"Good, Honeymane, good!" Starhands said with a smile. "Now, try to make the water warm up."
"But, I’ll drop it!" Honeymane protested, as shi tried to continue concentrating on the small glass hovering a few centimetres above the table where it had sat.
"No you won’t," said the much older Skunktaur calmly. "If it starts to slip, I’ll catch it."
The small child frowned, glancing at hir teacher before swiftly returning hir gaze to the glass as it suddenly started to wobble. Squinting and sticking hir tongue out, shi concentrated; soon the water in the glass started to boil. Honeymane blinked in surprise, only for hir expression of surprise to change to panic as the glass began to fall towards the table.
With surprising reflexes for a being so old, Starhands deftly caught the vessel and placed it gently on the table’s surface before turning back to hys student, who was stammering an apology. "The glass is barely warm! You’ve come a long way, Honeymane. It’s not easy to focus one’s talent to do two different things at once." Starhands grinned. "Although, you may want to think about practicing your concentration some more, my child."
"Yes Shir," Honeymane forced out. Shi was still a bit in panic mode after seeing the glass nearly tip over onto hir. Shi had been trying to be more cautious ever since another student had lost hys concentration and accidentally dumped a glass of boiling water all over hymself. Luckily hy wasn’t too badly hurt, but it still looked and felt very painful, and not something shi’d want to experience firsthand. "Would you like some tea, shir Starhands?" Students in Starhand’s charge were instructed through various chores, like making tea using only hir talent. Perhaps if shi got hym tea, shi’d show hy just how good shi was.
The older taur patted the child on hir head and ruffled hir head fur before standing up and offering hir hys hand. "Don’t worry about it young one. Consistent concentration is one of the most difficult things to master. Even I have trouble with it. Besides, judging by the time, I’d say your mother is probably getting bored waiting for us. Shall we go?"
The blonde-haired cub nodded and took hys hand, and the two of them strolled out through the room’s door into the courtyard, which had been transformed from a rather drab collection of stones into a blooming garden by Starhand’s caretaker. None of this was of interest to Honeymane however. "Really, Shir? You?"
The older taur chuckled, "Oh my, yes! I’m just a fallible as any."
Honeymane’s eyes grew wide with youthful shock. "Wow."
With that Starhands burst out laughing. "At least my students hold me in high regard, eh? Come-on Honeymane, your mother is a patient chakat, but I’m sur- WHOA!" Starhands took a step forward and stumbled; throwing hys arms out to try to catch hymself to no avail, and landed face first on the paving stones. To hir credit, Honeymane tried to catch the older taur, but being very young and fairly small, the old skunktaur just crumpled on top of hir. After a moment, shi was able to squeeze hir way out from under hir teacher (who found the whole situation amusing and was laughing,) to see Starhand’s caretaker, a tabby chakat dressed in muted green, come out to see what all the commotion was about.
"What’s going on – oh damnit!" The chakat rushed over to help the older skunktaur in hir charge. "Are you alright, Shir?"
Starhands laughed. "Yes, of course my dear, it was only a small stumble. No-no!" Starhands waved away the helper’s hands. "I can get up myself. Please, Shir Nimbletoes, see Honeymane out."
Nimbletoes frowned. "Are you sure Shir?"
"Yes, yes!" Starhands said impatently, as hy pushed hymself up.
Shaking hir head, Nimbletoes took Honeymane’s hand and led hir to the lobby, where a calico chakat was waiting.
"Hi mommy!" Honeymane broke free of the caretaker’s loose grip and ran to hir mother for a hug."
"Finally!" Browneyes said, jumping to hir feet as they entered and leaning down to hoist hir child up into a hug and a small nuzzle. "What took so long?"
Nimbletoes shrugged. "Starhands just loses track of time every now and again. Hy is nearly one hundred and fifty years old, Brown."
Browneyes frowned. "Yes, you’re right. Sorry about being short with you, Nimble. It’s not yours or anyone else’s fault." Browneyes paused and turned to hir daughter. "Did you have a good lesson, sweetie?
"Yup!" the child nodded happily. "Starhands says I got to work on my concentration more though."
"Well, I’m sure you’ll get right on that, won’t you, ’Mane?" Browneyes said as shi trotted towards hir PTV.
Honeymane nodded. "What’s for supper, mommy? Can we eat at the restaurant again?"
Browneyes rolled hir eyes. "The one on the station? Not tonight, hun, maybe in a week."
"Aww, but mmmmmmmmmmmooommmm…."
"Eh? Takeout?" asked a black foxtaur as shi walked into the kitchen.
Browneyes sighed and dropped the takeout bag on the kitchen counter, as hir cub bounced around under foot, before gesturing to Honeymane. "I wasn’t going to, Star, but this little terror talked me into it."
