by Malcolm Cross
(First Chapter Sneak Preview)
1. – What Was Your Name?, or, The Olive Thing
There it was, that electric thing. That eyes meeting across the room thing, that burning racetrack going from her eyes to the pit of her gut thing, that flutter that kept drifting lower and lower and lower. It was the glint in his eye. It was the slow, reflexive warmth of the smile curling across her face. It was the press of the crowd that had parted and opened a clear line of sight for one perfect little moment. One electric little second.
Jade’s heart was hammering on her breastbone like it wanted out. Spotting that subtle black curve was what did it to her, what stole her breath away. She could be forgiven for forgetting the name of the guy she was speaking with. She smiled winsomely. “Oh, I’m sorry, uh… uhm… I’m sorry, sweetie, I just, ah…” She gestured helplessly.
The guy with the name she couldn’t quite remember cleared his throat, pointedly gesturing at his lapel.
She batted her pretty green eyes at him, obligingly let her gaze fall to the small plastic stick-on ruining the lines of his suit. ‘Harold Dubanowski’, it read.
“Oh,” Jade said. “That’s right. Harold.” Another smile. Smiles worked on everybody, Jade had learned that lesson young.
Harold frowned at her. Two drinks had done his round face no favours, left it pink and red. The frown helped even less. She’d been really into him, too. His flushed skin had been cute, she’d wanted to make him flush even deeper shades. At least, that was before she’d seen that perfect black curve. Before he’d started talking, again. “As I was saying, the situation in Mongolia is simply horrific, they don’t even…”
Something about running water, something about medical care, something, something else that didn’t matter… Jade glanced away again, but couldn’t see past all the people anymore. Where was he? The guy with that glint in his eye? With that perfect black curve?
Harold cleared his throat. “Jade?”
“Sweetie, I’m sorry. You’ll have to excuse me.” She reached out and ever so lightly touched his chest.
Harold stopped talking. He tipped his head forward, wide eyes locked on her slender and sandy-furred fingertips grazing the silk of his tie. “Ah… right,” he stammered.
That was another lesson she’d learned, when she’d gotten older. If smiles didn’t work, touching did. Plus, sometimes humans didn’t believe she was real until she touched them.
Jade lightly caught her lip between her teeth. Harold smelled good, but humans couldn’t hold a scent very well. Cologne simply melted off skin, but applied properly to fur? The whole bouquet could linger for hours.
No. Harold wouldn’t do. Besides, his purple tie clashed a little against her tawny-yellow fur. Black, on the other hand, went great with her fur. With every tiny bit of her fur.
Jade wound her smile up into a flirtatious little smirk and swept on, away from Harold and his humanist concerns. She got enough of that stuff at work. Hell, arguably she was at work. Semi-formal drinks and nibbles with a little music, the staff from the Eastern-Aid Trust, donors, art people responsible for the lobby installation, art people who’d come to look at the lobby installation, some of the glitzerati who had links to the Trust… Apart from the drinks and nibbles and music, the only real difference from the usual work routine was that it was crowded, they never hung around the lobby this much, and usually she was tied to a desk. (But not in the fun way. Ever.)
With each step she got further away from Harold and closer to him. Which didn’t leave her much time for the essentials, but since she couldn’t be seen over the heads of the crowd, she still had a chance to do the bare minimum. Run her hand over her scarlet hair, make sure it was straight. Stroke her knuckle from her chin down the length of her muzzle to her throat, smooth her fur after ruffling it while flirtatiously touching herself. Deal with the stick-on label. Did she have time? She had to have time to deal with it, it looked awful on Harold, worse on her. A white square on her little black dress? If the damn little thing didn’t do the building control for the party she wouldn’t have put it on at all.
And it wouldn’t change! She could tap it into displaying her name a few different ways — J. Dixon was suitably anonymous, that could have been almost any of Jade’s hundred and sixty-seven clone siblings — but the stick-on was too cheap to change colour. Worse still, when she tried peeling it off, the damn thing stuck to her fingers and no amount of shaking would dislodge it. Ugh. Unsexy.
She smiled prettily at a confused onlooker — donor, probably — who seemed to think he knew her (he didn’t, Jade would’ve recognised those eyebrows) and who definitely hadn’t thought the world of her performance shaking off the stick-on. That wasn’t going to help her poor ego one iota, but at least he thought she was Janice or one of Jade’s other sisters, so she was free to studiously ignore him while turning her back on the majority of the room to settle for scraping the little label onto the interior of her dress’s neckline.
There. She tugged her dress straight and patted the fabric flat. That’d work. It was a little scrunched and the glue snagged her fur, but with the damn thing inside her dress and against her cleavage she wouldn’t have to worry about him seeing the stick-on until there were better things to distract his eyes with.
Unless, of course, if the stick-on was scrunched up enough to put a wrinkled lump in the dress where it was meant to cling to her curves. Jade angled her way around a conversation about that famine in Mongolia while trying to look down at herself without being too obvious, but no doubt she ended up looking like she was about to stab herself in the boob with her nose. God, there were moments she hated having a long snout. So fucking inelegant.
