A Roo'd Awakening: Chapter Three

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As you jog through the park, you wonder what possessed you to take Ruby up on her offer. Well intentioned as it might’ve been, jogging at some ungodly hour of the morning was definitely not how you’d planned to spend part of your weekday, especially considering you have to be at work in two hours. The fact that you know the trail you’re running like the back of your hand makes you feel a bit better about things, and you reminisce back on all the times you sped through it on your bike as a kid. You can’t deny it’s a beautiful morning for a jog despite the early hour, the faint sounds of leaves rustling in the wind barely audible over the sound of your labored breathing. The cool breeze tickling at your sweat soaked skin is the icing on the cake, just about the only thing keeping you from overheating. And despite that, you doubt there’s a breeze cold enough to keep your brain from screaming out for rest, your legs threatening to buckle under the intense strain.

Ruby looks back at you as she runs, her expression unreadable with how far ahead she is. “Come on, Mike, only a few miles left to go!”

“A few miles?!” you shout, the disbelief clear in your tone.

There’s no way in hell you can go another mile, you already feel like you’re dying from the first three. A familiar chill runs down your spine, yet another sign that you’re approaching your limits, only emphasizing the lightheadedness you feel. Your vision grows blurrier by the second, and you have more and more trouble making out the things in front of you by the second. Despite all the warning signs and red flags your body is throwing at you, you make an effort to press on, eager to make a good first impression. You search all around you for a source of inspiration to keep you moving forward, your eyes scouring everything in your surroundings for something, anything to keep you going. As your gaze drifts to all the beauty around you, you realize said motivation was dangling in front of you this whole time. An ass so perfectly taut you’d swear it was chiseled from a block of marble, while still managing to look plump. The slight bounce to it as she runs entrances you, her backside threatening to spill out of her tiny bike shorts with each hop, her thick tail bouncing along with it. It certainly helps get the blood flowing to more places than one, and you speed up purely to keep it in your vision. It takes some time, but you slowly see yourself starting to gain on her, no small effort considering how quick she is, a combination of her extensive experience and technique.

The way she runs is unlike anything else you’ve ever seen before, and you stare in awe as you watch her repeatedly lift both legs off the ground before leaping forward. Her experience continues to shine through as she takes the sharp bends in the path at full speed like it’s nothing, something even you find trouble doing when you know the trail inside out. In fairness to yourself, you’re considerably larger and thus, way less elegant when running at full speed. Your entire body is slick with sweat and you’re sure you look like you just got out of a swimming pool with the way it’s likely bleeding through your t-shirt. Every breath you take in makes you feel a burning in your lungs, your body pushing to its absolute limits in a display of what could only be called pure, undistilled idiocy on your part. Once you finally catch up with her, you decide to gloat a bit, feeling proud about matching someone with so much experience under their belt.

“What… hah- was that… about needing… more cardio?” you pant between words, looking down at her as the two of you jog side by side.

She meets your gaze, shaking her head in what you can only read as disappointment despite the small smile on her face. “It’s not a race, Mike.”

Your breathing grows more and more labored with each passing second. “At the pace you’re going… it… might as well be.”

“Mate… if you think this is fast… get ready to get your arse into gear for this last mile,” she says, her smug expression overtaking her features. “Or can Mr. Gym Rat not handle it?”

“Believe me…” you grunt, your tongue practically out as you continue to pant heavily. “I can… handle it.”

You can’t possibly back down after pushing yourself this far, and you try to pace yourself by bringing your erratic breathing under control to help conserve your energy for the final stretch. You continue matching her pace as the two of you barrel down the trail, your breathing technique doing wonders for you. For a brief second, you start to believe that you’ll actually make it to the end without stopping.

“See, piece of ca-”

Unfortunately, your mouth was trying to write a check your body couldn’t cash, and you’re sent flying into the grass around the path as one of your legs locks up beneath you. Your hands shoot out in reflex, doing their best to absorb the impact of the tumble and earning you some scraped up hands for your troubles. As you roll over onto your side and lay face up on the grass, you feel grateful you hadn’t broken or pulled anything with your fall, though you don’t feel in any kind of state to get up. You’re left reduced to a panting, sweating and now covered in dirt and grass mess that only somewhat resembles a human.

What you can see despite your blurred vision is Ruby quickly making her way over to you.

“Mike! You alright?” she asks, kneeling down to get a better look at you.

You groan, wiping away the leaves stuck to your face while giving a weak chuckle of embarrassment. “I’m fine, but I’ve felt better.”

“You sure?” she asks, helping you wipe away some of the crud. “Let me take a look at you.”

She helps you sit upright, moving you over to a nearby tree to support your heavy body. You scoot over a bit to give her some room to sit next to you.

You can’t help but flinch a bit from some of the nastier scrapes as she starts to gently run her furred fingers over your hands and arms, only stopping whenever she finds a new cut. There’s a texture you can’t quite place there besides the tickle of her fur on your exposed skin, but between your lack of breath and growing embarrassment, there’s not much room to think about anything else.

“Nothing hurts too bad, yeah?” she asks, her roving hands slowly making their way up to your shoulder.

“Just my ego,” you laugh, hoping to disguise the embarrassment you feel about hurting yourself on your first run together. “But I suppose there’s nothing you can do to fix that, yeah?”

She bursts into a tiny fit of laughter, the panicked expression you’d seen on her face moments ago vanishing to reveal a smile underneath. “That was fucking ace though, you should’ve seen your face when ya’ went flying.”

You cross your arms, pouting in mock offense. “Can’t have been that funny.”

“It’s a lot funnier when a cocky cunt gets what’s coming to him,” she says, giving you a playful elbow jab to the side.

“Cocky?” you laugh. “Face it, you’re just surprised I actually caught up to you.”

She puffs out her small chest before flexing her arms. “I can handle it.”

You can’t help but scoff at her impression of you, even if it makes your smile widen. “Oh come on, I do not sound like that.”

She only grins at your words. “And who said I was talking about you?”

“Alright,” you say, resting your head against the tree. “You got me there.”

You wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it, but her impression was pretty funny. The two of you sit there for a few minutes as you both try to catch your breath and regain your bearings before setting out again. She gets back on her feet first, stretching while you continue to rest. Her almost alien looking legs catch your attention above all else, and her resting stance makes her look like she’s wearing a pair of heels.

“You about ready to go, Mike? Or am I going to have to drag your arse all the way to the finish line?”

“Thought you said this wasn’t a race?” you chuckle.

“Did I say that?” she asks, a smirk forming on her features.

“Either way…” you pant. “If you don’t give me a bit I’m probably going to pass out.”

“Fine ya gutless cunt,” she says, taking a seat next to you again. “You’ve got five minutes or I’m taking off, even if I have to drag you.”

“How kind of you,” you laugh, shaking your head. “Make sure to not rough up the face though, it’s my best feature.”

“What was that about not being cocky?” she asks, scooting in close as she takes in the entirety of your spent form. “Christ, you look like you just came out of a bloody sauna.”

“Yeah, well, it’s been a while,” you say, rubbing at the back of your sweaty neck. “Honestly can’t even remember the last time I went on a real jog. Would you believe me if I told you my dad used to take me jogging on this trail all the time when I was a kid?”

“Mate, I wouldn’t even believe you’ve jogged before, period,” she laughs as she leans back against the tree trunk. “We only went for three miles and if you’re already this much of a fucked cunt, there’s not much hope for you.”

“Just because I don’t have your kangaroo stamina doesn’t mean I’m out of shape,” you say. “Give me another month of this and I’ll be running circles around you.”

