a story by

with David Shoulder

Story and Disclaimer (c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 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. Sharon Skunk, Marci Pardalis, and Dawne   (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.


Chapter 54

Sabrina emerged from the fitting room.  The dress she had on was strapless with a white bodice and red knee-length skirt.  She got the salesgirl to zip up the back and fasten the tail flap with the three tiny silver snaps that hid themselves nicely behind the fabric.  Walking to the three-sided mirror she stood and looked herself over.  Part of her liked what she saw and part of her didn’t want to be here in the first place.  However, if working at Strongarm had done anything, it made her more aware of her wardrobe and the need for dressier clothes.  With The Clique party coming up she didn’t want to wear her frilly blouse and skirt combination.  Actually, she couldn’t, the skirt’s zipper had stripped the last time she’d tried to wear it.  Of course it was when she and Chris were running late for work

            “What do you think?” she asked

            “Looks good from my angle,” Chris said from behind her.

            Rolling her eyes, Sabrina turned and presented herself to him.  Chris crossed his legs to hide his reaction.

            “I don’t see what holds that dress up,” Chris said teasingly.

            Sabrina walked over to his chair, placed a paw on each arm, and leaned in close.  “Play your cards right,” she said, “and you will.”  She walked back to the mirror, turned one way, then the other, then looked at herself over her shoulder.  “Does my butt look too big?” she asked.

            “Your butt looks terrific,” Chris told her, even if he’d agreed with her he’d have said it anyway.  Not so much as a measure of self-preservation, but because he was still love-blind and only saw what he wanted to see.  And when Sabrina leaned forward, he loved the view.

            I like it a lot,” he said.  “It’s Christmassy.”

            Sabrina liked it too, she wanted to take it and go.  But she couldn’t, not yet.  “I’ll put this in the ‘maybe’ pile,” she said.  She called over the salesgirl again.  “Could I try that green velvet one, please?”

            Chris sat up.  He’d seen green and black velvet dresses before and always loved how they looked.

            Sabrina tried it on.  She looked gorgeous in it.

            “Maybe that red velvet one with the white satin,” she said.

            As she unhooked the dress Chris took a look at his watch.  “How much longer do you think you’ll be, Kitten?” he asked.

            Sabrina thought.  “Five minutes,” she said.

            Sabrina tried on the red velvet with white satin dress.  She was to die for.

            And she looked good in the green mini-dress.

            And the green one with the gold trim.

            And the white top/red skirt one.

            Chris jerked when he almost dozed off, lifted his arm and looked at his watch.

            “Kitten, how much longer … ?”

            Sabrina shrugged.  Maybe five minutes or so.

            “You said five minutes fifteen minutes ago.”

            Sabrina smirked at Chris, time to get her own back.  “That’s shopping time!”

            Chris scowled and looked over his glasses at her.  Sabrina returned a smug look and with a toss of her head returned with the clerk to the fitting room.


            “This isn’t the way I expected to spend a Sunday morning when I agreed to move out here,” Sabrina admitted as they zipped down Route 308.

            “Timing’s everything,” Chris told her.  “We get our tree while most everyone else is still in church; the Lutherans always snag the best ones.”  He slowed down as they approached the bottom of the hill and he put on his turn signal.  “And in doing so, we keep the tradition alive.”

            And because of the number of church-goers in the area, finding a good parking space close to the tree-binding machines was easy.  Chris pulled on his dutzel cap and gloves, Sabrina her cap and mittens and waited for her fox to come around and hold her door for her.

            “Oh yech, mud,” she said.

            “Easy.”  Chris placed a foot on the threshold and slid his arms under Sabrina’s and gave her enough lift to clear the muddy patch by her door.  He then took her paw and walked her out into the snowy open field where a number of pre-cut pines were laying and waiting for some fur to take them home.

            “This should be easy,” Sabrina said as they made their way, “we won’t even have to go into the woods.”

            “If we’re lucky … which can happen.”  As they walked they gave a superficial look over the chain saw casualties one by one, weeding out the small ones, the pathetic ones, the ones with large bare spots showing, the ones only Charlie Brown could love …

            Finally Chris stopped and gripped a spruce near its top and lifted it up.  It was just a little taller than he was, and still smelled fresh-cut.

            “What do you think, Sirs?” he asked in his best Joel Robinson impression.

            Sabrina shrugged.  “I dunno,” she admitted, but gave the tree a look-over.  “ … what am I looking for?”

            “How it looks, artist,” Chris told her.  “Does it look good, will it fit our living room, are there … ”

            “Dead stuff,” Sabrina interrupted him.  “At the bottom, there’re a lot of dead branches.”

            Chris tried to look down.  “We’ll have to trim some off anyway,” he said.

            Sabrina pointed to the side at the bottom.  “Yeah, but these come way up the side here, I doubt we’d be able to hide it.”

            Chris nodded and released the tree, letting it fall and when it did, he saw what Sabrina’d been talking about.  “Ah, yes … oh, here.”  He walked ten feet and picked up another.  “How’s this?”

            Sabrina shook her head and waved her mittened paw in the air over the center.  “Too bare,” she said.

            This time Chris could see it.  “Why is it they always look good when they’re lying down?” he asked.  They walked and looked over some others, choosing a white pine Chris lifted it halfway up when Sabrina said, “I could never decide if I really liked long needles … ”

            Chris let the tree fall back where it had laid afore.

            “Oh, there’s one!” she said, imitating Chris she wrangled with it until Chris helped her lift it up.  “Now I like this one!”

            Chris noticed the orangey scent.  “Nope,” he said to her.  “Douglas fir.”

            Sabrina shrugged, that meant nothing to her.  “So what?” she asked

            Chris pointed to a row of signs, each sign in front of a tree.  “Check the prices,” he told her, “Douglas firs are the nicest-looking ones, and are at about twice the price.”

            Sabrina made a sad face.  “That figures,” she said and laid the tree back down on the ground.  And they went walking.


            Sabrina shook her head.  “To skinny.”


            Sabrina shook her head.  “Way too tall.”


            Sabrina shook her head.  “Look at the trunk, it looks like it’s two trees grown together.  It’s a double trunk!”


            Sabrina shook her head.  “Oh God, my feet are freezing.”


            Sabrina blew into her paws.  “How long have we been out?” she asked?

            Chris looked at his watch.  “Eleven minutes.”

            Sabrina put her paws into her coat pockets and followed along behind her fiancé.  Stopping for a moment she looked out over the tree farm and across the road to the other side of it.  The view was lovely, if you looked past the occasional clearing where pine trees used to be.

            “Ooo, wait, that one down there!” Sabrina said quickly!  She started down the hill and Chris followed, his bow saw firmly in paw.  It looked like a good one too, until they got down to it and Sabrina showed a crestfallen look.  The tree was blocked by another and the illusion of one fat tree became the reality of actually being two trees blocking the sunlight from each other and creating two perfectly poor specimens.

