The grill was bare; burgers and sausages had been devoured, the picnic tables cleared off. Now the little family get-together was breaking up into a bunch of separate conversations, mostly segregated by age group.

One leopard in her teens caught an athletic panther of the same age by the arm. “Hey, Aaron? Can I talk to you for a bit?”

“Sure, Angie.” The panther smiled, white teeth in brilliant contrast to his dark muzzle. “What’s up?”

“Over here,” Angie murmured, nodding toward a quiet corner. Aaron frowned, puzzled, but went along without complaint.


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Just under a dozen feline teens paused. Five boys and half a dozen girls turned, looking over their shoulders.

“Go on, girls,” said the middle-aged lynx man. “It’s just the boys I’d like to hold on for a bit.”

That was very unusual, and of course the girls were curious, but even if it hadn’t been obvious in his words, the coach’s hard gaze carried a clear dismissal; they filed off the pool deck and into the female showers. The boys shuffled in place, exchanging glances – well, four of them exchanged glances; the lion was a bit apart, and while he received a few wary glances, he himself kept his attention on the coach.


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It was just a simple doorbell. The lion had heard it from the outside of the door, like now, plenty of times before. But this time, it sounded somehow momentous. Not exactly foreboding, but significant.

Maybe it had to do with the boy standing with him, a year older at seventeen, dressed like him in a fine shirt, tie, slacks, and blazer, the tall cheetah carrying a Tupperware tray.

“Hey, Sig?”

“Yeah?” Sigmund von Klausen replied, the word bearing more than his usual touch of German accent. Or maybe he had actually said “ja”.

“…Thanks.” The biggest thing he was thanking the runner for, of course, was yet to come, but he still had to say it.

The taller, slimmer boy bumped shoulders with him, smiling. “It’s all right, Mike. I’m happy you trust me for this.”


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It was a busy road at a busy time of day, at least for a residential zone; it was no thoroughfare, but on such a nice spring afternoon on a Saturday, there were plenty of people walking along the sidewalks.

So nobody really paid much attention to the lion youth padding back and forth in front of one nice house. He was in good shape, well-dressed, a handsome enough teen that nobody was likely to think him a troublemaker. The package he carried was thin and wrapped with white paper and a red ribbon, nothing to be concerned about. Just a boy working up the courage to give something to his sweetheart.

Well, Mike Thorntree thought, they’d be half-right there, at least. This was not an easy thing to make himself do. The other bit was kind of out of his hands.


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The door opened, the door shut. A few car doors likewise opened and shut. The engine started, the car backed out onto the street, and then it sped off into the distance.

In the house it had left behind, at the living room window looking out onto the road, a snow leopard of about sixteen let the blinds slip shut and slid down onto the seat of the couch. He was a fairly tall lad, slender and toned, though his thick, pale-grey, darker-spotted fur made it difficult to see.

He couldn’t quite conceal the mixture of envy and longing on his face as his host stepped into the living room. Travis Hale was reasonably fit and knew it, but the panther he was visiting was in better shape than many grown-up athletes. At five foot nine, Aaron was pretty tall for his age, and he was solidly built, neither his light vest nor his rich, dark pelt concealing the smooth contours of muscle. As competition for dates, he was devastating.

Even as a prospect, he was pretty intimidating.


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“All right, folks,” the big lynx called out. “We’re gonna have to wrap up there. Remember, extra practise next week to make up!”

“Bye, Coach!” the five feline youths and half-dozen girls called out, more or less in unison. They made their way over the tiled floor, fur dripping onto the nonskid rubber mats as they filed into their respective shower rooms.

“Man. I know it’s his kid’s birthday and all,” said one of the boys, a tiger. “But couldn’t he have let us know before that it’d be a short practise? Gerry isn’t picking me up for pizza til six.”

“You need a girlfriend, Jon,” the ocelot chimed in, grabbing his shampoo from the locker. “Isn’t that right, Mike?”