“By the looks of things, I’m not sure you’ll even make it to the end of the month,” she says, smiling before playfully nudging your side again. “But you’re welcome to try and prove me wrong.”

“Almost makes me wish I never stopped jogging in the first place,” you say, staring into the woods covering both sides of the trail. “Kind of miss the days when I used to jog with my dad. Took some getting used to at first, but I’d be in much better shape if I’d kept it up.”

She glances up at you, an inquisitive look on her face. “So why’d you stop?”

“A lot of reasons honestly, hard to point at a single one,” you shrug. “Not enough time to keep doing it between work and college was a big one though.”

“All I’m hearing is excuses,” she says. “Your dad sounds like a good guy though, wish mine had done the same.”

“Best father a guy could ask for honestly,” you sigh. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been ungrateful.”

“What do you mean?” she asks, cocking her head.

“Hard to really explain it all, but he’s done a lot for me and I feel like I’ve never really paid back the favors,” you say, and you can feel nervousness welling up within you as you continue. “He always made sure I was staying out of trouble, kept an eye on my studies and pretty much single handedly put me through college.”

The look of confusion on her face is even more pronounced now. “No offense mate, but you don’t seem like the type to get into much trouble. Not that it’s a bad thing or anything.”

You wave your hand dismissively at her words. “None taken. It’s kind of a complicated situation, probably for the best I don’t really get into it, take my word for it.

She leans into you, nudging you with her entire body. “Come on, you can’t just say something like that and leave a girl wondering.”

You can’t help but smile at her gesture, though the closeness has a knot forming in your throat. “If I tell you, will you stop trying to push me over?”

She taps a finger against her chin as she pretends to think things over. “Maybe… only if you want to though.”

“Tell you what,” you chuckle. “I’ll spill the beans, but only on one condition.”

“Name it,” she says.

“If I put you to sleep with my lame story, I’m not carrying you the rest of the way,” you chuckle. “Deal?”

She tilts her head upwards to look at you, her deep-set amber eyes meeting yours. “Deal, but only if you stop being such a drama queen and spit it out already. Better out than in, isn’t that how the saying goes?”

“Somehow... “ you chuckle, shaking your head. “I don’t think they were talking about stories when they came up with that one.

Her inquisitive stare slowly turns to a glare as her eyes narrow. “Either way, talk or we’re doing an extra mile today.”

“Alright, alright, anything but that,” you say, throwing up your hands in mock surrender. “You sure you want to hear this? I’ll give you one last chance to change your mind.”

“I’m all ears,” she says, pointing a finger at her furred ears as she smiles. “No promises I won’t doze off on ya though.”

“Well, I’ll try to spare you the unimportant details then,” you say, settling back against the uncomfortable surface. “Otherwise we’re going to be here all morning.

You start to have second thoughts about talking about this kind of thing with someone you barely know, but your less logical side makes you press on anyway.

“God, where to even start,” you say, rubbing at the back of your neck. “Even when I was a kid my dad was always on top of things. Cousins spent a lot of time at our house, and I didn’t think much of it. We always had a good time roughhousing in the backyard together.”

She doesn’t say anything, but she nods as if to let you know she’s listening to what you have to say.

“Never had any sorta problems with each other even as we grew up,” you continue. “Grew apart a little once we all started high school though. That’s when I turned into a band dork and they started hanging out with a different circle than me.”

She rolls her eyes at your statement. “You, a dork? Hard to imagine…”

“Alright, that was just uncalled for,” you laugh. “Anyway… they ended up getting mixed up with a pretty bad crowd. Got caught up in a lot of messed up stuff over the years.”

“Like what?” she asks, cocking her head slightly.

“Started off relatively innocently, mostly shoplifting and stuff like that,” you continue, wiping some of the sweat off your brow. “They had a few close calls with loss prevention at a few stores, but nothing serious ever came from it. Wasn’t until I started hearing rumors of them getting close with gang-involved people that I really started to worry.”

“So what’d you do about it?” she asks.

“Still don’t know why I did it, but I got the bright idea to go to my dad,” you say, wincing internally as the memories of those days are still fresh in your mind. “He flipped his shit when I told him, and got into a shouting match with my mom when he told her he didn’t want them around the house anymore.”

You close your eyes as you draw a deep breath, the embarrassment and shame hitting you all at once like a goddamn freight train as if you were reliving that day. The fresh, cool air and the smell of the dewy grass around you brings some much needed relief to your still burning lungs, and you can feel your breathing slowly going back to normal. You hope she doesn’t think anything of your impromptu meditation as you try and shake the unpleasant memories from your thoughts.

“Sorry to hear,” she says, and when you open your eyes again, you can see a reassuring, sympathetic half smile dominating her features. “Sounds rough for a kid to go through.”

“Thanks. Could’ve been worse all things considered,” you smile, relieved that she’s not judging you. “They came up with a compromise after a while but it didn’t work out so well.”

“Why do you say that?” she says, scooting in closer to make the most of the limited space to lean against.

“She refused to outright ban them from the house since my cousins are from her side of the family, but she promised to keep a close eye on them when they were over,” you say, visually grimacing when you think back to some of the fights they had over that. “Obviously my dad wasn’t too happy with that, but he knew arguing wasn’t going to help.”

“I assume it didn’t exactly stop there?” she asks, and a part of you is relieved she actually gives a damn about your rambling.

“Parents stopped arguing about it after a while, I’m the one who fucked up eventually,” you sigh. “My cousins would always invite me to come and hang out with them. Usually turned them down because I didn’t want to piss my dad off, but one time I was so bored out of my mind that I just decided to go.”

You look down towards your shoes before continuing, the sun deciding to shine almost directly into your eyes.

“We went down to the mall, which was a terrible idea in hindsight,” you say. “Not sure what got into me that night, but I definitely wasn’t thinking straight. Turns out they had the bright idea to steal shit and use me as their fall guy. Spent that whole afternoon with a security guard at the mall until my dad came and got me.”

“Buncha good for nothing cunts those cousins of yours are,” she grumbles just barely loud enough for you to hear. “No offense, but what kind of person does that to family?”

“None taken,” you say, chuckling at her brutally honest words. “He ended up paying for everything so I wouldn’t end up with a misdemeanor, but he was absolutely fucking livid that day. I’ve never seen him lose his temper that hard before. Scared the absolute living shit out of me to see him like that.”

“Can’t say I’d blame him if I was in his shoes,” she says, shaking her head. “”Would’ve marched straight to their house and yelled some sense into them.”

“Probably would’ve caused more problems than it would’ve solved,” you say. “What really was the final nail in the coffin is that my mom still wouldn’t budge on banning them from the house even after that, since she didn’t want to be on bad terms with her side of the family.”

“Your mum really put your scummy cousins over her own kid?” she asks in disbelief. “No disrespect to her but that sounds completely ass backwards.”

“I dunno, I guess she had her reasons,” you shrug. “My dad came up with a workaround though. Started taking me on jogs whenever my cousins came over so I’d stay out of trouble. Can’t say it was a bad thing either, think that’s the whole reason I got so into fitness in the first place.”

“So what happened with your cousins then?”

“Stopped coming around the house eventually,” you say, your breathing still a bit heavy from the exertion. “Not sure what they got up to after that, our ‘friendship’ kind of fell apart after the whole mall incident. All I know is that one of them ended up doing some time for burglary a few years later.”

