Chapter 14 – Scheming over Supper

It was a Wednesday, the end of June, and usually, Judy would be at the precinct today. However, all those working under Chief Bogo were preparing for a major drugs bust at Outback Island next week, and their shifts were different so they could prepare for the raid. Judy was thankful that Mr. Otterton had been kind enough to let her change the hours she worked for him. Her mom and dad had come to the city for the day to look at purchasing new equipment for the farm, and they wanted to get dinner with her before catching the Zootopia Express back to Bunnyburrow. Wednesday’s was the night Judy usually had dinner with Marian, but her parents had told her to invite the vixen to join them, rather than cancel on her. It had taken a bit of cajoling from Judy, but Marian had finally agreed to tag along.

Having spent the day delivering flowers for Mr. Otterton, Judy was grateful to be home. Stopping at street level, she rummaged in her pockets for her keys. Finding them, Judy descended the steps. As she opened the front door, she collected the post from behind it; locking the door once she was safely inside.

Padding into the kitchen, she flicked through the post in her paws. There were a few bills and letters from her siblings, a hand-posted letter addressed to her, and a letter for Nick.

Opening the hand-posted letter first, Judy skim read it. It was from Finnick, the fennec fox updating her on the task she’d given him. While out on patrol a week ago she’d bumped into him and had asked him for some help. She’d been spending a fair amount of her free time at the old Wilde & Son Tailoring building, discovering something new every time she ventured there. It was still boarded up, still untouched since the debtors took it in 2001. They hadn’t been able to sell it on, no one wanted to buy a building where a mammal had been murdered on the front step. She was working her way through the building, combing over every inch of it. It was like it was stuck in a time warp, everything as it had been when the debtors had boarded the place up. She was grateful that one of the mammals boarding it up had missed a small window on the third floor. It had been left ever so slightly ajar, and after shimmying up a drainpipe, she’d been able to gain access into the building.

While there, she’d found a few items that she’d wanted to get restored, time having not been kind to them. She’d asked Finnick for recommendations on the best mammal to restore them, and he’d offered to act as the intermediary for her. The letter told her the items would be ready for collection next week, and Judy couldn’t stop her feeling of excitement and her broad smile. In just over two weeks it would be the Carrot Day Festival, and Nick had managed to get the time off to go home with her. One of the traditions of the festival was to give gifts to those you cared about, to show your appreciation. Judy had asked for a few things to be restored so she could gift them back to the tod. She’d also asked for another item to be restored in time for his graduation. She’d found it in the drawer of an old desk, in one of the back rooms that she assumed had once been an office. It hadn’t taken much for her to realize it was an important piece of Nick’s family history.

Putting Finnick’s letter down, she glanced to the one addressed to Nick. Unable to stop herself she opened it. She knew it wasn’t noble of her to open his post, but she figured it would be a while until Nick was next home to open it himself. Besides, it could be something urgent. Pulling out the letter, Judy took note of the Bank of Zootopia logo at the top of the page. Skim reading, her frown deepened. It was a letter thanking Nick for opening a safety deposit box. Nick didn’t have access to a phone other than to call her and Marian, and he certainly hadn’t been anywhere near the Bank of Zootopia when he’d been home for the weekend. They’d spent all their time together. Why would Nick need a safety deposit box?

She was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Not expecting Marian for another hour or so, Judy frowned. “Coming.” She called out, making her way back to the door, sliding her key into the lock, turning it and pulling the door open. She was eye-to-eye with an arctic hare. “Can I help you?” Judy had never seen the mammal before, and their unexpected appearance at her home confused her.

“Judith Hopps?” The hare asked.

“Yes…” Judy answered apprehensively.

The hare held out a letter, offering it to Judy. Cautiously, Judy took it from her. Her name was scribbled on the envelope, but other than that there was nothing to tell her whom it was from. Nodding, the hare turned and left, taking the steps to the street two at a time.

Judy retreated back into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind her. Hind paws carrying her into the kitchen she opened the letter, a key falling into out of it.

My child,

I hope you are well. I know it has been a long time since we last spoke but it was important for us to break contact for a while.

A letter should have arrived for Nicky from the Bank of Zootopia. I sent my bears to explore the Nocturnal district, to find the caracal’s home and any interesting information he may have had. While there they uncovered a safe, along with a detailed record of money going in and out.

My daughter tells me that I should do some ‘random acts’ of kindness every now and then, to remind me of how fortunate I am.

With that being said, my accountant worked out that some of the money in the safe had come from Nicky. So, I am returning it to him. I’ve had a safety deposit box at the Bank of Zootopia opened in his name and had the money put in there for him. His key is in this letter, and the bank holds the other one.

Don’t fret, I have ensured that my accountant also returned money to the other mammals that were making monthly payments. The money is of no importance to me, but I know it may make all the difference to those it was taken from.

When Nicky is next home, please send my daughter a message; it would be lovely to have you both over for dinner.

Fondly,

Mr. Big

Judy’s gaze moved to the letter from the Bank of Zootopia on the counter. It all made sense now. Touched by Mr. Big’s unexpected act of kindness, and filled with excitement at the thought of getting to tell Nick that he had some money now, she gathered both letters and the key and darted into her bedroom, storing them safely at the back of her underwear drawer.


“Are you sure I look okay?” Marian asked for what felt like the hundredth time. She was nervous about meeting Judy’s parents, wanted to make a good impression. If her son was going to get his act together soon and ask Judy to be his, then Marian wanted Mr. and Mrs. Hopps to like her. They could end up as in-laws one day. “Getting ahead of yourself again Marian!”

Judy smiled, offering the vixen a reassuring nod of her head. “It’s just my parents, Marian, there’s no need to worry. Dad will probably still be in his overalls anyway.” Judy had opted for a pair of jeans and her favorite yellow blouse, while Marian wore one of her many black pencil skirts, completing her look with a green top. “Besides, the first time you met me I was a mess, with a massive cut on my leg.”

