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.
Chris pushed his empty plate back. "Tabby," he told her, "I haven't eaten this well since … well, since last time you had me over."
Tabitha smiled and picked her napkin from her lap. "It was a treat for me as well. I never have a reason to cook, and I hate to go to the trouble just for me." She leaned an elbow on the table. "Another good reason for you to think about staying here with me."
Laughing politely, Chris wiped bleu cheese salad dressing from the corners of his mouth. "Which would be great for you when you bring a boyfriend home."
"HA!" Tabitha laughed despite herself. "With my work, I never have the time for a boyfriend."
Chris nodded knowingly. "Girlfriend?"
"Hey, you … !" Tabitha balled her napkin and threw it at Chris. "I like guys!" She paused for a moment. "I just … don't have time for a relationship right now."
"You sound like me after I graduated from college." Chris took a sip of his water while Tabitha got up to get the coffee. "When my college sweetheart left me, I buried myself in my education and my work for years." He set his glass down and crooked his fingers in the air. "'No time'."
Tabitha topped of Chris' cup. "Until you met Sabrina," she said.
Chris smiled. "Yep. She was my first serious love interest since then." He poured cream into his coffee and reached for the sugarbowl. "I had the desire then, and made the time. And I was rewarded with the best 10 ½ years of my life."
Tabitha set the coffee carafe on a trivet and Chris passed her the creamer. "Why is it you never married again?" she asked, then raised a hand. "I know, none of my business. But if you wouldn't mind, I'd really like to know."
Chris sipped his coffee, and shrugged. "I don't know, really," he said to her. "Sabrina was the only woman I ever loved. She was the world to me, and in my mind, no one could ever replace her."
"But didn't your college girlfriend work for your company?" Tabitha pried. She had her reasons, but they were her own for the moment.
Sitting quietly, sipping her coffee, she listened as Chris told her the story. "Windy found somebody and got married about a year and a half after Sabrina and I had. He was a wolf, a good man too, until he became abusive to her. She divorced him about a year before Sabrina … passed away." Chris pinched his tear ducts gently and stole what drops might be there. "Several months after the funeral we tried dating, but there just wasn't anything there between us anymore. We remained friends for several years after until her uncle died and left her his house in Vermont. And that was the last I ever saw of her."
Tabitha tightened one corner of her mouth. "Never worked out, huh?"
Chris took a swallow of coffee. "Nope. But as long as my heart was lost to Sabrina, it wouldn't have mattered. What we were in college I couldn't have been for her, much as we both would have liked."
Tabitha held her cup in both paws and sipped. "If anyone ever deserved another chance," she said, "it's you."
This time Chris was silent. He drank his coffee, and quietly agreed.
From her office, Tabitha could faintly hear the entertainment center. Her attention, however, was focused on the last little bit of what she was writing on her computer, one of the new models provided by her employer. Besides, with the noise in the living room and Chris' age, she knew he couldn't overhear her speaking into the tiny microphone of her headset. She wondered how anybody ever used to get anything done using a manual keyboard instead of voice input.
Tabitha proofread and completed her journal entry. She saved her file and answered her daily backlog of e-mail. One was an apology from their new intern technician Ezequiel for calling her that morning; seems it was Dr. Badger who put him up to it; partly as a joke, but also because he wanted to be sure she remembered the meeting tomorrow morning. It was going to be an important one, one of the final ones before the big initial test of the system, and the one in which their final test modules would be run. Within the next couple of days, the first serious test would begin.
"And guess who's going to be the first one to travel back," Tabitha asked her monitor aloud, sporting a smile that reflected back at her from the chrome of her desk lamp. She finished answering her mail and turned to the myriad of papers on her desktop. She looked closer at one formula and made a correction. From there she followed that to the next formula which cascaded into a third. Checking her calculations she made the appropriate changes.
Paper was one of the quirks that her colleagues made sport of her for, but she couldn't break the habit. Ever since her research time with Dr. Brunner, who insisted that calculations be done by hand and on paper no less, she had enjoyed the process of doing her calculations this way. The feel of the stylus gliding over the paper reassured her that she was indeed in control. Using a plastic stylus on a digital pad just didn't have the same feeling: it left her cold and detached from her work.
Of course, she would double-check her answers later with a computer, but as Dr. Brunner always told her, "The most important computer is inside your head. It must be trained and used constantly to operate efficiently." She smiled at the thought and felt satisfied that she could now do in her head everything for which her colleagues needed a computer. In retrospect, she was glad that she had endured the time in Germany with Dr. Brunner. He had driven her hard, almost to a nervous breakdown, and she had passed muster with him in the end. It was an euphoric feeling no university degree could ever hope to match.
