Here I am, taking on a November writing project again. If you haven’t seen me do this before, here’s what I do. I don’t have a novel in me right now, so for NaNoWriMo I just do as many short stories as I can. I use the social momentum and recognition of NaNoWriMo to push myself to spend a lot of time writing and to explain to others what I’m doing. As with the novels people produce during NaNo, I try to be very forgiving towards myself and my work; it is okay to just drop an idea when I get stuck and move on to the next story. It’s been working out very well so far: here’s the first one for this year.
“Hey. Hey, hey. Mommo. What’s that? That’s not orange juice.”
Rynher crouched, then jumped up, catching her mother’s dress in little hands and huffing as she began to climb. Myrtle casually reached around with one hand, nudging her cub upwards.
“That’s a martini, honey. Not for kittens.”
Arabella laughed quietly, her martini glass clinking as she set it down on the sun-warmed glass tabletop amid a few bottles, a large carafe of juice, and a half-shrinkwrapped cluster of juice boxes.
“I see someone’s discovered ‘why,’ haven’t they.”
“A couple weeks ago, actually.” She turned her head back to the small lion. “Martinis are difficult, kitten.”
Rynher hauled herself up to Myrtle’s shoulder, leaning over it, her chest on the lioness' wide shoulder, one paw on her collarbone, the other waving towards Myrtle’s martini. Myrtle reached up with her free hand, rubbing Rynher’s head and giving her a few fond licks.
“Whyyyyyyy are they difficult?” Rynher asked, her toeclaws digging into the back of Myrtle’s dress as she headbutted her mother’s jaw.
“Because they’re complicated,” Arabella replied, sipping her own. “Would you like me to tell you about how they’re complicated?”
Rynher wiggled for a moment, dark-tipped tail flicking.
“Polite kitten!” The tigress beamed, leaning forward, elbows on the table. “Okay. Martinis have a lot of alcohol in them. Alcohol has good and bad things in it. The bad things depend on how big your body is: they spread out more in bigger people’s bodies. Your mom and I are big cats, so we can drink some alcohol and we get the good parts with only a little bit of the bad parts. If you drank alcohol, you’d get some good parts, but because you’re a small cat, you’d get a lot of the bad parts like losing your sense of balance, throwing up, and headaches. It would not be fun, and it might hurt you badly. So that’s why alcohol is okay for big cats and not okay for small cats.”
Myrtle put her own glass down as the explanation proceeded, keeping one hand on Rynher’s back to steady her. She extracted a juice box from the clump, speared its straw in, and lifted it for Rynher, who squealed happily, putting both paws forward for it.
“Do you understand that, kitten?”
“What do you say?”
She turned to Arabella.
“Thank you Miss Arabella!”
Rynher took the juice box in both hands and sucked on its straw happily. Myrtle made eye contact with Arabella, pointing briefly up at her cub, then away. Arabella nodded, stood, and came around behind her: she gently put both hands on Rynher, picked her up, extracted her toeclaws, and put her down on the patio. She scampered away, both adults grinning after her.
“Thanks for the save.”
“No problem. Mine are just getting there too. Cam’s better at the ‘why’ game than I am, but I’m okay at it. Probably goes with his job.”
“Oh yeah — how’s his quest for tenure going?”
Arabella rolled her eyes and shook her head. Myrtle raised her eyebrows curiously, then turned away, craning her neck to get a look at the four kittens as Rynher rejoined the other three, splashing around in the swimming pool across the yard.
“That bad, huh?”
“I’d rather not get into it, and honestly I think you shouldn’t mention it to him today either. He’s focusing on making us lunch right now, and after that he’s gonna shut himself in the bedroom with a couple of dildos for stress-relief time.”
“You think he’ll want company?”
“Ask him, not me. But if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll want the kind of company that can top the hell out of him. The kittens had a cold recently, so of course we both got it, and that pushed things to an even lower level than normal. So your odds are pretty good.”
“Cool. I might go for that. You okay soloing all four of the kids for a while? I imagine Lilwen is gonna have her hands full already.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. After pool time and lunch they should all be a bit tired anyhow; I’ll throw some pillows on the trampoline and have them all make a nest.”
“Great. Thanks babe.”
Arabella leaned over and kissed the side of her muzzle.
“Save some of him for me, though.”
They laughed together, then picked up their glasses and sipped in unison. At the sound of a sliding door, they turned, then grinned widely.
The leopard stepped through the door gingerly, Campbell ushering her out. In a sling against her chest she held a little bundle, a tiny paw reaching out of it and batting slowly at her bosom. Arabella and Myrtle rose together, smiling widely, coming to meet her.
“How’ve you been, babe?” She made a resigned smile as she carefully hugged them.
“Really tired, basically all of the time. I thought I was gonna be done after, you know, birth, but the whole thing is still kicking my ass. Thanks again for setting this up for me.”
