a story by
(c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Chris Yost and James Bruner. Chapter 1 (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, Wendy Vixxen, and Calvin (c) Chris Yost. Character Mark the cheetah created for Mark White. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. Character Iron Raptor (c) his player. Character Psychofrog (c) His player. The band "et al" (c) Chris Yost 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) Amiga Computers.
Now what do I do??!
Tabitha felt herself staring at Sabrina. In the span of a second and a half a plethora of emotions washed over her. Elation was the strongest. Admiration, delight and especially relief were also included but elation was definitely outweighing it all.
Tabitha tried to form her sister's name but the connection between her brain and her mouth wasn't cooperating. Tabitha imagined that she was beginning to look foolish, or at the least, confused. Sabrina was here, alive and in person -- alive! All Tabitha wanted to do was embrace her sister and hug her, crying tears of happiness.
With great effort, Tabitha regained control of her emotions. She knew that crying would be the worst thing she could do.
Sabrina was starting to feel awkward. “Hi. Mary?” she ventured, not sounding sure of herself.
The spell was broken and Tabitha blinked. She still could not speak and despite her best efforts, her eyes were welling up and if she didn't do something fast, she was going to lose complete control of herself.
Finally, Tabitha managed to say, “Sabrina!” She stepped over the threshold and embraced Sabrina, holding her and reminding herself of the fact that she had to play the part of a long-lost cousin. Sabrina’s arms had instinctively gone around her, and Tabitha forced herself to laugh. “I’m a hugger,” she explained. “It’s so good to see you again! It’s been such a long, long time!”
”Uh, yeah. Too long.” Sabrina wasn’t sure how to respond to a strange woman holding her this intimately. Family’s family, though, she told herself. She’s definitely from Mom’s side.
“Let me look at you!” Tabitha had to stay in character; she released Sabrina, placed her paws on her shoulders and took a step back to take her all in. Tabitha had a good inch or two in height on her sister. Aside from that, it was obvious that they were sisters. Tabitha hoped that Sabrina wouldn’t notice just how obvious.
Sabrina, in turn, had only what Tabitha had told her about a familial relationship to go on. In her mind this strange woman was family, and Sabrina was raised too well to even think of turning her away. She took a step backward and to one side. “Won’t you come in?” she offered.
Tabitha grinned despite her feelings. “Thanks.” She quickly stepped inside. There was a scent in the air; she had no idea at all what it was, but it brought back a flood of faint and broken memories from her early childhood whenever their mother would drop her off for Sabrina to baby-sit. She wandered in wide-eyed, turning and looking at pictures and furniture and the knick-knacks that she’d completely forgotten about.
Sabrina, who watched as she closed the door, thought that her cousin was easily entertained.
“What a great apartment,” Tabitha told Sabrina, hoping to break the ice.
“Thanks,” Sabrina said with a depressed sigh she tried to hide from her guest. “I share it with a girlfriend; it’s actually her apartment, she’s just nice enough to share it with me.”
“Oh.” Tabitha remembered Amy, the blonde squirrel. They hadn’t seen each other since a few years after Sabrina’s funeral. “Where is she now?” Tabitha asked.
“She’s out with her fiancé. They’re meeting each others’ families,” Sabrina explained. “It’s been a long time in coming, too, if you ask me. She’s only been pregnant for five months, you’d think by now they’d have gone out to do this.”
“Oh, I see.” Tabitha remembered Sabrina’s roommate Amy fondly; when Sabrina’d left to live with Chris, she only saw her occasionally, but it was always very cordial, and as Tabitha grew older they’d discovered they had a lot more in common than they would have guessed when she was a 5-year-old hellion. As Tabitha's work had consumed her, she and Amy had grown distant.
“I’m so glad I was able to find you,” Tabitha said in an effort to change the subject. She turned, “I -- ” She saw the look on Sabrina’s muzzle, a depressed look in her eyes that had been there for quite some time. “Sabrina?” she asked, “what’s the matter?”
Sabrina waved a paw. “Oh, nothing anyone can help with,” she said dejectedly. Then, she sighed unabashedly. “I lost my job today,” she said in a tired voice.
“Oh, no!” Tabitha placed a sympathetic paw on Sabrina’s shoulder. That explains Zig Zag’s studio; she hasn’t been hired there yet! “What happened?” she asked in a tender voice.
