Peer Mentoring

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4 of Free Association Sometimes it helps to just talk to people. Or yourself. Whoever you're more comfortable with. 2907 words.

Greetings, all! Welcome to Episode 4 of Free Association.

_ Tuesday. _

Halfway across town, another self-appointed expert was providing time-honored, upstanding advice to a certain raccoon.

"You should fuck him!"

Embarrassed, Jonathon grimaced a little. "Woah, don't you think that's a bit... I don't know, slutty? It's not like that, he only just asked me out."

Sitting on his bed drinking pink lemonade from a bottle, a nubile cheetah with long, curly hair tied back loosely crossed her legs and frowned. "Okay, then what's it like? Start from the beginning this time, you're stammering things like a lovesick puppy. Gimme the whole story."

Jonathon gulped, and tried to straighten his head out. "Okay. So, I was going to class, right after I talked to you yesterday. That paper was due and all, for Madison. And I decided to run into the café to grab a chai. I was being dumb texting Greyson, I tripped this tough-looking wolf guy, he spilled his coffee all over my paper, so I bought him a new one, and he offered to let me use his printer since class was in 20 minutes. So, we went to his place and printed it out again, and he just..." Jonathon blushed, looking down. "I don't know, we were talking, and out of nowhere he just kissed me. Tongue and everything."

"Was he good?" Mandy asked, critical of the bold move.

The raccoon shivered a little. "Yeah."

"Is he cute?" She pressed her paws between her thighs anxiously. Her growing investment in the drama was all but tangible.

"Uuuh. You could say that. I was kinda checking him out in the café, but he yelled at me for texting so loud, so that kinda killed it, and then I tripped him and I kinda freaked out about my paper. I wasn't really thinking about him like that until..." He stopped, flicking his ears.

"What's he like?"

"Kinda tall. Blue eyes. Kinda... rough-looking. Looks like he's glaring a lot. Sweet, though, you should have seen him after we kissed, the way he smiled... Anyway, we ended up running back to campus so I could go to class, and then... Well, I came out of class hoping he would still be there, but he wasn't."

"Aww." The feline leaned forward sympathetically.

"Yeah, I was feeling kinda bummed out, almost went home, but I sat down outside the lecture hall and then I didn't want to leave. Just got... really lonely, I guess. But then, like... ten-ish minutes later, I heard someone come in, panting and stuff and cussing. There was nobody else around, so I went to have a look, and it was him. And we talked, and he asked for my number, and then he asked me on a date."

"You sure? This isn't going to end up like Greyson did, is it?" she asked, looking concerned.

Jonathon smiled. "He said, and I quote, 'I wanna take you to dinner sometime.' Besides, he kissed me. Last I checked, Greyson still couldn't handle that." Much as that memory made him want to grimace.

"Heheheh." Mandy sat back, pulling out her phone. After a moment, she glanced at her friend. "You doing okay with that, and all?"

"It's been two and a half years, I think I'm over it," Jonathon said, a little caustically; his tail whacked the side of his desk accidentally. "One hot straight guy isn't enough to mess me up forever."

"Still, it would be okay to still be a little bothered by it."

"Thanks for the permission."

"You were really in love with him for a while," the feline continued, ignoring his sarcasm, "and... I don't know, have you fooled around with anyone since him?"

"We didn't even really fool around," Jonathon huffed. "He felt bad for me, I kissed him some, he decided he couldn't go through with it. That doesn't count as fooling around. I can't just pick up guys like you."

She glared a little at that remark. "You apparently don't have any trouble with hunky wolves. Besides, you're cute."

"I am not," Jonathon said, blushing intensely.

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not. If I were straight, you'd be way out of my league. If Greyson were gay, he'd be way out of my league." The raccoon looked uncomfortable.

"And what makes you think that, emobangs?" She flashed him a trademark head-tilting grin, tail flicking at him playfully.

"I'm chubby." The raccoon looked down at his stomach, protruding slightly under his t-shirt.

Mandy snorted. "You are not."

"Yes, I am. I had to buy new pants a couple months ago."

"Oh, Jon, it just gives you a nice butt, it's not like you're enormous. You've got like ten extra pounds on you, quit blowing it all out of proportion. Since when were you one to get superficial?" She took a swig of her lemonade, tail now fanning the air behind her. "You're cute, and you've got those eyes, and you look great when you smile, and fuck appearance, you're a sweet guy with good taste and a big scary wolf just asked you on a date." She fixed him with a piercing look. "That's what this little self-confidence crisis is about, isn't it? 'A guy asked me out'?"

"...Maybe," the raccoon grumbled. He felt stupid for complaining; she was right, he didn't exactly have to shop in the big and tall section. "I just... haven't cared about how I look for a while. Didn't need to. So I feel like... I don't know, like I haven't been doing chores, or something, and now I'm a mess."

"Well, how about you ask him what he thinks, instead of working yourself up over it?" she suggested prudently. Her phone beeped; she looked at it. "What's his name again?"


