<< Back to Chapter 7: Storm-Tossed | On to Chapter 9: Reconciliation >>

Waking up was an odd experience. A phone was ringing, but it wasn’t my phone – not my cell phone, and not the phone in the townhouse. And at the sound, someone moved just behind me, and a whiff of sandalwood touched my nose.

Even when a voice started speaking, I was muddled enough that it took me a few moments to recognize Ric. I don’t know who else I might have expected it to be; it’s not like I’m used to waking up beside someone. And remembering Ric made me remember what had happened before I slept.

God, it had been nice to be held.

“Uh-huh, got it. I’ll keep an eye out, and let you know. Uh-huh. ‘Bye.” A soft beep, and the clatter of a phone being placed on its cradle. I looked over my shoulder, and saw the chinchilla staring down at the phone, one hand still holding a pen.

“What’s up, Ric?” I asked, starting to sit up. The movement brought to my attention the fact that I had a lingering headache; I continued it slowly and carefully. I was coherent enough to notice, though, that Ric hadn’t needed to pull the sheets back to stand up, and he hadn’t smelt of sandalwood earlier; he must’ve got up to wash at some point.

Not surprising, with his fur.

“Oh, Tim. That was Erin – she’s tending the bar today at Casey’s. Sam and Sarah showed up there, trying to find you; they’re worried about you, she said. Wanted me to let them know if I had any idea how you were. I figured I ought to ask you, first, though I didn’t say that.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, gazing down at me, and brushed a hand over my cheek. “How are you doing, Tim?”

I sighed, closing my eyes and leaning against his shoulder, burying my face in a cloud. “I don’t know,” I choked out. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, Ric.”

“Shh. You’ve got people looking out for you,” he murmured over my ears, sliding a hand along my back. “You’ll get through this. You’re a smart guy, and you’ve got good credentials; you’ll find something to pay the bills, and in the meantime you don’t need to go it alone.”

Alone. God. I might almost be better off if I’d stayed that way. “But what about… what about them?” I blurted. “After last night – it’s still last night, right?” It didn’t make much sense, but I was flustered.

And Ric got the point anyway. “You were only out for a few hours, yeah. Last night’s still last night.” He settled his hand on my lower back. “As for them… well, Erin said they were worried. From what I heard in the background, I’d say worried sick. I gather they checked at your place, and when they couldn’t find you there they started panicking.”

God. The last thing I needed was to have the police waste their time looking for me. “I… guess I should let them know I didn’t get stranded outside somewhere.”

“I’ll do it,” Ric offered. “You’re still looking rough, Tim, and no wonder. Let me tell them to call off the search, and we’ll figure things out from there, okay?”

Not trusting myself to answer aloud, I just nodded.

Ric gave my shoulder a pat, then slipped away, picked up the phone, and dialled it. After a few moments, he said, “Hi, it’s Enrique. Yeah, he – yeah, yeah. it’s okay. I found him. He’s safe, but he’s still pretty rough. He needs to rest a while. Uh-huh. Right. I will. ‘Bye.” Again he hung up and put the phone on its cradle, shaking his head.

“The way he talks,” the chinchilla sighed, “you’d think he’d hit you with his truck and was checking on you in hospital. And she was there, too. I don’t think they’re going to try to give you any grief, Tim, but one way or another things will be complicated.”

Complicated… No kidding. “You’ve got things simpler here, huh?”

“For the most part,” he laughed, touching my cheek.

That scent was something else; soothing and exciting, all at once. I pushed my snout into his palm to smell a little more of it, and sighed as I sank back. “Hey, Ric… do you think there could be a, well… ‘us’?”

“God, I’d love to hope so,” the chinchilla sighed, gathering me in against him. “But give it time, Tim. You’re hurting now; I’m glad to give you some comfort but it’s not the best time to decide your future.”

He was right, damn it. “Guess you’ve seen a bunch of people get together on the rebound and break up down the road, huh.”