            “Now I see why so many people go artificial,” she said and moved on.

            Chris shrugged and followed along after her.  “Sometimes it takes time to find the right tree,” he said, holding the saw under his arm and walking after her.  “Some people’ll pick the first thing they come along and not care, some’ll -- ”


            Chris followed where Sabrina’s arm pointed straight out and up the hill a bit.  Chris climbed up and Sabrina followed.  They took a slow clockwise walk around it, studying the conifer.  It was a blue spruce, a fat six-foot blue spruce.  And Sabrina loved it.

            “This one.”

            “Are you sure?” Chris asked.

            Sabrina nodded.  “Uh-huh!”

            “Final answer?”

            “Final answer.”

            And with that, Chris climbed under the tree, cursed as a dry weed found its way behind his glasses and poked him in the eye, and cut the tree down.

            “Timber!” he yelled as it hit the ground and he got up.

            Sabrina looked at the tree again.  “Uhm,” she said, “I don’t like it now.”

            Chris looked up into Sabrina’s teasing eyes.  “Tough, you’re getting it.”  He handed her the saw and she helped as much as she could to drag the tree to the binding machine, then into his trunk which he expertly tied down, and home they drove.


As is every year, Christmas Eve came along.  Cindy heard the doorbell, and quickly ate the hors d’ourve she’d snitched.  She chewed it as she carried the platter to the living room and sat it on the coffee table. She looked at her watch -- “Right on time,” she said aloud.  In a sprint she ran to the front door to let her boyfriend inside.

            “My, don’t you look sharp,” Cindy said as she admired his navy blue blazer, his white shirt with striped tie, and his beige slacks.  She closed the door and kissed Clarence, a long, lingering kiss.  “I’m glad you could come.”

            Clarence drank in her kiss.  When it broke he pushed his glasses back up his nose.  “I wouldn’t have missed it,” he assured Cindy.  “I’ve been on pins and needles since you invited me.”

            Cindy nuzzled his neck.  “Merry Christmas Eve to you, too.”  She took his paw and led him into the living room.  Clarence inhaled the smells from the kitchen, whatever was for dinner smelled incredible.  He waved and called out, “Hello, Mrs. Lapine!” as Cindy directed him into the living room.

            “Have an appetizer,” she offered after he sat down.  “I made them myself.”

            “Mmmm, they look good!”  Clarence took a cheesy cracker with something he decided was not a carrot piece on top       and sat on the edge of the couch; Cindy sat on one end, smoothing her brief pleated skirt out over her legs. “They taste good too, thank you!”

            She looked at him stuffing another one in his mouth, smiling at the taste. “You like the idea I can cook?” she asked with a grin.

            Clarence swallowed the contents of his mouth, “Yes of course!  Everything you’ve made me has been so wonderfully prepared and tastes fantastic.”  He paused, hoping he wasn’t spreading it on too thick.

            She smiled at him.  He looked tense, then again he always did.  But over the past few weeks since they had their romantic night together he was getting better and better at just talking. “I can always teach you how to cook if you would like me to.”

            “I would love to, Cindy.”  The plain truth was, if Cindy enjoyed it, so did he.  Clarence sat forward then looked around as he noticed something, or to be more accurate someone, wasn’t there.  “Where’s your dad?” he asked slightly worried.

            “Not home yet,” she said.  “He said he had to make a stop on the way home.  Probably an office party at one of the local bars; Dad says they’re called ‘happy hours’.”  She took his arm and cuddled against him.  “I never understood those, he sees his co-workers every day of his life for eight or nine hours a day or more, why would he want to stay with them?”

            Clarence finished his cracker.  “He’s pr-probably made friends with s-some of them,” he said to her.  “It’s an e-excuse to visit w-with them after h-hours.”

            Cindy raised an eyebrow.  Clarence suddenly seemed nervous, more the way he was before they dated.  She sat closer to him, rubbing her bare-furred thigh against his leg.  “How was the party at the studio?” she asked, wondering if something had happened there that he didn’t want to tell her about.

            “I d-didn’t stay for much of it,” Clarence said.  “I tried to get i-into it th-the w-way everyone else d-does, but I’m still th-the ou-outsider.”  He swallowed, trying to hide doing it.  “Z-Zig Zag says th-there’ll be a ‘real’ party after Christmas.”

            Cindy tugged on Clarence’s arm and looked past her reflection and that of the colored twinkling lights in his glasses into his eyes.  “I think I like it better that way,” she said.  “That way I know you aren’t chasing the actresses around.”  Then she winked.

            Clarence’s paws began to perspire.  “I-I-I-I had s-something b-b-better t-to look f-f-forward to …”  He turned so he could face Cindy.  “I st-still can’t believe y-you and I hit it o-off so w-well,” he managed to get out.

            “Me either.”  She nuzzled and kissed his neckfur.  “You’re such a sweet guy, I feel so bad others make fun of you … and I’ll never forgive myself for having done it, too, way back when."

            Clarence took Cindy’s paws from his arm and held them in his.  “You know I love you, Cindy.”

            Cindy nodded, then rested her forehead against his making direct eye contact.  “I love you too, Stinky.”  She giggled and winked, making Clarence stifle a laugh.  Letting go of her paw for a moment, he reached into the side pocket of his blazer, and in a fully rehearsed series of movements removed a small box, slid off of the couch onto one knee, opened the box toward her, and stared straight into her eyes, a feat he had practiced for a month to master.

            “Cindy, will you marry me?”


            Cindy’s muzzle had fallen wide open.  Her paws fell to her lap, her eyes wide and moist, her heart beating against her chest.  She stared at the ring, a perfect circle of white gold, atop which perched a half-caret diamond, the Christmas lights from the tree danced over the little facets.

            Clarence pulled the ring from its box and with his other paw took Cindy’s, and he slid the ring carefully up her slender finger.  Cindy splayed the fingers of her left paw, her mouth still open in disbelief, staring at it as if it had just rooted and grew there on its own.

            “Cindy,” Clarence said again, “Someone once said to me ‘it’s only the giving that makes you what you are’.”  He felt himself swallow hard again.  “I have nothing else to give but my love to you for the rest of my life Cindy.  Please … p-please say you’ll marry me.”

            Looking up, Cindy nodded her head slowly.


            Clarence smiled.  He positively beamed.  Then he fell, rolled, fainted dead away and landed on his back.

            Suddenly Cindy came to and brought her paws to her mouth!  “Clare?  Clare??” She poked him with her foot and stood up?  “Clarence???”

            He wasn’t moving.

            “Omigod, I killed him!”  She knelt down, took his paw in hers and was patting it when her mother came running in.

            “What happened??” Ellen asked hurriedly.

