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The Care and Keeping of Stegoceratops

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"Dr. Malcolm?" Bang bang bang. "Hey, I have a package here for Dr. Ian Malcolm, is he home?"

Sighing and leaning on his cane, Ian extricated himself from his armchair, walked through his apartment kitchenette, unlatched the door, and stepped out to see what the postman wanted. Looking at the ground, he raised his eyebrows in surprise; he'd expected the UPS guy to be there, but not the enormous crate on the ground next to him. "Just sign for it here and here, sir," the postman said, handing him a clipboard with a few complex-looking forms attached to it. Ian looked through the papers-- one of them said at the top, very prominently, BIOHAZARD INSPECTION-- then at the shaking crate, then back at his guest.

"I'm not signing for this," he said. "It's-- it's not my order."

"Forms say it is," the guy said, taking the clipboard from Ian and consulting it. "Yep, Dr. Ian Malcolm, apartment 308. If you'll just sign--"

Ian was more interested in the package, which was bumping from size to side and emitting some kind of muffled-- was that a mooing noise? "I never ordered any animals. I'm sorry, but you, uh, have the wrong person. You're gonna have to take this back."

"We can't take it back, Dr. Malcolm," said the guy in the brown suit. He glanced at the crate and then at Ian, and made an amused snorting sound. "Trust me, I'm sure you'll appreciate it."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

The guy was already backing up, heading to the elevator. "Look, I have another urgent delivery in the truck. You can call if you have any concerns, our number's on, uh-- on the UPS website. Don't hesitate to let us know."

"You can't just drop this off and hold me responsible for--" The guy had already disappeared into the elevator, and by the time Ian started after him, the button had already dinged and the doors were already shutting. Ian sighed, ran his hand over his face, and then turned his attention to the crate that was now apparently under his care. He put his hands on either side of the bottom and strained to lift it, which greatly distressed whatever was inside; he immediately heard a loud and high-pitched yelping noise come from within. "All right, all right." Instead of trying to lift the thing again, he settled for kneeling down and shoving the wooden box through his open door. The crate against the cement floor made an even less pleasant sound than the animal's screech, but it only took three good shoves before his package was inside and he could finally shut the door.

Loudly exhaling, Ian got on his knees again and peered into the crate from one of the slits on the top. He didn't see very much, but what he got a glimpse of was enough to make him lean back, massage his eyes with two fingers, and exhaustedly groan. He debated whether he should even bother opening it, but leaving the obviously easily distressed animal in its cage all night might have been noisier than it was worth. He found the three latches on the side of the crate's door, undid them one by one, and then quickly moved back and out of the way. If this was what he thought it was, he didn't want very much to do with it at all.

The crate door creaked open, and with another of those odd snuffling sounds, its inhabitant slowly emerged. First came its two forward-facing, prong-like horns, and then its oblong, beaked little face. Ian's first thought was what did Levine call these bull-horned things? Nasutoceratops, and then I hate that I know that. And then: Wait, I thought it was a stegosaur? There were plates, I know there were plates.

After the little dinosaur, whatever it was, had poked its head out of its crate for long enough to glance around and determine whether Ian's apartment was suitable, it took a few timid steps onto the carpet. Ian stared, too confused to even be angry. Why was this thing a combination of two different herbivores? This couldn't have been a recently-discovered species, could it? Maybe he could call Richard Levine; if anyone had kept up with new dinosaur discoveries, it was him. But why was he concerned with identifying its species when the real concern was that there was a greyhound-sized dinosaur stomping around in his living room?

The answer, he suddenly realized, was the same one that usually came with all of his problems: InGen. He leaned into the crate-- the animal, more confused than anything, paid him no mind-- and rummaged around, trying to ignore the implications of digging around in the hay that lined the bottom of the box. Finally, attached to the back, his hand found a paper booklet stapled to the wood. He tore it free, sat outside the somewhat foul-smelling crate, and read the cover: The Care and Keeping of Your Pygmy Stegoceratops . It showed a photo of a little girl, smiling and hugging a dinosaur that looked just like the tiny one that was currently poking at his coffee table with its steer horns.

