When Vinci and Sawbuck met for the first time

By Candy Dewalt

Vinci Candy Dewalt    Sawbuck Albert Temple

With a flourish, the raccoon finished writing next Monday's date on the whiteboard, just under 'Good Morning!' There. All set for the upcoming week. He could go home and relax now.

"Pardon me, Mr. Nickelaids, is it?"

Vinci turned to see a parent standing in the door; Jonny's father. He had only met the giraffe in passing at Open House, but was often treated to stories about him by his exuberant son, who idolized his dad. Vinci almost felt like he knew the man. "Hello. It's 'Nicolaides', actually. The 'D' throws everyone off; it's more of a 'T' sound." He laughed apologetically, as though embarrassed by the confusion his last name tended to cause.

"Whatever."

Vinci blinked, a bit put off by the giraffe's response. He tried not to show it. "What can I do for you, Mr. Miles?"

"Jonathan tells me you have a new student in his class. A human?" Mr. Miles craned his neck towards the raccoon, squinting slightly.

"We sure do! Abigail's a great kid. She and Jonny have really hit it off, as a matter of fact."

"Unacceptable!"

Vinci blinked again, rapidly. His hands immediately went to his glasses, adjusting them. "Excuse me?"

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Nickel-hades--"

"Nicolaides," Vinci interrupted feebly.

"Whatever. Do you seriously think that it is all right to allow a -human- into your classroom with these young children?"

"I don't see a problem with it."

"You must not be aware, then, of what the humans are responsible for, and how they view us."

"Actually, I'm well aware," Vinci said. He cleaned his glasses on his shirt, just to have something to do with his hands, anything to keep him calm. The raccoon placed the glasses back on the bridge of his muzzle. "And I also know that times are changing rather rapidly. We know it, and the humans know it. We all need to work towards an understanding, not teach our children more hatred."

Mr. Miles sputtered in outrage. "You aren't helping your students, you're sheltering them from reality!"

Now Vinci did something he rarely ever was able to do. He snapped. "Sir, one of us is definitely sheltered from reality, and it isn't me."

The giraffe pointed menacingly at the small raccoon. "I came to inform you that Jonathan is being pulled from your classroom at once. I will not allow him to stay in such a debilitating environment." Vinci's eyes narrowed. "And if I have my way, you'll be kissing your license goodbye." The giraffe flung open the classroom door and stormed out of the room, craning his neck in to lob one final insult. "You might as well pack up and head back to your old country."

Vinci winced visibly as the giraffe finally departed with a loud slam of the door. He sat down on a desk, shaking, whether from fury or nerves, he couldn't tell. "Huh, frightening. Bigotry's still alive and well."


--

"And then-- And THEN he tells me to pack up and go back to my old country! Can you believe the nerve?" Vinci gestured wildly, as he often did when he talked. The garden hose he held in one hand jerked precariously towards his partner, who ducked the stream, clutching a camera to his chest.

"If he wants to be dumb, let him go be dumb. At least he's out of your hair now."

"But Arty, he's just going to take that attitude somewhere else and it's not going to get better. And his son is such a nice kid, and now he's gone." Vinci shook his head. "He and Abigail, the little human girl, were such good friends. What if he grows up and forgets that?"

Arty aimed his camera towards the sky with webbed spotted paws, peering through the lens. "Sweetie, sometimes you act like those kids'll explode the minute they leave your classroom. You have no control on their lives past the school year, Vinci. You've gotta let go and trust 'em. Don't beat yourself up."

"I know," Vinci's ears drooped. "I don't mean to sound overprotective. I just care about them, and I worry. I want what's best for them."

"What's best for them is having a teacher who knows better than to let some ignorant jerk get to him." Arty's eyes twinkled.

"He didn't get to me, Arty, I was just telling you what he said."

"A-HEM." Arty pointed behind the raccoon, where in his frantic, angry gesticulations he'd doused the garden and the side of the house until they were sopping wet. The streaks of water almost appeared to spell out the word 'GRRR!' Vinci's ears flopped even further down, and he ducked his head.

"Ok," he said in a small voice. "Maybe I was a -little- gotten to."

"Your problem," Arty decided, again wielding the camera. "Is that you care -too- much. You're always worried about what other people think of you. You should really relax." The yumar puffed proudly. "-I- don't care what other people think of me. I -know- I'm perfect."

Vinci rolled his eyes. "Oh, mother of Zeus."

"You should think more highly of yourself. Like me."

"Dear heart, if you thought any higher of yourself, they'd be able to use you as a satellite. Besides, I can't think very highly of myself. For one, I'm short. For two, I haven't always been a very good person-"

"Oh, knock it off, Vinci. I don't wanna hear that 'blah blah I don't like myself' spiel. -I- like you, and I'm always right, so stop arguing. Anyways," the yumar continued. "Guess who's going to Canovia next week?"

"What?" Vinci jolted. "Canovia? You? Why?"

Arty gleamed, holding his camera up. "Lifetime Magazine liked the samples I sent in of my work; they asked me if I'd be willing to go take some candid shots of the Canovian people."

Vinci hugged his proud feline partner. "Wow! I'm so proud of you, Arty! They picked the right cat. You're a wonderful photographer! Will you be gone long?"

"Two, three weeks, maybe? I'd have to doublecheck. My flight leaves on Monday."

Suddenly, it seemed all too quick for Vinci. "Oh. I'm going to miss you. I wish I could go too."

"Don't look so sad. I'll bring you back something shiney."

"I don't want something shiney. I want you. You'll be careful, right?"

"Aren't I always? Besides, it's Canovia. What's so dangerous about it?"

