"Nick." Judy said flatly.
"Hm?" Nick mumbled back.
"If we survived meeting my family I think I can handle meeting your mom."
"Are you implying that I'm worried?"
"You've been staring at your phone the entire walk here. With the screen turned off."
Nick saw his own eyes widen in the reflection of his phone screen. Putting the phone into his pocket, Nick nervously scratched the back of his neck. "Yeah well, you had to drag me there but at least you wanted to visit your parents. I'm not sure if I want to visit Mom."
This was a lie. "Nick, you know that's just wrong. You've told me so many times how much your mom means to you. How you try to visit her whenever you can. How you send her money; she's part of the reason you were squatting, probably! I've heard nothing but good things about her, but the second I mention visiting her, you're against it, and I want answers!" Judy exclaimed while darting in front of Nick and crossing her arms. The suburban street wasn't very lively and Nick frankly didn't care if anyone overheard them, so he figured he better come clean before they arrive at his mother's apartment complex.
"Okay, where to begin. Oh yeah, first of all I forgot to mention she has a husband. My stepdad I guess. I was already out of the house when they met around 5 years ago so he tends to slip my mind when I think of 'home' as it was." Nick mentioned.
"Oh." Judy paused. "Is he the problem then?" Judy asked with hesitation.
"PFFFFF. Mikey?! That nutjob of a fox doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He's the best thing to happen to my mom in forever. He even adds his income to the mix, which gives me a little extra peace of mind. Love the guy, couldn't ask for a better person to leave my mom with." Nick laughed off Judy's assumptions.
"Oh, well that's good to hear." Judy breathed a sigh of relief. "So if its not him, it really is a problem you have with your mom? Or me?"
Nick paused and thought of how to explain this the right way. "Well, the interspecies mates thing isn't going to be fun. Frankly I have no idea how she'll react, it might be just as tense as with your family." Judy winced as Nick reminded her of some of her parents' ways. They had come a long way but they still slipped up and said some offensive things when she had brought Nick over. Judy turned into a big fight, not ready to cower to her parents. "So it's not your fault for being a bunny. It might be her fault if she doesn't accept you. I've done nothing but introduce her to foxes, albeit only two. Well, and a badger, but unlike you, I wasn't dating Honey."
"Who were the foxes then?" Judy asked.
"Finnick." Another pause from Nick. "And Vivian."
"Oh." Judy's assumptions were met. Nick didn't like to talk about her. When she had asked before she had learned some details about how the relationship was unhealthy. Vivian was the most serious girlfriend Nick had ever had; the longest lasting relationship too. It was clear Nick was willing to share these things with Judy but she always felt bad for asking, like she was pulling at his tail to get every answer. Nick was somebody who could spend hours talking about Judy and things that he was interested in or even just mindless chitchat, but any uncomfortable subjects felt like they had to be drained out of him. He didn't like talking about Vivian, or even Finnick and Honey, the closest animals that could be called his friends. And now that they were out of Zootopia, Judy was learning Nick's apprehensions about his own mother.
"Anyways, Carrots; the truth is I really do want you to meet her. I love my mom and I love you. I want you to be part of my life and she deserves to meet you. 'Who cares, I love you', right?" Nick repeated their little mantra with a smile.
This seemed to appease Judy, as she uncrossed her arms and relaxed her stance. Nick's loving words brought a smile to her face and warmth to her heart. Sometimes she just needed reassurance that she was going in the right direction with this fox. "Thanks Nick, that really helped me to hear all of that." Judy spoke with a quick hug to her mate.
"I wasn't done though." Nick's words made Judy's ears perk up. She stepped back and continued listening to him speak, both of them leaning against the restaurant wall they happened to choose as an impromptu spot for this heart-to-heart. "It's not about you and it's not about my mom. It's about me." Nick fidgeted. "I've been lying to her about my life."
"Nick..." Judy began.
"Yeah, I know, I'm an awful son. But as far as she knows I have some mediocre office job. It's the most boring of all lies but I didn't say anything too grand that would arouse suspicion. So she still knows I failed at what I originally wanted to do in Zootopia, but at least she doesn't know that I'm a criminal. Brought over Finnick, told her that he was a new employee that I was training and a friend. Of course I had to pay him for the visit. Brought over Honey, told her that she was my boss and also a friend. I just had to convince Honey to act professional and not spout conspiracy theories. Also Honey asked for some of my fur in return...I didn't bother questioning what she was going to do with it."
"I see." Judy commented, wanting Nick to go on.
"And Vivian, well, that was just me introducing my mom to a girl. Probably got her hopes up that I'd get married and have grandkits. Then again I don't think Vivian rubbed her the right way, so maybe she was relieved about our breakup." Nick rubbed his temples. "Anyways, Carrots, thank you for volunteering to come lie to my mom with me." he emphasized with a pat on her head.
It was obvious now why Nick had such mixed feelings about coming home. "You know I don't like lying." Judy protested, furrowing her brow. "You're going to come clean one day."
"I do know that. To be honest she'll probably figure it out today. Not many animals just drop what they were doing and become a police officer. If she doesn't figure it out though, I'll definitely come clean some day. I just don't want to hurt her. She's getting older, and she can be really fragile."
"Oh! So you're going to at least tell her about the ZPD?" Judy asked, a bit happier at the prospects of some truth. Also she was pleased to hear once again that caring tone in Nick's voice; he really does care for his mom.
