Troy liked sunshine, he didn’t like sunny streets. Especially not uptown, where the glass skyscrapers caught the light, funnelled it down between them and turned the fashionable pedestrian walks into ovens. The crowded pedestrian walks. White tiled and well moneyed, a place where sunglasses were worn like religious icons and a wallet linked to thousands of New Dollars of credit was kept close to the heart.
Troy didn’t have any of that. He had a headache, and a kink in his tail, and bulky shoes that made his toes sweat. The sun was cutting into his naked mouse’s tail, too, felt like sunburn. But that other thing he had, Jennifer’s arm linked with his, made it all worth it. His black fur, her sandy yellow.
“See, they’re making new ones!” She pointed just past Troy at the sign as they went by.
“There!” Jennifer danced out in front of him, pointed back. By the time he stopped her arm was out over his shoulder. “See?” She smiled up at him beatifically.
Troy shook his head, just slightly. “No.” He grinned back foolishly.
She rolled her eyes, dropping her arm to his shoulder. Curled it around his neck. “You gotta look.”
“I am looking.”
“You’re looking at me, not the sign.” She pouted, blinking her beautiful green eyes at the sky.
He settled his arms around her waist, nuzzling his nose up against hers. “So I’m looking at the prettiest thing here.”
Troy didn’t really notice the pedestrians stepping by them, for once.
“I wanna show you,” Jen complained, angling her head just so.
“I wanna kiss you.” He tilted his head the opposite way, smoothed his hands down her bare back, along the black tiger-stripes thylacines had cutting all the way down their back and tail and rear. Jennifer’s rear was covered by a short skirt, but that wouldn’t be much trouble when they got home.
She licked her lips, parted them slightly. Edged her toes close to his. “So are we gonna cooperate or what?”
Troy pressed his fingertips against her spine and brushed his lips against hers, working his jaw slowly, tempting her into opening her mouth on his. He dipped his head a little more to one side, caught the back of her head and pressed softly until his teeth met hers and there wasn’t anything but the warmth of her.
His hair wasn’t particularly long, but Jennifer contrived to wind her fingers in it anyway. When he pulled back, she kept him from drifting too far, tip of her muzzle wavering against his lips. “Uhm. That was my kiss. We still have to do your kiss…”
“Your kiss? I didn’t know you got a kiss.”
“If you get a kiss I get a kiss.”
He caught his lip between his teeth. He desperately wanted to taste her lips again, the faintly sweet balm she wore. “But I didn’t get a kiss. So how can you get a kiss if I don’t get a kiss?”
Jennifer scratched her toe on the sidewalk, sidestepping a little to keep out of someone’s way. “I’m pretty sure I got a kiss.”
“No you didn’t.”
“It was advertising. For what you get if I get a kiss…”
Troy got his kiss. Soft, and gentle, and not so gentle when she pulled his head against hers and ran her tongue along his teeth. Troy caught her lip in his mouth, played his tongue tip across, found the sweet little tang of her lip balm. Her kiss was a little more intense, lots of slow little motions of her jaw while he worked his stiff and slack, scraping his lips over her ever so slightly sharp teeth. Her hand in his back pocket, slender fingers pressing into his buttock.
Troy rocked a little, someone bumping into him with a brief ‘sorry’, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was Jennifer’s taste.
“Okay, so they’re making new ones?” She pecked at his mouth, dragged her hand back out of his pocket.
“New whats?” He closed his lips lightly over her bottom lip, bobbed his head while she spoke to keep it there.
“Kellmore. With Frank Lacey and Beth DuMalle.” Jennifer pointed back over her shoulder.
“Movie?” Troy turned to look.
“Ugh.” She rolled her eyes again. “No. Perfumes.”
Two smiling, human, faces. Eyes locked on each other when passerby weren’t looking their way, intensely attracted. Beth DuMalle gave Troy a smouldering look, and instinctively he hid in Jennifer’s arms.
Entwining her arm with his, she bowed her head to his shoulder. “They’re endorsing it for their new movie. That New Yorky one.”
“I like Kellmore. We should get you some of the cologne. Then you can smell like Frank Lacey,” she teased, giving him puppy dog eyes.
“I thought I smelled okay.” Troy looked down at himself.
