“So does like, seeing a hawk scare you now?” Jeremy pointed to the silhouette of a bird coasting in lazy circles above the trees. It made two loops before perching at the very top of a pine that must have been in Mr. Atherton’s yard for generations now.
Aaron watched it with lazy amusement. From anyone else, the question would have knocked him on his heels — but from his best friend, it was a silly thought he could treat lightly. He held it for a moment, laughing silently, before batting it back.
No more than it scares you to see Aku, he signed. Aku was another Br’er in the neighborhood — a Lion — who they studiously avoided even before the Change happened. He had a crew, was the first kid on his block to have a car, wore the freshest clothes that no one who lived in a house like his could afford. It was an open secret that he was probably dealing; or at least, he had been. He also liked jacking the neighborhood kids for fun, though now there was a new viciousness in the exchange that rattled folks even more. It was only a matter of time, folks knew, before something was going to happen. Nobody wanted to be the one it happened to.
Jeremy sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes, then took a long drag of the joint he had just lit. “Shit, man, just because he’s some big muscle-cat don’t mean nothing. He still better not step to me.”
Sure, Jan, Aaron signed. He grinned when Jeremy pushed his shoulder and handed him the joint.
They were sitting in Jeremy’s backyard, half a block up the street from Aaron’s house. Technically, it was the parents’ backyard, but Jer’s mom was working a second shift at the hospital and his dad was going to be late working on a Mercedes that needed some engine work. Neither of them would be home until the buzz had peaked and began to fade.
It was a little plot, long and narrow and covered with grass that was just a little too long. A solid chain-link fence separated them from identical plots on either side and the thin alley at the far end. A sagging border of chicken wire marked the struggling garden of Jeremy’s mom; the corn, tomatoes and okra shoots that had peeked out of the ground were already threatening to turn yellow. The sun was low in the sky, not quite ready to set but heading that way. It illuminated the peeling white paint of the house behind them, and the bare metal patio furniture they sat in.
Aaron rolled the thin joint in his fingers, considering it. He had been told by his doctor not to take any drugs without their recommendation — his new physiology might react to things he had taken all his life in ways they couldn’t predict. They had to have known he had THC in his system when he was admitted, though, and it hadn’t done anything too terrible. He brought it to his lips and inhaled.
The smell of the burning grounds overwhelmed his senses for a few seconds, burning the scent of earth and grass, paint and rust out of his nostrils. His eyes watered immediately, and his throat seized in revolt; he could only hold the smoke for two beats before he collapsed into a fit of coughing and sneezing. One ear swiveled as he heard Jeremy crack up next to him, taking the joint back as he doubled over.
“Hey yo, it’s like you never smoked before! Damn! I know it ain’t been that long.” Jeremy smoked, then laughed, then fell into a coughing fit. “This is dry as shit though.”
They coughed together for several moments, the whooping sound echoing off the shed in Mr. Atherton’s backyard across the alley. The whole neighborhood probably knew what they were doing back there, which only worried Aaron a little, and even less once the pot kicked in.
So you’ve been saving that thing for me this whole time, huh? He lifted his whiskers in the approximation of a grin. Jeremy was the first person to figure out what the expression meant.
“Shit, smokes like it, don’t it?” He offered it back to Aaron, who waved it away. One hit was enough; he’d see how he felt with that. “But nah, I got this from Freddie over on Park Heights. He said it was some good shit, all the way from California…or maybe Colorado…but I’m not with it. Burns too much.”
Yes, it’s a lot. Aaron felt the way the fur moved on his arms as he signed. It was distracting how cool it felt. But I like the feeling.
Jeremy grinned wide at him. “Man, me too. It’s just old, I guess.”
They both sank into the chair, arms dangling over the sides nearly to the grass. Aaron could almost feel the tension seeping from his fingertips into the ground. He took a deep breath, aware of the way his chest lifted, of the warm, smoky air sucked through his nostrils, the feel of his breath on the back of strange teeth.
He tapped Jeremy’s shoulder to get his attention, then signed Thanks for this. I really needed it.
“No doubt, no doubt,” Jeremy said, stretching out his legs. His flip-flops left a trail of flattened grass behind them. “When I saw you at Starbucks, you looked like one of those little bunnies in the pet store, ears all flat, whiskers all shaking. I knew immediately, like, I need to get this fool high as fuck on the quick.”
Aaron snorted and doubled over. He was seized by an impulse to whip his ears back and forth, or to get up and kick out his legs. It happened whenever he laughed now, and he didn’t know what to do with it. His fur ruffled, and he shook his head; his ears whipped, the sounds of the city distorting and muting in weird ways as they did. He wasn’t sure he was ever going to get used to it.
He glanced over at Jeremy when the feeling passed. His friend was watching him, but if he was concerned about it he didn’t let on. For some weird reason, Aaron appreciated that. This…this was the most normal he felt in a long time. It was the first thing since being back that felt like it hadn’t changed.
“But for real though, you’re welcome. I can’t even imagine how weird this is for you. You know I got you if you need anything, right?” Jeremy puffed, exhaled, and passed to Aaron.
Yeah, I know. Aaron grinned as he took the joint and placed it in his muzzle. Just like I got you if you need someone to beat up Aku for you.
Jeremy laughed, “Man, sit your rabbit ass down before that dude straight up eats you. I know he’s gone through all his mama’s cat food by now.”
Aaron grunted in laughter and shook his ears again. It felt good.
It felt good.