Claire walked down the streets of New York City, watching all of the different people shuffle past. So many different faces and stories.
She took in each person’s face, the way they walked, how they talked and communicated with those around them. She also admired the creatures that followed each and every person.
The redhead had no word to describe the multitude of creatures except for the name she gave them, soul animals. The label she’d dubbed them seemed appropriate in her mind, considering that each and every person had one, unique and original.
Occasionally, Claire noticed the creatures studying her, peeking at her seeing eyes from their places, perched on one man’s shoulder, coiled around a child’s arm, flying in the air next to an old woman. However, try as she might, none would make any move to interact with her.
Soul animals of friends she’d known for years, and even close family members, had never acknowledged her presence more than they might anyone else’s.
And that was fine, Claire supposed. It wouldn’t exactly be easy for her to communicate with the soul creatures without looking crazy, as she’d checked multiple times to make sure no one else saw them.
But they were just so fascinating.
Claire had found a place to people watch at an outdoor café table, ankles crossed, head resting gently in the palm of her hand.
She studied the animals traveling by, soaking in all of the details.
A large cat-like creature paced along next to a man in a business suit, blue fur glistening in the late afternoon sun, forked tail swishing behind it.
There was a curious looking puff shaped creature, floating slowly along after a woman pushing a stroller. It was the baby’s, Claire guessed, noticing something curled around the lady’s bicep.
While soul animals moved on and around their person, they rarely seemed to come into purposeful contact with anyone else. It was strange really. From what she’d seen, the only creatures that interacted with multiple people were those that were extremely close. A pair of twins she’d known in college were constantly swapping possession of their animals.
A flash caught the redhead’s eye, and she turned to watch a metallic centipede clickclack by, wispy tendrils running down the center of its back.
There was a gentle rustling in her shirt that caused Claire to look down. She smiled softly at the face that looked up at her.
Lara, as Claire called her, was the redhead’s soul animal.
The redhead slid a slender finger down her creature’s back, scratching lightly at the mix of dark olive feathers and silky fur between folded wings.
Lara stretched her wings and shook them lightly, crawling out of the woman’s tank top to curl around her shoulders, her long tail curling around Claire’s torso several times.
Claire thought her soul animal could be accurately described as a winged feline, with green feathers and a dark emerald coat. However, her features were all elongated, and her feathered tail was prehensile and close to five feet long.
Claire rubbed the underside of Lara’s jaw idly, the fingers of her left hand already twined in the ends of her creature’s tail.
A large tiger strutted by, following closely by the side of its person.
Claire’s brow furrowed slightly.
The redhead jumped up from her chair quickly, straining her neck to try and find a glimpse of the woman and her tiger, both of whom had quickly disappeared into the crowds.
A flash of orange and black swishing next to brown hair. They disappeared around a corner.
Claire dashed down the street, jostling people and animals alike as she fought to catch up to the woman with brown curly hair, the one whose hand had strayed from her side to run down the back of the large cat walking next to her.
She whipped around the corner, Lara’s wings furrowing along with a tensing of her tail to prevent her from falling from Claire’s shoulders.
Walking slowly down the nearly empty street was the woman with curly brown hair standing next to… nothing. The woman’s soul animal was curled around her neck and head, with its serpentine head resting on blue, scaly coils of muscle.
The redhead took a few steps forward, not quite believing that the one person who may have been able to see like she did was gone.
But the woman in front of her had no tiger. And for as long as Claire had been studying people’s creatures, she’d never seen someone with multiple creatures, or one with a creature who changed shape.
Claire continued slowly down the street with her head down. It didn’t really matter where she went, ‘cause the whole purpose of her outing today had been to people watch. Well, really to watch their soul animals.
The redhead sullenly watched her feet moving down the concrete walkway, boots scuffing along the ground. Lara nuzzled her face into strawberry hair, trying to comfort her person.
She nearly ran into someone stopped in front of her, the backs of black converse being the only thing preventing a collision.
Claire looked up to move around the disappointment in front of her, but froze when she came face to face with… a bird.
She stumbled back a step and fell backwards onto the ground, the noise causing the brunette in front of her, a large predatory bird perched on her shoulder, to turn around.
Said brunette promptly froze when she faced Claire, wide eyes locked on the feline face hovering protectively next to the downed redhead, who was herself also frozen, eyes locked on the large falcon-like bird that she was sure, not a minute ago, was a bioluminescent blue dragon creature.
“You…” Claire licked her suddenly dried lips and tried again. “Your-“
“What is that on your shoulders?”
Claire’s eyes locked with those of the woman looming over her and scrunched up her nose in confusion. “You mean you can’t see them? I mean, besides mine.”