“Painfully,” he confirmed. “Not always, but all too often. But I think I know you well enough, Tim, to say that even if we don’t wind up as ‘us’… If you want my company from time to time – in bed or out of it – until one or the other of us gets into something else, I’d be glad to.”

“No strings?”

“No strings.”

I sighed. Maybe it wasn’t the most rational idea I’d ever had, but right then, a guilt-free orgasm felt like good fortification for… whatever I’d have to say to Sam and Sarah.

“Teach me a few more things?” I asked.

He laughed. “Oh, what have we wrought here today?”

He was even less distressed by my newfound enthusiasm for the male body than I was, and I was seriously wondering why the hell I hadn’t at least been more thorough in exploring my own. There didn’t seem to be much I could do that he actively didn’t like, he was very obvious about the things he specifically did like, and when I inevitably stumbled and did something a lot more forcefully than I’d meant to, much of the time he just asked me, in words or otherwise, to do it harder.

Not being too worried about my own climax, it was actually kind of gratifying when just a few minutes of awkwardly licking at his shaft and fondling his balls got him to cry out and pump a few squirts over my tongue. Even as I was swallowing to get my throat clear of the sticky feel of it, I was reflecting that no girl had ever managed to get me off that fast.

Then, of course, Ric recovered, shoved me down against the bed, and thanks to my excitement with the whole business – and a very, very skilled tongue – was guzzling my load in seconds flat.

So much for gratifying speed on the part of his climax. Damn… I’d come that fast maybe once before in my life, and that was after being teased for a solid hour.

We traded a few laughs about that in the shower, during which our hands spent more time on each other than ourselves, which was pretty much how it should be. Then, while he was blow-drying himself off to keep his fur properly fluffy, I took a deep breath, longed for but did not actually pour a glass of good Scotch, and sat down by the phone.

And there I sat, staring at the pad with the number scrawled on it in blue ink, until Ric’s hand on my shoulder snapped me out of a series of increasingly unlikely but compelling doomsday scenarios.

As often as I kept telling myself that I didn’t have to worry – that even if they didn’t want to see me again, I’d at least gained something from the experience, weird as it was to think of having a maybe-boyfriend – I couldn’t quite bring myself to dial that number.

Okay, that’s a bit convoluted, but my thoughts at the time felt about as ordered as a deck of cards that had been torn up, mashed, and gone through a jet engine, so it fits.

I looked up at him. “I can’t do this over the phone,” I said. I don’t know… on some level I guess I thought it’d be harder to pretend I wasn’t there if I actually was there in person. Or maybe I could see just how bad the damage was.

“Need a neutral ground?” Ric suggested, and gave my shoulder a squeeze. “And backup?”

That… sounded good, all of it. I nodded.

The chinchilla reached over to grab the phone, punching a number in. “Hey, Erin, it’s me. Is anyone using the upstairs room? Before the evening crowd, I mean. Okay. And are those two still there? Okay, I thought not. Thanks anyway. Bye.”

I swallowed. It wasn’t hard to see what he had in mind, and when; before the afternoon rush. It was – I looked over – just after two o’clock now. If he wanted to get there before the place got ready for the evening crowd, that’d mean getting started right away, probably. “Where’s my shirt?” I mumbled.

“All your clothes are on that chair there,” Ric told me, and as I went to get dressed, he grabbed the pad and started dialling again. He was cryptic; after introducing himself, he just told Sarah – I could hear a female voice on the other end, though I couldn’t make out words – to meet him at the bar. At one query, he just repeated his insistence to meet him there, shortly, and that was pretty much that.

Ric got his own clothes on, found a spare coat and helmet for me, and then off we went.

Casey’s looked normal enough for a Tuesday afternoon; a handful of people in for a late lunch or an early dinner, or just a few afternoon drinks. Some part of me was expecting, I don’t know… something more ominous, I guess, or something special at least.

