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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.

 

Chapter Text

Sam made his way back to the office, driving faster than necessary. The scenery slipped by unnoticed as he drove on autopilot. He was surprised when he pulled into the parking lot and placed the vehicle in park, not entirely sure how he got there. He sat for a moment and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. 

 

Thu-thump, thu-thu-thump, thu-thu-thump....

 

With a sigh, he grabbed his bag and took it inside. As he walked down the hall he noticed Firnen was now at his desk working on something. Sam didn't want to stop him so he kept going. He kept his pace quick until he was in his office, dropping the bag by the door before sitting at his computer desk. He quickly filled out a work order and filed it away for record keeping, leaving out the embarrassing details, for the client's sake. That finished, he leaned back in his chair and simply stared into space. He wasn't sure how long he sat like that, contemplating nothing as he looked at the many pictures around the room. He remembered each of them with a hollow sensation as he took a trip down memory lane. A noise in the hall caught his attention and he leaned over to see Firnen exiting the storage closet. He quickly leaned back over and checked the work schedule. Firnen was the only one not tasked with something outside of the office.

"Hey, Firnen!" Sam called, The younger fox returned to his boss's doorway. 

"Yes, sir?" The younger vulpine answered with a slight accent.

"Come have a seat for a minute." Sam gestured to the seat across from him. Firn, as most called him, approached with a hint of hesitancy. He'd never been invited into Sam's office before. 

Sam took a brief pause before asking, "How long have you worked here?"

"Um, about three years." Sam nodded as he studied his employee. The two of them looked very similar. Even though, genetically, the only thing they had in common was they were both of the canidae family. Hisself being in the Urocyon genus and Firnen in the Lycalopex.

"How long have you been in the country?" This inquiry made the other fox's fur bristle. He wasn't a citizen here, if he lost his job, his work passport would be voided and he could be deported. Sam didn't even notice Firn's reaction as he looked around the room thoughtfully. 

“Six years...” He  answered, his voice on edge. Sam glanced at him for a moment before looking back at the wall.

“Have you been to any of the national parks? Seen some of the sights?” He said while pointing at the pictures behind Firn. The younger fox turned in his seat and studied the pictures for a moment.

“No, no I have not.”

“You should.” Sam replied softly with a nod. “And... take someone special.”

Sam looked back at his computer, the day was already over, time having slipped through his fingers. He rose from his chair and walked toward the door. “See you tomorrow Firn, don’t lose your chance at something worthwhile.” and with that, Sam was gone.

Firnen sat in the chair a few moments longer. Wondering to himself what his boss meant by that.  

Was he speaking to me, or just thinking aloud?” He looked back at the pictures once again. Each with a very lonely fox. “...or trying to convince himself?”





Kristy smiled as she framed up the shot with her phone. Orchid- still in her borrowed teddy bear dress, sniffed curiously at a silver-dollar pancake glistening with maple syrup and butter. Most children weren’t allowed to sit on the table, even at little corner dinners like the one they had met Stefano and Kristy’s cousin, at. 

A gazelle waitress stood beside the table in a soft pink uniform dress. She was waiting to make sure that the young chinchilla would be satisfied with the meal, the whole scene being adorable was nothing more than a bonus for the waitress.

Stefano sat in the booth seat across from Kristy. He watched the chinchilla with a small smile. His sad blue eyes were the brightest his companions had ever seen. He wore a red checkered shirt and blue jeans. They were a little worn- like much of his wardrobe, but that was the style, at least for this month; it seemed to change from month to month.

Beside Stefano sat Riley. A lynx Kristy called her cousin. There was no blood relation between them but the young cat and his family were the closest thing Kristy had, her own family having long since fallen out of contact. The dark silver, almost jet-black lynx wore oil stained coveralls and a blue shirt. He was an engineer student at the same school Stefano attended. Riley often giving the fox a ride.

Riley's brown eyes sparkled as he bit back his encouragement. The little chinchilla was nervous around the larger mammals surrounding her, she really only seemed comfortable with Kristy. Orchid glanced up at the predators before pulling off a pawfull of pancake. Even the silver dollar pancake was still as big as her torso.

Orchid chirped as she took a bite of the- for her, proportionately large chunk of pancake. She smiled and squeaked, happily devouring the bite in a flash. 

"I think she likes it." Kristy exclaimed, joyfully stopping the recording. The waitress sighed in relief and told the group to flag her down if she was needed, stepping quietly away from the odd grouping.

After finishing her chunk of pancake, Orchid frowned. "It's really sticky."

"Oh." Kristy exclaimed a light turning on in her head, "I should order a bunch of forks and stuff that you can use, and keep some in my purse." She mewed, sending out a short order on Spamazon.

Seeing Orchid trying to lick her paws clean, only to result in coating her face in the tacky residue, Stefano picked up his napkin. "Here little one, let me help." He dipped the light cloth in a glass of water, reaching over only for the chinchilla to squeal in fright and bite his finger. Stefano yelped as her buck-teeth cut into his finger pad. The little rodent scampered into Krsity's lap almost tripping on her ill fitting dress as she hid.

"What happened?" Kristy asked comforting Orchid with one arm while setting her phone down.

"She bit him." Riley answered, while Stefano cursed in Italian, sucking on the offended extremity. 

"Why?" Kristy looked at the chinchilla, who was looking up with wide, watery eyes and a twitching nose. "Stefano... I think you scared her." The bobcat smiled in a way only a mother could as she rubbed Orchids head. She looked to the young fox, held out a paw and mewed. “Let me see.” 

"I was just trying to help..." The red fox replied, ears down as he held out his finger. Kristy looked at the cut, commenting that it wasn’t much more than a prick, she then pulled a bandaid from her purse for the fox.

"Dude, put yourself in her fur." Riley said as Kristy dabbed a napkin on her tongue so she could clean Orchid's face more easily. The chinchilla protested, but at least the bobcat wasn't straight up using her tongue- even assuming the child would prefer one over the other, in this case.

Stefano nodded. "I suppose... non sarei toppo diverso se fossi ." He awkwardly put the bandage on his finger. "Si, I guess should know, I’m a young Volpe in a strange place, far from home... another country no less." His eyes trembled for a moment, not a result of the minor pain in his finger, being in and of itself little more than a paper cut. 

"Least it ain't Zootopia." Riley added with a flick of his abnormally long tail. "They got lions and tigers and bears there dude."

The fox flicked his ears forward briefly, simply exclaiming “Oh my.”

“Zootopia isn't so bad.” Kristy said, having cleaned Orchid’s face as best as she could, she asked what was still sticky and Orchid held up her paws. The bobcat started to rub them as she spoke. “You just gotta look out for the distracted big ones.”

“You’ve been to Zootopia?” Riley asked as he took a bite of his waffle.

“Yep.” Kristy answered, drawl momentarily breaking through the achieved city-slicker smooth, thinking back to the good ol’ days. “I told you I’ve been all over with the girls.”

“What do you mean?” Stefano asked starting on his bugburger, being careful to keep his bandaged finger clean.

“Oh, I used to be in a band.” Kristy mewed, having finished cleaning Orchid’s paws. The bobcat smiled thinking about the days from almost half a life ago. “Yeah, started it in highschool with a dream to hit it big.” She giggled. “Never got there though.” She purred with a mouth full of food while she rubbed Orchid's head. The little fluffy-tailed rodent listened and started purring after a moment, like she was trying to emulate the sound from the cat.

“Kristy was on lead guitar.” Riley said with a smile.

The red fox’s ear perked at the mention of guitar. “I used to play guitar.” Almost the moment the words left his maw, Stefano’s ears and eyes fell once again.

“Really?” Kristy asked. “Why’d you stop?" She offered some plain hash browns to Orchid. The chinchilla squeaked adorably as she munched the potato strings.

“Had to sell my guitar.”

“Why?” Kristy asked genuinely concerned.

“Couldn't take it on the plane, needed money when I got here.” The fox replied, staring into the layers of his bugburger. Feeling more questions coming, Stefano had to steer the conversation back to Kristy. “What happened with your band?”

Riley’s long tail flicked, senses tingling at the redirect. He decided to leave it be for now. Kristy noticed the same thing, it made her bobbed tail twitch. Not wanting to bring up possibly old wounds, the bobcat answered. “Well, like I said, some friends and I started it in highschool. Just a bunch of 17 year old girls with a dream. Back then we got excited for even the tiniest gig.” Kristy's smile grew as she thought about it. “Took three years for what we thought was our big break. You'd think selling a hit song to a big band would be the start of our climb to stardom, but after an 8 year dry spell, the rockstar life took its toll.” Her voice caught for a moment, “I'm just glad I got out when I did.” The bobcat’s eyes shook as she thought. “But I wouldn't trade those days for anything.”

“Oh.” Stefano said blinking, tears threatening to form.

“You know, cousin.” Riley said, “I've never heard you play.”

“Heard me sing in the shower though.” Kristy shot back with a giggle, returning to a good mood. 

“Riley’s family took me in while I was down on my luck, trying to be a normal adult.”

"So that's why you call him cousin?" Stefano asked. 

Orchid squeaked and quietly asked for another bite of pancake. While Kristy got the child in her lap a bit more food- this time with a piece off a napkin to help keep the mess manageable. Riley spoke. "Yeah, it's not a ‘cat thing’."

"Yeah. I got some lynx blood in me, but I'm not actually related to Riley." Kristy answered, but saw the phrase going over the exchange student’s head. The bobcat bit her lip, quietly adding, "Cause my back paws are bigger and fluffier like a lynx, makes me think I got one in my family tree somewhere."

The fox nodded before trying to sneak a peek under the table, being the tallest at the table made it difficult. He did note that Kristy's paws looked a little big for her body, even as she moved one behind the other. "What about your tail?" Stefano asked referring to the long tail on the lynx.

"Mom is an ocelot.” Riley explained simply. “We just haven’t come up with a good name for a lynx, ocelot hybrid.” He shrugged, knowing Kristy wouldn't share anything about her parents, he asked Stefano instead. “How about yours? Never hear you talk about them, not that we’re in any of the same classes... but still.”

Stefano looked away, working his tongue a bit. “Um, they're just normal foxes.” 

He looked down at the floor outside their booth. “What about your family. Your real family, Kristy?” he quickly shot off, hoping to end the line of questions toward himself.

“You okay?” Riley asked, concerned. It took a moment before Stefano reluctantly nodded.

