a story by

with David Shoulder

Story and Disclaimer (c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Chris Yost. Chapter 56 (c) Chris Yost and David Shoulder.All rights to story content reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen, Sheila Vixen, Clarisse, Timothy Squirrel-Woolfe, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c) John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Stacy, Wendy Vixxen, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wanda, Mrs. Sharon Skunk, Marci Pardalis, and Dawne   (c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard, Marvin Badger, and Chrissy the Bondo Vixen (c) James Bruner. Characters Kittiara and Katja (c) "Kittiara". Character Mark the "cheetaur" (c) Mark White. Character Tyler Leone (c) Michael Mullig. Characters Kevin and Kell Dewclaw (c) Bill Holbrook. Character Trudy (c) Jeffrey Darlington. Characters Chatin and Cilke (c) Tiffany Ross. Characters Jack Black and Cecil Stewart (c) Scott Kellogg. Characters Packard Melan and DJ Gabe (c) S. Adam Tindall. Character Ricky Boone (c) Ricky Boone. Character Portia (c) Matt Trepal. Character Josh Fox (c) his player. Character Hikaru Katayamma (c) Keith Dickinson. Character CottonLop (c) her player. Character Tina (c) Tina Amberg. Character Elmer Foxx (c) Elmer Yost. Character BondoFox (c) his player. Character Vikki Vixen (c) her player. Cirrel Concolor (c) his player. Bob and Sue Logan (c) Bob and Sue Logan. Ginger Mainecoon (c) Natalie Johnson. Eric Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story based on characters and situations created by Eric W. Schwartz.

Windows95 (TM) Microsoft Corp. Amiga (TM) Gateway Computers, Amino Systems, or whoever the heck owns them now (I think it's Amiga, Inc as of the time of this chapter's writing). "Cooking for Dummies" (c) 1999 IDG Books Worldwide. Chalupa is a registered trademark of Taco Bell. Mercury (TM) Ford Motor Corp. Honda and Honda Civic (TM) Honda Motors. BeastWars and Pikachu are registered trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. WBUT is owned by Brandon Communications.  "Extinctioners" (c) Shantae Howard. Pixie Stix is a registered trademark of Willy Wonka Candy Company.

Reproduction or altering of this story by any means or any unauthorized use without the expressed written permission of Chris Yost is strictly prohibited.


Chapter 56

“That’s right Clarence, left foot to the lady, then out to the left then back and then bring it to your right!”

            Clarence and Ginger were on the set of the new Summer Sex and Beach Balls film.  The cast were on their lunch break.  And Clarence was dancing with one of the dress mannequins.

            “Wow, this is a lot easier with you teaching me!”  He did a turn and dipped the dummy dressed in a frock from the 1880’s period film they finished a few weeks ago.

            Ginger waved a paw.  “Trust me, my husband was the worst ever to teach, two left feet was an understatement for him.”  She covered her muzzle and laughed as she watched Clarence obviously enjoying himself.  “Cindy is very lucky,” she commented.

            Clarence stopped and stood the dummy upright.  “Thank you, Ginger.”  He helped himself to a bottle of water from the cooler she brought with her.  “Cindy will be so pleased to see I won’t trip her up anymore.”

            “You remind me so much of my husband it’s uncanny.”  Ginger walked over to the cooler as she spoke, taking one for herself and breaking the seal as she unscrewed the cap.  “Don’t worry about what you think she is thinking.”  She tried to put into words what she meant.  “When I first danced with my husband, as I’ve said he was utterly useless, and he knew it.  But it didn’t stop me wanting to dance with him.”  She stopped.  “Does that make sense?”

            Clarence nodded.  “It’s nice just doing something together.”

            Ginger pointed a finger at him and lowered her bottle.  “You got it!  And another thing:  he always wore a tie to events too.”  She pointed to the gold tie he had worn all day even though the dress code didn’t need it.

            “Well,” Clarence started to explain, “I think a smart dress … ”

            “ … is the path to a smart mind,” Ginger finished.  “Yes, he says that too.”  She laughed.  “You’re too much alike!”

            Clarence couldn’t help but blush a little.  “Well, you’re like Cindy.  I learned to swim with her teaching, and now you taught me how to dance.  You think I’m ready to dance with you?”

            Ginger put on a false faint.  “Why Mr. Skunk, whatever will my husband say seeing me dance with another male!”  She paused, then, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

            Clarence almost ran over to his coat, and came running back with his favorite CD.

            “Oh gawd,” Ginger exclaimed, “not ELO!”
            Clarence blushed and started to perspire from his palms, “L-let m-me guess -- ”

            “Then you already have, my dear Clarence.”  Ginger walked over to the little boom-box and clicked it to track three.  As the music started she stood face-to-face with Clarence, took his left paw in her right, and placed his right on her hip.  “Here, you can lead this time.”  For the whole song they danced what he had practiced, and at the end Ginger kissed him on the cheek.  “Not bad at all, Clarence!” she congratulated him.  “You’ll sweep her off her feet.  Thank you, Clarence”

            “Thank me?” Clarence asked.  “What for?”  He sat down and drank a large mouthful of his water.

            Ginger shifted from foot to foot.  “Well,” she explained, “After the last fortnight it felt good to teach someone to dance for a legitimate reason.”  She leaned against the trampoline.  “It’s not every day you get hired by one of the biggest names in the porn industry, I still don’t believe it.”  She picked up her steno pad and jotted down some notes.  Clarence looked but didn’t understand choreographer steps.

            “Welcome to my and Sabrina’s world.”  Clarence looked at her over his lenses.  “I still don’t know what I’m going to tell Mother, have you told your husband?”

            “Yes of course,” Ginger told him, still making marks on her pad.  “He was very supportive, probably for all the free stuff he thinks he’s going to get!”  She smiled politely as Clarence smiled.  “He was the one who thought of the Gates McFadden line I used at the party, you can tell he’s a nerd!”  She smirked.  “If I’m her, does that make you the Reginald Barkley of the porn world?”

            “N-Now who’s the nerd?” Clarence put to her, showing he understood just what she meant.

            Ginger shrugged.  “Well, we’re all in this together, with moral support I’m sure we can have fun and earn a lot of money in the process.”  She grinned in the way only felines can.

            They looked up as the studio door opened and the cast and film crew began to make their way back to the set.  A few hellos were exchanged and from behind the group Zig Zag came over to the pair and sat with them.  “Clarence,” she politely demanded, “would it be okay if I stole your dance teacher?”

            Clarence shook his head.  “Not at all Zig Zag, i-it’s m-my lunch time anyway.”  He got up and slipped off his dance shoes, holding them out to Ginger.  “I believe t-these a-are yours.”

            Ginger smiled and waved them off.  “Keep them, a Christmas present from me to you,” she told him.  Don’t forget your lessons now!”  And with that he was gone through the doors.

            Zig Zag watched him leave.  “So, how are you finding the life on the other side of the film industry?” she asked.  Ginger noticed she wasn’t like she was at the party, she looked serious.  Before she could answer Zig spoke again, “Neither of us are needed here, come back to the office with me.”

            As they walked Ginger laughed suddenly, which caused Zig Zag to look at her.  “Sorry,” she said as she followed her into the office, sitting next to her on the couch.  “I was thinking of the people you have here.”

            “And that made you laugh?” Zig asked.

            “Well, think about it,” Ginger went on, “You have the actors, they’re pretty normal, yeah?  Well for porn anyway.  You have the pretty well-endowed ladies like Sheila and Wanda, even yourself.”

            Zig Zag butted in.  “You’re hardly small either.”  She smiled and raised an eyebrow.

            Ginger looked down at the blouse she was wearing that was stretched over her bust.  “Well, okay, but that’s not the point.”

            “And that would be … ?”  Zig smiled at her ability to make girls think twice about themselves.

            “You have the male actors with muscles in places I didn’t know was possible and I’m an anatomy graduate!  But they are all fantastic people, always smiling … that’s if they aren’t moaning on camera.”  Ginger unscrewed the cap to her water bottle.  “But then, you have the people that are behind the scenes, that’s what made me laugh.”

            “You mean Clarence,” Zig Zag filled in the blank.

            “Yes,” Ginger paused to wet her whistle.  “And the likes of Sabrina, me of course, and Rodney.”  She thought some more on the topic.  “It seems you like picking up the strays.  I mean, Clarence can’t even look at a swimsuit model, how the heck’d he end up here?  From dancing with him he could have a career in front of the camera.  Then there’s Sabrina; same as Clarence I guess, that and you have a fondness for her.”

            “Oh, I have a real fondness for Sabrina,” Zig admitted in a teasing way, deliberately, to see if Ginger would pick up on it.  “I think I understand, you want to know what makes them stay.  They’re all probably suited better off somewhere more acceptable in modern society, but they’re still here.  Am I right?”

            “Yes, that’s exactly it,” Ginger answered.  “And me a dance teacher and semi-good singer; I put an ad in the paper and here I am.  Why did I say ‘yes’?”

            “Because you know we’re good people,” Zig Zag answered.  She brought one leg up onto the couch as she sat twisted to talk to the orange and white cat.  “You can see this is probably the best place for you because we accept ‘strays’.  Take Clarence, he’s here because he actually fits in for once.  We are all strays, we’re just different in the way we strayed.”  Zigzag went quiet for a second; she made herself realize just why she enjoyed the company of the people she called family.

            Ginger nodded slowly.  “Too bad it’s only a few months,” she said to herself.

            “Oh, you have something planned for the future?” Zig Zag asked as she became more interested.

            Ginger shook her head.  “No, not at all.  I was told it was a temp position, that’s all.”  She smiled.  “It’s nice just to be working again.”

            “You didn’t answer my question,” Zig pried.  “How do you feel, working in the porn industry?”

            Ginger didn’t have to give that any thought at all.  “With furs like you and the others,” she said gaily, “better than I was lead to believe possible!”

            Zig hooked her foot behind her other leg.  “Then why not make this the place to stray to and make it home?” she offered.  “It may be sporadic at times, but one thing it never is here is dull.”  Trying to keep her eyes off the swell of the feline’s breasts, she asked, “You think I could ask you to do a dance routine for me?  I never had a personal dance, I want it in the background of the movie we’re doing next.”  Plus it’s an excuse to watch you move.

            “That’s why you hired me!”  She smiled and got up to leave.  “Drop in your directions for the scene and I’ll get writing the moves.”

            After she left Zig Zag twisted herself back around and leaned back into the couch.  “This place gets weirder and weirder everyday, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

            Just then there was a knock on the doorframe.  Ginger poked her head in.  “Ahem, erm, Zig Zag, you think you could autograph this script for my husband?”

            Rolling her eyes back, she extended her arm toward the door.  “Sure! What’s the name?”


            The weeks were soon going to count down into days, New Years was coming!  The last New Years of the 1900’s, even though there was still one more to go before the end of the millennium.

