Her rule had been one call a week, but Judy Hopps had been on the verge of breaking that rule since Monday, and it was now Friday.
Friday, the day of their phone calls. Well, usually. Perhaps here and there the schedule would shift – Saturday instead, maybe even Sunday. But Friday, specifically Friday evening, was generally the agreed-upon time, mostly since it worked out best for Judy. She worked most weekends, and because of that, her Friday afternoons and nights were typically kept free, an olive branch extended to the rabbit by Chief Bogo, perhaps, knowing full well the work that was to be expected of her at a time when most mammals went home to loved ones or simply relaxed, recharging for another 9-5 onslaught that lay ahead.
Judy set her phone on the nightstand next to her bed and laid down, instantly ruing the decision as her resting place was all too inviting, a bastion of comfort against the pangs of winter that were setting in in areas of Zootopia not called Tundratown. Her apartment building's heat had not quite reached its full scope just yet, or so her landlord claimed, and the place was a chilly reminder of the cold breezes and snowdrifts that were imminent. That made her bed all the more alluring; she could burrow under her covers and, suddenly quite snug and warm, forget it was even late fall at all.
But then she ran the risk of drifting off to sleep. And she did not want to miss their call.
She eyed the phone on her nightstand and then picked it up, hoping that she might have missed the buzz of a text. But her paw, sweeping over the screen to unlock her device, found an empty inbox.
Not that it mattered. Nick Wilde was late sometimes. Maybe a few minutes, maybe 10, maybe a whole half hour – things happened sometimes, and that was that. Judy certainly understood it, too; things had been the same way when she was at the academy. For a place with a rigid code of conduct, it sometimes did not apply similar standards to the end of the school day.
School day? Is that what you called it? Well, Judy thought, it was technically school in that its students were learning something, and it was held at a place called an academy – academies were schools sometimes, right? All of the time?
She had never really thought about it. Over a year before, when she had attended the same academy, Judy never really saw it for anything different than a place to train, a place to become, a place to… OK, learn. There it was. The Zootopia Police Academy was a place of learning. That made it a school. Hence school day.
The phone buzzed, and suddenly she had thought of the perfect way to answer it.
"Well, hello there, cadet," she intoned into the receiver – after, of course, verifying the identity of the caller. "How was school?"
Silence on the other line, at first. Then:
"Hi… yeah, is this Ca—I mean, is this Judy?"
"Uh, yeah, dumb fox, who'd you think you were calling?" she asked with a snicker.
She could practically feel him slacken on the other side of the line, many, many miles away from where she presently sat.
"OK, no, I'm not gonna let you make me out as the dumb one here. You asked me how school was."
"Like you were my mom or something. The way you said it."
Judy chuckled. "That's not my problem."
"Yes, it is! Answer the phone like a normal mammal," he exclaimed; she could hear his phone brushing against his claws as though he had nearly dropped it from the force of his paw's motion. It could have been some sort of aborted face palm. "Y'know, 'hello, this is Judy,' or just ask me how my week was without making it… weird."
"Oh, you complain too much." She rolled over onto her back, bringing the phone with her. "So, no video, huh?"
"Nah, something's still busted," he answered with a sigh. Fangmeyer's brother, the super tech-y guy, even he couldn't figure it out. Said I just need to take it into a repair shop when I get back into town."
"Guessing there are none out there in the boondocks, huh?"
Nick barked out a laugh. "Nah, that business hasn't quite made it out here yet. Not that I'm surprised. Friedkin, the polar bear, y'know she's still got a flip phone?"
"Cross my heart, I saw the lady using it in the hall the other day during lunch. Think it was one meant for a smaller mammal, too, because it's small enough, I bet it could fall in her ear. Anyway, no video calls back to Tundra Town or wherever she calls home. Wait, is that speciesist?"
Judy shrugged. "To assume Friedkin's from Tundratown? Maybe."
"Ah, you know what, never mind, there were some Friedkins who lived off the Crevasse Street stop. Probably a relation."
"How on earth do you remember that?"
"Told ya, Carrots, I kn—"
"Know everyone, yeah, yeah," the rabbit cut him off. "So I've heard. Now, tell me about your week so I can tell you about mine."
