Victoria struggled climbing up the stairs to my apartment, the steps weren’t made for someone with her body type but she didn’t fit the elevator. Still, we made and I went in, the door already unlocked.
The smell of cooking came to my ears as soon as I entered. To my surprise, my mom was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen.
“Hey Sweetheart.” She came closer and kissed me. “How was your day?”
“Pretty busy. Yours?”
“Oh the usual. Annoying customers and my feet screaming bloody murder.” She took a second and then nodded to the oven. “Also, I made dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m surprised.” I went and checked the stove “Heck, nothing’s burning! Who are you and what have you done with my mother?”
“I’ll have you know that I can follow a cookbook’s instruction, Miss smarty pants.”
“Thank god. I don’t think we could have survived a fire.”
“If I recall, I’m not the one who almost burned down the house trying to boil water.”
“Hey, I was nine! Plus I totally wasn’t the one who put that jug of oil on the stove.” I said pouting playfully.
“Alright, that’s enough messing around, Dinner’s almost ready.” She went to the stove and stirred the pan’s content before checking the oven’s content.
“Uhm… Hi.” Victoria said.
“Oh hello there.” My mom said, looking at her. “Victoria, was it?” She then asked, after a moment of hesitation.
“Oh, please, no ma’am or Ms. around me, I’m just Natasha. But, it’s good to see you again, would you like to dine with us? I made extra, since someone’s been pretty voracious recently.” She said, looking at me with a grin.
“I plead the fifth.”
“That depends.” Victoria said. “I don’t know if I can eat it.”
“Lemon and olive braised chickens with sautéd winter vegetables.” She said quoting two of my favorite recipe from the book Kickback had given me.
“Should be safe for you.” I said to Victoria.
As my mom started plating, I set up the table, giving Victoria an oversized serving fork as utensil. We obviously didn’t have a seat for Victoria but the table was low enough that when sat she was decently positioned.
The first half of dinner went pretty smoothly, even if I noticed my mom wincing once or twice at the sound of Victoria crushing the chicken thigh bones with her powerful jaw. I’d gotten used to it, it was apparently needed for calcium intake or something.
“So, Victoria, do you live with your parents?” My mom asked after a few minutes.
“No… I haven’t seen my parents or my siblings since I triggered.” She said, her ears flattening against her head.
“Oh. I’m so sorry to hear that… I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s okay, you couldn’t have known. Beside, I’m happy with my friends at the guardian quarters.”
Although I’d never asked about Victoria’s family, I’d read the statistics Stan had send me and over two thirds of all proteans experienced parental rejection or ran away after their transformation. With her living at the HQ, it hadn’t been hard to put two and two together.
“That’s good.” My mom said awkwardly.
The rest of dinner was rather awkward, my mom seemed scared to say something bad so we stuck to small talks. Once dinner was over she took care of the dishes and I turned to Victoria.
“So, to be entirely honest, I’m feeling really fricking lazy.” I said. “Want to just watch some movies, tv or whatever.”
“Sure, anything you want to do, I’m cool with it.”
“Same setup as last time?”
She and I got my mattress from me room, with me guiding it while she pushed as best as she could. Her physiology wasn’t exactly oriented to carrying stuff since she needed to have all four on the ground to move correctly. When that was done, I leaned against her body and grabbed the remote.
Once we sat down, I browsed for a minute until I settled on rewatching season one of the Deus tv adaptation. Explaining the premise to Victoria; being about this chosen one girl and her assigned guardian-angel girl. Unlike most things I watched or read, the main characters were openly gay.
“Say, I didn’t think to ask, but was my mom okay last time? She didn’t make you uncomfortable?”
“Nah, she stared a bit at first but I think she was just surprised. She was cool today.”
We watched some more of the pilot, together for about half an hour before Victoria spoke again.
“Are things going well with Kenzie? Aren’t you two normally supposed to be together today?”
“Yeah, she’s just on patrol. She has to catch up on her hours before easter vacation if she wants to have it off.”
“You only like girls, right?”
“Yeah, I’m 100% lesbian certified.”
“What’s your type of girl?”
The question took me a bit by surprise.
“I don’t know.” I said with a shrug. “Why?”
“Just curious, plus discussing crushes are totally what gal pals do, right?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“So, who did you like before Kenzie? Maybe we’ll find your type.”
“Heh, why not.” I said, deciding to entertain her. It was probably a bit boring for her to watch a series she hadn’t picked anyway. “Let’s see… My first real crush was on a girl named Felicity back in fourth grade. She was this cute redhead with cuter glasses who was a bit of a nerdy loner. I was still figuring out that what I was feeling was me being really frickin’ gay. Anyway I started hanging out with her and getting really close until I realized why she didn’t have a lot of friends.”
“Why was that?”
