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Feb 23

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A Dog at the Flea Circus

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Summary: Dale convinces Ari to accept an uncomfortable invitation: dinner with her mother. (takes place after “Dogs of War” and includes spoilers!)

Dale tucked herself into bed and listened to the shower running on the other side of the wall. Ari had been in there for nearly twenty minutes, but Dale was willing to give it another ten before she got worried. Work that day had involved two full transformations from the wolf and back again, so Ari’s muscles and joints were probably screaming at her. When they were searching for a new place to live Dale made sure the shower was either extremely fancy or had the ability to be overhauled. They managed to find a place with a detachable showerhead that could be used to pinpoint the worst spots – her back, shoulders, and neck – and discovered it also had uses that Dale found extremely enjoyable.

The water shut off after three more minutes and Ari came out of the bathroom drying her hair on a towel. Dale closed her book and watched as Ari went to the dresser. She was naked and still wet from her shower. She had a habit of walking around the new apartment naked. Dale figured it was her way of owning the space and making it her own. It was also probably a result of her canidae nature. When she was growing up it was common to wander through her house in the buff. Wolves like her had a very casual relationship with nudity. Not that she was complaining.

Ari finished toweling off and put on a T-shirt before she got into bed. Dale reached for her bookmark but Ari stopped her. “You can keep reading. I want to check my email and stuff for a while.”

“Okay.” Dale settled back against the pillows. “Do you want a massage before we go to sleep?”

“I think I’ll be okay. Just lying down is a big help.”

Dale reached under the blankets and stroked Ari’s hip before she bent her knees and propped the book against it. Ari moved Dale’s hand to her inner thigh, and Dale smiled without looking up from the page. The skin was supple and smooth from the shower, so she began stroking it idly as she read. Suddenly Ari reached down and moved Dale’s hand up to her knee.

“Sorry. Email from my mother. I didn’t want you straying too low while I read it.”

“Ah. Smart.”

Ari chuckled and then groaned. “She wants to have dinner with us sometime this week. Do we have anything coming up that will require a few days of staking out a house?”

Dale said, “Why?”

“I don’t want to just lie to her.”

“Well, why not just accept the invitation?”

Ari looked at her. “Because it’s my mother.”

“Right. But I thought you two buried the hatchet. You were going over there all the time during wolf manoth, you worked together really well…”

Ari nodded. “During wolf manoth, we were working together to stop a war from happening, so yeah. We had a common goal. But the war ended, everything is back to normal, and that means…”

“That means you’re going to throw away all the progress you made? I’m not saying you have to become best friends. But now you have a little better understanding of why she did the things she did. You can understand what she was going through when she made the decision to go through with the procedure when you were a baby. Don’t forget, she saved your life during the war. Mine too. That’s worth a little consideration. Don’t you think?”

Ari sighed and stared at her phone.

“You were the bigger person when you went to her for help. Now she’s repaying the favor by taking the first step now. She’s trying to rebuild the bridges you burnt.” She bent down and kissed Ari’s shoulder. “I’m not saying you have to accept her invitation. I’m just asking you not to dismiss it out of hand.”

Ari cupped Dale’s cheek and kissed her nose. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Ari looked at her phone again. She was holding it sideways, her thumbs poised over the keyboard in anticipation of typing a response. “Should we invite her here, or should we go to a restaurant?”

Dale shrugged. “I would cook for her.”

“You don’t cook for me.”

“I have so.”

“Not often.”

Dale said, “Do you want me to cook you dinner tomorrow?”

Ari smiled. “We’ll see. Okay. I’ll give her the option. That way if she decides to go out, maybe she’ll pick somewhere fancy and pay for it.”

Dale kissed Ari’s cheek. “Always an angle. I’m going to sleep.”

“Okay.” Ari sent the email and turned off her phone. She slid down as Dale turned off the lamp, then lifted her arm so Dale could cuddle against her side. Ari fell asleep first and Dale opened her eyes to look up at her girlfriend, boss, partner. Ari’s features were slack and relaxed, her bottom lip slightly pulled away from the top as she breathed. It was hard to make out the fine details of her features in the dark, so it was easy for her mind to play tricks on her. She could almost see how Ari’s jaw could be elongated, how her ears could extend to tapered points.

My girlfriend is a werewolf, she thought. She smiled as she imagined the words on the cover of a pulp horror novel. She would be depicted mid-scream, while Ari loomed in the background as a femme fatale. All hips and tits, casting a shadow that looked like a snarling wolf. She rested her head on Ari’s chest and chuckled quietly.

