem of her blouse once again. “Neat, please.”

‘...The strongest they’ve got?’ you think to yourself as the waitress scribbles something down on her pad.

Although you’re surprised she’s ordering hard liquor considering what she’s eating, you’re not too worried about it considering you’ll be driving her home tonight. It makes you realize just how little you know about her though; you've never even so much as had as a beer with her. Hell, you would have never realized she liked drinking alcohol if not for tonight. The waitress quickly returns with her drink, the glass nearly filled to the brim with the amber, almost brown liquid. It seems like an excessive amount, but considering what everything else costs it’s probably justified somehow.

Kevin raises his glass of whiskey into the air and thrusts it forward towards the center of the table. “I propose a toast. Here’s to long lasting friendships and relationships both.”

You can’t help but smile at his cheesy words, lifting your glass of wine into the air and clinking it against his before taking a sip. Melanie and Ruby follow suit and the sound of clinking glasses and laughter quickly fills the air. After the toast, everyone is quick to start making short work of their meal in the most polite fashion they can. You didn’t pretend to be super fancy or formal when eating in the comfort of your own home, but you at least had the common sense to have good table manners and etiquette in social situations. A quick glance at Ruby halfway through your meal causes you to double take to make sure you aren’t seeing things, watching in awe as she downs the entire tumbler of alcohol in one go. She exhales as she pulls the glass away from her mouth, and you can feel a burning sensation in your nostrils as you’re hit with the strong odor of alcohol. You thought she was just drinking whiskey, but you’d never drank or smelled any whiskey that made your nose react that adversely. You’re even more taken aback when she raises her hand slightly to flag down the waitress, ordering another glass of the drink when she finally manages to do so. You’d had college friends who would’ve gotten completely shitfaced on that single glass and she just… threw it back like it was water. You have to respect it, but at the same time you’re worried she’s going to drink herself under the table. After putting down the glass, she goes back to working on her meal, twirling the pasta on her fork before downing the entire bundle in one go.

“Mmm… so fuckin’ good,” she mutters before going for another forkful. You quickly feel secondhand embarrassment at her foul mouth. She notices you staring down at her and is quick to meet your gaze before speaking again. “You want to try some? It’s really, really damn good, mate.”

“Nah, I’m good with uh, this,” you say, watching her shrug before returning your attention to the steak in front of you.

“Suit yourself then,” she says, diving back into her meal.

You take another bite of your tender, juicy steak before washing it down with some of the wine. But even the explosion of flavor in your mouth isn’t enough to distract you from the fact that Ruby is about to be on her third drink for the night, with no signs of her stopping anytime soon. Even someone with your tolerance would’ve passed out by now, so you’re not sure how the small kangaroo is still standing. As far as you can tell, the only thing that’s changed about her is a slight bob of her head and slightly slurred speech. You decide to divert your attention to her more and more as the night goes on, a feeling of anxiety welling up in you each time she flags down the waitress. Even Kevin watches her interactions with the waitress, concern apparent on his face, Melanie seemingly doing her best to pretend it’s not happening. You expect her to just order another drink, but this time she’s far more brazen with the waitress to get what she wants.

“Just… ah, bring me the whole bottle, mate,” she says, her slur not yet pronounced enough to alter her speech too much. “That way we don’t have to ke- keep doing this song and dance act.”

Even the waitress seems to be concerned with the rate she’s putting away drinks, even leaning down to whisper a question into your ear. “She’s not driving home right? I can’t legally serve her if she is.”

“I’m driving her home,” you respond with a whisper. “Could you bring some ice water with the bottle too? I think she’s going to need it.”

