Juniper Crescent: The Race

So, here is a chapter that I cut out of Juniper Crescent because it didn’t push the story forward.

That having been said, I really liked working with Hailey (If you haven’t read Juniper Crescent yet, she’s mixed with an American Kestrel. Go read Juniper Crescent.)

I hope you enjoy the race.

PS. There is a character in here that had to be cut out as well. I felt bad for Burt the butler getting the sack, but that would have been a lot of characters to keep up with, so Raeford took his job. And also, there’s the name Grace in there as well. In the first few drafts… I kinda went on a house staff spree. There were three or four people who worked in the Vor Tallen house hold… a family of two. Didn’t sit right, so I trimmed them down.

Secondly, this is among a rougher draft… so don’t go grammar police on me, please.

 

 

 

 

 

School had not even gotten out for the summer when the newspapers, TV stations, and random neighbors were assailing her with questions, comments and the occasional insult. Darren had done a good job fending them off as much as he could, but she was still bombarded at school. Even the press was sneaking into her school to get at her. This very well freaked her out.

“No, I don’t do interviews during lunch. If you want an interview, talk to my dad.” She shouted at a magazine rep while she sat at her locker. He dropped a business card on her lap before trudging off.

“I’m impressed Oksanya, you were nice to that one.” Chloe chimed in.

“I know, I am just really tired of these guys. I get like no time to myself.” She glanced around before diving into a salad.

“Did you hear the lady with wings got a spot on ‘Touched by and Angel’?” Chloe was just trying to have a normal conversation.

“Big surprise there.”

“Why don’t you do anything like that? You could have enough money saved for a PhD over the summer.” Her idea wasn’t bad, but Oksanya was dealing with enough publicity as it was.

“I don’t know, I just want to finish high school. “ A sudden flash interrupted them.

“Son of a goat, what is their obsession?” Chloe shouted at the photographer who was running off.

“See what I mean? “

“See what I mean? That man just made money. Either you make money for being you, or someone else will.” Chloe crunched some croûtons for effect.

After school, there were a few letters waiting for her. Two were from companies wanting her for their advertisements, but the third was actually from Hailey. Ignoring the first two, she tore open the letter from Chattanooga.

 

My Dear Oksanya,

 

It was great to meet you at the opening. I think it was too short. I’m actually passing through on my way to Utah. They want me for a show about angels. I would love to see you again. I put my number at the bottom, where people usually put the P.S. I figure people usually only remember that part cause it stands out more. So you give me a call, you hear?

I also recall you and I talking about a race. We could put it on television and everything. I think people would love to see that. You just give me a call and we will talk, okay?

 

Much Love,

Hailey

 

P.S. It’s 456-719-3860, CALL ME!!!

Oksanya was smiling to have gotten a letter from her. Darren got a whiff of that excitement when he came home to his dear sweet daughter hugging him as soon as he got in the door with an ‘ I love you daddy’ before he had time to take his shoes off.

“I love you too, Tails.” He asked, sliding his work shoes off and placing them on the mat.

“Nothing… but I got a letter from Hailey today.” She was one step behind him as he proceeded to the kitchen to grab something to drink. “She says she is going to be passing through on her way to Utah.”

“That’s interesting.” Darren was settling into a chair with the day’s paper. On the front of it, staring at Oksanya, was a political cartoon of a monkey looking at a caricature of Michael, saying ‘I am human too.” She frowned at it and continued.

“She says she is going to be passing through here on her way to Utah.”

“Let me guess: she would like to know of a good hotel in the area?” He asked, catching on to what she was laying out.

“Daddy! She wanted to visit us.” She hugged his arm, giving the biggest kitten eyes she could.

“Did anyone tell you that with the eyes it only looks more menacing the wider you make them?” He was on the edge of laughter at how hard she was trying.

“Can she stay? Please?”

“Where she is going to stay? Our house is just… jam packed!” He teased, raising his arms to emphasize his point.