You massage at your still cramping legs, a small grunt escaping your lips as you power through the discomfort. It barely even holds a candle to the way your chest feels right now, fresh pangs of guilt hitting you all at once as you think back to your teen years. Even now, you feel responsible for all the arguments and shouting matches between your parents you’d witnessed growing up. You consider changing the subject but you’ve already said too much to stop and as much as you hate to admit it, getting this stuff off your chest is strangely cathartic, even if she is practically a stranger. You just hope she doesn’t mind that you’re venting, even if she is the one who asked to hear about it in the first place. She’s strangely easy to talk to, and the first person you’d brought up any of this serious stuff with.

“It probably sounds stupid but…” you sigh deeply, finding it hard to meet her gaze. “I always think about what would’ve been different if I’d just… sucked it up and never said anything to my dad.”

“Hey…” she says, and you instinctively flinch when you feel her hand on your shoulder. “Don’t think like that, Mike. Shit happens sometimes whether we want it to or not.”

You can feel your cheeks start to burn at her gesture and words, and you freeze up trying to come up with a response. The sympathetic smile on her face helps ground you again, and you do your best to smile back as you meet her gaze again.

“Sorry for uh… dumping all this stuff on you, I know I probably went a bit overboard,” you nervously chuckle, confident she can see the embarrassment on your face. “I know you’re right but… I can’t shake the feeling that I kicked off all that shit, that it was my fault somehow.”

“What was your fault?” she asks, cocking her head a bit as she scoots in closer.

“Everything. All the arguments between my parents, the problems with my cousins that almost got me a juvie record,” you say, the words coming out rapid fire and you stare down at the ground as you sheepishly rub at the back of your neck. “Sorry, I must sound like a crazy person ranting like this.”

“You’re not…” she says before cutting herself off, a look of concern in her eyes.

You decide to nip this whole thing in the bud before you push her away even more than you likely already have.

“Look, just forget I even said anything, alright?” you practically mutter. “Sorry for making you listen to all that crap.”

Before you even have a chance to blink, two furry arms suddenly wrap themselves around your midsection. “It’s not your fault, Mike.”

You’re so taken aback by the tight hug and her words that it feels like someone knocked the wind out of you. It’s something you haven’t felt in a long time, and you can’t even find the right words to say. You do what feels instinctual, and you return the hug tightly. The sensation of her fur tickling at your exposed skin combined with the warmth coming off her body is enough to make a shiver run down your spine. You can’t remember the last time you felt this at ease, every breath you draw melting away the stress and soreness from the exertion like some kind of magic spell. There's a faint but pleasant scent of cherry blossoms wafting into your nose, likely coming from her fur, and the few worries you'd been harboring melt away as she continues to hold you tight to her. You don’t want it to end, making it all the more difficult when she finally breaks away from you.

She grabs you by the shoulder, her free hand lifting your chin to meet her determined gaze. “Look mate, you can’t let shit like that chip away at you. If you ever need someone to give an earbashing to, I’m here, alright? I’ve been in your shoes before and… bottling stuff up like that isn’t good for you.”

It feels like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Her kind words and even kinder offer warm your heart, and you can feel it beating not from exertion, but from the hint of nervousness welling up inside of you.

You nod and flash her a warm smile. “Thanks, Ruby.”

“Anytime,” she says, moving to stand back up again, wiping some grass off her spats. “You ready to get going again?”

You take hold of her outstretched hand and get back on your feet before also dusting yourself off. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Don’t think I’m going to go easy on you now just because of that, cunt,” she smiles, before breaking into a light jog. “You’ll still have to work hard to beat me.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” you say with a smile, following close behind as she speeds off towards the end of the trail.

Worries lifted off your shoulders, you finish jogging the last two miles with a borderline explosive level of energy. You do your best to match her quick pace all the way to the end, the short rest you’d taken doing wonders for your aching body. Eventually, the two of you reach the end of the trail and your hands shoot down to your knees for support as you gasp for breath again.

“Not bad for a first timer,” she chuckles as you stare down at your sneakers.

“I can’t… tell…” you say, panting between words. “...if that’s sarcasm or not… but thanks.”

“I’m not fucking around mate, takes some serious stamina to make it through all that when you’re rusty,” she says, and you can hear her panting as she attempts to catch her own breath. “You better not quit on me though, or I’m going to come looking for you after your shift again.”

“Is that right?” you laugh as you get back on your feet. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Don’t tempt me,” she says as she does some stretches.”

You check your watch, a bit of panic setting in when you realize it’s going to be a close call. “You need a ride? I’ve gotta get going or I’m going to be late for work.”

She pulls her phone out and glances down at it. “Shit, I’m gonna be fucking late too. I’d love a ride, mate.”

You can’t help but crack a joke at her choice of phrasing.

“At least take me out to dinner first, eh?” you laugh, proud of your shitty sense of humor.

“Oh fuck you,” she says, giving you a deserved, yet playful punch to the bicep. “You know what I meant, cunt.”

“Okay, ow,” you say, flinching slightly. “I was just messing around. Let’s get going though, or my boss is going to crucify me.”

“Sounds like a real charmer,” she says, following you close as the two of you make your way back to your car.

“You don’t know the half of it,” you say, picking up the pace for fear of being late.

It doesn’t take long for the two of you to get back to the parking spot, and the two of you quickly hop into your ride before driving off. It dawns on you that you have no idea where you need to drop her off.

“So, where to?” you say, fishing out your phone and tossing it into your lap.

“Just drop me off where you work, I’ll walk the rest of the way,” she says, reaching over to turn up the heating.

“Oh come on, you’re really going to walk in this cold?” you say, shaking your head as you keep your eyes on the road. “What, you work for the FBI or something?”

“It’s a secret,” she says as you come to a stop at a traffic light. “Besides, I’ve only known you for what, like three days now?”

“Ah, so you’ll go on a date with me but knowing where you work is off limits?” you tease, a grin forming on your face as you think back to what happened at the restaurant. “I see how it is...”

No sooner than the words leave your mouth, you feel a jab connect with your shoulder. You glance to your side only to find her looking out the passenger window, one of her large, furred ears twitching erratically.

“Wasn’t a date, you wanker…” she mutters, and your grin only widens when you realize your teasing had the intended effect.

“I dunno, that waitress sure seemed to think so,” you chuckle.

“Keep babbling on like a smart cunt and see where that gets you, mate,” she says, her tone noticeably louder now than it was a moment ago.

“Lighten up, I’m just messing around,” you say, glancing at the traffic light every so often. “For someone who dishes it out so much, you sure can’t take it back, can you?”

She doesn’t reply, instead choosing to continue staring out of the window in silence. You realize you probably went a bit too far with your teasing, your fat mouth landing you in hot water like usual. Better to nip this in the bud now rather than let it fester like last time.

“Sorry if I said something I shouldn’t have,” you say, putting your attention back on the road as the light turns green. “Got so carried away I forgot I barely know you.”

“I’m not… mad at you mate,” you hear her mutter before a sigh leaves her lips. “Just... need a second to think about some stuff is all.”

You think back to the advice she gave you at the park. “Good. I’m not going to bug you about it, but if you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you too.”

“Thanks, Mike,” she says, and you can hear her quietly chuckle. “Sorry for being such a downer.”

“Happens to the best of us,” you laugh out of relief. “Don’t sweat it.”

Neither of you say much for the remainder of the short trip, and you pull into your job’s parking lot after a short while.

“So, see you at the gym later?” you ask as you pull into your spot.

“Of course mate,” she says, and you can see she’s in a much better mood than she was just moments ago. “Wouldn’t miss another opportunity to run you into the ground for the world.”

