Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

The ride home was a little tense and a lot crowded. Mandrake, the bionic water horse, was uncomfortably wedged into the third row seat of the van. The seatbelt wasn’t quite long enough to latch around his substantial middle, so Harley was laying on her back in the seat next to him, holding the buckle-end of the extended belt as tightly as she could. Her hind feet were braced against the side of the van, her front legs extended over the top of her head as though trying to execute a lateral pull down with the seatbelt. The strain of exertion was beginning to make her cranky.

“Are we about home?” she demanded, sounding slightly out of breath. “I’m not sure how much longer I can hold this belt in place.”

Gordy turned around from his position in the front seat and snuffled loudly.

“Well, that’s good,” Harley panted. “My legs aren’t long enough to have the proper leverage for this kind of activity. Also, I’ve got an itch on my snout but if I let go with one paw the ricochet of this seatbelt might kill someone.”

Mandrake reached over and gently scratched Harley’s snout with his hoof.

Harley started, then realized what he was doing and relaxed slightly. “Why thank you, Mandrake,” she said. “What a thoughtful young hippo you are!”

Mandrake smiled shyly.

B.H. turned around in his car seat to grin at Mandrake. Then he began to chatter away, telling Mandrake about the Brownstone, his room and how much fun they were going to have once they got home.

The van pulled to a stop in front of the Brownstone and Harley let go of the seatbelt. It zinged out of her grasp with lightning speed, arcing wildly toward Mandrake’s head.

“Look out!” Harley shouted, scrambling into a sitting position.

Mandrake turned his head sharply to look at her. As he did, the belt zipped by, narrowly missing his ear. He heard the whine of the fast-retracting belt, felt the wind rush by the side of his head and squeaked in alarm.

Harley leaped into his lap and began patting him on the head, face and shoulders. “It’s okay,” she murmured. “There, there, it’s all okay. You’re safe and loved and there’s no reason for you to become a cutter.”

Mandrake looked at her with big eyes, blinking slowly. He nodded, then awkwardly patted her on the head with his hoof. He snorted softly, indicating that he wanted out of the van.

“Okay, everyone,” Harley demanded loudly, “get out of the way. Traumatized hippo here! Make some room before he starts cutting!” She all but pushed Mandrake from the van.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the Brownstone, Harley observed Mandrake carefully, looking for any signs that he might be feeling emotional distress. Satisfied that he seemed calm and happy, she took his hoof in one of her paws and B.H.’s small paw in the other.

“I feel like we should say a few words since this is such a special occasion,” she said. “Anyone want to, I don’t know … do that?”

Prescott and Gordy both turned away uncomfortably, snuffling and shaking their humps. B.H. whispered something too quietly for Harley to hear then looked intently at his cowboy boots. Mandrake gazed down at her, expectantly.

“Okay, then,” she muttered, “I guess I’ll say something.”

She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, then said dramatically, “Today, we welcome Mandrake into our family. We are a diverse and multi-cultural tribe of indigenous nomads who have come together to create an intricate and aerodynamic nation.” She paused as though collecting her thoughts, not noticing the odd looks she was getting from the group. She continued speaking, warming to her task. “Though we have many differences, we are one in spirit. As my Native American Dachshund ancestors believed, I, too, believe that we are all endowed with the gift of gab, the ability to come together as a family and pursue warm gravy. On this day, we bring Mandrake, a bionic water horse, into our family. Welcome, Mandrake. We are proud and glad to receive you into our clan. May your life with us be fulfilling and abundant and may you not become a cutter. Amen.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 28

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 28

Adoption Day had finally arrived and Harley, Gordy and Prescott were having a difficult time keeping B.H. calm. He had leaped out of bed at 5:20 a.m. and raced into Harley’s room. He’d proceeded to jump on her bed, shaking her out of a sound sleep, which had not pleased Harley in the least. After shooing him back to his own room she’d tried to get a little more sleep, but found it difficult to reclaim the totally relaxed state of rest she’d been experiencing.

When she finally gave up on sleep and trudged slowly into the kitchen for a mug of gravy, she had found Gordy and Prescott, each of them in a similar state of bleary-eyed exhaustion. From their snuffling and hump shaking, she determined that B.H. had visited his overwhelming excitement on them, as well.

