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 Tindall. Character Ricky Boone (c) Ricky Boone. Character Portia (c) Matt Trepal. 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. Chalupa is a registered trademark of Taco Bell. Mercury (TM) Ford Motor Corp. Honda and Honda Civic (TM) Honda Motors.
Sabrina turned herself to lean over and turn the volume down on the clock-radio. Without her glasses she had to squint just a bit to see the time. “Six-fifteen,” she moaned. “Good God, there are two of those in a day.” Sabrina found her glasses and slipped them onto her nose. “I was never up this early, even when I was in college!” She shook the sleep out of her head and found her way to the adjoining bathroom. Once there she picked Chris’ pajama top off of the toilet tank and put the seat down …
“Hey sleepyhead, good morning!” said the naked fox as he walked through the bathroom to the bedroom a minute later. He was unusually chipper, mostly with the intent of contributing to Sabrina’s positive mental attitude. Instinctively, Sabrina grabbed the hem of her nightshirt and pulled it down below her knees, which brought a laugh out of Chris.
“Fine time to be shy, Kitten,” Chris kidded her.
Sabrina felt her muzzle grimace. “I’m just not used to someone walking in when I’m going,” she told him with a glimmer of annoyance in her voice.
“All kinds of new things to get used to, aren’t there?” Chris scratched the back of his head with both paws. “We’ve got time for a quick shower, coffee’ll be waiting for us when we’re done.”
Hard to remember when I was ever being rushed like this, Sabrina thought to herself. “Okay … will we have time for breakfast?” she asked.
Chris thought for a second and shook his head. “Not much,” he said. “I usually skip breakfast, or grab something to eat in the car. We can open the bagels we bought, maybe make time tomorrow to have breakfast if you’d like.”
Frowning, Sabrina nodded. “You’re sure right about new things to get used to,” she said as she was finishing. “At this time last week I was still asleep. I had the time to get a bowl of cereal, or something hot … ”
Chris had his back turned and as she stood he was adjusting the water for the two of them. “You’ve just sold me on telecommuting,” he told her over his shoulder. “But then, they usually expect more out of you if you’re working from home.” He pulled the valve that rerouted the water to the showerhead and put his paw on the shower doors as if he were holding them for her. “After you,” he said with that same chipper smile.
Sabrina picked up some items from Chris’ dresser that belonged elsewhere and turned for a place to set them. She selected the bed, and just as quickly as she had realized she’d already made it. Turning to her right she saw empty floor and fought the suggestion to just let them fall. To her left she was a few steps from the closet; she looked back to the bed, behind her, back to the bed, the closet, the bed … shaking her head she walked to the closet and pulled the door open with her pinkie, and with a look of resignation on her muzzle let go and allowed gravity to collect everything on top of a bag and two boxes of hers inside.
“Kit-ten!” Chris’ voice wafted through from the kitchen, “break-fast!”
Sabrina looked with disgust at the mess she made on the floor of Chris’ closet … Well, it’s mine too, right?
“Com-ing!” She closed the door and shook her head. Walking back to the dresser, she looked at herself in the mirror, turning this way and that, adjusting the tiny slit in the seam of her magenta skirt more to one side. She leaned closer and squinted at her reflection.
“Doesn’t he ever clean this?” she asked as she stared through the haze enhanced by the morning sun striking the mirror from behind her and to the right.
“Bagels, ‘brina! Healthy and nutritious!”
“Hold your horses,” Sabrina mumbled quietly, then shouted, “Be right there!” Taking a hair pick she quickly ran it through her hairdo and shook her tail to be sure the curl wasn’t going to fall out. And she carefully stepped over what of Chris’ she needed to step over and sprinted to the kitchen.
“Hey, there you are, gorgeous!” Chris said, still as perky as before. He poured a cup of coffee for Sabrina and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” Sabrina set her coffee on the table and sat down. She reached for a sweetener, then looked back at her coffee. “Are you out of cups already?” she asked. “A travel mug?”
“In case we get shorted on time,” Chris explained. Behind him, the toaster popped, and he removed two bagel halves and plopped them on a plate, and set it next to Sabrina’s coffee cup.
“Quick and dirty,” Chris said, and took another bite of his own, chewing as he sat in the chair across from Sabrina. She picked up the bagel and reached for the sole used butter knife speared within the cream cheese, and as she held the bagel she pressed her fingertips into it. A little overdone for my liking, she said to herself, trying hard not to make a face. She looked at Chris eating his and smiled, and lathered each half with cheese, listening to the knife scrape over the hard-toasted top.
