|Paradise story universe|
|Works by MatthiasRat on Shifti|
Rob fished in his pocket for his keys as he shifted his backpack on his shoulder. His long black and white tail flicked to one side as he worked his clawed fingers carefully through his pocket. He'd torn a hole in one of his pants while trying to get his keys out, and he didn't want to do that again. With the advent of his tail, his pants had enough new holes in them.
After a long day of classes, the skunk looked forward to checking his email, making sure the server he'd built for CM and Carter was still running properly, and then spending the evening at SOAP gaming with his friends. He'd spend some time this weekend reading through the Changed forums, and the following weekend CM and he would drive down to Bristol to meet a young mother who'd changed into an otter the year before. She was the closest of any Changed in the network, and after five weeks he was willing to brave so long a drive with a she-bear again.
He finally grabbed his keys and unlocked the apartment. "Hello! Hello!" he shouted, turning around as he entered to make sure his tail got through the doorway. Rob heard Nick's voice calling back to him from his bedroom. He could also smell Patrick. There were some advantages to being a skunk!
As he walked past Nick's room, Patrick stuck his head out and grinned. "Hey, Rob! Nick and I were just discussing some ideas for SOAP."
"Oh?" Rob asked. He tossed his backpack into his bedroom. CM would growl at him if he didn't remember to pick it up later, but he rather enjoyed needling her from time to time. He stepped into Nick's room, which was more typical of a college student with papers and clothes strewn in piles about the floor and desk, and found him sitting at his computer. He brushed his light brown hair from his face and pointed at the screen. "Hey Rob, check this out. Mill Mountain Zoo is having a discount next weekend. Why don't we go as a group?"
Rob grimaced, his tail lowering and brushing against Nick's door. "Oh no! I have plans that weekend. Chris and I have to head down to Bristol for this job thing."
Nick didn't change expression, merely shrugged faintly and said, "Oh. Well that's too bad. The rest of us will have fun."
Patrick however shook his head, eyes narrowed behind his rims. "What's up with you and Chris anyway? This entire semester the two of you have been doing stuff by yourselves. You didn't even invite anybody to go with you on your hike last weekend, and now next weekend your going to Bristol together?"
Rob frowned and wanted to tell Patrick to mind his own business. He certainly wasn't about to invite anybody else along when CM and he went to bathe by the waterfall! It was embarrassing enough with just the two of them.
But, as he dug his toe claws into the old carpet to relieve his tension, he realized that Patrick was right. He had been leaving his other friends out. He sighed and nodded. "Yeah, sorry about that. It's just this job thing has us really busy."
"What is this job?" Patrick asked. He gestured a skinny arm at the wall toward Rob's room. "You have all this nifty new computer equipment and you won't even tell us what it's for."
"I just want to know how he afforded it," Nick added with a smile.
"I'm sorry I can't tell you what it's about. The guy who gave it to us was very explicit about that."
"Well he better be paying you well to neglect all your friends."
Rob winced. "Have I been neglecting you guys?"
"Not that I've noticed," Nick said.
"Yes!" Patrick jumped in over Nick. "At least that's how it seems to me. I don't want to be mean to Chris or anything, he's my friend too. I just wish you guys wouldn't go off in secret all the time."
The skunk did his best to lower his hackles. He'd need to brush himself again before going to SOAP, or CM would snicker at him the whole time. He licked his fangs and began to nod. "I'll see if I can reschedule this Bristol thing," he said at last. "It would be fun to go out to the zoo with the gang. Make sure Cindy and Van know too."
"Okay then," Nick said with an amused grin. "I guess we have actual business at SOAP today."
Rob flicked his tail against his back. "That should please Aaron!"
"Yeah, he keeps grumbling that we never do anything official," Patrick added. "Would either of you like a ride over?"
Rob shook his head and turned toward his bedroom. "No, I'm good."
"I'll ride with you," Nick replied. He closed his browser and pulled up a video game. "Want to play until then?"
