a story by
(c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen, Sheila Vixen, Clarisse, Timothy Squirrel-Woolfe, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c) John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Wendy Vixxen, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, and Wanda (c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin Badger (c) James Bruner. Characters Kittiara and Katja (c) "Kittiara". Character Mark the "cheetaur" (c) Mark White. Character Tyler Leone (c) Michael Mullig. Characters Kevin and Kell Dewclaw (c) Bill Holbrook. Character Stacy (c) Jeffrey Darlington. Characters Chatin and Cilke (c) Tiffany Ross. Characters Jack Black and Cecil Stewart (c) Scott Kellogg. Character Packard Melan (c) S. Adam (I forget how to spell his last name). Character Ricky Boone (c) Ricky Boone. Eric Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. 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, Amino Systems, or whoever the heck owns them now. "Cooking for Dummies" (c) 1999 IDG Books Worldwide
Sabrina pulled on her parking brake and trotted up to Susan’s apartment building. She trotted up and raised a paw to knock on the door; hearing music from the back yard, she walked around the building and let herself in through the gate.
Susan was practicing a routine and had a boom box running a CD. She was wearing a very form-fitting leotard, her warm-up exercises were done and she was practicing her high kicks.
On one of her spins she saw Sabrina. “Sabby!” she cried with a big smile. “When’d you get here?”
“Just now,” Sabrina told her. “I was hoping you could help me.”
Susan smiled. “On cheerleading?” she asked. “Sure! Come on over here!”
“No,” Sabrina corrected, “not that exactly … ”
“Well, come over here!” Susan grabbed Sabrina’s wrist and pulled her over to stand beside her. “Stand here, beside me.”
“Susan,” Sabrina told her best friend, “I can’t cheerlead … ”
“You’ll never get a better chance to learn, girl! Now, paws on hips.”
Sabrina watched Susan take a couple of steps away and tried not to appear embarrassed as she did what Susan said. Then, spying Susan’s left paw, she asked “Susan, why is there a rubber band on your wrist?”
“Reminds me to stretch before I cheer,” she said to her. “It may never get me into Gamma Sigma, but it works for me.” She ran around to face Sabrina. “Here, you too!”
Susan soon had Sabrina following her in a quick series of loosening-up exercises while Sabrina complained, “Susan, I’m just here to ask if I can borrow your old cheerleading uniform!”
Susan stopped mid-squat-thrust. “My old uniform?” she asked.
Sabrina, also in a squat, explained, “A few months ago I was teasing Chris about wearing a cheerleading outfit, and as I’m seeing him this weekend while Amy and Thomas are taking their baby to her parents … ”
“Say no more,” Susan said with a big smile, “it’s yours.” She stood up and helped Sabrina. “Keep it as long as you want, just promise me you won’t spill anything on it.”
“No problem,” Sabrina said as she followed Susan into the building. “Chris isn’t planning on running for office.”
Susan stopped suddenly and turned to look over her shoulder at Sabrina, and her growing smile turned into a burst of laughter that had both women running up the stairs.
Chris clicked on the APPLY button to set his new Desktop wallpaper. A Dexter-shaped shadow fell across his desk and hovered over his shoulder.
“A new picture of Sabrina, huh?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” Chris replied with a nod. “Time to rotate.”
“You should be so frequent with your tires.” He angled himself for a better view. “They look like a cool duo,” he said. “Who’s the blonde squirrel with her?”.
“Her roommate, Amy,” he explained. “She’s the one who just had the baby.”
Dexter scanned the picture. “This was before, I take it?”
“Oh, yeah. ‘course, she did keep her figure afterwards, but yeah, this was before.” He leaned back in his chair. “Look at Sabrina,” he said, tapping the screen, “and tell me if you see the same thing I see.”
Dexter ran a paw thoughtfully under his chin. “If I remember right, that’s the same jacket she wore when I first met her here.”
“Yeah, but that’s not it.”
He cocked his head. “Her holding her disembodied lens?”
“Nope. Look at her right paw.”
Leaning in closer over Chris’ left shoulder, he stared. Sabrina’s paw was planted on her hip.
Dexter shook his head.
“She’s giving the finger.”
“Wha’ -- ?”
“Diggit.” Chris pointed to her paw. “She’s giving the finger.”
Dexter let the thought set in. “Think she was mad at the artist that day?”
Chris shrugged. “Wouldn’t think so. They’re good friends, so she says.”
Dexter looked again … “Naaaaaaaaaaah, she couldn’t be.”
