George’s bungalow sat at the center of Calyptus Circle. While it was small in stature, the white stone walls under the red tiled roof gave it an air of nobility. Like all grand estates, it carried on the time honored tradition of a fine name, Delaware Crossing. Over time, George affectionately shortened it to The Crossing. With each year that passed, he gradually made additions to the house. The green shutters were the result of his latest renovation. He closed them every night, as he and the early morning light were not on cordial terms. But his favorite addition to The Crossing was the gold dove weather vane that sat perched upon the roof. Come sun, rain, sleet, snow, and even in darkness, the weather vane sparked a silent welcome home to George whenever he walked up the brick path after a long absence away in the human world.
Life at The Crossing was a funny thing, it was a haven from the chaos that was the outside world, but no haven was forever safe from responsibility. George’s job as a Perrie always found a way to creep past the front door and down the hall into his bedroom. Some mornings he woke to find the color had run out of his indigo hair, and that his chartreuse skin was mottled with age. It was a not so subtle sign that his vacation was over and it was time to get back to work. The change was by no means painful, but waking up to find your hands gone and replaced with paws of a canine was always a small shock to the system.
An antique clock chimed the eight o’clock hour, waking George from a deep slumber. An arm shot out from under a mountain of blankets. His hand waved blindly in the air trying to find the offending noise, but unlike a bat, George’s echolocation was awful. The water bottle on the nightstand didn’t stand a chance against morning George. His hand swept it off. The bottle thudded to the floor sending water splattering everywhere. He bolted upright under the mass of blankets. The clock kept tolling, as a stream of uncouth grumbles poured from George’s buried head. The more he struggled to free himself, the harder the sheets wrapped around his legs. Cocooning himself sounded like such a pleasant idea last night. As he freed himself from the bed of impossibility, the damage was done. The rug was soaked. Watermarks marred his pristine nightstand. But the clock and its persistent clang had survived the ordeal.
“Taco was right. I need sippy cups.” He muttered, and ripped a sheet free from the mattress to clean up the disaster.
George was far from being a perfectionist, but water on antique floors and furniture was a crime. It took two sheets to mop up all the water. That was the last time he was ever getting the supersized bottle. He threw the sheets into the hamper, and stumbled into the bathroom. Delaware Crossing was full of 18th century charm that cleverly hid most modern day conveniences. George’s love of his idol, General Washington, ended at chamber pots and the unavailability of air conditioning. He flicked on the shower and hopped in before the steam started to billow. He was in and out in ten minutes, a new record for him. The thing about George was that he had two morning settings, awakening coma patient and sugar rushed toddler. Today, he was the latter. Clem’s Bistro was waiting for him.
A knock on the door resounded through the house, followed by three more in quick succession. George’s mouth was frothy with toothpaste and he nearly gagged in fright at the sound. He spit and ran to get the door before Taco broke it down. It happened once. Taco sometimes forgot his own strength. George opened the door just as Taco was bringing up a meaty fist to knock again.
“No wooden teeth for you.” Taco joked, and pointed at the corner of George’s mouth where toothpaste pooled at the corners. He came into the house, all six feet and two inches of him. He was muscular like a giant, and for the most part was gentle as a newborn puppy. His yellow skin flared in the sun.
George blinked several times and failed to save his retinas, and swiped at his mouth with his shirt. “Give me a minute.” He didn’t wait for a response and bolted back to his bedroom for a wardrobe change. Pajama bottoms and a toothpaste spotted shirt wasn’t a trend he wanted to set.
Taco and George set out toward breakfast. Meeting at Clem’s was their welcome home ritual, since their days at Porcosm Academy, where they were taught to be a Perrie, or in human terms, an imaginary friend. They walked in silence for the first few blocks, George was lost in thought reflecting on his last mission, and Taco was already minutes ahead thinking about a particular waitress at Clem’s.
Brightly colored neighborhoods passed, when George snapped out of his daze. “How long have you been back, Taco?”
“About a month.” He replied. “It was…” A grimace took up residence on his usually smiling visage. “Difficult.”
George waited patiently. “What happened?”
“Riley was bullied, George. I started to doubt I was even helping the kid.” Taco cleared his throat. “But you know, one day everything finally clicked into place. I taught him to laugh again, and that…”
“That restored your confidence that you are not only a great Perrie, but an amazing friend.” George clapped Taco on his shoulder. Their jobs weren’t always easy, and Taco wasn’t one for deep emotional talks. He hated burdening George or anyone with his problems. Taco’s heart was enormous and he hated to fail a human in need, but it happened occasionally and it was a subject neither liked to talk about. George decided to steer the topic towards shallower waters. “So, I was dog for six months.”