“Yeaaah,” she drawled, dragging him by the arm towards a blue-green storefront. “But you’ll smell really good with Kellmore.”
He wasn’t sure about that, but he followed her into the cosmetics outlet anyway. The air conditioning was a relief, though the perfume section, and the Kellmore display, were near the back and they had to dodge around the crowds. There were lots of samplers, lots of variants for men – Fire and Ice, Burnished Steel, Sensual.
She set her hands on the edge of one of the higher shelves. “What you’re gonna want is one with under six percent perfume… fur strengthens the effect and, uhm.” She glanced back, tail wagging slightly. “I like it a little less intense?”
Troy turned his back on another browser, settling his shoulder against the shelves. “That’s good. Uhm. How do you tell what the percentage is?”
“Well, Eau de Toilette is really strong and the colognes are less, around six. It’s under the box, see?” She turned one over for him, biting her lip. “You could go with an aftershave too. Those are pretty low concentrations.”
He squinted at her. “I don’t, uhm.” He grazed his furred chin with his fingertips.
Jennifer giggled, setting the box back down. “It’s just got a little moisturizer in it, I think. Otherwise an aftershave’s like a normal perfume. Browse around a little, find one you like, okay? You might like Feral.” She mock snarled and pointed at another display – one marked by a man with cat’s eyes, rather than a fur.
“What’s that smell like?” Troy picked up one of the bulbous little black bottles and flipped it over.
“Like you’re gonna pounce, maybe?” She flashed that beautiful smile of hers and backed up a step. “I want to check if they’ve got my shampoo in stock, okay?”
“Pick something nice!”
Troy tilted his head, leaning over to a side to catch a last glimpse of her pretty red hair disappearing around a pillar, popping back out the other side. She descended into a swath of shoppers, and he lost her.
This perfume thing may have seemed like a good idea to Jennifer, but Troy wasn’t too sure. Other than an off-brand deodorant body spray, he hadn’t really worn scents in years. He’d been given a bottle and it had ran out after a year or so and he wasn’t sure about getting more and what kind of message that would send and he didn’t not like smelling nice but it wasn’t easy to know what to do.
He put down the bottle of Feral and picked up the sampler. Gave it a hesitant sniff. Dropped it on the shelf and furiously scrubbed his forearm across his nose. In this one case it was easy. Not Feral.
The Kellmore samplers didn’t burn, except for the metal one. But that still left two, and the Kellmore classic for men.
The classic didn’t smell bad, kind of woody.
The underside of the cologne box said the aromatic concentration was five percent.
Jennifer dragged him here for the Kellmore anyway.
Troy sniffed the sampler again. Hard edged wood. More than that, a lot more than that, but Troy could make out the wood most clearly. He wasn’t sure if he liked it because Jennifer did, or because it wasn’t anything like Feral. Maybe both.
The box said the scent came in an airtight aluminium bottle with a ‘nitrogen air-seal’, and precision engineering and, and some other bullshit. The box also said it was expensive, and Troy knew Jennifer liked that.
He got a size smaller.
He didn’t wear scents much anyway.
One last sniff at the classic sampler, just to check if he liked it. Maybe he did. Maybe it actually was the kind of scent he could wear. Maybe he could start wearing one regularly.
The bottle one size bigger was a little cheaper, by volume.
But it was ridiculous price to pay, it was just chemicals, Troy could probably mix some up. Well, he could mix up synthetics, organic compounds were harder to do without a real lab. It was just that he didn’t have much of an income while he was finishing off his thesis.
He could save it and wear it for Jennifer. Even a small bottle would last awhile if he was careful. He was good at careful.
The sales point was on the other side of the store, just near toiletries, and Jennifer must not have been alone in liking the store and uptown and all that money, because one of her sisters was browsing the shampoos.
Troy knew all about that, clone siblings, if he liked something the rest of his production line liked it. Troy and all his brothers liked Whitney’s and Shaw suits. Really classic lines, and they did good tailoring, and back in high school Troy and his brothers had these two pairs of jackets and slacks for job interviews and dates they shared because it was expensive.
So it made a lot of sense for one of Jennifer’s clone siblings to like the same kind of shampoo.
She looked up, though not at Troy. “Oh, hi Jeff.”
