The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

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Paul Shep
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The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » May 26th, 2014, 1:17 pm

So I've decided to take on a long-term writing project and after creating my agent character Blake Toivonen (Finnish Forest Reindeer), I've had the inspiration to do so. I will be posting chapters on a regular basis (bi-weekly, it seems for now), in between other stories in collaboration with players and their creators.

Just an FYI: The quotes in brackets are "translated", so to speak.

Enjoy! :)

The Courage to Grow - Chapter 1

We find ourselves in the northernmost city in Europe. A small, yet great city, where the sun barely shines in the winter, and shows a lot of herself in the summer. A place where history and modern asthetics mix and form a bond in a unique way. This is the place on Earth called Oulu in the modest Scandinavian country of Finland.
On the outskirts of town, near the Oulujoki River, there's a one-story house, with a wooden fence, and a garden near the outer walls of the house. The house itself has a peach colour to it with a dark tile roof, like a lot of homes in Europe. It's a smaller house compared to the others on the same road, which had a lot of two-story homes. There is a big window to the left of the main door, and we see a big figure in it. A tall and healthy-looking caribou with grey and silver fur and wooden brown antlers looks to his garden on a drizzling May morning. He's wearing a white long-sleeved checkered shirt with denim jeans, his hoof feet standing on the hardwood floor. There are signs of age showing around his eyes, along with grey patches in his combed ash blond hair. He snorts lightly as he sips more of his morning coffee and returns to his kitchen, preparing breakfast.

As we look around the house, there is memorabilia of his life. From portraits of the time he played professional basketball with the London Jets and Helsinki Norsemen, to pictures of his mother and late father, a lot of this caribou's life was on display. Then there's a portrait of his own family, with his ex-wife and son, reminding him how far he's gotten in his life. His marriage lasted 10 years. 10 years of joy and sadness. He still wished it didn't end in a court room. It was an ugly ending to a long relationship that seemed good at first, but in the end, it was depressing, and it especially hurt their son.

His name is Blake Aleksi Toivonen. 42 years old, born in Lapland, and a former EFBL player. For the past 8 years, he's worked on his reputation as a player agent for players across Europe. But now, he's planning to move on to the next chapter in his life. Roughly three years ago, Blake sent out an application for immigration to the US. It was a long and hard process, as he needed to prove his self-employment among many other factors that were required for legal immigration. He is striving to reach out into the Furry Basketball Association, the best league in the world, something he never quite reached as a player. But now, as he's become a veteran agent, he can experience the vibe of the FBA, if he succeeded.

But he would not be alone on this journey. His son Erik has applied at Universities in the US, hoping to come over on a scholarship from his Finnish high school for outstanding academic athletes, and jump into college basketball, just like his old man. The final paperwork for Erik was lying on the coffee table.
The caribou puts his eggs and spinach salad on a plate, walking towards the living room to eat on the couch, looking back at the family portrait. With a sigh, he sits down and grabs his utensils to start eating and watching the local morning news. Mr. Toivonen can relax for a while, as some of his potential new clients are still sleeping over in North America. Just watching TV seemed to be a good way to spend the next hour.

Then his smart phone rings. Once, twice, vibrating each time. Blake leans over to grab it, and flicks it on. There were 3 email notifications. Swiping down to see who it was from, Blake read over the senders. The emails were from a few FBA draft candidates, including Seba Koscuisko and Benjamin Durby. Along with the emails came attachments to the filled-out questionnaires he sent out to players interested in hiring him. Smiling, Blake put the phone aside and began clearing his plate. As soon as he was done eating, he put the dirty dishes into the dish washer and went straight to his office. Work was starting sooner than expected, but Blake didn't mind.
---
Hours went by, and Blake completed emails and phone calls in a timely manner. It was almost 5 PM now, and Blake was awaiting Erik to come home for the weekend. The divorce lawsuit has granted Blake's ex-wife Mila custody over Erik, and as much as Blake wanted to have Erik at home with him, it was for the best. Being a frequent traveller, Blake was home for a few weeks before heading back en route across Europe to his clients. He loved seeing new places on a frequent basis, but as he got older, Blake wanted to spend more time in his native Finland and see what it had to offer, and be closer to Erik, who was longing to be out of his mother's home.

The doorbell rang and Blake got up from his chair to walk to the door. Opening the door, there was Erik, wearing his black backpack and carrying a small blue duffle bag in one hand. At 7 foot 3, Erik seems just like his father. He has the same light brown eyes and ash blond hair as his old man, except he loves his hair longer with some bangs laying over his forehead. With a light smile, Erik leaned in to hug his father with one arm.

"Moi, Papa." Erik greeted his father, speaking his native Finnish tongue.

"Moi, Erik." Blake returned the favour as Erik turned back to wave to his mother, who was still in her red VW Jetta. With a light-hearted wave, Mila waved Erik and Blake good bye before she turned around to head home. Blake saw the cold stare of his ex-wife through the windows, but at this stage, it was no longer a bother. With a light chuckle, Blake closed the door behind him as Erik sat down on the couch after putting his bags in his room.

"(How was your week?)" Blake asked his son the usual question.

"(Good. Just good.)" Erik said, a little distracted by the TV. "(There is not much to do before finals. You know how it is after basketball is over.)"

"(Yes, I know, Erik.)" Blake poured himself a glass of orange juice before sitting down to his son. "(Have you been studying for your finals?)"

"(Yeah, Papa. But Mama won't shut up about it. You know how much I work to graduate and be able to move to the USA.)" Erik sighed, leaning back on the couch, feeling frustrated with how things have been going recently.

"(I know, Erik, and your mother does that, because she loves you.)" Blake reminded his son as he took a few sips from his drink.

"(I know, Papa.)" Erik replied with a slight groan. "(But she's really been on my nerves about school lately. It's like she doesn't trust me.)" Blake could only chuckle from that statement. During their marriage, Blake tried to be on the road as much as possible, because Mila's distrust for him was too much to bear. She was possessive and wanted to make sure Blake wasn't cheating on her in a different country, but her ex-husband was a disciplined man, and eventually, the breaking point was met, and Blake filed for divorce. To this day, he thinks it was the right move, from the way his son was talking about his mother. Blake leaned forward to the coffee table and slid the few sheets of application paper towards Erik.

"(You need to fill these out. Just this and then we'll be on our way to America soon.)" Blake nodded. Erik sighed and looked around for a pen. Before he could get up, his father held one in front of him.

Erik took the pen and began to fill out the papers. Blake sat relaxed with his glass of juice as he waited for his son to finish. 5 minutes later, Erik handed the papers over.
"(Thank you, Erik. I'll bring those to the post office tomorrow.)" Blake said as he folded up the papers and slid them into an envelope with care. Erik leaned back, smiling. "(Yeah, can't wait to go to America. Mom has no clue, Haha...uh...)"

Just as Blake was finishing up closing the envelope, he stopped dead in his tracks. With a stern look, he turned his head to Erik, who was holding his head, not believing what he just told his dad.

"(You haven't told your mother?)" Blake asked with an unimpressed tone of voice. "(Erik, this is not a laughing matter. She may not be the best mother in the world, but she cares about you just as much as I do.)"
"(Papa, I'm 18. Why does she have to know this?)" Erik pleaded in defence.
"(Because she is your MOTHER, Erik! You might be of age, but that doesn't mean you stop telling her what you're doing with your life.)" Blake remained calm, as much as a father can with his son.

"(Whatever.)" Erik mumbled as he shook his head. Blake wasn't phased by the behaviour of his son.

"(Erik Veeti Toivonen! I will not tolerate your behaviour towards your father.)" Blake pointed towards Erik, as he had a unimpressed expression on his face. "(You're coming with me to your mother's tomorrow, so you can tell her about all this.)"

Erik's expression changed, as he sat up, holding his arms up in utter disbelief. "(But Papa...)"

"(I said we're going, and that is final.)"

"(Fine!)" Erik shouted back, his voice identifying the bad mood he's in. With a grunt, Erik sat up from the couch, shaking his antlers as he made his way towards the room, slamming the door behind him.

With a sigh, Blake got up from the couch and went on his way to the kitchen to make salad for supper. This was not the ideal way to start the weekend with his son, but it had to be done. The past year or so, Blake told his son to tell his mother about the move to the USA, but Erik intentionally forgot. Blake had mentioned the move to his ex-wife some years ago, but she seemed disinterested. This was different. It involved their only son, and it was important to him that his mother knew. She had to know. She was still family after all. Even after years of bad blood.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » June 1st, 2014, 10:27 am

Chapter 2 - Making it Clear

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Artwork by the lovely Pac!

A white Mercedes M-Class drove on a semi-busy highway towards the city of Oulu. Inside where the two protagonists, Blake and Erik Toivonen, on their way to their ex-wife/mother, Mila Ranta. Mila was not the ideal person to talk to, as she has her believes, even if some were prejudice. Blake was not in the mood to talk to her, as they haven't for a good few months, but it was necessary this time, because of Erik. Erik had not told his mother about moving to America, and that was a big problem for Blake.

The drive was mostly silent with just the engine growling gently, along with the muffled sound of the radio playing songs of the 80's.

The M-Class drove into the city with old and modern buildings passing by, and buses and fellow cars driving in the same path. Blake took a few turns before he arrived at the apartment complex his ex-wife lived in. After pulling into a visitor parking spot in the back, the two male reindeer climbed out of the car. Blake was wearing his casual checkered shirt and some jeans, while Erik sported the same pants, but wearing his long-sleeved Grrvana shirt.

The two made their way to the door as Erik buzzed his mother's apartment number. Within seconds, they got a response.
"(Who is it?)" A familiar female voice spoke.

"(It's me, Erik. And dad's here too.)" Erik replied in a more monotone pitch.
"(Did you forget your key and why is your father taking you home again?)" Mila said with a rather unimpressed tone of voice.
"(Mom, just let us in. I gotta talk to you.)" Erik sighed, looking back at his father, who was getting annoyed.

The buzzer sounded as Erik pushed the door and the two went inside. A few flight of stairs later, they got to the door, and went through as Mila opened it for them. Mila had her blouse and dark pants on, which seemed rather formal than casual wear, but that's how she rolled, along with her blonde, shoulder-length curly hair.
With a brief greeting, all three made their way to the living room, where there was a simple leather couch, along with family photos and art hanging all around it. It was a sleek, yet classic set-up for an apartment.

"(So why are you here?)" Mila asked as the two turned to face their nemesis.
"(Well, me and Erik had a long talk last night and...)" Blake began to speak before Mila, like old times, stopped him in the middle of his sentence.
"(I wasn't really talking to you, but ok.)" she snarked back. Erik rolled his eyes before he spoke.

"(Anyway, mom, me and dad were talking about it, and I need to clear something up with you.)" he said as he gathered his words.
"(What is it?)" Mila asked.
"(Well, remember when dad told you about moving to the USA?)"

"(I can't remember, I think he did.)" At that moment, Blake wanted to interfere to remind his ex-wife they indeed talked about his move to America, but right now, Erik was talking, and he wasn't going to interfere.
"(Well...)" Erik took a deep breath, closing his eyes before he spoke those needed words. "(... I'm going with him.)"

Mila's expression changed from disapproval to utter shock. Her mind didn't want to process what her son just said to her. "(What?)"

Erik swallowed before continuing. "(I'm going to America with dad. I applied at a few universities in America, so I can study and play basketball.)" it was getting harder for Erik to talk to her, as she began to raise her arms in disbelief.

"(Erik! You cannot do that! I'm not letting you go over there?!)" Mila began to raise her voice, which made Blake step in to defend his son.
"(Mila, he's a grown man and can make some decisions on his own!)"

"(You do not tell my son what he has to do with his life, Blake!)" Mila spat back at her ex-husband.
"(I did not make him decide to come with me. What is wrong with you, Mila!)"

The two parents spat and yelled at each other, giving Erik terrible memories of his past, as he stood aside and turned around to face a different direction. He wanted none of it.

When he was younger, his parents were fighting almost constantly, with Blake going through the door every so often. Blake couldn't stand fighting with Mila. It was as if their love evaporated into thin air, and all the relationship consisted of was shouting and arguing. That's all there was until the two separated, and Erik stayed at his mother's, for the sake of his father, who was travelling a lot on business.

But even after Blake left the house and Mila got her maiden name back, Erik really wasn't having a better time around his mother. When Mila had her friends over, she'd talk about her ex-husband like he was the worst, and Erik could hear it from his room as he was doing homework. He nearly believed what his mother said about his father, but all the visits to dad's made him see just how wrong she was about him. Blake was a humble man, and knows things could have gone better for their family, but he wasn't letting the nasty divorce get him down, and he just focused on giving his son a sweet escape and helping them bond together more as father and son. That's all Erik could've ever asked for, and that's why Erik wanted to join his dad on his quest to America. He wanted to get away from his mother and make his own decisions, whether they were influenced by his father or not.

Erik gathered all the energy he could as the yelling between Blake and Mila wasn't stopping and their son suddenly stepped in with clenching fists and a mad expression on his face.

"Riittää jo!!!" Erik screamed as hard as he could. Blake and Mila stepped aside, in shock from what they've seen. Their son was always on the outside of their fights and for the first time, he was making it his business.

"(Stop it! Just stop! Enough! For God's sake, you guys are killing me!)" Erik went on. "(It was MY decision to go to America with dad and it was MY decision alone! I want this! Me! Not you!)" Erik grunted with great anger.

Blake didn't say anything, but Mila urged to do the opposite.

"(So your father...)"

"(No, Mom, and he never did!)" Erik turned to face his mother, the anger intensifying in his expression. "(You always assume it was dad who influences me to make decisions! He does not! He knows I'm mature enough to make my own decisions! Unlike you!)"

Mila took a step back and Blake put his hand on Erik's shoulder to hold him back, but Erik wasn't done.

"(You always treat me like a child, Mom! I've had enough of it! I'm 18 years old! I want to start my future, and I'm not letting you interfere me with what I want to do for myself!)"

Mila opened her mouth, but the only thing that came out was "...Erik..."
"(No! I do the talking now! I can't stand you talking about dad like he's the biggest threat to you! He's nothing like you say he is! He's my father, and a damn good one at that! I've had enough of your lies and misjudgment! You are wrong! So god damn wrong!)"

"(Get out of my life!)" he shouted and stood there for a minute, seeing his mother's eyes water up like he's never seen before. Dazed and confused, Erik ran to the hallway, ran through the door and slammed it shut. He sprinted down the stairs and out of the building, turning the corner to run to the back of the apartments, and sitting down against the right front wheel of his dad's Mercedes. He held his head in his hands, leaning forward on his knees. He couldn't believe he just did that. He just stood up to his own mother, and made her pay for the many times she wasn't a proper mother to him. But he still loved her. He felt a wave of regret washing into his mind. He just wanted to be alone right now.
---
Back in the apartment, Mila and Blake were sitting on opposite ends of the couch. The mother was having the worst night of her life, as her son unveiled his true feelings. Blake felt awkward and out of place, unable to say anything after Erik stormed out of the apartment. This has clearly been an ice breaker for Erik, but it left his father in an awkward position. He didn't leave. Something in his mind told him to stay with his ex-wife. She needed some support, and Blake began to realize that.

Mila was shaken and in tears. This is the first time Erik had blown up at her. It was out of the blue and unexpected, for all parties. But she began to realize just how much Erik has grown up. He wasn't a child anymore. He wanted to move to America, and make a name of himself. She needed to let him go, but all this time, she was unable to with her kind of attitude. And tonight seemed to change that.

Blake looked towards Mila, as she raised her head, looking at Blake briefly before turning her head once more.

"(I'm... sorry.)" Blake muttered, thinking he had done something wrong, like the many times before.

Mila shook her head in response. Blake began to experience some deja-vu, but was snapped out of it as she worded her reply. "(No... I'm sorry.)"
Blake perked his reindeer ears as this was the first time in many years he has heard those words. It was as if Mila finally cracked her shell open.
"(I've been so mean to you, and had all these assumptions about you. What is wrong with me?)" Mila went on for a little bit. Blake waited for the opportunity to speak, as Mila paused and Blake was able to come forth.

"(Look, Mila, I know you've had your good intentions when we were together, but you were looking over my shoulder so much, it was irritating me. I told you time and time again that I was not going to risk tearing our family apart, and reminded you how much I loved you, but it became so much of a struggle for me to cope with you and your obsessive nature, that I couldn't take it anymore, and you know what happened in the court room.)" Blake took a deep breath as Mila didn't say anything. Blake sat up and walked to his ex-wife, who was hunched over on the couch. He sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. There was no more spark between them, but their feud needed to be laid to rest for good.

"(Mila, one thing is clear. Nothing is the same anymore. Erik has grown up, and we're not in love anymore. Me and Erik are going into a new chapter in life but it has nothing to do with you. It's about us. Erik wants to go to America to study and I have found clients to work with there. We're going there for us.)" Blake rubbed Mila's shoulder more, as she let him. She nodded and leaned up, and Blake removed his arm. She looked at him, a few tears still running.

"(Just promise me one thing, Blake.)" Mila said, as Blake looked at her to listen carefully.

"(Yes?)"

"(Please take good care of him, and please tell him to call me once in a while.)" Mila sighed, running her hand through her curly hair as she sniffled.

"(I'll promise to make that happen.)" Blake replied honestly. A few moments passed, then Mila leaned her head on Blake's shoulder. The male reindeer looked over to the female he used to love. It seemed odd to comfort her now, but something told him he had to. With some hesitation, Blake wrapped his arms around Mila, hugging her, rubbing her shoulder gently. No words were needed. The physical contact was enough to let them know everything will be ok.

Blake hugged Mila for a while, then Mila let Blake go. "(I need to talk to Erik.)"

"(Let me call him up.)" Blake said as he reached for his smart phone in his pocket and dialed Erik's number, then lifted the phone to his head.
---
Erik sighed deeply as he looked up, laying on the cold concrete of the parking lot beside the Mercedes. He has calmed down. A lot of the boulders were off his shoulder, but he wasn't quite satisfied yet.

He began to feel a vibration in his pant pocket and jumped up, grabbing his buzzing phone and looking at the screen. It was his dad. With a quick button press, he accepted the call.

"(Yes, dad?.... yeah, I'm better now... ok, yeah, I'm coming up... Bye.)"

The young reindeer got onto his feet and walked back to the front door. It was time to apologize for the outburst, but at least he felt more at ease.


Feedback is always welcome!

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » July 31st, 2014, 9:47 am

Chapter 3 - It'll be alright

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With a fully packed car and enough hydration for the trip, Blake and Erik Toivonen drove out of Oulu and up north towards Lapland to visit Veera Toivonen, Erik's grandmother and the sweet old lady of the family.

Veera raised Blake alongside her husband Anton in their quiet place, deep in the woods of Northern Finland. It was enough to feel secluded, but close enough to get food and supplies whenever they needed some. Her house felt like a log cabin, with how it looked from the outside, but with two stories and three bedrooms, you could tell it was well-suited for a small family.

Just like a typical old lady, Veera loves to cook for others. Be it family, friends or a surprise visitor, she will try her best to make you feel at home. She's someone you just can't get mad at.
---
Hours have passed and the sun was glowing orange on a late night in Northern Finland. Erik was passed out in the shotgun seat, as Blake turns into the very road his mother lives on. It was a gravel road with a variety of rocks and stones around, but the big male reindeer had no concern, since he has taken his Mercedes down this road many times.

The Mercedes drove down the rough road with a cloud of dust forming in the back, as it passed through the dense forest bordering each side of the road, with houses showing up every few kilometers. It wouldn't be long until Blake turned his four wheels into the driveway of his mother's yard, going up a slight hill before stopping right beside the house, where Veera was already preparing dinner inside.

Blake poked his son on the shoulder. With a snort and a grunt, Erik opened his eyes, looking straight out the windshield. "(Oh... we're here.)"

"(Yes, Erik, we're at grandma's.)" Blake chuckled from his son's sleeping antics. "(Let's grab our stuff and head inside.)"

The two big reindeer stepped out of the car and made their way to the trunk, popping it and grabbing their luggage. It's the middle of July, and Erik felt quite tired. Blake can't blame him one bit. At the beginning of the month, the two were travelling around Eastern Europe, first playing an exhibition game against the Slovenian U20 team with the Finnish selection as visitors. It was a tight game that saw Finland losing only by one point. It struck a chord with the team, but it was soon forgotten.
The entire team then went on to Croatia for a few days and enjoyed the tour around Zagreb before taking on the Croatian U20 selection. It would turn out to be a boost of confidence, as Finland beat Croatia 74-67 in a game where both teams fought, but Finland was just better with Erik scoring the most points and rebounds for his country. With smiles on their face, the Finns returned home.

Forward 2 weeks later, now Blake and Erik get to enjoy the seclusion Veera provides with her home in Lapland. As much as Erik likes to stay connected with his friends online, he needs at least a small break, which you can tell from the recent travels he and his dad completed.

As the two entered the front door, there was the little old lady with antlers, ready to give the two big men a hug and a kiss.

"(Blake! Erik! You came just in time!)" Veera greeted them with enthusiasm as always, and Blake leaned over to give his mother a hug and a kiss on the muzzle. Erik chuckled a little bit, then Veera signed him down, and with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, Veera completed her warm welcome.

Blake sniffed around, noticing Veera's cooking in the kitchen. She has made one of Blake's favourite dishes: Lohikeitto, a savoury salmon soup, is sitting on the stove, steaming away. The two travellers went to drop their bags in their respective rooms before walking back to the kitchen where they grabbed bowls to help themselves to dinner. Blake carried his mother's bowl, but she wouldn't let him.

"(Son, I am not that old, I can carry my own bowl.)" She complained, but Blake could only chuckle as he put the bowl in front of her, with the spoon in it. The two men sat on each side of her and begun to dig into her bowls.

"(Delicious as always, mom.)" Blake smiled as he slurped his spoon. Veera just chuckled. "(You better like it. I've been making it for over 50 years.)". That comment made even Erik giggle a little. Veera was known for having a little bit of a temper, and being a lot shorter than her son and grandson, the two men found it adorable, but they knew they respected and loved each other.

After a few bowls of warm soup, the three cleaned up the table and washed the plates before Blake and Veera headed to the living room. The TV was off, since Veera doesn't watch much, aside from the news and the occasional replay of a show she likes. Blake sat down on the same couch, while Erik was on his way to his room. "(I'm gonna crash for the night.)" He says before he yawned big.

"(Good night Erik.)" Blake and Veera wished their darling a good night sleep. The door closed behind them and Veera sat down on her love seat and picked up her quilt, as Blake poured himself a glass of water.
"(So, my son. You're off to America soon.)" the old lady began the conversation. Blake nodded as he took a gulp of water.

"(Yes, we're leaving at the end of the month.)" Blake said confidently. There was a hint of doubt in his tone. He knew perfectly well this adventure will not be easy. America is not Europe. Different culture, different people, a different way of life, and for the first time in years, Blake felt the butterflies in his stomach.

"(It's a big move, Blake.)" Veera replied as she carefully knitted away on her quilt. "(And I know you have been around quite a lot. You have seen so much of this world, and remembering you say just how much you like to see new places... it just makes me happy that you get to do that in your life.)"

Blake nodded. "(Yes, mother. But...)" he stopped as he leaned himself forward, forming his hands into a ball, elbows on his thighs.

Veera stopped, raising her head to look at her son. "(What's wrong?)"

He shifted in his seat. "(This is not Europe we're talking about. It's America. Land of opportunity and the wild west. There is good and there is bad, and I know that's how it is with everyone other place I have been to. I'm just... nervous about leaving you behind here.)"

His mother put the quilt away and got off her chair as she walked over to Blake and stood in front of him. She could sense that Blake was nervous about leaving his mother behind. This would be a different story if his father were still alive, but she was alone, with the closest neighbours living a mile or so away from her. At 73 years old, she wasn't the youngest anymore, and she has been dealing with arthritis for the past 10 years. Maintaining her house is nearly impossible for her, as the only thing she can do is clean where she can reach, and with her current height, it's not that far high.

"(Blake...)" she began to speak. "(I'm your mother, and I love you. But you don't have to worry about me. I can get help when I need it and I have been able to survive here on my own for many years now. And you know that.)" She sat down and padded her son on his back, rubbing it gently and to the best of her ability. Blake nodded slightly. The thought of being thousands of miles away from family still seemed bothersome, but as his mother continued, the thought eased.

"(I want you to go there and start something new.)" she smiled. "(You are looking for new challenges and I encourage you to discover new things, because that's who you are. You want to see more and do more, and I'm proud of you for that. Don't stop what you're doing just because I'm getting old, Blake. I'll always be here, taking care of things, with some help. Just like it has been for the last 8 years.)"

"(Yes, mom.)" Blake sighed. 8 years ago, His father Anton was rushed to a hospital due to a heart attack he was having while trying to chop firewood outside. Blake got the news while he was in Helsinki for a business meeting with staff of the Helsinki Norsemen. He cancelled his plans and went back to Lapland the same night. Blake managed to see his father one last time. The doctors were not giving Anton any good news, as his heart was very weak and not functioning as it should. There was no surgery available that could fix it. The Toivonens had to face the reality that this was it for Anton. They had to let him go.
3 days later, Anton died in his sleep, surrounded by family. That's all Veera and her children could ask for. The funeral was well attended with family, friends and neighbours showing up. Anton's death was an indifferent reason for family to reunite, but it seemed to pull them together, and it was needed when there's distance between loved ones.
---
Blake gathered his thoughts, taking a deep breath as Veera leaned up to kiss his cheek. He cracked a little smile.

"(Are you alright now, son?)" Veera asked, looking up to her tall son.

"(Yes, mom. I'm alright. Very much so.)" Blake replied and leaned down to hug her. At least for a while, Blake was rid of a big worry. Veera cured it with the comfort she was able to provide, and Blake knew how much it means to him. Mother knows best, and she knew this move to America was what he wanted.

"(I'm glad.)" Veera went on. "(Now let's go to sleep. I can always finish that thing later.)" she chuckled as she made her way to the bathroom.

"(Yeah. Now we're here, and we'll make the best of it.)" with a nod and a smile, Blake got off the couch and watched his mom return a smile.

The hardest part of his journey was yet to come, but for now, home was where the heart is.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » August 19th, 2014, 8:46 pm

Chapter 4 - Newcomers

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The rumbling of the jet engines had been constant for the past 6 hours. A quiet roar echoed through the cabin of the Boeing, as it hovered over the East Coast of the United States. Inside the plane was a full group of passengers, including our two protagonists, whose antlers you could recognize from anywhere you could see them.

It was 7:22 PM local time, and Blake and Erik Toivonen sat next to each other on the right side of the plane, with Erik occupying the window seat and staring into the distance with his earphones blasting his favourite bands. Blake, on the other hand, was watching a movie, wearing his headphones and sipping on his coffee with cream. The flight seemed so long for Erik, as he shifted in his seat. This was by far the longest flight Erik has taken in his life, but it won't be his last.

A few more hours passed until the captain's voice interrupted the silence. "Good evening, this is your captain speaking. At this point we're beginning our descent towards Minneapolis-St. Paul. Please shut off all your electronics and mobile devices and buckle your seat belt. Our crew will be with you soon to dispose any garbage you may have left. We're landing in Minneapolis-St. Paul in 20 minutes. Thank you."

Blake put away his headphones and leaned back on his chair, looking over to his son and poking him on the shoulder. Erik turned around and took off his headphones, as Blake told him what's going on in their native Finnish. With a nod, Erik sat upright and finishes his song before putting his oPod away. The plane began to shake harmlessly, as the blanket of white clouds absorbed the plane, as it descented, soon unveiling the landscape that was Minnesota, with the Twin Cities approaching below them.

The city came more into sight as the plane lowered itself onto the runway to the best of the pilot's ability, before the wheels touched the asphalt and the plane was on the ground after 8.5 hours in the air. With a sigh of relief, Erik rubbed his head, looking out the window. It seemed so different for Erik, but his father was by his side. The two wouldn't want to be alone on this journey. Family is just so important to have around.

