The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Ten

Foxglove was quite anxious as she returned from the concert. The singing was beautiful, but it was difficult to properly appreciate it, the way she had ducked out on Dale earlier hadn't set well with her. The uncertainty evident in Dale's voice when she left caused her to worry... What if the effort to elicit more affection from her chipmunk had actually pushed him away? Part of Foxglove wanted to return to the mill as swiftly as possible in hopes of finding that her plan had succeeded... but another was terrified that it may have backfired and wanted to put off that discovery as long as possible.

"Well, here we are," Bert proclaimed as they arrived within sight of the mill, "See ya' later, Foxglove!"

"Yeah, maybe we can spend more time together tomorrow night!" Bernie tacked on as the three parted.

"Yeah, see ya'," Foxglove responded blandly. Hopefully I won't have time to spend with you both tomorrow night, she thought. Landing in the hanger she cautiously looked about. Chip and Dee were off on their own in one corner of the spacious room, Monty was seated in the chair facing the television with Zipper perched atop the seat back... but no Dale. However, the rear of two furry ears appeared over the back of the couch and quickly disappeared. Foxglove wondered what he was doing, she couldn't hear anything really distinctive. As she slowly approached she overheard Dale make a disappointed grunt followed by what sounded like scratching. Oh, I hope he's not mad at me, she fretted.

Zipper was the first to notice her and piped up with a cheery, "Hi, Foxy!" and waved.

Monterey then took note of her arrival with a hearty, "Welcome back, luv!"

Foxglove noticed Dale's head pop up, then sharply pivot about. The way that only his large startled eyes appeared over the back of the couch caused her to giggle in spite of her anxiety. His head quickly turned back around and, for a moment, Foxglove feared he was planing to give her the silent treatment. Though, as she heard the hurried ruffling of paper, he finally greeted her. "Hey, Foxy!" she declared, still looking forward as he tried to hide his attempt at poetry, "I, uh I mean we didn't expect you back this early!"

"Well, considering everything that's happened today, I wasn't up to staying around for the rest of the show," Foxglove explained. "Were you writing something when I came in?" she asked, noticing the pencil laying nearby and connecting it to the rustling paper she'd heard.

"No, I mean yes, I mean-" Dale stammered, not quite sure how to explain that he had been trying to write poetry and certainly not wanting to admit that he wasn't having an easy time of it. His response, coupled with his blushing, was all Foxglove needed to assuage her fears of damaging their relationship. "Y'know, I was thinking that I haven't been spending enough time with you," Dale eventually decided on, much to the lady's unbounded delight, "How ‘bout we go up to the roof and look at the stars? Oh wait, Raven and Fangs are up there..."

"There's a little pond next to the mill," Foxglove suggested, "That might be a nice place to spend some time alone together."

"Um, sure, that sounds ok," Dale agreed.

Leaving the mill at ground level, Dale and Foxglove strolled down to what was left of the old log pond. All around were trees that stood like columns of an ancient shrine. The darkness beyond created a wall that seemed to be made of sensuous veils... their shadows both intimidating and inviting, as if beckoning one to venture further into the night forest's all concealing embrace. The traffic from the interstate far to the north was nothing but a ghostly whisper, only occasionally audible over the soft serenade of rustling leaves and trickle of the stream that flowed into, then out of, the artificial pond.

For Foxglove, the calm of the forest seemed more alive than it would for most mammals, but still possessed a surreal silence compared to the city. But for Dale, the sylvan enclosure evoked feelings of home... not home as a Rescue Ranger, but the home he and Chip had left many years before. A stroll by the water's edge brought back fond memories of his first crush, the first girl he and Chip fought over, sly and shapely Collette. The fact that the teenage squirrel had a couple years more than either chipmunk had no effect on their attempts to gain her attention. They both knew that the only reason she agreed to go for moonlit walks with them was to infuriate her parents, but they didn't care. "I wonder what she's doing these days," Dale idly wondered aloud.

"Who?" Foxglove asked, not sure whether this ‘she' was someone to worry about or not.

"Just a girl Chip and I had a crush on when we were kids," Dale responded, "back when we still lived in the woods... the surroundings got me thinking about things back then."

