It Started As A Vacation...

Chapter 4

With a crack of thunder, lightning split the night sky.  Startled into wakefulness by the sudden loud noise, I sat up in a daze.  Looking around in the darkness, I took in the storm outside my window.  "It's only a thunderstorm," I thought, trying to reassure myself "nothing to worry about."  Even though I knew that there wasn't anything to be scared of, there was still that little lingering doubt in the back of my mind, and, as the next big fork of lightning crossed the sky, I let out a little squeak, and dived back under the covers.  Curling into a ball, I began to sniffle.  "Mommy?"

Down the hall, the storm hadn't gone entirely unnoticed.  Somewhat annoyed over having been wakened, a thought struck Jennifer "A big storm could be pretty scary to a little kit" she mused to herself "I'd better go and make sure everything's okay."  Looking in on Nick, Jennifer found the little kit huddled under the blankets.

"Nick? Are you awake?" I heard Jennifer asking, her voice somewhat muted by the blankets.  "Mommy?" I whispered, peeking out from under the covers.  Sitting down on the bed, she rubbed me behind the ear.  "Did the storm scare you, honey?"  "A little." I sniffed, snuggling up on her lap.  "It's okay, little one.  It's just a lot of noise, it won't hurt you." She reassured me.  "Would you like me to stay here for a little while and keep you company?"  "Uh huh" I nodded.  Having Jennifer nearby made me feel a lot safer, and I gradually began to calm down.  Sitting in the dark, listening to the rain falling on the roof, Jennifer began to hum a soft little lullaby to herself.

"Tell me a story."  I asked after a time.  "About what?" Jennifer questioned indulgently.  "How did you and Matthew meet?" I decided.  "We met while we were both in college" she began, smiling "I had stayed late studying in the library, and a big rainstorm had blown in during the day.  Well, it had been clear that morning, and I didn't have an umbrella or a raincoat or anything, so I decided to just make a mad dash to my car.  And at that very moment, Matthew was having a similar idea in another building.  So when I was dashing, and he was dashing, we just sort of ran into each other.  Quite literally."  Grinning broadly, Jennifer recalled that evening. "It was a huge mess, papers and school supplies flying everywhere, with Matthew and I sitting in a huge mud puddle in the middle of it all, just sort of looking at each other.  When we went to the nearest building to try to clean up a bit, we started talking, and the rest (as they say) is history."

Seeing that the storm was winding down, Jennifer decided that "I think it's time for you to be going back to sleep little guy."  "But that was a short story" I groused "tell me a longer one first."  "No, it really is time to be going back to bed." She stated firmly, then noticing something "But first I think you need a change." 

I blinked my eyes closed quickly as Jennifer turned on the light.  "Bright" I muttered, sleepily hopping up on the changing table.  Setting to work, Jennifer had me cleaned up in short order, only to realize that she couldn't find the baby powder.  While she was rummaging through the cabinets in search of a new can, I sleepily began contemplating my tail.  "It seems like I've had it forever." I thought to myself.  Thinking back to my old life, I felt myself getting a bit misty eyed.  "Ah, Here it is!" Jennifer declared, holding up the can she had been searching for. "Now, let's just get you freshened up and back to bed." Finishing with the diapers, she led me back to my room.  "Sleep well, Nick." Jennifer commented affectionately, tucking me in, then departing for her own bed down the hall. 


I woke up late the next morning.  Heading down to the kitchen, I found Matthew and Jennifer at the table, eating breakfast.  "Did you get a good night's sleep?"  Matthew greeted me.  "After the rain I did." I replied, hopping up into my chair, and looking around for breakfast.  Finding the food warmer, I quickly launched into bacon and a bowl of cereal. 

"After breakfast we're all going to go down to the mall to get a picture taken." Matthew informed me. "Then Jennifer and I were thinking that maybe we could stop and see a movie on the way back home." "Yay!" I cheered "We get to see a movie!"  Then a thought occurred to me "But don't you have to go to work today?"  "I'm going to take the day off and have a three day weekend." Matthew smiled "But if you don't want me here, I suppose I could go to work…" Laughing good naturedly at my ensuing look of horror, he reached across the table and ruffled my headfur playfully.  "Or maybe YOU should go to work today and I can stay home and be a little puppy."  After staring off into space for a second with a somewhat contemplative look, Matthew joked that "That might not actually be a bad idea, I could use a vacation, and I'm sure Jennifer wouldn't mind looking after me."  "Well, I'm all for it!" Jennifer chimed in with a sparkle in her eye "It wouldn't be too different from the way things are now.  I already have to go around picking up after you, and if you were in diapers too I wouldn't have to do your laundry any more!"  "It's fine by me" I stated decisively "As long as I get the car I'll be happy to take over for Matthew."  Then, looking around I added eagerly "Where's the keys?"