“Oh yeah? We’ll see who runs who into the ground,” you say, reaching into the backseat to grab your bag. “Might not have the stamina like you do, but I make up for it in other places.”

“If you say so,” she says, pushing the car door open. “I’ll see you later then, dickhead.”

She runs off to god knows where before you can get another word in and you lock your car before rushing inside, a glance at your watch lighting a fire under your ass. You clock in with minutes to spare, heading straight to the bathroom afterwards to quickly get changed to avoid another talking to from Kelly for showing up out of dress code. You manage to get changed in record time, finishing adjusting your hair net right as you step out of the bathroom. As usual, there’s not much activity in the store this early in the morning and you head into the back to stash your bag somewhere out of Kelly’s prying eyes.

As you approach the freezer, you’re practically ambushed by Kevin and there’s a mix of relief and anger apparent on his features.

“What the fuck, man?” he says, shaking you with the hand suddenly on your shoulder.

“What?” you ask, completely taken by surprise.

“Don’t you ‘what’ me dude, what the fuck happened to you yesterday?!” he nearly shouts as he shakes you again. “I’ve been texting and calling you since you got off work yesterday, you had me thinking something happened to you.”

You look at him like he’s lost his mind. “I’m fine dude, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about whatever happened with you and that kangaroo chick in the parking lot yesterday, or did you forget already?” he asks, the concern in his voice palpable. “Unless holding chicks by the wrists is just a normal afternoon activity for you. If it’s some kind of fetish thing you can just say so and we can drop it right now.”

You shake your head fervently as you struggle to find the words to respond to him and his outlandish claim.

“Jesus Christ man, do you even hear yourself right now?” you ask, almost offended at the question. “It’s not like that, not even remotely.”

“I dunno, you seemed awfully happy for someone who looked like he had an ass kicking coming his way,” he laughs, taking his hand off you. “Hell, if you’re into that kind of thing, you can be honest with me Mike, way easier to explain that way.”

“Very fuckin’ funny, asshole,” you chuckle, letting out a relieved sigh when you realize he’s just fucking with you. “And here I thought you were being serious about blowing up my phone for a second.”

“I mean… I did send you a couple texts,” he says, leaning down to rest his elbows against the counter. “You know, just in case you actually did get kidnapped by a girl half your size.”

“Guess I must’ve missed it,” you say, sheepishly rubbing at the back of your neck with a half smile. “God, please don’t tell me Kelly saw that go down. I’m never living any of that down if she did.”

“Don’t worry, I sure as hell didn’t say anything and she was in her office when it happened,” he says, patting you on the back. “Seriously though, what’s going on between you and the Aussie asspain? I’m not going to find out my boy owns a gimp suit and collar, am I?”

“Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t own anything nearly that embarrassing,” you laugh, a goofy grin tugging at the corners of your mouth at his description of her. “You remember what I told you yesterday about running into her at the gym.”

“Kinda, yeah.”

You glance behind you and to the sides just to make absolutely sure Kelly isn’t listening in on your conversation.

“Well… she kinda confronted me about the whole thing in the parking lot, and pretty much charged me like a bull,” you say, still not sure how to feel about what happened.

“Guess that kind of explains why you were holding her by the wrists,” he chuckles, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “What the hell happened that the two of you ended up heading off together?”

“Shit, even I barely know,” you mutter almost under your breath. “Went down to Eddie’s together after she calmed down and talked things out over some pizza, then I ended up dropping her off at her house.”

“Only you would invite a girl out to dinner after nearly getting your ass kicked by them,” he says, bursting into laughter.

“It was not an ass kicking, come on,” you laugh, playfully jabbing him in the side with an elbow. “Merely an attempted one.”

“Have I ever told you you’re crazier than I am?” he asks, chuckling and shaking his head as he dodges your second jab. “Can’t say I’ve ever wanted to buy dinner for someone who wanted to uppercut me.”

“Eh, I doubt it’s like that,” you say, dismissively waving a hand. “I know the type and it’s all just posturing. Thankfully it was just a misunderstanding and it’s all cleared up now.”

“I’m just busting your balls man, I’m really glad you’re alright,” he says, nudging you back. “I’d appreciate it if you checked your phone next time you vanish like that, had me worried sick.”

“Sorry man,” you say, your friend’s genuine concern bringing a smile to your face. “Though I am wondering why you didn’t come help me if you thought I was going to get my ass kicked.”

“Hey, I was going to at first,” he shrugs. “But it looked like you had things under control. What’d the two of you end up talking about anyways, I’m curious.”

“Just told her the truth,” you shrug in response. “That I didn’t mean to offend her with what I said.”

“And she just… accepted that?” you ask, raising an eyebrow. “Dunno, I find it hard to believe she just believed you that easily when she looked that pissed off.”

“Well, it happened,” you say, not sure how else to put it. “Ruby doesn’t seem that unreasonable, just… a little misunderstood.”

He turns to you and flashes a knowing smirk at the mention of her name, giving you a light punch to the shoulder. “So even after almost getting beat up you manage to put on the charm and still end up on a first name basis, eh? Gotta give you credit where it’s due Mike, you’re good at playing the game.”

“We’re just… friends, somehow,” you say, barely believing the words coming out of your mouth.

“For now, maybe,” he teases with a shit-eating grin on his face. “Also, have you heard of this great new thing called deodorant? I’ve got some spray in my bag if you want to try it.”

“Sorry man,” you say, embarrassment washing over you when you realize you’d forgotten to throw some more on. “Went jogging this morning and didn’t have time to head home for a quick shower.”

“Since when do you jog in the morning? Had you figured for a diehard gym rat.”

“What, with legs like these?” you ask, looking down and nodding towards your quads. “Funny you should ask though, Ruby is the one who pitched the idea to me. Something about me looking like I could use more cardio in my life.”

The look of disbelief on his face is unlike any other you’ve ever seen before. “So let me get this straight, you went from almost getting beat up, to getting dinner, and then to going on jogs every morning with some girl you barely know?”

“Well when you put it like that…” you say, rubbing at the back of your neck. “...It does sound kind of crazy, but trust me, she's got a good personality.”

“You sure it’s not the two great ‘personalities’ down under that got you into this mess in the first place?” he asks, eyebrow still raised.

She’s undeniably attractive but damn if you’re going to let Kevin hold that over you forever.

“Look, she’s hot, but anthro girls aren’t really my thing,” you say, the words barely managing to convince you, let alone Kevin.

“Yeah, yeah, keep telling yourself that,” he says, giving you another pat on the back. “Wait until it’s actually on the table and then get back to me.”

“Speaking of doing things on tables, how’s your ‘battle’ with that Melanie girl going? You’re looking like less of a zombie than yesterday, that’s for sure.”

“I went for a long drive after I got off work yesterday,” he says, glancing behind him before slumping against the countertop. “I think I came up with a pretty good strategy to survive the month.”

“Is it as good as your last strategy or are we just going up a notch from having your pelvis pulverized?”

“Very funny Mike, I’m going to remember this when you’re dealing with it. I figured out a bunch of her weak points and it’s helping me not get fucked into the ground every day.”

You’re curious as to what he possibly could’ve figured out that you couldn’t from your limited ‘research’.

“So? What is it?” you ask, not wanting to play his guessing game. “Spit it out already.”

“It’s so simple I feel like such a fucking idiot for not having thought of it before,” he says, a big grin turning at the corners of his mouth. “Scratches.”

You can’t help but cock an eyebrow at the word. “Scratches? What, like a massage or something?”