No, she looked okay. And if people were staring at her, it was because she wasn’t, y’know. Human. She was a thylacine. Well. Genetically engineered out of one, anyway. And not that, y’know, anybody ever knew what Tasmanian tigers were. So it was natural that folks would stare, and while some things didn’t look elegant with her tawny-yellow fur and white throat, with her somewhat canid features, with that long damn snout, a smile did. A long and sensual curl at the corner of her lip, with her head turned just so as she went by, just a little bit of flirt in it… the guy she was brushing past stopped dead, licking his lips without even really thinking about it.
Jade had this. She had this. She’d thrown Harold back into the water, and was ready to hook the man with that familiar black curve she wanted so badly. She combed her fingers through her red tresses again the once, just the once, flicked her hair over her shoulder, perked up her ears attentively, and swung past the last couple of people milling around as if she were a football player dodging around the defence line and sprinting right into–
The clique of chatting donors, glitzerati, and the guy with the glint in his eye broke apart before her stunning assault. A petite grin from her, and a lift of her shoulder, and there was that subtly sexual way she had to pause and pant to catch her breath, too. Of course they stopped to look at her. Of course.
A human guy, some grey faced old man concerned about some very interesting (and no doubt very worthy) cause, blinked at her, chopped off in the middle of his sentence. The narrow-chinned blonde in a Marie Ou evening gown listening to him was jealous of Jade’s McCauley and Fern dress, judging by her glare. And the guy with the glint in his eye? There it was. That glint. That sharp yellow-green glint on a slit feline pupil, the kind Jade knew and loved. There it was, that curve. That point, on his blunt chin, that angled around through silky black fur to the hollow between his throat and jaw.
He was tall enough to wrap her up in his arms warm and tight, and thin enough not to weigh too much on top of her, and kinda slinky in the limbs and spine department… Jade knew. She knew exactly what this black-furred jaguar looked like under that over-expensive suit. She knew she liked that over-expensive suit. Not Whitney’s and Shaw, but she liked it. She knew she was going to enjoy taking it off that body she knew so well, too.
She knew she was getting stared at. She knew she liked that.
Greyface champed his jaw, blinking, trying to recoup the thread of thought that had led to some twisty little conversation about money and the third world, and Envy-Eyes flicked her gaze between the old guy and Jade’s skirt, clenching her teeth like she wanted to stab Jade to death with the point of her chin, and some trust-fund boy said, “Hi,” like he had a chance in hell, and Jade didn’t even care.
Because Jade’s next casual fuck? He looked at her with a burning desire to hear her say something to get him away from this conversation so they could start screwing.
Okay. It was a lot of conjecture on Jade’s part, but she was pretty sure his pained wince, as Greyface nodded vaguely at her and started talking again, meant exactly what she wanted it to.
“The, ah, security situation means we can’t exactly apply funds as easily as we’d–”
Jade cleared her throat. “Uhm, hi!” She shrugged her shoulders up, clasping her hands together. She even flounced just the eensiest bit, putting on the persona of ditzy secretary with all the ease of pulling on a new blouse.
“–like…” Greyface cast a glare in her direction.
“Mr. Young?” Jade earnestly looked up at her next casual fuck.
He returned her attention with a faint smirk, ever so carefully letting it crawl up the side of his face closest to her, keeping it hidden from the others. Mr. Young had a short muzzle with teeth just sharper than hers, a face that was all broad flat masculine lines… and he had that glint in his eye. “Yes?” A pause. “Miss Dixon?” And he had that perfect curve of throat, lined with black fur, just under his chin.
A tingle raced its way up and down Jade’s spine, past the scattering of black stripes across her lower back. Hot and electric, zipping around and around, making her hope like hell he was going to take her breath away.
He knew who she was. Well, not who she was, but broadly, who her sisters were. That their last name was Dixon, like how he and all his brothers were called Young. That they were gengineered thylacines with identical genes, much like how he and his brothers were black-furred jaguar clones. To continue her thread of conjecture, he might’ve had his eye on her or one of her sisters, or maybe already had a casual screw with one of them.
So maybe, like her, he knew exactly what he was doing tonight. Knew every curve, every sensitive spot, every way to make her shiver. God, she hoped so. She was going to give him the best ride of his life, tonight. She’d had plenty of practice on one of his brothers.
Jade stilled her racing heart with a few well-placed breaths, and stilled her eagerly swaying tail by catching the tip between her knees for a moment. “I’m so sorry for interrupting,” she purred at Greyface and Envy-Eyes, “but one of the Trust’s staff is desperate to meet Mr. Young privately…”
He didn’t flinch away from her hand on his elbow.
The suit’s fabric was sleek, rubbed only a little against the pads of her palm. The muscles underneath the suit were just as firm as she remembered — harder, if anything. His hand came up and flattened over hers, a warm, steady pressure — the faintest hint of those short little retractile claws pricking at her flesh. “Well, I expect you’ll have to excuse me, Jim.”
Jim — Greyface — cast a dubious look over Jade, but nodded ever so slightly. “Well, as I was saying, we can’t apply funds as easily as we’d like, leading to…”
Whatever. It didn’t matter. Jade wasn’t at work, even though she was at work. Tonight was for fun. There were drinks, and nibbles, and this was a party, so Jade was going to do what she did at parties. And there would be no consequences, none at all. Nobody would be able to look at her funny in the morning, nobody would be able to hold it against her. She’d simply have a great night with a great guy, enjoy herself, and leave his place in the morning.