Shaking his head, Matthew good humoredly concluded that "On second thought that might not be the best idea I've had today."  "But I'm a good driver.  I'm a much better driver than Jake, just ask him." I begged plaintively "Right I'm a good driver Jennifer?" I asked.  Then growing tired of the game I pouted in mock indignation.  "Fine, but I'm eating the last piece of Bacon!"


After breakfast, Jennifer led me back upstairs to my room.  "Let's see what we can find you to wear for the picture." She commented, rummaging through my closet.  "Oh, and do you need a change first?"  She threw over her shoulder, while choosing between two shirts.  "Uh huh." I replied, a little bit embarrassed by her directness.  "I like the white shirt." I commented, watching Jennifer at the closet.  "Yes, I was thinking that one too." She smiled, laying it on the bed next to the pants she had already selected. 

"Now why don't you just hop up here." Jennifer instructed, patting the changing table invitingly.  Dutifully I got up on the table while she got the wipes.  I found myself shivering a little as Jennifer cleaned me up; it seemed to be a bit colder inside the house than I had gotten used to.  Noticing my reaction, Jennifer answered my unasked question.  "That big thunderstorm last night was part of a cold front that blew through.  It's gotten much cooler outside than it was yesterday."  Then, after applying a liberal sprinkling of baby powder, she taped up my new diaper, and helped me down from the table.  "There we go, all nice and fresh.  Now let's go get dressed, shall we?"

Leaving me with my clothes, Jennifer went off in search of something downstairs.  Getting tired of waiting, I decided to surprise her by getting dressed all by myself.  I put the pants on easily enough, but had a bit of trouble with the shirt.  It had tiny little buttons, which, try as I might, never seemed to get buttoned straight.  After about the fourth attempt I decided that it was a lost cause, and sat down with Jake to wait for Jennifer to get back. 

Jennifer came back shortly afterwards with her brush, and after she fixed my shirt, (doing her best to hold in her giggles) we sat down and she started brushing out my fur.  "Can Jake be in the picture too?" I asked hopefully.  "I don't see why not." Jennifer smiled "As a matter of fact, I've got a nice little ribbon we can dress him up in for the occasion!"  "Really?" I questioned, a bit mystified.  "Really." She laughed indulgently, finishing up my fur.  "Matthew's got something for you, why don't you go find him, and I'll get the ribbon." Jennifer suggested, heading back downstairs.


I found Matthew in front of the mirror in their bedroom, tying his tie.  "Oh, there you are." He said, seeing my reflection in the mirror "I got you something yesterday on the way home from work."  Walking over to his briefcase, he pulled out a little tie, just the right size for a kit.  Genuinely amused at the look of shock and revulsion that it brought upon me, he grinned and said "Oh, come on.  They're not that bad, I wear one to work every day.  Besides, Jennifer will love it."  Groaning, I began glancing around for an escape route.

Discovering that one was not going to be forthcoming, and reasoning that even if I did escape the room Matthew would just hunt me down anyway, I decided to give in without a fight.  Sitting down on the foot of the bed, I allowed Matthew to fix the tie around my neck.  "There" he said, pointing me towards the mirror "Doesn't that look grown up?"  Nodding, I hopped back on the bed, and watched him look through his dresser drawers for his cuff links.  Seeing that Matthew wasn't paying any attention, I started making faces at his reflection in the mirror.  Then, when Matthew looked back up, I quickly put on an angelic smile until he looked away again.  This game went on for a while, much to my amusement.  A short while later, I looked up at the mirror after straightening (okay, playing with) my tie, to see Matthew's reflection making faces at me in the mirror.  "Hey!" I laughed "Quit it!"  "Quit what?" Matthew responded, putting on an angelic smile.

"Are you two about ready?" Jennifer asked, appearing in the doorway while Matthew and I were occupied sticking our tongues out at each other.  "Matthew…" She said reproachfully, having noticed our little competition.  "Try to be a little more mature.  You're setting a bad example for Nick."  "Okay, okay." He agreed soothingly, turning back to the search for the cuff links.  At which point Jennifer stuck her tongue out at him and then grinning, left the room to return a short while later with a length of dark green ribbon.  Tying the ribbon around Jake's neck, she made a very attractive bow.  "Doesn't that look cute?" She asked rhetorically.  "And now, I do believe everyone's ready to go."


A short while later, we were heading out the door.  Stepping outside, the first thing that occurred to me was that it really HAD gotten colder last night.  It wasn't cold enough to see my breath (which was a little bit disappointing) but it felt like it was pretty close.  "Why are we getting a picture taken?" I asked Jennifer on the ride into town.  "Because it would be nice to have one."  She answered, then, seeing I was about to ask another question, began to elaborate "We can send copies to the relatives, and Matthew can take one to his office, and we can hang one up in the living room.  Didn't you have pictures of people you knew in your wallet or something?"  "I never really did."  I thought, then laughing realizing that "The most recent picture I had in my previous life was the one on my school I.D. card." "Well, then we'll get you a copy in a nice frame and hang it up in your room." Jennifer offered.  "I'd like that." I decided.

