Monday, July 9, 2012
A Stinky Situation
“Mr. Harding,” the middle-school secretary said, “your two o’clock is here.”
Alan glanced at the clock on his desk and grimaced. Right on time. Naturally. Their kind was known for deadly, pinpoint accuracy. He got up from his chair and hastily scraped his unruly hair out of his face. He didn’t care for these parent-principal conferences, or the incidents that necessitated them, at the best of times. Most shifter breeds he could deal with. But this case, and this parent … Alan caught himself sniffing the air. Was that a hint of “fragrance” wafting in from the hall?
Stop it. You’re imagining things. They don’t do that in public any more. At least the adults don’t. At least they’re not supposed to. Just take shallow breaths through your mouth. And try not to think of her as “their kind.” It’s supposed to be all’s fair in here.
“Send her in,” he told the secretary, and took as deep a breath as he could hold.
Surprise made the captive air whoosh out of his lungs. She didn’t look, or smell, at all like the stereotypes had led him to expect. The right makeup and different clothes and she could probably pass for a high schooler, college age at the outside. Not that he had any complaints about her attire. That dress clung to her curves like a tick to a coon hound, and brother, did she have her share of curves.
And that hair. “Striking” fit the bill quite nicely. It fell past her shoulders in a billowy cloud, and of the same cottony color, except for the jet-black streak down the middle. Alan slammed his jaw shut before his tongue could roll out.
Bite it all, she smelled fantastic. Something light and flowery. Had to be perfume. No way that could be her natural scent.
He waved at the chairs in front of his desk. “Won’t you have a seat, Mrs. Odor?”
Oh scat. Stuck his foot in it right off the bat. She didn’t seem to hold it against him. She even smiled a little as she strolled up to his desk and parked those intoxicating curves on one of the chairs. Alan dropped onto his own chair so hard it squealed. Yeah. Flying start.
“I take it this has something to do with Ronald’s behavior,” she said.
“Um, yes. There was another incident, this time in the gym.”
She sighed. It did incredible things to that dress-hugged bosom. “How many were there?”
“Seven. Three got it right in the face. They’ll be all right, but it’ll be days before we get the smell out of the bleachers. There goes basketball practice.”
“I hope you don’t intend to punish Ronald for defending himself.”
“Not at all, Mrs. O’Dell. We—”
“It’s Ms. O’Dell. There is no Mr. O’Dell. Why don’t you just call me Aurora?”
Aurora. Bite it. He wanted to call her a dozen dirty things and follow up with hot panting action. Male dogs didn’t come into heat, did they? Alan cleared his throat. “We’re very serious about our anti-bullying programs. The pack who cornered Spritzer has been punished. That’s in addition to the, well—”
She nodded, understanding.
“The school understands Spritzer’s actions. We encourage the students to stand up for themselves, especially against wolves. It’s pretty much all a wolf responds to. It’s how he defended himself that’s the problem. As I mentioned, the gym is pretty much unusable for a week at least. If Spritzer can’t control his natural impulses in a social situation—excuse me.” Alan stumbled over the words in a kind of low-grade horror. “I mean Ronald.”
Aurora smiled. “It’s all right, Mr. Harding. Ronald doesn’t much care for his given name. Even I call him Spritzer.” Her smile vanished. “My concern is what you expect me, and him, to do if the bullying continues. He was surrounded by seven young wolves. How else was he supposed to react?”
“I don’t think we need to worry about any further incidents. Nobody’s going to mess with him after this. He’s kind of a hero, in fact. That’s another possible problem. I don’t want your son to become a bully in turn.”
“I’ll take care of that,” she said firmly. “What else?”
“Well, we’ve got him scrubbing the bleachers. He’s experimenting with different cleaners. We’ve turned it into a science project. We’d like to stress that he follow school protocol in dealing with these incidents. Run, make noise, tell a teacher. Actions less … smelly.”
“That won’t be easy, at his age. He has a talent and he likes to show off.”
“His … talent … is part of the reason he gets bullied in the first place. I’m sorry, but there’s no delicate way to phrase this. Your people have a reputation.”
“I’m well aware of that, Mr. Harding.”
“Alan. Look, Aroma, we’re concerned—”
Scat. Scat scat scat with a cherry on top. What shade must his face be by now? Beet or tomato?
“You’re not going to sue the school, are you?” he blurted.
Thank the Good Shepherd, she laughed. “Of course not. When you trap young predators with their prey in a building for seven hours a day, it’s a wonder these things don’t happen more often. As long as it doesn’t happen again.”
“That’s the whole idea behind our education system. Socialize carnivores and herbivores early to minimize, um, adult accidents. Nobody said it was easy. I don’t suppose … ”
Her eyes flashed. “I’m not homeschooling Ronald, Mr. Harding. I can’t afford to. The other students will just have to deal with him.”
“That’s not what I was going to suggest. Every year we hold a Diversity Day for the freshman classes. Parents talk to the kids about what it means to be a shifter of their species. It’s supposed to promote empathy and understanding. Mostly it ends up being a warning to the predators about picking on ‘weaker’ species. If you’ve ever seen a wolf kicked in the package by a jackrabbit, you know what I mean.” Alan shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had a skunk”—there, he’d said it—“at one of the talks. Would you be interested?”
“If it will help Ronald, absolutely.” She had the cutest dimples when she smiled. “Will the teachers be in attendance? That might help too. I’ve noticed even adults can become uncomfortable around … ” The dimples deepened. “Our kind.”
“Reputations are powerful things, whether deserved or not.”
“That’s too true, sad to say. When do you want me?”
How about right now? Let me clear off my desk. Alan swallowed hard. Skunks must have two types of smells, because her current one was driving him crazy, in all sorts of wonderful ways. “How’s next Thursday suit you?”