Greytail Finds a Mate - Part 1
Characters and text © 2004 Sandwalker

It was Wednesday morning, slightly overcast, but not yet threatening rain. I was sitting at the table with my sister Sandwalker, and Deepriver, hir Companion. All of us were eating bacon, eggs, and toast, as well as talking, like most families do.

"What do you think about getting a dog?" Sandy asked casually in a lull in the conversation. Shi took another bite of hir breakfast while 'River and I stopped chewing and stared at hir. "I'm serious," shi added, returning the stare.

'River was the first to answer hir, hir face infused with delight. "Oh, I think it would be a great idea. Don't you agree, Grey?" I said nothing for a few seconds, then shook my head. "I am not going to tolerate a dog in this house. Just think of all the damage it could do."

Shi knew I had a point there, but shi was still going to argue hir case. "What if it was trained? And it doesn't have to be inside the whole time...just during the night." Shi savagely ripped into a slice of toast, daring me to dispute that.

"If it was trained, I think that I could live with it. Especially house-trained. I am not prepared to clean up its messes." I frowned at Sandy, then went back to my breakfast. 'River stayed silent, looking from me to Sandy to me again, before resuming hir eating.

When breakfast was finished we put our dirty plates and cutlery into the dishwasher, then Sandy and 'River picked up their bags and left for school. "We'll discuss the matter of the dog when you get home," I said as Sandy padded out the door. Shi nodded, then closed the door behind hir.

"A dog, indeed," I muttered after Sandwalker and hir mate had left. "I bet I'd be the one to care for it, take it for walks, clean up after it." I cleared the table, wiping up the crumbs and splatters with a sponge, which I rinsed off, then sighed as I looked out the window. "Maybe shi's right. "After all, we weren't allowed a dog as a pet when we were younger, for exactly the same reasons that I pointed out. I think I'm turning into Father."

I smiled to myself then went to the pantry to see what needed replacing. Taking a notepad and pencil from the bench behind me, I started jotting down items that we needed restocking of. "Sugar, flour, bread, jam," I muttered quietly as I went from top to bottom. There were some advantages to taking after one's parents.

When I'd finished that little chore I put the pad on the table, then went to do some vacuuming. Three chakats can shed quite a bit of hair, and stir up a lot of dust, I've noticed. Which brought me back to the dog again. 'Dogs shed like crazy,' I thought as I ran the vacuum cleaner over the lounge floor. 'Another reason not to get one.'

It took me about an hour to finish up. I put the vacuum cleaner back into its closet, then padded out into the kitchen area to look at the clock. It was close to 10am. Time to go shopping.

Picking up the pad, I retrieved the money pouch that I wore on a belt around my waist, then the carrier bags that straddled my body. I couldn't afford a car yet, so I had to carry everything back myself. Luckily I did shopping every two or three days, so I never had much to bring back.

It was just a quick fifteen-minute trot to the dairy a few blocks away, but this morning I decided to take my time. The clouds had dissipated a little, and the warm sunlight played on my light cream fur as I padded down the street.

"Morning, Grey!" I stopped and looked to my left to see who had called. "Morning, Redspot!" I leaned against the brick wall that formed the front of hir garden and waved to hir. "Doing some gardening, I see."

"That I am," replied Redspot, a totally white chakat with a splotch of red-brown fur on hir rump, and a few grey hairs from sixty years of living. "Putting in some dahlias for next spring." Shi got up and stretched, then padded over to the wall so we wouldn't have to yell. "How have things been in your household, hmm?"

I sighed and put a hand to my forehead in a dramatic pose. "Oh, it's been terrible, terrible!" I cried in an awful imitation of a Southern drawl. "Sandy wants to get a dog, and I think they're just...terrible!" We both broke down into a fit of giggles. Sandy's not the only one who can dramatise. "Really, Sandy thinks we should get a dog. I'm against the idea, and 'River is, most likely, going to side with Sandy."

