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Author’s note: This is the very long chapter 17 that I had written as a Christmas Special. It’s about four times the size of the other chapters. Pour yourself a warm cup of coffee and slid under the blanket for this lovely episode.

“LUUUCY! LUUUCY! Baaaah!”

“Sshhh… I’m here… I’m here, Clara.”

“Luuucy!”

“You had another nightmare? It’s okay. I’m here now. Just calm down. Everything will be okay.”

It has been two days since my shameful trip to the hospital. Lucy had brought me back to her small apartment near the Cakes & Pets. She said that for the time being, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. Getting better would have to be my only priority, and everything else had to be put on the back burner.

This wasn’t fun. After my mental breakdown, all I could do was cry and sleep. I couldn’t talk anymore either, as if something inside me had broken. The outside world was the realm of confusion, and I didn’t know how to think anymore.

Lucy nursed me and repeated a thousand times a day that I would need a lot of time to get back on my feet, but that eventually, I would, even though I couldn’t see it at the moment. At the present time, I just had too many difficult things to reconcile with.

My unhealthy relationship with my mother had finally snapped as if a thin string had linked us and failed when we got too far apart. After this traumatic event, I had rejected everything else; the café, the petgirls, my move to the pethouse, even Lucy; I didn’t want to have anything to do with any of them anymore. Being taken care of by Lucy and this deep desire to be alone was a major moral conflict, and it made me feel so awfully guilty for abusing her comforting presence.

I didn’t want her to take care of me, yet she was the first person I called over when I had those nightmares. For the past two days, her life had been disrupted by my childish behavior, but no matter what, she was still there to console me. I didn’t understand why she bothered doing this because my mind was no longer powerful enough to process feelings and emotions other than pain.

There was a battle raging in my soul between my demons who wanted to destroy me and the angels who were trying to protect me from them, shielding me with their lives.

“That’s it, Clara, calm down. It’s still early. Close your eyes and try to sleep a bit more.”

***

The sun shone through the window, brightening the small room I occupied and causing me to crack my eyelids open. There wasn’t much around; hung on the wall, a nice painting of a flower field with a mountain in the background, a small dresser with a few small picture frames on it, and a closet. The simplicity of this environment probably meant this was the guest bedroom.

Since my brain wasn’t fully awake yet, I appreciated the warmth of the soft blanket and the cushiness of my pillow for a short moment. It was a comfortable place to be, and I let out a long sigh, knowing that my pain would imminently come back to haunt me.

“C… Clara? Are… are you awake?”

“…”

This voice coming from next to me didn’t even startle me. Slowly letting my head fall to the side to see who it was, I noticed a small girl wearing a hoodie and who had her hands stuffed inside its kangaroo pocket. Her big watery brown eyes betraying her sadness stared at me intently.

She stood up and stepped forward, extending an arm to touch mine. She paused for a moment before retracting her move, as if what she had wanted to do had been prohibited. Her butt returned to the sofa and her hands to her kangaroo pocket; she lowered her head.

“Lucy said you would need time. She said you were hurt badly and that we would have to be patient. She said you probably wouldn’t talk to me, but that it was okay.”

“…”

“She had to go take care of the café and asked me to stay here today to keep an eye on you. She said, “Vix, you will spend the day with Clara.” I… I want to… but I don’t know what to do…”

It was inevitable. Even though I was doing nothing but sleeping, I kept hurting people. Vix was the sweetest person I knew, and her heart was bleeding because of me. Fortunately, I didn’t have enough energy left to feel as awful as I should have been, but I didn’t want to push my luck, so I just turned my head away to look elsewhere.

“Aww… Sorry… Maybe I shouldn’t talk. Lucy said I have to make sure you eat. So I will go make you breakfast. I… I’ll be back, okay?”

Vix hesitantly got off her seat again and trotted out of the room. I was not too sure if it was to avoid crying in front of me or if she was in a hurry to complete her task, not to leave me alone.

The world around me seemed so unreal. My soul had left my body before they found me, and it was not fully back in yet. I had trouble understanding what Vix was doing here and what she expected from me. Something was wrong. I remembered those moments where I had cuddled with her, either at the pethouse or the café, but it didn’t trigger any desire to do it again.

