Episode 8
By Bernard Doove © 2008

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."

"Whatís that?"

"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."

Jazmyn the were-fox by Kacey Miyagami

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.

Elizabeth nodded.

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?"

Mating Ceremony by Heather Bruton

"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?"

"Yes, please!"

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's Art by Stephanie Stone

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."


All characters and this story are copyright © 2008 Bernard Doove.

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End of Year One.

To be continued in Kayde.

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