After giving Orchid another bit of food, Kristy finally answered. “Both normal, too normal in a way. Dad was an officer in the army ‘til he retired to run the family farm. Mom was a typical officer’s wife. My sister wanted to be just like my dad. While my oldest brother- last time I checked, was almost there too. My other brother owns his own side business along with working the farm with my dad. All so normal.” The bobcat sipped at her milk and giggled. "I didn't want to be some farm girl in high school, so my friends and I loaded up a van and struck out for a lifelong adventure." With a snort the bobcat smirked. “It never happened, but it was… fun, most of the time.” Kristy's eyes sparked with nostalgia, but there was pain behind it. 

Joy, loss, excitement, heartbreak, love and disappointment... it was all there, hinting at the story that was Krsity's life before now. Orchid squeaked to be put on the table for a drink, which Kristy obliged with a purr. The cat reached out and held the glass for her.

"It’s nice hearing you talk about your family.” Riley commented. “You don't do it enough.”

“Yeah,” Kristy said rolling her eyes. The bobcat made constant excuses about why there were so many Muzzlebook messages from both parties left unanswered.

Orchid stood on the table to drink. The straw was big for her but she was able to get a refreshing sip of chocolate milk. After savoring her new favorite beverage, the child noticed her blue eyes in the reflection of the window. She looked at herself unsure of how to feel. 

Safe.

Happy.

Uneasy.

Sad.
She didn’t know. Anything other than to go back to her old life.

As the child gazed at her reflection in the window, a jeep pulled into the parking lot. Orchid thought nothing of it as she watched the vehicle. She didn't care much for cars, she was just glad to watch without the fear of repercussions.




Sam pulled into a parking space at a local diner. He didn’t normally eat out, but today he just didn’t feel like cooking for himself, which usually ended up being a cold sandwich or cereal. Once he killed the motor, he pulled the parking brake into place. Swinging his legs out of the cab before hopping down. He walked toward the entrance, being sure to check for traffic when a familiar car caught his attention. 

Twice was a coincidence, three times is a pattern.

The little chinchilla quirked her head at seeing the familiar mammal from earlier that day. She watched as the gray fox left the wobbly jeep then stopped to look at Kristy's red car. He smiled for a second before shaking his head in that silly way foxes do, that made her smile to herself. 

Sam snorted and wondered briefly if he would meet the owner before going inside. He found a corner seat that was empty and claimed it for himself. He picked up a menu and started perusing the options. When the waitress, a red vixen, asked what he’d like to drink, he asked simply for water and a moment longer to figure out what he wanted.

A few minutes later and he'd decided on the country fried komodo steak with white gravy. It was busy tonight, and took time as the waitress was tending to other customers. But Sam was a patient mammal. He watched as the waitress went over options on the menu, guiding the young couple towards a decision. After seeing her jot down the order he waved her over and quickly gave his own. 

As he waited on his food, he used the time to look around and took notice of something. He was the only one here alone. Each table was a display of couples at a different stage of their relationship. The first date couple that shyly looked at one another while asking awkward questions. The going steady couple. They’d gotten past the awkwardness and were just getting comfortable with one another. The engaged couple, excited about the new adventure together. The honeymooners, just married or married less than a year. They still looked into each others' eyes with love and wonder. The routine couple, the ones that have been married for a few years together and found themselves stuck in a routine due to work and kids’ schedules. The rediscovery couple, the ones with kids old enough to take care of themselves, allowing the couple to find time to reacquaint themselves with each other. And finally, the golden couple. The ones who made it through everything. The good times as well as the bad. Raised a family and now the nest was empty. Also the most comical to watch of the group. Knowing their time with each other was quickly coming to an end and enjoying what little they had left. 

Sam looked at the first three couples with sadness and grief. The last three with jealousy and anger. Jealous of what they had and anger for what he didn’t. What he’d lost. He felt his eyes begin to burn with unshed tears when the waitress brought his plate.

“Country fried komodo steak with gravy?” She asked to make sure it was his. Sam simply nodded and looked at the table, trying to reign in his emotions. She sat the plate on the table in front of him and said to let her know if he needed anything else. He nodded as she left. He didn’t look up to see if she noticed his emotional state. He didn’t care, he’d lost his appetite and was now trying to decide if he should just pay his tab and leave or ask for a to-go box. The thought of a soggy patty made the decision for him. He looked up to find the waitress and call her back over when something else caught his attention. Someone blocked by one of the couples in the room. A familiar soft gray feline. He leaned over slightly and was able to confirm it was indeed the bobcat from the music store. Her soft winter coat was coming in nice and even. The soft gray color replacing the summer’s burnt orange, only the cream of her under side and her brown spots remaining constant. He looked down at his own unimpressive patch work of a winter coat that was uneven and filled with more white hairs than he cared to admit. Looking back again, she seemed much happier than before. He wondered what could have… 

Suddenly it was all clear. The movement of another mammal’s head allowed him to see the two males joining her. What appeared to be a dark furred lynx and a red fox. Both looked younger than she, but he didn’t know enough about bobcat physiology to be sure. Still, seeing her enjoying time with another male after the blatant flirting they’d both participated in earlier in the day stung more than he thought it should have. 

He looked again for the waitress but she’d disappeared into the back somewhere. Then, to his horror, the little group stood and walked to the cashier. Sam rested his outside elbow on the table and turned his head to the side, using his paw to hide most of his face. He looked through his fingers to keep an eye on them in case they walked his way. He watched as they argued over who was paying for the meal. The lynx and fox saying they would pay for their own if she wouldn't let them cover hers. She called the lynx cousin at one point and ended up paying for the fox's, saying he should save as much as possible while in school. The relief he felt when it became obvious she wasn't dating either of them surprised him. After settling their bills he watched them casually leave the diner. Through all this, Sam never noticed the little chinchilla watching him as Kristy held her close, almost lovingly. 

With the group now gone, he leaned back in his chair once more, letting the tension in his shoulders evaporate. No longer having an appetite, after giving the group time to leave, he left a twenty on the table and walked out.







Chapter Text

In the young mammal bed section of "Penn”, ‘Den and Burrow’, Kristy stood with an empty shopping cart beside her. Wearing a soft blue sweater, a short, blue pleated skirt and midnight blue leggings with stars and moon designs in a light-blue thread, she drummed a claw on her lower lip as she looked at the otter pup sized bedroom set. Orchid’s clothing had arrived that morning, and Kristy was wondering where to keep it all, and more importantly where the chinchilla would sleep. Orchid couldn't keep using Chad’s old clothes as a bed after he finally picked them up. Once the drawer was empty her clothes could be stored there but where would she sleep? 

 

Orchid herself was in the cart’s children's seat. She had plenty of room to move around and look as the seat was intended for larger mammals much younger than she. With her new clothing to choose from, she now wore an outfit that fits so much better, a pink pinafore dress with matching bows and colorful designs, pulled over a plain white shirt. Being able to get out and see so many new things had Orchid a little over excited.

 

The Chinchilla stared wide eyed at each display as if she couldn't fathom the size of the furniture around her. She had never been furniture shopping -much less in a store, as her ‘Parents’ had actively left her behind to avoid ‘issues’, especially for themselves. She didn't say why, but Kristy had her best misled guess on the problem.

 

A badger in a green polo tagged with the “Penn”, ‘Den and Burrow’ logo on his chest motioned to the bedroom set and the ones on either side of it. "These are otter sized sets which are the smallest we carry in-store." Kristy scrutinized the items and then compared them to Orchid’s size.

 

"They still seem a little big." She looked at the price and sighed. "And expensive." She turned to the chinchilla. "Orchid would you like to try it?" 

 

The chinchilla turned with a squeak and looked up at Kristy’s gentle smile. Then, to the white bed and dresser with pink princess sheets and false pink gems for drawer handles. Orchid nodded then held up her paws to be picked up. The badger smiled as he watched the way Kristy gently lifted the smaller mammal from the cart and to the display. The little Chinchilla instantly on the bed, and Kristy pulled out her phone to record her bouncing on it.

 

After bouncing for the camera a few times, she hopped over to the pillow and wiggled her way under the covers. The bed was too small for Kristy or maybe even a bobcat of Orchid’s age, but the otter sized bed was massive for the little chinchilla. Kristy felt it was the cutest sight in the world. After a moment of getting comfy, the chinchilla started to make a purring sound.

 

Kristy sighed, however, she wasn't sure she had the space for the bedroom set. After another sigh and a quick check of the time she decided it was time to leave. “Well, I’ll have to think about it.” She smiled warmly at the worker and thanked him before patting the foot of the bed and calling Orchid over. “Come on Orchid, we got to grab some other stuff before work.”

 

“Okay.” The child replied as she wiggled out of the sheets and scampered across the bed, back into Kristy’s arms.

 

 Once Orchid was loaded up in the cart, Kristy pushed it down the aisle. As they passed the end cap of the aisle they were on, Orchid let out an excited squeak. The feline looked down curious what could have caught the child’s attention. "What is it?" She asked, the chinchilla squeaked and pointed at a nearby display. A pair of beds with tall frames, one dark painted wood the other painted white. On the left side of each bed were a set of steps with drawers built into them, the right was made to resemble a false castle tower with a slide. The first bed had 'walls' made from blue fabric with white trim while the other had pink walls with lavender trim. Each had three round windows with the same trim and a clear plastic film. The raised bed had a canopy made of the same colored fabric that opened, as displayed by the pink bed. The towers had a rectangular window on either side and was topped with a white or lavender pennant. A fabric door hid a play area under the bed again displayed by the pink bed.

 

"Those are cute but..." Kristy looked at the high price and sighed, it was well out of her budget, besides that, the display was wolf sized. She looked down at Orchid who was pleading with her eye., "I’ll think about it BUT." Kristy scooped up the child before she could pout. "You can play on it for a bit."

 

Orchid squeaked happily as she was placed on the display. She giggled and ducked into the play area under the blue bed. She laughed as she bounced around, it was almost criminal that other mammals couldn't see her gleefully playing.

 

After a moment she wiggled out from under one of the walls, barriers are nothing to a rodent child. Kristy giggled as she watched Orchid climb up the steps nearly too tall for her. Then with a gleeful laugh she bounced on the bed over to the tower. Orchid squeaked and looked to see if Kristy was watching. When she saw that the bobcat was, the child launched herself down the slide.

 

The little child bounced on the shelf then hurried to climb up the steps again, she was having the time of her life. As Kristy watched the happy child a flash of gray caught her eye. The bobcat looked up and saw a familiar fox walking with another mammal. 

 

Sam walked the pathways of the furniture store looking over the various makes and styles on display. Beside him walked a small wolf or possibly, a large dark furred coyote. Frank, as the black wolf was known, had a light sprinkling of grey throughout his fur. While shorter than a normal wolf he was lean and muscular. His most striking feature being his electric blue eyes. The two walked beside each other as they looked over the various couches and living room sets.

