I started work on the next book in the Tail and Claw series. I don’t have much to share right now but this short story will introduce a new character you’ll see a lot more of.
This has not been professionally edited and, honestly, I suck at spotting typos. The usual warnings of typos apply. You’re gonna find them.
First Date: Merit and Kalini
Slice of Life Short Story
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
Clarity pounded down the stairs.
“No,” Merit said.
She sighed dramatically and stomped back upstairs. Ten minutes later, she returned wearing a knee-length ivory sweater dress, white knee-high boots and a bright blue scarf draped artistically over her shoulders. Her amber skin glowed against the ivory, including the good four inches from the top of the boots to her mid-thigh.
“No,” Merit repeated.
“Why? I have literally nothing else to wear!” Clarity flattened her ears and stomped a foot.
Kal placed a placating hand on Merit’s arm. “You look smart, love, but it’s rather cold. We’re worried that you’ll regret the dress.”
“But I like this dress.” Clarity glared and tugged at the hem.
“It’s a good frock,” Kal agreed. It flattered Clarity’s tall, lean frame. “How about a pair of tights underneath? That will keep your legs nice and warm.” And take her thighs off display.
But Kal kept that thought to herself.
“Fine,” Clarity said, rolling her eyes dramatically only the way fifteen years old could.
Kal sighed, giving Merit’s arm a squeeze. “Tea, I think. Have a seat while I put the kettle on.”
“I do not want to,” he grumbled. “And I do not want Clarity to be dating.” He said the word with disgust, like he needed to rinse out his mouth.
“It’s a school function.” Weeks they had to prepare Merit for the winter carnival, and he was not taking it well.
“Nearly sixteen,” Kal said.
“And her date is fourteen! Why would his parents allow this?”
Kal pulled down a tin of shortbread biscuits and set them on a plate. “She’s growing up.”
“I do not like it.” Merit crossed his arms, tail lashing viciously behind him.
Kal turned her attention to setting out the milk and sugar to hide her smile. Clarity would always be Merit’s little girl.
Static crackled over the baby monitor on the counter. Kal and Merit held their breath. A thin wail came through.
“I will tend to her,” Merit said, pushing himself off the chair.
“I’ll warm up some milk.” Kal set out a pan and retrieved a carton of nut milk from the cooling unit. Adding a bit of butter, honey, cinnamon, ginger and tumeric, she recreated the golden milk her mother made for bedtime. As a child, Kal fought bedtime with a passion. She distinctly remembered being five or six and creeping out of bed, convinced her parents saved all the fun activities for after her bedtime.
Turned out, all those fun activities were folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen and watching programs with cursing. Hardly the scandal young Kalini suspected.
Felicity was much the same way, fighting sleep every night and waking easily. She wanted to be where the action was, so to speak, and to play all night. Her little kit would grow sleepy, slump over, wake herself up, and bash her toys together until the process repeated.
Merit appeared with a squirming Felicity in his arms. Groggy and cranky, her little fingers clawed at Merit’s face, trying to climb her father.
Kal kissed the toddler’s head, relishing the warm sleepy scent of her baby.
Her sweet kit.
She poured out the tea for the adults and filled Felicity’s sippy cup.
“No!” Tiny kit hands batted away the cup.
“Suit yourself,” Kal said, adding milk and sugar to her tea.
“Mamma!” Felicity attempted to climb from Merit’s lap to the table, reaching for her cup.
“Spoiled,” Merit tutted, even as he handed her the cup.
Clarity reemerged, wearing bright blue tights under her dress. “Does this meet your modesty standards?” she asked, sarcasm thick in her voice, complete with a little curtsey. Somehow she made that sarcastic, as well.
“Do you mean will your legs freeze? That will do,” Kal said, immune to the teen’s wildly enthusiastic eye roll. She, personally, had no objections to the length of Clarity’s hemline, but the school held the winter carnival outside on school grounds. There would be a marquee with heaters, but the rides and games would be in the cold. She didn’t trust the teen to avoid frostbite.
“Who is this male? Why have we never met him?” Merit demanded. A stern look settled on his face which was only slightly ruined by Felicity pushing at his lips, whispering, “Daddy smile.”
Kal hid her grin behind her mug. “I think he should come in for introductions,” she said. More eye rolling from Clarity. “You know, friends of the family introduced my parents. Everyone got to meet the relations on the first date. We should at least know his name.”
“I told you. Zero is a new student. He and his dad live in that big house at the end of–”
The doorbell rang.
“What kind of name is Zero?” Merit asked.
“What kind of name is Merit?” Clarity retorted.
Each bristled, ears flat and tail twitching, neither willing to back down.
The bell rang again.
