The Gate

Chapter 4

When I awoke the next morning, Kristen was still sleeping soundly.  Carefully getting out of bed so that I wouldn't disturb her, I tiptoed out into the hallway, gently closing the door as I went.  "It's my turn to make breakfast." I decided as I ducked into the laundry room in search of some pants.  Pulling a pair of shorts from the dryer, I continued on to the kitchen.  Having decided on pancakes for breakfast earlier, I quickly retrieved the necessary ingredients, and began mixing up the batter.  "Hmmm…" I thought to myself after the batter was ready "Let's see what else is lying around."  With the intent of finding something to flavor our breakfast with, I began rooting through the pantry.  Coming up with a bag of chocolate chips, I silently fought with the temptation to add them to the mix.  "No." I decided as reason won out "That's just not that good of an idea."  Putting the bag back into the pantry, I was mildly surprised to note that I was actually listening to my better judgment.  Sighing deeply, I dove back into the pantry.  "What's this?" I wondered, pulling out another bag.  Taking a look inside, I discovered that it was full of walnuts.  "Ah, here we go!" I grinned, tossing the bag on the counter and closing the pantry door.

A little while later I had just about finished with the pancakes, and was setting the table, when Kristen put in an appearance.  "Something smells good." She observed, still sounding a bit asleep.  "That would be breakfast." I grinned "It's almost finished."  Walking over to the dining table, I brought her a glass of orange juice.  "Here, a little something until the food is ready."  I rapidly finished up with breakfast, slicing an orange to garnish the large stacks of pancakes.  Bringing the food out to the table, I sat down across from Kristen and hungrily started in on my plate. 

"I like pancakes, they're yummy." Kristen informed me in a small voice.  "I do too." I agreed.  "These pancakes have nuts in them." She observed "I've never had pancakes with nuts before."  "Well, it's always good to try new things." I nodded.  She must have liked pancakes with nuts, because she finished with her plate before I finished mine.  Drinking the last of my orange juice, I got up to get some more while Kirsten was helping herself to another serving of the pancakes.  "Do you need more juice?" I asked over my shoulder as I disappeared into the kitchen.  "Nope." Came her muffled reply.  As I was doing my best to liberate the carton from the back of the refrigerator, where it had somehow managed to migrate to, I heard a loud 'thump' coming from the dining room, followed by "Uh-oh."  Abandoning my quest for the juice, I went back to check on Kristen.

Going back into the dining room, I was greeted by the sight of Kristen hastily trying to keep a large puddle of syrup from spreading any more than it already had.  Grabbing a dishrag, I hurriedly came to her aid, and quickly stopped any more of the spill from dripping onto the carpet.  Looking up at me with a guilty expression, she informed me that "I made a mess."  "I can see that." I laughed.  Looking things over, I decided that it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  Luckily, Kristen had dropped the syrup bottle onto the table, and most of the syrup that had spilled over the edge had gotten on her and not the carpet.  So while the floor was pretty clean, Kristen had syrup all down her chest and legs.  "Well," I suggested, indicating her matted and sticky fur "It looks like you need a bath!"  "A great big one." She agreed.


Leaving Kristen to supervise the bathtub filling, I quickly cleaned up the syrup spill, then returned to check up on things in the bathroom.  Before helping Kristen into the tub, I added a generous amount of bubble bath, as well as some little plastic bath toys I discovered in her closet.  Seeing how she was eyeing the spreading mass of bubbles, I couldn't help but grin at her enthusiasm.  "Maybe I should take a bath instead." I teased "You might get lost in the bubbles and never be seen again…"  "No I won't." she disagreed energetically "I need a bath.  See, I'm all dirty!"  "Well, okay." I acquiesced "But only after the bubbles go down a bit."  "I want to play in the bubbles." Kristen pouted, crossing her arms over her chest and stomping her foot.  "Well…" I considered, drawing the word out for what seemed like an eternity to my little kit "Okay!"

After helping her into the tub, I sat cross legged on the floor, and watched her play enthusiastically in the bubbles.  Finally, after watching her for quite a while, I got out a washcloth and the bottle of shampoo.  "All right little kit, it's time to get all nice and clean!" I declared, somewhat reluctant to put an end to her fun with the bubbles.  Grabbing a footstool from another room, I sat down beside the tub, and looked at the bottle of shampoo.  "Yummy, it smells like peaches." I commented positively as I poured out a bit on my paw, and began to gently work it into her fur.  "My shampoo smells better than your shampoo." Kristen said cheerfully "You should use mine instead."  "But then I'd smell like peaches." I shrugged.  "Uh huh." She nodded "Don't you want to smell good?" She questioned as I finished shampooing her tummy, and started on her headfur and back. 

"You don’t think I smell good now?" I asked in a somewhat hurt tone.  "No, you smell good.  Really." She quickly relented, sensing that she might have hurt my feelings "You smell like outside, like trees.  And a little bit like baby powder." Glancing down at my shirt, I noticed that I did in fact have baby powder dusted across the front of it.  "Oops." I muttered to myself, more than to Kristen "I thought this one was clean…" After rinsing off the shampoo, being very careful to keep any from getting in my little kit's eyes, I repeated the process with a bottle of conditioner I found in the cabinet.  "I wonder if this will make your fur any easier to manage?"  "It works good." She nodded.  After I had finished washing her fur, Kristen got ready to jump up and get out.  "One last thing." I explained, putting a restraining hand on her shoulder.  Getting a washcloth, I quickly wiped the syrup left over from her breakfast off of her muzzle. 

"There, we're all done!" I grinned as I helped her out of the bathtub and, grabbing the hairdryer, began drying her fur. "Now you're all clean."  "You know," Kristen observed as I was just finishing up fluffing her tail "You could use a haircut, your headfur is getting a little bit scruffy."  "Can you recommend a good salon in the area?" I joked as we went back to the bedrooms, her to get dressed, and me to find a clean shirt.  "I'm sure I can find one somewhere." She nodded.


After getting dressed, Kristen made a telephone call, while I finished clearing the table.  After she returned to the kitchen, Kristen declared that "I made you an appointment for later today."  "Okay," I agreed "I need to go out and pick up a couple of things anyway, so we can make it all one trip."  "Why don't we leave now," Kristen suggested "I'd like to stop off at the mall and get something too."  "Sure, that would be okay." I nodded.  After grabbing her purse, Kristen led the way out the door, and before too long we were pulling into the mall's parking lot.

"I need to get something a bit more appropriate for a vacation." She explained as she led the way through the mall.  "Ah." I nodded, doing my best to feign a state of comprehension "Vacation clothes."  "Exactly." She agreed, leading me into our destination.  Looking around, I quickly came to the realization that the store only sold women's clothing.  Sighing inwardly, I wondered to myself exactly how I had gotten talked into that bane of males everywhere: shopping for clothes with a female.  Following Kristen around, I was quickly put to use as a vulpine coat hanger, as she handed me her various selections.  By the time she was ready to try everything on, I was carrying a sizable pile of clothing.

"Wait here." Kristen instructed, as she ducked into a changing room to try on some of her selections.  I could hear her in the dressing room, and every now and then there came the 'click' of the dressing room door as she went to look at something in the large mirrors in the back of the row of rooms.  I, meanwhile, rapidly grew bored waiting around for her to emerge, and by the time she was finished, I had sat down and was vacantly staring off into space, completely lost in my own thoughts.  "What do you think of this?"  She asked, snapping me out of my daze.  "Huh?  Oh.  It looks nice, I like it."  I responded as my brain kicked into gear.  Standing with her paws on her hips, Kristen had a skeptical look on her muzzle as she arched an eyebrow at me.  "I mean it." I defended "I'm not just saying that in the vain hope that you'll buy something so we can leave."  "Good." Kristen grinned playfully "Because I've still got a lot of stuff to try on before I make a decision.  I've got to pick the right one, you know."  Laughing at my pained expression, she declared that "You should have seen the way your tail drooped when I said that.  Don't worry, I'm almost done!"

