July 2021 Newsletter
IN A BADGER WAY
Stevie woke up the next morning feeling better than she had in ages. The meds prescribed by her new doctor didn’t make her feel worn down, but they also didn’t make her feel confused or out of it.
The medications were a compound mix of chemicals and herbs that were based on Stevie’s genetic makeup. Unlike her German doctors, her current doc knew exactly what she was and what that meant. Dr. Morgan was able to give her something made specifically for the human, badger, and cat within.
Bouncing out of bed, she hit the shower and was dressed and ready for action by the time Max came stumbling into the kitchen. Only her sister didn’t come from her bedroom. She was coming from outside, her face and chest covered in more deep scratches and her leg viciously . . . chewed?
“What happened to you?” Stevie demanded, a jug of orange juice gripped in her hand.
Max paused in mid-limp, eyes blinking, before—after several seconds—she replied, “Nothin’. Why?”
“You been in a fight with that stray cat again?”
“She threw the first paw!” Max suddenly exploded.
Stevie held up her free hand. “I can’t with you. But Charlie’s gonna freak out when she sees you.”
Max stopped again, realizing Stevie was right. Their sister was going to freak out when she saw Max, and Stevie knew that Max did not want to hear it.
Max faced Stevie, looked her over. “What are you doing right now?”
“Shen and I are going into the city. To a gym. To work out,” she finished when Max kept staring. “The doctor suggested it. More exercise.”
“More? How about any?”
Stevie let out a frustrated breath and began to turn away.
“Wait ten minutes,” Max asked. “I’ll go with you.”
Max started limping by, but abruptly stopped again. “What do you mean ‘why’?”
“Why. Why do you want to come with us? Because you want to join a gym in Manhattan or because you want to make sure my meds are working?”
“What if I do want to make sure your meds are working? Isn’t that my responsibility?”
Insulted, Stevie slammed the jug of juice onto the table. “First off, it’s not your fucking responsibility.”
“And second, I’m going to a goddamn gym. Not a school for bears trained to startle.”
“It’s not just about your meds, idiot. We’re still in danger.”
“And I’m going with a trained security dude. I think I’ll be okay.”
Max limped close and Stevie covered her nose and mouth with her hand. She had to. It seemed the stray had sprayed Max in the chest.
“Dude,” she said between her fingers while trying to hold her breath. “The funk!”
“Look,” Max went on, ignoring Stevie’s struggle to breathe, “Shen likes you. Maybe too much to protect you the way you need to be.”
“What are you talking about, and could you step back?”
“I have one job, boo. And it’s to keep you alive. Because if something happens to you, Charlie loses it. And if Charlie loses it, no one is safe. Don’t you get that?”
“But . . .”
Stevie shook her head, unable to take another second. She placed her hand against Max’s face and pushed, sending her sister across the room and into the wall hard.
“Sorry,” she said. “The funk. I just can’t.” She took a few steps back for even more distance before she went on. “That being said, I appreciate your protection, but it’s a gym. I’m just looking for something I’ll enjoy.”
“And to spend some time with Shen?”
“Is that so wrong?” she barked.
Max rolled her eyes. “Then I’d better go. Because if I don’t go, Charlie’s gonna go. And if Charlie goes, you won’t get anywhere with that panda.”
Stevie had to admit Max was right. Annoying, but right.
“You’ll bathe first?” she had to ask.
“If you insist—”
“Fine. Don’t leave without me.”
Max finally made it out of the kitchen and Stevie was able to drink some damn orange juice. She stood by the open window—ahhh, fresh air and funk free—gazing out at the backyard when she saw the stray cat that had probably sprayed her sister in the chest.
Stevie went outside and, with the cat watching, placed a bowl of water and an open can of tuna in front of the animal.
She smirked down at the feral beast. “You’ve gotta work on your aim, cutie. So next time you can nail her in the face.” Stevie laughed, impressed with anyone or anything not afraid to tangle with Max MacKilligan.
She’d started back to the house when the Dunn triplets’ two dogs came running around the corner. They did this most mornings, coming from the Dunn home across the street so that they could roll around in the grass, pee on every tree, and take enormous shits in the middle of their lawn because there was no way that two dogs with the combined weight of nearly three hundred pounds could take small shits.
Thankfully, one of the Dunn siblings always came over afterward to clean up because none of them wanted to hear Charlie screaming, “Why do your mini horses keep shitting in our yard?”
Normally, Stevie would leave the dogs to their own shit-making devices because who wanted to stand around watching dogs crap everywhere? But the cat . . . she’d almost forgotten about the cat. Worried the pair would go after the feral animal, Stevie rushed toward it, ready to scoop it in her arms to protect her . . . or him. She really didn’t know which. But before she could reach the creature, the cat stood over the can of tuna, arched its back, and gave the craziest sounding hiss-snarl Stevie had ever heard.
Both dogs stopped and stared at the cat, but when they didn’t do anything, the cat gave that hiss-snarl again and charged them. Like a tiny bull.
And the dogs ran! They disappeared around the house, the cat hot on their heels.