"I’m not a terror, mommy!" the cub protested heartily, before making a show of clutching hir stomach. "Can we eat now?"
"Yeah yeah." Brown rolled hir eyes and dug into the bag, before producing two salads for hir and Fallingstar, and an emiron sandwich for the cub, and proceeded to put them onto plates for the three. Within short order, the three of them were sitting around the kitchen table eating away.
"How was your day?" the stellar foxtaur asked between bites of Rovtil leaf.
"Good, I suppose." Browneyes shrugged before taking a big bite of some tomato-like fruit. "It’s always a bit difficult to sit and listen to other people’s problems all day. I like the work of course, but it’s a bit…" the chakat frowned as shi hesitated trying to think of the word.
"Depressing? Frustrating? Worrisome?" hir companion supplied.
"All three, I think. I want to help people, but sometimes I just don’t—Honeymane! Don’t play with your food!" Brown finished sternly, giving the child a hard look.
"Sorry, mommy," the blonde cub said, taking the two pieces of emiron out of hir ears and quickly eating them.
The calico chakat shook hir head. "Anyway, sometimes I feel like I’m just not making a difference."
"I wouldn’t worry about it, hun," Fallingstar said, smiling and reaching across the table to grip hir friend’s hand. "Even if it doesn’t seem like it, I’m sure you are making a difference. I can’t say the feeling ever goes away, but…."
Browneyes squeezed the hand, "I suppose you’re right, but enough about me, how was your day."
"Oh you know, same as yours." Star shrugged and poked the entrails of hir salad with hir fork. "There’s some talk about promoting me up a grade and moving me into more of a managerial position."
"Oh? Well congratulations, I suppose."
Fallingstar shook hir head. "Not really. The extra pay might be nice, but I’ll have loads more paperwork to do, and longer hours." The Stellar let hir fork fall into the bowl as shi leaned back and stretched. "To be honest, I wish your sister would stop trying to be sweet on me."
"You think Mak’s got a preference towards you?" Brown asked, glancing at hir own half-eaten salad, before hastening to eat more of it.
"Mommy, can I go watch TV?" Honeymane asked, looking slightly bored.
Fallingstar waited until the cub was out of the room. "I dunno, maybe. I don’t feel all that qualified for the job."
"Well," Browneyes said thickly between red-spiked leaves, "How long has it been since you’ve been put up for promotion? Hasn’t it been like six years?"
"Yeah, I guess." Star frowned as shi fiddled with hir earring absentmindedly. "Even so, I—" shi broke off as the vidphone in the hallway started to ring.
"Bah, I hate it when they call around supper time!" Browneyes said. "No no!" shi motioned to hir friend to stay where shi was. "I’ll get it."
Browneyes paused to fix hir hair before answering the device, which was warbling rather insistently. After a moment, shi hit the answer button, and waited for the connection to go through. It didn’t take long, and before shi knew it, shi was looking at the very distraught face of Nimbletoes. Judging by the matting of hir fur and hir slightly puffy eyes, shi had been crying recently. When shi didn’t speak, Brown tried to prompt hir. "Are you okay hun? You look upset."
The tabby chakat on the video phone smacked hir lips and tried to gather hir thoughts, "I, uh, sorry. I-I’m okay."
"Something’s up though, I can tell." Browneyes said, tilting hir head slightly to the side.
"Y-yes, um." Nimbletoes suddenly burst into tears. "It’s Starhands! After you and Honeymane left, hy-hy had a stroke… hy’s in a coma, they don’t know if hy’ll pull through."
"Oh no." Even to Brown’s ears it sounded stupid.
"I’m, I’m just trying to inform the parents of Starhand’s students," Nimbletoes choked out. "T-they have a right to know."
Browneyes shook hir head. "Isn’t there someone else who could do this for you, hun?"
"N-no." The chakat on the screen shook.
"Listen, I’ll send my mate Fallingstar over. Shi can pick you up and bring you over here so you don’t have to be alone, and we’ll get in touch with the rest of the parents for you, okay hun?"
Nimbletoes nodded and muttered something that sounded like thanks, before disconnecting. Browneyes stood for a moment, closing hir eyes and gathering hir thoughts. Shi hadn’t been all that close to Starhands, although shi’s sure shi would have liked, well, would like hym if shi took the time. Honeymane certainly liked the skunktaur. At that, Browneyes frowned. What was shi going to tell Honeymane? Shi had to know, of course, but….
"Everything alright out here Brown?" Fallingstar asked, appearing in the hallway.
"Well…" Browneyes quickly explained the situation.
"Damn." The black foxtaur shook hir head sadly. "What a way to go."
"Hy’s not dead yet." Browneyes pointed out, "There’s still hope."
