Written in Red Page 87

“We don’t need the safety line when we’re inside the office,” she told him when he tried to leap up and grab the harness off the counter. “All you have to remember is not to run out when we fill the mail baskets for the ponies.”

He talked back, but she gave him cookies and another piece of the stag stick, which he took back to his bed to gnaw on, ending the discussion.

Jake Crowgard wasn’t as easy to distract.

Meg didn’t know how he was getting in, but he was on the counter, studying the empty pen holder when she came back to the front room. Setting her peppermint tea on the sorting table, where it would be out of reach of any gifts he might want to drop into it, she pulled out a box from under the counter, opened it, and showed him the wooden wheels, colored sticks, and various connectors.

“Give back all my pencils and pens—and promise to leave them alone from now on—and you can have this,” she said.

Negotiations would have been simpler if Jake had shifted to his human form so that he could actually talk to her. She was sure that was the reason he didn’t shift. He tried to pretend he didn’t understand what she was saying, so she smiled at him, closed the box, took it into the sorting room, and shut the Private door.

She ignored Jake’s cawing while she sorted the mail. She ignored Sam’s howling when she unlocked the sorting-room’s outside door, then went into the back room to fetch her coat and the bowl of carrot chunks that was the ponies’ treat that day.

Sam stood in front of the outside door, mouthing his end of the leash and wagging his tail. Clearly, having a door open to the outside required the safety line. Wondering if she had emphasized the buddy system a little too much, Meg slipped the leash’s loop over her wrist and picked up the first two bundles of mail just as a chorus of neighs announced the arrival of the ponies. Pleased with himself, Sam stayed beside her as she walked back and forth between the table and the ponies, loading their baskets with mail, catalogs from nearby stores, and flat packages.

Once the ponies were on their way and Sam had ducked out just long enough to yellow up some snow, Meg locked the doors. Then she checked the front room. Jake wasn’t in sight, but there were three pencils on the counter.

She took the pencils and put two colored sticks and a wheel in their place.

When she closed for lunch, she snuck the toy box out of the office and locked it in her BOW. Then she dropped Sam off at Henry’s yard for an hour of playtime while she went to A Little Bite for a leisurely meal.

Returning to the office, she found three more pencils and four pens on the counter—and a black feather in the sorting room. Apparently, Jake had tried to get around trading by searching for the box. She felt oddly proud that she’d been sneakier than a Crow.

She never saw him during the afternoon delivery hours, but every time she checked the front room, a few more pens or pencils would be on the counter. When the pen holder and the pencil boxes were full, Meg set all the remaining toy pieces on the counter and locked up for the day. She had deliveries to make, and she needed to get Sam settled at home before heading out.

As she and Sam went out the back door, Starr Crowgard ran up to them.

“Jake wants to know if you found the last pencils,” Starr said.

“Yes, I did.” Meg paused, her key in the lock.

“He wondered if he could have the rest of the sticks.”

He wondered? Meg thought as she opened the door. “Sure.”

They went to the front room. Meg put the remaining pieces back in the box and gave it all to Starr, who shifted from foot to foot.

It was a mistake to think the Others were exactly like the birds or animals they mimicked, but after living in those forms for so many generations, they had absorbed some of the behaviors of those animals. Putting together what she knew about crows with the way Starr was looking at her, Meg tried not to sigh. “How many boxes would you like for the Corvine social room?”

Starr held up five fingers.

“I’ll order them tomorrow.”

Smiling, Starr followed her out, then hurried toward the Market Square, where her sisters—and, no doubt, Jake—were waiting at Sparkles and Junk to finish building whatever they were building.

Once she and Sam were settled in the BOW, Meg let out a gusty sigh. It wasn’t easy dealing with the Others, but at least she had shown the Crows that she wasn’t a pushover.

* * *

The Crows might have learned she wasn’t a pushover, but that particular lesson had been lost on the puppy. When she parked at the Green Complex, Sam wouldn’t get out of the BOW.

“Sam,” Meg said sternly. “I have deliveries to make before we can play. You have to wait for me at home.”

He talked back, and she didn’t need to speak Wolf to know he wanted to come with her and wasn’t agreeing with anything she said about him staying home by himself.

Until a few days ago, he’d been home by himself all the time. Apparently, he didn’t like it anymore.

Meg stared at the defiant pup and considered the problem. She could pick him up, but he was fast enough to bounce all over the inside of the BOW, and there was the possibility of him smashing a package that held something breakable. She could try to grab the harness, but he might forget they were friends and bite her. Or she could grab the leash and haul him out of the vehicle. But she had spent a lifetime of being controlled and held by one kind of a leash or another, and she didn’t want Sam thinking that he should let someone control him without fighting that person all the way.

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