Chapter 3

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The weather is nice today. I close my eyes and take a moment to relax and enjoy the gentle fall breeze.

"..Ah. Hello. Welcome!"

..?

Oh. There's a large blue-haired anthropoid girl behind me. She's holding a few leashes.. it looks like she finished taking a few dogs on a walk.

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"Hiya! Uhm.. Do you work here?"

After I finished giving Mikan a bath this morning, I did some much-needed laundry and made breakfast for the two of us, then made my way to a local pet-shop I had passed by a few times on the way to my apartment.

"Yes. I'm Kotarou. Are you a customer?"

Kotarou, huh. I've seen her around town before.. usually shopping or carrying out other errands. You're normally required to accompany your pet on a leash in public; that Kotarou can go out on her own must mean she is a licensed work dog.

"Ah, uhm. Yes. This is my first time here."

Kotarou smiles in response as she leads the dogs in ahead of me.

"Come inside. I'll introduce you to mom."

The blue-haired girl leads the dogs into the store as I follow behind.

"..Wow."

This is my first time seeing this place from more than just the outside. There are shelves upon shelves of both anthropoid and normal pet supplies. There's even a clothing section and almost an entire wall devoted to collars and leashes.

"Mom, I'm back! We have a customer."

A young brown-haired girl appears from behind the counter. If I were to guess, a middle schooler? Maybe she's related to the owner. "Oh. Welcome! Can I help you find something?"

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I guess I should start from the beginning and explain how I found Mikan.. maybe the owner of the store can give me some advice.

"Hiya! My name is Risa. Uhm, is the store owner around by chance?"

The girl smiles and responds. "Yes. That's me. What can I do for you?"

...

I'm caught a bit off guard. She is the store manager..? The girl tilts her head in confusion when I don't answer, but seems to promptly register my doubts.

"Despite my appearance, I had my coming of age ceremony a long time ago. My name is Mochizuki Nadeshiko."

Even though she gives me a reassuring smile as she says that, I feel I've done something rude.

"O-oh, I'm really sorry. I'm Oumi Risa. Nice to meet you."

The store manager brings her hand to her cheek and chuckles. "I get it all the time. I'm used to it, so don't worry. It's nice to meet you too, Risa. Now, it sounded like you needed help with something?"

I explain the situation to Nadeshiko; how I found Mikan abandoned on the street and have been taking care of her ever since.

"Oh, my. Is she here with you now?"

"No, I left her at home to rest. She still looked rather exhausted. ..Also, I don't have any clothes that can fit her, and the ones she was had were so torn up I had to throw them out.."

"I see. It's good you're letting her rest. If you can give me her description, I can see if there are any missing pet reports posted."

Much like missing person reports, authorities in our area each have their own system used to report missing anthropoid animals. With any luck, one matching Mikan could come up, and we can find her original owner that way.

"..However, you say she was not wearing a collar when you found her, right? If that is the case, I have to be honest with you. It is very possible her previous owner has abandoned her."

"Oh. I see..". I can feel the weight of her words crushing down on my hopes.

Nadeshiko let's out a concerned sigh as she seems to become lost in thought.

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"Unfortunately, this is not entirely uncommon. People adopt anthropoids without considering the tremendous responsibility that comes with owning them. Some choose to quietly abandon them when they don't want to take care of them anymore, so they can avoid having to pay to put them back up for adoption."

That's... horrible. Hearing this and remembering Mikan laying there in that alleyway.. she could have died! What kind of person could be so.. selfish? So cruel?! I do my best to stay composed, but I can sense some anger creeping onto my face.

Nadeshiko seems to take notice as her worry turns into a sympathetic smile.

"Yes, I understand your anger completely. It is a horrible thing to do. It seems like Mikan was very fortunate to be found by someone so kind-hearted."

Her comments make me blush a bit. I just did what any decent person would've, didn't I?

"Uhm, if someone did abandon her.. what happens then?"

"Well, you can leave her in our care, and if no one files a missing report and comes to claim her, she will end up being put up for adoption again."

"...I see."

"The second option.. you can adopt her yourself, Risa. Anthropoids are extremely loyal, those that have been abandoned by their masters sometimes never come to accept anyone else. But it sounds like Mikan has already opened herself up to you."

I honestly wouldn't mind that. In truth, I've been lonely living by myself for so long. Having someone like Mikan around to keep me company would certainly be nice.

It would be nice, however..