” Of course she can stay.” Her jumping squeals were stopped by Darren holding her to earth with a hand on her shoulder. “But on one condition, okay?” Her nods were most furious. “You have been sitting on those college applications for how long? By the time she gets here, I want them filled out, and an idea of what you are going to study and how it is going to be paid for, deal?” Her shouts followed by a tackling hug were his answer. Before he could add a sarcastic remark, she was off to her room, dialing Hailey’s number on her cell, bouncing off the walls with every step.

“So this means that you will have had meals with three of the first five? How do you do it?” Raeford came over for a visit after dinner. They were sitting on the back porch, thankful that it was warm enough to do so without jackets and blankets.

“I couldn’t plan it this well. All I did was accept the contract to make the building. I didn’t even get half of their reasons for naming it the Isis Office.” He leaned back in a lounge chair, kicking his feet up.

“Bet this boosts Oksanya’s self esteem. “ Raeford took a sip of lemonade, then followed suit.

“It’s half and half with her. She can’t stand all the media since the opening, but she loves how the operation treated her.” Darren admitted, swirling his own glass.

“I bet they were on her like white on rice. How have you dealt with it?”

“For now I have her age on my side. I get to control her access to those wolves. Once she is eighteen and in college there really won’t be a whole lot I can do. I want her to have experience in this field, in case it becomes something she wants to do. She just needs to know that there are more people out to build their wallets than out to build her career.” It was something Darren had on his mind since before the opening. It became more real with everything he had read in the papers.

“How can you do that, though? We all know she has a mind of her own.” A smile crossed his brother’s lips.

“If I can connect her with an ad or a photo shoot with a company I trust and can check their credentials, then I would feel better about letting her have a shot at this. Right now, though, she is too easy to prey on in this industry.” He was set on that one. He had spent enough time there to know just how much of a dog-eat-dog scenario it was.

“Good luck with that one, Dar.” Raeford took one last drink before calling it a night. Luck was something Darren had learned he needed to make himself. For Oksanya, he couldn’t afford to have it any other way.

Hailey was at their house five days later. Oksanya nearly had a heart attack to come home from school Wednesday to see her in the kitchen talking with Grace.

“Well hi there, sugar. How are you?” Hailey was up to meet her in no time, wrapping her in a hug. “I was just meetin’ Grace here. You didn’t tell me you lived with such great people!” Hailey had a charm with her accent in these parts. Everyone fell in love with her, and though her largest feature, her wings weren’t as big a factor. They were the subject of conversation, however.

“I bet everyone asks you about your wings,” Grace guessed at dinner. Burt had pulled up an ottoman to the table so her wings wouldn’t be crammed in behind a chair.

“They do, but it’s nothin’ I don’t like talking’ about.” She shrugged, her wings moving up with her shoulders.

“I would guess the hardest part would be finding clothing that accommodated them.” Burt added, taking a bite of the smoked chicken breasts Grace had prepared.

“Now that is the most difficult, especially where it gets cold. Good heavens that is something else. That’s why I just love it so much out in Tennessee. It stays nice enough that I haven’t had the need to get a jacket made. “ She was cheery about the whole thing. It didn’t seem to faze her at all.

“Considering all the publicity, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to get one made for you.” Darren couldn’t help throw in. He had spent a few nights up trying to find a few advertisements that Oksanya would be reasonably safe in.

“Well, yeah, but I’m a country girl, I like showbiz, but I’m too simple a girl to get mixed up in all of that. “ Oksanya loved her. That was what she felt, but she didn’t know how to say it. She did want to try some of it, to help pay for college of course.

“That must be hard with a twenty foot wingspan.” Oksanya added.

“Thirty, darling.” She took a sip of wine.

“Thirty? How did they get wings that big?” Dinner was finished, and Grace was serving up dessert.

“With the same stuff they use to make arms and legs after accidents. It was probably the biggest thing they ever made. Oh, Grace, this is delicious.” Grace gave a nod before seating herself.

“How long to you plan to be in town, Mrs. Burns?” Burt was intrigued.

“Oh, I don’t mean to stay long. I just wanted to pop in on the world’s most famous kitty.” That smile had been on her face all evening.