“I’ll get it,” Kal said, leaving the two stubborn gits to their standoff. They’d sort themselves out.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Clarity said with a sigh. Merit immediately deflated. She knew how to play him. Since Kal’s pregnancy, Clarity announced that she would call Merit “dad” instead of uncle, so as not to confuse the kit. He melted like butter whenever she called him dad.
“I’m nervous,” she added. “Zero is really smart, and he’s been to these cool places.”
Kal opened the door to find an adolescent Tal male. He had a creamy complexion decorated with darker grey stripes and used a bit too much styling product in his hair. The scent of wax and nut oil rolled off him.
He held a wrist corsage in one hand and a note card in another. Looking completely out of sorts, Kal melted instantly for him.
“Good evening Mrs. Isteimlas, my name is Zero–” He dropped the card. “Shit. I mean, blast.” He scrambled to retrieve the card from the ground. “I mean, I don’t curse. Ha ha ha. Who said a swear? Not me.”
His ears went flat, a sure sign of his discomfort.
“Lovely to meet you, Zero. Please come inside,” Kal said, stepping aside. A vehicle sat in the drive. A shadowy figure sat behind the wheel. “Is someone driving? Would they like to come inside?”
Zero muttered that his father didn’t like people. He was driving them to the carnival.
Clarity rushed in, a wide grin on her face. Merit lurked behind her, mirroring the grin with a scowl. Again, the sleepy toddler curled in his arms ruined the menacing effect, especially as a fair amount of golden milk had spilled down the front of his shirt.
Zero practically lit as he took a step to Clarity, thrusting out the card and wrist corsage. Merit growled. Literally growled.
Zero paled and took a step back. Clutching the corsage, Clarity hustled to his side and glared at her uncle.
“Good evening, Mr. Isteimlas,” Zero said. He checked his card. “My name is Zero. You have a lovely home,” he read. He looked up from the card to scan the room, as if to verify that statement, then nodded. “Yes. Is there a curfew I need to be aware of.” He flipped the card over. “Question mark? Oh, that was a question.”
Merit paced around the young couple. “He’s short.”
“You’re short,” Clarity retorted, at the top of her sass game.
“The average Tal male continues to grow until the twentieth year,” Zero said, clearly more at ease citing facts that making small talk with the parents.
Kal had to admit that Clarity and Zero made an odd couple with her a good head taller than her date. They fitted uncomfortably under the parental scrutiny, as if keenly aware of each other and trying to pretend they weren’t balls of hormones.
Bollocks. She sounded as bad as Merit.
“If I allow this,” Merit said, “you must agree to rules of conduct.”
“I already did. Don’t be weird. You said you wouldn’t be weird,” Clarity muttered.
“No touching. No dancing. No kissing until you’re sixteen. Scratch that, eighteen,” he amended, as if suddenly remembering that Clarity would be sixteen before long. “No. Thirty. I’m sorry, Clarity, that’s just the way it is.” Merit folded his arms over his chest, completely off his nut.
Zero nodded, ears flat and looking like he wanted to sink into the floor. Clarity stomped her foot. “That’s not fair! You don’t have these rules for Dare. It’s because I’m a female and you don’t trust me.”
“Dare does not date,” Merit said, completely bypassing the little truth that his overprotective behavior was exactly because she was his little girl, his Short Tail.
“Ha! He goes out all the time. He’s a total slapper.”
Kal felt proud that Clarity picked up an obvious slang word from her and equally shocked because it was rather rude. “Home by ten. Call if you need a ride. Lovely meeting you, Zero,” she said, pushing them out the door.
Kal and Merit stood by the front window until the vehicle departed. She turned to the love of her life and said, “Good job keeping calm.”
“I know you are teasing,” he said. “Dare dates? When did they grow up?”
The excitement woke Felicity, who watched her parents with keen eyes. It’d be ages before she calmed down enough for sleep. Kal took her daughter and settled down on the rocking chair in the corner. The gentle motion usually did the trick.
“In the big and small moments and all moments in between,” she said, rubbing the toddler’s back.
He crouched at her feet, observing mother and child. “How terrible was I?”
“Dreadful,” she admitted, but not as bad as she feared. She kept that bit to herself. One lazy hand stroked the soft skin of his ears. He relaxed into her touch. Felicity purred.
Eventually he stirred. “How did your family deal with dating?” He said the last word as if it tasted bitter in his mouth.
“Funny story. I believe when my parents first met, their entire family was there. Mum said she expected my dad, obviously, and his parents. What she got was his parents, all the aunties and cousins. The room was packed and here Mum showed up with just her parents.”
Merit nodded, as if that made sense to him. “Obviously it went well.”
