The Problem With Boys c. 1-3
Xena stood at the front door and put her hand on the doorknob. "Okay, Mr. J.R. I'm leaving." She was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and had a duffle bag slung over her shoulder.
"Hold it." J.R. said from inside the house. "I want to talk to you."
Xena groaned. "Hurry up. I'm late."
"Keep your tail on." J.R. strode into the entry way. He was a brown wolf and had pointed ears, brown eyes, and muscles that bulged from his shirt. That shirt was supposed to be white, but food, grease, sweat, and who knew what else had changed its color to a grayish-brown.
Xena cringed. It was time to do laundry again.
Kathra, her little sister, tugged on his shirt and prattled on and on about something or other. Whatever it is was probably not that important because it looked like J.R. had tuned her out.
"What is it, Mr. J.R.?" Xena put her weight on one foot. "Everyone's waiting for me."
J.R. narrowed his eyes. "Where are you going?"
"I told you last night. We're going to play soccer." Xena rapped her fingers on the door frame. Wood paneling covered the walls of the house, and the vaulted roof was laced with wooden rafters. There was a storage closet right in front of the door, and a single light bulb shone from the ceiling. The whole place was dark and empty. There was no furniture or pictures or anything. A nice table with some flowers, maybe a light fixture, and definitely a coat rack would make the place homier. But would J.R. ever listen to Xena? No. It's too girly, he would object.
"Mr. J.R., are you listening to me?" Kathra pulled on J.R.'s shirt. She was a white fox who kept her blonde hair pulled back in a braid. She wore a pink top with hearts printed on it and a little bow pinned on the collar. Her blue skirt somehow matched.
Xena, on the other hand, was a gray fox with her dull black hair caught in a messy ponytail. She didn't know or care if her clothes matched. To her, clothes' sole purpose was to cover her up. Sometimes she wondered why she needed them at all.
J.R. waved his hand at Kathra. "And after soccer?"
"To the lake." Xena patted her bag. "I've got my swimsuit here."
"Mr. J.R." Kathra yanked at his shirt.
J.R. glanced at her but went back to talking to Xena. "And who all"
"Mr. J.R." Kathra stomped her foot. She spoke in a high pitched voice that grated at Xena's ears.
Xena set her teeth but smirked as she saw J.R.'s ear twitch. He hated that voice just as much as Xena did.
"Mr. J.R., I was talking first." Kathra crossed her arms. "It's not fair."
J.R. plopped a hand on Kathra's head. Instantly, her mouth clamped shut.
After a smile and a sigh, J.R. turned to Xena again. "Now who all is going to the lake?"
J.R. pinched his lips together. "You mean those boys you're always running around with?"
"Any girls going?" J.R.'s ears trained forward.
"I don't think so." Xena turned her eyes to the ceiling. "Yesterday, we only talked about us soccer dudes going."
J.R. furrowed his eyebrows. He ground his teeth, looked up at the ceiling, and then . . . his ears lifted, and he smiled.
Xena laid her ears back a bit. The next thing out of his mouth would not be something she wanted to hear.
"Why don't you take Kathra with you?" J.R. gently pushed the little fox forward.
"Can I? Please?" Kathra jumped up and down.
Xena's shoulders slumped. "But, Mr. J.R." She tried to make her voice as high and grating as Kathra's, but somehow it did come out the same. "I can't take her with me."
"Why not?" A smile spread on J.R.'s face.
"Yeah, why not?" Kathra put her hands on her hips.
"Because you always find something to say that freaks out my friends, Kathra." Xena clenched her fists. "Like the last time, you just had to explain about how ice-cream additives were made. No one would go near the ice-cream shop for weeks. Even Carlton is still nervous to have a strawberry shake."
"If you want to eat the same stuff gasoline is made from, be my guest." Kathra stuck her nose in the air.
Xena glared at her sister. "Come on, Mr. J.R. Why can't I hang out with my friends alone? You used to let me."
"Because I said so." That smile never left his face.
Xena rumbled in her throat. He was enjoying this. "What do you think I'm going to be doing alone with a bunch of guys at the lake?"