 

“Hmmm, do you think this color would work? Sam?” The wolf asked.

 

“Hu? What?” The fox questioned, having been pulled from an apparent day dream. 

 

“The color?” Frank asked again, gesturing to the ostrich leather couch. The leather dyed to various shades of red in a gradient pattern. The thread in the seams were black and brass buttons held it along the edges. The wooden feet were carved to resemble paws.

 

“I’m not sure if red bird leather goes with… Whatever you call that color in your living room.”

 

“Flaxin.” Frank informed his friend. “I like the design though.” He let out a content sigh as he sunk into the soft material. He was joined shortly after by the fox who had to jump to sit on the couch. Allowing himself to sink into the soft cushions of the display, Frank watched his longtime friend out of the corner of his eye. The fox had seemed a bit off since the last time they spent time together. He seemed to constantly be off in his own dream world. From time to time, he’d catch him scratching at his left paw, particularly, his ring finger. “Are you alright?”

 

“What?” Sam looked over at his friend, noticing the wolf’s bright blue eyes had turned into a cloudy green. Something had upset him, or he was just overly calm for some reason. “What is it?”

 

“Dude, you’ve been off since you picked me up. You’re way more quiet than you normally are. You keep zoning out like you’re lost in your own head. And you keep…” Frank trailed off when it came to mentioned Sam’s paw, unsure how to approach the subject.

 

“I keep what?” Sam asked as he narrowed his brow, feeling slightly offended by his friend. So, what if he’d been distracted lately. It didn’t mean anything. He was a mammal, like anyone else. He was entitled to think about something else from time to time. It didn’t mean anything. It certainly didn’t mean he was thinking about-

 

“Your ring finger.” Sam froze at Frank's soft words. “You keep rubbing your ring finger.” Sam’s breath hitched in his throat. He looked down. True to his friend’s words, he was rubbing his ring finger searching for a missing weight. “How long has it been?” Frank asked.

 

“Ten years, three months and sixteen days.” Sam said in a pained voice. He didn’t know how he knew, only that it came to him in an instant and he knew on his life that it was correct. Frank looked around, making sure they were alone and out of earshot from anyone else.

 

“Listen, I know it’s not really my business but as your friend, I’m worried about you. I know you greys tend to have a long mourning period, but I don’t think she would want you to be alone for so long. She wouldn’t want to see you sad.”

 

He was right, Sam’s mind flashed back to a hospital room. The walls were a dull gray with white tiled floors. He sat on the side of the bed, holding the paw of the vixen he knew was his one and only. He kept watch as she slept peacefully. A sudden intake of breath signaled a waking moment. He smiled as her brown eyes fell on his and her lips tugged upward. Her lips, dry from lack of use began to-

 

"Sam!" The fox was suddenly pulled from his memory. The source of the distraction was bouncing down the walkway towards him. Soft grey and orange fur wrapped in blue and black with golden brown eyes. The bobcat was smiling as she strolled towards the fox, small bundle of white and pink held close in her arms. Sam smiled as he stood and walked towards her. 

 

"Oh hey! Uh, Kristy, right?" They stopped within arm’s length of each other. Frank remained on the couch, watching as the two greeted one another. "And Orchid?" He asked looking at the ball of fluff in her arms.

 

Orchid was panting slightly from playing while Kristy nodded with a smile. "Yep! So, what brings you here? This place having computer issues to?"

 

"Oh no, just, you know, looking around. Thought maybe a new living room set might be in order. What about you? Planning on putting a mattress in the server room for what's his name?" He said with a teasing smile. 

 

Kristy’s ears turned red and she moved her paw to Orchid’s ears. “There’s a little one here, dude.” She barely said through a snicker. Sam's ears dropped back at being called out for the crude joke but managed to keep a smile in place, mouthing an apology.

 

The bobcat let the chinchilla hear again. Orchid flicked her ears and then fluffed her cheeks before hiding her face in Kristy’s chest. “Anyway, no, we’re just looking for a bed for little Orchid here.”

 

Sam’s head tilted as he looked between the two curiously. “Oh? So, are you a foster parent?”

 

Kristy giggled and her ears turned a little red. "Not exactly." The bobcat looked at the little child she held. “It's a bit of a long story." She smiled at Sam again. "But I am taking care of her. I think I'm doing a good job."

 

“From how she’s hanging on to you I’d say you were. Do you need any help? With finding a bed, for Orchid I mean.”

 

Kristy smiled genuinely, that lingering sadness fading as a cute feline giggle escaped her. She turned away, almost shyly, if it weren't for the sparkling gaze, she gave Sam. A moment past before Kristy shook her head. "No, unfortunately our little town doesn't have anything smaller than small sized stuff." She sighed.

 

"Yeah, not many rodent sized mammals here. Hmmm." Sam seemed to stare off into space as he got lost in his own thoughts for a moment. His eyes looking through Kristy as he went silent. Then suddenly, his focus came back to her eyes. "Maybe I can he-"

 

Before Sam could finish offering to help, a depressing horror movie music sting chimed from Kristy's pocket. She stiffened and adjusted her hold on Orchid as she spoke. "Exes have such terrible timing, sorry." She lowered her ears and turned away as she answered the phone with a harsh. "What?" She listened to the voice on the line and growled slightly. "No, I have to work. So, come get your crap at 7:30." She sighed and shook her head. Orchid could feel the tension in the feline’s body as she looked around.

 

Kristy sighed again before looking back at Sam. "Sorry, it was nice to see you again." The feline turned and walked away. "No, Chad, I didn't mean you."

 

"Yeah." He said to her retreating form. "You too." The fox watched as she walked away. The way her skirt swished from side to side in time with her hips and the way her little bobtail-

 

"So!" Sam nearly jumped out of his own skin as he leapt away from Frank, who'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere right beside him. 

 

“Geez, don’t do that! You almost gave me a heart attack!” Sam panted holding his chest, Frank just watched the dramatic display with a wide toothy grin. “Why are you looking at me like you just found your next meal?” Sam asked as he raised an eyebrow.

 

“Oh, I haven’t found a meal, but it looks like you have.” The black wolf waggled his eyebrows before nodding in the direction the bobcat had just left in.

 

“Who? Kristy?” Sam said in disbelief, gesturing toward the bobcat with his thumb. Frank’s reply was to nod his smugly. “We just met!”

 

“And?” The wolf spread his paws to the sides palms up.

 

“And she’s already dealing with enough as it is. Look,” he continued when the wolf gave him a disbelieving look, “The only time we met was work related.”

 

“Sam, the moment you saw her you were up on your paws to talk to her, even offered to help her twice, dude you forgot I was even here. Oh, and the cherry too top it off, your tail was wagging the whole time.” Sam looked back to examine said appendage as Frank placed his paw on his friend’s shoulder.

 

“Look, if nothing else, it shows you’re at least open to the idea. Come out to the club with us tonight, have a few drinks and have a good time.”

 

“I don’t drink.” Sam deadpanned.

 

“Then you can watch us drink and get a laugh or two.” Frank countered.

 

Sam let out a sigh as he glared at his ‘friend’. “You’re not going to let this go, are you.”

 

“Nope!” Frank replied, popping the p.

 

“Fine!” He exclaimed, tossing his paws in the air in defeat. “But I’m not your DD, you and whoever else you’re inviting can find your own way home.” He pointed an accusing finger towards the wolf.

 

“Fair enough. I’ll text you the name of the place after I round everyone up.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” The two continued to shop for a while before parting ways. Frank ensuring Sam would have a good time tonight.

 

Kristy’s drive to work would have been quiet except she’d turned up her music, like she always did when she was upset. The modern rock and classic heavy metal wailed and thundered in the small confines of the car. For Orchid, it hurt the little chin’s ears, but she didn't complain, not wanting to bother the bobcat. However, when Kristy looked in the back seat where Orchid was strapped into a perfectly sized car seat, she noticed how the chinchilla was flattening her ears tightly against her head.

 

“Oh dear, I’m sorry Orchid.” Kristy said turning down the music to a much more bearable level for the child. The feline sighed and looked at her charge. “Sweetie, you don't have to suffer in silence, you can tell me if you don't like something or if you want something. You don’t have to talk now but when you’re ready I’ll listen.” 

 

The child blinked and nodded she looked out the window above her as a song she knew started to play. At a stop light, Kristy’s ears twitched, a new sound had entered the classic song, a tiny voice. The voice needed practice and courage but there was potential. She smiled and glanced at the quietly singing child in the rear-view mirror as she thought to herself. “One day little one.”

 

It wasn't long until Kristy pulled into the parking lot of Cat’s Meowsic. She gathered up her purse and phone as Orchid unbuckled herself from the car seat. She squeaked and hopped over to the center arm rest of the car. She held her paws up so Kristy could pick her up more easily. After a quick pat down to make sure her skirt had settled right the bobcat headed inside. 

 

Kristy and Orchid quickly headed to the back office for some paper work. Being a manager had plenty of responsibilities both out front and in the back. While the bobcat worked Orchid did what she did the previous day; colored, napped or played with the toys she had. The bear whose clothes she borrowed, a set of fashion dolls, one a fennec vixen with a sassy smirk, a sweetly smiling red panda and a handsome hyena, and finally a couple sets of building blocks. All of which were currently set up to be some child's vision of an office. 

 

Sometimes Kristy regretted getting Orchid those toys. Just napping in the arms of the bear was so sweet it could rot one's teeth. But seeing the office life of Orchid and her dolls was too much that Kristy couldn't really do her job.

 

About two hours into her shift, Kristy leaned back in her chair and stretched. She released a squeaky yawn then mewed. She had been doing schedules today and fielded a few calls but all that was done now. After a quick grooming of her face and head the bobcat stood. She looked over at the chinchilla to check on the child. Orchid was napping on the bear, her face hidden in the nape of the stuff toys neck her long fluffy pipe cleaner tail curled around her and draped over her head. With each soft breath came a cute squeak.

 

Kristy didn't want to wake the young chin, so the bobcat decided to leave her be and head up front for a bit. Kristy yawned again as she grabbed her lanyard with her manager name tag on it, opened the door to the office and stepped out. The sales floor of the store was as busy as every Friday was, meaning there were a little more than a dozen customers in the store.

 

From her cursory scan of the storefront Kristy saw nothing out of the ordinary, but something did catch her brown eyes. It was something she had probably seen a dozen times. However, today it stood out. She approached the hanging light wood grain electric acoustic guitar. It was a mid-grade instrument, she in fact use to have one just like this one back in the day. It was great for-

 

"Need any help ma'am?" The white wolf salesmammal of the string section asked, his voice stained ever so slightly. 

