Chapter 33 - The End of a Nice Dream
"Mmm… Vix? Are… are we still in India?"
"Come… The elevator is waiting for us again. We don't have much time left."
Tired and confused, I could feel Vix pulling on my arms, trying to get me off the bed. The room was all dark again, and Asha and Savannah weren't around anymore. The two hot catgirls had mysteriously vanished after our fun activity.
Still impersonating Oreo, I followed my fiery red fox friend to the magical box that would carry us to another strange bedroom.
The golden elevator's doors closed, Vix clung to my arm, and we were on our way to our next destination. It was blurry in my mind, but since we began visiting this unusual hotel, we've met Meeka, Asha, and Savannah. Because this was a weird dream, I was under the impression that I knew them, but it wasn't clear to me who they were exactly. For some reason, I couldn't help but think these rubbery creatures were part of my life, part of who I was. Maybe the next room we would visit would make it easier for me to understand what this dream was about.
My lazy eyes turned to the lights flashing at the top of the doors. It took a moment, but it finally stopped on a cute rabbit picture. The bell rang, and the doors separated once more, opening over a new location.
"Woah… Vix. Are we still at the hotel?"
"I don't know, Clara. I think so. But I like this. Come!"
Grass… A green grass field, extending for as far as the eyes could see. Vix pulled on my arm, forcing me to step out of the elevator. How could this be? The ground was soft and comfortable, the air smelled amazing, and the sun was just warm enough to heat our latex skin nicely. When I turned around to look at the elevator, it mystically turned to dust, like flour, and the light wind blew it away. I was pretty sure that wasn't normal, but this whole dream had no normality so far.
"Vix. There is nothing here. Just grass."
"I like it. Come!"
"I don't know. This is a nice bedroom."
"It's not a bedroom. It's a grass field."
"We are in a hotel, remember? So this must be a bedroom. Look, I can lie down in the grass. It's springy like a mattress."
"Silly… It's not…"
Vix opened her arms and let herself fall backward. She oddly bounced on the grass, which I was pretty sure wasn't supposed to happen. I bent at my waist level and placed my two hands on the ground. It was indeed very squishy.
"Lie down with me, Clara. Look at the sky. It's so nice."
I let myself fall on my side and moved next to Vix until my shoulder touched hers. With our hands resting on top of our bellies, we looked at the clouds populating the blue sky. Of course, doing so resulted in an unavoidable imagination trip.
"Oh, look Clara… That cloud over there. It looks like Lucy's Café."
"Ah, yes. The Cakes and Pets. I remember going there for the first time."
"I was the first pet you chose to spend time with."
"Haha. I remember, yes. I was very scared and thought you were the cutest."
"Yes. And you had a lot of trouble talking to us."
Vix was right. As the café shaped cloud slowly floated away, my eyes hooked to another fox-shaped one. I couldn't do anything other than think about the moment I went to the animal café for the first time.
My life back then was very sad. I was a little Clara working in a warehouse, packaging random items on behalf of a giant online company. Money was not something I had, and with the cost of living skyrocketing in the city, my life was going in a very wrong direction. I didn't have what it took to survive in this world…
Would I have survived?
Perhaps it was the reason why I did it, after all. On that morning, when I decided to go to the Cakes & Pets to see the animal girls, what had triggered this move? It wasn't like me to go on an adventure like this. I knew better… I thought I knew better. Better was to stay away from people as much as possible as they would only bring me suffering. If there was one thing that my parents had taught me, it was that there was no room for a failure like me in this society. So why did I do it? Did I instinctually react to my potential death? Probably not physical death, but certainly a mental death at the very least. All my doors were closed, no opportunities were offered to me, and I was running out of support. My destiny looked like a life of commuting over an hour each morning and night so that I had barely enough to feed myself. How long would it have lasted if my life hadn't taken a new direction?
So I did it. On that morning, a few days after I found that special café, I put on my only nice clothes, which were lower quality than what other people were wearing, and headed toward it with no intentions. My goal was to go to a café but not walk inside. I knew it would have been too hard. With my inability to communicate, there was no way I could walk in and even consider having fun. This was not a place for me.
Yet, something had pushed me to go there.
