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 © 2003-2006 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 woke up thirty minutes before the alarm. Despite a more restless than usual night of sleep, he could not get himself to fall back to sleep, so he resigned himself to getting dressed and hoping he wouldn't feel tired later in the day.
When he arrived at the breakfast lounge, he spied a table where Clint appeared to be in deep conversation with Jason, Aaron and Pacidy, and there wasn't really any room for him to join and there was no one else he knew from the crew, so he sat at an empty table nearby. A couple of minutes after he began to eat, he heard a voice. "Mind if I join you?" Clarence looked up to see Gypsy Coyote.
The skunk shifted a little in his seat, then made himself smile. "No, not at all. G... go right ahead."
As she was settling into her place, he studied her, trying to think of something to say. "You have a lot of piercings," he said. That was a stupid thing to say, he almost immediately chided himself. Relax. She's not Wanda.
Gypsy smiled. "Hey, I gotta live up to my name, you know," she replied with a smile, taking a sip of her herbal tea.
Her friendly manner was helping him relax, he noted. Maybe it wasn't so stupid after all. Clarence studied the coyote's face, noticing the barbell piercings she had above each eye, and counting the small loops on each ear. "Why do you have three piercings on your right ear and only two on your left?"
Gypsy snickered. "I used to have only two on my right ear, but I didn't want to have thirteen when I got my tail pierced. Bad luck, you know. So I had the guy do one more on my ear."
"You know that's just a superstition," he observed with a smile.
"Yeah, I know," she replied with a shrug, "but why take chances? Even if it's totally bogus, which it probably is, I'll still think about it, then I might do something dumb or start messing up just because of it. You know, having my subconscious working against me."
Clarence nodded. "Yeah, when you put it that way, I guess it makes sense." In spite of himself, he couldn't stop the analytical part of his mind from doing the math. "Five on your ears, two on your eyebrows, one on your tail..."
"Two on my tail," Gypsy corrected. "And one on my navel," she added, then just smirked at him, waiting to see how he would continue the line of thought. There was an uncomfortable pause before Clarence's eyes moved down to her breasts. Following his gaze, she nodded. "Yep, two more there."
He blinked in surprise and quickly returned his eyes to her face. Then, upon seeing her sassy smile, looked away in embarrassment as his ears flushed. Gypsy kept herself from laughing but couldn't hide the bigger smile she now wore at the skunk's expense. Eventually he made himself smile at her once again, his gaze thoughtful now. "Tha... that only makes twelve."
She gazed back at him, still grinning. "I was wondering how long it would take you to ask," she said. There was another long pause while she let the obvious question hang. When Clarence said nothing more, she finally said, "You haven't watched any of my movies, have you?"
"Eh... No, I, uh... haven't," he stammered, not only embarrassed but a little afraid he was insulting her with that reply.
Gypsy reached across and placed a paw on his arm, giggling. "It's okay," she said gently. Whatever else she might have said to tease him, she didn't, and instead steered their conversation to safer topics. He was able to further relax when they were joined moments later by Vernon.
They had gotten into a pleasant conversation when everyone stood up at the table next to them. Clint stopped between him and Vernon, placing a paw on each of their shoulders. "When you guys are done with breakfast, I need you out back by the trailer."
"Aye aye, sir," said Vernon. Clarence nodded as well.
That job entailed transferring the brass bed to the rental truck, along with all the tools and accessories that went with it. "Looks like it's going to be an interesting day," the raccoon observed.
* * *
"We're setting the bed up here?" Clarence asked incredulously. He and Vernon were standing in a meadow full of wildflowers with intermittent shrubs and small trees.
"Yes, I'm thinking right about... here," Martin replied, padding over to a level area several paces away where there was mostly grass and low weeds. "We'll have a good backdrop of trees and hills in the distance with flowering shrubs, and without anything that's out of period easily visible." He was standing to one side looking toward the indicated spot. "And plenty of room on this side for Mark to maneuver and get good camera angles."
Vernon smiled and nodded. Clarence still had a puzzled look on his face. "Okay, if you say so," the skunk replied.
