SABRINA

a story by

CHRIS YOST
with David Shoulder

Story and Disclaimer (c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 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, Stacy, Wendy Vixxen, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wanda, and Mrs. Skunk  (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, Marvin Badger, and Chrissy the Bondo Vixen (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 Trudy (c) Jeffrey Darlington. Characters Chatin and Cilke (c) Tiffany Ross. Characters Jack Black and Cecil Stewart (c) Scott Kellogg. Characters Packard Melan and DJ Gabe (c) S. Adam Tindall. Character Ricky Boone (c) Ricky Boone. Character Portia (c) Matt Trepal. Character Josh Fox (c) his player. Character Hikaru Katayamma (c) Keith Dickinson. Character CottonLop (c) her player. Character Tina (c) Tina Amberg. Character Elmer Foxx (c) Elmer Yost. Character BondoFox (c) his player. Character Vikki Vixen (c) her player. Cirrel Concolor (c) his player. Bob and Sue Logan (c) Bob and Sue Logan. 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 (I think it's Amiga, Inc as of the time of this chapter's writing). "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. BeastWars and Pikachu are registered trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. WBUT is owned by Brandon Communications.  "Extinctioners" (c) Shantae Howard. Pixie Stix is a registered trademark of Willy Wonka Candy Company.

Reproduction or altering of this story by any means or any unauthorized use without the expressed written permission of Chris Yost is strictly prohibited.

ACT 15 -- WE GATHER TOGETHER
Chapter 51

Special thanks to David "Racky Raccoon" Shoulder for his invaluable help!

It took some time and quite a bit of fidgeting in Sabrina's old bed in a strange room in a strange house far from home, but Tabitha curled up and slept peacefully, her tightly-held Pikachu doll beneath the blanket beside her.

Sarge and Endora slept soundly after getting used to the idea of sleeping on a giant heated bladder. For a change, Sarge wasn't snoring. Endora would find out later how fast she went to sleep and how well she slept, with very little turning whilst she slumbered, and still hate waterbeds.

Chris slept spooned to Sabrina, one arm draped lovingly over her. They'd fooled around a bit, ever so quietly; finally she held his paw until she fell asleep and eventually her grip loosened, and during the night they separated and rolled one way or the other.

"Okay," Chris admitted quietly when he was sure Sabrina was asleep, "replacing the couch was a good idea."

And when his head laid upon his pillow, a tiny "Toldya" wafted past his ears.

And the hours crawled by, at least for Chris they did. For the third time woke up. It must be every stinking hour, he thought. While the bed of the convertible sofa was comfortable, his subconscious kept poking at him to spoil his sleep. He was openly sleeping with the daughter of the two in his waterbed right now and it made him uneasy. Okay, he knew they knew they slept together, they weren’t stupid after all … even though he knew they couldn’t do a thing about it -- it helped that they were guests in his house … even though Sarge had made it clear he wasn’t at all happy with the living arrangements but accepted them; that only added to his uneasiness.

Now a new debate raged in his head. And after several minutes of it, he reached a decision, and pulled himself out of bed to go to the bathroom.

Settling in again he now felt too warm; reaching down and around he found the controller to the electric blanket and squinting to read the display, turned it down a click. Thankfully he couldn't see the clock acoss the living room on the VCR; if he knew the time and it was later than he thought then he'd never get back to sleep.

He’d told Sabrina maybe he should sleep upstairs and Tabitha on the loveseat, but she wouldn’t have it. “What’re you afraid of, a shotgun wedding?” she asked, which made Chris snicker remembering something Dexter said about them …

In the darkness he heard a tiny whimper that interrupted his thought. Turning to his left he saw Sabrina trembling. It wasn’t from the slight chill, she kept her side of the blanket set a little higher than Chris did. He’d seen it before though, possibly a nightmare she was having. Well, if it is, he told himself, it must be a recurring one.

Chris eased himself around under the blankets and rolled to Sabrina, carefully avoiding her tail. He placed his paw gently on her exposed arm and glided it up and down, up and down, until the whimper disappeared and was replaced by the even breathing sound of deep sleep. He watched her shoulder relax and she stirred a bit, his cue to remove his paw before he woke her.

He knew in the morning she wouldn’t remember a thing, she never did. Chris pulled the covers over himself and settled into the warmth of the bed. As he lay he remembered one time when this happened … this particular night she was asleep facing him. Chris had placed his paw on her arm to stoke it comfortingly when suddenly Sabrina’s arms shot out and hugged him, tightly! She whimpered louder that night as she held onto him. Chris was half-scared to death until he realized Sabrina was still asleep!

“Kitten … Kitten … ” Chris ran his paws up and down her back after he was able to breathe again. He cooed his pet name for her over and over and caressed her until she calmed down and relaxed her hold on him. When he laid her back onto the water mattress, she awoke with a start! She’d had no recollection of her dream, she said; she also had no idea she’d been hugging her fiancÚ for dear life.

“Just a dream,” was all she’d said.

Turning his head, Chris made sure Sabrina was sleeping soundly before he allowed himself to drift off again as well. “Big day tomorrow," he said to himself with a yawn. “Big day.”

#

Slowly the autumn sun made its presence known on the face of a sleeping mature skunkette. Slowly she lifted her left eyelid, it was an effort to do even that simple task, for she had just finished the most wonderful night’s sleep she was treated to in many months.

She stretched out her arms and gave a loud groan of pleasure, intent on waking her husband up, and if she had he wasn't giving her the satisfaction. Turning her head, she looked at her mate that lay still sleeping next to her. She did love him, very much ... Maybe he was right, she thought, and it was time to stop worrying. As she watched him sleep, she found she did sometimes, she found watching him breathe in and out relaxing, her mind wandered and dreamt of the future, it wouldn’t be long and her oldest daughter would be married, and still so much to do. Sabrina has to look through those invitations with me, I know she'll absolutely love the ones I picked out for her.

She rolled over to see what the time was, however she forgot were she had been sleeping, and was unceremoniously pushed out of bed. With a thud! Endora found herself on the floor in a position that made the draft coming from the bedroom door very noticiable.

Warren awoke and rolled over. Not seeing his wife made him stifle a laugh, there could only be one explanation; slowly he crawled over the waterbed and peered over the edge, and had to once again hold back a laugh from the site he was presented with.

“I see I won’t be swaying you on the water bed argument then.” He gave the back end of his wife a smile.

“Good morning to you too, Warren.” She wasn’t going to concede the fact that the sleep was a very good one and began rubbing her backside with her open paw.

With his grin running uncontrollably, Warren said to his wife's back, “You know this reminds me of our honeymoon.”

For some reason, it may have been the position she had ended up in she got rather embarrassed, then she felt silly all at once. “Why do you say that?” she asked, finally rearranging herself into a more dignified position. Something inside her was building up; she could feel the passion that only a married couple can feel.

Warren got out of bed and took her by the paw, and helped her to her feet. “Well there was something that I always remember about that night.”

Endora started to breathe deeper, it had been too long since the last time she felt like this, after a while of looking at he husband she whispered in his ear, “And what would that be?” she asked. "Our daughter nine months later?"

“Don’t you remember?”

“I remember everything about that night, how could I forget!” Endora slid one of the arms of the night dress down from over her shoulder … then Warren laughed.

“A whole king size bed and you fall out of it!”

