A little nervous about posting this... they're my first anthro OCs though the second piece I've written with them. Hope it's all right! Also, it takes a little while to get going... I'm having trouble cutting down on backstory lately when I write these fics.
Dating teammates on the roller derby team wasn't exactly against the rules, but it was frowned upon. Though knowing someone so well you worked in sync was never a bad thing, complications arose when it came to bad breakups. Being stuck on a team with an ex-girlfriend could mean far more drama than they already had. And needing to be traded to another of the teams meant an unnecessary shakeup. Maisy knew this, of course, but it didn't keep her from falling in lust with Jasmine.
Jasmine, the largest blocker on the team, went by the name of You Bet Your Jas. The name was long, but it more than fit on the back of the voluptuous Indian elephant's red and white jersey. Her number was 1001, and the double zeros always made Maisy think about that rump she spent so much of each match staring at.
As the main jammer on the team, Maisy started every match she played at the back. It was her job to work her way past the teams, speed around the track, and then pass as many opposing players as possible as she lapped them, scoring points for each one. Preventing her from doing this were the other team's blockers, of course. Fierce out there on the flat track, Crazy Maisy could push and fight her way through the pack if she had to; she didn't let anyone stop her. But Maisy, a sleek European badger, was excellent at being sneaky. She could weave her way swiftly around players. She could zoom through small pockets of space, seizing any opportunity that presented itself. She could hide behind blockers and sail right past players without them noticing.
And the player she loved hiding behind most was, without a doubt, Jasmine. She tried her best to keep her feelings out of it. But there was something about being pressed up against Jas' back, feeling the elephant's sweaty warmth and considerable curves, that turned Maisy on to no end. Her body hummed every time she got close.
She'd tried flirting with Jas to no avail. She'd tried dropping hints. She'd even tried mentioning to fellow teammates how good-looking she thought Jas was, hoping the word might get back to the elephant somehow. But, so far, they hadn't gotten past being friends and teammates. The only thing that Maisy thought could possibly change their dynamic was if she came right out and, bluntly, asked Jasmine out.
Maisy wasn't sure she was ready for that yet. It'd be a big change, and she definitely did not want to risk losing that big figure in front of her on the track.
“Earth to Maisy?”
Maisy looked up from untying her skates to see her fellow teammate, Tina Turn Her, smiling at her. “Yes? Sorry. I zoned out there for a minute.”
“Yeah you did. I was asking if you were bringing anyone special to the dinner tonight?” After every bout, the teams all went out together and brought along their friends and family. With good food, good drink, and good company, it was always a great way to end the day. For Maisy, it was also a great excuse to spend more time around Jas.
Tonight, however, Maisy wasn't so sure she even felt like going. Their team, the Bi-town Bombshells, were ahead, but only just barely. The current score at half-time was 59 to 55. And Maisy blamed herself for their not being ahead by a larger margin. Because she didn't feel like she had brought her A-game. Because she didn't feel so good.
Her head ached. Her throat stung. And her nose itched. So far, Maisy had managed to make it through the match without coughing or sneezing, so she guessed whatever she was coming down with wasn't too severe. Maybe it was just a cold or, even better, just a little sniffle. Still, she didn't feel much like socializing tonight. The team dinner usually lasted for hours, and even though she kept nocturnal hours normally, tonight all she felt like doing was going home and burrowing beneath her blankets. “No, I didn't bring anyone,” she answered. “You?”
“Oh, you know it, girl!” replied the coyote, her eyes shining with pride. Then Tina proceeded to overshare about the girl she was currently head over heals for. She shared everything from their meeting at a hot dog cart in the park one day to the sound her girl made during cunnilingus. Maisy wasn't interested in a bit of it, but she smiled and nodded as she let her mind wander. She was thrilled when it was finally time to huddle up again to go over their plans for the second half of the match.
Maisy rubbed at her nose as she listened. Directly across the group from her was Jasmine. Maisy found herself staring more than she thought she probably should be. But those deep, beautiful, brownish-red eyes were so hard to tear her gaze away from.