 

A smile spread on Kristy's muzzle before she turned toward the grinning wolf, "J.B. it's nice to know you actually work sometimes, but I know what I'm doing." She said and she plucked guitar off the wall. The bobcat smiled and swung the instrument up under her arm.

 

With no strap and no way to rest the instrument on her leg so she had to hold the guitar with her elbow. Something she had done many times before, so it was no hindrance to what happened next. 

 

The fingers on Kristy's left paw danced over the neck of the guitar as she used her claws to pluck the strings. She ran through a few musical scales with only the lack of familiarity with the instrument and it being out of tune, hindering the perfection of the demonstration. Despite what Riley thought, she still played, her old guitar founding itself out of the closet and in her paws plenty often.

 

J.B. stared impressed, it was just a scale but still it wasn't what he expected from a girl like Kristy. He was about to say such when the bobcat cut him off. "Hey, grab me the case for this."

 

"On it boss." The white wolf hurried off to grab the soft bag as Kristy tuned the guitar by ear. Something she wasn't exactly good at, but that's what a tuner was for. 

 

After finding the soft bag for the guitar under the counter Kristy headed up to the cash register. One credit card purchase later, she headed back to the office to both leave it at her desk and to check on Orchid. The child was up again and drawing a picture of herself in a blue castle.

 

Kristy's credit card was not happy this day.

 

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

 

After buying the guitar, the day was uneventful, even buying the castle bed was easy. The site for the bed maker even had one in otter size, but not any smaller. Besides, it was big enough for Orchid to have her own little kingdom, but small enough that it could fit in the guest bedroom. It wasn't perfect, but it was what they had to deal with.

 

It could very well be a temporary thing anyway.

 

Back at home, Stefano was laying on the couch wearing a pair of soccer jersey shorts and a tank top holding a school book on his belly. He rubbed his eyes as the door to the garage opened. The red fox looked over the half wall into the kitchen as Kristy came in. "Ciao." He greeted.

 

"Howdy." The bobcat replied as she gently kicked the door close and set Orchid and her teddy bear on the table before adjusting the guitar on her back. Kristy regretted not tightening the strap before now, the guitar seemed to have a mind of its own as she walked. She placed her purse and keys on their usual shelf while Orchid nosed the teddy bear off the table and into the chair. She used the stuffed toy to soften the landing before repeating the process to get to the floor.

 

As Kristy headed to the living room, Orchid set her bear up under the table. She then hopped toward the office tucked behind the kitchen. She didn't have any plans, it was just the last room she hadn't explored.

 

"Hey, Stefano." Kristy said with a smirk. "I got something for you." Stefano's eyes darted to the guitar as she swung the instrument under her arm. She held it out to him by the handles.

 

"Oh dio...... oh mio dio." Stefano said in his native tongue. He took the gift from the grinning bobcat. He unzipped the case and pulled out the guitar. It was the color of lightly toasted bread, with a shiny lacquer coating, it was pistrine, like it had never been played, and best of all it had an electrical hookup. His eyes water a little as he spoke. "Oh mio dio Kristy, non ci cre- ehm, it's beautiful!! Grazie mille Kris- wait." He shook his head. "Eh, thank you so, so so much!"

 

"Your-" Kristy was cut off by the fox giving her a tight hug. The bobcat purred and hugged the fox back. "You’re very welcome."

 

The hug lasted for a good while. Both needing the physical affection at this time. Stefano excitedly released Kristy and yipped as he strummed the guitar. It was out of tune, but that's what the built-in tuner was for.

 

"I'll grab some batteries." Kristy said, trotting back to the kitchen. However, when she returned, her smile vanished. Sitting on the couch, quietly sobbing, Stefano hugged the guitar to his torso. Tears silently dripping from his muzzle. "What's wrong?" Kristy asked, as she hurried to the couch.

 

The bobcat rubbed Stefano’s back to calm him, a shuddering sob escaped the fox’s muzzle, catching the ear of the other mammal in the house. After a deep breath Stefano finally spoke. "You know... this remind me of my old guitar?"

 

“Yeah.” Kristy replied nodding. “The one you had to sell?”

 

"Yes... it was a gift from my parents... you know... we never had a lot of money you know. It made everything… difficult." The young vulpine shuddered as Kristy rubbed his shoulder. “They worked a lot of… bad jobs, that, you know, piss you off and make you tired.” He bit his lip as Orchid watched from the half wall that separates the kitchen from the living room. “Sometimes they didn't have time for me or even took their anger out on me."

 

Orchid wasn’t sure exactly what the heavily accented Stefano was saying but she knew he was upset. Kristy frowned, the older bobcat pulled Stefano close hugging him to her chest. The fox slipped the guitar from his lap to the floor and wrapped his arms around her. He took a shuddering breath and continued. "But they still were my parents... I couldn't hate them. They are the ones that brought me into the world! And they did a lot for me, even if they were angry at me sometimes. They still said they loved me all the time… That’s enough right? To be loved? They didn’t have to work so hard. Stuff is just stuff." Stefano sob a little, while Kristy feared where this was going.

 

Stefano caught his breath. "But, but then I had to sell the guitar. I needed the money for when I came here." He pulled himself close to Kristy. 

 

Kristy bit her lip before speaking. "I'm sure they understood, you can call them and talk to them about it."

 

"I can't!" Stefano sobbed. Kristy shuddered, knowing what that meant. "Just before I left for here, they were killed in an accident." Tears rolled down Stefano's cheeks. Kristy hugged him closer, she had no words for him. Just a gentle purr and a tight hug. Two months of bottled emotions released at once. Orchid, seeing the fox crying, hopped over and nuzzled Stefano’s foot with a gentle squeak. Kirsty mewed and reached down, the chinchilla hopped in her paw and was lifted into the hug. After a moment Orchid started to emulate a purr just like Kristy.

 

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

 

The buzzing hum of a microwave filled the kitchen as Sam stood with his nose inches from the glass. A bowl of spicy shrimp and noodles slowly bubbled on the turntable in front of him. After a few minutes the device darkened with a happy chime. Carefully removing the hot cup, Sam carried his meal into the dining room and sat at the table. He picked up a fork and stirred the noodles, gently blowing the steam aside. The aromatic mist wafted around his muzzle and into his nostrils letting him savor the smell of the spices. Once his meal had cooled enough to eat without burning his tongue, he stabbed a shrimp and spun his fork to gather up a bite, slowly lifted it from the cup. Watching as the liquid dripped from the noodles. His mouth watering as he anticipated the first bite. With enough of the water sufficiently dripped away, he moved closer, opening his mouth. The heat radiating from the noodles warmed his lips and tongue. He could taste the noodles without them even touching his delicate taste buds. 

 

The noodles dropped back into the bowl as Sam leaned back in his chair. Releasing an aggravated sigh as one clawed finger tapped the table. 

 

What was the point of going out? He didn’t even know who all Frank would include in this little escapade of his. Mostly likely friends Sam had never even heard of before. He’d no doubt be the oldest one there, standing out like a sore thumb. No, he wouldn’t do it. He grabbed his phone and began typing out a message.

 

Sam: I’m not gonna make it

 

The grey fox sets his phone down and began to resume his meal. As soon as the noodles were near his lips once again a blip noise draws his attention back to his phone. It shows a message waiting from Frank. Opening the device, he was confronted with a picture of a female bobcat wearing a transparent silk nighty and nothing else draped over her fluffy chest, an almost to skinny belly, and slender waist. Bright blue eyes with a smile that shined with an utter lack of depthed. He quickly deletes the picture before typing a reply.

 

Sam: Perv

 

Frank: She might be there

 

Sam: She didn’t look anything like Kristy

 

Frank: So you are thinking about her!

 

Sam growled as he set the phone back down before staring out the window into the woods surrounding his home. He stood from the table and stomped into the living room and began pacing the floor. Arguing one point as he padded in one direction, then countering it with another as he turned to saunter the other way.

 

“There’s no point in going.” Left.

 

“It might be fun.” Right.

 

“I don’t even drink.” Left.

 

“That’s never stopped me before.” Right.

 

“Drunks are annoying.” Left.

 

“I already said I’m not the DD.” Right.

 

“I won’t know anyone besides Frank.” Left.

 

“Kristy might be there.” Right.

 

“She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl that goes to bars.” Left.

 

“I don't know that. Don’t presume.” Right.

 

“She’s a parent.” Left.

 

“Doesn’t mean she can’t have fun.” Right

 

“The chances are astronomical.” Left.

 

“But there is a chance.” Right.

 

Sam slowed to a stop in the center of the room, his head down staring past the rug on his floor and the boards he stood on.

 

“It... would be nice to see her again.” He stood silent for a moment as he considered the possibility of seeing the attractive cat once more. It certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, he thought, he had ran into Kristy twice at random already “Alright, I’ll go!”

 

He made his way back to the kitchen and grabbed his phone. Sending a quick text to Frank to send him the name of the club they wanted to meet at. He then went to his bedroom and opened his closet. Glancing through his wardrobe he was quickly dismayed by the lack of anything nice to wear, till he got to the back. Hanging out of sight was an older dark blue silk button up shirt he hadn’t worn in years. Beside it hung designer faded jeans with an alligator belt. He pulled the clothes out and looked them over. They might have been a little out of style, as far as he knew, but they would do. 

 

A ring from his phone notified him of a reply from Frank. He checked the message and saw he had plenty of time before they were to meet up. He went into the bathroom for a quick shower, making sure to lather up thoroughly. After a few minutes on the fur drier, he stood at the sink brushing his teeth, waiting for the steam to dissipate from the mirror. Once it had, he rinsed his mouth and smiled in the mirror. Only to slowly frown and cover his slightly yellow teeth from sight.

 

His dentist had told him it was natural and happened over time to everyone. She offered to whiten them, but he declined. Now he wished he could take it back. Resolving to only smile without showing his teeth, he picked up his brush and started smoothing his fur into place. This revealed two things. The first, his winter coat was still having trouble coming in properly. The second was his coat had a lot more silver than it used to. With a resignation sigh, continued brushing till he got to his tail, noting that at least his race strip was still free of any silver fur.

 

Once properly groomed, he put on the clothes he’d laid out to wear, noting they were a little snugger than the last time he wore them. He rolled his sleeves up to just below his elbows before tucking the bottom into his pants. He clasped the tail button closed and then the front. Putting the gator leather belt on last. After securing the buckle he ran his finger pads over the texture of the black belt. Admiring the way it felt.