The Zuber had dropped them off outside of Tender Greens, a casual restaurant in Savannah Central that was known for serving farm-to-fork cuisine. Judy figured it would cater for all of their dietary needs and it was close enough to the train station for her parents to catch the Zootopia Express afterward. Marian continued to fuss with her clothes as Judy led them inside.

“Hi, I have a table booked for four, under the name Hopps.” Judy told the antelope maître d’, who flicked through the reservations book.

“Ah yes, the other two members of your party are already here. Let me show you to your seats.” The antelope led Judy and Marian through the restaurant, towards a booth against the far wall.

“Mom, dad!” Judy grinned, dashing ahead a little as her mom slid out of the booth, wrapping her daughter up in a warm hug. Stu slid out the booth behind his wife, embracing Judy once Bonnie had let her go.

Marian hung back a moment, letting Judy greet her parents. They seemed openly affectionate with her, and it made the vixen relax. She took a deep breath, centering herself. It was important that she gave a good first impression, to lay the foundations for their meeting with Nicky in a few weeks.

Pulling back from her embrace with her dad, Judy took in their clothes. Her mom had opted for jeans and a pink checked shirt, while her dad had traded in his overalls for a pair of jeans and a blue button-down. It was a rare sight to see him out of his farm overalls. Glancing over her shoulder, Judy held a paw out to Marian.

Marian crossed the short distance to Judy’s parents. “Marian, this is my mom and dad, Bonnie and Stu.” She introduced them all, gently biting the inside of her lip.

Marian offered out her paw, but she was surprised when Bonnie pulled her down into a hug instead. “It’s so lovely to meet you, Marian. Judy talks about you all the time.”

“All positive things, I hope.” Marian laughed nervously, returning the affectionate rabbit’s embrace. Once Bonnie had pulled back, Stu stepped forward, embracing Marian too.

“Oh, she doesn’t have a bad word to say! Thank you for looking out for her here in the city. We know she can get herself into some trouble.” Bonnie shot a glance at her daughter, enjoying the way Judy gave her a wry smile in return.

“She talks about your boy a lot too,” Stu added as he pulled back from the hug with Marian. With introductions out of the way he slipped back into the booth, his wife following. Judy gestured for Marian to slide in on their side first before the young doe followed her.

“Nicky talks about Judy all the time too.” Marian spared a glance to Judy, watching the insides of her ears turn a little pink. Attention returning to Bonnie and Stu, Marian felt immediately at ease around them. They gave off a cheerful vibe, relaxed and calm. “He’s so excited to visit your home for the festival.” Nicky had called her the day after Judy had invited him to meet her parents, and though she’d heard some worry in her son’s voice, she’d also detected that he was, on the whole, looking forward to meeting Judy’s family and seeing her home. Marian also had a sneaking suspicion her son wanted to get his paws on as many of the Hopps Family Farm blueberries as possible.

“It’ll be an experience for him, that’s for sure.” Bonnie hid her smile, nodding her head. The poor fox didn’t know what he was letting himself in for. She’d exchanged a few letters with Nick over the past couple of weeks, answered a few questions the tod had in regards to Judy and rabbits as a whole. Bonnie had even sent him another punnet of blueberries and some more cookies – he’d informed her they were lovely in his first letter.

“Are you ready to order some drinks?” A young chamois asked, appearing at their table with her pad and pen.

“Water for me, please.” Judy went first. As much as she would’ve loved to have something a bit stronger, she didn’t want to risk any hangovers given the upcoming raid at work.

“Bun-bun, you don’t want anything stronger?” Bonnie quizzed, watching her daughter. It wasn’t like Judy to opt for water; wine was usually her tipple of choice when they had dinner out. If she wasn’t drinking alcohol was she…? Bonnie shook the thought away. “Don’t be silly Bon. She hasn’t seen Nick in weeks, and they haven’t even spoken about their feelings. She’s not with kits yet.”

“No, waters fine, mom,” Judy reassured, offering her mom a smile.

“A glass of the house white wine for me, please.” Marian placed her order. She wasn’t familiar with the restaurant or the menu, but she figured there would be something fish based on it. Judy would’ve double-checked before booking their table.

“Same for me please.” Bonnie placed her order, knowing a crisp white wine would go lovely with a salad.

“A pint of whatever beer you have on tap, thanks” Stu wasn’t much of a drinker. The early mornings on the farm meant he couldn’t risk getting drunk, but he enjoyed the odd tipple before bed and kept a few bottles of good quality scotch stashed away from his kits.

The chamois wrote down their drinks order. “Alright then, I’ll go get these sorted for you and then come back for your food order.” She left the table, heading for the bar.

“How was your day bun-bun?” Bonnie asked her daughter, all eyes at the table turning to the younger doe.

Glancing at the three mammals she was sat with, Judy found her mom’s eyes last. “It was good, thanks. I delivered a few orders for Mr. Otterton.” Judy kept the news about Nick’s presents a secret, unsure if it might upset Marian. She also kept quiet about his safety deposit box.

As she was about to ask her parents how their day had been, and whether her dad had purchased any new farm equipment, Judy’s phone started to ring. “Sorry!” She apologized, pulling it from her pocket. Back home there was a strict ‘no phones at the dinner table’ policy, and Judy felt a little embarrassed that she’d forgotten to switch hers off. Glancing at the screen, she saw the precincts number flash up. “I’ve got to take this, its work. I’m sorry, I’ll be right back.” She excused herself, hitting the answer button as she slid from the booth and disappeared outside the restaurant.

“Always working, never takes a day off,” Marian commented as she watched Judy head outside.

“Jude’s always been a hard worker, especially when it involves making the world a better place.” Stu chipped in. Contrary to popular belief he was proud of his daughter, proud that she was out chasing her dreams and helping other mammals. It scared him, knowing she was in the city and could be hurt by all the animals that were bigger than her, but he also knew that Judy was smart and that her ZPD training had helped prepare her a little for life in the city.

Marian found herself humming in agreement. Judy often spoke about her work during their weekly dinners, and she knew how dedicated the rabbit was to her job. She hoped Nick would be just as committed once he graduated. “She mentioned that she was so devoted to the night howler case that she risked her badge for it.”

