The Gate

Chapter 2

I woke up the next morning when Kristen became a bit restless and bumped into me while trying to get comfortable again.  Opening my eyes, I watched her for a moment.  Foxes, I discovered, were pretty active, even when they were sleeping.  Her muzzle and whiskers kept wiggling, as if she were smelling something in her dreams, and every now and then her ears would twitch reflexively.

Opening her eyes, Kristen saw me smiling at her.  "Well, good morning." I whispered, brushing a stray bit of headfur out of her eyes.  "I love you." She smiled dreamily, giving me a kiss on the muzzle.  Snuggling nearer, I took her in my arms, and held her as we both found our way back from our dreams into the new day.  "A penny for your thoughts." She asked me, seeing the contemplative look on my face.  "I can't help but think that you're a lot like a huge, living plush toy." I laughed, a little bit embarrassed.  Then, grinning to myself, amended "A very cute plush toy, whom I'm hopelessly in love with…"

Sighing, Kristen pointed out that "As much as I would like to spend the day here in your arms, I'm afraid that I really do need to get up and take care of some business."  "Only if we get to go shopping later today." I negotiated.  Nodding, she reluctantly got up and headed towards the bathroom.  Her diaper, I noticed as she walked out of the room, seemed to have gained quite a bit of mass since last night.  "You know," I thought to myself as I was deciding on what to wear today "Kristen really does look cute in her diapers…" 

After I finished getting dressed, I met Kristen in the kitchen.  "How does waffles and bacon sound?" she asked as I came in. "That would be wonderful." I agreed.  While Kristen mixed up the waffle batter, I began setting the table, then, finishing with that in relatively short order, went out to get the newspaper.  Looking up at the sky as I was walking down the driveway, it became obvious that it was going to be another beautiful day today.  "And Kristen will be here with me." I commented happily, retrieving the newspaper from the mailbox at the end of the driveway.  Walking back to the house, it occurred to me that since I would probably have to acquire transportation of some kind before too long, it would be nice to get a convertible.

Daydreaming of going for a ride in a little green open air roadster with Kristen, her ponytail blowing in the wind, I wasn't paying as much attention to where I was walking, and promptly tripped over a garden hose that had been left out.  Scraping my paw on the pavement, I scowled down at the little drop of crimson welling out of the cut.  "Ouch." I frowned, going back inside.  Kristen had breakfast ready when I came into the dining room.  "I'll be back in a minute." I explained, handing her the newspaper "I tripped on the hose and scraped my paw."

"Poor little guy." Kristen replied sympathetically "Let's go get you a bandage for that boo-boo."  Taking my other paw, she led me to the bathroom, instructing me to sit on the counter while she got the first aid kit.  Digging the box out of the cabinet, she took out a bottle of alcohol, and some gauze.  "This will sting a little bit." She informed me, cleaning out the cut.  Then, when she was sure that there wasn't any dirt left in it, Kristen put on some ointment from another bottle she produced from the box, and carefully bandaged it up.  "There, isn't that better?" she asked rhetorically as we went back to the kitchen.


Sitting down to breakfast, Kristen proved once again to be a great cook.  Everything looked absolutely delicious, and I enthusiastically helped myself to a large serving of waffles, bacon, and some peach slices that she had put out as well, covering the entire thing in a good helping of syrup.  "Mmmm, excellent!" I complimented as I dug in to the food.  "Glad you approve." Kristen joked as I passed her the syrup "I like cooking a lot more when I'm cooking for someone."  "And I like food." I grinned "So that works out nicely, doesn't it?" 

"I was thinking" I began between bites "It would be useful for me to get a computer so I can get more work done from the house.  When I was trying to draw up some plans yesterday not having one really slowed things down."  "I can get you an expense voucher if you would like to set up a workspace here." Kristen agreed "My office is big enough that we could easily put in another desk…"  "If you're sure you wouldn't mind sharing the space until I've found an apartment…" I nodded.

"An apartment?" Kristen looked at me questioningly "Wouldn't you rather live with me?"  "Of course I would.  I just thought that you'd…" I stammered.  "I think we'd both be much happier if you stayed here." Kristen interjected.  "Well, yeah.  I'd like that too, but I didn't know what you would want and I didn't want to intrude…" I rambled, not sure how to express my thoughts.  Laughing at me merrily, Kristen mercifully ended my dilemma "This is your home now too, Nick.  Now finish your breakfast, your waffles will get cold."  Nodding thankfully, I did just that.

After breakfast, we did the dishes, and then Kristen asked if I'd like to go do that shopping.  "I've been trying to get you to go for the last three days." I pointed out with a chuckle.  "Well then, now would be a good time." She nodded with mock seriousness.  After grabbing her company expenses file, Kristen led the way out the door.


Arriving at the mall, we found that it was already beginning to get crowded, but still was not packed to the point where it was a nuisance.  "What would you like to look for first?" Kristen asked me, taking my arm and leading me to a mall directory board.  "First and foremost, I need a briefcase." I decided, remembering my resolution from the day before.  "Want to look like an executive, do we?" she kidded, locating an appropriate store on the map, which conveniently was only a few doors down.  Shaking my head and smiling at myself I explained "The cardboard box that I've been using thinks it's a whole lot of fun to shuffle all my papers together.  I think it has a wonderful career as a dealer in a casino…"  "Well, let's see if we can find you something a bit nicer than that, shall we?" Kristen grinned back as we went inside.

The store, it turned out, sold a wide variety of good quality luggage and traveling accessories.  After being directed to the right area by one of the sales clerks, Kristen and I began looking through their selection.  "I didn't know that there was this many different kinds of briefcases!" I exclaimed, somewhat intimidated by the number of choices.  Sensing my uncertainty, Kristen stepped in.  "Well, what kind would you like?  They've got a lot of different leather ones…and those aluminum ones over there are nice too…"  "I think I like the aluminum ones better." I replied.

With Kristen's help, I had soon found one that we agreed was just what I needed.  Going to check out, I was reaching for my wallet when Kristen interjected. "Business expense." She explained to me as she paid the clerk.  "That's one of the benefits of working for ITD, management has no problems paying for anything you need for work."  Nodding, I took my package and followed her back into the mall.

Next, we went in search of a place to get some plants for my office.  To my surprise, there was a large florist a few doors down.  "People here are very fond of houseplants." Kristen explained "It's another one of those throwbacks…"  "I think it's kind of nice." I decided "I mean, it really does make a place more cheerful if there's something green growing nearby."