"Ah," mumbled Redspot sagely, smiling at me. "Sisters will be sisters, after all. Why don't you play along with hir? Get a dog, and see how well shi deals with it. If it looks as if it's too much trouble, return it."

"Hmm...." I had thought of that, and I nodded in reply. "Yes, I guess we could have a trial period. Look at what happened to that Saint Bernard in those movie remakes...what was it called? Some famous name.... Beethoven," I said after a few moments of thought. "Yes, that worked out rather well, but that was in the movies. This is real life. I honestly don't think we could possibly be that lucky."

Redspot sniggered when shi added, "Or unlucky, depending on how you look at it. Oh! You're going shopping?" Shi changed the subject when shi saw my carrier bags. "Could you pick up a few things for me too?"

"Sure." I whipped out my pad and pencil and waited for Redspot to gather hir thoughts. "Nothing much. Just a few bottles of red and white wine, and perhaps some Kahlua and cognac if you can." I stared at Redspot suspiciously. "What's with the alcohol? I know you're not a drinker."

"Oh, it's not for me...mostly. I'm having a 'taur party on Saturday night, and some of my friends like a tipple. Would you like an invite?" The white chakat smiled at me and winked. "I'm sure you'd enjoy it. Plenty of opportunity to be chatted up."

I stared at hir with a serious expression on my face, though I was hard pressed to not smile. "Oh, really, Redspot. What makes you think that I'm at all interested in handsome 'taurs with rippling muscles, deep voices, musky aromas.... What time did you say this party was?" Being on my way into my female phase, I was thinking more of the masculine aspects.

"Starts at seven sharp. Don't be late now!" Shi winked at me again, then made shooing motions. "Go on, now. You have shopping to do." A drop of water suddenly splattered on hir muzzle and shi looked up. "And you'd better do it quickly before it rains." To emphasise hir point another drop landed on my right ear.

"Yes, I'd better. Well, I'll see you soon, then." I stepped away from the wall, waved to Redspot as shi turned back to hir gardening, then headed off again at a fast trot. The clouds had indeed returned, even thicker than before.

I made my rounds of the dairy quickly, struggling up to the counter encumbered with what was on my list, plus a dozen bottles of various wines that I'd picked from the racks. "A bit much for one person to drink, don't you think?" remarked the timber wolf 'morph behind the counter as he rang up my purchases.

"It's not for me. It's for a friend. Shi's having a party Saturday night, and shi conned me into buying some wine for it." I took my wallet out of my belt pouch and waited for the final total. "Three-oh-one seventy-five, thank you."

"How much?" I asked, rather aghast. "That's outrageous!" I glanced down at all the labels, and began to add them up on my pad. "I get two-oh-one seventy-five." I frowned at the foxmorph. "Clear that and re-do it."

With a sigh he did as I said, and a few seconds later a sheepish look appeared on his face. "Oops," he said lamely. "I guess I typed an extra zero." He smiled, then waved a hand to point behind me. "Take another two bottles, free, as apology. It's the least I can do for such a blunder."

"That's very nice of you. I can see why you have so many faithful customers," I murmured as I turned around to fetch one each of white wine and red wine. When I returned, the fox put all the bottles into a big padded bag, then helped me to load my groceries into the carrier bags.

"Thank you," I called as I stepped out the door. Looking up I could see the sky was even darker than it was a few minutes ago, and the occasional drops of rain were still falling. As carefully as I could manage, I started running back in the direction of home, trying to minimise the jostling of the wine bottles.

The rain started in earnest just as I reached Redspot's house, and I dashed up the drive to the front porch to avoid getting totally saturated. I knocked on the door, and waited for it to be opened.

"Ah, you've returned. Oh, my; it's raining," the white chakat murmured with a faint smile. "That'll be good for the garden. Come in, come in. Wipe your feet." Shi stood aside to let me briefly wipe my paws on the mat just inside the door. "Cup of tea?" shi asked as shi led me into the kitchen.