Bonnie nodded solemnly. When Judy had come home for the three months after the case, she’d told her parents about how she’d gambled her badge on the case, about how the Chief had demanded it from her before her 48 hours were up, and about Nick standing up for her. “Mhm, she also told us she would’ve lost that badge if it wasn’t for Nick.”

Marian shook her head. Judy was meant to be a cop; she was made for it, she would’ve figured out a way to keep her badge. Marian told Bonnie and Stu as much. “Oh no, she’d have kept it somehow. Nicky just didn’t like the way the Chief was talking to her.”

Judy suddenly appeared back at their table, phone clutched in her paws. “I’m so sorry, but Chief Bogo is calling everyone back in. There’s been a development in the drugs case we’re working and-“

“Slow down bun-bun, don’t forget to breathe.” Bonnie interrupted. “It’s not a problem at all. You’ve got work to do. Your father and I will have dinner with Marian and then catch the train home after. We’ll send you a message when we get back, and then we’ll see you and Nick in two weeks.” She knew how much work meant to her daughter, and though Judy hadn’t been allowed to share much information with her about this drug case, she knew Judy was excited about it.

“Is that okay? I’m so sorry.” Judy looked between the three mammals at the table, annoyed with the Chief for calling her in but at the same time excited as to the new development. She was in more of a background role, her limited experience excluding her from being on the front line, but she was treating it like a learning experience, another step in her training. She hoped that she’d take on more challenging cases soon, something like the night howler case. A part of her wanted to work undercover, but as the first rabbit on the force that would never happen. It would be obvious right away who she was, especially being partnered with the first fox on the force. Nick was already shaping up to be quite the sharpshooter, and she had no doubts that Chief Bogo would take advantage of his skills, train him up to be a sniper. Judy hoped that she could find a role that would ensure they would remain partners for the lengths of their careers. She couldn’t imagine being partnered with anyone else. Wolford was a great temporary partner, yes, but no one understood her or had her back as much as Nick.

Marian took in the flustered rabbit, how she rocked anxiously on the balls of her hind paws. “It’s fine Judy, go ahead. We’ll catch up next week over dinner like usual, okay?” She offered, giving the doe a reassuring smile. Marian was fond of their weekly dinner nights, enjoyed the company and the chance to get to further know the rabbit her son was so enamored with.

Nodding her head, Judy’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Thank you.” She leaned across the table, embracing her parents and giving them each cheek kisses before she embraced Marian. The vixen dropped a quick kiss on the top of Judy’s head, a gesture that had become second nature to her.

Bonnie watched as her daughter interacted with Marian, noting how the vixen treated Judy as if she were her own kit. It had frightened Bonnie, the thought of Judy being alone in the city, but knowing she could go to Marian if there were ever a problem soothed her concerns. The vixen seemed to genuinely care for Judy, and Bonnie wondered what it would be like to see her daughter interact with Nick. She’d seen them together during their phone call, her daughter sprawled across the tod like he was the comfiest pillow in the world, but she wanted to observe them in their daily interactions. She wanted to watch how they spoke to one another, how her daughter looked at him, how he looked at her daughter, how they moved around one another. Does Judy box him with her paws? Does Nick tease her? Do they step around one another with ease, knowing exactly where the other is at all times? Bonnie knew Nick held more romantic feelings for Judy, the look in his eyes during their phone call all the confirmation she needed. His letters since had continued to prove her right. Bonnie also knew that Judy loved Nick. Her daughter probably hadn’t realized it yet, but the way she went on about the tod, the way her face lit up at the mere mention of him, it all pointed to her loving him. Bonnie had 182 daughters, 75 of which were married. She knew what her daughters looked like when they were in love.

With a quick wave of her paw, Judy made her way out of the restaurant, scampering towards the precinct. “Always on the go, nothing could slow her down.” Stu shook his head fondly as Judy disappeared from sight. Even as a kit Judy had been full of energy, always looking for the next adventure, throwing herself into everything, willing to give anything a go at least once.

Marian watched Judy leave, unable to stop her smile as she noted how Judy’s speed picked up as she left the restaurant. The doe was never late for anything. “Nicky likes to joke that she reminds him of the energizer bunny.”

Bonnie laughed, familiar with Nick’s sense of humor now they’d exchanged a few letters. It had only taken a few days since posting the care package for her to receive a letter back – the unfamiliar handwriting on the outside of the envelope her first clue as to who had sent it. Nick had thanked her for the wonderful care package and had told her that he wasn’t sharing the blueberries, but that he’d shared the cookies with his friends. They’d all reported back that her cookies were excellent, and Nick had even asked whether blueberry and white chocolate cookies was a thing. Bonnie had laughed, enjoying the way the tod wasn’t afraid to drop hints, and sure enough in her next package, she’d sent him some homemade blueberry and white chocolate cookies. He’d also asked her several questions about rabbits, and Judy, in his letter. What’s Judy’s favorite food? Why doesn’t she like being called cute? Are all rabbits emotional and/or overly affectionate?

The chamois appeared at their table again, distributing their drinks. Without Judy there for her water, Bonnie asked for it to be placed in the middle of the table. Pad and pen in paw the chamois looked at Bonnie first. “Are you ready to order?”

“Oh goodness, right!” Bonnie glanced at the menu before her, having been lost in her thoughts. “Could I get the romaine hearts salad please?” She asked. The chamois wrote down her order, turning her attention to Marian.

Making a quick decision, Marian offered the chamois a smile. “Could I get the tuna nicoise please?” Marian wasn’t sure how comfortable Bonnie and Stu were with the idea of her eating fish, but Marian knew a straight salad wouldn’t be enough to fill her up. She hoped they’d understand. The chamois nodded, scribbling down her order before she looked at Stu.

“Could I get the falafel salad please?” Stu asked the waitress, watching as she wrote down his order. Stu always enjoyed dining out, enjoyed getting the chance to pick his own meal. Though his wife was an excellent cook and he would eat whatever she served him, with 312 kits to feed there wasn’t the luxury of getting to choose what to eat.