“I’m no expert but I think scratches are closer to kissing than a massage, really,” he says.

“So how’d it work on her?” you ask, your curiosity continuing to get the better of you.

“I just… kind of sit on the couch with her for a long while, scratching every part of her fur I can reach until she can’t take it anymore and jumps my bones,” he says, glancing behind him again. “It’s like winding up a jack in the box, except you get your pelvis bruised instead of jump scared.”

“So how exactly does that help you?” you laugh at his retelling. “Way I see it you’re still going to be in a full body cast by the end of the month. What’s your favorite flower so I know what to bring you to the hospital?”

“Just full of jokes today aren’t you?” he asks. “Might as well quit and become a stand up comedian at this rate.”

“What, and make even less money?” you laugh heartily at your own sense of humor. “Guess the jog earlier put me in a good mood. Plus, I made an ass out of myself earlier so I could use some humor at someone else’s expense.”

“Thought you’d save making an ass out of yourself on your first date with her,” he says. “What happened?”

“Well….” you say, sheepishly grinning when you think back to this morning. “Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting Ruby to be a goddamn marathon runner. Ended up falling headfirst into some bushes trying to keep up with her like a fuckin’ idiot.”

“How one man can be such a klutz and a smooth operator at the same time, I’ll never know,” he says, shaking his head.

“You give me too much credit, I’m terrible with women. It’s all just luck,” you shrug. “Exhibit A to back me up is in this very store with us.”

“Guess you got me there,” he says.

“Speaking of, where’s Kelly?” you ask as you take yet another glance behind you. “She’s usually out here looking for a reason to fuck with me.”

He stops to think for a moment before shooting back a response. “Think corporate is up her ass over some paperwork stuff. She’s been holed up in the back since I got here.”

“You going to be alright up here if I go check on her for a second?” you ask out of courtesy even though you know the answer.

“Sure, go for it,” he shrugs.

“Thanks, man,” you say, patting him on the back before making a beeline for the office.

A glance down at your watch makes you let loose a sigh when you see there’s still a good six hours left on your shift. You feel a sudden pang of guilt for shittalking Kelly in front of Kevin, especially when she’s seemingly mellowed out so much over the last couple of days. Despite your relationship ending on what you’d call a bad note, there’s still some part of you that cares about her, almost instinctively so. Maybe it’s just the residual guilt speaking, but you feel obligated to check on her just to make sure she’s alright. After all, she’d done the same for you so many times you’d lost count and you reminisce on all those days spent together in your apartment, Kelly doing her best to lift your spirits when you sank to your lowest. Soon enough you find yourself in front of the closed door to her office, and you take a deep breath before giving the door a set of firm taps.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure,” you hear her muffled voice say from the other side of the door. “Mind the mess though.”

She looks exhausted, and you can see light bags under her eyes as she rifles through the papers strewn across and around her desk. There’s a half finished mug of coffee next to a large thermos, and she looks like she’s two seconds away from having a breakdown. She finally stares up from the papers to meet your gaze, and her expression shifts to an expectant one despite the almost palpable stress in the room.

“You need something, Mike?” she asks, letting out a brief, hurried sigh. “I’m kind of busy here right now.”

You’d seldom seen her like this short of when she was cramming for exams when the two of you were still dating. It’s such a foreign sight that you’re left speechless for a moment, your mouth trying to find something to make up for your sudden lack of brain activity.

“You look like you could use some help.”

‘Nice going, Captain Obvious,’ you think to yourself as you shake your head. ‘What’s next, you going to ask if she’s stressed out?’

She shoots you an odd look that’s quickly replaced with a relieved expression, seemingly grateful at your impromptu offer. “Actually… would you mind helping me fill out some of these forms? All you gotta do is just copy some stuff from the computer here.”

“What are you filling all these out for?” you ask, reaching for the clipboard she’s holding out. “And what’s the deadline for them?”

“Something about state income tax rates changing and some other payroll bullshit I couldn’t really give a rat’s ass about,” she says, her tone one of exasperation. “Corporate wants it all done by Friday or they’re threatening to replace me.”

“They’re not seriously going to fire you over some tiny bullshit like this, are they?” you ask, cocking an eyebrow at her claims. “No way they’d fire one of their best managers over something so stupid. Isn’t this their job to deal with anyways?”

“You’d think so, but I’ve heard some horror stories about regional,” she sighs before taking another long sip of her coffee. “It’s supposed to be their responsibility, but they’re passing the buck down to us for some reason. And I appreciate the kind words Mike, but it’s not going to earn you any favors from me.”

You want to say something about the snark, but you realize you’ve kind of earned the skepticism from her. You decide to double down to try and earn some of her trust back.

“I’m not lying Kelly, you might be uptight as fuck sometimes, but you’re good at your job,” you say, taking a seat as you speak. “Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll try to help out. Least I can do to repay the times you’ve let me off early.”

You can see her expression soften up a bit and she picks up a small stack of forms before dropping them on the desk in front of you. There’s a small smile on her face now that wasn’t there before.

“This is only half of the forms I’ve got to fill out, mostly matching employee records that haven’t been updated in ages with what we’ve got on file in the payroll database,” she says, the words coming rapidfire as she tucks a strand of her frazzled hair back. “If there’s anything that doesn’t match, just write it down on the clipboard with their name.”

“Gotcha,” you say, nodding even though you can barely understand what she’s saying with how fast she’s speaking.

You get to work, the two of you sitting in silence as you efficiently work through stack after stack of papers, the only audible sounds in the entire room are the clacking of keys and scribble of pens, accented by the occasional clack of a stapler ringing out. As the hours pass by, the piles of forms slowly begin to thin out and your wrists are becoming increasingly sore with each paper you finish. Kelly starts to rifle through the completed pile, nodding in satisfaction before glancing at the clock.

“You’re a real lifesaver Mike,” she smiles as she sits back down. “I owe you a couple paid days off or something for this, seriously.”

“Not that big a deal,” you smile back, thankful for her gratitude. “You would’ve done the same for me, I hope. And I might take you up on that sometime.”

“Of course I would’ve, and whenever you want,” she says, taking a long sip straight from her thermos. “Just let me know.”

“Will do,” you say, taking a glance down at your wristwatch, “About time I get out of here though, you going to be alright with the rest?”

“I’ll manage,” she says, still smiling as you get up to leave. “And Mike?”

“Yeah?” you say, briefly turning back around to face her.

“Sorry about the other day, what I said was completely out of line.”

The apology makes you feel warm and you divert your gaze a bit as you smile wide. “It’s fine, I forgive you. If you ever you know… want to talk about it more, you know where to find me.”

She nods and you take that as your cue to leave. You quickly grab your backpack from your stash spot and head out to the front to say your goodbyes to Kevin, eager to get to the gym a bit earlier than usual. You ball your hand up and reach towards him to fist bump him but he’s seemingly lost in thought as he stares out the shop windows.

“Looks like you’ve got someone waiting on you, Mike,” he smiles, nodding towards the front.

“Huh?” you say, confused as you’re left hanging by your friend.

He points towards what he’s looking at and you follow his pointer finger, though you can’t quite make out what it is he’s looking at.

“Either I’m seeing things or that kangaroo girl is waiting outside for you again,” he says.

You squint your eyes some and sure enough, you can see her sitting atop the trunk of your treasured shitbox.

“You going to need backup or are you prepared for the beatdown this time?” he says, playfully nudging you in the side.

“You come up with that one yourself?” you chuckle. “See you tomorrow dude.”

