The Doll
Michelle Perry
Chapter 1 - Home is Where the Heart Is

Rose eyed the doll with interest. It was an excellent copy. She'd found fault with all the one's she'd seen before. Some were so poorly crafted that they'd been given 70's clothing when their faces and forms were obviously of the 90's. Those, of course, she'd passed over immediately as amateur copies not worthy of her consideration. The poorer, less careful collectors could buy those if they wished. She couldn't be bothered with such cheap imitations. She'd passed over several others with much smaller mistakes. Fraction of an inch too tall or too short. Eyes not the right shade of hazel brown. Nose even slightly altered. None of these mistakes were present in this one.

"Ahhh! I see you've found one of our finest models!" Rose glanced at the salesman without seeming to pay much attention, but in that brief glance she had seen all she needed. Middle aged, self assured and greasy. He was extremely well dressed, as could only be expected in such a shop. But the eagerness on his face belied his classy appearance. He may as well have been wearing a plaid suit with one of those ties that reminded her of the ball room at Chuck E. Cheese to go with the greedy, oily-car-salesman's expression on his face. "This Steve Perry doll is the jewel of our collection," the salesman began. "A perfect copy - seamless and unmarred."

Rose ignored the salesman. She knew she looked like an easy target. First of all, she was a woman. She was also short, round and dark skinned, with a pretty face. He probably thought she was some wealthy businessman's young wife out on a shopping spree and he could convince her to buy the whole store before the morning was over. She was about to prove him wrong. Nothing he said could convince her to buy anything unless she really wanted it.

She brushed her long black bangs out of her face and lightly touched the doll's arm. She smiled, pleased to feel soft skin, although she could detect the titanium hardness beneath. "I see you've noticed its life-like skin. Made from only the finest materials available - a titanium frame and the most sophisticated technology under skin that feels just like yours and mine!" Rose rolled her eyes. He'd practically mimicked the company's commercial logo. She resisted the urge to force him to be a little more original.

The salesman began to expound on the doll's many features and details that were all completely obvious to her. She tuned him out and fingered the doll's shirt. He was wearing the traditional "Evolution" outfit that dolls of this year were usually displayed in. The material was of good quality, though that was no indication as to the quality of the doll itself. Too many retailers tried to mask imperfections in dolls with fancy wrapping. Rose looked into his eyes. They were always the deciding factor for her. They were brown with a hint of green - unseeing, but without the glassy look most had. There was a possibility that if she didn't look too hard, she wouldn't be able to tell the difference between these eyes and a real pair. Perfect.

"...fluid, realistic movements, and incredibly life-like responses, thanks to the surpassing technological..."

"I'll take him."

"Wonderful!" the salesman exclaimed, quickly overcoming his surprise. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you what an excellent choice you've made."

"You're right," she said. "Let's get on with the sale."

"Of course, ma'am. Step right this way. There are just a few papers to sign." Rose was shown to a desk near the main office. "Would you like home delivery, or would you prefer to take it yourself?"

"Delivery," Rose said.

"Very good. Before we start the paperwork, I'd like to record your voice for voiceprint identification. Thanks to our improved programming methods, once your vocal patterns have been imprinted in the doll, they can never be removed. Your doll will always recognize and obey your voice. And that's not all! Now, there's no need to bring family members or friends in for voiceprint programming. Merely command your doll to obey whomever you choose, and it will. If you decide that you no longer want your doll to obey a certain person, all you have to do is reverse the command, and..."

"Yes. Thank you," Rose said impatiently. She didn't bother to tell him that she had read all that information in the brochure - most of it in those exact words.

The salesman smiled wanly, sensing that he might be losing the customer. "Just read this card and try to sound as natural as possible," he said. He handed her a large card, only slightly smaller than a regular sheet of paper. "There's no need to raise your voice or make long pauses." Rose didn't mask her annoyance with being told such obvious information. The salesman caught her expression and set about organizing his desk, looking mildly flustered.