The waitress just nods before leaving to get the bottle as instructed. She quickly returns, bottle and glass of ice water in hand, asking if you needed anything else before leaving your table to its own devices for what must’ve been the tenth time that night. You make a mental note to leave a decent tip for the inconvenience even though your wallet is already clamoring for mercy. Ruby pours herself yet another neat drink and for a moment you wonder if your nose had betrayed you, reaching for the bottle after she sets it down. A quick scan tells you it’s bourbon, which clues you in that it’s some pretty strong stuff, but you’d never drank any that burned your nose before. You continue to scan the label until your eyes find the alcohol content, your jaw almost dropping to the floor once you do. Fifty. Percent. You’re almost sure your eyes are playing tricks on you, but there it is printed on the label, clear as day. There’s absolutely no way that it isn’t a misprint, considering she’d downed three small glasses of the stuff and is currently working on a fourth. For a moment you wonder if you should cut her off, though you’re quickly interrupted by her leaning into you and almost knocking the bottle out of your hand.

“Help yoursshelf to ssome if you want, Mike,” she says, the first of her drinks now seemingly kicking in. “There’sh... plenty to go aroound.”

You pour a small amount into your now empty wine glass just to see if it’s as strong as it appears to be. After setting the bottle down, you bring the wine glass up to your lips and take a sip before swallowing the bitter liquid. It burns like hell on the way down, causing you to cough and have some of it get into your nose. If you thought the burning felt bad before, drinking it was another experience entirely. You hear a chuckle coming from your side, Ruby attempting to hold back her laughter by muffling herself with a free hand.

“Come on, Mike… don’t tell me that… a big, schtrong man like youu can’t handle sssome booze?”

Your cheeks begin to burn as you feel secondhand embarrassment once more at her crude description of you. You look around, only to find Melanie and Kevin looking at Ruby with great concern and worry. You find some relief in the fact that none of the surrounding tables or parties have noticed your predicament and soon to be sloshed date. Though you can feel the butterflies in your stomach become agitated again when you hear her asking Kevin a question.

“Sso, how’d you and… Mike meet?” she asks, and you notice her ears twitching again. It isn’t often you notice it, but by now it’s a dead giveaway that something’s up with her.

Kevin almost looks surprised at the question. “He didn’t tell you? We work at the same ice cream place together, same shift. I think I’ve even served you a few times before.”

She takes another long sip of her drink before responding. “Really? Could’ve shwore that… I’ve never seen ya’ before tonight. Mike doesn’t… tell me too mucsh about himsself anyways.”

You want to interject and say that’s not true, though you stop yourself when you realize she probably isn’t thinking too much about what she’s saying considering how much she’s had to drink in such a short timespan. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument over something so meaningless.

“Besides that he’s… good with carss,” she says, giggling to herself for reasons unknown to you.

As much as you hate where things are going, you can’t quite bring yourself to stop her from taking yet another drink from her glass. You take some comfort in the fact that she's seemingly winding down, her head resting in the crook of your arm, her eyelids fluttering as they struggle to stay open. You contemplate just letting her fall asleep for a few moments, though your plan is quickly ruined by Melanie as she taps Ruby on the shoulder, bringing her into a huddle. You can’t exactly hear what she’s telling Ruby, though after leaning in closer you can make out a few words.

“...think” “...enough” “...worried” “you…” is all you can manage to make out, though Ruby’s response is much easier to understand, the alcohol seemingly making her unable to control her volume.

“He doesshn't… Look, I'm fine, Mellllanie. Jusht a bit of liquid coourage… never di- did any harm,” she says, and you notice her ears twitch once more. You’re not sure whether or not you should feel bad about the fact that you’ve picked up on that tic of hers.

The statement makes you frown a little even though you know she doesn’t mean anything by it. You watch carefully as Kevin wraps an arm around the side of the table while Ruby is distracted conversing with Melanie. He takes hold of the bottle and quickly tucks it away under the table, where Ruby would be unlikely to find it given her inebriated state. Your eyes briefly meet after the fact and you give him a knowing nod as thanks for hiding away the bottle. You feel a pang of shame that you didn’t put a stop to it yourself, especially with the spiel you’d given yourself about caring a great deal for her. It’s enough to make you sick to your stomach, and you decide enough is enough. At the first available opportunity you’re going to take her home and make sure she’s alright after all that drinking. You’re not even sure how she’s still standing; the quantity she drank easily being enough to put down two men of your stature. After she finishes talking to Melanie she quickly scooches close to you before downing the last of her glass. She seems confused as she scans the table in search of the bottle to top up her glass. You’re worried she’s going to call foul play and make a scene, which only makes you all the more relieved when you hear her speak softly.

