"Judy, wait!" – Nick's voice still echoed in Judy's head, but the gray doe kept running along the hallway, searching for a safe hideout.
Hey, hey… hey..! HEY! – The protesting voice in Judy's head was merely ignored, her whole body was running on primal instincts with her common sense being muzzled in a corner of her mind that was right now inaccessible. The panicky bunny ducked some surprised or amused looking pupils but ignored their whispering. She had to find a hideout – now!
Nick let himself drop back onto his chair, hitting the desk with his forehead and whimpered quietly.
I should have known better! She just wanted to give me a roasting about my rude behavior, and I'm just a total jackass, even trying to kiss her.
That was the right decision, believe me. Didn't you see that look in her eyes? That was longing, not angry. I bet she is secretly in love with you, at least a bit!
Sure – he couldn't say if his snarl was just internally or if he did it for real. That's why Judy was running away from me the moment she realized what I was going to do. Like I suddenly went savage and was trying to eat her or something. That's what true love looks like for rabbits, you're right.
"What's the matter with your lovely mate, bro?" Eliot had walked over to Nick, still grinning happily but also looking somewhat irritated towards the door where Judy vanished seconds ago. "Is she running home to change into something more comfortable for you?" the wolf snickered suggestively. The amused expression disappeared immediately when Nick jumped off his chair without warning, grabbed Eliot's tie with his paws and snarled angrily to the nearly one head bigger wolf.
"She isn't…" the red fox started, but his whole rage popped off as fast as it appeared. Nick let Eliot's tie go, and his whole posture went limp with sagging shoulders. "No, she isn't changing into something more comforting. More likely she is taking a hot shower to get rid of any scent I might have left on her. Or getting some fox-away spray. Maybe even report me for sexual harassment at work. Probably all at once." The tod slowly turned around and wrote a short note onto a piece of paper.
It took a moment for Eliot to realize what Nick just said. "What are you talking about? Did I interrupt you? Oh lice-ridden fur-brush, I did interrupt you! Don't say that someone finally just confessed to the other one and I prevented your very first kiss!" Eliot's voice was turning into a desperate squeal. "I've killed WildeHopps! How should I ever look into a mirror again? And my little pumpkin will turn into one of those angry and scary looking Halloween pumpkins, never speaking a word with me again!"
"You didn't do anything, but prevent me from making things even worse than they are already are," Nick groaned and stripped off the note from the writing pad. "And stop giving Judy and me some ridiculous nicknames. Nothing happened nor will ever happen. I know you mean well but just stop it, Eliot". The fox took his small bag and trotted towards the classroom door.
"But you and Judy are…!" the gray wolf started again, but Nick interrupted him with a small gesture of his paw.
"…just colleagues and friends. Well, after what happened, maybe neither now," the tod paused at the door and sighed.
"Come on, Nick! I messed this special moment up, but I'm sure that…" the wolf was nearly crying in despair now.
"Forget it, Eliot!" Nick attached the note to the classroom door and closed it behind him.
His friend was already on his way to follow him, but when the wolf reached the door and the hallway just seconds later there was no sign of Nick as if he managed to disappear in this short moment. Eliot started to sniff, trying to get the scent of the fox, but in the same moment the school bell rang, and the hallway was filling with all kind of different pupils again, making it impossible to trace any specific scent. Frustrated the wolf was turning around to read the note Nick had attached to the classroom door: 'Due to illness no classes today – N. Wilde'
Chloe was sitting in the staff room during the break, grading some tests of her students. Her talk with Judy during the last break went well, and finally, her bunny friend could also recognize what Nick's distinct behavior was about. Normally she wouldn't unmask such a thing, but since Judy had confirmed to her that she had more than just friendly feelings for that fox it was nothing more than a little encouragement. The thylacine looked at the clock – break was nearly over, and that twirly little rabbit still hadn't stopped by in the staff room.
Oh, I bet she was on her way to Nick's classroom as soon as the break began. The voice in Chloe's head snickered amused.
I bet that she couldn't sustain it even that long and was probably already waiting in front of his classroom door when the bell rang to enter immediately!
Do you think so? I mean, she was really agitated and bewildered when we talked with her. But leaving her class early? Don't forget that she is meticulous regarding everything, especially her job! She wasn't sick or even late a single time since we started working here together.
