Story © 2000-2004 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel © Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe © Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and Wanda Vixen© Chris Yost. Character ZigZag © Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard, Doug and Kelly Granitz © James Bruner. Character Mark the cheetaur © Mark White Eric W. Schwartz © Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. Michael Jones © Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge © Keith Dicinkson. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners.

Identity Crisis
Act IV
Chapter 9

And when that there clone has become full-grown, all she'll ever think of is sex!

“Zig Zag?” Sheila weakly asked as she tried to peer around the priest. “Is that you?”

For a moment, Zig Zag didn’t respond. Shaking off the sudden feeling of déjà vu, she carefully maneuvered around the priest, keeping plenty of distance between themselves before turning to look at Sheila. Her heart skipped a beat as she looked at the vixen. The image she saw on the monitor hadn’t shown the damage very clearly. She saw her horrified reflection in her friend’s eyes and realized that Sheila needed support, not pity. “Hey, kiddo,” she said with a weak smile as she sat down on the bed. “How you feeling?”

Confusion, hope, distrust, fear. They all played their parts in a continuous, rapid succession of expressions. “Zig Zag? Is that really you?” she asked, reaching hesitantly towards the tiger-striped skunk before pulling away, afraid to touch her.

“Yeah, it’s really me,” Zig Zag replied with a warm, reassuring smile as she held her hand out.

Sheila cautiously took her hand and sniffed it. Her eyes welled up with tears as she began to cry. “Oh, Zig Zag,” she sobbed. Reaching out with both arms, she grabbed her friend in a bone-crushing embrace.

Momentarily taken aback by the sudden action on the vixen’s part, Zig Zag quickly recovered and returned the embrace as she hugged the crying female to her bosom. “It’s all right,” she murmured into her ear as she stroked her headfur. “It’s all over now. You’re going to be just fine.”

A flood of emotions came pouring out as Sheila cried. Her eyes flew open as her ears lay back against her head. Pushing away from Zig Zag, she grabbed the female by the arms, not realizing that her claws were digging into Zig Zag’s skin. “Tell me!” she demanded. “Tell me what happened!”

Zig Zag winced and gave her a confused look. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied quizzically.

“Tell me about the night---,” she said, pausing as her eyes glanced around the room. “Tell me about the night at the studio. The last night when we three were together!” she demanded. “Tell me!”

“Ouch!” Zig Zag cried out, wincing at the feeling of Sheila’s claws as they bit through her fur and into her skin. “You’re hurting me!”

The doctor pulled a syringe from his pocket and started to take a step towards the pair, but a hand from the priest stopped him. He looked at the priest and saw him simply shake his head.

Sheila let go so abruptly that Zig Zag almost fell backwards. “Please,” she pleaded, hesitantly reaching out with one hand. “Please! Tell me what happened.”

Zig Zag’s heart pounded in her chest at the realization of what Sheila was asking for. She was conscious not only of the three other fursons in the room, but that they were being monitored on a surveillance system and possibly even recorded. If she told the truth, nobody but Sheila would believe her. In fact, they’d probably take custody away from her because of it. “It’s all right,” she sadly replied. “The night you had me take the pictures of you and Arden, I gave the two of you the petty cash from the safe and you left,” she lied as tears fell from her face. “ I hope you can forgive me,” she thought as she saw the look on Sheila’s face.

“NO!” the vixen sobbed as she hugged herself, pulling her legs up to her stomach despite the pain of the recent surgery, and began to wail. “No! It’s not true! It can’t be true!” she sobbed.

The doctor wrenched himself free of the priest’s grasp and rushed to Sheila’s side, where he used the syringe to inject a fluid into the IV. “You’re going to have to leave now,” he declared angrily as he worked to roll the sedated female onto her back.

Father Anatol stepped over to the door and looked questioningly up at the camera until the lock buzzed. Holding the door open, he nodded to the others. “I think it’s best that we go,” he said with a slight Russian accent.

Once they were outside the door, James turned to Zig Zag. “What the hell was all that about?” he demanded.

Before she could reply, Father Anatol replied. “I’m afraid that Sheila is rather confused,” the priest replied sadly, shaking his head. “During her ordeal, she had a schizophrenic break. A most unusual one at that,” he commented, chewing on a thumb claw. “In severe cases where the patient is delusional, their memories of the delusion are to the exclusion of what really happened. In her case, she not only remembers her delusion but also what really happened. A most fascinating case, really.”

