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“Have you ever even played badminton before?” Lorraine asked from the other end of the net.
“We did in my gym class for a few days. I thought it was kind of fun.” It was just after breakfast, and Elise, Lorraine, and I were setting up several nets out in the fields behind the mansion. “Knowing you, you were probably busy in the storage room, giving some guy a rusty trombone.”
“Ah, good times!”
“I think this is a good idea,” said Elise as she helped me secure one of the posts of the net. “This ought to get them all tuckered out.”
It could not have been a more beautiful day, with warm sunlight and a perfect breeze.
“That, and I was thinking I might be able to get closer to Neija if I partner up with her. For that, Lorraine, I need you to partner up with her brother so she can’t.”
“What is it that she has against you anyway?” Elise asked.
“She hates me because I got her involved for the sake of keeping you and the girls safe.”
“I can understand that.”
“I know I used her, but she was never just the means to an end. With every girl I created, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to do right by them, to make sure they could live the best lives possible. It was love at first sight for all of them.”
“Maybe I could talk to her. After all, I was the reason why you went to that zoo in the first place.”
“Thanks, that would really help.”
“You know,” said Lorraine, “I think I might know what would really help her relax.”
“You do realize that I have to report this stuff, don’t you?” Dr. Lawrence groaned. “Do you have any idea what my superiors say when I update them as to this kind of stuff?”
He and all the other doctors were gathered on the patio to watch our badminton tournament, all them with faces flushed with embarrassment and uncertainty. Why? Because they were the only ones wearing clothes. All the hybrids, as well as me and Lorraine, had gone au naturel for this event. Even Elise had decided to go with the flow and let the dogs out. Men and women, they were all the happiest I had ever seen them, finally able to strip off the clothes they hated so much and feel the sun and wind on their bare skin. The games hadn’t even started and they were already running around and hollering like they had just popped some pills at Coachella. Goddamn, Lorraine’s guys were ridiculously hung.
Only Leah was absent, preferring to stay with the doctors on the shady patio and protect her skin. I was enjoying the chance to go nude as well, having never been naked outside since… ever. It was very liberating and refreshing, and the feel of the yard under my bare feet was wonderful. No wonder the girls had always complained about wearing clothes.
“Hey, it was Lorraine’s idea. And look at their smiles, how could this not be worth it? Besides, I know for a fact that every one of you has seen my equipment.” I then looked back at Dr. Moody. “Dr. Moody, I enjoyed reading your notes earlier, but there is a question I still have. What do you think? How’s the angle of the dangle?”
She didn’t even answer, just burst into laughter, along with the other doctors. They were laughing at the question, right? Right?
As Lorraine and Elise explained the rules of the game, I found Neija in the heart of the crowd with a warm smile on her face, brought on by the sunlight on her beautiful body.
“You really do have a lovely smile,” I said as I approached her.
Naturally, she went back to scowling when she saw me. “What do you want?”
“Let’s partner up. I bet you and I can beat everyone here.”
“Leave me alone.”
“Come on, I really want to get to know you.”
“The feeling isn’t mutual.”
“Look, I’m not asking you to trust me or to even like me. I’m just asking you to have faith that someday you might, and to let this be the first step.”
“You’re just doing this because you want me to mate with you at that sleepover they’re all talking about.”
“No, I’m doing this because I want you to be happy, and if your anger for me is keeping you from smiling, then I want to change that.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe I would be happy if you just left me alone?”
“But even then, you’ll still have that anger in you.”
“And before we start,” Elise hollered, “everyone put on sunscreen!”
On cue, Lorraine squirted sunscreen all over herself. “Come on, boys! If you want any sunscreen, you’ll have to catch this greased pig!”
“Fine, if it’ll shut you up, I’ll do it,” Neija said. I handed her a racket. “By the way, what do I get if I win?”
Several pairs of ears perked up.
Our first opponents were Amanda and her brother, Simon. “Master, you won’t be mad if we win, will you?” she asked.
“Of course not, so don’t hold back.”
“What is a cake, anyway?” Simon asked.
“It’s a really sweet treat. It’s so good that Momo and the others would give their right arms for one. Ok, let’s start.”
