Clarence Skunk, Cindy Lapine, Wanda the Vixen, Susan Felin, Debbye Squirrel, Chris Foxx, Rodney and Ellen Lapine, and Mark the Lemur are copyright Chris Yost. Martin Lupina, Nathan Fenicus, Clint Aardwulf, Nancy David, Pacidy Angelou, Vernon Procyon, Miranda Civet, and most others not listed here are copyright Joe McCauley. Zig Zag is copyright Max Black Rabbit. Sabrina Mustelidae is copyright Eric W. Schwartz. James Sheppard, Rhonda Badger, Lilian Bartholomew, and Gypsy Coyote are copyright James Bruner. Marvin Badger is copyright James Bruner after a description by Chris Yost. Lee Evans is copyright Evan Mayerle. Joshua Fox is copyright Joshua Fox. Jake Mackelroy is copyright David S. Adrian. Kittiara Seng and "Callahans" are copyright Kittiara.
This story is copyright © 2003-2005 by Joe McCauley. This story may not be sold or used for commercial profit in any form or fashion. This story may not be modified in any way. This story may not be posted on any Internet site, archive, or newsgroup without the written permission of the author. Permission is granted for readers to produce an individual copy in print, magnetic or optical media for personal use only.
Characters listed as copyright this author may not be used in other works without the written permission of the author. Permission to use characters that are copyright other individuals was obtained prior to the appearance of said characters.
This is an independent work of fiction that is not canonical with any other work occurring in the same setting or featuring the same characters.
The fennec leapt out of the brass bed. "Good LORD, I should have been out of here by now."
"Oh, Tyler," whined the vixen still in the bed, her southern drawl as thick as his, "must you leave so soon?"
"Your father will be home any minute, Rose," he replied, grabbing his pants. "If he catches me with you, I'm as good as dead." He stepped into one pant leg, and stepping his other foot into the other pant leg hurriedly, he tried and failed to keep his balance, falling on his rear with the pants still tangled around his ankles.
She gasped as he tumbled. "You okay?"
"Fine," he said, sitting up. She too sat up, pulling the sheet up over her chest halfheartedly. Seeing that he was fine, she let it drop, her smoldering gaze lingering on him. He looked back at her, so enraptured that for a moment it seemed he could hardly breathe. Finally, he slowly resumed pulling his pants over his knees; then standing up, pulled them the rest of the way up, buttoning the waist deftly behind him above his tail with one paw as the suspenders dangled over his hips.
"I wish you could stay," drawled the vixen.
He stepped over to her. "Me too, Rose," he said, then leaning down, their mouths locked in a deep, passionate kiss, their paws trailing over each other's chests.
They broke their kiss at last, lingering a few seconds longer with the sides of their muzzles touching. Stepping back, he grabbed his shirt off the end of the bed. "I'll see you again soon, Tyler," queried the vixen.
"Real soon," he replied, flinging his shirt loosely over his shoulder. With one last glance back at her, he ducked out the door.
"I hope," murmured the vixen as her gaze dropped slowly. The smile fell away from her and her shoulders drooped as she stared off into space. For a long moment she didn't move.
"Cut! Print!" said Martin Lupina as he rose from the director's chair. "Wanda, that was fantastic," he said to the vixen. "Excellent performance, Nate," he said to the fennec now holding the shirt down at his side as he stepped back through the door. "I think that's a wrap. Just hold your places a second. Any problems, camera one?"
"Nope. Good take," said Aaron, the camerafur.
"Got it all."
"Everything's great," said Jason from behind the soundboard.
"It's a wrap, then," announced Martin. "Time to take this show on the road."
Nathan Fenicus rubbed his behind. "I need to learn how to fall properly," he groaned, the southern accent now notably absent. "Eleven takes! My butt's going to be sore for a week."
"A couple of times it looked like you nearly broke your tail," said Wanda in her normal voice as she stood up from the bed wearing only a garter belt and stockings. She padded nonchalantly to one side of the set where she pulled her robe from a hook and slipped into it, tying the sash.
