a story by
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, Mrs. Skunk, and Marci Pardalis (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.
Sabrina set down her technical pen and plastic T-square. Pushing her chair back she announced to the empty dining room, “Done!” with a huge sigh. Reaching up to the ends of the temples she took off her glasses and set them down on the table. She leaned back, holding the fleshy parts of her palms against her eyes and waiting for the strain to dissipate.
“Now the scanning … sheeeeeeesh.” Sabrina was showing her fatigue. “What a wonderful way to spend your Saturday, not,” She gathered up her papers and layouts and finished artwork; checking her organization one more time she walked to her new computer table against the wall opposite Chris’ and sat down at her new toy.
“Honey?” she called. “Can I have a bottle of water, please?”
Chris lifted his head from the newsletter from his favorite afternoon radio talk show host and yelled back that he would, as soon as he was done in the bathroom. “Sorry, didn’t realize you were in there!” she said, following it with an impatient sigh, leaning back in her office-style chair for another moment. Finally Sabrina sat up and opened AmiFTP on her new A1200 and clicked on the Connect to … button.
Thanks to keeping her ears open at Strongarm and chatting with the manager of the web design team, Sabrina had used what she learned and revamped Zig Zag’s website after testing it on her own personal site, and reorganized the files on ZZ’s new server so the files were all in their respective folders and not scattered all over the root drive. It meant taking longer to uploadn now that she had to pick and choose which file folders to upload what to where, but she did notice a marked increase in speed on the site, even on Chris’ dial-up connection.
Sabrina downloaded the HTML files she needed to her new Amiga and closed the connection. Opening Deluxe Paint she laid her first layout on the scanner glass, closed the lid … checked her watch … and with a resigned sigh clicked on the Import button so she could listen to her scanner make it’s seemingly never-ending motor hum as the it made it’s first of many long, slow scans …
Distracted as she cleaned up her work, she was startled when a cold plastic bottle of strawberry-flavored water was set in front of her. “Thanks, sweetie,” she said as she picked it up and set it on a coaster out of her way while she cleaned some pesky specks from around Zig Zag’s logotype on the monitor.
Chris leaned in closer and nuzzled Sabrina’s neck making “Num-num-num” noises, then laid his muzzle on her shoulder. “What’re you doing?” he asked.
“I’m cleaning up th -- ”
“What’re you doing?”
“Cleaning up -- ”
“What’re you doing? -- What’re you doing? -- What’re you doing?-- What’re you doing? … ”
Sabrina rolled up some stray papers and batted his nose. “Lemme work,” she told him. “I want to get these done and get the website updated, I’m late now.”
Frowning, Chris dragged his muzzle backwards and stood up. “I’ll get the meat defrosted in the meanwhile,” he said. “I’ll do hamburgers.”
Chris looked over his shoulder. Sabrina was lost in her work, cursing low under her breath at something she’d missed.
Wonder if I should take a cold shower before dinner, he asked himself, feeling the familiar strain in the familiar area as he looked at Sabrina with her glasses down her muzzle and her hair tousled.
Then he flashed back two weeks, when her new Amiga system arrived. Sabrina’d knelt on the floor and unpacked the system from it’s Styrofoam cocoon, removed the plastic bag from around the keyboard and clutched it to her breast with these little red hearts orbiting her head.
“The right computer finally came along, that’s so sweet,” Chris had teased her.
Then he remembered driving to Cranberry to buy her a new workstation, then assembling it for her, setting it up next to the Etagere-o-Transformers that took up the space in front of the window between where her new workstation would live and his library table with his PC monitor … then making the patch cable and setting up Internet Connection Sharing so she could get her new Amiga online … setting up the rest, that was up to her. And once she got her software loaded and her system running, she was utterly and completely lost in it. It was as if she were reunited with her best friend in the world. Suddenly Chris found he had competition for his skunkette’s attention in his own house.
And he hated it. It had been more difficult now to get her attentions whenever he wanted them.
“Well … good luck.”
Sabrina never turned from her work, trying to ignore him.
