Chapter Twenty Three

“What do you want to do?" I asked when the pack had dispersed.
 
Kimberly didn't respond.
 
“Do you want to…" I wracked my brain, trying to think of what she might enjoy. “Go to the toy store?"
 
She shook her head, still staring at the floor.
 
“Look at dresses?" I suggested.  She shook her head.  “Bookstore?"  She shook her head.
 
With a sigh, I took her hand again and began to walk aimlessly through the mall.  I was determined to find something here that she would enjoy.  It would take her mind off everything that was happening, even if it was only for a few minutes.  I watched her just as much as I looked at the stores, waiting for something to catch her eye- or her ear, rather, since she refused to look at anything but her shoes.
 
It wasn't for another thirty minutes that something finally seemed to catch her attention.  We smelled it before we saw it, and we heard it before we smelled it.  The pet store sat at the far end of the mall, the scents of dozens of different animals almost overwhelming my sensitive nose.  At first, I wanted to keep walking, but when Kimberly heard the sounds of barking puppies and singing birds, her eyes lit up just a little bit.
 
“You wanna go in there?" I asked.  She bobbed her head up and down eagerly, so I turned to go inside.
 
I'll admit, the pet store did quite a bit to cheer me up too.  There was another couple at the other end of the store, trying in vain to coax a stubborn old cat into coming to the cage door so they could pet it.  Kimberly immediately pulled me toward the fish tanks, where she stood mesmerized by their colorful, calming inhabitants.
 
“Did you have a fish?" I asked.
 
She nodded.  “He was a goldfish," she answered, speaking for the first time since we'd left the house.  “His name was George."
 
“George?" I asked, snorting with laughter.
 
“It was a good name!" she insisted, pouting.
 
“Yeah, you're right," I agreed before she got upset.  “It was a good name."
 
For a minute, I was worried that remembering George the Goldfish would make her start crying again, but she seemed comforted watching the fish swim around.  After a few minutes, I let her hand fall free of my own, and went to look at something else.  She would be fine without me for a couple of minutes.
 
The other people had already left, giving up on trying to lure the cat closer to the door, so I went to take a look at it, too.
 
“Hey, there," I spoke softly into the cage.  The cat immediately looked up at me in interest.  “How's the pretty kitty today?"
 
I poked my fingers through the bars, and the cat stood up to come closer.  It pressed its side against the cage door, and I moved my hand to scratch it behind its ears.
 
“Such a pretty kitty," I said absentmindedly to it when it began to purr.  “Prettiest kitty in the whole wide world."
 
While I was petting the cat, I heard the shop owner come up behind me.  “Would you look at that?" she said.  “Prissy doesn't usually let people touch her."
 
“Animals like me," I replied, not taking my eyes off Prissy.  She bent over to rub her head against my fingers, and I pulled them away when she opened her mouth to gnaw on them.
 
Most people think animals are scared of werewolves, but they're wrong.  They're only afraid of us if we're planning on eating them.  I've never really understood how, but it's like they can sense our intentions.  If we're on the hunt, they'll run away before we can get anywhere near them.  If we come peacefully, though, they're more than happy to have us around.  Pets like Prissy aren't the only ones that are attracted to us.  I've been able to pet squirrels, deer, and raccoons when they wandered into my backyard.  To be fair, though, I've eaten a fair number of all of those, too.
 
“We've been trying to find her a home for three years, now," the shopkeeper said, coming forward to pet Prissy as well.  The cat let her, but didn't lean into her touch the way she had for me.  “She's too old, though.  Nobody wants a pet that probably won't last another two years."
 
“That's so sad," I say, more because it's what she expects than because I mean it.  I know what she's trying to do.  She's trying to make me feel so sorry for poor little Prissy that I'll slam the money down on the counter right now and take her home with me.  I'm not going to do it, though.  I've got enough on my plate already without having to take care of a cat too.  The Swag Pag would probably end up eating it, anyway.  There's also the fact that I have no money…
 
Sensing that she wasn't about to make the sale, the shop owner sighed and went back to the cash register.  “I would take her home myself, but I've already got five dogs and six cats to take care of."
 
“Sorry, Prissy," I said, going back to the fish tanks.  Prissy stuck a fat paw between the bars, pawing at the air, hoping I would come back.
 
Kimberly wasn't where I left her.  I force down the panic that immediately rises up in me, and inhale through my nose.  Just like I'd thought, her scent is still nearby.  It's a little hard to discern through all the other animal smells, but I still manage to find her a few feet away, looking at the puppy kennels.
 
“That's a cute one," I say, kneeling down next to the cage she was looking into.  There was a husky puppy inside, bouncing up and down in excitement.  When it saw me, it put its snout right against the cage and tried to lick me through the bars.  When it figure out it couldn't reach me, it scampered backwards, tail wagging frantically, and barked.
 
“Do you want me to ask the lady if you can hold…?" I turned back to Kimberly, and the question died in my mouth.  Tears were running down her face, and she was obviously trying not to start bawling.  “Kimberly, what's wrong?"
 
“I don't wanna…" she said, having trouble forming the words, “look like… that."
 
The puppy, smelling the salt in her tears, came to the cage door again, hoping to lick them off.  Kimberly recoiled with a shout, her back striking the wall behind her.
 
“No!" she shouted over and over again.
 
I looked from her to the puppy again, and suddenly understood what had scared her.  To her childish eyes, the little husky looked like a wolf, which reminded her of what would happen in less than a month.
 
“Kimberly, Kimberly," I said quickly, but softly, crawling after her to give her a hug, “it's okay, it's all right.  Don't be scared."
 
“I don't wanna be a wolf!" she howled, and I resisted the urge to put my hand over her mouth.  The shop owner was giving us weird looks from behind the counter.
 
“I'm sorry," I said over Kimberly's cries.  “Her puppy just got ran over."
 
Slowly, the woman nodded.  It was a lame excuse, and I knew it.  Why would a little girl's dog dying make her scared of turning into a wolf?  Thankfully, she didn't ask any more questions, and I gently picked Kimberly up and carried her out of the store.  She sobbed into my shoulder the whole way.
 
“Ssh," I said once I was seated on one of the mall's benches.  I stroked her hair, her face still buried in my shirt.  “It's going to be okay.  Don't cry."
 
“Turn me back!" she begged me without looking up.  “Turn me back!"
 
“I- I can't, sweetheart," I said, tears prickling my eyes now too.  “I'm sorry."
 
I was beginning to become very aware of all the stares Kimberly was attracting, and a horrible thought occurred to me.  What if someone recognized her?  Everybody thought she was dead, but it hadn't been nearly so long that they would have forgotten what she looked like.  What would I do if somebody told the police- or her parents?
 
“We need to be quiet, okay?" I whispered to her, suddenly afraid to even say her name.  “Please?"
 
It took a few more minutes, but eventually Kimberly managed to get herself under control.  She still didn't raise her head up, but at least she had stopped crying.  And moving.  After a moment, I realized she hadn't cried herself out, she had fallen asleep.
 
Poor thing, I thought, blinking back my tears as I put my free hand on the back of her head.  She doesn't deserve this.  She doesn't deserve any of this.
 
I was about to stand up and go… I don't know where, when a voice behind me startled me out of my thoughts.
 
“Amber?"
 
 
 
NEXT TIME: Somebody recognized Amber!  Who is it?  WHO IS IT?!?!
 

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