Rose read the lines into the micro recorder, wondering how anyone could be expected to sound natural reading such tripe. When she was finished, she handed the quarter-sized recorder to the salesman.

"Thank you, ma'am. I'll take care of this while you fill out the paperwork. We program voiceprint identification while you wait!"

Rose rolled her eyes at the salesman's retreating back, wondering idly if memorization was a requirement with this job. She set about filling out the small mountain of paperwork that was required for such a purchase. After about 20 minutes of filling out forms, brushing her bangs out of the way countless times, (Gotta do something about these damned things) and signing her name more times than she usually did in a whole month, she was finished. A few moments after that, the salesman returned. Smiling, he took the papers and looked over them carefully.

"Everything seems to be in order," he said brightly, handing her yellow carbon copies of everything. "I see you've opted for the Premium Package. You've made a wise choice. With this package, your doll will be programmed not only with the literature of the period, but the entire Journey library and all of Steve Perry's solo works. You will receive the full stage wardrobe of the period, and an entire collection of casual and formal attire - all crafted from the finest cloth and leather products. You will also receive free maintenance and repair for fifteen years, a lifetime warranty (renewable by any heirs you may have), over $7,000 worth of accessories, including our new and improved control rods with an extended range of 15 feet, a full..."

"Thank you," Rose interrupted sharply, feeling what was left of her waning patience begin to slip away. "I'm well aware of the benefits."

"Of course, ma'am," the salesman said placatingly. "If you'll please follow me, we can complete the sale." Rose followed the man to the cash register. There, she signed her name under a rather indecent sum, eliciting a huge, greedy grin from the salesman. When the transaction was complete, Rose followed him back to the floor, where he gathered several shipping personnel to pack the doll. One of the men bumped into him, nearly knocking him to the floor.

"Hey!" Rose snapped. "Watch what you're doing!"

"Sorry," he mumbled, looking as if he didn't mean it in any way. Then another man carelessly yanked the doll's hair back, roughly tying it into a ponytail.

Rose scowled, letting a guttural grown escape her throat. The salesman heard the sound and felt the need to say something. "I assure you, Miss Matthews, these men are experienced. They know what they're doing."

Rose rounded on the salesman in fury, dark eyes looking directly into his for the first time. "I don't give a rat's ass how experienced you think they are!" she said, loudly enough for the packing people - and, indeed, everyone else in the store - to hear. "I do not like the way they're handling him!" She lowered her voice again, and her heart shaped mouth thinned to a pale line. "Now, you listen to me," she said through clenched teeth. "I just spent an utterly obscene amount of money in this store, so let me assure you of something. If he's damaged in any way - and I mean ANY way - not only will I have all of my money back, but I will have your career as well. Is that quite clear to you?"

"Er... of... of c-course, ma'am," he said, using his real voice, instead of the must-make-a-pitch tone he'd used until then. "Utmost care will be taken. I'll see to it myself."

Rose crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him as if to say, "You'd better." She watched with a small smile as the salesman bustled about making sure that everything was done properly. She followed along while the doll and all his accessories were gently packed into a truck. After the salesman had instructed the driver a minimum of eight times to drive slowly and handle everything with the greatest care, he thanked Rose profusely for her business. "Please come again," he said eagerly.

Not likely, Rose thought, leaving the salesman to gleefully calculate his commission.

Rose combed the doll's hair once again, making sure the dark bangs fell over his face just the right way. When she was satisfied, she stood back and looked him over. She marveled at his thin, deceptively light looking frame, knowing that if she wanted to lift his dead weight, she would have to enlist the help of at least two strong men. She smiled at the sight of his pretty, hazel eyes, large, angular nose and heart-shaped mouth. "Perfect," she whispered. Then, a little louder, she said, "Wake up, Stevie."

The doll came to life, his eyes changing subtly as he focused them on her. He smiled pleasantly. "Good afternoon, mistress. How may I serve you this afternoon?"

Rose merely smiled and patted his chest. "Welcome home."