Ian stood up and aggravatedly grumbled under his breath. For years he'd put all that effort into keeping InGen out of his life as much as possible, and now he apparently owned one of their little designer pets. Of course he knew about the enormous corporate empire that InGen had built with their blood money-- how could he not, everyone did, they aired their cheery commercials for genetic abominations during every TV show imaginable. Despite InGen being incredibly prominent in the world and somehow still growing even more popular, Ian had managed to ward off its presence as much as he could. Apparently, though, he hadn't earned complete peace from them quite yet.

He opened the first page of the booklet, and nestled between the headings "Congratulations on your ownership of a licensed InGen pygmy dinosaur pal!" and "How to get started" was a tiny envelope. An idea, and then a bolt of rage, struck Ian-- were those InGen bastards bribing him? Had they sent him this-- this monster for free and expected something out of it, like a free advertisement, or paparazzi photos of him walking the thing like a puppy? He tossed the booklet onto the coffee table and tore open the envelope. There was a brief, hand-written note inside, and to his slight relief, it didn't have any genetic company logos stamped on it. It read:

Ian,
Thought you'd enjoy this. She's just the right size for your place, right? Have fun with her, and don't worry about buying any special food-- she'll eat just about any vegetable you feed her. I'll drop by in a few days to see how you two are doing.

That was it-- no signature, nothing. He threw it down on the table and was about to start reading the pamphlet when something bumped up against his bad leg. He started, and then looked down to see his little guest staring up at him with pleading, almost pitiful amber-colored eyes. He got back down onto his knees, wincing a little in pain, and took a closer look. It was definitely one of the genetically-engineered, smaller-than-life dinosaurs that were just one of the products of InGen's new hybrid-based business model. He'd seen these pygmies before, mostly at pet stores and being walked around Austin by kids and families, but the others that he's come across had all looked like miniaturized versions of existing dinosaurs. This one was a new species entirely-- a Stegoceratops, the booklet had called it.

It looked almost like something a kid would design. Its body was forest green, and all the parts of its face had sandy-brown accents, as did the plates along its back. It definitely had the various horns that a Nasutoceratops would have, except when Ian ran his palm over their tips, none of them pricked him at all. Well, at least they'd safety-engineered it for kids, he could at least give InGen that. When the Stegoceratops creature felt his touch, it slowly blinked and then closed its eyes and held still, almost like a dog being petted. He made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat; he didn't want the stumpy little thing to attack him, of course, but the way it acted so much like an attention-starved puppy just felt wrong.

He removed his hand and reached for the book again-- it sure would be a blast to read the justification that had made Wu and his buddies come up with and mass-produce these things-- when the dinosaur did something even more surprising: it reached out with its flat foot and batted lightly at his knee. He turned to see that it was staring expectantly at him with its large, cow-like eyes. He furrowed his brow and stroked the pebbled skin of its frill, and sure enough, the animal contentedly closed its eyes again. Huh. At least it was affectionate-- that was better treatment than he'd come to expect from animals of its kind.

Absentmindedly petting the thing, he turned his attention to its care booklet and skimmed through the entire thing over the course of ten minutes. From what he could gather, it didn't require much more special care than the average Pomeranian. All it needed was fresh vegetables to eat, a safe area to stay in, occasional walks, and "a great owner like you!" Well, there weren't any plant products in the apartment that could be classified as anywhere near fresh, but he could handle the rest for a couple of days. "Don't get used to the place," he said sternly to the little Stegoceratops; it only stared back at him, looking more puppy-like by the minute. "You're not staying here, you hear me?" With great effort, he got back onto his feet again and headed for his kitchenette. If someone thought this was a funny prank to pull on him, they could have their laughs-- and their genetic mistake of a pet dinosaur-- when they came to see him in a few days.

He opened the narrow refrigerator, leaned down and rummaged through one of the clear plastic drawers. His hand closed around a small apple; he pulled it out and poked it, finding that it was at least somewhat fresh. Closing the fridge door, he tossed it onto the ground, to the Stegoceratops that was standing and watching his every move. "Here, this is all I've got. I'll see if I can stop by the grocery store later, but, uh, this is dinner for now, kiddo." The weird little dinosaur-thing stared at the offering for a second, stuck its thick little tongue out to take a lick, and then pulled the entire fruit into its mouth and slowly chewed it up whole, little apple shavings falling to the floor from the sides of its beak. Ian shook his head and then made his way to his study. He had three dissertations to read through and no time to watch this weird animal that had finished its snack and was now ambling around his apartment, occasionally whacking the legs of furniture with the tiny thagomizer on the end of its tail. At least, he figured, if it was enough of a hassle to keep around, he had friends in the zoology department who'd be more than happy to take it off his hands.

