Atticus, suffice to say, was not having a good day.
If it had just been the lawnmower breaking, it might have been fine. If it had just been the dog tracking mud across the freshly mopped floor, it might have been fine. Or if it had been the invasion of mice, or the car not starting, or having his flowers eaten by something (might have been rabbits. They will die), or blowing the back tire on his bike, or even accidentally locking himself out and having to break in through a window, it might have been fine. Well, maybe not fine. Tolerable, at least.
Atticus was not even having a tolerable day.
The small man projected a cloud of sheer frustration as he walked down the town's main street, so much so that passersby were consciously avoiding him. His fists clenched around two grocery bags filled with canned food and spaghetti (as he'd never managed to cook much else on the fickle gas stove of the little house, even after three years of trying) and the glower on his face was not offset in the least by Ben's three-year-old backpack that he'd been forced to borrow, which featured, much to both his and his charge's embarrassment, glow in the dark dinosaurs. The backpack had been full of overdue library books, was currently full of the third bag of cans, and in a moment would be full of thirty pounds of dog food, which had been eaten that morning by the mice.
He rounded the corner and stared down the block, realizing, almost too late, that he would have to walk directly by the barbershop. He turned around. An extra two blocks was not what he needed right now, but better than having to deal with Eugene.
To top it all off, the pet store was run by one of the most helpful, cheerful people Atticus knew, one Miles Chase. This of course meant that Miles was also one of the most annoying people Atticus knew. He didn't try to be, to be sure. He just was. And Atticus had no intentions of spending any longer in that shop than was physically possible.
The brightly painted windows fast approached as Atticus rounded the final corner, featuring a giant chameleon with its eyes pointed two different ways, along with some colorful birds in the foliage of a green jungle, aka series of giant leaves. “Sale on all cats and kittens!” it said, in total disregard of logical correlation. “These prices will disappear fast!” He stared disapprovingly at the big orange letters the size of his face. “Come in today!”
With a sigh, he set down the two bags of cans on the bench outside, along with the third from the backpack, and stepped in. The door jingled merrily as he stepped onto the smooth tile, glancing around for the shop's proprietor. Not in at the moment, thank goodness. He walked hurriedly to the back of the store where the bags of food were kept, ignoring the chatter of the budgies and the odd glance of the snake. The resident parrot that nobody wanted politely said “hello,” as he passed. He ignored it.
“Hey there!” Atticus flinched as Miles walked up from behind him. “How's it going?”
“Fine, thank you.” The older man turned, almost mechanically, to face the shopkeeper.
“How's Dragon doing? Still running you ragged?” Miles stopped a few feet away, smiling cheerfully.
Atticus made a rather forced. attempt at smiling back. “She's fine, thank you. I need dog food.”
“Oh, well, you know where that is! We've gotten some new stuff in that you might like to try though.. Or she might like to try, rather.” The younger man laughed. “Unless you're not telling me something.”
“What we've been getting is fine, thank you.” Atticus turned back to the shelf of dog food, trying to find a size of bag that would fit in the small backpack. “Yellow bag, yellow bag...” he muttered. Behind him, Miles turned to the rack of empty animal spaces that were normally used to house the strays people brought in to the adjoining clinic's humane society, and opened one of the little doors. Atticus ignored him mostly, watching out of the corner of his eye as Miles reached in and pulled out a tiny white ball of fur. The little ball stretched, and yawned, and as Miles massaged it with gentle hands, it opened its eyes and looked up. Atticus found that he was rather unabashedly staring, and quickly looked away.
“She's a stray.” Miles was more observant than Atticus gave him credit for. “She and her brother were found last week under someones deck. They said that the mother was hit by a car.”
“Is that so.” Atticus tried not to look back at the kitten again, and failed rather miserably. “What's her name?”
“Doesn't have one yet.” Miles rubbed the cat's ear gently, and she purred. “Do you want to hold her?”
“I, uh...” Atticus looked away, then sighed. “Well... why not.” He took a few steps over to Miles, and the younger man carefully deposited the kitten in his palm.
“Careful not to drop her. She's fragile.” Miles reached into the box and lifted out the other kitten, a little black one.
“She's beautiful.” Atticus held the kitten up near his face, and watched her as she examined him with brilliant green eyes. He was shocked to be able to feel her heartbeat through his hands. “And neither of them have names?”
“Well, they're not very old.” Miles carried the other one over to the register and set him down on a towel as he pulled a bottle of milk from behind the counter. “Only about four weeks, we think.”
“...What is that in cat age?” Atticus followed him over, still carrying the white one.
“Definitely not ready to leave their mother.” Miles held the milk away from the cat, and watched as it struggled to stand and move towards the bottle. “They can walk, barely, and they're about ready to start eating solid food, though they'll make a mess about it. Not litterbox trained, yet. And of course,” he said, as the little black one toppled over. “Their balance will be off until their tails become flexible.” He let the black one get it's feet under it again, and it once again started moving towards the food bottle.
“Goodness.” Atticus examined the little cat in his hands. “So basically, they're not cats yet.”
“Well,” Miles shrugged. “No, not really. But see her eyes?” He barely paused before continuing. “They're developing their permanent eye color right now. That one actually seems to be almost done; it hasn't changed at all over the past few days. That's the color her eyes will be for the rest of her life.”
Atticus went a long moment without saying anything, gray eyes roaming from white kitten to black kitten to brilliant green eyes that stared up at him, until the little bundle of fur in his hands started purring.
“...That sale you have on cats.” He never once looked at Miles as he spoke. “Do these two count?”
“You don't want to wait until they're a little bigger?” Miles finally let the black one get the bottle. “They'll make a mess.”
“They'll take a lot of looking after.”
“You know...” Miles looked up at him, carefully. “Kittens need a lot of love.”
Atticus met his gaze with steel resolve, softened by a genuine smile. “I know.”
“Then yes.” Miles returned the smile. “They count.”
Atticus left the shop having a considerably better day than when he'd gone in.
After all, he'd never been able to say no to a sale.