The brunette brushed her fringe out of her eyes. “What do you mean them? And…” Red tinged the woman’s cheeks. Claire watched raptly as the falcon appeared to melt into the dragon before it wrapped itself around the brunette’s head again. “Could I pet her?”
Claire burst out laughing, the tension of the situation hitting her at the innocent question, until she abruptly stopped when a dark thought slipped into her mind.
Claire made to stand up, accepting the hand of the woman in front of her when it was offered.
The brunette was surprisingly strong, and pulled Claire up with more power than she expected, causing her to stumble into the other woman, who blushed again.
The redhead eyed the woman. “You can’t see yours, can you?” It wasn’t really a question. Claire’s eyes sparked. “But you pet the tiger! How could you do that, without being able to see them?”
The brunette’s eyes widened. “You mean it’s there?” She looked excited all of a sudden, and her soul animal quickly melted into a tiger then shifted into a bipedal rabbit. It flashed through several more forms before twining around her arms as a cartoonish snake. She pointed at Claire. “You can see it?”
The redhead grinned at the other woman’s enthusiasm and nodded. “Yea.”
The brunette returned the expression and promptly stuck out her hand. “I’m Alice.”
Claire grasped her hand firmly and shook it once. “Claire.” She looked around and then back to the brunette standing in front of her. “Not to sound weird or anything, but would you like to go someplace more private?”
Alice seemed to realize that they were standing in the middle of the city and nodded quickly.
The two ended up walking back to the café Claire had been at earlier, finding a booth inside, tucked safely away in the corner.
Lara had ventured closer to the curious brunette stranger, halfway across the table with her tail wrapped up the length of her redhead’s right arm. A small kitten with wings, looking vaguely similar to herself, peered up at the creature and swatted playfully at Lara’s nose.
Claire chuckled at the two soul animals before turning her gaze back to Alice across from her, her gaze inquisitive.
The redhead stroked the fur coiled around her arm absentmindedly. “So you can… what, control the shape of your creature?” Her brows furrowed.
“Kinda, yea.” Alice pushed her hair out from in front of her right eye again. “When I think about it anyways.” She held out her hand and watched as her kitten crawled onto it.
Or I guess she can’t see it, Claire thought to herself. How terrible to know it’s there, to know what it looks like, but to not be able to confirm your animal’s presence.
The redhead threaded her fingers into the fur at the base of Lara’s spine to chase away the chill that had settled in her mind at the thought.
That reminded her.
Claire smiled softly at the brunette in front of her, who was currently smiling sadly at her soul animal. The tiny kitten nuzzled the woman’s palm.
The redhead cleared her throat slightly. “If it’s okay with Lara, I don’t mind.”
Alice looked up, confusion in her eyes.
“You can pet her, if you still want to.”
The brunette’s eyes widened and she looked to be holding a squeal of some kind.
Claire chuckled and nodded encouragingly at Lara, urging her to allow the other woman the comfort. She was given a look in return that clearly stated that Claire was stupid to think that the creature needed any sort of prodding.
Alice stretched out her hand tentatively, pausing as Lara sniffed at her delicately. The redhead grinned at the sight of a practically swooning Alice lightly scratching between her soul animal’s ears.
A shiver of pleasure ran down Claire’s back as her eyes rolled up into the back of her head. She could feel the brunette, as if she was the one being pet. Except it felt so much closer, so much more intimate than that.
Lara’s wings fanning into her face broke the redhead from her slight daze as the feline jumped back into her arms.
Claire opened her eyes to find Alice looking at her with an eyebrow raised and the corner of her mouth pulled up slightly. She blushed and dropped her head, her hair swinging in front of her face.
She peeked up through her hair to see the brunette grinning widely at her, holding back laughter.
She tucked her hair behind her left ear, still blushing but smiling slightly, looking up at Alice through her eyelashes. The brunette’s grin dimmed down, turning into a soft smile.
Hesitating slightly, Claire reached out across the table and started running her fingers over the back of the other woman’s hand where it rested on the table. She glanced up at Alice, noting the light flush to her cheeks, her eyes completely focused on their hands.
The redhead chuckled, but laced fingers together when the hand under her own flipped over.
At the sound of Claire’s amusement, Alice pouted playfully, before she froze suddenly.
Claire looked at the brunette confused. “Alice?” She followed the other woman’s stare to the kitten sitting on the table, wings tucked and eyes looking right back at Alice.
The redhead’s words seemed to break her from her frozen state and Alice began trying to speak.
“I– I…” The brunette looked at Claire and smiled tentatively. “I can see her.”
Claire’s face scrunched up before realization sunk in and she grinned happily. “That’s great!”