“Later,” he says, finally bumping your outstretched fist.

As you trudge through the parking lot towards your car, you can feel and see her gaze boring a hole into you, a grin sitting pretty on her snout.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re following me around,” you shout out from a distance.

“Just making sure you don’t skip out on me today, mate,” she shouts back, her digitigrade legs idly kicking the air as she leans back.

“You sure you’re not just here for the free ride?” you ask as you finally reach your car, unlocking it and tossing your bag in the back in one smooth motion.

“Maybe…” she says innocently, tapping a finger to the tip of her snout before elegantly jumping from the trunk of your car.

“At least you’re honest,” you say, holding open the passenger side door for her. “Hop in before I change my mind.”

You jump into the driver’s side and quickly set off for the gym. You decide to try and make some small talk with her, though you’re careful not to trip over your tongue like last time. A glance over when you come to a stop shows you the kangaroo fidgeting in her seat, her leg seemingly moving and thumping on its own.

“So, how was work?”

“Another long and boring day, practically got my ear talked off by my boss,” she sighs as she leans further back into the seat. “Barely got any sleep last night either so I was pretty much a zombie the entire day, even though I was working from home.”

“Don’t I know the feeling, spent all day filling out paperwork,” you chuckle. “You sure you’re on for a gym session? Could just drop you off at your house if you want.”

“I’ll be fine, trust me,” she says. “Also, paperwork at an ice cream place? Who’d you piss off to get stuck doing that?”

“The despots at corporate, apparently,” you laugh as you pull into the gym’s parking lot. “Wasn’t me who got saddled with it, but I decided to help my manager out a bit.”

“I can’t tell if that’s noble of you or not,” she chuckles as you pull into the parking spot and come to a full stop.

You reach into the back to grab your gym back before turning to meet her gaze.

“Doing extra work for no reward?” you laugh. “I’d call it more stupid than anything. Earned some paid time off for my troubles though.”

“You’re going to need that time off after I kick your ass all over the gym,” she smirks as she opens the passenger side door.

“We’ll see about that,” you smirk yourself as the two off you step out of the car. “I think you’re going to be pretty amazed by the end of our workout.”

“I dunno, you set the bar pretty low with your performance earlier, Mike,” she says, the smugness in her tone almost palpable.

“You say that now,” you fire back as the two of you walk side by side towards the gym. “Just you wait and see.”

Once the two of you are inside, you go your separate ways to get changed in your respective locker rooms. You quickly finish changing out of your stuffy work clothes and head back outside only to find she’s still not done. A quick glance around shows the gym to be far emptier than you’re used to, and you decide to do some lunges to pass the time as you wait for Ruby. The lack of people at the gym is a rare treat, and you look forward to not having to wait for machines to free up to get your workout done. Halfway through your final set, you finally spot the tiny kangaroo making her way out of the locker rooms, scanning her surroundings until she finally spots you flagging her down from your corner.

It’s incredibly hard to not stare at her gym getup, and while she’s not very well endowed up top, the yoga pants that accentuate her wide hips and tight butt more than makes up for it. If you had to pick an example to prove that yoga pants are god’s gift to mankind, she would be up there with the best of them. You can feel a stir in your pants as your manhood awakes from its slumber at the sight, and you avert your gaze as you think of less arousing things to keep it at bay. You’re startled by the hand suddenly waving in front of your face.

“Hello, Earth to Mike?” she says, and you’re quickly shaken out of your perverted train of thought.

You shake your head, a hand shooting up to the back of your neck to sheepishly rub at it after being caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

“Sorry, just… thinking about something that happened at work today,” you say, hoping the white lie is convincing enough.

She only flashes that smug grin you’ve become so used to in response. “Weird how my body reminds you so much of work.”

You nearly choke on your own saliva at the words and you sputter and cough as your body tries to expel it from the wrong pipe. “Sorry…”

“You’d be surprised how used to it I am by now, mate,” she laughs as she adjusts her ponytail. “Don’t sweat it. Say… how’s about we make this workout a little more interesting, yeah?”

You can’t help but raise an eyebrow at the words, though you’re relieved she doesn’t press the theme of your ogling further. “What you got in mind?”

“A little challenge of sorts,” she says, that cocky grin almost a permanent fixture on her features by now. “Maybe a healthy wager, if you’re up for it.”

Your curiosity gets the better of you once more. “Lay it on me then.”

“If I can lift more than you at any of the major lifts, you owe me lunch,” she says, starting to do some stretches of her own. “Deal?”

You think about it for a second, struggling to think of any possible outcome in which you’d lose to someone you’ve got nearly two feet on. “Deal.”

“So, which one do you want to do first?” she asks as she continues to stretch. “I’ll let you pick the first few to make it fair.”

“Well, that’s easy,” you say, a grin creeping up on your facial features. “Deadlifting.”

“Starting with the hard stuff aren’t we?” she asks, rolling her eyes. “Wuss.”

“Hey, you’re the one who said any major lift, remember?” you say, chuckling as you start to join her in doing your warm up stretches.

Once the two of you are sufficiently warmed up and feeling limber enough to start, you make your way towards one of the two unoccupied deadlift platforms. You set your bag down on the ground beside it and lean down to fish out your lifting belt and some athletic chalk.

“How much weight we lifting?” you ask as you quickly fit the belt around yourself.

You can see her nose as well as one of her ears softly twitching, her gaze firmly locked on your midsection as you tighten the belt. You wonder if it’s out of nervousness, or just regret from getting in way over her head with her little friendly bet. Whatever the case, you’re looking to impress her with your lifts and you draw some deep breaths in anticipation for the strain ahead.

“Ruby?” you ask as you start to chalk up your hands, the kangaroo still seemingly lost in thought. “You good?”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” she says, averting her gaze towards the platform before putting that laser focus back onto you. “Load your one rep max.”

Her words draw a wide, almost smug grin from you. “Now we’re talking.”

You slowly start to load up a staggering four hundred pounds on the bar, enough to make you start worrying if your rusty self is going to be able to lift it or not. While you’d done it before, that was without an audience and ample preparation throughout the entire week.

“Feeling confident are we?” she asks, nudging you in the side with her elbow as you get into place on the platform.

You take a deep breath, trying to stay calm and not allowing any of your worries to show through. “The chalk isn’t just for show, you know. Stand back a bit too, yeah? Don’t want to hurt you if I drop this thing.”

She steps back a safe distance away and you bend over to grip the bar, making sure to keep your back in a neutral position to avoid hurting yourself. You slowly bend your knees until you can feel your shins touching the bar and you take one more deep breath in preparation. In one smooth motion, you begin to pull the bar, straining as you begin to stand back up to your full height. Once you finish the rep, you grunt before unceremoniously dropping the bar back onto the platform, the loud thud making a few nearby gym goers turn to look at you.

“Your turn,” you say, grinning despite the slight but temporary lightheadedness you feel from the lift.

When you finally turn around to look at her there’s no smug expression of any sort to be found, something that makes you feel a bit more pride about your lift.

“Impressive. Didn’t think a beanstalk like you could lift that much,” she says, nodding slightly. “But you know there’s no way I can get that bar off the ground, wanker.”

“Just load up what you can lift then,” you shrug as you take a seat a safe distance away to catch your breath. “It’s all in good fun anyways, yeah?”

“Yeah…” she says as she walks up onto the platform.

She takes two plates off each side, leaving a still respectable weight for someone her size and weight class. She assumes the same stance you did moments ago, and despite not having chalk to aid her she does not one, but three reps before dropping the barbell. You’re insanely impressed by the display, not expecting her to lift even half of that weight.