"That would be nice, thank you. A dash of milk, and two sugars." I took a position beside the marble counter, putting the heavy bottles down onto it, before removing my carrier bags and putting them on the floor. "You have a nice house," I said, looking around. Redspot had been left quite a sum of money when hir mother had died, and shi had bought the rather expansive house because of its jungle-like surroundings.

Redspot smiled as shi powered up the kettle. "Thank you. It's probably too large for only two occupants, but if Peta and I have children, then it will allow for expansion." Shi turned to grab two large cups from a rack, and put teabags into them.

"How is Peta nowadays? Did he get over that illness he had?" Peta was Redspot's lifemate, a wolftaur with part of his left ear missing, the result of a nasty fight he had got into in his youth. "I never heard the entire story."

The kettle clicked off, and Redspot poured the boiling water into the cups. "Oh, he did after a few weeks. It was a particularly bad case of pleurisy. Neither of us got much sleep, he was coughing and wheezing so much." Shi pottered around the kitchen preparing the tea, then handed me a cup. "Here you are, Grey."

I took the offered cup, and sipped at it. "A bit hot, but drinkable." I nodded my thanks, and sipped again, before putting the cup down on the counter. "Now, who are you inviting to this party?"

Redspot chuckled. "Well, most of the 'taurs in Peta's workplace, plus a few from the local neighbourhood. And you, of course." Shi winked at me and grinned. "I extend the invitation to Sandwalker and Deepriver as well."

"Well, that's nice of you. I'm not sure 'River would be comfortable around so many people, but shi'll probably come." I drank some more of my tea, then sniggered. "How many of the guests are handsome males?"

"Hmm...about a third of them. The rest will be female or chakats like ourselves. The chances of perhaps starting a relationship are quite good, I believe." Redspot sipped at hir tea again, smiling in a conspiratorial way at me.

"Oh, dear," I muttered, shaking my head in mock disbelief. "What is the world coming to?" The other chakat smirked at me, then said, "My place on Saturday night." We both broke into a fit of giggles again.

The rain lasted about an hour and a half, then eased off to a light drizzle. "Well, I think that it's about time I got myself off home again," I said to Redspot, after finishing my third cup of tea. "I have to get these groceries home and packed away, then I have to organise dinner; I thought we'd have a roast tonight."

"Ah, well. Thank you for the visit, Grey. It's been really great to catch up with you." Shi helped me put my carrier bags on again, and walked with me to the front door. "See you Saturday?" shi asked as I walked down the steps off the porch.

"Definitely; and I'll bring the others too." I waved a farewell, then trotted off down the drive, enjoying the feather-light touch of the drizzle on my fur.

I was crossing the bridge over the small creek that flowed near our house when I noticed a pitiful whining coming from somewhere in the undergrowth lining the banks. "What on earth?" I muttered under my breath. I looked over the railing and scanned the area on either side of the creek.

At first I couldn't see anything much, and I was about to turn away, thinking that the sound had been my imagination, when I heard the sound again, followed by a quiet 'yip!' "Now I definitely heard that," I said quietly. I took another hard look at either bank, and was rewarded by a small movement in the water beside a large rock.

"Hmm...." I looked around for a way to get down to where the noise's owner was. There wasn't a convenient one available, so I had to fumble my way through a tangled 'jungle' of weeds and trees between the bridge and someone's fence, and half-slide down the bank until I made contact with the creek. I made my way over to a small, wiggling bag that was wedged between the rock and the bank, and picked it up. Almost immediately the noises increased, and the movements became more violent.

I hurriedly untied the nylon cord that tied the bag shut, and pulled out -- a dog. A rather scruffy one, at that. It was quite dirty, and its right foreleg seemed to be partly broken. By the looks of it, it was definitely not a pedigree, but whatever it was, it needed some medical attention. "Sandy," I murmured darkly to myself, "I think you've got your dog."

