(This is for a serial I’m hoping to write a little later this year and post on relevant furry sites. I wanted to take the time to get to know the principal couple for the whole thing, and what better way to do that then write about how they first met? I didn’t want to do anything fancy here. I just wanted to write dialog that established a good sense of character, that pointed to the hidden things in someone’s mind, and establish a good, strong sense of place.)
Abernathy Jones looked at the five barrels of apples he had just bought and thought about all the work he would have to do to make sure they didn’t go to waste. Some of them he would dry, some of them he would sauce, some would be canned and some mashed into pulp and mixed with hay for the horses. For most people, five barrels of apples conjured images of piping hot pieces of pie and cups of cider. For Abe, they brought to mind hard labor for at least two or three days.
The rabbit put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath. The work started with loading the barrels onto the cart, something Barnaby, the store clerk on shift, swore he was too busy to do. It was a short trip from the raised wooden porch to the horse-drawn cart right in front, but it was still a two-man job. He looked around at the bustling streets. Students from the nearby university were out for long lunches between classes, and the few farmers there were dealing with their own burdens. Abe would have to find a way to do this alone. As long as he was careful with his back and took frequent breaks, it wouldn’t be so bad.
His horse watched him placidly from the post she was tied to. He had named her Crystal, because she was a beautiful mare but far stronger than anyone gave her credit for. She flicked one ear behind her, swiveled the other one towards him, then bent her neck towards the water trough. Before she took a drink, she spoke.
“Tiger across the street’s been eyeing you ever since you got out here. Think he’s gonna come over.” She kept one ear focused on him while she took a drink.
Abe glanced over. Sure enough, there he was. A rather tall Tiger, broad in the shoulders, wearing the khaki uniform of the sheriff’s department. He was nominally keeping an eye on the entire street, but his gaze kept drawing back to the Rabbit far too frequently for it not to be a coincidence. The deputy saw him looking, pushed himself off the post he was leaning on, and started walking his way.
The Tiger’s physicality was impressive; he was big, but graceful. He had a dancer’s talent of putting his bulk exactly where he wanted it. As he stalked across the wide dirt avenue that separated the rows of buildings that made up Oleander’s main thoroughfare, he accentuated his barreled chest, his heavy arms, the casual power he possessed. Abe didn’t know if he should be annoyed at the stranger for showing off so shamelessly, or annoyed at himself for being swayed by it.
“Hey there.” The Tiger grinned, without showing his teeth. “Looks like you could use some help.”
Abe forced himself to smile, lifted the brim of his hat. “Maybe a little. I think I might have overdid it with the apples.”
The Tiger chuckled. “Not if you want to have ’em last through the winter. Here, I can put them on your cart for you.” He lifted the first barrel before Abe could stop him. His shoulders and arms bulged through his shirt.
The Rabbit blinked. “Ho, there, don’t hurt yourself.”
“It’s no trouble. I’m happy to help.” The deputy huffed once and thumped the barrel on the wagon.
What a fucking Cub Scout, Abe thought to himself. He hopped from the porch to the cart and wiggled the barrel towards the edge closest to the seat. “Well, thanks, stranger. I appreciate it. What’s your name?”
“Johnathan Danvers. I’m new here.”
“I can tell that; haven’t seen you around here before. What brings you all the way out here to Oleander?”
Johnathan made sure that Abe had secured the first barrel before bringing the second one. “Would you believe I came all the way out here looking for work?”
Abe studied him for a moment. “No. No, I wouldn’t. Where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m from Firenze.”
Abe’s ears perked. “The capital?” He saw Johnathan nod once he put the second barrel down. “Well now I really don’t believe you. What on Earth would you want to move here from the city for?”
Johnathan shrugged and grinned. This time, Abe could see the full set of carnivore’s fangs between black lips. “Just wasn’t sure that the city was for me any more. I thought I’d give small-town living a try. My sister moved out to Brackers five years ago, swears she’ll never live in a city again.”