Nick paused on the other line for a few moments, perhaps ordering his thoughts, before responding, "Well, so we finally got to close-quarters combat this week."
Judy sat up and beamed, chuckling wildly into the receiver and pulling her legs up to the rest of her body as she stooped over to listen. "Oh, gods, that was the worst at first," lamented the rabbit with a wistful sigh. "Let me guess. She paired you with one of the bigger mammals first."
"Jean. She's a hippo. Yeah." A moment's silence. "It did not go well."
"I don't really get it, either. It's – can I speak ill of the illustrious ZPD for a second, or are you going to report me to the authorities?"
"I'll allow it, but this call may be monitored for qua—"
It was Nick's turn to interrupt. "I mean, so if I get accepted, I'm gonna have a tranq gun or something, right? Or probably working Happytown or some other smaller-mammal neighborhoods. So why am I out here nearly getting my back broken by an animal 10 times my size?"
"And if you say it builds character, I'm hanging up."
Judy paused. "OK, how about—"
"It isn't going to do my muscles much good if every bone in my body's shattered, either, Hopps."
"Fine. I'm on your side, but I get it."
"I mostly ran around the ring evading her," he continued. "Tried to be slippery like Weaselton – y'know, right juke, left juke, ducked between her legs a few times. Thought if I might be able to get her to fall, Friedkin would let me win by default or something."
Shrugging, Judy switched the phone to her other paw, stretching the one that had been holding the device in front of her face, flexing the ligaments to avoid a cramp. "Well, did she?"
"She sure didn't," snapped the fox. "Because I fell flat on my face before that could happen."
"Big step for you."
"Usually you don't admit your shortcomings, Slick. I'm just surprised."
"Oh, I'll admit them when I've got no business being in the arena to begin with, so to speak. And what does that mean, anyway? I can't help if I'm much closer to mammalian perfection than you are, Carrots. Just because my paw would shatter into a million pieces if I ever tried to hit something else without a boxing glove…"
"Let me guess: Finnick was the muscle."
"You're darn right. And he had a baseball bat."
Judy rolled over onto her side, elongating her legs down her bed again and laying her phone on the mattress. She switched the phone to speaker mode.
"That's about it, though," Nick said. "Food's still bad, bed's still lumpy, company's still a drag."
"Aw, is my dear fox still not making any friends?" cooed Judy faux-dolefully.
"You kiddin'? I'm on good terms with everyone, even that weird raccoon who they got in here for the surveillance team or whatever. They're just, uh… maybe one-track-minded's the way to describe it?"
"Uh, let's see – extremely focused on one thing and one thing only, aka our city's illustrious police force."
The bunny smirked. "At the police academy? You don't say."
"OK, I see what you're getting at there, but c'mon, it's like they're robots, Carrots. You'd think some of them had been dreaming of this since they were little."
"And what's wrong with that?" she huffed.
"Nothing. Oh, you know what I mean. The other recruits, they just don't seem to care too much for fun, that's all. All serious, all the time."
Judy understood what he meant, though she realized she could certainly see either side. The ZPD's academy was a no-nonsense affair, but then, why would it not be? Was that not the very nature of the place? Nick's C-average grades at the boarding school he attended until adulthood were starting to make more and more sense, too.
"Just be careful, Nick, I dunno," she warned. "Things lighten up a little once you graduate. And most of the other recruits will probably end up at other precincts. But you do still have to dedicate yourself to their, uh… their approach, I guess, y'know? For now."
She heard him laugh, just once, a quick chuckle. "It's not like I'm not passing."
"I know, I know, I just – I don't know, maybe I worry a little bit that if you don't take this seriously enough…"
"Then Buffalo Butt won't pair us together?"
Judy grimaced. "Maybe a little."
"Well, don't worry, then. Unless they grade only on whether or not a measly fox can take down a hippo with nothing but his two paws, I'm in the clear. Oh, hey Marty, no, you’re fine, just on the phone,” he said to someone else in the room. “Anyway, yeah, everything else is still going well."
"Yeah?" her tone lightened.
