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Life Turns Right

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It was a stormy night. Rain fell from the night sky in heavy torrents all over the college town of Foxford. A medium mammal town about an hour’s drive from Zootopia which made the sight of a wet, gray chinchilla running down the back alleys of main street feel even rarer. The rodent jumped into the relative safety of the doorway to the department store. She shook the water off her thick coat, on the verge of tears. “This was such a stupid idea...” She sneezed and groaned. “Oh, daffodils.”

The young mammal's shorts, shirt and dense coat were soaked clean through. She started to fluff her fur, trying to dry herself. It was barely a minute before the rear door to the store opened, knocking the chinchilla back into the rain.

“What the?” The female bobcat behind the door exclaimed, her brown eyes shining in the dark of the closed store. Her face, the typical fluffy soft gray of a bobcat ready for winter, hid her features in the dark.

The chinchilla whined as she stood up, now covered in muddy water. “Oh sweetheart, are you alright?” The feline's voice carried a deep southern purr of a place hundreds of miles away.

With a scared yelp the little chinchilla scurried away to hide between some dumpsters. The feline watched, then calmly followed. Walking on only her paw pads through the water, she towered even more over the child.

“Oh, I'm so sorry.” She said, as she looked between the dirty rusted dumpsters, her eyes aglow in the low light. Along with her perfect white teeth, it could appear intimidating, her voice was anything but. The bobcat spoke softly and smoothly as she knelt down low. “I didn’t mean to knock you over, come on out, those rotten old dumpsters are horrid. You don't want to get that all in your fur and clothes.”

The young chinchilla stared at the older female as she pressed herself against the back wall. One dumpster was pushed too far back to get behind, the smell and situation gave her an overwhelming sinking feeling. She stared up at the creature that in ages long past would look at her as a snack, but all the child saw was concern in the predator’s features. Rain still pouring down on her, the chinchilla slowly approached. The cat reached out and gently took up the child in her paws.

“There we go, dear.” Ignoring the rain, she wrapped the scared child in a hug, shielding her from the rain with her yellow raincoat. It was a bit awkward with the chinchilla being an eighth of the bobcat's size. “Where are your parents? Let's get you home-”

“No!” The rodent almost shrieked and struggled, trying to get away.

The bobcat blinked and looked at the child, holding her as firmly as she could. Soon the chinchilla relaxed and sniffled as she looked up terrified. The feline nodded in acceptance. “Okay, okay...” She smiled comfortingly. “How about you come spend the night with me then, until it stops raining?” Her voice was even and motherly, unbeknownst to the cat, it made the chinchilla feel safe for the first time the child could really recall.

With a meowing grunt, the cat pulled off her raincoat and draped the comically oversized garment over the tiny chinchilla. It was only a moment before the black low-cut blouse and hip-hugging blue jeans of the older cat were soaked. She took a moment to lock the door before scooping up the chinchilla and carrying her over to the only car in the employee parking lot. Walking only on her paw pads she made her way over to the red ford mustang.

The bobcat snorted and shook out her coat a bit as she sat in the driver's seat. She looked over at the little passenger beside her, both were soaked, and the chinchilla was starting to shiver. “Here, let's warm up.” The cat popped the car into neutral and started the engine, turning up the heat.

With a happy squeak, the chinchilla hopped to the edge of the seat and stood so that the hot air was blowing on her. “I'm Kristy, by the way.” The feline held her paw out to the tiny passenger.

Wordlessly, the child hesitantly shook the bobcat’s large finger with both paws. Her tiny claws held Kristy's pointer tightly, a child in search of someone to save her.

Something awoke in the cat at that moment. Kristy had been on this planet for 30 years but- as she put it, was now living her second life. However, this was the first time Kristy felt her true motherly instincts flare up, this little one didn't need to tell her the buried story, yet.

Kristy smiled and despite her ancestrally predatory nature, the young rodent wasn't frightened. “Let’s get home and see about some food.” She giggled seeing the hopeful smile of the child beside her. “Okay sit back and hold on, I don't think the seat belt will fit you.”