***

When he'd finished reading through the first dissertation-- Complexity Theory and the Behavior of Gallimimus in Captivity , no doubt some grad student's excuse to go on multiple vacations to Jurassic World before the incident-- Ian pulled his cell phone off the desk and dialed Kelly's number. As always, it rang exactly twice, and then he heard the click and her voice: "Hey, Dad, what's up?"

"Hi, honey, nothing much. Uh, hey, did you send me a dinosaur? 'Cause it was nice of you, but--"

"Hold on, what?” The phone crackled as she adjusted it, and he heard her yell into the distance, “Hang on, I’ll be right back!” before turning her attention back to him. “Dad, what’s the matter? Is this a joke?”

“No, I’m serious. Did you send me one of those little—uh—InGen pygmies in the mail? The little pets?”

She paused. “Oh, that kind of dinosaur. Nah, I didn’t. Why, did you get one?”

“Somebody stuck me with one, and I’m—I’m glad to hear it wasn’t you, ‘cause I have a few serious words for whoever it was. Anyway… how’s it going? Doing well in training?”

She exhaled heavily. “You know, it’s going how it’s going. Trials are coming up, so I’m working like a dog.”

“I thought the trials weren’t for a few months?”

“How long have I been training? Two years? A few months is nothing.” She stopped, and he heard muffled shouting. “Gotta go, Dad, break’s over. Careful with the dinosaur, okay? I love you.”

“Love you too, honey,” and he hung up. He called his other two kids after that and received similar answers. Elizabeth was off in Orlando interviewing for a job at some zoo, and she let him know that she wanted absolutely nothing to do with dinosaurs-- he couldn't say he blamed her. Anna, who was in the middle of her first semester away at college, stressed that she couldn't afford a pet for herself, let alone anything extravagant for her or anyone else. She knew just as well as he did that he was the reason she had no significant financial worries-- a large portion of the money made from his book sales and many television interviews had gone towards paying her and Kelly's tuition-- but he still shook his head and wrote her a check for two hundred dollars.

With his three daughters ruled out, who else could the mystery dinosaur donor be? His colleagues at UT knew better than to play dinosaur-related pranks on him, or at least he sincerely hoped he did. His assistant Mike, though he joked around a lot with Ian and never seemed to want for money, probably did too. He only kept up occasional correspondence with Sarah, and this wasn't the kind of thing Ellie would do. So that ruled out the most likely people to have done this; that meant it must have been one of his friends, someone he'd never suspected.

He'd have to make a few phone calls. First, however, he had to attend to a certain stegoceratops in the next room, which had its horns thoroughly embedded in the side of his couch.

***

The next day, sitting comfortably in a chair in a small office downtown, he asked his therapist, "You wouldn't happen to have sent me any dinosaurs lately, would you?"

Alice gave him an amused look over her glasses. "What, a toy dinosaur, or a stuffed animal? Why on earth would I do that?"

Of the many counselors that Ian had met with over the years, Alice Sigrund was his particular favorite. A short brunette woman of thirty, she was one of the growing number of "paleo-social workers" who dealt with not only people, but dinosaurs and the connection between the two-- a necessity in a world where an increasing number of people shared their jobs with hybrid dinosaurs. Because of her work with predatory dinosaurs like tyrannosaurs, and her knowledge of how time with-- and attacks from-- them could affect people, she'd been able to understand Ian's trauma better than many other counselors, and could much better help him work through his many issues regarding them. She'd greatly helped him overcome most of his dinosaur-related fears, and she knew him just as well as any close friend in his life. He found himself looking forward to weekly sessions with her, even just for the chance to chat.

It didn't hurt, too, that she was very pretty.

"No, like one of those bio-pet things." He held out his hands to indicate its size. "Real ugly little thing. It's like, ah, a hybrid-- you know, one of those things for kids. Not too cuddly, you'd think they'd go for more of a teddy bear thing."

