Her Boy reached with both hands and ruffled Her ears.
"Not now, we're busy. When we're done, if it's not dark, okay?" He rolled the ball back on the floor. She looked at The Other Boy beside Hers. She leaned toward him and snuffled at the hand he left exposed on the side of the sofa. His fingers twitched. They smelled like potato chips.
She tasted the fingers with a small lick. The Other Boy laughed and pulled his hand away. He also rubbed Her ears. When he stopped, She looked mournfully to Her Boy.
"No, Shane and I are studying. We'll play later." Her Boy showed Her his and The Other Boy's clasped hands so She would understand.
She left, chasing the ball with Her nose, waving Her tail like a banner so he would know She wasn't angry. She wasn't, She forgave him, because She loved Her Boy.
She abandoned the ball and curled up under the table across the room. She watched Her Boy and The Other Boy through half-closed eyelids. Her Boy smiled and laughed, like he hadn't done for a while. It made Her happy to see it.
When the clock on the corner started gonging, She got up, stretching from Her nap, and walked to the kitchen. Her Boy's family was eating. She smelled chicken and mashed potatoes and bread.
She wove in and out of legs until She was under the table. They didn't notice. Sister was telling something and Parents listened.
When Father took the talking, She leaned against Sister's bare knees, panting on her lap.
"Tika! Come out from there!" Sister looked under the table. She did Her best to look imploring and cute. Sister laughed and proffered a piece of chicken. She took it carefully, so as not to bite Sister's fingers.
"Sarah, you know you shouldn't feed Tika table food," admonished Mother. "Cody, did you feed her today?" Yes, Her Boy had fed Her. But their food tasted so different and nice.
She moved to lie under Her Boy's chair, since She had been found out. Besides, he might drop something.
Her Boy's Family continued their conversation. People talked all the time. While they moved. They couldn't sit and enjoy anything. Sometimes, in the summer, She and Her Boy would go to the river and sit and they would be quiet. And now, sometimes, The Other Boy would come too.
Now they were talking about The Other Boy.
"I think he's cute." Sister.
"Believe me, he wouldn't go out with you." Her Boy got to his feet and walked to the sink with his dishes. She followed, Her nails clicking on the linoleum.
Her Boy placed the small pieces of left over chicken on his plate into Her food bowl. She swallowed them almost whole and turned expectantly to Her Boy.
"No, there's no more." Her Boy knelt and stroked Her head. She pressed against him and closed Her eyes. He rubbed harder, in just the right place. She loved Her Boy.
Her Boy was late. It was dark for a long time now. She sat waiting by the door. Sister came up behind Her and patted Her side.
"Poor Tika. You miss him. But," she bent to whisper in Her ear, "he's out with Shane. It'll be a while." Sister left.
She continued to wait for Her Boy to come home. It was late when he came. He smelled of warmth and happiness and food. She followed him to his bedroom and made Herself comfortable on the bed.
Her Boy undressed and washed and then dropped his weight beside Her. He lay his head on Her side and twined his fingers in the long hair on Her elbow.
Then he told Her. As he did every time he was out late. Some of it was just ramblings, but She listened. When he came home, he always seemed happy, so She decided that She didn't mind sharing Her Boy with The Other Boy.
When Her Boy was done talking, he lay silent for a moment, then moved underneath the blankets. She got up so he could, then resumed a position on the bed. She moved up close against Her Boy's back and covered Her nose with Her tail. Just like always.
Her Boy turned off the lamp and settled himself. She stayed awake until his breathing was slow and regular then allowed Herself to drift into sleep, though still alert to every movement made by the figure at Her back. Because She loved Her Boy.
They were yelling. She hated the yelling. They did it a lot now, so She hid. Sister didn't like it either; sometimes she hid with Her.
The first time, it was about The Other Boy. She didn't know why. She liked The Other Boy. So did Her Boy. But after that, they yelled all the time.
She was under Her Boy's bed. Only Her nose showed under the dust ruffle. The yelling reached an all-time high, and then the door opened and Her Boy slipped inside. He slammed the door.
Her Boy was white and shaking. She ventured slowly into the open. Her Boy sat down on the bed. She climbed up next to him and nuzzled his arm gently.
Her Boy threw his arms around Her and began to sob. She was still and let him, even though he was getting Her fur wet. He was mumbling incoherently into Her neck. She licked his ear and whuffled his hair. Because She loved Her Boy.
She and Her Boy were the only ones in the house. He had locked Her out of his room. She scratched at the door half-heartedly. Why couldn't She come in too?
There were rattling sounds coming out of the room. She decided that She wanted in very badly. There was something not-right-feeling going on. Her Boy never locked Her out.
She began to howl at the closed door. There was no response. She howled louder.
"Be quiet, Tika." Her Boy's voice was muffled and cold. Definitely not right. If She couldn't make it stop, a people could. She turned from the door and ran down the hall and out into the living room and through Her door.