Both women turned to look at the little kitten who was now rubbing against Alice’s unoccupied hand, purr rumbling loudly.
Claire reached out her right arm from where it had been resting around Lara, but paused, hovering uncertainly over the middle of the table. She looked imploringly at Alice. “Could I?”
The brunette nodded vigorously once she realized what the redhead was asking, all but shoving the kitten lightly toward her offered hand.
The little white feline flicked her tail at her person before trotting over to Claire’s hand, gently rasping her tongue over one of the extended fingertips.
The redhead giggled and scratched at the underside of the kitten’s jaw, cooing when it curled closer to her for more attention.
Remembering her own reaction to Lara being pet, Claire looked at the woman sitting across from her and smirked, trailing her hand down the full length of the kitten’s back and tail, digging her nails in just enough to make the kitten purr loudly.
The grip on her left hand – which Claire had forgotten about – tightened and Alice emitted a strangled noise, her head falling to rest on the table.
Claire grinned victoriously and continued petting the small kitten, until it shifted under her fingertips, melting and growing into fox-like creature with two extra legs, fur the color of the ocean.
The creature nudged its head up under Claire’s hand, still intent on the redhead’s attention, and she began petting it again, rubbing lightly at its ears.
Was this the other woman’s soul animal’s true form?
The redhead decided she liked it. It kinda fit Alice’s personality, or what she’d seen of it. Somewhat shy, but curious, like a fox.
Claire continued to caress the soft fur of the creature sitting in front of her, running her fingers down its spine repetitively. The soul animal looked funny sitting down with six legs, the middle two bowed slightly out to the side, which made the redhead grin.
A waitress started to approach the table, causing Claire to subtly shift her right hand to Alice’s creature’s underbelly so as to continue discreetly petting it rather than stop altogether.
The redhead looked up at the waitress as she got closer, meeting her gaze.
The girl stopped by the edge of their table. “Can I start you ladies off with anything to drink?”
“Just a water for me please.” Claire turned to Alice, whose head had rolled to the side. She grinned at the sleeping brunette. Her gaze flicked back towards the waitress. “Her too.”
Claire chuckled as the girl left to fetch their drinks, smiling down at the slumbering Alice. Her fingers left the fox’s fur as she leaned forward, closer to the brunette.
“Alice.” The hand in her left twitched slightly. She tugged her left hand away and trailed the tips of her fingers up and down the other woman’s hand. “Alice,” Claire murmured. “Wake up.”
A sleepy groan was her only reply.
Claire leaned against her free hand, palm cupping her jaw, and continued running her fingers gently over Alice’s upturned palm and what was exposed of her arm.
The fingers beneath her twitched again, before capturing her hand, pulling it closer to the brunette. Blurry brown met amused green as Alice grumbled, still clutching Claire’s hand.
The redhead raised her eyebrow, smirk clear on her face.
Alice seemed to realize exactly where she was and what she had been doing, as she blushed profusely and sat up ramrod straight in her booth chair. Claire’s laughter only cause her to flush more, and she attempted to hide her face behind her hands only to find one was still occupied with the redhead’s, who grabbed it more firmly, lacing their fingers together again.
Claire grinned. “Hey yourself. How was your nap?”
Alice shuffled in her seat slightly before slumping, seeming to resign herself to being embarrassed constantly around the redhead.
Lara shifted in Claire’s lap, nudging her head against the redhead’s free hand.
Claire smiled down at her soul animal, scratching behind the feline’s ears obligingly. She pursed her lips as an thought occurred to her.
The redhead looked up. “Alice?”
Alice glanced up from where she’d been petting her own creature, seemingly fascinated with the six legged fox.
“What are you going to name her?”
The brunette continued running her fingers through her fox’s azure fur, her eyebrows furrowed in thought.
The waitress from earlier returned with their drinks, setting them on the table by the two’s entwined hands. She looked to Claire again. “Have you two decided what you’d like to order?”
The redhead smiled sheepishly at the waitress and glanced at the menu splayed on the table. “The hamburger is fine with me. With curly fries.”
Alice ordered a salad, claiming she’d already eaten lunch.
The women talked ‘til long after their food came and went.
The two walked down the empty sidewalk, clasped hands swinging between them. Lara was perched on Claire’s shoulder, her tail wrapped down the redhead’s arm and partially up Alice’s hand. Alice’s fox trotted along next to them, tail swishing back and forth.
Alice slowed to a stop, tugging on Claire hand lightly. “This is it.”
The redhead looked up at the apartment building in front of them. Her eyes met Alice’s again. “Would you like me to walk you up?”
She smiled shyly, fringe falling in front of her face in brown waves as she ducked her head, but nodded nonetheless.
