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Oct 01

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Sit. Stay.

Summary: Ari and Dale suffer through the search for a new place to live following the events of “Dogs of War”.

Author’s Note:  This is actually the second story in the third volume of Underdogs. The first, “Full Moon Rising,” is available in Witty Bard Publishing’s collection “Of Hexes and Hauntings,” available at Amazon!

 

After eight months of searching, Ari was close to throwing in the towel on the entire endeavor of finding a place to live. She was settled in at Dale’s apartment, and the longer it took the more the quest seemed pointless. They had looked at reasonably priced homes in bad neighborhoods, and idiotically priced apartments in otherwise beautiful locations. More than once Ari’s mother had offered to help them with a down payment, but Ari hadn’t depended on that woman since she was a teenager. Even though they were on nicer terms of late she wasn’t about to start falling back on her help now.

The listing they were currently inspecting was a six-hundred square foot basement apartment in Green Lake. A little out of her preferred area, a lot out of her preferred price range, and definitely Spartan. Ari walked past the double doors that led to three concrete steps that led to the backyard and peered out the window. The tall trees at the edge of the property would block the setting sun so they wouldn’t be blinded. At least that was good. The floor was bare concrete, but the landlady who let them in said it could be covered by carpeting at no extra charge.

She stuck her hands in her pockets and turned to look around the room again. Dale was standing by the interior stairs with a hopeful expression.

“Well? What do you think?”

Ari said, “Well. I mean, it’s not bad. A little pricy for what we’re getting, don’t you think?”

“I know it’s a little bare, but I thought that equaled freedom. We can decide the size of our own rooms. Cozy living room, spacious bedroom… nook dining room.” She gestured at different parts of the basement. There was a kitchen, with all the necessities, but everything else was all-purpose. “It all depends on where we put the partitions. If you want the sun waking you up every morning, that can be the bedroom over there. Do you really not like it?”

“It’s fine. I’m wondering why you like it. It’s way on the outskirts, it’s expensive, it’s…” She didn’t want to say ugly. “It’s unusual. That’s all.”

Dale smiled and held her hands out like a game show model. “It’s a den.”

“A… den.”

“You know.” She moved toward the center of the room. “Stone, partially underground, and a quick access to the woods. You could transform here and then just run out into the trees without worrying someone might see you.”

Ari nodded slowly. “I can see that. Yeah, that’s… good.”

Dale’s expression shifted to disappointment. “You hate it.”

“No.” Ari chuckled and scratched her temple. “No, I don’t hate it. What do you like about it?”

“What I said. The access–”

Ari interrupted her with a swipe of her hand. “You, Dale. What do you like about it? It’s a great place for a wolf to live, I guess, and the access is amazingly convenient. That’s why I would want to live here. But you? You really want to live in a concrete hole in the ground in Green Lake?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

Ari shook her head. “Nothing is wrong with it, Dale. I think we should keep looking.”

“This place would be perfect for us.”

“It would be perfect for me,” Ari said. “Are you trying to get rid of me? Are you rethinking the whole cohabitation thing? Because if you are, sure, I’ll consider this place.”

Dale frowned. “I want to live with you.”

“Then we’re not living here.”

They went upstairs and Ari told the landlady they were passing on the apartment. Dale kept moving and got into the car, angrily waiting until Ari got in before she started the engine. They were nearly to the Ballard Bridge before Dale broke the silence.

“What was wrong with it?”

“Nothing was wrong with it,” Ari sighed. “It was a fine apartment. Too far, too expensive, too…”

“You said it would be great for you. I looked a long time for a place that would be perfect for you, and I found it, and you treated it like garbage.”

Ari said, “It was perfect for me, but not for us. The whole reason I’m not just moving into your apartment permanently is because you wanted an ‘us’ apartment. That’s what I want, too. The apartment back there, the den, that’s a wolf’s apartment. I didn’t see one thing that might have attracted you to it. That was the problem with it, Dale. It was all me. No you.”

They drove across the bridge before Dale answered.

“I don’t mind that.”

“I do.”

Dale slapped her fingers against the wheel in frustration. “Why? Why can’t I make a tiny sacrifice for you?”

