FRIDAY NIGHT PARTY
Written in 2009 by Iron-K
Miles twisted around in his seat as he worriedly backed the car as far as he dared into the cramped space between two much larger and more expensive-looking ones in the underground lot. Finally getting into a position he thought was as good as he was going to get, he sagged as he turned the engine off, glancing up at the tabloid photographer who had been nonchalantly watching him from the entrance over the top of his notepad and trying to pretend that he wasn't waiting for a disaster.
Opening the door slowly and putting his hand around it to cushion it against the other car, he squeezed out, and the reporter pretended to answer his phone and moved back outside. Miles was glad he only had to contend with one from a distance - there had been a few more at the front entrance where he had dropped Cleo off minutes before.
As he locked the car, he glanced around the underground lot, looking for any sign of a staircase or elevator to get in to the main studio building. Not seeing anything, he headed back to the road entrance that he'd driven through, ducking in to the side to avoid another of the enormous executive cars as it rumbled into the garage.
Getting back to the safety of the pavement outside again, he headed hesitantly towards the group of press still at the entrance, and saw that they were huddled round some TV personality who was arriving. Creeping forwards, he felt almost disappointed that nobody noticed as he pushed through the revolving door into an unnaturally clean reception area.
"Hi," he started as he approached the curved desk. "I'm Miles, Cleo Acorn's husband, I dropped her off a couple of minutes ago."
"Ah, good evening, Miles," the raccoon girl behind the desk answered in a refined accent. "We've just got her into the dressing rooms - if you go down the corridor to the left there, she's in room 114."
"Thanks." Miles nodded, turned and stepped away.
"Hey," she called from behind him, making him jump as he spun back around to face her.
"Tell her congratulations from me," she smiled. "I haven't missed an episode since she started!"
"I will," he nodded, turning away and clearing his throat. "Thanks," he said again over his shoulder as he headed down the corridor.
Distractedly, he counted off the numbers on the doors as he walked around the corner, trying to at least look like he knew where he was going among the various technicians and other workers bustling around. Eventually he saw a door marked "Dressing Suite 114" on the other side of the corridor, and stepped forward, only just dodging around a short rabbit girl as she hurried past him, to knock on the door.
"Come in," Cleo's voice came from inside. Glad to have found her again, he pushed the handle down and opened the door inwards.
"Hi, Cl - holy..."
He broke off, surprised at the contents of the room inside. Most of it was taken up by a seating area with a cream-colored skirted two-piece suite. Cleo, a petite chipmunk with dark hair cut at chin height, was relaxing on the couch opposite a small TV set, her feet tucked under the long coffee table in the center. Looking to the side, he saw the light bulb-surrounded mirror that he had been expecting, at a long pine desk with a bowl of fruit placed on the end.
"Wow... they're really making you comfortable here," he said, stepping in and turning to close the door behind him. He wandered into the middle of the room, still taking it in.
"What were you expecting?" she asked, holding back a smile. She never liked to show much emotion when she wasn't on camera, but Miles could tell that she was impressed.
"I don't know, I've never seen a TV dressing room before - we've been in hotels that look less good than this!" Miles wandered over to the door on the opposite side of the room and opened it into darkness, fumbling for the light switch a little to reveal it was a pristine bathroom and shower area. Whistling, he flicked it off again and turned back around. Cleo had got up from the sofa and was behind him, watching his reactions amusedly.
"I thought it would be like the shared one that you had in theater rehearsals - is this how everyone's going to treat you once you're a big actress?" he joked, stepping towards her and placing his hands over her hips. She cuddled him back, laughing a little.
"I'm already on for half an hour every weekday, you know," she said back from over his shoulder.
"Well, yeah." Miles leaned away, rubbing the back of his neck as he hesitated, a smile spreading on his face. "But this is the first thing I'd actually watch."
Cleo's mouth dropped open, and she reached up to playfully slap the back of his head as he grinned and ducked out of the way.
"And how about you?" she said after him, stepping back towards the sofa. "Ready for your first appearance on TV?"
"Oh, don't remind me..." Miles turned his back, pacing away. They had got Cleo's invite to the show some weeks ago, but she had only recently told him that they would want him in the interview as well. "Don't I get to... rehearse, or anything?"