“The girl was clingy as heck, like she wanted us to hang out everyday and she had this whole keeping score thing where if we hung out here we absolutely had to hangout at her place next or after I brought her to the community center I absolutely had to go to her church group even though I only ever went to church because my mom made me.”
“Dang. What happened then?”
“I told her to leave me alone and that I didn’t want to be friends with her. Like it was nothing but toxic debt keeping.”
“Eh, I don’t blame you. Who else?”
“Then there was Sasha, that was two years later, when I knew I was queer as fuck. I went to summer camp like I used to do every year pre-trigger event. She was this big super tomboyish russian girl with a thick accent which I thought was amazing. I didn’t really become friends with her, I mostly just stalked her all summer until I came out and asked her out on the last day.”
“How did it go?”
“She said I was really F-ing gross and then quoted Romans 1:26… I went home in tears and never saw her again.”
“I’m sorry.” She said, rubbing her head against my hand, which I took as a comforting gesture.
“Hey it’s okay, it was years ago. Beside now I have Kenzie and my parents are super supportive. But now that I think about it, I totally have a thing for big nerdy, tomboyish looking girls.”
“See? I knew you had to have a type.”
“Alright, your turn to share. What do you like anyway? Girls, boys, others, all of the above, none of them?”
“Gender doesn’t matter to me. I just like people who are cute and nice to me. I dunno what I like though...”
“Who were your crush?”
“I didn’t have a lot. I was eight when I changed and only had one person I liked before that. She was from a youth group I went to. But not long after that I change so nothing happened…”
“But after that?”
“There was this guy, I met him on an online thing for proteans, but he wasn’t interested. He was cute though, He was this big colorful lizard who could sing like really amazing. Call himself Cold Scales and he’s living in Louisiana.”
“It’s a protean thing, some of us don’t want to be who we were born as before the change. I used to call myself Wechuge, but the DDA made me change. Not kid friendly enough. I like being Bandersnatch though. It’s catchier.”
“What about now, anyone caught your eye?”
“Well, there is someone… But I’m not saying.”
“Oh come on!”
“Oh, I know him or her?” She covered her mouth with her paws as a sign of defiance. “Yep. I hit a spot, but fine. I’m sure you’ll spill eventually.”
I passed the list of suspects in my head, it wasn’t a long list. I settled on Jessie as my bet; the two of them were close and Victoria would always let her do her claws, temp dye her fur or give her accessories.
“You know, my birthday’s next month.” She said, an obvious derailment, but I bit. “April Sixth.”
“This reminds me, I never got your b-day gift. Stan left his gift-laptop in my room but you never said what yours was.”
“I was hoping you’d forgotten… I bought you a phone but your dad gave you the same thing before I could… I returned it to the store and didn’t know what to do… I didn’t know what else to get you and never got around to asking you if you needed something.”
“Hey it’s okay. Although to be honest, there’s not much I need, Jessie and Chuan have already doubled my closet and I’ve got all my electronics replaced.”
“Don’t worry about it, your company is the only gift I need.”
“Well, there’s something…” She said nervously. “Do you want to pet me?” She then asked, whispering.
“You know you don’t have to do something you don’t like just to please me.”
“If it’s you, it’s okay.” She said looking away. “I mean, it’s not unpleasant, it’s kind of nice actually, it’s just the others would mock me for it…”
“Well, I guess there’s no harm then.” I said, feeling a little nervous, although I didn’t know why.
“But you have to promise that you won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s our secret. I swear it on everything that’s holy.” I said, putting my hand to my heart.
“Neck, Chest, Cheeks and Head.” She told me. “Those are the good spot.”
I started scratching those spots and she quickly began purring loudly. Beneath her ‘trying to be tough’ exterior, Victoria was just a cuddly teddy bear. Well, a cat-bear thing really. A giant one at that.
There was something about petting Victoria that felt so not just nice and soothing, but also exciting, like doing something forbidden. Although I’d always wanted a pet, my mom was allergic and had always been firmly against it. She’d tried to bribe me with fish but I’d rejected them out of pride.
And like that we kept watching the show until Victoria asked me to call a lift for her around eleven. When I got the call back from the DDA van, I escorted her out to the door.
“Good night Victoria.” I said, giving her a hug.
“Please take care of yourself and feel free to come by anytime, you’re always welcome here.” My mom said.
“Thanks you Ms--” Victoria began before changing her sentence midway through. “Thank you Natasha.”
“Can I hug you too?” My mom asked.
“ ‘Course. Anytime.”
The two of them exchanged a quick hug before Victoria made her way down the stairs.
“Mom, are you okay?” I asked once the door was closed.
“Yeah, I just feel sorry for her… And for you.”
“For ever considering abandoning you, you could have been another Victoria because of my screwed up beliefs.” She came forward and protectively hugged me. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, I forgive you. Beside, love won in the end, didn’t it?”
“For us, yes.”
She squeezed me hard and I returned the hug.
“I love you Paige.”
“I love you too mom.”