Patrick accepted, but Rob stuck one claw over his shoulder. "I've got a lot to do before the meeting. I'll see you over there in a few hours." He left his two friends alone and closed his door behind him. He sighed heavily. Well, at least he defused that situation. It hadn't occurred to him just how often CM and he had been getting together lately. There was no question they'd have to be more discreet. He'd find someway to let CM know at the meeting.
With a grunt, Rob sat down and began checking his email.
Christopher rumbled pleasantly as he leaned back on the couch with Leslie tucked beneath his arm, resting her head against his breast. Only she didn't realize quite why his chest was so comfortable. The she-bear was not planning on telling her either.
"That was a nice movie," Christopher said, gently tapping the remote with one claw and shutting the TV off. It had been so nice to have an actual afternoon to spend with his wife. True, he was female too, but Leslie couldn't tell.
And when he was with Leslie, he would always think of himself as a man, despite his ursine biology. Only when he was with other Changed did he become CM; only then did he become a she.
"Oh yeah," Leslie said, closing her eyes and rubbing her cheek closer. Christopher had on a shirt and a very thin bra, but he still felt his body clench. As comfortable as this was, he never wanted to be too comfortable. Not as a female.
"So, what are you going to do this evening?"
Leslie shrugged as she leaned against him. "Probably read my book. I hope you have fun at your meeting."
Christopher sighed and ran one heavy paw over her arm. He was careful not to catch her blouse with his claws. "Figures you'd get the weekend off just when I have to work."
Leslie snorted. "Yeah."
"When was the last time we had a full day off together?"
"I don't know." She stretched and sat up. She brushed her curly hair out of her face and grabbed the thumb-eared romance novel sitting on the edge of the coffee table. "So what are you going to do now? Your meeting isn't for an hour."
Christopher ran his claws through her hair for a moment and sighed. "I guess I should check my email and my project. Might be something important there." Leslie nodded to him and then buried her nose in her book. The bruin rolled off the couch and walked down the hall to the computer room.
After sitting down in his computer chair and turning on his computer, he closed his eyes and repeated his little mantra to himself. "When I am with Changed, my name is CM and I'm female. I will think of myself this way until I return to the world of humans. My name is CM and I'm a she-bear."
Satisfied, CM opened her eyes and loaded up her email program and her browser. She had one message from Carter. The black wolf had not had time to go over her initial models, and wouldn't until after the elections on Tuesday. Working for a polling company, election season was their busiest time so he had to work the weekend. He wasn't even getting paid overtime for it either. CM supposed he had a good excuse, and sent him a note wishing him luck and that she was very interested in hearing his thoughts after surviving the final campaign onslaught.
None of the contests in Virginia were that interesting this year, so CM hadn't really been paying as much attention to the elections as she might otherwise have been. Hopping on over to the Changed network, she read through a few posts on Congressman Sandrick's reelection campaign, and was relieved to see that he was pretty much guaranteed to win. She then checked to see if there were any other news items, but nothing of note stood out.
CM posted a few more tips for the other Changed who'd changed genders as well as species. She enjoyed reading about women who'd become men, as it gave her an entirely new perspective on masculinity. But like all the men who'd become women, their stories always seemed to have some pain in them, some sacrifice that they endured but couldn't speak of: husbands who wouldn't understand, children who still called them Mommy, or what not.
There were two new introductions posts, one for a Changed out in Wisconsin, and another in Kentucky. CM started to read them but saw the time and grumbled. It was time to head over to SOAP. She shut down her computer, closed her eyes, and repeated the reverse mantra to herself. "I am now in the human world. My name is Christopher Mattiaz. I may look like a she-bear to my eyes, but I am really a man. I will be a man until I return to the world of the Changed. My name is Christopher Mattiaz and I am a man."
Christopher stood up and stretched, careful not to dig his toe claws in the carpeting. The weather outside had grown nippy, but with his fur, the t-shirt and shorts would do fine. His bra was safely concealed beneath his shirt. All he needed was his wallet and keys, and a pair of shoes so nobody would think he'd gone barefoot.
Leslie was still reading on the couch. He smiled and put his snout to the top of her head, doing his best imitation of a kiss. "I'm going to head out now, sweetheart. I hope you have a good evening."
