Illustrated by DeadlyChestnut
|No. 3 – Retired|
|Species||Canadian Lynx ( Felidae )|
April 18, 1988|
|Listed height||6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)|
|Listed weight||200 lb (91 kg)|
|College||Felidae Institute of Science and Technology|
|FBA draft||2010 / Undrafted|
|Pro playing career||2010–2019|
|Career highlights and awards|
|(IC) Agent||Duncan Mulloy|
|(OOC) Usage||Can use unless I opt-out|
Cliff Matthiews is a Canadian lynx born in Aceh, Indonesia in 18th April 1988. He is the only son of Rowan Matthiews, current CEO of the World Charity Fund (WCF), and Matilda Matthiews. Born while his parents were placed to support the rural villages surrounding Aceh at the time, he was raised with a altruistic lifestyle amongst the Sumatran populace. Growing up with good education and an active role in charity organization amongst the Indonesian youths, he became a known figure with his moniker of 'Si Kucing' (meaning The Cat in Indonesian) amongst the region of northern Sumatra surrounding Aceh. He spent most of his childhood alternating between school and spending his free time with the children of the villages, engaging in various sports and consistently driving to promote ambition via sports and public education. In 1995, when Cliff was in SD Kelas 3(3rd grade primary school), Rowan Matthiews was promoted to CEO of the WCF and returned to Canada. His mother Matilda, also an employee of WCF, remained with her son and her crew until their projects were estimated to finish in the year 2002.
In his teenage years, he began to promote soccer and basketball and pushed for the establishment of courts for local schools as well as sports programs, and became active in his high school's basketball team. By then, it was the year 2002, the WCF crew stationed in North Sumatra had completed their term, and were scheduled to leave early in March that year. However, Cliff had begun organizing an inter-school province-wide charity basketball tournament for furries in Sekolah Pemerintah Manungsawan (Anthropomorph public schools)in his second year of Sekolah Menengah Atas (SMA, High school). As his mother and himself had leave the country due to arrangements between WCF and the Indonesian government, Cliff was faced with the inevitability of handing the reins of his brainchild to a friend and leaving. After consistent heated arguments with his father over the phone, Rowan Matthiews eventually managed to secure Matilda a few extra months in Aceh for her and Cliff to stay and finish his second year before leaving for Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, where he completed his final year of high school.
The charity tournament had a record amount of viewers for a sporting event on local television as well as a full house for the final game between the schools of Banda Raya and Darul Imrah. The success of the event attracted the Dewan Perwakilan Manungsawan's (DPM, Indonesian Department of Anthropomorph Representatives) education sector, causing them push for greater involvement in furry sports in the region in school education.
College & Pre-FBA
During his three-year bachelor's degree in Ecology at Felidae Institute of Science and Technology, Topeka, Kansas, Cliff Matthiews was part of the basketball team. As a point guard, he demonstrated a fair ability to maintain a leadership role and being adaptable and capable of shifting around the court to fill gaps for his team. His university consistently reached the semi-finals of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 inter-state tournaments, though were knocked out by fierce contenders such as Lapine State University and Underwood College. Following graduation, Cliff began work in his parents' hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada as part of the local government's urban development and conservation analyst team for Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park. After 3 years, he returned to the United States and, under heavy recommendation and encouragement from his long-time friend Reeve Alonse forwarded his name to the FBA 2010 Draft, where he received a 1-year contract with the Alaska Arctics.
The Bernheim Ring
Shortly before the passing of coach Marcus Bernheim of the Tucson Demons and the Montana Howlers, Rowan Matthiews had been given one of the ten Bernheim coaching rings in person in Canada, 1993. It was during his congratulatory party following his official instatement as CEO of the World Charity Fund, a common sponsor of the Furry Basketball Association after they had met and talked. In an interview, Rowan Matthiews mused that the ring was given as a reminder of the costs a father must pay in working the hardest he could be, alluding to Bernheim's relationship with his son and grandchild. While he did not explicitly state it, he only understood why he was given the ring much later when he began to argue with his own child, Cliff.
Upon his entry into Felidae Institute of Science and Technology's basketball team, Rowan had given the ring to Cliff to keep, which he held until his application into the FBA, where it was bought at a charity auction for a value of $1.000.000, the money given to fund the WCF's project of assisting the rehabilitation and rebuilding of regions still suffering the aftermath of the 2004 South-East Asia Tsunami.
FBA Career: 2010-2013
Joining the Alaska Arctics over additional offers by the Spokane Rapids and Williamsburg Minutemen for primary reasons being that it was closer to home and the residence of his uncle, ex-MVP Howler Andrew Lambert, the lynx spent most of his first year on reserve, finding limited playtime to accommodate the fact he was out of professional practice for three years while he worked in Nanaimo. His above average performance was often compared to Paul Schäfer of the Montana Howlers, another rookie in the same draft year, often building into a notable rivalry every time they competed with each other. After the first six months, Cliff slowly began to appear more and more often on the bench, supporting Kasa Yalenchka as point guard, or Leo Seppala as shooting guard, frequently trading places with Julia Fernández and Olya Gala.
Prior to his second year, Cliff organized the 2011 OAthletic-World Charity Fund Basketball Tournament and Fair in Montreal, Canada, which included several attractions for new potential draftees and current FBA veterans to participate and draw a crowd to raise funds to support relief efforts in earthquake-stricken Japan. While it was also a smashing success with food, drinks and attractions and stellar basketball performances by FBA players and potential draftees , Cliff was offered a 5-year contract for the Arctics just days before the event, which he accepted.
In his second year, Cliff's position on the bench was secure for his strong performance, with frequent forays into the starting line. His excellent drive and determination to compete with his own team and other players pushed him further to become a better player. He attributed most of his capabilities to the encouragement of the captain of the Alaska Arctics in 2011, Rodger Umaechi, with whom he had befriended and looked up to very much, often looking to him as a source of guidance and excellence. He also had developed his rivalry with Paul Schäfer further, along with Devon Kellendyne during this year, with fierce plays and moments of going digit-to-digit with each other ending in snarling, unprecedented plays and scores between them. During this year, Matthiews was said to be at a large climb, becoming a public figure for Arctics fans alongside Rodger, Kasa and Bobby Baylor. The year came to end in disaster, however, when poor decisions between head coach Vladmir Tabanov and controversial GM Feres Svenlocke had kept Rodger Umaechi benched during the 2011 Finals, causing a massive storm and the husky's demand to be traded off of the team for the next season, to which he was traded for Carl Esteban of the Albany Alphas. Arctics owner Boris Petrov fired Feres and Vladmir, as well.
The aftermath was devastating and it was evident in a cataclysmic third year. With a record for being one of the weakest teams in the 2012 season, the normally driven lynx had just lost his normal fire and ambition. The team remained more or less the same, with very few trades being made or improvements to fix the crippled group and faced one of their worst seasons. It wasn't until the following year that things started to pick up.
Andrew Lambert, brother of Rowan Matthiews was Rookie of the Year (1976) and Most Valuable Player (1981) for the Montana Howlers. A strong, stoic figure in his team and often known to be very private, not much is known of his personal life. Since his retirement in 1982, Andrew has dropped off the radar entirely. He avoids interviews and the press, though he currently resides in his Anchorage home along with his nephew, Cliff, and is often drinking at bars along with his friends.
Initially, Cliff was often met with nights of confusion, if not anger to come home every day to a drunkard, husk of a legend who often took out his issues drunkenly at his nephew. Very guarded of his life, even to his kin, Andrew never divulged any information. Cliff granted him his privacy, and cherished the few moments he was tolerable and didn't leave the house or himself reeking of alcohol, finding him good, lovable family. It was only in his second season in the tumultuous and turbulent 2011 season when Cliff discovered more than he would have liked about his uncle. Driven by curiosity of his own alongside with strange happenings in Alaska, Cliff began to pry and search for details concerning his uncle alongside Reeve Alonse, looking for clues as to what had driven an accomplished FBA player to recluse. However, they were approached by an agent from Interpol, who was working with then-Arctics GM Feres Svenlocke who were investigating recent illegal sporting drug trades that had made their way to the professional tennis league by a drug cartel that might be linked to his uncle's past. The two felines were promptly told to abandon their efforts and leave it to professionals, and they ended their adventure there, begrudgingly.
While Cliff didn't hear the full story, he had received a note from Feres after the season had long ended and the ex-GM was fired - both things he had considered good news out of such a troublesome year - that the case surrounding his uncle, who had already been questioned and notified was closed. The younger lynx could tell his greymuzzled uncle had substantially improved, even if his drinking habit didn't entirely die off, he was often in better spirits. He might try and pry further one day, but it might never even be necessary.
FBA Career: Current
With the arrival of Dorian Dragomerov making several keystone changes to the group makeup and picking up new draftees Kilisimasi Fu'afu'a, Zack Tate and Alessandro Serra, veterans Doug Day, Mika Ziggler and Gary Ridge, letting go of Mark Ferramin and then trading Kasa Yalenchka, William Keen and Constantine Jones, the face of the Alaskan team had changed substantially. And through this overhaul, the team began their season strong and was in the division lead for a good haul, alongside with a later trade of Julia Fernández and Ziggler for Dayron DeBose and Ambrose Slade that only pushed them further up. It was during this overhaul Cliff began to find himself severely outclassed, often being called out by team members and the coach for his poor play. It was then he finally came to terms that he needed to rekindle his old fire, recalling that he didn't need Umaechi to show the lynx what striving for the top meant. Instead, he looked to his team and his rivals like he used to; rookies such as Travis Buckner, Scoonie Barrett and Zack Tate, and confiding in trusted veterans such as Bobby Baylor and Ambrose Slade, approaching them and understanding their drive to play, be it simple or complex.
Finding his old, determined self, Cliff was determined to change and take the reigns of his game and move forward once more.
When he's not in the game, Cliff tends to put a lot of time introspecting. Almost becoming an unhealthy habit, the lynx tends to fall into a lull in his thoughts and delve and overthink, especially when he becomes self-conscious of his own shortcomings. More than once, he's had to rely on a more cool and level-headed teammate to tell him to 'chill', a role previously filled by Julia Fernandez, though with her now off the team he's often looked to Zack Tate's happy-go-lucky thrill-seeking attitude to remind him that there are risks that can be taken and rolling with the punches is part of the process.
Note: These stories aren't fully formatted to use the wiki yet: for a better reading experience, please see my gallery on FA. --Rainwhisker
| Si Kucing|
Written by Rainwhisker
| “Kalau lempar bola, jangan begitu!” I told the little crow. If you’re throwing the ball, that’s not how you do it! The tiny avian nodded. I grinned, waiting for the inevitable question.
“Mas Kucing, tolong tunjukin dong!” My lips just burst into a smile as I gleefully nodded. Please show me, Mr. Cat!
I grabbed the ball and brought myself a few strides away from the hoop. I began a gentle dribble, the rhythm resonating in my ears. I timed it, grabbed the ball, leapt…and slowly let the ball fly from my digits. I watched, as my eyes only could, as the ball arched over, and aimed to go through the ring, all too perfectly.
I could even hear the children chanting my name. I was showing them the meaning of the word passion. Each of their eyes flared with determination as they were roused. Soon, the whole village’s voice filled my ears.
As my soles touched down onto the rocky floor, I blinked. These kids never called me Matt.
“Matt! Dude! Wake up!”
I groaned as my eyes slowly opened, finding myself inside the old Ford, with the ‘car smell’ of leather seats and the burning heat of summer packed up in the vehicle. I itched all over and I scratched my forehead and quickly opened the door, trying to be rid of the uncomfortable hot air. I shut the door gently and looked over the sedan, where my feline friend, Reeve, stood looking at me with an amused face.
“Jeez…you really do purr like a kitten when you get all comfy,” his snide voice followed with a chuckle.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Please…it wasn’t comfortable. Summer’s all stuffy and hot.”
“Says the lynx who lived in the tropics.” came the calico’s answer.
I rolled my eyes, slowly breaking into a fit of laughter. Reeve just looked at me with a puzzled and amused face, meshed together. “You alright, man?”
I nodded as my laughing subsided. “Yeah. Just…a dream, that’s all.”
“Huh. You get all trippin’ on basketball again?” the short-tail raised an eyebrow, moving towards the trunk of the car and opening it.
I moved alongside him and heaved out the suitcases and trunks which lay piled on top of each other, placing them on the sidewalk in front of the tall apartment building. “How’d you guess?” I asked, curiously.
“Easy enough to guess. That face you made there – the one where you liked high, yeah? Reminds me of how you keep talking about the kids back in Indonesia.” He grinned, shutting the car’s trunk. “Well, let’s get that new room of yours filled up!”
We carried the suitcases up the stairs to the fourth floor, where the door to my new apartment room lay waiting to be opened. I used the key and we came in, looking around the room. Reeve just whistled.
“Cliff Matthiews, you have an eye for good rooms.” He nodded in approval.
It wasn’t much of a special room – it was nice, spacious, and what I liked the most was how it was sound-proofed. I recalled when I made the deal with the agent after he took me on a tour of the apartment rooms he laid out for me. This one took the cake for what it’s worth.
“Yeah, well…” I grinned. “I figured if I was going to stay in Kansas, I may as well have a good place to stay, eh?” I brought the trunks into the room and closed the door behind us. Kicking off our shoes, we went to the center of the abode and began unpacking.
I chuckled, grinning as I set the mirror in the bathroom straight. “Oh, really? I told you a lot of times, I don’t know much about how things work here in the States, or anywhere for that matter.” I looked at the ball he was holding with a mellow look on my face. I also partly wished he was more careful with that ball.
“Well, that didn’t stop you from joining K-State’s team.” The calico pointed out, putting the ball on the wooden floor, where it bopped about barely three times feebly before halting flat. Reeve looked at it and grinned. “Yeah, no one would believe you’re a diehard fan.” He pointed out. “Anyone would probably take care of the ball he managed to nab off the court in a game better then you can.”
I smirked, looking myself over in the mirror as I made sure it wasn’t wobbly. “I also told you that ball was from the villages. The team in Banda Raya won their game from the match with Darul Imarah. “ I told him, recalling the names fondly. “Though, that was pretty much all that’s left of the ball. They gave it to me as a thank-you gift before I left for the states after they did their best to patch it up.” I looked at it, before laughing as I remembered the giggles the children had when they handed the ball with bright red faces.
“Wasn’t Indonesia more of a soccer country though?” Reeve said, moving out old, framed pictures, and posters, along with several newer photos and magazines from my time in K-State’s team.
“Well, yeah, but I never got along with the kicking sport.” I said, moving over to the trunk to bring out the nicely folded quilts. I carried over to the bed and began to fit my bed with it. “I mean, any rural area with a round ball would have kids playing soccer…I grew up in Aceh, and just never got into it.” I said, finishing up with the bed and moving onto the pillows. “I mean…eventually, and I mean a long time, the kids in nearby villages, they started picking up on the sport a lot more, thanks to me and my friends doing community work as part of school.”
Reeve just finished with emptying the box and set to work on decorating the house. “Man, that would’ve been quite a scoop, my grey furred friend – ‘Lynx from Canada teaches kids to play Basketball! Hosts charity tournaments between schools!’ I mean, I wish I chose you as my interviewee for one of my projects for journalism.”
I grinned as I felt my face turning red. “Well…it’s true I did spearhead that project...” I stammered. “I was quite glad how many folks took a liking to it, and how successful it was. But really…it’s only because of Dad managing to get sponsorship from WCF.” I finished with the pillow and lay the folded blanket at the base of the bed.
“You really do have talent, though.” The calico said as he placed several odds and ends on the tops of the table and the bedside shelves. “You really could go for the FBA.”
I coughed, nearly taken back by my friend’s words. “Oh, come on. Me? The FBA?” the idea was really wonderful, but I really didn’t think I had the skills to match anything like the players I watch on TV. “I wasn’t even an MVP in the inter-states in Universities, Reeve.”
“So what? You still have talent – if anything, the fact that you were literally always on the court and never warming the bench…damnit, you’re making me wish I really did interviews on you.” He fumed. “Star FBA material, right there!”
“Well, I…” I began to say, but I only drew out into silence.
Reeve cut through the silence when he put the lamp on the table, making a thud. “Come on, Matt! You got potential, and even then you also have your degree. We all KNOW how much you love talking about the kids back in Aceh,” he rolled his eyes, obviously recalling my long-winded, vivid tales of the children in the slums or even those in the main city of Bandar Aceh itself, “You obviously WANT to keep playing Basketball. “ he stopped and tapped me on the shoulder. “If you can’t get into the FBA, at least the degree’ll help you get a job. I mean, the last 4 years, you’ve been working in Canada. Now you’re here, because you say you miss Kansas. You might as well – pardon the pun here – give it a shot.”
I bit my lip as I looked outside the window, just picturing myself playing basketball as a career. It was invigorating, because the sport had been my passion, it was my favourite game, and every score made would always bring me back to the childhood I shared and my teenage years pushing hard to raise funds for charity. It kept repeating itself over and over, even here in the U.S., where I also continued to play in the university’s team.
“Hello? What’s this?” the calico took out a small ring box. “I’ve never seen this before – you getting married? Engaged?” he popped it open and gasped, almost fumbling and dropping it.
I broke free from my thoughts, turning my head to look at Reeve. “What? That’s… Oh, the ring?” I asked, tilting my head. Did Reeve know what that old ring was?
“Hell, yes, Mr. ‘Oh, the ring?’” he mocked. “How the hell did you get this ring?” he said, his voice suddenly brimming with far more excitement than he ever could, looking at it like it was some coveted prize.
“Reeve, chill!” I said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. “Dad gave it to me.”
“Say what? Your dad?” He put the delicate object nicely on my table and closed the box, choosing to sit across me with his legs crossed, expecting a long story. I sat down too, keeping my eyes firmly held onto that old red box, now more of an enigma to me than ever, and leaned against the wall. “Dad handed it over to me the day before the interstates when I was part of the K-States team in my first year. That was what, 2002?” I told him. “He told me to hold onto it, because it was very important. I…didn’t really ask why, to be honest.” I hummed, doing my best to recall that odd, awkward moment.
“Do you know what that ring is?” Reeve asked. I only shook my head. “Let me tell you then…” he looked at the box again, shaking his head. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be interviewed. Then, you’re going to be in the headlines!” It was later that night; I held my cellphone in my paws as I sat by the table. The unpacking was barely done, but the two of us were tired after Reeve explained to me the history behind these missing rings. I replayed the details in my head as the calico slept soundly on the sofa – his mind obviously working on the interview he was going to do with me, and the article he was about to write about how I had the missing 1978 ring this whole time.
The ring belonged to none other than the legendary coach, Marcus Bernheim. The Asiatic lion had lead the Tucson Demons in 1966, then several years after he did the same for the Montana Howlers. He had been awarded 10 whole rings for his efforts. Then, he passed away in 1996. The rings he had were all gone.
Being the rabid fan and journalist he was, Reeve had extra details to the biography of the coach. Throughout the whole escapade between him and his son, then the fact that his own grandchild didn’t even know his name. It was obviously a heart wrenching moment. No wonder Bernheim wanted the rings gone. But of all places, why did Dad have one?
I pressed the number I set on speed dial, and listened to the dial tone. Dad picked it up right away.
“Hello? Cliff?” came his old, tired voice.
“Hey Dad. Working late again?” I asked, partly in jest.
A frustrated sigh came as the reply. “Yeah…you know what it’s like.”
“Mhm.” I nodded, expecting him to know what my reaction was. I just wanted to cut to the chase, quick. “Dad…about that ring you gave me. I…finally know who it belonged to,” I said, looking at Reeve.
“I see…” he said, following with what sounded like a content sigh. “What do you think?”
I was almost confused. “I don’t know…I mean…Coach Bernheim, was…well…I…” I struggled with my words. What an awkward question to ask.
“He gave me that ring when I was awarded my position of CEO of World Charity Fund. He was there in the party held after the board meeting. He came to congratulate me.”
“Why would he be there?” I asked.
“I’m sure you notice that WCF sign every time you tune into an FBA show, yeah? We make an effort to sponsor every show, every season. I met with Coach Bernheim quite awhile back just when the decision was made that I was going to be sent to Aceh.” I nodded as I listened. The World Charity Fund was a non-profit organization, one of many, and it had a period of time when they operated in several developing countries. Dad happened to handle the branch in Aceh. “I went back to Canada to attend the meeting in 1993 – when you were still in 3rd grade – then he appeared in the party after.”
“Then he gave you the ring?” I shuffled a little, making myself more comfortable.
“I told him about what I did in Aceh. Then I told him about you. He gave me the ring afterwards. I didn’t know what it meant either.” He said, with a tinge of regret leaking at the end of each word. “I wanted to introduce him to you one day, but 3 years later, he passed away.” He stopped, apparently stretching on his chair. “I eventually found out why he would’ve given those rings away.”
I almost clicked right away. “This, ah, that is… I mean, you gave me that ring…was it because of when I held that last charity tournament in Aceh?” I said, remembering that tense moment between us, the furious sparks almost visible again.
Dad seemed to pause for a moment. “Yes. It was…”
I knew it. “Yeah…what a stressful time that was.” I was in the middle of managing that charity tournament in 2000 when I was in second year in high school, when WCF’s original plan of residing in Indonesia was done and completed. The company and all its employees stationed there were supposed to go back to Canada. Because of Dad’s promotion, he was there the whole time while Mom stayed in Aceh – being an employee of WCF herself; she used the opportunity to stay with me till that term was over. I didn’t want to leave Indonesia – not yet, I still had that tournament to see to its finish. Mom, however, missed Dad. She wanted to go back, but she also couldn’t leave me. Dad pretty much demanded that I went to Canada. I didn’t want to. We argued on the phone for hours. Mom just sat, quietly as our words tore her apart. I vividly recalled a few sentences I regret ever saying.
“You never cared for me! All you thought about was just your job at WCF, supposed to help poor children! But what about me? All I did was try and help you out with whatever way I could, and then you don’t even give a damn about what I want!”
I was naïve and foolish back then. I didn’t really think about how complex things were till I jumped into college in K-State. I started to see the world differently.
Regardless, Dad poured so much effort to make sure I could see that tournament through. I never knew why. If anyone knew my dad – it would’ve been me. I was stupefied. He was always into his job – he had a wonderful career record for always obeying every order, every rule – even since his days at school. He held that title ever so proudly, for being the trustful lynx who followed each order to the dot. Employee of the month awards, all because he worked every day and night, all too hard. No wonder he climbed to the top. I always wondered what the cost of that was. He never spent much time with us. I didn’t really think too much about it. Not until I finally realized that he did all that so I could actually make it to University. The fact that he did his best to pull strings to ensure that I got that extra few months I needed, I started wishing I never said those words.
“I…I’m sorry, Dad.” I whispered into the phone. “Shouldn’t have brought this up,” I mumbled.
I could picture Dad shaking his head. “No, it’s fine. It’s in the past. It’s…also why I gave you that ring. Bernheim let his pride take what’s important from him. My job may be noble and all, but you’re…you’re kucingku.”
I suddenly felt my eyes misting up. My cat. “Hah…Dad…”
“I just want you to know that I’m not the perfect dad. I just want to make you happy, and have a happier future.”
I brought my digit to wipe a tear off my eye. “Yeah.” I nodded.
“I don’t need to tell you again all those stories about how I started as an average low-class citizen, do I?” I could picture his wide beaming smile.
“N-no, you don’t, Dad.” I took a deep breath, smiling to myself. “I’m proud to have you as my dad. I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
Dad just gave an amused chuckle. “You’ve made me proud too. You’ve really brought a new culture into those kids. Even if they don’t go for basketball, you’ve shown them the meaning of passion – the strength that comes from having a goal.” I nodded, quietly, before Dad moved onto another question.
“Have you moved yet?”
I looked around just then, telling him. “Yeah. I have. Just today…”
I caved into my bed after I shut off the call. It was a long call. Feeling much better, I just closed my eyes and drifted off. I grew up with basketball. It’s always been my passion, and my calling. People say I have talent, even though I’m nothing too special – though people would say otherwise – I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to join the FBA. I will make it, and I will make it as big as I can. If not, at least I’ll be in the news – the old ring of Marcus Bernheim in hand, to be returned to the rightful owners – their rightful place – at long last.
“Mas Kucing, tolong tunjukin dong!” My lips just burst into a smile as I gleefully nodded. Please show me, Mr. Cat!
I grabbed the ball and brought myself a few strides away from the hoop. I began a gentle dribble, the rhythm resonating in my ears. I timed it, grabbed the ball, leapt…and slowly let the ball fly from my digits. I watched, as my eyes only could, as the ball arched over, and aimed to go through the ring, all too perfectly.
I could even hear the children chanting my name. I was showing them the meaning of the word passion. Each of their eyes flared with determination as they were roused. Soon, the whole village’s voice filled my ears.
“Ayo! Si Kucing!” Go! Mr.Cat!
The ball whooshed through the hoop, and the crowd cheered even louder.
| His First Practice|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Cliff fumbled with forming a simple reply when the question came. “Ready for practice?”
It was a question asked by Leo Seppala. A wolfdog who’s was nominated top 24. That had to mean something. “Ah, well…” began the lynx’s meek reply. “Yeah. I mean – physically, unless I forgot something, did I miss anything?” he shifted his eyes left and right nervously. “I came prepared – at least I hope I did, I might’ve forgot – something to bring, maybe –“ the lynx suddenly saw a fast moving object, flying in his direction. Almost by instinct, his paws grabbed the incoming basketball and looked to whoever threw it.
“Congratulations, you’re practicing already!” a female voice chirped. Cliff looked at the source of the faintly familiar voice. It was the kinkajou, Julia Fernandez. “Chill.” She approached him, her arm reaching out in a gesture of comfort. “I know, I know. Chill might not be appropriate, but, you get what I mean.”
This brought an embarrassed mrowr of laughter from the lynx. “I guess so.” The lynx’s eyes glanced warily at the team’s coach – his coach, Vladimir Tabanov. The snow leopard was still sitting, scribbling on several papers.
“Well, are you going to just stand there and hug the ball?” the kinkajou grinned. Cliff was flustered, suddenly going from looking at the ball to the honey bear. After a brief moment of an awkward pause, the lynx passed the ball back to her. “Lighten up! This place is gloomy as is with the cold!” She smiled, and tossed the ball over to Leo, who grabbed the ball, grinning.
“You were pretty quiet in the party the other day.” The wolfdog commented, beginning to dribble the ball. The feline scratched behind his ears.
“Oh, yeah, heh…I was pretty tired. I just got here and settled in with my uncle earlier in the morning, then had to get ready for it.”
“You came by plane, right?” Leo continued to dribble, occasionally swapping paws.
The lynx nodded. “Yep…I flew in from Williamsburg.”
The ball was passed to Julia, who proceeded to ask her own question. “You were trying out for the Minutemen?” she held the ball for a few seconds, before going into a dribble herself, displaying incredible skill at handling the ball.
“Ah, yeah.” The lynx shifted uneasily, recalling the events that very morning. “Apparently I got the attention from someone in the Arctics though.”
“Oh, I heard something about that.” She said, passing the ball to the lynx. It was the silver and brown feline’s turn to start dribbling. “You got three offers, all in a day.”
“It was…a shock.” Cliff chuckled, starting a slow dribble. His heart started to race, thinking about where he was, and how this felt so familiar; back in high school, then Kansas, and now here. He nearly lost himself amidst the sound of his dribbling and the rhythm of his paw gently tapping the ball. He suddenly felt someone approaching close, and he reacted by swapping the paw he was dribbling with and turned defensively.
“Easy, eh? I’m not gonna try and steal your ball.” That was the voice of the team’s polar bear player, Bobby Baylor. Cliff suddenly felt awkward and stiffened, grabbing the ball and holding it curled by his arm against his waist. The polar bear offered his large, fuzzy paw. The lynx glanced between it and up at the white bear’s eyes, and shook his paw.
“We didn’t get to talk a lot at the party, yeah?” Cliff started.