“Who couldn’t be what?” Stacy asked, poking her nose in beside Dexter.
“Sabrina,” Dexter told her. “Chris thinks she’s giving the finger.”
Stacy worked herself in beside Dexter and looked over Chris’ other shoulder. “Hmmmmm …… yep, that’s the finger all right.”
“Told ya so,” Chris said.
“I still say you’re both crazy.”
“Call her,” Stacy recommended. “Call her and ask her.”
Chris shook his head. “I tried, she’s not home. I’ll have to wait ‘till tonight.”
“When’s she starting?” she asked.
“Two weeks from last Monday. I can’t wait!” Chris rubbed his paws together.
"She is too," Stacy said to Dexter.
"She is not," Dexter argued back.
"Wanda, no! CUT!"
Wanda squirmed out from beneath the civet male and nearly took the bedclothes with her standing up, fully nude. "What??" she said.
"'Erf!'" the hare director yelled back. "Not 'oof'! Erf!"
"I said 'erf'!" she defended.
"You said 'oof'. You're supposed to look like you're into his yiffing you, and he's not that heavy."
"I never said 'oof'!"
"You said 'oof'."
She turned back to the bed. "Did I say 'oof'?"
The civet nodded. "You said 'oof'," he agreed as he peeled a rubber glove off of his paw.
"There," the director told her. "And he was closer to you than any of us."
Wanda stomped her foot. "He was also kneeling on my tail! I've never fluffed a line in my life!" Just before the "Oh, you wanna bet"'s started coming at her, her peripheral vision caught Clarence walking in with a carton of videotapes for the shoot. Wanda smiled when she saw Clarence's expression and his quick turning of his head.
Now here's someone I wouldn't mind being close to, she thought to herself. I could do a lot of fluffing there.
"Run the tape back," Wanda demanded, "We'll let Clarence watch and give us an unbiased opinion." She turned and raised her arm. "Clare!" she called, waving and jiggling.
Don't look Clarence, she's not decent! But knowing Wanda was nude and telling himself not to look was like telling someone that the milk is sour and they shouldn't smell it; Clarence looked, Clarence saw, Clarence blushed, and Clarence tripped over his feet, recovering at the last minute and catching the box of tapes in mid-air.
Wanda trotted off the set to him. The large rabbit just shook his head. "Everyone take ten!" he called and wandered off to the men's room.
Clarence saw Wanda bouncing toward him and felt his insides wrench. He felt himself begin to perspire and his mouth dry up, not to mention his reacting to what was bouncing in his direction. He wasn't far enough inside to be under foot on the set, but he was too far inside to turn around and make a run for it.
"Hey, Clarence!" Wanda said when she caught up to him. She smiled; the poor guy was positively shaking, so much so that the tapes in the box were rattling.
"H-h-h-h-hi W-W-W-W-W-Wannn-n-nnnda." Clarence found a table and sat the box upon it and looked for a quick getaway.
"Clare, calm down." Wanda placed a paw gently on his arm. "It's only me." She laughed a little. "I've been under the lights for a while. You're not really seeing me at my best."
Clarence kept his eyes turned away. "Y-y-y-y-you l-l-look f-f-fine to me," he stammered out, then quickly realized how it came out, and as quickly followed with "I-I didn't m-m-mean it like th-that!"
Wanda looked down at herself and suddenly realized what she was putting poor Clarence through. Then she smiled, seeing the compliment Clarence was giving her again. She blushed, and her paw subconsciously gripped his arm a wee bit tighter. "You know, Clarence," she said, her voice softer, "we're going to be breaking for lunch soon."
Clarence nodded fast, nervously.
"I don't have anyone to escort me," she said, almost sadly. Wanda took a half step closer, batting her eyelids. The warm smile she gave Clarence would have melted a rock. "There's a nice place called Callahan's not far from here," she went on. "I'd love for you to come with me. A late lunch without a lot of people around to bother us ... "
Callahan's! "Uhhhhhh ......... I can't!" Clarence thought quickly! "Work! I'm getting ... somebody ... coffee! Yeah! I have to get coffee! You want some coffee?" He slipped his arm from Wanda's paw and started walking backwards and stumbling as he went. "I'll get you some, be r-r-r-right back!" He turned and tripped over his feet, leaped back upon them, and when he realized he couldn't push the studio door open he pulled and let himself out quickly into the hall. He made a right and ran right into someone carrying a video camera case.
"Mr Lapine!" he blurted, sweating profusely by this time.
Rodney nodded. "Clarence, how are you?" he asked politely.
