Judy gave Shelly a quizzical look at her statement that the timing of the wedding was important. “Why?”
Shelly shook off Lawrence's arm, sitting up primly like the teacher she was. “Larry and I specialized in anthropology but there's a lot of psychology wrapped up in it too. We had to use it when we were doing our research on predator-prey relationships.”
They all nodded dutifully, wondering where she was going with this.
“And psychologically speaking there's a lot to be said for having the marriage first, then the concert.” Nick and Judy leaned forward intently, hanging on to her every word. “A predator-prey marriage, done so publicly, is going to generate a lot of controversy and heated emotions, but when it's wedded – if you'll forgive the phrasing – to a concert by Gazelle along with all the positive emotions from it, that will take a lot of the steam out of things. When two strong emotions are joined, they invariably water each other down. AND,” she continued, “mammals tend to remember the last thing they saw the best. Whatever happens last tends to overshadow whatever came first.” Beside her, Lawrence was nodding in his best grandfatherly, professorial mode.
Robert leaned forward, eyes narrowed in thought. “You may be on to something,” he added. “This whole race track thing was brought on by our altered biology due to that asteroid or meter impact. Predator-prey relationships are a direct result of it too. If you and Lawrence could make a public statement about it before Chief Bogo performs their wedding ceremony,” he gestured at Nick and Judy, “it would go a long way toward changing everyone's perception of things.”
Tyrone raised an eyebrow at him. “So you're convinced it was the asteroid thing instead of evolution that created us?”
“It's the only explanation that fits all the facts,” he shrugged. “Speaking just for myself, yeah, I'd say it's a done deal.”
Lawrence bestirred himself. “Remember that wolf and sheep couple who were so afraid of coming forward?”
Robert nodded, along with the rest of them.
“He called me earlier today after seeing us on TV,” Lawrence told them. They all sat up with interest. “He finally unbent enough to give me some personal information. His name is Buck. In his younger days he used to work as a sled dog delivering dry goods to stores up north in gold rush country. His lover, Mary, was one of the store owners he delivered to. He was pretty rough and tumble until he met her, and after they fell in love she taught him to read and write. He's actually quite brilliant in his own way,” he added admiringly. “He's a bit of a self-taught geologist and he called to say he thinks he has a piece of the meteor.”
They all exploded with a million questions at the same time.
“Whoa! Slow down, slow down!” he bellowed at them, waving for them to sit down. “He called less than an hour before Shelly and I came over. I haven't had a chance to meet him or see the sample or anything.” They finally settled down to hear him out, but their eyes were alive with barely suppressed excitement.
Satisfied they were listening, he continued. “The Dean of our Geology Department is Dr. Gerald Hippocore. I've known him for years. He's a strong advocate of the meteor strike theory but aside from trace elements he's never found any solid evidence for it. If I can talk Buck into letting us come over to collect his specimen, Gerald is our best bet for confirming whether or not it's what Buck claims it is.”
“But you're not going to tell him about us are you?” Linda asked quickly, broaching the question on all their minds.
“Of course not,” Lawrence agreed reasonably. “And there's no need to. I'll just tell him that my being on TV gave Buck a name and face for someone to contact about his find. Which, in a way, is the truth,” he mused.
“That's great,” Nick enthused before anyone else could, “but could we get back to Tyrone not being able to take care of the vendors and such at the track? We kinda veered off the topic.”
Judy elbowed him in the ribs. “It was a worthwhile detour, mammal O' mine.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, but I still need to know.” He looked at Tyrone.
The big tiger nodded. “Practice sessions,” he explained. “If we're going to put on a concert, even a small one, we always need to practice. It takes hours every day. I can give you all my contact info, but you'll have to make the arrangements. I won't have time.”
Gazelle nodded along with him. “I didn't get where I am by faking it,” she said firmly. “It takes a lot of work.”
“That's reasonable,” Judy interjected. Her ears perked up. “And since your band is going to be there, can I make one request?”
Gazelle smiled sweetly at her. “Of course.”
“Can they play 'Here Comes the Bride' for me?” she asked, suddenly feeling timid.
Gazelle's eyes widened then filled with sudden tears. “It would be an honor,” she whispered, wiping at her cheeks.
“And for me too,” Linda added with tears of her own.
Robert jerked. “Are you sure, babe?” he blinked in surprise. “Last night you said you weren't sure.”
“I'm tired of hiding,” she sniffled. “I'm so sick and tired of it I want to scream. They're getting married in public and it's only a matter of time until those comments on the message boards go viral so yes, let's get married and be done with it.”
“Uh, what comments on what message boards?” Lawrence asked.
Robert compressed his lips with anger. “Some of our old buddies from the Garlic & Clove Trucking Company saw us on TV at our 'conference' last week and started posting comments about us all over the social media boards. Then somebody else must have seen us at the diner and put two and two together. They're tying to out us. With all the publicity around the race track it's bound to happen sooner or later.”