“Okay, I’ll put those through to the kitchen. Do you need anything else in the meantime?” The chamois asked, looking between the three mammals at the table. Bonnie, Stu, and Marian all shook their heads, and the chamois left them to their conversation.

Once the chamois had left them alone, Bonnie turned her attention to the vixen opposite her. Though she’d only seen Nick once, she could see now that he’d inherited his mother’s eyes. “So, Marian, Judy’s told us a little about you, but I’m afraid we don’t know much,” Judy spoke about Marian often, kept Bonnie and Stu filled in on their dinner nights, but she’d never really gone into much detail about the vixen.

Marian had never been good at talking about herself, never sure what was the right or wrong thing to say. Looking at the two rabbits opposite her though, she offered them a smile. “Well as you know, I’m Nicky’s mom. My husband and I only had Nicky. He’s a rarity – usually, we have four to six kits at a time. We decided not to have any other kits; Nicky was very demanding as a little one. My husband and I met at a diner when we were teenagers. I was stood beside the jukebox, and he tried to impress me with a card trick. It was an awful trick, but I loved that he’d had the guts to walk right up to me in front of all of my friends to try to impress me. I let him think that I hadn’t figured out how his trick worked, I didn’t have the heart to tell him, and he asked me for lunch the next day. We started formally dating soon after that. Unfortunately, my husband passed away when Nicky was seven, so it has only been the two of us ever since.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Marian.” Bonnie reached across the table, resting a paw on Marian’s. She couldn’t imagine life without Stu by her side, couldn’t imagine losing him. Judy hadn’t mentioned that Nick’s father had died, and Bonnie felt immense sadness for the vixen opposite her, and the tod Judy was so fond of.

“It’s okay, it was so long ago.” Marian appreciated Bonnie’s comfort, appreciated the honesty and openness on the doe’s face. However, she didn’t want to dwell on Robert’s murder. When he’d died, a part of her had died too. He’d been her mate, her lifelong love, and he’d been cruelly taken from her. He’d been cruelly taken from Nicky.

Bonnie slowly withdrew her paw from Marian’s, sensing that the vixen didn’t want to speak about her husband. “What is it you do, Marian?” Stu too understood the vixen’s reluctance to talk about her husband, so he moved the conversation along.

“I work at a doctor’s clinic, not too far from my home, as a records keeper.” Marian liked her job, but it wasn’t her passion. Working at the doctor’s clinic paid the bills though, and that was all that mattered. Loving one’s job was a rarity. If she could afford it, she’d be a full-time dressmaker, revive Wilde & Son Tailoring, re-establish it as the best tailoring business in the city, and spend her days surrounded by mountains of fabric.

Surprised, Bonnie tipped her head. “I thought you were a dressmaker? You made Judy that absolutely beautiful dress for her birthday.” Not only had she seen the dress in Judy’s new Furbook photo, but during one of their calls her daughter had lifted it up for her to see, shown her the leaf and vine detail along the bottom hem. Bonnie had tried to hide her smile at the color combination. Marian may think she was subtle, but Bonnie had a distinct feeling the use of purple and green in the dress hadn’t been an accident.

“No, unfortunately, I’m not. I wish I were, I had a lot of fun making that dress for Judy.” It had taken Marian a few weeks to get the dress right, skills she’d thought long-forgotten were revived, and when she’d finally finished it she’d been so proud. She’d also been a little concerned, wondering if the doe would like her present. When Judy had burst into tears after opening it, embracing her in a fierce hug, Marian knew she’d done the right thing. Nick had sent her several photos the next day of Judy wearing it, and it had inspired Marian to pull out her sewing machine and start making the doe some more clothes, along with the throw pillow cushions she’d already been working on. Marian had finished the cushions now and was waiting for an opportune moment to gift them to Nicky and Judy. She’d also nearly finished a few more dresses for the young doe.

Though fashion wasn’t something Stu followed, he could appreciate the skill and love that Marian had put into making the dress for Judy. “Where did you learn to sew?”

“My husband was a tailor, we owned a tailoring business. It was his fathers, and my husband took it over when his father passed. It was meant to be handed down to Nicky when he turned eighteen, but the business had to be shut down.” Marian didn’t want to discuss the fact that after her husband had died, she hadn’t been able to fund the business and pay the bills for her home. Robert had been the best tailor in the city, and though he’d taught Marian how to sew, she couldn’t compete with his level of talent. Mammals from all over the city had come to Robert for their clothes, they’d even had a few customers from out of town.

“That’s a shame. You have such a talent for it, Marian.” Bonnie complimented. With so many babies she’d never had the chance to take on a hobby or to learn a new skill. As a kit, she’d been taught how to knit, and it had come in useful when making clothes for her little ones, but other than being able to crochet jumpers and socks she didn’t have any other hobbies. Her life revolved around taking care of babies, but for her, it was rewarding to watch them grow and develop, flourish into well-rounded adults.

“Thank you.” Marian blushed at the compliment, though the red hue was covered by her fur.

“One of our daughters, Hazel, is really into dressmaking too. She’s always sat at her sewing machine, saved up all summer for it, and she’d trying to make clothes for her and her sisters. She’s teaching herself.” Stu was proud of Hazel for saving up the money she’d earned working over the summer, and was pleased that she’d spent it on something practical. They didn’t have the spare funds to pay for sewing lessons, else all of their other kits would want lessons in their respective passions, so Hazel was using Zootube and Zoogle to find guides and step-by-step instructions.

“Well if she ever wants some help, I’m more than happy to offer a paw. I’m not as good as my husband was, but I’d love to help her if she needs it.” Marian offered, happy to pass on some of her advice and a few tricks she’d learned over the years. After his father’s death, Nicky hadn’t been interested in learning how to sew anymore, hadn’t been interested in becoming a tailor. It had hurt Marian, knowing that her baby didn’t want to carry on the family business, but she understood that Nicky associated the painful memories of his father’s passing with tailoring. Marian had worked through the emotions of her husband’s death, and though it still made her want to cry at times, and on occasion, it was hard to talk about Robert, she knew it was even harder for Nicky. He hadn’t really grieved, hadn’t opened up to anyone about his feelings. Marian had a feeling her son still carried that pain with him.