“Guesssh I drank.. a lo- lot more than I thought,” she says, the realization seemingly sobering her up a little bit. “Let meee… leave ya’ sssomething to pay for the… drink.”

You watch as the tugs at the lip of her pouch just enough to root around and dig out her wallet. She pulls a crisp fifty dollar bill out and slaps it down on the center of the table before putting her wallet back into her pouch. You decide offering her some water is in her best interests, hoping it’ll help her sober up a bit quicker.

“Here, drink this,” you say, grabbing the glass of water and offering it to her. “Don’t want you having a hangover tomorrow morning.”

She smiles before downing the entire glass of ice water in front of you. Though you’re surprised by the fact that she chose to once again rest her head in the crook of your arm, using your forearm and bicep as a makeshift pillow. She takes a deep inhale before closing her eyes and you lean down to hear what she’s saying when you see her mouth start to move. “Hmm… thanks, mate. You’re a… good bloke.”

You can’t help but smile at her words, though you’re still a bit worried about her well being. While you’d been considering working overtime tomorrow, you think calling in to say you’re not coming is probably for the best; preferring to spend the night babysitting her to make sure she’s alright in the morning. Would she even be okay with that if you asked? You realize you’d never even so much as stepped foot into her apartment, the subject never having come up in your many conversations and outings together. You do your best not to disturb the girl resting against you as you reach for your wallet. Even if you’re calling it a night, you don’t want to leave your friend to foot the bill all on his lonesome.

“How much do I owe you?” you ask, bringing your voice down to a near whisper. “Wasn’t even paying attention to the prices on the menu.”

“Look, don’t worry about it, I’ll just put it on my card and we can figure things out on Monday, alright?” he replies in a low whisper, catching on to your intent.

You move to put your wallet back in your pocket, though you’re interrupted by Melanie leaning over and tapping you on the arm to grab your attention.

“Make sure she’s alright before you leave, okay?” she says, the look of concern in her eyes almost touching considering she’d only just met Ruby.

You flash her a reassuring smile and nod before responding. “Wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.”

With your goodbyes out of the way, you decide to take hold of Ruby’s shoulder and gently shake her awake. After a few seconds you see her eyes slowly start to flutter open and you do your best to put on a friendly smile.

“Hmm… are we home yet?” she asks, yawning as she gets her bearings together.

“No, but we will be soon,” you say, nudging her into an upright position. “Come on, we’re going home.”

You stand up first before guiding her out of the booth. Even though you can feel the judgemental gazes of other diners boring a hole into you, you take your time in helping her to her feet. You can hear their whispers as you try your best to focus on your current task. Are they judging you because she’s an anthro? Because she got too drunk? A part of you hopes it's all just because of her drunkenness; just the thought of it being the former makes your blood begin to boil. Kevin seemingly takes notice of this, getting up from the table with Melanie to create the illusion that you’re all leaving as a group. You take her by the hand as she scooches along the booth’s surface, tugging on her hand once she’s got her feet on the ground once again. She stumbles a tiny bit, though you’re quick to catch her before she falls and causes a scene.

“Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry,” she says, looking up at you and offering a weak smile. For some reason, you feel your chest tighten upon seeing it. You want to say something, anything, but you feel angry at yourself for being unable to find the words within you to express exactly how you feel about the people around you.