10 minutes later, the plane docked onto its terminal, and with a beep, the seat belt sign was off. The commotion was starting, as passengers sat up, reached for their belongings and waited for the crowd to move out. One by one, people made their way towards the exit, and soon it was time for Erik and Blake to move out. Grabbing their bags and other utensils, the two reindeer moved their way with the crowd towards the exit. With a "Have a nice evening!", the flight crew welcomed the Finns to American Soil. Though they weren't through just yet.

The two reindeer men walked up to the airport, taking turns and lining up with the other travelers at the 'border'. Papers and passports in hand, Blake stands out from the crowd, while his son resumed listening to his grunge playlist, with only one earphone plugged into his ear. The line moved along rather slow, but more officers opened gates so the line can be cleared faster and ready for the next flight.

"Erik, headphones." Blake spoke to Erik in English. The long-haired cervine looked confused at first, but with a reassuring "Oh.", Erik pulled out his earphone and turned off his music, as the two made their way to the next booth, where a grizzly bear officer was awaiting them.

"Hello, gentlemen." the pudgy-looking officer greeted them, as Blake handed two passports and immigration papers over to the officer. Seconds passed, until the grizzly acknowledges them.

"Big day, huh?" he said.

"Yes, it's finally happening." Blake nodded. Erik looked around the building, but that's to be expected for a kid fresh out of high school in Finland and experiencing America for the first time.

"Ok, you guys are good for now, but I have to ask you to stick around. I'll call up my partner to get you guys to fill out the last few papers." the grizzly acknowledged them as he handed the papers and passports back.

"Yes, of course." Blake nodded.

"Great. Please step behind the booth and wait for him to come." the officer said and called upon the next traveler. Blake and Erik moved out of the way, so the lines moved as easily as possible.

A minute later, another officer came along. This time, a well-built cougar, who looked like he could make a career in the FBA, having some resemblance to Mike Lee (Puma, F, WPG).

"Alright, follow me." the cougar asked the two reindeer. They made their way past travelers and more officers towards the US government office for Immigration and Homeland Security. The glass door and walls were non-transparent, marked with the Homeland Security seal on the door. As the three entered, Blake saw a desk with another officer behind it. In front of the desk were a few rows of seats, partially occupied by other non-US travelers, who are either immigrating or just visiting. It was a grey room with not much decoration, but it served the officers just fine.

On the desk were blank green application papers on clipboards, ready to be filled out. The two Toivonens sat down and took a pen each to start filling out the last papers. Erik felt a little intimidated by the officers around him. Even Blake was feeling nervous, as he has traveled to the US before, but now, he sees a whole new perspective of it.

"What are your occupations?" the cougar officer asked the two Finnish reindeer as they filled out their papers. Blake leaned his head up to the officer.

"Well, I'm a sports agent, and my son is going to college soon." the older reindeer answered honestly and without any hesitation.

"Agent, eh? Which sport? Football? Soccer?" the cougar carried on.

"No, basketball. FBA, to be precise." Blake nodded as he continued.

"Ah, cool." the officer nodded. "We don't have a team up here, but if we did, I'm sure we'd have a fine team."

"I'm sure you would, officer." the reindeer replied, as he passed on his paper to the red wolf in uniform, as did Erik, shortly after he finished copying most of Blake's information. Sans name, of course.

The red wolf checked over the filled-out form. "Blake Toivonen from Finland." he thought out loud as he processed the paper. With a nod, he stamped Blake's paper and moved on to Erik's. The slight smile faded, as he dropped Erik's paper and handed it back to him.

"You forgot to fill out a few things." the red wolf acknowledges the problem as he circled a pair of blank boxes before handing it back to Erik. The younger reindeer leaned forward, brushing his hair to the side, wondering what was wrong. Blake leaned over and explained the boxes to him in their native Finnish. With a nod, Erik filled out the last two spots and handed his green paper back. The red wolf officer received it and stamped it shortly after.

"Say, how much English do you know?" the cougar officer approached the teenage reindeer. Erik looked up to him. "I know a bit of English." he answered.

"Good." the officer replied. That comment made more butterflies appear in their stomachs, but Blake felt the urge to intercept.

"We've been practicing very hard before we got here, officer. He's only been learning English in school, but he has signed up for courses here." Blake answered, as the red wolf got the software ready to take a picture of the two immigrants and take their hoof prints.

"Good good." the cougar replied. The reindeer were a bit confused, as to why the cougar was being rather nosey.

"Ok, Erik? Please sit in front of the camera for your photo." the red wolf instructed Erik, who seemed to understand as he sat down in front of the camera and slouched a bit, before the officer asked him to straighten up. The photo was taken, then the reindeer pressed his index finger into a glass-like pad and let his hoof print be recorded. Blake was up next.

"It's good to know that some people know how to survive in America. You ain't getting nowhere when you can't even speak our language. Some of them coming here just don't know English worth crap." the cougar spat from the back as he leaned against the wall.

"Alright, Rodger, that's enough." the red wolf demanded, as the two reindeer felt intimidated by that, despite proving their ability to communicate and understand English. "I'm sorry, gentlemen. We don't mean to come across that way to two good people like you." he handed out their filled out green sheets back to them. "Take these to the guy before the TSA, and you folks will be good to go. Welcome to America, gentlemen." he smiled.

"Thank you, officer. We shall work hard." Blake nodded as he took his bags and papers and lead his son out of the office. The cougar was disgruntled from being told off by his colleague. But it was his own fault.

Blake and Erik went to the next checkpoint, calm and in no hurry. The green papers were passed to a large lion, who checked them briefly, then handed them back. The two reindeer got through the TSA scan with no further stoppage and soon made their way to baggage claim.

Once they arrived, the crowd had decreased as most of the bags were already claimed, and the Toivonen's luggage was circling around until the rightful owners got them off the trolley and carried them to the doors of the terminal. Finally, after a long and draining flight overseas and dealing with rude security officers, the Toivonen family had arrived in America.

"Aaaaah, joo!" Blake remarked as he inhaled his first breath as an official immigrant. Erik chuckled.

"(It's about time. I felt so crammed in in that plane.)" he told his dad in Finnish, as he stretched out. "(And, man, those officers were unfriendly. Like, come on, what's up with that!?"

"(It happens, Erik.)" his father replied. "(But we're finally here. Let's get a taxi, so we can get to our hotel.)"

Erik nodded as Blake waved to the next available taxi at the airport door. Soon, the two were packing their bags into the vehicle then climbing in. And thus, their new chapter in life began.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » August 28th, 2014, 10:04 am

Interlude 1 - Two Gentlemen (Written in collaboration with Harlow! :D)

Bloomington, by the outskirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is where Blake and Erik Toivonen moved in recently. They haven't been here for a week and already, a few people have made the transition to North America a little bit easier. It was a warm Saturday night, and the sun was glowing orange behind the trees in the backyard, and there's a housewarming party going on at the Toivonen's. Visitors included his client, the french saluki Julian, with a few members of the Kiraly family, his uncle and his daughter, more precisely.

While the younger saluki wandered off for a while, chatting with the younger reindeer Erik, Jean-Paul took a chance to know his nephew's agent a little better. They sat down next to the backyard's door. "Finally I get to meet Julian's agent. I'm Jean-Paul, pleased..." said the darker, shorter canine in a French accent of his own, shaking paws and taking a seat. Much less embarrassing for the 5' 9" canine in comparison to the towering ungulate. "Moving in for good, right?"

"Yes, but not really." Blake said as he sipped on his drink and shaking handpaws with the adult saluki. "I still have my home in Oulu, which I'll treat as my summer home. Though since most of my new clients live in the US or nearby, this will be our new home. It's just easier to be in the same continent, you know?"

"I see..." said the canine, taking a sip of his drink as well, glancing at his young daughter in some instances, who was playing with the other neighbours' kids. "That's kind of my case as well. You see, I'm staff at the French consulate in Montreal and, as a diplomat, I could've been sent everywhere. Luckily, I got Canada..." he humored. "In the end, I've settled down and it's been my life for some great 13 years..."

"That sounds nice." the reindeer spun the content in his glass, glancing up to the French canine.

"Anyway, how's Julian been behaving? He was always a firecracker since he was a puppy, so I'm interested on how he's handling himself..."

"Oh, Julian is great. We have had a few chats in Alabama, and I've seen he's a good player. He has huge potential, and I believe that, but sometimes, he needs someone to talk to, which is perfectly normal. You want to come forward always, when you have something on your mind and you need someone to talk about it."

"Good to know how he changed, and I definetly know about his need to talk. He was kind of..." he got stuck for a second and continued on his mother tongue. "'L'enfant terrible', for lack of good translation, back in in France." Jean-Paul made sure Julian wasn't in earshot before proceeding "He made me swear not to talk, but I feel you should know what he doesn't tell in order to work with him under a better personal level, you know? He constantly got physical with his brothers, snapped to classmates a lot; my sister was dumbfounded. Even though his move to Canada was a tumultuous one, it really brought the best of him and let him develop..." The canine noted Blake's interest perk at the "tumultous" part.

"I'm not sure I quite understand what you mean by "tumultuous", Jean." Blake wasn't in the mood to hear about drama at his own party, but for the sake of his client, he felt like he needed to hear it anyway. The canine made a point, though; he could know his client better by his close relatives' testaments.

"Let's just say his mother, my sister, and him didn't... exactly click most of the time. The day before flying to Montreal, he apparently told her something in the lines of 'Whatever, aunt is a better mom than you'. And those were his parting words right before heading to Montreal. So he left that unresolved..." He quickly and seamlessly changed the tone of the conversation; a diplomatic perk, he might say so. "Oh look at me, I can get too enthralled in details sometimes. I apologize. So, tell me, with who else you arrived with? Is there a Ms. Toivonen somewhere?"

Blake only nodded to Jean-Paul's story, but the Mrs Toivonen part caught him off guard and left a sour taste in his mouth. "There used to be a Mrs. Toivonen and I would rather not talk about it, Mr. Kiraly." he finished his drink as he put it aside on the table, adjusting his collar.

Even though those questions was asked with much levity, he unexpectedly found thin ice. "Oh, I guess you as well..." he muttered. Levity attempt nombre deux. "How you been enjoying the US so far? Something special in your plans?"

"I've only been here for a few days, and it's been ok." Blake sighed, trying to get his mind balanced again. "We have seen a few things about this city, and it's quite nice. We went downtown, to Mall of America, among other things. Though that's all we can do, but at least Erik is set for college next month, and I'm just waiting to get back into work in the upcoming days. Not much else you can do when your clients are waiting to be drafted now."

"So your son's college bound here as well? Great! Lovely city indeed" He stopped for a while and asked Julian about bringing something. "I know how hard it can be for some Europeans here; I've seen a lot of cases personally, so I guess if you got doubts or inquiries, I think I can resolve."

"I'm sure we will be fine. I have moved around a lot myself, playing around Europe, and many years in London. So I'm sure I have the experience I need to survive. This is new, yes, but I have done this before. The only thing I'm worried about is Erik, because this is his first time moving to a different place, and he needs to learn English more than I do." Blake grabbed another drink from the cooler, brushing it off. "But I know he can succeed here. He's talented at basketball like his father."

While Julian arrived with a pair of boxes, he duly noted in his own conversation that a younger reindeer, most likely Blake's son, asked the elder ungulate about something; the whole short exchange sounding something other than English, evidently Finnish. When they retook again, the saluki felt the need to add. "If you excuse me, try speaking him in English every way possible. You have to start at home and it's surprising how far mundane exchanges can go..." grabbing another drink from the cooler as well, he continued. "...Plus, you not only have the full name ultimatum when scolding, but an ultimatum language as well" Jean-Paul said in jest.

Blake looked at Jean-Paul, unimpressed. "I'm sorry, but I am already doing that with him, but there comes a time where you just have to rest your brain for a while and just speak in your native tongue. Finnish makes us feel more at home." he took a drink, taking a napkin to clean himself.

"Aha! but you'll live in an American home now, so it's fair to start treating it as such, non?" he interjected. Between diplomacy and affairs, he knew the 'home' part could become a major obstacle for every hopeful resident. "Even I, whose cultural jump from France to Montreal wasn't as drastic and I'm pretty much charged with representing my home country, I take that, felt that homesickness one too many times. But you have to be careful to not let that homesickness become terminal or alienate you from where you're standing now"

Blake attempted to speak up, but it was a good point, so he retracted to gather thoughts. Jean-Paul took it as a sign to continue.

"I want you two to succeed, so it's important for worldly men, like you and I, to remember that you are your own home. And wherever you go, do as you see. Many who leave their country never really 'go away' in their mindset, and that could become a major hindrance..." The same advice Jean-Paul was given many years ago; he didn't know the impact it would have on him later in life.

"Thank you for your suggestion..." he first said. "But I assure you there's no need to worry. And regarding the English usage, I'm already there. Erik is also taking language arts and literature in school to help him develop his langauge skills more."

"That's wise thinking, and I do get the brain rest part. Julian has gotten so good that I'm left like 'Je ne peux pas, arr�t!' sometimes..." the saluki gestured a pleading to stop while laughing. "...When Erik's able to keep up with yourself, or even talk circles around you, you know he'll do great here."

He then gave one of the boxes to Blake. "Besides, there's a million other ways to carry your culture with you". He opened the box, revealing a very intricate liqueur bottle that read 'Laponnia. Product of Finland. Blueberry'. "A token of my appreciation from me with the help of some of my friends at the Norwegian consulate"

Blake takes the bottle in his hands and looks at the content. With a slight smile and a nod, he pets Jean-Paul on the shoulder. "You know, at first I thought we were not going to get along, as two different kinds of European people, but if there's one thing we all know, from Portugal to Russia, is that we bond through alcohol more easily." he chuckles and excused himself from Jean-Paul, heading inside. Two minutes later, he returns and unveils a nice bottle of Bordeaux wine, from Chateau d'Argadens to be precise. "It's the best thing I could find here, but I hope you like it."

"Oh, so you know about the 'diplomatic' ways? You didn't have to, but I really appreciate it" he laughed, explaining the host-guest liquor ordeal that went on within people inside that circle, where close friends from different countries gave each other liquor from the others' country of origin. "It's not a bad choice indeed but, in the future, you stick with vodka, I stick with wine, deal?" They both shared a laugh. "If there's a universal constant in every country in the world and a universal language where most are happy speaking, that's indeed alcohol, trust me." He then got a second box, revealing yet another bottle, a fine French labeled champagne this time. "You know the tradition, you got to have champagne whenever you're breaking into something new. Now, since I doubt you'll approve of me smashing the bottle in or at your house and this is a good brand, let me cool this for later..."

With a chuckle, he looked at the champagne bottle. "I'm very aware of that tradition, my friend. But a nice glass of this later tonight would actually go very well." he smiled. "But beside all this, I know your nephew can go far and has something to fall back on, which is his tattoo shop. But I'm here to help him succeed in his primary career of choice, and I'll try my best to make it happen and see him drafted into the big leagues. That's all I want him to become right now. Stuff beside it I'll manage later"

"And I really appreciate you for it. I'm very glad he actually not only looked for an agent to help him all for himself, but that he got a man of caliber indeed." The canine finished the rest of his drink when Blake talked about Julian's careers. "Interesting anecdote, I might add. When he arrived to Canada, he actually didn't have that as his main goal or career choice. He liked it, but was mainly focused on his Degree, since that's the reason he got here in the first place" Jean-Paul cleared his throat. "It was due to my wife's doing. She saw his potential and how much he enjoyed it. She knew that sports can be profitable and that he had all the raw talent, pushed him to tryout at UCF to get all that formal training and university and to put his name up in the FBA once he was ready. She was-IS his biggest supporter." The saluki hoped that Blake didn't notice the sudden verb change, but it was too obivous.

Blake's ears flickered from the tense change in Jean-Paul's wording. "May I ask why it was his aunt who thought he'd succeed in basketball? I mean, I don't recall Julian telling me about an aunt. What was her role in this?"

The saluki let a tad of seriousness appear on his face and sighed. "I don't want to douse you with my story, I think I did more than enough, but... I guess you deserve to know about this." He shifted in his seat, elbows on the table in front. "I knew Julian loved basketball since he was a puppy. When he got to Canada, she saw how tall he grew and how much he knew about the game's logistics. As I said, it was her idea to push him to tryout at UCF, because she saw that, with polishing, he was capable to do stuff at FBA level, which she followed. She loved basketball period. Julian admires, respects and loves her aunt very much and he took so much traits from her. Whatever she advised him, he follows to a tee. She was a calculating, ruthless businesswoman, yet very down-to-earth lady who loved her family... Yes, past tense... She passed away some months ago..." He admitted, keeping collected and cool through the conversation.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear." Blake shifted in his seat a little. "So Julian must have a lot of determination to make you and his aunt proud then. I understand. Me and Erik have family like that too, and when one passes away, we can only get closer together. I know that happened when my father passed away 8 years ago. We've been supporting our seniors from near and far, as much as we can. But I know we can make our family proud if we keep going and reach for our goals."

"Yeah, Julian became a bit lost and hit a very low spot. But he persevered, became more passionate for his game, even with some bouts at university, and sees life by a differently. He's more polite to authority, maybe a bit overly, carries his convictions much stronger and won't stand for anyone that'll belittle him like what happened at UCF."

"Well, that explains Trent..."

The saluki saw Celine, his 4 year old daughter, come by and sit next to him; he stroked and fixed her hair. "Thanks, and don't worry. If anything, we might've found more common ground now. Both loved and lost..." Well, divorce and death are very two different scenarios, but it was a very interesting parallel indeed.

Blake nods, and points to the direction of Julian and Erik drinking and hanging out together. "Indeed. And I'm certainly looking forward to seeing these two make an impact in the FBA. Erik and Julian have it in them."

"I admit I'm not as cultured in the sport but, if anything, at least I'm sure they have the right height, indeed!" the saluki laughed.

Blake looks back over to the canine. "And we should have a glass of wine together. What do you say?"

"I disagree..." he smirked, whilst Blake looked puzzled. "It's nighttime by now, and I think it's appropiate to christen this house, so let me bring the champagne!"

"Even better, my friend. Let me help you..."

"Don't be ridiculous Blake, I'll handle this, relax, is your party after all." The reindeer chuckled and sat back, watching Jean-Paul take off and walk into the house to grab the cooled bottle of fine champagne and a couple of glasses.

As soon as he took the wire off, the cork flew sideways. Not damaging or strongly, but certainly unexpected, casuing him to blurt out an unintelligible French flurry of words. "Woo! Bienvenue! Onnea!" he said to his hosts. As Jean-Paul served the guests and took Blake's glass, he said to the reindeer that anything needed, he was a phone call away. "Having a friend in the diplomatic mission circle is a deadly weapon. Use it wisely, mon ami" he chuckled.

"I'll certainly will." he chuckle and clangs glasses together with the saluki before sipping on the tasty content with care.

*********************

("Please, please tell me that you didn't mess this up...") chided Julian on French, the Kiraly's on their way back to the hotel.

("I told you, it was fine. We drank a lot, complained about the Swedish embassy staff treatment to the Finns, gossiped about his clients' blunders, and now we are best buds, that's it.")

"Aw, Putain..."

("Julian, calm down, everything went fine. You got a big-shot agent and I let him know he got a big-shot client and offered him assistance if he ever needs it. It's all good, pup.")

("I swear, I sometimes think Celine can handle relations better than you. At least she knew she shouldn't pull others' antlers this time, right Celine?") He looked at his cousin, who just giggled about it.

("You'll learn to thank me one of these days. Lighten up! It was a nice rendez-vous!")

("No repercussions yet, so it was nice, indeed...")

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » September 2nd, 2014, 4:33 pm

Chapter 5 - Hostile grounds

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It's been about two weeks since the Toivonens settled into their new home in Minnesota and with all their stuff back in their possession, the two reindeer resumed their daily shenanigans. It was about 3:45 PM Central Daylight Time on a Monday afternoon and father and son were doing their own thing.

Erik was in his room, jamming on his guitar to Girvana, practicing his favourite songs. His posters from his favourite acts made it over in one piece, with a lot of them already placed around the master bedroom he now has, thanks to his dad's generosity. A big Finnish flag serves as a blind temporarily for his window facing the street. Blake is going to purchase the last remaining needs when his work slows down. A flag pole and an American flag has already been purchased, but have yet to be raised.

Earphones plugged into his amplifier and strumming away, Erik began to sing along to his idols. "Come... as you are..." he sang in his thick Finnish accent, as he started playing another song. His voice filled the room and beyond.

Blake, on the other hand, was on his computer in his office space downstairs, chatting away with his clients and doing business as usual. The 2014 FBA Draft was only a short while away and things were getting hasty for the reindeer man. All of his clients are in the draft pool and are anxious to see where their careers will take them. Three of his are in the Top 24, which is big. In one busy summer, he has established himself into the FBA market. If he gets to witness all of his Top 24 players drafted and more, he's certain to see his agent career skyrocket. But all in due time.

Excusing himself for a chat, Blake stood up and stretched, proceeding to the kitchen to make coffee. Soon enough, the coffeemaker was crackling and bubbling.

A dozen firm knocks on the door interrupted the silence. Blake was a bit surprised. He knew his neighbours work until 5 usually, so it couldn't have been them. With a confused look, he approached the door and opened it.

Outside was a pudgy female pig, wearing a colourful sundress over her big frame. Short curly hair covered her head. She looked rather displeased over something and Blake didn't know why. With his arms crossed over his chest, he confronted her.

"May I help you?" Blake asked as he stepped out of his townhouse.

"Just where the hell do ya think you live, Mister!?" the sow began to snarl at the confused reindeer. Blake stood there, flinching just a tiny bit.

"Uh... Minnesota?" he asked.

The sow kept going. "Yes, and in the United States of America! And that flag in your bedroom ain't the flag you're supposed to have!" she grunted in displeasure. Blake then remembered seeing the Finnish flag he brought from his home in Oulu draped Erik's window. The big reindeer shook his head.

"Listen, Missus, but we have an American flag waiting to be hung in our backyard. The flag pole is going up soon." he assured the angry pig at the front door.

"Ain't fuckin' good enough, pal! You're in America and I expect you to hang it up in your new home proudly and not let it wait until someone tells you to!" the sow snorted furiously.

Blake's defense began to shift into a more balanced approach. "You're telling me what to do on MY property!? What I do with MY home is none of YOUR business!"

"The hell it is, if you ain't proud of where you live!" the sow snarled at him without much thought.

"I am happy to be here, Missus. I've waited three years to come over and live and work! What else am I supposed to tell you?" Blake snapped back. He wasn't going to have any of it with this stranger, trespassing his property and telling him to raise the American flag, all because of showing a little Finnish pride in his son's room.

A police car came out from the trees as it slowed down and the driver looked at the scene with the sow snarling at the angry and confused reindeer. The car stopped at the side of the street and the door opened. Out came a boxer police officer, fit as a fiddle and wearing his uniform well. He climbed onto the sidewalk to approach the scene.

"Officer Cody Carridge. Is there a problem here, ma'am?" the boxer walked onto the property, staring at the two.

"This man does not show American pride like he's supposed to!" the sow snarled at the officer, but Carridge wasn't having any of it.

"I'm sorry, officer, but I don't know this lady and I don't know what she is trying to do here." Blake replied calmly, knowing he is in the right.

"You live here, right, sir?" Carridge attempted to confirm with the big reindeer who nodded.

"Yes, I just moved in here."

The officer nodded and began to take care of the grumpy middle-aged sow.

"Ma'am, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave the property." the boxer ordered the sow who replied with a grunt.

"Fine then. But get this man to put his flag up!" she snapped back, but the officer barked back.

"Ma'am, if somebody is in trouble, that's you for trespassing property, now go on with your day before you are really in trouble!"

With a snarl, the sow wobbled off Blake's yard and went home. Carridge looked back to her as she left, then turned his attention to the property owner.

"I deeply apologize for this, sir. As somebody who has dealt with discrimination like this, I wish she had known better." he went on.

"No need to apologize, officer." Blake nodded. "Thank you for getting her off my case. I'm busy with work right now and certain things have to come later, like putting up the American flag. I'm leaving for Las Vegas this week."

"And that is fine, since that is your own property and I have no right to say otherwise." Carridge nodded. "What are you going to Vegas for, if you don't mind me asking?"

"The FBA Draft, officer. I have clients who are waiting to be selected." Blake smiled a little, not minding the thought of unveiling his plans to a trustworthy law enforcer.

"Oh, you're an agent. That's very cool. Hope you'll have a good time there, sir." the boxer nodded and made his way back to his car. "Have a nice evening."

"Same to you, officer." Blake nodded as he went back inside and closed the door. Carridge jumped back into his car and continued his commute.

As Blake walked back to the kitchen to finally pour himself a cup of coffee, Erik came down the stairs, looking out the kitchen window to watch the police car leave.

"(What was that all about, dad?)" Erik asked curiously.

"(Oh that? Someone thought she could convince us to put the American flag up, because apparently we're not proud enough.)" Blake chuckled, sipping his coffee. Erik poured himself one as well, adding milk to it.

"(Huh. Well, I just want to be happy here and be someone, like I was back in Oulu.)" Erik added, sighing as he sat down on the couch in the nearby living room. His father followed him and sat down beside him.

"(I'm sure you will, son. You have what it takes.)" Blake reassured his son. Erik smiled and nodded.

Both of them knew this won't be the last encounter with a foul stranger, but it was best to move on and get to know the real citizens of America. The proud, the friendly and the welcoming.

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Paul Shep
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Joined: May 15th, 2014, 10:14 pm

Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » September 14th, 2014, 10:13 am

Chapter 6 - First Day

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The morning sun spread its light across the land that was Minnesota, as the daily commotion resumed in the peaceful suburban community in Bloomington. Blake was already awake and making toast for breakfast, as he places condiments on the table along with coffee and milk for his son.

Speaking of Erik, today was his first day of classes at Bedrock University and the big young reindeer bull has expressed mixed feelings about it. He'll be able to learn English better than he ever could in Finland, but that involves going to school, which is a sour taste for any teenager nowadays.

The alarm rang on Erik's oPhone. With a groan, the young reindeer pushed himself off the bed and began to slowly get back into his routine. Push-ups, sit-ups, crutches and jumping jacks, to wake up and keep fit. He then pulled on a shirt over his torso and adjusted his Girvana boxers before opening the door and going downstairs, where his father was waiting for him.

"Hyvää huomenta, Erik." Blake greeted his son as he sat down. Erik nodded as he yawned out a thick "good morning." with his accent. The father sipped on his coffee as he dug into another piece of toast.

"First day of college, huh? Sounds like a big deal to me." Blake spoke as he looked over to Erik, who was gathering condiments and bread to began taking in breakfast himself.

"Y-yes, it's the first day." Erik replied, a little unsure of why his father began the day with an English lesson.

"I'm sure you'll be fine, Erik." Blake nodded, finishing his coffee as he pours himself a second one. Erik yawned and began to drink and eat. The two didn't say anything for a while, as they tended to their breakfast routine. After a few minutes, Blake stood up to leave the table and walked into his bedroom to change, while Erik was finishing up. He returned a while later, as Erik was cleaning up his dishes and utensils to put into the dishwasher. Blake followed his lead by grabbing condiments and putting them back.

15 minutes later, the two reindeer men were dressed well with casual shirts and denim jeans, ready to go and both went out into the back alley to get into Blake's new car. It was a silver 2008 Ford Escape. Blake found the car on-line and was immediately interested in getting it from a local salesman. He was able to acquire the vehicle a few days after he arrived.

Blake started the car and began the commute towards the Bedrock main campus. The two began to realize just how different America was compared to Finland. Traffic was a lot more congested towards the main cities. The older reindeer was aware of that, having lived near a city himself for the past decade, but Minneapolis spoke at a much bigger volume for him.