            And because of that, Christmas and New Year’s Eve party bookings were hard to come by, and now they were all but impossible!  Someone even started an urban-legend-style rumor that there was a shortage of cork in order to drive up the price of champagne and sparkling wines, that one didn’t last long when most people realized that cork wasn’t used that much anymore in lieu of plastic stoppers.

            Thankfully Susan had put herself in charge of the party for The Clique.  This was an extra-special party, they’d never done anything like this before outside of getting together at someone’s place, usually Susan’s since she lived alone, to exchange gifts and gossip until all hours of the night, a practice she and Sabrina had begun in their teens way back in Dayton and staying over at each other’s house on alternate years.

            That was successful, and had come and gone, minus the prodigal skunkette.  “Weird though, how Cindy kept behaving,” Susan said aloud.  “Almost like she was keeping something to herself.”  She shrugged.  “Well, if that was it, she would’ve spilled the other night.  One thing that doe could never do is keep a secret.”

            Susan had her dress laid out on her bed still in the plastic covering, just in case it decided to fall off onto the floor.  She, however, was in the kitchen with a note pad crossing off her ‘to-do list’, pencil in one paw and a half eaten sandwich in the other.

            She had the idea of organizing a girl’s-only night ever since Sabrina left for pastures new, now that the time for her plans to come to fruition had arrived she didn’t need anything going wrong.  And as far as she could tell it was all running smoothly; the fancy hotel was booked and the girls went out the other day to buy dresses for the occasion.

            Now the guys were all invited, and it was going to be one big party!

            Walking through her apartment she took a bite of her sandwich and made a checkmark next to ‘haircut’.  Looking up at the bedroom mirror she played with her hair, deciding she liked how it came out. There was, however, one last thing on her list.  It simply said Sabrina and it annoyed her that something on her list was unable to be completed by her paws.

            “God, I miss you, sis.  Why can’t you two move here instead of living so far away?”

            She put down the list and took off her top.  She admired herself in the mirror, her past feelings of doubt now a distant memory.  She knew she was the best cheerleader in all of Ohio; all she needed was a call to be taken to the big leagues, to be a professional NFL cheerleader!  She was, after all, an avid Bengals fan.

            Well, she can’t be perfect, I guess.

            “How wild would that be,” she’d asked herself time and time again, “To cheer and be paid for it!”  One of those dream jobs only a very small pawful of furs ever get to do.  She watched her reflection shrug a shoulder.  “Eh, journalism isn’t so bad, I guess.  Doesn’t beat shaking your pom-poms at the crowds, though!”

            Susan walked over to her wardrobe and took out the Christmas present that Josh had bought her, her new lavender leotard with a matching choker.  She put them on as a set, figuring that she may as well get some everyday wear out of it.

            Then she spied the springy neck-hugging choker Josh had given her too.  It had no clasp, it simply pulled over her head and shrank to fit her neck comfortably, almost as if it belonged there.  She’d loved the way it looked on her … so did Josh; when he pinned her paws to her sides and kissed her after she’d put it on, she was ready to consider never taking it off ever again.

            And it sat on the corner of her dresser, right where she could get it when she wanted it, something that looked as if it wouldn’t fit over an infant cub’s head to the casual observer.  The choker she wore now was fine for exercising, and remember, it did match her new leotard.

            “I don’t know what it is about guys and leotards,” she told herself, “But I’m glad there’s something!”

            Susan walked to the kitchen and opened the back door.  It was cold, yes, but not bitterly, and that would soon be forgotten when she started her workout routine.  Under her arm was the mini-trampoline, probably the best and most practical gift she was given by a boyfriend, whenever a boyfriend opted to give her a gift.  She carried it out toward the middle of the small lawn and set it down on the frozen ground.

            She had gotten halfway through her routine when she looked at her watch.  Thirty minutes had passed.  It was just then that the phone rang. She jumped from the trampoline and sprang from the front pads of her feet and dashed inside to the phone.

            “Hello, Susan Felin speaking.”

            “Well, at least I got the number right this time, beautiful.”

            “Josh!!  Oh, I’ve missed you.”  She caught herself bouncing again at the sound of his voice.

            “Well then, you won’t mind me saying I’m on a pay phone down the block, I wanted to come over and see you … as much as possible if you get me!”

            “Oh, you charmer!”  Susan said half-sarcastically.  She found that he was the first boyfriend she could actually joke with, and she loved it.  “Well, as it happens, I was just using the trampoline,” she went on, “It was such a great gift, I can’t thank you enough!”

            “Hey, that’s okay,” Josh’s disembodied voice told her.  “I get to see you use it, that’s thanks enough.”  With a skirt on, if I’m lucky.Something else flashed in his brain.  “Does that mean your wearing your leotard too?”

            “Uh-huh,” she said in a seductive voice.

            “And you’re working out … outside?”


            “And it’s cold out -- okay I’ll be right there, don’t change a thing!”  He clicked off the receiver and ran down the road, tie fluttering behind him from his open coat.

            Unable to suppress her giggle Susan went outside to pick up her trampoline.  She turned off her workout music.  “Think I’ll get my exercise in a different way today,” she said, smiling to herself.  A few minutes later there was a knock on the door; Susan got up and with thoughts of how the day will end, she walked down the small hall to her front door.


            In the car Clarence and Cindy were having what couples call quality time, small talk was on the menu and Clarence was up getting his second plate.  Tonight was special because he was out with his girlfriend … wow, she’s my fiancée!  He still had to remind himself, it was a surreal feeling to look at Cindy as a wife-to-be and not just a girlfriend anymore.  With Christmas over and with the New Year coming, it felt like a good time to start the next chapter of his life, that and he was taking her to the nicest restaurant in the Columbus region.

            Sabrina was back in town, he hadn’t even thought about her in … well, let’s say days.  When he heard she was coming back to see The Clique he was of two minds about seeing her.  Of course it will be wonderful to see her again, but he was getting used to her being just a memory.

            He looked at Cindy, she had stopped talking, looking at him as if she wanted an answer to her latest question.

            “S-Sorry Cindy c-could you say that again?  I-I was watching the r-road.”

            Cindy believed him.  “I was just saying Clare, do you think this dress is nice enough for the restaurant?  I don’t want to be the only one underdressed tonight.”

            Well, this was a new experience for Clarence!  He never heard Cindy ask him about how she looked in comparison to other females.  “I think the dress will fit their code very well … erm … and, erm, you look g-great to me always s-s-so you s-s-should ask some-o-one with c-clear judgment.  I’m b-biased.”

            “I know, but you like me in it?” she asked stroking the back of his neck.

            Clarence nodded.  “Of course!  N-Not really my style though, I haven’t got the legs for a skirt.”

            Cindy laughed quite hard.  My goodness, Clarence just made a joke!  That was almost normal!

            They came to a cross-street and the traffic lights were just changing from green to yellow, being the driver he was Clarence began to slow down to hit the red light as it came on.  The car behind had another agenda, he overtook Clarence and went right through (don’t you love Ohio drivers?).

            “Never trust an ‘amber gambler’, Cindy.”

            Cindy looked away out of the window, Normal Clarence gone.  When the light changed they went into motion again.  “Clarence,” she said, watching the Ohio landscape pass by her at 30 MPH, she didn’t give him the chance to reply.  “What do you think Sabrina will be like?  I mean she’s practically married now, you think she will have time for Susan, Debbye, and me anymore?”

            Clarence furrowed his brow; he couldn’t imagine Sabrina being anything but the skunkette he tried so hard to be associated with all those months ago.  Oh who am I kidding … the skunkette he loved.

            “Honestly Cindy, I don’t think she will have changed at all.”  He stroked her arm somewhat roughly.

            “You think?”  Cindy seemed to warm to the thought when he said it.

            “If anything happens, you just have to say something to me and I can take you home.”  He smiled at her warmly, he did that a lot.  “Now, let’s not think about the worst, Sabrina is home!”

            Cindy started bouncing in her bucket seat, as much as her seat belt would allow her.  “I know, I can’t believe it, I can’t wait to see her again!  It’s like she’s been away forever!”

            Clarence didn’t say anything more.  He didn’t want Cindy thinking that he still wanted her, and if he was being perfectly honest with himself he didn’t want to believe it himself, even though he loved Cindy to the point of giving his own life for her … he still thought about Sabrina as more than a friend.


            Clarence hooked his camera bag over his shoulder and walked around his car, where he opened Cindy’s door and helped her onto the sidewalk.  She still wasn’t used to the new high heels she was wearing.  She looked up at the front of the restaurant, the lights reflecting in her brown eyes.  She looked at Clarence smiling at her and still holding her.

            “I’m glad that you’re staying tonight.”  She kissed him deeply.

            After a lot of kissing he was finally able to quietly say, “I’m sure we will come back here very soon, just the two of us I mean.  After we’re married.”

            “Woo, I like that plan,” Cindy said with devilish thoughts running through her mind.

            Reaching forward, Clarence held the door for Cindy, then another couple on their way out before he was able to enter himself.  Even the lobby was impressive, the chandelier dominated the reservation table where a small male beagle and a rabbit doe were marking off the reservations and showing them to the staff to take them to their seats.

            It seemed to them that they had arrived before the others, so they decided to take a drink at the bar.  After showing the bartender her driver’s license to prove she was old enough to be there, Cindy ordered a glass of Chardonnay.

            When Clarence got the attention of the bartender, his was a little more specific.  “Do you know how to make a Dusty Martini?”

            “A what?” Cindy exclaimed.  She couldn’t help being surprised, she would never have guessed Clarence even knew of such things.

            “Yeah … A what, sir?”

            “A Dusty … you put 3 measures of gin, 2 measures of vermouth, and a tablespoon of scotch whiskey in a glass on crushed ice.”

            “Would that be shaken, not stirred?” the bartender asked mockingly.

            “No, stirred, you’ll bruise the gin if you shake it.  I’m not after a Bradford.”  Clarence had no idea, the bartender gave him a smile and tried not to make eye contact.

            The drink came and Clarence sipped it. “It needs something … excuse me sorry to bother you again.”

            “No problem, sir.”  The bartender never had such an interesting customer … sober, that is.

            “Could you place a slice of lemon in it?”  The bartender got the request and plopped it in.  “Thank you.”

            “No problem, James.”  The bartender left Clarence puzzled.

            “Oh … that … that would explain the shaken not stirred … I get it.”  He shook his head and led Cindy over to a lounging area with low tables and wing-backed chairs.  He thought to himself how glamorous she looked in her evening dress.  He used to wonder when he saw them in the movies or on TV how the dress stayed up without shoulder straps … that was before Thanksgiving.

            Cindy sat in one of the overstuffed chairs with her wine, waiting for the others to arrive.  She practically purred like a contented Susan as she sank into the cushion and puffy winged back.  Next to her sat Clarence … her Clarence, in a black and white pinstriped suit.  He looked so handsome, the stripes going well with his fur pattern.  He sipped at his cocktail; he really did look like an international spy on a mission, although she was sure spies didn’t wear gold-rimmed glasses.  At least he’d gotten rid of the black nylon ones he’d had taped together for as long as she could remember him.

