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 © 2003-2008 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.
Upon entering the breakfast lounge, Clarence hadn't even had a chance to look toward the service counter before he was met by Clint. "Clarence! Good morning."
"Good morning, sir," the skunk replied, feeling slightly off balance.
The aardwolf chuckled. "Just call me Clint."
"Okay, s- ... uh, Clint."
This got another chuckle from him. "You're too polite sometimes. Anyhow, you can take it easy today. You and most of the crew get the day off."
"Why th- ... thank you."
"Don't thank me. Boss's orders. Of course, she did give us some latitude which day to take off, but they're forecasting rain later this morning, so it seemed like as good a time as any."
Clarence shrugged and nodded, and finally got a good look at the selection for the day. He grabbed himself a bagel and some cream cheese, as well as some orange juice.
"No time off for me yet," said Mark from the table where he was sitting. "Boss's orders there, too."
The skunk took a seat at his table. "Oh, really?"
Mark looked up at him, making an indefinite gesture. "Zig Zag wants us to get more pictures like those ones we took of Wanda the other day, so I've gotta do another photo shoot, this time with Gypsy and Miranda."
"I don't suppose they're too crazy about that."
"Actually they're pretty excited about it."
The skunk's ears twitched. "Oh, really?"
"It's basically modeling shoots, and those are more fun and relaxing than filming movies. For one thing, they don't need to act. They just have to be themselves, and I'm just there to help bring out their personalities while I work the camera."
There was a long pause before Clarence responded. "Umm ... Did you need any help?"
Mark shook his head. "Pacidy's gonna help me. She's in charge of all the costumes and stuff." He took a bite of his fruit salad. "It's partly so she can keep track of anything they wear. But she's got some good ideas for the shoot as well." Clarence nodded. "Besides, we want to be done before it gets too cloudy or the sun gets too high, whichever happens first."
* * *
Zig Zag picked up the telephone. "Double Z Studios. Can I help you?"
"Good morning," said James. "So lovely to hear your voice."
She dropped her businesslike demeanor and smiled. "I like hearing yours too. What's up?"
"I'm coming with you next week. Doug says all of our customers are covered so I'm free to take off for a few days."
"Awesome. Have you called the travel agent yet?"
"Yep, called them first. Got the same flights as you."
"Aw shucks, I forgot to ask them about that," he replied wryly. "Do you know of anyone who might let me stay with them?"
He could no doubt hear the big grin on her muzzle when she answered. "Let me think ... I could use someone to warm up my bed for me."
"I could, but ... it might get a little too hot under the covers."
"I certainly hope so."
* * *
Several members of the cast and crew had been hoping for an opportunity to visit the Macon Mall. Even if wandering around a shopping mall wasn't Clarence's favorite way to spend a free afternoon, it beat the heck out of sitting in his hotel room watching TV. Macon Mall was, he thought, surprisingly large for a city the size of Macon. He wasn't even sure if any of the ones he'd been to in the Columbus area were bigger.
It was as good an opportunity as any to buy something nice to bring back for Cindy, and for some reason the idea of a T-Shirt with peaches on it had taken hold in his mind. There was one he found that had the words "Squeeze my Peaches" on it, but he wasn't too sure what she'd think of that one, so he decided to play it safe, choosing instead one with a fruit crate style picture.
He continued wandering the mall, looking for interesting shops to browse and any souvenirs he might like for himself or Cindy, or possibly his mother, while passing on most of the clothing stores. I never understood why so much of the retail space in malls is taken up by clothing and shoes, but at least some of the decorations and displays are interesting, he mused as he looked around. He bought himself a soft pretzel and a drink and spent a few minutes relaxing and enjoying them, then headed for the bookstore.
He'd been browsing in the science fiction/fantasy section for a few minutes and was turning the corner to see what was on the next aisle over when he spotted Wanda. She was facing away from him, so he quickly reversed direction and headed back the way he'd come. What's she doing in here? I figured she'd be looking at clothes or something, he thought to himself as he considered where to go next instead. But he had also gotten a glimpse of the genre placards on the tops of the bookshelves and knew he wanted to return to that aisle once the coast was clear, so he found a place to wait where he could covertly keep an ear out for when she left.