It took a good 20 minutes till Blake was able to turn off and take on the final stretch towards the campus. Stopping at the loading zone, he looked on as Erik climbed out of the car and looked back inside.

"Good luck today, Erik. I'm proud of you." Blake smiled reassuringly towards his long-haired son, who was beginning to look a bit anxious, but it was to be expected.

"Uh, thank you, papa. See you soon." Erik nodded as he swung his backpack over his shoulder. "Rakastan sinua."
"Minäkin rakastan sinua." Blake smiled as he looked to Erik one last time. The youngster waved with a little smile back to his dad as he made his way up the stairs towards the door. Soon, the silver Escape drove off, going back to the suburbs.

There he was. Erik Toivonen, the young Finn, who moved all the way from his home to study in America, is finally at the doors of his next chapter in life: College.

Erik approached the doors of the building, big letters spelling out "Bedrock University" highlighted the main entrance. With a deep breath, the reindeer went inside and began to look for the registration office. Students were hustling and rumbling the big corridor of the campus, talking to friends or walking towards their first class of the day. Erik looked around curiously, slightly overwhelmed by just how big this university was. It spoke true volume for him, as he remembered how his high school in Oulu was a dozen times smaller than Bedrock. Scanning for any noticeable signs, Erik saw one hanging from above pointed him in the right direction and Erik proceeded.

A minute later, he found the office down a busy hallway, and a line-up of new students was pushing the limit. His first class was in twenty minutes and from it looks of it, it would need the same amount of time to get to the front of the line. Nervously, Erik took his spot and waited. Several minutes passed and the line seemed to move as fast as expected, but that didn't exactly make Erik feel better. He moved down as the minutes passed. 10 minutes later, he was at the front of the line, where a pudgy beaver lady greeted him, wearing a formal sweater along with a long black skirt..

"Morning!" she welcomed Erik to the office counter as he approached it. "What's your name?"
"Erik Toivonen." the reindeer said as he could understand her English pretty well. The beaver stood up and began to scan over folders in a shelf near the counter. As she scanned the "T" section, she found the "Toivonen, Erik" file quickly and returned.

"Ok, Erik, here's your schedule and your course list for this semester." she acknowledged Erik as she showed him the contents of the neatly organized folder. Inside was a personalized schedule with the 5 courses he's taking this year, including music, a few English courses and a literature course he thought would be handy for him. Along with the schedule, there was a course list inside with all the information he needed, plus professor contact information and his list of books he needed for his classes.

"Have you pre-ordered your books, Erik?" the beaver lady asked nicely as Erik collected his folder.

"Pre... order? Oh, yes, yes I did." Erik remembered pre-ordering his books with his dad back in Oulu a few days after Erik got the ok to come and study at Bedrock.

"Ok, hunny. Bookstore is back down the hallway to your right. I suggest you go there this afternoon. And I see it's 5 minutes till classtime, so I suggest you go to class now." the beaver lady said as Erik put his folder away.

"Ok, thank you!" Erik replied briefly and darted his way out the office into the hallway. His first class was two floors up on another end of the building. With a few dodges and sprints, Erik managed to get to his class with one minute to spare. What a rush to start the day.

---

Hours passed and Erik found it a bit difficult to connect to his professors and fellow students. The language barrier was still there for him, despite having studied hard during all of his high school years. He began to realize his knowledge needed practice and not just in the classroom. With a grunt, he continued onward to the last class of the day. While his classes were a bit tough, he managed to get his things done at lunch, getting his textbooks and acquiring a bus card for his daily commute. Now he was well prepared for a post-secondary student.

He even managed to meet his new basketball coach briefly. Erik signed up for the college basketball team before classes started, landing him a chance to try-out for the team during next week. The young reindeer was excited to shoot hoops again, just like his dad did.

Erik trotted around on the second floor, as he double-checked his schedule to see what his last class was. It read:

"English literature 1 - 3:35 PM - Room 2-023 - Prof. Koray Demir"

With a light chuckle, he saw the lit sign of room 23 right beside him and entered the class. It was a very classic-looking room, with wood finishing on the side, and the classroom was lit well with over-sized windows on the opposite wall from the door. Erik scanned the classroom and found an open spot in the second row beside a black timber wolf, who greeted him with a "Hello." The timber wolf was tall, but half a foot shorter than Erik. His short and styled hair were a good fashion statement, along with his grey polo shirt and denim jeans.

Erik nodded and replied with a "Hello." himself, as he settled into the chair, he looked on to see the professor on his laptop, seemingly preparing his next lesson.

The professor was a blended silver cross fox. He had a black muzzle with silver markings across his face, with the occasional orange fur, including on the inside of his ears. Small piercings accessorized both his pointy ears, along with a pair of stylish glasses. He was also rather well-dressed, with a vest covering his dress shirt and tie, along with a matching pair of dresser pants. He looked very spiffy for a university professor.

"I'm Troy, what's your name?" the timber wolf interrupted Erik's thought process as he looked back to Troy.

"Oh, my name is Erik." the reindeer replied firmly.

"Nice to meet ya, Erik." Troy went on to make a little small talk with the foreign reindeer. "Why are you taking this course, if I may ask?"

Erik thought about his answer for a bit before he replied. "Uhm, I want to improve my English, and understand it better."

"Oh nice, that's cool. Where you from?" Troy became a little more curious.

"Finland." Erik kept his reply brief.

"Scandinavia, that's awesome. Part of my family is actually from Sweden." Troy smiled as the fox at the desk stood up and took a marker to write something on the whiteboard.

"Nice. Nice." Erik replied briefly again. The two looked on to the professor at the white board. The vulpine prof wrote 'Professor Koray Demir' on the board as the clock struck 3:35 and the last few students entered the class before Mr. Demir walked towards the door to shut it. With a click and a thud, the door was shut and class started.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!" Mr. Demir began to speak in front of the class.

"Welcome to English literature. My name is Koray Demir,” He indicated the board onto which he’d written it, “but I do appreciate it if you called me Koray, alright?" Mr. Demir cleared his throat softly after he’d finished speaking. Erik nodded, paying attention like the rest of the class was. Koray had a certain vibe to him that made his students ease up and pay attention easily.

“Now, I'm not going to lie to any of you. This class isn't for everyone. It’s also NOT a sleeper course; if you think you’ll be able to snooze during class and still pass, you’re sorely mistaken.” Koray stated seriously, a slight frown on his features as he looked around at his students, trying to judge expressions and managing to spy a couple that weren't too happy about that news. He knew his class would be shrinking by the end of the week. It always did. Students always assumed that English Literature would be an easy course; read a few books, write a couple of papers, get a passing grade. But there was a whole lot more to it than that. The cross fox smiled again, exuding his usual warm and welcoming personality.

“For those of you that stick with this, I promise you it will be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. But, as a start, I want to get to know all of you. I will understand the way you interpret things better if I know YOU better. So! I want to go around the class and hear your name, where you’re from, and what you hope to learn here. We’ll start at the back there.”

One by one, each student went on to introduce themselves with a short verbal biography of themselves. Among them were many locals, like wolves, beavers, otters and deer, all hailing from in or around the Twin Cities. There was one brown mouse that came from near Liverpool, but the rest of the class made Erik feel out of place, being one of the only Europeans in the class.

Erik’s turn came up. He took a deep breath and unboxed as much of his English skills as possible. It sounded a little broken, but the knowledge was there and he told as much of himself as he could without breaking into Finnish. With a smile and a nod, Koray appreciated Erik’s efforts and carried on to the next one.

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen.” Koray resumes his speech as the introductions finished. “I don’t like to push much on the first day, however, I AM going to give you your first assignment! And you can work on it for the remainder of class today. It’ll be due on my desk at the start of Friday’s class.” He explained, moving to write that information on the board for those that were more visually inclined.

“Your first assignment is a thousand-word paper about yourself. However, I want you to write it through the eyes of somebody else. A parent, sibling, friend, grandparent, employer...whomsoever you would like. But I want you to actually look at yourself! See yourselves how somebody else sees you! I'm not expecting to see a first draft of this, but please, try to keep your spelling and grammar accurate. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call me.”

A small rumble came across the classroom as many students took out their papers and began to draft something on paper, while others were fortunate to have their own laptops. Erik took out his notebook and wrote down the assignment before thinking about who he is going to write as. This was gonna be hard, he thought to himself, but it has to be done, and done well.

The clock struck 4:50 PM and class was over. As the students packed up and went to leave, Troy tapped Erik’s shoulder once more. “Hey, got a cell phone number?”

“Cell… phone? You mean like mobile?” Erik made sure he heard that right.

“That’s it, man.” Troy nodded. With a nod, Erik pulled out his oPhone and showed the black wolf his number. Troy tapped away on his phone and sent him a text promptly.

“Cool, man. You seem like a cool guy. We should hang out sometime when you can.” Troy nodded, grinning. With a nod, Erik approved the idea of having a friend in America.

“Yes, we should.” Erik said as the two made their way towards the door, but a familiar voice stopped them.

“Erik, mind if I had a talk with you?” Koray approached slowly as the two furs stopped in their tracks. Erik turned around and replied with a nod.

“Ok, then I’ll see you later, Erik.” the timber wolf waved back as he left the classroom and the reindeer stayed behind to have a chat with his teacher.

“First of all, Erik, this has nothing to do with how you did today, but I do want to talk to you about your current situation.” Koray assured him as the two took a seat at the professor’s desk.

“Ok.” Erik replied. He wasn’t sure how to go on.

“So tell me, how did you learn English?” Koray began the conversation with a simple question.

“I started learning English in school. I started in Grade 5 and continued. I wanted to learn more, since I have been travelling a lot with the Finland basketball team.” Erik began to formulate longer sentences, much to Koray’s approval.

“Good good. That’s great that you've been practising outside of school.” Koray went on. Erik nodded slightly. He knew that wasn’t exactly the case. He’s been speaking English on and off, reverting to Finnish when he can, especially at home around his father. He has even tried to learn to sing Girvana songs, but the themes of their lyrics are still hard to grasp for the young reindeer.

“Listen, Erik, I just want to tell you something. I believe you can succeed in this class, but I need you to work hard and study a little bit every day.” Koray shifted in his seat, looking straight into Erik’s eyes, speaking in an encouraging tone of voice. “A lot of my students are from right here in Minnesota, who grew up with the English language. You on the other hand, has not spoken English that much outside of school and you just moved here from another country, as you told me in class.” the fox nodded.

“Yes, it’s true.” Erik agreed.

“But I'm thrilled that you have decided to come to my classes to learn and that means an awful lot to me.” Koray went on to reassure his student. “As long as you let me teach you the dazzling beauty that is the English language, I shall do my very… very best to make you feel more comfortable here. That’s how I want everyone in my class to feel. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say to you.”

“Yes, I do, Mr. Demir. You want me to feel comfortable in your class.” Erik repeated some of Koray’s words.

“That’s right, Erik. College can be a very stressful period in life for a young lad like you, but they don’t have to feel that with me.” Koray added on. “I only want the best for my dear students and that includes you. So will you promise me to study hard and in return, I’ll give you as much help as you need?”

Erik thought about it for a moment before he nodded firmly. “Yes, I’ll do it.”

Koray’s smile widened. “Excellent, Erik! That’s all I wanted to talk to you about. I think you have a bus to catch now though. I don’t want you to be late for supper.” the fox grinned a little bit as he stood up alongside the young reindeer.

“Ok, well, thanks for the talk, Mr. Demir. I will make sure I work hard.” Erik adjusted his backpack on his shoulders as he walked towards the door with his prof.

“Please, dear, call me Koray.” the vulpine professor nodded as he let Erik go out of the classroom. “Well, I’ll see you around, Erik. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Mr… I mean, Koray.” he waved back as he trotted down the hallway with the intent to leave the building and take the commute home. Koray waved back as he left. A happy sigh escaped his lips before he went on to clean his desk and return to his office briefly.

Koray had a good feeling about Erik. He was sure his English would excel far from where he is at now. The young reindeer has a good start, he just needs practice. The vulpine professor was going to make sure that his student would do just that.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » September 24th, 2014, 10:14 am

Chapter 7 - First impressions

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Bedrock's gymnasium showed signs of its age across the building, as each side had bleachers about 30 rows high, all them covered in worn-off paint and spots of rust. The hardwood itself was more of a reminder of how the FBA was played 25 years ago, with minimal writing at center court, along with very few coloured spots at the free throw line and inside the arc. At least the baskets had solid glass backboards along with some freshly hung nets.

Thuds and bounces of basketballs echoed around the gym this time around, as players warmed up with shooting and dribbling around the court. In the midst of it was the coach, a groundhog, looking on with a tensed up look on his face. He was wearing a polo shirt with comfortable pants, which was just enough for a small and pudgy guy like him. Dalton McDougald was his name and he's been coaching the team for 10 years. Sounds like it's a good team, right? Think again.

Bedrock's basketball program has not exactly been the greatest. There were years where the team almost made the FCAA tournament, but ended up missing it due to losing vital games towards the end the season. In other years, the team saw a horrible season with only a handful of wins. The players then were just glad it was all over when the season ended.

As McDougald wrote down notes on his clipboard, he was groaning already, as he saw several players miss easy shots. He split the 12 guys on the court into two teams, each player wearing either white or light blue uniforms. At centre court, a pair of American cream draft horse twins wearing different colours were arguing with each other who could make a shot from the centre line. Both had shaggy hair covering their eyes and had lean yet scrawny bodies. They looked more suitable for surfing and a lot of team members knew that. They pointed fingers at each other, while their cracking voices were heard quite clearly by the coach.

"Whitakers! Goddamnit, go stretch or take some shots! You can both argue at home!" the groundhog coach snapped as the two split and took a basketball in their hand, still grumbling at each other.

Beside the groundhog was a tall, lean pheasant by the name of Winston Mallee. He's been McDougald's assistant for a couple of years now and he can see why his head coach was rather tense about everything. There were many players who took their position on the team seriously, but not everyone saw the same viewpoint. McDougald blew the whistle again to break up a fox by the name of Zack Ingolstadt and a white-tailed deer named Rory Connors arguing about last season when Bedrock failed to make the tournament for the third year in a row. Tension has built up on the team and the pressure to get on the national stage once again has been mounting on them.

There isn't a lack of talent on the team, but the team chemistry has been a great issue for McDougald and Mallee to fix. Bedrock's team has a mix of personalities that include bookworms and pure athletes. Mixing them into a team with a common goal has been anything but easy for the coaches. Verbal arguments are a common occurrence and when they happen, it shows just how different some players are from each other and the coaches have their hands full to solve the issue.

Mallee and McDougald looked over as with five minutes left in warm-ups, a new face showed up; a tall, young reindeer stepped onto the hardwood floor, wearing a white practice uniform. He jogged towards the coaches.

"I'm sorry I'm late." Erik said as he swung his arms around to warm himself up. With a grunt, McDougald looked up to the big and tall reindeer, recognizing him from a brief meeting the two had a few days before.

"Ah, Erik, glad you could show up." the groundhog noted his presence on the clip board. "Go and shoot some hoops. We'll begin with warm-ups shortly." the coach instructed Erik. With a nod, the reindeer went on to grab a ball from the rack at the sideline and started dribbling around.

He pumpfaked a little and went around some of the players before taking a shot from the free throw line. It kissed the glass, then the net. He picked the ball back up again and danced with the ball. Between the legs, around the back, simple, yet elegant moves were shown off. Shaking his hair away from his eyes, Erik took another shot from the left from 18 feet out. He watches as the ball flew flawlessly into the netting of the basket.

A few players stopped and noticed Erik's rather enthusiastic warm-up, as he collected his ball again and dribbled it around inside the arc. Juking around with the ball, Erik keeps stepping forwards and to the side, taking the ball around the arc and getting the feel of being back on hardwood again, after a not playing on one for over a month.

"Hey, what's your name?" a shorter mule doe on the same half of the court looked towards the big reindeer. With a glimpse, he saw her standing at the free throw line, looking at him before she looked back to take a shot. After she wound up, the ball flew gracefully into the netting. She was wearing white and had her sleek, long hair tied to a pony tail. Erik stopped dribbling and held onto the ball before walking over to her location.

"I'm Erik, and you?" He asked the doe.

"Yvonne. Nice to meet you." Yvonne stretched out her hand for a shake. Erik carefully took it and shook it back. "What position do you play, Erik?"

"Uhm... Center." Erik replied as he dribbles around a little. "You?"

"I play guard. I mean, I played a little bit of forward when I went to high school here in Minneapolis, but I just found myself to be better at guard." Yvonne flicked the ball around in her hands, looking up to the reindeer. "What did you play in high school?"

"Center and some forward." Erik collected his ball once more. "I played center most of my life, so I know what I'm doing."

"Oh that's neat. Where's your high school?" Yvonne asked curiously.

"Oulu. It's in Finland." Erik looked towards the mule doe as he adjusted his jersey.

"Finland? That's awesome! I've never actually been outside of the country, since my family and I live here in the state, but I'd love to travel somewhere new and exotic." Yvonne smiled as she was intrigued by Erik's origin and hearing a little bit about him. Erik just nodded with a smirk.

Before the two could continue their conversation, a loud whistle blew from a distance and the players made their way towards the coach. A total of 13 players showed up to the try-outs, consisting mostly of sophomores and third-year players, with about three freshman players, including Erik.

"Alright, listen up!" the coach began his speech. "I'm sure you all know why you're here today. You're here to become part of a great team and I'll make sure it won't be easy. This ain't high school no more, kids and I'll make sure it ain't feeling like it! We'll get right into it tonight. Everyone go to the far end there end and gimme five rounds of solid jogging! All the way around the court and no cutting corners! Line up over there." the players made their way towards the far end of the hardwood and lined up along the end line. With a loud blow of a whistle, the coach let his players go and they began jogging to warm up.

Erik jogged his laps well, not feeling worn from it. His experience of going through intensive training with the Finnish national team seems to pay off well so far. Though he noticed how some were already breathing harder and were slowing down. The difference in athleticism within the team showed, with the 7 well-trained players leading the pack, while the others were slower and playing catch up on the last lap. As the team finished up jogging, the coach called them up around the center circle to stretch. The second group finished their jog just as the first one was settling into a circle.

"Ok, get yourself all loosened up, because I'm not going to be easy on you, and some of you already know that." the short groundhog continued his speech with volume. "I expect great things from you this season, because I know a lot of you can do that. A few new faces have shown up tonight and that's great. The sophomores can tell all of you freshies just how intense I can be."

"I'll make you run and shoot, until you can run the whole game and hit more than half your shots." The coach exclaimed. "Basketball isn't a walk in the park and you should know that. Welcome and welcome back to Bedrock University. Now get up. Let's get going!" the groundhog clapped a couple of times, watching his players get up and finish stretching, awaiting further instructions.
---
Shooting drills were conducted by McDougald and his partner Mallee. Erik was on McDougald's group and his turn came up. The groups were lined up near the arc to start their drill. The players were instructed to sprint to the right to the first spot, just inside the arc, to shoot. Then they were to run to the left to settle halfway between the arc and the basket to shoot a second time. A lay-up would finish off the turn. So far, most of Erik's group has hit two shots on their first try. The coach wasn't happy seeing his players not getting their far and mid-range shots right.

Erik has hit all of them on his first turn. His second turn was coming up.

To a loud whistle, Erik sprinted off to the first assigned spot, watching the coach's ball as he catches it and winds up for the shot. Like a near perfect arch, it bent down into the hoop, bouncing off the inside rim a few times before going in. The reindeer sprinted to the next spot, watching as the coach passed him another ball to shoot. He fires and watches it hit nothing but net. The coach threw the last ball, but it was short, as Erik catches it a little too close to the rim, but Erik had an idea. One, two, three steps below the net and Erik swung his right arm around, catapulting himself upwards and smacking the back into the basket.

A wave of applause and cheering came from the lined up players as Erik jogged back, getting a few high fives as he went back into the line. The coach responded with a deep frown, despite Erik's impressive showing.

"Very nice, Toivonen, but I said lay-ups! Next time!" he yelled out before blowing the whistle for Roxy, a bobcat point guard, as she lined up. Yvonne looked back and gave Erik a thumb up.

"That was awesome, Erik. Where did you learn that?" she asked as Erik watches Roxy miss her first shot, but getting the other two to go in.

"Uhm, I just practice." the reindeer bull says to the mule doe. With a giggle, Yvonne turned back to watch the cricket by the name of Xavier Munns line up for his next turn.

"You said you were from Finland, right?" Yvonne asked as she turned her head once more.

"Yes." Erik replied. "I was born there."

"That's neat. I would love to go to Europe someday, it sounds so nice." Yvonne continued as she saw her turn approaching.

"You should. It's beautiful. I have already seen Rome and Croatia and Britain." Erik smiled as Manuel Guzman, a Latino Jaguar started his drill before Yvonne's.

"Wow, really? That's so cool!" the mule doe wagged her stubby tail slightly. "You have to take me sometime!" she laughs.

Erik grinned slightly, shrugging in response. The two were interrupted by the yelling of the coach.

"Less chit chat, more shooting! St. Paul, Go!" McDougald yelled as Yvonne started her drill. She sprinted to the first spot as she catches the ball from the coach with ease and wounded up for the first shot, watching it fly into the hoop. She huffed as she took off to the next spot, taking her second shot soon after, but her attempt took an unlucky bounce. She reassured herself by easily bouncing the ball off the backboard and in on her lay-up attempt.

"Toivonen!" the coach yelled for the reindeer's last turn at shooting. Erik received his first ball after a hard sprint and he watched his shot bounce of the rim a few times before going in. He sprinted to the next spot, stopping with a loud squeaking from his sneaker's sliding against the hardwood floor and he winds up for the shot, watching it go into the net after it kissed the rim. Erik sprinted to take his last shot and stopped as soon as he got the ball. He looked up and jumped, bouncing the ball off the backboard and in.

"Awww, come on amigo! Why not dunk it again?" Manuel smiled towards Erik as the whistle blew again and the crowd broke up.

"I don't want anything fancy tonight. Now get yourself a drink then we'll scrimmage." the coach ordered as the players walked to the bleachers to grab their drinks. Erik sits down and leans back, drinking on his water bottle contently.

"Erik, can we talk to you for a sec?" Mallee asked Erik, holding a clipboard in his hand, with his groundhog partner beside him.

"Am I in trouble?" Erik asked as he gets up, standing next to the groundhog and the pheasant.

"Nonono, we just want to fill out some information. So where did you play previously?" Mallee asked as he prepared his pen.

"Previously? You mean before here?" Erik tried to confirm with the coaches and they nodded in reply. "Uhm... in Oulu at my high school, then a bit on the community team... national team..."

At the sound of 'national team', the two coached cocked up their heads, eyes widening.

"Wait, so you play internationally? For Finland?" McDougald questioned Erik, struck by disbelief. How can an international player end up in Minnesota?

"Yes. I play on the Under 20 team in Finland. We're going to the European Championship next year." Erik replied reassuringly, standing there, unphased by how the coaches were figuring it all out.

"Well, I'll be damned..." McDougald scratched his head as his assistant writes it all down.

Tapping his pen a few times, Mallee looks to Erik once more. "... Is your father named Blake?" Mallee asked curiously. Erik nodded, making the pheasant light up once more.

"Wait, his dad? What does he have to do with it?" the groundhog asked, looking sternly at his assistant. Mallee looks over to him, trying to contain himself.

"Dalton... Blake Toivonen almost made the 1993 FBA Draft, but he had knee problems that prevented him from going. He still played pro in Europe! Dalton! We have an athletic bloodline on our team!" Mallee told his head coach excitedly with a smile across his beak. The groundhog's eyes widened, as he cracked a smirk.

"My father is an agent for players in the FBA now." Erik added on as he watched his coaches, a little weirded out.

"Haha! Winston, that's amazing!" the groundhog cheered. The two exchanged smiled and pleasantries as Erik grabbed his water bottle again to distract himself. He began to feel some pressure.

"Oh Erik, I think you're just what we're looking for!" McDougald walked over and padded Erik's back. The coach blew the whistle to order his team back on the court to start the scrimmage.

Now it was up to Erik to prove what he can do on the court. He was nervous, but he felt it before. This was nothing new to the Finnish international. Erik was widely known as Blake's son to people following international basketball in Europe. The pressure to perform as great as his father built up every time he steps on the court. This has been occurring since Erik was called up to the Finnish U20 team two years ago and stepping into the spotlight of some Finnish media outlets. Basketball isn't a big sport in Finland, but Blake Toivonen is a widely known name associated with great talent within the sport in the country. Erik loves playing basketball just like his dad, but he's determined to make a name out of himself, rather than just making his own father proud.
---
Blake was sitting in the living room, watching the local news. It was very different compared to watching Finnish news, as there were a lot more reports on violence and politics. It irritated him a little, but considering he's watched American news before, he just shrugged it off.

The door clicked and swung open, as the young, long-haired reindeer entered and closed the door behind him, swinging his backpack against the wall gently and sitting down on the couch, rubbing his head. Blake watches on as his son returns home.

"(Hey, how did it go?)" Blake asked as he put his feet off the coffee table and muted the TV.

"(Pretty good. But...)" Erik paused as he tried to gather his thoughts to continue.

"(But? You didn't make the team?)" his father was beginning to feel concerned.

"(No no, I'm in, it's just that...)" the young reindeer sighed. "(They're expecting a lot from me.)"

Blake nodded contently. He knew that his son's status as a player was going to be a culprit for pressure, especially since he's also playing on the national team.

"(So you told them you played on the national team and everything?)" Blake double-checked.

"(Yes. They asked about where I played before. I couldn't lie to them.)" Erik nodded and sighed. His father responded with a nod on his own. He knew what his son meant.

"(I understand, Erik. I know you're great on the court. Don't let them drill the pressure into your head, because they don't need to. You have studies to focus on and that's what you should do.)" Blake leaned on his thighs with his elbows, talking directly at his son.

"(I know, Papa, but I also want to succeed in basketball. You know how much I like to play.)" Erik responds firmly.

"(Yes, but there should be a balance with your studies too. You know that perfectly well.)" Blake nodded. "(So I trust you on that end, Erik, because you've proven to me that you can balance school and basketball, even with the national team. I'm sure you can do just that here too. You'll do great, Erik.)" Blake smiled as he looked to Erik, who replies with a combination of a smirk and a smile.

"(I guess I will.)" Erik noted. He got up and stretched. "(I should get some studying done. I promised Koray I'd do a little every day.)"

"(Who's Koray?)" his father asked curious as he leans back.

"(Koray is my literature teacher.)" the young reindeer said as he grabbed his backpack.

"(I see. Is he nice?)" the older one asked once more.

"(Yeah, he's pretty nice. Tough, but engaging.)" Erik says as he makes his way to the stairs.

"(Sounds great. Oh, did you eat?)" Blake stood up as he made his way to the kitchen, looking back to his son, who had one foot on the stairs.

"(Yeah, I had some food on the way home.)"

"(Ok, if you need anything, you know where you can find it.)"

"(Alright, Papa.)" and with that, Erik dashed upstairs to begin studying. With a chuckle, Blake grabbed a carton of fruit juice as he looks to the clock. It read 7:50 PM. He looked back to his glass, filling it up and taking a drink out of it. He smacked his tongue to taste as he looked back to the TV but submerged in his own thought.

College seemed to go ok so far for his son and that's always a nice thing to hear. He knew the transition to another country would be more difficult for his son, especially since he doesn't speak English as well as his father does. But Blake was determined to make sure he can provide the help Erik needs to succeed. Erik was on a good way to feeling more at home in North America, having made a few friends already, including one in Julian, one of Blake's own clients. The thought of a few good friends for Erik was calming for his father. Reassured, Blake returned to the living room.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » October 16th, 2014, 5:28 pm

Chapter 8 - Bumpy roads

The British literature class of Mr. Koray Demir was engaging and informative, as the vulpine interacted with his students though questions and reading passionately from the very book he assigned to his students. Rather than letting them read everything, Koray mixed it up by reading some chapters himself and getting students to read some parts out loud. The class size was fairly good with 31 students packed into the vintage-looking classroom inside the Arts department of Bedrock University. Within the crowd of students was the tall, young reindeer bull, sitting comfortably in the second row, trying his best to follow the contents of the lecture.

