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.
It was a huge specialty store, filled with plush animals. To her left and her right were shelves overflowing with cute stuffed toys, and most of them were looking at her, beckoning to her. Their eyes were so real! Pick me up, she could almost hear their voices say. Hold me! But Wanda knew there was something else here she was after, and they weren't it. In fact, the ones that held more appeal for her were the ones that weren't quite looking at her, the ones that seemed more afraid to beckon to her.
And then, across the room, she saw it, the one she knew she wanted most of all. A skunk with glasses, just like Clarence. When she looked at it, it didn't look back at her, or in her general direction at all.
But as she began to navigate her way, she observed to her dismay that the path was blocked by other displays, more counters and tables with plushies and other toys. She hurried to find her way around them, down one aisle and up the next. Where did all these boxes and tables come from? Why does it have to be so difficult to get from one side of the store to the other? But gradually she was getting closer, ever closer, until at last she rounded the final corner to get to that cute plush Clarence...
...Only to see an empty space where it sat moments earlier. Sitting on the floor, clutching it to herself like a security blanket, was a young girl, a dark brown lop rabbit. The girl held its face up to hers, noses touching, a warm smile on her features, and it seemed happy to meet her eyes. Wanda stopped in her tracks, looking longingly at the plush skunk toy. "Hi," she uttered at last to the rabbit.
"Hi," the rabbit replied, not taking her attention off the toy.
"That's a nice skunk you've got there," she said.
The girl smiled. "Mmmm, yes, he's so nice and huggable." She pulled the skunk plush tight against her chest, eyes closed and wearing a big smile, rocking from one side to the other.
Wanda just watched her for a moment until the bunny girl finally opened her eyes. "Can I see him?" the vixen asked, and when the girl's ears gave a twitch, she added, "Just for a minute."
The girl took a moment to think about it and her face became thoughtful. She even looked at the skunk plush in the eyes, almost as if asking what it wanted to do. Finally she looked at Wanda. "Promise you won't hurt him?"
Wanda was surprised by the question. "I promise," she replied with a nod.
The rabbit girl held the toy Clarence out to her. "Okay. Be nice to him."
"I will," said Wanda as she accepted the plush skunk. She held up the toy, giving it a good look over. Its eyes seemed elusive. Then she held it close against her like the girl had been doing. It felt so good! She savored the moment, knowing she'd have to give it back to the bunny girl...
...And then Wanda's eyes flickered open to see the clock radio beside the bed in her hotel room. Time to get up for another day.
* * *
Clarence smelled something different when he entered the breakfast lounge, something that made his nose twitch. Looking up at the service counter, he noticed trays of croissants with egg and cheese, and some kind of breakfast meat. He served himself two of the delicacies in addition to a container of yogurt, and he passed Lisa on his way to take a seat. "Nice breakfast t..today. Thank you!"
"My dad thought we should do something special," said the teen squirrel as she wiped a paw on her apron. "It's not often we get a group as big as yours staying here as long as you have, and we wanted to do a little something extra."
He fetched some orange juice, before taking a seat at a table with Jason and Margo.
About two bites later he felt a paw on his shoulder, and turned to see the owner's other paw on Jason's shoulder. "I'm glad I caught you two together," said Clint. "When you're done enjoying your breakfast, come out to the truck."
"What's up?" asked Jason.
"We're getting out the backup sound board." The aardwolf turned to Clarence. "You get to be sound man at one of the shoots today. Think you can handle it?"
"I d..don't know," the skunk replied. "I've never done it be...fore."
"That's why I'm asking Jason to show you how it's done, give you a few pointers," Clint said to him. "It's a simple scene, and we need Jason back at the estate."
Clarence nodded. "I'll do my best."
He was breathing a little harder by the time Clint walked away. Margo looked at him with an amused grin. "Bet you never thought you'd be doing this."
He looked back at the rat. "N..no," he stammered.
Jason placed a paw where Clint's had been moments earlier, giving his shoulder a gentle rub. "You'll get the hang of it. Don't be afraid of all those dials."
Clarence gulped and looked between them, then with a sigh, started to relax more.
It took a few minutes before he was able to finish his breakfast.