Arriving at the mall, we headed for the photography studio.  Following Matthew and Jennifer inside, I looked around with interest.  In contrast to the rest of the mall, the studio was a formal looking place, with expensive looking antique velvet furniture, subdued lighting, and wood paneling.  Sitting in one corner of the room was a marble-topped table with an ornate vase filled with roses, and framed portraits lined the walls.  "Can I help you?"  asked a thin, middle aged ferret, appearing behind the counter.  "Yes, we talked on the phone yesterday…" Jennifer started.  She and Matthew were soon deep in a conversation with the ferret, who began showing them things in a catalog on the counter, which was too high up for me to get a good look at.  While they were talking, I began to look at the portraits lining the walls. 

After a while, Matthew and Jennifer had decided on whatever they had been discussing, and the ferret ushered us into the studio.  Leading us to a backdrop with a very realistic forest scene on it, he took great care in posing us for the picture, trying out various arrangements until one suited his liking.  We ended up with Jennifer and Matthew sitting on either side, with me standing between them holding Jake.  "Now everyone hold still for a moment…" the ferret instructed, then came the mechanical 'click' of the camera.  "Okay, now again.  Look up a bit more little guy.  There we are." 'click' "Okay, now just one more and we'll be through.  Smile!"  I smiled a little bit too eagerly.  "A little bit less teeth please.  You don't want to look like you're going to eat them, now do you?" the photographer laughed, shaking his head in amusement.  "There we are, that's better."  'click'.  "And we're done folks.  I'll have proofs ready in an hour or so."

Deciding that we would wander around the mall while we were waiting, we strolled through the building.  "Let's duck in here for a bit." Matthew said, waving towards a bookstore.  Going inside, Jennifer headed off to one corner of the store, while I followed Matthew around in another.  Finding the area he was looking for, Matthew began to browse through the shelves.  Pulling a book at random from one of the lower shelves, I looked at the front cover.  It had a picture depicting a heroic-looking cat in a space suit. "Ah" I grinned to myself, finding it a bit funny that Matthew would be interested in science fiction stories.   Flipping through the book, I found that (not surprisingly) it was written in the strange script that was used in this world. 

"I wish I had some of my books." I groused, feeling frustrated.  "Well, why don't we go get you some?" Matthew said cheerfully, then, taking his selection, steered me towards the kit's section.  Looking around, I quickly found something that caught my eye.  It was a large book of what looked like fairy tales, and it had some of the most fantastic pictures I'd ever seen.  Sitting down on the floor, I began to look through it.  "What did you find?"  Matthew asked, seeing me absorbed in a large book.  Holding it up, I showed it to him.  "It looks good," he smiled "I'll read it to you for a bedtime story."  "It has a dragon in it." I pointed out, showing Matthew the picture.  "It sure does." He nodded, sitting down next to me on the floor, and looking at the picture.  "Are there really dragons?"  I asked Matthew "I'd like to see a dragon, they're pretty."  "But they might be scary to a little kit." He contemplated.  "Maybe, but I'd still like to see one." Laughing at that, Matthew declared "Come on kiddo, let's go find Jennifer."

We found her on the other side of the store, browsing in the magazine stand.  "Boo!" I laughed, grabbing her tail.  "Hmm, I seem to have some kind of little creature attached to my tail." She said evenly, not yet turning around.  "I'm not a creature, I'm a fox!" I declared, feigning indignation.  "Why so you are!" Jennifer exclaimed, turning around "And a cute little one at that!"  Sticking out my tongue, I hid behind Matthew, peeking out from behind his tail.  "Find anything?" He asked Jennifer.  "Not particularly" she said, glancing at her watch "But we should probably start thinking about heading back to the photography studio to look at those prints."  Nodding in agreement, Matthew took my paw, and we headed for the cashier. 


"They're just finished." The ferret said by way of a greeting as we came back to the shop.  Opening an envelope, he pulled out three large photographs, and put them on the counter for Matthew and Jennifer to look over.  After some consideration, they decided on one of the proofs, and finished up with ordering the prints. 

"So," I hinted subtly as we walked out of the studio "Is the movie theater in the mall?"  "Movie theater?" Matthew joked, feigning ignorance "What movie theater?  Who said anything about a movie theater?"    "Matthew!" Jennifer laughed, poking him gently.  "It's a little bit further into town."  Going out to the parking lot, we located Matthew's car, and headed for the movie theater.  As we drove, I began to feel a familiar sensation.  "Jennifer?" I said a bit plaintively "I have to go to the bathroom."  "Can it wait, we're almost at the theater." She asked me.  "I think so." I replied a bit uncertainly. 