Five weeks had passed since Erik has started his courses at Bedrock university and it's been a mix of results for him. While he did alright in three of his courses, he didn't do well in others and British Literature was sadly one of them. The material of the lessons was at a level of advanced English, which Erik found difficult to understand. The quality of English lessons at his high school in Oulu was intermediate at best, and it was a frustrating experience at times for the young reindeer. Nonetheless, he wanted to succeed and decided against dropping the class.

The students were currently reading a book called 'White Fangs', a story about an Irish Setter whose life turns around after an attempted suicide and finds himself on an emotional roller coaster to get his life back on track. The story was saddening through most of the book but became uplifting towards the end. Erik tried his best to understand the content of it, but he had to keep asking about the plot and what was going on. It was difficult material for someone who had just graduated high school English in Finland and both the student and teacher knew it.

As Erik reread some of the sentences of the day's chapter, Koray asked the class for specific highlights they found interesting in the chapter, then wrote them down on the white board. The professor tried to get Erik's attention a few minutes into the discussion. "So, Erik, what did you think stood out to you in this chapter?"

"Oh, uhm..." Erik paused as he went through the last chapter, thinking he had noted it. There was a scene in the book where the Setter met the Jamaican Tody he saw at a New Year's Eve party.

"When the Setter met the Tody again after weeks." Erik continued, pointing his hoof finger at the page. "The whole conversation seemed awkward, but I think they're both in love."

Light chatter came from behind Erik, while Troy, a black timber wolf and Erik's newest friend, nodded contently. "Not bad, man." he said to encourage his friend.

Koray adjusted his glasses, nodding lightly. "Indeed, Erik. They do seem to make that very impression, but they don't quite know it yet," the professor added on as he wrote down some of what Erik said on the board. Erik felt a rush of nervous energy come over him.

"Does anyone else have an impression from the chapter we just read?" Koray asked the class, looking around as he pointed to a robin who had raises her right wing arm. "Yes, Amy?"

"I found the part where the Setter was rethinking the whole meeting with the Tody quite interesting. I mean, he seems interested in her, but he seems too afraid to ask her out, since he's still in a rough shape after all he has been through recently. He seems unable to break himself out of his shell at this point," the robin spoke confidently towards her instructor.

"Very good. I do find that quite intriguing as well." Koray smiled as he wrote down Amy's answer on the board. The cross fox briefly looked towards the clock, seeing it at 4:49 PM. It was time for class to end.

"Alright, guys, for next class, I want you to read Chapters 9 and 10 and write a 750 word summary for each of them. That's another 1500-word essay I'm sure you can handle. Have yourselves a good evening." Koray signaled the dismissal of his class, as students began to hustle to get their stuff together and get out of the classroom. Troy looked over to Erik as the two stood up and zipped their backpacks shut.

Koray approached Erik once more. "Erik, can I talk to you for a minute? I just want to talk about your last assignment." With a concerned look on his face, Erik nodded. "Yes, I'll stay."

"You wanna meet up later tonight and get some homework done?" Troy asked as Erik looked over and swung his bag over his shoulder.

"Yes, I can do that." Erik responded, watching Troy crack a smirk. "Alright, dude, see ya later then." Troy nodded as he headed out the door with the last few remaining students. A minute later, Erik was alone with his instructor once again. Today's meeting seemed to be more serious than last time.

Sighing, Erik walked over to Koray's desk, taking a seat on the chair beside it. He knew he wasn't doing as well as he wanted to, but he was trying as hard as he possibly could. He grabbed his last essay assignment out of his bag and put it on the desk. A 'C-' was marked in red on top of the page.

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Koray adjusted his tie and shoved his glasses closer to his face, then began to speak. "I know you did your best on that work, but I'm beginning to think that you'll need some extra help with your homework." He watched Erik look down and nod. Koray sat up and leaned on the desk. "Look at me, Erik."

Erik slowly raised his head as he brushed the hair from his sight, so he could look at his professor face-to-face.

"I'm not here to make you feel like you're not good enough for this class," Koray continued. "I want to help you succeed, because I can see you have potential and I know you're trying. But you have to make the next step, which is to understand and process the material better than you do right now. Do you understand what I'm trying to say, Erik?"

With a sigh, Erik nodded. "I think so. I have been trying to focus a lot on this class, because I realized how hard it is. But I have been studying every day, like you told me to."

"That's great to hear, Erik." Koray nodded, feeling relieved to hear that. "But like I said, you need to take the next step. I want you to understand all this better," the professor looked on as his student nodded.

"Erik, if you don't mind, I would like to talk to your next of kin about this. I usually don't do this, but I feel like someone you're close to needs to know. Is there someone I can reach?" Koray grabbed a paper and pen, as he watched Erik adjust in his seat, taking a deep breath.

Erik found the idea of having his dad involved in his schooling appalling. But at the same time, he knew Blake wouldn't ridicule him for his performance when he had seen his son studying and giving his best shot at an American university.

"Yes, my father. We live together so you can reach him over the same phone number." Erik replied, shifting in his seat, still feeling rather uncomfortable about the idea.

"Okay, great. Thanks, Erik. That's all I wanted to talk about today." Koray copied the information from his class list onto the note pad he was holding. "Don't worry, Erik. I won't tell your father anything bad. I just want to be on the same page with him as I am with you. I want to help you, Erik, that's all. Do you understand that?"

Erik nodded once again. "Yes, Mr. Demir."

Koray nodded slowly, detecting the disappointment in Erik's voice. "Alright, Erik, you may go. Remember Chapter 9 and 10 for next class."

The professor watched as Erik said goodbye and left the classroom.

---

Koray didn't usually bother contact a student's parents; his students were all adults, he shouldn't have to speak with their parents. But this was an exception. Here he had a student with a lot of drive and potential, but was struggling to reach it; Erik Toivonen. It couldn't be easy to be in an English Literature class when English was your second language. So the fox sat at his desk; he'd contacted Erik's father to come in and talk with him. He was just waiting for his guest to arrive and spent some time marking papers instead.

Blake walked down the corridors of the Arts building of Bedrock University, looking for Mr. Demir's office. It felt off to be called in by a college professor, but he knew it's important to hear what his son's professor has to say about his performance in college. He approached the door of Koray's office and proceeded to knock.

Koray looked up from the papers he was going over when he heard the knock at the door, a smile on his features. "Come in, it's open." he called out with a smile, putting his papers down and rising from his seat to greet his guest.

Blake entered the room, wearing a wind jacket over his blue polo shirt, which was showing his bulky frame rather well, along with a dark pair of pants. He walked forward to greet the professor with a handshake. "Hello, Mr. Demir. It's a pleasure to meet you." Koray did his best to hide his surprise as the massive reindeer entered his office, smiling warmly as he moved to shake the ungulate's hand.
"Please, call me Koray. I assume you're Erik's father...Blake, was it?" Koray asked, his tone warm and welcoming as he motioned to an empty chair and moved back to his own. He took a moment while his back was turned to marvel mentally at the sheer size of the man.

Blake firmly shook the smaller fox's hand, nodding in reply to the question. "Yes, Blake is my name." he smiled as he took the empty chair beside him and moved close to the desk as he sat down, looking into the fox's amber eyes. "Now... please, tell me what's been going on with Erik. Has he been good to you?"

"Erik has been fine. He's a good and attentive student. A pleasure to have in class, really." Koray admitted with a smile before his expression changed to one of concern. "He's a fine student, with a lot of drive, but he's struggling with the course material. I understand that English is his second language, and I just wanted to discuss with you some ideas I have to help him."

"Okay." Blake leaned back in his seat, putting his hands together as he thought before speaking up. "What would those ideas be?"

"My first one is trying to speak more English with him at home. I respect your origins and your language, but the more he uses English, the easier it'll come for him." Koray stated calmly from his seat; even sitting he had to look up at Blake slightly. "Another suggestion is getting him a tutor. I have a few I'd recommend."

"In my defense, Koray, I do speak in English with him on and off, but I also don't want him to lose his native tongue. I hope you understand." Blake looked towards Koray, his expression showing concern. "I do help him with homework as best as I can, but a tutor sounds good."

"I completely understand that, Mr Toivonen, and I'm not asking you to drop your native language. But just encourage him to speak more English at home. It won't do any harm." Koray spoke in a soothing tone, not wanting to anger the rather massive reindeer. "I may have the perfect tutor for Erik. I'll talk to her and see what I can arrange. I will also try to work with Erik a little more myself, but I can't focus too much on him. I can't have myself being accused of favoritism you see."

Blake nodded as he listened to Koray's suggestions. "I understand, Mr. Demir... sorry, Koray. You have a whole class to teach and I do not want you to tire yourself with my son. I think a tutor would help him a lot and much more than I could." the reindeer leaned back once more.

"Excellent! I'll get in touch with one of my juniors tomorrow. I think I know the perfect one to work with Erik." Koray said with a warm smile, taking off his glasses for a moment to clean them on the hem of his sweater vest before replacing them on his muzzle. "If you don't mind me asking, Mr. Toivonen, how is your experience in America so far?"

Blake cracked a smile as he readjusted his seating. "It's been great, thank you, Koray. I haven't seen much of it yet though. I did come to America a few months before, as part of my job, so I already had a taste of what it's like."

Koray perked his ears up at the mention of Blake's job. "What exactly is your job?"

"I'm an agent for some basketball players in the FBA." Blake stated contently. "I worked in Europe before, but now I have found work here with some young talent and now I'm guiding them through their first year of their careers."

"Oh that sounds very nice." Koray noted with a smirk. "You must be a busy guy."

Blake shrugged as he leaned forward a little. "Yeah, you can say that. Just keeping in touch with my clients is all I do at the moment. At least it's good money." the big reindeer cracked a joke, but it wasn't very amusing to the vulpine professor.

"When you have passion for your employment, then money should not be an issue." Koray adjusted his glasses as he looked towards the big reindeer. "I most certainly feel that with being a teacher."
Blake nodded as he held his hand up. "Oh, I'm not saying that I'm not enjoying my job, but it's nice to know that having a passion comes with good benefits, including a very good salary."

Koray nodded a bit in agreement to Blake's comment. "That is quite true, yes." he wrote down some information to Blake on a piece of paper and handed it to him. "This is the number of Lindsey, one of the best tutors in the school. Erik should get in touch with her as soon as possible."

Blake took the paper and looked at it briefly, noting the name and number before putting it in his pocket. "Thank you, Mr. Demir. Sorry, Koray. I will give it to Erik when I get home," he readjusts his seating. "Is there anything else you had on your mind?"

The professor replied with a headshake. "No, Mr. Toivonen. That would be all. Thank you very much for coming on such short notice. I know it was a rather unusual thing for me to do, but I want this to go smoothly for Erik and I want to see him succeed just as much as you do." Koray smiled reassuringly towards the big reindeer as the two stood up. Blake nodded as he stretched briefly. "Of course, Koray. I want only the best for my son."

"I'm glad we're on the same page on that." Koray said as he extended his arm out for a handshake. "It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Toivonen."

Blake chuckled as he gladly took the fox's hand and shook it then let go. "Call me Blake. It was very nice to meet you too. But now I have to go. I'm waiting on a call from one of my clients. Good bye, Koray." the reindeer waved as he took his jacket and opened the door to leave the office.

"Of course. See you later, Blake." Koray nodded and waved back as he watched Blake close the door behind him. The cross fox slumped back down to his seat and took a deep breath. A lot of good things came out of this meeting. The vulpine professor was sure he'd direct Erik towards academic success, even if he felt he had stepped over a few boundaries. But sometimes, you have to step out of your comfort zone to help others.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » November 7th, 2014, 10:52 am

Chapter 9 - Tunes for the stressed

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From left to right: Troy, Isaac and Brutus

Chapter 9 - Tunes for the stressed
Columns of colourful vintage book covers brightened the many shelves that were towering Bedrock's very own library. The library was at the opposite side of the campus from the gymnasium, located at the North wing, where the tall windows of the building exposed the skyline of Minneapolis and St. Paul to its occupants.

In a section, where rows of wooden desks and chairs occupied the space between big columns of books, there were students, studying to their own content. Papers were spread across the desk, along with cups of Steerbucks and oBooks right in front of multiple students. Erik and Troy on the other hand were studying in a more traditional way. While Troy had his oPad on the side, he wasn't paying much attention to it and just had his earphones plugged into it and nodded his head while listening to his tunes. Erik went through his playlist on his oPhone and selected another Alice in Chirrs song as he continued to study and take notes.

Erik finished off reading another chapter in his text book and dropped his pen, taking a deep breath. It was getting easier for Erik to understand the material of his courses, but it was still a lot to process. His mind had to start thinking in English and it was anything but easy for the Finnish reindeer. Troy put his pen aside and removed his earphones, as he looked towards his friend.

"Ey, you ok?" the black timber wolf asked in a soft-spoken voice to keep the conversation as quiet as possible.
Erik looked over as he stretched and yawned. "Yeah, I'm ok. Just stressed." the reindeer rubbed his nose as he grabbed his water bottle to take a drink.

"I see," Troy nodded then his ears perked. "Hey, dude. Do you play an instrument?" he asked his reindeer friend curiously. Erik was a little thrown off by Troy's sudden shift in topic. "Uh, I play guitar. Why do you ask?"

Troy snickered as he leaned forward. "Well, I'm in a rock band and we play on any weekend we have time to play. I mean, we're just covering songs and all that, but it's all fun times. We're actually having band practice in about two and a half hours, so I thought if you wanted to hang out after we're done here, that'd be cool."
Erik's attention peaked as he looked towards his canine friend. "I see. Yeah, I could hang out. Uh..." the reindeer paused for a bit, gathering his thoughts. "Do you want me to bring my guitar?"

"Of course, dude." Troy chuckled lightly, trying to keep it down. "We'll be doing a little bit of practicing, but also just chill," the wolf watches as a tabby cat supervisor comes into sight and watches over the study commons. Adjusting her glasses, she walked on, as the scene was quiet and productive, like it should be.
As the tabby cat disappeared, Troy leaned forward again and signalled for Erik to do the same.

"Meet me at my place at 8 PM." the black wolf whispered to the grey reindeer as he wrote down his address to his friend, along with a bus route to get there. With a nod, Erik took the piece of paper and put it into his jeans pocket. "Oh and bring some snacks if you can." Troy smiled towards his cervine friend as the two resumed listening to their tunes and finishing their studying for the day.

---

Erik stepped off the bus into an unfamiliar neighbourhood. His friend lived 20 minutes east of his home, but due to them always hanging out in the commons after classes to study, Erik never had a real reason to come to his buddy's place. But tonight was a bit different than others.

Adjusting his guitar bag on his shoulders and gripping on his small amplifier and grocery bag, Erik wandered down the fairly lit sidewalk. Looking around, he could tell that this was definitely not his own neighbourhood, but it was nothing to be afraid of. It looked safe to him.

After a few blocks of walking, Erik arrived at a two-story home with the light from a couple of rooms being very noticeable. As he walked onto the property, a light automatically turned on at the front door. He stepped towards it and pressed a button beside it to ring the doorbell.

Deep barks echoed from behind the door as Erik heard a mixture of noises, from barking to claws scraping across hardwood flooring, until the door opened and the reindeer saw a familiar black timber wolf.

"Ey, man! So glad you could come!" Troy grinned as Erik walked inside and was greeted by a bulky Rottweiler, wagging its stubby tail as he sniffed the bag and Erik's pant leg. The tall reindeer has not seen many dogs in his life, so it was strange to him to be sniffed at.

"Ok, Dexter, that's enough." Troy ordered his dog to step away from his friend as he looked around the elegant-looking interior of the house. "You got a nice place, Troy."
"Thanks. I mean, it's my parents' house, so I can't take credit for the design and all that." the timber wolf chuckled. "We're all gathered downstairs, so just follow me."
Erik nodded and followed his friends down the stairs into the basement. Once he went down the final step, he caught a good view of what's ahead of him. It was a mostly empty basement with storage boxes piled in a corner and an old couch standing beside a row of amplifiers. Sitting on one of them was a cougar with puffy hair, wearing a flannel shirt and denim jeans, plucking away at his bass guitar, fumbling around rather than playing an actual song. Beside him was a small standard drum kit with a natural wooden finish. Behind it was a beefy and tall moose with a spiky haircut, wearing a Bedrock football shirt, looking at the newcomer as if he had not seen him before.

"This is Erik, guys. You probably have seen him around on campus," Troy started to introduce the other folks of the band to the newcomer. "Erik, that's Isaac on Bass and that's Brutus behind the kit there. They all go to Bedrock as well." The cougar nodded towards the reindeer, while the moose simply waved and said "Hi."

The reindeer replied with a "Hi" himself as he put his stuff down, and proceeded to grab his guitar out of his bag. In the bag was an elegant-looking electric guitar with a blue finish and a light blue stripe across the upper corner. The body had smooth curves while the stem and strings were all tuned in naturally. Erik's instrument was a gift from his father on his 16th birthday. It was a replica made famous by Erik's favourite guitar player, Kurt Crowbain, the front man of Girvana.

As Troy was about to grab his own from his stand, he couldn't help but catch a glimpse of Erik's instrument. "Wow, that looks incredible! Where did you get that?" the black wolf asked with enthusiasm.

Erik chuckled as he pulled the strap over his antlers and settled his guitar over his shoulder. "My dad gave it to me for my birthday." he fiddles around with some chords to loosen his fingers. "I've had this guitar for about... 3 years now?"

"Cool, man." Isaac nodded as he pulled a few amp cords around and gave one to Erik to plug into one of the amplifiers, which the reindeer took in appreciation.
"So, dude, tell us what you usually like to play. I know you're into grunge and all that." Troy asked as he got his guitar ready. Erik thought about it for a while as he tried to name bands off the top of his head.

"Yes, I like grunge a lot. Girvana, Soundpasture, Alice in Chirrs and some other bands," Erik looked towards the others, who seemed to nod in agreement.

"Nice! Well, we play a bit of everything, really, but a lot of it is 90's stuff," Isaac said as he shook his head a bit to get some hair out of his face. Erik nodded as the time period mentioned was up the reindeer's alley. Troy had talked about playing in a band to his friend before, and now he got a chance to prove his worth. The black wolf looked around to the band. "So, guys, want to practice some Girvana for our new friend here?" The others replied with a 'yes' as Isaac stood up and grabbed his all-black bass guitar, while Brutus shifted around on his throne to get comfortable behind the drum kit.

Now Erik felt a bit nervous. It has been a while since he had practiced the particular song that was on his mind. He grabbed his pick out of his guitar case and began to pluck at the beginning chords of 'Heart-shaped box'. Then his ears perked as he noticed Isaac hitting the beginning notes on his bass, making the reindeer pause.
"Wait... you know this song?" He asked with caution. Isaac nodded. "Yeah, dude, we've been practicing it for a while now." he chuckled as Troy adjusted the microphone he was standing in front of.

"Show us what you got, man." the black wolf smiled as he spoke into the mike. Erik took a deep breath as he nodded and restarted the song. He plucked away at his guitar, the Isaac followed. A few moments later, Brutus played the beat and Troy began to sing into the microphone.

"She eyes me like a Pisces when... I am weak... I've been locked inside your heart-shaped box... for weeks..." were the first words that Troy sang softly into the microphone. Erik followed along with concentration, strumming away at his guitar.

The feeling was incredible. Erik had never been in a band before, and suddenly, he felt like part of one, even if he was just introduced. Everyone knew their part really well. Troy stood behind the microphone with a broad chest as he played with the others, singing the lyrics with great passion. Isaac stood beside him, plucking on the thicker bass strings, nodding his head slightly to the beat. Brutus looked concentrated towards his kit to make sure he hit every beat correctly, his body moving with the beat much like Isaac was.

While some notes were missed, it was a great first song to play and it welcomed Erik into a new circle of friends. The reindeer felt energetic, strumming away on his guitar, as if he was trying to shake off his frustrations that built up on him over the past few weeks with his studies.

Music was Erik's salvation throughout his childhood. He started playing guitar as a distraction after his parents started fighting. Whenever his father came home from a business trip, a fight happened almost every time he saw his then wife again. When the yelling started, Erik shut the door and huddled into a corner with his guitar and his Discman, playing along with the music by himself. It helped Erik become better and he eventually stepped into band class at school.

But Erik was not into classical music. He wanted to rock and roll with some friends rather than play at lousy high school concerts. Sadly, not many of his friends back in Oulu were into the same music he was, so it was hard to play music outside of school. Erik would still keep going, playing in his room whenever he was alone and there was no one to hang out with after school. It made the eventual divorce of his parents more bearable.

As the song went on, Erik felt more alive, nodding his head, his longer hair waving with the beat. He was sure his idol would be proud seeing him play the very songs he practiced on for many hours.

Isaac and Troy grinned as they watched Erik move around and play passionately to the music just like they were.

---

"Great practice, guys!" Troy grinned as he came back to the occupied couch with four beers. The four musicians had settled upstairs in the living room, watching The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallow. Troy liked watching the show whenever he was at home.

The black wolf cracked open all the beers before everyone took their bottle. Erik took a swig from it to taste. With a disappointed smirk, he puts his beer back on the table.

"American beer not doing it for ya, huh?" Troy asked as he watches his Finnish friend put the beer back down. Erik looked over and shook his head. "This beer doesn't taste like anything."

"Yeah, I hear that a lot from Europeans." Isaac nodded as he drank his beer. "I was in Britain last year and went to a pub there. They know beer a lot better than we do."
"That was for one of your theatre trips, right?" Troy looked back towards his cougar friend, who nodded in agreement.

Erik looked between his new friends, as he became a little curious. "So, what do you guys study?"

"Well, you know I'm a music major, Erik." Troy nodded as he points to the others. "Isaac here is a theatre major and Brutus... I think he's in... shit, I forgot," he mumbles as Brutus turns around, as he was busy watching the show.

"Uhm, I'm in business administration." Brutus replied in a deep yet reserved voice. Troy snapped his finger. "Aaah, yes, that was it."

The reindeer nodded as he thought about another question. "Ah. I just do a bit of everything right now... uhm, how did you get into music?"

Isaac was the first to respond. "I like the arts a lot and I have done a bit of everything in the past. Plays, art classes and all that. Music came to me when I was about 10. Got a guitar from my dad, then I took lessons. It's pretty basic, but yeah." the cougar grinned as he took another drink from his beer and waited for Troy's answer. The black wolf chuckled.

"As for me, it was pretty much the same. I just love music when it comes to the arts, really. I've started playing when I was about 12 or so, then it took off, and I became a geek, collecting albums and all that. It's a fun hobby!" Troy grinned. "What about you, Brutus?"

Brutus looked over to them. "Uhm, I played drums back in high school, but I've been mostly been busy with football. Want to play in the UFFL someday." the big cervine laughs a little nervously. The others looked on with a grin.

"You got what it takes, man," Isaac notes. "You're a tower on defense." the cougar smiled as the moose nodded in appreciation.

"How about you?" Troy asked Erik. The reindeer swallowed then proceeded to talk.

"Music helped me cope with my parents' divorce." he said with a sigh, trying to be honest. "I practiced whenever they were fighting, and it helped me get better. I wasn't sad when it happened." The others nodded as Troy took a deep breath. "And now you're with us, and that's a great."

Erik nodded as another question entered his mind. "So what brought you guys together?"

There was silence at first, but Troy chuckled as he remembered. "Oh, man, it was pretty spontaneous. I met Isaac in one of my classes, and I overheard him listening to Fleezer. We started rambling about how much we liked those bands back in the day and then found out we both played instruments. And then we both came across Brutus," the wolf grinned as Isaac nodded and chuckled. "Yeah, man, it was all random, but I think we made the best of it."

Erik grinned towards the others. He then caught a glimpse of the clock. His ears perked and he stood up. It was time to go home and study for tomorrow.
"Gotta go, Erik?" Troy put his beer aside as he watched Erik grab his jacket and guitar bag.

"Yes, I have to study for tomorrow. Cannot miss a thing, you know?" the reindeer pulled the jacket over himself, then straddled his bag over his shoulders as he made his way to the door, accompanied by his timber wolf friend.

"Alright, fair enough, dude. I gotta finish my essay for Mr. Demir as well." Troy said as he opened the door for Erik to exit. The reindeer adjusted his footwear before stepping out the door. "See you tomorrow, Troy."

"See ya tomorrow, Erik. Oh and one more thing..." Troy said as Erik turned around, looking at his friend curiously.

"You're a talented guitar player, man. We should do this again soon." the black timber wolf smiled. The reindeer cracked a smile himself. "We should, yeah. Anyway, I better go. See you, Troy." Erik replied as he trotted towards the sidewalk and down the street to catch his bus home.

Troy waved goodbye before he closed the door in front of him and returned to his friends in the living room. It was a great feeling for Troy to be able in integrate a newcomer into the band, especially someone who has been playing for as long as they remember.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » January 21st, 2015, 10:54 am

Chapter 10 - Cups of tea
written in collaboration with Betsie

Blake just finished another call with a client. Wendy Brown, to be specific. During the week, the two were suddenly involved in a Tweeter trash-talking feud, which oddly enough, saw Wendy as the target this time. With a sigh, the reindeer put his phone down and made his way to the kitchen to grab a snack.

He looked over to his book collection, making his way there with a granola bar in his hand, chewing and scanning the shelf for something to read. Blake began to realize that he needed something new to read. The reindeer took a moment to think. The library is where he should go. He hasn't seen the inside of an American library before. It would be a good idea to check one out today. It's Saturday and there is plenty of time left in the day. The reindeer went up the stairs to his son's room and knocked at his door.

"Yes?" Erik answered from behind the door, with music playing from his headphones.

"I'm going to the library now. I’m just going there for a little bit." Blake answered truthfully from behind the door.

"Ok, see you later." the younger reindeer replied, putting his headphones back on and proceeding with his studies.

"See you." the older one replied and went back down the stairs, grabbing his coat and putting on his shoes. Stepping out the back door, he made his way towards his car.

-

The Cosmer Library is only a 15 minute drive from Blake's home. It's not as big as other libraries around downtown Minneapolis, but it does have a respectable book collection for its community. The reindeer pulled his vehicle up into the parking lot and made his way to the front door. It was a little chilly this time around, as it was the beginning of November and the weather was getting colder as time passed. Snowflakes were also falling gently onto the surface.
Blake opened the door to the bricked building and entered. The castle-like structure of it made it stand out from anything in the community, as well as the vintage look of it inside. Looking around briefly, he adjusted the collar of his trench coat and walked up to the sheep librarian at the desk.

"Hello, how may I help you today?" she asked very friendly as the tall reindeer stood in front of the desk.

"Hello there, I was wondering if I could sign up for a library card?" he asked towards the sheep who immediately nodded her head. "Yes, absolutely." she pulled out a clipboard with an application form on it. "Just fill this out and I'll get your card printed right away."

"Thank you." Blake nodded and grabbed the clipboard and filled the application out. Full name, Home address, phone number, all that was needed was filled out within a few minutes. The sheep soon returned with a new library card for Mr. Toivonen. She looked over the application briefly before stamping it. "Alright, that should do it. Feel free to have a look around."

"Gladly. Thanks again." Blake nodded and put his new card into his pocket. He made his way down the hall, scanning the signs on each shelf naming the genre of books available in that aisle.

The library itself wasn't all too busy for a weekend afternoon as only a few furs walked around in the corridors. The general shape of the inside reminded Blake of another library back in Oulu, as many libraries in Europe were located in old buildings, with some of them seeing refurbishment. Cosmer Library had some of the European traits, but it still felt very much like an American library.

