Saved by my Weretiger by Neil Sinclair

Everyone knows not to walk in Central Park at night.

Everyone, that is, except for me.

I was walking through the park because I craved nature. As a kid, I'd never been interested in outdoor activities, but lately I feel drawn to the woods. Maybe it was the fact that I'd moved to the urban jungle of New York City.
Saved by my Weretiger
Saved by my Weretiger by Neil Sinclair
Also, there was the problem of my little vibrator. Until recently, it had always served me well. A few minutes with that thing and some mental images of muscled men was usually all it took to make me whimper my way to climax. But lately, I’d really been craving something more. But as a big lady—not to mention a shy one—I had no idea how to get it. So Central Park was a great way to walk it off. As I strode through the delicious night air, I thought about what it would be like to have a man here. A la Midsummer Night’s Dream, we could cuddle amongst the flowers and make frantic love like rabbits in the grass. He could bite my neck, and I could fondle his dick. In all of my sheltered youth, I had actually never seen one. It would be quite the anatomy lesson. My reverie was broken by a noise up ahead on the path. A couple of guys wandered out of the bushes. They were kids, really, with long hair and dark clothing. Their nose rings looked painful, not cool. They wouldn't have seemed out of place in a Danish punk band. But the fact that they were probably several years younger than I was didn't make me feel any less afraid. "Hey," said one of them, slurring his speech. "Give me your wallet." The other one, a skinny boy with huge sneakers, seemed more aware. "Unless you don't want to," he said. "There are other things that you could do for us." He took a couple steps toward me, and the other guy started laughing hysterically. I thought he might grab me, but he seemed very confidant that I wouldn't get away. And hell, he was right. These kids looked like great sprinters. I'd never been particularly athletic, and even at 23 I'm already a full-figured woman. At 5'10", I towered over these guys, and I was probably twice their weight. But I was not in great shape and I knew nothing about fighting. The skinny kid looked like he knew that, because he started by taking off his pants. My eyes were fixed into the darkness just above his head, even as he took my right hand and drew it down his chest. Trying to think of an exit strategy, I let my hand be drawn down. Much more than repulsion for this particular guy, what I felt was regret. The first time that I touched a man's cock wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be sexy and special, not horrifying and weird. There was a burst of light, and both of us were knocked to the ground. Later, when I thought back, I could remember all of the sensations fully. I saw a flash of deep orange and heard snarls. The guys were screaming in terror, but I didn't hear them running away. When I came to, a man was standing over me, shaking my arm. "Lena! We have to go." He knew my name. I must have been mumbling. As he helped me to my feet, my first thought was that I hoped I hadn't revealed too much to this guy in my semi-conscious ramblings. He was nearly as tall as me, but much thinner. And I could tell that he was an older guy. His poise told me that much in about five seconds. I limped along. "Where are we?" "Just south of the park. I'm sorry, but we have to hurry. I don't want us to get noticed by anyone." We continued walking south, toward my sister's cushy apartment. The most important question was now whether to annoy my sexy savior with questions, or act cool and just get home fast. I couldn't resist asking more questions. The words just spilled out of me. "What's your name?" He looked around us, wary. "You can call me Bay." It sounded a little bit like "babe." Imagine if I were in the position to use pet names with this kind of man! My brain tripped over itself thinking about that possibility. "Did you know who those guys were?" He shook his head. "Thank you so much," I gushed, "That was amazing!" The man, Bay, let out a breath. I wanted to slouch a little bit to make myself seem smaller, but it also seemed like doing that would make my muffin top more obvious. "Lena," he told me, "Please don't thank me." "Why?" "Because I'm angry with you." I fumbled a bit with the lock on the front door of my apartment building, struggling to see in the light of the streetlamp. It helped keep me from crying from the combined weight of the attack and the odd rescue. "Wait," he said, still not making any move to touch me. "I'm sorry. It's just that I wish you hadn't put yourself in that situation." "You're blaming me?" "I'm telling you that this is New York. And it's dangerous to be out after dark in certain places." He turned to go. "Wait!" "What?" "You said it's dangerous to be out after dark. You can stay here, if you want." "Won't Raya complain?" Funny. I hadn't remembered telling him my sister's name. "I'll worry about her. Come on in." I held the door open, catching a whiff of the slight man as he moved past me. He smelled clean, but a little sweaty. Maybe fending off my attackers had been more work than I'd thought. When we got inside the apartment, I tried to retreat to my bedroom to cry, hastily offering my mystery man the sofa. It was like his anger had unlocked all the stress and agony. There were way too many emotions coursing through me for conversation, and I knew from experience that when I got this upset, the hurt would last for a while. I'd probably have a terrible weekend, which was unfortunate, because