“Most famous? I have been trying to stay out of the public eye.” Oksanya leaned back in her chair, defeated. “How can I be the most famous?”

“Why, because you aren’t on a vendetta, like Michael. You are just lovable, darling.” Hailey gave a shrug.

“What is Michael doing?” Oksanya was sure of the vibe she was getting about him.

“You don’t know?” Hailey was really surprised. “Why, let me show you. Do you have the Internet?”

“I am a high schooler, I live on it.” Oksanya saw her dad roll his eyes out of her peripherals. Hailey curtsied and excused herself from the table, thanking Grace for the delicious meal with her Southern graces. Upstairs, Oksanya turned on her computer in the study. Hailey followed behind, carefully wending her wings around the various obstacles.

“Now, just search Michael’s name.” Oksanya, and a host of websites appeared, but the first result must have been by Michael himself.

‘The Future of Humanity’ raced across the top of the website, followed by a home video of Michael in a suit. It seemed out of place for him.

“My friends and fellow humans, I come to you with new found vigor. I have truly received a gift from God. I am stronger, faster, and healthier than any human could hope to be. I can see better, hear better, and remember more than any could have thought possible. With the opening of the Isis Office in Lascar, there are trained technicians all over the world capable of bestowing this gift to any who seek it.”

“To Alaskans, they sought their Totem. The Chinese would seek aid of animal guardians. I urge all who are in the sound of my voice to find your Totem, your guardian, and merge mind and body with it through the operation now available. “

“That website has been since the day after the opening. People everywhere are responding with a pledge and the animal they have chosen. “ Hailey added softly, playing with a feather on her wings. Scrolling down, she could see the growing list of people who had already had the operation already and those scheduled for the future. Her heart sank when she saw her own name on the list, near the top.

“My name is on there too, like he’s buildin’ some kind of army.”

“Why is he doing this?” Oksanya plead, looking to Hailey, who could only shake her head.

“No one knows. I reckon the power has gone to his head. He has it in his mind that he’s going to unleash a zoo on us.”

“No kidding. Some guy in Colorado wants to be a penguin. “ Oksanya pointed out.

“I know. Crazy, huh?” Hailey leaned in more towards the screen. Oksanya’s eye’s lit up when she saw another cheetah on people who had scheduled to have the operation. “How about you and I talk about what we are going to do for our little race?” She was grinning like a Cheshire cat on this one.

“A kestrel racing a cheetah? No chance.” Oksanya spun away from the computer towards her.

“You wanna bet on that, sugar?” She crossed her arms.

“I will pay to get a jacket custom made for you if I cannot beat you in a race. “ This was it. There was no backing down.

“And you will get a shoppin’ spree on me, if you’re faster. “ Hailey took a turn out of the study, giving a little catwalk on her way out.

“Hey, Hailey, we have the guest room made up for you.” Oksanya followed her out… all the way to the backyard. “Hailey?”

“Yes, sugar?” She was looking around, like she was looking for something.

“What are you doing?” Oksanya shivered with a breeze.

“Hitching it down for the night. Are there any blankets you doing mind getting a little dirty I can use?” She was hovering over one area.

“Is there something wrong with the guest room?”

“Not at all darling. I just can’t be comfortable unless I build a nest myself. It’s a little harebrained, I know, but it’s who I am now. “ She found a place on top of a table. “Now, about those blankets?” She smiled.

“Yeah, sure. Come with me.” They found a few in the basement that hadn’t been used all that much. Hailey ran her hand over them one at a time, and chose three of them. Returning back outside, she started arranging them on top of the table, then stepping on top herself. She nestled into the blankets with a smile.

“See ya tomorrow, sugar.” She hugged her knees to her chest with a wing spreading in front of her.

“Are you comfortable like that?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just making it a little more like home.” Yawning, she brushed a feather from her face.

“Okay… Good night then.” Oksanya went back inside, watching Hailey every chance she could from the windows to her room. She fell asleep knowing that it would only be two days of school till she could race Hailey.

