I wanted to wait a little while before I started working on this, but the weather has a way of affecting everything we do. For instance, I woke up this morning to find that sometime between 0200 hrs and 0600, half a foot of snow was dumped on my lovely little southern town. As a result: work was canceled! That's right, kiddies; adults get snow days too. After spending the better part of my morning between playing in the snow with my dogs and trekking around town with my camera (there is nothing more beautiful than Antebellum Era homes, railroad crossings, and old churches covered in snow, by the way), I've decided to get started on the second installment of my Prodigy series. Now, as I've said numerous times in the past, I don't own a cotton-pickin' thing. Enjoy.

Chance was busy signing some important form or another when the noise associated with a missile lock warning began blaring loudly from Jake's pocket.

"Didn't I tell you to turn the volume down on that?" Chance scolded without looking up while several other annoyed eyes burned into the teen, who was currently trying to get it out of his pocket.

"I forgot." Jake quickly mashed a button to silence it before opening up the new text message he'd received.

"Donde esta la Mary Jane?"

Jake stared blankly at it in confusion before replying. "IDK what u jst said. Ask Spider-kat." Mere seconds after the response was sent he was rewarded with a generic polyphonic tone right in his ear. It wasn't often that anyone could sneak up on Jake, but he found himself trying to smooth down his suddenly standing fur as he turned to see who'd scared two of his lives right off him. "Jason?"

"What's up, kat?" Jason laughed, holding out his paw for their customer paw-slap-turned-shake.

Jake shook his head. It almost didn't look like his friend. "Your glasses are gone."

"Yeah. My grandmother let me get contacts."

"And you're taller than me." Jake pouted.

"It's okay." Jason patted him on the cheek. "We all know you're just a late bloomer."

"Screw you." Jake teased. In truth, he'd added a couple inches to his height somewhere over the summer, but nothing like his friend. "Did she not feed you? You look like a holocaust victim."

"That's not even funny, Jake." Chance scolded again without looking up from what he was doing.

"Yeah. No. It isn't." Jake made a face. "Where's your mom?"

"Over there doing this whole 'sending us back to the death camps' thing." Jason smirked, playing off of his friend's ill-placed joke.

This time, Chance turned and shot Jason a glare that would have made his mother proud.

"Wow. He's getting good at that." Jason whispered.

"He had a whole summer to practice." Jake added.

"JAKE!" A high pitched squeal came from somewhere in the line of parents and teenagers, and a small chubby she-kitten came running at him, full speed.

"Lucy!" Jake managed as she slammed into his leg and hugged him around the waist.

"You're gonna be in the 10th grade with my brother?" She asked, her black eyes wide as saucers.

"I am." Jake suppressed a grunt as he picked her up, still sore from a week of scrimmages and practicing. "And you're going to be..."

"I'm staring first grade." She held up one claw proudly. "Mommy says I have to ride the bus like Jason now."

"Lucy!" Ofelia scolded, her heels clicking against the tiled floor of the cafeteria where registration was being held. "I'm sorry, Jake. She just couldn't wait to see you. Where's..." She turned and smiled as Chance approached them. "Chance. How are you, dear?"

"Just fine, Ms. Felino." Chance smiled.

"It's Black. After everything that happened with their father..." The words dripped like acid. "I couldn't bear the association. How was your summer? Did Jake stay out of trouble?"

"Relatively." Chance smirked. "It was good. What about Jason?"

Ofelia laughed. "Well his grandmother said they were perfect angels, but I know she probably just let them do whatever they wanted for the last two and a half months."

"No doubt." Chance laughed and gave Jason a good looking-over. "Jeez, you did get skinny."

"You all act like I was the fat kid before." Jason glared.

"You were kind of fat." Lucy said seriously.

"Shut up." Jason hissed.

"Jason. Don't start. She's only six." Ofelia sighed. "We need to get going. It was good to see you two again."

Jake couldn't help the wince as he let Lucy down. Football practice was a drastic difference from his usual workout routine. Jujitsu against a practice dummy and sparring with Chance apparently didn't work as many muscles as he'd once thought. "What else do we have left to do?" Jake asked.

Chance held up the new schedule. "You need to go by your first semester classes and get your supply lists. And then probably figure out where your locker is so you'll already know ahead of time."