"Fine, sir!" Rodney was wiping his paws on his trousers and suddenly realized something he was hoping Rodney hadn't. "J-J-Just getting c-c-c-coffee for s-s-s-s ... not W-Wanda! For ... can I g-g-get y-you some?"
Rodney, confused, just shook his head. "No thank you, Clarence. I don't drink coffee."
"Neither do I, sir! Uh ... p-please exc-c-cuse m-me ... " He squeezed past Rodney and darted for the restroom to wash his face. Yeah, that's it, to wash his face. Honest.
“Spin! And two and three and left and two and left and four! ”
Susan had the music cranked up again and had given Sabrina her extra set of pompoms. One thing she could always manage to do was break Sabrina of her inhibitions and act like a school kid, this time talking her into practicing with her.
“And O-HI-YO! GO-HI-YO! Jiggle, ‘brina! Shuffle two three Hi YO and drop!”
Sabrina followed Susan to the ground on one knee, one pom on a hip, one pom in the air. Susan leaped to her feet and extended a paw to pull Sabrina up. “I told you before girl,” Susan reminded her, “you’d be a natural!”
“Reminds me of when we were teenagers.” Sabrina rubbed her lower back. “I don’t know how you do it,” she replied. “You’re so active.”
“Just good diet and exercise.” Susan smiled. “And a healthy dating life never hurts, either.” She pointed over the fence to the second floor window of the next house. “Teasing the black rabbit watching us is half the fun.”
“What?” Sabrina looked up and saw an empty window with the curtain being quickly pulled back into place.
Susan laughed. “Don’t worry,” she assured her, “he’s harmless. Kinda cute, too.”
Sabrina placed a paw on her hip. “You ever meet a guy who wasn’t cute?”
Sabrina folded her arms while she waited, her pompoms dangling.
Turning on her best friend, Susan said, “Well, you used to like dating guys, too!”
“But I was never Miss Popularity,” Sabrina reminded her.
“Oh, yes you were.” Susan wrapped her tail partway around her ankles. “You were just such a geek you never paid attention to the guys paying attention to you. Remember your date for the junior prom? Packard Melan?”
The form of a teenage black panther formed quickly in Sabrina’s mind. “Yes, I do! He took me to the junior prom, he took you for the summer! And I really liked him, too.”
“And he really liked you when you had longer hair and before you started curling your tail like that. A lot of guys have had an eye on you, girl. That raccoon Ricky Boone, senior year.”
“Two dates with me,” Sabrina countered, “twelve with you.”
“Oh, yeah.” Susan lifted her eyes in thought. Then, “Stanley, that cougar from the science club … wait, bad example.”
“Told you so.”
“Okay, but that’s not my point.” Susan turned the CD player off. “You’ve had men interested in you a lot! And you did at here at college, too! And you could’ve stayed here in Columbus, maybe.”
“Sure, when you weren’t stealing my boyfr -- ” Sabrina unfolded her arms. “Eh?’
Susan threw her arms up. “Okay, I admit it. I’m going to miss you.” She dropped her pompoms on the table. “I don’t mean to be selfish like that Sabby, but it’s just not going to be the same without you here.”
“I know … ” Sabrina sat in a chair next to the table. “It’s going to be so different, moving away from everything I've known for so long … I did it before though, remember, when I moved here for college. But I love Chris, and I want to move in with him, and marry him, and this job is incredible; I can use both my major and my minor, how often could that ever happen!”
Susan sat in a chair across from Sabrina, forcing a smile. “And no boss trying to kiss you, right?” she teased her best friend.
Sabrina laughed. “Well, yeah.”
“Your parents okay with you living with Chris before you actually marry him?”
Sabrina gave a tiny shrug. “They never said they weren’t.”
Slowly, Susan’s mouth opened. “You did tell them, didn’t you?”
“Well … ”
“Well, Mom knows!” Sabrina finally answered. “I’m just assuming she told Dad and he has no problem with it.”
“And hey!” Susan smacked Sabrina’s knee. “When are you gonna shop for your wedding gown?”
“Oh, yeah!” Sabrina exclaimed. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Well you better, girl! You’re not going to walk down the aisle in your Amiga tee shirt and furry stretch pants, y’know.”
“I know.” Sabrina thought for a moment. “Do I need to make an appointment or anything?”
“I dunno, I’ve never had to shop for one,” Susan admitted. “I’ve got a phone, let’s call and find out.”
Sabrina held out the pompoms and shook them. “Rah rah.”