            Cindy stood up.  “He fainted.”  Her mind was a complete jumble.  “He, uh, he asked me to marry him.”

            Ellen turned her attention away from Clarence and did a double-take.  “He … what did you tell him?”

            “I told him ‘yes’.”

            The news started to sink in just as she felt herself starting to get sidetracked.  “Well,” Ellen told her, “run and get a glass of water!”

            “Wha’?  Oh, yeah!”  Cindy dashed to the kitchen and returned with a glass of cold water and stood beside her mother, taking a drink of it.

            Ellen pointed to Clarence.  “Give it to him!”

            “Wha’ -- Oh, yeah!”  She tilted the glass and dumped it on Clarence’s face.


            Clarence sputtered and coughed flailing his arms as he tried to sit up.  Ellen and Cindy dropped to either side and helped him to sit up and he tried to piece together what happened.

            And he did.

            “Clare!” Cindy said to him, “Are you all right??”

            Clarence nodded his head.  “Uh-huh, yeah …” He held onto Cindy to steady himself, and then turned to her.  “Cindy, did you say ...”

            She nodded her head.  “Yes!  Yes, I will!”

            “Oh, good.”  His head rolled and looked up at Cindy’s mother.  “She said she would,” he smiled, then fainted again, still sitting up, his head now rolled to his left, bumping the already concerned Ellen.

            Cindy hadn’t noticed.  “I mean Clarence how could I not say ‘yes’, you have shown me the greatest time of my life and I love you dearly.”  Ellen smiled to herself; it was obvious that Cindy had forgotten she was there and not noticed her now-fiancé was unconscious. “Clare?”

            She slapped Clarence and he awoke with a jump.  He placed a paw over were Cindy’s paw had connected with his face. “Why does my cheek hurt?”

            “Cynthia, please go get some frozen peas, I’ll help Clarence to a seat before you batter him too much.”

            Cindy nodded.  “Okay, Mom,” and got up; as she left for the kitchen she looked around at her mother and Clarence.

            Ellen sat Clarence on the sofa; she stroked the back of his head softly, she then laughed quietly.  “Clarence, I think it will be a long time before you realize how much good you have given Cindy.”  She sat down next to him and smoothed her dress out.

            “W-what do you mean by that Mrs. Lapine?”  He wore a little smile but felt a little on the queasy side.

            She flashed him a warm smile.  “Well, let me ask you a question:  why do you want to marry Cindy?”

            To Clarence her smile was even more disarming than her daughter’s.  “I-I l-love h-her.”

            Ellen moved closer to Clarence and spoke softly into his ear, “Calm down, you don’t have to worry, it’s only me remember.  All Rodney and I can do is support you and Cindy in your life together.  I just wanted to know, why Cindy.”

            Clarence looked between his legs at his hind paws.  He bit his lower lip ‘till it hurt, it focused his mind and he looked into Ellen’s welcoming eyes.  He breathed in and sighed again.  “Look at me, and what do you see; I’m not good looking, I’m not strong … I stammer, I take everything way too seriously.  All through my life I’ve been the butt of everyone’s jokes … but even with all this against me, Cindy still chose to help me and, dare I say it, love me. She has shown me that nice guys can be winners and when I look at her my life stands still; time freezes when I’m with her.  I can feel the love we have and I never want to let that go; I would be a fool as well as all the other things wrong with me.”  He laughed a little.  “D-Does that explain why?”

            Ellen leaned over and kissed him on the cheek the way she often felt the need to do.  “Clarence, when I look at you I don’t see any of those things you think you have wrong with you, I just see a charming handsome young skunk.  I know Cindy does the same.”

            “I do,” Cindy mouthed.  She had forgotten all about the peas, she just stood there in awe; she knew he still doubted himself, but what he said about himself and what she felt … and he didn’t know she was right there, within earshot .. her mother was right, she always is, she saw a handsome person that she loved with all her heart.

            It was the door bell ringing that brought the trio back to earth, it was Rodney coming home.  As Ellen got up to open the door she looked at Clarence, who was shaking again  “Don’t worry dear, he wont hurt you …”  She wondered if she just lied to him.  “Anyway I’m here, I’ll back you all the way, Clarence.”

            Clarence followed her with his eyes.  “Th-Thank you, Mrs. Lapine,” he said, barely holding eye contact.

            In the front hallway Ellen opened the door.  Here she found Rodney barely holding a small TV of some sort.  “Damn that’s heavy,” he left it on the tile floor and kissed Ellen.  “You okay dear?  You don’t look well.”

            “Rodney, I have something to say,” she said, hiding the shake in her paws.

            “If it’s about the lights in the kitchen, I’ll get onto it over my vacation.”  His smile dwindled when Ellen turned away.

            “It’s not about the lights, it’s about Cindy,” Ellen replied.  “All will be revealed in a moment.  Just don’t say anything that will scare either of them, okay?”  She gave him ‘that’ kiss, the one all guys know means they are being led to The Valley of Death.

            In the living room Cindy and Clarence were standing side by side.  Cindy looked uneasy.  Clarence looked like he was about to throw up.

            “Daddy,” Cindy started, “Clarence and I …”  She paused.  “We have something to tell you … erm … ”  She looked at Clarence; she wasn’t offered much comfort; he was trying his hardest just to stand up.

            Rodney looked at them both.  “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” Rodney exclaimed, his lop ears ready to stand straight up.  “Oh God, Cindy … and you, Clarence, I trusted you!”  He started to go for him but Ellen stepped in front and stopped him.

            “She’s not pregnant, how could you think so lowly of those two!”  She sighed and a dull thud came from Clarence as he fell to the floor again.  “Now I’m going to have to get Clarence off the floor again!  How could you be so callus Rodney, what did I say, you didn’t listen did you!?”  She knelt down and over and picked Clarence up for the second time tonight and she sat him down.

            The sudden bombardment from his wife, the collapsing of Clarence and the party he had just attended hit the poor man all at once; he held his paws up.  “Okay, okay.”  He stepped up to his daughter and cupped her face with both paws.  “I’m sorry sweetie, I’m sorry I said that about you, it’s just you see all the news these days.”  He looked at his daughter then at her left paw.  “Oh, I see!”

            “Yes Daddy, Clarence proposed to me tonight and I accepted him.”  She tried to tell him in the most neutral voice she could, trying not to set him off on another burst of nonsense.


            Chris plugged in the window lights and Sabrina plugged in the tree.  They hadn’t put the presents under the tree yet; Sabrina was anxious to, but Chris said if they did then they’d spend all night trying to figure out what was in ‘em, and if they did guess, the impact would be gone when they opened them tomorrow morning.

            And now they cuddled on the couch, the only lights came from the Christmas lights and the television screen.  Each lover holding a spiced rum eggnog from a recipe Angel Collie had given Sabrina the weekend after the party when they went over for a small party they threw.  Angel was incredible, she used her wiles to bring Sabrina into the kitchen and subliminally give her some pointers.