"It won't be hard! All you'll have to do is sit up beside me when they call you up, and... not look worried," she said, watching him pace anxiously around in a wide circle. "They'll edit everything together later on. Come and sit down!"
Miles turned and moved a little towards the sofa, distractedly picking up a tangerine off the top of the fruit bowl on the make-up desk as he passed by. He tossed it up and down in one hand as he paced back to the middle of the room. Aware that Cleo was watching him from the couch and about to comment on his nervousness, he pushed his thumb in and began peeling it, looking idly around the room once again as he did so.
"I think they're meant to be just for decoration," smiled his wife as he offered a segment to her, and she pushed his hand away gently. "And careful not to get any juice on your shirt, you don't have a change of clothes!"
"Well, at least you talked me out of arriving in my tux, that would have been worse for it," Miles responded, looking down at his shirt and subtly moving his hands a little further away from it. "Are you getting changed, then?" he asked, looking down at her buttoned top as he chewed. "I thought you were going on in that..."
Cleo shook her head. "They said that someone would be along from the wardrobe department after we got settled. They said they had a surprise for me."
"Fancy." He finally sat down beside her, and she draped her arm around him as he sank back into the seat, half-watching the screen of the muted TV set opposite them.
"It's new to me too, you know," she said, and he twitched as she slid her hand under his and turned it around to hold hands with him. "I know people know my face now, but I never imagined that I'd be interviewed by Rossi."
"Yeah, it's... a weird thought," Miles nodded. "I remember seeing him each week when my parents used to watch his show - he's been on every Friday night for the last hundred years..."
"He's not that old!" Cleo poked him in the side. "It wasn't called Friday Night Party then, though, was it?"
"No, I... can't remember," he shook his head. "When I was that age I always just called it 'the bird man's show'".
Cleo smiled back. "And now your parents are going to be watching you on it when this goes out at the end of the week! Not to make you even more nervous or anything..."
"Oh, you're doing just great," he answered sarcastically, but through a smile. He squeezed her hand in his and leaned closer to her for a kiss, but as soon as their lips met, there was a knock at the door. He snapped his eyes open, seeing Cleo do the same, then got up and stepped away. Pulling the door open a little, he poked his head round it to see the flustered-looking rabbit girl who had almost knocked him over earlier.
"S... sorry if we're rushing you, but we're behind," she stuttered, looking down at the clipboard that she was carrying and turning the top page over. "Can we get Ms. Acorn ready?"
"Of course." Miles opened the door fully and stepped aside. The rabbit did too, letting in a taller jackal female who brushed past Miles and stepped towards Cleo holding up a white polythene garment bag.
"I'll take you down to make-up," the rabbit girl's voice came again from behind him. He spun round to look at her, then nodded, and leaving the remains of the tangerine on the table, he looked back at Cleo one more time before following the rabbit girl out of the room.
After a few minutes in the make-up room, where he had had his fur brushed and dusted with a powder that he was sure made his face glow embarrassingly, Miles followed the rabbit girl further down the corridor. Still looking down at her clipboard, she stopped in front of a door marked "Studio B", and distractedly felt around for the handle. He was about to step forward to help her when she finally caught it and pulled it open for him.
"He's already started the warmup," she whispered as she looked out into the darkened room. Miles looked over her shoulder - they were looking at the studio set from the side, with the tall white-haired avian that he recognized as Rossi spotlit as he paced back and forward in front of the audience seating to their right. "If you go down the side here, there'll be a seat at the front for you."
Miles nodded, then stepped through and turned to thank her, but she had already disappeared. Instead, trying not to make any sound, he closed the door behind him and hurried to one of the empty seats down at the front of the studio audience, ducking a little in an attempt not to be noticed. Sitting down, he breathed out and looked towards the set, half-listening to the host's familiar rapid-fire speech in his warmup routine. Strange as it was to be right in front of it, it looked the same as he'd always seen it on-screen - a circular raised stage with paneling at the back, and a curved red sofa on the left facing Rossi's desk, which was slightly L-shaped for addressing both the audience and interviewees.
Before long, the avian stopped in the middle of a sentence, holding a finger up in front of him as he reached for the audio monitor visible on one side of his head.