“Are you a shrink?” James asked.

The priest’s ears perked up at the question before he nervously clasped his hands behind his back to keep from chewing on his claws. “Actually, no,” he admitted apologetically. “When I went through the training to become a counselor I became interested in psychology. I’ve been studying it over the years as kind of a hobby. I’m sorry if I gave any other impression.”

“Actually,” Zig Zag butted in, crossing her arms. “What I’m more interested in is just who the hell you are and why the FBI saw fit to bring you in when they wouldn’t even admit to us that she’d been found.”

“Ah. That,” he said with a solemn nod. “I understand your consternation, not only with why I was here but who I am. Perhaps we all might be more comfortable someplace where we can sit rather than standing here in the hall?”

Zig Zag glanced at James before nodding. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Do you know this guy?” James asked in a low whisper as he and Zig Zag sat alone at a table in the cafeteria while the priest bought coffees.

“No clue,” she replied as she studied the tiger striped male skunk. “Though I have a feeling we’re related. Anatol was the name of my grandfather on my mother’s side.”

James’ eyes grew slightly at that revelation, but any opportunity to speak was lost when the priest returned.

“Here you go,” Father Anatol said as he set the tray loaded with coffee on the table. He handed each person a tall, steaming cup before sitting down and addressing his own. “So, where were we?”

“How you got called in to talk to Sheila,” James prompted.

“Ah, yes,” he replied, stirring in four packets of sugar and four creamers. “Sheila’s delusional state was complicated with bursts of paranoia. At one point, she even claimed that one of the FBI agents was, in fact, Lucifer himself, come to torment her.” He shook his head sadly as he stirred the coffee. “The psychologist who was brought in on the case happened to be the same one that had trained me to be a counselor for the church. Since Sheila was asking to see Zig Zag, he thought that perhaps bringing me in would be enough of a visual cue to make a connection with her.” He took a sip of the coffee and nodded. “As luck would have it, it worked. In her delusional state, she believed that I was you, only as a male. It was quite fascinating.”

Zig Zag held up her hand as she shook her head. “Wait. That doesn’t make sense. Why would she assume that I had suddenly become male?”

“It’s the nature of her delusion,” the priest replied, leaning back in his chair and frowning. “She believed that we were alone and began babbling this intricate delusion about a magic amulet, being transported to different worlds with magic, dragons and all the like.” He let out an amused chuckle as he remembered something. “She even claimed to have been transformed into a male at one point.”

“What?” both Zig Zag and James asked at the same time.

The priest continued chuckling and nodded. “That’s right. She said that the night they disappeared from public view, they hadn’t left the studio to hide, but had in fact been taken to another world by a magic amulet that her boyfriend had. In the process, she and Arden swapped bodies, leaving him a vixen while she inhabited his body.”

“No shit?” Zig Zag incredulously asked, a wide grin on her muzzle.

Father Anatol nodded. “Indeed. Quite fascinating, really.” He took another sip of his coffee. “After a while, I managed to calm her down long enough to go step by step through what happened the night she disappeared. She didn’t want to remember due to the traumatic nature of their capture, but eventually she did manage to recall that event. After that, it was like opening a floodgate. Although her mind would wander from time to time to her fantasy, it was fairly easy to bring her back to reality and get her to remember what really happened.”

“So when she saw me, she realized that whatever you had told her might not be true, which is why she demanded to know what happened,” Zig Zag thoughtfully commented while rubbing her sore arm. “Now I understand.” She was mildly startled when she felt James take her hand and squeeze it.

“I’m glad you answered her question directly without asking why,” the priest remarked. “By not giving her an option to express her delusion, you reinforced which of her memories are real.”

After an uncomfortable pause, James spoke up. “So, do you think she’ll be OK? I mean, the doctors will be able to straighten her head out, right?”

“Given enough time, yes, I believe that she will manage a recovery,” the priest confidently replied. “Since the schizophrenia is essentially a biological disorder that allowed the delusional part of her mind to create permanent memories, the doctors believe that an aggressive psychological regimen combined with certain drugs would be most useful in the short term. Now that she’s been removed from the environment which created the condition and under medication, they’re hopeful that she shouldn’t have any future relapses.”