I Escort Bayan served, lobbing the shuttlecock over the net. Across the field, countless other shuttlecocks were flying as everyone started. Who am I kidding? Barely anyone managed to actually hit it the first time. Even I missed. Neija scoffed in annoyance at my failed attempt.
“You think you can do better?” I asked as I tossed it to her.
She got it and dropped it to smack it with her racket. She hit nothing but air and the cone landed the grass. Her tail scrunched in annoyance and she looked off into the distance so as not to meet my gaze.
“I thought so.” I took it back and this time managed to send it over.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Amanda hollered, staggering back and falling to the ground. The shuttlecock bounced off her forehead and landed upright on her left breast.
This time, Simon served it, but without missing a beat, Neija jumped into the air and spiked it like she was playing volleyball. Two points for us. Crap, I had set this little tournament so that the first team to ten points would win and move up to the next match, but that might not be feasible. We’d probably have to let everyone get used to the game first.
“Nice one, Neija.”
She simply smirked while giving a little “hmmph” of self-satisfaction. Simon again served, this time lobbing it to me, and I knocked it back over, now with Amanda managing to return it. Finally, we were starting to get into the right rhythm. The shuttlecock began flying back and forth, with the four of us getting better and better with each whack. During the lull after one side would score a point, I look around to see how everyone was doing.
Nearby, Chloe and Lola were having some trouble. They were running around in circles, frantic, their instincts telling them to avoid anything falling their way. In the wild, even a fennec fox had to learn to fear the claws of birds of prey, and Lola had inherited that fear despite spending her life in the zoo. It was pretty pitiful, but of course, that makes it adorable as fuck.
Jenny and Peter were doing remarkably well, taking the same approach as Neija. While they were average in serving, they would jump into the air to spike anything lobbed their way. If they weren’t careful, they might end up falling on the net.
Two screams drew my eyes to Elise and Betty, Betty having tripped over Elise’s tail. I don’t know who suffered more, Elise for getting her tail stepped on by Betty’s giant hooves or Betty for falling hard on her tits. They were facing off against Momo and Sonja who seemed to have found their calling. True, Sonja was having a hard time resisting catching the shuttlecock in her mouth (heyooooo!), but she had spent countless hours chasing after balls and frisbees, so this was natural to her. It was the same for Momo, the shuttlecock reminding her of birds and invoking her predatory instinct.
The pillar men were doing well, but their Mistress was failing miserably. Rather than the shuttlecock, her eyes were glued to, well, other “shuttlecocks”. She was staring at her buff creations, licking her lips with insatiable lust. Playing in the sunlight, we could all go for a cold drink, but she was the thirstiest person here.
After some time to let hybrids get used to the game, we paused so everyone could get a drink, then started the tournament, with Dr. Lawrence marking the brackets. Countless rounds were played, with sweat pouring and evaporating and feet turning green from the grass. Neija and I moved up the line, beating whoever crossed our path. The more we played, the more I began to fall into the same pit as Lorraine. My eyes spent more time on Neija than the shuttlecock, her bronze body glistening with sweat. Goddamn, she was the epitome of sexiness in a way not even Betty could match. The only thing that drew my gaze from her body was her smile. Every time we scored, she’d grin from ear to ear, and when we won a match, she’d jump up and down and holler in joy. The thrill of winning was mixing with the endorphins of her exertion and causing her to unwind.
Finally, it was the last match, me and Neija vs Momo and Sonja, with everyone watching.
“Yeah! I finally get to play with Master! Hi, Master! This is so much fun!” Sonja was as sunny as usual, not even appearing tired after hours of playing.
Momo, on the other hand, was focused as a laser. “Momo wants that cake, Master,” she said coldly.
“Does this little cub really think she can stand up to me?” Neija asked with a sly grin.
“She has cake on her mind, don’t doubt her,” I replied.
I served, sending it over to Sonja who knocked it back with the happiest smile I had ever seen. It went over to Neija who jumped up to spike it down, but Momo had already gotten in position and was ready to intercept. Almost immediately, Sonja and I were pushed out of the game and it became a single match between Momo and Neija. They were zooming back and forth, not trusting me or Sonja to repel any lobs. The longer they played, Bayan Escort the closer and closer they got to the net. Momo too was jumping up to spike the shuttlecock, her hair standing on end and a ferocious look on her face. Sonja simply stood in the corner, jumping up and down and cheering in endless excitement.
