[Image 1]

Some forty-eight years later, Harley Fern was twisting her legs up in blankets and searching for patterns in the popcorn texture of her apartment ceiling to distract herself from the ball of stress expanding in her stomach. The adrenaline that carried her home after talking to the opossum ambassador had melted away the instant her hand gripped the front door knob, and she was left with only a cold sweat to keep her company in the lonely apartment where her husband once would. Harley had nursed the delusion that Chicadino could be deceived for just long enough for her to take a chance on that letter, and now she could do nothing but wait for an inevitable rapping at her door, accompanied by a small box containing two delicate, misplaced opossum ears.

As if on cue, Harley heard loud footsteps plodding up the stairwell outside, and bolted up reflexively. The building was so old and run-down that she could feel every thump through the floor, and she could tell they were coming down the hall of her landing. Harley held her breath as the clomps came nearer and nearer, as if doing so would convince their owner to keep on walking by, but even as it became clear that they wouldn’t be going any further than her door, she found herself still unable to breathe. She stiffened and braced herself for what seemed like much longer than the seconds that passed.

[Image 2, text reads: KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]

Harley felt her body fill with sand, prickling at the inside of her skin and weighing her down. As she struggled to balance herself on mushy elbows, the tiny room stretched before her eyes, turning two meters into twenty. She wrapped her pillow around her head, trying to muffle out the noise, hoping it would all go away.

[Image 3, text reads: KNOCK KNOCK/MRS- F-N FER- MR- -PEN UP]

There was a yelling accompanying the bangs at the door now, but Harley couldn’t make out the words or recognize the voice, nor did she want to. Just go away, she thought. Leave your warning and let me suffer in peace. The door simply continued shaking on its hinges in response.

[Images 4+5, text reads: KNO-CRUNCH/MRS. FEEEerrrrr~…n.]

“Um, whoops. This door was a lot flimsier than I thought it would be.”

“I’m really sorry again about the door, I’ll cover the costs, honest.” Poppy and Harley hurried off the train platform, heading into one of Canopy’s nicer residential areas, with a large shawl draped over the younger opossum’s head. “It was of the utmost importance that I made sure you were safe, though. Things have gotten a bit… complicated in a very short amount of time and it’s way too risky for you to continue staying at the same address.”

“It’s fine,” Harley said between breaths, “it was just a door. Not like we have anything worth stealing there anyway.”

“I’m going to guess by the fact that I actually found you there that you don’t have anywhere safer to go, right?” Poppy attempted to hold a reassuring eye contact as she spoke, but the pace at which they were walking made it impractical, and she yielded after bumping her shoulder into the third street lamp in a row. “Don’t you have any other opossum friends who can support you?”

“This is our problem. I’m not going to drag another possum into it.”

“Besides me, you mean,” Poppy laughed. But she realized she had done so in error as Harley tensed up, her gait beginning to drag. She wasn’t used to hearing jokes without some biting undertone at her expense.

“Ah oh no, you’re right-” her voice cracked. “I’ve involved you too.” Poppy performed an about-face and put her hands up to catch Harley’s shoulders, gripping them gently.

“No, none of that,” Poppy whispered. “I already told you, you are not alone. Anyway, it’s my job to be involved in this sort of thing. Otherwise, what’s the point of me?” She gave Harley her dopiest grin, which seemed to calm the poor girl down.

“Yes…” she sniffed, just once. “Yes, thank you, Ms. O’Possum.” Harley looked around at the tidy houses and fancy condominiums running down the street, and finally thought to ask the most pressing question. “Where… exactly are we going?”

“Hopefully the only stop you’ll need to make.” The two opossums walked up a path leading to a keen-looking two-story home, and Harley instinctively broke into a sweat, fully recognizing how out of place she must have seemed in this part of the city. Poppy went to knock on the front door, but quickly decided to instead check for the doorbell. Just in case.

[Image 6]

“Whoa, Ms. Possum, back already?” The smell of meat poured out from the entry hall as one of Boris’ girlfriends answered the door. Poppy personally found the whole arrangement to be kind of fishy, but she figured anyone who knew how make a five-way relationship work without constant bickering and lies could do whatever they wanted. “You have good timing, I thought I’d try making some stew since we were going to have an extra spot at the table this weekend. The little one’s taking a nap right now, but I can ask Val to wake her up if you want to stick around for dinner!”

“Oh no,” Poppy waved her hand, “don’t bother Lily, I have to head out again anyway. There was just someone I needed to bring by.” She gestured to Harley. “Callie, this is Mrs. Fern, she needs a safe place to stay for the next couple of days and I was wondering if you guys could host her.”

“Oh, tshk, I dunnooo,” Callie said, twirling her ear and avoiding eye contact. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind, obviously, but I think you should ask Bor-bor about that. I have to warn you, he’s gotten into a bit of a sour mood since you saw him earlier.”