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The Word Ch 04

Page history last edited by Sea Foam 1 year, 8 months ago

    Okay, he could do this. Definitely. The only problem was that he didn’t know what this was. Oh, Lord, he had no idea what he was doing. The boy shook his head. No! Confidence! He was confident!

“Hey, buddy, you gonna stand there all day?”

“Sorry!” The confident young man sprang out of the way and sought the nearest corner to hide in.

 

    Mouse stood near the entrance of the campus gym, thumbing the ID card he’d just waved to get in. Everywhere around him, people in tight clothing worked strange machines and picked things up just so they could put them back down again. Maybe this was a bad idea. He was going to hurt himself. Maybe kill himself. Yeah, he’d probably kill himself at some point that day. Mouse wasn’t the type of person for this environment, he knew; he’d be better off back at home with his nose in a book like usual. He turned to leave when the words Kestrel said that sent him there in the first place echoed through his head.

“Ah, your arms are so slender!” Ugh. Mouse may have been the bookish type, but he was still a man! With newfound vigor, he set off into the gym.

 

    When Mouse thought of the ideal male form, his image stopped at the waist. As such, he walked past every machine that worked the lower body and planted himself in front of the section of the gym set up to use the other half. He’d heard that free weights were better than using machines, so he gravitated toward the weight racks, looking for an open pressbench or whatever bar. One presented itself when a muscular guy made a show of grunting and dropping the bar back into the holders. Mouse stood nearby while the guy sat up and rolled his shoulders. When he tossed his towel over his shoulder and stood, the man looked him up and down before walking away with a smirk, like he knew Mouse was going to make a fool of himself with just a glance.

 

    Suddenly, Mouse was deflated again. Well, so what?! That guy looked like a gorilla anyway! He could get there eventually if he wanted. For now, though, he would probably need to take off some weight. The boy started by taking off one plate on each side, then another. He contemplated taking off another set, but if he did there'd be basically nothing else on the bar and he'd look like a wimp. Mouse looked at the plates again and gulped. Nothing left but to try…

 

The boy wriggled underneath the bar and grasped the iron. Maybe a little farther apart … closer… maybe… no, that felt good. Mouse took a deep breath in and out. This was his last chance to back out, but was he going to take it? Not today.

 

     For a single, triumphant moment, Mouse held the bar high. To an outside observer, what came next would’ve looked something like a blimp crashing. To the boy, it felt a lot like being in a blimp crash while he was strapped to the bottom of the gondola. Try as he might, Mouse’s trembling arms could only slow the chest-crushing weight’s descent toward his tender sternum. He could yell for help, but he was certain if he let himself exhale enough to do that he’d crush himself. Kicking his feet would destabilize him and he’d crush himself. He’d live a bit longer if he just sat there whimpering as the doom brought about by his own hubris came down, but the result would be the same. There was something poetic about that; maybe he’d come to appreciate it while his life flashed before his eyes accompanied by a mental soundtrack consisting of his ribs cracking and one final squeak.

“Oop, careful there.”

 

    A single hand descended from the heavens to take the weight of Mouse’s sins from his hands. There was probably something poetic in that too, but more importantly, AIR! Isaac squeezed his eyes shut and let his arms go limp as he sucked in the sweet, sweet air he’d been denied for so long.

“I thought,” he gasped, “I thought I was going to die!” His angel chuckled.

“I don’t think these are that heavy, but you might want to find a spotter.” Ah, his angel was a girl.

 

    The boy cracked his eyes open after catching his breath, but found the view greeting him to be about half as bright as it should’ve been. The cause, it seemed, was his savior’s massive breasts. She was resting with her hands on the press-bench, and between those and their positions he could barely see her face or the ceiling. That was… quite a sight. Not one he should stare at though; with a quick shake of his head, Mouse shimmied away from the bar and sat up.

 

    A pair of green eyes smiled at him once he’d popped up and turned. As if her chest wasn’t enough, the horns jutting wide over her shoulders immediately let Mouse identify her as a holstaur; even the backwater he came from had those. Her tail was poofier than he’d expected, though. And were there longhorn holstaurs? He wondered.