As I predicted, I wasn't strong enough to walk into it. I stood there on the walkway, in front of the door, paralyzed by fear and unable to change my life the slightest.
And then, Lucy. She opened the door and immediately captured me. At that specific moment, she took over my brain. I couldn't do anything on my own outside sleep and eat; even that was laborious. But Lucy, she didn't care about that. She took me under her wing and did all the work for me, at least until she forced me to enter the lounge where all the animal girls were.
There was no going back.
When they all approached me, overwhelmed me, touched me, something had changed. The pets understood me right away. They knew I couldn't talk and that their presence overpowered me. They understood I wasn't like them and something was very wrong with me. They understood everything right off the bat.
Back then, I didn't know why they were so good at understanding me, but it was a bit clearer today. Each of the pets went through difficult times or had been forced to support others. They knew what pain and joy were, what happiness and sadness were. They knew the emotions I carried inside my heart even though they didn't know about how violent they were.
And then, when I chose my first pet, the first person I've ever touched that way, it was Vix. The small fox girl was the most adorable person I had ever met, someone who wasn't a threat to me. Again, back then, I didn't know why, but it all made sense after I learned about her challenging past. Vix knew about suffering and had recognized it in me, and she knew that words were not what I needed; her hugs were.
Time had restarted to run differently after that day. I couldn't be more grateful for it. Here in the grass field, next to her, I really felt like she was one of my best friends.
"Vix, I love you so much."
"I love you very much too, Clara."
"Hey, what about me?"
Suddenly, a cute white rubber rabbit appeared just above our face, blocking our view of the clouds. The long springy ears mounted on top of a smiling face, a friendly face, were somewhat amusing.
"I'm Trixie. Can I lie down with you, Clara?"
"Yes… You can lie down Between Vix and me."
Pushing her way in, Trixie forced us apart and lay down between us. Because this was a dream, she came out of nowhere. With her back on the grass, she looked at the clouds with us, quickly identifying one of interest.
"Oh, guys. Look at that one. It's me! It's shaped like a white rabbit! That's the best cloud ever!"
"White rabbits are nice. Right, Clara?"
White rabbits. I remembered that after my first day with Vix at the café, I had spent some time with another pet, a white rabbit named Trixie. That one was something else.
Trixie was very different from Vix but was equally important to me, if not more. The reason was probably that she was the absolute opposite of who I was. Outgoing, bold, sexual, and very talkative. That last item on the list wasn't present when she was in costume, though. Trixie was also the first girl I brought home. Sure, Lucy had tricked me into this, but it had allowed me to see past my nose for once.
I could remember it very well. When we arrived home, I was terrified. I was convinced all Trixie wanted was to have sex, but it turned out that she was as capable of listening as she was capable of being excited. She taught me a big lesson about how not everybody wanted to hurt me. That night, she had let me read a book to her and helped me practice my speech without pressure and with some comforting hugs.
In the grass field, the white rabbit next to me… That was probably her, then.
"Oh, Trixie. Are you the Trixie I know?"
"That I am, Clara."
"I really like you."
"Hehe. Yes. I know."
"Why is your bedroom a grass field?"
"Because I'm a bunny."
"This is how I see life, Clara. It is like a grass field. It looks empty at first, but when you pay attention, it's filled with cool stuff and you can do whatever you want in it."
"Yes. Flowers, bees, wind, sun, clouds, and today, you and Vix even decided to visit too."
"True. There is a lot going on in your bedroom, Trixie."
"When life is a grass field, we can see very far too. The things that we would have missed in a dense forest are hard to miss here. When I saw you two from afar, it was an opportunity to spend time with my friends, so I came to see you."
I sat up and looked around me. Trixie was right. I could see very far, but I wasn't used to looking around like this. It was a bit dizzying at first. I could see animal girls here and there. Some were alone, others in small groups. The distance prevented me from seeing who they were, though. But Trixie must have heard my thoughts because she also sat up, and Vix too.
"See Clara… Over there is Asha and Savannah. Oh, there is Meeka too. You've met them before, right? Oreo is playing with Misti, and Accalia is relaxing that way; she likes spending time alone."
"But what does it mean, Trixie? Why are they so far away?"
