Nurture

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nurture
ˈnəːtʃə/
verb
upbringing, education, and environment, contrasted with inborn characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality.

"Go back to bed, dad." I really didn't have the energy to deal with this right now. It's not like he was going to use that cane; not on me, at least.

He stopped in the middle of the room and leaned forwards with both hands on the cane. "Me and your mother," he said, "we both thought having a kid would be the best thing we ever did. My friends kept saying how you don't know what you're going to get. Total lottery, they said. Doesn't matter, we said. Whatever she is, we'll love her and look after her." He paused and his lip wrinkled, like he'd smelled something bad. "And then you popped out. All scaly and coarse."

"Welcome to biology 101," I said, and moved to go past him. He raised a hand, pointed a finger and pressed it against my chest, stopping me dead.

"You know the rates of rejection for you lot are the highest on record, right? But we kept you. We had offers from all the state's orphanages. Good ones. Could have made money off you. But we chose to keep you. I want you to acknowledge that."

I smiled up at him, baring my fangs. "Yeah, I'm very grateful. Look how wonderfully it worked out for everyone. Yay."

"Twenty years from now when I'm dead, then you'll get it," he said. "When you have your own kids and find out how it ruins your whole life." He sounded like he'd been rehearsing this.

"So," I said, holding up fingers, "One: not planning on having kids. Two: if I did, you wouldn't be my baseline for parenting skills."

He stepped away, moving across the kitchen towards where dishes were stacked and drying. "You think you're so clever, always having a quick word to say. Something funny." He swung the cane across the worktop, scattering plates and cutlery and glass across the floor. The clatter of shattering kitchenware boomed out, knifing the silence. I hadn't even realised until his shout that we'd both been whispering. As if to be polite to the neighbours.

"Is it drugs? You mixing something up in the shed? Boys? Bringing someone back here without telling us? Girls? You stealing shit? What is it?"

It sounded like he'd known about me going out to the shed every night for a while. They always say you can't sneak anything past your parents, because anything you do they already did a few decades earlier.

"Which would you prefer?" This was an old game, seeing just how red I could get his face - the bits you could see behind the fur, obviously. When he got really angry his ears started to twitch. It'd be adorable on anybody else.

"You don't want to piss me off, not tonight, Kay," he growled, coming back towards me.

The inner door opened and my mother stuck her head in, squinting against the light. She must have been asleep. "Gary," she said, "just let it be. Come back to bed, we'll talk in the morning."

He stopped, looked at me with a cocked head and raised eyebrows, as if to say can you believe this shit? Turning his attention towards her, he flung his arms out wide, knocking a vase off a shelf in the process. "What's the point of the morning?" he said, nonsensically.

My mum entered the room, slowly, everything in her posture reminding me of workers at a zoo approaching a dangerous animal. She was submissive, conciliatory. We weren't much alike, me and her.

"It doesn't matter," she said, "we can find another job. It doesn't matter."

He was nodding repeatedly. "Doesn't matter," he said, as if it were a statement. Then he repeated it, louder, angrier. "I was there twenty eight years. You wouldn't get it, you've never worked a day in your life since she was born, but some of us take pride in what we do."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

She was always saying sorry. It was like her catchphrase. This time, like so many others, it wasn't enough. He clocked her on the side of the head and she sprawled onto the wet kitchen floor with a scream, limbs flying out in odd directions. There she lay, amongst the broken crockery and glass.

"You son of a bitch," I said, the words tumbling out unbidden. I darted across the kitchen, moving like only squamata can do, and was on him in a heartbeat, pinning him against the counter. "You'll never hurt her again, you hear?" I pulled my lips back, revealing my fangs, sharp and long and eager.

Then I paused. Which was all he needed.

He threw me off and back across the room. Roaring to his feet, he shouted "what were you going to do? Kill your old man? Don't be ridiculous."

I'd landed on my feet, instinct kicking in. "You need to leave," I said. "Tonight."

There was an unfamiliar flicker across his face. He actually looked hurt, just for a moment. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out.

That was when the outer door splintered apart, wood and glass flying into the room, and Cal dived in, crunching into my dad and sending the both of them skidding all the way to the opposite wall.

My dad swore and rolled away, jumping up and running back to the worktop, where he pulled a large knife from the block and held it out in front, waving it back and forth. He didn't even say anything to Cal, but dived towards him, knife poised. At the last step he slipped on water, spilt from a broken jug, and tumbled forwards, flailing wildly.

The knife embedded itself harmlessly in the wall, half a foot from where Cal lay crumpled on the floor as my father piled on top of him. They both cried out, my father a strange whispering wheeze and Cal a surprised, horrified squeal of sorts.

Cal was trying to get up but my father was weighing him down, even though he was no longer fighting or moving.

Something had happened.

I rushed over and took hold of my father's shoulders, pulling him backwards. There was an odd resistance, then a sucking pop as he fell onto his back.

Two large, gored holes were in his chest. Actual holes, where I could see though to blood and muscle and bone. Cal lay against the wall, freaking out, his month-old horns covered with blood, which was dripping down and onto his face.

I crouched by my dad. He was still alive, though not for much longer. His breathing was ragged. "I thought-" he gasped, scrabbling to hold my hand. "I thought-he was attacking you-"

Then he died.


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