"I suppose. I’ll go get Nimbletoes." Star frowned, "I guess that leaves you with Honeymane… good luck hun."
Browneyes found hir daughter in the den watching some television show, as shi expected. Quietly, shi laid down beside the engrossed child, before reaching over and putting the television on mute.
"I was watching that!" Honeymane protested, before hopping up and trying to reach the remote, as Browneyes held it high over hir head. Thankfully, shi stopped when shi saw Browneyes’ face. "Is something wrong, mommy?"
Putting down the remote, Browneyes sighed and began stroking hir daughter’s cheek while shi gathered hir thoughts. This would be the first time anyone really close to Honeymane had died—or was in significant danger of doing so, and shi wasn’t sure how to break the news. Still, it had to be done.
"Hun, I have something to tell you…" Browneyes paused. "You know Starhands?"
"Pff! Of course I know hym mommy!" Honeymane laughed.
"Well, hy’s… Hy’s very sick." Browneyes steeled hirself. "Hy’s in the hospital."
"Don’t be silly mommy, Starhands isn’t sick, I just saw hym." The child frowned. "Maybe hy hurt hymself when hy fell?"
"I don’t think so, hun." Browneyes frowned, "Sweetheart, Starhands might… might die."
"Die?" The look on Honeymane’s face was a heartbreaking mix of confusion and sadness. "But… hy can’t die!"
Browneyes reached out and pulled the cub into a warm hug. "I know it’s hard, hun, and hy might still pull through… but we have to be prepared for the worst."
Honeymane let out something like a sob and hugged hir mother back as strongly as shi could. "Hy wasn’t sick, mommy!"
"I know, hun; this kind of illness comes on quickly," Browneyes said. "But we have some of the best doctors in the Federation here. Hy might pull through… in fact, I’m sure of it."
"Really?" Honeymane looked hir in the eyes.
"Yes." Unfortunately for Honeymane, Browneyes’ empathic talent was stronger and it wasn’t hard for hir to lie to the child.
Honeymane grinned. "Can we go see Starhands in the hosp’tal mommy? I could make hym a card."
"Sure, hun. Nimbletoes will be along shortly. Shi’s quite upset, so me and Star are going to try and comfort hir," Browneyes said, giving hir daughter a kiss on the forehead. "Perhaps Sugarback can help you with your card. Shi and your grandparents should be home by now."
It seemed impossible, but the blonde-haired cub’s smile grew even wider and brighter before dashing off to gather supplies and head down the hall to Browneyes’ parent’s place.
Browneyes sighed heavily as shi watched the cub go, wondering if shi had given hir too much false hope.
Walking down the corridor of the hospital, Browneyes had to wonder who could possibly like such a building, even though medical care had vastly improved since the 20th century, and many medical facilities were hardly whitewashed or smelt heavily of disinfectant. But to hir nose, shi could still smell the uniformity of the scents, and empathically, shi could feel such suffering. After a few moment’s concentration, Browneyes managed to suppress the sensations, thankful for the training that shi had received. Glancing sideways at Fallingstar, shi could tell shi sensed it too. Honeymane led the way, carefully counting off the room numbers on the doors to find the one they wanted. Of the three of them, shi seemed almost oblivious to the environment around hir, and not for the first time in hir life, Browneyes wished shi still had that youthful innocence. Shi hoped this trip wouldn’t take that away from the cub.
"You think Shir Starhands will like my card mommy?" Honeymane turned hir head back and glanced at the two adult taurs. "When I show’d it to Shir Nimbletoes this mornin’, shi started to cry."
Browneyes leaned forward and picked the cub up while trying not to wrinkle hir clothing. None of them were wearing what could be called their Sunday best, but Brown didn’t want to look like some tramp from the street either. At this age Honeymane was starting to get almost too big to carry, even for a taur, but shi managed, and gave hir daughter a kiss on hir forehead. "Shir Nimbletoes is a lot closer to Starhands, sweetheart, this whole thing has affected hir a lot more."
"I think we’re here," interjected Fallingstar. "5210, right?"
Browneyes nodded and awkwardly shifted the cub’s weight in hir arms to free one to give the door a sharp rap. After waiting a few moments for a reply, and getting none, Browneyes opened the door slightly and looked in. Sure enough, the prone figure of the familiar Skunktaur was laying on the room’s only medical bed. Judging from the other items around the room, hy had company, although they appeared to be out at the moment. Browneyes hesitated. Shi wasn’t sure if shi should enter the room uninvited if the other people weren’t there.
Browneyes was about to back away when Honeymane slipped from hir arms and dashed into the room, jumping up onto the bed (thankfully narrowly missing jumping onto Starhands) and giving the unconscious taur a hug. Glancing around and shrugging, Browneyes quickly entered the room with Fallingstar trailing.