“And don’t forget your copy for Monday.”
“What-ev -- ” Sabrina accidentally hit the wrong keyboard shortcut and inverted the two nude tigresses embraced on her screen into a negative image. “My what?” And just as she asked, she remembered as Chris told her:
“The addendums for the new telephone switching software; you wanted me to remind you that was due for your Monday morning meeting.
By her reaction Chris could envision Sabrina launching straight up out of her chair and into the ceiling. When she landed he watched the little dark squiggle slowly dissipate over her head. “I’m going to be here all night,” she said, cursing to herself this time. “Dammit, I knew I’d forget that!”
Chris looked at the clock on the wall. “Seven-thirty game though, kitten.”
“You’re going to have to watch it without me,” she said and undid the mistake she made to Zig Zag’s webpage photo.
“Do it tomorrow,” he suggested. “That’s the best time to do anything.”
“I sorta had other things in mind for tomorrow,” Sabrina said with an angry tone to her voice, one Chris hadn’t remembered hearing before. “We need to start decorating the house for Christmas and we need to get your tree down from the attic.”
The time Chris had been waiting for had come. “Uh, Kitten,” he said over the fizz of Sabrina’s opening the lid on her bottle of flavored water, “I don’t have an artificial tree.”
Sabrina took a good long drink. “Aw, we need a tree,” she said. “Okay, we’ll have to shop for one while there’s still a selection to make.”
“Oh trust me, we’ll have a tree,” Chris told her, “but Foxx’s don’t go artificial.”
Sabrina had taken another drink and paused in mid-swallow. Chris watched her eyes, it was worth the wait to see them widen like that, he enjoyed doing that to her.
“We’ll wait another week or so,” he told her, “then head down to Renick’s Nursery and get a live one.”
Sabrina swallowed her water. “Live, as in, cut one down?”
“Sure!” Chris told her with his arms wide. “You’ll enjoy it, I do it every year.” He lowered his arms and slid his paws into his pockets. “Never really was much fun doing it by myself, for myself, but I never wanted to give up tradition. Now this year, it’ll really mean something, now that I have someone to share it with.”
Sabrina thought about this for a minute. She remembered going out with her dad when she was little a number of times when he actually decided to cut down a tree. She was too busy playing in the snow in her earlier years, but she remembered being darned cold and her father’s best attempts at self-censoring while laying on sticks and roots and fighting the dulled blade on the borrowed saw and trying to keep an eye on her at the same time. The biggest thing she seemed to remember was hanging up her wet things and reaching up with both paws for the hot cocoa Mom had made for them when they got back before Dad slumped exhausted in a kitchen chair and swore he’d never do this again, just before he drank his hot chocolate and trudged upstairs for the tree stand.
“But an artificial tree would be a lot easier to set up,” she said to him. “Amy and I had ours set up in fifteen or twenty minutes, complete with lights and ornaments.”
Chris shook his head. “Not on this ship, sister.”
Sabrina shrugged her right shoulder and turned back to her computer. “Just a suggestion,” she said. “I’d hate to have flashbacks to my dad wrangling with a live tree every year.
“Oh you’ll have those, Kitten,” Chris assured her, “Guaranteed! My problem is gonna be in not using my golf course words when I’m stringing the lights.”
Sabrina paused and turned to her fiancé. “You mean your hockey words,” she corrected. “And I know you’ll be getting those out of your system tonight during the game.”
“Depends on whether or not the ref brings his seeing-eye dog.”
Sabrina grinned. She remembered one particularly bad game with a number of bad calls by the officials against Pittsburgh. The camera picked up a grey wolf in the stands excusing his way out of his seat row, wearing black pants, a black and white striped referee’s jersey, dark glasses, and tapping his way up the steps with a red-tipped white cane. And at more than one game.
“Well if he didn’t,” Sabrina kidded, “the borough’ll know all about it from here.”
“ … you filth foul-filthing foul bad call! Boarding my filth and foul filth-foul jaggoff!”
Sabrina’s shoulders had shot up to her ears once again when Chris’ vocal critique of the referee’s call hit her spinal cord and grated its way up to her brain.
