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|A mother comes to accept her daughter's latest boyfriend when the girl brings a humanoid-fox home for Thanksgiving. This is a complete short story that is an excerpt from a novel I'm working on.||
Katrin topped off the green bean casserole with fried onions and popped it in the small oven. She was happy to see her daughter, but wished the girl would come home more often than the holidays. Penny had driven up from Ventura with her new friend to share Thanksgiving with the family. Meeting him was a shock. He wasn't human.
A loud thump shook the house and rattled the plates. Katrin braced herself, but it was over too quickly for an earthquake. She heard Penny and Bobby's voices; he sounded like he was in pain. Already it's started. "Dammit, Penny!" she shouted. "Are you kickin' your brother's hinter?"
"Mama, he was tryin' to kill Paris!" Penny shouted back.
At five-foot two and 95 pounds, that girl was a firecracker. When her brother did something she thought stupid, she took it out on him physically—and he was almost double her weight. Those kids are gonna give me a heart attack. "Dinner's in less than an hour. If I have to take someone to the clinic you'll both be in trouble!"
Bobby would take over the farm someday, Akamatsu Ranch. He was protective of the family and of the farm and she could guess what the problem was—Penny's friend Paris wasn't human, but a male humanoid fox. Bobby probably thought he was protecting his little sister.
Katrin had seen a special on the Science Channel about these creatures. Several decades earlier one of the Gen Eng companies that had been doing government work went bankrupt. Among the assets the federal government seized were two-dozen genetically modified foxes. NASA/JSA latched onto them and hired another company to finish the work. It didn't surprise her that her daughter brought home a humanoid fox so much as it surprised her that Penny found one in Ventura. The show gave the impression that most of the NASA foxes lived in Houston.
The sound of chatter came from the hallway and the three kids burst into the kitchen and gathered around the island where Katrin had put out a snack platter of crackers, homemade plockwurst, and smoked cheese.
"Hey sleepyhead," she said to her son. "Get up finally?"
"Aww, Mom. I didn't get to bed till four. It's a long drive from San Francisco. I had to stop and take a nap."
"Better safe," she said. "Did Mia make her flight?"
"Yea, she's on her way."
Paris asked Bobby, "Who's Mia?"
"My fiancée. Her grandfather passed away and she flew back to Finland to be with her family."
"She's your fiancée and you didn't go with her?" Paris seemed surprised. "Your first duty should be to her."
Katrin watched the exchange between her son and Paris. Whatever happened earlier must have been cleared up and she wondered what Penny said to change her brother's mind.
Penny had called Paris a friend, but Katrin knew what that meant. The thought of her daughter being intimate with a fox, even a genetically-engineered humanoid fox, made her uneasy. She knew the NASA foxes were smaller than humans, but to see Paris next to Penny accentuated his size. He was about her height, if you didn't count the ears, and thinner, but he was polite with a confident manner the led her to believe he was older than Penny's 22 years.
Paris appeared at her elbow. "Hello Missus Akamatsu, everything smells wonderful." He licked the end of his nose. "Reminds me of when I was little and my mother would fix a holiday feast."
She stared at the side of his muzzle, orange and cream with a dash of darker fur like an exclamation mark, set with long black whiskers. He smiled to reveal Hollywood-white teeth. His long pink tongue lay partly hidden behind those teeth, and his lower lip was black, edged with more cream-colored fur.
"Ahh… thank you. You may call me Katrin." The early afternoon sun flooded the kitchen and turned the pupils of his golden-orange eyes into vertical slits. My little girl cannot be serious!
"Mama, can I help?" Penny asked. She was nibbling on a marinated mushroom.
"Penny!" Katrin turned in time to see Bobby stuffing mushrooms in his mouth. "Get away from that! The pilze are for dinner. In fact, it's getting too crowded in here. Why don't you kids go see what your father is doing in the barn."
"But Mama. I need to practice. I want to help."
"Okay, Honey, you can stay, but you boys clear out now. Take some snacks with you if you like." She pointed to the platter.