The turn into the parking lot woke Sabrina; she’d dozed off and on during the 30-minute ride to her new company. Chris pulled his car into the closest space to the stairs to the upper lot as he could get. He pulled on the parking brake and shut down the engine. Turning to Sabrina, he placed a paw on her thigh, below her hemline. “Nervous?” he asked.
“A little,” she admitted with a nod. “I wish I’d had the chance to get my hair done last week. When I had my appointment, that was when Zig Zag sprung the surprise Good Luck party at the studio.”
“Well, you look perfect to me.” Chris gave her thigh a gentle squeeze beneath the hemline of her skirt, then began to slide his paw upwards.
Sabrina chased his paw away. “Not here!” she gasped.
“Oooo-kaaaay.” Chris smiled and squeezed her thigh again, then reached into the back seat for their packed lunches. Taking his keys, he got out and walked around.
Sabrina pulled down the visor and fluffed the ruffles on the front of her silk blouse. As Chris opened her door she saw a stray swathe of hair that would need attention when she got inside. Fetching her purse and sketchbook from the back seat, she took the proffered paw and stepped out, straightening her skirt as Chris closed the door.
“You look dynamite,” Chris told her with an approving glint in his eye.
“Thank you,” Sabrina thanked him for the forth time this morning. “I wonder if I should’ve worn a flower in my hair again. It was good luck for me the first time I did it.”
Chris smiled. “Y’really think so?” he asked.
Except for the snoring part. “Yes.” She leaned up and gave him a quick kiss.
Chris led Sabrina up the steps and to the building. Lifting his security fob to the detector, he heard the telltale click that let him open the door and held the door to let Sabrina lead the way inside.
“Welcome to home away from home,” he said and guided her to one side of the corridor and around other employees just arriving for the workday. “Come with me, I’ll show you where to put our lunches.”
Chris led Sabrina into the break room. “You remember this from our tour a few months ago?” he asked, giving her a wink as his vulpine mind recalled the events of that evening.
The blush told him she did. Chris began introducing Sabrina to the pawful of employees putting away their lunches or getting their morning coffees, soda pops, and snack foods. Finding an empty spot in the refrigerator, he stowed their lunches.
Sabrina looked up over the vending machines. “You guys watch TV here too?” she asked.
“Nah, they put the news on during lunch,” Chris explained. “Remember, we also own the cable TV franchise for most of the county. I like to eat in the ‘quiet lunchroom’; we call it ‘The Bistro’. Tables have red and white checked tablecloths and everything.”
Sabrina ticked off the different things Chris told them StrongArm owned: global wide-area networks, telephone companies, cable television … “Is there anything this company doesn’t own?” she asked.
“Microsoft,” Chris said. “But nobody else wants them, either.” He placed a paw on her back. “C’mon, let’s see if Human Resources is in yet. You’re gonna have paperwork to fill out.”
“Show me to the ladies’ room first,” Sabrina said quickly. “I need to fix my fur.”
The white cat handed Sabrina a folio-style folder. “This is all your basic information,” he said, and went over the contents with her one by one. “The W-2 I’ll need by the end of the day. This is your non-comp, your … ”
“My what?” Sabrina asked.
“Contract for non-competition and non-disclosure,” Bert explained. “It just means if you ever leave us for any reason, you won’t work for another company like ours for at least a year, and you won’t divulge anything confidential you may encounter. It’s pretty standard.”
Sabrina made a face. “I never heard of one of those before.” She felt something cold in the pit of her stomach. “You mean I couldn’t work as a technical writer if I left?”
Bert recognized her uncertainty. “Only for a year. It wouldn’t hold any water in court if we ever tried to enforce one,” he told her, “but it keeps everyone honest. I’ll need that by the end of the day, too.”
“Okay.” I still think I want to read this one first …
“ … employee handbook, time sheet’s self-explanatory but we’ll still go over it … ”
Sabrina paid attention to each thing Bert went over. He made specific references to the employee handbook, flipping from one page to another further into the book, then backtracking to another subject that related to it. She signed the first page to acknowledge receiving the book, and Bert quickly led Sabrina through her W-2 and had her sign and submit that as well.”
“That’s it in a nutshell.” He extended his right paw. “Welcome to StrongArm.”
