Excerpt: Open Season

Sometimes it really sucks being female.

Juli Soon wakes up feeling lethargic and lazy. Her body sore, she wants nothing more than to snuggle up next to her boyfriend, Kyle Cross, and fall back asleep.

But her alarm rings, insistent and unignorable, next to her as she feels a hard, equally unignorable length push against the small of her back.

She sighs and tells herself to think. You have options, she reminds herself; you always have options.

If she doesn’t get out of bed to deal with one of them soon, she’s going to have to deal with the other. She could stay in bed. Roll over to him. Or roll onto him. She could spend the morning touching every inch of him, trailing her fingers over taut, teak skin, before taking that pressing length inside herself.

Or she could hit snooze. She could cuddle close and sleep for ten more minutes. Then maybe ten more.

Both of which would definitely make her late. And she does not have time today. She wishes she did. But she already knows, with her cycle starting and the vote happening, today is going to be hell.

So she gets up. Turns her alarm all the way off. Stretches. Lights a candle, then another. And takes her first shower of the day.

She turns on the water, but not too hot. The steam—the heat and the comfort of it—will call her boyfriend to her, not to mention make her shower completely useless. She’s trying to not smell like herself today.

Not that she smells bad.

That’s actually the problem.

Juli stands beneath the lukewarm water and tries hard not to feel disappointed. Even disappointment can make things worse. Any heightened emotion will do it, even extreme boredom. So, she thinks, get yourself under control. Remember, in the grand scheme of things, having an uncomfortable week every two months isn’t the worst thing in the world.

But that doesn’t mean she has to like it either. It’s infuriating—or would be, if she wasn’t keeping such a tight lid on her feelings—that, six times a year, her body doesn’t feel like her own. That it belongs to her biology.

She reaches for her strongly scented, cycle soap and scrubs. Hard. Especially around her neck, armpits, wrists, groin, and feet, anywhere near any scent gland. As she does, she can smell herself on the air around her. It doesn’t smell like anything on this planet, nothing native to it anyway. But it always reminds her of a dish she barely remembers from her childhood on Pixis, warm and homey and rich. She can’t even remember the last time she ate it, much less the recipe to make it—not that she could on Earth, the ingredients a galaxy away—but her memory can still taste the savory luxury.

Every time, it makes her a little homesick for a place that feels more like a dream than anything. It makes her wonder what her life would have been like, if her parents hadn’t decided to join the Great Migration when she was only four years old. Hadn’t looked at the way overpopulation and pollution and war were destroying their planet, their lives, and given up.

She wonders if this scent—her scent, the scent of her people—would make her hungry instead of queasy. If nostalgia wouldn’t twist with anxiety the way it does here.

“Morning.”

Kyle.

Juli twists under the now floral-scented spray, grateful to see the bathroom door still shut. “Morning.” She bites her lip guiltily. “Did I wake you?” She tried not to. She sniffs the shower, but smells mostly soap. Doesn’t she? She sniffs again to be sure. The cloying scent of chemically created rose clogs her senses.

She hears him yawn. “No worries.” The sound of him shuffling behind the door seems loud, even muffled by the shower, while he waits for permission. Biting her lip against the words—the invitation—she longs to say but doesn’t have time for, she holds her breath and waits too. Until she can almost feel his shrug. He sighs. “I’m just going to go downstairs and start the coffee.”

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