            “So,” Sabrina said after a sip, “what’ya get me for Christmas?”

            “A Beatle’s tee-shirt,” Chris told her.

            Sabrina cocked her head.  “A huh-wha’?”

            “What we used to say when I was growing up,” Chris explained.  “I’d say ‘what’m I getting for my birthday’ or Christmas or whatever.  The running answer was always, ‘a Beatle’s tee-shirt.”  And y’know, I never did get one.”

            “I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed again this year, honeybunch,” Sabrina said before turning back to her eggnog.  “Let’s open ‘em tonight!”

            “Kitten!” Chris laughed.  “Shame on you!  You sound like your sister now.”

            “Nuh-uh!” Sabrina defended.  “We always opened gifts on Christmas Eve.”

            Chris nodded.  “Ah, you were one of those families,” he said.  “I could never understand that, then what do you have to look forward to on Christmas morning?”

            “Playing with my toys,” Sabrina said.  “I always got up early and went downstairs when Mom and Dad were still asleep, who could sleep anyway, right?  No one could yell at me, everything was already open.  So I had the living room to myself!”  She sipped her nog again.  “They have a picture of me when they found me asleep on the floor holding onto my new radio-controlled car.”

            Chris tried to picture her as a little girl like that.  He smirked until -- “That’s a boy’s toy.”

            Sabrina wrinkled her nose.  “It is not.”

            “Is to.”

            “Is not.”

            “Is to, infinity.”

            Sabrina blew a short raspberry at the fox.  She squirmed out of the cuddle and sat up straight next to him.  “Let’s open just one,” she suggested with a bouncy lilt to her voice.

            Chris was shaking his head.  “Kitten, it’s not Chr -- ”

            “I don’t want to wait to give you this one,” she said quickly.  “Let’s put the presents out now, and we’ll open just one each.  That way I get my Christmas and you get yours!”

            “But … ”  Sabrina had wiles of her own.  When she turned on the wide-eyed innocence, and looked right at him with that tiny hopeful smile …

            “O-kaaaay,” Chris conceded, “Let’s go get’em.”


            Later that evening it was time for the interrogation.  Clarence stood next to Rodney.  Rodney sat at his workbench in the basement with Zig Zag’s number six monitor, affectionately called “The Rocket”; this was not however for its greatness, just that it tends to explode at a high point in filming.  This wasn’t the way Rodney expected to spend his Christmas Eve, but since the women of the house seldom came down here, it was slightly more private than his den.

            “So,” Rodney asked, “how long do you intend to stay engaged, Clarence?”

            Still nervous he looked at Rodney’s nose, it was the closest he could get to his eyes without stammering again.  “Until I know we are stable and able to make our lives together, sir.”

            Rodney looked surprised.  “You’re not going to rush into this?”  He softened his voice again; he didn’t know Clarence very well, that would come with time, but what he did know about him was he was no fool, and also that although this was big he would take care of his daughter.

            “Well, I would like to.”  He paused.  “I-If you have no picture then I think you have a cracked circuit board in the EHT circuit.”

            Rodney looked up.  “Wha?  Oh the monitor … Yes I think I may, thank you Clarence.  I have the feeling from the way Marvin described the problem that there’s also a short in there as well.”  He slid the case off from the back to test the high-voltage rectifier and flyback transformer.  Shaking his head he fished out his soldering iron.  “Go on, don’t let me stop you.”

            Clarence felt his stomach untwist slowly as he talked.  “If I could I would marry Cindy in the morning, I just know I can’t afford it, money-wise and personal situation-wise.”  He picked up and unwound a length of solder for Rodney; he loved how soft it felt, even if it was highly toxic.  “Here you go, that should be enough.”

            “Thank you again.  I didn’t know this in your area of expertise, too.”  He melted a little solder onto the cracked foil, the familiar smell of melting solder on 5-core rosin flux met Clarence’s nose, it was a long time ago he last had the dubious pleasure of that sensation.

            Clarence laughed a little, “I wouldn’t call myself an expert.”

            “So what would you call yourself?” he looked away from his work and smiled.  “From what I’ve heard you got better grades than I ever did in engineering ... Boy, this TV went out with The Ark.  I can’t believe with all the money …”  His voice went low.  “… with all the money Zig Zag makes she should really invest in new ones.”

            “I just like fixing things, sir.  But I’m all thumbs, I wish I were better at it … do you like me?”  Clarence blurted the last bit out, a mix a curiosity and fear made it nearly unheard by Rodney.

            Rodney paused slightly, seeing if what he did hear was correct.  He had to think about it; what he felt about this guy could mean the difference between having his only daughter hate or love him. Clarence well; he was obviously smart, and Cindy … well Cindy loved him, he knew he was a good person, but did he like him?

            “Clarence,” Rodney said, setting down his soldering iron, “you came into our life like a bolt of lightning, you changed Cindy from day one, and I’m thankful; all of the changes I have seen so far have been nice ones.  She’s smiling all the time and I never have to worry about where she is at night anymore.”

            Clarence said nothing; he was waiting for the ‘but’.  All of the films, online comics, and romantic online comedy novels he read had a ‘but’ in them.

            “But,” Rodney said turning back to the gutted TV.

            Oh God, that came quicker than I had imagined, this is it!

            “You and I have not socialized.  I honestly cannot say I like you.  That’s not because I don’t, it’s because I don’t know you; your not the kind of guy I imagined Cindy falling for, I had pictures of a more … ”  Oh brother, how to say this.

            “Popular?” Clarence said with dejection in his voice.

            “Well, not in the context you place popularity in, popular in the fields she had interests in, like her sports.  Does that make sense?”  Rodney could see the hurt he just caused.  Clarence was a sensitive person, he could see that, it wasn’t how it meant to sound, but it was the truth.

            “I g-guess so … are you disappointed then, that I’m not the quarterback or the captain of the Lacrosse team?”

            Rodney laughed, which made Clarence jump, which made Rodney laugh more.  “If I was disappointed in what you are or aren’t, it would be highly hypocritical of me Clarence.  I was just like you, I think I even have a silver plated pocket protector somewhere, now that’s being a nerd.  And anyway, what jock would ever know what an EHT board is, he’d probably think it was milk!”

            Clarence smiled a rather charming grin and then laughed.  Rodney could tell that if he wanted to he could probably charm his way onto any girl, the good thing was Clarence didn’t want to.  “Thank you Sir, maybe we could get to know each other better.”

            “Well why not stay and help me fix this piece of junk!”  He motioned with his paw to come closer as he did he got out of his chair and wrapped an arm around the boy.  “Just make my daughter happy and I will love you.”

            Clarence hadn’t been hugged like this since his early childhood.  “I promise I will, there is nothing in my life as precious as Cindy.”