Judy pressed her paws over her mouth. “Oh sweet cheese and crackers!” She glanced around the room desperately. “We had no idea this would happen! I'm so sorry!”
“No!” Linda nearly shouted. “No. I told you, I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of pretending we're freaks or unnatural or whatever else they say about us. I'm tired of it!” She sobbed into Robert's shoulder, then sat up wiping her eyes fiercely. “Whatever happens, happens, but I'm done hiding.” She grabbed Robert's paw, clutching it tightly to her. “Robert is the love of my life and I want him to be my one and only husband forever and ever, and I want everyone to know it!” she finished firmly.
Judy saw Shelly dabbing at her eyes in response to Linda's ringing declaration. Gazelle was crying quietly in Tyrone's arms, his soothing whispers to her like the distant rumble of thunder. Nick's heart was beating strong and firm behind her, his arms around her like steel bands, holding and protecting her. She leaned forward to take Linda's hoof in her paw. “Then they will,” she said quietly. “It'll be the best double wedding this city has ever seen.”
Linda nodded gratefully, blinded by her tears. Judy's vision was blurred as well.
Nick pulled her back into his arms, dabbing at her cheeks with the tip of his tail. He waited until the ladies calmed down then cleared his throat to get everyone's attention.
“How's this then; on Monday we'll call a press conference to let everyone know the first race will be a week from tomorrow, next Sunday, and that as a special surprise, Gazelle will be performing at the track before the opening race. How's that sound?” he asked.
They all nodded in unison.
“Good,” he continued in a business-like tone of voice. “Tyrone can give me all his contact info on the vendors and such, and once word gets out that Gazelle is performing, they should be happy to work with us.”
Tyrone cocked his head thoughtfully. “Most people outside the music business don't know it but I'm also Gazelle's business manager. During our press conference Monday I'll make a public request that all my vendors work with you. That should grease the skids for you.”
Nick brightened. “Say, that'll help a lot. Thanks!”
Tyrone smiled. “My pleasure.”
“And we'll ask Chief Bogo if he can do a double wedding,” Judy added.
“If ole sour puss gives you any grief about it, tell him I said I'll come over there and flatten him if he doesn't,” Tyrone smirked.
“Uh . . . nope,” Judy said smartly. “You tell him that. He was your partner but he's my boss.”
Tyrone laughed, “Sure thing.”
Lawrence and Shelly were whispering. He looked up at them. “Make it a triple,” he said firmly. Instantly they were the focus of everyone's attention.
“You've decided then?” Gazelle asked.
They nodded. “We're tired of hiding too,” Shelly answered for both of them. Lawrence nodded agreement. “Our tenure protects us from being fired and universities are usually a little more open to alternate life-styles than the average mammal on the street, and, with three couples getting married all at once, it might dilute the overall impact on any one couple.”
“Divide it between us, so to speak,” Lawrence added.
“As well as going a long way toward normalizing it,” Robert put in thoughtfully, his brow furrowed in scholarly concentration. “One predator-prey couple is a unique event that rocks the boat. Two is really unusual, but when you get to three,” he shrugged, “it moves it into the category of 'rare but not unheard of'.”
“What about four?” Gazelle asked suddenly.
Tyrone was immediately concerned. “Babe, are you sure? Telling everyone we’re married could be the end of your career, everything you've worked for.”
“We've got enough money to live on for the rest of our lives,” she told him.
“I'm not talking about money and you know it,” he countered quickly. “Singing is your life. It's the only thing you've ever wanted to do.”
She bounced to her feet to pace around the room. “Being a cop was the only thing you ever wanted to do. You told me that early on, the second or third time we ever spoke. But you gave it up.”
“To gain something,” he countered, rising to take her by the shoulders. “You.” He gently tilted her head up to meet his eyes. “If you loose your singing, what would you be gaining to make it worthwhile?”
She smiled, looking deep into his eyes. “Oh Tyrone, don't you know? I can't loose my singing, I can sing whether anyone listens or not. It doesn't matter. As to what I'll gain?” Her smile deepened. “I'll gain the freedom to love you without having to hide it ever again. I'll gain you.”
They saw the wind go out of his sails. It was a trump card and he knew it. “Four it is,” he sighed, signaling defeat.
Gazelle snuggled against him. Her eyes twinkled at the rest of them. “Never thought you'd see the day when a gazelle could beat a tiger, did you?” she asked mischievously, enjoying her moment of triumph.
He growled something in her ear too low for them to hear. She turned bright red. “Don't you dare!” she exclaimed indignantly. He laughed. “Alright, so it's a tie,” she amended, giving him a dirty look.
Nick looked around the room. “Well then, a week from tomorrow all of us will be out of the closet.” He bounced to his feet, scooping up his wine glass. “A toast!” Everyone gathered around, glasses held high. “To new beginnings!”