This chapter was in a similar version published as part of the "What if"-project, but it is ending a little bit different. Instead you can expect a few more chapters to be added to this short story, so let me know in the comments / reviews what you are thinking about it. And now ... prepare for fluffy trouble - and make it elliot-double! ;-)
"…and on Sunday we went to a picnic at the waterfall within the Bromeliad Park. Oh, it was so romantic! We should repeat that with you and Judy next weekend!"
It was Monday Morning, and Eliot had been talking the last ten minutes to Nick about nothing else but what he and Chloe did this weekend.
"Sorry, already have plans next weekend. Also, there are more enjoyable things I can do on the weekend than watching you and Chloe the whole day purring and making out." Nick rolled his eyes, hoping that class would start soon, so he had an excuse to get into his room and leave Eliot. He really liked that gray wolf, but he always was a bit … over-enthusiastic. But since he was dating Chloe, it had gotten a lot worse.
"This is why I said you and Judy have to accompany us! You two could just take us as an example!" Eliot beamed at Nick who just sighed.
"It would be just cringe-making for us! Even if I would be interested in more – and I don't say that this is the case! – She mentioned a few days ago how important the difference between a hare and a rabbit is. And those are rather familiar species. And I'm not only a different species or even a predator, but in the old day foxes were even the natural enemies of rabbits. I'm just a turnip if I try to cherish this idea."
Don't rabbits love vegetables?
"And you think that concealing your feelings is going to work in the long run? You are only beating yourself up. Better just heed the advice of the famous writer and lecturer Mark Mane: Honesty is the best of all lost arts."
The bell rang, and Nick was glad that he could now end this conversation that was leading nowhere. He waved goodbye to the mischievous smirking wolf and entered the classroom where already a few mammals of his rhetoric class were standing together and talking about their weekend activities. The fox waited for another ten minutes until most of his students had arrived – then raised his voice.
"Okay, good morning everyone! I know, starting the week on a Monday morning with rhetoric can be boresome. But I want to remind you, that finals are coming closer. That's why I was asked last week if we could make a roundup of the most important topics of this year. So, let's begin with the teachings of Aristoadle: He identified three steps of rhetoric and three different types of rhetorical proof. Can someone…" Nick paused when the door to the classroom was opened, and about two dozen mammals entered the room without a word. "Excuse me? I think you are on the wrong track. This is Rhetoric I, what class are you searching for?"
The twenty-or-so mammals were arranged in a semicircle around the teacher's desk, looking at Nick. Some of them he recognized from other courses or by sight. But before he could say anything else, they all started to throw something in his direction and yelled in unison: "The best of all the lost arts!" Nick tried to shirk from whatever they were throwing. The foreign students repeated their throwing and shouting three times before running away, leaving a confused fox behind. When Nick looked around, he saw dozens of origami flowers laying all over the floor and the desk as well as colorful, glittering confetti. Not only that, but his fur was also full of that glittering confetti – it would take hours to get rid of that stuff again!
The best of all the lost arts… Eliot, I'm going to strangle you with your tail for this! He thought and his internal voice started to snarl, enraged.
When his students didn't stop their not-so-quiet laughing and whispering, Nick lifted up his voice: "Okay, who of you are watching 'Game of Packs'?" – still amused, most mammals raised their paws. "Well, I read all of the books. If you are not settling down right now, I'm going to write on the blackboard the names of those who will die next…" That threat wiped the smirk off everyone's face, and within seconds it was quiet again. Nick put on his sly smile and, while dusting down his fur, repeated his last question about Aristoadle.
"Sweet cheese and crackers!" Judy covered her mouth with her paws. "How could you two… I mean, you just started dating on Friday and only one day later…?!"
"Not so loud!" Chloe's ears and cheeks were blushing really dark while both colleagues walked toward the staff room after they both started today with a free period. "Besides, it's not like we marked each other, yet. Even if it were somewhat difficult to bar Eliot from it, he would have loved nothing better than to do it even while we still were at Snarlbucks."
"He is really a daredevil, you lucky thing!" Judy laughed, and they both sat down at a table beside the windows in the nearly empty staff room.
"Apropos lucky thing, how was your weekend?" Chloe winked.
"Don't worry, nothing like yours!" the doe snickered.
"Oh… What a pity! Come on, please tell me more. Did you at least take my advice and kept that scent mask off?"