Nick stopped looking around the street to meet Judy with a steely gaze. "Much like being your mate, being an officer is something that I'm really proud of. I want to tell her something that will make both me and her happy for once."
Judy's heart skipped a beat. She sometimes forgets how intense Nick can be when he wants to. Those eyes fixated on her always made her feel stunned, yet happy that she was their focus. "You ever miss an opportunity to be sweet?" Judy kidded while looking away bashfully.
Nick grinned. "With you? Never. So, are you on board for today? Because once we get walking it should only be a couple minutes from here." The apartment complex was a short walk from the bus stop. For obvious reasons Nick didn't feel like explaining this on the less personal shuttle bus from Zootopia.
Judy bit her lip before responding. "Yes, I'll do it for you. And for me. I do want to meet your mom, but I really want you to open up to her. It's not good to keep secrets like this, and for so long."
"Deal. If you have any more questions, let's walk and talk."
With a couple of raps on the door, Nick could hear footsteps on the way. Judy was quite fidgety, the anticipation of making a good impression was weighing heavily upon her. The door opened, and a short woman stood before the two of them. Judy noted that she was a fox of similar coat color and markings as Nick, but stood more than an entire fox's head below Nick. She wore a magenta sweater with a white scarf, as well as a long navy skirt. Nick's fragile comment came to mind, as she was a rather frail woman of slim build. Visible signs of middle age were present in her facial features, a few flecks of grap on her snout, but her emerald eyes twinkled in the same youthful way Nick's did, and were extra bright beholding her son.
"There's my handsome young man!" She sang with joy in her voice as she moved in her a hug. "And so big! Nicholas I'd say you got taller but I know that at this point I'm probably shrinking."
"You seem the same to me, Mom. Beautiful as always." Nick sang back while returning the hug. Judy felt a bit bad, knowing that under his sweet talk was some bitter emotions, whereas his mother's was genuinely sweet.
"And it's so good to finally meet the Judy I've heard so much about. Nick just couldn't stop talking about you!" She singsonged in Judy's direction now. Judy saw Nick's ears perk up as his whole body tensed as he heard this.
Judy felt a bit stunned too, but was happy to be met with such a warm reception. "Thank you, uh, ma'am. H-he's talked plenty about you too. I'm reallyexcited you to have me, I mean, to be here with you and Nick and at this house, or, apartment-" Judy felt herself stammering.
"Is there a problem dear?" Nick's Mother asked innocently with her head tilted. 'Great job Judy! She's just a sweet lady and your apprehensions are getting the better of you' Judy scolded herself.
Not knowing what to say on the spot, Judy reached in her bag for her diversion and held out a tin. "I made you a pie." she said with an uncomfortably wide smile plastered to her face.
Judy saw a spark in the vixen's eyes, a slight slant of her brows, and the faintest smug grin forming at the corners of her mouth; immediately she could see the uncanny family resemblance to Nick. "Judy, dear. Nick already told me that you're a bunny."
With that arrow safely in the bullseye, a weight was lifted from Judy's shoulders, even if it made her a bit embarassed.
She lifted the blueberry pie out of Judy's paws. "And thank you for the pie, it is very sweet of you. Both of you, come on in while I make some tea and cut up the pie; say hello to Michael while you're at it." Nick's Mother gently walked away inside the apartment, her careful steps seeming like tiptoes. 'What a sweet, dainty lady' Judy couldn't help but think.
Judy looked over to Nick with some embarassment. "You could have told me that you told her that, you know?"
"Did you honestly think I wouldn't tell her something as basic as that?" Nick deadpanned. "I still don't know how much she'll approve of me being in a committed interspecies relationship, but I wouldn't have brought you here if she didn't approve. And then I wouldn't have came either."
"Yeah, I assumed, but I guess I was wrong. Because apparently you 'couldn't stop talking abou-'" Judy began to tease before she was cut off.
"Yeah! Well, you know! Moms, am I right?! She exaggerates a lot, probably just made you want to feel special, let's go inside." Nick spat out in embarassment while turning his head away from Judy.
Judy grinned. "You know you love me. And you know that she was telling the truth about you singing my praises."
"Do I know that?" Nick paused for dramatic effect before turning back to Judy with a boop on her nose. "Yes. Yes I do."
Upon entering the living room, a stout red fox with mangy fur stirred in his recliner. His thick coat further emphasized his bulk, and some fur hang forward on his head, giving him the impression of obscured eyes and bushy brows. He laid under a pile of blankets, so just his head was visible. "Nicky?" he called out raspily. "Is that you, sonny?"
Nick paused for a moment, but then gave a knowing wink. "It sure is, Mikey." he replied.
"What's that?! Speak up if you would be so kind!" Came the raspy reply.
Nick moved closer to the stout fox's side. "I said it sure is me!" Nick said slowly and much louder this time to compensate for his loss of hearing. "How have you been?" he continued slowly and clearly for the elder fox.
"Oh I'm good, I'm good. Ain't gettin any younger!" he punctuated with a raspy cough.
"This," Nick motioned over towards the bunny in the room. "is my girlfriend. Her name is Judy."
Judy stood there awkwardly. Sure, she was the bunny who had the hots for a fox, so who was she to judge, but the age difference between Nick's Mother and this Mikey was a bit staggering; it must have been way larger than the age difference between herself and Nick. He looked ancient the way he was bundled up in the recliner with fur obscuring his eyes. Surely he wasn't that old? He seems that old. Is that rude to think? "Nice to meet you, sir." Judy said, putting her best thumper forward.