While they were retrieving all the equipment from the truck, Jason was explaining various things about how to set up and run a sound board as they were collecting it all and getting it into the car. Once at the estate, the bear continued the crash course on how to be the sound man. Clarence had spent plenty of time not only here but on previous films back at the studio helping get actors fitted with wireless microphones, hooking up the equipment, and helping the sound man check it out, but it scared him to think this would be his first time as the one sitting over the board with the headset on while the cameras were rolling. It was a smaller, simpler sound board that had been packed along as a backup, but on days like this it gave them the flexibility to film scenes in different locations at the same time. By the time they were finished, Clarence's mind was a jumble and he was praying he'd remember everything Jason told him long enough to get through the day without screwing up badly enough for a reshoot.
When he made the trip over to the old, rural two-story farmhouse, he was hauling not only the sound equipment, but a passenger as well. Gypsy sat in the passenger seat, costumed in a common working woman's dress, giving the skunk directions to the site. His instructions were to stop the car once they crested the final hill and were in sight of the house. There he was to wait for a signal before approaching any closer in case there was filming in progress. As it turned out, they were between takes, and he and Gypsy were able to park and watch while the other crew already present finished the morning's filming.
The only crew to have arrived ahead of them were Mark, Martin, and Garrett, a wolf whose qualifications were that he knew how to drive the 1920 Packard that appeared in the scene, and he looked enough like Martin to pass for him on long-range shots. Unlike Nathan, who'd actually learned to drive the Model T he had been filmed in the previous week, Martin's character was being filmed with a double. They were just finishing up the shots of the vehicle approaching with Garrett at the wheel when Clarence and Gypsy arrived.
As Clarence and Gypsy approached, Garrett was in the process of removing 'Malachi's shirt so Martin could put it on. Martin was already dressed in his costume breeches, which Garrett hadn't needed since he was only visible from the chest up in the shots he appeared in. Clarence got the sound equipment out of the car while Mark and Gypsy helped Martin get his costume looking just right, then Clarence helped fit him with one of the wireless microphones. They got several takes of 'Malachi' getting out of the now-parked Packard.
The old farmhouse had a porch that extended the width of the front of the house, which had one window on each side of the front door. A screen door and screens for the windows suggested a time when comfort was letting the breeze in while keeping the flies out. Martin asked everyone present to look over the scene carefully to identify anything out-of-period that should be removed or kept out of the frame.
Finally they were ready to begin shooting. Gypsy took a seat on the glider loveseat on the front porch, and lit a cigarette. Once she was settled, Mark started the camera rolling. It was to be a brief shot of 'Cilia', Gypsy's character, watching as 'Malachi' drove up. She took a draw off the cigarette, but as she started to blow it out, erupted into a coughing fit. "Cut," said Martin.
"Damn," said Gypsy as she caught her breath. "How do people stand these things?"
Mark couldn't help a slight grin. "That's another one for the blooper reel."
"How many is that now?" asked Gypsy. "Note to self: Think twice before playing the part of a smoker."
Despite being a non-smoker, Gypsy demonstrated soon enough her ability to take a draw and blow a cloud of smoke as naturally as someone who had been doing it for years, and they were ready to move on to the next segment.
With the cameras rolling again, 'Cilia' was tracing patterns on her dress with her free paw as 'Malachi' approached the porch. She glanced up at the wolf and away from him multiple times, the look on her face inscrutable, until he stopped before her. "So you made it," 'Cilia' muttered, glancing off to one side of him.
"I promised I'd be here," said 'Malachi'.
The coyote sighed, her body language ambiguous. "I wasn't sure," she replied.
"I gave you my word. Why would I go back on it?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
"What's the matter, Cilia?"
Her ears canted as she looked up at him. "Ever since you got engaged to that vixen I don't know where I am with you anymore."
"We discussed this," he replied, a hint of impatience in his voice as he took the seat beside her, "nothing has changed with us."
'Cilia' turned her head toward him. "It doesn't feel the same to me."
'Malachi' glanced to one side ruefully. "Honor and dishonor. The greater good and all that sort of thing."
The coyote glanced at him, then looked away.
'Malachi' waited for her to turn back and leaned closer, their noses almost touching. "She's the one I have to marry. You're still the one I love."
"Yeah, honor and dishonor. Some rules you just don't break." Her tone was almost mocking.
"My father only taught me the rules. He didn't make them up."
"So you can marry Rose because her family owns an estate but you can't marry me because I only work there as a maid." She rolled her eyes.
'Malachi' let out a breath. "I'm breaking the rules being here at all."