After dropping my groceries off at home I went to the nearest veterinary office, some half-hour's walk. "I hope you're worth this trouble," I said to the little furball whimpering in my arms.

The vet's diagnosis of the puppy -- he was no more than about three months old -- was good. I explained how I had found him, and the vet said that the pup was lucky to survive. Despite neutering becoming normal practise over the last few decades, there were still a lot of unwanted animals being disposed of. Drowning was by far the popular choice.

I trotted home about half an hour later, with a bag of puppy food, and a happy golden Labrador -- that much of its parentage was certain -- puppy in my arms, its right foreleg surrounded by a hard fibreglass cast. "I can see you're going to be a handful," I observed. Of course the pup had no intentions of listening to me.

"Right!" I said when we'd arrived home again. "Time to give you some food. I hope you like the flavour." I took a large bowl from the pantry, filled it up with the kibble that had been provided free of charge to me, then placed it on the floor. I filled another bowl with water, and put that next to the first. The puppy went for them almost immediately, scattering kibble everywhere, much to my disgust.

It didn't take long for the food and water to disappear. Having completed his dining experience, he tottered into the lounge and fell asleep on a pillow that had fallen off the couch. He looked so cute curled up on it that I couldn't help but smile. "Maybe having a dog won't be so bad after all," I murmured quietly, before leaving the room.

He was still asleep when Sandy and 'River came home. "Gods, what a day!" was the first thing out of my sister's mouth as shi walked through the door. "You wouldn't believe what I had to go through." Shi stopped suddenly when shi noticed the odd smile on my face, causing 'River to bump into hir. "Grey, you have that Look on your face again. Spill it." I gestured to the living room and grinned. "Take a glance in there, and tell me what you think."

Sandy blinked, then padded in to see what I was on about. 'River looked at me sideways, hir amber eyes gleaming. "Did you...?" shi asked hesitantly, reaching forward to hug me when I nodded. "I did, yes." I turned my head to see my sister walking out with a cheerful little bundle cradled in hir arms. "He's gorgeous!" shi exclaimed, eyes shining. "What made you change your mind?"

"Well," I said, then began relating the circumstances of the pup's finding. "He's still nameless, so whatever you name him, you'd better make it good. And for Pete's sake, don't give him one of those 'tried and true' names, like 'Rover' and 'Spot'. They're so boring."

"I'll agree with you there," Sandy said, grinning and ruffling the pup's headfur. "What do you think, 'River? I'll let you have the honour of naming him."

'River sat down on hir haunches, and looked at Sandy, then the pup. "Wow...I don't really know. Um...." Shi trailed off as the pup put on a burst of energy to squirm out of Sandy's clutches to drop to the floor and dash across to 'River's feet to have a sniff of hir. "Presto? He's fast on his feet."

I thought that through, and was about to say it was a good name when Sandy spoke up. "I don't think so...think of the jokes. 'Hey, Presto!'" and Sandy waved a hand dramatically in imitation of a magician. What about Rondo? A rondo is usually a quick piece of music. Beethoven wrote quite a number of them. The third movement of his 'Pathetique' is a good example." I grinned at hir explanation; Sandy was fond of listening to Beethoven.

After thinking about it for a few seconds 'River nodded hir agreement. "Rondo it will be," shi said, even though it was Sandy that had come up with the name. Shi lay down on the floor and managed to capture the pup as he scooted around in front of hir. "How's that? You like Rondo?" As if in answer to hir, the pup yipped in what seemed like a positive manner.

"See? He likes it!" said Sandy, chuckling. "Has he shown any destructive tendencies yet?" shi asked me with just a slight hint of concern. "I mean, I'd hate to think that you'd gone to all this trouble only to find he was a little 'problem child'."

"Well...not yet. I suspect that he had a previous owner, because he's been...trained, to a certain extent. While we were at the vet's he whined to be let out. The vet provided him with a litter box, and he quite happily used it."

