Simon stuck close to his four when they got to the pet store. Familiars was a large store-three stories tall-and between that and all his "cousins" jostling about, Simon was overwhelmed. He slipped his left hand into one of Wilson's hands and his right hand into one of House's. Wilson squeezed his hand gently. House reached over and ruffled his hair.
When they pushed open the door to the pet store, Simon expected to be met with a cacophony of animal noises. Instead, there was a peaceful sort of quiet, disturbed only by the rest of Simon's large extended family. Teddy took off almost immediately for the back. With a final squeeze of Simon's hand, House took off after her.
Wilson led Simon and Hermione towards the bird cages in the back. Hermione had said she probably wanted an owl, and Simon of course stuck to Wilson like Velcro.
Wilson let go of Simon's hand when they were in the corner with the bird cages. Some of the birds were very little, and some were very big. Simon's eyes landed on a blue and gold macaw which was out of its cage and on a perch on top of it instead. He was struck by the length of its tail feathers. He kept a wary distance from it, but watched it as it bobbed back and forth along its perch.
Nearby, Wilson was showing an owl to Hermione. He said, "You have to be careful with bird etiquette. Birds can be dangerous-those beaks are quite sharp. The trick is to let the bird come to you."
Hermione swallowed apprehensively and nodded.
"You're better off waiting to raise your hand to the bird than you are going in too early and having to yank your hand away," Wilson continued. "Birds are smart, and magical birds are even smarter. They'll remember that you didn't trust them, and it will be hard for your to build that trust again."
Simon had made eye contact with the macaw. He cocked his head to the side; the macaw took two steps down the perch, closer to Simon.
Wilson and Hermione were near a barn owl. Wilson tilted his head towards the owl; the owl took the opportunity to groom Wilson's hair. Hermione let out a startled giggle.
"You're very nice, aren't you?" Wilson pulled his head back and reached forward with a hand. The barn owl took two steps back, glaring at Wilson. Wilson nodded and let his hand go back to his side. To Hermione he said, "It's a big deal, a bird stepping into your hand for the first time. It takes mutual trust-the bird is trusting its entire body weight to you, and you're trusting that the bird isn't going to bite you for offering yourself. It's a bond that doesn't happen overnight."
Hermione looked a bit pale. She said, "Dad? Maybe a bird isn't the right pet for me."
Wilson smiled and gripped her shoulder. "I'm sure you'll find yourself the perfect pet, Hermione. Whatever that may be."
"I think I might go look at cats," Hermione said. "Cats are pretty easy."
"All right." Wilson watched Hermione take off, and then he turned to Simon. Simon was standing somewhat in the middle of the room. His eyes were fixed on a macaw, but he was standing a respectful distance from it, and Wilson didn't worry that Simon was about to reach out and grab it like some little kids might. Simon had always been good about keeping his distance from things. Wilson said, "Bud, are you all right if I leave you alone? I want to go check and make sure Teddy's not getting into trouble."
Simon nodded mutely.
"Okay. Be safe."
Simon barely noticed Wilson leave. The macaw had stepped all the way to the end of the pedestal, near where Simon was. Simon took a step closer, then two. The macaw twisted its head around, towards Simon, it's eye staring at Simon with interest. Simon tilted his head forward as he'd seen Wilson do. Almost immediately he felt a beak in his hair. It took a strand of Simon's hair into its mouth and pulled, and then another and another. Simon let out a soft giggle and pulled back to look at the macaw.
"You're real pretty," Simon whispered, a secret just between him and the macaw.
The macaw turned its head to the side and stared at him.
Simon lifted his left hand cautiously. He expected the macaw to pull back, as the owl had pulled back from his father. Instead, the macaw leaned forward. It opened its mouth, and its black tongue reached out and caressed Simon's forefinger. He smiled. The macaw closed its beak gently around Simon's finger and pulled. Simon took a step closer, so that he was all but cuddling with the bird cage. The macaw guided Simon's hand down, towards its feet.
Simon's eyes widened in surprise. The macaw lifted its left foot and set it gently on Simon's hand, seeming to test its weight, and then stepped off again. It stared at Simon imploringly, put the foot back, took it off again.