 "Were you looking for anything in particular?" Kristen questioned as we looked around.  "Sort of" I shrugged "I'm not completely sure, but I'll know it when I see it."  'It' rapidly turned into 'them', and before we left I ended getting a number of ferns, a pretty little plant with purple flowers, and a seven foot tall potted red oak tree.  Seeing the tree, Kristen raised an eyebrow at me quizzically.  "What?" I asked a bit defensively "I really like those."  "You'll fit right in at work." Kristen laughed as she arranged to have the plants I'd selected delivered to the office.  "Accounting really does enjoy getting our department's expense sheet at the end of the month…"

"I think that's about it." I announced as we went back into the mall.  "Let's walk around a bit before we leave." Kristen suggested "The exercise will be good for your recovery."  "If you'd like." I agreed.  Putting her arm around my waist, I felt Kristen slip her paw into my back pocket.  A little bit hesitantly I did the same, then, holding each other, we continued into the mall.

Passing a kiosk selling sunglasses, a pair caught my eye.  "What do you think of these?" I asked Kristen as I tried them on.  "I like them." She decided, "But try the pair with the green mirrored lenses."  Deciding that they looked pretty darn good on me, I bought the pair with the green lenses, and slipped them into my shirt pocket as we walked further on.  Noticing a candy store across the way, I told Kristen to "Wait here for a minute, I'll be right back." Then, ducking inside I made a quick purchase.

"I got a treat for my little kit!" I smiled, reaching into the bag I was carrying to pull out a large rainbow lollypop.  Kristen's eyes lit up as I unwrapped it and handed it to her.  "Now try not to make a mess, okay?" I laughed as she enthusiastically started in on the candy.  "Have a lick!" she giggled, thrusting the sticky treat at me, narrowly missing my left nostril.  Humoring her, I took a lick.  It was pretty good too, and I found myself almost wishing that I had gotten myself one as well.

A while later, after she had finished off the lollypop, I found myself looking for somewhere to get a wet napkin.  Kristen had thoroughly enjoyed her treat, but ended up with a very sticky muzzle and whiskers before she was through.  Finding our way to the food court, I grabbed some napkins and led her over to the water fountain.  All in all, I decided, for something that made her that happy, I wouldn't mind cleaning a little bit of sugar out of her fur.  "Now hold still." I instructed as I wiped the last of it from her whiskers.  "There, all clean!  That was pretty good, wasn't it?"


"As good as that lollypop was" Kristen commented, now back firmly as an adult "It wasn't exactly a substitute for lunch."  "Ready to go home?" I asked.  "I believe so, yes." She nodded as we turned around and started back to the doors we came in.  As we walked, I noticed a photo shop.  "Hey Kristen?" I asked hesitantly "Could we get a picture taken?  I'd really like one for my desk."  Seeing her look at me a little curiously I added hastily "I mean, if you wouldn't mind it.  I just…well…that way it would be like you were with me all day while I worked."


"You're just a hopeless romantic, you know that?" Kristen teased.  Not knowing how to respond, I looked down and shuffled my feet.  Touching me softly on the muzzle, she drew my head up until I was looking into her eyes "We'll get two made, so I can have one too." She offered softly.  Nodding happily, I took her paw and we entered the store.

"It's your lucky day. Usually we require an appointment, but we had a cancellation today, so I can fit you in." the leapordess who ran the studio explained "If you'll step this way, we can have you in and out of here in no time."  True to her word, in about ten minutes we were finished.  "I think it turned out really well." Kristen commented as we selected frames for the prints, eventually agreeing on a simple silver pattern.  "It will look great on my desk." I said happily "Thanks for agreeing to get it taken." Rubbing behind my ear, she smiled "You know Nick, I think you're a little bit insecure."  Kristen leaned over and kissed me gently "Don't be."

"Now this time we really might make it to the exit." I joked when we finally left the photographer's studio.  "I'm beginning to wonder." Kristen smiled "Though we really should head over to the office.  If the delivery man shows up with your plants and there's nobody to let him in it's pretty likely that he won't be very happy."  "Impeccable logic." I nodded as my paw found its way into her back pocket again.  "Yes, well that's why I run the department." Kristen explained, putting on a very self-important air. (But spoiling the performance a bit by breaking into a fit of giggles at the end.)

Despite our noble intentions, Kristen couldn't resist making one last stop on the way out.  "I'll be right back!" she told me while ducking into what looked like a toy store.  When she came back out a minute later, she was holding something behind her back.  Pulling her paws from behind her back, she revealed her purchase: A little plush fox.  It was a cute little arctic fox, silver with black patches on the ears and paws, and a decidedly quizzical expression, which gave it the air of being a little bit confused. 

"For you." Kristen said solemnly, handing me the fox "Her name is Sasha."  "Okay." I replied, a bit unsure of what she expected me to do with Sasha.  "Well, if you think you're too old for plush animals, I can always return her." Kristen threatened, seeing my bewildered expression.  "But then she would feel sad.  I couldn't do that, it wouldn't be nice!" I declared, protectively tucking Sasha under my arm.  Grinning like a Cheshire cat, Kristen took the other arm, and we continued on our way.


"I vote we stop for some lunch on the way to the office." Kristen declared as we got back in her car.  "No arguments here." I nodded, trying to find a good spot for Sasha to ride.  Eventually I decided that she would be quite happy lounging on the armrest between the front seats.  "Would you like hamburgers, or should we find something more exotic?" She questioned.  "Whatever you feel like," I shrugged "I'm not very picky, as long as the food is reasonably good, and there's lots of it, I'm happy."  "Burgers it is!" Kristen declared, locating a restaurant in short order.

Pulling into the drive-through lane, Kristen ordered for both of us, which, as I thought about it, was a very good idea since I was still pretty unfamiliar with the local food options.  "You know," I commented as we were waiting our turn at the pick-up window "I really do need to sit down one of these days and familiarize myself with the brands and varieties of local snack food here."  "Meaning sit on the couch and stuff yourself with chips, soda, and candy." Kristen translated as the teenage raccoon at the pick-up window handed her our order.  "Well, I think I phrased it a bit more delicately, but yes." I nodded, checking our order as she pulled back onto the road.

Relocating Sasha to the back seat to prevent any unfortunate mishaps occurring on her nice, clean silvery white fur, I dug out our food.  Handing Kristen her burger, I tried my drink a bit experimentally.  It turned out to be a passable version of cola.  Sighing happily, I dug into my burger, finishing it in short order, and then turning to the fries.

The food, I decided, exceeded my usual standards for fast food.  "That was pretty good." I commented to Kristen as she pulled into the ITD parking lot.  The delivery van had already arrived, and the mover (a large black bear) was waiting for us.  "I hope we didn't keep you waiting too long." I apologized by way of a greeting.  "Oh no, I just got here." He said while unloading my plants onto a pushcart he had brought in the truck.  "So where are we going with these?" he asked.  "Just down the hall a little way." Kristen instructed as she dug out her keycard and opened the doors.  Following us down the hall, we arrived at my office.

Stepping inside, I took a minute or two to decide where exactly everything should go.  The mover, it turned out, knew quite a bit about plants, and by the time I had figured out where I wanted everything, I was very glad to have his advice.  After I had decided, he arranged the plants relatively quickly, and soon my office was looking how I had envisioned it: a patchwork of greens intermixed with areas of light and shadows.

