Rage lumbered warily out of his room, trying to keep his face as passive as he could. His dormmates weren’t fooled. Marelda had told him that humans had a hard time reading werecreature faces, maybe they could see it in his eyes. Ted slumped his shoulders and sat on the arm of the sofa behind him. Max exhaled and said, “You can request a transfer if you want?”
Rage grit his teeth and oscillated his eyes between the two of them to avoid looking at Max/Xander too long, he didn’t know it made him look even more scared. “I don’t want a transfer,” he said.
“Good,” Max replied, relaxing slightly. “I know it’s a lot to digest, especially for someone who can smell spiritual energy, hear it, feel it, but like I said before, Xander isn’t a threat. If he was I wouldn’t be here.”
“How can the academy be sure?” Ted asked, creasing his brow and trying to look serious, his tight smile gave him away. “You are unique, no test subjects. All they have to go on is what you tell them.”
Max nodded and smiled back menacingly, at least Rage thought it looked menacing. Ted didn’t, his smile widened. “True,” Max said. “No one can be certain how much I got from Xander. His urges, perhaps? Now I’m in a school with many young fresh souls.”
Rage looked on in bewilderment as they cackled without him. He was certain Max had been trying to conciliate him just a second ago, then he and Ted did the complete opposite.
Something about Ted’s lack of concern settled him, even though he didn’t know what kind of ‘special psychic’ the emotionless boy was. “I’m sorry,” he said to Max, “to Xander too.”
Max shrugged. “It’s okay. As long as you’re not afraid of us, we’re good.”
“It won’t be easy for you, being here.”
Rage knew visiting a city for a month wasn’t enough for him to fully adjust to living among humans. “Why?” he asked anyway.
“Your sense of hearing. We’re on the fourth floor with another one above us.”
“In a dorm full of horny teenagers,” Ted added. “Good luck falling asleep at night.”
Max pointed left and right then up and down. “You’ll be able to hear them, getting busy.”
Rage pressed his lips, moved his ears backward, he looked down, and his tail froze in place almost horizontally.
“Is that the cat version of blushing?”
Rather than answer Max he said, “Darius told me I could sleep outside.”
Ted asked, “Your clan sleeps out in the open?”
Rage nodded. “You’ll still hear the screamers,” he pointed out.
Max punched him on the arm, a bit hard. “He needs to get laid, yesterday.”
Rage smiled nervously, unsure about how to contribute to the conversation, about sex. In his clan he wasn’t of age to mate yet, though he was interested in the subject.
“What do you mean?” Ted asked gruffly.
Max looked at him sidelong. “Xander is very old, he can read people. He deduced from our interactions before Rage arrived that you’re a virgin.”
“Really!” Ted yelped.
“No,” Max replied, snickering.
Ted paid him back with a punch of his own, even harder.
Rage wondered if he would one day be on the receiving end of one of those, and if he could reciprocate without causing serious damage. More often than not humans were more physically fragile than werecreatures of the same size.
Max rubbed his arm, still recovering from tricking Ted. He looked up at Rage and said, “We should get lunch.”
Ted frowned and took out his phone from his jeans. Looking at the screen he said, “It’s a little early.”
“True,” Max acknowledged. “That means the cafeteria won’t be full.”
“What do you think?” Ted asked Rage.
“I’m a little hungry,” Rage replied.
“Awesome,” Max said. He walked past Rage and led the way. They didn’t have to go far, the cafeteria was on the first floor. They went down by the stairs, the dorm didn’t have an elevator, and Rage was pleased with that.
As expected there weren’t too many people, and no line at the counter. Rage mimicked Max and Ted who took ceramic plates and walked down the counter while being served by two waitresses. He snarled at most of the food on display and kept his plate at a distance. There were some canine and a few grudging feline omnivores in his clan, he wasn’t interested.
He accepted a cheeseburger, not really planning to eat anything but the patty. Eyed with disdain a salad with bacon in it, and another one with chunks of chicken. When all seemed lost his lunch was saved by meatballs in a dark-reddish sauce. He happily held out his plate and watched with a smile as the waitress heaved on a generous helping of meatballs, and the sauce. She didn’t bat an eyelash at the extra-large serving until the sauce started dripping on Rage’s fingers, then she stopped.
The other two found some plastic cups and filled them with what smelled like orange juice. Rage was mindful of the balancing act he was performing to keep the meatballs from tumbling. He decided to wait until after the meal to have a drink.
They chose a table with three chairs, the human boys sat down comfortably. Rage could gauge that he couldn’t fit his girth between the arms so he pushed the chair away and went to another table to take a stool that had a similar orange-brown cushion to the chairs. The metallic feet gave him hope that they could hold his weight.
Max and Ted watched him keenly as he ate, maybe they had chosen an early lunch for this very reason. He liberated the patty from the cheeseburger, unfortunately the cheese was stuck, and it wouldn’t fall off when he shook it. He ate it all; the patty was delicious, he didn’t like the cheese, nor did he hate it.