“On three. Ready, girls?” Realizing that the session was over, Maisy quickly stuck her hand into the center with the others for the cheer. “One, two, three: Bombshells!”
Maisy wasn't one of the girls sent onto the track to start the second half, but she rolled her feet forward and back, keeping her legs warm and ready. She had to be swift. She had to be stealthy. She had to be sneaky. She had... to take a drink of water.
Her throat seized up and she coughed involuntarily into a paw as she grabbed for her water bottle. A swig of water only made her cough more, and one of the coaches glanced over at her. She waved it off and turned, managing another sip that calmed the spasms so she could breathe freely again. Just in time, too, because she was sent right out for the next bout.
She found herself right behind You Bet Your Jas as they started out. Jas glanced back, giving her a reassuring smile before they got into position, ready to skate. Maisy tried to tell herself it was just a friendly teammate sort of smile, but deep down she wanted to believe it was something more. Her heart leaped about in her chest at the possibility, though she had little time to analyze it. The whistle blew and they started.
Getting past the blockers was easy enough on the first pass. She was out ahead of the City Rollers' jammer, Made 'em Cry. She issued a blast of speed, careful but swift even around the turns. She approached the pack, bent almost in half, all ready to do her thing and sneak through. She passed one player on their team and one on hers. Then she passed another on their team. Everything was going perfectly. And so, as luck would have it, that's when it happened.
Maisy sneezed. It wasn't loud, probably not even loud enough for most of the derby girls out on the track with her to have heard it. But it was just enough unexpected force that it threw her balance out of whack. She wobbled and her arm hit the torso of another player as one of her wheels struck another player's skates. She flailed desperately even as she fell with a hard thump to the floor.
Her hip made contact first, taking all her weight with it as she slid along the floor with the rest of her forward momentum. Then someone's skate crashed hard into the back of her thigh. She felt a leg graze her head as she ducked, pulling in on herself as much as possible to avoid being run over by anyone. Learning how to fall had been lesson one in how to be a good roller derby girl, and one she'd never forgotten, despite being light enough on her feet that she usually managed to avoid trouble. Sometimes you just couldn't get away from it.. and sometimes it's because of your own damn sneeze in the first place and you probably deserve being hurt for letting it out.
Owwww! But maybe not hurt this much, though. Ow ow ow ow! She raised her head from the floor and looked down to survey the damage. Her right leg had definitely gotten the worst of it. She could just imagine how bruised and sensitive to the touch it was going to feel later. But what she was worried about the most was her lower leg. Shooting pain raced through it and her skate was facing the wrong direction so her leg was twisted in an abnormal formation. The first thing—and, in fact, the only thing—she could think at first was “Ow!” And then, right after that, came “Please don't let it be broken!”
Maisy wasn't even aware of the whistle being sounded to call off the bout, but it must have happened because suddenly all the girls from both teams were crowding around her, worried expressions on their faces.
“Did someone crash into you?” asked Barnyard Betty.
“Is this a penalty?” asked Metro-Polly-Tin.
“Um...” Maisy didn't really want to admit she'd caused it herself, but she didn't want to blame the other team unnecessarily either. You Bet Your Jas skated over with a look in her eye that said she knew what had happened. She'd been so close, she had to have heard or seen or both. Most likely, both.
But she didn't say a thing about it. All she said was, “Are you all right?” All she was was full of concern, which warmed Maisy's heart.
“Yeah, I'm fine.” Maisy tried to give them all a reassuring smile. But when she started to get up, the pain that shot through her leg was excruciating; it kept her down, even though her hip hurt as it stayed in contact with the floor. “Ow!” There were tears in her eyes from the pain. “Maybe not fine...”
That was when her coaches arrived, bringing with them a first aid girl. There were always a couple of those on hand during matches. Someone helped her roll off her hip and onto her back where she lay for a moment before propping herself up on her elbows so she could see what was happening. One of the coaches untied her laces and gently slid her skate off her right foot. Then off came her bright red sock, carefully. “Can you try to wiggle your toes for me?” asked the medic. Maisy did, glad to see that her toes all moved, her claws clicking lightly on the smooth, polished floor. It probably wasn't broken then. “Carefully flex your foot back and forth at the ankle.” It hurt, but she did her best. She winced at the pain, but she was sure it wasn't broken.