Now, after she had finally managed to settle B.H. enough to eat some breakfast and brush his teeth, she was trying to wrangle him into his ‘going somewhere’ clothes so she could comb his hair. “Darn it, B.H.,” she said crossly, “hold still. I can’t tie your shoes if you keep wiggling and jiggling around so much.”

B.H. ceased his fidgeting briefly, but was soon overcome with excitement again and he began to squirm and bounce, chattering about how much fun the new hippo was going to be and how much he was looking forward to having a playmate.

Exasperated, Harley jerked off the still untied sneakers and went to B.H.’s closet. “Here,” she said, turning back to the vole. “Wear your cowboy boots. Then I won’t have to fight with you over tying your shoes anymore.” B.H. happily pulled on the bright blue boots, all the while continuing his happy jabbering.

After several minutes of dodging and ducking, B.H. finally held still just long enough for Harley to swipe a brush over his head. The vole’s fine hair went smooth for a short minute before springing back up in an unruly looking wave over his forehead. “This darned vole-lick of yours won’t lay down, B.H.,” she muttered, trying to smooth it down again with first the brush, then her paw. Finally, she sighed. “I think that’s as good as it’s going to get, B.H.. Maybe you should just wear a hat.” Shaking her head, she took his jacket down from the closet and handed it to him. “Better wear a sweater, B.H., that adoption agency is always really cold.”

At last, the family was loaded into the van. Prescott was driving while Gordy had claimed shotgun. Harley snapped B.H. into his seatbelt and then, adjusting her own, announced, “Alright! Let’s get this bionic waterhorse show on the road!”

Traffic was light and the drive unremarkable as the van wound its way through the carpeted streets of the city. B.H. had suddenly stopped his excited chatter and now sat quietly, looking out the window of the van with big eyes. Harley noticed that both Buffaloes were unusually quiet, as well. She felt her own excitement turn into something more like nervousness as the van turned into the parking lot of the Under Dome Rehoming and Adoption Center for Voles and other People.

Prescott parked and turned off the engine. The group sat in silence for a few moments. Harley looked at B.H., who was quietly working at the buckle of his seatbelt. She watched Prescott adjust his tie in the rearview mirror and saw Gordy pull down the sun visor to check his hump and swipe a hoof over his beard. Harley unlatched her own seatbelt and smoothed her eyebrows with her paw. “Are we all ready?” she asked anxiously.

Each of the others nodded and the group left the van, walking quickly toward the entrance of the building. Prescott held the door open and Harley and B.H. entered the lobby, looking around curiously. Harley spotted the manager coming toward them and bent down to speak to B.H. quietly.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked. B.H. nodded solemnly. “Now, B.H., this is serious – we can’t bring him back once we take him home. So if you’re having second thoughts or want to adopt something else, now’s the time to speak up.” B.H. shook his head and whispered that he was very happy to meet his new hippo. “And you’re sure about the name we picked out?” Harley added. B.H. grinned happily and nodded again. “Okay, then, here we go,” Harley said firmly, straightening up to greet the manager, a slightly overweight but attractive vole.

“Hello there, you must be the Harley Bishop Family,” the manager extended a neatly manicured paw. “I’m Noreen.” Harley shook her paw, as did the others. “I know this is a big day for you, but there are just a few details we have to take care of before you can take the newest member of your family home,” she smiled. “If you’ll just follow me, Harley. The rest of you can wait right over there.” She pointed toward a seating area filled with comfortable furniture, a book shelf and a large television. B.H. scurried over and plopped onto a fluffy chair. He located the remote control and immediately turned on the TV, settling happily into his seat. Prescott and Gordy each patted Harley on the head and went to sit with B.H.

Harley followed Noreen into a small but neat office and sat where Noreen indicated she should.

“There are just a few papers that we need to review and sign and then you’ll be all set to go home,” Noreen explained, shuffling through a stack of files on her desk. “I understand that you’ve been told about your hippopotamus’s special needs?” She slipped on a pair of reading glasses and looked up at Harley.

“Well, yes, if you’re talking about his bionics and such,” Harley said. “Although I’m not entirely sure why it’s such a big deal.”

