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Birthday Party at the Prehistory Zoo

Dr. Miriam Loxley felt weird attending the birthday party of an eight-year-old child she'd never met before. She didn't have a lot of experience with children, and so their chaotic running, shouting, squabbling, cheering, tumbling and general antics whirled around her like a force of nature--beyond understanding or control.
Loxley's nerves were already rattled by discovering that her wife, Angie Cartwright, didn't just work with models of dinosaurs and their DNA. She worked with actual dinosaurs, proprietorially brought back to life by The Prehistory Zoo. Furthermore, Cartwright worked with gigantic dogs, designed to function as comfort animals for those nervous dinosaurs, removed from their own time period and turned into safari attractions.
And Cartwright wanted to adopt one of those oversized dogs.
The dog was supposed to be here. But so far, all Loxley had seen was a gaggle of eight-year-olds on a sugar high, crashing around a playground filled with plastic climbing structures designed to look vaguely like dinosaurs. Avant-garde deconstructivist dinosaurs.
A group of adults stood by a picnic table laden with bowls of chips, popcorn, and vegetables optimistically sliced into finger food sizes, all surrounding a towering layer cake, decorated with enough little plastic dinosaurs for every one of the numerous children to get one.
Loxley recognized Cartwright's boss among the group of adults, all of them employees of The Prehistory Zoo.
Cartwright had gone over to say 'hi,' but Loxley hung back, pretending to be very busy with something on her phone. She didn't feel like being social with Cartwright's co-workers right now, let alone talking to the boss who had her wife secretly working with wildly dangerous dinosaurs, hidden behind the obscurity of an NDA.
Loxley was about ready to come to her senses and tell Cartwright that she wanted to go home. If she didn't meet this big dog, then she wouldn't fall in love with it like Cartwright had.
It didn't make sense to get a secret, NDA-covered, giant dog. They already had a perfectly good, normal-sized mutt that they'd adopted from an animal shelter like normal people.
Then Galileo came romping onto the playground. His paws were as big as beach balls. His fur was thick, curly, and sandy brown, and his brush of a tail wagged like a flag above his monster truck-sized body. His tongue flopped out of his mouth like a big pink bath mat, and his eyes were the darkest chocolate brown. Not milk chocolate. No, the high percentage stuff that Loxley ate when she really needed a good strong hit of chocolate. Dark enough to get a chocolate high just staring at them.
Damn, Loxley thought, too late. As soon as you see a dog like that, you're in love.
Of course, every child on the playground felt exactly the same way, including the birthday girl. The boss's daughter.
Loxley watched with a rising sense of discomfort that she stubbornly refused to label "jealousy" as the birthday girl bonded with Galileo. The big dog did a series of tricks--turning around, then the other way, rolling over, and finally dancing on his back feet--before being fitted with a custom saddle. He gave pony rides to all the kids--two at a time; the birthday girl plus one other kid. Over and over again, the birthday girl rode Galileo around the playground, hugging his neck and giggling. He was an extremely well-trained dog.
Loxley sighed. They weren't going to be taking this gigantic dog home to their farm. He was going to end up being an extra birthday present for that little girl. Loxley hoped Cartwright wouldn't be too disappointed. Maybe the two of them could go find another animal shelter mutt to adopt.
It would be easier to get excited about the idea of a new normal-sized dog if she stopped watching this boat-sized ball of joy and love prance around the playground like the most huggable, goofiest pony ever.
So, Loxley made her way over to the side of the playground where Cartwright was snacking on the array of sliced vegetables. The other adults--all parents of the party-going kids--had dispersed, mostly to follow Galileo around, desperately trying to get cute pictures of their kids riding the big dog.
What were they gonna do with those pictures anyway? It's not like they could post them to social media without breaking their NDAs.
"So, what do you think of Galileo?" Cartwright asked, nervousness tinging her voice. She clearly really wanted this dog.
"Honey, I don't..." Loxley didn't know what to say. She didn't want to be the bad guy here--especially when she was genuinely charmed by the big dog--but she also didn't want to set Cartwright up for a worse disappointment when the dog inevitably became unavailable.
"But Moo-oooo-oom!" the birthday girl cried from across the playground, interrupting their sedate adult conversation. "I looo-oooo-ooove him!"
There it was. Loxley looked over to see the eight-year-old wrapped around Galileo's front right paw like an environmental conservationist chained to a tree, staring down Cartwright's boss like the woman was a bulldozer threatening to tear down a patch of beloved forest.
The boss whispered to her daughter, took the girl by hand and managed to dislodge her arms from around the dog's leg.
Boss led birthday girl toward the table where Loxley and Cartwright stood, saying in a cheerful, announcing-to-everyone voice, "It's time for cake and presents!"
All the children came running, and the adults gathered around behind them. Loxley and Cartwright shuffled out of the way, but hung by close enough to participate in singing "Happy Birthday" and each gratefully accepted a plate of chocolate cake.
As everyone ate their cake, the birthday girl opened present after present. The presents were impressive--all kinds of plastic toys and gadgets that Loxley had never seen before--but the girl kept stealing glances at the big dog who'd curled up on the playground behind them.
Galileo snuffled quietly in his sleep, leaned against a metal structure that looked like a cross between a jungle gym and a stegosaurus. Loxley could imagine leaning against his fuzzy side, feeling his breathing rise and fall, and falling asleep just like the little girl in My Neighbor Totoro.
But she shouldn't think thoughts like that. Galileo was very unlikely to become hers.
Then the birthday girl was handed her last present--a box the right size for a dorm room microwave. The box wobbled as she tore at the paper, and when the top popped open, a tiny triceratops poked its pointed face out. The girl's hands flew to her face and her mouth fell open. "Sarah!" she exclaimed, as if she'd known the tiny dinosaur for years, rather than just meeting her. "Oh, thank you! Her name is Sarah, and I'm the happiest little girl who ever was!" She threw her arms around the tiny, confused dinosaur's neck.
Like that, the giant dog was forgotten.
But not by Loxley or Cartwright.
Loxley let her wife lead her by the hand up to the big, sleeping dog. His fur didn't look all that long on him, relative to his size, but when she placed her hand against his sleeping body, the shaggy curls buried her arm up to elbow.
"I hope his fur doesn't need a lot of brushing," Loxley said.
"It doesn't," Cartwright said. "So...?" Her face was tight, the smile stretched thin as she prepared for whatever answer Loxley might give.
"Yes, of course, we can adopt him," Loxley said, already thinking about what kind of dog toys she could devise for a dog this size. Reinforced bouncy castles to serve as squeaky toys? Some of the old tree stumps they'd torn out to serve as sticks? And with that saddle, she could ride him around the farm...
As if he could hear her thoughts, Galileo sighed happily in his sleep, and his tail began to wag.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 14th, 2022
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