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 12

Collision of personalities.

James threw the van’s gearshift into park before turning off the engine. Rather than climbing out of the vehicle immediately, he closed his eyes and gave a brief prayer to whatever god there may be that he’d managed to arrive at the hospice without further incident. He’d never come so close to wanting to hit someone in his life as he had during that brief but stress-filled trip. Climbing out of the vehicle, he slammed the door a little harder than was probably necessary before walking around to the other side of the vehicle. He arrived just as Zig Zag finished opening the sliding door.

“So this is it?” Sheila asked as she peered out of the van. The simple two-story building resembled an office building more than it did a medical facility. The only indicator that it was a hospice was the sign out front that read ‘Oak Forest Park Lawn Medical Center.’ Climbing out of the van, Sheila blinked at the sunlight for a moment before shaking her head. “Sure doesn’t look like an asylum. Where are all the bars and stuff?”

“It’s not an asylum,” Anatol said, correcting the vixen. “This is a kind of hospice. There are no bars because everyone who comes here does so voluntarily.” He pulled a couple of small bags out of the rear of the van and held them out to the vixen. “Here.”

“Oh! Thanks,” Sheila said, accepting the bags.

Anatol unloaded the double-kit stroller and quickly set it up as Zig Zag unstrapped the infants. He dug out the oversized diaper bag before giving Zig Zag a hand transferring the kits to the stroller. Satisfied that they had everything they needed, Anatol slid the door closed.

“Shall we?” Anatol asked, putting his arm around Sheila’s shoulder.

“Do we have to?” the vixen asked, resisting for a moment before allowing herself to be escorted to the building.

When they got to the front door, they saw a small intercom with a button and a sign over it reading ‘Press button for access.’ James reached out and pressed the button. A moment later a voice spoke “How may I help you?”

“Miss Sheila Vixen’s here to check in,” James replied. His only answer was the buzzing of the door lock. Grabbing the handle, James pulled the door open before the lock could reengage.

A blast of cool air greeted the ensemble as they entered the building. Sheila looked around and saw a pleasantly furnished waiting area with two doors to both sides and a window in the far wall, behind which a female Doberman Pincher could be seen. The nurse put a clipboard and a pen up on the counter as the group walked up. “The doctor will be with you in a moment; meanwhile please fill out this paperwork.”

Sheila picked up the clipboard and took a seat on a chair next to where Anatol sat. Clicking the pen, she began to carefully fill out the paperwork. When she got to the part about insurance, Sheila looked up at Zig Zag and gave her a quirky smile. “Zig? Am I still covered under the studio insurance?”

Zig Zag nodded and dug around in her purse briefly before removing her wallet. She extracted an insurance card and silently passed it over to the vixen who copied the information off before returning it.

A few moments later, a tall orangutan wearing a smart looking, three-piece suit entered the room. “Good afternoon. I’m doctor Spivey.” He looked at Sheila and nodded. “You must be Miss Vixen,” he declared, holding out his hand.

Sheila stood and somewhat hesitantly shook the doctor’s hand. “Yes, I am,” she admitted, hastily drawing her hand back.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the doctor declared with a genuine smile. “I’ve read so much about you. It’s nice to finally get a chance to meet you.”

Sheila scowled at the doctor. “You have?”

“Oh, of course. Not only have I kept up with the news of your disappearance, something I believe everyone in Columbus has probably done, but I’ve also been faxed a copy of your records from Ohio General and the FBI.”

“Oh,” the vixen replied, not sure how to feel about that.

“Don’t worry, my dear,” the doctor said, putting a hand on the door he’d entered from. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other over the next few weeks.” Pulling the door open as the lock buzzed, the doctor held it open for everyone to pass through.

Sheila paused before walking through. “I thought you said there weren’t going to be any locks,” she complained to Zig Zag.