True, but love makes us act like we are fools. You just have to look at yourself during the last few days. (snickering) And after the little rabbit realized that she didn't recognize Nick's behavior towards her as probably courting for such a long time, she just had to know and be sure about it.
Well, whenever she headed to him, the fact that none of them are around here yet is speaking volumes! I shouldn't wonder if they are currently making out in the broom closet. (chuckling)
Chloe was still grinning when the bell rang at the same time Eliot entered the staff room, way less excited and energetic than he usually was. He started to beam, though, as soon as he saw his girlfriend.
"Oh, come on, stop calling me that" the thylacine frowned with a smug grin.
You start loving it when he calls you that!
It's somehow sweet, but the word originates from the word pepon, which is Greek for 'large melon' – something round and large. And I'm neither the one nor the other!
You know precisely he doesn't mean it this way! Forget about those scientific things for a moment, Eliot already explained to you that your fur reminds him of the color of the pumpkin flower. And of course how you smelled and tasted during your first kiss because of this little pumpkin flavored cake. And that is really sweet and romantic!
(internal growling) There is no such thing as a specific pumpkin in botanical or scientific meaning. What he is talking about is a particular kind of winter squash that is predominantly derived from 'Cucurbita pepo', and I don't really share that ribbed skin that is common to nearly all of …
Chloe's rational and scientific thoughts were interrupted the moment when Eliot hugged her, giving her a passionate kiss. Two or three colleagues who were just leaving the staff room for their classes chuckled and muttered quietly. But the biggest grin had Ramic, a kangaroo and history / PE teacher – he won the betting pool this morning when it was apparent that this crazy wolf finally had the guts to ask Chloe out for a date, and she was mad enough to go out with him. He gave the blushing Tasmanian tiger a wink and shortly after the young couple was alone in the staff room.
"Just a question, Pumpkin. Did you see Nick during this break by chance?" Eliot nuzzled his girlfriend softly on her cheek.
"No, but I guess he is with Judy and with any luck they aren't just talking this time" she snickered with an amused wink. "And you better not interrupt them now with one of your eccentric performances again! As clever as both of them are, they are really thick as bricks in recognizing each other's feelings. I really lo…l-like you, you crazy wolf, but you would just mess everything up" Chloe smiled and gave him a soft kiss on his nose.
"Uhm…." Eliot's ears were drooping.
With a groan and rolling eyes, the thylacine shoved him a bit away with her paws. "Eliot Fanghanel! What happened?!" she asked slightly annoyed.
Judy was sitting on the floor of one of the small storage rooms, surrounded by boxes with old books, large rolled up maps, two discarded overhead projectors, plastic models of different paws and claws, and even an old typewriter. Her arms were clasping around her angled legs, both ears listening carefully for every sound.
Okay, you finally went haywire. What for carrots sake is wrong with you? That was the perfect moment for a great … no, a fantastic first kiss! And you just ran away like a total lunatic and leave Nick behind like he has a contagious sickness! Hey! Are you even listening? I'm talking with you! Her emotionally inner voice was speaking non-stop since she started to run away and Judy just blocked her out. But now as she was calming down again, that voice was reproaching her all the more.
It wasn't Judy's calm inner voice answering, however, but the tiny voice of nine-year-old Judy - I… I was scared all of a sudden and panicked. I had to hide, or he would have slapped me again!
Wait, w..what? That's not right, what are you doing here?
Before Judy's mind, she saw some trees appear, then some booths and finally the sound of dozens of mammals in the background, music, kits playing … and suddenly the throaty voice of a young teen red fox that had stalked some other kits.
Gimme your tickets right now, or I'm gonna kick your meek little sheep butt.
Ow! Cut it out, Gideon!
Baa-baa. What're ya gonna do, cry?
A nine-year-old bunny appeared on the scene, Judy could only watch her flashback like a movie from the side. Hey! You heard her. Cut it out and kindly return my friends' tickets.
Gideon pats the tickets in his pocket. Come and get 'em… but watch out, 'cause I'm a fox – and like you said in your dumb little stage play, us predators used to eat prey. And that killer instinct's still in our Dunnahh.
