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A Fair Start
part 2
by Feech

        Ginger made it a point not to show any "unusual" affection for me in public, but still it surprised me that no one seemed to know. I suppose I just counted on others, students, faculty and so on, to be able to scent when someone was attached just as I could. I did know not to say anything about it, though. I had the strangest sense that most of my acquaintances did not _want_ to know, and I began to understand what Ginger had meant when she said she did not want to be responsible for doing this to me socially.
        She could not have been better for me. I told her that, and she refused to admit to believing me, but still her pleasedness glowed about her chestnut self when I pointed out that I was paying better attention in classes, that I was not so claustrophobic since becoming used to having her touch me.
        "Hard to keep from touching you, you're just so-- beige," she teased.
        "You ought to be proud to know me-- I am the only Tasmanian wolf in 'captivity'," I teased back, swiveling my rounded ears for emphasis and sliding my stiff tail once in a wag of sorts.
        "I am proud to know you."
        I wrinkle-smiled up at her and she blew a little warm breath over my forehead. "Well, Anne, Darlin', I hope you're captive, I wouldn't want to let you go."
        I laughed my rather coarse laugh and leaned into her, as had already become a habit. "I don't know about you," I said.
        "Yes you do, that's why you like me."
        "Mmm... You're right."

        The next week we were in Boston, and I knew I had to go to the church. It was weighing on my mind, distracting me, and although Ginger did not fully understand she agreed to see me to the door.
        "I'm not going in-- you know how I feel about these places."
        "Where will you be, and when do I expect you back?"
        "I'm getting a cocoa at that shop we saw back there. Back in twenty minutes."
        "Gimme kiss."
        I did, a quick one on the bridge of her muzzle, and then I entered the cool silence of the church. As I looked back, I could see Ginger peering up at the Christ on the building wall and grimacing. She was not angry, seemed instead more curious. Seeing me looking at her, she tilted her head at me once more and then walked off in her boots and loose slacks to the coffee shop. She manages a grace I have not achieved, despite half-hoof feet and what should be a top-heavy form. In her full mare form she could not be denied as impressive by even the most skeptical of the possibility of SCABS beauty. Even in this, her half-horse shape, as I had first seen her, she made it fit. Ginger makes things fit, even something, someone, like myself, who should be permanently lost.
        Lost. We shall see.
        The church was as I remembered it from my last few visits, although I was disappointed to see that the rose was not there. I had never spoken to the rose, but I had had the idea that I might, that day. I needed _someone_ to tell me that they had the answers, and would share them with me. The one thing Ginger is truly hesitant to discuss with me is religion, mostly because she feels I am _more_ knowledgeable than she is about it, and she does not want to take any spiritual help I may have away from me.
        Who do I talk to, then? I don't know how to talk to the priests-- I don't go to church on Sundays without Mattie, and there are so many people around her church's preacher, or whatever he specifically is called... I forget... at the end of the services that I need to get out, away from the crowd.
        Mattie says that any clergyperson is available to talk to a newcomer at any time. But I am not ready, yet, to try to seek out some one person in a church directory and call him or her my one resource on this mystery. I know that all humans have different feelings and laws on these things. I have seen that, and heard it.
        It was the same with the question of me. Only two people were right, Angelo and myself. Now, almost everyone knows we were right all along. But they tried for a long time to tell me that I had been human, and that I had forgotten. They tried to make me forget what did not fit their assumption... That only humans get SCABS. I needed to find someone in the church who smelled right, who at that moment would be willing to talk to me. We don't always get what we want... I decided to stay the twenty minutes until Ginger returned and think for myself, hoping that perhaps the rose might arrive.
        I genuflected, recalling the procedure I had seen performed before, and made certain as I did so to face the gold-lined box where Jesus's body is kept.
        "This is my body," Christ had said, and I had thought about that, when I read a translation of the Bible to myself, in my dorm room. I had looked back through the stories and found other quotations from Jesus. I recalled our studies on grammar. So, when I discovered that the Catholics eat the body of Christ, it was easy for me to understand.
        Perhaps that is why I feel most at home in this church... if it will have me, being as I am. Of course, the door _was_ open, and the candle burning, just as ever. Christ never said "This is like my body." He said, "This is my body." Over and over, in the stories, Jesus would tell the people, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." and fill in what it was like. But He never used a simile about the bread.