“There aren’t,” the doctor said, waving her through. “Anyone can leave at any time. The doors are only locked from the outside. I don’t think you’ll have any problem with feeling locked in.”

Sheila nodded and stepped through the door, noting the fact that it did have a handle that would probably open the door. She involuntarily jumped a little as the door latched shut behind the doctor.

Noting Sheila’s jumpy mood, the doctor proceeded down the hallway, talking as he went. “The first floor is comprised of mostly public rooms. We have two different TV rooms and a game room with a few video games as well as the traditional board games. We also have several rooms that can be used for any purpose, from temporary housing to holding meetings as well as group therapy sessions. Down here on the right is the cafeteria. Breakfast is served from six to nine a.m., lunch from ten thirty to one thirty and dinner from four thirty to eight. Visiting hours are from eight a.m. to nine p.m.”

“What happens if I get hungry outside those hours?” Sheila asked.

The doctor nodded at the question. “Each room has a small private refrigerator for drinks and snacks in the room. The orderlies also have keys to the kitchen if you feel you need a midnight sandwich.”

“You let people use the kitchen?” the vixen asked incredulously.

“Oh yes,” the doctor exclaimed, pausing to face her. “In fact, last year we had a very prominent cooking show host as a guest. He requested and was given permission to fix meals for our patients.”

“I’m surprised you allow that,” James commented, crossing his arms.

“Quite the contrary,” the doctor said with a laugh. “We encourage it. We feel that it helps for the patient to feel like they’re doing something useful. It can get pretty boring sitting around, watching TV in between sessions. If a patient decides they want to help the staff out and their doctor has no objections to it, then they’re more than happy to help contribute.”

“I’ll bet that saves some on staffing fees,” Sheila quipped.

“Actually, it doesn’t. We have to pay for a full staff irregardless of any help a patient might offer,” the doctor said. “Let’s say Sheila decided to help in the laundry. We wouldn’t let one of the housing staff go. She would just help them out with their work load.” Clapping his hands together, the doctor turned and nodded towards the inner courtyard, which could be seen through the broad glass walls of the cafeteria. “As you can see, we have a modest courtyard where patients are encouraged to go if they’re feeling shut in.”

Turning he continued down the hallway, nodding towards an elderly raccoon who was using a walker to get around. “Afternoon, Miss McGonigal. How’s your hip today?”

“Doing quite well, doctor. Thank you,” the elderly female replied as she continued to shuffle her way down the hall.

The doctor paused next to a pair of swinging double doors that led to an indoor pool. “This is the pool. We’ve got a hot tub and sauna, which are open to all patients. The physical therapy room is just past the showers there.”

“Wait!” Sheila barked, confused for a moment. “Physical therapy? I thought this was a psychiatric hospital!”

“Actually, it’s a multi-purpose facility,” the doctor explained. “We handle all forms of cases here including psychiatric. You’ll find people recovering from traumas, undergoing chemotherapy, others here for addiction problems and, of course, people who are here for purely psychiatric reasons.”

“Oh. That’s cool,” Sheila commented with a smile. This place wasn’t sounding so bad after all.

“Shall we go take a look at your room?” the doctor asked, stopping at a bank of elevators. Exiting off the second floor, the doctor turned and led the group down another set of halls. “All of the rooms here are either private or semi-private depending on the needs of the patient. Miss Vixen will be in a private room, as per your request. Ah, here we are.” Pausing at a room, he pushed open the door and stepped in.

Sheila stepped into the room and looked around. It had the standard hospital bed, but the rest of the furnishings were more like what you’d find in a house. There was a dresser with a mirror, a night-stand by the bed with a lamp and a phone on it and a TV on a stand which could be moved if necessary. Sheila set her bags down on the floor and hopped up onto the bed. “Well, it’s not quite what I’m used to, but I think I’ll be able to manage.”

The doctor smiled and nodded. “Good. Well, how about we let you get settled in while Miss Zumbrowski and I take care of some paperwork that she needs to sign?”