It was common for the Animals to migrate out to small towns near a lot of wilderness if they didn’t have to be in the cities for whatever reason. The crush of people, the endless mazes of asphalt and concrete — it didn’t sit well with whatever instincts hadn’t been engineered out of them when they were created. It had been several generations now since man had essentially created a new race, and a natural separation had been occurring over that time. Cities were where humanity wanted to live, and the Animals were more than happy to leave them to it. The further away from the urban centers you got, the less humans you found, until, in a place like Oleander, they made up about ten percent of the population.
“I hear you there. I only ever visited the city once, when I was a leveret. I don’t know how anyone could stand it. So how’re you liking the town so far?” Abe grinned again, and this time he was surprised to find it was genuine.
“There’s a lot less humans around, that’s for sure.” Johnathan grunted as he thumped the third barrel down on the cart.
“Is that a good thing?”
The Tiger shrugged. “It’s just a thing. I guess I’m used to the human way of doing things. They’re really big on scent neutralization and keeping shed fur under control and all of that. It’s…strange being in a place where it’s not that big a deal.”
Abe’s nose twitched. He had gotten so used to the riot of scents that assaulted his senses when he came to town he practically didn’t notice them. But the wind carried currents of fox and beaver, otter, skunk, wolf and deer, horse and rabbit, tiger, bear, coyote, squirrel. There was the scent of lacquered wood and standing water, too; of hot metal that had been standing in the sun for a while; of freshly-pressed clothing and the subtle cologne the Tiger wore. Abe suddenly realized that he had last taken a proper bath three days ago, and that his overalls were filthy with the muck of the farm.
He felt his temper flare at being made to feel self-conscious. “Well, we’ve got more important things to do around here than make sure someone’s delicate nose isn’t offended.”
Johnathan threw his paws up and backed away from the cart. “Hey, I wasn’t complaining. Just saying, it’s an adjustment. It’s…nice, really. I don’t know, it feels more honest.”
And just like that, the anger bled out of him. “Eh, I wouldn’t go ascribing some noble spirit to it. Most of us just don’t care all that much if our neighbors go a few days without showering.”
“Nothing wrong with that. I just haven’t, uhm, broken the habit yet.” Johnathan returned with the fourth barrel, and Abe noticed the dark pink of his ears.
“We’re almost done,” he said. “And that’s a nice scent.”
Johnathan’s ears perked. He beamed. “Thanks! My dad used to wear it all the time. I get crap from my sister all the time because she thinks it’s old-fashioned. But I like it.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing the traditional thing. Traditions last because they work. And that works for you.” Abe saw a flash in Johnathan’s eyes that gave him pause. He just realized what he said and how it could look; he let his smile drop and he quickly turned to secure the fourth barrel.
They were silent for the loading and securing of the fifth barrel, and Abe hopped down to offer his paw. Johnathan took it and smiled. The Rabbit tried not to notice the way the Tiger’s paw enveloped his own, or how he was well over a foot shorter.
There was a spark there that neither of them commented on, a jump in their breaths when their eyes met. Abe looked away first. He wiped his paws on his overalls. “Well, thanks for the help John. I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
“It’s been great so far; I don’t think I’ll have too much excitement to worry about around here.”
Abe laughed as he climbed up into the seat of his cart. “Oh, just you wait. Oleander’ll show you a thing or two before too long. Take care.”
The Rabbit flicked Crystal’s reigns lightly and the horse settled into an easy trot. When she was sure they were out of earshot, she looked back. “Pretty sure you guys are going to jump into bed together soon.”
“Shut up,” Abe said.
“I’m just saying. I can smell pheromones, and you guys had a cloud of ’em around you.” Crystal turned her attention back to the road. Abe only responded with a small slap of the reigns.
Over the next several days, as he juiced and mashed and dried the apples, all he could think about was the big tiger in his fresh deputy’s uniform. When he tasted the cider, he thought of Johnathan’s cologne. It made the tasting sweeter somehow. And that suited Abe just fine.