Arriving at the theater, things had become more urgent during the trip.  Walking through the parking lot, I suddenly felt a warm dampness spreading through my diaper.  "Eep!" I squeaked in surprise, realizing what the problem was.  "Jennifer, I had an accident." I mumbled, beginning to get upset with myself.  "It's okay honey, we'll just go inside and get you cleaned up."  She smiled, then noticing how I was starting to sniff a little bit she added "You really shouldn't get upset about it, little kits don't have as much control over things like that.  It's okay."  I just nodded, feeling a little bit better. 

Inside the theater, Jennifer took my hand and led me towards the bathrooms.  "We'll be back in a minute" she told Matthew "Why don't you get tickets while we're gone?"  I hesitated as Jennifer went into the bathroom.  "What?" she asked, noticing I was no longer behind her.  "That's the girl's bathroom!" I protested "I can't go in there."  "It’s okay if you're with me. Now come on, you don't want to miss the movie do you?"  Finding a folding changing station on the wall, Jennifer lifted me up onto the table, then got the stuff she needed from her bag.  Looking around, I noticed that there were a number of other people in the bathroom with us, which made me a little bit nervous.

"Can we wait until we get home?"  I asked Jennifer.  "If you stay in a wet diaper too long you'll get diaper rash. It's better to change sooner than later." She informed me wisely.  "But there's other people here!" I protested.  "Well, then we'll make it quick." Jennifer soothed, unfastening my old diaper.  It took her a little longer than usual to get me cleaned up, owning to the less than ideal arrangement of the bathroom, and by the time she was powdering my diaper area and fastening the tapes on the new diaper, I felt that I was probably blushing hard enough to be seen through my fur.  "Oh, don't be so dramatic." Jennifer grinned, seeing my pained embarrassment "It's not like anyone was paying any attention."  Seeing that she was right, I felt a little bit exasperated at myself for being concerned.

Meeting Matthew in the lobby, we headed over to the candy counter.  Pressing my nose up against the glass, I eagerly beheld the offerings set out for my consideration.  There was a variety of different chocolate bars, chewy fruit things, gummi bears, peanut butter cups, and a whole assortment of things I didn't recognize.  Ordering popcorn and sodas, Matthew prompted me for my selection.  Remembering previous experiences, I decided against getting things I wasn't familiar with, ending up going with the gummi bears.  "Good choice." Jennifer commented after seeing my selection.  Grabbing our snacks, we headed to where a mink in an usher's uniform was taking tickets.  "Third door on your right." She directed, looking at the tickets Matthew produced from his shirt pocket.  "Enjoy the show." She smiled at me as we walked by. 

We were a little bit early, and had a good choice of seats, eventually deciding on sitting up towards the top along the aisle.  Sitting down between Matthew and Jennifer, I squirmed around a little bit, settling in for the show.  "Greener Pastures." Matthew said.  "Huh?" I asked, somewhat confused.  "Oh, up there." He indicated the screen. "That's the answer to the question."  Looking at the screen, I saw what looked like a movie still depicting a horse in what appeared to be some kind of western, taking up half the screen, the other half being filled with writing.  It looked a lot like the trivia reels I remembered from movies back in my old life.  The image changed as I was looking at it, turning into a frame with a different still, and more writing.  "See, I told you." Matthew said triumphantly to Jennifer, the new frame apparently agreeing with him.

As the scenes changed, it quickly became a competition between Jennifer and Matthew.  Most of the time Matthew got them right, but Jennifer seemed to be holding her own pretty well.  There were only a few times when the pair of them were stumped by a question.  It was fun to watch them, they were enjoying themselves so much that their good humor became infectious, and before we knew it, the theater lights began to dim, and the previews started.

The previews didn't particularly seize my attention, being for movies that were too old for me or much too young, depending on one's interpretation of my peculiar age situation.  Patiently digging into my gummi bears, I waited for the movie to start.  A sound check followed the previews, startling me a bit with the sudden loud noise.  Noticing me flinch a little, Jennifer squeezed my paw reassuringly. 

Finally the movie started.  I was a bit surprised to discover that it was a sort of anthropomorphic version of Disney's Peter Pan.  Before too long, I had gotten lost in it, thoroughly enjoying myself. 


It seemed like before I knew it the credits were rolling by, and we were gathering up our stuff to go.  Stepping out of the theater, I quickly closed my eyes, squinting in the bright light that assailed me.  "Arrgh! Bright!" I groaned, shielding my eyes with my paw.  "It's a little bit sunny out today."  Matthew grinned cheerfully, taking my paw and leading me to the car.

On the way home, Jennifer told me that "After lunch we're going to introduce you to that person I was telling you about yesterday."  "Oh yeah!" I replied "I forgot about that."  Then immediately launched into trying to get her to slip up and reveal something about the mystery person.  "Maybe you shouldn't have reminded him."  Matthew laughed as we pulled into the driveway. 