Judy sighed, her ears drooping somewhat embarrassed. "Yes, I did, and it was rather awkward. He thought it is some kind of perfume or deodorant and said how much it pleased him."
"Guessed it," Chloe chuckled. "I assume Nick is a city kit and has no idea how rabbit's smell naturally as they all wear those scent masks all the time."
"Our noses are quite sensitive. You have no idea how annoying it is when each and every rabbit and hare is ogling and drooling over you, just because of some primal instinct to multiply. But I admit it was flattering to be told that Nick somehow likes it. It made me even forget the fact that we nearly argued because of that withered cabbage head of a hare!"
"You told him about that?" Chloe looked surprised. Judy shrugged and told the thylacine what had occurred last Friday while they were playing cards. The sand-colored Tasmanian tiger snickered quietly but kept listening until her friend eventually finished.
"I know what you want to say, Chloe, but he wasn't jealous!" Judy rolled her eyes. "He was just worried, that if my boyfriend wouldn't approve a friendship with a fox, that I would give in and would end our friendship."
"Oh, Judy…," the thylacine laughed lustily, and the bunny looked embarrassed out of the window. When she calmed down again, she continued. "But if he liked it, it's confirming my assumptions so far. You must know, scents play a significant role for all Canidae, and subliminally he already linked that distinct scent with you."
"What assumption are you talking about?" Judy asked without turning around.
"There are no marks for guessing, hun." The thylacine snickered. "Really? No idea?"
Judy shook her head with a sigh, then turned around to face her friend. "I think I might have done another stupid thing…"
Chloe snickered and patted her friend's paw. "What else happened, hun?"
"I… I asked Nick if he would like to accompany me to the Carrots Fair in Bunnyburrow next weekend. Just as a friend of course! Because I think it would please him!" she added quickly.
"So?" the large female mammal winked amusedly.
"He agreed, that's not the problem. But when I wrote Jenny, my younger sister who wanted to set me up again with her boyfriend's brother, that I bring a friend along, she may have misinterpreted me. I wrote just BBF and meant my 'Bunny's Best Friend' of course! But she…" Judy groaned and pulled her ears in front of her face in embarrassment.
Chloe started to laugh again, "Let me guess, she read it as 'Best Boy Friend'?"
"Uh-hu." Judy wailed and dropped her head onto the table. "And instead of objecting immediately, I even teased her and played along!" she pounded with her forehead repeatedly on the table.
"I think, I will ask Eliot if we can go to that Carrots Fair, too. I have to witness this!" the thylacine already had tears in her eyes from laughing.
"Not helpful, Chloe," Judy said with a snarl. But the moment she wanted to add something, her ears raised up, and she cocked her head. Seconds later a laughing Eliot ran into the staff room, followed by a snarling and sparkling Nick. The bunny gave a high, bright laugh at that funny sight and Nick stopped immediately.
"What's so funny, Carrots?" the Fox grumbled and made a sidelong glance to the gray wolf, who was now hugging and kissing his new girlfriend.
"You look hilarious, Nick! Just like those vampires in those awful Dawnlight movies…" she started to giggle again and wiped some tears from laughing away with her paw.
"Really?" Nick walked up to her and crossed his arms. As Judy was sitting on a higher stool, she was nearly at eye level with him, now covering her mouth with her paw but still snickering. With a smooth move, he managed to wipe his tail all over her face, leaving quite a lot of glitter behind in her fur.
"Eeeks, stop it, Nick!" she laughed and tried to grab his tail, but to no avail. Chloe grinned somewhat while viewing the spectacle, but Eliot was all of a tizzy again, poking with his elbow excitedly into Chloe's side.
"Now we are both looking like those stupid teeny vampires!" Nick said with a content smirk when he poked Judy's face with his tail for one last time, just like an artist who is signing his creation with a brush.
"Dumb fox!" the now also glittering doe snickered, but when she heard the distinct sound of a phone-camera, she turned around. "Hey, jester, knock it off!" Eliot was gleaming with pleasure, taking another picture of Judy while she was giving him the evil eye – How cute! – and hurried to put his phone away before the rabbit could whip it out of his paws.
"What have you done yet again, Eliot?" Chloe snickered amused, watching how Nick and Judy tried to get rid of some glitter in their fur – to little avail.