While Kristy was an aggressive driver, normally putting all eight cylinders worth of 400 horsepower at her car’s disposal to use, she wasn't dumb. It was raining, and her car liked to kick its rear end out even when it was dry. She didn't want to end up wrapped around a tree. The fact the child wasn't strapped in was a whole other story.

At a stop light down the street, Kristy looked down at the child all wrapped in a raincoat. Just under the rumble of the engine and the epic metal music the bobcat had turned way down, she heard a tiny little growl.

It was the chinchilla’s stomach.

“Hungry?” Kristy asked. The little one looked up and nodded with a quiet squeak. The bobcat looked at her new charge. “I think I’ve got something...” the bobcat grabbed her damp purse. She dug around in it for a moment and pulled out a small chocolate bar. The light turned green, being the only car on the road, Kristy ignored it and used a claw to open the package. She broke off a third of the bar and offered it to the chinchilla.

She sniffed at the unrecognized treat and asked. “What is it?”

“Chocolate.” Kristy replied matter-of-factly, she’d thought that was obvious.

“I've never had that before...” the child admitted with more than a bit of trepidation, all but breaking Kristy's heart. “But it smells good.” the chinchilla commented as she took the treat from her rescuer. The little rodent took a small nibble off the corner of the chocolate bar. Her eyes flew wide, Kristy smiled as she accelerated, cycling through the gears. The sad, wet child beside her was smiling wide as the taste banished her sorrow. At least for the moment.

The drive was as quiet as it could be in the rain, low music playing. Kristy was singing along with the song when suddenly the Chinchilla said, “Orchid.”

“What was that?" Kristy asked, glancing at the child.

"O-Orchid"

“Is that your name?” The chinchilla nodded Kristy smiled as she drove, "That's a beautiful name." When she heard no response, the bobcat looked over to see Orchid had dozed off in her seat. Kristy smiled seeing her comfortable enough to sleep.

The rain was still coming down as Kristy pulled into the driveway of her house. It was a nice blue-green stucco exterior with two car garage. She’d done well in the last few years, so it was pretty good. The bobcat opened the garage with the push of a button.

The feline pulled her car into the tight space left by the other car. The black sports car was much like hers save for the dragon decals on the sides, showing it was more than Kristy's stock model. The car belonged to her current boyfriend. Kristy briefly worried he would be upset. He was livid when Kristy signed up for the exchange program and Stefano came to live with her.

But it was her house and should only be for a day.

She slipped her purse over her shoulder and gently pulled Orchid out of the raincoat. The chinchilla was like a newborn drenched from a bath in Kristy's arms. She stepped out and shivered as her paws touched the cold concrete.

It was a little difficult to close the garage door while Orchid slept cradled to her shoulder, but she managed. The chinchilla stirred at the sound of the garage door closing but settled down before Kristy could even open the back door to her house.

The garage led into the kitchen, something that Kristy loved. Chad, her boyfriend, may be out-of-a-job now, but he was a trained chef, so it wouldn’t be long before he had his own restaurant. Kristy’s nose flared at the smells she walked in to. Seared tuna steaks with baked sweet potatoes, all cooked perfectly. The kitchen was an inviting Savanna tan with dark wood cabinets and brown, speckled granite. Silver appliances dotted the room, fridge, toaster, all the things one would need. At the stove with his back to the door stood a male bobcat. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt as he slid the tuna steaks onto plates.

Kristy mewed as she looked from her boyfriend to the table set for two. A tray of cheese crickets- which Chad must have been snacking on, sat between the two plates. “Hey baby.” Kristy said, snagging a cricket to munch on. “Stefano already eat or something?”

“Yeah.” Chad replied as he turned off the stove, picking up the plates. “Said he grabbed something at school.” The tom froze as he looked at Kristy. His eyes narrowed, and he growled slightly. “What the hell is that?”

“A little girl that needs our help.”

“Kristy, you can't just help every single little sob story you see.” Chad growled as he slapped the plates down, the forks rattling as he did so. The sound woke Orchid, but she didn't move, playing dead, so to speak, she knows what happens when she drew the attention of arguing adults.

“Keep it down, Chad. You’re going to wake her up.” Kristy growled in a harsh whisper. She had weathered the anger of her boyfriend before. She turned and made to leave the kitchen.