She sat down in the yard and howled with all Her might. Just like She wanted, people came out of the houses and began yelling at Her. She kept it up. Someone had to come over here.
Grouchy Cat Lady came across the street with her cane and tapped Her foot. She stopped howling and started barking. Come this way. She walked two steps toward the house and sat again and howled. Grouchy Cat Lady followed Her and tapped Her again. She got up and moved a little closer and kept howling.
She edged all the way to the house and Grouchy Cat Lady followed.
"Go in, you miserable dog." She pawed at the doorknob. Grouchy Cat Lady tried to leave. She started howling again. Grouchy Cat Lady said some of Her Boy's favorite words and rang the doorbell. No one came.
Grouchy Cat Lady kept ringing the bell. She howled. Other neighbors came to see why the noise hadn't stopped.
One Boy tried the knob. It opened without any trouble. He took hold of Her collar and pulled Her inside.
"Hello? Your dog is making noise. Can you come get her?" He let go of Her collar. She kept up barking and howling and went down the hall and sat by Her Boy's door.
One Boy knocked. Nothing happened. He knocked again. Then he took a shiny thing out of his pocket and stuck it in the lock. The door swung open. One Boy peeked in. She followed him and jumped on Her Boy's bed where he was sleeping; ignoring One Boy's panicked shouting. She licked Her Boy's face. She loved Her Boy.
That Man came into the room and grabbed Her collar. He puller Her off the bed and onto the floor. She tried to jump up again, but That Man dragged Her down.
"Dan! Come hold the dog! And call 911! He's not breathing!" One Boy came back and held Her still. Why? Her Boy needed Her, he wasn't happy. They let Her in, now they can go away.
Soon there were too many people in Her Boy's room and they wouldn't let Her go. She whimpered at One Boy, but he shook and held her tight.
She barked at the White Men when they took Her Boy away in the noisy truck. They couldn't have him, he was Hers. When they didn't come back, She sat on the rug in front of the door and waited, feeling lonely. She loved Her Boy.
Her Boy picked up the last box from the stack and carried it out of the room. She followed him to the front door and out.
The back of the truck was filled partially with boxes. She watched Her Boy check them. She ducked back in through her small door and went back to Her Boy's room.
It was empty now. Even Her pillow was gone from the corner. She looked under the bed, just to make sure they got it all.
"Tika! Tika! Come on!" She heeded Her Boy's call without a backward glance. She took advantage of Sister holding the door open.
"I was holding it just for you, your Highness." Sister followed Her down the walk. Her Boy opened the truck door for Her, and She jumped up to the seat.
Sister hugged Her Boy.
"Bye, Cody, I wish you didn't have to go."
"Sarah, it's just college. I can visit. And you know I need to leave."
"I'll still miss you. And it will be so quiet without Tika there all the time." They let each other go. "Just promise you'll find yourself a good man."
"I'll bet there's one waiting to be picked up somewhere close. Maybe one named Shane?"
"Oh, go. And call when you get settled." Sister waved as the truck rolled away. There were sparkles on her eyes in the sun.
Sister loved Her Boy too.
She was napping in the sun, listening to the rhythmic tapping of Her Boy's fingers on keys. She got to Her feet and stretched Her back. She nosed Her Boy's elbow and gazed beseechingly into his face. Food?
"A treat. Just one, so I can get away from this term paper." Her Boy rose and shuffled to the kitchen. He removed a biscuit from a crinkly foil bag. Her favorite kind.
The bell at the door rang. Her Boy handed Her the cookie and went into the hall. She heard The Other Boy's voice. Picking up the cookie, She followed them to the sofa and sat at Her Boy's feet.
She held the cookie still with her paws and crunched on one end. They were talking. The Other Boy smelled nervous. He took something from a pocket and held it out to Her Boy. It sparkled.
Her Boy's eyes leaked. She abandoned the cookie and jumped to his lap and licked the salty tears away. But Her Boy looked happy. The Other Boy joined in.
"I'll have to take Tika, too. You come as a set." He smiled at Her Boy.
Her Boy beamed. She wagged Her tail and licked his face again. She loved Her Boy.
She shook the water from Her coat and bounded after Her Boy through the snow. She passed him and slithered through the door first. She pranced on the spot in the warm.
She smelled chocolate. The source of the smell was the plate on the stove. She sat in front of the stove and contemplated it for a moment. Her Boy's voice sounded.
"Shane? We're back."
"I'm in the living room." She followed The Other Boy's voice. Her Boy was just siting next to The Other Boy on the sofa.
She leapt up beside him, then carefully picked Her way over his lap. She settled herself between the two of them.
"Tika!" She ignored The Other Boy. Her Boy and The Other Boy laughed. They both leaned on Her sides and ate cookies and let Her lick their fingers.
She loved Her Boys.