“Ummm.” The voice sounded slightly nervous. There was a light tip-tap on the concrete floor as feet shuffled.
Cassandra, the pound Uni, looked up. “What may I do for you?”
“I was wondering if I could adopt a pet,” the girl in front of her said. “Um. You know.” She held up a bag of neopoints. “I have money.”
The Uni nodded pleasantly, her pink fur reflecting off the sterile metal desk that she was sitting at. “Of course. You can go down that hall.” She motioned toward a doorway beside her. Through the small window in the heavy wooden door, a line of cages could be seen.
The girl shuffled her feet again. “I was... I was sort of wondering if you could come with me.”
“Come with you?” Cassandra asked. “You want help picking out a pet?”
“No...” the girl said. “I just... I just want some company. I don’t want to be alone.”
Cassandra got up, still holding the clipboard she had been looking at. “If you wish. What’s your name, dear?”
The girl muttered something under her breath and hung her head.
“What was that?”
“Rain,” the girl said a bit louder, looking even more uncomfortable, her blonde hair hanging over her eyes until she brushed it away
“All right, Rain,” Cassandra said, opening the hallway’s large door with a firm tug. “Let’s just take a look in here, then.”
Rain nodded shortly and followed after Cassandra, trying to look around without raising her head much. The pound cages were dreary and the pets in them immediately set up a racket the moment she entered. The girl shivered and set to looking about shyly, moving forward slowly, following Cassandra down the hallway.
The two passed pets of all ages and species and genders and colors. There were Lupes, howling at the top of their lungs; Aishas, perking their ears forward plaintively; Techos, glued to the back of their cages, staring at everyone warily. Every species of Neopet was in the pound, all looking as plaintive as a pet possibly could. After going more than three-quarters of the way down the hall, Rain stopped. Cassandra stopped with the girl, hearing her light footsteps stop.
“Did you find a pet you like?” Cassandra asked, a smile on her face. She always enjoyed it when a new owner’s face lit up at finding their perfect pet. However, when she looked at the young girl’s face, it was anything but joyous.
“I think so,” the girl said with a small shrug. She pointed to the top cage of the column of five in front of her. “Myrh,” she said.
“A Gold Bruce! That’s a find,” Cassandra said with a smile. “He’s only two hundred eighty-five neopoints. Do you want him?”
“Please.” Rain gave a slight smile as Cassandra trotted off down the hall to the end to fetch a step ladder so she could open the cage. From up in the cage, Myrh peered down.
“So, why do you want me?”
Rain looked up suddenly. He had bright eyes and was lying on his stomach, face resting on his wings. He didn’t look particularly gloomy, like the other pets in the pound, nor distrusting or angry. He looked a bit interested in fact. Curious. “Well,” the girl stammered, “I like your name.”
“Nice and short and plain, huh?”
“Well... yeah, actually.”
“Any other reason?”
Rain shrugged her shoulders, her blue T-shirt wrinkling accordingly. “Umm... I guess I’m sort of lonely. You seemed nice.”
“No pets?” Myrh asked. “Why’re you lonely?”
“My pets are all away,” the girl said bitterly. “Haunted Woods. They stay there most of the time, doing things all alone.”
“And so you think that if you adopt me, you will have someone to talk to and be with and like you, then.”
“I was sort of hoping that would happen,” the girl said with a small smile. She grinned up at him. “You are nice, aren’t you?”
The Bruce sat up. “Well, I try to be nice. But it really grates on my nerves when the folks in here start up a song like they are today.” He frowned. “Those Lupes have no sense of melody, you know?”
The girl looked down the hall. “They call that a song?”
“It’s a Lupe song,” Myrh replied, crossing his arms. “That’s what they say. It’s a tribal melody back from their beginnings. They all know I don’t think much of it.”
“You actually told them so?” Rain said incredulously. “You’re halfway down the hall from the Lupes!”
“I yelled,” Myrh said. “I screamed, shouted, whatever you’d like to say. I can get my points across when I want to.”
And then Cassandra came rumbling back with the stepstool. “Excuse me,” she said politely to Rain, who dutifully stepped aside as the Uni maneuvered the metal stairs into place. The metal stairs clanked into place and the Uni stepped up the stairs with a ring of keys in her mouth. She unlocked the door swiftly with a very practiced hand and then retreated from the ladder to let Myrh step out on his own. The Bruce seemed like he had been rather stiff, because at the top of the ladder, as soon as he had bent his way out from the cage, he gave a good, long stretch in that wobbly sort of way you get when you’ve been cramped for a long time. Then, of course, he came down the ladder.
Rain grinned as he put his feet on the floor. She held out her hand. “It’s good to meet you,” she said.
The Bruce wrapped his wings around her hand and shook it heartily. “Good to meet you too. So, what’s your name?”
The girl grinned. “Rain,” she said. “Short for Rainbow.”
Behind the two, Cassandra carted the stepladder away. Myrh rubbed his chin. “You seem,” he said, “to be all rain with no bow to top it off.” He plucked aimlessly at his own. “I guess I can finish you off.”
Rain gave a laugh. It was a startlingly hearty laugh for someone who had previously been so quiet. “You’re right!” she exclaimed. “No bow at all.”