Ari looked at her. “A tiny sacrifice? Dale, you work for me and you live with me. In the middle of the night when you should be sleeping, I’m dragging you out of bed to drive all over Seattle just to give me a ride home. The idea of you coming home to a den just because you’re dating a canidae, on top of everything else, it just seems wrong to me.”

“I do all that stuff because I love you, Ari. Well. Except the work stuff. I do that for the paycheck.” Ari chuckled, and the tension between them dissipated a fraction. “I really did like that apartment. It was cozy. It was cute.”

“Would you have even put it in your top five if I wasn’t canidae?”

Dale pursed her lips. “The fact is that you are…”

“Right. So the answer is no. If you were still dating Natalie, that apartment wouldn’t even have been on your radar.” She reached over and rubbed Dale’s knee. “I really and truly appreciate what you were trying to do. And to be honest, all the things you do for me? I’m used to taking care of myself so I’m not used to having someone take care of me. That’s probably why I’ve let you do it without saying anything. But this is our home. I can’t let you sacrifice your home for me. There are plenty of places out there that will be perfect for both of us. We’ll keep looking until we’ve found it.”

Dale nodded. “Okay.” They were at a stoplight so she reached down and patted Ari’s hand. “Sorry I got so annoyed.”

“You worked hard to find that place. I understand. I could have been more open with my feelings instead of just refusing outright.” She moved her hand to the inside of Dale’s thigh, biting her lip as she eased her hand under the hem of Dale’s skirt. Dale shifted in her seat. Ari softened her voice. “Remember a few years back when I was in heat?”

“Yeah…” Dale sucked in a breath through her teeth. “I guess I can confess this now. I kind of went back to that memory a few times.”

Ari smiled and checked to make sure Dale wasn’t veering out of her lane. She moved her hand higher and pressed two fingers against the crotch of Dale’s underwear. “Yeah?”

Dale was breathing harder now. “Yeah… now and then. It was, uh, it was hard to forget.” She swallowed and cleared her throat. She flexed her fingers around the steering wheel as Ari stroked, twisted sideways in the seat. “Sometimes when I was in the shower, o-or trying to get to sleep. I would, uh, I would picture it…”

“Would you touch yourself?”

Dale smiled. “Usually.”

“Why, Miss Frye.” Ari curled her finger and pressed her knuckle against the cotton. “I had no idea you were objectifying me.”

“Ung.” Dale hunched her shoulders and pressed down against the seat. “You’re a terrible person, puppy. Don’t stop…”

Ari grinned as Dale took a turn, obviously forcing herself to pay attention to the road. “I wish we had a longer trip home.”

“I could… circle the block a few times…”

“No. Take me home.” She kissed Dale’s shoulder and pushed Dale’s panties out of the way. Dale groaned and her arms went rigid. “Careful. If you crash, it’ll be a heck of a police report.”

Dale said, “Maybe we could have your sexy salt-and-pepper detective cover it up.”

“Jealous?”

“Mm.” She squirmed. “Maybe. Not really. Don’t stop.”

Ari kept up her cruel torture until they pulled into the parking garage. Dale parked, shut off the car, and threw herself at Ari. They kissed as Ari freed her hand, moving it to Dale’s hip as she settled back against the seat. Dale straddled her, knees pressing tight against the seat as she pushed Ari’s shirt up and raked her fingernails over Ari’s ribs. Ari unfastened her seatbelt and twisted to look out the back window.

“What if someone comes…?”

“Someone’s gonna come.”

Ari laughed as Dale’s caress tickled her. “No, wait, Dale… I mean…”

“I know what you meant.” She kissed the corners of Ari’s mouth. “What are they gonna do, evict us? Come on. Finish what you started, puppy.”

Ari kissed her firmly and pushed Dale’s skirt out of her way. Dale lifted herself up, head bumping the roof of the car as she hunched forward over Ari’s right shoulder. She cupped Ari’s breasts through her bra, and Ari dragged two fingers over Dale’s sex before slipping her long middle finger inside. Ari nuzzled Dale’s neck and growled at the scent of her, lifting up off the seat against the heel of her hand. Dale pressed down and pinned Ari’s hand between them.

