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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 30
The Attraction of Gravity

 

Commander Holden led the Adirondack Furs along a corridor where most of them had never been. Having spent several weeks in weightlessness, they had all become so accustomed to maneuvering through the air that they were able to follow her in a double-file row without bumping into one another despite their various body sizes and shapes, along with the small luggage bags they carried with them. There were several junctions in the corridor along the way, but at the end was a chamber similar to the one they had first come through after disembarking from the space plane. Holden stopped beside a grey-haired man in green coveralls waiting beside a large pressure door and then turned an easy pirouette so that she could face her entourage with a smile.

“Well folks, I must say it has been an interesting six weeks having you as our guests, but other than a couple of bumps here and there, you have been a good group. I can only hope that those who come after you are as well-behaved.” When she said this, her eyes had flickered over each person in the group, her gaze pausing briefly on Jon and Travis' faces.

“You still have another week with us on Sebra, but now you will be staying in the earth-normal E-Gee section of the station, which is just beyond this door. Since that area of Sebra was designed primarily as an orbiting convention center, research facility and a slip-drive transfer station, you will find a completely different look and feel to the place than what you've grown accustomed to here in my section. There are three hotel chains, restaurants, a digital theatre, convention halls and a shopping district.  Your Institute funding has provided hotel rooms and meals for you just as you have had since you arrived, but if you wish to indulge in any of the other establishments I have just named, you will be required to pay for them out of your own personal accounts just as you would on any other trip you might take.”

The Furs and their medical staff were all silent, but the commander could see the look of interest in their eyes, especially the ladies when she had mentioned shopping. Smiling back at them, she continued.

“After the brief physicals your doctors and nurses gave to you all yesterday, Dr. Aristotle presented me with a progress report giving his approval to move all of you into the E-Gee section of the station. There you will live for the next six days, acclimating yourself to a simulated gravity that approximates what you will experience back down on Earth. If you have maintained the daily exercise routines that were recommended upon your arrival, it should only take you a few hours to adjust well enough to get around on your own without aid. However, if you have neglected the exercises, you may have suffered atrophy of muscle tissue and your recuperation time in full gravity will take longer.

“Dr. Aristotle's report confirms that your bone structures are now stronger, and although there will still be ongoing changes, the danger of collapsing beneath your own weight has passed.  As you embark through this door, you will be released from my charge and fall under the authority of Commander Bill Warren.”  She turned to the man in green beside her and gave him a nod.

“Good morning to you,” Commander Warren said to the group with a warm smile and a bit of an Irish accent. He appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties, and although he worked primarily in the full gravity section of Sebra, he appeared to have no trouble in the weightlessness floating before them.

“I am Commander Bill Warren, your host for the next week.  Momentarily, we will pass through this door into an elevator that will only hold six or seven at a time. Although you are accustomed to living in an area where up and down no relative meanings to your perspective have, this will change as soon as you get into the elevator.  At this level, there is no gravity in the car, but you will need to position yourselves inside at the grip rails near the floor. Once the car lowers into the influence of gravity, you will feel weight returning and will likely feel extremely heavy. This is merely physical illusion since you have been weightless for so long, but you will get used to it within a few hours. However, Dr. Aristotle would like me to remind you all that your feet and legs have changed since you last walked on them, so there may be more than gravity to face once you get to the bottom.

“The E-Gee section of the station is located inside a revolving cylinder. The door behind me is fixed near the axle, so when the elevator descends along an outer wall of the cylinder out to where gravity is strongest, you may also feel like you are on a slow carnival ride until your inner ears adjust to the motion. Your physicians should already have fast-acting meds for you if you feel you may need them.”

There were several worried faces in the crowd, but Warren continued smiling with encouragement.  “Once you depart the elevator car below, there will be attendants to help you to a waiting tour cart, where you may sit and wait for the rest of your group to join you. Walking canes have been requested for your initial use and will be available for you below.  After your entire group has descended, you will be given a brief riding tour through the entertainment and shopping sections of the station and then you will be taken to your assigned rooms in one of our local hotels.”