my shitty job demanded that I be at my best pretty much all the time. "Wait," said Bay, as I beat my retreat. "Goodnight," I said, leaning on my door. "There's blankets and stuff already on the couch. I'm going to turn in, I'm really beat." I was trying to seem aloof, but the anger came through in my tone. "I'm really sorry. Making you cry wasn't my intention, although maybe it's ultimately a good thing." "What are you talking about," I sniveled, "How can it be good?" He reached toward my hand, but didn't take it. "Your life is in danger. You need to be careful." This made me laugh through my tears. "What, is Tony Soprano going to come kill me or something? What do you mean?" He started. "I just mean that it's dangerous to live here." "Really? Because you sounded like you were speaking about a specific threat." "Absolutely not. I was just saying that because I want you to take better care of yourself." I raised my eyebrows. "Sorry. That's it." "Fine. Well, thanks again. I'm going to sleep." "No!" he said, very quickly. "I can't leave things like this. Look, I’m bad at this. I don’t have much interaction with other people these days, but I can tell that you’re still upset.” It was tempting to contradict him, but tears were stubbornly pouring down both my cheeks. "What am I supposed to do about that? Just totally forget the guys who tried to attack me?" He glanced quickly at my TV. "Um, do you like any comedies? How about 30 Rock?" I loved the show, but it was impossible to pay attention to a moment of it. I kept fidgeting and stealing glances at my companion, who was laughing quite a lot. Maybe someday, when I was less strung out on the horror of the attack, it would be fun to watch it together. But for the moment, all I could see was the dark and handsome face next to me, a burst of beauty flickering in the light of the screen. When I woke up in the morning, later than usual due to the 30 Rock binge of the night before, I momentarily panicked about my clothes. I would like to say I'm one of those women who wears cute little nighties or sleeps naked, but truth be told, I'm definitely into cheesy flannel pajamas with cartoon characters on them. There was no way that the guy could see those. But I couldn't just walk out fully dressed, or it would be obvious that I was making a huge effort. I heard the coffee maker click on in the kitchen. Time was running out. Well, there was a pair of sweatpants with Waterton Community College in fat block letters. I grabbed that and threw on a plain white t-shirt. Even if I didn't look great, at least I would look cool. Pretending that I had just woken up, I snuck out. Raya's apartment was huge by New York City standards, and I still had no idea how she afforded it. I was about to call out something to Bay when I noticed the couch. There were multiple gashes in one of the cushions. Like, actual spots where it seemed like he might have taken a knife to the thing. This had also happened with the blanket. The extra pillow was now leaking feathers. Raya. Had he killed Raya? Was there a struggle? Maybe all of this "damsel in distress rescuer" shit was just a trap, a way to get young women to trust him and his talk about "dangerous" New York City. My sister and I have never been close, but I was terrified for her. I pulled open her bedroom door and saw her. She was lying in her bed, in the adorable little silk nightie she loves. Yep, Raya is one of those women. She's slim and beautiful, with smooth olive skin. I try every salad on the planet, she wolfs down venison jerky and hush puppies like there's no tomorrow, but she just looks better every year. It's ridiculous. And after I moved in with her, I realized that she barely ever slept in her apartment. At least one of us was getting to live a New York life of wild abandon and nonstop sex. I was happy for her, at those times when I forced myself not to be jealous. But it was a rare day when I didn't curse my sister for always having been such a damn goddess. Even so, I was glad that she hadn't been murdered in her sleep by the crazy man I'd brought into her apartment. But I did consider darting into her room, barricading the door, and calling 911 right away. At that moment, Bay walked out, carrying two cups of coffee. All my thoughts evaporated. He looked much more chipper than anyone should ever be in the morning. Plus, he looked hot. He was wearing his jeans, but just an undershirt, giving me the opportunity to view some tattoos. They were in Chinese, so I had no idea what they said. My first impression of Bay was that he was a very American guy who happened to be ethnically Chinese, so maybe he couldn't read them either. I couldn't have said. "Did you sleep ok?" he asked, setting down my cup of coffee. "Yeah," I said, grabbing the sugar bowl and dumping a hefty amount. "Actually, I slept really soundly. He nodded. "Sometimes stress will do that to you. Maybe a little breakfast will help." A plate of eggs, bacon, and home-fried potatoes was placed in front of me. While these ingredients are usually present in our fridge, it was the first proper breakfast I'd had in weeks. In fact, I usually drank SkinnyRite shakes for breakfast. That's what my diet plan required (not that the stupid plan was working). But a gorgeous man was in my house, serving me breakfast. I wasn't going to refuse. For a few moments, I tried surreptitiously to pinch myself. I’d never so much as gotten to second base before, and now there was a man who could quite possibly be a model sitting at my breakfast table. Once more, he was serving my food. It almost made me too nervous to eat. But I’d tried to do the “New Yorker Super Slimmer” the day before, which had involved eating a bunch of apple slices and not much else. So eventually, as much as I wanted to ruminate on the hunky dude, my hunger won out. Trying to take ladylike bites was useless. I plowed through the food, and Bay ate even faster. "Thank you so much for cooking." "My pleasure. I didn't want to just leave. I'm thankful that you hosted me, Lena." My mind raced. For a moment it had felt like I had a boyfriend, a dyed-in-the-wool man's man who preferred a little meat on his women. But of course, a guy like Bay probably could get girls as hot as Lena, and why wouldn't he? I tried to look away. His eyes followed mine over to the couch. "Shit. I'm sorry, that was an accident." How so? What kind of accident causes huge slashes in a sofa? "Um, it'll be fine." Actually, that wasn’t strictly true, as Raya was probably going to kill me. He shook his head. "I'll take care of it. Let me get my sewing kit out." "You have a sewing kit?" "Yes." This man was definitely gay. I'd been mistaken. But actually, a gay man wouldn't carry a sewing kit around in the pocket of his jeans either. Who would? A fashion designer? A tailor who pays house calls? Bay was making quick work of the sofa slashes. He seemed very sure with the needle. Just when I thought I might be able to hide the damage from my dearest older sister, she appeared in the doorway. She had put on her stupid silk robe. God. In a moment, my vision was shattered. Once again, I was a dumpy and clueless teenage girl, at the beck and call of her half-sister. And who was I kidding anyway? Bay wasn't my boyfriend. We didn't know anything about each other. Judging by his looks, he probably had a girlfriend (or three). The slip of fate that had allowed us to spend the past twelve hours under the same roof was about to end. Fortunately, though, Bay didn't seem like he was putting the moves on Raya. “I want you to tell me what you’re doing here and I want it to be good.” For some reason, as soon as she saw him her claws came out. That was a little odd. Was she being overprotective? "I met Lena in Central Park earlier. We walked back here, and she offered me a place to stay for a while." "Well, you should have gone home." "It was late." Something happened between them. My sister Raya, life of the party, queen of the night, silently admitted that Bay had a point. She didn’t verbally disagree with him. But she continued to glare at him as he finished up on the sofa. "Thank you both," said Bay, "I think I should be going now." And he walked right out before I could chase him. Under normal circumstances, collapsing on the couch in a lovesick swoon would have been a great option. But Raya was breathing fire. She's normally not really a morning person, but now she seemed particularly peeved. And as soon as the door clicked and Bay was gone, she turned on me. "What the hell was that?" "Raya, you heard him. He saved my life." "I forgot how dramatic teenagers can be." "I'm serious! There were these guys in Central Park who were really going to mess me up." "What time was this?" "Not that late." "Lena." She sat down at the table. "Stay away from Central Park late at night. And definitely stay away from Bay." "How do you two know each other?" "Not important." "Fine. I'd like his number." "I just told you to stay away from him." I swallowed. "Raya, I can't. I want his number." "You may be clueless, little sister, but you're going to have to trust me on this one. Avoid the man." "Give me the number." "No." I stuck out my tongue, and she softened a little bit. "Lena. I may not like Bay, but we both have the same aim. We want to keep you safe." "He wanted to keep me safe from a couple of punk kids! And you want to keep me safe, from what? Finally making a friend?" "Go make friends, I won't stop you. But I know what Bay is, and he shouldn't be your friend." "What is he, then?" "He's a, well, an unsuitable guy." "Why?" "Sorry, Lena. Topic closed. Now, let's talk about when you're going to clean up these breakfast dishes." Every Sunday I went to church. It was something I’d kept up since my mother’s death. She had always taken me there. Later, after Aunt Betty adopted me, the two of us went together. Bless Aunt Betty, she was raised Baptist and the Old Slavonic services at the Eastern Orthodox church didn’t do much for her. But she believed in church on Sunday, so she’d go to the Baptists first, then come to wake me and drive me across town to the only Eastern Orthodox church in our part of Minnesota. Raya was already at college by that time, and she’d never gone to those services anyway. Her father wasn’t Russian, though I never managed to learn much about him except that he liked the name Raya. She must have looked just like the guy, because she didn’t look a thing like me or our mother. I knew that my father was Russian, and that he died when I was a baby. One reason that mother went to Minnesota was to find a community with a similar heritage. She was from Karelia, which is part of Finland and Russia. But she found only suburbs and loneliness until we joined the church. In New York, it was very different. I went into a community where I knew essentially nobody. The rituals were pleasant and familiar, but it still wasn’t my church. So after my Central Park ritual, I decided to skip. Going back to the scene of the crime occurred to me, but I thought it would be more healing to pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and go watch TV in my room. Maybe then I could get the damn image of those two guys out of my head. It was like my brain was stuck on repeat. Every time I