Bearly a Lady: Chapter 1

It happened again. Gucci, Versace, Juicy Couture - nothing ever holds together during that time of month. I’m almost desperate enough to do Sports Direct next. I mean, it’s not exactly high fashion, but they do have that line of pretty lycra sportswear. And sales. Loads of sales, pretty much every week. It’d be a cost-effective experiment.

“I told you. Granny undies.”

I shoot Zora, my best friend-slash-roommate-slash-childhood-co-conspirator, a cold, hard look. The eviscerated remnants of yesterday’s wardrobe (Prada, with a dollop of Calvin Klein) require somber observation, not wisecracks. “I don’t think you remember how this works.”

“It’s just bloat - “

Bloat. Urgh. I barely resist shuddering. What an ugly word. “It’s not just bloat. It’s a full-body transformation of my feminine figure.”

“That’s what all women say. It’s just your period.”

“It’s not just my period,” I snap back, rolling my eyes. “It’s. Look. Normal women get periods. They put on, like, five pounds and get a bit chubby. I get … I get excess body hair and a temper and an extra five hundred extra pounds.”

Well, three hundred and twenty nine, to be exact, but nothing like round numbers for making a point, right? Also, in retrospect, maybe I should give up on designer brands. Upper class society only functions in single digits, so I can’t really expect them to be able to cater to the needs of the modern shapeshifter.

But what if I rung up someone in Zara? Tip them off on the existence of a whole new demographic and their cumulative spending power. I could be executive producer if they take up the idea, or whatever the equivalent is called in the high-street retail industry. I -

“Zelda. Zelda? Hello? You still ‘linked’ to Earth?”

Damn my tree-hugging, video game-loving werebear parents to McDonald’s hell. “Lame doesn’t even begin to describe - .”

“Ableist.”

“It’s - ugh. Don’t say that. You know I don’t - I’m sorry. Cultural indoctrination is a monster.”

Zora flashes a grin that is all teeth. “As long as you acknowledge your errors, Paddington.”

“God! Can you not?” I yelp, stomping towards the bathroom door. It’s not fair. Back in high school, Zora was the frumpy one, but now she’s the glamorous vampire with legions of glow stick-toting hunks and I’m Winnie the Pooh.

I slam the door in her face and press my back against the wood, careful to avoid putting too much pressure. My bank account can’t take the repair costs.

Sighing, I lumber up to the mirror and squint investigatively at my reflection. I guess it could be worse. My monthly hirsuteness is annoying, but waxing exists for a reason. And the Change does do phenomenal things to my cleavage.

“You’re an earth goddess,” I breathlessly announce to mirror-me, who looks like she isn’t really buying that positive thinking crap.

“Earth goddess,” I mutter under my breath, hoping it’d sound less absurd the second time around. Nope. Still ridiculous.

Grumbling to myself, I reach for my make-up bag (Kate Spade, special edition) and fumble at the zip. After two minutes of failing at what normally would take half a second, I take back what I said earlier. The Change is the worst. You have no idea how much you can miss manual dexterity until it’s gone. Stupid sausage fingers, stupid baseball mitt palms, stupid everything.

But werebear eventually triumphs over bag. With a roar of triumph, I grope for the eyebrow tweezer. And miss. Damn it. Scowling, I try again and this time I get as far as lifting it an inch from the bag before the tweezer shoots out of my grip and somersaults into the toilet bowl.

Fudge.

Frustration itches under my skin, kindling into something bigger, wilder. Like a bushfire, it burns fast. Before I know what’s happening, rage is boiling through every molecule of my being.

“No, no, no, no.” I moan. But it’s too late. The last syllable stretches like taffy, dropping octaves, becoming low and guttural and unmistakably ursine. I barely have time to regret my no-sugar diet (emergency chocolate would be so good right now) before the darkness comes and steals me from myself.

***

“Zelda!”

I jolt upright, wincing, at the sound of my name. Glass tinkles. Somewhere, someone is hammering furiously at the door.

“Zelda!”

Everything aches. The world is a blurred chiaroscuro of strange formations, every shape melting into the next. Everything looks like I’m peering through a curtain of salt water. In the distance, I can hear a vague hissing noise. I knuckle at an eye, and squint, hopefully. As far as I can tell, I’m still in the bathroom. And -

Ah. Crap.

“Zelda! Open the door! Do not make me come in there!”

“No!” I wobble onto my feet, wood and bits of mirror crunching as I go. “Don’t come in!”

“I heard what you did, Zelda!”

“I - I -- I just dropped a few compacts! That’s all!”

But Zora refuses to be persuaded. “That’s not what it sounded like.”

“Well, it is.” I continue, looking about desperately for a miracle. It’s bad. Apocalyptically bad. The shower head’s been snapped clean off, the shower curtain’s in tatters, and I’m pretty sure that smell means I tried to mark my territory. Which is probably what Zora’s going on about.

Also: ew, bear-self. Why?

“Okay.” I relent, sagging. “Something might have gone a bit wrong in here, but it’s nothing insurance can’t fix.”

Maybe.