Bobby grabbed a napkin, placed one cracker in the middle and started piling on German salami and cheese in alternating layers. He folded up the sides of the napkin, grabbed it and headed toward the door. "Come on, Paris, I'll show you around."
"I'll see you at dinner, Missus Akamatsu." Paris followed Bobby to the door. "And it all smells wonderful!"
"Call me Katrin." She watched as his tail disappeared out the door. It was almost as big as he and brick-orange with a creamy tip. She turned to her daughter. "Young lady, you have some explaining to do."
# # #
Penny thought dinner was going well, at least no one said anything boneheaded yet. Her daddy dominated the early conversation with talk of genetics and assisted evolution, and only used the word "kitsune" twice. When he asked Paris how old he was, Penny held her breath, but Daddy only smiled when the answer came back, "Forty-three." She realized he hadn't figured out that Paris was more than a friend.
The conversation turned to Paris' new business deal with a venture capital firm in Los Angeles. He began to talk about a subject he'd only hinted at with her.
"There is one issue I'm still struggling with," Paris said between bites. "The duel between instinct and intellect. I'm not supposed to be able to start and stick with anything as involved as a startup company without a mate at my side. It's the instinctive wanderlust of the single male fox."
"What'll you do?" Penny's dad, William, asked.
"It's easy to say I could just find a mate, but to even see a vixen of my kind outside of Houston is extraordinary. I could try to work within my instinct, as I learned to do with my consulting practice. It's funny; I thought I'd conquered that, but then I realized I'd only sidestepped the issue. Who is the very definition of a nomad, but a consultant? Always moving from town to town and client to client."
Katrin picked up her dinner roll. "Do you need a lady fox, specifically?" She glanced at her daughter and Penny was reminded of their earlier conversation.
"Maybe not, but I don't know what might trigger the feelings of belonging and stability I need. It may be as simple as having someone to hold and care for, or a specific pheromone, or perhaps a combination of factors."
"Why not just go to Houston to find a mate?" William asked.
"It's not that simple. I'd need to find the right person, someone whom I can give my all to; a meeting of the minds and the hearts. There are only a few hundred adult female vulpes-hominis in Houston and most of them are already in domestic partnerships. Also, I'd be asking her to give up her home. I'd have to be there most of the year, not just a few months before January, and I detest Houston. Plus I've been living well north of the 30th parallel, so I'm running about a month behind the Houston population."
Bobby stopped chewing long enough to ask, "A month behind?"
Paris put down his forkful of potato. "That's something about humans that seems alien to me. Human females have no real heat-cycle, but ovulate a dozen times a year and seem to be receptive any time they feel like it. Human males need to be in condition and ready at any time. It must be distracting."
Bobby tiled his head. "The wild foxes that live around here seem to go crazy in February." He snapped his fingers. "That's why you've not slept with my sister yet. You're waiting for Valentine's Day!"
Katrin dropped her dinner roll. "Bobby!"
"What did I say?"
The look of shock on her daddy's face distracted Penny for only a moment. She turned toward her brother. Noob! Two can play your game. Using her sweetest voice Penny said, "Oh, Bobby, when were you planning on making an honest woman of Mia? Have you two set a date yet?"
Katrin turned on her daughter. "Penny! Must you copy the worst habits of your brother?"
"A wedding, how fun!" Paris said. "Tell me all about Mia, Bobby. What is it about her that sets your heart on fire?"
The mention of Bobby and Mia's wedding distracted her mother, which was one of the things Penny liked about her fox; he was a quick thinker.
# # #
Later that evening the two women were in the kitchen making apple dumplings. Katrin missed doing things with her daughter since the girl had gone off to college, and was delighted to be spending time with her now. She watched as Penny finished digging the core out of an apple and then spooned the mixture of raisins, sugar, and spices into the hole.
"Mama, Paris needs me, but I think he's afraid."
Oh nein, here it comes. "Some men are afraid of commitment," Katrin said. "How long have you known him?"
"Not long, just three months." She handed her mother the apple. "But it's not that. He wants a family, wants commitment. He seems to be afraid of a physical relationship, that it won't work between us."