For the next few minutes, I heard pans and cutlery rattling ankara eve gelen escort from the nearby kitchen. Was Vix really making me food? Why would she do that? Lucy had done the same thing, and she didn’t explain to me why. I didn’t want her to do anything for me. I didn’t deserve this kind of attention.

Yet, shortly after, Vix entered the room with a small tray in her hands.

“Can… Can you… sit up… I think it would make things easier… if you did.”

Void of energy, I managed to push myself up, slowly, to reach the position Lucy put me into when she wanted me to eat something. With my back now resting on the pillows, Vix lowered her tray and placed it on my legs.

She shyly sat on the edge of the bed.

“So… Those are eggs and… well… you know what eggs are… Stupid me. What am I saying? I made you a coffee too because I know you like coffee. Right?”

“…”

“Take your time… Well… Not too much… because Lucy said you have to eat.”

I looked down at my plate. There was one scrambled egg, one peanut butter toast, a sliced apple, and a coffee.

Coffee…

The heat of the cup radiated almost painfully on my palm when I cupped it with my hand. Vix was right… I liked coffee. This beverage had always been so comforting. I could remember the first time I had coffee when I was a teenager. It was at a coffee shop in a big mall; I had found enough courage to walk up to the cashier but couldn’t utter a word. The lady had said something, and I remembered just nodding a couple of times. Perhaps she had thought I was mute because I ended up with a cup in my hand, like the one I was holding right now.

I had sat down at an empty table and, and for the first time, I had all the time in the world to inhale the vapors rising from the hot liquid. It had been pleasurable in the pure sense of the term, and when I had taken my first sip, I had decided that it was good. It had been the first time in my entire life that I had decided to drink something without having someone else telling me what was good or not. My mother had always decided everything for me before.

Without being conscious of it, my first coffee had been my first step toward building a life of my own.

“Is… Is it good? You… You are just staring at your coffee cup. You always put milk and sugar in it when you get one at the café… so I thought it was okay like that…”

I looked at Vix and nodded, to at least let her know that it was fine. Smiling wasn’t something I knew how to do anymore, but I was grateful for the trouble she went through to prepare this meal.

My eyes returned to my coffee, and it reminded me of something else Vix had mentioned… The animal café.

During my first visit at the Cakes & Pets, that was what I had ordered… a coffee.

I remember having stood like a leek in front of the shop for a long time, unable to decide if walking in was what I wanted to do, to the point where the manager of the place, Lucy, had walked outside to invite me in, leaving me no other choice but to accept.

When she had asked me for my name and age, my words wouldn’t come out, so I had given her my ID card instead. Curiously, she had not been offended by it and had understood right away that talking wasn’t my forte.

And then, another milestone in my life. I had to face a bunch of rubber petgirls who were way more real than anything else I could have imagined. And, of course, Vix had been the first one to really draw my attention.

Her fiery red suit with her white belly, long fox ears and puffy tail, her deep black eyes, it was all very intimidating, but I admired her so much. I remembered when she had grabbed my hand to place it on her warm belly. That had been a life-changing moment. It was the first time I had been allowed to touch someone else for no other reason than to make myself feel good.

And now she was here, sitting on the edge of my bed, out of costume and worried that I was not too fond of the food she had prepared for me.

I wasn’t hungry, but I still grabbed my fork and dug in the eggs, perhaps to honor her efforts.

“Good… You… you seem to like them… I will let you eat. And then… I dunno… I’ll be back… okay?”

Taking a lot of time, I finished eating everything in my tray and then placed it on the nightstand. I rolled to my side and closed my eyes again as the tiredness hit me again.

***

She was still there, sitting on the small sofa, hugging her knees, playing on her smartphone, hoodie down to the middle of her face as usual. She was always hiding her scars.

“Oh… Clara. Did… did I wake you up?”

I shook my head, no.

“Oh… Good… So… You… you don’t want to talk? I mean… Lucy said you can’t… But I’m not sure why…”

“…”

“Well… maybe I know why. I mean… When I had my accident, it was pretty much like that too. I was so scared. I had nightmares all the time about that big dog that had attacked me. After that, that was the only thing people around me gaziosmanpaşa escort wanted to talk about, so I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. I guess that’s how you feel, right?”

I nodded.

What she said was exactly it. I had endured enough pain for a lifetime, and I cowardly didn’t want to take the risk to trigger it back. That was why I didn’t want to talk or do anything that could have brought back any suffering. I couldn’t get close to anybody ever again, or else the pain would come back.