"No, Ian, I can honestly say I didn't buy you a dinosaur."

"Are you sure? You can tell me. It--it could be like an exposure therapy thing. Letting it hang out with me for a while, letting me get attached to it. Perfect, uh, therapeutic crime."

She shook her head and scribbled something onto the notepad in her hand. "Nice detective work, but no."

"You're writing "paranoid" on that paper there, aren't you?" He leaned forward, smiling. "C'mon, let's have a look. I know you’re getting to the dark recesses of my mind here.”

“Nope. Classified information. I have to know you better than you know yourself.” He playfully grabbed out for the little notebook, and she giggled and held it above her head, he sat back and grinned. “Nah, it’s not psychoanalyzing. You can read it if you want.”

“Nah, I’m good. Anyway… yeah, that’s about the extent of my problems this week. No nightmares or anything. Al-although I’m sure having one of the little buggers running around won’t help me keep that streak for long. I’m gonna sell the damn thing as soon as I can.”

Jotting more notes, Alice nodded. “Good. That’s excellent. You’re having a lot fewer nightmares lately.”

“I’ve had a lot fewer people in my face lately. I can’t believe it took ‘em three separate incidents to learn that I’m not interested in being a dinosaur disaster expert, but I’ve only gotten, um, a couple interview offers and everybody else knows better than to ask me about this whole hybrid trend. Maybe I’ll talk to some news networks when a corporate dinosaur finally mauls someone—maybe a book, make a million or so more, uh, pay for Anna’s grad degree.”

“Are you sure it’d be worth it? You’d draw a lot more attention.”

“Yeah, but I’d live. I’m old news. I’ll crank out a few sound bites, people will ask each other why no one listened to me all along, and I’ll laugh my way to the bank.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You’ve got it made, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, well. It’s too predictable, but it’s a living.”

Alice flipped her notebook shut and put it on the floor beside her, and then leaned forward, resting her head in her palms, looking thoughtfully into his eyes. “Well, Ian, I have to say you’ve made a lot of progress.”

He licked his lips. “Why, thank you.”

“You’ve got a great handle on your problems, you’re not worried about the future or your mental health anymore. You’re nowhere as scared as you used to be. You’ve learned a lot about coping in the past few years. I mean, I’m not suggesting anything, but—it’s almost like you don’t need me anymore.”

“Wasn’t that the goal to begin with?”

She raised her eyebrows and said in a low, thoughtful voice, “Yeah, that was the goal, all right.” She exhaled loudly and stood up. “Well, hate to be a clock-watcher, but it looks like our time’s up.”

“If that clock on your wall isn’t lyin’ to me, our time was up fifteen minutes ago. Do your job right, Sigrund.”

She cracked a grin, mirroring his. “Don’t criticize my methods. See you next week?”

“See you next week,” he smiled, and as he opened her office door to leave, she reached out her arm to stop him, catching him before he walked out.

“Call me if anything goes wrong, okay, Ian?” He looked back; her expression was genuine. “If something happens with the dinosaur, if you can’t handle having it around, just call me. I’d be happy to take it off your hands. Or even if you just wanna talk about it—call. Anytime.”

“Absolutely,” he said softly, and noticed when he looked down that Alice had grabbed his hand when she stopped him, and she hadn’t let go. She followed his gaze and immediately pulled her hand back to her chest, looking more than a little embarrassed.

“Uh… see you.” She salvaged another grin, which Ian returned. He took one more good, long look at her before swinging the door open, waving goodbye and disappearing.

***

A flash of lightning outside the window lit up Ian’s apartment for an instant, and then a distant crash of thunder added to the already-unnerving sound of the downpour outside. Ian was never completely comfortable when it was raining outside, especially this hard, but it wasn’t as bad this time—no flashbacks, no need to blast the television so he could put himself anywhere besides that Explorer in front of that paddock. Branches of pain still shot through his leg, though; he had it propped up on the coffee table while he lounged on the couch, making phone calls.

