The Question of Love
A colorful burst of leaves twirled and danced in the air like a red and yellow storm cloud as they blew from the Ranger Tree and drifted to the ground to join their fallen comrades. On the branches above, a stocky mouse leaned against the rodent-sized push broom he’d been using and wiped his forehead.
“Does it botha’ anyone else here that fall cleanin’ is harder work than spring cleaning?” Monterrey Jack complained.
“These leaves have to go somewhere, Monty,” Chip said as he diligently swept a pile off the Ranger Wing’s landing pad, over the side of the tree.
A high-pitched whirring came from behind the Ranger Wing, attracting Monty, Zipper and Chip’s attention. There was Gadget, utilizing a makeshift leaf blower she'd put together from the fan of a hairdryer and an old vacuum hose. The wind from the machine blew the leaves from the landing pad without Gadget having to do any serious physical labor.
Chip and Monty went back about their duties. It might have been surprising if it were anyone else besides Gadget, but they knew the girl was a genius.
On the other side of the Ranger’s porch, a pink bat eyed a pile of fallen leaves, closed her eyes and smiled. She beat her wings with enough force to lift her off her feet, using the air currents they made to push the leaves over the side of the porch.
Chip exhaled, expelling a cloud of visible breath that wisped about the chilly air only a second before fading away. He saw Gadget in front of him, Monty and Zipper to his right, and Foxglove approaching from the other side of the tree. But where was Dale?
“Foxglove,” Chip said, “have you seen Dale?”
“I haven’t,” Foxglove answered with a shake of her head.
“Wasn’t he with you, lass?” Monty lumbered over to the others, not with particular interest where Dale was, but to get a few moments to catch his breath.
“He told me he went inside to get a cup of hot chocolate.“
Looking over her shoulder at the others, Gadget smiled and shut off her leaf blower, then walked over to join them. “Oh, sorry, I couldn’t hear anything over my new invention. What’s going on?”
“Gadget, do you know where Dale went?” Chip asked.
“Nope,” Gadget put her finger on her chin. “Wait, come to think of it…scratch that. I haven‘t seen him for at least ten minutes.”
“I’ll go look for him,” Foxglove said. She beat her wings and made a graceful circle around the tree. No sign of Dale. Hovering, Foxglove thought to herself, if you were Dale, where would you be? A dozen yards below, the leaves the Rangers had been removing from their home began to make several colorful piles of red, brown and yellow on the ground.
The pink bat did several corkscrews in midair as she descended towards the ground. Knowing Dale, he’d probably be playing in the leaves like a grade-school kid.
“Dale?” Foxglove shouted with her wing cupped over her mouth. “Where’d you go, Cute Stuff? We could use your help!”
Foxglove overlooked the cherry tomato nose poking from under a nearby pile of leaves, and the steam it released into the cold November air. Dale could hardly believe his luck. Not only did he have Foxglove right where he wanted her, she was distracted. He sprung, scattering leaves everywhere. In his excitement, he'd forgotten how sensitive a bat's ears were, putting no thought into the fact Foxy's ears would easily pick up the sound of the rustling leaves. She twisted around, saw Dale pounce, caught him with her wings and twisted, setting him down on his back.
Foxglove giggled. Now she was propped on top of Dale, and had him where she wanted him. “Gotcha.”
Dale looked up into Foxglove‘s beautiful blue eyes, for a moment becoming entranced by them. “Aw, shucks. How’d you know I was there?”
“You should be a little quieter next time.”
Foxglove’s pretty face, those amazing blue eyes, the soft and gentle tone in her voice; there wasn’t anything about the bat that didn’t make Dale’s heart pound. He trembled for a few seconds as Foxglove leaned in for a kiss. The bat was sweet, kind, funny and beautiful and he really liked her, but was he ready for this? Dale rolled to the side before her lips could touch.
Opening her eyes just inches away from kissing the grass, Foxglove sighed. After all this time, Dale was still nervous. Would he ever open up to her?
“Hey, Foxy,” Dale’s voice called out to snap Foxglove back to reality. “I’ll race you to that tree over there!” Dale pointed to a thin cottonwood tree several yards ahead. On the outside, he might have seemed unaffected by Foxglove's near-kiss, but inwardly he was still jittery as he stalked his true feelings for the bat.
“Okay,” Foxglove answered, still on her wings and knees.
