Visiting “The Golden Panda” Again
Michael and Amanda returned to where Sheila, Zig Zag, and Sabrina were sitting. Michael said, “I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we have lunch together and get to know each other a bit better? After reading all about Sabrina, Zig Zag, and Sheila all those millennia ago, I’d love to find out how much of it was true and how much was made up.”
Zig Zag said, “How much was true? What do you mean?”
Sabrina said, “Well, Zig, while we were in the computer show, Michael told me about a lot of things that were in the comics he mentioned earlier and I was astonished how much of it had actually happened to us.”
“Then, by all means, let’s eat lunch and talk about those webcomics you mentioned, Michael.”
The five of them walked to the food court where they all ordered their lunch. Amanda resisted the urge to order her fried chicken for lunch. She wanted to have an enjoyable dinner where she could take her time eating and enjoying her fried chicken. So, she ordered a ground beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato. Michael ordered a ground beef sandwich as well. Zig Zag decided she wanted a humongous slice of pepperoni pizza; because she was going to be getting married in a few months, Sabrina decided to eat a grilled chicken Caesar Salad; Sheila chose fried fish.
“So, Michael,” Zig Zag said, “what were some of the things that were in those comics you mentioned?”
“Hmm. Let’s see, one time, Sabrina left work after a party and she and R. C. were mugged. She decided to use a skunk’s primary defensive weapon on the mugger.”
Zig Zag laughed uproariously. “Are you serious?” She asked. “I guess those artists from back when you were growing up didn’t know as much about Humanimals as they thought.”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked.
“Well, Michael, Humanimal skunks don’t have the scent glands that our feral cousins have. It was decided that we wouldn’t need them so the gene to create them wasn’t included in our DNA.”
“You’ve got to admit, though, it would have been pretty funny.”
“Eh. Not really. I’ve smelled an angry skunk. I don’t want to smell that smell ever again.
“By the way, why would Sabrina and R. C. leave one of my parties together?”
“Well, in the comic, Sabrina and R. C. were dating.”
Zig Zag raised her eyebrows and looked at Sabrina. “Really?”
Sabrina said, “Don’t go there, Zig. I’ve already told him I don’t know anybody by the name of R. C.”
“Yes, you do, Sabrina. He came by to apply for the job the day after I gave it to you.”
“So, how do I know him?”
“He’s one of my actors. He’s the first raccoon guy I’ve ever employed. When I saw how well developed his body was, I decided to audition him and, believe me, I don’t regret that decision.”
“Wait! You mean the actor you call D. C.?”
“The one and only.”
“Oh. My. God! If Michael had said that R. C. was a raccoon, I would have realized that I knew him. Of course, since Lee and I have been dating, I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else.”
“I know that but it is kind of funny.”
Sabrina smiled and snorted softly before saying, “Yeah. I suppose it is.”
Zig Zag said, “What else happened?”
“Sometime later, Sabrina was leaving another party. This time she was alone and she ran into that same mugger. This time, however, he didn’t give her a chance to defend herself. He stabbed her. He wasn’t even interested in mugging her. He was getting revenge on her, I guess.”
Sheila said, “I remember that. We were afraid that Sabrina was going to die. Her injuries were pretty bad.”
Zig Zag said, “Yeah. That was after she and Lee had started dating.”
Michael continued, “That’s true. Zig Zag, you were so angry that you left the hospital and hunted that mugger down. When you finished with him, there wasn’t a whole lot left for the police to prosecute. However, he accused you of attacking him unprovoked and you were arrested.”
Zig Zag sat there deep in thought for several seconds. “Yeah. That’s true. I was lucky, though. When I stated my case, that I was defending my friend who the mugger had tried to kill, the judge was lenient with me, although he did mention some things I’d done the year previous that, fortunately, couldn’t be used against me. However, he did say that between the previous things coupled with my attack on the mugger showed a propensity toward violence. Therefore, I was given probation as long as I concluded 36 counseling sessions with a psychiatrist.”
“That was in the comic, too.”
“Did I complete the sessions?”
“Yes, you did. You also became, uh, shall we say, close to your psychiatrist.”
“Really?” Zig Zag said, somewhat shocked. “I will admit that he was a very handsome fellow and, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have hesitated to try to get him in bed with me but, he was happily married and I don’t mess around with married men. I refuse to be like my mother.”
“Now, there’s some information I didn’t know.”
“Don’t make me remember my parents. Please. Maybe I’ll tell you about them one of these days, Michael bur, only because you know so much about me already.”
