By Bernard Doove © 2008 - 2010
Chapter: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Jazmyn stumbled over an unseen root as she fled through the night-cloaked forest, eerily lit by a nearly continuous lightning display. Thunder shook her entire body as she picked herself up from the sodden leaf litter and resumed running. The noise of the storm could not drown out the voice in her mind however Ė the last words her Companion had spoken to her in terror. ďRun, Jazmyn! Donít wait for me! Run as fast and as far as you can from here. Try to contact one of our friends and hide. Iíll try to meet up with you there, but you must get away while you can!Ē
Jazmyn tried to protest that she wouldnít leave without him, but he had shoved her out the door and screamed, ďRUN!Ē She ran, her tears concealed by the pouring rain. Even though she understood the need to destroy all evidence of their activities, she knew that he was taking a terrible risk in delaying his own departure. If he had not been so certain of imminent discovery, he would not have been so desperate to get his beloved Companion out of harmís way.
She had not gotten more than a few hundred metres from their home when a flash of light that was a different colour and more persistent than the lightning came from behind her. She stopped to look back just as the sound arrived. To her horror, through a gap in the trees, she could see where her home had once been, but was now just a roiling cloud of smoke and debris lit by fire and lightning.
ďNO!Ē she screamed, but as much as she hoped otherwise, she knew her Companion was almost certainly gone. She tore her eyes from the horrible sight and resumed her flight. She fell several more times, accumulating scratches and bruises. Soaked to the bone and feeling utterly miserable, she realised that she was now totally lost. Worse yet, the atmosphere felt intensely charged and was making her feel nauseous as she stumbled along animal paths through the underbrush, momentarily lit by the stormís fierce electrical display. Unexpectedly, she broke out into the open just as a flash of light and a roar of noise came from her right. She turned to face it, only to be struck hard and painfully. She lost consciousness as she hit the ground.
Ken Morita loved these mountains. Every day he commuted to work in town, but his heart belonged in the forest. That was why he had bought an isolated cabin that was way off the beaten track. His four-wheel drive pickup coped easily with the rough dirt track that eventually reached his home, and Ken actually enjoyed the challenging drive. He also loved thunderstorms and liked to sit on his sheltered porch to watch them. He had to admit though that combining the drive with this fierce storm was a bit too much of a good thing, and the journey home this evening was a test of his concentration and skill. So when something suddenly appeared on the track in the beams of his headlamps, he had instantly slammed on the brakes. He still hit it, but the bull-bar prevented damage to the vehicle. He was far more concerned over what he had hit, or perhaps who, because in the brief glimpse that he had gotten, it had looked like someone running onto the road. He pulled up the hood of his jacket and got out of the car, and was almost instantly soaked by the driving rain. He found his victim immediately in front of the car, but underneath the beams of his headlamps so it was poorly lit. He was immediately confused. This was an animal, not a person, as was obvious from the fur covering its entire body, and yet the shape was all wrong. Those were biped legs, and that looked like hair on its head.
ďWhat the hell?Ē was all he could think to say before lightning crashed into a tree mere metres from him, splitting off a large branch that fell onto the track. ďShit!Ē he yelled in fright, then considered the victim. He could see that it seemed to be breathing, so he couldnít just leave it, but he wasnít going to hang around to tend it in this storm. He made his decision, grabbed the creature, and hauled it into the back of the pickup. Unceremoniously dumping it on a tarpaulin, he dashed back into the cab, cursing all the water that was soaking his seat. He started off again for his home, alert for any other creature that might have an argument with his vehicle.
Ten minutes later, he pulled into the shelter of the carport that adjoined the side of his cabin. He got out and hauled the animal out of the pickup. It wasnít terribly big, but its rain-sodden fur added to its weight, and he staggered up the porch under the load. He was forced to put it down so that he could unlock the door first. He considered leaving it out there on the porch Ė after all, it could turn out to be dangerous. He decided to take the risk however, and try to patch it up first. He had a pen out back that wasnít being used where he could confine it safely later if necessary. His way was still only lit by the frequent lightning flashes, but his cabin was sparsely furnished and quite familiar. He dumped the creature on the rug in front of the fireplace, went back to the door to close it, and then found the light switch. Bright light filled the room and he went to have a good look at his patient. His eyes bulged in shock.
ďKitsune!Ē he gasped.
What he beheld was indeed a biped, but not a human. Instead it most greatly resembled a fox, with rich red fur and dark coloured Ďglovesí and Ďsocksí, plus a bushy tail. Yet no fox ever had such long red hair, human-like hands, and pert human-like breasts. The only thing that it matched in Kenís Japanese heritage was the legendary kitsune, a fox spirit. And yet this was no myth that was lying injured on his living room rug. He was flustered for a moment before he pulled himself together. Mythical or not, she needed his help. A cursory inspection revealed no obvious trauma, and he hoped that his rough treatment hadnít exacerbated any hidden injuries. He decided to leave her alone for the moment, but lit the fire to get the chill out of the air and help dry out her fur. He then left her to put on the kettle and prepare some food. Even if she wasnít hungry or thirsty, Ken certainly was, and it wouldnít hurt to have some ready for her also. The kitchenette was open to the living area, so he could keep an eye on her as he worked. He kept his preparations simple so that he could have something ready quickly if the kitsune wanted something to eat as soon as it woke.
Suddenly Ken was uncertain. Just because she looked like something from a legend didnít mean that she was safe. In fact kitsune were notorious for being tricksters. Then again he could be completely wrong in his guess as to what she was and she might be some strange mutation. She wore no clothes whatsoever, so it wasnít obvious that she was civilised at all. And here he was just waiting for an unfamiliar creature that he had injured to wake up in an unfamiliar place. He was starting to seriously reconsider putting her outside when she groaned and started to push herself upright. Ken hung back in fear Ė it was too late now to change his mind. Then the fox woman looked about and saw him. She shrank back in fear, then yipped in pain as she moved an injured limb.
The cry of pain dissolved Kenís uncertainties. She was obviously more afraid of him than he had been of her, and it seemed that she was too injured to leap at him anyway. He picked up a plate of sandwiches and a mug of tea that he had just poured, and brought them over to the coffee table close to the kitsune. She watched him carefully, and then said, ďQua son vu? Quo ja locar?Ē
That settled one thing for Ken Ė she definitely was no animal. She was clearly asking questions, although he didnít have a clue what she just said. It wasnít Japanese as he had feared. His grandparents may have come from Japan, but he was American born and bred, and his knowledge of Japanese consisted of a handful of words. However, her speech clearly wasnít English either, nor did it sound quite like any other that he had heard.
ďIím afraid that I donít understand,Ē Ken said regretfully. The fox woman seemed equally confused by his words. ĎGreat! We canít even communicate,í he thought. So he tried something more universal. He held out the plate of sandwiches and the tea. ďHungry?Ē he asked.
She eyed the offerings suspiciously, then decided that theyíd be okay and took the mug of tea. Ken had been worried that she might not be able to cope with a mug properly with that long muzzle of hers, but she apparently had no trouble. Only then did he notice that her lower lip was modified so that it would seal on the mug and allow her to drink much like a human would. She sipped the tea and apparently judged that it was good and proceeded to drink the rest more enthusiastically. She drank over half of it before she paused to look up at Ken. She seemed to be sizing him up, and he was definitely trying to do the same.
Now that she was no longer an unconscious lump of fur, he could see details a lot more clearly. Her body shape was very much like a humanís except for the lower legs which were animal-like Ė digitigrade he thought was the correct term. And it was a very pleasantly shaped body in spite of the fur that covered it. Now that the fur had dried a bit, she looked less like a drowned dog and far more attractive. However, that face was anything but human. Although intelligence could be seen in those eyes, and emotions read on her face, she owed a lot more to a fox than a human. Yet she was definitely a person, although whether she was a legendary kitsune was becoming more doubtful.
Ken said, ďIím not a threat to you.Ē He suspected that she wouldnít understand his words, but he hoped that she would understand his intentions. He pointed at the plate of sandwiches, then at her, and said, ďFor you.Ē
She nodded, understanding at least that much.
Ken went back to the kitchenette to fetch the other plate of sandwiches and mug of tea, then took them over to the nearby sofa and sat down. He proceeded to eat and drink, trying to give an air of relaxation despite the strange circumstances. The vixen started eating her sandwiches also, her appetite returning after her flight and accident. She finished about the same time as Ken did, and he took the plates and mugs away. He then considered what to do next as the vixen watched him alertly. Her nakedness disturbed him a little and he wondered if she normally ran around nude. Of course she had all that fur, but she wasnít just an animal either. He went to the bathroom and came back with a bathrobe which he held out to her.
She considered it but shook her head after a moment. Pointing to the fire and then to her damp fur, she said, ďZa feur deshydra mes palt.Ē
Ken presumed that she had said something to the effect that the fire was still drying her fur. She seemed oblivious to her nudity though, so perhaps that was normal for her, even if it made him uncomfortable. He left the robe over the back of a nearby chair in case she changed her mind.
At a bit of a loss at what to do next, he fell back on routine and turned on the TV. Reception was poor due to electrical interference from the thunderstorm, but it was good enough to watch the news. Perhaps there might be an article on this strange creature? There wasnít anything though, just lots of articles on the effects of the massive tempest that was still raging. Ken noticed that the fox woman was paying keen attention to the TV. She might not understand the commentary, but she was certainly comprehending the images of flooding, felled trees, and fires lit by lightning. She seemed to be straining to fully understand their context.
After the news was finished, Ken was not in the mood for light entertainment, so he switched off the TV and switched his focus back to the fox woman. She had hardly moved from where he had laid her, but what little that she had made him realise that she was heavily favouring her right leg. He picked up a piece of kindling wood from next to the fireplace, then he pointed at that leg and pantomimed pain. He then asked, ďIs your leg broken?Ē and snapped the wood in two as he emphasised the last word.
The vixenís eyes lit with comprehension and she shook her head. ďNane coget broken,Ē she replied.
Ken was pleased that she had picked up on the meaning of the word, and relieved that her injury didnít seem to be too serious. Heíd broken a leg on a skiing trip which had proven that he had no talent for skiing, and the injury had driven him crazy until it had healed. That reminded him though Ė he still had the crutches from that time. Heíd always meant to return them, but kept forgetting. They were outside in the storage shed however, and damned if he was going out in this weather for them now.
Ken didnít want the vixen to have to keep sitting on the floor, so he dragged the sofa close to the fireplace, then held out his hand to offer assistance to her. She hesitated a moment before taking his hand and he pulled her upright, her weight mostly on her left foot. Ken could now see more clearly how big she was. He wasnít tall, but she was a few inches shorter than him, around five feet tall not counting her ears. He helped her onto the sofa where she sank gratefully into the soft cushions.
Ken was pleased to have made her more comfortable, and to get her off the floor which seemed like treating her like an animal. She was a person Ė a strange one, but a person nevertheless. Then it occurred to him that if he was going to treat her as a person, there was one thing that he had neglected to do as yet. He put his hand on his chest and said, ďKen. My name is Ken.Ē
The vixen nodded and put her hand on her chest and said, ďJazmyn. Ja hight Jazmyn.Ē
ďJasmine? Thatís a pretty name. Welcome to my home, Jasmine.Ē
Jazmyn nodded, responding to the tone rather than the incomprehensible words.
ďWould you like more food or drink,Ē Ken asked, miming eating and drinking.
She hesitated, then pointed to her mug and said, ďTay plaisir.Ē
Ken hadnít said the word Ďteaí to her, yet she had just used a similar-sounding word. He wondered what language it was as he made them both another cup of tea. He handed the steaming mug to her and she smiled gratefully. It was a bit more toothy than he was used to, but it was a smile nonetheless and not a snarl. He grinned back. Damned if he wasnít beginning to enjoy this unusual mystery.
Ken went back to the kitchenette to clean up, then headed for the desk in the corner where a computer sat. He turned it on, glad once again that he had underground power, phone and optical fibre installed. It had cost him an arm and a leg, making a seriously large dent in his considerably high wages, but he had yet to suffer a power failure or loss of communications due to local storm damage. Of course if the whole local district got blacked out, he still had an emergency generator. He liked the tranquillity of his retreat though, so he was glad that he didnít still need to use it as he had when heíd first bought the place and started fixing it up.
With boot-up completed, Ken downloaded his email, then connected remotely to his office to copy over his work-in-progress to the home computer. Occasionally he would work from home, depending on what project he was working on at the time, but he mostly preferred to keep his professional and private lives separate. Copying his work was another form of backup for the vital data though, and he did so religiously. He hadnít ever lost data to a disk crash or other disaster.
Ken suddenly realised that the vixen was watching him with keen interest, which led him to wonder how familiar she was with computers. Maybe it could shed some light upon her too. Several searches later, he had found several websites with anthropomorphic creatures of all kinds, and thousands of images, many of them pornographic, but none related to the real-life living one next to him. Some did intrigue him, but not enough to follow up for now. At least he knew where to start if he needed to approach someone about his problem without freaking them out.
Deciding to call it a night, Ken shut down the computer. Only then did he notice that the storm had passed and the rain had eased up. Glancing out the window, he decided that it would be a good time to grab the crutches. He picked up the flashlight that he kept by the door and dashed out into the light rain, key in hand to unlock the shed door. He found the crutches leaning against the wall behind a mattress for a bed that he wasnít using yet, then quickly ran back to the cabin. He held them out for the vixen to see and her jaw dropped in that smile again. He helped her stand up and she tried them out, but found that they were too high. Ken quickly adjusted them and Jazmyn tried them again, nodding in satisfaction as she hobbled around the room. She paused outside the bathroom door.
ďJa deseero util za lavo,Ē Jazmyn said as she indicated the room.
Ken didnít need a translation for that. Of course she would need to use the toilet. She obviously wasnít going to pee in the woods! He indicated for her to go ahead and waited for her. After a short while, he heard the toilet flush and water run briefly in the sink. Some things were obviously the same no matter where she came from. When Jazmyn came out, she looked a lot more comfortable and Ken wondered how long the poor vixen had been needing to go but was unsure how to ask, or perhaps she was hesitant to do so. Well, if he was going to be stuck with this weird houseguest, he might as well try to make her feel at home.
As Jazmyn settled back down on the sofa, Ken dug out a pillow and blanket from a cupboard and placed them next to the sofa. ďFor you if you need them,Ē he said, pointing to them and to her. She nodded in understanding.
Ken then walked around the cabin, indicating various things. ďLights,Ē he said as he pointed to the main light switch. ďFood.Ē He opened up the pantry door, then went to the fridge. ďMore food. Drink.Ē Another cupboard Ė ďPlates. Mugs.Ē He came back to the sofa and patted it. ďSleep. Sleep and recover, Jasmine. Until then, you are welcome here,Ē he said in his most earnest voice.
Jazmyn smiled again and said, ďDanka vu.Ē
That sounded awfully like Ďthank youí to Ken, and he chose to believe it was so. He then smiled and said, ďIím going to bed now,Ē as he mimed putting his head on a pillow to sleep. ďGood night!Ē He paused to throw some more wood on the fire before walking to the bedroom and closing the door behind him.
Jazmyn considered the man who had just welcomed her into his home. Although she had first thought that she had been caught by her pursuers, it had quickly became obvious that not only was he not her enemy, he didnít even seem to know what she was. Anthro Companions were hardly uncommon, so it had puzzled her greatly. This turned into outright confusion when it turned out that the strange language that he was speaking was apparently the same as everyoneís on all the TV stations. Without the ability to communicate properly, she could not figure out exactly what her current circumstances were. However, she had to admit that of all the things that could have happened to her, this was far from the worst. Ken was friendly, concerned, and quite willing to put some effort into helping her. There was little that she could do while crippled by her injuries, so recovering here seemed to be the best option, especially as she didnít want her whereabouts known. Tomorrow in daylight, she would reassess her situation, but right now she badly needed sleep.
Jazmyn put the pillow at the end of the sofa. She ignored the blanket, being comfortable without it, and her fur still needed to dry out some more. She hobbled over to the light switch and turned it off, leaving the room lit by the cheery firelight. She returned to the sofa and gingerly stretched out on it, making herself as comfortable as her injuries would let her. She watched the flames for a minute, feeling herself completely relax at last. Sleep swiftly followed.
Jazmyn was still asleep when Ken rose the next morning. He actually had come out and check to see if it all had been just a vivid dream, but the recumbent vixen was just as real as she had been the previous night. She looked quite cute in an animal sort of way, but she certainly wasnít an animal. What to do with a person not of your own species though? He decided that he needed more time to sort this out, and he picked up the phone. He dialed a number and waited for a response.
ďRick? Ken here. Sorry to call so early but something has come up and I canít get into the office today. Iíll work from home instead. Ö Yeah, I know I donít usually like to work at home, but these are unusual circumstances. Ö No, private reasons. Ö Yeah, I already have my work backed up over here. Ö Not sure, but I will try to be in tomorrow. Ö No, I havenít forgotten the meeting tomorrow. You can handle it alone if necessary. Ö OK, catch you later, Rick.Ē
Ken hung up and turned around to see the vixen looking at him intensely. He suddenly realised that she might have reason for not being found and might view his call as being suspicious. However, without a mutually understandable language, it was nearly impossible to explain, so he didnít even bother trying. Instead he said, ďGood morning, Jasmine. Breakfast?Ē as he walked into the kitchenette. He pulled out some food from the fridge and turned to the vixen, saying, ďEggs? Bacon?Ē
Jazmyn nodded. ďEggs amp bacon,Ē she repeated. ďDanka vu.Ē
There was that Ďthank youí sound again. Ken was pretty sure that was what she was saying. He smiled and said, ďHow many? One? Two? Three? Four?Ē He held up fingers as he said the numbers to make it clear what the words meant.
Jazmyn smiled. ďJa deseero three eggs, four bacon, plaisir.Ē
Ken grinned back. ďThat was clear enough. Three eggs and four slices of bacon coming up! Good to hear that youíve got a healthy appetite.Ē He got busy cooking them, and started the toaster and kettle in the meantime. He buttered four slices of toast and put them on a tray along with a jar of jam. He added a plate with the eggs and bacon, utensils, and a mug of tea which he then carried over to Jazmyn. ďYour breakfast is served, milady kitsune,Ē he said with a posh accent. ĎIf youíre going to serve a meal to a myth, you might as well be formal about it,í he thought.
Jazmyn looked a little surprised at the service, but accepted gracefully. She then proceeded to eat ravenously.
ďWow! You are hungry. Come to think of it, so am I.Ē Ken went back to cook some bacon and eggs for himself.
Jazmyn had finished everything of hers well before his was ready, so he took her tray and used it for his own meal. When he was finished, he cleaned up the plates, cutlery and cooking utensils.
Jazmyn waited patiently for him to finish, Ken really did not know what his next move should be. He felt a little uncomfortable with her looking at him expectantly, and she was still disconcertingly nude. He suddenly thought of some of the items of apparel that various ex-girlfriends had left behind, and he wondered if anything might fit Jazmyn. He held up a finger and said, ďOne momentĒ, and went into the bedroom. He found the box into which heíd thrown everything the women had left behind just in case they ever came back to claim them. Most items were unusable, but he found two tops that might do, and a pair of shorts that he thought stood a good chance. He smiled in memory of the former owner Ė Lisa Ė thick as a brick, but she had sure looked hot in those shorts!
He brought his finds out to the living room and held them out to Jazmyn. ďTry these on,Ē he suggested.
Jazmyn eyed them doubtfully. Sheíd known humans like this before who insisted on dressing their Companions. While some didnít mind, most felt uncomfortable in them. She had often wondered how those humans would feel about clothing if they had thick fur also. She sighed and held out her hand for them. If she was going to have to stay here until she healed enough to leave, she supposed she might as well try to conform with her hostís wishes. However, there was one thing that he had overlooked.
Jazmyn held up the shorts and pointed at her tail. Ken slapped himself on the forehead and said, ďDíoh!Ē Taking back the shorts, he went to his desk and took out an Exacto knife from the drawer. With it, he carefully cut open the stitching of the seam at the back of the shorts until he was sure that there was enough room for the base of her tail. The brush of the tail was another problem though. Ken dug out his sewing kit from the cupboard. As a bachelor, heíd acquired the basics out of sheer need. He cut the waistband and then sewed on a strip of denim that he cut from a piece that he kept for patching purposes. He found a large button and sewed it onto the strip, then carefully made a hole in the waistband on the opposite side of the strip for the button to go through. He handed back the shorts to the vixen who looked impressed with his efforts.
Jazmyn carefully tried on the shorts first, being careful to not aggravate her injured leg. By good luck, they fitted her fairly well and she didnít feel too uncomfortable in them. She rejected one of the tops as being too small, but the other was probably a size too big. Jazmyn preferred the loose fit though as it didnít bind with her fur nor irritate her nipples. She then stood up supported by one crutch and let Ken view the result. He was surprised at how well they suited her and smiled in real pleasure.
ďMuch better!Ē he commented. Having achieved that, he then turned his mind to what to do next. Maybe show her around the place and see how she reacted?
Ken walked over to the door and opened it, allowing the morning sun to come streaming in. He beckoned to Jazmyn to follow, and he stepped outside to wait for her. Moments later, Jazmyn came out, making good time with the aid of her crutches. There she got her best look so far at where she had ended up. Carefully going down the steps from the porch, she moved about ten metres from the cabin and stopped to have a good look around. The cabin was surrounded by forest that looked exactly the same kind as that which abutted her home, so it looked comfortingly familiar. There was a dirt driveway that led to a slightly larger dirt road that passed by the cabin, making her think that it was fairly isolated out here. The cabin looked to be a couple of decades old at least, but there was a framework attached to it that indicated that Ken was adding a room. Then Ken beckoned her again to follow him along a path that led in the opposite direction from the road, and Jazmyn gamely followed.
One feature of the cabin that had quickly sealed the deal for Ken when he had been looking for a new home was located only about thirty metres behind the cabin. There the ground suddenly gave way to a steep drop-off that opened up a view which looked down the entire valley. Right now, the sun was behind them and viewing conditions were perfect for the breathtaking vista. ďWelcome to Spirit Valley, Jasmine,Ē he said with a grin.
As Jazmyn approached and the trees cleared from view, she started to recognise features. There were the Twin Sentinels. Over there Ė Wildcat Pass. As she got closer she caught sight of Mackenzie Falls. All so wonderfully familiar! It just made the strangeness of the language problem and Kenís unfamiliarity with her kind even more incomprehensible. She sped up to reach the edge so that she could look down on the township of Spirit Creek nestled in the valleyÖ and she froze. An unbroken sea of treetops met her gaze. Unspoilt forest bespoke the absence of human development. No town had ever been there. This was impossible! It was her home of many years, and yet this was not the same place. Different landscape Ö different language Ö different world! Jazmyn sank to her knees with a sob, tears starting to stream from her eyes. She could not comprehend how, but this was not the world that she knew. That meant that even if by some miracle her Companion had survived the explosion that she had witnessed as she fled, there was now no chance whatsoever that she would ever find him again, nor meet her friends. She was lost, utterly lost! She keened her misery to the sky.
Ken had watched Jazmyn as she had approached, noting the look of recognition in her eyes with a sense of relief. If they could find out where she belonged, then he could find out where she belonged and get her home soon. Then abruptly her expression changed and he witnessed the flood of emotions cross her face. Something was terribly wrong. When she started her dreadful cry, all he could do was squat beside her and put an arm around the vixen in an attempt to comfort, and his heart went out to her.
ďIím sorry, Jasmine. Iíll try to put things right for you if I can, I swear. Youíre welcome to stay with me until we do, if thatís your wish. Come on home with me now,Ē he urged.
Jazmyn hardly heard his words but sensed his intentions. She allowed herself to be helped to her feet, and they slowly made their way back to the cabin, his arms supporting her in lieu of the crutches that lay forgotten at the edge of the lookout that had brought such crushing disappointment. The closeness of the contact was all that reassured her that she had not been completely abandoned in this strange new world.
Jazmyn spent most of the rest of the morning sitting on the sofa in a state of shock. Lacking anything better to do, Ken started up his computer to do the work that he had promised Rick that he would do. Twice he got up to make them both a drink. He tried coffee the second time, and Jazmyn drank that as readily as she had drunk the tea, but she didnít really respond otherwise. Then the drinks worked their magic on her bladder and she started to get up to go to the toilet, only to realise that the crutches were still back at the lookout.
"Ken," Jazmyn called.
Ken looked around and Jazmyn indicated her need for the crutches. He nodded and went to fetch them. He returned shortly and Jazmyn left to take care of her needs. When she came out, having been stirred from her apathy, she could no longer just sit around inside, so she went out onto the porch to look around some more. She noted the half-hearted attempts at garden beds and shook her head in dismay. She loved gardening and couldnít understand why people took so little care of theirs. She kept hobbling around the cabin to get a better look at the framework. The weathering on the framework indicated that progress on the extension had been slow, but when it was done, it would add a fairly large room to the cabin. Jazmyn wondered why he needed it though Ė he was a single man in a roomy cabin. Perhaps that was the reason Ė he planned not to be single, but the cabin would be a bit small for a family. There wasnít much more to see besides a pre-fab storage shed. She went back to the porch and sat down on a chair that had an open back to suit her tail. She sighed in relief Ė the effort of looking around taking more of a toll on her than she thought it would. She relaxed and watched the scenery and listened to the sounds of the forest. It was so comfortingly familiar that it began to soothe her woes. She had suffered a huge loss, but she was still alive and safe. She was no weakling! She would rebuild her life in some way, although right at the moment she had no clue how. First thing though was to overcome the communication problem.
Her resolutions made, Jazmyn relaxed completely and enjoyed the sunny day. About an hour later, Ken came out to find her asleep in the chair. He smiled at the sight and left her undisturbed.
Jazmyn woke up after a lengthy nap, feeling much better. She hauled herself out of the deceptively comfortable chair and made her way inside. Ken looked up from his work and smiled.
"You look a lot better than earlier," he commented. "Hungry now?"
Jazmyn nodded and said, "Hungry!" having learned the word from previous usage.
Kenís grin widened. "Good! So am I. He walked over to the kitchenette to make some lunch, but was surprised when Jazmyn followed him. "Itís okay, I can make it by myself."
Jazmyn shook her head and ignored whatever he had said. Picking up a mug from the bench, she mimed pouring something into it. "Tay," she said. "Copola da tay."
"You want a cup of tea?" Ken asked, reaching for the kettle.
Jazmyn stopped him and held up the mug again. "Cup of tea," she repeated. "Copola da tay. Cup Ė copola. Tea Ė tay."
Kenís eyes lit up with comprehension. "Oh! You want to know the words. OK, we can do that." He picked up a bread knife and said, "Knife".
"Knife," repeated Jazmyn.
Ken picked up a table knife and said "Knife" again.
Jazmyn smiled and said, "Knife allzuch."
Ken then said, "Bread knife, table knife," thus establishing the class of knives with the subset of different types. He then named forks, spoons, teaspoons, plates, bowls, and so forth. He then started preparing the lunch, naming every ingredient and item that he used, with Jazmyn dutifully repeating every word. Once he deliberately picked up something that he had named earlier and misnamed it. Jazmyn promptly corrected him, aware that he was testing her. He grinned and she grinned back.
Ken insisted that they eat the lunch that heíd prepared before they continued the name game. Then they went on an orgy of naming everything in the cabin. After a while it occurred to Ken that she was remembering every single word after hearing it just once. That was very impressive. He knew that he stood no chance whatsoever of matching that feat. He switched to more abstract words such as Ďbreakfastí and Ďmorningí. She caught on very quickly, and Ken suspected that she would do so even faster if he was better at explaining the concepts. Then there were the verbs and adjectives, and very quickly they built up a very basic vocabulary for her.
Ken was startled to realise that theyíd spent all afternoon on that exercise, his programming work completely forgotten. He realised that he would have to make up that time in the evening, but there was another priority making itself known. "Are you thirsty and hungry" Ken asked.
As usual, Jazmyn caught on immediately and nodded. "I am much thirsty and hungry. I like toÖ no word, sorry." She got up and hobbled over to the kitchenette and made motions indicating preparing food. "I like toÖ work food."
"Ah! You mean that you like to cook," Ken clarified.
"Yes, I cook much."
"Itís OK, I can cook for us bothÖ" Ken started to say.
"No, you cook, I cook," Jazmyn insisted.
"But your legÖ"
"No. Leg OK to cook."
"OK! OK! You can help me to cook the food." Ken gave in to the inevitable and went to the fridge and pulled out a couple of steaks, plus some cabbage and carrots from the crisper. He held them up and named them, then asked, "What do you cook?"
Jazmyn grinned. "I cook steaks good."
Ken handed them to her and said, "Right, letís see what you can do with these." He then got the frying pan out for her and she started immediately. Ken hastened to get the vegetables prepared, peeling the carrot and slicing them and some cabbage into a steamer. Then he put on the kettle to make them both tea. Meanwhile Jazmyn looked through the shelves for spices. She opened some and sniffed the contents, rejecting a couple but using others. She carefully regulated the rate of cooking after asking Ken, "Cook much? Cook little?"
"I like mine cooked medium. Not much, not little," Ken replied.
Jazmyn nodded. "Medium. I like medium little."
"We call that medium rare. Cook steak a little is rare, cook it much is well done."
Jazmyn nodded again in understanding, and they continued the language lessons with cooking terms while drinking their tea.
Ken cleared the table of the clutter upon it, then put the cutlery there. When the steaks were ready, Jazmyn served them onto plates, Ken added the vegetables and then carried them over to the table. Jazmyn hobbled over to the table and sank down onto a chair with a sigh of relief. She had pretty much reached her limit for the moment.
"Bon appétit!" Ken said. Jazmyn looked puzzled and Ken hastened to clarify. "Good appetite," he said as he rubbed his stomach, vowing to remember not to use foreign words while trying to teach English.
They started eating. Ken tried the steak first, and found it to be cooked exactly as he liked it, and the spices were very well used. Jazmyn very obviously knew what she was doing. He smiled broadly. "Good! Very very good!"
Jazmyn looked modest and said, "Danka. Thank you."
When they finished, Ken cleared the plates and utensils as he said, "Iím going to make coffee. Do you want coffee also?"
"Yes, coffee please."
Ken made them both a cappuccino with his little coffee maker. Jazmyn was obviously pleased, recognising the style of coffee. Ken started laughing though shortly after she began drinking hers.
"Why youÖ?" Jazmyn mimicked his laughter.
"Why am I laughing?" You have foam on your muzzle," Ken answered, indicating what he meant. "It looks funny."
"Ah! Foam is funny." Her long tongue quickly cleared her muzzle. "Not funny now."
"No, itís good now," Ken agreed.
With the coffee finished, Ken started the clean-up. Jazmyn again insisted on helping.
"OK, I wash, you dry. No wet fur," Ken said.
Jazmyn replied, "No wet fur is good."
They washed up everything, then Ken had Jazmyn pass him the dried items as he put them away where they belonged. It was more than he usually bothered with, but he didnít want to appear messy to his guest.
With that job completed, Ken hesitated and then said, "I need to work," as he pointed to his computer. "What do you want to do?"
Jazmyn pointed at the bookshelves. "Look at books," she answered.
Ken was puzzled as he knew that she hadnít learned many written words as yet. Then Jazmyn went over to the shelves and pulled out a large illustrated book. Opening it, she pointed at an illustration and said, "I look at pictures."
"Ah, OK." Ken then busied himself with his work.
Jazmyn checked out the other illustrated books and some magazines, trying to find any that would help give her an idea what this world was like, and if there any other familiar similarities with her own. She found some beautiful books on big cats, one on gigantic machinery, a couple of science-fiction magazines, souvenir books for various places Ė mostly national parks, and an atlas. Jazmyn immediately turned her focus on that last item. Eagerly opening it, she quickly found the world map was very familiar. Although the political divisions varied a lot, the continents themselves hadnít changed noticeably. She knew that her town of Spirit Creek would not be there even on her own worldís atlases because it was too small, but she did try to find the major cities nearby. Some were where she expected to find them, but a couple werenít. Overall it seemed that this particular area was less developed than on her world. She wondered if that was significant, or whether it was a consequence of differing growth.
Eventually she gleaned what information that she could from the reference books, and then she amused herself with the picture books until Ken finished his work. As he shut down his computer, Ken said, "I will show you how to use this tomorrow. Maybe we can find something to teach you more."
"Computer teach me English?" Jazmyn asked. That sounded like some datanetwork program. If this world had d-net tuition programs also, that would be a huge advantage.
"Yes," Ken affirmed. "We will look tomorrow. I will go to work tomorrow also. Will you be OK here by yourself?" He had to explain himself more before Jazmyn completely understood. She then nodded."
"I understand. You go to work. I learn here."
"Good. Iím going to have a shower and go to bed." He then frowned as he thought of something. "Jasmine, do you need to shower also?"
"Yes. Need thing to dry fur."
"A hair dryer? Or in this case, a fur dryer. I do not have one, sorry."
Jazmyn shrugged. "Need shower. My furÖ." She stuck her tongue out.
Considering the condition that he had found her in, Ken quite understood what she meant and mentally kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. "I will try to find something for you tomorrow," he promised.
Jazmyn said, "I shower tonight. Fire dry fur again tonight."
"What about a bed? Is the sofa okay?"
Jazmyn smiled reassuringly. "Sofa is very okay."
"Great!" Ken then went to have his shower.
While he was occupied with that, Jazmyn went out onto the porch and sat once again in the comfortable chair. She listened to the familiar night sounds and enjoyed the cool night-scented air. It might not be her world, but it was still so familiar and reassuring. Considering the shock that she had gotten this morning, she needed every bit of comfort that she could get. Even the limited amount of English that she had learned so far was reassuring because she could communicate a bit again now. Familiar work such as cooking and washing-up kept her mind off her plight, and hopefully lessened the burden that she was being for Ken. She wondered how long it would be before he tired of his unexpected houseguest and what she would do when he did. She needed to learn as much as she could as soon as possible in order to be prepared, and help out whenever and wherever possible to keep from being a nuisance. She hoped that her leg would heal quickly so that she could do more. While it had not been broken, she could not be sure if it hadnít been fractured, or whether it was just severely bruised. The other various aches and pains from the accident were already fading, so she was optimistic that the leg wasnít too bad. She wasnít a medic though, so she could only guess. Going to see one in this world would be out of the question if it was true that there were no others like her. She shuddered at the thought of what could happen under those circumstances.
Ken came out to find Jazmyn in her contemplative mood. "The shower is yours now," he said as he held out a hand to help her up.
"Thank you," Jazmyn said and followed him inside.
Ken stoked the fire before he said, "Good night, Jasmine."
"Good night, Ken," Jazmyn replied.
Ken went to his bedroom and closed the door behind him. Jazmyn hobbled into the bathroom and took off her clothes with a sigh of relief. "Thatís going to take a lot of getting used to," she muttered. She used the toilet before stepping into the shower stall. The hot water felt wonderful, and she enjoyed the delicious sensation for a minute before she looked around for some form of fur cleaner. She sniffed Kenís shampoo suspiciously before trying a little bit of it on her arm. Deciding that it would do for now, she used it all over. She tried to be as sparing as possible, but knew she was using a large proportion of it nevertheless. Then she rinsed off and realised that she was going to need some conditioner also because the shampoo was not the combination type. She wondered what the chances were of getting something like that for her, perhaps from a pet shop? Finally she felt completely clean and hopped out of the shower. For an instant, she looked for the fur-drying booth before she remembered that there wasnít one. She noticed though that there were a couple of towels on a shelf that hadnít been there before, and she guessed that Ken had thoughtfully left them out for her use. She put one on top of the toilet seat so that she could sit down and take the strain off her sore leg, and then dried herself off as best as she could. There was a hairbrush on the shelf also, so Jazmyn used it to first brush her hair, then to straighten out her fur as much as possible. She then carefully picked out as much of her fur from the brush as she could, thinking that Ken would probably not appreciate her fur in his hair. Finally done, she grabbed the crutches and hobbled back out to the living room. After turning off the light, she laid down on the sofa with the fire once again warming and drying her. It was a really comfortable sofa, and she enjoyed watching the fire from it
She didnít watch it for long though as tiredness overtook her and sleep came quickly.
Ken was bemused by Jazmynís nudity again, but had to admit that her fur looked a lot nicer now. He left her undisturbed and went to prepare some cereal for breakfast. While eating the cold cereal, he started up the computer to do a search for online language teaching sites. One came highly recommended but wasnít cheap. He shrugged and paid for a monthís worth of lessons anyway. He wanted Jazmyn to learn as best as she could so that they could have real conversation and clear up some mysteries. He had considered learning her language before he realised how adept at learning English she was, and how bad he was at remembering words of hers. He thought that she would probably be a lot happier if she could communicate freely, and he was curious as hell. She was the most interesting thing that had happened to him in a long time, and he considered her worth the expense.
Ken left the site up, ready for Jazmyn, and then went to the bathroom to shave in preparation for going to work. Although Rick could probably handle the meeting, it really would be better if Ken was there to discuss issues with the customer. Heíd decided that he could trust Jazmyn, but he was more concerned about her emotional state, and leaving her alone might not be the best idea. Jazmyn was still asleep when he went into his bedroom to get dressed in his good work clothes, but she was stirring when he came back out. He showed her the website, and she seemed delighted by it and very eager to get started. She seemed to be quite familiar with computers and the internet, so he was glad that he had created a separate account for her on the PC so that she could experiment while he was away. He did insist that she have breakfast first though. As she ate, Ken said, "Iím going to work now. I will be back home about six oíclock." Their language lessons had proven that she used the same twelve hour clock as him, so that had been easy to explain.
"You go to work. Home six oíclock," Jazmyn repeated. "I understand."
"Have a good day, Jasmine!" Ken said and then left. Moments later, she heard the car start, back up, then drive down the track and fade into the distance.
Jazmyn was relieved that it seemed that Ken trusted her alone in his home. Perhaps it was a bit naïve of him, but she liked him better for it anyway. At least she didnít have to wear those clothes until he came home! Then there was that language teaching site that he had found. It was obviously designed for teaching immigrants the local language, and it did so in a clever and clear manner with visual demonstrations and the spelling of all the words with their pronunciation. Thankfully most of the alphabet was the same as hers, but with a few less letters, plus a couple of strange ones. Nothing that she couldnít handle though. She was soon deeply immersed in the lessons.
She was so focused on the tutorial that she never noticed the passage of time, scarcely taking a break for a toilet break and to get a drink. When she noticed the sound of Kenís car coming down the track, she glanced up at the clock to see that it was nearly half past six. She guiltily realised that she had neglected to clean up the breakfast dishes, etcetera, as she had intended. ĎToo late now,í she thought, Ďbut at least I can keep Ken from feeling uncomfortable by putting on my clothes.í She just managed to do so before Ken came in the door carrying several bags.
"Good evening, Jasmine. Sorry Iím a bit late. I did a bit of shopping first," Ken said as he held up the bags.
"Good evening, Ken. I did not know that you were late. What did you buy?"
Ken blinked in surprise. Although slightly accented, her speech was perfectly clear. He looked at the computer monitor as he said, "Good grief! How much have you learned already?"
"I learned a lot today. That is an excellent teaching site.," Jazmyn replied.
Ken checked the lesson numbers and his jaw dropped. "Youíve learned over five monthís worth of lessons in one day! Do you really remember all of that?" he asked incredulously.
Jazmyn replied, "I learn very fast, and I remember it all. The lessons are slow. I can learn faster."
Faster? Ken was flabbergasted. She was learning and comprehending faster than the website could deliver the lessons! How can you do that? Thatís awesome!"
"I needed to know and understand words for myÖ sorry, I have no word for thatÖ for the man with whom I lived."
"The man? Was he your husband? Partner? Mate?" Ken prompted.
Jazmyn shook her head. "I do not know, sorry. Tomorrow I will learn more. Tomorrow I will know, yes or no."