The adults Judy's inner voice groaned. It's called D-N-A you jerk of a fox! Also, why are we watching all of this again? Gideon Grey was a jerk, who happened to be a fox and we know plenty of other mammals who are je…
She paused the moment when Gideon unsheathed his claws like a switchblade and slashed the nine-year-old Judy, drawing blood from her cheek. Judy winced for real, too, instinctively grabbing her cheek. The bunny sighed, and the whole flashback scene started to vanish like smoke again. When she carefully stroked her left cheek, the small scars beneath the velvety fur were still noticeable. The last time she had thought about that incident in her youth was at least five years ago, and it never occurred to her that there could be a reason to be afraid of Nick. Regardless of him being a predator or even a fox. He was her best friend, and she trusted him unconditionally. So why did that memory come back to her right at that moment when maybe the best thing that could have happened was imminent?
"Sweet cheese and carrots," Judy cursed silently and hated herself for just running away.
That scallywag of a wolf! It's all his fault! He scared me with his sudden howling, then the sight of those fangs directly in front of my face, …
Her other voice added softer and bemused – Nick's musky scent with a sweet and nearly floral undertone that was just omnipresent, his tender paws and smooth paw pads that were caressing our cheek, his nose touching ours only so slightly …
Judy's tail was fluttering and her muzzle twitching, walking down memory lane with a smile. Her wiggling ears were actually swirling up enough dust from the shelf behind her head that she had to sneeze out of a sudden.
"Well, I messed up our first kiss with panache as it seems," she sighed while wiping her nose, slowly standing up from the floor and dusting down her dress and shirt. When she slowly opened the door, the bright light was blinding her for a moment, and the bunny's ears swiveled in front of her face. "I have to apologize to Nick right now!" she sighed.
"Please don't be angry with me, Pumpkin!" Eliot whined while running after his groaning girlfriend. "I was just so excited to witness that moment, I don't see why Judy freaked out all out of a sud…OOMPH!" The wolf stumbled into the thylacine that stopped right after leaving the staff room.
Chloe punished him with an angry look over her shoulder, then turned back to the young black sheep that nearly ran into her. "Shouldn't you be in your classroom?"
"Yes, Ma'am. But our teacher didn't show up", the sheep answered a bit nervous.
"Well, your teacher may just be a bit late, the current school hour started only a few minutes ago. You should go back to your classroom and wait a bit more".
"But Miss Hoops is never late, Ma'am. You could set the clock with her starting the class in time!"
Judy starting her class too late? Curled whiskers! That's probably not a good sign.
She could still be with Nick right now, having some sweet reconciliation…
Nonsense! After that incident Eliot caused, that overemotional bunny is probably confused! All the things that happened during the last hour – she always plays the thoughtful and thorough rabbit, but she nearly broke down earlier when she thought that Nick was in love with someone else.
Yes, but we explained it to her and without our stalking cutie (internal groaning) she would probably be late because they would be smooching in some storage room (snickering).
But he did interrupt them and for whatever reason Judy was freaking out because of it. Maybe she is sitting on some toilet crying right now!
Mhm, I have to agree that this might be a possibility, but… - Chloe's inner dialog got interrupted by a big cheetah joining their conversation.
"What's the matter here, can I help you?" the overweight feline asked somewhat breathless but with a big and friendly smile.
"Hello, headmaster Clawhauser!" the sheep smiled hesitantly, then looked at the thylacine with a questioning look.
But Eliot was responding faster: "Miss Hopps was feeling ill and asked me to inform you and her class. I can oversee her class, though."
"Ooohhhh, Judy is really sick? I hope she will be okay soon!" Clawhauser gasped in surprise with his paws over his mouth. Chloe rolled her eyes but still smiled and rewarded her quick thinking boyfriend with a soft touch of her tail against his leg.
"I'm sure she will be fine by tomorrow again, Sir" the thylacine answered and made a small gesture. "Better you now head to Miss Hopps classroom, Mister Fanghanel" – Benjamin Clawhauser snickered suggestively, and even the young sheep grinned. Chloe blushed slightly, it seemed that everyone already knew about her and Eliot, but she preferred to just pretend she didn't notice that now.
"Sure, Miss Dapperclaw!" the gray wolf winked and gestured to the sheep to go ahead. "So, let's go to your classroom before someone calls the ZPD for some mysterious missing mammal case."
After the two had disappeared, Benjamin turned around to Chloe and asked a bit more worried: "Is Judy really okay? I cannot remember that she ever called in sick, so this must be serious!"