The old fox squinted at her, or at least Judy assumed he was squinting. He merely leaned forwards as the fur obscured most of his countenance. "O-oh. She's one mighty small fox there, Nicky. Is she a Fennec?" Mikey asked turning to Nick.
This made Judy sweat a bit. Does he not know? Did he forget? Would he care? Will he remember five minutes from now? "U-uhm. Actually sir, I'm a bunny." Judy stated meekly.
Nick laughed. "It's probably already odd enough for Judy to be here in a new environment, Mikey. Let's drop it here and take it easy on her."
With a frown and a swift motion of smoothing his fur back out of his face, a much younger looking fox could finally be seen. He threw the multiple blankets off of himself revealing a much more robust body than the 'frail old man' act gave away. "If you insist. Sorry to mess with you like that, Judy! Just pullin' your tail!" Mikey cheerily said as he stood up and held out his paw. Judy noted that he was just about as tall as his wife; he was a shorty and stocky fellow.
Judy's eyes widened in surprise before she complied with a smile and a firm handshake. "You got me, sir"
"Ha, might as well put this heap of mangy fur to good use for a nice laugh every once and a while. I'm actually a year younger than Rosie, if you could believe that! And please, just call me Mikey, cause' I sure have never been a 'sir'."
"You two should both be ashamed." Nick's Mother said jokingly as came into the room with a tray containing plates of pie slices and cups of tea. "Judy dear, don't mind the two of them. As glad as I am that they get along, the amount of trouble those two can cook up is terrifying. Although I'm sure you're used to such japery if you've been around my son for more than a day."
Judy's mind immediately flashed to the camel joke Nick pulled at the DMV. Batting off traumatic images of Flash's slow motion reaction to the joke, Judy gave her answer. "Oh, you have no idea, ma'am. Nick has two modes; joking and asleep." Judy grinned as she stole a glance at Nick. He grinned back, figuring he had this two-versus-one coming the second he invited his girlfriend over to meet his mother. Hopefully Mikey can come in for backup if the girlfriend-mother combination roast kept up.
She smiled down at Judy. "And just as Michael is no 'sir', I would rather you not call me 'ma'am'. Rose is my name if you'd be so kind as to call me that."
"Sorry, force of habit being so official I guess. Rose Wilde is a beautiful name." Judy complied. Judy couldn't help but remember that she may not carry the Wilde surname anymore with Mikey in the picture. Wilde was her maiden name that she reverted back to, and Nick insisted on carrying. Nick's biological father left without a trace while Nick was still a small child. Just a note. Going on carrying an absent father's name made Nick violently ill, so he changed it as soon as he could understand the gravity of the situation. 'Hope he's having an awful time wherever he is' Nick's words echoed in Judy's memory. She had once asked Nick if he knew where his father was now. 'And if I ever saw him again I wouldn't think twice about beating the shit out of him. Maybe take a good chunk of cash as payment for all the child support he dodged. Making my mom raise me on her own like that...fuck, you know what? I'm glad he left. It was just me and Mom. We didn't need anyone else.' Nick was venomous, and rightly so. Remembering this made Judy feel all the better seeing how well Nick got along with his mother and Mikey.
"And just as beautiful as a wild rose." Mikey cooed while making a sweet face at his wife.
Rose busied herself by dispensing cups of tea and plates of Judy's pie among the four of them. "Flatterers. All three of you! You're all too kind. Especially you, Judy. I'm glad Nick found somebody so sweet, and not to mention cute."
Nick's tail sprang up. The C-word was uttered. Judy's face tensed a bit but she was ready to let it slide. "Actually, Mom. Judy doesn't like being called 'cute'. It's a bunny thing."
"Oh, goodness. I'm sorry, dear. It slipped my mind. I don't have many close friends that are prey." Rose corrected her faux pas. "I guess I'm a bit clumsy about stuff like that."
"Oh, it's no big deal, really!" Judy felt a bit embarassed that Nick jumped in the way he did.
"Nonsense. If something makes you uncomfortable, you need only tell me. I'm not above admitting there's a lot about other animals that I don't know. Don't rely on my lazy boy to fight all your battles for you." Rose chided.
"Hey, I'm a busy guy on the clock, forgive me if I need my naps." Nick defended himself against his mother.
Rose giggled. "I was thinking more of your teenage years, Nick. So much time spent in your room, laying in bed or watching TV." Nick felt a shock of embarassment. 'Lazy' is a much nicer word for what those days were like. "A growing boy needed his rest, I suppose." Rose went on. Judy thought it was cute how doting Rose was over Nick, but completely missed the underlying understanding between the mother and son. She nibbled on a bite of her pie, admiring the relationship between the three foxes. Judy let her eyes wander, and saw that the furniture seemed mostly appropriate for foxes. A bit larger, so it could ergonomically fit larger animals. Nick seemed to fit the furniture just about right but Mikey and Rose both seemed a bit too small in it. And of course Judy was quite undersized, but she was used to that.
"So how goes work, Nick?" Mikey asked.
Nick stopped sipping on his tea and put his cup down. Might as well cross this bridge already. "About that." He began. Judy looked over nervously. This was going to be a big reveal and could arouse suspicion. "Judy here isn't just my mate. She's my partner on the force. As of a year ago we met, and managed to solve a big case in Zootopia. It was that terrorist case you probably heard about on the news, where the assistant mayor attempted to erupt tensions between predator and prey. I told you Judy was an officer, but I never mentioned that it was her who's to credit for, well, saving the city, basically. Keeping the harmony between the citizens and protecting predator's rights.
