a story by
(c) 1998 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, and Tammy Vixen (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c) John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Amy Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, and Wendy Vixxen (c) Chris Yost. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story based on characters and situations created by Eric W. Schwartz.Windows95 (TM) Microsoft Corp. Amiga (TM) Gateway Computers.
Special thanks to Rodney "Terl" Stringwell for helping me out of my writer's block this week!
The weather was turning warmer, with a bright sun and almost no clouds in the sky at all. The little downtown coffee house had their plastic patio tables out on the front sidewalk, but inside at one of the older marble and wood booths sat a lone male skunk, one of the few who would wear a button shirt on a Saturday.
Clarence was idly doodling in his composition book, occasionally sipping his mint chocolate steamed milk. His thoughts scattered by themselves, occasionally took on a coherent fantasy for a bit, then scattered again. Turning a page back he wrote some of these thoughts down, scratched them out, doodled again, took another sip, then looked up and recognized someone at the coffee bar.
"Hi Cindy," he called.
Cindy turned around and saw Clarence waving. She waved back quickly. "Hi Clarence," she called back, then turned to pay for her double latte.
Clarence made a face and turned back to his book. When he saw Cindy move toward the booths he spoke up again. "Cindy, come sit with me!"
Cindy froze in her tracks. "Oh, thank you Clarence," she said quickly, almost stammering. "But the-- ah -- well, -- " She couldn't think of an excuse. Looking at Clarence she saw the hopeful look on his face. "Okay." She walked to his booth and slid in, her back to the front of the shop, pulling herself in toward the corner.
She took a drink and looked at Clarence again. He was grinning, happy to not just have company, but the company of one of the more popular girls at the college. Aw, Clarence, don't look like that! She slowly scooted out of the corner and set her cup in front of her in the center. Okay, I need a conversation starter. "So," she said, "what're you up to today?"
"Not too much," he said. "I'm just doing some writing. It helps me relax."
Cindy swallowed her mouthful of coffee. "Really?" she asked. "What do you write?"
Clarence put a finger on the tape between his lenses and slid his reading glasses back up. "Oh, just some poetry. I'm really not very good at it." He picked up his glass and blew into it to cool it some.
This allowed Cindy to quickly take his notebook and turn it to herself. "Really? I love poetry. Can I read some?"
Clarence coughed on the milk he drank. "Ah, it's not really very good!"
Just as he reached for the book Cindy had it open. She leafed through a few pages of drivel and doodles, and saw one that appeared to be the last thing he'd written in it. She read it aloud, only loud enough for she and Clarence to hear …
Cindy closed the book with her finger in the page, tapping her thumb on the cover and thinking. Clarence's cheeks were an incredible shade of red.
"Lessee," Cindy said thoughtfully, "'your art' ... well, Sabrina's the only artist I know ... " She lowered her eyes to Clarence and saw by the look on his face she'd embarrassed him. "I'm sorry Clarence. I didn't mean to do that to you."
"It's okay," he answered her quickly. He began tracing the outline of the design in the table top with the tip of his finger.
Cindy closed the book and tried to manage a smile, something, to make Clarence feel better. "You really carry a torch for her, don't you?"
Clarence kept his eyes down and nodded.
Cindy closed the book and slid it back toward Clarence. "But you know she's seeing someone."
"I know." He slid his finger toward his steamed milk and nudged the handle of the glass back and forth. "I guess that's why she's not home. She wasn't home yesterday, either."
A tiny gasp came out of Cindy's mouth. "Clarence!" she said, then lowering her voice to a whisper. "You're not stalking her??"
"Oh my, no!" Clarence sat up to explain. "I just went by her building to ... well, ... " His voice trailed off. " ... to leave her a little something." sigh "I don't know why I did, I just did. Something I hope she can use."
"Oh, Thomas, how careless can you get?"
Amy rolled on her side on the couch and stretched her arm over the couch's arm, her fingertips finally making contact with the remote control. She blew a bang of her hair out of her eyes and coaxed the remote to the front of the couch.
"Aaaaaugh!" She threw her arm out and caught herself on the edge of the coffee table. She planted one foot on the floor, pushed the coffee table out of the way, then used that hand to snatch the remote from the floor.