Noreen looked at her a moment before dropping her gaze to the now open file in front of her. “Well,” she began, “aside from the obvious issues presented with a bionically enhanced being – super strength and speed, enhanced motor function, increased appetite, and the like – there may be some emotional issues that arise. It’s very difficult for non-bionic people to understand the strain of maintaining the control necessary for a bionic – in this case a bionic hippo – to exist in a normal world. Chairs may not be designed to hold his heavier frame, for example. And a broken chair could lead to him feeling insecure about his size. We wouldn’t want him to begin to exhibit any self-harming habits such as eating disorders or cutting, for instance, as a way of expressing emotional distress. It’s very important that you recognize any signs of depression or trauma, therefore, and be prepared to deal with anything that arises.” She gazed at Harley expectantly.

“So you’re saying I need to watch him and make sure he’s happy?” Harley said.

“Exactly,” Noreen confirmed. “We do offer a series of counseling sessions for all our new adoption families, at a significant discount, of course. You’re more than welcome to sign up for them before you leave today, in fact. Most of our families have found the classes to be invaluable while integrating their adopted children – or whatever – into their households.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Harley replied. “We’re pretty laid-back at home and we’ve been doing a lot of research into what will make him feel comfortable. I think we’ll do okay on our own.”

Noreen pursed her lips in disapproval, but only said, “Well, fine, then. Sign here and you can meet your hippo.”

Harley scrawled her signature at the bottom of the page.

“By the way,” Noreen examined the paper, then looked at Harley, “have you picked out a name?”

“Yes,” Harley said, rising from her chair. “We’ve decided to name him Mandrake.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 27

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 27

Harley led Harry through the Brownstone and down a set of newly constructed stairs. She looked over her shoulder and said, “Now, you’re sure I don’t need to be concerned that you’re going to run tattling to Roper with what you’re about to see, aren’t you, Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “As I said earlier, Harley, I would never bother Sir with any details that would have an adverse effect on his mental state.”

“Okay, then.” Harley continued down the winding steps which finally opened into a large, cavern-like room. Direct sunlight beamed into the space from what looked like an enormous skylight carved into the ceiling. Harry could see B.H. scampering around the construction equipment and workers, a tiny orange hard hat perched on his little head.

Harry looked around in wonder. “What is all this?” he asked in awe.

Harley grinned widely and handed him a hard hat from the nearby work table. “You gotta put this on, ‘cause we’re in a construction zone and you can’t take it off until we go back upstairs, okay?”

Harry put on the hat. “I’m ready.”

“As you know, we’re adopting a water horse,” she explained.

Harry nodded. “Also known as a hippopotamus, right?”

“Yes, that is the common name,” Harley said in a superior tone. Harry rolled his eyes behind her back.

“Since we will be bringing a water horse into our home,” she continued, “we had to make certain adjustments to our living space in order to satisfy the adoption agency’s requirements. Namely, we had to have some water.”

“Of course, of course,” Harry agreed.

“Because of the unnecessarily strict building codes Roper implemented, I couldn’t very well apply for a permit to build a swimming pool. But,” she pointed a paw at Harry, “I could get a permit for a basement addition in The Under Dome Deeper facility. So here’s what we’re doing …” she began walking around the room, gesturing and talking. Harry followed her around, listening intently as she explained the project in detail.

“Here,” she said, pointing up at the source of sunlight, “is our sun tube. It’s designed to let in natural light from Above Ground through very deep layers of earth. Roper will never know it’s here and even if he does find out about this whole water park, I’ll just tell him it’s a laser room and he’ll never come near it – even to shut it down.” Harry started at her use of the term ‘water park’ but since she was already resuming the tour, he quickly followed.

“This will be the pool itself,” she pointed to a giant hole in the floor, currently bustling with activity as dozens of voles in hard hats laid colorful tile across the surface. “I had the tile specially designed to show a jungle theme so the water horse would feel right at home.”

Harry snorted, “Would you please quit calling it a water horse? It’s a hippo and you know it. In fact, you probably would have been able to sneak the whole project by Roper if you had called it that in the first place. You knew using the word ‘water’ would immediately put him on high alert.” Harry sounded slightly winded – he rarely had so much to say in one pass.

Harley blinked. “Ooookaaayy,” she said slowly, unsure now of Harry’s position on the whole situation.

“I’m just saying that continuing to call the hippo a water horse only makes you sound pretentious,” Harry added quietly, looking at her steadily. “I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.”