Back in the house, Jennifer decided that I should probably change into something more comfortable, and (more importantly) easier to clean.  Finding me dry when she checked my diaper, Jennifer hung up my nice clothes, and then went downstairs to get lunch.  Sitting on my bed, I curled up with Jake to rest a little bit before it was time to eat.  Absentmindedly playing with his tail, I stared off in space, not thinking about anything in particular, and, without intending to, fell fast asleep.

Coming upstairs to get Nick for lunch, Matthew found him dozing peacefully.  "Wish I still got an afternoon nap." He said to himself, sitting down on the edge of the bed.  "Hey, Nick.  It's time for lunch."  I felt someone shaking me gently.  Rousing myself from sleep, I opened my eyes to see Matthew smiling down at me.  "I hate to bother you, seeing how busy you are" he joked "But Jennifer has gotten lunch on the table, and she'll be a bit annoyed if there's nobody there to eat it!"  "Can't have that." I grinned back, getting up and following him downstairs.

Sitting down to lunch, I decided that I wasn't particularly hungry after all the snacks at the movie theater, but I did manage to make a dent in the macaroni that Jennifer had made for me.  Seeing that I wasn't going to finish it all, Matthew reached over and helped himself to some as well.  "I was going to eat that!" I lied.  "Oh, I'm sorry."  Matthew responded, playing along "Here, you can have some of my wonderful plate of mixed greens."  "Yucky!" I laughed as he tried to serve me some.  Then, deciding that I had eaten more than enough lunch, I jumped up and headed for the living room. 

Lying down on the floor, I stared idly out of the front windows, watching some birds in the front yard.  After I had been bird watching for a while, a car I'd never seen before pulled into the driveway, and a female cat got out.  She looked to be about the same age as Matthew and Jennifer, and was dressed a lot like the people I had met on my visit to Matthew's office.  Going around to the passenger side of the car, she opened the door and helped someone out.  I couldn't see the passenger very well because of the way the car was parked, but she looked to be about my age.  For some reason, I felt a little scared of these new arrivals, and beat a hasty retreat back upstairs to my room.


Pretty soon afterwards, I heard the doorbell ring, and then Jennifer talking to someone in the hallway.  "Nick!  We've got company!" I heard Jennifer yell from downstairs.  Nervously I headed to the top of the staircase.  Looking down, I saw Jennifer and the female cat standing in the front hall.  And, hiding behind the grown-up cat was the younger one I had seen getting out of the car.  "Nick, This is Crystal, and her mom Susan." Jennifer said, introducing everyone. "Hello." I responded shyly.  "Well, isn't he a cute little guy?"  Susan smiled.  "Crystal was from your world originally too."  Susan informed me.  "Really?"  I questioned, my ears perking up in surprise.  Crystal, I noticed, seemed equally surprised by this bit of news.  "Why don't you kids go sit down in the living room while Susan and I make some popcorn?" Jennifer suggested "I'm sure you'll have a lot to talk about."  Nodding my agreement, I led the way to the living room.

Feeling a little bit shy, I tried to start up the conversation.  "So, how did you end up here?" I asked her curiously.  "I was on a backpacking trip up in the mountains during spring break" Crystal started "and I slipped off the edge of the trail.  I'm not really sure what happened after that, but the next thing I remember was waking up with Susan and Roger asking if I was all right.  They cleaned me up and put me to bed, and when I was feeling better, gave me the choice about staying or going."  "So what did you chose?"  I joked.  "To go home of course." She grinned back. "You know how it is, if you ask for one thing, you inevitably get the other…"Laughing about that for a bit, I decided that we were going to get along just fine.  "So how about you?" Crystal asked "How did you get here?"  "Mommy says the stork brought me."  I said with mock seriousness, at which she began to pout good-naturedly until I relented and related the tale of my ill-fated vacation. 

As I was finishing up with the story, Jennifer and Susan appeared from the kitchen, bearing a large bowl of popcorn and a tray of drinks.  "Who's up for a snack?" Jennifer asked cheerfully as Crystal and I hopped up to inspect the newly arrived goodies.  Plopping down on the couch, we started in on the food, while Jennifer and Susan more gracefully made room for themselves on some of the surrounding furniture.  After quickly making the popcorn do a disappearing act, Crystal and I went upstairs for a tour of my bedroom.  "There's not a whole lot to see." I shrugged as I ushered her into the room.   "Oh, but I love what you've done with the place." Crystal grinned, sitting down on the bed. 