As Nate and Wanda headed for the dressing rooms and the rest of the cast and crew of The Wild Southern Rose dispersed, two furs watched from the back of the room. "They only went forty-five minutes over," said Marvin Badger, checking his watch. "Not bad for Marty, I guess."
Clint Aardwulf surveyed the studio. "Yeah. With any luck, we should be done loading the truck and still have everyone out of here at a decent hour."
Marvin nodded. "I'll go get the rest of the crew."
Back in the studio lounge, more than a dozen furs sat waiting for word from the production crew. Clarence was making small talk with Vernon Procyon when Marvin entered and spoke up, getting eveyone's attention. "Okay, folks, we've got a wrap on Wild Southern Rose. There's a lot of stuff we have to get loaded tonight. Many paws make light work, and it shouldn't take more than about two hours, so let's roll." He began naming off tasks for each of them to work on first. They all got up and proceeded down the hall to begin the monumental task of taking apart, packing, and loading everything they would need for two weeks of filming on location.
Wanda stood in the doorway of the femmes dressing room, a little bit of the garters attached to the tops of her stockings visible below the hem of her robe, and watched as the crew filed past. When Clarence came along, their eyes met for a second, and her ears canted forward slightly. He felt his knees quake for an instant before forcing himself to continue, hoping whoever was behind him hadn't noticed the slight interruption in his stride. For two weeks she's going to be gone, he thought. Two weeks of not having to avoid her.
Entering Studio B, he caught up with Vernon. "Why do they even bother having separate dressing rooms for males and... and femmes? I mean, considering what kind of movies they make here..."
The raccoon let out a chuckle. "For one thing, not everyone who appears in them has their clothes off."
Vernon grabbed several wrenches and screwdrivers from the tool rack while Clarence picked up a packing crate, then the two of them proceeded to the brass bed on the set and began removing the bedspread and the sheets, which they folded carefully and placed in the crate. "What do they need the bed for?" Clarence asked.
"I'm not sure," Vernon replied. "I hear they're using it in a couple of outdoor shots."
"Oh, really? A bed outdoors? That... that sounds strange." They lifted and set aside the mattress and box spring, then removed the pleated sham, folded it and placed it in the crate with the other items.
* * *
Hearing all the bustle in the hallways, Zig Zag emerged from her office and began surveying all the work going on. In the costume shop, Lilian Bartholomew and Pacidy Angelou were busy. Wheeled carts with drawers, hanger rods, and niches were being loaded with costumes, footwear, hatboxes, shoeboxes, and other folded items. Various performers' makeup and fur care items were being packed meticulously. The studio itself was abuzz with activity as cameras were being placed carefully in their cases. Camera dollies and dolly tracks, microphones and sound equipment, and numerous reels of various types of cable were loaded into crates. Several broken down sections of scaffold were being carried out the door. Most of the lights had already been packed since the road crew wouldn't be using the same ones used here in the studio.
As the tiger-striped skunk looked across the room, she spotted Marvin folding his cell phone and clipping it to his belt with a concerned look on his face. Making her way over to him, she spoke. "How is the loading coming along?"
"A couple of rough spots, but no real problems."
"Is something the matter?"
Marvin let out a sigh. "I tried calling home twice in the last hour. Rhonda didn't answer the phone."
"Maybe she went out for something."
"I hope you're right, but she wasn't feeling well when I left this morning and thought she was getting worse when I spoke with her early this afternoon."
Zig Zag thought a moment. "Marvin, if you need to go home and check on her, go right ahead."
"I can't leave now, not with all this packing and loading to..."
Zig Zag cut him off. "Marvin, Clint and I can handle it. You go worry about Rhonda."
"Are you sure?"
"Go," she commanded in a tone that brooked no argument. "Take care of your wife."
Might as well, thought Marvin. If she's okay I'll have plenty of time to come back here before the loading is finished.