The decisive moment came, Momo rebounding it over to Neija, and before the shuttlecock even passed over the net, she had pounced to counter Neija’s spike. So worked up, they ended up colliding in midair with the net between them and then falling on their backs. The shuttlecock, knocked back by Neija’s racket, flew through the air, bounced off Sonja’s head, and landed at her feet.
“Master and Neija win!” Jenny cheered as she jumped up and down like Sonja had before.
The fatigue of the game had slowed down my thought processes, because one moment I was standing in the corner of the court, and the next thing I knew, Neija was hugging me tightly, our sweaty bodies pressed tightly together.
“We won! We won!”
Then as soon as she had appeared, she let me go and walked away, apparently having remembered her grudge. But everyone else was celebrating, overjoyed by the fun we’d all had. In the crowd, Lorraine came up behind me.
“Man, she’s the queen of tsunderes, isn’t she?”
“I don’t know what that means, but I can guess,” I said. “Also, can you please stop grabbing my ass?”
She instead squeezed. “Honk! Honk!”
The tournament had definitely accomplished one of my goals: everyone was tuckered out, and many had gained a nice tan. There was only enough strength to scarf down lunch, after which, it was a lazy afternoon of showering and napping. The whole mansion was silent. I found myself lying on a couch in one of the common rooms of the house, reading a book. This spot had the best light for reading. Snoozing between my legs was Shannon, a species of goat called a Nubian Ibex. Her hair was light, a mix of gray and brown, and growing from her scalp was a pair of curled horns, which I was using as a bookstand. Like Betty, she had hooves for feet.
Soon enough, the fatigue overwhelmed me as well. I closed the book and set it on the floor, but that noise was enough to wake up Shannon.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. I just need to change position.”
I pulled out the pillows from behind me and lied back. A sleepy smile on her face, Shannon crawled up closer to me and settled next to me with my arm around her and her arm across my chest.
“Today was so fun,” she murmured before closing her eyes and drifting back to sleep.
“Yeah, it really was.” Then I stroked her long ears until my own eyes closed and I drifted to sleep.
After napping and eating dinner, everyone went back to their own thing, and I went in search of Neija. I found her sitting at one of the tables on the patio, watching the sunset. There were a few hybrids playing badminton out in the field.
“Hey,” I said.
She turned to me. “What do you want?”
“Did you forget? We won the tournament.” In one hand I held a small cake, and in the other, I had two forks.
“Just leave me half, I’ll eat it later.”
“Ok, but I guess you won’t mind if I eat my half out here.”
She rolled her eyes and I sat at the table with her, removing the plastic top covering the chocolate confection. It was small enough to be eaten in one sitting, though any of the doctors would disagree. I took the first bite and let out a loud hum of bliss, but Neija refused to acknowledge me and continued watching the sunset.
“Goddamn, that is delicious. I meant to get you all cake back when you were in the hospital, but they considered it too unhealthy. It’s become a tradition in this family to celebrate with cake when a new hybrid joins us.”
“I haven’t joined you.”
“But I still want to celebrate you being here. I like having you around. I loved seeing you smile today.” She ignored me, so I took another bite of cake and let out another loud groan of happiness. “Neija, seriously, you really need to eat this. It is so good, you won’t believe it.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Just a taste and I’ll shut up.”
She groaned, grabbed the other fork, and took a bite. That was all it took. Her eyes became wide, her tail stood erect, and her ears perked up. She became frantic, digging in like there was a prize at the bottom.
“Whoa, slow down a bit, you’re getting way too worked up.” I grabbed her wrist to stop her, and quick as a flash, she sank her teeth into my arm. I tensed up, using all of my willpower to keep from shouting in pain. She didn’t let go and neither did I. “Shhh, just take a deep breath. If you eat so fast, you’ll make yourself sick.”
She finally let go, revealing the deep teeth marks in my skin. Neija sat there, unsure of what to do, her lips colored black and red with chocolate and blood. What was going to happen now? How was she going to be punished? Blood was trickling Escort from the wound, but I ignored it and simply took another bite of cake. “I can’t blame you, it really is that good.” She still didn’t move, just stared at me. “Go on, you don’t have to stop. I just didn’t want you to get a stomach ache.”