“Thanks,” Sabrina said with a smile, demurely shaking his paw. This was all so new to her. Her first job wasn’t much more than “I’m Paul, this is Linda, here’s your space.” ZZ Studios was slightly more businesslike, but twice as casual, and the fact that she telecommuted made it even more casual. She’d even worked in her nightshirt once, just so she could say she’d done it. Chris had tried to talk her into working in the nude for the same reason, but considering what she was doing and for whom she was doing it she wasn’t comfortable with the idea. “So,” she asked, “what do I do now?”
“Well, Jim told me Chris already gave you the quarter-tour … ”
Sabrina kept her reaction to herself as her mind relived that evening in one-tenth of a second!
“ … He’ll have your fob; that’s a digital key that lets you into the different areas here. I guess the next step is to show you where you’re going to work. Has Chris introduced you to Windows95 yet?”
Sabrina kept that reaction to herself, too.
“He’s shown me a few things,” she told him, then gave an embarrassed laugh. “I’m not what you’d call an ‘expert’ or anything.”
Bert laughed. “None of us are, believe me.”
Sabrina felt a little better. “My real expertise is with an Amiga.”
“Amiga?” Bert asked. “They still make those?”
The tingle of the fur standing on the back of Sabrina’s neck was definitely there. But this was not the time or the place, or the guy, to give her pat answer to. She fought her paws from balling into fists and resting on her hips.
“Yeah, they still do.”
Then, “Any chance I could use mine instead?”
Then, remembering, I don’t have one anymore! Jeez, I’ll have to buy a new one!
“Jim would be a better choice to ask about that one. In the meantime, I’m sure Chris can arrange to give you whatever training he thinks you’re going to need.
“Now, do you have any questions of me?”
Sabrina thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Nothing I can think of.”
“Okay then,” Bert said. “Let’s go see Jim, and he can show you to your new home away from home.”
“Swell,” Chris said, leaning on the back of Dexter’s chair.
“Can’t ping the router at all.” Dexter had the most disgusted look he could manage. “What the hell do those people do in Maryland? What part of ‘don’t turn the router off and on’ don’t they understand?”
“The middle part.” Chris leaned over Dexter’s shoulder at the command prompt to be sure he was entering the IP address correctly. “They ruined something.”
“The problem is in hiring sysadmins who are tech school graduates and can’t find their own tails with both paws and a roadmap.” He looked at his watch. “And I’ve got to pick up our Guatemalan at the hotel.”
Chris saw the look on Dexter’s muzzle. Dexter was obviously not fond of the idea of leaving this problem rest. “Want me to go?” he asked. “I’ll babysit him if you’d rather -- ”
Dexter waved his paw. “Nah. The break will do me good. I need to walk away from this for a little bit.”
“Be careful where you take him for lunch,” Chris cautioned. “What passes for Spanish and Mexican food here can give new meaning to ‘dropping a Chalupa’.”
Dexter laughed. “True enough. I’ll fix him up with good old-fashioned Chinese.” He logged off his PC and turned his chair around. “How’s Sabrina settling in?”
Chris looked upward for a moment. “Not sure,” he said. “I’ve been giving her some leeway so no one gets the wrong idea about why she got hired here.”
“Well, Sabrina’s essentially here because I pulled a string and got her hired. The less people see of us together in the beginning, like me stealing away to her cubicle or her stealing away to here, the better. Keeps the gossip mill from grinding.”
Dexter nodded. “I see your point.”
“Human Resources’ll introduce her around and get her situated.” He snapped his fingers. “Reminds me, I need to reserve the Training Room; she’ll need the Cliff Notes tour of using Windows95.”
“You’d do that to someone you love?”
Chris shrugged. “Better from me than from the muzzle of a stranger. And next month we upgrade to 98.”
Dexter got up and grabbed his jacket from the corner of his cubicle. “Page me if you need me.”
“Right.” Chris wandered back to his cube as Dexter left the MIS department. Leaning over the arm of his chair, he picked up the face-down memo waiting for him, plopped into his chair and read it with a smile crossing his muzzle.
To all employees, please welcome Sabrina Mustelidae to our MIS team. Sabrina joins us as our new technical writer and web development art consultant.
“Oh, really?” Chris said with a grin. They’re gonna hork her artistic talents too? “I wonder if she knows that last part.”
Wendy read the new memo and put it to the side. “She starts today,” she said to herself. “Neat.” She rolled her chair back and misted the few plants on the opposite side of her cubicle desk. MIS, she thought to herself, that’s downstairs. She picked up a potted cactus and walked toward and down the stairwell.
