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Just Animals

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“I can’t believe they make you fill out an application for this sort of thing.”

Andy rolls her eyes. “It makes sense, Miranda. They take in all sorts of abused animals. I’m sure they just want to keep records of everything.”

Andy keeps on working on the form, until Miranda interrupts her progress again. “And since when does pet adoption cost money?”

Andy inhales slowly and withholds the audible exhalation she feels like letting out, because an exasperated sigh would only cause more trouble. She’s barely gotten Miranda to agree to visit the Humane Society, so she has to be cool. “It helps keep the place in business, Miranda. It’s not like they’re making scads of money. It’s a non-profit.”

“Well,” Miranda sniffs. “I was under the impression we were doing them a favor by providing an animal a good home. What if the cost is an impediment?”

“Fees cover vaccinations and whatever else is happening with the animals, Miranda. Besides, money’s not an issue in our case, so don’t worry about it,” Andy says, signing her name with a flourish to the last page of the application. “Let’s go.”

They head north to pick up the girls from school first. Andy tries not to check her Blackberry; if Miranda can cut out of work early to get a new dog, Andy can do it too. It’s a little anxiety-provoking since it’s Friday and a lot’s going on, but this is more important. At least it is at the moment. Andy takes Miranda’s hand in the car, biting her lip when Miranda doesn’t look back at her.

Patricia’s been gone for almost a year. The girls have been pestering them for a while about a new dog, and Andy herself misses Patricia’s steady company. She was pretty old by the time Andy moved in, but that didn’t make it easier when she died in her sleep one night last November. Especially since Andy’s the one who found her. She’d sat with the unmoving dog for a little while, crying silent tears before gathering enough courage to tell Miranda.

That had been a very, very difficult time. Andy had only seen Miranda cry (really cry, that is) twice in the three years she’d known her, and both times it was over Patricia. Once when the doctor had said she was sick and getting worse, and once a couple of days after they’d had her cremated. Miranda doesn’t talk about the fact that she cried over a dog, and Andy doesn’t bring it up.

In the car, the girls are solemn and quiet, both jumping in surprise when Miranda says, “When you girls go off to college, you’ll have to leave this animal behind. And I’ll be the one left to take care of it.”

Andy purses her lips and doesn’t remind Miranda that she is sitting right here. Andy will probably be doing most of the care-taking, aside from the dog-walker, housekeeper, and two assistants who race home for Miranda any time she snaps her fingers.

“I know, Mom,” Cassidy says. She glances at Caroline. “It will be okay.”

When they arrive at the shelter, Miranda stalks out of the car, her heels clacking furiously on the wet pavement. Andy is flanked by the twins, each of whom hold one of her hands as they enter the building. She is greeted by one of the volunteers, and they chat for a few minutes as Andy hands over the paperwork. When the man recognizes Miranda’s name on the application, he can’t help but glance up at her. Miranda, meanwhile, is staring at a wall, appearing totally uninterested.

He doesn’t stare, but he’s unnerved. He definitely knows who Miranda is. “Um, okay. Let me take a look at the application and I’ll find some options for you. Everyone in the family is here, right?”

“Yes, thanks,” Andy says, while Cassidy nudges against her side for some attention. She seems anxious too. If Andy had known what kind of tension this activity was going to introduce into their foursome, she may not pushed for this, but it’s too late now.

A few minutes later, the volunteer returns. His name is Jerry. “Okay, come on up, everyone,” he says.

“Miranda, are you ready?” Andy asks, relieved when Miranda follows them. They take an elevator to the second floor, and make their way to a crowded space where people are playing with dogs.

Jerry hands Andy a print out of dogs that fit Andy’s criteria. “Usually we don’t like to have many people in the area at once—“

“I’ll go alone,” Miranda says with certainty. “I want to see them.”

Andy cringes. “Miranda, I’m not sure—“

Miranda shoots Andy a glare she hasn’t seen the likes of for ages, and at once her knees turn to water. She forgets for a moment that Miranda loves her, and that when they have sex, Miranda is often willingly at Andy’s mercy. For a moment, Andy thinks that if she says the wrong thing, Miranda will knock out her teeth. It’s unsettling, to say the least.

“Okay, you go on,” Andy says.

Jerry suddenly looks nervous, since he was probably thinking that he’d be dealing with Andy. She’d called ahead and said that there was a high profile individual coming in to consider adopting. Usually Andy lets Miranda’s assistants make those sorts of calls, and often only when it relates to Runway. She tries to keep their home life as normal as possible, even though usually she isn’t that successful. It’s hard to keep things normal when you live with Miranda.

Without fanfare, Jerry and Miranda disappear behind closed doors. Andy slumps down into a seat, while Caroline and Cassidy try to distract themselves by watching the dogs in the waiting area. Twenty minutes go by as people come in and out of the double doors, with dogs and without. When another ten minutes pass, Cassidy asks for a snack, and Andy has packed a couple of granola bars and water in her bag. They all share one, even though Andy’s stomach is in knots and she doesn’t feel much like eating.

Finally, after a full hour, Jerry returns, looking pale and a little sweaty. “Where’s Miranda?” Andy asks.

And then, she’s there, leading not one, but two dogs on leashes. “Uh…” Andy says, while Cassidy and Caroline squeal in delight.