* * *
Clarence and Vernon carried the head section of the bed out to the loading area where Clint instructed them to place it among several other items in the staging area near the semi-trailer. They both gasped as they set it down. "Dang thing weighs a ton," muttered Vernon.
"Is this the first time you've gone on location with a film crew?" Clarence asked him as they headed back inside for the next piece of the bed.
"Nope. Went on a shoot in New Jersey a couple of years back."
"What's it like?"
"It's a lot of work, but it's also kind of fun. You get to get out and see someplace different."
Vernon smiled at the skunk. "And what might Clarence Skunk's plans be for the next two weeks?"
Clarence thought a moment. "Here, I'll be working on sets for the new production in the other studio. Outside work, I'm just planning on taking it easy and spending time with Cindy."
"Ahh, Cindy. You never stop talking about Cindy."
Clarence's ears flushed. "Yep... Cindy. We've got a couple of dates planned. And one day we're going up to Cedar Point with some friends."
"Sounds like fun," said Vernon.
* * *
"Rhonda," he called out as he entered his house. "Are you okay, Rhonda?" Having already noted that her car was still in the garage, Marvin strode apprehensively through the house. "Where are you?"
The sight that greeted him in the living room nearly stopped his heart. She was lying on the floor next to the couch in her underwear and her disheveled housecoat. "Oh my God, Rhonda!" He rushed to her side, noting gratefully that she was still breathing.
She turned her head and opened her eyes. "I'm sorry, Marvin," she moaned. "I know you tried to call. I couldn't get to the phone." There were tears in her barely open eyes. She coughed roughly, then grimaced.
"Don't worry, love. I'm here now. I'm going to take good care of you." He observed that her breathing was wheezy and labored, and her nose was hot to the touch. With all thoughts of returning to work banished from his mind, he found the oral thermometer and inserted it under her tongue. Then he looked up the phone number of their physician and dialed it. The after-hours answering service put him on hold, so he sat beside his wife and began stroking her while waiting.
A couple of minutes later, the doctor came on the line. "Dr. Plumadore speaking."
"Hi, this is Marvin Badger. I just came home to find my wife laying on the floor very sick."
"What are her symptoms?"
"She's weak enough that she can't really move around without assistance. She's been coughing and seems to be having some trouble breathing."
"Have you taken her temperature?"
"I'm getting that now." Marvin removed the thermometer from her mouth.
"It sounds like it might a respiratory virus we've had a few other cases of the last couple of weeks," the doctor observed.
"The temperature is..." He tilted the thermometer, trying to get a read on it. "103.4"
"Hmmm, okay. Get her to the emergency room."
"Yes, of course."
They ended the call. "Did you hear that, love?"
"Mmm hmm," she murmured. "I'm not going to enjoy the ride."
"I'll drive as easy as I can," he said.
* * *
Clarence glanced at the clock, which read 6:34, and dialed the phone.
"Hello, Clare. How are you doing?"
"I just got home from the studio, and I still need to get a shower and a bite to eat."
"Then I guess it's too late to go to a movie," she replied, a hint of disappointment evident in her voice.
"I'm... I'm sorry," he sighed. "We could still go to a late screening. Or I could rent a video and... and come over to your house?"
"I think I like the video idea better."
He smiled at the thought. The moviegoing experience was fun, but he also enjoyed the thought of snuggling up to her on the couch. "Okay, I'll try to be there by about eight."
"I'll make us some popcorn. See you then, Clare."
"See you in a bit."
* * *
It took the emergency room physician less than five minutes to decide to admit Rhonda to the hospital. As the orderlies wheeled her up to a room, Marvin sat at the admissions desk and gave them all the information they requested. At last, the paperwork was completed and he was able to rejoin Rhonda in her room.
She was wearing only the hospital gown and had been fitted with an IV, an oxygen tube, and a monitor of some sort. As much better as he felt having her here instead of at home, she was a dreadful sight nonetheless with all of the tubes and wires now attached to her. It was the first time since arriving at their house that there was nothing left for Marvin to do, and as he sat down beside her and took her paw, all the emotions he had kept in check started to catch up with him. "Rhonda, I love you more than anything. I hope you feel better soon."