“Hmm?”

“Sh. Sorry. Go back to sleep,” Dale whispered.

Ari put her hand up to pet the back of Dale’s head as she drifted off again. This time Dale didn’t try to stay awake, putting aside thoughts of the Willow women and what she would could for dinner if Gwen accepted her offer.

#

Gwyneth didn’t know what she expected from the invitation. She’d run off to England immediately after wolf manoth partially so she wouldn’t have to deal with her new relationship with her daughter. Now that she was back, they needed to confirm whether their reconciliation was only a temporary truce for the duration of the war or if it would lead to a lasting peace. At first she was going to call, but she realized an email would give Ari time to give the invitation its proper consideration instead of putting her on the spot.

The reply came in while Gwen was asleep, and she was relieved to see Ari had accepted. They left it up to her choose where they ate. She was tempted to let Dale cook for her just so she could see their new apartment, but that would have to be a separate invitation. She suggested Tulio and made it clear she would be paying for their meals. She made the reservation for Thursday evening after confirming they were free.

She arrived at the restaurant a few minutes late. Ari had texted to let her know she and Dale had already been seated. She spotted them as soon as she walked in, but she lingered at the entrance so she could surreptitiously observe them. They were seated next to a window facing into the dining room so Gwen could see both of their faces. Ari was holding the menu, and Dale had leaned over to read it over her shoulder. Ari started to turn the page, but Dale stopped her by gently laying her hand on top of Ari’s. Ari sucked her bottom lip into her mouth as she examined her options.

For a moment, Gwen was amazed by the fact that the beautiful, accomplished young woman across the restaurant was actually her daughter. Fifteen years ago she never would have imagined seeing this version of Ariadne. She remembered agonizing about whether or not to reveal the truth of Ari’s birth and, in the end, she decided on a condensed version of the whole story. She left out the fact that Ari’s father was a hunter and that she was the product of a rape, instead choosing to reveal only that Ari had been born without the ability to shift into a wolf. Gwen knew about a highly controversial procedure that would replace the baby’s blood with that of someone who had been born with the ability. It worked, and Ari was able to shift once she was old enough, and as far as Gwen was concerned she would never have to know her true parentage.

Of course Ari had been furious. The transformations hurt her more than other canidae, and she blamed Gwen for that pain. So she ran away. She elected to live on the streets rather than stay under the same roof as someone who had put her life at risk. In Ari’s mind, the procedure was proof that she’d been born “wrong” in Gwen’s eyes.

Gwen accepted Ari’s choice to leave. Nothing would be accomplished if she had grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and dragged her back home. If she was forced to return she would just run again at the first opportunity. So she allowed her daughter to flee and stood idly by as Ari lived on the streets and scrounged for meals. She would occasionally help out as an invisible guardian angel; five dollars left near a trash can where she knew Ari would find it, or giving someone twenty dollars to “donate” when she saw Ari panhandling.

But Ari took care of herself just fine. She found someone to give her shelter, then found a career that, while unconventional, suited her to a T. Through it all Gwen had watched from afar as her daughter found her footing and carved out her own niche in the world. But through it all there was something missing. Some vital piece that was needed to tie everything together.

Gwen was looking at that missing piece. A year earlier she had cavalierly tried to destroy Ari’s relationship with Dale for the “greater good,” but she should have realized what a waste of time that was. Even when Ari was setting out a shingle for her own private investigation agency, she still seemed adrift and afraid of the world. That all changed when Dale entered her life. Dale was a friend when that was what Ari needed. And then, when Ari needed a partner, Dale filled that role as well. Being loved by Dale made Ari comfortable in her own skin. The relationship grounded her in a way that had been impossible since the moment Ari turned her back and ran away.

She had never expected her daughter to end up with a non-canidae, but that didn’t surprise her. From the day she was born, Ariadne had never been what Gwen expected. The woman sitting across the restaurant was her own person. No longer Gwen’s daughter, no longer the child who needed rescuing. Gwen started walking and her movement drew Dale’s attention. She tapped two fingers against the back of Ari’s hand, a silent message that got Ari to look up from the menu. She tensed slightly as she closed the menu and put it aside.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hello, Ariadne. Miss Frye.” She took her seat as a waitress hustled over to take her drink order. Once the girl went to fill it, Gwen looked at the couple across from her and smiled at their tension. “Well. Aren’t we as comfortable as three dogs at a flea circus?”