Martin chuckled a little. "Are you wondering what we're shooting today?" When Clarence nodded, he continued. "It's a dream sequence. Rose and Tyler meet each other in the meadow, sort of like the classic Wuthering Heights scene. They chase each other and cavort playfully until they reach the bed. They climb on and start making love. Once things are getting hot and heavy with Rose on the bottom, she closes her eyes for a few seconds, and when she opens them again, she sees that Malachi, not Tyler, is now on top of her. She reacts in shock and tries to get off the bed, but when she goes to step off, they are no longer in this beautiful meadow, but a dreary swamp."
"And then Rose wakes up?" Vernon asked.
"Exactly," said Martin. He looked over to where Wanda and Nathan, still in their plainclothes, were walking around with Mark, trying to pick out paths where the performers would be doing their cavorting. "Hey you guys, be careful how much walking around you do. I don't want this meadow to look like it's been walked around in." He turned back to Vernon and Clarence. "Same goes for you," he said in a lower voice. "The flowers and the grass should look as undisturbed as possible around the bed where they will be in frame."
"We might have a slight problem," Mark called. "There's a few weeds and bushes that costumes could get snagged on or leave cockleburs."
Martin pondered thoughtfully. "Pacidy will chew my ass if the costumes get damaged at all. Okay, we'll just have to pick our path carefully," he replied, then looked back toward Vern and Clarence. "Once we've done that I'll have one of you guys walk the path and clear out any plants that might present a problem."
At Vernon's suggestion, they chose a place a short distance away to assemble the brass bed so as not to trample the grass and wildflowers around where it would be placed for the filming. But as soon as the heavier pieces were unloaded from the truck, Vern was pulled away for the task of clearing the cockleburs, so Clarence ended up assembling the bed most of the way by himself, and was putting on the sheets and comforter when Vern finally returned. He asked Clarence to check him over for any cockleburs. Then they moved the bed over to the previously indicated location and leveled and stabilized it with blocks under the feet.
By the time they were finished, Wanda and Nathan were in their costumes and Mark was filming with the handicam. Their next task was to set up a stationary camera near the bed in order to have another camera angle.
The footage being filmed in the bed was one of the few explicit parts of the movie being filmed in Georgia. Clarence avoided eye contact with Wanda, who seemed to be too much into her actress mindset to really notice, and by the time they were ready to begin filming he retreated a safe distance away, not unlike what he often did back at the studio when explicit scenes were being filmed. There was no audio being recorded - as Martin explained the sound for this scene would all be dubbed recordings, Foley, and musical score - so there was no mike for him to hold today.
Nevertheless, he had to stay within earshot in case they needed him for something, which meant he could still see and hear some of what was happening on the set. So in order to distract himself, Clarence began doing something his mother taught him when he was much younger - he began picking and making a chain out of wildflowers. It was a rather girlish thing to be doing, he realized, but he thought about Cindy as he did it, how beautiful she would look adorned with this chain of wildflowers, with more flowers on her ears and her clothes to add to her beauty. His thoughts drifted. Ah, Cindy. What are you doing now? What I wouldn't give to be with you, to share this moment... Thoughts like these carried him through the morning and kept his mind occupied while the others finished the filming. Sitting there, lost in his own world, he was smiling.
It was only gradually that he became aware that the filming was finished, and an argument of sorts had started. "You're doing what?" he heard Marty saying.
"I need to get some stills of Wanda," Mark replied, now holding the digital camera.
"I even brought along a couple of my other outfits for it," Wanda chimed in. "I don't get many outdoor shoots."
Martin frowned. "There wasn't anything about this in the schedule, and we have other things to get done this afternoon."
"It was a last minute thing," Mark replied. "It's something Marvin and I talked about shortly before we left to come here."
"Marvin!?" the wolf replied. "Mister 'we have a schedule to keep'. I'll have to bug him about that. Okay, how much time do you need?"
Mark smiled. "Thirty minutes, tops. Maybe only twenty, if Wanda is ready."
Wanda, still dressed in the very revealing negligee she'd been wearing for the scene, replied in her best sultry voice, "Ready whenever you are."
Within a couple of minutes, Mark and Wanda had their photographer/model rapport going, getting lots of good shots, many of them on or beside the brass bed. Clarence, meanwhile, had just gotten back into his mental zone, trying to keep his mind off those proceedings, when he was suddenly jerked out of it. "Oh, Clarence," he heard Wanda say in her sweetest voice.
"Eh, yes?" he replied, turning to face the scantily clad vixen.
"May I borrow your chain of flowers?"