Katrin was quiet as she wrapped the pastry dough around the apple and crimped the edges. The idea of her daughter paired with a fox seemed bizarre. At last she said, "Honey, I don't know."
"Mama, he's like no one I've ever met before. He's kind and sweet and funny, and he needs me. You heard what he said at dinner."
"He said he needs a lady fox."
"No, he said he needs a mate and partner and that he hasn't found a vixen to fill that role. Besides, we are perfect for each other. We have so much in common."
"He's a wild animal and you're a person."
"He's neither wild nor an animal. He's civilized. More civilized most humans I've met. And he's a person. A different kind of person, he just happens to have fur."
"Penny, honey, this isn't some kinder game you're playing down by the river. You're an adult now. Think of your future." She arranged the pastry wrapped apples on the baking sheet and popped them in the hot oven.
"Mama, Paris taught me a poem that his mother taught him:
"First a shared vision
Blooms into friendship;
Next comes passion,
Then family with kits."
"Honey, I don't see…"
"It's something every fox learns—how to select a mate. Mama, we have a shared vision. We both love the sea and the natural world, and did you know he majored in environmental engineering? I can even help him in his new business venture—my minor is marketing and I graduate soon. Do you know what we do on dates? We pick up seashells at the beach or catch frogs in the slough; we hike through the hills and pick wild mushrooms; we study the tracks of animals; we stargaze. Mama, we went camping in Los Padres to get away from the lights so we could see the stars better. We stayed up all night, just snuggling and talking, counting the shooting stars. He's become my very best friend."
Katrin smiled. Penny had described herself perfectly. How could she deny her daughter's dreams? "I don't know what to say…. Do you love him?"
"I don't know, Mama. I'm not sure what love is, real love. I used to just want him, but now I know I care for him and want him to be happy."
"And that's a good start, but what if he's right? What if a physical relationship won't work? What about children?"
We can't have children," Penny said. "At least not naturally. We've discussed adopting some of each."
Fox babies for my grandchildren? Never in Katrin's wildest dreams… "How can a human mother feed puppies?"
"They're called kits, Mama. And I'd use a bottle. I won't be producing milk, which is just as well because fox kits have very sharp teeth."
The vision of Paris' teeth from before dinner popped into Katrin's mind. "And what about his teeth?"
"You mean, does Paris bite? No. Well, sometimes he nibbles a little, but that's in fun. He's a sweet and gentle kisser and his lips are soft… but he doesn't kiss like a man, like you might expect." The corners of Penny's mouth turned up.
"Thinking of Valentine's Day?"
"Yeah." Penny grinned. "Or earlier… wait, Mama!"
"Honey, I'm just trying to understand."
Penny was quiet for awhile, then said, "He told me he tried it with a human woman before, in college. He didn't give any details, but I got the feeling it ended in disaster."
"Oh. Then don't be pushy. Be subtle but open and let him feel like he's taking the lead. Sometimes an aggressive woman will frighten a man. But what will you do if it doesn't work out?"
"What will I do if I don't even try? I want my foxy and he needs me. I must try. What can I do?"
"Are you sure about this?"
"Mama, I want what you and Daddy have—to share my life and my love with my best friend."
"Wow! I…" It seemed only yesterday she was the rebellious child, then she says something like this? Katrin remembered her own courtship, how she had to fight to win the affection of her William. "There is one thing… my mutter taught me." She got a fresh apple from the bowl. "It's from the old wisdom of my village. Tell no man of this, do you promise?"
"Yes, Mama, a secret. I promise."
"Take this apple. Tonight when you sleep put it inside your nightshirt, under your arm. Tomorrow feed it to your lover and if he eats it, he will be yours."
"Eww!" Penny scrunched up her nose. "But does it work? It seems too simple."
"27 years ago I had rivals for your father's attention, one other girl even seemed to be his favorite. I asked my mutter and she told me this. A year later we married. It works." Katrin handed her daughter the apple. "Honey, be certain he is the one. If you change your mind, his heart will break."
"I am certain, Mama." She took the apple.
There was a clamor outside the kitchen door and a moment later William came in followed by Paris and Bobby.
