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Enter Kouga

Chapter 22

Chapter 22:  Enter Kouga

 

     Kagome slowed her steps, forcing other shoppers to eddy around her. She peered into the brightly lit interior of the store, staring hungrily at the rows and rows of shoes.

 

     "Half-price shoe sale," she breathed, a pair of black stiletto heels catching her eye. An insistent tugging snapped her out of her reverie. She looked down at the small boy who was holding her hand. He bounced impatiently and tightened his grip on her fingers.

 

     "Let's go, 'Gome! You promised to take me to the pet store. I want to see the puppies!"

 

     "I'm coming!" Kagome laughed at Shiro's eagerness. It was one of those rare days that happened sometimes in the middle of winter. A dazzling clear blue sky arched overhead. Sunlight reflected off windows and drifts of half-forgotten snow. A perfect day to be out and about. In Kagome's mind, it was shopping weather. Unfortunately, it seemed that two- thirds of the city had the same idea. The mall was practically packed.

 

     Shiro and Kagome wove their way down the mall. Almost every store sported bright banners, advertising mid-winter madness sales. Shrill squawking and barking marked the location of the pet store.  A large sign at the entrance proclaimed their contribution to the selling frenzy.

 

     "Buy one item and get a free gerbil." Kagome shuddered. Why would anyone want a gerbil? They looked like overgrown mice. There must have been a gerbil population explosion.

 

     Shiro continued pulling Kagome until they were standing in front of the puppy cages. The entire wall was sectioned into little boxes with the side facing the potential buyers made out of a clear glass. Kagome couldn't decide who was noisier--the puppies or the kids shrieking with delight over the cute little balls of fur.

 

     Two energetic Pug puppies tumbled over one another, completely oblivious to their audience. Kagome cooed over the adorable wrinkled faces and curly tails. Shiro, fed up with being too small to see properly, wandered away to peer into other cages. He tapped on the side of the cage containing a huge tarantula. The spider ignored the child and continued to impersonate a hairy rock. The bunnies, the goldfish, and the hamsters also ignored his attempts to get their attention.

 

     In the back corner of the store lived the reptiles. An iguana stared fearlessly from behind the door of its prison. Small, brightly- colored lizards scampered over the twigs and rocks in their enclosure. Shiro reached the very last cage and noticed that the lid was slightly ajar. Experimentally, he pushed and it slid open further. He looked around for Kagome and saw her still standing in front of the puppy cages. Eager to show her what he had found, he reached inside the open cage and grabbed one of its occupants.

 

     "'Gome! 'Gome!" Kagome blinked, coming out of her puppy-induced trance. That sounded like Shiro. She looked down, expecting to see him. He was gone! Before she could really start panicking, she saw his small form pushing towards her through the crowd.

 

     "You shouldn't wander off like that, Shiro!" Kagome scolded. "You could get lost or kidnapped." She reached down to take his hand.

 

     "Look what I found, 'Gome!" Shiro proudly held up his prize. Kagome found herself looking at a scaly head and two black eyes. Its flexible body probably measured no more than a foot, but somehow when it was so close, it looked much bigger. The annoyed reptile stuck its tongue out at her. All color drained from Kagome's face. Her mouth worked, but no sound emerged. Shiro stepped closer and lifted the reptile higher. Abruptly, Kagome found her voice.

 

     "Snake!" she screamed. Startled, Shiro dropped the snake. It landed on the floor, curling into a protective coil. The store got deathly quiet; even the puppies ceased their yapping. The poor snake lifted its head slightly and flicked its tongue out, tasting the air.

 

     A stampede wasn't what happened. It was more like chaos. Children and adults converged on the frightened reptile. It uncoiled and darted between the legs of a middle-aged woman. She promptly fainted. Her husband looked around wildly for the escaping snake, unaware of his wife crumpling to the floor. Mothers screamed and grabbed their babies and toddlers off the floor. Most of them struggled to be put down, so that they could join in the fun game of chasing the snake.

 

     Kagome took Shiro by the hand and escaped before anyone could remember who started it all. Startled shoppers glanced around, trying to spot the source of the riot. She kept Shiro moving until the turmoil had faded behind them. Only then did she breathe a sigh of relief.

 

     "Where did you find the snake, Shiro?" Kagome asked out of a morbid sense of curiosity.

 

     "In a cage," Shiro replied helpfully. "The lid was loose."

 

     "Why did you pick him up?"

 

     "I wanted to show him to you." He shifted restlessly. "I like snakes."

 

     Kagome shuddered. "Disgusting, slimy creatures. Just like big worms."

 

     "He wasn't slimy." Shiro loyally defended the snake. He bounced a little, looking over his shoulder at the nearest stores. "And I like worms, too."

 

     Kagome made a grimace of distaste. "Well, try to keep them away from me." She looked curiously at the restless boy. "What's wrong, Shiro?"

 

     Shiro crossed one leg over the other. "I gots to go potty!"