"I've got that savoir faire, Carrots, you forget. Ain't no one better with the street know-how than me. And knowing the ZPD's star cop helps, too – I knew about protocol for policing zoning ordinances before anyone else ever did because I got a friend on the inside who's got first-paw experience on it."
"Ah, so you have been paying attention to what I talk about,"
"Here and there. Speaking of, tell me about your week, too. Don't let me have all the fun."
Judy froze; she had been so looking forward to hearing Nick's version of events that she had not even thought of what to say herself. And to be fair, there was good reason for her reluctance. It had been a boring week, she explained, mostly tying up some loose ends on the Dawn Bellwether case before it went to trial in the coming months, which meant a lot of paperwork – but the mundane kind, nothing particularly groundbreaking, not even something a journalist would want to run a front-page story on if it leaked.
Of course, as she explained this point, Nick argued – as he always did – that all paperwork was mundane, a proclamation she shrugged off with a hint of annoyance rather than explain to him for the umpteenth time the joys of filling out the details of the city's various traffic citations in its many neighborhoods, particularly those in Sahara Square. She would get him out there once he got on the force, and then he would see. He would see.
"On second thought," he said once she had finished, and she could picture the exact face she knew he was making as he said it, that half-lidded look, the sarcastic smirk, "let me have all the fun next time after all."
"OK, then," countered Judy. "Let's talk about your matchup against Jean some more—"
"So, how are your parents doing?" He changed the subject quickly.
"Just fine. Farmer's market season is almost over. Supposedly it was a really good take this year, which usually means extra presents around the holidays."
"And the apartment?"
"Cold as ever."
Nick harrumphed. "I'll share some of ours with you. They crank the heat over here, and my room's next to the boiler or some of the pipes leading down to said boiler, one of the two."
"Mmm, that sounds great," she mused, snuggling deeper into the covers of her bed.
"Yeah? Come on over, then. I'll leave the window open so you can climb in. Roommates might protest, though."
She heard a voice a little farther away from the phone's receiver on the other line; Judy could not make out the words, but they sounded quizzical in nature.
"Yeah, Marty, I'm bringing over a girl," called Nick, his voice a little quieter, as though he was speaking away from the phone. "OK, go tell Friedkin on me, see where that gets ya."
"He's actually doing it," the fox said with a deep sigh. "He actually thinks I'm – ugh, Carrots, I gotta go track down a dingo who doesn't know what a joke is. Ya got anything else for me?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You're, uh… you're getting off?"
"Well, let's see, covered my week, covered yours, exchanged other pleasantries, insulted my close-combat skills, did a self-own of my own, tricked one of my esteemed colleagues into thinking I was gonna smuggle a girlfriend in." He paused. "Did I miss anything? Gloss over something? You want my advice on the pick-four lotto? My tips on the latest winter fashions for shut-ins experiencing the onslaught of the holidays at a police academy? I'll have to defer you to by Pawterest for that, but Hopps, get ready to have your mind blown."
"I'm your girlfriend, eh?"
"For the purposes of messing with Marty, yes, you're my girlfriend. Enjoy the view."
"I would if you fixed your MuzzleTime."
"I'll send you some pictures next week so you can see how the bod's coming along."
"You mean the bod whose paw would splinter if it punched a hippo?"
"You're not a very supportive girlfriend, are you?"
"I'm not. We should probably break up."
"Darn, now I've got two things to tell Marty," sneered Nick.
Judy laughed as she sat back up, taking the phone off speaker and putting it back to her ear. "Well, I guess if you have to go…"
She heard the fox sigh. "Yeah, probably should."
"It's just… really nice to hear your voice again."
"May I remind you that it was your rule to have one call a week and no texts in between?"
"Well, yeah, so you don't get distracted. I want you focused so I actually have the partner I want here in a few months."
"Then that makes it your fault, not mine." He paused. "It was, uh, nice to hear yours too, though. Miss ya, Carrots."
"Miss you too, Slick. How many more weeks?"
"We're out by the end of the year, and then we get our results a few weeks later. Same time next week, then?"
"It's a date," she said.
When Nick hung up, she sat there for a bit, phone still up to her ear. Eventually, she placed it in front of her face; the screen had turned off by then, and she only saw her reflection in the dark mirror.
Four hours until Saturday.