“Sure! Let their side go! Foul-filthing foul, keep your whistle in your fouling pocket when they’re slamming OUR guys all filthing night!”
“Chris?” Sabrina asked as she turned around. “Could you please -- ”
“HA!” he screamed and clapped his paws together! “In your face, you filth-foul fouling filth foul!” He threw a pretzel at the screen which snapped in half on impact and bounced off onto the floor. With the score now tied the network went to a commercial and Chris muted the sound. “What, Kitten?” he asked.
Sabrina fought the urge to roll her eyes into the top of her head. She could feel the base of her tail starting to twitch again. “Chris, I really need to get this done tonight,” she said.
“Yeah,” Chris said. “And?”
“And I really can’t concentrate. Could you please not yell so loud?”
Chris looked at her and shrugged. “It’s no louder than I normally scream -- oh! Game on!” He unmuted the sound, again forcing Sabrina to compete with it.
“Huh?” Then, “Sure Kitten, I’m sorry. There’s only eight minutes left anyway.”
“Thank you,” she said as the sound was turned down before it sneaked back up a few minutes later.
“Dammit, quit passing the fouling puck and shoot it!! Shoot it, you might actually score one!”
Sabrina glanced at the little clock on her screen and turned around. “I thought you … ” She raised her voice. “I thought you said eight minutes!” she called over the din.
Chris looked at her, the screen, then Sabrina again. “I did,” he answered. “Now there’s five minutes left.”
“But you said that ten minutes ago!”
The puck was dropped and Chris waved his paw. “Hang on Kitten, five minutes -- OH, nice save there!”
Turning quickly back to her work Sabrina grabbed her water bottle and took a big drink to discover she’d already emptied the contents. Muttering something unladylike while her fiancé in the next room was screaming, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” as the benches cleared followed by, “Oh Kitten, c’mere, you gotta see this!” and balled his paws into fists to jab and threw jabs and punches in the air, Sabrina put on her headset and turned up the MP3 as loud as she could stand it.
“My God, I hope these MP3 files never go away,” she said, knowing she was the only one in the house who could hear her.
When the song ended and she had finished her graphic and picture uploads, she slowly lifted the ear pads … the fight was over, and Chris was yelling, “Go-go-go!” and a whistle blew. Sabrina, now calmer, yelled, “Overtime?”
Chris shook his head and yelled back. “Two minutes left!”
Again Sabrina looked at the screen clock. “You said five minutes were left, that was over five minutes ago!”
“You don’t understand!” he called over. “That was five minutes of game time!”
“Just when I thought I was following hockey,” she said quietly as she turned around to finish recoding the thumbnail table to Rhonda and Wanda’s teaser galleries. “The Clique’d never believe it.”
When Chris woke up Sunday morning he slid a paw up and out from beneath the covers and ran his splayed fingers through his hair, letting his fingertips massage his scalp. As his eyes opened and came in focus as much as they were going to, he saw Sabrina next to him, pulled up in a fetal ball, snoring ever so quietly, one paw beneath her pillow and the other rolled forward between her chin and the pillowcase.
She looks dead to the world, he thought. I must’ve been too, she never woke me up when she finally turned in. He climbed out of bed; even with the windows closed and through his fur, there was a chill that made him thankful for the heated waterbed.
Now, he thought as a shiver went up his spine, what’s my motivation not to climb back into it? Which is when his bladder reminded him. Ahh yes, that’s my motivation. So slowly he stood up and quietly slipped into his bathroom.
As he washed his paws in the sink he looked into the mirror of the medicine chest … and then he saw it. It was as welcome as a turd in a punchbowl, and it was on his head.
“What the heck is that doing there?” After drying his paws he reached up and had to reverse-navigate by his reflection. When he zeroed in on it he used two fingers on his right paw to hold the surrounding hair flat to his head while the thumb and forefinger of his other pinched and plucked the unwelcome gray hair from his head, leaving him his familiar brown mop of unkempt morning hair and an itch where the one plucked was unceremoniously removed, now discarded and flushed out of the house.