"Tomorrow, maybe," Ken corrected.
"Maybe," agreed Jazmyn.
"Can you tell me who you are and where you come from?" asked Ken.
Jazmyn shrugged. "I have not enough words to explain. Maybe tomorrow."
Ken had been expecting a far longer wait than that to have a deep conversation with the vixen, so he could certainly wait another day or two, although the unexpected language skill she had demonstrated had sharply whetted his curiosity. "OK. Did you learn the word Ďguestí today?"
Jazmyn said, "No. Is the word needed?"
Ken smiled. "It is. It applies to you. When you learn it, you will know what I mean."
"OK. What did you buy?" she asked again.
"Oh yeah," Ken said, suddenly remembering the goods that he had brought inside. He started pulling them out of the bags. "Heavy-duty hair-dryer Ė for you a fur-dryer. Two actually. I suspect you will need both."
Jazmyn was delighted. "Thank you! My fur dries slowly by fire."
Next Ken pulled out a couple of bottles of dog shampoo. "To clean your fur. The salesman recommended it for show dogs, so it must be very good."
Jazmyn only understood about half the words, but correctly inferred most of it. She was very pleased that Ken had thought of it. She opened one of the bottles to sniff its contents, and approved of the scent. "Thank you. It smells nice."
Ken then pulled out a couple of brushes. I think that you will need these after using the shampoo. Your red fur doesnít go well with my black hair."
Jazmyn understood enough of that to feel a little embarrassed. Apparently she hadnít been entirely successful in cleaning the brush after she had used it. "Sorry. Thank you for the brushes."
"Youíre welcome. And now for the final bag." Ken started pulling out clothing. He had peeked at the size tags on Jazmynís clothes and had had picked out three tops, another pair of shorts which he would have to modify, and a skirt. He wasnít sure about the last item, wondering if she could wear it with her tail underneath, or modifying it like the shorts.
Jazmyn was chagrined at seeing the clothes. Apparently she really was going to have to get used to being clothed, at least while Ken was at home. Thankfully he hadnít picked out anything horrendous. At least he did not seem to have thought of underwear. She really didnít want to refuse that outright and offend him. "Thank you," she said ironically.
Ken was feeling quite pleased. He had been able to help his houseguest, and that made him feel happy. This was turning out to be an amazing experience. He wondered what other surprises were in store for him.
"I will help you to make dinner, yes?" Jazmyn asked.
Ken replied, "OK. How are your injuries?"
Jazmyn shrugged. "My leg hurts less and less. The other injuries hurt less also."
"Thatís good news. Letís see what we can cook up tonight."
Jazmyn did her share of the preparations, and they soon had their meal ready. The vixen didnít realise how hungry she was until the delicious aromas filled the cabin, and she ate with a very healthy appetite. They finished with ice cream for dessert, then Ken urged her to sit out on the porch while he made them both coffee, and they both sat there in quiet contemplation of the evening. Whether by accident or intent, Ken had taken the best course of action to let Jazmyn recover from the physical and mental shocks of the past days. Her mind had been kept busy with the task of learning a new language as fast as her talent would allow, then the peaceful rest afterwards in this beautiful location. She could learn to really like it here, but she knew better than to count on Kenís hospitality indefinitely. However, it would be nice while it lasted.
Later, Ken had Jazmyn try on the new clothes after he had modified the shorts. After Jazmynís tail had flipped up the skirt to moon him, he decided to modify that also. He cut it from the bottom hem to just short of the waistband, then folded the edges over to do a quick hem of the cut edges. When she tried the skirt again, the tail slipped past the slit when she raised it without exposing her backside, then slipped back inside when she lowered it again. Ken breathed a sigh of relief that he had gotten the sizes right and the modifications seemed to work well, and he sincerely hoped that the vixen liked the choice of styles.
Ken had one more surprise for Jazmyn. He brought out a spare laptop that he had brought from work, and networked it with his PC. He indicated it as he said, "Thatís for you to use whenever you want, for whatever reason. That way you wonít interfere with me if I need to use my computer at the same time."
Jazmyn started to wonder just how far Ken was going to go to help her out. He seemed unusually eager, and it was hard for her not to be a tiny bit suspicious of his motives. Aside from limping off into the forest however, she did not have a realistic alternative to her present circumstances, so she decided just to count her blessings for the moment.
When Ken watched the late night news that evening, Jazmyn paid close attention, able now to comprehend a large portion of the spoken parts. What she learned still puzzled her, but not as much since she had accepted that this was another world. At no time did she see any anthro Companions on the television, nor any hint that any such existed. Also it seemed that the politics of this nation were radically different from hers, a fact that was quite comforting actually. She started thinking that there was something positive about her translocation after all.
Jazmyn didnít really need a shower that night, but she enjoyed them, and she wanted to try out the shampoo that Ken had bought. The shampoo felt very nice in her fur, but when it came time to dry herself, she found that one dryer just wasnít cutting it. She opened the bathroom door and called out to Ken. "Please help me dry my fur. One dryer is slow."
Ken was a little startled to be asked to assist, and it didnít help that her wet fur moulded itself to her bodyís contours to present him with a very sexy feminine pose. He shook his head and muttered to himself, "Good god! Sheís not even your species! What are you thinking?" Keeping a firm grip on his thoughts, Ken did manage to help Jazmyn dry her fur successfully.
Jazmyn was extremely pleased with the result, but a little amused when she realised the kind of reaction that Ken was having to her. Perhaps she had better be sparing in requests for help in that matter.
She dressed herself in the skirt and one of the new tops, and then rejoined Ken in the living room. Her fur felt the best that it had in far too long, and that made her feel good overall. The hot water had soothed her aches also, and she was nearly back to her old self except for the leg injury. Still, it was coming along much better now, and not giving her much trouble when she moved about.
Ken gave her a polite whistle of admiration. "You look very nice, Jasmine."
"Thank you, Ken. I like the shampoo much."
"Good. If you need anything else, just ask."
Jazmyn understood that well enough to nod and say "Thank you" again.
Ken went to bed shortly after. Jazmyn toyed with the idea of getting back on the internet and doing a few more lessons, but decided it would be better to keep synchronised with Kenís schedule. She took off her new clothes and laid them carefully aside before making herself comfortable on the sofa. It was beginning to be comfortingly familiar, and she was quickly asleep.
Jazmyn woke before Ken the next morning, and she decided to prepare breakfast for the both of them. If he stuck to the same schedule as the previous day, she could have it ready just in time. As it turned out, he was a little earlier than she had estimated, but he took care of other things in the meantime. He helped her to carry the plates of food to the table, but she managed the rest by herself.
"An excellent breakfast. Thank you, Jasmine."
Jazmyn smiled. "Thank you," she replied. "Will you go to work now?"
"Yep. Iíll be home around six oíclock again."
Jazmyn nodded. "I will learn more words. We will talk better soon."
"Iím looking forward to it," Ken said fervently. So many questions waiting to be answered!
Ken had a difficult day at work because he found it hard to keep his mind on the job. It had been almost as bad yesterday, but at least then heíd had the meeting to distract him for part of it. This day was turning out to be a lot harder, and he ended up quitting early rather than trying to futilely push on. He stopped at the shops again, this time to stock up on food. After all, he two mouths to feed now, at least for a while.
As he drove up to his cabin, the door opened and Jazmyn stood in the doorway, waiting for him. When he had parked his car, he grabbed the grocery bags and walked up to greet the vixen.
"Good afternoon, Jasmine. What are you in the mood for today?"
"Hello Ken. If you are talking about food, I like any fresh food in preference to frozen or canned."
Ken noted that her sentence was much more sophisticated than it previously, and if it wasnít for her charming accent, he would not have noticed anything unusual. It was an astounding accomplishment, but this time he was prepared for the impossible. "OK, Iíve got a good selection to select from. Choose anything you like Ė you deserve a reward. Youíve accomplished a lot with your studies in only two days. Are you ready to answer questions yet?"
Jazmyn reluctantly shook her head. "No, sorry; not quite yet. IÖ lack a few important words to explain properly, and I need to understand a few things better first. Please be patient just a bit longer."
"I see," Ken said with a twinge of disappointment. It had really been too much to expect too much so soon, but he had hoped that she would at least give him a few answers.
Ken found that Jazmyn had cleared up the breakfast mess, and if she had made herself lunch, there was no sign of it. "Thanks for cleaning up the kitchen."
"You are welcome. I wanted to do my share of work."
"Remember me asking if you knew what the word Ďguestí meant?"
Jazmyn replied, "I do, and I now know it."
"Youíre my guest, Jasmine. You really donít need to do all that, but nevertheless I am very grateful."
"I am imposing on your generosity, Ken, so I feel better if I can do whatever I can to help."
"Jasmine, I love living out here in this small cabin in the middle of the forest, but that doesnít mean that I am a loner. I enjoy company, and yours is the most interesting that Iíve had in some time, so donít worry about imposing on me."
"I see. I will still do my share, but I will not worry about it now."
"Good enough. Letís get dinner made. Make your choices and weíll get started."
That evening proceeded much as the previous one had, except that Jazmyn didnít shower that night. She did spend more time sitting out on the porch just listening to the night sounds. With time to think about things other than learning and housework, her thoughts inevitably turned to her lost Companion and home. In the darkness, Ken could not see the tears welling in her eyes. She knew that it would be a long time before the loss would fade, but these peaceful nights were helping.
Jazmyn rose before Ken once again. She was pleased to find that her leg had dramatically improved overnight, but she still used the crutches so as not to undo any of the good done by the rest. She started making breakfast again, then wondered why she had not heard Kenís alarm as yet. She wondered if he had forgotten to set it and was contemplating whether she should wake him when it occurred to her that there might be another explanation. She suspected it might be his equivalent of weekís-close, but she wasnít sure as his calendar differed from hers. She decided to err on the side of caution and stopped preparing Kenís share.
It was indeed Saturday, and Ken enjoyed his sleep-in on that morning. He frequently went out on Friday nights, came home late, and slept until noon. However he had gone to bed only slightly later than normal this time, and only slept an hour and a half later. He emerged to find Jazmyn cooking, and he was amused at what he saw. She had apparently found his barbecue apron, and she was using that at the stove. It was a good idea considering how much harder it was to clean spatter off fur. What was amusing though was that it was the only thing that she was wearing. It reminded him of some of the sexy photos heíd seen of nude women artfully clad in aprons that just covered their breasts, only Jazmyn was wearing it for practical purposes with the side-effect of looking like a set-up pose. He wondered if she was aware of the comparison.
"Good morning, Ken. I heard you as you got out of bed. I started breakfast earlier, so I had your food ready to cook. I did not know for sure if you wanted to sleep or not."
"Oh yeah, I should have mentioned that it was the weekend." Jazmyn noted the word and nodded. "So, whatís for breakfast today?" Ken asked.
"I am cooking French toast. I found the name in the cooking book in the drawer, but I was already familiar with the recipe."
"Sounds good. Iíll freshen up a bit and be back in a minute."
As Ken ate his breakfast, Ken asked, "Are you planning to finish those lessons today?"
Jazmyn replied, "I will finish them by later this morning. I will then look up some other things to understand them better."
"OK. I think Iíll work in the garden."
"What will you do in the garden? What will you plant?" Jazmyn asked curiously.
Ken shrugged. "Iím not sure. I need to prepare the flower beds and vegetable garden first. They were a bit of a disaster last season. Iím not exactly a green thumb."
ĎGreen thumbí was a new phrase for Jazmyn, but she easily figured out what it meant, and privately she agreed wholeheartedly, but she was not going to insult her host by saying so. It was okay for him to denigrate his own efforts, but not her place to do so. However, there was something positive that she could do. "I like gardens. I will help you later."
Ken wasnít going to look a gift horse in the mouth. "If you like," he replied.
And thatís what they both did until a little after midday when Ken came inside, red-faced and sweating, to take a much-needed break. When she saw him, Jazmyn insisted that he wash up and sit down while she prepared them both food and drink. The day had gotten considerably warm, and Jazmyn had anticipated that Ken would be very thirsty, so she had cold drinks ready.
"Whatís this?" Ken asked as Jazmyn poured the drink into the glass in front of him.
"Oh?" Ken sipped some and smiled. "Delicious! Is there no end to your talents?"
Jazmyn grinned. "Not yet. The greatest feat was making it while hopping on one foot!"
Ken laughed. "Yes, I can imagine so. How is the leg, by the way?"
"It is healing very well. If I keep off it and completely rest it, I will be walking on it again more quickly, so I will hop or use the crutches for a few more days yet." Jazmyn picked up a tray loaded with sandwiches and passed it to Ken to place it on the table, thus obviating the need for her to carry it. "If you want more, just say so," she told Ken.
"This looks like enough for the both of us. I needed the drink more than the food. Thanks for all this, Jasmine."
"You are very welcome, Ken."
They ate in silence for a while. When Ken finished, he pushed back his plate with a sigh of satisfaction. Jazmyn had finished hers already and was sipping her ice tea.
"So, did you get those language lessons done as you predicted?" enquired Ken.
"I have done as much as I can do with those internet lessons. I have been reading the dictionary to learn more words. I now have a much larger vocabulary than the average person."
Ken shook his head in amazement. "Just like that, you're an expert in English in less than three days?"
"No, I am not an expert. The lessons teach the words and the correct grammar, but they do not cover such things as idiom, slang, and contextual usage. That kind of thing can usually only be learned through experience. Such simple things like the contraction that you just used Ė you said Ďyou'reí when you meant Ďyou areí Ė that is not covered by the lessons. I have also been listening to your speech carefully since I arrived, so I can improve my own."
"But you know enough to answer questions now?"
"Yes I do, and I am ready to answer your questions now," Jazmyn agreed.
"Great! How in Heavenís name did you learn so fast?"
Jazmyn laughed. "I thought that your first question would be to ask what I am. The simple answer to your question is that it is because of the way I was bred. I am fluent in eight languages; nine now. You might call it an inbuilt skill."
Ken said, "I was going to ask about you first, but I was just too flabbergasted that youíre fluent in English so quickly. Anyway, what are you, Jasmine? And what do you mean by Ďthe way you were bredí?"
"I am a Vulpeen, one of several kinds of anthropomorphic Companion, and like all such, I was bred to be an ideal match for my future Companion. He isÖ wasÖ a writer and orator, skilled in words in many languages and, as his Companion, I needed to be also."
"You keep saying Ďbredí. Forgive me for saying so, but it makes it sound as if you are something like a glorified pet."
"The first primitive Companions were much like that, but we are so much more than that now. We are true intelligent beings, able to interact with humans at all levels. We are friends, helpers, confidantes, supporters, assistants, and even lovers."
"Lovers? You meanÖ humans andÖ vulpeenÖ having sex?" Ken asked in shock.
Jazmyn was amused by his reaction. "Of course. We are made to fulfil our Companionís needs, and if sex is one of those needs, then that is what we give them."
"Sounds more like fancy slaves to me," Ken said in distaste.
"I am not a slave!" shouted Jazmyn, momentarily baring her teeth in a snarl that she quickly brought under control. Ken had flinched back from the angry vixen, and she regretted snapping at him. He could not help his ignorance and preconceptions. "We are not slaves," she said more quietly. "We have the same rights as humans, even if our genesis is different. Companions have been part of our society for decades, and while there are human elements that do not like us, the majority accept us as the people that we are."
"But you are still bred to match to someone. Forgive me, but how is that different from breeding animals for certain traits?"
"As I said, that is how we started out, but we have evolved far beyond that. The trouble is that you are seeing the situation in terms of your experience only. You expect a child to be conceived naturally, born after nine months, years spent in being raised, the uncertainties of youth, and the challenge of finding a life-mate. We Companions bypass the majority of that. Our lives only truly start we meet the person for whom we were bred to match. And it is not a one-way thing. While we are made to fulfil our Companionís needs, so they also fulfil our needs in the ways that they are best at doing. We have common interests, needs, desires and goals. We love and support each other. Together, a Companion pair of human and morph is far greater then the sum of its parts. Together we are both happy; apart we are both the lesserÖ."
Jazmynís eyes had been filling with tears as she spoke passionately, and her voice broke with emotion at that point.
Ken felt awkward and a little helpless. He asked her gently, "You've lost your Companion, havenít you?"
Jazmyn nodded. "Lost is a good word for it."
"Iím sorry. I didnít mean to make you sad."
"It only happened the night that we met. I have not had enough time to come to terms with my loss as yet. HoweverÖ" Jazmyn wiped the tears from her fur and pulled herself together. "ÖI will not succumb to despair. My Companion was a lot older than me, and we always knew that he would die before me. He made me promise to be strong when that day came, but the day came much sooner than either of us realised that it would. I have kept myself busy so that I would not dwell on that fact."
"So, is it like losing your husband? That must be terrible."
"Yes, it is terrible, although Ďhusbandí is not the right word. Julius had lost his wife to cancer and he had been devastated. They had been deeply in love, but she had died in middle age. Julius became a recluse for a while until his family persuaded him to see a counsellor. As part of his treatment, it was recommended that he get a Companion, and so I came into his life. I helped to fill the hole in his heart, and he taught me the joys of his life so that we could share them. We became extremely close and I loved him, but it was never my purpose to replace his wife."
Ken nodded thoughtfully, then said, "That sounds wonderful. And you say that you're just one kind of Companion?"
"Oh yes. There are also the feleen and the caneen Ė cat and dog morphs. They were the very first Companion breeds. Then there were the lupeen Ė wolves, mureen Ė mice, lapeen Ė rabbits, and several more."
"Amazing!" Ken said in wonder. "But where do all these incredible Companions come from? Iíve never heard of anything like it outside of a fantasy genre."
Jazmyn got up and grabbed her crutches. "Walk with me, will you, Ken?"
"OK," Ken said and followed her.
Jazmyn headed off down the path to the lookout, and as she did she said, "My origin is a place both strange and familiar. You will recognise it when I tell you, but you are unlikely to be able to visit."
"Why so cryptic?" Ken asked, although he had his suspicions.
"You will see," was all that Jazmyn said.
They reached the lookout, and Jazmyn pointed out into the valley. "See that glint of light there in the middle of the forest?"
"Yeah," acknowledged Ken. "Thatís the lake that the creek runs into."
"My home is about a hundred metres this side of the lake, and nearby is the township of Espiru Beck, or Spirit Creek in English. I have lived there for about a decadeÖ or at least I would have if this was my world. I donít know the exact means, but somehow I seem to have crossed into a parallel world. This is not even my universe!"
Ken was less fazed by the news of his guestís origin than Jazmyn expected. "I kinda guessed it had to be something like that, improbable as it seems. People like you could not be kept secret for too long in this world, and Iím sure that we donít have the technology as yet either." Ken paused and thought for a moment, then said, "If I was to guess, I would to say that the wild electrical storm in conjunction with some local phenomenon managed to breach time-space as we know it, and you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Itís interesting though that your township has a similar name for this area Ė both have ĎSpirití in their names. Even before white settlers came here, the natives told of encounters with strange creatures that were attributed to spirit people or animals. Itís possible that your circumstances are hardly unique."
"There is an absence of solid data, but I would still have to strongly agree with your hypothesis," Jazmyn said resignedly.
"I donít suppose that we could possibly retrace your route during another similar storm in order to reverse your crossing?"
Jazmyn shook her head. "I was running in the dark in a disorienting storm Ė I havenít the slightest idea where I went. Do you even remember exactly where I ran into you?"
Ken replied glumly, "Close, but not exactly."
Jazmyn grimaced. "We have no idea where exactly that I crossed over either, and that could be critical. Even the time of day could be a factor. On top of all that, even if we get all those factors right, would I end up in my universe or in yet another one? No, I have had time to think about it and I believe that I must resign myself to living here, and that scares me out of my fur."
"Jasmine, before you could understand me properly, I made a promise to you that you could stay until you were ready and able to go. I wonít just leave you at the mercy of an unfamiliar world, so youíre welcome in my place until you find something better."
"I am very grateful for that, Ken, but I have to ask Ė why? I can imagine a dozen different unpleasant scenarios for what you could do, but you are treating me like an old friend. Why are you doing this all for me?"
Ken smiled crookedly. "Oh, Iím not totally altruistic. The truth is that youíre the most interesting thing that has happened to me in a long time, and helping you has been enjoyable and fulfilling. I can imagine some of those scenarios that you mentioned, but I have no need of money because I have a very well-paid job that I like, I have no interest in publicity Ė in fact I prefer my privacy, and while I find you to be veryÖ wellÖ strange in terms of my experience, I donít fear or mistrust you. Bottom line Ė I like having you around."
Jazmyn nodded. "I can accept that, and I thank you. In return, I will try to help around the house and yard for the duration of my stay."
"Sounds like a good deal to me. Ha! It might even give me some incentive to finish that extra room that I have been procrastinating. While you may be comfy on the sofa, I donít think that itís ideal for long-term occupation."
Jazmyn smiled. "That is true. While the sofa is pleasant, I would feel uncomfortable taking up space in the living room for a long period."
"Hmm, and it would be awkward if I had a visitor. Yes, it looks like my weekends will be busy for a while. At least I have all the materials, so it shouldnít take too long."
Jazmyn looked at him curiously and said, "You are a software engineer, but you can also sew and build. Do you have any more talents?"
Ken laughed. "My primary talent is stubbornness. If I donít know how to do something, I keep trying until I do. I really hate to admit defeat, so it means that I have learned to do some very diverse things. I helped a friend with his extension, and I learned a lot from that experience, and sewing was somewhat of a necessity. So far, the only thing that I havenít really succeeded at is getting the garden going."
"If you can supply a few things for me, I promise to make a garden for you that you will be proud to show to people, or just to enjoy for itself."
"Deal! Do you think that you can grow tomatoes also? I love tomatoes."
"Mmm!" Jazmyn licked her lips. "Tomato sandwiches with some salt and pepper Ė I like those too," admitted Jazmyn. "And if your seasons are currently the same as mine, then this would be a good time to plant them."
"Iíll pick up some seedlings and stakes then. What else would you need?"
They had been slowly making their way back to the cabin, and Jazmyn pointed to the storage shed. "Let me know what tools and other garden supplies that you have in that shed, and I will make a list of what else we will need."
They went straight to the shed which was currently open because of Kenís need for the garden implements that he had been using that day. Those were leaning against the outside wall, but inside there were several other tools and a wheelbarrow.
"I see that you have all the basics at least," Jazmyn observed. "We could do with some fertilizer though."
"How much?" Ken asked.
"How big a garden do you want? If cost is not a factor, get plenty. It wonít go bad if it isnít used immediately."
"OK. What about plants?"
"I will have to identify the names of the large plants of this world first to ensure that you buy those that are suitable for this area, but for flowers and vegetables, get whatever suits you, and as many as you want."
"That could be a lot, you know?" Ken warned her.
Jazmyn smiled. "To put things into perspective, Julius and I were self-sufficient for vegetables for eight or nine months of the year."
"Wow! Big garden," Ken commented.
"Very big," Jazmyn agreed.
I think that I will drive to the plant nursery this afternoon to get a good start. Donít you strain yourself though. I want you to keep resting and healing for now."
"Yes, Doctor Ken," Jazmyn replied cheekily.
"Thatís Doctor Morita to you, smart-ass!" Ken said with a grin.
Ken returned with an impressive supply of fertilizer, plants and seeds. Jazmyn was amused by his newfound keenness, but pleased with the result. She had rested until Ken had returned as he had insisted, but she did direct him to finish up one garden bed so that it would be ready for to work on it. Meanwhile she prepared dinner for them both. It was nearly ready when Ken came inside.
"All done, and am I hungry!" he declared.
"Dinner will be ready to serve after you clean up," Jazmyn informed him.
"Perfect! I wonít be long."
Ken ate with a ravenous appetite after his exertions that day. Fortunately Jazmyn had anticipated that and had plenty of food to satisfy him. Then they cleaned up the dishes Ė Ken washing and Jazmyn drying once again.
After they were done, Ken said, "Iím going to watch a movie. Would you be interested in watching it too?"
"I am not sure," Jazmyn answered. "I did not watch too much video with Julius. I will watch some and determine if I find it interesting."
"OK. Maybe Iíll choose something popular. HmmmÖ do you like science-fiction?"
"Maybe Iíll leave Star Wars for another day then. I know! Raiders of the Lost Ark is good light entertainment." He found the DVD of the movie and put it in the player. He turned on the TV and the home theatre sound system, then pulled the sofa back over in front of the screen. Settling down on one side of the sofa, he indicated that Jazmyn should take the other. When she was settled, he hit the play button.
Jazmyn had not expected to be so entertained by the movie. In her world, several elements would have been proscribed, yet here it was just regarded as entertainment. She could see that there was very much more to be learned about this world. Thankfully Ken was very helpful in that regard. But for the moment, she was feeling content with what she had achieved. She went out onto the porch, as was becoming her habit, to sit and meditate on the dayís events, and to once again mourn the loss of her Companion. She knew that she would never quite get over his death, but she would honour his life with memories of the joy and love that they had shared, and not by getting mired in sorrow. She knew that he would have expected her to get on with her life, and although this was definitely not what he had anticipated, Kenís offer gave her hope and assuaged her fears of being abandoned in an unfamiliar new world.
When Ken came out later with mugs of coffee, she smiled welcomingly, and the two enjoyed a silent appreciation of the night together.
Jazmyn was woken by the sound of a frypan that was accidentally knocked over. Ken smiled apologetically. "Sorry, I was trying to make breakfast without disturbing you."
"You are awake early," Jazmyn commented.
"I want to make an early start on the extension today. Gotta do it while I have all this enthusiasm. Iíve been procrastinating it for too long."
"Then do not let me hold you back," Jazmyn said as she got up and hopped over to the fridge to get a drink of orange juice, still naked.
Kenís eyes goggled a little before he tore them away from the sight and he busied himself with making his breakfast.
Jazmyn realised the effect that sheíd had on Ken, but mentally shrugged. She might eventually get used to being dressed, but she was still far more comfortable unclothed, and it didnít hurt to remind Ken that this was her normal state.
"How is the leg this morning?" Ken asked.
Jazmyn carefully put some weight on her right foot. "Very good, but I know that I still need more time for it to heal properly."
"Good. Do you want me to plant any of the seedlings for you?"
"No, I can still do that myself. I will be on my hands and knees so that I will not put my leg under stress."
"But your fur will get filthy." Ken pointed out. "After the rain weíve had, the soil is especially sticky."
"That is true. Back at my home, I had protective clothing for that purpose. Yes, there is no need to look at me like that Ė I will wear clothing when it is appropriate."
"OK. In that case I think that I can help. I have another pair of overalls that I outgrew but never threw away because they are still in good condition. I think that they might suit you."
"That sounds good. Where are they?" Jazmyn asked.
"Where else? In the shed along with everything else that I donít use regularly. Iíll see if I can dig them out after breakfast."
Later, after about ten minutes of cursing and the sound of things crashing, Ken returned from the shed, holding up the overalls in triumph. By this time, Jazmyn had finished her breakfast and was ready to start. She was still nude, seeing no point in putting on clothes that would be covered by the overalls. After the obligatory modification for her tail, she tried them on and was pleased with the result. If she had been a male human, they would have been too big, but the bulk of her fur filled out the overalls, and her breasts were snugly contained by the bib and braces.
"Damn! You make overalls look sexy," Ken commented, then blushed as he realised what he had just admitted.
Jazmyn grinned. "That is funny. Julius used to say the same thing. He said that he would come out just to watch me working in them." She looked sad for a moment. "I would wear them even if I did not need to, just to drag him out of the house for some fresh air and sunshine. He used to get too involved in his work and would forget to take breaks."
"Iím sorry if my comment made you sad," Ken said.
Jazmyn smiled at him. "No, do not apologise. I want to remember my Companion for all the good times that we had together. Thank you for the overalls, Ken. Now it is time that we both started working, yes?"
Jazmyn spent the morning preparing and planting the vegetable bed, making the tomatoes her first priority. All the while, she was accompanied by the sounds of sawing, drilling, and hammering, with the occasional curse interspersed. She added the invective to her already considerable vocabulary.
Working while trying not to strain her injured leg proved a lot more arduous than Jazmyn had anticipated, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Ken when he came over to her to announce a break for lunch.
"You just sit on the porch chair while I grab us both something to drink," he firmly ordered. Jazmyn willingly complied, and Ken was soon back with some iced lemonade. While it wasnít a particularly hot day, their exertions had left them both a bit dehydrated, and they relaxed with their drinks for several minutes. Then Ken got up and said, "Iím going to throw together some sandwiches. I wonít be long, so take it easy."
Jazmyn nodded, feeling a bit drowsy. By the time that Ken returned with the plates of sandwiches, the vixen had nodded off. Ken regarded the sight of an anthropomorphic fox woman dressed in overalls asleep on his porch. It seemed a bit surreal, and yet so right.
"Jasmine," he said softly.
The vixenís eyes opened immediately, darting about for a moment to get her bearings, then she grinned sheepishly. "It was just a bit too comfortable sitting here."
"So I noticed," Ken said as he handed her one of the plates.
They ate their lunch leisurely, and then Ken took the plates back inside. When he returned, he said, "Iím getting back to work. Iíve gotten back into the swing of things, and I want to keep at it while the going is good. You can take a nap if you like though."
Jazmyn shook her head. "No, I think that I will continue also, although perhaps I might take it a bit more easily and finish up before I get too tired."
"OK. Have fun."
Jazmyn managed to get all the vegetable seedlings planted, although she left the tomato stakes out for the time due to the effort involved. They werenít needed for a couple of weeks anyway. She also sowed some bean and corn seeds, but left others for when another garden bed or two could be prepared. She did tire early and headed to the porch to rest in what had become her favourite chair. There she took a short nap to recharge. She woke before Ken quit for the day, and she decided to have a shower. While the overalls had kept most of her clean, her feet and hands were very dirty, and she felt as if her fur could use a good shampoo anyway. She was drying herself when Ken came inside.
"Could you help me to dry my fur again please, Ken?" Jazmyn asked.
"Let me wash my hands first," Ken replied.
Ken didnít feel as embarrassed as he did the first time, but he still stuck to the more innocuous parts of her anatomy. When she declared that her fur was dry enough, he urged her out of the bathroom so that he could take a shower also.
"What do you want for dinner?" Jazmyn asked as she left.
"Weíve both worked hard today, so take a couple of frozen pizzas out and heat them up. No effort involved."
"Peet-sas? That is a word that I have not learned yet," Jazmyn admitted.
"Itís basically meat and various toppings with tomato paste on a pastry base. Itís spelled p-i-z-z-a and comes in flat square boxes."
"OK, I will find them." Knowing what to look for now, Jazmyn quickly found half a dozen pizzas in the chest freezer, and in three different types. She chose two of them and followed the heating instructions. Then she made tea for them both, which was ready by the time that Ken emerged from the bathroom dressed only in a towel wrapped around his waist.
"You could have taken the time to dress first," he said when he saw Jazmyn.
"There is still a bit of dampness to dry out," Jazmyn explained, although privately she knew it didnít really matter, and she was just putting off the inevitable.
Ken had a hard time refuting the excuse though, so he didnít bother even trying. He shrugged and headed off to his bedroom to get into some clean clothes. He was soon back again, and he grabbed his mug of tea and sat on the sofa.
"Phew! That was a good dayís work. I saw what you have done so far, and if even half of that grows, weíre not going to lack for home-grown food for a long time."
Jazmyn sat down next to him with her own mug of tea, half empty, and said, "You say that as if you expect me to be here that long."
Kenís expression grew serious. "Jasmine, I honestly have not been able to think of an alternative that wouldnít make you worse off than you are now. Unless you can come up with an idea, well, you may have to get used to being here for a long time."
"What about you?" Jazmyn asked. "I am sure that you had not planned on a long-term guest."
"Well, not one like you anyway, although the extension was intended to give me that kind of option. As long as we can get along, I donít see a problem having a boarder. Besides, itís nice to be able to have someone to chat to for a change. Iíve brought friends and girlfriends out here, but itís way too far off the beaten track for them to want to come out here regularly. Itís the price that I pay for having this gorgeous isolated property."
"Conversation is certainly something that I can provide," Jazmyn replied. "And I think that I can keep myself busy enough without getting bored and bothering you. You have done so much to accommodate me Ė I can do no less."
"Itíll work out Ė just you wait and see," Ken reassured her.
The oven timer chimed a little later, and Ken took the two hot pizzas out. He said to Jazmyn, "Letís eat these out on the porch."
Jazmyn nodded and said, "That sounds good to me."
The two pizzas were barely enough to satiate the two voracious appetites. Ken leaned back in his chair with a sigh of repletion. "This has been a good weekend. Maybe not so much for you, but Iíve enjoyed it."
"In spite of everything that has happened to me, I would tend to agree. I could have been in much worse circumstances, even on my world," Jazmyn admitted.
"Which brings me to the subject of why you were running for your life. Are you ready to talk about it yet?" Ken asked.
"I have been avoiding that subject, have I not?" Jazmyn said, looking away from Ken.
"The phrase should be Ďhavenít Ií, and youíre still avoiding it," Ken pointed out.
Jazmyn was quiet for a few moments, then made a decision. "As I told you earlier, Julius isÖ wasÖ a writer and orator. He sometimes used those skills for political agitation."
"Hardly unusual," commented Ken.
"Perhaps in this world and country, but it is a very dangerous occupation in mine. I kept telling him that his luck would run out one day and I feared for his safety. He was fearless though, and much respected, and so managed to keep himself out of harmís way. Then one day he came across some information that was politically explosive. I begged Julius to let it go, but he insisted on acting upon it. That brought far too much attention his way though and his luck ran out. He got a very late warning of danger, which is when he made me flee without him. While I had been afraid of the consequences of his actions, I nevertheless supported him completely, and so that made me nearly as big a target as he was. Julius stayed to destroy sensitive documents and such before he intended to flee also and rendezvous with me later, hopefully at the home of one of his sympathisers. I do not believe that he left our house alive however."
"Iím sorry for your loss, Jasmine," Ken said gently. "I did not mean to re-open fresh wounds."
"Do not worry, Ken. I can and will deal with it. Shutting it in does not help, but it is good to be able to talk to someone else about it. Thank you for your concern."
""Youíre welcome, Jasmine. I hope this world treats you a lot better."
"Mine was not so bad. The politics were dangerous, and certain religious views too, but my world had many beautiful things also."
"Of course. I should have realised that, and itís not as if this world doesnít have its share of problems."
"I will try to make this little corner of it beautiful," promised Jazmyn.
"Thatís all I want too," admitted Ken.
They were silently thoughtful for a while before Ken stretched and got up out of his chair. "Urk! My muscles have stiffened up. I probably havenít been getting enough exercise and Iím a bit out of shape."
"There is no need to rush anything on my account," Jazmyn said.
"No, I needed this motivation. Itíll be goodÖ oofÖ in the long run."
Jazmyn grinned as Ken hammed it up a bit.
"Wanna watch Star Wars with me?" Ken asked. "Itíll be fun."
"Why not?" Jazmyn replied, and held out a hand to be helped out of the chair. Minutes later they were seated on the sofa with sodas and a huge bowl of potato chips between them. A couple of hours later, Jazmyn was wondering if she could make herself a Jedi costume.
Despite her exertions the previous day, Jazmyn was still up and making breakfast for both of them before Ken emerged from his bedroom.
"Morniní, Jasmine," Ken said a little blearily.
"Would you prefer cereal or scrambled eggs for breakfast?" Jazmyn asked.
"Hmm? Oh, scrambled eggs sounds good."
"I thought that you might like that, so I made enough for two. Those were the last eggs however."
"Iíll get more on the way home. Anything else we need?"
"I think that we need milk also, but I have not checked everything."
"Iíll have a good look tonight and do a proper grocery run tomorrow."
"I can check for you if you like?" offered Jazmyn.
"Youíre my guest, Jasmine, not my maid," Ken objected.
"No, as you called me last night, I am your boarder, and I will do whatever I can to pay my way. Besides, until you prepare another garden bed, I will not be able to plant any more of those seeds and plants that you bought, so I will have plenty of time to spare."
"Ugh! Thatís something else that Iíll do today Ė hire a rotary tiller. Itís just too much work otherwise."
"That makes a lot of sense," Jazmyn agreed.
"So what else will you do to occupy your time?" Ken asked.
"I will try to polish my language, learn more words, and try to learn more about this world."
"Practice your contractions," Ken advised. "Your speech sounds a bit stilted otherwise."
Jazmyn grimaced as she passed over a plate of scrambled eggs on toast. "I know. My worst habit is that I am too precise with my words. It takes me some time to relax into a new language."
"Considering how long youíve known English, youíve got nothing to be ashamed of."
"Nevertheless, it is a point of pride with me."
"Fair enough," Ken said, then got stuck into his food.
As Ken was about to leave for work, he said to Jazmyn, "I couldnít explain it to you before when I first left you alone to go to work, but almost nobody ever comes down this way, so if you hear a vehicle any time except when you expect me home, youíd better hide away. Iíll call you if I intend to come home early. If you need to call me, Iíve left my business card next to the phone."
"OK, Ken. I wish you a pleasant and productive day."
"Thanks, Jasmine. Same for you!"
"Honey, Iím home!" Ken called as he opened the door with one hand while carrying an armful of groceries with the other.
"What?" asked Jazmyn quizzically.
"Sorry, bad joke," Ken explained.
"I see. You seem to have brought home a lot more than eggs and milk," Jazmyn observed curiously.
"Yep. Grabbed a few more things while I was at the supermarket." He pulled out some meat from the bag. "Two big T-bone steaks for dinner."
"Well that will do for me, but what will you have?" Jazmyn asked with a straight face.
Ken stared at her for a moment, then he grinned. "OK, so you have a sense of humour also, but donít get between a man and his steak, fox-girl!"
Jazmyn grinned back. "Youíre stingy, but Iíll keep that in mind," she replied.
"Ah! You have been practicing your speech contractions," Ken noted.
"I recited them to myself while I did the gardening until they came naturally to my tongue."
"Then the steak is a good reward. One steak," Ken added sternly.
"Meany!" Jazmyn poked her tongue out at Ken.
"Meany? Where did you pick up that term?"
"TV of course. Did I use it incorrectly?" Jazmyn asked.
"No. I mean yes! I meanÖ you really are a kitsune sometimes, tricky one."
Jazmyn laughed. "Iíll behave now. Want me to cook those?"
"Yes, but not quite yet. I brought home that rotary tiller for the garden, and I intend to prepare a couple of garden beds before I lose the light. We can have dinner after that."
"That suits me," Jazmyn said with a nod.
The rest of the week proceeded much as Monday had. Jazmyn spent a large amount of time preparing and planting the garden beds that Ken had dug with the rotary tiller each afternoon. They spent the evenings watching movies and doing their own projects on the internet. Occasionally Jazmyn would interrupt Ken to ask him to more fully explain something that she had encountered in order to better understand it. Both went to bed tired but happy after a fulfilling day. On Friday afternoon, Ken brought home sushi, something that Jazmyn had never eaten before. She found it to be delightfully different, and especially enjoyed the sashimi with wasabi.
"Now youíre a proper kitsune," Ken said.
"Oh? Why?" Jazmyn asked curiously.
"Sushi is a style of food from Japan, the home of the kitsune. You couldnít really be one and never eat sushi!"
Jazmyn rolled her eyes. "Now youíre being silly."
"So you donít want the last of the sashimi then?" Ken asked slyly.
"Touch my sashimi and Iíll claw you, steak-boy!" she warned, but Ken tried to sneak a piece with his chopsticks anyway. That started a chopsticks war for the last pieces. Jazmyn held the last piece up in triumph.
"For someone who has never used chopsticks before today, you certainly know how to use them well," Ken said admiringly.
Jazmyn ate the sashimi before replying, just in case Ken was trying to distract her. "Thatís me Ė learn fast and win! Thanks for bringing the sushi home though. I really enjoyed it."