Zig Zag started to correct the doctor, but instead simply smiled and nodded.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll stay here with the kits until you’re all done,” Anatol suggested, setting the diaper bag down on the floor.

“Um, can’t they take the kits with them?” Sheila asked, frowning at the double stroller.

“No they can’t,” the priest declared, crossing his arms. “You’ll just have to suffer through being around them for a little longer.”

Zig Zag shrugged her shoulders, turned and walked out of the room. She stopped at the far side of the hall and waited for the others.

“OK,” James said, giving the pair a wary look. “You two be good while we’re gone.” Turning, he followed the doctor out of the room.

Sheila gave a derisive snort. “Why does he have to treat us like kids. We’re adults. We can do what we want, right?”

“No, we can’t,” Anatol replied. “I’m a priest. There are a lot of things that I want to do but can’t.”

“But that shouldn’t stop us from being together,” Sheila complained, hugging the pillow to her stomach. “I mean, lots of ministers and the like get married.”

Anatol sighed as he shook his head. “Not Catholic priests, Sheila.”

“But we belong together! You said it! God had you become a priest so that you could meet me in my time of need,” the vixen pleaded.

“Yes, he did, but that doesn’t mean he wants me to give up the priesthood to be with you. What if there are more people I’m supposed to help? What if leaving the priesthood means that nobody is there to help them? What then?” Anatol shook his head and stared at the floor. “I’m afraid that it’s just not to be.”

“It’s not fair,” Sheila whined, flopping over on her side.

“Nobody ever said life was fair,” the priest replied. “Besides, in another six months or a year, you’ll probably find some good looking guy that you just can’t live without and you’ll forget all about me.”

“I already found two guys and now they’re both dead,” Sheila said as she curled into a ball around the pillow. “Now I find you and you don’t want to be with me.”

“I want to be with you, Sheila, but I can’t,” the priest replied with a heavy sigh.

“You could if you really wanted to,” the vixen complained again.

“All right, Sheila. I’ll do it,” Anatol said, watching the vixen’s ears perk up as she looked up at him. “On one condition.”

“What condition?” she asked, sitting up.

“You’ve got to accept the kits as your own and agree to raise them,” he replied.

“No way!” Sheila barked and then frowned. “I don’t love those kits, but I do love you, and you love me. It’s not fair asking me to do something like that.”

“And is it fair to ask me to give up being a priest?” Anatol snarled back, taking the vixen by surprise with his outburst. “These are the only kits you’ll ever have!”

“They’re the reason I’ll never have any more kits!” Sheila snapped.

“That’s not true and you know it! You might as well blame the eggs you had for breakfast that day, or maybe it was the fact that you had the window seat rather than the isle seat. Or how about we blame what was really most likely the cause, eh? How about we blame the heavy turbulence we ran into shortly after takeoff?” Anatol stood and grabbed Sheila by the front of her shirt while pointing at the kits. “They did nothing to you. They don’t deserve this, Sheila. You can sit there and whine about how unfair everything is for you, but just remember that you’re being even more unfair to your kits!” His anger spent, Anatol released the vixen, sat back down and buried his muzzle in his hands.

Doctor Spivey took a seat at his desk and opened the folder that sat on top. Removing several documents, he examined them while he spoke. “All right, Miss Zumbrowski. Your lawyer sent over the court paperwork showing that you have custody of Miss Vixen, so we need to have you sign a few pieces of paper.” He glanced up long enough to see Zig Zag nod. “This first paper gives us permission to medicate Miss Vixen during her stay. The next one is a consent form giving us very limited but specific powers should Miss Vixen require emergency medical attention.”

