The shrill whistle sounded out, bringing an end to the practise. Millicent Yarborough waved the players toward her, calling for them to gather around. “It was an early mornin’ practise,” Millicent said with a firm nod to the entire group. “But you’ve done well. That may be in part due ta the fact that getting up at five in the mornin’ is common place for everyone here.” She smiled as the players chuckled lightly at the small joke. In truth, it was a compliment to their dedication as air cadets.
“Here’s what I’ll need from each o’ you before tomorrow’s match,” Millicent said, her voice quieting a bit as she took a more serious tone. “I know that you will all be nervous. But we’ve all worked hard ta get where we are durin’ this season. You’ve all done well. It’s not over, though. We’ve got one game left.”
“And then the final match,” one of the players called out, a tall looking Vulpine with black fur. There was a small chuckle from all of the players at the comment.
“Yes, but let’s focus on tomorrow’s game, Gregory,” Millicent said with a friendly reminder. “Tonight, get some rest. A proper bed time for all o’ you.” She looked to each player for a moment before she concluded her small speech. “Alright, get cleaned up, an’ I’ll see you on the pitch tomorrow.” She let out one more shrill whistle and the players began to make their way back to the change rooms.
“A bit of lunch?” Senia asked of Clarfax and Hardy as they walked together back to the change rooms. “I could go for a good meal after a long practise like that.”
“I’d love that, myself,” Hardy replied. She sighed as they walked along. “Funny, isn’t it. How we’ve been together here for six years. And now it’s all comin’ to an end.”
“Not bitter sweet, I’d hope,” Clarfax stated with a smile. “We’ve still got evaluations, and placements. I’m fully confident we’ll all have the proper choice of where we want to go.”
“Which means,” Senia said with a smile as she lift a finger to the sky. “76th, here we come!”
Lunch on a fifth day of the week was almost always held at The Flying Fox in the village proper. It had become a regular spot for air cadets, visiting pilots and old veterans alike. It wasn’t uncommon to hear one wily old veteran schooling some of the younger cadets on the tactics of air combat, flying the old air craft or even some of the more harrowing escapes that had become legend around the small tavern and diner. Those tales were most often told during the evening hours. During late morning to early afternoon, it seemed much more quiet.
On this day, only a few of the villagers had made their way into the diner for a spot of lunch and maybe some tea. There was old Mr. Crandal, who was always seen at the diner at eleven o’clock, reading his paper and smoking his pipe at the sidewalk tables with a cup of tea at hand. Miss Swifter was there as well, taking a rest from her daily deliveries around the village as she would always complete the mail run in Chattingham. A few of the young kits and cubs from the nearby Chattingham Elementary School would often stop by to purchase sodas. And finally, a few of the Academy students were almost always present.
For Senia, Clarfax and Hardy, they had become just as well known as the others who frequented this place, and they received greetings and salutations as they walked inside and took up their usual table. As was often the case, the proprietor of the Flying Fox would always greet them, as was the case with every customer.
“Just a wee bit before noon time,” Abigail Crenshaw said in her cheerful, sing song tone. “A bit early ta see you three here.” Abigail, or Abby as she was known, was tan coloured Felanus who had come to Foxburrow from the eastern desert of Sandicia years ago with a business prospect in mind. Before the outbreak of the Great Lupine Land War, she had opened her tavern and diner and done quite well for herself.
“Just finished rough ball practise,” Senia informed her.
“Oh that’s right,” Abby said with a big grin. “T’morrow’s the match against House Fennec. Been so busy ’round here I almost forgot.” Abby was the kind of hostess who knew her clientele very, very well, and she could always be able to make dinner and supper suggestions to each customer. “Clarfax, we’ve got a lovely Sandician salad, complete with fresh lettuce, cucumber, a smatterin’ of goat cheese an’ lightly sprinkled with a tasty toppin’ that’s not too spicy an’ not too sweet.”
“I’d love that, Miss Crenshaw,” Clarfax said with a nod as he smiled at the thought of the dish. “And maybe, if I could also have a slice of your famous lemon pie.”
“I’ll get you the pie after the salad,” Abby said, then turned to Hardy. “Thick slices o’ ham, topped with equally thick slices o’ pale cheese, lettuce an’ tomato, with a light sauce, all between two thick slices of rye bread. As an added bonus, a side dish of fresh prawns, lightly battered.”
“Oh, Miss Crenshaw, you make it sound wonderful,” Hardy said, nearly smacking her lips together. “In truth, I know that what you describe is only a teaser for what’s to come.”
Abby grinned and patted Hardy’s shoulder, then turned to Senia. “You look in the mood for a late brunch. A thick, Malayan waffle, topped with rich, whipped cream, strawberries and drowned in a thick Kanatian syrup.”
“Remind me, that should ever I grow despondent, that I just need come here and listen to you speak of food, Miss Crenshaw,” Senia said with a smile as she nodded her approval of the suggested dish.