She looked at the sofa, then up into the air. "Good job, Amy," she said. "Now how do you get back up?" She looked at the sofa again, then her outstretched leg, her belly, and finally, the front apartment door.
Amy listened to her voice die down, knowing full well it wasn't about to carry four blocks to where Thomas was playing basketball. Remembering the famous monkey-with-the-handful-of-peanuts analogy, she let go of the remote control, put her hand flat on the floor, and gently slid herself to the floor, landing on her bottom, both hands supporting her.
Her future child was active now, moving around inside her. "Sure, now you wake up!" Amy said to it. A light kick made her bring one hand to her belly and she ran her palm over it, smiling. She thought back, remembering how the surprise at the doctor's office became an outright fear, then anger at Thomas, then herself, then Thomas again. As she felt the new life inside her she'd realized long ago it helped cement herself to her fiancé. She loved him ... although right now she knew she was being tested.
Amy thought it through. She crab-walked backwards three feet, picked up the remote and threw it onto the couch. With child fully awake inside she made a complete circuit of the room until her back was against the couch, put one arm up, pulled, then the other arm, pulled again, and in a moment she landed on the cushions with a flop.
Groan! "Oh, Eric, this kid better come soon!" She wiped her brow with the back of her paw, running it back through her blonde hair. "Oh, I've got to get this done," she said, remembering it's been a while since she'd been to the hairdresser's. She dropped her hand and picked up the remote. "I dunno, I think I've lost interest in watching anything." She set it on the edge of the cushion, where it immediately fell to the floor again.
Amy watched it fall and groaned again, letting her head land against the back of the couch. Then with considerable effort, she got herself to her feet and slipped on her lightweight jacket from the closet. She opened the front door, and stopped suddenly.
She almost stepped on it all. Squatting down she picked up a very small package, an envelope, and a picture. She stood and brought it into the apartment
Amy looked at the picture and raised her eyebrows. "Amiga A500 Plus. Nice set-up, too. But why in the world ... ?" Looking at the envelope she saw Sabrina's name written on the front. "Not the world's best penmanship," she said with a grin. Amy walked it all over to the dinette table and started walking back toward the door.
Amy turned quickly, then tripped over her foot. She threw her arms out to the side, falling backwards toward the couch. But instead of the couch, she felt her back brush against the center cushion and she landed with a thump! on her coccyx.
The phone was well out of reach as she felt the pain of landing on her tailbone work its way up her back and around her sides. She tried to cry out; the landing had taken the wind out of her. She gasped as loudly as she could, the phone ringing three more times before it stopped.
Amy couldn't move for several moments. The pain now began to work itself over her belly! She tried to turn herself toward the front door, one arm out, wanting to call out to anybody!
" ... I guess I want her to know someone's thinking about her. Even though I know I can't compete with her boyfriend, I wanted her to know someone else cares for her, too."
Cindy listened. She took a sip of her latte. "I never knew you could be this open," she said.
Clarence nodded with an awkward smile. "No one ever asked me before." He shifted himself on the hardwood bench. "I know what people think about me, but nerds need to be loved, too."
They were both quiet for a moment. Clarence took a drink. Just as Cindy opened her mouth he went on. "I just wish someone would tell me what's so wrong with me that no girl ever wants to go out with me."
"Ah, Clarence!" Cindy thought carefully about what to say. "There's nothing wrong with you; you're a very nice boy."
Clarence nodded. "That's what Sabrina told me, too," he said in a dejected voice. That's what everybody tells me. "We have a lot in common, at least I think we do."
Now, maybe Cindy wasn't thinking about it, but if she were, she probably wouldn't understand why she was listening. Clarence was a nobody, not just to The Clique, but to anyone on campus who wasn't an engineering or a computer student. But he was a lonely nobody …
"Well," Clarence said, sitting up, "we both love computers and computer games!"
"Okay," Cindy agreed. "What else?"
"We both own Amigas."
Clarence thought harder.
"Uh ......... "
Cindy drank at her double latte and watched.