"They are not far away, Clara. It just seems that way because of the grass field. Life is huge, and you have the opportunity to choose what you want to do without everybody needing to be right next to you at all times. If you want to go play with Oreo and Misti, Accalia doesn't need to know, right?"
"Mmm… But I like them all. They are all important to me. I don't want to do things with just a few of them. I'm not too sure I want life to be like a grass field then. It's not fun."
"Haha, Clara. You don't understand. When life is a grass field, you can choose to do things however you want."
"But, you said…"
"No, stand up and look again."
"Come on, Clara. Stand up. You too, Vix."
Trixie sprang to her feet and gave me her hand. I didn't know what she wanted from me, but her smile and bouncy ears were comforting. I knew I could trust her. Anyway, this was just a dream, so it wouldn't hurt to let her lead for a while. I pushed myself up to my feet but noticed something odd about the way I looked.
"Hey! How come I'm no longer Oreo? I was replacing her and…"
"I told you, Oreo is playing with Misti over there. You are Clara now. You don't need to replace her."
My civilian clothes were a bit boring. Even if I didn't want to be a pet full time, I didn't dislike wearing colorful costumes once in a while. Vix brushed the residual grass off my back with her paw, and then Trixie asked me an odd question.
"What do you want to do now, Clara?"
"Oh… I don't know."
"You want to go see Oreo?"
"Yes, but… I want to go see the others too."
"Well, you can't do that, so what are you going to do?"
"What do you mean? What do you want me to do? I can't choose."
"There is always a choice when your life is a grass field, Clara. Think about it… Think about what you really want and do"
"But… I'm confused… I don't know… This dream is complicated."
"Haha. No, it's not. Think, Clara. When this dream is over, what do you want to remember? What is the most important to you, and how can you make it happen here, in the grass field?"
I looked back and forth at Vix and Trixie. Both were smiling and relaxed. What did I want to remember about this dream? I wasn't too sure. Or was I?
"… My friends? I want to be with my friends."
"But not just one or two of them. I want to remember them all."
"Perfect. So, how are you going to do this then?"
"I don't know… If I go see one of them, I might lose the others and… and…"
My dream was confusing and hard to follow, but now there was something I wanted to do. An idea had just crossed my mind, but I wasn't sure it would work.
"What is it, Clara?"
"The grass field is like my life, right?"
"So, it's okay to stay where I am, for now, right?"
"It sure is."
"And if I want to have my friend around me… then…"
"You got it, Clara. You finally got it. You can do everything you want. Your life is yours to do whatever you want with. Do things the way you can."
"Haha. I'll try… Look! Look at me, okay?"
At first, before the café, I couldn't communicate.
I wasn't able to speak words to express what I really wanted. My friends really helped me. They supported me since the day I met them and never abandoned me. Gradually, I learned how to make full sentences, I learned to take my time and intelligently speak about things. It wasn't perfect, but I was making significant progress. Even at school, I started to talk to new people, to my teachers too. I learned to ask questions, to ask for help when something was too difficult for me.
But there was one thing I had never done so far, and this dream, MY dream, was the perfect place to try it.
SCREAM! SCREAM WHAT I WANTED OUT LOUD.
I took a few quick steps in a random direction and screamed what I really wanted in my life.
"HEY! GUYS! COME HERE! IT'S ME, CLARA!"
A bunch of small animal girls' heads turned to me as I unleashed my inner voice for the first time. I ran in the other direction and emptied my lungs again.
"GUUUYS! COME HERE! I WANT YOU TO COME HERE!"
Some of them began walking toward me, but one of them asked me a question with her little voice. I think it was Accalia.
"BECAUSE I WANT YOU HERE WITH ME? I LOVE YOU!"
"Ah, cool. I'm on my way then."
"I LOVE YOU ALL! YOU HAVE TO COME HERE!"
I kept running around Vix and Trixie, begging all my friends to join us. They all converged toward us, some faster than the others. It worked. This grass field was my life, and this was what I wanted. I wanted my friends with me here. I didn't want to chase them anymore, trying to follow one more than another. I made the choice that I wanted them all equally.
