The next day came on hot and humid, an indian summer kind of day. After Bob, Randolph and I watched the sun rise, Blythe and Lindsey took turns riding me around the pasture. I built up a considerable thirst. "A drink of cool creek water sure would hit the spot right now," I said, nuzzling Randolph. "Want to join me?"

      "Hortense has had her eye on you all morning. Why don't you ask her if she would like to get a drink with you?"

      "I hadn't noticed," I scraped the dirt with my hoof. Poised on a lower branch of my favorite tree, Hortense watched Matt and Blythe pick at each other. I horse laughed at their mischief, but the laugh trailed off and turned sad. "When I look, she looks away, so I doubt she would be interested."

      "Every time you look her way, she looks away. Then when you look away, she looks back. It's a game to watch you two. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. You need each other."

      "Okay, you win, let's..."

      "No, I think you better go this one alone. I'll wait here. Go on with you now, there's plenty of time for me. You've heard that two's company, three's..."

      "Okay, okay, I'm going. Anything to stop your nettling." But I never got to speak to Hortense. When I approached the tree she jumped off chasing grasshoppers before I could speak.

      "Well, did you see that?" I fumed as Randolph jumped on my back and we plodded to the creek. "She did it to spite me."

      I soon forgot her, the water tasted so pure and good, sparkling on my tongue and playing in eddies of revolving motion around my hooves. Randolph fished up a crawdad, wiggling and jiggling, and falling out of his grasp to freedom. I gave a horse laugh as it skittered through the water, with Randolph splashing in hot pursuit.

      Hortense sauntered by with her head high in the air like she was gliding on glass, or afraid to break the egg shells, or something. "Oh," she purred, droning with her aloof charm rumbling like a motor, "I didn't know you were here."

      "Yeah," I said swallowing my pride, "there's nothing better than cool creek water on a hot day."

      "You must have built up a thirst riding around the dusty dry-grass pasture with those kids," she meowed. "You looked positively worn out, but kept going around again and again and again...not that I noticed, mind you," she purred. She appeared fascinated with her paw, studying it, licking it, cleaning it.

      "Well, what can you say," I looked back up towards the house at Blythe and Matt still bickering, while Lindsey did her best to be the peacemaker. "They're my kids...and it's my job."

      "Yea, I know. You love them," she said, following my eyes. "Remember when we," she stopped suddenly and turned her head, "but that happened a long time ago."

      "I've...I've missed you Hortense," I whinnied, nuzzling her.

      "How could you miss me you silly horse," she purred. "Your new best friend the werecoon will keep you company."

      "Yes, Randolph is a good friend. He's funny, and he scares me, and he makes me laugh...but he's not you. I miss you Hortense," I repeated.



      "You're not just saying that?" she meowed.

      "No, I'm not just saying that, Hort. I've missed you."

      "Well, you big lug," Hortense looked back up to the barn, but not in time. I saw the tears. "I've missed you too." She jumped up on my rump in her favorite place, and we galloped along the bank and through the sparkling water. She climbed on my head and batted at my ears, and life was again good, as always. Even the claws piercing my back felt good.

      When I got tired we rested in the shade of an old sycamore on the shore. We watched ripples play against the shallows of the creek, splashing against the rocks. Hortense got moody. She always got moody, except when she got sulky, which always lead to getting finicky. "What about the werecoon, Clarence?"

      "Randolph will always be my friend, Hortense, but nobody can fill the place in my heart where you belong. You're my first best friend. Randolph wants your friendship too."

      "Clarence, Clarence, Clarence?" she said.

      "What?" I whinnied.

      "How can you be friends with that were-animal? Don't you know he's dangerous?"

      "Randolph...dangerous?" I neighed. "No way Hortense, you don't know him like I do. There's not a mean hair on his body."

      "Oh sure, you see the good side, Clarence," she purred. "You always see the good side. You see Randolph as a simple little raccoon that now and then puts on a show. He amuses you with his antics, his bushy tail and ears, his long, ivory fangs, his wild eyes. Mark my words, watch out."

      "Hortense, what do you mean watch out?"

      "Clarence, that's more than a mask that were-animal's putting on when the moon gets full. It's taking over his life. Listen to me Clarence, listen to me as your friend who doesn't want to see you get hurt. Werefolk can turn on you..."

      "What made you the werecoon expert, Hort?" I searched for the words to convince her no harm would come -- could come, from being friends with a werecoon. "Randolph's harmless, don't you see Hort. Your premonitions about the werecoon are trivial."

      "Trivial, you say," she hissed. "Trivial!"

      "Yes trivial. Your fears are groundless and meaningless."

      "Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't," she growled and spat. "But you would do well to be very afraid."

      I sighed as I looked at Hortense and Hortense looked at me. The gulf between us so wide I didn't see how we'd get over.

      The quiet broke only now and then when Randolph made splashing, gurgling noises and romped in the shallows downstream. And faint sounds of the children above came wafting on the summer breezes. "Mo-o-o-m, Matt hit me."

      "I didn't do anything, squirt," Matt smirked.

      "Did too."

      "Did not."

      "Hear that Clarence? Hear that? If you can't be afraid for yourself...if you think you're too big and strong for that wereanimal to hurt afraid for the innocent children. I shudder to think what that werecoon might do some night when he's out of control."

      "Hortense, listen to reason," I nickered. "Don't judge Randolph because of how he looks. You don't know the Randolph inside that werecoon. He's good, Hortense. He makes me laugh, he makes me think, he excites me, and he takes my breath away when I see him transform in front of me -- but he would never hurt anybody."

      "Clarence, will you never listen to facts?" she purred. She turned and streaked up to the house, saying something about Bob's books -- paying attention to Bob's books.

      "Well, how'd it go?" Randolph asked as I clip-clopped over to him and he jumped up on my back.

      "Not good. Not good at all."

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