I slept fitfully that night. Being able to talk to Jackie, and just play some games to relax had helped a lot. In a way though, it made it even harder to go back home. I knew what waited for me when I got back; parents that didn't want to look at me - a sister who felt that I had ruined her life. There was even the unsettling prospect that Mom and Dad's marriage was on shaky ground.
When I got home, there was thankfully no one around. Trying to sleep was difficult. I'd been getting used to orienting my tail right as not to pinch it, as well as dealing with the extra warmth from fur. No, what I missed as I tried to sleep wasn't what sleeping had once been like. I missed Jackie, and being able to cuddle with her.
I was sure that most guys my age wanted a girl in their bed for a... very different reason, but I wanted the comfort of knowing she was there with me. I was down bad for her, and I knew it. Thankfully she didn't seem to object much to me being strongly attached.
She seemed to finally be starting to internalize that I wasn't just pitying her or anything like that. Despite the doubting thoughts she had, I really did love her. And I felt she loved me back. In that moment, she was all I felt I had. I didn't know how to salvage my family situation in the slightest. They refused to understand me. But Jackie did.
Being with her felt so freeing. With her I wagged my tail and panted all I wanted. She'd grown more and more open too. She was like a completely different person in her house compared to school. She smiled widely, talked cheerfully and occasionally kissed me on the cheek.
But then there was my family. They used to be my refuge. Then in just the span of a month it felt like it was hanging in the balance. Whatever happened with my family, I knew that if it stayed this way, I couldn't stick around. I needed to get up to college with Jackie as soon as I could.
So many challenges were ahead. I would need to figure out college, and what I wanted to study. I'd have to adjust to being a canis person in a much larger place.
Eventually my mind just became exhausted from the stress, and I finally got to sleep.
The next morning, I was intent on just getting ready for school as quickly as possible, and then leaving home before I had to talk to anyone. Today we were going to have the first meeting of our club, and the last thing that I wanted was for my mood to be ruined before I even walked out the door. I needed to be confident and cheerful, able to help the other canis students the best I could.
After showering and drying off my fur, even giving it a good brush, I went downstairs to have breakfast. Ashley sat at the table, silently eating some yogurt. She looked as sullen as ever. Only a single light was on, and it cast an eerie shadows over everything.
I ignored her the best I could, and got some cereal. Shortly after I'd sat down at the table however, Dad walked into the room. I did not acknowledge him, just breathed slowly and steadily, and continued eating. He pulled up a chair, and sat there quietly for a moment. After a minute or so, he let out a sigh.
"We need to talk."
I didn't say anything. Ashley surprisingly spoke up, though very quietly.
"She's at Grandma's house. She needed some time."
Neither Ashley or I said anything.
"Last night," Dad sighed again, "Mom and I... had some disagreements..."
"We heard it all," I said.
Dad looked at me in confusion. I pointed to my ears, perking them up.
He rested his face in his hand, and I could hear him curse under his breath.
"Whatever," I said. "I just don't want to talk about it."
"That's too bad," Dad said, making more determined eye contact with me, then glancing to Ashley. "We've got problems we need to talk about, and nothing is going to change unless we confront them."
I didn't say anything. Ashley just stirred her yogurt around, not eating any.
"Ashley," Dad said.
She didn't move an inch.
"Can you please look at me?"
"I don't know," she said, "who this Ashley person is you're talking about. I'm just a mutant that- "
"Okay, no no, absolutely not," Dad said. "I'm not going to hear this again. I don't want to hear such awful things out of your mouth again."
"Doesn't stop them from being in my mind."
Dad reached his hand out, and took Ashley's hand. I noticed Dad looked noticeably uncomfortable holding it. He ran his thumb over her black paw pads.
"What can I do to help you feel better Ashley?"
She pulled her hand away. "Stop looking at me, and work on a cure so that I can escape this awful humiliating prison."
"I'm sorry Ashley," Dad said. "But I want to be more honest with myself, and all of you. It's going to be at least several years from now before someone finds a solution."
"Then I guess I'm going to feel awful for the next several years."
Dad scooted his chair closer to hers, and put his arm around her.
"Ashley, I know... I know that this is really difficult for you - "
"No, you don't understand," she finally looked up at him. "You have not experienced the horrible nightmare this is. You do not know how it feels to be afflicted by this curse. You do not know how it has felt this awful, excruciating week to have everyone in school mocking me, or shunning me. There are so, so few canis people at my school. I used to find comfort in being unnoticed, but now I am on display for everyone to see. It is the worst feeling in the world, and it's never going to get better."
I felt deeply sick to my stomach for a moment. She had looked to me in her brief moment of anger. She still saw me as the cause of all her torment. She hated me.
