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, Sal Simon, Jennifer Ironne, 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. Jake Bunny is copyright Jake Rupert. Kittiara Seng and "Callahans" are copyright Kittiara.
This story is copyright © 2003-2011 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.
Clarence found the breakfast lounge more crowded than usual. He took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. He wasn't comfortable sitting with furs he didn't know well and he didn't see any of the crew he most often sat with. Not a good start for a day he was hoping would be less stressful than yesterday. Though there hadn't been any particular problems or incidents, the day had included a couple busloads of extras, and working with that many people he didn't know had left him frazzled. So after selecting a bagel and some cream cheese, he took one of the only two unoccupied tables in the room, seating himself on the side that gave him a view of the rest of the lounge.
He was on his second bite when he was approached by Miranda. "Morning, Clarence. Do you mind if I sit here?"
Clarence smiled at the civet. "Not at all. G..go ahead."
Miranda took a seat. "You looked like you could use some company."
Clarence shrugged. "I'm fine, but... thanks."
"Are you having a good time here?" she asked. "I'm so excited to be here! My third film with the studio and I get to work with people like Wanda and Nathan!"
The skunk smiled at her. "I remember h..helping out on your f..first film," he said. "You're g..good at acting young."
Miranda giggled. "Yeah, I can pass for a high schooler."
"It's usually called 'barely legal'," said Gypsy, walking up to take a seat with them. "It's quite popular with some fans." She turned to Miranda. "You're also real good at being flirty."
"That's what I hear," Miranda replied. "I'm not even trying that hard, just doing what comes natural and fits the part." She glanced back at Clarence. "On Wild Southern Rose it's a little different. Wanda's a few years older than me, and Rose and Maggie, our characters, are supposed to be close to the same age, so I have to act a little older instead of younger. It's a little different."
Clarence nodded. "I g..guess they're pretty good at making you look older or younger."
Gypsy chuckled. "You'd be surprised what they can pull off with a few changes to makeup and hairstyles."
* * *
"How many pictures did you take," asked Zig Zag as she pulled another seat up to the desk that held the computer.
"About two hundred of Wanda on Wednesday," Mark replied as he navigated to the directory. "Another three hundred of Gypsy and Miranda on Saturday. I've already cleared out some of the obviously bad ones."
Zig Zag leaned across in front of him. Although she no longer acted in adult roles, the tiger-striped skunkette still often wore revealing dress and sometimes reveled in the reactions she got from others when her posture was even more revealing. Mark, however, was among those who had been around her enough not to be distracted by it. "Let's go through the rest of these. I want to send more of 'em off to Sabrina." She began navigating back and forth through the pictures. "Stop me if you see one you think is one of the best." Although Zig Zag had a good eye for stills, she knew Mark did too and appreciated his input.
The computer appeared to hang, and the two of them stared at an hourglass icon for close to half a minute. "Has it been doing this a lot?"
The lemur nodded. "More than it probably should."
Zig Zag pursed her lips. "I'll have to complain to the guy who built the computer. He just happens to be in town this week."
Mark chuckled. "You probably invited him along just for this."
The problem cleared, and they resumed paging through the photos. Once they'd gone through them and identified several more for the website, Zig Zag picked up the phone.
"Double Z Studios, this is Lilian. How may I help you?"
"G'mornin' Lilian, it's me. How's everything there?"
"Everything's fine here, even quieter than it was last week. How is it going in Georgia?"
"Wild and southern, just like the movie."
Lilian laughed. "I can imagine. Say, we've had a couple of calls Marvin wants to talk to you about."
"Okay, I need to speak to him anyhow. Is he there?"
"Should be. Give me a sec."
A few seconds later, the badger picked up. "Good morning, Zig Zag."
"Morning, Marvin. How's Rhonda doing?"
"Better. She's driving herself to see the doctor for her follow-up visit this morning."
"Excellent. Lilian said you had a couple of calls for me?"