“Oh, yeah, we didn’t.” the ursine replied. “There was a lot to see there. Did you have fun?”
“Oh, oh, definitely.” The lynx nodded, starting into a dribble. He glanced to Julia and Leo, who were engaged into conversation themselves. “I definitely had fun.” He affirmed himself.
“Good, good. Alaska’s been treating you good, eh?” he chuckled.
“Er – the team or the state?” Cliff asked, his muzzle curving into a slight grin.
The answer was a slight shake of the head and shrug. “Both.”
“Oh, yeah.” The feline suddenly felt like he was repeating his own words again. “Everyone’s been pretty nice to me.” He said, recalling the few of the staff he met the night he arrived; including the GM and Coach Tabanov. “The state itself isn’t too far off from what I’m used to in Nanaimo.”
The bear blinked. “You’re from Canada?”
“Oh, er – not really, no. Long story short, family does live there, but I was born and raised in Indonesia, but I’m 100% Canadian. I think, anyway…” he curled the ball against his waist again, scratching behind his ears.
“Right, right. Just glad to see another Canadian, ya know?”
“Yeah, heh. Me too.” He grinned. He barely spent more than 4 years in the country to feel wholly Canadian himself, but he did have to say he did feel something about the land of his roots.
“Hey, Cliff, cover your ears!” chimed Julia a few steps away. Cliff glanced at her, confused. That was until an ear-splitting whistle screeched their way into his ears. His paws fumbled miserably to cover his ears as he screwed them closed. He winced, shutting his eyes. The next thing his ears could hear was laughter from the kinkajou. “That was Coach’s whistle.” She said, between snickers. “That got me too first time around.”
The lynx rubbed his ears as if he could comfort it. “Is…is it always that loud?”
“You’ll get used to it,” she said, coming over. “Come on, he’s calling.” She beckoned him to head over to the coach at the wall of the stadium, breaking into a sprint. The rest of the team had already begun converging at the coach, so Bobby and Cliff made their way in a similar fashion.
“Today, we’re going to be looking at endurance, mostly, while seeing where we’re at.” Ivan Miroshnichenkp spoke. How Cliff managed to pronounce it right the first time was a mystery to even him, it seemed like a feat. The arctic fox was reading through a list of papers as he addressed the team. “We’ve already broken you up into teams, and I’ll let you know what exercises you’ll be doing. Vets, you’re familiar with how we do things. Teach the new guys how we roll.” The fox clapped his hands. “Get to it! Baylor, Juno, Ross, over here. I’ll give you your groups’ drills. Coach or I will come over in a bit to see how you’re going.”
“Okay, we’re gonna be doing the usual drills,” the polar bear addressed his small group. “Suicide runs first.” Cliff partly expected that to come out, but this was quite early.
“How many reps?” the lynx asked. He knew he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Just do this one once. Ivan told us to start nice and slow, helps build up, ya know? We got a long run today.” The feline nodded, lining up at the court’s side alongside Julia, Kasa and Bobby. “I dunno what kind of suicide runs you used to do, Cliff, but we’re going to start from the free throw here,” he said, pointing at the line. “Then half, then the other free throw, then the other end of the court.”
“Gotcha.” He nodded, and got himself ready to run.
“On my mark then,” he said, counting down. “Three, two, one, go!”
Granted, he had kept himself fit throughout his four year absence from the scene of professional basketball, because his job did involve going out to the wild and he couldn’t keep himself away from shooting hoops with friends.
Of course, he didn’t do workouts like suicide runs. He’d expect his legs to be sore after today. But at least it’d be the good kind. He would play basketball again.
Not long later, the group had finished their runs. Cliff panted slightly, gasping for air. He bent over to massage his knee.
“Not tired yet, are you, Cliff?” came the voice of Coach Tabanov. The lynx swore it would have been his dad if it wasn’t for how that wouldn’t make sense. “Didn’t do a lot of suicide runs when playing street ball, I bet?”
Cliff snickered, grinning. He stood straight and stretched. “No, and no, coach. Give me half a sec, and I’ll be back at full.” He said, confidently. He was happy with Coach Tabanov. Perhaps it was the fact that he was so similar to Dad, but he felt the same sort of drive to make the leopard happy. Or perhaps that was just him wanting to do well at his job.
“Alright, then.” Said Coach Tabanov. “Grab a couple of balls, line up and do some layups.”
The lynx found himself coping quite well with the arduous drill, feeling invigorated every time he had the ball. He did, however, begin to feel tired. He ushered whatever strength he had to his arms and legs, until he began to show his fatigue more and more. That was when the coach told them to take a break for a few minutes and have a quick drink of water.
“You held on pretty long.” The snow leopard commented as Cliff walked by with a bottle of water in his hand. “Your endurance isn’t bad, compared to most.”
“Thanks,” the lynx answered, taking a drink. “How am I doing, coach?” he asked, hoping that he had managed to meet Tabanov’s expectations.
“Good.” Was what the snow leopard summarized. “Got a good amount of free throws and layups in. Pretty quick on the rebounds.” This brought a bit of relief on the lynx’s shoulders. “Still needs a lot of work. Your form, mainly.” Cliff suddenly felt his chest sink.
“I’ll do my best to work on those, coach.” He said, nodding.
“Practice isn’t over yet.” Coach Tabanov looked over to the other side of the court, where the other groups were still doing their drills. “Let’s see how you do your passes.”
Cliff retaliated with a chest pass. “Good,” he said, between breaths.
“Glad to hear it.” She said, passing the ball back.
“How long were we supposed to do this?” he asked her, going for a bounce pass.
“Till they tell us to stop, I’d say.” The kinkajou snickered, passing overhead.
“Works for me.” Cliff was quite relieved at how much more relaxed passing was compared to the large amount of running that he had been doing. Things were smooth, until the coach asked pairs to use two balls instead of just one, and they weren’t allowed to communicate their passes verbally.
The lynx had to pass overhead while Julia threw from her chest. Then he had to pass with a bounce, hoping that the honey bear didn’t do the same. The practice became an interesting game of reading each other’s moves, to make sure they didn’t knock each other’s ball. It was challenging; the two had the balls collide several times during the practice.
It was pretty strange. The lynx found himself smiling despite how serious training was supposed to be. The label ‘professional’ basketball was just a fancy way to say they were practicing and playing basketball. It was still fun. It certainly didn’t feel like a humongous pile of work to him.
“That’s enough,” said Coach Tabanov. “We’re going to go back to the layups again.” Cliff nearly cringed, but he ended up laughing.
“Last thing you’ll be doing for the day,” the coach said to the four players. “Seventeens. You’ve been through a lot, so I’m expecting this done in 75 instead of 60.” This actually brought an exasperated sigh from both Julia and Cliff. The snow leopard didn’t show it, but Cliff knew if he was anything like his dad, he would be grinning on the inside.
The four lined up on one side of the court, awaiting Coach’s whistle. “Wow, this is pretty brutal.” Cliff said, snickering.
“For him, it’s a bit rough for the first day,” Julia nodded, keeping an eye on the leopard. “Might wanna cover your ears again,” she grinned.
“Nah.” The lynx chuckled. “I’m ready for it this time,” he said, keeping one eye on the coach, and his ears ready for the whistle.
The whistle was blown shortly after, and the four started off to dash from one side of the court and back, several times over and over. The lynx was exhausted, sore, and his heart was beating fast. But he was determined not to fall behind. Cliff forced all the strength he could muster to keep up with the rest of the group, though he found himself slightly lagging behind the rest. He pushed further, to keep himself in line with the rest, counting the number of times he reached the end, touched the line, turned and ran back.
It felt like a long battle before they completed 17, roughly about the same time. Coach Tabanov looked at his stopwatch and nodded in approval. “70 seconds. Great work.” Cliff nearly fell over as he slowed himself down, gasping heavily for air. The rest of his group were in similar positions.
He turned his attention back to Coach Tabanov, who had just finished his comments on Julia’s performance. Next up was the lynx.
“Your passes were rather good,” the coach began, “but you need to be a bit more flexible. Don’t feel awkward about beginning your pass; someone could read your moves. You did show a lot of promise in how you handle them, though. Keep working on those.” Cliff nodded at his instructions. “Besides that, you have good stamina, and the last set of shots and layups you did look a bit better. Keep it up.” The lynx felt a wave of relief washing over him.
The coach addressed the rest of the group. “Good work, all of you.” He said, standing. “Ivan will want to talk with all of you tomorrow, though. He’ll give you a run-down on how your workouts in the weight room will be like, and probably extra things in your diet. Have a good rest.”
The lynx grinned back. “Nah...my form needs a lot of work, and I’m aching all over. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to get back in one piece, eheh.” He scratched behind his ears. “Thanks though.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” came the Russian-accent heavy voice of Kasa, spoken softly. “You did good for your first time.”
“Just keep at it, and this’ll be clockwork to you soon.” Julia came over, wiping herself with a towel.
“Yeah.” Cliff nodded. ‘Yeah. Thanks.” He said, starting to move achingly towards the showers. “I’ll catch you all tomorrow, though. I’m so beat, I can’t think of anything much to say except how I can’t wait to lie down tonight.” He chuckled.
| A State of Mind|
Written by Rainwhisker
| It was a cold morning - well, colder than normal in Anchorage, following the day the state celebrated a victory for their local team against the Rocky Mountain Royals. Even though the team had played in an entirely different state, fans were watching intently on television. Being a Friday, the town seemed in a rush to get their daily business finished as soon as possible to make it home or simply leave the nauseating offices just before the sun set.
"I'll see you later," Cliff waved to his two friends: Reeve Alonse and Alicia Knives. The former had decided to stay awhile in Alaska away from his home in Williamsburg to interview important sports figures, and the latter had come with her crew the night before to film footage for the Furry News Network.
"Have a good day, enjoy yourself." Reeve replied, the cat waving before he entered his car to start the engine.
"Catch you later, Cliff." Entering the passenger seat, Alicia waved similarly.
The lynx watched the two drive off, turning the corner and away from view. Turning around was his 'office'. Alaska Airlines Arena. A gigantic sports stadium, owned by one very rich man. The inside would always be cold, much like the rest of Alaska, but thankfully Cliff's thick coat - now a shade of white than the grey and brown fur that he was sporting in Kansas - kept him nicely comfortable.
Confidently walking through the doors from the back, Cliff was greeted by the team's trainer - Ivan Miroshnichenkp. The arctic fox waved. "Morning, Matthiews."
"Morning, Ivan." he said, smiling. "What's in store for me today?"
"You were on court almost all day the other day practicing, so we're going to go with the usual swimming routine to start off." he answered in his thick Russian accent.
"Right." The lynx motioned to his small duffel bag. "I'll quickly get changed and I'll...see you at the pool?" when he saw Ivan's nod, Cliff quickly headed to the locker rooms to get changed.
Entering the locker room, the lynx moved over to his bright blue locker. He withdrew his blue and white swimming trunks from the duffel bag before he stuffed it inside. That was when he saw his team-mate, and by now pretty much a sort of mentor to him, Bobby Baylor in the Alaska Arctics jersey passing by, but not before a firm pat on the back as he headed out of the room. "Mornin'." he said to Cliff.
"Hey, Bobby." he greeted him. The big polar bear stopped and turned around, smiling.
"Hard to imagine this time yesterday we weren't even here, eh?" he chuckled.
Cliff answered with a grin. "Yeah. Still a bit tired from all the travelling, but eh, not fussed."
"Tomorrow we're going to Plymouth, too. Leaving early morning."
"Right...that's a long way off compared to the Rocky Mountains."
"Got plans tonight?"
The lynx shut the door to his locker, holding a bottle of water and a towel with his arm. "Oh, going out with a few friends from K-State U."
"That's pretty good, have fun with that. Don't get yourself too tired, eh? Won't want to have to bring the bus to get you out of bed." both of them began laughing.
"I better not!" The lynx grinned, walking out the door but turning to where the gym was whereas Bobby continued on to the court.
"Same drill for you today, Matthiews; back and forth, usual number of times, thirty minutes." called Ivan. "Fail to do that, and you get yourself one extra suicide per half-minute you're late by later on," he grinned. The fox was currently sitting with Kasa Yalenchka, dressed in a brightly coloured swimsuit. The snow leopard waved to Cliff as he passed.
"Hello, Cliff." she said, beaming a smile at him.
"I'm giving tips to Yalenchka for her swimming," Ivan motioned to the leopard. "Then, I'll need to check on the people in the gym. You've done this many times, Cliff, so you can get started without me here."
"Sure, Ivan." the lynx nodded to both Kasa and Ivan, heading to the pool. The wide expanse of freezing water, as Cliff had already became accustomed to was about 50 meters long and 25 meters wide. Clear, clean water rippled as his other team-mates were already swimming in the other lanes. He took a deep breath as he watched the water in front of him, beginning to stretch a little before he would dive in.
It was hard to imagine it had been over a month since he first came to Alaska. He's travelled and played. He never felt so healthy, either, or just perfectly happy with what he was doing. It was like a dream come true - it was so close, he could nearly taste it. Being here was his dream back in the village. It wasn't all the glory he expected, but he knew from experience big dreams won't magically pop up easy.
Like every other person in Anchorage, though, it was time for him to go to work. Taking one deep breath, the lynx jumped into the pool.
One would normally be used to the feeling of having his arms and legs about to come off after a month's worth of hard training, but it never got old for Cliff. Following the swimming routine, it was off to the gym. Ivan had told Cliff he needed more muscle, and the fox brutalized his arms and legs the rest of the training session. Before long after a somewhat decent break of a quick , very light meal to replenish energy, it was off to the court to get a few drills in from Coach Tabanov.
"Ivan looked like he was having a good time." Coach Tabanov chuckled, watching Cliff bounding into the court.
"He definitely did, that's for sure..." the lynx rubbed his knee.
"Let's do a bit more before your muscles relax too much, then."
"What drills will we be doing today, Coach?"
The snow leopard looked through his notes for a moment before answering. "Today you'll be helping Fernandez and Gala with a few passing drills, then you'll work on your shots with them after."
The lynx looked to the court to hear the familiar cheerful voice of Julia Fernandez, chatting away to Mark Ferramin. The kinkajou held a ball in her hand as she apparently left the ferret speechless - not a difficult task with her eccentric personality. She had made him feel more welcome when he first came, becoming friends quickly.
"When Gala gets here from the lockers we'll start right away."
"Alright, Coach." Cliff nodded, heading to the centre of the court, where he saw Julia waving to Mark who was being called by the assistant coach, Roman Platov.
"I'll catch you later, Mark." he could hear the kinkajou say. "Hey, Cliff! How're you?"
"Aching." the lynx chuckled. "Ivan had a field day on my legs. God."
"Can't exactly practice while we're on a plane tomorrow, can we?" she giggled.
"Uh. No, but..." he looked at her, not understanding what she meant. She picked up the confused expression that Cliff so often wore on his face and continued.
"He made you work double to compensate, that's what I meant."
"Oh! Right! Right." he rubbed the back of his head. "It's a long trip, isn't it?"
"Kind of, yep. It'll be warmer though."
"Warmer, but probably still cold. Silly winter." the lynx rolled his eyes. Julia pointed to the other end of the court.
"I think that's Olya coming from the lockers." The feline followed her finger to see the husky come into view.
"That's her, alright. Her English's improved a bit, compared to when we first saw her, you think?"
"Still a bit rough, but yeah, has a bit. Oh - uh, cover your ears!"
Not failing to miss a beat, the lynx opted to not cover his ears but braced himself for the piercing whistle that came from behind him. Coach Tabanov's whistle was something he had grown accustomed to. It was almost familiar to him by now.
Julia chuckled. "One of these days, you're not gonna have me to warn you about that."
The lynx shrugged, confidently smiling. "By then, I'll hopefully think that's music to my ears."
"And dance to it?"
"Maybe, if Ivan hasn't already broken my legs!" he laughed.
The corolla drove away from the stadium, quietly. Few words were exchanged for the most part, and the lynx could taste the tension in the air. He paused; curiously glancing at Reeve to guess at hints at what could have put the jovial feline into a clearly frustrated mood. “What happened?” Cliff finally asked. Reeve quickly sighed, turning left to a halt at the intersection.
“Some bigshot took over the interview I was supposed to give.” He answered. “There went the news that would’ve paid a lot,” he growled.
“Oh…” Cliff trailed off. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Eh, it’s fine.” His friend shrugged. “This is what usually comes with being in the freelance territory. You arrange everything on your own, and some big mag-signed doofus can just take over because he’s got a name.”
“Hm,” the lynx looked out the window. “Alice’s already there?” he changed the topic quickly.
“Ah. Right, yeah, she is.” The car slowly started up, moving slowly through the heavy Friday late afternoon traffic. “How was your day?”
The mention of what could’ve transpired this morning shot up pain in all of the lynx’s joints. “Ugh. Sore.” He chuckled.
“Nah. Tiring, is all. Trainer was having a field day with the weights.”
“Ivan the Terrible?”
“The very same,” Cliff grinned.
“Think you’ll get time soon?” Reeve asked him. Cliff just hummed briefly, glancing out the window.
“I’m always hoping for it, every game.” He finally said. “Wondering when can I play like I did in the pre-seasons. I wasn’t so bad then, was I?”
“Eh, nothing special, but not ‘terrible’.” The cat said with a straight face. “You were up against Paul, and he was in the Top. You held pretty nicely.”
“Right…” the lynx felt a rush to his head, remembering the match. “So…yeah. I want to play.”
“But you haven’t. Records show that the rookie’s only got…0 minutes to his name.” the car went up a slope, as the cat turned the corolla to the right.
“Well. Rookies don’t always get a lot of time. I was told that off the get-go.”
“And you’re okay with that?” The car suddenly became warm and the air seemed to stiffen.
Cliff paused, looking up the road to see the familiar fifth avenue mall in sight. “I know what I signed up for.”
“Heh…you read what Tabanov said?”
“In your article? Of course,” The lynx pursed his lips. “If I signed up for the FBA after I graduated, I would’ve made at least the cusp.”
”Your record was pretty stellar, man.” The car made a turn, heading towards the parking lot entrance.
“Wish I could show ‘em that I still got it – well, had. I mean, I can get it back, right?”
“Could…but you’re not getting minutes right now.” Reeve said, almost accusingly.
“I give it my all in practice.” Cliff argued, his ears sharply shot up.
“Right, Tabanov mentioned that. But are you okay with sitting out of games so much?”
There was a moment’s silence as the car pulled over in front of an empty parking spot, the cat expertly maneuvering the corolla into it. “Yeah.” The lynx said firmly.
“Why’d you sign up again? Wasn’t it so you could play?” Reeve’s fur ruffled up.
“Excuse me?” Cliff raised a brow, giving an annoyed look at his friend. “Weren’t you the one so adamant about me joining when you found Bernheim’s ring?”
“Answer the question.” The calico commanded. The car halted to a stop.
“The hell –“
“Answer it.” He repeated himself, the car suddenly accelerating and bumping its rear against a pillar. It was gentle, but it definitely would’ve left a scratch. “Damn these rented cars.” Reeve hissed.
“Yeah, I came so I could play.” Cliff answered, hackles raised.
“But you’re not.” Forgetting about the car, the cat was adamant about finishing the argument.
“I’m not complaining.”
“You didn’t expect to be sitting out all the time, did you?”
“Are you – “ the lynx stopped himself, deciding to just answer the question. “No, I didn’t expect pro basketball to leave me sitting in the back;” he paused, “but if working hard in the back is what it takes to get me up there, then I don’t mind. Now, are you going to tell me what the hell is wrong with you or not?”
Reeve sighed again. He killed the engine then unlocked the car, exiting. “I’ll tell you in a bit.” The tension died down, and their fur relaxed. “Just…help me check the back, then I’ll tell you.”
“Aren’t you returning that tomorrow?”
“Yep, but I’ll get something done,” he dusted his paws off his shirt. “Alice’s at the cinema. Let’s quickly get there –“
“Right,” Cliff cut him off, breaking into a brisk walk as the calico had already started off to head to the entrance. “and you’ll tell me what’s wrong on the way, right?”
A tense moment was felt in the air, then Reeve sighed again. “That bigshot I told you about? Lewis Barnes, Furballer. Not a freelance, but fully contracted.”
“Wasn’t he your senior?” the name rang bells in the lynx’s mind.
“A whole lot more than just that. My senior, my tutor, K-State’s senior student editor, winner of the writer’s award. Yeah, eff him.”
The lynx knew where this was going. He started to draw lines between this and his earlier line of questioning. And if he was right, it was a whole lot of pointless. “Jealous?” Cliff asked him.
“More than that,” he growled, stomping up the steps. “He makes me feel like all that I do is hardly worth a damn.”
“You’re kidding.” The lynx said, gently following. “He sounds like a jerk, but that’s more reason that you shouldn’t care what he says.”
“That’s just it. He doesn’t say a thing to me.” He frowned. “Doesn’t give me advice, doesn’t talk to me, doesn’t critique, nothing. Then he goes on and takes all my material and my interviewees, then makes a lot of cash doing that compared to me working my butt off in basketball, soccer, football and tennis and getting a quarter of the recognition.”
“Then he’s still a jerk. Sounds to me you want to get to where he is but he’s not helping.”
“Sometimes he’s making me think, what’s the point?” the cat flailed his arms in frustration.
“You’re not alone then. I take a look at Kasa and Julia and I just think, ‘How on earth could I ever have a place in a team that good?’ I suppose the only answer I can give is ‘I gotta be better.’
“That’s easy to say. It’s a different world than relying on a scoreboard of marks and grades, isn’t it? Employers want to look at that, but they don’t give you a chance for you bumping your scores up while they hire you.”
They entered the mall through the basement entrance, only to be greeted by the loud buzz of furs young and old. The mall was lined with a large array of stores divided into sections, some parts mixing and matching all were visited by a variety of patrons. The air-conditioned mall gave off the air of elegance to the lynx, realizing all too well that there were places where those less fortunate shared similar expressions of enjoyment in a mall with open windows and plain air.
“Oh, uh. Top floor.” The lynx pointed up. “We’re not late, are we?”
“No, a bit early actually.” The cat said, finding the nearest escalator. “Movie doesn’t start for another half hour.”
“Great, gives me a bit more time to catch up with Alice.” The lynx took a look at his friend. The tom was certainly well groomed, though his face bore plenty signs of stress. “Chill.” He told him.
“Uh…what?” Reeve gave Cliff a puzzled look.
The lynx chuckled, remembering his first day of practice. The two went around, constantly climbing more escalators to get to the top floor. “When you see her, you’ll be alright. Don’t worry.” Reeve had a stupid grin on his face, showing that he was clearly thinking about his girlfriend. “Why don’t you pop the question? You’ve dated for so long.”
“What’s this all of a sudden?” the tom blushed. “Sure, it’s been since Uni, but...” he shied away a little, his face losing colour. “I don’t have anything that I can give her.”
“What are you talking about?” the silver feline rolled his eyes. “You’re bringing this up again. I don’t even feel like having to tell you all over that it’s not about that.”
“Right, but would I rather give her a rough time dealing with a cat that hasn’t made a name for himself? Think about it. Even if she’ll take my hand…I can’t make sure she’ll be happy with me – don’t give me that look, lynx, be real for a moment and put aside the romantic ‘I don’t care if we live in a shack because I love you’ speech, and think how living in a shack would make me feel. Not that I don’t mind living in a shack, but what about how I feel about her? I don’t want her to live in a shack.”
They eventually reached the top floor, then were greeted by Alicia. Dressed in a pink shirt and jeans, the FNN news feline looked just as pretty as she does on television. The white and cream coloured cat waved, her face beaming. “Hey,” she greeted, happily. “It took you awhile to come over,” her voice was soft, and her words blended from her French accent. While she spoke perfect neutral accented English on the news, she relaxed into a more comfortable voice amongst her friends. “How went your days?”
The two males looked at each other. A brief exchange occurred between their faces, then they replied with a collective shrug. “It was bad,” Cliff grinned.
“Terrible,” Reeve added, chuckling.
“Oh…that’s bad, what happened?” Alicia asked them.
“I’ll tell you about it while we get our tickets,” the tom answered.
They settled themselves in the waiting room outside the theatre a few minutes before it was time for the doors to open. Reeve had simply told Alicia about Barnes, and Cliff just mentioned a hard day of practice. They didn’t want to dwell on the talk they had on the car, so they skipped the topic entirely. Alicia, unlike the two young males had a much more profitable day. “We got interviews with kids who thought it was cool to paraglide onto a frozen lake.” She told them, “Then there was news of some fugitive running loose in the southern parts of Anchorage.”
Cliff’s eyes widened, his tail twitching in alarm. “Fugitive?” he asked her. Alicia nodded.
“Roy Briggs, wanted for theft and murder.” The cat told him. “Broke out a week ago and was rumoured to be hiding here.”
“He chose a good place to hide, that’s for sure,” Reeve took a sip of his drink through a straw. “This place’s cold, no one really likes it.”
“Hey,” Cliff’s ears flicked. “I like it.”
“Whatever the case, I had a full day.” Alicia cut into the childish banter. “It was great –“
Just then, a jingle ran through the speakers of the cinema.
“Theatre two is now open. Please present your tickets.” Said the pre-recorded voice.
“Oh, there’s ours.” Cliff rose from his seat. “Let’s go,”
Entering the cold theatre, the three made their way to their seats, nestling nicely in the middle. The place wasn’t very crowded for the movie they decided to watch – a fantasy adventure movie called Dreamwalker; it had been out for awhile and none of them had watched it yet.
The movie began after a long stream of unimportant trailers. The first scene showed the famous lynx actor, Johnathan Swashbuckle, playing as the warrior Gawain, crawling through caves and ruins, dimly lit with torches. He crept through a few holes, while tense, thrilling music played in the back. A close up shot followed, showing the lynx’s perfect features in the torchlight. Fine fur, dashing looks – done so well that one could not guess that it was all made possible with make-up. His lips parted into a gasp, and the cymbals struck – the scene broke into a brawl between him and something unseen – then the screen faded to black.
The rest of the movie was enjoyable and pleasing. The three shared a few laughs, a couple of inside jokes made apparent in the movie, and tense moments shared between them. Cliff viewed most of the movie as appealing to his artistic nature. Reeve was gladly enjoying the director’s unique taste in effects. Alicia enjoyed the movie at face value. Before they knew it, the story was about over, the movie reaching the final conflict with the never named, masked villain. After a fierce battle, it came with a confusing epilogue that was so common to the director's movies - the warrior Gawain constantly went up the steps of the Lumorian Tower, and the camera zooms out, to reveal that the tower seemed to ascend infinitely. A few orchestra tones in the music, and then the credits roll.
“That’s it?” Reeve sighed. “That makes no freaking sense.”
People in the theatre started to get up and made their way to the exit, but neither of the three decided to get up yet. Cliff was partially hoping there was more. He pondered what it all meant. “The movie’s fantastic, though.” Cliff added. “Knowing the director, he’s probably intertwined this with some hidden meanings.”
“Yeah, but what are they? I certainly had fun with it, though.” Alice stretched in her seat, fatigued.
“I…don’t know yet.” The lynx admitted. He frowned. He felt frustrated he couldn’t depict it, but shoved it aside for now.
A rumbling from Reeve’s stomach brought them all to more, realistic issues. “Let’s eat,” the calico tom got up, fed up of waiting. Alicia and Cliff followed suit. “Where to?”
“Where, uh…” the female feline looked to the lynx.
“Probably we can go to Mary’s. They got great fish n’ chips.” Cliff suggested.
“Perfect. I could go for those right about now,” the tom stretched. “After watching Gael and Rye go through a few freshly caught salmon, I could see about some fish.”
“Yeah, let’s get em while it’s still not too late."
"You have a flight to catch tomorrow, right?"
"Yep." the lynx nodded. "A game tomorrow, and I'd hate to be late."