His paw went up to caress the chain, which he was now wearing around his neck. You mean this chain of flowers? The one I've spent the last hour making while I was thinking about Cindy, imagining how she'd look with it around her neck? But even if his face betrayed a hint of unease, he couldn't verbalize those thoughts. All he could stammer out was, "Well, uh... Yeah, sure, I guess."
He removed the flower chain and gave it to her, feeling a bit queasy as he watched her put it on. Thankfully, she and Mark were aware it was fragile and handled it with great care. "Say, Clarence," Martin contributed from the side. "Why don't you collect us a few more colors and varieties of flowers for us to try on Wanda."
"Umm... Yeah, sure. N... no problem," he replied. This he did, and from what he could hear of the interplay between Wanda, Mark, and Martin while they shot the pictures, they were very pleased with the results. But the whole time he had a feeling in his gut that the situation had gotten twisted out of his control, and was kicking himself mentally, thinking, That wasn't supposed to happen.
* * *
Cindy slid the key into the lock, which opened easily on the first try. One pawed, even, she thought to herself. Good thing, since I have his mail in my other paw. Glad I didn't have to fight the lock like I did on that doggone mailbox. It took me forever to get that thing to open.
She opened the door and stepped into Clarence's apartment, placing his three days' worth of mail on the table. Then she looked around. Everything appears to be in good order. Nothing missing, no signs of problems. Not that much else could happen when a single guy leaves his apartment for a couple of weeks, but he had told her he felt better having someone bring in his mail and check on the place now and then. Come to think of it, she felt better being able to do something nice for him in his absence. There wasn't much left to do, and it was just a stopover anyhow on her way to a shift at Callahans, but before leaving, she was struck by a sudden impulse.
Stepping quietly across the living room, the lop bunny opened the door to his bedroom. There was really no reason for her to be quiet, but somehow it felt like she should if she were going to go sneaking around his place. Peering through the door, she saw his neatly made bed, a laundry pile with what little clothing he had worn after taking his laundry over to his mother's place, and a nightstand. Sitting on the nightstand were two pictures. One was a picture of her she had given him a few weeks after they started dating, now mounted in a nice if probably inexpensive desktop frame. The other had a skunk couple with a three-year-old boy. She immediately recognized Clarence's mother, and almost as quickly recognized the boy as Clarence. Cute kid, she thought to herself with a smile. Her eyes were then drawn to the older male. So that's what Clarence's father looked like. Very handsome guy. Like his son. Sad to think he was killed in a car accident a couple of years after this picture was taken.
It was a somber moment for Cindy, thinking about her boyfriend growing up without a father. She stared at the picture for a long moment while her breathing slowed. Somehow she knew then that she would be stopping to look at this picture every visit until Clarence returned. She finally glanced over at the clock. Time for me to get to work, she realized. I wish I could give you a big hug and just hold you tight right now, Clarence.
* * *
"Why are we up here?" Clarence asked, his paw holding tightly to the equipment case. To an observer, it might look more like he was hanging onto it for dear life than keeping it safe.
The sure-footed bobcat maneuvered the camera closer to the edge of the roof to get a better downward angle on the horseshoe drive in front of the Crutchfield Mansion. Neither the power pack on his back nor the video camera with the five-figure price tag in his paws were enough to unnerve Aaron from getting his best shot, even if it meant he was only inches from the 25-foot drop to the ground below. "Just getting some experimental shots so I'll have a better idea what I can do in the days ahead."
"Err... Okay," the skunk replied. The breeze wasn't enough to take the edge off the bright sun, especially with as much heat as the roof was giving off. So he sat and watched, panting heavily both from the heat and his nerves while he waited. He finally had to stop watching Aaron. Eventually, the bobcat was finished. "Okay, Clarence, we can pack 'er up and climb back down now."
The camera was repacked in just a couple of minutes, and Aaron used the same rope they had hauled it up with to lower it to a waiting crew member below. Then it was time to climb down. Relieved as he would be to have his paws back on the earth, the process of actually getting down was nonetheless pretty scary for him. It took Clarence a couple of minutes to get up the nerve to approach the top of the ladder. "God, th... this scares... me," he stammered as he inched closer. It didn't help matters any that some of the places he had to touch or grab to get there were almost hot enough to burn.
Aaron watched him with a concerned smile. "Hey, just take your time and be careful. You'll do fine," he said calmly. "You know, they say it's good for you to do something every now and then that scares the hell out of you," he added.