Touched by her kind offer to help Hazel, Bonnie smiled. “You’re too sweet, Marian. Thank you.”

Shifting the focus from her, Marian looked between the two rabbits sat opposite her. “What about you two? Judy’s mentioned that you own a farm, and my boy absolutely loves your blueberries. Judy also said that she has 311 siblings.”

“Bon and I went to school together. Our families knew one another. My dad owned the farm, and he passed it to me when I finished school. I started courting Bon shortly after and we were married a year later. Had our first kits a few months after that.” Stu couldn’t help but puff out his chest, proud that he’d managed to woo Bonnie and win her affections. Their kits were a testament to how much they loved one another.

“Been having kits ever since.” Bonnie tagged on, smiling as she gave a playful eye roll. While she had no problem with having so many kits, she loved all her babies; she was currently enjoying the feeling of not being pregnant. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone this long without carrying kits.

“I honestly don’t know how you do it. Having Nicky was bad enough, but 312 kits? I salute you.” Marian shook her head. Carrying Nicky had been difficult – she’d been sick a lot, confined to the house and on bed rest. His birth had been complicated and messy, too. It had been worth it though, all the pain and suffering, because the moment he’d been placed on her chest, she’d fallen so deeply in love. He’d been a little bigger than normal, with no siblings to fight with for space he’d stretched out. Born blind, deaf, and dark gray in color, Marian had scent-marked little Nicky the moment he’d been placed on her chest, so he’d always be able to tell who she was. Marian and Robert had waited with baited breath for Nicky to open his eyes, and two weeks after he’d been born he opened them to reveal emerald eyes. For Marian, it had been like looking in the mirror.

Bonnie laughed. “Oh, it gets easier the more you have. My older kits help with the younger ones.” It was an unspoken rule in the Hopps warren that each kit pulled their own weight once they entered their teens – helping on the farm, helping in the house, or looking after the younger members of the family. Over the years Bonnie and Stu had lost a few of their eldest. Some had moved away, like Judy, while others had started their own families and warrens nearby, like Judy’s littermate Julian.

“How do remember all their names?” Marian was genuinely curious. She struggled to remember the names of all the ladies she worked with, so had no idea how she would manage with 312 names.

“We name our kits alphabetically. Our first litter all had ‘A’ names, the second had ‘B’ names, and so on. All our babies have a distinct smell, and over the years I’ve learned to associate names with smells, so I never mix them up.” Bonnie explained. It had been a practice her mom had used when raising her kits, and Bonnie had carried on with it. Some of her sisters had done the same, but none of them had as many kits as she did. “Stu struggles with their names the most. Then again, I’ve covered all our babies in my scent, so it’s a bit difficult for him to pick out their underlying smell.”

“That’s not a bad thing Bon, I quite like your scent.” Stu chipped in, feeling he had to clarify Bonnie’s comment.

Looking at her husband fondly, Bonnie offered him a warm smile, paw reaching out to rub his arm. “That’s reassuring, dear.”

“So scent marking is a thing for rabbits, too?” Marian hadn’t had the chance to do much research into rabbit custom and cultures, but she realized it would be prudent to do some now. She couldn’t get away with not knowing anything about rabbits anymore, especially if Nicky was going to pull his head out of his tail and tell Judy about the bracelet. She’d scolded him when he’d confessed to not telling Judy what it meant. The bracelets were important in their culture, their meaning highly symbolic, and the fact Nicky was letting Judy walk around wearing it without her knowing what it meant irked the vixen. It wasn’t her place to tell the doe, but her patience with her son was wearing thin.

“Oh yes, it’s crucial. I mark my kits with a familiar scent, so it’s obvious they’re mine, but Stu and I mark one another with a mating scent. They’re very different. Mating scents are essential though. I’ve told all my kits they should only chin their partners when they’re entirely sure they want them as their mate.” Bonnie had instilled many values in her kits. Choosing a partner was a big deal; you were making a lifelong commitment to another mammal. You had to be sure.

“Chin?” Marian questioned, raising an eyebrow. She’d never heard the phrase before.

Bringing a paw up, Bonnie tapped a finger gently underneath her chin. “Our scent glands are under our chin, so we call scent marking chinning.”

Marian chuckled, the name making sense now. “Ah, ours are on the sides of our muzzle, so we call it muzzling. I’m sorry that I don’t know much about your customs. Judy was the first rabbit I’d ever met. Not many rabbits in the city like to associate with foxes.” It was a sad truth, but one mirrored by many species. No matter how hard they tried, foxes would probably never be able to shake the stereotypes associated with them. It had caused a lot of tension when Nicky had been a kit. He’d been bullied simply for being a fox. On occasion she’d had to pick him up from school because some idiotic kit had made a rude comment and it had made all the other kits in the class laugh and mock Nicky, leaving him in tears. Marian had watched on helplessly as over the years Nicky had built up his walls, shoved his emotions into boxes and took everything in his stride with a smirk and a witty comment. She knew that wasn’t her baby though, that wasn’t the little emerald eyed munchkin she’d raised. It was why she knew Judy was so right for him. Parts of her baby were coming back, parts that had long ago been repressed and abused. He smiled more, his tail wagged more, and he no longer hid behind his walls and sarcasm around the small rabbit. Her little Nicky was coming back.

“I’m afraid we don’t know much about foxes either, so don’t worry. The city rabbits are missing out though, Marian. Bon and I used to be a little closed minded, but Judy really opened our eyes. We work with a fox now, he uses our farm produce in his pies.” Stu made it clear that he and his wife were still new to Marian’s customs too, and he wanted to assure Marian that they were perfectly fine with foxes. It had been eye-opening for them, when they’d started working with Gid, completely oblivious to anything fox related, but they were starting to learn a thing or two about vulpines. It also helped that Judy spoke about Nick frequently, brought up the occasional fox habit while on the phone to them.

