June 2004

It was our last real day at school before exams officially began, and I was hoping for it to just be a chill day. Being a puma, most of my days in general tend to revolve around me just getting through the day without much interference from others, but today – for obvious reasons – I was really hoping to just have nothing to worry about in the slightest. Exams were right around the corner and I didn’t need any more reasons to be volatile all the time.

And for the most part, my wishes actually came true. Most of the other animals I went to school with already knew out of principal not to bother me, and nothing particularly significant came up during class that I had to have my mind on. Just go home, study a bit, go to sleep, and have the weekend all to myself; quite literally so as my mom would be out of town for three days, and my employer at Wendy’s took my hours off for the week for exams. Perfect.

At least, it was perfect right up until Jeremy came rushing over to me just as I was emptying my locker to head home for the day. If it was anyone else, I would have shoved them aside. But Jeremy was not only basically my ‘best’ friend; he was also a 6’2” Siberian tiger who would readily kick my ass if I did him like that. And he had a reputation of never caring about school discipline. So, I knew without even fully looking at him that I was officially at his mercy, and my plans for a perfect day were no longer relevant.

That feeling slightly dwindled as I saw him come up to me with a decent-sized gash across his muzzle.

“Yo, Seb!” he hollered, grabbing me by the shoulder. “Seb!”

“What?!” I snarled as I reflexively turned to him. I was still midway through packing my backpack.

“You gotta get me outta here man. Where’s your car?”

I still had a math book in my hand. I gripped it tighter as I took in the gash on his muzzle. “Damn, what happened to you?”

“Some guys are fucking after me right now. Some of those wolves. I need you to get me out of here.”

I could already guess what this was all about. I wasn’t afraid, just unimpressed. “What did you do to piss of the wolves,” I asked flatly, tucking my math book into my backpack.

Jeremy huffed. “I don’t have time for this shit right now! I need to get out of this place!”

I slowly tightened the straps on my backpack and carefully placed it over my shoulders. Then I closed my locker shut and double checked that the lock was sealed. I didn’t mind taking my time with Jeremy on this. He had interrupted my perfect routine, yet I was still going to do what he told me to do. He was this way whenever I needed a favour from him too. That’s just how us cats are. We really do savour whatever tidbits of personal freedom we can salvage, in any situation.

“Hurry the fuck up!” Jeremy culled, probably more than once.

“Alright,” I announced, once I knew for sure my lock was secure. “Let’s-a-go.” I could sense him cringing from behind me at my casual attitude.

We speed-walked down the hall, past the auditorium, out the back entrance of the school. It was there that the parking lot was located, and I rummaged through my pockets – again, very carefully – until I found the car keys. Jeremy, meanwhile, practically opened the door before the beep even came. His build was so large he practically took up the whole seat. I marched to the other side of the car, slumped into the driver’s seat, and jammed the keys into the ignition as far as I could, to make sure they would respond the first time.

“Holy shit,” Jeremy wailed. “Oh my god, just FUCKING GO.”

“Hey man, this lady is old,” I retorted, padding the wheel which had some tears in it. “This is a ‘94 Chevy my stepdad handed down to me. This is special.”

“I don’t fucking care! Get me the fuck out of this place man!”

I turned the keys, and by the grace of God, the engine started the first time. I looked behind myself about three times to make sure I wasn’t backing into anything. Once I was steered in front, we were good to go.

“Good god,” Jeremy sighed as we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street. “Finally.”

“We’re both cats, my dude,” I said, turning the radio on. “You would do the exact same for me.”

“Just... shut up, Seb. I just want it to be quiet right now. Turn the music off.”

“Alright.” I turned it off before we could identify the song playing. “I respect that.” I did. And I could relate. Every feline just needed silence every so often.

For a while, there was no conversation between us. Before we knew it, we were up on Duncan Street, the centre of the downtown area of Romanborough; just about five minutes from where I lived. That realisation had me thinking to ask the obvious.

“So... I should make a turn on Madison and drive you home, right?” I expected some kind of Uh, yes, dumbass response, which even in my head felt deserved since I had just instinctively been driving home without even thinking about my guest.

To my surprise, that was not what I got. There was a pause before Jeremy said, “Nah, dude. I can’t go home right now. Just take me to your place. If that’s okay with you. Or your mom doesn’t mind it.”

“My mom’s out for the weekend, so no need to worry there,” I replied, dutifully making a turn onto London as the green arrow came on.

“Oh, cool. Yeah, just take me to your place. I think I need to...” I caught a glance of Jeremy rubbing his face and over his gash. “...hide out, for a bit.”

That made me think to ask another obvious question of concern. “What happened to your muzzle, anyway?”