“You want to do something for me for a change?” Dale whispered against the side of Ari’s head. She pulled one hand out from under Ari’s shirt and cupped the back of her head, then leaned back so they could look into each other’s eyes. “Make me come, puppy.”

Ari narrowed her eyes and smiled, thrusting her hips harder as Dale leaned back against the dashboard and closed her eyes. Ari leaned forward and kissed Dale’s breasts through her shirt, licking where she knew the nipples would be hardening under her bra, then moving up to her neck and breathing deeply again. She loved the smell of Dale in passion, and she brushed her tongue over the sweat she found in the hollow of her throat.

Dale came quickly, her hand curling in Ari’s hair as the tendons in her throat stood out trying to stifle the grunt that came out anyway. She sat up and Ari kissed her, wrapping her arms around Dale’s waist as Dale settled more comfortably on her lap. When she was recovered enough to sit up, she smiled down at Ari and brushed her hair over the top of her head so that strands of it stood up like a rooster’s crown. She chuckled and looked out the windows to make sure they were still alone. When she confirmed they hadn’t been caught, she bent down and kissed Ari, capturing her bottom lip before letting it go.

“I want to go upstairs, get a drink of water to rehydrate, and then I’m going to town on you.”

“I’m cool with that.”

“You’d better be.” She pinched Ari’s nose and lifted herself up. There was a moment of awkward twisting where Dale nearly fell while shifting back to the driver’s seat, and Ari watched as she lifted her skirt to rearrange her panties before she adjusted her hair in the rearview mirror. She checked to make sure Ari was ready and they got out of the car. Dale linked her arm with Ari’s as they walked to the elevator.

“I really didn’t mind, you know,” Dale said after Ari pushed the call button. “The wolf’s den. I really wouldn’t have minded living there.”

“I know.” Ari kissed Dale’s forehead. “I love you for it. But I think we can find a place that’s perfect for both of us. Somewhere we can both feel at home.”

Dale nodded and rested her head on Ari’s shoulder as they stepped into the elevator. Ari pressed the button for their floor and, as the doors closed, began to smile.

“So… what exactly does ‘go to town’ entail?”

Dale grinned and lifted her head to whisper a few suggestions into Ari’s ear.

 

#

 

Afterward, sweaty and lying on top of the blankets, Dale brushed her lips and the tip of her nose over the downy hair of Ari’s abdomen. Her stomach rose up at the bottom which combined with the bottom of her ribs and the wings of her hips to form a valley that vanished with each intake of breath. The skin around her navel was populated by tiny white hairs which Dale teased before resting her cheek on the warm expanse.

“What happens to all your hair when you go wolf?”

Ari ran her fingers through Dale’s hair. “Depends on what you mean.”

“Your hair. The wolf has hair all over her, and you just have hair on your head, and here.” She brushed her fingertips over Ari’s mound, which was still wet from their make-up sex. “But if you get a haircut, it doesn’t affect the wolf’s hair length. Your hair goes away…”

“Well, my skin goes away,” Ari said. “It becomes a pelt, and the wolf’s hair comes from that. When I come back, my hair comes from my pores.”

“Mm.” Dale slipped a finger between Ari’s legs. Ari sucked in a breath and subtly moved her legs apart to tacitly indicate her approval. Dale idly fingered her to a second orgasm, turning her head to feel the tremors through Ari’s stomach with her lips. “You’re amazing, puppy.”

Ari chuckled. “You’re pretty magical yourself.”

Dale sat up and put her arms around Ari, who turned to face her. They tangled their legs together and kissed. Ari pulled back and kissed Dale’s eyebrows.

“What do we have on the docket tomorrow?”

Dale had to think for a moment. “The Pollard thing. The, uh, judgment collection.”

“Oh, right. Okay. I can do that on my own. Why don’t you take the day off?”

“What?”

“You know. Get me out of your hair for a few hours. You can go for a long walk, have lunch at that diner I hate, go to the library… I don’t know. Whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with the agency.”

Dale said, “Are you mad at me?”

