School was starting to feel a little bit less anxiety inducing. Jackie was doing a lot better, thankfully. She even had the confidence to walk around without her hood up. While non-canis people were by no means comfortable around us, most people seemed to have gotten past the initial shock. The constant feeling of being stared at like a creature in a zoo was subsiding, replaced by occasional passing glances. I still didn't like it, but it was an encouraging sign that things were improving.
During lunch we made sure that we had everything ready for the first meeting of our club. The school had apparently sent out an email to all the canis students about it, so we hoped to get a good turn out.
After the bell rang for the last period of the day, I made my way swiftly to our designated classroom. It was one of the art rooms, and we were offered it partially because the art teacher, Mrs. Anderson, was also canis. When I got there, I found a nice little poster outside saying "Welcome to the Canis Club," with little drawings of paws. Inside, Jackie and Sadie were already there moving tables.
"Just make sure that when you're done you line the tables back up," Mrs. Anderson said. "There's strips of tape on the floor with the table number written on them."
Mrs. Anderson appeared to be some kind of dark colored labrador. Labradors seemed to be one of the more common canis breeds, along with golden retrievers.
"Alright," Sadie said, "thanks again for letting us use your room."
"Oh it's not much trouble," she said. "I have an open period at the end of the day on Friday to get all my work done, so you guys are free to use my room."
"Thanks," I said, setting down my backpack. I went over to Jackie and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.
"Well I appreciate what you're all doing for your fellow canis students," Mrs. Anderson said. "You all seem to be holding up well, but I know that a lot of them... they need some friends."
"And I think a lot just need a break," Jackie said.
Mrs. Anderson nodded. "Well good luck to you all, let me know how it goes."
We waved bye to her as she walked out the door. A moment later, Aidan walked into the room. He was carrying a laundry basket full of board games, and had a cheerful expression.
"Woah," Sadie chuckled as he dropped them down on a table, "that's a lot."
"Yeah," I said, "you sure we're even going to have that many people?"
Aidan shrugged, and laughed. "I could've brought a lot more. I'm not passing up an opportunity to rope people into playing some of my games."
I walked over and examined some of them - they all looked to be kind of intense strategy games.
"Uhhh," I said, a bit uncertain.
"Don't worry," Aidan smiled. He opened his backpack, pulling out more games, these ones in smaller boxes and looking a lot more casual. "Like I said, I could've gotten more. Next week I'll maybe load up my car with another basket."
I laughed. "We'll have to see. I'll be happy if even just a few people come."
I felt my tablet buzz in my pocket, and found a text from Douglas asking a few people to come outside and help bring in the pizzas. I recruited Jackie, and we left the classroom and made our way outside to the parking lot.
When we got to Douglas's truck, I ran my hand through my hair, a little bit overwhelmed.
"That's... a lot of pizza," Jackie said as she looked into the back of the truck.
I got a whiff of it, and as always, the smell permeated my canine senses. I suddenly realized I was very hungry.
Douglas smiled. "The school gave us money, we might as well use it. Load up."
We carefully stacked up as much as we could in our arms. Douglas took a bit of taller stack to get the last few boxes. We must've had something like fifteen. I gritted my teeth as Douglas tried to shut the truck door with his back, but thankfully he had much better balance than I did. Jackie however wouldn't let him try to open the door to the school with all the pizza boxes in hand, setting down hers to open the doors for us.
When we got back to Mrs. Anderson's classroom, I found a few unfamiliar faces - a border collie boy, and a beagle boy. They were kind of hanging off to the side, away from where Sadie and Aidan were talking. Aidan and Sadie took some of our pizzas and helped us set them down. I walked over to the two new guys as the others went to grab plates and napkins.
"Hi," I greeted, "what are your names?"
"William," the border collie boy said.
Colton was visibly nervous, and avoided eye contact with me.
"Nice," I said. "What year in school are you?"
"Junior," William said.
"Well welcome," I smiled. "Grab some pizza, and then we have a lot of games to choose from."
Both of them nodded, and made their way over to the food tables, where the others had now placed plates and napkins. As the time passed, more and more canis people slowly came in. Most of them of them fell into the same breeds, though occasionally there was an outlier, like a boy who was some breed of bulldog.
Soon a good sized group of people were there, sitting and eating in a circle. Everyone talking, and to my satisfaction, they seemed to be in a good mood. Still more people came in, and it was getting harder to greet them all.
