Seven

He glared at the list with a frown, trying to figure out which one he could pick out next. Noah was having trouble picking a few things out, wondering which list item would be the best to do at the moment. Which one, he wondered, was the best one for right now?

Streaking across the soccer field was out of the question; ice-skating wasn't the best thing to do at the moment; neither was the Ferris wheel, considering there were no fairs or shows happening at the moment.

Noah read over the list one last time before finally deciding what he was going to do. He rose to his feet and reached for his jacket, slipping it on as he made his way to the front door. He quickly turned on his heel, shaking his hand in a scolding gesture when he remembered his phone. Once it was safely in his pocket, he resumed his exit, only to be cut off by his phone vibrating suddenly.

For crying out loud, he thought, frustrated. He unlocked it and opened the message, sighing.

What'cha doing? – LP

He thought for a moment, pondering the response he should give. He'd already seen her last night, as well as brought her dinner and almost suffered the Walk of Shame. Man, he'd dodged a bullet. But why would she be texting him at – (he quickly checked the time on his phone) – nine in the morning?

Deciding to push his smart-alecky button, he replied, Stuff.

At that he turned off his phone. He was dead-set on doing this, and he didn't need distractions. Ah, but what if his sister called him? He'd cop it when he turned the phone back on.

Bloody fucking hell, he scolded himself. You really need to prioritise a few things, O'Donnell.

He switched the phone back on and left the sanctuary of his home, creeping to the elevator. It arrived in seconds, and he quickly got inside in hopes that Lana was either at work or still sleeping. Noah really needed to consult Mal with the days off she was giving her sister.

His phone vibrated as the doors closed, and he opened the message with a roll of his eyes.

What kind of stuff? – LP

"I swear you're stalking me," he muttered. With another sigh, Noah tucked the phone back into his pocket. "Well, I'm sorry but I have to give you the cold shoulder."

A yawn escaped him and he quickly placed his shades over his eyes, more or less hiding them from anyone that looked his way. He was really hoping that he didn't run into her today. The last thing he needed was to have her giving him those lopsided grins she always seemed to have reserved for him.

The doors opened wide and he strode out with a bit of confidence in his step, somewhat excited about what he was going to do today. This list item didn't involve her going anywhere at the moment, but Noah did need to confirm her location...

He went to reach for his phone as he exited the building, only to feel it vibrate again. He sighed and checked the message, once again from his favourite stalker.

I know you're reading these. Text me back. – LP

Unconsciously he glanced around, looking for possible hiding spots and lookout points. At least something his old man taught him was coming in handy. When he found no trace of her, he opened his phone book and scrolled through the names, finally finding Mal's in the M section. He dialled the number and held it to his ear, beginning his walk to his destination.

Upon answering, Mal greeted, "Resident sexy man. What can I do you for?"

He scoffed. "Just sexy?" he demanded. Mal sighed on the other end, laughing to herself.

"Fine. You're drop dead gorgeous. Happy? Now, what do you need?"

"Location of your sister. I'm going to do something and I need to know where she is," he explained. There was a pause from Mal's side of the conversation, but she soon gave him a short reply.

"She's here. Mum's keeping her occupied."

He nodded as though she could see him and hung up with a thanks, then crossed the street quickly while no cars were around. For a few moments he felt as though he'd lost his way to the store, but quickly recognised a few streets and continued on. It took a little longer than he'd expected, but soon enough he found the big building covered in paw prints with big, bold letters naming it R.S.P.C.A.

Noah strolled in casually and glanced around, taking in the posters of dogs and cats, even horses and birds. He let out a breath and walked over to the reception desk, smiling charmingly at the girl serving him.

"I'd like to take a look at the dogs, if that's okay," he told her. She nodded and led him in the direction of the orphaned dogs outside, taking him past a room full of kittens and another with various birds.

"Are you planning on adopting a pet?"

He turned his attention back to her with wide eyes, trying to figure out what she'd said. He'd only been half-listening, something he really needed to fix with strangers.

"Uh, yes," he replied. "A gift for a friend, actually."

The woman nodded and finally opened the door which led to the dogs, and Noah was greeted by various barks and whines. He took a few steps out, glancing left and right at the dogs on either side of him. He needed a specific breed, and he was sure he'd find it.

One particular bark caught his attention, making his head dart to the right and lock eyes with a young German Sheppard. It was large, barely a pup, but still wasn't old enough to die within the next few years.

Noah knelt down in front of its cage, staring at it. The woman took notice and launched into an explanation.

"This is Rex. He's been here for a few months now," she told him. "He was found wandering about in one of the parks in town. Apparently there was an infected cut on his leg when he was brought in, and the man that brought him in believes the old owner did it. No one knows, and the owner won't come forward, but either way Rex is very, ah, vicious toward men in particular. The manager here is considering putting him– Ah, sir, it's best you don't stick your fingers in there."

During her explanation Noah had lifted his glasses and reached out toward the dog, sticking his fingers through one of the holes in the cage. Rex stared at the fingers for a few seconds, glancing between Noah and the fingers, and finally began to limp forward. Ah, the cut hadn't fully healed, it seemed.

The dog's tongue ran over his fingers, making Noah smile with satisfaction. He glanced at the woman, who was blinking in confusion. "Yeah," he said, letting out a breath. "I have this thing when it comes to dogs. They can't help but love me."

~(_)~

Mal stifled a yawn as she returned to the table her mother and sister occupied, checking her phone for about the hundredth time since the call from Noah. She couldn't, for the life of her, figure out what he'd wanted when he'd asked for her sister's location.