“Do… Do you prefer to be alone?… I want to stay… but… if you don’t want me here… I… I can go…”

I shook my head no.

“… Okay… then I’ll stay here… It’s okay if you don’t talk… Lucy said it was okay.”

The day dragged slowly, very slowly. In between two naps, Vix fixed me some snacks and kept mostly to herself while staying at my side. More than once, the thought that she would have loved to sit on the bed next to me had crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t have been a good idea. I asked myself the question over and over, would I like to cuddle with her again, and the answer was no. I didn’t have this attraction inside of me anymore. I had pushed it down, very deep.

At the end of the afternoon, Lucy came back, and Vix left without a word.

“So, Clara? How was your day?”

“…”

“That good, uh? Were you happy to see Vix?”

Why? Why did this question about Vix cause me to start crying? My swollen throat hurt, and my tears just wouldn’t stop running down my cheeks no matter how much I wiped them off. What was that all about?

Lucy sat on the bed next to me, and I threw myself in her arms like a child. She was the only person I was willing to touch. She was the motherly presence I didn’t have.

“It’s okay, Clara. I told you. It will take you a long time to cry it out. Let it all out. You’ll feel better soon.”

“Baaah! Aaahaaa!”

“Hehe. Poor Clara. You are sad because Vix was here, and it was not the same as before, right? Don’t worry about it. The pets will understand. None of them will be mad at you if you take your time. Just don’t push them away, okay? They will still be your friends when you feel better. If it takes a week, it will take a week, and if it takes a year, it will take a year. They won’t let you down.”

Why was I so messed up? There was no one sweeter than Vix; I knew that! So why was I not feeling anything for her anymore? Had I really convinced myself that being around people would bring me nothing but sorrows?

For the next three days, Lucy worked at the café, and Vix kept an eye on me in Lucy’s apartment. During those three days, she did her best to feed me, she stayed around while I was taking many naps, and we watched some TV shows together, none of them triggering any emotions. She didn’t attempt to touch me, which was visibly making her very sad, but she pushed through and tried to brighten up the atmosphere by telling me what was happening at the café.

Misti got back her black cat costume from Elizabeth and was proudly wearing it around and asked to do as many shifts as possible. Vix also said that all the pets were worried about me but that Lucy didn’t want them to visit me yet, which I appreciated.

“Clara, tomorrow I’m starting a new shift. So I won’t get to see you for a bit. But Lucy said Asha would be the one keeping you company for the next few days. Meeka is off too, but Lucy doesn’t want more than one of us here at a time.”

As she explained the schedule, Lucy got back home.

“Hey, you two. How is it going?”

“Good. I think Clara is feeling a bit better. She ate all my food, and she didn’t sleep as much.”

“Great. Thanks for your help, Vix. Asha is waiting for you downstairs.”

“… Can… Can I stay with Clara tonight? We can share the bed and…”

“Vix… No. You have to be patient with her.”

“Aww… Okay. Well… Goodbye, Clara… I’ll see you next week.”

“…”

The small foxgirl lowered her hidden head and stuffed her hands back in her kangaroo pocket. She was struggling; I could hear it in her voice. She turned around and dragged her feet toward the exit.

What was I doing? She spent the past three days watching over me, feeding me, keeping me company while I was trying to figure out what was happening with my life. What did she get in return? Nothing. I didn’t say a single word to her. I couldn’t talk anymore. Only now, as she was about to leave, I understood the extent of my ungratefulness. Only now, as she had resigned herself not to receive any love from me, I felt something.

It was as if my heart had restarted beating for the first time in days, powered by guilt. But this guilt had awoken a desire to try something that could potentially diminish this awful emotion I had.

“V… Vix!”

“… Uh? Clara?”

I got off the couch and looked at the floor, tears flowing down my cheeks uncontrollably. I managed to raise my arms, just enough to signal her what I wanted to do, but my feet couldn’t move. I had reached my gölbaşı escort physical limit… I didn’t have more willpower than this.

Vix looked at Lucy, who gave her a little nod. After another few seconds of hesitation, she walked to me and buried herself in my arms to get the hug she had been craving for the past three days. I was crying, I was in pain, but now that she was in my arms, I felt that I had done at least one thing right.

