5: Suit Up
Cinnamon perched on the bench, pulling her scarf tighter around her neck and bundling her lead in her lap, and watching in open frustration as Ian entered a shop without her. Huffing, her ears low, she looked up the long pedestrianised street, then down to where it converged with a trio of others in a large, roughly hexagonal space, and froze.
A giant mouse had stepped into view. It walked upright on sturdily digitigrade legs with broad feet, was easily as tall as Ian, if not a little taller, and had plush fur in three distinct shades of blue, a long, curling, white-tipped tail, a big, round, shiny blue nose, huge, oddly motionless eyes and ears like radar dishes.
The cat's first reaction was to shy away, ears flattening, even shifting further along the bench, but then she realised no-one else was scared of them. Most people ignored the mouse, or just stared at it amused, while a few, mostly children, actually interacted with it, hugging it and patting it. There was also, she noticed, something a little forlorn about it, mostly in the way it seemed to be looking for something.
Then it saw her, freezing much like she had, before its paws went to its mouth and it did a giddy little dance on the spot. It started towards her, a comically waddling gait, paws outstretched, and she felt an urge to bolt into the store after Ian, AnthroPet ban be damned. When it got close enough, though, it finally dawned on her it was a suit, a costume, which meant there was a human inside. This was both relieving and a little confounding. Why, she wondered, would you want to dress up as a giant blue mouse and wander around in public?
Cin still felt a little trepidation as it reached the bench, but it made no attempt to touch her, just stood with its paws on its muzzle again. She spotted a pack on its back.
Then it spoke, in a brightly feminine American accent. "I don't believe it! An actual, real AnthroPet! I-I never thought I'd ever get to see one myself. Oh, you're so beautiful!"
Cin blushed, feeling incredibly awkward. "And I never thought I'd be gushed over by someone dressed as a giant blue mouse. Weird kinda day, all round."
The mouse giggled. "Oh, sorry! Getting carried away." She sat down beside the cat, tail curled up in her lap. "Never heard of furries?"
Cin shook her head.
"Well, a furry is a fan of anthropomorphic animals, ones that walk and talk and the like. We write about them, draw about them, role-play as them and even," she gave a chuckle, spreading her arms, "dress up as them, in fursuits. Knowing that, I hope you can understand why it's so exciting to come across a, well, a real furry like you."
Cin laughed softly, increasingly charmed by the mouse, in spite of a lingering bemusement. "Fair enough. Why suit up in public, though?"
"Because it's fun; you get great reactions." Her head sagged. "At least, it's fun when your handler doesn't ditch you."
"Someone who looks after you. Not great visibility in here, and it can be pretty awkward to move. Also, there's always that one kid that just loves to yank your tail..."
Cin grimaced, almost hissing. "Yeah, I hate that. They're not bloody bell-pulls."
"Ooh, yes." Sympathy filled the mouse's voice. "Must be much worse for you. I can get mine stitched back on, but..."
"Hard to do that with mine." A little impulsively, the cat stuck out her hand. "I'm Cinnamon. Cin or Cinna to my friends."
"Call me Lapis, as in the stone." The mouse's paw engulfed the cat's hand, lightly squeezing and shaking it. "Pleased to meet ya!" She tilted her head. "Mind if I ask where your owner is?"
"In there." Cin nodded toward the relevant shop. "They don't let pets in, so I'm stuck here 'til he's done, which'll likely be a while."
"Ah." Lapis fiddled her paws. "What if I were to keep you company?"
The cat smiled. "I think I'd like that. We can look out for each other."
The mouse nodded, ears waggling. "Maybe Eric will come back."
"Do they make a habit of ditching you?"
"This is the..." Lapis paused. "Third time. I honestly don't know why I keep asking them."
"Any other choices?"
"There's Jan, but...they're always so busy, and, well...they don't know I'm a furry, and...and I'm scared they won't take it well..."
Cin was sympathetic. "They might think it's silly? Childish?"
"Or worse: perverted." Lapis shuddered faintly. "People have all kinds of funny ideas about furries."
"And what makes you think they will?"
"Because it'd be just my awful luck."
"Are they a good friend?"
"Wonderful, which is why...why I don't want to risk losing them."
