A Little Life

By Teric

(c) 2007 by Teric. All rights reserved. Sabrina, Amy, Timothy Woolfe-Swuirrel, Warren and Endora Mustilidae (c) Eric Schwartz. Chris and Alan Foxx, Dexter and Angel Collie, Cindy and Clarence Skunk, Debbye (Squirrel) Evans, and Susan Felin (c) Chris Yost. Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Lee Evans created by Evan (Cateagle) Mayerle. Zig Zag created by Max Blackrabbit. James Sheppard created by James Bruner. Based on Sabrina Online: The Story by Chris Yost and Tabitha: The Story written by Chris Yost and James Bruner, and conceived by Mark White.

Author's Note: This is a work of fiction based on “Sabrina Online: The Story” by Chris Yost and “Tabitha” by Chris Yost and James Bruner, and should not in any way be considered cannon for those stories. This story takes place in the original, unaltered timeline that led up to the events portrayed in “Tabitha” by Chris Yost and James Bruner, up through chapter 7.

There was only one light on in the house, and it appeared to be coming from the den, Chris noted.  The fox eased his car into the driveway, and shifted into the parking gear.  Gathering his keys and his laptop, he reached over to the passenger seat, closing a gentle paw around a long paper cone.  Lifting it to his nose, he breathed in the strong aroma coming from four deep red roses, bound together by a white ribbon.

It had been several months since the last time he had brought flowers for his wife, and he thought now would likely be a better time than any for them.  Glancing back at the front window, he hoped the light from the house meant that Sabrina was working, either on the computer or finishing the new page layouts for the studio’s catalog.  As he made his way to the front door, a sharp cold wind ruffled the fur along the back of his neck, sending a chill through him.  He was grateful to enter the warmth that greeted him when he opened the front door.

“I’m home,” he announced, switching on front room lights.  When there was no answer, he took a tentative look around.  Everything seemed okay; the T.V. was turned off, the floor was clean.  There was an open can of soda on the side table, but Chris didn’t see any of the other tell-tale signs he had come to recognize over the past week.  With a hopeful smile, he set his laptop tote on the floor next to the sofa, and made his way into the kitchen.

“Kitten?” He called to his wife.  “I’m home.”  There was still no response.

He found an open package of cookies on the kitchen table, along with a glass of milk that had been left untouched.  A tentative sniff told him that it had likely been sitting out since some time this morning.  His smile melted as his nose wrinkled in disgust, and he wasted no time pouring the soured milk into the sink.

Looking down the hallway, he saw the door to Sabrina’s makeshift art studio hanging open, casting a dim light onto the opposite wall.  As he made his way toward it, his ears caught a series of repetitive, insistent scratching sounds.  Before he reached the door, there was a pained grunt, followed by the sound of thick paper being ripped apart.  The fox stopped short of stepping into the light cast through the doorway.

Craning his neck, Chris stole a glance into the room.  The floor was littered with mangled, torn scraps of paper, some showing hints of colored pencil or marker work, though the subject matter was no longer recognizable.  As he watched, a newly crumpled drawing flew toward him, bouncing to a rest near the doorway.  He edged his way into the light as the insistent scratching resumed.

Leaning upon her art table, Sabrina appeared to be working furiously over a large sketch-book.  The desk lamp in front of her, paired with the distinct lack of any other light in the room, cast her in a near-silhouette to the fox’s eyes.  He could tell right away that she was still dressed in her nightshirt.  She leaned heavily on her left elbow, her fingers tangled tightly in the hair between her ears.  His tail drooped at the sight, but he reminded himself to be positive.

Chris picked his way among several crumpled sketches to approach his wife.  Placing a gentle paw on the back of her chair, he came to a halt beside her.  Littered across the desk were several copies of previous studio catalogs, each opened to a different page.  He stood in silence for several moments, watching as the outlines of what appeared to be a vixen appeared in the sketchbook.  The pencil in Sabrina’s paw made intense strokes on the paper, often resulting in over-extended lines, giving the sketch a very rough feel.  As he sought for something positive to say, his wife dropped the pencil with a clatter, and grabbed for her eraser.  She made no indication that she had noticed his presence.

“Hi, Kitten,” he attempted.  His only answer was the slight squeak of the eraser gum across the page.  After an awkward pause, he tried again.  “The guys missed you at work today.  John was asking how you’re feeling, and Dexter said he was worried about you.”

Sabrina still gave no answer.  After another long silence, Chris tried a different angle.

“Did anyone call today?” He asked, trying to sound cheerful.  “Dexter said that Angel wanted to call and see how you’re doing.  He mentioned--”

At that moment, Sabrina’s fingers clenched on top of the paper, mangling the page into a wad and ripping it from the sketchbook binding.  In a single, violent motion, she whipped the crumpled page behind her onto the floor without a glance.  Pencil in paw once more, she returned to her sketchbook to begin again.