After a pause, J.R. patted her head. "I am so glad you don't know the answer to that question."
"Fine." Xena swatted his hand away.
"Are you going to wear that cute swimsuit Miss Melody got you?" Kathra got her purse from the front closet where Xena had put it. Kathra never put her things away, and Xena always had to clean up after her.
"The tankini?" Xena turned to the door. "I don't really like that one. It's . . . um . . ."
"It's cute." Kathra clasped her hands.
"It's pink." Xena made a face. "And it's got these little jewels and hearts on it. Way too frilly for me."
J.R. snickered. "Next thing you know she'll go get a skirt and high heels."
"And put ribbons in my hair and go get manicures." Xena wiggled her fingers. The two of them burst into laughter.
"I don't see what's so funny." Kathra snorted. "For someone who's so neat, Xena, you are a mess. I'm waiting outside."
"Aren't you going to get your swimsuit?" Xena glanced up the stairs.
"I'm not swimming in that lake." Kathra motioned to herself. "There are all sorts of parasites in there."
"Don't tell me you've started reading about lake parasites." Xena rolled her eyes. "Just don't say anything to my friends about it."
Kathra thrust her nose in the air. "If you want an amoeba going up your nose and eating your brain, be my guest." She walked out of the house.
"I think she reads too much." Xena shook her head.
"Better than running around with those emerging tramps out there." J.R. leaned against the wall.
"That's not fair, Mr. J.R." Xena shouldered her bag. "Just because a girl dresses nice, doesn't mean she's a tramp."
"I guess not." J.R. put a hand on Xena's shoulder. "I'm glad you didn't turn out that way, though, Kid. I like that you're so sporty."
"I just don't get what's so great about skirts and stuff. You can't play sports in them . . . except maybe tennis, but . . . I'm off. I'm going to be so late." Xena glanced at J.R.'s shirt. "Do me a favor and put your dirty clothes in the washroom. I'll do laundry when I get back. And I mean all your clothes, Mr. J.R. None of that sniffing your pits to see if your shirts will last another day."
J.R. flicked her ear. "You're quite lippy for a girl squatting in my house."
"And you're bossy for a guy who's not my dad." Xena peeked out of the corner of her eyes to see his reaction. Seven years ago, he had found her and Kathra in a ruined city and took them in. In that time, she had grown to love him like her father. In fact, she called him "Daddy" in her mind. But she didn't have the nerve to call him that out loud. If there was any indication that he would accept that title, she would run with it.
But if J.R. was flattered or bothered by what she had said, he didn't show it. He just chuckled and gazed at the wall.
Xena felt her heart plummet to the ground. She turned before it could show on her face. "Bye, Mr. J.R."
"Have a good time." J.R. held the door open for her.
Xena went outside and waved at J.R as he shut the door behind her. She leaned against it. If only she was brave enough to take the leap.
"Did you try it?" Kathra asked, hands clasped.
"I couldn't make myself do it." Xena hung her head. "I just don't want him to get mad at me. What if he kicks us out?"
"I still want to, though." Kathra pushed the dirt around with her shoes. "Don't you?"
"More than anything." Xena stood straight. "Come on. I'm late as it is. I'll have to go straight to the field instead of meeting the guys at the store." She walked down the loose gravel driveway.
J.R.'s house stood just outside of the town of Justin's Ridge. Spring had just arrived. The trees in the forest surrounding his house were bare, but the green buds of leaves and the fragrance of new flowers filled the air. The air had a cold tinge to it. Xena took a deep breath and headed down the road.
The street plunged through the trees and forked, one going to the field and the other leading to town.
"Hey, Z?" Kathra said as they walked together. "What do you think Mr. J.R. meant when he said he was glad you didn't know the answer to your question?"
"I don't know." Xena kicked the rocks in the road. "Why don't you research it and tell me about it?"
"Sure," Kathra said.
Xena smiled at her and tussled her hair.
"Hey." Kathra tried to hit her, but Xena slipped out of her reach.
"Hah, too slow." Xena jogged down the road just out of her reach.