Taco grinned. “Please tell me you were an ankle biter.”
“I bet you had fleas.”
“Once… okay twice. I swear Kyler is going to be an entomologist one day.”
“Wait, why are you back so soon? How old was your charge?”
“Kyler just turned four.” George sighed. This was embarrassing to admit. The confession spilled from his lips in a rush. “It was Kyler’s birthday yesterday, and I got replaced by a Pekingese, named Cyclops.”
The sound that erupted from Taco didn’t even sound Custocian, it sounded like a dragon hacking. “An ankle biter gave you the boot.”
“Hey, I was and always will be better than an actual dog.”
Taco gave him a skeptical look. “Keep telling yourself that.”
And with that the conversation was over. The ten minute walk deposited them at their destination. The bistro was at the heart of the city, the starting point to nearly every citizen’s day. Food was the only thing that a Custocian valued more than creativity, and Clem’s was the best of both worlds. Part of the charm that drew the crowds in was that it wasn’t a building, but railroad cars that Clem repurposed into a restaurant. Space was tight but it added to the atmosphere. George never tired of sitting in the red booths, soaking in the ever changing walls. The walls were papered with drawings of Perries with their human friends, every single name was signed by the child artist with the Perrie’s name next to their likeness… but in most cases, it was scribbled blobs.
Taco’s infamous portrait hung above the corner booth, like a flag on the moon, it claimed the booth as theirs. Taco was always slightly embarrassed by the portrait, for he was only a taco with legs and stick arms next to a very hungry looking child. Six years, and Taco was still unable to shake the after effect of his first assignment. The kid loved Mexican food. George didn’t remember the poor kid’s name, but the scent found a home in Taco, so much so that no one even referred to him as Phil anymore. George squinted to read the name of the child, Russell. A toothy grin broke out across his face.
A blush flamed Taco’s golden cheeks. “At least I didn’t have fleas.” The blush creeped down his neck once he realized who their waitress was.
“Gentlemen.” Cassie said. “Are we branching out today, or are we sticking with the usual?” She tilted her head towards Taco. It was obvious to George and the entire bistro that she liked Taco, but neither were gutsy enough to make a move.
George decided to help his friend, who conveniently decided to bury his face in a menu. “I’m changing it up and getting the behemoth blueberry pancakes with an orange juice.”
Her shoulders deflated a little as she wrote down his order. “How about you Taco?”
“Scrambledeggshashbrownsbaconandasoda.” Taco shouted.
Cassie scrambled to keep her pen up with Taco’s order. “Anything else?” She arched a brow waiting for Taco to say more, but he wasn’t rising to the bait. “Okay, then.” Cassie walked off, purple ponytail bouncing with every step.
The menu fell to the table with a hard slap. “That was disastrous. I didn’t even look at her.”
“And you shouted your order.” George cringed. It was bad. “But don’t worry, buddy. She’s coming back with our drinks.”
Cassie set the drinks down, but the table across from them caught her attention before Taco uttered one word. She gave him a cute quick smile and was off.
“Better. Now, when she brings our food, ask how her day is going?”
“That seems so boring. I’ve got to get more creative than that. I am a Perrie.” He said that last bit more to himself.
Breakfast came and went as the bistro crowded to become sidewalk seating only. Taco never got a second chance at speaking to Cassie as Clem dropped their check off. George kept the conversation light, and let Taco call him Flea Bite. By the end of their meal the awkward interaction with Cassie was almost forgotten. This was their friendship. Picking one up while the other was low from a mission or a botched flirtation. George wouldn’t even trade Taco’s friendship for The General’s inaugural suit. George’s replica of the suit, was shoddy at best.
The pair went outside, loitering by the door much to the disgruntlement of incoming patrons. Taco rubbed the back of his neck, working out a kink. “Well, that went well.”
“You can always try again tonight.” George suggested. “I can tag along, if you want.”
Taco stood a little straighter at that. “Then, I’ll see you tonight.”
They parted ways, each going back to their respective homes. Yet, George felt off. The pancakes seemed to have swelled in his stomach, and his skin felt hot to the touch. The world before him blurred and swam. Just what he needed, the flu. He stalked towards The Crossing and planned to sleep the rest of the day away.