opened my eyes, every time I closed them, I saw them coming towards me. Raya was obviously used to the way that I disappeared for hours on Sundays to go to services, because I saw when I entered the apartment that she’d invited a friend. They were sitting at the table together. He was older, as in nearly fifty, but he chestnut brown hair that was shaped into a visor of some sort. I saw immediately that he was a rich, powerful white male. They’re not exactly rare in New York. “Lena!” “Good afternoon,” I said, walking over for the sake of politeness. I really just wanted to get my pint of Cherry Garcia into my stomach before it melted in the CVS bag, but Aunt Betty had really drilled manners into me. “I’m Lena,” I said, sticking out my hand to the stranger. He smiled and shook it. “Nice to meet you, Lena.” I waited for his name, but it never appeared. It looked to me like they had been eating some kind of rare meat with tomato sauce. The man and Raya both had large, uneaten chunks on their plates. “Well,” said Raya, “We were just heading out. Have a nice afternoon.” They had their coats and were out in an instant. I stuck the Cherry Garcia in the fridge and went after Raya’s leftovers. They were very rare, and I didn’t quite recognize the meat, but they tasted delicious. Waste not, want not. My train was late because of some damage to the train before, so by the time I got to work I was both late and in a huff. And to top it off, my first call with a lady who insisted on being called “the Honorable Mrs. Huffmeister” and was disgusted when I messed up her stupid title. Ten minutes later, it was official. I’d started the day by losing our company a rich client. Lakisha peered over the divider at me. “Hey! Lena.” It was hard for me to hide in the cubicle, as the walls weren’t very tall. I’d replaced the puny chair they’d given us with a more solid piece of furniture, so I couldn’t even scoot back and forth easily. “Lakisha! How long have you been here?” “Oh, I got in a little early, as usual. People who call super early in the morning are generally demanding, but less cranky than the folks who call at nine because that’s when they think we open.” I pondered her words. She was only a couple years older than I was, but she was very wise. One day soon, she’d probably just breeze out the door, off to conquer the world. But until then, we could remain allies in the trenches of our call center. “Lena, what’s up?” “Nothing. Everything’s normal.” I looked down at my outfit a little nervously. Good, no stains anywhere. Lakisha was super skinny, so I felt a bit self-conscious around her. But at least she wasn’t as pretty as Raya, and didn’t seem to give a shit about her looks. I never saw her wear makeup, and she wore colorful headscarves to spite our ultra-conservative managers. “Come on. I know that was a tough call, but you don’t sound like yourself.” I put my head in my hands. “I’ve met someone.” “Like, a guy?” “Yes. But I don’t know his number, and Raya won’t give it to me.” “Why the hell not? She doesn’t approve of him?” I shrugged. “I think that she likes him, but they’re definitely not close. It seems like she’s convinced that he’s not right for me, specifically.” “Shouldn’t you be the one to decide?” “Absolutely.” Lakisha smiled. “Girl, you look like someone died. Don’t let it get you down.” “What the hell, though? I mean, she’s really treating me like a baby.” “I can get her to give it to you.” We heard the blustering voice of our manager, Mr. Arthur, chewing out some poor soul who was even tardier than I. “Look, I’ll make it quick. What’ve you got on Raya?” There were a bunch of lists available on the internet. I tried to scroll through them on my breaks, and it took me a while to find what I wanted. Very specific search terms were necessary for that. When I got home, Raya was sitting at the kitchen table, doing something or other on her laptop. She made money “independently” somehow. It was never particularly clear to me, as every time she started talking about investments and the stock market I tuned her out. “Raya. I need Bay’s address.” “I don’t have it!” “Right. I’m not even asking how you know each other. I’m just asking where he lives.” “Lena, he’s a secretive guy and a jerk. He has no desire to spend time with people. Didn’t you get that from him?” She was partially right. It seemed like he did want to spend some time with people, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t managing to do that right now. “Ok, so what can you give me on him?” “Nothing. Stop bothering me.” “Cool. Well, if you want, I can start paying rent somewhere else soon. Then I wouldn’t have to bother you at all.” She frowned. “Aunt Betty would kill you. Besides, how would you get the money?” “Oh, I’m sure that various publications will be very interested in knowing what a senator was doing here at our apartment on Sunday morning.” Raya’s glare almost made me cry, but I stayed firm. It was the only way to find out about Bay. “You wouldn’t dare, sister.” “I absolutely would. But I’d prefer not to go that route. I’d like the address of the man who saved my life.” “Look, I don’t have it.” I shrugged and made for my room. “Wait! Lena, I can find out where he lives. Just give me 24 hours.” Something in her voice was pleading. I never thought I’d be able to scare my tough-as-nails sister. “Fine. You have that much time, but no more.” Oddly enough, Raya never gave me a particular address. She just told me a metro stop and a business. “He lives really close to there, I promise. Somewhere in the yellow building across the street from the deli.” “You don’t know which apartment?” “No! But