Belly full and spirits lifted after what was a tiring day for Reeve, the feline was glad he could spend time with Cliff and Alice. The evening quickly became late, and then they decided it was time to part. Bidding each other goodbye, and the two cats wishing the lynx's team luck, they dropped Cliff off at his apartment. The silvery fur looked up to his apartment room and stopped, praying softly before dredging through the snow to the room as he hoisted his duffel bag.
"Welcome home." came an elderly voice from inside. "Not staying later than normal? I thought it was Friday."
"No, Uncle," the lynx shut the door behind him and walked to the living room to come face to face with his uncle, Andrew Lambert. "I'm...quite surprised that you're home." he admitted, feeling partly glad and ashamed of him.
"No one's drinkin' tonight." he said. "So I got a few bottles to have home." He leaned forward to put down a piece of paper, giving Cliff a better look of the old, grey-haired lynx with the ambient hue of the table lamp coating him in an orange hue. The weathered old feline was in his late 50's, looking like he had been done with the business he was born to do and was just waiting out his time.
In Cliff's mind, that's what his uncle wanted to do. Often times the old timer would come back home late, reeking of beer, sometimes drunk or other times in a non-talkative mood. He was a different man than when Cliff met him as a child. Friendly person, but not exactly charismatic, is how he would label him now. Despite the addiction he has to drinking, the old lynx maintains a good relationship with people - most folk in the neighborhood know him, and so did his brother - Cliff's dad.
"Try not to drink so much, Unc." the nephew pleaded.
"I'm fine." he said, sharply. The last time Cliff discussed this, Andrew had thrown a fit and the two got in an argument.
Cliff shrugged, deciding against pursuing the topic further. "I'm gonna quickly shower and head to bed. I got a flight in the morning."
"How's the team?" Uncle Andrew asked.
"Oh, fine." the younger lynx replied, suddenly feeling fatigue set in.
"Vladmir and the rest of the group doing fine?"
"Yeah, unc. Just fine." he knew that his uncle was a follower of the local team, but Cliff kept his discussion about the team to a minimum, feeling a bit ashamed that his uncle hadn't seen his nephew play - he could only imagine his parents at home waiting for the lynx to take the ball in an official match in the season.
| A War Hero|
Written by Rainwhisker
| "Are you sure?" Cliff asked his uncle, Andrew.
"Yes, I am." came the stern reply. "Tell them I said hi." The lynx looked on at him, a bit sad. "Alright. Take care, Unc'."
Nanaimo Airport was cold and chilly when the lynx had exited the baggage claim, but his feelings were suddenly nice and warm when he caught a familiar voice. Looking to his right, he saw his father - a well groomed, elderly appearing lynx of greying silver fur wearing a dark blue jacket. The younger, well built lynx ran over and grabbed his dad in an embrace. "It's been a year," Cliff said to him. "It barely felt like it, do you think?" his dad stepped back and scanned his son's figure delightedly up and down, a large smile on his face. "My God, Cliff...you look amazing." This brought out a laugh from his son, who smiled at his father. "Thanks, Dad." "Mom was in the bathroom," he told him. "She'll be out in a --" "Cliff!" came a woman's voice - one that was sound to the young lynx's ears. "Mom." he smiled, turning around to see his mother. He quickly hugged her tightly and pressed his muzzle against neck, then pecking a kiss on her cheek. "I missed you." "Me too," she said, gingerly planting several kisses of her own. "How you've grown," she said, looking over her son. "You look so..." she had difficulty describing him. "Let's just head to the car, then." Cliff smiled, chuckling. "Right now, I just want to get home," he said happily.
The drive home involved bombarding Cliff with questions about what his daily job with the Arctics was like. The topic kind of unsettled the silver fur but he knew it was coming. It wasn't as bad as the lynx thought when they came to the matter of him not playing since the season started, they agreed when he said "when coach decides I can play, I'll play.". "And how's Andrew?" Mom asked. Cliff remained quiet for a bit, pursing his lips. "Uhm." he turned to look out the road to look at a few dead trees and snow. "He's fine." he lied. Being drunk almost every other night was not fine. He asked himself why he lied. "He wishes a merry Christmas to the two of you." the lynx didn't take his eyes off the window, keeping his view on the plain white snow. Dad didn't answer, though Mom commented on how she wished he would come.
The cozy home couldn't really be called small - Dad was the CEO of the non-profit organization, the World Charity Fund, but at the same time he was an expert at playing in the stock markets. The net result was that he was pretty rich and his house was rather big. Since his visit last year not a whole lot changed - a new painting here, and a replaced table. It still felt like a welcome, regardless. "Home sweet home," Cliff said, entering the minimalistic house and, not bringing any luggage there was none for him to drop on the floor as he kicked off his shoes, then ran to his favourite, fluffy sofa to plop onto it. He pressed his face lazily against the soft stuffed chair, purring mildy. "Well...even being a professional player hasn't changed that." Mom remarked, drawing a childish giggle from Cliff. "Oh, you know. It's home!" the overgrown kitten complained, making himself comfortable by taking the entire space of the sofa. Mom came over and pecked a kiss on Cliff's forehead. "Why don't you get changed and get ready for lunch." she told him. "I think you'll enjoy what I've made." Cliff's ears perked up, suddenly eager to eat. "Sure." he said, shooting straight upright off the sofa, stomping his way upstairs.
Opening the door to his room, Cliff suddenly had a kick back to before he enrolled in University. Spending a few months in Nanaimo, the lynx would often spent several nights sleepless from severe jetlag - and a partial thought always drawing him back to how the children in Aceh fared after he left. Were they still playing? Did the sport become forgotten again? Were the next batch of high school kids holding their own charity tournaments? Bringing himself back, the lynx just quickly changed into old clothes that he left behind, feeling reminiscent. A quick wash to the face and a comb, then the lynx felt good as new. He decided to explore the house, looking at all the rooms that he hasn't been to since the past year. The ritualistic pilgrimage to the guest room, then the office, then the terrace upstairs. Before long, Mom was heard calling him down for lunch. "I'll be there in a sec!" Cliff answered. One more room to go, and that was his uncle's room - they had always readied the room in case Uncle came to visit, but he knew recently his visits became more and more sparse. The lynx pondered why he saved this room for last - he'd have went to take a peek at it anyway regardless, but he also wanted to know if he had left something that'd explain his dangerous behaviour of drinking.
It was a small room, consisting of a bed, a window, a table and a wardrobe. It was clean, most of the knickknacks and doodads were all sorted or were the ones Uncle brought with him. Quickly getting to work, Cliff searched every drawer on the table, but nothing of interest ever reached his eyes. Then he went to the wardrobe and opened it. A few clothes and shirts, a couple of pants... "What's this?" Cliff mouthed, reaching in to take out what looked like an old photograph sled into the pocket of one of the shirts. It looked like a team of basketball players lining for a shot - but their jerseys showed who they were - the Montana Howlers. A signed photograph, by someone named Lambert. It certainly wasn't the name of anyone he knew on Montana - and it was an old photograph, maybe it was from years back. Feeling like he was a nozy lawyer out of the video game Garuda Wright, Cliff pocketed the picture to look at later - maybe Dad would know something about it. "Cliff!" the loud yowl of his mother echoed through the house. The lynx jumped up in surprise, quickly bounding and stomping his way downstairs.
"It won't taste good if it's cold, you know." Mom told Cliff - but clearly he wasn't listening because he was already ready to slobber over lunch. "Terong Balado," she announced. An Indonesian dish consisting of boiled eggplants in a specially prepared chilli mixture. "Haven't had this in awhile, right?" "Oh God, no, it's been waaay too long!" Cliff said, already sitting on the table. He took some rice and served some to Dad, then Mom, before himself. As per custom back in Aceh. "Haven't had Indonesian lunch with the family in a long time." "Don't worry. You're only here for a night, but Mom's going to make sure you have at least a bit of all your favourites." Dad chuckled, his muzzle curving into a grin. "You can burn all the fat off, right?" "Of course, of course." Just picturing the food, Cliff could already hear Ivan yelling at him for eating whatever his Mom had in mind.
The Day Before All-Star Week
As night went to day, Cliff almost forgot the crippling loss the team suffered just the night before with a match at home against the visiting team from Santa Fe. The Whips proved to be more than a match for the team, and none of them could keep up. The lynx bit his lip as he tossed about in his bed, the pang of coming into a break just at the precarious 20-20 win-lose ratio suddenly rushing to his thoughts, something the team had been struggling to maintain and topple over in their favour since the start of the season.
Weeks ago, when the coach announced that Cliff would finally be able to move up to reserve, he felt ecstatic. He could hardly have believed that he had been given the chance to play. The only other time he actually had played in the season was for a single game when their lead point guard, Kasa Yalenchka had injured herself. But at that point, Cliff felt that his work had paid off. He was given a chance.
“Congratulations,” was the first word he heard one of his closest friends in the team, Julia Fernandez said to him. “You deserve it.”
That sent a flush of pride all over him, feeling overjoyed. The coach said he would give him eight minutes per game until he was comfortable. Cliff accepted whatever Coach Tabanov decided. He wouldn’t let him down, he told himself. So he would give it his all.
The days passed where he would play – quickly finding that the world beyond practice was less forgiving. It brought him back to the pre-season where he was allowed to play. Only it seemed everyone was in their game, this time around – no one was taking it easy. He took whatever piece of advice, said harshly or in passing from his coach to heart. A few of his teammates often yelled at him for failing the shots. He made sure he wouldn’t repeat the mistakes he knew he could have avoided.
But every time he made a shot, he always thought back. Way back when, to when he would have been considered a coach. A ‘big kid’ leading the ‘little ones’. Showing them the ropes, how to play. Then they would have fun. None of them were rich; some barely had a house to call home, but their neighbourhood was full of life. Always full of laughter, regardless of the poor state they were in. A life full in bliss from everything that went on outside their village, especially for the children. And it was usually a great sight to see when they went to school. They were all excited, so eager to learn. After the bell rang, they would always be so eager to play. Always seemingly caught up in a storm of excitement of discovery and play, the children would just spend years doing the same things. Cliff also grew up with them, visiting very frequently in the weekends or school holidays while his parents would also go with the rest of their team to aid in the relief by teaching or playing.
Cliff smiled, feeling warm in the comfort of his quilt. He often wondered how those now teenagers fared, whether they now had warm sheets as he did. He felt comfortable enough to get up from the bed, looking out the barky window where the sky looked as plain grey as it normally did in the winter months – looking slightly damp and wet, not yet even mentioning the cold that was undoubtedly present. He stood and grabbed his towel, hanging near the heater that kept it dry. A quick scrub and brushing later, Cliff left his room neatly dressed in a long sleeve shirt and thick vest, his light-brown and snowy-grey fur trimmed tidily as he always liked. He could hear heavy steps coming from further in the room – it was his Uncle. Everytime he saw him, he could hardly believe what he had learnt about him in the Christmas break from his Dad. Andrew Lambert, the lynx that was his uncle was part of the MVP in the old Montana Howlers. He used to play, much to Cliff’s surprise. It would explain the large amount of interest that he took in the younger lynx’s career.
“Morning, Uncle.” Cliff greeted, taking some cereal and milk and putting it into a bowl. “Morning.” Came the voice, the sound of his pawsteps coming into the kitchen. “Feeling better?” he asked, referring to the loss in the previous night. “Yeah, quite a bit better,” that was something Cliff liked about his uncle, he realized. Often, the older lynx would come home drunk, sometimes reeked of booze, and sometimes was just in a plain sour mood. But regardless of what happened, he would watch his nephew’s games and ask about it when he came home, even before Cliff had played in the season “Thanks for asking,” “It’s alright. It’s all-star break, isn’t it?” “Yeah, but I’m heading over to the arena. It’s not exactly all-star week yet, but a few of us were going to just play a little every day to practice a bit during the break.” He told his uncle, before digging into his cereal. There was an awkward silence then, only broken by the sounds of a metal spoon clanging against a bowl.
“Have a good day, then.” The gruff, deep voiced lynx said to quell the awkwardness, looking out the window, almost as if he was reflecting on something in the gloomy clouds. “Right, you too.” Cliff said, almost tacking it on. He felt hurt that he wasn’t fully in earnest in saying that. It was as if he was expecting his uncle to come home smashed like he usually would. He quickly finished his breakfast, and then washed the bowl, drying it and grabbed his duffel bag on his way out. Outside, the air was stiff and cold, quite a bit of frost layering on the windows. Bringing his motorcycle out of the apartment’s garage, Cliff started it up and rode to the arena.
“Quite well, thanks.” He told him. “Sounds like the rest are already playing?” The polar bear headed over to his locker, setting down his duffel bag and withdrew a bottle of water and chugging down some. “Yeah. They’re getting all excited over who’ll be announced for the challenges or the all-star match.” “Are you expecting any?” Cliff grinned. “Me?” the white fur looked a bit perplexed. “I don’t think so. Probably Umaechi, though.” “Well, who knows? But yeah – Umaechi does have a chance, I know that much.” “Maybe Mark would get picked. I don’t think I’ve seen a better center in awhile,” the two walked together out of the locker room, towards the stadium. “Oh, definitely...I think he did really well with Williamsburg,” Cliff suddenly blushed under his fur, remembering what happened on that match. “I think you did very well in more ways than one, eh?” The lynx was too embarrassed to look, but he could just picture Bobby’s grin right now. “L-like I told Coach, that was Vera just being Vera,” He stammered, repeating what he said about the red vixen from the visiting team. “She was congratulating me, nothing more – you know what she’s like.” “Heh, if that’s what you say,” The bear teased light-heartedly. Cliff burst into laughter, also bringing a chuckle from the larger mammal. “You did get a lot better than that time against the Clefs and only got better from then, though.” “You sure?” Cliff felt a rush. He wasn’t sure how to take compliments like that. “For sure. Take a little bit of pride that you’re impressing the coach. His better compliments don’t come by easy, you know?” “Oh, do I know it...” he chuckled.
Cliff had learned since a long time ago that a simple “Good” or “Nice job” was quite common, but it was tough to get some decent praise out of Coach Tabanov. The lynx quickly made distinct connections between Tabanov and his dad; they acted similarly, and even behaved eerily close – or perhaps that was simply just Cliff’s imagination. The only staggering difference in the lynx’s eyes – or ears in this case was that Coach Tabanov was Russian. Even so, his little family in Alaska was something he was glad to have – a team with a good group of pals, a ‘father-like’ figure who resembles his real dad in more ways than one, and an uncle related by blood who, despite his shortcomings, does have some things he’s happy for.
The morning passed relatively quickly by doing a few routine drills and exercises. It didn’t carry as much weight as a normal training day came because technically they were into their break – in fact it felt more fun than a whole lot of the days where they were worked hard after a staggering loss at home. Before long, the day’s session ended.
“Uh, Mark? Looking for something?” Cliff asked him. The ferret looked like he got surprised and turned to the lynx. “Oh. Yes, actually...I think I dropped the cloth I use for cleaning my glasses.”
There was something about Mark Ferramin that made him stand out in the Arctics – a nerd would’ve been the perfect stereotypical name for the ferret in highschool – speaking perfect, clear English and his ‘always awkward’ behaviour seemed to be something he had to constantly deal with. Adding to that were his very large glasses. The stereotype however is completely dismissed given that he’s very tall, and very good at playing basketball.
Cliff looked around where he was sitting to check if he could find a cloth of sorts. “Um, lemme check if I can find it here...what’s it look like?” he asked. Just as suddenly he felt ridiculous for asking such a question with a relatively obvious answer. But knowing Ferramin, it couldn’t hurt to ask if it was anything special. “It is a grey rectangular shaped piece of cloth. Small as well, just what you’d expect a cleaning cloth would be,” he said, looking along the base of the lockers. “Oh, that one?” the lynx pointed to a small cloth a fair distance away by the sinks. It fit the bill for the shape, but it looked worse for wear. The lynx got up and walked over, picking it up, showing it to Mark while the ferret examined it. “Looked like someone must’ve kicked it around,” Cliff summed up the cloth’s dirty appearance. “Ah...it certainly does seem like it has been stepped on,” Mark took the cloth from the lynx’s paws. “Thank you for helping me find it, in any case. I will clean it or replace it.” “No problem,” the lynx smiled at the larger ferret. “By the way, Matthiews – Baylor and I were thinking of discussing a few strategies over lunch before we went to see a movie, after this. Are you interested in joining us?”
“So I seem to remember reading that you were from Indonesia, Matthiews?” Mark asked, from the front. “Huh?” the lynx broke from his stare to the road, and his attention returned to the car’s two other passengers. “Oh, yeah.” He said. “That is an exotic and faraway place to come from.” The ferret commented. “Eheh, yeah, it is.” He felt a little warm on the inside, the thought stroking up a few nostalgic feelings. “My parents, originally Canadian do charity work for the WCF. They were in Aceh, and that’s when I was born. I was essentially raised there, too.” “Interesting. So by any chance, the name Matthiews as the CEO...?” “That’s my dad.” He told them, swelling with pride. He blushed a little and started tapping against the glass, looking away. “Amazing.” The lynx was at a loss for words, then, only bringing out a hesitant chuckle. He brought himself to speak, though nervously. “I’ve tried to follow his footsteps. While everyone’s off teaching kids things, I was probably playing basketball with them.” He started to ease in a bit more, his tapping reduced to a simply circular motion along the frosted glass. “So many kids with a lot of potential – ah, not to play or anything, just...a lot of them were so happy to have some degree of education, or just excited to have a passion started from some things we teach them.”
Bobby laughed. “It almost sounds like your story would make a better movie than what we’re watching, eh?” This brought out more laughs between the three of them. “Aw, I – I don’t know. There’s probably more interesting stuff out there,” Cliff was red underneath his silver-grey fur. He almost sank into his seat. “Maaaybe more than this movie.” He quieted himself then, falling into a daydream of his most memorable event: The hardship of what went to start and run the charity inter high-school basketball tournament, and arguing with his dad who had went to Canada to assume his duties as CEO to let him stay longer, and watching his mom feel so broken by their harsh exchanges over the phone. Then some reconciliation. Then a success story at last, and a sad farewell to the kampong. It almost felt like a perfect movie.
Weeks passed rather quickly for Cliff. There were monumental events then. The biggest of which was his game-winning throw – which thankfully wasn’t dispelled by a last minute shot by Daniel Lincoln of the Idaho Mounties two weeks ago. He could feel his instincts grow by the day as days passed, telling him that he was getting better. Coach Tabanov also seemed to approve. He never saw the snow leopard any more proud than when he sank that shot and the buzzer rang. He never felt so much pride in a game in his new team until then. His eight minutes allocated in court slowly became ten. He remained optimistic and took that as a sign that his coach trusted him more.
The lynx spent one evening reading through the boxscores of the latest match on his computer. Slow-paced trance played on his speakers, easing the Arctic player’s aching muscles from the day’s training. He smiled whenever he saw a positive point benefit when he was on the court. He wanted to keep this performance and keep his team happy.
The day came then for their last game against Galveston for the rest of the season. The match ended in Alaska’s defeat, beaten by four points. Cliff felt that he gave it all – despite having the win taken so close towards the end.
Cliff was on his way to the locker rooms when he heard assistant coach Roman Platov talking to reporters. “That was a very close match. We just need to work a bit more on our bench’s endurance.” He could hear him say. That made the lynx just sigh. He could’ve done better. He shrugged it off – pegging it to his responsibility to do it better on their next match, and expecting more endurance training tomorrow.
“May as well check out what’s bugging me,” he mouthed to himself, turning the motorbike around and back down into the parking lot, which attracted a puzzled look from the security guard. “I forgot something,” he told the otter, who laughed and motioned back in to the lynx.
Heading down the halls that lead to the locker room, Cliff could hear a heated discussion occurring from behind one of the doors. Stopping just briefly, he listened in. He could hear the distinct Russian dialect from Coach Tabanov and the team’s trainer, Ivan. Not being able to make out anything they were talking about, Cliff sighed, disappointed that he couldn’t learn much and headed to the male’s locker room, his shoe steps on the tiled floor the only thing that echoed through the halls against the distant murmurs and voices barely audible coming from the rooms and outside.
Coming to the locker rooms, still somewhat damp with the vapour still lingering in the air, Cliff took steps to his bright red door, unlocking it with his key and looked inside. There was nothing. He frowned, partly frustrated that he turned back to find that he hadn’t forgotten anything at all. “Left something?” came a young voice from his left towards the stadium. “Huh?” the feline turned to see Travis Pinfeather. He was another player whom he often talked to when they were both in deep reserve. The emperor penguin came from Antarctica, fantasizing that he would be a professional soccer player. Oddly enough, he became an FBA player instead. Out of all the Arctics players, the lynx probably spent the most time sharing his own stories with the avian. The lynx honestly felt dampened when he went up to reserve whereas Travis stayed on the bench. Since then, he felt like he avoided much contact with the penguin. He suddenly felt like a poor friend, standing here in this room with him. “I thought I did,” he answered after a pause. “But I was probably wrong, heh.” The penguin nodded gently, looking to the shower rooms and back. “Well, ah.” He moved towards Cliff and passed by, giving him a tap on his shoulder with his wing. “Good game, there. You played really well.” This only made the lynx stiffen some more, cringing on the inside. “Um…” he tried to speak, but couldn’t find any words to say. “Don’t worry about it.” He said, guessing how he felt perfectly. “You told me that you wouldn’t stop working till you go up in the roster, and you’re getting there. I’m not going to stop working hard either.” Travis grinned. “I’m sorry.” The lynx just couldn’t hold himself. “What’s there to apologize?” the avian raised a brow, puzzled. “I just felt bad that I got up and you’re still on the bench. Then I avoided you because of that.” “What?” the penguin broke into a chuckle. “Has anyone told you you were weird?” “You’re asking a fur who’s in the same team as Julia Fernandez.” The lynx broke into a slight smile. “Ah, right. Nothing can top her, but that don’t matter much – anyway, don’t fret about it, Cliff.” He brought his wings to both of Cliff’s shoulders, getting the lynx’s attention who only smiled in return. “I’m not angry or upset with you, and you don’t have to feel bad.” Cliff nodded. “We’re cool?” the answer was a surer nod. “Great.” “Thanks, Travis.” The penguin waved one of his wings, heading over to his locker and grabbing his own bag. “I’ll catch you later – and here.” As he made his way out, the penguin offered him a small card, the size of a standard business card. “Thought this was yours, it was sticking out of your locker.” Cliff took the card, examining it. “Oh, uh. What is it?” he read the name on the card, referring to one Galvan Anders, dietician and nutritionist. He was confused briefly, until he nearly jumped in shock. “Oh, hell. I forgot to meet Reeve. Goddamnit.” He ran a paw through his face. “The reporter, the friend of yours? He came not long after you left, looking for you.” “Yeah, uhm – yeah. That’s him,” the lynx turned left and right, flustered and reaching for his mobile phone. “Thanks for giving this to me, Travis.” “Something important going on?” “Nah, he’s just gonna have a fit when I call him for not being here.” “Ah, heh, well, good luck with that then. I’m off.” “Yeah, see ya, Travis.” The two waved to each other, and Travis left Cliff in the locker room alone.
He quickly found Reeve on his contacts and called him, almost hammering the call button. He sat on the bench, waiting for an answer, impatiently listening to the beep. “Finally!” came an exasperated voice at the end of the line. “I am so sorry, Reeve. I totally forgot,” the lynx blurted out, ashamed. “Pfft, had too much fun in that game or something? Geez, you’re good but not THAT good,” Reeve joked, bringing out a chuckle from the lynx. “Nah, anyway. I got your card,” the lynx looked over the card again, idly waving it around with his other paw. “This is who you were talking about?” “Yeah. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow after you’re done. I got an article to write. We can go see him just after if you wanna.” “Sounds pretty good, Reeve. I know it must’ve been hard to find someone who’s actually treated my uncle of all people.” “Hey, I’m just as concerned about THE Andrew Lambert as any old follower of Basketball history. I got lucky and it didn’t take *too* long. Just be glad the FBA was nice enough to list the staff involved in teams since it got started up, trainers and dieticians included.” “Adding to that,” the lynx studied the card carefully. “This guy runs a clinic now? “Yup. Probably some old rich guy after retiring from the Howlers.” “Eh, could be. I’ll see you tomorrow, Reeve.” “Later. I’m off to finish this article.” He hung up, leaving Cliff to the silence of the locker room.
He played out the last week’s events in his head as if it was a film reel, his head gently resting against the lockers. His uncle was Andrew Lambert – a retired FBA player from the Montana Howlers, from 1974 to 1989. He won an MVP award, won a Rookie award, and all that seemed to be completely absent in the aging lynx who came home smashed every night. He couldn’t get it out of his head. The beer, the nearly-obvious depression, the lack of desire to speak about anything in his past – that seemed to contrast any story he’s been told about Andrew Lambert from Reeve, or any old articles ever written about him. It almost felt like he was a washed up war veteran with a grievous, never recovering injury. That was what made Cliff so adamant about trying to figure out what happened. He tried asking about his uncle’s past before – avoiding to mention anything related to what Cliff already knew about his time in the FBA. His answers weren’t anything satisfactory.
“Your dad’s probably told you everything,” he told Cliff when he asked. “I played for the Howlers, had a pretty good time. I retired, since I got what I wanted out of it.” “So you got a job at a store, and spend it on the bills, the apartment, and the rest goes to drinks?” Cliff said – more bluntly than he had intended. The greymuzzled lynx growled. “No.” he stopped, eyes narrowed. “Not the lot of it.” “Then?” “Does it matter?” he snapped. “I’m just concerned, uncle.” “Don’t be. I’m fine.” “It’s not healthy--” “Don’t bring that up again.” “…fine, sorry.” Cliff said, giving up.
It hurt the young lynx that his uncle was hopelessly addicted to drinking, and refused to open up. And it was unbearable. He was angry, to be sure, but he was genuinely worried inside. That’s what brought him to try and look for another person that were in the Howlers during Andrew’s seasons in the team, and that lead them to Galvan Anders. It may be possible he could shed light on the situation.
Deciding it was time to leave, Cliff sat up and stuffed the phone and card into his pocket, heading outside and nearly crashed into his coach, Vladimir Tabanov. “Oh! Coach!” Cliff stepped back, to avoid collision. “Sorry.” “What are you still doing here?” the snow leopard asked in his thick Russian accent. “I left something and came back to get it.” He explained, noting the Russian coach’s stern look. It sounded like the discussion was more intense than Cliff thought. “Ah,” he mused a little, before tilting his head and added, eyes narrowed. “A reporter was asking for you, earlier. Reeve Alonse, his name was.” “Oh, yes, I just finished talking to him.” The snow leopard nodded once. “Alright. I’ve got to be going now, I’ll see you tomorrow, Matthiews. Good work today.” “Yes Coach!” Cliff said, his head swelling with pride. He knew more than anything that a compliment that simple was more of a general acknowledgement than any particular praise – which took a lot more effort to coax out of the snow leopard - but he couldn’t help but feel excited every time at a small reminder that he was contributing. It was far better than seeing the coach upset or angry. He chuckled as he made his way out, drawing parallels once more between his coach and his own dad whom seemed very alike day by day. “I’m home,” Cliff said, shutting the pale wood door behind him. The house was dimly lit, and it was nearly eleven. His uncle hadn’t come back yet – or rather, been brought back by his drinking buddies. Kicking his shoes off onto the shoe rack, the lynx stepped in, his nose twitching as he began to taste his uncle’s scent – an obvious mess of beer and several others. Perhaps his uncle was home after all. “Welcome home.” From the silence came the answer. Cliff turned around to the living room, finding his uncle staring absently out the window with the TV’s volume dimmed. He sat down on his sofa, still as he can be. The lynx’s heart panged when he found that his uncle didn’t seem helplessly drunk as he predicted. He cursed the fact he was so pessimistic of his relative. Cliff narrowed his eyes. “Everything alright, uncle?” He was met with some more silence, before he could see a weak nod. “Yeah.” It seemed like a quiet sigh for an answer. The younger lynx just stood there, watching his uncle’s current disposition with uncertain emotion. “You weren’t bad,” his uncle slowly turned away from the window, the sofa giving a slight groan, his quivering eyes lay at rest looking back at his nephew’s. “We still lost,” Cliff shrugged, leaning against the wall. “It never stopped you, right?” “Of course not,” he grinned, breaking into a yawn. “I’m quite tired and I’ve got a long day tomorrow though.” “Right, right.” Uncle nodded slowly. “Good night, Unc.” “Good night.” The younger lynx took a good look at his uncle, before a slight smile formed on his muzzle. He wondered what brought along this oddly slow, tender moment between him and his uncle – which was generally more energetic when Uncle was in a jovial mood – but the lynx would put the matter aside for now.
| Welcome Home|
Written by Rainwhisker
| The court was almost empty now, quiet beyond the sounds of furs sweeping the floor and people stepping along the hard wood. Cliff was finding hard to believe that just a few hours ago it was roaring wildly with excitement. In those few hours, so many hands were shaken; thanks were taken and received, all from people he had only met in the past few months, and in some this morning and a few on this very night. Perhaps he had seen them before at some point in time prior; but there were so many faces and names he barely had the age to recall them all.