"Hy doesn’t look sick at all mommy!" Honeymane exclaimed excitedly, before addressing hir teacher while starting to gently shake hym. "Wakie Wakie Shir! I made you a card. I used glitter and everything!"
"Honeymane…" Browneyes began, walking over to hir daughter and trying to pull the excited cub off before shi did any damage. "I don’t think…"
The cub proved too nimble for Browneyes and danced out of hir grasp, scooting up onto the Skunktaur’s chest, dropping the card and trying to wake hym. "Come on, wake up!" Honeymane said loudly, with an edge of panic in hir voice.
This time Brown managed to pick hir child off the sick Skunktaur, but almost immediately shi knew something was wrong.
"Mommy…" Honeymane said, turning to look wide-eyed at Browneyes, with panic in hir voice. "Why can’t I feel hym?"
For a moment Browneyes didn’t know what shi was talking about, and than it dawned on hir. Looking back at the skunktaur, shi could feel the emptiness, the lack of, for a better word, soul. The body might still be alive, but Starhands was clearly gone. Browneyes held hir child tight as Honeymane started to cry softly against hir shoulder. With a glance at Fallingstar, Browneyes knew it was time for the three of them to leave.
It wasn’t until they were halfway home and Honeymane had cried hirself to sleep before either of them spoke.
"That… wasn’t good." Browneyes said softly, glancing down at the child sleeping between hir forelegs.
"No it wasn’t," the Stellar Foxtaur agreed heartily. "I suppose we should have called this morning. I didn’t realize…"
"Nether did I. I knew hy was in a coma, but still…" Browneyes sighed and rubbed hir forehead. "This is going to screw Honeymane up."
"Maybe," Fallingstar admitted, before reaching over and stroking hir Companion’s cheek. "But kids are pretty resilient. I’m sure shi’ll bounce back."
"And if shi doesn’t?"
"Both of us are experienced counsellors, we’ll be there for hir." The black foxtaur smiled softly. "Don’t worry too much about it."
After a few minutes, the two of them fell into silence as the vehicle sped along the road.
The rest of the day was relatively calm. Honeymane spent most of the day looking and feeling quite depressed, and around supper time they received a call from Nimbletoes telling them that the family had decided to withdraw life-support from Starhands, and let hym pass away. The question then was whether or not to attend the funeral.
"Do you think that’s a good idea?" asked Dancer.
"What do you mean?" Browneyes said, turning towards hir mother while nibbling on hir piece of toast, as the adults of the family sat around Browneyes’ parent’s kitchen table, the morning after they had got the call from Nimbletoes.
"Taking Honeymane to the funeral," the dabbled chakat replied. "Shi’s already pretty torn up."
"Yeah, but…" Browneyes frowned, "I think without some sort of closure, being able to say goodbye… Well I just think that’d it’d be a good thing."
Hir mother frowned. "I suppose, but all those sad people… they’re just going to make hir feel worse."
"I agree with your mother," interjected Spadespot. "It’s tragic enough that shi’s lost someone so close to hir at such a young age. Going to the funeral will probably just compound that."
"I disagree," said Sky softly. "I won’t deny that it’ll be hard on hir, but closure is very important."
Browneyes held up hir hands to forestall any further debate. "I’ll ask Honeymane what shi wants to do."
As Browneyes had expected, Honeymane had agreed readily that shi wanted to go to the funeral, settling the matter. Within a few days the two of them had dressed in their best clothing, and attended the funeral. Like chakat funerals, it was much more like a wake than something they were to be sad at, but even so there was no denying that Starhands was going to be sorely missed. As the funeral was winding down, Browneyes decided it was time for them to return home.
"Mom?" Honeymane said, as the PTV drove itself onto the highway.
"Why do people have to die?" Honeymane’s head was turned, looking out the window, but Browneyes could tell shi was crying a bit.
"I don’t know hun." Browneyes admitted, "It’s just part of life."
"Does it ever go away?"
Browneyes leaned over and pulled hir child close into a hug, "Not really, sweetie. It’ll get a bit less every day, and one day, one day soon, you’ll feel better. You won’t forget about Starhands, but…"
"But?" Honeymane said between sniffles.
"But… one day you’ll feel okay, and you’ll go on with your life, just like Starhands would want."
Honeymane sniffled and hugged hir mother closely, losing hirself in the warm embrace.
To be continued in Mates.
Chakats, Stellar Foxtaurs and other concepts © 2010 Bernard Doove
Chakat-kin Skunktaurs are the creation of Bob Reijns.
Browneyes, Darktoes and other characters are copyright me, Honeymane
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please send your questions, comments, etcetera to HoneymaneFeedback@gmail.com
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