It was slow going adjusting to living normal life again.
Well, as normal as life could be when we were quarantined. A week and a half earlier, before my world had been upended, the time off from school would've be nice maybe - but instead, we were all stuck inside, and to my annoyance, on a snow day that would've been nice to hang out with my friends.
So I just lounged about, noticing that Ashley was avoiding me whenever possible. My mom would peek into my room, asking if the heat was too high, if she had some music on downstairs too loud... or she'd been reading some news article that said that most canis people were very allergic to dark chocolate - but most could eat milk chocolate. I thankfully was able to eat normal chocolate fine - but gosh it made me sad knowing how many little things were going to be different now.
It was just all of those smaller things. I still was getting used to my new body, and having to get comfortable with fur all over me. Grabbing stuff felt weird with my paw-pads - but surprisingly, the extra cushion of my finger pads made it easier to play guitar. I had to change the way I strummed however.
Then there was the simple act of getting a drink. During the time I'd been transforming all of the week before, I'd been drinking out of a water bottle, or a cup with a straw. It was when I'd tried to simply drink out of a glass of water that I'd made of fool of myself, somehow spilling a bunch on my shirt. In shame, Mom had filled a bowl up with water - and sure enough, I was able to lap it up like a dog.
I'd opted to drink with a straw now instead.
It was just an endless give and take. It was no longer a roller coaster with big highs and big lows, but just a really bumpy road I'd rather not be on. Despite it all, I was done feeling sorry for myself. I was going to stick through this with the stubbornness of a boulder, and live my life no matter what happened. And with that, I made it clear to my family that I wasn't going to fight my canine instincts.
While some changes I was not very fond of, others I actually did. They were all part of me, and perhaps had always been there, buried deep. I needed to pant, I wanted to wag my tail. I wasn't going to apologize. I knew they found it uncomfortable, but they would have to get used to it.
Dealing with the discomfort of my family was tough though. I felt loneliness in a way I hadn't in a while. I'd felt it while I was cooped up in that patient room at Generation. It felt a bit different now though, where it was hard for my mind to fully process things, because it was such a unique situation. Now I was at home in my own room - and I still felt lonely.
It was now the Wednesday after I'd gotten back home. Only a few days really, and the quarantine was starting to wear on me. I didn't care if it was super awkward, I unironically wanted to go back to school - and not the awful online homework I was having to do. I wanted to see my friends again.
I knew that an obvious solution to this was to call them and see how they were doing - but I still felt like a high wall of awkwardness stood in front of that. I just... was not ready to talk to Douglas and Wendy, or especially Ted.
Jackie did understand me. Perhaps more than anyone. We'd been through all of this together, and we'd had all those private moments. And now... I felt like I was starting to know even deeper how she felt. I started finding myself imagining what it would be like if Dad discovered a cure... and what it would feel like to not have my tail anymore. To not be able to fully sense the world with my nose and ears. Thinking back to before my transformation... it seemed... dulled.
It wasn't just the reduced senses, it was a feeling somehow that I... felt more right this way. Like in some way before, I'd felt subtly uncomfortable in a way I'd never known.
When Jackie had first told me she felt this way, it had been so... odd to me. I was in a state of shock, unable to understand why someone would ever want this... but in the days since, as I grew more used to this, I felt the bizarre sensation of actually... liking it. Was this something that was common to all people our age who'd gotten the treatment? Had it altered the neural paths in our developing minds? Or... or were Jackie and I just weird?
I wanted to call her. Wanted to talk to her. But I felt a sort of blankness. I didn't know what to say. When we were trapped together at Generation, in the nightmare of our bodies transforming before our eyes, I felt something in me that wanted to be brave and bold. I wanted to comfort her in her time of need. But now I felt some amount of normal reality returning - and now I had lost that adrenaline boosted sense of action.
Jackie was once again, one of those strange scary people known as "girls" that I didn't know how to talk to, who could reject me. And I hated that. I hated that after all I had gone through with her, after she had obviously felt something for me, I wasn't calling her even just to check up on her. I felt crappy. Had she expected me to call her? If she had, she probably was extremely sad now. She probably thought that I had been weirded out by her, and had tossed her aside the moment I could get away.
Sitting on my bed, I put my face in my hands. I felt so stupid. But now if she felt like I had just tossed her off, calling her now would feel even more awkward. I'd told myself that she'd probably need a day or two of a break from me - but now I had given her four.
Jackie had been the first girl that I'd really felt something more than a crush with - and if I wanted that to go somewhere, I had to act. I did want to date her when that became possible. I did want a girlfriend. It was January 30th, and if I wanted to do something special for her on Valentine's Day, I probably needed to start thinking about it now.
"Matt," my mom called from downstairs, "dinner's ready!"
I sighed, and stood up off my bed. I felt dumb. I was squandering this opportunity with Jackie - a girl who was a bit strange - but who maybe loved the strangeness in me too. I had no idea if I was going to find that in another girl. All this also made me wonder if I needed to talk to my other friends sooner rather than later. If I pushed it off, I might find them growing more and more distant. I couldn't let that happen. I determined that as soon as dinner was over, I was calling Jackie, and Douglas.
Before I'd even left my room, I was able to pick out the distinct smells of everything on the table - tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, beef - it was tacos, obviously. I could even smell the tortillas, which before I wouldn't have considered having a smell.