“I dunno,” Sabrina said with a shrug. “I thought I was doing a good job. Today, they told me my position had been ‘automated’.” She raised her arms and brought them back down with a slap against her thighs. “I’m an artist,” she exclaimed. “how do you automate an artist?!”
Tabitha said without thinking, “I can’t believe they fired you. Your work is too good!”
“Well, they did.” Sabrina turned toward the couch, and Tabitha took a relieved breath; in her tirade, Sabrina hadn’t noticed her slip of the tongue. Sabrina fell backwards and landed on the couch cushion. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Please sit down and make yourself at home.”
Tabitha took a seat next to her sister. “You know what, Sab? May I call you ‘Sab’?” She waited until Sabrina nodded assent before continuing. “You need to relax and try to forget about it for a while. You'll get another job soon, you wait and see.”
Sabrina lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Maybe.”
While she feigned agreement with her, Tabitha spoke. “Come on, let me take you out; we’ll get something for dinner, and you’ll feel a whole lot better.”
Sabrina wasn’t very hungry, even though she knew she had to eat. It was a free meal, after all, but Sabrina didn't feel like going out. “Thanks Mary,” she said to Tabitha, “I appreciate the offer but I don’t really feel like going anywhere.”
“Then we can eat in,” Tabitha replied. “Pizza? Chinese? Grinders? Whatever you like!”
Sabrina lifted her head from her paw, a confused look on her face. “‘Grinders’?”
“Sorry, hoagie sandwiches. Grinders is what we called them in college.”
“Oh.” Sabrina sat back, noticing that her guest’s suggestions were making her stomach grumble. She hadn't eaten at lunch because the shock of being fired had robbed her of an appetite, but it was back now. “Chinese sounds good,” she said. She got up and went to a small table for the telephone directory and flipped through it to the Restaurants listing. “Here’s one with a menu printed.” She showed it to Tabitha.
Tabitha took the book from her sister's paws and scanned through the listing. “One from column A, one from column B, “ she mused aloud. Her finger stopped. “Moo goo gai pan,” she said. “How’s that sound?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Sabrina told her, “I have no idea what it is.”
“Trust me,” Tabitha told her, “you’ll love it.” She knew that Sabrina would love it because it was one of the things her sister liked to make after she learned how to cook. “That and some egg rolls, a bit of fried rice … grab the phone, Sab; we’ll call and you can show me your portfolio while we wait for the delivery guy.”
Sabrina nodded, still depressed. She didn't think this visit was going to cheer her up.
Chris brushed his hair for the final time and set the brush with his kit on top of the dresser. Picking up his wallet he slipped it into his back pocket and left the bedroom.
“Tabitha and Alan are right,” he finally admitted to himself. “Maybe it’s a good thing I came here to house-sit. The youngsters have a good point.” He reached for his walking stick, then decided against taking it. “After all,” he said to himself, “what woman would be interested in a todd with a cane?”
He stopped and stood in front of the door leading to the hallway to ponder what he was doing. Dating wasn’t something he was foreign to, but tonight, tonight it was for a different reason.
“Just a companion.” Chris said as he opened the door. He kept talking to himself as he walked to the elevator. “A companion isn’t too much to ask for, is it? Just someone to take out for dinner. Maybe even take in a movie or a play. Everyone keeps telling me I should get out and meet someone. Maybe that will happen tonight.”
He stopped and looked back at Tabitha’s apartment door. The home videos; his memories tugged him back. He pressed the button to call the elevator car.
“Who knows,” he said, “I may not find anyone.” He looked back at the door again and then shook his head.
“I’m almost 60. It's time to move on.”
The elevator doors opened. Chris stepped inside, and pressed the button for the lobby.
Harvey was no longer trying to pretend he was interested. He was angry at Doctor Badger for suggesting that Tabitha was up to something. Harvey thought it ludicrous that Tabitha would sabotage her own project. Added to that, Iron Raptor’s coffee was beginning to strain the capacity of his bladder. To top it all off, they had been here for well over an hour watching the same video from numerous angles.
“Richard,” Harvey said with his head firmly planted on his balled-up left paw, “I have other work to do.”
Badger was sitting on the other side of the table, studying the playback. “I really need another set of eyes here, Harvey; please bear with me.”