He threw his hand down. Then he raised it again as he began to rant. “So... these fucking wolves, right? You know them, the guys at my boxing club. I really hate them. I really fucking do.” He had told me this story many times, but I figured it was better to just let him go off than to challenge him. “First off, I don’t know what their deal is with cats. Guess they think if they get in my way enough, I’ll try to claw their eyes out or something. So, they’re always doing shit to piss me off. Hanging around my locker, stealing my equipment, talking down to me when I’m on the punching bag... stuff that would make anyone angry, but they call me shit like ‘pussycat’ because they know why they’re targeting me. Lord fucking knows that if the staff weren’t there, they’d all be dead right now, just for that.

“It’s not just that, though. They’re super homophobic, too. It’s not like I’m even out to them or anything – I would be a complete idiot to even think of going there – but they’re constantly using words like ‘faggot’ and ‘queer’ and ‘sissy’ all the time to describe people they don’t like. They call me those names too, because they think I’m weaker than them, I guess. The thing is, I like boxing. I like it a lot. And normally I’m not about to let some assholes stop me from going to the club every single day, and getting better at it. But I’ve just been getting to my absolute breaking point.”

I was, in fact, the only person Jeremy was officially out to. It’s not that he was one of those lone gay kids in a small town. We lived in a decent-sized city smack in the middle of Southern Ontario, and there were a good number of openly gay people at our school alone. Ever since gay marriage had been legalised in Ontario the year before, old and new faces seemed to be coming out left and right. But Jeremy didn’t like to advertise himself like that. Didn’t mean he still didn’t get angry when his ‘people’ had to face the daily hardships that still existed. Like bullies at a club. And it was always to me he came to vent about it.

“Did you finally snap at them?” I asked, just as we were a few blocks away from my place.

“Well...” he began reluctantly, “...yes and no. I told you about Tyler, the guy who always brings weed with him to the club. When it closes, he and his buddies always go around back and smoke that shit up. Well, I decided to do a bit of petty payback for all the shit they’ve been giving me. I brought a screwdriver to the club today, and while they were all distracted fighting each other, I snuck in and broke the latch off Tyler’s locker. And, ho boy, was that locker ever a goldmine. I threw that whole stash into my backpack and just dipped out the back entrance. Bags, brownies, sticks, the whole lot of it. No more fucking pot for them.”

We were now parked in my driveway. “So,” I inquired, “I imagine they found out about this, yeah?”

Jeremy made a heavy sigh, and ran his paw over his gash again. “Yes, Seb. Tyler goes to our school. I knew this, by the way. I’m not ignorant. He just so happened to guess it was me.”

“Wait!” I blurted, unable to believe the sheer stupidity of what I had just heard. “You knew Tyler went to our school? What did you expect was going to happen?! Would he not guess it was you?!”

“I... I just...” Jeremy knelt over and put his head in his hands. “I wasn’t thinking about that shit, dude. I was just really angry.” He sat back up and continued. “So... yeah. We ended up taking it into the bathroom, and we both roughed each other up a bit...”

I gave him a smug look.

“We did! I didn’t leave the fucker hanging, I can tell you that much. But... yeah. Basically, he told me I was dead meat. Said he and the others were gonna be after me. Now... I don’t know what to do.”

I put my arms on the steering wheel and planted my head in them. I had to take a moment to really digest this. I thought about it a little bit, then raised my head to look at him. “What’s wrong with just going home.”

“How am I supposed to know if that’s safe?! I don’t know these guys; they could have fucking gang connections that I don’t know about, that can track my address and shit. They could hurt me. In fact, they will hurt me. And they might hurt my family too. I can’t just act like this didn’t happen, man, you hearing this?”

“Oh, I’m hearing it. I just don’t know what you want me to do about it.”

Jeremy looked at me as if I were a total buffoon. “Fucking shelter me? Keep me away from these bastards for at least a little bit? Jesus Christ, Seb. I like you man, but sometimes you’re just a complete airhead.”

I leaned back in my own seat. “Well, to be fair to myself, Jem, you are the one here ruining my plans for a perfectly chill weekend. Now I have to tend to your needs. Again.”

“Come on, man. Don’t be such a grumpy asshole. Especially not this time. I know I bother you about a lot of stuff, but I really need you to just help a brother out this time.”

I thought about it. I hadn’t been studying nearly as hard as I should have been exams; I was just too focused on other things I had going on in my life. My job at Wendy’s, my side gig as a freelance artist. I was one of those students who had been slipping behind the rest of the year and was really depending on acing that thirty percent. And I knew for a fact that my chances of doing even that were growing slimmer and slimmer by the minute. Luckily, Jeremy could be my secret weapon to getting past this thing. And our unwritten agreement was that, whenever one of us needed something from the other, we had to give back in some way. I had the perfect plan.