The coyote said nothing for a long moment, changing her position a couple of times to turn more toward him. Finally she spoke. "At least you came to see me," she said softly. He turned toward her. As they caught each other's eyes, their noses touched, and then their lips touched. They brushed each other lightly at first. One tongue came out, then the other, their breathing picking up as the licks became more intimate, until at last both muzzles parted as they lip-locked in a deep kiss.
More than half a minute later, their kiss broke. "Let's go inside," she suggested, panting heavily. They arose from the glider as one, and with his paw in hers, led him through the front door of the house, letting the screen door close with a loud 'clack'.
"Cut," announced Martin from inside the door. He stepped out, Gypsy right behind him. "Any problems?" he asked.
"None here," Mark replied.
"Good, I think," said Clarence, slipping his headset off.
"Okay, let's try it again..."
* * *
By the time he and the rest of the crew returned to the estate with the sound equipment, Clarence was feeling quite pleased with himself. As the one who had been responsible for the audio he was especially relieved that it had gone well, even though it was a simple and straightforward case of getting the audio on tape.
By the time Clarence returned from dinner with Mark, Aaron, and Vernon, he realized he had a lot to think about. He had casually mentioned that he had been thinking of buying himself a digital camera, and Mark and Aaron were quick to offer advice. Clarence thought he knew quite a bit about photography, but the two camerafurs were more than willing to share all kinds of bits about what kind of flash options to look for, the relative advantages of aperture versus shutter priority, depth of field, the best ways to clean lenses, and so forth.
Such were the thoughts on Clarence's mind on the way to his hotel room when he passed Wanda and Miranda exchanging parting greetings in the hallway. The vixen stepped over to intercept him. "Oh Clarence."
He might have been able to ignore or simply walk around her, but not without appearing rude. "Y..yes, Wanda?"
She stepped closer to him. "Would you please come into my room for a few minutes?"
Clarence's tail gave a twitch as he gave her a look of trepidation. His mouth moved but no sounds came out as he studied her, trying to work out how to respond to her invitation and not coming up with anything. The vixen had a casual, friendly look about her, certainly not the sultry looks he knew she was quite capable of, and the same was true of the tone of her voice.
"Are you still afraid of me?" she continued, speaking in a low register. At least she was being discrete, he observed.
"You w..want me to... j..join you?" he finally stammered.
Wanda stepped closer, probably to make it easier to speak quietly but also bringing her body closer to his. "I know what you're probably thinking," she said smoothly. "You're thinking about Cindy, aren't you?"
Her statement caught him by surprise. Close enough, he realized as he nodded. He hadn't been exactly, but the bunny who was the love of his life was underlying the doubts that he was having at that moment about her invitation.
Wanda smiled and nodded back. "All right, this will only be a few minutes." Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "And I promise you'll have nothing to feel guilty about when you leave."
Clarence was just short of shaking as various possibilities of what could happen once he stepped into her room played through his mind. A few days ago this would have been a no-brainer - trust your instincts and keep Wanda at arm's length. But all the things that had happened in the last few days went through his mind in a rush. The poem. The incident at the bookstore. Her apology. The poem again. The dynamic between them was changing. It was no longer how it had always been back at the studio when she flirted with him and he avoided her. He was finally reaching a comfort level with her, one that meant he might not have to avoid her anymore. After all that had happened to get to this point, it would be foolish to back away from it, to risk offending her by turning tail on a situation that was likely harmless. He took a deep breath. No matter what she does, I am in control of myself. If she gets too forward and things start to get out of hand, I know how to keep my pants on and walk out the door, he thought. "Promise?" he finally uttered.
"Promise," she replied, meeting his gaze.
He let out his breath. "All right," he sighed.
She used her keycard to open the door, and held it open. He stepped in. After the door closed he stood there uncertain what to do with himself as she turned on the television to one of the music channels. An oldie by Atlantic Starr was playing. "Wh..what did you need?" he finally asked.
The vixen stepped closer to him. "I didn't get a chance to dance with you when we were at the club," she replied, her voice a little bit warmer now. "I saw you dance with everyone else and was waiting for my turn, but we never got a chance." She stepped over to him, as close as if they were to dance.
"I... Don't know if I sh..should," he replied, his heart starting to pound in his ears.
"Remember the cousin rule?"