"Thank you, mistress," he said brightly, smiling even wider. "I am happy to be a part of your home, and I will be pleased to serve you in any way I can."

There was a chuckle from Rose's right side. "Is this guy serious?" The doll looked at the speaker and cocked his head slightly, a look of curiosity on his face. "My GOD," the other man exclaimed, rolling his eyes. "Please tell me I have never made that face." The doll only cocked his head even further. "Stop it!" he cried. "For God's sake, you look like a friggin' lost puppy!"

"I think it's cute," Rose said, grinning.

The man threw his hands up in a frustrated gesture. "I give up!"

Rose giggled. "Stevie, this is Steve - model 1996. Among other things, I bought you to keep him company when I have to go places without him. He's been here for several years, so you can ask him any questions you have. When I'm not home, you defer to him, okay?"

"Yes, mistress," Stevie said. He looked at the other doll with renewed interest, taking in the wider frame, waist-length hair, and the face that was so like his own, but so different at the same time.

"Okay, kid," Steve said. "First things first. That whole 'mistress' thing? It's outdated. Her name's Rose. Rosie, if you're privileged like I am."

Stevie raised his eyebrows and looked at Rose for confirmation. She nodded. "I don't like that title. You're my companions, not my slaves, so you can call me by my first name."

Stevie smiled brightly. "Thank you, Rose."

Steve rolled his eyes again. "I can't believe I was ever this young," he said. "What are you, a '75?"

Stevie folded his arms across his chest indignantly. "Seventy-nine, thank you very much."

"Oooh. Excuse me, oh wise one."

Rose raised her eyes heavenward. "It starts. All right, boys, that's enough. We still haven't shown Stevie the house."

"Okay," Steve said, a slow grin spreading across his face. "Why don't we start by showing him his clothes?"

Rose shot him a look, then turned to Stevie. "Take a look in there," she said, gesturing to the large, mahogany wardrobe behind him. "Tell me which ones you like."

Stevie opened the heavy doors, smiling into the mirror on one side. Then he started sifting the racks, his smile growing wider and wider at each new item. "I like this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and - " He gasped. "Ooooh!" He reached in and pulled out one of the shirts. "I love this one! Can I put it on right now?"

There was a snicker from Steve, which quickly grew to a giggle. Then Stevie gave him that cocked-head puppy dog look and Steve dissolved completely - bent double with unrestrained laughter. Rose sighed, looking at Steve with an expression somewhere between annoyance and amusement. Then she turned to Stevie, who was still brandishing the bright yellow leopard print shirt and looking at Steve as if he'd gone quite insane. She was hard pressed not to laugh herself. "Um... why don't you put it away for now, Stevie? We still have a lot of things to do, okay?"

"Okay," he said, looking mildly disappointed.

While he put the shirt away, Rose turned to Steve. His hands rested on his knees and he was trying hard to catch his breath. "Okay, laughing boy," she said. "Enough already."

Steve stood up straight, sighing. "I'm sorry," he said, trying to force the smug smile from his face.

"The hell you are."

He laughed. "Okay, I'm not sorry. You're just sore because you lost the bet." He grinned evilly and rubbed his hands together. "I, for one, can't wait to cash in."

"Well, you don't have to rub it in."

"Oh, but I do," Steve said. "And I'll be rubbing a lot more than that into you tonight."

Rose turned red. "You dirty old man!"

Steve held his hands out in a helpless gesture, affecting an innocent expression. "I can't help it. It's in my programming."

"Bull." She turned to Stevie, who had been watching the exchange with a bemused expression. "Ignore him, sweetie. Let's get on with the tour!"

The two men followed Rose out of the room, which Rose said belonged to Stevie. They took a tour all around the large, one-story house. Stevie was shown the gigantic, customized kitchen - "Don't touch anything," said Rose - the dining room, the living room, the game room, Steve's room - "Don't touch anything," said Steve - and finally, Rose's bedroom.

"I won't come into your room without knocking, so I expect you to extend me the same courtesy," Rose said. She looked around. "I usually keep it a little neater than this."