He picked up a novel and had just started reading the cover notes when he heard voices coming from her direction. "Hello, Miss," said a male voice.
"Umm, hello," said Wanda.
"What's a pretty lady like you doing in a place like this?"
"Yeah, well, most girls I know spend all their time shopping for clothes and make-up and stuff like that. You know, stuff to pretty themselves up. But I mean it's great if you like to read. Y' don't look like you need any help with the other."
"Why thank you," she replied. Clarence thought he detected a little of her character voice creeping into her speech. "Of course I like to read too. I don't just shop for clothes."
"I'll bet some of them clothes never looked better than they would on you." Clarence had to suppress a groan at the way this guy was laying on the flattery.
"Hey, Bart." It was another male voice.
"Hi, Eric. I was just saying hi to the pretty gal here. Say you're not from around here, are you?" Clarence inferred that the last was directed at Wanda.
"No, I'm just a visitor."
"Didn't think so," said Bart. "You sound like a ... like you're from up north."
"Say, you look familiar." It was Eric.
"Oh, really?" Wanda replied.
"Yeah," Eric continued. "I think I've seen you in some movies. Are you an, uh, an actress?"
"Well, I ..." Wanda's voice trailed off.
Bart spoke next. "Which movies have you..? Oh, those movies." Clarence could only guess at what sort of nonverbal cues were being exchanged between Bart and Eric.
"Uh, what movies?" Wanda replied in what sounded to Clarence like an uneasy voice.
All of a sudden, Clarence couldn't just stand there and listen anymore. No matter what else there was between him and Wanda, the vixen didn't deserve to be confronted like this. He walked quietly to the end of the aisle, trying to think quickly of something he could say or do to bail her out of this conversation.
He rounded the end of the aisle, seeing the two males for the first time, just as one of them, a meerkat, was speaking. "Are you, uh, Wanda?" From the voice he identified this one as Eric. Bart, a Doberman, had his back to him.
"I'm ..." she started to reply, but stopped short as Clarence came into view.
The others hadn't noticed Clarence's arrival yet, and he gave her a wink and twitched one side of his muzzle. "Oh, there you are, Maria. I've been looking all over for you." Somehow he managed to get the words out without stuttering.
The two males turned toward him, and because of that they didn't see the confused look that momentarily passed over Wanda's features. A second later it was replaced by a look of comprehension. "Oh, uh ... Hi, Clarence."
Bart managed to speak first. "Is he with you?" he asked Wanda.
When Wanda hesitated, Clarence nodded. "Yeah, we're, um, part of the same group." He turned to Wanda. "I heard a little of what ... Didn't I tell you, Ma- ... Maria, there's an actress that looks a lot like you."
Eric turned to Wanda. "Oh, you're not her? I thought you might be. I'm very sorry, ma'am."
"Yeah, me too," Bart chimed in. "Well, it's still a pleasure to meet you."
After several more seconds of awkward pleasantries, Eric and Bart headed off together, nudging each other like a couple of guys trying to make light of an embarrassing faux pas. Clarence was still calming his nerves as he took a seat in a nearby plush chair. Wanda followed and sat in an identical chair at a right angle to his. He glanced up at the vixen while trying to decide what to say next, or perhaps waiting for her to say something first, and his mind became increasingly befuddled by the look on her face. He'd just rescued her from a couple of lecherous jerks, something he expected her to be relieved about, yet the look on her face just wasn't quite fitting.
It was Wanda who finally spoke. "Clarence, what'd you do that for?"
Finally her expression made sense. She wasn't grateful. She was annoyed. "They ... I ... Those guys were ..."
"I could've handled 'em just fine. That's not the first time I've been recognized in public." Although she was speaking quietly there was an unmistakable undertone of irritation in her voice.
"They weren't being nice," he blurted out, then stammered as he continued. "You shouldn't have to ... you know, have to ..."
"I've handled worse than them before. I could've had a little fun with them."
Clarence looked incredulous and confused. "Why would you ... I couldn't stand ... to hear ..."
"What? You listened to us?"
"Not on purpose. Look, I w- ...was just ... trying to ..."