"I'll get you." Kathra chased her all the way to the soccer field.
The soccer field was empty when Xena and Kathra arrived. That meant that Xena wasn't as late as she thought she was. Still . . . she couldn't go looking for the boys. If she left, she might miss them.
Xena set her bag on a bench at one side of the field. "Sit here, Kat." Then she plopped on the grass and pulled off her boots.
The soccer field was a meadow on the edge of town. In fact, if she looked ahead, Xena could see the town in the distance. Years ago because of Xena's prodding, J.R. had put in two goalposts, one on either end of the field. That way, she could play with her friends without having to run around in the street.
"Do you have a holodisk to read while you're here?" Xena glanced at Kathra who was swinging her feet.
"Right here." Kathra patted her purse. "I've been reading about physics. When you guys are playing, I'm going to use a scanner and try and figure out these formulas." She looked around. "I thought you were late. Where is everybody?"
"I was supposed to meet them in town to help Mike pick out a new soccer ball, but it was so late I thought they'd come here instead." Xena put her boots in her bag and removed her sneakers. "I hope they're not still waiting for me."
"Xena, why do you always bring your sneakers everywhere?" Kathra cocked her head. "Why didn't you just change into them at home?"
Xena wiggled her toes. "I don't know, Kat . . . it's weird . . . I . . . I feel strange when I wear my sneakers too long. It feels like a weight is being pushed down on me." She pulled on her shoes. "I think it's the rubber soles."
"I'm fine in other shoes . . . sandals, boots . . . it doesn't matter." Xena tied her sneakers. "But as soon as I put on shoes with rubber soles . . ."
"Tell me about it." Xena looked up as giggles drifted across the field. A crowd of girls had come with the guys who were putting their things on the benches across the field.
That was an unspoken rule . . . probably imposed by J.R. for some silly reason or another. The boys got one side of the field and girls got another. And that was fine by Xena. The boys' side smelled like sweat and old shoes.
For a moment, Xena was afraid the game would be ruined by a bunch of girls flailing around and running away from the ball. But judging by the skirts, shorts, tight jeans, and shoes they wore, they had no plans to play.
"Kathra." A brown kitten around Kathra's age squeezed out of the crowd of girls.
"Abby." Kathra rushed to meet her.
"I thought I'd be stuck watching a boring game with my sister." Abby jerked a thumb over her shoulder.
"Abby." Annie, a ginger cat with curly red hair, put her hand on her hips. She was only twelve, like Xena, but she had big hips, and had been wearing a training bra for a year already. "Don't go running off anywhere without telling me. I am not going to get in trouble because of you."
"Okay, fine. Sheesh. Look Kathra." Abby held out her foot so Kathra could see it. "Don't you just love my new shoes?"
Xena glanced at them. They were white, flat shoes with a blue charm on the top . . . completely useless for running or doing anything else remotely fun.
"They are so cute." Kathra bent over them. "I saw a picture of those on the Fashion Divas Jr. magazine cover."
"I told my dad to save you a pair." Abby grabbed Kathra's hand. "Let's go get them."
"After the game." Kathra pulled Abby to the seat. "Sit with me. We can watch together."
"Okay," Abby sat next to Kathra.
Xena shook her head and put away her boots. Sometimes she wondered if she was really related to Kathra. They had nothing in common.
After a moment of giggling, the girls started to drift over to their side, a cue that the boys were about to start the game. Xena crossed the field.
As the gap between Xena and the gossiping girls closed, Xena could hear conversation interspersed within the giggles.
"I can't believe it," Denise, a rabbit, said.
"You are so lucky, Annie," Kathie, a woodchuck, said.
"It was so romantic." Annie clasped her hands. "Just him and me . . . all alone."
Xena furrowed her eyebrows. What was Annie talking about?
"First his brother picked us up and dropped us off at the movies." Annie held her cheeks. "Then after the movie, his brother was 'late' picking us up, so we went down to the lake, and he kissed me."
Xena halted. Movies? Kissed? But that sounded like a . . .