“Of course! This stuff’s really difficult. We just wanted to make time for you to sit down and have a breather.”
“And to get introduced to the itty-bitty one, of course.” Lilwen pulled a grin out, standing up straighter, ears perking.
“Her name’s Sinavena.”
“And what a fine little thing Sinavena is!” Arabella leaned in, wiggling her fingers gently at the bundled-up, grey-furred cub. “Hey little terror. How you feelin' today?”
Diminutive paws waved at her fingers eagerly, accompanied by high, squeaky mews.
“Pretty fierce for all of, what, three and a half weeks?”
“Shit, most days she’s got more energy than I do.”
“Oh, that reminds me —”
Arabella straightened up, beckoning to Lilwen with a wave over her shoulder as she returned to the table. She picked up a tall shopping bag, turned around, then chuckled and smiled patiently as she saw Lilwen and Myrtle sharing a slow kiss, Myrtle leaning over the leopardess' shoulder while kneading her shoulders firmly. When they finished, Arabella stepped forward, eyebrows raised expectantly. Lilwen shrugged at her, rocking her cub demonstratively.
“Be my hands for a minute?”
“No problem.” Myrtle stepped forward, taking the bag and holding it open for the tigress, who reached into it. She withdrew a dark blue dress with a flourish, shaking it out to unfold it, holding it by the collar as she gestured to the its palm-wide grey stripes that fell from shoulders to hips to knees.
“Of course Sinavena won’t be climbing age for a while yet, but she’ll get there quicker than you think. Probably quicker than mine — Teruleth’s not much of a climber. Not as active as I’d like at all, really: I have to encourage him to swim, too. But Gadayra is just up and down and up and down all day, she’s the fittest little thing.”
“No wonder you learned to make these yourself. It’s so nice!” Lilwen reached out with one hand, rubbing the thick cloth between forefinger and thumb.
“Well, it’ll have little pawprints all over it soon enough, but that’s its own kind of nice.”
“Yeah, it’s one of those things where if it looks pristine, that’s not good.”
“And little Sinavena’s gonna have strong claws to dig into it soon, isn’t she?” Myrtle leaned over as she raised the question, presenting her own fingers for Sinavena’s inquisitive paws. The kitten grabbed eagerly at her, then chewed on the presented fingers with stubby little milk-fangs. An indulgent smile met the chewing.
“Soon, but hopefully not quite yet. I want her claws in the dress, not in my tits.”
They laughed together, returning to the table.
“So — congratulations! Welcome back. Super happy for you.” Arabella beamed at Lilwen, raising her glass in a toast as she leaned back. “Okay if I throw a nosy question at you?”
“Go for it.” Lilwen shifted her sling, coaxing the kitten towards her breast, hand gently holding the back of her grey-furred head.
“How’d the perineal massage work out?”
Myrtle snort-laughed indelicately, splashing some of her martini on her face, then holding her hand over her muzzle as she snickered. Lilwen chuckled, her ears flicking, guiding the kitten’s paws towards herself with one finger.
“I mean, I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison. I haven’t tried having a kid without it.”
“Did it feel like it helped?”
“Well, it felt like — let me put it this way, I have zero questions left about what I can take. I’m like, okay, I got her out, smaller stuff I’ll be fine with.” They laughed together, and Lilwen leaned back in her chair, sighing. “I’m still pretty sore, though.”
Myrtle nodded sympathetically. “Yup. Took a full month for me before I could sit down to piss comfortably.”
“Worth it,” Arabella opined, jabbing her forefinger emphatically.
“Hell yeah, worth it. But you and I are saying that with the benefit of a few years already behind us to get used to it.” She nodded towards the leopard. “Give her a while before the evangelizing, huh?”
“I’m not evangelizing.”
“Arabella, honey, I have known you for a solid ten years. I don’t doubt your politics at all, but you were always kinda pretty het compared to the rest of us, you were always really clear that you wanted kids.”
“Oh come on. I sucked a lot of dick in college, which is emphatically not the same thing, and then I settled down and married a nice girl. I ended up with a husband and that’s working out great, but come on, I was never that het. That’s actually a thing that makes me and Cam uncomfortable sometimes: we look really het at events compared to you and Iris.”
Lilwen gave Arabella a puzzled look. “Didn’t know you’d had another marriage before Cam.”
A high, sustained, squeal-yowl interrupted them, along with a chorus of “Mom!”
Arabella swore, lunging up, her chair clattering over backwards, glass falling onto the table. She dashed towards the pool, hands pulling her dress open. Myrtle grabbed Lilwen’s shoulder hard as she soothed Sinavena’s upset at the noises.
“You: chill. We’ll handle it.”