 

 

***

 

Thank god for London Zoo. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is convince people your home has been vandalized by a wild animal when you live this close to captive wildlife and, well, have a vampire for an apartment mate. I maintain, however, that Zora’s powers wouldn’t work quite as well if we were living in a place like Covent Garden. Mind control is like theatre, you see. You need to set the scene to get anything done.

“You really don’t have to,” Zora sighs.

“You totally do.”

“Zel,” Zora begins, leaning forward. “Take it from someone who can actually mind control people. You don’t need mood lighting.”

“But it helps.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

I curl my fingers around my nutella latte. The cafe we’re in is absolutely gorgeous. It has the most precious mix of Scandinavian furniture (IKEA-bought, but they make it look amazing, anyway) and Parisian art (at least, I think it’s Parisian) ever, and is just big enough to make you not feel guilty about hogging a table all day. “How do you know?”

Zora inhales in that exaggerated way she does before she says something horribly patronizing. I use the lull to scope out our environment. Most of the customers look like they were bought wholesale (fake blonde hair, saleswoman grins, pink tracksuits, matching babies) from the Yummy Mummy factory. There are a few laptop-wielding teenagers, and a sweet old couple for diversity’s sake, but no one who is actually hot. Boo.

“Because I can control minds? Hello?”

“But it isn’t an exact science, is it? Maybe what you’re actually seeing is confirmation bias - “

“Please. Just stop talking.” Zora stirs her cranberry-tomato shake fitfully, tossing furtive glances over each shoulder as she goes. When she’s certain no one is watching, she pulls a flask from a pocket and drips a trickle of red fluid into the mix.

I take it as a small victory. Zora never publically indulges in her fetish for the big B unless she’s feeling overwhelmed. And given that she hasn’t come back with a counter, I’m going to guess it’s because she can’t refute my brilliance. (There’s a tiny, tiny chance she’s just tired of this conversation, but I’ll take my early morning triumphs where I can.)

Zora sighs rapturously as she imbibes the scandalous fruit, leaning back in her chair, her eyes rolling up just a little. Blood has the same effect on vampires as Ecstasy does on humans, from what I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know. No one’s tried documenting the effect that recreational chemicals has on were-bears because, you know, bears. I have a distant cousin who says it’s perfectly fine to do drugs, but he’s a total koala (I said distant cousin) so I doubt he’s in the position to comment on what a shot of Ecstasy (or whatever you call a serving of drugs) might do to a Kodiak bear.

Anyway.

“So, are you ever going to ask Jake out?” Zora demands, without a shred of warning.

I splutter latte back into my mug. “What?”

“Jake,” Zora repeats, sliding forward again. “When are you going to ask him out?”

My cheeks blaze. Jake. Jacob. Yes. Just like Twilight Jacob. Except infinitely hotter because real world werewolves are primal, physical beings with a take-no-prisoner attitude to sowing their seeds. No mooning (ha-ha) about for limp, passive princesses like Bella unless they’re hungry for a quick bite.

“I don’t know.” I drag a finger across the rim of my cup, hoping it’d stir a miracle from the cream. “I have to check my schedule - “

Zora flaps a hand, sniffing. “You don’t have a schedule.”

“There’s Shaun from accounting?”

“He’s dead.”

“In ICU.” I pause. “In a coma.”

“Of your doing.”

It wasn’t really my fault. We were completely, utterly smashed and it was like a week from the full moon. I told him to get his hands out of my knickers, but Shaun wouldn’t stop pawing at me. I mean, I suppose I could have not gone to his Kensington apartment but, you know. Hormones and things. Still, he should have listened to me when I said stop. Ergo. Not my fault.

“There’s Tom - “

“Who you think is too fat.”

I push the image of a jiggly white belly out of my head. “Lionel from the cafe down the street?”

“Please. You two barely like each other.”

“Reginald?”

“He lives with his mother.”

She’s got me there. Not that I’m going to give her the pleasure of acknowledgement. Instead, I switch tactics and make a pointed show of digging through my purse. “You want a muffin? They do fantastic gluten-free white chocolate muffins..”

“My point is,” Zora begins, louder than she needs to be, voice slightly strained. “Your dating life is exactly like your choice in breakfast foods: boring. I’m sick of seeing you at home all the time, holed up with Netflix and a tub of ice-cream.”

I shift in my chair, barely keeping my mouth from dripping into a pout. “I only do that during my time of the month.”

“Which is like two weeks in four.”

Got me again. Damn it. “PMS?”

Zora rolls her eyes. “Just ask him out, Paddington. What’s the worst that could happen?”

That question brings me up short. What’s the worst that could happen, really? It’s not like I’m worried about him going British werewolf on me. I’ve seen Jake during the full moon. He’s big, but I’ve got at least one hundred pounds on him. Nothing intimidating at all. Just pure animal hotness.

“He says no?” I offer, after contemplating the memory of Jake’s naked torso for a lustful, luxurious minute.

“Honestly, Paddington.” Another extravagant eye-roll. Zora’s such a drama queen. “Just go out and ask him before someone else snags him, and he suddenly becomes daddy to a million puppies.”

I don’t have a comeback. Defeated, I waddle out of my chair and and just pout at Zora, who is grinning like the cat who caught a canary made out of custard and Chanel one-offs.

“Muffins?”

“Muffins.”