Claire smiled warmly and led them up the steps, waiting as Alice opened the door. It was cool inside, lit brightly compared to the shine of the dying sun.
They walked over to the elevators and Claire pulled her hand away so she could lean against the wall while they waited for one to descend to the lobby. She crossed her legs and watched the other woman, who was currently shifting her soul animal into different shapes.
The redhead burst out laughing when the creature suddenly morphed into small black shape reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. The little creature glared up at Alice as she continued shifting it, each form comical and cartoonish. It darted behind Claire, peeking out a serpentine head.
Claire just chuckled. “Leave the poor thing alone, Alice.”
The brunette grinned, but turned toward the elevator when the doors dinged and opened.
They both stepped in. Alice hit the button for the third floor.
Tension slowly leaked into the air as the silence between them turned semi awkward, neither sure what they should say or do.
When the elevator came to a stop, Claire held the doors open and then followed the other woman out.
Alice scuffed her shoe on the ground when she stopped in front of her door. She looked up at Claire, who smiled. She returned the gesture and dug around in her back pocket for her key.
The loud snick of the lock turning seemed to pull the tension away.
“Would you like to come in?”
Claire thought about it for a minute before slowly shaking her head. “That’s alright. I should probably be getting home myself.”
Alice looked away to hide how her face fell at the redhead’s words.
Claire picked up on her mood anyways. “Hey.” The brunette turned back. “Give me your phone.”
Alice grinned and happily handed over the device after she unlocked it, rocking back on her heels excitedly.
Claire chuckled at the other woman’s palpable enthusiasm, but dutifully entered in her contact information. She handed back the phone, her fingers grazing the brunette’s.
Alice looked down at her phone, grin still firmly in place. She failed to notice the determined look in the redhead’s eyes however, as hands suddenly found their way to her shoulders and Claire’s face was centimeters from hers.
She stared into the forest of dark green before slowly leaning forward to close the gap, tilting her head ever so slightly.
Alice’s eyes slipped closed as long fingers slipped into the hair at the base of her neck. Her mind went blank at the feeling of soft lips on hers, the gentle waft of something just Claire flooding her senses, contrasting with the loud rushing of blood in her ears.
The brunette’s arms lifted of their own accord, one wrapping around to the redhead’s lower back while the other slipped further up to pull her closer.
She stumbled backwards slightly, tripping over the feet she didn’t realize were so close to her own.
Claire smirked as she pulled back, tugging lightly at the hair still in her grasp. She could see the other woman blush as her eyes opened, causing her smirk to grow.
The redhead stepped away slowly, grinning mischievously. “Call me sometime.”
More blood rushed to Alice’s face, even as she nodded furiously.
Claire laughed and turned to walk to the elevator, adding a little swing to her hips.
She waved, as the elevator doors started to close, to the frozen brunette, who had yet to take her eyes off of Claire.
Lara shook her wings from where she stood next to the redhead, reminding her of her soul animal’s presence.
She grinned down at the creature, affection clear in her expression. “She was quite the character, wasn’t she?”
The feline regarded her with knowing eyes, flicking her ears forward.
Claire faced the elevator doors again, mind still in a distracted whirlwind over the enigma that was Alice. How strange that the one person that catches Claire’s attention by being different could see her soul animal. Not to mention the fact that contact with said creature revealed the brunette’s soul animal to herself.
She smiled. I guess it’s just fate.
The doors dinged open to the lobby.
Claire walked through the building to the exit, one hand trailing behind her slightly as a silent invitation for Lara to take her usual spot on her shoulders.
Her soul animal simply pushed her nose into the palm of the redhead’s hand, continuing to trot alongside her.
As she stepped through the building’s doors into the cool night air, Claire’s phone vibrated.
She smiled when she didn’t recognize the number and answered it quickly. “Did you miss me already?”
Alice spluttered on the other end of the line.
She chuckled and waited for the other woman to speak.
“I just wanted to ask if you’d seen Rose.”
Claire’s eyebrows furrowed. “Who?”
“I decided to name her Rose.”
Ah. Her lips quirked at the strange name. Rose for the blue fox. The redhead looked at the ground, spinning around when it was clear that the creature wasn’t in front of her. The corner of her mouth quirked up when she spotted a small kitten hiding under Lara.
There was a brief pause. “Yea?”
“Next time you want an excuse to call me, keep in mind that Rose is normally a blue fox. Unless of course, you happen to shift her into a tiny cat so that she can hide.”
Claire grinned into the stunned silence.
The line went dead.
The redhead laughed as she watched the now large falcon leap into the air and fly up and away, before turning to walk home, Lara at her side.