"I think I'm going to have to tell you the rest of that later, because I'm just being told we're ready to start," he announced, one finger still pressed to it. "So I'm going to go around and come back out of there," - he pointed to a panel of the set at the back of the stage - "just act like you haven't already seen me!"
He raised one hand in the air again as he dashed around to the back of the stage. The murmur of talking started up from the audience for a minute as a couple of crew members went around checking the front cameras, then the studio quickly became quiet again, the noise punctuated by a couple of coughs as the lights went down and one of the crew walked out to the front with a microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Miles jumped at the sudden booming voice over the speakers, "Please welcome Rossi Lombard!" He sat up as the show's familiar theme music played, and joined the applause as the center panel at the back of the stage set moved aside, revealing Rossi walking out from the back with his hands raised in the air.
Miles went back to looking down at his lap nervously after the applause died down, laughing a little at some of the introductory jokes, but unable to take his mind off who would be appearing at any moment. He pricked his ears as the host got to the end of the guest list.
"But first, to talk about her upcoming first film role... we've known her as the scheming Amanda in Golden Years, since the start of the year - Cleo Acorn!"
Miles looked to the left of the stage as the host flung his arm out, and joined in the applause as he strained to see into the darkened studio wing. A short figure stepped up on to the lighted area of the stage, and he raised his eyebrows as the light fell on Cleo, looking as stunning as he'd ever seen her in a long deep blue dress. Walking slowly in high heels - he knew she didn't normally wear them - she turned to smile and wave to acknowledge the applause and occasional wolf-whistles coming from the watchers, then faced Rossi as he got up from behind his desk, extended his arms and hugged her in greeting, giving her an air kiss just before they separated.
"Welcome, Cleo, take a seat..." he bowed and gestured towards the plush red sofa, and Cleo moved to sit down on it as he walked back behind the desk, pivoting on his arm as he moved round and eased himself back into the swivel chair. He budged it a little forward, clearing his throat as the applause died down.
"So, welcome to the Friday Night Party, it's wonderful to have you here," he started. "To tell you the truth, I've often wondered why it's called Golden Years, because... nothing ever seems to go right for anyone in that village, does it?"
"No, not for a long time," Cleo answered.
"And your character, Amanda, she's the cause of a lot of it just now?"
"I'm afraid so..." The chipmunk girl shifted backwards a little on the seat, sitting up.
"Yes, I've got a little list here of her achievements since she arrived..." Rossi opened a drawer at the back of the desk and pulled out a sheet of paper, holding it up ceremoniously for the audience. "She's been scamming Rich out of his retirement fund, blackmailing... three separate people, it says here, broken off Ken and Grace's engagement after revealing his cheating..."
"That one was fair enough!" Cleo interjected. Rossi smiled and put the paper to one side.
"But despite all that it seems that even though you're still the newest arrival to the cast, you've already become one of the show's most... well, I wouldn't necessarily say 'popular', but most... infamous characters?" Cleo laughed a little and nodded. "Just to set the record straight, you're nothing like Amanda in real life, are you?"
"Absolutely not," Cleo smiled and shook her head slowly. "Miles will back me up on that!"
"Miles, your husband, of course," Rossi nodded, "and I hear he's watching you tonight?"
"He is." Cleo looked out at the audience, glancing around to look for him.
"Good, can you give us a wave, Miles?" the avian asked, turning his chair and looking out towards the camera monitors. "There he is," he added, and Miles quickly sat up a little and waved vaguely in the direction of the stage as he realized he was on camera. He began to get up.
"All right, well, we'll be getting him to join you a little later on," the host said as he swung his chair back in Cleo's direction. Miles relievedly sank back into the chair. "How long have you two been together, by the way?"
"Well, we met in college and we got married straight after we both finished, so we must be coming up to our..." Cleo squeezed her eyes closed, thinking for a moment, "...sixth anniversary now?"
"You're a woman, you're meant to be the one who knows these things!" Rossi paused as a laugh came up from the audience behind Miles. "But that's... that was very quick, wasn't it, if you're at your sixth already?" She shrugged, and nodded. "But obviously it's worked out beautifully for you - so that's wonderful, wonderful."