"Yes. One was from Adult Films Weekly, the other from GFQ. Both are after the same thing, an advance scoop on Wild Southern Rose."
"Ooo-kay. Can you and Lilian pull together a press release for them?"
"Sure thing. They're going to want pictures too, or at least permission to reprint a few from the website."
"Wow! We don't usually get this kind of interest from a few pictures on the website. Say, Mark and I were just going through some more to send off to Sabrina. Do you think you could reach her after hours about getting a movie webpage whipped into shape in the next day or two?"
"I'll get the request to her."
A few minutes later the call was disconnected, and she and Mark were back to sorting through photos. "It looks like you and Marvin really hit a home run with these photo shoots," she observed.
Mark only nodded, deciding not to mention that the whole thing had developed by accident because Clarence and Wanda had been assigned adjacent seats on an airline flight.
* * *
While some of the crew let out a collective sigh of relief at having gotten through the previous day's filming, there was still plenty of work for the support crew. Several supporting cast and crew who had only been needed for the party scene were returning to Ohio that day. Orr arrived mid-morning to collect his antique automobiles, and Clarence and Vern helped load them up. And once again, Clarence got the task of taking lunch orders, picking them up, and passing them out upon returning.
It was shortly after lunch when Clarence felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see Clint beside him. "Aye, Clarence," said the aardwolf. "Jennifer asked for you. I think she wants your help with something."
"J..Jennifer," he replied. "S..sure. I'll go see wh...at she wants."
He looked across the patio area to see the bespectacled mouse standing at the far end of the set talking with Nancy and Jason. As the skunk padded over he couldn't help wondering, What on earth would Jennifer want with me? He knew she was the writer and a roaming advisor, but as such her responsibilities didn't involve much of the sort of thing that would require the assistance of someone like him. "Jennifer?" he asked meekly.
"Clarence! Glad I got you," she replied, putting a paw on his shoulder. "We're going inside for a few minutes," she said to Nancy and the others.
Jennifer led him through the back door of the estate house. She went first to the living-room-turned-office, pausing briefly to pull a file folder out of her briefcase, then led him upstairs to the study. It was the first time he'd been back to this room since the day he had talked poetry with Wanda, and he remembered Nancy's admonishment not to visit parts of the house they didn't need to. He thought about saying something to Jennifer, but figured she must have enough authority to use whatever part of the house she wanted. "Have a seat," she said, selecting one for herself, holding the folder in her lap.
Clarence looked around. After working outdoors on a day like this he didn't think he should sit on anything upholstered. He selected a wood chair with a leather seat. "What d..did you need?"
Jennifer adjusted her glasses. "Where should I begin?" she said as she got more comfortable in her seat. "I'm a writer. I write romance stories. I may be getting a little older and rounder in the middle, but I never get tired of weaving tales about young love, fiery romances, and all the other emotions that go with them. I get ideas for these tales from a lot of different places." She gazed up at Clarence. "Have you ever tried writing anything?"
The question caught Clarence by surprise. Slowly he nodded, wondering where this was headed. "A little..."
"Okay," the mouse replied. "One of the places I get a lot of my ideas is from watching and listening to other people. You'd be surprised how often something you see or hear at random can turn out to be useful in a story you're working on. Sometimes it also helps me understand the people I work with. Now, Sabrina..." She paused to glance up at Clarence. "I don't know her very well. I know she does graphic design and helps maintain the website, but she telecommutes. I've only met her in person once for about five minutes while she was in Columbus." She tilted her head and twitched her whiskers. "How well do you know Sabrina?"
Clarence blinked in surprise. "Well, I... I... I dated her once. Be..before I started dating Cindy." He paused to take a breath. "I used to think she was the perfect girl for me..." He hesitated, unsure how to continue.
"But she didn't agree," Jennifer finished for him.