"Youíre welcome, Jasmine. And in the spirit of that, tonightís movie is ĎKung Fu Pandaí.
"Is it a movie from Japan?"
"No, but it has chopsticks!" Ken replied with a grin.
"You really are silly, you know?"
Saturday morning came and Ken slept in until ten. When he finally got out of bed, Jazmyn was not in the house. He checked out the window and caught a glimpse of her in the garden. Thrusting his feet into the sneakers by the door, Ken went outside to greet Jazmyn. When he approached her as she knelt by a garden bed, pulling weeds, he noticed that something was missing.
"Good morning, Jasmine. Where are your crutches?"
"Good morning, Ken. I hope you enjoyed your sleep." Jazmyn got up on her feet. "The crutches are inside. I walked over here," she said as she gave a little demonstration.
Ken was fascinated by the different gait of her digitigrade legs. "Your leg is all better now?"
"I wonít be doing any running, long-distance hiking or carrying heavy loads for a while yet, but basically I can get around without any pain now. Iím very glad to get rid of those crutches!"
"Heh! I know what you mean. The novelty wears off fast."
"Iíll get you to move a few things over here for me later, after youíve had your breakfast."
"No problem. Iíll have a quick breakfast and come back out soon."
After he had eaten a bowl of cereal, Ken moved some of the big potted plants over to where Jazmyn intended to put them, then he headed to the shed to grab the tools that he needed to recommence work on the extension. He had only been working for about an hour when he noticed the sound of a car coming down the road. Ken dropped the hammer that he had been holding and ran over to Jazmyn. Glimpsing a view of the car through the trees confirmed his suspicions.
"Thatís my sisterís car. You need to hide somewhere," Ken told Jazmyn.
"Where? In the cabin or in the trees?"
"Hide in my bedroom," Ken said as he motioned her towards the door. "Make sure you grab anything that belongs to you, or indicates that somebody else besides me is living here."
"Good idea," Jazmyn said as she walked inside. She had barely closed the door behind her before the car turned onto the track leading to the cabin. Ken stood there waiting for it.
The red Mitsubishi Pajero pulled up next to Ken, and the young Japanese lady inside said, "Hi, Ken!"
"Good morning, Sakura. What brings you here?" Ken enquired.
"Hello? First Saturday of the month Ė picnic lunch at the lookout?" Sakura reminded him.
Ken slapped his forehead. "Doh! I completely forgot! Iíve been so wrapped up in my work."
Sakura looked about as she got out of the car. "Thatís one of the reasons why we have these picnics. Iíd rag on you more, but by the looks of things, youíve been very busy, so itís no great surprise that it slipped your mind."
"Yeah, I finally got myself into gear. Iíd put things off for too long."
"Not that I want to interrupt your momentum, but I do have a picnic lunch packed and ready."
Ken couldnít think of an excuse that wouldnít sound fishy, so he said, "OK, just let me clean up a bit first."
"Sure," Sakura said. "Iíll just take a look at what youíve gotten done in the meantime."
Ken went inside and washed his hands, then went into his bedroom. Jazmyn looked at him expectantly. "My sister likes to have picnic lunches with me, to enjoy the fresh air and the view, and to keep me from getting into a rut. Weíd arranged this weeks ago, but with your arrival, it slipped my mind."
"Will she be coming inside at all?" Jazmyn asked.
"Possibly later, but she never comes into this room, so just keep the door shut and you should be alright."
"OK. I grabbed my laptop so that I would have something to do in case I needed to stay out of sight for a long time."
"Good idea. Weíll probably be at the lookout for about an hour. Iím not sure if Sakura will hang around any more after that, but Iíll try to keep her away from the cabin." As he spoke, Ken stripped off his overalls. Fortunately the clothes that he wore underneath were presentable, so he was able to leave again quickly. He firmly closed the door behind him.
Jazmyn sighed, annoyed that her gardening was being interrupted. She didnít like hiding from people either, even though she understood its necessity. She wondered if there could be anyone else here who could be discreet about her existence. She couldnít take the risk of finding out though. Resignedly, she opened up her laptop and went to a bookmarked website to continue her education with the new world.
Ken carried half of the picnic gear, following Sakura to the lookout. There they spread a rug on the ground and started unpacking everything.
As they did that, Sakura said, "So howís your latest girlfriend working out?"
For a moment, Ken had this weird feeling that Sakura was hinting at Jazmynís presence before he realised whom she meant. "Oh, you mean Michelle. She broke up with me a couple of weeks back. Seems she wasnít keen on travelling into these Ďwild and dangerous woodsí any more."
"Iím sorry to hear that. You really need to stop picking up those city girls as long as youíre determined to live out here in the middle of nowhere. I think that itís wonderful, but the novelty wears off quickly for those city types, and they get tired of driving most of an hour one way to get here."
"And how do you propose that I find a country girl out here?" Ken asked as he poured some fruit juice for both of them.
"Youíve been out here for long enough to know the answer by now. Are you even trying?" Sakura passed him some salad rolls.
"No, not at the moment anyway. Too soon after Michelle, and I want to concentrate on my projects for a while."
"So I noticed. Youíve done a lot since my last visit, and maybe youíve gotten the hang of gardening at last. Did you get help?"
"Yes, a keen gardener gave me lots of advice and help in exchange for a steak dinner."
"Where did you meet this gardener?"
Ken hesitated, then said, "I bumped into her locally." He hated to lie to his sister, so he answered as vaguely as possible. Fortunately she was side-tracked.
"Her? And I thought that you said that you couldnít find any girls out here?" Sakura grinned widely.
Ken nearly choked on his food. "What?! No! Weíre just acquaintances. Sheís not exactly my type, but she likes to help out."
"How would you know if sheís your type if you donít try?"
"Believe me, sheís way different from anyone youíve ever met."
"Now youíve really got me curious," Sakura said mischievously.
"Mind your own business, sis! I have a friend, and thatís the end of the story."
"Whatís this friendís name?" Sakura persisted.
Ken sighed. "Itís Jasmine."
"Just Jasmine. I told you weíre just friends. I havenít exactly delved into her life story." ĎDoes she even have a last name?í he privately wondered.
"My name means ĎCherry Blossomí, so now you have two flowers in your life," Sakura pointed out.
"Sheís just a friend!" Ken insisted.
"A friend who has gone to a lot of effort to help you. Are you sure sheís just a friend?"
"Arrgh! Enough already! Change of subject!" Ken said firmly.
Sakura still kept grinning knowingly, but she knew that she had pushed Ken as far as he would go for now, so she started talking about family news instead.
Jazmyn watched through the bedroom blinds as Sakura drove away. Kenís sister had entered the cabin briefly to dispose of a bit of trash, wash her hands, and clean up the picnic gear before she said farewell to her brother. Jazmyn picked up her laptop and left the bedroom. She met Ken as he came back inside.
"Did you enjoy your picnic?" asked Jazmyn.
"I usually do, but Sakura was getting a bit nosy about what has been happening and who has been helping me."
"Helping? Did you mention me?" Jazmyn asked with some concern.
"Yes, although I left out most of the details, especially the part about you being a fox. Youíre just a friend whom I met and you offered to help me with my garden."
"I see. Will we be expecting any more visitors?"
"Sakura is the only one who ever comes out here. Mom and Dad donít like driving on dirt roads, which suits me fine."
"Donít you like your parents?"
"Dadís okay. Itís Mom that I prefer taking in small doses. She was very disappointed in me and my lack of interest in Japanese tradition. Did your parents ever bug you about things that you cared little about?"
"I never had parents in your sense," Jazmyn explained.
"Oh. Right. Sorry." Ken felt a bit awkward.
"Donít let it bother you. It wasnít of concern to me."
"OK, if you say so. How about we get back to our projects?"
"Good idea. Iíve lost enough time today," Jazmyn said with a touch of frustration.
As they headed out, Ken suddenly asked, "Do you have a surname?"
"Huh? No, I donít," Jazmyn answered, wondering what had brought that question on.
"How do you distinguish yourself from other people named Jasmine then?"
"If any identification was seriously needed, I have an identification number. More informally though, I was known as Jazmyn Julius-Bené, meaning Juliusí Companion."
"I see. That kind of makes him your family then."
Jazmyn nodded. "I guess so," she agreed. When she thought about it from Kenís point of view, she had to concede that a Companion like her was part of the family. As she re-started her work in the garden, Jazmyn was suddenly just a little bit envious of Ken who had parents and a sister, and all the benefits of a family.
The week went by rather quietly, and soon it was the weekend again. Ken was getting used to finding a half-naked vixen fixing breakfast when he got up. This morning, Jazmyn was making larger portions to fuel them both for some hard work.
Ken said, "Donít forget that the electrician will be here around about ten to wire up the extension."
"Donít worry. Iíll be keeping my ears tuned for his vehicle," Jazmyn reassured him.
However, the electrician didnít arrive until nearly eleven due to getting lost, but all of Kenís advance preparations enabled him to complete the job in just a few hours. Jazmyn web-surfed in Kenís bedroom again until the electrician left, then instead of doing more gardening, asked if she could help Ken for a while.
"Are you tired of gardening?" Ken asked.
"No, I just felt like doing something different with you for a change. Iím interested in what you are doing."
"Really? OK. I canít let you use some of the power tools because you need hearing protection, and I have nothing that will fit those ears of yours, but there are a few other odd jobs that you can do for me while I do other work."
And so Jazmyn was initiated into the joys of building. She measured, screwed, lifted, steadied, caulked and hammered. By the end of the afternoon, she had decided that she still preferred gardening, but it had certainly been an interesting experience.
"How much more work do you need to do?" Jazmyn asked.
"Tomorrow Iíll put the shingles on the roof. Iíll get you to help me by passing them up to me. With that completed, the drywall boards can be put into place. A bit of patching and painting, and itíll be done. We may have your room finished by the end of next weekend; maybe a tad longer."
"I think that Iíll miss watching the fire from the sofa."
"You wonít miss the fire when the summer heat begins," Ken said with a grin. "Then youíll be glad of that insulation that we put in the ceiling and walls!"
"If the weather here is like it was in my world, then you are probably right. Is it any cooler up here on the mountain compared to the valley?"
"A little, but not so youíd notice in a heatwave."
"Then I hope that itís very good insulation!"
"I only buy the best. This may look like a rustic cabin, but there are a lot of hidden improvements."
"That sounds very good to me," Jazmyn approved.
After dinner that evening, they treated themselves to a double movie, then went to bed with the sense of a day well spent.
Another work week was well under way when Jazmyn realised that she was running out of things to do in the garden. She had planted, fertilised, watered and weeded almost everything, and only a little bit of time would now be needed to maintain it. She needed something else to do.
Ken was working from home again. In truth, he could do the majority of his work from home, but he preferred the interaction with the people in the office, and he enjoyed the scenic drive to and fro. Now however, with Jazmyn staying with him, he had decided trying taking Wednesdays as work-from-home days.
Jazmyn walked inside and cleaned her hands. After that, she put on the kettle, then prepared a mug of tea for each of them. She put Kenís mug on the coaster near his keyboard.
Ken looked up for a moment and said, "Thanks, Jasmine," and then continued with the problem that he had been wrestling with half the day.
"You look frustrated, Ken," Jazmyn observed.
"Just a little," he replied. "Thereís a bug in this code that is eluding me, and I need to get this software package completed by the end of the week."
"You should take a break and refresh yourself," Jazmyn advised.
Ken picked up his mug and sipped the hot tea. "Youíre right. I need to stretch my legs too. Letís have a look at what youíve gotten done in the garden."
The two went outside carrying their mugs. Ken was constantly amazed at the transformation of the yard. It was looking pretty already, and promised to look gorgeous once everything grew up.
"Youíre going to cause a lot of trouble, Jasmine," Ken stated.
"What? How am I going to do that?" she asked in bafflement.
"Nobody is going to believe that I did this all by myself!"
Jazmyn laughed. "Donít forget your mysterious friend that only your sister knows about. Just be glad that only she ever visits, and that only occasionally."
"Too bad she wonít ever get to meet my gardening guru." They rounded the corner opposite to the end where Ken had been working on the extension. The vegetable garden beds had been laid out there. "Wow! I dug up all of this, and yet I still never imagined how much would be going in here. Itís all starting to grow so fast! Youíre determined to make us self-sufficient first try, arenít you?"
"Why not? I know what to do from experience, so there was no need to experiment. If the weather cooperates, weíll start enjoying some of its produce in just a few weeks."
"Sounds great! What else have you got left to do?"
"Actually Iím finished. All that I will need to do for a while is water and weed. Iím looking for something else to do."
"Oh, Iím not sure what else there is left to do besides household chores. Iíll just have to think about that for a bit. Let me know if you have any ideas."
"OK," Jazmyn agreed.
The two finished their tour of the new gardens. Ken threw back the dregs of the tea in his mug and sighed. "Iíd better get back to work. Hopefully the break will have helped me."
Ken went back to his desk and started going through the errant code again. Jazmyn stood behind him and had a hard look at what he was doing, frowning in puzzlement. After a while she spoke up.
"Pardon me, Ken. This program Ė all these symbols Ė what do they mean?"
"Itís the language of the computers, Jasmine. They are all basically a series of instructions written in a way that the computerís operating system can understand."
Jazmyn had brightened at the word, Ďlanguageí. "If itís a language, perhaps I can learn it too?"
Ken blinked, then said, "I dunno. Itís not exactly the same thing. On the other hand, I canít see the harm in trying if youíre really interested. I can get you my old books that I used when I was learning."
"Iím prepared to try new things, so please do so."
"OK, Iíll dig them out of storage later. HmmÖ youíre not going to learn everything in three days and steal my job, are you?"
Jazmyn giggled. "No, I donít think so."
"Whew! Thatís a relief!" Ken said with mock anxiety. "Anyway, right now I need to get back to this job."
Ken eventually found and fixed his problem child. Later he dug out his text books from the storage shed, and handed them over to Jazmyn. "Those ought to keep you from getting bored for a long while," he said with a grin.
"It certainly will be different from anything that I have previously tried doing before," Jazmyn replied.
The next day, Jazmyn was wondering if she had bitten off more than she could chew. Nevertheless she was determined to give it her best shot. She took her time to learn it thoroughly though. There was no urgency, and as Ken had said, it kept her from being bored.
An hour after lunch, her keen ears picked up the sound of a motor vehicle. The sound that it made was different from either Kenís or his sisterís cars, so Jazmyn immediately got up and closed the curtains and locked the door. Peering carefully through the curtains, she watched a large pick-up truck pull into their driveway, and two men climbed out.
"There it is," said the driver. "Just like I told you." He was a short, weaselly-looking middle-aged man with a hint of a sneer on his face.
"I know, I know!" replied the other man. "That damn track was so fucking long, I thought youíd gotten us lost for sure." That one didnít look too bright, but he was big and strong, with a surly expression. Jazmyn didnít like the looks of the duo.
"Nah, Iíve been working on this for too long to screw up that detail. Now shut up and get to work."
The surly man grunted and walked towards the door. Jazmyn began to feel panicky. She was sure that they were up to no good, and she had no idea how theyíd react to her. The door knob rattled.
"Hey, Cal! Itís locked!" the surly man called out to his partner.
"Of course itís locked, you idiot! Did you think the guy was going to leave it open for you? Break it open!"
"Oh. OK." He walked back to the truck and took a wrecking bar from the back.
Jazmyn was desperately trying to think what to do. She could try hiding, but it was too likely that she would be discovered. She considered jumping out a window at the back, but that would leave all Kenís goods in the hands of what were obviously thieves. Then she had an idea. Quickly pushing her hair back behind her ears, she got to her knees and poked her face through the curtains of the window nearest to the door and started furiously barking. At least she hoped it sounded like a dog barking.
"Shit! Hey, you never said this guy had a guard dog."
"What?" Cal came over to look. "He never mentioned a dog before. What kind is that anyway?"
"The kind that bites off my arm!" Surly said.
"You arenít afraid of a dog, are you, Waylen? Youíve even got a wrecking bar to defend yourself."
"You think Iím that stupid? Here!" He held out the bar to Cal. "If youíre so brave, you clobber the dog."
Cal gave Waylen a malevolent look, then cursed. "Fuck! I should have brought a gun. Forget it! Come over to the shed and break that open instead."
Waylen made short work of the lock and Cal poked his head inside.
"Jackpot!" he cried. "This guy believes in the best. Look at what heís got in here Ė power tools, chainsaw, barbecue, generator, compressor, pump Ė heís all set up to do everything for himself. Ainít that considerate of him to put it all here for us? Start loading the truck. We ainít going away empty-handed, thatís for sure!"
Jazmyn had backed away from the curtains as soon as she was sure that the men had misidentified her as a guard dog and wouldnít risk coming into the house. If they had called her bluff, sheíd decided to make a run for the back window before they managed to get in. Now however, she could covertly watch them. She fretted over the equipment that the thieves were stealing though. Then she remembered the digital camera that she had seen in the desk drawer, and she hastened to get it. Very carefully poking the lens through the curtain, she took several pictures, making sure that she got both of their faces and a shot of their truck. Then she withdrew the camera before her luck ran out. She nervously waited until they had loaded the last of the loot onto the truck, covered it with a tarpaulin, and then drove away with grins on their faces.
As soon as she was certain that they were not going to return, Jazmyn got onto the phone and called Kenís office, using the number that heíd left by the phone for emergencies.
"Hello. Could I speak to Ken Morita, please. Ö Just tell him that itís Jazmyn calling."
"Ken very quickly answered with concern in his voice. "Whatís wrong, Jasmine?"
"Ken, there were two men here who tried to break into the house!"
"What! Where are they now?"
"They didnít get into the house because your dog frightened them away."
"But I donít have a Ö oh. You took a risk, Jasmine."
"I know, but I couldnít stand aside and do nothing, and it worked. However, they did break into your shed and steal a great deal of your equipment."
"Damn! Did you get a good look at their faces or see the carís registration?"
"I did better Ė I took photographs of them."
"Fantastic! Smart thinking, Jasmine. How long ago did they leave?"
"I called you as soon as they drove out of sight."
"OK, if I call the sheriff immediately, thereís a good chance that he can intercept them before they can get off the access road. Thereís only one way out, so theyíll be trapped. I want you to get on my computer and upload those photos to my office. Iíll tell you how."
Jazmyn followed Kenís instructions, and soon the photographs were on Kenís office monitor. As soon as he saw Cal, his eyes lit up with recognition. "I know that smaller guy. Heís the attendant at the gas station where I fill up on the way home."
"I overheard the other man call him Cal," Jazmyn offered.
"Yeah, now I remember seeing that name on his shirt. Right, I can now tell the sheriff that I caught this Cal person and his accomplice on my security system. No need to add that the system has two legs and fur! Iíll talk to you later, Jasmine. Everythingís going to work out fine; youíll see."
"Goodbye Ken." Jazmyn hung up the phone with a sense of relief. Everything looked like it was working out right now.
It was nearly an hour later when she heard noise coming from down the road again. This time she identified two vehicles. The first was Calís truck, but the second was new to her. They hove into view, and Jazmyn saw in the gap between the curtains that it was the sheriffís car. Cal wasnít driving his truck. It looked like a uniformed man. Jazmyn guessed that it might be the sheriff, or perhaps his deputy. Cal and Waylen turned out to be in the back of the sheriffís car. They pulled up next to the shed with its door still hanging open, and the two officers got out and inspected the damaged door. After making notes and taking photographs, they hauled the thieves out of the car and made them carry all the loot back into the shed under their watchful eyes. When they were finished, they were handcuffed again and put back into the back of the sheriffís car. He then drove away with the deputy following behind in the truck.
Jazmyn waited until the cars were out of earshot before she left the house. She took a look into the shed and noticed that while everything was back, it had all been piled carelessly. She tried to tidy up a bit, but a lot of the equipment was too heavy for her, so she abandoned her efforts.
Ken arrived home early to find Jazmyn in her favourite chair on the porch. She got up as he drove in, and ran up to Ken as he got out of the car, and put her arms around him.
Ken returned the hug reassuringly. "You did well, Jasmine. You shouldnít be bothered by them ever again. The sheriff was grinning ear to ear when I showed him the photos that you took. Those two will be in jail for a long time."
"Good!" Jazmyn said with feeling. "I donít like being helpless and scared out of my fur."
"Please donít risk yourself again like that. It was only stuff that I could easily replace. I canít replace a friend like you."
Jazmyn hugged him harder. "Thanks, Ken, but I just couldnít let them invade your home."
"Our home," Ken corrected.
"Even more so. I ran away and lost my Companion. I needed to stay this time."
"Well, you can not only have the satisfaction of being successful, but you also may have solved a string of mysterious burglaries in the district."
"How is that?" Jazmyn asked.
"I was wondering why that Cal fellow was always so chatty and curious about me. It seems that he was worming information out of me in order to raid my property. Obviously I opened my mouth way too much because he knew when and where to go. Apparently heís been doing this for some time with a number of people who regularly gas up at his station. Heíd learn about them and their habits, then strike when they were most vulnerable. Unfortunately he didnít count on my secret security system. Of course he didnít know about it because I never mentioned that I have someone living with me."
"Iím glad that something good came out of this, but I hope that nothing like todayís events ever happen again," Jazmyn said fervently.
"Me neither," agreed Ken.
The next day was undisturbed, and Jazmyn was able to study without interruption. The darkening room later in the afternoon caught her attention however, and she peered outside. Thick storm clouds were gathering, and it was obvious that it was going to rain soon. In fact it was pouring down by the time that Ken came home and drove into the carport.
Jazmyn was watching the storm from her chair on the sheltered porch, and Ken sat down on the one next to her.
"You like watching storms too?" Ken asked.
"As long as I donít have to run for my life through them, I do," the vixen confirmed.
"Iím glad that I got the shingles up before this. I couldnít have done it so quickly without your help."
"I was happy to help," Jazmyn replied. "We work well together."
"Yes, we do. Itís been a good three weeks. I hope that youíve been feeling happier lately."
"I have. I will miss Julius terribly, but with a friend like you to support me, I have been able to pull myself together and get on with life. You would have made a great Companion, Ken."
"Thank you, Jasmine. I feel flattered," Ken replied, turning to smile at her. Just then, a huge lightning bolt struck in the distance behind Jazmyn, the light making a halo around her fur.
"Ooh! Beautiful!" Jazmyn cried in delight.
"Yes, beautiful," Ken murmured. "Iíve not seen a prettier sight."
Jazmyn turned to face Ken, curious at the tone of his voice, but he had already turned his sight back to the roiling thunderclouds.
"Ken! If you donít come soon, your meal will be spoiled," Jazmyn called out.
"Just one more minute!" Ken called back.
"Thatís what you said ten minutes ago," Jazmyn retorted.
"No, seriously. Start serving it up."
"OK." Jazmyn served the food onto plates and was taking them to the table when Ken emerged from the extension through the new doorway.
"Iíll just wash my hands and Iíll be there," he told the vixen.
He returned soon, still wearing the grubby overalls but with clean hands. He joined Jazmyn at the table, picked up the cutlery and started eating with gusto.
"I hope that itís still okay," Jazmyn said. "It was on the heat a bit too long."
"Itís fine, Jazmyn, believe me."
"Did you really have to keep going so late?" she asked.
"Yes, you know that I had to. The fresh plaster and filler need to dry properly overnight so that we can start painting first thing tomorrow."
Jazmyn smiled. "So close to being finished. Iím getting excited!"
"Are you sure that you want to help with the painting? It could be hard getting it out of your fur."
"Iíve done it before. With gloves and a little care, I should stay paint free."
"Did those gloves that I bought for you fit properly?"
"I tried them and they will be fine."
"Then weíre all set. First thing tomorrow, Iíll sand back the last of the plaster, then we can start painting."
On Sunday morning, both started working straight after breakfast undercoating the room. Jazmyn had a paintbrush which she used to cut into corners, then worked on the window and door frames. Ken used a roller to cover the rest. When that was done, they moved outside. This was harder as Ken wanted the extension to be a reasonable match for the existing timber, so they both had brushes and tins of wood stain. Between them, they managed to get the job done before dinner time. Ken insisted that Jazmyn shower first as she took longer to dry off. Meanwhile he cleaned up the painting tools, and then came in to man the extra dryer for her fur. She then went to prepare a quick meal while he showered.
They were enjoying their well-earned meal out on the porch, enjoying the evening, when Jazmyn spoke up.
"Iím going to be a little sorry when the extension is complete."
Ken arched an eyebrow in puzzlement. "Why is that?"
"Iím enjoying the work that I am putting into it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment."
"I see. Well Iím sure that there will be other goals to accomplish, and then thereís the stuff that youíre already doing. The garden is going to look fantastic, and youíre spoiling me with all the cooking that youíve been doing. And what about the programming lessons Ė how are they coming along?"
"Steadily. Iím having no trouble at all with understanding the code, itís constructing an actual program that I find difficult. It takes a different kind of thinking," Jazmyn admitted.
Ken nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, itís analogous to learning a language Ė just because you know every word and your grammar is perfect, doesnít mean that you can write a novel."
"It would seem that way. Do you think that thereís any point for me to continue? I hate to admit failure, but I donít want to waste my time on something that wonít work out."
"WellÖ there are other ways to put the knowledge to use. Let me test you on some things when we finish eating."
When they had cleaned up after the meal, Ken sat down at his desk and called up a program on his computer. He turned to Jazmyn and said, "This is some code that has bugs in it that I found earlier. This is the version before I fixed it. Look through it and let me know how difficult it is for you to follow, and whether you can spot the bugs."
"OK, Iíll try," Jazmyn said and took Kenís place. She started poring through the code.
Ken left her alone and found a novel that he had been neglecting, and he sat down to read it quietly.
In remarkably short time, Jazmyn announced, "Iím done."
"Already? Okay, how did you go?"
"I managed to follow all the code, although I seriously doubt that I could devise a program that sophisticated. I did spot two potential bugs though."
"Show them to me," Ken instructed.
Jazmyn scrolled to the lines in question and pointed out what she thought was wrong.
"And how would you fix them?" Ken asked without confirming whether she was right or wrong.
Jazmyn made the changes and then looked to Ken for approval.
"Perfect!" he said with a broad grin. "Right errors and correct solutions. You spotted those in far less time than some professionals that I know."
Jazmyn said, "Iím relieved to be right. Itís one thing doing those exercises in the text books, but this put me under a lot more pressure, and I was worried that I might make a mistake."
"Checking code is not an easy task, but itís an important one. If you want to continue with this, Iíll give you some more code to check and correct. If you do well on those too, then I may have some other suggestions to make."
"OK. As long as I am doing it correctly so far, Iíll continue for a while longer. What do you want me to look at next?"
Ken laughed. "Not so fast! Itís Sunday evening and time for our usual movie. Of course if youíd really like to work on code, Iím sure that I can manage to eat your share of the popcorn."
"Oh no you wonít!" exclaimed Jazmyn as she made a beeline for the cupboard.
Ken grinned even wider and then went to the DVD rack to pick out the movie for the night.
Ken went to work as usual on Monday, but Jazmyn intended to get the painting finished inside. Because it was going to be her room, Ken let Jazmyn choose the colours of the wall and trim. She had the walls painted before breaking for lunch, then did the more finicky work on the trim and window frame after her meal. With those completed, she cleaned up the room, removing all the equipment and then the drop sheets. That just left the floor to be stained and sealed. Jazmyn decided that it would take too long and left it for the next day. Instead she started working on the programs that Ken had left with her to check.
Jazmyn quit her work when Ken came home, but not before showing him the problems that she had found. Ken checked them and her corrections, and nodded in satisfaction.
"Excellent! You havenít made a mistake yet. Keep it up and Iíll give you one final test when youíre done with this lot. Now what would you like for dinner?"
Sealing the floor was a bit harder than Jazmyn expected, but she was able to look at the finished boards with great satisfaction. Despite taking a lot of care, she had gotten some stain on her left arm, which annoyed her because it was a lot harder to remove from her fur than the paint. With that accomplished, she went out into the garden to water the plants, which is what she was still doing when Ken arrived home.
Ken held up a plastic bag with some food containers in it. "I brought home Chinese food. Come inside and wash up while I reheat it a bit."
Jazmyn enjoyed the different flavours of the Chinese food, and she wondered if she could reproduce them. She put it on her mental list of things to try some day. That evening, she finished working on the programs and presented Ken with the results.
Ken grinned and said, "You not only caught all the errors, but you also found a trivial one that we missed. Well done!" He rummaged in his briefcase and pulled out a thumb-drive. "On here, I have your final test. Itís one of our most complex programs. Itís the beta version before we released the final version to the customer. This is going to be a lot harder than anything that you have done previously. Do you think that youíre up to the challenge?"
"Iíve come this far, so Iím not going to back down now. Hit me with your best shot!"
Ken laughed at her usage of the saying. "Okay, youíve got it. Start it tomorrow and weíll see what you can do before we normally quit for the day."
"Alright. While we wait for the paint and stain to dry out more, we canít do anything with the new room anyway."
Work-at-home Wednesday was unusually quiet. While Ken was absorbed with his work on the desktop, Jazmyn was ploughing through the lines of code on her laptop. The vixen had had an attack of butterflies in the stomach when she had seen what she had been challenged with, but her concentration on the task soon settled them down. For hours they both worked in silence. They both nearly jumped out of their seats when the phone rang around one oíclock.
It turned out to be a call from the office. Kenís business partner, Rick, had called by phone because Ken had failed to respond to an email that he sent earlier, due to being absorbed in his work. Both Ken and Jazmyn used the interruption as an excuse to take a break and eat lunch.
"So, how are you going so far?" Ken asked Jazmyn.
"I think that I am doing well despite the complexity. Iím very glad to take a break from it however."
"Yeah. Software engineer sounds glamorous, but itís a lot of hard work. Still, if youíre good at it, you can make a very good living at it." He waved his arm to indicate the cabin and its contents.
"I donít really need much more," Jazmyn replied, "but I like being stretched mentally. It balances out the more physical stuff that I do."
"I like that. I do all this physical stuff to balance the predominantly mental work that I do for my business."
"Either way, itís hungry work!" Jazmyn said before taking a big bite out of her sandwich.
"Amen!" Ken agreed.
After their lunch, they both went straight back to work. At 4:23pm, Jazmyn sighed with relief, and then announced, "Iím finished."
Ken was startled. "Youíre kidding me? Youíve finished the whole lot already?"
"Yes. You wanted me to finish before we normally quit, didnít you say?"
Ken was stunned. "No, I said weíd see how much you could do before we quit for the day. That program took one of our employees two days to go through and debug! Heís pretty good at that job, but you may have thrashed him thoroughly. Let me have a look at what youíve found."
Jazmyn handed over her laptop, and Ken pulled up the debugging notes from the records. He started comparing them to Jazmynís.
"Iíll make us some tea while youíre doing that," Jazmyn said.
"UmmÖ OK," replied Ken, distracted by the work in front of him.
When Ken had finally completed crosschecking the results, he leaned back in his chair in deep thought. Eventually Jazmyn couldnít stand it any more and said, "Well? How did I do?"
Ken was shaken out of his reverie. "Oh, you got it all correct. In fact you found a major bug that our man missed. Weíre going to have to send our clients an update before it becomes a problem."
"Phew! You had me worried. Why the deep thought then?"
"How would you like to do this sort of thing professionally, part-time?" Ken asked.
Jazmyn was startled. "Professionally? I hadnít really considered it. Iíve just been doing it so far mainly out of interest in what you do. Do you really think that I could?"
"Jasmine, if you were a human applying for a job at our business, youíd get the job without a doubt. However, youíre not human, and that gives us problem. First though, do you really want to do it? Secondly, Rick has to approve you also, which is somewhat awkward. Thirdly, youíre a non-entity. You have no background, no social security number, no records whatsoever, and that is extremely difficult to deal with in a modern bureaucracy. So, what do you want to do?"
"Iím really going to have to think about that a bit more, Ken. It seems that I am good at it, but I donít know yet whether I want to keep on doing it. On the other hand, I donít want to rely on charity for the rest of my life, and having a useful skill is a big step towards my independence."
"OK. You think about it as much as you want, and then let me know. Weíll deal with the other problems if and when they occur."
"Good. Iím going to start dinner now."
"Iíd better finish my task. I canít have Rick thinking that Iím slacking off here at home."
After dinner, Ken said, "Has the paint smell died down enough for you yet?"
Jazmyn went to the door of the new room and stuck her head inside. The window had been left wide open since painting had started so that the air could circulate and the smell disperse. Jazmynís nose had been a bit more sensitive to it, so she had wanted to delay moving in until it had reached an acceptable level. She sniffed a couple of times, then turned to Ken.
"Itís okay now," she informed him.
"OK, letís start moving a few things in from the shed. I could do with your help with the mattress."
Taking it easy so as not to overtax Jazmynís recently healed leg, the two carried the mattress into the house, then Ken fetched the bed frame which they assembled in the new room. After they had placed the mattress on the frame, Ken left Jazmyn to put sheets, blankets and pillows on it while he went to fetch a set of drawers that were also in storage. Finally he added a bed lamp.
"Thatís all that I have for this room right now," Ken said.
"You have forgotten something," Jazmyn said.
Jazmyn pointed to the window. "Blinds."
"Whoops! Never thought of that, and I donít have any out in the shed. Iíll have to pick some up tomorrow. Other than that though, the room is ready for you. Congratulations Ė youíre officially moved in!"
Jazmyn said, "It will be good to have my own room again."
The next weekend was rather lazy. Although Ken had some plans for other improvements, they were not urgent, and after the major effort that they had put in the past few weekends, he felt that they had earned a break.
"Is your leg feeling good enough for a short hike, Jazmyn?"
"I think so. Why?"
"There are a few nature trails in the area. I thought that you might like to try one out. Just a short one for starters."
"That sounds lovely. When do you want to go?"
"Right away if you want. I just need to put on my hiking boots." He stopped and frowned. "What about your feet? It may be a bit rough."
"My paw pads are quite tough. Besides, I donít think that youíll find boots to suit my feet here."
"Thatís unfortunately true, so be a little careful, OK?"
"I will," Jazmyn promised.
Ken chose a track that led from the lookout along the rim of the cliff. They took it slowly, enjoying the view and the sight, sounds and smells of the forest. The walking track eventually met up with the dirt road that went past their cabin, but as it was almost never used, they werenít concerned about running into anybody.
"Where does this road end up?" Jazmyn asked curiously.
"At an old logging camp. It hasnít been used in decades. People come up here to have a look around, but other than that, itís abandoned. You can see how overgrown with weeds that the road is due to the infrequent use. We can go look at it sometime if you like."
"Can we walk there from here?"
"Yes, but itís a bit far. I wouldnít recommend that you try it just yet."
"Iíll leave it for another time then," Jazmyn conceded.
They started walking back to the cabin along the road. Then Ken asked, "Did you and Julius ever go walking in the woods?"
Jazmyn nodded and said, "Not here in the mountains, but we would do so in the forest near our house, and sometimes weíd walk around the lake and feed the ducks."
"There are a couple of streams up here, but no ponds. Thereís a long trail that eventually reaches the summit up there." Ken pointed to the highest peak of the mountains surrounding the valley. "That trail is fairly popular with the hikers though, so itís probably best left to the off-season if you want to risk it."
"Iíll keep that in mind if I get the urge," Jazmyn promised.
They continued walking in silence for a while before Ken spoke again.
"Have you thought much about that potential job yet?"
"I still havenít decided anything. Have you spoken to Rick about it at all?"
"I brought up the matter obliquely. Heís interested in a talented person like you."
"Iím leaning towards accepting because itís the only thing that I know that I can do to contribute financially to my upkeep, but I donít want to be stuck in a job that I might not like."
"Thatís fair enough, although if you do get the job, itíll be on a casual basis, so you wonít be stuck in the job if you donít wish. Anyway, thereís no hurry, Jasmine. As Iíve mentioned before, Iím not hurting for money, so your upkeep isnít a problem. Look after your own interests first."
"Maybe we can do a trial run sometime soon and see how that works out? Iíd like to be able to buy a few things to brighten up my room."
"What sort of things?"
"Some curtains, rugs for the floor, maybe a painting, that kind of thing."
"Maybe some new clothes too?" suggested Ken.
"Are you body-shy, Ken? You always seem uncomfortable when Iím just fur-clad."
Ken avoided the question though. "I thought all females liked to dress up?"
Jazmyn realised that Kenís question was an answer in itself, so she let it slide. "As a matter of fact, I used to have several lovely outfits which I wore when there was a suitable occasion, and of course there were fashion shops that catered specifically to the different needs of anthro Companions. But at home by ourselves, we were always very informal, and I preferred being fur-clad which is a lot more comfortable for me. Here Ė I canít see the need for formal wear if I am to remain a secret."
"So, no temptation to try something just in case?" Ken asked slyly.
Jazmyn hesitated and Ken grinned. The vixen poked her tongue out at him. "Okay, youíve got me. It would be nice even if I never get the opportunity to wear it. Weíre still stuck with how Iíd shop for something suitable though."
"Solutions may present themselves in the future. Itís only been a few weeks so far. Anyway, youíre still going to need spending money of your own, so do you want to give the job a try? Weíve got something that will be ready Wednesday or Thursday."
"Alright, youíve talked me into it."
"Iíll let Rick know on Monday."
They walked on for a little more, and then Jazmyn said, "Thereís something that I'd like to get to fill my spare time."
"Oh? Whatís that?"
Ken looked intrigued. "Do you paint?"
"LandscapesÖ or at least I try. I had just started teaching myself before the incident."
"I suppose youíre a whiz at that too?"
"Hardly. Julius charitably said that my last effort was Ďniceí. Believe me, itís going to take a long time before Iím competent at that. I have no particular talent for it, so it will be just hard work that will make me improve. Nevertheless it is enjoyable, and it certainly fills my spare time."
"I canít argue with that. Not that Iíve ever tried it for myself. I prefer tinkering in my spare time."
"And walks in the woods?" Jazmyn added.
"That too, especially when I have someone to share the pleasure with."
"Then I think that weíll have to do more walks soon."
"Sounds good to me," Ken said with some anticipation.
When Monday evening came, Ken arrived with an armload of curtains for Jazmynís room, plus a catalogue from the homewares store for her to peruse and perhaps choose some other things that she might like. Jazmyn was delighted and immediately set about putting them up. Ken grinned as he was so rapidly abandoned. He enjoyed making her happy, and he hoped that the news that he would tell her at dinner would be the icing on the cake. While Jazmyn was preoccupied with the curtains, Ken started their meal.
When they sat down to eat, Ken waited until they were about halfway through their food before he said, "By the way, I talked to Rick about employing you sight unseen. He was rather obstinate about it. At first he thought that I was protecting a Mexican or some other illegal alien. I assured him that you were born and bred in the area, although I neglected to mention that it was in another universe. Then he was concerned that I was hiding a fugitive from the law. I told him that nobody was after you for so much as an unpaid jaywalking fine. He kept badgering me for details, but all that I would tell him was that you had deeply personal reasons to not meet other people in person. Eventually I wore him down and he relented. Your services will be required as of Wednesday. Congratulations on getting the job!"
Jazmyn grinned. "Thanks! I wonít let you down. You know, being a Companion isnít really a job, so this is going to be my first real employment. How am I going to be paid?"
"Rick said to leave that to him. He will arrange some form of cash payment because you have no bank account to pay into, or can cash a check. Iíve always left such details to him. Heís always been the better one for the business side of things, while I was the better software writer."
"How long have you and he been working together?"
"Since we graduated. Weíve been friends since we were eight years old. We went to the same school, went to the same classes, and did the same sports. In our final year, Rick asked me if Iíd like to go into private business with him. It was a bit more risky than taking a job with one of the big companies, but it has paid off. Admittedly we had a bit of luck in landing a couple of good contracts early in our careers, so we got up off the ground pretty quickly. I credit Rick with getting those contracts, and heís kept us growing ever since. We still hang out occasionally, and he sometimes comes up here for a barbecueÖ which I just realised is going to cause a problem sooner or later. Heís going to wonder why I stop having him up here."