Harley pursed her snout and refused to meet his gaze. “It might have been my intention,” she conceded. “But if it bothers you, fine … we’ll call it a hippo. But he’s not just an ordinary hippo, you know,” she said forcefully. “He’s a special needs hippo. He’s got bionics. And they can’t be cured. So there.” She pointed her paw accusingly at Harry.

“I’m not sure you’re understanding what bionics are, Harley,” Harry said cautiously. “It’s not a disease.”

“Of course it is!” she said indignantly. “The adoption agency said he was a special water horse who had been ‘augmented for enhanced bionic performance’.” She used her paws to make air quotes around the term. “I know what that means – he’s sick and his bionics need to be treated with medication!”

Harry couldn’t prevent the chuckle that slipped out. Ignoring Harley’s glare, he tried to explain. “Bionics is not an illness,” he began. “Bionics is the incorporation of cybernetic systems into living organisms.”

“Like the Borg?” Harley asked in a panicked voice.

“Well, sort of,” Harry said. “Think ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, instead.”

Harley was quiet for a few minutes, clearly thinking about this new information. Suddenly, her expression brightened considerably. “You mean I’m getting a robot hippopotamus?!”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “A bionic hippo.”

“A ‘bionic hippo’,” Harley breathed reverently. “A bionic hippo! Wow! Hey – did you hear that, B.H.?” she shouted. “We’re getting ourselves a bionic hippo!”

Across the room, B.H. stopped and looked at her, a confused expression on his face. After a moment, he shrugged and laughed out loud, clapping his paws together excitedly.

“He really has no idea what that means,” Harley said to Harry confidentially. “But he’s got such enthusiasm. It’s really adorable, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm, yes. Adorable,” Harry agreed. “Now that we’ve cleared that up,” he said, “why don’t you show me the rest of your project plans?”

“Oh, sure,” Harley responded. “This way.” She trotted off happily with Harry trailing behind her.

“Over here,” she pointed, “is going to be the snack bar. And we’re having lots of tropical plants put in – really elaborate landscaping. Some of it, I’ll be handling myself of course, because you know how much I enjoy gardening.” She chattered on, listing features and details of what she started calling ‘The Laser Room’.

Harry pictured the completed space – lush green plants and colorful flowers surrounding the huge, beautifully tiled swimming pool. Harley explained there would be a water slide at one end of the pool and a diving board at the other. The deck area was to be surfaced with stamped concrete so as not to be too slick and dangerous when wet. Over in the corner, a small sitting area with comfortable and waterproof furniture would surround a fire pit so the family could roast marshmallows or slabs of cheese over an open flame. In the opposite corner, a grassy fenced-in lawn in case anyone needed to take care of any ‘private business’ would ensure the total comfort of everyone.

Harry pointed to a small partially-constructed building off to one side of the pool deck. “What’s that?” he asked. “A changing room?”

“Nope,” Harley smiled mischievously. “It’s a special space just for Roper Lee.”

Harry looked at her sharply. “I thought he was never going to set foot in this space?”

“He won’t … knowingly,” she giggled. “You know how every time we want to have some kind of family outing and Roper always complains that he’s too scared or too sensitive or whatever to come along? And then Fluffy gets all mad at him for not spending enough time with his family and she gets a little mean? And how Roper starts drinking too much mole waters and eventually sneaks off to his office or his closet to drink and listen to Little Texas?”

“Go on.” Harry wasn’t sure where this was going, but he was certainly intrigued.

“Well,” Harley said. “That,” she pointed at the structure, “is going to be his spot. All we have to do is get him to Butterscotch – which, is, let’s face it, not that hard. Then while he’s out, we get a Vole Squad to transport him to that little building and put him inside. I’m going to have it tricked out with a big screen TV where he can watch videos of himself or Little Texas and there will be a mole waters dispenser so he can drink as much as he wants. I’ll get some really soft furniture and he can spend the day with the family, without actually being with the family. He’ll never know he is anywhere near water! When it’s time to leave, we’ll just broadcast an armadillo documentary over the TV and he’ll Butterscotch again. We have the Vole Squad take him home or wherever and – POOF – everyone’s one big happy family.”

Harry stared at her for a long time. Finally, he said, “That, is, quite frankly, one of the most under-handed, sneaky, devious plans I’ve ever heard. It’s … brilliant. Well done, Harley.”