Jake took the schedule from Chance. "First I need to figure out where my English class is so I can turn in these essays and find out when I have that test." He frowned when he realized he didn't have Advanced English II until the second semester. For the first semester, he was starting his day with Advanced BiologyII, followed by Advanced Algebra I-II-combined, Honors Music, and, finally, German II. "Jeez," Jake groaned. "Algebra I-II combined? That's like two years of math crammed into one semester."

"Yeah but it's two years of math you've already learned. So it's probably a good thing." Chance pointed out.

"Right. Well, English is that way." Jake pointed. "So let's just get this turned in and then figure out what I need to get."

His eventual English teacher's name was Lyon. Jake rolled it around in his mind, trying to figure out how it was pronounced. He didn't want to offend her by calling her 'Mrs. Lion'. The door was open when he and Chance got there, with a note inviting students in. Jake was taken aback by the large, muscular tom with a bushy mane of a beard and golden fur.

"Good afternoon." He said in a deep growl of a voice as he stood up and walked towards them. Even Chance felt a little intimidated by the tom's stature. "I am Mr. Lyon." It was pronounced 'Lee Ohn'. "You're here to turn in your summer reading project, I presume."

"R-" Jake paused to clear his throat. "Right." He handed his perfectly prepared essays over to the teacher.

"Oh very nice." He purred, taking a moment to find the student's name. "Jacob Furlong." His bearded mouth curled up into a smile. "The Enforcer. Mrs. Klim and I had a lengthy discussion about you when I discovered you would be in my class next semester. I will be extra thorough in grading your work."

Jake was finding it hard to maintain a pleasant expression.

"When will I be required to take the..."

"The exam related to your summer reading?" Mr. Lyon interrupted. "First thing next semester. I hope you took notes. You won't be seeing these again until then."

"But I was under the impression that the test would be before the start of the new school year." Jake frowned.

"Some of the other.." Mr. Lyon chuckled and made air quotes as he spoke. " 'Advanced English' teachers feel that it's easier on the students to test them while it's still fresh in their minds." He shook his head. "My opinions differ. If you're in my Advanced English class, then I expect you to retain the knowledge indefinitely."

"Okay then." Jake cleared his throat. "I guess that's it. See you in January."

"I look forward to it." Mr. Lyon's smile was almost menacing.

"Jake," Chance said as soon as they were out of the room and out of ear shot. "I want you to know that I mean this wholeheartedly when I say 'sucks for you'."

Jake was visibly deflated. "That might be putting it mildly." He took a deep breath. "At least I have copies of my work. And I did take notes. So I should be okay. I can't help but feel like I'm being set up for failure, though." Jake pulled his schedule back out of his pocket. "Let's get these supply lists and pray the rest of my teachers this year aren't douche bags."

It turned out that most of the other teachers had simply decided to attach a folder to their doors with the supply lists inside instead of sticking around to meet their sophomore students. "Guess that's what Open House is for, huh?" Chance joked as he looked over the lists. "Don't you already have a graphing calculator?"

Jake laughed. "I am a graphing calculator."

"No kidding." Chance chuckled.

"Yeah I have one... somewhere." Jake started for the exit.

"Wait we need to head by Matt's room."

"Matt?" Jake gave Chance a funny look. "Who's Matt?"

"Mr. Spieker." Chance corrected. "He sent out an email asking for his students to come by after registration."

"You get emails from my teachers?" Jake looked surprised.

"Duh." Chance rolled his eyes. "At least, I will. Your music director got my address at the end of the semester. And I will be getting them from your new teachers this year."
"So, you're like the eye in the sky now, huh?" Jake pretended to be worried. "Alright well, orchestra room is that way." He pointed back behind him and did an about face that would have made a drill sergeant proud.

"Oh Jacob!" Mr. Spieker bellowed loudly from across the room, as he was sifting through scores of music on his podium. "So glad you're here. I was afraid Chance would have forgotten." He seemed anxious as he pulled out a folder of sheet music. "Oh no. That's not right. That's for my cellists. I guess it won't help you very much." He continued searching. "Did you have a good summer?"

"Well I..."

"That's great." Mr. Spieker stepped off his platform and hurried towards them. "Sorry, I've got so much sh..." He caught himself and cleared his throat. "Stuff going on right now. You wouldn't believe it. So hears the deal, and I really hope this doesn't stress you out because I'm counting on you for this." He gave Jake a thick folder of music. "The rest of my honors orchestra already has their parts. I need you to get started on this right away."