Chris felt himself recoil involuntarily, his eyes widening in horror.  Here before him was the woman he loved, the one to whom he had dedicated his life, and he now realized that he had no idea who she was.  He had never seen her acting like this before, and he was at a loss on what he could do to help her.

Over the past week, it was as if she had completely closed herself off to the rest of the world.  On the first day after returning to Pennsylvania, Sabrina hadn’t wanted to get out of bed for most of the day, much less go back to work.  During the following days, she had also refused to come to the office, instead staying on the couch for most of the day and watching T.V.  Today was the first time he had seen her attempting to do any work at all, but he could see that even this activity was leading nowhere.

The fox felt as if a great weight was slowly crushing down upon him.  Ever since he had known for sure that he wanted to marry her, Sabrina had been his greatest joy in life, and what he wanted most was for her to be happy.  He had always longed to see the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled, or the way her face brightened when he surprised her in some way.  The playful competition in their marriage had always brought them closer together, and even the few serious disagreements that had come between them had eventually led to increased understanding and respect for each other.  She was his whole life.  He let a tentative paw rest on her back as he felt his shoulders slump.

“Won’t you say something…?” He breathed, already knowing the answer.  “Kitten…?”

She continued working as before, oblivious to his pleas.  He flinched as the nearly-forgotten bundle of roses fell from his trembling fingers, coming to rest haphazardly across an open studio catalog.

He felt as if his life was spinning away from him.  Though she had been sluggish and depressed during the past week, she had at least spoken to him and acknowledged his presence.  Now it seemed even that small comfort was slipping from his grasp.  Reluctantly, he let his paw fall to his side.  His mind was numb as his feet carried him back toward the hallway.  Blinking back the sudden sting in his eyes, he turned to her once more before he left.

“I love you, Sabrina.”

Chris’s voice was barely above a whisper.  He wasn’t sure if she had heard it anyway, but he didn’t know what else to do.  Her depression was consuming her, taking her away.  His mind briefly flashed an image of picking her up and shaking her to snap her out of it, but he immediately pushed the thought away.  He couldn’t bring himself to be physically rough with his own wife.  He shook his head, ashamed that the thought had even occurred to him, and let his weight slump against the hallway wall.

Temporary, he thought.  How long is ‘temporary’?  The doctor had told him that Sabrina would likely experience depression to some degree or another, and that he would need to be prepared for it.  Prepared how?  In the whirlwind of the events of that day, Chris hadn’t been able to focus much of his attention on the information that he had been given.  Prepared?  He felt as if he had returned to his first day of high school, not knowing where his classes were to be found, struggling to get his locker open, feeling bewildered and alone.  He had read about clinical depression, but had never seen it stare him in the face as it did now.

The dim illumination from the den cast an eerie, blurred pattern of light and dark on the opposite wall.  Chris stared at the silhouette, straining to make out what he knew to be the shadow of his wife’s hair and ears as she worked, but he found little clarity in the shapeless mass.

Maybe she’s hungry…? His mind focused on the thought, giving him a glimmer of purpose.  He made his way to the kitchen and swung the pantry door open.  He scanned over various boxes, cans, and bottles, searching for something that would be easy to prepare.  It wasn’t long, however, before he felt his heart sink.  Though he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, the thought of food sent a sickly chill through him.  With a grimace, he nudged the door closed.  Guess I’m not either.  He swallowed hard, and pushed the thought from his mind.

The fox sank heavily into a dining room chair, lost in his own thoughts, taking no notice of a periodic blink from the answering machine.

What can I do? He thought miserably.  I’m her husband… I’m supposed to support her.  It’s my job to help her to be happy, isn’t it?  Isn’t it…?  How am I supposed to help her if she won’t even talk to me?  He stared off into space, his ears drooping, leaving the unanswered question hovering over his darkening mood.

For years, even before he had met Sabrina, Chris had prided himself on his ability to troubleshoot and fix problems.  There had never been an unresponsive router, a faulty switch, nor glitchy file server that he hadn’t eventually been able to figure out.  Though he had never had any formal automotive training, he had always been able to at least diagnose car problems, often saving a trip to the mechanic with a simple part replacement.  Even while he had dated Wendy, and later Sabrina, he had nearly always been able to resolve differences and bring a smile, if he put enough effort into it.

But you couldn’t fix the breakup with Wendy, could you.  He furrowed his brow, surprised at his own thought.  Where had that come from?  He considered for a moment, going over the memories of what had happened between him and his former girlfriend, years previous.  Thinking back brought him a bit of respite from his current situation, and he was grateful for it.

