Part 3: The Shed

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"Out in the shed?" Hannah exclaimed

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"Out in the shed?" Hannah exclaimed. As if on cue, a torrent of rain crashed down upon the roof of the building, followed by a deep rumble of thunder and a whoosh of wind blowing through the tops of the trees outside. "Ohhh," Hannah moaned.

"Wait here," Aaron said, and walked over to the Supervisor. Hannah couldn't hear their conversation, but she could see that Aaron was getting angry, his arms flailing as he and the Supervisor argued. After a few moments, the Supervisor took a raincoat from a nearby rack and thrust it at Aaron, turning her back on him. The conversation was obviously over. Aaron returned, rubbing one hand on the back of his neck, his face flushed with anger. "I'm sorry," he said softly, putting his other hand on Hannah's shoulder. "They have to go out to the shed. If we don't do it ourselves, she'll have the security officers do it for us. Let me have the kittens; I'll take them out myself. At least then I can check things out and make sure they're as safe as they can be out there."

Hannah felt a moment of panic for the kittens, followed by a wave of gratitude. Aaron didn't even particularly like these kittens (he had never been a cat person), but the protector in him had to make sure they would be safe. Once again, when Hannah had stood frozen in shock, Aaron had stepped up to her defense, fought for both her and the kittens, and now he was offering to go out into the storm – which was getting worse by the minute – to make sure things were done right. It was so like him; he always offered to do the hard stuff. She was grateful, but at the same time, she felt something crystallize within her. She was tired of being weak. She was tired of standing frozen while he fought all her battles. She wanted to be strong, too; she wanted Aaron to feel as though she was his equal; she wanted to feel the satisfaction of having conquered her own problems; she wanted to make him proud. But most of all, she wanted to be the rescuer for once, instead of the one rescued. She wanted to be the one to protect her kittens, to check the shed out herself, and make sure they'd be safe. These thoughts all blurred together in an instant. She reached forward, taking the raincoat from Aaron's hands. "No," she replied. "I'll do it."

Aaron stepped back and his eyes widened slightly, but then he nodded. He might not have understood exactly, but he understood enough to let her do what she needed to.

For an instant, Hannah wondered if there was any way to avoid abandoning the kittens to the shed. She considered stashing the kittens somewhere in the shelter, but the Supervisor was still glaring at her. The Supervisor said she had turned away other animals, so that meant were other animals in the shed... it had to be safe, right? Right? With a knot in the pit of her stomach, she opened the nearest exit and trudged out toward the shed, cradling the backpack to her bosom. The wind and rain were worsening, and she leaned into the gust as she pushed her way across the lawn to the shed.

The shed was old and rusted, with aluminum patches on its still-leaky roof. All sorts of barks and mews and squawks resounded within its metal walls. Hannah removed the unlocked padlock from its loop. The hinges creaked as she eased the door open and stepped inside. She was already soaked with rain, and the drops falling from her raincoat mixed with a large puddle in the middle of the cement floor. Now that Hannah was inside, the roar of rain on the metal roof nearly drowned out the cries of the animals. The shed was fairly large, and had been cleared out except for the rows of various-sized kennels which lined the walls, just out of reach of the roof's splashing leak. Hannah looked around. All in all, there were about a dozen animals – dogs, cats, a few birds, a rabbit, and a couple of hamsters. The animals had all been supplied with food and water, likely placed by their owners. Hannah unzipped the backpack and removed the kittens, setting the pack on the floor. There was no way for her to get the carrier she'd originally brought them in; Aaron had stashed it in the bushes at the front of the shelter, and she was in the back lot now, which was totally fenced in. The only way to get back out front would be to convince an attendant to open the front door of the shelter, and there wasn't time for that – the weather was getting worse by the second. The wind whipped above the shed, and Hannah jumped as some small branches clanged into its side. She looked around again, searching for a safe place for the kittens. This is insane, she thought. How are all these animals supposed to survive the storm in this shabby little shed? She spotted a Rubbermaid box in the corner and pried the lid open. It was empty except for a few packages of some sort. She removed the packages and slid the kittens into the container. Their mews pulled at her, and she nearly grabbed them back up again – she could hide them in her shirt, or slide them inside the raincoat. She reached for them...but then suddenly the thunder crashed loudly, its echo warbling between the walls of the shed, and the urgency of the storm pressed in upon her. She jumped up, grabbing her backpack from the floor, and pulled out the blankets, tucking them in around the kittens. She halted, unsure whether to close the top to the box or leave it open. It was a large container, deep enough that the kittens were unlikely to jump out, and if she closed it, they might suffocate. She decided to leave it open. She set the lid sideways atop the container as a makeshift roof, to protect them from any further leaks. Then, with her heart feeling as worn as the shed's rusty walls, she grabbed her backpack and slipped back out into the rain, closing the door behind her and slipping the lock into the latch to hold it shut.