“I knew it was you. So what are you getting?”
“Shampoo. See? Curtis and Curtis for furs? They really don’t make a big enough bottle.”
Jeff was a big guy, taller than Troy. “Yeah, you’ve got to use a lot to lather up properly, don’t you?”
She laughed. Delightful sound. “Yeaaah. I should make you bring me a new one. You used too much.”
“Think they make a formula that’s gentler on the hands?” Jeff’s jacket was a better, more expensive cut than the Whitney’s and Shaw one Troy liked. “You know I hate wrinkly fingers.”
God, that girl’s laugh. Wasn’t it the best thing in the world? Jennifer’s sisters, they sounded just like her. Dressed just like her, yeah, that short little skirt that practically wanted to fall off, all of her sisters would have one of those along with a backless halter top that left her beautiful spine uncovered and showed off those stripes he loved so much on hot days, which he’d been telling her about this morning so she’d put on that same fucking shirt and laughed that beautiful laugh when he’d asked her about bras and she’d said ‘this isn’t a bra kind of shirt, Troy.’
Yeah. God, Jennifer’s sisters. So like her.
Troy left the queue for the sales point and nipped across the store to a self service checkout. He hammered on the console, trying not to think about what other things might be the same for Jennifer’s sisters. All kinds of things, maybe, like the whole open relationship thing he and Jennifer didn’t talk about much. Yeah, they didn’t talk about that much at all.
Jennifer, not Jennifer’s sister, thank God, not Jennifer’s sister, sidled up to him, bottle of shampoo in her hand. Curtis and Curtis, of course. “Sweetie?”
Troy grinned all too quickly. “Hey Jen. The, uhm.” He pointed at the checkout console. Slapped it with his palm. “Doesn’t work.”
“There’s a free sales point over there.” Her smile was soft, reassuring.
“Oh.” He smiled again, took the shampoo from her, put Jennifer’s shampoo down with his Kellmore classic for men and swiped his wallet and authenticated it for the cashier and the cashier put the box and the bottle into one of the store’s lovely bags.
And Jennifer said, “Thanks,” and Troy carried the bag and they went out into the sunshine and she hung onto his arm.
And it wasn’t the same.
The bottle really was aluminium. The valve on the sprayer was pretty interesting, it wasn’t pressurized, so every time it was pushed down it had to draw in air to keep from forming a vacuum. But the box insert said oxygen did weird stuff to the aromatic compounds, so the intake had this neat osmotic membrane which worked because nitrogen molecules were bigger than oxygen molecules, and it pushed most of the oxygen out before letting the air in.
Troy spritzed a little on his arm and listened to the hiss.
It was a pretty neat bottle.
Jennifer knocked on the bathroom door.
“Uhm.” Troy set the bottle down on her washbasin’s shelf. “You need the bathroom?”
“No. Just… You still busy?”
Troy waited awhile, but she didn’t say anything else. He rubbed the damp part of his arm, sniffing. At first he’d been pretty sure about the scent, but now he wasn’t so sure, it didn’t seem strong enough. He wanted to smell good, and look good, and maybe a little more Kellmore was called for. If he couldn’t look like Frank Lacey he could at least smell like Frank Lacey, and that was a good thing.
Kellmore classic cologne for men. Just like Frank Lacey.
Did Jennifer like human guys better? Troy stood in his shorts and frowned at himself in the mirror. He tried standing up straight and sucking in his gut and turning his head this way and that and combing his hair flat but there wasn’t any way he was going to look like Frank Lacey. Troy was slim, but his stomach wasn’t muscled like Frank Lacey’s. It was mostly flat but it was soft, and… kind of loose, if he was painfully honest with himself.
Jennifer really liked Frank Lacey movies, especially the ones with detailed love scenes, something about his shoulders. Troy pulled his shoulders back, turned one way and then the other, squeezed a shoulder hard. His shoulders were pretty narrow, compared to Frank Lacey.
Jeff’s shoulders were… fuck. Don’t even think it. Don’t think it, don’t think about the wrinkled fingers thing, don’t think. Just breathe. Troy just had to breathe and maybe if he smelled better that would work, so he gave himself another spritz of Kellmore classic for men, like Frank Lacey, and lightly rubbed it in over his stomach.