just getting this information cost me a lot. You could say thank you.” “I’ll thank you when I actually find him.” But when I actually did find my sexy savior, I didn’t know what to say. It was after about half an hour of loitering next to the deli, so I had to step away from the brick wall and brush my back off. “Hi!” He stopped in his tracks. “Hello. What are you doing here?” Coming up with a backstory hadn’t even occurred to me. And it was my absolute first time in the neighborhood, so I had no idea what was nearby. I slouched a little bit, and adjusted my hat with a sheepish smile. “I wanted to thank you for rescuing me.” He cocked his head and thrust his hands into his pockets. “Did you track me here?” “Um, track you?” “I mean, uh, figure out somehow where I was.” “Raya told me.” “Wow. I didn’t expect her to betray me.” “Well, I threatened her, basically.” We were both unsure of how to go on. Next to us on the street, two cars engaged in a battle of horns. The two of us moved aside to let an elderly woman walking three Schnauzers pass. “Would you like a sandwich? This is a great deli.” I looked in the window. It was definitely inviting. “Ok.” At the deli, I took Bay up on his offer to pay for the food, because I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet to even afford the side salad and pickle that I was eating. He looked pained. “Is that really all you’re going to get? They have great sandwiches here, you know.” All of the women’s magazines I’d seen that said not to pig out in front of a man flashed before my eyes. “I’m not that hungry.” “One Reuben?” The thought of all of that salty fat made my mouth water. “Come on, I’ll get you one. If you don’t eat it all here, yoßu can take some home.” I told myself that I would do just that. Of course, as soon as Bay brought over the little plastic basket, I scarfed the whole thing. “Why did you choose this neighborhood?” “I wanted to be somewhere where nobody would know me. It makes things less complicated.” “Is it close to your work?” “Actually, I work from home. Sometimes I come down here and have a couple of sandwiches while I work on my laptop.” “Isn’t it lonely?” He sighed. “To be honest, yes. But I do interact with a lot of people in my job, at least over the phone, so there’s that.” “What do you do? I talk on the phone, but I have to commute to fucking East Haven to do that.” My shirt was riding up a little bit, and nothing was worse than showing off a muffin top. Although the table blocked my midriff, I tried to yank the shirt down as inconspicuously as possible. Bay was listening to me carefully. “Why don’t you live there, in East Haven?” “Free rent with Raya.” “Right. Anyway, I run a specialized import/export company and a couple of other websites.” God, his messy hair looked incredible. I tried to concentrate on his words, rather than simply ogling him. “What do you import?” “Exotic meats, mostly. Some other stuff.” “Do you supply this place?” He burst out laughing. “Free sandwiches! That would be genius, Lena. But no. They only serve Kosher meat here, so that’s a whole different thing. And one of the things I import is wild boar, so the whole no-pork thing really wouldn’t work.” “What does that taste like? Wild boar?” At this, Bay positively grinned. “Oh, it’s tough and gamey. And delicious.” After lunch, Bay walked me to the subway. I glanced at the script I’d stuck into my purse. It was the only way I’d be able to steel myself on what to say. I could just pretend I was an actress in another high school production. My character was confidant, horny, and very experienced. “When can we meet again?” “I’m sorry, Lena. I don’t know.” “You said yourself that you were lonely.” “Look. I hope things go great for you in New York, but I don’t think it’s right that I see much of you. Raya can explain that.” “Raya’s explained nothing to me. All she did was give me your address.” At this, his eyes narrowed. “Nothing at all?” “Nope.” “So you don’t know why I’m worried for you. Or what happened in Central Park.” At this, my face lit up. “Tell me!” “Look. I think Raya’s wrong. You’re a teenager, not a child. So the least I can do is help to explain some of these things.” “I really like spending time with you,” I admitted, blushing all over my body. “Can’t we just hang out sometimes?” “No. But I need to at least explain why.” I frowned. “You do. Right now, please.” Bay glanced at the passersby. In typical New York fashion, none of them looked particularly interested. But all the same, there were lots of people, moving fast. “Come over next Wednesday after work. I’ll make something for dinner.” “Can I have some of the famous wild boar?” “Sure.” When I went into Bay's house, the air was redolent with the smell of cooking meat. "Mm," I said, "That smells amazing." He ran back to the kitchen. "I'm sorry, I forgot to open the window! Make yourself at home." I walked around the living room. Bay's style was definitely Spartan. There were odd stacks of business papers, sure, but he didn’t have a bunch of junk. In fact, I was loathe to disturb the perfect symmetry of his bookshelf, so I looked for a magazine instead. In the middle of his magazine stack, I found a really weird pamphlet. It read, “Bengals got you down? Rise Up! Call now for membership in a Xiamen-Siberian dating pool. Finally, here’s a chance for you to be King of the Forest!!” Just as I pulled open the brochure, I heard Bay’s footsteps, so I shut it immediately. “Hi,” he said, looking flushed but sexy. “I’ve laid out the meats on the table! Come try them out.” So I followed him into the dining room. The evening started out nearly perfect, and