She leaned her head back and kissed him on what she must have thought were his lips, but what ended up being the bottom of his nose. "You have a good time with your friends."
"I'll do my best. You'll probably be in bed asleep when I get back."
She nodded. "Yeah. When do you go to work tomorrow?"
"Not until two, so we'll have the morning together at least."
"See you in the morning then," she said. Leslie smiled. "I love you."
"I love you too!" Christopher grinned wide as he grabbed his wallet and keys. He pulled on shoes the disappeared as soon as they touched the bottom of his feet, and then stepped outside into the brisk November air. It felt so good against his fur.
The bear happily marched up the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. He glanced through the window of their apartment and waved to Leslie as he started on his way.
Rob drove to SOAP by himself. His mind still reeled with everything Patrick had said, and he wondered how he'd tell CM. He could see her face now — broad ursine snout, brown fur, black nose, and deep eyes the color of melted chocolate, all of them horrified, sorrowful, and furious at the news.
He slammed his door after swinging his tail out of the way. He didn't see Patrick's car, so he must have beaten them here. Good. He walked down the sidewalk next to Squires, entered through the glass doors on the rear, and jumped up the stairs to the third floor. Trevor, Brett, and Audrey were already there, but nobody else.
"Hey!" Audrey said when she looked up from her sketchbook. Her long brown hair was tied back in a pony tail, and her glasses drooped at the end of her nose. Rob put one paw on the seat next to her and pushed her glasses back up her nose with a single claw.
"Hey!" He smiled and kissed her on top of the head. "Whatcha drawing?"
"I'm drawing Gaston," she replied and showed him the sketch. Gaston was Rob's character in their Ironclaw game. Only the outlines were down, but already he could see the long, striped tail, and the characteristic rounded ears and snout of the skunk. Even the legs were plantigrade like his own. One arm held a sword and the other a shield.
He smiled and nodded. "I like it! Looks kind of like me."
She laughed and poked him in the tummy. "If you lose a little weight."
"I know, I know!" He wasn't as overweight as either Trevor or CM, but he could stand to lose a few pounds. "Do you have any other characters in there?"
Audrey turned the page back and revealed a vixen scout stalking through the forest. "I have Kiera!"
"Oh that looks really nice!"
Trevor grinned as he poured through his gaming books. "Audrey says she's going to draw all of your characters eventually."
"When are you going to draw mine?" Brett asked.
"Eventually," Audrey replied, her eyes returning to the sketch of Gaston. Her pencil followed a moment later. With quick strokes, she fleshed out the chest, filling it in with clothes befitting a soldier.
Rob settled into the seat, long tail curling over the back. By the time he managed to get comfortable, Randall and Aaron trooped into the room. Randall waved one hand, grinning. "Greetings and salutations!"
"Hey Randall! How'd your Chemistry test go?"
"It went very well," Randall replied as he settled into a seat opposite the skunk. "I now have many nifty ideas on what I can have my alchemist do! Hey, Trevor, can I buy some vitriol, nitre, and salt?"
"You should already have the salt. What do you want vitriol and nitre for?" Trevor frowned, while Aaron shook his head and sighed. "What are they anyway?"
Randall grinned and bobbed his head up and down. "Vitriol and salt properly mixed makes hydrochloric acid. Nitre and water will make nitric acid. Mix the two together and you have aqua regia which we can use to dissolve gold. We can steal Lady Adelaide's jewels and we won't leave any evidence!"
Everyone stared at Randall for a moment. He had gone ahead and made the bull alchemist — why Trevor let him Rob wasn't sure — and every week he had a new scheme that had to be shot down.
"No!" Trevor chuckled. "Bad Randall!"
"Awww! But Muslim scholars discovered it around 800 AD! Every alchemist in the Middle Ages would know how to make it!"
"He has a point there," Aaron said.
While Trevor and Randall continued to argue, Rob turned his head and sniffed. He could hear somebody coming up the stairs, and he could smell the familiar odor of bear. CM. Rob ground his teeth and turned resolutely back to the other furs.