            “So, are you going to tell me where you found out how to make a drink like that?” she asked over the rim of her stemmed glass.

            Clarence settled into the chair next to her.  “Well,” he explained, “Dad had a lot of books, one happened to be a cocktail book from the 1940’s.  This one … the Dusty, was dog-eared so I figured he must have liked that one.”  Clarence took a sip and let his eyes wince at the strong taste of alcohol.  “I kinda fashioned a taste for them … although I don’t drink too often, I do like to remember my dad when I sip one.”

            Cindy felt herself melt.  She felt what a shame it was going to be, never to be able to meet her future father-in-law.  “That’s such a sweet story Clarence,” she said to him, leaning forward and reaching across to squeeze his white-furred paw.  “You’re so full of mystery, and you can keep James Bond, I’ve got so much better.”

            He coughed and blushed and tried to put on a Scottish accent.  “Why thank you, Miss Moneypenny.”  He smiled.  “How was that?”

            “Probably the worst Sean Connery impression I ever heard … but it was perfect, because it came from you.”

            Clarence smiled.  “I wasn’t much of a Connery fan anyway,” he said, shrugging it off.  “I much preferred Roger Moore, best Bond ever.”  Cindy wondered if they had strayed from the initial conversation a little … she let herself get pulled into his eyes and squeezed his paw lovingly, they clinked their glasses and then took a sip.  As she brought down the glass her eyes lit and she got up.


            Sabrina and Chris both jumped and turned on the spot.  Sabrina barely realized who it was before Cindy careened into her with a full hug.

            “Omigodimissedyou-omigodimissedyou-omigodimissedyou!!”  Sabrina gently closed her arms around Cindy so the back of her new dress didn’t become a home for her Chardonay.  It made Sabrina realize how much she missed The Clique.

“Cindy!  Oh, I can’t believe I’m here!”  She got it out with only a small break in her voice as Cindy finally let go of her.  “How many of those have you had?”

            “It’s great to see you ‘brina!” she also said with a small break, but she was trying to be good and not cry.

            Sabrina saw Clarence go over and say hello to Chris and shake his paw.  Something Chris said made him laugh, she smiled as she saw Clarence run a paw through his, for the first time since she knew him, neatly brushed and styled hair.

            “Cindy,” Sabrina said, “I have to talk with Clarence, I’ll be right back, okay!”  She walked over to the skunk currently making (quite uncomfortable) small talk with her fiancé.  “Clarence I need to talk to you, something about the studio.”

            And here she was:  the woman he dreamt about all those months ago.  The serious dreams had gone since then, but the feelings he had didn’t go so easily.  He’d had the church picked out, the honeymoon spot, names for their children … He looked at Cindy then back at Sabrina, his mind a whirl of emotions and private fantasies; he wanted to tell her everything that he felt, everything that had happened since he knew she had gone forever.  “O-Okay, S-Sabrina.”  That wasn’t quite the ground-shattering speech he had wanted, but maybe in time he’d be able to say all he needed.

            “In private,” she said with a slight wink in her eye.

            Clarence’s own eyes narrowed and he began to fiddle with his tie.  “O-O-Of course, S-Sabrina.”  His heart was beating like a train in his chest, she looked so beautiful, not how he remembered her at all.  He always thought of her in a blue tee-shirt and nicely fitting pants.  Really nicely-fitting pants.  Really nicely-fitting tight stretchy pants that hugged and gripped and … if you need a break feel free to take it now.

            It wasn’t her looks that had changed tonight however, what was different was what she wore; her white hair brushed over her left eye, the pink rose in her hair was a good addition to the very red, very formfitting dress and those glasses that made his head swim.

            It was then he realized something about her.  It was a different feeling, something he was still trying hard to form into something coherent.

            They walked away from Chris and Cindy, the pair looking at each other.  “Seems my fiancée just stole your boyfriend from you.”  Chris gave an uneasy laugh as Cindy raised her eyebrow at him.  She took a sip of her wine and smirked.  “I guess she did!  Wow I actually feel jealous!”

            Chris grinned at her, also appreciating how Cindy looked, really appreciating how Cindy looked.  “So why don’t we dump the excess baggage and run off together?”  Cindy giggled, then looked back and saw Clarence offer an arm to Sabrina as they walked around the lobby.   She felt a burn from her eyes, a jealous burn … that didn’t last long, and as quickly as she felt jealous she felt ashamed.  Chris saw Sabrina slip her arm in Clarence’s looped one, the same as she did when he offered her his.  He may not’ve felt as jealous, but … okay, he did, if it weren’t Clarence he’d have been seething.  He looked at the unescorted Cindy, crooked his arm, and with a smug smile she slid hers within.


“Wow, this isn’t like you, Clarence.” Sabrina said as he stroked her paw

            Clarence swallowed.  “I owe it all to Cindy, without her I would be n-nothing.”  He looked into Sabrina’s eyes and smiled, “I hope you and Chris are as happy as I am.”

            Sabrina instinctively laid her head on his arm, which did not go unnoticed by Chris’ peripheral vision as he and Cindy chatted as they moved to a spot closer to the lounge, nearer the fireplace but within visual distance.  “Oh, I am,” she told Clarence, “happier than I have been in my entire life, and you know the best bit?”

            “W-what’s t-that?”

            “It can only get better for him and me.”  She looked up and laughed a bit.  “But you know what I mean, don’t you?”

            He beamed back.  “O-boy, do I!”  Sabrina stuck her finger I her ear and wiggled it.  “Sorry, b-b-bit too loud still … I’m n-n-nervous, that’s all.”

            “Well anyway,” Sabrina said as she remembered why she wanted Clarence, “the reason I pulled you away, I just had to tell you this, and I just know you’re gonna laugh.”

            “Oh, is it a joke?” Clarence asked.  “You said something about the studio.”

            “It’s both really.  This afternoon I went over to see the gang and to turn in some overdue work … It wasn’t that late, okay, don’t look at me like that.”

            “S-sorry,” he chuckled.

            “Anyway, the whole place was pitch black!  Not a soul was there, it was really spooky … so I went into Studio Two where they said they would be, and there they all are, all sitting in the dark filming with one old portable paw-crank camera and a flashlight!”

            “But …why??  That must be hard to do.”  Clarence scratched his head in thought.

            “Well you told them to do a Y2K test, didn’t you?”

            Suddenly Clarence’s own Y2K-compliant light bulb went on.  “They had everything running … they must have.”

            “Yeah, they tripped the circuit!”  She looked at him over her glasses and bit her lip.

            “Oh goodness!!  I should’ve told them that might happen!”  Clarence covered his eyes with his right paw.

            “Yup, everything running and right then Marvin had to use the electric stapler.  They thought it was Y2K.  I had to reset the whole place since no one thought to send out for someone.”

            They both started to giggle, then laugh out loud.

            “Only Zig Zag would try and film with a flashlight!”

            Sabrina took off her glasses and wiped her eyes.  “It sure didn’t stop her very much!”  They both started to laugh even harder.


            “Must have been some joke,” Chris remarked.  “I’ve never seen Sabrina laugh like that before.”  Chris was still uneasy about what happened in the car, he didn’t want his own prophecy to come true.

            “Clarence either,” she said in a small voice.  Maybe they would have been good together.

            “You know what you need to do?” he said, laying a paw on her soft shoulder, “Stop worrying.  You know even in the small amount of time he talked to me he must have mentioned your name at least eight times?”

            “Really?” she said, even quieter.

            “Yup,” Chris nodded.  “And hey, if that don’t help, get him to marry you.  That’ll stop all the thoughts!”

            Cindy blinked and gave a small laugh that she hoped wouldn’t give away the surprise.  Boy Chris, you really are good, Cindy thought to him.  No wonder Sabrina fell for you!  “Thank you Chris,” she said, touching her fingers on his arm.  “I know it’s just new for me to see Clarence act so … ”

            “‘Normal’, I think that’s the word you’re looking for.”  Easy for Chris to say, he barely knew the skunk.  “Lookit, they’re friends, that’s how friends act.  He has you to thank for that, without you he’d be a pile of Jell-O.”  Now Chris didn’t know how much he believed of that, it was just she thought about that and nodded along in agreement.

            It was then Cindy and Chris got a tap on their shoulders.


            “Okay, okay, I have a s-stupid joke, I just want to say it before I don’t get a second alone with you again tonight … now you have to remember this one, okay!”

            “Okay, okay, Clarence,” Sabrina promised.  “It must be funny!”

            “Well,” Clarence over-explained, “it was funny to me, but saying that, I find everything funny … Okay this is it.  There’s a mother tomato, father tomato, and a baby tomato, and they are walking down the road, but the baby tomato starts to fall behind so the father tomato gets annoyed and squishes him.”

            Sabrina blinked a few times as Clarence remembered to say the punchline.  “The father tomato says to the baby tomato ‘Ketchup!’.”

            Sabrina looked at him, then just stared, then groaned.  “That has to be the worst joke I ever heard!”  At once they found themselves both laughing, and as they did they turned to Cindy and Chris.

            “Well, with you living near Pittsburgh now, I k-kinda thought i-it would be funny.”  He smirked and winked.

            They were met with the staring eyes of Chris, Cindy, Josh, Susan and Debbye.

            Clarence nearly fainted and Sabrina blushed redder than she did before, they had gotten so engrossed with their own little world that they had forgotten they were here with other people.

            “Err … HI Susan, hi Debbye!” Sabrina squeaked as they all began approaching each other.  In the middle the girls grabbed onto each other, hugging and choking back tears as if they’d been gone for years, not months.  “Boy, am I glad to see you!”  The four of them hugged like they did when they were back in college.

            The teasing would come later, they all thought together.


            By now everyone had an adult beverage of some kind to enjoy and relax with while they waited for their reservation time and their table to be ready.  The girls talked and gabbed and had a serious hen party while the guys worked at getting acquainted.  Josh and Chris got into a pretty good confab and lasted several minutes.  Draining his glass Josh excused himself and went out to look for a restroom.  Chris walked over to Clarence; he had heard stories of the infamous skunk, now he was able to take him away from the girls as they gossiped and caught up with each other.

            “You doing alright Clarence?” he asked.  “We didn’t mean to chase you off.”

            It was evident Clarence had been lost in thought.  “Yes s-sir,” he answered quickly.  “J-Just waiting on our table.  I’m not even going to try and sit near them, they look like they need the time together.  I think if I interrupted for anything other than our table I would need a new suit.”  He laughed and Chris made an uneasy face; right as he was. It was also evident whatever Clarence was drinking, he was enjoying it an awful lot.

            Do I really want to be here with this kid … he is Sabrina’s friend yeah, but … well the stories.Maybe against his better judgment he said what he needed to; it wasn’t at all like Chris to leave this kid spend a night alone.  “Clarence …”  Oh boy I better not regret this.  He indicated a couple of chairs recently-vacated.“Well, we have time obviously, and I totally agree with you about the girls.  Interrupt and they could turn rabid.”