“Troy? Are you coming to bed?”
“Yeah, in a bit.”
“Are you okay?”
She paused a long time.
“Can I come in?”
“Troy I just need you to- oh. Oh, God.” She hesitated at the door, in her pretty old terrycloth robe, holding her nose.
Troy tried smiling at her. “I smell like Frank Lacey.”
She laughed. That was really nice.
“You’re not okay, are you?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” He shrugged cheerfully.
She hesitated. “You sure?”
Troy turned the bottle over. “It’s easier if I pretend that I am.”
Jennifer pushed the door open all the way, still covering her nose with one little hand, ever so delicately. He could look at her hand, not her face. “Oh Troy.”
“It’s a really interesting bottle. It’s got this thing for the nitrogen, see?”
He spritzed it, once.
He laughed, she laughed too. It was good to laugh. He could think about her laugh. Think about that and her smile, even if it was worried.
“Let’s just. Put this down.” Jennifer took the bottle from him. Leaned over and put it on a high shelf, next to a big green vase.
“That looks like a shelf where you put things children shouldn’t play with.”
“Exactly, up nice and high.” She spun back to him, caught her hands on his chest. Breathed through her mouth.
“Do I smell nice?” He covered her delicate hands with his own heavier ones, even though they weren’t all that big and manly.
“Uhm.” She tilted her head consideringly. Lied. “Kinda?” It was an okay sort of lie. “It’s kind of intense.”
“I wanted to get myself sexy for you.” Troy’s tail curled in the air behind him. “I wasn’t sure how much to use.”
“Tiny bit. One spray.” She ran her hand all over his chest. “Rub it in everywhere. Mmmaybe two sprays.”
“I overdid it.”
“Do you think I’m sexy?”
“Very. But you should take another shower anyway. Rinse it off, that’s really too much scent, Troy.” She stepped back a little.
Troy held her elbow, softly. Cringed, a little. “Sexiest guy you know?”
She stopped. Grit her teeth, winced. “Am I honestly the sexiest woman you know? Out of all the women in the world?”
“Really, truly, honestly, forever, you are the sexiest woman I’ve ever met, seen, or imagined.” He tugged her closer, settled his arms around her.
Jennifer snuggled in against his chest, blinking at him. “You’re not just saying that, are you.”
Troy shrugged a little. Kissed her forehead. “I’ve been pretty sure about it for awhile now.”
“Oh.” She put her head on his shoulder, troubled. Her voice was barely a whisper when she asked, “What’s wrong?”
Troy didn’t answer for a long time. He preferred stroking her hair.
“I was just thinking that I’m not much to look at. You could… probably do better.”
She frowned, looking up at him. “Troy. I could not. You’re wonderful.”
“But are you. Y’know. Physically attracted to me?”
“Of course I am. Sexiest man in the world, once we put you in the shower. Because you smell awful.” Some lies, some truths. Didn’t matter.
“Okay, uhm.” He let her go, backed up a step, leaned against the washbasin. “I’ll take another.”
Jennifer followed him, settled her hands on his back. “I need one too,” she pointed out, sliding her hands down beside the base of his tail, near the band of his shorts…
Troy flushed with embarrassment. “Uhm. I’ll be quick?”
“I was hoping you’d take a long, long time.” Her palms settled over his buttocks.
Troy dry swallowed, turning his head away. “Uhm.”
The tip of her muzzle found its way into the curve of his neck. “You, me, shower… sex in the shower?” She swayed sinuously, squeezing his rear.
“My, uhm. Prosthesis.”
She shut her eyes, sagging against his chest. “I’ve seen you with it off.”
“I know, it’s just. I wanted to, be attractive, and… If it gets soaked through it tears.”
“I’ll take it off, okay?” Jennifer pulled back, gripping his left wrist. “How does it come off?”
Troy bit his lip. “No, uh. Other people taking it off is bad, uhm. Need to turn it off, first.” He squeezed his eyes shut. Groped through his head for the switch. The faint little twitch in the back of his skull that wasn’t really meant to be there, and then he couldn’t feel Jennifer’s hands around his wrist anymore.
She shook it back and forth, dragging his elbow after it. “Okay. Now how does it come off?”