He cleared his throat as he slid a cue card aside on his desk, launching into another set of questions about the show that Cleo had been appearing on for the last few months, and then her upcoming film appearance. Miles began to tune out the actual interview a little, instead thinking about how strange it seemed to actually be in Rossi's audience after knowing him as a television figure for so long, especially with his wife up there talking to him. Despite being normally quiet, she had always been a lot more comfortable with an audience than he had been - he thought back to sitting in the stands during the rehearsals of the theater group that she had been part of when they were both in university, and smiled a little as the conversation turned to exactly that.
"I also wanted to ask you," the host moved on after a while, "about your very first TV appearance? As I know that's not something that led on directly from the drama group..."
"What, the ads for Petite?" Cleo asked him back, after a moment's hesitation. Miles remembered those - while the two of them had been in university she had done a little modeling for a clothing line that specialized for small women, and they still had recordings of a couple of TV commercials that had brief shots of her.
"No, you're close but I was thinking of something even a little earlier than that - there was..."
"Ohh..." The chipmunk girl leaned back as she realized, one hand going to pinch her forehead and then moving down her face to disguise a smile as she looked back at him. Miles had made a pretty good guess as to what he meant as well, and drew his breath in nervously as there was a murmur of laughter behind him.
The host nodded. "Yes... I think she knows what I mean now!" Cleo looked up at him, her hand still over her mouth as her shoulders shook in embarrassed laughter. "You were on..." he prompted.
"Yeah, I was on Industrial Zone," she admitted, dropping her hands to her lap, and laughed again at a couple of whoops from the back of the audience. "That was before I even got into acting seriously - it must have been... nearly ten years ago, or something?"
"That's right, time's going very quickly... we have got hold of a video of it, though..."
"Oh, no..." Cleo looked out at one of the camera monitors as he pointed out towards it, biting her lip in a half-smile.
"Here's something just to demonstrate what tends to happen on Industrial Zone - have a look at this..."
Miles looked up, craning his neck to see the screen mounted at the front of the audience, though he was too close beside it to really get a clear view. As he leaned back to watch it, the view changed from what the camera in front of him was pointed at to a scene that he remembered very well from a few years ago - a young Cleo, clad in a set of yellow shorts and a T-shirt, was seated underneath a dark spherical machine that was supported by three spindly legs around her. She was hunched over a keyboard, hovering her fingers over it as three other girls frantically called advice to her from the other end of the room. As the futuristic-looking timer overlaid on the corner of the screen ticked away its last few seconds, she stabbed one of the keys with a finger, and jumped as an alarm blared out.
Quickly, Miles glanced over at Cleo, who was facing out at the camera monitor next to him, her hand over her mouth again and tapping her fingers on the side of her face. At a collective gasp from the audience, he whipped his head back to the screen to see a wide column of green slime pour from the pod above the young Cleo's head, rebounding a little as it impacted on top of her hair and slopped outwards, splattering messily across her shoulders and slithering down her clothing. A smiling grimace was visible on her still-clean face for a moment before the flow twitched forward and engulfed her completely, just her hands poking out through the sloppy dome shape that the thick heavy liquid formed after splurging off her head.
Aware of a few whoops and whistles rising above the cheering of the audience, Miles watched uncomfortably, shuffling his feet as the flow thinned, bringing the dome inwards to reveal the sodden and green-stained young chipmunk girl, her slimy hair hanging down in front of her face as she flicked the stuff on her messy hands to the floor. He breathed out, cleared his throat and turned back to Cleo on stage, who was still frozen in place facing out to the front at one of the camera monitors, now watching wide-eyed with both hands over her mouth.
Gradually the applause died down, and she turned back to Rossi as he shrugged amusedly. "Don't worry, we all have to start somewhere...!" he chuckled a little. "What was that stuff they covered you in? It reminds me of... apple sauce, or something."
"I can't remember..." Cleo looked over towards the monitor again for a moment, though the image had disappeared. "They put... food thickener in it, or something, so it's kind of like that."
"And... given where you are now, would you recommend getting covered in apple sauce as a career starter for other aspiring young actresses?"
Cleo looked out to the audience, then joined in their laughter at the question. "No, but it was a lot of fun," she said. "Actually I think they ought to start doing that to people again..."
"A...ha," Rossi nodded, and failed to disguise a slightly nervous-sounding laugh. It spread to the audience as Cleo looked over at him, leaning forwards with her hands on her knees.