"What's it for?" Jake visibly winced at the amount of notes that seemed to be crammed together on the bars. "This looks... fun."

"Doesn't it?" Mr. Spieker seemed not to notice the sarcasm in his student's words. "There's an issue with funding for the arts department this year." His enthusiasm immediately evaporated. "So we have to prove we deserve it. At the end of September, we will be expected to perform for the district administrators and several other very important officials. And, well, the parents of course. Anyway," Mr. Spieker took a deep breath. "I know you've got a million things going on this year with football, and I know Miss Summers, your biology teacher, will load you down with a crazy report due every other week or so, but I need you to really get a head start on this."

Jake's eyes widened. "A report due every week? That's ridiculous."

"She's a little... eccentric." Mr. Spieker said, sympathetic. "But that's it. I don't want to hold you up any longer."

"Yeah." Jake looked down at the impressive score in his paws. "Thanks. I think."

"I think my stress level just quadrupled." Jake said as they left the building.

"I know, right?" Chance was surprised as well. "I didn't figure they'd drop all the really hard stuff on you until at least next year."

"I didn't think they'd drop the really hard stuff on me at all." Jake said in disbelief. "I mean, some of this is on par with the university. It's like they knew some genius would end up having to take these classes so they instituted some obscenely advanced program just in case."

"I doubt they went to all that trouble." Chance couldn't help but laugh at how over-dramatic the teen was being. "Lets hurry up and get this taken care of so we can get back home before Charlie destroys something." He held up the list of supplies.

"Ugh!" Jake proclaimed as his shoe slid in a pile of dog crap. "CHARLIE!" The growing dog ran into the kitchen and then skidded to a halt when she realized she'd been bad, ducking her head in shame. "Damn it!" He hopped on one foot to the sink, while carrying a couple bags of groceries and school supplies in each paw. Setting them down, he pulled off his sneaker.

"Whoa..." Chance jerked to a stop, seeing the mess on the floor. "You get this cleaned up and take her out. I'll get the rest of the stuff out of the car."

"Yeah." Jake sighed, rinsing the bottom of his shoe off in the sink. Then he grabbed the roll of paper towels.

"I thought I told you to take her out before we left." Chance shot his own glare at the sulking pup.

Jake grimaced. "I... was going to." He threw the soiled paper towels in the trash. "But then Blake called and I forgot. And then we had to leave."

"Uh huh." Chance hid his grin as he went back out the door. "Check the rest of the place to make sure she didn't mess anywhere else."

"On it." Jake replied. "You are a real pain in the tail sometimes." He pointed at Charlie. "We'll blame Blake for that one, though." He scanned the floor with his eyes as he walked through the small dwelling. "I don't understand you." Jake said, turning on the bathroom light. "You'll pee in the bathroom, but you take a dump right in front of the kitchen door." He tore off some more paper towels to mop up the second mess.

Chance had finished unloading the car when he passed Jake with Charlie on her leash. He gave him an odd look. "You aren't just going to let her run around out there?"

"Nah." Jake put his sneakers back on. "I kind of feel like going for a walk."

"Okay." Chance pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and handed it to him. "Be careful. You know how kats like to speed around the curve."

Jake took the drink. "I will be." He opened the door. "See ya."

"Yep." Chance closed the door behind him and got to work putting the groceries away.

Charlie sniffed the motion sensor with her nose, which prompted the gate to slide open. She looked up at Jake with excitement as if to say "I opened the magic door!"

"Please don't do that when you're out here by yourself." Jake pleaded before letting her pull him outside the gates. With the leash coiled around his wrist, he slid the cold plastic bottle into his back pocket. "I think Chance is trying to drown me from the inside," he mused. In truth, it was still really hot outside, and he'd been sweating a lot more than usual because of the change in his workout routine. He knew his guardian was really trying to keep him hydrated. But sometimes, a boy just wanted a soda. Jake had to admit to himself, he was a lot more excited about playing football then he'd been originally. It was a bit overwhelming, though, to find he was the smallest tom on the field. He'd started using Chance's weights to try and bulk up his thin frame a little, but so far there weren't any results. Charlie tugged on the leash. "Am I going too slow for ya, girl?" Jake laughed as he was pulled from his wandering thoughts. "What do ya say to a little sprint?" He took off full speed. Charlie matched his pace, running beside him.