"..I'm not sure if I'm what's best for Mikan. I'm still just living off inheritance from my parents right now.. I can barely take care of myself, so I don't think I could afford to give Mikan the care she needs."

Nadeshiko brings her palm to her cheek and tilts her head in thought. She spends a few moments like this.. before glancing over to the blue-haired doggy girl.

"You know, even with Kotarou to help, there are days we're overwhelmed here. We could use an extra pair hands or two. If you and Mikan are willing to help around the shop, I could provide you with a salary and a discount on any supplies you may need."

I'm a bit shocked at the offer. This girl hardly knows me, and yet.. she's willing to offer me a job and everything else just like that?

"Are.. are you sure that's okay?"

Nadeshiko gives me a smile. "Of-course. I think Mikan senses in you the same thing Kotarou and I do. You are a really kind-hearted person Risa. I think you would be a perfect fit here."

"..Thank you, I think you overestimate me, but.. if you'll have me, I'll happily accept your offer."

Nadeshiko claps her hands together and smiles. Even Kotarou looks happy.

"Wonderful! I'll let Kotarou show you around and help you get everything you need."

With that, the blue-haired doggy girl and I make our way through the store. I gather some vitamin supplements, which Kotarou says should help speed her recovery along. A few pairs of doggy clothes and undergarments (including some special "night-time" undergarments), as well as a simple red collar and leash.

I carry everything up to the counter and watch as Nadeshiko rings everything up. Even though she says I won't have to pay for the items now, I can still see how much everything ends up costing..

..67,000 Yen, or roughly $595.

Ouch. That would have been almost a full months rent.

Kotarou helps bag all the items as they're rung up, and the only thing left on the counter is Mikan's collar.

"If you're going to be taking care of Mikan, we must get you registered as her caretaker. You won't officially become her owner until the mandatory 30 days pass for someone to claim her, but this way if she ever ends up getting lost, all of your contact information will stay with her."

Nadeshiko hands me a form titled Anthropoid Adoption and Registration. It covers all of my contact information.. name, address, phone number.. and the pets name, any medical history, allergies and so on.

I've learned little more than Mikan's name for the time being, so I have to leave the rest of the form blank.

Once I hand everything over to Nadeshiko, she transfers all the information over to her computer, and then appears to run the collar through a device behind the counter.

"All right, Mikan's all registered now!"

Nadeshiko hands the collar over. "Make sure she always wears this whenever you're out in public. This is extremely important, so don't forget!"

She looks quite serious about this. "Not only is it the law and you could be fined if she's caught without it, but this collar has your registration ID and all your contact information embedded on it."

I never realized the collars were such a big deal, but I guess it makes sense. Anthropoids are mostly self-sufficient, but many aren't capable of functioning entirely on their own without training. Basic things like adhering to traffic laws, street lights and so on can be a bit difficult for them. So the law requires they be accompanied at all times for their own protection.

"There's now a debate on passing a law that lets owners opt to have these chips surgically embedded in them instead, but.. even if it passes, the procedure to do this will be expensive, so I'd recommend getting used to using the collar now."

Nadeshiko goes through some other basic pet laws to recognize. Once that's done, she hands me a business card with all the shops contact information on it.

"For now, I want you to focus on taking care of Mikan and making sure she is recovering well. If she is feeling up to it, please bring her by the shop sometime tomorrow so that Kotarou and I can give her a check-up."

I slide the business card into my jacket pocket. "I will. Thank you again for everything."

Nadeshiko and Kotarou see me off as I make my way back home.

I swing by the grocery store again on my way back, taking the time to shop properly tonight. By the time I get back, it's past noon and Mikan has curled up on the couch and fallen asleep again.

I tip-toe my way over to her. She still looks like she's doing well. I rest my palm on her forehead, and it doesn't seem like she's running a fever anymore. Still, I decide to let her sleep for a bit longer as I work on fixing the two of us something to eat.

As I rummage through the pile of groceries, I settle on some canned chicken soup. It's a cliche remedy, but a warm bowl of soup has always helped me get through these things, so it seems as good a choice as any.

"Hmm, hmm..", I hum a bit to myself as I warm the soup up, peering over at Mikan now and then to make sure she's still asleep. Once the foods done, I measure out some vitamin supplements Nadeshiko provided me with and mix it into Mikan's bowl.