After we had shown the delivery man the way back out, I made a quick trip to the warehousing room, and, after a bit of searching, located a pair of large mirrors I remembered seeing earlier.  "These will create a nice illusion of depth, and make the room seem much larger." I explained to Kristen, who had been watching me curiously as I rooted through the menagerie of furnishings before returning to my office to set up my prize.

"So what do you think?" I asked Kristen as I watered the plants "Honestly, do you like it?"  "I was a little bit skeptical at first" she conceded, "But actually looking at it, I think it all fits together pretty well.  It's nice and relaxing…"  "You don't think people will consider it a little bit strange?" I wondered.  Waving towards the hallway Kristen laughed. "Have you seen some of the other offices in our department?  Odd decorating jobs has become almost a hallmark of our group."  "Does the upper management ever complain?" I asked curiously.  Grinning, Kristen explained "They did once, but I told them that creative people need creative surroundings to do their best work…I'm not sure if they believed it, or just decided we were all certifiably nuts, but either way we get left alone!" 

"So what is your office like?" I asked as we walked back up the hall.  Pointing to an office a few doors down from mine, Kristen invited me to take a look.  Her office was decorated very conservatively, with matching rosewood and leather office furniture, and some rather executive-esque fittings, including a very nice standing antique brass lamp and a green marble topped end table.  "I like it." I complimented "It shows impeccable taste."  Then, glancing up at the ceiling, I did a double take.  The entire ceiling was painted in a huge mural, depicting a fanciful scene with dragons and unicorns, and too many other things to take in at one time.  "How in the world…" I started, staring slack-jawed at it.  Looking quite proud of herself, Kristen explained that she had ordered the mural printed onto a plastic backing, then mounted to the ceiling.  "Since I have to deal with clients in here fairly regularly I couldn't decorate too outlandishly, but that doesn't have to stop me from being creative!"  "Is that vixen wearing a diaper?" I asked, pointing to a pretty maiden in an out of the way corner of the picture who looked suspiciously like Kristen.  "You know, you're the first one to notice that." She grinned evilly, avoiding the question.


After getting everything situated in my office, Kristen and I decided to return home to get cleaned up a little and start dinner.  We hit traffic on the way back to the house, which really amazed Kristen.  "We rarely if ever have traffic here, our road system is very efficient."  "It's probably a wreck or something." I theorized as we inched along.  Sure enough, after about twenty minutes we saw the cause for the delays: one of the lanes was blocked by a large tree limb that had broken off overhead.  "Well, that's a bit anticlimactic." I shrugged as we finally got out of the area and continued on our way.

Once we arrived back home, Kristen went upstairs to change clothes while I went out to the kitchen to determine what we would be having for dinner.  After going through the options presented by the refrigerator, I eventually decided on macaroni and cheese, mostly because that was one of the few things I found all the ingredients for.  Kristen came down as I was putting it in the oven.  "We really need to run by the grocery store tomorrow." I laughed "Otherwise we'll be having a baking soda and pickle quiche for dinner."  Checking the pantry, she discovered that I was exaggerating, but not by much. 

"Do you know how to make a quiche?" Kristen asked, sitting on the counter and observing me mixing up a fruit salad to go with dinner.  "Sure," I grinned, remembering something "My friend Cassidy had this brilliant recipe for quiche." Posing a little bit, I recited, attempting to mimic his accent: "Yeh make the quiche, right, an' then yeh cook it, an' then you throw the stupid bloody thing out the window.  Then yeh grill yourself a T-bone an' eat that instead."  Rolling her eyes at me, Kristen started getting out the dishes.

As we set the table, I asked Kristen "Do you think I should feed my little kit her din-din today?"  Nodding she replied "I think she might enjoy that, yes."  Remembering the results of the candy that afternoon, I decided that a bib might be in order.  Ducking out of the dining room, I quickly went through Kristen's collection of little kit clothes, only to discover that she didn't have a bib.  "I guess she didn't have anyone to feed her, so she didn't need one." I mused.  Returning to the kitchen, I found a large pink dishtowel, which would serve the purpose, and had the added benefit of looking at least a little bit babyish.

"I brought the food out already." Kristen called from the dining room "But could you bring a serving spoon in with you?"  Digging through the silverware drawer, I located one, then joined her in the kitchen.  Sitting down next to Kristen, I presented the dishtowel with a flourish "Little kits need a bib to keep their food from getting on their nice, clean clothes."  I explained as I tied it around her neck.  "There, that's perfect."

Serving a little bit of everything onto Kristen's plate, I took a spoon and got a helping of the fruit salad.  "Here we are!  Some yummy fruit." I smiled, offering her the spoonful.  "No." She pouted, crossing her arms over her chest, and turning her muzzle away.  "It's good…" I tempted, waving the spoon under her nose "You want to try it don't you?"  Seeing that this wasn't going to work, I tried a different tactic.  "Here comes the airplane, in for a landing!" I said, feeling a bit silly as I was making airplane noises.  But it worked, and Kristen let me feed her the spoonful.

Gradually the food on Kristen's plate disappeared, while the airplane became first a racecar, then a submarine, and numerous other things, ending up as a bird by the end of the meal.  "All done!" Kristen declared cheerfully as she finished the last spoonful of macaroni.  "Yes it is, you're such a good little girl, eating it all up!" I nodded.  Glancing down, I was immediately glad that I had been persistent about finding a bib.  While not a messy eater by any means, Kristen had still managed to spill a good bit of her dinner.  Noticing that I was observing the food she had spilled, she looked like she might get upset.  "That's what the bib is for." I shrugged, cleaning her muzzle up with the edge of the dishtowel.  "Now, why don't you sit here and play for a little while so I can finish up a few things?" I asked rhetorically as I set her up with her pacifier and a couple of her toys.

Waiting to make sure that she was occupied and wouldn't get into any trouble, I went back into the dining room and ate my dinner.  After I was done, and had begun to clear the table, Kristen showed up, minus the pacifier and lent me a paw with the dishes.  "Do you want to do anything in particular this evening?" I asked.  "I'd like to spend the night in if you don't mind." She decided "It's been a pretty tiring weekend, and it would be nice to just read a book for a while."  "I don't mind." I agreed "I was kind of hoping to get my briefcase organized."

When the dishes were finished, we went to the study, Kristen for her book, and me for my jumble of papers.  Returning to the living room, she settled down on the sofa, quickly becoming absorbed in the novel.  Spreading my stuff out on the floor, I began trying to decide on the best way to organize the formidable mess before me.