"Well, I hope I get to meet him." Mandy looked up and grinned at him over her phone. "And you should still fuck him."

"Maybe once I get to know him..." Jonathon mumbled, quite reserved on that front. "He's gonna call me tonight and we're gonna plan the date."

"Wear something nice. Not too formal, it's only a first date, you don't want to look stuffy. Blue looks great with your fur. Offer to pay for something, dessert, maybe, but don't force it. Don't freeze up the way you do with cute guys all the time. Make sure you kiss him toward the end so he knows he did good." She glanced up at him again. "That part's important. He'll be nervous. You have to tell him how he did, but you can't say that kind of thing aloud and have him know you're being honest. So, you know, tell him."

"I've been on plenty of dates before, Mandy." Jonathon leaned back a little, smirking at her.

"Doesn't mean you know what you're doing," she said cheerfully; the raccoon whapped her in the knee with his tail. "Anyway, I have to get going. Girls' night out looks like it's happening after all, so I have homework to do before this evening." She patted his shoulder. "Good luck with your date. Text me how it goes." She frowned. "Have you told Greyson yet?"

Jonathon shook his head. "Dunno really what he'll think of it..." he said quietly.

"You should tell him. He deserves to know, after... all that's gone on between you two." Mandy gave him a serious look, eyes soft. "He'll be happy for you."

"Maybe," Jonathon muttered. "Probably happy to have me off his back, yeah. If it even works out."

The cheetah girl hesitated. "I really am glad you've met someone, Jon."

"Have a nice night out, Mandy," he replied. He was aware she was worried; this sort of behavior wasn't normal for him. Once the feline had finally left his dorm, he sighed, one paw coming up to rub at his face. Yesterday had really thrown him off, he was all nervous and self-conscious and faintly aggravated.

Jonathon took a deep breath, let it out slowly. He tried to cultivate the sense of calm he was used to, the emotional detachment that he'd come to rely on. Something was in the way.

Maybe a walk would help. The raccoon hopped up and grabbed his sneakers from the other side of the room, put them on, and pulled a hoodie over his torso; the lock clicked at a twist of his key, and he meandered out of his dorm (one of the smaller residence halls on campus, about fifty guys in the whole thing).

It was a cool day, and not many people were about to spare a glance at the young raccoon pacing down the sidewalk. The November breeze ruffled his headfur and made him shiver slightly; he snuffled, nose beginning to run a bit. He checked his phone once. No new texts. That was good; he wasn't really looking for a distraction right now.

Jonathon wasn't sure if he wanted to be alone or not. When Mandy had been teasing him, he'd wanted to slither away somehow, but now he felt faintly lonely. Which had been why he'd called his friend and asked her to come hang out in the first place.

There was a bank coming up on his right. A gigantic red SUV crawled out of its drivethrough, pausing at the edge of the sidewalk, and then turning left onto the road and roaring off in a whirlwind of dead leaves. Jonathon looked carefully around the corner before he crossed the exit.

Maybe talking to Greyson would make him feel better. He pulled his phone out again, flipped through the contacts screen.

Greyson Durkheim. Call! Send SMS. Message on Facebook! Email. View History? Add to Group... Delete Contact.

Maybe talking to Greyson would make him feel worse. His small ears drooped; he put his phone back in his pocket.

Up ahead, there was a T-intersection, which he was approaching from the stem of the T. He considered both routes as he approached. At the corner, he turned right. Maybe he'd grab a coffee. Nah, he didn't need to waste more money on the stuff.

He wondered how often Brad went to the café. Was there a chance he'd be there today? Would it be silly to go look? Probably. He sniffed again, wiping his nose on his sleeve. He sure didn't feel sexy enough to warrant an abrupt tongue-wrestling match.

Come on, Jonathon. He crossed a crosswalk. What are you afraid of?

The raccoon huffed, pulling his paws out of his hoodie pockets and stuffing them into his pants pockets. He wasn't afraid of anything. He just wasn't used to this, it had been a long time since anyone had shown interest in him. So was it that... he'd prefer not to be in this situation?

No. Hell no. Jonathon snorted a little, and found a grin rising on his features. He'd been so fucking lonely. Mandy and Greyson had borne the brunt of that. Mostly Mandy, since she went to the same college. And yet, at the same time, mostly Greyson, since he'd never really gotten over his little crush on the rodentine guy. Mandy was a lot of things to him, but she'd never quite managed to add 'sexy man' to that list.

He took another right turn. It was probably true, that he'd often wished he just... had someone.

And then, suddenly, a wolf kissed him and he was all confused.

Well, maybe it was because he didn't know Brad very well yet. And that's why you're going on a date, to get to know him better, the raccoon told himself. He was looking forward to it... but it made him nervous.