After a short moment, it was Lucy who put an end to this strange scene.

“Vix, that’s enough for today. Please let her go.”

“O… okay… I’ll see you next week, Clara! Take care of yourself.”

One more squeeze, and then she unwrapped her arms from me and walked out the door.

When I had Vix in my arms for this brief moment, I had felt something unclogging inside of me. Something had restarted to flow even though I wasn’t sure what it was.

***

Another morning. The same room, the same quietness, the same morning light that tried to find any weaknesses in the blinds to illuminate the room.

What happened yesterday with Vix was already a blur, but I didn’t feel as bad as I did during the past few days. The fog clouding my mind had slightly lifted, allowing me to be a bit more aware of my situation, and it was not necessarily a good thing.

The devastating conversation I had with my mother still haunted me, and Lucy’s speech was competing with it. It was as if I wanted to believe every negative word I was told all my life just to get some sort of acceptance from my mom, but there was no way to rule out that it had been a deception all along. Every time I consciously thought about this internal dilemma, I couldn’t do anything else but cry.

“Clara? Why are you crying?”

Startled by the voice, all my muscles contracted, making me jerk under my bed sheets. My eyes were too wet to see who was that blurry person over there, in the corner.

“Hey! Sorry… It’s just me, Asha. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She approached me and tried to grab my shoulders, but not being in a good mental state, I pushed her away while trying to move my body out of reach, pushing myself with my heels.

“C… Clara? What… what’s wrong?”

I just couldn’t stop crying. Why? Why was I reacting this way… All I wanted was Lucy so I could hide in her arms.

Asha stood there, staring at me, not too sure what to do next. How come I had rejected the girl with whom I had spent so much time cuddling? What was wrong with me? Was it this internal battle that had not yet determined a winner? This could go both ways. If I were to believe my mother, I would need to stay far away from everybody forever, and if I were to believe Lucy, I would have to abandon who I wanted to be loved by the most and open myself to others. I had not made that choice yet.

“It’s… It’s okay, Clara. I won’t touch you. I’m sorry. I should have waited outside the bedroom. But I missed you too much. I had to watch over you while you were sleeping.”

“…”

“You… you can stop crying now. Lucy insisted that I prepare you breakfast as soon as you wake up. Vix told me what you liked to eat, so I’ll prepare the same thing. Is that okay?”

“…”

“Okay… I’ll be back in a few minutes… Just rest, okay?”

As soon as she left the room, I turned around and cried on my pillow. The pain was relentless, and I didn’t know what to do to make it stop. Asha was my friend. Why couldn’t I speak to her anymore? Something was burning inside my chest; I wished I could crack open my ribcage to let it out. I felt so ashamed for treating her the way I did, but I couldn’t do otherwise.

Being left alone for a bit helped, though. I heard Asha calling someone, probably Lucy, asking for advice on how to handle me. The smell of toasts and eggs reaching my nose was somewhat comforting. Using the remaining clarity I had left in my mind, I managed to focus on something other than misery and tried to prepare myself emotionally for Asha’s return.

A few minutes later, she entered the bedroom, holding a small tray. Curiously, she placed it on the nightstand and sat on the bed next to me.

“Alright… Come closer. I’m not going to touch you.”

“…”

“Don’t worry, Clara… It’s okay. Lucy said that I should try this. Don’t make a fuss, okay? It’s her idea… She wants me to feed you.”

“…”

“I know it’s weird. Well, she said you fed me often while I was a helpless pet and that it was my turn to feed you. We can just try, right? I love it when you feed me at the café… Maybe you’ll love it too… Let me try, okay?”

Her proposition was so odd, so unusual that it pulled me out of my head for an instant. This was a reality and no longer a nightmare. Asha was there, slightly embarrassed by what Lucy had asked her to do, and waiting for some sort of approval from me.

I nodded.

“Great! Just come a bit closer. Lucy wouldn’t like me to drop scrambled eggs in her bed. Here… You can hold your coffee for now. Vix said coffee made you feel good.”

“…”

I moved closer to Asha, still afraid that she would get hurt by another one of my harsh rejection. I didn’t want her to think things would be better from now on because, myself, I didn’t know how this would end up. For now, I would just cooperate and let her do what Lucy had asked. Perhaps it could help.

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