“Good afternoon, I am Lydia Spencer, of Channel 9 News. We are here today just outside of Juniper, where today promises to be the race of a lifetime. Two people, infused with animal genes, more commonly called Isis, are racing. “ A news anchor was first on the scene in the park Hailey and Oksanya had chosen for their race. Others were beginning to gather, with cameras and posters ready. “The two Isis are none other than two of the original five, Hailey Burns, the Angel, and Oksanya Vor Tallen, known online as America’s favorite kitty.”

Oksanya couldn’t help but roll her eyes when she heard that. She was stretching, mentally viewing the course they had outlined last night.

“While no one knows for sure the reason for today’s race, one thing is definitely clear, it is going to be a race to remember. Oksanya had told press at the opening of the Isis Medical Office that her best for the mile run was around two and a half minutes, while Hailey with her wings has no obstacles to move around.” Did the cameras have to be so close to her? She made her way to the home-drawn starting line. Hailey was already there, flexing her wings in every direction she could, like a Tai Chi exercise.

“Morning, sugar. Ya’ll warmed up?” She asked, making an adjustment to the green top she wore.

“Ready when you are.” Oksanya returned. The race was supposed to be friendly, but she could already taste the competition in her voice. She had been waiting for this since regionals. This time, however, she didn’t have to hold back. “I hope you have enough credit cards ready, I have rather picky tastes.”

“Just like me, darling. I’m just glad your daddy has some connections, in case I like something nice.”

Then, the moment came. Burt started walking from the sideline to the center, right in front of them. He carried a checkered dish towel, the signal everyone was waiting to see. “Ladies, a good clean race today. You will follow the course, and grab a flag at the end. First one there and back wins. “ Oksanya was sure he had experience announcing races the way he proceeded. In a motion, he held the dish towel up for all to see, keeping an eye on both racers. Oksanya leaned forward, as did Hailey. Everyone was fixed on that flag.

In a flash, Burt waved it up and down, and cheering erupted from all sides as Oksanya burst past everyone and down the course. She could feel the beating of Hailey’s wings, and stole a glance back to see her soaring up behind her. She turned back and let her racing instincts take over.

It felt too soon, but she could see the flag she was supposed to get. Two seconds away from grabbing one of them, Hailey came racing in with a shout, dive bombing the orange plastic cones the flags rested in. Oksanya jumped back in surprise while she swooped down, grabbed a flag, then with a pirouette, returned to the sky. “See ya at the finish line, darling.” She taunted. Oksanya grabbed a flag, and gave it full throttle back to the finish line. She was in Hailey’s shadow when she came to the straightway where everyone was watching. Last shot to win this, she thought, pushing the adrenaline deeper and deeper into her muscles.

At the last stretch, she leaped forward, her spine arching her arm with the flag towards the spray-painted finish line. Everyone gasped, and she landed, her arm extended over the finish line. Hailey swept over her, and landed right next to the crowd. Oksanya looked at Burt, who was politely clapping.

“She won?” Oksanya gasped, still holding the flag. Katrina was at her side, carrying her infant.

“She did. When she saw you leap, she pulled her wings in front of her, which crossed the finish line right before you did. “ She bounced little Realla gently in her arms.

“That’s… not… fair.” She huffed.

“It’s what you were trying to do.” Katrina threw in.

Oksanya stood back up and watched Hailey interact with the crowd. ‘So much for not liking the publicity,’ she thought. “My arms aren’t fifteen feet long.” She let a deep breath escape her nostrils as she headed over to Hailey. She would at least be a good sport about it. “Congrats. It looks like your wings made all the difference.” She extended her hand. Hailey caught it and pulled her in for a hug.

“Come on, sugar. I only did that cause I hate losin’ as much as you do.” She gave her usual smile. Oksanya nodded, knowing that feeling all too well. “ How about this, you and I get my jacket, and while we are waiting for it to get tailored, we have ourselves a little shopping spree?” She scratched the back of Oksanya’s head, causing her to close her eyes contently and purr.