I took a moment to break from saying hi to newcomers, and sat down next to Jackie, after grabbing a slice of pizza. We sat down on the side of the room away from everyone, letting out an exasperated breath.
"There are a lot more canis people at the school than I thought there would be," Jackie said.
"Yeah," I said, "I suppose the... what, forty odd people in here isn't too many people compared to the more than a thousand students here. Still, in a way it's kind of crazy looking over the room and seeing only canis people."
"Well not quite," Jackie said, pointing over to where Aidan was setting up a game, "there's still Greg and Ted."
Huh. I hadn't expected to see them here, but I guessed they had been sitting in while we'd been talking about it during lunch. I felt a bit bad for not thinking to include them. I then started noticing one or two other normal people, I guessed they'd come with canis friends. That was just alright with me. It was good for them to get used to interacting with canis people.
"This feels good," Jackie said. She smiled, closing her eyes and leaning back against the wall. "I feel like I'm out in the world doing something, but no one is fixated on me. I can just blend into the background."
"Oh don't blend in too much," I smiled, putting my arm around her. "You've done a good job helping put this together, and deserve recognition."
Jackie glanced to the classroom's window, opened up to the hall, where their poster advertised the club.
"Hey Matt, Jackie," Douglas called to us from the circle of people, "the whole point of this was to socialize, come join us!"
I let out a half-joking groan, and got up with Jackie. Douglas pulled some chairs over for us to join the circle. I noticed that we were running low on chairs, as a few people were sitting cross legged on the floor.
"So you know what I've been thinking about," a light colored labrador boy was saying across the circle, "is that you know that once they figure out how to edit this virus, all the sudden there's gonna be a bunch of cat people."
"Ew," a girl said.
I couldn't quite place what dog breed she looked like. Some kind of spaniel?
"I don't know about that," the girl went on. "I mean, I kinda know there are people who intentionally try to get canis, but they can do it on the down low. You can claim you just got infected somehow - but like, becoming a cat person when you could just become human again? Pretty obvious I'd say."
"Who said that they'd have a cure by then?" the boy said. "The way I see it, these genetics companies make way more money if they start developing all these other crazy things."
"Pff," another guy huffed.
"Wouldn't you still make a lot of money selling a cure?" a different girl said. "In that circumstance you could likely lobby the government to have a program to distribute it nationwide, guaranteeing you revenue."
The labrador boy looked a bit stumped, and he appeared to have been dead set on looking at it one way. I didn't really want to get involved in this argument, as my dad was one of the people working for these big companies, and that might have the potential to muddle my argument. My family wasn't exactly poor.
"Whatever the case," the boy said, "in the next decade, I'm sure, things are going to get nuts. Like humans think we're weird now, but wait until some guy decides he wants to be a lizard and have those weird ball eyes. Or we're going to get some people like literally becoming centaurs or mermaids, or grow wings on their backs! Us canis people, we'll be relatively normal by comparison."
A couple people laughed after this remark.
"Horace, you don't understand how complicated genetics is," a guy said. "It's only by a sheer miracle that we didn't all turn into cancer ridden blobs with the virus, or end up crippled, or unable to smell, or have serious brain damage - for all the external changes to our appearance, other than like the jaw and our tail bone, most of us is the same. You're talking about genetic stuff on an entirely different level."
"It isn't even that simple," another guy added, "there's stuff like our ears that were altered a lot, but still, that's small potatoes compared to making a person that can fly."
"Whatever," Horace wave his paw-hand. "The bottom line is there's going to be more non-humans, cat people especially."
I scooted my chair forward, feeling a little impulsive.
"You keep saying that," I said.
"Saying what specifically?" Horace asked.
"Humans - as in, other people are humans, we are not."
Horace looked at me incredulously, huffing a laugh. "Dude, look at me, at us - at yourself - we aren't humans anymore in the slightest."
"I just think it isn't the best way to put things," I said. "The word 'human' has so many strong connotations to it. We talk about someone feeling very 'human emotions', or when someone is making an apathetic choice, we make an appeal to someone's humanity - and I just feel like saying we are not humans makes it sound like we lack human emotion, human kindness."
"Well I got news for you buddy," Horace said. "The humans don't really care. They think that we're all freaks. It'd be nice to be called a human, but they aren't going to allow us that."