In reply, she didn't try to talk, just turned her head toward him, peeked out through her eyelids, gave him a slight smile, and squeezed his paw. They sat this way and waited, their reverie periodically punctuated by Rhonda coughing or clearing her throat.
"Good evening. I'm Doctor Cinereo. How are you?" said the gray fox as he entered the room carrying her chart.
"I've been better," Marvin replied. "I'm Marvin."
They shook paws. "Pleased to meet you. I'm the attending physician for this shift."
"So how is my wife?"
He glanced at the chart. "It appears Rhonda has mycoplasma pneumonia. We'll know for sure when we get the lab results back tomorrow, but for now we're going to treat it as such."
"How bad is it? Could she..?"
The doctor took on a matter-of-fact tone. "We'll just have to let it run its course, and do what we can to ease her discomfort and aid the body in its defenses. Most likely she'll recover and be back home within a week. I won't pick any bones with you - there have been some deaths from it." Marvin gasped. "But we're talking about maybe one fur in a hundred who catches it, and that's usually someone who catches it alone in a remote location or waits too long to seek proper medical care."
Not as reassuring as I'd like, thought Marvin. "What does the illness do?"
"In a nutshell, in addition to other flu-like symptoms, it causes fluid buildup and congestion in the lungs. In the most severe cases the lungs can become blocked, the patient can't get enough oxygen and suffocates to death." He paused as Marvin nodded, then the doctor gestured toward the monitor, which had a harness of wires leading to Rhonda's chest. "We've got a respiratory monitor on her which also displays at the nurse's station. We'll know right away if any serious problems develop. If we have to, we can get a tube down her trachea in less than a minute to draw out excess fluid and feed her oxygen. But it would have to be something pretty sudden for us to have to do that; there are less invasive measures we'll take first if we notice her condition worsening."
"Okay," said Marvin numbly. "Did you hear all that?" he asked her. She nodded her head gently.
"Let's have a look at you," the doctor said, putting his stethoscope to his ears. He put it to Rhonda's chest, then helped her sit up so he could use it on her back to listen to her breathing. Then he felt around her throat, pressed on her stomach in a few places, asking her questions as he did so, most of which she could answer with a nod or a shake of the head, and making notes on the chart. "We're going to take good care of you."
"Thank you," said Marvin.
"You're welcome," the doctor answered as he left the room.
As he sat there, all Marvin could think about was how worried he was for Rhonda. He held her paw in both of his, spoke to her gently, and said a few silent prayers.
As he sat there, his face creased with worry, he suddenly remembered the location shoot. He was still pondering that problem some minutes later when the doctor returned. "Any last questions before I leave?"
"Yeah. I just remembered I was supposed to leave on a business trip in two days. With Rhonda here, I don't think I'll be going anywhere."
The doctor nodded. "I see. Well let me remove all doubt for you. You've been around her for the last several days. Right?"
"So you may have contracted the illness from her and still be in the incubation period. As such, it would be unwise of you to travel anywhere."
"I see." He looked at Rhonda. "Looks like you're stuck with me."
"I'll be off, then. Doctor Tsu will be available after midnight, and Doctor Plumadore should be making rounds in the morning."
"Bye," said Marvin. Rhonda managed a weak wave. "I guess I better give Zig Zag a call and give her the news." He kissed her on the forehead as he reached for the telephone.
* * *
Zig Zag had remained at the studio until the doors were closed on the semi-trailer. When she arrived home, she found a dinner waiting for her that had been lovingly prepared by James. After they shared a delicious meal and a decadent dessert, she insisted they clean the worst of the cookware before settling down. This they did, taking great joy in working together on the most mundane of household chores as they sipped on glasses of wine. Their task was nearly completed when the phone rang. She was tempted to ignore it and let the answering machine pick it up, but decided otherwise when she noticed the caller ID was for the hospital. "Hello."
"Hi, Zig. This is Marvin. I'm at the hospital."
