Year Of The Tigre
It’s hard to not feel like a celebrity when you have an entire year dedicated to you. Perhaps not specifically dedicated to you yourself but rather your kind of people. This is how Jennifer Tigre, also known as Jen to most or Stripes to her closest friends, felt as the lunar new year approached. She even planned a big party for herself, her boyfriend Jerry Squiral, her friends from school whom she never lost contact with, her father Mark, her step-mother Hope, and a few of her neighbors that she got along with well. Jen decided to go all out on the party too. She ordered a catering service to provide chicken wings, a vegetable assortment, and hamburgers, called the local bakery to order a tiger themed cake, bought a wide assortment of various wine coolers, beers, and a few bottles of rum to celebrate with, and even tried to hang up some Chinese inspired decorations. She wasn’t Chinese in any form, but she figured there was no harm in sticking to the theme of the lunar new year and the Chinese zodiac which had said this year was the year of her and her kind. To say she was excited was an understatement.
The party was set to start January 30 at six at night and planned to go past midnight into the next day when, just before the first hour of February finished, the lunar new year would start. Her father, step-mother, and her boyfriend were each an hour early to the party to help Jen with any last minute details that needed tending to. She didn’t need the help, of course, having spent the better part of two months planning and preparing for this party, but the moral support was quite appreciated. If anything, it gave her time to spend alone with them for the first time since the holiday season. Jerry was busy trying to climb the political ladder, aspiring to be president one day but settling for assistant to the mayor right now. Mark kept himself busy as a fitness instructor at the gym that he also opened up with some of the life insurance money from the death of his first wife and mother of his only child. Jen herself had decided to be a waitress at a big chain steakhouse, using her natural charm and good looks to earn her a paycheck. She was the most popular waitress there, often walking home with hundreds of dollars in tips on any given night, but this also meant she was asked to work more than the other waitresses. It was worth it though in her opinion. She saw all the walking she did every night as an extra way to help her stay in shape, and she earned enough to be able to buy a nice condominium. Hope never seemed to approve of this lifestyle, feeling like Jen was never living up to her full potential.
“So, Jennifer, have you started making any plans to go to college or perhaps a trade school?” Hope asked Jen for what felt like the thousandth time while they were hanging up decorations together.
“No, Hope, I haven’t. I like my job,” Jen defended for what felt like the thousandth time as well.
Jen called Hope by her name instead of “mom” or “step-mom” because Jen was sixteen when her father married Hope. They bonded as adults instead of in a parent/child paradigm. They got along rather well. Hope never tried to act like Jen’s mother, which Jen appreciated. Jen never knew her birth mother because she died in childbirth. Growing up, Jen had always wanted a mom, but Mark was having a hard time moving on from the woman he loved so much. As the years passed, the roles slowly reversed. In the beginning of her double digit years, Jen had gotten upset when her dad mentioned going out on dates, not wanting the mother she never got to know to be replaced. Though as she grew older and was nearing her fifteenth birthday, she realized that was selfish and gave her dad her ok to try to find love again. He met Hope shortly after and hit it off with her right away. When Mark married Hope, she and Jen had sat down and discussed their relationship that started as friends but had shifted. Hope told Jen she would never try to be her mother, and in return she only asked that Jen continued to treat her with respect. It was an easy enough agreement for the both of them.
“You could do so much better you know. You’re squandering your talents in that soul trap of a job,” Hope replied to Jen.
“Like sitting in a cubicle calling random people trying to sell them car warranties?” Jen asked with a hint of sarcasm in her tone.
“Don’t get snippy with me,” the bobcat replied. “Besides, its not a cubicle, it’s an office. I’m senior V.P. in charge of sales. All of the people making the calls to others answer to me. If you applied yourself, you could be where I’m at in a few short years.”
“I appreciate that you’re trying to look out for me, Hope, but I’m happy where I am. I make enough to live comfortably and the customers all love me,” Jen defended.
