Written in Red Page 80

They rearranged the chairs and the sectional couch to their liking—and for ease at reaching the popcorn, nuts, and chocolate chip cookies Tess had brought. Then Jenni started the movie.

There were mothers crying about daughters, and daughters yelling at mothers. There were fathers arguing with sons. There were friends offering unwanted advice to everyone. But in the end, they were all smiling and hugging.

Meg couldn’t decide if this was supposed to be a story about a real family or if it was make-believe and wouldn’t actually happen in a human community. The Others didn’t understand the story either, but they all agreed on one thing: there wasn’t a single chick in the whole movie.

By the time she got back, Sam was awake and ready to play. So they ate and played and watched another movie that definitely had chicks and other animals in it.

“If you let me get some sleep tonight, you can come with me in the morning,” Meg said when she latched the cage. “But if you start howling and keep everyone up, you’ll have to stay home by yourself.”

Sam whined, making Meg feel like a meanie. But he settled down, and she went back to her apartment and barely had time to go through her nightly routine before she fell into bed and was sound asleep.

* * *

The next morning, there wasn’t a sound from Simon’s apartment. Not a yip or a howl. Having slept through her alarm, Meg wasn’t sure she would have heard Sam before she stumbled out of bed, no matter how much noise he’d made. However, by the time she got out of the shower, the silence had taken on an ominous feel.

What if she hadn’t latched the cage correctly last night? What if Sam had gotten out and, feeling upset with her for leaving him, had done one of the things that had worried Simon enough to buy the cage in the first place?

Rubbing her wet hair, Meg stuffed the towel on the rack, put on her robe and slippers, and hurried over to Simon’s apartment. She shivered as she worked the lock in the back hallway—a reminder that even indoors, this wasn’t a good time of year for wet hair and minimal clothing.

She would fix both of those things as soon as she checked on Sam.

What if he wasn’t making any noise because he was injured and couldn’t howl for help? What if he was sick? What if . . .

She rushed down the stairs and into the living room.

. . . he was licking the last bits of kibble out of his bowl and waiting for her quietly so she would take him with her?

Sam wagged his tail and let out a soft arrooooo of greeting.

“Good morning, Sam,” Meg said. “I just wanted to let you know that I’ll come and get you in a few minutes. Okay?”

Taking the sound he made as agreement, she dashed back to her apartment to dry her hair and get dressed. She hurried through the rest of her morning routine, almost choking on her hasty breakfast of peanut butter and bread.

By the time she got her place locked up and returned to Simon’s apartment, Sam was dancing in place. As soon as she unlocked the cage, he was out and dancing at the front door. She got him into his harness and packed up his bowls and towel. When she stepped outside, Vlad was waiting for her.

He took the two carry sacks and looked thoughtful. “What are you bringing every day?”

“Sam’s food bowls,” Meg replied, double checking that she had properly locked Simon’s door, because she remembered images and clips of thieves breaking into houses. Then there was the recent vision of those men dressed in black and Sam being afraid. She didn’t think anyone would sneak into the Courtyard and try to steal from the Others. On the other hand, people did foolish things all the time.

“Meg, if Sam is going to the office with you most days, get another set of bowls so you don’t have to cart these back and forth,” Vlad said.

“I’m going to look through the Pet Palace catalog this morning to see how much they cost,” she said as the three of them set off for the garages, stopping every few steps for Sam to pee. She didn’t want to be stingy, but the shopping trip on Firesday had shown her how quickly money was used up, and she didn’t want to run out before the next pay envelope. And that thought reminded her to stop at the Market Square bank and find out how much store credit she could anticipate having each month. She was beginning to understand why so many of the Controller’s clients had wanted prophecies about money.

“Buy what you want for Sam and charge it to the Business Association,” Vlad said. “I’ll authorize the purchases.”

“Thank you.”

They packed the carry sacks and Sam into the BOW. Then, despite her having her key that morning, Vlad drove the three of them to the Liaison’s Office.

When she opened the front door, Harry from Everywhere Delivery was just pulling in.

Not late this morning, she thought as she waved at Harry—and caught a glimpse of someone watching from the second floor of the consulate. But just barely on time.

Since Harry always chatted with her for a few minutes, Meg took her time setting up her clipboard and filling out the information on the packages he brought. Unlike Asia Crane, he wasn’t blatantly curious about the Courtyard. Harry chatted about his own life, a version of the human world that was as alien to her as the terra indigenes’ way of life. But Meg absorbed the words, and whenever she had a few minutes of quiet time, she tried to match the things Harry talked about to the images and clips that had been part of her training.

* * *

“Pull up so we’re not in the way of deliveries,” Monty said as Kowalski drove into the Courtyard. “This won’t take more than a couple of minutes.”

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