After some consideration, and more than a little rearranging, I had it taken care of to my satisfaction.  "Done!" I declared, snapping the latches shut, and putting the briefcase up on the coffee table.  "Well, that didn't take too long." Kristen joked, looking up from her book.  Rolling my eyes I joined her on the couch.  Lying down with my head in her lap, I looked up into her emerald green eyes and smiled a little.  "You're a very beautiful fox." Smiling back, Kristen reached down and rubbed me behind the ear.  Yawning a little, I decided to rest for a little bit.  I was surprised how tired I was.

Kristen noticed a short time later that Nick had drifted off to sleep.  Feeling contented, she watched him for a time, brushing a stray lock of headfur back into place.  Watching his whiskers twitch, she couldn't help wondering what pleasant dream he was in the midst of.  Deciding to let him sleep for a while longer, Kristen returned to her book, leaving him undisturbed, to slumber on in her lap.

Feeling someone shaking me gently, I returned to a state of semi-wakefulness. "You know," Kristen started, deciding I was awake "Just a little bit down the hall there's a nice, big, comfy bed waiting for you…"  "Like it here." I mumbled into her fur "You're soft."  "Well, be that as it may, you still need to get up and go to bed.  Besides, that way we can both go to sleep." Kristen reasoned.  "Oh." I muttered, too tired to argue.  "Come on, let's get you to bed." She yawned, helping me down the hallway.

Collapsing onto the bed, I found Sasha where I had left her after coming home earlier.  Looking around in my still mostly-asleep state, I decided that she would be happy taking up residence on an unused pillow next to mine.  After facilitating her move, I snuggled into the covers, already falling back to sleep as Kristen crawled in to join me.  Soon we were both sleeping contently in each other's arms.


I woke up the next morning in a puddle.  Sitting up rapidly, I uttered a confused "What in the world...?" while my brain tried to kick-start itself into wakeful coherency.  Having been woken up by my sudden outburst, Kristen sat up and took in the scene.  "Oh no." she said quietly, looking ashamed and thoroughly miserable.  Turning to me, she started to babble, looking like she was about to cry, "I thought I would be okay, but I guess I'm still worried about the parts orders coming in on time at work.  And now I went and… and…" Seeing how badly she felt, I held her tight.  "There, there.  It's okay.  It was an accident."  I soothed, slowly stroking her headfur. "Why don't you go take a shower, and I'll clean up here?"  I decided, seeing that she was far wetter than I was.  "You're not mad?" Kristen asked, looking up at me hopefully.  "I'm not mad." I said solemnly.

"Leave your pajamas on the bed!" I called back to her as I went for the laundry basket.  Returning with it, I stripped off the bedding, to discover that there was a plastic mattress cover on under the sheets.  Sasha, I was pleased to note, had still been up at the head of the bed with the pillows, and was consequently perfectly dry.  Throwing my pants in the laundry with everything else, I quickly grabbed a clean pair of underwear out of my dresser.  "No sense getting dressed if I'm just going to have to get undressed to take a shower." I reasoned, heading for the laundry room.

After I got the laundry started, I went back to the bathroom.  Kristen was already done showering, and was in her room getting dressed for work.  Finishing up, she caught me in the hallway in front of my room. "Luckily I still had a mattress cover on the bed from when you were wetting it." She joked, making me blush.  Then, rubbing me behind the ears, she promised that "I'll have breakfast done by the time you finish up in there" before leaving for the kitchen.  With the promise of food, I showered quickly, then changed into the clothes I had laid out the night before.  Getting my briefcase, I was ready for work.

Joining Kristen at the table, we sat down for a brief but filling breakfast of cinnamon rolls, bacon and orange juice.  "I was planning on trying to herd everyone in the department through your office at one point or another today." Kristen told me "They're all usually around early in the week, and it's about time you got to know everyone."  "I didn't know foxes could herd things," I replied, deliberately missing the point "Don't the border collies have a union or something?"  Groaning at my attempt at humor, she continued "I thought today would be good, since you have to set up your computers and the wide array of associated software accounts, they won't be interrupting any real work."  "Are you implying that I don't live up to my responsibilities?" I growled with mock indignation, feeling pretty good to be getting back into the middle of things.  "You enjoy being impossible, don't you?" Kristen questioned humorously.  Nodding happily, I finished the last piece of bacon.


After breakfast we went to work.  "I'll meet you for lunch?" Kristen offered as we walked into the building.  "I'll be looking forward to it." I agreed, chivalrously getting down on one knee and kissing her paw.  "Rise, sir knight.  For we must sally forth to the lands of the far North." She kidded.  "That gives me an idea." I mused to myself as we stopped at her office.  "I'll bring everyone by as I run across them." Kristen reminded me as she sat down at her desk.  Nodding, I continued down the hall.

My computer equipment had been delivered over the weekend, and sat in a large pyramid in the hallway next to my door.  Stepping around the boxes, I went inside and started looking for a marker.  Tearing a flap off of one of the cartons, I neatly penned a sign in my best calligraphy: “"Welcome To Sherwood Forest" then, in smaller print I added"Rogues, Scoundrels, And Tricksters Enter Freely And Be Welcome!".  Admiring my work, I affixed it outside the door with some double sided tape.

Sorting through the boxes in the hallway, I began unpacking my equipment.  After I had assembled my main computer, I turned it on and sat down to make sure everything was connected right.  "Great sign." someone commented from the doorway.  Turning around, I saw Chris out in the hallway.  "Come on in!" I invited "I've just started in on getting my stuff set up."  Taking me up on the invitation, he looked over my new decorations approvingly.  "Not bad." He grinned "It will be nice having our own park in here…" Then, after slowly turning around in a circle, he declared "I'll be right back." And disappeared back into the hallway.  "I wonder if all rabbits are that strange…" I thought out loud, turning back to the maze of wires before me.  "No, it's just him." A female cheetah explained, walking into my office.  "Hi, I'm Shelly." She said pleasantly, extending a paw.  "I'm Nick, nice to meet you." I introduced myself.

"I work with Chris down in the labs."  Shelly continued "He's pretty much always like that.  Very good at his job, and fun to work with, but completely out of his mind."  "Any idea where he went?" I wondered.  "Your guess is as good as mine." She shrugged, looking around at my office.  "That reminds me," I started "I was hoping to get all the engineers together to go over my initial ideas for my end of the project."  "That shouldn't be too much trouble." Shelly nodded "Just drop by the labs more or less any time and you will probably catch us all there." 

"Speaking of the labs," Shelly said, looking at her watch "I've got something running right now that I have to go check up on."  "It was nice meeting you."  I said as she left. "Likewise." Shelly answered, taking her leave.  "Well, she seemed nice." I said to myself as I turned back to setting up the test stand I had been working on.  About forty five minutes later I had just finished hooking up all my equipment and was beginning to load the software, when Chris showed back up with a large box in one paw, and a long panel of some sort wrapped in plastic in the other.