"You saved it too, Nick." Judy chimed in, reminding him with a smile.
Nick smiled back. "Yeah. I guess I did. I happened to know one of the missing animals and was able to give her a lead. I guess I kinda got roped in from there. And after it was all over, I decided that I wanted to be an officer. Judy really encouraged me to be her partner, seeing how well we worked together, and to be honest I really wanted to." Judy felt relieved he decided to gloss over their three months spent apart after the press conference. "I feel like I'm doing a lot more meaningful work than my office job. I'm proud to be a member of the ZPD." For emphasis, Nick brought out his badge and handed it over to his mother.
Rose was drinking in the story the entire time with wide, teary eyes. As she looked at his badge in her paw, she was in a bit of disbelief. "Nicholas...that's great, sweetheart. I'm so proud of you." Nick's heart skipped a beat. "Why did you wait so long to tell me, though?"
"Eh, phone talks about stuff this serious aren't very productive. You might have been worried about the dangers of police work, you might have been worried about my sudden decision to hop careers; it just felt right to tell you in person. Plus." Nick hesitated. "I held off on telling you about Judy for a bit too. I guess I couldn't keep her a secret though, and I definitely didn't want to bring her here without you knowing the full story."
"Oh Nick." Now Rose hesitated. Judy just sat still. Maybe if she didn't move, she could vanish from this tense situation. Being here was like stepping into a boat; she still didn't hear any explicit talk of their interspecies relationship. This fun atmosphere of small talk and tea time could shatter in any moment just like it did at the Hopps Farm. "I won't lie. I think my first thoughts were I'd rather you be with a fox." Judy's heart sank. Not getting her blessing kind of stung; she didn't want Nick to choose between her and his mother.
"However." Rose continued. "I don't disapprove." Judy's hopes were renewed. "It seems like an awful lot of trouble to put yourselves through that, because I know there are a lot of people who won't accept your relationship like me and Michael will. He's probably more keen to the idea than I am."
Mikey cut in. "It was just a fling! One summer in my youth with a tigress and suddenly she thinks I'm some interspecies guru!" Nick's eyes widened. He did not know this about Mikey. This crazy fox is like a never ending treasure chest of stories thanks to his travels, and here's another gem from the chest. "I do approve, by the way, if anyone was wondering." Mikey joked at his tertiary role in this conversation.
"Anyways," Rose continued, a bit perturbed that he brought up the tigress. "It's certainly never something I would do myself, but I'm not here to live your life for you, Nicholas. If I told Judy to leave my home right this second, I'd hope you would protest and fight me on it. You've proven to me already that you are your own man, and you've made good choices." Nick stifled a cringe. 'Good choices'. The guilt he felt was palpable. "That goes for your new job, as well. If the ZPD and Judy make you happy, that's all I truly care about. I'm glad you trusted me to share your career and your romantic life despite the odds you must have felt against. I love you son, and I am so proud of you." Rose got up and walked over to her son. Nick stood up and embraced her with a big hug. He had to use all his willpower to choke back the tears that he could feel forming. Trust. Proud. Good choices. Love. Singular words raced through Nick's mind as he had a sudden urge to push away a hug he didn't deserve. She was killing him with her kindness, her eyes full of happy tears. He felt ready to crack.
"Thank you, Mom. You have no idea how much that means to me. I just- I love you too, Mom." Nick gently patted his mother's back.
With the heavy stuff out of the way so soon, the next couple hours were spent in the warm environment of the living room. The treats were finished by all, and Judy received compliments on her pie, even though she was sure they were being nice and simply applauding her efforts rather than her novice baking skills. A baseball game played on the TV to be glanced at every once and a while by Nick and Mikey. Mikey told Nick and Judy tales of his travels, as he was quite the wanderer for so much of his young adult life before settling down with Rose. Rose told Judy a few more slightly embarassing stories of Nick's adolescence, such as how he could be a troublemaker at school or a crush that he had in school and came to Rose for girl advice. "I raised him to be a gentleman." Rose gloated a bit. "So, Judy, how did I do?"
"Hmmm." Judy playfully scratched her chin while looking over at Nick. She could practically feel Nick's life in her paws as she prepared to give his mother her verdict. He looked to Judy with both bargaining and angry expectance in his eyes. "He likes to mess with me a lot, but that's part of his charm. When it comes down to it, Nick is a perfect gentleman, and I have you to thank for that."
Rose beamed "Oh, that's so good to hear! I'm a bit critical on how I raised him, but that's only because Nick is the most important thing in my life. Knowing I did a good job gives me peace of mind."
"Awwwww." Judy cooed as she felt her heart melt. Kids were not on the menu for Judy, but she could appreciate such a caring mother when she saw one. And Rose was absolutely adorable the way she doted on about Nick. She didn't doubt how much Nick meant to her. After Nick's biological father left, it was just her and Nick for the longest time. Nick said there were a couple times where she tried dating again but just couldn't seem to make anything last more than a year or so; Nick said one strength his mother had was her ability to find solace and comfort from herself, although Judy was sure Nick was a huge reason that Rose was able to keep on going.