"That's good," Sandy sighed with relief, crouching down to pick up Rondo from 'River's arms. "I was imagining all these scenes of chewed furniture, crap everywhere, you brandishing a cleaver...." Shi trailed off as shi realised I was staring at hir with an unpleasant expression. "Um...forget I just said that," shi said, stepping behind hir mate for 'protection'.

"Yes, I think I will. Now that the pup has a name, let's get onto more mundane matters, shall we? You were saying 'You wouldn't believe what I had to go through' I think."

Sandy blinked at the change of topic, then grinned. "Well, first off, I got my mid-year botany exam back." Shi cocked hir head to the side. "Guess what I got?"

I pretended to think hard, before shaking my head. "I don't know. Please enlighten me."

"Eighty-one percent! An 'A'!" shi crowed, almost bouncing on hir feet. "I didn't think I'd get that high! I was third in the class. Kerisa got sixty-eight, I think. A 'C'."

"That's great!" I exclaimed, stepping forward to catch Sandy in a hug, and give hir a quick lick-kiss. "Who said you don't know anything about plants?"

Sandy bounded away from me before answering with, "You did, remember!" Shi dropped Rondo into 'River's arms, then danced around the table trying to stay out of reach of my lashing tail. "You're asking for it, you know!" I grated, a wicked grin on my face. "Just wait until you're asleep!"

I got a tongue poked out at me, and I lunged forward to tackle Sandy. Stepping back, shi tripped over hir mate, and went sprawling. "Got you!" I crowed as I dove over and wrapped my arms around my sister. "Noogie time!"

'River prudently shifted hirself out of the way while my sister and I flailed at each other, giggling like March hares. After we had been 'playing' for several minutes, 'River finally cleared hir throat. "I think that's enough, you two. Dinner's nearly ready by the smell of it, and I don't want to eat all of it by myself, you know."

"No, I suppose not," I said, hefting myself off Sandy and helping hir up. "We should do that more often," shi remarked, smoothing down hir fur.

"You might get the chance this Saturday. Redspot invited us to the party shi's hosting, and there'll be plenty of opportunities to get into trouble, I'm sure." It was clear from Sandy's and 'River's expressions that I had neglected to mention that little detail. "A lot of 'taurs will be there."

Sandy grinned, a gleam in hir eye. "I'm sure." Shi looked at hir mate, who was lavishing affection on the happily yipping Rondo. "Will you deign to join us then? I'd like to show you off," shi added with a hint of pride in hir voice.

"Well, I guess so. I've never been invited to a party before," 'River said hesitantly, but I could tell shi was highly pleased by the offer. "I'll go," shi said at least, smiling faintly. "Who knows? I might enjoy myself."

"That's the spirit, 'River!" Sandy leaned across and hugged hir mate gently, giving Rondo a quick pat before turning and going into the kitchen. "Help me dish dinner up?"

It seemed like no time at all before Saturday night rolled around. All three of us had a shower, Sandy and 'River going in together with a lot of conspiratorial giggling, then we groomed each other. For this occasion I was wearing the faux diamond necklace that Dad had given me on my twentieth birthday, and matching bracelets on my wrists. Sandy was adorned with a simple circlet of silver that was tied into hir silky black hair, and 'River had a gold chain around hir neck.

"Ready, girls?" Sandy asked, a big grin splitting hir muzzle as we stared into the mirror together. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to seriously break some hearts."

I lightly slapped Sandy on the hand and frowned at hir. "We're not there to break hearts. We're there to have a good time and break hearts. What about you, dear?" I asked 'River, turning to face hir.

"Well, I'm a bit nervous," shi said, smiling wryly, "but I'll get over it. I hope no-one asks me to dance. I have four left feet when it comes to that."

"I'm sure that there will be plenty of people there who can't dance very well." I glanced at the clock sitting on the nightstand, then back to 'River. "We still have some time before we have to show up, so how about we give you a quick lesson, hmm?" I suggested. "I don't think proper dancing music will be played, so really, any movements you make will neither be right nor wrong."

