Sora rushed to her closet in a panic, eyes scanning for clothes to wear. Her hands slowed their rapid flipping of hangers as her mind caught up with her.
Wait, I don’t need to rush. I’ll be just fine, first, take a shower and then get dressed. But before that, water! Shouldn’t I be more concerned about these fox ears … nah.
Heading to the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of water and began to rehydrate. Sitting down, she stared out at the beach and ocean through the glass wall, now completely at ease. It was like her eyes were adjustable binoculars, she could focus on individual people on boats without effort, judging the distance.
Vision flipping to a group of people, she watched a volleyball game while drinking her water. The comfort she felt in this strange situation vaguely tickled the back of her mind, but it didn’t hold for long.
Drinking another glass before moving upstairs to her bathroom, she removed her damp nightwear and threw it into the laundry chute. Stepping into the shower, she applied her skin care products to help reverse the spa’s effects and washed her hair. She cleaned the tops of her new ears carefully and found the experience quite enjoyable.
Finished, she shut off the valves, squeezed out the water from her thick locks, and quickly patted down her body and hair, but took care with her ears. Going to the sink, she completed her daily maintenance before moving back to her wardrobe to look for suitable clothes.
Throwing a new set of garments across the floor, she found a blue, gray, and tan block t-shirt that held close to her body and flared out at the bottom, ending at her upper thighs; brown denim shorts, contrast-color bow-accent flats, and a knitted fedora.
Putting them on, she stopped as she added the fedora; scratching at her ears vehemently, she threw it against the wall in frustration. Finally getting rid of the itch, she tried on a white accented straw hat that had a black bow tied around it. She could fold her ears down slightly inside, which helped with the discomfort. School policy said no student could wear hats during class, but it wasn’t enforced.
Should I be going to school, though … animal ears are a good excuse to skip class. But … I want to go? “Hmm.”
Turning everything off, she called the elevator and greeted Ron. “Have a good day off yesterday, Ron?” Remembering his usual schedule.
Ron nodded and lifted an eyebrow as he looked past her at the water trail leading from the kitchen to the stairs. “Yeah … some of the staff told me you didn’t go out yesterday and you’re leaving kind of late today. The desk got a call from the school. Are you really alright? I know your dad’s gone dark for the week, but I’m here if you want to talk.”
Sora’s smile faltered. Shouldn’t I at least send him a voicemail or text about these new ears?
“I’d like—umm, no, I think I’m alright.” Smile returning, the thought disappeared. “I just wasn’t feeling all that well yesterday, but I feel great today.”
Ron nodded. “You do look pretty happy and excited. Something happening today?”
“Nope, I just feel really good. Maybe it was the spa … I fell asleep in it.”
“Huh,” Ron leaned back against the wall. “I fell asleep in a spa once, and after waking up, I felt pretty good.”
Sora shrugged before winking with a sly grin. “Anyways, I’m late for school. So, I better get going.”
Ron took a second to process everything, blinking blankly before nodding. His smile returned as he pressed the ground floor button. “Yeah … my bad. Um, I’ll send in … the, I’m … I’ll report it to the staff. By the way, did you do something—different today?”
Frowning, she looked up at Ron. “What do you mean?”
Ron scratched his hairless chin and rubbed his nose for a second. “I … don’t know. You just seem—cuter, no, more beautiful … that’s not it. Stunning maybe?” He took a few more seconds before saying, “You just seem to look better than normal, like a glowing … aura or something.” He sounded extremely confused. “You smell nice.” His brow creased, eyes squinting toward the side, as his mouth opened in bewilderment. “Why…”
Sora laughed it off as the doors opened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I need to get off to school. I’m already late.”
“Yeah, I understand,” Ron said, waving her off while scratching the back of his head. Sora heard him whisper, “What in the world is wrong with me?”
Exiting the building, she moved toward the school. Why would Ron say those things? He was tripping all over his words. It’s not like him.
Losing interest, she continued along 24th Street, examining the people around her with passive interest and testing different scents to determine lunch options. Arriving, she sighed as the lunch bell sounded.
I only made it to one class, but it’s better than nothing—why do I even care?
Sora slowed as she watched a crowd of students start flooding the front of the school, going out for lunch. She barely made it onto the sidewalk to the front entrance when Lori burst through the crowd, darting toward her. Her eyes were cold, and somehow all of her wounds had healed, piquing Sora’s interest.
Sora felt a grin spreading across her lips as Lori quickly closed the distance. “Lori, you’re looking much better! Some kind of miracle ointment? I bet it smells nasty because you are rank!” A lingering fog of self-fear caressed her mind, before fading.
Dodging around Lori’s lunge, she giggled. It was like Lori was moving in slow motion, her face red with anger as she perused Sora. Frivolously dancing around Lori’s attempts to grab, hit, and tackle her, Sora couldn’t stop giggling. “Then again—maybe the ointment doesn’t bother you since you’re used to your own horrific stench!”
Several of Kari’s gang and students had started to gather as the two of them darted around the front yard; their fight obscured by the volume of kids leaving the school. Sora wasn’t breaking a sweat, her feet dexterously finding purchase on the dirt, grass, and concrete. Lori started to get more and more worked up, mumbling ‘kill’ under her breath at every other swipe.
Sora’s laughter only increased as the thrilling surge of being chased coursed through her body, the danger sending a sharp electrifying spur over her skin and through her stomach. Even with all her agile directional shifts, she still managed to keep her hat in place.
“Maybe you should start running in the morning, Lori; you seem to be tiring out!”
In truth, Lori was picking up in ferocity, now baring her teeth. Sora’s sharp eyes caught a change in Lori’s attack style; Lori’s fingernails somehow extended slightly, forming into sharp points. Sora was brimming with curiosity.