With a furious blush Endora quickly lifted her sleeve back to her shoulder. She reached for her nightgown and pulled it on, turned and walked to the door. “I’m going to make some coffee, and maybe some breakfast.” She hung her head a little, some out of disappointment and some in shame for feeling like a teenager.

Warren watched her. He knew how she was feeling just then, but he wasn’t going to let Chris and Sabrina hear Mom and Dad through the wall! When it was safe and they were alone then he would make their feelings felt to each other.

“Endora?” he said quickly.

“Yes, Warren?” she replied neutrally.

Warren smiled warmly. “You're still the most beautiful skunkette I ever saw in my life.” He smiled even wider as he saw her bring her paw to her chest, seeing her smile as she blushed, and came closer.

#

" ... Cof-fee ... "

Chris' nose twitched, waking him up. He sniffed the air again; yep, definitely coffee. Reaching up he fumbled around for his glasses on the couch arm and slipped them on. Sabrina was not yet awake, he slipped silently out of bed and padded toward his kitchen, where he found his mother-in-law-to-be next to the coffee maker Sabrina had picked out to replace his own, holding a mug from the cupboard.

"'Happy Thanksgiving, Endora," Chris greeted her.

"Happy Thanksgiving." She indicated the carafe. "I hope you don't mind if I made coffee."

Chris shook his head. "No, not at all. Although I do have a strict rule in my house: guests are guests, you're not expected to do anything other than enjoy yourself."

"Tish," Endora said as the coffee began making its final gurglings and spurtings. "It's no bother." She opened the cupboard and took out another mug, filled it and handed it to Chris before filling her own.

"Thank you." How did she know where I keep everything?

"If I can make a suggestion," Endora stated as Chris got the milk out of the refrigerator, "you really shouldn't keep your coffee in the freezer."

Chris shrugged it off and offered milk to Endora. "My dad does that," he said. "It keeps the aromatic oils in."

Endora shook her head. "Actually, every time you take it out of the freezer, it warms and water condenses inside, it makes the coffee go stale faster. It's better to keep it in an airtight jar on the counter."

"Hm? I'll have to remember that. Coffee goes stale, huh? I never heard of that." He sat at the table and sweetened his coffee before taking a sip. It definitely opened his eyes! "Oooooh, that's gooood." Ask and he'll never tell you if it was better or worse than Sabrina's ... but he took a long second sip with his eyes closed and a big smile on his muzzle.

"What time are we planning on going to your father's?" Endora asked.

Just then Chris remembered the sweet rolls he'd bought for breakfast and jumped up to get them. "I was thinking around ten-thirty or eleven." He set the rolls on the table along with a knife, butter, and peanut butter. "There're still some preparations for dinner, and the sooner we get there the longer everyone gets to visit, so says Dad.

Endora nodded as she swallowed her mouthful and helped herself to a roll. "I'll have to get Tabitha up then." Then watching Chris remove the lid, she said, "I see we're not the only ones who like our sweet rolls with peanut butter."

Chris laughed and set the jar down. "Blame your daughter," he explained. "I thought it was weird, but I can't deny they're good like that." His stomach decided he should indulge in one as well, and indulge he did, with peanut butter. "My dad likes peanut butter and onion sandwiches; I thought those were weird too -- "

If you could only have seen the face Endora made just now ...

"Peanut butter and onion??" she asked? "That sounds awful!"

Chris nodded. "My word was 'noxious'. But, last year at his house I finally broke down and tried it, and I can't deny they're tasty."

Endora shook her head. "You'll forgive me if I pass," she said and peeled a bit of her roll away with her fingers.

"That's what Sabrina said," Chris smiled.

"What's what Sabrina said?" came the voice from the kitchen doorway.

"'morning Kitten," Chris said. He stood and gave her a Good Morning Kiss. "Happy Thanksgiving".

"Happy Thanksgiving, you two," Sabrina said scratching the back of her head, her white hair mussed from sleeping. "So what did I say about what?"

Endora wrinkled her nose. "Peanut butter and onion sandwiches," she said.

"Ewww, gross." Sabrina made the same wrinkle as she poured her coffee. "Don't tell me he's trying to sell you on trying those."

"He's selling," Endora said with a wink at Chris, "but I'm not accepting delivery."

Chris shrugged a shoulder as Sabrina took a seat. "It was a softball pitch at best." He took another sip and swirled it around in his mouth before swallowing it down. "Where's the better half?" he asked. "Still sacked out?"

Endora shook her head and swallowed. "He's up. Just taking his time. Never try to rush him."

"Heh," Sabrina laughed, "that's the truth!"

"Oh, Sabrina," her mother said turning to her, "the invitations ... "

Cringe! "Oh, no time, Mom! We have ... to get to Elmer's!" She looked to Chris for support. And thankfully, he nodded with a mouthful of sweet roll. "Im tolfer abmt tin-firty er eleffin," he tried to say.

"Yes, the sooner the better!" Sabrina said, trying not to sound fast-talking. "Lot of work."

Endora furrowed her brow. "You're calling him 'Elmer' already?" she asked.

Sabrina shrugged. "I have to call him something," she defended. "And 'Mister Foxx' doesn't sound right, considering." Then quickly, to Chris, "We didn't forget anything for dinner tonight, did we?" she asked as she tried desperately to get off of the subject of wedding invitations.

#

The closer she had gotten to central Pennsylvania, the more she began to encounter snow. When she got to the hotel in Altoona Wednesday night it was a steady snowfall. Now this morning, Thanksgiving, except for what was on the cars in the parking lot, no one would've known snow had come through at all.

Wendy got herself dressed up way too early. She'd eaten her breakfast, but it wasn't sitting well in her stomach. She sat on the foot of her bed in her new orange and black dress watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York City on television, trying to take her mind off of things.

"C'mon Wendy," she told herself. "You're trying to put your life back together and you're doing fine." Although the fight with her boyfriend about her spending Thanksgiving away from him didn't do her any good, and it was one of a small myriad of things that played out in her mind every time a commercial came on.

"A hope of spending Thanksgiving with people I haven't seen or kept in steady contact with in years," she thought aloud. " ... but it's Thanksgiving ... they wouldn't turn me away ... they couldn't.

" ... could they?"

As her eyes started to burn, Wendy got up and went to the bathroom to wash her face, again, and to brush her fur and her hair, again. And she looked at her watch to check the time ... again."

#

Sarge let himself into the bathroom and closed the door, retrieving his slacks and a casual button-down shirt from the hanger on the hook behind the door. He figured he'd given his wife ample time to start getting ready, from years of experience he knew to give her enough time before he bothered to get ready himself. He opened the door again and walked to the bedroom door, opened it, and ...

Endora!” he said in a loud throaty scolding whisper, looking quickly over his shoulder and back.

Endora looked up from where she was, kneeling in front of the closet. In front of her was a large black plastic chest with a combination lock, the lock in one paw and the dial in her other.

“I found this buried under some clothes in the back of their closet,” she said and turned back to pick up where she left off. “Oh yes, three-two-six … Three-two-seven … ”

Sarge closed the door behind him and briskly stormed over to his wife, leaned in and took her by the wrist. “And it was obviously buried under clothes in the back of the closet for a reason! Now shame on you! Put that back and finish up, the kids still have to get ready.” He carefully laid his clothes on the waterbed.