I took 'River by the hand, and led hir out into the lounge, where there was plenty of space to move around in. Sandy stood in the doorway, watching with a smile on hir face. "Ah...I'll pass on basic dance movements, as you can just 'go with the flow', so to speak. One dance that I'm sure will be done will be the Macarena, so Sandy and I will demonstrate. Sandy?"

Sandy came over, grinning idiotically. "I love this dance!" shi whispered to me as shi got into position. Hir tail flicked around my legs, and slapped her again lightly. "Save it for later, you!"

"Now, put your arms out in front, like this, then turn them over." Sandy followed my instructions, putting more enthusiasm than was really necessary into it. "Cross your arms, then place your hands behind your head. Cross your arms over your body, then place your hands on your lower back. Swivel your hips around, then jump, landing at ninety degrees to your right. Got that?" We went through it again, then I asked 'River to do it by hirself.

'River was flawless in hir performance, almost as good as Sandy had been. "Very good!" I praised, shooting a look at the clock. "Whoops...time to get going. Sometimes being late is fashionable, but I prefer to be on time."

After a bit of hunting around we managed to locate Rondo, who had secreted himself in the bath, for some unknown reason, then we left, dropping him off at the neighbours to be looked after.

Redspot greeted us at the door, hir white fur sleek and shining, with a massive ruby set on a gold and diamond chain around hir neck. "Greytail! Sandwalker! And this must be Deepriver," shi exclaimed as we walked up onto the porch. "Please come in, come in. A few of the guests are here, but there's many more to come."

We went inside, and followed the light and noise into the massive lounge. Tables had been set out around the edges of the room, and about a dozen 'taurs of various types were nibbling from the food laid out. One foxtaur turned towards us as we entered, and trotted over for hugs. "Sandy! Grey! 'River! I'm so glad you came! It's been so long since we all got together for a good time." Kerisa turned and gestured for a rather handsome wolf morph to come over.

He came up beside her, and put an arm around her shoulders. "You remember Leon, don't you? Grey, I'm not sure you two have met." I shook my head. "I've heard of him, though."

She smiled. "Grey, it's my pleasure to give you Leon Runswift, my new mate. Leon, Chakat Greytail, child of Trailblazer and Skywatcher." My eyebrows rose up at this piece of news. Sandy's mouth was hanging open in surprise.

Kerisa smirked a bit at our surprised expressions. "You didn't know I'd got hitched? Shocking. It was so hard to keep it a secret for the past few days. We wanted to wait until tonight to make the formal announcement."

"You must have incredible willpower not to tell anyone, or else this one here -- " I nudged Sandy in the ribs. " -- would have told me ages ago." I leaned forward and caught Kerisa up in another hug, before doing the same to Leon, as did the other two.

Putting that little matter aside, we began to talk of other things, including little Rondo. Kerisa was thrilled that we had a new 'member' of the family, and said she would come over soon to have a look at him.

By seven-thirty all the guests had arrived, and were now mingling. Looking around, I estimated there were around ten foxtaurs, including Kerisa, six wolftaurs, eight chakats, and even a skunktaur. A few morphs had also shown up, which added pleasantly to the mix. "Crowded," I murmured to Sandy as shi ladled some punch into a large glass.

"Isn't it? All the better for us, don't you think?" A wicked gleam showed in hir eyes before shi swept off in the direction of the skunktaur. Hy was rather good-looking, I had to admit.

"Excuse me; may I get through?" A quiet masculine voice spoke up from behind me, and I shuffled over to let the person through. "Thank you," said the wolftaur who leaned forward to grab a sausage roll and some punch. Having got those, he cast a roving eye over me, smiling appreciatively. "You've got a very nice figure," he said, taking a bite of his roll.

"Uh, thanks," I replied, a bit taken aback by this quiet appraisal. I did my own quick assessment of this fellow. "May I ask your name?"