Susan giggled. “Take those with you,” she said. “Give Chris the full treatment.” The girls stood up and walked into the apartment.
“That’s definitely the finger,” Jim said.
“Absolutely,” said another in the crowd at Chris’ cubicle.
“No, I’m with Mr. Collie on this one,” said a beaver technician. “She’s just standing like that. It’s just how her paw is there.”
“Her friend has an arrogant look,” Stacy mentioned, practically crushed against the wall next to one end of the desk.
“You have to know her,” Chris told her. “She’s not arrogant, just self-assured.”
“And hot,” said someone standing on a chair in the back. “She married?”
“Can’t breathe,” Dexter said.
“Sorry.” The accountant from the second floor shifted his elbow out of Dexter’s chest.
Chris heard a stomach growl. “Hey, what time is it?” he asked.
A squirrel twisted an arm around so the civet next to him could see the face. “12:15,” he answered.
“Lunch!” three voices yelled, and Chris’ cube quickly freed up breathing room.
"Maybe you should put up a nice landscape before they come back," Stacy offered.
Laughing, Chris locked his workstation and the three went to what was left of lunch.
How did I ever make it through this week? was a question Clarence couldn't seem to answer. Avoiding Wanda the vixen wasn't impossible, but it became something he was determined to become good at.
He'd even tried asking his mother. "H-How do you avoid s-s-someone and n-n-not h-hurt their f-feelings?" His reply was a lecture on why you should treat people respectfully, and to not drop the platter after you dry it.
Clarence was spending more and more time in his bedroom, laying on his bed, thinking about Cindy. Romantic thoughts, growing more romantic as the days passed. Trying to convince his mother that he was too old for a 20-minute time limit per call on the phone was impossible; he would've made more progress asking the photograph of her on his dresser next to the smaller one of Cindy's taped to the side of his dresser mirror.
But it was finally Saturday evening; he only had to work until 10:30 that morning, and he'd been looking forward to his date with Cindy since Thursday. Friday was payday, and Saturday was his day to spend with his favorite vixen.
Wanda again. "Why won't she leave me alone?" he was tired of asking himself.
But not tonight. Rodney had taken Ellen out to shopping and dinner, and they were visiting friends afterwards. The house was empty save for Clarence and Cindy.
"Why don't we stay in tonight?" Cindy suggested. "Sure," Clarence agreed. "We d-didn't have any plans anyway."
Seemed Cindy did, though. She had a seafood salad all ready for them. After a playful time in the swimming pool for maybe the last time of the year, they ate their salads and later relaxed on the couch in their dried swimsuits. Cindy put a DVD in the player and sat down next to Clarence, started the movie, and shifted herself closer to him.
Clarence laughed nervously.
Cindy looked up at him. "What's so funny?" she asked.
"This whole day," he said with a smile. "Kinda feels like ... " He waved it off.
"What?" Cindy prompted.
Clarence swallowed. ... like we're married. "N-Nothing," he said and smiled. "It's just n-n-nice."
Cindy smiled too. "Yeah, it is."
The movie ran through its opening credits. Cindy thought nothing of cuddling up next to Clarence as they watched. Clarence lifted his arm, and Cindy adjusted herself so he could put it around her. Almost every time he did, he remembered the first time she allowed it; he saw males putting their arms around females on television all the time. Seemed the normal progression from simple paw-holding, and even there she had surprised him the first time she'd interlaced her fingers with his.
By now they've been sitting for forty-five minutes straight, cuddled and watching a movie. It wasn't one Clarence's could get too interested in, but he wasn't about to tell Cindy that. He sat, and dared to gently squeeze her shoulder.
Cindy traced her fingers back and forth over the fur on his leg. Without realizing he was doing it, Clarence pulled her closer. Cindy opened her fingers and stroked her palm over him, Clarence lowered his head and watched the riffles where the black and white colors of his fur met. And because it seemed like a good idea at the time, he kissed her on top of her head.
Shifting closer, Cindy raised her head and kissed Clarence; a long, lingering kiss.
The movie went unwatched. Clarence brought his other arm around and embraced Cindy, pulling her closer. He felt her other arm wrap around him and they broke their kiss, Cindy angled her head, and as they resumed she mewed; knowing full well he was as aroused as she was.
Believe me, she knew.
His arms held her tighter. Their paws slipped over each other, their muzzles parted slightly to allow access to each other; only their mutual shyness and sexual naivete kept them from removing each others' swimming suits. When Clarence's breathing began coming in shallow breaths, Cindy slid her mouth away and moved an inch or two away.