"Hey.. hey, Mikan?", I nudge the doggy girl with my elbow as I set the tray of food in front of us, watching as she sleepily stirs from her slumber.

"..Mmh..?"

I grab a nearby napkin and wipe some drool from her mouth as she wakes. "It's time to get up, sleepy butt. I made us some soup, and once you're done eating, I have a few things to show you!"

Mikan sticks her nose in the air and gives a few sniffs as she struggles to keep her eyes open. Once she recognizes the scent as food, however, it doesn't take long before she's up and awake.

I give the doggy girl a smile and light pat on the head. "Sleep well? Judging by the way your nose is working overtime there, I guess I made a good choice on the soup."

I hand Mikan a spoon and pull the table closer to us.

"Itadakimasu! Dig in whenever you'd like, Mikan!"

Mikan's tail wags a bit as she leans in and gives the bowl a few more sniffs. "..I-Itadakimasu."

I watch and wait to see what Mikan thinks of the food for a moment, but she seems hesitant to eat it. Did I not cook it properly?

I slurp down a spoonful of my own bowl to see, and..

"..! H-Hot!"

Owch! Right. Stupid. I forgot to let it cool.

Mikan looks at me in surprise and concern.

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"R-Risa, y-you need to let it cool off first!"

..Even the dog knows this, apparently. I blush and scratch the back of my head. "Ehehe, whoops."

While we wait for the food to cool, I turn on the TV and flip to a random slice-of-life anime. Once the soup is at a safe temperature, Mikan wastes no time digging in.

Still, for as hungry as she must be, she takes the time to eat with proper manners and only makes.. a slight mess, and when it's not scalding my tongue, the soup is actually surprisingly good.

A few minutes pass as we both heartily work down most of our dinner. Finally, I decide to ask. "So.. Mikan."

I realize I can't avoid this question forever. I figure I may as well just ask and get it over with. If she's not ready to talk about it yet, I won't push, but.. I at least need to try. I can't just come in and claim her as my own without being sure.

"..I'm sorry if this is sudden, but I have to ask. What were you doing in that alleyway last night? Did you get lost?"

Mikan's ears droop almost immediately in response to the question. She sets her spoon into the bowl for a moment as she looks to contemplate how to answer.

She probably anticipated this question coming, but.. it doesn't seem as if she wants to answer.

"I understand it must be painful to talk about, but I hope you know you can trust me Mikan. I'm not going to abandon you. I'm happy to have you here and take care of you myself, but.. I need you to tell me what happened first."

I can tell this question is bringing up painful memories for her. It makes my heart ache seeing this, because no matter what the answer, I'm fairly positive this isn't a case of her only getting lost now.

"Mikan.. ..Mikan was told to wait there. Master left Mikan there, but never came back."

"..How long were you out there waiting, Mikan?"

"Uhm.. Mikan doesn't remember.. it was a long time though. But Mikan wanted to be a good girl and wait like she was told to. No matter how long it took."

..How awful. It sounds like she really was abandoned. I think deep down even she knows this.

I scoot closer to the doggy girl and wrap an arm around her. Her ears perk up as I tenderly pull her into a hug.

"Well, no matter what happened, I want you to know you don't have to worry anymore Mikan. I will make sure you're taken care of. It's a bit small here.. and it won't be easy, but.. if you're okay with that, I'd even love for you to make this your home."

Mikan casts her gaze from side to side, contemplating how to answer. "..Uhm.. Risa saved Mikan, and she's really.. really greatful for that. Risa is very kind.. she gave Mikan a place to stay and helped take care of her.. but.. Mikan doesn't want to be a burden to anyone anymore."

My hand drifts up to the doggy girls cheek, and I give her a playful pinch.

"O-Ow!", Mikan's ears and tail tense up as she tries to swat my hand away. I giggle a bit at the sight before leaning in and nuzzling against her other cheek.

"You're not a burden, Mikan. The thought of having someone around to talk and play with truly makes me thrilled! So don't say things like that. You're more than welcome here, and you'll never, ever be a burden to me, and if you ever say that again I'll pinch your cheeks right off."

Mikan blushes, and as much as she resists, she can't help but burst into a few giggles herself as she tries to wrestle free.

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"O-Okay! You win, Risa."

I give her a smile as I lean back, ruffling her hair a bit, and we finish our meal.

It looks like today officially marks the day of our new life together.



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Ah, this story is going to be full of warm fuzzy feelings, and not just lewds!

It's better for it, I think.

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