'Bleh.' Nick thought to himself. He's had enough mushiness for one day, and was more interested in what Mikey was covertly telling him about the tigress and all the coastal cities he had stayed in. Not only did Nick want to put his conflicted feelings from earlier behind him, it was nice to learn this about Mikey. Nick suddenly felt a bit less weird about interspecies relationships. Sure, Mikey's was just a short fling and it was predator/predator rather than predator/prey, but it was still a bit comforting to know.
After pursing her lips for a moment of thought, Rose spoke up. "Oh goodness!" Rose suddenly exclaimed "Michael, I completely forgot. I guess I was busy with work yesterday and it just slipped my mind. I just wanted to come home and clean for Nick's visit that I wasn't thinking of what I'd cook for all of us tonight."
"Forgot to tell me to make a grocery run, eh?" Mikey nodded. "I can hurry over right now, what do we need?"
"I can get started on the sides, but if I'm going to make the casserole we're going to need flour. And getting some more baking soda wouldn't hurt either, I think we're running low."
"Aye aye! Nick, you care to join me?"
Nick was a bit confused. "You need the help, big guy?" he joked.
"Listen here, Slim," Mikey bantered back. "there might be a high shelf, thought you might wanna put your height to good use for once! Plus you can finish hearing the story of my time in Costa Cheetah."
"Consider me bought!" Nick replied. "You wanna come with, Carrots?"
"And leave me all alone?" Rose said with a fake pout.
"Well, actually, I did kind of want to help your mom cook, Nick." Judy admitted. "If that's alright with her, of course." Judy looked over to Rose as she said this.
Rose was a bit shocked at Judy wanting to stay. "Oh, of course dear. A little company in the kitchen is always nice."
Nick and Mikey had said quick farewells and left for their grocery run. Rose led Judy into the kitchen, and Judy was practically bouncing, eager to help. "Mikey is so nice and funny by the way, it's been nice meeting him as much as it has been meeting you. I didn't even know until earlier today that you remarried." Judy inspected the kitchen appliances while waiting for a reply from Rose. Not hearing one, she continued the conversation. "So, what are we going to be cook-" Judy stopped herself. Something wasn't right. When she looked over to Rose, she merely stood in front of the fridge with her back turned to Judy. "Rose?" Judy hesitantly spoke up.
"He nearly told me back there in the living room. Earlier today. Around the time when I was talking about you. And the ZPD. And when I hugged him. Didn't he?"
Judy stood there in slight fear. Rose's voice sounded different. This entire time it had been laced with some form of emotion. Concern. Affection. Joviality. But now? Her voice sounded so hollow and airy, and it began to waver. "Rose?" was all that Judy could manage to squeak out.
"You know what I mean. You wouldn't be the first he put up to it."
This was getting dangerous. "Are you okay, Rose? I...I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about." Judy replied, deciding that playing dumb was the safest route.
"Judy, dear. You're an awful liar." Rose's words pierced the air despite the blunt tone.
All Judy could do was stand there, her feet rooting her to the linoleum floor. Rose turned and her gaze gave Judy conflicting emotions. On one paw she was scared; Rose's usual warm, sparkling eyes were replaced with daggers. Her expression however told Judy that although her gaze was steeled, she was not angry at Judy. Instead, Judy's reaction to her general countenance was one of concern; Rose looked pained, like she was about to cry. Judy could even see water beginning to form in her eyes.
"The food can wait. Sit down at the table with me, please." Rose said, already moving towards her chair midway through the sentence. Judy complied and slowly sat down in the chair opposite Rose. "I'm sorry to do this to you, Judy. I've only just met you but." Rose bit her lip and looked down. "I can't do this anymore."
"Whatever you're 'doing'." Judy paused, not sure how she wanted to address this. "You can talk to me, is what I mean, Rose. I don't mind listening to whatever you have to say."
Rose looked up at Judy and gave her a pained smile. She took a deep breath as she collected herself, and pondered where to begin.
"Foxes are sly. Would you agree?" Rose asked simply.
A bit on the spot, Judy gave a careful answer. "I'd say that's a stereotype, but I know Nick, and Nick can be pretty sly."
"And who do you think Nick got it from?"
Judy knew the answer but still hesitated. "You?" It was clear that Nick was not the only one good at putting up facades. Judy got the vibe that Rose was also an expert at wearing masks and not giving any clues away.
"Correct. Judy, I'm sorry to have this conversation with you but I'm also kind of glad. The woman you met earlier today at the doorstep, in the living room- that's only a part of Rose Wilde. I've been doing this for a while. The doting mother routine. Nick visits and I don't bother him. I just try and talk to him, goad out anything I can from him. Let him know I'm here for him. If you have been dating my son, you might have learned by now he can be quite secretive. I don't want to force anything out of him, because he needs to talk to me on his own volition. Interrogating him won't work. It would only hurt him. He'd give an answer that would satisfy and then try and slip away, creating distance." Rose paused. "I need to entrust you with this information about my son, but you have to promise it won't ruin things between the two of you. I'm just...I'm just so tired of worrying."
"Rose." Judy began. "I'm already following along, I've already known some of this about him. And nothing you could tell me would make me love Nick any less."
