Ralph tried to focus on the paper in his paw, but was just unable too. His mind kept wandering, unwilling to concentrate for even a moment, on the speech he'd written. The Wolf huffed and folded the paper, stuffing it into his breast pocket. This was draft number seventeen, and it felt as hollow as the other sixteen. It's not like the officer didn't have experience writing and speaking to an audience, but this time his heart wasn't in it. Ralph groaned and rubbed his eyes with palms of his paws.
The Wolf had been standing close to the female locker room for over an hour, hoping to finally pin down Nadine long enough to talk. He didn't even change out of his uniform in some hope of beating the feline either coming or going. Ralph begrudgingly accepted the fact he was partnered with Weaselton, and he would tell anyone who asked that he was fine with that, but he needed to know why she wanted to change. From the glimpses Ralph caught of Nadine and Wilde, she looked miserable. He tried to pry any information out of Wilde, but that was as easy as nailing water to the wall. The only way the lupine was going to have his questions answered was from the source itself.
The door to the locker room swung open and Ralph's ears immediately perked as he hoped that it was finally Nadine. Sadly it was Penelope Howler. The Wolf groaned and knelt against the wall with his head in his paws. It was hopeless for the lupine to continue to stand there. Once again the feline avoided him. The officer heard someone clear their throat.
"Ralph, what are you doing?" questioned Howler with a concerned tone.
"I was hoping to run into Nadine," admitted the male dejectedly. He lifted his gaze to look at the brown Wolf, "But I think I missed her again."
Howler grimaced, "Sorry Ralph. I didn't see her in their either."
He sighed and stood back up "Its fine." The male looked around, just in case the Tiger was hiding somewhere close. "I guess I...better go then." He turned to leave, but Howler stopped him.
"Hey Ralph, is it true you're speaking at the Diet."
Ralph plastered on a fake smile, one that felt harder and harder to put on each day. "Yep," he replied curtly, not giving the she-Wolf his full attention.
"That's an amazing honor!" exclaimed the female with paws clasped together, "You must be so proud!"
The male barely paid attention to the she-Wolf, his gaze back on the locker room. He heard enough to guess what she talking about though and smiled appreciatively, "Yeah."
"So what are you going to talk about?"
Ralph glanced back at Howler as she looked at him, smiling expectantly. He never knew Penelope to be one to pry, and her question felt more like fishing than anything else. He turned fully to the brown Wolf and smiled as confidently as possible. "You'll have to wait just like everyone else. The meeting's almost here!"
Howler's smile waned momentarily before redoubling. "Your reputation is rising with the packs after you stopped that robbery. I wouldn't be surprised if everyone simply adopted what you said." She closed the space between the two, "If the Howlers knew what you were going to talk about, we could support you better! What do you say Ralph?"
Ralph wanted to state how disgusted he was that pack politics filtered its way into work. He wanted to say how feeble Penelope's attempt to massage his ego was, and how ridiculous it was for the Howlers to even care what he said. Instead his smile turned into a smirk as he shrugged his shoulders, "Nadine did all the work in the robbery, not me." Before the she-Wolf could try once more, Ralph started to walk away, "I need to change and get out of here Howler. See you around!"
The male waved a flippant paw behind him as he ignored the she-Wolf. Was what he was doing rude? Extremely. Did Ralph care anymore? Not at all. Even if his clout was rising among other packs, the suggestion of them changing tradition because of this was farfetched. The lupine started feeling more and more this was all a futile effort and that he should quit while he's ahead, but the Wolf's was in too deep. As he continued to the male locker room, eyes cast down and paws stuffed in pockets sullenly, all Ralph knew for sure was he desperately wanted to talk to Nadine.
Beatrice sat at her new dining room table. Well she bought the set from a thrift store, but it was new to her apartment! The she-Wolf nervously held a glass of water between her paws. She glanced to her right to see Arnold leaning against the table, propped up with an elbow and staring directly at her. She glanced to her left to see Jackson casually inspecting her living room. He picked up one of the DVD's stacked next to her television with a frown.
"The Notebook?" the white Wolf questioned with a raised brow, "Doesn't seem like your style Beatty."
"It's Cherry's," supplied the she-Wolf, still glancing between her cousin and the silent Beta, "she brought it over one movie night."
Jackson placed the case to the side of the pile and picked up another one. He chuckled and gave Beatrice an amused smirk. "Sharknado Two is definitely more your style."
"I liked the first one!" defended the young officer much more adamantly than necessary.
Jackson continued to smirk as he placed the DVD down and walked back to the table. The white Wolf slammed his paws on the table with a snarl and loomed over the grey Wolf. "Tell us what we want to know Beatty!"