"Ha!" Steve said.

Rose shot him a dirty look. "No comments from the peanut gallery." Rose glanced at her unmade bed, and the clutter on her dresser and shrugged. She'd see to it later. Then she noticed that one of the delivery men had left a box on her armchair. "Oh, yeah. I guess I should explain about those things," she said aloud. She put the box on her bed and opened it. Inside was a rectangular black case about two feet long. She opened that as well and pulled out one of the two black rods it contained. It was about 18 inches long, one and a half inches in diameter, and seemed to be made of some form of strong, lightweight plastic. It was adorned only with a small rotary dial and a little black button. She looked at the settings - low, medium and high - with distaste. Then she turned around to face the two Perrys.

Steve flinched, as he always did on the rare occasions when he saw a control rod. Stevie, however, jumped back about three feet. Eyes wide, he continued to back away until he came to the wall. "Have... have I d-displeased you, m-mistre... R-r-rose?"

"Stevie, no! No, no. Relax. I'm not going to use it." Stevie showed no sign whatsoever of relaxing even a little bit. His wide, frightened eyes were fixed unwaveringly on the control rod. Rose sighed. "Hey, Steve. Catch!"

She tossed the rod to Steve, who caught it easily, inspecting it himself. "It's different," he said.

"It's new and improved, with an extended range of up to fifteen feet," she said in a cheerful imitation of the salesman. Steve wrinkled his nose in distaste and handed the offending instrument back to her. Speechless, Stevie looked from Rose to Steve and back again in utter amazement. "I know, I know," Rose said when she saw his face. Then she started to recite. "In the interest of public safety, no artificial intelligence unit shall be allowed to purchase, possess, operate or even touch a control rod except under the supervision of a certified government official, law enforcement officer, blah, blah, blah. Obviously, I don't have much respect for that rule.

"I'm also required to zap you with one when I first wake you up, so you'll know what to expect if you get out of line." Stevie's eyes widened and he shrank further into the wall. "Oh, don't worry. I don't follow that ridiculous rule either. Especially since the fear of these things is obviously part of your basic programming. What's the point?" Rose walked up to Stevie. He still looked nervous. She ran a hand through his hair and gave him a little kiss. "Relax, sweetie. If I have anything to do with it, you will never know what one of these things feels like." She turned and put the rod back into its carrying case. Then she started fishing on her desk and inside drawers for something.

Steve reached under her king-sized bed and pulled out a small trunk. He chuckled. "Looking for this?" he asked, pointing to the small plastic card resting on top of the trunk.

Rose sighed. "No comments from the peanut gallery," she said in response to his smirk. She grabbed the key, stuck it in the slot and put the black case inside, on top of a similar one that had come with Steve. Then she closed and locked the trunk, pointedly putting the key in its proper place. "Come on. Let's go check out the studio." Rose led them out the back door toward a small building in one corner of the back yard. Inside, there was a control room, blocked off from the rest of the room by a wall of soundproof Plexiglas. In the main area, there was a stool, a studio quality microphone, a drum kit, guitar and bass, as well as a large, multi-functioning keyboard.

Stevie looked around in wonder. "This is amazing!"

"Thanks," Steve said. "I designed it myself."

"Wow, really?"

"Really," Steve said, looking pleased.

"Can I... Do you think I could use it some time?" Stevie asked hesitantly.

"Sure," Steve said expansively. "Rose told me you already have a microphone, so why don't we get you set up right now?"

"That would be great!" He blushed slightly and turned to Rose. "If that's okay with you?" he asked timidly.

"Of course, go right ahead," she said smiling.

"Just remember my one studio rule," Steve said, leading the younger doll back toward the house.

"What's that?"

"Break anything and you die."