Rose felt her heart ache a bit. This bunny really was a gift. "Well, you see, Nick's life hasn't been easy. We never had much money, my income covering the both of us on top of the money he volunteered whenever he could get paid for doing yardwork for somebody. He's dealt with bullying all of his life for being a fox. It got to the point where even after moving here, which I did because this town has more foxes than most places, he had already given up. Maybe he believed all the bad things he was told about foxes, because he didn't want to make any friends. He'd do the odd jobs for people whenever he could, and then come home to be with me. Nick made an effort in his schoolwork and got good grades, but you could tell going to school made him miserable. He was already thinking he wouldn't amount to much. I feel a bit bad for it, but one of my goads earlier was mentioning his 'lazy days' as a teenager. I know they weren't lazy days. He never wanted to go to the doctor's office for it, but I'm sure he had clinical depression. If not clinical, he definitely showed all of the symptoms for it."
"I knew the story about the bullying incident and all the prejudices he faced but...Nick never told me he was at such a low point." Judy admitted sadly.
Rose nodded. "The only thing that kept me sane was I knew he was still a good boy. He would still talk to me when I showed concern over his depressed state. He had enough energy to help me out with the money he could provide; to this day he still sends me money, he says that I worked so hard raising him that I deserve it...he's such a sweet boy. I've saved so much of that money. I still consider it his money. He told me that he loved me and that he still had dreams. Nick didn't know what he wanted to do with his life other than he wanted to move to Zootopia."
Judy's ears perked up. This sounded familiar. "Did he tell you what he was going to do there?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Financially it wasn't feasible for him to go to nearly any college, which I felt bad about. I could only do so much raising him on my own. I could only afford to buy him so many things, and I could only do so much as a role model. He didn't have a father figure, which is probably a big reason for a lot of his anxieties. I don't think Nick knew how to be his own animal for the longest time. He was a real momma's boy, even when he became emotionally distant in his later years living here. My little Nick would always follow me along, holding onto my leg or my tail. I say that with a touch of fondness, because it makes me happy to know I was able to make him feel protected and comforted. But I also feel so guilty; I couldn't protect him from what this world had to offer, Judy. It made him scared to leave my side, and being so fearful is no way for a child to live. And as he got older it only worsened; he wanted to be home, but shut himself away in his room so much. I'm amazed he wanted to leave home after graduating high school, and I suppose that's the charm of such a place as Zootopia. But I was scared it wasn't as advertised, and I also feared that Nick wasn't ready to be alone. A mother has to let go at some point though."
There was a long silence that hung in the air. Judy spoke up, wanting to understand how much Rose actually knew. "So, do you know what Nick was doing in Zootopia at all?"
"No. And frankly it doesn't matter. If he tells me himself someday then that's fine, but all I know is that he didn't have the life he was telling me. Do you think Nick is a good liar?" Rose asked Judy earnestly.
"Definitely. He tricked me when he met me, he gets me with some act of his as a joke all of the time. As a kid he might have been reclusive but...I guess he learned how to navigate conversations really well."
Rose nodded. "Nick can read people very well. He's always been able to. And you're right, ever since moving out he's become much more eloquent. But lies? I'm the one animal he can't lie to. He gives himself away too easily when looking at my face, I suppose. As a child Nick would lie to me in order to get out of trouble for one thing or another. I'm good at reading people too; I suppose it's a fox trait acquired from always wondering how genuine people are actually being with us. And as my son, Nick was the easiest read of my life. I could always tell when he was lying; I'd pick up on all his telltale signs but still play along, goading him on into lying more and more. But every time, every single time before I'd call him out on his dishonesty, he'd break. When he was a little boy, Nick would burst into tears and bury his face in my leg, asking for forgiveness and berating himself for lying to me. I can still hear his little voice saying 'I'm sorry Mommy' over and over. Even as he got older, the waterworks stopped but he still couldn't keep even the whitest of lies a secret from me. He was such an open book; he wasn't afraid to talk about how sad he was or how he disliked his school. So the only question I can ask myself now is, 'what changed?'."
"It was after he left for Zootopia, wasn't it?" Judy knew this was the answer. " 'Everyone comes to Zootopia, thinking they could be anything they want. But you can't. You can only be what you are.' Nick told me that when we first met. Before he was an officer, and before he had started thinking differently."
Rose wiped a tear from her eye. "It's true then. I knew something had happened. Nick became such a closed book ever since leaving for there. Whenever he visited I could tell he was holding something back. At first I thought I was just being paranoid, but I guess my intuition was right. I truly believe that Zootopia was his last hope. A hope that he could be accepted, that he could be more than all of the horrible things he had been taught to believe about himself. And when it didn't work out the way he wanted-"
"He decided to just let them win. He decided to become the role that he was told to fill instead of being the Nick that he was. This part of the story I know too well." Judy finished Rose's sentence. Judy couldn't help but think how similar Nick's story was to hers. Her image of Zootopia was shattered as well upon arriving. If not for Nick, Judy could have ended up much the same as him. No lead on the case, no friends. Destined to be a meter maid for life or to give up and go home. Zootopia was oppressive for her dreams; if it wasn't for Nick's assistance (admittedly begrudgingly at first) she would have 'let them win' as well. Bogo, the rest of the ZPD, every civilian in the streets who looked at her with bemusement; they would have broken her. That alternate path was Judy's biggest fear.
The two of them looked deep into the other's eyes. Different species, different backgrounds, just had met a matter of hours ago. But the pair knew that they were the ones who could get to Nick. Maybe the only ones on the entire planet. They had much more in common than they thought.
"So, were you planning on talking to me about this?" Judy asked intuitively, knowing the answer.