And she ought to know, as an X-Ray tech. She'd seen just about every broken thing that could be broken in an animal. “I'm all right,” she told them. She tried to push herself up and winced again. Maybe not broken, but definitely hurt. Sprained?
“Looks like it's just a sprain,” the medic said, clinically rather than reassuringly. “And you're going to have one hell of a bruise. Let's get you over to the side and taken care of. All right?”
Maisy nodded. With one of her coaches under each of her arms, with her hurt leg bent, and with her other skate on the floor, they glided her off to the side. The audience and other players all clapped for her, which she had mixed feelings about. It was her fault, after all.
They lowered her into one chair then propped her other leg up on a duffle bag. R.I.C.E. was what she needed now: rest, ice, constriction, and elevation. The medic had a tight bandage for her leg and one of those ice packs you crack to activate. So she was set for the rest of the event as far as her leg was concerned. Having to watch from the sidelines and not get to play or help her team out was excruciating. She itched to get back in the action, but all she could do was watch and cycle the ice pack between her sprained leg and her bruised hip.
More than once, what was blossoming into a cold in her head tried to present itself to her. A few times she coughed and had to grab for her water bottle that one of the coaches had kindly brought over for her. But more often it was a sneezy urge in her nose that prickled and tickled until she had to sneeze. But she managed to sneeze softly enough, buried against her furry arm, that she was pretty sure no one heard and nobody noticed.
In the end, the Bi-town Bombshells lost by twenty points. It was closer than it could have been, but a loss was still a loss. The only good news was that there were still a handful of matches left in the season and Maisy was sure her leg would be better by the next one. She held back a frustrated growl, teeth clenched, as the other team took their victory lap first around the track, slapping hands and bumping fists with everyone who'd bought a ticket to watch.
Just before it was the Bombshells' turn to take their lap to thank the fans, Jasmine skated over to Maisy. “How are you doing, Crazy Maisy?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she asked, “Do you want some help?”
“Help?” Maisy repeated, confused.
“I'll take that as a yes.” Then Maisy found herself gently being hauled up out of the chairs. Jasmine held her tight from behind, supporting her but letting her good leg extend at the right height for her skate to roll on the floor. They joined the team line in the very back for the skate around, and Maisy held her hand out for both of them, receiving praise for the part of the game she'd been able to play and for being there despite the injury.
Roller derby was a physical sport, and injuries weren't uncommon. In fact, the ones that weren't so bad usually improved a player's reputation. Those were black and blue badges of honor. Some of the more serious ones, the ones that required surgeries, were scary and sometimes meant the end of a player's roller derby career. Maisy still felt stupid but about this, but she was glad the injury wasn't worse.
You Bet Your Jas steered her back to her chair, depositing her with the gentle care that Maisy would never have guessed their biggest blocker possessed. “Thanks,” she said.
“No problem. Can I help out in any other way? Oh, do you need a ride to dinner?”
Maisy shook her head. Sometime during the second half of the game, she had decided she definitely wasn't feeling up for dinner. “No, thanks. I think I'll give it a miss. I'd better just go home. To tell you the truth... I'm feeling a bit ill.”
Jas' face fell. “So sorry to hear that. I saw you sneeze a few times. I'd been hoping that wasn't the case.”
“You saw?” All right, now she was worried that others had seen as well. Did everyone on both teams now know how pathetic she looked? “Did everyone see?”
“I don't think so,” Jas responded. “I might have been keeping my eye on you.” She paused then tried, awkwardly, to make that sound less obsessive. “I was worried about you after that fall, Miss Crazy.”
Maisy knew it was up to her to make Jas feel better now. “Thanks. That was sweet of you.” A violent shiver ripped through her; the ice pack wasn't quite so cold now, but it her shiver wasn't from that.