"Trying to rescue me?" Her tone was still as firm as before. "I can handle myself with fans like that. I don't need rescuing."
By this time Clarence's muzzle and shoulders were sagging and his eyes were closed, and he was near the point of tears. Wanda left the bookstore less than a minute later, but it was more than fifteen minutes before he could convince himself to get up from the chair.
For the rest of his time at the mall he didn't have a coherent thought about what else to get for Cindy. Several times so far this trip, and many times before that while working in the studio, he'd managed to allay his apprehensions about Wanda by thinking about Cindy, a mental exercise he'd gotten quite good at. Only this time it wasn't working. Here he'd gone out on a limb to help her out of a difficult situation, tried to do something nice for her, and she had gotten mad at him for it.
By the time he was on the way back to the hotel, he was trying to decide how best to approach Clint to ask if he could return to Columbus early. Or maybe he would ask Zig Zag once she arrived tomorrow. Should he make up some other story about why he had to return, or just tell the truth and try to explain why he couldn't handle staying any longer?
* * *
"Have you done many outdoor shoots before?" asked Miranda.
Wanda nodded. "A few. I don't think the pictures from the first couple I did are still in existence."
The civet went on excitedly about her morning. "Mark is so great to work with. It's like he knows just how to draw me out, to keep my mood going just right."
Wanda was toying with her food, and she gave Miranda a knowing smile. "Oh, yeah! He knows how to bring out the best in someone." But as she tried to engage in conversation with Miranda, her mind was elsewhere. She hadn't eaten very much of her dinner yet, and realized she was pushing her food around her plate with her fork and didn't feel all that hungry.
She'd arrived back at the hotel a few minutes ahead of the car Clarence was riding in and was still in the lobby socializing when he passed through. She could tell he was aware of her presence, but he didn't look her way at all as he ambled toward the stairwell. What was it she saw in his expression? Anger? No, that didn't seem right. Stubbornness? No way, not Clarence. Indifference? Loneliness? Those didn't fit either. Resignation? Getting warmer. Hurt?
Wanda didn't want to believe that's what he felt because of something she'd done, but the more she thought about it, the more she couldn't deny it. Even now while she was out having dinner with Miranda, she couldn't stop thinking about it. She leaned forward, resting her forehead on her palm, frowning.
"Are you okay?" asked Miranda.
Wanda looked around the restaurant, the same steakhouse near the hotel where they'd eaten a couple of times before. Most of the crew were here, but Clarence was nowhere to be seen. She recomposed herself. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking about something." she muttered noncommittally.
"Something the matter?" the civet asked.
"Nothing you can help with."
They continued making small talk. Wanda managed to bluff her way through the conversation but she kept replaying the bookstore incident in her mind. He thought they were harassing me. But I'm an adult movie actress. A lot of guys act that way toward us. It's to be expected. And I know a few tricks for playing along, for handling them. She shrugged. But did Clarence know that? Probably not.
The next time she had a few seconds to ponder, she carried the thought further. What was it Clarence was trying to say? That I shouldn't have to deal with that? I guess he doesn't see me that way. She continued to explore this line of thinking in her mind. Well, of course. He's Clarence. He's shy, not lecherous. He doesn't ogle me, even though I wish he would sometimes. He probably hates guys like that. He loves his girlfriend and treats her well and talks about her. He admires and respects her a lot. He respects ... me?
Wanda had to pause at that realization. Well, maybe. It wasn't news to her that he saw her differently than most guys did, but then he saw most girls differently than a lot of guys did. Thinking back to the scene in the bookstore, she had to reconsider what happened in light of that. I reacted to him on impulse as I would have for any other guy. Clarence respects me, enough to do something about it when I'm being confronted by other guys who don't. Even if it means doing something that's totally unlike him. Her ears were sagging by now, and she was having trouble holding up her end of the conversation with Miranda. And my response? The look on his face was all she needed to recall to know how he reacted to that.
She was unable to finish her dinner. Wanda knew what she had to do when she got back to the hotel.
* * *
Clarence sat alone in his hotel room watching the television, just what he said he wouldn't do on his day off. He was pretty sure Cindy was working at Callahan's tonight, which was just as well since he wasn't sure he was in any kind of frame of mind to talk to her. His mood had calmed some from earlier, but he still was undecided whether to beg to be allowed to return to Columbus early, or stick it out. The prospect of another week of this didn't thrill him.
