SANDWALKER'S CHOICE: Part 1

By Chakat Sandwalker © 2001

 

BZZZZZ! BZZZZZ! BZZZZZ! BZZ --

After some groping around, my hand made contact with the alarm's deactivation switch and interrupted the incessant buzzing of the alarm. "Just five more minutes..." I mumbled to myself, wrinkling my muzzle up in a vague snarl as I tried to immerse myself in sleep again.

No such luck. "Good morning, sister dear!" Into the room padded my older sister Greytail, an attractive chakat with dark cream fur, save for hir tail, which was a soft silvery grey. "Time to rise and greet the day!" Shi went to the large window and pulled the red-and-blue floral curtains open. Warm sunlight flooded in to play on my face, making me squint as I opened my eyes. "Oh...damn it, Grey! You never let me sleep in!"

"Oh, I do so, and you know it," shi said, flicking the tip of hir tail across my nose. Shi prodded my side with hir foreleg, urging me to get up. "Come on, Sandwalker. Breakfast is on the table, and getting colder by the minute."

I remained lying down, my legs tucked under me cosily. "So? I've eaten cold breakfasts before." The sunlight bathing me in its rays was seducing me, beckoning me back to the blissful oblivion that was sleep.

"Even pancakes with butter and 100% Canadian maple syrup?"

Greytail laughed as I quickly got to my feet. "Well, why didn't you say you'd cooked pancakes? Honestly...." I brushed my hands down my torso and lower body, smoothing out the mussed fur. My luxuriously thick tabby coat settled easily into its usual disarray. Having done that, I stretched all my limbs out to their maximum extent, and yawned. "There. I'm up. Happy now?"

My sister grinned, and clasped me in an enthusiastic hug, lick-kissing my muzzle, which I happily returned. "Yes, I'm happy. Now come and eat your breakfast. You'll need it for this morning."

"What for?" I asked with puzzlement as I followed Grey out into the kitchen/dining area. On the table was a plate with a large stack of perfectly round pancakes. Next to it was a bottle of maple syrup and the butter dish. I parked myself at my place, added a generous dab of butter to the top, poured the syrup lavishly over the pancakes, then began to eat, relishing the sweet taste of the syrup.

Grey stepped out from the pantry with a bowl and a bag of cornflakes, opening the fridge and grabbing a carton of milk with hir lithe tail. "You have that planting expedition at the beach, remember?" shi said, taking hir own place at the table and preparing hir morning nourishment. "Part of your botany studies, I believe."

"Oh, gods! I'd completely forgotten!" I stopped eating for a moment in my recollection. A quick glance at the kitchen clock reassured me that I had plenty of time to get ready. "I was planning to go to the library to do some research, but I guess I'll have to save that until tomorrow." I resumed ploughing through the pancake stack.

"Well, if you give me an idea of what to look for, I could bring the information home for you," my sister offered, digging into hir cornflakes.

I nodded my acceptance of the offer, as my mouth was still full. Swallowing, I said, "Thanks, sis. Um...let me think. See if you can find anything on exotic houseplants and how to grow them. I've decided that this place needs some colour."

Grey raised an eyebrow, swivelling both ears in my direction. "Oh? What makes you say that?" shi asked, taking another spoonful of cornflakes.

"The fact that every wall is white might be a good start. We've been a year in this place, and still we have little in the way of decoration." I waved my arm around to emphasise my point. "Sure, we have the odd painting or two, but we really need some vibrant colour to spice the place up."

A low grumble of agreement came from Grey's throat. "I suppose you're right," shi said thoughtfully. "It was just so much easier to leave things the way they are, without having to go to the effort to make the place look good. I mean," and here shi ate some more before continuing, "we don't exactly get many people calling on us, do we? Who else is going to know that we don't have ornamentations cluttering the house up?"

"Our parents when they visit next week," I said, wrinkling my muzzle into a smug grin at hir shocked expression. "You know how they like to comment on everything. I wonder what Mother will say when shi sees the continuing austerity of our abode."

Greytail frowned hard at me, then said in a perfect imitation of Mother's voice, "'Oh, really, dears. Can't you be a little more...creative? Honestly, you can still see the builder's notation through the paint.... And those windows are dirty. Cold tea will make them sparkle. And speaking of things sparkling, where's that faux diamond necklace I bought for your twentieth birthday?" Shi moved hir hand in a gesture of excessive babbling, opening and closing it rapidly in time with hir words.

I started laughing, almost choking on my current mouthful. "You had better not do that while shi's here," I warned, shovelling the last of the pancakes into my mouth. "We'll never hear the end of it, otherwise."