Myrh smiled quietly. This Rain was agreeable. Not that he could voice a complaint if she adopted him—but she was fine for him. Had a taste in music better than a Lupe. Could tell a good joke when she heard one. Not horrible. He put his hands behind his head and smiled up at the ceiling.
“Are you ready to take him?” Cassandra said, coming up behind the girl and the Bruce.
Rain turned around. “Yeah,” she said, quiet again. “I think I am.”
“Then come with me back to the front desk.” The Uni squeezed by and began to walk down the hall back to the door. Rain felt around for Myrh’s wing, took it in her hand, and began to walk down the hall, squeezing the wing nervously. Myrh wiggled his wing around, trying to gain back some blood flow.
At the desk, Rain wiggled and squirmed, biting her lip until Cassandra handed her paperwork. Then all her energy flowed into the piece of paper, scribbling things out onto it madly and as fast as she could. It was hardly two minutes by the time she handed back the papers. Cassandra looked over them quickly, then looked up. “Congratulations,” she said with a shake of her mane. “You own a new pet.”
“Thank you!” Rain said as she turned around to leave the Pound. Cassandra smiled, shook her head, and turned back to her paperwork.
“So, um, this is my house,” Rain said. “Yours too,” she added quickly. “It’s not that much, I guess, but it’s home, and you won’t be sharing it with many people other than me too often.”
Myrh looked around the entryway. There was a large rug in the middle of the floor, which covered most of the wood. An unused hat rack stood to the right of the front door and a vase filled with umbrellas was on the left. Ahead, just barely, he could see a kitchen, black and white tile floor and filled all up with a large table in the center and utilities off to the sides. The remnants of a large cake were on the center of the table and dishes clamored for room in the sink. “Not too bad,” he said appreciatively.
Rain smiled shyly. “I’m glad you think so.”
“Mind if I take a tour of the rest of the house?” the gold Bruce asked.
“No,” Rain said with a shrug. “Your room is all the way down the hall to the left, though,” she added almost as an afterthought. “It doesn’t have much yet, but we can add stuff as you like it.”
Myrh nodded, and having no luggage, immediately started down the hall in the opposite direction from his room. Rain watched him as he turned the first corner he came to. She sighed and walked into the kitchen to eat the last piece of cake. She tiredly stabbed an already-used fork into the cake and took a bite, closing her eyes. From the window behind her, sun shone on her back and she felt it soaking into her. Hopefully she had made the right decision in adopting another pet.
It was true what she had told him. She did have other pets and they were never, ever home. The girl had made a house big enough for all her pets, but except for the rare occasions when they’d visit, what was left was a ton of junk that she had to clean up and the echoes she made when she sang around the house. So another pet was good. It had to be good.
In fact, the girl hadn’t thought about what pet to choose at first. She had gone to the Pound to pick out a new lab pet, not really expecting the pet to like her. Get the pet to a form that someone else would like and would be able to love. She had never really even liked Bruces. But... for some reason, this pet she’d picked out seemed to click. Well, so far. She’d have to be careful.
Rain another bite off the cake. She put it in her mouth and began to chew thoughtfully. However, in the middle of reaching for a third bite, she frowned and turned around. Music was floating around the corner in an almost tangible strain. Rain got up slowly, fork still in hand, and wandered out of the kitchen, very interested.
She stepped into the living room, then stopped. There, at the grand piano, was Myrh. Somehow, and against all physical evidences that Bruces can’t play multiple notes with their wings, he was pulling off chords that whirled around each other with a grace only rivaled by the most talented dancers. Rain quietly sat down in one of the overstuffed armchairs in the back of the room, trying not to interrupt something she enjoyed so much. She leaned backward and closed her eyes, letting the music wash over her.
It was almost an instinct or a reflex. Rain, even as she settled into the plush chair, began to hum. Instead of jarring the moment, though, it seemed to blend into the music, an almost unnoticeable background noise that made the music all the more pleasing to the ear. Myrh continued to play.
As the moment continued, it began to be almost surreal. The sort of thing that you always want to happen—a timeless moment that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, except the sunlight will be golden and the air sweet to the taste. It will be perfect in memory, if not in action. But here, the action itself was perfect and it went on and on until it reached its natural ending, which was, of course, the ending of the music.
When the final notes died down, and the glorious ringing in her ears had at last stopped, Rain gave a small cough, just to signify she was there. Myrh turned around almost shyly, and looked at her.
“I... you liked it?”
“Very much,” Rain said. “I hope that you’d maybe do it again some time?”
The two sat there in the silence, looking at the floor, then at each other intermittently. Rain eventually sighed and got up from her chair. “I think that I’m going to the kitchen. Care to join me?”
Myrh got up from his seat on the wooden piano bench. “Well,” he said, almost coyly, “I think I saw a slice of cake left...”
Rain held up the fork she was holding. “There’s still half a slice, if you hurry.” She was off in a twinkling, dashing around the corner to the kitchen, fork at the ready.
As Myrh dashed out of the living room and to the kitchen, he knew that he’d stay around for a while, at least. After all, Rain had good taste in music. His taste in music.