Author's Note: this story takes place before the story "Friendships and other things"
I saw him sitting on the side of a planter. There have been times when I saw Oren moody, but this was different. I flew up and landed on his shoulder, and he smiled to see me. I projected a question mark to ask him what was wrong. He shook his head and returned his gaze to his flippers, looking forlorn.
A peal of laughter caught my attention. Turning first my ears and then my head, I saw the brightly lit doorway of the Deaf Mule, which had been closed to the general public for the monthly gnawers' meeting.
Immediately, I knew what was wrong. Most of Oren's friends were rodents. Charles and Lady Kimberly would be inside. So would Phil. So would the rats from the cellar. In fact, most of his friends would be in the meeting.
In short, there was a party going on, and he wasn't invited.
I knew what Oren was feeling. It wasn't that long ago that I had felt excluded. Fortunately for me, the situation was reversible. The writers in the guild had thrown a party for me. They made me feel accepted as a writer. This wouldn't work with Oren. He had never been a rodent, and in all likelihood, never would be. He would not be allowed to attend the gnawers' meetings. Ever.
What to do, then?
I thought about it and thought about it, and finally told Oren with an image to stay where he was until I returned. He nodded sadly and went back to watching his feet.
It took me about an hour to do what I needed to do, but when I returned, there was Oren, still sitting on the planter. He was staring at the door to the deaf mule, the fur on his cheeks a little moist.
Emitting a little chirp, I got Oren's attention and motioned for him to follow me. This he did, slowly. Urging him to hurry, I led him out the gates of the keep and down to the bank of the Metamor River. There, already assembled, were three of my friends to whom I was about to introduce Oren.
"Hey there, Gornul!" said a chubby cape clawless otter. "Who's your friend?"
I raised my eyebrows at him. He knew I couldn't speak names.
"Oh yeah." He extended his paw to Oren. "Name's Rashim."
"Oren. What's going on?"
Rashim gestured toward the riverbank with his paw, where a lovely otter-lady and a fully morphed male otter were sitting on a picnic blanket enjoying fish, bread, cheese, and even a little wine.
"This was Gornul's idea." said Rashim. "None of us knew each other before tonight, but Gornul insisted we come out here and have a picnic. He said it was 'exclamation point'."
Oren walked up to the others and introduced himself.
"Caroline Hardy." said the woman, giving Oren her paw. He gave it a light kiss.
"An' I'm Barney!" said the fully morphed one. "I used to take care of Loriod's fishes!"
"Pleased to meet you, Barney." said Oren.
Barney offered Oren the open food basket while Caroline poured some wine. Rashim was pulling off his clothing as he shrunk down to become fully otter, and then slipped into the river.
Oren helped himself to some bread and cheese and began to chat with the others about mutual interests; primarily me.
At one point, Oren got up and said "That water looks good." And proceeded to remove all of his clothing.
"Oren!" said Caroline with a blush and a grin.
"What?" Oren responded, being not the least bit shy.
"You could at least go to full otter form."
"Oh. Yeah." Caroline couldn't know that it was more difficult for Oren to assume his full form than it was for those whose forms were a result of Metamor's curse. As far as she knew, the Keep was responsible for his coat of fur.
Still, Oren complied with her wishes and changed into his fully lutrine form. Moments later, Barney jumped in, followed by Caroline, who made a point of morphing BEFORE undressing.
I smiled to myself as I watched my four otter friends playing and cavorting and having a good time, occasionally coming ashore to grab a sandwich. It felt good to have replaced my roommate's tears with a smile.
As I sat and watched them, Oren called to me and motioned for me to come and play. With a happy chirp, I dove on in.
It's good to feel included.