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.
As Clarence entered the breakfast lounge for what was likely the final time, he couldn't help noticing that the mood was a lot different than it had been any other morning of his stay. Most of the crew were there and sounding much more upbeat, more talkative than on previous days. The anticipation of returning could affect furs that way; one could almost describe the atmosphere as chaotic. Lisa was back and forth between chatting with various members of the crew and tending to something or other at the service counter.
The fortysomething squirrel padded into the breakfast lounge, glancing briefly at Lisa as he headed over to Zig Zag where he placed a paw on her shoulder. "Good morning, Miss Zig Zag," he said to her, his speech an odd mix of southern and German.
"Good morning, Wil," she replied, not bothering to correct him for using the honorific she normally eschewed.
"I just wanted to thank you again for your business," he said, "and for putting my daughter through college."
"Daddy!" whined Lisa from the service counter.
"You oughta come back to do a sequel so you can put my son through college too."
Clarence's analytical side kicked in. What are the chances of that happening, and of me still working for the studio if it does?
Zig Zag smiled up at the innkeeper. "Thank you, Mr. Eichhörnchen, for putting up with us. I hope my feisty crew hasn't been too much trouble for you."
"Y'all have been a pleasure to have around. You're colorful without being troublesome, and in my book those are the best kinds of guests to have. It's going to be quiet here without you."
"No more protesters," said James, seated beside her.
"Now don't you worry none about Reverend Dan and his peanut gallery. We'll keep them off the property next time you're in town."
Zig Zag grinned up at him. "Ten to one he buys the movie. And watches it!"
* * *
The half-hour trip to Middle Georgia Regional Airport was uneventful. They had a dozen rental cars to turn in, but once everyone made it to the ticket counter, check in went quickly because so few of them needed to check any luggage. Most of their larger luggage, including Clarence's yellow suitcase, were on the semi-truck that had departed the previous evening.
The commuter flight to Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport was on a Canadair Regional, the same type of aircraft they had flown down on before. There weren't many other Sunday travelers, so the Double Z Studios crew made up three-fourths of the passengers. The flight arrived in Atlanta on time, and shortly thereafter, everyone on the film crew was in the boarding area with plenty of time to spare. When the announcement came to begin boarding the main flight to Columbus by rows, Clarence was among the second group.
The aircraft was a DC-9, with two seats per row on the left side of the aisle, three on the right, and Clarence had already noted his assigned seat had a letter 'A', which put him on the left side. Making his way slowly down the aisle as the passengers ahead of him stowed their luggage and got into their seats, the skunk finally arrived at his row and glanced out the window. Damn, it's over a wing. The view won't be as good. At least it's not the row in front of the emergency exit where you can't recline your seat. He slipped into the row, then realized he'd forgotten to stow his bag overhead. Better up there than taking up my legroom. As he stepped partway back out, he came face to face with Wanda, and had a sense of déjà vu as the vixen stopped to look at him again.
"Looks like we got the same row again," she said.
Clarence glanced sideways, then back at her. "What are the odds?" He backed up so she could step out of the aisle and let other boarding passengers get past. As Wanda reached up to stow her carry-on bag overhead, Clarence couldn't resist the temptation to steal a good look at her. "Is there room for mine up there too?" he asked.
"Plenty," she replied, and he handed her his bag.
He made sure to look away before she was done stowing the bags, but the smile she gave him suggested she knew where his eyes had been.
As Wanda was about to sit, Mark was approaching along the aisle. His eyes moved between Clarence and Wanda, looking as if he were about to say something, but whatever it was went unspoken as the passenger behind Mark bumped into him. He quickly hurried past them toward his seat. "I'm two rows behind you if you need anything," he said as he passed.
Clarence's thoughts again went back to their flight down where he and Wanda had been given seat assignments on the same row. More déjà vu. And almost as if on cue, Wanda turned to him. "For a minute there I thought he was going to ask to trade places with you again."
Clarence shook his head and smiled. "Nah, that's okay. You can sit with me, but there's one rule."
Wanda's ears perked. "A rule? Okay, what's this rule?"
"No ice cream for you."
