a story by
(c) 1999 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Tabitha, Sabrina the Skunkette, and Amy the Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Cindy Lapine, Clarence Skunk, and Wendy Vixxen (c) Chris Yost. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story conceived by Mark White. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Yost and Eric Schwartz.Amiga (TM) Gateway Computers.
The young rabbit doe busied herself in the back of the florist shop, filling her phone orders. It wasn't a warm day, it was hot; not good for the flowers generally. Thankfully the central air conditioning system managed to keep up with it.
She was on tiptoes reaching for a vase on an upper shelf when the doorchime told her she had a customer. She checked her appearance in the mirror and picked the swathe of blonde hair out of her eyes, then ran out to the counter.
Her customer was a lady skunk, very trim and very stylishly dressed; the skirt of her outfit was short but not too short, the neckline plunged just far enough, her white ponytail was formed with a golden ring and it hung just past her shoulders. Her fur was expertly groomed and shimmered in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows.
This woman should be having flowers bought for her! the doe thought to herself. She walked around the counter up to the customer. "Good morning," she said with a bright smile. "How can I help you today?"
The skunk turned and flashed a beautiful smile. "Yes," she said, her voice soft, her blue eyes wide, "I'm here to pick up an order I placed yesterday."
"The name?" the rabbit asked.
"Tabitha," she was told. "I didn't use my last name because no one's ever been able to spell it."
The rabbit laughed. "I can't spell anyway," she said, "that's why I work here; 'say it with flowers' means you don't have to know how to spell."
As she turned and walked to the cooler, Tabitha looked at a poster on the wall behind the counter. "Gee, advertising Christmas already?" she said.
"Yeah, they get earlier and earlier every year." She retrieved a long box.
"I know, but for 2031?! That's next year!"
The doe looked up quickly at the sign, then back at Tabitha and giggled, bringing the box to the counter. Tabitha shrugged and grinned. "I can't help it," she explained, "I inherited my sense of humor from my brother-in-law."
"That's a good trick!" She scanned the microdot on the end of the box. "Would you like a card for them?" she asked.
Tabitha shook her head, her smile not as big this time. "No, thanks," she said, turning the corners of her mouth up full again. "The owner has my name on account, would you add these to it, please?"
"I sure will." She made out the bill and Tabitha signed for them. And with a smile and a toss of her ponytail over her shoulder, Tabitha took her purchase and walked back into the summer heat. She moved quickly, the sidewalk hot under her feet. As she approached her sport utility vehicle she could hear the faint tone of her car video phone demanding attention. Shaking her head she shifted the flowers to the other arm and opened her purse, took her encoded card and slid it into the reader on the driver's side. The door raised over her head, allowing Tabitha put the flowers behind the seat, then slipped inside.
She turned the screen on and sighed, shaking her head when she recognized from where the message came. She closed the door and pressed the Connect button on the overhead console. A face of a young raccoon with big glasses nearly filled the screen.
Tabitha grinned … Let's have some fun, shall we? she thought.
"Thank you for calling Tabitha's Sex Line. I'm afraid I'm not in at the moment; please relieve your frustrations with the box of tissues in the Men's Room. Thank you for calling."
And she quickly disconnected, but couldn't help but giggle at the open-mouthed expression the young raccoon made when she started talking.
"I take Tuesdays off for a reason, doofus," she told the video screen, "and they're not so work can call me." Tabitha started the engine and, turning on her left signal, steered out into traffic. This particular Tuesday was special.
Tabitha knelt in the grass. Her long fingers traced the rectangular brass outline set into the ground, clearing it of leaves and grass that had overgrown the edges. The maintenance crew kept everything immaculately groomed, but her eye to detail was keener than most. She brushed the plaque with the back of her fingers and leaned over it to unlock and remove the brass vase. She turned it over and reset the vase in its base. Opening the box beside her she removed several red and white carnations and arranged them as prettily as she could inside. Then a few red roses among them, and enough water from a small bottle to keep them alive for a day or two. That had been the favorite, ever since that first date with him and he'd sent them to her, the roses he'd included to commemorate one extra week of dating.
Tabitha felt her eyes burn, they always did when she came here. Kneeling back on her ankles she said her silent prayer. Opening her eyes, she wiped them again. She rearranged the flowers. I'm too fussy, she thought, and she was, picking the two blades of grass from the middle of the O in the surname FOXX embossed in large letters in the center. And out of habit, she read over the name on the sole occupied side:
She hadn't turned 18 yet when the tragedy happened. She only remembered her brother-in-law and her younger nephew and how crushed they were. She thought the marriage was a match made in Heaven … and that's exactly where it had ended up. It was only ten years and a scant few months after their wedding; Sabrina wound up in a ditch from a severe snowstorm that had crippled the city … it had also taken her life.