“Color me shocked,” you say as she makes her way towards you. “Thought you weren’t even going to get the one rep off.”

“Just goes to show you’re not the only one full of surprises,” she says proudly as she extends a hand to help you up. “What next?”

“Might as well bang out all the tougher stuff first,” you say, taking her hand to help yourself get back on your feet. “Help me rerack all this first though, will you?”

“Sure,” she says and the two of you quickly get everything looking like it was before you got there.

You stash your things back into your bag, a brief walk putting you both at the benches. You take the initiative and begin to load two plates on the bar and some change. While it’s not your max, you’re not confident enough to try for that right now, and you opt to listen to the building pressure of your audience and your well merited caution.

She pouts as she watches you slide the weights onto the bar. “Come on, go easy on me.”

You sit on the bench and steel yourself before laying down, her face quickly appearing overhead and bringing a smile to your face. “What, you scared you going to lose?”

She gets into a position to spot you, hovering her hands underneath the bar. You’re not entirely sure she can handle the weight should you fail, but the gesture is nice regardless. You tightly grip the bar and grit your teeth as you start to lift off the rack, bringing the bar all the way up before quickly bringing it down to re rack it.

You sit upright before getting off the bench and wiping down the bar for her. “All yours.”

She takes a plate of each side before taking your place on the bench, and you can see the nervousness in her expression.

“You mind giving me a spot, mate?” she asks, nose twitching as she takes a deep breath. “Haven’t benched in a while.”

You walk around behind her, assuming a wide stance and getting as close as possible without having your crotch dangling over her head. Once your hands are safely hovering beneath the bar without making contact you look down and nod.

“Go,” you say, ready to catch the weight.

The determined look now on her features tell you she’s dead set on lifting the weight, regardless of the high chance of failure, and you can see her quickly draw a deep breath before she starts to push the bar off the rack. Her arms wobble from the strain as she fully extends them, and despite your doubts, she recovers and completes the rep with great form.

She sits upright, a hand shooting up to her head to tuck a few errant strands of brown hair behind her ears. “Damn, I thought I was going to cock that one up for sure.”

“You did fine,” you say, and you start to unload the weight as she catches her breath. “Ready for the last lift?”

“Of course,” she pants.

A feeling of dread fills you as the two of you make your way towards the squat racks, the lift your weakest by a huge margin. And not for lack of trying either, your legs far from neglected despite not being the main focus of your workouts.

She stares up at you with a smug grin as you continue to stare at the empty rack. “What’s wrong, getting cold feet?”

“Just thinking about how much I’m going to enjoy that free lunch tomorrow,” you shoot back as you step forward.

You load three plates on each side, an amount even you aren’t sure you’re able to lift, but damn if you’re going to be beat by someone her size. After loading the weight, you get under the bar and make sure it rests squarely on your upper shoulders. You try to muster every bit of strength and energy you have left as you take a small set of deep breaths. As you start to lift the bar off the rack, you can already feel how difficult it’s going to be to come back up again. You bring the weight down until your hips are below your knees, doing your best to keep them outwards while keeping your back neutral. Lifting the weight back up takes everything you have in you and you’re sure you’re starting to turn red from the exertion as you approach the top of the rack again. You’re thankful you’re only competing with single reps, as you’re not sure you’d be able to walk straight the next day if you had to do more than one.

“Alright… your turn,” you say, panting loudly between words.

“Ah…” she mutters. “Could you lower the bar for me?”

You quickly turn back around and lower the weight a few positions in the rack. “Shit, my bad.”

You grin as she saunters over to take her spot under the bar. “So, how many plates are you taking off this time?”

“Taking off?” she laughs as she starts to add a couple of smaller plates to each side, something that makes your stomach sink. “You wish.”

She gets under the bar, resting it on her upper shoulders before looking back to shoot you a sly grin. You’re almost sure she’s bluffing until you think back to your run that morning, where you’d witnessed first hand exactly how strong her legs are. She lifts the weight off the rack with a level of ease you’d seldom seen before, squatting down with perfect form. The show she’s unintentionally giving you starts to wake up Mike Jr. once more, and you start to look away to avoid having to tuck him into your waistband. Unfortunately, it’s not before you get a brief glimpse of what you’d call a perfect ass pressing tight against her yoga pants, practically begging to be released from their confines.

She comes back up like it’s nothing, racking the weight without even breaking a sweat.

“You were saying?” she asks, a huge grin showing itself when she finally turns back around.

You can’t help but grin back when you realize you’ve been had, shaking your head slowly. “You had this all planned out, didn’t you?”

She points at her, an innocent look on her face. “Me? I would never.”

“Guess I owe you lunch sometimes,” you say, rubbing at the back of your neck. “We doing anything else or do you want to get out of here early?”

“If you don’t mind waiting a bit, I want to get a little time in on the punching bag,” she says, nodding towards that corner of the gym.

“Nah, go ahead,” you say. “Would join you but I already did a little yesterday.”

The two of you walk over to that side of the gym and you do some stretches as she walks over to the bag, your gaze locked on her as you’re eager to see her technique.

“Mate, you got some gloves?” she asks from a bit away. “Left mine at home.”

You dig through your gym bag in search of your gloves, walking over to her once you finally find them. “Might be a little big on you, but I can tighten them up for you.”

You carefully slip the gloves onto her furred hands, the short strands tickling your bare skin, tightening the string until the pair is firmly secured on her."

“There you go,” you say, stepping back to watch as she steps up to the bag.

Her stance is proper, looking like she's practiced it a million times before, arms steady, gaze unwavering. While you'd been a target of Ruby's laser focus before, this is unlike anything else you've seen from the kangaroo, only her chest moving as she manages her breathing carefully, her fiery eyes focused on one thing and one thing only. Her stillness doesn’t last long though and she lets loose like a spring suddenly coming uncoiled, each powerful strike that connects with the bag filling the air with loud thuds as the force shakes the bag violently. Each jab comes out like lightning, her gloved hands and arms practically a blur as she continues her assault. You watch her movements and expression like a hawk, a glance telling you everything you need to know about how she’s feeling. Her focused expression softens with every hit on the bag, and you can see the stress on her features melt away as she continues going through the motions. It reminds you a lot of the few times you’d managed to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you boxed the bag, her expression akin to yours when you did the same to destress. She continues unleashing blow after blow into it, the force ramping up with each consecutive impact. She starts to mix kicks into her routine, peppering the bag with a combination of roundhouse and front kicks, much to your surprise. Her kicks are even more powerful than you’d imagined, even after witnessing how much she could squat with relative ease, the bag swinging wildly on its chain as she brings each rough kick home. It feels like you’re watching a professional MMA fighter, each hit seemingly precisely calculated despite the staggering amount of force and speed behind them, her balance unaffected as she continues. Expert technique or not though, everyone has their limits and she begins to slow down as she runs out of energy, some darker spots forming in her fur from testing her nearly endless pool of stamina.

She finally pulls away and turns to face you, panting hard as she starts to take off the gloves. “Fuck me… that felt… great!”

“Where’d you even learn to box like that?” you ask. “Seriously, I’ve never seen someone so fast that wasn’t a pro.”

She begins to take the gloves off as she continues to pant. “You… don’t… mean that.”

“Why wouldn't I?” you chuckle. “If you picked all that up on your own then you’ve got some serious talent.”