Katrin kissed her husband. "Umm, Liebhaver. How was your walk?"
"Good. We ended up in the orchard by the river, and Paris has an interesting idea on how to control the mice." He turned to the fox. "How late can you and Penny stay tomorrow? Can you help with the mouse moat?"
"We can stay an extra night," Paris said. "But we need to leave by noon on Saturday."
"Mouse moat?" Katrin asked.
"Just a little one." William held his hands less than a foot apart. "You'll see." He turned to Paris. "Come to the den and we can sketch some plans. I need to figure out how many cans we'll need. Then we watch the game." The three males trooped out of the kitchen.
# # #
It was late Friday afternoon and the shadows outside the kitchen window grew long. Katrin and Penny were preparing a thick turkey soup with spaetzle for supper when Paris came in from outside.
"Where are the others?" Katrin asked.
"They're putting things away so they sent me in early." He held his hands out to her, palms up. They were covered in blisters.
"Oh no! Penny, grab the medical kit. It's in the downstairs bathroom." She watched her daughter go then turned back to the fox. "Paris, honey, why did you not wear gloves?"
"My hands are too small, none of the gloves fit. After that I didn't think about it until it was too late."
She turned on the water and started to gently wash his hands. When Penny returned with the med kit, her mother swabbed an antibacterial compound on his palms and finger pads then unwrapped a sterile scalpel. She slit and drained each blister while Penny stood by and fretted. Finally, Katrin applied some Heal Fast salve and wrapped the fox's hands in gauze. "There, but if you can't hold a spoon Penny will have to feed you."
Paris gave her a weak smile.
Katrin leaned over the sink to look out the window. "Where are the men? Penny, could you see what's keeping them?"
"Yes, Mama." Penny grabbed a light jacket hanging near the kitchen door and ran outside.
Katrin turned to the fox. "Paris… I feel I should call you Mister Fabre, you're nearly my age."
"Paris is fine." He squirmed.
"This isn't the Inquisition." She smiled at him. "The age is of no concern."
"But. I was wondering if you'll be calling me 'Mama' soon."
"How do you feel about my daughter? Let's see, how did you phrase it, 'What is it about her that sets your heart on fire?'"
"Well, she's an amazing young woman. I've never met a human like her; she even acts like a fox sometimes. She's almost perfect."
"Almost… and if she were a lady fox?"
"If she were a vixen I might have already asked her if she would have me and we'd be house hunting by now."
That surprised Katrin. "So soon?"
"Well, we fit so well together, common interests and goals. She's become my best friend. She's wonderful." Paris paused. "Did she tell you about Nonny?"
"The human girl?"
"No. Nonny the vixen, my betrothed. We had just turned 18 and were going to become life-partners and go to a university together. But she was fickle and by the time I knew there was another they had already signed a domestic contract. It felt like she gobbled up my heart." His ears drooped to the sides. "Is it possible to love someone too much?"
"Maybe, if they don't return your love." Poor guy, he looks so sad.
"I went to college alone that fall. Since then I've been wandering. 25 years and I've not accomplished any my dreams, living as if my life is for rent. The funny thing is I should have known. Nonny's mother was in her third partnership when we met, and that didn't seem very stable. Like mother like daughter, don't they say?"
"Honey, you can't live in the past."
"True… maybe now I have hope."
"Paris, what are your dreams?"
"Family—a partner, kits." His ears rose till they stood proud. "A home by the sea… no a villa on a cliff overlooking the ocean." He smiled. "Walks on the beach, playing with my children when I get home, camp outs in the hills, snuggling with my lover under the stars, someone to curl up with at night." He looked down at his hands, as if studying the bandages. When he looked up again he'd stopped smiling. "Penny?"
"Paris, I can't…"
"You and William, how long? I'm sorry if that's too personal. You don't…"
"26 years." Katrin beamed. "I left my home and family and moved half-way around the world for him, and I'd do it all again." She remembered the early days. Taking a semester at Cal Poly's Ag School as part of an exchange program with her university back in Germany and struggling with English, but it was all in fun. Then she met William and something clicked. He was the one. She transferred to Cal Poly, but never finished. They married the following year, right after he graduated, and moved to his family's farm in the Salinas Valley. It was like being dropped on the surface of an alien planet. She was shy at first and had a hard time making friends, but her William was always there and his parents had welcomed her.