True to her word, Kristen was fairly quick choosing between the things she had picked out, and before too much longer I was carrying a pawfull of the clothes she had decided on to the checkout counter.  Setting everything down in front of the female rabbit working the register, I did my best to discretely disappear behind Kristen.  "It's nice that he let you talk him into coming shopping with you." The rabbit commented to Kristen as she rang up the purchases "I've tried to drop hints to my boyfriend that I'd like him to go shopping with me, but it never seems to work.  I just can't manage to talk him into it."  "Well Nick is a really great guy." Kristen bragged, giving my paw a squeeze "Plus I didn't tell him where we were going until it was too late for him to back out."  "I would have gone anyway." I defended "I just would have complained a lot more on the way here!"  Laughing merrily, Kristen playfully tickled the back of my neck with her tail.

"You two have a nice day." The salesclerk waved as I took Kristen's packages and we headed back out into the mall.  "Well, we've got that done." Kristen commented "Now it's onwards to the salon to do something about your headfur…"  "Lead on." I replied as we found our way back into the parking lot.  After we got back to her car, Kristen unlocked the trunk so that I could deposit the bags of clothes, then we pulled back out onto the road.


"The salon isn't too far from here." Kristen explained as she drove "It's just a couple of minutes away."  The salon, it turned out, was located in a little shopping center down the road.  Looking around as Kristen found a parking space, I saw, in addition to the place in question, a bookstore, a little coffee shop, a landscaped picnic area with tables and a fountain., and a number of other businesses.  "Nice little place." I thought out loud as I opened my door.  "I like it too." Kristen nodded "It's a nice, quiet place to eat."

Inside, the shop was bustling with activity.  Two lines of chairs flanked the walls, each one staffed with a stylist.  Walking up to the counter, Kirsten smiled at the Beagle working as a receptionist.  "Hi, we had an appointment with Rachel."  "Okay." The receptionist nodded "If you two will take a seat, she'll be with you in a little bit.  We're running five or ten minutes late right now."  "That's not too bad." Kristen commented as we sat down to wait.  Idly looking around the room, I looked over the wide variety of customers.  There were other foxes, cats and dogs, a raccoon, two equines, and a variety of other species.  Realizing something, I laughed to myself.  "What?" Kristen asked curiously.  "I was just thinking that it must be a lot harder to be a stylist here." I shrugged "I mean, when there are that many different species that each have their own styles and beauty requirements, it must be a real challenge to keep everyone happy."  "You have no idea." Laughed the receptionist from behind her counter.

Flipping through a magazine that I had chosen at random from the stack on the table, I came across an interesting article about parenting entitled 'Creative activities for your little kit: a parent's guide to summer fun.'  I quickly became engrossed in my reading, and didn't notice the first time someone called my name.  Giving me a nudge to get my attention, Kristen pointed out that "They're calling you."  Walking back to the chair where a petite Siamese cat was waving to me.  "Hi, I'm Rachel." She said cheerfully, with the slightest hint of an accent "You must be Kristen's new friend."  "Yep, that's me." I nodded as I took a seat in the chair.  "I'm glad she finally met someone." Rachel said as she draped the drop-cloth over me "Maybe you'll be able to get her to be a little less serious now and then.  It's not healthy to be wound up all the time."  Grinning, I managed not to comment on that.

Turning the chair around, she stepped back a few feet and looked me over appraisingly for a minute.  "I think the way you're cutting your headfur now looks pretty good, but maybe leave it just a little bit longer in the back." She concluded after some thought.  "Okay." I shrugged.  Launching into it with a will, Rachel soon had me looking a lot less scruffy than when I walked in.  After brushing off the hair clippings with a little whisk, she gave me a hand mirror.  "How does that look?  Much better?"  "It sure is." I agreed readily "I always seem to forget to get things trimmed until I should have done it a long time ago." 

"Is it as difficult to be a stylist for all these different species as I think it is?" I asked as she picked up the scissors again to finish up.  Laughing, Rachel explained "Cutting headfur isn't all that difficult.  Felines are the worst, we always tend to want things just exactly one certain way."  "Now that" she continued, pointing to a table where a raccoon was giving a filly a manicure "is another matter entirely.  Manicures are fairly straightforward, but you should try to give an equine a pedicure.  Your claws are easy enough to do, all I need for them is the clippers and a couple of emery boards, but for an equine you need a half a dozen different clippers and files and emery boards…"  "You could always try a good belt sander." I suggested jokingly.  Pausing for a second, a look of serious consideration crossed Rachel's muzzle.  "I'd never thought of that, but it might not be a bad idea.  Well, if you can get fine enough sanding belts…" she decided.

"There!" she declared a minute or two later "All done!"  Taking the mirror back from Rachel, I studied her handiwork.  "Very nice." I decided as I stood up.  Giving myself a good shake, I fluffed out my fur to it's usual nature, then followed Rachel to the cash register, with Kristen joining us as we passed the waiting area.  Rachel and Kristen made small talk for a while after I paid for my haircut.  I took the opportunity while they talked to look something up in the telephone book, jotting down an address on the back of the salon's business card.  "…I'll call you a little later in the week to schedule an appointment for myself."  Kristen finished up.  "Okay, I'll see you later then." Rachel waved as she retrieved her next customer.


"Well, she was nice." I commented as we got back in the car.  "Rachel has been cutting my headfur for a few years now, so I've gotten to know her pretty well." Kristen nodded "She always does a really good job with it."  "I thought so." I agreed, flipping down the sunvisor and looking in the mirror on the back of it.

"Do we have any more stops on the way home?" Kristen asked as she pulled onto the road.  "We have to hit the grocery store, but first I've got to pick up a few things here." I responded, handing her the address I had looked up.  Looking at the scrap of paper, Kristen thought for a second, "I've got a pretty good idea where that is."

True to her word, we found the store I needed.  Getting out of the car, Kristen looked up and saw the neon sign on the front of the building.  "An automotive supply store." She groaned, an unhappy expression appearing on her muzzle.  "I recognize that expression!" I laughed "I looked just like that at the mall earlier."  Picking up a hand basket, I began looking over the isle markers "Don't worry, I'll keep this quick and painless."  Shaking her head tolerantly, Kristen rubbed me behind the ear "It's okay.  I'm sure you will." 

"Ah ha!" I declared, finding the section I was looking for.  Tossing an oil filter and a handful of spark plugs into the basket, I handed it to Kristen.  "Would you mind terribly carrying this for me." I requested as I lifted a case of oil onto my shoulder "I've got my paws a bit full at the moment."   Having found what I was looking for, we continued on to the other end of the store, where I selected an assortment of miscellaneous tools, and a small metal toolbox.  "There we are, all done!" I declared "How's my little kit holding up."  "Much better than I thought." She laughed as we checked out and headed back to her car.

"And the last stop is the grocery store." Kristen reminded me as I threw my purchases into her trunk.  Nodding, I got in and buckled up as she pulled back onto the road.  "We need to stock up on groceries, and some more…specific…supplies." I thought aloud as Kristen drove us to the store.  Luckily, it wasn't crowded, and we quickly found a parking spot and went inside.  Grabbing a cart, I followed her down the isles.  Watching Kristen select food for the next couple of days, I noticed that her selections were quite a bit healthier than my usual preferences.  "Jackie has gotten to you, hasn't she?"  I joked, tossing two boxes of cake mix and a bottle of chocolate syrup into the cart.  "Oh honestly." Kristen replied, rolling her eyes "Why is it that you can cook and yet insist on eating this kind of stuff?"  Adding a can of peaches, I just shrugged.  "Well, we're going to have to compromise." She decided.  "That means you get your way, doesn't it?" I questioned, adding a microwave pizza to the cart.  "Yes." She answered with authority, putting the pizza back in the freezer case.

We quickly finished up getting food, and moved on to those 'more specific supplies' that we were in need of.  Pushing the cart down the baby supplies isle, I looked over the store's offerings.  "Let's see." I thought out loud "What do we need?"  Finding the brand of baby powder that Kristen used proved a bit more difficult than I had imagined, but Kristen eventually located it.  "They've moved things around a bit." She commented, adding it to the cart while I hunted down the rest of our list.  "It might not hurt to have another bottle" I commented "just so I don't have to keep washing yours constantly…"

After finding everything we were after, we almost made it out of the isle when something caught Kristen's eye.  "Hey, this is kind of cute." She exclaimed, picking up a sippy cup decorated with little balloons.  "Well, add it to the pile." I laughed as we got in line at the cash register.  Looking over the candy rack, I grabbed a chocolate bar to add to the pile of groceries.  Kristen raised an eyebrow at this, so I jokingly pointed out that "I was good when I got the haircut, so I should get a treat!"  Kristen looked like she was considering the merits of arguing the point, but the cashier (a slightly ditzy looking raccoon) interrupted her.