His heart swelled with pride, however at the thought. He trembled with fear several times, hidden well as he smiled and remained humble in his achievement; but it didn’t change the fact that at the end of the day – he, no, the people behind him had managed to pull off something on a scale he never would have dreamed off.
“A far cry from high school, eh?” a jovial voice broke the lynx from his stupor from sitting on the wooden stand overlooking the repurposed acrobatics room. He flicked his ears as he recalled the voice in an instant. The familiar scent drifted into his nose, and he leaned back on the chair casually, not averting his eyes from the court. “That’s an understatement,” Cliff replied. “In every way imaginable.” He shook his head, breaking into a weary, content smile. “That was a brilliant show, Cliff.” A few wooden steps, and the calico cat sat down next to him. Cliff flicked his tail, disagreeing. “Nah. Wasn’t me.” The cat chuckled. “Take a bit of credit, why don’t you.” He leaned a bit closer into Cliff’s view. The relaxed pair of brown eyes took a moment to gaze at the lynx before an eyebrow was raised. “Jeez, how many sleepless nights?” “None,” Cliff chuckled, finally taking a look at his friend. “I’ve been getting enough sleep Reeve. Well. Few hours less than what I’d have liked, but…days have just been tiring.” “And it’s done now, aren’t you glad?” Reeve pulled back and placed his forelimbs on the armrest, his tail swishing gently. “You don’t look it.” A flick from Cliff’s right ear signaled his acknowledgement as he focused his attention back on the court, furs still sweeping and talking to each other. “You try shaking hands with about five-hundred people on top of serious corporate pressure.” He grinned, weakly. “Oh, well. Toss some fries with that and I’ll try.”
The two shared a laugh together at the trivial inside joke, bringing a bit of a pang to the lynx’s wistful memory. “Seriously, though, I’m dead-beat,” Cliff exhaled deeply, stretching. He was still dressed in a shirt and pants, and was aching to just get rid of them for something more casual. “Better start saving some energy, cat. Alaska wants you back next week, right?” An earflick followed. “Yeah. I actually accepted the offer just a few days back,” he pursed his lips, recalling the large – by his standards in any case – amount of money offered for a contract to play for Alaska’s basketball team. “Ivan’s gonna murder me when he sees how little I’ve actually exercised.” Reeve chuckled, and the two watched the court together in silence for a few moments. While the calico did not say it, Cliff easily saw that the smaller feline was tired as well – he possibly was covering the events of the day for some newspaper or magazine article.
“You didn’t play today,” Reeve stated flatly from the silence. Another earflick. “No,” He answered, disappointment peeking out of his words, followed by a deep breath. “I couldn’t.” Cliff grinned after, which made Reeve stare at him puzzled. “It was the same back in highschool.” Reeve nodded, turning his eyes back to the court. “Well, there’s the court right now.” A smile formed on Cliff’s muzzle. He stood from the wooden chair and clawed at the top, tight button as he made hurried steps to the hardwood. Less constrained, he reached down for a basketball that just sat at the corner of the court and walked to one of the sides and dribbled once or twice. He kicked off his leather shoes – polished in the morning, now smudged by this time of day and removed his socks. He planted his feet on the cold wood, feeling warmth flush over him as he dribbled again. He unbuttoned a few more buttons from the top of his shirt. His smile was beaming now, and his breathing was full of excitement. He dribbled, and ran.
The hoop was close now. He jumped and let the ball fly.
Palm trees, the sounds of laughter, and school uniforms just flooded his thoughts, and soon became a roaring cheer amidst a crowd.
The silver-brown lynx yawned as he stepped out of his small bedroom into the narrow corridors, his large feet barely making a noise as he padded dressed in his jacket. The sun was barely up, giving a serene blue over Anchorage’s sky as its rays began the long creep outward from the horizon, adding to the very cold morning – one not unlike where the lynx was one whole year ago at his very first practice. He looked towards the entrance to the apartment and saw his own sneakers, dwarfed by the large, worn boots that lay on their side as if they were discarded without thought; yet they lay comfortably apart from the well-polished trainers. He casually prodded the door to the living room, loosely shut and scrunched his nose as the rank smell of yeast flooded his mouth, overpowering the faint scent of his uncle. He nearly coughed but held himself; instead settling for a sigh. He decided just shutting the door, but he instead peeked inside, finding his uncle lying in unchanged clothes and in a fetal posture, cold. The lynx exhaled sharply and went back to his room, taking a spare blanket and gently draped it over the elder, grey-furred feline. Barely a response was made but it seemed that Andrew could rest a bit easier. He looked over his uncle’s haggard features and could not help but feel that he was one of the furs that Cliff had worked so hard to help in the charity tournament. He resented that strong taste that burnt his lungs; it taunted him that no matter how much he tried, his uncle seemed to never have the desire to speak much of himself – without any inkling as to what his uncle faces or has faced, Cliff could not know what befell the legendary Andrew Lambert to bring him to this state. The silver feline swallowed hard; this wasn’t what he wanted to start the day with. Quietly leaving the room and closing the door, he picked up his duffel bag and put on his shoes, grabbing his helmet as he carefully left the apartment.
--- It had been awhile since the lynx had ridden on motorbike; having been driven throughout most of Montreal or Nanaimo during his break. The roads hadn’t changed – and it was a very similar day to when he started, one year ago. He chuckled then behind his helmet, making a turn. He recalled the panic and worry he had the first day – everyone had seemed to be more experienced, more worthy. Such insecurities were gone. “Chill,” Julia Fernandéz had said to him, then. The honey bear was a strange one; very lively – and eccentric was a very tame word to describe her personality. She had been a great mentor and friend to him, though, her light hearted spirit eased itself on Cliff’s constant worry during his year as a rookie. Today, he was a rookie no longer.
Coming towards the Anchorage Airlines Arena, he found himself being greeted by the same ferret security guard that he would pass every Monday. The jovial mustelid waved as the lynx drove past the security gate that leads into the basement of the Ice Box. The basement already had quite a few cars and bikes in their spots, and the feline only wondered about his new teammates. He only got a call from Bobby Baylor not long ago that his younger brother, Marcus had been traded back into the team for two of his former team mates, Adolfa and Harper. He had felt bad that the otorongo and arctic fox were leaving at the time. The two were part of the same ‘back up crew’ that Cliff had filled along with Travis – a close friend that he had in the sense that the two of them often sat in the bench together cheering for their team mates. It saddened him even more that Travis was not re-signed, and the penguin had forwarded his doubts to him at one point, but he had accepted the fact that he would use the D-League as his stepping stone to jump back into the professional league. He did not know who the other two new recruits into the team were, so he would probably know soon enough.
The silver fur stepped into the locker room, finding the room repainted and the old, grey lockers replaced with icy-blue coloured ones. He smiled, amused at the change in hue that came with the paint job and went to his locker, labelled with his name and jersey number 3. It surprised him that when he opened it, there was a note, looking like it was just a folded piece of paper with his name on it. He unfolded it carefully, the crinkling sound of paper echoing the silent room as he began to read the words written with fancy font in purple ink.
After practice, do come for a visit. –F. Svenlocke
Feres Svenlocke was the name of their general manager. Like a schoolboy being called to the principal’s office, he bit his lip worriedly. He prayed feverously that he wasn’t going to be traded away.
--- “Morning, Cliff!” went the excitable Julia Fernandéz. Almost as if she had seen the lynx arrive in advance, she greeted him as he just entered the court. Other players already gathered waved and greeted following suit. The lynx was flushing red now, a rush flowing around him with the warm welcome he got. He waved back, a large, pearly-white smile in return. “Great to see everyone again,” he said, looking at his entire team – along with four of the new players in their Arctics jerseys. Standing side-by-side with his big brother was the smaller – but still larger than Cliff was – Marcus Baylor. They had run into each other several times in their games against Pittsburgh last year, and both brothers had looked happy to be donning the same jersey together again. There was a raven – a large one at that - not far from them, which surprised Cliff to see. A look over the jersey the lynx saw the name ‘Jones’. There was also a fisher named ‘Paulichek’, also another large player – and a small spitz – it made Cliff grin to learn that the nearly six feet tall canine was named ‘Spitz’.
“Cliff!” in contrast to the energetic voice of Julia was the soft tone of Kasa Yalenchka. The lynx flicked an ear and turned to see the snow leopard come by and she shook his paw. “Hi Kasa,” the lynx nodded. “Good to see you again.” The last time they had met was at the charity tournament not long ago. “I have to say, you and Ferramin did a wonderful job in Montreal.” “No, thank you,” her tail flicked gently. “You and your team, they’ve made a wonderful event together.” Her accent wasn’t a very thick Russian, given how that she has been in the United States for several years, and her English was fluent. “I never got a chance to thank you for it.” This made the lynx blush again. “Oh - glad you enjoyed it.” He smiled. “Very much so – the event was a great success, Cliff.” The lynx flicked his ears as another teammate – Mark spoke in his perfect English. The large seven foot ferret was, if not for his very large height, typical for the school genius. “I’m glad you and Kasa came, Mark,” he smiled at him. Through his thick-rimmed glasses the ferret nodded twice. “It was a pleasure. Experience and charity work in a single package? It was win-win for everyone.” Julia clasped her fingers together. “Isn’t this a wonderful reunion?” she said, her face beaming. “The team comes together once more in a single package, in the Icebox. We’re all like ice cubes in the Freezer!” The four chuckled and shook their heads at the blatant puns – only to be interrupted by a shrill whistle. Cliff cringed, his ears flattening themselves. He looked in the direction of their coach on the side of the court – the person he regarded so similarly to his father, Vladmir Tabanov. “Hey, Matthiews,” Julia called, starting to walk towards Coach. “Hm?” the silver fur tilted his head, making a start as well. “Chill.” She winked, breaking off into a run. Cliff grinned, running after her.
Coach Tabanov watched each player as they assembled around him. “If you haven’t noticed, our first pre-season game is against our friends in Montana, the Howlers. They’re sore and howling for revenge after licking their wounds.” The snow leopard began, his sharp eyes looking at every fur. “We’ll get started on practice. Some of you are new, but we’ve already met at draft day and when we handed you your jerseys. For the rest you?” he flicked his tail, looking at each veteran on the team.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” quipped Julia. “Hm?” Cliff looked up, looking at Julia, who came out of the girls’ locker room, fresh and fragrant in a flowery motif jacket. “Snap out of it, Cliff!” the kinkajou giggled. “Did the cat get your tongue?” The lynx chuckled. “Nah. I feel like a kid being called to the principal’s office. Mr. Svenlocke wanted to see me after practice,” he muttered, confused. He looked down the corridors which lead further into the stadium and back to the boys locker room, a hesitant earflick accompanied a nervous purr. “Oh, he asked to see me yesterday,” Kasa drifted out of the girls room, her small figure making quiet steps that echoed the hallway. “He just wants to meet everyone; you’re likely the last one since you came back to Alaska late.” Her Russian accent was thick, but her voice soft. Cliff sighed in relief, his eyes lingering on the snow leopard’s swishing tail before Julia snapped her fingers. “Hm?” the lynx blinked, turning back to her. “Just checking to see if you were still asleep. Maybe you still are,” Julia grinned, which only made Cliff feel more lost. “I’m…I’m awake,” he meekly replied, though he wasn’t sure why he felt that he had to affirm that to himself. “Feres is a great guy, he called me into his office before practice,” the kinkajou explained. “Don’t worry about the whole thing; just remember my advice.” “Chill. Right.” Cliff nodded, purring amusedly.
The two lynxes sat, facing each other in silence, blinking as they stared eye to eye for a moment. Compared to Cliff’s brown-to-silver fur, Feres’ was shades of grey and silver. Shorter and more lithe, the silver lynx’s countenance was also much more dynamic.
Feres was the first to smile and speak, extending his hand with a motion that Cliff could only describe as flair. “A pleasure to meet you again, Mr. Matthiews.” His brown eyes were warm and inviting, and his smile genuine. Cliff smiled back and nervously chuckled, but his tilted ears told Feres that he didn’t know why he said ‘again’. “I shook your hand at the event in Montreal.” He reminded him, his smile still sincere. “Which, I might add was a great day to enjoy. I have to say the WCF has great talent for finding the perfect catering, and the people of Montreal are such great cooks,” he added, and Cliff could see his tail swishing wildly with excitement. “O-oh! Yes,” Cliff’s ears flattened in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, It was all such a blur when people everywhere came to meet me.” “Understandable,” the silver lynx casually laid back on his chair. “I’ve seen it so many times.” He emphasized, rubbing his chin. “Felidae Nutraceutical? You can’t imagine how many scientists and business people I have to shake hands with, and they expect me to memorize them all!” he shrugged with his arms thrown up in the air. Cliff broke out laughing. “That reminds me of my dad,” he told him. “He tells me of all these people he has to know as chairman; I can barely handle it and I was just the event organizer.” “Ahh yes, your father, I had a brief chat with him,” he quickly nodded, tapping his muzzle idly. “As far as I can tell F.N.’s had deals with WCF before I came into the company.” Cliff nodded, earflicking to signal his acknowledgement when Feres continued, same smile still on his face. “I also came to realize then, too, that your father – Rowan Matthiews, is brother to the legendary Andrew Lambert, am I right?” For a brief moment, Cliff could’ve sworn he saw a Cheshire grin from the silver lynx, which only made him shiver. “Y-yes.” He answered, suddenly feeling cold and heavy. Feres paused, a thick silence permeated the room before he snapped his digits. “Ah, tea?”
The conversation was smoother from there, though Feres was clearly leading their discussion, often asking questions and taking Cliff’s answers over tea. That grin made the silver-brown lynx feel uneasy for the rest of the conversation although Feres was incredibly good at diffusing it. The topic of Andrew Lambert was avoided entirely, Cliff noticed, and he was glad. He couldn’t bear to hear his uncle’s name and Legendary in the same sentence, not when he remembered the state his uncle was in when he saw him sleeping on the couch.
The ride home was mellow and quiet, similar to the cold gloomy weather that draped itself over anchorage. Cliff unlocked the door with his spare key and entered; the day well past lunchtime. “I’m home,” he announced. His uncle, the grey-muzzled Andrew stepped out to the hallway from the living room, looking at Cliff with a weak smile. “Welcome back, Cliff.” There was a bit of warmth resurging in the younger feline; he couldn’t tell whether it was out of sympathy or it was out of hoping this was what he would see everytime he went through the doors. “Nice to see you again,” Cliff swore that he was half-lying as he answered, coming forward to hug him. Beneath that distinct scent – one belonging to his uncle was that tinge that he associated with his drinking. He scrunched up his nose uncomfortably as he buried himself in Uncle’s shoulders, who returned the embrace affectionately, patting him on the back. Cliff swore that this hug was a half-lie too. The younger lynx’s ears flattened themselves as they broke out of the hug. Andrew just looked proud of him, but staring at his uncle’s eyes Cliff felt a mixture of emotions he couldn’t place his paw on; both his own and his uncle’s.
| Short Scenes of December|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Cliff (Matthiews, Canadian Lynx, PG, ALK) was exhausted. He breathed heavily, clearly worn out as he leaned on the locker listening to Coach Vladmir Tabanov's (Snow Leopard, Head Coach, ALK) debriefing after the game. His heart still raced and he blanked out for most of the individual comments and criticism that was custom to the team.
For most of the match, his eyes were focused on the opposing team's miniscule point guard, Tay McKie (Flea, PG, SFW). His fangs were bared and he was excessively frustrated by the sheer agility and small size of his opponent, but he had been given, for the first time ever, a proud look and a strong pat on the back by his coach. "Matthiews." he had told him, "You did wonderfully well against McKie. You stopped him from scoring as I've instructed, then you've worn him out and struck fiercely on the third quarter."
Never before had he seen that look from his coach - a figure that he had often compared to with his father - that made him swell up with pride. It helped him ease out of the fatigue that followed after burning more than his reserve energy during the match, and more importantly, helped him overlook the fact that the team still lost the game. It also helped him forget how his poor performance against someone who he deemed to be his rival, Paul Shepherd (German Shepherd, PG, MON) could've cost their game by the simple one point. "Jones," the snow leopard addressed the team's avian, Constantine Jones (Raven, C, ALK). The black corvid took a deep breath - Cliff was too tired to take a good look at him, keeping his head rested on the locker. "You'll be starting in our game against Spokane." There was a bit of a shuffling in the room after - no doubt eyes were staring between the bird and the team ferret center Mark Ferramin. Mark himself said nothing. The lynx had an instinctive guess that something had bothered the ferret - most of his friends felt the same. He hadn't been particularly open, and the coach had guessed it was the case as well. Coach knew well enough that this had been the last straw for him, that Mark had been given enough chances, especially after enough talks with the coach in private. Stating the roster change had clearly cemented the fact that Mark was unfit to start until he got his act together, whatever his reasons may be.
"Lastly, Baylor Brothers, Bobby (F/C) and Marcus (G/F)," The two polar bears, sitting next to Cliff stiffened - the lynx could just barely taste the hint of fear that came from Marcus. On the other hand, Bobby seemed much more confident. "You two are meant to complement each other by covering each of your weaknesses - and now, you two need to give each other your strengths, for the sake of the team. Marcus, teach your brother your shooting. Bobby, teach Marcus your skills inside the key. You two are one of the most versatile in the team, and next time I try to shake up the roster, I want to make sure it works." "Yes coach," the two replied in unison.
"Alright. We're leaving in less than an hour. Take a shower and let's go," the snow leopard stood and the rest of the team scrambled. Julia Fernandez (Kinkajou, G, ALK) walked by and patted Cliff on the shoulder as the lynx tried to shakily hoist himself off the chair, showing him a thumbs up to which the silver-brown fur could only reply with a tired smile.
Coming from around the corner was the team's general manager, Feres Svenlocke, (Lynx), stopping in front of Cliff. The slender lynx in a suit dipped his head, patting Cliff on his shoulder. Cliff wanted to draw back, partly still suspicious of Feres' intentions, but he was too tired.
Feres leaned forward for a whisper, "I just wanted to say - a secret between you and me, by the way - that you're the best investment I've made for this team so far," Cliff only blinked. Part of him wanted to be sceptical of the reason why he said that, but maybe he was just nice. After all, Rodger (Umaechi, Husky, SF, ALK) had told him to give Feres a chance, to see that he was genuine - and eccentric. Perhaps he would give him just that.
Cliff nodded weakly. "Thanks," was all he could muster with a dip of the head, heading over to the showers immediately.
--- “Two cups of yoghurt,” the simian waiter set down two cups of frozen yoghurt in front of the two felines sitting on a chair. “Thanks,” Cliff muttered to him, turning his attention back to the calico sitting in front of him. “As I was saying – that idea of yours, where we raid through my uncle’s things? Yeah, that’s…not gonna work.” “What’s the worse that could happen, man?” Reeve rolled his eyes. “It isn’t like I’m hacking or deleting police evidence or anything,” Something about his friend’s statement left an off taste in the lynx’s mouth, which prompted him to take a spoonful of yoghurt. “Yes, well…” Cliff licked his spoon clean before continuing. “He locks his room. Always. Twice.” “Say what?” the cat raised a brow. “Everytime he leaves the house, he has to lock his door, twice. He’s got a padlock on it as well as the normal door’s lock.” “Man…he sounds freaking paranoid.” Cliff frowned, burrowing his brow as he stared into his cup of yoghurt. The behaviour had always seemed odd to him – why on earth did his uncle have to go through such lengths? Was there something of particular value inside his room?
It was a sunny day in Anchorage, despite the winter picking up. It brought quite a happy heart to Cliff to hear that Reeve would be visiting Alaska – two reasons, one of which was his girlfriend, FNN reporter Alicia Heynes, and the other was a potential job interview. “So how’s the freelance going?” Cliff abruptly changed the subject to match the shift in the clouds – rays of light beamed onto their table in the outdoor seats. A frustrated growl came from Reeve, along with a fierce flick of his tail. “Tons of rejected papers for Furballer.” “Ouch,” the lynx cringed. The calico turned away with a hiss. “It’s that Barnes again. Dumb sonovagun.” “Him? Still?” Lewis Barnes had been Reeve’s senior during college – and since then has been one-upping Reeve in every form of journalism imaginable with little to no respect for his junior. “Yeah – he moved up in Furballer. Imagine that. He gets to review articles before they hit the press. I don’t know why he hates me, but he tosses mine out the window. Other sports mags have been nice enough to let me write about tennis or something at least.” “That’s rough, man.” Cliff suddenly felt that he shouldn’t have brought the topic up at all, ears drooping. “Still – what’s this job opportunity you got?” Reeve’s bad mood suddenly turned into a grin. “Alaska’s hiring for a photographer slash sportswriter.” “As in…the state?” A jovial smile lined Cliff’s muzzle, just eagerly waiting for that bit of confirmation.
“Are you sure this is the best idea?” Elsewhere in the city, at Fifth Avenue, a silver feline met once more with his red-brown lupine compatriot.
“Positive.” Came the confident reply. “This is sounding more like a string of coincidences by the minute. He won’t be suspicious?” “Matthiews already told me he’s curious about his uncle. He’s told me enough to believe that he probably needs backup to figure out more. Backup he trusts.” “And you want to bring the media into this. You’re risking a LOT here, Feres.” “No. Whatever they’ll learn, they’ll keep quiet about it.” “And you’re sure because?” “I managed to catch up with the referee the same day we had that game with the Howlers.” “Goddamnit, whose necks haven’t you risked…” the wolf shook his head. “What’d you learn?” “Maletophine production is definitely back on the market. Not just shipments from Russia – someone’s making them right here.” “Alright, so let’s sniff them out instead of jeopardizing a franchise and screaming fans that are happy with their state basketball team.” “Andrew Lambert’s our best lead, still. Boris Petrov seems to be a dead end. I don’t think he is or has ever been involved.”An unconvinced, deep breath came from the red wolf. Feres shook his head and patted the canine on his shoulder. “We’ve worked together for years, Fangloup. You’d know that I am a good judge of character.” “If not a smooth talker or someone who knows how to keep someone quiet.” The canine quieted down, taking a sip of coffee. He sighed. “This plan to get to Lambert - you’re putting those two kids at risk,” “If we don’t do anything, I’d predict a whole lot more athletes are at risk, and the whole idea of sports altogether.” “And if we screw up?” There was an uneasy pause, then. The silence within the soundproof room was pin-drop, and the tension thicker than the two frothy cups of coffee they had on their table.
Cheers were aplenty in the suite after the game against the Firestorm. It had been a crushing loss, but most had let it go by the time gifts were being exchanged between both teams of players, staff, and fans on-court. Right after, Alaska Arctics had gathered in Feres’ suite in the hotel, specifically rented for this occasion to have a celebratory party – and a more, personal gift exchange. Cliff rattled the box he got from Rodger softly, making a slight shuffle before he opened it. He laughed, and it only became funnier to him while Rodger opened his gift. “We got each other the same thing.” Rodger said, amused and raised his bag of Sumatran coffee beans. Cliff did the same and the two broke into laughter. It came to the feline’s attention that no one in the room had looked more disappointed than Leo, however – his game was off and totally shut down. The wolfdog had never had a game this terrible. A few drinks and pats on the back from his other fellow players had made him mellow from his earlier frustration. He did receive a gift from Julia though – curiously enough, a replica of the serum canister used in his great ancestor’s Race of Mercy, which picked him up.
The silver-brown feline looked over to the sound of a cork being removed from its bottle. Feres sat quietly at the far wall, admiring his team from his seat, pouring something into a glass. Cliff approached him and motioned to the bottle. “What’re you drinking?” he asked, his nose picked up the faint scent of grapes, but it wasn’t exactly wine. “Grape juice?” “Sparkling.” Feres looked up from his full glass. “Want some?” “Huh. What a weird drink to have,” Cliff felt somehow comfortable, taking an empty glass and offering it to him. The silver lynx shrugged. “I can’t drink alcohol. Liver can’t take it.” He explained simply. “I just drink this to make myself feel classy like the rest of ‘em,” he raised his glass in a motion to his team. He set down the wine glass and poured into Cliff’s. “Don’t beat yourself up about your game tonight.” He added, putting the bottle back on the table. Cliff frowned, sighing in disappointment, swirling his drink before bringing it to his lips, enjoying the sweet flavor. He said nothing in return, feeling slightly defeated. “I know what you’re feeling now. And it’s normal. Sometimes, we want to be the best. And we can’t be in a whole day. In this case, a year.” Exasperated the younger feline leaned heavily against his chair. “I sometimes wish that I could get fame. Get noticed. Eyes would be on me.” “And people have noticed.” “Not as much as most.” “You’ll get there in some point of time,” Feres took a sip of the grape juice. “Your uncle didn’t get to the top in two years.” “Andrew…” Cliff shook his head. “You told me before I was like him. I don’t think I’m anything like him, now and then.” “Maybe not every detail, but the way you treat the game is.” “You know a whole lot more about who he was than I do, then.” Another shake of his head followed by a drink. Feres earflicked. “Maybe he sees himself in you.” Cliff turned his eyes and stared at the other lynx. “You seem to know a lot about people.” “I’ve been around awhile and I’ve met plenty of people. I’m part counselor in some respects, so.” A shrug came from Feres as he finished his glass, setting it down. “Downed faster than wine, and no side-effects,” he grinned, looking proud of himself. Cliff in turn finished his. “I got you a present,” the silver lynx took out a box from under the chair – flat, and handed it to him. Cliff looked at it and smiled. “Thank you, Feres.” He unpacked it and gasped to find an old jersey – very old, with his uncle’s name, Lambert written on the back. “How did you…?” “When we visited Montana last time, I managed to pick this up.” “They gave it to you?” “They only needed one of his, so this one I feel should be given to his family. Or him, it’s up to you.” Cliff didn’t want to touch it. He wanted to leave it in its pristine condition – out of respect or disgust, he couldn’t place his paw on it. He closed the box and held it firmly. “Thanks.” “Merry Christmas.” An earflick back, and a sigh. “Merry Christmas to you too.”
| Rave of the Elements|
Written by Rainwhisker & Nightfire
© Rainwhisker & Nightfire
| Come 10 PM, Alaska Airlines Stadium was alight with a spectrum of colours and lights flashing and blaring, the speakers booming out rhythmic and entrancing beats as furs of all kinds gathered after the game to enjoy themselves in dance, drink and lounging. Up on the stage was DJ Nightfire (Squnx, GM, SPO) running the turntables, dressed in a fine, flashy crusader t-shirt and tripp pants with glowing bracelets, as was his unique style. It was rare to see him playing in front of a large crowd though – especially to a crowd who knows him as a manager of a basketball team.
Feres (Lynx, GM, ALK) was on the dance floor with the crowd, dressed in casual clothing and had glow-sticks on hand, swinging to the tune when he was suddenly grabbed by the arm and dragged him off – he tensed at first, but when he saw who grabbed him he relaxed and followed.