Dad had no real response. He just sat there, holding her. I turned my attention back to eating my cereal.
"I'm sorry," Dad said again, after what may have been a full minute of silence. "I can't really say anything that'll make your problems go away."
"No. You can't."
"All I can say is, how can we make it easier for you to feel comfortable at home?"
"Just leave me alone. Don't look at me. And when you start mutating into a mutant dog person, keep out of my sight too. All seeing other mutants does is remind me that I'm one of them."
She stood up, and tossed the yogurt in the garbage, a lot of it obviously still uneaten. She went back upstairs, presumably to grab her backpack.
I finished my cereal, and went to the sink to rinse my bowl and spoon. When I turned back around, Dad met my gaze. He said nothing, just looked at me with distress on his face. At least he was actually looking at me.
"I appreciate you trying Dad," I made the first move, "but she isn't going to change her mind. She doesn't like this, and getting bullied at school probably doesn't help at all. I certainly can't help her. She hates me. I'm the reason for all of this."
"You made a mistake Matt," he said, "but so did she. Even beyond that, it was an accident. You don't deserve to be scorned forever because of it. I'm sorry that I got so upset at you because of it."
"It doesn't matter who deserves what," I said, walking to where I'd put my backpack against the wall. "I can only control my own actions, and no one else's."
I slung my backpack on. Dad continued to stare at me. I couldn't read his expression. I began to turn around and walk towards the front door.
I turned back around.
"I love you. I'm sorry that I've done a bad job of communicating that. I... I honestly have had a hard time getting used to the new you. I've refused to acknowledge it. That was a terrible thing for me to do. I'm sorry."
I started to turn around again.
I sighed, glancing back at him.
"If this is really what you want... I'm happy for you. I still won't pretend that I understand why, but I'll try to be kinder. If you really... if you really feel comfortable with it, you can... wag your... tail... and, well, all that, and I'll try my best not to judge."
"Again Dad," I said, "I appreciate it, but it's hard for me to separate what you're saying from the fact that you found out last night you were going to become canis."
Dad ran his hand through his hair. "I knew the risks as soon as I foolishly decided to use myself as a test subject - but you're right. I didn't really accept until last night what was going to happen."
"I'm going to warn you Dad, it's going to be hard."
"I know that. Of the former Generation employees at my work, a few know I did this - and they're going to say 'I told you so' as soon as they find out."
"Everything is going to change for you Dad," I said. "The simple act of going out into a public place, buying groceries or something - it's never going to feel the same."
"I know," he said. "I know. Right now though, all that matters to me is your mom. She was... I can't remember the last time I saw her this upset."
"I think it was when we were camping a few years ago, and we had to eat lunch cowering under a tree in the middle of a massive downpour."
A smile briefly came to his face. "Oh she was upset then... but no. I can't remember a time I so strongly disappointed her like this. I feel like the whole time we've been married, I've been pushing myself as hard as I could to keep her, and then you both, as happy as possible... I let myself get so pulled along by that momentum, that I didn't really stop to just... "
I breathed in deep, doing my best to put away my resentment. "I understand Dad."
He got up, and gave me a brief hug. I realized then, that it had been a very, very long time since he had hugged me.
When he let me go, he made a small chuckle.
"It's... nothing," he smiled. "Just... I don't know, it feels like I'm hugging a stuffed animal or something."
"Well...," I said, "that... that's a weird thing to say, but at least it wasn't rude, at least."
"I hope you can have patience with me Matt."
"I'll try. I'll try. Right now though, I'm just more worried about Mom."
Dad's smile vanished. "Me too. But she cares about you and Ashley. She is trying to adjust to this same as me, but she still cares."
"She cares about you too Dad."
He bowed his head. "I sure hope so. You have a good day at school, alright?"
"Okay." I tried to give some amount of a smile. He was trying, and I understood this was hard for him and Mom, but gosh, it still hurt.
I realized as I walked out the door that Jackie had probably given me a pretty false idea of how other people reacted to canis. Until now, my family had been the only non-canis people I'd interacted with - and now that was changing. The thought of all of us... all of us being this way... it was hard for me to imagine.
Part of me hoped that it might help bring us together, all going through the same struggle, but I wasn't sure. Ashley seemed to become annoyed if she just happened to catch me smile.
But I wasn't going to give into despair like her. I wanted to be happy. My world had been upended, my life was never going to be the same, but I wanted to live. I wanted other people to latch onto that as well.
I didn't know what everyone out there was feeling. I didn't know what Ashley and others were feeling deep down - but I knew that you could be canis, and be happy - and in the day ahead, organizing our first club meeting, I was determined to show it.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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