--

What was so dangerous about Canovia? The raccoon closed his eyes, memories flooding through his head. Suddenly, he was a boy, the youngest kid in his class, on a field trip to the Canovian capital from Greece, and his first time so far away from his parents. The teacher was leading them through a busy marketplace, pointing out sights and landmarks. Vinci wasn't paying attention; he was gaping at a line of guards, armed and in full Canovian uniform, marching down a side street.

"Look at that!" whispered a classmate, a young dog known as Arcos.

"I want one of those hats they wear," cried Nikos, a beaver.

"Well then, go and get one."

"What? Arcos, are you nuts?"

"Are you chicken? Just go run over there, nab a hat, and run back."

"I can't do that!"

"Cluck cluck cluck cluck.. CHICKEN!"

"I'll do it for you, Nikos," offered Vinci. The dog and beaver turned to laugh at the scrawny, homely little raccoon, whose oversized ears flopped down the sides of his head, too heavy for him to perk.

"You? HAHA! And how will -you- get a hat from off of their heads, small fry?"

"Bet he'll try to ask them, all polite and proper!" Arcos snorted, sashaying around Vinci mockingly. The little raccoon tended to use overly polite and proper Greek, which the rest of the class often teased him for.

"They don't understand Greek!" laughed Nikos.

"Bet he'll just scare a hat off their heads with his ugly face!"

Vinci was off like a bolt, darting towards the soldiers at full speed. He'd show them! He wasn't just a little pipsqueak! Tearing through the crowd, he caught up to the end of the line of guards, trotting after them, his heart pounding in excitement. He wasn't sure how he'd get a hat, and right now, he didn't care. He almost felt as though he were part of the guard, marching in uniform alongside them, proud and tall and part of the Canovian--

"STOP!" Vinci flinched at the unfamiliar Canovian word, and felt a large hand roughly grab him by the back of the shirt. He was yanked around to face a large, angry looking bird in uniform. The bird snapped at him, and he began to shake. He didn't understand a thing the man was saying, only that he was very, very angry.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Vinci cried in Greek, over and over again. Surely he understood that? But the bird only seemed to get angrier. Vinci reached his arms out to the man, pleading, but with a quick movement, there was suddenly a knife pointed at the raccoon child's face.

The man yelled something again. Vinci was paralyzed in fear, and the bird shook him, repeating the angry words, knife pressing closer to Vinci's throat. Time slowed, and the raccoon wondered how much it would hurt to die.

Suddenly, two more guards descended on the bird, a bulldog and an antelope. The antelope clapped his hand tightly on the bird's shoulder, his tone of voice threatening. The bird began to argue, and the antelope replied in a mocking tone. Again, the bird yelled angrily, but the antelope's eyes darkened, and his voice took on a threatening air. After looking from the antelope to the bulldog, the bird sneered, and let his knife drop. Vinci felt himself shoved towards the antelope, who caught the child in his arms as the bird stormed off. He shook violently, terrified.

But the antelope wasn't like his comrade. He spoke in a gentle, soothing tone, his eyes kind and concerned. Vinci couldn't help but stare. The man was young, perhaps somewhere in his late teens, with just the smallest buds of antlers poking out from under his hat, a bulbous nose and a spotted, warm coat. His voice took on a questioning tone, and although Vinci couldn't understand the words, he thought that perhaps he was being asked for his name. The raccoon pointed to himself, "Vinci," and then tapped the antelope's shoulder.

"Vinci? Vinci," said the antelope, pointing to the raccoon, who beamed and nodded exuberantly. He pointed to himself. "Sawbuck."

"Sawbuck!" chirped Vinci. Sawbuck's bulldog companion said something then, and Vinci pointed to him, looking at Sawbuck curiously.

"Roars," Sawbuck said.

"Yia sas!" Vinci was delighted. He had made two new friends. Wait until he told his classmates about his adventure--his classmates! Vinci looked around frantically, and caught a glimpse of his class in the distance, huddled together. His teacher, a panicked look on her face, was approaching the guards at a run; she must have found out from Nikos and Arcos about his detour.

"That your teacher, kid?" Vinci couldn't understand Sawbuck, but he saw the antelope gesturing towards the woman, and nodded. He had to go. But first...

Throwing his arms around the antelope, he hugged him tightly. "Sawbuck, efxaristo." Thank you. The antelope was slightly taken aback, but he smiled. And then, with a flourish, he took his hat off and placed it on the raccoon's head. It slipped down over Vinci's eyes, and he shrieked with laughter. Planting a kiss on Sawbuck's nose, he hopped out of the antelope's arms and ran to join his teacher and classmates, whooping and waving his new hat with delight.

--

"Vinch? Vinci? Yo! Earth to Mr. N.!"

"Wha?" Vinci snapped out of his reverie. "Sorry, I guess I spaced out."

"Yeah, no kidding," said Arty. "Anywho, I was asking if you wanted sushi for dinner?"

"Always!"

"Great! I'm ready, are you?"

"I think so. Could I run into the house for just one moment?"

"Make it quick, the sushi train awaits!"

Vinci opened the patio door and scooted through the house, almost tripping over a cat or two as he bounded up the stairs to his bedroom closet. Reaching behind a few shoeboxes on a shelf, he pulled out a slightly worn out Canovian armed guard hat. The raccoon smiled, tracing a finger across the fabric before hugging it to him. Lucky Arty, going to Canovia. How he wished he could go too, if only to try and find that antelope man who had saved him so many years ago.

"Sawbuck," Vinci said the name fondly, hugging the hat to him. "I wonder what ever happened to you?"