“Can’t catch a break, can I?” The lynx watched the crowd from the large premiere box seats, sitting with a glass of sparkling grape juice. His ears flicked uncomfortably, annoyed as his canine companion, Fangloup poured his own glass. “You’ll want to hear this.” The red wolf cut straight to the chase. Feres rolled his eyes. “Let’s hear it, then.” “Few hours ago in the Alaskan State Tennis game, Rana White, a dachshund pro was caught having maletophine in her locker.’
Feres nearly spat out his drink. He settled for a painful gulp instead. He immediately jumped up his seat and warily stared down at the dance floor – counting all his players. Cliff was there sitting besides Bobby off to the side with the tables, Fernandez was dancing… “And do the newspeople know?” He asked, still accounting for the players that said they would attend. “FNN’s already got it.” “Damnit.” The lynx rubbed his temple. “Alright. What’s the evidence? Did she possess it or was it—“ “She claimed she was prescribed it.” Feres pondered this for a moment, trying to wonder if it matched to the case in the FBA – but no, that wasn’t relevant to maletophine at all. “Alright. What’s the plan?” “Just warning you, that’s all.” “I’ve got all my eyes on my players. I’m going to warn Mr. Kitsura.” “Why not tell him who you work for while you’re at it?” the red wolf joked, grinning. “I wouldn’t tell him something *that* sensitive…a fair warning’s all the same. GMs tell each other secrets, they trust each other more…” The lynx’s eyes caught Nightfire having a break between songs, discussing something with the Alaskan team’s raven center, Constantine Jones. The corvid, dressed for the occasion of being the other disk jockey of the night seemed to be nodding and grinning. Feres’ eyebrows raised and an ear carefully flicked. “If that’s all, I’m gonna get back to dancing, and have a little chat with a squnx. Keep me informed, Loup.”
"Well well, if it isn't my 'old' arch-nemesis Mr. Svenlocke...” The squnx quipped as they entered the room. “So what do I owe the pleasure of you coming to a rave party..." as soon as the lynx shut the door, the two could hear each other much better. Feres moved over to the table where sat his bottle of grape juice, uncorking it. "Old?" Feres grins. "I've been replaced, have I?" he was actually tired himself, having been dancing at the rave for a fair bit. The lynx poured a glass of sparkling white grape juice for both of them. "Sorry that my personal collection doesn't have wine. I still need to drive home," he chuckled. "No no, this is fine.” The squnx took the glass with a nod. “Well first, happy new year... I am glad that you had a wonderful time…” He said, eying the silver fur’s tired countenance. “Second, good job on your team winning the game... I am sure they are quite happy with the victory." The lynx nodded. "Yes, happy new year to you too. I think the team's pretty excited to be back on the .5 line again," he smiled dryly. "Your team played well," he looked down at the arena, trying to see if he could spot any of Spokane's players at the dance floor or the seats. As Feres looked down he caught sight of Xavier Knutten on the floor with a glowstick dancing along side with Gloria Johnson, and looking over at one of the table he see Ezra Rosenbaum sitting down enjoying a drink with Jorge Vilata and Theodore Sanftner. Radrab was talking to some girls at the bar. The lynx eyed them curiously as Nightfire finally spoke up. "You say that but do you honestly mean it Feres?" The lynx smirked. He had meant it, but to elaborate would just sound like he was forcing himself to please the squnx. "There are worse teams out there, but at the end of the day, you and I? We still have to face Montana." "We do… and Montana is the face of the league at the moment." Nightfire folded his arms, quietly and slowly speaking. "I can sense by the tone of your voice you are not content with that."
He looked down for a moment staring at Constantine Jones at the turntables. "You were smart to keep him,” he remarked. “Though I ask you what is your goal. We are in the same division, along with Montana… It’d be unwise for us to be at each other’s neck along with Montana." Feres flicked an ear, approving. "Jones is proving to be valuable. To be honest he was my second choice, but he's performed beyond Coach's expectations," he rubbed his chin. "As for my goal? My goal's simple. I want to turn this team to be stronger than Montana. They've become a whole new beast this year, and Alaska's not able to take them out as well as they did in the past. You're in the same shoes as me, am I right?" he sat back, leaning on his chair and took a sip of the juice, tasting its sourness. "I am… but like any GM we have plans, ideas, and dreams for our team. I look to see where the flow is heading before I wish to go with it or against it... right now teams want to go after the champs. I agree with you, we want to be stronger then Montana but that also means only one of us can be the division lead." He took a sip of his juice. "I think it would be best if we keep up our rivalry... but work to give Montana a proper challenge." "Still not too late, the season's still young. You and I take over the top two spots in the division and hold it, we'll both be in the championships." he grinned. "We just need to make sure the two of us can beat Montana every step of the way. The rivalry our teams have will help push them further." "And that’s the answer I wanted to hear." Nightfire set down his drink. "I won't go further with anything more on the matter but I think right now a friendship will be much more valuable.”
A brief pause came, and Night’s eyes hovered at Jones again. “So in light of that... Even though you prevented me from getting C-Sharpe in a Rapids jersey... I want him on my record label." "That's what you were talking with him about, eh?" Feres earflicked. "Let's hear the terms then, I don't necessarily own him for what he does outside the court." Nightfire smiled, his tone becoming fast, and blunt. "1 million dollar advance contract, he will be guaranteed royalties from any album he makes. 3 points per album sold. He will be able to do live shows at my club and I think the Nightfire/C-Sharpe combo will bring some good media on both sides, agreed?" The lynx barely gave much thought and shrugged. "If he wants to, I don't see why not. I don't think the FBA would have any issues with him doing that. As long as -- is this happening mid-season or?" "No. Off season. Just want to get the preliminaries out of the way… If he signs the contract, that is." "Oh, well, consider my approval on it if he agrees!" The lynx smiled. Nightfire smiled in return and extend a paw "Here’s to a new friendship in the new year!" Feres shook the paw. "Yes, to the new year,"
He smiled, figuring that he now has Night as another key to reach the top of the league. He thought that Night probably felt the same. His faded when he looked back to his players, recalling the brief meeting with Fangloup. "I actually do have to warn you about something though," "Oh? What is it?" Nightfire asked as he poured himself another glass. "Sometime last night, I got news that a tennis player, Rana White? She's one of the popular faces around here when it comes to tennis. She was caught having maletophine - now, I don't know how much you know about it, but it's an illegal drug. Not saying that you shouldn't trust your players, of course not...I just want to tell you to keep an eye on the locker rooms. Last time that drug was around, it was in New Orleans. Spread around the town quick." There was a long pause before the squnx nodded. "I see... Well I do trust my players not to take such risk with their bodies but I thank you for the warning. Knowing the orthodox training methods I give my players, I just hope they don’t' come to point they feel they need a drug to survive my training." He then emptied his glass pretty quickly. The lynx chuckled at that, emptying his. "That's good. Your music was fun to dance to, Mr. Kitsura. Had a blast with it, but the party's not done quite yet, it looks like," he grins standing. The crowd was still full of energy down there, and the music was still blaring. "Enjoy the rest of the evening. Thanks for playing tonight, too!" Nightfire nodded. "I will...in fact I am heading back down to ask a wonderful lady to dance with me. Thank you again for hosting this...I will make next time if you are in Spokane. Let me know ok?" Feres raised an eyebrow at the mention of this 'lady'. He nods. "Not necessary, but appreciated! I look forward to going back to Spokane," he nods, slipping out the door and heading back to the dance floor. Nighfire stretched on his chair, sighing in relief. "OK…another part of the plan complete." The squnx looked down to the stage. "Can't slow down now…have to finish it."
| Dashed Hopes and Dreams|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Rodger looked like he was ready to break the door while he swung it hard shut on his way out, but he stopped himself and closed it gently, while silently leaving. Cliff’s ears flinched, expecting a slam but it never came.
The entire team could only watch in silence as their star player left the locker room without muttering a single word. The air was tense, and even the team’s most motivated or the most nonchalant player had stopped, however brief it was, to watch the husky leave. Cliff’s legs ached – his performance tonight was probably a record best for him – if anything he was best player of the night, but the loss only made it feel hollow, not even including the fact that the award for Player of the Game went to their opponent. Seeing Rodger, whom he had considered by now to be his role model walk out the door so defeated, with that fierce look in his eye that screamed nothing more than self-blame and disappointment drained whatever good feeling he had. He couldn’t bring himself to say much to anyone. Despite how Tabanov complimented him, it felt like a small comfort by this point. He quietly thanked him as he too headed out, not meeting anyone or not trying to see any disappointed fans. He reached his motorcycle, parked in the basement and drove off home quietly. The fans might not mean much to Rodger, but to Cliff they certainly did. The past few games have taught him that. He told himself not to have any hard feelings, but his jealousy made him hate Leah Barksy. Now he has to hate Devon Kellendyne, too. Now the fans will cheer for them, the newscasters will write about them, because they won, Cliff’s record would’ve meant nothing. He growled, forcing him to stop the anger that was building up. He focused on the road and took a slow ride home.
Sleeping as soon as he got home and waking up in the morning barely gave him much comfort, uneasy feelings just bothered his sleep and his dream. He groaned, getting out of bed and got himself cleaned up and ready for training. Noises from the television outside told him that Uncle was home – and astonishingly, awake. “Morning,” Cliff muttered. He felt ashamed to finally wake up and see his uncle, but with only a loss in the previous night’s game. Even more surprising, Andrew was in a good mood. The greymuzzle offered a gentle smile and replied in his haggard voice. But it was tenderer today. It brought the younger lynx even more guilt. His uncle was rearranging the pantry, smelling almost fresh for once instead of booze, which only confused him further. It brought another ache in his heart too. Days like this were far and few inbetween, the brown lynx recalled – very few that he could actually want to run up and nuzzle his uncle without fear of the gagging taste of beer filling his lungs. His uncle had put him off from drinking entirely with his normally off-putting, erratic behaviour. Of course, Cliff knew that if he brought up the topic of Andrew’s past, he could turn this comforting, pleasant morning into a foul one immediately. Almost as if he detected what his nephew felt, Andrew spoke, not turning away from rearranging the pantry. “You played great last night,” he commented. Cliff felt odd – a surge of pride swelled, but it died off as soon as he thought of Devon. “We lost,” the young feline bit into his loaf of bread, ears flattened in shame. His uncle purred a deep rumble, quietly in agreement. “You had the best performance that night, even so.” Cliff raised a brow, taking another bite. “Everyone will only remember the winning team. I also only had the best because the Mudpuppies had kept Rodger tightly guarded.” He growled, recalling that furious look in the husky’s eyes. Andrew hummed, an ear carefully flicking as if he was beginning to understand. “If you can’t handle how the media works in this day and age, then you may as well quit.” The brown feline sharply rose from his seat and leaned on the table, his hackles rising just for a moment, before settling down. “What?” There was a stiff silence, interrupted only by the shuffling noises of Andrew moving the flour over to where the sugar was. “Give yourself more credit.” He turned to look at his nephew with his dark brown eyes, which struck the younger lynx with a strange feeling, making him feel uneasy or uncertain. “Your reporter friend wrote about you,” he tossed the local sports newspaper over to the table from the counter, the page opened to the previous night’s game.
Despite Player of the Game awards going over to the surprising lineup switch of 2-year player Devon Kellendyne (Cacomistle, G, BLX) to point guard, Cliff Matthiews (Canadian Lynx, G, ALK) wowed the crowd last night with a stellar performance of taking the points to the basket when Nathan Spinner (Iguana, F, BLX) pinned down Dasher from scoring, managing to form and execute plays with his team while the reptile was using all his energy to keep the husky away from his teammates.
Reeve Alonse’s name propped up at the end of the article, which formed a small smile on the lynx’s muzzle. His uncle waved his mobile phone in front of Cliff. “T.Matt Latrans also said you were stellar. Give yourself some credit.” Andrew offered his nephew another gentle smile – beaming with so much pride behind those calm, brown eyes. Cliff tensed up, feeling like he’s done his uncle – and so many others, himself included – a disservice. “If you keep feeling like you’re letting yourself down, you’ll forget that there’s other people out there that still do cheer for you.” A grin on his uncle’s lips hinted to Cliff. The previous night, Uncle was home, and he was cheering for him. How many in the audience were too? If anyone at Indonesia – or anywhere those people may be now, watched the FBA – how many of them remember him? He remembered all the pats on the shoulder and congratulations he took the night before that he shrugged off with barely more than an uttered thanks and a disappointed nod. He never felt more like a fool in his life. Especially to his uncle.
Feeling a bit more life coming back into him, Cliff quietly ate his bread, this time more vigorously, replaying the same image of Uncle turning around and telling him some sense, the details constantly vivid as if he didn’t want to forget. It then occurred to him that just maybe his uncle had went through the same thing. “You said that as if you’re talking from experience. I mean, you almost guessed what I felt –“ Cliff bit his lip, expecting an instantaneous backlash. But it didn’t come. Andrew turned around casually from the counter with a nod. “I did.” He answered, but that was all. No angry yelling, no abrupt changing of the subject, no uneasy silence. A question, an answer. Short and unhelpful, but the fact the answer came at all, so nicely... Cliff wished every day could be like this. He finished his bread and gave his uncle a good hug and pressed his head to his warmly, a smile back on the lynx’s face. “Thanks, Unc.”
--- The day proceeded pretty quickly after that – arriving on practice with his good nature back, he sought immediately to fix any hard feelings that came from how unthankful he was last night. Julia brushed it off with a grin and a quip, Bobby gave him a thumbs up, Marcus looked unconvinced at first, but the lynx’s apology was met with a lighthearted arrow to the knee joke, and Coach Tabanov chuckled and shook his head, remarking how he had seen worse behaviour. It was however, hard to bring himself to speak to Rodger. The disappointment was evident still in the way he talked, even if he didn’t show it in performance. He was quiet at practice, and as soon as it was over he was the first to shower, so Cliff made sure he finished before the husky did and got himself ready.
The husky was putting on his jeans when Cliff had already worn all his clothes and packed everything onto his duffel bag. The lynx approached Rodger after a deep breath and brought himself to ask. “Hey, Rodger?” “Hm?” the husky looked at Cliff, straight in the eyes. “Wanna have coffee?” the feline smiled. “My treat.” It looked like it was a tough decision for the husky. It was evident that the black and white canine was reluctant. It took him a moment before he answered. “Sure,” he nodded. “I’ll go.” Cliff felt relief. He wanted to take this chance to diffuse his friend’s frustrations as much as possible. The problems the husky faced were of a different nature, but he wanted to be there for him all the same. The husky was kind enough to drive him to the cafe, because he’d have to drive back in the direction of the stadium to get to his apartment. The lynx appreciated the thought in more ways than one; the drive together would give the two a bit of time to talk.
As they drove out of the stadium, Cliff couldn’t feel any more awkward. He had no idea where to start – he honestly had expected Rodger to decline, and for some reason or another he didn’t think in advance how he’d tackle the underlying issue. Rodger himself wasn’t very talkative at the moment, either. “Our break’s coming up soon,” Cliff decided on a topic at last, referring to the five-day break the team had next month. “Coach said we’ll train with the Royals on the first few days for sure. I think he plans on giving us some time off. Maybe we should do something,” he suggested. “Mm.” The husky bit into his lip. “Was thinking of visiting Akron...but now I’m not so sure.” The reply made the lynx raise an eyebrow. “Why’s that?” “I might stick around in Alaska, drive around the state. Maybe see what’re coach’s plans in case some of us want to stay and practice.” If there was one good thing about Rodger, is that he’s not the type to lie. Cliff could easily catch that self-doubt in his tone, as if he wanted him to know. The lynx wistfully smiled and sighed. “That game last night was a drag, wasn’t it?” he offered, meekly. “You did a fantastic job,” the husky’s paws clenched tightly around the steering wheel as he turned. “Thanks,” Cliff could only say. He had to think of what he would add next to calmly tell Rodger to get over it; he could already feel what the husky felt right now. Before he could say anything though, the husky spoke again. “It really hurt, you know. To actually have the worst performance in my entire career. Didn’t think it’d come like that.” There were only subtle hints of disappointment in his words even if they all sounded like disappointment. Cliff nodded. “Spinner was having his best D last night. Don’t beat yourself up about it,” he decided not to mince words and just be blunt with the husky. Rodger sighed. “I’m so close to being at the top. Last night really hurt my chances. I wasn’t much help last night, Coach had to pull me off at the third.” “Hey, it’s alright. You did a good job holding Spinner occupied. The rest of us couldn’t fill in that gap to win,” Cliff narrowed his eyes, recalling moments when Devon managed to slip past him to nab a score with his tail serving as a devious distraction. The husky didn’t seem too convinced, but talking about it seemed to help. Cliff felt the same; last night just seemed to feel more and more of a bad night for the team instead of something significant. “It isn’t the end,” Cliff said to him after a few moments to let the comfortable feeling sink in. “After all. All it takes for MVP is for Alaska to just win the championships, right?” he cockily joked with a grin. The thought brought a smile to Rodger’s face as they pulled into the parking lot of that cafe. Cliff was thinking the same thing as he was now: the coffee didn’t need any extra sugar at all; it’s sweet enough as is.
“Two coffees,” the waitress set down the two cups for the pair. Cliff leaned cozily against his chair, feeling relief spring up after what he considered a good day. He watched Rodger, who sat across him maintain his strong posture, and with precise movements grabbed his cup and took seconds to enjoy the aroma before taking his first sip. The lynx smiled and took his cup and did the same, a colourful blend of wonderful tastes filling the roof of his mouth before he took the sip, enjoying the light, creamy yet acidic taste of coffee. As the warm drink poured down his throat, the silver-brown feline sighed.
“You know. You do a good job on Point,” Rodger remarked. The lynx purred, amused; a blush would’ve been apparent had the dim lighting of the café made it hard to distinguish. “I’m glad you think so, Rodger,” he meekly answered. “I’m still nowhere near as good as some of the team though…” “Wasn’t it you who said that you’d cover our weaknesses, way back when?” the husky referred to Cliff’s first year, where in a short conversation between the team the lynx had announced such to fill in the niche that was left open in the team. “Coach was…” the canine took a moment to find the right word, “Interested. I think he’s pretty happy.” “I was happy to even get a contract after I was done,” the lynx had a toothy grin. “I was afraid I hadn’t done enough to get another offer.”
The offer to him was made sometime during the whole charity tournament debacle – it reached his ears almost a day after it had even been made, recalling how busy he was with papers and meetings. The world had been a smaller place when he arranged his first charity tournament at high school, and red tape was literally nonexistent in the poorer regions. Of course it would’ve been different from arranging a large tournament across nations, dealing with enormous sums of money. But they had their similarities and differences. “I think you’d make a good leader,” the husky said after a long sip. “You’ve got the makings of one,” The lynx thought of possibly being like his father – leader and owner of an entire company. The gravity of responsibility was heavy on him for just organizing one single event. If he was at the forefront of the entire organization, he was sure he’d collapse and give up. “Maybe the makings, but not the means,” he finally told him. “I don’t know if I …” he stopped himself, losing his words. Rodger raised a single brow, followed by a drink. “You set plays up nicely, passing and scoring where you need to. You’re already pretty much doing what a point guard’s doing. You played in college, right?” Cliff fondly nods, but is mildly surprised when Rodger just grinned. He answered anyway. “I did. That was a long time ago, though; didn’t think I’d ever come back to basketball.” “You obviously love the sport. The crowd, the attention.” Rodger’s words so nicely grabbed the air out of the lynx’s lungs, which made him cough. “Well…that’s…true.” It was strange; perhaps it wasn’t so much as the sport that he liked, as the feeling of being wanted by people. “Funny thing is I don’t like the idea of people clamouring up to me and asking for my autograph.” The husky gave a knowing nod, followed by another drink. “I just have to bear with it. You will one day, too.” The firmness of his words – how positive he was that Cliff was going to be someone famous. It elated him. “How’re you so sure?” he had to ask. There was still so much doubt in Cliff’s resolve with each miss he made, or each score he let the opponent make, or a play that didn’t pull through. He couldn’t even confidently ask his uncle anything without thinking of the inevitable, even this morning when he was in the finest of moods. The husky chuckled. It was obviously a joke that Cliff didn’t catch – the lynx only flattened his ears, embarrassed. “We’re having coffee,” Rodger grinned. “Lighten up a bit. The coffee’s bitter enough, right?” The feline nodded, still embarrassed, until he recalled who started the whole talk in the first place. “Hey, you’re the one who started the conversation.” He grinned, lightheartedly. The husky did the same.
The next half-hour passed with lighter topics such as plans for the break and what they did in college. Cliff was surprised how much ecology he recounted as he did; but he was happy to have Rodger listen, even if he wasn’t very good at explaining. The canine knew things though; intuition or maybe he had read about it before. When Rodger spoke about his degree in working with electronic software, it really set Cliff alight, the lynx finding the intricacies of software programming so delicate – but it seemed that Rodger knew everything he spoke about. That clarity was something Cliff caught on from the start. In everything Rodger did, he had a good grasp of things. He doesn’t show the slightest bit of hesitation, and strives to be as good in it in his own style. The lynx wanted to be like him; straightforward, head strong. Even last night he held his dignity when he walked out the door, pressure kept to himself. It wasn’t healthy but it made the team respect him more. Even as their cups were already empty and taken, they continued on. The topic of family came to pass eventually, and inevitably, Cliff’s uncle eventually came up. “I read on Wikipedia about past FBA MVP winners – your uncle’s one of them, isn’t he.” The conversation rolled as naturally as that, the ball was in Cliff’s hands. The lynx was uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to say. Rodger pressed on. “So you actually live with him? Wiki and other sources never mentioned, just saying he quit the FBA in 1988.” Cliff regretted saying that he lived with his uncle at this point. But it was a valid question still to ask why his uncle is the way he is now, after such fame in his prime. “I do, yeah. I didn’t know till Christmas last year who he was though, heh.” He chuckled. “Didn’t really look into the FBA’s history myself, and I’ve honestly never heard of him being a professional player, and he doesn’t talk about it much. Mom and Dad barely know much at all.” Rodger raised his brows in surprise. “Really?” “Yeah.” “Didn’t you find it weird?” “Kind of…” the lynx shifted uneasily. Ever since he found out, he found that fact so strange – then again, he never asked his parents or Andrew what his job was. Since staying with his uncle though, he had asked Andrew personally, but never got an answer, only anger. Dad would only tell Cliff what he already knew – that he used to play, and he quit when he felt he was done. Out of the sake of his uncle’s privacy, Cliff never told his dad or his mom about his drunken habits. “From all I hear, you take quite a bit from him.” Cliff purred, amused. “Feres said the same thing.” He chuckled. “He’s a big fan of him too, I hear. You know, lynxes and all.” “I think he’s got some kinda bias to them, maybe!” “And do you?” Cliff tilted his head, pausing to think. “Maybe? I’m the only lynx here – well, on the team, not including the manager. I do kind of admire Rocky Caracal’s fierce attitude, sort of – but I don’t think I really care as much as what’s on the inside.” Rodger nodded, before checking his watch. “Mm, I think we should be off, then? We have a game with Santa Fe coming tomorrow, better get some good rest.” “Agreed!”
The two left with a content feeling, their problems from just yesterday long forgotten. Cliff did, however, feel like as more and more people peeked into his relation with his uncle, the more he felt he had an obligation to find out what happened to this feline legend. He rarely saw his uncle the way he was this morning – and if he could find out why, perhaps it wouldn’t be considered a treat any more.
| Walking Down|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Cliff groaned lazily as he peeked open one eye, a nap interrupted by the beep coming from overhead. The seatbelt lights had switched off, and just as soon as it has the following sound were of unbuckling belts. Soft music played after the pilot of the private Alaska jet announced his regular, protocol based reminder through the PA.
The team was flying back after a painful loss against the Stainslaus Thrust, which involved a very specific strategy to overcome their keystone players. Unfortunately, their moves were easily read and it failed to pull through. The loss was disheartening, putting the team back into an all too-familiar 1:1 ratio of win and lose.
“That was a stuffy crowd, wouldn’t you folks agree?” from the front, Feres addressed the group in his slight British accent. A giggle came from Julia a few seats behind Cliff, wholeheartedly agreeing. “Someone looked like they didn’t sleep over what would happen tonight!” the kinkajou quipped, drawing a few more chuckles. The tension eased considerably after. “Yes, I know…I could swear someone was looking at me with daggers in their eyes just for mumbling something when I saw Doral pulling a dunk.” The silver lynx rolled his eyes. There was an exchange between the team after, but Cliff remained quiet and stuck to listening and laughing. A quarter of an hour later, the conversation started dying down. “Alright well, in a few weeks, we’ve almost got a week free of gigantic crowds and training with our dear ol’ Rabble. Or was it the Royals?” Feres asked the crowd. “Royals,” Wilt answered, a fair bit of humour in his voice. He was a bench player in the night’s roster, and his good performance was something he was quite proud of. “Ah, right. Royals. We’ve agreed to have the Monday and Tuesday off, so feel free to R&R then. Anyway, right now feel free to do what you want for the rest of the flight – but uh, Kasa? Mind if you, Vladmir and I had a bit of a talk at the front?” The snow leopard was fazed briefly, before nodding, quietly unbuckling her seatbelt and followed Feres to the next cabin.
Cliff, and no doubt other members of the team suspected that this had something to do with her agent’s public threat of getting KY to another team if she didn’t have her starting position as often as he’d like. His hackles rose just at the thought of that bear – pinning some of the blame on the lynx’s own hard work through carefully woven words and accusations of Feres being a specist, and trying to jeopardize the team’s balance with his own personal gain. Even worse, he had the nerve of just bringing out to the media. What did he know what the team was going through? How the sport was played? Obviously, it was enough to try and find a way that’d make him the most money in the long run. It irked him to think that Kasa and Bobby’s agent is so detestable. He remembered Reeve knocking on his door the very next morning. A bombshell of news, coming from some no-doubt hired journalist to smear Feres’ management and loyalty to the well-being of Alaska. Cliff had his doubts earlier in the season, but he clearly saw that Feres knew his limits and left a fair bit of the game to Coach Tabanov’s capable hands. He was happy that Reeve came by and immediately offered an interview to set things straight. There was no reply from that bear or any other media for the time being. At least right now, Coach and Kasa were sorting things out. Even she could see that she was getting a fair share of playing time, and the team, like tonight, had to move out of their comfort zones to topple their opponents. It still didn’t ease the lynx’s wishful thinking that they could’ve won, however.
His quiet moment was disturbed when a large white figure suddenly came by and set next to him at his window seat. “How’re you feelin’?” The mildly strong voice came from the younger Baylor sibling, Marcus. “That game was something else, eh?” The lynx raised his brows, grinning and shrugging. “It was crazy. I was almost sure we had ‘em, but the reptiles turned out to be a lot more than we could ever handle.” His breath drew short as he spoke, frustration partially seeping into his words. “I wouldn’t feel too bad. I like this team better than having been on Pittsburgh.” The polar bear chuckled. Cliff grinned. “Don’t let Feres or Coach hear you,” he spoke in a hushed voice. “They might feel bad for putting Girau Girau and Ross in your shoes.” “Hah!” he laughed. “Wilt tells me they’re doing fine. They’re probably better off there than me.” He drew an idle glance at his brother, sitting at the other end of the plane chatting away with Rodger and Mark. “That’s good,” Cliff nodded, his thoughts racing to the distinct possibility that one day he wouldn’t be in Alaska. Maybe they’d bring some superstar player to Alaska and would have to trade Cliff and someone else. He frowned, wondering if that’s what Ross and Girau Girau felt when they had to leave. “I think Bobby’s right.” “Huh?” the lynx snapped back to look at the ursine. “You do get all serious and quiet too much.” “Oh-uhm. Sorry?” he replied, uncertain. “Something bothering you?” The lynx scratched his head. “No, I don’t…think so.” Marcus grinned. “You’re a terrible liar,” he poked playfully at Cliff’s shoulder, making the feline purr in laughter. “So I’ve been told.”