"I don't think you ever told me about what you and Chip did back then," Foxglove pointed out, "For that matter, I thought you both grew up in the city."

"Nah, we grew up about seventy-some miles away, in a little tiny state park," Dale explained.

"And you moved to the city for the excitement?" Foxglove assumed.

"Um, no, actually we wanted to be musicians," Dale pointed out, "Well, professional musicians, so we could go on the road with Clarice."

"That girl you were both nuts for?" the bat giggled.

"Yeah, no, well," the chipmunk stammered as he tried to sort out the various love interests from his youth, "We were nuts for her, but Clarice wasn't that first girl Chip and I had a crush on. Clarice was a local girl who got famous as a singer. We got to perform with her when she came back around to sing at a local club... Chip and I wanted to go on the road with her, and we were good too, but her manager thought we didn't have the experience."

"So you went to the city to get discovered," Foxglove supposed.

"Sure, that's how it happened for Clarice," Dale confirmed, "But it was a lot harder than we expected... well, Chip said from the start it was going to be hard work, but I could tell even he was a little disappointed things weren't going as well as he hoped."

"So you gave up on your dream?" the young lady asked softly.

"Didn't really give up on it," Dale replied, "just got... distracted. With everything going on in a big city we started looking for more exciting things to do when we weren't rehearsing an' stuff... and with a police station right across the street there was always the chance we could tag along on a case and maybe get in a car chase or something. That's how we met Plato and Detective Drake."

"And things went from there," Foxglove finished with a smile, knowing that it was the munks' interest in ‘protecting and serving' that eventually led their paths to cross with hers.

"Yep," Dale intoned laconically.

"What instrument did you play?" Foxglove asked.

"Bass guitar," Dale answered, "Y'know, the kind that goes-," he continued as he strummed out a tune on an imaginary instrument.

"Do you still play it?" the lady inquired further, realizing she'd never seen him actually play a real musical instrument before. Air guitar along with a rock video, yes; real instrument, no.

"Well, no," Dale responded sheepishly, "been kinda busy as a Rescue Ranger and all."

"Oh," Foxglove replied out of default. But then she got an idea. "I always thought it would be so romantic to have a gentlemunk caller show up at my roost and serenade me, the kind of thing Chip might do for Doohickey... but if you're out of practice I'd understand if you couldn't-"

"Who said I was out of practice?" Dale piped up, "Chip might be out of practice, but not me! He barely even listens to music anymore... always has his nose in a book. I bet I could out serenade him any day!"

"You could?!" Foxglove asked excitedly, "That would be wonderful!"

Wait, she actually expects me to? Dale asked himself. "Well, I'd need to get my stuff out of storage... tuned up... and stuff. Then you'll see some real serenading!" Gotta remember to find out what ‘serenade' is, he added to his expanding to-do list.

As much as she loved him, Foxglove had to admit Dale did have at least one annoying fault, that being his tendency to forget things from time to time. After she and her sweetie had returned to the mill for the night, she managed to get Dee alone and broached an idea she'd had. The mouse was quite receptive to her plan. In short order, she did her part to get things rolling while everyone more or less congregated in the living room.

"Chip," Dee addressed her fiancé, "I remember you telling me you used to play the piano."

"That's right," he affirmed, "Back before Dale and I became Rescue Rangers."

"I've always loved piano by candlelight," Dee cooed, "Maybe we can find you a piano one of these days. Hm?"

"That is a wonderful idea," Chip agreed, his attempt to sound as interested as his fiancé betrayed by the uncertainty in his voice, "I haven't played in a while though."

"Don't tell me you let yourself get rusty," Dee prodded playfully, "Foxglove said Dale was going to give her a sampling of his musical talents as a demonstration of his affection for her. But if you're too rusty to do something like that for me I'll understand."

"Me? Got rusty?" Chip responded, "That's absurd! I could understand Dale having to get back into practice..."

"Oh yeah?!" Dale cut in. Within a few moments both chipmunks had blustered themselves into having to perform for their respective ladies. Doohickey and Foxglove later settled in for the night assured that their loves' competitive natures would guarantee them a good show.

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