When CM stepped through, she waved and bellowed, "Hey everyone!"
Everybody greeted her, with Randall immediately asking, "Chris, wasn't aqua regia used extensively in the Middle Ages?"
The bear stuttered for a moment as she settled her massive weight in a chair near the door. With his eyes set more to the side of his head, Rob could look at her out of the corner of his eye even when he had his head turned away from her. She appeared in far too good a mood to ruin just yet.
"Aqua regia? Yeah, alchemists used it to try to find the Philosopher's Stone. Oh good grief, Randall, you aren't trying to do that are you?"
"No, I just want to dissolve gold so we can steal jewels from Lady Adelaide."
CM crossed her arms and gave him her momma bear stare. "If Trevor said no, then that means no."
"Awww!" But Randall still grinned.
CM turned to Rob and stared at him. "Hey Rob, how're you?"
Rob shrugged his shoulders. "Oh hey, Chris. Doing fine." He never looked her way.
CM frowned and lowered her eyes, tapping her claws on the table softly. Rob felt like a total jerk inside. He had to tell her somehow. He started to turn in his seat, then he heard Nick and Patrick's voices coming up the hall. The skunk sighed and decided it would have to wait. All the while he tried not to look at the confused and hurt look in the bear's face.
Christopher had a little trouble getting into the game at first. He kept trying to figure out why Rob had been so cold to him when he'd come in. Perhaps he was more interested in the pictures Audrey was drawing. It was Rob's first picture as a skunk, so he guessed his friend had a right to be more interested in that.
But after an hour of playing, he finally slipped into the role of Bethaida, the bear herbalist who had lost her cubs and husband to raiders. It was the perfect role for him. He could get all his mothering instincts out in game, and when he accidentally let them slip in real life he could just claim he was being in character.
And as often happened, Bethaida had become involved in an argument with Randall's outlandish bull alchemist, Dyonisius Zorn.
"Dyonisius Zorn!" Christopher said in his most arch tone, trying to hide the growling rumble in his throat. "I will not stand here and watch you take my herbs that I use to heal people — including you when one of your experiments blows up in your face as they all do — and concoct some potion to seduce a maiden!"
Randall grinned and waved his hands before him. "You mistake me, good Bethaida. I'm merely trying to determine the effects of these particular herbs in an unguent. It may prove useful in the future. You never know when we might need to seduce someone for information."
"I cannot possibly imagine such a time! You have no morals and no common sense. I don't know why I put up with you."
"Thank you. I have very uncommon sense. It's why I'm an alchemist. And it's why this will work."
"It's why I'm going to grab you by the horn and swing you out my door and into the street!"
"Good woman, you wound me!"
"You bet I will!"
Much to his surprise, Isaac passed him a note. Christopher lifted both his paws and made the time out sign. Randall nodded and eagerly studied his character sheet while the bear opened the note to read. He immediately recognized Rob's chicken scratch.
"Gaston tiptoes into your shop and makes a quiet sign with his finger." Christopher glanced up and saw that Trevor was reading a note too.
Randall also noticed it because he immediately said, "I'd like to roll observation to see if I notice anything strange."
"Why?" Trevor asked, in his obviously not-so-innocent voice.
"I just want to do that. I'm always aware of what's going on around me."
"You're in the middle of an argument, you aren't going to be as focused."
"That's the best time to check around you. The person you're arguing with could be trying to trick you."
Isaac laughed. "Oh Randall, stop trying to use player knowledge!"
Christopher was glad for the argument, because it allowed him to keep reading the note. After a short space, he saw the real message. "Nick and Patrick suspect something's up. Patrick especially. We'll have to reschedule the Bristol trip. I'm sorry."
The bear took a deep breath, folded the note back up, and slipped it in his shirt pocket. He stretched his shoulders and rubbed his claws together. He glanced up at the other furs and said, "Oh, Trevor, just let him roll his observation check. He's going to pester you until you do."
"Okay, fine," Trevor conceded. "Roll mind plus observation."
Randall rolled some dice. "I have a seven."
Trevor turned to Rob. "Roll your stealth skill."