            Clarence’s eyes brightened then his smile dropped a bit.  “Did Sabrina put you up to this?” he asked.  “I-I mean it’s really nice of you sir, but … well I’m not the best company.”

            A challenge he wants, a challenge he will get! “Well one thing, stop calling me ‘sir’ … ‘Your Lordship’ will do just fine.”  Clarence went to open his mouth, then he went to laugh then he didn’t know what to do.  “Yeah Clarence, that was a joke.”  Furrfu!  “No, Sabrina didn’t ask me, I came up with it all by myself.  After all, I hardly know you and Sabrina always talks about you back home.”

            Wide-eyed, “She does ?”  Clarence didn’t quite know how to take this information.  Sure he always thought about her but never would he think Sabrina would think of him, let alone talk about him.

            Chris crossed his legs and sipped his G&T.  “Yeah, sure, I know she misses every one of her friends from Ohio.  I just wish there was a way for her to feel less lonely out where we live.”  He saw Clarence looking at the floor.  “You okay there?” he asked.

            “Chris, can I s-say s-something to y-y-you?”

            “Sure you can!”  Will you be able to say it in the normal amount of syllables the question’ll take?

            “I want to s-say this now s-so I d-don’t s-e-eem … ungrateful later.  After all you offered to talk to me and everything.”

            “So spill.”  Chris stood up and it was starting to get a little warm by the fireplace.  “I can tell this is going to be quite a revelation, let’s walk and talk.”

            Chris told Sabrina they were going walkabout, then kissed her quite deeply.  Clarence couldn’t bring himself to kiss Cindy in the same way in front of The Clique, and later when they turned to leave he cursed his luck.

            They strolled not far, through the hotel’s lobby toward the front windows by the overhang.  And as they strolled and as Clarence admired the décor, Chris finally said, “So then my friend what is it you have to tell me?”

            Clarence stopped and looked up to his new-found accomplice.  “Well, I take it you know that I l-loved Sabrina?”

            Well, not until you just said it, I didn’t.  “Erm, she may have said something about how you felt, yes.”  Chris didn’t know quite what to say considering what he was just faced with.  “You said ‘loved’ … do you still?”

            Clarence looked over at her, from afar, sitting next to Cindy, and he was able to put his feelings into something he could make sense of and also something he liked.  Never taking his eyes away from them, he continued.  “Seeing her today made me realize something, I love her dearly and that’s nothing new, but I’m not in love with her.”  Clarence lowered his gaze as he talked.  “Does that make sense?”

            “Makes perfect sense to me.”  Oh boy, this kid has issues.  And Chris was beginning to realize one or two of his own, his own jealousy at someone, especially this well-meaning geek, admitting to something that apparently doesn’t exist anymore, but at one time, did.  He wasn’t as above “What’s in the past is past” as he thought.

            Clarence went on.  “I have to tell you I resented you for along time.  You were able to do all these things for her that I never could.  I was always stuck thinking what other people thought about me …”

            “But you’re not now,” Chris reminded him.  “Take your relationship with Cindy, and something tells me a few months ago you wouldn’t have been able to say any of these things to me.  Something must have changed.”

            “Two things really, sir … I mean Chris, working in the studio has shown me … well … ”

            “I can only imagine,” Chris laughed.  “And in a big way I could envy you, buddy … and the other?”

            “Cindy.  She’s done so much for me.  I can never understand why, but she’s helped me be n-normal.”

            “Mmmm, yes, I think the word is ‘love’, Clarence.  Real love, the same you have for her.  And don’t worry, having a stable relationship with a guy she knows will never cheat on her is enough for her to love you forever.”  Chris watched the young skunk blush when he went to sip his drink.

            Clarence opted out of finishing the drink, so he quickly set it down on the table beside them.  “That’s another thing I’d like to talk to you about.”  Now Clarence began to smile slyly.

            “Oh?”  C’mon Josh, you emptying out the whole colon in there?  “And what, pray, would that be?”

            “Well, don’t say anything, I just have to tell someone or I think I’ll pop!”

            Chris raised an eyebrow and swirled his drink, making the ice clunk against the side walls of the glass.  “Well, don’t keep me in suspenders, boy,” he said to coax him along, “What is it?”

            Finally Clarence had someone to tell!  And now he gets dry mouth.  “Uh, well … ”  He worked hard fishing for the words, finally blurting out, “Let’s just say I need to know how to organize a wedding!”

            Chris looked at him, muzzle open, shocked at the possibility of Clarence finding someone dumb enough to -- er -- finding the wherewithal to propose.  “Congratulations, man!” he said as he pumped Clarence’s paw up and down.  “Boy, you really are a lucky skunk.  And she comes from fine breeding stock.”

            Clarence quickly hushed the fox.  “Please, keep it to yourself for now, Cindy and I are going to announce it tonight.”

            Chris nodded.  “Good as done.  So how long have you been engaged?”

            “Christmas Eve,” Clarence replied, “and boy, it’s a long time to keep a secret!  But Cindy wanted Sabrina to be here to tell everybody at once.”  Clarence sat his camera bag on the ground and took out his prized Canon A1.  “I thought as today was a special occasion I would take some pictures.  Do you mind?”

            “Only if you get my good side,” Chris warned.

            “I’m just hoping it works.”  He took the lens cap off and cleaned the lens with his suit pawkerchief, with his thumb he turned on the attached strobe, the whistle of the capacitor charging rising in pitch.

            “Not playing ball, huh?”

            “Well not exactly,” Clarence said as he held it and turned it over and around, showing it off.  “It’s one of the studio’s old cameras, they were going to throw it out, but I asked could I have it if I fixed it.”  He looked it once over, anxious to finally get to use it.

            Chris admired it, it was a beautiful camera.  “I take it your good with tools then?”  He watched Clarence raise the camera to his eye, so he gave him a pose, standing as debonair as he could, holding his drink in one paw and sticking his fingertip up against his nostril.

            Changing his mind about taking a picture, Clarence lowered the A1.  “Well, it’s more of a hobby really, anything to keep my fingers busy [readers insert joke here] … I can even set the clock on my moms VCR.”

            “Okay!” Chris said.  “Now I’m impressed!”

            “It just takes patience and the willingness to be careful and pay attention to what you’re doing.”  He pressed the button and the flash went off catching Chris two feet from his eyes.  “Omigod, I’m sorry!!”

            “That’s a great camera Clarence.”  Chris swept at the air in front of him several times, trying to catch the shining blue dot in front of him.

            “I … ah … bought a telescopic lens for it,” Clarence said half-proudly half-embarrassed beyond belief.  “I-It wasn’t as hard to find as I th-thought.  I-It’s not th-that old … not as old as the Hasselblad the studio guy is still using.”

            Chris took off his glasses and blinked several times.  “The guy from Knight Rider?” he asked.

            The newly-formed ice was broken now, Clarence calmed down and realized he wasn’t going to be yelled at.  “N-No, it’s an older German-made camera,” he explained.  “He claims it’s the one that Apollo 11 used on the moon.  He lives on the moon if you ask me, and they say I have a wild fantasy life.”  He was seriously amazed that Chris laughed with him; it was also amazing that he was actually telling jokes.  He began to realize how easy it was to converse with someone when you have confidence in yourself.


            The Clique were still sitting on the sofa, three on the cushions, Debbye on the arm, primarily talking about Sabrina’s wedding, Cindy all the while holding back the urge to tell them all her own news.

            “Sure,” Sabrina was saying.  “Why not get your fittings in?  It’d be silly not to just because I’m not here.”

            “I know,” Susan told her, “but it’s just not as much fun without you being here with us!  We’re The Clique, it doesn’t feel right not doing it all together.”

            “You’re the only woman I know,” Sabrina said, “who could say a dress fitting would be ‘fun’.”

            “Gowns, girl, gowns!” Susan corrected.  “Those are for special occasions,        and as long as you do it right, this’ll be the only one you get!”

            Oh gee, yeah! Cindy thought.  I’ll have to get fitted for a wedding gown now, too!  She shifted her feet back and forth, wanting to burst and spill the beans …

            Just then one of the restaurant workers came over with a cordless phone.  “Is there a Miss Squirrel in this party?  A Miss Debbye Squirrel?”  Judging by the hopeful glint in his eyes it wasn’t the first time he asked a group of people the question or the first “Miss Squirrel” he’d encountered.

            Debbye looked up at the wolf holding the phone.  “I’m Miss Debbye Squirrel,” she told him with a soft sexy smile.

            Wow, she’s very good looking, he thought to himself.

            “I have a Lee Evans on the phone,” he said to her, hoping it was a relative and not a boyfriend.  “Shall I tell him you are here?”

            “OH my yes, please do!” she clasped her paws together.

            He unmuted the phone and ceased the elevator Christmas music to the other end.  “Miss Squirrel, Sir.”  The wolf gave her the phone and began to walk away, judging by her reaction it was either her boyfriend or fiancé, thus giving his thoughts about her before little meaning.

            She turned away from her friends, all of whom leaned in as far and as close as they could.  “Hello handsome,” she said almost breathlessly.

            “Well hello my dear, how are you tonight?”  Lee was smiling as much as Debbye with the word “handsome” in her charming voice ringing in his ears.  He liked it when she talked sweetly to him, it made a part of him brighten.

            “Doing much better now that you took time to call me,” she said, almost singing it.  “What a wonderfully nice surprise!”  Catching a glimpse of The Clique trying to listen in, she waved her free paw in a “Shoo!” motion, encouraging Susan to slide up against her, and for Sabrina and Cindy to stand up and flank her.

            “I wanted all of your friends to know that I’m thinking of you always,” Lee went on, almost as if he knew they were all trying to listen in.  “And that I love you to the depths and breadths and heights my soul can reach.”  They both laughed, ending with Debbye sighing somewhat wistfully.

            “I’m missing you, you know that don’t you.”

            Lee nodded his head and adjusted himself on the end of his bed for the night.  “Yes, that’s why I phoned,” he said to her.  “It’s great seeing the family again, of course, but I don’t feel whole without you.”  He shifted his phone to his other paw.  “You do remember about tomorrow, yes?”

            “What’s tomorrow?” Cindy whispered?

            Sabrina giggled, Debbye blushed and motioned to keep their voices down.  And she nodded her head.  “How could I forget?” she replied, cupping her paw around the mouthpiece.  “It’s the first time I’m seeing you in too many days.  Oh, and everybody loved the earrings you gave me … ”   They managed another two minutes when she noticed that Clarence, Chris, and Josh were walking towards them.  “I have to go,” she said sadly.  “The table’s ready, I think.”

            Lee sighed.  “Okay my dear.  Say hello to everyone and tell Sabrina I’m sorry I missed her once again.  I love you, Debbye.”