Suddenly you hear a low, grumbling growl coming from behind you, a quick glance telling you Melanie is the source of the noise. She looks like she’s about to say something, though you see Kevin shaking his head and saying something you can’t quite make out. You figure he’s busy trying to talk her down from making a scene. Even though nothing was said, you can’t help but be happy that you have such great friends. You mouth a thank you to Kevin as you interlock your arm with Ruby’s and guide her towards the exit. The maitre d’ gives you a sympathetic look as you pass his podium and you mouth a sorry to him on the way out, feeling oddly grateful that someone knows what it’s like to be in your shoes. Once outside and on the way to your car, you let out a sigh of relief that you hope she doesn’t notice. This isn’t at all how you thought the night would go, and you’re mad at yourself for letting things go this far. It wasn’t Ruby’s fault either, though you feel like an asshole for pushing her way out of her comfort zone by even asking her along on this date in the first place. When you finally reach your car, you walk around to the passenger side door and open it, making sure to carefully set her down on the seat. She gives you a dopey smile as you make sure her legs are safely inside before closing the door. She lays her head back into the headrest before closing her eyes and releasing a long, tired exhale. Being on the receiving end of the kind of hangover she’s cultivating isn’t going to be fun. You quickly walk around to the driver’s side before hopping in and taking off towards her house. You aren’t exactly sure how to ask if it’s alright for you to stay the night to make sure nothing happens to her, but you feel obligated to at least attempt to. A quick glance over at her while you’re at a stop sign tells you she’s still resting with her eyes still shut. You don’t want to be rude and interrupt her impromptu nap, so you opt to wait until she opens her eyes once more.

Five minutes later you can hear her shuffling in the seat next to you, accompanied by a low groan as she suddenly lurches forward, now seemingly wide awake.

“Mmnn, Mike can you-” she says before burping, quickly covering her mouth to mask the noise. “-slow down a little? I’m not… feeling so great…”

While you want to get her home safe and sound, you figure briefly pulling over somewhere is better than having to clean puke out of your car in the morning. You quickly scan your surroundings for somewhere good to park and settle on a nearby gas station.

“I’ll pull over,” you say, though a quick glance at Ruby tells you she’s holding on by a thread, taking deep breaths with her eyes closed. You don’t even have a right to be mad about it if she does puke, since you should’ve cut her off way before Kevin and Melanie did something about it. In less than a minute you’re pulling into the gas station, parking your car near the attached convenience store. Though you want to get her some water, you want to make sure she’s alright before you leave her alone in the car.

“You alright?” you ask, touching your hand to her shoulder. “Going to go get you some water, but if you need me to stay for a little bit I can.”

She rubs at her temples for a little while before opening her eyes. Her head sways and bobs slightly as she turns to face you, her expression one of discomfort. "A little d- Ugh... dizzy, but... I'm fffine... at least for now."

“You sure? I really don’t mind waiting.”

She leans back into the headrest once again, waving you off with her free hand. "I'm ffffine... promise."

You open the door of your car and step outside, quickly stretching before realizing you’d neglected to turn the heating on. You’d barely noticed it was cold outside thanks to the thick blazer you still had on, taking it off and draping it over your arm before leaning down into the car to crank the heating to max. You go to throw your blazer into the backseat before an idea pops into your head. Using both hands to hold up the blazer like a curtain, you’re careful to make little noise before draping it over Ruby like a blanket.

"Whuh?" Ruby looks at the blazer you set on her, then turns to look at you with mild confusion before giving a small chuckle. "Yyyy'know I have fur, right?"

"Well, now you have fur and a coat," you smile, her reaction making you chuckle a little bit.

"Jeez...." Ruby smiles as she relaxes back into the car seat, muttering. “Ssssuch a dork…”

"I'm gonna go inside real quick. I know something that might help with the monster of a hangover you’re going to have tomorrow," you say before shutting the door and locking the car.