Envy-Eyes watched her drag Mr. Young away with no small amount of envy. Jade didn’t give two shits. She just flashed her happily swaying tail in the woman’s direction while making her getaway, Mr. Young warm and solid at her side as they put three more little cliques of conversation behind them.
“One of the Trust’s staff wants to meet me privately, huh?” His voice was a dark and sultry weight on her ears, pushing away the babble of conversation.
She moulded herself against his side, biting her lip ever so softly. “I work for the Trust.”
He couldn’t help smirking. “Do you now, Miss Dixon?”
“Ja–” She stopped herself. No strings. Making sure that there was nothing for anyone else to judge her about, nothing for anyone else to use to make her feel like she was doing something wrong, meant making sure that there were no names along with no strings. She cleared her throat prettily, and blinked up at him with her most appealing smile. “Jamie.”
His voice was even, though still amused. “Jamie. Isn’t that a boy’s name?”
Jade shrugged her shoulder in that way, the one she’d practiced in the mirror. The way that suggested the shoulder strap of her dress might just slide right off. The way she’d picked up right after seeing one of her sisters do it. “I guess. You must be something with a C? Charlie?”
“Cal,” she repeated, that tingle down her spine now a chill.
He nodded firmly, lifting his left hand lightly, rubbing his fingers together self-consciously. “Cal.”
She nodded. It just sounded similar. Like Jade and Jane, or Janey and Jamie, or any number of names. That was simply what happened when you saddled a couple hundred people with the same initials. No reason to feel chills.
With her smile back on, warm and appealing, she cast her eyes up at his dark chin, where the curves of his neck all vanished into shadowy black fur… where Cal was, no doubt, particularly warm to kiss. To lick.
Except that despite the feeling that it was just the two of them now, they were still in the lobby. There were still almost a thousand people (she’d helped check the guestlist) wandering around, drinking drinks, talking small talk, admiring and making conversation about the lobby’s new art installation, which had thus proved itself to be an admirable conversation-piece. So in a sense, they were alone. The two of them, doing the only thing they weren’t meant to do tonight: enjoy the party.
His eyes trailed down her hair to her shoulder. The point of his focus was like a tingling little glow — the tip of a tongue, lapping through her fur. She couldn’t shake that memory. How she’d expected rough barbs, only to find his brother’s tongue soft and gentle and slightly textured against her flesh. And when his gaze lifted, traced along her jawline, found that spot beneath her ear, she shivered.
Couldn’t help it, just had to shiver.
Sometimes the moment was like that. An electric little thing. Jade lifted her head, sank her shoulder, and wished he’d just mouth at her right now, in front of everybody. That’d fucking show everyone. That she wasn’t just another clone sitting at a desk, she was unique and wild and sexy. Jade could have whoever the fuck she wanted. Tonight, she wanted Cal.
And judging by his eyes, that slight haze in them, Cal wanted her. Or wanted ‘Jamie’. Fuck, Jade didn’t care what he called her. She just smiled up at him, weak in the knees, and tottered another step closer to the open bar set up for the party. “What’s your drink, Cal?”
That electric little tingle at her throat and in her knees got worse. She hugged his arm to herself, smoothed past the bar and the tenders lining up drinks, smiled at him. “Been a long time since I was with a guy who drank Martinis.”
He eyed her dangerously. “I suppose you drink Margaritas.”
“I suppose,” Jade replied, smirking at him while he gestured to a tender and leaned in to order.
They faced each other down while waiting, her left hip on the bar’s edge, his right hip on the bar’s edge, their eyes on each other’s curves. That perfect little spot under his chin, the equally perfect spot beneath her ear.
“Do all your sisters drink Margaritas? What’s with that?”
She laughed at him, a genuine bubbliness rising up in her. “I like the shape of the glass. It’s curvy.”
The bartenders were quick, so she took hold of Cal’s hand, guided it onto the distinctive sharp lines of a cocktail glass with an olive spiked in it. She received a fruit-coloured mixture of crushed ice with a salt-rimmed glass. Margarita, naturally.
Cal tilted the Martini from side to side contemplatively, holding it just beneath his dark pink nose. “Gin,” he murmured. He parted his lips, teeth perfect, and sipped, with just the briefest flash of his pink tongue through the glass’s edge.
More than a just a little tingle, this time. Jade forced her hand steady while she buried her nose in the chill rising from the Margarita, pretended that was why she had to shiver. The salt on the rim provided a bite for her tongue, just to ground her, and she let her eyes trace back up to Cal’s chest.
The stick-on nametag was missing from his suit, just like on her dress.
It definitely wasn’t just the ice in her Margarita, making her shiver. She reached out, lightly patting his breast pocket. “No stick-on?”
“On this suit?” He leaned forward, gazing at her eyes… down at her dress.
She tucked her fingertips inside the suit’s pocket, past the tightly folded linen pocket square, searching, and… there. Out came the stick-on, still on its backing. ‘C. Young.’ She shook her head with a smile, reaching with her thumb for the tab that cycled the names and–
Cal plucked it from her fingers with a reproachful look, stuffing the stick-on back into his pocket. “These things are so tacky, aren’t they?”