“Geez, I don’t want that happening again. Not yet.” He scratched the itch and wandered out to the kitchen. Instead of filling the coffee pot with water, he filled two cups and put them in the microwave to heat.
The smell of the hot chocolate six inches from her nose wasn’t enough to wake Sabrina up, that took the extra effort of blowing a steady stream of air into her ear. Her ear’s twitching woke her, the rest of her took a minute to follow.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Chris said as he offered her a cup.
Sabrina moaned and dragged her paw across her face as she yawned wide. “Sort of,” she replied, “some lunatic was blowing in my ear … wazzat?” As she worked herself up her nose was still trying to identify the scent while her brain slowly came online.
“Something different for the morning,” Chris told her, “Careful, mug’s hot.”
Sabrina took it carefully in both paws and sniffed the top. She wasn’t happy being awakened, but she was being offered chocolate, and that made it alright. “What, no whipped cream?” she said, then blew carefully over the top and gently slurped a mouthful.
“Who says there’s no such thing as a no-star hotel?” Chris sat on the side rail beside his fiancée and unconsciously demonstrated the proper way to slurp a hot drink, then lap the foam covering your snout. “So, whacha wanna do today?”
“Sleep.” Gently she took another small sip, then said, “More what do I have to do today.” Sabrina made a pout and took a third taste of her cocoa. “You said it yourself, I have those addendums to finish. After that if I’m lucky, we can get started on Christmas cards.”
Chris’ eyes widened in thought. “Christmas cards?” he repeated. “Every year I always threaten to send those out, and every year I forget to do it.”
“I’ve never missed a year,” Sabrina said proudly.
Kinda figured, Chris thought.
“So if I time it right,” she went on, “I can get the cards today and we can sit down and make them out.”
“Sounds like fun,” Chris lied. Then he thought about it. “Still,” he said, “if we do, I’ll feel like less of a mooch when everyone else sends me cards.” sip-sluuurp-ahhhhh “And now that I think of it, the cards have been falling off these past few years.”
Sabrina blew gently across the lower top level of her morning hot chocolate and quietly swallowed a slightly cooler mouthful. “Y’gotta send ‘em t’get ‘em,” she told ‘im. With the strong scent of chocolate filling her little pink nose, she squirmed her bottom to adjust herself on the mattress. “Say, I could sort of get used to this,” she said. “All that’s missing now is breakfast in bed.” She could begin to feel the chocolate overwhelm the mild cramping she had every month about this time since the curing of her condition.
“You need at least a two-star hotel for that,” Chris said. Then, he added with a grin, “The whipped cream though, we could get a can or two and keep them in the little fridge in here for … y’know ... ”
Sabrina didn’t say a word, she just rolled her eyes and thought of a way to very quickly change the subject … “So do you even have a Christmas card list?” she asked.
Chris shook his head as he stood and walked toward the dresser, making a “Hm-mm” sound through his mouthful of hot cocoa. “I mean, I know who I’d want to send cards to, and I keep my old cards so I’ll know who I’ll forget when we sit down to do this.”
Sabrina pulled off her Amiga beachball nightshirt and turned her head to look at the clock. “Wow, I could’ve used at least another hour,” she said half to herself as she picked up her glasses. Then, to Chris, “Well you’ll be able to end the millennium right,” she said proudly as she adjusted the lenses on the bridge of her muzzle. “This year everyone you know’ll get a Christmas card.”
Chris turned and shook his head. “It’s not the end of the millennium, Kitten,” he told her.
“Better check the calendar,” she retorted. “It’s December 1999, next month will be The Year 2000. New millennium, new century.”
“Kitten, better do your math,” Chris said, and explained, “2000 is the last year of the twentieth century! The twenty-first will start after midnight two-thousand-one.”
“What do you mean?” Sabrina asked incredulously. “2000 is the twenty-first century!”