The five of them continued with their lunch until just before it was time for Zig Zag, Sheila, and Sabrina to get to their convention. Just before they left, Michael said, “Zig Zag, what are the three of you doing this evening?”
“First of all, Michael, I want you and Amanda to call me Zig. All of my friends call me that.”
“I thought that nicknames were frowned upon among the Humanimals.”
“They are, normally. But, it isn’t unheard of for one person to tell another that it’s alright to use a nickname, especially if the one wants to be close friends with the other.”
“Oh. In that case, Zig, what are the three of you doing this evening?”
“Well,” Zig Zag looked at her watch and said, “the first day of the convention is usually rather slow, Double Z Studios’ booth, however, is usually pretty busy. Why?”
“I’ve decided to treat the five of us to dinner this evening. Amanda says she wants fried chicken. What about everyone else?”
Zig Zag thought for a moment and said, “I’m really in the mood for Chownese. Are there any good Chownese restaurants in the area?”
“As a matter of fact, there is. It’s called ‘The Golden Panda‘ and it’s owned by a panda who was born in a small village in central Chowna. It’s about three blocks east of here. Oh, by the way, don’t be surprised when you see the owner and chef. He’s a golden panda.”
Zig Zag said, “What? Are you kidding?”
“Nope. Mr. Jinse Xiongmao has a rare genetic condition in which the white parts of his fur are a golden yellow.”
Sabrina said, “Interesting. I hope he won’t mind if I take his picture. I’ve never seen a golden panda before and I know Lee hasn’t seen one either.”
Amanda said, “Lee?”
Michael responded, “Sabrina’s fiancé. They’ve known each other since they were five and four years old.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Sabrina. I thought that you wanted to take Michael from me. I didn’t know you had a fiance. I guess I overreacted.”
“No, Sweetheart. You didn’t know; therefore, you reacted as any normal female in love with someone would react in that situation.”
Amanda whispered, “Michael, do they have fried chicken there? I’m really craving some since I’ve had to curtail my desire for it all week.”
Michael smiled and whispered back, “I would think they do. Fried chicken wings used to be a staple of Chinese restaurants when I was growing up.”
Sabrina asked, “Michael, why are you treating all of us to dinner? You barely know us.”
“Well, Sabrina, it’s because of you.”
“Yes, Amanda walked away earlier because she was upset and jealous of you. She thought that I loved you.”
“What?” Sabrina reacted with surprise.
“Yes. Because of her jealousy of you, I was able to say something to her that I had wanted to say for the last couple of days. I just didn’t know how to do it.”
Sheila asked, “What is that?”
“I told her that I loved her and I wanted to have a relationship with her.”
Sheila squealed with delight and Zig Zag said, “All right! I’m so glad that you did that, Michael. I just knew you loved her more than you were willing to admit to. I could see it in your eyes as you looked at her. The convention closes at 1100 this afternoon. We’ll wait for you here.”
“All right, Zig Zag.” Zig Zag frowned at Michael causing him to say, “Uh, Zig. Come on, Amanda, if you’re willing to wait until tonight for your chicken, we can walk along the river walk and enjoy the cool breeze off the river.”
Zig Zag said, “I can hardly wait for dinner. I haven’t had an authentic Chownese meal since the last time we were in San Fincisco two years ago.”
Zig Zag and Sheila gave Michael and Amanda a big hug before they retraced their steps back to Convention Hall D where their convention was being held. Michael was tempted to go to the porn convention just to see what went on in one but, he thought that Amanda would refuse to go or would be upset with him if he went.
Michael said, “Amanda, would you like to go to the computer show? You didn’t get to go before because of my shortsightedness.”
Amanda said, “Do you want to go back?”
“Actually, Sweetheart. I want to spend some time with you. It doesn’t matter if we do it at the computer show, the porn convention, or just walking along the riverwalk.”
“Then, let’s walk along the riverwalk.”
Smiling, Michael looped his arm through hers and, together, they walked out of the Convention Center and back toward their hotel. Amanda looked at him strangely before he said, “I had a thought. Our balconies overlook the river. I thought we’d just sit in chairs on my balcony and watch the river flow by.”
Amanda thought for a second before saying, “Only on one condition.”
Michael looked at her sideways and said, “And that is?”
“I want to sit in your lap and cuddle with you.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
At 1100, Michael and Amanda were walking into the lobby of the convention center and saw Zig Zag and everyone else waiting on them. They walked the few blocks to the restaurant. Everyone entered the Golden Panda and were greeted by Mei Xiongmao. She seated everyone and handed them menus. She looked at Michael and said, “Are these friends of yours, Michael?”