“It did not,” she blurted. “Mum says she couldn’t get a word in edge-wise and she decided that she wanted nothing to do with my dad and his controlling family.” She raised a brow at Merit. He nodded along, oblivious. “They didn’t meet again for months until they bumped into each other at the market. Without his family there talking over them, Mum realized that Dad was a very patient man, and she liked that.”
“I like your family’s method. For the next date, we will all be present and interrogate this Zero.” He continued to nod, as if that was a marvellous idea or even close to what she had said.
Kalini sighed. Felicity made sleepy noises. “You need to relax, love. The harder you push for Clarity not to do something, the more she’ll be determined to do it. Someone learned how to be stubborn.”
“Which she learned from you.” Merit rose to his feet, kissing her forehead before he brushed his cheek to hers.
Merit paced the length of the house. He tried to distract himself with a book, but that failed. He could not sit still long enough for meditation, and the tea that Kalini preferred left him feeling jittery.
His Short Tail was out… with a scrawny little male.
When Clarity had asked permission to attend the Winter Carnival with a friend, he had thought nothing of it. Clarity had almost been amiable and had grown into a social creature. She was always talking to her friends or about her friends. The constant stream of chatter became the soundtrack to every breakfast and dinner.
Merit enjoyed it, listening to Clarity recount amusing banter or complain about her adolescent woes. Then he noticed a name reoccurring, more than the other names. Zero. His enjoyment diminished when he realized that this Zero was something more than a mere friend.
Merit was not so old that he did not remember what it was to be that age, to have a rapidly changing body filled with hormones and the excitement of discovering everything. He also remembered what it was to be a hormone riddled adolescent male.
He did not trust this Zero.
And it was a ridiculous name. He didn’t care what Clarity said.
The back door opened. Merit pounced on Dare, freshly returned from his shift at the cafe. The male smelled of grease and sweat.
“I have a task for you.” Merit turned Dare around and pointed him to the door.
Dare was not amused. “I worked a long shift and I need a shower. Can it wait until morning?”
“Absolutely not. Your sister is out on a date with an unknown male.” Merit’s tail lashed behind him.
“Zero? He’s cool. Took him forever to work up the nerve to ask Clarity. Good for him.”
Good for him…
Dare’s betrayal stabbed Merit in the heart. “Are you not concerned about your sister? Why did you not warn him off? Or warned me when we could have done something about this Zero?”
Dare rolled his eyes, and Merit’s patience vanished.
“And what do I hear about you courting a female?” Merit strode forward, finger poking Dare in the chest.
His nephew met his gaze. When had he grown as tall as Merit? “I’m not courting anyone and I didn’t think I had to tattle whenever someone wanted to be Clarity’s friend.”
This Zero did not want to be Clarity’s friend. Merit did not know how to make Dare see the threat in that.
“As the elder brother, it’s your responsibility to watch over your sister. Keep away bad influences.” And adolescent males.
Dare’s tail swished from side to side, enjoying himself. He selected a fruit from the bowl on the counter. “Is Zero one of these bad influences?”
“Yes,” Merit hissed.
“Uncle Merit, I think you’re overreacting.”
“That is what Kalini said,” he muttered. He was not overreacting. He was not.
Dare sighed. “Is she out past her curfew?”
“Not yet.” Merit glanced at the clock on the wall. As if summoned, Clarity walked through the front door. She held a plush blue creature that looked like nothing found in nature, under one arm.
“You didn’t have to wait up for me, Dad.” She shed her coat and winter gear, hanging the items on a hook by the door.
Merit prowled around her, sniffing the air. “He touched you.”
Her ears went forward, embarrassed. “It was a date.”
“You agreed to the rules. You agreed to no touching.”
“Relax. We didn’t even kiss.”
She was trying to kill him.
His Short Tail was an assassin, clearly. She waited for years, worming her way into his heart, his very soul, and positioned herself to the perfect blow.
“No!” His shout echoed through the house. “That is unacceptable. We will follow Kalini’s family. We will find a suitable friend for you and bring them here, where we can supervise. You may never be alone together, ever, and you will live here, in this house, forever. That is what her parents did, and that is what we will do.”
Clarity’s ear pulled back and her lip curled. “You can’t do that!”
“I can and will,” he growled.
“Are you going to lock me up forever?”
He liked that idea very much. “If I must.”
They stared at each other, their tails communicating more than their words. Dare watched them with amusement.
“Oi! If you wake up the baby, I will skin you and make slippers from your hide,” Kalini hissed as she came down the stairs. She tightened the silken belt on her robe. Her hair appeared delightfully mussed from sleep.
“Will you call the slippers a pair of Complaining Cats?” Dare asked, his tail swaying. He munched into the crisp fruit.
“I was thinking Tetchy Tals, actually.” Kalini’s dry reply made Dare snort.