            Breaking the hug, Rodney pulled the spare stool next to his.  “Yes, I feel the same Clarence.  I say this with out any form of bias, you are a lucky skunk.  Now let’s see if we can bring RGB color to this.”


            With Cindy’s parents told it was time for Clarence to do the same.  It was this thought that filled him with no small measure of dread.  “I don’t know Cindy,” he said to her, “neither of us have any idea what she will do when f-faced with this n-news.  T-This is m-my m-mother we are talking about.”

            She looked at him, he did have a point.  Cindy had only met his mother a few times … let’s just say you could slice the atmosphere with a blunt knife.

            “Well,” Cindy began … that was all she could think of as a reply.

            “Well,” she continued … Clarence had a hopeful look on his face that was slowly disappearing with every ‘well’ she said.  His face reminded her of the one he had when it looked like she was going to turn him down that day in the coffee house.

            “Maybe we could just not tell her?” Clarence suggested.  She raised her eye brows at him.  Then, “Okay, that was a stupid idea.”  She nodded with a half grin.  Then Clarence had another brainstorm:  “I know someone we could ask.”

            “I thought about that too, Clare, I don’t think she’d be too happy with us calling her with silly things like this.”  Then, Cindy added the important part.  And besides, I won’t be able to show off when she comes back in a few days.” 


            Ellen laughed to herself when she heard Cindy talk about showing off, but she was really concerned about what Clarence was saying.  She looked at the phone in her paw and clutched it tighter.  “I’m sorry Clarence,” she said to herself, “But I know I can make it easy for you, my dear.”  She walked away from the door. 

            Phone book in paw she walked upstairs and opened the door to Rodney’s study.  She sat at his desk and opened the book.  She placed the phone on one page and ran a finger down the S column.  There had to be almost 50 listings for Skunk in the Columbus area alone, but thankfully she now remembered that Cindy had Clarence’s home number on speed dial under “Stinky”.  “Knowing my luck she will be out.”  She hadn’t ever met his mother, but what Cindy told her and the little she was able to glean from Clarence, she was beginning to know it was more than a son’s contempt for a parent.  Now she knew that rules and regulations are vital in the upbringing of a child, but Clarence had turned out well enough for him to marry their only daughter, and for Clarence to rather face Rodney than his own mother really spelled out to Ellen the severity of his fear.

            The phone rang about three times before it was answered.  “Hello, Skunk residence, lady of the house speaking.”

            Ellen looked at the paw set.  “Lady of the house”?

            She heard a faint, “Hello?” from the paw set again and quickly placed it to her ear.

            “Hello,” she began, “sorry for the intrusion so late in the evening, but my name is Ellen -- ”  She got no further.

            “Ah yes, Clarence’s lady friend’s mother, am I correct?”  Sharon on the other end of the line was patiently waiting for a reply.

            Ellen was quite perplexed.  “Yes, how did you …?”

            “Well, I thought I would hear from you ever since I knew my son was proposing to your daughter,” she explained.  “I gather that you’re not impressed?”  Sharon was wondering how this conversation would go, would she have to suffer the slings and arrows of a disgruntled mother because of Clarence’s silliness?

            Before Ellen would comment on “how impressed” she was, she was quite curious to how she knew.  And for that matter why she let her son get so worried.  “So how …?”

            “ … did I know?” she said as if Ellen should have already guessed.

            I wish she would let me finish my sentences, no wonder Clarence never speaks!  “Well, yes …”

            “I knew ever since I found the ring in the drawer of his bedside table, he hid it in one of his socks.  I mean, what was the boy thinking!”  She began to laugh; it made Ellen chuckle too, she didn’t mean to but the image was a funny one.  Then Sharon stopped laughing.  “You still didn’t tell me why you phoned me,” she reminded Ellen.  “Are you here to keep my son away from your daughter?”

            It was now reality hit Ellen:  Sharon really did think her son wasn’t good enough.  Now if this was for Cindy or just in general wasn’t clear.  Something else flashed through her mind:  how does one tell a mother that their son is scared to even tell her the news of his own eventual marriage?

            “The opposite really,” Ellen told Sharon.  “I’m just worried about him that’s all, Sharon.”

            “Why … why would you be worried about my Clarence?”  Her voice was a mix of her own worry and suspicion.

            “Well,” she explained, “he was able to look my husband in the eyes and asked for my daughters paw.”  More or less.  “But the moment he came back upstairs he was worried about what you would say to him when he tells you the news … he’s scared of you, Sharon … he’s scared you’ll be disappointed in him.”

            Sharon couldn’t believe her ears.  “And why would I be disappointed?  That makes no sense, I think Cindy is a lovely girl.  At least he found someone educated and respectable and not one of those girls he works with in that … that place!” 

            This surprised Ellen too.  Clarence had always said he never told her because he knew how she would react.  It bothered Clarence too, he had told Cindy that it was the only time he had ever lied to her.  “Ah … oh … so you do know about his involvement with … oh what’s her name?”

            “Zig Zag … Oh yes I’ve had the dubious pleasure of her company for lunch, after I found out who was paying his wage I nearly exploded.”

            “Well, that’s understandable.”  And predictable.

            “Well,” she went on to say, “against my better judgment I called that den of inequity, and I was invited to lunch by his boss.  She was very reassuring of course, and told me exactly his roles in her … “line of work” as it were.”  Sharon paused to take a breath.  She moved the phone receiver from one ear to the other.  “She was very convincing she even gave me a free videotape.”  She went quiet for a second.  “Among other things.”

            Ellen had heard stories about the porn queen Clarence worked for, and imagining the juxtaposition between his mother and her was probably one for a fly on the wall situation.  “You’re a braver woman than I, Sharon,” Ellen said, “Cindy’s friend Sabrina told me about her … erm, ‘interests’ …”

            “Yes well let’s leave it at that; after all, what kind of a mother would I be if I didn’t even know who was paying my only son’s wage.”  Sharon could feel the short white hairs on the back of her neck sticking up.  “Yes, that Sabrina has a lot to answer for; Clarence would have followed her to the end of the earth, although that’s not how he got the job … who would have thought my son beat a mugger, apparently someone took this Zig Zag’s handbag and Clarence got it back.  Too much like his father.”

            Ellen blinked her eyes several times.  “Clarence did what??” she asked incredulously.  “He didn’t say that’s how he got the job.”

            “He didn’t tell anyone.”  Sharon had a slight sigh in her voice.  “I’m sorry, I have totally gone off the reason you called me … it’s just I don’t get to talk to many people anymore.”

            Ellen nodded her head.  “I understand, Sharon,” she replied.  “Well, it looks like you and I are going to be a lot closer now anyway.”

            Sharon smirked but maintained her outer demeanor, what was left of it.  “Yes, you’re stuck with me now I gather,” she told Ellen.  “And you’re totally sure you will allow your daughter to marry my son?” 