"What took you so long?" Elizabeth asked curiously. "Lana and I were getting worried."

With a cheeky shrug, Mal settled into her seat and glanced at Lana. What could the Irishman want?

"I was just expecting a text, that's all." She noticed that both snacks were gone from the plates in front of Lana and Elizabeth. "Should I take those for you?"

Lana scoffed, stood. "You, the manager?" she said. "No. I'll take them, considering I'm the closest thing to a waitress of the three of us." At that, she collected the plates and hurried for the kitchen.

Immediately Elizabeth gave her daughter a sly smile. "Malory," she said slowly. Mal shrank back into her seat with an all-but-innocent smile, preparing herself for whatever question her mother had. "What have you got planned?"

"Well, mother dearest," she began dramatically. Her phone's loud replay of Speak No Americano cut her off, signalling that someone was calling for her. She pulled it out and checked the ID, recognising Noah's name anywhere.

"Hello, se–" She started over, "Hello, drop dead gorgeous."

"Wonderful; you've remembered how good I look in the past two hours. Can you bring Lana by the park today? I have a surprise for her, and I might as well meet your mum while I'm at it – get in good with all the Stevens women, per say."

"That's Noah O'Donnell, isn't it?" Elizabeth was leaning forward in her seat, trying to listen in on the conversation.

"You're with them now, right?" Noah sounded uncertain.

Hoping to deal with both of them in one paragraph, Mal announced, "Noah, I'm with them both right now and I'll bring them by in five minutes. Come to the closest park to my café so I won't tire my poor old mother. Mum, don't take offense in what I just said; Noah and I like to act dramatic. And, yes, I'm talking to Noah O'Donnell."

She hung up without another word and stuck her nose up in the air, just as Lana arrived back at the table. Confused, she kept her mouth shut and sat down.

Mal stood with a burst of energy and demanded, "Stand up. We're going for a walk."

There were no arguments.

~(_)~

"Alright, Rex." He placed his hands on either side of the German Shepard's head, scratching lightly behind the ears. "I'm going to need you to let me be your wingman for a few minutes, then you're all Lana's. I've just got to hit the nail on the head and you get to live with her from now on. And if she doesn't take you" – he started to use a babyish voice – "then you get to live with me, yes you do! You'll be spoiled every night, you will–"

He was cut off by Mal's voice announcing, "All the manliness I saw in you…" He turned around to see her wave a hand at the display before her. "Gone."

Behind her were Lana and a woman with dark curls hanging low around her head, her bright eyes widening at the sight of Noah. Noah slowly wondered if this was their mother, but he couldn't be sure with how young she looked.

"Dog love is a two way street," he retorted. "I get the love, I give the love."

Mal snorted a laugh and pulled her phone out of her pocket, quickly snapping a photo of Noah kneeling before the dog with his hands still scratching Rex's ears. Rex seemed to smile as though he knew he were being photographed, and then limped quickly toward the women. The woman with the sisters instantly let out a coo and cuddled the dog, an obvious soft spot for the creature coming through.

The three stared at her with wide eyes before Lana broke the silence with a shocked, "You didn't."

All Noah did was hand her the list from his pocket and point out one specific section.

3. Never have I ever owned a dog (and I REALLY wanted German Shepard when I was little)

"I can't believe you actually– I mean, this is just too– You really didn't have to–" Not a single sentence was finished, and Noah felt a little pride rise in his chest.

Quickly clearing his throat, he approached the woman and held out a hand to shake. "We haven't met before; I'm Noah O'Donnell, Lana's new neighbour."

The woman quickly stood and wrapped her arms around Noah, digging her face into his chest. He stood just a little bit taller than her, and managed to hear a muffled, "Miy̆ syn v zakoni!"

Oh…

If she'd been speaking Russian, he would've sworn she'd said, "My son-in-law!"

And then he remembered how similar Ukrainian and Russian were.

"Oh, no-no-no-no-no," he gasped, trying to pry the woman off of him. Her grip was like that of the Jaws of Life – unbreakable and near-possessive. "I'm not your son-in-law, ma'am."

A loud laugh came from Mal, followed by choked breaths that she was trying to keep in her lungs. None of it helped Noah, though, and all he could do was send Mal a glare that demanded she help him. She shook her head in response and elbowed her sister, as if to say, "Look at this!" and laugh some more.

Lana was a little more dignified with her reaction, staring at her mother with wide eyes before looking down at the dog – who had now moved beside her and sat down amusedly.

"A little help?" Noah demanded. It took a few seconds, but finally Mal made her way to her mother and coaxed her away from the tall man, allowing him to take a much-needed breath of relief when the woman was away from him.

I'd call that a good start on the mother, he told himself.

~(_)~

Lana scratched Rex behind the ear and frowned to herself, sipping the coffee she held in her other hand. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, Rex right at the end and laying down, and she found herself unsure of what to do.

Noah had told her about his limp, about how he'd been (though it was speculated) mistreated by his owner, and how he'd almost been put down for how aggressive he was toward men. His name should've been Lucky, not Rex.

Rex seemed to suit him, though; like Inspector Rex. Now there was a series Lana enjoyed.

"You're okay," she told him softly. "And I guess we're both pretty lucky Noah found us when he did."

Us?

Rex seemed to smile when she said it, but she didn't bother to correct herself. Instead, Lana finished her coffee, set the mug on the bedside table, picked up her laptop, and opened the internet.

This is the blog of Lana Stevens, she wrote. You may or may not want to read it, but that doesn't mean I don't have interesting things to put on here.

Let's start with a certain Noah O'Donnell…