You walk around the corner you’re parked in and quickly step into the relative safety of the convenience store. The cashier flashes you a puzzled look as you beeline towards the refrigerators the second you enter the store. You open the refrigerator once you find what you’re looking for, fishing out two one-liter bottles of spring water before taking a detour through the various snack aisles. You hold both bottles under one arm and reach down for two bags of salted pretzel sticks before making your way to the register and setting everything down. While the cashier rings your purchase up, you fish out your phone and wallet, slapping down a five dollar bill on the counter before sending a text to Kevin asking if he got home alright. You owe him that much at least, Kevin having helped you more times than you could count throughout the course of the night. You’re surprised to see it’s almost midnight, shocked that you spent that much time at the restaurant.

“You want this in a bag?” the cashier asks, interrupting your thoughts.

“Nah, I’m good. Thank you though,” you say, grabbing the two bottles and pretzel bags. “Keep the change.”

You walk out of the store and back to your car at the same brisk pace you entered, eager to get back to Ruby to see how she’s holding up. After unlocking the door you climb back inside only to smile when you find she’s thrown the blazer over her back and wrapped herself in it.

“Ruby?” you whisper out, hoping she hasn’t fallen asleep.

You see her nose twitch as her eyes flutter open, turning to rest on her side so she can better face you. She fails to suppress a yawn so cute that you can’t help but grin like an idiot. It gives you a brief glimpse at her teeth and you spot two sharp fangs that you’d never noticed until now.

"Wha-What? What?” she asks, her sudden response startling you. “You’re… back already? And are thosse… pretzels?”

“Best hangover prevention food, hands down,” you say, handing her a bottle of water along with a bag of the salty pretzels. “And if you don’t believe me, just ask everyone I used to drink with back in college. Speaking of drinking, how have you not passed out? Seriously, I don’t think I could handle even half as much alcohol as you drank tonight.”

She opens the bag of pretzels before opening the bottle of water and taking a long drink from it. “Well, we… uh, kangarooss have pretty ssstrong liversh. Combine that with a naturrrally high tolerance to alcohol and… you end up with what happened in the ressstaurant tonight.”

“So do you sober up quicker because of that? Seems to me like you’re not nearly as… far gone as you were in the restaurant.”

“Basically, yeah. How did you... think I was able to drink ssso much of that shtuff back there?” she asks, averting her gaze as she rubs the back of her neck. "Aaaauggh... fuck, I looked like an arshe though… I'm really ssorry, Mike.”

“Look, things happen and I’m no stranger to making an ass of myself either so as far I’m concerned you have nothing to worry about,” you say, reclining back into your seat. “I forgive you, but can I ask you something?”

“Sssure,” she mutters, still not willing to meet your gaze despite your reassurances. “I owe you that much, at leasst.”

“Why did you feel the need to drink so much?”

“I don’t know mate, I guessss... I just wasn’t thinking shtraight and I got kind of nervous around your friendsss... So I thought a few drinks might help me loosen up a little,” she says, offering an apologetic smile. “I’m really, really shorry if I messed things up for you tonight, if there’sss... anything I can do to make it up to you, just let me know.”

"Nah, nah, you didn't mess up anything. On making up for it though, if you can find some way to get me some of that tolerance, then anything and everything you'll ever do or have done will be forgiven," you smile, trying to lighten up the mood with a joke. Based on her blank stare, you quickly assume it didn't land. "But really though, you don't owe me anything."

"If you sssay so... But nnnooo mate, you don't want my kinda tolerance," she says with a small smile. She takes another swig of her water before making a small, cute gasp for air. "With it bein' as strong as it is, beeeer is like water and vodka is like... Beer, I guess. Forrr you, anyway."

"I dunno, I think it’d be pretty nice to be able to throw beers back like they're soda.

"Noooot if you want to get drunk. Cause if you do, then you need to hit the HARRRD stuff to get any results," she chuckles, wrapping your blazer even tighter around herself. “It soundsss real cool until you make an assh out of yerself like... I did tonight. The only good thing about it is… you sober up pretty quick once you stop drinking. ”

“You weren’t that bad, trust me. I’ve seen drunk people do stuff that took them years to live down,” you say, trying to assuage her guilt. “To me you just sound like the best beer pong partner a guy could ask for.”