Troy sighed, hunched over it and pulled back the fur and skin from his elbow, down towards the wrist. “There’s a notch in the locking ring.”
She was quite gentle, reaching past the scarred flesh to catch the little notch with her fingernail. She turned it the wrong way at first, realized her mistake and pulled the other until the prosthetic black-furred hand came off Troy’s arm.
Left him with a pink, ugly, scarred stump marked with plastic-ceramic socket.
He tried hiding it behind his back while she kissed him, set his prosthetic down on one of the shelves.
She caught his chin with her fingers and held him there while she kissed him for long moments, even though she could see.
He bowed his head a little so he could taste her bottom lip, the balm, and tuck his arm behind his back.
“You’re a beautiful man, Troy. I don’t care, you’re a beautiful man.”
She tasted sweet, kinda. That wasn’t a lie, she tasted sweet. “You’re beautiful too, and I love you.”
She smiled up at him, and took his arm.
His left arm.
“Every little part of you is beautiful.” Jennifer settled the crook of his elbow on her side, pushed his right hand down to her hip. “And I know some parts of you hurt. But they’re beautiful too, okay?”
“Okay.” He settled his forehead against hers.
“Lots of stuff that hurts.” She was silent a moment. Pushed her lips against his briefly. “But there’s stuff that doesn’t hurt. Stuff that’s kinda good?” She bit her lip hesitantly, backing up to her shower door. “That makes up for the hurt, a little. Doesn’t it?”
Troy stared after her, longingly.
She stepped back and dragged her hand over the shower’s console. Water spattered over her, sped up until her hair was plastered across her shoulders, her robe soaked and sagging. She simply stood there, fragile and fey, watching him, blinking drips out of her eyes.
Jennifer held out her arms.
Troy came to her under the spray and wept. It was alright. The water washed it all away. His tears, his cologne. He gently pushed the robe off Jennifer’s shoulders, and the spray washed that away too.
The robe slapped against the tiles, Jennifer kicked it away. She dug her hands down over his hips and pushed at his boxers until the surging water caught them and tore them down.
Her naked body was pliant, her fur washed flat. He bowed down and pressed his mouth to her breast, she cooed, put her hands on his head and backed against the wall.
Her nipple tasted of sweat, rather than sweet lip balm. He fell to his knees, pressed his tongue against the faint dip in her taut stomach that served as her navel.
Jennifer pushed her thumb’s knuckle into her mouth when he wandered lower. He heard her groan over the pounding water when he found a sharper taste of sweat and arousal.
The curves of her body were wet and slick. He found them anew, trailing his fingertips from the cleft between her legs back to the swell of her breasts. She shivered, despite the heat.
She found the hard lines of his body, his shoulders, which were square and solid under the spray, his chest, and stomach, the hard bones of his hips. Another kind of hardness found her, springing up to her touch.
“I love you.”
At first Troy thought she hadn’t heard, but she put the tip of her nose in his broad, flat ear. “I want you.”
Troy braced himself against the wall with his left elbow, all it was good for, and pressed his mouth against hers until he had no words.
She clung to him, whispered again, “I want you.” Softer, so much softer, almost drowned away by the drumming of water on his ear. “I just want you to be happy, Troy. So badly want you to be happy.”
Softer still, so he wasn’t sure if she’d said it, or if it was just that he’d desperately wanted to hear it. “I’m sorry. Please be happy.”
Jennifer curled her hands around the shower head, bit her lip and braced her back against the wall, lifted a knee, scraped it along his side. It was the only way she knew to make men happy, but everything else about her made him happy too.
Troy pressed his elbow to the wall, beside her head. Pushed her knee aside with his hip.
She squirmed, hopping on one foot, clutching the showerhead for balance. Brushed him, where he was hard, with where she was soft. So soft.
He moved against her and she groaned, a long wheeze, all love and affection. He reached down and shifted himself with his fingers, moved again, and that wheeze turned to a very short song. A song he sang too, in one short moan of her name. He couldn’t move against her anymore, could only move with her. Short motions, clutching her leg and helping her to lift it while she sang his name, and sang God, and sang Christ, and sang that he was beautiful.
Troy didn’t have the voice for singing. He kissed her eyelids and found salt and tears.
They sang together and moved together and wept together.
Lied to themselves together.