"What, you wouldn't do it?" she grinned.
The avian ran one hand through his bright white hair. "I've got to look after this, you know," he joked back, patting the fluffed part at the back of his neck.
"Yeah, it must cost a fortune to keep it as fake as that," she answered, and struggled not to laugh at the sudden cheer from the audience.
Rossi slumped in his chair, leaning one elbow on the desk and circling his finger in the air as he waited for the enthusiastic applause to die down. "All right, if you're going to play it that way...!" He shuffled his chair forwards and looked at his cards as the audience settled again - even Miles was laughing to himself now that Cleo seemed to have got so confident. "I wanted to get back to Golden Years again and ask about Amanda's role in the storyline at the moment - after all this, is she going to get a comeuppance at all?"
"Well... I'd love to tell you if I - if she does, but I can't," Cleo shook her head. "I had to sign it in the contract and... everything, that I wouldn't say anything about the story before it went out."
"Of course. And... how long does that contract last, exactly - I mean, there's no chance of a killing-off or anything in the next while...?"
Cleo's mouth dropped open as her shoulders shook once in a shocked laugh, and she looked out in the audience, raising her hands from her lap in a gesture inviting sympathy. Miles laughed a little to himself awkwardly, as did the rest of the audience - Rossi was known for those kinds of remarks, and they'd got him into trouble on a number of occasions before.
"I'll take that as a 'no' - sorry, shouldn't have asked!" The host chuckled, and waved down the continued noise from the watchers. "But we didn't think there would be - so we thought we'd take matters into our own hands and deal some justice here tonight..."
"You did?" Cleo asked, leaning forwards. Miles, shifting uncomfortably as well, noticed her putting one hand to her face and stroking down the fur on her cheek - a habit he recognized from when he had been at her first auditions with her, and a sign that she was doing her best to disguise her nerves. She glanced behind her, then very briefly up towards the ceiling.
"Oh, we certainly did." The host chuckled at the end of the sentence, and Miles heard a couple of nervous laughs coming up from the audience behind him as well. "After finding that clip we had a word with the team who made Industrial Zone, and told them about an idea that we had for a new feature of this show..."
As he finished, he put his arm out on the desk in front of him and levered himself around in the swivel chair, turning to half face the back of the stage as the section of the scenery at the back was wheeled away again, a snatch of the show's theme music playing over the speakers. Miles, whose heart had been pounding even harder than it had been when the host had mentioned the show that Cleo had been on years ago, leaned over and craned his neck to try and see past it.
A cheer went up from one side of the audience as the panel was moved away, and it spread as what was behind it came into view of the rest of them as well. Miles gasped as he saw what was emerging on to the stage - it was a six-foot high clear plastic booth, built like an ornate old-style phone box with the top half of the front door cut away. The platform it was mounted on also had two chairs fixed to it, to either side and slightly in front of the booth. Guided by what he assumed was someone controlling it from behind the scenery, the entire arrangement began moving slowly out on to the stage.
Cleo's hand froze in place as her mouth dropped open, and she turned wide-eyed to the audience, putting her other hand lightly on her chest, as the booth platform came to a stop a few paces behind where she was seated.
"You know what this is, don't you?" Rossi looked back over at her, and as they made eye contact, he gestured up towards it, pushing himself up off his seat and taking a couple of steps towards her to offer his hand. Daintily, she reached up to take hold of it and slid upright, flicking her small tail a little as she got up to make sure her dress was sitting right.
"I don't remember you ever doing this before," she remarked as they turned towards the newly revealed booth.
"No, you're its first... well, I'm trying to think of a better word than 'victim', but..."
"I'm honored," Miles thought he heard her say under her breath as he sat shuffling uncomfortably down in front of the rest of the studio audience. He watched as the host led her towards the front of the tank and then leaned forwards to grab a handle that was attached to the side of the waist-height front panel, swinging it open as she stepped aside.
"Go on in, don't be shy..." he invited, gesturing with his free hand.
"It's this that I'm worried about!" Cleo said back, tugging one shoulder strap of the blue dress as she glanced back over her shoulder at the audience.