“Y-yeah,” she stammered, clasping at nothing for a moment, staring up into his eyes.
Conjecture was dangerous. Conjecture might lead her to believe that they were both playing the same game. The idea was electric.
Cal was taller than her. Broader across the shoulders. She could feel his weight on top of her, and he hadn’t even taken off his jacket. Yet.
She watched him, eyes wide, while gently twirling her Margarita’s straw through the ice. “So, uhm.” She licked her lips. “You gonna finish that Martini?”
He sucked at his lips, lifted the cocktail glass, and emptied it in one. “Why. You have something in mind?” His voice was light, amused. As if he didn’t expect her to get it.
But she got it. She had something in mind. And Jade couldn’t help flicking her blunt-tipped ears at the ever so slight curl of his lips. Too casual, like he thought she didn’t know what the next move was. Jade knew this game better than he did.
“The olives are my favourite,” she purred, arching her back and pushing her cleavage up at him. She clasped her Margarita, held it low, out of sight while licking her lips, gaze fixated on the small, green, wet fruit.
His black-furred features were hard to read. But after a long moment of hesitation, his teeth flashed white between smiling lips. He scraped up the shard of wood the olive was spiked on and held it out to her lips, like a fisherman with a hook.
She eased forward, on the tips of her toes, and snapped at it playfully — he laughed, drawing the olive away, away… until he didn’t. Until she kissed the green flesh, just gently, so her glossed lips flexed, her breath rushed hot and needy around it, and her eyes had nowhere to focus but his face as she drew back, back.
Cal watched her pull the olive off its shaft, grin easing as he drew the pick away, out from between her teeth. Pity. She could’ve kept pushing that olive back and forth on its stick for a long, long time.
His ears perked sharply, gazing down at her as she chewed. Slowly, other things perked. She could feel that, given the way she’d edged herself against him.
“Jamie, where… where did–”
“Shhh, sweetie.” She took a sip of her Margarita, set it on the table for the tenders to clear away, held up two fingers to them. “Two more of these?” she called, pointing at her half-full glass, at Cal’s empty one set down beside hers.
“Jamie.” Cal cleared his throat, looking at her with an edge, now. A definite edge of interest, arousal. “So. How did olives get to be your favourite?”
Jade looked up at him, smiled sweetly, and drummed her fingers waiting for the bartenders. “Well, wouldn’t you like to know?” she teased.
He laughed. “Yes I would.”
She picked up the drinks and leaned away from the table, started across the lobby. “Come along then, and maybe I’ll tell you. Besides, you want another of these, don’t you?” She held up the Martini and looked back over her shoulder, wishing for a moment she’d picked her dress with the plunging back — the one that showed off her stripes — but this one with its covered back would do just fine, so long as she shrugged her shoulder just so, flicked her tail, and let herself relax. Let that old seductive smile creep up the side of her muzzle.
Yellow-green eyes tracked her, strong black limbs followed. Deliberately, Jade angled her way through the thickest parts of the crowd, forced him to rush to keep up with her. She took the smallest gaps she could fit through, the ones he couldn’t, the ones that he had to shoulder through to keep up. She slowed, just long enough for his warm weight to press against her back with a harsh pant against her ear. “Jamie, hold on, I need to–”
What Cal needed wasn’t really relevant. Well, unless he needed just what Jade was intending to give him — and he did. She could tell by his breath, by the naked hunger of his gaze when he thought she wasn’t looking, by the way he’d held that olive to her lips…
It was familiar, and it was perfect. She broke free of the crowds, looked back at him struggling through with a grin, and seductively stepped through towards the offices, a cocktail held daintily in each hand.
He fought his way past other guests with a smile and an apology, and stumbled his way through the sleek glass doors, which beeped shut behind him. The entrance to the Trust’s office was quiet, with only one or two signs of other guests visible — an abandoned jacket on one of the seats, someone’s purse tucked safely beside the receptionist’s desk.
“Jamie… I– Just, just listen a sec, would you?”
She set the cocktails down on the reception desk. Licked her lips slowly, glancing over the wide white surface. Out in the open. Jade ran her fingertip lightly on the front desk’s edge, its ever so slightly rounded corner.
It was reckless. Someone could walk in on them, someone could review the security footage, someone could… fuck off and die. She’d be able to walk into work every Goddamn morning, look at that desk, and smile to herself.
All the same, she slid her pinky across the desktop and gestured for the room’s control panel, dialled the doors’ opacity all the way down to a full mirror. Just the two of them, reflected back at themselves.
She turned, caught her hands on the front desk’s lip, and leapt up, light and perfect. Her high heels scrabbled at the side — not her most graceful moment — until at last her ass was planted firmly, her tail swept out over Amelia’s work surface, and Cal was up against her, terrified she was about to fall off.
Flesh-on-flesh warmth, even through the sleek fabric of her dress. His palms there, on her sides, pinning her to the desk’s edge. His breath, sharp with gin and vermouth, warm in her face. “Jamie…”
Casually she hooked her heels in behind his thighs, and smiled up at him, clutching at the faux-wood finish. “Cal.”