Any intimidation the couple had over Beatrice evaporated as soon as the teacher tried to play bad cop. Beatrice snorted and bit down openly laughing at the white Wolf. She cleared her throat and leaned back in her chair, "Sorry Jacks you're terrible at this."
Jackson whined and his ears flicked back, "I thought that was good!"
"Sadly love you're a singer not an actor," Arnold joked, smiling lovingly at his mate, "but this isn't actually an interrogation."
"Then why does it feel like it?" questioned Beatrice with a raised brow, tightening her grip on her glass of water.
The red Wolf sighed and leaned forward, running a paw over his ears, "Because this is a big deal! I trust Ralph, I really do...but this is the first time I'm openly supporting someone outside of the Howlington pack. I need to know that I'm not being set up."
"I told you already, Ralph's only going to talk about freeing up dating in the packs," insisted Beatrice with a paw going over her heart, "that's all!"
This time Jackson snorted. When the other lupines gaze turned to him, the white Wolf shrugged, "There's definitely something else going on." He straightened up with his paws on his hips and a sharp eye on the she-Wolf, "I know you haven't met up with him recently." He frowned, "I'm worried about you two..."
"We've just been busy," deflected the young officer, not able to look at her cousin, "hopefully after the Diet we'll have more time." Beatrice felt terrible lying to Jackson and Arnold. They were two of the few pack members she talked to on a regular basis, but she couldn't tell them the truth. That after meeting at Helping Paws, Ralph completely shut her out. He didn't answer her calls, texts or any form of messaging. Short of skywriting, the female was out of ideas. The she-Wolf even waited outside the Wolford compound for several hours one night just in the vain hope that he would come out.
The couple shared a concerned look. Arnold eventually sighed and tapped a claw on the table. "Ok," he said quietly with a slow nod, "I believe you Beatty."
Beatrice sighed in relief, "Thank you Arnie." She jumped out of her chair and rushed to hug the still sitting red Wolf. Arnold laughed as the she-Wolf embraced him tightly.
"You're just like a kit!" exclaimed the male through his mirth, "how do you still have energy!"
"Better get used to it!" replied Beatrice, hugging Arnold as tight as possible, "Beta's are expected to have kits!"
Arnold rolled his eyes, "Like I'm ready for that!"
"Now might not be the best time then…" Jackson said softly.
The mirth from the hugging lupines immediately disappeared as two sets of eyes landed on the white Wolf. They released each other and Arnold stood up. "Jacks…?"
Jackson was holding his stomach with both paws, grimacing pitifully and slightly hunched over. "Arnie," started the teacher hesitantly, tears forming in the corners of his ice blue eyes, "I'm...I'm...Pregnant!"
Beatrice gasped, then tilted her head in confusion, "Wait what?"
The white Wolf snorted and covered his muzzle with a paw. "I'm sorry...this is so…" he giggled, "...emotional…"
"Damn it Jacks I thought something was actually wrong," grumbled Arnold, "You scared the bark outta me!"
Jackson couldn't keep it in any longer and burst out laughing. The normally suave lupine was now doubled over from mirth. "I...told you...I could...Act!" choked out the white Wolf between belts of laughter.
"I'll show you acting!" growled the red Wolf with a sly grin, "Beatrice flank left!"
"Gah!" exclaimed the outnumbered male, dodging out of Beatrice's reach, "Arnie I swear you-" Jackson was blindsided by a tackle from his mate. "Arnie I'm gonna-" He was cut off again, this time by his so called love of his life tickling his midsection. The teacher let out an undignified, and surprised, laugh. "S-stop it, Ha, y-y-you, HA HA, b-bas…"
Beatrice giggled, a paw failing to cover her mirth. The conversation started strained, but the kit-like wrestling of the couple removed any of the left over tension. That is until the two males started making out. "Hey you two!" exclaimed the increasingly embarrassed she-Wolf, "Get a room!"
"To the great Alphas and Betas of Zootopia," practiced Ralph under his breath, "I thank you for letting me speak today." The lupine tied more ties than most mammals not named Nick Wilde, yet his paws refused to cooperate tonight. He stood in his room, in front of a full length mirror borrowed from Juliet, and tried desperately to force his paws into the necessary motion. The officer finally snarled and ripped the offending piece of fabric and threw it over his shoulder. He looked over himself once more.
It was finally time for Ralph's moment. The Diet was still a few hours off, but he wanted to get ready and continue to work on his speech at the building itself. Elizabeth and Juliet decided that his black suit would be the way to go. Of course the options were either the black one or the blue one, but still the decision was made. He wore a plain white button down, and the solid red tie was supposed to complete the ensemble. He'd fiddle with it later. The suit gave the normally jovial lupine a very professional look, one that the officer knew he would need tonight.