The commander paused and put his hands inside the side pockets of his coveralls. His smile faded and his expression became serious. “Now, before we start taking groups down, I must warn you.  Unlike your stay in the Z-Gee section, you will not be the primary occupants. Your group is just one of several that are currently visiting Sebra, but none of the others consist of Furs.  This station is international, which means you will see folks from all walks of life around the world, but you should be aware that not all countries are sympathetic to the Anthro Human Colonization Program. You will probably face some prejudices, so please be on your best behavior.  I probably should not have to tell you this, but I need to be frank. Not only are you Furs, but you are not yet fully formed, so your appearances may startle some of those you meet. We have an international police force up here that maintains a presence in all public areas around the clock, so if you run into any trouble, don't hesitate to take it to one of them. They are already aware of your presence, appearance and condition.”

The smile returned to his face. “Now, are there any questions before we start boarding the elevator?”  There were a few hesitant faces that looked back at him, but no one spoke up. “Right, then,” he said, turning to the pressure door behind him. He activated the controls and the door slid to the right on a set of horizontal tracks. A pair of standard vertically split elevator doors opened up to reveal a small compartment with a tile floor, wood-grain paneled walls and a grip rail around the sides. Warren pulled himself into the elevator and stationed himself near the floor with a light hold on a railing.

The Felis were at the front of the crowd, so Jon was among the first ones inside the elevator. There was plenty of room for the six of them and Commander Warren, but he knew the car would be crowded when the Ursis Wing got in, since all four of those Furs were larger bears and bulkier than the felines.

“Watch your tail,” Marcy said to Kristen.  The botanist pulled her tail in through the doors just before they closed together and she looked embarrassed at having to be reminded. She was used to all the primary doors in the Z-Gee section remaining open, and had never had a problem with the lavatory or shower pod doors since she usually turned around to close the door, automatically keeping her tail around behind her without having to think about it.

Once the elevator doors closed, there was an audible clunking just beyond the walls, and they could feel the car vibrating. 

“What's that?” Dante wanted to know.

“Our car is rotating on its axis to orient itself to the cog railway before we can descend,” Warren replied. “The massive cylinder is always moving, but the Z-Gee section we are leaving behind does not.  We have to wait for certain sections of the wall to come around before we can connect to the system.”

“Is this the only elevator car between the two sections?” Jon asked.

“Actually, there are twelve, but they all meet here at the axle. Another car will be pulling into place within moments for the next group after we begin to descend.”

Jon tried to visualize the engineering arrangement for such a setup, but was having difficulty seeing it. Before he could ask another question, the car rattled and then there were two simultaneous clunks from the wall outside the door.

There was another rattle and then the elevator began moving.  Jon had the sudden sensation that the car was moving diagonally-sideways, rather than straight down, and attributed it to the rotation of the cylinder housing the E-Gee section of the station. Apparently he wasn't the only one, as Kristen suddenly wrapped her arms around his middle. He swallowed and held onto the grip rail beside him, supporting them both.

He had no way of knowing just how far the elevator would have to descend, but within a moment his toes touched the tile floor of the car. In his mind, he was not dropping to the floor, but it felt more like the floor was coming up to meet him.  It pressed upon his feet and then tried to push him out of the way.  The muscles in his legs complained, but began to compensate as if he were on a leg press in the exercise room. He could also feel various parts of his body slowly begin to feel weight. His tail hung straight from his butt to the floor and he could even feel his pectoral muscles pull downward ever so slightly.  It was an odd feeling to have gravity again after a month and a half in weightlessness.

Jenni began gasping for air, as if her lungs didn't want to function properly, and Dante looked at her in concern.  He could barely stand up himself and the gravity grew heavier still. The white tiger's knees felt as if they were about to buckle beneath him, and he suddenly found himself gripping the hand railing tightly with both hands to stay on his feet.