Besides, where she was going, the computers that could do the math she needed hadn't been invented yet. It was vital that she be self-sufficient
"Wow, how in the world did I ever miss that?" she asked herself as she changed her figure for the entry into mid-July 2015 Toronto, Ontario, Canada -- her cover. These were the figures she'd show the board, her peers and administrator. The ones she intended to use she kept in her office safe, and copies in her briefcase. The ones that would take her into mid-January 2011 Eau Claire, Pennsylvania, United States.
Tabitha yawned and rested against the back of her leather swivel chair. She rubbed her eyes briefly with her fingertips and looked up at the clock behind her.
"Ten-thirty!" She felt herself jump inside. "I never intended to be this long!" Tabitha closed down her word processing program and shut down her computer, hanging her headset on the side hook of her monitor. Gathering her formulae together, she placed everything into a neat pile on her desk, turned her briefcase around and opened both clasps with her left paw, holding the right clasp down she lifted the lid with her right paw. When her facts and figures were tightly locked away she sprinted to her doorway, raised her arm to touch the highest right-hand point of the frame, and walked through to her living room.
She smiled down at her brother-in-law, slouched and fast asleep on her couch. She picked up the tiny remote control from his hand and held it to her lips, brushing it across the fur under her pink nose.
"Off," she said. The video system obediently shut itself down. Tabitha looked back at Chris. He snored quietly, barely audible, the sudden quiet in the room not phasing him at all.
Tabitha set the remote on her coffee table and brushed Chris' hair. "Hey, you," she said quietly in his ear.
Chris shifted in his sleep and a smile graced his muzzle. "Hey, Kitten."
Suddenly, Tabitha didn't feel sleepy anymore. She sat on the edge of her coffee table and tried to stop her eyes burning.
Tabitha put a paw on Chris' knee, then withdrew it. She decided she'd wake him after she got ready for bed.
She walked slowly to the bathroom, thinking, as always it seemed, about the past. It consumed nearly every waking moment of her time now. Her mind drifted back over the years and stopped on the day her father passed away.
Tabitha smiled at the memory of her father, who everyone called Sarge. He told Tabitha that it was because the people at work said he acted like a Drill Sergeant, keeping everybody working towards the same goal, when in reality no one ever really knew where his nickname came from or why.
Sarge had collapsed at work and the paramedics had restarted his heart twice before they got him to the hospital. He had hung on long enough for Endora, Sabrina and Tabitha to say their good-byes to him.
Tabitha remembered how small Sarge had looked, lying in the hospital bed with wires and tubes running from him to various devices. He had always seemed too big and strong to succumb to something that afflicted lesser mortals and it was almost more than she could bear, seeing him like that.
He passed away quietly later that night.
All three of the women had relied on Chris to fill the void left by Sarge without ever realizing it. Chris never complained or resisted when any of them asked him for anything. Chris just assumed the responsibility for their well being as if it were natural for him to do so.
He had even helped pay Tabitha's tuition at MIT, without Sabrina or Endora finding out. Chris made Tabitha swear not to tell anybody about his financial aid and she had kept her promise. After graduation, she repaid every penny of the money he had given her when she landed her current job. Of course, Chris had protested but had finally relented when Tabitha said that she would tell Sabrina what he had done if he didn't accept the money. Tabitha knew that the money had come from his retirement account and she was determined that he would never suffer because of her.
Chris had become a surrogate father for Tabitha during those years after Sarge died. As a little girl he always was on the floor to play with her, always against Sabrina's warning that he was keeping her spoiled rotten. As the years passed she told him her hopes; her dreams; and had even sought his approval for her dates. She and Sabrina had also grown closer as well during that time.
As Tabitha matured, she gradually quit pestering her older sister and started turning to Sabrina more and more for advice and counsel on the things that were occurring in her life. There were always things sisters could tell each other that their mother either wouldn't understand or wouldn't approve of.
Tabitha had even started staying with Chris and Sabrina during days or weeks of her summer vacations. After work, Chris, Sabrina and Tabitha would eat supper and find something they could do as a group. The three of them had enjoyed laughing at everything they did. In fact, the group had nearly been banned from several movie theatres because of their lust for life.
As she brushed her hair, she thought about her sister and she felt the familiar emotions start within her. Even after nineteen years, the pain was as sharp as the day she had received the news. She felt her eyes begin to tear and she blinked them hard several times to keep from crying. She could understand how Chris felt about Sabrina even now.