Ari smiled. “Far from it. I love that you’re willing to spend all your time with me. I love having you around all the time. But that apartment was a wake-up call. You need to take some time away. A day, an afternoon, evening. You’ve let me overtake your whole life and I want to be sure it’s not an invasion. You fought in a war for me, Dale. You’ve been shot at, beaten up, terrorized, all because one afternoon you saved me from a bunch of punks. You deserve a day off.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too. But you know what they say.”

Dale chuckled. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

“No…” Ari rolled over and pinned Dale to the mattress. “Spending time away from each other makes the reunion sex explosive.”

“Oh, that saying…”

#

In June of 2012, hardware store manager Scott Pollard backed his SUV into his neighbor’s Buick. The neighbor, a home-health nurse named Sarah Levi took Pollard to court, where he claimed Sarah had parked illegally on his property and therefore he wasn’t liable for the damages. The judge disagreed and ordered Pollard to pay for the cost of repairs. Unfortunately he had backed into the front of the car at such a speed the engine would have needed replacing, so Sarah Levi had to buy a new car. She also had to rent a car in order to keep her job, and the judge added that to the price Pollard had to pay. Before he could be forced to provide the settlement, Scott Pollard packed up and moved away. After several letters from Sarah’s attorney went unanswered, Sarah called Bitches Investigations to see if there were other routes she could take to get the money she was owed.

Dale had done a fair amount of internet snooping and tracked Pollard down to his new address. He had moved to a condo near enough to Yesler Terrace to be cheap, but not so close he had to worry about graffiti on the side of his new building. Dale also checked his financials and saw that despite his new accommodations he had enough income to pay what he owed. Ari circled the building to make sure his car was there, parked near him.

The morning was overcast with a few sprinkles now and then trying to turn into a downpour that never fully formed. She flipped up her hood just in case as she got out of the car and headed across the street. She was almost to the covered walk between condos when she saw Pollard coming out. He glanced up at her approach but then moved to one side as if to avoid her. Ari held up her hands and began walking backward in front of him.

“Mr. Pollard? I’m Ariadne Willow. I’m a private investigator hired by Sarah Levi to–”

“Christ, not this again…”

She smiled. “The issue will go away if you simply pay what you owe.” He tried to step around her again. “If you don’t pay willingly, there are certain measures that can be taken.”

He glared at her. “Are you threatening me, Miss Williams?”

“It’s Willow. And no, I’m simply telling you that there are things that can be done to get the money Miss Levi is owed. Garnishing your wages, repossessing your car, freezing your bank accounts. It’ll be a hell of a hassle for everyone involved, and Sarah Levi has already been suffering for two years. We can put an end to all of this today.”

He shook his head. “You people just won’t give up.”

“She deserves compensation.”

“She parked on my property! If she had been parked legally, I never would have hit her. And now because she was trespassing, I’m supposed to buy her a new car?”

Ari shrugged. “We’re not arguing that. The judge made his decision and, right or wrong, it’s been decided. Just pay what you owe.”

“I’m not paying a dime to anyone.”

Ari took out her phone. “Sorry to hear that, Mr. Pollard.” She hit send on a text message and put the phone back into her pocket. “If you could just wait here…”

Pollard moved to step around her again. “I actually have to get to work.”

“Yeah. I’m afraid you’re going to be late.”

A tow truck came around the corner, beckoned by Ari’s text, and pulled up in front of Pollard’s car. He cursed under his breath and tried to lunge past Ari, but she slipped her arm under his and pinned it up against his back. She spun him around, his hand painfully vertical between his shoulder blades, and grabbed his other wrist so he couldn’t lash out with it. “Take it easy, bud. I gave you a chance, okay? Just let them do their job.”

“You bitch.”

“Yeah, yeah. Could’ve just paid the lady what you owed her, but you had to make a big deal about it. Pack up and move just to avoid paying what you owe? That’s low, friend. So just stand here a minute and let it play out. You’re the one who made this happen.”

He struggled to get away from her, but not hard enough to actually break free. Ari glanced toward the building. No gawking faces had appeared at the windows, but she knew it was only a matter of time. “I’m willing to let you go so it’s a little less of a spectacle to your neighbors. But you have to promise me you won’t lash out at me.”

He grumbled, “Fine,” so Ari carefully released him and took a step back. The tow truck driver was hooking up Pollard’s car. “This is unbelievable.”