The reindeer turned into the non-fiction aisle and began to scan the shelves. His ear twitched shortly after, as he heard a familiar voice come from nearby. It sounded pleasant, but also animated and bright, slipping into different accents and tones. It sounded like the person was telling a story. Blake's curiosity got the best of him and decided to investigate a little. He turned back out of the aisle and moved a couple over towards the children’s corner, ears perking forward as his hunch was confirmed.

Koray Demir, Erik's literature professor, was surrounded by a group of young preschool-aged cubs, holding a big, colourful book. Blake watched on as Koray read every single page and showed the coloured images to the kids around him, using different voices for each character and watching the cubs react to his animated reading style. As the reindeer watched from afar, he remembered when Erik was as young as the pre-schoolers. Him and Mila used to share the duties of reading bedtime stories to Erik. Their son wouldn't react much and towards the end, he always fell asleep. It's a good memory Erik's parents share at least. They can be proud together of their efforts to raise a good fur.

The cross fox finished the book in due time and smiled as he closed it. "Alright, children, that’s it for today. You’ve been a delightful audience! I hope you all had as much fun as I did." he smiled to the kids who responded in variety. "Yes, Mr. Demir!" and "It was fun!" were just a few things that the kids said. Koray grinned and put the book aside. "Okay, well, I'll look forward to you all coming back for more colourful stories! See you all next week!"

The children got up and returned to the parents who were nearby, watching and reading on their own as their cubs were busy. The corner of the library slowly cleared as Koray waved towards the children and watching them wave back one by one. Then he caught a glimpse of the grey reindeer standing at a distance. A jolt of surprise made him give a small yelp as he recognized the man.

"Oh...Mr. Toivonen, what a surprise!" the cross fox chuckled as he cleared up his space in the kids' corner. Blake chuckled and slowly moved around the chairs to approach.

"I'm surprised to see you here, too." Blake began to talk, watching Koray clean up a bit. "Do you read to the kids often?"

"Yes, I do. Every weekend," Koray nodded. "As you could probably see, I have a lot of fun with it! I love to introduce children to the magic of literature!"

"Oh, I could tell. You were having quite the blast with those children." Blake chuckled.

The cross fox could only smile as he cleaned up a bit more. He then turned to the reindeer once more. "This may seem sudden but...how would you like to grab a coffee? Meet me at the cafe across the street in 15?"
Blake scratched his chin then nodded. "Sounds good. I'll see you then."

"See you then." Koray smiled and returned to cleaning up the children's corner, and Blake went on to continue his search for a book.

-

The grey reindeer was seated near the door of the cafe across the library and scanned his surroundings. It was a more sophisticated, vintage-looking cafe and it certainly had its charm. In some ways, it reminded Blake of some of the cafes he visited in Rome, while he was playing there.

A familiar-looking cross fox entered the cafe and began to remove his coat and satchel as he spotted Blake at a small table within reach. Draping said coat and bag over the empty chair, Koray then sat down at the table.
"Rather pleasant surprise to see you, Blake. I rarely ever run into parents in my day to day, but I’m rather glad you showed up. I’ve been meaning to ask how Erik’s been doing with his work at home.” Koray mentioned, smiling as the waitress came over; he ordered a cup of tea as well as a pastry to nibble on as they spoke. Blake just ordered himself a cappuccino.

Image

"He’s been doing fine. I have been trying to get him to speak a little more English whenever he can. I hope it’s been reflected in his work." Blake stated, always concerned for his son’s ability to do well in university, and glad to see that at least one of his professors was equally concerned.

"He’s certainly been doing better. Even his tutor says so. He may turn into one of my best students given time." Koray stated with a wide smile; he’d always had hope for Erik, and his efforts to help the young reindeer do well seemed to be paying off. And that was a good feeling for him. Though he had to admit, getting to see Erik’s father was a nice bonus to all of this.

Their drinks arrived, and Koray added some honey and milk to his tea, stirring it gently before taking a delicate sip from the dainty tea cup while Blake sipped from his cappuccino, pleased with the flavour of it. The little cafe seemed to have delicious coffee; very much like the coffee he’d enjoyed in Rome all those years ago.

Conversation turned away from Erik and turned towards books and literature, Koray eager to know what sort of books Blake may’ve taken out from the library, though he made sure his own stayed hidden in his satchel.
Nobody needed to know that the fantastic young literature professor indulged in harlequin romance novels, novels widely considered to be the bottom of the barrel by most literati. But they were Koray’s guilty pleasure. Nobody else had to know that though. Not even Blake.

So Koray turned the topic towards Blake’s interests.

“So what do you like to read?” the cross fox asked the reindeer curiously, ears perked. Blake put his cup down, clearing his throat.

“Well, uhm, I have read a lot of adventure and some science fiction novels.” Blake noted, Koray nodding as he paid attention. “That’s usually my preference, but I also go for some non-fiction once in a while and read on things like historic events and all that.”

“Ah, fascinating.” the cross fox nodded, adjusting his glasses. “The non-fiction field can be a bit tricky, as they have to be really accurate to what they are trying to describe. I personally have read a few and I can say that some authors are not working hard enough to get the facts straight.”

“Is that so?” Blake looked towards Koray as they both took a drink.

“Indeed.” Koray licked his chops before carrying on. “It’s a shame really. You have to have all your resources in place and all that fancy stuff, if you want a legitimately good non-fiction book.”

“Oh absolutely, I agree. Otherwise it’s going to be written off in no time.” Blake added on. The two went on to continue the discussion, eventually shifting focus on different genres. The reindeer tried to keep up as best as he could to the bookworm of a fox, who unloaded his passion about literature bit by bit. Blake shifted in his seat and drank his beverage, just listening.

Koray adjusted his attire after he finished, look back to the reindeer. “So what have you been up to with your job?” Blake perked his ears as he heard that. It was a relief to him that he could talk about his job now.

“Quite a lot actually,” Blake started off. “I had a call with one of my clients today about something that concerned her with another player on Tweeter. You see, social media is a funny thing. It’s so useful in many ways and it gets messages across, but at the same time, you’re very prone to trash-talking and misguided people. It’s a tricky place to be in.”

Koray simply nodded. “I have personally never bothered with social media. I mean, I don’t have a reason to go on there. I don’t have the time or a purpose to go on there. Well, I do have a Snoutbook, but that’s only for keeping in touch with some of my family.” the cross fox noted. The reindeer nodded.

The clock had struck 5 PM. Somehow, the two had ended up talking for a good 90 minutes over literature and social media, in a very passionate discussion. Both the canine and cervine looked to the clock, realizing just how much time had passed.

“Oh goodness, I better get back home. I have to go make dinner.” Blake got off his chair to grab his jacket. Koray followed suit.

“But, uhm, yeah, do you think we can do this again?”the cross fox smiled as he buttoned up his jacket, a pleased grin across his muzzle. The reindeer saw the smile and gave a low chuckle.

“I’m sure we can. I just have to come to the library more often.” Blake chuckled.

“Or we can just exchange phone numbers.” Koray noted as he held out his cell phone. Blake perked his ears and nodded, and so the two exchanged their respective contact info. As the reindeer saved the cross fox’s number, he slipped his phone back in his jacket pocket.

“Ok, well, we will keep in touch.” Blake said as the two walked out of the cafe. The two exchanged goodbyes as Blake went across the street to get to his car and Koray watched the reindeer wave back to him as he did.

A happy sigh escaped the cross fox. “What a lovely gentlefur,” Koray said to himself as he began his walk home.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » January 22nd, 2015, 11:33 am

Chapter 11 - Do your thing

Game day for Bedrock. First game of the season and Western Michigan was coming to Minnesota. Erik was nervous. He didn't know what to expect. This was his first game on North American soil after all. The reindeer was nervous, but he knew he could make a great impact, as long as he kept his head in the game.

The reindeer wandered around the hallways of the university, watching as other students passed by him. He walked up to the entrance hall, taking a seat at a bench nearby. As he looked outside, he could see some snow falling, along with the flashing colours of the announcement sign, advertising the game tonight. The building was clearing quickly, as students were heading home by either bus or car, while some stayed behind to study. Erik's game was in three hours, and heading home before the game seemed rather silly.

"Erik! Hey!" a female voice entered Erik's ear, making him turn to see who it was coming from. Yvonne, the mule doe walked up to her big teammate, already wearing her blizzard blue jersey with the number 4. The reindeer adjusted his sweater as he stood up.

"Hello Yvonne, how are you?" the reindeer asked, seeing the joyful expression on the doe.

"Oh, I'm terrific. Can't wait for the first game of the season! It's gonna be awesome, don'tcha think?" Yvonne said, looking up to the reindeer who simply nodded. "I think so." he said lowly, a hint of uncertainty in his tone. The mule doe's smile vanished to a concerned expression.

"Is something wrong, Erik?" the mule doe asked her teammate. She signalled him to sit down on the bench they were at. The two sat down and Erik took a deep breath to collect his thoughts.

"It's just... well... it's my first game here. I don't know how different it is here, so I feel nervous."

Erik ranted as Yvonne looked on, nodding as she listened. Erik continued "I have only played in Europe so far and being here to play basketball is something I'm excited and nervous about..."
The mule doe nodded again "I can imagine. I mean, you just got here and now you're playing with our team on a national college level. You told me that you're an international player even and how you're always striving to be at your best. I would be nervous too about something I haven't done before."

Erik nodded, silent for a moment. Yvonne scooted closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Her touch signalled him to look towards her.

"But here's the thing, Erik. We may be the oddest bunch out there, but we have heart and we keep going, no matter what happens. And yes, we've had quite a few shitty years here, but there is always new hope for every start of the season. Who knows? Maybe we'll go to the big tournament this time." she smiles, making Erik chuckle a bit. She giggles and playfully fist bumps his shoulder.

"There we go, laugh it all off, Erik. Make funny faces!" she giggled and stuck her tongue out and tilting her head sideways. Erik watched on and gave a light chuckle before returning with a silly face himself, sticking his tongue out to the side and crossing his eyes. A joyful laughter escaped from Yvonne as the two felt their nervous energy fade for at least this moment.

"Haha, oh Erik, you're quite good at making silly faces." the mule doe complimented the reindeer, who shrugged with a smile. "It's how I cheered up my younger cousins," he replied.

"Great to hear." Yvonne chuckled, rubbing her stomach as it growled. "I'm actually kinda hungry right now. Did you want to eat anything before we get warmed up?"

"Sure, uh, where do you want to eat?" Erik asked as the two got up, pulling their backpacks over their shoulders. Yvonne started walking towards the exit while Erik followed.

"There's a sandwich place a block away we can go to." the mule doe smiled, holding the door for the reindeer open. The two proceeded to acquire a pre-game meal.

-

The seats of the gym were filling up slowly as the players warmed up on the court below. Bedrock's basketball program didn't give the fans much to cheer about the last few years, so it was to no surprise that only a few seats were taken as the warm-ups rolled around. Coach McDougald drew out his final line-up as the players took more shots, with drills lead by Mallee, the assistant to McDougald.

The buzzer sounded and the teams made their way back into the locker rooms. The Bedrock players sat down on their respective places, all wearing charcoal-coloured training outfits. Erik sat on the left side, between Yvonne and Omar Richards, a grizzly bear in his sophomore year, and one of Erik's competitors for the 5 position. The reindeer looked around the room to see his teammates, some loosening their leg muscles, while others were just emotionless, not wanting to be seen as nervous. Erik always had a hard time hiding his nervous energy, as he closed his eyes and lowered his head.

A moment later, the head coach came in through the door. The players looked up to him as he prepared his pre-game speech.

"Ok, folks, I know this is not new territory for some of you, but I know the lot of you can win this thing." he began as he looked sternly towards his players. Erik took a deep breath.

"It's Western Michigan, we know that much. But they're capable of being an offensive force, so we gotta be firm on defence. Only force necessary fouls and keep the three-point plays to a minimum. We don't need the dumb kind. Six of ‘em and you're out. Should have that drilled in your heads by now." the groundhog kept his loud and firm speech going.

"Ok, starting line-up! On one, Roxy!" As the couch announced the names, the team clapped once. Erik was a bit thrown off, but then got ready for the next name to be called.

"On two, Zack!" the team clapped twice. "On three, Olivia!" the black bear grinned as her name was called. "On four, Emmanuel! And on five, Omar! You five all get the crowd into this. They need a damn awakening, now let's go!" the groundhog exclaimed and the players got up, clapping and chanting. Erik felt disappointed that his name wasn't called, but with a sigh, he shrugged it off. This was his first game after all. Maybe his coach was just letting him observe the game for a while before he got out there and got used to what it's like to play in America. The reindeer followed the others out and back onto the court as the announcer got ready to call the starting line-ups.

-

The buzzer sounded as the first quarter came to an end. Western Michigan was pulling ahead and finished the quarter with a 21-13 lead over Bedrock. Omar Richards really seemed off his game at center, much to the concern of the coaches and even Erik. His opposite, a 7'4" tall polar bear, is giving him a hard time in the crease and pretty much dominated him all quarter. With a sunken head, the grizzly returned to the bench to a grouchy coach.

"Omar, you're getting nailed out there, gotta keep your composure." the groundhog tries to encourage his grizzly center, but with a sigh, he just shrugs it off. "It's the same damn thing every year. Getting rocked in the first game," Omar huffs.

The groundhog shook his head and took a deep breath, thinking long and hard. Meanwhile, Erik was sitting on the bench, observing everything around him. The bleachers were half-filled, but no one seemed to want to cheer on a team that was in need of a boost, and the players were experiencing deja-vu all over again with the way this game has gone so far, and there seemed to be no sign of his father watching.

With a sigh, the reindeer took a drink, when suddenly, his coach spoke to him. "You're in, Erik."
Erik's ears perked. "I'm in?" he double-checked. "Yes, you're in, now get your suit off," McDougald snarled a little, unable to hold some of the tension that was building inside him. With a quick jump off his seat, the reindeer took off his jacket and pants, then re-tied his shoes, before standing up in his blizzard blue uniform, the number 81 flashing on his back below his name. The reindeer joined the others, seeing Yvonne standing with the other three, replacing Zack.

After a few quick instructions by the coach, the players made their way back onto the court. Erik jogged over to inside the arch as Yvonne got ready to pass the ball into play. With a quick throw over to Roxy, the second quarter began. Erik began to move around as instructed, trying to shake off his polar bear opponent. Roxy passed over to Yvonne, then over to Olivia, the black bear. She saw Erik on the near side of the arc and passed it to the reindeer. First ball contact for him.

Erik took a deep breath before dribbling around, the polar bear with the number 4 right in front of him, arms spread wide. The reindeer dribbled the ball around, then watched Yvonne sprint up to the basket. Erik reacted quickly and bounced the ball underneath the bear's arms into the mule doe's hands, who took it up to the basket with a quick lay-up. No good. Western Michigan took the ball back.

With a snort, Erik sprinted back to his own end, awaiting his defensive opponent. He saw the polar bear quickly getting the ball with his big paws and dribbling up to Bedrock's basket. But Erik wasn't having any of it. The polar bear jumped to dunk the ball, but in a risky effort, Erik reached, using his vertical leap to stop the ball in its tracks and bounce it right into Roxy's paws. The small crowd inside the arena became loud, having witnessed a rare block from a player of their school.

Immediately following, Roxy takes the ball in herself before handing it over to Emmanuel, who completes the score and Western Michigan's lead was trimmed by two points.
As soon as Erik was substituted in, it became a wild affair. Both teams exchanged scores in a tense game that saw both teams foul out one player each. The crowd enjoyed this game greatly, seeing how and with Roxy leading the charge and Erik giving it his best shot, Bedrock was close to winning their first game of the season in nearly 5 years.



With 20 seconds left in the fourth, it was 76-75 for Western Michigan, but Bedrock had the ball and had the chance to gain the lead back. On the court for Bedrock were Roxy, Zack, Olivia, Emmanuel and Erik. As Olivia handed the ball to Roxy, the clock started ticking again, shot clock turned off.

The bobcat handled the ball, looking for space to go through. She handed it off to Zack, who dribbled it to the far left side, handing it over to Olivia. 15 seconds left. The black bear looked for an open man to pass to, and finds Erik inside the arc. The reindeer reached for the ball, grabbing it with two hands, before dribbling it. A bighorn forward was guarding him, as the reindeer had his back to him. With a sudden jab step, followed up by a drive, Erik caught the bighorn off guard. 8 seconds left.

Erik turned and sprinted into the paint towards the bucket. The polar bear jumped straight up, paw up as Erik jumped high and over the polar bear, reaching over the big white bear and slamming the ball into the basket.

Image

A whistle blew. Erik landed back on his feet, wondering if he had fouled.

The badger referee called the foul on the polar bear. The score was good. With 2.1 seconds left, the reindeer had a chance for a three-point play. The crowd got loud once more.

Teammates high-fived and congratulated Erik with great enthusiasm. They couldn't believe they were just about to win their opening game. Erik returned the high fives with a smile, standing at the free throw line to complete the play. The referee bounced the ball towards the reindeer, who wound up for the shot. The ball bounced off the glass and into the bucket, giving Bedrock a 78-76 lead.

Western Michigan resumed the play quickly after. Bedrock was on high alert, defending on a full-court press. The ball was passed into play, seconds ticking away. With a last-second effort, the bighorn throws the ball at the basket from his own half. It bounces off the glass and back to the hardwood. The buzzer sounded.

The Bedrock bench jumped for joy as they flooded the floor to hug their new darling. Erik pumped his fist victoriously before he was swarmed by his teammates. The reindeer had just given them a victory and they were celebrating rightfully so. Soon, the group hug was broken up and the team lined up for post-game handshakes. Erik saw a few displeased faces from the opponent, but the reindeer remained neutral and shook their hands firmly.

The teams then made their way back to the locker rooms, clearing up the court. Erik just followed behind them. As the reindeer entered the locker room, a round of applause erupted from his teammates. With a chuckle, he waved back at them to take a seat and a drink.
Coach McDougald soon entered with his assistant, holding a clipboard. He then began to address the team.

"Nice job out there, folks. We got that win just like we should," he said with a grin. "Though one thing is clear. This would not have been possible, if for that Finnish son of a gun, who made that three-point play near the buzzer," he scanned his clipboard as some players clapped and shouted for Erik, who tried his best to stay humble. "16 points! 11 rebounds! 2 assists! 3 blocks! Player of the game!" the groundhog clapped as the cheering got louder for the reindeer.

"Thank you, thank you," Erik raised a hand as he got up and tried to address his teammates, who kept cheering for a moment before stopping. "But I do want to say that you all did a great job as well. We have many things we need to get better at, but this is a good start. Let's keep this up, ok?" he concluded his speech as more cheers echoed the locker room.

"Couldn't have said it better," McDougald grinned. "Now grab a drink then go back out there to cool down. Then hit the showers, alright?"

The team responded and the commotion resumed. Erik took off his shoes and just walked out of the locker room and back onto the court with socks on. He soon began to jog when he looked around the arena. It was nearly empty, as parents and friends stuck around to wait for their sons and daughters to get ready to head home. With a sigh, Erik just kept going onwards, wondering where his father could be.

"Erik!" a very familiar male voice rung in Erik's ears and as he looked up, a smile came across his face. His father stood at the courtside, wearing a trench coat with dark jeans, spreading his arms to embrace his son. The younger reindeer jogged right into his father and the two exchanged a firm hug.

"Hyvä peli, poikani!" (Great game, my son!) Blake exclaimed, padding his son on the shoulder proudly.

"Hehe, kiitos," Erik grinned as he watched his teammates pass by him, then turned back to his dad. "(Where were you though? I didn't see you anywhere during the game.)"

"(I'm sorry, Erik, but one of my clients' phone calls took longer than expected, so I got here as soon as the second quarter started. I didn't mean to be late for your first game.)" the older reindeer sighed, feeling guilty for not having seen the entire game. "(Forgive me.)"

"(No worries, dad. I didn't play until the second so you got to see my whole performance.)" Erik grinned, giving Blake a reason to chuckle.

"(Well, then I saw what you did out there, Erik. You were terrific. Way to give that polar bear a hard time,)" Blake smiled, watching Erik respond with a chuckle.

"(Yeah, but he was big, so he was a challenge.)" Erik replied.

"(Well, you did a great job guarding him and going up against him,)" Blake responded. "(Anyway, I better let you cool down. I'll be at the door waiting, then you can tell me more about the game.)"
Erik nodded and felt Blake pad his shoulder once more. "(Ok, see you soon, dad.)" the young reindeer went on to continue his light job around the court.

"(See you.)" Blake responded, watching his son take off once more. Blake's job has gotten really stressful the last few months and seeing how Christmas was approaching, things were not slowing down for the Toivonens. The older reindeer made his way up the stairs, turning once more at the top, watching as Erik was congratulated by his teammates, hugged and padded on the shoulder. Blake could only approve of what he was seeing. Erik was going to be a huge impact for Bedrock's basketball team and that's great news all around.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » April 27th, 2015, 11:14 am

Chapter 12 - Memory

Blake sat on the couch, watching a late-night game between the Kahunas and Spectrums on the flat screen in the living room. The reindeer always tended to watch games involving one or two of his clients. Since his clientel were all on different teams, it left him with plenty of choices. Mr. Toivonen leaned back against the couch, huffing a little as he relaxed. He had been going through a lot the last few months, with Adityan Anggun recovering in the hospital and getting Julian Cross-Kiraly to come clean about his grudges while he recovered from injury too. It was a lot of tough work for Blake, but he made it work and was able to return to normal. For the most part.

Erik was sitting beside him, taking in the game as well. His studies have been going better since he got Lindsay as his tutor. His grades have been steadily improving and there was no complaining about his basketball career, as he managed to propell Bedrock University to a 19-14 record this year, which is a vast improvement over their 10-23 record the year before. Despite with what Erik could pull off for the team, it wasn't enough to get Bedrock to the FCAA tournament. One more win and they would have claimed a #16 seed, but the coach had many positives to draw out of this year, and the talent coming from the high school level would surely help the team grow.

The younger reindeer had scouts from other colleges looking at him with amazement. His athleticism with his height and structure was a sight to behold for them, but Erik had no desire to leave for other colleges. He preferred to stay with friends and his dad and try his best to make a run for the big tournament next year.

As the two reindeer watched the game come to an end, the cameraman made his way onto the court, catching Adi Anggun and Julian Cross-Kiraly padding themselves on the back as plesantries were exchanged between the two.
"(Julian is back to normal, huh?)" Erik said, watching the two clients of his father make peace with each other.

"(Yeah, and Adi. But who knows what's going to happen next.)" Blake said, staying put to watch the post-game show. Erik on the other hand stood up and stretched. "(I should go to bed, I have work to do tomorrow.)" he said as he made his way towards the stairs.

"(Ok, Erik. Good night.)" the father said, looking back to his son who waved back and then made his way up the stairs. Blake sprawled out on the couch, watching the analysis of the game. Minutes passed and his eyelids began to feel heavy. He usually would just get back up and ready for bed, but he was too lazy to move a muscle. His eyes shut and the world around him became quiet as he fell asleep.

-

Blake opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a locker room somewhere. The lockers were green with brown and white trims. He was in a practice outfit, about to hit the court for the Plymouth Taproots, to prove that he's worthy of being drafted by them. After a few years of success in the EFBL, he felt ready for a new challenge.

Blake stood up on his young legs and headed out through the tunnel onto the court, where the coaches were waiting for him. The arena seems like it's fairly old, yet it has character. There were several other players warming up on the court. The coach greeted him with a firm handshake and soon, the try-outs began.

First, warming up. The reindeer jogged with a variety of furs, dressed in green and white, some brown. Canines and felines surrounded him, but his height and frame was not matched by anyone. It felt great. Then they all gathered in the center to stretch. A grey wolf held his whistle and addressed the crowd around him. Blake listened with anticipation. The wolf only wanted the best of the best on the most historical franchise in the FBA. The reindeer grinned. He could make that happen. He was championship material. The whistle blew and work began.

Drills upon drills were done, pushing Blake's big and athletic body to the limit and beyond. He was young, powerful and a center in demand. He stretched, ran, jumped, turned and twisted all around, catching balls and throwing them with accuracy, and making slam dunks that echoed through the arena. He felt good, excited, unable to wait for his first game in the FBA.

Then a sharp pain. He falls, clutching his knee. The doctors rush to him, their faces blurred. He's taken care of, but the pain is so bad, he couldn't go on. Blake is lifted onto a stretcher, carried away from the court, his dream. Everything becomes brighter. He shouts after the voices in the arena, but no one hears him. Echoes of desperation. Pain. Disbelief.

Image

Blackness.

GASP!

Blake shot up, his breath quick and panicy. He clutched his right knee, that very spot that failed him before the FBA Draft of 1993. Blake looked around himself, it was still dark outside, the clock reading 5:30. The reindeer leaned back against his pillow, sighing and trying to calm his breathing.

"Voi luoja..." Blake huffed, rubbing his head. It had been a long time since he dreamt about that dreadful day that kept him out of his life-long dream to be in the FBA. He wanted to forget about it as much as he could, but it was no use. It was forever imprinted in his mind.

The reindeer perked his ears as he heard footsteps. Erik walked down the stairs and saw his panting father on the couch.

"(Dad, are you okay?)" Erik asked, worried.

"(Not really.)" Blake answered honestly. "(I dreamt about that try-out again.)"

"(Oh. It's been a while since you went through that.)" Erik nodded, sighing and taking a seat nearby, a question on his mind.

"(Yeah... been a while.)" Blake stretched and sat up, feeling rather burned out at this point, but also unable to fall asleep.

The two sat in some silence, comtemplating. They've both been at this stage before, but it seemed different from what it usually was. Erik looked up to this father. "(Dad, can I ask you something?)"

"(Sure, Erik, what is it?)" Blake said. Erik took a deep and collective breath and asked his question. "(Do you want me to make the FBA because you couldn't?)"

Blake looked at his son, shocked. "(No, Erik, no. I would never pressure you into going into the FBA like that. I told you when you were young that you were free to do whatever you want with your life. And you chose to play basketball in my footsteps, remember? That was your choice, because you wanted to make me proud.)"

Erik nodded. "(Right... I remember now. It's just that. I guess I didn't want to feel pressured into sports, like other kids have been. I love basketball and it's all thanks to you, dad. I want to make this work.)"
"(I know you do, Erik. I know very much so.)" Blake nodded reassuringly. "(And you've done so much in the sport like I never would have imagined. I'm very proud of you, son. But do play for yourself and not me. This is your future after all. You have your own legacy to build. I may not have made it far in my career, but that doesn't mean you can't. You have a lot to look forward to, Erik. Just work hard and believe in yourself. And one day, your name will be called." the older reindeer smiled, pouring his heart out to his beloved son.

Erik smiled, combing his hair aside. His dad was right. He was doing this for himself and not to make his father proud. He already was.

"(I know what you're capable of, Erik.)" Blake continued. "(You play a lot like me when I was young, and that's a great thing. But I will ask you to remember one thing, and that's this: Basketball isn't everything in life. While it has become our livelihood, it is not everything we should strive for. Family, friends and colleagues are a lot more valuable than the sport itself, so don't get caught in the hype when you do make it to the big league. Remember where you came from, but look ahead and chase your dreams too, ok?)"

Erik nodded again. "(I will. Thanks, dad.)" the younger reindeer sat in silence, but not until his father stood up, kneeled to him and gave his son a big hug. The two embraced each other for some time before the hug was broken.

"(Now let's get ready. I know your class starts soon.)" Blake commented before making his way to the kitchen. "(I know, dad. Exams are pretty soon as well.)" Erik added on. This morning was an exception for the both of them, but it turned out to be something that the two needed. A cleansing of sorts.

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » May 27th, 2015, 9:40 am

Interlude 2 - Koray's struggle (Written by Betsie)

Koray looked at himself in the mirror and sighed, running a hand through his damp tuft of hair in mild frustration and anxiety. His tail twitched against his towel-clad hips and he sighed again.