 

Satisfied, he walked to his nightstand and opened the drawer pulling out a bottle of cologne. Only to throw the long empty and dry bottle into the trash. With a disappointed sigh he looked at himself in the mirror. For a tired old dog, he thought he looked pretty good. Satisfied, he walked into the living room and out the front door. Down the steps of his treehouse home and to the vehicles parked underneath. He started to climb into his old jeep but had second thoughts as he grabbed the climb bar. He looked over at the other vehicle he owned. He’d bought it for work and only used it three times that he could remember. Painted in metallic black the large four door truck shined even in the shade of the house. He hadn’t driven it in nearly a month, only cranking the engine to let it run for a while and charge the battery. A thin layer of dust had settled over the top and dulled the color slightly. 

 

Sam walked over to the massive vehicle and opened the driver door. The ostrich leather seats promised a soft and comfortable ride. The large digital touch screen in the middle console gave the vehicle an edgy, futuristic look. Deciding that if he wanted to make a good impression. This was the way to go. He climbed up and turned the key. For a moment nothing happened, but a few dashboard lights blinked on. Then the monster roared to life with a sound that shook the forest, setting some birds a flight. Sam allowed the engine to warm up before putting it in gear and letting the beast loose once again shaking the earth with its travel.

 

Inside the dark and lonely house, on the kitchen table sat a cup of microwave noodles. With the setting sun came the last rays of light. Revealing the final drift of steam before dissipating out of existence.

 

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

 

Dinner was a simple asain stir fry from a package. Something easy that Kristy could cook and split before adding some chicken for Stefano and herself while she could do some nuts and grass for Orchid. A mixed family was hard to satisfy, but Kristy was determined to try. It appeared that letting the emotions out had helped Stefano. He was a little more talkative than usual at the dinner table, talking about his day. Especially after Orchid hopped over to his plate and drop several of her baby corn stocks onto it. The chinchilla had squeaked in joy at first seeing them, so they must've been some of her favorite. So, giving them to him was a big gesture. However, Orchid was still a frightened little child, she still scurried away before the fox could thank her. 

 

Baby steps.

 

Now with full bellies, the three were relaxing in the living room. Stefano was on the floor going through some basic exercises on the guitar to get used to playing again. Kristy had already joked about his soft paws needing to regrow the calluses so that the guitar didn't bite back. 

 

Kristy had changed into some simple black basketball shorts with a red stripe down the legs and a ‘Guns and Rodents’ t-shirt. The bobcat was lounging on the couch. Her toes in foam spreaders with her claws out, letting the midnight blue claw polish dry. She blew on her fingers to help the same blue polish dry quicker.

 

The bobcat looked over at the coffee table where Orchid pounced on an apple almost as big as herself. She bit into a piece of fruit and grabbed it with her front paws. Kicking with her back legs almost like a kitten. Her little claws tearing into the juicy apple. Like Kristy, the child had changed into more comfortable clothes. She wore a pastel blue midriff revealing shirt, though it was more from playing with her dessert then the design, a cute cartoon penguin in a scarf and winter hat adorn the front. Orchid had also chosen to wear a Jean skirt with it, her fluffy fur made pants uncomfortable. 

 

Kristy was about to offer to cut the apple up again for the chinchilla but decided against it. Orchid didn't react too well the last time. The bobcat just smiled and gently blew on her claws again while Orchid fixed her shirt and dug into the apple.

 

Then the doorbell rang. Orchid eeped and jumped off the coffee table, scurrying under the couch. Kristy sat up and looked at the clock on the tv box, 7:36. "Shit, I forget." She kicked the toe separates off before standing. “Stefano, Orchid stay here, okay.” The normal sweetness in Kirsty's southern drawl was overshadowed by an undeniable authority.

 

“I will.” Stefano replied, seeing Orchid’s response of simply moving further under the couch.

 

Kirsty was not happy as she opened the front door, revealing the casually dressed Chad. He smirked as he spoke. “Come to your senses yet?”

 

The female bobcat just held her paw out. “Key.” She demanded. Chad snorted and pulled her house key off his key chain. After snatching it from him, Kristy growled. “Grab your bags so we can get this over with.”

 

“Knew I forgot something.” Chad said looking behind him as if he had ever intended to make this process easy.

 

“Damn it.” Kristy growled. “Come on, I got some garbage bags for your shit.” Chad smirked as he followed his ex-girlfriend inside. He stared at her rear as she grabbed a couple of large trash bags from under the sink. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed something.

 

Chad’s smile vanished as his head snapped up and glared at Stefano. “What are you looking at?” Stefano just continued to glare at him as he held his guitar tighter.

 

“Leave them alone.” Kristy growled slapping a couple of bags in the male's chest. “Come on!” Chad and Kristy headed to the master bedroom in the back of the house as Stefano gestured dramatically and quietly insulted Chad in Italian.

 

Kristy was holding back a low growl as she leaned on the golden tan wall beside the door. Chad snorted as he looked at the little bed made of his clothes. “If the rat pissed in my shirts, I'm going to punt it.” All he got from his ex was that low growl.  “You know that's how they live right? Their-”

 

“God your so fucking ignorant!” Kristy nearly shouted, a little more of her fangs now showing themselves. “Hurry up!”

 

“Whatever.” Chad said as he started to pull his clothes from the drawer dark oak dresser. Accidently knocking Orchid's neatly stacked clothes on the floor. He smiled hearing the deep breath Kristy took.

 

After emptying all the drawers of his clothes, and stuffing them in the trash bags, then added the pile of dirty clothes from next to the dresser, he looked up at Kristy. “Those are my shorts.”

 

The bobcat blinked a few times, “Seriously?”

 

“Ya.”

 

With another low growl Kirsty untied the basketball shorts and pushed them down, making sure to stand behind the wall so Stefano wouldn’t see if he headed to the bathroom. She stood and held the shorts out, not caring she was only covered by some light blue panties. Chad had seen and even touched every inch of her body why should she be modest now? “So, you want ta? For old times’ sake.” The tom said, with a sleazy smile.

 

A flash of rage crossed Kristy's face and she threw the shorts at Chad's face. “I can't believe you!”

 

Chad pulled the shorts from his face and growled back. “I can't believe you!” The two felines growled at each other for a moment before Chad spoke. “I mean, seriously girl, your fixing to turn thirty-one. You aren’t some fresh little party girl any more. Your damn near old and busted. Come on, you're almost old enough to be that kid’s mom. You think he wants some old maid?” Chad said as he nodded in the general direction of the living room.

 

“Shut the fuck up and get out!” Kirsty snarled back. “I never want to see you again!” The hate in her eyes cowed Chad, his ears fell forward, and he stepped back.

 

“Whatever I'm out.” The beaten bobcat snatched up his three bags of clothes and slipped past the growling female.

 

Stefano glared at Chad as he passed the open living room, the bobcat didn’t even look at the young fox. Chad just headed to the front door and kicked it shut behind him. Orchid’s little white wiggling nose poked out from under the couch. She sniffed a few times to make sure it was safe. Satisfied, she climbed up onto the couch expecting Kristy back at any moment as Stefano called out. “Everything alright?”

 

“Yeah.” Kirsty replied as she tried to wipe away her tears. She was leaning on the wall barely holding it together. “He's wrong, so wrong.” She whispered, with a low growl. Kristy pulled her shirt off and slapped the door closed. As she walked into the master bathroom, in nothing but her black bra and blue undies, still growling low she grabbed her makeup. A little bit of deep red lipstick and some soft purple-blue eyeshadow and some blue eye liner to make her brown eyes pop. 

 

With her make up done, she spritzed some Night Jasmine and Vanilla perfume on either side of her neck, under each arm and on her belly. The light scent clung to her without overpowering her own. With a flick of her clawed fingers Kristy opened her jewelry box. She grabbed a couple and hoop earrings and slipped them into the holes closest to her head. Then a chrome cat skull stud into each hole just a little farther up her ear. For the tip of her ear she added a sapphire jewel. The hole in her left ear gave her a little trouble, like always. Finally, a little chrome spike went into the whole in the middle of the top side of her ear.

 

The bobcat paused and looked at herself in the mirror. From her paws up to her knees and elbows was a dull orange while the rest of her had turned a more silver for winter.

 

Kristy mewed and tugged on her shoulder straps to lift her chest. She wasn't the most well-endowed cat, but she was far from flat. She then took a moment to pluck a few gray furs form her coat. Paying special attention to her lucky spot, a nearly perfect heart shaped spot on her right breast. She hummed then used a makeup pen to even out the dark brown outline of the marking.

 

Satisfied with the state of her form and make up, Kristy opened her closet and grabbed a little dusky maroon dress and some of her knee-high boots. With a wiggle and a growl, the mini spaghetti strap dress was on. It came down to the upper thigh and showed off her shoulders and chest. The fabric fluttered around her nicely but was still tight in the right places. The symbol of the bobcat's old band adorned her chest. A pendant made to look like a valentine heart in the crushing grip of metal predatory fangs.

 

After tucking and adjusting the dress and putting the straps back on her shoulder’s multiple times, Kristy turned and leaned on the sink, pulling the black bird leather knee high boots on. They were an open paw design letting only her paw pads and toes touch the ground. She took a moment to brush the fur around her foot and thigh before tightening the laces. 

 

Kristy stepped up to her full body mirror, her claws slid out of her paws as she looked herself over. She spun once and struck a classic sexy pose and gave a little growl. She nodded in approval. "Yeah, still got it." 

 

She returned to her bedroom to grab her small black purse. She slid her credit card and driver's license into the slots, after stuffing some lipstick, eye liner and more shadow, just in case before leaving the bedroom. 

 

At first Orchid had been pacing and squeaking to herself as she waited for the return of Kristy's reassuring presence. However, Stefano had taken the bobcat's answer as is and gone back to practicing, after getting warmed up and the guitar tuned, he started to play a melody he had learned long ago. The relaxing sound had gotten the chinchilla to just sit and watch the hall to the bedroom.

 

Stefano stopped playing when the door opened. Orchid's ears bounced at the tapping sound. Neither young mammal remembered the bobcat making a sound when she moved. The answer to why came quickly as Kristy rounded the corner in that little maroon dress and knee-high boots. All done up and ready to party. Stefano's eyes were instantly drawn to the bobcat's chest, noting that perfect heart shaped spot.

 

Orchid squeaked in surprise and hoped to the back of the couch. Almost as if the sight of the bobcat brought back bad memories. However, that smile Kristy gave her reminded the child of who it was. "I'll be going out for the night y'all." She grabbed her phone and showed it to Stefano. "Call if you need me." After sliding the device into her purse Kristy addressed the chinchilla. "Orchid when you get sleepy go ahead and use my bed I'll be back before morning." The young rodent nodded slowly. With that Kristy said a sweet goodbye, grabbed her keys and headed out to show the world she was still a party girl without a care in the world.

