Melinda was already annoyed when she heard Charles’ car pull into the driveway forty-five minutes late, and when several minutes passed before the car door slammed she knew her day was about to get worse. Charles only dallied outside if he needed to work up his nerve to tell her something she wasn’t going to like.
So when Charles came cheerfully through the door, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he found Melinda leaning on the doorjamb to the kitchen, arms crossed.
For just a split second she saw the panic flit through his eyes as renegade thoughts of She knows! Abort, abort! sent up a clamor before being hustled out the back door and silenced. With noticeable effort, however, he managed to salvage his smile as he set down his briefcase and moved towards her with open arms.
Melinda neatly sidestepped him. “You going to tell me why you’re an hour late?”
Charles glanced at his watch. “Come on, Lindy, more like forty-five minutes.”
“Whatever.” Melinda walked back into the kitchen and pulled the roast out of the oven where it had been slowly drying into a crisp. “So you want to tell me before, during, or after dinner?”
She gave him the not amused look as she walked by with the roast.
Charles sighed and brushed his hand through his hair. “You know I’ve always wanted a pet.”
Melinda carefully set the roast on the table and took a deep breath before she turned around. It didn’t help. “You’re kidding.” Charles shrugged. “Charles, we talked about this. Damn it, Charles, you should have called me!”
“I’m sorry, Lindy, but I couldn’t pass this offer up!” said Charles. “He was on sale, and he’s so cute. Look, I know that you’re going to love—”
“What did you buy?” interrupted Melinda. “Hmm? What kind of pet are we talking about here?”
“Look, I know you’re going to love him if you just get to know him,” said Charles desperately, ineffectually trying to stand in her way as she walked toward the door.
“What kind of pet?”
Charles grabbed her sleeve. “Look, Melinda, just let me explain.”
She shrugged him off and reached for the doorknob. God, tell me he didn’t buy—
“A ninja,” said Melinda. “Damn it, Charles!”
The ninja was standing next to the car, wrapped all in black fabric and looking nonchalant. He was big for his kind, and stood a little taller than Melinda’s waist. Although he wasn’t quite as well-equipped as some she’d seen, Melinda thought she spotted the handle of a small katana protruding above his shoulder.
She felt Charles behind her, although he didn’t quite dare touching her. “Come on in, little guy!” he called over her shoulder, and the ninja glided inside with typical ninja grace and disdain.
“A full-grown ninja,” said Melinda, and she slammed the door as hard as she could.
“Look, Lindy—” began Charles, but she spun to face him.
“You know my mother is allergic to ninjas, Charles! How could you do this? Just go out and buy one without even talking to me about it?”
“And how are we supposed to feed him, huh? You think I just have a chunk of tofu lying around in the pantry? That stuff is expensive!”
“And the neighbors! You know they have pirates! You want me to be trapped in here with a bored ninja all day? Or let him go get torn up the moment he sets foot in the neighbor’s yard? You know how curious ninjas are! You tell them no and they’ll go exploring just to be perverse!”
“Oh, come on!” said Charles, finally raising his voice. “Scrappy can totally take them. He’s big for a ninja. And besides, the Hinckle’s crew is really well trained. I’ve heard some of them even know how to speak.”
“Speaking pirates,” said Melinda with disdain. “It doesn’t change the fact that they’re stinking, noisy, drunken—”
“Well, that’s why I got a ninja,” Charles cut in. “You know I’ve always wanted one, Lindy, ever since I was a kid. Well he was on sale, no one else wanted him, and they said he’d been house-trained and everything. I’ll take care of him, I’ll feed him, I’ll clean up after him. You probably won’t even notice that he’s here.”
Melinda’s mouth was a tight line as she glared at Charles, but she finally nodded. “If I find so much as a single shuriken stuck in the couch, though—”
“I promise,” said Charles. “You won’t even notice him.” They both glanced around for the ninja, and found him hanging with his back to the ceiling and no visible means of support in the far corner of the room. During their argument he must have silently scaled the wall to escape potential cross-fire.
Charles walked over to the ninja. “Come on down, Scrappy,” he called. “There’s a good ninja.” Scrappy remained on the ceiling for a second or two and then lithely dropped the floor. “See?” said Charles, leading Scrappy over to Melinda. “Isn’t he cute?”
Melinda gave the ninja a closer look. A pair of bloodshot eyes stared back from within the black cloth swaddling his face. “Scrappy, huh? What kind of name is that for a ninja?”
Charles scowled, and scratched the ninjas shoulder. “It’s a damn good name.”
Although he didn’t move, the ninja began to make a quiet thrumming sound.
“See, he likes you!” said Charles.
“I read somewhere that means he’s imagining violent dismemberment.” Melinda leaned down and stared the ninja in the eye. “You violently dismember anything, and I’ll throw you in the river. With a brick tied to your neck.” The ninja stared expressionlessly back.
Charles glanced over his shoulder at the table. “Pot roast is getting cold.”
Melinda let out a sound of disgust, turned away from the ninja, and they sat down to eat.
Like a shadow, like a wraith, Scrappy slipped away to explore the rest of his new domain. What did he care if his owners had marital problems? He was a ninja. Deadly. Silent.
Besides, he desperately needed to find the litter box.