Zig Zag nodded. “I understand.” She took a sip of her coffee but found it oddly bland. “As soon as she’s up to it, and assuming the doctors agree, I want to transfer her to a facility in Columbus. Find a nice, peaceful, private institution where she won’t be caged up like a criminal.”

“I don’t think there will be any objection to that,” Anatol replied. “Once she’s sufficiently recovered from the surgery, I doubt there will be any issue with moving her.”

There was another uncomfortable silence, again broken by James. “I have a rather personal question,” he explained to the priest. “Your first name, Anatol. How did you get it?”

“My mother gave it to me,” the priest replied dryly before letting out a sudden bark of laughter. “No. Seriously,” he said, smiling at Zig Zag. “I was named after my great grandfather, who happens to be Zig Zag’s maternal grandfather.”

“Your great grandfather?” Zig Zag asked, once again paying full attention. “So that makes us cousins?”

“Actually, I’m your second cousin, once removed,” he declared.

Zig Zag frowned as she studied the priest. “If you’re my cousin, then why is this the first time I’ve ever heard of you?”

“You’re not exactly close with your relatives on your mother’s side, are you?” he asked, knowingly. “In fact, Aunt Mishka mentioned you saying something to her at your mother’s funeral.” He paused, his brow furrowed as he concentrated. “Let’s see, what did she say it was…?”

“That I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the rest of my mother’s deadbeat family, and I’d see them all in hell before I gave a damn about any one of ‘em,” she replied, looking a bit chastised.

Father Anatol smiled and nodded. “Yes, I believe that was it, although I do believe she embellished the tale some.”

“Look, I’m sorry about that,” she said, looking anywhere but at the priest.

“Please,” he said, holding a hand up. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You and I were both pariahs when it came to the family. I grew up being told that I was best seen and not heard, and even more preferable was not to be seen at all.”

Zig Zag nodded. “I know what you mean.”

“Is that why you went into the priesthood?” James interjected.

Father Anatol paused thoughtfully for a moment before nodding. “I suppose it did have something to do with it. I was just a young kit of six when we moved to Canada from Siberia. My mother hated the Russian Orthodox Church with a passion. I grew up in Kemptville, in Ontario. We were pretty much the only Russian family in town, so not only was I a foreigner, but a ‘funny lookin’ one, too’.” He chuckled as he drained the last of his coffee. “The town had a Catholic Church, and I used to spend a lot of time there. The priests---they never judged me by my looks. I guess you could say I felt more at home in the church that at my real home. When I was old enough, I decided to become a priest.”

Zig Zag chuckled again. “I think it’s ironic. You wound up in the church, encouraging people not to sin, and I went into the sin business.”

“I wouldn’t quite put it like that,” Anatol replied sympathetically. “God places us on the path. Where we go from there is our choice. I chose the priesthood and you chose the only option you thought you had at the time.” He gave her a bashful smile. “Believe it or not, when I was a young kit, barely fourteen, I followed your career avidly. At one point I had this fantasy that, when I turned eighteen, I would travel down to Columbus and work for you.” He shook his head and gave a nervous laugh. “You looked like you were enjoying yourself so much. I thought we would have been an unstoppable combination.”

Zig Zag cocked her head to the side slightly. “So what changed your mind?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied seriously. “Just a feeling. Something that told me that my calling lay elsewhere. Once I realized it was the church, I gave myself to it fully.”

“That’s a heck of a story,” she said with a shake of her head. “And to think that we both wound up here because of Sheila. What are the odds?”

“I fear that only God truly knows,” he replied.

James drained his cup and glanced around the table. “Anyone else need some more coffee?”

“No, thank you,” the father replied. “I try to limit myself where such indulgences are involved.”

Zig Zag shook her head. “No thanks. If I drink much more, my kidneys will float away.”

Anatol’s ears perked up. “Say, you haven’t seen Sheila’s kits yet, have you?”

“Aw, geez,” Zig Zag groaned, wincing. “No. I completely forgot!”

Father Anatol stood and cleared the table, loading the empty cups and other trash onto the tray. “It’s still fairly early yet,” he commented, dumping the trash into the bin before setting the tray aside. “With luck, you’ll be in time for the feeding.”