*Knock* *knock* *knock*
The skunk looked over toward the door with a start. Who could be looking for me?, he thought as he stood up. Setting his unfinished slice of pizza on the box with the remaining untouched slices, he stepped closer to the door.
*Knock* *knock* It was more insistent this time. "Clarence, I know you're in there," came Wanda's voice from outside the door.
Wanda!? All the feelings of the day, the hurt, came rushing back to him. What on earth does she want? Haven't I had enough of her for one day? He paused behind the door, trying to decide what to do next. Taking a deep breath, he somehow managed to put a fake smile in his voice. "You have reached the hotel room of Clarence Skunk. I can't come to the door right now, but if you leave a message ..."
"Clarence, please. I need to talk to you." Clarence stood staring at the door for a long moment, a jumble of emotions running through him. "Please, Clarence?"
With a heavy sigh, he opened the door a few inches, giving her a resigned look. "Umm, what is it?"
Wanda only met his eyes for a second before she looked away awkwardly. She was biting her bottom lip when she glanced up again. "May I ... come in for a second?"
Uncertain what else to do, he stepped back and held the door open. Wanda entered and he let go of the door. After it closed, he finally uttered, "What did you want?"
She glanced at him uneasily, around the room, and back at him. Finally, looking at his chest, she spoke. "About what happened at the bookstore ... I want to apologize. I'm sorry about ... about how I handled that."
He gazed back at the vixen as he absorbed this from her. The crease in his brow softened. His breathing became steadier. His posture became less tense. Even after a long pause he still didn't feel ready to respond. "Well ... I, um ... Okay."
Wanda took as much comfort from his nonverbal cues as his words. "Yeah, I would have been okay with those guys. I could have handled them, but ... I appreciate that you were trying to help me."
Clarence tried to think of what to say. "Well, it's ... I mean, they were ..." His thoughts were racing too much and he couldn't seem to form a sentence.
Wanda ventured to step a little closer to him. "Yeah, I know, I'm an adult movie actress. Guys watch my movies, they see me do things on screen, they get off, and ... that's what I am to them. Does it bother you that some guys see me that way?"
Clarence listened to her, trying to keep his breathing even. He met her eyes and finally managed an answer. "I hate guys who look at girls like that!" He took a deep breath. "I've seen t- ... too many nice girls f- ... fall for gu- ... guys like that."
Wanda bit her lip and tugged at a tuft of fur on her arm. "Well, yeah, but I already know what kind of guy I like best." She gave him a look of gratitude. "Thank you for standing up for me."
The look she was giving him didn't leave him shaking the way so many of hers did. "Eh ... You're welcome, W- ... Wanda." His nerves were getting calmer still but he still couldn't figure out how to form his thoughts into replies.
Wanda was about to say something when the phone rang. "Excuse me," Clarence muttered as he walked over and picked it up. "Hello?"
"Hey, Clare! How are you?" asked Cindy.
"Hi, Cindy. I'm doing fine. It's good to hear you." His voice was a lot warmer now. "I thought you were at work."
"I'm on break. Kit said it would be okay to call you."
"Ah, well tell her I said thank you. How is work going?"
"It's okay, just the usual. Traffic's a little light tonight. How was your day off?"
Clarence decided not to bring up the part about Wanda. "It was nice. We went to the mall in Macon. It's mostly the same as other malls, but it was interesting to see some of the stuff you can't find in Ohio."
He continued talking about the trip to the mall as the skunk lay on his bed on his stomach, and before long he had propped himself up on his elbows, becoming immersed in the conversation and nearly forgetting that Wanda was still by the door watching him. He soon had his knees bent and his toes fidgeting. She didn't swivel her ears his direction, in part out of respect for his privacy, and in part so it wouldn't look like she was listening if he happened to glance in her direction. Even though he spoke softly enough that she couldn't hear much of what he was saying, she picked up enough to get a general sense of what he was talking about.
They only talked for a few minutes before Cindy had to return to work. "I miss you. I think about you all the time," he said.