 

     Most of the public bathrooms, Kagome remembered from her quick survey of the mall map, were at the other end of the huge complex. "Can you hold it?" she asked without much real hope. Shiro shook his head and crossed his legs the other way. Kagome frantically scanned the immediate area, hoping for a miracle. There! J.C. Penney's was sure to have a bathroom.

 

     Kagome took Shiro by the hand and barreled her way through a group of teenagers, not bothering to apologize. From the look on Shiro's face, he was only moments away from having a rather messy accident. Somehow, Kagome found herself standing outside the bathrooms without remembering how she got there. She placed one hand on the door and prepared to push it open when she encountered unexpected resistance.

 

     "I can't go in there!" Shiro protested, digging his heels into the floor. "I'm not a girl!" He pointed to the other door. "Daddy always takes me into the one with that picture."

 

     "That's the boy's bathroom, Shiro." Kagome decided to try reasoning. "Big girls aren't allowed in there, but small boys can use the girl's bathroom."

 

     "No!" Why did Shiro have to pick now to be stubborn? "I'm a big boy! Only babies use the girl's bathroom!"

 

     Kagome released Shiro's hand to run her fingers through her hair in a calming motion. "You're a big boy, Shiro. Can you go by yourself?" The child shook his head and grabbed her leg like he was afraid she was going to make him.

 

     "Can I help you, miss?" Kagome looked around into the blue eyes of a young sales associate. His long black hair was pulled back into a tail that on anyone else would have looked tacky. Defying store dress code, he wore his white shirt with the first three buttons undone. A tantalizing glimpse of sculpted masculine chest was revealed. Black pants molded themselves to his slim muscular legs. His vibrant eyes warmed and his smile turned cocky at the approving look in her gaze.

 

     "'Gome!" Shiro jiggled against her leg urgently. Kagome pulled her attention away from the young man's captivating stare.

 

     "Won't you please use the girl's bathroom?" Kagome pleaded desperately. Focused on Shiro, she missed the understanding look on the face of the sales associate.

 

     He cleared his throat. When Kagome looked at him, he smiled. "I think I can help you. Why don't I take your son to the bathroom? I promise that he will be fine and you can wait right outside the door."

 

     "He's not--" Kagome began, but Shiro, needing release, decided to trust the stranger. He grabbed the young man's hand and just about pulled him through the door.

 

     Kagome nervously paced outside the door. A hundred things that could go wrong flashed through her mind. Before five minutes had gone by, she had worked herself into a frenzy. She was just steeling herself to barge in and rescue Shiro when the door opened. Shiro bounced out with his usual enthusiasm and energy, almost knocking her over as he flung himself at her. The sales associate followed at a more sedate pace.

 

     "Thank you so much, sir," Kagome said, relief evident in her voice.

 

     "No problem." He ruffled Shiro's hair with one hand. "Your son is a charming little monkey."

 

     "He's not--" she began again.

 

     "'Gome's not my mommy," Shiro interrupted. "She's my babysitter." The young man's blue eyes widened slightly. He seized one of Kagome's hands in his own.

 

     "Allow me to introduce myself." He raised her hand and planted a kiss on the knuckles. "I am known as Kouga, charming rogue and salesman extraordinaire." He favored her with a devilish grin and another kiss to the back of her hand.

 

     "My name is Kagome and this is Shiro." She carefully freed her hand from his grip. "I want to thank you again for your help."

 

     "It was my pleasure, beautiful Kagome." Kagome blushed at the compliment. "Would you care to join me for coffee this evening?"

 

     "Uh… no thank you," Kagome declined, still blushing.

 

     "May I treat you to lunch?" Kouga pressed. He continued to walk with them as they made their way back through the store.

 

     "That's very sweet of you, Kouga. But I'm meeting someone for lunch." Kagome paused as a glimpse of red caught her eye. They were just passing through the women's clothing section and hanging on the rack was the most beautiful outfit she had ever seen. It was a red cashmere sweater paired with a short black skirt. Reaching out, she gently brushed her fingers against the soft fabric.

 

     "That is a stunning outfit." Kouga stepped up beside her, looking between her and the clothes. "I can't think of anyone more suited to wearing it than you. You must try it on." Kagome wavered for only a moment before grabbing the clothes and disappearing into one of the changing rooms with a word to Shiro to behave himself and not wander off.

 

     Kouga whistled appreciatively when she emerged. "Absolutely gorgeous! If you’re not careful, you’ll start a riot among all the guys in the mall.  Everyone will want to buy you a coffee. It's like it was made just for you!" Kagome blushed at his outrageous flattery. He made shooing motions at her. "Go change and I'll ring it up for you."

 

     Kouga rang up the skirt and the blouse and the matching black shoes he had talked her into buying. "And for my most beautiful customer, a ten percent discount." He winked at her. His fingers brushed against hers in the process of handing her the bags.

 

     He escorted them to the exit and watched as they disappeared into the swirling crowds.

 

     "What a beautiful woman," he mused to himself. "She’s perfect for me.  I’ll just have to find a way to convince her to be mine."

 

^**^

 

     Inuyasha drummed his fingers impatiently on the table. He scanned the crowd again. Where were they? Kagome was supposed to meet him for lunch ten minutes ago. Did she forget? Did something happen to her or to Shiro? He was reaching for his cell phone to call Makiko when he caught sight of a familiar raven head.