Now, 19 years later, as a scientist, Tabitha has everything developed in her mind to keep that tragedy from happening … she hopes. Theories for travelling into the past have not been proven one hundred percent reliable; that's what she and the team she worked with were working on correcting. But she was willing to risk it for her sister and the love of her life, the man who loved her with all his heart and soul.
Tabitha placed an open paw over the right side of the marker, over Sabrina's name. She sniffled. "We all miss you, sis." She fought that burning in her eyes again. She looked back over each shoulder, making sure she was alone, then back at the grave. "We'll see you again … I promise." Tabitha dried her eyes once more, rolled back on the balls of her feet and stood, taking one final look at the bronze marker. She glanced at her wristwatch. "Still plenty of time," she said aloud, and made her way back to her car.
Finding a good parking space in the middle of the week was always easy. Tabitha slid easily into one two spots down from the front doorway and shut the engine off.
Tabitha sighed quietly. This place was a bit too sanitary for her taste, but it was the best. She had always kept in close touch with Chris after that fatal day; now, these days, she takes care of him. Any time she came by to visit she learned more about her sister, things she had forgotten or never knew. It's amazing how we never want to talk about ourselves, she thought, we live our lives and experience such amazing things, but when we go we take them with us, and there's no more stories for anyone to tell. She loved family stories. So did Chris, and he delighted in telling them. They had been so close for so many years; when she was little, he was her big brother. Later, she came to think of him as her second dad, especially when her own father had passed away. He had always treated her that way, and where most families would simply drift apart Tabitha made sure she, Chris, and their son Alan stayed in touch. That was important to her.
So many good memories, and sad ones as well. It was unfortunate that he never found someone else. He deserved another chance to feel the same way he felt with her sister. Life could be so very cruel, but she hoped she could change things.
Tabitha locked her SUV. As she walked toward the sliding glass doors she touched the highest point of the doorway she could reach. She began to think harder about what she had in mind … again. So many variables … so many consequences … I'm not so sure now that this is such a good idea anymore. As she walked, she counted her footsteps from her car in groups of four, up to twenty, then started again.
She approached the main desk.
"Hi, Elise," she said to the fox behind the counter where she signed herself in, "It's nice to see you again."
The woman looked up with a smile across her face. "Tabitha! It's nice to see you again, too." She leaned in closer and pointed toward the courtyard door. "He's outside," she told her. "Today was such a nice day, I thought it would do him a world of good."
"Ah, you're the best. I don't know what I'd do without you."
The vixen smiled, and Tabitha proceeded outside, again touching the doorway at her highest reach. She passed through the courtyard to the larger grounds in back. It didn't take much looking; she found Chris solely occupying a wooden bench beneath a willow tree reading a book, and apparently absorbed in it. Quietly she padded up behind him and announced her presence.
"Hi, Pop!" she exclaimed.
An older fox with a white face and greying fur looked up from his book and smiled wide. "Hi there, you!" he said as he closed his book. "What brings you to these parts?" he asked her. "Certainly it wouldn't be li'l old me."
"Of course it is, silly," Tabitha said as she came around to the front. "How many sexy senior citizens do I know?"
Chris surveyed the grounds and grinned. "Well, I know a whole mess of jealous ones," he told her. "Everytime you come here I get a new one asking who that sexy young lady is. I just tell them you're my mistress." And he winked at her.
"Hmmmmmmmm." Tabitha teasingly furrowed her eyebrows. "I guess that's a good rumor to live up to." She bent over and kissed him on the cheek, he set his book on the other side to make room for her to sit down. "How are you feeling today?" she asked.
Chris nodded slowly. "Not bad. The nurse said it was nice outside and she certainly was right. I'm glad I came out."
Tabitha looked out at the other residents walking or sitting about the grounds. "It looks like you're not the only one," she said to him.
Together they watched the various species of seasoned citizens as they sat, or moved about under their own power or someone else's. One elder wombat was making friends with some ducks that swam about the large pond, throwing them bits of toast he'd smuggled from the dining room at breakfast.
"It's something, y'know," Chris said, pointing to the others. "There's something like, oh, maybe 60 people here, residents and staff combined. And I can almost count on the fingers of one paw how many know each other. I've only been here five months and I maybe know, what, two? Have you ever seen a bigger bunch of lonely people in your life?"
Tabitha felt her eyes open a bit wider. When people looked at the big picture, Chris always liked to look at the detail behind it. She felt a whisker twinge as she thought about it … he was right. So many people, so few actually together and visiting. She didn't stop to think that Chris was also one of them.
"I saw the doctor yesterday," Chris went on. "He says I should be going home next week."
"Fantastic!" Tabitha smiled. "You know, you're always welcome to come stay with me."
Chris smiled warmly and placed a fatherly paw on her thigh. "No," he said, shaking his head. "You're a young woman, you need your privacy. I don't want to be a burden to anyone."
"A burden? You? I don't think so!"