"The hospital? Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine, but Rhonda is very sick." He went on to tell her everything that had happened over the last three hours. Zig Zag ran a gamut of emotions as she listened to him tell of one of her best friends being sick with a potentially life-threatening illness. Marvin finally concluded the story. "Bottom line is, I can't go anywhere for at least the next several days."
Zig Zag tried to collect her thoughts. "Don't worry about the trip or the movie," she told Marvin. "Just take good care of Rhonda and leave the movie to the rest of us. Now go attend to her. And tell her I'll be keeping her in my thoughts."
"That I will. Goodbye, Zig."
"Good night." She hung up the phone, then turned to James. "Rhonda's in the hospital. I need to make a couple more phone calls."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said James.
She fetched her planner from her briefcase. Thumbing through it, she found the number for Martin Lupina and dialed it.
"Hello," said the wolf's voice.
"Martin, this is Zig Zag."
"Hi, Zig. What's got you calling at this hour?"
"Rhonda Badger is sick and in the hospital, so Marvin won't be able to travel to Georgia."
"That's terrible. I hope it's nothing too serious."
Zig Zag summarized for him what she knew of Rhonda's illness before getting back to business. "I'd like to have an emergency meeting tomorrow morning between you, Clint and I to figure out what we're going to do about this trip. Eight o'clock at my office. Will that work for you?"
"I'll be there," Martin replied. "How about I call Nancy and invite her too?"
Zig Zag thought a moment. "That'd be fine. Go ahead."
"Okay, I'll call her and let her know. See you in the morning."
After they disconnected, Zig Zag dialed the number for Clint Aardwulf. He wasn't home, and she left a message asking him to call her back immediately on an urgent matter regardless of what hour he received the message.
She then related to James a more complete version of what Marvin had told her. As she spoke, her business side was thinking about how this was going to affect the trip, while her personal side was worried for Rhonda. Though the news about Rhonda had pretty much killed off the romantic mood they had built up earlier, she was happy to have James with her to talk to as these things were going through her mind.
Clint returned her call about half an hour later, and she filled him in about Rhonda and the emergency meeting.
* * *
As the end credits began to roll, Cindy pointed the remote control at the VCR and pressed the stop button, followed by the rewind. "That was pretty good."
"The ending was very interesting, but I liked it," Clarence observed.
"You picked a good movie," murred Cindy as she put a finger on his chest just below the neck, then let it drift downward. He leaned into the caress, and their lips met. His paw trailed up her side to the back of her neck, then along one of her lop ears, followed by the other. Their kissing and nuzzling continued the whole time the tape rewound.
When the tape stopped, he caught his breath, their noses still touching. "Umm... Since you have to work tomorrow night, what do you say we plan on going to a movie Sunday afternoon."
"I like that idea," she cooed.
They looked at each other wordlessly as their paws met and their fingers intertwined. After a long moment, Clarence finally spoke. "I guess I should... be going."
Reluctantly, Cindy moved her legs out of the way so Clarence could stand up. He retrieved the tape from the VCR and put it back in its case, then returned to Cindy to hug her again. The hug led to a kiss. A half a minute later, he dropped the tape on the couch.
Another minute later, they sank back down onto the couch.
Fifteen minutes later, they stood again, having finally convinced themselves to stop before their desires got out of paw. She walked him to the door, where they kissed one last time. "I'll call you tomorrow," he told her. "Bye, Cindy."
He hummed a tune and had a spring in his step as he returned to his car.
* * *
Marvin Badger wouldn't get much sleep that night. The possibility, however remote, that she might die from the illness was enough to shake him to the core of his being. For hours he sat at Rhonda's side, holding her paw, stroking her arm, cringing at every cough, and with tears in his eyes, he wished as hard as he could for her to get better. Rhonda, you're everything to me, he thought to her. I love you and I need you more than anything. I don't want to go on without you. If I could, I would take your pain away. Just hang in there, Rhonda. Hang in there.
On to Chapter 2
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