Uncertainty was writ large on his face. “Jamie–”
She planted her fingertips across his mouth, and sipped a little from the Martini, then held it up for him. He choked down a gulp, stared at her while he worked his lips back and forth, spreading the bite of liquor. She smiled, set the half empty Martini down with a clink. “I know what you’re going to say, sweetie.”
“Shh.” She tensed her legs around his waist, balanced with her calves against his buttocks, her hands at the edge of his shirt, tucked in behind his belt. Just a few insubstantial folds, pulled out to spill across the tight hem of her skirt, spread between her thighs. “You’re hard, and I’m wet, and that’s all that matters, Cal.”
He trembled, trembled with his hands flat on the reception desk, to either side of her. “This isn’t right,” he murmured. But his face was buried in her hair, and his breath warmed her ear.
Jade’s slender fingertips met the hard edge of his buckle. A sharp yank, and a twist, and the belt eased. Just slipped free, free and slick like her tongue at his chin, at that perfect point. She groaned up at him, let her body sink against his, her chin, her tongue, rushing through his fur, down that soft curve, until she was breathing through the hot, wet fur of his throat, where he tasted like wood resin and faded alcohol. That familiar sharp residue of cologne, something off the high end Kellmore line. She pulled back to breathe, to slide her hands down his hips. “You Young boys like your brands, don’t you?”
His fingers tangled in her fur, a sharp little wrench of his left hand across the back of her neck. In the moment, in that moment, it felt good. Like the sting of salt on a Margarita glass’s rim. “Jamie, look, I… oh Christ.”
Hard, smooth warmth in her hand. Her fingertips eased round it, and she hiked up her skirt with a pleasant little hiss. “I know other things you and your brothers like,” she whispered.
His tail came up behind him, lashing the air, and his chin jutted forward. He loomed over her, his shoulders warm against her own, trying to edge his hips away, but she clenched her legs all the tighter. He whimpered the word again, as though calling for salvation. “Christ…”
Jade would save him. From a boring conversation, from a boring life, from having to tote that hard-on around all evening. She rasped the tip of her tongue through his fur, tucked her hand between her legs, and drew aside the crotch of her panties. “You knew you wanted this from the moment our eyes met across the room,” she murmured into his flesh, breath hot.
There it was. That electric thing. That heat at her crotch thing, that burning racetrack through her pelvis and up through her gut to her heart thing, that fluttering in the base of her body that flooded up and up and up. It was the glint in his eye, it was the warmth of her smile against his throat. It was the tiny pocket of heat held between them, the slick connection between their bodies that built into a perfect little moment. One electric little second.
His protests melted away in her, soft gasps of her name held in check — he kept his voice low, quiet, as if afraid they’d be heard, then seen. A slow and eager melody, beaten into the front desk’s boards with his knees. A chorus of his breaths in her hair, her ear, and her name in tangled half breaths. Just the start.
Just ‘Ja–‘, with the ‘–mie’ disappearing in fitful whispers.
She smiled to herself, her arms wrapped around his neck while he ground up into her, faster, slower, faster — his hands at her back, her rear, his left hand snarled in the fur of her thigh. Just a little pin-prick yank of fur to offset the twitching warmth between her legs, parting her flesh while she gasped his name, “Ca–“, swallowing the last half of that syllable, making it taste sweet.
Jade shut her eyes lightly, wobbling just a little on the desk’s edge, nose deep in his fur. It was just like old times. Just like old times, but this time there weren’t any consequences — just heat as he ladled pleasure into her one thrust at a time, movements quickening, jogging up in pace until her eyes flashed open and she parted her lips hungrily on his fur.
“Yes,” she squeaked out, ever so softly.
“God, Ja… Jade…”
She shivered. Clamped her teeth into his fur just under his chin, just in that curved sweet spot while she writhed, liquid heat building up in her. It felt right. It felt good, that warm voice in her ear, that burning cock stuffing her tight, that name spoken so lovingly.
That shudder and tremble in her, that rush of warmth, that gasping, jolting man clutching her as she shivered on the desk’s edge, while he fell from a different edge. She took shaky breaths, clutching him tight, and rocked her hips with delicious tingles of pleasure, perking her ears, loving the hiss and groan of his voice.
“Jade,” Cal whispered, so softly as to be lost in the rustling of their clothes, if not for his mouth pressed so tenderly against her. His voice was longing, distant, aching after a memory.
And she froze, because she hadn’t told Cal her name.
“Carl?” She said it again, but this time she spat out the whole syllable, the whole bitter syllable, put weight on the R. She tore her head away from his shoulder and stared at him. “Carl?”
His mouth made the shapes of sounds, but she heard nothing. Just watched as his tongue flicked against the roof of his mouth and came against his teeth to form the ‘D’ of ‘Jade’.
Gingerly, hand trembling — and not from how close she’d been riding to an orgasm — she pinned his upper lip against his gumline, lifted it with a fingertip while he stared back at her.
Yeah. The Young boys were all alike, perfect clones, just like all the Dixon girls. So when they’d been made, just to make sure there were no accidental cases of mistaken identity, they’d very conveniently and thoughtfully written the production number across the gumline with genedye, where you couldn’t fucking see it.
She was getting fucked by Carl. On top of the reception desk at work. “Carl?” Her voice was strangled, tight.