        So I genuflected, because that much I do understand. This is, after all, _my_ body, and if this is possible, then so is such a transformation as man to bread and wine. They say the priest has the power to do that with the bread kept in the box, but I believe God must give him the power. I don't know for sure, though.
        I stepped into the main area of the building and felt almost as though someone _was_ there, when the tiled figure of Jesus on the far wall gazed at me with simulated eyes, golden hands outstretched and circle of light tiles surrounding His head. I nodded to the depiction, and slunk to a seat. I wanted to call out to see if anybody was there, but did not feel comfortable disturbing the air that was so silent except for the slightest of movements with the circulation system. I slid into the seat and felt over the varnished maple with one hand.
        The yellow-painted brick walls made me feel soothed, the decoration made me feel welcome. Still the light burned in its thick red glass lamp, and I looked down at myself and wondered, "Will it stop burning... If I am the only one here and I say I _want_ to be with Ginger? Will it flicker up again when I leave and someone else, someone holy, comes in, or will it shine for me, if I say I will stay away from-- but I cannot stay away."
        I said aloud, and my voice was so soft it did not even echo-- "I can't stay away. If she is one of those-- tests-- Mattie and her friends talk about, then what kind of test? To what end? I would like to thank You for her, if You're there. And if you didn't mean it that way, then... I'm sorry. But I made up my mind."
        That resolve in my head, I thought I felt stronger, as strong as Ginger was, ready to let her reach me. I looked at the church and thanked Him, silently, again, for inspiring such a nice place.
        It had been almost twenty minutes when I pulled open the double doors to the sidewalk again.
        That was the first, and only, moment that I had any kind of warning. I sniffed the air reflexively, getting a feel for the street, and I thought I caught a whiff of some men, their skins smelling as if they were hunting something.
        I looked around, idly, as I stepped onto the cement sidewalk, automatically scanning for whatever it was that the hunters were hunting.
        "_Bitch!_" Said a harsh, spitting male voice, and I turned to see an unknown man right at my shoulder.
        I didn't get a breath in and out to speak before--
        This is hard to explain. I had never felt anything like it. The force of sickness, as when the Flu took me, is puzzling, and it hurts, but it is nothing on the _crack_ of a human being's body part against your own-- I could smell the sweat in his curled-up _palm_, stronger and more pungent than any human scent that had passed through my nostrils, and I knew the hand was in a fist and attached to a man I didn't know and who was, as far as I could figure out, randomly angry, possibly mad.
        It took me as long to... register the pain as it did to realize what the ravening men were saying, all three of them, one young, two older, as they closed me in. I couldn't run and I couldn't get back into the church. Biting would have been foolhardy. I coughed a threat, but they laughed it off. I knew anyhow that it was useless.
        "Think you're gonna take our women to the Devil _with_ you, eh, Bitch?"
        They had to be mad. No one hunted human beings in broad daylight in the middle of Boston, I thought. Surely... It came to me that I was not any more human than I was wolf. These men weren't afraid. They had the _right_ to beat me up-- to kill me-- I had ID in my pocket that didn't matter. It didn't matter. They could do whatever they liked with a Thylacine they found wandering the grasslands by herself, just parted from her mother and siblings and constituting competition on their ground.
        I felt they were too much for me and I did the only thing I could do-- hunched in a submissive posture with my chin up, I'm just a baby, leave me alone...
        My ears flattened in an automatic defense against ripping and tearing, but these men fought unnaturally.
        "Die, Bitch," one of them instructed me, and two of the hunters, one on either side of me, threw punches at the same time.
        With nowhere to go, no way to bend with the force, the sides of my cheeks crunched in and I think I tasted blood from the right man's knuckles before it blended with my own. I did not differentiate the blood and the cracking noises and the pain, they were all one and the same, and I hunched lower under the strange limpness of my jaws and forced my eyes to look aside in submission, but always in every direction was one of the three men.
        I heard a scream that seemed almost too sharp and high and angry even for my own ears, and suddenly the man blocking my path to the street was bowled into me with such force that I impacted the church doors and felt a knock against my shoulder and the back of my head that distracted me from my mouth-- then I saw Ginger. One of the men grabbed her kicking leg and gave it a yank and a twist, but the other two were picking themselves up and running, just like that.