Harley smiled smugly. “I know. I know.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 25

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 25

Early Tuesday morning, Harley and B.H. were settled into their favorite booth at the Southside Cafe. Harley bit into a gravy-filled donut and smacked her lips in appreciation. “You really can’t beat a nice, healthy breakfast to get your energy up in the morning, B.H.,” she told him. B.H. nodded and eagerly tucked into his own breakfast – a stack of bacon cheese pancakes and gravy.

“I know things have been pretty chaotic around here lately,” Harley addressed the top of B.H.’s head as he bent over his pancakes. “I wanted to talk to you about, you know, things,” she added. “Like, are you feeling comfortable in your room? Do you like living with the Buffaloes and me? Things like that.”

B.H. looked up, mouth full and nodded happily.

“Okay,” Harley continued. “Well, that’s great, B.H., because we really love having you in our family.” She drank from her mug of gravy and belched loudly. B.H. giggled, drank from his own, much smaller mug, belched and giggled again.

Harley chuckled and patted him on the head. “Anyway, I know you were pretty scared back at Thanksgiving with that whole ‘Isis’ thing. And the parade last week was certainly more excitement than I bargained for,” she shook her head in disgust. “So, are you scared or worried or anything?”

B.H. shook his own head and kept eating.

“Oh, well, that’s good,” Harley signaled the waiter to bring another plate of donuts. “I want you to feel, you know, comfortable and everything. I don’t want you to think you’re in any danger or whatever. I mean, Roper’s kind of ridiculous and obviously Cookie – I mean, ‘Isis’ – is crazy, but that’s just sort of the way things are here. It’s perfectly safe – I’d never let anything happen to you.” She was watching B.H. earnestly, hoping to convey the care and concern she had for him without expressing any actual emotion – which made her very twitchy.

B.H. continued to chew his pancakes and looked at her, wide-eyed.

She drank more gravy and shoved another donut into her snout. Swallowing, she looked seriously at B.H. “B.H.,” she began gently. “I was thinking that you might be a bit lonely. You haven’t really made any friends since you came to live with us, and even though I’m very exciting and dynamic, the Buffaloes are pretty boring. I mean, Gordy likes to play board games and Prescott has that super cool button collection, but, well, I thought you might like to spend time with someone different once in a while. Someone you have more in common with.”

B.H. looked thoughtful. Then, he nodded his head excitedly before returning to his breakfast.

“Okay,” Harley declared. “Well, then it’s settled. I think we should get you involved in some clubs or maybe a sports team. Maybe you could enroll in a class or two at the University? Would you be interested in joining Vole Scouts?”

Harley and B.H. discussed a variety of social opportunities over the rest of their meal. Afterward, Harley paid the check while B.H. used the little vole’s room.

On their walk back to the Brownstone, Harley listened as B.H. chattered happily about the many exciting activities that had been proposed.

“You know what, B.H.?” Harley asked suddenly. “I think we should consider adoption.”

B.H. looked up at her questioningly.

“Well,” she explained, “we adopted you and that’s working out great.” B.H. grinned. “So I think we should adopt again. Maybe not another vole, though. I mean, voles are good and all, but we should diversify. Bring someone from another culture into our home,” she reasoned.

B.H. nodded.

“We’ll visit an agency after we talk to Gordy and Prescott,” she said. “Now, let’s go home and look at The Under Dome University course catalog. Maybe we can find a film class to enroll you in!”

B.H. giggled and turned in a circle as they continued to walk.


After supper that night, Harley and B.H. sat with the Buffaloes in the family room and discussed their ideas for adoption. Harley also took the opportunity to tell them that she had enrolled B.H. in a class at the University. Upon further questioning, she informed them that he had been particularly interested in “Circus Stunts,” a semester long course that would prepare him for life under the Big Top. Gordy also thought the class sounded like fun and announced he was going down to the college and enroll himself. B.H. responded with much clapping and enthusiastic jumping up and down.

The next morning, Harley and B.H. went to the Under Dome Rehoming and Adoption Center for Voles and other People. Harley explained that she was interested in the adoption of what the Center called a “Non Traditional” placement. Which was a snooty way of saying ‘someone who wasn’t a vole’, in Harley’s opinion. They looked at well over a dozen portfolios and finally narrowed the field to three potentials.