Clarence nodded, recalling the rule as Nancy had stated it at the club two nights previous. "If two cousins could do it without anyone thinking anything of it, then it's okay for someone with a partner to do it with anyone. Or something like that." It made enough sense at the time, and dancing with the other ladies on the cast and crew hadn't left him feeling guilty because they weren't Cindy.
"Something like that," Wanda replied, nodding as she took a small step closer, placing one paw on his shoulder and taking his paw in her other. "May I have this dance? Please?"
He hesitated. "Is... is that what you wanted?" he stammered. "A dance?"
She glanced aside briefly. Their eyes met again. "Is that okay?"
A bit of wisdom came to mind. Do one thing every day that scares you. Okay, running the sound board without someone more experienced looking over his shoulder had scared him, so this would make two in one day. Maybe he'd get tomorrow off to make up for it. He brought his paw up to her waist.
They began to move to the music that was playing from the television. He felt stiff and awkward at first, like his feet didn't quite know where to go. It didn't feel this way with the others. I wasn't this nervous.
"Try to relax. All we're doing is dancing."
He did try to relax. It didn't seem to be helping much. Maybe I shouldn't be trying so hard. I should be able to do this without thinking too much. Like she is. Wanda was moving her body, her feet, a lot like the others had been doing at the club.
"You're still tense."
She looked thoughtful as the dance continued. "Clarence?" she started to ask, taking a couple more steps. "Do you think I could be doing a lot more right now if I were trying to seduce you?"
Clarence paused in his step to look her in the eye for a second, still feeling more tense than he wanted to. "Oh... definitely," he replied.
She smiled at him and started moving again. "But I'm not, am I?"
He was letting her lead as he resumed the dance with her. It was true, he realized. "No, you're not," he said softly, and suddenly some of the tension drained away. "Thank you." The dance continued and he was finding he could do it.
"You're welcome," she replied.
The song ended and they stopped to look at each other. The feeling was not unlike being at the end of a wild roller coaster ride, one you had been afraid of, yet when it reached the end, left one with a feeling like, Yeah, I could do that again. He opened his mouth to speak, intending to ask if he could leave now. But... He was relaxed. She felt nice. She was behaving herself, and he didn't feel tempted to do anything he knew he shouldn't. What came out instead was, "I could dance another with you. If you like."
The smile on her face was all the answer he needed as she moved back into the closed dance position with him.
The song that had begun playing next was a more upbeat tune by Garth Brooks. There wasn't much room to move around between the furniture of the hotel room, but they managed. He was relaxed now, loosened up, enjoying the dance. Wanda wasn't Cindy but she was still one of the most attractive girls he knew, who like most girls could be appreciated in her own way.
The song ended. They came to a stop and stood holding each other, looking at each other. There, for a moment, he thought he saw something else in her eyes, and their muzzles got a little closer together. Clarence knew he was standing close to the edge, that it would be easy to step over, yet he knew where his heart was and wasn't seriously tempted, and for that reason he also didn't feel the need to bolt for the door.
The moment passed and they stepped apart, but she kept hold of his paw. "Thank you for the dances," she said as she led him back to the door.
"You're welcome," he said, and waited for her to open it.
Clarence felt exhilarated as he headed back to his room. An image of Cindy flashed across his mind. Do I feel guilty about what Wanda and I just did?, he mused. I'm not sure. I don't think so. Maybe I need to think it through a little, but not really. Wanda kept her promise.
* * *
Wanda could still pick up his scent in the air as she padded back to the bed. That went really well, she thought. He's finally overcoming his shyness around me. The poem, and especially tonight... She sat on the bed and lay back. I'm happy to have achieved that much with him. He has Cindy, and I respected that.
At least I think I did, she thought as she stood up once again. Stepping over to the sink, she splashed some cold water on her face and looked herself in the mirror. There had been a moment at the end of that last song when it would have been so easy to lean in and kiss him, when it felt like the perfect time to do it. We were that close, and I missed the opportunity, was what one part of her was thinking. No, not a missed opportunity. I was respecting his boundaries. She dried off and went back to her bed where she lay down and clutched at a pillow with her paws.
The cousin rule.
Be nice to him.
I promise you'll have nothing to feel guilty about.
The cooler part of her had prevailed, had kept control. They still had several days left to work together, and betraying his trust like that would have been the worst thing she could have done. She had kept her promise.
But there was no small part of her that wished it were otherwise, and the pent-up tension made her want to shred the pillow.
On to Chapter 14
Return to SabrinaVerse Stories Page