"Relax, Clarence, relax ... " She stroked his white hair. "Calm down ... that's better ... "
The rising and falling of Clarence's chest began to slow. He could hear the beating of his heart as it raced a mile a minute.
"I ... I never felt like this before ... " he said between his intakes of air.
"It means you're having a good time," Cindy whispered. "I know I am." She pulled herself up onto Clarence's lap, and she smiled as she pulled herself as close to him as she could.
Clarence felt a level of panic rising inside him. "We-We're not m-married ... w-we sh-shouldn't be d-doing this ... "
Cindy slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "I know." She kissed him again. "I won't let it go that far." She pressed into him and her tongue found his.
Sabrina's father was fuming. "You're going to live with him? You're only engaged young lady, you're not married to the fox yet!"
"Well Dad," Sabrina argued, "where did you think I was going to live?"
"I thought you were going to have your own apartment. That you'd be living in the manner of the young lady your mother and I raised!"
Sabrina felt that. So did Endora, who'd been sitting in her favorite chair during the entire argument. "Warren ... "
He didn't acknowledge her. "I knew your moving in with that model was a mistake. As promiscuous as she must be ... "
"Dad, that's unfair!" Sabrina almost screamed. "Mom, you know Amy's not that way!"
"She's a very nice woman, Warren," Endora said gently.
Sarge looked at Endora. "Very nice woman." He turned back to Sabrina. "I hear she had a very nice baby out of wedlock."
Sabrina's cheeks burned as she recalled her own close call. "Dad, she has nothing to do with my moving in with Chris."
The sound of the back screen door slamming went unnoticed when Tabitha came into the kitchen from playing with the neighbor rabbit doe twins. She heard the family discussion in the living room and went through to investgate.
"She's a bad influence," her father insisted. He saw the look on incredulity on Sabrina's muzzle; he stepped closer and placed his paws fatherly on her shoulders. "Sabrina, you were only 18 when you left home to go to college, 19 when moved in with her. That's a very important, impressionable time for a maturing young woman."
Sabrina fought off the impulse to sigh. "Dad, Amy was one of my first friends in Columbus. I'm doing this because I want to!"
Tabitha slipped in quietly; she'd seen her father mad before, but never like this! She tugged gently on Endora's sleeve to get her attention.
"Mom," she whispered, "is Sabeena in trouble?"
Endora patted Tabitha's little paw and shushed her. "Go outside and play for now," she whispered back.
"The streetlights are comin' on," Tabitha told her.
Looking down at her, Endora pursed her lips and placed her finger in front of them.
"You are not doing this, Sabrina," Warren removed his paws and narrowed his gaze, staring Sabrina dead in the eyes, so close that he was aware of his reflection in her lenses. "I absolutely forbid it!"
Now the sigh came out. And the fur on Warren's neck prickled as it stood straight up.
"Dad, I'm 24! I can make my own decisions, thank you."
"No daughter of mine is going to live in sin with another man!" A silence shot through the room. "That's the end of it."
Sabrina was actually feeling she the early pangs of defeat with her father. Her rebellion was building. "It is NOT!"
Warren pointed to the stairs. "Sabrina, go to your room!"
Sabrina folded her arms. "My room's in Dayton, Dad," she reminded him calmly. "You sold it along with the house when you followed me here."
That caught him. But only seemed to make him madder. Hiding behind the arm of Endora's chair, Tabitha was grinning.
"Now, Sarge ... " Endora began.
Warren turned on her. "Don't 'Sarge' me, Endora. You should be the first to agree with me on this."
"Dad, you can't stop me from going," Sabrina told him. "I start work there in less than two weeks."
"Alright," Warren said; calmer, but not by much. "You can find an apartment in two weeks."
Sabrina opened her mouth to protest.
"It's either that, or you can't go.
"What are you going to do?" Sabrina asked sarcastically. "Follow me to Pennsylvania too?"
Now Sarge pointed a finger at his daughter. "You're not too old to put over my knee, you know!"
Tabitha began laughing out loud. Endora shushed her, but Tabitha went on. She ran up to Sabrina and up pointed to her. "Yer in trou-ble!"
Sabrina raised her arms toward Endora. "Mom!"
"Sa-beena's in trou-ble!" Tabitha began dancing a little girl dance. "Sa-beena's in trou-ble! Sa-beena's in trou-ble!"
"Tabitha!" Warren scolded. "You I can send to your room." He pointed to the stairs. "Go!"
Poor little Tabitha stopped dead in her tracks and stared wide-muzzled at her father.