            “I love you too, Lee.  I’ll tell everyone, don’t worry.”  And with that the phone clicked off.  But she didn’t mind; she got to talk to Lee, and show off a little in the bargain.


            Clarence took out the camera and Chris brought over a lady feline, she looked like Chris had talked her into something and she didn’t quite realize what she had agreed to.

            “This lovely lady has agreed to take our picture, she’s the restaurant manager and she’s just about to go off her shift, so I think she would like this to be quick.” he turned to the feline who nodded.

            A male retriever came up behind the manager.  “What’s going on?”

            She turned and smiled.  “I’m just about to take this group’s photo then we can get going, okay?”  Louise the manger pointed to The Clique members, the girls sitting on a large couch, Chris and Clarence standing behind their respective wives-to-be, and Josh behind Susan.

            Darren, her boyfriend took the camera from her.  “Yeah okay, but I’ll take it,” he said to her.  “This is one expensive camera, and you broke my last one.”

            The feline poked out her tongue.  “Okay I concede, just don’t take it out of focus.”  She kissed him on the cheek and began to zip up her jacket.

            Darren lined up the group of seven friends in the view finder.  “You’re looking good group, now big smiles!”  He thought to himself how good they did look together.  A passing thought gave him the idea to focus in on the lioness’ ample cleavage for just one picture … just then the fox at the back said something that made the group laugh.  “Perfect!”  And he pressed the shutter button with a click.


            Finally they sat down at their reserved table in some sort of logical pattern and ordered their meals.  They all started to talk among themselves as they waited for their starter.

            “Oh, ye gods,” Sabrina said as Chris held her chair as she sat.  “There’s even more silverware at this restaurant!”

            Sabrina started to tell the table about the Strongarm Christmas party, carefully editing her “visit” with Wendy Vixxen.  Carefully Chris leaned in to Clarence and whispered into his ear, “So when’re you going to tell The Teeming Millions of your plan, Clarence?”  Not even Cindy who was the other side of him noticed.

            “Well,” Clarence whispered back, “I’m thinking as we eat our soup will be best.  Everyone won’t be too into their meal.”

            Chris nodded.  “Yeah, good thinking.  I’m having the tomato soup, gotta love soup!”

            Chris leaned over the other way in his chair and kissed Sabrina on the cheek, just to remind her he was thinking of her.  She jumped a little; she was getting into a good conversation with Josh and hadn’t seen him a lot before she went to Pennsylvania and was in full flow of gossip.

            Clarence then realized Cindy would want to know when he intended to tell everyone about their marriage plans, so leaning over and in the same hushed voice, “Cindy ... Hey Cindy, I’m going to tell them during the first course.”

            Cindy giggled, and then blushed, then saw Susan wearing a perplexed and somewhat suspicious face and turned her expression neutral again.  “Yes Clarence, I’m having the Italian wedding soup.”

            Clarence wondered two things:  Why was everyone having the soup? and, did she actually hear what I said?  He kept facing Cindy but with his right eye looked across to Susan, he then nodded, “Ye … ah huh.”  He took a beep breath and sighed, “You gotta love soup,” echoing Chris before him.  He gave her a kiss on the cheek and turned to take a drink from his second Dusty of the evening.  Goodness, after this I’m sticking to lemonade.

            It didn’t take long for the starter to come and for the meal to get underway.  Clarence picked up a melon ball from his fruit cup in his spoon.  He looked around the long curved table at everyone present.  ‘The Clique and Partners’ he thought.  That would make a good title for a music album.

            “Melon balls, eh?”  Chris sniffed and looked at Clarence.  “Good stuff, except I never got why they call ‘em ‘melon balls’; they don’t HUPH!”

            “Chris!” Sabrina said in hushed anger, “Not here, please honey!”

            Chris looked at Clarence and made a face mocking her when she turned away before returning to quietly slurping his soup.  Clarence looked about the table once again, noticing the chatter was beginning to subside.  “I think now would be a good time,” he announced to himself.

            Taking a deep breath, he stood up.  For the first time in his life he was really the focus of attention, on purpose.  “Erm, excuse me … please,” he said, quietly tapping the bowl of his teaspoon on the side of his half-empty water glass.  The group turned away from what they were eating or stopped talking to the person with whom they were currently engaged in conversation.  “Thank you everyone, I won’t be long so your soups won’t get cold, I promise.”

            Spurred on by nervousness and the two drinks he’d had without food, Clarence put his paw in the inside pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a shabby piece of paper on which was his trademark:  poor paw writing.  “First off I would like to say welcome back to Sabrina and I hope that our town hasn’t changed too much.”

            Sabrina blushed a little as everyone lifted their paws and golf-clapped.  However she had to admit, she loved the attention she was getting from everyone.  “No Clarence,” Sabrina assured him, “It’s just how I remember it all, it’s not been that long.”
            As furs here and there laughed Clarence glanced down and got a slight nod from Chris to get to the best bit.  Clearing his throat, Clarence went on to the shakiest part of his notes.  “A-And on to the s-second part of my letter … ”  Hiding his anger for his stammer now coming out when he absolutely didn’t need it, he stood there quietly for a moment and took another big breath, a deep cleansing breath, and slowly the weight of waiting lifted and his stammer promised to behave.  “As you know … ”  He paused.  “As you know,” he continued, “I have been given the honor to have Cindy … ”

A few “Woooo’s” and “Was he any good?” came from The Clique and Chris put his head in his paw, giggling.  Cindy rolled her eyes.  “Take no notice of them Clare,” she assured him and patted his arm with her paw.  “Carry on.”

            Slightly put off by their reaction Clarence came back with a stronger determination.  “You all know what I meant, but I also have a bigger announcement.”  He fished out the white gold band with the mounted diamond.  “On Christmas Eve I asked her if she would be my wife.”

            Cindy got up slowly, Clarence slid the ring on for a second time, but this time it felt better, it felt right.  “I, of course, accepted him,” Cindy said as excitement crept up on her from behind.  “We’re getting married!”

            Silence swept over the table.  Susan dropped her spoon into her soup, and they all wore open muzzles and wide eyes.  Shortly one single paw clap came from Chris, slowly replacing the silence as they all joined in and Clarence finally enjoyed that full kiss with Cindy.

            Josh got up out of his seat and joined Chris around Clarence and The Clique did the same to Cindy, paw shakes and hugs were exchanged between the two groups.

            “Well done Clarence, I take it we are all invited?” Josh grinned at him.  “You have a date yet?”

            Clarence shook his head, they hadn’t even thought of that yet.  “I won’t need a date, I’ll be … oh!”  Clarence couldn’t dodge that embarrassed bullet.  “No, not really,” he said, fighting that damned stammer.  “I just wanted to get the most difficult bit out of the way first.”

            Chris couldn’t help himself and laughed.  “Oh it gets harder, trust me.  In-laws are my bane.”  Thinking of Endora still made Chris nervous.  “Of course, if television teaches us anything, it teaches us that you’re not supposed to like your in-laws.”

            “Oh I think mine will be suits, all those people measuring me m-makes me nervous.” he felt a twinge in his bladder.  “Excuse me I need to use the bathroom.”

            Over on The Clique side of the gathering, congratulations were given generously to Cindy.

            Sabrina held her tight.  “I’m so glad you and Clarence are getting married,” she gushed.  “You’re perfect for each other, he really loves you.”

            “I know!”  Cindy answered as her legs bent at the knees in excitement.  “Is that what you were talking about today?”  Cindy felt her nod into her shoulder, she felt silly thinking that they could have talked about anything else.

            Susan wasn’t as pleased as Sabrina or Debbye.  In fact, apart from seeing Cindy so happy, she wasn’t pleased at all at this sudden change in character from Clarence or Cindy.  Being a lioness, and an over-protective one at that, she wanted answers.  She saw Clarence leave for the bathroom and pounced.

            “Excuse me, I have to use the bathroom,” she said as nicely as she could.

            Her athletic legs sprinted her along and he caught up with Clarence, and stopped him just as he was pushing the male bathroom doors.

            “Hello Susan,” he grinned.  “Sorry I haven’t spoken to you a lot tonight, I’ll be right back.”  He pointed to the door.

            Susan held up her paw.  “Quiet, you and I have got to chat.”

            “O-O- Okay.”  He sensed this was going to hurt.

            Susan was beside herself, two angry lionesses descending on the skunk.  “It’s bad enough that Chris is marrying Sabrina and moved her to another state,” she seethed, “you turn up and ask Cindy to marry you, and where the hell are you gonna take her, London?”

            Clarence stood there with his mouth open.  And out of it came a resounding, “How dare you!”  The exclamation startled Clarence himself, but not as much as it startled Susan; for once, his anger was raised.  “You come here and question my motives?”

            “Look, I’m only here to protect my sisters!”  Susan stepped in closer.

            Clarence stepped back and banged into the door.  “I don’t see Chris getting this,” he hurled back to her.  “It’s because you think I’m a pushover!”

            “You’re wrong Clarence, I said what I felt to Chris, he understood my feelings.”  Susan was a lot closer than Clarence could manage.

            He needed to end this and he knew what to say, he just wondered what would happen if he did.  Then his mind wandered to Wanda; he wondered what she would say, he was surprised he even connected the two.

            “Be honest with her Clarence,” the apparition of Wanda told his hindbrain.  “That’s what everyone likes about you, you never lie.”

            He looked the angry lioness in the eyes.  “Who will be there when you eventually say ‘yes’ to someone, or will you just carry on with men like you do, then leave them on the wayside when you’re bored!”  He stepped forward himself, forcing Susan to take a step back!

            “Maybe that was a bit too honest, Clare!”  And with that, the image of Wanda faded.

            Susan stood there, dumbfounded, and watched Clarence dive into the males’ bathroom.  “My God, he stood up to me!  He was … in charge!”  She looked at the door in thought.  “I kinda enjoyed that …” she said to herself.  “He was … wonderful.”  She wondered what it would be like to have him in charge all the time … then she remembered who she was thinking about in an over-romantic way.  “Eww, how could I think of Clarence like that, eww eww eww!”  Still, he was quite good!  She put a finger to her temple as she turned to go back to the table.“Stop it, brain!”


            In the males’ room Clarence was shaking and close to crying, he was splashing his face with warm water.

            “Oh God, why did I have to say that to her?” he lamented for the third time.  “She is going to kill me when I go back out there.”  His reflection in the large wall mirror over the row of shining porcelain basins didn’t give him any help.

            “Bad date, hey bud?”  The washoom attendant sat at the other end of the room almost out of sight on a nice velvet-topped stool.  “What you say,” he asked grinning, “she looked fat in her dress?  Lots of guys do that!”

            Now, if Clarence were to take off his suit, he’d swear every hair of his fur would be beet red from embarrassment.  And polite Clarence, instead of telling the raccoon to mind his own business, explained, “I basically asked her if she would ever get married to anyone or will she carry on sleeping around, and she wasn’t my date she is my gi … fiancée’s best friend.”  Clarence toweled his face off, now dropping into a state of depression he never felt before, not even when Sabrina had broken down and explained that they weren’t suitable as a couple did he feel this bad.