 

What a lie that was.

 



Chapter Text

The place Frank had instructed Sam to meet him at was probably one of the largest buildings on the block. The architecture was simple yet played well into the theme of the name. The top half of the walls were plain steel painted tan the bottom half consisted of brick in a lighter color tan to contrast the top. The area around the entrance extended away from the building making a small overhang with pillars. The entire entrance was made of tan and sand colored stone. In bright neon across the center of the stone work the words Savanna Heat were spelled out in cursive. Just below it in smaller plain print blinked the words live music, a smaller marquee sign held what must be the name of the bands performing tonight. Multi colored lights across the top that shone down on the outdoor table area in front of the building where mammals mingled with their drinks and enjoyed the music being pumped outside via speakers disguised as rocks hidden in the shrubbery surrounding them. Among the shrubbery were large palm trees forming a type of fence marking where the party began and where it ended. Just outside those palms was an actual fence that showed those looking in just where that line existed.

Sam sat in his truck looking towards the entrance. A small line of mammals stood waiting to gain entrance as the bouncer checked their IDs before stamping their paw and letting them in. Sam didn't pay them much mind as he sat there waiting for his friend to arrive. He spent his time thumbing through Muzzlebook. His profile picture was old. The original he'd posted from when he'd first created an account. His friends list was small, and the number of pending notifications and friend requests were well into the hundreds each. He barely used the app except when his family pestered him about something. He spent nearly fifteen minutes like this till he finally received a text from Frank saying they'd arrived and would meet him at the entrance.

He stepped out of his truck and locked the doors before walking towards the entrance. As he walked, he scanned the cars around him, wondering if he'd see that little red sports car again. He kept looking till he made it to where the fence turned towards the entrance and waited there for his friend to find him. He'd seen plenty of red cars and a couple of sports cars but none matching the one he'd seen the last couple of days. He felt slightly disappointed, He'd seen the car three times in one day. Two of those times were followed by seeing Kristy. He reminded himself that twice was a coincidence and three times is a pattern. Standing to the side of the walkway leading to the entrance he looked around for Frank. Still no sign of him or whoever he was going to bring with him. Disappointment gave way to irritation as he checked the watch on his wrist. Realizing the battery was dead and he only wore it to seem somewhat fashionable, he stuck his paws in his pockets and went back to looking for his friend. It was about this time that he noticed a group of college age girls standing on the other side of the walkway. They were all giggling and whispering to one another, frequently glancing his way.

"Like a sore thumb." He thought gloomily, just as he was considering leaving-

"There you are!" Sam's back was suddenly slapped by a wolf paw, sending him forward a couple of steps. He scowled at Frank for the impromptu push then looked at the mammals who he'd brought with him as Frank made introductions.

"Sam meet Sean and Hamilton aka Hammy." Hammy was a short cheetah with brown eyes and typical cheetah spots. Sean was a hare that was nearly as tall as Sam with light brown fur and a sandy colored underbelly that came up his throat to this chin with brown eyes a couple of shades darker than his fur. Sam shook both mammals' paws and they exchanged short hellos before turning to enter the club. As they rounded the corner Sam could hear the girls giggling and whispering again. A frown started to pull at his muzzle till he felt someone elbowing him. He looked over to see Sean smirking up at him.

"Play your cards right foxy and you could take one or more of them home with you." He nodded his head slightly in the direction of the college girls. Sam looked confused for a moment as he glanced back at the group of girls who were now just out of sight. "They were talking about taking you back to their sorority house." The hare clarified as he ran a paw up one of his long ears. "Not just for show you know."

Sam didn't have time to really contemplate the meaning of the hare's word as a firm voice stopped him in his tracks. If he had to describe the tone, it would be the odd calm one feels just before going to battle.

"IDs." He turned ahead to see a coyote with a red facial tattoo wearing a black security shirt and fitted jeans holding his paw out. Sam pulled his ID out and passed it over. It was scrutinized for a second before being passed back and he received a stamp on his paw. The door to the club was now open.

The main floor was open and spacious, tables of various sizes dotted the floor leaving an open area in front of a stage for a dance floor, which in fact took up close to a third of the main floor if not more. On the stage was a local band playing a good cover of a Best of You by Fur Fighters. A paw full of pillars held up a large second floor balcony. A few of the pillars had spiral staircases that led up to a second-floor area. A sign saying game room pointed upward.

On the far side from the door was a long bar with three bartenders catering to the demands of the patrons. Behind them the various bottles of liquor formed a kind of mountain scape in front of a mirror etched with a classic savannah scene of animals of all types gathered at a watering hole.

The smell of alcohol and air freshener permeated everything, it wasn't altogether unpleasant save for the slight burn in the back of the most sensitive noses. The aroma of simple but well-made bar food wafted through the air. It was all fried and probably tasty, anything to keep the college kids in and paying. Under all the strong scents were more subtle ones. Perfume, cologne, musk, heat and need. However again it wasn't unpleasant, in some it could enhance the night, awakening long dead instincts.

It did, from time to time, cause problems but that's why the best of places like this always had good security. Which this place had in spades. Every security guard was a build athletic mammal, just like the coyote at the door, who passed Sam, Sean, Frank and Hammy on his way somewhere else. Sam's military trained eyes picked out that the coyote was armed. Not with a gun or a knife but a folding tomahawk.

"Is that really necessary?" Sam thought to himself. Hammy, the cheetah, stepped next to him as the group made their way towards an empty table that would accommodate their size differences.

"You from around here?" He asked.

"No." Sam replied over the sound of the music. "Grew up south of here, on the other side of the Applelachian mountains. You?"

"No, I'm from Zootopia." The cheetah answered.

"What brings you out here?" He asked as they took their seats. Sean and Frank were trying to wave down a thomson's gazelle waitress that was passing by a couple tables over.

"I'm a photographer, got booked for a wedding that took place on the college ball field." Before Sam could say anything else the waitress walked up to their table and took their drink orders, giving Sam a strange look after hearing his order for a soda. Once she'd left the group continued to converse amongst themselves and getting to know one another. Hammy being there for work, Sean drove a truck for a living and was in town to make a delivery but wouldn't be able to leave for a couple of days until his return load was ready. Frank lived in town and worked at one of the pharmacies as a tech while studying to be a licensed pharmacist. Sam explained that he lived in town as well and said he worked for an IT company. Leaving out that he owned the business.

When the waitress returned with their drinks, they all ordered a round of hot wings, Sean ordering spiced celery sticks. The group continued to get to know each other till their food arrived. The table became quiet as they simply enjoyed the flavors and music. With their bellies full and drinks working their magic, on three of them at least, they decided to look for something fun to do. After hearing the crash of pool balls when the band was taking a break, Hammy, now on his second daiquiri, suggested a round of pool.

"Yeah that sounds fun!" Said an enthusiastic Sean. Hammy left to head up stairs and grab a table for them, Sean and Frank waited to order more drinks and let the waitress know they were moving up stairs. Sam went to answer nature's call, saying he'd meet them up there. As the gray fox picked his way to the restroom at the far end of the table area, he was disappointed to see a long line. He looked around to see if there was a second and almost gave up when he spotted a door to the side of the stage with a small restroom sign above it. He made his way past the dance floor and stage. Nearly needing to cover his ears as he passed the band.

Once he was past the threshold the sound suddenly deadened to a dull rumble in the background. The relief his ears felt was suddenly interrupted by the sound of moaning coming from one of the doors in the hallway. It was nearly half opened with a sign that read employees only. He glanced through while passing by. The coyote security guard was there, pinned to the wall by a skunkette. Her eyes closed tight as she kissed him. The coyote held her rump tight, almost tearing the black capris with his claws, a white gold wedding ring glinting on his finger. She held his shirt with her paws, pulling herself upward as she stood on her tiptoes to reach her partner's lips.

Sam was nearly past them when the skunkette's golden eyes opened. Seeing the fox, passing by sent a shiver from her ears, jiggling her sparkling earrings, to the tip of her massively fluffy tail. She pushed off the security guard slamming him into the wall a little. Sam was trained to absorb every little detail in a short amount of time. It was still a wonder he noticed the little bump in the skunkette's belly before they were out of sight. It was odd for a girl who seemed to be in shape.

"Sorry, Kno, customer saw." Sam heard the skunkette say as he entered the male's room. Her tone sounded apologetic and authoritative at the same time, made him wonder if she was in charge.

After finishing and washing his paws, he made his way back out. Noticing the door, the skunk and coyote were in, was now closed. As he exited the hallway, he glanced around to regain his bearings. He noticed the skunkette was now in the backstage area giving directions to a couple of the crew while the coyote was making his way back to the front door. He smirked as he wondered if walking in on mammals going at it was going to be a norm for him now.

Ascending the nearest staircase to the second floor, he found dining tables lined along the railing to allow patrons to enjoy the band and even look down upon the crowd. There were even security guards, a fox on his side and a warthog on the other, looking down on the dance floor keeping an eye out. Behind two rows of dining tables was a gap to allow the waiters to travel back and forth from the smaller bar on this floor with ease. On the side he'd entered was a line of pool tables with stools and a shelf along the wall to place drinks while the patrons played pool. The other half of the floor was walled off with a single glass door that read Arcade. Spotting his group, he made his way over. Sean was racking the balls, a comical sight as he could barely reach the point they needed to be. Frank looked him over as he approached.

"What's so funny?" The wolf asked. Sam snorted.

"Pretty sure I just saw the manager getting frisky with one of the security guards." He said with a big grin.

"Oh, is that all? Thought you might have run into what's her name with that goofy grin."

Hammy had scanned around and noticed a security guard near the back guarding a door with Private stenciled across it. "I got a hunch the friskiness has continued behind that door he's guarding, heh heh." Everyone snickered before Sean brought everyone's attention back to Sam.

"Who's what's her name?" He asked, before he could reply, Frank answered for him.

"Oh, just some bobcat our friend here has the hots for." Sam frowned.

"Her name is Kristy and I don't have the "hots" for her." He made air quotes around the word hots and then folded his arms across his chest, giving the wolf a glare.

"Care to bet on it?" Frank said with a smirk.

"Fine," Sam replied with a scowl and pointed at the pool table, "if I win you shut your muzzle."

Frank's smirk broadened into a grin. "And if I win you admit you have feelings for miss kitty." He reached his paw out to shake on it. Sam shook the wolf's paw then went to find a pool stick. To split the size difference and give Sam and Frank a way to compete. Sean joined the wolf and Hammy went with Sam. The game started in Sam's favor as he broke and sank the lucky thirteen ball.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Harestorm and Glidleaf blasted from the speakers in Kristy's car. She tore down the road taking turns fast and reckless, singing along as she focused on keeping her car in line. Then as her destination came into view, her song came through the speakers. Not with her voice or played by her band. It hurt as much as it made her proud.