Her mind was working as she walked down each step. What do I say to her? I feel as if I should tell her about how jealous I was of her …
Wendy walked across the landing to the top of the next flight of stairs.
“When I came to StrongArm and I saw Chris was here, I really wanted him back, and I was so jealous of you … ” Wendy would lower her head a mite. “Can you forgive me?”
Sabrina would cock her whiskers from one side to the other. “Of course,” she’d tell Wendy. “How can I hold a grudge against you for something I didn’t even know anything about?”
“It was preying on my mind,” Wendy explained, lifting her head again. “I had to get it off my chest.”
"I can do this", Wendy muttered, smiling. She opened the door at the bottom of the stairwell and made a right-paw turn.
The vixen stopped when she heard voices coming from behind her. Looking down the short corridor she saw the vice president of the MIS department talking to a new employee. She instantly recognized Sabrina by the permanent curl in her tail and watched patiently … I’d forgotten how cute she was! As Wendy adjusted the leaves of the plant she watched Jim shake paws with Sabrina and as she entered her cubicle Jim walked out in her direction. That was her cue; she walked past Jim and they exchanged pleasantries.
The closer she came to Sabrina, the more anxiety she felt. She watched the attractive skunk enter her cubicle and disappear behind the tiny section of wall. This was her rival, the girl who took her boyfriend away from her. That was before … Wendy was very comfortable in a new steady relationship and felt firmly that she was finally over Chris.
She walked through the department; it had loose ties to MIS, and for the most part it was where employees who were their own departments worked. And Sabrina held the cubicle next to the company’s safety manager.
Wendy walked up to the cubicle; Sabrina’s back was facing her. She was powering up her personal computer and concentrating on the Windows95 splash screen in front of her, making a face and a “bleah” sound.
Sabrina was unaware of the intruder hovering behind her. She was making herself comfortable in her new ergonomic chair. A lot more comfortable than the one Zig Zag gave me, she thought. A little more room to move around, too. Sabrina jolted when she leaned back and the back went further than she’d expected, then jolted again when she saw she had company!
“H’lo,” Wendy said, waving with the paw that wasn’t behind her back. “How’re you settling in?”
“Oh, hi,” Sabrina said as she tilted herself back up. “I didn’t hear you.”
“We foxes are good at that,” Wendy kidded. She brought the plant out from behind her back. “A cubicle-warming gift.” She proudly held it out, as if she’d made it herself.
“Ooo, thank you.” Sabrina accepted it with both paws, staring into the mass of half-drooping greenery. It looked healthy, but droopy and jagged.
“It’s a Christmas cactus,” Wendy explained. “When it gets close to Christmas, it’ll bloom.” She held out one of the many segmented tendrils. “And if you break one of these off and put it in water, you can raise a whole new one.”
“Oh.” Sabrina looked it over. She couldn’t decide if it was something she actually liked or not. “Thank you, that’s very thoughtful.”
Wendy smiled. “I just want us to be friends,” she said to Sabrina. When she saw the puzzled look on Sabrina’s muzzle she continued, in a quieter voice, “I thought it was important to be sure you knew that I’m not chasing after Chris. We’re just friends, and I’d like to be yours, too.”
Sabrina raised an eyebrow. “I thought we already were friends.”
Wendy tabled the speech she practiced in the stairwell. “I just felt it needed said,” she said with a weak smile and a shrug. “See you at lunch?”
“Uh, sure. Okay.”
Wendy’s smile was very warm. She’s not just cute, she’s hot! Her tail looks sooooo soft …She gave Sabrina a wave and walked away, sashaying her hips and her own fluffy tail as she went along.
Sabrina never paid attention; she lifted her cactus and studied it from various angles, her artist’s eye analyzing the plant, her female brain saying it was nice of her to do it … Reaching up she set the plant on top of the rectangular cabinet that hung from the cubicle wall. An experimental tug on the recess at the bottom revealed that the door lifted from the bottom and slid into the top of its opening.
Then Sabrina smiled. Inside she found a white coffee mug with her name in large friendly letters facing her. When she reached in and picked it up, she found a paper rolled up inside. She opened it and read:
“I love you, too,” she whispered, her smile turning into a delighted grin. Sabrina took a piece of tape from her dispenser and taped the note to the cloth wall over the longer right desktop, and took her new mug to the break room.
End of Chapter 44This way to Chapter 45