She slowly resumed eating, the tension fading with each bite. Soon enough, the desert was gone, and the sun had finished setting. I stood up, taking with me the plastic cake container and the two forks. I did so with my good hand, since using my other would make my wound hurt. The bleeding had just about stopped, leaving my arm and hand encrusted with blood. It was itchy as hell and I desperately wanted to scratch it off, but I also didn’t want to acknowledge it, not with Neija’s eyes on me.
“All right, the mosquitoes are going nuts, so I’m going to head inside. Are you coming?”
She perked up. “Huh? Uh, no. I’m going to stay outside a little longer.”
She didn’t say anything, so I turned around and walked back to the door. But the moment I touched the knob, I heard her. “Wait, M— uh…” I looked back at her. “It was fun playing badminton,” she said while looking away.
I smiled. “Yeah, it was. Let’s pair up again next time.” Then I stepped inside and closed the door behind me.
“Jesus, Neija did this to you?” Dr. Lawrence asked as he examined my arm.
“Yeah, but it was my fault for grabbing her wrist.”
“She used to attack the doctors back at the hospital, but I thought that had stopped. We need to make sure this behavior comes to an end before she hurts someone else.”
“No, she won’t do it again.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“She was sorry. She didn’t say it, but she was sorry. In this case, I think it would help our relationship more if I forgave her rather than punished her.”
Dr. Lawrence began scrubbing the blood off my arm with a towel soaked in rubbing alcohol, leaving me on the verge of screaming.
“I’m not so sure about that. If you give her special treatment, it may make her feel alienated or she’ll see it as just a desperate attempt to make her like you.”
“I’m not going to punish her for acting on instinct. She’s a lioness, and if I can’t accept her for that, then I’m not fit to be her Master. I can still show her how to act like a person without trying to quash her animal side. I’m not giving her special treatment to win her favor, I’m simply trusting her to understand that what she did was wrong and to learn from that mistake without me having to rub her nose in it.”
“Well I don’t think you’ll need any stitches. Come back here in the morning and I’ll take another look.” Dr. Lawrence laid some gauze on my arm and then wrapped it in bandages.
“What are you going to tell the girls when they ask?”
“I’ll just say I got a rash from playing outside. I think we’re still in browntail moth season.”
“All right then, goodnight.”
The next day, I found myself sitting at a table in one of the common rooms with five girls seated across from me: Talia, Amanda, Neija, Kerrie, and a Lycaon pictus, otherwise known as an African wild dog, named Piper. Her hair was a mix of white, brown, and black, and she had huge round ears, like Chloe and Lola, with a long fluffy tail. Under normal circumstances, Neija would bitch and moan and refuse to be anywhere near me, but not after the incident last night. She was too proud to say she was sorry, part of her still felt like she had nothing to be sorry for, but that same pride wouldn’t let her make a fuss and be belligerent. Instead, she simply non-verbally expressed her boredom and discomfort.
“These are the letters of the alphabet, see?” I slid a piece of paper over to them, on which I had written all twenty-six letters, both uppercase and lowercase.
“How are we supposed to remember all that?” Lola asked frantically.
“That is way too much!” Amanda added.
“Just take one step at a time. Momo, Sonja, Chloe, Leah, and Jenny all had the same reaction when they first started. I’ve built up plenty of experience in teaching others how to read. Here, I know a way to get you interested. Lola, can you write this letter here, then this one, the first one again, and then this one?” She took the pencil, first holding it the shovel way, but I showed her the proper form. She wrote down the four letters. “Good, now Amanda, write down the letters I point to.”
They each took a turn, copying the letters that I told them to in specific orders. Neija didn’t complain, though she constantly rolled her eyes. For such an intelligent hybrid, she certainly acted like a brat. Piper did it last and I held up the paper.
“Congratulations, you all just wrote your names.”
Their eyes widened and they leaned forward as if I had just performed a magic trick. Behind them, a girl poked her head through the door. It was Levi, the anaconda. “Can I write my name too?” she asked.
I invited her over and I showed her the letters to use. More girls started showing up. “Me too!” they all said. In seconds, the room was filled, with all the hybrids fighting for the pencil.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
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