Again Clarence was surprised. "Yeah, something like that. I tried... But then she got engaged to Chris and... then I started dating Cindy."
"Yes, I understand you two are engaged now, and you are quite enamored of her. You talk about her a lot, you know."
Clarence swallowed and nodded bashfully.
Jennifer nodded. "Okay, what about Wanda?" Clarence's eyes went wide, and he tensed up. The corners of Jennifer's mouth turned up slightly and she continued. "Let me go back to Sabrina for a moment. She sent me a note this morning. It had something Zig Zag sent her that she said came from one of Wanda's fan letters, something she - I mean Zig Zag - thought would be useful for movie promotions. But I thought the most interesting part was what Sabrina said next. She asked, can you please help me change this enough so that it's not recognizable as coming from the original source."
Clarence sat up straighter, his confusion evident. "Why... are you..." He tripped over the words.
"Why am I telling you this?" Jennifer filled in for him. "Let me go on, and all shall become clear. I wondered why Sabrina would ask me that. Sometimes we have to alter things like that for copyright reasons, but a fan letter? And how did Wanda get a fan letter here in Georgia when all of her fan mail goes to the studio in Columbus? And finally, this poem..." She looked up to see Clarence's reaction to that word, and saw him flinch quite noticeably. She slipped a finger into the file and pulled out a sheet of paper, looking down at it. "This poem doesn't strike me as something a fan would write. I see a lot of fear and confusion expressed in these words." She fixed her gaze on Clarence and held the sheet of paper out where he could see it. "You wrote this poem, didn't you?" She said it like she already knew the answer.
Clarence looked at the page, scowling as he nodded. "Yes, I did," he uttered.
Jennifer put the sheet back into the file. "I had a feeling this was supposed to be something very personal," she said. "Tell me something. Back when you were dating or trying to date Sabrina, did you ever write her any poetry?"
Clarence nodded. "Y..yes, I did."
"Next time you see her, you should thank her for watching your back."
Clarence piped up. "B..but... How did you know it was me?"
Jennifer grinned. "I told you earlier, I watch and listen to people and sometimes I pick up on things, both here and while we were filming back at the studio. But I've also been talking to others about how the production has been going here for the last week, and Nancy mentioned a couple of rather curious episodes between you and Wanda, including one that took place in this very room. It wasn't hard to put the pieces together, especially when you confirmed you know Sabrina."
The skunk looked off at something over her shoulder, his expression clearly one of distaste. "Who did you say sent it to her?"
Clarence sighed. How could Wanda do something like that? Didn't she realize how personal this was supposed to be?
Jennifer stood up and placed a paw on his shoulder. "I can see you're pretty upset by this. Sometimes, misunderstandings make good drama in stories, but I don't like them when it involves real people I consider friends. Stay right here for a few minutes, and I'll be back."
With that, Jennifer left the room, and he heard her walk downstairs. His thoughts were a jumble once again as he tried to sort out this latest revelation. The few minutes he had to wait seemed to drag on much longer.
At last Jennifer returned with Wanda right behind her. Once they stepped through the doorway, Wanda spoke first. "So what is this you... Oh, hi Clarence," she said, noticing the skunk for the first time.
Jennifer motioned for him to keep quiet as she pulled the note from her file and showed it to Wanda. "I wanted to get your side of the story on this," Jennifer said to her. "Clarence seemed quite upset that this is being sent around. Do you know how Zig Zag got a hold of it?"
Wanda looked at Clarence, then back at Jennifer. "She was in my room the other night, and she saw it on my desk and asked if she could borrow it." She looked at Clarence once again. "I'm sorry, I should have put it away before I invited anyone into the room. I didn't tell her you wrote it. When she asked where it came from I told her it was from a fan." She paused to take a breath before continuing. "I didn't think she'd do anything with it. We get fan mail all the time and most of it just from drooling fanboys. Sometimes we share it, sometimes we get a good laugh at the things people say. I didn't think anything like this would happen. It's my fault and I apologize."