“I’d like that,” she remarked as they made their way to the elevator. She frowned slightly while they waited for the elevator and then turned to Anatol. “The FBI agent told me that there were two kits; a boy and a girl. What species are they?”

“The doctors have tentatively classified them as vulpes and urses mixed breed.” He glanced at Zig Zag and smiled. “Fox and bear. They won’t know for certain until the genetic tests come back.”

“Genetic test?” James barked. “What tests?”

Father Anatol stood aside as the elevators opened, allowing the people inside to exit before he stepped in, holding the doors for the others. “Since they’re fraternal twins, rather than genetic, identical twins, the FBI took a sample from each of them as well as Sheila. They’ll run the results through their database to try and determine which, if any, of the males captured at the time of her discovery were the father,” he explained while pressing the button to take them to the Pediatrics floor.

“Do you know if they got a court order, first?” James asked.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t,” the father replied, shaking his head. Leading the pair through a short series of turns, they quickly came to a large area that was walled off with glass. He stopped and rapped on the glass door with a knuckle. A few seconds later the door clicked and slid open, allowing them to enter.

“Here to see the Vixen kits, Father?” the nurse, a young beaver asked as she came around the desk.

“Yes, we are,” he replied, turning to introduce the others. “This is Zig Zag and her companion, James. Zig Zag has been awarded custody of Miss Vixen and her kits, and would like to see them.”

“Oh.” She looked at the striped skunk for a moment before giving her an honest smile. “Well, in that case, it’s good to meet you, Zig Zag,” she declared, holding a hand out.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Zig Zag replied, briefly shaking the hand before following the beaver towards a pair of cribs off to the side. “Why are they in the ICU? Is there a problem?”

“Oh, no. Not really,” the nurse replied, dismissing the question with a wave of the hand. “This is just a precautionary measure. Since they showed signs of distress prior to the cesarean, we’re keeping them up here as a precaution for forty-eight hours.”

“What happens after that?” Zig Zag asked, as they reached the cribs.

“After that, they’ll be transferred to the regular nursery until such time as you’re ready to take them home.” She looked into both cribs before turning back to the trio. “Here you go. Baby X and baby Y.”

“X and Y?” James asked, suddenly understanding what the cards on the end of the crib, each with a single letter meant. “Don’t they have names yet?”

“Not yet,” the nurse replied, stepping aside so they could see the kits. “Miss Vixen has yet to give us names for them.”

James and Zig Zag both stepped forwards to examine the kits. Baby X was swaddled in a pink blanket. What could be seen of her was a small, white furry head that, at first glance, had the outlines of a bear, but the longer, thinner snout of a fox. The ears, though, were small and rounded, rather than the tall, proud, triangular ones a fox would have. The fur was a pristine white along the front of the throat, coming up to cover the lower half of the muzzle, cheeks, around the eyes, inside the ears and socks. The rest of the fur appeared to be the same burnt orange color as her mother. Baby Y was slightly smaller, with facial features resembling a fox right down to the pointed ears. His coloration was pure white all over with the exception of black socks, which could be seen covering the wrists and hands.

“They’re adorable,” Zig Zag declared, reaching a hand into each crib to stroke the fur on their head.

“Would you like to hold them?” the nurse asked.

Zig Zag’s ears stood as her eyes lit up. “Could we?”

“Sure!” the nurse declared. “Hang on, and I’ll get you both a chair.” She hurried off and soon returned with another nurse, each carrying a rocking chair. “Here you go,” she said as they set the chairs down.

Zig Zag sat down and waited for the nurse to hand her one of the kits. Taking it, she realized that it was the female as she cradled the kit in her arms. She smiled as she gently rocked the chair while studying the tiny face.

“You do that like you’ve had some practice,” the nurse commented.

“I have,” she replied, smiling up at her. “I took care of my younger sister and brother.” She looked back down at the kit and tickled its chin with a finger. “I haven’t done this since Max was just a kit.”

The other nurse put a hand on James’ arm. “Sir?” she said, indicating that he should sit in the other rocking chair.

James politely smiled and shook his head. “No, thank you.”

“Oh, come on, James,” Zig Zag chided. “You might as well get used to it. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of these kits.”