“I’d call it more practice than anything,” she says, holding out the gloves to hand them back to you. "Dad taught me everything I know about it, spent a lot of time at boxing gyms back when I was younger. Showed me the ropes one day and I just kept at it since."

“You ever have to use them on anyone but me?” you laugh, a smile tugging at the corner of your mouth. “You’ll have to give me a crash course sometime, I’d love to learn.”

You see the anxious look you’d seen on her face many times before resurface once more at your question. She flashes you a weak smile, and you can see her gaze struggling to meet yours. “Nah, haven’t had to… but I’d be happy to teach you sometime.”

There’s something off about her tone, and even though you’re not sure what exactly it is, you can tell something’s bothering her. You figure it’s best to not pry, confident she’d share with you of her own volition once she’s comfortable with it.

“I’d love to, though you’ll have to take it easy on me,” you say, laughing as you kneel down to put the gloves back in your bag. “You ready to get going now?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t bruise you up. And yeah, unless you feel like giving the bag a spin,” she says. “Bloody exhausted after all that.”

You both head off to your respective locker rooms to get changed, opting to take a quick shower to help clear your head. Today’s events only help reinforce the way you felt last night, the time spent with the kangaroo leaving you with a smile plastered to your face, having been a while since you’d laughed as often and with as much gusto as in these last two days. As you dig your fingers into your scalp, washing away all the sweat and grime that had accumulated throughout the day, you can’t help but think you’re getting a bit attached to her. While you haven't known her for long, it felt like reconnecting with a long lost friend with how much the two of you have in common. The feeling is hard to describe, and a part of you wonders if she feels the same way to some degree. You were never the best at gauging how others feel about you, something that’s only compounded by the fact that it’s been a while since you’ve been in what you could call a real relationship. It’s far from a healthy line of thinking, but after your last failed relationship, you’re deathly afraid of making one false move and pushing your friends away, thinking back to that anxious look she flashed at you minutes ago.

‘Are you being too forward with her? Too friendly? Maybe a touch too playful?’ you think to yourself, the thoughts sowing in a seed of doubt in your mind.

The hot water running down your skin does a great job of keeping those nasty thoughts at bay, and you can’t help but sigh in relief as it does. You finish up your short shower and quickly towel yourself off, changing back into your street clothes in a hurry. You promise yourself you’ll take things a bit slower with Ruby, for the sake of keeping your budding friendship intact. Once fully dressed, you take a deep breath and put on a bright smile before leaving the locker room.


As you splash your face with warm water, you berate yourself for being so apprehensive around him. He’d asked a simple question and you practically gave him the cold shoulder over it. With the way you acted today, you’re almost sure he thinks he’s to blame for it. In reality, he’s the first guy you’ve met in a while that you feel like you don’t have to hold yourself back around. You want to tell him it’s not his fault and that you’re just an idiot who can’t put feelings into words, but you’re afraid it’s far too soon to have that kind of conversation, especially with someone you barely know. Hell, after the poor guy had opened up to you earlier today you don’t feel it’s right to push your shitty problems onto him, despite his kind offer to lend an ear. That’s not to say you don’t want to take him up on it, but you’re more than willing to wait for the right opportunity to do so. As you change back into your normal clothes, the only thought that crosses your mind is the hope that you’d actually have the chance to do it before you push him away like you have countless others. You put on a smile as you leave the locker room, doing your best to hide the unease and apprehensiveness plaguing your every move. To your surprise, he’s waiting outside the locker room, the smile plastered on his assuaging your fears ever so slightly.


“Ready to go?” you ask, hefting his bag over your shoulder.

“Yep, all set,” she says, following close behind as you walk towards the entrance.

As the two of you silently hop into your car and start driving to her house, it becomes clear that neither of you want to be the first to break that silence, choosing instead to enjoy the beauty of a cool Autumn night.

Despite the enjoyable silence and scenery, you don’t want a day like this to end on a bad note and so you break the quiet hanging in the air. “So, about that lunch?”

“What about it?” she asks, and you can see her glance over at you out of the corner of your eye.

“You’re paying for it, right?” you ask, a grin on your face. “I forget who won…”

“Oh no mate, you’re not weaseling out of our bet that easily,” she says, chuckling between words. “I’ve already got a place in mind too.”

“Hopefully not someplace that’s going to break the bank,” you mutter under your breath.

“Hey, you’re the one who agreed to the bet,” she says, and you can see her smiling from the small glimpse of her you have in the mirror. “It’s not expensive though, don’t worry. Besides, I think you’ll like it.”

“Going to tell me what it’s called?” you ask, your curiosity getting the better of you.

“Nah, it’ll be a surprise,” she says. “Think it’ll be better that way.”

“Just full of surprises, aren’t you?” you ask. “What’s next, gonna blindfold me when I drive you home?”

“If ya keep prattling on like a sore loser I might just have to gag you too,” she laughs quietly.

“If there’s one thing you’re right about it’s that I’m going to be sore in more ways than one tomorrow morning,” you say, already feeling the aftermath of your workout in your legs.

“Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad,” she says, and you can hear the steady tapping of her claws against the window. “You made that deadlift look easy.”

You smile at the compliment as you pull up to where you’d dropped her off yesterday, watching as she gathers her belongings.

“Thanks,” is the only thing you can think to say.

“Better not to be too sore,” she says, nudging you in the side. “We’re going for a jog again tomorrow morning. Unless you forgot already.”

You can’t help but groan at the thought of another multi-mile run. “If I can get out of bed, I'll be there. No promises though. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow Ruby.”

She gives you a quick hug, pulling away before you even have a chance to respond. “See you, Mike.”

“Huh,” you say, the kangaroo long gone before you regain your ability to put together a coherent thought.

You can barely think straight on the drive home, letting out a long sigh as your thoughts light your mind ablaze with activity. Has all your worrying really been for nothing? The ground your ‘friendship’ is built on is shaky at best, but she seems more than okay with that. The traitorous and irrational part of your brain disagrees and you can’t help but second guess your assessment, your very thoughts betraying you. You’re not even sure why you care so much about the opinion of someone you barely know, and you do your best to drive the offending thoughts out of your head as you focus on more important things. Things like coming up with a plan for dealing with Kelly long term, or trying to figure out how the hell someone nearly two feet shorter than you had squatted a hundred more pounds than you without batting an eye. Legs are easily the thing you neglect most at the gym, but you didn’t think the problem was quite so bad. You pull into your run down apartment complex, promising yourself you’d never let yourself be outlifted that badly again, making a mental note to focus more on lower body workouts.

You unlock the door to your apartment, tossing your gym bag down in the foyer before making a beeline for the kitchen. All the exercise worked up a ravenous hunger within you and you rummage through the pantry and fridge in search for anything you can devour. Your eyes land on a pot of beef stew you’d made the week before and after giving it a cursory sniff and taste test, you decide it’s still good to eat, ladling a generous portion into a bowl. You watch some TV for some background noise as you eat, though it doesn’t last long with how quickly you tear through the stew, tossing the bowl into the sink and doing what little dishes are piled up before stepping back into the living room. You’ve got a choice between playing some video games or turning in early, and after giving it some thought you decide to head to bed. You know you’re going to need the rest if you plan to make it through another day like this one without becoming the living dead. You head towards your bedroom and practically dive under the comforting warmth of your sheets, and as you settle into your cotton cocoon, your thoughts drift back to Ruby. For the first time in what feels like ages, you’re actually looking forward to the next day and you manage to drift off in record time.

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Pub: 22 Feb 2021 06:06 UTC
Edit: 15 Oct 2022 18:47 UTC
Views: 2631