Feeling a tingle across her back, Sora ducked impulsively, held her hat down, and dove left, smoothly rolling across the grass to a standing position. One of Kari’s gang members had her hands out as if she tried to grab her. Sora put a hand to her mouth as Lori’s fist came out and struck the girl across the face, driving her to the ground. “Stay out of it!” she spat.
Sora’s tone was taunting. “Lori! Now are you really that desperate for attention or do you need to feel powerful?” Lori’s eyes showed disgust and hate, but Sora could smell a strong scent of fear.
She’s terrified of something … what could make her scared enough to attack me in the open? Maybe Kari … or her brother?
Sora felt angst wrap around her chest; she wanted to know.
“I don’t need attention!” Lori shouted as she sprinted forward. “I need you dead!”
A sudden inspiration flashed across Sora’s body, an innate and reactive feral knowledge. Instinctively, Sora pushed forward, darted around Lori’s thrust and stopped right in front of her face. Lori tensed and tried to pull back, but she was too slow.
Sora’s bright green eyes bore into Lori’s dark brown, and her index finger swiftly came up to press a fingernail under Lori’s chin, forcing eye contact. She was delighted to find emotion and knowledge flooding her mind. “Why are you still playing their games, Lori?”
Lori’s eyes shot open half a second before her muscles loosened and she whispered, “Damn you and your … damn fox tricks.”
She kept eye contact, Sora’s voice came out in a maimed manner. “Oh, poor Lori. Being used and hurt, out of your control. Every time you let your guard down … lies, plots, twisting your mind … you’re so consumed with all their problems, not even worth living, but trapped.”
Eyes dimming, Lori couldn’t break the interaction. Sora continued to exploit her internal emotional struggle. She had a vague understanding of Lori’s thoughts and feelings, instinct telling her exactly what to say.
“Hide from the monsters you keep inside, but that won’t stop the monsters outside. The lies to your dad, but he doesn’t care for you, despite your pleas. Did you really think Kari cared for you? You were never accepted. So pitiful.” Tears welled up in Lori’s eyes as her body trembled, distress etching across her face as Sora dove deeper, the crowd muttered uneasily.
“You never had control. You were forsaken, abandoned from the start, the scapegoat for all the empty promises. A used and broken tool.” She could feel her words driving into Lori’s mind, imprinting and enhancing her current emotional struggle.
Cheeks shining red, liquid flowed down Lori’s chin, whimpers escaping her throat as she whispered, “Stop—please stop…”
Letting a depressed sigh escape her lips to graze past Lori’s cheeks, Sora said, “There won’t be a happy ending, Lori, but—you already knew that.” Lori’s legs collapsed, breaking eye contact with Sora. Lori hugged herself, hiccupping and sobbing hysterically.
She walked several steps away, and half turned. “Pathetic.” The crowd backed away from Sora as she walked away, staring at Lori uncertainly, not knowing what action to take, a pack without a leader.
Lori’s emotions surged through her, and it made her sick. Sora was disgusted, but not with Lori; she was revolted by herself. She halted for a moment as a girl yelled, “Kari’s going to kill you!”
Sora turned to face the girl, faking a grin past the depression and anxiety that coated her body. “Not if I get her first!” She left the crowd speechless. A bitter taste in her mouth, she didn’t want to enter the school.
She made her way to the Italian restaurant. Making it halfway, she ducked into an alleyway. Leaning up against the wall, she slid down it, staring hollowly at the concrete. Misery filled her belly; pain, self-hatred, and hopelessness assaulted her from all sides.
These are Lori’s feelings? She’s been contemplating suicide, but can’t go through with it … because of Kari and her brother? I don’t know why, but Lori doesn’t expect to live past the week and can’t even take her own life. All she can do is cry and wait for the inevitable…
Sora’s eyes snapped open and her fox ears pricked up, making her hat stand on-end, a familiar bell rang around the area. Quickly adjusting her hat, she ran out of the alley, following the sound. She darted around tourists to stop in front of the Italian restaurant. Across the street, sitting on a car hood was the two-tailed cat. This was the third time. She frowned as the cat darted left and into an alley.
Sitting at one of the outside tables of the restaurant, she rested her head against her hands, trying to keep her mind on track.
Control your curiosity! Control! The cat can wait.
She put a hand to her chest as her heart pounded; the hopeless feelings hadn’t vanished, merely been suppressed.
These feelings aren’t new … Lori’s held these emotions in for a long time. She can’t keep fighting whatever she’s facing. I can’t believe it, but she actually hates Kari, hates just about everything, but doesn’t dare show it. She’s almost burnt out … she’s been bullying me to just feel something, to feel in control.
The cat was already out of her mind, so she stood and walked into the restaurant. Her connection to Lori was now starting to fade, but she still remembered them.
The sibling hatred must be Kari and her brother; which makes sense with Lori’s statement in the classroom about Devin. There also seems to be a lot of broken promises and mediator work done by Lori—forced by Kari’s brother. Also … something about her never being accepted? Lori is Kari’s left hand, Jenny being her right … Jenny’s missing and that has Lori terrified for some reason—how can I think like this? I’ve turned into a complete monster…
Sora’s emotional connection to Lori snapped as a waiter came up to take her order and realization hit. “I forgot! I didn’t bring my wallet.” Sighing in exasperation, she waved apologetically at the waiter. “I’ll be back. I need to go back to my hotel.”
“Ah, got it,” the waiter said with an understanding smile.
She walked back outside, her stomach growling with the sudden directional change. “Oh, shut up! I’ll get to you in a bit.” A passing couple looked at her questioningly, but Sora didn’t pay them any mind. She huffily backtracked to her hotel, taking a different route that would lead her around the school. She fought to keep Lori’s dilemma in mind, but it was becoming harder with every passing second as her hunger deepened.