“Sure, but not because you made me purr.” It felt better for her. The reporters gave their endings, more pictures were taken, but it was pretty much a haze for Oksanya. She got to run, regardless of the outcome.

“You sure about this place, sugar? It looks a little fancy for my tastes.” Hailey almost choked as she glanced at the price tag for a purse as they walked in.

“Of course I’m sure, Hailey. The owner went to college with my dad, I’m sure he would love the opportunity to meet you and tailor a jacket for you.” Oksanya had been here before, and Perry Chapman loved giving little trinkets and accessories to Oksanya when she stopped in. His love of style was almost too feminine, which is the reason she had not stopped in since before the operation.

“Oksanya! Precious! How are you?” He announced her coming, He motioned her to him, and embraced her. “Now, Darren already called, told me all the details.” His voice dropped down to a whisper. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t leave without a little something as well.” He gave a wink, then turned to Hailey. “My dear, you look amazing, and such beautiful wings!” He gave her a quick hug and a peck on the cheek.

“Why, thank you. The pleasure is all my, darling.” She kissed his cheek in return. “You look like you are doing well.”

“Oh, I try my best. But, we aren’t here for me. Let’s see about a lovely number for you. I think we need a bomber jacket for you, or something… Oh something with fur on it.” Hailey could only watch as she was scrutinized from every angle. In a motion he had his tape measure out, going over various measurements.

“Oksanya, have you thought about modeling for me? Not as a favor, but we could get college paid for you. “ He was casual about it all, jotting down some numbers here and there.

“I don’t think so, Perry. I’d be too tempted to spend that money here.” She was already eying some bracelets.

“As well you should, precious, but I’m sure we could work something out.” Perry took a step back, and motioned for Hailey to spin in a circle. He made a few more notes and slung the tape measure around his neck. “Alrighty, thank you, my dear. I have what I need. So, you and Oksanya can vacate, visit the mall, and I’ll call you when your outfit is ready, okay?” He practically pushed them out to the front door.” Thank you, love you, see you.” He blew a kiss, then rushed back in.

“Outfit? I just wanted a jacket.” Hailey curled her wings up behind her back.

“Yeah, when he gets a new project, he goes overboard. I’m still afraid he’s going to go insane if he ever saw my spots. The mental image of that gave her shivers.

The mall wasn’t as crowded as Oksanya thought when they arrived, and as it felt good to get some girl time. She wondered if Hailey knew how much it meant that she was doing this for her. The clothes didn’t matter, but Katrina couldn’t take this kind of time out of her day, especially with Realla, and Grace didn’t see the therapy in shopping.

“Now darling, what kind of clothes do you like?” She gave a little catwalk to some guys who passed.

“You know they were staring at the wings, not your butt, though it’s pretty good too. “ Oksanya commented, watching them continue on their way. Deep down, she wondered why they didn’t look at hers. Then a feather brushed her cheek.

“And you are avoiding my question. What kind of clothing you like? Where do you want to look, sugar?” Hailey had stopped right in front of Oksanya with her hands on her hips.

“Well, I guess we could look in Mandy’s, if you want.” She answered with a shrug.

“Bout time you decided on something. I was getting worried, sugar.” Taking Oksanya by the hand, she led her to Mandy’s where they spent probably three hours sifting through the variety that Mandy’s offered. It was getting dark when Perry finally called.

“Alright, ladies, here you go. Hailey, you are first.” He stepped to the side to reveal his work of the day. It was a caramel colored bomber jacket that had been adjusted to fit around her wings. Hailey shrugged it on, and connected the strap from the collar to the lining on the bottom. She was busy admiring herself when Perry took a step behind, next to Oksanya.

“I also have one for you. You want to see?” He gave a grin and pulled out a jacket for her to see. It had a high collar and black mesh patches over her arms and shoulders. Oksanya had it on when Hailey turned around to see her.

“That is quite the coat, sugar.” She stepped down to see clearer.

“Well, it is. Perry, how much do we owe you.” She had her purse open as she asked.