“Emergency medical attention?” James echoed. “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

The doctor nodded. “Miss Vixen has been through a great deal. One of the things she will have to face as she works through what happened will be various states of depression. Although we will take the appropriate measures to insure that she doesn’t hurt herself, there is always the chance that she’ll find a way. If that happens, having the authority to control her medical treatment until Miss Zumbrowski can come to the hospital may be crucial.” He pulled out another form and glanced at it before also passing it over. “This last one is a wavier in case Miss Vixen requests work and is injured while doing it. Keep in mind that we’ll take all the appropriate precautions, but accidents do happen.”

Zig Zag nodded and removed one of the pens that sat in a combination nameplate and penholder. The plate had the name “Doctor John Spivey, MD” engraved on a brass plaque. She signed the forms and then handed them back.

“OK. That’s about it,” the doctor said, leaning back in his chair. “Do you have any questions?”

Zig Zag glanced at James out of the corner of her eye then shook her head.

“Nope,” James replied.

“Well, that’s that, then,” the doctor said, standing. “Miss Vixen should be settled in by now. You can take your time saying goodbye. You remember your way back?”

James nodded. “Yes, we do.”

The doctor stood and smiled as he shook their hands. “Good. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a group session starting in five minutes that I need to attend to, so if you don’t mind I won’t be walking you back.”

“Not a problem, doctor. Thanks for all your help,” James said, giving the orangutan a firm handshake.

“It’s my pleasure. Please, if there’s anything else we can do to help, just let me know,” the doctor said, escorting the two from his office.

Without further conversation, James and Zig Zag walked back to Sheila’s room. James knocked on the door as they entered noting that the priest was sitting on a chair while Sheila was lying down with her back to the door. “All settled in?” he asked, noticing that the vixen’s bags were still sitting on the floor where she had dropped them. “Is everything OK?”

Sheila’s muffled voice echoed off the far wall. “I’m fine. Go away.”

James and Zig Zag both glowered at the priest.

Anatol stopped rocking the stroller with his foot and shrugged. “Sheila’s upset because she can’t have her way,” the priest explained as he stood up. He picked up the large diaper bag and slung it over his shoulder. “She has to realize that no matter how much you may want something, that does not mean that you can have it.”

Zig Zag walked over to the bed and put a hand on Sheila’s shoulder, only to have the vixen roll further away so that she faced the mattress. Frowning, the tiger stripped skunk leaned over and kissed the vixen on the cheek before straightening back up. She turned and shot the priest a harsh, dangerous look that made it clear that she had a problem with him. Disgusted with the situation, Zig Zag took the kit stroller and rolled it out of the room.

“I’ll stop by tomorrow to make sure everything’s OK,” Anatol said, giving the vixen’s shoulder a squeeze.

Sheila pulled away from the priests grasp. “Don’t bother,” she grumbled.

Anatol let out a long sigh as he turned and walked from the room. His ears wilted at the look the coyote gave him as he walked by. He followed Zig Zag out, lost in his own thoughts about what had been said and how he might have handled it better. He had just tossed the diaper bag in the back when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Zig Zag giving him a stern look. “Yes?”

“I don’t want you seeing Sheila anymore,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?” the priest replied, shocked and yet somehow not surprised by the declaration.

“I don’t want you to see Sheila anymore,” Zig Zag repeated.

Anatol shook his head. “I know that you think there is something going on between us, but there isn’t,” the priest declared. “Yes, I do care for Sheila, but that’s all. Nothing is going to happen. I’m a priest. My vows don’t allow for it.”

“Priests have broken their vows before,” Zig Zag stated flatly.

“I’m not that kind of priest!” he shot back. “You know nothing about me!”

James saw Zig Zag’s hackles start to rise and moved in between the pair. “Zig! Calm down,” he said, preventing her from making whatever retort she had lined up. He turned to the priest and frowned. “It’s not that we’re worried about you doing anything, we’re just worried about Sheila. She’s obsessed with you. We’re worried that if you’re around, she’s not going to work at getting better.”

Anatol nodded. “I understand completely. I’m not trying to make things more difficult. I just want to be there to support her, the same as you do.”