"Perhaps if he is such a good friend, we can take him into our confidence? I donít know if I can hide indefinitely," Jazmyn admitted.
"Jasmine, Rick is my best friend, and I trust him implicitly, but I could not extend that trust on your behalf. Itís up to you to take that chance, but I would put it off for a while. Thereís no need for a hasty decision."
Jazmyn shook her head. "No, I wonít. Iím just leaving that possibility open."
"Fair enough. I donít want you to feel trapped here."
"I havenít so far, Ken. So is that all there is to the job?"
"Well, I have a form with a few details to be filled in that Rick insisted that he needed to play around with the legal bits, but thatís all. No big deal Ė itís a pretty basic contract. You pretty much just have to sign it and youíre done."
"Iíll do that straight after dinner."
Jazmyn looked over the form after they cleared up after the meal, but she could not see any major problem with it, so she started filling it in.
"Ken, what do you think I should I put as a surname?"
"Why not put ĎFoxí? Itís not only accurate, it isnít that rare a name."
Jazmyn giggled. "I like that. Rick will have the truth under his nose and not know it."
The vixen filled in the rest of the form and then handed it to Ken to get it double-checked.
Ken started reading it, and his eyebrows went up in surprise. "Is that really how you spell your name?"
"Iíve been thinking that it was J-a-s-m-i-n-e. Thatís the way itís spelled here anyway."
"Obviously yet another difference in our languages. I had come across that flower name, but didnít think about it much. I will retain my spelling though."
"Of course. Thatís your name, Jazmyn, and nobody has the right to change it."
Ken finished reading the document and handed it back to Jazmyn to sign. She did so with a nice flowery signature.
"Congratulations Ms Fox on joining our little company. I hope we have a long and beautiful relationship."
"Should I start calling you Ďsirí now?" Jazmyn asked cheekily.
"If you did, youíd be the first employee who ever did! Weíre very informal."
"Right then, boss Ė you wash and I dry."
"What have I done?" Ken wondered aloud as he got up to wash the dinner dishes.
"Are you sure that you still want to go for a walk before your sister arrives for your picnic?" Jazmyn asked Ken as he put on his hiking boots.
"Sure! Weíll just take a short walk and weíll be back well before sheís due. Heck, even if she gets here early, you just need to stay out of sight until we head off."
"Okay, Iím ready then." Jazmyn stepped outside. The blustery wind immediately threw her long hair into her face.
"Itís days like this that Iím glad that I have short hair," Ken told her.
"Just a moment," Jazmyn said as she went back inside. A few moments later she re-emerged with her hair tied back in a ponytail. "Much more practical!" she declared.
The two started off on their walk. It was a lot different from their walks the previous weekends because the wind roaring through the leaves and branches added a new dimension to the experience.
"Do you get winds like this up here often?" Jazmyn asked.
"Not too often, but if the wind direction is right, the valley acts as a funnel and it can get a bit wild."
"So I can see," agreed Jazmyn with feeling.
They continued their walk, looping around to head back to the cabin. They were still several minutes away when Jazmyn heard a loud crack overhead. She looked up to see a huge tree limb crashing its way through other branches on its way down, and she froze in fright.
"Jazmyn, move!" Ken shouted.
A moment later, the vixen was shoved violently out of the limbís path. Jazmyn sprawled on the ground, disoriented but safe. She started climbing back to her feet. "Phew! That was close. That was quick thinkÖ KEN!" Jazmyn spotted Ken trapped underneath the enormous branch, unmoving. She hastened over, knelt beside him and said, "Ken! Are you okay? Speak to me!"
Ken didnít respond and Jazmyn looked at his situation more carefully. He was still on the path, which had saved him from being crushed due to being a worn low spot in the ground between the rocks and shrubs on either side. That didnít mean that he wasnít badly injured though, and he was certainly pinned tightly. Jazmyn tried futilely to shift the branch, but scarcely moved it at all.
Ken groaned and opened his eyes.
"Youíre alive!" exclaimed Jazmyn.
"Oh shit!" Ken rasped out. "My ribs are killing me!"
"Youíre completely stuck under the branch. I canít budge it."
"GetÖ get the crowbarÖ from the shed," gasped Ken.
"I donít think that will be enough. I should call for help."
"No! Donít riskÖ yourselfÖ Get crowbar," Ken insisted.
Jazmyn got up and started heading back to the cabin. "Iíll be back as soon as possible!" she cried as she started running.
It didnít take her long to get back to the cabin. She went inside, found the key to the shed, then ran back outside, unlocked the shed and looked for the crowbar. Just as she found it, she heard a familiar sound. She emerged from the shed and confirmed it Ė it was Sakuraís car. Jazmyn made a quick decision and headed back inside the cabin and closed the door. Then she waited for Kenís sister to arrive.
Sakura pulled up in front of the house. Finding no one out in the yard, she headed for the door. Jazmyn opened it just as the woman reached it, but stayed out of sight behind it. Thinking that Ken had opened the door for her, Sakura walked straight inside.
"Whew!" Sakura exclaimed as she entered, "What a windy day. Itís going to eeeeek!"
Jazmyn had closed the door behind Sakura and waited for her to notice. Sakura gave a little scream and stumbled back away from the vixen. "WhatÖ what the hell are you?"
Jazmyn held up her hands placatingly. "Sakura! Itís okay! Iím Jazmyn, Kenís friend."
Sakura was even more stunned. "Jasmine? Kenís gardening friend, Jasmine?" she said disbelievingly. "AreÖ are you a kitsune?"
"Yes, Iím the gardener, but no, Iím not a kitsune. Ken asked me that also." Jazmyn reflected that she might actually be a kitsune, if she wasnít the first fox morph to cross universes and perhaps start one of the many animal-person legends, but this was not the time for speculation. "Sakura, we donít have time for this. Ken is in big trouble and needs your help."
"Trouble? What kind of trouble?" Sakura asked suspiciously.
"Ken and I were walking in the forest when a large branch broke in the wind and fell on him. Iíve just come back to get a crowbar to try to lever it off, but I donít think that I can do it by myself. I need your help also."
"Is Ken badly hurt?" Sakuraís fear of the fox morph was evaporating by her concern for her brother.
"Broken ribs, probably. He was lucid when I left him, but he might have concussion too. We need to get back to him as soon as possible."
"OK. You lead and Iíll follow." Sakura wasnít 100% trusting of Jazmyn as yet, so she wanted her where she could keep an eye on her.
"Letís go!" Jazmyn said, heading out the door. She grabbed the crowbar that she had left by the door. "We need another long lever for you. Grab that length of timber."
Sakura picked up the off-cut from the extensionís framework and hastened after the vixen.
Jazmyn wasted no breath on talking. She knew that Sakura would be in a more receptive state of mind once they had dealt with Kenís problem and knew that Jazmyn could be trusted.
Ken looked up as Jazmyn arrived, much to her relief. "Hang on, Ken. Weíll get you out soon," she promised.
Ken was about to query her use of Ďweí when Sakura came into view. "Sakura!" he gasped. "Jazmyn, whatÖ what haveÖ you done?"
"What I needed to do, Ken. Sakura, put that timber under there. Iíll lever from the other side. You need to lift at the same time so that it doesnít roll onto Ken further and perhaps do more damage. Ken, can you pull yourself out when we lift? Itís going to hurt a lot."
"Forget painÖ. Iíll move."
"OK. Ready Sakura? Heave!"
"Aargh!" yelled Ken. "Stop! Stop!"
The two stopped their efforts. "Thatís not working," Jazmyn said. "It seems to be digging into Ken even more."
"Let me grab that rock so that I have something better to lever against," Sakura said.
"Good idea," agreed Jazmyn.
With the rock in place, they tried again. This time the limb moved upwards instead of sideways. Ken groaned again, but a moment later he pulled himself out from under the branch. Jazmyn and Sakura let go the moment he was clear, having pushed themselves to the limit to lift the massive tree limb. Ken remained on the ground, softly cursing as his face contorted with pain.
"Ken, are you okay?" Sakura asked.
"Broken ribsÖ for sureÖ left armÖ maybe alsoÖ. Back is soreÖ but I think Ö itís okayÖ. Hell of aÖ headache."
"We need to get you to a medic," Jazmyn said. "Can you walk, or do we need to get a stretcher?"
Rather than trying to talk more, Ken held out his uninjured right arm. Jazmyn grabbed his hand and carefully helped him to his feet. Ken grunted with pain a couple of times, but he was fairly steady on his feet. "Iíll make it," he declared, and started walking.
Jazmyn grabbed the crowbar and moved up alongside him, his sister taking the other, ready to support him if necessary. They made their way slowly back to the cabin. Once there, Sakura opened the passenger side door of her car and Ken gingerly climbed in, relaxing with a look of utter relief when he finally got into place. Sakura quickly got in and started the car.
"Call me from the medicís when you can!" Jazmyn called as the car started pulling away.
Ken gave an acknowledging wave of his hand, and then they were away.
Jazmyn knew that the drive to the medic would be a long one, especially if Sakura needed to drive more carefully on the dirt track, and attending to Kenís injuries might take a long time, so she tried to keep herself occupied while she waited. She spent the time weeding and watering, the blustery wind occasionally blowing the spray back in her face. It seemed like forever before the phone began ringing. She dropped the hose that she had been holding and ran inside. She had never answered the phone here before, so she answered it cautiously.
"Ken Moritaís residence," she said.
"Hi Jazmyn," came Kenís familiar voice.
"Ken! How are you? What did the medic say?"
"Iím bandaged like a mummy and doped to the gills with painkillers. Iíve got four broken ribs and a fractured bone in my arm, but no damage to my spine, thankfully. Theyíre going to keep me here at the hospital overnight for observation, but as long as everything is normal, I should be back home before midday tomorrow."
"Iím so glad that it wasnít worse. That should have been me under that branch. You probably saved my life."
"Itís okay, Jaz. Iíll be fine and youíre fine, so everything will be alright. Iíd better go now though Ė the nurse is giving me dirty looks."
"Iíll make something special for you tomorrow, Ken. See you then!"
Jazmyn went back outside feeling an enormous emotional weight lift from her. She picked up the hose out of the large puddle that it had made, turned off the tap, stowed the hose, and then went back inside to cook dinner for herself. Worry had left her without an appetite, and she hadnít eaten since breakfast. Now her hunger was making itself known.
She was cleaning up after her meal when once again she heard the sound of Sakuraís car approaching. Knowing that Ken was supposed to be staying at the hospital, Jazmyn was curious as to why Sakura was returning. She waited until the car had pulled up outside and she could see that the woman was alone before she stepped out onto the porch to meet her.
Sakura got out of the car, walked up to the porch, stopped and had a good long look at the fox morph. Then she said, "So, youíre a visitor from a parallel world. Ken told me all about you as I drove him to the hospital."
"So where do we stand now, Sakura?" Jazmyn asked with some trepidation.
"Let me join you inside. We have a lot to talk about, Ms Fox."
Ken had fretted over the situation with Sakura knowing about Jazmyn from the moment she had helped rescue him, but the trip home was proving to be even more nerve-wracking. Sakura hadnít even brought the subject up, and Ken was afraid of stirring up something that he might wish that he had not, so he kept his mouth shut.
After they had turned off onto the dirt road that eventually led to his cabin, his mind was kept occupied by trying to anticipate every bounce and jolt that might aggravate his injuries in order to reduce the pain. At least it was a great deal less painful than the trip out had been. Still, it seemed like forever before they reached his home.
Jazmyn came out to meet him, pleasure evident in her eyes. She looked as though she was about to hug him but, much to his relief, she refrained from doing so.
"Hi, Jaz. Itís good to be back home."
Jazmyn smiled broadly. "Iím so glad that you werenít hurt too badly. You just take it easy and we will look after things."
ĎWe?í Ken thought, not daring to ask aloud. He entered the cabin and said, "Iím going to put on some clean clothes. These trousers are filthy, and they cut off my shirt. This jacket was all that I could wear to go home."
"Do you want me to help?" offered Jazmyn.
"No, no! I can manage, thanks." Ken was mortified that Jazmyn had asked that in front of his sister who was giving him strange looks. "Just make Sakura welcome while I change." He then hastened into his bedroom.
A short time later, he was beginning to regret rejecting Jazmynís offer so hastily. Changing his trousers was not easy while he was all bandaged and could not move without causing some pain. Eventually he managed to get on tracksuit pants, and opted for a bathrobe to wear on top. A pair of flip-flops on his feet, and he was ready to face the girls again. He ventured out of his bedroom and found the living room empty. There was a steaming mug of tea, a plate of sandwiches, and a slice of cake all on the coffee table next to his lounge chair, but of the women, the only sign was the sound of their voices coming from within Jazmynís bedroom. He cautiously peeked around the door and his eyes boggled. Both Jazmyn and Sakura were kneeling on the bed, with his sister putting nail polish on Jazmynís finger claws.
Sakura was saying, "Ö and I had to go rescue him on his first hot date because Mr Fixit had forgotten to put the jack back in his car!"
Jazmyn laughed as Ken hastily ducked out of sight. It was all a bit too surreal for him Ė his sister was chatting with a fox like they were long-time girlfriends, telling embarrassing stories about him!
Ken sat down in his chair, picked up the mug of tea, and began swigging it. ĎWell, at least it seems that I donít need to worry about Sakura any more. But why didnít she tell me that she had gotten to know Jazmyn?" he mused.
A few minutes later as he was finishing the cake, the girls emerged from the bedroom.
"Is everything okay, Ken? Do you want anything more to eat?" Jazmyn asked him.
"Iíd like another cup of tea if you donít mind," Ken answered.
"No problem," Jazmyn said, grabbing his mug and heading for the kitchenette.
Ken looked at his sister. "You had me worried. You said nothing about Jazmyn for the entire trip home, but now youíre like long-lost sisters!"
"Youíre a fine one to talk, brother. Youíve had Jazmyn here all these weeks and you couldnít even trust me to keep your secret. I thought a little payback was in order."
"Iím sorry, but I honestly didnít know how you would react. I couldnít take the risk for Jazmynís sake."
"Only for that reason am I forgiving you. Anyway I need to go now. Iím rescheduling our picnic for next Saturday though, and Iíll be packing enough for three."
"Fine with me. Hopefully it wonít be windy like it was yesterday."
"Amen! We donít need a repeat of that." Sakura leaned over her brother and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "Take it easy, Ken. And by the way, I approve." She then headed for the door.
"Approve? Approve of what?" Ken asked in puzzlement.
Sakura only gave him an enigmatic smile before walking out the door and closing it behind her.
"Do you know what she meant, Jazmyn?" Ken asked as the vixen walked over with a fresh mug of tea.
"No I donít," she denied.
Ken shrugged and put it down to one of his sisterís teases. "So you and Sakura are good friends now. What happened yesterday?"
"Sakura came by just after dinner. She asked me many questions, most of which you had asked. The rest pretty much involved how my presence here affected you. Your sister cares deeply about your welfare, you know?"
Ken grinned. "Yeah. Iím the elder, but you wouldnít think so by the way she behaves. Sheís the only one who visits me out here regularly. Weíre the only children in our family, so we grew up pretty close."
"I can tell. Her concern for you overrode her fear about me quickly yesterday."
"Iím glad that you revealed yourself to her, especially as it seems to have worked out so well. I admit that I would never have imagined seeing you having your claws painted by her. Nice colour, by the way."
Jazmyn held up one hand to have another look at the result. "I like it. I like having a girl friend again too. I didnít realise how much I missed that until last night."
"Iím happy for you, Jazmyn. Maybe itís a sign of more good things to come. We need to increase your circle of trusted friends."
"Youíre thinking of Rick, arenít you?" Jazmyn asked.
"For starters, yes. Normally weíd be having the first barbecue of the season soon, but I want to heal up properly before that, so it will have to be postponed. However, when we do, would you be game to reveal yourself then?"
"If you say so, Iím game."
"OK. Rick has been eager to meet you. Heís very impressed with the work that youíve been doing for us. I never said so, but I think that heís figured out that youíre living with me. I told him that my address that you put on the forms was purely for convenience, but I donít think he believed my fibs."
"Tell him a definite date for the barbecue and hint that he may get to meet me then. That might allay his curiosity for a while and head off any snooping that he might otherwise do."
"That sounds like a good idea. Iíll do that when I call him to let him know about the accident and tell him that Iíll be working from home for a few weeks."
"But not too hard," admonished Jazmyn. "You need rest to heal properly."
"Letís see what sort of a patient you make after nagging me about my injured leg."
Ken just poked his tongue out at the vixen.
Next Saturday was sunny and calm Ė perfect picnic weather. Jazmyn and Sakura carried all the picnic stuff, leaving Ken to just walk to the lookout. They brought along a deck chair for him rather than letting him strain himself trying to sit on the ground and trying to get back up again. In fact the girls wouldnít let him do anything.
"Iím not a paraplegic!" Ken protested.
"We know," Sakura replied, "but the sooner you heal, the sooner we can stop looking after you, and youíre not going to slow down your recovery by trying to do things that you think you can still do."
"Youíre getting to be very bossy, Sakura," Ken said with a pout.
"Only when Iím right," replied Sakura.
Jazmyn was wondering if she was out of place in the middle of a sibling disagreement until she noticed the glint of humour in their eyes. Obviously they had been doing this kind of banter for a long time.
Jazmyn showed Sakura where she had lived in the other-worldly equivalent of the valley, and where the township would have been located. Sakura suggested that she try painting a landscape from the lookout and add in what she could recall. Jazmyn thought that that was an interesting idea and promised to try when she felt that she had improved enough. The three chatted about details of their past, and what had brought them to this point in their lives. Only when Sakura regretfully said that she had to leave soon did they finally pack up and went back to the cabin.
As Jazmyn and Ken waved goodbye as Sakura drove off, Jazmyn said, "That was a wonderful picnic. Iím already looking forward to next monthís."
Ken replied, "So am I, Jaz. Itís been a near-perfect day so far. What do you want to do with the rest of it?"
"Itís too nice a day to be indoors, but Iím not in the mood for work after that big lunch. How about a siesta?"
"Sounds good. Iíll have to settle for a chair on the porch. No way am I game to try a hammock or anything else for a long time."
The next few weeks were relatively routine for Jazmyn. Each day she would help Ken whenever he needed it. A couple of days each week she worked on code-checking, and the balance she would split between gardening, household chores, and trying to paint. Of the lot, looking after Ken was perhaps the hardest because he kept trying to do things that he should not, and got cranky when the pain grew too much. She was glad that Sakura would occasionally drop in to socialise with them, even if for only a couple of hours. Because neither Ken nor Jazmyn could travel, Sakura also did some grocery runs for them.
Summer hit with a vengeance. The pleasant days and nights suddenly became breathlessly hot. Jazmyn adjusted her schedule so that she did outdoor activities either early in the morning when it was coolest, or close to sunset. She was extremely glad to have air conditioning in the cabin. Then one morning, it broke down. Ken could not get an available service man out until the next day, and despite the good insulation, the temperature in the cabin steadily climbed. Eventually Jazmyn found it intolerably hot in her top, and pulled it off. Ken only noticed though when she called him to the table for dinner.
"You seem to have forgotten something," Ken hinted.
"I donít think so, Ken," Jazmyn replied, aware of what he meant but ignoring it.
"Youíre going to walk around bare-chested all evening?"
"I intend to," she confirmed.
"I thought that you liked the tops that Sakura bought for you?"
"Thatís not the point. Iíll make you a deal Ė Iíll put on a top if you wear your jacket for the rest of the evening."
Ken considered that for a moment and then said, "Youíre really that hot?"
"I am. My fur keeps me too warm. Besides, am I that bad to look at without a top?"
Ken shook his head. "No, not at all. In fact the problem is the reverse."
"Huh? What do you mean?" asked Jazmyn in puzzlement.
Ken began to blush in embarrassment. "I meanÖ wellÖ youíre too nice to look at. I feel like staring and I have to look away. Youíve become one of my closest friends and I donít want to sexualize you. I value our relationship too much to offend you."
"Oh, I see." Jazmyn felt a strange mixture of pleasure and disappointment. "Well, if I keep the top on, I might suffer from heat stress, so Iím going to keep it off. I wonít take offence though if your eyes wander."
Jazmyn ended up keeping her top off even after the repair man came and fixed the air conditioner, just as she did whenever Ken had been away at work. She reasoned that if he wanted to respect her, he also needed to respect her normal habits and not try to change them to suit himself. Ken never mentioned the subject again, but occasionally she would notice a lingering glance. Not that the vixen was completely unaffected though. Something had changed in her since the time she had lived with Julius. It both thrilled and frightened her to realise that her world was still changing, and Ken was growing to be such a large part of it.
The day came when the doctor decreed that Ken was fit to resume normal duties, within reason, and Jazmyn was left in peace during the day again. As much as she had been happy to look after Ken, life was a lot more satisfactory now that things were back to normal. With Ken back to full health, other events also resumed.
"Iím organising a barbecue for next Saturday, Jazmyn," Ken said.
"So this is it? Iím going to meet Rick in person?"
"Yep. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I can be. Can Sakura be there also?" The vixen felt that a little female moral support couldnít hurt.
"Of course. Iíve already checked with her to ensure that sheís free that day."
"Oh good. I hope that your friend likes me."
"Iím sure that he will, Jaz."
Saturday was perfect barbecue weather. They set up everything at one side of the cabin, next to the vegetable garden. Sakura and Jazmyn had been preparing the salads and the other foods, leaving the meat preparation to Ken.
"Never get between a man and his grill," Sakura had advised Jazmyn.
Rick was due about noon. They kept alert for the sound of his car, and when they heard it in the distance, they started taking the food out to the table that they had set up near the barbecue. Ken had all the meat in a large plastic tub with a lid to keep the insects off. He turned on the gas and lit it, leaving it to pre-heat a bit while he went to meet Rick. He timed it perfectly as Rick pulled up to a stop.
"Hey, Ken!" Rick said as he got out of his car. "Youíve done a hell of a job on your garden since I was last here."
"I canít take much of the credit, Rick. I had a lot of expert help."
"Who did you get to help you?" Rick asked curiously.
"Jazmyn," Ken replied.
Rickís eyebrows went up in surprise. "Oh! A girl of many talents, it seems. So where is our mysterious employee?"
"Sheís setting up some of the food near the barbecue," Ken said as he indicated where it was.
Just then, Sakura came from around the side of the house. "Hello, Rick. Good to see you again."
"Hi Sakura. Donít tell me itís been you moonlighting under a pseudonym?"
Sakura laughed. "No, I have no talent for your kind of work. Come on; letís introduce you to Jazmyn."
"Suits me," Rick said. "Iíve been trying to think of all the scenarios that might explain all this mystery. At last Iíll find out which was right."
"Iíll bet you didnít think of this one," Ken commented as they rounded the corner. "Rick, meet Jazmyn Fox."
Rick stopped as if he had hit a brick wall. "What? Is this a joke?"
"No joke," Ken assured him.
"Hello Rick," Jazmyn said. "Iím happy to meet you at last."
Rick looked her up and down, shaking his head in disbelief. "Thatís a heck of a costume. Who did the prosthetics? I canít tell where the seams are anywhere."
Jazmynís jaw dropped open in silent laughter, revealing her teeth and long tongue.
Ken said, "Rick, that is not a costume. What you are seeing is all real. Jazmyn is a fox woman, and that is why we couldnít tell anyone anything."
"No! Really? Thatís incredible! Where did she come from? How did you meet her?"
"Why donít you ask her instead," Ken said pointedly.
"Oh. UmmÖ yeah. Sorry, itís just a bit too much to absorb all at once."
Jazmyn said, "Itís okay. Letís sit down in the shade and Iíll answer your questions while Ken starts cooking the meat."
"Sounds like a plan," Rick said and followed Jazmyn, his eyes riveted on her digitigrade legs.
"So far, so good," Ken said to Sakura.
Sakura was frowning slightly though. "I dunno, Ken. Rickís vibe isnít right."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Iím not sure, but the moment that he realised that Jazmyn was really what she seemed to beÖ wellÖ just keep alert."
"Youíre imagining things, sis," Ken said as he started putting steaks and sausages onto the barbecue. "Heís just excited at meeting someone right out of a fantasy novel."
Sakura shrugged. "Maybe Iím imagining things, but Iíd rather be worried for Jazmynís sake."
"Yeah, me too."
By the time that the meat was ready, Jazmyn had covered most of the important points with Rick. They both came over to the barbecue to claim a steak and a couple of sausage when Ken called out to them, then they went to the picnic table for the rest of the food. When Rick had his plate loaded, he came over to Ken with a grin on his face.
"Youíve got yourself one heck of a find here, Ken," Rick said excitedly.
"I know. Thatís why I have been so discreet," Ken replied.
"Jazmyn could be the next big thing on the celebrity circuit. I can see them all now clamouring to be the first to sign her up. She would be rich and famous in no time!"
Ken frowned. "Rick, neither Jazmyn nor I intend to tell the world about her."
"What? You gotta be kidding me! How could you resist the opportunity? People are always looking for something new and exciting, and this has just fallen into your lap."
"I donít give a damn about that, and Jazmyn just wants to have as normal a life as possible."
"Normal? Whatís normal for a fox woman? Donít be such a stick in the mud. Go on out and enjoy the celebrity while you can."
"And how am I supposed to enjoy it? Iím not the unusual one Ė she is. Iím certainly not going to use her for my own benefit."
Rick threw up his hands as if to plead with him to see his way of thinking. "Then let me arrange some appearances for her."
"NO! Donít you get it? She does not want that. She has no interest in that. And even if she did, how long before the public gets tired of her and she becomes just a freak to bandy around? Or worse yet, the government gets involved. Rick, sheís from another universe, and technically that makes her an illegal alien in this country. Put that together with the fact that sheís not human, and you should see that she has absolutely no rights under any laws. A pet dog has more legal rights than her. Some government agency might decide that they wanted her, and she would have no recourse whatsoever. Youíre asking her to trade her quiet home life for a few hours of fame and a terribly uncertain future." By now Ken was practically shouting at Rick.
"OK! OK! Jeez, youíd think that she was your girlfriend or something, the way youíre so defensive of her."
Ken was rattled by that. "No, of course not! Jazmyn is my friend, no more. I promised to keep her safe, thatís all. I want you to swear to keep Jazmyn a secret. She only revealed herself to you on my assurance that you could be trusted."
"If thatís what you really want, then I swear. I still think youíre nuts though." He held out his hand.
Ken took his hand and shook it. "Thatís okay; youíre entitled to your opinion. Maybe one day circumstances may change, but for now weíre going to play it safe."
"Fine. Now let me get back to this steak before it gets completely cold."
"There are plenty more," Ken reassured him. "Girls, do you want more? Girls?" Ken looked about, but neither were in sight.
Sakura had noticed Jazmynís reactions to Ken and Rickís heated debate, and when the vixen had abruptly departed, she had followed her inside the cabin. There she found Jazmyn in her room, looking as if she was going to burst into tears.
"Jazmyn, whatís wrong?" Sakura asked with concern.
Startled by Sakuraís presence, Jazmyn took a few moments to get her words together. "Itís Ken and Rick Ė theyíre best friends, but theyíre arguing because of me."
"Is that all? Itís not the first time that theyíve ever argued. Theyíve always quickly ironed out their differences though and remained best friends. Is there anything else thatís bothering you?"
There was, but Jazmyn wasnít going to admit it. When Rick had accused Ken of treating her like a girlfriend, Ken had vehemently denied it. Of course she wasnít, but she still found that it upset her. She had never felt quite like this before, and it left her feeling confused and unhappy.
Sakura was too perceptive to be fooled however, and she sat beside the vixen to give her a comforting hug, then said, "This is all new to both of you, I know, and that can be frightening. Give it time, dear. When the time is right, things will work out."
Jazmyn leant her head against Sakuraís shoulder, taking comfort from that contact with her friend. "Thanks, Sakura."
A few minutes later, they walked back outside together.
"Whereíve you been?" asked Ken.
"Girl business," was all that Sakura would say.
Ken shrugged and offered them some meat, and soon everyone was feasting.
After everyoneís emotions had evened out again, the rest of the day proved to be very enjoyable for all. The warm summer afternoon was spent mostly sitting in deck chairs under a shady tree, with food and drink at their fingertips. Jazmyn was glad that they had taken Rick into their confidence. He turned out to be quite a raconteur, and had fascinated her with several of his tales, although Ken had to restrain him from embellishing them occasionally.
Eventually Rick said that he had to leave, and Jazmyn regretted that the day was coming to a close. Sakura left soon after, but she gave both Ken and Jazmyn a hug and a kiss farewell before departing.
"Well, what do you want to do with the rest of the evening, Jaz?" Ken asked as they walked back inside.
"Sakura left me a couple of movies. Want to watch one with me?"
"Normally Iíd be a little leery of Sakuraís tastes in movies, but if you want to watch one, Iíll join you."
"Good. Popcorn?" Jazmyn asked hopefully.
"Sure. Youíre not too full from the feasting this afternoon?"
"No, and Iíve gotten used to having popcorn while we watch movies, so Iíd want some anyway."
"Coming right up!" Ken declared.
"Iíll set up the DVD, but firstÖ" Jazmyn paused to pull off her top. "Iíve been dying to take that off. Itís just too darn warm!" Jazmyn noticed that Ken had paused to watch her as she divested herself of the offending clothing. Perhaps she wasnít his girlfriend, but she was enjoying his furtive glances anyway. She was not sure what this meant, but it felt good and she wanted it to continue.
When the popcorn was ready, they took their usual places on the sofa with the bowl of popcorn between them. When the title of the movie came up, Ken groaned and said, "I knew it! A chick flick!" But he stayed to watch it with her, which pleased her. And if his hand lingered on hers whenever they met in the popcorn bowl, then that made her happy too.
Jazmyn stepped back from the easel, nodding in satisfaction. This was her fifth attempt to paint the view from the lookout, but only the first that was really starting to work. The other four had been learning exercises in what not to do, and practising techniques. She looked out again into the valley, glorious in its autumn colours. A cool breeze blew up from below, but Jazmyn was perfectly comfortable in her T-shirt and shorts. She much preferred this weather over the discomfort of summer heat. She took a drink from her water bottle and then resumed her work.
Several minutes later, she was totally absorbed in her efforts once more, and oblivious to everything else. Thus it came as a shock to her when a young voice said, "Whatcha doiní?"
Jazmyn was so startled that she smeared paint over several centimetres of her canvas. Turning towards the voice, she saw a young girl of maybe five years of age, give or take. She was looking intently curious. For a moment Jazmyn panicked. What was this child doing here? She gaped at the girl, lost for words.
Just then it got worse. From around a bend in the path, she heard a voice. "Tina! Where are ya, brat? If you get lost, momíll killÖ meÖ." The young boy jolted to a halt, staring at the vixen.
"Uh-oh!" was all that Jazmyn could say.
Yesterday, as Jazmyn tended to her garden, she heard the sound of an unfamiliar vehicle coming up the track. She retreated as usual into the cabin, peering through the blinds to see what was coming. A U-Haul truck laboured its way along the rough road, bypassing the turn-off to the cabin, and then disappearing behind the trees once more. When the sound of its engine had faded into the distance, Jazmyn emerged from the cabin, her curiosity aroused. During the summer, there had been the occasional car coming up to look at the old saw mill, or start a hike on one of the nearby trails, but none had come up in a truck, nor come at all recently since the cool weather had set in. She would have to ask Ken to check it out when he got home.
A few hours later, the truck made its return journey. It seemed to Jazmyn that it was lighter on its suspension, indicating that it had unloaded something somewhere. Ken was already curious about it though when he got home as he had passed it on the way home, so when Jazmyn asked him to check it out, he left immediately. Jazmyn accompanied him, but was ready to duck out of sight if necessary. They drove all the way up to the saw mill where they spotted fresh tyre tracks leading up to the old residence there. Jazmyn hunkered down while Ken went up to the door and knocked, then called out when he got no response. Finally he told Jazmyn that it was safe to come out.
They prowled around the house, peering into dirty windows where they could. They spotted piles of boxes and furniture haphazardly placed in the rooms.
"It looks like somebody is moving into this place," Jazmyn said.
"Yeah," agreed Ken, "but who would want a ramshackle old dump like this? It badly needs repairs, has no electricity, and maybe even no water."
"Maybe somebody wants a holiday house?" Jazmyn speculated. "Perhaps theyíre doing it up just enough to be liveable while they go hiking?"
"Or hunting," Ken added. "Itís possible, but thatís an awful lot of furniture for a temporary residence."
"I suppose it wonít be long before we know the real answer. Iím guessing that the only reason the people arenít here right now is that itís too late to do much without power for lighting."
"Which means that itís quite likely that theyíll be here early tomorrow. That means that you will have to watch out a bit more from now on," Ken advised.
It was a pity that she had not taken Kenís advice more to heart. She had heard a car make its way past as she did her chores in the morning, but the old logging mill was far enough away for her not to be concerned. She reckoned that theyíd be far too busy unpacking for days. She had never even thought about the possibility of children.
There was a tug on her shorts, and Jazmyn looked down at the little girl who must be Tina.
"Whatcha doiní?" Tina repeated.
For lack of a better course of action, Jazmyn replied, "Iím painting a picture of the valley."
"Youíre good!" Tina pronounced.
Jazmyn smiled. "Thank you, Tina."
Apparently Jazmynís rather toothy smile had shaken the boy, and he unfroze and said urgently, "Tina! Come here to me! Get away from that thing!"
Tina ignored her brother and patted Jazmynís tail. "Your fur is soft," she said.
"I wash and brush it a lot, just like your hair," Jazmyn said, starting to like the innocent child.
"Tina! Come on! You donít know what that creature will do," the boy urged again.
Jazmyn asked the girl, "Whatís your brotherís name, Tina?"
"Maffyoo," she replied.
"Maffyoo? Oh, you mean Matthew."
Jazmyn turned to Matthew and said, "First, Iím not a creature; Iím a person. Second, Iím not going to hurt either your sister or you, so please donít be afraid, Matthew."
"Yeah?" Matthew said suspiciously. "Why should I trust you?"
"Why shouldnít you? You found me painting, not hunting for prey. Does that sound dangerous to you?"
Matthew looked uncertain. "I dunno. Why does a werewolf paint anyway?"
"Werewolf? Do I look like a wolf? Iím a vulpeen, a fox-woman if you like, and thereís nothing fantastic about me. Where Iím from, Iím quite normal, and we paint if we want to, just like humans do."
"Whereíre you from?" asked Matthew, intrigued despite his fears.
"Another world, actually," Jazmyn replied.
"Youíre an alien?" Matthew asked sceptically.
"Not that kind. A parallel world Ė another universe, I mean."
"Oh! Like Star Trek?"
Fortunately Ken had exposed Jazmyn to the series. "Yes, like out of one of those episodes."
Suddenly Matthewís demeanour changed completely. "Wow! Thatís so cool! Howíd you get here?" he asked excitedly.
Jazmyn was quite happy to give him that answer and many more, as long as it allayed his fears and made the children her friends, and not her Ďpreyí. Jazmyn sat on a fallen tree trunk while she talked, and Tina kept petting her fur, apparently fascinated with the vixenís pelt.
Eventually Jazmyn got a chance to enquire about the children. "So, what are you two doing here by yourselves? And why was your sister alone on this dangerous cliff-side track?"
Matthew looked shamefaced. "I was supposed to be watching Tina, but I saw a squirrel. I thought that she was looking at it too, but when I turned around, she was gone. Momíll have a fit if she finds out. You wonít tell her, will you?" he asked earnestly.
"Tell you what Ė I wonít tell your mother about this if you promise not to tell anyone else about me. This will be our secret."
"Deal!" Matthew spat on his hand and held it out. Jazmyn caught on and did likewise, and they shook hands.
"Now fill me in on why youíre here," Jazmyn told Matthew.
"Mom moved us into the dump up the road. Sheís trying to clean it up, and she told us to get out from under her feet and play outside. She told us to stay out of the saw mill, but she didnít say anything about the hiking trails."
"As you can see for yourself, some of these trails can be dangerous. You should take Tina home and play near the house. Maybe you can even help your mother by cleaning up the yard."
"Why should I? I didnít want to move here."
"So why did you move here?"
"We got chucked out of our old place. Mom says that this is all we can afford."
"Thatís awful," Jazmyn said sympathetically.
"Yeah, this place is gross! Thereíre spiders this big in my room," Matthew said, indicating the size with his hands.
"Hee! Iíve seen a few of those. I like spiders Ė they eat the bad bugs."
"Not in my room!" Matthew insisted.
"OK, not in your room," Jazmyn agreed.
"Besides, the lights donít work and the toilet is outside!"
"Sounds like youíre going to have to put in a lot of hard work to make it liveable. Anyway, I think youíd better go back now. Your mother could find out that youíre missing and start worrying about you."
Matthew looked alarmed when he realised how long he had been talking with the vixen. "Oh boy! Weíd better hurry. See you later, Jazmyn. Come on, Tina!" He took the girlís hand and dragged her reluctantly away. They quickly disappeared back up the trail.
Jazmyn watched them depart, then started packing up her art gear. Hastily she carried everything back to the cabin.
Ken looked up from the shelf unit that he was building. "I thought that you intended to spend all afternoon on your painting?"
"I did, but something came up." Jazmyn told him what had happened, and Ken was alarmed despite her reassurances.
"Maybe I should go meet this lady and make her feel welcome. She could probably use some help, and besides if she does find out about you, she might be more inclined to be sympathetic."
"I would like to make them feel welcome anyway. How about you taking a load of vegetables up to them?" Jazmynís garden had been extremely productive, and they had far more than they needed stored away.
"Thatís a good idea. You start hauling those out and put them in my pickup. Iím going to grab a few things from the shed.
Even after giving away a large amount of the produce, Ken had still needed to build a cool store for the remainder of the crops. Jazmyn went inside and selected a range of food to give away. She stacked them in boxes and loaded them into Kenís vehicle. Meanwhile Ken grabbed his toolkit and several items from the lock-up shed.
"OK, thisíll do for now," Ken declared. He climbed into the cab of the pickup, saying, "I might be a while. From what the kids said, they might need a few things attended to immediately."
Jazmyn nodded. "Do what you can. Theyíre nice kids, and they deserve better."
It wasnít a very long drive to the old saw mill. Ken spotted the children as soon as he turned into the yard, and they came over to see the newcomer.
"Whoíre you?" Matthew asked a little suspiciously.
"My name is Ken. Iím Jazmynís friend."
Matthew thawed immediately. "Oh! Hi Ken! Have you come to see my mom?"
"Yep. I brought along a few things that you could use. Wanna help me carry the vegetables inside?"
"OK." Matt grabbed a handful of vegetables, and Ken let Matthew lead him to the front door. "Mom!" Matthew yelled as he entered. "You got a visitor!"
Moments later, a woman just a few years older than Ken emerged from one of the rooms. She was shorter than Ken or Jazmyn, and she had blond hair tied back into a ponytail. Her face would have been pretty if not for the grime and weariness etched onto her visage. She wore jeans and a sweater, both filthy from trying to clean up decades of neglect. Her eyes locked onto Ken and widened in surprise.
"Hello, Iím Ken Morita, your neighbour from the cabin down the road. I noticed you moving in and thought that Iíd give you something to welcome you to the neighbourhood." He held up the box of produce.
The woman had been eyeing the box and the small bag of potatoes that her son was holding. "Thank you, Mr Morita. Thatís a generous and welcome gift. Just put them on the table for now. My name is Elizabeth Mackenzie, and thatís my son, Matthew, and the quiet little girl is Tina."