The wolftaur nodded. "Graham WhiteTip, son of Theora and Regus." I blinked at his use of the chakat introduction, then smiled. "Chakat Greytail, child of Trailblazer and Skywatcher." He bowed briefly. "A pleasure to meet such a fine chakat as yourself. I've heard much about you."

I narrowed my eyes slightly. "From that tabby chakat over there?" I asked, pointing in the relevant direction. When he nodded his reply I sighed. "That, if you don't know already, is my sister Sandwalker. Shi has a tendency to...exaggerate a little. Not much, but just enough to make people steer clear of me. What did shi tell you?"

Graham chuckled warmly, a deep, throaty sound. "Nothing bad, I assure you. 'Beneath that practical facade of hirs is a tenderhearted softy' was the best thing, I think." He took a sip of his punch as I grabbed a ham sandwich. "Really? Interesting...."

"That red-orange one over there is a pleasure to talk with, also," he added, gesturing to the far corner of the room. I turned, raising my eyebrows when I saw it was 'River. "That's Sandy's mate, Deepriver. I'm sort of surprised shi's talking with anyone. Shi's not very outgoing."

"Shi isn't? Odd...shi doesn't strike me as being shy. Anything but." Graham polished off the rest of the sausage roll, then his drink. "I'll see you later," he said, grinning as he made his way over to Redspot, whispering something into hir ear. Both turned their heads to glance at me, then giggled. "Oh, dear," I sighed, wondering what, if anything, they were planning.

Just then music began to play, a Strauss waltz insinuating itself into the chatter. Several people began forming into couples and dancing to it, the rest content to stand around the sides of the room and watch them, or sip at drinks and converse.

"May I have this dance?" came a voice from my right. I turned and looked into the penetrating blue eyes of the skunktaur, a smile on his muzzle.

I nodded, pleased that someone had asked me. "It would be a pleasure to dance with you." Together we moved into the centre of the room, and began to sway slowly in time with the music. "I'm Koski, of House Blackpaw, child of Relen and Trueheart," hy said quietly, looking into my eyes.

"Chakat Greytail, child of Trailblazer and Skywatcher," I replied to hys introduction. "If you don't mind my saying so, what do you do for a living? Astral Projection isn't exactly the kind of thing I can imagine as being useful."

Koski laughed, hys chest shaking slightly. "A clairvoyant for a magazine, would you believe?" My sceptical expression said that I didn't. "Well, I am. I write the 'Dear Koski' column for 'Southern Stars' magazine. Perhaps you've read it?"

"Well, once or twice," I said, the insides of my ears turning pink as I blushed. 'Southern Stars' was an adult publication that, on the odd occasion, I briefly skimmed through when I was in the right mood.

"I get that reaction a lot, don't you worry!" exclaimed Koski as hy swept me around in a turn. "It does, sometimes, get a little embarrassing, but on the whole it's a profitable job."

The waltz ended, and we stayed together for a few seconds, gazing into each other's eyes before pulling apart to change partners. I moved off with a vixetaur, shooting one final look at Koski before turning to face my new partner when the music started again.

Eventually everyone joined in, and the room was filled with close couples, some closer than others. I got a dance with Leon, then right after, Kerisa. "He's a dream, isn't he?" she sighed as she tilted back in my arms then righted herself. "After Dreko, I thought I'd never fall in love with another guy. Then along came Leon." She smiled, recalling the day when she had first met him.

"I guess so. You'd know much more about his dreaminess than I would." I grinned widely at Kerisa, then over to Leon, who was currently dancing with Redspot. "I'm sure you'll be very happy together."

By the end of the night I had danced with everyone there, though I spent more than my fair share of time with Koski. As I had the last dance with hym I found myself thinking of a future with hym. Hy was a lovely person to be with, with all the right qualities I wanted in a mate: a sense of humour, kindness and sensitivity, intelligence, and the obvious physical attributes. I was going to have to get to know him much better before I made any approaches to him about it, though.