 

     She wore a green tank top cut below her ribs, which hung loose over the hump of her chest. Her legs were covered by a pair of emerald bike shorts with yellow-trimmed black panels on the inner thigh that emphasized her hips. It coordinated well with the short, stripy black hair on her head and the fuzzy fur on her legs. It was a captivating sight.

“You okay,” she asked. Isaac blinked.

“Yeah, um,” he stammered while he waited for his wits to catch up. “I’m Is—Mouse.”

 

     The boy offered his hand to shake, but the holstaur looked at it, then stepped back and curtsied instead.

“Nice to meet you.”

Okay… were his hands dirty or something? Maybe sweaty. No, it was probably just one of those weird mons—er, parahuman things he wasn’t used to. He decided not to think anything of it. Still, there was an awkward silence while the two smiled at each other.

“So, uh… what’s your name?”

“Oh!” The cow came back to herself. It wouldn’t do to embarrass herself in front of someone so cute. “I’m Pensare, but people I like—I mean my friends—um, you can call me Penny.”

“Alright, well, nice meeting you, Penny.” With a grunt, Isaac stood and made for the door.

“Wait, are you done for the day?”

“I mean, I think after that I should call it quits.”

“Aw, don’t be like that. Is this your first day?”

“Kind of…”

“Then… I should show you around!”

“Y-you don’t have to do that! I’d just slow you down...”

“Oh, um, not at all! It’s good to go back to the basics sometimes! Besides, teaching people things is fun and I get to show off!” She punctuated the comment by flexing. He normally wouldn’t have expected a girl with breasts that large to show as much muscle as she did, but Pensare managed. “What do you say?”

“Well…”

“Hesitation means yes! You’re doing arms, right? Come on, we’ll try again.”

 

    Isaac was tempted to refuse again, but after seeing the light in the holstaur’s eyes, found he couldn’t. Instead, he positioned himself under the bar and watched Penny start removing plates.

“Wait, are you taking off all of them?”

“Yeah. We should work on your form first.”

“But people are staring, I’m going to look like a wuss!”

“I don’t think so. They’ll see you earnestly working on improving yourself. Besides, most people put on their headphones and couldn’t care less what anyone else is doing, anyway.”

“But—”

“Y’know,” Penny said as she finished putting away the last plate, “People treat weight lifting like a competition. It can be if you want, but the only person you have to worry about beating when you’re here is yourself. All you have to do is beat yesterday’s you.” She smiled. “He doesn’t stand a chance. Come on, we’ll work you up to those plates in no time!” She gave him a pat on the shoulder and Mouse found that he couldn’t complain anymore. Instead, he gritted his teeth and grasped the bar.

“Ah, you want to be a little wider than that. There you go. Now lift up the bar and pump it like you’re lifting for real.” Isaac did his best to follow the instructions. “Take it slow and keep everything lined up and level. Try to focus on the muscles you’re using now, too, you’ll be working them harder later.”

 

    It was hard to focus on much of anything, actually; from his position, Mouse could see up Penny’s shirt. She was wearing a sports bra underneath, but that somehow made it more embarrassing. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and focused on lifting.

“There you go. Don’t forget to breathe. Look at that, you’ve even got the rhythm right! You’re a natural!” As if. Still, the boy didn’t mind the encouragement, even if he knew it was only flattery. He raised the bar several more times before the holstaur nodded.

“You’re looking pretty good. Want to try a few plates?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Don’t get too excited, we’re only using 25s. We’ll do a lot of reps so you still feel the burn.”

 

    Isaac was tempted to complain, but had a feeling anything he said would be shut down. Penny seemed to know what she was doing, so he shut up and did what she said. She was right. After they finished on the bench press (getting the name wrong had been embarrassing, too), they moved to several other machines. Mouse didn’t know how to use any of them and probably would’ve hurt himself any number of times if he hadn’t had someone showing him what to do. It was nice even though he couldn’t shake the feeling that Penny was lifting light on her sets so she didn’t show him up as badly.

 

    Eventually, they’d hit all of the necessary muscle groups and it was time to go—or so Isaac was told. He felt a lot less insecure now that he knew what he was doing, and talking with Pensare had eased a lot of his other concerns as well. Still, it was time to part ways. Mouse was just about to give his thanks when the cow piped up.

“So, legs tomorrow?”

“Huh?”

“Legs. You don’t know how to do them either, right?”

“...No?”