so it continued. It was interesting hearing more about Bay’s life. Apparently, he was such a young immigrant that he could hardly remember coming to the states, but his Chinese was excellent. He’d grown up in Utah, but moved to New York to build his business. We migrated from the dining room to the living room. I wanted to show Bay exactly where I was from, so I grabbed the well-worn atlas off his shelf and flipped through, trying to find Minnesota. “Let me help you,” said Bay, leaning over my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my neck. It was a good thing he was now flipping through the book, because any academic knowledge I’d possessed had suddenly deserted me. Then Bay looked straight into me eyes, and I waited for him to lean in. The street was so quiet that we could hear the wind rustling in the trees. In every movie out there, this is the moment when the big kiss happens. Instead, for me, it was the moment when Bay decided to flip out. “Lena! We have to get you home.” “What’s the rush?” “I’m so sorry. It’s gotten really late—I guess I lost track of time.” "Come on," I said, putting my feet onto his couch. "You let me stay on your couch to protect you. Why shouldn't I do the same thing?" "No," he snapped, striding away. I leapt up. My heart was racing. Maybe it was Bay who was causing the danger. Was he angry enough to hurt me? He started to pace. "I'm sorry, Lena. I do want you to be safe. But can't I send you back to Raya's? You can go with a driver I know, it'll be no problem." Now my lip was starting to quiver. I tried to be firm. "This isn't a very nice way to end the evening." He cracked his knuckles. "Shit, I guess it's not." The charm came back as he pulled me to my feet. "Here's what we'll do. A friend of mine bartends just down the block, so we can head there for a while." His clock read 2:19 am. It seemed insane that I was awake so late, and yet the adrenaline of Bay's presence ensured I was anything but tired. "Will we get served?" Sitcoms had served me well. I knew that New York bars closed at some point, and that maybe it was like two. Or something. "It's ok," he said, "As I told you, I know the bartender." Maybe Bay was getting cranky. After we got to the bar, he did seem a little less tense. He had ordered me some kind of microbrew thing, which was technically my first (though I wasn’t about to tell him that). I barely made anything of my beer, but he had a few different drinks, and he seemed to get both sleepy and good-natured. That all ended when I tried to playfully take a sip of his cocktail. “This is a man’s drink, right,” I teased, snapping it up. “What type of flavors do you like, manly man?” “Give me that.” He yanked it back and drank it down. Disappointment must have been streaked across my face. His reaction was so abrupt that I felt a little bit like snapping back, but I just took another sip of beer. It was ok, except for the barf aftertaste. “Sorry,” said Bay, “I guess I snapped at you.” “Yes.” “I think it’s just a reaction from growing up. You know, trying to protect your stuff from siblings and all that.” “Okay.” “I am sorry, Lena. Now, tell me again about your plan to overthrow your boss’s evil sidekick.” Well, nobody really asked me about that, except for my co-conspirator Lakisha. So I had to give him a pass. We made it to the stairwell of Bay’s place. The plan was to go upstairs and call me a cab so I could get home. But like every other thing that happened in our short acquaintance, this idea did not go according to plan. When my lips met Bay’s, I was shocked by his strength. He pulled me to him, and he arms were big and sinewy. Even though I was a little bit taller, it definitely seemed that he was dominant. But he pulled away quickly and went to sit on his couch. “I’m sorry, Lena.” I bit my lip. “Sorry for what?” “What was supposed to happen tonight? I was going to tell you why we couldn’t date. I was going to give you more information.” “So why aren’t you doing that?” He took a deep breath. “Because I want you.” I walked toward him. “So let’s not rule anything out just yet?” Bay nodded and drew me in for another kiss. But this time, I was the one who pulled away. “Why don’t you want me to even come upstairs?” “Lena, why do you actually want to come upstairs? You know I don’t drink, and I know that you hate espresso, which is the only acceptable non-alcoholic thing to have at this hour.” “Are you worried about the neighbors.” He looked almost sick. “I don’t have neighbors.” “Who lives downstairs?” “I use that as storage space for my business, and an office.” I grabbed his hand in mine. Bay was shockingly strong, and he could have resisted. But as I lead him inside, he didn’t. We stood in the hallway and duked it out. “Look, I may not have done this before, but I don’t want to wait.” I tried to grab at his crotch, but he held my hand back. “Lena, trust me, you have no idea what you’re asking for.” “I know exactly what I’m asking for. I want it so much that I’m sick!” “I don’t want to hurt you.” “So don’t hurt me.” “It’s not that simple.” We were at a stalemate. So Bay took me into the basement. I hadn’t known that the building even had a basement. The ceilings were fairly low, and it was definitely unfinished. The majority of the space was taken up by cleaning supplies. It was also fenced in, nearly like a cage. I figured that valuables were often stored there. But why was it nearly empty now? Behind the powerful smell of bleach and soap was some other kind of smell. Maybe a cat lady had once lived there? No, it wasn’t quite that wild. Bay used his finger to unlock the cage part. It was the most