Stevie had just started to laugh at that cat chasing off two giant dogs when the back door swung open and Charlie ran out, screaming, “Stevie don’t!” But when she spotted Stevie just standing there, Charlie stumbled to a stop . . . and simply stared.
When her sister didn’t say anything, Stevie asked, “Stevie don’t what?”
“Uhhh . . .”
One of the windows on the second floor flew open and a naked, wet Max launched herself out, legs and arms spread wide. And, as she fell, she yelled, “I’ve got herrrr—ow!”
The ow came when Max landed face-first on the lawn, body spread-eagled.
The best part of it all was when the cat returned to eat her tuna she made sure to walk across Max’s back on her way to the can.
And Stevie would have laughed hard—if she wasn’t so pissed off.
“You thought I shifted,” she guessed.
Charlie winced before admitting, “We heard that weird noise you make just before you shift.”
“What weird noise?”
“I don’t know. Kind of a growling hiss or something. It’s weird . . . but distinct.”
“That was the cat.”
“Right.” Charlie nodded her head and adamantly added, “The cat inside you, which we respect.”
“Not the cat inside me,” Stevie bit out, her jaw tight with annoyance. “The cat.” She pointed at the cat now enjoying the tuna by Stevie’s leg.
Charlie gazed at the animal a few moments before suggesting, “You really shouldn’t feed strays. Now we’ll never get rid of her.”
Stevie stepped in close to Charlie. “So I sound like a feral cat to you?”
“Only when you shift,” she insisted.
“How does that make it better?”
“Uh, look, I just think—”
“So I’ve lost so much control, after all these years, that I would shift in the middle of our yard? That’s what you are also saying?”
“You changed your meds,” she said meekly.
“And yet,” Stevie went on, “despite my grotesque shifter size—”
“No one said grotesque.”
“—I still sound like a feral cat that weighs about eight pounds?”
The sisters stared at each other until they heard Max say, “I’m okay. Don’t worry about me.”
“We won’t,” Stevie and Charlie said together, then Stevie stormed back into the house, dropping into an empty chair at the kitchen table.
Kyle was on the other side, eating toast and sipping juice. Catty-corner was a still–waking up Shen who was in the middle of downing a big bowl of cereal, which normally wouldn’t be something Stevie cared about except for the crunching. So much crunching.
“What kind of cereal is that?” she demanded when she couldn’t take it anymore.
“Grape-Nuts,” he muttered.
“Without any milk?”
Shen looked into his bowl . . . as if he wasn’t sure. “No, there’s milk.”
“He added bamboo to his cereal. That’s the noise you’re hearing,” Kyle explained.
“Well, it’s annoying the fuck out of me.”
Kyle’s eyebrows went up but he knew better than to say anything. Instead, he focused on buttering more toast.
Shen, however, gazed deeply into her eyes . . . and continued to chew. Loudly.
Shen didn’t know what Stevie MacKilligan expected. That he would stop eating? Bears never stopped eating. Because they were always hungry. It was even worse for giant pandas because bamboo wasn’t nearly as filling as a good steak sandwich. But he didn’t have nightlong dreams about sitting in a field of bamboo that went on as far as the eye could see and eating steak sandwiches.
And if there was one thing he would not let Stevie do, it was interrupt his bamboo-infused breakfast.
Thankfully, their staring contest didn’t go on for too long because Charlie walked in through the back door. As soon as the door opened, Stevie’s gaze moved to the far wall and she crossed her arms over her chest. Then she didn’t move.
Charlie stopped behind Stevie, opened her mouth to say something . . . but nothing came out. She tried again, but still nothing.
Jaw locked in frustration, Charlie walked away; the front door slammed closed a minute or two later.
Just as that door closed, the back door opened again and a naked, filthy, and bloody Max walked in.
“No, don’t mind me,” she said to the back of Stevie’s head. “I’m fine. Just great!”
“No one asked,” Stevie shot back, still not turning around. “And we’re leaving in five minutes!” she yelled after her sister had stomped out of the kitchen.
“More like fifteen,” Shen tossed in before spooning more cereal and bamboo into his mouth. “What?” he asked when Stevie sneered at him. “I need to shower.”
“Then could you pick up the speed? I’m not used to waiting for staff.”
Head dipping lower over his now overly buttered toast, Kyle muttered, “Damn, Stevie.”
Shen swallowed, looked Stevie in the eyes. “I’m merely staff now?” he asked. “I thought I was cute.”
“You’re getting less cute as the day goes on.”
“Hey, don’t take it out on me because your sisters have no faith in you and think you sound like a feral cat from their backyard.”
Stevie slammed her hands on the table and Kyle suddenly bolted out of his chair and moved to the open window.
But all Stevie did was get up and storm out; Kyle let out a breath when she was gone.
“Are you trying to get us killed?” he asked in an almost hysterical whisper. “If she shifts, she could pop us in her mouth like an Altoid!”
“If she shifts, she’ll crush us anyway, so stop your whining.”
“You have no concept of how important I am to the universe, do you?”