“Hey, don't walk away from me!” Chad growled moving to cut off Kristy’s path. “I'm still talking.”

“I'm just going to put her to bed, Chad.” Kristy snapped back, the harshness of the reply stunned the male for the moment she needed to slip past. The feline trotted past the den and into the hall. Her ears twitched as she passed the guest room, Stefano was listening to music while he studied.

“Damn-it Kristy, I am talking to you!”

“It's just for the night Chad.” Kristy said as she opened the door to her master bedroom.

“Don't you fucking dare!” Chad snarled, turning Kristy around. “That's our bedroom.” The first bedroom door cracked open and a set of vertical slits watched quietly from the low light…

Instincts flared up and warred in Kristy's mind. The instinct to submit to her potential mate, and the need to protect her young. She stared at her mate for a long, tense moment... until the stronger of the two won out.

Kristy let out a beastly snarl and pulled herself from the tom’s grasp, “No. It's my bedroom, you just sleep in it.” The female turned and walked over to the chest of drawers.

“You can't talk to me like that!” The male snarled back.

“Well, I just did .” Kristy said coldly, opening a drawer and making a bed for Orchid. The little chinchilla listening, making sure she didn’t so much as flinch.

Chad's fur stood on end as he stepped closer. “Those are my shirts.”

“Chad!” Kristy snapped. “Stop, it's just-” her words her were cut off by a rough slap to the face.

OUH…! ” Stefano growled coming from his room. He dashed past Chad, rounding on the tom, fangs bared. Meanwhile Kristy held her slapped cheek as a tear formed in her eye, "CHE CAZZO STAI FACENDO?!" The fox snarled in his native tongue.

“Stay out of this fox .” Chad snarled, even though Stefano was taller, the bobcat's voice had the advantage of age. Yelling in a kitchen helped.

Orchid was about to jump and find a way to escape when Kristy decided she’d finally had enough, snarling at the offending male, “Get out!” Chad had been mad before, but he had never hit her. She had weathered his anger before cause the good times were so good.

No good time could counter this.

Before Chad could question her, Kristy stepped past Stefano and snarled again, “Get out! It’s over. We're through ... Do I have to write you a fucking letter?” The smaller feline’s drawl gave her statement even more weight.
“There's a line and you crossed it, Chad.”

Chad snorted, opened his mouth to speak but staring at the burning brown eyes of the female- that just became his ex, made him back down. “You can come back and get your stuff when we have cooler heads.”

With a low snarl, he turned and walked away. A moment later the back door slammed and the male’s car rumbled to life.

Kristy took a deep breath and looked at Stefano, then Orchid with a gentle smile. “Let's go eat, never liked to waste food.” The young chinchilla trembled a little as she nodded.

“...Sure?” Stefano said in his thick Italian accent. He wasn't sure what happened. He looked at the bobcat a little confused. She was still smiling gently as Orchid held up her paws to be picked up from the makeshift bed, probably to just be set on the floor. “Who's this?”

Orchid clung to Kristy’s shirt as the bobcat held her up. She stared, a little frightened by another male predator, especially after what just happened. “This is Orchid.” Kristy introduced, “Orchid, this is Stefano. He's a friend.”

The fox was thin with red fur. He was young, a freshman in college in fact. He lived with Kristy now as part of an exchange program. There was a sadness about the fox but since Chad had made his disdain for Stefano clear Kristy never really got to talk to him and find out why she heard crying in the guest bedroom at night.

With a purr and a glass smile Kristy carried Orchid to the kitchen with Stefano in tow. The food had cooled off a little, but nothing that a quick spin in the microwave wouldn't fix.

Orchid stood on the table and sniffed at the cheese bowl. Her belly rumbled hungrily until she noticed the multitude of legs and antenna. The child hopped away from the bowl of bugs.

The little chinchilla squeaked as the fox sat down with his plate. “Hi!” He said sweetly, his voice thick with his far-off accent.

Stefano's face fell as the chinchilla squeaked, then hopped over to where Kristy was sitting. “Don't worry Orchid, Stefano's nice.” The bobcat purred and introduced her young guest to one another once more.

