“Someone adopted him,” he muttered.
“I’m sorry. What’s that?”
“Some lady, she adopted the pig. She came in about half an hour ago and forked over two hundred dollars. How was I supposed to know he wasn’t for sale—I mean, adoption?”
“Because of the note, you idiot!”
“I didn’t get the note!”
We realized the irony of his protest at the same time. We stared at each other.
“I’m not lying,” he said.
There was no point pushing the issue. This was bad, bad, bad, and I had to figure out how to fix it, not get all over Nathan for something that was too late to change.
“Okay, um, do you still have the invoice?” I said. “Show me the invoice.” I held out my hand and wiggled my fingers.
Nathan jabbed the cash register, and the bottom drawer sprung open. He drew out a wrinkled piece of pale pink paper.
I grabbed it. “‘One teacup piglet, certified and licensed,’” I read aloud. “‘Two hundred dollars.’” I flipped it over, zeroing in on the neatly penned message at the bottom. “‘Paid in full. To be picked up by Tegan Shepherd.’”
“Damn,” Nathan said.
I flipped it over again, looking for the name of who rebought Tegan’s pig.
“Bob gets in new animals all the time,” Nathan said defensively. “They show up and I, you know, adopt them out. Because it’s a pet store.”
“Nathan, I need you to tell me who you sold him to,” I told him.
“I can’t. That’s private information.”
“Yes, but it’s Tegan’s pig.”
“Um, we’ll give her a refund, I guess.”
Technically, it was Dorrie and I who should get the refund, but I didn’t mention that. I didn’t care about the refund.
“Just tell me who you sold him to, and I’ll go explain the situation.”
He shifted, looking incredibly uncomfortable.
“You do have the person’s name, right? Who bought him?”
“No,” he said. His eyes darted to the open drawer of the cash register, where I saw the tail end of a white credit-card slip.
“Even if I did know, there’s nothing I could do,” he continued. “I can’t reveal the details of customer transactions. But I don’t know the lady’s name anyway, so, um . . . yeah.”
“It’s okay. I understand. And . . . I do believe you about not seeing the note.”
“You do?” he said. His expression was bewildered.
“I do,” I said truthfully. I turned to leave, and as I did, I hooked the toe of my boot under the Doggie de Lite display rack and tugged. The rack toppled, and cellophane bags tumbled to the floor, bursting open and spilling dog treats everywhere.
“Oh, no!” I cried.
“Aw, crap,” Nathan said. He came around from behind the counter, knelt, and started piling up the bags that were still intact.
“I am so sorry,” I said. As he fished for a stray dog cookie, I leaned over the counter and plucked the white receipt. I shoved it into my pocket. “You must hate me even more now, huh?”
He paused, straightening up and propping one hand on his knee. He did a weird thing with his lips, as if he were going through some sort of struggle.
“I don’t hate you,” he said at last.
“I just don’t think you realize, sometimes, how you affect people. And I’m not just talking about me.”
“Then . . . who are you talking about?” I was very aware of the receipt in my pocket, but I couldn’t walk away from a comment like that.
“No way. Tell me.”
He sighed. “I don’t want this to go to your head, but you’re not always annoying.”
Gee, thanks, I wanted to say. But I held my tongue.
“You’ve got this . . . light about you,” he said, turning red. “You make people feel special, like maybe there’s a light in them, too. But then if you never call them, or if you, you know, kiss some ass**le behind their back . . . ”
My vision blurred, and not just because Nathan was suddenly saying things that instead of being rude were dangerously close to sweet. I stared at the floor.
“It’s just cruel, Addie. It’s really cold.” He gestured at a bag of Doggy de Lites by my boot. “Pass me that, will you?”
I bent down and picked it up.
“I don’t mean to be cold,” I said awkwardly. I handed him the Doggy de Lites. “And I’m not trying to make excuses.” I swallowed, surprised by how much I needed to say this to someone who was Jeb’s friend and not mine. “But sometimes I need someone to shine a little light on me, too.”
The muscles of Nathan’s face didn’t move. He let my comment hover between us, just long enough for regret to start pressing in.
Then he grunted. “Jeb’s not exactly the most demonstrative guy,” he acknowledged.
“But get a grip. When it comes to you, he’s totally whupped.”
“Was whupped,” I said. “Not anymore.” I felt a tear, and then another, make its way down my cheek, and I felt like a fool. “Yeah. I’m going now.”
“Hey, Addie,” Nathan said.
“If we get another teacup pig, I’ll call you.”
I looked past his acne and his Star Trek shirt and saw just plain Nathan, who, as it turned out, wasn’t always annoying, either.
“Thanks,” I said.
As soon as I was ten feet away from the pet store, I fished out the pilfered receipt. On the “item” line, Nathan had scrawled, pig. Where the credit-card info was printed, it said, Constance Billingsley.
I swiped away my tears with the back of my hand and took a steadying breath. Then I sent a psychic message to Gabriel: Don’t worry, little guy. I’ll get you to Tegan, where you belong.
First, I called Christina.
“Where are you?” she said. “Your break ended five minutes ago.”
“About that,” I said. “I’m having a bit of an emergency, and before you ask, no, this is not an Addie moment. This particular emergency is about Tegan. I have to do something for her.”
“What do you have to do?”
“Uh, something important. Something life-or-death, although don’t worry, no one’s actually going to die.” I paused. “Except me, if I don’t get it done.”