"All right, I won't." A few seconds later Grey finished hir cornflakes and went into the kitchen, picking up my empty, but syrup-smeared plate as well. I heard the dishwasher open, then a muttered exclamation.

"What? Something wrong with that thing again?" I moved into the kitchen and peered over my sister's shoulder. "Looks fine to me."

Shi pointed to an indicator in the door, which showed how much of the cleaning solution was left in the machine. "It's empty again." Shi fixed a stern gaze on me, the corners of hir mouth twitching slightly in annoyance. "Have you been poaching fish in the dishwasher again? You have! Your ears are turning pink!"

I looked down at the floor, shuffling my forepaws. "Um...yeah, but it's so much easier than doing it the normal way! And the dishes get cleaned at the same time!" I protested weakly.

"We haven't been using that many dishes! Honestly!" Both of us were starting to get a little hysterical, which didn't help matters much. Before the dispute could get any worse, I grabbed Greytail and hugged hir forcefully, planting a kiss on hir muzzle. "I'm sorry, Grey, but you really should try dishwasher-poached fish. Especially snapper. That is just divine!" I glanced guiltily at the indicator. "Um...."

"Oh, never mind," shi sighed, hir body losing its tenseness. "I'm just so...conservative. Mother always told me to minimise wherever I could." Shi put the plates and cutlery in the machine and closed it.

I snorted in mock derision of Mother's preachings. "Shi told me exactly the same thing, and look at me! Using up expensive cleaning solution just to poach fish!" I started giggling despite myself, followed soon after by Grey's musical laughter.

"Sandwalker, you always manage to make me laugh, no matter what the crisis." Grey smiled at me, and gave me a quick lick-kiss. "Now go have a shower your bus leaves in just under forty-five minutes."

"Not to worry. I've never been late yet." I turned to head to the bathroom, then paused for thought. "Well, there was that one time I was late to my first day of university.... I'll never forget that fiasco." I chuckled wryly as I went into the bathroom.

When I came out, smelling lightly of apricots, I looked at the clock again. Twenty-one minutes left. "Just enough time to make some lunch," I said to myself.

Out of the pantry and fridge I grabbed bread, ham and various condiments, plus what was left of the fish I'd poached yesterday. In minutes I had a small hamper filled with sandwiches, the fish parcelled neatly beside them. "Hmm...something to drink." I went back to the fridge and took a small bottle of cola out, putting it in on top of the fish.

I closed the hamper and glanced at the clock again. "Jeez, five minutes!" I grabbed the hamper and bolted for the door. "Bye, Grey!" I called as I slammed the door. As my long legs carried me swiftly down the front path I heard hir voice from the back garden. "Have fun, Sandy!"

The bus stop was normally about fifteen minutes down the road if one walked at a leisurely pace, but today I was sprinting. Even running as fast as I could, it still took me seven minutes to skid to a halt by the 'BUS STOP' sign.

And not a moment too soon. Barely thirty seconds later, the bus specially chartered for the expedition pulled up beside me. I was still panting hard when I boarded and collapsed into a padded spot next to my foxtaur friend Kerisa.

Kerisa stared at me, a smile playing about her muzzle. "You weren't actually running late, were you?" she asked, laughing at my disgusted expression.

"As much as I hate to admit it, yes, I was." I wiped my forehead with one hand, then scratched at a sweat-induced itch on my right breast. My naked right breast. "Oh... bugger," I muttered in irritation. "In all the excitement this morning I forgot to put on a top." I swivelled my head around, looking for any other 'taurs going topless. The bus was nearly full, and to my chagrin I saw only one other going bare-chested; an unusually red-furred chakat with grey and black striping. Shi appeared rather uncomfortable, looking as if really didn't want to be on the bus. I found myself looking hir up and down, then thinking, "Nice figure, intriguing colour scheme, full breasts...." I'd never seen hir before and yet I was already cataloguing hir as a potential mate?

I turned away to ask, "Who's that?" of Kerisa, forgetting about my current problem and pointing in the other chakat's direction. "I don't think I've ever seen hir before. Have you?"

Kerisa looked for herself then shook her head. "I've seen hir a few times, but shi's incredibly shy. Or at least I think shi is shi tends to avoid people if shi can possibly do so. Shi's been at school for nearly a fortnight now."

I pondered for a moment on this new personality. "Doesn't it strike you as being odd that shi doesn't interact? I mean, you know what we chakats are like fun-loving, social, interactive.... Look at hir compared to normal chakats. Shi's acting like the proverbial ugly duckling."

"You know, I had noticed that, but I didn't immediately recognise the difference." Kerisa nibbled idly at a claw while she thought, gazing at the unsociable chakat. "Perhaps we could help draw hir out. Maybe shi hasn't had a chance to make friends yet."