The vixen blinked in surprise, then she let out a hearty laugh. "All right, Clarence. No ice cream." The vixen got settled into her seat, then turned to look at Clarence, studying him.
He too was getting relaxed, but froze and glanced up when he saw her looking at him. "What?"
Wanda smiled at him. "You dress well. Have I told you that?"
Clarence smiled back and shook his head. "N..no you haven't. Thanks. Cindy picks everything I wear."
"Ah, does she now? Then I should say she dresses you well. Do you pick any of your clothes?"
Clarence cleared his throat. "I used to before we started dating. I suppose I wasn't very good at it." He paused to look down at himself. "To me they're just clothes. I bought what I thought looked good enough and was inexpensive. But Cindy wanted me to look better. I guess she didn't want to be seen with me like that." He laughed.
"I'll take your word for it. I didn't know you before you started dating her."
"I still get a T-shirt I like now and then. Geek humor and stuff like that. But she chooses most of it."
The plane began taxiing as the flight attendants stood up to give the usual presentation about the safety features of the aircraft. During those few minutes, Clarence's thoughts went back to the way Mark had been looking at them. It's almost like he was offering a way out. Like he thought maybe I needed a rescue. He shrugged. It's a good thing he needed to talk to her about that photo shoot on the way down. I really did need a rescue then. A few things clicked in his mind. The photo shoot hadn't been on the schedule. It was unplanned, and Martin seemed taken aback when Mark brought it up the day we were filming the dream sequence in the meadow. The flight attendants finished their presentation, so he turned to Wanda. "Wanda, M..may I ask you something about that photo shoot you did the first week."
She looked at him curiously. "What about it?"
"When d..did you first hear about it?"
Wanda's head tilted. "Let's see, it was... You know what? I didn't know anything about it until Mark talked to me on the plane."
"You're sure about that?"
"That's funny. Marty didn't know about it either."
Wanda got a thoughtful look. "You're right. You think Mark thought it up on his own?"
Clarence sighed. "I think Mark was trying to rescue me."
Wanda giggled. "Me, someone anyone would need to be rescued from? That's an amusing thought." She tilted her head and looked up at the ceiling. "You may be right. Did he know about us?"
"As far as I know, the only ones who knew about us were Marvin and maybe Sabrina."
"Oh yeah, Rhonda. So anyway when I agreed to join this crew I thought Marvin was going to be around in case..." He paused and stammered.
"I know," Wanda replied. "He... I mean Mark, might have figured it out on his own. Nancy did."
"Nancy caught us at a couple of awkward moments. She's pretty sharp anyway."
"Yeah, but that was after a couple of things happened. Mark would have to have already known."
At that moment, the plane was cleared for takeoff. The engines revved up and the plane began speeding down the runway.
They were silent for a few more minutes while Clarence watched out the window as the plane rose into the air. Once the flight was well on its way to cruising altitude, the captain turned off the seat belt sign. Wanda almost immediately unfastened hers and stepped back two rows to talk to Mark. A few other passengers passed, heading for the restrooms. The flight attendants made an announcement that they were bringing out the drink cart. Wanda soon returned to her seat. "You were right," was the first thing she said as she sat back down.
"I was? About what?"
"Marvin called Mark the night before we left and asked him to keep an eye out for any problems between you and me. And he thought up the photo shoot on the spot when he saw us seated together."
Clarence sighed and frowned. "Damn! So he and you had to interrupt a day of filming because I was too afraid to sit with you." He shook his head. "Of course, that's easy to say now. I mean, you and I are sitting here talking, but I really was afraid of you at the time."
Wanda raised her eyebrows and looked back at him. "From what I remember of the look on your face, I'd say you were terrified."
He looked distraught. "Don't remind me."
Wanda reached out to touch his chin. She withdrew her paw when he looked up at her to see her grinning. "Clarence, has anyone told you what became of those pictures?"
He shook his head, looking confused. "No, what happened?"
"They got posted on the studio website, and they turned out to be very popular. That's why they wanted us to get more of them a couple of days later. That wasn't in the schedule either."
Clarence slumped into his seat even more. "So you guys had to go take more pictures on our day off?"
