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A Fair Start
part 1
by Feech

        I don't remember Angelo's phone number. The time I had an appointment to be groomed, the student I was travelling with made the call, and all I remember is Pennsylvania and... MacLeod University. Yes, the same one Ginger has gone to, and will go back to next year. There's even a brochure left in my room somewhere...
        With shaking hands I pluck the booklet from among a pile of random papers and find the toll-free number.
        "MacLeod University Main Desk, may I help you?"
        "Yes... Please... Could you please give me a phone number for the city's information directory? I need to find Eagan Grooming, and I'm calling from Massachusetts, and don't know where to find--"
        "All right, that's fine, I'll look it up if you can wait just a moment, Miss."
        "Thank you." I know my whispery, nervous voice must sound upset, and I know the receptionist is wondering what is going on, but at least she's going to help me. I need to talk to Angelo.
        "Here's the number, and it should apply to any business within the city, at least--"
        "Oh, thank you. Thanks." I get the number and immediately hang up to redial. Find Eagan Grooming, get that temporarily in my head and dial again.
        One ring. Two.
        "Eagan Grooming, this is Angelo, how may I help you?"
        "Angelo. Are you busy?"
        "_Anne_? You sound terrible, Sweetie."
        He remembers me. I knew he would. He knows everything-- he'll fix everything. I only wish I could go and see him in person. But the phone will have to do.
        "Groomers are always busy, Hon," he says cheerfully. "And thank Goodness for that. Tell me what you need."
        "I won't bother you-- please don't let me interrupt your work. But I need to talk. Could we, sometime, please?"
        "Anne, of course. Listen, I have a customer here now, and a house call after that, but as soon as I get home I'll call you back, okay? Is there anything you need to say right now? Anything I can do for you?"
        "I'll wait. Thank you so much, Angelo."
        "No problem at all. I just need your number so I can call you back. Will you be there this afternoon?"
        "I'll wait until you call me."
        "All right. I'll be thinking of you. And you can say anything you need to say when we talk later."
        "Okay." My voice is a little better-controlled already, just having someone calming like him to talk to. I know I should be talking to someone else, but I can't. I don't know what to do. I recite my dorm room phone number to Angelo, and click the receiver back into place.
        Out the window is a sunny, beach-combing style day... I know Ginger will be looking for me where I go walking. I didn't answer the door when the girls came looking for me here earlier, and now it is locked. I haven't remembered to lock my room door in a long time.
        I sigh a long, shuddery sigh and peer out the window, regretting the lost outing. I sit down on the bed and wait. There are too many people, and I am too emotional; I have to bring it down to one. Angelo has told me who I am, has listened to me. I know he will again.
        Ginger will be wondering about me. Already I miss her. But it is not safe, and this ache is not the same one I had before. I used to ache from confusion-- now it is fear. Do I ignore the danger? Can I? I did not know humans could hurt the way they did. I knew it intellectually, I saw it, I read it in books. But I have never cowered in my room before, having felt it myself.
        Danger... But if I stay in here, if I never connect again, I will just as surely be in danger... I will die. The ache of wanting overlays the ache of fear and I curl up as small as I can on the bedcovers and debate with myself. What would she want? Does she even realize how-- yes, she does, she was there. We were both hurt. Physically. But she comes as boldly to see me as before. Is she crazy? Or just _decided_?
        Knowing Ginger, I opt for decided. But I, Anne, am still shy. I almost feel ashamed of my shyness-- more ashamed of the shyness than of anything this baffling society has told me is wrong or, in the next moment, right. I have no business being shy of Ginger, the one person I miss when she is gone. Not when she has taken just the opposite approach. It's selfish of me. But self-preserving.
        I just don't know.
        Angelo, I hope you can help. I really do.

