It had been a week or two since she began working at Zion and now she was beginning to become more comfortable. She’d gotten to know the reverend, a fortune teller and an inexplicably attractive animal handler, along with her long lost half brother Nic. Things seemed to be going well for all intents and purposes besides the weird feeling that the reverend might be trying to turn her toward god, but she’d have none of that. After her show she made her way back to the pens with King and escorted him safely into his cage. Before leaving she kneeled down and pressed her palm against his fur. “You did a good job out there today.” She said to him quietly before nuzzling her head against his. Strange behavior for a human but not for Jean.
After she locked him inside she turned around to find Kerr looking after another animal. Quickly she glided over to him, positioning herself far too close and offered her sweetest smile. “Hey there handsome, whatcha doing?” She asked, the gleam in her eyes shining over to his face. It was so feminine, and Jean couldn’t help but remember some of the lady folk she’d met back in Montana who had a similar look.
Kerr sat on a stool and held the rather large goat on her lap a bit awkwardly as she tried to hold it still as she worked a cactus spine from it’s neck. “See, this is what happens when you try to run away.” She scolded the animal.
The handler almost jumped when she looked back upon hearing Jean’s voice to find her so close. “Oh, um… Just…” She looked back at the goat and worked out the last spine. “Mr. Goatington thought he’d go on an adventure into a cactus this evening when one of the kids was slow leaving the petting zoo.” Kerr explained, setting the animal down. The goat seemed calmer than it normally was- small red welts littered it’s face, neck and right side. It was clear to Kerr, and most (or she assumed) that the beast had regretted it’s adventure- for now. “Don’t go anywhere.” Kerr said, reaching into her pocket to pull out a small jar of cream. “Doc gave us something to help you.” Unscrewing the lid she held it out for the goat to sniff- quick to take it back before he could try to eat it.
Jean watched him as he regarded the goat, almost as if he was talking with it. A deep part of her viscerally understood what that was like. Not the talking part but the sense of understanding with the creature. She felt kinship when she transformed with the other cougars or bobcats, just like he obviously felt for that goat. “It’s a good thing they’ve got you around to help them. Not much a goat can do for himself in that situation.” She finally replied, kneeling down to be closer to the little goat. A small smile came to her face as she thought about how good that goat would taste if she were out there as a cougar in the wild.
“Did you name him?” She asked, bringing a hand up to gently stroke the top of the goats head. She’d play nice for now but if one of them got out she’d be the first and last one to find it.
She didn’t wholly understand this attraction toward Kerr, Jean hadn’t been interested in a man in her whole life. What made this one special? Was this some sort of sign that she had been living in sin? The whole thing made her head hurt.
Kerr gently smeared the cream over the welts to help relieve the pain and help heal it. “Nah, He had his regal name before I came. He was the first goat to come to Zion.” Or so it acted. “I think the handler who was here before you named him.”
She shrugged slightly at the comment about her helping. “I’ve not been here too long, just a bit over a year. I’m more lucky to have this place than otherwise.” Kerr wondered if Jean had heard about her past from anyone- at least the past that was public knowledge. “Who knows where I’d have been if Mr. Verner hadn’t had mercy for me.” She got up from the stool and escorted the goat back to the pen, closing it into an isolated one so he could heal. She made sure the water was topped off and it curled up in some hay. “Remember this next time you decide to make a run for it.” She said, shaking her head at the goat.
She stood from where she knelt as Kerr walked away and lightly scoffed. She didn’t get this man and it was beginning to get on her nerves. She couldn’t get him out of her head for some odd reason. She could read men like books from the minute she set eyes on them, but this man didn’t seem to give off any kind of tell tale signs. “How did he have mercy on you?” She asked, the elephant in the room was always something Jean was ready and willing to address.
Her only defense against being vulnerable was taking as much of the attention off of her past as she could. She’d cheated a lot of men out of a lot more money and that wasn’t always something she was proud of.
So, no one had spilled the beans. “Oh,” Kerr let out a small laugh, rubbing her neck, as she turned to look at Jean. “Yea, well, he sort of caught me in his wagon after nipping some food. Was trying to hide from a couple of the carnies who’d caught me. My defense, I didn’t know it was the bosses wagon- or that he was inside it when I hid.”
A smirk came to Jeans face as she listened to the story. She had a few similar circumstances on the way to Arizona to find her brother. Although she never got caught for it. “So you’re a criminal then.” She teased, making her way back over to him, practically in a corner. “I like dangerous men.” Which wasn’t true usually, only in this very rare circumstance.