"Don't worry, Ben" Chloe smiled. "I'm sure she will be back in no time!"
"I hope so, just keep me informed and wish her my best if you see her," the cheetah said as he smiled brightly and walked back to his office.
"And I better find that lagomorph and make sure she really is okay…" Chloe muttered and headed off to the stairway.
The sun started to set down behind the far hills of the Marshlands. Nick was sitting on one of the highest points of the rainforest district, a small viewpoint that could only be reached on foot after driving with the gondola to its final destination on this end. Just a single large tree was reaching this high, and the red fox was sitting under its canopy, some occasional raindrops from a far away hanging sprinkler wetting his fur.
All those red and yellow colors during the sunset, it nearly looks like the fur of a giant fox.
Yeah, or some forest fire that is consuming everything and leaving just ashes behind.
Also could be some flames of passion that are caressing the gray hills like a paw is touching the soft fur and body of an adorable companion. A lovely gray companion. Those two foothills on the right nearly look like some long ears, like those of…
Shut up! I'm here to get a clear head, not to think even more about her.
You mean to bath in self-pity.
You should stop hiding up here and talk with Judy about what happened.
There is nothing to talk about.
Are you kidding me? You are teaching rhetoric, so use some of your knowledge, you coward!
I already said too much! Now she knows how I really feel and it frightened her so much that she ran away, head over heels!
So, what are you going to do now? Change your workplace? Move out of your apartment?
Oh, come on! Talk. With. That. Bunny! You are acting childish. No female loves a wimp, so get your fluff together and act like an adult fox!
No buts. You two are best friends, and she will get really angry with you if you are getting sick due to all that rain and don't accompany her to that festival like you promised!
Ha! That was a good one. I can be glad if she is still talking with me, but she doesn't want me to go with her to Bunnyburrow for a whole weekend for sure, that would be incredibly awkward.
Well, I have a feeling that she still wants you to come with her… (snickers)
With a deep sigh Nick got up from the tree stump, he was sitting on for nearly the past five hours, shook out his wet fur and started his descent, back to the gondola station.
Judy's first stopover was Nick's classroom. When she walked through the empty hallways, it occurred to her, that the next lesson had already begun and she felt somewhat guilty for not being in her own classroom right now. But her conscience was tied and gagged by her emotional side – apparently that slightly naughty part of her got rather strong while being repressed by her rational inner-voice for so long. And since she admitted to herself her feelings, that emotional voice was running amok and causing the bunny to make some rather unusual decisions.
We should just burst into his classroom and kiss him immediately!
Are. You. Freaking. Crazy?! We would be the mockery of the whole school even before this lesson end, and Benji would fire both of us!
Then let's trigger the fire alarm over there! While everybody runs outside, we have all the time we want!
Sweet cheese and carrots, you ARE crazy! That would not only get us fired but also arrested by the ZPD! Please, curb yourself a bit, or we will be getting into serious trouble.
Okay, what about asking Nick for some help with.. the projector! He can leave the classroom without attracting attention!
That would be better, but maybe we should just wait unt…
Judy arrived at the classroom door she stormed through a bit earlier, her paws already on the door handle when she noticed the handwritten note by Nick on it and stopped.
"W-what? But .. he was fit as a fiddle earlier! What could have caused this sudden illness?" the gray doe muttered irritably, her big ears – excitedly swinging from side to side just moments ago - were drooping immediately with big disappointment, her fluffy tail wiggling nervously.
"I think the technical term for this is called lovesickness, sweetheart" Chloe said quietly while leaning against the corner of the wall, just a few meters away. She guessed that Judy would return sooner or later to Nick's classroom and decided to wait there, unnoticed until now by the distracted bunny. "It can happen if you put all your eggs in one basket, confess your love to your best friend, and she just runs away for whatever reasons."
Judy blushed heavily, pulling her ears over the face. Chloe smiled somewhat and walked over to her friend, squatting beside her and putting a paw on the doe's arm. "Hey, I didn't want to embarrass you, my dear. But I'm worried about you. Eliot told me what he witnessed, and I don't understand why you ran away so suddenly. And I bet that Nick doesn't know either. I'm no psychologist, but his behavior indicates that he has no idea about your feelings towards him and that he interprets your running away for declining his courting. Was that your intention, hon?" the thylacine touched the sweet doe's arm while smiling.