* * * * *

        I would never have had cause to think about it, if I had not met Ginger, and she had not met me. I understand that it is pointless to think on what pasts might have been, but the idea that none of this would have happened is at the same time a comforting and a horribly frightening thought. You can learn a lot about people in general by learning one thing about yourself... I had, before Ginger came to Egypt, Massachusetts for a year of supplemental study, been used to observing human-- now my-- culture from a slight distance. Now that is no longer an option.
        I had understood, in a way, the terms "friend", "lover", and so on, but only in a way. I liked those who were friendly to me. Some men, women and girls spent more quality time with me than did others. I was acquainted with a lot of different people. And then I was introduced to Ginger.
        There was nothing to prepare me for a person who cared not for the study of the Thylacine coat and habitat, who liked cocoa and eggs and could "just not understand" my preference for coffee and Chinese food, who volunteered to take me off campus and get me off my usual escorts' hands "just because."
        I know she wasn't ready for me, either, but she was not as _confused_. She was human all her life before SCABS changed her into a horse, and she had a lot of ideas settled in her mind before she ever met me. But I know we were both surprised.
        We are the only SCABS students at the University of Egypt, as far as I am aware, and the girls who usually take me into their charge when I need guidance or an escort thought we might be interested in meeting each other.
        Now, I had smelled attraction on humans before, and often it swept into my nostrils as one person responded to another within range of my senses. Once or twice, a man approached me. I did not respond, and after it was made clear that I was a marsupial wolf, not a human, and had become human due to SCABS, the overtures stopped altogether.
        I had never smelled anything quite like _this_. I had never seen anyone like Ginger, either. I was still fathoming that she was struck by my appearance, as well, and that my own self was scented with hints of attraction so immediate and unexpected that I did not know in mind, before in body, what was going on, when she escaped her similar trance and shook my paw-hand with her own, nearly hooved, black one. Beyond the black hoof was chestnut hair, and following it in mind up and under the sleeve of her white poet's blouse to the neck, I could see how solidly the color flowed, to the rich sorrel of Ginger's well-muscled yet light neck and the matching, rougher hairs of her mane.
        "I'm called Ginger, since my change," she said boldly. Her voice floated on a slight drawl like those of characters in movies about Southern Plantations.
        "Hannah Merle. Anne." I held the semi-hoofed hand for a polite moment and let it go.
        "Anne, it is quite a pleasure to meet you."
        I could imagine. She was more than telling the truth, she smelled completely of openness and a brightness as bright as that color, and an overlying scent was as sharp as the white strip down the center of her face.
        "Ginger," I said, and giggled a little, not feeling at all shy, "I get it. From _Black Beauty_."
        "And just as troublesome, too," She grinned, delighted that I had known. She grinned, showing large teeth, and I smiled back, unconcerned about my own teeth showing. Ginger was so straightforward, right from that moment, that I felt I would know what was right and wrong while I was with her. She hides nothing.
        "I thought she was just sensitive and misunderstood," I remarked.
        "You seem a sensitive soul, yourself. So, what are you here at Egypt for?"
        We talked, and Ginger showed me her room and gave me her phone number and I gave her mine, and I felt no fear. Ginger felt no fear, that is why. She has no fear except of losing me. And here I am, afraid for myself. I am not worthy of her, even if she has faults-- they would never keep her from a friend.
        After that first meeting, Brina and Mattie, my usual companions, left me utterly to Ginger, and I would not have really been satisfied any other way-- I had picked a favorite. It was the first time anything like that had happened to me.
        I had no idea that I was the first person to ever get a reaction like that from Ginger, as well... I assumed that she had many friends, and for the reasons I myself was attracted to her. But she admitted to me within a week that no one had seemed as honest to her as I had seemed.
        "You have a good soul, Anne. I wish I did. But I have denounced God."
        She said it effortlessly, with a little flip of her head that suggested it was the only possible thing to do, and although I was a little startled I sensed only a twinge of sadness and rebellion in her-- typical-- and I decided in her overwhelming friendliness to ask her to tell me more.
        "Why? Hon, if you'd been raised Baptist like I was, and seen as much hypocrisy and as many lies as I have, you'd denounce God, too. That ain't no way for a loving Someone to let folks treat each other. And that's all I have to say about that."
        I pressed on, a little further. "I go to a Catholic church in Boston, when I visit there, and a few times I went to services here with Mattie. The church in Boston is really nice. I don't believe all religions can be like the one you were raised in."
        "I'll have nothing to do with it."
        "Well, then, what about God? Isn't He supposed to be a person? That's not His choice, then, what people do, is it?"
        "I suppose not. But I still maintain he's a nasty old thing, letting people get away with that kind of thing. I admire that you can be such a nice person and religious at the same time. But... it'd take a lot to convince me."
        "I won't argue. I don't even know yet if I am Catholic. But I'm pretty sure there's a God. I remember it from an awareness, before."
        Ginger nodded, her golden-brown eyes suddenly distant and her sweet scent ambiguous. Then, "Anne?"
        I nodded.
        "Oh, those eyes. Sometimes when you look at me I think I could fall in, and I'm pretty big," she chuckled nervously. "Anne, you're _looking_ at me."
        "Sorry." I averted my gaze.
        "Oh, I didn't-- I don't--"
        I waited through the atypical pauses.
        "Anne, there was something, the time we first met, wasn't there."
        I nodded, sideways to keep my gaze from disturbing her.
        "Look at me."
        I did so. Ginger turned her head to get a full image in one eye. "You're beautiful," she said.
        "You, too," I smiled, wrinkling my lip a bit.
        "Do you mean that?"
        I twitched my ears in mock irritation. "You know what I mean. I know you smell and see everything about me."
        "Ever think about your sexuality, when you were beginning your human studies?"
        I shook my head.
        She shifted a little. "Are you thinking about it now?"