"I just can't believe that you were allowed to go," Carol, a brown finch, said. "My dad would never allow me to go on a date by myself."
Annie stuck her nose in the air. "My dad's just cool like that."
"You went out on a date? By yourself?" Xena swung around to face Annie. "With who?"
"Butt out, nosey." Annie put her hand on her hips. "This is a private conversation."
"Chill out, Annie." Kathie shook her head. "Why are you always so mean to her?"
"I think she's jealous." Carol crossed her arms.
"Jealous? Me? Of her? Please." Annie lifted her chin. "Look at her. She acts like a guy and dresses like one too. That's why I went out on a date with Jett, and she didn't."
"None of the rest of us has ever gone on a date either, Annie." Xena folded her arms. "It has nothing to do with what I look like."
"We're working on getting the rest of us dates." Annie looked down her nose at Xena. "I guarantee by the end of the week, Mike will ask Denise out."
Denise waved her hand in front of her face. "No, no. He doesn't like me like that."
"Point is, you are dumpy and totally boyish, Xena." Annie motioned across the field. "None of the guys would want to go out with you."
Xena opened her mouth to reply, but a call from across the field interrupted her.
"Xena, come on. Let's go." Jett waved his arm.
"Coming! I'm just" Xena halted when she heard a hiss. She swung around, but by that time Annie and the other girls had continued their way across the field.
Xena snorted and turned to join the boys.
"Took you long enough, Z." Jett was a tan cougar with a fat tail that swished back and forth when he stood still.
"Sorry." Xena rubbed the back of her head. "Stuff happened."
"Why didn't you meet us at the store?" Mike, a brown rabbit, stepped closer to her. "You were supposed to help me pick out a new ball."
"And we were supposed to check if the new game came in at Mr. Deals' store." Carlton pushed up his glasses. He was a gray and white striped cat. He never played sports with the guys but sat on the bench and kept score. He was great at video games, though.
"It was a nightmare getting out of my house this morning." Xena felt the soccer ball in Mike's hand. "First I had to clean the whole house because no one else will do it. Then when I was leaving, my dad stopped me andoops . . . I mean Mr. J.R. Please don't tell him I called him that."
"You still haven't asked him?" Mike tossed the ball in the air.
Xena shook her head. "I don't want him to get mad."
"He's not going to get mad at you." Mike bounced the ball on his knee.
"You can get him to do anything." Jett jostled Xena.
"Everything except let me go on a date." Xena snatched the ball out of the air and bounced it on her head. She let it bounce on her knee, and then bounced it on her toes. She kicked up the ball and caught it. "Not a bad choice. Needs more air, though. It might have a slow leak."
Jett pushed Mike. "I told you."
"You did not." Mike shoved him away. His face turned red. "And I thought I got a good one."
"Don't sweat it, Mike. It might just be low." Xena tossed the ball to him. Sometimes Mike could get so sensitive, but only when she criticized him. "I'll find out for sure when we play."
"Then let's play." Jett headed to the field. "I'm captain of one team. Xena, you can be captain of the other."
"Hey, Jett. Wait. I want to ask you something." Xena said.
"We're never going to get to play." Jett threw his hands up in the air. "What is it?"
Xena cocked her head and smirked. "Is it true you went out with Annie last night . . . on a date?"
Jett's ears stood straight up. "Is that a problem?"
"I was just wondering why you didn't tell me about it." Xena held her hands behind her back.
"Because you were late," Jett said, but he wouldn't look her in the eye. "I told everyone else about it."
"He totally made out with her." Tommy, a black ox, clapped Jett on the back.
Jett elbowed him in the stomach. "Shut up."
"Made out?" Xena blinked. "I heard you guys just kissed."
"It was way more than a kiss, Xena, believe me." Jett puffed out his chest. "My brother taught me all about it."
"And he faked being late picking you guys up so you could?" Xena frowned.
Jett nodded. "He's cool like that."
"I wish I had a brother like that," Thompson, a crane, said.
The other boys nodded and grinned.
Xena shook her head. "You're all jerks. No wonder Mr. J.R. doesn't want me to hang out with you anymore. You're liable to try something like that on me."