"I didn't do nuthin'!"
Her father's silence told her there was no arguments. Tabitha pouted and made for the stairs, stomping up each step muttering "I didn't do nothin', Sabeena's the one in trouble, I'm not the one in trouble, i shudn't get pun'sh'd ... " which faded as she climbed to the top and stomped down the hall.
Warren called upstairs. "And don't slam the -- "
" -- door," he finished between clenched teeth.
Sabrina sighed. Endora rolled her eyes Heavenward. Warren tried to remember where he had left off.
"You're the one who taught me to be frugal," Sabrina said, taking another angle of attack and hoping to bring her father to what she believed was his senses. "Where's the sense of paying for my own place when I'll be spending most of my time with Chris anyway?"
"I'll tell you why," Warren pointed a finger as he talked. "Because you'll keep your reputation intact and your mother won't be trying to figure out where we went wrong raising you."
Endora sat straight up and turned toward them. "What??"
Sabrina lowered her haunches. "Dad, that hurt."
Endora stood up and walked over to Sabrina. She placed an arm around her. "Dear, why don't you go upstairs with Tabitha?" she said gently. Sabrina lowered her head ans nodded, put a paw on the banister, and walked upstairs.
When Sabrina disappeared, Endora folded her arms. "Sarge," she began, "I don't believe you."
Sabrina stepped off of the staircase and walked down toward the guest bedroom where her old bed was. She heard muted sounds coming from next door and walked past and down to Tabitha's room, pushing the door open.
Tabitha had her face buried in her pillow, crying her eyes out. Sabrina's heart went out to her baby sister and she walked in.
"What don't you believe?" Sarge asked his wife.
"Sabrina's leaving to start a new life for herself, Warren," she explained.
"But to live with the man," Warren argued. "It's bad enough she lets him sleep with her."
"Now you don't know that's true," Endora told him.
"I'm certain it is," he said, trying to look up the staircase.
"How do you know?"
Endora smiled. "That's mothers who have intuition, not fathers," she reminded him
It seemed to Endora that Sarge was beginning to calm down a mite. "At any rate," he said, "it's simply not right."
Endora walked up to Warren and put her arms around his midsection. "I seem to remember a skunk ... around 1972-ish ... "
"Endora," Warren started.
" ... and he was so madly in love with me that he not only did everything he could to get me to move in with him ... "
"Stop that ... "
" ... who was all ready to elope except for the ladder ... "
"I was young then," he defended himself.
"And so is Sabrina."
Warren took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Endora hugged him around his waist tighter.
"You know you're not being fair arguing like this," he said to her.
Endora laid her head upon his chest. "Well, you weren't being fair to Sabrina." She lifted her head and looked at her husband. "I'm on your side Warren, but whether we agree with her decision or not we both have to face the facts. Sabrina's a mature woman, she knows her own mind, and we did a heck of a good job raising her." She brought her right arm up and showed Sarge two open fingers. She brought them down to her waist, and closed them.
"What was that for?" Sarge asked.
"I'm cutting the apron strings," Endora told him. Then she kissed him on the muzzle. "I think it's time you did the same."
"Hey, pest," Sabrina said, hoping to at least get Tabitha to raise her head. When it didn't work she let herself in and sat on her bed. "Dad didn't mean it," she told her, tossling her hair.
"I didn't mean it, wha'ever I did," Tabitha said amidst sobs. "Why's Daddy mad at me?"
"He's not mad at you," Sabrina tried to explain. She let her tail drape over the edge of the bed. "He's mad at me. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Tabitha sniffled and turned her head toward Sabrina. "Why's Daddy mad at you?" she asked. "I thought you never got in trouble."
"Ha!" Sabrina laughed. "If you only knew." She patted the bed. "C'mere."
With a sniffle Tabitha turned around and crawled over to Sabrina and knelt. Sabrina used her thumbs and wiped Tabitha's eyes, and Tabitha sniffled again as she wiped her nose on the back of her paw.
"Am I ever gonna see you 'gain?" Tabitha asked.
Sabrina smiled and shook her head. "Of course you are," she told her. "I still have to come back to town every month or so."
"You still starrin' in your comic strip?" Tabitha asked.
nod "Oh, yes."
"You still workin' for the Miz ZigZag lady?" Tabitha asked.
"Oh, yeah. See, that's where it works okay for me," Sabrina explained. "If something happens between Chris and me, I can come back to Columbus and still have a job. If everything stays the way it is, I stay there and working for ZigZag is all extra money."