Yeah, right, Clarence thought to himself. This whole trip has been nothing but scaring the hell out of me. Airports, figuring stuff out as we go along, Wanda... Catching himself on that thought, he decided climbing down the ladder might not be such a challenge after all, and before he knew it, he was back on the ground.
As they were putting equipment away and preparing to call it a day, a car drove up that was hard not to notice. It was a 1919 Ford Model T, in near mint condition. When all who came over for a closer look were done with their oohs and ahs, the crew had to rearrange all the equipment stored in the carriage house to make room for the car, delaying their departure by a few minutes. Everyone was sufficiently awed by the antique automobile that no one minded the few extra minutes of work. This is the kind of experience where you don't care whether you get paid or not, Clarence mused as he helped clear the space. I'd probably just be channel surfing at my hotel room anyhow if I weren't here.
While the crew was busy with that, Mark was inside the mansion, working at the computer in the makeshift office. He hooked up the digital camera and transferred the photos he had taken of Wanda to the computer. The lemur skimmed through them, eliminating several that were obviously bad, and leaving the rest for others to decide which ones to use. He then opened an ftp connection with the main file server at the studio back in Columbus, and transferred the photos to it, storing them in a directory where they would be available to other members of the ZZ Studios staff.
* * *
When Clarence returned to the hotel room, he found a book waiting for him on his bed. It was the Furry Potter book the innkeeper's daughter had mentioned to him the day before, and sitting on top of it was a note:
Clarence,Well, that was nice of her, thought Clarence. Gives me something better to do than a hundred channels of nothing to watch.
Hope you enjoy the book. Just leave it at the front desk when you're done with it.
He tried not to admit to himself that it gave him a convenient excuse not to work on a poem about Wanda.
* * *
The phone rang only once before the badger picked it up. "Hello."
"Hi, Rhonda?" said a familiar vixen voice tentatively. "This is Wanda."
"Wanda! How are you?"
"Doing great. We've gotten several scenes out of the way already. How about you?"
"Surviving. It's great to hear from you."
"Well, I thought I'd give you a call and see how you're recovering and what kind of trouble you've been getting into."
"This place is boring," she muttered. "I'll probably get to go home tomorrow, and I can't wait to get out of here."
"So you can be bored at home?"
Rhonda laughed uncomfortably. "Point. But it still beats being stuck here. And I do mean stuck. Do you know how many needles I've been on the wrong end of the last few days?"
"A lot, I take it."
Rhonda let out a heavy sigh. "At least at home I'll be able to get a few things done, and so will Marvin. He's been stuck here with me every night."
"I don't hear you complaining," came Wanda's reply. She could hear the smile in the vixen's voice.
Rhonda sighed happily. "He's been wonderful, staying at my side just about every waking hour he's not working. It would have been so much worse getting through this without him."
"And I suppose one of the things you're going to do once you're home is to thank him properly. Am I right?" The amusement was evident in the vixen's tone of voice.
The badger let out a slight groan. "As tempting as that sounds, I don't think we'll be doing anything like that right away."
"How is everything going down there in Georgia? Any problems with you and Clarence?"
Wanda paused only briefly before answering. "I think I got a little carried away once yesterday, but Nancy put a stop to that. I behaved myself today when we were doing an outdoor shoot."
"Hmmm... Okay, just be nice to him."
"But he's so tempting..."
"I know, I'm just kidding."
They bantered on for a few more minutes before ending the call. After it ended, Wanda opened the bottle of wine she had bought at the convenience store near the hotel, poured some into one of the plastic cups the hotel provided, and started sipping. Pity they don't have mini-fridges in these rooms, she thought. Rhonda isn't quite the same carefree, fun-loving fur she was a couple of years ago before she married Marvin, yet she seems happier. Her thoughts turned to Clarence once again. I wonder what he'd be like if he didn't have Cindy. He seems to have just that little boost of confidence and happiness that he wouldn't have if he didn't have a girlfriend.
She flipped on the television looking for something to watch. Oooh, there's a movie I've been wanting to see, she thought as she saw a listing scroll by on the guide channel, and it's just starting.
The movie kept her up an hour and a half later than she had planned to stay up, and she drank one more glass of wine than she probably should have in that time.
On to Chapter 7
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