“See ya!” Without waiting for Foxglove to get ready, Dale started off for the tree, but Foxglove wrapped a wing around his ankle before he could take another step, causing him to fall flat on his face.
“Not so fast!” Foxglove said as she picked herself up off the ground.
Only a second ago Dale was sure he was going to win. Now he found himself face-first in the grass as Foxy ran ahead of him. He looked up and laughed. The bat had a good lead, but he could still catch up if he ran fast enough. Dale leaped to his feet, then broke into a dead sprint on all fours after Foxglove.
Foxy’s sensitive ears picked up a rustling sound from behind her. It was Dale, closing in fast. Giggling, she beat her wings and flew towards the tree much faster than she could run.
By the time Dale reached the other tree, Foxglove was already there waiting for him with her wings folded across her chest. “So, how’s it feel to lose to a girl?”
“Nuts,” Dale said as he slapped his thigh. Panting, he turned his back towards Foxy and faced the Ranger Tree again. What did such a beautiful girl see in a clumsy goof like him?
Foxglove’s face drooped into a disconcerted gape. How could Dale just turn his back to her like that? “Dale, I was only kid-”
“Race you back!” Dale said as he ran across the dead leaves towards the Ranger Tree, once again not bothering to wait for Foxy.
With another giggle, Foxglove flew after the sprinting chipmunk, but it was no use. He’d already had a commanding lead on her. Dale reached the tree seconds before Foxglove did.
“What were you saying back there about losing?” Dale asked, “I couldn’t hear you with the wind in my ears!”
Foxglove took a few seconds to catch her breath, gave a sly grin and pushed Dale down onto his back. Panting, she dropped down on her back beside him. Aside from their laughing, both were silent as they laid against the cold leaves, looking up at the romantic array of colors on the tree above. After a few moments, the laughing ebbed away, until a wayward leaf landed right on Dale’s face. Foxglove giggled again as Dale peeled it off and flicked it onto the ground.
Looking over at Foxy, it was Dale’s turn to laugh as another leaf drifted right into Foxy’s open mouth. She spit it out, and Dale kept laughing. No, he didn't just really like her. It was more than that.
“What are they doing down there?” Chip asked as he watched the scene unfold. “They should be up here helping us!” Gadget, however, paid no mind to the duo and switched her blower on again.
“Take it easy, lad," Monty said. "Let ‘em have their little moment.”
“Foxy?” Dale asked. His heart thumped almost painfully at what he was prepared to admit to her. The others could probably hear his heart all the way up in the tree!
“I, um…never mind.” Dale couldn't bring himself to say it. Foxglove could do much better than a dope like him.
Foxglove rolled to her side so she could look Dale in the eyes, and put the tip of her wing gently on his paw. “It’s okay, Dale. You can tell me anything.”
Dale turned his head to look at Foxglove. “Anything?”
“A-NY-THING,” Foxglove assured him, watching his chest puff up.
“I…I love you, Foxy.”
The words seemed to make Foxglove’s eyes light up. A huge smile spread across her face. “You do?”
“Yup. More than comic books, chocolate and pranking Chip all put together.”
Foxglove laid on her side, gaping at Dale, her own heart pounding. Was she hearing things right? Was she dreaming? After working for Winifred, did she deserve such a great, funny, handsome guy? Foxglove drew a deep breath, and it came out shaky. “Dale…I don’t know what to say…”
“Well, do ya love me back?”
Foxy stared at Dale in silence for a few seconds before grabbing him by the collar of his coat to pull him close and plant a long kiss right on his lips. Trembling, fur tingling, Dale's eyes flew wide open in shock, but Foxy had hers shut tight in bliss. Dale closed his eyes to savor the moment. The kiss was pleasingly warm in contrast to the cold air. Her lips were soft and sweet. Kissing a bat wasn’t as bad as he’d thought it would be. In fact, he liked it. A lot.
“Would ya look at that?” Monty asked from his vantage point. “I knew that was comin'! That’s my little go-getter! Dale, ya sly devil!”
Their lips parted with a smack. Foxglove stared Dale right in the eyes again, rubbing his cheek with her wing. Dale could almost see her love for him sparkling in her big blue eyes, accented by her happy tears trying to escape. “Oh yeah. I love you more than anything in the world, Dale. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Dale shivered. Never, even when he was risking his life fighting crime had he ever felt his heart pound so hard, even as Foxglove snuggled in close to him for warmth. This could be the start of the most amazing thing ever in his life.