“Yea… kinda.” She shrugged, not sure how comfortable she felt as Jean got closer. “I mean, I never meant harm. I always just needed to eat. Things were tough in New York.” She now wondered if she should tell Jean about escaping police custody- which was how she ended up in Zion. Especially with how she was reacting to the story thus far.
Jean wasn’t used to this, wasn’t used to men not flirting with her and to be so honest was endearing. She’d had many times she’d gone hungry because of a bad crop season. “Sometimes what’s lawful isn’t what’s right.” She replied, her eyes going soft at the thought. She couldn’t blame him for doing it, you had to do what you had to do to survive. “I’m glad you’re here now.” She added, trying to put a positive spin on it.
Kerr nodded. “Yea, luck was on my side. And people here have been kind.” She ran her fingers through her short brown hair. “I’m just glad the felines have someone to work with again. They were starting to get a little stir crazy I think. Glad it didn’t come to the point of them being sold away.” A change of topic, directed from her might hopefully make Jean stop looking so close or asking too many personal questions.
Jean recognized the defense mechanism, she’d used it one too many times. But who was she to judge? Some things people just liked to keep a secret and that was fair. “Well perfect timing for me then huh? Might not have had a job to get if there weren’t no felines.” She declared, offering Kerr a smile.
“Did you work with them much? I mean before I got here.” She asked, clasping her hands in front of her. It was clear her feminine wiles weren’t working on this one and while it was frustrating, Jean would be happy just to have a friend.
“I’ve not been here too long.” She said with a nod. “But in the time I have, yes. I suppose I’m lucky they seem to like me.” Kerr shrugged. “And ‘work with’ is a bit strong of a word. I help feed them, brush them when they need it, clean their cages. More, just care for them than work with them. I’m not a trainer- just a keeper I guess.” Her accent became a bit more pronounced as she spoke with pride about all she did- even if she didn’t really show it.
“Well.” She replied, leaning against one of the animal pens with her hands behind her back. “You got me here now, help you with that.” She supposed it was her job mostly now but she didn’t mind. The cats were her kin and as soon she’d get a chance to get away, she’d finally allow herself to meet them in her feline form, then they could truly know each other.
Kerr shook her head with a nervous laugh. “Oh no, I-i didn’t mean to imply- I like my job. I could never get on stage and perform like you. With my past it’s probably better to keep out of the spotlight as well.” She said, fiddling with her suspenders. “I mean, I appreciate the offer- if that’s what it was… but-” Her head shook.
She chuckled at that shaking her head. “Well what I meant was you got me to help you look after the cats but I could teach you a thing or two
about lion taming if that’s what you want.” She teased, pushing herself off the pen gate. This felt good, not trying to charm her way into a man’s wallet, like maybe she didn’t need to do that, like maybe she could just call these folk her new family.
“Oh, yea the help. It’s very appreciated.” Kerr said, brushing at the hair behind her ear- a habit from when it was longer. Well she’d sure misread that, hadn’t she? If she could read Jean’s mind she’d have laughed- Kerr was not well off. She made enough to do, but as a roustabout food and lodging was her bigger pay. Not being part of a show or games meant she didn’t get a cut from those jobs. She didn’t mind, it was just enough to be safe and not running. Hell, she didn’t even stay in a tent (despite others pointing out spare beds), she just couldn’t risk anyone noticing… that constant fear of going back to jail.
Kerr brushed her dirty hands on the legs of her trousers with a nod to herself. “I think it’s best for me to stick with the stuff behind the scenes.”
She regarded him again and nodded her head to his statement. “Listen, do you want to maybe want to sit and talk over a drink or something sometime? I’m not trying to court you, I could just really use some friends around here.”
Things for her were still new and it felt lonely not knowing everyone there yet, not even her own brother had become her friend, they were only acquaintances. It wasn’t like she had a huge supper system back home but at least there the people were familiar.
Kerr almost stumbled at the word ‘court’, yea, that was definitely not in her wheelhouse and not on the table. Despite hiding as a boy, Kerr liked men. Not that she had much experience with them. Friends though, “I’d like that- friends.” She nodded. “Anyone who gets on with the zoo, is okay in my book.” She smiled softly. “You can always join my table at meals.” She did tend to sit alone- off to the side. Sometimes she was joined by others- or she joined others, like Nic. More than a few times she just grabbed food and ate at the pens. But it would be good for her to socialize in a comfortable- public- setting.
A soft smile came to Jeans face. “You got yourself a deal.” She replied and looked back out over to her cats. “Suppose I should be getting back to work. I’ll see you around Kerr.” And with that she raised her hand, walking back to the cat pens where she went to tend to her felines.