As they arrived and began to hug me, it really reminded me of the first day I visited the café when they all rushed to me in the lounge, and I had collapsed in fear. This was the same thing… The exact same thing… Little paws touching me, overwhelming me…
The only difference was that it was my choice. I had opened myself to them, allowing them to enter my life and join me. There was no fear anymore.
This was the only thing I wanted to remember about this super strange dream.
My name is Clara Fairfield, and I want my awesome friends to be part of my life forever!
My cushy paws went to my forehead. I couldn't whine because of my gag, but it sure hurt. Vix saw me smashing my head on the capsule room ceiling after I woke up with a start, and now she was hugging me to make me feel better.
What a strange dream. That would teach me to fall asleep while wearing a pet costume.
But, despite my fractured skull, I felt somewhat amazing. It was as if my lungs had cleared up or something, and I was breathing fresh air for the first time. I tried to remember what I dreamt about, but it just wouldn't come back to me. So weird…
But something was different.
I crawled to the capsule door and pressed my paw on the unlock button until the mechanism disengaged, and I then slid the door open. Vix grabbed my leg, though, preventing me from escaping.
I turned to her and gesticulated something that made her freeze, and then she released my leg. Did I just manage to communicate something efficiently as a petgirl? I wasn't too sure how it happened, but it certainly felt good.
In a nutshell, Vix didn't want me to go out because she knew Lucy would be angry at us, but I told her that I wanted to go see my friends in the lounge and that she had to come with me.
I didn't know why, but I really needed to see my friends. All of them.
How I managed to tell her that without talking was a mystery, but it worked.
I crawled out of the capsule and helped Vix out as well. We headed to the staircase and carefully climbed it down, holding the railing to make sure not to fall. Lucy was about to scold us, so risking extra reprimands because we damaged our costumes was not worth it.
It didn't take long for us to get caught. Lucy was at the reception desk, filling some paperwork as usual. Her stare said everything, but she used words anyway.
"What in the world? I told you two to stay in the capsule room. I'll go get you later."
Vix was about to turn around, not feeling like defying Lucy today, but I boldly walked to the desk and started waving my arms. I didn't want to stay in the capsule room today. I wanted to be with the other pets.
"Clara? What got into you? What do you want?"
I pointed at the lounge door,
"I said, no. You two caused a big cake accident, and I don't want any more trouble today."
Of course, Lucy was strong-willed, and there wasn't much I could do about that. But when a client opened the door to exit the café, a convenient opportunity, I rushed to it and sneaked into the lounge illegally. Vix followed me.
That's what I wanted, and the consequences couldn't be that bad. I barely had time to hear Lucy yelling at us before the door slammed close behind us. For some reason, having been so bold and causing trouble for Lucy made me feel like a real pet.
I stood in the middle of the lounge, with Vix at my side, and it only took a few seconds for all the other pets to converge toward us to give us hugs. It felt so good. My place was definitely here, at the café, pet costume or not.
It had something to do with this weird dream. I was proud of myself, but I could sense that the other pets were proud of me too. I had no idea why. Could it be because I had made a clear statement about what I wanted?
A bit later that day, I ended up in the costume room with Lucy, who was helping me take off my Oreo costume. Obviously, she didn't forget about what I had done earlier.
"Well, Clara. You were the last one I expected to cause trouble like this. Usually, you are a model pet."
"No, you are not. Hehe. I don't know what happened to you in that capsule room, and frankly, I don't want to know, but you look different today."
I didn't know either.
"So, are you going back to the penthouse to see Oreo, now?"
"How are things going between the two of you, Clara?"
"… Well. Very well. I love her a lot."
"Oh, I bet. Oreo is an amazing girl. She is struggling to integrate this crazy society, a bit like you at first, but even if she doesn't talk a lot and doesn't show much emotion, I know she is very happy with you."
"Yes. Very much so. I can tell."
Lucy pulled on my feet, popping them out of their rubbery sockets, and I wrapped a towel around my torso. I was human again.
"And how is school going, Clara?"
"Oh, it's fun."
"Fun? So you like finance that much?"
"I think so. I'm good with numbers, apparently."
"That's because you work hard. That's a good thing."
"It doesn't feel like work."
"Haha. Good, because that's how you need to feel when you'll take over the ownership of the café. Or else the financial paperwork will drive you nuts."