            “Tough break, my friend.”  He pointed to the far wall of the restroom.  “Hey, if you want to make a quick escape there’s always the window, lots of guys do that too!”  He laughed, Clarence shook his head, although the mental image of him crawling out of the open window into the winter weather did make him feel a little better.

            “Thank you,” Clarence said, “but I must face her.  I can’t let her think I’m a bad person.” He gave a slight wave to the raccoon and on his way to the door put some quarters into the small white tip bowl by the linen towel stack.

            “Hey, I’ll leave it open for you!  If I hear you running I’ll even give you a boost up.”  He laughed, and as the door closed behind Clarence the sound was slowly replaced by the restaurant hum of conversation.

            Clarence turned out of the door and came face-to-face with a rather demurely smiling Susan who had returned to see him.  This was what Clarence first felt was strange, he imagined being torn limb from limb by her as soon as they next met, then he realized she waited for him.  “Su-Su-Susan, wh-what I-I said wa-was … ”

            She came closer.  “It was the best thing someone ever said to me; outside of Daddy I’ve never been spoken to like that before.”  She looked him over from his hind paws to his hair.  “No wonder Cindy loves you, you’re so strong!”

            Clarence was beginning to feel uneasy from Susan’s actions toward him.  Oh no, not another one; please I don’t want anyone but Cindy!

            “I’ve found a new respect for you, Clare,” she admitted.  “You are just what Cindy needs, a caring and a strong-willed guy.”  She hugged him and kissed him quite hard.  Clarence returned the kiss; it was uncomfortable, and unlike Wanda, Susan kissed his with her muzzle closed -- partially closed, anyway -- and he enjoyed it probably more than he should have.  And as she kissed him, Susan’s eyes widened for a moment as she felt Clarence … and the sheer volume of …  “Well,” she said with an embarrassed lilt to her voice, “at least your not one hundred percent right.”

            Clarence was still reeling from the kiss.  “Wh-whats that?”

            “You’re a lousy kisser,” she lied, but she winked at him, just to let him know his arousal wasn’t unnoticed.  But even if he were a lousy kisser, who’d care!?  “C’mon,” she said, taking him by his paw and leading, “Lots of food to eat, and don’t worry, you won’t get any more grief from this girl.”

            The rest of the dinner went by without a hitch, everyone enjoyed themselves and two certain members of The Clique found that differences can be sorted out, if you just tell the truth.

            The meal went on into the night with the music of the dance band in the adjoining room wafting over.  Largely, it was monopolized by the four ladies and their gossip of each other and furs they knew and the previous school year as if it was old times.  Cindy had sort of stolen the spotlight from Sabrina with the bombshell of the announcement of her engagement.  As the hens chattered Chris, Clarence, and Josh had to fish for their own topics of conversation, feeling each other out to find where various interests lay.

            Dessert was served, and when the bill came Susan signed it.  “Everybody remember to send me a check!” she called out and gave the bill folder back to the waitress with a generous tip attached.  Chris slipped his wallet back into his hip pocket and leaned in to his own fiancée.

            “Because Susan’s paying for it out of her trust fund,” Sabrina explained, keeping her voice down.  “She thought it’d be easier that way if one paid for everything and collected later.”

            Chris nodded.  “Makes sense.”  And went back to dissecting his pie.

            Chatting went on well after as dinner settled.  Thankfully Debbye didn’t feel as out of place as she’d feared she would, as usually happens when females club together, and being The Clique, she couldn’t feel out of place if she wanted to.  When they migrated a little at a time to the dance floor, Debbye simply flitted from Clique male to Clique male, and as usually happens with faster numbers she danced with her girlfriends.  Clarence managed to impress everybody, especially Susan, his dancing technique was much better than it had been before.  Susan actually wanted to steal a second dance with him, much to Josh’s chagrin, and she promised she’d make it up to him, later, slowly.

            By midnight-thirty everybody was about as worn out as they could be.

            If there were any ill effects left from the two martini’s Clarence had had, they were long gone after the last dance, a Kirk Whalum number called My All.  No one wanted to leave, no one female certainly.  It meant … it meant Sabrina leaving again, though not for a few days yet.  And Cindy next year, maybe?  They were refusing what might be the beginning of the end, they were fighting it early and denying it life.

            Clarence drove Cindy home, Susan and Josh were going to stay for a nightcap, and Debbye drove herself.  Chris and Sabrina stayed with Clarence and Cindy for a few blocks, then turned to go a different way to the apartment.

            “I can’t believe they’re getting married!”  Sabrina remembered seeing them lost in each others’ eyes, arm in arm, kissing in the corner of the dance floor.  “They look right, don’t you think?”

            Chris stayed a little longer at the flashing red signal.  “Sure do, almost as good as us.”  With his foot on the brake he gathered Sabrina in his arms and kissed her, too.



            In the early morning Chris awoke when Timmy began to fuss down the hallway.  Why this made him leave a rather nice dream he was having was a mystery to him, but still he got up and giving his Sabrina a kiss on the cheek, he walked down the small hallway to where Timmy was waving his arms about, he was having a rather poorer dream than Chris was a scant 5 minutes before.

            Now, what prompted Chris to get up to investigate someone else’s fussing baby at this hour of the morning was a bigger mystery still.  He looked at the small ball of fur with a mixture of the unknown and pleasure.  Chris had no idea what to do with children, but he thought that stroking his finger over Timmy’s head may do something for the poor boy, thankfully and to his great surprise it seemed to have the right effect.  He didn’t even hear Sabrina walk up behind him, she had quite a shock to find that the only thing she woke up to see was the indent her fiancé had made in the couch.

            “You know,” she said, “the last time I saw anyone tend to Timmy like that was me.”  Her voice was low but it made Chris jump, he hid it well but she could see he was enjoying his time with the little one.

            “Really?  When was that, Kitten?”

            His question made Sabrina’s smile dull a little.  “It was that morning that I thought I was pregnant with your child.”  She looked down as Chris’ tail stopped waving backward and forwards.

            That was a damned stupid question to ask, Chris!

            He turned around and wrapped Sabrina in his arms and held her close.  As soon as he did her arms went around his waist with as much strength as she could muster in this early hour. Sabrina looked past at Timmy.  One day we will be fussing over our own child, Chris is the only man I want to be with till I die.  The final part she shrugged off with a sudden eerie chill.

            Chris sniffed the air.

            So did Sabrina.  They broke off and looked at Timmy.

            “A-myyyy!” they both called once they’d run back to the safety of the couch and each other’s arms.

            The drive across town would have been a lot quicker but Sabrina asked Chris to pull over at a place he recognized, but it took until they were walking by the now empty and partially snow-covered flower bed to remember it was the park they walked in the first time he visited her.

            “Why is it, Chris, that every time I’m with you here it’s so cold?” Sabrina pondered aloud.  “When I was in college, this was all green and pink.”

            This was the first time Chris actually saw sadness in his lover’s eyes over the holiday.

            “Hey don’t frown, Kitten,” he offered, “How about in the middle of spring we come here and you can bask in the sun, how’s that sound?”  He gave her a quick one-armed hug and felt her nod.

            She held onto his paw as they walked around the pond to the car.  “Just make it before we’re married, is that okay?”

            “Anything to make you happy.”  As always he opened the door for her, and after getting comfortable and buckling up, made their way to his soon-to-be in-laws.


            At the Mustelidae household Endora was just finishing brushing her hair and applying her eye liner when Warren entered the bedroom.

            “So, you wanted me to see this new dress?” he asked sitting on the bed next to her kissing her on the cheek.

            “Yes,” Endora answered.  “Let me change.  Now remember, this won’t be as good as the last new outfit I wore.”  She got up with an evil grin as Warren’s mind and other bits remembered Endora coming in on Christmas eve with just a Santa hat on and two after dinner chocolate-coated mint creams covering the two parts of the body that would give away just how cold she was.



            Later, inside the Mustelidae house, the cold of the outside was quickly replaced by the warmth of the fire that Sarge and his brother lit earlier in the evening before Sarge ran off on an errand.

            Wait, Sabrina has an uncle?  “Well of course I have an uncle, Chris.”  She showed a bright smile to the skunk that got out of the chair and put his arms around her.  Her uncle was three years younger than his brother Warren, he was taller and had the family tradition of thinning hair and glasses.

            “Oh ‘Thirty-Three’, I missed you so much!”  She wrapped her arms around her uncle and hugged him tight.

            This new character hugged his niece and rocked her back and forth.  “Sabrina, my dear little Sabrina.”  He pulled back and looked her over, smiling lovingly; from bouncy little skunkette who used to hold onto his finger on a walk to the corner store to buy her candy to a well-developed young woman now about to start a new life with ... a fox … oh well, it had to happen sometime.  “I hope you are still keeping the faith alive.”

            “Of course!” she beamed proudly.  “I have; my Amiga is running at four percent, more than even yours, Thirty-Three!”  She glanced at Chris who was warming his paws by the fire.  “This is Chris, my fiancé.”

            Chris stepped forward and shook the paw of the strange skunk. “How d’y’do.”  Then all went quiet; for once Chris was the one of the back-paw, it was obvious Sabrina loved her uncle a lot.

            The skunk Sabrina called ‘Uncle’ finally broke the hug with his niece.  “My name’s Lesley, Lesley Patrick.  Mom thought as I was born on March 17th it was only fitting.”  He placed his right paw over his heart.  “Ah, I love my mother, such a sense of humor.”  He gave Chris a wink for no explicable reason.  “Most of the family calls me ‘Thirty-Three’, I guess you will too, seeing as how you’re marrying my activist of a niece.”  He took off his glasses; Chris couldn’t help noticing that they looked just like Sabrina’s.  He breathed on the lenses and cleaned them on the end of his tie, which was the same blue as Sabrina’s shirt.

            “Uncle Thirty-Three was the person to buy me my first Amiga,” Sabrina announced proudly.  “It was a 500, I think.”  She smiled, remembering her first taste of computing freedom.

            “So you’re the one to blame,” Chris said.

            “All true,” Thirty-Three confirmed, “until if I remember rightly, a ten-year-old Sabrina wanted to try it out with a ‘better’ power supply box and nearly blew the whole street out!”  He kissed her on the cheek.  “I had to reassure your mother for days after that!”  He was nodding his head as he remembered.  “Good times, I’m so glad that you’re keeping the dream alive for us, the Amiga faithful.”

            “I’ll always be your activist!”  She hugged him again and looked at Chris, and felt a wave of jealousy come from him.  “Tell him why you’re called ‘Thirty Three’.”

            He stopped and feigned a start.  “Oh!  Chris, sorry yes I forgot all about you there.”

            Another wave hit Sabrina.  “I get that a lot,” Chris replied.  “That’s okay, it’s nice to see where Sabrina gets her quirks from.”