“Gideon, yes? Judy mentioned him.” Marian recalled the first time she’d met Judy when Nicky had brought her over with her injured leg. Judy had divulged that her parents worked with Gideon, and she could distinctly remember the way her son had choked on his salmon when Judy had added that Gideon was a fox. The memory made her smile.

“The very one. I’m sure Nick will get to meet him when he comes to visit. Gid stops by regularly to pick up more produce.” Stu carried on. He worked closely with Gideon, trusted him now they’d been partners for a while. Stu was hoping to introduce the two foxes and then get Gideon’s honest opinion on Nick afterward. Stu had heard from both Bonnie and Judy that Nick was a good mammal, that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt Judy physically or emotionally, but he was her father, and he couldn’t let her run off with any old mammal without making sure he was good enough first.

“Are Gideon and Judy friends?” Marian couldn’t remember Judy mentioning whether or not she got along with the other fox.

Bonnie and Stu spared a quick glance at one another, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Marian. Taking a deep breath, Bonnie decided to opt for the truth. “Gid bullied her as a child, clawed her once, but I think they’ve put it behind them now.”

Marian gasped. A fox had clawed Judy? She would never have guessed. Judy seemed entirely at ease around her and Nicky. “Oh my, he didn’t hurt her too much, did he?”

“She’s got some scars across her left cheek, but her fur hides them.” Stu had been furious when Judy had come home with the three marks across her cheek, but he’d been a little too frightened of Mrs. Grey to do anything about it. Instead, he’d taken his concerns to the school, asked for Judy to be in a separate class to Gideon, but as the incident had occurred off school property and outside of school hours, they hadn’t been able to do anything about it. Stu had contemplated going to the police, reporting Gideon for assault, but Bonnie had talked him down, reminded him they were kits fuelled by energy and emotions they were yet to master. That didn’t make it right as far as Stu had been concerned, and it had taken a while for him to warm up to Gideon enough to partner with him. The country fox wasn’t as aggressive as he had been as a kit now though, and he seemed pretty harmless.

“I hope Nicky doesn’t know that she was clawed. He’s very protective of Judy.” Marian mused. She had no doubt in her mind that if Nicky knew Judy had been hurt by a fox he’d be as horrified as she was, he’d probably even hunt this Gideon down and give him what for. “He needs to rein in his instincts. He’s going to end up overbearing and pushing Judy away if he keeps acting the way he is.”

“Oh, he is?” Bonnie knew Judy was protective of Nick, but hearing it went the other way too piqued her interest.

“Of course, he adores her.” It was the most obvious thing in the world to Marian. She’d never seen Nicky dote on another mammal so much in her life. That, and he’d bought her the bracelet. “There’s really no question as to how he feels.”

Bonnie cooed “We saw that sweet photo of them at the gallery for her birthday, and the bracelet he bought her! So beautiful.” Judy had proudly shown off the bracelet during their phone call on her birthday night. No mammal had ever bought Judy jewelry before, especially not something as exquisite as her bracelet.

Marian smiled, relaxing as it became apparent that Bonnie and Stu didn’t seem to have any issues with their potentially being something between their offspring. “Our kits are very close…”

“Nick is the center of Judy’s world, he’s all she talks about.” Stu shook his head. He could never get a word in edgeways when he called his daughter, especially when she went off on a tangent about Nick.

“Nicky was so sad when Judy left to return home after the night howler incident. He was a mess.” Her son had turned up on her doorstep after the press conference. Her usually cool and composed kit, who hid his true feelings behind his jokes and lazy smile, had looked despondent. She hadn’t known at the time that he’d fallen out with Judy, hadn’t even been aware of the fact her son knew the rabbit cop, but he’d been like a lost soul. He’d spent two weeks with her, hardly leaving the apartment. One morning at breakfast he’d informed her that he was going to return to his own home, that he was feeling better. Marian knew it was all a lie, could see it in his eyes. She knew something was still wrong, she could see it in the way he kept looking down a little to his side as if he expected another mammal to be there. His jaw would clench every time she served carrots with dinner, and he always changed channels on the TV whenever anything related to the night howler case was broadcasted.

Stu inhaled sharply, pieces of the puzzle finally starting to come together. “That’s why her ears were droopy. We thought it was just because she’d given up her job, thought she’d made things in the city worse.” Judy’s appearance at home had been sudden, with no warning. She’d turned up on the doorstep with her suitcase in paw, sorrow in her eyes and had been uncharacteristically quiet. “I messed up, dad.” Her voice had been soft, laden with immeasurable sadness. Stu had brought her inside, helped her down to her old room so she could unpack. When Bonnie had returned from the store, he’d filled her in. They’d kept Judy’s return quiet, made sure not to overwhelm her. Judy hadn’t elaborated on how she’d messed up, but Stu had read the newspapers, knew about the goings on in the city.

“It makes sense that she was missing Nick too,” Bonnie added. She’d known that Judy had been beating herself up about the press conference, it had been splashed all over the news and the papers, but she hadn’t been aware of her relationship with Nick at that point.

“I didn’t know she cared about Nicky that much back then. It would make sense though, given how quickly they’ve moved in together and that she borrowed one of my books.” Marian contemplated. It had amused her when she’d checked the bookshelf after Judy’s departure from one of their dinners to see her fox customs book was missing. It had amused her, even more, when it had suddenly reappeared the following week. “Buying that book on a whim was a sound investment.”

“Judy’s always been an avid reader. Her tastes are quite mixed.” Stu pointed out. They had a library in their warren, and he was sure Judy had managed to read every book in it. Several of her siblings were avid readers too, and Stu imagined that it came from being told stories every night before bed as kits.

“I’ll say. I had a book on fox culture and customs on my bookshelf. Judy asked if she could borrow some books and she did, including that one.” Marian started to test the waters.