“All the while they’re undressing you with their eyes and wondering what it would take to get you home and into their bed.”
“You see that as a problem. I see that as my main money maker,” Jen replied. “Guys tip me pretty good in those hopes. All I gotta do is turn on the charm and flirt a little.”
“And what about Jerry? Does he know that fact?” Hope said in a criticizing tone.
“Yeah. But he also knows I’m not gonna cheat on him, even if some of the guys are really cute and I would take them home if not for him,” Jen answered with a giggle.
“You always did have a... healthy... sexual appetite,” Hope responded, also with a giggle.
“Now can we please put a pin in this for now? It’s my party and I want to have fun.”
They resumed hanging up the decorations without discussing Jen’s career path any longer. Things were starting to fall into place when her oldest friends started showing up a short time later. Amber White, an arctic fox who worked at the local high school as a librarian, Geoff Bevar, a beaver who was playing his way through college on their baseball team as their catcher, and William Plats, a platypus who was an accountant working with his dad as a small firm. William has been called Billy all his life and preferred it to continue even as an adult. Geoff had grown up with Jen, going to the same preschool as herself and Jerry. She never learned that he harbored a crush on her that he eventually got over when he went to college. Amber and Billy she had met after she had become a teenager, even dating the latter briefly. Jen and Amber became best friends immediately, though their friendship was a unique one. As kids, Amber always had a fear of boys, but was able to find her strength when around Jen. As they grew older, Jen found herself growing a little jealous when the shy, boy avoiding fox developed much larger breasts, though Jen never let that accumulate to more than a pondering of why life plays jokes like that. Jen’s relationship with Billy was a mixed bag of ups and downs. They had a brief fling that didn’t pan out. They broke up, but they remained good friends to this day. Billy was another one that tried to convince Jen into pursuing higher education, being in school himself to get the degrees he needed to be a licensed accountant while working for his dad. Like with Hope, though, she respected Billy’s opinion and advice but also told him the same things she told her step-mother. That never stopped either Hope or Billy from trying though. In fact, shortly into the life of the party, Billy made such an attempt, and it resulted in an almost word for word replica of the discussion Jen had with Hope earlier that day. Having to have that conversation twice in the same day actually stressed her out and gave her a bit of anxiety, so he had retreated to her balcony to get some fresh air. Amber had noticed this and followed her out, hoping to console her best friend.
“Hey there Jen,” Amber said softly, barely louder than a whisper, as she stepped out into the fresh air. Jen looked at Amber and let out a small sigh.
“Hey there Amber. What are you doing out here?” Jen asked despite knowing the obvious answer about to come.
“I just wanted to make sure you were ok,” the fox answered. “It’s your party, and, even though it’s not quite in full swing yet, you’re out here instead of being the center of attention. That’s weird for you even if we don’t factor in that it’s your party. You love being the center of attention.”
“That obvious, huh?” Jen questioned with a halfhearted laugh. “Hope and Billy are hounding me about my job and school again...”
“I don’t see why they can’t leave you be,” Amber responded with a sigh. “You’re happy and it’s paying all your bills, right? Plus it fits in once again with your desire to be the center of attention.”
“You’re reading too many psyche analysis books in your downtime in that library,” the tigress told her friend with a slight roll of the eyes. “But you’re also not wrong. It’s like the perfect job for me and I love it.”
“Well hopefully one day they’ll see that their advice is appreciated but ultimately unwarranted and unwanted. As long as you’re happy and making money, what more can you ask for from a job?”
“Thanks Amber. It’s nice to hear that from time to time from somebody other than Jerry,” Jen said as she walked over to Amber and wrapped her arms around the fox, embracing her friend.
“Any time Jen.” Amber then returned the tigress’s hug, throwing her arms around her friend. “Don’t let them spoil your party. Remember: it’s about to be the year of the Tiger! It’s your year!”
This last remark brought a grin to Jen’s face as any feelings of despair disappeared from her expression and body altogether.