"Oh, don't worry about that, it'll dry-clean right out - and I'm pretty certain that you can get this stuff out of fur as well, in... well, no more than a week, anyway," Rossi kept talking above the audience's encouragement as he motioned her in, and smiling down at the floor in response, she stepped out of her shoes, then carefully into the cubicle, putting her hands on her bottom for a moment to smooth the dress as she turned to sit down inside.
The avian gently swung the door towards her again, and shut her inside with a click. Cleo wriggled a little on the small seat, raising her eyes to look up at the booth's ceiling for a moment as she folded her hands on her lap.
"How does it look from the inside?" the avian asked as he took a seat in one of the chairs next to her.
Miles squirmed, raising his eyes to the covered top of the cubicle as the chipmunk girl did the same. "Not very safe..." she replied, staring at the mechanism above her.
"Well, we want to be fair, we're going to try and make sure that it doesn't go off - there's someone watching you now who... might be wanting to get me already, so I don't know if it's safe to invite him up here..."
Miles swallowed as a mild laugh came up from the seats behind him, trying to rearrange his expression into something that didn't look as anxious as he felt and realizing he was probably failing as he remembered there were cameras already pointing at his seat.
"Come on up anyway, Miles, I think she needs you just now - Miles, ladies and gentlemen!"
After a moment's hesitation, Miles breathed out and then put his hands on his knees, swinging himself upright. He took a couple of paces forwards and stepped up into the light on the slightly raised main part of the set, blinking a little and attempting to put the hundreds of eyes on the back of his neck out of his mind.
He walked between the sofa-like seat and presenter's desk towards the gunge tank, giving Cleo a sickly smile as she looked up and made eye contact with him, applauding him along with the rest of the onlookers. Still in something of a daze, he accepted the white-haired avian's handshake as he got up, and then felt behind him for the chair on the left hand side of the booth as he half-collapsed into it.
"Welcome to the Friday Night Party, Miles," Rossi said to him as he sat back and the applause died down. Miles looked over at him, still feeling uncomfortable as he watched his wife inside the booth in the corner of his eye. "First of all, I should probably say that I'm so glad that you're not bigger than me..."
Miles managed a small laugh, and just nodded in response.
"But I should also ask that... if we set you a challenge to save your lovely wife in here, and, say, it doesn't go so well - do you think that the consequences would affect your standing with Cleo at all?"
Cleo shook her head slowly from side to side, and Miles glanced at her again. "Well... she's saying that now..." he responded.
There was a mild laugh from the audience, which relaxed him a little, and he straightened up in the seat as he looked the tank up and down. Two wide slots at Cleo's feet led to covered boxes out at the sides of the tank, and above her head, he could see a wide funnel pointed down at her. He shuddered a little as the view of the nozzle suddenly reminded him of having been volunteered to go in one while they were both in university.
"All right, Miles," Rossi continued, and he looked across the platform towards him. "How safe Cleo is probably depends on how much attention you pay to her show - do you watch Golden Years at all yourself?"
"Hmm..." Miles sought desperately for a word for a couple of seconds. "...Sometimes?" he hazarded, then forced a shake of his shoulders as a titter came up from the audience.
"I'm getting a strong feeling that that's a tactful answer rather than a truthful one," the avian smiled as he turned back to them for a moment. "But we'll see, because to save Cleo you're going to have to name ten of the current female characters from Golden Years - and you've got thirty seconds to do it, starting from now!"
"Wh..." Miles stuttered, taken aback by the sudden start. As a loud ticking noise played from the stage speakers, he straightened himself up, putting a hand to his forehead and desperately trying to remember at least the first couple of episodes that he'd seen Cleo on. "Um... there's a Raquel..." He paused, tapping his foot on the floor as he tried to think. "Jodie..."
"Amanda," Cleo cut in, leaning forward out of the tank.
"Oh... yeah, Amanda..." Miles shuffled embarrassedly as there was laughter from the audience seats.
"Hey, you're not meant to help him," Rossi pointed at her, "although I think he would have got that one anyway..." Cleo just smiled to herself, her hands brushing her lap - though Miles thought she looked a lot less nervous than he felt.
By now a couple of shouts were coming up from the audience as well, above a murmur that rose in volume as the seconds ticked past. Miles looked between them and Cleo, trying to pick out names from the muddled chorus and repeating a few of them back to Rossi. Eventually, in place of a ticking noise, a low buzzer played, and he shook his head, slumping down in the seat again and looking over at the booth, meeting Cleo's eyes. She looked back at him with a hint of a smile on her face, then turned her eyes up to the looming nozzle.