Regardless, she didn't get to finish the song. She pulled into a parking space, killed the engine, and checked her makeup. With a satisfied smile she stepped out of her car, pulled her spaghetti strap back up her shoulder and headed to the entrance. While Savannah Heat may look a little light on activity on the outside, with only the small quiet smoking area out front, Kristy knew it had energy on the inside.

Smirking as she skipped the line, her dress fluttering around her legs as she walked straight up to the coyote with smiled. "Howdy Kno, how's it going?" She ignored the protest and literal cat calls of the mammals in line.

The coyote head of security looked up from the fake ID in his paws. "Hey Kristy, just a sec." He easily tore the card in half and grabbed the young wolf and his friends out of the line without even looking.

"Better luck next time boys." Kristy giggled and winked at them as they left.

Kno looked over at the lone bobcat in the short maroon spaghetti dress, knee high boots, and make up, he could tell she was on the prowl. "How's it going Kit-Kat?"

"Been better." The bobcat said holding up her paw to be stamped. After the coyote applied the ink, Kristy grabbed his forearm, his muscles feeling like steel bands. "If you see Chad, you know what to do." She gave him a fanged one-sided grin.

"Gotcha." The coyote said, returning the smile. Kristy just about pranced inside as a few of the mammals in line complained. Kno just looked at them dismissively and continued letting mammals in at his own pace.

Kristy smiled as she scanned the bar. It was active, but not too wild, just the right energy. Mammals moved and moshed to the music from the band, which was pretty good for a college band. Her broad nose flared as she took in the aroma of alcohol and mammals intermingling, bringing back memories of her past life. It had been the world she lived in for over ten years.

Sometimes she missed it.

She smiled as she made her way over to the bar. She hopped up and leaned over the wooden surface, her chest almost being pressed out of her dress as a few patrons behind her got a peek up her skirt as she felt around under the bar with her purse.

Just as expected, she found the small plastic basket where the bartenders and waitresses kept their own belongings. As she was slipping her own among them, a paw grabbed her wrist. "What do you think yo-" The badger bartender stopped when Kristy's head came up too glare at him. "Oh! Hey Kristy." The badger released her arm. "Didn't know it was you." He said apologetically.

"It's cool Jak." She said with a smile.

"So what's up."

Kristy plopped down to the floor again and fixed her shoulder strap. "Been better." She smirked and added. "I'm on the prowl again so could use a little courage."

"On it." The badger smirked and turned to the cabinet of drinks along the wall.

While she waited, she noticed she was being watched by a few of the college kids who were just barely old enough to be here. Too young for her but that didn't mean she couldn't have fun with them.

After setting a thin lime wedge on the bar, Jak asked for her "Paw" holding up a salt shaker. Kristy smirked while working her tongue in her mouth for a moment before licking her left palm pad. She then held it out for Jak to pour powdered salt onto her palm.

A moment later, he set a bobcat sized shot on the bar. Kristy picked it up and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled, seeing the same sexy feline she'd always seen. Then she looked at the etchings. It wasn't long before she found the one she was looking for. In the lower corner on the right side was a fox behind a small flat rock her paws raised to the sky. In front of the rock was a cute opossum in mid stomp dance. Above the rock and the fox was a bobcat and skunk frozen in mid jump. A stylized recreation of the first and only album Kristy's old band ever made. They had plans for more, but it never happened.

Kristy closed her eyes and bowed her head. She lifted the shot to her past. Then, with a thrilled purr, she licked the salt from her paw and downed the shot. It burned in that expensive tequila way. She set the glass down and plucked the lime from the bar before placing it in her maw. Her teeth sliced through the fruit flesh releasing the relieving juices.

She giggled and purred as she pulled off the rhine. As she chewed the lime, she noticed the same college kids still staring at her, their muzzles hanging open.

Kristy giggled and looked toward Jak. "Hey Jak, toss me a cherry." While the badger continued to make another drink, he tossed a bright red cocktail cherry with his free paw. She caught the small fruit and popped it into her mouth, stem and all. With the kids still watching, she chewed and worked the treat in her mouth. With a giggle, she pulled the stim from her mouth with her dark blue claws. Using only her tongue, she'd worked it into two nice little knots in it and almost a third. She held it up and smirked at the stunned boys before setting it on the rim of her glass.

"Hey Jak, where's Roxxie?" She asked, as she turned back towards the bar.

Jak looked at his watch and then glanced around. "If she's not backstage with the next band, she'll be in the office."

Backstage, the skunkette in question was talking with a band of wolves. She was making sure the young mammals knew the rules, which were fairly light and routine. They boiled down to don't start anything, fights or the other F word as she put it. She was about to reiterate that genitalia was to stay in their clothing when she heard the door open behind her. She looked back to see who it was, worried there was a problem, but then the skunk's eyes brightened as she smiled.

"Kristy! What are you doing here?"

"On the hunt." Kristy replied pulling the skunk into a hug, the five wolves looked at each other awkwardly. They didn't know what to do now that they were being ignored.

"Oh, didn't work out with Chad?" Roxxie asked. She had always been a bit suspicious of the tom, especially when he turned down an offer to work in Savanna Heat's kitchen.

Kristy growled a little and rubbed her cheek. "Not really." She then smiled at her longtime friend and bandmate. "Mind if I use the stage? Need to set some bait."

Roxxie giggled and nodded. "Sure, never liked to get in the way of a girl on the hunt. The boys up on stage should be fine with it."

"Oh Roxxie, if Kno was here I'd kiss you." Kristy said with a giggle. Her tail wiggling, causing her dress to flutter behind her as she walked to the curtain.

"What's stopping ya?"

"It's more fun to watch your husband squirm."

Roxxie nodded and rolled her eyes. "Yeah yeah, but it's not hard to do."

"You know it." Kristy laughed as she looked out the curtain.

Roxxie shook her head then looked at the wolves. "What are y'all lookin at?"

Kristy hid just out of sight of the crowd waiting for the right moment. Just as the song ended, she pounced. She stepped out onto the stage and placed a paw on the drummer's shoulder. The white tail deer honked in fright and jumped a little. He had been watching the singer, waiting for his que to start the last song. The singer, a fox, who also played lead guitar, was busy thanking the crowd for being so good to them that night when he turned to see what the commotion behind him was. Kristy smiled as she walked over to the mic. The bassist and rhythm guitarist, both hyenas, stared at the attractive feline as she smirked at the singer. She leaned on his chest with hers before slipping his guitar off his shoulders. "I need to borrow this." The fox nodded and stepped back.

Kristy covered the mic and looked at the rest of the band. "Y'all know 'Free from You'?" They nodded as she smiled. "Thanks guys." The feline looked at the crowd and uncovered the mic. "How y'all doing tonight?!"

The pool game had become intensely competitive. Both Frank and Sam were desperate to win while Sean and Hammy were enjoying the close game. At each turn at least one ball was sunk, or a shot was strategically made to give the next shooter a hard shot. Finally, after sinking the last stripe ball, Sam was left with a nearly straight shot for the eight ball into the corner pocket. Frank and Sean were on either side of him doing their level best to distract the fox from his task. He lined up for his shot and completely tuned out the taunting from his friends. Just as he went to strike the cue ball, his shot went low, knocking the white ball over the eight and straight into the pocket behind it. Frank and Sean were celebrating with hoots and hollers while Hammy was looking on in shock as his jaw hung open. Sam, however, didn't notice. His head was turned towards the balcony with his eyes wide and ears forward, picking up every word coming from the mammal speaking.

Kristy giggled at the cheered response for a moment. "Well I want to join, and after a break up like I just had there's only one way to do that."

At the pool table, Sean, Frank and Hammy were all calling after Sam as he nearly ran to the balcony railing. Squeezing between two other mammals, he looked down at the stage to see a very familiar bobcat in an outfit that had his jaw dropping and drool starting to form.

Time froze as Kristy looked out at the crowd. Memories flowed through her mind of the few stadium shows she had played. The crowds were massive, not just in numbers but size. She remembered being on stage for audiences that would tower over her. Her smile grew as she stomped her heel to the coming rhythm. The drums soon took over adding flourishes to the basic rock beat. The start of the song she wrote, with a lot of help from her friends.

The one that should have made them stars not continue another's rise.

The drummer slammed the symbols and both guitars and the bass screamed to life. Kristy ran through her favorite little extra flourishes she liked to do before she had to sing. The fox singer, not wanting to be left out, danced around the stage hyping the crowd. Soon enough, the bobcat stepped up to the mic her fingers dancing on the strings as she growled the first verse.

He came waltzing into my life

I thought he would be my only light

I said that I only wanted you

He said that he'd always be true

Then he went and broke my heart

My life had fallen apart

My eyes stung with unshed tears

But my heart had lost all fear

Images of the latest tom danced in the feline's mind, pain and anger built up in her chest. Reaching its peak as the last note hung like it should, good, she thought, these boys know the song. Kristy threw the guitar behind her, the strap holding it to her back. As she grabbed the mic, digging her claws into the plastic casing, she released the built-up emotion as she belted out the chorus like only a bobcat could.

Now I'm free, now I'm free

You're not there to hold me down

I can finally get off the ground

I'm moving on to my next adventure

Flying high with clouds to capture

No one left to cage my heart

I'm free to find where I start

Cause Now I'm free

As the chorus gave way to the bridge, Kristy let herself go with the music dancing around stage, shaking her hips like a popstar. Like the song said, she was free. She didn't care that the cheering crowd got a glimpse of light blue fabric and soft creamy fur or that her right spaghetti strap had fallen, letting the dress slip down a little. She swung the guitar back in front and started to play as she sang, her voice much more of a purr.

I feel the air under my wings

And every breath makes my voice sing

It's raining down all around me

To wash the pain so I can see

My future's bright free and fancy

Your storming clouds cannot hide me

I'm headed straight for the edge

I'm gonna jump this I pledge

The crowd was into the energy, like always. Kristy was free, her life was hers, she didn't have to worry about anyone else. Then Orchid's smile and needing eyes flashed through her mind. Without missing a beat, she shook the thought away only for Stefano's teary smile as he held the new guitar to cross her mind. Kristy focused and smiled as the song paused again for a beat, just long enough for the cat's lip to quiver.