Instead, Ric talked a moment to the wolf girl behind the bar, and then chivvied me toward a side hall and up the stairs beyond.


It was Sarah’s voice, but it was Sam who was suddenly kneeling in front of me, staring up at me wide-eyed, his hands on my shoulders as though he didn’t quite believe he was seeing me there. “My God, Tim,” he whispered, “are you all right?”

I had no idea what to say to that. What could I? I was healthy; I was unemployed; I was, instead of being decidedly single, in the middle of a bigger romantic tangle than ever before in my life. And not ten feet away was another part of that. I just shrugged, and looked up at Sarah, but she didn’t seem the least bit angry now, just very relieved.

“When we saw you’d left without your coat, we got worried,” she explained. “We checked at your place, but they hadn’t seen you there since yesterday morning. We… we thought you might’ve got lost out there.”

Maybe I still had a death wish or something, or at least a terminal case of honesty. “I kinda did,” I admitted, whatever the reason. “But I’d have found somewhere to warm up, there are stores and such all around. It just… kinda became a moot point.” I looked over my shoulder at Ric, who smiled and gave my back a light pat.

I could almost see the gears starting to turn in Sam’s head, but it was Sarah who spoke up, turning to Ric and saying, “Thanks for taking care of him. We owe you one.”

“Think you’ve got things under control here?” Ric smiled at Sarah, but it was me he was talking to. When I nodded, he did so as well, and said, “I’ll wait downstairs, then, and leave you folks to it.”

As the chinchilla made his way out, the other two guided me over to a cluster of chairs. Sarah sat on a couch; Sam turned one of the easy chairs around to face that couch before he sat down beside her, and I forced myself to sit on the offered chair.

“We owe you an explanation, Tim,” Sarah sighed. “We should’ve given it to you a while back. We were going to yesterday, but… it’s our fault for delaying. Sam thought you already understood; I was sure it’d need to be spelled out.”

The bigger skunk grimaced. “I was serious when I said it was all right, Tim,” he said in a softer voice than I’d ever heard him use.

“He didn’t mean I wouldn’t find out,” Sarah went on. “Tim, I wasn’t upset to find you in our bed. I was upset that you were scared to be found there – because it meant you didn’t know everything.”

I thought back. What had she said? I’d been stressed at the time, but… come to think of it, it all could be put together that way. “But,” I protested, looking down at Sam’s hand on his knee and the glimmer of metal there, “but you’re…”

“Married?” Sarah cut in. “Technically not, Tim.”

“Here.” Sam lifted that hand and wiggled the band free, sliding it off his finger and cradling it on his palm, extending it toward me. “Take a look, tell me what you think.”

At his gesture, I picked it up to look closer. What I’d thought was a single band was in fact two, one slightly paler, less yellow, than the other. Though unadorned, they were twisted together in a helix, flattened on the inside to provide a surface that was mostly smooth. Except… “It… looks like there should be another piece.”

“Close,” Sam replied. “See, the two strips are locked tight together,but a third could sit more loosely between them.” He took the ring back, sliding it back onto his finger.

Sarah, meanwhile, leaned forward, taking my hands in hers. “Tim, we’ve both been attracted to you since we met you. We’ve wanted to say this gently, but it’s too late for that, so we’ll have to say it plainly. Ours is an open relationship, and we’d be very, very happy to have you in it for a while, at least.”

“We haven’t been interested in the same other person since we hooked up,” Sam chimed in. “Now… God. Tim, I made a big mistake when I did stuff without making sure you understood. Can… can you forgive me?”

The whole explanation had set my head spinning. Having that as a chaser was even more dizzying. Me? Forgive him?

“Forgive us?” Sarah oh-so-helpfully added.

Forgive them? I’d thought I might have to grovel to get them to just forgive me enough to not seek out some kind of retribution.

Now all I could do was sit there and stare at them, jaw agape.

<< Back to Chapter 7: Storm-Tossed | On to Chapter 9: Reconciliation >>