Ari shrugged. “Let it be a lesson to you to always look carefully before you back up.”

“She was as much at fault as I was, you know.”

“I don’t care. You had a chance to argue that and you lost. You could’ve appealed the decision, but you decided to act like a tool instead.” She patted his arm. “On the bright side, the old adage says that a fool and his money are soon parted. You held onto your money as long as possible. So at least you aren’t a fool.”

He watched as the tow truck driver lifted his hand to Ari. She waved back, and Pollard said, “So what now? What if the car doesn’t cover the judgment?”

“My partner and I went through your financials, and we’ll present our findings to the court. They’ll deduct the price the car gets and if they need anything else they’ll find a way to get it.”

She saw the fight fading from him. The car was on the hook, and there was nothing he could do now. He looked at Ari.

“Please tell me your fee isn’t tacked on to what I owe.”

“Well, Miss Levi will probably pay me out of the settlement money. So sort of. But you don’t have to pay anything extra.” She held out her hand. “No hard feelings?”

He looked at her hand with contempt. “I’m not shaking your hand.”

Ari smiled and shrugged. “It was worth a shot. It really wasn’t personal.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“There’s a bus stop about two blocks that way.”

He checked the time on his phone and shook his head as he hurried off. Ari went up to the tow truck and patted the hood as the driver rolled down his window.

“Everything cool?” he asked.

Ari nodded. “Thanks, Tony. I didn’t think he would fight too much, but it’s always nice to have backup just in case. You know where to take it?”

“Yep. Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Willow.”

She saluted him and stepped away from the truck so he could pull away from the curb. She walked back to her car with increasing dread. The easy part of the case was over. She’d confronted a potentially dangerous man while his car was taken away. Now with Dale on an enforced vacation, Ari would have to brace herself to sit down and write out a case report.

In all honesty, she would have rather gotten into a fistfight with Pollard. But she’d forced Dale to stay away from the office and she was going to stick to her guns no matter how distasteful she found the idea. She just hoped she remembered where all the keys were on the keyboard.

 

#

 

At breakfast that morning, Ari reminded Dale of her promise to stay away from work and anything canidae-related. Dale promised, held up three fingers to do her best version of a scout’s honor. Then she cupped Ari’s face, dropped her hands to her shoulders, and said, “But if you need me… if you really need me, forget about all this bullshit and just call. Okay?”

“I promise,” Ari said.

Dale had kissed the tip of Ari’s nose and set out to find something to keep her occupied for the day. She hadn’t been to the library in ages, but she also didn’t have a lot of time to just sit and read. She sort of wanted to look into an electronic reading device, but she didn’t know what stores sold them. Would a bookstore sell them, or were they rivals? She decided to try the Elliott Bay Book Company and its comforting log-cabin feel. Even if she couldn’t take the time to appreciate books she could enjoy being in their presence.

She drove to the bookstore and spent some time browsing, ending up with three books tucked in the crook of her arm before she remembered she had decided not to buy anything. The harm had already been done, so she decided to limit herself to those three books and removed herself from the temptation of wandering anymore. She went into the Elliott Bay Cafe and bought a Cuban Panini, then sat down to thumb through her new books while she ate.

Ari was probably dealing with Scott Pollard that very minute. She might need backup, or… no. She’d promised to stay away from the business and Ari. She was going to keep the promise no matter how difficult it might be. She saw that it was raining outside, so she lingered a little longer than she ordinarily would have, sipping her tea and going through her books to see which one she would read first. When there was a break in the rain she went to the cash register and headed out. She was literally halfway out the door when she noticed a room for rent sign hanging on the public notice board.

She read the information and took a picture of the notice with her phone, then went out to call the renter from her car. The girl who answered sounded extraordinarily young, but she said she was available to show the apartment immediately. Dale drove to Spruce Street, noting that it was less than a mile from their current apartment, and parked on the tree-lined street. Even on sunny days the street would provide ample shade. Nearby was a park where one of Ari’s stashes was hidden near a tree. If they ended up moving to this place, they could move the stash to another location.