The chain-link fence surrounding the salvage yard extended nearly a mile in the direction Jake was going. He slowed his pace to a steady jog as he neared the curve in the road that Chance often swore about. Jake coiled Charlie's leash up a little more so that she was closer to him. The city really needed to post a speed limit sign in that part. But, technically, the salvage yard was just outside the city limit and the government didn't seem to care. They had bigger things to worry about than reckless drivers. He slowed to a walk as they neared the end of the long stretch of road that would split off in two directions. One heading out towards the desert, and the other took you north to the mountains. Back to Pawline Springs. Jake pulled the bottle out of his pocket and took a large gulp of water. A sharp pain clenched his side and he did a side bend to stretch out the cramp. Charlie cocked her head to the side with interest. "You thirsty?" He asked, crouching to pour some water. She eagerly lapped at the stream coming from the bottle as her master shared what remained of his drink. Jake patted her on the side before standing up and tucking the now empty bottle back into his back pocket. His cell phone started belting out an mp3 of a piano cover of one of his favorite rock songs, meaning he had an incoming call. "Yes mother?"

"Where are you? You've been gone for almost an hour and a half." Chance nagged worriedly in his ear.

"Coming back now." Jake moved further away from the road as he heard the loud rumbling of a truck engine nearing. It passed him going far faster than it should have, the driver laying on the horn.

"Are you in the road?" Chance asked.

"Hardly." Jake huffed. "Just some redneck jackass. I'll be home in about forty minutes."

"Just stay out of the road." Chance pleaded.

"I know." Jake huffed. "Bye." He ended the call. "Jeez. He gets worse by the day," he said out loud.

The sun had moved significantly closer to the horizon by the time Jake made it home. Chance was in the garage, tinkering with an old GTO someone had run into the ground. He unhooked Charlie's leash and she laid down on the cold poured concrete near an empty lift. Jake perched himself on a work bench. "Make any progress?"

"I wish." Chance grumbled, regretting making the once awesome sports car his new project. "What do you want for dinner?"

"Tacos." Jake said, seemingly at random.

"Tacos?" Chance repeated, humor in his tone. "Here or you want to go to Taco Hut and pick up some?"

Jake frowned. "I saw something on tv about someone getting salmonella from a Taco Hut."

"That answers that. So you're cooking, then?" Chance said with a grunt as he finally managed to loosen a troublesome bolt.

"Aw come on, Chance." Jake whined. "We might as well go out then. Either way, there's a risk of food poisoning."

"The only thing you have to cook is the hamburger meat, Jake. I'm pretty sure you can manage that without killing us both." Chance reached for a shop rag. He sighed when he found himself on the receiving end of the teen's best sulk. "C'mon, Jake. I'm getting really tired of cooking dinner. I hate cooking. I'm not even asking you to make something that requires a whole lot of effort. All you gotta do is follow the directions on the little seasoning packet thing."

"Fine." Jake whined, sliding off the work bench.

"Thank you." Chance offered as Jake trudged up the stairs.

"You can thank me after you don't die from my cooking." Jake replied before shutting the door the separated work from home.

Chance yawned loudly as he grabbed a coffee mug from the drying rack. Having preset the pot, the nice, hot brew was waiting for him... calling his name in the form of it's intoxicating aroma. He filled the cup a little more than half full and then dropped in two ice cubes so he could drink it right away, leaning against the counter while the first cup worked its magic. "That's more like it." Chance said quietly before going to wake Jake up. He eyed the lamp on in the far corner and the music spread across the keyboard. Jake's headphones still rested on the end of his bed, which he was sprawled across on his stomach... upside down; Charlie on her back with his arm across her lightly furred belly. "First day of school and he's already pulling all-nighters." Chance joked quietly before sitting heavily at the head of the bed and grabbing one of Jake's ankles. Startled, Jake rolled over, swinging his other foot in an attempt to free himself from his attacker. Chance smirked as he caught it with his other paw. "Good morning to you too."

"Crud, Chance." Jake groaned, flopping onto his back and pushing his paws into his eyes. "You scared the hell out of me."

"You want some of my coffee?" Chance chuckled. "You look like you're going to need it."

"I couldn't sleep." Jake explained, slowly getting up.

"You want me to make you some breakfast or are you good with cereal?" Chance asked as he stood up as well.

Jake stared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language.

"I'll make you some eggs." Chance decided. "Go take a shower."