            “Sharon,” Ellen told her, “if I didn’t think your son was the best man Cindy ever met, I would never have phoned you.”

            This conversation gave Sharon Skunk a reason to pause and reflect.  She had been strict with Clarence all of his life.  To her, she felt it would make him a stronger individual, able to stand on his own two hindpaws and become a fur people would respect and admire.  Instead, it now appeared to her that the opposite had occurred.  And it didn’t make her feel proud anymore, she felt … ashamed.  This reflected in her voice as she spoke to her future in-law.

            “Well,” she said after a sigh, “it looks like I have to tell my son not to be scared of me, don’t I?”  She felt her shoulders slump in her chair.  “I can’t believe I’ve been so hard on him; I just wanted to make sure he was a respectable fur who would do right for people … my little boy just grew up too fast for me.”

            The slight crack in her voice nearly set Ellen off as well, “You did a wonderful job by Clarence,” Ellen assured her.  “Sharon, considering what you had to go through to bring him up you could not have prayed for a better son.”

            “Then I must thank you too, of course.”  Sharon said getting closer and closer to losing control completely.  “Thank you for raising a daughter that fell in love with my lonely little boy.  Ever since he met her he seems more and more confident.  I never knew what he would grow up like, having no male influence must have been hard on him, I realize that.”  She paused.  “And after what you said about me today I’m surprised he even had the nerve to ask her … I feel ashamed that I did this to my own son.”

            Ellen shook her head.  “You’ve done nothing wrong, Sharon,” she assured her.  “He turned out just fine, believe me.  I’ll tell him that you know, okay?”

            Sharon sat up.  “No,” she said quickly.  “No, he must not know that you called me.  He must tell me himself.  Goodbye Ellen, I hope we can talk soon.  Merry Christmas.”  Before Ellen could say anything else the phone clicked off and the tone came across the pawset.  Quietly she put it on the table.  After all the information she had to process in such a small time one thing crashed her train of thought:  Clarence is going to be in for a hard night, that poor boy.  She put her paw to her mouth in further realization.  Have I taken to him that much I just phoned his mother!?


            Back downstairs Clarence and Cindy were still sitting on the couch.  Cindy was stoking his leg lightly for reassurance.  He had been quiet for around five minutes now, not saying a word, just slowly breathing and with his eyes closed.  She had tried to talk to him, casually trying to get him to just forget about it for just a few minutes; this of course had been fruitless. 

            “I better go, hadn’t I …” Finally he turned into her hug and with a sigh he hugged her back.

            “I wish you didn’t have to, I want you to stay, it’s Christmas Eve after all!  We could stay up and try and capture Santa together!”  She giggled and that in turn made Clarence laugh, which relieved Cindy to hear.

            “Okay,” he said, “I’ll get a net and you can get the chloroform, that way we can have all his gifts!”  He jumped up like a spring.  “Only thing is if I was to stay the night … which I really want to do, I wouldn’t be up waiting for Santa, I would be asleep waiting for the dawn; I’ve already received the greatest gift I could have ever wished for.”  He extended his arm and opened his paw towards Cindy, she placed hers in and Clarence closed his paw gently around it.

            She got up and Clarence placed his other paw behind Cindy’s back and pulled her slowly toward himself.  She looked up into his eyes, a new skunk stood in front of her; Clarence Spencer Skunk wasn’t just the male she fell in love with anymore; he was her husband to be.  She cuddled up to him.  “Merry Christmas, Clarence.  You don’t know how happy you have made me tonight.”

            Clarence smiled and looked down at Cindy against his chest.  He blew lightly into her hair, she responded by looking up and kissing him.  “Cindy, seeing you happy and knowing that you said yes to me tonight makes me the luckiest skunk alive … but I must go, I must go and face the music.”  Cindy nodded, a tear ran down the side of her cheekruff.  Clarence tilted his head and kissed it off, “I love you.”

            Before Cindy could reply he had broken out of the hug and gone into the hall.  She stood in the doorway from the living room and watched him put on his coat and straighten his tie.  She saw her mother’s feet appear walking slowly down the stairs.

            “Take care on the road, Clarence. I don’t want you having an accident tonight of all nights.”  Ellen smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

            Cindy watched curiously as he turned and smiled at her mother, she couldn’t have imagined he would have been able to do that, even a few weeks ago.  “Yes Mrs. Lapine.  I better had; mother will be waiting up for me, and I need to tell her my good news.”

            “Clarence, please call me Ellen, I would like that considering today.”  She walked over to Cindy.  “Goodnight, Clarence.”
            He turned to Cindy, rolling his shoulders back and standing straight.  “Whatever may happen tonight,” he told her, “remember that I love you Cindy, and thank you for saying yes to me.  I can’t wait f-for the day I say I d-do.  Merry Christmas to you all.”

            With that he was gone, through the front door and out into the snow.  Cindy ran to the door but Ellen grabbed her.  “Don’t,” she told her gently.  “He needs to do this alone, young one.”  Cindy writhed in her arms crying.  “Susssh, calm down, Cynthia.”  She stroked the back of her head like only a mother knows how.  “It’s going to be alright.”

            “B-but wh-wh-why did he leave like that, he-he didn’t e-even kiss m-m-me goodbye!”  Cindy was fighting to say the words between catching her breath because of the crying.

            Her mother led her to the couch and sat her down.  She sat next to her, gave her a tissue and took a deep breath.  “Cynthia,” she began slowly, “firstly he needed to go the way he did because if he didn’t, he would never be able to confront his mother.  I’ve seen the face he wore before, but only once and it was along time ago, but I knew I had to stop you from holding him up.”  She breathed out, Cindy was still wiping her eyes and was trembling with exertion.  But she was listening with an intensity not even she knew she could muster.

            “Wh-who was it?” she asked, placing a paw on her mothers leg.

            Ellen looked into her large wet eyes and smiled.  “Oh, I’ll get to that in a minute.”  She patted her daughters paw.  “Just don’t be angry at Clarence, he needed to do it; he loves you so much I can tell that, don’t think because he left the way he did he loves you any less, just he needed to go.  Things will be so much better for you now.”

            Cindy gave her mother a quizzical look.  “But …”

            Ellen laughed.  “How do I know?”  Cindy nodded.  “Because that was me in the hallway crying my heart out in the dark all alone.”

            Rodney came into the living room and sat with them, sandwiching Cindy between himself and his wife.  He put an arm around Cindy and kissed Ellen.  “I think I’ll tell this part of the story.”

            Ellen gave him a smirk.

            “I proposed to your mother at totally the wrong time, during a dinner party that her family had set up for a reunion of some cousins or something; let’s just say I thought it would have been romantic, her mother didn’t.”