Dale parked in front of a cute two-story house that was painted brown and green in an effort to blend into the scenery. She wouldn’t have thought green would make a good color on a house, but in this case it seemed to fit. She parked on the steep driveway as the front door opened to reveal the girl she had spoken to on the phone. She was a tall, Native American, and seemed extremely young to be renting anything to anyone. Her hair was bound in a tight ponytail that hung midway down her back, and her tank top exposed an intricate tattoo stretching from her left shoulder down to the elbow. The ink reminded her of Hannah, a British canidae whose life she had saved earlier that year, and it gave her hope for the apartment.

“Are you Dale?”

“I am.”

“I’m Neka Teller. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands and Neka gestured toward the house. “The basement entrance is on the south side of the building, right around here.”

As Dale followed her across the yard, she noticed the property was fenced in on two sides. It would cut down on Ari’s freedom a little bit… it certainly wasn’t as convenient as having a whole wooded area for her to run around in. She chided herself for holding a grudge and followed Neka down a short flight of stairs to the apartment. Neka unlocked the door and ushered her inside.

“It’s not exactly a kingdom, but it may work for you. Is it just you, or…”

“My girlfriend and me. I hope that’s not a problem.”

Neka waved her off. “I don’t care what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t smoke after sex. That’s a strict no-no.”

“No problems here.”

“No smoking cigarettes. If you ever… you know… it’s legal now.”

Dale smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. We don’t have a lot of loud parties or listen to death metal at four in the morning.”

“Cool. I’m usually at school or working on a project so you may have the place to yourself more often than not. I do occasionally have friends over for barbeques and stuff in the backyard. That might be kind of an imposition.”

Dale nodded to show she had noted the information.

The apartment was fully-furnished, gray carpet and off-white walls, and furniture that added a splash of color. The living space took up the majority of the room, and Neka stepped past her to point out the kitchen and, down a short hall that was really more of a triangular space, the bedroom. “There’s a bathroom with a shower. It’s kind of a tight fit, but if you need more room you can come up and beg to borrow the master bathroom. And if there’s something you need a full kitchen for, it’s right at the top of the stairs. I’m very easy-going. I can be bribed with cookies and other sweet treats.”

Dale grinned. “Sounds good to me. So… this place is all yours?”

“Technically, yeah. My grandfather owns it, but he lives in Spokane. He lets me stay here while I’m studying at Seattle Central.”

“Ah. College student.”

“Yeah. Marine carpentry.”

“Marine…”

“Boat building, basically.”

Dale raised an eyebrow. “Impressive.”

“Well, someone has to build them, right? Anyway, when I graduate, Grandpa said that the rent will be my responsibility. Which is totally fair. I guess. But I’m going to need someone to help out with the rent when that happens. What do you do?”

“My girlfriend has a private investigation agency. I help her run it.”

It was Neka’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Wow. Now it’s my turn to be impressed. You guys go on stakeouts, get into a lot of gunfights?”

“Depends on the client.” Dale resisted the temptation to touch the scar hidden under her hair. “Mostly it’s pretty quiet.”

“Cool.” She nodded and looked around, then linked her fingers together. “Okay, uh. I know it can be tense getting a feel for a place while the owner is hovering. So I’m going to go upstairs and let you explore a little on your own. Do you want coffee, soda, water…?”

“I’d take a water.”

Neka snapped her fingers. “You got it. So, yeah, go ahead and wander a bit, see how it feels to you. I’ll be back down in a few minutes.”

She went to a set of steps partially hidden behind the couch, turned on the landing, and disappeared upstairs. Dale heard a door close and, now alone, let herself breathe in the space. It was small, some might say cozy. The living room and the kitchen seemed as if they had once been part of the same space, but they were separated by a small counter. Small as in “too small to sit and eat at,” but it was enough of a partition to separate the rooms. The kitchen was also uncarpeted, which was a plus.

It was nice. It was very, very nice. They might be able to get a larger apartment for comparable rent, but she was tired of having a beehive of anonymous neighbors surrounding her on all sides. It would be nice to live in a neighborhood with streets and lawns. She hadn’t had that since Pennsylvania, and it made her nostalgic for home.

“This is what you meant, isn’t it?” She shook her head and smiled. “You clever puppy.”