“No, Mei.” He pointed to Sheila and said, “She’s Amanda’s first cousin and,” he pointed at Zig Zag and said, “she’s a distant cousin to Amanda,” and pointing to Sabrina, he added, “and she works for her.” He pointed at Zig Zag again.
“I am very pleased to make the acquaintance of you. Michael and Amanda have visited our restaurant a couple of times since they have been in Jaguarville.” Mei stared at Zig Zag as she spoke. Finally, she said, “Pardon me but you look like a tiger but not a tiger.”
Zig Zag said, “I’m a quarter tiger and three-quarters skunk.”
“Ah, like the . . . Oh, my, God. You’re her, aren’t you?”
Michael was surprised to see embarrassment cross Zig Zag’s face. “Yes. But, I’m trying to not draw attention to myself. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I understand. Do you mind if I tell my father? He knows of you and has always stated he’d love to meet you one day.”
Zig Zag smiled and laughed quietly before saying, “As long as he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.”
Before she left, Mei asked, “Will everyone take tea to drink?” After everyone nodded an affirmative, she said, “I shall return shortly to take your orders.” She left.
Shortly after Mei left, Jinse entered the dining room and walked straight to their table. “Michael, Amanda, it is good to see you again. Mei’s fiancee would like to meet and speak with you.”
Michael looked at Jinse with understanding and smiled at him. “What’s so funny, Michael?” Jinse asked.
“I knew it.”
“Knew what, Michael?”
“Where’s your Chownese accent, Mr. Xiongmao?”
Jinse laughed heartily and said, “You are a very observant young man, Michael. Yes, I don’t have much of an accent anymore. My wife taught me to speak without one. However, she said that in a Chownese restaurant, most patrons would be a bit suspicious of a Chownese cook who didn’t have a Chownese accent. So, I cultivated the accent and only speak it at work and to strangers. Because you and Amanda have become regular customers, I feel safe in speaking with my normal voice rather than that stereotypical one.” He laughed again.
“You had given yourself away a little the last time we were in here. I was just hoping that I’d catch you without the accent.
“Now, about Mei’s fiancee, when does he wish to meet and speak with me?”
“He would like to speak with you tomorrow evening if that’s all right.”
“It’s fine with me. I look forward to meeting the tiger that’s won your daughter’s heart. I intend to visit St. Alsatian tomorrow so ask him to call me before he comes to the hotel just to be sure we’re back. We’re in the Marmoset Hotel. I’m in room 1109.
“Oh, by the way, may I introduce some new friends?” Pointing to each in turn, Michael said, “This is Sabrina Mordaces, Sheila Vixen, and Zig Zag.”
Speaking to Zig Zag, Jinse said, “Ah, yes. My daughter told me you were here, Guniang Zig Zag.”
“Are you a fan?”
“Oh no, Miss Zig Zag. I have friends who are fans, though. They had told me about your unique fur pattern. Because of my fur color, I’m always interested in meeting others with unique fur patterns or colors. That’s one of the reasons I like Guniang Amanda. Michael said that she is, technically, full-blood red fox but she looks like a tigress.”
Mei, who had been standing patiently behind her father, said, “Dad, please allow them to order their meal.”
Jinse laughed, “My daughter is ever one to do her job, especially if it means she gets to leave early. Please enjoy your meal with us today.”
Each of them ordered their meal and Mei left them to bring their drinks. Amanda sat as close to Michael as she could. Michael, for his part, openly enjoyed her attention. She wasn’t as clingy as she had been a week ago but she still acted as though she was afraid he was going to leave and never return. Michael tried to reassure her by putting his arm around her shoulders and letting her press her body against his while they talked to the others. When their meal arrived, they continued to talk and enjoy each other’s company. Michael learned that most of what he had read in the comics as he grew up had actually happened to Zig Zag and Sabrina. He didn’t know as much about Sheila but, he did learn that her sister, Tammy, had retired from doing porn when her boyfriend and onscreen partner had died of cancer at a relatively young age.
After they had finished eating, Mei continued to bring them something to drink as they visited and talked. Zig wanted to learn everything she could about her new cousin and was dismayed when she learned that Ophelia hadn’t treated Amanda with love. Zig remembered how her kithood hadn’t been the warm loving kithood that she had seen others enjoy but, even though she hadn’t been around that much, her mother hadn’t been the kind of mother that continually found fault with her looks as Ophelia had been of Amanda’s. Michael learned that Zig Zag had quite a wonderful sense of humor and continually made jokes, some were crude but most were clean. She also told her version of some of the stories that Sabrina had told him earlier in the day. Her version of those stories was even funnier than Sabrina’s, even Amanda laughed at some of the situations.