Both of his paleontologist friends denied having sent him the stegoceratops. Richard Levine had scoffed at the idea; Ian should’ve known that he’d never have spent that much money on anyone other than himself anyway. Diego Rodriguez, a paleopathologist who was on a dig in Patagonia at the moment, angrily wondered out loud why the pygmies were created in the first place and advised Ian to get rid of his as soon as possible. Even his archaeologist friend Matt thought that keeping it would be a terrible idea. Ian was dialing Jodran the paleoartist when his phone rang and Alice’s speed dial number popped up on the screen. She almost never called him at home except when there was an emergency—was she okay? He answered immediately. “Hello?”

“Hi, Ian!” He was relieved to hear that she sounded cheerful. “Just wanted to check in and see how everything was going.”

“Uh—everything’s fine. Why do you ask, ‘cause of the storm?”

“No, no, because of the dinosaur. Is everything okay with it? Do you want me to drop by and take it?”

He exhaled heavily. “Believe me, I wouldn’t wish this thing on you. All—all it does is follow me around all day and eat more lettuce than a herd of rabbits. I wish whoever gave it to me would take it back to that godforsaken island already.”

She made a sympathetic sound. “I can take it to a shelter or something.”

“Nah, I’ll deal with it. Should just be for a few days. I wanted to start buying more vegetables anyway.”

“Well, that’s good to hear.” He heard her pause and move around a little, and he could clearly picture how she must have looked, at home in her pajamas with her hair down and around her shoulders instead of in its usual ponytail, sprawled across the loveseat in her apartment. He’d never been to where she lived, but he could imagine it well enough—a place as clean-cut and organized as she was, the furniture in dark colors just like the clothes she always wore to their sessions. Thinking about being there with Alice and chatting or just enjoying each other’s company, instead of being stuck in this place with an irritating leg and an even more irritating animal, helped him relax in spite of the rain sounds outside. “How long do you think you’ll have to keep it?”

“If it’s here more than a week, it’ll be the very first member of Austin’s feral dinosaur population.”

She giggled, and he broke into a grin despite himself. “So have you named it?”

“Yes, I have. It’s called Pest.”

“Oh, come on, give it a real name! You can’t just stand there all week like, “here, dinosaur, dinosaur!””

“All right, if you insist.” He leaned back, head resting on the back of the couch, and caught sight of the white flowers on his neighbor’s terrace through the corner of his eye. “It’s, uh—Lily.”

“Oh, how cute! That’s adorable, Ian, is it really a girl?”

“Probably. Maybe tomorrow I’ll make it a little bow for its horns.”

“That is so adorable.” She paused again. “Well… I should let you go. I was just thinking about you, wanted to make sure everything is okay. Are you sure I can’t help? I could stop by your place if you need someone to play with it for a little bit.”

He would’ve liked nothing more than to invite her over, but stopped himself; that wouldn’t have been professional. “Sweet of you, but no, thanks.”

“All right, I’ll see you on Monday, then.” He said goodbye, and when she hung up, he dialed Jodran and got only a recorded message. He reached for one of the books under his coffee table, mentally replaying Alice’s laugh and the excited tone in her voice, when an enormous crack of thunder came from outside and a panicked moooo came from the kitchen. The little stegoceratops, which had previously been in the kitchen taking a nap next to its food bowl, came running into the living room on its stubby little legs. It came galloping over to the couch and attempted to jump up next to Ian; when it failed, it stood in front of him, looking up at him imploringly and whacking its tail against the carpet.

“Nope,” he told Lily firmly. “You’re not ruining any more of my furniture.” It didn’t get the message. As if to demonstrate its urgency, it ran out into the open area of the living room, butted at the front door with its frill, and then came back to the couch to wordlessly plead him again. He opened his book and tried his best to ignore the big cow eyes staring at him and the somewhat high-pitched lowing sounds. He was almost sure that the annoying thing would leave him alone when he heard another thunderbolt, this one alarmingly close to the building. Lily reacted to it just like it had to the last one, mooing loudly in terror and thumping against the ground with its heavy, spiked tail.