Next thing James knew, he was sitting in the chair with a tiny bundle settled in the crook of one arm as the nurse talked to him about what to do and what not to do. He smiled as the kit opened its mouth in a wide yawn then squirmed slightly before going back to sleep. Glancing up at Zig Zag he felt a cold chill run down the length of his back at the look she was giving him. Their discussion the other night after the interview about kits, and the subsequent grilling by her, told him that she was probably hearing the imminent ticking of her biological clock. Now that she was actually holding a kit in her arms, he was wondering if that would only feed the flame, or if it would somehow help to quell it for a while.

Looking back down at the kit, James agreed that kits were something he’d want---some day---but were they truly ready for it? Maybe this would be the way to tell.

“You’re a natural,” Zig Zag said as she watched James hold and rock the kit.

James was about to reply, but his stomach answered for him, growling loud enough to cause the small kit to stir.

Zig Zag blinked at the coyote. “I hope that was your stomach and not the kit.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” he replied, rubbing the kits belly to help settle it down. “Remember, I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast, and that coffee didn’t really hit the spot very well.”

“Don’t remind me,” Zig Zag groaned. “I suppose we can cut this short, after all we’re going to have plenty of time to get to know them better.”

“Excuse me,” the beaver said, interrupting the conversation while holding up a camera. “Do you mind if I get a picture of you with the kits?”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Zig Zag replied, cautiously standing up. “I don’t think that this outfit’s the best thing for that.”

“Agreed,” James said as he passed his kit to the other nurse before standing. “Maybe another time, OK?”

“I understand,” the nurse said, looking mildly dejected. “We just like to get pictures of new parents with the kits for our corkboard in the back.”

Zig Zag gently settled the kit into the crib before facing the nurse “Yeah, well, we’re not the kits’ parents. Maybe once Sheila’s feeling up to it, you’ll be able to get a picture of her with the kits.” She turned to the priest. “Would you care to join us for dinner?”

“Thank you, but I think I’ll pass,” Anatol replied, shaking his head. “I’m going to go check on Sheila and then call Father Antoneli. He’ll give me a ride back to the rectory. I’ll have dinner there with everyone else.”

“Are you sure? I’d love to chat with you some more over dinner,” she stated, placing a hand on his arm. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“I’m sure you are tired from your flight,” he said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “We will have plenty of time to catch up over the next few days until Sheila’s ready to travel again.”

“Come on,” James urged, joining the conversation. “Nothing like having some good company over dinner. Trust me, you wouldn’t be in the way at all.”

“Thank you very much,” he replied with a genuine smile. “You don’t know how much it means to me for you to say that, but I think it would be better if I passed this time. We’ve all had a long day and I fear that tomorrow will be an even longer one. I think it would be best for all of us if we faced the new day well rested.”

“Hey, it’s your loss,” James said with a shrug as he moved to stand by Zig Zag.

Zig Zag stepped towards the priest and hesitated. “I don’t know whether I should hug you, shake your hand or what,” she declared with a nervous laugh.

“A hug would be more than welcome,” Anatol replied, holding his arms open.

Embracing her cousin, Zig Zag gave him a strong squeeze before releasing him. “Thanks for taking care of Sheila.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replied. Watching the pair leave, he walked over to the nurse’s station where his hat and bible sat. He smiled at the beaver and held out his hand. “Mind if I see your camera for a moment?”

The nurse gave him a nervous look before handing over the camera. “Sure thing, father.” She let out a small shriek as he popped open the back and removed the film, exposing it to the light. “What did you do that for?”

Father Anatol closed the camera and handed it back. “Next time someone tells you they don’t want their picture taken, I suggest you listen to them,” he admonished while picking up his things. “If it happens again, I’ll have to speak to your supervisor about it.”

“Yes father,” she meekly replied, looking rather dismally at her camera and the pile of film that sat on the desk next to it.

Taking the elevator back upstairs, the black clad, tiger striped skunk made his way back to the psych ward. The nurse on duty buzzed him through the outer door and into the nursing station. “What’s Sheila’s status?”

“She’s sedated but not out,” the nurse replied, punching the vixen up onto the main screen where it could be seen that her arms were in soft restraints. “She’s been struggling off an on with the restraints, muttering about this all being some kind of conspiracy.”

The priest sighed. “All right, I’m going to go back in and see if I can calm her down.”