He mouthed her name again. No sound. Just his searching eyes, staring into hers. He didn’t move the slightest bit.
“Goddamnit, Carl.” Her voice was old, tired. She shut her eyes and lay her head against his shoulder, yanked him in against her with her legs, locked her ankles under his tail.
It took him awhile. Sometimes it just really took him a long Goddamn while. “Jade?” he whispered.
She batted her fist against his chest, nodding into his shoulder.
The scrape of his fingertips against the desktop, the warm flex of him in her, it slowed. Didn’t stop. “Jade? Jesus Christ, I thought… I don’t know what I thought.”
She tipped her head back, until she could just stare up at his face. She had choices. Choices that she’d made and regretted, new ones to make.
“Damnit, Carl.” She nudged her nose against his chin, and he didn’t pull away. Didn’t pull away when she kissed the edge of his jaw, or his lips. When she tugged at his fur in that perfect curve of his throat with her teeth. “Fuck me before your erection dies completely on you.” She flattened her skull against his collarbone.
She slapped his shoulder, hard, this time. “You’re my ex, and you got off, and I wanna get off too.” She snaked her arms around his chest, under his armpits, eyes shut. “And I missed you.”
“You said you were Jamie.” He pulled back, just that bit, face turned away from her.
“I didn’t want any consequences,” she whispered, trembling in front of him, eyes locked on the top button of his shirt. “And you said you were Cal.”
He pressed forward, trembled too. Slow at first, then quick jolts, jolts that rocked her on the desk’s edge, sent her tumbling back until she grabbed his body, hauled herself tight against his chest and was swept back and forth by her ex, who she’d lost for two years and she’d screamed at herself the way she’d screamed at him, and all the anger was still there. All the accusations, his lack of faith in her, all the screw-ups, but his body was still strong with hers hanging to his.
He was still blazingly hot in her, screwing her on the edge of the reception desk with barely a question asked. He was still Carl, and she was still Jade, and by the time he had to stop to keep her from slipping from the table’s edge she’d already yelped in his ear, shivered on him, clenched down on the heat filling her, made that pathetic little gasp she always made when she was afraid of yelling out.
She’d wanted to yell out. Loud enough someone would come and look, so someone would know she’d been fucked on the front desk at work, that she’d come, but that was with just some guy. This was with Carl, and Carl was for Jade, not anybody else.
She buried her nose in his shirt, eyes shut on years of unshed tears, and felt heat flood her face, turn the inner flesh of her ears raw red while she trembled.
Those same warm breaths in her hair. Those same gentle hands on her body. That same weighty voice, pressing down on her heart through her ears. “Jade, we’ve gotta talk…”
“We can get a cab to mine. I’ve got wine, we can… we can talk.” She snivelled down another breath, clutching at him.
Carl laughed hoarsely. “If there’s wine, there’s not going to be much talking.”
“That’s kind of the point, sweetie.” She gave him a crooked smile and drew back just enough to paw through his pockets. His handkerchief, the pocket square. Carl had always made a point of dressing properly. Jade dragged the pocket square free, shook it open, and winced at his hand in her hair again. His left hand, snagging. “Ow! Damnit, Carl…”
“Sorry.” He lifted his hand away, slowly. Very slowly.
She listened to his silence, and scooted back, reached down between them with his handkerchief as she relaxed her legs enough to let him go. Held his flagging erection through the linen for a moment, gave it a soft stroke — just to dry him off — and held his handkerchief to herself, looking up at him at last.
And in one year six months and seventeen days of screwing her, on and off, he’d never looked at her like that postcoitus.
“Carl, sweetie? You’re scaring me.”
Carl dipped his head closer to hers, shut his eyes. Shook his head, like he was sick with himself. “Jade…”
So tonight she’d wanted to have a casual time. To be the pretty girl at the ball, the perfect princess, but she’d had the stick-on and her little performance with that… and awkward smiles and feeling wretched about herself because she wasn’t pretty enough. That had been bad. But then Carl lifted up his left hand, and the worst embarrassment of her life — the moment she felt most like the slut she pretended not to be — was spent with her hand between her legs, clutching her ex-boyfriend’s pocket square to her damp vagina, still sensitive from orgasm, while he held up his left hand. And his left ring finger.
And snarled in his fur, hard to see, was the glint of gold.
“God damn it, Carl.” Her voice was hoarse.
It was a slender ring, all twisted golden knots. Very artsy. Very minimalist in an over-expensive way. Probably look great on a human’s finger, but on a furry, it just snagged up all the fur and matted it down. And caught her hair while he touched it, pulled at her fur, made pin-prick sharp yanks out of each caress.
And the ring cut her heart in two while she struggled on the desk’s edge, unhooking herself from around his hips and struggling to get her knees together. But that didn’t work — her panties were still twisted to the side — so she ended up looking away while hiking her skirt back up and twisting them aside, and then she could get her skirt down and Jesus fucking Christ, Carl had. Had. Carl had a ring.
Jade’s eyes hurt. Felt wet. She held up the damp pocket square uselessly for a moment. Put it back down on the desk and didn’t look up at him. “Damnit, Carl.”
“Jade, I tried to say something, but you jumped me and–”
“What the fuck are you doing, sleeping with one of my sisters who wasn’t me?” She slapped his shoulder. Hard.
