Page 53

Mom dropped me off in front of Cause for Paws. I blew her a kiss and went bounding up the front steps into the lobby, where I was greeted by the unusual sight of Tasha, staring at me. “Are you… early?” she asked, in a tone that implied that this might be taken as a sign of the apocalypse. “Is Sally Mitchell, the girl who never met a nap she didn’t love, actually early?”

“Stop it,” I said. “I just wanted to get an early start on my day. I may need to make a personal call in an hour or so, and I figured if I came in now, I could make my calls and feel virtuous at the same time.”

“Hmm. Seems sketchy. That’s your only motive?”

I didn’t feel like telling Tasha everything. She was sweet, and I liked her. That didn’t mean I wanted to pour out my troubles at her feet. We’d never established that sort of relationship, and I wasn’t going to start now.

“Yeah.” I rubbed the back of my head with my hand, grimacing at the gritty feel of my unwashed hair. “I was going to start with the puppy cages, if that’s cool with you. I know they’re on the roster for today, and if I do them now, I can be showered and presentable before the afternoon adoption hours.”

“You can totally volunteer to do the puppy cages. And P.S., if this is part of paying it forward for that phone call of yours, there’s no chance in hell that Will is going to object to you taking a little break after you came in early and scrubbed up all the puppy shit.”

“That’s what I was hoping,” I said, and hung up my shoulder bag. I felt funny letting it go when I had only just managed to get it back into my possession. At the same time, if there were SymboGen spies waiting to break into the shelter and steal my things, I might as well give up right now. I flashed Tasha an insincere smile before heading to the supply cabinet.

The usual cacophony greeted me as I passed through the doors separating the public areas from the cages. Cause for Paws was a small, no-kill operation, and we did our best to provide the animals in our care with comfortable living accommodations—large, multifeline habitats with toys and cat trees for the more social cats, solo cages for the ones who couldn’t stand anything else that purred. Similar arrangements for the dogs, who were also walked twice a day, once in the early morning, once at night. Tasha must have just finished the morning rounds when I arrived. We didn’t officially open to adoption appointments for another hour, and we didn’t open to walk-ins until noon. That left me with a comfortable amount of time to get everything cleaned up and grab a quick shower before people who didn’t work here started coming through the doors.

“Hey, guys,” I said, moving to fill my bucket with water from the sink. Hot water and biodegradable spa cleanser—made from citric acid, safe to use around people and animals, and even safe to drink if you were feeling masochistic—were the best tools for this particular task, at least when combined with plain old elbow grease. I dumped the cleaner into the bucket, pulled on my gloves, and moved toward the first cage.

It was surprisingly easy to think with dogs romping madly around the room, sniffing everything like they’d never been out of their cages before. I used the hose to rinse the worst of the night’s “accidents” down the drain at the center of the room, and then focused on getting down on my hands and knees and really scrubbing. Even the cleanest animal care facility needs to be sterilized regularly, for the sake of everyone’s health, humans and animals alike. The dogs didn’t seem to mind. Most of them came over with tails wagging to see what I was doing, nudge me with their noses, and get scratched behind their ears. They didn’t even mind the gloves I had to wear. They were dogs, they were out of their cages, and everything was right with the world.

If only things were that easy for humans. I scrubbed harder, trying to make up my mind about what came next. I wanted answers. I wanted to know what was going on with the sleeping sickness, and whether Sherman was dead or just sick. I wanted to know why people were keeping things from me.

Calling the number in my notebook would mean prying into things SymboGen clearly didn’t want me prying into, and looking for answers to questions I wasn’t supposed to be asking. It would be one of those things I couldn’t take back. What was it that my mysterious note-leaver wrote? “Knowing the direction doesn’t mean you have to go”? I was getting the feeling that the sentiment was truer than I could ever have guessed. I had a direction now. Did that mean I wanted to go?

It was only when I was escorting the dogs back to their cages that I realized I was already planning to call Nathan after I called the number in my notebook. Doing one meant doing the other. I wanted him with me on whatever came next. I had the directions… and apparently, I was going.

I carried my bucket over to the sink, pouring its contents down the drain. Well. If I was going to do this—and apparently, I was—I might as well get my shower in first.

Will had arrived while I was in back cleaning up after the dogs. He looked up from the office computer when I walked past. I raised the hand that wasn’t carrying the bucket full of cleaning supplies in a wave. He waved back.

“Tasha told me you were here early, but I didn’t really believe it until I looked into the dog room,” he said. “Thanks for doing the cages.”

“Not a problem. I needed to think.”

“Sal, any time you need to think, feel free to come in and hose the shit off the walls. Seriously, please. You have the most useful form of meditation I’ve ever encountered.” Will grinned briefly. “Your day at SymboGen go well?”