            “Well,” the new skunk began, “I take it you know that Warren’s nickname is ‘Sarge’, right?”  A nod from Chris.  “Well, my initials are L.P.  And if you remember those things, you’ll remember that the speed of an LP was 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.  And that’s where it comes from.  Better than the girl’s name I have, right?”  He laughed and gave Chris a friendly nudge.

            “Where’s Aunt Willow?” Sabrina asked.  “I have to ask her why she hasn’t left you yet.”

            “She’s in the bedroom with your mother;” he said as he walked across across to the couch.  “I think you’ll be surprised with what you see when you get there.  And while you’re doing that, I think Chris and I should bond.”  He patted the cushion next to him.  “You want a beer?” he asked.  “I’m sure my brother’s got something to drink in this house.”

            “Okay,” Sabrina said, moving toward the stairwell, “I’ll go and have a look.”  As she placed a paw on the railing she stopped and bit her lip.  “Where is he then?” she asked.

            “Oh, you do remember you have a cousin, then.”  Chris saw both their happy demeanors disappear with the mention of her cousin.


            Coming from inside the master bedroom, you’d never have guessed it, there was the sound of … giggling.  Mom?? Sabrina thought as the sound happened again now joined by another, her Aunt.  Sabrina knocked on the door and pushed it the rest of the way open.  “You guys okay in here?” she asked, then blinked.

            Her mother Endora and her Auntie Willow were sitting on the bed looking into the dress mirror. Various brushes were strewn around the comforter and on the dresser; Tabitha was standing behind her mom and brushing at her own hair, the ribbons for her pigtails on the floor.  Endora turned around and smiled at her daughter.  “So what do you think?”

            For the first time ever, Sabrina saw her mother with her hair down, straight, with slight curls at the end.  It was just long enough now to lie below her shoulders.

            Sabrina wasn’t used to this at all.  The reason she had her hair done and done short was because of her mother.  Apart from a stint during high school when she had long hair herself, she found her mother’s programming kicking in and she always had it done in a fashion similar to hers.  Now, looking at Endora with longer hair than she’d ever seen in person before … “That’s really good Mom,” she said, her voice filled with a combination of awe and confusion.  “You look wonderful!”

            Her Aunt Willow moved to one side and patted the space between them, and Sabrina walked over and sat down, Willow hugging her tightly.  Then Endora hugged her as well, like they used to when Sabrina was a child.

            “Well,” Endora explained, “I wanted to grow it out ever since you were talking about your wedding, and looking at those old photographs made me want to do it even more.”  She put on the red Alice band she bought; it was wide with a big red bow attached.  “There, just like the old days.”

            Willow took out an old Polaroid from her pawbag and showed it to Sabrina.  “Just look at your mother there,” she said and pointed to a younger Endora.  “She was always so pretty, I wanted to look like her so much when I met her.”

            “C’n I see?”  Tabitha asked.  Willow turned the photo so Tabitha could look over Sabrina’s shoulder and see.  There were the four of them, standing on a street corner, Thirty-Three kissing Willow on the cheek and their parents both leaning against a street light.  They almost looked … cool!   “Congratulations on your wedding my dear,” Willow said to Sabrina, “Your uncle hasn’t stopped talking about it since he heard, he always wanted a daughter.”  She smiled wide.  “Especially one that loved computers as much as you.”  And as aunts do, she kissed her again.

            Endora took the photo from her sister-in-law.  “My goodness, was that us?” she asked, barely recognizing herself before having had two children.  “What year was that, ‘74?”  She brought her open paw to her cheek.  “Look at that, Warren had hair!”  Sabrina looked again and giggled, she’d known girls with less hair than her dad and uncle had then.

            “Yes, and so does Les!  It was ‘75 actually, remember it was cousin Robert’s christening.  I had only been engaged to Les for about six months there.”  She shook her head and chuckled.  “I wonder why sometimes.”  They laughed and Willow threw a pillow at Endora.  “Sitting here with you Endie, I feel 19 again.”

            Sabrina raised her eyebrow, then turned her head sideways toward her mother.  “‘Endie?’  There’s so much I don’t know about you Mom.”  The more she thought about it and looked at the photo, the more the younger Endora reminded her of Amy.

            “You never ask,” Endora replied, brushing her hair in the mirror.  “Your friends call you ‘Sabby’, don’t they?  What’s the difference?”

            Just then Endora’s ear caught the inadvertent tone of her voice and she stopped and turned to Sabrina.  “I know I’m hard on you sometimes,” she said in a more motherly voice, “but see how much you lost out on.  You never talked to me, always preferred the men of the family.”  Endora’s smiled dropped.  “I never once had a chance to… ”

            It was then music started to play and waft up from downstairs, and the faces of the two elder skunkettes lit.  Willow put her paw to her mouth slightly.  “Oh my goodness, you left your fiancé with Thirty-Three!”

            Endora pricked up her ears.  “Yep that’s American Graffiti, all right.”  She sighed.  “Oh dear, that means Flash Cadillac will get them doing that stupid thing they always do.”

            “Flash Cadillac?”  Sabrina shook her head, “They wouldn’t make Chris do The Hop, would they?”

            Both of the older women turned to her, and both looked forward again and sighed.  “It is New Years after all,” Willow reminded Sabrina.  “Les has been saying any guy that you take will have to have a sense of humor.”


            Five minutes before the music came on Chris and Lesley were sitting in the front room talking, beers in paw.  Every so often they were looking out the window for Sarge’s car between the twinkling colored lights reflecting from the Christmas tree beside them.

            “So then, how’d you guys meet?” Lesley took a mouthful and swallowed it slowly.

            “I met her on the internet,” Chris told him.  “We talked for quite some time before we met in person, but from the first letter she typed to me I fell in love with her.”  Chris took his own mouthful.

            The new skunk slapped his thigh.  “Well you sold me, I’m getting the Internet!”  He noticed Chris snicker at his comment.  “Ah, so you do have a sense of humor!  That’s good, you’re going to need it in this family.”  He swirled what was left in his bottle.  “Sarge and Endie might seem like sticks in the mud, but you get them in the right situation and they know how to have a good time.”

            “Sounds like I’m in for quite an evening,” Chris said, not knowing if this new feeling of dread was justified or not.  “When I met them I felt a shell that needed cracking.  Your brother terrified me.”

            Thirty-Three waved that off.

            “Seeing her parents in a different situation will be good,” Chris mused.  “I mean we’re going to be … ”  He paused, looking at the older skunk he finished with, “ … related.”  And a slight lump stuck in his throat.

            “Don’t underestimate my brother and Endie,” Sabrina’s uncle said in an effort to quell his fears.  “They’ll surprise you more often than not.  When they were teenagers together they were Bonnie and Clyde.”  He paused.  “Just which one was Bonnie and which one was Clyde wasn’t always as black and white as my stripes.”

            “So you’re saying they’re parolees.”

            Thirty-Three pointed a finger at Chris.  “That’s good!” he said.  “You’re going to fit in here just fine.”  It was then the sound of the car pulling up could be heard from outside in the driveway.  “Just remember, hurt her once and I’ll kill you.”  When they heard the key turning in the lock Lesley got up.  “Stay here, Chris … Hey, do you like rock and roll?”

            Chris smiled “Yeah, I sure do!” he replied.  My dad’s been in radio forever, so I have pretty much grown up with music all my life.”

            “Oh, that’s perfect!”  And with that Thirty-Three went to the hall to meet his son and Sarge.  Chris sat back down and drank the last of his beer and wondered where the heck Sabrina was.


            In the hallway Warren and Lesley’s son were putting down a big box and some packages.  “So you found them all I see.”  Les was laughing at the sounds his brother was making.

            “Yes, Thirty-Three, if your car wasn’t so small you’d be doing this.”  He threw his jacket at Les.  “Hang it up, dear brother.”

            “Well that’s what I did with my midlife crisis, I bought a sports car.”  He looked at Warren over the rims of his glasses.  “You had Tabitha.”

            “And no regrets!”  Warren gave him a punch on the arm.

            “By the way,” his brother informed him, “your other daughter arrived while you were roaming.  She’s in the bedroom with the girls.”  Thirty Three picked up the big box and heaved it into the living room where Chris was looking at the baby photos of Sabrina on the mantle piece.

            The younger skunk Oscar, Sabrina’s cousin, pricked up his ears.  “She’s here?” he asked.  “I thought she was in another state with that … fox.”

            Sarge shook his head unaware of the connotations said in ‘fox’.  “Chris and Sabrina came back to Ohio for the holidays.”

            “Chris, that’s his name is it, I’ll remember that,” Oscar spoke with a dryness that was uncharacteristic in comparison to the atmosphere.  As he hung his coat he asked, “Does he know what happens here on New Years Eve?”

            Warren shrugged his shoulders.  “Not unless Sabrina told him, maybe he does.”


            In the living room Lesley had pulled out the turntable that was in the big box his brother brought, and he enlisted Chris’ help to set it up.  “So, you know how to have a good time, Chris?”

            “Depends on what’s being touted as a ‘good time’.”

            “Ah just some music and some dancing you know … grab a partner and let the music take you; guy or girl don’t matter!”  He stretched his arm under the coffee table and worked by feel to jiggle the plug into the outlet.  Extricating himself he spoke in a lower voice.  “I must warn you though, when the extended family comes together it normally ends up with us having a football game in my mom’s house.  It’s wide enough, just not long enough so we normally end up very bruised.  All good fun.”  He looked at Chris and shook his head.  “If that’s not your thing that’s okay, we’re just very competitive when all the cousins come together; cousin Welby was a running back in college, he’s a dirty player!”

            Chris tried to wrap his brain around a football game like that in an older woman’s house, and with her permission to do it!  “Well, I’d have to see it to believe it,” Chris told Thirty-Three, “but it does sound fun.”  He paused.  “Erm, talking of cousins why was Sabrina so uneasy about her one cousin?”  He winced, not really wanting to ask the question.  “Is that your son?”

            Thirty-Three looked at the needle and blew off some dust, the sound of his blowing coming clearly out from the old wooden-boxed stereo speakers.  “Ask her that, it’s nothing much but it’s not my place to be putting words in.”  He put the needle into the groove of the old record.  “Ah ha!”

            A second later the theme to a 1970’s TV show filled the room.  “Whoa, Rock Around The Clock?” Chris exclaimed.  “That’s one old record.  You ever notice that millions bought the single when it came out but no one ever admits they did?”  He picked up the American Graffiti album resting on the coffee table.

            “Only the best music from me, my friend!”  He passed some records over.  “New Years Eve is always a time of dance and making a fool out of yourself, doing it right is to have a good time for the Mustelidae’s.”  He grabbed Chris’ right paw.  “Welcome.”

            Chris shook, then took his paw back and looked at it.  “I’m not sure if there’s enough beer in the house for me to have that good a time,” he mused quietly.  Scared me too, I was afraid it was going to be karaoke.