sophisticated lock I’d ever seen. Fingerprint recognition seemed like a bit much, really. He could have just used a chain. “Bay? I don’t get it.” Most women, on being taken to a dungeon of sorts, would probably fear for their lives. But I was just confused. He shed is coat and sighed. Then he took off his shoes, socks, and shirts, and stuck them through the bars. His chest was gorgeous and gleaming. His tan skin was basically perfect, and I was so lost at the sight of him that it took me a second to accept the clothing. Then he lost his pants and his boxers and handed them out, again through the bars. “Lena, go stand behind the screen in the corner.” I hadn’t even noticed that screen. It wasn’t like a screen for a window, more like a latticework thing with very small gaps. Weird to have something protective like that outside of the cage thing. I couldn’t imagine what it was for. “I’ll just stay here.” Bay stood in front of me in naked glory. “Lena, I’m not going to ask you again. Stand behind that screen. I know exactly what is happening here, and apparently you have no idea.” I piled Bay’s clothes and shoes on a folding chair in the corner, a little worried that he wouldn’t like the disorder. He didn’t comment on it, though. Once I was behind the screen, he said, “Lena, please forgive me for this. I don’t know how else to show you. Just stay behind the screen and everything will be fine.” I nodded, though he could probably barely see it behind the latticework. Bay began to breathe deeply, then dropped to his knees. At first it was subtle. His arms looked longer, and his ears seemed to be sharpening. Then he growled and the pace picked up. His skin began to be covered in some type of orange cloth, and his eyes got much bigger. My eyes closed of their own accord, because my mind was unable to reconcile everything I had every learned with the transformation happening right in front of me. It couldn’t be a hologram, could it, or some kind of weird 3-D projection technology? When I fully opened my eyes, there was a tiger in the cage, and I knew it had all been real. The tiger didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to my soft-spoken boyfriend. It ran around the cage, scratched at the walls, and pawed at the ceiling, leaping the length of the basement in great bounds. It was gorgeous, but scary. And then it spotted me. I shrank back toward the wall as the tiger lunged for me. It could barely slip one of its paws through the bars. I would have had no idea that the tiger’s front legs were so long, but it reach all the way to the latticework, which it scratched, a hunger in its eyes. I quivered. “Bay!” It didn’t seem to respond, but the paw did come back for a brief moment. “God,” I shuddered, “Bay, please don’t hurt me.” The tiger backed off, and curled up in the middle of the room. Once again, my eyes shut of their own accord. My fight-or-flight response was kicked up to the maximum, but it would have been impossible for me to fight that beast. And flight also wasn’t really an option, as I was loathe to leave the relative safety of my latticed cocoon. “Lena,” Bay called to me softly. I realized that I was crying. “It’s ok, Lena. You’re safe.” A few more sobs escaped my throat as I shrank down to the floor. “You’re safe, Lena. You’re safe.” When Bay came out to kneel beside me, stroking my hair and my back, I truly started crying. “You’re safe,” he whispered to me, “You’re safe. When I was finally able to look at Bay, I was lying with my head on his thighs and he was cradling my face in his gentle hands. “I’m so sorry, Lena.” I took a deep breath. “You were scared, weren’t you?” I nodded. “Maybe that was wrong. I’ve never been someone’s first exposure, but I was afraid you’d do something and end up hurt. More than that, I was afraid that I’d be the one to hurt you.” My voice returned. “Is that what would happen if I stayed the night?” He nodded. “As you can tell, even now it’s not particularly easy for me.” I straightened up and saw that Bay had an enormous hard-on. He’d thrown on the boxers and pants again, but it was perfectly obvious. I sat back against the wall. “So what are we supposed to do?” “The sun is almost up, so just go out to Connecticut and start your workday. Then don’t contact me until I let you know that it’s safe. I’m so horny right now, and the intensity is really building.” “You’re worried that I’ll get hurt if I stay.” “No. You will most definitely get hurt if you stay.” Despite the fact that my knees were still shaking with terror, it wasn’t easy to go. The human Bay was back with me, and though he was strong, he was definitely gentle. But we were in a different world now, and he was the one who knew the rules. It was when we were nearly to the door that I changed my mind. Too much had happened, and Bay was the kindest person (or being?) that I’d ever met. I knew he would have to help me through it. I took a deep breath. "I'm not leaving." "What do you mean?" "I want to stay here. With you." "Lena, it's not safe." "That's what Raya kept telling me, and I don't care. I've never met anyone like you, Bay. I'm not leaving." "You have to believe me. I would like nothing better than for you to stay, but it isn't safe." "I don't care." "I know that. But I couldn't bear it if I hurt you. Don't you get that, Lena? It would destroy me." "But can't I watch out for myself?" "Even in this cage, I'd be worried." He drew away. "Sorry, it's been years since I've had cause to explain this to anyone." He rubbed his neck. "Basically, the shifter part of me has a level of lust that nearly overtakes my brain. Right now, it's taking everything I have