"Ammm... Am I just a good drinkin' buddy?" she mutters, her ears giving off a small twitch as she utters the sentence.

“What do you mean?” you ask, moving your head in an attempt to get a better look at her expression.

"Am... Am I only good when I'm drunk?" she asks, retreating further into your blazer after asking the question.

“Hey, look, no. I didn’t mean it like that,” you say, her eyes shifting from the floor to look up at yours before you continue. “You might not believe me when I say it, but you’re probably one of the most solid friends I’ve had in a long time. I really do mean that, honest.”

"Yer such a flllatterer, mate. I'm sor... Sorry I keep doubtin' you, it'sss... jusht that... It's been a while sssince I heard that from anyone," she says quietly, pausing to take a deep breath through her nose before continuing. "Had... two rreal good sheilllas for frriends back in college that... used to tell me the sssame thing. I... really miss them, honestly, but... wwwe fell out of touch and I haven't really talked to them since."

“I know the feeling, trust me. Had a bunch of friends back in college and even though we tried to keep in touch, most of us just sort of... stopped talking to each other after a while," you say, doing your best to dig her out of a rut you're entirely too familiar with. “They all either got too caught up with their careers, found new friends or started a family with their college sweethearts. Kind of a bummer, but it is what it is, I guess.”

"... Can I ashk you something? You... don't have to answer it or anythin', but... What do you sssee in me? Just about... any girl would be happy for the opp- opportunity to go on a date with ya, so why me?"

You’re not exactly sure how to respond to her question and you can't help but feel trapped. Any answer you could hope to give her would probably be met with doubt, though you still feel as if you should just speak the truth. “Honestly? I think you’re fun to talk to, fun to hang out with and it’s nice that I don’t have to act differently around you. Sure, I could’ve asked someone else to be my date, but would I have enjoyed myself as much? No, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea.”

"Huh..." she says under her breath, almost too quiet to hear as she continues to stare out the windshield. "Thank you, that's... That's rrreally... Thank you."

“No worries,” you say before shoveling another handful of pretzels into your mouth. “You ready to get going now or do you want me to wait a little while longer?”

"Yeah, yeah... I'm good," she says as she rests back into the seat, folding her arms under your blazer.

You smile and start the car again, soon back on the road and on the way to her apartment. Things are a bit more quiet than you’re used to, but you chalk that up to Ruby wanting to take things easy after her brief bout with nausea. You take a glance over at her when you come to a full stop at a traffic light and notice her leg bouncing erratically. It doesn’t worry you too much since you also have the bad habit of idly bouncing your leg . The traffic light changes to green and you continue driving down the near empty downtown streets. There’s something oddly calming about driving late at night. It brings back memories of the times you used to do it in college when you couldn’t focus on studying or were nervous about an exam or assignment. Your reminiscing is interrupted when you feel something flick against your forearm, a quick glance down revealing the offender to be the tip of her twitching tail. What really surprises you is that she doesn’t even seem to notice what her tail is doing; she's still seemingly lost in thought as she looks out the window while tightly wrapped in your blazer. You decide not to call any attention to it, though it makes you wonder just how much control over her tail she has in the first place. While tonight hadn’t gone the way you planned or even imagined it going, you still found yourself enjoying her company just as much as you would’ve any other time. You feel a little guilty for not cutting her off earlier, but overall your fears about asking her on the date in the first place had seemingly been unfounded and that realization alone brings you great relief. You feel her tail flick against your forearm and hand a few times in the minutes that follow, and you can’t help but smile at the fact that she hasn’t caught on yet. When you’re just minutes away from arriving at her apartment, you hear the faint sound of her voice shatter the silence that had lasted for the majority of the trip home.

"Sssso... you’vvve never dated a, uh... anthrrro before?" she mutters, tripping over her words as she utters the question.

You try not to outwardly show how you feel about her question, but you feel paralyzed and put on the spot by it. It makes you wonder when you should explain to her why you aren’t romantically involved with anyone right now.