The shower did wonders to pull Jake out of his early morning haze. And Chance's scrambled eggs with ketchup between two slices of toast could rival any breakfast sandwich from any restaurant... ever. It didn't hurt that he'd washed it down with a cup of something that was half coffee and half sugar and milk. Jake almost felt like he was ready to abandon sleeping in for another school year.

"You got everything?" Chance asked as Jake tossed his backpack and gym bag with the school's logo on it into the backseat.

"Yep." Jake said as Charlie decided to jump into his lap from between the seats. He let out a groan of displeasure. "Charlie..." he hissed. "Get back there." Jake pointed, dropping his pitch so she got the hint. There was a dull throb starting to form in the back of his head, and now one somewhere else. "Just what everyone needs to start their day," he thought. "I good kick in the balls."

"I'll see you after practice." Chance said with an encouraging smile.

"Yep." Jake slid on his backpack and then threw the strap to his gym bag over his shoulder.

"Have a good day." Chance called out as the back door slammed shut. Jake offered a sloppy salute in response as he walked away. "And it's just me and you, girl." He scratched her between the ears as she took over Jake's spot in the passenger seat. "Just me, you, and whatever old she-kat breaks down in the middle of nowhere."

"What's up, Furlong?" Fritz said a little too loudly, playfully slugging his teammate in the shoulder. "Ready for another gruesome practice after school?"

"Not if you keep beating me up first." Jake rubbed his shoulder. He spotted Jason talking to a slender brunette with her back to them. "I'll catch up with you later."

"Aw come on, Jake." Fritz huffed. "When are you going to ditch those dweebs and hang out with the cool kits?"

"Why can't I be friends with both?" Jake looked mildly offended.

"Because they make you look bad." Fritz pointed.

"Yeah. Yeah." Jake rolled his eyes. "See ya." He waved at Jason as he neared and the she-kat turned around. "Miranda." Jake smiled at her. She'd slimmed up some too. "Lost some of that baby fat I see."

"Uh huh." She looked down her nose at him. "Someone had to grow up over the summer."

Jake scowled at her. "I'm getting really tired of the jokes, guys."

"Oh you can dish it out but you can't take it?" Miranda rolled her eyes. "But in all seriousness, you did grow, like what?" She grinned at Jason. "Half an inch over the summer? You're gonna have to do better than that if you want to trade us in for those jocks you're going to be hanging out with."

Jake felt his ears burn. "Right. So it's going to be like that? You know I don't really want to choose sides."

"Relax, Jake. She's just being a bitch. She got her period over the summer and now she thinks she a real she-kat." Jason remarked, earning a forceful shove from Miranda.

"That explains the boobs." Jake teased. "I mean, what a way to trade up. You went from mosquito bites to watermelons in a matter of months."

"You're both pigs." Miranda huffed and stalked off.

"Well the outside looks different." Jake quipped. "But it's still the same old Miranda on the inside, huh?"

"Yep." Jason sighed. "So you're really doing this football thing?"

"Yeah. It'll be fun." Jake shrugged. "You're gonna come to my games, right?"

"I dunno." Jason pulled a look of disgust. "I'm not really into sports."

"Come on." Jake pouted. "If you had a hobby, I'd totally support you in it."

"I do have a hobby. It's called not participating in school events because they're a bogus waste of my time." Jason huffed.

"Right." Jake sighed. "Hey I gotta go. I don't want to late on the first day."

"Yeah. Me too." Jason sounded insincere. "I'll.. well, maybe I'll have lunch with you. If not, see you in the halls."

"Yep." Jake took off towards the science wing.

There were a lot of familiar faces from his advanced classes the year before. And Jake was relieved that walking into the new class felt less tense. There were names written on post it notes stuck to each desk, but it seemed to be random. He found himself in the back corner near the window. "Great," Jake thought. "Put me somewhere I'll get distracted easily." He slid his gym bag behind his seat and hung his backpack on the chair before sitting down. The bell rang just a few seconds later and a tall, lanky she-kat with orange stripes and long stringy hair came into the classroom.

"Good morning students." She purred in a deceptively sultry voice that would lead one to think she was really beautiful instead of the stick thin geek she appeared. "I know you all enjoyed your summer, but it's time to hit the books and get serious. I'm Miss Summers. I will be your Advanced Biology Two teacher until January, and I expect every single one of you to live up to the high expectations I have made." Miss Summers looked around the room, her freakishly pale eyes settling on Jake. "Jacob Furlong." She smiled forcefully. "If you would be so kind as to distribute our text books." She pointed a long, sharp red-painted claw at a stack of thick books resting on a cart by her desk. "Hurry up. We don't have all day."