I came down the stairs with a bit of a smile, but that mood was immediately soured when Ashley's eyes bore down on me.
"Well," I said, "staring works in place of saying hi I guess."
"Matt," Mom said, "she didn't mean anything of it."
"Oh she did, even unintentionally. I don't care, I just want you all to know that I don't think it's very nice."
"Please just have patience Matt," Mom sighed. "This is a big change, and something we're not going to adjust to in a week."
I stifled saying anything more.
"How is the work going dear?" she changed the subject, turning to Dad.
He looked very tired. Not as much as he had when I'd seen him last week, but still unmistakably stressed.
"Better than I would've hoped," he said as he began preparing a taco. "Clive made an offer to another company about an hour away that is looking for a number of new employees. They seem uncertain whether to take on people who just left a sinking ship, but it's something."
"So you'll be able to keep working on a cure there?" Ashley asked.
"Yes," Dad said, "but it will be a lot slower going without Generation's supercomputer. We could outsource the computing, but the nature of what we're doing..."
"Using the illegal data," I said.
Dad gave me a sharp, disgruntled look. "Be careful Matt, flippantly saying that. We don't know if anyone could be watching and listening."
Dad had taken all our tablets and run some cleaning software on them to lock out any kind of bug. He'd also checked for physical bugs in the house twice now.
"It's okay Lucas," Mom said, "I think you're getting a bit paranoid."
"I know," Dad swallowed a bite of taco. "I know. There's just... a lot riding on this. I have a responsibility to do something - but I also no longer have a job, or at least a real one."
Dad thankfully, had ways of still providing income to us - fortunately and unfortunately, because of the worldwide crisis, there were plenty of companies and organizations that needed help with consultation work, and Dad was very experienced with the virus. I did know however, that Mom and Dad were the kind of parents to hide financial struggles.
After talking with Dad for a bit, I got the impression that Mom was similarly worn out by the conversation about the work he was doing. The state the world in was unavoidable. It affected pretty much everything.
"Have you talked with Jackie since you got home Matt?" Mom asked me.
I'd just finished putting together a taco. "No," I sighed. "I know I need to. I just wanted to give her a bit of a breather. I don't want to come across as overbearing."
"I think that's considerate," Dad said, "but it isn't as if she's busy doing anything right now. And honestly, seeing that you two became... rather close, you probably should have called her on Monday or something."
I groaned. "I'm afraid that I've accidentally sent a bad message."
"Yup," Dad simply said. "I'd probably get to calling her after dinner."
I didn't feel much like discussing that any more either. The rest of dinner wasn't really all that good for conversation. With no other recourse, Mom was left trying to discuss a show she'd been watching. Everyone was just really tired.
As dinner was winding down, Ashley got up and walked into the kitchen. I barely registered it as she filled a glass that had been sitting on the counter up with water, and downed it. I suddenly felt a massive jolt go through me.
She flinched, nearly knocking the glass onto the ground as she placed it back down.
"Matt? What the heck? I nearly -"
"I drank out of that glass!"
She went pale. Mom and Dad similarly went into shock. The situation was vividly clear in our minds.
The most recent information coming out of the news said that the virus appeared to not transmit after people with it finished changing - but no one was certain. And that glass was filled with my DNA, and tons of it.
Though I normally was getting my water through a water bottle or a straw, that time I'd been lazy. It had always been a normal, if probably gross thing. We just left glasses sitting on the counter, sharing the same germs. Now it had incurred a terrible cost.
Ashley was spitting into the sink, gargling water from the tap.
"How in the world," I asked, "Did you not notice that the water tasted like gross dog spit?"
"I'm sorry," Ashley yelled, "that I wasn't the one who left a contaminated - "
"Quiet!" Dad stood up from the table.
We all became still.
"What's done," he breathed in shakily, obviously furious, "is done. You swallowed that water Ashley, and there's no changing that now. All we can do is see what happens."
"Dad," Ashley began to tear up, "No. Please, just like... maybe if I drink more water, it will dilute it, and - "
"No Ashley," he said. "I'm not going to lie. There's nothing we can do."
Ashley stood there for a moment in silence, and then slowly made her way upstairs. Mom and Dad turned their gaze to me.
"Matt," Dad said, "I told you that everything you ate or drink with needed to immediately go into the dishwasher."
"I'm sorry. But she should've - "
"It doesn't matter," Dad said. "A week from now there's a chance that your sister is going to be changed. Just... dammit."
My mom bent down over the table. I knew that she was crying, and trying very hard to hide it. Dad placed a hand on her back. He gave me a very harsh look. I couldn't read the emotion in it. Anger? Disappointment?
I grabbed up my dishes, and quickly rinsed them off, making sure to put them in the dishwasher. When I got back upstairs, I could very clearly hear Ashley crying through her bedroom door. It was soul crushing.
Back in the privacy of my own room, I felt a few tears come - but they were hot, angry tears. Angry at myself, angry at Ashley for absentmindedly drinking from a glass that had obviously been used already...
I felt awful. I knew that I should've called Jackie, but I felt in no state of mind to do so.
I felt so terrible. I felt like a walking plague. Perhaps this was going to be even worse than being a canis person out in public. I was going to be seen by all as carrying a horrific, body altering disease, even years and years later.
Just when I was starting to feel happy again, reality had to spit in my face.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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