“Count on your fingers,” Chris began to explain, just before he remembered he and Sabrina were drawn with only eight fingers. “ … er, count to ten. You start at one and end with ten, which ends with a zero, right?” Sabrina looked confused, he went on. “When the A.D. calendar was started, there was no Year Zero. So if you start with one, each century ends with a number ending with zero, right? So The New Millennium will start in two-thousand-one. Easy mistake to make.”
Sabrina’s whiskers twitched, they always did when she was aggravated. But she thought about it. “Well, I suppose it does make some sense … ” she admitted.
“But then again,” Chris went on, “some scholars think our calendar’s about twelve years off, so we may’ve been in the twenty-first century and not known it.” He shrugged off his pajamas and kicked the bottoms up onto the bed. “As long as our paychecks clear, I’m a happy fox.”
The word “paychecks” hit Sabrina’s ears as she folded her nightshirt neatly and tucked it beneath her pillow. “Wow, it just dawned on me,” she said. “I’ll be able to actually do some decent Christmas shopping this year! I’ll have to make a real list this time.”
“Yeah, people’ll make out from us this year,” Chris said as he pulled on a clean pair of briefs. “One gift from you and one gift from me.”
“Yeah … or … one gift from us.”
Chris didn’t feel the snap of the elastic waistband as it slipped from his thumbs and impacted through his fur. “Eh?”
“Well, why not?” Sabrina asked as she gestured with her paw. “It’ll save us both a lot of money, and after we’re finally married we’ll be doing that way anyway.”
Chris stood still and thought about it for a moment. It did make sense, and he did like the idea of saving money on presents.
He nodded his head. “Okay. I like that. Makes us seem married already,” he said with a grin.
“Every day it gets closer!” Sabrina pulled his tail as she squeezed past him, and after his surprised yip she said, “Take those off and get in the shower with me.”
After the morning meeting, Chris sat in his cubicle with two sheets of paper. On one he’d titled HARDWARE and the other he’d titled CHRISTMAS LIST. He kept them close enough together so if someone walked by he could easily slip the work list over the personal list.
The hardware list was complete, all it needed now was pricing, and it wasn’t due for a few days yet. Motivation again was the issue, while he knew he could get it done and out of the way, he was easily sidetracked on thoughts of what to get Sabrina for Christmas, among others. He pondered over the shopping list, Sabrina’s name at the top, followed by his dad, Sue and Bob, his aunt, his widowed uncle, Sabrina’s parents, Dexter and Angel, Robin and Jeremy, Jim his boss …
He pondered a little. Should I or shouldn’t I? He tapped his pen on the desk, then the back of his paw. After a few minutes thought he finally reached a decision and added Wendy to his list. Something small, he thought. After all, they were still friends, he wouldn’t feel right snubbing her. Unless I get lucky and get her in the Secret Santa thing, that’d make it a lot easier. Plus explaining why I’m buying a gift for Windy to Sabrina, that could be awkward.
After scribbling a few ideas down Chris thought he’d better do some actual work, and turned to his monitor to navigate another website competing for Strongarm’s business.
“We need a new email server,” he heard Dexter complain over the cubicle wall. “This one we have isn’t cutting it.”
“Good God, what is it now?” Chris asked without taking his eyes away from the monitor. Dexter had been complaining about the email now for over a week now.
“Mail’s not going through,” Dexter said, throwing his paws in the air. “Nothing goes out, nothing comes in.”
“You wanted to use Exchange.” Chris switched over to his own email client. And true, some of his own email had timed out and been returned, some were still sitting in his Outbox.
“I said I’d be willing to try Exchange!”
“Restart the MTA service,” he suggested and went back to his website.
Dexter shook his head. “I’m tired of restarting services,” he said with a hint of anger and frustration in his voice, something unusual for him. “When we had a UNIX server this never happened. This NT crap, the software needs to be uninstalled and reinstalled. After-hours work. Bottom line is we need more power than we’ve got to handle the increase since the last hiring. And Lord knows we’re not about to get approval for that.”
Chris agreed. “We had to become dentists and pull teeth just to up the memory,” he reminded him, which trust me Dexter didn’t need reminding, he remembered the memo “exchange” with one of the VP’s all too well. He stood up. “We can still send internal email, send out a note that we’re rebooting the servers and I’ll take care of it.”