Harvey slammed both paws on the tabletop. “I’ve been bearing with you for this long. To think that Tabitha, of all people, would pull something underpawed -- ”
“I don’t know that she did, Harvey. Pause, I.R.” Badger stood and walked around to take the chair next to Harvey. “It’s just a feeling I have to prove wrong.”
“I have to take a break,” Harvey stated. He got out of his chair and walked briskly out of the security room and down the hall to the restroom. He banged through the door with an angry shove of his paw. “I don’t know what the hell he expects to find,” the rabbit muttered.
Chris stepped off of the condo’s courtesy shuttle bus and walked down the block for a bit until he found the address he had been looking for. He had to laugh at himself however; Me, at my age, walking into a single’s bar! Whoever would’a thunk it? But he knew this was a lot different that it was when he was young; older folks were routinely found at these places in roughly the same numbers as the ones in their early 20’s and 30’s. At least, the more exciting were; for the others, there were still the Wednesday night Bingo games at the community center.
Stepping inside, Chris was met by a very upscale atmosphere inside the club. Dimmed lighting combined with neon behind block glass lent just the right air of desperation to the Happy Hour crowd.
It was still a light crowd; from the looks of them they were mostly those who left work early and came in for an adult beverage and maybe some opposite-gender companionship. Chris made his way to the polished wood bar and put a foot up on the rail, leaning on one elbow and looking out over the small crowd.
“Hey, Pop!” greeted the young squirrel from behind the bar. “What can I get you?”
Chris removed his elbow and foot and turned around. “A new bartender,” he admonished, “one who knows his manners with the patrons.”
The squirrel’s ears and tail lowered. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, trying again, “what would you like?”
“I told you,” Chris repeated, “a new bartender. Only one person calls me “Pop”, and you aren’t her!”
“I’m sorry, mister, I didn’t mean any offense by it. Will you please, let me serve you?”
When Chris became prematurely grey in his 30’s, age-related references had always been a sensitive issue with him. “All right. G and T,” he relented. “Don’t over-ice it,” the fox warned.
“Yes sir.” The squirrel reached for a glass and began preparing the drink.
Chris turned back around and surveyed the slowly growing crowd as he removed his wallet from his hip pocket. Again, he felt that welling in the pit of his stomach; the anxiety of approaching a woman for a date. Cripes, I thought I got over all of that!
At a table halfway across the room, he saw someone he’d like to approach. A white tigress, beautiful face and fur, poured into a red and black dress that accented every curve and stripe.
The sound of a glass set on the bar behind him caught his attention. The squirrel meekly said, “Your drink, sir, no charge.”
Chris smiled. “Thank you.” He placed a tip on the bar before putting his wallet back into his pocket. He picked up his gin and tonic and turned his attention to the tigress, who was now linking paws with an equally attractive spotted leopardess poured into a white and powder blue dress.
It figures, Chris told himself. Welcome to the 21st century. He took a sip of his drink, and quickly discovered just how sorry that bartender had been; he’d mixed him a good, potent drink. Chris smiled and enjoyed another sip, and began to make a slow circuit of the room.
He passed by one after another, not seeing anybody worth embarrassing himself over. Small groups were forming here and there in the room and as Chris gazed about, he noticed a vixen seated at a small table halfway across the room. She was being approached by a margay in a business suit. Chris grinned; the margay was using the old trick of leaving his suit jacket open, knowing no one would notice that it probably didn’t fit well enough to button it.
Chris continued to walk and look around as he sipped his drink. He kept stealing glances back toward the vixen to see if she were still unattached. She was fixed at the foremost of his list of people to meet. The margay was still speaking to her but the vixen's body language told Chris that she wasn't interested.
Finally, Chris walked around from another angle to approach her again, margay or not.
He noticed that she was closer to his own age than most of the females here and Chris could see the passive disinterest in her eyes. He smiled as he watched her. He stopped a short distance away, watching her, knowing her, listening with one ear, sipping his gin and tonic while biding his time. The margay was overselling himself, laughing at his own humor more than she was.
Chris chanced taking a step closer.
“ … by the way,” the vixen had asked, “do you have the time?”