“A photo shoot, ladies, and nothing else. Do you hear me?” Perry wagged his finger at them both. Oksanya hugged him, then Hailey, giving him an extra squeeze.

“Well, darling, I guess I’ll have to comply on that one. “ She waved goodbye as they headed out, bags in hand and their new jackets on. Perry waved, then turned back to his store.

“Tomorrow I got to leave, okay?” Hailey admitted when they arrived back at home. “I need to be on my way, or else people will start getting mad at me.”

“Oh, okay. Do you need a ride to the airport or something?” Oksanya offered.

“Nope, I’m flying.” She gave a wink, flexing her wings as she arranged the blankets on top of the table on the porch.

“Right, my bad. I’ll still see you tomorrow, right?” She gave Hailey an arm up into her nest.

“Of course, I’ll join you for breakfast. How’s that?” Hailey smiled, wrapping her arms around her legs. “Good night.”

“Night, Hailey.” She waved, and turned back inside. When she was up in her room, she had her computer on, feeling nervous about the growing list of people on Michael’s website. It was nearing eighty people across the world with the surgery completed, with probably another hundred committed to or scheduled for the operation.

In a surge of inspiration, she back-tracked to the search engine, and with shaky hands typed in her own name. There were thousands of sites that had her name on it. Ignoring the site Hailey had shown her, she clicked on the next one,

In big purple letters across the top scrolled ‘Oksanya, America’s favorite kitty.’ A mixture of flattery and fear raced between her brain and her heart.

‘Called Tails by her family, Oksanya is winning the hearts of everyone who comes in contact with her. Among the first of the Isis to receive their operation, her cheetah genes have not made her a hunter like michael or unable to function normally like Hailey.

Oksanya didn’t feel like she was winning any hearts. Aside from the press, how was she going to win over all these people?

With beautiful black spots ranging from almost her elbow to her back and below, and eyes a brilliant shade of orange,

How? When? Who is doing this? Even her thoughts were stuttered. It must be some crazy stalker. It scared her to see the pictures of her, some of them almost risqué. Did this person have nothing else to do with their life?

Oksanya’s beauty is only enhanced by everything the operation gave to her. All you guys out there, there is no one that she is currently dating. It is anyone’s guess as to how much fun she would be.

Oh my gosh, she thought as she covered her face with a hand, I’m going to have to go into hiding. A hole would have definitely been useful for crawling in and zipping shut. Another thought soon flooded her mind. I want to find the guy who made this. Find him, and rip his –

That thought shook her out of the website and her thoughts. Did that really come from her? She shook her head, holding her fists near her ears. Tears filled her eyes, and she flung herself from her computer to her bed, hiding under the blankets. That’s not me, she screamed in her head, trying to force whatever was in there with her to shut up.

It became a cruel matra, one that left her in a shaken sleep. She couldn’t even dream, and Coolly wasn’t comforting either. Dawn came with the fact that she hadn’t slept well.

“Tails, darling, you look like death warmed over. What happened?” Hailey was off the ottoman in an instant, and by her side with Grace.

“I had a rough night. I saw some of those sites, Hailey, those-” She clutched the blanket wrapped around her.

“Oh, my dear, what did you see?” She wiped a tear from Oksanya’s eye.

“Someone’s site talking about me, but I – “

“Oh, darling, I’m so sorry, I wish you didn’t need to see that. Some people have no life but trying to ruin others.” She wrapped a wing around them both.

“Why must they do that?” She didn’t ask for it, as far as she knew she hadn’t made an enemy who would go that far.

“No one knows for sure, honey. You have a gift that they can’t have yet, and they want it.” Hailey let Oksanya have a moment to think and cry before releasing her with a “Come on now, let’s go have breakfast.” She gave her priceless smile, and Oksanya followed them.

After breakfast Hailey packed the messenger bag she had brought, and after hugging everyone, she took to the sky, and off she went, blowing kisses to everyone below. Oksanya loved her enough to consider her family. She wanted her to visit again, dreaming of what they would do as she folded up the blankets outside. 

 

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