Wanda was still smiling. "Clarence, did you hear what Zig Zag said last night? This movie is getting a lot of advance publicity, and it's because of those pictures."
The skunk leaned his head back, thinking, then closed his eyes. "Oh my gosh! All that because I was too afraid to sit with you."
Wanda placed a paw on his shoulder. "I'm glad you're not afraid to sit with me now."
Clarence nodded, smiling once again. A lot had happened in two weeks.
* * *
As the plane taxied up, Cindy pointed out the window at it. "Look Jordan! There's the plane with your Mommy on it."
The otter toddler squirmed in her arms. "Mommy. Plane."
Gary Fisher stood beside them as the aircraft came to a full stop at the end of the jetway. "It always takes longer than it seems like it ought to for them to start unloading." The anticipation of seeing their loved ones for the first time in two weeks made it seem longer still.
It was only a couple of minutes before the door to the jetway opened and passengers began emerging. As soon as Nancy appeared, Cindy set Jordan down. He dashed over to her, squealing "Mommy!"
"Jordan!" Nancy scooped her son up and gave him a tight tearful hug. "I missed you guys so much!" she sobbed as Gary joined them in the hug. Cindy was watching them with a smile even as she kept a lookout for Clarence with one eye. "Thank you for babysitting Jordan," Nancy said to her.
"Don't mention it. He was a joy," the lop rabbit replied.
Clarence stepped out of the jetway just then. He looked around, spied her, and dashed over, letting his carry-on bag drop into a nearby seat so he could hug her with both arms. There were no words between them at first, they were so wrapped up in holding and being held by one another for more than a minute, not caring if they were causing a spectacle. She enjoyed the feel of his body against her, his arms around her, his scent where her nose met his neckfur. And when they partially released the hug, their eyes met and their noses touched.
"It's so good to have you back," said Cindy.
"It feels great to be back," he replied.
"Do you remember when we were like that?" Gary said to Nancy.
"Wasn't so long ago," Nancy replied.
Cindy glanced briefly at the other couple. "Voyeurs!" she sighed. "Shall we head to baggage claim?"
"I didn't check any baggage. My suitcase is on the truck. We all need to report to the studio this afternoon so we can unload the truck and get our suitcases."
"Awww," said Cindy.
Nancy piped up. "With everyone helping it shouldn't take long. We don't have to get everything unpacked and put away today. We just have to get it off the truck and inside."
Clarence picked up his carry-on bag and they turned to head along the concourse. They spotted Wanda standing nearby, watching them. "Wanda!" Clarence called to her.
Wanda's ears perked, and she padded over to join them. "Clarence!"
"I don't think we've been introduced," said Cindy, "but I've seen you before."
Wanda extended a paw, and Cindy shook it. "You have a wonderful boyfriend."
"Fiancé, actually," Cindy replied. "And he certainly is. He's told me some interesting things about you." Cindy slipped between the two of them as they began walking along the concourse.
"He talks about you a lot too," Wanda replied. "You should hear him."
Cindy wasn't going to let the resigned look she saw from Clarence stop her from making small talk with the vixen as they walked toward the main terminal and the parking garage.
* * *
She pushed the costume cart into the women's dressing room and parked it next to a similar looking cart. That's quite an odd assortment of accessories, Cindy mused as she glanced over the contents of both carts. She returned to the busy hallway, jumping to one side as another cart was pushed past her, then resuming her trek back toward the truck. Upon reaching the garage door she looked outside to see Clarence and Vernon unloading one of the rails from the brass bed, and didn't see anything else being moved that she'd know how to help with. She spotted Wanda standing a few feet away and stepped over beside her. "That's a lot of stuff you guys had with you!"
Wanda gave her tail a swish. "It sure is."
Cindy leaned closer to her and spoke in a more discrete voice. "Can we talk for a few minutes?"
The vixen turned her head to look at her. "Am I in trouble for being the other woman who's attracted to your fiancé?" It was spoken like she hoped it would pass for a jest.
Cindy's ears gave a twitch, studying the vixen. "You're not in trouble, at least not yet."