Dr. Renwick reached up to help tilt Jenni's head back to clear her air passage. The copper-haired physician had made twice-daily visits into the E-Gee section of the station since he had arrived, so he was the only one besides Warren who was used to the elevator's effects on the body. Jenni was able to breathe again, though her chin still wanted to fall forward onto her chest. Marcy was having a similar problem, but managed to keep her own head tilted toward the car's ceiling; unlike her colleague, she had not visited the E-Gee section since their arrival.

The gravity grew stronger and the ride seemed eternal. Jon grunted and shifted his feet to redistribute his weight. From simply standing in place and forcing his body to remain upright, he felt like he was getting the equivalent of a fully-body workout. Dante, however, was sinking lower and lower to the floor into a squat, a look of pain across his face; he was certain the bones in his new legs would snap at any moment.

Kristen whimpered and clutched at Jon's waist, but he could feel her slipping as well.  He released the grip rail tentatively and discovered he could still stand on his own, so he slid both of his arms beneath Kristen's to help keep her on her feet. Dr. Renwick wound up having to do the same for Jenni.

Then, mercifully, the elevator finally came to a stop. An indicator near the controls of the car showed that they were now at point-ninety-eight gravity.  Warren touched a button to open the doors, and when the panels slid apart, Dante tumbled out.

Experienced station personnel were ready for him. Just outside the door were two men in dark green coveralls that matched Warren's and they had already been prepared to catch whoever fell out of the elevator; there always seemed to be someone upon their first time back in earth-normal gravity.

Dante collapsed into their arms and they lifted him and his travel bag easily from the ground between them. Due to his new leg configuration, the tiger was now several inches taller than both men, but they handled his bulk easily. They supported him a few steps to a cushioned bench seat in a tourist tram and set him down carefully, his bag at his feet. Dante clutched a metal railing in front of him and swallowed hard. 

“Thank you,” he gasped.

One of the men, a blond-haired man with wide shoulders patted the feline gently on the arm. “You're welcome, sir,” he said with a smile.

Dante wearily nodded, but then a thought occurred to him. Did that guy just pet my fur?

A moment later, Marcy sat down beside him, having managed to walk stiffly to the tram on her own. “I've never been so glad in my life to have the support of a bra as I do right now…” she muttered to herself.  Dante looked over at her and the nurse blushed deeply in realization that he had heard her.

At the elevator car, Jenni stepped tentatively out onto what felt like artificial turf. She was thankful for the exercises she had performed daily, as she was able to stay upright, but walking on digitigrade feet was new.  Her legs wobbled and she felt like she was stepping out on her toes rather than with her whole foot, but when she tried to put her heel down, the movement was limited. Her new foot was not designed to walk that way.  She had never taken ballet lessons, but at that moment, she felt a kinship with girls everywhere who walked on their toes for the sake of their art. She forgot her travel bag in the elevator, but one of the attendants grabbed it for her.

Jon and Kristen experienced similar sensations when they walked out of the elevator together. Jon was supporting most of both their weights and he began to pant lightly from the effort. Walking in unison, the mountain lions managed the toe steps to the tram car without needing the assistance of the station personnel who stood ready to catch them if they fell. Jon helped Kristen up onto a bench seat in front of the others and then sat down beside her.  Dr. Renwick stood off to the side, quietly talking with Commander Warren.

Empty now, the elevator closed its doors and the car began its ascent back up the track it occupied. It would be several moments before the next car connected into the elaborate system and deposited the next group of passengers, so Jon took the time to look around him.