Had he really wanted to fix the relationship with Wendy?  Not really.  He felt as if they had drifted apart, and he hadn’t felt any strong drive to keep the relationship going.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t fix the breakup, he rationalized, I just didn’t want to.  He could have fixed it.  Yes.  He could fix anything if he really wanted to, right?  Right…?

Not this time.  His thoughts were jolted back to the present, reminding him of his own ineptitude in the face of his current dilemma.  Gritting his teeth, he felt a flash of anger and frustration.

What about my feelings? He frowned.  She’s not the only one that wanted this baby.  Do I get to mope around and feel depressed?  He felt his lips tighten at the thought.  No, I don’t have a choice.  I have to go back to work; I don’t have the luxury of mourning our loss.  I can barely concentrate on projects at the office; all I can think about is what could have been.  How we might’ve had a son that I could take to the ice rink and teach him how to skate and play hockey.  How we could’ve had a little girl who would squeal ‘daddy!’ when I came home from work.  His vision blurred, and he felt his chest tighten painfully.  He took no effort to restrain his emotions as his grief began to soak into his cheek fur.  He pressed his head into his fists, his knuckles biting through the fur on his forehead.  For several minutes, quiet, shuddering sobs hissed through his clenched teeth.

In a jolt of anger, Chris slammed a fist down onto the table.  The sudden noise and flash of pain in his paw surprised him, but anger soon forced its way back to the forefront.  His mind flew over the events that had led up to this point; each thought brought him a greater realization of the overwhelming injustice of it all.

Why?!  The word thundered in his head again and again.  What have I done to deserve this?  What has she done?  All we wanted was to have a family.   A family!  Is that so wrong?!  And what about those selfish brats out there who treat a pregnancy as a problem, an inconvenience?  He felt his jaw gritting painfully in his skull.  They get pregnant and their first thought is how to get rid of it!  And those who really want to have a child have that chance stolen away from them!

Chris felt himself shaking with rage, his arms trembling with the strain of clenched paws.  Gradually, he became aware of a throbbing pain in his paw pads, pulling him away from his mental fury.  Blinking his eyes open, he released a shuddering breath and opened his paws.  With a start, he realized that his own claws had cut into his flesh, leaving several oozing puncture wounds on each paw.  For a long moment he stared at the cuts, as feeling slowly returned to his fingers.

Not helping.

With a sigh, he reminded himself that anger would get him nowhere in this situation, and that he needed to calm down before he did something he might regret.  The fox hung his head, forcing himself to breathe deeply.  Little by little he felt his muscles unwind.

As the tension began to ease, his shoulders slumped, and he realized just how tired he was.  He was tempted to rest his head in his paws, but he remembered that he needed to clean the blood from his pads before it soaked into his fur.  He allowed himself a brief moment before he stood once more.

A quick wash in the kitchen sink cleared several droplets of blood from his pads and claws.  As he worked, he found himself again staring at his paws.  He turned off the tap, and lifted his dripping fingers from the sink, palms upward.  He considered the strength they held, the power to make things right again.  His eyes went from one paw to the other as his thoughts began anew.

I can fix things, can’t I?  The question lingered in the silence around him, broken only by water that dripped from his fur into the sink.

How can I fix this?  I don’t know what’s going on in her head.  I’m not a therapist; I’ve never even met anyone with depression before.  What can I do?  He made no effort to dry his paws as soft drips continued to fall.  What can I do for her if she won’t even talk to me?  How can I help when I don’t even know what’s wrong? He paused with sudden realization.  Wait…

He did know what was wrong, at least in part.  Sabrina was working through the same feelings as he was.  She was grieving along with him, feeling the sting of their recent loss.  He sniffled back his tears as he reached for a paper towel from the rack near the sink.

So what would help me then, Chris pondered, as his thoughts returned to a more objective state.  He envisioned himself sitting in the bleachers at a rowdy hockey game, Dexter at his side, with a big plate of hot nachos on his lap, yelling himself hoarse.   The thought brought a smirk to his muzzle, but he soon shook his head.  Likely, that was the last thing Sabrina wanted to do at this point.

His next thought drew him back to his own childhood, to that day during his first semester in the 7th grade.  He had never been particularly popular during his early school years, having always been more interested in fantasy novels, comic books, or computer games than in playing football with the other students.  He had prided himself on his knack for learning, and he had always been just a bit ahead of most of the students in his classes.   But on that day, Joe and his buddies had taken Chris aside after school.

Joe hadn’t been any larger than average for a bulldog, but he was a fur who had never been afraid to let everyone else know what he thought of them.  Apparently, he had gotten the idea that Chris didn’t fit the mold of what a ‘normal’ fur should be, and the fox had come home that day with a swollen lip, a ragged rip in his jeans, and a shredded backpack.

