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First Day

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D tugged his cuffs straight one more time and examined his hem to make sure no threads were coming loose. One of the cockatoos nibbled on his ear. “Your feathers will get ragged if you preen them any more,” she told him, winding her arms around his shoulders.

He sighed and smiled at her in the mirror. “You’re right, of course. Is everyone ready?”

Laughter rippled through the animals lounging in the front room. “We’re just fine,” the young persian observed. She looked critically at her nails and filed one to a more satisfying point. “It’s you who’s fluffed out about this.”

D admitted wryly that she had a point on more than her claw. The residents of the shop were well used to this. Even the shop itself felt calmer than he did. D was the only one present who was new at this. “Yes, well. I’ll go open, then.” On his own. For the first time.

The youngest cared for the refuge. He knew that. He understood why. The shop went to the one who was freshest and least wearied in their task. He knew all that. It didn’t make him any less nervous to have sole responsibility laid in his hands. Finding homes for the displaced, finding humans fearful enough or rapacious enough to feed them, finding humans calm enough to shelter them… it was a delicate business. Humans were so unreliable, so changeable. He could never tell whether their true nature was to devour like cancer and some of them managed to rise above it, or whether their true nature was to live fiercely in harmony with other beasts and most of them were corrupted somehow. They made no sense. All he could do, when twining their fates with other animals’, was to hope and trust that nature’s balance was stronger than selfish human will. He clasped his hands tightly before pulling them apart and straightening his shoulders.

He took a step toward the door and almost tripped over the sudden press of bodies around him. The animals made amused sounds as they nuzzled and licked him, stroking against him like one of their own until he was thoroughly rumpled and calmer than he’d been all morning. Finally he laughed, brushing his hair back out of his eyes. “All right, all right!”

Their eyes gleamed at him as he shrugged his clothes straight again and stepped forward to open the shop door.

“Welcome to Count D’s Pet Shop.” He stood aside to let his first customer in, serene and smiling, waiting to see what fate these humans would call to themselves.

End