"Just tried to make my position clear to a stubborn lovey-dovey fox, pumpkin." He snickered beaming and started to kiss her zealously.
Judy's ears raised immediately, and she turned back to Eliot. "What did you just say?"
"Oh, come on!" Eliot laughed happily and ignored Chloe poking him with her elbow into his side. "Only watching his frenetic courting behavior is driving me crazy! Any Vixen, Wolf or other Canidae already would have shown some mercy and finally accepting or rejecting him!"
"Do me a favor and shut up, Eliot!" Nick snarled, his emerald eyes glinting to the gray wolf.
"Wait… you are… actually courting someone?" Judy looked dashed and somewhat sad to Nick. The red fox didn't look in her direction, his tail all bristled and his ears twitching. But the moment the rabbit tried to put her paw on his arm, Nick turned away and dashed out of the staff room.
"Well done you!" Chloe punched the gray wolf on his shoulder, looking at him reproachfully.
"Ouch! What have I done to deserve this, my little pumpkin?!" Eliot pouted and tried to hug her. But the thylacine just shoved him away, walking over to her friend.
"Judy? Are you okay?" she asked, a bit worried and squatted to be at eye level with the doe. Her friend tried hard not to cry, her mask already starting to crack. With a quick look around Chloe stood up again and put her arm around Judy's shoulders. "Come on, let's look for a quiet place to talk."
The little rabbit was tagging along with the thylacine who stopped first, frowning at Eliot to keep him from following them, then headed to the ladies' room that was reserved for the teaching staff. After locking the door from the inside, Chloe hugged the now sobbing bunny.
"Sorry, Eliot can be really a dork. I didn't want you to hear about it that way." She sighed but smiled softly. "But eventually that's also something positive, isn't it?"
"Positive?!" Judy blubbered out. "Not only that I have a desperate crush on my best friend, but now I learned that he is secretly courting someone else, crushing all my secret hopes and dreams! And obviously, you all knew that already long before me and still decided not to tell me!" she turned around angrily and started to wash her face with cold water.
"Eh…," Chloe looked at her stunned. "I think it's finally time to explain to you the courting behavior of Vulpines. Apparently, I have to clear up some misunderstandings…"
It was difficult for Judy to concentrate during the following Math class. She had given some exercises for her students to work on and now was sitting thoughtfully at her teacher's desk. Chloe had explained to her, that a fox would never actually ask a potential partner bluntly for a date. They aren't even on the lookout for some short-term affairs, often searching for that partner they want to mate for life. Only when one of them dies at an early age, the outliving Vulpine sometimes seeks a new partner. But even more interesting was, that the male fox is demonstrating his interest and intents to a vixen by staying close and spending a lot of time with her – but most importantly by allowing a lot of gentle and close contact. It starts with seemingly casual and timid touches, and at an advanced stage of the courting, the male fox is trying to cuddle with his potential partner more often, allowing them to even cuddle up with his tail. As Vulpine are usually reserved regarding touches, it's their ultimate proof of affection. And only the vixen is allowed to either accept or decline the courting – the male would never volunteer to do more than showing his interest.
Judy couldn't think clearly right now. Nick and she were always messing around. Touching her or being touched by her – it never seemed to bother him, quite the opposite. She never pondered about it, a sense of closeness and feeling in a friendly way was quite common for her as a rabbit. That it might be something completely different with Nick was nothing she ever contemplated. Especially since he never said a word! But if all of that was true, then…
With a sudden determination, Judy leaped from her chair and left the classroom. Nick was teaching his Sociology class right now on the second floor. With some quick jumps, she arrived the staircase and rushed up to the next floor, heading to the classroom of the red fox. Her emotions were a mess between anger, happiness, anxiety, and excitement; and when she finally opened the door without even knocking, she had no idea what she was going to do or say.
"Actually, interspecies couples aren't something new. And while it was common knowledge that it happens with plants, recent research indicates that breeding between different species of animals even occurred thousand of years ago and…" – Nick paused for a moment when the door opened. He was surprised to see Judy entering the class, but before he could ask how he may help her, she made a gesture with her paw for him to just continue. Somewhat confused, he watched how the gray doe leaned against the wall, looking at him with an uninterpretable look, as he slowly continued his lecture.
"Eh… and that this hybrid speciation has been a significant force in our evolution." He slowly looked around. "Another question?"