“The same as you were supporting her when I walked in on Saturday afternoon?” she snapped.

“I already explained what happened,” the priest growled. “Why can’t you understand that I was trying to console her and nothing more?”

“I know how you Catholics work,” Zig Zag spat. “Every time my father raped me, he would go to confession and the priest would absolve him of his sins. Why should it be any different if you’re a priest? Why should I believe that you’re any better than any other self-righteous, religious piece of kit-fucking trash that’s out there?”

“Zig Zag! Stop it!” James barked, holding his hand up in front of her. “Not another word!” He took her arm and walked her to the front passenger door and opened it for her. “I’ll deal with this.”

Zig Zag was fuming, but rather than argue, climbed into the van and slammed the door shut.

James rubbed the bridge of his snout as he turned back to the priest. “I’m sorry about that.”

“I had no idea,” Anatol muttered, shocked by his cousin’s outburst. “Please, believe me. I would never do anything like that!”

James shook his head. “Look, it’s all right. Even I didn’t know until recently.” He sighed as he ran his hands through his head fur. “Just do me a favor and stay away from Sheila for a while. Give them both a week or so to settle down and then we’ll see what happens, OK?”

Anatol nodded. “All right.” Turning to the van, he reached in and pulled his bag from the rear and slung it over his shoulder.

“You don’t want a ride to the church?” James asked, eyeing the priest with curiosity.

“No thank you,” he replied, smiling. “I saw a Roebuck’s a couple of blocks from here. I think I’ll go have a cup of coffee and see about a ride from someone at the church.”

“Are you sure?” James asked, genuinely concerned. “It really is no trouble.”

Anatol glanced at the van and nodded. “I think it might be better if I walked. Besides, the exercise will do me good.”

“You’re choice,” James replied, extending his hand to the priest.

Anatol looked at the hand for a moment, before accepting it. He then turned and walked away.

James shook his head and turned to the kit stroller and started the process of transferring the kits into their car seats.

Logan leaned back and watched Troy’s expression as he watched the video that had recently been completed. He smiled at the varied shocked and stunned looks the rabbit gave the screen. His grin widened as the credits began to run. “What did you think?

“Dude! You really gonna put that on the air?” the milky brown rabbit asked, giving the reporter a wide-eyed look of amazement.

“No, but I do plan on showing it to Zig Zag,” Logan replied.

“Dude!” The rabbit drawled. “You show that to Zig Zag and she’ll rip into you so bad that they’re gonna have to use a vacuum to pick up all the pieces!”

“Really?” the ferret said, giving the rabbit a smile that made the lapin shudder. “Then my work here is done.”

The silence in the van had been oppressive. To add to the annoyance level, the headache James had picked up half way between Pittsburgh and Columbus had doubled in intensity despite his having taken a couple of Tylenol. Stopping for a stop sign, James glanced at Zig Zag and noted that she still looked pissed. The twenty-minute trip from the hospital to her subdivision had been made in total silence with Zig Zag sulking in the passenger seat. James pulled into her driveway and put the minivan into park. Before he could turn off the engine, Zig Zag had climbed out of the van and had slammed the door hard enough to wake up the twins, setting them off like a pair of air raid sirens. Briefly the coyote rubbed the bridge of his snout between his eyes before opening his door and climbing out.

Walking around to the passenger side of the van, James saw Zig Zag fighting with the double stroller which had gotten hung up on something in the back. “Here, let me help,” he said, reaching for the stroller. He jerked his hand back when Zig Zag slapped it out of the way. James let out a long sigh and sat down on the running board. “Zig, I’m sorry! How many times do I have to say it?”

Zig Zag gave him a sideways glance before finally yanking the stroller free, bringing one of her overnight bags with it. She shook the stroller so that it would open and locked the frame into place.

“What’s gotten into you?” the coyote demanded. “You’ve been riding Anatol’s ass ever since he got into the van this morning!”