"Please don't tell me that's more computer equipment.  I just finished putting together the last batch!" I joked.  "I got you a housewarming gift.  Well, an office-warming gift." He laughed, setting the box on my desk.  "This first, it's heavy!" he grunted, setting down the long plastic wrapped object.  I (somewhat hesitantly) pulled off the plastic to reveal a beautifully painted oriental screen, decorated with a scene of a misty forest at twilight.  "I thought it would fill in that one last piece of wall." He said, indicating the space next to my door, which, having run out of mirrors, I had left alone.  Grinning appreciatively, I decided that "It even matches the ferns I've got pretty well too, doesn't it?"  Moving it into place, we stepped back to admire the effect.  "Very nice." Chris nodded, turning to the box.

Reaching inside, he first pulled out a little miniature fountain, complete with a potted bamboo plant in the center.  Setting it on the shelf across from the screen, he soon had it bubbling merrily.  Looking inside the box, I found that it still contained a tiffany lamp and a selection of crystal prisms like the ones Chris had hanging from his ceiling.  Pulling out the lamp, I set it on the desk by my computer.  "What do you think?" I asked.  "It looks good there." Chris decided, taking out the prisms and hanging them from the branches of my oak tree.  "Perfect." He smiled widely "I love it.  And, more importantly, it will drive Shelly nuts."  Whistling happily, he walked across the hall to his office.

"I wonder what that was all about." I thought to myself.  Then, giving a mental shrug of the shoulders, I returned to the task at hand.  After installing the collection of drivers, utilities, and systems software, I proceeded to set up my user accounts.  This proved to be more difficult than getting the machines working, but after an hour or so (filled with much threatening, cursing and begging) everything was working.  "Done!" I declared, leaning back in my chair and grinning, quite pleased with myself. "All I need now is a new background and a screen saver!"


"Hey Nick!" Kristen greeted, ushering a raccoon and a collie into my office. "Brought you some visitors.  This is Russell and Jackie."  Shaking hands with everyone, I offered what seating I had available.  "Nice to meet you." Russell smiled "I design the hardware interfaces and she's our medical specialist."  "I see Chris has been here." Jackie laughed as she examined the crystals hanging in my tree.  "Yeah, I was wondering about that.  What's the deal between him and Shelly?" I questioned.

Russell grinned from his seat on my desk "You've been to Chris' office right?" Nodding, I waited for him to continue.  "Well, Shelly is an absolute neat freak, as felines tend to be, and they have to share space in the labs.  She accuses him of being an insane slob, and he accuses her of being an unimaginative philistine.  It's been going on for months, Shelly organizes everything she can get her paws on, and Chris…well, Chris is Chris."  "It's all in good fun," Jackie grins "It's a contest of wills, which both of them refuses to lose.  And your office just got caught up in the middle of it."  "Though I do like that screen." Kristen added, admiringly "Did Chris say where he dug it up?"  "Nope." I shrugged "He just disappeared for a bit, and came back bearing gifts."

Noticing his watch, Russell got up and headed for the door. "Speaking of Chris, I've got to go meet him in the lab.  I'll see you guys later." He waved, excusing himself from the room.  Turning to Jackie, Kristen asked "Would you like to join Nick and I for lunch?"  "Okay" she agreed, following us towards the cafeteria. "How's the food here?" I questioned.  "Surprisingly good actually." Kristen informed me "The ITD upper management believe in keeping everyone well fed.  You can order just about anything you want and it will be good, but I would try to avoid the seafood.  One of the chefs is an otter, and they prefer things a bit undercooked."

Remembering Kristen's warning, I decided to go with a very appetizing meatball sub.  Adding an ice tea and a bag of corn chips, I paid for my meal and joined Kristen and Jackie at their table.  "This smells great!" I smiled, as I unwrapped the sandwich.  Looking at it disapprovingly, Jackie commented that "It also has about a million calories." Then, scrutinizing me in the better lighting of the cafeteria, she took hold of my muzzle and peered intently into my eyes, which was followed by instructions to "Stick out your tongue and say 'Aaah'!".  "What's this all about?" I protested, looking to Kristen for help.  She, however was grinning broadly at our little scene, apparently finding it all quite amusing. No help would be forthcoming from that quarter.  "Quit squirming." Jackie instructed me, taking my pulse "You're acting like one of my puppies!"

Finally calming down and consenting to the undignified poking, I gave in and waited for Jackie's verdict.  "You didn't listen to the doctor when he told you to take it easy for a while did you?" she accused.  Getting ready to argue, I caught Kristen's I-told-you-so expression, and thought better of it.  "Maybe not as much as I should have." I muttered defensively.  Shaking her head, Jackie explained "What you went through was very physically demanding.  You really do need to take it easy for another week or so.  No heavy lifting, get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fruit juices."  Sulking slightly, I nodded in agreement to her demands.  "It's not so bad," she winked "You'll have an excuse for Kristen to fuss over you all weekend!" "Hear that?" I grinned at Kristen, who smiled in reply, then leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the nose.


After lunch I met up with Shelly and Chris in the lab.  Observing them as we worked out the preliminary design concepts, I came to the conclusion that they really did enjoy torturing each other.  The meeting took up most of what was left of the day, but we accomplished a lot, and as I made a start with my programming I had a pretty good idea how to do what they needed.

I was so engrossed in my work that I didn't realize that Kristen had come in until she rubbed me behind the ears.  "Hey Nick.  Time to go home." She told me as I finished up.  "I was almost done anyway." I smiled, shutting down my machines.  Getting up, I stretched my arms over my head.  "Guess I was sitting in one place for too long." I commented.

Driving home, we swung by the grocery store to pick up some supplies.  "I usually go shopping on Sunday," Kristen explained "but we didn't get to it this week.  So, here we are!"  Getting a grocery cart, I followed behind her as she made her selections.  "Oh, and we need to pick you up some fruit juice." she reminded me before we checked out.  "Right." I agreed, jokingly heading down the wines isle and randomly grabbing a couple of bottles off the shelf.  "I doubt that's what Jackie had in mind when she said fruit juice." Kristen laughed, rolling her eyes and directing me to the proper isle.  "Well, if you insist" I griped playfully "But I still think my way is better."  After getting a jug of orange juice, we checked out, and went home.

"You know, you do look pretty tired.  Maybe you should go take a nap before we eat." Kristen offered as she was getting ready to cook dinner.  "No, that's okay.  I'd rather stay here and help you." I shrugged, getting the plates and silverware out.  "Okay, but only if you agree to go to bed early today." She compromised, waving the spoon she was using at me as I went to set the table.

After dinner was on to cook, and I had finished with the table, Kristen and I sat down in the living room.  "What did you think of everyone?" Kristen asked.  "I think they're a good group.  I talked with Shelly and Chris this afternoon, and we got enough of the details hammered out that I could start coding the program." I explained.  Snuggling up next to me, Kristen changed the subject away from work as I wrapped an arm around her.  "I was thinking of re-arranging the house a bit." She informed me "I'll get some new furniture this weekend so we can set up a desk for you in the office."  "That will be nice." I nodded as she reached around and began rubbing behind my ears.  "This is nice." Kristen whispered, leaning over and kissing me.  Giving her a hug, I sighed "Yes it is, but one of us is going to have to get up and check on the food."

