It was probably for the best that I hadn't known just how brief that contentment would be. As we were cleaning up everything from the club, I got a text from Mom asking when I would be home - and I knew from experience that it was a bad sign.
But still, we'd been able to bring canis people together, and lift their spirits - even the small group in the other classroom seemed to have had a good time. My friends seemed to exude a new air of confidence. Jackie wore a smile the whole time, and didn't seem nervous, or embarrassed - even when she let herself wag her tail a bit.
Aidan seemed to have managed to get Sadie to enjoy one of his really complicated strategy games. Most people however, seemed to find them a bit too much. Aidan though didn't seem bothered. I caught a glimpse of him wagging his tail too once or twice.
Douglas however had somewhat dampened spirits. He was in a good mood, but was visibly sad that Wendy hadn't come. She still was trying to ignore what had happened to her - and it seemed like the last thing she'd want to do, was hangout with a bunch of people that would remind her of who she now was.
Douglas and I had talked for a bit as the club winded down. He admitted that he was a bit envious of me and Jackie - that despite going through this, we in fact only grew closer. Wendy however, seemed to like my parents, be uncomfortable looking at Douglas, even though Wendy was the one who had infected him.
Only time would tell though. I was emboldened by what we'd accomplished today. We'd brought at least some of the canis students together - and perhaps we would even need to consider finding more space. We'd been forthright to the attendees that pizza couldn't be a thing every week, but it seemed at least a good amount of people would come again. Even if the club didn't stick around forever, I got a sense that maybe people would start making some friends.
I felt filled with energy as I got home. Coming through the door however, I remembered that Mom and Dad had been waiting for me.
"Come into the living room and sit down," Mom said as she met me at the door.
I swallowed, wiping my foot-paws on the door mat. When I walked into the living room, I saw Dad already sitting on the couch with Ashley. Mom sat down on the other couch. Ashley had an odd expression. She seemed... indignant, but... I wasn't sure.
"Okay," Mom said as I sat down next to her, "we need to talk about things."
"Like what?" I asked.
"Like how we're going to act in the future."
I breathed in calmly, and exhaled. "I don't really see what the problem is. I accept your apology. I'm sorry for anything I've done wrong to the rest of you. It's going to be rough moving forward but - "
"You," Dad said, "are not the problem today."
He looked to Ashley with a displeased expression.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Ashley," Mom said, "bit a boy at school today."
Ashley looked up, and unnervingly, made a wicked smile.
"You should've seen it Matt," she grinned. "He has tortured me so viciously this past week, and even before any of this happened, he made fun of me behind my back, but now he is going to know exactly how I feel. He is going to be mocked by his former friends, he is going to -"
"That's enough," Dad said, gripping her shoulder tightly. "I don't care what people say about you - and what people will say about us, violence is not the answer. You are not going to improve treatment of canis people by attacking bullies."
"No amount of kind hearted pleas to mercy were going to change that awful demon of a guy," Ashley said. "I lost control of my anger, but the consequence was well deserved."
"No," Mom said, "no more of this. You have moaned about how you look like a monster Ashley. But this behavior is the kind of thing I actually find concerning."
Ashley stood up straighter, attempting to shrug Dad's hand away, but he didn't budge.
"I'll do it again. I'll fight back against anyone if that's what it'll take to get them to leave me alone."
"Do you want to go to juvie Ashley?" I said, "You're attacking people! You could ruin your whole life!"
"I have no life," she spat the words. "I have no -"
"Ashley," Mom said.
"I can't," Mom teared up, "... just... "
Mom wheezed, and put her hands over her face.
"Do you realize," Mom said, "how this makes me feel? You're getting out of control, and it seems like you don't care about anything anymore. It feels like anything I say to you is completely disregarded."
"I'm sorry mother," she said. "My life was unfortunately completely ruined recently."
"That's it Ashley," Dad said. "You're grounded. Your tablet is only for homework now. Every day when you get home you're going to go into the dining room, and work on your homework, and when you're done, you're giving it to me or Mom until the next morning."
This gave Ashley pause, and her sarcastic attitude was immediately quenched.
"No Dad, I-I'm sorry, I know that was stupid, and I - "
"It's too late," he said. "It pains me that you've been dealing with this, but I can't tolerate you attacking one of your classmates, and I especially am not going to tolerate you talking like that to your mother, or to me."
"Fine," she said, fishing her tablet out of her pocket. "Take it."
"And I'm not going to let you sit around the house doing nothing either," Dad said, taking it away from her. "I have some stuff that you can help me with at my work."
Ashley clenched her fists, staring at the ground, as if it had been the one to take her tablet away. She was so tensed up that I wondered if she was even breathing.
There was a long silence. I looked awkwardly at Mom and Dad.
"We," Mom said, "are going to have a lot of challenges ahead as a family. I hate seeing the way we're acting. At this point, I don't really care what we've said or done to each other. What's going to happen is going to happen. We're going to all have canis. We're going to need to learn to live with that, and I want us, at the very least, to actually be able to be happy here at home."
"I'm not going to be happy anywhere," Ashley said. "But where I'm at right now I feel especially unhappy. Do I need to be in this room any longer? I want to go up to my room and be alone."
"Okay," Mom said weakly. "You can go."
Ashley got up very quickly and left the room. As she left, I could tell that she was starting to cry. I just... I felt completely unequipped to do anything about her, and so I felt like I should let Mom and Dad handle it.
As soon as she was gone, the atmosphere in the room, while not particularly great, was much more calm.
"I just...," Mom said, shuddering, "how to... how to help her."