"But who's gonna babysit me?" Tabitha asked. Her eyes started welling with tears again. "I like when you babysit me. You let me play videogames, sometimes we have pizza ... " Tabitha grabbed onto Sabrina and hugged her as hard as she could.
Sabrina held Tabitha, and was trying not to lose control herself. She held Tabitha for a long time ... Kid, you've no idea what I owe you ...
"I'm gonna miss you, Sabrina."
Sabrina held her, comforting her ... "What did you just call me?" she asked.
Tabitha looked up at her. "Sabrina, what else?"
With a smile, Sabrina confessed "I think I miss 'Sabeena' already." She shifted herself on the bed. "I'll tell you what," she offered, "maybe you can over and visit now and then. You're going to start school this year, maybe over the summer vacation you can come over for a weekend or so, now and then. Would you like that?"
"Yeah!" Tabitha said, her voice still having a crack in it from her crying.
"Fine," Sabrina nodded. "We'll plan on it. But first ... " She picked Tabitha up and laid her on her back, put her muzzle against her neck, and blew PPppppPPpppbbbtt!
"Hey, stop it!" Tabitha laughed as Sabrina tickled her.
They stopped when the heard the knock on the doorframe. Looking up they watched their father letting himself in. Despite the smile on his muzzle, Tabitha sat up and pulled her tail between her legs, one eye looking toward Sabrina for moral support. Sabrina sat straight up, crossing her ankles and pulling her legs to one side.
Sarge walked in slow steps, slipping his paws into his trouser pockets. He was obviously embarrassed, searching for words to announce himself beyond the "Uhm, hi" he ended up using. He walked all of the way to the bed
"Tabitha," he said, "I'm sorry for losing my temper and sending you to your room. I should've known better."
Tabitha cracked a smile. "T'anks, Dad."
"C'mere." Tabitha stood up and Warren gave her a big hug.
"And Sabrina ... " He paused for a moment, sighing and collecting his thoughts. "Sabrina, I'm against your doing it this way. But you're my daughter and I love you. And if this is what you're going to do, you know your mother and I will support you one hundred percent."
Sabrina smiled. "Thanks, Dad."
He set Tabitha on the floor and sat next to her. "I want you to know that if anything happens, God forbid ... you still have a home to come to."
"Thank you, Daddy." Sabrina threw her arms around Warren and gave him a big hug, which he returned. And while he returned it, he whispered, "Just please don't make us grandparents too soon." Sabrina pulled back and looked at him. "We're still young too, y'know. Give us about 10 years to get used to the idea."
Sabrina laughed. "Whatever you say."
Warren patted her on the back. "Now, what do you say I do something I haven't done for ages, and probably won't get to do again." He stood and took Sabrina's paw to help her up. "I'm taking my daughters out to Curly-Q."
"Ice cream!" Tabitha yelled! "YAAAAY!"
"Go tell your mom we're ready to go."
Tabitha ran to the door and jumped to see how high she could touch on the doorframe, landed on the other side, and ran down the stairs yelling for her mother.
Warren put a fatherly arm around Sabrina shoulder as they walked out. Pointing to the doorframe, Sabrina asked, "How long has she been doing that?"
"Ages," Sarge answered with a shake of his head. "I think ever since last time you babysat her at your apartment if I remember right." They walked out and toward the stairs. "When are we going to meet your fiance's family?" he asked.
Sabrina preceded Sarge down the stairs. "Chris and I were thinking around Thanksgiving. Have all of us meet at once. Is that okay?"
"Works for me." Warren took his wallet out and checked his cash on hand. Satisfied, the held the door for everyone.
Endora, the last female out, stopped and kissed him. "I knew you'd come around," she teased him.
"Just remember what you promised when we get home and Tabitha goes to bed." They smiled and Sarge locked the door behind them.
Chris set the last box with Sabrina's BeastWar action figures on the back seat next to her one-half-life-size Laser Prime Transformer. He had bent the legs so it sat on the back seat, fished the seat belt out from beneath the seat, and buckled it in.
He unwrinkled his white Penguins windbreaker and closed the door. So far, September was being kind with its weather. Chris had taken to pushing his sleeves midway up his arms, the way Sabrina wore her jackets. For midway through the month, the breeze was light and the temperature pleasant. He closed the door and walked up the steps to the apartment building.
Sabrina took a final look in her room. She and Chris had decided to ship her bed and dresser along with the fur dryer via moving service, and they'd set up a guest bedroom upstairs.