"Iím happy to meet you all. What brings you up here, especially as this house must be scarcely liveable?"
Elizabeth visibly sagged. "Letís just say that it was my best option."
Ken nodded. "I see. This option doesnít come with power or running water, does it?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, it doesnít, but itís still better than the alternative."
"Well, letís see what we can do about remedying that situation, shall we? When I moved up here, I didnít have power either, so I bought a generator. I just happened to pack it into the back of my pickup, and I have leads and power boards to go with it."
Elizabeth smirked. "Just happened, hey?"
Ken grinned widely. "Well, it was either that or bake a cake, and I think youíll get more use out of this."
Elizabeth nodded. "This house has only rudimentary wiring though," she pointed out.
"Yeah," agreed Ken. "In fact I wouldnít trust it, so weíll just set you up with a couple of lamps for now. If you could ask Matthew to run the cords to the rooms where you most need the power, Iíll get the generator set up."
"Right. Matt, please help Mr Morita."
Ken found a suitable spot that wasnít too close to the house, and he set up the generator after giving Matthew the longest heavy-duty cord to unwind into the house. They then connected a power board and ran shorter leads to various rooms and set up lamps. Then he went back outside and started the generator. Light came from several windows and Elizabeth came out with a smile on her face.
"Thatís so much better, thank you. Is the generator hard to start? I saw that it took you several tries."
"No, not really. I just havenít used it in a long time, so it just needed a bit of coaxing. It should start quickly from now on. Just a word of caution Ė although this is a heavy-duty generator, you shouldnít use it for electric kettles or heaters because that would put too much load on it. Stick to a few lamps and tools and youíll be fine."
"Right, Iíll remember that."
"Now whereís your water pump?" Ken asked.
"There are two. One is a hand-pump, but the other is over in the mill and it was operated by the machinery there, so it doesnít work."
"Whereís the hand-pump?"
"In the kitchen."
"Letís have a look at it then."
After inspecting it, Ken was amazed that it was working at all. "Whatís the water like?" he asked as he gave it a few experimental pumps.
"It was terrible at first, but after a while it cleared up," Elizabeth replied.
"Years of rust build-up, I presume. Still, we might be able to use the existing bore to run an electric pump."
"Except that I canít afford one," Elizabeth pointed out. "Youíre not going to tell me that you have one of those in the back of the truck also?"
Ken grinned. "No, but I know who to call to get one quickly. Leave it to me."
Elizabeth put her hand on his arm as if to curb his enthusiasm. "Mr MoritaÖ" she began.
"Ken," he insisted with a smile.
"KenÖ why are you doing all of this?"
Ken put on his serious face. "Honestly, I really do like fixing things up. My sister used to call me Mr Fixit when I was a teen. Still does, actually. My cabin wasnít in much better condition when I bought it, but it was solidly built, so a bit of TLC has made it into a very nice home. Secondly, anyone who willingly moves into this place really needs the help. And thirdly, one of these days you might be able to do me a favour or something in return when I really need it. And just to be perfectly clear, no, that wasnít a pick-up line. Itíll be nice to have a neighbour whom I can rely on in a pinch."
"All I can do for now is thank you again, Ken."
"Not a problem, Elizabeth."
"You can call me Liz if you like. Only my mother ever used my full name."
"Liz. I like that. Well, Iíd better go now, but I should be back tomorrow sometime with that pump." Ken turned for the door.
"Just one other thing, Ken," Elizabeth said.
ĎHere it comes," Ken thought with some trepidation. "Yes?"
"Do you keep wild animals?"
Ken made a puzzled frown. "No. Why do you ask?"
Elizabeth looked uncertain. "Itís something that Tina said. She told me she petted a Ďfoxyí. I was worried that she might have been fooling around with some animal of yours."
"Ah! I know what you mean now," Ken said as if enlightened. He had been rehearsing some speeches in case the girl had said something. She was too young to properly understand a secret yet. "Yes, thereís a female fox, but sheís not wild. Sheís about as friendly a vixen as you will ever meet. Believe me, Tina was safer than if she was trying to pet a strange dog. She likes having her fur stroked. Sheís a very unusual fox though, and perhaps one day you may see her for yourself and youíll understand how different, but if you do, you wonít have to worry about her harming you."
"Thatís reassuring," admitted Elizabeth.
"Iíd better keep going. Have a good evening, Liz," Ken said.
"You too, Ken. Goodbye."
Elizabeth saw him to the door, but as he walked to his car, Matthew followed him. Ken stopped at the car and looked at the boy. "Thanks for your help, Matt."
"Thatís okay. You lied to Mom though," Matthew accused.
"Oh? How so?" Ken enquired.
"About Jazmyn," Matthew pointed out.
Ken smiled. "No I didnít. Everything that I said about Jazmyn was the absolute truth. I just didnít tell your mother that sheís a two-legged fox woman, and not a four-legged animal."
Matthew grinned. "Yeah, youíre right. What happens if Mom ever sees her though?"
"I hope that we will have earned your motherís trust by then. In the meantime, just be careful, OK?"
"I promised her!" Matthew reminded him.
"You did indeed. See you tomorrow, Matt."
Ken drove back to his cabin, satisfied with the results of his visit. Jazmyn met him at the carport, eager for the news.
"Well?" she asked.
"I havenít dug too deep as yet because itís too soon, but it seems like a single mother and her two children. Her name is Elizabeth Mackenzie Ė she said to just call her Liz Ė and it looks like she has fallen on hard times and that place is her last resort."
"Is it even liveable?" Jazmyn asked.
"Itís better than nothing, but not by much. The whole place needs a huge amount of work, especially the wiring and water. Iíll be getting them a pump tomorrow."
Jazmyn grinned. "I recognise that look in your eyes. Youíve found yourself a new project!"
Ken returned the grin. "I canít help myself. Ever since we finished the extension, Iíve been pottering around, like with that shelf unit Iím making. That old house will be just like when I was restoring this cabin."
"But a much larger project. If I can help you at all, tell me," Jazmyn insisted.
"There are sure to be many little things that I can leave with you if you wish. Iíll concentrate on the big stuff. Iíve laid the groundwork for getting Liz prepared to meet you. If sheís going to be there for the long term, itís too much to hope that sheís never going to see you, so we might as well prepare for the eventuality."
Jazmyn nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I agree. Letís hope our luck holds."
Ken agreed fervently.
Installing the electric pump didnít go quite as easily as Ken had hoped, but eventually he had it hooked up and running. For the time, they would still need a hose or bucket to get water to rooms other than the kitchen, but Elizabeth was still extremely grateful.
As he cleaned up, Ken decided to take advantage of the good will and asked, "So, what forced you to come here? This place might be a good fixer-upper, but not while trying to live in it with two young children."
Elizabeth sighed. "Youíll find out sooner or later, I reckon. I suppose that itís obviously desperation. My husband left me a few months back, and shortly after came the divorce papers. I got the house, but also a big mortgage to keep paying off. Then the economy took a dive and I was laid off, and I havenít been able to get more than temp work ever since. I couldnít pay the mortgage, so the bank foreclosed and practically threw us out into the streets. The choice was being homeless or this place. I had been up here years ago to do a bit of hiking with my former husband, so I knew of the abandoned mill and the residence here, so I looked into it and found that it was still untenanted and moved in straight away."
"What about going to your family though?" queried Ken.
"That would be an obvious course of action, wouldnít it? Except Carlo was an Italian immigrant, and all his family are over there, and I havenít been on speaking terms with my parents since I left home years ago and moved to the other side of the country to get away from them, and incidentally from my other close relatives. Really burned my bridges there!"
"Iím sorry to hear that, but things could be even worse, I suppose. Donít worry Ė weíll make sure that you wonít be too badly off staying here. Youíve done wonders already."
"With a good water supply, I can clean a lot better also."
"True. Anyway, if you need something urgently, donít hesitate to come by and ask, or send Matt over for the proverbial cup of sugar."
"Thanks, Iíll do that. Anyway, Iíd better get started on a meal. Cooking on a wood stove requires a little more planning ahead."
Ken laughed. "I suppose it would. However, thereís one thing that you wonít have to cook." He held out a box that Jazmyn had given him before coming here.
Elizabeth took the box and opened it. She smiled when she saw its contents. "The traditional welcome cake! Donít tell me that you also baked this?"
"Oh no, Iím not the cook. My friend, Jazmyn, baked it for you last night."
"That was kind of her. Please give Jasmine my thanks."
"Iíll do that. And now I had better go. Iíve got a few things to do back home before I can stop for dinner."
"Goodbye, Ken. Iím happy that I got you for a neighbour."
Back at the cabin, Ken passed on Elizabethís thanks and explained what he had learned of them.
"They were lucky that they had that place to move into then," Jazmyn commented. "How many liveable places are abandoned?"
"Thatís a good question, Jaz. It doesnít seem to me that Elizabeth would have the money to purchase that property, even as run-down as it is, and somebody still has to own it. I think Iíll look into that on Monday. Right now though, Iím going to finish off that shelf unit and then quit for dinner."
The next morning, shortly after Ken had departed for work, Jazmyn heard another motor vehicle. Peering through the blinds, she glimpsed the car as it passed by their driveway. She thought that she saw Matt sitting in the passenger seat, and she guessed that Elizabeth was taking him to school. Probably Tina was with them Ė she doubted that the child would be left alone.
Elizabeth didnít make the return trip until after lunch, and Jazmyn could only speculate about what she had done in the meantime. When Ken came home, she told him of her movements.
"It could be that temp work that she mentioned, or perhaps searching for a job. She certainly needs the money. I did look into the property title today and, as I guessed, sheís a squatter. Nothing has been done with that property since the mill was abandoned after it became uncommercial, and since itís very unlikely that theyíll allow commercial logging in this area again, the place is virtually a write-off."
"What would happen if the legal owners ever found out about her and the children though?" asked Jazmyn.
"Good question. Itís a bit of a legal grey area. However, I did have an idea. This cabin came with a good chunk of land, and my property directly abuts the sawmill. It wouldnít seem too strange if I wanted to extend my holdings, would it?"
"Youíre going to buy the old house?" Jazmyn asked with surprise.
"A bit of a drastic measure, I admit, but one that I had considered before we met. I wanted to ensure that my country retreat remained unspoilt. Iíve just been saving my money towards that goal in the meantime. Of course that property is a tad more expensive than the tracts of forest that I had intended to purchase first, but the mill has a sizeable chunk of that too."
"So what would you do if you bought the place? How will Elizabeth and the children stand?"
"Well, as their landlord, Iíd have to charge them rent, I supposeÖ"
"What?! Are you kidding me?" Jazmyn exclaimed, her arms akimbo, ready to challenge him.
"Whoa! Calm down!" Ken said with a grin. "I was thinking of a dollar a month, just for a legal technicality, and the rest paid off in restoration work that she is doing already."
"Oh! I see now. Sneaky! She gets a chance to recover financially while she doesnít have a large mortgage or rent hanging over her head, while you get the value of the property gradually improved. Everybody wins!"
"Now youíve got it," Ken replied.
"How long would it take?"
"If we can settle on a fair price quickly, just a few days."
"Then go ahead and do it," Jazmyn told him.
"Yes, boss!" Ken said, still grinning.
Jazmynís ears pinked and folded back with the blush that she could not otherwise show. She had not meant to sound so bossy.
On Wednesday, Elizabeth pulled into their driveway instead of proceeding home as she had the past two days. As soon as she realised that Elizabeth was going to pay them a visit, Jazmyn retreated to her room. Ken opened the front door just as the car pulled up in front.
Elizabeth got out of the car and said, "Hello, Ken. I saw your car was here and I wanted to ask you something, if itís convenient."
"Sure. I work from home on Wednesdays, but I can spare a few minutes."
"Oh? What sort of work do you do?"
"I write computer software. I can either bring my work home on a portable drive, or I can link to my office directly."
"Link? Do you actually have the internet out here?" she asked incredulously.
"Sure do! Couldnít live without it!" Ken said with a grin.
"Could you do me a big favour? You know how school is nowadays the students often need to use the internet for their homework. Matt used to go to the neighbourís house for that, but now he canít unless you would be willing to let him use yours a couple of times a week?"
"As long as he comes over at a reasonable time, that shouldnít be a problem at all," Ken reassured her.
"Thatís wonderful, thanks. Iíve been worried that Matt would be missing out. Could he come around after school today?"
"OK. Iíll even have something set up for him when he gets here."
"Youíre a life-saver, Ken. I donít know what I would have done without you."
Ken shrugged modestly. "I like helping. Anyway, is that all that you wanted to ask me about?"
Elizabeth blinked. "What? Oh! No, I needed to ask you about fuel for the generator. Weíve tried to be sparing in its use, but it will still run out sometime tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, I forgot that I needed to get more fuel. Iíll pick up a drum on the way home tomorrow. That should be well before sunset in case you run out before I arrive."
"Thanks again, Ken. Well, I wonít keep you from your work any longer. Good afternoon!"
"Good afternoon to you too, Liz."
Matt turned up promptly after his mother picked him up from school, apparently excited at getting to use the internet again. "Hi Ken!" he said as he was let inside. "Hi Jazmyn!" he added as he saw the vixen working on her laptop.
"Hello Matt," Jazmyn replied. "Ken tells me that you need to do some homework on the internet."
"Yeah, I thought that Iíd haveta do it at school somehow, thisís heaps better."
"Well, you get to use my laptop today," Jazmyn said as she switched accounts, "but weíll have a basic computer set up for your needs in future. Ken just has to fetch some parts home tomorrow."
"Okay by me," Matt said, taking the seat that Jazmyn vacated.
"Oh, and one other thing," Jazmyn added. "Work first, then play. Understand?"
Matt looked as if he was going to protest that that was what he was going to do, but thought better of it when he saw the look in the vixenís eyes. "Yes, Jazmyn," he replied.
From then on, Matt came over about three times a week, sometimes for only half an hour, sometimes much longer. Occasionally, with his motherís permission, he stayed afterwards to play a video game with them. Jazmyn often gave him something to take home with him, ranging from baked goods to casseroles. No one ever brought up the subject of payment for anything, but Elizabethís gratitude was palpable.
The week after the family had moved in, Ken had found the owner of the property, made an offer, and signed the papers. Ken was much happier once he legally owned the property. He could now make further major improvements to it without having to worry about the legality of it. The first thing that he did was to contact an electrical contractor about extending the power supply from his property to the sawmill. Next he booked a plumber to come and give him a quote on putting in piping and fixtures. He arranged for both of them to come on Saturday while he was there at the residence doing fixit jobs. Elizabeth had very conveniently had to go out and do some temp work, and had been grateful when Ken said that he and Jazmyn would keep an eye on the kids. They were able to get all the assessments done before she returned, so Ken planned to surprise her with the news later.
Jazmyn had been happy to look after Tina. The young girl was fascinated by the fox woman and liked to play with her. Matt liked to help Ken, so the two were kept amused and out of trouble. Jazmyn slipped away unnoticed when she heard Elizabeth returning. When the young mother came inside, she found her children at the kitchen table, eating sandwiches.
"You just missed Jazmyn," Ken told Elizabeth. "She made the kids something to eat, then left for home."
"I didnít see a car," Elizabeth pointed out.
"She likes to walk back to the cabin by one of the hiking trails," Ken explained.
"I see. I keep just missing her, donít I? Itís funny Ė Jazmyn is the first person that my children met, and yet I have consistently failed to do so." She saw her son grinning. "And something tells me that thereís a private little joke going on. If it wasnít for Tina, Iíd say that you were making her up!"
Ken affected an air of innocence. "Perhaps thereís something going on, perhaps not. I assure you though that sheís real, and itís certainly not me doing the cooking. Youíll meet her soon enough. In fact sheís eager to meet you also. Sheís planning to throw a welcoming dinner after things have settled down a bit more."
"Yes, that would be nice. We certainly canít keep just missing each other all the time," Elizabeth said confidently.
But Ďjust missingí was exactly what happened for the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile the electrical contractor started work installing the power cable down the track. The plumber beat him to the house though. The morning that he was due to do so, Ken went to the house before heading off to work. He knew that Elizabeth would already be up and getting Matt ready for school. He knocked on the front door and Elizabeth quickly answered.
"Hello Ken. I wasnít expecting you today. Whatís up?"
"I thought that Iíd better forewarn you that a plumber is going to be here later this morning to start work on putting a new pipe system into the house."
Elizabeth was surprised. "A whole new plumbing system? But I canít afford that!"
Before she could go any further, Ken put up a hand to forestall her words, then added, "And you may have noticed a work van between your place and mine in the past few days. Heís an electrician, and heís bringing power to the house also. Once he has the power box installed, heíll be replacing the wiring in the house, so if you have any particular requirements that you havenít mentioned before, it might be a good idea to make notes of them so that he can do them also."
A look of panic began to creep into Elizabethís expression. "I canítÖ I meanÖ" She paused and took a deep breath, then it let it out with a sigh. "I suppose that it was too much to hope that nothing would go wrong. IÖ donít exactly own this place. I donít even pay rent. You canít let those people do all that work to somebody elseís property."
"Oh, I donít think that the owner will mind," Ken reassured her.
"But how can you be sure? And the expense! This is going to cost a fortune, and I sure canít afford it. This is a ridiculously large amount of money to spend on somebodyÖ elseísÖ." Her voice trailed off as realisation set in. "YouÖ youíre the owner, arenít you?"
Ken smiled broadly and nodded.
"Oh God! I feel like such an idiot!" Elizabeth said as she hid her face in her hands. "I thought that nobody would even remember this place any more, but of course youíre just down the road a bit. It never occurred to me that this was your property also."
Ken patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "To be honest, it wasnít always mine, but I had been intending to invest in a bit more property. Iíve just moved my plans up a bit. Seemed like as good a time as any."
"I suppose that youíre going to want rent money now? Iím barely earning enough for expenses at the moment. Thatís why I had to come here where I thought that I would not have to worry about rent or mortgage payments."
"Firstly, Liz, I want you to stop worrying about rent. Until such time as you get a full-time job and can afford it, you can live here rent-free. As long as you keep improving the place, Iíll take that as payment in lieu. This place is an investment for me, so getting it up to a good standard is in my best interests. Also, while youíre living here, I donít have to worry about the possibility of less congenial neighbours moving in, so weíre all getting something from this."
Elizabeth looked at him in wonder at his benevolence. Suddenly she stepped forward and hugged him hard, tears from strong emotions rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, thank you! Thank you, Ken! I couldnít have dreamed of a better outcome. Why have you been so good to me?"
"Because you and your kids are good folks and deserve better. I like to help you out, thatís all. Sometimes good things do happen to good people. But now, as much as I appreciate the hug, I need to leave for work. Youíll be alright with the plumber?"
"Yes, sure. Iíll even be his helper if it gets me running water and a shower more quickly."
Ken grinned. "Iím sure that heíll work as fast as he can. He did my cabin, so I know heís good. Anyhow, have a great day, Liz."
"I already am, Ken," she said as she waved him goodbye.
From the concealment of some nearby bushes, Jazmyn had watched and listened to the exchange with satisfaction. She had been surprised though when Elizabeth had given Ken the hug, and she experienced a strange twinge of emotion at the sight.
"Itís time that we met," Jazmyn told Ken when he got home from work.
"Are you sure, Jaz?" Ken asked.
"I doubt that Elizabethís good will could possibly get better than it is now, and sheís surely getting suspicious about always missing me, so Iíd like to arrange a dinner for tomorrow night."
"OK. Iíll just pop over to their house and see if that suits Liz."
Elizabeth was happy to accept the invitation, and Jazmyn went to special efforts to make a fancy meal. The time came and Elizabeth and the children duly arrived for dinner. Ken invited them all inside.
"Mmm! Something smells really good," Elizabeth said.
"Jazmynís been cooking up a storm," Ken explained.
"Where is she then?" Elizabeth said, looking around.
"Getting her best dress on, I think. Jazmyn! Come on out and meet Elizabeth!" Ken called out.
Matthew stood there watching in anticipation, an irrepressible grin on his face. The door to Jazmynís room opened and she stepped out in her best skirt and top, smiling gently, careful not to bare her teeth.
"Liz, Iíd like you to meet Jazmyn Fox," Ken said, watching Elizabethís face for her reaction. She had frozen to the spot the moment that she realised what she was looking at.
Jazmyn walked over to the woman and said, "Iím pleased to finally meet you, Elizabeth." The woman just continued to stare at her, speechless. Jazmyn continued, "Itís okay, Elizabeth. I know that I must look strange to you, but Iím really just a normal person even though Iím a fox woman. Thereís no need to be concerned." She reached out to touch Elizabethís arm, and the woman flinched away.
"Aw, Mom! Itís okay! Jazmyn is a nice fox girl," Matt insisted.
Elizabeth looked at her son. "You knew of this all the time?"
"Of course! Sheís supposed to be a secret, so I didnít tell you, but sheís just like any other grown-up. Sheís even been helping me with my homework. Tina loves playing with her tail too."
"So thatís Tinaís fox!" She looked at Jazmyn and asked, "What are you?"
"I am a vulpeen Ė a fox woman if you like, and the rest is a very long story which I will be happy to tell you over dinner. Are you going to be okay with that?"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and said, "Iím talking to a fox and she wants to know if itís okay. No, Iím not okay. I donít like it that Iíve been fooled all this time either."
"Iím sorry, Liz," Ken interjected, "but our reasons were good, and we wanted to give you the chance to settle in before we hit you with this."
"Hit me is right. My children have been in the care of some strange creature all those times. How could they know that sheís safe?"
"How could they know anyone is safe? They discovered her, not the other way around. They made friends with her immediately despite her strangeness because Jazmyn is a person, just like us, but of another species is all."
"I still want to know more before Iíll be satisfied," Elizabeth insisted.
"Thatís why youíre here today," Jazmyn replied. "Please, wonít you take a seat at the table? The food is ready to serve, and we can answer all your questions as we eat."
Elizabeth nodded, not conceding anything as yet, but willing to listen. Ken showed her to her place at the end of the table, her children seated at either side. Ken helped Jazmyn serve up the roast beef and potatoes with plenty of gravy, plus sautéed green beans. Jazmyn sat next to Tina, and Ken opposite to Elizabeth.
The meal was a little tense at first, but as Jazmyn explained her origins and subsequent life, Elizabeth began to thaw out. By the time that dessert was served, she was intrigued despite herself. When the meal was finished, Elizabeth said, "Now itís apparent why you were so eager to come help me. You wanted to put me in your debt and get me to shut up about Jazmyn."
Ken said earnestly, "Liz, I admit that I wasnít totally altruistic, but believe me, I still would have helped you. I wasnít lying when I told you that I like to help out and fix things, and I do like your children. However, there was too much at stake to just leave things totally to chance, so I thought it would be best to have your good will. I hope that I still do?"
Elizabeth thought for a while then came to a decision. "I suppose that I canít fault you for wanting to take care of Jazmyn. I could only wish that my former husband cared half as much about me and the children. Your secret will be safe with me."
"With us!" Matthew piped up.
Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, with us. And now itís best that we get going. I have a lot to absorb tonight."
"Thanks for coming, Liz," Ken said.
"Please drop around again soon," Jazmyn added.
Elizabeth gave her a lopsided smile. "Yes, I believe that I will do that."
She herded her children out to the car after extracting Tina from Jazmynís tail with a bit of difficulty. The kids waved goodbye as the car pulled away, and Ken heaved a sigh of relief.
"Well, that could have gone a lot worse," he said.
"Perhaps," replied Jazmyn, "but I get the feeling that she will rebound from this just as she has from all the other things that have happened to her lately. I think that itíll all work out well once she has gotten used to the idea of having a vulpeen for a neighbour."
"I think that it helped that the kids like you so much," Ken added.
"And I like them. I think it shows, and thatís why Liz felt that it was okay. You noticed that she didnít stop Matt from coming here, nor scold Tina for petting my tail. Whether she realises it or not, I think sheís already decided that Iím not a threat, so itís just a matter of getting to be real friends now."
"If anyone can do it, you can," Ken said confidently.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Jazmyn said. "Right now though, letís clean up so that we can relax in front of the TV. Itís been a heck of a day!"
Jazmyn and Ken were seated on the porch, watching the Indian Summer storm. The warm weather had resurged for a few days, but the forecast said that this storm heralded the onset of some much colder weather, so they were enjoying it while they could.
Ken broke the silence. "Youíve been here over half a year now, Jazmyn. Are you happy here?"
Jazmyn was a little puzzled. "Of course I am. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, just feeling a little melancholy. You know that storm-watching makes me introspective. I was wondering if youíre feeling confined at all. Are there things that you had planned to do, but now canít?"
"Back where I came from, I had no plans that didnít involve my Companion, so thereís nothing from back there that I yearn to do here. As for any new goals that I have made here, once the hikers stop coming up, I want to do some more exploring."
"Heh! You donít want to bump into someone like almost happened last week," Ken said with a knowing grin.
"No, but Iím still glad that I took the opportunity to do that hike."
"It added a bit of spice to the day though. Iím just glad that all they glimpsed was your tail."
"Iíve been rehearsing a speech, just in case," Jazmyn said.
"It canít hurt," admitted Ken. "Anyway, have you got any other goals for the next half year?"
"Well, you already know that I want to do that summit hike, but aside from that, Iíd like to see more of the country. Iím not sure how Iíd be able to do that though."
"Funny that you should mention that. Now that the days are getting shorter, I thought that I might take you for a drive around under the cover of darkness. You wouldnít be able to leave the car, but you could still see a few of the sights, if you want to risk it. We could even go to a drive-in movie sometime."
"Are you sure that people wonít notice me?" Jazmyn asked. The idea sounded exciting, but she wasnít going to take needless risks.
"The windows are tinted, so itís hard to see anything inside in the dark. You could also wear a hoodie to help disguise your muzzle and ears."
"Sounds uncomfortable, but letís do it! I know another thing that we can do also."
"Letís visit your sister sometime. Sakura invited me to come over one day if I could find a way."
Ken grinned. "Sakura has been nagging me to come over too. I wonder if sheís been setting this up?"
"Who cares? Letís ask her when she would like us to visit."
And so began a new lease on freedom for Jazmyn. They went to Sakuraís place for dinner the next weekend, and a couple of weeks later, the vixen went to her first ever drive-in movie. They parked in the least occupied area, and nobody disturbed them. She also got a passing familiarity with the nearest townships, including the one where Ken worked. He was able to point out his place of business the first time that they went through the town. On a later visit, when they had gotten a bit more daring, Ken took her inside the office to show her around while nobody else was there.
It was late October when Sakura was visiting again, and she came up with the most daring idea yet.
"Itís almost Halloween," Sakura told Jazmyn. "Did you celebrate that back on your world?"
"No. I hadnít even heard of it until I came here."
"Well I donít know how much youíve learned about it, but the important part is that people get dressed up in all sorts of costumes. I think that this year we can show off the incredibly realistic fox costume. What do you think?"
"Are you sure? I mean, it sounds awfully risky. Wonít people realise that I am the real thing and not just a costume?"
"Not a chance, dear. People will be expecting to see a costume, and thatís what theyíll perceive. Remember how Rick reacted when he first saw you, and we werenít even trying to fool him. We can even put on a few touches to make your pelt look more like a costume."
"What about my legs?" Jazmyn pointed out. "Thereís no way that they can be mistaken for a costume."
"Oh, I donít expect you to be walking around. You could wave to people from the car, or even answer the door for trick-or-treaters. I know! I can put up a sign outside the front of my house announcing that they are entering the foxís lair, and another sign on the door saying, ĎBeware of the fox-woman!í The kids will love it!"
Jazmyn grinned. "That sounds like fun. It would be nice to be out in the open again, even if itís just for one day."
When Ken returned, they informed him of their intentions.
"Are you both nuts?" he asked incredulously. "Thatís so risky, itís not funny! It doesnít matter if 99% of the people are fooled; itís the 1% that Iím worried about."
"Ken, youíre exaggerating the risk," Sakura said. "People donít see the truth, even when you rub their noses in it. Jazmyn will be perfectly safe."
Ken was going to argue further, but he was cut short by Jazmyn putting her hand on his arm. "Please Ken, I really want to do this. I believe Sakura when she assures me that everything will be okay."
Ken hesitated, then deflated. "Alright, Jazmyn, if thatís what you really wish to do, I donít have the right to stop you. However, Iím going to be with you every moment, just in case things go wrong."
"I wouldnít have it any other way," Jazmyn assured him.
Halloween came, and Ken drove them downtown. He had hired a costume for himself also. At first he considered getting an animal costume as part of a theme, but not only would the head-piece make it impossible to do much, such as driving, but the fakeness in contrast with Jazmynís realism might have focused more attention on the vixen. Instead he chose a pirate outfit, complete with a fake beard and an eyepatch. He was practically unrecognisable in full regalia, which suited him fine. That way no one would associate him with the fox woman later. They drove to Sakuraís place first where they transferred to her car. Unlike his pick-up, it had more than two seats which they needed for the three of them. Sakura had dressed up like Xena the Warrior Princess for the day. Of course she drove, and they put Jazmyn in the front passenger seat while Ken rode behind her. They headed out of the quiet suburban street and into town. There they cruised the main streets, looking out for other people dressed in costume. Ken brandished his fake cutlass and called out piratical sayings, while Jazmyn waved to various children more hesitantly. They had a tub of treats each, and they threw them to any children who responded. It wasnít long before they had to stop at some traffic lights, and a small group of children, herded by a couple of adults, came over the crosswalk.
One young girl stopped and stared at Jazmyn, then turned to one of the adults and said, "Mommy! Look! A fox lady! A real fox lady!"
Her mother smiled indulgently. "You can say hello to the nice lady if you want, Michelle. Be quick though!"
Michelle ran up to Jazmyn and said, "Can I pat your fur?"
Jazmyn smiled, careful not to show her teeth. "Of course you can."
Michelle patted the arm that Jazmyn held out. "Ooh! You have nice fur."
"Thank you. Hereís a little treat for saying so," Jazmyn said as she handed over a bag of sweets.
"Thanks, nice fox lady!" Michelle said as she hastened back to her mother before the lights changed.
As they drove off, Jazmyn said, "That little girl knew that I was real, and yet her mother never thought so even when her child told her so!"
Sakura replied, "Didnít I tell you? Grown-ups see what they expect to see, and they expect to see a costume. Young kids arenít that cynical though; they see things in a straightforward manner. Now that mother might try to convince her daughter that you are just a fake because she thinks that she knows better."
"So the treat was for the girl, but the trick for the mother?" Jazmyn laughed. "I love it!"
"Donít mind me," Ken said. "I was just having a heart attack. I was sure that Jazmynís cover was going to be blown."
"Youíre a worry-wart, Ken," Sakura said. "Loosen up! Today of all days, Jazmyn will be safe."
And so the rest of the day went, stopping occasionally for children and handing out treats. They headed back to Sakuraís house when their supply of treats ran out. By then, the neighbourhood children had started their door-to-door trick-or-treating. Jazmyn went straight inside, but Sakura gave Ken a sign on a stake to put up next to the sidewalk, and took another herself to attach to the front door. His sign said: ĎCAUTION Ė YOU ARE APPROACHING THE FOXíS LAIR!í and hers said: ĎBEWARE OF THE WERE-FOX!í
Jazmyn had a ball dealing with the children who braved the perils of the foxís lair. She hammed it up a bit for the benefit of any adults accompanying the children, just to add an air of unreality to her appearance. She was wearing loose pants to disguise her legs though, as they would have been tough to explain. Finally the last child had squealed at the sight of the terrifying were-fox lady, and walked away with their treat for being so brave. Jazmyn sank into an easychair with a sigh of happiness.
"That was so much fun! I really love this festival of yours."
"I knew youíd like it. Itís just a shame that we can do this kind of thing only once a year," Sakura said. "Arenít you glad that you were wrong, Ken?"
"Iím glad for Jazmynís sake that this worked out so well, but you do realise that the main impression that Jazmyn was leaving was that of a scary creature? If she ever reveals herself to the public, will they see her as a normal fox girl or a frightening monster?"
"God! Youíre such a downer, Ken! Canít you just let it go and enjoy it?" Sakura asked with exasperation.
"Sorry, Iím just thinking of Jazmynís future."
Jazmyn got up and gave Ken a hug. "Thank you, Ken, but itís okay. I donít mind how things turned out."
Sakura said, "Well, if thatís settled, now that the kids have been dealt with, itís time for the adults to party! The food is ready, so if youíre not at the table in ten seconds, you miss out!"
The next gathering that they had was Thanksgiving. Sakura came up to Kenís cabin early that morning, and they had a big lunch. However they had to leave Jazmyn behind afterwards as they both left to make the long drive to their parentsí home for Thanksgiving dinner. They did not return until very late and Jazmyn had already gone to bed. Sakura decided that she was too tired to drive home, so she slept on the sofa. She woke up to find Jazmyn in the kitchenette, preparing pancakes for breakfast for the three of them.
"Itís quite a comfortable make-shift bed, isnít it?" Jazmyn asked.
"Oh yes," Sakura agreed. "Itís not the first time that Iíve used it as such."
"Did Ken start building my room with the intention of having a spare room for guests like you?"
"Partially. He also thought that if he got married, theyíd need more than a one bedroom cabin, so he figured that he could kill two birds with one stone."
"Iíd wondered about that. Do you think that I might be jeopardising his goal of getting a wife? It has to be awkward not to be able to bring any potential girlfriends home."
"Maybe, maybe not. Heís never found a girl yet who likes this backwoods lifestyle the way you do. I donít think that heíd be happy living in the suburbs either. So he stays out here with you to keep him company. He seems happy with the status quo."
"Iím certainly happy about that, but circumstances do change," Jazmyn pointed out.
Sakura nodded and said, "Yes they do, but sometimes for the better. Weíll all just have to wait and see how the future plays out."
Snow had arrived. Their mountain cabin was high enough to get snow while the valley missed out. Jazmyn had never had to deal with snow for that reason. At first she had clucked over her snow-buried plants until Ken told her to stop worrying about them and chucked a snowball at her. Half an hour later, both were exhausted from their strenuous snowball fight. Ken had copped the worst of it as snow had gotten into his clothes and melted. Jazmyn wore only long slacks and a sweater, her fur keeping her perfectly comfortable otherwise. She still had bare paws though, but she insisted that the cold wasnít bothering them. Several attempts to make footwear for her had been a failure. She had found that even the best of the trials had been uncomfortable and impractical.
While Ken dried off and changed clothes, Jazmyn made hot chocolate for the both of them. They sat on the porch with the steaming mugs in their hands, watching the birds that had come for the food that had been scattered out on the snow for them.
"I suppose that hiking is now impractical?" queried Jazmyn.
"Yep. Not only does the snow make the going more difficult, it can also hide the trail and you can easily get lost."
"Iíll have to settle for the Cliffside walk then if I want some exercise. You canít lose that path."
"Thatís true. The wind is cold and cutting there however."
Jazmyn nodded. "What do you normally do here during Winter?"
"Watch football a lot. Sometimes Rick would come up here, and sometimes Iíd go to his place and a few of our friends would join us to watch the game."
"That doesnít sound especially thrilling," Jazmyn said dubiously.
"You wouldnít be the first female to have that opinion," Ken reassured her. "Did you have anything else in mind?"
"Not really. I suppose that less time spent gardening means more time spent trying to paint."
"Howís that going, anyway?" Ken asked. Jazmyn rarely let him see anything that she was working on because she was very unsatisfied with her work thus far.
Jazmyn shrugged. "Slowly improving. Making a lot of mistakes and learning what not to do. At least it still interests me."
"Good. When our business closes down for the Christmas break, youíll have even more spare time on your hands."
"Iíve been reading up on that holiday. Wonít you be going to visit your parents again then?"
"No. My parents arenít Christians and they donít observe that holiday. Being born and bred in America, I was like most kids expecting a visit from Santa, so mom and dad would give Sakura and myself presents that day. However, as soon as we grew too old to believe in Santa, that stopped. As adults, Sakura and I usually make it a family day together as all our friends are visiting their families."
"Will you have it up here? Iíd like to try out some of those Christmas foods that Iíve gotten recipes for."
"Sure. We usually alternate homes, and since we had it at her place last year, it would be here this year anyway."
"Great! Iíll get you to pick up some ingredients for me."
"Anything to keep the master chef happy," Ken said with a grin.
Ken had advised Jazmyn not to wait for him to get home today. They were having the office Christmas party, and he wasnít sure when they would finish up. He made it clear that she was invited too, even though they knew that she couldnít accept. So she only bothered to cook for herself when dinner time came up. She was surprised an hour later when the telephone rang.
"Ken Moritaís residence," she answered cautiously.
"Itís me, Jazmyn," came Kenís voice which sounded slightly odd. "Iíve had too mush to drink, sho Kylieís offered to drive me home. Iíll be taking her home in the morning, sho sheíll be staying overnight. Weíll be there in about ninety minutesh, sho you know what to do."
"Yes, Ken. Are you okay? You sound a bit slurred."
"Jush a bit too mush Christmash cheer, ísíall," Ken reassured her.
"OK. Take it easy, Ken."
Jazmyn hung up and thought, ĎThatís odd. Heís drunk, but he has barely touched alcohol since Iíve been here Ė says he hasnít much taste for it. Yet now heís too inebriated to drive. Iím going to have to ask him about that.í
Both she and Ken knew that they would inevitably have visitors who werenít in on their secret, so they had made a plan of action for those occasions. When Jazmyn heard the sound of Kenís car approaching, she pulled a small library case that was on castors that Ken had built specially for this purpose in front of her doorway, using handles attached to the back. This almost totally hid the doorway from anyone in the living room. She locked the castors and then closed her door. Ken had deliberately hung the door a little bit low so that there was a bit of a gap between the top of the door and the doorframe. By standing on a chair, Jazmyn was able to see through this gap and over the bookcase, enabling her to keep apprised of the situation in the other room., She did so, curious to see this Kylie person.
Ken entered the room first, and Jazmyn noticed his eyes flick over to the concealed doorway and he gave a nod of satisfaction. He looked a little under the weather as he waited for Kylie to come inside. She turned out to be a little shorter than Ken, red-haired and quite curvaceous. She also wore too much make-up, Jazmyn decided.
"This is nice," Kylie said as she looked around.
"Thanksh. Id took a while to ged it this good, but Iím very habby with the result."
"And you live here alone?" Kylie asked.
"Pretty mush," Ken replied evasively.
"Good. Itíll give me a chance to do something that Iíve wanted to do for a long time." With those words, she pulled Ken close to her and started kissing him.
Jazmyn was a little shocked at her bold actions, and dismayed when Ken not only didnít resist her, but also seemed to be very much enjoying it.
When Kylie was finished with the kiss, she stepped back and started unbuttoning Kenís shirt.
"I wash planniní to offer you coffee," Ken murmured.
"Iíve got something more tasty in mind," Lisa replied. She started fondling his smooth chest. "Mmm, nice abs. You do keep fit."
"I keep busy íround the cabin," Ken explained.
"How about you keep busy with these instead?" she said as she opened her blouse to reveal large breasts confined by a black lace bra.
"If you inshist," Ken said, putting action into words.
Jazmyn couldnít watch any more, and she climbed down off the chair and went to lie on her bed. However, while she could no longer see what was happening, her keen ears still picked up everything. Before too long, she heard sounds that she could only ascribe to the two having sex.
ĎIíve said that I was concerned about Ken finding a mate,í she thought to herself. ĎSo why canít I feel happy for him?í An especially loud cry of ecstasy from Kylie just made her feel worse. Finally the noise ended and peace descended on the cabin. Jazmyn couldnít sleep though. Her thoughts kept returning to those sights and sounds, and how they disturbed her.