They appeared to be in a side alcove of a modern, two-story shopping mall whose upper level touched the overhead ceiling, and he could see the upward curve of the floor going off in separate directions. The place was well-lit, but the area was not the bright and sterilized atmosphere he had expected, having seen too many Hollywood vids of space stations over the years. The tenants had taken great care to present a place where the visitors from Earth would feel comfortable, and although he could not see many of them from the alcove, Jon knew that districts from all over the world would be represented.  It was almost inconceivable that something like this had been built in orbit. The primary purpose of the station was business and research, but this area was nothing more than commercial. He knew there was more to the space station than this, but at the moment, this was all he was seeing.

As he peered out toward the mall, two men in suits walked into view. One of them looked over at the alcove, but then stopped in his tracks when he realized what he was seeing. He stopped his companion with a touch on the arm. After gawking for a moment, the two of them put their heads together and began talking in low voices. Jon could hear them speaking, though could not discern their words, but from the tone of their voices and the expressions on their faces, neither of them looked welcoming toward the Furs sitting in the tram car. Jon raised a hand and attempted to look friendly, but as soon as he did so, one of the men scowled, grabbed the other by the arm to pull him away and out of sight of the alcove entrance.

The expression on Jon's face grew dark at the incident, insulted that they would react in such a manner. He snorted derisively and clenched his fists upon the metal bar on the tram car seat in front of him. If he had been able to move about in the gravity of the station, he might have been tempted to rush out there to confront them, much as Norman had done with the men in Florida.

Jon growled low in his throat and Kristen looked over at him wearily, not understanding his quick sullen mood. She followed his gaze out to the end of the alcove, but there was nothing there. She reached out to touch his arm but at her contact, he flinched just as two things occurred to him. He recalled Commander Warren's warning that Furs were not globally accepted among all the countries of the Earth and that they might not be well-received. The second thing he remembered was himself. Before he had been sentenced to furmankind for his crime, Brian Barrett would have reacted with just as much disdain and vehemence toward a Fur as those men had.

With that realization, Jon relaxed his grip on the rail and looked over at Kristen with an apologetic smile. He didn't feel that he could explain what had just happened, so he reached down and patted her on the leg.

“I'm okay,” he whispered. “Just a momentary lapse.”

“A lapse into what?”  Dante whispered from behind him. “Are you a werewolf near his time of the month?”

Jon looked over his shoulder at the smirking tiger. His ire still fresh, the cougar narrowed his eyes at the other feline, baring an impressive set of feline teeth at him with a snarl and a low-throated growl. Dante sat back quickly in his seat, his eyes wide at the sudden ferocity in his housemate's eyes. Then, just as suddenly, Jon blinked and raised a hand up to his face, rubbing his forehead.

“Sorry…” he mumbled at Dante.  “I think the stress of this gravity is affecting more than my muscles.”

“I can understand that,” the other man replied in a submissive tone. “Just don't bite me, please.”

Jon had a sudden visual image of white tiger fur stuck in his teeth and he grimaced. “You're safe,” he muttered.  Jenni leaned forward in her seat, putting both of her hands upon his shoulders and began to massage them gently.

“Take it easy, Jon,” she said in a quiet voice. “This is hard on us all.”

The mountain lion nodded and leaned into her ministrations, and it was only after a few minutes that he realized that he still had his hand upon Kristen's leg. He looked down at his hand as if it was some foreign limb, and then up into Kristen's face. She gave him a pleased smile and he discovered that his fingers were lightly stroking the fur of her leg just above the knee.  He stopped and swallowed with difficulty, withdrawing his hand, but she took his hand and put it back right where it had been.

Jon stared back at her for a moment before he visibly relaxed and simply nodded, leaving his hand in place. Neither of their companions behind them had seen the exchange and both were oblivious, but Jenni's fingers disappeared from his shoulders when there was a hiss and a rattle from the elevator shaft.  The next car was arriving.

They all turned and watched. Two of the station attendants took their places in front of the elevator doors, one of them crouching slightly. When the panels split apart, Travis fell out into their arms, just as Dante had done. The look of surprise on the German Shepherd's face should have caused Jon to laugh aloud, but the cougar did nothing more than watch the proceedings with a frown, his mind floating back to his personal reaction to the men in the mall.  