“Oh, poor thing! Here.” Jas reached into her duffle bag and pulled out a sweater. Its pattern was gray and blue stripes, and it was a tight knit, thick and warm. But it was so large it could have fit two badgers into it. It hung all the way down to Maisy's knees and the long sleeves made her feel warm right down to her paws.
“Thanks. Again.” It seemed all she was doing today was thanking Jas. And though it was nice to be making a connection with her, this wasn't exactly the impression she wanted to make. She didn't want to be some ill, injured, poor luck case for Jas to feel sorry for. She wanted to catch the elephant's eye as someone confident, attractive, worthy enough to consider dating, despite the stigma about it. So Maisy tried to stand up on her own, to project a little of that image.
Unfortunately, the only image she ended up projecting was that of a clumsy badger whose sprained and badly bruised leg couldn't possibly support her weight. She crumbled. She would have hit the floor again. She would have stupidly aggravated her condition. But Jasmine reached out and caught her, pulling her close. You Bet Your Jas' body was still hot and sweaty from the bouts, and it was both lovely and intoxicating to be pressed up against it again, this time with her sensitive nose right there between Jas' breasts. She felt her insides melt into an ooey, gooey mess of emotions. Then she felt the elephant stroke the back of her head with her trunk. “I think I'd better drive you home tonight.”
“But what about my car?” Maisy exclaimed.
“Leave it here until you've kicked the worst of this. I can drive you back to pick it up or you can take an Uber to get it. But if one little sneeze does this to your leg when you're on skates, I'd hate to see what one little sneeze might do when you're behind the wheel of a car.”
It was sound reasoning, sure, and spending more time with Jas sounded lovely. She just wished it were under much different circumstances.
“C'mon. What d'ya say?”
Maisy threw up her arms. “What choice do I have? Thank you again!”
Jas shook her head. “You'd do the same for me, right?”
“In a heartbeat.” After getting their skates off, Jas grabbed their bags and helped Maisy hobble out of the facility to the parking lot. Maisy hopped to move forward and leaned on her teammate for support. It was slow-going, and Maisy was tired and coughing by the time they got to the car. Then Jas gently helped Maisy climb in, swinging her leg with care. Maisy winced once, briefly, but she settled into the large seat all right. Jas even helped her buckle her seat belt.
After telling Jasmine where she lived, Maisy sat back and enjoyed having some time when they weren't talking about Maisy's injured leg. They chatted about the game, about various plays that worked and ones that didn't. They totally fangirled about the good plays the other team did well.
And then came the moment Maisy had been dreading; her nose tickled again. Maybe it was her fuzzy head or maybe it was the worry that she might sneeze and cause Jas to veer wildly out of control, but she decided at once to tell Jasmine about it. “You don't happen to have any tissues, do you?” she asked, rubbing at her nose. “I think I feel another sneeze coming on.”
It was Jasmine's turn to look like she was in pain. “Um, no. I'm sorry. Regular tissues are, um, a little small for me.”
Once again, Maisy felt stupid. “Oh, uhhhh of course.”
Jasmine quickly came up with a solution, however. “You can feel free to use the sleeve of my sweater, if you need something to cover your nose with.”
Maisy felt embarrassment set in and rise above the stupidity.
“Seriously!” Jas took her eyes off the road to throw a brief glance over in Maisy's direction. “I'll just be popping it into the washer along with my roller derby outfit when I get home anyway. So go right ahead.”
Maisy hesitated, staring at the soft, thick sweater. Her only other option was tugging up the sweater and sneezing into her arm. And the sleeve did look so inviting. It could take it. And if Jas truly didn't mind. “Okay... I... uh uhh-Tchew! T'chew!”
“Oh my God!” Jas took a hand off the wheel and pressed it to her heart.
“What?” Maisy checked the road, worried that there must be something up ahead or something terrible they'd just passed.
“Those were just about the cutest little sneezes I've ever heard in my life. Were you holding back on my account, or do you usually sneeze like that?”
Maisy felt the embarrassed heat rise in her again. “I usually sneeze like that.”
Jasmine looked impressed. “Wow. You're so lucky. They're adorable. My sneezes are nothing like that. Mine are these huge productions from start to finish.”