"Hi, how are you two doing today?" she smiled, beginning to ring up our purchases.  "We're doing pretty good, how are you?" Kristen replied, distracted from any more thoughts about my candy bar as she launched into a conversation with the raccoon.  Noticing the sippy cup, the cashier smiled a little.  "So, how old is your kit?" she asked.  Looking at Kristen with an absolutely serious expression on my muzzle, I decided that "She's about two, but she's pretty advanced for her age…" Seeing Kristen grin, I gave her a little hug.  "She's such a cute little kit too."

“Kits are sweet.” The raccoon nodded “It never ceases to amaze me how much energy and exuberance my little cousins have.  They absolutely run me ragged every time I baby-sit for them, they’re so playful and inquisitive.  You just can’t stay mad at them.”  “So, how old are your cousins?” Kristen asked, picking the conversation back up as she paid for the groceries.


After we got back to the house, I helped Kristen with carrying in and unpacking the groceries, then went up to my room and changed clothes.  I found an old, worn pair of shorts that David had left during one of his overnight stays sometime in the past, but after searching for quite a while, I was unable to locate an equally ragged T-shirt.  After giving it a bit of thought, I reached the conclusion that I did not want to have to clean grease, oil, and road grit out of one of my less nice shirts, and, having donned the shorts, I got my purchases and headed for the driveway.

On my way out I grabbed a jack from the garage, and had the car up in no time at all.  As I crawled under the car, I was pleased to note that everything looked to be surprisingly straightforward.  Locating the drain plug, I drained the oil, then began working on removing the oil filter.  Much to my consternation, the oil filter had obviously not been replaced in a while, and the entire thing was covered in a sticky mess of old oil.  “Hope that’s not leaking out of the rocker panels or something.” I groused to myself as I twisted the filter as hard as I could.  “Come off you stupid…” I growled, when, without warning, the filter’s threads slipped free, splattering little drips of motor oil all over the place.  “Whatever.” I decided, giving a mental shrug “As long as it came off.”

“There you are!” Kristen declared a moment before her paws and ankles came into view by the side of the car “I was beginning to wonder what happened to you!”  “I’m just taking care of a couple of little maintenance things.” I explained to Kristen’s ankles while determining that the seal on the oil filter, and not the engine was the culprit of the dripping puddle in question.  Sitting down on the driveway next to where I was working under the car, she continued “Remember that trip I was planning for us the other day?”  “Trip?  No, I don’t think you mentioned any trips to me…” I replied, deciding to be deliberately dense for the time being.  “Yes you do.” She disagreed, poking me playfully with a wrench “Anyway, there’s this really beautiful little park a little bit outside of town, and I thought we could go have a picnic today.  Maybe do a little bit of hiking while we are there, how does that sound?”  “It sounds wonderful.” I decided, smiling in anticipation as I finished changing the fuel filter “I didn’t know you liked to hike.”  “When I have the time.” She explained resignedly “Work has been the all-consuming little time hog lately.”

“Well, I’ll be done with this really soon, I just have to put new oil in, then I’m ready to go!” I laughed, crawling out from under the MetalSmith.  For some reason, I noticed that Kristen was staring at me as I filled the oil.  “What?” I asked curiously.  “You have dirt all through your fur.” She explained.  Sighing I informed her that “I don’t have any old shirts to work in, and I really didn’t want to get one of my nice ones messed up.”  Looking at me skeptically, Kristen raised an eyebrow at my logic.  “It’s okay, it’ll just wipe…” I trailed off as the realization hit me “…damn, fur.  No it won’t.”  “Well, I guess I’ll be taking a shower before we leave as well.” I sighed loudly as I looked down at my chestfur. 

 “You’re going to need some help!” Kristen laughed “There’s more dirt on your back than your front.”  “Nah, I’ll just take a quick shower and we can get going.” I decided as I took the car off the jacks “That should be okay.”  “I’ll go run your bath water while you finish up here.” She said, ignoring me completely as she went back into the house.  For a moment, I debated whither or not to argue the point,  “It’s not worth the trouble.” I decided, shrugging to myself, then began picking up my tools.


“Come on upstairs, the water is almost ready!” Kristen yelled down from the bathroom as she heard me close the front door.  Dutifully I went upstairs to join her, stopping to take off my shoes so I wouldn’t track anything into the carpet.  As I entered the bathroom, I was assailed by a barrage of different scents.  Kristen, meanwhile was going through a large pile of jars and bottles that had appeared on the bathroom counter from somewhere.  The source of the potpourri of different scents was obviously the bathtub, which was filled almost to overflowing with a cloud of fine white bubbles.

Standing in the doorway, obviously somewhat overwhelmed, I managed an incredibly intelligent “Well, this was certainly unexpected.”  “This time I get to give you a bath!” Kristen laughed cheerfully.  “I appreciate the thought,” I said slowly, a bit embarrassed by the idea of her giving me a bath “but…”  “In, foxy.” She interrupted, pointing firmly at the bathtub.  I briefly considered rebelling, but she had gone through all the trouble, and I did really need to clean up, so all in all submitting seemed to be the best option.  Stripping off my shorts, I sank into the tub.  The water felt absolutely wonderful, and I couldn’t help but let out a little churrling sound as I sank down into the perfumed water’s depths.

“Now isn’t that nice?” Kristen asked, the question obviously rhetorical.  “Uh huh.” I nodded, closing my eyes “I haven’t had a nice bath in ages.”   Selecting a bottle of shampoo from the counter, Kristen squirted some onto my headfur, and began to work it into good, foamy suds.  Seeing that I was enjoying just sitting in the water soaking, she took her time washing my headfur, eventually rinsing out the shampoo and instructing me to “Sit up so I can get your back.”  Reluctantly I sat back up and opened my eyes.

Taking some more of the shampoo, Kristen began working it into my fur, giving me a very nice back rub in the process before telling me to “Turn around the other way.”  “Oh goodie!” she grinned in a theatrically lecherous voice as she poured out some more shampoo and worked it into my chestfur.  “Like this part?” I commented, blushing despite myself.  “I’m rubbing soap all over a very attractive male fox, exactly what is there to like about that?” she joked, scooping up a pawfull of bubbles and depositing them on the end of my nose before moving on to my stomach.

After Kristen had finished my bath and rinsed the last of the shampoo out of my fur, she disappeared into the hallway, to return a minute later with a stack of fluffy towels.  “Fresh from the dryer!” she declared as she began to vigorously dry my fur.  “Mmmm… Warm, fuzzy towels!” I smiled absentmindedly, enjoying their warmth and softness “Maybe I’ll just put the rest of them in a pile on the floor and burrow into that for a nap…”  “Nothing beats a towel right out of the dryer.” Kristen nodded seriously.  A few more minutes with the towels, and then she decided that it was time for the blow dryer.  Flinching a little bit from the unexpected noise as she turned it on, I was soon basking in its warmth.  “You know,” I commented idly “I don’t remember blow dryers feeling this nice before I was a fox.  It must be something about having all that fur…”  Laughing, Kristen pointed out that “It’s really cute the way you sit there with your muzzle open slightly and your tongue hanging out a little bit…”

At the moment I didn’t care whither I looked undignified or not.  Much sooner than I would have liked, Kristen shut off the blow dryer and declared that “We’re done!”  “That was nice, thank you.” I said quietly as she began quickly brushing out my fur.  “You make me very happy, I just wanted to do something special for you.” She smiled, quite pleased with herself  “Now why don’t we get ready for that trip, hmm?”

After quickly getting dressed, I returned downstairs to give Kristen a hand with getting ready for our trip.  “Is there room for a picnic basket in the MetalSmith?” she asked as I came into the kitchen.  “How big a basket?” I shrugged as she held up a good sized basket for my consideration.  “I think it’ll fit in the front trunk.” I decided.  Looking in the basket, I saw that Kristen had everything pretty much covered for food.  Ducking into the pantry, I emerged with two bottles of wine, an idea for the evening beginning to form.

As Kristen was closing the picnic basket and declaring it complete, I was grabbing a few things from her closet.  Then, meeting back up in the front hall, we loaded the MetalSmith’s miniscule excuse for a trunk, took off the roof, and were on our way.