“It was you! And what are you doing sleeping with one of my brothers who isn’t me? You looked pretty fucking shocked when you found out!”
“I’m allowed!” Jade flailed the pocket square around, as if the damp fabric would fix anything. “I miss you, you fucking cretin!”
“Well I miss you too,” he mumbled, tucking himself back into his pants. “And it’s not my fault, you jumped me.”
“Rargh!” She hit the top of the desk, hopped down. She picked up his half-empty Martini, then put it back down empty and stamped her foot. “I’m allowed to jump people, damnit! I’m single, I don’t have to worry about consequences!”
“Yeah, well…” Carl zipped himself shut, not looking up at her. He began to tuck in his shirt awkwardly.
“Why the fuck did you let me do it?” She stepped away and settled for wiping her eyes dry across the back of her arm. Her mascara only ran a little — the dark streak was barely noticeable.
“You jumped me!” he yelled, then winced, glancing back over his shoulder — as if anyone was coming.
Well, he’d come. And she’d come. So the two of them had been coming. The idea of it tasted bitter in her mouth, now. She turned her back on him, folding her arms tight. “It’s not like I raped you.”
“‘No’, ‘but’,” she parroted mockingly, “‘jumped’, I don’t fucking care! You don’t, you don’t let women do that to you, if you’re… you’re… Christ, you selfish–”
His hands were warm on her shoulders. He was trying to grip her harshly, catch her attention, drag some sense into her, but she just wanted those hands to wander lower on her torso and clutch hard in other places and for his mouth to follow, but her fur would snarl on that damn ring, and it’d hurt so fucking much, and oh fucking Christ she was crying. “God damnit, Carl.”
“You jumped me,” he repeated.
“And so fucking what?” She spun round on him, glaring angrily, as angrily as she could with that tingle-flutter at the base of her spine and with hints of pleasant warmth still melting through her and, and. And with Carl being an asshole. Yeah, on the whole, she could be pretty angry. Kind of. A little. She just wept against his shoulder. Hit him, hard. “So fucking what,” she squeaked.
He put his arms around her.
Was that allowed? For Carl, Carl with that ring on his finger, to hug his ex? To comfort her? Maybe she was a little past moralizing, given that she was still hot and tender from screwing him.
He swayed with her in his arms for a long moment. Finally he asked, “So what was I meant to do?”
She tried not to sniffle into his suit jacket, standing with her legs straight, knees crushed together, trying to make the good feelings between her thighs go away. She blinked her teary eyes at the fabric right in front of her nose. His suit was really nice. More expensive than she thought Carl’d ever be able to afford. “You weren’t meant to do the olive thing with me, for a start.”
He patted her back softly. “I didn’t think you’d know how. I was trying to ask you where you learned how to do that, I thought maybe… fuck. Jesus, Jade. Didn’t you think it was weird when I started that shit?”
“When I ask a guy to feed me his olive, he feeds me his olive.” She glared up at him as best she could. “What kind of fake name is ‘Cal’, anyway?”
“I don’t know how to talk to your sisters! You guys have that list thing, I don’t know if I’m on it! I didn’t know if you would even talk to me if I said I was Carl. If… that is, if you weren’t you.”
She glared at him for three seconds. A very long three seconds. “Carl, the fuck-slash-fuck-off list’s for us to tell each other who’s safe to have casual sex with, and who’s a prick. Or who’s taken.” Jade cocked her head to the side. “So were you scared I’d heard about you and wouldn’t want to fuck you? Is that why you switched names on me? Because it worked, I fucked you.”
“No! Christ.” He shook his head wildly. “I figured you’d tell them that I’m an asshole. To not let them tell me anything about you.” He spread his hands desperately, looked down at his shirt. Stuffed a fold down his pants, tried to tug it straight. “I wanted to ask about you.”
“Well you are an asshole.” She pulled the waistband of his pants out and twisted it until his clothes were properly lined up for him. “And what the fuck would you ask my sisters about anyway? How to get back in bed with me?”
“Just. Just how you are.” He ran his hand back over his forehead, grooming hair he didn’t let grow out past his fur’s length. “What you’re doing, who you’re with.”
“I work for the Eastern-Aid Trust.” She caught up his belt for him, like she had so many times before. Stabbed the end through the buckle. “I’m single and screwing random guys I like the look of.” She tugged the belt straight with a sharp yank. “And up until a couple minutes ago I was having a great, forbidden, no-consequences fuck with a guy who looked so much like my ex it was exactly like my pathetic little day-dreams where everything’s fine again.”
Jade patted his belt, forcing herself to keep her voice level. “And he turned out to really be my ex, and then I thought maybe things really were okay, and then I had a pretty decent orgasm.”
Carl stood silently for a moment. Hooked his thumbs into his jacket pockets, looking down at himself — perfectly kempt and groomed again. “And then?”
“God damnit, Carl.” She bunched up her fist and smacked him yet again in the shoulder. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
He lifted the edges of his jacket in a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. Things happened, you jumped me.”
“And you followed me, and you did the Martini olive bit with me, and you were ravishing and charming and it was just like how you were when I loved you, and it’s not like you didn’t fucking participate,” she screeched.