"It's starting to smell pretty good, too." I observed as my tummy grumbled in anticipation.  Getting up, I followed Kristen into the kitchen, and helped to bring everything out to the table.  Dinner passed fairly quickly, I mostly picked at my food, being pretty full from my large lunch.  "So," I asked "How was your day?"  Sighing, she shook her head "I'm having the hardest time with one of our parts suppliers.  I keep asking them where our order is, and they keep assuring me that it's been shipped and is in route."  "Well, why don't we just use another supplier?" I questioned.  "There's only one company making this particular type of IC chip." Kristen shrugged.

Sensing her frustration, I decided to change the subject.  "I was thinking about going out to the movies tomorrow after work." I suggested.  "That might be nice." Kristen agreed, finishing her dinner.  "Not hungry?" Kristen questioned, noticing that I had only picked at my dinner.  "I ate too much at lunch." I shrugged, sipping my wine.  "Well, have some fruit juice." She offered as we cleared the table. 

"In a bit, my little kit." I grinned, pleased with my witticism.  Smiling happily back, she followed me upstairs and hopped up on the bathroom counter while I got her things from her room.  "You know," I commented to myself "There's really no reason why we can't leave all this in the bathroom."  Returning to the bathroom, I found Kristen idly playing with her tail.  "Why don't we let go of that so we can put your didie on, Hmm?" I asked congenially.  "No.  My tail." She replied playfully.  "Just for a minute.  I have to thread it through the tail hole…" I explained in vain.  Shaking her head, Kristen refused to budge.  Getting an idea, I solved the problem. "I'll trade you until we're done." I said cheerfully, offering her the end of my tail in exchange.  "Okay." She giggled, grabbing my tail and waving it around.  Shaking my head in amusement, I quickly threaded her tail through the tail hole in her diaper, and, after sprinkling on a liberal handful of baby powder, fastened up her diaper.  "There!" I declared "We're all done."

Hopping down from the counter, Kristen took my paw, and pulled me towards her room.  "I want to pway ball!" she declared, eagerly diving into her collection of toys, emerging with a small beach ball.  "Okay." I agreed "But downstairs in the living room, not up here where there's a lot of breakable things."  "Yay!" she laughed, dragging me downstairs.  Getting a glass of juice, and dropping onto the sofa, I watched her bat around the ball happily.  Closing my eyes for a minute, I was rudely brought back to my senses by a beach ball bouncing off of my muzzle.  "Pway with me." Kristen insisted, chasing the ball as I tossed it across the room.  Stalking it, her tail whisked excitedly in the air as she wiggled her diapered bottom in preparation for the attack.  As she pounced on it, the ball managed to slip away from her and go rolling across the floor.  Finally grabbing a hold of it, Kristen held up her prize triumphantly and declared "I caught it! I caught it!"  "Very good!" I praised as she rolled the ball across the floor and began the hunt all over again.

After a time, Kristen pulled on my sleeve and declared "I'm tired, it's naptime now."  "Okay, I'll come tuck you in." I agreed, finishing my juice.  "No, you're coming with me." She countered, sounding much more like an adult than earlier.  "But it's only nine thirty.  I'm not the least bit tired." I protested.  Having none of it, Kristen took me by the paw and firmly led me upstairs.  "How about another hour?" I bargained with the now completely adult Kristen.  "No.  You're supposed to be recuperating, which means you have to be getting to bed early."  She answered "Now go brush your teeth while I get the sheets out of the dryer." 

Grumbling, I complied, then found Kristen in my bedroom putting the freshly laundered sheets back on the bed.  "All done." She smiled "Now its bedtime."  Still protesting weakly, I sat down on the edge of the bed.  "Hey, the sheets are warm!" I noted in happy surprise, quickly snuggling under the covers.  "I just took them out of the dryer." She explained, pleased by my obvious delight.  "They're cozy." I smiled as Kristen crawled into bed with me.  After finding a comfortable spot, I realized that I really was more tired than I had thought, and before too long I was sound asleep.


The next morning I awoke in a comfortable, drowsy sort of mood, thoroughly buried under a mass of blankets, pillows, and a little stuffed fox.  "Rise and shine!" Kristen greeted me cheerfully from somewhere outside my comfortable nest of bedding.  Peeking out from under a pillow, I saw her leaning on the doorframe.  "Hello." I responded, yawning "what are you up to?"  "Watching you sleep." She laughed "You're living proof that foxes are a burrowing species!"   "You can't pick on me." I informed her "I'm not awake.  It's against the rules."  "Oh, but I'm being helpful." Kristen replied seriously "You see, if I don't make sure you're up on time, you will be late to work."  Sighing, I conceded that she was probably right.  Informing me that breakfast was on the table, she went down the hallway.  Considerably cheered by the prospect of food waiting on the table, I untangled myself from the bed and started getting dressed, meeting Kristen in the kitchen a few minutes later.  Kristen proved to be as good as her word, and I was soon digging into a large stack of pancakes.  Eating quickly, I was ready to leave on time. 

During the ride to work, I listened intently as Kristen worried over the supply problem she had been involved with for the last few days.  "You know," I mused, during a lull in Kristen's circuitous monologue "We could probably just re-design that particular component."  Getting a notebook out of my briefcase, I began scribbling down some thoughts.  "The problem with that," she shrugged "is finding a cost effective way to do it."  Then, falling silent, she pulled into the parking lot.

Arriving at the office, the first thing I did was head down to the labs, where I caught up with Chris and Shelly.  Explaining the problem to them, I dug out the handful of sketches and notes I had drawn up during the commute.  After looking them over for a minute, Shelly decided that "We could make something like this work, but it would be a lot more expensive to produce."  "Hmm…" Chris mused, staring intently at the papers.  "If we used a generic programmable microcontroller instead of having a special run of RISC chips fabricated, I'll bet it would work…" Flipping over one of my drawings, he began scribbling on the back.

Looking over his shoulder, Shelly nodded.  "That should work." She agreed.  Turning to me, Chris asked "If I write up a supply list, can you start calling about pricing and availability?"  "Sure," I nodded "Kristen is going to be in a meeting all morning, but I can probably talk some of the others into giving me a hand…"  "I'll drop the list of suppliers off in your office in a little bit." Shelly promised as I left to coerce the rest of the department into helping make the calls.  Jackie was out on a research assignment, I discovered, and Russell wasn't in yet, but I found David in his office.  "No problem." He agreed after I had explained the situation to him.