After what seemed like an eternity of those same thoughts going round and around her head, she suddenly heard a faint noise. She got up off the bed and climbed up onto the chair and peered into the living room. She was surprised to see Kylie there, completely nude, prowling around the room. Jazmyn watched as she went to the desk and started carefully going through the contents of the drawers. After a couple of minutes, it appeared that she found something of interest, although Jazmyn couldnít see exactly what from that angle. The woman placed whatever she had found into her handbag, then quietly returned to Kenís bedroom again.
ĎSheís nothing but a sneaky thief!í Jazmyn thought to herself. She then returned to her bed, strangely satisfied with this turn of events, and was soon asleep.
Jazmyn was woken by the sound of someone noisily making breakfast. Jazmyn peeked again and saw Kylie, barely clad in one of Kenís bathrobes, frying some eggs and bacon. Ken emerged from his room just then, holding his head and looking the worse for wear.
"Youíre just in time for breakfast," Kylie declared.
Ken seemed to turn a little green at the thought. "No thanks. Just something to drink for me." He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of fruit juice. He poured a large glass full and drank it, then refilled his glass before replacing the bottle.
"Will you be alright to take me home straight after Iíve had my breakfast?" Kylie asked.
"Oh, sure. Just gotta find something for this headache first."
Twenty minutes later, they left and Jazmyn made a beeline for the bathroom. With her bladder relieved, she then went to make herself breakfast and await Kenís return. However, it was Sakura who turned up first.
"Whereís Ken?" Sakura asked after Jazmyn let her in.
"Heís taking Kylie home," Jazmyn replied.
"Huh? Whoís Kylie and whyís Ken taking her home? Was she here all night?"
"Apparently Ken got drunk at his office Christmas party yesterday, and Kylie offered to drive him home. Of course she had to stay until morning when Ken had sobered up."
"Ken got drunk? He never does that! He hardly ever has alcohol, and usually only has one when the occasion calls for it."
"I know, I found that out for myself. He doesnít even keep any in the house except for some wine that I use only for cooking, or when Rick is visiting. However, I think that there might be more to it than simple over-indulging. While Ken was asleep, I heard her prowling around, and witnessed her take something from the desk and put it in her handbag. Iíve been wondering if she hadnít actually set up that situation."
"Does Ken know yet?" Sakura queried.
"I havenít had the chance to tell him yet."
"Itís sad that you canít even trust an acquaintance sleeping on the couch overnight," Sakura said with a sigh.
"Who said that she slept on the couch?" Jazmyn said in a flat tone of voice.
Sakura was startled. "You mean she slept with Ken?"
Jazmyn nodded. "After some pretty noisy sex."
"Oh, you poor dear! And right next door to you too." Sakura gave the vixen a consoling hug. "Just wait until my brother gets back. Iím going to tear his ears off!"
When Ken finally returned, he entered the cabin with an armload of goodies for the Christmas dinner. "Merry Christmas, ladies!" he said, and then he noticed their expressions. "Whatís wrong?"
Jazmyn said, "Nothing. Your girlfriend robbed you, is all."
Sakura didnít leave it at that though. She walked over to Ken and gave him a whack upside the head with her hand.
"Ow! What was that for?" protested Ken who was still feeling the effects of the hangover.
"To try to knock some sense into that dense skull of yours! Iíve been doing my best to stay out of your business, but how dare you treat Jazmyn like that?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Ken objected.
"Jazmyn is in love with you, dimwit! And you go and bring some girl home and fuck her practically under Jazmynís nose!"
Kenís ire immediately deflated, but there was also a look of surprise on his face. "Jazmynís in love with me? Thank heavens! I thought that I was just imagining the attraction, putting it down to my own fantasies. I never dared dream that she could love me back." He looked at the vixen earnestly. "Jazmyn, I know that weíre different species, and I was never intended to be your Companion, so Iíve always thought that we could never be more than friends, and it has been getting terribly frustrating for me, especially lately. When I got drunk last night, I lost my inhibitions, so when Kylie came onto me, I just went along with her. But all the time that I was with her, it was you that I imagined that I was making love to.
Jazmyn had been listening with an incredulous expression, and she responded angrily, "You fantasised about me, and yet you still had sex with her? Do you really think that makes me feel better? I was miserable last night as I listened to you two in bed together as I only dreamed I could do."
Ken cringed a little at Jazmynís outburst. "Iím so sorry about that. When I woke up this morning, I felt terrible about it. While I was drunk, I felt justified in trying to work off my frustrations, but once I was sober again, I knew that I had done the wrong thing. Iíd never willingly do anything to hurt you, Jaz. I love you. Iíve been in love with you for months. I just didnít know how to deal with the situation properly. Can you forgive me for my terrible mistake?"
Jazmyn had started to cry as Ken spoke, but it was the release of her own pent-up emotions and not distress from the previous nightís events that caused them. She got up from her chair and walked into Kenís arms. She laid her head on his chest and hugged him hard. "Iíll forgive you, if youíll forgive me for not making my feelings clear. If I had told you that I loved you, this would never have happened, but I feared that you would not share those feelings because you were not brought up in a culture where humans and morphs co-exist, and I wanted you to be free to take a human mate if you wanted. Thereís just one thing that I donít understand Ė why did you think that my being someone elseís Companion would make such a difference?"
"You told me yourself that you were created to be his perfect Companion and that you loved him dearly. How could I compete with a lover like that?"
"Lover?" Jazmyn repeated in surprise, then laughed a little bitterly. "Oh, what a pair of fools we are. I explained myself badly, and you made the wrong assumptions. Ken, I told you that I was created for the benefit of Julius after his wife died of cancer, but I didnít mention that she was pregnant at the time. She was given the choice of being treated for the cancer at the expense of the babyís life, or carrying the baby to term with the risk of the cancer killing her. She loved her husband very much, and they both wanted the child that was the product of their love, so she took her chances with carrying the baby to full term. She failed. Both she and the baby died, which was a double blow to Julius. When I was bred for him, they knew that it would be impossible to replace his wife in his heart, but they could give him the child that was never born. I was the equivalent of eight years old when I first came to Julius Ė young enough to still need a parent to look after me, but old enough to take an interest in his work. Ken, I was his Companion, but our relationship was not husband and wife, but much like father and daughter. I loved my Ďfatherí so very much, but I love you in a very different way."
Ken groaned in frustration. "Oh God, if only Iíd known that before. Iíve been competing for your affections with someone who was never a rival! I love you so much, Jazmyn, and I want you to be my wife, if you will take an idiot like me."
"Oh yes! Yes! I accept your proposal!" Jazmyn cried joyfully. She leaned in and gave Ken a lick-kiss on the cheek.
"What was that?" Ken asked.
"Itís how I always kissed Julius," Jazmyn explained.
"Iím not Julius. Do it again," Ken instructed.
Jazmyn willingly complied, but as she approached his cheek, Ken suddenly turned his head and met her with his mouth. Jazmyn was momentarily startled, then melted into the full-on kiss. After several long moments, they parted, panting a little from shortness of breath. They grinned at each other and Jazmyn said, "Now thatís a wonderful way to start a mating commitment. It made me completely forget about whatís-her-name."
"Iím glad of that," Ken responded, then noticed his sister wearing a huge smile on her face. "What are you grinning at?"
"If this is the result I get from giving you a whack on the head, Iím going to have to do it more often," she explained.
"Like hell you will! Next time you see me about to make a stupid mistake, let me know. Iíd rather not have it pounded into me later."
"Youíve got a deal. And congratulations on popping the question at last. Iíll be very happy to have you as a sister-in-law, Jazmyn."
"Thank you, Sakura. I feel that way too," Jazmyn replied.
"What are you going to do about a ceremony?" Sakura asked.
Ken replied, "Iím not sure. We canít even do a civil wedding without involving the authorities. Do you have any ideas, Jaz?"
"In my old world, morphs and humans frequently held a life-mating ceremony that only required a civil celebrant and a witness."
"Iíll volunteer to be the celebrant if youíd like," Sakura offered.
"And we can ask Elizabeth to be the witness," Ken said.
"But does that life-mating ceremony apply in this world?" queried Jazmyn.
"Letís face it, Jaz; thereís nothing in this world that covers a fox woman and a human getting hitched. However, I want to do this formally, so your ceremony will have to suffice."
"Thatís fine by me. When do you want to do this?" Jazmyn asked.
Ken pointed to the hamper that he had carried in. "Half of thatís for Liz, and there are presents for the kids too. How about we take them over there now and ask Liz to witness this ceremony?"
"Great idea!" Sakura said enthusiastically.
"Letís do it then," Jazmyn said excitedly.
Jazmyn went to fetch the presents while Ken sorted the contents of the hamper between what they were keeping and what they were giving to Elizabeth. They carried the lot out to the pick-up and put them in the back while they squeezed into the front. Snow had been constantly falling all morning, so Ken was especially careful on the trip to the old sawmill. The pick-up was built for the conditions though, so they had no real problems.
As they travelled, Sakura said, "Thereís still one thing that I donít understand. Why did you drink so much alcohol? Thatís so completely unlike you."
"It was Kylie. She seemed to want to spend her time mostly with me, and she kept bringing me different mixed drinks for me to try out. Well, I didnít want to offend her, and it was supposed to be a party, so I let myself be pressured into drinking much more than I normally would have. Then once I was drunk, I stopped caring. It was Kylie who suggested that she drive me home, and I was still cogent enough to realise that I was too drunk to drive, so I accepted. Otherwise, I would have asked Rick to put me up for the night. Anyway, I didnít realise that Kylie had other plans until we got home, and then she started coming onto me. My inhibitions were gone, which in hindsight was probably her intention all along, so I did what she wanted, much to my regret now. And you said that she robbed me of something? Iíll have to check my stuff when we get back."
"She took it from your desk drawer," Jazmyn informed him. "It looks very much that that was what she planned from the start."
"It seems to me that a lot of things have been going missing at work also. We may have found the culprit. When we go back to work, I think that Kylie is going to have a lot of explaining to do."
They pulled up in front of the sawmill residence, and as they piled out of the car, they each grabbed something to take inside. A knock on the door was instantly answered by Matthew who must have heard them coming.
"Merry Christmas, Matt," Ken said. "Is you mother awake?"
Elizabethís voice came from around the corner. "On Christmas Day? Iím lucky if the sun is up before those two wake me."
Ken grinned. "Yeah, I can imagine," he said as Elizabeth blearily turned up at the door. "Anyway, a Merry Christmas to you too, and hereís a hamper of goodies from us to you."
"Thank you, Ken, and happy Christmas to all of you too. Wonít you come in for some eggnog? Itís the non-alcoholic kind; I made it for the kids."
"Weíd like that," Ken said, and stepped inside, followed by the others.
"We have something for your children too," Sakura said.
"Oh wow! More presents!" Matt said.
"I wasnít able to afford too many gifts for the children this year," Elizabeth quietly confided to them, "so this will be very much appreciated."
Jazmyn held out her package to Matthew. "For you, Matt. Iím sure that you will get a lot of use out of this."
"Thanks, Jazmyn!" Matthew said, taking the package and opening it. His eyes bulged in surprise when he saw what it was. "A laptop of my own? Wow! Thanks, Jazmyn! Thanks, Ken!"
Elizabeth was surprised too, and she said in a low voice to Ken, "Thatís really too much to be spending on my son!"
"Donít worry, Liz. Itís second-hand. We recently upgraded all the laptops at our work, and I thought one would make a good gift for Matt rather than selling it to the second-hand dealers. Itís not quite as fancy as the ones that his classmates might have, but it will do everything that that he needs."
"That makes me feel better," admitted Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, Sakura had handed her present to Tina. Tearing open the wrapping, the girl found a fox plush-toy inside. She squealed in delight and hugged it to herself.
"It took me a month to find that plush-toy," Sakura said. "It was Kenís idea. He thought that because Tina likes Jazmyn so much, she might like a fox doll of her own."
"It looks like you were right, and youíve made my daughter very happy."
"Great!" Ken said. "Now thereís one thing that you can do for Jazmyn and me to make us happy."
"What is it? If itís within my power, Iíll be happy to do it for you."
"Iíve asked Jazmyn to marry me, and Sakura is going to be our celebrant, but we need you as a witness."
"Youíre going to marry a fox?" Elizabeth blurted out.
"Iím going to marry the woman whom I love, who just happens to be a fox," Ken corrected. "Do you have a problem with that?"
"IÖ wellÖ no, I suppose not," Elizabeth replied unconvincingly.
"Then we can do this right now if youíre ready," Ken said.
Sakura said, "OK, so what needs to be done for this ceremony?"
Jazmyn replied, "A life-mating ceremony is freeform, with the celebrant requiring responses from the couple and the witness. Thereís also something to comply with the laws of the State, but since they donít apply here, we might as well skip that."
"Easy then, so weíll keep it short and simple," Sakura said. "OK, Ken Ė you stand here, and Jazmyn on your left. Elizabeth, stand next to me. Right, letís start. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in loving union. Ken Morita, do you take this woman to be your wife and life-mate?"
"I do," Ken replied.
"Jazmyn Fox, do you take this man to be your husband and life-mate?"
"I do," Jazmyn affirmed.
"Ken, make your vows to Jazmyn," Sakura directed.
Ken looked at Jazmyn adoringly. "Jazmyn, I promise to love, cherish, protect and bring you happiness for all the days of my life."
"Jazmyn, make your vows to Ken."
Jazmynís eyes were locked with Kenís, and she radiated happiness. "Ken, I promise to love, cherish and bring you joy for as long as we may live."
Sakura said, "Elizabeth Mackenzie, have you witnessed the vows that Ken and Jazmyn have exchanged?"
"I have," Elizabeth replied.
"Then, by the authority granted to me by nobody in particular, I hereby declare that Ken and Jazmyn are now husband and wife, mated for life. Let no one try to tear them asunder. Now kiss and weíre done!"
The two did so quite eagerly. Sakura noticed Elizabeth turn away however with a sad look on her face.
"Why so glum, Liz?" Sakura asked.
Elizabeth gave Sakura a crooked smile. "What would you do if you met an attractive man about your age who was kind and generous, helped you unstintingly, and even liked your children?"
Sakura nodded understandingly. "Youíve been attracted to my brother for quite a while, havenít you?"
"Yes. Even though I quickly realised that Jazmyn was his girlfriend before I ever met her, I thought that I might still have a chance with him. When I did finally meet her, I realised that my chances were slim because he was so dedicated to her. Today was just the final nail in the coffin. Ha! Lost to a fox!"
By then, Ken and Jazmyn had finished kissing and had overheard much of what Elizabeth had said. Jazmyn reached out to touch her gently, and Elizabeth no longer flinched.
Jazmyn said, "Iím sorry if we spoiled your day, but we never intended to bring you sadness."
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, Jazmyn, itís not as if you stole him from me. You were deep in his heart long before I met him."
Ken spoke up. "If itís any consolation, Liz, if I didnít have Jazmyn already, I could have easily fallen for you too. I still think that you have much to offer the right man though, so be patient. As Iíve said before, good things do come to good people."
Elizabeth managed a smile. "I suppose things could be a lot worse, so I shouldnít complain."
"Would you like to join us to celebrate, Elizabeth?" Jazmyn asked.
"Better than moping at home, I suppose. What if I come over with the kids in about an hour? Iíll bring along some of the munchies that we were going to have here."
"Weíll be expecting you then," Jazmyn said.
The combined Christmas party and wedding celebration was a roaring success. Jazmyn and Ken could hardly be kept out of each otherís arms all day. The kids stuffed themselves and played video games. Matthew also brought along the laptop to connect to the internet. Elizabeth cheered up, and all four adults enjoyed the mixture of socialising, dining, and party games. Eventually though, Elizabeth told the children that it was time for them to go home. As they left, she gave Ken an impulsive kiss on the cheek.
"Just a taste of what could have been," Elizabeth told Ken, who smiled back at her.
"Just be careful driving in the snow," Ken said as they stepped outside. "Itís gotten quite deep in the past few hours."
"Donít worry, I will," Elizabeth replied. She and the children waved goodbye as they drove off.
"What about you, Sakura?" Ken asked as they went back inside. "Your SUV is better equipped to handle these conditions, but itís a longer trip and the snow is still coming down."
"I donít need to be anywhere tomorrow, so I think that Iíll play it safe and crash here, if thatís not a problem?"
"Iíll be happier if you do so. Iíd rather not worry about you travelling in these conditions."
"OK. Me and the couch are old friends anyway," Sakura said with a grin.
"Oh, I think youíll be more comfortable in the spare bed," Ken said with a sly grin.
"SpareÖ? Oh! Of course," Sakura replied.
"What spare bed?" Jazmyn asked.
"Wonít you be sharing my bed from now on?" Ken asked with a loving smile.
Jazmyn smiled with joy. "Oh, I do hope so!"
"Then we will have a guest room from now on also," Ken concluded.
Sakura said, "I think that this is a perfect opportunity for me to try it out. Itís been a long day, and itís time I left you two alone. So goodnight, brother and sister-in-law. I want to hear lots of happy noises coming from your room soon."
"Sakura!" Ken objected.
"Make each other happy, dears," she told them with an unrepentant grin as she went into the spare bedroom and closed the door behind her.
Jazmyn looked at Kenís face and laughed. "Sakura enjoys getting a rise out of you."
"She always has," Ken admitted, "but sheís right. I intend to make this night the happiest of your life."
"It already is," Jazmyn told him, moving in closer to hug him tightly.
Ken smiled at her tenderly and led her to their bedroom. He closed the door firmly, intending to stop his sister from hearing too many Ďhappy noisesí.
Jazmyn stood next to the bed, a little shyly but with great expectations. She said, "You do realise that I have had no experience with sex whatsoever?"
"What? Youíve never even dallied with a male vulpeen when you were old enough?" Ken asked curiously.
"No. I was devoted to my Companion up until I lost him."
"Donít let it worry you, Jazmyn. Thereís always a first time for everyone, and we all need to learn what we like most."
"Then do what you think that we would both enjoy, and I will learn."
"Just tell me if you donít like something, or if youíd like me to do more, love." Ken then kissed her deeply, and the vixen responded in kind. When they parted, they smiled happily at each other before Ken reached behind her to unfasten her top. She unselfconsciously shucked it, and Ken paused to admire her pert breasts. Leaning over, he kissed each stiffened nipple, sending a thrill through Jazmyn.
Taking the cue from Ken, Jazmyn then unbuttoned Kenís shirt and he took it off. She fondled his chest as she had seen Kylie do, and quickly realised why she had done so. Ken was not a big man, but his body was tautly muscled from all the physical work that he did around their home, and Jazmyn found that very attractive.
It was Kenís turn again, and he again reached behind Jazmyn, this time to undo the flap that went over her tail and held the shorts up. This brought them intimately close, and her breasts rubbed up against his bare chest, the hardened nipples teasing his skin.
Jazmyn took a small step back, allowing the shorts to fall to her feet. Then she backed up more to allow Ken to admire her fully nude form.
"I never understood before why you always wanted to clothe me when my fur was perfectly adequate, but now I am beginning to do so. Do you like what you see?"
"My dear, you are the sexiest vixen on Earth," Ken declared.
Jazmyn grinned and poked her tongue out at him. "Iím probably the only anthro vixen on Earth."
"Yes, but youíre also the most beautiful and desirable woman on Earth, as far as Iím concerned, and you are the one whom I adore."
"It thrills me to hear that, my love." She moved back close and started to undo his belt. "Now show me your own handsome self."
Ken pulled off his jeans and underpants, his manhood proudly at attention. Jazmyn was fascinated by the sight. Ken grinned and said, "So, do you like the furless look?"
Jazmyn looked into his eyes and said, "I have loved you for a long time, but I have not really known sexual desire until this moment. Please make love to me now!"
"My beloved, it will be my greatest pleasure to do so." Ken took her in his arms and kissed her again, his hands exploring her body, and she was doing the same to him. Then he guided her over to the bed and he taught her all that he knew about the art of making love.
And there were lots of happy noises.
Jazmyn woke up as the first rays of morning sunlight poured into the bedroom, showing that the snow had finally stopped. For a moment she was disoriented until she realised that she was not in her bed, but in KenísÖ no, their bed. She could hardly believe that her secret fantasies had become a delightful reality, and she gazed upon Kenís sleeping form with tender affection. He was bundled warmly in two blankets plus a duvet, while she had slept with only one blanket, but she had snuggled up warmly with him after they had made love, and they were still practically nose to nose. She liked that. She liked that there would be no more nights alone in bed. She liked that she could now tell him all her hopes and desires and know that he would take them seriously. She liked it that she was now part of a family. And she really liked sex.
Kenís eyes fluttered open, and he smiled when he realised that Jazmyn was watching him. "Now this is a great way to wake up," he said.
"I agree," Jazmyn said as she stroked his head. "So, what was it like to make love to a vulpeen for a change?" she asked with a mischievous smile.
"Your fur tickles," Ken replied with an equally mischievous grin.
"Would you like me to tickle you some more?"
The two made love again. And when they were done, they lay there holding hands, enjoying just being in each otherís presence.
Eventually Ken broke the silence. "Itís way too late to be asking this question, but are we going to have to start making plans for a baby?"
Jazmynís joy dimmed a little. "No, Ken, we are different species and cannot interbreed; at least not without very sophisticated medical help that simply doesnít exist on this world."
"I suspected that. It canít be helped, and I love you just as much anyway."
Just then there was a knock on the door, and Sakuraís voice came from the other side. "Okay, you two, save some of that for tonight! Iíve got breakfast made and waiting."
Ken grinned at Jazmyn. "Ready for the interrogation?"
"As long as I am with you, Iíll be ready for anything," she declared.
On the morning of New Yearís Eve, Ken drove up to the old sawmill. His knock on the door was soon answered by Matthew who yelled out, "Mom! Kenís here!"
"How many times have I told you not to yell?" Elizabeth said as she came out of the kitchen. "Hello, Ken. Whatís up?"
"Two things, actually, Liz. Weíre having a little shindig at our place to see in the New Year. Would you care to join us? We have fireworks for the kids to enjoy also."
"Iíd like that. When does it start?"
"Come over any time this afternoon when it suits you. We plan to have a meal about six though."
"OK, weíll be there. Whatís the other thing?"
"Howís the search for a job coming along?" Ken asked instead of answering.
Elizabeth sighed. "A few nibbles, but nobody is hiring in these economic times."
"Well, we just fired our secretary slash receptionist because she was caught stealing, therefore we need a replacement. So I recommend that you bring your résumé along with you. My partner, Rick, will be at the party too, and heíll be able to look at your qualifications and make a decision right away."
Elizabethís eyes lit up with hope. "Oh, thank you, Ken! It seems that Iím always thanking you for something lately, but this would let me get back on my feet financially."
"Thatís what I had hoped. Anyway, weíll see you later then."
Ken didnít escape without a fervent hug from Elizabeth though.
Jazmyn couldnít seem to be able to work up enthusiasm for the painting that she was working on. She had finally gotten the valley scenery the way that she wanted, and now she was trying to add details from her former world, as had been suggested months ago. However, the memories had started to fade after a year, and they almost all seemed a bit irrelevant to her now anyway.
Ken arrived just then, hauling all their picnic gear. "Rick and Liz said that theyíd be here in about half an hour," he told her.
To everyoneís surprise, Rick and Elizabeth had really hit it off at the New Yearís party, and they had been dating ever since. Jazmyn had already predicted marriage within six months, and Ken wasnít inclined to argue. His friend and partner had played the field for many years, but Ken had never seen him so preoccupied with any one woman before. When Matthew found out that they both followed the same football team, he opened up to the adult also. Tina didnít seem to mind him either; when her mother was happy, she was happy too, and this man seemed to make her mother happy a lot recently.
"Sakura says that the food will be ready soon, and sheíll wait for the others to turn up to help her lug it all up here. She told me to get the picnic table and all the rest of the gear set up and ready, so here I am," he said as he put actions to words. "Howís the painting coming along?"
Jazmyn sighed. "I think that Iíve done as much as I ever will. The scenery is great, but Iíve lost interest in the other aspects."
Ken examined the painting, comparing it to the real thing. "May I make a suggestion?" Jazmyn nodded. "Keep the hint of the house by the lake where you used to live, and get rid of the rest. That house has lots of happy memories for you that are worth keeping. Finish this off and start something new that is relevant to you now."
Jazmyn brightened. "Yes, I think that I will do exactly that. I just needed someone to articulate what I was feeling to push me to make that decision." She wiped off the recently applied paint, and then set it aside to finish later. She then put a fresh canvas on her easel.
As she gave it a wash of colour, Ken came over and hugged her from behind. "So, what did you have in mind, Love?" he asked.
"Something very relevant and dear to me," she replied. "Just make yourself comfortable on that log. I am going to make a portrait of the man who made my life complete."
"For you, Jazmyn, I would do anything."
Kayde was soaking wet, chilled to the bone, and absolutely pissed-off with himself. As he stumbled along what he hoped was a path that was lit only by the frequent lightning, trying to keep warm by exertion despite the rain, he kept up a loud tirade.
"Be careful, they said. The area is subject to sudden violent storms, they said. But did I listen? No! I was far too clever. I knew what I was doing. I was prepared. So what are you doing walking around in the cold rain, Kayde? Whereís all your equipment, Kayde? Whereís your bloody jacket, Kayde? Tree fell on it? What were you doing out there in a storm? Werenít you warned? Be careful, they saidÖ."
And so the rant continued in its circular fashion until Kayde stubbed his toes hard against some unseen object and he howled in pain that was greatly accentuated by the cold. He rubbed his foot to try to alleviate it before continuing his trudge, albeit without the ranting.
He was lost, without so much as a compass after the tree, split by an ear-shatteringly loud lightning bolt, had fallen on his tent and the contents carefully stowed within. If not for a call of nature, that would have been his fate also. Right now though, he wasnít feeling so lucky. His attempts to salvage anything had proven fruitless. A sleeve of his sorely-missed jacket had been tantalisingly sticking out from under the splintered tree trunk, but it had been well and truly trapped, along with the cell-comm in its pocket. The GPS function would have been really useful right then, if the comm had even survived the impact. So he had no idea where he was, nor any way of calling for help. His only plan was to head in a general downhill direction in the hopes of eventually finding a road that would lead to the township in the valley whence heíd started his hike.
The rain finally let up, but so did the lightning that was his sole source of illumination. In the pitch-black night, all he could do was huddle in a semi-sheltered area, shivering, waiting for sunrise. A miserable eternity passed until the dark was replaced by the false dawn, and he could continue.
The sun had been up for about an hour when Kayde heard the sound of gunfire. It was deer-hunting season, so Kayde wasnít alarmed. In fact he realised that the hunters would be able to guide him to safety, so he turned in the direction of the sound.
The shots were infrequent, but enough for him to track the hunters down. He soon spotted one of the high-vis hunting jackets and headed for the man. Realising that he lacked his own safety gear, Kayde made sure that the hunter would clearly see and hear him as he stepped out into the open. Waving both his hands, he called out, "Hello! Am I ever glad to see you!"
The hunter saw Kayde and his eyes flew open in shock. The man lifted his rifle hastily and, before Kayde could realise his intention, pulled the trigger. The sound assaulted his ears even as his shoulder was slammed by the force of the impact. Staggering, he put his hand to his chest and felt the renewed wetness. He pulled it back to see the blood liberally coating it. He looked at the hunter and gasped, "Why?" before he collapsed and lost consciousness.
The hunterís friend had been nearby and had glimpsed Kayde as he had come out of concealment and bore down on his friend. He saw the shooting and hastened over.
"Damn! Are you okay, Mike? What is that? A giant wolf?"
Mike was looking at Kayde in puzzlement. "Zach, tell me what kind of wolf wears shorts?"
The two carefully examined the unconscious creature in front of them. The head shape and fur pattern were unmistakably a wolfís, but despite the digitigrade legs, this was obviously a biped. And then there were the incongruous khaki shorts that had a flap over the tail. This was no wild animal, but the two humans were at a loss to explain what else it could be.
"Do you reckon it might be a werewolf?" Zach asked.
Mike didnít believe in werewolves, but he was hard-pressed to think of a rebuttal. "I dunno, but Iím going to take it into town. If itís something important, we might get a reward for it. And even if it isnít, we could get a few bucks from the news people."
"Did you kill it? Be better if itís alive," Zach commented.
Mike pushed Kayde over. "Nope, itís not dead. I didnít exactly have time to aim well when it came out making strange noises and looking like it wanted to grab me. Maybe we should take it to a vet first."
Zach agreed, and the two lifted the unconscious wolf creature and carried him back to their pick-up truck. Carefully placing their potential money-earner in the bed of the truck, they covered him with a tarpaulin and headed off to the nearest township.
Cleverly positioned in the lee of a rugged rocky outcrop devoid of trees, a sturdy tent owned by two enthusiastic storm-watchers was just showing the first signs of activity. The vixen stretched languorously, then propped herself up on one elbow to admire her companion sharing the two-person sleeping bag. After all the months that they had been life-mated, Jazmyn still got a thrill out of waking up next to the human with whom she had fallen in love. Life had been pretty idyllic since their Christmas Day bonding, but Jazmynís circle of acquaintances was still limited to just three other adults and two children, and that reduced the opportunities for the couple to enjoy recreation. Both liked hiking though, and they couldnít get enough of storm-watching, so when the opportunity to combine the two activities came up, Ken had suggested that they take advantage of it.
They had hiked to a location near the summit of the local mountain that they had previously identified as not only a good vantage point for viewing the spectacle, but also relatively safe. The fact that it wasnít perfectly safe only added a tinge of excitement to the activity. They had their tent pitched well before the predicted storm. That had given them time to cook a meal, clean up, then settle into the tent just as the first raindrops fell. The anticipated lightning display didnít disappoint, and they had watched rapturously, arms around each other, delighting in sharing the experience. Then the mood had changed to playful, and soon the couple had started to make love to the accompaniment of the light and sound display. It had been a heavenly night.
Their late-night exertions had caused them to sleep well into the following morning. As much as Jazmyn liked just watching her lover, she realised that it was time to get stirring. She extended her long tongue to lick her nose-pad, then carefully pushed her muzzle into Kenís ear.
"Yee-ike!" Ken yelped, sitting up and rubbing the offended organ. "I wish youíd stop waking me like that, Jaz!"
Jazmyn just giggled, and Ken once again realised that his protestations were going to be totally ignored.
Ken looked at his watch. "Eep! Weíve overslept."
Jazmyn extricated herself from the sleeping bag, clad as usual in only her fur. As she pushed aside the tent flaps, she asked, "Whatís the rush? Itís Sunday after all." She crawled out of the tent and stood up to let the sunlight bathe her nude form.
Ken watched her from the warmth of the sleeping bag, admiring how her fur made a halo of warm light around her. His eyes drank in her beauty, and other parts of him had more base responses. "You have a point, and so will I if you keep that up."
Jazmyn laughed. "Sorry. Iíll start making breakfast. You drag your horny carcass out of there."
Ken grumbled but complied. He too was nude, but there was no way that he was going out into the cold morning air unclothed. He located his underwear, shirt, jeans and jacket, dressing himself awkwardly within the confines of the tent. When he finally emerged, he saw that Jazmyn had started a fire and gotten dressed also. However, the latter consisted only of pulling on her hiking shorts. She still eschewed wearing any other clothing except when friends were visiting. Of course, she had her fur to keep her warm, while Ken had no such protection. Ken had to admit though that he enjoyed feasting his eyes on his topless mate, and Jazmyn equally enjoyed his admiring gaze.
They enjoyed a large breakfast to fuel them for their hike home. The summit trail was one of the longest that they could undertake in the area, and it would take them several hours to get home. After their meal, they packed quickly and efficiently, and headed off at a leisurely pace. As always, Ken took the lead with Jazmyn several paces behind. They did this just in case they encountered hikers coming from the opposite direction, and Ken could give a warning to Jazmyn and perhaps employ delaying tactics while she concealed herself. They had to do this only twice, although it could easily have been many more considering that it was the weekend and the weather was glorious after the storm.
They arrived back at their cabin moderately tired but pleased with the success of their trip. They stowed the camping gear in the storage shed, then went inside to shower and relax. Jazmyn pottered around in her garden for a while as Ken read a novel. When sunset approached, neither felt inclined to cook, so they heated up some frozen pizzas. As was their wont, they settled down on the sofa to watch the evening news as they ate. Nothing particularly interesting happened until the local news began.
"Ö and in todayís odd spot, instead of venison, two deer hunters came back with what they claim is proof of the existence of werewolves. Shot in self-defence, a large wolf-like creature is currently being held on the premises of the Greenthorn veterinary clinic. The hunters, Michael Olmstead and Zachary Peterson, claim to have encountered the creature in the Spirit Creek Forest. Amateur video shows a man-sized two-legged animal that the veterinary surgeon is quoted as saying, Ďdefinitely not humaní. Authorities are investigating what is more likely to be an elaborate prank leading up to Halloween." A short video clip played as the commentator spoke.
Jazmynís jaw dropped in shock, and a shiver ran down Kenís spine. He said, "Jaz, is that what I think it could be?"
Jazmyn nodded. "The video is poor, but Iím virtually certain that thatís a lupeen. They havenít got a werewolf; theyíve somehow found a wolf morph Companion."
"The stormÖ." Ken didnít need to finish the statement.
"Yes, itís happened again," Jazmyn agreed. "Only this person wasnít as fortunate as I was."
They had both long speculated on what Jazmynís fate might have been if Ken had not been the one to encounter her first. They realised that they might be about to find out.
Ken asked, "What should we do about this?"
"Help him, of course. He canít even speak the language here; how is he going to be able to convince people that heís not a werewolf?"
"Help him? How are we going to be able to do that without giving up our secret? You could end up in the same trouble."
"Are you telling me that youíre just going to leave that poor lupeen to his fate?" Jazmyn asked with a frown.
"To protect you? Yes I would!" Ken said with certainty.
"Well thatís not good enough for me," Jazmyn replied irritably.
"We donít even know what they are doing with him. Heck, he might even die from being shot."
"You saw the video Ė heís bandaged but alive."
"They might treat him wellÖ"
"You didnít think that when you considered my safety!" Jazmyn interrupted.
Ken shrugged helplessly. "Well, what do you want me to do then? Walk in and ask to talk to him? Or maybe tell them that heís from my wifeís old neighbourhood and she wants to catch up on the news?"
"Not exactly," Jazmyn said with a thoughtful look on her face.
Doctor Bethany Carter (DVM) had never had to deal with anything quite like this patient. She was just a small town vet used to treating cats, dogs, rabbits, pet rats, and various birds. Occasionally she would get something a bit more exotic to make life interesting, or a farm animal. However she had never gotten something like this dumped into her lap before, and she did not appreciate the turmoil that it was causing her normally peaceful practice. Nevertheless, he was a fascinating creature, and he was definitely male underneath those shorts that he was wearing. She had not needed to remove them, and since they were obviously made to suit him, she had opted to leave them in place except for the thorough examination that she had given him after patching up the bullet wound. He had a puzzling mixture of traits. Many were obviously from a wolf such as facial structure, although the dentition was modified to enable a more omnivorous diet, and the cranium was significantly larger. However, no wolf had ever been born that was made for walking on two legs and had a humanoid body structure, not to mention true hands, albeit fur-covered ones. The hunters had called him a werewolf, but she was too much of a scientist to believe that. On the other hand, she didn't have a better name for him, other than perhaps a lycanthrope, which was basically a fancier scientific way of saying the same thing, but at least that sat more comfortably with her.
Bethany sighed. She found the patient incredibly intriguing, and she intended to do some further research on him, but she didn't have the time to spend right now over just one patient, even one as fascinating as this one. She left the sedated wolf-creature and went back to the usual sick puppies and kitties that were still waiting for her. She was just finishing giving shots to a German Shepherd when the receptionist buzzed her.
"Doctor, I have a man here who wants to talk to the wolf creature."
"I told you to send all those nutcases away, Sally," Bethany said irritably.
"This one told me to tell you that he has answers for you, and a way that you could talk to the wolf too. I know this sounds odd, but I get the impression that heís on the level."
Sally had been Bethanyís receptionist and assistant for many years. She was reliable and competent, and not subject to fits of fantasy. So if she was convinced enough to pass this on to her, there might be actually something to it. "Okay, Iíll see him just as soon as Iím done with this dog."
When Bethany came out to the waiting area of her surgery, there were several people waiting with their pets, plus one Asian-looking man without one.
Sally said to her, "Doctor, this is Ken Morita. Heís here about the wolf."
Bethany nodded and spoke to Ken. "Mr Morita, I hope youíre not going to waste my time. Iíve already had to call the sheriff once to eject unwanted tabloid journalists and other nut-jobs, and Iíll be happy to do the same for you."
Ken gave her his most reassuring grin. "I donít blame you, Doctor, but Iím hoping that I will not only convince you and answer your questions, but also help the wolf-person in your care."
ĎHe called the lycanthrope a person,í she mused. ĎThatís different at least. Maybe he does know something after all.í "Alright, Mr Morita, Iíll give you your chance. You have a few minutes of my time. Follow me."
She ushered him into her surgery, then out the back door to the pens for the larger animals. Laying on an old blanket in one of the pens was the lupeen. Anyone who had a chance to look at him carefully would have seen that this was no ordinary wolf. In fact, although he had no human-like hair, his fur was a bit shaggy, and his feet were large digitigrade paws, he had a far more distinctly human shape to him than animal. The hunter who had shot him must have been badly startled, which wasn't too surprising. Nobody on this Earth knew anything of anthropomorphic people like him, except perhaps for a small group of people who called themselves 'furries' that Ken had come across when trying to learn about Jazmyn. He looked over the lupeen carefully, but other than a heavily bandaged shoulder, he looked okay, much to Ken's relief. "What are his injuries?" he asked.
"The bullet got him just below the shoulder blade and grazed his ribcage. Luckily it was a light caliber bullet, otherwise the injuries would have been a lot more severe. He lost a lot of blood, but nothing major was hit, so I think heíll be fine given time to recover." Bethany crossed her arms and said, "Now, your turn Ė start explaining!"
"Iím almost certain that this is a lupeen that you have here," Ken said.
"Lupeen? Sounds like a word derived from the Latin word for wolf, which doesnít exactly prove anything. Youíll have to do a lot better than that," Bethany replied impatiently.
"Has he regained consciousness at all? Much of my explanation involves being able to talk with him."
"Youíre saying that this creature can talk like us?"
"If heís a lupeen, yes," confirmed Ken.
"Then I could simply ask myself, couldnít I?" Bethany pointed out.
"You could, if you spoke the same language."
"And you do, I suppose?" she said sceptically.
"Only a few words, but I have a translator handy."
"Hmmph! Well, heís been sedated, and he hasnít been conscious since he arrived here yesterday."
"How long before he wakes up then?"
"Frankly, I donít know. Heís not any species in my database, so I erred strongly on the side of caution when dosing him. He could wake anytime from now until this evening."
"Damn. Iíd hoped to clear this up before any other people started poking their noses into the situation," Ken said with a frown.
Bethany looked at him closely. "You seem to be knowing an awful lot, but not telling much, mister. Suppose you tell me what you do know, and weíll both wait for him to wake for the rest."
Ken knew that he was cornered. If he backed out now, it was unlikely that heíd be given another chance. He sighed. "Okay, but bear in mind that it still depends on confirming that he is a lupeen, and not something just resembling one."
Bethany waved her hand impatiently. "I concede that point. Get on with it!"
"I hope that youíre open-minded, because what I am going to tell you is going to sound fantastic. However, I can prove it if necessary."
"Iím listening," she said in a tone that implied that she wouldnít be for much longer if he didnít start explaining.
"A lupeen is one of many different species of genetically engineered life forms that are bred as unique companions for humans. The species and traits are selected especially to suit the humanís needs and/or desires. They are not pets though. They are sentient and free individuals with the same rights as humans."
Bethany stared at Ken, then said, "Bullshit! Genetic engineering is barely in its infancy. Thatís nothing but a cheap science-fiction story. Iím more likely to believe in werewolves than that lame claptrap. And even if they had something like this, we all would have heard about it by now."