While Dexter grumbled he sent out a global email and Chris went to the server to shut it down and reboot it. “The Windows Fix-All,” he said as the system slowly shut itself down. As Chris monitored the restart the screen turned Sabrina’s favorite shade of blue.
BEGINNING CORE DUMP OF PHYSICAL MEMORY
Chris leaned over to peek toward Dexter’s cubicle. “Not the time to tell him,” he said. He quietly rebooted and this time it took, and email was restored in five minutes. He walked back to his own cubicle to see Dexter looking at his paperwork and shaking his head.
“No, guy, you can’t do that,” he said.
“Can’t do what?” Chris asked, then saw what Dexter was looking at.
“You need to think through some of these gift ideas,” he said. “Sabrina isn’t going to want to open a leaf blower Christmas morning.”
“Dex,” Chris defended, “That’s a Binford ten horsepower model! And you’ve seen my yard in the fall, that thing’s got a lot of power behind it and she’ll need it!”
Dexter cocked his mouth to one side.
“Well,” Chris went on, “You try to find a pink snow shovel, they just don’t make ‘em.”
“And eighty-six the toaster oven,” Dexter suggested as he scanned further down the list. “There are rules to giving gifts to women you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.”
Chris folded his arms. “And they are?”
“Never give her a gift that plugs in,” he said, “and never give her something you put gas in unless it says ‘Ferrari’ on the back.”
Chris thought about this for a second. “Well I never said they were good ideas.” He sighed and lowered his arms. “Well, she has this new Amiga she’s in love with … ”
Dexter nodded. “I remember you saying. Well then, that means there must be someone out there making software and games for it.”
“Oh, there are,” Chris confirmed. “She plays Quake on it, and she’s ruthless!”
“Quake on Amiga? You’re joking.”
“Nuh-uh,” Chris shook his head. “I don’t wanna play with her, either. Whoever said ‘All’s fair in love and war’ never played this Quake with Sabrina.”
“Well, there you have it!” Dexter said. “Get her a game you can beat her at.”
Chris’ eyes lit up. “I like it!” Then, “Pity they don’t make a Transformers video game, she collects those y’know. A Transformers game for Amiga … nope, then I’d never get her off her computer.” Then, he grinned. “I can usually beat her at Strip Atari, though … ”
A pause. It was only a matter of time before he asked.
“Fine, I’ll ask. ‘Strip Atari’?”
“Remember the old Atari system?” Chris asked, and Dexter nodded slowly, listening. “It came with this circus game, remember? Well, I drag that out of the basement, hook it up, and it’s just like Strip Poker, every time you lose a round, you lose a piece of clothing.”
Chris’ bushy tail was swinging hard enough to direct traffic. Dexter had to admit to himself though … anyway, he looked at the list again. “A cookbook? That’s a little tacky, don’cha think?”
Chris put a paw on Dexter’s shoulder. “Have you wondered why we haven’t had you and Angel out to dinner yet?” Chris asked. “I love her Dex, but I ain’t exaggerating when I talk about her cooking.”
Dexter began to chuckle.
“Every night I have to ask her what we’re having,” he went on. “I figure the people at the hospital will want to know.”
Now Dexter put the list down. “Now I know you’re exaggerating.”
“Dexter, I’m not saying Sabrina’s a bad cook,” Chris said as he leaned in, “but she uses the smoke alarm as a timer.”
Dexter laughed out loud. “Hey, everyone has to start somewhere.”
Chris nodded in agreement. “Yeah, but I’m a fox, not a Guinea pig.”
Lowering his voice, “Would you like it if Angel gave her some pointers?”
Lowering his arms, “You think she would?”
shrug “All I can do is ask her.”
Chris smiled wide. “If you could do that,” he said, “I’d love you and want to have your baby.”
“Now you’re just grossing me out,” Dexter said. “But I’ll see what I can do.