The skunk rolled his dice, never once glancing at the bear. "I have a nine."
"Good!" Trevor declared. "You don't notice anything. Now get back to arguing with Bethaida!"
"Awww!" Randall rubbed his hands together and turned back to Christopher. "Okay, okay, I give. You can keep your herb. But one day you'll regret that you didn't let me do my experiment."
Christopher took another deep breath and let the female in him resurface. "No I won't. What I regret is that you're going to find some way to drug whatever poor lass you're looking at now anyway!" Just yelling at Randall made him feel a little better.
"That's a good place to stop for the night," Trevor announced with a wide grin. "Everybody hand in your character sheets."
Rob slid his sheet across the table, and so did everyone else. CM had done a very good job hiding her disappointment after seeing his note, but he could tell she was upset. Rob drummed his claws on the table, glaring every now and then at Patrick. His friend from New Jersey didn't seem to notice, as he was too busy hastily making changes to his character sheet.
When Patrick did finally slide his sheet across, he shouted, "Don't everybody go just yet! Nick and I have an idea for next weekend."
"What's your idea?" Aaron asked.
Nick leaned back in his seat, and glanced at everyone before saying, "Well, we noticed that Mill Mountain Zoo is having a discount on tickets next Saturday. It'll be a little nippy, but if we want to go, it'll be the best time for it."
"Isn't that up in Roanoke?" CM asked.
"Yeah, haven't you been there?" Isaac asked, a bit of surprise in his voice.
CM shook her head. "No, never been there."
"Well then you should definitely go," Nick pointed out. "It's a cool place. How many zoos you know are on the top of a mountain?"
"Not too many," Rob replied. Patrick watched him closely, and he hated the scrutiny. May as well get it over with as quickly as possible. "I'm in. Everybody meet at my place at eleven o'clock next Saturday and we can head on over."
"So... so early?" Brett asked, clearly surprised.
Rob wanted to smack the would-be cougar with his tail, but he was too far away. "Yeah, it's in Roanoke. It'll take us an hour to drive up there. You live with me, Brett, so stop whining!"
"I'll go," Audrey said as she put her sketchbook away. She'd finished drawing Gaston, and Rob rather liked the resemblance. She even managed to get his facial fur pattern right.
"Sounds like fun, I'll do it," Isaac chipped in.
"Yes, it does sound like it will be a very entertaining enterprise," Randall said while smiling his usual sardonic grin. "I will be at the furry apartment by eleven o'clock next Saturday."
"I already emailed Cindy and Van, and they said they want to come too," Patrick added. He turned and glanced at CM. "What about you, Chris?"
"Leslie's working again that weekend, so I guess I don't have anything else." Rob winced at the hesitation in her voice. He could tell that CM would much rather have gone down to Bristol to meet the other Changed.
The truth was, Rob would have too. But he couldn't let this destroy his old friendships. Still, he just didn't want to have to deal with any of these thoughts right then. "Well, it's settled. Next weekend we have a trip to the zoo. I don't know about you guys, but I'm going home and I'm going to have something to drink. You're all welcome to come."
"I don't know," CM said, her voice a low growl. "I have to work tomorrow."
Rob glared at her. Trust her to be difficult about this now. "Morning or evening shift, Chris?"
CM shrugged her shoulders. "Evening shift."
"Then you don't have an excuse. Come on over and we'll get drunk."
"Yeah, I really need to do that," CM muttered. She took a deep breath and forced a smile. "Okay, I'll come back to your place. Can anyone give me a lift?"
"I'll take you over," Trevor offered. "You can help me carry these books to my car!"
Rob stood up and started walking. He just wanted to get out of there and lose himself in a bottle. "To 1600J!" He strode so quickly out that his tail nearly brushed the door closed.
The stack of books Trevor handed him proved to be lighter than expected. Their gamemaster had parked closer to Main Street, so by the time they reached his car, most everyone else were already on their way. He dumped the books in Trevor's trunk, slid the passenger seat all the way to the back and climbed in.