Rose smirked. "I didn't 'forget' any groceries. We have all the things we need for dinner in this kitchen right now. But for the first time in forever, I saw truth in Nick when he told me he was your partner. So it was a bit of an impromptu plan to get Nick and Michael out of here. And I had to discreetly tell Michael to take his time when they left. I saw how proud he was of that badge, and more importantly, how proud he was of you." Rose emphasized with a point at Judy. "I wasn't just trying to embarass my son; I heard the way he talked about you on the phone. He didn't talk about Vivian that way. Another thing about his childhood was Nick always tried so hard to impress me. It's probably why he didn't give up on school even during those rough times; he didn't want to disappoint me. He always worked to make some money for me, and he still sends money to this day even though me and Michael would manage without. Even the short periods of time when he played baseball or wanted to be a cub-scout he always wanted to impress me. He'd ask silly questions like 'should I do this?' or 'will it make you happy?' while looking up at me with bright eyes and a beaming smile. Of course I told him his hobbies were up to him but in the end a large portion of his reasoning for his efforts were to get praise from me."
Judy gave Rose a warm smile. "It sounds like you two were really close." Judy realized what she said and quickly frowned. "I'm sorry if that's not so much the case any more.
"Good." Rose quipped matter-of-factly.
"Wait, how is that good?" Judy asked with worry apparent in her voice.
"I had all the fears in the world about him leaving home, Judy. I worried myself sick. It's hard for any parent to watch their child leave. But I knew that as shaky as his chances were, Nick had to leave someday. It wasn't him being away that has been eating away at me; I want Nick to be independent. It's because that I knew he was lying, and more importantly, I knew that he was suffering." Rose rubbed more tears out of her eyes. "He left more hopeful and happy than I had seen him in years, and upon his first visit back I could see he was back to being miserable and this time I couldn't do anything to help him. He felt so out of reach."
Rose gave a long pause of rubbing her eyes before continuing, staring into Judy as she did so. "If you were wondering when I'd get to the point, here it is; you're an angel, Judy Hopps." Judy's eyes widened as she adopted a bewildered look and red cheeks. "I don't know much about you, why Nick got involved with you during that case, or how you and Nick are now; and I don't care for any of the qualms you might think I have. All I know is that you are the reason that my son has changed. He may think he can fool everyone else but he'll never be able to fool me. You're so much more important to him than he lets me know; and that's saying something considering how much he's already told me. Nick doesn't let others in, so the fact that you were able to gives me hope that my son can live a happy life."
Judy didn't know what to say. She felt like all of this was true despite how strange it was to hear her say. These were things that Rose was thinking, that most animals would keep in their thoughts, but Rose was willing to reach out to Judy this soon. "I know you can read Nick well but what about me? How do you know I'm an angel? Or that I love Nick that much?" Judy questioned while feeling very hot in the face. "I could just be some fling. Some experiment because he was curious about bunnies."
Rose gave a sly grin much like Nick does. "You're easy to read, Judy."
"H-hey!" Judy protested.
Rose giggled. "Not to mention how fishy Nick's career change was. So much change at once plus my mother's intuition from what he was telling me gave you away. You were the real deal. And it's a good thing that you're easily readable, dear. I could tell earlier today that you were at least a genuine, honest person. You were courteous, offered to help, generously brought a gift; most importantly I could see you were being friendly and affectionate towards my boy. I mean that in the most polite of ways, Judy. I could read Finnick just as easily, but unlike you he didn't actually want to be here. Honey I could tell was more friendly and enjoyed the visit, but Nick's lies he made up for her were even more obvious given how odd she was. And Vivan? I could barely tell that there was a strain between her and Nick. She wasn't someone he could be proud of as much as he wanted me to be proud of him finding a girl. All of them he brought over to make his lie seem more believable, but all those three did was remind me of how Nick wanted to impress me like when he was a kid. Like he was showing off how he could hit a baseball all over again. Except it all just seemed so...fake. Like I said, Judy; you're the real deal. And I know Nick isn't your responsibility like he is mine. You are your own person and I don't know what the future holds in store for the two of you. But even if you two were to separate tomorrow, I just have this feeling that the experience you have imparted upon him has already done so much. So thank you." Rose shook a bit, realizing what she had put Judy through. "I suppose I just...needed to tell you that."
"I'm not done though." Judy piped up. This made Rose tilt her head. "I do love Nick. He means so much to me, and I will gladly take responsibility in looking after him the same way he looks after me. Being with Nick makes me so happy. What we've been through together has shown me that he's an amazing person, and I'm going to keep working every day to better the both of us. I want him to see himself the way I see him; wise, understanding, strong, and caring. We've done so much talking about Nick that I feel bad for not mentioning my shortcomings. When I first met Nick, I may have been worse. If Nick's problem was he thought too little of himself then I thought too highly of myself; I was pretentious and naive to the world around me. I thought I was doing the right thing when working on that case, and that I was so above being discriminatory that I was blind to how biased I was. My lack of self-awareness and my prejudice really hurt Nick, and made a negative impact on how the citizens handled the information from the case. Not only that, but I was just so unsure of myself and my capabilities. But Nick made me feel like I was capable, and that my heart was in the right place. When I apologized to him, he gave me a second chance. He saw how hard I was trying to do better, and I think he knew I saw that he was trying to do better, too. We supported each other in a really tough time for the both of us." Judy took a deep breath before giving Rose a steely gaze of her own. "Rose. I'm going to continue to support your son so long as he feels the same way about me. I have no intentions of leaving him. I promise to be good to him, and I'll put everything you told me into consideration when dealing with him. Thank you for trusting in me, and if I do have your blessing, thank you for that as well. I'll look after him in Zootopia. We're partners...and mates now, as odd as some people may see us...we have each other's backs." Judy paused for a moment. "I just want everything to go well. I just don't want anything to come between me and Nick ever again..."