“Depends if tonight counts or not,” you chuckle, taking a quick glance at her before putting your eyes back on the road. You quickly notice her fidgeting, playing with an errant strand of her free flowing hair as she awaits your response. “I guess this was my first time going on a date with one, yeah. But uh, it was.... really nice. I had a good time tonight, hopefully I’m not alone in feeling that.”

Kevin told you that you should wait for her to overstep her boundaries before spilling the beans, but you feel like his advice isn't entirely correct. Still, confessing all this stuff so suddenly after a date seems like a recipe for disaster. So, you promised yourself you'd wait until you're both in a more comfortable environment to talk about it. If your date together tomorrow goes well, then you’d be able to talk to her about it over a meal.

“Thisss might seem weirrrd to hear but… I wassh surprised when you told me you even had to... find a date innn the first place,” she says, and you feel her tail flick against your forearm again. “Or that it’d even... take you ssso long to uh, find one.”

‘Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.’ you think to yourself as you scramble to find an adequate response to her words.

While things occasionally fly over your head, there’s no doubt in your mind that she’s saying this stuff to try and gauge your interest in her. Normally you’d be flattered by the fact that someone’s interested in you that way, but you’re already worried about leading her on and her words only makes those worries resurface. You aren’t against the idea of dating an anthro girl or even dating her for that matter, but you still feel like you weren’t ready to be in another relationship so soon after your last one had crumbled so spectacularly. You also fear that if you don't word your response correctly, you'll make things that much worse; but you also know that if you dwell on it too long she'll know something's up.

You opt to respond with something that’ll give you a bit more time to put your thoughts together. “Why is that so surprising?”

It seems your question also puts her on the spot as she doesn’t immediately respond. You hope that it delays her long enough to allow you to reach her apartment before you run out of ways to sidestep the topic at hand. You can feel your heart pounding in your chest when you come to a stop again.

"You'rrre just... you'rrre a real nishe guy, Mike. I can't... see anyone not liiiking you if they come to know yyou... I'm jusht... sssurprised you asked me," she starts, still facing the other direction and staring out the window. "Jusht figured someone as... nice and well buil- welllll mannerrred as you would... alrrready have a date."

You opt to keep your response simple, even though you really want to address that comment about being well built. “That’s really… uh, kind of you to say, thanks. I think that’s honestly the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me."

She turns to face you, a wide smile plastered on her face. "You're welcome."

Not long after that, you pull onto the road that leads to her neighborhood. You feel a tinge of anxiety well up in you, your mind scrambling to come up with a way to ask if you can stick around to make sure she's alright. You look to park in the usual place, only to find any spot even remotely close to her apartment is occupied. You drive around for a little while, until you finally find an isolated spot under a faintly illuminated streetlight. You aren’t too concerned about where you park your car, especially since this seems like a fairly nice part of town. It isn’t like anyone would want to steal a shitbox like yours, no matter how well maintained it is under it’s rough exterior. The second the car comes to a complete stop, you hear Ruby start to shuffle about in her seat and you glance over just in time to see her open the car door.

“You sure you don’t need any help?” you ask as you look around to make sure you’re not leaving anything you’ll need later in the car.

“Nah mate, I’m… fine, jusht... need some fresh airrr is all,” she responds, handing your blazer back to you.

You go to tuck away the article of clothing in the backseat before being interrupted by a loud thud that immediately catches your undivided attention. Looking to your right, you see Ruby leaning against the car, rubbing at the small of her back. You practically fly out of your seat upon seeing her fall, worried she might’ve seriously hurt herself judging from how loud the noise was.

“Ruby? Shit, are you okay? You hurt at all?” you ask, gripping her by the arms and helping her into a more comfortable position.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she says, though her wincing betrays her words as you sit her back down into the car. “Just... lllost my footing all of a sudden. Thhhink I'm exhausted ish all, just give me a... minute, and I think I can walk.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you didn’t hurt yourself. How about I just carry you back to your apartment?” you ask, in the interest of both her safety and saving you both having to slowly walk the streets in the middle of the night. “Maybe I can get the upper arm workout I missed out on today if I just carry you.”