It was a wonderful day for a drive.  The sun was shining brightly, but it was comfortably cool out, and there was even a little breeze rustling the leaves of the trees in our front yard.  The sky was a beautiful, clear shade of blue, with fuzzy little patches of white cloud dappling across it, promising fair weather for the enjoyment of all those lucky enough to be outside.  “It’s shaping up to be a really wonderful day.” I commented idly as I navigated my way to the highway.  Entering the onramp, I burned through the gears, allowing the needle of the speedometer to climb rapidly as the powerful engine eagerly took the opportunity to stretch its legs a bit.  Glancing over at Kristen, I couldn’t help but think how pretty she looked as her ponytail rustled in the breeze.  With her eyes closed and her muzzle turned slightly towards the wind, a silly little smile played across her face as she enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her fur.

We headed north on the highway for a half an hour or so, and were well outside of the city when Kristen instructed me to exit onto a fairly obscure looking little rural road.  As we followed it along, we soon lost sight of the highway completely, and the terrain around us began to change rapidly, growing downright mountainous over a few miles.  Wide, sweeping vistas gave gorgeous views of the countryside, and as I looked at the scenery we were passing, I was impressed.  “It’s really pretty out here.” I commented to Kristen, raising my voice slightly to be heard over the purr of the engine.  “You’re going to love this park.” She promised “And the best thing is that there’s never anyone else there!”  Downshifting as we started to climb a particularly steep hill, I thought back and realized that it had been quite a long time since I’d seen another car on the road.  Kristen wasn’t joking when she said that we’d have the place to ourselves… 

Consulting a hand sketched map she had produced from her purse, Kristen confirmed something to herself.  “The turnoff should be coming up in another two or three miles.” She informed me “The park has a fairly large sign at the entrance, so you don’t have to worry about missing it.” The sign showed up just where Kristen had said it would be.  The driveway we entered was lined with huge trees that towered over the open top of the MetalSmith as we tried to find a parking spot in the small lot.  It took no time at all since we were the only car there.  “Here we are!” I said, excitedly stating the obvious as we got out of the car.  Stretching a bit, I worked out all the little muscular complaints that one develops when they’ve been sitting in one place for too long.

The area immediately around the parking lot looked like any standard issue park I’d ever been to.  Directly in front of us was a large playground, complete with swing set, jungle gym, and slides.  Underneath one of the larger trees was a cluster of picnic tables, and off to the side a well designed stone and wood bathroom blended in with the area.  A collection of signs noting the beginnings and endings of trails, as well as how long they were, and brief descriptions of where they went were sprinkled around the edge of the clearing.  “Do you want to eat first, or would you rather go for a walk before lunch?” I asked as I eyed the various trails we had to choose from, making it painfully obvious what my preference was.

“As eager as you look, we should probably eat lunch before the food decides to spoil.” Kristen pointed out logically.  Seeing that she was quite right about the food thing, I readily agreed, and went to give her a hand with the basket.  Lunch consisted of a wide variety of sandwiches and other semi-snack foods.  “I haven’t been out here in quite a while.” Kristen started “But I used to come just about every weekend, to go hiking or swimming, and I’ve found just about every nook and cranny in the entire park.”  “So which trail is your favorite?” I asked as I finished my sandwich and began munching on a pear.  Thinking for a minute, Kristen decided: “There’s a trail that runs up by the falls, and if you take a side branch it will lead you up to a pretty little pool that’s off to the side a little bit.  That one is probably my favorite.” 

“Well then that’s the one we’ll hike today.” I decided as I helped her pack the remains of our picnic back into the basket.  Throwing it in the trunk, I grabbed the little daypack of stuff I had gotten from Kristen’s room, adding the leftover drinks from our lunch to the contents, then slinging it over my shoulder.  “Lead on!” I grinned, taking her paw in mine and following her to the trail marker.

We set off at an easy pace, not really in a hurry to get much of anywhere, and walked in an easy silence for a while. Moving deeper into the woods, we gradually began to hear the sound of falling water, which grew louder as we went along.  Looking around a bit, Kristen stopped.  “If you keep going down the path, you get to the waterfalls.  But, if you head towards your left around here…” she informed me conspiratorially. “You’ll reach the other little pool.” I finished.  Nodding, she pointed out where the path became visible just off of the main trail.

Kristen’s pool turned out to be just as great as she had promised.  Located in a small clearing surrounded by red oaks, the pool was fed by a crystal clear spring in the rocks along the edge, with the water flowing off towards the falls in a little stream.  The floor of the clearing was covered by a layer of moss of one of the deepest greens I had ever seen, and dappled here and there with oak leaves, adding splashes of reds and oranges to the mosaic.  “Let’s stop here for a while.” Kristen suggested, sitting down and leaning up against a tree.  Shrugging off my pack, I sat down next to her, wrapping my arm around her shoulder.

Listening to the gentle gurgling of the springs, and watching the sun shimmer off the surface of the crystal blue waters, I felt myself growing sleepy.  Stifling a yawn, I glanced over to where Kristen was leaning her head on my shoulder, only to discover that she had already drifted off to sleep.  “Not a bad idea…” I mumbled to myself.  I laid her down in the moss, doing my best not to wake her, before lying down as well.  Snuggling up next to Kristen’s sleeping form, I shifted around a bit getting comfortable, then closed my eyes for a nap as well.


I woke up to find my head cradled in Kristen’s lap.  “H’ullo.” I greeted as she noticed my stirrings.  “Did you have a nice nap?” she asked cheerfully, giving me a little kiss on the muzzle.  “Uh huh.” I nodded, a sleepy expression still prominently in place.  Blinking my way back to wakefulness, I slowly sat up and gave my head a little shake.  Kristen’s tummy chose that moment to make itself known.  “My tummy is growling!” she laughed.  “Would you like some juice?” I queried, eliciting a round of vigorous nodding.

Digging in my backpack, I produced a bottle, which I efficiently filled with some of the juice from lunch.  Patting my lap, I shook my head in amusement as Kristen scrambled over, then shifted around until she was comfortable, before taking the bottle I held out for her and happily beginning to drink.  By the time she had finished her juice, I was back to my normal state of coherency.  Following Kristen over to the pool, I sat down on a large rock that jetted out over the water.  Trailing my feet in the water, I watched as she waded around in the shallows.  Since she was wearing a pair of shorts, and the water wasn’t deep enough to get her clothes particularly wet, I decided it would be okay to let her splash around a little if she wanted to.  Looking down into the water, Kristen noticed something.  “Look! Fish!” she laughed pointing at a school of minnows darting around her feet.  “There sure are!” I replied, grinning at her enthusiasm.

After she eventually lost interest in trying to catch the rapidly darting little fish, we decided to head back to the playground for a while.  Our car was still the only one in the parking lot, and while I was grabbing a small snack out of the trunk Kristen took up residence on one of the swings.  Sitting down at a picnic table, I watched her play as I ate my snack.  “Come swing on the other swing!” she giggled after noticing I was observing her.  “Well…” I thought aloud “Maybe just for a little bit.”  Joining her somewhat hesitantly on the swing set, I was soon sailing just as high as she was up into the air.

“That was fun.” I laughed after we had mutually decided that having a little rest would be a good idea.  “Uh huh.” Kristen nodded, sounding more like her adult self  “We should do that more often…” Noticing that it was beginning to grow late, Kristen made a suggestion. “You know, there’s a nice little overlook near the falls that would have a wonderful view of the sunset.  Why don’t we hike up there for a look?”  Then, a bit teasingly she added “Unless you’re too tired…”  “I’ll bet I get there first!” I laughed, jumping up and heading for the trail at a rapid pace.

“You don’t even know where it is!” she called after me.  Refusing to cede the point, I nonetheless slowed down enough to allow her to catch up with me easily.  With Kristen leading the way, we found the spot in question without any difficulty.  She hadn’t been exaggerating either.  The overlook had a great view of the falls, and surrounding woods, and looking off to the west, I saw that there were also the makings of a really pretty sunset as well.  “Told you it was worth the walk.” Kristen commented as she sat down, leaning up against a tree.  “And you were right as always.” I complimented, sitting down next to her in the grass, and opening up the backpack in search of something to drink.