Sabrina, for her part, was exhausted. She had a steno book out on her desk, a ballpoint pen in one paw, and her head in the other with her eyes closed. Slowly her eyes blinked as she woke from her catnap, and she sat up suddenly and looked around; no one out and about to have caught her sleeping. She looked at the clock on her monitor and guesstimated she was only asleep for a scant few minutes. She lifted her head and saw her Christmas cactus, its first flower blooming at the end of one of the multitude of segmented rows of cacti, drooping from its own weight.
Idly she began to doodle on the stack of papers she’d brought back from her morning meeting as she thought about the corrections they’d wanted her to make. No doubt about it, she was tired. She wanted a coffee, but it meant getting up and she wasn’t prepared to make that commitment. Then, she did something she hardly ever did at work.
She looked at her watch.
“Oh, gaaaaaaaaawwwwwd,” she said quietly. “An hour and a half to lunchtime.” She picked up her pen and went back to her doodling and pretending she was making notes. As a fox’s head took shape she started shading around the muzzle and the cheekruffs, now realizing she’d been drawing on Page One of the revisions she’d worked on for nearly two hours yesterday at home.
“Forget this, I need a break,” she told herself as she tossed her pen on the top of the papers and watched it roll to the top of the pages and fall behind on her desk. Opening her lower desk drawer she fished her security keyfob from the depths of her purse and fixed to the waistband of her lavender and off-white skirt. Not Christmassy she knew when she put it on, but no point in rushing the season, she’d surmised. It was only two days before the first of December after all. She picked up her mug and wrinkled her nose at the quarter-cup of ice cold coffee with her wrinkled reflection wavering as it stared back up at her.
The sway of her tail caught her attention. “I didn’t even curl my tail this morning,” she said as she rolled her eyes Heavenward, remembering the hurry she’d put herself through this morning after she finally got out of bed. Picking a bang out of her eyes, she also remembered she hadn’t found a good local hairdresser yet.
That’s when she became aware of laughing behind her. The company’s safety officer in the next cubicle was joking with one of the secretaries -- er, administrative assistants -- from upstairs. With her mug in her paw she hadn’t gone two steps when she heard “Hey, ‘brina, wait!”
Sabrina turned and Marci dashed over to her with a stack of green papers and a paper sack. “Glad I caught you!” she exclaimed in a voice way too perky for a Monday. She handed her the top sheet from her stack.
“What’s this?” Sabrina asked, “Script changes?”
“Christmas party on the fifteenth!” Marci told her. “Be sure to check off what you want for dinner. Plus there’s a contest for the best cubicle Christmas decoration, fifty dollar prize.”
“Thanks,” Sabrina said and set the paper on her desk with the rest of her papers. “I’m sure we’ll be there. But the fifteenth, that’s a little early, isn’t it?”
“You have to book them when you can this time of year,” Marci explained. “We reserved the hotel ballroom for the party last July! Every other company wants to do their parties as close to Christmas Eve as they can too, remember. And we always have a nice time, there’s sooooo much food! The sausage-stuffed mushrooms are my weakness. Then there’s dancing afterwards, that’s where we work it all off!”
Marci’s enthusiastic energy was starting to get on Sabrina’s nerves.
“Oh, and pick a name.” Placing the memos under her arm Marci held her paper bag by its curled-around top and shook it madly. “Secret Santa, keep it to yourself!”
“‘Secret Santa’?” Sabrina asked as she stuck her free paw into the bag and fished around the cut slips of paper within.
Marci’s eyes widened for a second. “Oh wow, you are new to this, aren’t you? See, everybody draws a name and has to buy a gift for them. Nothing over ten dollars, that way nobody’s trying to outdo anyone else and no one feels bad for not having spent enough. We’ll exchange the gifts on the fifteenth too, then everyone gets out early to go get ready for the party.”
Sabrina withdrew a folded slice of paper and opened it. Just as she opened her mouth to read it, Marci stopped her with, “No, don’t tell! That’s why it’s a Secret Santa!”
“Oh. Okay, I won’t tell.”