"Need more room?" Trevor asked as he slid in. Trevor's car should be put on the list for environmental clean-up. Empty fast food bags and stacks of papers as well as discarded shirts and other things he didn't even want to think about littered the back seat. He had to be careful where he rested his feet or he'd crush a stack of CDs left lying on the floor, and he was pretty sure he could smell pizza from a week past that may or may not have been thrown out.
Christopher wrinkled his nose as he squeezed the seat belt over his bulk. Since August he'd put on about thirty pounds, far more than he'd done the last time he'd been a bear four years ago. But back then he'd been single and had no money and so couldn't afford as much food as his body craved. He wondered how bad the winter would be when it finally arrived.
"A little. Do I look fatter to you?"
Trevor chuckled and said, "Well, you don't have me beat yet, but yes, you are putting on weight." He started the car and pulled into the street and headed towards the Drillfield.
"How much would say?" He hated having to ask people what he looked like, but what else could he do? At least Leslie wasn't complaining too much about it.
"Oh, at least two hundred, maybe two-twenty." Trevor glanced at him and narrowed his eyes. "What is going on with your metabolism anyway?"
Christopher shook his head and rolled down the window. It wasn't easy --- Trevor had manual windows, and the bruin couldn't quite grip the handle without poking his palms with his claws. "Storing up fat for the winter I guess."
Trevor grinned. "I think you are getting a bit too into your character. Going to have to start calling you Bethaida if you keep this up."
When they turned off the Drillfield, the seatbelt pressed painfully into one of his breasts and he had to readjust them to keep comfortable. As much as he enjoyed roleplaying the momma bear, he definitely didn't want to be known for it! "Please, I'd rather you didn't. I'm sure I just need to stop being so hungry all the time and this will go away."
"With all the walking you do, you'd think you'd shed some pounds."
It took them a few minutes more to reach the Foxridge Apartments complex. Everyone else had beaten them there, and from the sound coming out of the windows, they were already playing games. "Just leave the books in the trunk," Trevor told him. "It'll make it easier for next Friday."
When they stepped inside, they found Rob passing out bottles of beer. He had an open bottle of Jack Daniels in one paw and Christopher could smell it on his breath. Rob grinned and took another swallow. "Come on in! The party's just getting started. What can I get you both?"
"I will have soda," Trevor replied. His eyes immediately strayed to where Nick, Brett, Isaac, and Aaron had clustered around the game machine. Randall and Patrick sat on the couch discussing schoolwork, while Audrey sat by herself with sketchbook in her lap and a bottle of beer on the sidetable next to her.
Christopher wagged one finger at the skunk. "You know not everyone here is over twenty-one."
"Ah, who cares," the skunk replied. He grabbed a bottle of some brand Christopher had never heard of and stuck it under the bear's nose. "Here, have one. Come on, you need it."
Christopher well remembered the first time he'd had any alcohol. It had been after his first change into a Rottweiler. His tolerance had sucked and it was only a last minute infusion of common sense that saved him from blabbing about being a dog to his friends. His attempt a few years later when he'd been a rat had been equally disastrous. Still, it couldn't hurt to give it another try.
He snagged the bottle and popped the top between two fingers. "Okay, thanks." He tossed it back, and the foul tasting brew spilled over his broad tongue and down his throat. It warmed his throat and stomach, but otherwise just tasted bleah. At least Rob had the presence of mind to buy bottles instead of cans. With their snouts and jowls, drinking from cans tended to get more on them than in them.
"All right!" Rob cheered.
Christopher leaned in a little closer and asked in a faint whisper, "When can we reschedule Bristol?"
The skunk frowned, eyes darkening unhappily, and took another long swig of the Jack Daniels. "I dunno. I'll email you." He grinned and stepped past the bear, pointing at the television. "Holy crap! How'd you do that?"
As Brett proceeded to explain his videogame prowess, Christopher settled on the couch at the back of the room. He scooted a pile of jackets to one side and took swigs of the beer. He wiggled his toes and stared at the claws while wondering how long it would take before he developed a buzz.