"Well, Miles... you only got five," the avian announced. "So, I'm afraid, Cleo..."
He tailed off, gesturing towards the top of the tank, and a combined cheer and groan of sympathy came from the direction of the audience. Miles gripped the arms of his chair tightly, trying to shrink back a little and take himself out of the center of attention as he looked at the chipmunk girl in the gunge tank. She had a sly smile on her face, stroking the fur on one cheek again and circling her bare toes on the tank's floor.
"You know someone's going to get you into this thing some time?" she interjected during his prolonged pause, raising her other hand from her lap and pointing down at her seat.
"They might, but for the moment I think it's yourself you should be worried about..."
A spurting noise from the bottom of the booth made all three of them suddenly look down, and Cleo jumped, picking her feet up, as the two wide slots at the bottom of the tank began churning out thick shaving cream-like foam, colored blue on her left and yellow on her right. The hissing noise was quickly covered up by a loud blare from an industrial-sounding hooter, and Miles felt his heart pounding as he watched the foam begin to fill up the tank, the two colors smearing up the front panel as it headed towards his wife's dangling toes.
Cleo let out a helpless laughing whimper, the hand that had been pointing down a moment before clutched to her chest as she slowly dropped her raised feet down through the foam to rest on the bottom of the tank. She moved them a little from side to side in the stuff, grimacing as it bubbled rapidly up her calves. Miles shivered, and moved his eyes to her face as she looked up at the audience, then made eye contact with him for a moment just before looking up as the siren rang again. Glancing up as well, Miles saw something twitch in the recess on the ceiling, and Cleo just had time to squeeze her eyes shut and face forwards before a wide downpour of dark green gunge splurged on to her head, hiding her instantly from view underneath a smooth dome shape.
Miles flinched back as he saw Cleo's arms poke out of the opaque curtain of gunge rebounding off her hair, sending a couple of licks of the stuff over the tank's door as she moved her sloppy hands to clutch the sides of her head. As the downpour of slime continued, she leaned forwards slightly, her green-spattered face coming out of the dome and revealing her squeamish expression as the slop slithered down the back of her hair and shoulders.
After a couple of seconds, four thin streams of orange slime spurted from the top corners of the tank down into the center, covering her face again and drizzling back and forward over the vague outline of her head as the mixture of gunge splattered outwards from it. She squirmed down a little further underneath them, glimpses of her shocked but smiling mouth sometimes visible for a moment underneath the glutinous downpour.
As the bubbling foam rose further against the slime pouring into it, she wriggled a little upwards to keep her face away, the green gunge from the ceiling slopping over her face as the orange streams began to run out and ease back. As the four sprayers slowed to dribbles at the corners of the tank, she leaned to the side a little, putting a hand out on to the wall of the booth and letting the gunge pour off one side of her head and splurge on to her shoulder, a hesitant grin on her face underneath the glooping dome shape. With the orange streams stopped, the foam rose over the height of the door and began to spill forwards, and Miles drew his feet in under the seat as a rain of blobs of the colorful stained foam fell to splat into a spreading mass in front of the messy booth.
The gunge from above began to thin out as well, and the sodden chipmunk girl squirmed upright again underneath it as the blobby remains of the tank dribbled out of the overhead nozzle and ran down her bowed head. Her green-soaked hair formed a curtain over her face with her muzzle poking out of it, with just a hint of a smile on her face above the bath of brightly colored foam she was sitting in.
Becoming aware of the audience's cheering from behind him just as it began to die down, Miles took his eyes off Cleo and looked back at Rossi, who was looking a little surprised himself as he watched the dollops of foam dripping over the door of the tank.
"Well," he said, clearing his throat and regaining his composure. "Our effects people really outdid themselves, didn't they...?" He leaned forwards to talk to Cleo. "Are you okay in there?"
"Fine," the chipmunk sighed, drawing another laugh from the audience, as she flapped her hands above the foam and then dragged them over her gungy head, pushing the mucky stuff out of her slick hair. She squirmed to one side, moving out of the thin drizzle of gunk still coming from the tank's ceiling. Miles twitched as she looked back at him, and he forced an awkward smile.