When he looked away from his book and saw the animal on the ground, butting at the couch and shaking with fear, he sighed and picked it up by the stomach. He placed it on the couch next to him and expected that to be the end of the matter— he had no intention of getting cuddly with the thing, but this was better than it freaking out all night—but Lily grunted and clambered across his legs, plopping itself down onto his lap. It seemed content despite his lack of attention, propping its beak up on the armrest and closing its eyes. Ian sat and just stared for a minute or two. There was a smaller thunderbolt from further away, and Lily shivered, her tail thumping in agitation, but settled down quickly enough.
He grudgingly began to run his hand along its side, petting around its plates and making it yawn contentedly. “Yeah, I don’t like storms, either.”

***

Matheus, one of the grad students he’d personally chosen to advise during the year, had obviously given everything he had to impress Ian. Most of the kids in his graduating group had barely even begun their master’s theses yet, but Matheus’ was half-done and incredibly well-researched, with three full pages of diagrams and a bibliography almost as long as the paper itself. He had nothing to worry about, yet he fidgeted in his chair as Ian skimmed over the papers in his hand, looking like he thought the frame-covered walls of Ian’s office were about to close in on him.

“I gotta say,” Ian said as he closed the little packet of papers and slid it across his desk, “this is excellent. I’m—I’m really impressed.”

The thin, dark-haired, much younger man in front of him kept his hands in his lap and his legs close together, as if he was trying to compress himself and vanish, but perked up. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. You’ve got some really great work done so far. Where, uh, are you gonna do your independent research?

“Neurology department at St. David’s. Working closely with the MRI machines.” His thesis paper would be about variations in brain waves after trauma; Ian couldn’t help much with the neurological component, but considering that the topic was being researched and analyzed through the lens of chaos theory, his advising would be quite useful.

“Good, good. Have you, uh, set up appointments with anyone there? Made sure they’ll let you do your thing?”

“Absolutely. Made the calls as soon as I decided on my topic. I’m going in on the twentieth.”

Ian licked his lips and moved his swivel chair closer to the edge of his desk. “Well, keep doin’ what you’re doin’. I’m proud of you, I—I knew you wouldn’t disappoint.”

Matheus still had that deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes, but he beamed. “Thanks, Dr. Malcolm! Oh God, you don’t know how worried I was.”

“Y’know, I think I got a clue. Don’t worry so much, Matheus, you’re gonna do great. Hell, maybe you’ll have my job someday.”

“Maybe,” he said, sounding not at all convinced, and then, “What’s in your lap?”

“In my lap? Oh, yeah.” He glanced down at Lily, who was curled up into a little ball of dinosaur and contentedly napping on his lap. “Surprised you didn’t notice earlier. C’mon, Lily, time to meet someone.” He rolled his chair out from behind his desk and gently shook the little animal awake; she raised her head, blinked at him with her cow eyes, and swung out her tail. “Go ahead and pet her, she’s never met a stranger.”

Lily’s eyes drifted closed as Matheus rubbed three fingers along her back. “Wow, I’m surprised you got one of these. I thought you hated them.”

“You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that today,” Ian sighed.

The other man went immediately back into high alert. “Oh, I’m sorry!”

“No, no, don’t worry. It’s—it’s a valid question. I didn’t buy her, someone else got her for me. Wouldn’t have been you, would it?”

“Nah, not me.” Lily lay her head back down on Ian’s knee, making that deep, happy sound that seemed to serve the same purpose as a cat’s purr. “I’m surprised they let you take it to the office.”

“Well, she’s not disturbing anybody, and she gets separation anxiety way too easily. I’d rather have her, uh, sit with me than tear up my furniture and get me noise complaints with her mooing.”

“I kinda want one for myself, honestly. Even just for the fun of it. Everyone wants their own pet T. rex, right?”

Instead of what had actually sprung to mind, Ian said simply, “I bet you do.”

Matheus smiled, withdrew his hand and stood up. “Well, thanks for meeting with me, Dr. Malcolm. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem at all. You—you want this paper back or can I keep it?”

“You can keep it.”

“Thanks again. I’ll call you to set up another meeting next month.” The young man flashed him a much easier smile.

“All right, take care,” Ian called as Matheus disappeared out the door. He sighed and asked the snoozing dinosaur sitting on him, “I think that went well, how about you?” She snuffled in her sleep, and he rolled his way back behind his desk, pulling his cell phone out from his pocket. The disturbance awoke Lily again, and when she mooed in annoyance, Ian calmed her with a few scratches behind her frill while he tapped Alice’s contact number. The phone rang once, and when he heard the secretary’s greeting, he said, “Can you put me through to Alice, please?”