*** 

An hour later, the tram full of furmen and medical staff pulled up to a stop in front of a two-story hotel front. It looked similar to many others they might find on Earth, but the name of the establishment made just about every person pause when they saw the curved painted letters upon the large window pane.

“Bates Hotel?” Aaron Bleys read aloud. “Do we really want to stay here?”

“You're thinking of the Bates Motel,” Cheryl corrected with a laugh.

“I may run if the proprietor's name here is Norman,” added Gerard, casting a sidelong look at his housemate with a smirk.

“I keep Mother in the fruit cellar,” Norman Grey said in a fair imitation of the original actor's voice despite his ursine mouth.

“I don't understand,” Kevin complained.

Carl looked back at the young fennec fox with a smile. “They're referring to an old vid classic,” he told him. “It was a creepy murder-mystery involving the proprietor of an old motel who had mother-issues with young women that came to stay at his place. The story has been remade a time or two over the years, but the original black and white show was the best.”

“The look on Norman's face at the end of the vid still gives me chills whenever I see it,” Ellie added. There were several responses of agreement and Jon chuckled at the lighthearted exchange.

“I know what a hotel is,” Kevin remarked after a moment, still somewhat puzzled, “but what's a mo-tel?”

“Motel is an archaic term meaning a motor hotel, but some places still use it,” Carl explained. “A hotel typically has more than one story and offers services such as food, laundry, meeting rooms and other amenities for their guests, while motels are usually a single level offering nothing but the room itself to visitors where you can park right outside your door.”

Kevin glanced at the establishment next to where they stood. “Oh, okay,” he murmured. “Does a hotel have a fruit cellar or is that just something in a motel?”

Several just stared at him, wondering what he was talking about, but then Norman Grey laughed aloud, remembering his earlier comment about Mother.  “Neither of them do,” he told the young fox. “The motel manager in the vid lived in a creepy house on a hill behind the motel. The climax of the vid took place in the fruit cellar of the house, giving the vidgoers a sudden chill!”

From the looks around him, Kevin wasn't sure he wanted to see the vid that everyone else seemed to have seen.

Doctor Renwick and Commander Warren were the only ones who had gotten out of the tram, but Jon was ready to get to his room so he grabbed the rail bar in front of him and hoisted himself to his feet.  The tour of the station's entertainment and shopping districts had been interesting despite the looks they had received from other visitors, but Jon was more than ready to find a place to relax. Even sitting down on the tram seat was a chore, and he had kept up his daily exercises while in weightlessness. It was apparent that some of the Adirondack Furs had not, as some of them had slumped in their seats even since departing the elevator.

Jon stood up unsteadily, but even though he felt like he was walking on his toes, the design of his entire leg structure had changed so that he was supported as he should be. He stepped down out of the tram and tentatively released the rail bar. When the others saw that he stood up without holding onto the car, several started to get up too.

He held out a hand to Kristen, who took it with a frown. She was one who had not done the required zero gee exercises as often as she should have, and now she was paying the price. She scooted across the bench seat to the side of the car and then took Jon's hand. He helped her to her feet and then hoisted her up beside him.

Commander Warren watched the proceedings for a moment, but when he noticed several staring at him from their places outside the tram, he waved an arm toward the double glass doors of the hotel.

“Right this way,” he directed. “You've already been checked in, so just give the attendant inside your names and each of you will be given a keycard to the room assigned to you. You will be paired up two to a room, but once you have your card you may go on to them.” He looked at the expensive watch upon his wrist and added, “Lunch will be delivered to your rooms in about two hours, so that should give you some time to rest a while.”

Kristen tried walking on her own, but her legs began wobbling so much that one of the station attendants rushed to her side before Jon could help her. “Just lean on me, ma'am,” said the blond-haired man with wide shoulders.