The fox nodded his long snout making the action slightly comical. “Hi, little sweetie, don't worry I don't bite.” The fox’s ears fell as Orchid continued to back away from him. The chinchilla squeaked as she bumped into Kristy's arm. “She's just a little scared, can't blame her.” The feline smiled as Stefano agreed.

Orchid looked up at Kristy as the bobcat spoke. “Here, try this, it's a sweet potato.” The feline held up her fork with a chinchilla sized bite on it. Orchid cautiously sniffed the reddish orange, stringy starch. She wasn't sure what it was, she hadn't been given anything like it before.

The chinchilla took the bite off the fork and chewed the soft plant’s flesh. She was just about in heaven. It tasted so good. She swallowed and squeaked wanting more as Kristy exclaimed. “Knew you would like it.” She froze for a moment realizing what she was about to say before her smile broke the bobcat said. “Here try it like this.”

“Okay!” Orchid said excited, Stefano and she watched as Kristy mushed up her sweet potatoes with some cinnamon and honey. It was almost too sweet for the chinchilla, but she ignored it and ate her fill. Almost half of Kristy's potato, and nearly twice her meager weight.

It was a quiet meal, after such an emotional moment earlier, none of them really had the words to say. With full bellies the three retired to their bedrooms. Stefano to his while Kristy laid a nearly awake Orchid in the little bed in the drawer.

Once alone in her bed the fragile barrier holding back Kristy's emotions shattered. She quietly sobbed so as not to wake the child in the room, it didn't work.

Eventually, both were whisked away by better dreams.

Orchid awoke in the warm makeshift bed she had been placed in the night before. She heard a voice, but her groggy mind didn't understand the words at first. The chinchilla rubbed her eyes and yawned as the words became understandable.

“She freaked out when I said we were going to find her parents,” Kristy said into her phone, probably talking about Orchid, “and it wasn't like she was worried about getting in trouble, she was terrified. I could feel her little heart and everything.”

The mammal on the other end of the phone spoke for a moment before Kristy replied. “Yeah, yeah, plus y'all don't have a place to keep her and I really think she should stay with someone she's familiar with.”

Whoever was on the line spoke as Orchid stood up to watch. “Awesome, you're great detective, I'll get you those pictures before I head to work.” The bobcat paused for a moment. “Yes, you can call this phone number, I always have it with me.” The feline smiled another glass smile as she spoke. “Good luck, detective.”

Kristy hung up her phone and looked over at Orchid, the smile brightening with true joy. “Morning little one.” The bobcat jumped up and walked over. She had changed into a black band T-shirt and some tight cotton shorts. With a purr she offered to pick up Orchid, who silently accepted it.
Kristy, freshly washed, her specific predatory scent covered by chemical blockers and replaced with a soft grassy fragrance, carried Orchid into the kitchen. Breakfast was simple and quiet, cereal for both. Thankfully Kristy had some frosted wheat cereal and a cup small enough for Orchid to drink from. The bobcat spent most of the meal on her phone. Tapping and swiping, almost completely ignoring Orchid.

“And done.” Kristy said out of the blue. Orchid squeaked and looked up confused. The feline smiled and laid her phone on the table, so the chinchilla can see it.

“What is it?” The young rodent asked, looking at mail order website for clothing and supplies.

“It's a bunch of stuff for you.” Kristy said smiling sweetly. “Bunch of clothes, a car seat so you can ride in my car more safely…” the feline rattled off casually, “Oh, and I read that Chinchilla's don't like to bathe in water, so I got you a cute little dust bath!” Orchids mouth hung open as she scrolled through the shirts, skirts and- quite literally, every other garment the chinchilla might need.

Orchid jumped onto Kristy's belly and hugged herself close to the bobcat. The feline hugged her back, smiling happily. “Now to figure out what you’re going to wear to work...”

 

 

The sound of soft laughter mixes with the rustling of the tall grass. The air, filled with pollen from spring flowers, brings warmth and new life. Lovers lie on the blanket as the sun heats their bodies. The scent of wild flowers travels over still forms. The gray fox blinks and turns his head to the vixen he loves lying next to him.

