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Spring Again

I hate spring.
My best friend Bran and I were sitting in his red Mini Cooper Hardtop two-door, parked out in the wetlands west of town, looking out at the cool, cloudy night sky and listening to the mating calls of frogs.
The seasonal imperative our species lives with says spring is the time to mate and grow big with the next generation. I only have to do this if one of the males catches me, though. If I would just stop putting out pheromones, I could hide for the month I'm fertile, and I wouldn't have to lay the damned eggs every year. I wouldn't have to decide whether to kill my mate. Some of them deserve death for the way they treat me when I'm in their mating grip, but some don't. If I leave them alive, though, they're so wasted after the biggest event in their lives that someone has to take care of them for several years while they recover their strength. Not a job any female of our species relishes.
The chorus of frog croaks had started earlier this year than ever before, way before frost stopped edging the night with lace. The air was cold and full of water vapor and the first pollen particles from trees and the smell of plant life waking and rising. I had already begun to grow scent-emitting tendrils in my hair, though they hadn't started spilling pheromones yet. I snipped them out every morning, though that hurt. I could never find all of them.
"Just let me do it," said Bran. "Let me fertilize you. I think this might be the year I mature. I've been getting feelings I don't understand, and you look different to me, more juicy or something. You smell appetizing."
I sighed. Bran was ten years older than me, and I had hoped he'd never grow up. Males took a long time to achieve sexual maturity among our kind. I knew some guys who were eighty years old and hadn't gotten there yet. I liked the immature ones. They were no kind of threat, and could be good friends. It was the crop who developed secondary sexual characteristics with the advent of spring I had to watch out for. "Bran. Not you. Please. Not yet."
He edged his hand under mine on my thigh, and I curled my fingers around it. We listened to the frogs. The outside edge of Bran's hand was forming the hard, knobbed ridge a male needed to grip and paralyze a female. He was right. He was growing up.
If he matured this year, he would have to mate, if he could track down a female. Then he'd probably die. Especially if it were someone other than me. Most of my mates had been men I didn't know and didn't care about; there were always plenty to choose from, so many it was impossible to avoid them all. I actually flew to the Galapagos one year, hoping none of our kind would be there, but six turned up when my tendrils activated. That year, I killed my mate, and only two of my hundred offspring survived to pupate. They were my least favorite children.
"Even if you kill me," Bran said. "I want it to be you."
Better me than anybody else. My best friends were female members of my own species. We could never tell humans why we hid for three months every spring. We couldn't let ourselves be seen when our bellies stretched to their fullest, because humans did not change that much in their pregnancies, even those bearing multiple embryos. We hid in the geothermal caves together when we were at our biggest, so we could lay the eggs in the warm pits where they had the best chance to survive. We sometimes fed each other's broods after they hatched. One didn't get involved with the larval stages, just fed them once a week and watched them fight each other for survival. They couldn't think properly until after they pupated, so the titanic losses of most of them didn't hurt very much.
Bran had attended me through five years of egg laying, bringing me food and water while I was immobilized, keeping me clean and comfortable, or as comfortable as a person can be when she's almost twice her normal size and can't rise to her feet. So many body structures change for that horrible time. I would spend all of it knocked out if I could.
He was the best helper I'd had since I'd reached sexual maturity eight years ago. But if he was mature this year, I'd lose him, one way or another. If I refused him, his seasonal imperative would send him after someone else. Most of us lost our minds after mating and laying, so furious and ecstatic we were, so pumped full of the hormones of completion and elation. Common knowledge said we were not responsible for what we did in the mad time.
Or maybe it was tradition, established on behalf of the Mad Mothers of the Autubiakishta. We said we lost our minds then. I had never discussed it with my friends, but my mind was not so far away I couldn't get back into it in those times. I kept my mind, and I killed my mates anyway, because that was what we did.
I had never mated with a friend.
Bran's hand was warm under mine. He smelled like woodsmoke. I didn't want him to find someone else and die under her palps.
"All right," I said.
I rubbed my fingers along the hard, bumpy edge of his hand and felt already the flush of arousal under my skin, though neither of us were ready for the act. The frog chorus swelled, and I looked through the darkness at his face. His lips parted, and the proboscis of a mature male slipped out from under his tongue. He leaned toward me and ran the soft tip of it along my jaw. I closed my eyes and ingested his scent, woodsmoke, crushed rosemary leaves, and sour milk. Delicious.
"Thanks, whatever comes of this," he whispered after we had tasted each other. Tendrils writhed in my hair. I smelled my own attraction, and it excited me. He wrapped his arms around me and stimulated the nodes behind my ears. A tide rose in me, though my egg sac was still shrunken and small.
Maybe this year would be different.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 11th, 2016

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