"How do you like it here?"  She asked.  "I like it, but it's taken some getting used to." I answered, sitting down next to her.  "The changes were a little bit scary, becoming a little fox kit, moving into a new place…"  "Losing some of your independence, having accidents…" Crystal filled in, then seeing me looking away nervously laughed "Well, you're easily embarrassed, aren't you?  There's nothing to be ashamed of.  All kits need diapers, that's just the way things are.  Besides, you like it here, don't you?"  "Uh-huh.  It's nice having Matthew and Jennifer take care of me, and after being an adult for a while I have a whole new appreciation for being able to be a kit again."  I replied.

Becoming more subdued, I retrieved Jake from his place on my pillow, and asked Crystal about something that had been on my mind for the last few days.  "Crystal, do you ever miss your old family?  Or wish you had gone back?"  "Sometimes I miss my old friends and family," she nodded slowly, sensing that this was a touchy subject with me. "But I'm glad I stayed.  I'm happy here."  "I miss my old life" I blurted out, starting to cry "I mean, things weren't exactly great there, but it was my home.  But I like it here too, everything is so green and pretty, and I love Jennifer and Matthew, and I like having them take care of me, and I'm more happy here than I ever was in my old life."  Sniffing as I ran out of steam, I added plaintively "I'm confused."  Feeling a bit at a loss about what she should do, Crystal hugged me and told me "It's okay.  Everyone is confused sometimes. Can I give you some advice?"  "Uh-huh. " I smiled sadly pulling myself together somewhat.  "Maybe instead of looking backwards, you should look forwards instead."  Crystal told me, the wisdom of her words a contrast to her apparent age.  "It's done.  Instead of dwelling on what might have happened you should try to put it out of your mind and just enjoy life here." As an afterthought, she asked me "Have you ever talked to your mommy and daddy about any of this?"  "No" I answered a bit nervously "I'm afraid I'd hurt their feelings, and they'd think I didn't love them."  "Well, why don't you think about it?"  Crystal advised "I think that they'd want to know if something is bothering you, and I'm sure they'd understand about it not being anything bad about them." "Maybe" I considered.  Feeling a lot better for having talked with her, I suggested we go play outside for a while.


Finding Jennifer and Susan still talking in the living room, we asked if it would be okay to go outside and play for a while, receiving a green light "As long as you stay in the yard." We quickly headed out the front door and into the great unknown.  It was a pretty day out, nice and sunny, with a little breeze blowing through the trees every now and then.  Noticing that the leaves were just beginning to turn colors, I asked, "Hey Crystal, what season is it?"  "It's probably about the beginning of fall." She shrugged "I haven't been here too much longer than you have…"

As we walked around the side of the house, Crystal commented that "You have a pretty yard."  "What's your yard look like?" I asked, picking up a pinecone as we walked along.  "It's a lot like yours, but we have a big pond that Susan built, and it's full of fish and little pink flowers."  "Do you ever try to catch the fish?" I asked, remembering Erica, my babysitter from the other day.  "I tried once," Crystal smiled, remembering "But I fell in the pool and got soaked.  Roger thought it was pretty funny, but Susan got a bit upset about me getting my clothes all wet."  "Do you like swimming?" I queried.  "I do, but I don't think Susan does very much." Crystal laughed good-naturedly. 

Walking down by the edge of the woods, Crystal looked warily into the shaded green expanse.  "I wonder if there are any monsters living in the woods?" She commented, only half joking.  "I got lost in the woods once" I started "and I didn't see any monsters.  But I did meet a biker."  Seeing Crystal give me a look that made it obvious that she thought I was joking with her, I related the story of how I had met Bruno.  "You are a handful, aren't you?"  She commented, shaking her head in reproach.  "I know." I sniffed, feigning a deep shame at having been so naughty.

Growing a little bit tired of walking around, I lay down on a convenient patch of fuzzy green moss, and looked up at the sky idly.  Sitting down next to me, Crystal pointed out that "those big clouds over there look kind of like a house."  "Sort of, yeah."  I agreed.  "And that one looks like a bunny rabbit."  Giggling over our new game, we amused ourselves with it for a while, eventually drifting off into silence, and just watching the clouds float by.  As I sat there, stretching my toes out in the moss, enjoying the feeling of the cool dirt between my toes, I heard Jennifer calling us from the house.  "Kids! Time to come back inside!"


Returning inside, the first order of business was "Does anyone need a change?"  Discovering, to my chagrin, that I did, I raised my hand.  "Looks like you do too Crystal" Susan commented, sticking a finger under the tapes of Crystal's diaper and discovering that she was wet.  "Right," Jennifer joked sternly "Upstairs with the pair of you!"  Taking Crystal by one paw and me in the other, she led the way, with Susan following behind. 