He hadn’t cried.  No.  At twelve years old, he had been too old to cry.  He had also been too old to have his mother make a fuss about it.  He had tried sneaking into the house, only to find his mother sitting in the living room as he had entered through the back door.  To his surprise, she hadn’t panicked nor flown into a righteous fury over it.  In fact, she hadn’t said anything at all.  Instead, she had simply looked him over, placed the remains of his backpack on the floor, and wrapped a gentle arm around his shoulder.

Soft.  Warm.  Secure.  Those are the memories he had of that moment.  Though it hadn’t made the bruises go away nor stitched up the rips in his jeans and self-esteem, he remembered that, with her arm around his shoulders, it was okay.  He had felt understood.  Valued.  Loved.  It was okay to be smart in school; it was okay that he wasn’t interested in football.  And, despite angry promises he had made earlier, he had decided to return to school after all.  Chris felt a tiny smile tugging at his lip.  The bulldog was now almost forgotten, while the memory of his mother’s embrace still felt like a warm, comfortable blanket.

At that moment a realization struck him, causing his jaw to go slack.  Joe had been a problem that he couldn’t fix, and Mom hadn’t fixed it.  Yet, to his utter astonishment, she had somehow made it better.  The fox looked down at his paws once more, his mind reeling with the sudden possibility.  Could it be that he was able to help Sabrina, even though this was the one problem he had no power to solve?

The fox looked toward his wife’s studio; the open doorway still cast a dim illumination across the hall.  His collected experience told him that this was stupid, that it would never work, that it would only make things worse.  He turned away, his lips tightening into a frown.  This wasn't going to help anything.  Sabrina didn't want him to be there; she didn't even want to talk to him.

Or did she?

He had tried to avoid mother too, though she had seen right through that.  She had been a soothing balm on his wounds, even when he hadn't asked for nor wanted it.  Though his mind told him otherwise, deep down he suspected that his wife was in a very similar emotional state.

As he looked back down the hallway, his heart began to beat just a bit faster.  What if she got angry and pushed him away?  He couldn't bear the thought of being rejected by her.  But what if he could do some good...?  A shared sorrow becomes a half-sorrow, he thought. Wasn't that how the old saying went?

With a slight nod to himself, he made his way toward the studio, toward the dim light cast by Sabrina's desk lamp.  He raised an ear, listening for the harsh pencil scratches that he had heard earlier, but caught only silence.  Had she succeeded, perhaps, in drawing something that met her own approval?

With gentle steps, Chris passed through the doorway, taking care to avoid the myriad of crumpled pages on the floor.  His wife still sat in her chair, hunched over her desk, but she was no longer working.  In fact, the fox soon noted, her head leaned forward into her crossed arms, turned somewhat to the side.  As he approached, he realized that Sabrina had her arms tightly folded across her chest.

As he came to a rest at her right side, he wasn’t surprised to see that she had abandoned her sketch pad, her pencils strewn haphazardly across the desk.  However, he quickly realized what had taken her away from her work.  Clutched in the crook of her right arm was the bundle of roses, their stems crushed in a fierce embrace, her cheek resting upon the crumpled paper wrap.  The flower heads themselves caught the dim light from her desk lamp, creating a soft, velvety highlight against the dingy tangles of her hair.

Chris had no idea if Sabrina had heard his approach.  She hadn’t moved since he had come into the den, aside from the slow rise and fall of her breaths.  Lifting a tentative arm, he reached across her, bringing his paw to her left shoulder.  He closed his eyes as he lowered his fingers, coming to rest after what seemed like several minutes, and waited for her to flinch away.

He paused for a long moment, his heart pounding in his chest, fully expecting her to move out of his reach, to push him away.  He felt himself beginning to tremble with uncertainty, but she did not move from under his touch.  Once he had convinced himself that she wasn’t going to stop him, he gently pulled her toward him, pressing her right shoulder to his side.  His mind whirled with things he could say to her at that moment, but he forced himself to remain silent, fearing that any sound might snap the delicate emotional bridge he was desperately trying to cross.

At that moment, he was utterly shocked to feel a soft touch upon his left paw.  His eyes flew open, and he stared in disbelief as Sabrina’s halting fingers slid over his, finally interlocking at just the fingertips.  Chris felt his jaw fall open, and for a moment he could do nothing more than gaze numbly at his wife’s response.  A wave of surprised relief washed over him, and he released the trembling breath that he had subconsciously held.

For a long while he remained at her side, simply holding her to him, enjoying the feel of her paw on his.  A simple touch was all it was, but it was enough.  He knew now that the woman he loved was still somewhere inside her, and that he was not powerless to help as he had feared.  With this newfound reassurance, he again began to feel a sense of hope for the future.

End of Chapter 6
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