"Maybe," Dad said, "maybe... she'll feel a bit better... after..."
"After I change?"
Mom rotated her hand in front of her, and I saw a patch of golden fur growing on the back of her hand.
"I'm not sure," Mom said. "I hope maybe you're right Lucas. I'm afraid though it will only prompt her to shut in even more."
Mom cradled her head in her hand. She wasn't crying - she seemed in fact, drained of emotion, which made me feel even more uncomfortable. Dad ran his hand along her back - and I noticed that the top of his ears were starting to droop. I still hadn't fully processed that my parents were going to change too. It was hard for me to imagine at that moment. He glanced to me.
"I don't know what you're looking at me for," I said. "I've only just recently gotten a girlfriend, I barely understand how to talk to girls."
"She's your sister Matt," Dad said. "You know who she is."
"I don't know Dad. She's changed so much in the past few years. She's a teenage girl, in a completely different world from what I know."
"I don't think that's true," Dad said. He sighed. "At very least Matt... and I'm not saying that I'm any better at this than you - try not to antagonize her."
"Well, taking away her contact with all her geeky online friends probably wasn't the best way to avoid doing that."
"Just because she's going through a rough time, doesn't mean we should let her do whatever she wants."
"What... what exactly was this boy doing to her," I asked, "the guy that she bit?"
"From what I understand," he said, "talking to the school - and to the boy's parents - it seems that Ashley was caught writing some poetry, and about a boy she had a crush on in one of her classes. This other boy saw it, and - "
"She was writing poetry?"
"Matt, please don't make fun of your sister, especially with how she's been lately."
"I wasn't," I said honestly, "I just... I didn't know that was something she did."
"Anyway," Dad continued, Mom slowly sitting up, rubbing a hand against her face, "the boy... apparently said some really, really awful things. To the effect of, no one was ever going to want to date her - at the same time mocking the boy she was interested in as being nearly ugly enough."
"Thankfully," Mom cut in, seemingly eager to move past that, "it sounds like his parents were pretty angry at him when they found out - also thank goodness for us, they aren't going to pursue any legal action, which they totally could've done."
"But she just went and bit him," Dad said. "Despite all of Ashley's bravado, I know that she feels ashamed. Apparently everyone in her school is talking about it. She's one of the few canis people in her school, and so she's being blasted by all of her classmates online."
"I think being without her tablet for a while will be good," Mom said. "But... gosh, going back to school on Monday will still be hard for her... especially considering she's going to have detention for at least the next week."
"Gosh," I said. "I just... I hope she's able to get through this."
"I'll take her to work with me tomorrow," Dad said. "Hopefully take her mind off things, get her occupied working on something. You could come too Matt."
I shook my head. "I don't... I don't think that's the best idea. She just... doesn't seem very comfortable around me."
"Well she's going to be uncomfortable around all of us soon enough," Mom said, "she may as well get used to it."
"I'd rather not push it," I said. "Besides, I was feeling like hanging out with my friends."
"Okay," Dad said. "But I do want you to come into the lab sometime. I want to take a look at your blood, and see what's going on in with the virus in the two of you. It is not supposed to remain active like this. Everything I've been reading up on about it indicates that in every case, the virus flares up, changes the canis person, and then goes inactive to the point of the immune system purging it from the body."
"So... I still have the virus... and it's still active. Is that... bad?"
"I... I don't know Matt," Dad said. "You and Ashley seem to be functioning fine enough... physically at least... but I want to make sure."
"Okay," I said. I... I'm going to go work on some homework before dinner."
"Alright," Dad said.
He grasped Mom's hand. She held her hand in his limply for a moment, and then grasped his more firmly. I wasn't sure how she felt about all of this. I hoped that they would find a way to resolve their conflicts with each other - like with Ashley, it felt so draining to watch, and yet I felt powerless to do anything.
Going into working on my homework, I was feeling a little bit better about things. I'd been starting to worry that we were on the verge of our family having a total breakdown, but it seemed to have cooled a bit for now. I just wanted a break from it all - not a break like I got from going to Jackie's house, or being at school - but I wanted a break from the worry, from the stress.
Part of me hoped that they would, over time, embrace it. That they would come to like it, or at least not mind it. But I had to stomach the fact that maybe this wasn't to be. Some people just got locked in this mindset - and I supposed some people were just fundamentally different from me. Whether it was because I had the treatment as a child, and other people got the virus from infection, I guess didn't matter.
I decided then, that I needed to be tolerant of others, if I wanted them to be tolerant of me. I wasn't going to let other people, including Ashley or my parents insult me if I wanted to honestly show that I felt happy, but I wasn't going to belittle them as they struggled to adjust to things.
I guessed that even though it was not my ideal happy ending where we were the happy canis family, maybe we could just be a happy family, and the canis part didn't matter.
I closed my tablet and laid down on my bed, thinking. Thinking about how I could help Ashley, if at all. I thought about how I had been able to help Jackie - and in the end, I couldn't really organize it into specific actions. I'd just listened to her. I had been kind to her. She had been at times hostile towards me - but I'd also had the opportunity to be with her when she needed help.
I wasn't sure what I could do with Ashley though. Perhaps I was overcomplicating things. Maybe the answer was to keep my distance for a while - and then try to think of ways to be kind to her.
All that mattered to me was that I try to think of others. Canis had been a rough experience for me, and it was not over by the slightest, but I had recognized while going through it that I had acted self centered in the past. I didn't want to be that Matt anymore. I wanted to focus my life on helping others, and finding honest enjoyment out of that.
It was a matter of harsh necessity. If I did not make an effort to go out and help canis people, few other people would.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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