 

     His anxious scowl relaxed into a smile. The cheap plastic chair scraped against the floor as he pushed away from the table just in time to catch the flying body of his son.

 

     "What kept you, angel? I was beginning to worry." Ever since Christmas morning, Inuyasha had insisted on calling her his angel. She would blush and protest, but he had no intention of stopping.

 

     "We had a bathroom emergency." Kagome slid onto the chair across from him with a small sigh, dropping her purchases to the floor. "I'd forgotten how big this mall is. My feet are killing me." She leaned forward to give him a quick kiss. "Did you get your crisis at work taken care of this morning?"

 

     "Yeah." Inuyasha frowned in remembered irritation. "A couple of idiots trying to make something of themselves. Luckily, I got it sorted out in time. They almost cost the company billions."

 

     "Guess what, Daddy?" Shiro scrambled into an empty chair. "'Gome took me to see the puppies! And I got to play with a snake. How come people scream when they see snakes? I like snakes! Can I have one for my birthday? I promise to feed it and play with it and it can sleep with me at night."

 

     Kagome had a horrified look on her face. Inuyasha turned his head to hide his grin. So his angel didn't like snakes. This could be fun.

 

     "I don't know, Shiro?" He crossed his arms over his chest like he was thinking hard. "I'm pretty busy. Someone would have to come in and help you take care of it. How about it, angel? Would you care to add snake sitting to your resume." He grinned at her. A fraction of a second later, she realized that he was teasing her. He ducked the slap aimed at his head, and laughingly called to Shiro to defend him. Shiro slid down and ran over to Kagome. He climbed up into her lap and planted a wet kiss on her cheek. This caused Kagome to quit trying to hit Inuyasha and wrap her arms around the little boy instead.

 

     "Come on, Shiro." She stood up, setting the child on the floor and taking him by the hand. "Let's go order something to eat." They started to walk away. Choking on his laughter, Inuyasha caught up to them and gallantly offered to fetch their meal. Still a little miffed, Kagome agreed and returned to wait at the table.  Shiro chattered excitedly about what he wanted to eat as he tagged after his daddy.  She smiled even as his small voice became swallowed up by the general din.  By the time they placed their order and were making there way back with the fully loaded tray, Kagome had forgiven Inuyasha for his teasing.

 

     Inuyasha leaned back in his chair with a belch. Kagome glared at him for his lack of manners. He just grinned at her before turning to Shiro and trying to clean some of the ketchup off of his face.

 

     "What else did you do today?" he asked Shiro. "Besides look at puppies and frighten Kagome with snakes?"

 

     "I had to go potty real bad and Kagome couldn't find a bathroom." Shiro paused, glancing at his daddy to see his reaction. Inuyasha put on expression of appropriate interest. "We went into a big store with lots of clothes and towels and jewelry and… and lots more. But I forget what. We found the bathroom and I said 'I can't go in there 'cause I'm not a girl’!" And 'Gome wouldn't take me in the other one and I thought I was going to explode. And then the nice man said that he would take me and he did." Shiro paused for breath. Inuyasha was often impressed at how long the child could talk without stopping for air. "And you know what, Daddy? He called 'Gome beautiful and then kissed her!"

 

     "He did WHAT!?" All of a sudden, Shiro's story was a lot less amusing.

 

     "Kouga's a salesman, Inuyasha," Kagome said hastily, trying to stem his jealousy. "They always compliment people and it was just a peck on the back of my hand."

 

     "You turned red when Kouga asked you to coffee," Shiro piped up, remembering. "And bought new clothes! And got a discount! What's a discount?"

 

     "He asked you to coffee!" Inuyasha's voice was deadly quiet. "I hope you refused. You've already got a boyfriend."

 

     Kagome rolled her eyes. "Of course I refused, Inuyasha. So, stop getting jealous."

 

     "I am not jealous," Inuyasha muttered, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling at the table. "I just think it’s rude for a man to flirt with another man’s girl. Maybe I should make it clear to him that you’re already taken.  He can go find his own girl."

 

     Kagome resisted the urge to strangle him. She unclenched her hands and rubbed her right temple where a headache was beginning to form.

 

     "What are you and Miroku doing tonight?" she asked in an abrupt change of subject.

 

     "Huh?" Inuyasha looked up; his expression blank as he tried to think. He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. We might hang out and watch videos. When do you want me to pick up Shiro tomorrow?"

 

     "Probably late. My mom has plans to spoil him. I heard rumors of popcorn balls. We should get going so that I can pick up his overnight bag."

 

     Inuyasha dumped the remains of their meal while Kagome gathered up her packages and took Shiro by the hand. He lengthened his stride to catch up to her and relieved her of what she was carrying so he could hold her other hand. She looked up and smiled, entwining her fingers with his.

 

     "You'll always be my angel," he told her seriously. His eyes softened as her face lit up with that smile that was only for him.

 

^**^

 

Food for thought:

 

Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you.

copyright: The Literary Dragon 2004