“Great! Same time tomorrow, then? I mean, if that’s okay. We don’t have to do it tomorrow, we can reschedule or… am I being too pushy? I feel like I’m being too pushy.”

Mouse gaped. Somehow the concept of going to the gym multiple times hadn’t quite clicked with him yet.

“Hold on. How many times a month do you go to the gym, anyway?”

“A month?” The holstaur inclined her head before giving a number far higher than the boy expected. “Why? Is that weird?” Being in shape was going to suck.

“No, no reason. Tomorrow is good, I guess. See you then.”

 

     With an inward sigh, Mouse turned to leave. Maybe he could get away with two days a week? Pensare was maybe a bit more into it than Isaac wanted to be.

“Wait!”  The boy turned to find Pensare trotting behind him. “When you’re working out, nutrition is important, too. There’s a cafe on campus that makes a pretty good protein shake, do you want to maybe hopefully grab one with me? I’ll treat!” Somehow, a cup of chalky fake food didn’t sound very appealing. Sensing his hesitation, Penny took another step forward. “They have coffee and stuff, too.”

“Well…” Mouse smiled as an earlier conversation came to mind. “Hesitation means yes, right?”

“What? Oh! Right! Come on, you’re going to love it!”

 

    What should have been a pleasant walk turned into a brisk jog Isaac hadn’t been prepared for. Fortunately, not knowing where they were going meant he got to stay behind Penny; every time she half-turned to say something, the bouncing going on made it really hard to look at her face. When they arrived, the boy immediately doubled over while his partner barely looked fazed.

 

    Mouse ordered an iced coffee and tried not to drip onto anything someone else would have to clean. Meanwhile, Pensare happily sipped on an ostensibly chocolate-flavored protein shake. She smiled around her straw.

“So, did you have fun?”

“That’s not exactly how I’d describe it.” He rolled his stiffening shoulders for emphasis.

“Well, you’ll probably hate me in the morning, but that’s normal until you get used to it.”

“I don’t think so, I still like you well enough now.”

“Eh? You l-l-like me?”

“Sure, not many people would’ve put up with me the way you did. I probably would’ve been lost or given up without you. Thanks”

“Oh, right, haha.” Penny prayed that no one, least of all Mouse, would notice the color rising in her cheeks. She’d slipped up, and on top of that, the way he smiled was just so—ooh! “Well… I like you too.”

“I don’t see what there is to like.” It was just a self-deprecating comment that Mouse hadn’t intended to be responded to, but Pensare seemed to think hard about it.

“Well, your earnesty is… refreshing, and it’s nice to have someone that looks at my eyes when I’m talking.”

“Where else would I look?”

“Welllll, most guys prefer to talk to the girls.”

“The girls?”

“The girls,” Penny repeated, poking a breast.

 

    Oh, those. Maybe it was fatigue, but Isaac found he couldn’t just look away after slipping up like he had been all day. They just looked so soft and heavy. Most holstaurs lactated all the time too, so would they get bigger if she hadn’t been milked for a while? It probably didn’t help that they were both still in their gymwear, but—but he was staring. After gawking for far too long, the boy looked away with a blush.

“Shoot, I’m sorry!”

“Sorry for what? Our mother taught us not to be ashamed of our breasts, especially since they’re such a good size and all. At the end of the day you are still a man, too; it’s not like I’m mad at you. It’s just… Having your eyes up top makes it feel like you’re listening, you know?”

“Well, I am listening.”

“I know, and it’s sweet, but something about that earnesty makes you feel kind of vulnerable.”

“I get ‘naive’ a lot, but vulnerable? How?”

“How? I mean, well, you tried to shake my hand earlier and you’re just leaving yourself within arms’ reach while you’re that out of it right now.” The table was small and Isaac hadn’t made any effort to move away from his hostess; if either of them want to reach out it’d be easy to at least touch finger to knuckle.

“Oh, I noticed that. Are you a germaphobe? Sorry, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”

 

     Penny’s eyes narrowed. He wasn’t serious, was he? That would be burgeoning past naivete into ignorance. The girl decided to confirm.

“Mouse… what do you think I am?”

“A nice girl?”

“What kind of parahuman?”

“Oh, so that is what you were asking. I have to try pretty hard not to say anything insens—”

“Answer, please.” Isaac shrunk back from the sudden intensity of her stare.