With the portfolios spread over a conference table in front of them, Harley and B.H. discussed each one carefully. Harley was prepared to defer to B.H. in the final decision, but wanted to make sure he understood the permanence of the adoption.

“Now, B.H.,” she said firmly. “I want to make sure you understand that which ever portfolio you choose is fine with me. But it’s not like when we go to the shoe store. You can’t pick out a pair of shoes and then take the shoes back in this case. Because we’re not really talking about shoes. We’re talking about people. And people aren’t shoes. I mean, you’re going to pick one and we’re going to take him or her home and you’re going to have be satisfied with that. We’re not going to bring them back and tell the adoption people that the shoes didn’t fit, or they weren’t the right color or they didn’t go as well with that pair of yoga pants as we thought they would. And we’re not going to be able to put them in a closet and leave them there until we have our spring yard sale, then sell them for fifty cents to the vole down the street who likes sparkly flip flops. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

B.H. shrugged and shook his head.

“Let me see if I can explain it this way, B.H.,” Harley tried again. “When we go to the shoe store and I buy you a pair of shoes, it’s because you like the shoes and I want to make you happy so I get you the shoes you want. But then, when we get home with the new shoes, sometimes you decide youdon’t like the shoes after all and so I take you back to the shoe store and we return the shoes for a different pair or sometimes I just get my money back because you can’t find a pair of shoes you really like. When that happens, we just go home without any shoes at all and then you don’t have any shoes. Do you understand, now?”

B.H. looked at her for a moment, then he untied his shoes, took them off and put them on the table in front of her.

Harley rolled her eyes. “No, B.H., I don’t want your shoes,” she said, handing them back to him. “I’m saying this is not like shopping for shoes.”

The vole shrugged again and began putting his shoes back on. He muttered something quietly.

Harley sighed. “What I’m trying to tell you, B.H., is that once you make a decision about who we’re going to adopt, you can’t change your mind. It’s forever. Like when we adopted you. We can’t send them back. So I want you to be very, very sure. Okay?”

Nodding in understanding, B.H. finished tying his shoes and then pointed to the portfolio lying open in front of him. He tapped it with his paw and smiled.

Harley looked over the information carefully. “Are you sure, B.H.?” she asked. “This is going to be a big responsibility, you know. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

Grinning happily, B.H. nodded emphatically and tapped the portfolio again.

“Okay, B.H., let’s go let them know we’ve made our choice. We’re getting a water horse!”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 16

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 16

After a carefully prepared (by the Buffaloes), but dissatisfying lunch of quinoa salad with marinated tofu, Harley was full but unhappy. Back in B.H.’s room, she grumbled to Gordy as they finished arranging the lounge chair and fluffy area rug that had just been delivered by the Buy Furniture Here delivery voles.

“I just don’t think it qualifies as real food!” she argued. When Gordy snuffled and shook his hump at her, she protested again. “But it’s not meat. And no matter what you soak it in, it’s not going to be meat. I understand that it’s supposed to soak up the flavor of whatever you soak it in, but the truth is – I could soak a kitchen sponge in some of Prescott’s fancy sauce and it would still be a sponge. And sponges are not meat! End of story.” She glared at Gordy, the tip of her tongue slightly protruding through her teeth and lip, as it tended to do when she was emotional. Gordy snuffled in what sounded like light chuckle and shook his hump again.

Harley took a final look around the room. “I think this looks pretty comfortable, don’t you? I mean I think B.H. will like it. Not that I really know B.H., but you know, if you were a vole clone who didn’t know anyone or anything, you’d think it was comfortable, right?” She looked at Gordy hopefully. Gordy nodded.

Harley was about to start fussing nervously with the bedding again, when she heard the doorbell sound upstairs. She turned in an excited circle before racing out of the room and up the stairs, calling over her shoulder to Gordy, “He’s here! B.H. is here! Come on, Gordy!”

Prescott met them at the door, drying his hooves on a kitchen towel. Harley looked at the Buffaloes and issued a warning. “Now, don’t talk about where he comes from – he may not even know he’s a clone. We don’t want him to be self-conscious, we want him to feel like he belongs. He’s probably going to be very nervous and the last thing we need is you two being all ‘Buffalo-ey’ and scaring him half to death. Try to look smaller – suck in your humps. And don’t crowd around him!” She pointed a paw at them, pleased that they both looked appropriately docile and friendly. “Good. Okay, here we go,” she said excitedly, grinning widely and opening the door.