Arriving upstairs, Jennifer picked me up and put me on the changing table.  Noticing that across the room Susan was putting down a changing pad on the top of my dresser, I realized that they were not planning on taking turns using the room.  "Hold still." Jennifer commented, as I squirmed a bit, not too keen on the arrangement.  As she was cleaning me up, Jennifer discovered that she was out of diaper cream, and went to the bathroom to get a new tube.  "A little bit drafty?" she joked, noticing upon her return that I was shivering a little bit.  "Hmm," she commented, frowning a little bit "It does seem a little bit cold in here, now that I think about it.  We might be in for an early bit of cold weather…There we are!"  Finishing up, she helped me down from the table.

Having finished first, Susan had diplomatically taken Crystal back downstairs, where we found them looking out the window.  Joining them, I saw that it had gotten darker outside, with some large, grey clouds rolling in on the horizon.  "Looks like we might get some weather here in a bit." Susan thought out loud.  "I know," Jennifer suggested "Why don't we have a fire and some hot cocoa?"  "Yay! Cocoa!" Crystal grinned.  "If you two come help me get the fire going, Susan can make the cocoa." Jennifer decided.

Stepping outside with Jennifer to get some firewood, we found that the temperature had dropped rapidly since we had been playing outside earlier. Everyone grabbed an armful of wood from the pile by the side of the house, though admittedly Jennifer's armful would last us a lot longer than Crystal's or mine would.  After we had gone back inside, Jennifer made quick work of laying the fire, and we soon had a nice blaze burning cheerfully in the hearth.  "Cocoa's here!"  Susan announced, coming over with four mugs on a tray.  Crystal and I pulled some cushions off of the couch and sat in front of the fire while Susan and Jennifer retired to the table in the dining room.

As I finished up my cocoa, I glanced over at Crystal and noticed that she had a mustache from the hot chocolate.  This struck me as being ludicrously funny, and I burst into a fit of giggles.  "What?" she asked, a bit confused.  "You've got a cocoa mustache!" I grinned.  "So do you!" Crystal observed, beginning to giggle herself.  Jennifer came in at this point to see if we were done with our cocoa.  "What's so funny?" she queried.  "Nothing" I smiled.  "Well, I brought you two a blanket, and I'll take your mugs while I'm here." Jennifer offered, draping one end of the blanket across my shoulders and the other across Crystal's. 

"It's nice here." I mused, yawning a little bit.  The cocoa and the warmth of the fire were taking their toll, making me a bit drowsy.  "It's nice and warm, and the blanket is fuzzy, and…" Looking over to see why Nick had trailed off mid-sentence, Crystal saw that he had drifted off to sleep, and was curled up into a little ball, with one paw across his muzzle.  "That's cute." She thought to herself.  Then pulled the blanket over him before curling up herself for a nap.

Some time later Jennifer and Susan came by to check on the pair, finding them sleeping contentedly in front of the fireplace.  "Look at those two." Jennifer smiled "It almost makes me wish we had a couple more sofa cushions around here so I could join them."  "Let them sleep." Susan suggested "This is the easiest it's ever been, getting her to take a nap."  With that, they headed back to the kitchen to pick up their conversation where they had left off.


"Time to get up." Someone said, shaking me.  Growling a little bit in protest, I blindly batted at the paw in question.  "Well, aren't we surly this morning?"  Jennifer laughed  "Now come on, Crystal and Susan are going to go home soon, you want to say goodbye don't you?"  "Uh-huh" I conceded, making an effort to wake up.  Susan was making a similar appeal to Crystal at the moment, but she seemed a bit more reluctant to leave the cozy warmth of the blanket to venture outside.

Finally, after much coaxing, Susan had everyone and everything rounded up, and was heading out the door.  "Bye bye Crystal."  I waved, a little bit sadly "Come back and play again soon, okay?"  Waving, she headed out after Susan, only to turn around halfway down the front walk to run back and give me a big hug.  Then, acting a little embarrassed; she skipped back down the driveway to where Susan was waiting for her at their car.  Standing on the front porch, Jennifer and I waved until their car was lost around a turn in the road.

"Well," Jennifer smiled as she shut the door "You two sure seemed to hit it off."  "I like Crystal" I nodded "She's nice."  "We'll have to get together again soon."  Jennifer decided "It's good to have someone your own age to play with."

"So, what should we have for dinner?" Jennifer mused as we walked back towards the kitchen.  "Fettuccini in a tomato meat sauce, with basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese."  I replied pompously, puffing out my chest and strutting towards the kitchen.  "Spaghetti and Meatballs it is kiddo."  Jennifer grinned, rubbing me behind the ear.

We spent about the next twenty minutes in the kitchen, Jennifer preparing dinner, and me watching attentively from a stool by the counter.  "As long as you're here," Jennifer started "why don’t you help me?"  "Okay." I responded congenially "what do you want me to do?"   "Why don't you mix this up for me?" she said, setting the pan with the tomato sauce in front of me.  Taking the spoon, I began to vigorously stir the sauce.  "Double, double, toil and trouble.  Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!" I chanted, looking into the pan.  "Careful not to slosh any out." Jennifer warned, noticing my rather overzealous one act play.  "Enthusiasm is great, but only as long as I don't have to clean it off of the counter." She laughed.  Before too long, Jennifer had everything on to cook, and we headed back to the living room to wait for Matthew to get back home.