“I am so pleased that Clarity and I amuse you,” Merit muttered.
Kalini ignored his grumbling and took Clarity’s free hand. The kit visibly relaxed. “Did you have a good time?”
Clarity nodded. “Zero is hilarious. And he has terrible aim. He tried to win me this,” she held up the stuffed blue creature, “but it took him forever, so I got it.”
“Lovely. I’m glad you had a splendid time and thank you for being back by curfew. You know Merit worries.”
“I know,” she mumbled.
“And Merit misunderstood what I said about how my parents met. I think we should invite Zero and his father?” She paused until Clarity nodded. “Invite Zero and his father over for dinner, so we can get to know them.”
“But why? You don’t make Dare do that. It’s not fair.”
Kalini glanced in Merit’s direction. “Perhaps. Dare hasn’t really told us about his friends and whatnot, but we do want to meet your friend. And Dare’s.”
Dare groaned. “I don’t date. When do I have time? When Aunt Amity is staring over my shoulder while I cook? When I’m watching Felicity? Maybe I do it in my sleep, because that’s the only free time I have.” He tossed the fruit core into the trash. “Speaking of. As much as I enjoy the family drama, I need to sleep. Good night.”
Clarity rolled her eyes. “All the females come into the cafe to stare at you.” She gave a dramatic sigh and pressed a hand to her forehead. “Oh, Dare. So aloof. Swoon—”
Dare rolled his eyes but gave his sister a good-natured bump on the shoulder as he passed.
Merit did not like the idea of females sighing and swooning over dare, either.
Silence fell between Clarity, Kalini and himself. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “We’ll talk in the morning and you can tell us all about your not-date with your just-a-friend. Good night, Short Tail.”
Clarity nodded. She made it halfway up the stairs before running back down. To his surprise, she rubbed her face against his. “Good night, Dad. I know you’re only overreacting because you love me.”
Kalini remained silent until Clarity disappeared behind her bedroom door. “Come on, love. Let’s go to bed,” she said, leading him up the stairs. The sound of a running shower was the only noise.
“I overreacted,” he said.
“A tad.” His ears pressed forward, not enjoying the smirk on his mate’s face. She sighed and shed the robe, revealing the thin white cotton nightgown. “It could have been worse, I suppose.”
“They are growing up.” Merit disliked the idea. Dare had already finished school and would either go away to train at a culinary school or move into his own domicile. Clarity seemed to have grown from his Short Tail into a young female overnight. Felicity’s clumsy first steps were a distant memory. Every day she grew taller and gained more skills. Before he knew it, he would sit on the bed having the exact same conversation with his mate about Felicity’s first date. “Why do they have to grow up? They should stay this age forever.”
“I bloody well hope not. Felicity is exhausting at this age,” Kalini said, climbing into bed. The fabric hiked up, offering a delicious glimpse of her thigh. Over the years, her body had changed from time and from bearing their kit.
Kalini caught him staring. “What?” she asked, a sly smile on her face.
He loved the changes in her body because those changes were a testament of the life they created together. He adored the softness in her stomach and the striation markings that their kit left as she grew.
He had the best idea.
Merit rolled to his knees and faced Kalini. “We should have another kit.”
She gave a soft, disbelieving laugh. “We agreed to not making important decisions when we’re sleep deprived.”
Yes. That had been a good idea with an infant kit in the house, but there was no decision to make. He knew what he wanted.
He moved to straddle her, trapping her between his arms. She smiled up at him. Her loose hair spilled across the pillow. “I am serious,” he said.
“I’m serious about sleep deprivation, too, but I’m not opposed to another kit,” she replied.
His mouth claimed hers. She yielded so sweetly to him. His blood heated.
She pulled away. “I’ll need to make an appointment with a doctor.”
“Agreed.” Her pregnancy had not been easy, from conception and every step along the way. Having medical supervision from the very start would be wise. “If it is not safe, I am content with our family.”
Her lips quirked up in that half-smile he found so entrancing. “We can start practicing, though.”
Words were not enough for the light that filled his heart, so he fell back to stating the obvious, “You carry my heart.”
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Who are these people? Why do they have tails?
Wife Wanted: Single Alien Dad Needs a Mate
Tragedy left Merit as the guardian to two young kits and he’s in over his head. He needs help. He has no time for romance and doesn’t think he needs it. He applies to Celestial Mates, willing to take the first available female, even a flat-faced, ugly human.
What he gets is a woman whose mind challenges him and patience humbles him.
He brought her to his planet under false pretenses. Now he hopes he can make it right before she leaves for good.
This is a stand-alone story with a growly, sweet alpha, one stubborn human woman, a HEA, no cheating and no cliffhangers.
Did you enjoy the short? Tell me what you think.