Jake quickly got out of his seat and went to the front of the room. He began handing out the books as she spoke.

"As you receive your books, please open to Chapter One so that we can begin our lesson." Miss. Summers hit the lights and then turned on the projector, which was pointed at the large dry-erase board. "To save some time, I've already prepared the first portion of your notes. I expect all of your notes to look exactly like mine, color coded as such."

Jake paused to look at the bored, his mouth open slightly in shock.

"Is there a problem with handing out the books, Jacob?"

Jake shook his head. "No ma'am." He made haste and hurried back to his seat, opening his own book, and pulling out a notebook so that he could catch up. So this was why her supply list included highlighters and a pack of multicolored pens. The headache he'd felt coming on in the car quickly spread to his temples.

"And one more thing." Miss Summers said, only a few minutes before the final bell. "These forms need to be signed by your parents." She handed a stack of papers to the first kit in each row to take one and pass back. "I've outlined the itinerary for this semester, along with a few basic demands I have of my students. The primary being that your parents sign your homework assignments each night, including tonight's. You will place them on my desk upon entering my classroom first thing and, at random, I will check your notes to see that you are complying with the format I have laid out."

Jake was still hurrying to scribble down notes when the bell rang. He muttered a soft curse as he finished up, scooped up his book and already heavy binder and then slipped on his backpack, doubling back to grab his football gear. By the time he made it to Algebra, he was winded and slightly shaky.

"Are the seats assigned?" He asked his teacher as he slipped in the door.

"Nope. Sit wherever ya want." Mr. Tottle gestured with an amused glint in his eyes. The bell rang before Jake could slide into the nearest empty desk. "I hope you're all prepared for an extremely fast paced lesson plan. You'll find your new text book, the required forms for your parents, and our lesson plan for the semester already laid out on your desks." He went to the board and uncapped a marker. "Please open your books, break out a fresh sheet of college ruled and a sharpened pencil."

Jake wondered if he'd have time to breathe at all between the starting bell and the final one. Already, his paw was beginning to cramp from excessive note taking, and his graphing calculator was already being put to use.

"That was good." Mr. Spieker looked immensely relieved that his honors students had truly practiced the pieces he'd handed out. "A little heavy there, Jake. There's no need to hammer out every single note."

"Sorry." Jake was having trouble focusing. The lights in the orchestra room seemed unnecessarily bright and the pounding between his ears was louder than the ticking on the metronome.

"Let's run through that one more time before we go to lunch. And then I'll decide if we should go with the morning rehearsals or not." Mr. Spieker lifted his baton and began counting softly with the ticking. "An one and two and three and four and one and two and..."

The bell signaling third, and final, lunch was like an ax through Jake's skull. He visibly winced and remained seated at the piano a little longer than he should have. Finally, when all the other students were gone, he approached his teacher. "Mr. Spieker..."

"Yes?" The teacher seemed much calmer than he had on registration day.

"I hate to ask you this." Jake looked hopeful. "You don't have any aspirin in your office do you?"

"You're supposed to go to the nurse for that sort of thing." The teacher looked nervous. "But, yeah, just don't tell any of the other students you got it from me."

"You're my new best friend." Jake smiled gratefully.

By the time he got to the cafeteria, Jake had missed any chance of getting through the line early. As he took his place in the queue, he looked around for any sign of anyone who knew. No Jason. No Miranda. No...

"HEY! What's that kindergartner doing in the lunch line?"

Jake glared at Fritz.

"Hey Furlong! When you get your food, come sit over here!" Todd Longclaw was the junior varsity quarterback. Everyone called him TL. Somehow, Jake just knew that lunch was going to be the highlight of his school day. Well, that or football practice. It depended on which one got him less bruises.

"What's good, small fry?" TL teased when Jake sat down.

"Not a whole lot." Jake could already feel the pain subsiding. "What I wouldn't give to be just average intelligence like you two."

"No kidding?" TL took no insult from the barb. "I heard the honors teachers suck."

"You have no idea." Jake dredged his chicken nuggets through his instant mashed potatoes and then dunked them in his barbecue sauce. "So far, I've wished LaCroix was there to tackle me and get me out of this mess about thirty times."