“Um, Nick?” She began hesitantly, seeing me looking for a drink.  Noticing something in her tone, I broke off my quest in the backpack and gave her my undivided attention.  “Could I feed you a bottle?” she asked nervously, as if half-expecting to be reproached “I’ve been fantasizing about it for a while, and do you think I could?”  “Okay.” I decided after a moment’s thought, “It’s a simple request.”  Enthusiastically going through the backpack, Kristen soon had a bottle of juice ready, then patted her lap for me to join her.

Cradling my head to her chest, she offered me the bottle.  Taking it in my mouth, I began to drink.  I was surprised at how little juice came out of the bottle, I guess the designers never considered that they might be used by somewhat…older…little kits.  “The sun’s starting to go down.” Kristen pointed out, rubbing me under my muzzle.  Churling a little bit, I shifted around to get a better view.  There was a great view from where we were, and I soon found my mind drifting as I lay there in Kristen’s lap, absentmindedly finishing off my juice.  “Hey Nick.” She whispered softly, tapping me gently on the nose to get my attention.  “I’m here.” I assured her a bit dreamily, watching the last rays of the sun sink below the horizon.  “No you’re not.” Kristen kidded gently “You’re a million miles away, adrift in some unnamed sea on an undiscovered world.”  “Well, maybe just a little bit.” I conceded, leaning upwards to give her a quick kiss.

Snuggling up to Kristen, I watched the stars come out for a minute before asking “Hey Kristen, do you ever look at the stars?  I mean, just look at them?”  “Sometimes.” She nodded, beginning to absentmindedly rub behind my ears.  “I like the night sky.” I said thoughtfully “I mean, the moon and the stars are so mysterious, but in a good kind of way.  They way they twinkle, it’s just sort of friendly.  And, maybe somewhere out there on a planet orbiting one of those distant little diamonds set in the black velvet of space, there’s a couple just like us, sitting in the soft grass under a tree and looking back at us.  Wondering, and wishing, and watching the passing of the night.” 

“You’re a dreamer…” Kristen mused “Everything is beautiful and a little bit mysterious to you.  Sort of a blurring of the line between reality as it is, and the fantasy you would have it be.”  “Is that so bad?”  I wondered, seeing more than a little of myself in her words.  “No, No.  Not bad, just a different way of looking at things than most.  I think that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you.  You’re good company when you’re not staring off into space.” She laughed.  We lapsed back into a comfortable silence for a while as we snuggled there under the oak tree.  “It is kind of sad to me.” I said quietly.  “What is?” Kristen asked, sensing a change in my mood, but not yet placing its cause.  “I spent a lot of time outside at night, camping, or driving with the top down, things like that.  And I knew the stars over my home, the constellations and the planets and moons, it was a comfortable sort of familiarity.  And now it’s all changed.  It reminds me of how far away I am.  I guess it just makes me a little bit homesick…” I replied.  “Would you like me to show you some of the constellations here?” she offered, genuinely wanting to help in whatever little way she could.  Nodding, I pillowed my paws behind my head, and got comfortable as she started talking.

Kristen knew a lot more about constellations than I had assumed, pointing out probably close to twenty of them, and always knowing the stories that went with them.  My favorite was called ‘the wanderer’.  The story Kristen told was about a fox in ancient times travelling far from the safety of his home burrow because of an urge to see “just what’s over the next rise.”  One day by accident, he was hiking through a remote part of the great woods that was the world in the days of the ancients, and found a gate into the spirit world, leading him into the heavens where he continues to this day looking “just over the next rise” to see what there is to be seen.  “Those were nice stories.” I smiled a little bit sleepily.  “Thank you.” Kristen grinned “Now we really ought to be heading back to our own little burrow for the night!”  Nodding my agreement, I picked up our backpack and followed her back to the car.


The night air was pleasantly cool without being cold, so I decided to take down the roof for the ride home while Kristen was visiting the little girls’ room.  Then after situating the backpack and the remains of our picnic in the front trunk, I sank into the driver’s seat.  Kristen, in her state of semi-wakefulness, was having a little bit of trouble with the complex buckle arrangement on her harness, so I reached over and fastened her in, checking that the straps were good and tight.  “There, that’s good.” I decided, turning my attentions to my own harness.  ”T’ank you.” She muttered in her little voice, already beginning to drowse in the comfort of the sun-warmed leather seat.  Smiling over at her, I started the car, allowing it a few moments to warm up before heading back towards the highway.

I had always enjoyed driving at night, and the weather this evening was perfect.  Kristen had been dozing contentedly since we had left the slightly rough back roads that the park was located on for the smooth expanses of the highway, and I resisted the temptation to run the RPMs all the way up against the rev limiter, as I typically would have if I was the only one in the car.  Instead, I forced myself to cruise along at a nice smooth pace, keeping the engine roar down to a level that would not disturb my little Kit’s sleep.  Glancing over, I noticed her muzzle working in her sleep, as if seeking something.  I was confused for a moment about what exactly she was doing, then it dawned on me.  Reaching over her I rooted around in the glovebox until I came up with her paci.  As I brushed it across her lips, she found it, and was soon sucking on it gently in her sleep.  Sighing happily, I turned my full attention back to the road.

“I wish this could last forever.” I whispered to myself as I steered around a long, sweeping bend in the road.  It was late enough at night that there was very little traffic on the highway, and, of the little there was, it was mostly going in the other direction.  Kristen was making cute little churrling sounds in her sleep, obviously quite happy, the car was behaving itself nicely, I was driving a stretch of road that while not particularly challenging would not be perceived as boring either, and the landscape we traveled through was very pretty, the moon giving the hills and forests a beautiful silvery luminescence. 

I felt a bit of disappointment creep into my mind as the now familiar skyline of the city eventually came into view.  Kristen stirred a bit, as if in sympathy of my feelings, then settled back down without waking up.  Checking that fuel was not a problem, I decided to avoid going through downtown, and instead took the off-ramp for the outer-loop bypass.  The addition of streetlamps made a contrast to the moonlit countryside, and I had to remind myself to turn off the driving lights so I didn’t blind passing motorists.  Finally arriving at the turn-off for our neighborhood, we were soon pulling into our driveway.

“We’re home.” I said gently, rubbing Kristen behind the ears to wake her.  “Really?” she asked groggily, pushing the belt release and taking the paw I offered to help her up.  “You slept through most of the trip.” I explained, picking her paci up off the floorboard where it had fallen at some point “Why don’t you go straight to bed?  I’ll carry in our stuff and lock up here, then join you in a few minutes.”  “I’ll have to change first, I’m wet.” She observed “I was afraid I might have a little…accident, so I took precautions.  I didn’t want to water your nice new seats.”  “That was considerate of you.” I nodded seriously as I finished locking up the car and followed her in the house.  Tossing the entire contents of the picnic basket into the refrigerator, to be sorted out later when everyone was rested again, I went to join Kristen upstairs.

I found Kristen in the bathroom, curled up on the bathroom rug sound asleep.  Shaking my head in amusement I decided that it would be futile for her to try to change herself, as tired as she was.  So, wrapping my arms around her, I lifted Kristen up onto the changing table.  Getting a box of wipes, I cleaned up her diaper area, then slid a new diaper under her behind and threaded her tail through the tail hole.  Kristen, meanwhile was squinting and blinking in the relatively brightness of the bathroom light, trying to decide whither to wake up or chose to pretend it was all part of whatever dream she happened to be rousted from.  Finding the baby powder in the backpack we had taken on our outing, I sprinkled on a light coating, then fastened the tapes on the new diaper.

Picking her back up again, I carried Kristen into the bedroom and set her down gently on the bed, pulling the covers up around her.  Snuggling in deeper into the blankets, she gave a little sigh, then fell back into a deep sleep.  Sitting on the edge of the bed, I stripped off my shoes, tossing them ungraciously in the general direction of the closet, though whither or not they got to their destination I never bothered to check.  I toyed briefly with the notion of not even bothering to take of my dirty clothes tonight, but giving an exhausted sigh I decided that they really were too dirty for me to be able to justify such a move in the morning, even to myself.  With a great effort I got ready for bed, doing a fair imitation of Kristen’s burrowing as I lay down.  Moments after my head hit the pillow I was sleeping the sleep of the happily exhausted.