They turned to head back inside toward the studio lounge. "You know, he never failed to mention you whenever we found ourselves stuck together," said Wanda. Cindy noticed the vixen's stride. That and other mannerisms about the way Wanda carried herself had a subtle hint of come hither. "Some guys are 'Out of sight, out of mind' types. Not Clarence."
"How did you end up stuck together?" asked Cindy as they reached the lounge.
Wanda took a seat at one of the tables. "Different ways. We got seated in the same row on the airplane. He'd help me go through some lines for a scene. We both needed to run errands."
Cindy took the seat opposite her. "Were you trying to get closer to him?"
"I was trying to give him space. I guess he didn't want to bring it up with Clint or Marty, so no one else on the crew knew there was anything between us. I take that back - one guy did know. It was Mark, a cameraman and photographer. But anyway, I had my scenes where I had to act, he got assigned wherever they needed support crew, and sometimes we ended up working together."
Cindy nodded. "Okay, that's understandable. He didn't even tell me about you until a few days ago."
Wanda sighed and shrugged. "I wasn't trying to move in on him or anything, but we were bound to end up together a few times. You know, he was afraid of me for the longest time here at the studio. He avoided me and I gave him his space. But this trip we couldn't always avoid each other, and in the end we worked through it. We're friends now and I like it better that way."
"So what you're saying is he's not avoiding you anymore and now he's okay with it when you end up together?"
"Yes, as I said we worked through it. It took a while." Her voice trailed off.
"What do you mean when you say you worked through it? What did that involve?"
Wanda bit her lip. "Well... He never really approached me, but there was one time during the trip when he did. We were in a bookstore at the mall in Macon, and..."
Cindy nodded. "He told me about it."
Wanda swallowed. "Clarence was trying to be a gentleman, and I didn't handle it very well."
Cindy nodded again, but didn't interrupt.
"I had to go to him later and apologize." Wanda glanced away ruefully. "It wasn't easy for me but I had to do it after what I'd done earlier. I could see he appreciated it."
Cindy waited for Wanda to look back at her. "Thank you for apologizing. You're right, he really needed it."
"That incident turned out to be the breakthrough we needed to stop avoiding each other and start talking like friends. It took a few more days..."
The rabbit twitched her nose and grinned. "As shy as he is, I'm not surprised it took a while. What do you think took so long?"
"I think it took him a while to decide that he trusts me, and he trusts himself."
"That's about what he said when we talked about that." Cindy fixed her gaze on Wanda. "Maybe I need to trust you."
Wanda's ears canted forward as she pondered. "That's fair. I'm not sure what I could say."
"Maybe... That you won't tempt him?"
Wanda smiled and nodded. "He's tempting, I admit it. Okay, how's this? If he came to me tomorrow and said you two had a big fight and he wanted my company, I'd... well, I might talk with him, but if he wanted to, you know..."
"Yeah, I know."
"I wouldn't let him do anything with me he should be saving for when he makes up with you."
Cindy laughed. "That's a good way to put it. All right."
"You know, I'll bet when you became a couple - shy nerdy Clarence who always had trouble getting a girl's attention - you never thought you'd have to worry about other girls being attracted to him."
"I had other boyfriends before Clarence that other girls noticed."
"But did you think it would happen with him?"
"I never gave it much thought. He was much too pleased to finally have a girlfriend. He was funny sometimes, the way he wasn't sure how to handle having a girlfriend."
"Then you're not worried that he might suddenly realize he's attractive to women after all and may have more options?"
"Clarence? I don't think..."
Wanda put her elbows on the table and leaned closer. "Being shy and nerdy doesn't preclude a guy from that. Some guys are just like that, some are not. A nerdy guy who's awkward with women could be inclined to stray once he realizes he can, just like even the most confident, attractive stud may turn out to be a faithful and devoted husband."
"What are you saying about Clarence?"
"You need to ask me? I think you already know where he stands."
"Where do you say he stands?"
"My take? I think when he got into a relationship with you, he thought he'd found the one and only girl who would ever find him attractive, and would never let go of you. But you and I both know he's a good catch."
Cindy grinned. "He certainly is."
"But he didn't think of himself that way, and when he got noticed by someone like me he didn't know how to handle himself. I think he does now, on both counts, and he's still as devoted to you as ever."