Abby giggled lightly and clapped her hands, adding one final thing. “It is early in the day, so I believe a tall glass of apple juice would suit. Though, as an added incentive for tomorrow’s match, I just recently procured four kegs of Rose Petal Ale. Come here after the match, and win ‘r lose, I promise one round on the house for the team.”
“Oh, you can count on that, Miss Crenshaw,” Senia replied with a big grin. Hardy and Clarfax nodded quickly in agreement, and Abby, satisfied with her ability to pin point what her customers wanted, hurried back to the kitchen to fill the orders.
“Have I mentioned how much I love this place?” Senia said as the three were left to their own discussion.
“I just hope we’ll find someplace like this when we get our placement,” Hardy remarked. “Though, I’ve heard the main ship that the 76th is often carried on has an excellent diner like this.”
“I thought deep space carriers had large mess halls,” Clarfax piped up as he tried to recall some obscure information from a book he once read.
“I know for a fact that the Tritan has a mess hall, a forward lounge, and a tavern style diner,” Hardy said with a grin.
“But the Tritan is a star destroyer,” Clarfax argued as he tried to think of his old classes in ship history. “They have limited crew.”
“No no,” Hardy said as she shook her head, stating boldly her knowledge of ships in the Vulpine Fleet. “The Tritan is a star cruiser, and has a crew compliment of three thousand, and an additional air craft support of five hundred.” Hardy turned as she heard chuckling from Senia’s chair. “What?”
“You two,” Senia said as she tried to compose herself. “You always do this. It’s either Hardy’s knowledge of ships, or Clarfax’s absolute certainty of spacial anomalies or even stars in the sky.”
“Keeps life interesting,” Clarfax said with a firm nod. The three chuckled in unison for a moment, then looked up as they were greeted by a cheery voice.
“Hello everyone,” Claudia Whitefur said with a smile. “Wasn’t expecting to see you three here.”
“It’s a traditional spot for air cadets,” Senia said as she motioned for Claudia to sit down. “We’ve been coming here every fifth day of the week for six years now.”
“I don’t often make it here too often,” Claudia said as she took her seat, carefully setting down her bookbag. “And when I do, it’s usually on the second day of the week. But today was a good day, so I wanted to treat myself.”
“A good day?” Clarfax asked as he leaned forward. “What did you do?”
“It was my last final exam,” she replied with confidence.
“I take it by the sound in your voice that you aced it,” Hardy said as she nudged Claudia.
“Naturally,” Claudia replied.
“Well, wasn’t expectin’ a fourth t’day,” came the voice of Abby as she approached the table with a tray. She talked as she set down plates in front of the three air cadets. “Let’s see. I think I have you figured out. Lovely watercress sandwiches on whole wheat bread, three lightly cooked farmer sausages, an’ a bowl o’ strawberries an’ fresh farm cream.”
“Yes please, Miss Crenshaw,” Claudia replied with a smile. She turned back to the others as Abby left once more to take care of the order. “And that is why I like coming here for a treat, because Miss Crenshaw knows exactly what I like.”
“Back to the exam,” Clarfax said as he pulled up his chair to the table. “How’d the others do? Bobby? Gilly?”
“Gilly looked pretty confident,” Claudia said with a nod. “Robert was his usual self, but I think he did fine. He knows the material better than anyone.”
“I heard Robert is more worried about placement after he graduates,” Senia said before taking a sip of her juice. “He’ll have a lot of options open to him, I know that for certain.”
“After the exam, he and Aria went off to the memorial together,” Claudia stated. The conversation paused as Abby returned with Claudia’s order. Once they were all squared away, they began to eat, continuing their conversation between bites.
“I heard Aria and Bobby are going to the graduation ceremonies together,” Hardy said in a quiet tone. “I wonder if Aria’s told Bobby yet.”
“Told Bobby what?” Clarfax asked as he nibbled on some lettuce leaves. Claudia seemed equally curious.
“Hardy!” Senia said as she shook her head. “Aria asked that we not gossip about… you know. It’s disrespectful to do that.”
Clarfax seemed rather confused, but it was Claudia that put two and two together. “Oh, you mean that Aria is the eldest daughter of the Ocata Royal Family?” Hardy looked to Senia and merely motioned to Claudia. “I thought everyone knew that.”
“I didn’t,” Clarfax said with a huff as he finished his salad. “It would appear I’m the last to find these things out.”
“That would be because you have your head in a book all the time,” Hardy teased lightly.
“Why don’t we pop around the memorial after we’re finished,” Senia suggested. “I haven’t walked through there in a few weeks, be nice to remember who came before us. And maybe we’ll run into Aria and Bobby as well.”
The four agreed and continued their meal, chatting about various things such as the upcoming rough ball match, graduation, expectations after school and much more. Including a wish that they never stay out of touch.