“You’re a fool, y’know.” He said to himself in the mirror, adjusting his glasses in a matter-of-fact sort of way. His yellow eyes dimmed a little as he looked downwards, ears falling back against his head in a motion of sadness before he answered his own statement.

“But...I can try, right? What’s the harm in trying?”

“Being rejected. Scaring the guy away. Duh. You still want to be friends with him, right?”

“Well...yeah...I don’t think he’d push me away entirely...would he…?

“It’s happened before…”

“NO! He’s not like that. He’s sweet, and intelligent, and funny!”

“Yeah, and you didn’t just fantasize about him in the shower.” Koray found himself blushing, still hating himself for his moment of weakness. He was a grown man, not a horny teenager, he should’ve been able to better control his baser instincts. But there was just something about that man. Something in those warm brown eyes and that charming smile.

The fox found himself smiling like a lovesick idiot when he looked back up to the mirror and immediately shook himself from his revery with a snort.

“Dammit Koray, get a hold of yourself. You’re acting like a girl fawning over a rockstar! You’re going to dinner. With a friend. And the father of one of your students. He’s nothing more than that!”

“But you want him to be more…”

“...yeah...I do…” Koray murmured, absently embracing his bare form, looking down his muzzle at the vanity in front of him, avoiding the mirror for all he was worth.

He had two choices; live on never knowing and ignoring his current emotions, or bite the bullet and ask, risking rejection, or worse. Neither sounded like terribly pleasant options as he moved from his bathroom to his bedroom where an outfit was laying on his bed neatly folded, right where he’d left it. Sighing, the fox started to get dressed for his outing.

Just a short while later, none of his previous anxiety showed as he smiled warmly and stood from his seat in the restaurant to greet his dinner guest.

“So glad you could join me for dinner Blake. There’s some things I’d like to discuss with you.”

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » May 29th, 2015, 12:12 pm

Chapter 13 - Nerve-racking
written in collaboration with Betsie

Blake looked himself in the mirror, adjusting the collar on his button-up shirt and doing the last bit of adjustments before he went out for dinner. It wasn’t a date, but rather a meeting with Erik’s literature teacher, Koray Demir. The two had been discussing the progress of Blake’s son Erik ever since the two first met. Both sides cared very much about the younger reindeer, thus it always made the two men talk about him amongst other things.

A brief spritz of cologne, one final adjustment and Blake stepped out of the bathroom. Erik was getting ready to head out as well as he stood in the kitchen, helping himself to a glass of milk. His guitar and amp were packed and ready to be taken to Troy’s place.

“(So… why exactly is my prof asking you to join him for dinner?)” Erik asked curiously before he took a drink. Blake simply shrugged. “(My guess is he just wants to have dinner with a friend. And you know how much we’ve been talking, well, mostly about you.)”

That didn’t make Erik feel better as he let out an annoyed groan. Blake looked to his son and huffed. “(Look, Erik, I know it sounds incredibly awkward that your dad is going out with your teacher, but rest assured, nothing serious is going to happen. We’re just having a casual dinner and then I’ll be home watching the playoffs.)”

The younger reindeer finished his drink and put the glass away. With a sigh he went on to grab his guitar and amp to head out. “(I’m going to Troy’s place. See ya whenever I get back.)” Erik huffed as he opened the door and made his way to the bus stop.

Blake tried to reach out to him, but Erik was already out. The older reindeer sighed as he collected his thoughts. “(Teenagers…)” he chuckled a little and finished buttoning up. A brief check up to see if the oven and coffee machine were turned off, then he made his way to the backyard to take the car.

-

Koray had managed to gain control of his nerves after the drawn-out pep-talk he’d given himself the entire time he’d dressed and travelled to the restaurant he’d selected for this particular meeting. It hadn’t been terribly uncommon for he and Blake to meet over coffee to discuss Erik’s progress in the class, but the fox had decided to try something different.

So he’d boldly selected a little mom-and-pop Scandinavian restaurant he’d stumbled across during his time there; he was sure Blake would be unhappy if it wasn’t authentic, but he was hopeful that his choice pleased the older reindeer.

Koray arrived a little early and settled at an empty table, just ordering a glass of water when the waitress came around, informing her that he was waiting for a friend to join him before he ordered, so she politely left him alone after bringing him his water. The fox fiddled with his outfit, fixing cuffs that were already perfect, brushing invisible lint from his sweater vest.

He was nervous.

Was he really going to go through with this?

But he couldn’t ponder it anymore because he heard the door to the small restaurant open and looked up to find Blake walking in, looking as handsome as ever in his dress shirt and slacks. It was a casual look, but the reindeer pulled it off perfectly. Getting to his feet he smiled, holding out his hand in greeting.

“So glad you could join me Blake. There’s some things I’d like to discuss with you. And with school over, I figured why not meet over dinner, yes?” The fox said with a bright smile, his ears perked atop his head in a happy expression.

“Oh absolutely.” Blake shook Koray’s hand then took the seat across from him. “The basketball season is almost over so I have quite some time on my hands now. I figured it would be rude of me not to take your invitation.” the reindeer smiled and looked around the restaurant. “Quite a nice place this is.”

“It is nice, isn’t it?” Koray felt slightly hypnotized by Blake. His firm structure was filling his shirt quite nicely, showing off all the right angles for the foxy professor. He sighed for a moment and adjusted his glasses, though the reindeer read something from the fox.

“Are you okay?” Blake asked, looking quizzically to Koray. “Y-yeah, I’m fine.” Koray nodded. “I just… had a few rough days lately, that is all.”

Blake nodded. “Yes, I can relate. I’m just glad this season is ending, so I can look forward to spending more time with Erik.” the reindeer remained content as he looked through the menu. Koray just leaned over the table, his heart racing.

“And how is Erik? He seems to have coped well in my class; his final mark looks promising at this time. Mind, I’m not quite done tabulating everything, but nonetheless. His marks have been better than I had expected. He’s learning quickly.”

“Oh, Erik is alright. He’s at a friend’s place to play music.” Blake replied. “But he’s also preparing for the European Under-20 tournament that’s happening in July. So we’ll be heading to Europe for some time.”

“I must say, I’m a little jealous! I’ve never had the pleasure of getting to explore Europe yet, but I so dream of it. Though I’m sure you two are more excited about the sport than the scenery, hm?” Koray teased with a smile on his features

“Oh, well, a little bit. The tournament will be in Germany this year, but we haven’t seen all that much of Germany yet, so we will be sure to do a bit of everything when we’re there. Of course, I will go back to Finland to check on my mother.” Blake nodded as the cat waitress came over to the two and the orders were placed. Blake ordered something more to his traditions.

Koray ordered something lighter on the menu, finding this Scandinavian cuisine heavy with carbs and overly filling, albeit delicious. But he also knew he was far too nervous under the surface to eat much of anything at this point; he was dying to ask, terrified to ask, so he didn’t dare disrupt a peaceful meal with a friend due to his own desires.

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you two. Do you have other family that is still living in Finland as well?” Koray asked, sipping from his water; he was getting exhausted, hiding his nerves was more work than he had expected it to be. But he also hadn’t expected Blake to look so charming, his looks softened by the lack of suit and the velvety growth of his new antlers. The fox found himself wondering how soft that velvet really was.

It looked very soft.

“Yes, there’s still a lot of family of mine back there.” Blake blinked and smiled a little. “My brother, my sister, their families. My aunts and uncles, who have moved south to Helsinki. I plan to at least visit a few of them. It will be very nice to see them again.” the reindeer added on, then taking a drink from his water. He felt this conversation was going well, but he also felt there was something on Koray’s mind, but it was far from what the fox actually felt. He had been a little bit nervous every time they talked. Maybe it was just the way he was, so the reindeer simply shrugged it off.

“Sounds like Erik and yourself will be having a busy summer. But I imagine it’s nice to spend time with family, especially after so long apart, hm?” Koray’s ears folded back momentarily, reminded of his own family situation briefly before he returned to his normal self, ears forward and intently focusing on his dinner companion.

“Of course it’s nice. I remember when I was still playing in the EFBL. After every season, I always came back to Finland to spend the summer there. I always like to go home and relax and that’s what I’m gonna try to do after Erik’s tournament is done. But rest assured, we’ll be back in time for when classes start.” Blake chuckled lowly.

Koray laughed gently at Blake, shaking his head a little as he settled back in his seat a little more and looked around the restaurant for a brief moment, pushing his glasses up his muzzle in the process.

“I should hope you make it back in time. If I don’t see Erik sitting in my class on day one I’ll be very disappointed in you.” The fox said, playfully wagging his finger at Blake in a joking threat of reprimand.

“Oh you teachers are very keen on having your students all in your classroom when the time comes around. I don’t blame you. I’m eager to come back to work when the new season rolls around. So I think we can relate on that level.” Blake smiled and the waitress came around with their meals. With a quick ‘Enjoy your meal!’ she departed again. The reindeer looked to the fried fish and potatoes and vegetables on his plate. The smell was quite convincing already, as he dug in to sate his hunger.

Koray wasn’t bothered by the quiet that settled as they ate their respective meals. The fox rather enjoyed his meal of pork and duck sausage with a side dish of mushrooms and onions. It was still a heavier dish than he had hoped for, but it was very delicious, and he savoured every bite that his nerves allowed him to swallow. He tried not to pick at his food and just eat like a normal person, and he felt like he was succeeding when he realized he’d finished most of the plate before he started to feel full.

The two had a relatively quiet meal together, as Blake contently ate his dish, finding it good, but not as authentic as back in Finland. He finished his hearty meal and pushed the plate aside, then proceeded to break the silence. “Well… that actually wasn’t bad at all.” the reindeer chuckled.

The sound of Blake starting to speak startled Koray a little, making him look up to the reindeer promptly before he chuckled a little himself, running a hand through his hair absently. “It was good. But I certainly couldn’t eat like this every day. I’d weigh a ton!” The fox exclaimed with a snicker, pulling off his glasses momentarily to clean them with a handkerchief he’d pulled from his pocket.

“Us Scandinavians do like to eat hearty.” the reindeer chuckled contently, leaning back against his seat with a full stomach.

Dinner was almost over. If Koray was going to ask, he had to ask soon. The thought made his heart race, his tail twitching nervously behind him as he calmly slid his glasses back on and looked back to Blake with a smile.

“Thank you for the invitation, Koray. That was really nice of you.” Blake smiled, forearms leaned on the table top.

It was now or never. The fox nodded.

“It was my pleasure Blake. Though I confess...I may’ve had...ulterior motives...behind my inviting you…” Koray started a little hesitantly, his ears folding back a bit in a clear motion of concern and discomfort as he fought to keep his nerves at bay, to not lose his resolve to finally ask the question that had been plaguing him.

“I… don’t really understand, Koray…” Blake’s smile faded, looking on as Koray seemed more and more nervous now.

The fox hesitated a moment, taking in Blake’s expression, pausing to momentarily meet warm brown eyes that were currently filled with utter confusion. Sighing, he ruffled his own hair again, psyching himself up for what he was about to do.

“Blake...I...I wanted to…” Ugh. He was acting like a bumbling teenager! Koray felt himself utterly foolish for acting this way, but he knew that Blake had previously been married, and as far he could tell, the reindeer was still straight as an arrow. He inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly, before offering Blake a soft, hopeful smile, his ears perking up.

“Blake, I wanted to ask...if you’d go out with me? ...On a date?”

Image

The reindeer’s eyes widened immensely, his jaw dropping slightly. Utter shock crossed his mind. He couldn’t believe what he just heard. It wasn’t hurtful, just gentle inviting words, but what could Blake do? He wasn’t into the same gender. All this time, he has been with a girlfriend or wife. And now, a kind, smart and genuine fox was asking him out because he couldn’t hold in his true feelings any longer.

Without a word, Blake stood up, darting to the door, thoughts racing in his mind. He didn’t want to believe it. He wanted to say no, but he couldn’t hurt Koray like that. Was he in denial? He didn’t know, but what he knew was this: he needed advice. As soon as possible.

Koray’s expression of hope faded as Blake didn’t react beyond a look of shock, his ears laying back and his eyes growing big as he felt emotions of sorrow and upset replace his previous nerves. He opened his mouth, wanting to say more, wanting to try and play off his question as a joke or something, pretend like it’d never happened, but before he could say anything the reindeer had rose to his feet and dashed out of the restaurant. Koray got to his feet as well, scurrying to the door. “Blake!” He tried to call out, to stop the reindeer’s retreat, but it didn’t work.

He sighed, head lowering and ears drooping as he apologized to the waitress and paid for their meals. That done, he headed for home, settling in his favourite chair with a book in hand, but he couldn’t focus on reading. All he could think about was Blake and the expression on the man’s face. And the one question that now rang in his mind.

Would he ever hear from Blake again?

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » May 31st, 2015, 3:48 pm

Chapter 14 - Between friends
written in collaboration with Betsie

11:03 PM, Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s been 3 days since Blake Toivonen and Koray Demir met for dinner at a Scandinavian establishment. While the meal itself was nice and filling, it was the aftermath that startled the middle-aged reindeer. In a sheer effort of courage, the cross fox asked the reindeer for a date with him. But Blake didn’t date guys. He had been married to a female for years and the idea of dating a male was… he had no answer for it.

Blake grabbed his phone and sent a tweet out to Wilmer Grehr, a good friend of his from his college playing days. The two had stayed in touch occasionally throughout their lives. As soon as Blake realized that Wilmer was in a same-sex relationship himself, he thought it was best to ask him.

The wait seemed long, but a few minutes later, Blake’s phone buzzed and he promptly got a reply. He got the go-ahead to call his red deer friend in Hawaii. Not hesitating any longer, Blake picked up the phone and dialed his number.

-

6:15 PM, Honolulu, Hawaii. Wilmer had been a little surprised to get a random Tweet from Blake that evening, having spent his days relaxing and recovering from a tumultuous basketball season full of struggle and stress that led the stag to illness. He and Ariel had decided to relax on their patio with a glass of wine each and enjoy the warm Hawaiian evening.

That didn’t mean Wilmer didn’t welcome a call from Blake, and so, he waited patiently after sending his Tweeter response for his phone to ring. Soon enough, it did. He plucked it up and deftly pressed ‘talk’ on the handset, pressing it to his ear.

“And to what do I owe the pleasure of your conversation, Blake?” He greeted, grinning as he swirled his wine, feeling utterly calm and relaxed.

Image

Blake huffed a little on the other side of the line, leaning back against his couch. “Well, uhm, it’s rather very complicated and I just thought that this would be something you could answer for me.” The reindeer replied, holding the wireless phone firmly, trying to relax himself.

Wilmer shifted in his seat, putting his glass of wine aside as he moved to sit up, swinging his feet off the side of the lounger and sitting up properly. His friend sounded terribly concerned. And maybe a little nervous? But what could Wilmer possibly help the reindeer with? Ariel quirked an eyebrow curiously, but Wilmer waved him off.

“Well, what seems to be the problem, Blake? I’ll do what I can.”

“Please don’t laugh, ok? Because I’ve never had this happen to me before in my life.” Blake took a deep breath, then finally spoke. “I got asked to be someone’s date. And well, it’s not from a female.”

“I will try my best not to laugh, but usually when one has to say that, Blake, you know as well as I do that it usually ends up being laughable.” Wilmer warned gently before allowing Blake to continue. He cocked his head a little, offering a small, apologetic smile to his husband for disrupting their quiet evening. He was pulled abruptly back to the conversation at hand by what he was told.

He remained silent for a moment. He couldn’t help but chuckle, shifting to lay back on the lounger again in comfort.

“And that’s a problem...why?” Wilmer said with amusement in his voice.

“Because… I’m not into the male gender like that. At least I’m positive I’m not. I mean, you know I have a son. I was married for 14 years!” Blake huffed, trying to explain his case, but the more he thought about it, the more his argument seemed unnecessary.

“I’m well-aware of all that, Blake. You’re thinking about this in all the wrong ways. Ignoring the factor of gender, tell me about this person. If he feels strongly enough to ask you out, take a moment to think about how you feel about him.”

“Well, he is one of Erik’s professors at Bedrock University.” Blake started speaking. “He’s very much into literature, always dresses nicely and supports Erik in every fashion. I know he even asks about his basketball games sometimes. I just…I like how open-minded he is. How his words flow and how he’s so...charismatic, you know?”

Wilmer sat quietly and listened to what Blake told him about this bold man that dared to ask out a straight man like the reindeer. He was rather impressed just by that fact alone, but as he listened more and more, he couldn’t help but grin a little.

“You know I was straight before I met Ariel, right?” Wilmer started, smiling to himself as he reached over and gripped his husband’s hand affectionately.

“... You’re kidding me, right, Wilmer?” Blake huffed.

“I’m not. When I first laid eyes on him, I was 16. We became friends. And one day, unexpectedly, we kissed. You know what I did?” There was a moment of silence before Blake sighed a little.

“What’d you do, Wilmer?”

“I ran, Blake. I was terrified by what had happened, and I ran. I kissed another boy. All I could think was it was wrong. I couldn’t spend time with him anymore. I couldn’t let myself become ‘one of them’. It was painful… for both of us.” Wilmer finished with a sigh, cocking his head a little as Ariel moved to share the lounger with him. The stag wrapped an arm around the okapi and holding him close as he smiled happily.

“I see.” Blake nodded, having grabbed a stiff drink for himself as he was adjusting his seat in the living room. “And now, look at you. You’re managing an up-and-coming franchise, building a name for yourself in a paradise, and you have a lifestyle that hardly has any complaints.”

“Yes, all of that is true, but the most important part of all is that I have a loving husband and two amazing kids. I wouldn’t have any of that if I hadn’t come to realize that running away was wrong. Sometimes, Blake…” Wilmer paused for a moment.

“Happiness can come from the most unexpected place. It’s a lesson I’ve learned all-too well. So you were asked out by a man, who cares? When was the last time you even went on a date you old workaholic?”

“Well…” Blake raised a finger as he thought of the last time he went on a date. All this travelling and dealing with clients the past few years and especially the past season had left him with little personal time. He had always thought about others. His clients, his partners, and of course, his son. The thoughts processed in his mind and he realized how right Wilmer sounded. The reindeer was well into his 40s and had been working way too hard to be where he is right now. He had forgotten to take personal time.

The idea of dating Koray seemed more realistic the more he thought about it. The cross fox was smart, caring, very civilized and his tastes matched some of Blake’s. He had a connection with Koray, but he was in denial and the scare of this backfiring quickly was hammered into his mind. What did he have to lose, really? He hadn’t seen someone in a very long time.

“I… I can’t remember, honestly.” Blake huffed. “I’ve done so much work these past few years, I never even took care of myself…”

“Exactly, and you’re not getting any younger, Blake. Face it. Soon, Erik will go off to live his own life, and where will that leave you? Hm?”

“Voi luoja, Wilmer. We’re nearly the same age, and you make me sound like I still have to grow up…” Blake sighed, rubbing the bridge of his snout. “But you’re absolutely right. I need to give Koray a chance. Heck, I need to give MYSELF a chance.”

“Yes, you do. Maybe it won’t work out, maybe it will. Audaces fortuna iuvat! My biggest advice is be honest with him right from the start if there’s anything specific you’re concerned about. Other than that, go for it. Call him.”

“I hope he’s still up, but I will give it a try. Thanks, Wilmer. I missed talking to you like this.” Blake slouched into the couch, much more relaxed now.

“Glad I could help. Message me later and let me know how it goes.”

“Will do. Enjoy the rest of your evening and sorry to interrupt.”

“Not a problem. Good luck Blake and good night from both Ariel and I.”

“Good night you two.” Blake then lowered his phone and hung up. A deep sigh escaped him. It was now or never. He had his answer.

He pulled up his contacts list, finger hovering over Koray’s name for a moment, before he hit ‘call’.

Image

Blake hoped Koray was still awake. The phone rang in his ear as he waited, until a muffled ‘Hello’ greeted him on the other line. Sure enough, it was Koray.

“Hey Koray, it’s Blake. Sorry if I woke you but uhm, listen, I just really need to talk to you…”

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby jimmymark » June 9th, 2015, 3:40 am

I unable to understand in the story that why the mother put the quilt away?

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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » September 18th, 2015, 4:33 pm

Chapter 15 - First date

Blake pulled up to the front of Koray’s home; a small house a short bikeride away from the university. All dressed up for a sophisticated evening, the reindeer adjusted his collar and tightened, then loosened his tie for the eighth time. Nervousness showed on Blake’s snout, but why though? This was nothing new. He knew perfectly well how dates work. Or did he? With a sigh, Blake got out of his car and went up to the fox’s front door. A firm knock and he was standing upright, chest puffed out, like a nervous high school kid before his first prom.

Koray wasn’t exactly calm about this either. He’d dated before, plenty of times at all different stages of his life, but it had been a while. And he knew that Blake was different from the rest for no other reason then, well, the reindeer was effectively straight. The fox tried to do something with the tuft of hair atop his head, but nothing he did looked decent, finally giving up as he moved to finish dressing instead.

He was just finishing doing up his bowtie when he heard the knock on his door. His tail puffed up a little in nervousness, but he promptly smoothed it down as he grabbed his keys and wallet and moved to the front door. Opening it, he smiled up at Blake.

“Hi.” He found himself greeting, feeling rather like he was getting picked up for his first prom.

“Hello.” Blake nodded, his antlers having grown a little more, but still covered in a soft velvet Koray would love to feel on his fingertips. “Are…you ready?”

Koray nodded with a smile. “Yup. Just let me turn out the lights quick.” The fox scurried about the house, quickly turning out lights, before slipping out the front door and locking it behind him. “All set.”

“Alright.” the reindeer nodded and made his way to the car and opened the passenger door for the fox. Blake didn’t say anything as Koray approached the large vehicle.

Koray followed after the reindeer, cocking his head at the large vehicle, but finding that it made sense; Blake was a large man that sports a rack of impressive antlers for half the year, so he would need a large vehicle. He was, however, a little surprised as Blake opened the passenger-side door for him. The chivalry made him blush a little.

“Thank you.” He said with a smile, moving to climb into the seat.

Blake only managed to nod and clear his throat as he gently closed the door for the cross fox, then hopped over to his driver’s side. Engine turned on, parking brake loosened, and Blake drove off. As the reindeer steered the vehicle, his right index finger twitched a little.
The silence was heavier than he expected; they were both nervous, and for very similar reasons. But Koray gave a little sigh, realizing he might have to guide things a little more and help put Blake at ease. He noticed the reindeer’s twitching finger on the gearshift and, after hesitating a moment, he reached over and covered the larger hand with his own, offering a small, reassuring smile.

“Blake, relax.” The fox said in a gentle voice. “It’s really not so different, honest. I mean...I’m not a woman, but it
just a first date. I’m not expecting more than a pleasant evening with a man I find to be very interesting.” Koray explained, giving Blake’s hand a bit of a squeeze before withdrawing his own.

“It’s not just that, Koray. I mean…” the reindeer took a deep breath as he stopped at a red light. “This could go very well or this could go very...very...badly.” He sighed. “I have no idea what’s in store and I just hope that something will come out of it…”

Koray cocked his head at the reindeer, smiling a little at the concern that he showed; Blake truly seemed to want this to work. That surprised the fox, given the previous hesitation and concern. But...maybe that meant there was hope for them. Maybe this could be more. He reached out to grip Blake’s hand again.

“Don’t worry about the future, Blake. The present is all that matters. And presently, I’m very happy to be here with you.” Koray smiled warmly at the reindeer before nodding at the street ahead. “The light’s green, by the way.” Snickers.

“Oh, right!” Blake nodded and stepped his hoof on the gas before the cars behind him had the chance to honk at him. The reindeer firmly gripped the steering wheel as he turned and did his work as a driver. “Excuse me, I usually pay attention to the road.” he chuckles.

Koray chuckled as well. “It’s quite alright. You have a lot on your mind right now. I understand. I’m pretty nervous myself.” The fox confessed, his tail twitching a little bit in his own nervousness, but it wasn’t nearly as noticeable as Blake’s twitching was.

“Then we have something in common.” Blake nodded, making a few last turns before arriving on the parking lot of a well-established restaurant. It was a local Italian cuisine not too far from where Koray lived and Blake was very familiar with Italian food, having spent some time in Rome during his EFBL days. It was also one of Koray’s favourites when the fox wanted to spoil himself.

“Ah, Bella Luna ...you’ll love this restaurant Blake, I promise you.” Koray said with a big smile as he moved to get out of the car, tail wagging a little bit in delight as he thought of his favourite restaurant and sharing a wonderful meal there with somebody else for a change. Usually he ate alone, or got take out, so it’d be nice to share a meal for a change.

Blake nodded and followed. This was Koray’s plan after all, but it sounded nice to him when the fox first proposed it to him. The fox led the way inside, approaching the hostess with a smile.

“Good evening. Welcome to Bella Luna! Do you have a reservation?”

“Yes. Koray Demir. Should be for two.”

“Ah yes. Right this way Mr Demir.” The hostess leopard smiled and picked up two menus, leading them back into the restaurant and seating them at a booth with a candle burning at its center and warm light coming from wall sconces behind them. It was...rather romantic, really. Koray slipped into the booth with a smile and a soft thanks to the hostess. He didn’t even bother picking up his menu; he always ate the same thing here.

Blake picked up the menu and flicked the page gently, scanning the contents of it. There were many traditional dishes on there and a fine selection of wines. The reindeer was more of a beer drinker, but he kept a nice bottle of wine in his cabinet once in a while to stir things up. Blake cleared his throat. “Would you like some wine, maybe?” he asked, looking to the fox.

“Hm...I wouldn’t mind a glass. Might take the edge off.” Koray said with a bit of a chuckle, running a hand through his hair. “Would you like any meal suggestions? The food here is amazing. Very authentic.”

“That would be good, because I don’t know what they’re famous for.” Blake nodded, scanning the wine list, eyes planted on it, as his ears flickered.

“I love the gnocchi and bolognese personally. But for you...maybe the vegetarian ravioli? Oh, wait! Better yet! The cannelloni with three sauces! It comes to the table looking like the Italian flag. It’s quite a beautiful dish, and very tasty. For being vegetarian.” Koray’s ears were perked right up and he was showing some excitement as he pondered about what Blake might like and tried to suggest the best vegetarian dishes he could think of for the ungulate.

“Cannelloni, hm?” he nodded, putting the list down. “With a nice glass of dolcetto? It’s one of my favourites and I see they have that here.” Blake managed to grin for the first time today, feeling more at ease as he talked to the fox.

“Dolcetto would work well I think...I’d prefer something a little lighter if you don’t mind. Maybe a merlot or pinot noir for me...I confess, I don’t care for bitter wines.” The atmosphere between them was starting to relax a little more.

“Two glasses of Merlot then?” Blake smirks.

“Merlot it is.” When the waitress came around, Koray placed their orders; breaded veal and gnocchi for himself, and vegetarian cannelloni and salad for Blake. As well a glass of merlot each. Smiling, he settled in to wait for their meal, looking across the round table to the reindeer quite happily. “I promise you won’t be disappointed Blake. The food here is amazing.”
“Italian food in general can be amazing.” Blake nods. “And there’s something special about coming to Rome. It’s quite a trip there, really.” he says, sipping his water while he waits for the wine and food to arrive.

“Really? I’ve never been to Rome, but I’ve always wanted to. It looks so beautiful. And the cultural experience alone would be worth the trip. What took you to Rome? What was it like?” Koray asked rather excitedly, his elbows resting shamelessly on the table and his head propped in his hands almost childishly in his curiosity.

“Well, work, obviously, since I played there for a year. The people there are really friendly and passionate for what they believe in. The food and the views are amazing and you can do a lot there.” Blake leans on the table, smirking some more. If there was something he could talk about, it was his career, but he had to be careful not to flood Koray on their first date

“I didn’t know you’d played there! It must’ve been wonderful getting to live in such a beautiful place, even if it was for only a year. Where else did you play? I bet you saw so many beautiful places...I’m a little jealous. My career has never taken me out of the US.”