The two shared a laugh, before a brief pause took over the conversation then Marcus leaned towards Cliff slightly. “We’re thinking of going south to the mountain range near Cairo after our match against Albany for the break.” He asked. “Wanna come?” “…Cairo?” The lynx blinked, confused. It seemed that Marcus on purposely withheld from explaining right away and laughed, expecting the confused look come from the lynx. “There’s a place called Cairo a bit of a drive south of Albany. We’re going to the Blackhead Mountains and maybe see a bit more of Catskill.” “Oh! I get you – wait, Cats…kill?” he tilted his head, only to get another chuckle from the polar bear. “Cat-skill. You should be in luck compared to the rest of us.” “Oh! Heh, yeah, I guess I would.” He felt a fair bit of unease then, thinking about the timing of the trip. He had plans to stay and see a bit of Albany with the opposing team’s guard, Lance while checking up on how the rabbit was holding up since his injury. He pursed his lips and bit on it, asking a question idly to buy some thinking time. “Who’s us, by the way? You and your brother, or?” “Me, Bobby, Julia and Rodger. We’re going to rent a car and go for a bit of a drive around the area, stop and see the sights for a bit and head back and take the plane the next night.” “Wow. Sounds like a lot of fun,” Cliff said, half a murmur. He was enthusiastic for the idea, but not so much for having to drop his plans with Lance. The idea of spending a good time travelling with his friends was something he really liked. He spent a minute silently in thought, until he nodded. “Alright. I’ll go. I think it’s a great idea.” He smiled. “Glad to hear it. Make sure you get all the things you need before we fly to Plymouth, because we’re not gonna be going back to Alaska before the match at Albany.” A few nods and a thumbs up from Marcus were exchanged while he went back to his brother, leaving the lynx alone. Not finding much else to do on the plane, the feline quickly became drowsy and fell asleep for the rest of the flight.
Cliff shut the door to the dark apartment, fumbling around for the light switch and promptly turning the lights on. He dropped his duffel bag and took off his shoes, before hoisting the bag back on his shoulder. He walked to his room and tossed the bag onto his bed, easily in view as he opened it. He looked around for his uncle, who was absent from the TV room and the dining room. He tried knocking on the door to Andrew’s room. “Unc?” he was hoping the door would open and he’d see a happy greymuzzle, still proud of him despite his failure in the previous game, with a smile and a loving hug. But no answer came. Cliff took a second look on his watch. It was almost midnight. He frowned. His uncle was probably out getting drunk. He growled quietly and tried the door in frustration. It opened. The lynx gasped, unsure what to think. His uncle always locked the door twice. He felt uneasy, staring into the room, small and compact, neat, tidy. Unbefitting someone who came home drunk and would close off everything to his own nephew that was trying to follow in his ‘legendary footsteps’. He went inside, ignoring the gnawing, guilty feeling and being pushed on by a curious need to see if he can find anything of interest. He stopped himself, quickly doubling back. His scent would obviously give him away to his uncle if he came home. He scratched his head, puzzled and growled again, frustrated. There was so much he could find inside, but the simple fact that he was an evolution of a keen hunter of the wild was stopping him from entering. Cliff decided that he was desperate, and quickly thought of excuses as he took the air freshener from the bathroom and stopped in front of the door. He thought of spraying inside, but decided to spray all over the front door – and a bit on himself as well. It was lucky that his uncle’s room was so close to the entrance. He finally re-entered his uncle’s room, bracing himself for the strong, musty smell that came from age and too much to drink. Quietly, with blood roaring in his ears he began to look over what he could pick up without touch. Turning on the lights in the dark room, he saw a small desk by a well-used bed, which had a stack of photographs. The top one was a picture of a much younger Andrew holding an MVP trophy. As carefully as he could, he picked them up and looked them over, seeing old pictures of him with teammates in the old Montana Howlers, others of him with opponents and other times with fans. He shuffled through a few until he picked up a few more recent looking pictures, notably a particular one where Andrew was standing besides Cliff’s father. “When was this taken?” the lynx mouthed. A rough knocking on the door jolted the lynx back upright, making him drop the photos all over the floor. He cursed silently and quickly picked them up, trying to re-sort them as possible. He picked up a photo which had fallen on its other side, and curiously noted that someone has written something on it. He quickly flipped it over. It was the one that Andrew and Dad were standing together. He flipped it back and quickly read and committed the writing to memory.
They’re still looking for me. And you. I’m sorry it ended up like it did. But you’ve done good…keep your head down like you’re so good at unlike me. They won’t care if they know they got you where they want you. Make sure your nephew’s safe. -M.S.
He had to pause and re-read it multiple times to make heads or tails of the strange note, but then another furious banging on the door brought him back. Finally arranging the photos to what hopefully was the same order it was as he found it, he dashed out of the room and flicked the light switch off, shutting the door to his uncle’s room. He went to the front door, his heart pounding. The air freshener scent now made him nauseous instead of its supposed calming effect. He gulped and turned the knob, carefully. An elder looking sheepdog had Andrew by the shoulder. “Hey, you live here with Andrew, right?” he asked, but Cliff was too busy looking at his uncle, who was slouched over and unmoving. The lynx was stiff and nervous, his eyes darting all over Andrew to see if anything’s happened to his uncle and who this sheepdog was. “What am I sayin’. Of course, or else you wouldn’t be openin’ the door.” The canine continued, edging closer to the door. “I didn’t wanna poke around his pockets to find the key. Here, take him off me will ya? And put him on a bed – on his sides. He’s got too much to drink,” the scent of alcohol was all over his breath, and it cut through the air freshener and only made the nausea worse. Cliff grabbed his uncle and nodded, relief washing him slightly to find his uncle was just knocked out from the drinks. He held him steady with his own body, holding him with the free arm as the other still held the door. “Thanks. Uh, could I know who you are?” “Marty, I work with him at the store.” He replied succinctly, turning around to head down the steps. “Keep him safe, alright?” he walked off to the car that was parked right in front of the driveway. The cold chilling breeze blew through the door while Cliff watched Marty leave in the roaring vehicle, the nightly wind now becoming the only sound that accompanied the two. The younger lynx closed the door and grabbed his uncle by both hands, wrapping around his torso. He wanted to move to a better position after holding him in an embrace for awhile, the warmth and relief making him feel better reach second. And then the strong, awful scent of alcohol ruined whatever good feeling the lynx had at the moment, making the lynx suddenly let go of his uncle, letting him nearly collapse before he grabbed him again. Cliff gagged, the image of his uncle on those photographs being like a blur and replaced by whatever’s happened to him. And then there was that cryptic message which only left Cliff with more questions, some he wouldn’t want answered.
| A Way of Travelling|
Written by Rainwhisker
| The view of the Catskill was draped in an orange hue, the wintery breeze caressing the dead trees, carrying with it a hint of spring. It ruffled Cliff’s fur as he stretched his legs on the grass, his green eyes were fixated on the sight of the overlook while his ears took in the silent whisper of the mountain wind, interrupted by chatter and birdsong. His nose admired the sweet, chilling scent that the mountains had.
In his calm moment, Cliff decided to shut his eyes and compare this to a trek he held when he was younger, leading other children on a trek. His lips curved into a smile. It seemed more like the locals knew more than he did, and he was the one being lead. It was awkward, feeling like he was the tourist when he was supposed to be teaching them. It didn’t belittle the experience for him though, and not for the kids, either.
“Cliff, you’re doing it again!” The excited voice jokingly teased. Julia broke his thoughts, making the feline open his eyes to toss a stare at her. She giggled, offering the lynx a can of Pringles. Taking a few chips, the lynx began to eat it one by one. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he remarked, his eyes once again skirting the landscape. “I think that’s why they film a lot of movies up here,” the kinkajou took a potato chip herself, looking at the wide expanse through her thick-rimmed glasses. Cliff earflicked and bit on another chip. “Funny how I took Ecology as a bachelor and never ended up going to half the places I said I would, heh.” He smiled wistfully. “Why didn’t you?” Inquisitively, Julia moved to sit beside him. “I guess I was fixated on finding a job, starting a livelihood. Moved between Canada and Kansas a lot. Weird that I owe my career now to a cat that very well can destroy my reputation by ink.” He laughed, and it took a moment for Julia to recall that Reeve was the one who pushed Cliff to joining the FBA. She giggled again. “Basketball may be in your blood,” she hinted, which the lynx immediately picked up on and groaned softly. “It’s strange how people suddenly drew my family tree nicely once I start to show some promise…” he murmured. He didn’t really cherish the idea that he was suddenly being compared to his uncle. Maybe he would’ve liked it more if his Uncle had fit the bill of a retired pro-baller. It was just as weird that Cliff didn’t even know his uncle’s last name till last year. Julia leaned forward, offering the can of Pringles again. “You wonder about many things,” she commented, which made Cliff drew his head back. “Eh?” Cliff blinked, puzzled. “’Funny how’, ‘Weird that’, ‘It’s strange’.” She quoted. “You do a lot of thinking.” The lynx wasn’t sure how to answer. “I…guess I do?” he shifted, taking a potato chip. It was only until he bit into it he realized the truth to her words. “You’re right, though. Tell me something others hadn’t pointed out,” he motioned to the others behind them, sitting on the grass having soft-drinks together. “You know how you had to chill out, loosen up a little, then you could start playing basketball?” the kinkajou took another chip, and then emptied the rest of the contents into her paw. She offered them to Cliff, who just nodded and took a few into his. “Maybe if you applied that to other things, you’d think less and feel better.” The lynx stared at Julia, stopping himself from popping another chip in his mouth. Julia was known to be eccentric and weird; and the advice she gives to the team is sometimes humorous and sometimes cryptic. This went to the realm of weird. “Uh…” he paused, processing her words before it made perfect sense. “That’s…actually not a bad idea.” His thoughts lingered on it for a moment, before letting it go and just keeping his attention back to admiring the view.
The ride back was rather uneventful and quiet; a late afternoon fatigue had crept up into most of everyone’s muscles so it wasn’t met with much energy. It was unlike the exciting feeling of driving south out of Albany and up the mountains, pointing at every other thing that could’ve been a landmark, or the occasional bump or jump in the rented car that would either lead to Marcus jeering his brother’s driving or Bobby wondering if something was wrong with the car. The older brother was very much into cars and it didn’t really suit him that the car they picked to rent wasn’t exactly up to his standards, but it was the only one they could get.
--- After returning their car, it was already dark, the city lights brightly illuminating the streets. They returned to the hotel where the team had stayed the night before, but of course at this point no one was around except them. They had rented their rooms for another night, and decided to have a late dinner before they would sleep and set off in the morning to the airport.
Cliff filled up his plate with desert – an assortment of sweet chocolate and ice cream - and headed back to his seat, catching Bobby telling a story to the rest of the table. “So then Travis said to me, ‘That’s not how you kick the ball, the goalkeeper did it all wrong.’ Then, he shoved the basketball he was holding onto the ground and kicked hard – it actually flew all the way to the stands right at Ivan’s head!” The table set alight with laughter, only going further into tears when Bobby continued. “He didn’t even realize it and just went to Leo and yelled out loud, ‘See! That’s how you do it!’” Cliff remembered this story pretty well, so he laughed too. There was a point in when Travis, Cliff’s closest friend on the team in the previous year, got into a lot of trouble. He had told him the punishment Tabanov had given him for hitting Ivan, and the lynx didn’t envy him in the slightest. The penguin was gone now, off in the D-League, hopefully faring better than he did last year. “Anyone talked to him in awhile?” Bobby asked to everyone at the table. “I last talked to him on messenger...maybe last month?” Cliff chimed, swirling his ice cream around. He felt pretty bad that he wasn’t more frequent in talking to his friend, but it didn’t seem like he had much else to talk to him about besides ‘How are things?’. “How’s he doing in the D-League? Where’s he at now, uh –“ “Georgia Peachtrees,” the lynx finished, putting a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth.
The evening continued on fairly smoothly, things slowing down after desert and the five went to their rooms after a few fans actually came and asked for their signatures. The Baylors slept together, Julia slept alone, and Cliff was with Rodger. The lynx was at the window, watching the roads slowly die out. He glanced idly at the clock. It was nearing midnight, so that explained why the streets were starting to thin out. “You know,” Rodger was sitting against his pillows on his bed. He was poking his tablet, reading a few things or writing a message. “You remind me of a cat. You like to stare out the window a lot.” Cliff turned his ears and flicked at the husky. He grinned, keeping his eyes on the few cars that whizzed the empty road. “Makes sense.” Rodger said nothing in reply, though Cliff could picture the canine having that slight grin. There was something about the husky that the lynx could envy. Yet, it didn’t feel right if the lynx would have it. He didn’t even know what it was. Maybe it was that quality that defined Rodger as a leader – the alpha of the pack. Everyone on the team looked up to him. It felt unattainable to Cliff, because that determination the husky had was probably unparalleled by anyone else in the league. He kept his eyes stuck to the glass, but his ears and tails occasionally fidgeted. “You might want to get some shuteye.” The canine finally spoke. “Sometimes all that thinking is just going to go to your head.” He punned, putting his tablet aside. Cliff looked at him in disbelief, shaking his head with a grin. “I didn’t think you were the sort to start making puns.” He purred, partly in laughter. Rodger just grinned back, shifting over to lie down. “I’ll go sleep in a bit.” Cliff could already feel himself wind down. It wasn’t long before the silence made him feel all the more sleepy, so he headed over to his bed. He took off his one earring and put it on the bedside table, then rested his head on the pillow. He started to doze and began to feel comfortable, but not before taking a few looks at Rodger’s sleeping face at the bed across his. He felt a hot flush on his cheeks and turned away, fidgeting about in his bed. He let his thoughts linger before shoving them out to let himself fall asleep.
The calico was smartly dressed, which was very rare to see due to Reeve’s usual laid back attitude. Things must’ve changed since he got his job; he has a standard to uphold and probably meets ten times the amount of important gentlemen. “So where’s the party?” Cliff joked. Reeve earflicked and leaned forward. “I’m actually going to meet Rebecca Stephens.” He whispered, grinning. “Who?” Cliff raised a brow, to which Reeve only rolled his eyes. “Chairman of the USTFA.” Cliff whistled. “That’s big…what’s the scoop?” he asked, but they were interrupted by the waitress who took their orders. Once she was gone, Reeve leaned forward again. “Dunno if you’ve heard, but there’s been a few incidents of tennis players having been caught with Maletophine in their system.” “That drug? The one that Rana White was caught with?” The calico nodded. “It’s been kept hush-hush really, and most of its been settled internally.” “So who tipped you off?” “Well…Alicia, actually.” The lynx leaned on his one paw, eyebrows raised. “How’d she come across that?” Alicia, Reeve’s girlfriend worked for the FNN. The cat was diligent in her work, that much Cliff recalled from university. “Yeah well, Alicia’s…you know. She’s always been nosy.” Reeve pursed his lips, as if trying to be careful with his choice of words. “She’s been trying to see this whole story inside out for awhile now since Rana White was caught with the stuff.” “Huh…alright. So…you’re going to ask the Chairman what was up?” “Pretty much. No better than Alaska’s sports paper to publish it first, eh?” Cliff rubbed his chin. “You’d think she’d keep it quiet. Why give it out to the papers?” “Well, the rumours were getting a bit out of hand, so I guess she wanted to give a public statement.” “By going to Alaska’s sports journal?” “I think she’s just going to clarify what happened to Rana. I don’t know if I can coax a thing out of her – the dachshund’s got a rep for being tight-lipped.” Cliff paused for a moment, digesting all that information. “So let me get this straight. Because of the rumours – which happened to be true according to Alicia, Rebecca Stephens contacts the Alaskan Sportsman.” Reeve nods. “Doesn’t this sound a bit…weird?” Cliff asked the calico. “I’m not sure what you mean.” Their drinks arrive, pausing the building unease till the waitress left. “I mean…like there’s a step in there that’s missing.” “Yeah, definitely don’t know what you mean.” “Ah well…hope you manage to get something out of that.” Cliff leans against his chair, drinking his cold green tea.
The topic ended there, though the next one came after the food arrived. Cliff’s meal of choice – a raw tuna ricebowl, looked pretty appetizing even though this was just about the only thing the lynx ate every time he went to Sakana. “So, how’d the trip go?” Reeve stabbed into his fish with his chopsticks. “It was great! Pretty place, nice view. It was fun.” “Heh, glad to hear that. You know, I used to wonder what kinda magical, strange life celebrities lead. Now it just sounds like it’s…pretty normal. Sounded like a regular student group bonding trip.” Cliff hummed, amused. “You’re assuming I’m some kind of celebrity.” “Nah, didn’t say that – Umaechi though? Different story.” “I…actually never pegged him to be the type that’d enjoy a nice quiet trip like that, at first. But…I can actually see it, I mean, knowing him now.” He recounted that Rodger didn’t care much for attention as much as the simple goal of reaching the top of the leaderboard. The lynx figured that heading off to the mountains would be a way to get away from the countless fans that clamored for his signature. “And you probably went all dreamy eyed looking at the trees, I take it?” “Pff, you know me too well,” Cliff grinned. “As I always do, bud.” Reeve winked.
Fifth Avenue Mall had been, for the majority of Cliff’s time in Alaska been a good place to him; he enjoyed spending late afternoons just strolling and enjoying the atmosphere of it all, but it seemed like it had lost that feel for some strange reason. Maybe it didn’t feel new anymore, or he no longer felt any attachment to it. At least there were always places like Sakana to make him feel at home. But strolls along the mall were occasionally met with signatures or waving hands and smiling faces. It felt great, to feel needed. But there always seemed to be a conflict of interest in the air. He groaned as he made his way back to his motorcycle. Perhaps Julia was right; maybe he should spend less time thinking.
The lynx’s teammates cheered him on as he walked into the locker room, receiving pats, ruffles and high-fives. They were ecstatic that their match against the Clefs ended in victory, a large factor being the feline’s strong efforts – and for it, he was rewarded with the title of player of the game.
The title made him feel proud. He thought of the rush he experienced in the match, the cheers that came with shot after shot. It felt wonderful.
“Nicely done, Matthiews. Congratulations on your first Player of the Game.” Tabanov dipped his head approvingly. Cliff shook his head, almost halfheartedly. “Only because the team gave me the chance, coach.” He answered, trying to be modest. He didn’t know how well he hid his beaming pride, but he noted the truth in his words. “Thanks, everyone.” He passed a quick look at everyone with a smile. “You’ve been wanting this title for ages, admit it!” Marcus called out from his own locker. The lynx blushed as everyone laughed, him joining in. “I won’t say I didn’t want it!” he retorted with a chuckle.
--- Following the review of the night, it was the usual shower then heading back home. With a high head Cliff rode home on his motorcycle, enjoying the crisp air and cool wind with a victory. The lynx closed the door to the apartment behind him, to be greeted by clapping coming from further in. “Well played, Cliff.” Andrew’s voice was audible – and clear from further in. His uncle came out to the corridor and opened his arms wide. With a huge grin on his face, Cliff ran and buried himself in his uncle’s shoulders, embracing him. No trace of alcohol tonight. It made him feel all the better, and the cold feeling from the ride home was overwhelmed by warmth. “I’m really happy about tonight, Uncle.” Cliff said, drawing back. “That was a stellar performance you had there. I’m proud!” It was one of the rare moments his uncle was open and genuine – doubly rare that he wasn’t drinking tonight. Cliff came home to a sight he wanted to see every day. Even the cryptic message left behind on the back of the photo seemed like it was irrelevant, the thought of it only just barely creeping into his head.
The lynx had a good sleep that night.
--- The days and weeks went by. All Star Week passed smoothly, and Cliff’s days were routine as always. Curiously Cliff began to notice a slight change in Andrew. Every time Cliff was in Anchorage and came home from a game or practice, there were more cases of him being in good spirits and without drink. Maybe it was just imagination, but if it were true, it’d have been great.
Cliff decided to press his luck one day and sat down beside him to ask when the team had a day off. He had spent the whole morning since he woke up, showered and sat for breakfast just thinking how he would bring the topic up. “Uncle,” he started, while Andrew was mixing up some tea. “Hm?” Cliff took in the silence for a moment before he asked. “I know you don’t like talking about it but…could you tell me why you’ve been quiet about your time in Montana?” Almost professionally the reply came quick. “No one asked.” It was neither blunt nor sharp, but perhaps it was leaning towards wistful. The younger lynx found that hard to believe. Not wanting to proceed with that line of thought, he ignored it. “Well…what was it like? Being in the FBA back then?” Cliff suddenly pictured himself being a cub, asking his legendary uncle for a bedtime story. “Well,” It took a short pause while Andrew stirred and set the electric kettle to boil before he turned around and looked at his nephew. Suddenly the cub felt frightened as he remembered asking last year. The mood now was wholly different, but it sent him a shiver how different his uncle is.
“Your dad’s probably told you everything,” he told Cliff when he asked. “I played for the Howlers, had a pretty good time. I retired, since I got what I wanted out of it.” “So you got a job at a store, and spend it on the bills, the apartment, and the rest goes to drinks?” Cliff said – more bluntly than he had intended. The greymuzzled lynx growled. “No.” he stopped, eyes narrowed. “Not the lot of it.” “Then?” “Does it matter?” he snapped. “I’m just concerned, uncle.” “Don’t be. I’m fine.” “It’s not healthy--” “Don’t bring that up again.” “…fine, sorry.” Cliff said, giving up.
It was hard to not bring up the topic of his health and drinking habits. It was kept to a minimum for awhile, and Cliff became a bit more immune and started to ignore his uncle when he was drunk. “A lot of expectations,” Andrew began, setting aside his cup and sat down across his nephew. “Back then the FBA operated differently. There were only few stars that shone as the lead of the team. We’d all support those players because they’d be the one scoring. I think it was then that the league started to change. Well, probably not until Healey Davis, but…” he stopped to take a sip. Cliff had a bite of toast to settle the anxiousness in the room, waiting to lap up whatever his uncle was going to tell him. “I was often told that the superstars were the ones meant to score. I think back in Montana, we all started to show off a spark. We – as in the team – played good. That’s what gave us so much of an advantage.” “You were famous yourself though, right Unc?” “Oh, I was. People clamoured for me – heh, I remember a few girls that were all too eager to get a piece of me,” Andrew shook his head, wistfully. “Maybe not as much as the rest, but at one time I was the MVP of Montana. That counted for something.” “So why keep it a secret?” Cliff pressed on. Andrew sighed, taking another cup. “I’m not gonna lie, Cliff. World back then’s different from the world you live in. It’s history to me, and it really doesn’t concern you. I left the limelight for a reason.” Some of those words struck oddly at Cliff. The younger lynx grasped his chair tightly, recalling the cryptic message left behind on the back of the photograph. “Does dad know?” Cliff felt like he was begging. But he wanted to know what his uncle was going through. “He doesn’t.” Andrew looked like he was about to say more, but he stopped there. “Right…” the lynx took his uncle’s word and bit further into his toast. “You’re doing great, Cliff. Just keep at it, alright?” the elder greymuzzle consoled him. “You’re rising fast. I’m proud of you.” “Heh…just like you?” Cliff half-joked. He knew this was in bad taste but it was his last attempt to draw something out. True enough, it drained some of his uncle’s spirit, visible in his wrinkled face. “A bit, just the good parts.” The young feline wanted to prod on, but he kept himself. Just grating his uncle like that left a painful feeling in his chest. He didn’t want to ruin the mood, so he just laughed. “Anyway, I’m meeting Rodger off at our usual coffee place. I’ll see you later, Unc.” He got up, making a start for his room to get dressed.
He had just entered his room when he got a phone call, his phone vibrating from the table. He looked at the number and ID, picking it up right away. “Yes Mr. Svenlocke – er, Feres?” the young lynx asked. Over the line, the manager spoke in his usual cheerful flair. “Ah, Matthiews, morning. I hope I’m not bothering you?” “No. What’s the matter?” “I was hoping that maybe later…at lunch maybe? Sakana, I was recommended – could we meet? I need you to meet someone and I have some things to discuss.” “Ah.” The brown lynx half-groaned. “I’m free,” he wanted to argue or negotiate, but felt it would be wrong to turn his boss down. “I can meet you there for lunch, yeah.” “Wonderful! It’s kind of urgent so be punctual. I’ve invited Mr. Alonse as well.” “Reeve? Why?” Cliff raised a brow, turning to look out the window. “It kind of concerns you both. I’ll tell you later – it’s a bit private, should we say?” “Alright, Feres.” “See you then!”
Cliff closed the phone and started getting changed. Throughout the whole ride to the café, he had the contents of the meeting on his mind the whole way.
| Skidding to a Halt|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Cliff sat beside Reeve, glancing warily at the sudden serious, honest tone that Feres and his lupine friend Fangloup had taken.
“There’s a lot going on behind the league. I know the two of you are digging into Lambert’s past, since the doctor was really honest with us that he talked with the two of you.” Feres began, sipping at his coffee.
Their clean plates of Japanese food had already been whisked away, now only green tea ice cream and drinks were left on the table.
“What he’s trying to say is…keep your noses down.” Fangloup bluntly added. “The two of you shouldn’t snoop around. It’s a bad alley. And I mean bad.” He emphasized, leaning forward till his long brown muzzle was across the table.
The lynx turned to his calico friend, who looked just as bewildered – in fact, he could even scent a bit of fear coming from him. Perhaps it was a fear for Alicia.
“As I said, I’m with Interpol.” The red furred wolf pulled away from the table and leaned back on his chair. His voice was gruff, but it was softened within the confines of the private room. “I’m against putting civilians in danger,” he shot a sharp look at Feres as he spoke, “but Feres here thinks that you can help us. At the time we only wanted to just plant a few seeds, get you curious. So, it’s time to cash in.” he stopped, his blue eyes lingering over the two felines across the table. “Is there anything about Lambert you can tell us?”
Cliff bit his lip. He was confused; there definitely was something about his uncle that seemed off – that lurking past of his looming over him like a shadow and the strange note left by M.S. at the back of the photograph.
The brown-furred lynx sat upright. “What’s going on with my uncle? I need to know this.”
“We told you,” Fang began, “We can’t –“
“Sec, Fang. Maybe we should.” Feres cut in.
The wolf snarled. “No.”
“Too late for keeping half secrets. You’ve got him curious already. I told you, you gotta go the whole way. There’s a certain phrase about cats and curiosity. Especially with a reporter.” He flicks an ear at Reeve’s direction.
“This was a bad idea from the start.” The wolf growled, crossing his arms. “I can’t believe you talked me into this –“ The silver lynx interrupted him with a cough. Fangloup sighed, giving in. By now, both Reeve and Cliff’s ears were perked, turning inward to the wolf. “Andrew Lambert is suspected of having ties to the maletophine drug trade that’s started up again.
Cliff and his calico friend looked at each other, eyes wide. “We’re not going to sugar coat it or even poof out some flour. So far, your uncle’s our only link that we have eyes on. And by proxy, the two of you. It would be one if the two of you didn’t spend so much time together.” Fangloup stopped himself from saying anything further, keeping his muzzle shut.
“Wait…what do you mean he’s part of some drug trade?” Cliff hissed. His tone was a mix of disbelief and worry. Relief and anxiety flooded him – an explanation at last came out, but it was not one he wanted to hear.
“I mean what I said. He’s got links. And we wouldn’t have known about his ties if he hadn’t sent out a call for help some twenty years ago.” The brown lynx just sat, bewildered. “He asked us for help. Don’t know how. Details are past, but it’s good he did. These guys are good at covering their tracks. And cleaning evidence.”
Feres finally spoke out now. “Probably comes without saying but this is all very sensitive info. Keep it to yourselves.” The two felines at their side of the table nodded in unison, feeling the gravity weigh down on them. “We’re telling you this now because if we have to do something drastic, the two of you won’t flip. That, and we don’t want you to dig any deeper – whatever you can tell us, anything to do with the maletophine incidents, your uncle, weird stuff – we’ll take it. After that, keep your head down and let us handle the rest.”