"You still flirt with him."
Wanda grinned and winked at her as she sat back up. "I flirt with all the guys here." She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial tone. "I've even flirted with Rodney." Her voice returned to normal. "The guys know it's all in good fun. And I'm not the only girl at Double Z who does it. I'm sure I saw Gypsy flirting with him a time or two during the trip."
"Some would call that sexual harassment."
"I'm sure it would be in a lot of places, but here, it's just part of the atmosphere. That little bit of electricity carries over into the films we produce. Don't get me wrong - we know when to keep it in check, and we certainly don't want it to jeopardize anyone's outside relationships."
"Hmmm, okay. I just don't want to see Clarence get hurt by any of this."
"I don't either, not him or anyone else. What happened at the bookstore and afterwards was the low point of the trip for me."
"He also said he wrote a poem for you."
"Yes, it was very nice. I was speechless."
Cindy giggled. "That doesn't happen to you often, does it?"
Wanda let out a melodramatic sigh, then straightened up. "Have you seen it yet?"
"No, I haven't. Not yet."
"It was very nice. I can see some of what he was struggling with in it. I don't ever want to hurt him again."
Cindy grinned at her. "Just don't forget, 'cause if you do, next time you'll have to answer to me."
"Wanda, I'm not your mother or your boss. All I'm saying is, be nice to him."
Now it was Wanda's turn to giggle. "You were in a dream I had a few nights ago and you said exactly the same thing."
They had been ignoring various furs that passed in the hallway outside the lounge entrance, but then another vixen paused and stepped through the doorway. "Hi Wanda!"
"Hi, Lilian," Wanda replied.
"So you two are talking now," Lilian remarked.
"We were just discussing a few things," said Cindy. She leaned closer to Wanda. "By the way, I almost forgot. Thank you for the bonus gifts."
"My pleasure. I just wish I could be there to see his reaction. What did you think of my suggestions?"
Cindy got an almost sheepish grin. "They were," she cleared her throat, "very interesting. Lilian had some good ideas too."
"Hey, I can make anyone look good," the fashion designer said brightly.
"Like I knew you would," Wanda replied.
All three quickly hushed as more footsteps announced the approach of others. Clarence and Vernon stepped through the doorway. The skunk padded over behind Cindy and draped his arms around her, leaning down to nuzzle her between the ears. Smiling contentedly he glanced across the table at Wanda, who was watching them and smiling warmly. "You two make a very cute couple," she said.
Clarence gave a bashful twitch of the ears, then looked down at the rabbit. "Cindy, have I introduced Vernon?" he asked, indicating the curmudgeonly raccoon. "We work together a lot."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," said Vernon, extending a paw, which Cindy shook.
"Nice to meet you. How is the unloading coming along?"
"We are basically done. They're getting the last few things inside as we speak."
Zig Zag stepped up behind Wanda and looked across at Cindy. "Is it getting crowded in here or what?"
Cindy looked around. Others were trickling into the lounge as well, talking among themselves. "We were alone not two minutes ago."
"We're all like one big happy family here," said Zig Zag.
Just then a bobcat walked up carrying two large cases which he rested on the table.
"Hi, Aaron," said Wanda.
"Hi, Wanda," he said, smiling back at her. He nodded to Zig Zag, then turned to lower his gaze upon the lop-eared rabbit. "Cindy, I presume?"
She nodded. "That's me."
"Will you be going to your parents' place sometime after you leave here today?"
"We're in Clarence's car, but yes. I still live with my parents."
Aaron nodded. "Good, good." He looked up at Clarence. "I hope you have room for these. We need to have Rodney check them over."
Clarence nodded. "Yes, I have plenty of room. I'll get them to Rodney."
Wanda winked at them. "Is that before or after you two have a romantic dinner?"
Clarence smiled and sighed. "Cindy's parents invited me to have dinner with them."
Zig Zag gazed at them. "Aww, no romantic reunion for you two?"
"Oh, there will be for sure," answered Cindy with a big smile, "just not tonight."
Clarence closed his eyes, smiled, and hugged her again. It felt good to have each other back.
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