"Well I'm calling myself a human," a golden retriever girl near him said, "and I don't really care if other people are going to be jerks about it."
Horace then proceeded to argue about more stuff, as I glanced to Douglas, then to Jackie. This "conversation" wasn't much fun anymore. The three of us got up from our chairs, and walked over to where Jackie and I had been sitting before.
"I'd say," Douglas whispered, "to keep an eye on people like that in the club."
I shrugged. "What would we do, kick him out or something?"
"Well, yeah," Jackie said. "People came here to chill out, not to debate about whether or not they're human beings."
"If you're too skittish about it," Douglas said, "I'll take him aside once he stops talking, and have a little chat."
"Alright," I said, "just... be gentle."
Hopefully that could be resolved peacefully, but I didn't exactly want our club to have someone who was such a downer. I already got my fill of that at home with Ashley.
I also did not want needless drama from setting someone off. We were all going through really difficult stuff, and the last thing I needed was a guy doing his best to stir people up.
Douglas nodded to what I'd said, and went over to a table where some people were setting up a game. Jackie looked like she wanted to just sit for a moment, so I walked around and watched what everyone was up to.
I was feeling like playing a game, so I went over to the classroom's sink to wash my hands. Washing my pawlike hands was still something I had to get used to, when it was a bit harder to get them to feel clean, and then harder to get them dry.
As I probably was using too many paper towels, I noticed five or so people just kind of hanging on the side of the room, eating pizza alone. They seemed a bit shy, and all but one of them had their hoods pulled up, covering their canine ears.
"Hi," I said, walking over to one of them.
"Hi," the boy said quietly.
"You guys wanna play some games or something?"
"I'm not really in the mood."
"I j-just," a girl near him said, "I just... feel like everyone is already p-playing something, and they're in their own groups... plus there's not much space left..."
"Hm," I said, contemplating the situation. I didn't want to force them to be social. I did want to reach out to anyone that I could though.
Then I remembered that there was a classroom connected to this one - the ceramics class. Perhaps the teacher would be willing to let us use their class, if it was just a few people.
I walked over to the connecting door, and opened it a little bit. A few students were in there, working on ceramics projects, while the teacher sat at her desk working on something. She looked up from her computer.
"Hi," I stepped in, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we have a lot of people here who want to play games, and I was wondering if it'd be okay if some came in here."
She sighed. "Well, I'm trying to get some grades entered and get other work done. I can't really have too much noise."
The way she had said that last part implied that we were already being a bit loud. I set my jaw.
"It's just one group of people, five of them, and they seem more of the quiet type. They just seem a bit intimidated by the rest of the people."
The teacher fidgeted in her chair a bit, thinking it over. "Okay, just as long as they don't get in the way of my students working on projects."
"Alright," I said, "thanks."
A few minutes later, I was able to coerce the group of canis students into the other classroom. I noticed that at least a couple of them seemed uneasy with the non-canis people in the room, but I did my best to set up the game and distract them. I played a round of the game with them - it was just a simple card game, and they seemed to have a good time, staying in raised spirits after I told them I was going to check on the other room.
When I came back in, I took inventory of everything. Jackie and Douglas were playing a game with some people, Aidan was holding some other people hostage playing one of his games. Despite the exhaustion of the other players, Aidan was brimming with satisfaction. On the opposite end, that labrador guy, Horace, sat off in a corner with a surly look in his eye.
I considered going over and talking with him, but felt we'd prodded him enough for today. I didn't want drama, and bugging him too much was one way to do that.
That aside, Horace and what he'd been saying had been sticking with me. The initial shock was wearing off from the massive change that had happened in the world. As everyone collected themselves, times were on the horizon that other things would be changing in response. People were going to start thinking about how we were going to interact with each other, with all that had happened.
As much as I wished it wasn't the case, even with the peace and security I had with my friends, and what I hoped I could have again with my family, there was still going to be a lot of difficulty ahead. The world was going to get a lot more complicated, and I was going to get dragged through it, whether I liked it or not.
But for the moment, I had the opportunity to help people in need of friendship. Looking around the room, I saw people who weren't afraid to exist. They could be happy without thinking about canis, or prejudice, or the stresses of life.
Just for today, I could sit back and rest easy, knowing that in the immediate present, things were going right.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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