The conversation was much more straightforward from there – rather, one way. Cliff told them about M.S, and the incident where Martin brought back Andrew drunk. Reeve told them whatever he found out in his interview with Rebecca Stephens. They were neither surprised nor disappointed, but quietly let them go with a reminder that they weren’t to speak of the meeting to anyone, or in public. It explains the strange behaviour of uncle, and that weird nagging feeling that Cliff had every time he saw Feres. He wouldn’t blame the silver lynx, by this point his goals were crystal clear – being a GM was his third job, second rate. He was here to track down a criminal rig first and foremost. The ride home was going to be full of thoughts weighing heavily on his head.
--- The season continued on, this time quietly. Cliff celebrated victories and pressed on against losses alongside the team, and when he returned home conversations with his uncle never felt more awkward since that meeting. He quietly wondered what might happen one day – whenever Fangloup’s investigations concluded, what would happen to his uncle? He suddenly felt like he was in the middle of some noir action film, like some sort of extra on the sidelines. He wished he could help more with his uncle, but he never pushed his luck, instead always keeping to himself or being brief when Andrew was drunk, or staying friendly when he was in a good mood.
As the playoffs drew near, the team was taking it easier, but less work made it harder for Cliff to draw his attention away from his uncle – so he thought to counter it by spending more time with the team after practice or the games. He’d go with Rodger and Bobby to electronics conventions or just spend time looking at cars, or watch movies with Marcus and Julia. Sometimes they’d run into Kasa and Olga, who’ve become good friends in the past year. Other times it would be an occasional lunch with Reeve and Alicia. Whatever the case, Cliff kept himself busy and away from his apartment for as long and often as possible.
--- Then the playoffs came, their first round was against Stanislaus. The first day, Tabanov announced that Yalenchka and Umaechi would be coming off the bench to strike at the Thrust. They complied - that wasn’t a new plan for the team. After all, they had done so several times throughout the season. But the lineups for the next day involved the same. Rodger expressed his distaste for it, saying he should be up in front to give the team his all – but the Coach was adamant. There was something Cliff could see there in the husky – hurt, almost like he was betrayed. He contemplated taking the canine out for coffee like they normally would, but he decided against it.
He regretted that decision the next day when Coach once again announced that Rodger would be coming out of the bench. The husky made it very evident that he wouldn’t stand for it – he snarled, and paced along the bench throughout the game. Cliff bit his lip as he watched; he never knew Umaechi to be so verbal and emotive. This lineup decision from Vladmir had agitated the husky, so much that it seemed out of character. The lynx’s heart gnawed at itself because he doesn’t even know why the canine was so upset. Rodger knew that the team had agreed to do whatever it takes for the best odds of winning from the start of the season – at least, that’s how he saw it. Why raise a fit now? He tossed a few glances at Feres, who kept his poker face looking between the few angry glares from Rodger, to the coach, and to the game.
They had won the round against the Stanislaus Thrust, but it seemed to have come at a price. Since then, Rodger was always on the starting line, though the damage had been done. There was a rift between the husky and the snow leopard, and even to Feres. Cliff brought the topic up to Bobby when they were in the locker room together after training.
“Bobby,” Cliff began. “What’s up with Rodger? He’s been so…”
“Angry? Upset?” he started. “Hell, I’d be too – he’s the star of Alaska, and he got benched.” He said with a low growl. “You can’t just do that to a guy who puts his heart and soul into the game. He turns this team around, he’s guaranteed MVP by this point, and you bench the best player in the league. He’s always told me he wanted to have a match against Stanislaus – didn’t get much of a chance, did he, eh?”
The lynx nodded. It made sense, but he jabbed at himself for not noticing the reason why sooner. He looked up to the husky – he was practically the person he strived to be, his source of determination. And yet, it almost was like he didn’t know that side of the canine. He huffed, getting more to chew than he bargained for when he wanted something to occupy his mind over his uncle.
--- When they were eventually kicked out of playoffs contention by Dakota, the player awards were the next event in line for the team. As expected, Rodger Umaechi won MVP – and for once Cliff saw that brilliant, excited smile from the canine as he held the title proudly. He knew that Rodger had wanted that title – it was the mark of excelling, and that was one thing he strived for.
However, he couldn’t help but feel that the short speech he gave afterwards carried a fair degree of resentment. Normally in conferences he would talk about Alaska as a team, as a group he was close to – it was absent in this time, and Cliff wasn’t the only one who noticed.
It only came in the following month that Cliff realized why that was.
| Wrangling With Doors|
Written by Rainwhisker
| Every day of the year when he was in Alaska, Cliff had gotten used to wrestling the door lock to his uncle's house when he got home. He'd gotten so used to this state, he can tell which day was cooler as cold winds brush against his fur while he fought at the front porch with the lock. When the lock finally clicked, he braced his nose.
Tonight, there was no alcohol as he stepped inside. That would either mean his uncle wasn't home, or he wasn't drinking. In the four -five years he's lived under his uncle's rather humble abode, he was glad there was more and more of the latter. Still, old habits die hard, as they say, and it clung onto his uncle like the drink's reek on his fur.
The lights were mostly off, so Andrew must be out. Cliff checked his watch; it was just about nine thirty, so the night was still young. After he dragged his duffel bag in, the lynx brushed the shoulders of his coat and hung it at the door, and untied his shoes. As he bent, a creak inside caused his ears to twitch. "Unc, are you home?" he called out. There wasn't a response. He padded through the corridor into the small living room, his feline eyes easily adjusting to the dark. "Uncle?"
There was a faint mew in response. The lynx's eyes were drawn to the door to his left, headed into the back rooms. A small tomcat crept inside, looking lost and confused. Cliff only tilted his head, puzzled, then he stepped further in to reach for the cat, only for it to dart off back into the laundry room. He blinked, humming in bewilderment and proceeded to follow it to the partially ajar door. As he neared it, he felt a breeze ruffle his ankles; he pushed the door open and turned to the far corner, and saw a small hole at the backdoor's base cracked open.
"Oh, cripes." he murmured. Then, his ears sharply turned behind him, hearing a jiggle of the doorknob coming from the front door, and the lynx drew a sharp breath, remembering that he hadn't locked the door. He turned tail hastily and made for the door, to find an imposingly large figure standing at the doorway, the chill blowing in. Still accustomed to the dark, the outside was brighter than it should have been; but the lynx's nose picked up the scent carried in quickly. "Bobby."
"You left your door open," the polar bear motioned vaguely at it. Cliff's eyes adjusted to the lighting and saw his friend's familiar figure. His fur flattened and he could feel his cheeks flush. He quietly cursed himself for being paranoid, and for forgetting to lock the door.
"Yeah, yeah I did - a cat managed to sneak in." he quickly explained, flattening his ears in embarrassment.
"A cat ?" the big bear took a short pause before he slowly bowed his head as he entered, his size almost too big for the door. In fact, the whole house was almost too short for the bear. It made sense, considering that Andrew had bought the house from a human.
"A feral one," he added hastily, realizing that he was being vague. "Kitty cat, you know." he looked off to the side, then weaved around the polar bear to peer outside. Bobby's car was parked at the driveway, turned off. "Marcus isn't --"
"Oh, just a cat --" they spoke at the same time. Cliff let loose a quiet chuckle, then gently closed the door and began his routine of finagling with the door lock first, and then the additional lock. "No, Marcus isn't with me," the polar bear picked up on what the lynx was speaking about, and awkwardly pointed at the door. "and I didn't want to stay too long -- is your uncle home?" It was then Cliff realized that he had immediately assumed that Bobby was visiting and treated him like a guest and locked him inside. "Oh, cripes sake. Sorry." he pursed his lips and started to open the door. "Well, uh. Uncle's not here, and you're in -- could I get you anything? What's with the visit?" he could hear himself stumbling on his own words. He felt his body warm up, flustered. He didn't quite begin the ritual of working the lock just yet.
"I came because you left this," he fished around in his pockets and drew out a smartphone. It was familiar --
"Oh, mine! I left it!" Cliff blurted out, his ears already stuck firmly on his head. "God, I've just been all over today, haven't I?" he chuckled nervously. "Thanks." He barely looked up to Bobby's grin - and a concerned gaze as the lynx took the phone and did a habitual check of any notifications before pocketing it. A few messages and a missed call. He rubbed his brown-furred arms nervously.
"It's a good thing a few of us stuck around the locker rooms for a bit. It rang and we caught that you left it in your locker." Cliff could only grumble and growl in response. The lynx looked off to the kitchen just to the pair's left, before the corridor leading into the living room.
"Well, ah. I could make you some tea, or a ginger drink. You came through all this trouble..." he nervously walked around the bear, but he could feel the stern gaze boring into his scalp. "Maybe a fishcake? Dad brought some when he was in town, and I know you like those."
He heard a low, concerned growl coming from the polar bear at the doorway. "Look, Cliff, I'll take you up on your hospitality, because some of us were getting a bit concerned."
"Right - I'll get tea," the bear's words were already forming a lump in his chest. "Concerned?" he lightly carried the conversation while he kept himself busy with going through drawers and shelves, preparing tea and a few fish cakes on a plate. He bit his lip, knowing what was coming. "About?"
The bear had made himself at home and sat down at the kitchen table. "Lately - everything really. You've been all over the place, aloof. It shows in your game, it shows in the locker room, your injuries, and it shows here. Something's been on your mind."
The feline flicked the knob on an electric thermos and watched the water heat up, slowly. it took him a whole minute before he sighed, turning around to meet his friend's eyes. "It was that obvious, huh."
Bobby only shot him a soft glare in response. Nothing needed to be said. Cliff shuffled and pulled a chair back; as he sat he gave off another sigh.
"You heard what the coach's been saying after the games." the lynx started, with a shrug. "He's right." the memory of coach Nelson's straight, sharp and piercing criticism was nothing like the harsh yet honest tones of coach Tabanov. But Cliff knew that even if the snow leopard was still their coach, his words would've still been as truthful.
"But nothing's changing." Bobby argued, his frown only deepened as the thermos started to boil. "You've barely moved since the start of the season. You're performing worse than last season."
The words stung, but Cliff couldn't do much to fight against it. "I just -- " he turned around to quickly lift up the boiling thermos and poured piping hot water into the cups. "Everyone else is doing so much better. I can't keep up with any of them." he admitted, ears splaying while he feebly brought the cups to the wooden table.
"Come on, Cliff, what is this?" the polar bear growled, his large paws jittering the table in a light shove. "Self-doubt? You've never told me anything about this."
"It isn't something I want to air out in public or bawl out over twitter, Bobby." the lynx turned around, emotions flurrying from shame to anger. He recounted the number of times he read and heard other players - rookies, some of them - complain about their performance publically. He related, and inside, he knew how they felt.
"Then what about to us? Your own team? Or me?" the chair groaned as the bear pushed himself to his feet, palms planted on the table.
Cliff put down a plate of fish cakes, his green eyes managing to look back at the bear's. He could almost feel his hurt and betrayal. And that only aggravated the lynx further. "I don't want to admit it, Bobby." the brown fur sharply replied, trembling slightly in fear. "I've just -- stopped. It's felt like this for years."
"What are you talking about?" the polar bear snapped, his ears sharply pinning themselves as he slowly understood. "You've been so determined every year to make a name for yourself. You tell us that every year. You were one of the top of the team in your second."
Cliff ran a paw along his face. "I know, I know that! It's just -- I can't seem to --" he struggled to find words to explain himself. "I'm...I'm clueless on where I wanna go."
Bobby looked like he was caught between confusion and anger. Cliff knew this all came from left field - he had been good at hiding his emotions and playing things off with a strong face.
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you." he sighed again, easing into his chair and looking up at his teammate. "I just didn't want to admit it myself, I guess."
"What's gotten in your head?" Bobby appeared conflicted, but he settled himself enough to take a seat. "It's not like you to be so down. I haven't seen you this way since..." his brows raised calmly as the realization dawned on him. "Two years ago."
"Yeah. End of the season." Cliff took a hesitant drink of his tea, his head flooding with events that stuck and held him for two years straight.
"So losing your role model cost you all this?" the bear regained his composure to also start drinking, gazing at the feline expectantly for his story. Cliff acknowledged the question with a twitch of his ear. They've been close friends long enough to know that Cliff would spill by this point.
"His farewell party had kinda sunk it in for me." the brown lynx tapped his glass with a claw nervously, thinking of each word to say. His head recounted Rodger's last night as an Arctic, and it wasn't exactly the smoothest. Cliff gazed up at Bobby to check his response; it was a stern snort, and a slight dip of his large head. "I know you two still don't see eye to eye after that. But you knew how much he meant to me."
Bobby nodded. "Always taking in every piece of advice, always looking to him for quite a few things."
"The way he carried himself, I knew I wanted to be like him." the more he talked, the easier it felt. Relief washed over his body, and he felt nothing of the chill outside. "And then, I just lost it when he said he was leaving the team. I understood his reasons, but..." he bit his lip, puzzled.
"You couldn't accept it. So you were confused." the bear surmised. "You relied on him too much, and suddenly he did something you never expected."
The lynx swallowed his tea bitterly. "Right."
"Let me tell you something, then." he leaned forward, his massive weight creaking the comparatively small chair. "When he left the team, it fell on me to watch Alaska while Esteban was still getting his tail dipped in the cold. I saw everyone there - devastated. He was our hook, our leader. And we didn't recover at all until this season." his gaze darkened as he explained, a look of pain on his face. "I was guilty of the same thing, you know. I trusted him. And I couldn't fill in that gap when the team needed it. It was heavy on me - after all, I was the oldest Arctic, I've been here the longest out of the entire team, and I was supposed to take charge. But I didn't."
"You shouldn't blame yourself for last year's performance." The team was at the bottom, he recalled. It was more than humiliating to see the team crumble so far from where they were, but the media were right in reporting that Rodger's departure took a hefty blow on the team, more than the loss of coach Tabanov.
"I don't as much anymore. But I've stepped things up and moved on. We all have, Cliff, and you need to as well."
"I'm just stuck, Bobby. I've tried for the past year and a half."
"Aren't you the one who prides on being adaptable?" the bear chided. "I'm sorry, but I'm not talking to that determined lynx who won player of the game two years ago, or the lynx citing that as his reason for being able to be a pro athlete."
Cliff growled in frustration, setting his tea down. He swiped a fishcake and tore into it angrily. "Come on, Bobby, don't give me that."
"I'm giving it to you right now." he snapped. "I want to get you over that hurdle, Cliff, but you're not going anywhere until you decide that you're done being down here."
The lynx's claws dug deeply into the cake, his growl escalating stronger. He cut it off sharply and let out a short breath.
"Are you going to just wallow in self-pity and spend your time going nowhere?"
Those words cut Cliff at his core; he suddenly saw an image of his own uncle, having been trapped in a vicious cycle and never moving past his old crimes for twenty long years. His youth's potential cut short by a poor decision.
The brown fur looked up at his friend and shook his head, firmness returning to his green eyes while he met Bobby's stern look. Cliff took a deep breath and wiped his face again. "I don't want to stay like this, Bobby. I hate feeling like I'm getting paid but not giving back. I hate being stuck and not able to adapt and grow, striving for perfection. I don't want to be sent back to the reserve line."
"You can do it. I didn't get to my position early in my career you know. I'm no prodigy like some of the folk in our team now, or others. You still got experience, and you just need to find your old passion again." he cracked a grin. "Kind of like sparking an old flame."
For whatever reason, that made Cliff laugh. He curbed it off by taking a casual bite of the fish cake, to which Bobby had also began digging in from. "Passion, eh. Maybe I do need to find it again. I'd hate to see it die forever."
"And now you have a direction to head to. Start from there." Bobby sagely nodded, biting a large chunk of his fish cake into his big jaws.
"Sometimes I still feel like I'm not a pro athlete." Cliff chuckled nervously. "Like a cub fresh out of high school."
"You know what they say --" a mewling cut Bobby off. The two turned their heads in the direction of the laundry room.
| A Tale of Two Lynxes|
Written by Rainwhisker & Mitch
© Rainwhisker & Mitch
| The corridors seemed empty as Cliff finally put his phone down. Hour-long conversations with his mother were few and far between, but they demanded his full attention. Of all the things he couldn’t multitask with, it was with her phone calls. He took a long breath, reeling from the breadth and depth of every single conversation topic she could throw at him. As he did, he took in the general calm of the hallway. The Icebox’s back rooms generally held a content chill to them, but the lynx considered it a welcoming feeling. It sunk afterwards however, when there was that nagging thought at the back of his mind of whether or not he belonged. Shoving it out, he pressed on. His conversation with Bobby the prior week was still fresh.
“Oh, you fucking fuck!” came a gruff, growling voice from one of the rooms. The sudden outburst in the silence surprised Cliff, causing him to jump in place. He turned to the offending door – the video room. Whoever was in there, he could tell he was angry, and he was cursing profanely, muffled behind the door. Already knowing who this person might be, Cliff pocketed his phone and pushed down on the doorhandle.
There was the sound of cheering and booing – a familiar sound to his ears. His nose caught the smell of prohibited cigarettes and drinks in the room. Sure enough, in the room standing arched with his hackles raised was Ambrose Slade. The younger lynx saw that he was watching a video of a basketball game, but then he noticed the jerseys and the faces were unlike any others he’s seen in the FBA. He stepped inside, looking to the teams playing. The scores highlighted their names; the London Jets and the Legion Romana. The Jets, Cliff recalled was Slade’s team from the EFBL, and they were losing big. The scores didn’t even need to be read, the Eurasian lynx’s expression said it all. Cliff was well into the room before the older feline took notice.
“Hey, kid,” he managed to say through grit teeth, eyes affixed to the vid. He threw his arms up in exasperation when the Italian team managed to dunk over the English center, a fox. He took deep breaths, pausing the video while he took a long drag of his cigarette. His fur flattened as the cigarette calmed him down.
“Rough game?” the Canadian lynx skirted around the array of chairs to get closer to his teammate. He looked at the score, and he could barely contain a wince.
“Fucking wimps, all of them.” He snorted, snuffing out the light by pressing it against a bottle. “They keep slipping on their feet and flippers without me to set them right.” He growled indignantly. “Missed so many chances to shoot. What the hell is their coach doing?”
Cliff shifted uncomfortably. He recalled the previous year with the Arctics shortly after Umaechi and Tabanov had left the team. It was an absolute disaster for them. He then wondered if any of his old teammates had felt the same way.
“Lyons is supposed to be able to take charge better than that. Kid’s turned into a kitten again. And Daniels – for crying out loud, his plays were awful.” He pressed play again, resuming the video.
While the younger feline watched, he couldn’t help but feel a stroke of admiration for the animated edge to the veteran’s movements and words. His words and criticisms were sharp, but there was genuine care he had for his old team. “Seems to me you knew that team like the back of your hand,” he said, amused. “You were their point, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, you’re right on that.” Slade set down the remote. “I was their star. Better than Stoat ever was.” His muzzle lined up in a grin. It quickly faded when one of the Jets players failed to grab the rebound. “Bloody fucking hell, that was atrocious!” he gestured angrily at the screen, snarling.
Cliff refrained from laughing out of respect. The accent was somewhat foreign around in Alaska, and Noddy’s sheer frustration at a team he no longer played for was respectable. The lynx also knew he referred to John Stoat –the stoat that was now the pride of Huntsville. “You’ve mentioned him a few times, he was part of the Jets once too, right?”
“Right again, kiddo.” He nodded, rolling the snuffed cigarette between two digits. In fact, it almost got crushed while Slade continued watching the bad trainwreck. “But then he left for the FBA and we won the championships twice in the next four years. You’ve seen the rings.” Speaking about the past kind of resulted in sort of conflicted look; pride was definitely one of them, marked by his big grin. The other was likely disappointment at the team he was watching.
“Heh, I remember seeing them.” The younger lynx recounted the time Slade told the story of him winning the EFBL championships. He took his rings out to show the rest of the team, looking at them with a swelling chest full of pride. “Big, bulky. Expensive looking, too.” Cliff always envied that position – the position of being a superstar. He remembered when he drove to become the best point guard in the team, to have people cheer and chant his name. The few times he was at the top, he remembered the thrill of being needed. Slade had left that position to start over in a new league.
The buzzer hit, signaling the end of the game. The younger lynx didn’t even dare mention the score out loud; the two felines saw the gap and it was almost enough to make Cliff cringe. Noddy just growled quietly, letting his frustrations out with a deep, long rumble.
“I keep ‘em in a safe.” He finally said, taking a deep breath. “Too fucking hard to wear ‘em all the time.” he held his digits out, dropping the cigarette into one of the beer bottles. He shut off the video player and grabbed a small bag sitting ontop of the chair. “I’m gonna go grab something to eat.”
The younger lynx stood, looking at the empty bottles, one of them containing the snuffed cigarette. “It’s a good thing none of the smoke detectors picked up on that.” He smirked, helping him clean up. He tossed the ash into a bin. “Speakin’ of, you usually smoke outside, don’t you?” he handed the tray back to Slade, who grunted a thanks.
“Watching the Jets always gets me frustrated. Helps me calm down a bit.”
“So’s getting drunk, then?” he picked up the bottles by the floor. He did his hardest to not inhale too much, but he could still taste the smell of yeast inside his mouth, prompting him to screw up his muzzle.
“This American piss ain’t enough to give me a buzz.” He half-joked, grinning. “Thanks for helping clean up, by the way.”
“No problem.” He flicked an ear dismissively. Moving out of the room as Slade closed it up, he thought of what his plans were for the rest of the day. Training was over, their game with Montana was tomorrow, and afterwards was the All-Star Week. He’d be going to support the teammates that were headed over. “You said you were flying back? For the break?”
“Yeah, looking forward to it. After the game, I’ll be heading back.”
They made their way out of the stadium, where Cliff promptly disposed of the bottles in the garbage bin. He wondered if anyone would peg and fine them for breaking the rules, but he shoved the thoughts away. “Meeting mum,” he tried to feign an accent, which lead to a chortle from the older veteran. “And the old team?”
“Firstly, don’t even try that again,” he held a digit out, humoured. “Secondly, that’s about right. The team, couple of friends. Visiting our old haunts in London. Cheap Indian food, and maybe mum if she’s sober, but I guarantee she’s probably not.”
The outward confident mention and image of a drunk mom made Cliff chuckle weakly. “I get to go home to a mostly-drunk Uncle. So I know the feeling.”
Slade regarded his junior for a moment as they approached the carpark. “You mentioned that once or twice.”
The mutual understanding made the lynx feel comfortable talking about Andrew. “He’s gotten better at it, but I just got tired of the I-don’t-know-how-many nights I get back and he chews my ear off when he’s just slurring all his words.”
“What’s he harpin’ you for?”
“Usually it’s my game.” He admits. “Bit of truth to that…” He trails off as they arrive at Slade’s unmistakably arctic white Range Rover. “Say, where’re you getting lunch at?” It was a bit late for lunch, admittedly. They took some time after practice, but on the other hand it was too early for dinner.
“Speakin’ of London makes me crave for some Indian curries, but there’s absolute fuck-all of that here.” He says with contempt leaking into his words. “There’s a Thai place I’ve been meaning to try at 5th Avenue.”
“Mind if I came along?” He didn’t exactly have much in the way of plans for the rest of the day, and spending some time to get to know a teammate – let alone a fellow lynx – seemed like a good idea. “I think I know which one you’re talking about.”
“That’ll be nice.” Slade replied, throwing his bag into the back seat. “Hop on, I’ll take you.”
--- The ride to the restaurant was filled with their exchange on team matters, quickly easing to them talking about their personal experiences back at their home countries. The older lynx would share about his youth, and his time in London with his team, recalling his old activities. Cliff told Slade stories about Aceh’s neighbouring villages and how he started working with poor children and charity. He’d recount the weird looks other kids’ parents would give him, knowing that he was a ‘foreign rich kid’ who came to play with the other kids as the adults were busy arranging events, deals and installations of essential systems in the villages such as water pumps and generators.
Lynxes or other northern and western species were definitely a rare sight in the tropics. There was always that feeling of division between local and foreign furs, especially in a lesser developed village, in a developing nation. While the town of Aceh was better off being the province’s capital, its villages were mostly poor. With naturally thick fur and big paws suited for snow or firm ground, tropical foliage and mud proved to be a bit of a trouble for convenience and safety in villages by the jungles and mountains. As a younger cub, there were often risks of infections or damage to developing pawpads, and overheating from all the heat, which was why he normally used shoes and very thin clothes. As he grew up and adapted, his fur had shortened and thinned. His pawpads had hardened and firmed, so it was safer to walk on mud. His fur, however, stuck with him to present day, which is why he still – as much as he hated to admit it – feels cold in most winters that most lynxes don’t. Lynxes often pride themselves on having thick, lush and long coats, trying to distance themselves from their Bobcat relatives. Slade couldn’t help but grin, poking a joke at his expense playfully, and reminded Cliff that he would ‘keep it in mind’.
They arrived at the restaurant, hopping off the white Range Rover. “Just make sure we don’t lose it in a snowstorm this time, Slade.” He jested as the other lynx locked it up.
“Hey, that night was –very- snowy.” He emphasized. “And there were drinks – good ones – involved.”
Cliff smirked, entering the restaurant. A few patrons and staff expressed some share of delight at seeing the two felines, and they were promptly seated. Cliff’s humble order of a two-course meal was dwarfed by the array of things Slade had ordered. “We’ll share,” he explained at Cliff’s surprised look.
“You really like to indulge,” The younger lynx gave Slade a grin. “Either that or my stomach shrank too.” He was curious about the older lynx’s spending habit – or any other player who was supposedly earning top pay on their contracts. They’ve worked their way to the top, and some of them share in Cliff’s philanthropy, while others like to enjoy themselves with that money.
Slade snorted. “And you like to donate your money.” He replied, as if he knew Cliff’s intentions. “Either that or food here just doesn’t fill me up, even though they’re bigger.”
“True.” Cliff picked idly away at their menu, careful to not unsheathe his claws, chuckling. Slade was at the top back in London, that much he knew. He must’ve been paid less for his contract in the FBA. “Still, maybe it’s not my business, but you must’ve had it big in the EFBL. Probably better off than starting over coming to this side of the world.”
“It’s got its up and downs. I got a few reasons why I came here, though.”
Slade held out his digits, counting them off. “First, I wanted to play with the best. Europe didn’t have anything else to offer me with two championships under my belt. The best is right here.” Cliff would nod at that. The FBA was reserved for the finest and most promising of basketball athletes – a high privilege in sports. Slade leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I know you’ve been kicking yourself in the dirt lately, son. You say as much when the Ol’ Birdy starts pecking at you.”
The Canadian lynx’s ears tapered. He knew eventually they’d be talking about his performance – in fact, Cliff wanted him to, and it brought him relief. There was something about having another of the same species and the same profession, same team that he could relate with – he searched in the veteran for some direction, inspiration to rekindle what he lost two years ago.
“Coach is right though. I’ve just been terrible lately.” He growled lowly. “I don’t want to end up on reserve and just sit around every game – I’d feel like when they first picked me up, only a lot worse.” Cliff massaged his face, grumbling.
“Work on your techniques – go back to the basics, Cliff.” Slade pointed out. His tone was to the point, but he made sure his voice stayed low. “Your form’s been pretty weak, so your aim’s been terrible, and your jumps don’t go high enough.”
“I know, I know.” He supported his head on his arms, his eyes fixed on the plastic table’s surface. “I really appreciate the advice, Slade. I’ve heard all that before, but I just need to find the same drive I had before, you know? Something drove me here, and it’s been gone for awhile, now. I need to find it back. The game’s just…been hollow.”
Slade pursed his lips and let out a short hum. “Keep in mind, son, you’re among the best of the best.” He echoed Cliff’s earlier thoughts. “You’re also one of them, and that says something about how good you really are. The big bear told me you were really driven and won player of the game once. Why do you think that is?” he asked, rhetorically.