I woke up far later than usual the next day.  Blinking in the bright light coming through the open curtains, I saw that Kristen was still asleep, and quietly got up to go to the bathroom.  I was feeling quite proud of myself at how silently I was moving when my foot caught on something and suddenly I was falling to the floor with a loud crash.  Swearing, I picked up the offending shoe from where I had thrown it last night and gave it a heave at the open closet door.  Hearing giggling, I turned back around.  Kristen was lying on her tummy, head propped up on her hands, tail sticking up perkily in the air, and an amused grin wrapping around her muzzle.  “I told you the other day that it was a bad idea to leave your shoes in the middle of the floor!” she chided, not the least bit annoyed at having been woken up so unexpectedly.  Rubbing my bottom, I scowled “Yeah, well…”

Gracefully standing up, Kristen sauntered across the floor to where I was standing.  Placing her paws on my shoulders, she put her nose against mine and looked me in the eyes. “Now please tell me you’re going to learn from it this time!”  Sighing, I nodded, then, giving a little grin, I quickly moved forward and kissed her on the muzzle.  “And you tell me that you’re going to learn from this!” I laughed.  “I don’t think I learned anything, could you go over the material again?” she asked innocently.  Always happy to be obliging, I kissed her again, lingering longer this time.  “Now that we’re all done learning for the morning, how about some breakfast?” I laughed, heading for the kitchen.  “Who said I’m done learning?” Kristen called after me as she ducked into the bathroom to take care of her diaper.

Laughing to myself, I dug out the ingredients for breakfast and before too long there were some wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen.  “I hope whatever that is will be done soon!” Kristen grinned as she sat down at the table and began flipping through the newspaper.  “Another five minutes.” I promised.  After I set the table, I sat down next to Kristen and slowly sipped a cup of tea.  Getting up to check on things, I decided that everything was about done.  ”Breakfast is served!” I grinned, setting down the plates “We have muffins with a variety of different jams and jellies, and of course bacon.”  “You make bacon with just about everything, don’t you?” Kristen observed.  “Uh huh.” I nodded “It goes well with almost anything.  Why?  Don’t you like bacon?”  “I like bacon.” She shrugged “I was just thinking it’s funny how you learn all of people’s little quirks when you live with them…”  “Like how you line up all the things on the bathroom counter?” I pointed out.  “What’s wrong with that?” she questioned, feigning annoyance.  “Nothing.” I shrugged “You’re just the only person I’ve ever met who does that.”  “I never thought about it before...” She mused, helping herself to another muffin.

While I was getting another carton of orange juice from the refrigerator, the telephone rang.  Answering it, I recognized Chris’ voice on the other end.  “Listen Nick, I really hate to bother you at home, especially since you’re supposed to be on vacation, but Russell and I need your help.”  “What’s wrong?” I sighed, sensing that my time off was going to end before breakfast did.  “We’re having some trouble getting the I/O handler to configure correctly.” Chris explained before launching into a drawn out explanation of the problem.  The longer I listened the more futile trying to fix it over the telephone sounded.  Sighing loudly, I cut Chris off. “I’m not going to be able to do anything useful about this over the telephone.” I groused “I’ll just have to come in and take a look at it…”  “I’m sorry.”  Chris sympathized, and to his benefit, he honestly sounded like he meant it.

Hanging up the telephone, I went back to the table to explain to Kristen.  “Poor Nick.” She said, shaking her head.  “Do you think you can occupy yourself until I get back?” I kidded.  “I’ll probably take a walk, and maybe catch up with some things around the house.” She decided, looking disappointed but understanding.  Nodding, I went back upstairs to my bedroom to change clothes.


The drive in to work wasn’t too bad, it was already pretty late in the morning, so there wasn’t any traffic to speak of.  By the time I got to work, I was in a reasonable mood.  Or at least there was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t bite anyone without just cause.  Dropping by the offices first, I found a note on Chris’ door saying that they were down at the labs so I hurried down to join them.  “I’m here.” I announced as I entered the lab with a flourish.  I found Chris, Russell and Shelly sitting in front of various pieces of equipment in one corner of the lab.  The room, I noticed had changed since I had been here last.  Dominating the area was a large table with a delicately hand-soldered collection of wires and circuits, while a variety of different pieces of medical equipment were lined up along one wall.  On second glance, I noticed that just about all of them were in some state of modification, with bits and pieces of their casings cut away to facilitate a collection of hand-made interfaces soldered in wherever necessity and convenience dictated.  “Pull up a chair.” Russell greeted, waving expansively around the room.

The problem it turned out was a complex one, and it took several hours for Russell and I to figure out where the conflict was arising from, but by early afternoon we had isolated and re-written the offending code and were ready to test the hardware again.  “I’m going to go drop by my office.” I decided as Chris and Shelly were hooking up the hardware for the test “I’ve been sitting in one place too long.”  “Don’t hurry back.” Shelly threw over her shoulder “It’ll take probably half an hour for us to be able to tell if this mess has started working properly or not.”  Nodding, I headed for the door.  “Oh yeah!” Chris yelled after me “I already watered your plants today, so don’t water them again!”  Acknowledging that I’d heard him, I headed out into the hallway.

Opening the door to my office, I flipped on the lights and collapsed into my chair.  Looking over my plants, I saw that they were all doing okay, which was reassuring.  Turning on my computer, I rubbed my temples as I waited for it to boot up.  Getting pulled in from a vacation to work on that complex a problem had left me a little bit tense, and I was feeling like I really needed to stop and take a couple of deep breaths before I got back to thinking about it.  “I just hope we actually fixed the damn thing.” I said to myself while I logged on to check my mail, then, finding nothing that required immediate attention, set up a number of maintenance routines to run before I got back up to return to the lab.  I was halfway to the door when the telephone rang.

“May I speak to Nick?” a voice I didn’t recognize asked when I picked up the receiver.  “This is he.” I answered, trying to keep the annoyance I was feeling out of my tone.  I shouldn’t be receiving calls, I was listed as being ‘away’ with the answering service…  “This is Dr. Ellers at Plaza Medical Center, do you know a Kristen Whitepaw? We found your name and this number in her pockets.” Feeling an icy chill come across me, I asked softly “What’s happened to Kristen?” deathly afraid of what the answer might be.  “She was out walking in GreenTree Park, and apparently was leaning on a guardrail at the overlook, and…well, the railing broke and she fell over the side.”  “Oh no.” I whispered, trying to bring myself to ask the question “Is she…”  “She’s alive, but in pretty serious condition.  We need a family member to come down and deal with the medical releases.” The doctor explained.


Dropping the receiver, I was already out of the office and heading down the hallway at a dead run for the parking lot before it hit the floor.  Fumbling the key into the lock, I collapsed into the car, allowing time to buckle the harness before turning over the engine and whipping out of the parking spot.  Narrowly missing a car in the oncoming lane as I pulled out of the parking lot, I headed for the medical center (which Kristen had pointed out to me on one of our prior trips) at a very rapid rate of speed. Running the RPMs all the way up against the rev limiter, I pushed the MetalSmith to the limit, weaving in and out of traffic in my haste to get to Kristen.  “Well, I’m finally using something I learned in high school…” I growled to myself humorlessly as I rapidly changed lanes to pass a particularly slow van.

Arriving at the hospital after what seemed like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes, I grabbed the first parking spot I saw and rushed inside, the automatic doors sliding open in anticipation of my passing.  The room that I found myself in could have passed for the reception area of an upscale hotel.  Overstuffed sofas and chairs made up the majority of the furniture, along with a few end tables, covered in a selection of last month’s issues of a variety of magazines I had never heard of.  The wall directly across from the entrance was dominated by a large reception counter, behind which sat an attentive ferret.  “Excuse me Madame,” I asked, taking several deep breaths in an attempt to bring my heart rate back under control “I need help finding a patient that was admitted a bit earlier today, a Kristen Whitepaw.” I explained when the receptionist looked up.  Consulting her computer, the receptionist explained that “She just got out of surgery.  May I ask what relationship you have with the patient?”  “A personal one!” I snapped, anger flaring at the delay.  Realizing I was being unnecessarily rude, I sighed and rubbed my temples “I’m sorry.  This is really hard for me, but that’s no excuse to snap at you like that.  She’s…my girlfriend?” stumbling over the words as I tried to come up with an accurate description, I settled on the one that took the least amount of explaining.