She finished brushing her hair and started to remove her clothes, carefully folding them and placing them atop the hamper. She knew it was silly to fold them since they were going into the wash, but the routine calmed her somewhat.
Her mind continued in sequence, remembering the day she was told that her brother-in-law had suffered a stroke. She had rushed to the hospital expecting the worst and had been met by James and ZigZag Sheppard. They had been with Chris to pay their respects on the anniversary of Sabrina's funeral. The day they were to leave was when his stroke occurred and James had called the paramedics when he collapsed.
Tabitha remembered holding onto ZigZag for reassurance while they waited for the results of the tests the doctors had put Chris through. ZigZag had held her for a long time and stroked her hair slowly, calming Tabitha without saying a word.
James had placed himself outside the door to intercept the doctors as they left the area where Chris was being treated. Tabitha suspected that he felt the need to do something since he was out of his element trying to console Tabitha. Luckily, the stroke had been mild as far as strokes went and he was expected to recover ninety-five percent of his normal functioning eventually, although Chris always pushed himself to gain that extra five.
After Chris had regained consciousness, the doctor had said he could have one visitor, but all three of them went into his room. He smiled weakly at them and tried to speak but Tabitha put her finger gently on his lips to keep him from exerting himself.
James took Chris' paw and shook it gently, saying cryptically, "don't worry, I've got your back."
Chris smiled at that and seemed to know what James was talking about and James released his paw. Tabitha took it between her own and held onto him, looking into his green eyes until he fell asleep.
Tabitha plucked her robe off the hook on the wall and put it on, tying it securely closed with the belt. She turned off the light and returned to the living room where Chris still sat sleeping on the couch.
She hated the thought of waking him, but Tabitha knew that the bed would give him a better night's rest. Besides, if he woke up in the living room during the night, he could become disoriented and hurt himself.
Tabitha placed her paw on his shoulder. "Chris?" she said, gently shaking him. "Chris?" she said again as his eyes opened.
"Sabrina?" he asked groggily.
"No, it's me, Tabitha," she reminded him gently. He must have been dreaming of Sabrina, she thought, cursing her bad timing. "Come on, let's get you to bed," she said quietly, placing his arm over her shoulders and helping him stand.
Chris offered no resistance to her as she guided him gently down the short hallway to the bedroom she had prepared for him. She set him on the edge of the bed and helped him take off his shirt, but when she moved to unto his pants …
"Oh, no you don't," Chris objected. "You turn around!"
"Oh, Pop, c'mon!" Tabitha giggled. "I promise I won't look at your underwear."
Chris laughed gently. He held his arm out with his index finger pointed to the floor, and made a swirling motion until Tabitha turned completely around. Quickly he slid his trousers off and eased under the covers of his bed.
"You can turn around now," he said after settling in.
Tabitha turned and looked at him. "You know it's nothing I haven't seen before," she said with a grin.
"Maybe on other males, but not from me," he reminded her primly. "And you're not going to either, so don't get your hopes up, Tabby." And he gave her a grin of his own.
"You can't blame a girl for trying can you?" she asked, bending to kiss his cheek.
Chris laughed again and returned the kiss to Tabitha's cheek.
"You're the best, Tabitha," he said with a smile.
She pulled the covers up to his chin and turned out the light. She closed his door, walked over to her bedroom, and got into bed.
Tomorrow was going to be a long day, she thought, before drifting off to sleep.
Chris woke to the smell of fresh coffee and breakfast. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around. Tossing the covers aside, he stood slowly and got a bathrobe from the closet. As he slipped his paw into the sleeve he grimaced from the stab of pain as the arthritis in his shoulder reminded him who was boss.
"Got to have the doctor fix that problem," he muttered as he picked up his medication, and after making himself presentable he made his way towards the small kitchen.
"Hey there, sleepyhead," Tabitha greeted him as he entered the kitchen.
"Good morning, Tabby," Chris replied, easing into a chair at the table.
Tabitha upended the skillet and slid the eggs into the plate and picked up the one already prepared. She set one in front of Chris and placed the other at her place opposite him.
"Tab, you don't have to go through all this trouble for me," Chris told her as she sat down and adjusted her tail over the seat back.
"Nonsense," she replied, picking up her fork. "I like to do it. The routine helps me concentrate," she said.
Chris knew better than to argue with her, so he let it drop. They ate and chatted about the small things they had experienced during the time between Chris' visits.
Finally, Tabitha worked her way around to it. "Chris," she started, "I wonder if you could help me with a tiny little favor?"