Cin patted their paw. "If they really are wonderful, you won't." Feline ears perked, and she looked round to see a little boy staring at them in great excitement. "I think we're about to have company."
The cat pointed. The mouse waved cheerfully at the boy, who giggled and waved back. With encouragement from his father, he trotted over and reached for Lapis. She hugged him gently, chittering amiably and twitching her head in a manner very reminiscent of another mouse Cin knew, and posed with him for a photo taken by the father.
Then he moved to Cin, treating her with just as much enthusiasm, his eyes shining. Following the mouse's lead the cat lightly embraced the boy, mewed cheerfully, nudged his forehead with her nose which got a flurry of giggling, and posed for another photo. The father and the boy thanked both of them before leaving, the latter chattering excitedly.
Cin watched on, laughing. "I'm starting to see the appeal! Maybe he thought I was a suiter, too?"
"Or maybe he just thought you're cute." Lapis brushed the cat's nose with a big, soft paw. "You want to walk around a bit?"
Cinna glanced at the shop, then nodded. "Ian won't mind. You'll have to hold my lead, though."
"Hee! There's an image. A mouse walking a cat."
They stood together, Lapis taking Cin's lead in paw, then strolled along the street, heading for the hexagon. Quite a number of people reacted to the incongruous pair, to the point a crowd started to gather around them, smiling, laughing and taking pictures. For the most part Cin was able to manage them easily, only needing to hiss warningly at one or two who thought creeping up behind Lapis was a good idea.
A wannabe tail-yanker was warned away with particular vigour, and a grabby girl who tried to pry the mouse's nose off was shepherded back to her mother and told to kindly keep away. Another girl, a little scrap of wide, wondrous eyes and delicate hands, stole both their hearts, to the point they took turns giving her piggy-back rides.
After about twenty minutes Cin noticed Lapis was starting to flag, and suggested they return to the bench. Once sitting there the mouse took off her pack, pulling from it a bottle of water with a sports cap, shoving that into her muzzle and taking several deep draughts. Then she gave one of the longest sighs Cin had ever heard.
"Suiting's hot work. But fun."
The cat nodded happily. "That was great!"
"Think your owner will let you do it again?"
"We can but ask. He should be back any minute." Cinna looked to the shop, but saw no sign of Ian. She did, however, see a tall, blonde man staring at them in a mixture of confusion, disbelief and something else she couldn't identify. She called out to them. "Can we help?"
They stepped closer. Lapis noticed, and started breathing erratically, her paws wringing.
"Leslie?" the man asked, in a soft Teutonic accent. "Is that you?"
The mouse didn't reply, looking down.
The man very gently lifted her head, and peered into her muzzle. "It is you! Of all the things..."
"J-Jan," Lapis stuttered. "I..."
"You're a fur too?! And you have a suit?" He was elated. "And you're Lapis?! How did I not know this? I've got photos of you!"
"Wait, what?" The mouse was utterly stupefied. "You mean you...?"
Cinna dissolved in laughter. "Oh, my claws and tail! All along!"
Lapis was suddenly laughing too, and hugging Jan tight. "Oh, my God, you're a furry, too. To think I..."
"Even if I wasn't, if I can accept you as trans, I can certainly accept you as a furry." Jan stroked her cheek.
The cat's head cocked. "Trans?"
"Just starting." Lapis leaned in, pulling her muzzle open so Cin could see a bespectacled, boyish but feminine face inside. "One other thing about furries: we don't follow the rules."
Cin giggled, and kissed the mouse's nose. "I hope it goes well."
"It will if I have anything to say about it," Jan averred. He offered his arm to Lapis. "If you'll permit, I'll be your escort from now on."
The mouse stood and accepted the offer. "I'd be delighted. Thank you so much for looking after me, Cin."
"It was a pleasure," the cat assured her. "Hope I see you again."
Jan jotted something down on a piece of paper and handed it to her with a smile. "Our emails. Keep in touch."
"Happily!" Cin clasped it tight.
She watched as the giant blue mouse and the blonde man walked off arm-in-arm, shaking her head lightly.
Ian appeared by her side, following her gaze. "Friends of yours?"
He ruffled her ears. "What is it with you and mice, lately?"
Cinna smiled like she ought to have been living in Wonderland. "Just lucky, I guess."