“Oh, sure!” the margay said, making a show of bringing his arm up and flashing what appeared to be an expensive wristwatch on his left arm. “It’s exactly -- ”
“Married?” the vixen stated more than asked.
Chris smiled. An old trick, and the margay had fallen for it.
The vixen’s guest glanced at the golden band around his finger and realized what had just happened. He forced a smile and a laugh. “C’mon,” he said. “You’re here because you’re lonely, right? I’m here because I’m lonely, and, well, c’mon let’s be fair here … ”
“And your wife has no problem with you out and about on your own?” the vixen asked him, her muzzle turning down, her eyes narrowing on him.
Chris smiled wide, and swirled his drink before approaching the table.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he asked, indicating the margay, “is this man bothering you?”
Two pairs of eyes looked up in his direction; his were narrow, hers were wide and sparkling, her muzzle parted in surprise.
“As a matter of fact,” he started.
“As a matter of fact,” she said, “yes, he is.”
The margay turned a quick look at the vixen, who was staring at the todd with a gleam in her eye, then she turned a sour look upon him.
Chris addressed the spurned suitor. “I think the lady would like you to leave,” he said.
As the unidentified man opened his muzzle to reply, the vixen said in a clear voice, “Yes, I’m sure he’d like to call his wife and let her know everything’s okay.”
The margay could feel his face burning with embarrassment, which heightened when he caught sight of a couple at the next table turn and look at him as well. Taking his drink and pulling his tail tightly between his legs, he disappeared into the crowd.
Chris set his drink on the table. “Who says the cavalry doesn’t come to the rescue anymore?” he kidded.
The vixen smiled and stood. “It’s good to know they’re there when I need them.” She slipped her arms around him, and Chris did the same.
“Now, Chris,” she said with a wide grin, “let’s stop pretending, okay?”
Chris grinned wider. “Anything you say, Windy.” They hugged each other tightly.
“God, it’s so good to see you again!” Wendy whispered.
Sabrina had given up on the chopsticks and had retrieved forks and spoons for herself and her houseguest. Tabitha had tried to help her use them but Sabrina had given up after several humorous attempts.
It was a great time for Tabitha; she was filling gaps in family history she had been to young to know of, or at the very least, care about. She and Sabrina were laughing and enjoying themselves. Tabitha was relaxed and Sabrina was feeling much better.
“This is nice,” Tabitha said, looking out the window past the terrarium.
Sabrina nodded, tipping the wonton soup container to drain the last few drops into her bowl. “I didn’t realize I was so hungry,” she said. “You were right, this is great! I always wondered what moo goo gai pan was.”
“Well, it’s pretty much what every Chinese dish is in this country,” Tabitha told her, “stir-fried vegetables and meat. I don’t know what makes them all different, but there must be something.”
Sabrina scooped the last of her rice and sauce using the end of an egg roll as a backstop. “I know it was better than what I was planning. Thanks, Mary.”
Tabitha smiled and waved it off. “I’m just happy we got together.” She wondered how she was going to broach the real reason she had showed up on Sabrina's doorstep.
Tabitha finished the last of her diet soda and set her glass down. “So tell me, ‘brina,” she said, trying a backdoor approach, “what goes on in this town?”
Sabrina shook her head. “Not a whole lot yet. Columbus is basically one big college town; they have movies, stores, a couple of museums. We have the largest family-owned candy-making facilities in the country here. At least, one of the largest.”
Anthony-Thomas! Tabitha remembered going there several times when she was a little girl.
“I think they’re closed, though.”
Tabitha smiled, remembering the smells and the displays of the place. “I wish I were going to be in town a bit longer now; I’d go by and stop in.”
Sabrina took a sip of her soda. “Y’know Mary,” she said, “I’ve been doing most of the talking; I still don’t know that much about you.”
“Oh?” Tabitha asked innocently. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” In the pit of her stomach, Tabitha knew that it was almost time to stop telling half-truths and providing evasive answers.
“For instance,” Sabrina asked, “you’re from Kentucky, do you still live there?”
“No,” Tabitha said, shaking her head. She looked Sabrina in the eyes and spoke. “I live in an urbanized area in Pennsylvania called North New Pittsburgh. I rent an apartment in a condominium there.”
“Wow!” Sabrina exclaimed. “You must be doing pretty well for yourself.”
Tabitha nodded. “I'm doing all right. I’d love for you to see it sometime.”