Maisy's heart skipped as she imagined what Jas' sneezes would be like. She imagined Jas with a big ol' cold in her trunk, all sniffly and sneezy and unable to hold it back. Tickles like this were tough to beat, Maisy knew. But Jasmine might try anyway, drawing out the desperate need to release before it exploded from her into a tissue so large it might be the size of Maisy herself.
And then Maisy grew warmer yet, imagining Jasmine letting lose with such a big sneeze and not even having a tissue. All she would have was Maisy in this very sweater, warm and welcoming and ready to catch the sneeze. Oh, Maisy would do her best to smother it with her body, feeling the burst of air and wet on her chest and arms. Then she would hug Jas' trunk affectionately, petting it and telling Jas that she did well, that it was okay. That it was more than okay. All that would get Maisy so hot and bothered. Hell, she was pretty hot already just imagining it right now, and she was the one with the cold, not Jasmine.
And she couldn't even tell Jasmine any of this. She couldn't say that she thought Jas' sneezes would be magnificent, that they weren't anything to complain about. One didn't tell one's crush about one's kooky little sexual fetish for sneezes, not if one wanted said crush to become one's girlfriend eventually.
So all she could think to answer with was a soft, “I bet your sneezes are perfect for you.” She sniffed and rubbed her nose a little into the soft sleeve. She could feel her nose starting to get warm and irritated already. By this time tomorrow, she'd have a full-blown, exceedingly miserable cold.
Oh, and a sprained and bruised leg as well, of course. Maisy was pretty sure this was not going to be her best week.
When they got to her apartment building, Jasmine helped her inside. She hobbled to the apartment building door, then across the lobby, then to the elevator. Most days, she scampered up the stairs, quick as anything. But today she was glad her building was one of the few on the block with working elevators as well, even though the elevator was on the opposite end of the hall from her apartment. After more hobbling, they finally arrived. Maisy used her key to open the door then practically threw herself onto her couch, collapsing in gratitude and exhaustion. Her leg hurt in this position, but it wasn't so bad to make her move just yet.
And the thing that finally made her lift her head from the couch cushion she had hugged to her front was another tickle in her nose. “ehh!” She looked around, certain she'd had a tissue box around here somewhere at some point. But she couldn't see one now. She nuzzled her little nose into the copious amount of sleeve, able to easily find a dry spot to sneeze and snuffle into. “ehh ehhh-Chew!”
Jasmine smiled so genuinely, cocking her great head, ears flapping lightly. “Se adorable.”
Maisy wanted to bury her head in the cushion again, and she would have done exactly that if Jasmine hadn't engaged her in conversation right away.
“You mentioned having crutches somewhere, from when you hurt your leg before. Can I get them for you so you can get around easier? Oh! And you'll need another ice pack, right?”
Maisy nodded. “There should be a boo boo bunny pack in the freezer. And my crutches are in the hall closet next to the bathroom. Thanks again, Jas. I really sniff I really owe you... for... for... ihchew! Sniff! For taking care of me today. You're right; I never could have driven home in this condition.”
“It takes a big girl to admit when she needs help,” Jasmine said with nothing at all but awe and kindness in her voice. “I'll be right back.”
While Jas was gone, Maisy grabbed the blanket resting on the back of the couch and pulled it over herself the best she could. The only time she'd really been warm since the accident on the track was when she'd been snuggled up against Jas' chest. But the blanket wasn't so bad.
When Jas got back, her arms were full. She carried the crutches, certainly, but she also had a box of tissues, a glass of water, a bottle of pills, and a hot water bottle. “I hope you don't mind, but I raided your linen closet and bathroom while I was over there, so I've brought you a bunch of things. If you don't want any of them, I'll take them back.”
Maisy accepted them all gratefully. Once she'd snuggled in, comfortable with the extra warmth, something to sneeze into, and some medicine that would hopefully start making her feel better, her face glowed with a smile. “Thanks. I'd hug you, but I don't want to get you sick.”
That statement wasn't a complete lie. As much as she would like finding out what it would be like to hear Jas sneeze, she didn't want Jas feel miserable with this cold.