When Neka came back downstairs with two glasses of water, Dale said, “It’s a great place. I think it’s perfect for us, but I need my girlfriend to come check it out.”

“Oh, of course. Did you have any other questions about the house rules?”

“Well… there is one thing. What is your policy on dogs?”

 

#

 

Ari stared at the screen, refusing to be defeated, and also refused to cheer when her phone rang. She smiled when she saw who was calling and swept her thumb across the screen to answer. “I should be mad. You were supposed to be away all day long, and it’s barely the middle of the afternoon.”

Dale said, “I know. Are you mad?”

“No. I missed you.”

“I missed you too, puppy. I wouldn’t have called now except I think I have some very good news. Did you already deal with Mr. Pollard?”

Ari said, “Yeah, this morning. I was just getting started on the report.”

“Ah-ha. You figured out the template all by yourself?”

Ari bit her bottom lip and leaned forward to scan the screen. Template… “Yep. It was easy once I figured out it was, ah… all I had to do was click the little…”

Dale laughed. “Nice try, Ari. I’ll do it tomorrow when I come in. But like I said, I call with hopefully good news. Can you get away for twenty minutes or so?”

“Twist my arm,” Ari said. “What’s the good news?”

“I may have found a place.”

“That was quick.” Ari had already shut the laptop and stood up to retrieve her jacket. “Send me the address and I’ll be right there.”

The weather still hadn’t decided if it wanted to rain or not, so Ari’s wipers intermittently swept across the glass as she followed the directions on her phone’s map. She spotted Dale’s car in the driveway and slipped in behind it – noting there was ample parking on both sides of the street. Dale and a pretty young woman were waiting by the side of the house and Dale waved as Ari got out of the car.

“Ariadne Willow, this is Neka Teller. Neka, Ari.”

“Nice to meet you. The apartment is back here.”

As Neka led them into the backyard, Ari slipped an arm around Dale’s waist. It had only been a few hours since they had breakfast together and they had been apart for far longer periods, but it still felt good to see her again. She leaned close to whisper in Dale’s ear.

“Another basement?”

“Worlds apart, I promise.”

Neka let them in. “Here it is. I told Dale that you can keep whatever furniture you need and I’ll take the rest. She can fill you in on all the details about using my kitchen and, oh, the washer and dryer. I forgot about that. Laundry room is upstairs, it’s totally fine for you to use it. We can work out a schedule so we’re not dumping each other’s wet laundry on the floor. If you have any questions I’ll be right upstairs. It was nice meeting you, Ariadne.”

“You too.” Neka left, and Ari wandered into the kitchen. “Well, it’s definitely a step above the wolf’s den.”

“Yes, and it still has an exterior access for you to get out and go for runs in the middle of the night. That’s one of the main things I’ve been looking for.”

Ari nodded and continued to examine the apartment.

“I knew you would ask me what I liked about the place, so I’ve been thinking about it. It’s the same thing that drew me to the apartment up in Green Lake, but now that I can see it furnished and complete, I figured it out. When my parents had me, they moved into a little apartment a lot like this. It was just enough for our little family. Cozy, not a lot of wasted space, everything we needed at the time. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough for us. When I walked in here I remembered that apartment and I remembered how… how it was home. I don’t want some random apartment with you. I want us to have a home together.”

Ari smiled. “Dale, I was homeless for a while after I ran away. I slept in a shelter, and my ‘home’ was a one-foot perimeter around my bed. I don’t really care where I live but I wanted to be sure the place we ended up taking was right for you. If you think this place is home… then I agree.”

“You like it?”

“I like it. It’s amazing. It’s in our price range?”

Dale said, “It’s… close enough.”

“Close enough is fine.” She put her arms around Dale’s waist and kissed her. “Should we call down Miss Teller?”

“Yeah. ‘Neka.’ I’m surprised you two didn’t already know each other from the Weird Names Club.”

Ari swatted Dale’s butt. “I’m sure it’s cultural or whatever. Bad girl.”

Dale chuckled and went to retrieve their new landlady.