She rose and briskly jogged after the tigress, turning aside to come through the gate in the low fence that Arabella had simply vaulted directly over, leaving her heavy dress behind. There was a brief splash as she dove into the pool headlong, submerging as she moved towards the splashing, thrashing kitten on the other side. Myrtle forced herself to move slowly on the wet concrete around the pool, approaching Rynher, Terandil, and Gadayra as they huddled worriedly in a knot. She fell to a crouch and her hands shot out, grabbing the two smallest ones by their scruffs, her head dipping to pick up the remaining cub by her teeth.
Turning around and putting them down again, she growled, fangs bared demonstratively. “Stay here.”
She heard a wet splat and wheezy coughs as she turned around. Arabella had dove under the kitten in the pool and lifted him out by rising directly under him, her head and one hand shoving him up out of the water. He curled up on his side, shaking as he coughed. The tigress rose from the pool, dripping all over, panting. She nodded wearily as the kitten cried, sitting down cross-legged and holding him against her chest.
“Shhhh. It’s okay, Ruru. Mom’s here. I got you. Keep breathing. You’re gonna be okay.”
He clung to her as Myrtle ushered the other three away, herding two of them and carrying the third in one arm. When she returned to the table, Campbell was there with Lilwen, frowning in concern.
Myrtle coaxed the trio onto a bench together and chuffed encouragingly at them as she distributed juice boxes and thin, soft strips of jerky.
“Ruru fell in,” Terandil volunteered.
“And he fell in the deep part, he was scared.”
Campbell stood on his tiptoes to get a look at the pool, then visibly relaxed, nodding and prompting the kittens to continue with a wave. They looked back and forth among themselves, recounting it slowly.
“He was trying to climb out.”
“We tried to help him.”
“He couldn’t grab hands.”
“And I was telling people not to fall in more,” Gadayra piped up.
Campbell dragged out a smile. “Oh yeah? Being a clever kitten and remembering the rules?”
He stepped forward to kiss the top of Gadayra’s head.
“Good job, Gada.”
Myrtle looked expectantly at the three of them. “Everyone remembers that rule, right?”
“You can’t help someone out if you fall in,” they chorused, nodding.
“Good job!” Campbell nodded firmly. “You kept that in mind and made it so Mom could come and help. That was the right thing to do.”
Arabella returned, holding Teruleth with both hands, curled up with his arms around her neck. She wrapped Teruleth in a dry towel, then sat down.
“Okay. Okay. Emergency over.”
Campbell draped a towel over her shoulders in turn, leaning down for fretful licks and cheek-rubs. She leaned up to kiss him briefly.
“Ruru fell in and got scared. He’s okay now.”
Myrtle spoke up.
“Kids, please go grab blankets and pillows from the closet and set them up on the trampoline, okay?”
The kittens nodded and trotted off, Campbell following them after a nod from Arabella. Myrtle sat down beside her, stroking her back up and down.
“You doing okay?”
“Give me a few minutes for my heart rate to settle down. I’m just glad this guy’s okay.” She nuzzled down at Teruleth, who made a quiet, shaky mew and hid his head under her chin. “You’re gonna be okay,” she repeated to him. “You forgot to be careful for a minute, but now you’re okay, and you can learn to be more careful. Everyone forgets sometimes; that’s why we practice things. So we’re gonna practice that again later, carefully, so you don’t have to be scared like that again. Okay?”
The small tiger nodded, still curled up against her. She gave him a warm squeeze.
“And right now we’re all gonna have a nice lunch together and you’re gonna take a nap in the blanket fort with Gada, Tern, and Rynnie. How’s that sound?” Another nod, slightly more energetic. Arabella carefully put him down, draping the towel over his shoulders like a cape. “Good. Okay: go help Gada with putting the blanket fort together, all right?”
He trotted off with increasing steadiness, and Arabella slumped in her chair, putting her hands over her face.
“You keep breathing too, babe,” Myrtle said, coming around behind her and rubbing her shoulders.
“Yeah, that looked like three quarters of a heart attack,” Lilwen concurred.
“Maybe just one quarter of a heart attack, but yeah.” She chuckled ruefully. “What I got from him was that they were roughhousing, he tripped and fell into the pool, swallowed some water, and panicked. So once I got him out, he was fine, just shaken.”
“Honestly, you look more shaken than he does.”
“I probably am: I’m old enough to be fuckin' terrified of mortality — especially my kids' mortality.”
Lilwen grimaced. “Yeah, that’s reasonable. I had that scare at six months, I was telling you about the one set of ultrasounds.”
“That was pretty horrible.”
“Right, and until they figured out what was actually happening, I was a wreck. So I feel you on that.”
Myrtle leaned forward over Arabella’s shoulder.
“How about I drag out the air mattress and the three of us just cuddle on that out here while the kids are napping?”
“That sounds like a good plan, yeah.” She smiled at Lilwen. “Plus it’ll let us fuss over you for a while — you sure look like you need it.”
“I am completely okay with this plan,” she laughed.
Campbell returned, and they cleared space on the table for the tray he carried, called the kittens for lunch, and all sat down together.