"Possibly, but even that's unusual, especially at that age. I think that, if we put our heads together, we could give hir a more favourable outlook on life. What do you think?"

"It's worth a try, I guess," my foxtaur companion murmured, glancing over again. "Not now, though. Perhaps when we get to the beach we can get close enough to hir to start talking...." She shrugged. "We'll see what happens."

I nodded, and fell silent for the rest of the journey to the beach. Kerisa, too, refrained from talking when she saw, after a couple of attempts at talking, that I was preoccupied.

"Okay, people. You have your instructions, now get to it!"

We were all dismissed by our foxtaur supervisor, who was also the professor of botany at the Uni, to begin the laborious task of planting special grasses designed to prevent erosion of the beaches. Arrayed in several large groups of boxes along the beach were a total of nearly ten thousand narrow-leafed grass clumps, ready to be transplanted.

"Oy...this is going to be a lot of hard, hot work," I muttered to Kerisa in a resigned tone of voice, picking up a box. I looked around for the unsociable chakat, and spotted hir walking by hirself toward one of the many dunes in which we were planting. "There shi is. Let's see if we can get hir to talk to us."

We took up a position a few metres away, close enough to view hir, but not enough to actively converse. Some observation seemed called for to start with, to see how shi dealt with others working near hir.

I pulled one of the clumps from the box, dug a little hole, then quickly shoved the roots into the hole before the sand could fill it in again. "One down, about a thousand to go," I remarked under my breath.

Through our watching we noticed that the chakat was doing hir bit competently and quickly, but shi worked alone, keeping away from anyone else. "Time to initiate contact," I said quietly to Kerisa, gesturing with my tail. She nodded, and together we edged over to hir, planting as we went.

"Hello, there," I said, putting on as friendly a smile as I could manage. "Mind if we join you?"

"Huh? What? Oh! Um...hi...." As red as shi was, the chakat managed to turn an even darker shade in...embarrassment? Shock? Surprise? Shi hurriedly turned away from us to jam another grass clump into the sand.

I frowned, shooting a quick glance at Kerisa, who nodded as if she'd read my thoughts. "This is going to be a tough nut to crack." Taking a breath, I introduced myself. "I'm Chakat Sandwalker, daughter of Skywatcher and Trailblazer. This is Kerisa." She waved a delicate hand in her own little greeting.

The chakat nodded, daring one brief look at our faces before glancing away. "Chakat Deepriver, daughter of Longmuzzle and Earthtender." Shi moved away a few steps, reaching into hir box to pluck up another clump.

Kerisa sighed, murmuring to me, "Something must be seriously wrong if shi's that intolerant of company."

I nodded in agreement. "You're right about that. At least we got a name out of hir." I took a couple of steps nearer, planting another clump. "I like your name," I said, trying to provoke more of a response from hir.

"Um...thank you..." Deepriver said softly, again trying to keep away from me. "I was named for the river that flowed past my family's house when I was younger."

At this point I decided to try the blunt approach. "Why do you avoid everybody? I'm not going to hurt you, and neither is anybody else. What is there to be afraid of?"

Deepriver blinked furiously, stunned by my little outburst. Hir voice was even quieter when shi said, "When I was a cub, I was teased a lot, because I was the only chakat in the school. Then my parents went to visit some friends on Chakona, but they never returned, because the ship they were travelling on disappeared without a trace, which made it even worse. My father's mother came to take care of me, then. I took to avoiding everyone, spending most of my time in a quiet corner in the library, or hiding somewhere. I know it's silly, and irrational, but...." Shi trailed off, unhappiness showing plainly on hir face. "Being surrounded by lots of people makes me really nervous."

I stood silently, not quite knowing what to say. Kerisa solved my problem by stepping forward and clasping Deepriver in an enthusiastic hug. Shi flinched terribly, trying to pull away from the foxtaur, but shi relented when Kerisa tightened her grip a bit more.

"Oh, you silly chakat," she said, releasing her strong arms from around Deepriver's torso. "That was years ago! It's time to put the past behind you, and move forward in your life. I bet you haven't had many friends either, have you?"

Deepriver shook hir head, a tiny tear escaping from hir left eye. "People tried to get to know me, but I was so afraid of coming into contact with them that I always ran away."

"Well, now you have two friends myself and Kerisa." I moved forward and gently hugged the other chakat, restraining myself from lick-kissing hir. This time shi didn't flinch so much, which was an improvement, but I felt we still had a way to go before shi would be completely recovered from hir fear. "I know how you feel. I used to be the only chakat in school, too. Kerisa can vouch for that. She was my only friend during my first year in her town."