Now I'm free, now I'm free

You're not there to hold me down

I can finally get off the ground

I'm moving on to my next adventure

Flying high with clouds to capture

No one left to cage my heart

I'm free to find where I start

Cause Now I'm free

Kristy drug out the last word before her lead break. She smirked as she heard the hyena guitarist start his own. She looked over at him and started the simple flirty solo. She giggled and bounced around a little till she tried the old move of kneeling down to flirt with a mammal in the front row.

But she couldn't.

Her knees wouldn't bend like they use too. That hit her like a freight train.

Sam had been watching Kristy throughout the performance, he couldn't believe how hot she looked up on stage. She seemed so happy and carefree while playing and singing. The sight of her dancing and enjoying herself brought a smile to his muzzle as his tail started to slowly wag behind him. But now something had changed. As Kristy played the solo, she looked… different. She still played and moved around on stage, but the energy seemed to be gone. The stage was too far away for him to see the tears welling in her eyes, but Kristy's demeanor changed from the energetic kitten she was a second ago to the subdued cat he'd met the other day. Something wasn't right as his smile began to droop to a frown.

Kristy's vision blurred, the image of Stefano and Orchid needing her hit her like a rhino boxer. The solo became simpler as her make up ran. Only years of playing through hangovers, drug fueled hazes and even a broken leg kept her fingers moving. She stepped up to the microphone again. The realization that she couldn't just be a party girl like she used to be, that she had to be home every night, to be at work every day, because she had to feed the youngsters in her house, that Orchid and Stefano needed her more than she needed some random hookup, those realizations did something horrible.

They stole her voice.

The bobcat couldn't even get the words out, the song faltered and the crowd once so into the song started to notice the problem. The lovely bobcat was in tears barely holding it together enough to keep the music going. The fox starred, unsure if he should sing the song, however, it was Roxxie to the rescue, like it had been many times in Kristy's life.

Roxxie rushed from the curtain signaling for the confused band to keep it going. Roxxie jumped and plucked the mic from the stand and waited for the que and sang the final verse. Her voice a little out of practice for singing in Kristy's key.

You'll look back and you'll remember me

Regret the pain that you left with me

But I won't even know your name

I've moved on and he's not the same

He treats me like I deserve to be

Carrie's me so that I can see

Everything that I could ask for

He gives me and he gives me more

As Kristy faded to the back of the stage and out of the light as Roxxie took over. The skunkette's ears were red and her face was hot while she sang and danced, shaking her big bushy tail. The white gold wedding band sparkled in the light of the stage. Luckily, she only had to finish out the chorus and it was over, but then the lead guitar vanished from the song. Roxxie looked back to see the bobcat gone. Her eyes widened at the chorus break, Kristy had never skipped out on a song.

Now I'm free, now I'm free

You're not there to hold me down

I can finally get off the ground

I'm moving on to my next adventure

Flying high with clouds to capture

No one left to cage my heart

I'm free to find where I start

Cause Now I'm free

Now that I'm Free

The final chorus of that damn song were like daggers in Kristy's heart. She sobbed as she leaned on the wall just inside the curtain. She pulled the guitar off and set it on a stand as she stumbled past that wolf band. She ignored their questions as she ran out into the hall and to the office.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

From where he stood Sam could see Kristy moving back out of the light. The skunkette he'd seen with the coyote earlier had come rushing out as the bobcat faltered. Picking up where she'd left off in the song. After Kristy disappeared into the curtain, he continued to watch, scanning either side of the stage to try and catch sight of her. When the skunkette finished she rushed back stage after a quick bow to the crowd. That's when he spotted Kristy running out from behind the stage and into the same door, he'd used to find the restrooms. He pushed off the railing to go find her. Only to be slowed by the crowd that had gathered behind him. He pushed through the bodies of mammals, knocking a few over.

"Sam! Where are you going?!" Frank called but Sam didn't hear him. He made it to the stairs and ran down as quickly as he could. Not noticing the security guard calling over his radio. At the bottom of the stairs he walked at a brisk pace towards the doorway. Dodging mammals left and right, he didn't see the coyote stalking him on the other side of the room.

He made it to the doorway and walked through the threshold without hesitation. At first, he went to the female restroom and raised his paw to knock when the sound of sobbing from the door marked Manager made his ears twitch.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Kristy was curled up on the small couch in Roxxie's simple red walled office. The bobcat's face was pressed into a throw pillow as she cried hard. Her claws tore the fabric as two days of tears flowed.

Roxxie opened the door and stepped in her brows up and ears down. She made her way over next to the couch. "You okay, Kristy?"

"No!" The bobcat said through the pillow.

Roxxie cringed. "Want to talk about it? I've never seen you this bad after a break up?"

After a few more sniffles Kristy sat up. Roxxie held a box of tissues to her friend and sat beside her. The bobcat blew her nose and whined. "It's not that it's just... it's I..." A new round of sobs and tears over came Kristy and she fell into her friend's embrace.

"It's okay let it out." Roxxie said, her voice strained from singing and the weight of the larger mammal on her.

Kristy wept for a moment longer before leaning back to speak. "Be easier to talk over drinks." She said while fixing her shoulder straps.

Roxxie adjusted her own top as she spoke. "Well, there's a problem there." The skunk bit her lower lip with worry. "I'm pregnant."

"Oh my God, Roxxie, that's so awesome. I'm so happy for you guys." Kristy said, pulling her friend into a hug. The bobcat's eyes widened with curious joy as she leaned back again, glad for the momentary distraction. "How'd you do it? Did you use a donor or something?" She cautiously asked.

"Nope just natural." Roxxie smirked. "Doc said something about, Solar flares. I don't know, I was too busy laughing and crying." Hybrid's between species that couldn't traditionally breed did exist but were so rare that experts compared it to winning the lottery twice.

Kristy's momentarily happy smile fractured as the tears she had been trying to dry welled up again. "I'm, uh, that's kinda why I'm so shook up." Roxxie wasn't sure how to take that. "It just hit me that I'm getting older. I got no boyfriend, no prospects of a family." She sarcastically laughed at herself as tears rolled down her makeup stained cheeks. "Oh, I kind of have two kids but that's not going to last. Ones got family on the other side of the fucking world the will take him from me and the other..." She thought of Orchid and how she would eventually be taken away. "The other, well, who am I kidding, what kid wants me as a mom." She sobbed into her paws as she braced herself on her knees. Roxxie was gently rubbing her back, trying to comfort her friend.

"Did you think Kno and I ever believed we would be parents?" She said with a smile, hoping to brighten the bobcat's mood. Roxxie had met Stefano once but knew nothing about Orchid, she leaned closer, her muzzle almost touching Kristy's. "One, we need to talk more, two, girl you're still a catch. You never know what's behind the next door." Roxxie held her paw up towards the office door. A metaphor to her own words, when a knock came from the door.

0o0o0o0o0o

Sam knocked gently on the door and turned the handle, finding it unlocked, he pushed it open and stuck his muzzle through the crack.

"Kristy?" He pushed the door open further and stuck his head through. On the far wall he saw Kristy sitting on a small couch, the skunkette from earlier was sitting with her. When she saw Sam she immediately stood up and grabbed a large black 'bat'. He could just make out the words "The Enforcer" paw written on the imitation natural surface of the thing.

"You can't be here." She said with a scowl. Sam opened his mouth, a reply that he was a friend on his lips when he suddenly felt himself lifted in the air by the back of his shirt.

"I'm a-AAACCCCHHHH!" Sam's tongue stuck out from being yanked backwards as his eyes became wide as saucers. When he regained focus, he found he was at eye level with glowing turquoise eyes surrounded by red. A threatening growl reached his ears as he was held aloft by the coyote security guard. Sam felt his own lips beginning to curl up, years of training to kill or be killed until it was second nature began to come forth, mingling with a sudden urge to protect. Until another's voice reached his ears.

Kristy's ears shot up as she heard the gray fox's voice. "Sam?" She whispered, so low even Roxxie didn't hear it. She was stunned to see him here, so stunned she could only watch as Roxxie threatened him with "The Enforcer". When he suddenly disappeared behind the door with a choking sound, followed by a growl she was familiar with, she stood and stepped behind her shorter friend to see what was happening. "Hey hey! It's okay, he's a friend." The door swung open to reveal Kno was still growling with his fur standing on end, holding the shorter fox in the air by his shirt. Sam's paws were flexing, his partially retractable claws coming out as he scowled back at the coyote's turquoise eyes glowing from the reflected light of the office.

Roxxie's ears perked up and she looked between Kristy and the newcomer. Neither he nor her husband appeared to be willing to back down. "Oh my, Kno, no he's good." The skunkette tossed "The Enforcer" beside the couch. It wiggled as it bounced off the side of the couch, glitter dusting the floor where it landed. The black and white female hurried over to her tan partner and tried to pull his arm down. She squeaked feeling just how tense he was as it wouldn't budge. She reached up to his muzzle and pulled his face towards hers.

"Hey, hey. It's okay. He's Kristy's friend." Kno relaxed as his fur settled. Looking back at Sam, he lowered the fox back to the ground and placed an arm around Roxxie's shoulder, keeping himself slightly between her and Sam. Sam's eyes stayed on the coyote as he bowed his head slightly in a submissive manner. This wasn't his den after all. And the intermingling scents of male coyote and female skunk permeated the entire room.

"Sorry bout that. He can be a bit protective." Roxxie said as she stepped in front of the coyote, one paw out beside her as if to catch him should he decide to charge.

"I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn't have barged in uninvited." Sam said. Roxxie studied the fox for a moment as she felt Kno close behind her. His clothes were slightly dated but not unfashionable. His fur seemed groomed but a bit patchy, which could be a sign of drug use. There were white hairs in his muzzle stripe, so he was a bit older. What struck her as the oddest was the watch he wore. An old analog that wasn't moving with no other jewelry to be seen. She glanced over to see how Kristy was reacting towards him. The bobcat was smiling till she realized her makeup was streaking down her facial fur. She saw Kristy's paw go to her hip where her purse would normally be. Realizing it wasn't there the bobcat's face turned to one of dread. Was she afraid of how he'd react seeing her in such a mess? That wasn't the Kristy she remembered.

"I'll go grab your purse." She turned and pulled Kno away.

"Thanks, Roxxie." Kristy said as the skunkette and coyote were leaving. Roxxie turned to the fox as she spoke in a warning tone.

"I'll be right back." Before closing the door.

Alone in the room together, Kristy felt her ears and cheeks burn with embarrassment at the awkward meeting. She meekly waved her paw as her chin fell and she looked away, trying to hide her current state. "Hi."

Sam felt his heart rate increase at the cute display. Trying to come up with an appropriate and witty response, he opened his mouth and said the first thing that came to his mind.

"Hi."