        I grabbed the man who was fighting Ginger, and as he lost balance she managed to reach back and sink a bite into the side of his neck. He rolled away and stumbled into a run, disappearing between two high buildings.
        Ginger, favoring her left rear leg, lowered her face to mine. I began to separate out and feel the pain, and tears forced their way in an unending stream into the fur under my eyes and down into my bloodied gape. I tried to inhale and get Ginger's scent, but my nose seemed clotted and useless and I could get nothing. I really began to cry then, and put my arms around Ginger's neck.
        Ginger lifted me to my feet as I clung to her, but I remember that she could not get me to let go so she could get her clothes, so she stayed in the form of a mare until I would listen and calm down, then she tried to find someone to call a hospital so she could stay with me. In the end, there was no one near, and Ginger had to go herself.
        She limped away, assuring me that she would be back very, very soon, but I don't think I believed her. I couldn't smell my environment, my ears were ringing, my mouth useless and Ginger walked away. It didn't even occur to me to go back into the church-- I just slumped on the cement in front of the doors and felt the Crucifix over me-- I wondered if it might fall and kill me. It seemed almost to be hanging there impossibly, a dark bronze on the brick, hovering, watching, never mechanically attached.
        When the sirens rounded a corner onto the block where I sat I almost thought it was another attack of some kind-- the streets had been so _quiet_ until then. I pleaded to the statue of Jesus to save me. The white ambulance stopped, flashing and winding down, in front of me, and two men hopped out. They were agitated, but they were there to help-- I gave in to everything easily. One of the men clucked his tongue in distaste at what had been done to my face, and told me everything would be all right, and I began to come back to myself and to start to believe him.
        Ginger came back. She moved slowly, and the men put her in the ambulance, too. I tried to talk, but realized that it was impossible. I willed Ginger to look at me, so naturally she did, and that was enough.
        Jesus watched the ambulance-loading and the immediate procedures.
        It amazed me, in my state of mind at the time, that even on the cross, exhausted and suffocating, with a broken leg, He was watching. Maybe it was a feverish, silly thought to have about a statue, but I have still not gotten it out of my mind.
        The sirens started up again and we pulled away.
        Ginger pointed out later that no police cars had shown up on the scene. I hadn't noticed.

* * * * *

        Mattie and Brina came to see me in the hospital, but I think that in the shorter time she was there no one visited Ginger. And when she came to see me, after she was released, I did not speak to her.
        It wasn't because I couldn't either. I even looked away. But I had had time to think, and in my mind it seemed to follow-- respond to Ginger, we both get harmed.
        When I got out Ginger was there to bring me flowers, but even with her head outstretched to me, bringing them horse-style in her mouth rather than her hands, typical Ginger, I felt cold at leaving the hospital. It reminded me of the research centers I had stayed at in Australia, when, compared to my life since coming to know Ginger, things had been relatively simple.
        I didn't want to leave, and I didn't want the flowers. I reported in at the University as still recovering, and I have not gone to class nor left my room. Ginger and Mattie have both come looking for me, separately, but I kept my door locked and did not answer.
        I know she's out there, sweet-smelling and worried and sorrel.
        Angelo, please call. You were there. You answered. Please call.
        The light outside is just now beginning to seem that of afternoon... He said he would call this afternoon. I know he will, but I can't help worrying. For some reason I find myself missing the rancher who took me to Australia. Or maybe I just miss everything about not knowing. Maybe I miss looking in his mirror and not recognizing myself, being just mildly curious... Maybe I miss telling the doctors that I couldn't remember my name.
        I balk when I begin to get past that first halting bit of human communication... It was fine until I began to know too much. But it is not enough to protect me. I had _no_ _warning_. I thought... I mean, Ginger told me, but neither of us had any idea it could be so treacherous. If she had known, she never would have left me. The only course I can see to take now is to stay away... Not invade their churches, not--
        But it is _His_ church, isn't it? And since when does Ginger belong to anybody?
        Oh, please, Angelo, call...
        I half-roll off the bed and pad over to my CD player. I don't feel like hunting or Thylacine calls... I can't think of anything else to put in, so I just tap on the plastic for awhile.