Smiling sympathetically, she explained how to get to Kristen’s room in post-op.  After thanking her quickly, I headed down the hallway at a brisk walk that was almost a jog.  Reading off the numbers on the doors as I passed, I found the right room about halfway down the hall.  Hesitantly entering her room, I saw Kristen lying in the bed, an IV drip running into a shaved spot on her arm from a collection of drip bags hanging on a rack beside the bed, and an oxygen feed line looped under her nose.  She looked so fragile in the blue hospital gown.  Shuffling my paws a little bit, I approached the side of the bed, feeling absolutely helpless.  The love of my life was lying there hurt, and there was nothing I could do for her.

Hesitantly I gently ran a finger across the back of her paw, almost to assure myself that she was real. Feeling my touch, she opened her eyes and looked up.   I could see recognition as she looked into my eyes. “Hello Nick.” She smiled painfully “I’m glad you’re here.”  Not being able to help myself, I started crying softly.  “I was so scared when they called saying you were hurt…” I rambled, feeling sad and scared and relieved all at once “I thought you might have…might have…” Squeezing my paw she did her best to comfort me “Oh Nick.  It’s going to be okay, really.  I promise.”  Nodding, I pulled up a chair and held her paw while Kristen drifted back off to sleep.

I stayed overnight and into the next day, only getting out of the chair now and then to stretch and pace around the room for a few minutes at a time, completely ignoring the nursing staff’s urgings that I go home and get some sleep.  Kristen mostly slept throughout the time, waking now and then wanting some water.  She seemed to be a bit disoriented, looking around as if she didn’t really know where she was or what she was doing there, but I inevitably held her paw and talked to her until she calmed down again.  The visits of the nursing staff seemed to blur together after a time, but Kristen was obviously making a steady recovery, becoming more coherent every time she woke.  And I remained by her bedside to hold her paw.


After Kristen and I had been in the hospital for what seemed like an eternity, we got a visitor.  “I brought you two some things.” Jackie announced as she strode through the doorway carrying a large paper bag.  “Hi Jackie.” I replied tiredly, having become more than a little bit incoherent myself “Kristen’s asleep right now.”  “How has she been doing?”  Jackie asked, digging out a plant from the bag and setting it on the windowsill.  “She’s gotten much better.” I explained “A couple of hours ago when I first got here she was completely incoherent, but now she’s acting pretty normal, just really tired.”  “A few hours ago?” she questioned, setting out a pile of get-well cards and a balloon bouquet that took up just about every flat surface in the room.  “Uh huh.” I yawned, stretching my paws towards the ceiling before returning to my chair.

Eyeing me critically, then looking over my pile of discarded coffee cups, she asked “Do you know where the duty nurse is?” “Probably down the hall at their little cubicle.” I shrugged.  “I’ll be right back.” She nodded, stepping out the door.  I was just settling back down into my chair when Jackie returned, carrying a blood pressure cuff and a glass of water.  “You seem pretty stressed out.” She decided, handing me the glass of water “Let me see your paw.”  Sipping the water, I discovered that she had added sugar to it for some reason.  “What’s the sugar for?” I asked curiously.  “To get your glucose levels up.” Jackie explained as she rolled up my shirt sleeve “The nurses told me you haven’t had anything but black coffee since you got here.”  “Yeah, probably.” I shrugged, looking dubiously over the refuse of many cups of coffee sitting on the counter. 

Leaning on my chair’s armrest with her back to me, Jackie instructed me to “Hold still for a minute, I want to check your blood pressure.”  “Is that really necessary?” I griped as she slipped the cuff onto my paw and began taking a reading.  “No, it’s mostly for my curiosity.” She shrugged.  I vaguely thought that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but in my current state of mind I couldn’t quite place why.  Pumping up the cuff, she took a reading.  Then, as she was starting to take it off, I felt a sharp sting in my wrist.

“What?” I said, sitting up with a start in time to see Jackie placing an empty syringe on the table and reaching for a bandage.  “What the hell was that?”  I growled starting to stand up, only to be overtaken by a wave of dizziness and forced to sit back down.  “Sodium Creniren.” She replied evenly, applying the bandage “It’s a strong sedative.  Now I’d recommend you go lie down on that other bed, you’re scheduled for a 36-hour nap.”  Glaring at her pointedly, I rapidly grabbed for my upper arm, finding the vein and pinching it against the bone “What did you do that for?”  “Because you’re about to collapse from exhaustion, and you’re too damn stubborn to listen to people telling you what you don’t want to hear!” she snapped, then added kindly “It’s for your own good, Nick.  Kristen is going to be all right, don’t worry.” Feeling my arm growing numb, and giving in to the inevitable, I pushed the other bed against Kristen’s.  “I just wanted to be there for her.” I muttered sulkily as I sat down on the edge of the bed “I wanted to be doing something.”  “You were there for her.” Jackie smiled “But you have to take care of yourself too.  It won’t do anyone any good if you make yourself sick, will it?”  Nodding at the truth in her comment, I laid down next to Kristen, and released the vein I had been holding to slow the circulation of the drug, taking Kristen’s paw in mine as I drifted off to sleep.


When I woke up, the first thing that I noticed was that it was dark outside.  Yawning widely, I tried to place just exactly where I was and what I was doing there, but my mind was proving uncooperative.  Giving a little mental shrug, I snuggled back up against Kristen’s sleeping form and closed my eyes again.

The next time I blinked my way back to wakefulness there was a bright light shining in my face.  Groaning, I opened my eyes just slightly, to discover that my discomfort was caused by sunlight shining through the window.  For a while I gave falling back asleep my best effort, but eventually the light won out, and I staggered over to the window to pull down the blinds.  It was only when I was fumbling with the unfamiliar drapes in a vain attempt to shut them that I realized that this was most definitely not my room.  Somewhat confused, I thought back, bits and pieces of earlier events coming to me.  Kristen’s accident.  Going to the hospital.  Jackie overruling my vigil.  “Oh. Right.” I groaned to myself, finding the washstand and splashing some cold water on my muzzle.  Finally waking up to a functional degree, I went back to check how Kristen was doing this morning.  (At least I assumed it was morning…)  Turning my attentions back towards the bed, I very quickly noticed that Kristen was in fact not there.

Becoming worried over an infinite number of wild and improbable reasons why she would be gone, I had just resolved to go shake down the duty nurse for information when I heard a flush coming from the bathroom.  Sighing, I dropped into my chair.  “What was that about?” Kristen asked curiously, having returned in time to catch my sigh.  “It’s just a relief that you were seeking relief.” I giggled.  Then, seeing the odd look she was giving me declared that “I’m sorry, guess I’m not making a whole lot of sense yet.  That stuff Jackie gave me a while ago is making me a bit woozy still…”  “Oh.” She smiled.  I noticed that when she walked over to sit on the edge of the bed next to me, she had a slight limp, but other than that Kristen appeared to be in pretty good shape.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, reaching out to squeeze her paw.  “To be honest with you” she laughed “I’ve felt a whole lot better.  But I’ve felt a whole lot worse too, so all in all I feel all right.”  “Glad to hear it.” I nodded seriously, standing up with great effort and walking to the window.  It looked to be the middle of the afternoon, judging by the sun.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a slight breeze silently rustled the leaves on the trees below us.  “How about you Nick?  Jackie told me about her little enforced naptime, and mentioned that you might not feel so good when you finally woke up for good.” Kristen questioned.  “I feel a little bit nauseous, but I think I’ll live.”  I decided.

Knocking on the door, one of the nurses that I recognized from earlier let herself in.  “Oh!  You’re both up and about at the same time now!” she smiled as she began bustling around the room in that cheerful hyperactivity that squirrels always seem to have perfected.  After giving me a glass of water and instructing me to “drink that in little sips until it’s all gone” she copied some things down into Kristen’s chart and disappeared back into the hallway, bushy tail swishing behind her.  “Someone’s sure cheerful today.” I commented between little sips of water.  “Don’t be rude.” Kristen admonished “Just because you feel a bit ill…”  Nodding silently, I finished my water, then went to lie back down for a while.  Curling up as much as I could, I closed my eyes and hugged my tail to my chest, feeling my tummyache getting worse instead of better.