What was it Marelda had told him about table manners? Humans didn’t like it when you had food all over your face, in the clan he’d just lick it off, they didn’t like that either, especially when it got too messy. He inhaled the meatballs using his hands, licking the sauce off his fingers.
They smiled at him after he had cleaned off the plate, it reassured him that he hadn’t done anything untoward. He stood and strolled to the bin to toss what was left of the cheeseburger, then sauntered to the counter to get more meatballs.
Without anything else on the plate to disrupt its form, the mountain of meatballs was enormous. Rage set it down on the table with a smile, an expression mirrored by the other boys who had yet to touch their food. He ignored them and attacked the mountain.
They contorted their faces to avoid laughing while watching the quickly disappearing food. With every scoop the mountain shrank until it disappeared completely. He left to get more food and heard his companions roaring with laughter.
When he returned Max said, “Man you have a monster appetite.”
Rage shrugged and ate some more, and finally, Max and Ted did the same.
The fact that they were eating together made Rage want to smile. He hadn’t aced meeting his dormmates, but at least it was behind him.
They ate in silence, until three girls stopped at their table, all looking apprehensively at Max.
“Hi, my name is Shana,” spoke the one in the middle.
Max touched her outstretched hand and she quickly pulled it away, then held it close to her face looking at it like it was radioactive and covering her mouth with the other hand. “I saw him,” she breathed.
Her friends looked at her with large eyes, then at Max. The one to her right said, “I’m Lexa.” Max glared at her. She pulled her hand away and explained, “We’re third-year mediumship students.” As an afterthought she added “Sorry.”
“Yes,” Shana replied. She pointed at Ted. “He has ethereal writing on him, like you, and the werelion’s a born mutant, not a made one, his soul looks like the hybrid, not a human and an animal.”
Max and Ted glanced at Rage who nodded. “His name is Roars with Rage,” Max told the girls. “The guy behind me is Ted. I’m Max.”
“It’s such an honour to meet you,” said the girl who hadn’t yet introduced herself.
“She’s Lily,” Shana offered. “Was that really Xander? Dark-skinned, greasy hair, no shirt, worn-out trousers.”
“Yes. Most people were peasants in his day.”
“What else?” Lexa asked Shana.
Shana grinned. “He’s also very tall, and has a six-pack.”
“Sorry for disturbing you and your friends,” Lily said. “Maybe some other time, when you’re not busy, we could have a séance.”
“Like trying to get Max to speak in Xander’s voice?” asked Ted.
Lily shook her head. “The four of us together holding hands so we can all communicate with Xander.”
Max smiled. “Sure.”
Rage watched Max and the girls exchange phone numbers. He had noticed that Max’s eyes tended to linger longest on Lily, Ted’s too. Perhaps Lily noticed as well. After the girls left, he asked, “You are famous?”
Max nodded. “A lot of people know of me, they just don’t know what I look like.”
Rage excused himself immediately after lunch. He had detected an irresistible smell from somewhere else on campus and needed to investigate. His nose led him to another cafeteria, it was half-full, and there was a line. He took a plate and went to wait at the back of the slow moving line.
The meatballs had filled him, and this cafeteria also had them; he barely noticed, his eyes zoomed in on a platter full of beef stew. He didn’t care for the potatoes, or the carrots, and whatever the green stuff was, he only wanted the beef. The clan had a policy of not farming anything that could become a member, so the carnivores had to do with rabbits and chickens, though very small people had shown that wererabbits were possible.
Now he knew the cafeterias didn’t all have the same menu.
He smiled widely at the waiter who tried to fill his plate with as much beef as possible and less of the other stuff. He thanked him and padded away happily to sit on a stool at an empty table.
Unlike with the meatballs he didn’t pile into the beef like he was in a race, he savoured it. Minotaur would’ve been offended with the noises he was making as he ate. He chewed slowly and images of cows danced in his mind. Slow, chubby, delicious; the thought of taking one down and devouring it all on his own made him purr with joy, and he would be able to afford it one day.
His tail wagged merrily behind him until it hit something, causing him to open his eyes and look to his left. A young man now stood there, about a foot away in a stance that looked like he could scram at any second.
“Hi,” he said, raising a hand momentarily.
“Hi,” Rage replied. He kept the annoyance out of his voice.
“My friends and I saw you eating and thought we could offer you some dessert.”
Rage had seen desserts, he wasn’t a fan. He looked at the table where the young man had pointed, the three friends were watching. He took the proffered chocolate and the young man scurried away to his table. It smelled awful.
The four were looking at him. He wanted to make friends and not offend anyone, though throwing the chocolate away when they weren’t looking was his preferred option. He sighed, unwrapped it, toasted them and threw it in his mouth.