"You havenít because they donít belong to this universe," Ken hastily explained. "They belong to an entirely different Earth where their genetic sciences are centuries ahead of ours."
Bethany rubbed her forehead in an effort to stave off an incipient headache. "Listen Mr Morita, if I didnít have this living anomaly right here in front of me, Iíd be kicking you out of here right now. That stretches my credulity to the breaking point. How could you possibly know this, even if it was true?"
"Because heís not the first one that Iíve encountered. Another came through to our universe about a year and a half ago."
"Another of theseÖ lupeen?"
"No, a vulpeen Ė what we would call a fox-woman. She has been living in concealment ever since arriving here." Ken really hadnít wanted to mention Jazmynís existence, but his life-mate had been insistent that he do everything possible to assist the lupeen, even if it meant exposing her. Ken still struggled to compromise, fearing for Jazmynís safety.
"Is that the translator that you say you have handy?" Bethany asked shrewdly.
Ken nodded. "Yes. She has a talent for languages and she learned English in just a few days. It really amazed me, I tell you."
"Could I meet this fox-woman that you claim to have hidden?" If Ken was bluffing, she was determined to call him on it.
"If itís really necessary, yes, although weíd both prefer anonymity. If you have any imagination, you could easily speculate on the many things that could happen to her if the public ever found out about her. Weíre trying to save this lupeen from that fate now."
"Thatís going to be a bit hard considering that both television and newspapers have already reported about him."
"Yeah," agreed Ken, "but so far theyíre all treating it as an elaborate hoax. Weíre hoping that we can convince them that theyíre right and get him to safety."
"Youíre forgetting the hunters who found him. Theyíre seeing a money-earner in him. They brought him in to me, and Iíll have to release him to them when they return."
"Doctor, Iíve already told you that he isnít a pet, nor is he a slave. Where he comes from, he has full equal rights with humans. You therefore have no right to give him to them. They have no right to imprison him. In fact, if this was the lupeenís Earth, those hunters would probably be up on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, or whatever the law is over there."
"Mr Morita, if even half of what youíve told me is true, youíve put me in quite a predicament. If I refuse to hand over this wolf-man, theyíre going to come back with the law and force me to do so."
Ken was momentarily at a loss to suggest anything. As much as he wanted to help the lupeen, he didnít want to cause trouble for the vet either.
Just then a groan came from the lupeenís cage.
Kayde knew that he was still alive because any hypothetical afterlife couldnít possibly hurt so much. Then he became aware of a multitude of scents Ė cats and dogs mostly, but not feleen or caneen. Why hadnít they taken him to a hospital? Why did that man shoot him at all? His thoughts were disrupted by what sounded like a conversation, only in strange nonsense words. He struggled to open his eyes but discovered that he was facing the wrong direction. He then tried to get up to turn around, only to have pain flare up in his shoulder. He groaned. The voices suddenly got excited. He tried again, this time favouring the abused shoulder. This time he succeeded, and he managed to get into a sitting position facing the voices. He was in a pen of some kind, and two humans were standing outside the gate observing him. He noted that the gate was locked, and he seemed to be confined like a dog in a kennel. He looked at his shoulder and saw the professional bandaging job. No, not a kennel, a veterinary clinic. Why was he being treated like an animal instead of being put into the morph ward of the hospital?
He opened his muzzle to speak, but his mouth was exceedingly dry. His voice was a raspy croak when he asked, "Where am I? Who are you people? Why am I being treated like this?"
The female seemed excited and she said something incomprehensible to the male. He replied with similar nonsense words as he shook his head. Then he faced Kayde and asked with an atrocious accent, "Are you a lupeen?"
Kayde replied, "Of course Iím a lupeen. What else do you think I could be?"
The man shook his head in confusion. Again he asked, "Are you a lupeen. Yes? No?"
"Yes, dammit!" Kayde said angrily, then regretted it as his head swam dizzily. ĎTake it easy, Kayde,í he thought to himself. ĎYou probably lost a lot of blood.í
The male seemed happy with Kaydeís answer though. Kayde watched him as he pulled out a cell-comm and dialled a number. He spoke excitedly to someone, then switched to speaker mode. A femaleís voice came from the cell-comm.
"Hello, lupeen. What is your name, please?"
"My name is Kayde. Who are you? Where the hell am I?"
"I am a vulpeen named Jazmyn, and I am sorry to tell you that you are in big trouble. To put it bluntly, you are no longer in the same universe. This is not the world you knew. Here there are no morph Companions, history is different, and no one speaks our language. The man who shot you probably thought that you were a wild animal attacking him."
"You have to be pranking me," Kayde replied. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that Iíve just suddenly popped into another universe? Let me out of here! Iím going to the peace-keepers about this!"
Jazmynís words switched to the strange babble that the humans had been using. She appeared to be relaying what he had just said. They had a brief discussion before attention turned back to him.
"Itís imperative that you understand your true situation," Jazmyn continued. "You must believe what I am telling you. A year and a half ago, the same thing happened to me. During an electrical storm, I was running through the forest in the same general area where you were found. We speculate that there seems to be some natural phenomenon that causes a rift between universes during lightning activity and, like me, you moved through it. Kayde, they think that youíre either an elaborate hoax or a monster out of their fantasies. Either way, you are likely to end up in a situation that you will very much not like. Iím not here in person because Iíve been in hiding ever since I arrived here. By good fortune, I met a human that wanted to help me rather than either attack me or use me in some way. You did not have the same good fortune."
The vulpeen seemed terribly earnest, and it did explain why the hunter had reacted so fearfully at the sight of a common lupeen. His doubts were wavering. "Can you show me more proof?" he asked.
Jazmyn relayed this to the others. The female seemed upset, but the male was insistent. She unlocked the door and he came inside. Putting his arm under Kaydeís good shoulder, he carefully helped him to his feet. Kayde was dizzy again for a moment before settling down. They slowly exited the pen as the male gabbled something at him.
The vulpeen spoke again. "He says that his name is Ken, and heís here to help you as much as he can. Theyíre going to show you some things in the doctorís office."
They carefully made their way into one of the surgeries where he was given a chair to sit down on. He gratefully sank onto it, exhausted by the short trip. The female left, but quickly returned with a pile of magazines that she handed to Kayde. Obviously they wanted him to look through them, so he did. The text was in some unknown language, which proved very little to Kayde because there were other languages used in his world, but there was also a plethora of photos of humans in them. However, there was not a single morph to be seen, even in crowd scenes. As he looked through the magazines in growing shock, the woman brought in a portable televiewer. She turned it onto and cruised through the channels. Again the language was completely unfamiliar, and there was not a single morph anywhere.
"Enough!" he growled abruptly. "Youíve convinced me. What now?"
Jazmyn said, "He believes us now, Ken."
"Thanks, Jaz." Ken looked at Bethany. "Well, Doctor, how about you? What are you going to do?"
Bethany was wondering exactly the same thing.
Bethany was in a quandary. She had never intended to hand over the lycanthrope to the hunters; that had only been an excuse she had used to discourage Kenís ideas of Ďliberatingí the creature. She had plenty of legitimate excuses for this, ranging from shooting an animal that they werenít licensed to hunt, to pointing out that it was obviously someoneís pet. She had already told the sheriff that it was actually an exotic animal from Asia that looked a bit like a wolf, and it had obviously escaped from its owner, pointing out the custom-made shorts. After all, plenty of chimpanzees were often made to wear clothes. Of course while it was lying in a heap, it hadnít looked so obviously strange except to the trained eye, and while the sheriff was an honest hard-working officer of the law, he wasnít the smartest man in the county. She had easily persuaded him that she was the person whose responsibility it was to track down the supposed owner.
No, Bethany had fully intended keeping this incredible specimen for herself to study. Visions of fame and fortune had mixed equally with professional curiosity. She had only agreed to see Ken in order to further her own goals by finding out what he knew, if anything. Unfortunately for her, he proved to know too much, and he had presented her with a dilemma. While she had been prepared to prevaricate in order to retain a unique specimen, her sense of ethics rebelled when it turned out that the specimen was in fact a sentient being like herself, no matter the outward form. Much to her frustration, Ken had proved that point beyond doubt.
"Damn it!" she swore. "Okay, Mr Morita, you can take him, but on one condition." She had no intention of letting this golden opportunity slip completely through her fingers.
"Whatís that?" Ken asked with relief.
"Heíll be needing medical attention for a while. Iíll see him on a daily basis, and while Iím there Iíll do some tests. Oh, nothing stressful, I assure you," she hastened to add as Ken started frowning. "Iíll ask his permission before doing anything, but I cannot treat him as effectively as possible without studying him."
"I suppose that I canít argue with that," Ken replied.
"Good. Now where do you intend to take him, and how do I contact you?"
Ken pulled out one of his business cards. Taking a pen from the desk, he wrote his home address on the back, adding a little map and verbal directions to aid in finding the dirt road to the secluded cabin.
"You certainly live in the middle of nowhere. No wonder that fox woman of yours hasnít been seen up until now."
"Oh, I wouldnít quite say that," Ken demurred.
Bethany was going to ask what he meant by that, but she decided that it could wait. "Now how are you going to get him there?"
"I have a pick-up truck," Ken answered.
"Bring it to the side gate and Iíll let you in. We donít want anyone to see you taking him."
Ken nodded and left to fetch his truck. Bethany quickly let him in and closed the gates. They then went back to Kayde and assisted him to the truck. Ken had thrown a mattress in the back before heading to the veterinary clinic, so Kayde was able to lie comfortably in the back. With the tonneau cover in place, he was totally hidden.
Kayde was again tired out by the effort, and he fell asleep as Bethany instructed Ken on the care and feeding of a creature in his condition. Ken backed out of the yard and Bethany closed the gates once more, hoping that she hadnít made a mistake. She had taken note of the truckís licence plate though, just in case. She hastened back inside to see to her patients, and of course their owners who would be more than a little annoyed by now at the delay caused by the unplanned meeting.
Ken carefully drove home. Not only didnít he want to disturb the sleeping lupeen, he had no intention of attracting any attention. He could do nothing about the bumps and shakes of the dirt road however, although he did his best to minimise them. It therefore took him a bit longer to get to the cabin than usual, but the trip concluded without incident.
Jazmyn was waiting for Ken on the porch as he drove up. She walked over to him and gave him a hug as he got out of the truck. "I knew you could do it," she told him proudly.
"We were lucky. Iím pretty sure that she had no intention of letting him go until she was convinced that Kayde was a person and not just an animal. Even so, I bet she could have hung onto him. I hope that revealing your existence to her doesnít come around and bite us in the ass."
"Weíll deal with it if it happens," Jazmyn said confidently. "Now let me have a look at Kayde."
Ken nodded and took off the tonneau cover and Kayde blinked in the bright light.
Although Kayde had slept for a while, the shaky ride on the dirt road had woken him again, and he was very happy that the journey was finally over. When he got over being dazzled, Kayde focused on the vixen. <You must be Jazmyn,> he said.
<Yes I am. Welcome to our home, Kayde.>
Kayde looked around. Her home was apparently a well-maintained cabin surrounded by gardens, all situated within a forest. At least it seemed he would be recuperating in pleasant surroundings. <Nice looking place that you have here,> he told her.
<Thank you. We work constantly to improve it,> she said with evident pride.
Kayde looked at Ken and asked, <What is your relationship to this human?>
<He is my life-mate,> she answered.
Kayde nodded. <I guessed as much, considering the effort that he went to in getting me.>
<We can tell you all about it later. Right now we had better get you comfortable inside.> She turned to Ken and said, "I have the spare room ready. Iíll help you get him inside."
Ken was happy for the assistance. The unsteady wolf was too large and cumbersome for just one person. Supporting him on either side, they helped him walk inside. Without stopping in the living room, they took him to the spare bed and laid him on it, propped up by several pillows.
Kayde sighed with relief. The surroundings might be unfamiliar, but at least they were amenable. From what heíd glimpsed as they came in, the inside was as well cared for as the outside, with a comforting hominess. Right now though, he was hoping that would extend to a good meal. He was starving!
<Could I get something to eat and drink, please?>
<Iíll get you a drink immediately. A meal wonít be long. Ken commed me to let me know what sort of a diet youíd need to aid recovery, and Iíve been cooking something especially for you.>
<Thank you. Youíre most generous,> Kayde said sincerely.
<You can repay me later with some news from back on the old world. Itís been a long time for me.>
<The old worldÖ that sounds so strange to me. It still seems like a bad dream.>
<It will get better. Now Iíd best get you that drink.>
Jazmyn left, but she was soon replaced by Ken. The man said something incomprehensible to him, but his tone was warm and friendly. He handed a remote control to him, pointing at the portable TV. Kayde nodded. The tech might be different, but some things were readily recognisable. He wasnít in the mood for TV though, so instead he closed his eyes to rest. A few moments later, or so it seemed, Jazmyn touched him on the good shoulder and handed him a steaming mug. He sniffed it Ė chicken broth. Not exactly what heíd been expecting, but welcome nevertheless.
As he slurped the hot soup, Jazmyn said, <No caffeinated drinks for the moment. This will be a lot better for you anyway.>
Kayde shrugged, then regretted it as his shoulder stabbed him with pain. He finished the broth quickly and asked for another. Jazmyn quickly had it filled again. It slaked his thirst and quelled his hunger pangs, but Jazmyn assured him that solid food was due soon.
Kayde asked, <While I am waiting, can you tell me how you got here?>
Jazmyn gave him an account of how she fled for her life, causing a few raised eyebrows. She described how Ken ran into her, brought her home and cared for her. She had just about covered the first day when Ken walked in with a plate filled with hot food on a serving tray.
"Here you go. Plenty of iron-rich food to help rebuild your blood supply, and lots of nutritious goodies for the rest of you." As Jazmyn translated, Ken allowed the wolf to carefully reposition himself before putting the tray in his lap.
The food smelled delicious. <Thank you,> he said as he picked up the fork, noting that there was nothing needing to be cut with a knife.
<Youíre welcome,> Ken replied.
<I thought that you didnít speak my language?> Kayde queried.
<He doesnít,> Jazmyn responded instead. <He just knows a few words and phrases. Obviously this language was of no use here, so I have never taught him anything but a few phrases.>
<I see,> Kayde said, then started eating with gusto.
Kayde had intended talking more, but a full stomach quickly made him drowsy, and he didnít even notice Ken removing the tray and plate as the couple left him to get some more rest.
"Heíll probably sleep for hours," Ken commented.
"It would be best if he did so," Jazmyn agreed. "We can wait for answers to our questions. Do you think that you got away clear?"
"Itís hard to tell. Too many people involved, so there are many ways things can yet go wrong. Doctor Carter will probably come here this evening, and sheís still an uncertain quantity."
"It canít be helped, but if nothing else Iíll have someone to turn to if I get seriously sick," Jazmyn pointed out.
"Yeah, I suppose. I admit that Iíve been concerned about that possibility, but Iíve been too worried about exposing you to do anything about it."
Jazmyn hugged Ken amorously. "You worry too much about me, but I love you for it."
Ken kissed her then said, "Letís hope that this Doctor Carter is trustworthy. Frankly I got the impression that she was more upset at losing a valuable specimen than concerned about doing the right thing. Hopefully giving her two subjects instead of just one will mollify her. Are you prepared for some rather personal prying?"
She gave him a lopsided grin. "Since when is that any different from a regular physician? Anyway, I pretty much expected that when I conceded letting her come here."
"Donít hesitate to let me know if she goes too far. I wonít have my wife treated like a laboratory specimen."
Jazmyn hugged him fiercely. "Just donít do anything that might make me lose you," she said fervently.
Kayde did sleep until late afternoon. A full bladder woke him then, and Ken had to help him to the bathroom and then back to his bed again. Jazmyn then took the opportunity to chat with the wolf while Ken made dinner.
Jazmyn continued to describe the events that had happened since she arrived, how she learned English and Kenís generosity and kindness. <Fortunately my gift for languages enabled me to comprehend and adjust far more quickly than I would have otherwise.>
Kayde said, <I suppose Iím going to have to learn this English. I donít have your facility with languages though.>
<Iíll be happy to teach you. I donít mind translating for you until you can cope by yourself.>
<Thank you. So, youíre a Reformist?>
<I was, or at least I was a strong supporter of my Companionís beliefs.>
<No wonder you fled for your life,> Kayde commented.
<Is it still as bad?> Jazmynís curiosity had been awakened after she had long since put aside any hope of ever hearing anything about her former world.
<Worse if anything, although that might be a good sign in a strange way. It shows that the movement is spreading and the authorities are reacting to that.>
<Did it affect you?>
Kayde looked sad. <It never really got a chance to.>
<What do you mean by that?>
<I never got to know my Companionís stance on the subject.>
Jazmyn was perplexed. <How could you not know?>
<Because he was killed in a car accident two days before I was released from the Quickening facilities.>
Jazmyn gasped. <YouÖ you never met your Companion? I canít comprehend how that must feel to you.>
<Itís like a massive part of me is missing. Iíve been wandering the world trying to fill it.>
<How could you afford to do that?>
<As you know, we become legal persons as soon as we are quickened. As his Companion, I automatically became his heir in the absence of a spouse, and his family is quite wealthy. Iíve been travelling for years and Iíve hardly made a dent in that inheritance.>
<All these years and youíve never found someone to replace him? Thatís very sad. However, never give up hope.>
Kayde snorted in derision. <I seem to be stuck in a world that regards me as a freak. What do you think my chances are?>
<Better than you might think,> Jazmyn demurred. <Remember that I found my Lifemate here.>
<Lightning might strike twice, hey? Pardon my scepticism.>
<If youíll pardon my optimism.>
<Deal! Now tell me more about my new neighbourhood.>
Jazmyn was still trying to describe a year and a half of new experiences when Ken announced that dinner was ready. He asked Jazmyn to ask Kayde whether he wanted to have his in bed, or was he feeling up to sitting at the dinner table. Kayde opted to get out of bed. While it couldnít work miracles, food and sleep had done wonders, and he managed to get to the table without assistance, although Ken hovered nearby just in case. Once seated, he was served a juicy steak with vegetable sides. He was forced to ask for someone to cut up his steak, but after that he coped just fine with one hand. As he ate, he felt strangely at home. While his Companionís family had welcomed him into their home, his presence was a constant reminder to everyone that he had been intended as a twenty-first birthday gift to their son/brother, and it made their sense of loss linger. With all the good will in the world, they still had not been able to make him feel as comfortable as these two near-strangers were doing. He began to feel just a tiny bit more optimistic about the future.
It was obvious to Kayde that Jazmyn and Ken were made for each other despite coming from different worlds. They worked together so well, touched each other lovingly, and laughed a lot. It made his loss feel even more poignant, and he might have become depressed if it wasnít for the fact that their sheer happiness at being together was so contagious. In fact he could not help smiling when they did.
After the couple had cleaned up the dinner mess, they seated Kayde on an easy chair while they sat together on the sofa. They had an odd three-way conversation, with Jazmyn acting as interpreter between he and Ken. Kayde told them how he eventually parted company with the family and started his life as a wanderer. He didnít know exactly what he wanted any more, but he was certain it wasnít going to be found maintaining the status quo.
Weeks turned into months as Kayde travelled around the country, then other countries, occasionally taking a job, although he only did so for the social interaction and not for the money. A few times he thought heíd found some place to settle down, but each time the dream fell apart and he set off again. Lately heíd been disappearing into the countryside for days or even weeks, which is what heíd been doing when heíd been caught by the storm and flung into a strange new world. He had to admit that being the only lupeen in a world filled with humans was very daunting, but perhaps the challenge would bring something new. <Or perhaps Iíll go look for a way back,> he concluded.
<You can try that without us,> Jazmyn replied. <This is where I belong now, and we fear the possibility of accidentally crossing over.>
<I can understand that,> Kayde said, then his ears twitched. <I can hear a vehicle in the distance. Could that be the vet?>
Jazmynís ears had picked up the noise also. <Iím unfamiliar with the sound of that vehicle, so you are probably right. We have very few people driving up this way, but our neighbours know about me, so theyíre okay.> She turned to Ken. "A carís coming."
Ken got up. "Iíll meet Doctor Carter outside, if itís her. Might as well make us all some coffee, Jaz. It might help make the visit more comfortable."
"It canít hurt," Jazmyn agreed.
Ken went out onto the porch and waited. He could hear the car now and didnít recognise it as either Elizabeth or Rickís, or even his sister Sakuraís. Sure enough, a Nissan Pathfinder turned into his driveway and Ken could see Bethany behind the wheel.
She pulled up right next to the steps, shut off the engine and got out. Looking about, she commented, "Nice place you have here. Iím glad to see it. I was half expecting to end up at the old sawmill with egg on my face."
"Iíve been nothing but honest with you, Doctor Carter. I hope that youíll do us the same favour," Ken replied.
She nodded. "I suppose Iíd better do what I said Iíd do then. Is he awake?"
"Kayde is awake and has been chatting with us. He slept a lot of the day and has a good meal, so he seems to be doing okay."
"Good, although Iíll make certain of that for myself." She took her kit out of the car and stepped up onto the porch.
Ken opened the door for her and they walked inside. Bethany came to an abrupt halt as she came face to face with Jazmyn. Ken said, "Doctor Carter, I would like you to meet Jazmyn whom I am proud to call my wife. Jazmyn, this is Doctor Bethany Carter."
"Welcome to our home, Doctor," Jazmyn said.
Although she had been expecting to see a fox woman as Ken had forewarned, the reality was still a shock. She was dressed in a pretty skirt and a flattering tank top, and she spoke perfect English; she seemed soÖ normal. Then something else registered. She looked at Ken and said, "Your wife?"
Ken solemnly replied, "Yes, doctor, my wife. I realise that you might find that shocking, but by the customs of the world she comes from, itís perfectly normal. We fell in love after she had been staying with me for several months."
Bethany nodded slowly, taking in that concept. Now she could finally understand his motivation Ė he had a huge emotional stake in this too. She looked back to Jazmyn. "Sorry for being rude. This is a bit of a shock to me." She held out her hand to shake Jazmynís. "Iím pleased to meet you, and I hope that you will give me the opportunity to examine you professionally."
"I would be happy to do so, Doctor," Jazmyn replied with a careful smile. She didnít want to give the doctor the wrong impression with a toothy grin.
"I suppose Iíd better look at my patient now."
"Heís right behind you, Doctor."
Bethany turned around and saw Kayde watching them with interest.
"We were having a nice conversation when you arrived," Jazmyn explained. "Iíll be translating for you, of course, although I suppose that you donít normally have patients with whom you can converse."
"Not ones that can reply, at least," Bethany said fervently. "Letís have a look at that dressing first."
Bethany removed the bandages and redressed the wound after nodding in satisfaction at what she found. Then she asked Kayde to cooperate with an intensive examination which continued until Kayde gave a jaw-cracking yawn.
Bethany announced, "Thatís enough for today. Kayde needs his rest. Please convey my thanks to him for being so helpful."
<The doctor is grateful for your cooperation, but itís time you got back to bed.> Jazmyn beckoned Ken over to get him to help steady the weary wolf, and they got him quickly to bed. He was asleep almost the moment that he hit the pillow. Ken closed the door behind him although he felt fairly sure that nothing was going to wake the weary lupeen for a long while.
"Would you like a cappuccino, Doctor?" Jazmyn asked.
"Iíd like that, but please call me Bethany."
"Well, Bethany," Ken started, "How do we stand?"
"In what way, Ken?" Bethany queried.
"In just about every way that you can think of, I reckon. You have been entrusted with our secrets. Are you going to tell anybody? Are you biding your time for your own purposes? Or are you really going to help us?"
"You really are the suspicious type, Ken," Bethany said.
"Do you really blame me? And that didnít answer my questions, by the way."
Bethany sighed. "I wonít pretend that this isnít a golden opportunity for me, but my conscience wonít let me betray you. Everything that you have shown and told me just makes it even clearer that I have no right to claim Kayde, and while Iím not exactly comfortable with the idea of you and Jazmyn being married, an animal she isnít. However, you have to realise that other people are going to see things differently, and youíre not in the clear yet."
"Those hunters came back, and I gave them my reasons why they werenít getting Kayde back. They werenít happy at all about that. Even though I told them that they had no legal right to him, they went away proclaiming that they would get him back, one way or another."
"Damn. I wonder what trouble theyíll stir up?"
"Who knows? Iím glad that you took Kayde here. I still intend learning as much about him as I can, and you too, Jasmine, but itís better that you keep him out of view for now. Iíll save up my research for the day when you wonít be hiding any more."
"You think that will happen? Weíve managed to keep Jazmyn pretty much a secret so far."
"What? Absolutely nobody? Youíre far too optimistic, Ken. Youíve just been lucky so far. Even way out here, the unexpected can happen."
Despite his bravado, Ken knew she was right. Sakura, Elizabeth and the children were proof of that. "Alright, but for now, you keep your end of the bargain and weíll keep ours."
Jazmyn walked over with three mugs on a tray. "If you two are through being so depressing, how about we chat about more normal things?"
They chatted for about an hour before Bethany announced that she needed to head off home, adding, "Iíll be back again tomorrow evening. I donít expect there to be any problems with Kayde, but donít hesitate to call me if there is."
"Weíll do that. Thanks, Bethany," Jazmyn said gratefully.
"Goodnight," Bethany said, then got into her car and drove off. She saw the two in her rear-view mirror, standing arm-in-arm. She still hadnít embraced the concept of being married, or Life-mated as they explained was the proper term, but damned if it didnít intrigue her.
Ken said to Jazmyn as they watched Bethany leave, "So what do you think?"
"I reckon that she can be trusted. She has too much to lose otherwise, and I believe weíve hooked her personal interest also. Letís just hope that those hunters donít cause her trouble. She does not have the same emotional investment as we do."
"Amen to that," Ken said as he took them both inside.
Kayde woke up later that evening, once again due to the need to go to the toilet. He carefully made his way to the bathroom, encountering no one on the way. As he relieved himself, he heard noises coming from the other bedroom. He recognised the sound of love-making and he was happy for his hosts, but he wondered how he could ever achieve the same. Happily he did not have much time to dwell on that thought because he fell back asleep again as soon as he hit the mattress.
Kayde slept until mid morning. When he made his way out to the living room, he found Jazmyn working on some baking but no sign of Ken.
<Good morning,> Jazmyn said. <Take a seat at the table and Iíll serve you some breakfast.>
<Thanks. Whereís Ken?> Kayde asked curiously.
<He went to his office. He took a day off work yesterday to deal with you, but couldnít skip another day.>
<Of course. What did you plan to do today?>
<I bake treats occasionally, and this seemed as good a time as any. That way I can be around to tend to you if necessary.>
<Thank you, but as long as I donít over-exert myself, I should be fine. I already feel a lot better than yesterday.>
<Then we wonít undo the good by trying to do things that weíre not ready for yet, will we?>
<Yes, nurse,> Kayde replied with a grin.
<And I have the perfect non-strenuous activity in mind for you.>
<And whatís that?>
<Iím going to teach you the English language.>
<Come on, it wonít be that bad,> Jazmyn said with a good-natured glare.
<I told you, I donít have your facility with languages,> Kayde objected. <I picked up a smattering of several in my travels, but just enough to ask the essential questions like whereís the station, point me to a hotel, and where are the public toilets?>
<Plenty of people learn languages without my special gift. Youíll just have to try a bit harder. Youíre not a tourist here, and while you might try to find a way back, I would not count on it. You are going to have to communicate with people here, and I cannot be there to translate for you all the time.>
Kayde sighed. <I suppose so. Just donít expect miracles, okay?>
Jazmyn walked over to him with a plate loaded with egg, bacon and hash browns. Placing it in front of him, she said, <I wonít be unreasonable, I promise. Weíll start immediately though.> She handed him a utensil for the food. "Fork," she said, and made him repeat it before he could eat.
And so Kaydeís education commenced.
Although the weather was relatively cool, Jazmyn normally had the front door open for fresh air. Of course, to people who possessed fur, this was very comfortable. It was also easier to hear vehicles approaching from further away. It did little to detect arrivals that did not come by car however, especially if oneís mind is focused on language lessons.
There was a perfunctory knock at the door before a boyís voice called out as he opened the insect screen door. "Hi Jazmyn! Mom sent me over with that pound of sugar that she borrowed."
Matthew didnít come over as often as he used to since they had gotten the internet connection up at the sawmill residence, but he was still welcome at Ken and Jazmynís place at almost any time. He had been one of Jazmynís earliest friends since accidentally meeting her the previous year, and the vixen still enjoyed it when he or his sister visited. He was halfway to the kitchenette when he spotted Kayde looking at him, wide-eyed in concern.
"Oh wow! Another one! Hi, Iím Matt. Whoíre you?"
"This is Kayde, Matt. He doesnít speak English yet. Iíve just started trying to teach him." She turned to the wolf and said, <Kayde, this boy is a friend of ours named Matthew, although heís almost always just called Matt. He and his sister, Tina, were the first two people to meet me since I started living with Ken. His family lives at the old sawmill further up the road.>
Kayde relaxed, relieved that there was nothing to worry about. He held out his hand. "Hello, Matt."
Matt shook his hand with a grin a mile wide on his face. "Hi, Kayde. You look different to Jazmyn."
Jazmyn said, "Kayde is a lupeen, a wolf morph, not a fox like me."
"Howíd he get here?"
"Remember how I told you that I somehow crossed over during a storm? Well Kayde did the same a few nights ago. He was shot by some hunters who were frightened of him. We convinced the vet who fixed him up that he needed to be with us."
"Hey! Is he that werewolf that they had on the news on Sunday?" Jazmyn nodded. "Boy, did they get it wrong! Iím sorry that they shot you, Kayde."
Jazmyn translated that last bit for Kayde who nodded and smiled at the boy.
Matt said, "I gotta go. Mom wanted me back straight away. Just wait until she hears about this!"
"Goodbye, Matt. Please thank your mother for the sugar."
"I will. Bye, Jazmyn! Bye, Kayde!" With a cheery wave, he departed.
<He seems like a nice boy,> Kayde remarked.
<He is, and so are the rest of his family.> Jazmyn proceeded to tell Kayde all about them, and their role in the events that led up to her mating with Ken. She had barely finished when they heard a vehicle approaching.
Kayde looked at Jazmyn queryingly, but she just grinned back. <It sounds like Elizabeth is coming to see for herself. After being surprised last time, she probably wants to find out all about you. If sheís bringing Tina, youíd better watch out Ė sheís quite a tail hugger!>
Jazmyn met Elizabeth at the door. "Is what Matthew told me true? Thereís a wolf-man here?" Elizabeth asked.
"Come on in and see for yourself," Jazmyn invited.
Elizabeth came in, saw Kayde, and shook her head in wonder. "This place is becoming Grand Central Station for furry people."
"Elizabeth, this is Kayde. If you heard that new article about a werewolf, thatís him."
"Hello, Kayde. You arenít really a werewolf, I hope?"
"Hello, Elizabeth," Kayde said with a smile.
"Kayde has only learned a few words of English so far, so you canít really converse unless I translate," Jazmyn explained. "And no, heís just a wolf morph, not a werewolf."
"Thatís okay, Jazmyn. I just wanted to confirm what Matt told me. I left him minding Tina and the stove too, so I need to hurry back. Iíll drop by at a more convenient time for a real talk."
"Okay, Elizabeth. Tell Tina hello for me."
Elizabeth departed, driving out barely before Ken arrived home. Jazmyn met him on the porch with her usual ĎWelcome homeí hug and kiss.
"I take it that Elizabeth knows about Kayde?" Ken asked.
"Yes. Matt dropped by and of course he told her about him, so she had to come to look for herself."
"Fair enough. So howís Kayde doing?"
"He hasnít over-exerted himself, so heís been fine all day, but he hates his English lessons."
"If thatís the worst that happened all day, then I call it a very good day." He waved to Kayde as he entered. "Hello, Kayde."
"Hello, Ken. How are you?" Kayde replied.
"Good, thanks." Ken didnít try to converse more. He was sure that Kayde would only understand some phrases so far.
Jazmyn said, "I was wondering though why Elizabeth didnít already know about Kayde. I thought that you would tell her and Rick at work today."
As Elizabeth was Ken and Rickís receptionist and secretary and the only other people besides Kenís sister who knew about Jazmyn, she thought he would have told them why he had been absent the previous day.
"I thought that it would be best to keep this to myself for now. What they donít know canít hurt them. I didnít think about Matt dropping in though. Oh well, I hope Iím just being paranoid."
The rest of the evening went similarly to the previous one. Bethany arrived to check Kaydeís progress and expressed great satisfaction with the rate of healing. She then continued her detailed examination of the wolf until she ran out of tests that she could perform with the limited equipment at hand.
"I really wish that we were back at my clinic. This is a bit frustrating."
"If this incident blows over, we could probably oblige you, as long as you donít mind opening up for a night visit while nobody else is around," Jazmyn told her.
That sounds as if you have done excursions like that before," Bethany commented.
"We have," Jazmyn admitted.
"Then Iíll hold you to that. In the meantime, can we start on a detailed examination of you tomorrow?"
"Thatís fine by me."
Bethany left feeling that she had accomplished a lot that day.
Wednesday was usually Kenís work at home day, but because he missed Monday, he chose to go into the office as usual. Jazmyn continued trying to teach Kayde English, but was getting a bit frustrated by his poor aptitude for the task. She had to remind herself occasionally that it had only been two days and Kayde had not been created with the same ability as she had. About midday, they took a break for lunch, and afterwards she let him rest on the porch while she did some gardening. Then they had another session of English until Ken came home.
Kenís partner and friend, Rick, visited that evening, having now been told about Kayde by Elizabeth.
"At this rate, youíre going to have to open up a halfway house for furry people," Rick said with a grin. "Have you any idea what youíre going to do with him once he has healed, and if you manage to get away scot free?"
"Frankly, no," admitted Ken. "Even if he stays with us, I think heíd get very bored with nothing to do."
"He could always do what I once suggested for Jazmyn," Rick pointed out.
"Still on that kick? I donít know if that would be any better for him than for her. Thereíd be almost the same problems in the long run. Still, thatís up to him to decide, I suppose."
"Keep it in mind, my friend. Sometime the decisions end up being made for you, and not necessarily in your favour."
Bethany showed up promptly after dinner. Jazmyn was ready for the intense examination that the doctor gave her. In fact she was quite eager. The lack of a doctor had been one of her major worries while living with Ken. In her world, Companion morphs were just as susceptible to disease and injury as humans, so having Bethany in the know was taking a load off her mind.
"You seem remarkably comfortable for someone standing around in the nude," Bethany remarked at one point.
"Why not?" Jazmyn replied. "I rarely needed to wear anything back in my old world. My fur is quite enough to keep me comfortable. It took me a long while to adjust to wearing clothes frequently here."
"Is that common back there?" Bethany asked curiously.
"Itís a different culture. Even humans were a lot less uptight about clothes, at least in my country. Morphs rarely wore more than shorts like Kayde, if anything at all."
"Some people look better clothed than naked," Bethany pointed out.
Jazmyn laughed. "I suppose youíre right, and admittedly I had some nice formal wear also."
"Youíre a very beautiful fox-person, Jazmyn. Iím beginning to see why Ken was so attracted to you."
"Iím pretty sure that he liked me for more than my fur," Jazmyn replied with a knowing smile.
"Good. He didnít strike me as being the shallow type. Iím glad to hear that I was right. Still, a man and a foxÖ it seems so surreal."
"If it makes you feel any better, only a small proportion of Companion morphs have this close a relationship with a human. Mine was more like a daughter to my Companion. Itís something very different from how I feel about Ken."
"Donít mind me, Jazmyn. I might think itís weird, but Iím not condemning either of you for your feelings. Maybe in a few months it might all seem like old hat to me too."
After she finished that night, Bethany informed them that she wouldnít be coming around the next evening as she had a previous engagement, but she would probably be around on Friday. She left them with a cheery wave, very pleased with all the data she had gathered.
Thursday passed uneventfully, and by Friday, Ken was beginning to relax. It seemed that they had managed to pull off Kaydeís disappearing act without a hitch. In celebration, he quit work a little early and brought home Chinese food for the three of them. Kayde showed remarkable dexterity with chopsticks and, combined with a strong appetite, easily finished before the other two. Ken was just fetching some dessert when Jazmyn stiffened.
"I hear a car," she said.
"Bethanyís a bit early today," remarked Ken.
"It doesnít sound like her car, Ken."
"Who would be coming up here at this time? Better take precautions and hide away."
Jazmyn nodded and told Kayde to go to his room. When it became clear that the unfamiliar car was coming to their cabin, Jazmyn followed him, pulling the mobile bookcase in front of the door for concealment. Ken hastily cleared some of the mess away, realising belatedly that there was too much there for just one person. Nevertheless he stepped out of the front door just as the car pulled up. It was a standard street car, not well-adapted to the rough dirt road that it just traversed, and it looked very muddy due to overnight rains leaving large pools of water and mud. The occupant though was dressed immaculately in a suit, and stepped out of his car without paying any attention to its condition. He walked up to the porch steps and stopped there.
"Are you Ken Morita?" he asked.
"I am. Is there anything that I can do for you?"
The man pulled out a wallet from his inside coat pocket. Flipping it open, he showed it to Ken. "My name is Agent Fairbanks from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was hoping that you could answer some questions for me about a missing exotic animal, Mr Morita."
Ken stared at the badge, the letters F.B.I. burning into his sight, and his heart sank rapidly.
Ken said in a surprised tone, "Since when do they send the FBI to look for missing pets?"
Unperturbed, Agent Fairbanks answered, "This is no mere pet, sir. We have allegations that a unique specimen was captured, then stolen, and then had everything covered up. Pretty interesting, wouldnít you say?"
"I suppose so," Ken conceded, "but how does that involve me?"
"Are you familiar with the recent news of a werewolf being caught in this area?"
"I am. Youíre not going to try to tell me that this exotic animal is actually a werewolf?" scoffed Ken.
"Hardly, Mr Morita. I donít even know if itís a kind of wolf at all, but the people who claimed to find it said thatís what it looked like."
"So, once again, what has somebodyís fantasy creature got to do with me?"
Fairbanks consulted a notepad that he pulled from his jacket pocket. "You were at the veterinary clinic of Doctor Bethany Carter on Monday morning, correct?"
Ken wondered how the FBI agent knew that. "Thatís right," he confirmed.
"What was the purpose of your visit?"
Ken thought quickly, realising that anything that he said would be compared to other peopleís statements. "I was there for some advice for breeding dogs." Seeing as he had arrived without any animal, it was the best that he could come up with at short notice.
Fairbanks wrote something in his notepad, then asked, "You were observed taking your vehicle into the yard at the rear of the surgery. What did you do there? Did you see anything unusual?"
"I picked up some basic supplies for the breeding so that I would be prepared when I get the animals. I wasnít exactly sight-seeing though, so I didnít look around much. I saw the pens there, and a few of the animals, but nothing out of the ordinary."
"I see," Fairbanks said as he noted Kenís reply. "Would you mind if I look around your house?"
Ken frowned. "Yes, I would. And donít give me any of that crap about innocent people having nothing to hide either. One of the reasons that I live out here is that I highly value my privacy, and the only people who come in here are relatives and friends whom Iíve invited over. Anyway, you wonít find your werewolf or whatever here."
"Very well, sir. Iíll bid you good day then," Fairbanks replied impassively. He then returned to his car and drove off.
Ken stood on the porch and watched him leave. When the carís engine could barely be heard any more, Jazmyn joined him out on the porch.
Jazmyn had overheard the entire conversation with her keen hearing. "Do you think he believed you?" she asked Ken.
"Hard to say. It depends a lot on what other people may have told him. I hope that I didnít overplay my hand though."
"Perhaps you should have let him in and look around? We were pretty well hidden, after all."