There was a knock at his door. "It's open," Ralph called out, not bothering to turn around. Slowly the door opened and in the reflection of the mirror he saw Juliet. The smile on her muzzle did little to hide the nervousness behind her eyes. Ralph glanced over his shoulder to properly look at his sister. "Hey Jules what's up?"
The rust brown Wolf slid through the doorway and closed it quietly. "You look nice," Juliet said with her paws clasped in front of her, "I still think your official Z.P.D. uniform would have a better impact."
"It'll look like the police support my statement," replied Ralph as he smoothed out his collar, "I don't want Precinct One to get dragged into this."
"It would be easier if we had their support."
The male nodded, "I know..." He pulled at the bottom of the suit jacket, "...there's a good amount of officers, retired and active, in the packs." Ralph looked back in the mirror and continued to fiddle with his buttons. The officer sighed and dropped his paws to his side, "The Z.P.D. has a history of staying neutral in these affairs and I'm not willing to change that." He chuckled mirthlessly, "Of course what I'm about to suggest is uprooting tradition to begin with."
"Are you alright?" Ralph watched Juliet's reflection as she places a paw on his shoulder. Her expression is concerned and easily readable, but then again the she-Wolf never good at or willing to hide her emotions. "You've been distant recently Ralph."
The Beta sighed heavily, "...it's nothing Ju."
"You're lying Ralphie," chided the female with a raised brow and a light shove, "and not very well."
Ralph huffed and ran a paw over his ears, "It's…" He stops. Why should he lie to Juliet? If anything she would be the most understanding of his siblings. The male glanced over his shoulder with a grimace, "It's kinda like that situation with you and your co-worker."
Juliet cocked her head to the side, "What?"
"You know," Ralph continued, waving a paw flippantly as he looked at the floor, "the coyote. What was his name? Travis? Thomas? You and he wanted to date, but dad wouldn't allow it." The she-Wolf still looked confused but the male continued on. "I'm...interested in someone at work, but it's not possible for us to get together." He sighed and looked back at the floor, "It sucks...but that's life." The officer chuckled mirthlessly and shook his head, "Could you imagine the look on the Alpha's face if I asked permission to date a tiger? I mean it sounded like he almost had a heart attack when you were asking about a coyote!" He chuckled again and looked at his sister. Whatever smile he wore disappeared from the look of horror on his sister's muzzle. "Ju what's-"
"Ralph, what are you talking about?" whispered the she-Wolf, looking at him as if he grew a second head, "You want to date a Tiger?!" The final word was pronounced with a strained hiss and Juliet's gaze darting side to side.
Ralph felt his ears begin to lower, "But...but the coyote an-"
"I wasn't seriously considering dating Terry!" exclaimed Juliet, her pitch rising slightly before she cringed as if she caught herself screaming, "If anything I just wanted was a nice dinner!"
The officer's chest constricted and he placed a paw over his heart. "Wha…" he panted, his own eyes wide with fear as he looked about at anything but his sister, "...bu…"
"All I wanted was more control over my live! Howl at the sun Ralph! You can't say that stuff!" Juliet continued, pulling at both her ears. She began to pace, then stopped, and then turned to her brother, "You can't speak tonight!"
"You'll ruin everything! If you say anything about your feelings for this...this…" she gasped and covered her muzzle with both paws, "...it's Nadine isn't it." Juliet turned to her brother, slowly lowering her paws, "Ralph you can't do this! It'll be better if...if you cancel! Yes cancel an...And I'll figure something out for next month!"
Ralph felt lightheaded. His secret was finally revealed. Instead of Juliet helping him work through his feelings, she was suggesting he hide them away, as if he could turn off the feelings that he felt for the feline. As if he had chosen to fall head over tails for Nadine! Her final statement pulled him momentarily out of the spiral that was the emotional whiplash of the conversation. He couldn't cancel now. If he did cancel, than the male may never get a chance to push the packs towards interspecies dating. This was supposed to be the first of many successful steps.
"I'm going," Ralph finally stated, his tone somber yet resolute.
"Don't do this Ralph," Juliet replied exasperated, "it'll only end badly!"
"No it won't," the male denied quietly, "because I'm only talking about dating tonight." He couldn't look his sister in the eye, but he glanced at her momentarily, "It'll be alright Ju, trust me." In his peripheral, Ralph saw Juliet's muzzle open and close. The officer stood and wrapped his sister in a tight hug. "Just trust me...ok?" Juliet didn't respond. Eventually Ralph let go of her. He sighed, ears pinned completely back and tail tucked between his legs, "Wish me luck?" No answer. "...Ok..." The male walked to his door and swung it open, walking through the hallway with dread building in each step.