Chris shrugged and grinned. "My grandmother used to say that when I was a cub. I'm coming to the age where I have to learn to say it with conviction."
Tabitha laughed. "I love coming out to see you," she said, squeezing his paw with hers.
"It's a shame you're so busy, you could do it more often." Chris pointed across to the ocelot being pushed in the wheelchair by the young feline volunteer. "Franc over there has a son about your age. You two might hit it off."
"So, how is your work going?" he asked, reclaiming his hand and folding it with his other on his lap.
Chris knew he was talking to a brick wall when it came to Tabitha's work. "Pop, you know I can't talk about that! I have to keep my mouth shut about going to the bathroom!"
"I know," Chris said with a cub-like grin, "I like to try. All of this top-secret cloak and dagger stuff you do … you should just tell everyone you sell greeting cards and leave it at that."
Tabitha laughed for a moment. It died quickly though. She so wanted to tell him everything: what she did, what she wanted, what she'd schemed since she was at MIT it seemed. What she's done nothing but think about daily for the past several months, sometimes as she laid awake in her bed, hands behind her head, so often she learned to think only of what she wanted and not her motivation behind it. Everything. Especially after her visit to her sister's gravesite.
Tabitha looked quickly, nervously, over both shoulders. She suppressed a tiny shiver, leaned in closer, and lowered her voice some. "Well, things are complete and testing's begun on a new transportation system that we're hopeful … " She felt that shiver again. " … If all goes well things could change, and rapidly."
She leaned back against the back of the bench, hiding her sigh the best she could. She smiled also, hoping to keep Chris and herself at ease.
Chris sat bolt upright. "A new form of transportation?? What kinda thing are we talking about here?"
Tabitha leaned in again. "Well, I can't say for now," she explained. "But when I get closer to getting things working, then maybe I'll be able to tell you more."
Chris furrowed his brow and groooooowled low; not mad at Tabitha, but trying his best to be as threatening as he was in his dim and distant youth. "I hate it when you only give me bits of things."
"I know," Tabitha said with a teasing smile, "but you're used to it by now, I'm sure."
He sighed and nodded.
Tabitha needed to change the subject, and quick! "Say, what do you think about getting out of here for the day? We can end up back at my apartment for dinner. Waddaya say?"
Chris grinned. "Home cooking …. I dunno Tab, it's not nice to spoil an old fox, now!"
Tabitha reached up and rubbed her paw briskly over Chris' hair. "'Old', never! 'Fox', yeah, I think you could say that." She stood up and offered her hand. "Come on, Pop, lemme spoil you."
"How can I resist such a pretty young lady." Chris smiled and let Tabitha help him stand, clutching his book. Chris crooked his arm, and Tabitha slipped her arm through it as they walked to the main building to sign Chris out.
"Turn right here, would you please, Tabitha?"
"Sure." Tabitha steered them where Chris has asked. She wasn't paying attention, and it wasn't until they approached the gate to the cemetery that she understood why he wanted to come this way.
She should have known.
"I've been kind of negligent these past few months," he said to Tabitha as she turned in for her second visit. "It's past time I came by."
Tabitha didn't say anything as she navigated the narrow driveways through the hundreds of plots. Finally she arrived where she had earlier parked. Pulling on the brake she looked at Chris … his chest was moving a little faster, his green eyes were distant, very distant. Glancing behind his seat she could see his tail wasn't moving at all.
She placed her paw on his leg. "Please don't upset yourself," she pleaded. "It won't help, you know."
Chris heaved a very heavy sigh, hoping to stop his eyes watering. "I know." He had to force every word. "But I miss her."
Tabitha was feeling the sorrow build in her again. "We both do, Chris. But it won't bring her back. Try to think of happy thoughts, these memories put such a strain on your system."
He didn't listen, he just fiddled with the door panel. "How do you open this?"
Reaching to the overhead console, Tabitha tripped the two switches that allowed both front doors to rise. Chris used his walking stick to help his getting out. With Tabitha close behind, Chris took a measured slow pace to where Tabitha had earlier arranged the carnations and roses.
They're beautiful, Tabby," he said. "Absolutely beautiful."
Tabitha kept it to herself, but Chris was the only one alive she allowed to call her "Tabby"; she hated that nickname! When she was growing up she liked being with Sabrina and people calling them "Sabby and Tabby" … after she turned 12 and started discovering boys, she couldn't stand it!
She watched Chris look down at the plot, and kneel down. Her eyes watered just as his did. She matched him tear for tear, and the longer she watched, the worse it got. Chris was sobbing, reliving everything that had happened 19 years ago.
Tabitha quietly moved closer. She saw in his eyes the love for her sister … the consequences, the responsibilities for making the decisions, the thousands of variables and things that could go wrong if I do …
The love light and sorrow in Chris' eyes convinced her. Consequences be damned … it's time to change the past and let the heavens cry havoc!