Both Fritz and TL shared the same astonished and amused expression. "That bad?" Fritz asked. Jeremy LaCroix was one of the biggest players on the JV team.

"I have to write some of my notes for Advanced Bio Two in pink and purple." Jake glared, earning snorts of laughter. "And my notes are graded. So there's no 'oh sorry Miss Summers, I was all out of pink ink.'" He leaned heavily on his arm. "So, what's it like being normal?"

"Are you kidding me?" TL laughed loudly. "I haven't even started any assignments. We played this 'get to know your classmates' game. And Mrs. MacFurly gave us candy."

Jake's jaw hung open in astonished envy. "Candy? For what? Telling the other students your name?"

"Yep." TL polished off the rest of his food.

"Same here." Fritz said. "We're in two of the same classes."

"I hate both of you so much right now." Jake sulked. "I already have hours of homework from just two classes. And I'm looking at having to be here by seven now for rehearsal."

"Wait." Fritz choked on his milk. "Rehearsal? For what?"

"Um..." Jake blushed. "Nothing?"

"No really, Furlong. What is it? Drama? Dance? I can see you wearing tights." TL teased.

"Hell no." Jake huffed. "I play the piano," he mumbled.

"The piano?" Fritz sucked on his teeth. "Dude. That's nothing. Hey, you better not break a finger out there. You'll be screwed on two counts if you do."

Lunch ended, as did third period and German crawled by. It was Frau Shuman again, and Jake wondered if there was any other German teacher at the school, as his classmates were pretty much the same. Finally, the last bell rang, and Jake escaped at least one class without having something to add to his after school workload.

"Hey Jake!" Jason caught up with his friend in the hall. "So you off to wait for Chance?"

"Not today." Jake pointed towards the gym. "I have to change and get out to the field."

"Oh." Jason rolled his eyes. "That's right. You're one of them now."

"I'm not one of anything, Jason." Jake couldn't understand his friend's issue. "It's just fun. You could come watch if you wanted. I'm sure your mom wouldn't mind. And Chance wouldn't have a problem taking you home."

"No thanks." Jason laughed as if the entire notion disgusted him. "I gotta catch the bus and get home to watch Lucy."

"Your mom isn't picking you up anymore?"

Jason shook his head. "Nah. She's... she's got a lot going on. I'll see you tomorrow. Maybe. If you aren't too busy."

"Yeah. Sure." Jake felt a real pang of disappointment as Jason went the other way.

"Jesus effing Christ, Longclaw! If someone's open, throw the damn ball!" Coach Simmons shouted loudly at the quarterback after blowing his whistle. "What the hell are you waiting for?"

"I just don't think I should be throwing to Johnny if Furlong's on the field." TL argued. "He's a heck of a lot faster."

"You wanna call the plays?" Coach growled in his face.

"Can I?" TL's ears perked upwards.

"Sure! In about ten years, you come back here and get a job. Then you can have your QB throw the ball to whoever the hell you want! Until then, you do what I tell you to." Coach blew his whistle. "Run the play again."

Jake was so happy Chance hadn't showed up yet. He'd be humiliated for his friend to see how hesitant they were to involve him because of his size. As he got back in formation, TL caught his eye and then looked at Fritz with a smile. "Fuck the playbook." He whispered to his friend, who was playing on the 'opposing team' for practice. "We're going to show him what this kit can do. Have your kats go after Furlong instead. Box him in."

"What if he can't do it?" Fritz whispered.

"Then coach is right. We don't give him the ball. But I guarantee he's wrong." TL heard the whistle blow. He pulled the ball and jogged backwards. Some of the players moved in on him, trying to stop the pass.. and Fritz did just as his friend asked.

Jake looked back at TL. What the hell was he doing? Coach was going to be pissed!

"I hope your bones are made of rubber, Furlong." LaCroix laughed as he charged towards him.

Jake moved swiftly as he saw the ball in the air heading towards him. "Not today, big guy." He huffed, dodged the tackle, snatched the ball out of the air and went for the end zone, surprised at how hard he actually had to work to make it across the line. Still, he gave his best overconfident grin as the whistle was blown and he took in his winded teammates. "You guys could use some cardio." Jake joked as he walked back down the field. He patted LaCroix on the gut. "Or just lay off the snacks."

