Sam put a moratorium on discussing what happened at the coffee shop, and the next day he left with Red the Shiba for her vet appointment down the street. He left Rulash tending the counter, gazing at the clock, as the radio played the latest bastion of their culture:
You know the words to my soul
Do the nasty
Do the nasty
Sometimes Sam wondered what the aliens thought or future robot humans would think of the translations. Then he glanced at Rulash again.
Rulash sighed and turned up the radio, and the dogs started barking.
Sam really left.
Dr. Im ran the local veterinarian office, and Sam had a special agreement with her, and she helped with the animals at his shelter. She kept a faded, daisy yellow office and two assistants. Red obediently followed Sam inside, and one of the elderly assistants smiled at him.
“Looking to adopt a dog?” Sam asked her. “Or me?”
“Neither. I have five dogs,” chirped the old woman behind the desk. “You’re right on time. Head on back.”
As Sam and Red made their way back to the doctor’s room, the old assistant turned up the volume on the news-stream on her computer, tapping her pencil against her coffee mug.
“Environmental advocacy groups have started protesting outside Grüger headquarters, a private firm, after all members of the board have, for no clear reason, announced publicly that they disagree with the valley’s development… This is the largest environmental protest in the city since 1988, when…”
Dr. Im, a woman with a round face and pearl earrings, opened the door from the inside. “Charlotte, could you be a dear and turn that down? Sam, hello, come on in. Hello there, Red.”
She bent over and scratched the dog’s head. “What brings you two in?”
“Red doesn’t seem herself,” lied Sam. “I just want to play it safe.”
Sam waited as Dr. Im did a couple different tests on Red, and he played on his phone, wondering if Rulash was still mooning in the lobby.
“She has a digestive infection,” Dr. Im announced. “I know you have a lot on your hands. If you take this healthy kitten someone just left here, I handle Red until she gets better. How’d you know something was off? Even I couldn’t tell until I did the tests…”
“I just guessed,” said Sam helplessly. (Because ‘my assistant talks to animals’ was a little beyond their business friendship.)
Dr. Im patted Red on the head. “You are in good hands, yes you are…”
She leaned out of the door. "Charlotte, give Sam Sasquatch and one of the cat-carriers.”
Sam carried Sasquatch, the big-footed black kitten, home with no protest, his mind knotted in confusion, a fur ball from which four clear words emerged by the time he reached his doorstep.
How could he tell?
Such confusion nagged him as he opened the door—because he can’t really talk to animals, fairies aren’t real—and found Rulash exactly where Sam had left him: staring at the clock, sighing behind the counter.
“I leave with a dog and come back with a kitten,” joked Sam. “This is my life.”
He stopped to lower Sasquatch into an open crate in the lobby and made a bowl of food. As he worked, the radio hummed from the countertop.
“Protesters gather around Grüger headquarters as the chairman of the board issued a statement, apologizing for any confusion caused when other members of the board publicly claimed the valley project would cease immediately. As Grüger is a private company, such declarations are strange to say the least, and this reporter wonders what prompted… One of the board members, Ms. Bagging, made local news when she claimed she was assaulted by a masked, winged figure who forced her declaration…”
Rulash frowned and changed the station.
Do the nasty
Do the nasty
Sam patted Sasquatch on the head and turned to Rulash. “Hey, we need to talk.”
Rulash sighed and began drumming his fingers against the counter.
“We need to talk about the other night,” continued Sam. “The more I think about it, the more upset I am—”
“No,” interrupted Rulash.
“No?” Baffled, Sam blinked. “No. I am upset.”
“Not about me,” said Rulash, rolling his eyes. “You’re upset about your issues.”
“My issues are that I have a crazy stalker living in my business. This girl does not want a romantic relationship with you, and deceiving her with another identity isn’t right. She should be able to choose what she wants without you breathing down her neck.” Sam’s voice caught on something. “You have to… respect her choice.”
“It’s not about that,” snapped Rulash. “Something is wrong. She is in danger somehow, and she won’t… I am not a part of her life, so I cannot help her.”
“She looked fine to me.”
“Red looked fine to you!” cried Rulash, gesturing wildly in the direction of the kitten. Sasquatch meowed. “You’re an unobservant, vain ladybug. Willow was beaten and exhausted. She was worrying about something, and I couldn’t help her. Love is letting go, I get that, but love also means you don’t just stand aside and let someone be in danger.”
“Besides,” Rulash continued, “this is about your problem. Why don’t you talk with your parents? Is it because you dress like a woman?”
Sam cringed. None of his friends, even Gweniveer, asked him about his problems directly. It was like a toxic waste dump. Everyone drove around it. He didn’t want to talk about it with Rulash, and he was just about to tell Rulash that, but the man kept rattling along.
“This isn’t about me. You’re too nice. That’s the problem.”
“Too nice,” scolded Rulash. “For instance, you’ve taken me in without a second thought, even though you think I’m crazy. (Some friend you are.) You’ve put up with me. And I get that you and your strange friends that I’m attractive.” Sighing, Rulash snapped his fingers. “That’s no surprise, as most creatures as found me attractive since the day I was born.”
Sam picked up Sasquatch. Holding a kitten, he knew, would stop him from doing something he would regret.
“But this isn’t about me. When I was a teenager, I struck a deal with a couple bumblebee cities and became their king. Do you think that made my parents happy?”
Rulash stared at him as if he were the dullest dung beetle squashed on the sidewalk.
“No?” tried Sam.
“They did all kinds of things. They sent treaties and petitions and they tried to get me to do what they wanted, even though it would be bad for me and everyone else. I was happy, so I didn’t compromise. And then, one day I realized that if my parents were good parents and they loved me, they’d get over it, and we’d have normal trade relations. But I also knew that there are lousy parents out there who don’t love their children. I gave them an ultimatum.”
Sam swallowed. “What happened?”
“They weren’t good parents.” Rulash rolled his eyes, and Sam gazed in wonder at his easiness with the statement. “I conquered them. With Willow.”
Trembling, Sam sat down. Sasquatch nuzzled his hands, which he formed like a tent around the kitten.
“What do you like? What makes you happy?” Rulash almost seemed irritated, but Sam was beginning to suspect that Rulash was irritated with friends and polite to enemies.
“I like animals.” Sasquatch meowed, flexing its tiny claws against his jeans. “Costumes.”
“But you’re not happy now. You need to have bigger, more ruthless goals. What’s your ideal life?”
“Well, I… That’s.”
Rulash stared at him, irritated. In that moment, Sam realized that if Rulash had been kind, he would be crying. He wondered if the irritation was a bizarre form of kindness or if Rulash was just agitated.
“So help me, you must have something.”
“I want to open a pet cafe,” blurted out Sam. “I’ve never told anyone. It’s a place where people who can’t have pets visit, buy snacks, and hang out with pets. They have them in Japan, but they’re hard to open here because of the health code regulations and start-up costs.”
“That’ll do.” The clock ticked. Rulash drummed his fingers against the counter, staring out the front door as the sun set.
“For what little it’s worth,” said Sam, “I think you should be direct with Willow too. But respect her judgment.”
A bright red Ferrari screeched to a halt in front of the shelter, swinging expertly into the only open parallel parking spot. Gweniveer threw open the front door, her face flushed.
“Are you guys watching the news?”