“I don’t like him,” she snarled.

“That’s no reason to go off on him the way you did,” James replied, standing up. He turned and unlocked the kit seat and removed it from its mount.

“You didn’t see him!” Zig Zag snapped, turning to face him. “He looked like a kid caught with his hand in the candy jar! I tell you, he was up to something!”

“Of course he looked guilty!” James declared, setting the seat on the ground. “Any guy would look guilty in a situation like that! Hell, even I would have looked guilty in a situation like that!”

“He’s up to something,” Zig Zag said, pulling her other bag as well as James’ from the back of the van. “I don’t trust him.”

James reached in and unlocked the second car seat, removing it along with the crying kit from the van. “You don’t know that. As far as I can tell, his only crime is that Sheila has a crush on him. So far, he hasn’t done anything wrong.” He set the seat down next to the other one while squatting in front of them. Reaching out with both hands, he began to play with the kits in an attempt to quiet them down.

“You don’t know that for sure either,” Zig Zag grumbled. She paused and looked at the two kit seats and the stroller she’d set up. “Why’d you take the seats out?”

James looked over at the stroller and shrugged. “I don’t know. Seemed just as easy to carry the seats in as it would be to use the stroller.”

“What am I supposed to do with the stroller?” she complained, tossing the diaper bag on the ground in disgust.

James stood and walked over to the small pile of luggage. One at a time he put each piece into the stroller, stacking everything so they wouldn’t fall out. He then turned to Zig Zag and smiled. “Adapt, improvise, and overcome.”

Zig Zag groaned, rolling her eyes before closing the minivan door.

James picked up the two kit seats and waited on Zig Zag to lead the way inside the house. “I think we should get these two inside before someone calls the cops on us for disturbing the peace.”

Zig Zag looked down at the two kits and let out a long, tired breath. “Sure. Get ‘em inside where the sound will reverberate.” Shaking her head, she grabbed the handles to the stroller and wheeled it over to the front door of the house. She spent a minute unlocking the front door before turning the knob and pushing it open only to have the door run into something after a few inches. Cursing, she banged her head against the door.

James cocked his head at the scene. “What’s wrong?”

“I put the doorstop up before I left,” Zig Zag said, pulling the door shut. “In about fifteen seconds the security alarm is going to go nuts. You wait here. I’m going to get in by the back door and deactivate the alarm.” Taking off at a sprint, Zig Zag raced around towards the back of the house.

“Hear that, kids?” James asked, lifting the two squalling kits so they faced him. “You’re about to get out shouted by Auntie Zig Zag’s house.” No sooner had he said that, then his ears slammed back against his head at the sound of the wailing alarm system. He winced as both kits redoubled their efforts to be heard, this time in competition with the alarm system. A minute later the siren for the alarm suddenly stopped, leaving only the sound of the kits and a ringing in his ears. A few seconds later, he saw the front door swing open as Zig Zag ran to answer the phone.

Stepping into the house, James pushed the door with a foot to close it before walking into the kitchen. He sat the kits down on the table before sitting down himself and then began rocking the seats in an attempt to try to calm the kits down.

Zig Zag held a hand to her ear while she talked to the security company on the phone in an attempt to hear them better. Once she’d convinced them that there really wasn’t anything wrong, she was able to finally hang up the phone. Leaning heavily on the counter, Zig Zag turned to help with the kits just as she heard a voice at the front door. Stepping out of the kitchen, she saw her neighbor standing in the doorway.

“Ah, there you are!” Mrs. Wolfe said, stepping fully into the house. “I heard the alarm go off and came over to make sure everything was OK.”

“Everything’s just fine, thank you,” Zig Zag said, stepping outside momentarily to retrieve the stroller full of luggage. She dragged it up the step and into the house before pushing the door closed.