“Alright,” I said, sitting up in my seat. “Here’s the deal. You’re the guy who’s computer science everything. And you’re able to hack stuff, right?”

I could see in Jeremy’s face that he knew where this was going, and he didn’t like it. But he went with it anyway. “I’ve done my fair bit of DDOSing, yeah.” He probably knew he didn’t have much of a choice.

“You can probably hack the school’s system, right?”

“I’m not bumping up your grades, Seb.” Well, I read him at least half-right. Not too bad for a cat trying to read another cat.

I wasn’t about to let him off, though. “Man! If what you’re saying about these wolf guys is true... they could find me too! They could hurt me too, man! Don’t act like I’m not also putting myself at a bit of risk here. And all because of you! I should get at least a bit of long-term compensation just for that.”

Jeremy wiped his face yet again. I was growing about as sick of his ambivalence to my situation as he probably was of my mine to his. We were sick of each other’s ambivalence, basically, and something had to give. Situations like these pretty much sum up most relationships among us felines. There’s tension and tension until someone finally has enough and breaks the ice just to move things along.

“Fine. I’ll do it.” And there it was, ice finally broken by Mr. Moore. “Your house better not be a fucking mess like last time,” he bemoaned as he got out of my car. Or, rather smudged his way through door, as his big, muscular body had a hard time getting out of my thin seat.

I got out myself, and saw Jeremy over on the other side stretching his arms out over his head. It was true, he really did have the body of a fighter. His upper arms and forearms were practically two long, thick cylinders joined together, with long, pronounced veins distinguishing where the bulging muscles began. A couple bruises on his shoulder too, just as a further show off of what he did. When he reached back in to grab his backpack, I caught a glimpse of his bare neck, just as veiny as his arms. Seriously, if there was anyone that looked too old and developed to be in high school, it was this guy. He really did live up to what it meant to be a tiger. A Siberian tiger, at that.

That also reminded me to grab my backpack, which was still on the car floor. Once we were both all stacked up, we silently marched up to my front porch. I took the keys out of my pocket and let us both inside.

Happily, for Jeremy, our house was in pretty neat order this time around. The first real room in my house is the kitchen, which was spotless save for a full dishwasher that hadn’t been turned on yet, and a sink with a few extra dishes in it. Mom had actually made clean up the night before, just to prove that I would be a good boy who would take care of things while she was out. I had just turned eighteen, and she was still on the case about things like that. I suppose it was better than her not caring at all, though. At least she wanted me to have some order in my life. And I guess her concerns weren’t totally invalid; I had still forgotten to turn on the dishwasher.

Speaking of moms, that provoked me to ask something else that I probably should’ve already known the answer to by now. “Hey, Jeremy,” I said as we entered the kitchen. “What about your mom, anyways? What’s she gonna do now about all this?”

Jeremy didn’t say anything at first. He simply made the left turn into my living room and threw his backpack on the couch, and fell into the cushion next to it. “I need a minute,” he finally said.

That was fine by me, since I myself needed a bit of extra time to register the fact that I now basically had a runaway assassination target in my home. I went over to the cupboard beneath the sink, took out one of the detergents, opened up the dishwasher, threw it in, turned it on, then grabbed my backpack and headed upstairs. I opened my bedroom door, laid my backpack on the floor in the corner of my room, sat down at my chair, turned on my Windows XP and waited for it to boot up. I looked around at my walls; all of them almost completely covered in sketches I had been producing since I was about fifteen.

That was the age that I had finally decided to take on some initiative with my life. When I turned fifteen, I realised that I was three years away from being an adult and I still had no real goals, hobbies or any prospects in general for myself. The only thing I was passionate about was jerking off to girls on X-Fur, a site for animals from all over to share their illustrated masterpieces. But I couldn’t always find what I wanted on there. So, I started teaching myself to draw, so I could sketch out my own specific fantasies and be happy with them. I would share my progress on the X-Fur forums, and before long I got good enough that people were coming at me with their PayPal accounts wanting me to make their own fantasies come to life. I would also practice doing plenty of non-pornographic drawings too, just for the sake of variety and keep myself impassioned to do it.

Once my computer was showing the home screen, I immediately opened up Internet Explorer, searched up X-Fur and logged in. I was expecting my most recent commissioner to be sending me yet more hassling messages, since work and exams had been getting to me and was a week overdue on his lesbian lizard orgy piece. Most of my notifications were, indeed, from him. But there was another message from an account I didn’t recognise. ‘PussyStampedeOfficial’. I opened it.