The information was news to Bonnie, and it took her a moment to process it before she began to laugh. “Oh my goodness. Judy borrowed your book on fox culture and customs? I sent Nick one on rabbit culture and traditions!” She’d spotted the book at the local market and had purchased it on a whim, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to help educate the fox on their customs and culture. She’d only intended it as a rough guide, but she hadn’t been able to stop herself from going through it over the course of a few nights and sticky tabbing information of interest, scribbling her own notes in it. She’d been very open with Nick in her notes, not wanting to sugar coat anything.

Marian blinked. Bonnie had sent her son a book on rabbits? “Oh, I would’ve paid good money to see him opening that package!” She laughed, unable to stop herself. She thought she was subtle by buying them blankets in one another’s fur color, making Judy purple and green clothes, dropping hints over time, but Bonnie had obliterated that with her forwardness. With her laughter subsiding, Marian had one more question. “This might seem out of the left field, but has Judy ever dated someone?”

Bonnie and Stu shared a quick glance before they focused their attention back on Marian. “Not really, nothing serious. She’s been on some dates with a few bucks I sent her way, but she always came home angry and upset.” Bonnie hadn’t been sure why Judy’s dates had never worked out. The bucks she’d sent her daughter’s way had all been kind enough. “She’s quite inexperienced in matters of the heart.”

Hearing that Judy didn’t have much experience made Marian feel momentarily uneasy. She knew Nicky had slept around, had played the field, and had some experience under his belt, but she was also aware that her son had never been in love before. Not until Judy, anyway. “Nicky’s not very experienced with matters of the heart, either.”

Bonnie had a feeling that Marian was dancing around the subject, perhaps even worried about addressing it. She couldn’t have that. “Okay, I’m just going to lay all the cards on the table. I called Judy a few weeks back, the day before her birthday, and I caught her in bed with Nick.”

It was like the whole world came to a standstill. Marian’s brain had blanked for a moment before it started to race. Nicky had already slept with Judy? Before he’d even claimed her as his mate? “Oh, that boy is going to get an ass whooping as soon as he comes home!” She couldn’t believe he’d be so foolish. Judy wasn’t some one-night stand. “What!?”

Seeing the flurry of emotions cross Marian’s face, Bonnie realized the vixen may have taken it the wrong way. “Nick assured us that nothing had happened.” She quickly reassured her.

“He had his pants on,” Stu added, wanting to soothe Marian.

“He did, he made a point of showing us.” Bonnie continued, nodding her head. Nick had been so polite to them, hadn’t batted an eye at proving he hadn’t slept with Judy. Bonnie wouldn’t have minded if he had, goodness knows Judy was in need of some loving.

The reassurances from Bonnie and Stu soothed Marian, and she took a deep breath to calm herself. “Judy did mention that she slept in the same bed as Nicky when she stayed over. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to continue sharing a bed seeing that they live together. But a two-bed apartment seems a little redundant now….”

Deciding to take the plunge, Bonnie made sure she had Marian’s attention before she spoke frankly. “I can read my kits like books, Marian. I have 312 of them, its second nature to me now.” She paused. “I think Judy is in love with Nick.”

Marian blinked, the news unexpected. She’d figured that Judy might have tentative feelings for Nicky, that the doe was still exploring them, but she’d never expected to hear from Bonnie that Judy was in love with Nicky. Marian let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, her whole body sagging with relief. “Oh thank goodness! I think Nicky is in love with Judy too.”

Bonnie was the first to laugh, and Marian found herself mimicking the doe. The relief at knowing Judy returned her son’s feelings were overwhelming. “I’m so glad we’re in agreement. I think Nicky is a little scared to tell her.” Marian knew her son wasn’t good with his emotions, didn’t like being vulnerable in front of other mammals. It would take a bit of pushing to get her son to open up.

“I think Judy is scared to tell him, too. They’re quite a pair.” Bonnie agreed. Though Judy was a risk-taker, a trier, Bonnie knew that her daughter was probably trying to figure out Nick’s feelings and thoughts before sharing her own. If Nick was doing the same with Judy, then the pair of them were probably stuck in some awkward dance, trying to suss the other out first.

Stu had been silent for a while, lost in thought. Jude the Dude, his little girl, in love for the first time. It made his fatherly instincts scream, made him want to get his shotgun and remind Nick that if he so much as made Judy shed a single tear, he’d fill him full of lead. He had no problems with his daughter being interested in a fox, he’d come a long way from his old speciest line of thinking, but that didn’t stop him from being concerned about their differences.

“Stu?” Bonne interrupted him, snapping him from his thoughts. “You’ve been silent. What’s the matter?”

“I’m concerned. Judy has never shown this much interest in a mammal before.” Stu came clean, knowing it was futile to hide anything from his wife.

“Nicky would never hurt her.” Marian chipped in. She knew how much the doe meant to him, and she knew Nicky would never do anything to hurt her or anything that would risk him losing her.

“Oh no, that’s not what I mean!” Stu quickly added, not wanting Marian to think for a moment that he was concerned about that. “It’s all so new to Jude. It’s a big scary thing for her, especially given the species difference.”

“Oh Stu, she’s a big girl.” Bonnie brushed aside her husband’s concerns. Judy knew what she was doing, it was futile to try and stop her or tell her otherwise.

Sighing, Stu knew his wife was right. That didn’t make him worry any less, though. “She’s still my baby.”

“She’s in safe paws. Nick is a good mammal.” Bonnie pointed out, lifting an arm to rub one of her paws soothingly over her husband’s arm.

Stu sighed again, shoulders slumping. “I know, but as her father, it’s natural for me to worry.”

“I’m sure Nicky will ease your worries when he visits.” Marian offered the buck a reassuring smile. She knew Nicky would be on his best behavior while at the Hopps warren, and she had a feeling he would try to win over the buck. If he were going to take Judy as his mate, then he would need Stu’s permission.

The chamois appeared next to their table, arms laden with dishes, effectively putting their conversation on hold. She placed the meals down, remembering which mammal had ordered what. “Do you need any condiments? Sides?” The waitress double-checked.

“Bon and I are fine, thank you. Marian?” Stu asked, sparing a glance to the vixen.

Marian shook her head. “I’m fine, thank you.”