“Samuel”

SCREECH SCREECH SCREECH

With a sudden intake of breath, the gray fox sprang up from the couch. Panting heavily as his heart pounds against his ribs. Blinking away the last vestiges of sleep, he reaches over and turns off the alarm on his phone. Sliding his feet to the floor, he runs his fingers through the fur on his head, gripping his ears lightly as he pulls them back.

“That same dream.”

Releasing a heavy sigh, he drops his arms to his sides before standing and walking to the bedroom. Passing through the doorway, he stops and looks sadly at the large king size bed. Going about his normal routine of brushing his fur and teeth, he notices his winter coat coming in. He dresses for work, cooks a simple breakfast and watches the morning news as he eats. Just as he’s done every morning for the past few years.

The walls of his home are bare, unpainted, giving his home a heavy scent of pine and cedar. No pictures or decorations that bring a sense of life or semblance of happiness. A single shadow box displays a tan beret, a couple rows of colorful ribbons and silver wings, but no more. A single testament to courage and sacrifice.

No bright colors or decorations with uplifting quotes or passages of inspiration. He didn’t have need for that anymore. His want for that sort of thing, passed away.

Finished, he places the dirty dishes in the sink to soak before leaving. Walking down the stairs of his home to where his old jeep with the ragged soft top sits waiting. With the doors off, he jumps in and takes his seat. Pumping the pedal several times while turning the key, the old V8 engine roars to life and easily turns the big off-road tires.

After purchasing the house, his commute became a little bit longer. But he didn't mind, the tranquil scenery along this route made waking up earlier worth it. As the trees and fields gave way to concrete and store fronts, he inevitably pulled into a moderately sized parking lot. Killing the motor and pulling the parking brake, he dropped from the old workhorse and walked to the nearest street crossing, narrowly avoided getting soaked by the wave of rain water as a little red sports car zoomed by.

With the road now empty again, he crossed the street to a building that took up the entire block, not that the block for a college town was that big to begin with, especially since it catered to mainly medium sized mammals. Despite being only an hour drive from Zootopia, Foxford received few visitors and hardly any residents larger than a wolf or whitetail deer. And even fewer smaller than a weasel or otter. And so he had no trouble opening the door that was nearly perfectly sized for him. The first to arrive that morning, he wasn’t surprised to find another gray fox sleeping on the couch in the break room.

“Firnen! Wake up!” He nudged him with his foot. The younger Urocyon barely budged. Firnen may be an odd one, but he seemed to have a magical ability to resolve problems. When no one was able to figure it out, they called Firnen. Other than that, he seemed to just sleep all day or play magic tricks with a deck of cards. If you needed him and he wasn’t talking loudly in his heavy accent, you could find him sleeping on the couch. Plus, he always turned his work in on time.

With a sigh, the older gray fox went to his office. A plain beige color painted on the walls with a simple desk and laptop. Unlike his home, it was decorated in pictures, portraits of himself in various locations. The Appalachian trail, Grand Canyon, multiple national parks with majestic sights of nature's wonders displayed in the background, but all had one thing in common. A fox, with an emotionless expression. As though these sights and accomplishments meant nothing more than to say, ‘Yes, I was there’.

He Looked through his calendar and saw nothing important or pressing lined up. So, he started looking through the schedules of his employees. They were only twelve in total, not including himself. The little group ranged in all different spectrums of life. Some like Firnen, foreigners, who came to Zootopia, looking for a better life. Only to find the city where anyone can be anything didn't exactly live up to its moniker. Some looking for something different, veterans who still wanted a challenge and some that were just weird and didn't fit in anywhere else. All forming an odd but effective team.

And so his life went, day in and day out. No change, no sense of purpose, no joy, just the basic instinct to survive and pour his energy into his business just to give himself something to do.

Until he received an email.

“So much for a quiet day.” He thought, opening the message to reveal an outage at a local store just down the street. A new client that they’d assisted in helping to set up an online inventory system and network monitoring. With another sigh he stood from his desk and gathered the tools he would need. He didn’t think anyone at a music store would have a good enough grasp on electronics to look at the equipment and tell him what was wrong. He also wasn’t the one to install the equipment and had no idea how it was mounted, so he couldn’t talk whoever answered the phone through the process. Exiting the building he yelled back to the lone occupant.