Returning to my office, we found the list on my desk.  On a note attached to the front of the (very long) list, Shelly explained that the new design was essentially contingent on being able to get an acceptable price on the main microcontroller she and Chris planned to use.  The other pieces were not major cost factors, so we had to find a company that could provide the chip cheaply enough.  "Well, let's get started." David suggested, settling down at my computer table and digging out the telephone book.  Sitting down across the room at my desk, I offered that "I'll take the top half of the list, and you take the bottom, and the guy who finds the supplier with the best price wins a beer!"  "You're on!" David grinned "But, just to make it interesting, how about the loser buys lunch at The Smokehouse."  "Done!" I nodded, shaking his paw "But I should warn you, I'm getting pretty darn hungry!"

As we eagerly launched into the list, it soon became apparent that this task was not going to be as easy as we had thought.  "I'm beginning to think that Chris and Shelly underestimated what these things will cost us." I said dejectedly between phone calls "Maybe you're having better luck, but I've not even found one that will supply it at our break-even, let alone cheap enough to make it worth re-designing."  "Well, keep trying I guess…" David shrugged, picking up the telephone again.

An hour or so later we were nearing the end (well technically the middle…) of the list and still no luck.  "I'm going to try a couple more, then it's time to cede defeat." David sighed tiredly.  Looking over the list, I read off my next entry.  "Renhil Dynamics.  Ever heard of them?" I asked David.  "Nah, they're probably a new startup." He shrugged, dialing his next number.  Dialing, I listened to the phone ring.

"Renhil Dynamics, how may I direct your call?" a cheerful voice on the other end asked.  "I'm calling to get a supplier bid." I explained, giving the lady the relevant details.  Listening intently, she asked me to hold for a minute, then returned and quoted me a price that was considerably lower than the target Shelly had given us.  "And," she went on to explain "if you're interested in a long term supply contract, we can take an additional 10% to 15%, depending on the size of your requirements."  Becoming slightly suspicious I asked why they were that much cheaper than the going market price.  "We're a start-up that's developed an adaptable production system." She explained "so we don't have to re-tool the line for each type of chip, which makes our production cost substantially lower."  After ordering the parts that Chris had requested for the development lab, I gave the Renhil Dynamics lady Kristen's contact information and explained that she would be the one arranging for the final production order.  After assuring me that the development set would be sent overnight delivery, I happily hung up the receiver.

Waiting for David to finish his call, I paged the lab.  "Did you find it?" Chris asked by way of a greeting.  "Yes, I've got a supplier." I laughed, explaining the parts situation to him.  "They say that your chips will be here tomorrow morning." I concluded.  "Great." He laughed "We were going over the new design, and Shelly thinks it will actually work better anyway."  "We should all hit management up for raises." I joked as I hung up the receiver.  "And you owe me lunch." I reminded David triumphantly.  Sighing, he stood up and stretched.  "I've been sitting in one place for too long." He complained "It'll be good to move around a bit anyway."


David had to stop by his office quickly on the way out.  His office, I noticed as I followed him in, was filled with a fine collection of little dragon statues of just about every size, shape and color imaginable.  "I like it." I nodded appreciatively as he set a job to run on his computer while we were gone.  Bowing theatrically, he waved me out of the office, "Quickly, before they decide to eat you." 

Following David out into the parking lot, we eventually found his car.  "I really do need to get a car." I griped loudly "I'm getting sick of being a passenger."  "Well, we could take off at lunch tomorrow if you'd like." He offered "Drop by the lots and see if there's anything you like."  Thinking it over, I thought that I might just take him up on it.  "If I've got time.  I was hoping to get further along with my program today than it looks like I'll get." I decided.

Pulling into the same restaurant that Kristen and I had eaten at on that fateful day when I first arrived, David circled the parking lot twice before he found a spot.  "It's seems like it's a lot more crowded than the last time I was here." I observed.  "Yeah, but there's never much of a wait." David shrugged "They're pretty good about that here.  That's one of the reasons I like this place."  Going inside, we were seated in relatively short order.

After the waitress had brought our drinks, I was looking around at the other customers when David asked me "Hey Nick, are you still angry with me for bringing you here?"  Seeing the nervous expression on his face, I couldn't help but laugh.  "You're not still worried about that are you?" I grinned, obviously amused by the question.  "Actually, Yes." He replied seriously "Are you?"  "Not at all." I explained with a twinkle in my eye "If you hadn't brought me here, I never would have met your sister!"

Then a thought struck me "She did tell you about us, didn't she?" I asked, suddenly becoming the uncomfortable one.  "She told me as much as she considered my business." David shrugged "That she had grown quite fond of you and that you two were living together."  "Kristen is a very special person" I said, not quite sure where to begin "I feel happy when I'm around her, she's smart, and funny, and sincere…  I've never felt this way about anyone before."  As I stopped to collect my thoughts, the waitress arrived with our meals.  "You really love her, don't you?" David asked, not yet touching his food.  "Yeah, I really do." I said softly, more to myself than to Chris as I stared into my drink.  A moment passed before time caught up with my thoughts.  Looking up with a start, I blinked rapidly.  "I'm sorry, I kind of zoned out on you there, didn't I?" I said, coming back to reality.  Smiling, David started into his meal "That's okay, I do that too sometimes…"

As I took a bite of my steak too, a thought crossed my mind.  "Are you okay with Kristen and I being together?" I asked David.  "She's a grown vixen" he shrugged "Her personal life is none of my business.  But yes, I'm okay with it."  Nodding, I waited for him to continue as I made quick work of devouring my lunch.  "Frankly, I think you're good for her." He mused "Since she met you, Kristen has been more relaxed and a lot happier than before you arrived here."  After we finished our food, David picked up the check, griping good naturedly all the while about losing our bet.  His complaints grew more and more exaggerated with each telling, until, by the time we were back in the car he had become the victim of an immense global conspiracy, intent on working their nefarious schemes upon his poor, helpless self.


After returning from lunch, I dropped by Kristen's office, hoping to get her opinion on the re-design we had been working on that morning.  Finding her office empty, I looked in on Jackie across the hall.  "Hey Jackie, have you seen Kristen?" I asked, standing in her doorway.  Looking up from the papers she was going over, she filled me in "Kristen was here about a half hour ago.  She told me that she was going to run the design changes by our upper management and have them fill out the paperwork for officially adopting the new vendor."  "Did she say when she would be back?" I questioned.  "No.  Whenever you have to deal with the upper management, it's usually wise to assume an open ended time slot." Jackie explained.  Thanking her for the help, I returned to my office.