“Tsk, fine.” Endora pushed the chest back and reburied it, then crawled backwards out of the closet.

“Now get ready,” Sarge told his admonished wife.

Endora lowered her head and walked to their suitcase to remove her good unmentionables. When her husband left she raised her head and peered at the door; when it latched she dashed quietly back to Chris’ closet and pulled out the case again.

“Three-two seven.” Tug “Three-two-eight.” Tug

“Three-two-nine.” Tug-click!

With a self-satisfied smile Endora quickly took the combination lock off and set it beside her on the floor. She unlatched the two latches and lifted the lid.

Inside she found two large rocks with a note in her elder daughter’s pawwriting.

Hi, Mom!   Sorry, nothing in here!

Endora felt her ears lower and the corners of her mouth curl down as the skin beneath her fur burned. She closed and relocked the case and reburied it in the back of the closet, then went back to the bed to undress and get herself ready.

#

Back in their own bedroom Sabrina slithered into the new lavender and white dress she’d bought for the occasion. I hate getting dressed up always rang through her head whenever she had to go shopping. And she didn’t care for it much either, and now doing it by herself, she loathed it. At least with Susan or with The Clique as a whole, she had fun. Now, she shopped for nice clothes because she had to, because she needed them. Working at Strongarm was nothing like working for Zig Zag, there you were expected to project an image. If there was any good at all in it, it made her appreciate Casual Friday even more.

Reaching behind her she managed to button the two tiny buttons over her tail flap, then fiddled for a good five minutes with the zipper, her white silk slip thankfully keeping her fur at bay while she tried to shift it up beyond the lower curve of her tail.

With a sigh she went to the door and opened it a crack. “Chris!” she called, “Would you come help me, please?”

When Chris came in Sabrina turned her back to him. “Would you zip me, please?”

“Sure.” Sabrina lowered her tail closer to the floor to give Chris access while he fiddled with it. The zipper moved up an inch and stopped. Tugging it back down a bit he moved a bit of the material out of the path and smoothly pulled the zipper up.

“How did you do this when you were on your own?” he asked as he fastened the little hook at the top.

“I dunno,” Sabrina said as she checked herself in the dresser mirror. “I think when you get engaged, your arms get shorter.” Lifting her arms she made some adjustments to her hair while Chris nuzzled up and made some adjustments to her front.

“Stop that!” Sabrina whispered. “My parents are in the next room!”

“No, they’re in the living room,” Chris corrected. “And this is the first time I’ve had you alone since they got here.” Nuzzling her neck he told her, “Mmmmm, you need to dress like this more often,” then he pulled his muzzle away and rubbed the hairspray off of his nose onto his sleeve.

Sabrina laughed. "You see me dressed up four days a week at least!"

"Yeah," Chris admitted, "But it's different on special occasions." Then, "And speaking of your parents, did you notice your mother acting a little funny?”

“You’re just noticing?” Sabrina asked, and then added with a smug grin, “I gave her something to find, I’m thinking she found it.” Quickly she pulled her paws free when Chris tried to bring them behind her back, then turning to him she kissed him on the nose and asked, “Ready to get this over with?”

Chris shook his head ‘no’. “Sure.” He gave Sabrina a hug and a kiss, and jumped back when the shock went through his mouth! “Ow! Some kiss,” he quipped.

Sabrina could only shrug her shoulders. “Fur and a silk slip,” she explained. “Nothing I can do.”

“Those things should come with ground wires.” Chris tested Sabrina and when convinced she was safe he kissed her again. Extending his arm he let her precede him out to their company, and from months of practiced timing Sabrina pushed his paw away from her bottom as they left the bedroom.

#

Sarge backed into the parking spot along the curb on East Pearl Street behind Chris’ Mercury. As he was undoing his seatbelt he saw Chris was already out of his car and running around to the other side.

“Will you look at that?” Endora pointed through the windshield. “He holds the door for her.”

“Probably doing it for our benefit,” Sarge said as he put his paw on the doorhandle. Endora, though, was shaking her head. “Sabrina says he does that all of the time,” she told him, then turned to look at her own door handle, then at him. “Something you don’t see happen all that often anymore.”

Her husband got the hint. “Well, she was holding that dish of yams on her lap. He had to help … ” Sarge heard his voice trail off as he saw the two pies on Endora’s lap. “I was going to open your door when we got here,” he told her. Trying to keep his expression as neutral as he could, he let himself out of the car and walked around to open her door. When he saw Tabitha bound out of Chris’ backseat he called her over and when Endora was out he closed her door and took Tabitha’s little paw, and they crossed the street as a family.

Inside the house, Elmer had seasonal music playing quietly in the background, his dining room table blanketed with a seasonal tablecloth skirted with pictures of pumpkins and live turkeys, the top decorated with his German-made wooden Advent candle holder, stuffed dates, cookies, and sandwich fixings. When he heard footfalls on the porch he dashed over to open the side door.

“You brought the whole gang!” Elmer exclaimed and made way for everyone to come in. “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Sabrina replied just before Chris. Elmer gave her a quick hug and took her dish from her while she unzipped her coat.

“Dad,” Chris said as Sabrina’s parents came into the house, “These are the future in-laws I warned you about. Warren, Endora, my dad Elmer.”

Elmer took Warren’s paw and they exchanged pawshakes. Warren was impressed with the firm clasp he had, and the welcoming sincere smile. “Pleasure to finally meet you,” Warren said, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

"Happy T'anksgibbing!" came the greeting from Tabitha.

Chris took the pies so Endora could exchang pawclasps while her fidgety younger daughter stood at her feet. “Thank you for having us,” she said.

“It’s my pleasure!” Spying the youngest skunkette in the frilly blouse and dress he reached down and picked Tabitha up. “So this is the big girl my son has been talking about! How do you feel about marrying him? You look way to good for him!”

Tabitha giggled out loud. “Nah HUH! I’m not marring Kwiss, Sabeena IS!!” she held onto his shoulders as he walked her into the living room

“Well how about later you and I have some fun, and leave the boring old people?” Tabitha laughed; its something in older males that when confronted with a young child they turn into grandfathers. Meanwhile Tabitha spied the various foodstuffs on the table and Elmer set her down to take his guests’ coats, and while the grownups were beginning to get better acquainted she looked everything over to find the quickest way to rot her teeth.

“Please make yourself at home,” Elmer said as he returned from hanging up the coats. “My chairs are your chairs, my food is your food, my beer … okay, sit down.”

In the living room Elmer and Warren began playing that game where each was trying to gauge what kind of person the other was dealing with. From what Kwiss ... I have to use that later! ... from what he’d told him he was quite stern but with the right conversation he'd fit in just fine.

“Well, it looks like you have a way with the children, Elmer,” Warren said as he settled into the couch beside his wife.

“I guess so, really though it’s just a matter of making them laugh. It’s boring people I have trouble with.” Warren just nodded, he could tell already that Mr. Foxx was as interesting as his son, even more so in some ways. “They call you ‘Sarge’ my son tells me. Were you a man of the services?”

“Nope,” Warren finally admitted. “Just got the name somewhere. Everyone uses it, not that I complain.”

Tabitha wandered in and flopped on the floor munching on a walnut-stuffed date dunked in sugar on a toothpick, a Foxx holiday tradition. “What’s yer nick-name?” she asked with her mouth full.