"Maybe, but I got the impression that this agent is pretty observant. He may have spotted something that we have overlooked due to familiarity."
"It would have helped if weíd had a little warning. I wonder why Bethany didnít call us about him?"
"Thatís a very good question, Jaz," Ken said with a frown. "Perhaps she was spooked by him being from the FBI and feared heíd check the phone records, although thatís a bit paranoid at this point. She might not be coming around tonight for the same reason."
"Iím worried, Ken. What if he comes back and this time uses his authority to search our home?"
"He canít, or at least not without a search warrant, and he needs some solid evidence to get one of those. I donít think he has anything but suspicions right now."
Jason Fairbanks was feeling pleased. This investigation looked like it might turn out to be different from all the other oddball assignments that he had been handed ever since his colleagues had found out about his hobby. Heíd had to endure digs about "X-Files" and being called "Fox", despite not looking even the slightest bit like the fictional agent. Little did his colleagues realise how closely that hit home. Of course these weird assignments tended to be more interesting than the average investigation, but they were doing nothing for his hopes of promotion. As soon as the complaint about a stolen werewolf had hit his desk, he thought that he would be off on another wild goose chase. In fact, up until now, he hadnít really uncovered anything really worthwhile. The stories that the doctor and sheriff had told him seemed reasonable, although he had yet to check some of the details. One of those details had just made things interesting though.
Fairbanks prided himself on having an excellent bullshit detector. What fascinated him about Morita was the curiously conflicting messages he was getting from him. He had given some details that didn't agree with the vet's account, and yet at the same time he had a genuine feeling of innocence. Whether the man was actually guilty of anything that he was investigating remained to be determined, but he was definitely hiding something. Whatever the reason for it, it bore further investigation.
The next morning, Fairbanks was on his way back to Kenís cabin. However, well before his car could be heard from there, he pulled off onto a fire track far enough to be out of sight from any casual glances from the road. He got out and took a backpack from the back seat and locked the car. Dressed in practical outdoors gear, he now looked like a typical recreational nature-loving hiker rather than an FBI agent. He walked up the road until he was close to the cabin before he took off into the scrub. He made his way carefully under the concealment of the foliage until he was in position opposite the track that was the driveway to Kenís cabin, hidden from view by a dense bush, but in clear line of sight of the front door. There he settled in for a long bout of surveillance.
Although Fairbanks had been prepared to watch all day, he only had to wait little more than an hour before his patience bore fruit. The door opened and someone emerged. His binoculars were up in a moment, and he got a good view of the person as he walked over to one of the chairs on the porch and sat down in the morning sun. Fairbanks was stunned. There was no mistaking what he was seeing, and while it wasnít a vicious werewolf out of a horror movie, it definitely was not human. Instead it was something plucked right out of Fairbanksí dearest fantasies Ė a wolf morph! He was dressed only in shorts, so his digitigrade legs and all-over fur served to back up the evidence of the lupine head, which might have been just an elaborate mask otherwise. Belatedly he remembered his camera. Uncharacteristically flustered by the huge surprise, heíd forgotten to take any photos. He set about correcting that oversight. He was about to start packing up when a second person emerged. Still holding the camera, he focused the zoom lens on the newcomer. He didnít think he could be surprised again, but his jaw dropped as he was flabbergasted to see another morph, and a female this time.
She was obviously a fox rather than a wolf even though her overalls hid much of her body. Her tail and colouration were dead giveaways though. She headed over to the toolshed and emerged with a few garden tools which she took over to one of the garden beds. It seemed to Fairbanks that this vixen was the caretaker of the lush gardens surrounding the cabin. He couldnít help himself; he watched her work for half an hour while the wolf apparently just snoozed in the warm sunlight. Eventually he forced himself to get back to work. He packed up his camera and other equipment, put the backpack on, and headed toward the cabin.
While the others had insisted that he keep resting while healing, Kayde was enjoying the sun but he wasnít asleep. It was too soon after getting out of bed to be sleepy. Instead he was using his enforced rest to simply enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of this little corner of heaven. Abruptly his pleasure was jolted by the sight of an unfamiliar human walking down the driveway.
<Hsst! Jazmyn! Thereís a man walking toward us down the track,> Kayde said in a low urgent tone.
Jazmyn looked up and saw Fairbanks still some distance away down the track. <Shit! Get inside now, Kayde!> She hastened to follow him, hoping and praying that this hiker hadnít gotten a good look at them as yet.
Inside the cabin, Ken was doing the weekend cleaning. He was startled when both Kayde and Jazmyn burst inside, then closed the door. "Whatís going on?"
Jazmyn replied, "Thereís someone coming this way on foot. I donít know if heís just heading for the cliff trail, or if he was looking at us, but I thought that we had better hide quickly anyway and hope for the best."
Ken peered through the window at the approaching man, then got a shock as he recognised who it was. "Oh hell! Itís that FBI agent. Iíll go out and talk to him, but this isnít looking good."
As the two morphs headed for Kaydeís room, Ken stepped out onto the porch and waited for Fairbanks.
"Good morning, Agent Fairbanks. I canít say that Iím particularly pleased to see you," Ken said as the man got within comfortable earshot.
"No doubt," agreed Fairbanks. "Iíve come to talk about the wolf morph that you are harbouring in your cabin."
"Your imagination is interesting," Ken replied.
"Did I imagine the vixen morph too?" Fairbanks asked pointedly.
Ken slumped, the last vestige of hope now vanquished. "You had better come inside. We have a lot to talk about."
"Thank you, Mr Morita."
"Please leave your muddy boots on the porch. Iím trying to clean up inside."
Fairbanks smiled. "No problem. I donít wish to upset my host."
"Too late," Ken said with a resigned sigh.
Jazmyn had overheard the exchange, and had abandoned her attempts to conceal Kayde and herself. Both of them were waiting for the agent when he walked inside; she with her arms folded and with a steady gaze at the source of their problems, and he with a troubled, uncertain look.
Fairbanks gave the wolf morph a good look over, noting the bandaged shoulder. He was a handsome specimen, and far more impressive in real life than he had dared dream. Then he had a closer look at the fox morph, noting her attitude and sexy good looks. He felt that he had died and gone to Heaven. Nevertheless he forced himself to be professional. "Okay, Mr Morita, you said that you had a lot to tell me?"
"Take a seat, Agent Fairbanks. This is going to take a while," Ken replied.
"Would you like something to drink?" Jazmyn asked.
Fairbanks was delighted by the sound of her voice. "Iíd like that, thanks. Coffee if you have it."
"How do you like it?" she said as she walked over to the kitchen area.
Fairbanks watched her digitigrade gait with fascination. "Black with two sugars, please."
Ken said, "Make me some too while youíre at it, please. I think Iím going to need it."
"Coming right up."
Ken turned to Fairbanks and said, "First, let me introduce you properly. The lovely vixen making us coffee is Jazmyn Ė my lifemateÖ or wife if you prefer."
Only tight discipline kept Fairbanks from showing surprise at that statement. Instead he said, "A pleasure to meet you, maíam."
Ken continued, "And the object of your search and the undoing of our little secret is named Kayde. He has just started learning English, so donít expect him to be able to talk to you much."
"Good to meet you, Kayde," Fairbanks nevertheless said politely.
"Good to meet you," Kayde echoed.
Ken said, "Before I start, I must say that you are taking this rather calmly."
"I might explain why that is if you manage to impress me sufficiently, Mr Morita."
"Iíll keep that in mind. Anyway, to answer your questions properly about Kayde, first I need to tell you about Jazmyn and her role in the events that has brought this meeting to passÖ."
With that, Ken started recounting Jazmynís story, while she kept up a steady stream of comments, coffee and snacks. Eventually Fairbanks was brought up to speed on all the details and the others fell silent. The agent was quiet for a time, contemplating what heíd been told.
"Well?" asked Ken, "How do we stand?"
"Mr Morita, youíve put me in a difficult position. First off though I will say that I donít feel that you have a case to answer for. Kayde is obviously not property, and as such cannot be stolen. As he went with you willingly, neither has he been kidnapped, and under the circumstances, I can dismiss the attempts to deceive me by you and Doctor Carter."
Ken and Jazmyn both sighed with relief.
"Thank you, Agent Fairbanks," Jazmyn said.
"Donít thank me yet, Jazmyn," Fairbanks said ominously.
"Why?" Ken asked suspiciously. "You just told us that you were dropping the case."
"I have a lot of sympathy for your cause, Jazmyn and Kayde. I promised that if you impressed me with your explanation, I would tell you why I was so matter-of-fact about you morphs. Mr Morita, are you familiar at all with anthropomorphic creatures, or furries as they are nicknamed?"
Ken frowned in thought as he cast his memory back to when he first encountered Jazmyn. "Yes, I found out about that when I was trying to find information on what Jazmyn was. At one time I considered approaching some of them about her for help. That didnít prove necessary though."
"That could have worked out well or badly, depending on who you talked to," Fairbanks said. "As it happens, I am a fan of anthropomorphics. In fact I role-play a character named Jason Oakbark, a grey fox character, and I have been absolutely fascinated by encountering real-life morphs. When my colleagues found out about it however, I got a lot of ribbing and my career got a bit side-tracked. It resulted in me getting assigned to this case though, which I will be forever grateful for."
"I sense a great big ĎButí coming," Ken said with a sense of dread.
"Iím afraid so, Mr Morita. Furries are just my hobby. I have a job to do, and I donít intend my pastime to compromise that. While neither Kayde nor Jazmyn have committed any crime besides a little financial deception in regards to Jazmynís job which I will let the IRS worry about, thereís the bigger problem that they are both aliens in this country. I know that there is no provision for extra-universal travellers, but they nevertheless werenít born here."
Jazmyn said, "That depends on your point of view. History may be different, but the actual physical world is the same. I was quickenedÖ or born if you willÖ about ninety miles north-west of here."
Fairbanks looked glum. "Itís just semantics, Jazmyn. The way that Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security is going to view it is going to be completely different."
"Do you really need to tell either of them?" Ken asked.
Fairbanks nodded. "Aside from explaining why I am dropping the case, I do need to maintain my integrity in this matter. As a representative of the federal government, I cannot turn a blind eye to their status. Although it pains me to do so, I will be reporting both Kayde and Jazmyn. It will then be up to the government to decide what to do with you."
Ken got angry then. "How dare you decide our lives so cavalierly? You say you understand us and have done nothing wrong, nor any crime to answer for, but you are going to ruin our lives anyway!"
"Believe me, I donít really want toÖ"
"Thatís not good enough!" Ken interrupted. "Get out of our house, mister hotshot agent! Youíve done enough damage for one day."
Fairbanks got up from his chair. "Thank you for the coffee and snacks, Jazmyn. You have been a delightful host."
"I wish I could say that it was my pleasure, Mr Fairbanks," Jazmyn replied. "Iíll let you out."
Fairbanks paused at the front door. "Itís the weekend, and I wonít be expected to make a report before Monday. May I suggest that you go to the media with your story? If you can get them behind you, it would lend an enormous amount of weight to your case. Think carefully about what you want to tell them though. Not everyone will be happy about your relationship."
Kenís anger eased. He realised that the agent was bending the rules a little for their benefit. "Weíll think about that, Mr Fairbanks."
Fairbanks smiled and took out a business card. "Very good. Iíd like to be able to mitigate some of the trouble that I am going to cause you, so if I can be of any help, please call me. And I hope that we will be able to meet as friends in the future."
"I suppose that depends on how this works out." Ken took the card. "Goodbye, Mr Fairbanks."
"Farewell, Mr Morita, Jazmyn, Kayde." The agent shouldered his backpack and started his trek back to his car.
Ken and Jazmyn watched him glumly for a short time before they re-entered the cabin.
<I gather that this did not go well?> Kayde queried.
Jazmyn replied, <No. He is going to report our existence in two days. However he has recommended a course of action that we must consider.>
<And what is that?>
<He told us to go to the media and try to get their support for our cause.>
<Isnít that one of the things that you were trying to avoid?>
Jazmyn nodded. <Yes, thatís true, but it is now probably inevitable. The trick is going to be getting them on our side before the authorities become involved.>
Kayde understood. The politics of their old universe was just as strongly influenced by the media. <Letís hope for the best, then.>
Jazmyn agreed, and then turned back to Ken. "Well, what are we going to do?"
"Unless you can think of something better, Iím going to take Fairbanksí advice."
Jazmyn shook her head and came in close to Ken to hug him tightly. No matter what they did, their happy lives were going to change. "Do what you must," she told him.
Ken kissed her deeply. "I love you. No matter what happens, Jaz, I will always do my best to make you happy and secure." He then gently broke away from the vixen and went over to the phone. Picking it up, he speed-dialled a number, and a familiar voice soon answered. "Hello, Rick. Remember your desire to put Jazmyn on TV? Well, it looks like youíre getting your wishÖ."
Ken sat in the back of Rickís car, fuming with barely contained anger. His left hand was about Jazmynís waist while his right hand stroked her hair reassuringly as she wept on his shoulder from fear and humiliation. They drove in stony cold silence for hours all the way from the TV studio interstate to Rickís home where Ken had parked his truck. As they got out, Rick again tried to apologise for the way that things had turned out, only to have Ken cut him off.
"Of all the idiotic shows that you could have gotten Jazmyn on, why did it have to be that moronic one? You were so confident of getting her some serious publicity, but that was the best you could do? It was a wonder that Jazmyn wasnít hurt by those idiots when they tried to pull hir head off to prove that it was a mask. As it was, she was ridiculed and insulted by people who were never open to the truth in the first place. That wasnít an interview Ė that was a farce Ė a circus! No, Iíve seen circus animals treated far better than she was."
Normally Rick was the cool, fast-talking business manager, but his utter failure of his attempts to publicise Jazmyn to forestall the government possibly absconding with the fox woman had left him floundering. "Iím truly sorry, but that show was the only one that would even consider an interview, especially at short notice. Every other show thought that I was a crackpot, even though I offered to prove it before the actual interview. I admit that I got a bit desperate though when I approached that showís managementÖ."
"Desperate?" Ken interrupted. "I donít even watch the show and I know that itís a sensationalistic piece of crap!"
"And yet you still went ahead with it," Rick pointed out.
Kenís ire deflated a little. Rick was right Ė he was so concerned for Jazmyn that he had let desperation overcome his better judgement. Instead of the serious interview though, Jazmyn had gotten a series of loaded questions that had left her flustered, and then one Ďoutragedí guest had protested about her intelligence being insulted by an obvious fake, and it had degenerated from there. Ken had managed to hustle Jazmyn out of the studio before things got completely out of control, but not before Jazmyn had been traumatised by the experience.
"Yeah, I did," Ken admitted. "Look Ė just put things on hold for now. Weíve got to rethink this, and Jazmyn will need to recover from her ordeal." He helped her into the passenger side of his truck, and then went around to the driverís side. "Iíll call you when I have news." He climbed in and then drove off, leaving Rick feeling sorry for having let down his best friend.
"How are you feeling, Jaz?" Ken asked when the silence got too much to bear.
"Iíll be okay, Ken," she reassured him. "I just wasnít prepared for what happened tonight."
"I donít think anyone could be ready for that," Ken replied.
"How can people be like that though? I thought that I had ended up in a place for the insane! The crazy questionsÖ the hostilityÖ the fear!"
"Itís a crazy world, Jaz. Donít tell me that they didnít have anything like that back in your old world?"
Jazmyn closed her eyes and shook her head. "I suppose there could have been, but I never came across anything that bad. The hostility that I escaped from there was at least understandable. Here they just seemed automatically against me, and everything that I said just made it worse."
"People fear the unknown, hon. You were tilting their neat universe, and they would prefer to believe that you are a fake than to accept reality. Iíd hoped that a serious interview on a respectable TV show could avoid that to some degree, but instead we ended up with that! I should never have agreed to let you go on with it. Iím deeply sorry for having failed you that way."
"No, Ken, we had to start somewhere, even though we seem to be back at the beginning, but I donít think I could face another audience like that."
"I wouldnít do that to you again anyway, Jaz. Weíve got to try to think of another plan."
However neither could think of anything more than what they had already thought up in the days preceding this disaster, and they settled into frustrated silence until they reached their house.
They got home in the early hours of the morning and they were surprised to find their neighbour and ally, Elizabeth, waiting for them. She gave Jazmyn a comforting hug as she got out of the car. "Oh you poor dear! Rick called me to let me know what happened. It was disgraceful! Are you alright?"
"Iíll be fine, Liz. I just need a good nightís sleep to let me get over it."
"Well I brought over some Black Forest cake for supper. I reckon a bit of comfort food will help."
Jazmyn smiled gratefully and thanked Elizabeth. Black Forest cake was one of her favourites.
"I left it inside with Kayde. Better get inside before he scoffs the lot!" Elizabeth said with a grin.
Ken said, "Thank you, Liz. Iím sure that will help a lot."
"Youíre welcome, Ken. Now Iíd better get home. Iíll drop by with the kids tomorrow if thatís okay?"
Ken nodded affirmatively, and Elizabeth got into her car and drove off.
They went inside where they found Kayde sitting in a lounge chair, the cake intact on a nearby table. He said something unintelligible to Jazmyn in a concerned tone and she replied with something reassuring. Ken headed straight for the coffee maker to prepare drinks for them all.
"Kayde Ė coffee?" Ken asked.
"Yes. Coffee, please," the wolf replied.
Jazmyn got a knife and cut generous slices of cake for everyone, putting them onto plates and adding a fork. She gave one to Kayde and then put one onto the table in front of the sofa into which she sank with a tired sigh. She started eating her portion of the cake and Ken joined her as soon as the coffee was ready. He put his arm about his wife, and they ate and drank in companionable silence for a while.
Eventually Jazmyn turned and gave Ken a kiss. "Donít let tonightís events get you down, love. You did your best, and Iím feeling okay now."
"I never thought for a moment that you didnít have the strength to bounce back from this, Jaz, but Iím not sure what else I can do to protect you. Agent Fairbanks gave us too little time to react, and Iím terrified of what might happen to you soon."
"As long as youíre with me Ken, thatís all that matters." She kissed him again and he returned it with great fervour.
Kayde grew uncomfortable as he felt he was intruding upon them, and as it was already so late, he quietly removed himself to the spare room. As he undressed to get into bed, he realised that he was far more concerned for the fate of the lovers than he was for his own. They had so much more to lose than he did. In fact he still wondered if there was any place for him in this world at all.
Ken did not even bother trying to go to work the next day. He knew that there wasnít a chance that he could concentrate on that, so instead he and Jazmyn slept in late, then he pottered about the place doing odd jobs to distract himself. Jazmyn worked on her garden in an effort to keep her mind off the fact that this was the day that Agent Fairbanks would be reporting the presence of the two morphs. With nothing to do, Kayde could not just sit about while dwelling on that same fact, so he went for a walk on one of the trails. He needed the exercise anyway.
The day passed utterly without incident, but Ken did not know whether he should be relieved, or worried that the FBI would come knocking down their door in the middle of the night. When Elizabeth came by after work with Tina and Matthew, it was a welcome diversion. Ken asked them all to stay for dinner, and Jazmyn brought in some fresh vegetables from the garden, and some rhubarb to cook for dessert. It was a very homey feeling with them all gathered about the dining table, and Ken hoped that it would not be the last time like this.
That night, he and Jazmyn made love passionately, almost as if this might be their last opportunity. When they were done and drifting off to sleep in each otherís arms, Jazmyn wondered yet again how she would cope with being torn away from her home and the one she loved for the second time.
Ken buried himself in his work on the computer. There simply was too much to get done for him to ignore it for too long, but at least he was able to do that from home. Jazmyn took Kayde out onto the porch so as not to distract Ken, and continued to try to teach the wolf English with the aid of her laptop. It was nearly half past eleven when they came inside and Jazmyn tapped Ken on the shoulder to gain his attention.
"Thereís an unknown car coming," she told him.
Ken grimaced. "This could be it, Jaz. Whatever happens, Iíll do my utmost to protect you, darling."
"Donít take any unnecessary risks, Ken," she said as he rose to hug her.
"Iíll try not to, but I havenít a clue whatís going to happen."
She didnít know what else to say, so she kissed him lengthily instead. When they parted, they gazed at each other adoringly for a moment before Ken said, "Okay, letís see who is coming."
He stepped out onto the porch alone however on the slight chance that the person approaching might be someone totally unrelated to their concerns, although travellers were still very infrequent on that road.
The car turned into their driveway, dispelling any notion that it might be heading for Elizabethís house up at the old sawmill. As it drew closer, Ken could see that there was only one person in the car. A little closer still and Ken was certain who it was.
"Itís Fairbanks," Ken announced.
Jazmyn decided to come out onto the porch also, and Kayde followed her lead. All three waited until Fairbanks pulled up and got out of the car. He was not dressed in a suit as he had been when he they had first met, nor was he in the hiking gear that he had worn during the surveillance of their home. Instead he was dressed in normal street clothes like what you would wear while visiting friends, which Ken felt was a bit odd.
"Good morning Mr and Mrs Morita," Fairbanks said.
"That depends on what youíre here to do, Agent Fairbanks," Ken replied.
"Not Agent Fairbanks today; call me Jason if you like," he said as he held out his hand.
"Again, that depends on why youíre here," Ken persisted, ignoring the offer of a handshake.
Fairbanks retracted his hand. "Nothing actually. Iím on compulsory leave pending review. It seems that my boss didnít like my report and censured me for letting my hobby interfere with my work. He put me on leave until ĎYou can learn to live in the real world and forget those stupid fantasiesí. The bottom line is that my credibility is shot, my career probably ruined, but your secret is safe."
"They did that even after you showed them the photographs that you took?"
Fairbanks shrugged. "Itís amazing what you can do with Photoshop or other image programs." He gave a mirthless "Ha!" then went on. "My boss was so pissed off that he threw the photographs into the garbage, along with all the other evidence. The case has been officially closed as some crackpot stunt."
Jazmyn stepped forward. "Oh, you poor man! You did the right thing, but you were ridiculed for the truth."
Ken looked at her incredulously. "Jaz, this man could have ruined our lives!"
Jazmyn looked at Ken defiantly. "Heís a decent, honest person who loyally did his duty despite it conflicting with his own desires. I wonít condemn him for that."
Ken looked ready to protest further, but then he sighed in resignation. "Okay, but donít expect me to like it."
Jazmyn turned back to Fairbanks. "So, Jason," she began, pointedly using his first name, "why did you come all the way out here to tell us this? A telephone call would be quicker and cheaper."
"No, I needed to do this in person. Firstly I want to apologise for the trouble that I caused you all. Believe me; I would rather have not done so."
"Did you know that two nights ago, I tried to reveal myself to the world on television?"
"No, I didnít. I gather you did not succeed?"
"I was called a fake and physically abused."
"Iím sorry to hear that, but ironically itís a good thing that happened. Now there will be a lot more misinformation about you out in the community, and any further sightings are likely to be immediately dismissed at further attempts at deception."
"Iím glad that some good came out of that horrible experience," Jazmyn said fervently. "Anyway, there was something else that you wanted to do?"
"Yes Ė a personal need to see the person of my dreams and fantasies again."
Ken interjected, "Donít get any funny ideas about my wife, Fairbanks!"
Fairbanks shook his head. "Not Jazmyn, Mr Morita. I meant Kayde."
"Huh?" Ken was thrown off stride.
Jazmyn said, "Dear Ė didnít you notice when he was here last time? His attention was mostly on Kayde. Would I be right in thinking that youíre a homosexual, Jason?"
"Thatís very perceptive of you, Jazmyn. Yes I am, and Kaydeís species has been the subject of my idle fantasies for years. Now heís here in the living flesh and fur. I had to come back." He held up a folder that he had been holding in his left hand, and he opened it up to reveal plastic sheets filled with sheets of artwork. Turning them, they could see that they were all of male wolf morphs.
"This one is my alter ego," Fairbanks said as he pointed out a couple of examples.
"UmmÖ how do you think Kayde is going to feel about this, Jaz? It seems a bit creepy to me."
Jazmyn looked at Ken in surprise. "Didnít you know Kayde is a homosexual too? He was bred to be a maleís Companion, after all."
"Pardon me for being a dense straight guy, but it never occurred to me. The question still stands though. Your relationship to your Companion was like that of a daughter, and I know that you could never replace your Ďfatherí."
"Letís ask Kayde then." She turned to the wolf and said, "Agent Fairbanks has reassured us that our secret is safe for now." She gave him a brief synopsis of what they had been told and then continued, "Anyway, Jason has expressed personal interest in you. I think he has some idea of hopefully being your new Companion."
Kayde looked at Fairbanks in surprise. This kind of thing just didnít happen back in his world. You simply did not replace a Companion. But then again, that was a social convention, not a law. He regarded the man closely Ė he was good-looking and fitÖ perhaps a few years older than ideal but hardly worth mentioning. Then there was his own position to consider Ė he had nowhere to go, but he certainly didnít want to impose on Ken and Jazmyn indefinitely. Fairbanks offered an alternative and he certainly seemed earnest enough. But could he even begin a relationship with this man? He couldnít even have a conversation with him as yet! Still, there wasnít any harm in trying, was there? He needed answers, but he wouldnít get them this way. He turned back to Jazmyn and said, "Please askÖ JasonÖ to come inside and join us for lunch."
Jazmyn nodded and did so.
Ken looked flabbergasted. "I donít believe this!" he told her. "Weíre going to make nice like nothing ever happened?"
Jazmyn replied firmly, "Yes we are, Ken. For Kaydeís sake, we can do this."
Ken regarded his wife and her defiant stance. He had to smile in appreciation of her kindness and generosity. "Okay Jaz, youíre the boss." He looked at Fairbanks and said ironically, "Welcome to our home."
"Thank you, Mr Morita, and thank you too, Jazmyn, for all your help." He looked at Kayde and added, "And please thank Kayde for giving me this chance."
Jazmyn did so, then they all went inside where Ken and Jazmyn started preparing lunch for four.
It was a somewhat awkward mealtime. Jason mostly wanted to talk with Kayde, but the wolf understood too little English yet to have a conversation without an interpreter. While Jazmyn was willing, it did not make it comfortable.
Ken was still cool towards Jason, but at least he made the effort to be courteous and make conversation when talk between Jason and Kayde floundered.
"So what do you plan to do now that youíve met Kayde? Live a double life trotting between your job and your hidden dream guy?"
Jason shook his head. "As I said earlier, my career at the FBI is probably ruined. I could persist in my present job, but the likelihood of promotion is virtually nil, and I would probably be stuck with all the worst jobs too. Iíve been thinking of making a clean break and starting again somewhere else. Somewhere fairly secluded like this area for example."
Ken snorted in amusement. "You really do have it bad for Kayde, donít you?"
"Mr Morita, Iím a realist Ė I know that a relationship with Kayde is not guaranteed, but I am going to do my utmost to make that happen. In doing so, I can protect and provide for Kayde, and take him off your hands at the same time. Tell me Ė do you really want to have him here with you for the indefinite future?"
"UmmÖ no, not really. As pleasant as he is, one morph is really enough."
"I thought as much. Iím going to explore a couple of possibilities while Iím out here. If all goes well, you may have your home to yourselves again in a few weeks."
"Then I wish you luck, Mr Fairbanks. Youíll need it; I know that I did."
"Thanks. Iíll take all that I can get."
A month and a half later, another strange car pulled into the Moritaís driveway. It wasnít unexpected however, and Ken called out Jazmyn and Kayde as soon as he confirmed the identity of the occupant.
Jason Fairbanks got out of the car and walked up to the porch. "Good afternoon, Mr Morita."
"Good afternoon. Might as well call me Ken. I donít think my wife will let me keep being so formal."
"As long as you call me Jason," he replied with a smile. He turned to the others and said, "Good afternoon to you too, Jazmyn."
"Thank you, Jason. Good afternoon to you too," she said cheerfully, and then moved aside to let Kayde step forward.
"Good day, Jason," Kayde said with open arms. Jason met him with a warm hug. The wolf had decided that he liked the idea of having a new Companion, and although he hadnít been bred with Jason in mind, he did strongly resemble his intended Companion in tastes and personality. He was more than willing to give the relationship a try to fill the hole in his heart.
When they had parted, Ken asked, "So how did the job interview go?"
Jason grinned. "Youíre now looking at the new detective attached to the county sheriffís office. With the job confirmed, the bank gave their approval for the mortgage on the place that I picked out for me and Kayde. Itís not quite as secluded as this place in the woods, but it has enough privacy that Kayde wonít be stuck in the house all of the time."
"Iím glad that everything seems to be working out for you two," Jazmyn said.
"So far," Jason admitted.
"I have a good feeling about you two. So what do you intend to do now?"
"I want to show Kayde his future home. The car windows are tinted, and it will be getting dark soon, so we shouldnít have any more problems than you do when you go out on one of your jaunts."
"Then donít let us hold you up. Get going and enjoy your evening out."
Jason grinned and held out his hand for Kayde who took it willingly. He led the wolf to the passenger door and let him in, then got into the driverís side. Kayde wound down the window and waved as they departed. He said something that Ken didnít catch, and then they were gone.
"What did Kayde say?" Ken asked.
Jazmynís eyes were alive with merriment as she took her mateís arm to draw him inside. "He said, ĎDonít do anything that I donít plan to do alsoí."
Ken grinned. "I think Kayde and Jason are going to get along just fine."
Tina was showing off her new tea set by serving Jazmyn milk and cookies on the picnic table that had been set up in the yard in front of the sawmill house. Matthew was shooting hoops with the new basketball that Rick had bought him, through the basketball ring and backboard that Ken had set up for him.
Jazmyn was enjoying the pleasant afternoon sunshine while watching the two children, and the cookies and milk were genuinely appreciated. She made a fuss over the afternoon tea that Tina had prepared for her, and the young girl beamed in pleasure.
"Hey, Jazmyn!" Matthew called. "Thatís ten straight! Did you see?"
"Yes, Matt, thatís very good. Now step back a couple of yards and letís see if you can do ten more from there."
Matthew did so, gamely trying to show off his skills. Jazmyn smiled. The boy was always up for a good challenge.
The faint sound of an approaching car made Jazmynís ears prick up. She listened for a moment, then relaxed again. "It sounds like your mom is nearly home, kids."
"Yay! Pizza time!" Matthew shouted.
"Go wash up and youíll be ready as soon as your mother arrives."
"OK!" Matthew raced off at his normal exuberant headlong pace.
"You wanna have pizza too?" Tina asked her.
"No, hon. Your lovely tea has filled me up already. Itís a good thing that you gave me the most because now youíll have more room for pizza too."
Tina looked happy Ė both at the prospect of having pizza and that Jazmyn was satisfied with the milk and cookies that she had served.
"Now you had better wash up also. You donít want Matt to take all the pizza first."
"Yeah!" she agreed, and took off for the house.
Jazmyn grinned and then finished off the cookies and milk while she waited for Elizabeth to arrive. Her keen hearing meant that she could hear and identify her friendís car from a long distance, so it was a few minutes before Elizabeth arrived. The woman stepped out of the car with a couple of pizza boxes. She barely had time to smile at Jazmyn before her son raced out of the house and tried to grab the pizzas.
"Whoa there! Patience, you galloping food pit! Has he been behaving himself, Jazmyn?"
"No problems whatsoever, Liz," Jazmyn assured her.
"I wish that was the case all the time. OK Matt, take them inside, but let your sister have her pick also."
"Yes, Mom!" Matt said and hurried inside with the food.
Elizabeth turned to Jazmyn and said, "Thanks again for babysitting the kids for me. It would have been very awkward to have taken them with me to attend to the emergency."
"It was my pleasure, Liz. You know I like Matt and Tina, and it was a good excuse to spend a little time with them and get out of the house."
"Youíre welcome to join us for pizza too, if you like?"
"Thanks, but Tinaís milk and cookies will keep me going until dinner, which incidentally I have to start cooking soon."
"Would you like me to give you a lift home?"
"No thanks. You know I prefer walking."
"OK. Iíll see you on Sunday for the barbecue then."
"Right. Bye, Liz!" Jazmyn said as she waved and started off down the now-familiar forest path.
Jazmyn never tired of walking through the forest that surrounded her home. It always revitalized her when she was feeling a little down. Nevertheless she still felt a bit wistful as she meandered unhurriedly back to the cabin that had been her home now for over a year and a half. Spending time with Elizabethís children reminded her that she would never have children of her own. No amount of loving from her mate, Ken, could make up for the fact that they were genetically incompatible, and this world lacked the technology to overcome that hurdle.
Ken noticed that Jazmyn was a little bit subdued that evening. When they had finished cleaning the dishes and settled down on the sofa for their usual eveningís entertainment, instead of turning on the TV, he said, "Alright, Jaz, whatís bothering you?"
"What? Nothing Ė Iím fine."
"Like heck you are! Have I done something wrong?"
"Oh no! Itís nothing like that."
"So there is something wrong that I donít know about."
"Well, I wouldnít exactly say that," Jazmyn hedged.
"OK, out with it! I wonít have my wife moping about the place if thereís anything that I can do about it."
Jazmyn sighed. "Thatís the trouble Ė you canít do anything about it."
"Are you going to tell me what it is, or am I going to have to tickle it out of you?" To back up his threat, he put his hand on Jazmynís most ticklish spot.
"Eep! No! Iíll tell. Liz asked me to babysit for her while she had to go and attend to an emergency. I really like spending time with the kids, so I said yes."
"I see. Iím guessing that this is about not being able to have any kids of your own?"
Jazmyn nodded. "Most of the time I put it out of my mind, but at times like today, it really hits home."
"Did you really want to start a family right away? Even if it was possible, weíve only been mated for nine months."
"Itís not that I urgently want my own children, itís that I can never have them thatís bothering me."
Ken cuddled Jazmyn tenderly. "Iím sorry that thatís beyond my ability to fix, but I promise you that Iíll do my best to make sure that you donít lack in any other way."
Jazmyn sighed and cuddled up to Ken. "I know you will. You already do. I wouldnít change a thing if I had to do it all over again. Oh Ė with the possible exception of that TV studio incident."
"Yeah. Iím so glad that seems to have faded away without further drama."
"Itíll be nice to see Kayde and Jason again at Sundayís barbecue. Iím curious to hear how things are going with them."
"Me too. Now Ė have you decided what you want to watch tonight yet?"
Ken pondered the problem the next day. He realised that while Jazmyn would get over it for the moment, it would inevitably reoccur. He mentioned it to Rick as they walked from their office to a nearby café for lunch, but his friend and business partner shrugged helplessly.
They had to walk past a park where children were playing. Normally the park was a quiet place during the week where he would sometimes go to eat while sitting in the shade of a tree. Now though, school holidays saw it filled with kids of all ages, playing games, climbing trees, and doing all those other things that kids do when released from the tyranny of school. Watching them though, Ken suddenly thought of something, and a smile grew on his face.
"I know that look," Rick said. "Thatís the face that you make when you solve a difficult problem."
Ken grinned at Rick. "Youíre right, and the solution is right there in front of us."
Rick looked but did not see what Ken meant. "I give up. What?"
Ken told him and Rick nodded. "You could be right. Itís sure worth a try."
"When we get back, Iíll have to make a call and see what I can organise."
"Whereís Ken?" Sakura asked as she carried inside the baked goods that were her contribution to the cookout.
"Your brother is getting some last-minute supplies for the barbecue. He should be back any moment," Jazmyn replied. "You can take all that out the back already. Weíve got the tables and chairs all set up."
"OK. I thought that Ken might be out the back. I can smell the smoke."
"No, that would be Kaydeís handiwork. He says that heís a great barbecuer, and Jason backs him up."
Sakura laughed as she headed back outside. "Men are all the same, no matter the species or what universe they come from. Give them fire and raw meat, and they all think they are Godís gift to cooking."
Jazmyn had to smile at that as she followed Sakura out with bowls of coleslaw and potato salad. Her ears pricked up at a distant but familiar sound. "Kenís close. I can hear his car."
"I sometimes wish that I had your ears," Sakura remarked.
They set everything down on a table under an awning that Ken and Rick had set up earlier. The morning was turning into a beautiful autumn day, perfect for barbecue picnics. Soon the cold weather would come and these kind of gatherings would stop here for several months.
"Hi, Kayde!" Sakura said.
Kayde looked up from the barbecue that he was tending and smiled. "Hello, Sakura. You are looking lovely today."
"Why, thank you, big guy. If you werenít gay and taken, Iíd think you were coming on to me."
Kayde grinned uncertainly. By the tone of her voice, he thought Sakura was joking with him, but his grasp of the new language was still meagre at best.
"Donít tease him, Sakura," chided Jason, who was a little protective of his partner. "Heís doing very well in his language lessons, but itís not that good yet."
Jazmyn was a little chagrined that Jason was making better progress with teaching Kayde English than she had. Part of it was that Kayde had more incentive now, but another significant part was that Jazmyn was not a very good language teacher. Ironically, because she had such an incredible talent for learning languages, she tended to be impatient with those who had difficulty with them, nor was she trained to teach well. Jason though had patience, and worked hard at trying to teach the wolf. She suspected that Kayde would be reasonably fluent in a few more months.
Soon Kenís car pulled up out front. Rick, who had accompanied Ken, came around the back laden with bags of ice that he dumped into a tub filled with a selection of everyoneís favourite drinks. Ken soon followed, carrying a large cardboard box.
"Hey Jazmyn," Ken called. "I picked up something special for you. Tell me if you like it."
Jazmyn had not been expecting anything, so she was very curious. She came over to where Ken had set down the box. Even before opening it though, she knew something was odd. Lifting the lid revealed two bright eyes, a bundle of fur, and a tail wagging happily. Jazmyn gasped in delight as she reached into the box. "A puppy!" she exclaimed as she lifted the young dog out.
"Not just any puppy," Ken said. "This is a keeshond, a breed of dog that gets very attached to its owners, loves getting attention, and needs care and discipline to stop it getting into mischief. Just like a child, wouldnít you say?"
Jazmyn cuddled the delightful creature and felt tears welling in her eyes. She looked at her mate with love and appreciation. "I donít think that you could have given me a finer present. I love you so much, Ken!"
Ken stepped up to the vixen and brought her and the puppy into a warm hug. "Iíd do anything to make you happy, Jaz. I hope that youíll enjoy bringing up the new member of the family. First, however, she needs a name."
That started a round of suggestions from everyone. It continued while the meat was cooked and food was served up.
"Where did you get her?" Jazmyn asked between feeding herself and giving titbits to the puppy.
"I called up Beth to ask her advice on what breed of dog might best suit you. She suggested a few, but the keeshond puppies were available immediately, so Beth got one for me. I picked her up from the clinic just now."
"Beth should have come to the barbecue so that I could thank her also."
"I invited her, but she had to decline due to a previous appointment."
"Iíll thank her in person when I take Suzie in for a check-up," Jazmyn decided.
"Suzie? Is that the name youíve decided on?"
"Yes Ė she reminds me of someone that I knew who was named Suzie. It seems to suit the puppy pretty well too."
"Suzie Morita it is then."
Jazmyn came back inside after taking Suzie for a long walk. Ken had afternoon tea ready and he put it on the coffee table in front of the sofa.
Jazmyn cleaned off Suzieís muddy paws as well as her own, then joined Ken on the sofa, cuddling up to him. Suzie jumped up next to Jazmyn and made herself comfortable with her head in Jazmynís lap.
"Weíll be getting snow tonight," Jazmyn predicted.
"I reckon youíre right. Another excuse to stay inside and cuddle in front of the fire."
"Just you and me and our daughter." Jazmyn stroked Suzieís head. "Have I thanked you lately for making us a complete family?"
"Only every day for several weeks, hon," Ken said with an affectionate grin.
"Not enough. Hereís another thank-you." She drew his face to hers and kissed him.
The afternoon tea was quickly forgotten.
All characters and this story are copyright © 2010 Bernard Doove..
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