"Sweet cheese and carrots, no! I… I just… no idea…" Judy started to sob and hugged Chloe. "I messed it up, didn't I?"
"Well," the sand-colored beauty patted her back with a smile. "You caused some misunderstandings, but I'm sure you can explain whatever happened to Nick."
At least I hope so. This Fox can be quite stubborn and is easily hurt. Remember the story Eliot told us when he celebrated his birthday in that Bar – what was its name?
You mean Taconny's Blue Lighthouse? It's a Jazz-Club, not a bar.
Whatever, when Nick randomly met his former friend from University there, that Arctic Vixen, he totally collapsed.
He nearly ruined our boyfriend's birthday party, that was not very nice. He even got drunk!
After his second beer...Nick just has a low tolerance for alcohol, based on a genetically…
Shush! We don't think about our friends like they are only some interesting mammals we like to examine. But do you think he is now drinking again?
I'm unsure. That previous time with Skye was his first time he was in love if it's correct what Eliot told us. But this time it's nothing spontaneous, and instead of a few days, that red fox courted our gray friend here for weeks or even months. He is muzzle over tail in love and being declined at such a late stage could be…
"…and all of that just reminded me of this early event in my childhood. I never really processed all of this, maybe. But I didn't want to run away from Nick, it just came over me, like an old instinct that took over control. I swear! Oh, Chloe, what should I do now? I need to tell him that it was just a big misunderstanding!"
Oh, stripeless zebra, she just poured out her heart to me what really happened, and we were just distracted and not even listening!
Well, let's improvise then. She wants to find Nick, so it isn't that bad. Where could he be hiding, though?
We should ask the one person who knows him best!
"Judy, my dear," the thylacine said softly. "Eliot and I already talked with Benjamin and told him you are feeling sick and went home early. So maybe you should go and search for your confused friend and explain all that to him. I'm sure he will understand", she smiled.
Judy's ears raised a bit again, and her nose twitched lightly. "Do you think so? But… but where should I search for Nick?"
Chloe laughed a bit, "He is your best friend, if you cannot find him, nobody can," she winked.
"You are right," Judy started to smile again with her usual enthusiastic expression, her tail wiggling excitedly and her ears swinging fully up. "Thanks, Chloe!" The bunny hugged the sand colored beauty quickly, then ran with large leaps toward the stairways.
The Tasmanian tiger smiled while getting up again, "Good luck, my dear. Go and make the world a better place for yourself and this handsome fox".
Nick left Koraru-san's Comic Pawradies with the new episode of his favorite series, 'The Mark' – a hand-drawn and old-school comic about the newest adventures of two ZPD officers, a rabbit and a fox working together as partners. His teaching methods were always a bit unconventional, trying to entertain his students with more modern material instead of the old classics. As a big fan and long-time customer of Koraru-san's, he explained topics like social economics, the small mammal integration initiative or rhetoric with comic books instead of the classic textbooks. Some colleagues were skeptical at first, but not after last year when Francine, an elephant and art teacher, created her own short comics for her lessons and even the students magazine added his own cartoon with caricatures of the teachers.
'The Mark' was one of the oldest comic series, and Nick had been collecting it since his youth. He would get rid of his damp clothes, take a hot shower, listen to some Jazz and let his mind wander in that fantasy world, where a fox and a bunny were being partners at the Zootopia Police and solving the craziest cases while slowly falling in love together. He sometimes imagined that he and Judy are those two cops: revealing big conspiracies where a sheep tried to poison all predators in the city with a drug that make them savage, or some criminal organization kidnapping engaged couples to sell them as slaves. However, those crime cases and the realistically drawn action scenes weren't any more his main reason to enjoy the new episode each month, the slowly emerging relationship between the uneven Bunny/Fox couple was way more interesting by now. He would not read a cheesy love novel, but the author of the comic made this inter-species relationship not only believable, but the protagonists were a really great couple. He remembered that he shipped them both already after the second episode he had read, long before it was confirmed within the story.
But today he would not read the story with the same enthusiasm and joy as usual – until now he could always imagine that he and Judy would be that couple in the comic. And in the last episode, it was hinted, that they may finally share their first kiss together. Today it would be some gruesome irony to read that part after his own failed confession: Life isn't some kind of comic book where everything runs smoothly and dreams come true.