Chris used his orange juice to swallow a multi-colored pill, which immediately chased the pain from his shoulder. "If it's mine to give, it's yours, you know that," he reminded her.
Tabitha nibbled at a bit of bacon. "I'm going on a business trip," she said in her rehearsed explanation. "I could really use someone I trust to apartment-sit for me." She leaned forward on her elbows. "Think you might be available?" she finally asked.
Chris looked at the ceiling for a moment and nodded. "I think that could be arranged. When are you going?"
"Uhm … maybe tomorrow?" Quickly she added "I know it's really short notice but it's not carved in stone yet, and it won't be for more than a few days at the most. I can call the nursing home and have everything taken care of for you to be released temporarily … or permanently since the doctor told you he was going to let you go home in a week."
She watched Chris ponder the notion, and went on. "I'll leave you the access key to my SUV and set you up with everything you need or want. Consider it 'transitional living' if you like. And you won't hurt my feelings if you can't do it or if you want to say 'no'."
Chris dipped the corner of a slice of bread into the egg yolk and ate it, eating slowly as he listened. He pretended to ponder a thought. "Well," he told her, "as luck would have it, my calendar is free for the next several months. I'd be happy to, and just so you know, I wouldn't do this for just anybody. You just give me the details I need to know and consider your apartment sat."
Tabitha smiled and sat up quickly. "Pop, I don't know what I'd do without ya!" This way I'll know where to find you when I come back if this doesn't work!
And polite conversation continued from there.
After breakfast was over, they sat finishing their coffee. Tabitha remembered something from last night.
"Chris, can I ask you another personal question?"
Chris nodded, wondering what was on her active mind this time.
"Right after your stroke, while you were in the hospital, that coyote friend of yours James said 'Don't worry, I've got your back'. You seemed to know what me meant by that. What was it?" she asked carefully.
Chris sighed. Not much escaped Tabitha's notice even if she did not immediately act on it.
"When we were younger, about your age, Jim and I got into a bar fight defending our respective females. Afterwards, he said that he was glad that I was covering his back. He was just letting me know that he would look after things while I was in the hospital. He's a pal."
"You and James in a bar fight!" she said incredulously. "How did that happen? You two are the most polite guys I know,".
Chris smiled weakly. "Let's just say we were highly motivated and leave it at that, okay?"
"Wait a minute," Tabitha said, wrinkling her brow. "James is the same age as you? He doesn't look a day over fifty!"
Chris shook his head. "No, Jim is six years older than me. He's sixty-four and Zig is sixty-one."
"No way they are that old. You're pulling my leg, aren't you?" Tabitha scolded him.
"No, it's the truth. Jim and Zig are mixed species offspring. As I understand it, they age at a slightly slower rate than us single species types. It's one of the few things they aren't discriminated against for."
Tabitha shook her head slowly, thinking about their family friends. "It's hard to believe she was an adult film actress," she commented finally.
"Yep. Aside from the bit of gray in her stripes, she looks the same as she did when she was acting."
Tabitha stared at him.
"Close your mouth dear," he said "I was young myself once. And remember your sister worked for Zig as her graphics artist for a long time. One of the perks of her job was that I got to see all the new releases when they arrived for Sabrina to do the art. She made some good money working part time for Zig before and when we lived in Pennsylvania. It really helped us out when she had to take maternity leave from our company after Alan was born. Besides," he continued, "Zig had quit acting by the time she started seeing Jim, anyway."
Tabitha glanced at the clock and started collecting their dishes and utensils. She put them in the dishwasher and pressed the button to start the sonic cleaning cycle before making a quick run to the bathroom.
Chris sat and waited for her to brush her teeth. He stood as she came back a few minutes later. "Busy day today?" he inquired, placing his arm around her shoulders and escorting her to the door.
"Meetings and preparation for the big event, mostly," she replied, stooping to retrieve her briefcase.
Chris knew that she couldn't tell him more than that because of security concerns and didn't press her for details.
She kissed his cheek. "If you need anything, you have both my work number and PDA address," she reminded him.
"Got 'em written down in a safe place," he reassured her. "Tell you what: how about I make you a spaghetti dinner from scratch? Do you have any oregano?"
"In the cupboard," she smiled and stepped into the hallway.
Chris waited until she got onto the elevator before closing the door. He looked around the apartment, thinking to himself. "First order of business is a nice hot bath," he said, starting towards the guest bath. As he passed the living room he said "music" and the entertainment center recognized his voice and complied with his directive. Classical music filled the apartment, and Chris smiled.