Still, it was going to happen, and he'd rather be doing it than not. Jonathon took a deep breath. Affirming that helped. Quite a bit, in fact. He felt a small smile return to his face. This one seemed more permanent; he remembered acutely the anxious face Brad had made, sitting at that table in the café. The way he'd looked at the raccoon, in his moonlit apartment. The way he'd smiled, when Jonathon agreed to go on a date. At that, his tail even gave a happy quiver.

He liked Brad. There. It was fair to say that.

He passed a fast food joint. An office building. A tall doberman in a suit entered. A short crocodile in a polo left.

His paw curled around his phone. Soon, a few hours, maybe, Brad would be calling him. He'd hear that rough voice again... hopefully with the affectionate undertone it had carried last night. He'd like hearing the wolf talk to him like that again.

A final right turn brought him around onto the road that would lead him back to his dorm. It had ended up being less a proper walk, and more a quick circuit of the nearby commercial district, booming in recent years from the student population and rich-twentysomethings-in-lofts on the far side.

He wondered what Greyson would say. He'd have to tell the rat eventually, though even in his mind he shied away from it. How do you explain something like this, something so new and fraught with uncertainty, in the context of something so familiar and certain?

Still, it would surely go all right. The nuances of their relationship had always been much more important to the raccoon; to Greyson, he was a friend. When a friend gets into a new relationship, you're happy for him, and things are... simple.

Whatever happened, it would settle out in time, if he just gave it that time, and handled things as they came. No point fretting about it beforehand.

As Jonathon paced back up to the entrance to his dorm, he smiled a little as his thoughts drifted back to the wolf. An earnest, emotional guy concealed beneath a rough, apathetic exterior. He liked the dichotomy, it had drawn his attention early on in their encounter, and had continued to intrigue him until the moment they parted for the night. The hints Brad dropped here and there made his ears perk. Hints about who he really was.

It was sufficient, he supposed, to say he was looking forward to their date. He didn't mind, either, that Brad had been the more forward thus far; after all, he was older. Jonathon surely wouldn't've been brave enough to hit on the sexy, straight-acting wolf guy on his own... though, he hoped he'd get the chance to give Brad a few unexpected kisses too, and take him out to dinner after. At least, if this thing worked out, and their date went well. He hoped it would.

There was nothing to do but wait and see what happened. And whatever did happen... he'd rather experience it than not. Every minute of it.

He took the stairs up to the second floor, still lost in thoughts of the lupine male... and nearly slammed into someone coming around the corner.

"Eep!" his hapless victim exclaimed, stumbling backward. "S-sorry! ...Oh, hi, Jonathon! I was looking for you!"

Shaking his head, dazed, the raccoon regained his balance. At least he hadn't managed to trip this one?

"Hi, Mitch..." he said, somewhat warily; his very first thought was of how the gryphon would react, if he could see the romantic scene playing out in the raccoon's head.

Straight Guy Mode: Engage!

"Hey, Jonathon, what are you doing tomorrow night? Do you want to come with me and Mike and Jason and Bill to the fall expo? They're gonna have a game tournament! With prizes! It's gonna be all kinds of fuck yeah!"

"Heheh," Jonathon edged around the excited gryphon, who was even shorter than he was, and the two paced down the hall together. "Well, I think I'm going to be busy tomorrow night, so probably not."

"Doing what?" Mitch asked curiously.

Jonathon considered. He'd never been a particularly good liar; he always seemed to get himself backed into a corner he couldn't get out of. "Hopefully, going on a date," he said. Careful omission of detail, on the other hand, he could always manage. He wasn't sure if Brad would be free tomorrow, but it was best to keep his options open. That, and he was looking forward to it; the sooner the better.

"Oh, okay," Mitch said; as Jonathon had presumed, he wasn't the type to squeal and ask who with (Mandy, on the other hand, would have been insufferable, if he'd had a reason to conceal it from her). "In that case, do you want to come work on chem homework with me?"

"Well, I've kinda got something going on tonight, too..." Jonathon said, scratching the back of his neck; he didn't really want to have to talk to Brad on the phone while Mitch was around.

"Aw, come on, Jonathon, we used to hang out so much in freshman year; now I hardly get to see you!"

That was true. Through some confluence of things (mostly having fewer classes together and living further apart, though still in the same building), they'd managed to go from 'video games four times a week!' to 'studying once a fortnight...'. He still sat by Mitch in class, but what kind of cop-out would it be, to say that in reply?

"Ah, what the hell. Let me get my stuff." He grinned a little, coming up to his dorm room and fiddling with the keys. "I'll help you not fail again."

Mitch glared a little, then sighed. "Thanks, I guess."

And here we go with meeting more new characters, and learning more about the main ones! Should know most of the important ones now. Relationships! They're complicated... and the romantic ones are even worse!

This was by far the most heavily-revised episode you guys have seen so far. However, I'm happy with how it came out! This 4-episode delay helps a lot with stuff like that, because I can make changes to things that happened a few episodes ago, and develop things differently if I need to.

Oh, there's also a new FA-related journal for your perusal, should you be interested.

Anyhow, that's all for now. See you next week :3.