A black sheep in the second row caught his eye and asked: "In his paper, Dr. Vandyke wrote about the predosexual and preysexual orientation as an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions. But he actually never gives a definition when and how someone can be called predo- or preysexual."
"Actually, most interviewed mammals had very different experiences regarding their sexual orientation. Some of them just knew that they are predo-, prey- or mixed-sexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other mammals. Some animals engage in sexual activity with same-species and/or inter-species partners before assigning an explicit label to their sexual orientation. Prejudice and discrimination made it difficult for many mammals to come to terms with their sexual orientation identities, which resulted in a slow process of rethinking. Today's society, fortunately, is more alive to those who acknowledge their sexual preferences openly."
"What about relationships between species that were natural enemies in previous days, are they as common as between other species?" Judy asked as if she was just another student of Nick's class.
The red fox tried to stay as calm as possible, keeping his neutral mask on. The gray doe still knew him good enough to notice his slightly higher and more nervous voice when he answered her. "The research study from Dr. Vandyke we talked about didn't differentiate between these particular pairings of species and interspecies in general. But he made another research study with this leading question. The result was in short that prey and predator who are attracted to the species formerly known as their natural enemy are in a higher-than-average percentage not confessing their sexual orientation. About 27% are living in a same-species relationship, 42% are in another predo-, prey- or mixed-sexual relationship. Only 21% are actually residing in a relationship according to their sexual orientation. The remaining 10% are living in celibacy. The research paper is suggesting, that the underlying cause are mental boundaries within the affected population."
"Does that include relationships between wolf and sheep for example?" a gray wolf in the last row asked somewhat shyly.
The tod nodded, "Wolf and sheep, pigs and tigers, beavers and bears, …"
"Rabbit and fox," Judy added, making Nick cringe a bit.
"More questions?" he asked a bit lower, but after a few seconds the school bell rang and released everyone into the break.
After the students had left the room, Judy walked over to the door to close it and continued to walk up to the teacher's desk where Nick sat sunk down in his chair without a word and stared at the table.
"Nick," the gray doe said eventually after standing for a while beside him without either speaking.
"Were you really courting me the whole time?" Judy's voice wasn't upset or loud, but calm and soft. She waited for an answer, but her friend seemed to be unable or unwilling to speak.
"All that teasing and messing around, our cuddling while watching movies, spending so much time together. Were you courting me all that time?" the rabbit's voice shifted slightly. "Or did you do all of that just for my sake because we are friends and I'm a bunny?"
It took Nick more than two minutes before he was finally able to turn around and return her look. "I could just seize your suggestion, that I only did all those things for your sake. And… I want to thank you for giving me the chance to grab this straw. But…" he hesitated, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "But that would be a lie, Judy. Everything you mentioned is considered as courting behavior for a fox. And I did it very deliberately, knowing that you would misinterpret it without grasping my real intention. I'm just a pretender and an awful friend to you. It was wrong to keep you in the dark about the significance of my behavior. I-I know you'll never forgive me, and I don't blame you - I wouldn't forgive me either. And if you hate me now that'll be all right - I really am just a dumb fox and…"
Judy smacked him – maybe a bit harder than last Friday, but only because she had some difficulties in keeping a stiff upper lip this time.
"Didn't we agree on the fact, that we can talk about everything?" Judy's voice was shaky.
Nick nodded and muttered quietly, "I'm sorry Carrots."
"Do me a favor and shut up you dumb fox!" she finally grabbed his collar, pulling him close and hesitated for a moment - her longing glance facing his bewildered eyes for a moment; their muzzles only millimeters apart, nobody dared to breathe or speak for what felt like minutes. Eventually, it was Judy who closed her eyes, and Nick plucked up the courage to lean in for a tender first kiss...
"WOOOHOOOOOOOOO! LET ME TAKE SOME PICTURES OF THIS MEMORABLE MOMENT!" - Nick and Judy both flinched as if they were suddenly stroke by lightning, staring first at each other, then to the door of the classroom. Within the doorframe stood Eliot, already having his smartphone in his paws and beaming with such joy that it was nearly hurting in the eyes to look in his direction. As if stung by an adder Judy leaped with a distraught expression through the room, slipping by the gray wolf and ran away.
"Judy, wait!" Nick managed to jump off his chair, but the little bunny was already long gone.