He’s running. The field is so green, the sky so blue. The air is rushing past him, ruffling his damp, yellow fur. He cradles the ball in his arms, its rough outer layer quivering in his firm but gentle touch. This ball is nothing but limp, rough-hewn matter, yet it holds his destiny.
If he makes it to the end zone carrying the ball, he wins.
He passes a yard line. Then another. Another one’s ahead. More, more, more. And then–
He walks sheepishly out of the medical unit, still nursing a black eye, stitches parting the scruff on his chin. He tries to carry his feet softly, meandering through the throngs of fans to the exit. But with his thick, harry haunches, he can’t help but stomp.
“GUBA!” yells Chad Hung, sports editor at The Getaway. Of course he had to be here.
“I’m Chad Hung, sports editor at—”
“Yeah, I know who you are,” GUBA roars. “Let me guess… you want to know what this means for us, for the team, now that we’ve lost the championship game.”
GUBA spits next to a trash can and wipes his maw with his headband.
“Well, I’ll tell ya,” he goes on, Hung staring at him in bewilderment. “We’ll do what we’ve always done: train hard, live hard, and love hard. That’s the Golden Bears way.”
“My friend, don’t get ahead of yourself,” Hung chuckles. “I was going to ask — given your performance on the field today, what do you see in your future?”
GUBA bares his teeth.
“If you hadn’t tripped and fallen with the ball, you might’ve scored a touchdown,” Hung continues, gaining ground. “And you just might’ve saved the game. So, I ask you again: with a performance like that, how do you expect the Golden Bears to keep you on as quarterback?”
GUBA pauses, standing as if his burly calves will give way at any moment, landing his fat furry ass on the cold, rough cement.
“I’m sorry, Chad, but you’re not sanctioned media,” the great bear sighs with the sound of billowing wind. “I only let Folio waste my time.”
GUBA surges forward, ignoring Hung’s indignant whines. The crowd moves like a giant teardrop of flesh, propelling him to the exit. Almost there, he thinks. And then I’m done.
The door’s mere feet ahead of him now. He can just about taste freedom on his thick, gamey tongue.
But then someone stops him. A voice calls out.
“GUBA,” a female voice says. “GUBA…”
“What?” he says, declining to turn to face her. “What do you want, girl?”
“Well,” she says, her voice wavering. “Just don’t take it too hard, alright?”
He can’t see her, but he can smell her: a bear. Another bear? In Edmonton? He stops… but he says nothing.
A few seconds later, he’s out the door, blurry white noise giving way to silence.
She walks into the Wilson Climbing Centre, trying her best not to tread too loudly on the pristine silver floors. But as with any anthropomorphic bear, it simply can’t be helped.
The climbing centre is crowded. She searches for a wall to claim. None of her human classmates would mess with her, but she’s tired of taking what she wants by force.
And then she sees him. In a corner. Chalking up. Alone.
GUBA scrambles up the wall without a harness. Faster, faster, faster, his rage seeping out of every oversized orifice.
She watches him, impressed. But then she sees him slip, and before she realizes it she’s running towards him.
He tumbles from the wall… and into her arms. Together, they fall to the ground.
They both stand, groaning, and brush themselves off. No injuries, save those from yesterday’s game.
“You — you saved me!” GUBA exclaims, wiping dust out of his eyes. “I can’t thank you enough.”
He turns to face her. She says nothing, but he recognizes that smell.
“It’s you, the girl from the game!” he says. “Look, I’m sorry, I was in a rough–”
She cuts him off, placing her finger to his muzzle.
“All I wanted to say yesterday was that I thought you did a great job,” she says. “It takes a lot of courage and discipline to even get the chance at a touchdown.”
GUBA’s posture relaxes. Underneath his matted auburn fur, his cheeks go red as lobsters.
“And your team — well, you know those guys better than me, but from where I’m standing, it really seems like they look up to you,” she says. “And I admire you for it.”
He stares at her in awe, not quite sure what to say to the cuddly bear soothing his eyes and ears.
“But I should get going,” she says. “Be careful on these walls, okay?”
And with that, she runs off.
“Wait!” he calls after her, panting when he catches up. “I didn’t even get your name.”
She smiles mischievously. “Patches,” she says. “I’m Patches the panda. I just moved here from Beijing.”