"Well ... "
"Y'know Clarence," Cindy said, "I think I know part of your problem."
"You do?" Clarence said quickly. "What is it? I'll fix it for her!"
"Clarence, never mind Sabrina. Listen!" This guy won't give up! Cindy leaned in over the table and kept her voice down. Clarence leaned in and bumped Cindy on the forehead.
Cindy leaned back a foot. "Clarence, I think you try too hard to make people like you. And you're too focused; Sabrina's dating someone and she loves him, you're going to have to come to grips with that."
She waited for the detection to pass. When she finally saw Clarence nod, she knew he was starting to understand. "I'm just trying to help, Clarence," she said, well, helpfully.
Clarence wanted to take everything Cindy said in. First though, he had to fully understand what she said. She is gone. He fought himself and the sadness, and knew if he repeated those three words to himself again he'd fall apart. With a sniffle he straightened himself again and listened. "I can do that," he said finally.
"And, well ... " Cindy wanted to be kind. "Can you do something about your hair?"
Clarence sat up and put his hand on his head. "What's wrong with my hair?" he asked.
Cindy tilted her head and nodded it. "No one wears comb tracks anymore, Clarence," she explained. "Everyone who sees you like that probably thinks you work for public radio."
She watched Clarence raise an eyebrow. He reached behind the pens in his shirt pocket and took out the little sleeve he carried his comb in.
"No Clarence, not a comb." Cindy dug around in her purse. "A brush." She took her coarse brush out and slid out of her seat, sat next to Clarence, and began brushing it out.
"Cindy!" Clarence whispered. "People are looking!"
Cindy stopped and looked quickly about. "It'll just take a second." She brushed his hair down over his forehead and back over the crown, then dragged the edge of the bristles over one side to create a part, and brushed it up nice and neat. "There," she said, and pointed to the large antique mirrored wall beside them, "take a look."
Clarence did while Cindy returned to her side of the table. He gently patted it with an open paw to be sure it was really him. "Say," he said, hunting for words. "It looks pretty good."
"Told you." Cindy put her brush back in her purse. "Now, unbutton your top button. Guys never wear their collar button buttoned unless they're wearing a tie."
Clarence watched himself in the mirror as he opened the button.
"Next one too."
He looked at Cindy. "Dare I?" he asked.
She nodded. "Go for it!"
Clarence did, and opened the shirt up a little. White chest fur edged with black appeared. Cindy hid her face in one hand when he scrubbed his fingers through it to unmat it, then smooth it back down. "Gee," he said, looking at himself. "This is just all little stuff."
"That's all it takes sometimes," Cindy told him. "Now hand me the pocket protector."
Clarence turned back, his eyes wide, both hands covering his breast pocket. "Cindy, come on, please!"
She flexed her fingers back and forth. "Come on Clarence, I'm trying to help now."
Clarence slid his hands away and looked down at his pocket. Gripping the top he pulled and it came free with the small snap of several pens letting go. Slowly he handed it to Cindy; she snatched it and disarmed him. She looked at it and pulled one ballpoint pen out, and handed it to him. "Just one," she said. "You can have the rest of these back later."
Reaching forward, Clarence took his one lone pen back and clipped it to his pocket, which immediately sagged forward from being strained for so long.
"And the calculator."
Clarence looked at Cindy's open hand. "No, not that!" he cried.
"Not so loud!" Cindy whispered over her breath. "Okay, not the calculator," she agreed, "but don't wear it on your belt."
"You mean carry it?"
Cindy folded her arms. "Be reasonable Clarence, what do you need all these pens and a scientific calculator for in a coffee house?!"
Clarence thought for a second and nodded. Remembering his steamed milk he took a drink, which had cooled considerably to a drinkable temperature.
Cindy looked Clarence over and she had to smile. "That's one big improvement," she said. "You ought to think about buying yourself a couple polo shirts, too. When you're out like this, you need to look more casual."
Clarence looked at himself in the mirror again. "Just that little bit … "
"Mm-hm. And you might want to wipe off the milk mustache."
Clarence grabbed the napkin from his biscotti and wiped his upper lip, then became less delicate and pulled it over and wiped his mouth off. "It feels so different," he said.