A few minutes later, his claws remained black and four inches long, but when he lifted the bottle to his snout, he discovered it was empty. He licked the rim and even managed to push his tongue down the neck as he lapped up the last drops. Christopher hated to admit it, but after getting past the initial taste, it was hard to stop drinking. He set the bottle aside and grabbed a second. Ten minutes later he snagged a third.
Yet even after finishing that one, he still felt clear-headed. Not even a hint of a buzz came to him. The world was clear, he was a big she-bear putting on the pounds for winter hibernation, and he was watching his friends play video games while getting drunk. Rob especially was showing the effects of the liquor. He swayed back and forth, laughing at the antics on the TV, while his tail whipped back and forth behind him. He tipped to one side, and his tail took out a lamp.
Christopher jumped up and grabbed him behind the arms before he fell to the floor. "Woah there!" he said, helping Rob get back to his feet. "I think you've had enough, Rob."
The skunk grinned and held up the Jack Daniels. "There's shtill some left... left behind. Left arse!" He laughed and downed the last of the Jack Daniels.
Audrey put her sketchbook aside and patted her boyfriend on the chest. "I think it's time somebody got to bed."
"I'm jus fine!" Rob protested. He tried to walk out of the bear's grip, but Christopher growled. "Shush, CM. Bad bear."
Christopher tightened his grip and gave Rob a quick shake. "Definitely time you got to bed."
"I can take him," Audrey offered. Considering she was only half the size of Rob, it was hard to imagine trusting her with the drunk skunk, but she was his girlfriend. But what would happen if she tried to take his pants off? She'd discover the tail hole for sure, and that would raise even more suspicion.
"I've got him. I'll dump him on his bed." Christopher nodded to the skunk's feet. He could see the toe claws and the fur, but Audrey wouldn't. "Grab his shoes."
Together, the two of them carried the skunk to his bedroom. Christopher growled when he saw that Rob had left some of his things lying around, but he kept it low. They dumped him on his bed, and Audrey proceeded to remove the shoes that the bear couldn't see. Rob moaned and laughed still, but he finally settled to rolling back and forth on the bed. Although he hadn't sprayed, Christopher began to notice a definite skunk stink.
Audrey noticed it too. "Ugh, what is that?"
"Jus me!" Rob grinned.
"Not for long." She grabbed a can of Febreeze sitting on Rob's bookshelf and sprayed it everywhere. With Audrey occupied, Christopher picked up Rob's discarded clothes and tossed them in the closet hamper.
"Okay, time to say good night," Audrey announced after pulling the top blanket over Rob. She shook her head as she passed Christopher on the way out the door. "I've never seen him that drunk after only one bottle of JD."
"Maybe it was really good Jack Daniels," the bear suggested. "Or maybe he shouldn't have made a skunk character. Drunk as a skunk, you know?"
"He smells like a skunk!" Audrey said with a brittle laugh as she walked back to the main room. She shook her head and settled back down in her chair. With a bright smile she said, "Rob is now in bed."
"That didn't take long," Patrick said. "I've seen him down four of those before."
"Tonight his limit was one."
Christopher quietly snatched another bottle of beer. He really hoped it would give him a buzz at some point. But an hour later, after drinking eight bottles, he only felt a slight elation. He had more excitement from playing and losing badly at the video game. It seemed that as a bear, alcohol really didn't affect him. That was good, although he definitely didn't need a drinking habit to go along with his weight gain.
So, before he picked up that ninth bottle, he glanced at the door instead. "I think I should get home before Leslie starts worrying about me. Can somebody give me a lift?"
Patrick jumped to his feet. "I'll do it. I need to get back to campus anyway."
"See you next Friday," Brett called out.
"Yeah, see you guys then." Christopher eyed Patrick, but the lanky man gave no indication that he was trying to be sneaky. Patrick grabbed his jacket form the pile and then followed Christopher out.
Patrick closed the door behind him and laughed. "I don't know how you can wear shorts and a t-shirt in this weather, Chris."
"It's not that cold out." Christopher patted his belly and his breasts bounced too. "Besides, I've a bit more insulation than I used to."