“Firn, hold down the fort while I’m gone!” He heard an exaggerated grunt followed by the sound of movement on the vinyl couch before letting the door close behind him. Sam walked to one of the waiting white vans with the company logo on the side. A fox head with the ears made to look like antenna towers and a bolt of lightning traversing between the two. Underneath the logo the words “Retrans Networks” was spelled out. He started the vehicle and then pulled out into the still quiet street before heading towards his destination. It ended up being just a short drive down two blocks and to the right. Pulling up he considered the sign for the location. A classic sitting cat silhouette shaped to resemble an instrument with music notes coming out of its mouth.
Cat’s Meowsic

He shook his head slightly, not feeling up to dealing with cats and their inherent superiority complex. Taking his tool bag in paw, he stepped out of the van and walked into the store. As he reached the door, his keen eyes were drawn to a red sports car in the parking lot. He didn't even humor the idea that it was the same one from this morning. Even in a small town, the likelihood it was the same was rather slim.

Entering the store, he felt the muggy air give way to comfortable air conditioning. The dark blue carpets were soft and showed signs of regular cleaning. The large main floor of the store was taken up with display tables of CDs, music books and even cassette tapes and vinyl records. To the left was a small supply of cords, picks, strings, drumsticks and resin; all the little things musicians need. There was also a repair and restore shop behind the wall. To the right was the string instruments, violins, guitars, basses- both stand up and guitar, along with everything in between. Beside it was a section of horns and woodwinds. The back area was split in two; on the right were drums and the like while the left was electronic keyboards and amps, even microphones. Splitting the two sections was a door with the word “Restrooms” over it.

There were a few other mammals in the store. A pony in the drum section was testing out one of the sets. A cougar was inspecting a bass while a wolf helped him. A vixen was changing out one of the sporadic ‘special’ displays, switching accordions with hurdy-gurdies. A young Ocelot, wearing a purple hoodie and jeans, stood behind the register. She greeted Sam as he looked around.

“Hi!” She greeted with the cheer found in most retail stores. “What can I help you with?”

“I’m with Retrans Networks, we received a notification that you were having issues with your internet.” Sam explained.

The ocelot’s eyes lit up. “Oh good, you’re the guy my manager was looking for.” The gray fox nodded as the cashier explained where to go. Following her instructions, he walked to a door at the back of the building. It opened to a hallway and he walked to the third door on the left past the restrooms, where he paused to knock before entering.

“Come in.” A female voice called from the other side. Opening the door, he found a room filled with instruments of varying types, tools musicians often use, microphones, stands, spare parts, strings, boxes of guitar picks. Everything was sorted and labeled with bar codes. At the side of the room sat a desk that faced a room full of equipment. This gave him a side view of the female bobcat sitting at the desk. She wore black dress capris and a light blue short-sleeve blouse. Both of which served to pronounce her feminine curves. He felt shame as his first thought of how she might have become a manager wasn’t through hard work and merit. He’d only taken a second to observe her when he noticed something moving on her desk.

What had to be the fluffiest rodent he’d ever seen was scurrying around a coloring book using crayons that were far too large for her size. She had gray and white fur and wore a loose fitting pastel blue dress with a white lace skirt. The puffy sleeves and bow belt didn’t quite fit, almost as if it was meant for the stuffed bear sitting on the desk beside the computer.

He cleared his throat to gain her attention, the frustrated bobcat looked from the computer with a dismissive angry gesture, then smiled a nearly perfect customer service smile as she greeted him. “Howdy there, how can I help you?” She looked up at the fox, wearing dark khakis with cargo pockets and noticed the white logo on his dark blue polo, perking her up further. “Or perhaps you’re here to help me.” She giggled as she stood to introduce herself, extending her paw, anticipating a pawshake. “Kristy.” She offered, then watched as the fox stared unblinking into her eyes. He felt captivated by these golden-brown orbs as they shone with a light. Behind that light, he thought he saw just the slightest hint of sadness creeping through.