* * * * *

        If it had just been Ginger, just Ginger and myself in the Tasmanian outback, or on the moon somewhere, I would still have had no cause to wonder. It was startling, it was even frightening, but Ginger's honesty and Ginger herself made all questions seem needless. There was nothing to say. I had no fear, with her. None. I, Anne, the shyest of the shy, was not afraid with or near or about Ginger. No-- the frightening part was what she told me about everybody _else_, what she felt compelled to tell me because she cared, and even though I had read it and seen it in fictions and distant news I had a painful time stomaching the same words in a friend's voice.
        She was worried about me. She had been aware of her sexuality for years, but she remembered how it had been. And she saw my bewilderment at the very idea that she or anything about her could be considered "evil."
        "They will not let you be, Anne," she told me, her drawling voice quiet as we sat close and nearly shivering on a rock near the ocean.
        "I have been told things before that weren't true," I said, looking up at her and feeling that if Ginger were afraid, that even then there was no need to fear, because she would never let anything harm me.
        "I know. And it's a crying shame. But I need to tell you, it was horrible for me. Not for long, but it was bad while it lasted. Intense. And we may both be in for it. I have not had a partner of any kind. There has been no reason to question it, for those who-- for whatever reason-- seem compelled to do so. I can't ask you to stay with me, be with me, without telling you-- I want to be your support. But if you choose to suppress it, you may be better off without me. Goodness knows, I've been told often enough that you can suppress it, that this is a choice. If you believe that, do it now."
        I nuzzled her. "I was told to suppress what I was. They didn't even know they were wrong. And I have never been attracted to anyone before. Plenty of people have been nice to me, but one is as nice as another. I want _you_ to tell me what to do. I just want you."
        "Anne, no, I can't and won't tell you what to do. You need to decide. I can't be responsible for--"
        "You're not responsible." I had already found that a determined, soulful look with my dark, round eyes would affect Ginger to no end, and I used one to cement my point. "I am a woman, an adult, half a Thylacine, half a human, and you can't control me. I am listening to you because you fascinate me." I turned on the gaze a little more. "Now, it's too late to leave me without hurting me."
        "Anne," sighed Ginger, "you're not fair."
        But in that instant Ginger's whole demeanor grew, if possible, even more determined and bold than before. I think that, despite all the confusion that overtook me whenever I was alone to think this baffling new development over, despite the dark truths Ginger had learned in the South and in the SCABS underground at MacLeod, we really believed that nothing could hurt me if she was my companion.
        It makes me shudder to think of the human beings who pay such close attention to their surroundings only for decidedly negative purposes. Our actions should have meant nothing to a stranger, on the trip Ginger and I took into Boston. Perhaps they knew me from before, or from the news, but that is no-- _no_ excuse. I don't care if I _am_ an animal, I have rights. Angelo knows that. Everybody knows that. I was worried enough about what God would think, if He was watching me, without even thinking that someone might go out of their way to hurt for no reason other than... What? What reason?
        No reason. It was senseless.

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