"Carrrrry me?" she chuckles. "I think I can walk, jusht... Need to be a bit slow. Besidessh, what are you going do; jusht give me a piggyback ride like yesterrrd-" she says, letting out an eep as you suddenly sweep her up into a princess carry.

For a moment, you’re worried about getting tapped in the nuts for the second time since the two of you met, but you look down at her only to see her struggling to meet your gaze. Her face is as red as her namesake as she tries to speak.

“Swearrrr to god….” she says, turning redder by the second. “Would you die if you sshtopped being a dorrrky shap for a single day?”

You can’t help but smile at her words, jostling her about in your arms until you get her into a comfortable position to be carried. “I wouldn’t know, and we’re definitely not going to find out tonight.”

You start walking down the sidewalk towards her apartment, the pavement barely illuminated by the dim streetlamps. You stare straight ahead, being careful to not trip and drop the girl in your arms, though you can’t resist taking an occasional glance down at her. Each time you look down she glances away, but you can tell she’s staring up at you when you look away, her twitching ears at the edge of your vision giving her game away. You can feel her arm wrap around your neck and her hand holding tightly onto your right shoulder for support. But, despite her tight grasp for fear of falling, her head rests against your shoulder as you continue to walk.

“You know you’re not going to fall, right?” you ask, glancing down at the blushing girl in your arms. You can feel her grip on your shoulder loosen slightly.

You feel the sudden urge to play a practical joke on her, but you stop yourself upon realizing that she might get the wrong idea about why you’re carrying her if you do. Even you aren’t entirely sure why you’d opted to suddenly pick her up and carry her bridal style. You feel a twinge of anxiety well up within you upon the realization that she might see this as a romantic advance when in reality you just want to help her get to her apartment. Putting her down isn’t an option either, since she’d probably find it odd that you’d done something spontaneously only to reverse your decision moments later. Instead you choose to pick up your pace slightly in the hopes that you can get to her door before she gets the wrong idea. That hint of anxiety vanishes without a trace the moment you start walking the street her apartment is on, knowing you're only a few minutes away.

You can feel her head lift off your shoulder for a moment and you glance down at her. “Y'knoww you gotta let me down sooon so I can get my keyss, right?”

"Don't think I can't do it while carrying you?" you ask, confident you can support her entire body weight with just one arm.

Ruby chuckles again at your response. "Yeah, you'rrrre just gonna have to find them first. Won't just... get 'em for ya.”

You can't help but smirk at her cheeky nature despite the panic coursing through your system. Even though you want to make another jab back at her, you stop yourself when you see her apartment just up ahead. "C'mon now. Gonna need your keys to open the door, Ruby."

She chuckles dryly again as she dons a wide grin. "Itz iiinnn my pouch. Be geeentle looking for 'em," she slurs as she points a finger towards your face, bringing her claw dangerously close to your jaw.

You go to reach into her pouch, but you remember the way she’d reacted when you joked about warming your hands in there a week ago and you decide it’s best to make sure she knows what she’s saying. “Are you alright with me, you know, putting my hand in there?”

“Juust be careful, mate,” she says, a sloppy grin still on her face as she shifts herself to make things easier for you.

You can feel her hold her breath when you bring your hand down just above her pouch and slowly slip your hand into the slit on her midsection. Instantly your hand is enveloped by the warmth of her pouch, though the inside of it is furless from what you can tell. You drive your hand deeper and feel around for a few seconds, freezing up when you hear her talk again.

“Caaareful,” she hisses out, squeezing down on your shoulder.

Part 2 of this chapter can be found by clicking the next chapter button.


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Pub: 22 Feb 2021 06:19 UTC
Edit: 15 Oct 2022 05:19 UTC
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