        My jaw aches and I look at the time, automatically noting that the pain medication time is almost up-- I duly swallow another two of those poisonous pills and spend five minutes irritatedly licking my chops and wincing, as usual.
        I didn't expect to be _attacked_...
        What is it they say about love? Or maybe it was Jesus himself that said it. I forget-- is it good to sacrifice for a friend or just plain stupid? Sometimes the Thylacine and the human minds cross and these things make no sense to me.
        I am nearly startled out of my skin when the phone rings. I leap to grab it and bump my wrist, slip, grab the receiver firmly and gasp, "Hello?"
        "Hello, Anne, this is Angelo."
        Oh, God, thank You. "I don't... I don't know if you can help me..."
        "Would you still like to talk?"
        "Yes, please."
        "Anne, you not only sound upset, you sound different. Really--"
        "I had surgery on my jaw."
        He waits.
        "Angelo, I think I'm a lesbian."
        "Tell me."
        I can hear him sit down on a creaky couch and flip on the TV quietly in the background. As if he has all the time in the world, very casual, but I know he's deeply concerned. The TV isn't loud enough for him to be watching.
        I tell him. I tell him of all the individuals I have met and the difference in my reaction to Ginger, and that she warned me of the dangers of being her partner, and of how classes had been going before the attack and of how much difference he had made to me, listening, before, as he listens now.
        "So," he says, when I pause and he realizes that I need encouragement to get to the hard part, "Why did you have to get surgery on your jaw?"
        I tell him.
        I have never experienced being on the phone with someone so silent and so angry at the same time. I can hear the catch in Angelo's chest as he fights off some inappropriate exclamation. The television snaps off.
        "Anne, Honey, if anything like that ever happens to you, or to Ginger, again, I want to be informed _immediately_. I will get somebody at your university to take _action_. They should have stood up for you. There should be no question of whether to press charges or where the police resources are being used. Do you understand? You have rights."
        I nod, then remember to speak and say humbly, "Yes."
        "Okay. Okay."
        "I still think I'm a lesbian."
        "Is that okay?"
        He thinks for a moment. "Anne, I need you to tell me-- what is it that's wrong with it? I understand that you're afraid right now. But if you really want my opinion, then I will give it to you, and I want to know where to begin."
        "Ummm... Begin with-- with-- well, tell me. You know who I am. I want to know what you think. I want to know if this could be true, and whether I can still be-- Angelo, do you believe it's evil? With God, I mean?"
        I wait through the pause after the initial answer, and as I relax, knowing Angelo does not think ill of me, he begins to speak again, slowly.
        "First of all, not only humans may be homosexual or practice homosexuality. Other species can, too, so it may have been, probably was, a part of you before the SCABS changed you. Are you with me?"
        "Mm, yes."
        "And as for God, I don't believe we can randomly say He disapproves of any of these practices. There are bad and good relationships of all kinds. I have to deal with the fact that I am beginning to be attracted to women, due to the nature of my particular case of SCABS. Does that make me evil?"
        "No! But it's your disease's fault."
        "Anne, attraction and desire, as long as they do not harm another, are no one's _fault_. Here's a question for your animal brain, okay? Tell me this-- is pleasure good or bad?"
        "Because-- it means you're full, or with someone you like, not hurting, all is well."
        "Is sexual pleasure good?"
        "If it's heterosexual, yes, then people won't stop you, and--"
        "Oh, but they will. They will. I know a man who frequents the bar that I also frequent, and he is a heterosexual man-- the same as I am, actually, becoming. He met a woman who had changed into a male of a different species. They live together, and he has come in for flack from it, being called homosexual, bestial, what have you, when in fact--"
        "It is a heterosexual relationship."
        "If you count the soul as the person, then yes. And I, for one, must count the soul as the person, or all the memories I have from before SCABS must be discounted as delusions, for my brain, my body, everything has changed."
        I mull that over for awhile. The light is turning metallic outside with afternoon, the color of strips of sun on Ginger's chestnut coat when she stands out on the beach and watches me poke around for horseshoe crabs.
        "We could have been killed."
        "Anne. I don't know what to say-- that was _awful_, I know you hurt just thinking about it, but you can't rot in your room. Please don't. You didn't let a few silly mistakes about your origins stop you before. There are always risks. Don't hide-- I've done it, and I almost died of loneliness."
