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10 November 2017 @ 07:26 am
_Stone_ part 3  
 

Chapter Four

Phoenix

L

Friday

"Almost there."

My blonde buddy sounded a bit tired. Well deserved, after driving probably four hundred miles with only a two hour nap in the small hours of last night.

I wagged my tail and sat up to look around. Phoenix was a sprawl of lights, tucked between mountains silhouetted by the rising sun. I'd slept through most of what had probably been spectacular desert, waking up periodically as the blonde woman mentioned something.

But if I was going to be here for very long, I really ought to sit up and take notes.

Like, which freeway exit led to wherever the blonde was going.

Turn here, turn there.

Hmm, hardware store, big computer center, big box stores on competing corners . . . Plenty of job opportunities, as soon as I acquired a few necessities. Pity I'd abandoned everything in Albuquerque. But I'd always known that could happen. Or that I might change unexpectedly.

And now a turn into a residential area, one last turn and then into the driveway of a big house.

The door of the house opened before the blonde had even turned the car off.

"Rachel! Yay! I was starting to worry."

"Oh, I got your message about going to pick up Kris so early, so I stopped and had breakfast. Hey Kris, long time no see!" The blonde—Rachel! Finally, a name for her—jumped out of the car.

The house was all adobe and red roof tiles. The woman who'd come out to hug my rescuer was red on top too.

"I thought you'd be here earlier."

My rescuer—Rachel, apparently—got out of the car and hugged the redhead. "Hey Nicole, I had a flat, had to stop and get it fixed and . . . well. Here we are." She cast a look back at me, in the rear seat.

"What is that!

"That's Stone. He's lost, and well, he ran off a . . . person of uncertain intent when I was changing the tire. Don't worry, he's got tags, I'll track his owner down, I just couldn't leave him in the desert, he'd worn his pads down till they were bleeding."

"You always were soft hearted. Couldn't you rescue a smaller critter though?" The redhead peered at me.

"That's not a dog, that's a pony!" A man had come up behind them and now he was the one reaching to open the door.

"Very funny. Just because he doesn't look like one of your fancy police dogs . . . "

I eased out, putting my paws down carefully. Eight hours with hardly any walking had been nice, but not long enough to finish healing.

"Good Grief, he must weigh close to two hundred pounds. Mastiff or Newfoundland, by the size, crossed with, well, something with short hair, at least. Mostly."

They all looked at me.

"He's got a little bit of a curly ruff. He's not black like a Newfoundland." Rachel shrugged. "Do Mastiff's come in reddish brown? Maybe he's part Great Dane."

Nicole shook her head. "His ears are almost standing up. But he doesn't look at all like a German Shepherd . . . "

Strictly speaking, I probably wasn't even partly canine. Nonetheless, I wagged my tail, sat down and offered a paw to shake. I needed more than a couple cheeseburgers to regain enough energy to Change, to . . . reenter human society . . . somehow.

All three of them had nice white glows.

Not like . . . those people. Or even the hungry red tinge of those potential rapists at the rest stop. The sullen gray of my foster siblings.

Just . . . honest good people.

This looked like a good place to recuperate.

So the first thing that happened was I got hosed off, soaped down, and scrubbed. Really embarrassing. Not that it didn't feel good, but.

Oh well. I got a plateful of leftovers and a rug on the back porch and thought I was in heaven. The concrete patio had absorbed the heat all day, and felt wonderful as the sun set and the air cooled.

I could hear them chatting inside. Well enough anyway to piece things together. Rachel'd lost her job, been dumped by her boyfriend and been invited to come and stay with her sister and her husband. This was some sort of temporary posting for the guy

And they phoned the numbers on my tags. The first number wasn't in service, of course. I perked my ears and listened to the call to the vet.

"An old number . . . Oh, is that the Stone's huge brown dog? He must be . . . fourteen by now, a big dog like that I'm surprised . . . But he always was an odd dog—he actually had retractable claws like a cat. Harriet was so cute, a little old lady with a dog twice her size and so well behaved!"