The chamois nodded, pleased to be serving a table of mammals who weren’t fussy and probably wouldn’t give her a hard time. She did wonder where the third rabbit had disappeared off to, and she would be lying if she said she wasn’t curious as to why two rabbits were having dinner with a fox. It wasn’t her place to ask questions, though. “Give me a call if you need anything. Enjoy your meal.” She left them to it, returning to her other tables.

Picking up her knife and fork, Marian licked her lips. Her meal looked delicious. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Marian spoke up. “Now that we’re in agreement that our kits have feelings for one another, perhaps we should help them a little? Nicky has never been good at talking about his feelings.”

Bonnie finished her mouthful before she spoke, seeing the benefit of Marian’s idea. “Judy’s usually quite emotional and forthcoming with her feelings, it comes with our species, but I don’t think it would hurt to give them a little push. What did you have in mind?”

Marian paused, thinking for a moment. “We need to create a situation where they’d be free to talk and feel comfortable doing so.”

“Well the next time they’re together will be the Carrot Day Festival.” Bonnie was looking forward to welcoming Judy home for the festival, and having Nick with her would be wonderful. She only hoped her other 311 kits didn’t scare the tod away.

“It’s the biggest celebration in the district, Bon. No one gets any peace.” Stu was all for getting Nick and Judy to talk, but the festival made it difficult for anyone in the district to get some peace.

“We could make some peace?” Bonnie suggested. She wasn’t sure how they would go about it, but it would be worth trying.

Stu continued eating, trying to come up with a way for Nick and Judy to be alone. On the Friday night they would have a big family meal and prepare for the following day’s festivities, then on Saturday, they would spend the day at the fair and market, finishing off the day with a massive bonfire and party in one of the many fields in the district. Sunday would consist of farming competitions, a huge feast, and then the closing ceremony. Stu paused, an idea forming. “The closing ceremony.” He offered. Bonnie’s eye lit up, excitement painted on her face.

“Closing ceremony?” Marian asked, not entirely sure what the Carrot Day Festival involved. “Something else for you to research.”

“On the Sunday night, the final night of the festival, the whole district comes together for a massive firework display. I usually send some of my older kits home to keep an eye on the house and the fields, to make sure no stray fireworks hit them. We could send Judy and Nick home, under the guise of them keeping an eye on the place. They’d get a few hours of uninterrupted time.” Stu explained. He’d have to send some of his other kits home to watch over the place, should Nick and Judy actually have their talk and end up distracted by one another, but that wouldn’t be difficult. They could bring Jasmine into their plans; she was Judy’s littermate and loved her dearly. She was also excellent at keeping secrets. He’d ask her to go home and watch over the place, stay outside or hide in one of the barns. Jasmine would probably love helping her sister out.

“I like that idea, Nicky would feel more comfortable talking to Judy about his feelings if he knew no one would interrupt them.” The excitement started to build inside Marian. She wouldn’t be able to help much from the city, but Bonnie and Stu seemed determined to get their kits together. Marian was happy to trust them with this.

“How do we get them to discuss their feelings though, and not watch Nutflix or talk about work and the academy?” Bonnie hated playing devil’s advocate, but they’d need to cover all their bases and eliminate any chance of their kits getting distracted.

The three mammals fell silent, thinking. “We could get Jasmine to knock the power off? With nothing to distract them, they’d be forced to talk.” Stu suggested, seriously liking the thought of bringing Jasmine in on their plan.

“I could guilt Nicky.” Marian offered. “The bracelet he gave her? Nicky didn’t tell Judy exactly what it means, but it’s significant in our culture. It holds a lot of meaning. My husband gave me one, and I wore it every day until his passing. I scolded him for not telling Judy what it means, so perhaps I could guilt him into talking to her about it during the weekend? With the power knocked out, and with them being alone, he’d more than likely feel comfortable talking to her about his feelings.”

“What does it mean, the bracelet?” Stu asked. When Judy had shown them the beautiful silver piece of jewelry around her wrist, he’d been concerned. It was a big thing, buying a lady a piece of jewelry, and Stu had worried that Judy was getting ahead of herself when it came to Nick.

Marian bit her lip, food forgotten for a moment. “I want to tell you, I trust you both with the information, but it would ruin it. Judy should be the one to tell you after Nicky has told her.”

“We understand. Perhaps I could mention the bracelet to Judy a few times too, between now and then, drop some hints? We could even recruit one of her sisters to help.” Bonnie offered, having picked up on Stu mentioning Jasmine.

Marian was apprehensive, the more mammals involved, the higher the possibility of something going wrong. “Are you sure we should bring others into this?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry. Jasmine is Judy’s littermate, and they were inseparable growing up. Jasmine would do anything for Judy, and she wouldn’t tell a soul. Stu and I could ask her to watch over Nick and Judy all weekend, mention how lovely her bracelet is and ask her about it, that kind of thing.” Bonnie reassured the vixen.

Marian mulled it over. “So long as Jasmine can be subtle with it. If Nicky feels like he’s being forced or a mammal is getting too close to the truth, then he probably won’t talk.”

“Jasmine is good at subtle, don’t worry. Stu and I will make sure that Nick and Judy have the house to themselves on the Sunday evening.” Bonnie was almost vibrating with excitement. Her little girl might finally have a mate.

Marian’s excitement was palpable too, her tail thumping against the booth. “Oh, I’m so excited! I hope they pull their heads out of their tails and tell one another how they feel.” She stabbed some of her food with her fork, having momentarily forgotten to eat in all of her excitement.

Stu shook his head fondly, realizing now that his wife and Marian wouldn’t let it rest until Nick and Judy expressed their feelings to one another and became mates. Chewing his mouthful of salad, he thought about having a chat with Nick before the Sunday night. He wanted to make sure the tod would be good for his girl one last time, do some last minute questioning and digging.

“Do you think they’d have kits?” Bonnie asks nonchalantly.

Stu inhaled sharply, eyes widening as he erupted into a violent coughing fit, choking on his mouthful.

Bonnie and Marian didn’t bother holding back their laughter.

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