Rossi got up from his chair, and Cleo looked round at him as he leaned on the side of the booth. "Well, after that first performance I'm looking forward to using this thing on guests over the rest of the series! And I want you to know that we didn't want to pick on you, we just wanted to see Amanda gunged and you were the one we had to do it through... no hard feelings?"
Cleo tilted her head to the side thoughtfully, then shrugged, making more of the gunge run down from her shoulders as she moved. Rossi chuckled at her response.
"Well, we're going to let you and Miles go now - once you've got cleaned up, can you let us know if there's anyone you want to see in here?"
"Yeah, I can think of a few..." she answered immediately, blinking as more of the gunk ran down from her forehead, and she pointed blindly up at him.
The avian held his hands up and turned to the applauding audience as he stepped away from the booth and down off the platform. "I've only used it once and you already want me in there?" He shook his head. "Well, it's all out for tonight, let's send it off - we'll even let you keep the dress if you like..."
"Oh, thanks," Cleo rolled her eyes, looking down to her shoulders and raising one hand out of the foam bath to brush the gunk away from one of the soaked straps.
Rossi grinned back at her, then strode forwards towards the desk again. "Cleo Acorn and Miles, everyone!"
Miles clung tightly on to the arms of the chair as the platform began moving again, taking him and Cleo backwards towards the sliding door at the back of the set. Glancing towards her, he saw her raise her arm out of the foam bath and throw a handful out to the front, and watched it drift down to smack on the floor in front of them. Raising his hand in a weak wave himself as the platform carried them into the area behind the main set, he breathed out as the set panel slid back in front of him, looking over at Cleo as she gave a last wave to the audience before she was hidden too. He twisted around to see a couple of stagehands crouching to guide the platform a little further back, and stood up, stepping down from the platform as they shuffled it away from him.
Turning around to look at Cleo again, he couldn't help laughing a little as he watched the gunged chipmunk girl wiping the stuff from her face in the middle of the messy cubicle. As she took her slime-streaked hands away from her face and blinked her eyes open, one of the stagehands leaned in.
"Back in a minute with a towel, OK?" he said, then darted off across the studio floor. Cleo turned to look back at Miles, not disguising her sly smile any more, and raised a slimy finger to beckon him closer.
"You all right?" he asked, shoulders shaking in a laugh as he looked down at her sitting in the mass of foam. A couple of blobs of the green liquid were still dripping slowly from the top of the cubicle, and he dodged back a little away from them before leaning in for a kiss.
"Yeah, I suppose my first interview could have gone worse," she smiled back. "This was a little more than I was expecting..."
"Well, I don't think many people leave the stage looking like that..." he started, and crouched down at the front of the tank, so that their faces were level, his hands on the door. He poked one finger into the foam, stirring it around. "You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?" he realized.
"Yep," she admitted, nodding her head. A drizzle of slime slithered down off her fringe, and she brushed it away. "Well, they told me that it would involve something messy, but I didn't think they'd go as far as... this!"
She raised her sloppy arms out of the foam, gunge dripping from them as she stretched upwards. Miles peered into the mechanism at the top of the gunge tank again, and then looked back at the slime-coated chipmunk girl. "Yeah..." he chuckled as he watched the mixed orange and green slop slide down her, pushing the thick foam surrounding her a little down as blobs of gunge sank beneath it. "I think I know why they gave you your own shower now..."
"I was kind of hoping that they'd get you as well!"
Miles grinned. "I'm two behind now, aren't I?"
"Yeah, if you count being on IZ as getting messy once...!" She reached her mucky hand forwards, and Miles cringed only a little before she splatted it down on to his headfur, rubbing the cold slime around on his head. "I'm going to have to get you back before we get too old for this..."
Friday Night Party was invented as an obvious furry-world version of NHP so that I could do quick stories with people voting on the outcome - though I had envisioned it as a straight chat show that had just introduced this gimmick, rather than being infamous for it :) This story with Cleo was written as an introduction to the show and Rossi - and in-universe, to the gunge segment of the show!
If time had advanced in this furry world at the same rate as it has in real life, Cleo really would be the age she is in this story now! And still as stunning as ever :)