            The other two male skunks came out of the hall.  Warren shook Chris’ paw.  “Glad to see you could make it,” he told Chris.  “I see my brother has started with out us!  This is my nephew Oscar.”

            “Clarence,” he coughed into his balled left paw.  Chris turned to Lesley’s son and extended his uncoughed-in one.  “Hi there, I’m Chris, future cousin-in-law.”

            “I know, your Sabrina’s husband-to-be.”  He shook Chris’ paw almost begrudgingly, though he forced a smile.  “Speaking of my cousins I see one now.”  He indicated the stairway.

            Tabitha bounded down the stairs and ran to Oscar.  “Oz!”  She sprang to a stop in front of the tall skunk.  “I wanna dance, Oz!”  She turned to Chris.  “Can I dance with you later, Kwiss?”

            Chris ruffled Tabitha’s hair, “Sure Tabby.”  He watched as Tabitha and Oz did some twists together, the older males watched and laughed at the little skunkette reaching up to her cousin.

            It was then The Three Skunkettes walked through the door and three males -- two skunks and one fox -- blinked.


            Chris held Sabrina from behind as they looked at the sky, it wasn’t one hundred percent clear but you could see enough of the stars to make out the constellations and Jupiter hanging low in the horizon, Orion like some great protector loomed high in the sky over Chris and Sabrina.

            Sabrina turned herself around to lean up and kiss him.  She snuggled into him a little more due to the chill and looked back at the moon as it was slowly enveloped by another cloud.  They sat on Sabrina’s rock, or rather Chris did as much as he could, at the bottom of the yard, looking at the sky and thinking about what would be happening in just a few hours time.

            “It feels good knowing I won’t be seeing the year two-thousand alone,” he confessed.  “I sometimes wonder what my life would be if I hadn’t clicked that link or if I had logged onto another room, or even later on if I had gone to bed that first time I met you … ”

            Sabrina stroked his arm.  “But you did stay Chris, no one is more thankful for that than I am.  She zipped her coat up to her neck.  Seeing Clarence and Cindy yesterday made me glad that I’m with you; if you knew him before you’d know why I would be worrying!”  She snorted her laughter and Chris gave a toothy grin.  Idly she stroked the hard cold surface of the stone.  “I’m glad we didn’t take this with us, it’s something to come back to.”

            Chris put an arm around Sabrina’s shoulder and kissed the side of her head.  “Yeah, kitten … it’s like being on an island in a sea of stars … I wish I could reach out and touch one, and if I can touch one, I can touch them all, and if that was the case I would spell out your name for all to see that love I have for the most wonderful skunk girl in the world.”

            Sabrina sighed half-contentedly and half-embarrassed, and snuggled up into his warmth.  “That has to be the corniest but most wonderful thing I ever heard,” she told him.

            “Well it’s true kitten,” Chris confessed, “All of it.  Though saying that, ‘Mustelidae’ is so long I think I would run out of stars.”  He looked down at her over the rims of his glasses, Sabrina contorted her face with a mix of mocked contempt and amusement.

            Then after a moment her eyes softened and so did her voice.  “Well Chris, you know ‘Foxx’ doesn’t take up that many stars, and it’s the only name I’ll be wearing for the rest of my life.”

            Chris now started thinking over how much had happened since that very late night on the Internet.  It made him think about the time he was last here.  “It seems years since I last saw this house and this rock.”  Then he thought about what he said to Eric. It made him quiet for a moment.

            Sabrina was still thinking about what he said to her.  “Time goes by so fast these days doesn’t it?” she said.  “It’s amazing how much you can fit into a few months, it feels like seven years or more.”  Sabrina started to shiver more

            Changing the subject, “Your family very big?” Chris asked, thinking of all the cousins talked about today.  “I thought it was only rabbits who had huge families.”

            “Yeah, quite big I guess.”  Sabrina thought about it some more.  “Granddad M was the fourth of six brothers and one sister, so it’s quite an extended one.  It’s bad when they get together, sometimes they’re all jokers, and it gets heavy from time to time.”

            “Is it true one is called ‘Welby’?” Chris laughed.  “That’s a strange name and I’ve heard some over the years.  Genesee Baer, Leslie Organ … ”

            Sabrina shook her head.  “His real name is Mark,” she said, and explained, “Story goes in the 70’s there was a TV program called Marcus Welby MD.”

            Chris’ expression clearly said, “Aha!”  “You know what, I think I remember that.  Goodness, your family is inventive when it comes to nicknames.”  I’d have to think what they’d come up with for me.

            “We have to be,” Sabrina agreed.  “It saves confusion.”

            “And Oscar … what’s his story?”  Chris looked at her with big green questioning eyes.
            Sabrina looked past the green of his eyes to his pupils.  “He and I were very close when we where growing up.”  She unconsciously cuddled closer to Chris.  “He is only three months older than me; we were more brother and sister.  We were both only children at that time.”  She paused.  “I guess he loved me more than I realized.”

            Chris narrowed his eyes slightly.  “And what do you mean by that?”  He cuddled her back, and began to feel his eyes turn greener.  Certainly not in that way …

            Sabrina explained.  “Just before I left Dayton he asked me if I would date him.”  She sighed, not noticing how wide Chris’ eyes became.  “I couldn’t, it just wasn’t right, and I knew if it didn’t work that the family would be divided.”

            Chris got a very uneasy feeling from hearing this.  And began to develop a dislike for someone he just met.  “Isn’t that illegal or something?”  Chris was quite shocked.  “I mean, he’s part of your family, and I know Ohio is next-door to West Virginia and all, but still … ”

            Sabrina shook her head.  “I thought so at first too, but after I said no to him I looked it up.  Apparently the church has nothing against cousins being together either.”

            “But things haven’t been the same between you, have they?”  Curiously, Chris could see a tear in her eye.

            Sabrina discovered she couldn’t admit to that.  “Before I met you I would think what it would have been like, you know to love him the way he did me.”  Feeling compelled at this point, she softened her mouth and kissed Chris deeply, passionately.  Finally catching her breath, “But since I first met you online he didn’t even come into my mind.  That’s why I was scared of meeting him, I didn’t want to tell him I forgot him.”

            Chris smiled and kissed her back.  “But you did try didn’t you?  I mean this Oz-furson, he’s the spitting image of Clarence, minus the stammer.”

            Sabrina looked at the back of the house quickly, suddenly wondering if someone was watching from the kitchen window, maybe Oscar … no one was there, though she could swear she heard a waft of rock music from shortly before she was born.  “You know what, I never even thought about it that way.  You think I dated Clarence to see what it would have been like?”

            Chris shrugged.  “Who knows what the mind does.  Could have been.”

            Sabrina pulled her coat tighter to her and snuggled closer, then scootched to give Chris a little more room.  “Then I’m glad it didn’t work out in a way,” she said.  “It led me to you and there’s no way anybody will take you away from me!”  She giggled slightly.  “To quote one of Thirty-Three’s songs, ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’, and my heart and my soul is yours, too.”

            Now it was Chris’ turn to melt.  Then his mind put in some overtime.  “You don’t think Clarence is one of your cousins too?” he asked half-kiddingly.  “I mean, they look alike and it seems to me that you have too many cousins to know ‘em all.”

            Sabrina swatted him the way she does when he presses a nerve.  “That’s not even funny Chris.  I mean how could he be, I would know.”

            Chris didn’t say anymore, he just smirked at Sabrina’s suddenly concerned face.  “Look, it was only a joke!  Those things only ever happen in movies or online stories that try too hard!”

            Sabrina nodded her head.  “I know … I guess you’re right.  Don’t do things like that to me, it was actually a scary thought!”  Now she smiled a little.  “No, that’s not nice, Clarence has changed so much.  He’s even engaged to someone now.  And someone I know, there’s the freaky part.”

            “What about Oz?” Chris added.

            “Well,” Sabrina thought, “let’s try and get him some Love Potion Number Nine and a girl, he’ll forget me quick enough!”  Now she smirked.  “See, I’m good at this song title gag, aren’t I?”

            Chris’ eyes widened.  “Oh!” he exclaimed.  “You mean, get him laid!”

            That took Sabrina by surprise!

            “I’m not taking you to Zig Zag’s anymore,” she told him.

            Chris zipped up his coat and got up.  “I think I’m going to have words with your ghost writer, Kitten.”  He took her paw and helped her off of her rock, then held her in the moonlight, staring into her eyes, her wide beautiful blue eyes, holding her then kissing her for as long as they had air.  “We better rejoin the party before they think we’re avoiding them.  After the countdown apparently I have to do The Hop, please explain to me what that means, Kitten.” he looked at her with an imploring expression.


            Josh gave Susan her glass of champagne.  This was a first for Susan, spending New Year’s Eve with someone she actually cared about, and in her own apartment.

            “Well, this is it, dear!” he looked at the count down on the TV screen, showing Times Square.

            “Yup sure is.”  She clinked her glass against his.  “Wow, The Year Two Thousand, who would have believed it!”

            “Shall I start or you?” Josh said pointing to the clock that read 11:59.

            “Oh you can,” Susan told him, “… but I’ll finish.”  She said this in a way Josh understood that she wasn’t really talking about the time anymore.

            “Okay then, ten,” he said draining his glass.

            “Nine,” Suzan said unbuttoning her blouse.

            “Eight,” Debbye said holding on to Lee for dear life, scared of what tomorrow may bring.

            “Seven,” Lee gasped trying his hardest to breathe, rocking her gently.

            “Six,” Warren and Endora said enjoying a rather passionate kiss to the surprise of both Chris and Sabrina.

            “Five,” Elmer shouted over the din of the friends and relations that had congregated at his home.

            “Four,” Sharon said looking at the pictures on her fireplace.  She forgot all about the countdown as she stared intently at her husband.  “Why did you have to go, I love you so much, I miss you so much … I’m so lonely.” she softly spoke as the tears welled up inside her.

            “Three,” Clarence said as the party at ZZ Studios was about to begin in full force.

            “Two,” Cindy said with him alone in the studio cafeteria with the din of the party just outside.

            “ONE!” Sabrina and Chris said in unison, Sabrina crossed her fingers hoping with all her might that her Amiga would work in the morning.

            And all of the lights and the TV went out.

            Everyone stood in the dark, now suddenly plunged into the dark the sounds of hollers and horns could be heard from outside … Tabitha looked around the room and started to shake nervously, people started bumping into each other, sloshing a drink or two …

            Warren looked out the window, that’s when he saw all of the other houses and streetlights were all lit.  So were his own kitchen lights.  “That smells like your doing, Thirty-Three.”

            Sabrina’s uncle started laughing.  “Busted!” he said and slid his foot beneath the large chair to push the switch on the power strip he’d hidden, and everything came back on at once, including the next record on the turntable, it dropped and the needle dropped onto Auld Lang Syne.

            And as the singing reached the end, Chris added into Sabrina’s ear, “You’re my only one Kitten.”


Happy New Year!

End of Chapter 56