Hey there, DrowningGod! (My username.) I’ll cut through all the crap. I’m Toby, I’m sure you know me. Well, you’ve probably already seen us talking about this in the forums, but me and a few others are trying to make a game called ‘Pussy Stampede’, an erotic lesbian visual novel of sorts. Nothing like it really done before! And I wanted to reach out to you specifically because, believe it or not, we think you would be the perfect guy to do the artwork for it! I mean, you’re basically kinda what your name says lol, you really are a god on this place. The way you just draw nothing but girls on girls, and nothing else, that’s special, not many artists do that. And you have a really universal style to your art, everyone likes it. Seriously man, you could be going places with your skill! And you really are exactly the kind of artist we need for our project. This could put us all on the map. What do you say???

I pushed back and let my chair roll across the room with me on it. I leaned back and put my lips in my fist in thought. After three long years – years of not really have much else going for myself, hoping one day this drawing thing might actually take me somewhere – the opportunity was finally given to me, practically on a silver platter. This could be it, maybe. I was still making decent money off the commissions I was already dealing with, but if this visual novel or whatever really did become popular, maybe a larger porn studio would notice me or something. Maybe all my efforts really would end up taking me somewhere. They wouldn’t just be constituting some useless side gig.

Thankfully I didn’t get lost in thought for too long, because I soon enough heard a knock on my door, which was wide open. I turned around and saw Jeremy. “Hey,” he said, looking blankly but also frustratingly at me. “You got anything I can use to clean this at all?” He hovered his paw over his wound.

I let my first hang over the arm of my chair. “Yeah. There’s some antiseptic in the bathroom. Under the sink. There should be band-aids too.”

With that, Jeremy went down the hall, and a startlingly harsh slam on the bathroom door quickly followed. I decided I’d take the couch from him while I could, so I took out my sketchbook, a few pencils, headed downstairs, and turned on the TV.

Jeremy came down a few minutes later, with a wound that wasn’t covered but much less visible. He came over and sat down next to me, as a rerun of Trailer Park Boys was playing. “I found some of your mom’s fur makeup and just put that over my cut,” he said, touching his face where the wound was, “if that’s alright. I just don’t really like band-aids at all.”

“Yeah, that’s cool,” I replied, staying focused on my sketching. “I feel the same way about them too, I guess.”

I could see out of the corner of my eye Jeremy resting his arm over the top of the couch, rubbing his eyes and breathing a light sigh. He looked almost just as he did when he first plopped onto my couch, which motivated me to ask what I still didn’t know the answer to. I threw my sketchbook on the coffee table in front of us, sat up and looked over at him. “So, what’s gonna happen with your mom? Is she out too, or...?”

Jeremy closed his eyes. “She’s... over at my grandma’s place. Her mom’s place. She had another breakdown the other day.”

Most friends would probably say something like I’m really sorry to hear that, but Jeremy had told me how much he hated pity, so I never said anything like that to him. Instead, I reached over and put my hand on his leg, and said, “Look, man. You can stay here as long as you need to. I might have to go out and get groceries later, but, yeah. Just take your time doing whatever. You can study at the kitchen table, do whatever you need to do. I’ll probably just be in my room most of the weekend, working on commissions and stuff. So don’t worry about infringing on my territory and all that.”

He looked over at me smiling. “That’s really all you do these days, isn’t it? Commissions, commissions, commissions. No wonder you need me to bump your grades up for you.” He started giggling, a kind of annoyed giggle. “Fucking hell, man.”

“Hey! I’m working towards a career, Jem! I taught myself to draw! Look at this!” I raised up my half-finished sketch of a nude robin girl. “This is my future right here.”

Jeremy laughed harder. I cracked up a bit too. “Oh yeah, this is gonna be amazing,” he lamented. “When people ask about my best friend in like, five years, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, he draws naked girls for a living. And 90% of his workday involves looking at the responses he gets on X-Fur!’ I’m really looking forward to that, Seb.”

“X-Fur’s gonna be well fucking behind me in five years, man. You know what just happened? I just got asked to help work on the art for a visual novel!” That got us both silent for a second, Jeremy just looking at me blankly. I kept going. “You know those Japanese games where like, it’s basically a visual novel but you get to have sex with the characters? Some guys on X-Fur want me to work on a game like that with them. Trust me man, in five years I’ll be a professional eroge developer!”

“Right. You’ll be making your porn games, and I’ll be a professional boxer with a degree in computer science. I’m glad to know that we both are going places.”

“And who knows? Maybe the reason that’ll even happen for you is because I saved your life by letting you crash at my place for an entire weekend while they ransacked your house. In other words, we both have a right to be proud.”

“Alright, man,” Jeremy said, slugging me in the shoulder, though he still couldn’t resist cracking up a bit. “You gonna let me chill now?”

“Sure,” I sighed, reaching for the remote. “Let’s just watch some shit right now. I’m too tired to go get groceries at the moment.”

“Sounds good to me.”

And so, we sat back as I turned the volume up, to another segment of Julian hassling Ricky over his chicken fingers.