 

#

 

The deal was finalized two weeks later, and Neka offered to barbeque in honor of their moving in. She grilled up a few burgers while Ari and Dale carried boxes into the new apartment and then the three of them had dinner together on the patio above the entrance to Ari and Dale’s new apartment. It was partially a celebration of their arrival and also a way for the three of them to get to know each other. Once the burgers had been eaten and stories had been shared – Ari mentioned the Katherine Gavin case, which Neka excitedly remembered hearing about on the news – they retreated to their respective parts of the house. When they parted they agreed to watch TV, listen to music, and talk as loudly as they wanted so they could be aware of any potential noise issues early on.

Once the door was closed, Dale said, “Does that mean she wants us to fuck so she’ll know if she can hear us?”

“I don’t think that’s what she meant, no.”

“Can we pretend like it was?”

Ari chuckled and kissed Dale, guiding her over to the couch. They sat down and Ari put her feet up, scanning the apartment from a relaxed perspective. Their windows were all horizontal and situated near the ceiling, but they provided enough light that it didn’t feel like being in a dungeon. It actually opened up a lot of wall space, which Dale already planned to use for bookshelves. Dale put her hand on Ari’s thigh and squeezed.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking you made an excellent choice. This place is great, Dale. It’s exactly what we needed.” She kissed Dale’s cheek, then her lips. “Thank you.”

Dale smiled and moved her hand to link their fingers. Upstairs they could hear Neka talking to someone on the phone. Her voice was faint, nothing worse than they were used to hearing in the apartment. In time Ari knew they would both tune it out.

“Are you going to tell her about… y’know.”

“Not unless it becomes necessary.”

Dale put her head on Ari’s shoulder. “Cool. It’s like I’m dating Batman.”

“Please. Batwoman. She’s a woman, and she’s a lesbian now.”

“Wait, what?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Wow. I need to get back into comic books.”

Ari smiled and kissed the top of Dale’s head. She could already imagine sneaking across the backyard in the dead of night, keeping to the shadows along the fence before heading out into the street. She would have to be careful that their neighbors didn’t call Animal Control to report wolf sightings or a loose dog, but she had gotten very crafty in her nocturnal excursions. She knew there would be hiccups from time to time but nothing she couldn’t handle.

“Dale.”

“Hm. Sorry. I was falling asleep.”

Ari smiled. “I would say that’s a good sign for the apartment.” She shifted and Dale looked up at her. “I know that I lean on you a lot. You give up a lot of your life for me, and I’m honored by that. I’m floored by it, honestly. And even if it makes me feel guilty how much of your life is making my life possible, I can’t even imagine my life without you in it.”

Dale dragged her finger down Ari’s neck to her collar. “I plan to be in it for a good long time. You don’t force these responsibilities on me, puppy. You make me feel needed. For the first time in my life, someone really needed me. That felt great. It felt… necessary. I was in a bad place when we met. I was depressed and I felt like a failure for leaving college. You gave me purpose. I’ve never resented how much you ask of me. I’m just glad I’m able to provide it.”

“Looks like you and I are lucky we found each other.”

“Yeah. Maybe we should track down those hooligans and thank them.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

Dale kissed Ari’s lips again. “Want to go see if the shower is big enough for two?”

“I already eyeballed it. The two of us won’t fit in there at the same time unless I’m sitting on your shoulders.”

“Ooh.”

“Calm down.”

Dale winked at her and scooted to the edge of the couch. “Well, I feel gross and sweaty, so I’m going to shower and change into my PJs. You good out here?”

“Yeah. I may try to unpack some of these boxes.”

“Okay.”

Dale went down the short hall into the bedroom. Ari stood up and went to one of the boxes closest to the door and opened it to see what was inside. There was a photo of her, her mother, Dale surrounded by the British pack of canidae who had helped them fight a war earlier that year. The picture had been taken by a bartender the night before the Brits headed back to their side of the pond, and at the old apartment it had stood next to the television, but she wanted to give it a more prominent placement in their new home. She looked around and finally decided the best place would be next to the stairs. She found a hammer, tapped a nail in place, and carefully placed the picture on it. She stepped back and smiled. The new place already felt like home.

The shower was still running. The stall was much too cramped for two people to get into it simultaneously, but the glass front was clear enough that she could sit on the counter and watch. She smiled and hurried to the bathroom so she wouldn’t miss the show.

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