Harry stood next to himself on the front porch. One Harry was holding a small suitcase. The other Harry nudged him in through the open door and followed, closing the door with a click. The two Harrys stared at the Buffaloes, then Harley. Harley looked at Harry, then at the other Harry, then at the Buffaloes. No one spoke.

Finally, Harley could take the awkward silence no longer. “So, which one of you is the vole clone?” she blurted. Prescott and Gordy looked at her in horror. Harry cleared his throat. Harley slapped a paw over her snout. Wide-eyed and embarrassed, she continued in a shrill voice, “I mean, which one of you is B.H.? Of course you wouldn’t be a clone – I meant clown. I heard you were a clown as a hobby. Everyone loves a clown, don’t they? Except those who find them terrifying. Prescott here doesn’t like clowns at all. Bad experience when he was just a little buffalo and all. But I’m sure he’ll like you. As long as you don’t dress up like a clown and jump out from behind a chair or something. He does not like that at all. Nope, not at all …” she trailed off, looking at first Prescott, then Gordy, her desperate glance finally landing on Harry.

Harry nodded briskly. “Yes, well,” he began, shooing the group towards the stairs. “I’m quite sure B.H. would like to see the room you’ve arranged for him, Harley. Perhaps you could direct us?”

Harley skulked down the steps and down the hall, pausing before she allowed them entry into the room. She turned and said to B.H., “I wasn’t sure what your style was so I took the liberty of, you know, getting some stuff for the room. If you don’t like it we can exchange it.” She shrugged, as if it was no big deal. B.H. looked at her timidly.

She opened the bedroom door and stepped back, allowing Harry and B.H. to enter first. She and the Buffaloes followed. B.H. was looking around interestedly, his small eyes lighting up when landing on the bunk beds. He dropped his suitcase and hurried over to them, letting out a tiny giggle as he climbed the ladder to the top bunk and began to jump up and down.

Harley raised her eyebrows. “Should he be doing that?” she asked Prescott. Prescott snuffled. She rolled her eyes. “I meant is it safe for him to be doing that?” She huffed in exasperation and stepped to the edge of the bed. “Now, B.H., I don’t think that’s a very good idea …” she began. B.H. bounced higher, chortling with glee and waving his small paws in the air. “B.H.,” Harley said again, firmer this time. “B.H. come on down from there before you hurt yourself.” More bouncing and gleeful laughter. Harley stomped her foot. “Barry Harry Vole!” she yelled. “You better get down from there right now!” B.H. stopped bouncing and stared at Harley in alarm. He began to squeak loudly, scrambling down the ladder and going quickly to Harry’s side where he stood trembling and watching Harley warily.

Harry patted his back gently, murmuring words of comfort and sending irritated glances at Harley. Prescott and Gordy glared at her for several minutes before Prescott pushed her forward with his hoof, nodding his hump in a gesture that plainly said, ‘fix it’.

“Uh, well,” she began moving slowly toward B.H., speaking in a conciliatory tone. “You see, B.H., what I meant to say was that I really think it’s dangerous for you to be jumping on the bed like that.” As she approached him, B.H. went very still and peered at her with wide eyes. She stopped moving and continued, “I’m only concerned about keeping you safe.” Harley said the word again, enunciating carefully and looking into his small face. “SAFE.” She held out her paw and B.H. reached out with his own tiny paw, tentatively placing it in Harley’s. He looked up at her and blinked. Harley nodded encouragingly. “See? Safe.” B.H. nodded briefly before moving forward quickly, throwing his small arms around Harley’s snout, hugging tightly.

Harley looked over at Prescott and from the corner of her eye saw both he and Gordy grinning and heard them snuffling happily. Harry stood with a satisfied look.

“Okay then,” Harley said after a few minutes when B.H. finally released the hug. “Everybody’s fine. Everybody’s safe. How about a snack? Big bowl of gravy anyone?” She looked around the room and was pleased to see B.H. bouncing excitedly from foot to foot, clapping his paws and smiling. “Well, B.H.,” she said happily, “Looks like we’re going to get along just fine. Follow me – the kitchen is this way. I’ll show you how to heat the gravy to just the right temperature.”