“Redd,” Elmer said.

Endora leaned forward. “Redd Foxx?”

“No relation,” Elmer said shaking his head. “My hair used to be a bright red, and for a brown-furred fox that’s unusual. So from high school on my friends started calling me ‘Redd’.” He smirked. “I used to be an Explorer advisor some years ago, before Chris’ sister was born, and a few years ago I ran into one of the boys from the post, all grown up now. He's a salesman for a regional gasoline company; I said to him, ‘I remember you when gas was forty-nine cents a gallon!’. He said to me, ‘I remember you when you had red hair!’.”

As they chatted Chris found out what everyfur wanted to drink and went to the downstairs refrigerator with Tabitha on his heels to help. He let her carry the sodapops and she chased up the stairs like ... okay, you can pretty much guess. The beers for Elmer and Sarge Chris carried, opting against one for himself right now.

#

Clarence sat on end of the sofa, holding his Styrofoam cup of cola. Quietly, of course, that was part of who he was; don’t butt in, don’t interrupt, don’t make yourself the center of attention, even though others here were incredibly good at it.

The get-together at his uncle’s house was almost a balanced mix of skunks and raccoons. His uncle and aunt were both raccoons, Uncle Mike was his mother’s half-brother who she leaned on during the several months that followed his father’s passing so many years ago.

That’s part of what Clarence thought about when Thanksgiving came around, the few weeks before when he was very young when he was taken aside and told his father wasn’t going to come home anymore. The faces around him then had faded over time, but this was part of what Thanksgiving meant to him, that he’d never see his dad anymore. As he matured the tears slowly stopped coming until he had taught himself how to keep them away unless he wanted them to come.

Two of his younger cousins bounced onto the cushion beside him now and chattered about a new video game, yammering on about tactics and cheat codes they’d each found on the Internet, not acknowledging his presence, then got up and ran out of the living room.

I could leave now, Clarence thought, and no one would know I’d left.

More furs milled in and out, some gave a wave in his direction, his Aunt Doreen had made a fuss over him an hour earlier before she disappeared into the kitchen with his Aunt Crystal and most of the other women.

Let’s face it, I don’t fit in. I never fit in, anywhere.

And on the other side of town was Cindy Lapine.

There was someplace he was wanted, somewhere he could be with someone he knew, someone he was comfortable with, someone he cared for … and for a change, with someone who cared about him, too.

And he thought about his mother, dragging him here. Where as he predicted, he’d blend in with the wallpaper and the furniture, especially as more members of his extended family came by, a mix of skunks and raccoons he hardly ever saw more than once a year, if at all.

“I wonder how Sabrina’s Thanksgiving is going so far.” He didn’t mean to say it aloud, but anyone around didn’t hear, and if they did they didn’t acknowledge him. “I wonder how Cindy’s is.” Now he just started to talk to himself, albeit quietly, he found talking aloud helped him focus. “I want to tell her I’m sorry for making her cry; this time of year she needs her … needs her boyfriend.”

Clarence swallowed the rest of his drink and crunched at his ice, and pondered. And the more he pondered, the more determined he felt.

He looked at his wristwatch. Dinner was more than two hours away. Then after, he’d be alone again. Alone in a houseful of furs.

Standing, he set his empty cup on the end table and worked his way through the people and upstairs to the master bedroom. Fishing through the pile of coats and hats he found his jacket toward the bottom. He pulled it on as he went downstairs and made his way to the front door, fishing his car keys from his pocket, past two small groups who never realized he’d passed by. He was determined, but the tremble in his paws betrayed his exuded confidence.

#

At the top of the stairs he pushed the cellar door open and it banged into the opening side porch door. Peeking around he saw the face of his sister sibling. "Hey Sue, hey Bob," he greeted them.

Sue made way for her husband Bob, a taller swift fox, and gave her younger brother a hug. "Happy Thanksgiving," she said as Chris closed the door with his hindpaw, and when the hug was released he tilted a bottle in her direction. "Beer?"

"Ugh, no thanks. Everybody in the living room?"

Chris finally got his arm past his sister and shook paws with his brother-in-law. "All but Sabrina," he told her. "She's peeling potatoes and I'm cleaning the bird"

"WOW, huge job," Sue kidded. "Sure you're up to it?"

Chris smirked. "Job's yours if you want it."

Bob couldn't stifle a laugh as Sue made her best "No thanks" face. "Go ahead," he insisted. "It'll remind you why you wanted to be a vegetarian."

"Yeah, sure would." She handed her brother a covered bowl. "Here's a little something to go with dinner."

"I'zat th'turnip?" came from behind Chris' tail.

"Oh m'God," Chris said quietly.

"Well hi, sweety!" Sue said squatting down to Tabitha. "No, that's cole slaw with little chunks of apple in it. You like turnips, huh?"

Tabitha shook her head. "Nah! But Kwiss says we carve Thanks-gibbing turkeys and vej-tar'ans carve a Thanks-gibbing turnip."

Sue turned her eyes upward. "Does he now?" she said with a false smile.

"Kids say the darndest things" Chris said and handed Tabitha some saltines. He led Bob and Sue into the living room and made introductions and delivered the beers to his father and pending father-in-law. Bob took care of the coats and Chris got their drinks. As everyone else visited, he reached past Tabitha and took a couple of stuffed dates and returned to help in the kitchen.

#

Clarence walked up the walk to the porch of the Lapine’s house, his heart beating against his chest for having snuck away from the party. Pushing it to the back of his mind, he reached out an arm and pushed the doorbell button.

As the door opened the smell of Thanksgiving wafted out to the porch and to Clarence’s nostrils. When it opened fully Ellen Lapine, wearing a Thanksgiving knit sweater and an off-white cotton dress with a golden swirl pattern around the edges, smiled and said, “Clarence! My dear, do come in.” She stepped back and Clarence stepped inside and thanked her. “Cindy said you weren’t coming, I’m happy to see you could make it after all.”

“Th-thank you,” Clarence stammered in reply. “Happy Thanks-g-giving. I c-can’t really stay, I only wanted t-to say hello and see C-Cindy.”

Ellen smiled motherly and touched his arm. “I think I can tell you you’re going to make her Thanksgiving.” She stepped back and called up the stairs, “Cindy, there’s someone here to see you!” Smiling at Clarence, “Feel free to stay as long as you’d like,” she said, giving him a motherly kiss on the cheek and returning to her guests. Clarence raised a paw to his cheek, and felt a deep blush with his uncontrolled smile.

Upstairs, Cindy was on her back on her bed looking through a pop-culture magazine. Frankly, she was bored. She’d checked in with Susan, and got her answering machine. She called Sabrina, and got the answering machine. She called Debbye, and she couldn’t talk for very long before she had to go with the family. She didn’t try calling Clarence, she knew he wouldn’t be home.

She couldn’t help being teary-eyed after Clarence hung up last Monday when he gave her the news that he was being dragged by his nose to his uncle’s house. At the time she couldn’t help being sad, hurt, and angry all at once. It was only today that she realized her reaction had made Clarence feel even worse than he did then.

“So what do I have to be thankful for today?” she’d asked herself. “Getting to hang out with cousins I’m either too old to play with or hardly see and don’t like that much anyway?”

