Cheese Toasties!

He gives an excited whuff and wags his tail really hard, enough that I can hear a fairly loud smacking noise each time, while Chelsea makes aggravated faces. Cheese Toasties pulls forward slightly, glances up, and then inches backwards until he’s parallel with Chelsea’s shoe again. He looks forlornly at me, then resolutely sits down, turning away from me.

“You will refrain from any indications of affection,” she tells me.

I nod, looking at his training vest and definitely not having to fight myself not to pat him on his nose, which is still determinedly pointed away from me.

“Good boy,” she says. To Cheese Toasties, not me. I’m not the one who needs reinforcement not to go against the training regimen. Because I am a professional and know better than to pet a dog in a service vest. Although, I do still have some maple sugar candies. You know. If I needed them.

“What brings you to my office?” I ask.

Chelsea pulls up a chair, letting the puppy lie down next to it. “This sweetie needed a little break. Too much stimulus for too long, I think.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “today was maybe not the best day to have brought him in.”

Chelsea grins, shaking her head, and makes a ‘stay’ hand gesture as she gets up to grab a cup of coffee. “Very best day, really. He’s mostly used to humans, by now, but sometimes he gets worked up around other dogs. We’re trying to get him to relax around them.”

“Well, as long as you have a plan,” I say, but Cheese Toasties looks perfectly content to lie by the chair and wait for whatever happens next.

“Where’s your sugar, Travis?” she asks.

Shit. That’s what I forgot. I walk over to the cabinet, trying to remember whether I stocked the sugar in the lower or upper cabinet.

No wait, I put it in the fridge. I grab the sugar shaker off the drying rack, make sure there’s no water in it, and put it right side up on the counter. It doesn’t take very long to fill the shaker. It does take very long to figure out where the ring that’s supposed to fit into the cap went (also the fridge, but this time by accident) and actually manage to get it stuck back into the cap, which then doesn’t want to go on properly. I get it to Chelsea in due time, though, and it would’ve worked perfectly well if she hadn’t stolen my maple sugar candies to use instead, how dare she.

I put the sugar shaker back by the coffee pod tree, where it’s supposed to go.

“Wow, you’re right, it does give a nice mapley kick to the coffee,” she says.

I sigh. “Now you try it. You couldn’t have picked a time I wasn’t running low?”

“I’ve actually been convinced you were trying to prank me, up until now,” Chelsea tells me, heading back to her seat. “I didn’t think there would actually be any available.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Prank? No, absolutely not, that would be a disgrace to both coffee and maple sugar candies. There are things we don’t joke about, Chelse.”

“Do you run the animated series?” she asks me.

“I,” I say, “what?”

“The animated series,” she says, “the one with the characters based on your students, come on, you have to watch it.”

“Uh,” I say. Come on, Fox, tell her something other than Perry doesn’t ship underage RPS.

“Have you ever watched it?” she asks me.

I shrug. “I think I saw that special they did, where Arsenal saved a cat or something.”

“Gods above,” she says, dropping her face into her hands. “Okay, I get that it’s terrible, but it’s the main recruitment strategy, and you’ve got to support local cable, right?”

I shake my head at her. “You say that like I want recruitment. Also? Those shows are a terrible recruitment strategy. They’re full of lies.”

“They’re full of harmless adventure stories for children.” Oh, she’s laughing at me now.

“It gets the kids’ hopes up. There’s not a single student who doesn’t complain about the lack of adventure for their entire first year.” Oh, actually, except FiendPuncher. Well, she’s the kind to actually read the informational packets, I guess.

“I bet it makes her feel better that she’s doing so well on the show, though,” Chelsea says.

Wait, what? Was I talking out loud, or –

“FiendPuncher? She’s a fan favorite right now?” Chelsea clarifies, “that was who you were saying is complaining about the lack of adventures, right?”

“It’s the tiny little bows, isn’t it,” I say, at last.

“I mean, it’s been long enough since someone wore that,” Chelsea says, “they had to do a whole new mold for her hairstyle. It looks great, though.”

“Ah,” I say.

“You have absolutely nothing to do with the animated series, Travis, do you?” she asks.

I shake my head.

She laughs. “Well, that’s some help, I guess.”

“What do you need it for?” I ask.

She waves her hand vaguely. “So, one of the organizations I volunteer with wants a special done about service animals, and the thought is since I know you –”

“Me, me, or Teke?” I ask.

“It doesn’t actually matter,” she says, “I’m the only one who knows anyone at the agency. I just thought you might know something about it, or at least who to ask.”

“Honestly,” I say, “you’re probably better off heading over to one of the UC’s and asking if any of the animation students work on it.”

“Ooh,” she says, “I actually was going to head over later. That’s not a bad idea.”

“I can ask around on the production end,” I tell her, “but I don’t think I know the right people.”

She drops her head against the chair. “How hard can this actually be to figure out? Everything but the holiday special has tiny viewer numbers, it’s not like they need security or anything.”

“Probably be easier if they had security,” I muse, “we could just follow home whichever local channel people had, you know, armed guards.”

“Travis, if I had the time to follow them around and study their lives, I’d just wait to see which one had Top Dog fly through their window in the early evening,” she tells me.

“You can probably ask him,” I say, “I think he’s around right now.”

She frowns and shakes her head. “With my luck, he’s not involved either.”

“Is it actually any good?” I ask her, “really?”

“Oh,” she says, “no, it’s awful, but in a really fun way. They still tell you what they learned at the end of every episode and everything. Here, let me show you this one, it’s really cute.”

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