"Excuse me, people! I don't see you working!" Our professor's voice rang out from behind us, and we all turned guiltily. "Sorry, Professor," we muttered apologetically. We quickly went back to our tedious planting duty, feeling the prof's gaze on our backs until he padded away to inspect another team further down the beach.

After that, Kerisa and I managed to coax Deepriver into more conversation, telling hir about ourselves, and in return getting more info about hirself. By the end of the afternoon, we were actually reasonably close friends, though Deepriver was still somewhat hesitant. We assured hir that we would not drop hir for any reason, and set a date to have lunch together between classes the next day.

"Grey! I'm home!" I closed the front door behind me and listened for signs of my sister moving around. Padding into the kitchen to grab a cold drink out of the fridge, I saw a note on the bench. "Gone into town, back around 6pm. Grey."

Looking at the clock, I saw it was only twenty minutes to six, so I didn't have long to wait. I put on a disc of Beethoven sonatas, and lay down on a comfy rug in the living room with a good book.

I became so engrossed in my reading that I didn't hear my sister come home. The first I knew was when the front door slammed. "How was your day, Sandy?" shi called, padding into the room to give me a hug and lick-kiss. Shi laid down on the rug beside me, an arm around my torso in a warm cuddle.

"Funny that you should ask that." I chuckled and proceeded to give Grey a run-down on the day's events. I wound up with, "Me and Kerisa are meeting hir tomorrow for lunch." I sighed, reluctantly breaking my sister's embrace to get to my feet. "I'm not sure, but I find hir oddly...attractive. I barely know hir, and yet...." I scratched my head in a show of confusion. "I'm not sure what to think. Maybe it's the male side of me talking. I am getting rather close to the peak of my male cycle."

Greytail followed me out into the kitchen to help me prepare dinner. "I know of a few relationships that have started out in such a fashion, and from what you just told me, this may be such another, although I think it's much too early to tell." Shi took a bag of steaks out of the freezer, and put them in the microwave to defrost, before turning to pull some vegetables out of the fridge's crisper. "See how it goes in a week. That's all I can say at the present moment. Now," shi said in a business-like tone of voice. "Grab a bowl, and whip up some salad dressing while I grill the steak."

Dinner was a slightly subdued affair. My thoughts kept turning to Deepriver. The warm silkiness of hir fur, the smile on hir face when I waved after I'd gotten off the bus....

"Sandy. Sandy? Sandwalker!"

"Huh? What?" I came out of my little daydream to see Grey waving hir hand in my face, trying to get my attention. "Oh, sorry. Daydreaming again." I realised I'd been holding a forkful of food halfway to my mouth, and I hurriedly disposed of it, rather embarrassed.

Grey stared at me, hir right eyebrow rising as shi said, "You almost never daydream. I'm pretty sure I don't need to guess what you were thinking about, right?"

My ears flushed pink as I admitted, "Um...yeah. Hir again." I concentrated on the meal in front of me, giving the occasional compliment on the cooking. I'd also noticed that my thoughts had manifested themselves in a more physical fashion, and I was kind of glad shi couldn't see beyond the table. Being in male mode sometimes had unexpected (for me) effects.

After we had finished dinner and cleaned up, we retired to the living room, lying on a rug together while we watched some TV. Despite all the channels we could receive, there was very little on that had any interest for either of us. I flicked the TV off with a negligent press of a remote control button and sighed.

Grey slowly clasped me in a loving hug, hir silvery tail curling around mine. Hir body pressed against my own, and I could feel the vibrations as shi purred. "Let's go to bed," shi suggested, the barest hint of suggestion in hir voice.

"It's only ten past seven!" I protested. "I'll be awake for another four hours yet! Oh...." The

import of what shi was saying became clear, and I smiled, turning to embrace Grey in a loving hug, giving hir muzzle a lingering lick-kiss.

"I figured that you would be feeling a little... strained after what you've been through today, and might need some relief. You're just about at the peak of your male cycle, right?" Grey knew perfectly well where I was in my cycle, and I gave hir a playful bap on the nose in answer. "You know darned well that I am!" I said, laughingly. "And I appreciate the offer. Sisters should renew their bonds every now and then, though I think that ours is still as strong as ever."

"I should hope so, though we're only a year apart." Grey nuzzled me in the hollow between my neck and shoulder, beginning a soft purr, which gradually magnified until the vibrations were going through my body too. "Make love to me, hon," shi murmured eventually.

With gentle motions I fulfilled her request, leaving me tired, but much more relaxed than I was earlier in the evening. With only a murmured 'Good night' to each other, we let slumber carry us away on the wings of dreams.


To be continued in Part 2

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