Cindy looked up and heaved a heavy sigh when her mother called her down. “Big fat soggy deal,” she said as she closed her magazine and tossed it toward her small desk. “Probably my cousin Mary Ann, what a snob. She’s nice enough, but her freaking attitude … ” Rolling from the bed to her feet, still muttering her discontent, Cindy didn’t bother stopping by her mirror to brush out her fur, she just kept grumbling as she trudged to the top of the staircase.

Clarence waited in the foyer with his jacket unzipped and his paws in the pockets. Finally he heard a door close and an uncontrollable grin swept across his muzzle. Then he saw her; even in jeans and a simple lavender top she was beautiful to him. As she descended he took a couple of steps closer.

Cindy placed her paw on the banister and put on her best happy face. After five or six steps she saw him at the bottom. She felt her eyes widen and light up and the open-mouth smile that burst out could be seen for miles. “Clarence!” she cried out. She ran the rest of the way down and once her foot hit the floor she pushed off and hopped in only the way a rabbit can and landed into her surprised but happy boyfriend’s arms! She threw her arms around her neck and wrapped her legs around his waist, closed her eyes and kissed him full and long, adjusting herself in his arms and tilting her head to gain better access to him.

The effect she had on him could also be seen for miles. Clarence felt his chest ‘tighten in hopes she wouldn’t notice while his brain had other plans and made sure he enjoyed his doe’s attention. In short, Cindy could’ve sat down if she’d wanted.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Clarence said as soon as he was able.

“Mmmmm, happy Thanksgiving,” she said back to him and slid her legs along his back down to the floor. “I didn’t expect to see you at all today.”

“N-Neither did I,” Clarence replied. “But I missed you, and I was bored and wanted to see you. They’ll never miss me, no one knew I was there to b-begin with. So I snuck out.”

Cindy could hear the dejection in his voice; it was more than simple unhappiness. “What’s wrong Clarence?” Cindy placed her paw on his arm

“Its Mom,” he admitted with a sigh. “She still thinks she can order me around like a child.”

“It’s okay, Clare.” Cindy placed a paw on his cheekfur, right over where her mother had kissed him. “I’m sorry I made you feel worse on the phone, I know you couldn’t help it”

“B-But I could … that’s the thing that makes me the skunk in the wrong.” Clarence sighed again, and began gesturing with his arms as he talked. “I c-could say ‘no’ to her, but no matter how much I wanted to she knew I wanted to too, but it didn’t stop her, and she won again.”

Cindy lifted herself on tip-toe. “It’s not about winning or losing my love, you’re here now and gave me something I didn’t expect, and now I have something else to be thankful for this holiday.”

Clarence beamed; right now he was the biggest winner in the world. Cindy pulled him closer. “I’m happy you did … are you staying?”

Sadly Clarence shook his head. “I c-c-c-can’t. I have to be back for d-dinner.”

“Awww.” Cindy took his paw. “Well, in that case, let’s make the most of the time you do have.” She led him to the living room where her father and uncle and friends and relations were watching the football game. Rodney stood up and set his beer bottle on the coffee table and shook paws with Clarence. A firm pawshake compared to Clarence’s limper one, a sign of his lack of self-assuredness.

“Happy Thanksgiving," he said to him. "I see you made it after all.”

Clarence nodded. “J-just for a little bit, sir.”

Cindy introduced Clarence around to everyone and pulled him out to have him to herself for a bit just as the commercial break was ending.

“Care for a snack of anything?” Cindy asked, indicating the dining room table. Clarence looked at the array of chips and raw vegetables, cookies and pizelles, and shook his head. “I-I’m kinda sn-snacked o-out right now.”

“Okay.” Cindy snaked her arm around his. “You really made my day, Clare, coming over like this.”

“I h-h-had to. It just w-wasn’t f-f-f-fair, I wanted to be h-h-here w-with you ... ”

Cindy rested her head on his shoulder, then thought … she wanted him all to herself for the short time he was going to be here ... He wouldn’t be interested in meeting anyone in the kitchen I’m sure, she convinced herself ... I can’t take him to my bedroom, Daddy’d flip.

Looking over one shoulder then the other, she took him by the paw back toward the front door, then quickly took a left and they went into the heated garage, the door closing unnoticed behind them.

Cindy turned on the switch and the light from the door opener lit the garage dimly. “Not very romantic, I know,” Cindy said to Clarence, “but it’s a safe place where I can have you to myself for a while.”

Clarence heard the door latch click and suddenly the sounds of Cindy’s family were shut out. Oh, if he were to strain his ears he could’ve heard the white noise of the football game, but he wasn’t about to do that. Here he was with this incredibly beautiful lop rabbit doe that he was absolutely crazy about; the house could burn down around them and he wouldn’t care.

Cindy backed herself against the fender of her father’s car and demurely looked down at her feet, then lifted her head, parting her lips, looking up at her skunk with big adoring eyes with her reflections in his taped glasses looking back at her, too.

Clarence approached her, pressing against her; she had no way out and had no desire to be anywhere else but here. She lifted and tilted her head as he lowered his, their lips touched, then pressed … eyes closed … Cindy slithered her arms up Clarence’s back and hugged him. She let out a tiny whimper when their kiss broke, when they each caught their breath she opened her mouth for him when they resumed.

A sudden wash of embarrassment washed over Clarence … he’d heard of a French kiss of course, but never experienced … he wasn’t sure what to do … when Cindy’s mouth closed he kissed her as he’d seen leading men in movies and television shows kiss, the way he’d always imagined it when he had his daydreams and fantasies over the years. This way, he understood.

Cindy moved her hips, drawing Clarence up against her, knowing he was … well, we all know … quickly one arm went behind her to catch herself from sliding out and onto the floor, when she regained her footing she moved both arms around Clarence’s neck and again opened her mouth … this time she was rewarded when he got the idea and felt his tongue slither in around hers, doing to her mouth what a part of her wished could happen elsewhere.

She felt his paws slide up and down as he held her. Again an uncontrolled whimper escaped, she was in clover … His paws felt so good, he was coming out of his shell … As they necked she felt his paws lift her top and slide up against the fur of her back … Cindy reciprocated, panting when they paused in their kissing for air, tilting her head when Clarence began to nuzzle her neckfur … His fur felt soft for a male, or maybe it was her imagination. His paws certainly felt wonderful against hers, and what else felt good against her was …

Cindy let out a gasp! “Clare!” she exclaimed when his right paw had successfully unhooked her bra clasp and the ends snapped around and hung beside her beneath her raised shirt.

With a shameless expression that surprised Cindy, Clarence just shrugged. “You learn a lot working at an adult film studio,” he explained.

"I’d love to know what else you’ve learned there!"

“Well, Cindy … I can’t … well … ”

Cindy brought an open paw quickly to her chin. “Did … I say that out loud??” she asked.

Clarence nodded slowly, blushing beneath the black fur of his cheeks.

Cindy was also blushing, which turned to a flush. She looked over her shoulder at the back door of the car whose front fender was being buffed by her jeans. Again she took Clarence’s paw and led him down the few feet and opened the door.

Immediately Clarence began to stammer.

“Don’t worry, Clare,” she told him, brushing her cheek gently against his, then gently kissing it. “I won’t let anything happen that shouldn’t.” She led him into the back seat, and Clarence closed the door behind them.