Sitting at my computer, looking over the program, I got a sudden inspiration.  Typing rapidly, I began expanding the code I had been working on.  A major problem that I had encountered earlier worked itself out, and things started evolving rapidly from there.  Losing track of time, I dove into my work, until a voice from my doorway broke in on my thoughts.  "Have you seen Russell?"  Swiveling around in my chair, I saw Chris standing by the door.  "Not recently." I replied, distractedly "Have you tried down in the lab?"  "I just came from there," Chris informed me "And he's not in his office either.  I guess he's probably taking a late lunch."  Catching his attention as he was turning to leave, I asked Chris "Would you mind closing the door on your way out?  I'm on a roll here, and would sort of prefer not to be bothered unless it's absolutely necessary."  "Yeah, I know how that can be." He sympathized, shutting the door.  Closing my eyes, I tried to visualize where I was before Chris showed up.  Rediscovering my train of thought, I gave a satisfied little laugh, and dived back into my program.

Just as I was saving the finished beta copy of the program, there was a knock at the door.  "Door's open." I responded, still preoccupied by my work.  Opening the door, Kristen walked in and collapsed in my desk chair "I'm sorry I'm so late, I had to finish up some paperwork I got from the managing director…"  "Huh? What time is it?" I asked, not sure what she felt was such a big deal.  "The building closed down two hours ago." She pointed out, looking at me oddly "Maybe you should stop for a break more often..."

"Oh, well I had an inspiration." I explained as we were going home "And when I really get going I like to finish what I'm writing before the thought escapes me."  Nodding, Kristen pulled onto the road.  "Sounds like you had a long day." She sympathized "Why don't we get take out on the way home, I don't think that either of us really wants to cook today."  "That sounds great." I sighed happily "I hate to admit it, but I'm feeling pretty tired by now."

Stopping at an all night deli, Kristen ran in and picked up dinner.  "This place is pretty good" she explained after returning with a large bag "I think you'll like it."  Nodding my agreement, I reclined my seat back a little bit more, and closed my eyes.  A minute later I felt Kristen scratching me behind the ears "We'll be home in a bit, so don't fall asleep on me, okay?"  "I won't make any promises." I replied playfully.  Sighing in mock exasperation, Kristen drove us home without any further detours.


After changing out of my work clothes, I met Kristen in the dining room, where she had already set out our dinner.  "So, how was your day?" I asked, feeling a bit more awake.  "It went pretty well actually." She began "The board of directors was pleased that our project is ahead of schedule, and were even happier when I told them about how much the hardware re-design would save us."  Assembling another sandwich, I noticed that she seemed to be a lot less stressed than she had been for the last few days.  "What is the board of directors like?" I wondered aloud.  "They're really nice, you'd like them." Kristen assured me, then, changing the subject asked "How about you, it seemed like you were pretty busy today too…"  "You could say that." I laughed, telling her about the morning's quest to find a supplier, and ending with the fact that I now had a beta version of the AI program to try out in the morning.

Remembering something as I finished up my dinner, I added "I talked with David today too.  I felt like I should tell him about our relationship, since he's your brother and everything.  Nothing really personal, just that we're together now."  "So what did he have to say about that?" Kristen asked, helping me to clear the table.  "He was pretty supportive." I shrugged "I was a little bit worried that he might get upset about it, but I'm glad I brought it up."

"I'm going to go make myself some tea, and then maybe my little kit would like to have some quiet time." I suggested after seeing Kristen yawn a little bit.  "Uh-huh." She agreed, following me into the kitchen.  Putting on a pot of water, I got a mug out of the cupboard, and then, after rooting around in the pantry a bit, came up with a box of tea and the bottle of cinnamon liquor I had tried the other day.  Sitting on the floor watching me intently, Kristen chimed in "I want a drink too!"  "Okay." I agreed, getting out one of her bottles, and pouring her some juice before putting it in the refrigerator.  Then, taking her hand, I led Kristen upstairs to the bathroom.

After helping her up onto the counter, I got out a diaper, and the box of diapering supplies.  Being quite cooperative, she lifted up her backside a bit so I could thread her tail through the tail hole. Finding the baby powder, I discovered that the cap was stuck.  "Hmm…" I thought aloud "I guess I must have cross threaded the cap last time I was using it…" Seeing that Kristen was getting bored, and had discovered a box of tissues, I distractedly tried to open the powder and at the same time get her to stop gleefully strewing tissues all around the room.  And, at that exact moment, the cap decided to come open, spilling baby powder across the counter.

Looking up from the box of tissues in surprise, Kristen let out a cute little sneeze.  "Bless you." I laughed, wiping a little smudge of baby powder off of her muzzle with one of the readily available tissues that littered the room.  "Well, at least the powder went pretty much where I was going to put it anyway." I shrugged resignedly.  Sprinkling a little bit more on, I fastened up the tapes on Kristen's diaper, and helped her off the counter.  "Now don't move." I instructed, sitting her on the edge of the bathtub while I quickly cleaned up the mess that had invaded our bathroom.

"How about that juice?" I asked as we returned to the kitchen.  Taking the kettle off of the stove where it had been boiling for quite some time, I was happy to discover that enough water remained for my tea.  Pleased by my good fortune, I rapidly mixed up my drink, adding just a dash of the cinnamon liquor before returning the bottle to the pantry.  Then, grabbing Kristen's bottle from the refrigerator, we retired to the living room.  Yawning, I collapsed on the couch.  "Join me?" I smiled at Kristen, who wasted no time getting comfortable, with her head resting in my lap.  Holding her bottle, I stroked her fur gently as she quietly drank her juice.

After she had finished her bottle, I set it on the coffee table, and continued to sip my tea while Kristen dozed peacefully in my lap.  Looking down at her, lying in my lap, I couldn't help but feel contented.  Her slow, steady breathing, and the way her whiskers twitched reflexively every now and then was just so endearing.  Finishing my tea, I set the cup on the end table where it wouldn't get knocked over by accident, then, letting out a little yawn, settled into the sofa a bit more comfortably.  Turning the lamp down to a lower setting, I looked up, watching the ceiling fan and giving some serious thought to just spending the night on the sofa.

The decision was taken out of my paws, however.  Tapping me on the knee, Kristen informed me that "You look like you really need a nap."  "You do too, my little kit." I observed, a little bit amused by it.  "It's bedtime now." She said sleepily "But I don’t want to get up, it's nice here on the sofa with you."  I really didn't feel like getting up either, but decided that I probably should.  "Okay, it's time to go to bed now." I sighed as I stood up, resting her head on a pillow.  Reaching down, I lifted Kristen up into my arms.  I was still in pretty good shape from my old job at the lumberyard, and was surprised to find that she was lighter than I thought she would be.

"You're strong…" Kristen mumbled, not really waking up.  Putting her arms around my neck, she snuggled up against my chest as I carried her upstairs to the bedroom.  Laying her down gently on the bed, I tucked her in snugly before getting ready to go to sleep myself.  Crawling under the covers, I curled up comfortably next to her, sighing happily.  As I was settling down for a much-needed rest, Kristen rolled over and gave me a gentle kiss on the muzzle.  "Sweet dreams, Nick." She whispered, drifting off again.  "Sweet dreams, Kristen." I whispered back, slipping into a peaceful slumber. 

To Be Continued...