The Stones, my foster family. Once they realized I wasn't just a little boy, they'd made sure I had the other set of vaccinations too. Just in case.

"Do you have their phone number? I found the dog in New Mexico."

I couldn't pick up all the rest. ". . . heard their son Leonard moved." And then loud and clear, "After they both died a couple of years ago."

I put my head down and stopped listening. I know. I arranged their funeral, then their biological children tossed me out. "You're nineteen, you're an adult. Go live in the dorms if you're going to stay in college." And "Don't expect us to pay for it. Bad enough you conned Mother and Father into paying tuition while you freeloaded on their generosity."

Stanley and Harriet Stone. Wonderful people. Their kids, not so much.

So I was homeless before the only parents I'd ever known were buried. A backpack full of the bare necessities, a suitcase with everything else I could cram into it.

Fool that I was, instead of crashing at a friend's house and looking for a job, I'd decided to go find out what I was.

I didn't really remember much, from before the police picked me up, a naked boy, maybe five years of age, wandering the streets. There were places I could recall, with no memory of where they were. Names that rang a bell, things I dreamed. By then I'd accumulated quite a file of places to check, mostly from internet searches.

So I'd . . . just gone. And once the savings were gone, I'd picked up some work for awhile, then moved on to the next place on my list.

Five years of searching, and I finally found them in Albuquerque.

And the next evening found myself out in the desert with a half-dozen shape-changing killers. And told them I wouldn't join them.



Chapter Five

R-settling in

Saturday

The dawn was spectacular.

Rachel dressed for running, and slipped downstairs. Nicole's new house was nice. Mid-sized with good sized rooms. One big room, not a formal living room, and a den. One dining room. No breakfast nook. She opened the back door and was greeted by a tail wagging oversized mutt stretching and limping over to her.

"Paws still sore, poor mutt? Well, I won't invite you out for a morning run yet, then. And I'll buy a bag of dog food today too. And find something to feed you in about half an hour." She rumpled his ears, and closed him out.

Nicole had given her a house key—she slipped it in her pocket and set out to explore the neighborhood.

She stretched and walked down to the corner. Ten houses on this little cul-de-sac off a straight road—good grief! Did they even number the little streets?

"Well, I won't get lost." She set off down the sideway, crisp cool desert air. It'd be a furnace by noon, but now it was nice. She picked up an easy pace and wound off into the winding subdivision streets. Judging from the exteriors, Nicole and Kris's house was large but not a standout in a neighborhood of nice homes. Desert landscaping predominated, the lawns looked dry and worn.

She got lost, found a numbered street, and loped home to the smell of baking pastries and coffee.

Stone wagged up to greet her.

"Is my sister trying to turn you into a house pet?"

Nicole's voice came from the kitchen. "He's house broken, and knows how to open sliding glass doors to go out when he needs to."

"The weird thing is he closed the door behind him. Both going out and when he came back in." Kris looked up from the newspaper he was reading in the dining room. "Have a nice run?"

"Yes! No humidity to speak of. Marvelous." Rachel stuck her head into the kitchen. "Can I grab a shower before that's ready?"

"Five minutes."

Her hair was still drippy when she returned to sink her teeth into a huge cinnamon roll. "Mmm, delicious. Aunt Mudge's recipe?"

"Yep." Nicole eyed her stringy hair. "I didn't realize you'd kept up the running. There's some much more scenic placed to torture yourself with. The Canal Trail or Murphy's Bridle Path. Or if you need a challenge, South Mountain Park. Or just keep running around the neighborhood, if you're not inclined to drive someplace to run."

"I'll check them out tomorrow." Rachel refrained from licking buttery fingers. Ignored the big brown eyes that were close to shoulder height. "Today I need to het the store and buy some dogfood."

"Woof?"

"No, I'm not going to start out feeding you cinnamon rolls. I expect it wouldn't good for you. And I need to spruce up my resume."

Kris nodded. "Nicole mentioned you might try college?"

"I'll look into it, but I don't want to borrow too much. So I need at least a part time job. And search the internet for this Leonard Stone person while I still want to give his dog back to him."