#

The smell of Thanksgiving at the elder Foxx’s house had yet to begin. Chris and Sabrina were determined to do the whole show themselves, or at least as much as they could before the requisite female contingent ascended the kitchen and the hen party would chase Chris out. When his sister Sue and her husband Bob arrived, Chris temporarily abandoned Sabrina in the kitchen so he could make his introductions. When he returned he cleaned the turkey inside and out and it sat on a rack in a baking pan in the oven waiting to have its backside stuffed with bread and vegetables.

Sabrina had a chance to take a break herself and visited, mostly with Bob. Being a graphic artist himself, they shared a lot of common ground and who cared if it made dinner late? No one was going anywhere until afterwards.

When there was finally a lull in the conversations Sabrina returned to the sink, peeling potatoes that would eventually be boiled and mashed.

“Can I help?” Endora asked.

Sabrina looked up from the sink and the potato peelings. “No Mom, thank you. You and Dad are the guests for a change; you’re supposed to be visiting with Mr. Foxx.”

It didn’t work. Endora was shaking her head as she shook out an apron. “We visited. Right now the men are talking, I think I’m more comfortable in the kitchen.”

Yay. Suddenly Sabrina jumped when Endora reached around her and pulled the apron ties around her waist. “What th -- where did that come from?”

“I brought it with me,” her mother told her as she pulled the ends into Sabrina’s midsection, tying the ends in back while Sabrina gasped for air. “It’ll keep your skirt clean.”

Sabrina was cringing, she hated aprons! When she had Home Economics in junior high she had to wear one and it made her feel …

“That’s … really thoughtful Mom, but it makes me feel so … ”

The word “old” stuck in her mouth when she saw her mother tying on one of her own. “Thank you,” she said meekly and turned back to her potatoes while holding back a heavy sigh.

“It’s your first official Thanksgiving and your first dinner party too. You’ll thank me later, trust me.”

Sabrina rolled her eyes. She lifted the apron to look at it. Flowers, she said. The outside of the apron was adorned with large red and yellow roses and a ruffly-lightly-pleated border stitched to it. Looks like something Gramma would wear, yech!

Endora pulled on a pair of kitchen gloves, the snap! of the first one made Sabrina instinctively jump and clench her bottom! Looking around the kitchen, Endora asked, “Now, where does Elmer keep his paring knives?”

It was clear to Sabrina that she wasn’t going to get rid of her. She pointed to the wooden counter beside the wastebasket next to the sink. “I think they’re in that top drawer,” she said and rinsed what was left of the potato she’d mutilated.

Knife in paw, Endora sidled up next to Sabrina and bump-pushed her to the left with her hip. Reaching into the sink she picked up a potato and started helping. Sabrina let her polygonal tuber roll from her palm into the pot of other object d’art she’d carved in the guise of peeling. Endora looked at the one she’d picked up, shook her head, and rinsed it.

“I already did that to them,” Sabrina said.

“I guess you did them all at once then,” Endora said and shook the water droplets from it. “Besides,” she added as she brought the knife up to the skin, “I think you’ll find they peel better if they’re still wet.”

“Oh?” Sabrina picked one up and looked at it, re-rinsed it, then took her peeler to it. “I don’t really notice a difference.” She set her peeler into the sink full of skins and shook her paw.

Endora removed the single long peeling, rinsed the naked potato, and reached across to drop it into the pot with the others. “May I make a suggestion?”

No! Sabrina thought to herself, and after pleading with the light on the ceiling, she knew this was going to be long and drawn-out, two things she hoped it would not be. Setting down the paring knife and picking up the peeler, she demonstrated on another potato. “If you hold you peeler like this, and rotate the potato into the peeler, your paw won’t wear out quite as fast.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Sabrina answered her in a dour tone. “Where’s Tabitha?” she asked to change the subject, “Outside?”

Her mother shook her head and dropped another complete peeling into the sink and rinsed off the white potato. “She’s in the dining room tearing the bread for the stuffing. I felt she needed to work off some of the energy from those sugar-coated dates of Elmer’s. Apparently those are a family tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas. ”

Sabrina giggled. “With as many as she ate, she may tear them down to nothing.”

“Mmm-hmm.” They both reached for the same potato, Endora gripped it and pulled it out of Sabrina’s fingers. “I can’t believe that she has so much energy, even without the sugar. She looked thoughtfully at the door, trying not to think what she was doing now.

“I don’t think I was allowed to be that active,” Sabrina complained as she reached for a different potato. “I think if I did I was spanked and told to be a good girl.”

Okay, that still … no, I’m not gonna say it, not even think it, nope, I can’t, sorry!

“Oh Sabrina don’t start all that,” her mother scolded. “You have to remember when you were a little girl things were different, even in the short time between the two of you.”

Sabrina was going to say something but thankfully she wasn’t able to.

“You were also my first child, I wanted you to be respectful and respected. To be honest I don’t have the energy any more.”

“Oh don’t talk like that, Mom.” She sighed to herself. “I’m sorry, let’s hope she grows out of it.”

“Try not to slouch, Sabrina.”

As her neckfur bristled again Sabrina took a large potato and jammed the knife into it. Then caught her breath and withdrew the blade, rinsed the potato under running water and held the paring knife the way her mother had shown her.

"If I can make a suggestion, I brought some cream cheese with me. That and some garlic in the mashed potatoes is very good. If you'd want to, of course."

Sabrina found she was never able to shut her out when she did that. "I guess that would be alright ... it sounds good." If I can make a suggestion ...

“Hey hey, everyone!”

Mom and daughter turned to look over their shoulders. “Hi, Sue!” Sabrina said.

“Came to see what’s going on,” the vixen said. “Anything I can do to help?”

Before Sabrina said anything, Endora asked, “Sabrina, what about the onion and the celery for the dressing?”

“Yipe, that needs done!” Sabrina exclaimed.

Sue waved a paw. “No biggie, I’m on it.” She got out a knife and cutting board, and the kitchen hen party commenced.

#

Wendy found a parking space almost a half block away and picked up the covered tray of stuffed mushroom caps and canapes she'd made before she left and kept covered in the small refrigerator in her room. She thought about bringing the bottle of wine, but decided not. "If I am turned away," she'd told herself, "I'll have something I can crawl inside later."

She found the house and walked up onto the porch. The yellow stained glass porch light was on to welcome the visitors, or at least to Wendy, visitors that were expected.

On the front porch, Wendy stood, her tail lowered, hoping her tam would keep her ears from flattening to her head, hoping nobody would notice if they tried. And she stood, pondering, thinking, her eyes wet and feeling the cold November evening air.

A car driving by broke her concentration! And she quickly reached forward and pressed the doorbell button.

It was the same doorbell, the one she always remembered, the one she'd grown up hearing.

And the door opened. The traditional smells she'd missed from one Thanksgiving after another flooded over her. And in the doorway an older male fox, older to her, appeared, and saw her. His mouth opened in shock, his eyes wide behind a pair of bifocals set close to the end of his muzzle.

Wendy swallowed, and said in a meek voice, "Hi, Daddy." Then she tried to roll into her prepared speech she'd practiced during her drive from Butler, "Uh, I know I haven't, y'know, really -- "

The todd didn't hear a word or let her finish, all he did was step out and take her in his arms in a massive bear-style hug and held onto her, tears pouring from his eyes as well as hers. Without even the greeting of the day, yet, he hurried her inside out of the cold and to the rest of her family.