He heard the tinny ring again, and then Alice’s voice. “Alice Sigrund, may I ask who’s calling?”

Ian leaned back in his chair and exhaled hard, as if that would expel all the jitters from deep in his chest. “Yeah, hi, it’s Ian.”

He could almost hear her jumping to sit up straight. “Oh, Ian, hi! How’s everything going? Is there a problem with Lily?”

“Nope, no problem. She’s here with me, she’s doing fine.”

“Oh, good, that’s great.”

The phone crackled during the long few seconds of silence that followed. Ian cleared his throat. “I, uh, have a request.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“I’d like to withdraw myself as a client, if you don’t mind.”

Another few seconds of heavy quiet. “I… Ian, what? I don’t understand, why so sudden? Is it something I—”

“No, no problem, none at all. The, uh, opposite, actually. Remember what you said a few days ago? About not needing your services, making progress?”

“Yes, but—”

“You were totally right. I completely appreciate what you’ve done for me, Alice. It’s been amazing working with you, but—but you were right. I’ve made enormous progress thanks to you, and counseling just isn’t something that’s essential anymore.”

She paused. “Well—if that’s how you feel. I can’t say I disagree. It’s just, I, um…” He heard her exhale heavily. “All right. I’ll let the office know.”

“Great. Now that that’s settled, and we’re not compelled to be, er, professional anymore. I was wondering—are you available this Saturday?”

Another pause. “Yes, why?”

He tried to keep his voice casual as he asked, “How does dinner at Truluck’s sound? My treat. You can keep psychoanalyzing me, just over salmon this time.”

“Okay!” she answered immediately, her voice noticeably higher. “I mean, yeah, absolutely. Just call me. Call me whenever.” He could clearly picture her, bolting to sit up straight, eyes wide and face flushing like she always got when she was excited, and he smiled.

“All right, it’s a date, then.”

“It’s a date,” she parroted, the disbelief and joy still apparent in her voice. “Talk to you later, I guess.”

“I’ll call you,” he promised, and hung up. “How about that. It actually worked out,” he said to Lily, who had woken up and was nudging at his stomach with her horns. “Ow, ow, c’mon,” he said, petting her right side to placate her. “You better not bug Alice for attention like that. You’re gonna be seeing her a lot, so you better be nice.” She leaned back against his touch, closing her eyes contentedly and making that happy little half-moo, and nudged her spiky little frill against his stomach again. “Spoiled,” he chided, giving her the scratches behind her frill that she was demanding. But he couldn’t force himself to be genuinely annoyed. All afternoon as he worked, he gave in to the little dinosaur’s demands, because all he could think about when he petted Lily now was how happy Alice would be to get to play with her if she came back to his apartment after their date.

***

Alan Grant’s GPS took him on a wild goose chase all around Austin before he finally found Ian’s apartment complex. He’d visited once or twice before, but that was several years ago, and he only had a faint recollection of what the place looked like and how to get around it. He asked the lady at the front desk what Ian’s number was, took the elevator to the third floor, and scanned the rows of identical doors until he found number 322. He rang the doorbell once, twice, three times, and waited patiently before trying the door handle. He knew Ian was there; even after several years, he still remembered the distinctive red convertible that the chaotician was so proud of and that had been out in the parking lot when Alan arrived.

Surprisingly, the door was left unlocked, and he rang the doorbell two more times before slowly and carefully twisting the handle. “Ian?” he called, peeking into the apartment. Memories of his last visit returned to him as he looked around; the place was just as minimalistically elegant and book-stuffed as always. “Ian? Are you home?” He cracked the door just a bit further. When he turned his head all the way to the right and caught sight of the couch, he grinned from ear to ear and quietly shut the door. He’d come back in a little while—he didn’t want to wake Ian up by breaking into his home.

But clearly the man was enjoying Alan’s gift. He was lying across the sofa, his head leaned back in slumber, and curled up on his lap was the little hybrid dinosaur that Alan had sent him. He would drop in later—for now, it was best to just let Ian spend time with Alan’s first surprise, which he quite obviously loved.