Stevie adjusted to his home quickly. It was only a few weeks before he stopped cringing at the things Steve said to Rose, and became nearly as comfortable around her as was the older doll. He was at ease with Steve in even less time, exchanging playful banter and smart-ass comments with him in a week as if he'd been living there for years. They got along together best when working in the studio. In fact, Rose was amazed by the amount of hours they spent there. Virtually every spare moment they had, they spent in the studio working on some project. Although Rose was musically inclined and Steve had taught her everything she needed to know about using studio equipment, she'd never ventured to try to assist him with his music before. Beyond giving Steve a listener's opinion, Rose stayed out of the studio unless she was working on something of her own. Now, even if she'd wanted to help, it would have been impossible.

The two men had developed a relationship in the studio that was akin to symbiosis. Often, Rose would watch them working together, marveling at their mutual understanding. Stevie seemed to know exactly what Steve wanted without being told, and vice versa. They moved around the small space with feline grace. Even though their movements looked totally random to her, they never seemed to get in each other's way. They'd even started to communicate in an unspoken language of hand signals and eye contact that was completely indecipherable to Rose. Their movements were so swift and subtle that sometimes Rose wouldn't even know anything had happened between them until after the fact. As a result, their hours in the studio were eerily silent, except for the music they were producing.

About two months before Rose's birthday approached, the boys banished her from the studio altogether. "Why can't I stay?" she asked.

"We're working on something top secret," Stevie said.

"Oh, come on!" she said. "Steve always dedicates a song to me on my birthday. It's no secret."

"Out," Steve said.

Defeated, Rose left. She made herself busy in the house for the next few weeks, trying her best not to sneak out to the studio and spy on them. She was bursting with curiosity, but neither doll would give anything away. The closer it came to her birthday, the more secretive they became. They even took to using their silent language around the house, which drove Rose crazy. "Cut that out!" she cried one day. "It's like you're talking behind my back right in front of me!"

"We are," Stevie said, a playful smile on his face.

"That's it! You are in deep trouble, mister!"

"Uh-oh! Save me, Steve. I think she's gonna throw a pillow at me!!" Stevie grinned as Rose looked down at the couch cushion in her hand. Then she growled and lunged at Stevie, slamming him over the head repeatedly with the pillow. Stevie giggled, allowing her to knock him to the floor. "Hey, Steve, where's my back-up?" he called.

"Don't look at me, kid," Steve said. "You made your bed."

"Bastard," he laughed. He let her pummel him for a few more seconds. Then he gently and effortlessly flipped her over and straddled her, holding her hands above her head. "Okay, Rosie," he said. "It looks like somebody's asking for it."

"Oh, no you don't. Let me up." He showed no signs of moving. Instead, a slow grin spread across his face. Rose's eyes widened. "Stevie, don't you dare! Don't you dare!!" Stevie only grinned wider and proceeded to tickle her until she was completely out of breath. Then he stood up and, still grinning, helped her to her feet. She slapped his chest, feigning an angry expression. "You're in so much trouble!"

"I'm always in trouble," he said.

Steve shook his head, smiling. Then he waved slightly at Stevie. Stevie looked at him and something passed between them. Then they both smiled meaningfully at Rose.

"You are doing it again!" Rose said. "Did you learn nothing??"

Steve grinned. "You're the one who didn't learn," he said. Then he lifted her off the ground, tossed her onto the couch and proceeded to tickle her some more.

"Okay, okay!" she cried breathlessly. "Keep your secrets! I give up!"

At last, the big day arrived. Rose got up early, too excited to stay in bed as long as she usually did. As soon as she sat up, she saw her first present. There was a giant teddy bear sitting on her armchair, holding a little blue envelope. She got up and touched the soft teddy bear. Then she opened the envelope. "Good morning, gorgeous. Come have breakfast." Rose grinned. Today was going to be a good day. She put on her robe, attempted to tame the morning frizz and left her room, smiling at the lovely aromas floating down the hall. She made her way to the dining room. The table was laid out beautifully, with a large bouquet of blue roses in the center - her favorite flower. But what caught her attention more were the two men standing at either end of the table.