“Sam.” He nervously offered, taking her soft paw in his own, his expression mostly neutral if not a little curious. The bobcat smiled anew before taking her paw back and then turned to the chinchilla sitting on the desk.

“And this is Orchid.” She beamed towards the chinchilla on the desk. The child shily waved before returning to her drawing.

After the introductions, Kristy turned to the computer. “I don't know if it was something I did or what, but the system just died, for lack of a better term.” She motioned to the computer.

Sam shook his head slightly and blinked several times to regain control of himself. He cleared his throat again as he felt his ears heat up with embarrassment. He looked at the computer screen and spotted where the issue may be coming from.

“Do you know where your network closet is?” Sam asked, doing his best to avoid looking into her eyes again.

Kristy mewed. “Oh, um, right this way.” The short-tailed cat looked at Orchid before leaving. “I'll be back in a bit Orchid, so don't you wander off.” The little chinchilla squeaked an acknowledgement before going back to her coloring. Kristy lead the fox back into the hallway and to the last door on the right. She was about to turn the door handle when muffled moaning suddenly sounded from behind it.

The bobcat looked back at Sam and blinked, the fox had his ears turned forward and a look of surprise across his face. “That couldn't be what I think It was.” Kristy took a breath and opened the door marked ‘server room’. The room was small and had electronic equipment mounted on the wall. But that's not what drew the attention of the pair as they looked in the small closet.

Staring back, a clouded leopard looked over his right shoulder at the pair with a panicked expression, his pants down around his ankles and a set of tan legs wrapped around his waist. No doubt belonging to the caracal cat looking over the leopard's other shoulder as her paws held onto some equipment above her own head. A blue cord wrapped around her wrist.

"Oh, are they gonna join us?" She asked curiously.

Kristy's eyebrow twitched as a low growl rolled from the bobcat’s throat. The feline shook as she closed her eyes and looked away. “Are you kidding me!?” The bobcat said through clenched fangs. “All our computers are down because you can't keep your pants on!" Her paws clenched into fists, shaking with anger. Sam looked from the couple caught in a compromising position to the bobcat beside him. Perhaps he'd misjudged her? When she looked back into the room, her eyes carried a feral glint as her lips raised to show her fangs. He immediately dropped his tool bag and reached out just in time to catch her as she attempted to launch herself toward them. He was fortunate she was shorter than he was, and he held her around her waist, lifter her hind paws from the ground, and began dragging her back the way they came. He didn't bother to speak to the other two as he dragged her back and kicked the door shut.

Kristy’s growls ceased as the source of her rage was hidden from her. Sam pulled the bobcat away from the door, gently tossing the wiggling feline in the process. Kristy’s paws went momentarily spread-eagle on the floor with her claws gripping at the linoleum. She growled and shook as she attempted to regain her composure. To occupy her paws, Kristy smoothed out her shirt and redid some of the buttons on her blouse.

“Sorry, sorry I'm not...” She looked away, ashamed by her outburst. “It's been... there are...” The bobcat sighed. “I'm just in a rough patch... you know?” Kristy looked up at Sam with eyes on the verge of tears.

Sam stared into her eyes for a moment before looking away, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed for staring, again. “Um, yeah, I get that.” He couldn’t help but wonder what had caused the sadness in those eyes. “Yyyyoooouuuu, wanna talk about it?” He looked back curiously.

Kristy took a breath, shook her head and ears, brushing away the question. “No, no, I don't want to bother you with my troubles.” The server closet door opened, and Kristy’s sad eyes fell on the pair that stepped out. “I just want to get back to work.”

Sam looked towards the door as it opened and watched the two cats leave the room. He wasn’t looking forward to the smell that they had no doubt hot boxed the room with. He glanced at the bobcat once more before stepping past the two, retrieving his tool bag. He took a deep breath before entering the closet and disappearing from view of the three cats.

“Kristy, I...”

The bobcat’s glare stopped the caracal mid-sentence “Candice, just-... just get out front.” Kristy sighed as the other female hurried away.