Cliff was left to his thoughts as the drinks arrived. He recalled the drive, that feeling of seeing fans excited to seeing him. He remembered the moments where he felt needed by others – his team, the audience - and the thrill of overcoming the obstacles coming from the other team. He remembers equating it to when the kids cheered him in the kampung courts. Those were the moments he felt genuinely encouraged.
“Ever tried a punching bag?”
“Huh?” he looked back at Slade. “A punching bag?”
“It’s good to throw out your frustrations with. Ever threw a punch in your life, kid?” he grinned, joking.
“Hrmph.” He flattened his ears, unable to answer. Truthfully, he hadn’t, but Slade only cackled as he picked up on his body language. “I can start. Sounds like an idea.” He offered. The prospect was tempting, and he hadn’t found a good enough outlet for his frustrations.
“I’m pretty good with my punches, you know.”
“But you didn’t go for boxing?” Cliff asked in return, finding a chance to ask Slade further about his inspiration. “And went for basketball instead? Why’s that?”
“Four reasons for that one,” he pointed, then held out his four digits. “Money, fame, women, and respect.”
The young lynx genuinely wasn’t too surprised. There were many athletes like that, simple and straightforward, but the last one intrigued him. “Respect, eh? Why’s that?”
“Where I came from, others used to push me around.” He began, taking a drink of his beer. “It’s only when I learned how to fight back and beat the shit out of those fuckers I could stand up for myself.”
Cliff could only feel sympathy. The stories of bullying were common worldwide; even when he was in Aceh he remembered stories of kids being pushed around. He was able to dodge the bullet just because he was popular due to being a rich foreigner’s kid. Many girls have tried to get close to him for that reason.
“Though you got to realize,” he continued. “Using violence? That comes with problems. Bullies got friends, and so you’re never really safe. Unless you got friends of your own. But respect? That’ll avoid most of the problems. If people like you because of what you do for them, nobody’s going to mess with you.” Cliff took this in and nodded, accepting the answer. He could relate with that; he wanted to prove to everyone that he was more than just a foreigner trying to appear mighty; he wanted to belong. And he could do that by getting their respect. Cliff was the same – he wanted to not be seen as a foreign rich cat, but be respected for what he could give them. Giving children who barely had anything laughter, inspiration, fun, a role model.
Slade took another drink before he continued. “I wasn’t rich growing up in Wolverhampton, and if you heard anything about Wolverhampton is that every guy needs to carry a blackjack or something. I know fuck-all about my dad, and my mum’s a seamstress but she’s drunk most of the time. So I had to take care of myself with a bunch of other kids. When you get good at something the neighbourhood can respect, you finally get somewhere in that sort of a place.”
The younger lynx flicked an ear in agreement, watching one of the waitresses load up a tray with presumably their food. “Thanks for sharing that, Slade. Appreciate it.” The veteran’s experiences and his reasons were all analogous in part to his own source of drive – that respect, that fulfilment to a cause, that sense of belonging. That was what he craved and sought for two years ago. And he wanted to get it back.
“Hey, hey. You know what, Matthiews. One of these days, you’re gonna have to call me Noddy. You have –never- called me anything but Slade in the entire time I knew you. Except for that time you called me Ambrose, but since that was our first meeting I let it slide.” He grinned, one eye looking off to their food finally arriving.
“Dunno if I could, Slade.” Cliff grinned sheepishly back. Try as he might, part of the reason why was because Slade was older and he grew up taught to respect those older highly. It was different in Aceh than it would be in the west; it was something he still had trouble trying to get used to. Most of his professors never understood his formality in college.
“Oh, you bloody smartass.” He chuckled. “If I got you drunk, maybe then.”
“If you get me drunk.”
“You barely drink anyway, wuss.”
“Yeah? Well…” he gestured to his food. “Food’s here and I’m starving, so save the sass for later.” They laughed and they dug into their meal. Cliff’s mind was set at ease, and he felt like he had started to reconnect with his old self.
| Into The Wild|
Written by Qovapryi & Rainwhisker
© Qovapryi & Rainwhisker
| May 16, 2014
Cliff Matthiews' heart couldn't stop thumping.
The Hawaii Kahunas had flown to Alaska to play their last away game against their divisional rivals Alaska Arctics, and the Canadian lynx had thought long and hard about taking this opportunity to confess his true feelings to one particular otter.
It had begun the past winter, Cliff starting to get attracted to Scoonie Barrett, the Kahunas' rookie power forward, while hanging out with him and his friends after one of the Arctics' away games in beautiful Hawaii. Being too shy to ask his crush right away, he'd resolved to let some hints slip here and there during their conversations on Twitter. The big mustelid had been unresponsive at worst and elusive at best, but by the end of April the feline was reasonably sure that he'd got his signals and didn't seem to openly dislike it, which was already a lot more than how he initially expected it to go.
Only there was a little underlying problem: to Cliff's knowledge, Scoonie was totally straight. Or, to put it in the otter's words, “straight but open-minded”, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Still, the lynx figured there was no other way to know but directly asking him out. He'd planned to take the otter out after the game to one of the nicest seafood restaurants in Alaska, and had convinced his teammate Zack Tate to come and tag along with Alfie as to not make him too suspicious, especially after he had answered his invitation saying that he was anxious to meet him and “the guys”. The tall zorilla had been instructed with the delicate task of whisking the British rat away after dinner, leaving Cliff free to make his move on Scoonie.
Yet nine o'clock was fast approaching and the trio hadn't showed up yet, the lynx waiting in front of the Seaborn & Mack's Seafood Saloon and growing more and more impatient by the minute. He let out a sigh of relief when a taxi stopped screeching in front of the restaurant, the otter and the zorilla coming out from it and stretching their long limbs after being crammed in the small vehicle for the whole ride. While Scoonie paid the cab, Zack moved towards Cliff, a bit of a frown on the good side of his face.
“What's up, Zack? Where's Alphonse?” the lynx asked, his voice sounding a little concerned. He knew from his teammate's locker room tales that the absence of the rat had a nasty tendency to mean all sorts of bad news.
Zack scratched the back of his head, looking more confused than worried. “Arfie ain't comin', dude,” he said. “The big fella left the arena in a hurry - Scoons talked with him, he said he had some matter he needed to deal with. We waited for a while and then decided to come anyway, that's why we were late.”
In the meanwhile, Scoonie had reached them. He was wearing a black cardigan and a printed grey T-shirt underneath it, and to the lynx he looked as gorgeous as ever. Cliff briefly wondered if his long-studied plan would really work in the end.
The zorilla beckoned both guys to enter the restaurant. “Can we get in now, dudes? I'm STARVING!” he hooted. “Feel like I could eat an entire whale shark after that game!” That got a big, hearty laugh from the otter and the lynx, who were both used to the zorilla's boisterous antics. “Honestly, Zack, has there ever been a time when you weren't hungry?” Scoonie said, playfully nudging the other mustelid's chest before heading for the door.
Just inside the door, the party of three was welcomed by a friendly bobcat lady who escorted them to their table after checking their reservation. The dining room was warm and spacious, the carved wooden fixtures confering the local the distinct, typical Alaskan flair. The large windows offered a stunning view over the Cook Inlet and the Alaskan Range, almost glowing in the light of the late sunset.
After a short wait, the bobcat mâitre came personally to serve each player with a gigantic portion of Alaskan king crab legs (which Cliff had enthusiastically recommended) and to uncork a bottle of expensive Napa Valley red wine. The lady filled the glasses, before biding the three guys a good evening.
“To the end of the RADDEST regular season!” Zack cheered as soon as she left, before gulping the rich liquid in one go. He was soon mimicked by Scoonie, whilst Cliff slowly sipped from his glass, the lynx not really being a drinker except for social occasions. His alcoholic uncle gave him a lot of reasons to abstain from alcohol, with most of them being the wrong ones.
“So, Scoons, how's the shoulder?” the zorilla asked, proceeding to voraciously attack his crab. The otter was still recovering from the contusion he'd suffered ten days before in a winning game against the Minutemen, and had been on injured list since then.
Scoonie grinned.“Pretty damn good, actually! This morning the doctor said I could take off the bandages, and it looks like it's healing just fine.” He carefully rotated it in the air a couple times, to demonstrate his recovered flexibility. “I'm just sad I had to miss our last game against you guys!Besides, you wouldn't have gotten the divisional title so easily with me out there,” he said, a knowing smile on his face telling Zack and Cliff that he was joking.
“You wish, Scoons!” the zorilla laughed between mouthfuls. “We've been leading you 6-1 this season with you on the court, what makes you think that this time it would've been any different?”
Scoonie put his webbed paws forward, continuing to tease him. “Fine, Zack, I'll concede!” he added, cracking the shell of another leg to expose the white meat inside. “You're gonna dominate this playoffs, I can see it. No way the Thrust can put up with you if you keep playing on you did tonight.”
“Yeah, but what about Lex and Leo?” Cliff added, a tinge of worry ruffling his features. “I don't know , but it didn't look good when they got pulled from the court...”
The zorilla stopped him with a gesture of his paw. “Now you gotta be positive, Cliff! They might be out for a bit, but there's other thirteen players warming the court for them to recover and come back in with a vengeance!”
The friendly banter between the three friends went on as the evening fell down. Gossip was shared, stories were traded and wild programs for the off-season were made. Of course, the strong red wine added to the atmosphere – Scoonie and Zack could hold their liquor just fine, and more than gladly made up for the lynx's reluctance to get another glass after the first, washing down half a bottle each.
It took some covert winks from Cliff to remind Zack about what he was supposed to do next. He made a big scene out of checking his phone for messages and putting on a fakingly-worried look. “Dudes, I better go checkin' for ol' Fonzie before Miss B discovers he's alone in Anchorage and starts floodin' my phone! You two have fun!” He threw a couple bills on the table, put on his hoodie and vanished into the night.
A quick glance to Scoonie's face told Cliff that the otter had fallen for Zack's charade. “So, what are we gonna do next?” he asked the lynx, watching in disbelief at the empty seat that the big zorilla had been occupying until just a minute before. “Chet Blackwater told me about this downtown nightclub he was going to hit with a bunch of the others...” The big gator, who had been traded to Alaska from Hawaii a couple months before, had been the one who'd introduced Scoonie to the crazy world of FBA-level parties back when he'd gotten to Honolulu, and the otter was eager of hitting the dancefloor with him again. “...unless you have other programs for the night?”
“Actually, I was thinking about taking you to one of my favorite viewing spots up on the hills.” The otter looked really torn at the lynx's proposal and Cliff knew he had to tickle his adventurous side to get a chance of making his big move. “Come on, you can't get to Anchorage four times without getting a small taste of the Alaskan wilderness!” he pleaded.
Scoonie seemed to ponder the lynx's suggestion for a while. Then, abruptly, he put his paws on the table. “All right, let's go,” he said. “You know, I've been really wanting to check the surroundings for a while. Never had time to see anything but my hotel room the other times we came up here, especially with the cold and all.”
“I promise you it'll be worthwhile!” Cliff said, trying to stop his tail from twitching and hide the biggest grin on his face.
As soon as Cliff and Scoonie reached the spot suggested by the feline, the otter realized that his friend hadn't overrated its beauty at all. Surrounded by a thick spruce forest, the grass clearing offered an astounding view of the cityline reflecting in the Knik Arm behind, with the silhouette of Mount Susitna, the Sleeping Lady, lingering in the background. The contrast between the silence of the woods and the scenery underneath added to the savage, hidden beauty of such a secluded location.
The couple sat on the grass, reveling in the woods' pungent scents. His webbed paws spread behind his head, Scoonie addressed the lynx in a low voice, almost worried to disturb the nature's peace. “This place reminds me so much of home. Looks just like the forests around Lake Michigan, only more...primal.” The faint, distant howl of a timber wolf broke the quietness, as if to prove the otter's words. “Must be a thrill to live around here, especially in the warmer months,” he grinned, averting his gaze for a while and turning his head to the scenery.
Cliff took a deep breath, allowing the silence to sit for a short moment. His ears flicked once or twice, green eyes staring intensely at the view the two shared. He turned his head and spoke. "Say, Scoonie. I want to get something off my chest. I enjoy hanging out with you like this. And I realize that I..." He paused, turning his head away, ears flicking once again. He gazed back to the otter, meeting his eyes with a tender look. "I really like you. And I wonder if you... felt the same way." There was passiveness in his tone, neither aggressive or pleading. The lynx took a sharp breath, as if his heart stopped while he searched the otter for his response. A soft smile lined his muzzle.
Scoonie jumped at Cliff's shy words, mildly surprised by his sudden declaration. In the back of his head he had known for months that the lynx had a soft spot for him, appreciating his company and even being a little flattered and amused by the smaller fur's cute displays of attention, but he honestly hadn't expected him to take things further so soon. He took his time before speaking again, his voice very serious and reduced to the weakest whisper. "Cliff, I think you're a great guy. From the moment we started hanging out together I thought we clicked well and really enjoyed being in your company. But you know, I'm not really sure about my feelings."
The lynx chuckled softly, looking away for a faint moment. His ears splayed to the sides, somewhat flustered and embarrassed. "Right, right. I just had to say that. It was worth a shot." He fidgeted slightly, bringing one claw up to plink at his simple loop earring. "You're not sure?" He asked after, curiosity seeping into his voice. "What... Do you mean?" He paused, letting the question hang in the air. If he was hurt, he didn't show it. He still had his well humoured smile on, though it was evident he was still embarrassed.
The otter averted his eyes, a little uncomfortable with the sudden change in the discussion. Being the first time in his life he was having such kind of interaction with another man, he was going to great lengths to avoid saying the wrong thing and hurting his friend. "I like you a lot, but I'm not sure whether is it like a very close friend...or something more. It's not like I've ever had any means of comparison,” he said, trying to keep that smile from leaving Cliff's face.
Cliff purred out a short, amused laugh at the otter's remark. "Right. Right..." He had a grin on his muzzle, shifting on the seat to straighten himself. He flicked an ear. "To be honest, I'd probably say the same thing if I was with a girl right now." He chuckles again, curling his tail slightly. "Still though, I don't want to force you to choose. And I won't think any less of you for being unsure. I do have a suggestion to help you figure it out, though." He scratches behind his flattened ears, finally appearing somewhat uncertain. "...only if you really want to, though." He'd turn to look at Scoonie before he finally came forth, gazing up at the otter. "If... we kissed. It's one way to... figure it out." He snapped his maw shut quickly after, turning meek by the minute. "...only if you want to do it." He quickly added, ears lowering apologetically at the brash suggestion.
Scoonie seemed to ponder Cliff's suggestion for a little while, his features pretty much unreadable to the lynx. Then, suddenly, he grinned, his fangs briefly baring in the dim light. "You know what, Cliff?" he chuckled. "It's always been in my nature to experiment. And experimenting might be just the right way to deal with this." Without waiting for the lynx's reaction, he bent his head down and forcefully pressed his lips against Cliff's, his webbed paws wrapping around the back of the feline's head and turning it to the side so that their muzzles perfectly interlocked.
Cliff didn't expect the sudden action, only barely managing a smile before it turned into a surprised look as the otter leaned down to grab the lynx's head to kiss. The surprise faded quickly with a short gasp, purring as he closed his eyes and brought his hands to the otter's shoulder and waist, accepting Scoonie's approach. His breathing heaved, lost in the moment that swept him off his feet. His paws curled into the otter's clothes and fur, taking every second of their embrace.
Feeling Cliff's nimble fingers over his body, Scoonie threw aside all reservations and let his own webbed paws wander over the lynx's back, his actions undoubtedly made bolder by the wine he'd drank at dinner. He tried to enjoy the moment as it went and not hold back, his tongue brushing against Cliff's in an effort to take control.
Cliff could taste the wine in the otter's tongue as it rasped against his own papery one. He could feel Scoonie's webbed paws gripping more firmly and tightly as he took stronger hold over the smaller lynx. Sensing his intent, Cliff flattened his ears and let the mustelid lead their kiss. The lynx's purring slurred in his throat as his tongue lapped with the otter's movement; he could feel the tension in his neck ease as he let Scoonie take charge, allowing the otter’s thick lutrine tail to wrap around his lower body. His heartbeat, once pounding with uncertainty, now only became a rhythmic thump in this special passionate moment, his fur lowering.
All the doubts that Scoonie might have had about kissing a man melted when the otter sensed that Cliff, like most women he'd been with, was liking his approach. He went on assuring his dominance, repeatedly pressing and grinding his tongue against Cliff's but at the same time gently scratching the back of the feline's scalp and ruffling his smooth fur with his clawtips. The longer their kiss went on, the more the lynx was willing to let Scoonie have his way. His ears were fully pressed against his scalp, growling in beat with his webbed rub. He lost himself in the moment, enjoying the otter's taste as the mustelid's tongue brushed against his. It was only after a good minute that their lips parted, a low, content rumble of his throat being the only sound that Cliff let out as they separated. He chuckled afterwards, staring up at Scoonie's green eyes with his own. A grin was plastered on the feline’s wet muzzle. He opened his mouth to say something, but he stopped, instead searching for the answer in the other's gaze.
Scoonie smiled sheepishly, his mind still trying to process what his actions had just stated. He racked his mind to find something to say that the lynx would get as a sign that the kiss hadn't been bad and that he'd actually kind of enjoyed it in a wicked, forbidden sort of way, not really knowing what a man wanted to hear after such a passionate display of emotion. The kiss had taken way longer than he'd initially expected it to last, He resolved to just smile, his eyes locked with the feline's, paws gently holding.
The smile told Cliff all he needed to know. He pushed his head forward, burying it against Scoonie's chest with a soft, gentle growl. "You're a good kisser," he joked, still breathless. He chuckled afterwards, still holding the otter close.
Hearing the lynx's playful comment, Scoonie retorted with a joke of his own. “I know, right? I've had plenty of experience...no, wait, I haven't had any. At least not with another man.” Saying what had just happened out loud felt a little weird to the otter, but helped the experience to set in a pleasurable way.
"Thanks for that." Cliff let the night's silence take hold, both of them processing what had just transpired before he spoke again. "It's late. My place isn't terribly far. You're welcome to come by for tea and maybe... stay the night and head back to the hotel in the morning?" his voice dimmed while he asked, though he was sounding somewhat hopeful.
Scoonie pondered Cliff's offer, still a bit unsure of how he felt. He could see what Cliff was implying and didn't know how far he wanted to take the sudden turn of events, but at that point refusing the invite for a quick tea definitely sounded a bit rude. "I'm game for the tea", he told Cliff, still holding the smaller fur in his muscular arms. "As for your other offer, let's just see where things take us, huh?" he added, trying to hide the nervousness in his voice.
Cliff chuckled at that, ears twitching. "That's fine. I would offer a bed to stay all the same." He bit his right thumb, flustered. If his cheekfur wasn't thick, they'd be showing red. He stood up, and offered Scoonie his hand.
The otter reciprocated, getting to his feet alongside the lynx. As the gentle breeze ruffled his short-trimmed fur, he stood watching the night falling over Anchorage, the first stars starting to glimmer in the chilly Alaskan air. "You know one thing, Cliff?" he whispered, his gaze still set upon the horizon. "That was the best kiss I've had in a while." Still holding hands, they started walking back to the asphalt road.
Cliff's house - or more specifically, his uncle's - was humbling for a former and current FBA player to reside in. Originally a squirrel's residence, the door was small for tall furs to even pass through in without ducking their head. The lynx had to fiddle with the old door lock to the wooden door's entrance before he managed to get it open. Looking somewhat tense, Cliff led Scoonie in with a slight gesture, then went through the long process of re-locking the door, flicking the light switch of the narrow entryway on.
"Uncle? I'm home. I brought a friend." Cliff called out. There wasn't a sound, and no response. The house was empty, and Cliff's fur flattened at the fact. His uncle wasn't home yet, though his scent was fresh: he must have just left. For drinking, the feline figured. He pursed his lips as he led the otter through the narrow corridor into an open doorway on their left, away from the living room and into a small kitchen. "Sorry, it isn't much," he chuckled. "Though I'll try to make up for it with the tea. And snacks, if you're peckish. Indonesian ones?" he added, wondering if Vietnamese tea snacks were anything like the brown-sugary sweets Indonesians would serve their guests.
The otter followed suit, ducking his head to pass through the kitchen's doorpost. "I'm sure whatever you have will be fine," he said politely, taking a seat in the small room. "Never had Indonesian snacks before though. Not used to most South Asian delicacies, actually," he added as an afterthought, almost as if reading in the lynx's mind, "mother adapted pretty quickly to American cuisine after leaving Vietnam. Still makes pho, bánh cuốn and noodle soup from time to time, but that's it."
"You're missing out, then!" he grins, moving to the pantry once the otter seated himself. He took out an electric kettle and filled it up with water. Once he set it to boil, he stepped away to grab some jasmine loose leaves and poured them into a small teapot.
As he began to take several sweet-smelling cakes and gelatinous treats onto a plate, Cliff still drifted in his thoughts to what had happened earlier. A joyful smile was stuck on his face, feeling a kind of giddy warmth on his chest. He turned and set the multi-coloured sweets on the table in front of Scoonie. "This one's what we call 'Magic'." he pointed at a gelatinous square treat, layered in several colours. "And this is 'Ketan'.", he then motioned to a sticky rice-ball, sprinked in coconut shavings. Once he was finished explaining two more different kinds of snacks - a generous serving, in hindsight - he noticed the kettle was boiling. He dipped his head politely to the otter, turning to pour the steaming water into the pot. "Feel free to help yourself."
While Cliff attended the tea, Scoonie approached the snacks. It turned out that the big otter was as adventurous with food as with every other aspect of his life, trying about everything that the lynx offered to him. As he munched on the snacks, his mind went back to the kiss. What did Cliff expect from him now? How much did his earlier display of emotions mean to the lynx? What should he say, and should he speak first or wait for the feline to take the initiative? As he attacked another snack, hoping to prolong the wait before the inevitable discussion, a clink of ceramic mugs from the cooking area indicated that the tea was ready.
Cliff set down the two teacups and settled himself on a chair. He watched the otter try out the food with a gleeful look; at the rate he was eating those, he must have been enjoying it. That adventurous spirit was always what grabbed at Cliff everytime they met. That must be what tonight was, for him. He was glad he was able to give Scoonie the opportunity, even if the thought made the lynx sound a bit more selfish.
A light smile crept on his muzzle. "Normally, my uncle would be here by this hour," he remarked, hoping to spark some conversation. In truth, the lynx's experiences weren't as wide or varied as he made out. He wasn't really certain how to make a conversation now that he had brought the otter to his own house. Most of their basic conversation had been exhausted over dinner at this point, and with the kiss still fresh, it seemed very awkward to try and steer the topic away from it. He decided to carry on anyway. "Must be one of those nights," he shrugged, blowing into his tea before taking in the warm, fragrant drink. "Maybe it's for the better, eh? Heh. Tonight was more than I thought it'd be," he waited a bit longer; perhaps it would be best to slowly bring the topic back up, ease into it.
Scoonie shifted on his seat, leaning against the backrest. The awkward pause in the conversation became longer and longer until he decided to approach the prickly subject. "For me too! I mean, I didn't expect it to happen as well. I kinda did it on the spur of the moment." As soon as the words left his mouth, the otter realized how stupid and uncaring it sounded, almost as if he was telling Cliff that his action had been the result of the most meaningless whimsy. "I mean, I'm not regretting it, it's not that I was just trying to fulfill a desire or whatever...I wouldn't have done it with every man, you know." As he tried to make up for his early faux-pas, he couldn't help but feeling like he was digging himself an even bigger hole. He went silent, trying to read in the lynx's green eyes how Cliff honestly felt about his words .
Cliff's ears flickered uneasily at the start of the conversation, hearing Scoonie's response. The realization dawned on him then that perhaps this was just that for the otter - something new to try. The doubt was always there that Scoonie wouldn't be interested. He had said it earlier - he wasn't sure about his feelings. The lynx solemnly nodded, feeling his hopeful thinking slip away. His brow knitted deeply as he took another drink of tea.
The old chair creaked as he leaned forward to place his teacup back on the saucer. Somehow, that realization was harsher than he anticipated; he could literally feel the ache as reality might be making itself more apparent. His one ear tapered at Scoonie trying to correct himself; it brought a humoured purr from the feline, managing to make him chuckle. "Thanks, Scoonie." he replied, opting for honesty. "It meant a lot that you felt that way. I know it might just be something for you to try...." he trailed off, glancing to the side as he re-thought his words. "I mean. You're adventurous. I really...like that about you. And you cared enough and trusted me to share your first kiss with a guy. I don't - and I can't say how you should feel about all this - and me right now, but I'll give you the same respect and accept however you end up feeling." He paused, letting the statement hang. He wondered if he was too unfair, or too honest.
Seeing that Cliff wasn't angry with him, or at least wasn't showing it in his words and gestures, Scoonie calmed considerably. He could just hope that the lynx would take his next statement just as well. "The thing is, Cliff, that at this point in my life I'm not after a serious relationship. I'm not saying it because you're a man and I'm afraid of what people might think, nor it's because I just think about myself in my sexual cravings.” The otter took a long swig from his teacup, taking time before talking again. “Look, I'm still trying to settle in a new environment five thousand miles away from home, this season has taken its toll on me and the next will probably be even harder. I need to be at the utmost focus on the challenges that lie ahead on me and a romantic affair would only complicate things. Can you see that it's not the first time I'm having this conversation?" He paused, looking at the lynx’s face.
At the same time, Cliff saw every word coming, no matter how he hoped they weren't real. It didn't change it from filling the lynx with a sense of dejection. He nodded, managing a weak smile. "Eh. I could tell. And you know," he began, chuckling softly. "I had a feeling you'd say that. And you know, it's fine."
The otter saw the feline’s features betraying his sadness for hearing a different answer than the one he certainly would have wanted from the otter. "Aw Cliff, now come here." Sensing the dejection in the lynx's eyes, Scoonie beckoned him to come sitting on his lap. The lynx moved slowly, closer to the otter at his beckoning, and Scoonie hugged him softly from behind, taking in the smaller fur's scent.
The lynx felt the otter's big arms surrounding him, prompting him to growl gently. Taking Scoonie's right arm with his own, he turned his head up and gently brushed his head against the otter's neck, peeking up at the otter's green eyes. He laughed at the moment, appreciating the mustelid's form and his warmth. "It's fine," he said again, nuzzling his head against the otter's chest. "You're an adventurous guy. I didn't think you'd stop and settle, eh." he grinned, pulling back. "You're a huge softie, deep down. Caring. Maybe a bit chaotic, but hey. It makes life all the more interesting. Kind of like me."
He lowered his head after, the big grin on his face fading somewhat into a knowing smile. "Settling after joining the league does take time. What with all the travel. I don't blame you one bit for prioritizing what's ahead of you. It's responsible."
Hearing Cliff's words, Scoonie couldn't help but smile in return, although quelling his crush had filled him with sadness. "Si Kucing." He murmured the lynx's Indonesian nickname, taking a deep whiff of his peculiar, musky scent. "You're a wonderful guy, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be a close friend of yours. Yeah, I know, in this moment that is the last thing you would want to hear." The otter rubbed the back of Cliff's neck with his webbed paw, eliciting a contented purr from the feline. "Can't help but say how sorry I am for not being able to make it work. Still, remember what I told you this winter: life's too short to waste time on labels. And I might add, too short to live with regrets."
As he paused in his statement, Scoonie closed his eyes, turning his head to the ceiling, before speaking again. "Besides, you know, life changes in an instant. This morning I was thinking about the girls I'd hook up with at the parties I could have hit tonight, and here I am, nuzzling a guy I just had a very passionate kiss with just a couple hours ago." The otter punctuated his statement with a playful nudge to the lynx's earring, followed by another rub behind his ears. " There is no telling what the future will bring us, Cliff. I don’t know it, you don’t know it…nobody does. So…as much as giving priority to stability and inner balance is what we should always do, I don’t think I will ever stop looking forward to take another forage into the wild.”
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