“Yeah! You’re right! This is my year! I’m not gonna let those two get to me! Thanks again Amber. Now let’s go party!”
With vigor and enthusiasm renewed, Jen returned to her own party. That was when some of her neighbors started showing up. There was Corra, a female lynx in her mid-twenties living in a condo across the hall from her who was working at a bar and grill establishment that featured live bands, either up and rising or those trying to hold on to whatever fandom they had left, as a bartender. Her situation was much like Jen’s, where she liked her job and made enough money for her lifestyle, but her friends and family were also constantly telling her she needed to go to school. She and Jen hit it off immediately when Jen had come in one night to see a band that wasn’t quite well-known but she had been a fan of, one that played most of its shows in bars across the area. The next neighbor to show up was her upstairs neighbor Veronica. Veronica was a female goat in her late twenties who had just gotten out of a nasty divorce with her wife of five years. Veronica worked as a bank teller at the largest bank in the city. Jen had heard some of the nasty fights that had occurred between Veronica and her then wife, and she decided to open her home to her until then unknown neighbor, giving her a safe place to stay. Veronica appreciated this gesture and got to know Jen while she stayed there through the divorce. Veronica has been back in her own place for six months now as her ex-wife had moved to a new town. Jen didn’t pry into the details, and Veronica wasn’t forthcoming with them. The last two neighbors to show up Jen didn’t know very well, only in passing when she was coming to or leaving the building. The neighbor to the left of Jen was a male raccoon in his early thirties named Frank. Frank was a construction worker, specializing especially in the laying of cement and was a skilled backhoe operator. The neighbor below Jen was a male mongoose in his early forties named Xavier. Xavier was a day trader, making his money buying and selling stocks through various websites. The last condo, the one to Jen’s right, was currently unoccupied. Jen had also invited the neighbors of her neighbors, slipping cards in envelopes underneath doors, but none of them showed up. Jen honestly wouldn’t have known if they had or not because these four were the only ones she had had any interaction with within the past couple of years that she had lived here.
Once everybody was in attendance, the full swing of the party had started. Jen had some video games for those who didn’t dance, but kept the party going with her favorite pop and hip-hop songs to dance to. She was quite surprised that Frank, who was almost as big and muscular as her friend Geoff was, was a nimble and dexterous dancer. He was almost the very definition of grace where Geoff was anything but. Jen had enjoyed the challenge of not letting him outshine her on her own proverbial dance floor, though she also made sure to split her dance time almost equally with Jerry. It also surprised Jen that Amber, who was still somewhat shy, had gotten into the center of the action and was cutting quite a rug herself. Jen didn’t know if this was because Amber had a few wine coolers in her, opting for lighter, fruitier drinks rather than the rum and beer Jen had available. Whatever the reason was, the tigress was glad that everybody at her party was letting loose and having a fun time. Though at some point right after the chicken wings and hamburgers put out for people to serve themselves, Mark had convinced Frank, Geoff, and Billy to have a drinking contest. Xavier, Jerry and Jen were all invited to join, but they had declined. Xavier didn’t want to have a hangover tomorrow so he could keep his mind sharp for some more trading. Jerry didn’t really enjoy alcohol and was instead drinking tea throughout the night. Jen would have loved to drink her father, friends, and neighbors under the table, but she felt it was in bad taste to be smashed at your own party instead of keeping a somewhat clear head to make sure everybody was having a grand time.