"You really look good, Clarence," Cindy admitted, and honestly too. He's really not a bad looking guy like this. "The rest is all personality, and that part's up to you. Oh, and maybe your name, too."
"My name?" Clarence asked. "What's wrong with my name?"
"I dunno," Cindy told him, "it's just that the only way to shorten it is by calling you 'Claire', and that sounds more like a girl's name. Uh, do you have any nicknames?"
Clarence nodded to her. "Just one. They used to call me it in high school."
"Okay, now we're getting somewhere," Cindy said, "what was it?"
Cindy wrinkled her nose. "I think we'll stick with 'Clarence' for now."
Clarence looked at himself again in the mirror. "For the first time ever, I really feel some confidence in myself. How do I thank you?"
Cindy put her paw on his, then quickly pulled it back to her fingertips. "By forgetting Sabrina and forging ahead. Look at you now, you can ask any girl out and I'll bet she says 'yes'."
Clarence's entire face lit. His eyes were bright now and he was smiling. "You really think so?"
Cindy picked up her cup. "Absolutely." And she drained the last of her latte.
"Would you go out with me tonight?"
Cindy coughed and sprayed part of her coffee back into her cup. "Uh, me? Tonight?"
"Sure!" Clarence said excitedly. "You did all this to help me, I want to take you out and show you how thankful I am."
"Uh, oh, jeez, uh ... "
The smile began to creep away from Clarence's face. She watched it fade and his eyes droop. "Oh ....... " She tried to hide the cringe in her shoulders.
"Great!!" Clarence bounced in his seat. "I can pick you up at six, is that alright? Or would five be better? Or whatever time you want; you name it, I'll be there, I promise!"
Oh, why me?? "No, uh, six is fine, Clarence."
"This is great! Thank you, Cindy!" He took her right hand and pumped it, bumping his hand on the tabletop twice. "I'm going to go and get ready, I'll pick you up and take you somewhere really nice, you watch! You're going to have a good time, I promise!" A pause. "Wait, I said that. But you will! I've gotta go."
"Clarence!" Cindy said before he shot out of the booth, "you've got almost nine hours."
"I know, but I've got a lot to do, shopping and stuff. I'll see you at six at your house, I won't be late!" And he abandoned the rest of his drink and ran out to the door.
Cindy watched him leave and turned back to face the empty seat. Then jumped at the tap on her shoulder.
"Uh, what's your address?"
Fighting to keep her head from shaking, Cindy wrote her address on a napkin and handed it to Clarence.
"Great! Thanks! Bye!"
Clarence darted out of the shop again. Cindy made sure he was gone and buried her face in her hands. "Oh God, why me? Why why whywhywhywhywhy?"
"That was a very nice thing you did."
Cindy jumped. Here standing beside her was another skunk, but older, with a world weary appearance and a warm smile. "Forgive me, I was sitting across and up from you and I couldn't help overhearing."
Cindy lowered her hands to the table and returned his smile. "He needed the help," she told him. "I guess a mercy date with him for a few hours won't be so bad."
"Don't sell the idea short," the elder skunk said. "It's a very kind act you're doing for him. Boys like him need companionship, and you probably turned his whole world around … from one who knows."
That's when Cindy noticed he was also wearing a pocket protector filled to capacity. "You mean you too … are you his father?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No. Think of me as the 'Ultimate Geek'. And enjoy yourself tonight with him."
Cindy picked up her latte cup and brought it to her mouth, and remembered it was empty. When she looked back, he was gone. She looked over her shoulder, no sign.
She shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe I will." She put Clarence's pocket caddy in her purse and left.
Clarence walked around the corner to Sabrina's apartment building. Second thoughts sent him back to retrieve what he'd left outside her door. He excused himself around the small cluster of people watching two paramedics slide a gurney into the back of an ambulance and board it along with a wolf in a sweat suit. He ran up the front steps and through the door, up the steps to the second floor and stopped suddenly. What he left wasn't there.
He sighed, then smiled. "Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all," he said, and walked back down the staircase.
C'mon guys, you all know Sabrina's not in every strip, either! ;-")