“Well…” Blake clears his throat and thought of a way to make it easy to understand. “I was drafted by London and I spent most of my career there, so I got really accustomed to many British things. Then I went to Rome for a year, then Croatia, and I finished my career back home in Helsinki. Now… I don’t really know what my favourite spot is, but London has become like a second home for me. There’s a lot to like about it too.”

“Wow...you’ve really been around...I’m...kind of jealous. I would love to see Rome...and London...but it’s not something that one usually wants to experience alone either, is it?” Koray said with a slight sigh, leaning back in his seat and running his hand through his hair. It was true; he wanted to travel, but traveling alone to see such beautiful places just seemed...a little sad.

“Of course it’s better to travel with someone. I have spent a lot of time with my son, but it’s not the same as, you know.. a significant other. You feel the urge to show them around and have a great time in the process, but... “ he sighs. “When they care more about themselves and serious things then they’re just… not worth staying around.” the reindeer lowered his head a little, reminded of the divorce he went through several years ago.

Koray sighed as he watched Blake’s mood rapidly drop, shifting over in the booth a little and reaching out for the reindeer’s hand once more.

“I’m sorry Blake, I hadn’t meant to bring up such painful things for you. But...is it not better to find new happiness rather than dwell on past pain? You have so much to be happy for in your current life, why let her bitterness continue to make you unhappy?” He asked gently, trying to be helpful and hoping that he was going to make the reindeer feel better.

“I won’t, don’t worry.” Blake sighs. “I’ll try and have a good summer with Erik. We have things planned after all.” the reindeer looks on as the fox holds his hand again and he covers it with his own. “He has a big tournament ahead of himself and I get to watch, which is more than I could ask for.” he continued. “So it will do me and him some good.”

Koray smiled as he felt that big hand cover his own, looking up to the big reindeer. There was a light in Blake’s eyes as he spoke about getting to travel with his son for a passion that both reindeer shared; the fox could tell it meant a lot to him.

“Sounds like fun. I’m sure Erik will do really well. He’s so passionate about his sport.”

“It’s true. I think he got that from me.” Blake chuckled. “First it was my career, then he got into it in school. He started very early.” the reindeer smiled, remembering the fun he had when he watched Erik grow up. His first basketball, his first hoop, watching him make shots when he only had small hooves. The fondness alone made Blake light up more. And Koray could really see the change in the older male as he spoke about his son. He smiled tenderly.

“You know Blake...the way you light up when you talk about Erik...or basketball...it’s...rather inspiring. I’m...really glad I get to see you like this.”

“I’m just… passionate about these things.” Blake chuckled lightly and shrugged. “It’s just a few things that made me who I am today. It’s hard to talk about anything else, really.”

“Listening to people talk about what they love is always the best thing to listen to. I don’t mind.” Before their conversation could continue, though, their waiter came over with their meals; the plates were large and the portions filled the plates with ease, making Koray smile. He always left this place in a food coma.

Blake looked down to his meal with a smirk, noticing the Italian flag on it. Then he didn’t hesitate to work on it. It looked and smelled delicious. Without hesitation, he took his first bite and he slumped back into his seat, chewing. “Oh god…” is all he managed to say.

Koray snickered at Blake’s initial reaction to the food, gathering up his first forkful of gnocchi and bolognese to enjoy with a happy little murr.

“I told you this place was amazing.” The fox teased after he’d swallowed, licking his lips. The conversation was a little less now that they were enjoying a meal, but they still chatted a little bit as they savoured the heavenly fare. As their plates started to look empty, Koray took a sip of his wine to wash down his latest mouthful, smiling at the reindeer.

“I hope you don’t mind but...I’ve planned a little something for after dinner as well.”

Blake paused as he was about to drink some of his remaining wine. “What is it?” he looked towards Koray with a bit of concern.

“OH! Nothing bad. I mean, I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway! I bought us a couple of tickets to a play...an operetta to be exact. It’s a Gilbert and Sullivan.” Koray explained with a bit of a sheepish smile; perhaps the usual would be a movie, but the fox preferred live theatre over films, and he rather hoped that Blake didn’t mind that. Theatre was an acquired taste, after all.

The reindeer looked at fox with a clueless look. He blinked and took a drink. “Uhm… so, like… a musical?”

“Well...yes…I suppose...but it’s not like a broadway musical. It’s very classic, and quite funny actually. I just thought it might be something fun…”

“Sure, sure.” Blake nodded. “Let’s do it.” Koray visibly brightened, smiling at the reindeer. They finished up their meal and the fox immediately paid for the entire bill without hesitation, waving off the reindeer’s offer to pitch in casually. Though he made a point of not letting Blake see the bill as he handed over his credit card.

With dinner out of the way, the pair made their way back out to Blake’s car in silence, the reindeer once again holding the door for Koray and getting a small ‘thanks’ for his chivalrous gesture. The fox directed Blake to the theatre at which they’d be seeing the play; it was opening night and the theatre was loosely packed.

The fox found that the theatre scene here was fairly quiet, but he didn’t mind that. He led Blake to prime seats in the house with a great view of the entire stage and close enough to be able to hear everything really well. Not that it would matter. He knew Blake would probably have a hard time following the rapid pace of the Gilbert and Sullivan piece.

Koray settled in quietly and focused on the stage, but Blake couldn’t get himself to focus on the starting play. He couldn’t help but keep glancing towards the fox in curiosity, but also because he wasn’t that much of a theatre person. This night had been nice so far, but he was still bewildered by this entire thing. It was surreal. Trying to wrap his head around this whole thing was nearly giving him a headache.

But he soon shook it off and focused back on the operetta, just as Koray was. During the intermission, they each got themselves a drink and chatted about the play for a bit, the fox answering some of Blake’s questions quite happily before they returned to their seats for the remainder.

Shortly after they settled back in, though, Blake was startled by a gentle weight against his shoulder. Glancing over, the reindeer’s eyes widened when he saw Koray’s head resting against his shoulder, the fox wearing a smile of utter contentment and delight, hands folded in his lap politely.

He wasn’t sure what to do. Did he ignore it? Put his arm around the fox? Feeling too awkward, he chose to ignore it, but found that the contact was...oddly comforting. It’d been a long time since he’d had a moment like this with somebody. He remembered what it was like when Mila was still in love with him. The dates they went on, the weekend trips, it was all coming back to him and it was nice. But now, he has someone else to do these kinds of things with. It’s been several years since he spent time with someone other than his son or a client. It felt different doing this with a male, but also similar. The reindeer could sense that he still had to get more comfortable with the idea, but for now, this felt good to him.

The play ended and a standing ovation erupted. Koray jumped up from his seat and clapped fast and with enthusiasm, as he enjoyed the play. Blake on the other hand stood up and clapped slower, but only because he ended up being too distracted from his own thoughts, thus missing a few key points from the plot.

“So? Did you enjoy it?” Koray asked, his tail lightly thumping against the seats as they made their way out to the car.

“Oh, uh…” Blake hesitated for a moment. “It was good. The second half was quite impressive.”

Koray quirked an eyebrow and slapped the reindeer on the shoulder gently. Blake just looked on in confusion.

The drive home was relatively quiet as the two discussed the play they had just watched, Koray more so with enthusiasm. Blake tried to keep up and keep the fox happy, but the fox could tell that theatre wasn’t part of the reindeer’s usual hobbies.

Blake pulled the car over, arriving at Koray’s first. The two got out and walked to the front door, where Koray turned around to face the older reindeer.

“So, uhm…” the fox started. “I had a really great time tonight. Thank you.”

“Uh, no problem.” the reindeer replied. “I had a good time as well. Good food and good play.”

“Indeed.” Koray nodded, his tail swishing behind him. Impulse kicked in for the fox and Blake watched as Koray gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. The cross fox then pulled back with a light blush, pulling his hands behind his back in slight embarrassment.

“Koray…” Blake said, rubbing his neck in confusion.
“Sorry. I know you want to take this slow, as we discussed. You’re not used to being with someone like me, and I understand. I’ll slow down for you and let you come forward. Sound good?”

“Yeah, uh…” Blake hesitated. “Yes, sure. Look, I’m sorry I’m so slow with this whole adjusting to this. It’s just… I haven’t dated someone in years. And I’ve never…”

“I know Blake. And that’s alright.” Koray stepped forward to take Blake’s big hand in his own smaller one. The reindeer hesitated for a moment, but then let the fox take it. “I will do my best to help you get used to the idea. This is new territory for you and I’m very aware of that. I promise I will not overstep your boundaries and make you uncomfortable. Alright?”

The reindeer rubbed his antler as he looked at the smaller fox, who was filled with joy in the moment. Blake took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, that sounds good. Anyway, I should go. Erik is probably home by now.” Blake said and slowly let go of Koray, who nodded and let him slip away from the front door.

“Alright, Mr. Toivonen. Have a good night and see you again sometime.” Koray smirked and gently waved to the reindeer as he left.

“See you, Mr. Demir.” Blake tried to play along with Koray, hoping to get a laugh out of the fox, with success.

-

Blake stepped into his home to an empty living room, electronics quietly buzzing in the background. With a deep sigh, the older reindeer pulled off his suit jacket and sat down on the couch, taking a deep breath as he loosened his tie. He had just been on a date with another guy and it felt completely surreal. He’d liked it, even if the play wasn’t something he’d enjoy on a regular basis. But the fox seemed happy around him, relaxed and enthusiastic. Koray’s joy was imprinted on the reindeer’s mind. It made him smile as he thought about it.

Thuds echoed the room as Erik made his way downstairs and looked to his father in a suit. The younger reindeer quirked his eyebrow.

“(What are you dressed up for?)” Erik asked as he stood near the couch.

“(Oh, uh, I went to see a play today.)” Blake said in a calm tone. His son blinked.

“(I didn’t know you were into theatre.)”

“(Someone gave me a free ticket, so I thought I would use it.)” the older reindeer replied.

“(Who?)” the younger reindeer asked. Blake paused for a moment. He had to make up something to hide his involvement with Koray. A snort and Blake spoke again.

“(The library I go to raffled tickets away and I happened to win one.)” the father said reassuringly. Erik just nodded and shrugged and made his way to the fridge to grab a coke.

“(How was your day?)” Blake asked his son.

“(Ok, went to Troy’s again. Band practice was great. Learned a few more songs. We might get a gig soon somewhere.)” the younger reindeer replied, making his way to the stairs.

“(Well, just keep practicing and you’ll be great. Have you started packing for Germany yet?)” Blake asked.

“(Yeah, just a few things though.)”

“(Ok. Well, good night, Erik.)”

“(Night, dad.)” , and thus, Erik made his way back up to his room.

Blake took a deep breath, leaning back against the couch. He had to tell Erik about Koray eventually. But how? It was weird to think that he was dating Erik’s instructor, but it was never his intention to make Erik uncomfortable. That’s the least he wanted to do. Koray lit up whenever Erik was mentioned, like the younger reindeer was family to him, but how does Erik feel about Koray? That’s unknown to his father.

The older reindeer switched on the TV, then closed his eyes after a few minutes, snoring and falling asleep on the couch. This wasn’t the first time he’d done this, and it likely wouldn’t be the last.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » September 18th, 2015, 4:42 pm

Chapter 16 - Breakthrough

The Doeing touched down in Frankfurt, Germany and made a hard stop on the runway before swaying its way towards the assigned gate. Inside were passengers of variety. Many species and nationalities were represented on board of that plane, eager to arrive to their final destination. As the flock of furs moved their way out of the plane, they moved along to the baggage claim.

Emerging out of the flock were two distinct looking reindeer, their antlers covered in velvet. One was older-looking with a button-up shirt, while the other had shoulder-length hair and sported a colourful band shirt out of his collection. Blake and Erik Toivonen have arrived in Germany for this year's Under 20 Eurobasket held in Frankfurt, Germany. The tournament was 2 days away and Erik needed to get back into the swing of things, his team arriving a day earlier. The two reindeer climbed into a pale yellow taxi after dropping their luggage into the trunk and made their way to the hotel. Blake, lost in thought, watched as the sun was setting in the west, leaning his head onto his hand. The jet lag was going to be hard to overcome in the next few days, but it's not like the two haven't done this before.

Erik looked over to his father as he had his oPod blasting rock music. He put his earbuds out and poked his dad on his shoulder. Blake snorted and looked over.

"(You ok, dad?)" Erik asked.

"(Oh... yeah, I'm fine, Erik. Just... tired.)" Blake replied as he rubbed his eye. It would be another 15 minutes till they get to the hotel where the rest of the Finnish team was staying. Erik nodded and went back to listening to his tunes.

Blake, meanwhile, was lost in thought about his new boyfriend, Koray Demir, who also happened to be Erik's literature professor at Bedrock University. The first few weeks felt like he had to learn the ways of the dating life again. For their first date, Koray decided to take him out to a very fancy restaurant downtown, then to a play the cross fox has been meaning to watch for a while.

The reindeer didn't know what to think of it, as it was a musical and those weren't up Blake's alley. But Koray enjoyed himself and even got close to his new boyfriend, while Blake was still getting used to the idea of dating a male.

All these thoughts were on hold as the two arrived at the hotel and grabbed their bags out. Waiting outside at the door was a moose in a blue and white polo shirt with dress pants, 'Suomi' stitched across the left pectoral.

"(You made it.)" the moose grinned as he extended a hand out to Erik, then Blake, shaking them firmly.

"(Felix Aalto, nice to see you again.)" the older reindeer grinned at the coach. Blake knew Felix from his EFBL days. The two used to be teammates on the Norsemen and as such, they were quite familiar with each other. Since then, the moose devoted himself to developing young players from across Finland in hopes of landing them a professional career, including Erik, who simply nodded towards his coach, being the quiet guy he is off the court.

"(You two just need to check in. Rest up, Erik. Practice tomorrow morning at 9 o’ clock.)" Felix said as the three made their way to the hotel desk. "(Oh, and we play Hungary the day after, on opening day. I hope you two studied a little on the plane ride here.)"

"(Yes, coach.)" Erik huffed. This was nothing new of his coach. He knew the moose pushes his team quite a bit and it has gotten them further than the Finnish Basketball Association ever imagined. The same players reached the quarterfinals two years before, but were blown out by Spain.

"(So, how is America treating you, Erik?)" Mr. Aalto asked after the pair of reindeer received their card keys to their hotel rooms.

"(Oh, it's alright.)" Erik said as the two took the elevator. "(The coach knows his stuff, and the team was pretty decent for the most part, but we fell short to make the big FCAA tournament. Maybe next year.)"

"(Ah, so you're staying in college and not entering the FBA Draft?)" the moose asked with a snicker. Erik gave his coach an irritated stare before looking away, the faint smile faded away. Felix was confused and looked to Erik's father.

"(I'll tell you later.)" Blake simply said as the two arrived at their rooms. Erik entered first.

"(Well, alright. Rest up and see you at practice, Erik.)" Felix nodded as he dismissed the two reindeer and made his way back.

The younger reindeer dropped his bag beside the bed closest to the window and layed down on it. Blake looked to his son and noted just how irritated he was from that specific question his coach made.

"(Look, Erik, he didn't know until now. You can tell him if you want. I will just be spectating, like I promised.)" the older reindeer said as he sat down on his bed, facing his son on the other.

"(Thanks.)" Erik huffed as he adjusted his position. "(And I had just gotten over it too.)"

"(I'm very sorry, Erik, but you know it's for the best.)" Blake said. "(Want me to grab some dinner?)"

"(Sure.)" Erik nodded and took a deep breath. Smirking, Blake reached for the tourist guide and looked for a place with a hearty serving of food, just what the two Finns needed after a long plane ride back to Europe.

-

Game day. Hungary vs. Finland battling it out in Group A. The tournament was held in one of the smaller arenas in a Frankfurt suburb, as it was a relatively small tournament to begin with. The arena itself was quite modern and sleek, with glass backboards highlighting the baskets, exemplary German on-point sports infrastructure. While the hardwood had some wear itself, other than that you could tell the arena wasn't even five years old.

The bleachers were sparingly filled with Hungarian and Finnish fans as the teams made their way onto the court for warm-ups. The Germans beat Croatia in a tight match an hour beforehand, and now it was time for the other teams in Group A to make their debut.

Blake watched on as Erik and Finland warmed up, checking his phone more often than usual. While talking to Koray, he’s also getting in touch with some of his clients as their off-season is underway.

But then, his phone rang. It was Filippo Arango, general manager of the Tallahassee Typhoons. Brad Pullman was one of his clients who played for the team. Some time ago, Brad mentioned the prospects of a cross-country road trip during his off season, so Blake had some reason to worry, as he picked up his phone. “Hello?”

Blake’s blank expression soon changed to worry. Brad had been missing for a few days and his boss doesn’t know where he could be. With a sigh and a nod, Blake replied. “Have you tried to call him?”.

“Yes, but I have been unable to reach him, Hilde’s unable to reach him, it’s concerning...” Filippo said on the other line. The conversation went on for several minutes until Blake hung up and rubbed his forehead. This couldn’t seem any worse for the reindeer. He’s on another continent and he felt helpless. Brad was a valued client, despite his excessive patriotism, and finding out that he was missing was something he just couldn’t handle well. As Erik made his way to the locker room after warm-ups, he saw his father hunched over, clearly worked up. Erik took a deep breath and swore to himself to win this first game.

Three minutes left in the 4th quarter. Hungary was up by 10. This was not looking good for Finland. Oliver, the Siberian jay point guard, carried the ball over the center line as he made his play call. Erik decked around his ram opponent to make some room in the key. Oliver saw Joel, the swan forward, just inside the arc and handed the ball over. Erik called for the ball inside the arc as he drew another opponent towards himself and the swan threw a bullet pass towards the reindeer, who immediately threw it to Ooni, the mouse guard, who immediately winded up for a three pointer. The ball flew in a perfect arc into the basket to cut the lead to seven. The Finnish fans were on their feet after Erik’s great vision for his teammates.

The next couple of minutes passed in a hurry, quickly becoming a back and forth game, as Finland got closer and closer to tying, only to have Hungary score on them on fairly defensible plays. But the Finns would not give up and with 18 seconds on the clock, Hungary had a two point lead. The Hungarian coach was furious at his team for giving the lead away so easily, and the Finns could taste that clutch shot. But Hungary had the ball.

Hungary went back into play. Erik was guarding his opponent, his body between him and the basket. Erik watched as the guard looked for a way to pass the ball into the key. He spotted the ram with an open arm and the ball was thrown. But the reindeer saw that and intercepted the ball for the steal. Ten seconds left in the game and Erik had to react fast. He dribbled the ball around the opposing forward and saw Rasmus, the brown bear forward, ahead of him. A quick pass and the bear drove the ball towards the basket. He went up to the basket for a lay-up with contact with his opponent and the whistle blew. Defensive foul. Erik watched the ball gently fall into the basket and fistpumped. Tied game with 6.9 seconds left and a chance to take the lead! The reindeer high-fived his teammates as he made his way to line-up for the free throw.

The ref passed the ball to Rasmus and seconds passed until the bear threw the ball with ease into the basket. Finland has just gained a one point lead, but the full-court press had to be on. The Finns covered the respective players as the ball was bounced into play again. Oliver, Ooni, Joel, Rasmus and Erik were all on high alert, covering and defending to kill the time. 5 seconds and counting, it felt like an eternity. Hungary tried to get out of their zone in desperation, but the last pass was tipped, Joel grabbing it, dribbling away from the Hungarians. The buzzer sounded, sealing the comeback. 72-71 Finland was the final score.

Blake stood up from his seat, clapping with great enthusiasm with the Finnish supporters around the small arena as the young Finnish team celebrated on the court. Their first win of the tournament was a hard one to earn. The older reindeer only felt pride and joy, watching the younger generation fight back in a game that seemed lost at first. In some way, Blake was reminded of his national team days, playing for a country that wasn’t particularly good at the sport but always showed fight till the end. That was the Finnish way.

The two teams made their way to the center court for the Player of the Game awards and the winning team’s national anthem. Erik had 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and that one steal, making him the player of the game. The reindeer was highfived and padded by his team mates on the way back to the line, holding his certificate.

-

Blake laid on his hotel bed, his laptop on his lap, typing away at it. Koray was on the other line and the reindeer couldn’t help but talk about the game he just saw, and talking about how Erik once again showed just how much calibre he had. The cross fox smiled through the webcam as the two talked for a good 20 minutes, then there was a knock on the door. Blake said his goodbyes to his boyfriend before he made his way to the door. He thought Erik forgot his room key, but instead, it was a moose.

“(Oh hey, Felix. What brings you here? Why aren’t you with the team?)” the reindeer asked as he let in the moose in a blue track suit.

“(They’re out with the assistants, having a good time.)” Felix smirked. “(But seriously, I came here to see you.)” the moose walked further into the room and sat down in an empty chair. “(So… why Erik did not enter into the draft this year?)”

“(Do you really want to talk about that right now?)” Blake huffed, sitting back on his bed.

“(Yes, I do. I’m very curious about that. You know he’s very much capable of going pro as it is.)” the moose responded firmly. “(So… why didn’t he?)”

“(Here’s the deal, Felix.)” the reindeer took a deep breath. “(I have several reasons for it. One, the FBA’s collective bargaining agreement is expiring this year and there is a high chance that there will be a strike going into next season, so we might not even have a season…)”

“(Wow, Americans sure seem a little messed up.)” Felix commented but Blake held him off before he could make another comment.

“(Two, Erik may be eligible, but he hasn’t had the exposure yet. I have met one of two scouts this year and they say he’s capable, but there are many others who are more qualified than him right now.)” Blake cleared his throat in between. “(And three, he needs to be in school for another year. His English skills are great, but a lot of his professors say that he isn’t quite there yet. He needs at least one more year of college and acclimation.)” the reindeer explained as thoroughly as he could. The moose perked an eyebrow at his former colleague.

“(Blake, I know you really care about Erik and you want him to succeed, but Erik is almost grown up. He’s going to be twenty next year! You gotta let him go on his own soon.)” Felix exclaimed. Blake could only sigh and nod. “(You’re a good guy and a great dad, Blake. But maybe you should think about letting Erik go more. I know he is the only family you have in America right now, but you have to start looking for the future, maybe have a mate again. You’d be all alone otherwise and a guy like you doesn’t deserve that.)” the moose nodded, twirling in his chair.

But Blake had already found someone in Koray, though he had no idea how to tell his old teammate. How would he react? Blake didn’t know and he was almost afraid to find out.

“(I know… but… what if…)” Blake cleared his throat. “(What if I already found someone?)”

“(Congratulations then!)” Felix smiled. “(What is she like?)”

Blake was caught in the headlights. Koray was most definitely not a she, but he felt like he had to talk about it. At least to someone that he found trustworthy.

“(Well…)” Blake took a deep breath. “(I met HIM some months ago. HE is one of Erik’s teachers…)”

Felix blinked out of surprise. Blake was into guys? That didn’t seem right at first.

“(What made you jump to the other team?)” the moose asked with an awkward undertone. Blake snorted. It felt rather uncalled for.

“(Look, we were friends and we talked about Erik quite a lot. Koray loves to see Erik grow and he cares a lot about his students. And the thing is… HE was the one that asked me out. I didn’t know what to say at first and I just had to talk to a friend about it. In the end, I was convinced that I should take the chance, no matter what. It’s… it’s just weird to talk about it right now, ok?)”

“(I see. Well, it’s alright, Blake.)” Felix sat up. “(I know you mean well, and hey, good for you on trying something new in your life. If it makes you happy, it’s for the better.)”

“(Thanks.)” Blake nodded.

“(How does Erik feel about that?)” the moose asked. The reindeer swallowed. He had no idea how to tell Erik about it. The younger reindeer didn’t need such a jarring distraction.

“(I haven’t told him yet, but, Felix, please do me a favour. Do not mention any of this to him. I have to tell him myself; I’m his father after all.)” Blake sighed. He felt like he was caught between a rock and a hard place, but at least someone else knew.

“(No worries. You do your father-son stuff, I do my coaching. Sound good?)” Felix nodded towards the reindeer who nodded in response. The moose then sat up and gave Blake a good hug.

“(Wanna head to the bar now?)” the moose smirked.

“(Sure, let’s go.)” Blake agreed to join Felix. The reindeer felt more at ease now, having broken the ice with an old friend of his. It was a much needed first step to opening up. Blake wasn’t known to show his emotions a lot, and that reflects in Erik. The two were the quieter types, letting their work do the talking. But once in a while, you need to open yourself to grow a little more.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » March 7th, 2016, 12:41 pm

Chapter 17 - Gold in disguise

Germany was treating the Toivonens as well as it could. Negotiations with the league and the players were on hold for a while, so Blake could focus on his son playing in Eurobasket with Finland. It was a welcomed change for the older reindeer, as he saw just how much responsibility Erik took on for the team and how he was able to deliver on many occasions. But the labour bared little fruit in the end.

Finland made it out of Group A in second place and faced France in the Quarterfinals. It was a hard fought match as Erik recorded 22 points and 12 rebounds, towering over the French forwards to score vital points in a 68-66 win for the Finnish, which sent them to the semis facing Spain.

It would prove to be very tough for Finland. Spain and Finland exchanged many fouls between each other, producing a very ugly game with little finesse. On several occasions, Erik was knocked over with no call made, making the reindeer and his team mates furious at the refereeing. Boos echoed through the 2,000-seat arena in suburban Frankfurt. Spain won the game 58-53 and moved on to the Final to face the winner of the Lithuania/Germany match.
Defeated, the Finnish team went to the locker room quietly after post-game awards. Erik sunk his head in agony. Blake watched from the stands in depression. He had not imagined a European game to be this ugly at a youth level. He just hoped the other semi final would be at least decent.

The older reindeer made his way down to the Finnish locker room, waiting at the door before he paused. There was shouting from several players, including Erik. He could make out that it was all about the refs, how they felt betrayed, how they could never be an international force because of where they're from. Blake knew the meaning of it perfectly well. He remembered coming into the EFBL as a second round pick to the London Jets. Fans were not happy with the decision to draft a Finnish player, thinking he may be bad since he was from a country where winter sports were dominant. Blake faced a long way through doubt and prejudice by the fans, but he would prove them wrong, winning two championships in the early 90s for the British team, even winning an MVP award after the first one.

Blake snapped out of his thoughts when the door opened and a tall, lean reindeer stepped out and threw his training jacket against the opposite wall.

"(We almost had them, if it wasn't for those stupid refs!)" Erik exclaimed, then jumped as he saw his father right nearby. "(Oh... hi dad.)"

"(Erik, listen.)" Blake sighed, not happy about seeing his son with such a distaste. "(I get it, there were a lot of dumb calls, made and not made. It was awful...)"

"(I just wanted to be in the Final. I needed this...)" Erik huffed as he picked up his jacket again. "(I wanted to show you that I can do this too...)"

"(Erik...)" Blake swallowed, standing up from his seat. "(Why are you putting yourself under so much pressure?)"

"(Because...)" Erik paused for a moment. He was the best player on the team and he just wanted to be noticed by the FBA, by the scouts of the world. His introverted personality caused him to bundle up all the emotions he had about himself and his passion, and now he needed to release the tension.

"(I just want to be recognized.)" he finally said.

"(But you are getting noticed.)" Blake explained to his son. "(Your coaches, your teammates, heck, the whole school is noticing just how much you're doing to get to the professional level. Have you read the school papers?)" he asked as he put his hands on Erik's shoulder, trying to reassure him.

"(Sometimes...)" the younger reindeer replied.

Blake took a deep breath and leaned in closer. "(What I mean to say is: You have a lot to look forward still. Just because you won't win a gold medal with this team doesn't mean you can't win something down the road. Don't pressure yourself to carry Bedrock through the FCAA. This is a team sport after all. You can get all the stats you want, but what matters is how you make a difference on a team. But you're perfectly aware of that, right?)"