“We’ll go out tonight, Candy.” The clouded leopard said before fixing his dress shirt. “Look Kristy, I’m sorry-”

“Listen, Kassidy.” Kristy said using the male’s full name. “I can’t tell you what to do but you should probably… not hang around today.” The clouded leopard was the ‘adult’ son of the owner and was supposed to be in charge. Most of the time it was Kristy or Amy, another manager, in charge. Being one of the few responsible adults was never something Kristy thought she would become.

Kas, as he was called, was about to put the smaller cat in her place, but the look in Kristy’s eyes stopped him dead. He cleared his throat and looked away. “I think I have a meeting with my father.” The clouded leopard left, leaving a fuming bobcat behind.

Mere seconds after their departure, Sam burst out of the server closet and slammed the door shut. He took in large gasping breaths as he held himself up by bracing against the wall, forcing himself not to gag and only half succeeding.

Kristy giggled, the comical display making her smile for a moment. “Is it really that bad in there?”

"It's definitely not the first time they've used this room. And they're not alone." Sam stated, standing up, having regained control of his gag reflex.

"Not sure if I should be insulted or not." Kristy replied.

"What, upset no one ever whisked you off into the secret sex den ?" He gave her a teasing smile as he gathered his tools up, glad his fur hid his blush and hoping his ears weren't giving him away. The flirting felt… not forced, rusty maybe. He hadn't spoken to anyone like that since…

His smile dropped instantly, and he turned to leave. "Anyway, your internet should be back up now. I should be going."

Not noticing Sam's deflated mood, Kristy thanked him before adding, "Not really jealous, more annoyed I haven't met anyone worth doing that with in a while." The feline's own mood sinking as well.

He looked back and considered her sullen posture for a moment. “Ever?” He asked.

Kristy thought for a moment. "Not really," the bobcat sighed as she headed back to her office, "hate to say it but I don't have the best track record with the opposite sex." Walking side by side now, he tried to lighten the mood a little with an off the wall question.

"What about the same sex?" His teasing grin returning.

"Tried it. Has its perks." Kristy giggled and looked up at Sam with a wicked grin, batting her eyelashes. "But I might want to try something other than a fellow Felid."

Sam felt his cheeks and ears warm slightly as he chuckled nervously. "Uh, never thought about it myself."

Kristy's smile was as fragile as glass as she looked up at Sam. "Maybe you should." She looked at the door to the office and storage area. "Maybe we both should." She turned back to Sam and held out her paw. "It was… certainly something, Sam."

"Entertaining, if nothing else." He accepted the offered paw and squeezed it gently. Clearing his throat, he pulled it back to his side and awkwardly backed away. "So, I guess I'll see you around sometime?"

Kristy giggle and nodded. “Hopefully then the problem won't be caused by someones primal urges.” She smiled.

He jumped a little when his tail bumped into the door. “Y-yeah, that wouldn’t be good.” He said with an embarrassed smile, standing at the door with an awkward silence before disappearing behind it.

Kristy watched the gray fox leave, before her mind could wander to his finer features, the bobcat shook her head and went inside. "Probably doesn't like broken girls anyway." With that moment of self-deprecation turning into a long string of memories about each of her failed relationships, each heartbreak.

Orchid looked up as Kristy sat back at the desk. A hollow look on the bobcat’s face, her eyes shaking like they were about to flood with tears. "Kristy." Orchid squeaked.

The bobcat's face brightened the moment Kristy looked at the chinchilla. "Sorry Sweetie. I'm, uh, just tired."

"Okay." Orchid replied. She turned and pushed over one of the pieces of paper she had been drawing on. "For you."

"For me?" Kristy said picking up the drawing. It was done with the amount of skill one would expect of a child. The orange figure depicted was a short-tailed feline, probably female, judging from the clothing she wore, in fact, Kristy wore it last night. With how the figure was towering over darkness, it gave a glimpse into the psyche of the artist. "Is it me?"

Orchid nodded as she was pulled into a tight hug. She squeaked and hugged back as best she could. The young rodent had no idea she was helping the mammal that saved her.

Sam quickly made his way out of the building and back to the vehicle, when he shut the door he released the shaky breath he’d been holding. He closed his eyes, trying to regain control of his rapidly beating heart. Looking down at his paws, he could see them trembling.

“What is wrong with me?” He asked himself.