Jinse closed the restaurant at 1500 and, subtly suggested that everyone leave and go somewhere else. Michael suggested going to The Caribou bar and grill for a few drinks before they called it an evening. The group walked the three blocks to the bar and got a booth.
As he entered The Caribou, Michael looked around and saw a mixed group of Humanimals and a few humans. He also noticed how the men were looking at him or were it Zig Zag; Michael wasn’t certain. Michael suggested that Zig Zag sit as far in as possible and, despite giving him a strange look, she did as he suggested. Michael’s suspicion turned out to be right because they had barely gotten settled when a burly looking wolverine approached their booth.
The wolverine looked at Michael and said, “How much?”
Michael looked at him curiously and said, “How much? How much what?”
“How much for time with one of your girls?”
Michael understood what he was implying and, even though it angered him, said calmly, “Sorry. You’ve got the wrong idea. These ladies aren’t prostitutes. They’re friends of mine. We’re here to get acquainted and enjoy ourselves.”
“No man has four women with him just to talk and I recognize her.” He pointed at Zig Zag.
“I don’t care what you believe or who you recognize, we’re here to enjoy ourselves. Nothing else.”
The wolverine bent down and got right in Michael’s face causing Michael to scrunch up his face from the smell of beer on the wolverine’s breath. “Now listen, human. You’re the only guy with four very attractive women and I want to spend time with one of them. How much!?”
Zig Zag leaned over, grabbed the wolverine’s collar, and pulled him close to her. “Listen, Bud. My friend, Michael, has told you we aren’t for sale. And, believe me, even if I was for sale or rent, you couldn’t afford me. Yes, I’m who you think I am and I get paid 5,000 Yenars for each scene I shoot. 5,000 Yenars. You can’t afford me.” Zig Zag pointed to Sheila and said, “She gets paid 3,000 Yenars per scene.” She pointed to Sabrina and said, “She’s not an actress and I’ll protect her with your life if you so much as touch her and after I get through with you, her fiance, a snow leopard, will come to Jaguarville and explain to you how to treat a lady.” She pointed to Amanda and continued, “She’s the human’s girlfriend and I’m sure if you so much as look at her wrong, he’ll mop the floor with you. Now, as my human friend said, we’re here to converse and enjoy each other’s company. Now, I suggest you find another woman to annoy. Got it?”
About this time, an equally burly tiger walked up. “Is there a problem here?”
The wolverine turned quickly and said, “This ain’t none of your business, Anthony. I’m trying to conduct a bit of business with this human.”
The tiger looked at Michael and said, “Is that true? Is he conducting business with you?”
“No sir.” Michael pointed to everyone in her turn and said, “This is my girlfriend, next to her is a distant cousin of hers, next to her is my girlfriend’s first cousin, and at the end is an employee of her.” He pointed back at Zig Zag.
The wolverine whispered, rather loudly, “Don’t you recognize that tiger-striped skunk, Anthony, that’s Zig Zag, the porn actress.”
“Carl, I don’t care who she is. She’s a customer in this bar and she’ll be treated with respect.”
“But, . . .”
“No buts, Carl. Now, either leave them alone or I’ll be forced to make you leave.” Anthony looked out of the plate glass window behind Michael and company. He said, “As a matter of fact, Carl, your cab has arrived.”
Zig Zag said, “If we’re going to cause a distraction, maybe we should leave.”
“No, ma’am. Carl’s been here for several hours and he’s a little miffed that he can’t find someone to share his bed tonight. He’s taking it out on you.” Anthony looked hard at Carl before continuing, “I’m sure he’s ready to leave. Aren’t you, Carl?”
Carl looked at Anthony and said, “Yeah. I guess I am.” With an angry scowl at Michael, Carl turned and weaved his way toward the door and left.
Anthony said, “I’m terribly sorry, sir. I should have gotten here sooner but I was dealing with another rather rowdy customer. Carl’s usually a pretty good guy, except when he’s had a few too many and he starts pestering the female customers.”
“That’s all right, Anthony.”
Looking at Zig Zag, Anthony said, “Are you really Zig Zag?”
Straightening herself up so her rather noticeable breasts could be more easily seen, Zig Zag said, “Yes, I am. Do you want an autograph?”
“Oh, no. But, if my future father-in-law knew you were in town, he’d be trying to find you for one.”