Erik nodded, taking a deep breath as he listened to his father.

"(Good boy.)" Blake smirked. "(So just remember, elevate your team first and foremost. Scouts look at what you can do for a team rather than what you can do on your own. And from what they've told me already, they like what they're seeing. So just relax and keep doing what you're doing, ok?)"

Erik nodded again, as the message sunk into him quickly.

"(Good.)" the older reindeer smiled. "(Now get showered up and then I'll treat you to a good schnitzel or whatever you like.)" Blake padded his son on the shoulder who smirked.

"(Thanks dad.)" he said before giving his old man a small hug before returning to the locker room to rejoin his team. Blake, in the meantime, sat back down on his chair, and waited.

-

Bronze medal games felt like a waste of time. That was the word going around as the Finns prepared for their last game of the tournament against host Germany, who had their hearts broken on a last-second shot from Lithuania. The teams gathered onto the court to begin the game.

Blake watched on as the Finnish and German players got ready for the tip-off. The intensity wasn't as great. Both teams were slower and easy-going than usual. The older reindeer could notice that the agony of the previous defeat was still there.

With a sigh, Blake leaned back against his front row seat and went back to his phone, as Erik sat on the bench. Meanwhile, another figure took the seat to the reindeer's right. "Hello." Blake greeted him, without even looking.

"Mr. Toivonen?" the osprey in a plaid green shirt and jeans greeted the reindeer.

"Yes, that's me." Blake replied, blinking. He wasn't sure whether he knew an osprey in his life, but talking with strangers at a basketball game was nothing new to the middle-aged reindeer. "Do I know you?"

"Oh, how silly of me." the osprey said and reached out a hand. "Kyler Reeve, FBA scouting."

The reindeer nodded respectfully and grasped the bird's hand for a firm shake.

"Funny," Blake replied. "You're the first scout I actually met face-to-face."

"Did the others just call you? How ridiculous." Kyler replied, shaking his head.

"Well, I did make it clear that I didn't want Erik to enter the draft this year." Blake replied. "I'm sure that's been going around the office."

"That it has." Kyler nodded. "But many of us think he will be ready next year. He has shown tremendous progress in the FCAA, I think." the osprey leans over to the reindeer. "He could be a superstar almost immediately, don't you think?"

Blake paused as he watched Erik get put into the game and score on his first chance. "Yeah, but he has much to learn still."

"Of course." Kyler replied. "Any idea where he could end up?"
The reindeer shook his head. That's a question he never thought about answer. He could end up as far as Hawaii or as near as Montana or Winnipeg. But the fact was, no matter where Erik would end up, he'd be sure his son felt as well as he should.

"Do you have any other children, Blake?" Kyler asked. Blake snapped out his deep thought.
"Oh, uhm, no. Erik is my only child."

"Ah, so you must be quite attached to him." the osprey nodded. The talk was interrupted as Erik slammed the ball through the rim to give Finland the lead midway through the second quarter, as the stands erupted in cheers. The reindeer clapped loudly, before retaining his composure and sitting back down.
"No need to answer." Kyler chuckled.
---
The last minute of the game fell upon, and Finland had a two-point lead. But Germany had the ball. It was now or never to make a critical defensive play. The spectators were all standing, cheering for their home country wearing black. It got loud as the ball was free and the Germans prepared the attack.
The Rottweiler guard called the offense, waiting for his teammates until he got the screen and darted off into the crease to get a lay-up, but passed to his hawk teammate, who went for the lay-up. No good. The ball bounces off the rim and the Finns try all they can to grab the ball back, but to no avail. The Germans got the offensive rebound and get a refreshed shot clock. 36 seconds left.

The chants got louder from the Germans, but the Finns tried their best to remain steady as the German team prepared an alternate attack. The ball was passed around the arch until the Rottweiler went for it and passed into the crease towards the hawk again, who then went for a lay-up again. Erik was right in front of him and read the play well. With a great effort, he swatted the ball away from the hoop and grabbed it, holding it away from the hawk to kill the clock. But the hawk would not give up and reached for the ball, pushing at Erik, who remained steady. The ref blew the whistle on the hawk with 4 seconds left. Finland's ball.

Blake clapped enthusiastically at Erik's defensive awareness. Kyler sat beside him with an impressed look on his beak. The Finns passed the ball back into play, as the bench was on their feet. One last pass and the buzzer sounded. Finland had just won the bronze against the host country. The Finnish team swarmed the court and hugged every team member still on the court. The arena was now much quieter. The Germans failed to tie the game, which was greeted with shock and disappointment by the fans. But the Finns didn't care. Blake made his way down and hugged his son, who was high-fiving and hugging his entire team. This was indeed a great way to end a European trip.

---

Blake's vehicle stopped in front a familiar place. With a sigh of relief, the reindeer stepped out of his vehicle and walked towards the door. The street was lit well, and only a few windows were still bright. In front of him was a small townhouse, showing its age just a little bit, from the porch to the chipping paint. The reindeer stepped to the front of the door.

Inside, Koray was snoozing on his couch, a book spread across his chest. Life without Blake was boring for the cross fox, despite having shelves of books to read. The past few weeks have been filled with just books and preparation for school. There wasn’t much else to do for him other than wait for a certain someone to come home.

The door bell rang, rattling the fox awake, as he clenched onto his book, frozen. It rang again. Koray jumped up from his couch and headed to the door where a tall and broad figure with antlers stood. It was Blake!

“Oh hey, Koray, I…” before Blake could react, Koray immediately embraced the reindeer, pressing up against him as if he hadn’t seen him in years. Blake was frozen as he was hugged tightly by his boyfriend, although the concept was still sinking in for him. He patted Koray on the back gently before Koray let go and nervously chuckled.
“Sorry, Blake… I should not have done that, but, I just… I really missed you, that’s all.” Koray admitted with a blush, rubbing his elbow through his shirt. Blake smirked and shrugged towards the smaller fox.

“It’s alright, Koray. I… I missed you too.” Blake grinned. “While I love to be with Erik, it’s just not the same without a special someone.”

Koray lit up a little, as Blake’s words were genuine and kind, and just what he wanted to hear. “Well, Mr. Toivonen, I hope you have quite a story to tell, because I want to hear it.” he smiled. “Why don’t you come in and have some tea? I promise I won’t hold you hostage for long.” the cross fox teased.

Blake was a bit unsure. Erik was asleep already, but at least he didn’t know about all this, so it gave him an excuse. “Sure, I’ll stay for a bit. But I need to head home after this.”

“Of course, of course.” Koray nodded and shut the door behind him after the reindeer entered and made himself at home. The two would share their experiences with European things, from literature to movies to cuisine, like they did on their first date. But as Blake told about Erik and the tournament, Koray lit up a little bit from pride. He was happy that the young reindeer was doing so well in his sport and that his dream was closer to reality thanks to what he has done for his team. Blake noticed just how invested Koray was for his son, making him glad that he knew he had a great teacher in Mr. Demir.

All in all, Blake felt good to be home once more.

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Paul Shep
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Re: The Courage to Grow (The Toivonen family)

Postby Paul Shep » June 9th, 2016, 12:39 pm

Chapter 18 - Busted

July 26th, 2015

Blake and Erik landed back in Minneapolis late on a Friday night. The two reindeer were exhausted from a combination of jetlag and their whirlwind visit to Europe. They visited family and Erik competed in the EuroBasket U21 tournament. Even as he picked up his car from the airport parking, Blake couldn’t help but absently finger his phone.

He wondered if he should text Koray and let him know that he was back in Minnesota.

They’d been messaging back and forth via online instant messengers while he’d been gone and he honestly felt like they’d gotten closer in their time apart. And honestly, Blake was finding a certain thrill in keeping all of this away from Erik, who was asleep beside him. Sure, he felt bad about it, but at the same time, it was like he was a kid again. Blake smiled softly at the thought of the cross fox, affection in his eyes.

Pulling up to home, Blake shook Erik awake and the pair gathered their bags and headed into the house. Erik shuffled to his bedroom with a mumbled, “Good night”, Blake returning it before heading to his own room. He sat down on the edge of his bed and toyed with his cell, looking at the last message that Koray had sent him just the day before.



So simple, but those words meant so much to Blake. Koray missed him. And if he thought about it, he missed Koray.

Sighing, Blake put his phone back in his pocket and checked in on Erik shortly; the teen was fast asleep. With that, the reindeer headed back out to his car, locking the house up behind him before driving off into the Minnesota night.

---

March 2nd, 2016

Winter was still doing its rounds in Minnesota, but that did not stop students at Bedrock University from feeling a warm buzz. It was game night, and Bedrock’s basketball squad was facing Prairie Valley for the Midwest Conference final. If the team won this game, they would enter the 2016 FCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. The gym was filled to the brim, as thousands of students and parents gathered, waving ice blue and dark grey scarves and flags to support their school in such an important game.

Erik sat in the locker room, warmed up and ready to go, looking down towards his sneakers. He knew a pair of FBA scouts were in the crowd tonight, but he was not to be rattled by the fact. The team knew that Erik had great potential to turn pro, but they needed to win in order to not just help Erik, but the school to become a force in college sports once more.

A short, broad groundhog made his way into the locker room, holding a clipboard. His ice blue shirt showed off his beer gut all too well. It was Dalton McDougald, the head coach and he needed to address the team before the big game.

“Alright, listen up!” the groundhog belted out, his players paying him attention as they should. “This is it. Our ticket to the big event. You guys have been playing your tails off all season. And I mean everyone,” he smirked. “But I want one more win.”

The tension in the room began to rise, but it felt like a routine to Erik. His national team coach in Finland was even more intense than Dalton, but it helped his team win a bronze medal at a European tournament. Since Finland was not a basketball nation, it was a great accomplishment. This big game in America was a welcoming challenge for the young reindeer.

“At 1, Roxy. At 2, Zack, At 3, Olivia, At 4, Emmanuel, and at motherfudging 5, Erik!” Dalton read the starting line-up, riling up the team as the noise levels increased. “Let’s go!” the groundhog shouted, making the team stand up and put their warm-up gear on, each of them leaving the locker room one by one, walking into the tunnel. The players jumped a little, shook their arms and legs and loosened up until they were called out onto the court, to vivid cheers of the crowd that hoped to see a curse being broken.

As the teams gathered at the bench, Erik saw the bench players line up to greet the starters with high fives. One by one, the starters got their limelight as the announcer did his work on the microphone, greeted by the cheers of many. The first four players were announced, until the name on everyone’s mind finally appeared.

“And finally, the fur in the middle…7 foot 4 sophomore out of Oulu, Finland, please welcome number 81, Erik…Toivonen!!” The tall, grey reindeer walked up to his teammates and high fived each and every one of them, with a determined smirk on his snout, knowing they had his back tonight.

---

Koray sat at his office desk, staring at his laptop computer blankly. It was nearly 8:30 PM on a Thursday night and marking papers became increasingly difficult to do so. He leaned onto his elbows, rubbing his temples, sighing by himself.

The school year has been about the same for him, with students dropping out early in the year, and the one staying helped him at least feel better about himself as a teacher. One in particular kept standing out.

Erik Toivonen was not an exceptional student in regards to his grades, but his effort and will to learn was enough for Koray to develop an emotional bond with his boyfriend’s son, even if he was unaware that his own literature professor was seeing his father behind his back. That concept bothered him, yet he wanted Erik to focus on school rather than finding out about his father’s new relationship. But it was getting to a point where Koray just wanted to tell Erik about his feelings for the kid. He wanted to be part of Erik’s life. He saw Blake’s reflection in Erik every day, and it became increasingly harder not to think about a future together with the Toivonens. It was a motherly instinct for Koray, but he couldn’t help it after many months of seeing him in school, yet not being about to approach him as more than just his teacher.

Lindsay, a lynx tutor, walked into Koray’s office. Her dress shirt and shirt were showing slight wear from the day, as she stopped to check up on her foxy colleague.

“Still working on those?” she asked.

The cross fox adjusted his glasses and nodded. “Unfortunately. But I really can’t focus right now. I should just stop for the day,” Koray explained.

“Something on your mind?” Lindsay sat down at the desk, putting her bag down.

Koray sighed for a moment before finally nodding slightly. “You know about me and Blake Toivonen, right?”

The lynx nodded. “Of course, you told me months ago. Did something happen between you two?”

“No, not like that,” Koray tried to reassure. “But we have been living separately since we started. He really wants his son to focus on classes, rather than be distracted by our relationship. But it’s gotten to a point where I just can’t take it anymore. I am tired of living a lie for one of my favourite students.” The cross fox took off his glasses and rubbed behind his ear. “I want to be something more for Erik than just a teacher.”

Lindsay perked her ears up. “Why that’s wonderful, Koray. You have to tell him that!”

“Not until I can convince my boyfriend to talk to him about it,” the cross fox leaned on his hands over the table. “That’s his job, and he knows it.”

The lynx leaned back on her chair. “You think he will though? It seems like he’s scared to lose Erik.”

“But that’s the thing, they moved here together, they practice together. For crying out loud, he’s Erik’s father,” Koray exclaimed, rather loudly, as his frustration was mounting. “I need to push Blake to tell him. I can’t wait much longer.” Koray took a deep breath as he put his glasses back on. “I know Erik likes me as a teacher, but we’ll see what he thinks of me in a different role.”

“I’m sure Erik will warm up to you.” Lindsay stood up. “He is a great guy, and he does try his best, even if he doesn’t understand at first.” She adjusted the bag on her shoulder. “Give him time to think about this once he does find out.”

“You’re right.” The cross fox nodded, leaning back on his chair, breathing through his moist nose. “I need patience just as much as the other two.”

“Exactly.” The lynx smiled, prompting Koray to smile right back. “Oh, you might want to head down to the arena?” She made her way towards the exit before Koray stopped her.

“What for?”

“You do know Bedrock might go to the FCAA tournament this year, right?” Lindsay grinned. “Come on! The game is almost over!” and the lynx darted off down the hallway. Koray gulped. Erik was probably playing right now, and if he wanted to be part of his life, he needed the support. The cross fox packed his things hastily into his leather briefcase, turned off the lights and locked his door before following his colleague.

“Wait up!”

Koray was not an athlete by far. He jogged as fast as he could, watching as Lindsay’s heels clopped on the hard surface of the university hallways, the sound of a roaring crowd getting louder and louder. Something was going down. Koray’s phone rang, as he received a message. It was Blake, telling him to come down, but the cross fox was a step ahead of him. He followed Lindsay into the arena, the roar ringing in his pointy ears. He stood beside her as his heart began to race, trying to make sense of what was happening.

The scoreboard was ticking the seconds away. 20 seconds left. 55-54 was the score for the home team. Koray scanned the court and immediately found the long hair, the antlers and the big number 81 on the back of Erik’s jersey. The cross fox watched with perked ears.

The wolf point guard of Prairie Valley dribbled the ball upcourt, scanning for a potential play. Bedrock was tightly defending against their opponents. The wolf passed the ball to different teammates, but it was no use. The clock raced against him. 5 seconds left. He then sprinted through into the paint, seeing an opening, then handing the ball off to his elk teammate, who went for the lay-up. Koray tensed up.

Then, as the elk rolled the ball off his hand towards the net, a grey hand reached up and swatted the ball away, and into Yvonne’s hands. The mule deer wrapped her arms around the ball before anyone could get to it. The final buzzer rang.

Bedrock’s fans were ecstatic. The team jumped off the bench to the cheers of the sold out crowd, and stormed the arch as all fifteen players embraced each other, fist-pumping and cheering. Bedrock University has just punched their ticket to the FCAA tournament. Finally, the state of Minnesota would have a representative in the biggest college tournament of the country again.

The cross fox standing on the stairs of the arena could not believe what he just saw. Lindsay belted out in excitement as she wrapped her arms around her colleague, jumping with glee.

“They did it! They did it!” she cheered.

“Yes! They won, right? They won?” Koray was confused as he held onto his glasses, unable to comprehend what was going on. But he saw Erik, the tall reindeer, in the middle of it all, as he hugged and high-fived his teammates. A bright smile was on the young buck’s face, making the fox smile himself. He was just happy to see Erik smile so brightly, like he’d never seen him smile before.

---

March 5th, 2016

Koray sighed, sliding his fingers up the ridge of his muzzle and rubbing at the bridge of his nose, glasses raising as he tried to focus back on his book. It was late, he was tired, but he was at a point in his book where he didn’t want to stop reading. Besides, a good harlequin romance before bed always helped him sleep.

And he’d been having a hard time sleeping without Blake around. It’s crazy to imagine that after many months, they still hadn’t actually spent a night together yet. They’d made habits of sending ‘Good night’ and ‘Good morning’ texts to each other, something they couldn’t do when they were a world apart. They would chat online whenever they both got a chance, but the timezones made it difficult.

So tonight, Koray would just read his book and go to bed.

Before he could get back to his reading, he heard a gentle knock on his front door. Frowning, his ears flickered, and he decided to ignore it; anybody calling on him at this time of night was not somebody he felt like dealing with, he was sure. He focused back on his book again, but just as he started reading once more, the knock came again, louder this time, and accompanied by a voice calling out to him in a hushed tone.

“Koray? Koray, are you awake?”

The fox’s ears perked straight up; he recognized that voice, and he hadn’t thought he’d hear it anytime soon. Blake wasn’t due home yet was he? It didn’t seem like the date was right, but that had definitely been the reindeer’s deep rumbling voice. Koray put his bookmark in place and closed his book, setting it aside before scurrying to the door, not even caring that he only wore his pyjama pants.

Looking through the peephole briefly, his fluffy tail wagged happily behind him as he unlocked the door and pulled it open.

“Blake?” he murmured, his golden eyes shining brightly. But before the reindeer could open his mouth in greeting, he had a pair of arms wrapped around his neck and a set of lips pressed firmly against his own. Shocked, his eyes widened, his hands held off to his sides, not entirely sure what to do with this little surprise.

But as quickly as it had started, it was over, and Koray was standing back looking terribly embarrassed by what he’d just done. His bushy tail hung low, his ears laid back, and he looked quite sorry for overstepping those boundaries they’d set. The fox had promised to go at Blake’s pace, follow his lead, and here he’d just jumped right over those lines they’d drawn.

“Blake...I...I’m sorry,” Koray stammered, trying to keep his composure. “I...I just…I know you’re not ready...”

Blake had been surprised by the kiss, but looking at Koray as the poor fox rambled he found himself smiling affectionately. When was the last time he’d been welcomed home so enthusiastically? With such love and affection? He hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed that. He barely thought of it, stepping forward into Koray’s home and leaning down to press a kiss against the fox’s lips, silencing his rambling quite effectively.

Pulling back, the reindeer smiled down at the stunned fox, nuzzling their noses together. “I missed you, too, Koray,” he murmured in that thickly accented voice of his, Koray’s tail starting to wag softly behind him as he smiled up at Blake, moving into those warm arms and returning an even warmer kiss.

As they parted this time, he smiled, closing his front door and locking it before properly inviting Blake in for a little nightcap and some conversation.

The two sat down on the couch, two cups of tea on the table in front of them, as Koray adjusted his glasses and began to talk.

“Blake, I need to talk to you about Erik.” Koray’s smile had already faded, as he began to be serious. Blake dropped his ears.

“It’s been 9 months now since we started going out together, and I’m tired of living a lie for Erik.” the cross fox took a deep breath as the nervous energy was making him crawl inside his own fur. “I want him to know about this.”

Blake wanted to refuse the idea, but he dropped his finger rather quickly. He knew this would come sooner or later.

“No, you’re right,” Blake sighed as he hunched over. “I’ve been meaning to do this sooner or later myself, but you know I didn’t want him to lose focus on school. I will not make a big deal out of this.”

“I think it’s too late for that.” Koray crossed his arms. “We’ve had months now to figure this out, but you keep putting it off because of his education. I know you want Erik to focus, but we cannot do this behind his back either. We’re not children, Blake. It’s not fair to all of us. We have to tell him.”

“But how?” Blake rubbed his hair. “I cannot suddenly drop this on him like a bomb. That’s crazy. ‘Oh hey, Erik, listen, I’m going out with a man now.’ No, I can’t do that.” The reindeer was making a mockery of himself without even realizing that the fox beside him was unamused. Koray could only rub his temples as he leaned back. Blake stopped talking as he watched Koray. “I’m…I’m sorry. I just have no idea how to say this to him.”

“I know.” Koray sighed. “I know. But if you want me to be part of something bigger with your family, then you have to let me in and be that someone. I love Erik like a son, too, and you know that.”

Blake simply nodded and slouched back into the couch, rubbing his head, his mind clouded with thoughts on how he was supposed to get over this issue. The fox beside him moved over close to his side and placed a hand on the reindeer’s knee.

“Look, I know you only want the best for him, and I completely understand. But you need to do this, for all of us,” Koray said before putting his head on Blake’s chest. “He is not 12 years old, Blake.”

The reindeer found it hard to give a reply immediately. He looked around the decorated living room, trying to find words. The fox on his chest gave Blake a gentle rub on his stomach.

“I want to take care of him, too, Blake,” Koray said as he relaxed, being near his boyfriend for once.

“We’ll get it taken care of one way or another,” Blake huffed, leaning back in his seat, not stopping Koray’s antics.

Eventually Blake was stretched out on the length of Koray’s couch, dozing, and the fox soon chose to join him in a peaceful sleep.

---

Upon awakening, Blake found the gentle weight of the fox resting on top of him where he lay sprawled over a couch, his large body unable to fully fit on the piece of furniture. He stretched carefully, trying his best not to wake the sleeping fox, but when he absently checked the time on his watch he was forced to do a double take.

(“Shit!”) Blake exclaimed in his native language; he’d meant to be home early that morning so that Erik would be none the wiser of his slipping away, but the reindeer had overslept. Shifting, he gently shook Koray awake, soon meeting bleary golden eyes.

“Huh…? Wha…? Blake…?” He murmured cluelessly, sleepily.

“I overslept, Koray. I need to get home. Erik’s going to catch me,” Blake said urgently, concern on his features. But as Blake scrambled to get this things to head out, his phone on the coffee table went off. It was Erik.

“Oh,” Koray replied, seeing Erik’s face on Blake’s phone. The older reindeer sighed and picked up the phone. “(Hello.)”

“(Where the hell are you, dad?)” the younger reindeer on the phone was irritated. Erik knew his dad should be home in the morning, but this time, it was different. There was a sense of curiosity in his voice as well.

“(I’m… I’m with someone right now. Sorry, I meant to tell you,)” Blake tried to cover up, but it was feeling like a desperate attempt to cover up.

“(What? A client? A new friend? You don’t usually do such a thing around me.)” Erik was beginning to grow impatient.

“I…” Blake paused as Koray moved over to his side, giving him a reassuring look. It had to be now. “(I’ll be home soon. I need to tell you something.)”

“Ok?” Erik replied.

“(I’ll talk to you at home,)” Blake said before hanging up. The load on his shoulders was piling up on him, and he was feeling it. He rubbed his forehead, trying to calm down. It was then that Koray rubbed his back and shoulders, trying to comfort his hoofed boyfriend.

“Do what you must, Blake.” Koray nodded. “But let me go with you.”

Blake nodded. He would need the support.

---

Koray watched from the passenger seat of Blake’s vehicle as the reindeer walked to the back door to open it. He rubbed his cheek nervously. He knew that this moment had to come, but it was hard to go through. Leaning forward to look into his bag, he pulls out another book and opens to the page where he left it. A distraction from this was welcome at this point.

Blake opened the door and walked in, a look of shame on his face, trying to keep his composure. Erik was on the couch, on his phone as he sees his father approach and sit down opposite to him.

“Erik,” Blake started, looking at his son, who said nothing. “(I should have told you this a long time ago.)”

“(Just tell me what it is, dad.)” Erik was beginning to feel really grumpy, as he crossed his arms.

Blake rubbed his head and took a deep breath before he finally spoke honestly. “(I’ve met someone, and we have been dating for some time now. I wasn’t sure how you would react to it, because it hasn’t been long since me and your mother broke up. But I want you to know that… well… he loves you as much as I do and wants you to have that step into adulthood.)” Blake waited for a moment for Erik’s reaction.

“(Wait, what? He?)” Erik began to grow confusion as he couldn’t comprehend the idea of his father dating a male at his age.

“(Yes, a he.)” Blake swallowed. “(But not just, well, anyone,)” the older reindeer took another deep breath. “(It’s Koray.)”

“(You’re dating my TEACHER!??)” Erik’s voice erupted, out of shock more than embarrassment. The younger reindeer stood up and walked to the kitchen. “(How could you, dad!? Is this so I can pass that literature class!?)” he raised suspicion, but Blake was quick to cut him off.

“(Absolutely not! I would never do such a thing!)” Blake snorted, unimpressed. “(This had nothing to do with your grades! You’re a smart young man! You don’t need me to scoop low like that!)” Now Blake was the angry one, staring at his son.

Erik only managed to calm down and simply say, “Sorry,” before stopping once more to collect his thoughts.

Blake stood straight. “(Like I said, we never mentioned your grades. That is all on you, Mister,)” he snorted again.

The younger reindeer leaned back against the counter, nodding. A few minutes passed, as silence rang through the house. Then Erik spoke again.

“(So why a guy?)” Erik looked up to him. “(I have nothing against homosexuals, but how long has this been going on?)” he tried to remain composed, as he brushed his long hair aside. “(Is that why you divorced mom?)”

Blake’s heart sank. “(No, not that. Look, it was a spur of the moment, ok?)” The older reindeer looked to his son helplessly. “(He asked me out after we had dinner once, and I was just so unsure. I hadn’t dated someone in years, and I had no idea if I should have said yes or no. I just needed to find an answer for myself, if I wanted to take the chance and see if I like it, and I wanted to hold off on this, because I didn’t want you to lose focus on school. You didn’t need a distraction like that. I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m deeply sorry.” the older reindeer paused as he tried to come up with a good explanation. Erik’s expression slowly began to turn sour.

“(All I wanted was to give Koray a chance and not get you involved in this. I didn’t want you to suffer in school, but I was selfish, ok? I was selfish trying to cover up so I didn’t distract you, and you didn’t have to worry about me. I’m so sorry.)” The reindeer’s eyes began to water as the weight of his action began to load up on his back. He told the truth to his son with a heavy heart, his big hand shaking a little.

Erik sighed, rubbing his hair. He turned away. “(I don’t know what to say,)” he explains as he moved to grab his backpack. “(You’ve been lying to me for months now, and you’re probably gay too. I just… I can’t do this,)” he says as he wrapped the backpack around him and walked out the front door, shutting it, without another word.

Blake held onto the kitchen counter, his eyes watery, as he slipped down, eventually sitting on the cold, tiled floor beneath, sobbing away as his internal troubles got to him greatly. Putting his head into his hands, the shame and embarrassment was at a boiling point, as the tears rolled down his grey cheeks.

The back door opened, and Koray stepped in to the Toivonen townhouse for the first time. His ears perked as he heard the sobs of a familiar voice. He dashed to the kitchen to see a heartbroken reindeer, leaning against the counter. With a wince, he got to his knees and wrapped his arms around the distraught Blake.

“You’re all right, Blake.” Koray tried to speak tenderly to his boyfriend.

“I’m such an awful father,” Blake sobbed.

“No,no you’re not.” Koray rubbed Blake’s hair, trying to calm him down. “You had good intentions, but they were not the best. Just, please, Blake, I’m sorry too. I’m sorry it got to this.” The cross fox put his glasses aside and pressed his snout against the reindeer’s cheek fur, wincing alongside his reindeer mate. The two tried to calm each other, but the lies and wrongdoings of Blake were just heavy on both of them. It would take a good 15 minutes until the two could recollect their thoughts and feel the closeness of their relationship.

Image

Blake was hurt, but the worst part was over.


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