I hadn’t moved when the doctor came in a while later to inform Kristen that she would be released just as soon as she felt up to going home.  “That’s good news.” I mumbled, not opening my eyes.  “Oh! I thought you were asleep again.” Kristen said, quite startled to find the opposite to be true. “No, I just don’t feel well.” I explained.  “What seems to be the matter?” the doctor questioned.  Hearing a chair scrape across the floor next to where I was lying down, I opened my eyes to find myself looking up at a distinguished looking lion in a white lab coat.  After hearing my complaints, and briefly looking me over, he declared that “I think you’ve developed a drug allergy of some sort.  It doesn’t appear to be too serious, you’re just going to feel bad until it works it’s way out of your system.”  Then, as an afterthought he added “You should probably stay here so we can keep an eye on you for the next couple of hours.  Just in case things decide to get worse.”

After writing something down on a piece of paper, he continued on his way.  “Poor foxy.” Kristen smiled sympathetically “You’re just not having a really good day, are you?”  “It certainly feels that way.” I groaned.  “Maybe you should just sleep through it…”  She suggested, sitting down in my chair from the previous evenings.  This, it seemed, was some sound advice.  Nodding, I got up and found my way to the sink, where the water pitcher and a number of glasses sat on the counter.  Thinking that it wouldn’t hurt to help things along as much as possible, I helped myself to several glasses of water before lying back down to rest.


I woke up feeling a little better, but really having to go to the bathroom.  Kristen, I noticed was nowhere to be seen at the moment.  I was quite curious about where she had gone off to, but I had something urgent to attend to.  Walking into the bathroom much more steadily than I had earlier in the day, I gratefully made use of the facilities.  After finishing my business, I found myself beginning to drift off a little bit.  Blinking myself awake again, I washed my paws and went out to look for Kristen.

Once again it seemed that she was a step ahead of me.  After a brief look around the hall, I returned to the room to find her sitting cross-legged on one of the beds eating a pear.  “Feeling any better?” she smiled, tossing the core in the trashcan.  “Yes.” I nodded “But I’m still a little bit drowsy.”  Uncurling herself from the bed, she took my paw and led me down the hallway.  “The doctor recommended you get something to eat when you woke up.  He says that it’s entirely possible that your physiology is still changing slightly from your…move, and that’s why you reacted so adversely to something that people here only very rarely have problems with.”

As we entered the cafeteria, I looked around the room, trying to take everything in at once.  Saying that the place was ‘very colorful’ would have been an understatement.  The room was decorated in an explosion of pastels, and most of the walls were painted in the kind of murals one would expect to find in a pediatrics ward.  Besides the artwork, the main decorating theme was a huge variety of flowering plants of every kind imaginable.  A skylight taking up most of the ceiling cheerfully bathed everything in natural sunlight.  “Well, this is certainly…something.” I commented, a bit overwhelmed.  “I asked about that actually.” Kristen laughed, seeing my expression “One of the nurses told me that when they first opened the hospital it was decorated just about like every other cafeteria you’ll ever see.  But after a month or two, one of the staff psychologists noticed that everyone tended to gravitate to the cafeteria in the pediatrics wing.  It just seemed more cheerful over there.  So the administration redecorated this one to match.”  “I don’t mind it.” I shrugged “It just sort of surprised me, that’s all.”

Going through the serving line I decided that I didn’t want to risk eating something that might disagree with my only recently improved tummy, so I selected a small salad, some fruit, and a sweet roll, with a glass of milk.  Kristen, having just finished eating, got a glass of iced tea.  Finding a nice table nestled in by a display of orchids, we sat down and started in on our food.  “You know, Jackie feels really badly about this.” Kristen mentioned as she sipped her tea.  “It’s not really her fault.” I shrugged “I’m not mad at her or anything.  I’ll have to talk to her about that…”  We ate in a comfortable silence after that, which remained undisturbed until I had finished the last of my food and had contented myself with sipping the rest of my milk.

“Have they given you any clue as to when we’ll be able to leave?” I queried.  “Well I’ve already been released.” Kristen shrugged “ And he told me that they just wanted to look you over once more, and then they would release you as well.”  Nodding contemplatively, I mused that “I feel a lot better than I have been, and after eating lunch, I’m not even particularly tired any more either.”  “That’s Jackie’s blood sugar at work!” Kristen joked as we threw out our trash and returned the trays to the counter before returning to our room.  Flopping down on the bed, I grabbed the TV remote off the table and began flipping channels.  “I do hope the doctor gets here soon, I’m beginning to get a little bit bored.” I commented.  “It won’t take nearly as long as you’re thinking!” his voice joked from the doorway “Now let’s get this taken care of so you can go home.”

To his credit, the doctor was both rapid and thorough, and before too long I had my neat little pile of exit paperwork, and was being led to the main admittance desk.  After completing everything that was necessary for our departure and getting a print-out of the doctor’s instructions for Kristen, I picked up the bag of get well cards, took Kristen’s paw in mine, and headed for the car.  Digging out the keys, I unlocked the doors and helped Kristen to get situated comfortably before putting our bag of stuff in the trunk and slipping behind the wheel.  Turning over the engine, I let it idle for a minute, while I just sort of stared vacantly off into the distance.  “It has been a really stressful couple of days” I mused to myself, drifting in my own thoughts.  A little tug on my sleeve brought me back to the present.  “I want to go home.” Kristen whispered in her little kit voice.  “So do I.” I nodded, pulling onto the road.


After the last couple of days, it felt really good to be back in the familiar surroundings of home.  “Do you feel like eating any dinner, or is it bedtime?”  I asked Kristen.  “Bedtime.” Kristen yawned, reaching for my paw.  Observing that it still pained her somewhat to walk, I decided that climbing the staircase would best be avoided, and, lifting my little kit into my arms, I carried her upstairs to the bathroom.  Putting her down on the counter, I quickly ducked out to get the necessary diapering supplies from her room.  “Here we are.” I smiled a bit tiredly as I set everything down and helped Kristen out of her clothes.  I eased her jeans over the stitches in her leg as gently as possible, but still elicited a small wince from Kirsten.  “I’m sorry honey.” I apologized as I checked the dressing on the cut.  “It’s okay.” She responded in her little voice  “It only hurts a little bit.”  “You’re a brave little girl.” I complimented as I sprinkled on a little bit of baby powder and fastened up the tapes on her diaper.  Yawning a little bit, she just nodded as I picked her up again.

“Is my little kit ready for bed now?”  I asked, giving her a little kiss on the end of her nose.  “Can I have some juice first?”  she asked “I’m thirsty.”  “Okay.” I nodded, heading back down to the kitchen “I think we can arrange that.”  Sitting her down on the sofa, I retrieved a bottle of juice from the kitchen, then patted my lap invitingly.  Climbing into my lap, she snuggled up against my chest, then, putting my arm around her shoulders, I offered her the bottle of juice.  “T’ank you.” She said a bit sleepily.  Since she was already half asleep, I held the bottle for her, and began to rock her back and forth a little as she drank.  Taking her time with the bottle, Kristen was having trouble staying awake, and as I began to hum a wordless little tune I noticed her drift off, only to pull herself back to some semblance of wakefulness a moment later.

Eventually I decided that the bottle had become a bit of an irrelevant point.  “I think that’s it for tonight.” I mused, setting the half-finished bottle on the end table “What we both need most of all right now is a nice soft bed, with big fluffy pillows and a fuzzy blankie to keep us all snug and sound.”  Putting her arm around my neck, she just yawned and nodded as I scooped her up into my arms and carried her back up to the bedroom.  Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I held Kristen in my arms and gently rocked her to sleep, singing softly until gradually she closed her beautiful emerald green eyes and slipped off into the world of dreams.  Placing her gently on the bed, I carefully tucked her in, placing Sasha in her paws before getting ready for bedtime myself.  Watching her for a minute, I couldn’t help but smile a little at how content she looked.  “Aw, you’re a cute little kit.” I whispered, rubbing behind her ears very softly so as not to wake her “I’m so glad we found each other…”

Crawling into bed, I snuggled up next to her, and, unconsciously sensing my presence, she nuzzled back a little bit before settling back down.  “Sleep tight little one.” I whispered, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek.  The last couple of days had been hard on both of us, but everything had turned out okay in the end.  Lying in the dark, feeling Kristen breathing lightly beside me, I reflected that “It’s good to be back in my own familiar place.” Closing my eyes, I drifted off for a well-deserved and much needed rest.

To Be Continued...