“Well, why don’t you get me a pen and a piece of paper and I’ll give you one to show him.”
“Really? You’d do that for me? Thanks.” Anthony left rather hurriedly.
Michael said, “Zig, you really don’t need to do that.”
“Spoilsport. How do you think I’m going to remain on top of my profession if I don’t cater to the requests of my fans?”
Anthony returned with the pen and paper and, rather shyly, handed them to Zig Zag. She signed the paper with “To Anthony. Thanks for your help tonight. Zig Zag”. Michael noticed how she signed the paper and smiled as he saw a rather large Z with ig above ag next to it.
“There you go, Anthony. Show that to your future father-in-law and make him jealous.”
“Gee. Thanks, Zig Zag. I’ll do just that.” Anthony started to leave when Zig Zag grabbed his shirt and kissed him in front of the whole bar. Anthony’s knees buckled and he fell to the floor.
“Oh, my.” Zig Zag said, “I think I may have overdone it.”
Michael and Amanda just put their heads in the hands and sighed. Michael said, “Ya think, Zig.”
Finally, around 1800, the group broke up and Michael and Amanda headed back to their rooms at the Marmoset Hotel. Michael was surprised when Zig Zag and her group entered the Marmoset, too. Zig explained that she had booked the entire 9th floor for her group. Before they parted ways, Zig told Michael that she expected an invitation to their wedding which she predicted would be in less than a year. Michael laughed and said that as far as he was concerned the three of them had an invitation but it would be up to Amanda. Amanda, who had warmed significantly to Zig and Sheila through the night, said she would most definitely invite them, especially if it would cause her mother any amount of consternation which caused everyone to laugh. Just before Zig and her group got off the elevator, she stuffed a small piece of paper into one of Michael’s pockets.
“My studio’s mailing address, Michael. I’m sure you’d rather send the invitations there rather than my private home.”
“I know it would make Amanda feel better if we did it that way.”
Michael and Amanda reached their rooms and Michael walked her to her door. When they arrived, Amanda turned, put her arms around Michael’s neck, pulled him close, and kissed him. Michael had put his arms around her waist and held her close during the kiss.
“Are you going to sleep in your room tonight?” He asked.
Looking at him with a bit of a shocked look on her face, Amanda replied, “Michael Thomson, are you implying that we should share a bed before we get married?”
Smiling, Michael said, “Well, since you put it that way, I guess not. I wouldn’t want to sully your reputation by giving the impression that we’re not pure and chaste in our relationship.”
“That’s right, big boy, and don’t you forget it.”
Kissing her one more time, Michael said, “Good night, my dear. I’ll see you in my dreams and then, I’ll see you in the morning.”
He turned back to his door and opened it. When he turned on the lights, he looked at his bed and saw Amanda already under the covers and holding them up for him to climb in. He laughed and said, “Let me get ready for bed. I’ll be out of the bathroom in a few minutes.”
“Hurry. I don’t want to get cold waiting for you.”
Michael laughed lightly and went into the bathroom, changed clothes, got into bed, and cuddled up to her.
As they lay there before they fell asleep, Amanda said, “Michael, you don’t have to worry about what you said to me earlier today. I’ll be happy just knowing that you are the best friend I’ve ever had and that includes Victoria, Penny, Bertha, Wanda, and Michelle.”
“Amanda,” Michael replied as he pulled her closer to him, “you don’t understand. I meant every word. I had a nightmare this morning before I found you in bed with me. That nightmare and the dream that followed it convinced me that I need to let you know about my true feelings for you. Now, let’s get some sleep. I need to decide where I want to visit tomorrow. I want to go to either St. Alsatian or visit the Oakefernokee Swamp.
“Oh, I don’t think I’ve heard you mention Penny.”
“Her name is Penny Wydra. She’s half-otter/half-raccoon. She works as a waitress at ‘The Blue Deer’ restaurant. If you’ve ever eaten there,” Amanda stopped as she remembered the night that she and her family had dinner there after she got hired at SoGa Industries.
“You’ve met Penny. She must have been your waitress the night after you woke up from stasis. She told me and my family about the human that was with the Panthera family that night. I wanted to go see Victoria but my mother wouldn’t allow it. Now, I wish I had been allowed to go. I would have met you under less painful circumstances.” She laughed causing Michael to laugh as well.
“Ah, now I know who you’re talking about. She’s very pretty. I loved her markings. She looked more like an otter with raccoon markings.”
They both were cuddled quietly for a few minutes before they both fell asleep, each dreaming his own special dream.