"Ha!" LaCroix bellowed loudly, giving the smaller teen a hefty shove and nearly knocking him over. "You wish you could grow up to have muscles like mine."

"Not if they're all in your stomach." Jake managed to remain upright.

"Kit's got jokes." LaCroix smirked as they reached the rest of the team, where Coach Simmons, with his clipboard tucked under his arm, was waiting to kick them all off the field and find a better team.

"You think that's funny?" He asked TL in a quiet, relatively calm voice.

"No. I thought it was the better play." TL argued. "Look, like it or not, he's got game. You think anyone else is gonna have someone as fast as him?"

"I know no one else has anyone as fast as Furlong." Simmons scowled. "But I've seen some of the teams you, as a collective, will be up against this year, and they easily have you in size. They see Furlong out there, and they're gonna do whatever it takes to crush him and get him off the field. Because they know, if he has the ball, they can't catch him. I'm not worried about Furlong." He looked around, spotting a couple parents waiting in the stands, and a burly tabby leaning against the fence. "When it's crunch time, and I mean that literally, Furlong, because that's what they're gonna wanna do to you... when the other team is sending their biggest players after him, is he gonna have backup?"

"Trust me." LaCroix made a gesture that seemed to include himself and three other larger players. "Furlong can consider us his personal bodyguards."

"Good." Coach nodded his head. His watch beeped. "That's it. Hit the showers. See you tomorrow."


Jake moved defensively, expecting to be snapped with a towel or something. "What?" He saw Fritz and TL by his gym bag.

"What is up with this girly-ass hair brush?" TL held up the thick bristled brush.

Jake snatched it out of his paws. "Look, we can't all be blessed with short fur, okay?"

"No kidding." Fritz pulled a face as he grabbed a clump of Jake's still damp, reddish-brown fur and pulled it hard.

"Ow!" Jake jerked away.

Fritz and TL started laughing. "Sorry ma'am."

"Fuck you." Jake couldn't keep the laughter out of his voice. "You wish you had fur like mine. The she-kats love it."

"What she-kats?" Fritz snorted.

"My girlfriend last year couldn't keep her paws out of it." Jake lied, sliding on his shorts before dropping his towel.

"Yeah. Whatever." TL rolled his eyes. "I'll see you kats tomorrow." He shouldered his bag and left the locker room.

Jake finished getting dressed after running his brush through his thick fur. Then he gathered his own things and headed out.

"So where were your other friends?" Fritz asked.

Jake frowned. "I asked Jason if he wanted to watch us practice and he acted like he'd get some sort of illness if he got anywhere near the football field."

"Dude, you don't need them." Fritz seemed genuinely peeved at the notion. "I heard that Jason kit got suspended for having drugs on him last year."

Jake winced. "Yeah."

"Look, any 'friends' that are too good to give a shit about something you like doing, probably aren't really friends at all." Fritz shoved his paws into his pockets.

"Wow Fritz." Jake put as much effort as he could into looking surprised. "That's really insightful for someone like you."

"Bite me." Fritz laughed. "I'm serious. Anytime you wanna chill, call me up. I mean, it's not like we probably won't be hanging out after every game anyway."

"Yeah." Jake nodded his head. "I'll give it some thought."

"So first day back.. is it safe to ask or should I keep my mouth shut and pretend like nothing happened?" Chance joked, taking the heavy gym bag from his exhausted-looking teenager.

"Actually," Jake couldn't help but smile at Charlie trying to squeeze her head out the barely open window to get to him. "It wasn't bad."

"Really?" Chance looked relieved. "Good. I was worried it was going to be like last year and we were back to this unspoken rule of not asking how school was."

"I don't know." Jake laughed. "We'll see how tomorrow is. As for the rest of today, isn't it illegal to issue two tons of homework on the first day of school?"

"I think so." Chance scratched his chin in thought.
"Good. Maybe I can get Miss Summers arrested and I can have someone less obsessive and demanding for Biology." Jake rolled his eyes. "You, by the way, have almost as much homework as I do... except it's in the form of signing your name on a hundred different, yet really the same, forms."

"Greeaaaat." Chance groaned. "Well, at least you won't have any trouble sleeping tonight."

"No. And that's good. Because I have to be up an hour earlier."

"I'm going to need stronger coffee." Chance quipped as he drove away from the school.

*cracks knuckles* NK is back in business. =D