Maisy yawned, unexpectedly.
Of course Jas noticed. “I should go and let you get some rest. Can I get you anything else before I go?”
Maisy wanted to ask her to stay, but she knew that was a terrible idea. Not only would it be way too presumptuous and clingy and moving too fast, but she might end up giving Jasmine her cold. “Nope. I'm fi... fine.” She pulled a tissue from the box and pressed it neatly under her nose. “ih ih ihchew!”
“Aw, feel better, my Crazy girl.”
Maisy's tummy did a little flip. Her crazy girl? Not just 'Crazy Maisy' but hers? The only thing that would have made it any better would have been a kiss goodbye, and Maisy certainly didn't expect anything of that sort. So she let Jasmine leave, the door locking on her way out.
Sniffling, Maisy sank into her little nest of blanket and cushions, trying to prepare herself for a long night of feeling crummy.
Caught up in all the terrible drama that daytime television had to offer, Maisy almost missed the vibrating buzz of her phone on the coffee table, covered in about a hundred used tissues. She lunged forward, clearing the balled-up wads away until she uncovered it. One glance showed her it had been a text message from Jas. Most excellent.
Jasmine: I'm in your neck of the woods. Want me to pick up some lunch for you?
Glancing in the direction of her kitchen, stocked with little more than some TV dinners, that offer sounded appealing, especially as it meant seeing Jas again for a few minutes. But she wasn't all too sure she wanted Jas to see her at the moment. She'd woken up that morning with the cold in full force. After a night of snuffling and nose blowing, she'd hobbled into the bathroom on crutches to find her entire nose the shade of red one usually reserves for tomatoes, stop signs, and fire trucks. Her cold had never been more obvious, but it wasn't as though Jas didn't know. And it meant she could delay a trip to the store a little longer, that was definitely a brilliant thing.
“hih! hihchew! Ihchew!” She grabbed another tissue and dabbed at her sore, full nose. Blowing her nose hurt and sometimes made it tickle even more. But it was either that or have her nose drip all over the place. And she might be feeling sluggish and miserable and full of cold, but she was still going to blow her nose when she needed to.
Several honks later, she had finally made up her mind. She tapped out a reply, careful her claws didn't touch the phone and create typos.
Maisy: Would love something warm. Eggs? Something with roots and insects? Soup maybe?
The text back took only a few seconds.
Jasmine: You've got it!
Maisy's small burst of excitement faded the moment she set the phone down in the pile of tissues. She had made a right mess of her living room in less than a day. It was easier to throw things or drop them over the side of the couch rather than get up on, trying to hold them while maneuvering with crutches, to throw them away. Dirty dishes lines the floor of the couch. Glasses and water bottles were staggered around the coffee table. Three blankets on the couch hid the two now warm and sloshy ice packs that were under there somewhere. The smell of menthol filled the room. And tissues were absolutely everywhere. Ashamed, Maisy grabbed her crutches and tried to start rounding up the mess.
It wasn't as though Jasmine didn't know she was sick. It was just that Jas didn't need to know that a little cold transformed her not only into a clumsy oaf but also into a complete slob.
Both her cold and mobility issues made tidying up slow and difficult work, but eventually she made her living room somewhat presentable. As if on cue, her doorbell rang. Already up, Maisy headed over, leaning on one leg and crutch as she unlocked it and tugged it open, then quickly got back, out of the way of the swinging door so Jas could enter without running her over.
It turned out, that had been a good move, because Jasmine brought with her four bags and came bursting through with them, trunk raised out in front of her with the offerings. “Oh, sit, sit!” she insisted when Maisy offered to help her with the food. “I've got this.”
By the time Maisy had settled back onto the couch with her crutches leaning against the arm and her leg propped up on a small mound of pillows, Jas was back with a tray balanced expertly on the end of her trunk. “Working at a diner doesn't pay much, but I do have a certain skill set,” she said, her mouth moving but her trunk remaining perfectly still and in place. On the tray were a whole array of bowls and cups and plates and utensils and condiments. She set the tray down with great care in the exact spot where she Maisy had just cleared away so many tissues.