not to either shift, or have sex that's way too rough for a human to handle. I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to keep this up." "Um, isn't there a way for you to take care of that, though?" "Not with you, Lena. That's what I'm saying. Carl slipped me something to help me get through the night, but it's wearing off now. And really, those potions are supposed to be a last resort." He did look pale. And while I wasn't looking, the hard-on underneath his pants had sprung right back up. The dark fabric could do nothing to disguise it. "I could step out for a while if you wanted to, you know, take care of that." This got a strained grin from Bay. "Jerk off, you mean? A nice thought, but that's not going to do it. In fact, at this point, it would probably just make things worse." "Why?" "Well, this is the longest I've ever gone. Since we started dating, I thought that making use of, well, my hand, might be enough. But the urges are too powerful for that." I sighed. "So you'll find someone." Bay lowered his head. "If there were another way, I'd use it. But I feel trapped." It took as much effort as I could muster not to start crying again. "Look," said Bay, a little more gently. "I know you were planning on going to the office today to work on your reports. So why don't you head out that way. Come back here in the afternoon." I nodded. "Ok." The trains run slow on Saturdays, and I was exhausted. It wasn't until I registered that I was walking home that I realized I wouldn't be on the 5:30 from Grand Central. Heck, even if I did get the train, I'd probably fall asleep and wake up in a random little Connecticut town. Oh well. I'd promised Lakisha, but there was no point in going to the office just to drag her down. She'd probably be more productive without me. Crying was tempting, but as saddened as I was by Bay's revelation, I was also fascinated. It stirred something in me. He'd been so strong in his tiger form, so dominant. And there was some part of me that cried out that marvelous Weretigers existed. Even my mother believed that. She used to tell me a bedtime story about a Weretiger who fell in love with a human man, and how their romance overcame all obstacles. Of course, things might not actually work that way in the real world. But my feet were taking me home, and I decided that the best thing to do now would be to eat, sleep, and think it over. Maybe in the afternoon, when I went to visit Bay, I'd be prepared to hear more. In the meantime, I needed a nap. They hadn’t even bothered to go to the bedroom. It was probably because I was supposedly at work. But once I opened the door to the apartment, I saw it all. Raya’s body was splayed across the table. The breakfast table where I eat every day. I couldn’t see all of her body, because she wasn’t facing me. There was a man thrusting into her. And even though I could only see the back of him, I knew instantly that it was Bay. And that was when my body forced itself into a new shape. All I could feel was a sort of itching in my hands and feet, and then a great pain. My shoes were hurting, my clothes weren’t fitting. I managed to get the shoes off, but the clothes just split as a tiger’s form took the place of my once-ordinary body. I flew across the room, growling at the pair of them, ready to attack. But instead of facing two humans in the throes of passion, I ended up eye to eye with two tigers. One of them was larger, the other smaller but fast. They crashed into the kitchen and I followed, only to be pinned down by the smaller one. The large one nipped at me. And in this moment of terror, I became myself again. Naked, cold, and angry. There is a drawer with tablecloths, and I wrapped myself in one. Apparently the others were doing better with their clothing. They simply changed. And Raya, for once, seemed absolutely cowed. I heard her close the door to her room and lock it. Bay walked over to me. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hold it back.” “You couldn’t just get someone to jerk you off instead?” I was not going to take any of his excuses. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. “The urges are too strong. Now that you’ve transformed, you’ll realize that.” This was not the answer I was looking for, and he seemed to figure that out. “I had no idea that you could even transform, Lena! This must have been new to you, too?” The fact that my body had just morphed to and from a crazy tiger’s form was secondary. I was focused on something entirely different. “So you ‘needed’ sex. Why with my damn sister?” He began to raise his voice. “Who else can I trust? She wouldn’t want anything from me, just to help me get it out so I can go back to being her sister’s boyfriend.” “And others would want something?” “Females outnumber males two to one. Yes, they would.” I sniffed, still angry enough to keep myself from collapsing. “Well, apparently this is the way that shifters do things. So I’ll follow your lead. Now get out.” My brain was whining that it was because I was too big. My tiger form was much bigger than Bay’s. He probably wanted a slim little piece of ass like Raya, even if her tiger form was a little bit larger. Bay reached for my hand. “No, you don’t get it! Now we can finally truly be together. I know that you can handle me.” I shook my head. “If sex means nothing, then I’m going to go try it out. And I’ll make my own way, thanks. You can go.” It was a day of firsts. First time shifting, first time walking in on Raya during sex, first breakup. But at least I would no longer be in a position of weakness.

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