It Seemed Normal... (Private)

The day had seemed normal. For early December, that is. The air had gotten colder - measurably so, to the tune of thirty degrees at night - with stiff winds and frost on her Jetta's windows early that morning when she went out to go to work.

It had been a normal day, with a shipment of requests, a delivery of new materials, destruction of old periodicals, a cloud of dust when someone dropped a stack of newspapers over the upper floor's railing onto a lower floor bookshelf. Lunch as far away from Mrs. Penderghast as possible. Discovering the week-old note to self about buying feminine hygeine products and fresh salad trimmings. The bi-weekly phone messages on her drive to the store, on her way home, each to Aishe, Fallon, Wren, and Shay.

And it was with that last, that Ana discovered her day was no longer normal.

"The cellular customer you are trying to reach is no longer a subscriber. The number has been disconnected. Dial Zero for directory assistance."

With a frowning glance at her phone, she tapped the end button a few times, eliciting muted beeps from her earpiece while waiting at a red light. Dialing the number by hand, thinking she'd accidentally reprogrammed the number, she waited through the ringing.

"The cellular customer you are trying to reach is no longer a subscriber. The number has been disconnected. Dial Zero for directory assistance."

As she stared at the phone, lost in confusion, the blaring of a horn behind her startled her into dropping her phone, yanking the earpiece painfully from her ear, knocking her glasses askew. With a tap on the gas, Ana accelerated from the light, steering one-handed as she straightened her glasses with her free hand. As she approached the next light, she heard the basic ringing sound she'd chosen as the 'unknown ID' ringer begin. It rang again, and a third time, and by the time she'd been stopped at the next light long enough to lean over to try to grab the phone, it had stopped ringing.

The light turned, and she moved through it. The phone suddenly vibrated in her hand; a sudden tinny 'Oooh, the mail, the mail is here! Ooooh' in a certain beer- and donut-bellied power plant worker's voice announced a new voicemail.

"Maybe Shay got a new phone and didn't tell me, and that was her calling?" she rationalized to herself as she pulled into the parking lot of the Target nearer the Library than her house. Parking the car, ratcheting the parking brake, she hopped out and braved the sudden frigid gust of wind, tugging her knitted hat down around her ears and, closing the door behind her, tugged her windbreaker tighter around her shoulders as she moved to enter the store.

Stopping just inside the second set of doors to let her glasses unfog, she tapped out the code to retrieve her voicemail. Holding the ear piece up to her head, she heard a raspy male's voice saying,
"Ms. Kensington, this is Grover from the Nachton Animal Shelter. Please give us a call at your earliest convenience, 302-555-7387."

Someone gruffly barked at her, "Move!" and startled Ana into yanking her ear piece's connector from her phone. Glancing up, glasses still not totally clear, she took a few steps forward and walked into the backside of the automated shopping cart unit. Air escaped her lungs as the metal bar rammed into her side with an 'oof'. Silently cursing her clumsiness, she stepped aside and tried to make herself look nonchalant.

Wending her way through the store, she fiddled with her phone, reattached the ear piece and dialed the number.
"Hi, this is Ana Kensington, I got a message from a gentleman named Grover a little bit ago?"

"Oh, right," Ana immediately recognized the voice as Grover's, "Ms. Kensington. We have a ... package here for you we need you to pick up."

This caused Ana to stop her forward motion, right in the middle of the aisle. Immediately, Ana felt the pain of impact as someone ran into her heels and buttocks from behind with a cart. Stumbling forward, she threw her hands out to prevent falling. The cart continued on by, with a kid barely tall enough to see over the cart itself bouncing behind it. Tears welled, but didn't spill, as she rubbed her heels and tried to speak into her earpiece. "Alright, I can be by in a half hour or so, where are you?" She got the directions, which seemed simple, and hung up.

Looking at the phone for a moment, she dialed directory assistance and asked for the phone number of the Nachton Animal Shelter. It was provided, and matched the one she'd just called. That little bit of paranoid investigation over with, she stood carefully, adjusted herself and made sure she was paying enough attention to move, let alone stand still, and went through the store looking for the items to fill her list.

And maybe a Nerf ball to throw at that ignorant little kid.

Montana 17 years ago
Ana pulled into one of three empty spots in front of the corrugated metal entrance of the Nachton Animal Shelter on Greentree Road. Quickly she wrapped the cord of her ear piece around her phone and stuffed it in her new blue-and-gray winter jacket pocket before hauling the extremely heavy steel door open. Immediately assaulted with the overwhelming odor of lots of animals, she held her breath for a moment as she entered.

Moving through the labyrinthine entrance hall, following signs for 'reception' she came upon a wide, low desk, overburdened with paperwork and underrepresented by staff. Looking around the room, she spied a dozen different posters for a host of different dog or cat breeds, a few stuffed animals - toys, of course - and an opening door to admit one of the tallest, gruffest looking men she'd ever seen.
"Hi, I'm looking for Gro..." Her voice trailed off as she saw the name embroidered on his chest.