“A… holstaur?”

 

     Oh god, he wasn’t joking. Her horns and tail were both all wrong but plain to see and she hadn’t made any effort to hide the eye marking on her forehead, though it was behind her bangs most of the time. Where was he from? How could someone his age possibly know so little? Suddenly, Pensare wanted—no, needed—to understand everything about this boy. She gulped. That cute face, covered in such a delectable shade of confusion sprinkled with a touch of fear just made her want to eat him up. She wasn’t that kind of girl or even that kind of parahuman, but Mouse evoked all of her predatory urges. It would be so easy to do, and wouldn’t just a little help make things easier? Before she could stop herself, Pensare found her hands wrapped around the one Mouse was using to hold his drink.

“What are you doing?” The boy asked.

“Oh, I actually do like to hold hands when I talk sometimes. It’s calming, isn’t it?”

 

    The teeny tiny, almost accidental bit of magic Pensare ran through her palm made Mouse’s eyelids flutter. Some of the tension ever present in his posture seemed to melt away at the same time, leaving him with a much more relaxed look.

“Yeah. Calming.”

Meanwhile, a pool formed in Pensare’s mind; a perfect reflection of Mouse’s consciousness. The water was murky and she couldn’t see deeply because the two didn’t have much of a connection, but it would do to gaze into his surface thoughts.

 

    Doing that without asking, of course, was wrong. A major violation of privacy. The kind of thing Penny’s mother and father alike had told her over and over again to never do ever… and something she’d only done once or twice before. When she inevitably had to let go, this nice boy she’d just met would hate her forever and never speak to her again, but while she was at it she decided to ask the important questions.

“Do you have anyone you like?” Stupid girl! That was not one of the important questions, but it was one she wanted to know.

“No, why?” A woman’s face flashed through the pool in her mind. A girlfriend? No, maybe a crush? Pensare hadn’t worded that one well, she decided to try a different way. Leaning forward in a way that would’ve emphasized her cleavage were she not wearing an outfit specifically designed to hide it, Pensare pushed a bit harder.

“You know, some start working out because they want to impress a girl, maybe perform a little better, I was wondering if we needed to target anything special.” his eyes were still locked on her face, why was that so hot?

“Oh. Not really.” Even under the mellowing effects of her magic, Mouse’s cheeks still colored. It was easy to imagine how hard he would’ve stammered normally.

 

    The same woman’s visage appeared in her reflection of Mouse’s mind. There were covers this time, then a faint memory of hands on his—oh. Not just a crush, then. Penny sighed internally. Of course, he was too cute to leave alone, there was no way someone wouldn’t snap him up.

“But, um,” Mouse continued, unprompted. “Someone did call me slender, once. It kinda bothered me. I don’t need to be huge, but maybe if I was just a bit more manly...” There it was. Her hopes had already been crushed, so Pensare changed tack. There were still so many things to know.

“Manly? I don’t get the feeling you’re talking about a one time thing. Did you get that a lot in…?”

“Arkansas. Yeah. I didn’t play football or drink or chase after girls, I just stayed inside and read. I’m a good boy, not a good ol’ boy.” Pensare understood how he felt, and not just because she could see the memories floating through Mouse’s head. She was the same, but from the opposite side and with the genders swapped; she’d been turning over rocks while her friends were at the library batting their eyes at boys. “But I came out here to change myself, so if you can help me even a little, it’d be great.”

 

    Mouse still trusted her, and that felt awful. He didn’t suspect her for doing things to him even a little. It was probably time to end this before she dug herself any deeper.

“I think I do know one more thing I can do to help you.”

Pensare dipped a mental fingertip into that pool in her mind. From the repository of her memory, she pulled a few basic facts about hakutaku: what their habits were, what they looked like, and exactly what it meant to hold hands with one like he was doing. She imagined all of that information forming into a glittering marble that rolled down her arm, over the top of her hand, and used her finger as a ramp into the water. The boys eyes widened as it sank into the depths. Only then did he pull himself away from the hakutaku, and even then it was a ginger movement. Pensare found she couldn’t meet his eyes anymore, her gaze fell to the table like a weight.

“Oh.”