It looks so much smaller, Sabrina thought. "It's hard to believe I had a whole bedroom set in here." She took a final look in the closet, and stood on her tiptoes to check the ends of the shelf. Satisfied she had remembered everything, she closed the door and pulled the bedroom door closed behind her.
Quickly she used the bathroom and washed her paws. Walking slowly up the hall she could hear Susan and Amy talking from the living room . Susan was holding Timothy and tickling him, and he was absolutely loving it. So was Amy; she loved the attention he always got. Debbye was returning from the kitchen where she had helped herself to a glass of water.
"He's so big," Susan said, handing Timothy back to Amy.
"I know," Amy said as she took her baby back and cradled him. "If he's inherited his father's appetite, he's going to be huge."
The conversation dwindled as Sabrina walked into the room. She smiled. "Well," she said uneasily, "looks like I've got everything."
Susan was fighting herself, you could tell. "Any chance you could unpack it all?" she asked.
Debbye nodded. "I wish you weren't going, Sabrina." She looked away, knowing she'd lose control if she made eye contact with her. "I wish Cindy didn't have to work. She's going to be heartbroken that she missed you."
"Well, we got lucky," Sabrina told Debbye. "Chris and I had dinner at the restaurant and we sat in her section. So at least we got to see each other."
"This just isn't gonna work," Susan announced. "I promised myself I wasn't going to cry."
Debbye was getting misty herself. "Yes, you will," she said to her.
"I know!" Tears were starting to flow from Susan's eyes now. "I didn't even feel this sad when we left each other to go to college!"
Susan was beginning to affect all of them. "Come on, Susan," Sabrina said, trying to fight off the urge herself. "You guys can come visit anytime you want."
"This semester's already not the same," Debbye said with big tears flowing over her cheeks. "This is the end of The Clique!"
"No, it isn't," Sabrina said, giving in and letting her eyes well up. "The Clique will always be The Clique."
"Yeah, once you're Clique, you're always Clique," Susan told them, amidst her cracking voice. "The Clique just isn't going to be together at school, that's all."
"Imagine living here," Amy said, her own vision blurring. "I'm going to look for Sabrina to show her something, and she's not going to be here anymore." And when the four of them came together for a supporting group hug, they all broke down and cried together.
"All ready to go, Kit -- ?" Chris walked into the apartment and stopped abruptly. "What th -- ?"
Timothy rolled his little head to look at Chris, nodded to the crying women, rolled his eyes and shrugged.
Susan kissed Sabrina on the cheek. "Best of luck, sis," she managed to eek out.
When they broke up, Debbye gave Sabrina a big hug.
"I'm coming back in three weeks with some work for ZigZag," Sabrina told her. "We'll get together."
Debbye wiped her eyes with the back of her paw. "I'll tell Cindy," she promised.
Sabrina scrabbled her fingertips over Timothy's tummy. "Be good, guy."
Amy gave Sabrina a one-armed hug. "Call as soon as you get in," she told her.
"All of us!" Susan insisted.
"Will do." To Amy, "Tell Thomas 'bye for me?"
Sabrina turned to Chris. She slipped two fingers under her lenses and wiped her eyes. Then she sighed to compose herself. "I'm ready."
She walked over to Chris, feeling the eyes of her friends upon her. They all walked down to the street, and when Chris opened the door for her, Sabrina looked in the back seat and saw what he'd done with Prime. "Cute," she laughed.
"You okay, hon?" Chris asked.
nod "Oh, yeah." She turned and looked over her neighborhood, her home for the last five years. "Goodbye, Columbus."
Sabrina got in and adjusted her seatbelt. "I saved the dishes for you, just so you know," Chris teased, and before she could bat him he closed the door and ran around to the other side. He got in and started the engine. They each waved, and Chris signalled left and pulled away from the curb.
The three women watched the back of the car until it disappeared down the street. Susan sniffled. "I don't know about you two," she said, "but I'm going to find a gallon of Jen and Berry's double chocolate fudge ice cream and pig out."
It sounded like a plan to them, too.
Clarence and Cindy stopped at the sign two blocks from the apartment building and watched the silver Mercury drive past them and down the street.
"Oh, nuts! There they go," Cindy pointed and said. "We missed her. And I switched my hours and everything."
"I-I'm sorry, Cindy," Clarence apologized.
Cindy patted his leg. "Thanks." Then, "Can we go see how the others are doing?"
"S-Sure." Clarence put his left signal on. As he made the turn he saw the Mercury disappear around a far corner.
And his eyes burned some.
And he lowered his voice as low as he could.