"You must be Ms. Kensington." Without waiting for her to acknowledge his comment, he reached out with two hands. The left towards a file folder atop the desk, and the right towards Ana. Reaching out to shake his hand, Ana was still a bit in shock at being in the Animal Shelter of all places when Grover spoke again. "Are you familiar with a puppy, not more than ten weeks old, named Russ?"

Ana nodded and let go of Grover's hand. "Yes, he belongs to my friend Shay O'Mannon."

Grover looked at her for a moment and flipped the file folder open in his other hand. Turning it around to her, he pulled a pen out of a container hidden on the desk. "Sign at the bottom please?"

Brow furrowing, Ana looked up at the bear of a man and asked, "What am I signing?"

He tilted his head. "Acceptance of release of animal into emergency contact's custody, pending inability to contact original owner-on-file."

"Wait," Ana blurted, "Inability to contact original owner? Acceptance of release into emergency contact's custody?" Feeling a little foolish at playing the parrot, Ana quickly realized that, not only had Shay lost or discontinued her cell phone, but she'd given up Russ (or he'd run away) and now it was up to Ana to claim him. "Sorry, this is a little bit of a surprise, I haven't talked to her in a couple weeks at least and I certainly didn't expect to be picking Russ up from the shelter..."

Ana signed the paper, and as she did so scanned it quickly hoping to find some clue as to Shay's status. Unfortunately, it was strictly dog-ownership legalese. "Can I take him home tonight?"

Grover took the file folder and dropped it behind the wall of paperwork on the desk. When he looked back at Ana, he crossed his arms and nodded. "Yep, you can. He's a very well-behaved pup, if a bit underfed... He's been here more than a week, almost two, and seems to be very sad. Hasn't eaten much. Give me a few minutes, I'll bring him out to you."

Ana's heart sank in sadness when she heard the adorable little pup hadn't eaten much, let alone that he'd been in the shelter for more than a week.

Almost two! As Grover disappeared into that door again, she made a mental note to contact her detective person at the NPD in the morning. And a louder, more insistent mental note to stop back at Target on the way home for a bowl and dog food.

When Grover came back out with a lethargic Russ in his arms, Ana's heart went out to the dog and she nearly whimpered herself at seeing him so melancholy. (Do dogs get melancholy? It certainly looked that way.) She was about to call his name when Grover turned him in his arms towards Ana, and he instantly pepped up, ears perky and tail waving.
"He certainly seems to be glad to see you."

"Awww, he looks so ... Not Russ-like..." Reaching her arms out to take the puppy from Grover, she endured a series of licks to the face and quiet barking while the bear-man looked on, a pleased smile on his face. "Please, Grover, can you tell me how he came to be here?"

Grover shook his head. "Unfortunately ma'am, I cannot. All I know is someone brought him in, saying they'd found him but couldn't contact the number on the dog tag. I uhm..." He reached behind the stack of papers again and brought out Russ' collar, with the leash wrapped tightly. "Took the liberty of having a new set of tags made when you called me back. It has your number on it."

Ana looked up at the man, gazed into his warm brown eyes and said simply, "Thank you, Grover."

He nodded and turned away. "Take good care of him, Ms. Kensington, and he'll take care of you right back."
Montana 17 years ago
Marching back through the aisles of Target, Ana carried Russ snugly in her arms. She couldn't tell if he'd taken his eyes off her since she had exited the animal shelter, but was glad he was safe.

Even if his 'mother' may not have been.

The pet food aisle proved easy enough; while Ana had attempted to remember what Shay had bought him after that day with Wren, Russ squirmed and forced her to set him down. He then scampered over to a bright yellow bag just at the edge of the young puppy area and put his paw on it. Arching her brow at the dog as he looked up at her with tongue hanging out, she leaned over and hoisted the bag into the cart.

Retrieving Russ into her arms, she continued her shopping and picked up both a food and water dish (she even splurged a little and got one of those free-flowing refiltering dodads) a handful of toys, a brush, and a retractible leash.

Back at the register, the cashier looked up and, with gaping recognition, asked,
"Back so soon?"

While Ana paid, Russ sat motionless in the baby seat of the cart, then suddenly his hair stood on end as he turned to look at that same little ignorant kid, standing next to the cart behind Ana. Looking down at the puppy, Ana made a small noise in her throat and he looked up at her with a whine, but calmed and continued to stare at the boy. Scratching his head with one hand, Ana smiled a small smile and, retreiving her card and receipt, pushed Russ and her purchases back out to her car to head home.

(( Russ acquired w/ permission. ))
(( Ana and Russ out. ))