The botanist curled an arm around his middle and gave him a thankful smile.  “Thank you,” she said in gratitude.

There was a crash behind them, and the attendant turned with her to look. Dr. Ramirez lay sprawled on the ground at the back of the tram, her feet tangled up in the straps of someone's travel bag and one arm beneath her at an odd angle; she had hit the ground hard in the unfamiliar gravity. Another attendant rushed to her aid and helped her up into a sitting position. Dr. Renwick knelt beside her to examine her arm, but after a moment declared that it was undamaged. He helped the attendant get her up onto her feet and then he lent her an arm to help her into the hotel.

Inside the lobby, Kristen's aid helped her to the counter and then all three of her housemates joined her. Dante looked as if he was wobbling on his own feet, but had waved away any help offered to him, stubborn to make it the rest of the way to his room on his own with only a walking cane that had been loaned to him.

The clerk behind the counter was a short woman with dark curly hair, equally dark eyes, and a professional smile that pretended her customers were anything but hybrid animals walking on their hind legs.

“May I have your last names, please?” she asked courteously, absently straightening a stack of keycards on the lower counter beside her keypad.

“Eisenberg, Watson, Capanari and Sunset,” Jon answered. The clerk examined her monitor and then plucked out several cards from the first of two stacks.

She held up one card. “Eisenberg?” she asked.  The botanist held up a hand paw and the woman placed it across her palm without actually touching her.  “Capanari?”  The tiger held out his hand and received his card. “Watson,” and then “Sunset.” Jenni and Jon got their cards in turn and immediately looked at their assigned room numbers.

Almost in perfect unison, all four of them looked up in surprise and showed one another their assignments. They had assumed that they would be paired up by gender as they had in Florida, but that was not the case this time. Jenni and Dante were assigned to one room and Jon and Kristen were quartered together. Jon looked at the woman behind the counter and held up his card.

“Who made up the room assignments?” he asked her.

“I'm sorry, sir, I don't know that,” she replied. “The assignments were submitted last night while I was off shift. Is there a problem?”

Jon glanced back at Kristen and noted her expression, so he simply shook his head. “No, I don't suppose so. I was just curious.”

“Well then, I hope you have a good stay with us,” the woman told him with a smile.  Jon thanked her and then turned to his housemates.

“I don't know about you guys, but I think I'm about ready for a bed,” he said.

“Me too,” said Jenni, lightly panting. “We'll have to get used to the gravity eventually, but it doesn't have to be all at once. Just standing here feels like I've had a workout.”

Side by side in pairs, the felines trudged down a corridor on their toes, following numbered signs to their rooms. Fortunately for them, they did not have to mount any stairs or use an elevator; their rooms were all on the ground floor and across the hall from one another.

Jon opened his door and then held it open for Kristen to tiptoe inside. She managed it without his help, which was fine with him. He still had both of their travel bags with him out in the hall.  He hefted them inside and then closed the door behind him.  When he turned and looked at the room, he stopped and stared. The place resembled any other typical hotel room on Earth, but it contained a single king-sized bed.

Kristen sat down on the edge of the mattress and looked back at him meekly. She had already expected the hesitant expression that was on his face and she put her hands together in her lap.

“Jon…” she started. He looked at her without a word. “Remember that night I was frightened and you slept beside me just to give me comfort?”  He nodded quietly.  “Just think of this as a similar situation and perhaps you'll be able to sleep in the same bed with me beside you.”  She knew he must have also recalled that day when she had offered to share a shower with him, but she hoped he wouldn't bolt from her this time.

When he continued to stand there quietly, she gave him an impish smirk and said, “If you want, we can talk to Dante and Jenni and see if they'll trade off. Then you can sleep in the same bed with Dante instead.”