“I’m really s—”

“I—I trusted you a little, you know.” The admonishment was scarcely a whisper, far more hurt than angry, but to Pensare it was like the angry roar of thunder.

“ I know. I just—I don’t have an excuse, but I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t be sorry. This keeps happening so I must be doing something to deserve it, but... I thought you’d be different.” The hakutaku winced; she’d already felt terrible, but now she felt like she’d kicked a puppy on top of it. The clatter of wood on tile announced Mouse pushing his chair back. “Thanks for the coffee.”

 

     And that was it. Moment over, potential friendship nipped in the bud, all because she’d let her curiosity get the better of her and rushed things instead of just talking like a normal person. He probably would’ve opened up if she’d just—all she could really hope was that he didn’t tell anyone else; she’d be a social pariah. Other people were the problem though, weren’t they? Something like this would happen to him again… like it had before, it seemed.

“Wait!” The hakutaku exploded up from her seat, sending the chair bouncing back. She still couldn’t meet the boy’s eyes, so she stood with her hands on the table, eyes down. A quick glance to the side and she saw that people were looking at them now. She didn’t care. “Look, this wasn’t your fault, but you should’ve—I want—no, you need to know! There are books in the library, let me just—” She needed something to write with. Penny snatched a pen from a nearby table, ignoring its owner’s protest to scribble a book title and section number on a napkin which she thrust at Mouse. “Read this and people like me will be able to trick you anymore.” As easily, at least.

 

    There was an uncomfortable silence while Penny waited for Mouse to respond. She glanced up to see if he’d just walked out while she was making a scene, just in time to see the conflicted expression on the boy’s face as he plucked the paper from her grasp.

“Thanks…”

“Don’t thank me. Please don’t thank me, just…” Well, if she was going to be terrible, she might as well be greedy while she was at it. Penny gulped down a breath and tried not to let her next words tumble out of her mouth. They did anyway. “Ifyoustillwanttoliftogetherwecan! If you want, I mean.” She eyed her hooves. “I probably wouldn’t.”

“I don’t know anymore.” Yeah. Of course.

Pensare had no words as she watched him walk away.

 

    The hakutaku was in a fog the next day. She went to class but checked out mentally. When it came time to work out, she found herself dreading the prospect, making excuses not to go. She didn’t want to think about what she’d done, yet there was still the chance that he’d be there, that she hadn’t screwed everything up forever. The slim chance. Filled with more dread than hope, the cow dragged herself out anyway.

 

    There was no need to think about her route; she’d walked it too many times before. Instead, she tried not to think for once in her life. She completely missed the figure near the door.

“Um—” She’d just do something quick today. She wasn’t in the mood, this was really more about keeping the routine—”Penny?” The hakutaku’s ears twitched. That wasn’t… It was!

 

    There was no way she could stop the smile spreading across her face. He somehow managed to look smaller and even more nervous than he had when they met, but he was there!

“I didn’t think you’d come!” Pensare desperately wanted to grab the boy’s hands and jump up and down, but that would be about the worst thing to do, so she pressed her palms together in front of her chest and lowered her head instead. “I can’t apologize enough, but I promise I won’t do it again! I’m so so so so sorry!”

“I know.” He couldn’t bear to make himself look at yet, but spoke anyway. “I think I‘m starting to understand how other people see me. I’m weak and I’m dumb, and I’m too innocent for my own good. I want to be beat yesterday’s me, but… yeah, I need help.” At that moment Mouse looked her dead in the eye, and the smile faded from Penny’s face. “I’m going to try even if I have to do it alone, but it’d be better not to. I could use a friend, you know? A noble confidant. But you have to beat yesterday’s you, too! We can get better together. Will you?”

“I… I can. I will. But Mouse?”

“Huh?”

“How long did you rehearse that speech?”

“I—” The red of his cheeks said it was more than just a little while. “Y-you’re not beating yesterday’s you at all!” That was true. Luckily, Mouse’s self-improvements also seemed to involve taking a needling better.

“Sorry, sorry. I’ll try harder. Let’s go warm up, okay?”  

“Okay. Hey, when we’re done can we talk about that book?”

He’d already started? That smile started crept back across the hakutaku’s face. A new beginning, a new friend, and maybe even a student, too? “As much as you want. Last one around the track is a rotten egg!”

 

To be continued

 

 

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