Making his way through the locked doors to her room, he waited patiently to be buzzed through the door. Once inside, he picked up the lone chair and dragged it over next to the bed and sat in it.

“Stay away,” Sheila mewed, struggling with the restraints. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“SHHhhhhhh,” the priest shushed as he undid the soft restraints on her hands. “It’s OK, Sheila. Nobody’s going to hurt you.”

“Arden?” Sheila asked looking at the priest, but not really seeing him.

“It’s Father Anatol, Sheila,” he replied taking her hand.

“Where’s Arden?” She asked, trying to pull away from him.

“He’s not here,” the priest said, stroking her head fur. “But don’t worry, I’ll be here with you. I’ll keep you safe.”

Sheila gave him a fearful look that was mixed with confusion and pain. “You won’t hurt me?”

“No,” he replied softly, as he continued to stroke her headfur. “I would never hurt you Sheila, you know that. I would never intentionally do anything to hurt you.”

The words seemed to cut through the fog of the drugs, calming the vixen down. “Will you stay with me tonight?”

Anatol nodded. “Sure. I’ll stay with you for as long as you like.”

“Forever?” she mumbled.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Anatol replied.

“It should,” Sheila complained as she slipped off to sleep.

“Yeah, it should,” he replied quietly.

Zig Zag continued toweling her headfur as she opened the door to the bathroom. “Shower’s all yours,” she said, returning to the bathroom.

“Thanks,” James replied without moving a muscle. He lay flat on his back on the bed, with his knees at the edge and his lower legs dangling.

Removing the towel, she began brushing out the long fur, occasionally fighting with a tangle. “Hey, James?”

“Yeah?” He called back without moving.

“What did you think of Anatol?”

Turning his head towards the bathroom, James considered the question. “He seems like a nice enough guy. Why?”

Zig Zag walked back over to the doorway and leaned against the doorjamb. “Just wondering,” she replied, thoughtfully.

“What did you think of him?”

Absent-mindedly brushing her headfur, Zig Zag pursed her lips for a moment before answering. “I don’t know. I guess he’s a nice guy and all.”

“But?” the coyote prompted.

Zig Zag stopped brushing her hair, ambled over to the bed and sat down. “I don’t know. It’s just that when I’m talking to him I get this feeling. It’s like we’ve met before.”

“Maybe you have. After all, he is your cousin. Maybe you met him at one of your family reunions and you just don’t remember it clearly,” he suggested.

“Not likely,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know. It’s weird. That and him mentioning old Aunt Mishka.” She frowned and shook her head again before resuming her brushing.

“Why is that important?” James asked, running his fingers through Zig Zag’s still damp tail fur.

“I remember she came and visited us when I was about fifteen,” she said as the brush strokes slowed to a crawl. “She was talking to my mother and thought I was out of earshot. Mishka made a comment to the effect that they were lucky I was the only one who’d inherited my grandfather’s stripes.” Turning to look at him, she frowned slightly. “I don’t see how she would make a comment like that if she’d known about Anatol.”

“Maybe she didn’t,” James suggested. “Or maybe that was before some other unfortunate descendant of your grandfathers got struck with the curse of the tiger!”

“James!” Zig Zag complained as she thumped his belly with the flat of her brush. “Be nice!”

James let out a solid “Oof!” as he wrapped his arms over his stomach to protect himself from further abuse. Letting out a loud groan, he sat upright on the edge of the bed, supporting his back with one hand.

“You OK?” she asked, all playfulness aside.

“Yeah, I’m OK,” he grudgingly admitted. “I’m just a little stiff from the rough handling your boy Tiny gave me this afternoon.” Groaning again, he stood up and began shuffling towards the bathroom, hunched over slightly.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, James,” Zig Zag said as she rose to follow him. “How about you let me make it up to you?”

James chuckled. “I don’t think I’m in any shape for one of your apologies.”

“Then what about this? Why don’t we climb into the Jacuzzi and you let me massage your back,” she suggested, allowing the bathrobe to slip off her shoulders and catching it with one hand.

“Didn’t you just get dried off?” James asked, eyeing her narrowly as he straightened himself up with a hand on the doorjamb.

Zig Zag put her arms around his waist and gave him a kiss before giving him a mischievous grin. “You of all people should know that I don’t mind getting wet.”

James shook his head and let out a light chuckle. “That almost makes getting injured worth it.”