Dale laughed, looked at Ari, and nudged her. “Come on, that was funny.”

“I’ve heard it before,” Ari said. “It’s still cute, Mom.”

Gwen smiled. “Well, I’m a parent. We all have our catchphrases and fallback sayings, don’t we?” She sipped her water. “I suppose you think you know why I asked for this dinner.”

Ari nodded. “I’ve been giving it some thought, yeah.”

“Why don’t you enlighten me? Show me some of those detective skills.”

“Okay. We…” The waitress returned with their drinks, and they took a minute to order. When she was gone again, Ari said, “We’ve mostly made amends after everything that happened with wolf manoth. We proved we can share space without tearing each other’s faces off. I understand you and you respect my decisions. We’re comfortable with one another, if not exactly on friendly terms. We’re tolerant of each other. Is that fair?”

Gwen shrugged and nodded her head.

“You want to further that relationship. You hope that my acceptance of what you did means we can pick up where we left off. You want to give me an allowance, buy me a place to live, make sure I don’t have to work in such a dangerous profession.”

Gwen said, “To be fair, it is incredibly dangerous. In the past few years, you and Miss Frye have both been held prisoner, gotten in fights… you were framed for murder, and Miss Frye was shot in the head by the real culprit. I’m not going to apologize for wishing you were a grocery clerk or something.”

Ari nodded. “Right. So you want me to be your daughter again.”

Gwen smiled. “You’ve always been my daughter, Ariadne. And all of your arguments are about half right. I do wish you were in a safer job. If you wanted a home, I would buy one for you. But you have never stopped being my daughter. And as far as your profession goes… you cleared the name of a girl whose hard work to get clean would have gone unnoticed. You found two kidnapped little girls after the city had stopped looking for them. Even if I wanted to ask you to stop being a private detective, I think the city would be worse off for losing you.

“You are very good at what you do, Ariadne. And if you and Miss Frye are comfortable in the place you chose for each other, then I won’t force a house on you. I’m not offering you any money whatsoever. But if you ever need a dime, I want you to know you can come to me.” She sighed and looked down at her empty plate. “I forced the wolf on you. Then I tried to force Milo on you in order to fulfill the plan I came up with. A plan you tore to pieces and replaced with a better one.”

Ari couldn’t meet her mother’s eyes. “A lot of people died.”

“Fewer than would have died otherwise. There were always going to be casualties. You minimized them. Never doubt that.”

Ari worked her lips and darted her eyes to anything that wasn’t Gwen.

“I wanted to have this dinner to set a precedence. I wanted to prove we could sit together and have a meal without obligations or hidden agendas.” Her voice broke. She didn’t bother wiping away the tear in the corner of her eye. “I want to know you again, Ariadne. I want to know the woman you’ve chosen to spend your life with. Because what little of her I saw in January, she is an amazing person. You are both amazing people and I would like to have you in my life. At least a few times a year.”

They sat in silence for a few seconds after Gwen finished speaking. Finally Ari sniffled and sat up a bit straighter. “One condition.”

“Name it.”

Ari nodded to her right. “You have to call her Dale. No more of this ‘Miss Frye’ stuff.”

Gwen chuckled. “I suppose that would be acceptable.” She nodded to Dale. “If it’s all right with you, of course.”

“I prefer it, actually.”

“Fine. Dale.” She nodded as if she accepted the way it sounded. “Now… this is new to all of us, I think, so what should we do first?”

Dale said, “Uh… well… you just got back from spending time with Milo’s pack in England. I’m sure you have some interesting stories about the trip.”

“Oh… I have a story or two you might be willing to hear.”

“The ones where you have your clothes on. I saw the way you were looking at their alpha.”

Gwen smiled. “Fair enough, I suppose. Where would you like me to begin?”

Ari said, “Did you go for any runs as the wolf?”

“Oh, of course.”

“Tell me about how England smells.”

Gwen’s smile widened as she put her thoughts in order. As they waited for their food, she tried to explain the differences in air smell, dirt smell, texture, and overall experience in a way that both Ari and Dale could appreciate. She didn’t think one dinner and one conversation would heal the wounds in their relationship, but at the very least it would help start the healing process.

She was looking forward to many more dinner conversations in the future.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/dog-flea-circus/

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