The male cougar's eyes widened at that thought, and he finally allowed a lopsided smile to creep across his lips. “When you put it that way,” he told her, setting the travel bags on top of the room's six-drawer dresser, “I think I'd rather sleep next to you.  Just try not to snore too loud, okay?”

Kristen laughed, her whole face smiling. “You're the one who rattled the walls last time,” she countered, pleased that he had finally relaxed. “I almost needed ear plugs!”

Jon grinned at her and then stretched out on the bed beside her. He crawled up the soft mattress and wrapped his arms around a pillow. “In that case, you probably won't get any sleep at all this week,” he mumbled. “I'm not wearing a muffler to bed.”

The botanist moved up the mattress, turned over onto her back with her head upon a pillow on the opposite side of the bed, and Jon looked at her with one eyeball. “I suppose once they get used to the gravity, we'll be glad our housemates are across the hall instead of on the other side of the wall.”

Adjusting her tail beneath her, Kristen looked at him with an upraised eyebrow. “Why?”

Jon snorted into his pillow. “I heard that Jenni finally let Dante in to play,” he mumbled. “They shared a shower on Christmas and have probably been attached at the hip every chance they can find since.”

“Did Dante tell you that?”

“No, I heard the bears talking about it a few days ago.”

“Jenni told me that she shared a shower with him and that they've played around some, but she still won't sleep with him.”

Jon closed his eyes. “She probably just doesn't want to kiss and tell if they did,” he remarked. “Dante's been after her ever since we all got to the Institute, so I suspect she finally gave in.”

Kristen shook her head. “Jenni was the one who told me about their shower,” she countered. “I didn't even know about it, but she needed someone to confide in so she told me in case rumors got around. They haven't gone as far as actually sleeping together, only a little playing around.”

Jon grunted. “I'm not sure I believe that, but they'll be knocking on the walls of their room anyway now that they will be sleeping together.”

Against the gravity pulling her down, Kristen managed to get up on one arm and look over at him. “If a man and a woman sleep together in the same bed, does that automatically mean they will be having sex?”

Sensing a verbal trap from the look on her face, Jon decided not to take the bait. “I'm sure Dante assumes that,” he muttered. “I fully expect him to take full advantage of their shared bed.” Kristen stared at him a moment, fully aware he had skirted her question. 

“I pity Cheryl,” she finally remarked. “Being married, Carl and Ellie will get their own room, leaving Cheryl to fight off Travis.”

Jon opened his eye again. “Wow, I hadn't considered that.  Do you want to invite her to stay in here with us?  The bed's probably large enough for the three of us.”

It was Kristen's turn to snort. “You'd like that, wouldn't you? Sandwiched between two women in bed!”

Jon gave her a wink when she looked over at him. “I'm just trying to be chivalrous. If you want, the two of you can have the bed and I'll make a pallet on the floor. I'm so tired I could sleep anywhere.”

Kristen shook her head and then dropped back down on her pillow. “That's nice of you, but I'd rather snuggle up to you in bed, even if all we do is sleep.”

“Then let Cheryl fight off Travis on her own,” Jon muttered drowsily. “Snuggle up if you want, but I think I'm going to take a nap. I'm worn out.”

Kristen looked over at him for several long moments, mulling over his invitation. He didn't say another word, but after a few minutes his breathing slowed as he drifted off into slumber.

She knew that Jon had no intention of forming an intimate relationship with anyone – he had made that perfectly clear on numerous occasions, and after repeated rebuffs, she wasn't sure she wanted it anymore herself.  However, the two of them were becoming cats, and cats often slept curled up together, so what could it hurt?

She pulled her pillow along with her and crawled across the large bed toward him.  He was already asleep, but he faced toward her, his knees pulled up slightly and his arms wrapped around his pillow on his side. Kristen turned away from him and then scooted back against him in a spooned fashion.  In the coolness of the hotel room, she could feel his warmth beneath the pillow, sighing audibly as she made herself comfortable. In moments, she was asleep beside him.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.