Rose teared up and stifled a laugh. "All this talk and you still don't think you have my blessing? You really are a gem, Judy. So much time seeing my son, the light of my life, being unhappy, and you're the first animal in forever that actually makes him happy. Sure the interspecies thing shocked me a bit, but I promise that I won't ever be the thing that comes between you and Nick. So, to put this issue to rest for good; do you still think I care that you're a bunny?" Rose asked with a smirk.
Judy teared up herself, her fears being dispelled. "Thank you so much. Nick just means so much to me- and I can see how much he loves you too. I just was so worried and I really wanted this day to go well and-thank you." Judy began to break into small sobs.
Rose stood up and made her way over to Judy, letting herself cry as well. Judy got up and moved in to hug Rose without hesitation. They let it last longer than two strangers who had just met within the past few hours should have. The bond that had formed between them, their common concern for Nick, showed promise of growing.
"No Judy. Thank you." Rose gently patted the back of Judy's head much like Nick does.
Mikey's voice was heard from beyond the door.
"Quick, to the couch." Rose hurriedly spat out while grabbing Judy's wrist. She ran to the living room and sat Judy down next to her on the couch and pulled a large book out from underneath the living room table.
The door opened and Nick and Mikey walked in carrying grocery bags. "You took a really long time in the produce isle." Nick said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
Mikey, being in on the plan, had decided to extend their shopping trip and get more than required. "You can never be too discerning in what food you buy!" He lied and made it into a nice little proverb while rubbing his scruffy chin.
"Oh and look Judy, this is Nick in his baseball uniform." Rose said sweetly with a point towards the page.
"Whoa! Mom, no baby pictures! It's her first time here!" Nick hurried over to the couch and made an avert to avert Judy's gaze from the book.
Rose gave a small giggle. "Sorry you two, we were going to start cooking but I got a bit sidetracked with this."
Nick took note of Judy's eyes and then his mother's. "I get why you were crying over these old pictures mom, but why you, Hopps?"
Judy looked to Rose and then Nick. "Emotional bunny." She said with a light elbow to Nick.
Mikey made his way over to the couch area as well and gave Nick an elbow of his own. "These two have it out for you today, ey Slim?"
"Lucky me." Nick deadpanned.
Walking back to the bus stop in the crisp night air after a very late dinner, Nick mused to himself how nice it is that visiting his mother is such a short day trip. It's less than an hour and a half both ways plus the bus fare. More importantly, being here today with nothing but truth made Nick feel good about visiting home for the first time. He wasn't visiting because he had to or had to work at hiding anything. Although he did not come clean, it made him happy to bring his mother some truth for once. Judy was real, and he was so happy that his mom got to meet her, no matter how many pages of that embarassing photo album they flipped through. His badge was real, and he could finally say he was fulfilled by what he was doing with his life. Not only did he make his mom proud, but he made himself feel respected and dignified.
"You know, Fluff." Nick began. "I think I'm going to call her sometime soon. Tell her about my hustling. It'll be easy to do now that it's behind me, and I think she'll be okay with it."
Judy's ears perked up at the mention of him coming clean. "Nick! That's great, I'm so proud of you. What made you want to do it so early?" she replied in a chipper manner, smiling at the thought of Nick being honest.
"Telling her some things that were true and that I'm genuinely proud of felt good. Well it's true that I'm done being a criminal, and I'm proud of that as well. And most importantly, she deserves to know. It's really hard for me to lie to her like that. You think she'll forgive me?"
"In my opinion, I think you being open with her is more important than the fact that you lied in the first place." Judy sagely advised, confident that she knew something about his mother that Nick didn't.
"How do you figure?" Nick asked slyly.
Judy awkwardly paused. "How do I figure that? I mean...it just makes sense, right? I'm sure she values you being honest with her and communicating and-"
"You talked with her about me didn't you?" Nick cut her off abruptly while stopping and facing Judy.
"Well yeah, while we were looking through the photo album-"
"No I mean more than that. About things bigger than those photos. You leaked information, officer." Nick grinned.
"W-why are you grinning if you're also acting upset?" Judy asked nervously.
"Because I really am just acting. I figured from the outset today that bringing you over and telling her about the ZPD would spill the majority of the beans. Leaving you alone with my wily mother and then coming home to both of your teary eyes only sealed the deal. To be honest for a while I thought I was genuinely deceiving her, but in the past year or so I've come to accept that the charade had to end sometime soon." Nick explained coolly.
Judy scrunched up her face. "Well I'm sorry Nick, but she really wanted to talk, and I'm glad I talked with her. So bleh." Judy protested while sticking out her tongue at Nick. "You should be happy you have a mom and a mate that love you so much."
Nick wrapped an arm around Judy as they walked up onto the vacant bus stop. "You're right, I'm very thankful for both of you. I love you, Carrots. But do you know what else I'm thankful for?"
"You passing information between me and my mom. It would have been too hard for us to talk face to face, but thankfully you're so easy for both me and my mom to read! Thanks for being our 'message in a bottle'!" Nick laughed at the fortunate outcome of the chaotic day's events.
"AAAAAHHH! I'M NOT EASY TO READ!" Judy angrily yelled into the quiet night air as Nick laughed uncontrollably.