"I miss you too. You take care of yourself, Clare."
"G'night, Cindy. Love you."
"Love you too."
He hung up the phone and let out a contented sigh. He turned and realized that Wanda was still in the room, then let out an embarrassed groan and his ears reddened a little. Although he had been somewhat aware of her presence at the start of the phone call, it had gradually faded from his mind.
"You look so relaxed when you're talking to Cindy," she said with a smile. "Your voice is different. More pleasant. You hardly stuttered at all."
Clarence rolled over and sat up, shifting awkwardly. "I was talking to my girlfriend while I had another girl in the room!"
"So? We weren't doing anything, and you know what I came over here for, so what's the problem?"
"I don't know. It's st- ... still awkward."
"You're getting tense again," said Wanda as she studied him. "You were relaxed when you were talking to Cindy. I liked seeing you that way."
"Well, I guess that's what ... that's how ... what you ..." He became increasingly flustered at his inability to finish the thought.
"Yes, I guess I just affect some guys that way."
The skunk got a resigned look on his features. "Okay, well ... D- ... do you know how to handle those kinds of g..guys?" Clarence wasn't sure even as he said it whether it was a serious question or not.
"First of all," the vixen began, "that kind of reaction is a lot more flattering to me than the confident guys with only one thing on their mind. So yeah, I guess it's an ego boost when guys get flustered."
Clarence tried to get more comfortable on his bed, feeling pretty sheepish at this revelation. One thought led to another, and then suddenly he looked back at her. "You know what ... You asked about my ... poetry?"
The vixen's ears perked. "Yes?"
The skunk stood and went over to his desk and reached behind the pizza box to pull out a notebook. "You asked if I wrote any about you. Well ..."
"You wrote one? I didn't think you'd actually do it."
"Neither did I. But it ... yeah, it helped me work out a few things."
Wanda's eyes went wider. "Well, I guess I'd, um, like to hear what you have to say about me."
Clarence sat back down on the end of his bed, looking a little uncertain as he opened it to the page. Wanda sat in the desk chair and listened, and Clarence finally began reading.
"Temptation on two legs, a walk to draw eyes,
Beauty not even a tent could disguise.
Many who see her, for a tryst they would pray
Yet her eyes find those who fear to look her way.
Hair of flame, fire in her touch.
I sometimes imagine it would burn too much.
Why does a look from her fill me with fear?
I can hardly think straight whenever she's near.
Do I fear that she might tempt me away
From the one to whom I pledged I would stay?
A long time in coming, the girl of my dreams,
Then finally to be noticed; ironic, it seems.
Shaken by memories, moments of pain
From those who would treat me with loath and disdain.
Could she be like them, ready to bait
Just to toss me away, left to my fate?
No, not this vixen, she can see that there's more.
She peeks under the covers where others ignore.
For so long, my garden was seen by too few.
Is she one whom I could reveal it to?
A spirit of fire, a passion that's fierce,
Her gaze, where it lands, any soul she could pierce.
She's Wanda the Vixen, bold without shame,
A heart that is wild, let none try to tame."
Wanda sat transfixed as she listened to Clarence. His voice was meek, as if confessing some dark secret he was afraid to admit to, but he didn't stutter any while reading. When it ended, she looked at him intently and noticed that he looked drained from reading it. "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever written about me," she said when he finally looked back at her.
He glanced around. "It's not ... my best. I'm, um, still working on it."
"It was perfect. Don't change a thing."
"But it's ... Aww, heck."
"Can I have a copy of it?"
"You mean you ..." He sighed. "Yeah, sure ... I'll have to do a clean copy. This one's full of cross-outs and stuff."
Wanda stood up, came over and placed a paw on his shoulder. "You really are an incredible guy. Cindy is lucky to have you."
Clarence smiled up at her. "Thank you."
The vixen leaned down to kiss his forehead. "I guess I'll be going now. Thank you for the poem."
"Would you like some pizza? I don't think I can finish it."
"Sure, thank you."
After showing her out, Clarence sat back down and thought. She was this close to me, touching me. Her breasts were less than a foot from my face, he mused. And I wasn't very nervous.
On to Chapter 10
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