Corra, with her bar tending experience, was more than happy to pour these men their shots of rum. For every round she served them, she’d have herself a sip of the beer she was drinking. This allowed her to join in without getting herself hammered, as well as keep all the drinks fair and even. Jen didn’t object to the men drinking all of her rum because she still had beer and wine coolers, though the latter was far from her favorite way to drink alcohol, to drink, plus they were having fun with it. Jen was surprised that Billy was able to keep up with his competitors. The plat was smaller and nowhere near as in-shape as the three men he was drinking against, and yet he was matching them shot for shot. In fact, after seven shots when Frank tapped out and left the contest, leaving Mark, Geoff, and Billy to continue the contest, Jen was mildly impressed. She didn’t know his secret, but he was able to handle his liquor. The tigress even started to cheer for the plat at one point, but after another five, Billy finally gave up. He said he could have kept going but didn’t want to get “pass out drunk”, but Jen wasn’t sure if that was the truth or if he was trying to spare his ego some abuse. It really didn’t matter much either way as Mark surrendered just three shots later leaving Geoff the victor.
“Yeah!” Geoff gloated. “Nobody out drinks The Wall!”
“The wall?” Xavier asked in a skeptical, unamused voice.
“Yeah!” Geoff exclaimed. “That’s what the guys on the team call me because I prevent runs from getting in!”
“And they couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘The Wall’?” Jerry questioned his life-long friend.
“Hey, screw you, it’s awesome!” Geoff answered with a laugh. “Get used to it, because when I make the pros, that nickname is gonna be EVERYWHERE! Digital trading cards, cereal boxes, commercials for various companies! I’m telling ya, I’m gonna be famous one day!”
“Well you might want to learn some humility before you do, Mr. Wall,” Mark advised the gloating beaver. There was a slight slur to his words from the heavy buzz he was enduring from the contest. “You want to be famous, not infamous. If you’re going to be well-known, think about the legacy you carry.”
Mark’s words seemed to somber Geoff greatly. Geoff practically grew up with Mark being his second father, and more of a father than his own. His parents took care of him, but they were always so focused on their jobs and money that they never really noticed Geoff’s problems. Mark was even the one Geoff went to when he was hopeless about Jen not seeming to notice his affections toward her, and he was the one who helped Geoff slowly deal with his feelings toward the tigress so they could remain friends though the beaver wanted more. Any advice Mark ever gave Geoff were taken by him as if his own father were helping him.
“Yes sir,” Geoff answered in a calmer, humbler voice. “You’re right. I tend to let myself get carried away.”
“It’s ok to do so. Just moderation is key,” Mark told him. “Now don’t sober up on us. This is a party!”
With a cheer, Geoff regained his party mood. His cheer brought a small laugh to everybody around and helped to lift any heaviness that was still lingering amongst the crowd. Though that would be the turning point in which Jen would regret letting Geoff and Frank do a drinking contest. Geoff was already a rather egotistical man, and that part of him only seemed to get worse when booze was in his system. He very quickly became self-absorbed and tried to make everything he did and said for the next couple hours the focus of everybody’s attention. Frank was a different story. Frank started hitting on all the women at the party, Jen included. Jen thought that Frank was just trying to get a laugh out of everybody at first, but when he continued much longer past the point of it being funny at all, it bothered Jen. She eventually had to sober the two men up. She locked Frank out on her balcony and Geoff in her bedroom. She was afraid to switch that combination up because she wasn’t sure if Frank would do something with her underwear in the state he was in. She also made sure to start handing them coffee to help sober them faster. She felt bad about having to lock her guests out of her party, but they were both making the rest of her company quite uncomfortable. After roughly an hour of treatment, both men sobered up enough to be allowed to rejoin the party. This was of course once they had provided the rest of the party heartfelt apologies. They were accepted without a second thought and the party carried on as if nothing had ever happened.
