By Bernard Doove © 2008
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.
All characters and this story are copyright © 2008 Bernard Doove.
To be continued in episode 7.
Return to the Forest Tales main page.
Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.