“Sounds like you have your hands full,” the matronly squirrel said as she walked towards the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway and smiled. “Oh, what beautiful kits!” she squealed as she walked over to the table. “I assume these are Sheila’s?”

James nodded. “Yeah, they are.”

“Ooooh, aren’t they adorable!” the squirrel cooed, leaning over for a closer look. “What are their names?”

Zig Zag bit off a snide retort as she walked in and put on a pleasant smile. “Baby X and Y,” she said.

The squirrel stood up and gave the kits a confused look. “X and Y? What kind of names are those?”

“Temporary,” Zig Zag replied, walking over to stand next to the female. “Sheila hasn’t picked names out for them quite yet.”

“She hasn’t? But that’s crazy! She should have had names picked out before they were born!” the squirrel declared.

Zig Zag took a deep breath and counted to five before letting it out. “Look, Sandy, this wasn’t exactly your ordinary pregnancy,” she said, trying to remain calm. “It’s not like Sheila was taken in for regular prenatal exams or ultrasounds. Hell, she didn’t even know she was going to have twins. She didn’t even expect to keep the kits once they were born! You can’t blame her for not having chosen a name.”

“But it’s been four days now. She should have picked a name by now,” the squirrel insisted.

“Sheila’s been through a rough time. It’s going to take her a while to adjust to things. If she doesn’t pick a name in the next week or so, I’ll pick one. Until then, we just have to be patient.” Zig Zag took the woman by the arm and gently led her towards the front door. “Now if you don’t mind, we’ve had a really long day. We’re both tired and we’d like to get the kits settled in so we can take a nap.”

Sandy pulled away and turned back towards the kitchen. “Oh, I’d be glad to take care of them for you while you take your nap,” she offered.

Again, Zig Zag took her arm and walked her to the door. “That’s quite all right. Thank you. Why don’t you go home and if we need any help with the kits, I promise that I’ll call.”

“You’re sure?” the squirrel asked, glancing back towards the kitchen where the crying had diminished substantially.

“I’m positive,” Zig Zag declared. “Thanks for stopping by,” she said with a smile before closing and locking the door. “Please don’t come back again soon,” she muttered under her breath. Walking back into the kitchen, she saw James with one of the kits cradled in his arms while he rocked it gently. Zig Zag picked up the other kit and started rocking it also, hoping it would quite down quickly. She looked up at James and noticed he was staring at her oddly. “What?”

“Sheila’s been through a rough time,” he said, smiling. “She just needs a little time. You have to be patient with her. She’ll pick a name eventually.” He let out a bark of laugher. “That sounds almost exactly like what Anatol’s been saying to you for the last few days.”

Zig Zag frowned. “Just for that, no sex for you tonight, boyo!”

James laughed for a second before returning his attention to the kit who had finally stopped crying. “You know, Zig, somehow I don’t think we’re going to have enough energy left for that after these kits are done with us,” he said with a wistful smile.

Zig let the frown fade and gave him a brief smile. “Tell me about it.”

Sheila lay back on her bed, idly flipping through the channels on the TV when she heard a knock on the door. Looking over, she saw the same Doberman Pincher nurse who’d been sitting at the front desk standing in the doorway. She hit the mute button before sitting up. “Something I can help you with?”

The nurse stepped into the room. “My name is Nurse Ratched. I’m the senior duty nurse here. It’s my job to go over the rules with you and ensure that you get settled in.” She strode purposefully into the room and stood near the foot of the bed. “Do you have the paperwork you were given earlier all filled out?”

“Oops,” Sheila said, looking a bit embarrassed. She walked over to the dresser and retrieved the clipboard and pen. “I’m sorry. I got distracted and didn’t quite finish it up.”

Nurse Ratched nodded and made a note on her clipboard. “That’s quite all right. Please complete the paperwork as soon as you can. Meanwhile, I need to ask you a few questions. Do you have any allergies?”

“No,” Sheila replied, shaking her head.

The nurse made a check mark on her form. “Do you have any special dietary needs?”