"Okay, people! One last dance, then you're free to go home, should you wish to!" A few giggles were heard among the guests at that, before the unmistakable sounds of the Macarena blared out. Quickly we got into semi-organised lines while the opening bars played, then began the sensuous movements of the dance. In the periphery of my vision I could see Sandy and 'River almost literally throwing themselves into it, and I grinned to myself.

The dance was soon over, and people began to file out, congratulating Redspot and Peta on giving such a great party. "Wait a minute!" yelled someone, pushing through the exiting crowd. "I'd like to make an announcement first."

Leon came to the fore, pulling Kerisa behind him, a big grin splitting his muzzle. "I'm pretty sure most of you know me and Kerisa, and that we've been going out together. Tonight we'd like to make our partnership official." He gestured to Kerisa, who crouched down, holding his hand and kissing it. "Leon Runswift, would you do me the honour, and pleasure, of being my mate?"

Evidently Leon had been taking lessons in drama, for Leon took his time in answering, seeming to ponder it very carefully. After a seemingly interminable silence he broke the silence. "Kerisa Whitelock, I accept your offer, and I will love and support you so long as we are together." Having said that, he leaned down and pulled Kerisa up and planted a long, passionate kiss on her lips. That got the crowd going again, and there were shouts of more drinks to toast the happy couple.

"You think we could find ourselves doing that?" queried a quiet voice by my side. I turned to find Koski gazing at me, a small smile on hys face. "I don't know," I murmured, blushing a bit. "I like you, a lot, but I'm not sure if I like you that much."

"That's as it should be. Love at first sight is most often not the case, and if it were, I should very much like to take my time to investigate, to explore all my options before making a commitment." The skunktaur put a hand on my shoulder and pulled me into a slow kiss. When we parted, I stared into Koski's blue eyes and smiled. "If you'd like to continue this, I'm all for 'exploring the options'," I said.

Koski chuckled, a low, throaty sound. "My place tomorrow, about seven o'clock?" Hy smiled when I nodded. "Right, then. I'll have dinner waiting for you when you arrive." He placed hys arms around me and kissed me again, handing me a glass of wine a few seconds later. "To Kerisa and Leon," he spoke, clinking glasses with me.

It was nearly midnight by the time Sandy, 'River and I stepped through our front door again, Rondo hot on our heels. "Whew, what a night!" I muttered, taking off my bracelets and necklace and putting them on the kitchen table. "I haven't had so much fun since Granny got hir tail caught in the wringer."

Sandy stared at me, and I cut hir off before shi could say anything. "Just a figure of speech. Don't pick it to pieces." I yawned, rubbing my eyes. "I think I'll go to bed. If you two want to stay up, go right ahead. I'll keep the bed warm."

"I noticed you spent a lot of time with that skunktaur," 'River murmured, smiling at me. "Something going on between you?" Seeing Rondo about to make an attack on my tail, shi scooped him and cuddled him.

"Well, hy asked me to dinner tomorrow night," I said, smirking slightly. "If that's all right with you?" I kissed Sandy and 'River goodnight before turning on my heels and padding into our room.

The other two soon joined me, giggling inanely. "What is up with you two?" I asked with some asperity. "Honestly, it's like living with two young cubs!" I settled onto the bed, Sandy taking up position on my left, 'River on my right. "Where did you put Rondo?"

"In the laundry room, to answer your second question. To the first...." Sandy looked totally innocent, but shot a glance at hir mate. They immediately broke into giggles again.

"Forget it. You'll tell me in good time, I suppose. Now, if we could possibly get some sleep?" I leaned my upper body forward to lie it down, and rested my head on my arms. "Goodnight, you two."

"Goodnight, Grey," Sandy and 'River chorused, giggling again before doing the same. The last thing to run through my mind before I fell into slumber was an image of Koski, hys deep blue eyes gazing at me, a smile on hys muzzle.

* * Continued in Part 2.* *

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