Simon understood. He lifted his forearm for the bird, knowing that the larger bone would by much stronger. The macaw set one foot on his arm, and then the next. The talons gripped Simon's sweatshirt. Simon lowered the arm slowly until he was face-to-beak with the macaw.
"You're real pretty," Simon said again. "I'm sorry, I don't know if you're a boy or a girl. I'm not sure how to tell."
The macaw clucked it's beak, and then it said in a soft voice, "I'm a girl."
Simon blinked. He'd seen birds talk on TV, of course-polly wanna cracker-but this was something else. Simon swallowed, and then, in case she didn't know, he said, "I'm a boy. My name's Simon."
She leaned forward and began grooming him again.
"Oh my God!" a sales woman rushed over. She took the macaw away from Simon and put her back on the perch. Looking at Simon, she said, "I'm sorry. We don't let people pick up the birds. They're very dangerous, you know. Where are your parents?"
Simon shoved his hands into his pockets and looked down at his feet. He didn't think he had picked up the bird. She'd brought his hand down to her talons, and she'd climbed onto him.
The sales lady tutted at him a moment more, reminded him not to pet the bird, and walked off.
"I'm sorry," Simon said to the macaw when the sales lady was gone. "I didn't know I'd get in trouble."
The macaw twisted her head around. She leaned forward to groom his head.
"Better not," Simon said. "I don't want her to put you in the cage."
The macaw extended her black tongue towards Simon again.
"Maybe my dads can help," Simon said. "They said I could pick a pet. You wouldn't mind being called a pet if it got you out of this store, would you?"
The macaw squawked once.
"I gotta ask," Simon said. "You stay here."
The macaw leaned down and grabbed one of the toys on its perch.
"Great." Simon raced away from the macaw. He scanned the first floor, and not seeing either of his dads there, he continued up the stairs. House was on the second floor playing with a puppy. Simon jogged towards him and grabbed his hand.
House laughed. "Hey, Shorty."
Simon tugged on House's hand.
"Woah, woah, hold on a second." House used his cane to boost himself to his feet. He nodded at the puppy and said, "Sorry, mate. Duty calls."
Simon rolled his eyes. He continued to tug on House's hand.
"Do you have to go to the bathroom?" House allowed himself to be guided towards the stairs.
Simon shook his head. He all but dragged House down the stairs and towards the bird displays.
"You want a parakeet or something?" House asked.
Simon led House to the macaw. He pointed one finger firmly in her direction.
"Woah." House blinked. "I dunno, bud. That's a pretty big bird. See what she did to that piece of cardboard there?"
"Hi, Simon," the bird said.
Simon grinned at House. Surely that was all the proof he needed.
House gripped Simon's shoulder gently. "It's just a party trick, bud. I'm sure they teach all the parrots to do that."
Simon rolled his eyes. Taking the bull by the horn, he lifted his forearm towards the macaw again.
"Woah!" House reached forward to stop Simon.
The macaw stepped unhesitatingly onto Simon's arm. She groomed his hair for a moment and then rest her beak against his nose.
"Hi," Simon whispered to her. "That's my Papa. Some people call him House, and some people call him Greg, but he's my Papa."
House stared in amazement. He'd never heard Simon speak so much in one go before.
The macaw licked Simon's nose affectionately. "Hi, Simon."
"Woah!" A sales lady bustled over. She glared at Simon. "I already told you, you are not to pick this animal up."
"Woah yourself." House stepped closer to her. "That's my son you're talking to. And we're buying the macaw, so I'm pretty sure he's allowed to hold it."
The sales lady looked at House.
Simon whispered to the macaw, "We're gonna take you home. Papa said so. And then you won't have to deal with people poking you all day. You'll just have to deal with my parents, and my sisters, and their pets. They're not so bad, though. I think you'll like it at our house."
The macaw nipped Simon's ear gently.
"Do you have a name?" Simon asked.
"No," the macaw said.
The sales lady said, "Macaws just parrot words they hear. They don't really understand what they're saying. Her name's Pauline."
"No," the macaw said.
"See." The sales lady gestured to her. "She just says the same words all the time."
The macaw said, "Hate Pauline."
House laughed. "She seems pretty adamant."
Simon leaned towards the macaw. "What about Sophie? Do you like the name Sophie?"
"Okay." Simon scratched behind the macaw's head. "I'll call you Sophie, then."