Chapter Fifty-Four – Suspicions

Nick opened the passenger door and waved to his mom. "Thanks so much for the ride."

Mrs. Wilde turned off the ignition and stepped out, making no move to leave. "Is something going on?" She asked over the roof of her car. She had dropped Judy off first, and she and her son had chatted about insurance claims and the state of his poor mustang before turning into his garage.

"What?" He asked innocently, his voice hiking high.

"Is something going on?" She repeated, putting a hand on her hip. "Something I should know about?"

Nick shook his head, feigning bewilderment. "Something with my insurance?"

"Don't play dumb with me Nicky," she rolled her eyes and closed her door, stepping around her front bumper. "I'm your mother. You may fool others with this little act, but not me."

Nick's ears flattened against his head. "What act?"

"You wanted to leave the hospital before those officers returned, and I want to know why," her second hand fell to her other hip, and she seemed to loom before him. "I waited until Judy was safely home before asking, and now I want to hear it from you."

"Hear what?" He persisted, already knowing the effort was futile.

"The truth," she scowled. "Right now."

"There's no hidden truth Ma," he rubbed his eyes, making a big show of yawning. "I'm just tired and wasn't in the mood for a pair of prejudiced cops giving me side eye in front of my girlfriend."

Mrs. Wilde pulled her hands from her hips and crossed her arms. "Didn't want some of your record to come up in front of her?"

Nick winced at the blow, knowing his mom hadn't meant to cut so deep with the mention. "No, I've been completely upfront with Judy about the hustles Finnick and I used to run."

She stared at him hard. "Are you into anything big now Nicky?"

He could hear the concern in her voice – knew she was just worried for him – but didn't want her ever learning about what he had done to pay her hospital bills. What he was still doing. Mr. Big had thankfully never come up on her radar, and he intended to keep it that way. She had been so proud when he started his business, her lagging faith in citizens who always judged foxes harshly momentarily renewed, and he would never take that away from her.

"One big thing," he admitted, letting a slow smile spread across his face. "I think I'm in love Mom."

He knew it would disarm her questions and uncross her arms, but it was also the truth. Judy was far bigger trouble than dealing with the crime world of Tundra Town as far as he was concerned. She could completely undo everything – his cultivated nonchalance and control, his business – even his damned insides that seemed to jumble whenever she was around.

His mother didn't disappoint. The lines of suspicion and worry smoothed from her face, and she held open her arms, beckoning him in for a hug. "Oh Nicky," she said softly, enveloping him as he stepped into her embrace. "She's a nice girl. Sweet, strong, smart – the whole package."

"You like her?" He said, giving his mom's sides a squeeze.

Mrs. Wilde pulled away, wearing a grin. "I cut some of my prized hydrangeas for her, didn't I?"

Nick nodded with a chuckle. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw those," he agreed. "I didn't even get one of them when I graduated high school."

"You got to see them every day out of your bedroom window," the older fox countered, giving his arm a light smack. "No need to go and waste blooms you already enjoyed."

Both mammals laughed and embraced once more.

"I love you," Mrs. Wilde whispered. "If you need any help or advice, you know you can always call me."

Nick closed his eyes, enveloped in the warm, red fur that always brought him back to being eight years old. "I know Ma."

She patted his back and withdrew. "Make sure you take care of her – and let her take care of you," Mrs. Wilde started back around the car. "You've never been good at accepting help.

Nick nodded gamely, watching as his mother opened her door and sat down behind the steering wheel. "I'll try," he managed, stepping back and already thinking of the price he was paying for Mr. Big's assistance in identifying the tailgater.

'Help' was never free.