Clarence looked up at her and managed a smile. "It's okay. Apology accepted."
Wanda turned to Jennifer. "Thank you for... for how you handled this. It's been bugging me ever since she borrowed my copy of that poem."
Jennifer smiled at the vixen. "Like I told Clarence, I don't like seeing small misunderstandings get blown out of proportion. And Clarence," she continued, turning to him, "it says something about your poetry that Zig Zag wanted to use it."
"I have to get back to the set," said Wanda.
Jennifer sat back down as the vixen departed. "Now that we've got all that out on the table, would you like to help me with Sabrina's original request?"
"I think they n..need my help outside," he replied. "But when you're done, c..could I p..please see..."
"Whatever I come up with, I'll make sure you're okay with it before passing it along to anyone else."
"Thank you." Clarence stood up to leave, then paused in the doorway and turned with a thoughtful look. "All this th..that happened between Sabrina, Wanda and I... Are you going to use this in a story?"
Jennifer laughed aloud at the question. "If I do, I'll make sure to change it enough that it's not recognizable as coming from the original source."
* * *
After returning to the set, Wanda couldn't get the look on Clarence's face out of her head. The scene was a simple one with Miranda, but it had a couple of moments where it was critical to convey the right emotion. After five takes, she knew Martin wasn't happy with any of them, and she knew she was the problem, but no matter how she tried to focus she couldn't shake off the memory of what had just happened upstairs with Clarence.
"Find your center, Wanda," said Martin, displaying remarkable patience with her. She knew, as did he, that his getting upset would only make it more difficult for her to perform as she needed to. It was one of the advantages of having a director who knew from experience what it was like being in front of the camera. "Let's try again."
The vixen closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded. "Okay." She and Miranda stood up from the bench they were seated on and moved back to their starting marks a few steps away.
"Ready everyone?" said the wolf. After seeing nods all around, he gave a single nod. "Action!"
'Rose' and 'Maggie' padded casually back to the bench. "So where were you yesterday?" asked 'Maggie'.
The vixen took a seat, an inscrutable expression passing over her features. "Don't you remember, I went to have a talk with Tyler." She paused. "I was going to explain to him about me and Malachi, to, you know, let him down easy."
The civet settled down at the other end of the bench, facing her. "So... Did it go okay?"
Wanda thought back to the scene in question, which had been filmed more than two weeks earlier on a set at the studio. The scene was supposed to be a 'Dear John' discussion, but 'Rose' put off saying what she needed to for too long while trying to work up the nerve, and before long the dialogue became superfluous. Looks were exchanged, sparks flew, and things continued to heat up from there. 'Rose' bit her lip before replying. "That depends on what you'd consider okay."
'Maggie' gave her a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" The vixen's face changed to an embarrassed yet satisfied look. "You didn't!" cried 'Maggie'. "Did you two do what I think you did?"
Off to the side, Jason made a cutting motion with his hand. "Cut," said Martin, then turned to the bear. "What's the problem?"
Jason pulled off his headset. "Miranda's mike is cutting out. Probably low batteries."
Behind him, Clarence spoke up. "I'll g..go get some more."
"Don't need to," Jason replied, patting his vest pocket. "I've got some spares right here."
When Clarence padded off nonetheless, she let out a heavy sigh. She swore at herself once again, struggling to put the poem episode out of her mind so she could get into her character the way she needed to in order to provide just the right vocal inflections and facial expressions. She really didn't want to ask to reschedule filming this scene.
As she watched Jason changing out the batteries on Miranda's transmitter, she felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned to see Clarence holding out a bottled water for her. She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. "Thanks," she uttered, unsure what else to say as she accepted the bottle and twisted the cap off, noting he had already loosened it for her.
As she was about to take a drink from it, he leaned closer and spoke quietly. "A heart that is wild, let none try to tame," he said without a stutter. The last line of the poem.