What did Lucy say? Me taking over the café? Didn't she remember what happened when she put me in charge for half a day? Elizabeth had to rescue me. And, we had never discussed this? I didn't think I was qualified to run her café and do all the important paperwork she always did.
I started trembling a little.
"… W… when?"
"What do you mean when?"
"When do I have to run the café? Like… tomorrow?"
"Tomo… NO! Clara! You are nowhere near ready to run a café. First of all, you need to finish school. Then, you'll need experience. And then…"
As Lucy enumerated all her points explaining what I already knew, I felt a bit of happiness coursing through my veins.
Today I felt ready. I wouldn't know what to do at all to order the cakes and food, manage the pets' schedule, pay the mortgage, and all… No, I was really not qualified…
But I was ready to learn and give it a go.
This little sensation in my chest felt good. This little bright light flashing inside my rib cage, the one indicating that something positive was going on in my life; it felt good.
It felt like I had a future ahead of me.
After dressing up, I said goodbye to Lucy and headed downstairs. I looked through the lounge door window, and a bunch of paws waved goodbye at me. I returned the waves before exiting the café on my own.
It was a bit cold tonight, so I wrapped my scarf around my neck and began walking. There were even some snowflakes slowly falling from the frozen sky. It reminded me of last year, when all the pets and Lucy did this charity event and took pictures with people in exchange for money. We would do it again this year, and I was looking forward to it. Christmas was only a month away, after all. It would also be Kitty's first time doing that. She said she would come too, which was good because her amazing cheetah costume was a very popular one these days.
I couldn't wait to see my girlfriend again, Oreo. She caught a little cold and was resting at the pethouse. I loved her very much, but I didn't feel that I was in a hurry to get home tonight. It wasn't that I didn't want to see her, it was simply that I knew she would be there for me when I arrived.
Since this weird dream I had earlier today, something has changed inside of me. I wish I could remember what it was about, but at the same time, did it really matter? This slight excess of self-confidence I had might be temporary or permanent, who knew, but it certainly taught me how to feel good and relaxed for once.
On my way home, I stopped by a small bakery and bought a giant pretzel. Usually, it was Trixie who was doing these kinds of things, but this time, I felt like there was nothing wrong with enjoying life a bit more without worrying about what people would think of me.
"There you go. That will be $3.50"
"Thanks so much. You can keep the change."
"Oh, thank you. Have a good night."
What a difference.
When I thought about it, before I met the pets, I couldn't even have ordered a coffee by myself. Now, I could order a pretzel, feeling like a normal human being. Where did I learn how to do that? When did I learn how to do that?
It was a good day.
When I arrived at the big insurance building and squeezed myself through the heavy glass door, I knew I wasn't too far from home, from love. The security guard quickly ignored me when I lowered my scarf, which was good because they still scared me, and I engulfed myself in the elevator.
A golden elevator… It felt strangely familiar, but I wasn't too sure why.
I swiped my card on the reader and pressed the P button. How lucky was I to live in a penthouse without having to pay any rent? I knew this wasn't normal, and Lucy made sure we didn't forget that we were spoiled, so I was very cautious not to abuse any of the special privileges I had.
When the elevator doors slid open, I headed to the big double wooden doors leading to the pethouse, scanned my pass, and pushed one open with my shoulder.
There she was, sitting on the big leather couch, watching a TV show by herself.
"Oreo! I'm home."
"Hi Clara. How did it go?"
"Good. But Vix and I got scolded because we destroyed a cake."
"Haha. It happens."
I went to the living room and sat on the couch next to her. Oreo was wrapped in a large blanket that she opened to let me in. Now well cocooned next to my girlfriend, I felt complete again.
"What are you watching?"
"Just a drama. I like it."
"What is it about?"
"I don't know. It just started."
"Okay. We will find out together."
"I love you."
"I love you too, Clara."
Life didn't have to be complicated.
Actually, life was pretty simple. We just liked to make it complicated.
The next time I would feel that everything is going wrong in my life, I will always remember that time I decided to walk to this café and stand in front of the door like a leek.
That was all it took.
It was the only effort I had to put in for my life to turn around.
The next time my life doesn't go in a good direction, I will remember this.
Our life is like a grass field.