#

"Sup-per's ready!" Tabitha bounded into the living room and announced!

At everyone's own speed, Elmer, Sarge, and Bob rose and carried their conversation to the adjoined dining room. "So they really fired him for painting the studio green?" Sarge was laughing. "I suppose I would've, too."

"Well, that was Otto Krenn," Elmer told him, retelling the story of his early days in radio. "Otto loved practical jokes, and was popular enough in Pittsburgh radio that he thought he was immune to being fired. The station manager didn't see it that way, he said 'I don't care who you are, you're fired!' And that was pretty much the last I saw of Otto."

They walked into the dining room, which brought an exclamation of, "Well, will you look at this!" from Elmer.

All of the remainder of the snacks and goodies and luncheon food had been cleared away. Endora was lighting the candles, Tabitha had helped Chris and Sabrina set the table, and as we speak Chris was carrying out the turkey and setting it in front of Elmer's place at the head of the table. The china was out, as was the good silverware, all in its correct places. Sabrina had made the gravy herself, which involved opening the jars and pouring the contents into a pan on the stove. At another of Endora's suggestions, she had added the turkey juices to the gravy and kept it well-stirred. Once the turkey was plattered Endora had turned the heat down to Warm and set the various pies inside on the top rack. The table was food nearly from end to end, including plenty two vegetarians could enjoy and not be hungry afterwards.

As everyone began to fill into their seats Chris took Sabrina's paw and gave it a squeeze. They looked at the table, at each other, and smiled. Chris held her chair and an exhausted Sabrina sat down and Chris slid into his at the other end. Everyone folded their paws, and Elmer said Grace.

#

Clarence took the covered leftovers from his mother and placed them on the floor in the back seat of his car. After saying their final goodnights, they got inside and Clarence drove them both home.

“It was good seeing your Uncle Mike and Aunt Crystal again,” she said as they drove along. “It’s a shame we only get to see them once or twice a year, and we’re not all that far away.”

“Uh-huh.” Clarence brought the car to a full stop at the stop sign and made sure all lanes were clear before preceding, probably the only one in town under the age of 80 who did at stop signs.

“And what about you?” she asked. “Did you have a good time?”

A large smile crept across his muzzle.

“Oh yes, Mother,” Clarence answered. “I had a wonderful time.”

Mother settled back into her seat. “You see? I told you that you would if you came.”

Clarence only smiled and nodded, and drove onto the on-ramp.

#

With the leftovers wrapped and put in Elmer's refrigerator, the dishwasher running and the pots and pans done, everyone finally got to relax together in the living room, visiting and fighting sleep. Fresh coffee helped, but when added to plates of pumpkin, cherry, and mince pies, well ...

Endora held Tabitha on the couch. She knew the stains would come out of her dress. Hers and Sabrina's came through unscathed ... yup, Sabrina was forced to admit it, Mom was right. Her new apron was going definitely broken in.

" ... so we'll meet here, or downtown, for the parade?" Warren asked.

"Either is okay by me," Elmer said. "I have to be downtown at the station for about an hour to make sure the parade coverage is set up and there're no fires to put out. After that I'll be out there along with the rest of you."

Chris looked at Sue. "And yunz guys?"

Sue waved a paw. "Nah, I've got to work," she said dejectedly. "I'll probably be working all weekend, joy of joys." She turned to Bob. "And you've got a layout due, don't you?"

Bob nodded. "Yeah, I'm afraid so. Two car dealerships need their ads done by Monday for next week's run. So I'll be working on that."

"Aw, that's a shame," Sabrina said, remembering the changes for her own layout work for Zig Zag's Christmas flyer was already two days overdue. She'd been so busy with Thanksgiving and finishing up work at Strongarm that she'd completely forgot!

"Downtown's probably best," Chris suggested. "We can all fit in my car, we'll meet you at the station.

Elmer nodded. "Sounds like a plan!"

And with that, The Great Meeting of the Foxx-Mustelidae In-Laws began to draw slowly to a close. Eventually everyone drove away, and Elmer sat on his couch with a final glass of wine before retiring himself.

#

Tabitha dove for the piece of hard candy from the pawful thrown by the blonde mink with the elf’s hat from the local high school color guard at the Christmas parade, again butting shoulders with a Fennec kit that snagged the peppermint candy a few inches away. She ran back and dropped it into the grocery sack Endora held and ran back to spy for any that went by unnoticed. None to be seen, but now the Zum-Zum clowns were speeding through on their three-wheeler's and soon after a float dedicated to The Nutcracker went by, then more of Santa's Helpers were littering the streets with more candy! Tabitha and her newfound friends went diving again, only this time Tabitha took all to her bag except a chocolate fudge candy she unwrapped and quickly popped into her mouth before her mom could tell her otherwise!

Endora hefted the bag. “There has to be at least seven pounds of candy in here,” she said, then to Warren, “I’m glad Chris found a parking spot as close as he did!”

Chris, his arm linked with Sabrina's, overheard and he called over the music, "One of the benefits of having the parade in my hometown!"

“Maybe we should put a weight limit on her," Warren suggested. "All this candy won't be very beneficial to any of us.”

"Sure, like that could happen," Endora said. "Kids and candy, and she still has her pockets."

"SANTA!!"

Tabitha's voice joined the chorus as a huge red and white float with green garland and MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE NORTH POLE in large friendly red and green letters came by, carrying a huge sleigh led by two mechanical reindeer decorated in large jinglebells that moved up and down opposite each other. Within the sleigh were gayly-wrapped boxes and a fat ripe old jolly fur with the largest white beard anyone had ever seen, going to great lengths to keep his species a secret to the kids.

Every kit and cub yelled and waved to Santa! And of course, his helpers had candy to hand out too, except they took the extra effort to see each child and hand him or her a small wrapped candy cane, the official candy of The North Pole. The helper that visited her side was a skunk girl too, Tabitha thanked her and waved Goodbye to Santa as his float rolled on up Main Street. And block by block, the crowd slowly broke up.

Taking a less-traveled route north, everyone wound their way to a restaurant at the mall with little traffic holdups, and Sarge picked up the tab for lunch. And as much as Chris tried to warn everyone, Endora wanted to see the mall, so they entered the nightmare that was the day after Thanksgiving shopping.

#

Saturday morning. No one else was up. Sabrina sat at the table in her nightshirt and undies with a cup of coffee, trying to relax. The tension of the past few days had finally gotten to her. She needed time alone. Funny, she thought, when you find someone to love it's hard to imagine what you did without them.

At the moment she was sitting, doing nothing. And even this simple pleasure was being contested; she began to realize once again how much she liked being away from her parents. She loved them dearly and she knew they only ment well, but ...

"I think it's time we sat down and had a decent discussion about these invitations"

Sabrina who was just about to take a mouthful looked over her cup in a state of dumbfoundness, her mouth slightly slack even after she placed the coffee cup back on the coaster. Why now, I only just got some peace and quiet? "Sure Mom, when did you think about doing it?"

Endora produced a binder from behind her back. "How about now?" she asked in a "we are going to do it now" tone.

How about you disappear!!! "Erm. yeah sure." Why not, sure, great just what I need.

"Ah, good." Mother sat down next to her daughter and opened the rather large scrapbook of different invitations and seating card designs.