“I’d like that.” Sabrina leaned back on her chair, her hunger satiated for now. “What do you do?”
“I’m a physicist. And if you ask me what my project is, you’d never believe me.” But you have to! Tabitha could feel her stomach do a slow churn in her belly.
“Oh yeah?” Sabrina grinned. “Try me.”
Tabitha tried to quickly count the years and months mentally that led up to this moment, her destination and her destiny after so many years of effort and heartache. “Time travel,” she said.
Sabrina grinned, then smiled before she burst out laughing. “Oh, come on, Mary!” she said. “Time travel? That’s impossible!”
“Oh, you think so, do you?” Tabitha said with her paws on her hips. “They said the same thing about television, compact discs, voice-recognition software -- ”
Sabrina caught her breath. “I-I’m sorry, Mary. It’s just so unbelievable.”
“I told you so.”
Sabrina lifted her lenses and wiped the back of her paw over her eye. She took another sip of her cola. “Have you made any progress?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” Tabitha nodded very matter-of-factly. She sat back in her chair as Sabrina had. “What if I told you I was from the future?”
Sabrina looked at the ceiling and then back at Tabitha, trying not to laugh again. She said, “I’d say you’re kidding me.” A smile crept onto her muzzle again.
“Fair enough.” Tabitha said as she sat up. “What if I told you I’m not only from the future, but I know almost everything about you.”
“Uh-huh.” Although amused, Sabrina did feel slightly uneasy at the thought of someone, family or no, knowing anything private about her. “Such as?”
Tabitha nodded. “Such as, let’s see, where to start. Your middle name is Elizabeth.”
Sabrina shook her head. “My or your mom or dad could’ve told you that.”
“Fair enough.” Tabitha was confident in her memory and her research, and pressed on. “Your best friend is a lioness named Susan. She’s got a serious crush on nearly anyone wearing pants and stole your dates in high school.”
Sabrina sat up straighter. “Well, Susan and I being friends is no secret.”
“You already told me you date a fox named Chris, but what you didn’t tell me is that he works for a company called the Strongarm Group as a local area network administrator.”
“Uh … huh.” Sabrina was starting to feel uneasy.
Tabitha pointed to the back of her own right hip. “You have a small birthmark in the shape of a chess pawn beneath your fur right here.”
Sabrina's mouth opened but no words came out.
“And you make sure to stay away from Chris during your monthly cycle because your Endometriosis makes it hurt so badly.”
Tabitha watched Sabrina’s shoulders slump.
“And your baby sister with the plushie obsession still calls you ‘Sabeena’.”
Sabrina felt numb. This was too much, too fast. Nobody should know this information about her!
“I can go on, big sister.”
Sabrina didn't make the connection. “H-- how do you know all that?”
“Sit still, Sabrina.” Tabitha turned to open her purse, removed her driver’s license and gave it to Sabrina for her to read.
Sabrina frowned and anger flared up inside her. “This is a fake! Anybody can get one of these over the Internet!” She spun the card back to the stranger in front of her with a snap of her wrist. “You have to do better than that.”
Tabitha leaned forward and crossed her arms on the table. It was time to get things moving in the right direction. “My name isn’t Mary. It’s Tabitha and I am your little sister. I came from the year two thousand thirty and that driver's license is authentic.”
“You're a liar.”
“Look at me,” Tabitha demanded. “You can see the family resemblance in my face.”
“Coincidence,” Sabrina replied angrily. “It proves nothing.”
Tabitha stretched out her left arm on the table. “Do you remember when I fell on the sidewalk and cut my arm on a broken bottle? Look under my fur and see the scar for yourself.”
Sabrina looked at Tabitha's arm as if it were a snake.
“Go on, look!” Tabitha demanded..
Sabrina reached out and gingerly parted the fur on the forearm. She looked carefully and recoiled in shock at what she saw. “No, that's not possible!”
“You recognize that, don't you?” Tabitha asked, seeing in her sister's eyes that acceptance was almost there. “How else can you explain a half-moon scar in the same place on my arm as your little sister's? For that matter, how can you explain that I even know about the scar your sister has?”
“This can't be happening,” Sabrina said before she jumped up from the table and ran toward the front door.
End of Chapter Ten
This Way to Chapter 11