What is it like to be a different species in a sea of humanity? To have so few choices for a mate that you could wander 25 years and not find someone suitable? In the late afternoon light his eyes looked darker, more orange than gold. His face was framed by a ruff of orange and cream-colored fur and his ears edged in black. He was handsome…. No, he was beautiful. No wonder her daughter felt an attraction to this funny little man covered in fur.
His ears pricked and swiveled back toward the door. "They're coming."
Katrin stroked the fur on his arm and smiled at him. "I'll work on my William for you."
Paris stepped toward her, tilted his head up and brushed the side of his muzzle against her cheek. He whispered, "Thank you," then stepped back.
"Oh!" She touched her face. His lips were soft and moist and his whiskers tickled. "That was sweet."
She heard familiar voices outside the door. It opened and the rest of Katrin's family trooped in. William stepped up to his wife and kissed her. "Umm, Lover. Supper smells great! I'm starving." He pointed to the fox and announced, "He's a hard worker. He'll do all right."
"You're dirty," Katrin scolded. "Get cleaned up, then I feed you supper."
# # #
After supper, Paris and Penny chatted with her mother while her father and Bobby played chess at the other end of the room.
The three of them were talking about and comparing Paris and Penny's childhoods. The subject turned to the summer when Penny was nine and she rescued a sick vixen. Bobby told him part of the same story earlier that day, when they were out in the orchard digging holes. So little Penny had been a 'sister' to a wild vixen? Paris was fascinated, and it explained a lot about her: some of her mannerisms, her fox-like greeting the day they met, her self-taught wood lore, and the games she played with him. She became quiet. He turned to her. "Are you okay?"
"Umm, I have to go…" She pointed toward the kitchen. "Get that… for Paris, Mama. Be right back!" She jumped up and scampered off.
What's that about? He turned to Katrin in time to see the corners of her mouth turn up, the left a little higher than the right. As if she were trying not to smile, but it leaked out anyway. The same funny little smile Penny got when she was up to something. In build and coloration Penny resembled her Japanese-American father, but when it came to mannerisms, she was a reflection of her German mother.
He tried to get Katrin to tell him more about Little Vixie, Penny's name for her "sister", but she changed the subject and made small talk.
Penny returned to where Paris sat and knelt in front of him. She leaned toward him, a plate held in both hands. On the plate was an apple on a paper doily, sliced into perfect eights and arranged as an eight-pointed star.
"What's this?" he asked.
"It's for you, of course," she replied.
"Ahh, I see."
"Did you stop liking apples?"
"No, I love apples." But there's something odd about this one.
"It's my apple and it's for you." She smiled at him, the funny little smile that meant she was up to mischief.
It certainly was her apple. He didn't have to pick up a piece to know her scent was all over it.
She gave him a pleading look. "You know I'd never do anything to harm you. Will you devour my apple?"
No fair! She knows I can't resist her 'doe eyes'. He picked up a piece and ate it, then another, and another. With each piece her smile broadened and with the last bite she sighed. He noticed Katrin was watching, and she wore the same mischievous smile. He asked Penny, "What's going on?"
"It's simply an apple… for your happiness."
He studied her face and drank in her scent. She had pale, luminous skin and long, dark-brown hair, and when her natural perfume filled his nose he just wanted to melt into her arms and curl up with her. But it was her dark eyes that captivated his gaze this night. He'd always thought she was pleasant to look at, but he'd never considered she might be pretty… until now.
|Bk 1 Nancy and the Ferrets, Ch 7||Bk 1 Nancy and the Ferrets, Ch 5|
|Bk 1 Nancy and the Ferrets, Ch 4||I&I ~ An Apple... the Lost Scene|
|Bk 2 - Milliscent Awakens, Syn.||Bk 1 Nancy and the Ferrets, Ch 2|