Again the vixen shook her head. “Not really.”

“Good,” the nurse replied, making another check. She opened the clip and removed a piece of paper from the bottom and set it on top. “These are the house rules,” she said, handing the paper to Sheila. “The rules are quite simple. Curfew is nine p.m. There is no smoking in the building. If you need to smoke, there is a designated area outside in the courtyard. The pool is open twenty-four hours; however we request that after nine p.m. you inform one of the staff members before using it. The same goes for the hot tub and sauna.

“While food is permitted in patient’s rooms, we discourage eating it anywhere else other than the cafeteria. Drinks are permitted in the TV and gaming rooms as well as at the sessions. Please remember that this isn’t your mother’s house and although we do have a cleaning staff, you are responsible for cleaning up after yourself. If you bring dishes into your room from the cafeteria, please return them as soon as you’re done eating.

“You are required to wear clothing at all times except when inside of your bathroom in order to prevent any accidental exposure. Laundry is done on a daily basis. There is a laundry bag in the top drawer of your dresser with your room number on it. Fill the bag and leave it setting outside your door in the morning and it will be returned that afternoon.

“Beds are changed every other day unless there has been an accident. If you require any special sleeping arrangements, let us know and we’ll try to accommodate your needs. Remember that this is a private facility and that people often come here seeking confidentiality and security. Please do not discuss anything regarding any other patient you may meet here without their permission. Do you have any questions?”

Sheila stared at the nurse for a moment, her head spinning. She blinked and nodded. “Um, yea,” she replied, looking down at the paper. “It says here that curfew is nine p.m. You’re telling me I have to be in bed by nine?”

“Not in the least,” the nurse declared. “Curfew is for being inside of the building. When you leave, you should check out at the front desk and check in when you return. Though the nurse at the front desk will allow you in after curfew, you’ll have to explain yourself to the administrator. This is for your security and not our convenience.”

“Right,” Sheila drawled, nodding. “Um, I like sleeping in the nude. Your rule about being dressed at all times kind of screws that up, doesn’t it?”

The nurse pursed her lips and frowned. “In that case, please make sure that your blinds are drawn and your door is fully closed. However, I encourage you to get used to wearing at least a basic nightgown. If there were to be a fire or other emergency, you might have trouble finding clothing while being evacuated.”

Sheila laughed. “Being naked doesn’t bother me, really.”

“It may not bother you; however, you aren’t the only person involved,” the nurse said in a cold voice. “There are other patients to consider, not all of whom are adults.”

“Ah. I see,” Sheila said, nodding. “I’ll find something to wear then.”

The nurse nodded. “Are there any other questions?”

Sheila looked over the list and shook her head.

“Good.” She removed another piece of paper and handed it to Sheila. “This is your schedule. You have an appointment with Doctor Spivey at nine thirty in the morning tomorrow. Doctor Spivey holds his group sessions Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. You missed the one for today so your next one will be on Wednesday. The schedule is printed on that paper. You’ll pick up your medication from the duty nurse at the scheduled time. If there’s a problem picking it up, we’ll arrange to have someone bring it to you. Do you have any questions?”

“What’s a group session like?” Sheila asked, reading over the paper.

“You’ll need to discuss that with Doctor Spivey,” the nurse replied. “If you find yourself feeling panicked, shut in or otherwise in any form of emotional distress, please find any of the staff immediately and let us know. If something happens in the room here and you need help, just press the button on the intercom and someone will be with you as soon as possible.”

Sheila nodded. “OK.”

The nurse tucked the clipboard under her arm and nodded. “Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work.” Turning, she marched out the door and disappeared down the corridor.

Looking over the paperwork again, Sheila sighed. She tossed the papers the nurse had just given her on the bed and began filling out the forms on the clipboard. So far this place didn’t sound so bad, but she hoped that the rest of the staff wasn’t as tight-assed as that nurse was.