        I cut off and pause. Angelo waits, then prompts softly, "Yes?"
        "But that's not really a bad relationship-- it wasn't their fault, she had a disease. I am this way. Ginger is this way. This is... Different. Bad, maybe. Right?"
        "No. You asked for my opinion and this is it, and you will make up your _own_ mind what is best for you-- the key being _what is best for you_. Anne, do you _want_ to go back to your friend?"
        "Tell me, then, what reasons you might have not to do so. Has she shown you any disrespect?"
        "Ginger? _No_!"
        "Beaten you?"
        "All right. You get my point. Why not go back?"
        "I don't know if God approves."
        "Of love for a friend."
        "Right..." I say, helplessly.
        "Are you going back to church, if you rot in your room? Who took you last time?"
        He knows perfectly well. "Ginger."
        "This is your decision to make, Anne. Not some 'expert's' somewhere. Remember how wrong they were last time." I can hear the smile in his voice. "I believe you are a lesbian. You can suppress it, but you've been _there_ before. Whose approval is most important to you?"
        "Well... Yours, and-- and hers, but also God's."
        "A religious group, or God?"
        Saying that, I sigh. Something comes through me that feels like a wash of wind or water that brushes my fur lightly and leaves me so clean I can almost feel the contrast of my stripes on my clean tan coat. I breathe in and out, another sigh, and Angelo hears me and asks, "You with me, Anne?"
        "Yes. I feel... I think I feel better."
        "I'm giving you my home phone number. Call anytime."
        "Thank you, thank you Angelo."
        "I... You called me, but there are others, and Ginger may know some. You said she attended MacLeod... There are some support groups of many kinds there. I'm afraid I'm a poor substitute..."
        "No, I wanted to hear _you_."
        "I know you're scared. Good luck and God bless, Anne. I can't stop you from being scared, but whatever I _can_ do, you know, don't hesitate."
        "Oh, I won't, Angelo, thank you."
        "No problem. Honestly. I hope things go well for you."
        "Thank you."
        I hang up.
        Instantly a means of support and a line of confidence are lost-- I almost feel myself physically weaken.
        Now is the time, before I lose my nerve again. I straighten my blouse in some show of bravery to myself, as if by keeping a front of physical strength I can fool the world into thinking I'm not _terrified_.
        Mattie meets me in the hall.
        I nod to her. I feel a test coming on. I feel it, I know it, I brace myself. Or maybe I'm just being paranoid...
        "Anne, I... want to ask you something."
        "Yes?" I stand as tall as I can.
        "I-- I had heard, and I didn't want to assume anything. I mean, the-- attack... I thought, we all thought, it was because of your SCABS. But I... Well, someone said, and I was wondering... is it true that you..."
        I watch her. Her smell is regular Mattie who takes me to church, nothing outwardly threatening, but she is obviously apprehensive. She usually has complete confidence in her speech.
        "Anne, is it true that you and Ginger have been considering-- a-- _homosexual_ relationship?"
        I peg the scent. One of concern. For me. I nod, hesitantly. I almost whisper: "I am a lesbian."
        All of her confidence comes back. "Anne, I can help you. I know people who support the recovery of men and women with your problem. I don't know Ginger all that well, but I am sure that if you speak with her..."
        I have a sudden, blinding vision of the therapists in Australia, and then here in New England, telling me I would get better... I had just forgotten being human... Must suppress those dreams of Thylacines and things I could not speak of...
        "Mattie," I say, hoping I appear as confident as she does, "Thank you for your concern, but I do not need curing."
        "Anne, I'm your friend, I want to help you. You know the Lord wants to help you."
        I _almost_ laugh. I have never heard anything quite like this from anyone calling herself my friend. In my overwrought state it sounds so ludicrous as to be almost comical. I wonder if God is watching... My guess? He is. I whip up a quick prayer in my head for guidance in facing the mistaken, the "lovingly concerned".
        "I wouldn't want anything awful like that-- like what happened in Boston to happen to you again. I can connect you with people who can help you."
        "Help me what?" I hear myself say. "Deny myself?"
        I didn't mean to sound angry. Mattie looks taken aback, then replies, "Anne-- you _are_ diseased. This is part of your SCABS disorder, perhaps. I know you are a pure and loving person. Let people solid in Christ release you from what the virus has done."