Patrick nodded at that. "Yeah, we noticed. My car's over here." His car was much cleaner than Trevor's had been, but Christopher still detected leftover fast food somewhere in the backseat. He shoved the front seat all the way back and squeezed in. "Do you have something on under your shirt?"
Christopher hunched his shoulder forward and did his best not to look self-conscious. Had his bra shown? He tried to sound confused by the question. "No. Why do you ask?"
Patrick shook his head as he started the car. "Just thought I saw something under your collar. You're in Chasewood right?"
"Yeah, take a right on Prices Fork, then turn left onto University City Blvd. I'll let you know when we're there."
While Patrick was distracted pulling out of the lot, the she-bear quickly pulled the collar tighter and adjusted the bra. He then rolled the window down some to let in the fresh air. He stuck his snout out the window for a moment when his ears caught Patrick's next question. "So why were you and Rob going to Bristol next weekend?"
"Part of this job we have," he replied. "Nothing we can't reschedule though."
"What is this job? Rob won't talk about it at all."
"Well, we were asked not to."
"That's weird. How do you find jobs like that? And what kind of job gets Rob a nifty new computer server? He won't even let me touch it!"
Well, at least Rob was doing his part. Christopher leaned back in the seat as they made the turn onto Prices Fork. "Just lucky I guess."
"So was your hike up the Cascades trail the other weekend part of your job too?" The questions were no longer an act of curiosity. There was a edge to Patrick's voice that made the bear yearn to growl.
"What's your problem, Patrick?" Christopher snapped. "We just went for a hike."
Patrick nearly missed the left onto University City Blvd as he shouted, "My problem is that you two are doing all these things together and leaving everybody else out, that's what!"
Now Christopher growled. Something in him snapped, and he found himself in she-bear mode without the mantra. Her whole body shook and she waved one claw at her friend. "What we do with our time is none of your business! If you want to go hiking, just ask! Stop being so jealous."
"I'm not jealous!"
"Yes you are!" CM snapped. "Just because this job has made Rob and I get to know each other better, doesn't mean we aren't going to spend time with the rest of SOAP."
"He was my friend a lot longer than there's been SOAP!"
She narrowed her eyes and then lowered her paws to her lap. Her claws dug into the fur on her legs. "And he'll be your friend for a lot longer still! I'm sorry I've threatened your best friend status with Rob, because that's what this is all about."
"Chris, I mean it!" Patrick began to swerve, his voice angry. "You both are acting really odd and its freaking me the hell out! What's going on?"
CM turned away, keeping her mouth shut as she tried to get her temper back under control. The last thing she wanted to do was shred the upholstery in Patrick's car. Then he'd really know something was wrong! Instead, she nodded towards a right turn ahead. "That's it. Turn there. You can let me out at the top."
Patrick turned up the road and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry I got angry at you both. You guys just haven't been acting like yourself lately."
"I know," CM knew she needed to get back into male mode, but she just couldn't think clearly enough to bother. "We'll go to the zoo next week. And I'll try to stop monopolizing all of Rob's time. But this job is going to take up some of that. Please stop butting into it."
Patrick brought the car to a stop and sighed. "I'm not being jealous, Chris. I'm not."
"Uh huh." CM opened her door and squeezed out of the car. The familiar scents of dogs and people she knew stilled some of her anger.
"You know," Patrick mused, trying and failing to laugh. "You do kind of look like a bear at night."
CM stiffened. "Good Night, Patrick. Thank you for the ride. I'll see you on Friday."
"See you then."
CM was halfway across the parking lot before she noticed that she'd pulled out several tufts of fur from her legs. She glanced around, but didn't see them anywhere. She saw Patrick's taillights heading back down the street and she growled anew. Well, now he was going to have something else to puzzle over, if he even noticed it. Nothing she could do about it now. Cursing herself for being an idiot, she walked the rest of the way to her apartment.
She wanted nothing more than to cuddle with Leslie in bed, but her wife was already asleep. Instead, CM climbed on the computer and started composing an email to the Bristol Changed. She cursed Patrick under her breath the entire time. Thanks to him, CM was going to have to be alone again for a while.
The beer finally kicked in when she started to cry.