"As if any of us would want to kiss you. Right, Mike?" Jett burst into laughter, and Mike turned bright red.
Xena put her hand on her hips. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you'd deck us if we tried." Carlton wrote something on a small white board.
"No, I wouldn't." Xena cracked a smile. "Yes, I would."
"Besides, dating you would be like going out with my kid brother," Jett said, picking his ear.
"Or my sister," Mike said.
"Or like you dating Mike." Tommy jostled him.
The boys snickered.
Mike turned a shade of red. "Very funny."
Xena raised an eyebrow. She didn't see what was so funny. "So, what you're saying is that you wouldn't go out with me because . . ."
"You're one of us." Jett put his arm around her. "And if any one of us messed with you, we'd have to mess with them. It would ruin everything."
Xena smiled at him, but her heart plummeted. She was one of them? Did that mean she really did dress and act like a boy?
"Now, let's play." Jett snatched the ball from Mike. "I am so going to kick your tail, Xena."
Xena darted after him. "You can try."
Jett placed the ball in the middle of the field. After they were all in position, Carlton gave a yell, and the game began.
The game was almost over. Xena's team had the ball . . . in fact, Mike was dribbling it down toward the goal. Xena trotted down the other end of field in step with him. He would pass it soon enough. Mike never made a goal if he could help it. Though he was fast, he wasn't coordinated. Xena just had to keep her eyes open, and the game would be theirs.
"Go, Jett. Whoo. You rock." Annie's cheers shattered Xena's focus.
She glanced at Annie. Why would Jett want to go out with her? She did always wear the latest "in thing," and knew everything there was to know about celebrity gossip. But she couldn't kick or throw or anything. And she got kissed. What was it about her?
"Xena, pay attention." Mike shouted.
Xena swung around. The ball sailed toward her, but before she could do anything, Jett leapt in front of her and stole the ball. "Later, Z." He cackled as he dribbled it up the field.
"Shoot." Xena charged after him. He was a fast guy, but Xena was just a bit faster. She sprinted toward him.
Jett glanced over his shoulder, and his smile faded. He tried to run faster, but Xena cut in front of him and scooped the ball from his control. Then she charged down the field. Jett darted after her. Though she was faster than him, she couldn't run at top speed lest she lost control of the ball. She had to get rid of it.
Tommy was open. Slow with the ball, he was an amazing shot. And he was within goal range.
"Tommy." Xena lobbed the ball toward him.
It sailed through the air. Tommy jumped up and butted it past the goalie and into the net.
"Goal. Yes." Xena jumped up.
"Aw, man." Jett threw an imaginary hat on the ground. "We were so close."
"In your face, Jett." Xena waved her tail in his face. "Take that."
Mike trotted up to them. "Nice move, Z, but what happened? You should have gotten that pass."
"I got distracted." Xena glanced over her shoulder. "Annie's cheering made me lose focus."
Carlton walked over. "She is a bit loud. I heard her all the way over from the sidelines."
"I guess we'll just have to get used to it since she's Jett's girlfriend now." Xena put her hand on her hip.
"She's not my girlfriend . . . at least, I don't think so." Jett scratched his hair. "I'll have to ask my brother."
"Watch it." Mike looked over to the field. "Here she comes."
"Great game, Jett." Annie pushed past Xena. "Too bad you had to go easy on Xena. Otherwise, you would have totally won."
Jett scratched his hair again. "Yeah . . . right."
Xena rolled her eyes.
"You did great too, Mike." Denise batted her eyes at him. "You were so fast."
"That's right." Xena clapped Mike's back. "Good hustle."
Mike's face turned a shade of red, and he pulled on one of his ears. "Thanks."
"We're going to the lake, right?" Annie leaned closer to Jett.
"That's the plan." Jett took a step away from her.
"I thought it was just going to be us soccer guys." Xena looked at her friends.
Jett shrugged. "It was, until Annie said she wanted to come."
"Do you have a problem with that?" Annie pressed her lips together.