“They’re collie mixes, a boy and a girl,” Jerry says. “We think there’s some border in the male, along with some shepherd, while the girl is collie and retriever.”

“So they’re not brother and sister?” Andy asks.

“No, but they arrived around the same time. Both are fixed, mind you, so you won’t end up with puppies in a few months,” Jerry jokes. “I told Miranda we were having trouble finding a place for them, because they needed to be adopted together. She sat with them for a while, and that was it. They took right to her.” He watches Miranda as she introduces the girls to the dogs. “She’s… I didn’t think she was a dog person when I saw her. Guess I was wrong.”

“What are their names?” Andy wonders if they’ll end up keeping the names the shelter gave them.

“Ruby is three-ish, she’s the lighter one. And Jacks is around four—he was starved when he came to us, so we’ll give you a list of things to look out for as he grows older. Nothing to worry about now, but you should definitely be aware and prepared in case things crop up.”

Andy nods. “Miranda knows that?”

“Yep,” Jerry says. “She didn’t flinch. Asked all the right questions.”

This time, when Miranda looks up at Andy, her earlier expression of anxiety is gone. The lines in her forehead have smoothed out. She’s happy, Andy realizes. And they’re taking two dogs home today instead of one.

“So two, huh,” Andy says as she goes over and kneels down in front of the dogs. Holding out her hand, palm down, she eyes Miranda.

“Well, I couldn’t very well separate a matched pair,” Miranda says, eyebrow lifted haughtily. “That would be cruel.”

The two dogs nose at Andy’s fingers affectionately as the girls pet them. “Sure would,” Andy says. “I’ll wrap everything up so we can go home, okay?”

Miranda simply nods, and the dogs go right back to her as Andy follows Jerry to the office to do the paperwork.

Half an hour later, Andy follows Miranda out the door. The clouds are ominous overhead; Andy is anxious to get home in case the rain starts. She hurries toward the car, which is double parked as usual, but Miranda doesn’t follow. “I’m walking. You don’t have to come along,” Miranda says.

Andy gapes at her. “Geez, hold on for a second, okay?” She throws the paperwork on the backseat and grabs a huge umbrella she’s stashed there for emergencies. She also snags two small water bottles and leaves her huge purse behind as well. No need to haul an extra ten pounds on their first dog-walking experience together. “Can you drop this stuff off at the house?” she asks Roy.

“Sure thing, Andy. Did the kids talk her into a second dog?”

Andy just smiles. “Yeah. She can never say no to them,” she replies.

“I hear that,” he says. Andy shuts the door and joins the group. The dogs are very excited to be going for a walk, and Andy rubs Ruby’s little blonde head and big floppy ears. “Good girl,” she says, out of habit.

“Here,” Miranda says, handing Andy Ruby’s leash. “You take her. You’ll have to get used to walking a dog,” as though Andy’s never done such a thing in her life.

“Sure,” Andy says, chewing on the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling.

They walk a couple of blocks while the twins run around them, talking to the dogs non-stop about their new home. Miranda is quiet until Andy finally bumps against her deliberately.

“They’re pretty cute,” Andy says. “I’m glad you got both of them.”

“Well,” Miranda says, not finishing her thought.

“You’re pretty cute too,” Andy adds, sliding her free hand under Miranda’s elbow.

“Oh, please,” Miranda snaps, but there’s no bite to it. “You’re the one who talked me into another dog. I couldn’t very well leave one of them—“

“I know,” Andy says, holding Miranda’s arm more tightly. “I know.”

They walk in silence for another minute, before Miranda says, “They’re just animals.”

“Yeah,” Andy agrees. Not long after that, Miranda adjusts her arm so Andy’s can loop more comfortably underneath it. They walk all the way home like that, and even when it starts to drizzle, Andy doesn’t bother with the umbrella. She’s at ease exactly the way she is.

That night, Andy goes out and brings home another dog bed. She carries it to the room where Patricia used to sleep, just off the kitchen, but the bed she left there earlier is empty.

Upstairs, Andy finds both dogs curled up on a big, expensive pillow in the bedroom she shares with Miranda. “It’s just for tonight,” Miranda says, not glancing up from the Book. “They’re getting to know us. I don’t want them to be afraid.”

Andy catches herself mid-head-shake. “Sure,” she replies, resigned to the fact that she’ll be the one who ends up taking them out for a pee in the middle of the night. She glances at the dogs, who look exhausted, tongues lolling happily after a day of walking and playing and eating like royalty.

“They sure are sharp, for animals,” Andy says.

“Hmm?”

“Took me a whole year of making puppy dog eyes at you to get into this room. Only took them a few hours.”

Miranda glares at her out of the corner of one eye. “You think you’re so funny, don’t you,” Miranda drawls.

“Uh huh.”

Andy gets ready for bed, and by the time she crawls in with Miranda, the dogs are out cold. One of them in snoring loudly. Andy raises an eyebrow. “Just for tonight,” she reminds Miranda. “The trainer says—“

“Yes, yes,” Miranda replies. “Now be quiet.” She leans in for a kiss, which Andy happily supplies. And another, plus one more for good measure. When she pulls back, Miranda gazes at her uncertainly. “They’re just animals,” she says, repeating what she said earlier in the day.

“I know, honey,” Andy tells her. “I love them already.” She means it too.

Miranda pauses, running her fingers gently through Andy’s hair. “So do I.”