            “My mother threw him out,” she said, half laughing-half sadly.  Going back to that night brought back so many memories, good and bad. 

            Cindy gasped and put her paw to her mouth out of reflex.  “But Granny and Dad always are having fun together.”

            “Yes, now they love each other.” Ellen said with a nod.

            “But back then,” Rodney started, “It was very different.”

            Cindy turned her head back.  Ellen continued.  “When he left I ran out after him.  We drove to his place.”

            “I didn’t want her mother to think poorly of her, or me,” Rodney said as he relived the experience.  “So I stormed back out and drove back to your grandmother’s.”

            And back again.  “They had a long talk about what and how he intended to care for me, but I was in the hallway crying for over an hour.  I didn’t think I would ever see him again.  I didn’t know where he went!”

            “But I came back and I had sorted out everything with her family.  They were thankful I came back and didn’t run off with Ellen … I mean your mother.”  At this point Cindy’s headache was getting out of control.  But the insight to her past and heritage was something she never even thought would be told, not like this anyway. 

            “Clarence is so much like your father it’s spooky, everything will be just fine, don’t you worry.  Just look how your father turned out!”  Cindy looked at him and laughed; he was blushing the same way her Clarence did.  Ellen leaned over and kissed him.  “That’s why I was so happy when I found out about him, that’s why I took to him so well and that’s why I helped him by calling his mother.”

            “YOU DID WHAT!” Cindy jumped up.  

            “Cynthia, please sit down, she already knew Clarence was proposing to you.  She found the ring, she just didn’t tell Clarence that.  Also ...”  She went quiet; she had said too much.  She tried to continue her line in another way; she promised Sharon she would not let anyone know she knew about Clarence’s job.  “Also, she thinks you are the right girl for him, too.”

            Cindy sat back down with a huff.  “Didn’t get that feeling when I was there,” she said in an insulted tone.  “She kept looking at me like I was trash, she kept asking me these questions, ones I either didn’t know an answer to or didn’t want her to know, made me feel so small.”  She began to cry lightly again.

            Both her Mom and Dad hugged her.  “There is one thing I haven’t gotten out of all this drama,” Ellen finally asked, “Why do you have Clarence under ‘Stinky’ for the speed dial?”

            Cindy looked at her and giggled, “Well …”


            Outside the snow had fallen quite a lot in the time Clarence was in the Lapine house.  It surprised him as he ran out that he couldn’t see his feet under the level of the snow.   “If it wasn’t for Christmas,” he said aloud, “I would really hate this time of year.”  He looked at the clear sky and his breath floating into the cosmos.  He stopped and looked over his shoulder.  “I hope Cindy is okay.”  He found himself saying that more and more the closer he got to her, and now being one step behind marriage coupled with the way he left her, he felt more anxious about what Cindy felt about him than his mother.

            He got to the car and opened the door, sat in his seat and closed the door.  With a tear in his eye he took one last look at Cindy’s front door just in case she did come out.  After a minute or two of quietly waiting he put the key in the ignition.  He looked at himself in the rear view mirror, and with a nod to himself he turned the key.

            Clarence drove away from the sidewalk and made his way home.  He felt lonely and wanted something to clear his head, so reaching over to the passenger seat he picked up his favorite CD and put it on, skipping the first two tracks he came to the one he never understood until he started to date Cindy, and he even sang along.

            “I really do need her love, don’t I!”  His reflection seemed to agree.  “I just wish the song wouldn’t end so quickly.”

            He came to a crossroad as the next song started.  His favorite track on the CD; one that reminded him every time about his own life, a song that starts off sad but ends with a wedding.  Something in the song made him slow down even more, a line in the song the day the song character proposes to his love, the song said it was a Friday.

            “Oh, boy.”  Looking at his wristwatch the dial on it said ‘FRI 24’.  “That’s it.  I’ve listened to this song way to often, it must be telling me to do it on a Friday.”  Clarence chuckled to himself, but the laughter slowly faded away as he turned onto his own street.  Now he wore the same determined face he did when he left the Lapine household.


            Cindy sat on her bed with a cup of tea; she was looking out of the window at the snow.  She was thinking over everything that had gone on today; it was, she felt, too much to have happened for one day.  She also knew that for Clarence, it hadn’t ended and that’s what saddened her the most.  She was here and not with him to face his fear, a fear instilled and manifested by his mother.

            “How are you feeling now Cindy?”  Rodney came and sat on her bed next to her.  “Anything good on the window?  I hear that the snow is going to have a good season this year if they can work on their defense.”

            Cindy looked at him.  “Daddy, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a nut!”  She smiled and giggled.  “Thank you Daddy, I needed a laugh.”

            Rodney cuddled her.  “I know it’s hard waiting for him like this, but please don’t stay up here all night alone.  It is Christmas after all, and our family was just gifted with a new member.”  He kissed her and got up.

            As he got to the door Cindy turned around on her bed.  “I just want to be with him right now, who knows what he’s going through, I … I just need him here, Dad.”

            Rodney felt his daughter’s pain.  With a warm loving smile he nodded his head.  “I know, I know.  But neither of us can change how it’ll turn out.  We just have to wait for now.  Please come down soon, your mother needs you too.”  He smiled and walked to the stairs.

            Cindy drank the last of her now cold tea and stood up.  She brushed her hair and drew one of the curtains.  “I love you, my skunk, good luck.”  And she drew the other, blocking out the street light and the snow.


            Pulling into his driveway Clarence parked next to his mother’s car.  He saw that the living room light was on, thus meaning his mother had indeed waited for him to come back home as he predicted she would, but also meant that he really did have to face her tonight.

            He rang the doorbell but no one answered.  He stood there looking at the door for a few minutes before he resigned himself to the fact he would have to use his key.  Once inside he took off his coat and hung it on a hook bolted to the stair banister; it still had “Clarence” written above it in nice friendly letters, he always said that he would take that down one day but he knew it would never happen; it was one of those things that had always been and one that would always be.

            “Mom, are you still up?” Then he remembered the time.  “Merry Christmas, Mom!”  He was waiting for her to say he was late but it never came.  He took a few steps further inside.  “Mom, you okay in there?”  He held his breath and moved to the door.  

            “Yes, Clarence … Yes I am fine, I’m in the living room.”  Clarence exhaled with relief.  “Please come here,” she called to him, “I have something to talk to you about.”

            “Yes Mother, so do I.”  He opened the door to the living room area to find his mother with old photographs strewn across the floor, some old, like the embarrassing baby photos of him with a cooking pot on his head, others he had not seen before, ones taken of his mom and dad before him, before any of this.

            Sharon looked up and acknowledged her son before turning back to the piles she’d made on the floor.  “Your father, every Christmas Eve, would drive home from work two hours early and buy me six roses, and in the middle of the bunch would be a carnation, one for every eve we spent loving together.”  It was obvious to even Clarence she had been crying to herself.