He grins. “Well then, Patches the panda from Beijing, how’d you like to get dinner with a Golden Bears all-star?”
Patches scratches her left ear thoughtfully. “Thought you’d never ask.”
“After my dad sold his factory, they had enough to set me up with an estate of my own. They even picked out a young panda boy for me to marry. He was a bamboo magnate. It would’ve been a good fit.”
It’s 10:00 p.m. at Sugarbowl. Hours after sitting down, the two bears are still yapping away, swapping stories of their childhoods in Ursa communities on opposite sides of the Pacific.
“And what made you give it up?”
“I wanted more. When I told them I intended to study at a Canadian university, I thought they seemed surprisingly pleased,” Patches continues. “That is, until I realized they expected me to study business.”
GUBA chuckles. Coming from an upwardly mobile bear family himself, this story is all too familiar.
“Doing a bachelor of music in piano performance — well, that’s a bit of a different story.”
As he listens to her, GUBA lets his face fall into his hand, which he’s propped up with an elbow.
“It’s tough to be a bear in a human world,” GUBA says. “I admire you for doing something different, something that’s yours.”
She smiles and tilts her head to the right, gazing at him with coal-black eyes. “And football — for you, is that something different? Something that’s yours?”
He lifts his head up and away, fiddling with his fork. “I love football, I do. I love the team,” GUBA offers hesitantly. “But big, burly bears like me: it’s what we’ve always done. I’ve always wondered… for me, is there something more?”
“Well, this is my stop.” Patches stops walking by the door to International House, letting their paws slip apart.
GUBA wavers. He walks slowly towards her. This time, his big bear paws hardly make a sound, so trepidatious are his steps.
“I really liked our time together tonight. I think…” he trails off.
She smiles coyly. “Go on?”
“Well, not to jump for the salmon on this, but I think we have the potential to really understand each other,” GUBA says in a rush. “I’d even let Chad Hung quote me on that.”
For a moment, she says nothing. And then she leans in. Slobber runs down their fronts as they kiss for the first time, messily and unapologetically. A kiss of bears.
Once they’re inside Patches’ dorm, GUBA removes his headband and tosses it onto her bed. He moves to rip off her top — but not before she shoves him up against the wall, her teeth bared affectionately.
She removes his jersey and the fading singlet underneath it. She kneels to the floor, taking his shorts and briefs down with her. And then she stops, getting a closer look.
“GUBA…” she says. “There’s… there’s nothing there.”
The star quarterback lets out a great, big bear sigh. “We’re mascots,” he says. “Of course there’s nothing there.”
Patches says nothing. Silence rings through East Campus Village. Then she perks up, smiling. She knows what to do. “The closet,” she says. “Open it.”
He looks at her quizzically, then does what he’s told. Opening the closet, he sees piles of old scores, shelves of neatly folded clothes, and a basket of lacy underwear.
“Bottom shelf,” Patches instructs.
And then he finds it: a long, girthsome, fur-covered bamboo rod fastened to a supple harness.
“Oh,” GUBA says with some effort.
“I know you like to climb without a harness,” Patches says. “But tonight, you’ll need to be flexible.”
GUBA is on his knees, his jaws clenched around her pillow. Patches rides atop him, digging deeper with every go. She goes. And goes. And goes.
She presses on, faster and faster and faster.
“Oh God!” Patches yelps. “You really are the Great University Bear of Alberta!”
A final burst of ecstasy washes over her fuzzy frame. Satisfied, she relents.
“Damn,” he says with a cheeky grin. “Is that what they call the Panda Express?”
She’s playing. The sound glides from her fingers to her ears, sweetening the air on its way up. She presses the piano keys with force and precision, showing the instrument who’s boss.
Liszt’s “La Campanella in G-Sharp Minor:” an infamous piece, and exactly what she needs to prove herself in this recital. Faster and faster, her paws caress the ivories.
Piano. Forte. Piano. Forte. And then–
Silence holds sway once more, catching the audience breathless. A moment’s pause, and then they stand, all of them, filling Convocation Hall with their wild applause.
Patches stands up from her bench, still reeling from her virtuosic performance. She’s done it.
She gazes out at the adoring crowd, searching… and then she sees him: her very own golden bear.
In this moment, one thing is certain: their hearts are green with new life, for their love is as rich as gold.