Sabrina had to admit to herself, these things had to be done. But what she couldn't comprehend was why it had to be during the holidays, it's not like she had enough to do, the last thing on her mind were wedding invitations and stupid seating cards!

"Now to me the best way to go is white, this is a wedding after all." She laughed and Sabrina went back to the day in the dress shop and the black and white dress she saw, she wondered how quickly her Mother would have had an embolism if she said it was hers. "What do you think about this set?"

Sabrina looked down, what she thought about them wasn't something I can say right here; sure they were very pretty, but she just couldn't care less at the moment. "Well yeah, they are nice."

"Nice. I see." Endora scribbled something down on the back "These are made in Carlton, Ohio, so at least something about this wedding will be local." Sabrina at this very moment was quietly seething, looking at the far wall of the kitchen burning two holes into the far wall with her eyes, Endora knew it but she wanted to make her views known.

"We were planning on it being local. I hear that the Ritz has a chain of hotels there, it's supposed to be quite nice." Sabrina knew her mother too well to let her get on top of her in a conversation. She turned her head to Endora. Your serve, mother.

The backpaw slid of Endora like water from a ducks back, she had a job to do and nothing her daughter would do or say was going to stop that. "Well if you like these ones, their stock list says they can come in a set of up to fifty per bundle. So how many people are coming?"

Sabrina just got hit in the face with the ball. "Erm, heh. Honestly ... oh God, I don't know." She looked at her mother sideways with a very toothy, cringe. "It's not something Chris and I have sat down to figure out yet."

Endora smiled inwardly. I'm not old, my daughter, I still can run rings around anyone in a 'conversation'. "I see. Well, that's going to be quite a disadvantage, don't you think, Sabrina?"

"Well if you weren't so hasty in wanting to run this wedding we wouldn't be here right now!"

Sabrina didn't realize what she'd blurted out until it was already out! She told the truth to her mother without meaning to!

"Hasty?" Endora asked incredulously. "You and your fiancÚ have been engaged long enough to write up a small list, but you can't even give me a number from the top of your head?"

"70."

"What?"

"A number from the top of my head," Sabrina explained. "I chose seventy." To Sabrina this discussion had come to an end.

To Endora, it wasn't. "I hope your fiancÚ hasn't taught you to be so condescending," she said in her driest mother-voice. "I liked Chris."

"Don't bring Chris into this!" Sabrina exclaimed. "To me this is so trivial, I am getting married because I fell in love with a wonderful man! I did not agree to get married to shop for wedding dresses, cake makers, or stupid place cards! Besides," she continued after taking a calming breath, "I was thinking of making up my own invitations."

Behind her lizard-eye-shaped glasses, Endora's blue eyes grew wide. "Make your own?! Oh Sabrina, really, this is your wedding, and you have to take a more serious interest in it."

Sabrina had picked up her coffee mug and set it down with a force that slopped the coffee out over the sides. "I'm an artist, remember? I went to school for this kind of thing." She stood up and walked around her mother and out to the room where she and Chris had their computers set up.

"Sabrina!"

Sabrina returned, carrying one of her hardbound sketchbooks. She opened it past the first couple of pages and sat it in front of Endora. "There," she said, "these are ideas I've been playing around with." Dropping herself into her chair with a huff she took a drink of her cooled-off coffee.

Endora looked at her sketchbook and turned the pages. Some were colored, some weren't. One showed random pencil sketches of the final idea in the center, a blue and white hummingbird drinking from a lily attached to the top of a pair of wedding bells with silver ribbon and a large bow. The next two pages showed Sabrina's talent, the likenesses of herself and Chris were very good. Endora never took Sabrina's desire to be an artist seriously, although her hindbrain did appreciate what her daughter had turned out. In all, Chris was in a white tuxedo with tails and Sabrina in the dress she'd picked out. On one page they were linked arm-in-arm with Sabrina holding a sizable bouquet. Another which actually made her chuckle was Chris in profile on all fours as if trying to run away and Sabrina on her knees with her arms wrapped around his leg holding onto him.

She finally closed the book. "I don't see why you can't simply go with one of these, Sabrina. They're already made up."

Sabrina took a deep breath. "Because-it's-my-wedding-and-I-want-to-do-something-special." She looked at Endora. "Well, didn't you want to do something special when you married Dad? When it's done right it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know."

Endora's mind went back; yes, there was something she would have loved to have done at her wedding ... "Everyone always wants something different when they get married," she said. "What's wrong with tradition?"

"Nothing, Mom, I like tradition." Sabrina sighed. "I'm getting married in a synagogue, aren't I?"

Endora nodded. "Yes, I know -- where?"

Sabrina smiled smugly. "I just wanted to see if you were paying attention."

An unpleasant noise came from Endora. "Are you writing your own wedding vows, too?"

She shook her head. "No Mom, that part we're not touching."

Endora closed Sabrina's sketchbook and the invitation binder and pushed them forward. "Well, I guess that's settled then," she said.

Sabrina nodded and sipped her coffee. "I guess so."

Endora folded her paws on the tabletop. "That leaves favors, the cake, and Thank You cards for the gifts," he said, "Where do you want to start?"

"Oh [crud]," Sabrina grumbled.

#

Sunday afternoon, Chris and Sabrina stood at the end of the driveway and waved as Sabrina's parents and baby sister drove north toward the Interstate. Once they were out of sight they put their arms around each other.

"Well, that went more or less painlessly," Chris said.

"Uh-huh," Sabrina nodded. Then she smiled and pulled Chris up to her. "C'mere!"

They hugged each other tight! A car passing by saw and honked on his horn, Chris raised one arm and flashed an OK symbol and went back to hugging his girl.

With their arms around each other they walked back to the house. "So," Chris asked, "you and your mom get everything settled?"

"I think so," Sabrina said. "I hope so!" She stopped them and looked into his eyes. "Promise me you'll never leave me and make me go through all of that again!"

Chris kissed Sabrina hard and held her close. "No-oooooo-o problem!" They walked back toward the porch steps. "As long as you and your mom are friends again."

Sabrina grinned. "Well ... that remains to be seen ... "

#

"Bing-bounce-bouncy-boingdy-bounce-d-bounce-d-bounce!"

"Tabitha, please settle down!" Endora scolded her once again. "You've been like this since you got in the car! What is it with you??"

"Too much country air," Sarge said and tried to look through his rear-view mirror around Tabitha's bouncing head.

"Can't say!" Tabitha said and started singing loudly and off-key.

Endora was starting to fume when she saw what Tabitha couldn't say. She reached on the floor and picked up four empty wrappers, then saw at least a dozen more clutched in her little paw.

"Who gave you Pixie-Stix!?"

"Sabeena!" Tabitha said as she bounced and quickly downed another before Endora could snatch it away from her. "Sa-beena*bounce!*Sa-beena*bounce!*Sa-beena*bounce!*Sa-beena*bounce!*Six-chapters*bounce!*in fifty-*bounce!*-one-years!*bounce!*Yaaaaaaay Sa-beena!*bounce!*"

Sarge gripped the steering wheel as they neared the Ohio state line. "Three more hours until home."

Endora looked out the windshield and crumpled the Pixie-Stix wrappers. "I'll kill her."

End of Chapter 51

This way to Chapter 52