Just before midnight, with a little under an hour to go before the lunar new year started, Jen took the party in a new direction as she shut off the pop and hip-hop music and started only playing songs that were themed around tigers or made many mentions of them throughout the song. She knew this was probably tacky, but it was her party and her year, and she was going to bring it in right. Normally she couldn’t stand listening to these songs herself, but she made an exception this one time. What surprised her was that there were so many songs that she could choose from that she could have filled a few hours of her playlist with them. This of course made her feel like even more of a celebrity, even if the songs weren’t directly about her herself. She even had to admit that, between the party atmosphere and the alcohol in her system, she was starting to get into the songs at around half past midnight, starting to sing along with the more well-known songs on the list. Only a handful of minutes remained until the new lunar year, and that’s when Jen noticed that Jerry was handing out party blowers. What struck her as odd about it was that he seemed to whisper to everybody as he did. He must have told them to gather round so they were all together to ring in the year of the tiger, because they all started coming her way. With a minute to go, everybody was gathered and Mark had pulled out his phone, starting a countdown timer. He made sure to call out every fifteen seconds that passed.
Jerry then took Jen’s hands in his and looked her in the eyes.
“Jen,” Jerry said nervously. “I want you to know that I consider myself lucky to be with you.”
“Fifteen!” Mark called out.
“And I’d also be lucky if...” Jerry continued.
Jerry started fishing into his pocket for something. Jen knew deep down what he was doing, but her mind and body were frozen. This was a surreal dream, and she couldn’t believe what was going on.
“Nine! Right! Seven!”
Jerry finally fished a ring from his pocket. There was no box for it, just a gold band with a small ruby inlaid. Jerry has opted for a ruby instead of a traditional diamond due to the fact that Jen’s favorite jewel was in fact a ruby, though she didn’t wear much in the way of jewelry despite finally growing out of her tomboy ways of youth.
Jerry goes down onto one knee and holds the ring up to Jen.
“Jen...” Jerry started.
“Will you marry me?”
“Three! Two! One!”
It took Jen a few seconds to regain her senses and to snap back to reality. It was all happening so fast that it almost took her breath away. She never expected this to happen tonight, and in front of all her friends, family, and neighbors no less. She had suspected Jerry was going to propose soon, but she always thought he would do the stereotypical proposal of taking her to a nice, fancy restaurant. This was much more intimate, and her mind was racing. Was she ready to settle down? She and Jerry had been exclusive for roughly a year and a half at this point, but she was still young. Then there was the rising failure rate of marriages to consider. Would she and Jerry become just another couple in that doomed statistic, growing bitter with one another until a harsh divorce? Would she and Jerry go through what Veronica had with her ex-wife Susan? He made her happy, though, and she knew he was happy with her. There was no reason to suspect that would change any time soon. Her head was conflicted, so she just had to go with what her gut was telling her.
“Uh... yeah! I will!” Jen finally managed to stammer out.
The party erupted in cheers and applause, both to signify that the lunar new year had just started and to celebrate the engagement of Jerry and Jen. If Jen didn’t already feel like all eyes were on her at her own party, she did now. She was one to rarely cry, but even she had problems stopping tears from at least forming in her eyes. The tigress used the back of her hand to quickly wipe her eyes before sticking her hand out to her new fiancé, allowing the squirrel to slip the ring onto her finger. Once the jewelry was in place, Jen gripped Jerry’s hands and held them as he stood. Once he was back to full height, Jerry was greeted by Jen with her lips pressed deeply and firmly against his. Her hands had let go of his and her arms had now wrapped around his body, embracing him against her own. After a few brief moments, Jen pulled her mouth away from Jerry’s.
“I love you, Jerry.”
“And I love you, Jen.”
The two kissed once more before letting go of one another. After all, this was the highlight of the party, not the end of it. The party didn’t last much more than an hour longer after the proposal though, not that they weren’t having fun. It was getting late and the alcohol was in full effect. As her friends, family, and neighbors all left, excluding Jerry who was going to spend the night, Jen once again couldn’t help but muse about how her party turned out. She wanted to throw a party to feel like a star because it was going to be the year of the tiger, but she never in a of her life predicted what would have happened. She was ecstatic about how the day had gone, and it was only the first day into the Lunar New Year. She couldn’t wait to see what else was in store. This year may have not been specifically about her, but she would give it her all to make it the best year ever. She swore that this year would not be the year of the tiger. She swore that this year... would be the year of the Tigre.