            “Mom I …” he took a step closer to her.

            “I never meant to hurt you Clarence.”  She looked at him and smiled a sad smile.  “You grew up to fast for me, I can’t believe you’re no longer my little boy that needs his Mother.  I just didn’t want to lose the only other man in my life.”  A tear ran down her cheek over the top of her black fur and dropped onto the photograph.

            Clarence couldn’t remember the last time he saw his mother like this.  He walked into the living room.  “Mom, what’s wrong?” he asked.  “I’m not going anywhere!”  He sat down next to her and she cuddled up to him.  She was shaking slightly.

            “I’m proud of you Clarence, have I ever said that to you?”

            “W … Well, erm … ”  He looked to the ground.  “No,” he said meekly.  He didn’t know how long he longed to hear her say that to him.

            She shuffled through a small pile she had made, found the picture she had intended to find all along, the one that had caused her to bring her entire collection down.  “You know you have your father’s eyes, they lit up when he smiled just like yours.”  Clarence remembered Cindy saying how she liked his eyes when he smiled.  He didn’t really understand what she meant until now.

            Thinking about Cindy made his mind poke him into action.  “Mom, we really need to talk.”  He looked at the wooden floor.  “I have something im-important to t-tell you.”

            Sharon now knew how hard it was for Clarence to be saying this to her.  It was his next step in life, he had to be able to tell her if he was to proceed.  “It’s okay Clarence,” she said to him in a comforting voice she hadn’t used on him in … years.  “Take your time, we have until Christmas.”  She laughed, seeing that for them it already was.

            Clarence sighed, took a deep breath and turned to face his mother in the nose.  “I asked Cindy if she would do me the honor of marrying me in the future.”

            Sharon gave a nod.  “Did she?” she asked.  Clarence didn’t answer right away, as if he was miles away.  She asked again by giving him a gesture to prompt him.

            “OH!  Oh, yes she accepted.”  He gave a false laugh again.

            “I was beginning to wonder, Clarence.”  She actually wore a smile; in certain respects he always thought her smile was particularly sinister, this didn’t help much to Clarence but at least she wasn’t crying on him, telling him what a fool he was being getting married.  He could feel his insides knotting.

            Slowly he turned back to look at her, as he did the tears began to run down her face again.  Suddenly she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tightly.  “I’m so proud of you my darling boy!”  This was definitely a different side of his mother Clarence had never seen before.  This was what she was like with his father, he thought; her stern demeanor came from losing her husband, and he began to fit the pieces together.   

            “I love you too, Mom, I really do … thank you, I don’t know what I would have done if you didn’t like Cindy.  “I love her Mom, and not even you could change the way I feel about her.”

            Clarence babbled everything out at once.  Emotions took over and drove both of them at this point.  It was a day long overdue for both of them.

            “She’s a lucky girl to have someone like you loving and protecting her, don’t ever let her down or make her sad, my boy.”  She slipped her arms away slowly, reaching for taking a sip of her own cup of cold tea.

            Clarence shook his head.  “Mom, it’s me who is lucky.  Without her, I’d still be stuck wishing my life away for dreams that would never come true.  She showed me love is a thing to share.”  He bit his lip; he actually made himself feel bad with that.  “Not to waste time in a one way street.”

            Sharon rubbed her paw up and down her son’s right leg.  “Sabrina is the foolish one,” she said out of the blue.  “She should have stayed with you, but I’m your Mother and I won’t speak ill of other people, that’s not proper.”  She looked away for a moment toward the window, and smiled at her reflection.  Knowing how much he had changed with Cindy, anyone could see the difference even after their first ‘encounter’.

            “H-How did you know I was talking about Sa … her?”  He couldn’t even say her name without lighting old feelings and fantasies.

            “Because there was a time you wouldn’t stop telling me how wonderful she was,” Sharon told him, “about how talented and accomplished she was, and look at her now, struggling to hold down two jobs in two different states, living with a man she found on the Internet.  That’s not intelligent if you ask me Clarence, it’s very strange!”  She softened her voice.  “Go look in the top drawer in the cabinet.”

            Clarence got up and obeyed his mother’s request.  In the oak cabinet that housed various curios made of china and gold and under a pile of tablecloths was a large portrait photograph framed of Cindy; it was one he had taken not to long after he acquired a new camera. 

            “I think that deserves a spot on the fireplace, now don’t you think Clarence?”  She placed a paw on his shoulder; she knew he was crying and she could understand why as well.  His bride-to-be looked marvelous in the picture.

            He turned his head, his own cheekruffs soaked.  “You mean … how, did you know??”

            “Yes, of course I accept her as my daughter,” she replied to the unasked question.  “You could do a lot worse.  And I’m your mother Clarence, there’s not much you can hide without me knowing.”  It was a back-pawed comment but it was the best he could hope from his mother.

            The Skunk family fireplace photo gallery had every member of Clarence’s immediate family in it from him to his great grandfather Patrick Skunk who lived to one-hundred-six, passing away only a few years ago.  To be included on the fireplace was to be accepted into the clan.  It was what Clarence hoped for Cindy one day, but not in a million years did he think it would be so soon.

            She didn’t look as out of place as you’d think, there weren’t only skunks on the mantle, there were raccoons too; having a rabbit seemed to make it even nicer.  Sharon took the picture and moved her own so that it could be placed quite rightly next to Clarence’s.  There they both sat, flanked on his side by his father and Cindy by his mother.

            “Go and call her,” Sharon told her son, “Tell her everything is okay and wish her a very Merry Christmas from me too.”  Clarence nodded.  “I’m going to sleep now, okay, don’t stay up any later than you have to on the phone and don’t eat any of the cookies on the dining table, there’s twenty-six, I counted.”  She kissed him good night and left.

            Well, she hasn’t changed totally I guess.  Clarence felt his tummy rumble when she spoke of cookies but now didn’t dare take one.  He picked up the phone and fixed himself a glass of milk.

            The phone only rang twice before it was picked up.  Clarence hated the idea of calling someone so early in the morning, especially on Christmas, but he needed to hear Cindy was okay and to tell her they would one day be Husband and Wife.

            “Hello Cindy.”  He spoke with determination and pride

            “Clarence?” Cindy rolled her eyes.  Who else would be calling you at 1:30 in the morning?  DUH!   

            “I love you, Cindy,” Clarence beamed over the phone.  Everything is fine, Mom accepts our plan, my …”  He stopped; he wanted to say it and needed to say it. 

            “OH CLARENCE, I LOVE YOU, MY HUSBAND-TO-BE!”  Cindy jumped at her own statement, that and the volume she used; she blushed to herself thinking what Clarence would say next after that.

           “Merry Christmas my wife-to-be.  I love you.”  It was all he needed to say.

End of Chapter 54
This way to Chapter 55