He didn’t have an answer for that, just stared down at his shoes. For a second, she thought something had dripped on them, looked down too — but they were clean. Exactly the opposite of how Jade felt.
Carl opened his mouth to speak, and his voice cracked. Just this strangled yawp, and he shut his jaw.
“Maybe I didn’t stop you because I wanted the same thing you did.” He hunched up his big strong shoulders in a useless shrug. “To screw my ex one last time, like things were okay, and not have any consequences.”
“Well, you’re fucking married, Carl!” There. She’d said it. “You’re married.” That was a real thing, now. She’d said it and it wasn’t going away. She’d fucked a married man. She was the other woman.
He buried his hands in his pockets sullenly.
She tried to steady her breathing. Snatched up the olive from the empty Martini glass and chewed it just as sullenly.
He picked up her Margarita, tipped it back. Grimaced against the ice. Set the glass down with a sharp little ting on the warm spot where he’d fucked her.
Jade moved the Martini glass over, next to the Margarita. Just like old times, if backward and fucked up and wrong. “Who is she?”
He couldn’t force himself to look up, make eye contact. Just writhed under her glare. “Nice girl. Human. Thinks I look exotic.”
She nodded. Nodded and picked up his pocket square, trying to fold it neatly around the parts that were damp. “Right.”
He looked up at her, almost shyly — like he hadn’t just been fucking her. “I didn’t propose.”
She couldn’t help perking her ears hopefully at that. “Right.”
“Her name’s Phoebe,” he said. “It. Wasn’t my idea. She decided we were going to get married, and things pretty much just happened.”
Jade looked up at him and tried to smile about it. “Is your excuse that she jumped you?”
He looked away as though slapped.
She did too. She held up the pocket square, as though about to stuff it back into his breast pocket. Hesitated, held it up with a helpless shrug. “You want this back?”
Sheepishly, Carl plucked it from her hand and stuffed it down into his front pocket.
She locked her eyes on his hand stuffed in his pocket. “Your wallet’s gonna smell like sex, you realize.”
He pulled the pocket square out, made to shove it in his other pocket, but she stopped him.
He held it up and looked down at himself, eyed his breast pocket, but…
“Just give it to me.” She snagged the damn thing and folded it up small, tucked it into the empty Martini glass.
With a moment’s hesitation, Carl looked at her doubtfully.
“Cleaning staff’ll get it. They’ll just throw it out.”
She looked up at him, eyes raw. “It’s a nice suit,” she offered, pulling his lapels straight tenderly. “She buy it for you?”
“Girl got money?”
“Yeah.” He nodded.
“Good for you, sweetie.” She gave his chest a soft pat. “Good for you.”
“Thanks.” He didn’t reciprocate, didn’t look up. Just hung his head like a scolded child.
“So what do we do now?”
“I don’t…” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
She let her hand slip away. “That makes two of us.”
“Maybe we just treat it like. Like it was going to be. I’m Cal, you’re Jamie. We don’t know each other, there isn’t anything to talk about.” He shrugged his shoulders at her again. “Nobody has to know, nothing has to happen. It was just a casual fuck, no consequences, and it just happened, and…”
Jade hugged herself, tight. “Okay. So it was just a casual fuck. No consequences. A last fling and it doesn’t matter.”
She wanted it to matter.
She looked at him from the corner of her eye, he looked at her from the corner of his, eyes hurting. He wanted it to matter too.
There wasn’t anything to say, now. Except goodbye, and neither of them were strong enough for that.
He tongued his lip, a broad slice of pink against black fur. “So. Uhm.” He looked at her longingly, eartips quivering at the silence. “So, uh. What happened with that apartment of yours? From when we were in college?”
“Oh. Uhm.” She shook her head and smiled, because she didn’t want to cry. And, like him, she didn’t want to say goodbye, and every little word was a gift, an excuse for her to feel hurt beside him, instead of alone. “I had to give it up. Couldn’t make the rent.”
He nodded, but didn’t quite look at her. “Too bad. It was nice.”
“Yeah.” She nodded to herself, too. But she didn’t know what else to say.
The silence came back. Stretched, and neither of them could break it. Not until Jade started to leave, and stopped. Turned around. She had to know. “Carl?”
“Was that her?” She tilted her head, tiredly. “The blonde girl you were with, talking to the old guy?”
Jade hugged herself all the tighter. “She dresses nice. Was that really a Marie Ou?”
She nodded and bit her lip, hard enough to turn her grimace into something enough like a smile that she could bear to show it in front of Carl. “You buy it for her?”
“No.” Carl put weight in his voice, enough to drown out some of the world, make the stinging behind her eyes hurt less. He looked up from his shoes long enough to nod at her dress. “She’s been talking about McCauley and Fern, though. Complaining about that waiting list.”
“Yeah, me and my sisters, uhm.” Jade smiled. It wasn’t a grimace, but she still felt like crying. “We get to skip the waiting list.”
He looked up at her, hiding the wounds by shoving his hands, that ring, into his pockets. “You look nice in it.”
“Thanks,” Jade murmured, turning away, trying not to hang too hard onto that slender and bittersweet victory. “See you, Carl.”
She walked right back out to the lobby, the doors beeping efficiently open for her stick-on label.
In the end, the damn stick-on hadn’t mattered.