On her walk back to the main shelter, the wind picked up again, pushing her forward as she walked. The sky was blackening steadily, and the rain was coming in sheets, so that she struggled to see even what was right in front of her. She trudged toward the grey blur that represented the shelter building. Behind her, the rattle of the padlock against the shed door reverberated through the torrent of rain.

Aaron flung the door open for Hannah, ushering her into the warm hallway of the shelter. Hannah was a walking waterfall, with streams of rain running down her raincoat and pouring from her hair. She slid her arms out of the coat, letting it fall to the floor, and sunk down to her knees. Aaron knelt down beside her and put his arms around her. Hannah's heart was breaking for the animals outside. She always tried not to let herself cry, but usually she failed. This time, as she felt the tears start to come, she swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut against them. She allowed Aaron to hold her for a few moments, and she felt a leaden calm settle over her. She stood up, sliding from his embrace. She noticed for the first time that several pairs of eyes were locked upon her. She let her gaze drift across the hallway and the watchers broke their stares, turning their eyes purposefully in different directions.

Aaron stood up in front of Hannah. "Are you alright?" he asked. There was a large wet splotch on his shirt from her soaked hair.

Hannah nodded. "I'm alright," she said, turning toward the door's slim window. Outside the window, the shed was a small whitish blob, walled in by rain. The clouds were gathering over the yard in a dark mass, and the palm trees were bending precariously in the gust. Though the pelting of the rain and the whistling of the wind drowned out the cries of the animals, Hannah still felt them heavily. She could imagine the frightened eyes of a greyhound, pleading to her as her glance swept across the line of kennels; she could see a parrot – a green one, maybe some kind of Amazon – huddled back against the corner of his carrier; she could hear the mews of her kittens.

Aaron reached from behind her, bending one arm around her shoulders. She expected him to try to reassure her, but instead he asked, "How many animals are out there?"

Hannah pressed her hand to the glass. "I don't know," she said. "Ten, maybe twelve?" She shook her head. "Too many."

Aaron took her hand in his. "Even one would've been too many," he said.

Hannah pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes. She wouldn't cry. She would stay composed. She would stay calm. She took a deep breath, sending up a quick prayer: Please, God, keep them safe. There was nothing else she could do for them now. The innocent faces of her kittens drifted across her consciousness and she slid her hands away from her face. She could see the rain beating against the shed mercilessly, and though the warm cocoon of the shelter blocked out most of the sounds from the storm, Hannah knew that the metal shed would only amplify it. The kittens must be terrified, she thought, pressing her hand to the window as if she could touch them , but her hand met only cold glass and she pulled it away, shivering as the fog from her warm skin vanished quickly from the window.

Hannah and Aaron sat silently in the lobby among the others, listening to the sounds of the storm swelling outside. It was no longer any use looking out the window; the rain was coming in sheets and the external world was just a soggy blur. Hannah closed her eyes and tried to relax – there was no hope of sleep for her at a time like this, but at least she could keep herself calm – and smiled slightly as she felt Aaron's head sag against her shoulder. He could sleep through anything. Hannah focused on the rhythm of the rain against the shelter roof, the steady hum of the wind, the low murmur of conversations, the padding of footsteps up and down the hall. She could hear the voices of a small group gathered near the window at the end of the lobby. They were trying to peer out into the storm. Hannah had given up on that hours ago. She let the cadences of their speech blend in with the symphony of the storm.

A sudden shout pierced through her meditation. "The shed! It's caving in!"

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