"Not really." Xena shrugged. "I can't go, anyway."
"Why not?" Mike asked.
Xena jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "I've got my little sister with me, and she won't go near the water. She's been reading about lake parasites."
"It's the ice-cream incident all over again." Carlton's ears pinned back against his head.
Xena snickered. "Go have fun without me."
"Sure?" Mike asked.
"I'm too hot to argue. Last one there smells my pits." Tommy took off.
The boys darted off across the field, pushing and shoving each other as they went. The girls meandered after them, talking amongst themselves.
"Too bad you can't come, Xena," Mike said, picking up his ball. "See you later."
"Later." Xena waved. "Hey. Why don't you let me get your ball filled?"
"You're the greatest, Z." Mike handed it over.
Xena watched as he walked down the field. After a moment, Denise joined him. Together they walked side by side toward the lake.
"Why don't you just ditch Kathra?" Jett spat on the ground. "She's old enough to hang out with her friends alone, isn't she?"
"She's my sister." Xena moved away from the mucus. "I don't want to just ditch her. That's mean."
Annie frowned. "Why do you even care?"
"Because she's my friend, Annie." Jett shot a glare at her.
Annie's whiskers twitched, but she clamped her mouth shut.
"So, you're not coming?" Jett scratched his foot.
Xena shook her head.
"Catch you later, then." Jett held out his hand. "Come on, Annie."
Annie smiled at him. "Give me a second. There's something in my shoe. I'll catch up." She bent over.
Jett shrugged and started off after his friends. "Later, Z."
Xena waved at him.
"It's a good thing you're not coming with us." Annie glanced over her shoulder. "No one would want to see your toothpick legs in a bathing suit."
"What did you say?"
"You heard me." Annie swung around, her hair whipping through the air.
"Why don't you come back here and say it to my face?" Xena brandished a fist. It came out louder than she meant it to.
Jett paused and looked back at them. He put a hand to his mouth. "You okay, Xena?"
"I'm cool." Xena forced a smile. There was no way she was going to admit to Jett . . . or anyone else for that matter . . . what Annie had said to her.
"Cool. Later." Jett continued on down the field. Annie smirked over her shoulder, caught up to him, and held his hand. They walked away hand in hand.
"Stupid Annie . . . thinks she knows everything." Xena muttered to herself as she went to get her things.
"Xena." Kathra trotted over to her. "Me and Abby are going to the store. I'm going to get those cute shoes."
"That's right." Xena snapped her fingers. "You guys did say you wanted to go."
"Is that okay?" Kathra batted her eyes. "You can go to the lake now that the girls are going."
Xena studied the grass. This morning, she had wanted to go, but now . . . "Mr. J.R. would kill me if I let you walk back to town by yourselves. I'll walk you guys there, and then I'll go. Just wait while I change my shoes."
"You're sister is nice. My sister probably doesn't even remember I was supposed to stay with her today." Abby rubbed her hands together. "She's going to get in so much trouble when I walk in the store without her."
"She'll probably just say she asked me to walk you guys." Xena took off her sneakers. "She's such a weasel." She removed her boots from her bag and pulled them on. As she did, she studied her legs. They were long and thin, but they didn't look like toothpicks . . . did they?
She groaned and tied her laces. If what Annie said was true, it was no wonder none of the guys wanted to date her.
© 2011 M.R. Anglin. Do not copy or redistribute without author's permission
A True Hero Preview
This was part of a project I wanted to undertake where I tracked my writing process from beginning to end. I started it at the beginning of the year and worked on it on and off (mostly off) until now. If you would like to see it, it's here: [link]
Anyway, this is a short story starring Xena after J.R. picked her up from Jelu but before she finds out she is a Silver Fox. I introduce some of her old friends here, like Jett. I love him so much. I wish he was in the series, but he moved before all the Silver Foxes drama happened. I think he would have stuck with her had he been there, but he wasn't, so Xena was all alone.
© 2011 M.R. Anglin. Don't Steal; Xena's so happy here.
Please don't distribute this unless you distribute the entire project (the link is in the description) without removing the copyright info.
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