“Start with the soup. You don't want it to get cold,” Jas said, nudging one of the bowls to the edge, then grabbing a spoon by its handle with her trunk and holding it out to Maisy. “Egg drop, and pretty hot still. I was holding it on my lap to keep it warm on the drive over.”
Maisy laughed and took the spoon. It tasted wonderful, warming her up from the very first bite onward. “Where'd you get this?” Jas hesitated, and Maisy quickly retracted the question. “Oh, I did't ask to but you od the sbot like that. I barely dow the dabes of restauradts adyway. h'tchew! Sniff! So was it that little blace id the strib ball at that idtersectiod across frob by abartbedt cobplex?”
Jas' eyes lit up. “Yes! That was probably i—”
“Odly I dod't rebeber their soub tasting this good.”
Again, Jas looked hesitant—almost distressed in fact. “Well, I—”
“But I have a cold. Sniff! By dose is all stuffed ub. Baybe it just tastes differedt. Add it's beed a while sidce I had their soub. They brobably adjusted the rec... recipe.” Maisy quickly sneezed into her arm. “hihchew!” But she didn't let the matter drop. “Don't cooks sometimes do that?”
“Um, yeah. Sure. That's definitely possible. Once in a while we try to change something at the diner... it never goes very well. We've got a lot of regular customers, you know, and they like things a very particular way. Heaven forbid we ever change the kind of flour we use in our blueberry pie, or we'll hear it from Old Pete, I'm telling you!”
Maisy couldn't help but notice Jas was talking faster than usual. And instead of eating her own soup, she was only swirling the spoon around in the bowl in one direction then the other. Instead of taing a seat on the other end of the couch or either of the armchairs, she stood on the other side of the coffee table, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. And she didn't quite meet Maisy's gaze as she spoke. Maybe she was nervous about being here in a germ-infested room around a teammate who kept sneezing. “t'chew! Chew! Sniff! You dow, you dod't have to stick aroud if you have subwhere else to be.”
Jas shook her head, ears flapping. “No... I... I was just finishing up my errands. I'm free the rest of the afternoon. But if you're tired and would rather I leave, I can—”
“Thed stay. Sit dowd add joid be for a while... hah-hahchew! Sniff! As lodg as you dod't bide by cold.” She nodded toward the other bowl of soup. “Add eat ub.”
Jas took a seat in one of the armchairs. Maisy would have preferred to have shared the couch, but she reminded herself that she looked every bit as sick as she felt right now, and that couldn't be especially appetizing. A coffee table buffer between them was probably a brilliant idea.
“So, tell be, what else did you brig?”
“There's an insect, mushroom, and potato casserole. Should last you a few days. And there's an apple tart. And...” She reached out and pushed the mug forward a few inches. “Some mint tea.”
“Ohhh,” Maisy sighed. “That's by favorite!”
Spoon halfway to her mouth, Maisy paused. “You... how do you... what do you bead?”
Jas looked even more uncomfortable than before. She stared down at the bowl of soup she wasn't eating and the spoon she wasn't even nervously fidgeting with now.
“Jas? Are you okay?” A wave of fear washed over Maisy. “Oh doe... are you ill? You did't catch by cold, did you?” She thought about all the moments yesterday when Jasmine had held her or when she'd been so close, breathing right on her.
“No!” Jasmine exclaimed. “That's not it...”
Oh, so there was definitely something. “Thed what's wrog?”
She took a deep breath, still not daring to look up yet. Her trunk traced the rim of her soup bowl. “Nothing.”
“Subthig's clearly wrog. What is it?”
With a deep breath, Jasmine confessed. “I, um, I remembered you liked mint tea because you're always ordering it after our roller derby dinners.”
This shocked Maisy into silence. Jas noticed what she ordered? Jas actually noticed and remembered what she ordered? What could that mean? And now that she thought about it, it occurred to her that every time they ate at the Chinese restaurant with the team, she always ordered egg drop soup. And there was a mushroom and root vegetable dish sort of like this casserole at the restaurant. “Jas...” Suddenly, everything was falling into place around her. “Did you cook these for me?”