She paused, looking back at him in surprise, and then as if she felt a weight being lifted from her shoulders, her look turned grateful. She nodded to him. "Thanks, Clarence," she said, quietly but meaningfully.
Clarence just nodded, and she finally took a drink from the bottle.
"Is everything okay," said Nancy, padding up behind them.
Wanda gave the otteress a slightly exasperated look. "Yes, teacher. Everything's fine."
Clarence gave them a puzzled look. "Why d..does she call you t..teacher?" he asked Nancy.
Both ladies let out a laugh. "It's a running joke between us," Wanda answered. "My first role with Double Z was a naughty schoolgirl, and Nancy was the teacher who had to discipline me. I could still pass for high school age then."
Jason had Miranda's transmitter working by then. Once it was tested and tucked away, they were ready for the next take.
Wanda's performance was so much improved that it caught Miranda off guard. The following take was easily the best of the day.
* * *
Sabrina had a handful of her own headfur as she stared at the monitor. Some sudden interest in this film, and now I have to work overtime to get this webpage into shape. She sifted through the additional photographs Zig Zag and Mark had sent her, going over various possibilities in her head. She didn't have to use all of them and was free to decide which would fit into the best method of presentation. So engrossed was she in the task that she hardly noticed the phone ringing until she heard her husband's voice. "It's for you," said Chris.
She picked up the extension. "This is Sabrina."
After a longer than usual pause, she heard, "Hi, Sabrina. It's... Clarence."
"Clarence!?" she replied. "How are things in Georgia."
"Okay, I guess. It's an... interesting place, b..but I can't wait to get home and s..see Cindy again. I call her a lot, but she's w..working tonight."
"Oh, so you called me instead. I'm gonna tell her!"
"I'm just teasing. So what's on your mind?" The skunkette had a hunch but decided to see if he'd bring it up.
"You sent a note to Jennifer?"
Sabrina nodded, her hunch confirmed. "That was a nice poem you wrote, Clarence, only I didn't tell her who wrote it."
"Eh, she figured it out."
"Jennifer's pretty smart, then. How about Wanda? Did she know it got sent to me?" There was a long pause where all she heard was stammering noises from Clarence. "How are you two getting along. Any problems with Wanda?"
"There were some. I think we're okay, now. And y..yes, she knows about the poem. I mean, that Jennifer and I..."
Sabrina nodded. "Are you upset? With me, or either of them?"
She heard a sigh. "I was pretty upset with Wanda, even after she... said what happened. But after that she was having trouble acting, and I could tell it was bothering her. It was tempting to let her suffer, but I decided to do something nice instead."
"To let her know you forgave her?"
"That's not what I was thinking, but... Yeah, I guess so. She did better after that, and you know what? I felt better too."
"Funny how that works. Have you talked to Cindy about any of this?"
"She's working tonight."
"No, Clarence, I meant the whole thing with you and Wanda, and maybe the poem."
"No... I don't know how she'd take it."
"Clarence, you want my advice?"
"Well, Sabrina, I guess so."
"She's going to be your wife. You don't want to keep things like that from the most important person in your life."
There was another long pause. "But... I'm afraid of how she'll take it."
"That may be, but however she takes it, I promise it won't be as bad as if she hears it from someone else."
"You're not going to tell her, are you?"
"No, Clarence," she replied. "I won't tell her, but I think you should."
"I don't know if I can."
"Maybe you just need to find the right time to talk about it."
"Umm... Okay, I'll think about it."
"Don't just think about it. Do it, Clarence!"
"All right, I will."
"Th..thank you for catching the poem, and watching out for me."
"Don't mention it." Her monitor suddenly went blank as the screen saver kicked in. "Say, I need to get back to working on the website, so I can be done with it and spend some time with my husband."
"All right, thanks for talking with me. See you l..later."
"Good night, Clarence."
On to Chapter 13
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