Sitting down on the couch, Jennifer began to flip through the channels on the television until she found the one she was looking for.  Lying down next to her, putting my head on her lap, I saw that she had chosen the local weather channel.  An attractive female Cocker Spaniel was explaining the weather radar image behind her.  "…An early cold front is expected to move into the area overnight.  The low-pressure system will bring with it a rapid drop in temperature, as well as the possibility of substantial amounts of snowfall, particularly in the outlying areas.  We expect two or three feet of snow to have accumulated by tomorrow morning…" "It's going to snow tonight?" I asked, enthusiastically tugging on Jennifer's blouse.  "That's what she said." Jennifer answered.  "Really?  Neat!  I hope it snows a whole bunch!"  I smiled in anticipation of the upcoming weather. 

"A little bit excited, are we?" Jennifer grinned.  "I lived somewhere that had warm weather all the time.  Snow was a novelty there, I never got to play in snow." I explained, seeing Jennifer just a little bit perplexed by my enthusiasm.  "It snows a lot during the winter here, so you'll get plenty of chances to make up for it!"  She replied, my cheerfulness becoming contagious.  "Make up for what?"  Matthew questioned, coming in the room. "I hope it doesn't have anything to do with dinner, because I'm starving!"

"Nick was saying that it never snowed at his old house."  Jennifer filled him in.  "Really?"  Matthew asked as we were sitting down for dinner.  "So you never got to build snowmen, or go sledding or ice skating?"  "No.  Well," I amended "I did get to go ice skating.  There was a skating rink in a mall up town from where I used to live."  "That's not the same thing." Matthew dismissed, helping himself to the garlic bread while Jennifer was serving me some spaghetti.  "We'll have to do something about this as soon as it gets cold enough."  He decisively informed Jennifer.  "Pass the spaghetti sauce please."


After dinner, Matthew went out to the garage, returning with a hammer and a box of small nails.  "What are those for?" I asked, looking up from helping Jennifer dry the dishes.  "Hanging up your picture."  He replied.  "How did they turn out?" Jennifer asked, finishing the dishes, and taking the envelope that Matthew held out for her inspection.  After flipping through the photos, Jennifer smiled approvingly, and then handed the packet to me.  Looking them over, I decided that it really was a nice picture, even if I did look kind of funny in a tie.  "Can I have a picture?" I asked Jennifer, remembering her promise at the mall.  "This one is yours." Matthew said, handing me a framed copy that had been sitting, previously unnoticed, on the end table.  "Now why don't we go hang it in your room?"

After a brief discussion, we decided on an appropriate spot on the wall across from my bed.  "There we go!" Matthew commented, stepping back to admire his handiwork.  "I like it."  I nodded.  "I'm glad you're pleased." Matthew smiled "Now I think I hear Jennifer calling you for your bath."  I'd heard it too, but had been hoping that Matthew hadn't.  Sighing, I headed over to the bathroom, to find Jennifer just finishing running the water.  "There you are!" She joked "Thought you could escape?  Hop in."  "How in the world did you manage to get this much tomato sauce in your fur?" She chided as she scrubbed out my chestfur "I do believe that it started out being white right there…"  "It's not my fault." I answered defensively "Spaghetti is just messy."  "Next time I'll have to remember to put you in a bib first."  That idea offended my dignity a bit, but I thought it best to let it pass at the moment. 

After finishing up, Jennifer rapidly dried out my fur with a towel, then put me in a clean diaper and my pajamas.  "Well, its bedtime little guy."  "Already?" I argued "But it's only…"  "…Time for little kits to be going to bed." Jennifer interrupted cheerily, helping me into bed.  "Oh look!" She noticed, beginning to tuck me in "It's snowing outside."  Looking out the window, I saw the first powdery wisps of snow beginning to fall.  "You can look forward to playing in the snow tomorrow." Jennifer informed me. Then, turning out the lights she wished me "Good night Nick", quietly closing the door behind her.

Lying in bed, I sleepily gazed out the window, watching the snow slowly blanket the landscape.  As the clouds drifted by, the moon gradually peeked out from behind them, lending a crystal shimmer to the scene laid out before me.  "It’s pretty…" I whispered, already half-asleep.   Thinking back on the day, my thoughts turned to the family picture Matthew had put up for me.  Looking at the figures of Matthew and Jennifer, with me in the middle hugging Jake, I felt content.  Smiling at them, I drifted off to sleep.  As the moonlight passed through my room, its shadows danced along the walls, making the figures appear to smile back.

To Be Continued…