“What? Like I said, I picked them up.”
“Did you bick theb ub after cookig theb?”
There was a pink flush in her cheeks that told the answer well enough for Maisy.
“You did't deed to do that.”
“I know I didn't. That's why I was pretending I hadn't. Well.. that and it makes me look....”
“Like you fadcy be?”
Jas nodded, raising her eyes shyly but hopefully.
“Good. Because I fadcy you too.”
Jasmine sat up straighter, eyes widening. “Really?”
“Of course. I wadt to sbed tibe with you. Sniff! Why else do you thidk I'd let you id the door whed I look so aw... awful? 'Scuse be... hih-chew!” She couched her nose in a handful of tissues and snuffled wetly.
“Not so awful,” Jas said, reaching over the lunch to pull a tissue from the box on the coffee table. She held it at the end of her trunk, and Maisy had the impression that it was a white flag, an offering of peace and surrender but also maybe a promise to tell the truth from now on. Embracing that spirit of honesty, Maisy took the tissue and honked her bright red nose into it. “Really,” Jas reassured her. “Not so awful at all. Everything you do is cute. Especially your sneezing. So adorable. And I happen to love adorable.”
Heat filled Maisy's head. Was Jasmine actually saying this? Did she mean something by it beyond just a simple infatuation? She would have liked to have asked. She would have liked to have told Jas about her fetish. But that might scare the elephant off for good. This was too new for her to take that risk. “I cad't believe you rebebered what kide of tea I like.”
Jas tapped the side of her head. “I'm an elephant. I've got an amazing memory. We never forget anything.”
“I thought that was just ad exbressiod.”
She gave a little shrug. “It was always true for me. I remember every customer I've ever served at the diner, every plot twist in all the movies I've ever seen, and every move we've ever made out there on the roller derby track.”
Maisy wiped her nose. “So there is doe chadce you'll forget that ebarrassig tibe I sdeezed add lost by baladce add sbraided by leg?”
“No chance,” Jasmine agreed, smiling. “But I promise not to bring it up again, if it makes you feel better.” She took a deep breath. “Do you mind if I move over to the couch?”
“Blease do.” Maisy shifted over a little to make enough room for the elephant. Things felt a little lighter and freer as they resumed their lunch. Jasmine seemed more relaxed, Maisy felt overjoyed, and there was a shared sense of relief. Jas finally ate some of her lunch as well, which was a peanut butter and banana sandwich, abandoning the soup that had already grown cold. “This is abazig,” Maisy said after her first swallow of the casserole.
“I made that last night, just in case. I thought, I could just leave it for you if you didn't want to see me. But I'm glad you let me in. I know you probably don't feel your best, but I don't mind if it means getting to spend some more time with you.”
“I thidk... I... thihh! ihChew! Ihchew! Snfff! I thidk you'd brobably have bore fud sbedig tibe with be whed I'b dot so stuffed ub with a ruddy, sdeezy, scratchy cold id by head.”
“Let me be the judge of that.” She took another tissue from the box with her trunk and wiped it gently at Maisy's nose. “And, after we eat, if you need any help with anything... doing the dishes, putting in a load of laundry, staying warm here on the couch with maybe an elephant's arms around you... you just let me know, all right? I'm happy to help any way I can.”
Maisy nodded. She had said thank you so much already it hardly seemed like the words had any impact left. “Ode,” she replied, holding up one finger to make it clear. While she had her finger up, she rubbed it at her tickling nose.
Jas narrowed her eyes. “One?” she repeated, not understanding.
“Yes. I'b goig to start coudtig the duber of tibes I wadt to kiss you. That way, whed I dod't have a codtageous head cold, I cad bay you back for beig so sweet to be.”
Jas smiled back. “I like the way you think, Crazy Maisy. Now that casserole isn't going to eat itself. And I'm sure as heck not going to eat it. Did you know there are insects in there?”
Maisy laughed as they resumed eating. “Two,” she said, so softly she didn't intend Jas to hear. But one of Jas' large ears twitched.