“kay, see ya!” Marci went dashing off to one of the managers’ offices to do her ritual there too. Sabrina waited until she was out of earshot. “She reminds me of one of those kids in high school who sold the most band candy.”
Suddenly she blushed when Joe in the cubicle behind her started chuckling at her remark. Sabrina slunk closer to her desk and surreptitiously opened her slip of paper.
Sabrina snickered. “It figures.” She tucked the slip in her top drawer with her stationery supplies and went to get a breath of fresh air and maybe some coffee.
Wendy read the slip of paper she’d drawn and grinned wide. While no one was looking in her direction, she held the paper in both paws and looked up past the ceiling, and mouthed a quiet, “Thank You!”
“ … I know, it’s wild!” Susan said into the phone. “It’s the first year since we called ourselves The Clique that we all have a steady boyfriend!”
Debbye laughed. “And whoever would’ve thought you’d have just one?” she kidded.
“Hey, it’s not that,” Susan corrected. “This is the first Christmas in years that I’ve had to buy a guy a gift! I’m rusty, I’m not sure what to get him.”
Debbye grinned a smart-alecky grin. “How about novelty condoms?” she suggested. “You might be able to find beef-flavored ones.”
On her end of the phone, Susan’s eyes went wide and started to water as she laughed a surprised laugh. “Debbye! I never would’ve thought you’d say that! So what are you getting Lee?”
“Beef-flavor -- ”
“Oh, you are not!”
Debbye waved her paw in the air by her head. “Oh, I don’t know!” she retorted. “I’m going out Wednesday night to the mall, wanna come with?”
“Yes!” Then, she slumped on her couch. “But I can’t. Josh is taking me out Wednesday … Thursday?”
“Bible study,” Debbye reminded her. “Dad insists. Wanna come?”
Susan made a face. “Boring, no thanks. And Friday I want to keep free just in case … ”
“ … in case of what?” Debbye asked, “In case someone asks you out?”
For the first time ever, Susan responded with a resounding “No!” on the idea of being asked out by someone else … well, someone other than Josh. “Well, who knows, it’s Friday,” she said in hopes of making a save. “He might have plans, I should keep my weekend nights free for him.”
Debbye wasn’t quite sure what to say next. This was Susan, someone for whom dating was as much a way of life as eating.
But Susan was slowly becoming aware of some things. Her childhood best friend was going to be married next year. She was captain of the cheerleading squad, yet she wasn’t getting the number of guys asking her out as she used to. She’s young, she worked hard to make sure her figure was in its prime, but for the first season since she took up cheerleading in high school she saw the cuter boys around the other girls. Plus she slowly started becoming aware she was the oldest cheerleader on the squad, again.
“You, though,” Susan said to step up the conversation, “you should still be out there, playing the field! You’re not ready to commit to one guy yet.”
“Oh, I still do,” Debbye said after she moved the receiver from one ear to the other. “I just give Lee first choice is all. He’s awfully good to me.”
Susan pulled her right leg up under her left. “I’m not surprised,” she said, “considering how young you are for him. Don’t let him wrap you around his little finger, Deb.”
Debbye found herself taken just a little aback. “Susan,” she said into the phone, “you really think I’m that naïve?”
There could’ve been an uncomfortable pause on the phone right now, Susan didn’t want to believe Debbye was, Debbye didn’t want to admit that maybe she could be.
Susan came up with the right reply and wasted no time in using it. “Not after you’ve been hanging around me, girl!”
Debbye laughed. “Wait until you get to spend more time with him,” she said. “Daddy has and Daddy really likes him.
Sure he does, Susan thought, they probably went to grade school together.
“He never pushes me into anything, he always considers my feelings when he plans things for us to do … ”
As Debbye talked, Susan thought about her fox. He really wasn’t much different. Mentally Susan compared Lee to Josh, then both of them to Clarence, then to Chris …
“ … know he’s older, but I really like him a lot.”
Susan let out a quiet sigh and relaxed. “I suppose we’re all getting lucky,” she said to Debbye. I just wonder how long these great relationships will all last.
End of Chapter 52
This way to Chapter 53