        She just waits, hopefully. Learn one thing about yourself...
        "Mattie, I was a lesbian before. SCABS made me human. Are you saying that is a bad thing?"
        She lets her breath out quickly and presses her lips together. "Anne, sometimes oppression..."
        "Excuse me."
        I have to leave. She's not listening to me-- or I'm not listening to her-- or something.
        "Anne, I really think we should talk about this-- don't you think so?"
        I thought I _was_ talking about it. "Maybe," I say, to get her to back off. "Please, excuse me."
        She doesn't want to, but replies, "All right."

* * * * *

        My hackles rub against the inner surface of my blouse as I stride purposefully to the beach.
        When Mattie is ready to listen, if ever, then we can talk. I am beginning to understand the subtler things Ginger was warning me about. The tactics of the "caring". Mattie has a goal in mind that fits with her own image, the one she built of me when we met during my freshman year, just as Ginger's family had a goal for her that made her feel rebellion was the only way to go-- they just wouldn't _listen_. When the discussion becomes one-sided I really think...
        The ocean. I drink in the smells and the sounds and feel it almost envelop me as I stand, still several yards away, on a pile of natural rubble and gaze over the finer pebbles and sand of my favorite exploring place.
        The water is rainbow-colored, undecided on what to reflect from the gradually shifting, almost cloudless sky above.
        I thought for sure she would be here. I need my dose of courage. I think sometimes, when I am in a metaphorical mood, that her breath has courage in it.
        I have never been so melodramatic or just plain romantic about anyone.
        The beach is empty... She must have come and left, thinking I still want nothing to do with her, having no reason to believe otherwise.
        A few seagulls, not many. Different-colored rocks. The beach changes every time I walk here, even when I try to find and stand in the same place.
        This is, of course, a good thing. If we always looked at everything the same way-- well, I need to let go of the religious discussion until I have calmed down.
        I am on the point of crawling to Ginger's dorm on my knees and begging forgiveness when I see her.
        Far down the beach, scanning as I have been-- the white on her face glows even at this distance. She is a bit awkward on the stones, and has not yet seen nor heard me.
        I cry out-- a contact call, "Here I am! Over here!" in Thylacine, one short, sharp, high-pitched yelp.
        Immediately the woman-mare's ears roll in my direction, her head shoots up, and she whinnies-- stay there. I'm coming. I wait as per directions.
        Ginger picks her way a little closer to me, then looks down in obvious frustration at her legs and feet. Looking up, apparently in her typical bold and mischievous fashion, she stops and-- sure enough. She takes off her clothes.
        Once bare, Ginger jumps forward, hooves hitting the beach already at a gallop-- the rest of her catches up so quickly I can hardly tell whether it is glints of light or shifting muscles and skin that change her appearance as she thunders up to me, pulls up short and nearly sits down in halting right in front of me.
        "Hi," I say, meekly.
        "Anne, you will be the death, I say the tragic, Gone-With-the-Wind _death_ of me."
        "Please-- don't say that."
        "Sorry. But, Honey, what--"
        "I was scared. I have no other excuse. I'm still scared. Can you forgive me?" Tears taste a lot like seawater.
        She licks the tears, rumpling my short facial fur and almost making me giggle reflexively.
        "Anne, I would never do anything to hurt you. If I had known..."
        I wrap my arms around Ginger's neck and don't say anything for a minute. Finally I catch her eye and ask, "Will you go in _with_ me next time?"
        She snorts, not in a derisive, but almost a submissive manner. "If that's all it takes..."
        "I know you don't like to. Please. I'll go less often, if you'll go in with me."
        "You won't want me with you _all_ the time."
        "For now I do."
        Ginger nuzzles me. "All right. Just _tell_ me next time you're going to be hiding yourself away, you hear?"
        I nod. "That's fair. I'm sorry. I was wrong-- I'm sorry."
        "Have you eaten today?"
        I make a noncommittal answer.
        "Well, then, you need to. Let me get my clothes and we'll get you fed, all right?"
        "All right..."
        "What are you thinking of?"
        Lots of things. "I don't know-- lots of things. You. Seagulls."
        "Me and seagulls?" Ginger chuckles. "Now _that's_ an interesting match."

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