When he reached his apartment complex, he looked up and counted the floors and windows – the one that belonged to Judy's apartment had some pink curtain, but it was dark inside. By now she must have been at home for quite a while, usually listening to some music or watching TV. But Nick guessed that the bunny didn't want to risk him visiting her today and stayed overnight at a friend's house. He imagined, that she and perhaps Chloe were right now laughing about him and his ridiculous confession and try to even kiss her – he, a predator, a red fox, kissing a cute bunny!
Slowly shaking his head, he grabbed his own keyring and opened the front door. He didn't want to take the stairs now, all he wanted was to get out of those wet clothes and getting a hot shower. Should he open a bottle of beer? He wasn't a big fan of it but still had a few bottles from his last meetup with Finnick and Honey, some old school friends he was only meeting occasionally now. Maybe the alcohol would make him sleepy. When he left the elevator on his floor, the fox didn't even bother to switch on the light. Even without his night vision, he knew this hallway well enough to find his way to the right apartment door. But when he was just a few more meters away from it, he slowed down. Something was laying in front of his door – not very big, more like a backpack or a pile of clothes. When he finally reached his apartment, he stared down on his doormat: What first seemed to be a pile of clothes was, in reality, something way more fluffy … and unexpected. Curled together and looking just adorable as always was Judy laying in front of his door.
Well, she couldn't wait until tomorrow to argue and shout at us as it seems. And because we weren't at home, she decided to wait here to finish us off as soon as possible!
That's possible, but maybe she just wanted to talk with us. She doesn't look too angry right now, perhaps there is a chance to forget about everything that happened, and we even could stay friends!
She always looks that beautiful, even when she is angry, with her frowning muzzle and those swifting ears she is just adorable. This cute bunny could be a black widow or a serial killer, and I would still love her beautiful smile, even if it would be the last thing for me to see. She could go savage on me whenever she wants…
Hey! Your thoughts are drifting away, that fluffing killer bunny is laying on your doormat right now! So maybe you should think about a rescue plan. Or are you ready to be confronted by her right now?
No, I'm not. But I will never be ready for this talk, and maybe it's better to get over with it as soon as possible.
Then better prepare for this, as her twitching tail and her muzzle are indicating that she will wake up any second now.
And how should I...
Nick couldn't finish his inner dialogue when the gray doe suddenly opened her purple eyes and turned her head to look right at his face. The fox didn't know how to react and just continued to stare at her, his wet fur creating a little puddle of water beneath him by now. But instead of some angry looks, the bunny started to smile at him.
"You're finally home, Nick. I'm so glad to see you and that you are okay," Judy said while getting up to her feet and stretching her muscles. "After I saw that you called in sick for the rest of the day, I searched all your favorite cafés and other places, but just couldn't find you. Even your phone was switched off, and I started to get really worried. I even thought about calling the hospitals and the police because I thought something bad had happened!"
Something awful had happened, you dumb, cute, little bunny: You! But opposed to his inner voice, Nick just stayed quiet and continued to look sadly down at the rabbit.
"Nick?" Judy had put her paw on his arm when he didn't say anything, looking somewhat worried again.
"I'm okay, Carro… I mean Judy", Nick muttered, but he only managed a wry smile. With a short sigh, he unlocked his door and opened it.
"Can we talk about what happened today?" the gray doe asked a bit shyly, but with a smile that would be able to melt Tundratown's largest glacier. Her ears twitched slightly when she noticed Nick's accelerated heartbeat, and she started to stroke her friends arm calmly.
Fertilized mold, his wet fur is even intensifying that lovely scent of him! And how his whole body is reacting to even the slightest touch of mine. This is getting me excited in a way I don't even understand.
You are in love, turnip-head – and he is, too!
But his sad look is causing some real stomach pain. Chloe was right, I accidentally hurt him when he misunderstood my behavior.
I would suggest that w…
"I'm the one who is being sorry, you don't have to explain anything Judy," Nick interrupted her thought process when he tried to enter his now opened apartment without touching her.
"I think," Judy stopped him by holding his arms with both paws and looking up to him, "that I have to explain a lot of things to you, Nick." And regardless of his still wet clothes, the gray bunny hugged her friend that she loved so much with a hearty hug, leaning her head against his body and listened with a satisfied giggling how his heart tried to jump out of his chest.