Both of them were dressed in the outfits she liked best. Steve wore black slacks and a black jacket with tails. His hair fell glistening over his chest just the way she liked it. Stevie had on his skin-tight blue jeans, along with his white jacket - with tails, of course. Neither of them wore shirts under their jackets. They smiled in unison when they saw her. Steve pulled out her chair and gestured for her to sit. She did, after giving each of them a kiss. Then she shook her head. "How am I supposed to eat with you two sexy men standing there distracting me?"

Steve chuckled. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

"Don't worry," Stevie added with a wink. "Dessert comes later."

Rose turned red and studiously refrained from comment. Breakfast was excellent. After she'd eaten more than her fill, they told her to go get dressed while they cleared everything away. Rose showered, did something real with her hair and got dressed. Then she came out and looked for the guys. "In here," Steve called. Rose followed the sound of his voice to the game room.

When she entered, her eyes grew wide with surprise. They had converted the room into a miniature stage. They'd hooked up some of the studio equipment to the stereo system and brought in their microphones. "Have a seat," Stevie said, gesturing to a chair that they'd positioned in the middle of the room. Smiling, she sat down and waited for them to begin, wondering which song each of them had chosen to rearrange for her benefit. Then Steve hit a button on one of his machines, and Rose was surprised to hear the opening to a song she'd never heard before. She raised her eyebrows as they began to sing. Impressive. No wonder they'd holed themselves up in the studio all those long hours. They'd actually composed an original song for her. It was a love song - a duet that took advantage of each singer's strongest qualities. Rose began to blush as the song progressed. It was sweet; one of those incredibly mushy songs she probably would have teased them about if it hadn't been written just for her. When it was over she applauded.

"That was beautiful," she said. "Thank you."

The two men bowed. "Thank you," Stevie said.

Rose stood up, wondering if they had anything else planned, but Steve shook his head. "Please have a seat," he said. "The concert's only just begun."

"Concert?" Rose asked, sitting down again. He nodded and started the recorder again. The concert was relatively short, but the more Rose listened the more embarrassed she became. Some of the songs were light hearted and funny, and some were fast paced - providing Stevie with ample opportunity to do his energetic twirlings and work up a sweat. But each one of them was an original composition, dedicated to telling her exactly how they felt about her. Many of them were tender, heartfelt outpourings of love that touched her deeply. By the time the last song ended and they'd taken their final bow, her eyes had filled with tears that were rapidly beginning to fall. She looked at the two singers, but found that she was unable to say anything. They came and stood one on either side of her, each putting an arm around her shoulders.

"Happy birthday, Rose," Steve said.

Rose laughed through her tears. "You guys are too good to me," she said. "I love you." She stood and gave a tight hug and a kiss to both of them.

"We love you, too," Stevie said. "You're... well, I guess we've already said all there is to say," he said.

"Yes, you did. Now don't get any more mushy on me than you already have, or I'll start crying again!"

Steve went back to the impromptu stage and picked up a little box hat had been hidden behind one of the speakers. He handed it to Rose and she opened it eagerly. Inside was a CD. The cover held only a close-up of a blue rose in full bloom. On the back in blue script were the simple words, "For You." She looked up a them. "The top secret project?"

"Yup," Stevie said. "It's all the songs we just finished singing."

"They'll probably sound better on there," Steve said. "We couldn't exactly do the balancing the way I wanted to for the live version."

"Believe me, you did an excellent job," Rose said, knowing of Steve's perfectionist tendencies.

Stevie looked up and raised an eyebrow at Steve. Steve nodded almost imperceptibly. "Be right back," Stevie said.

"Where's he going?" Rose asked.

"To get your last present," Steve answered.

"There's more?" He nodded. "Man, you guys don't do anything half way, do you?"

"Of course not." Steve looked up. "He's coming. Close your eyes."

Rose hadn't heard anything, but she closed her eyes anyway. In a moment, she could hear Stevie's footsteps in the hall. "Close your eyes," he called.

"They're closed," she said.

She heard him come closer. "Okay, cup your hands."

Confused, Rose did as she was told. Suddenly, something soft, fuzzy and warm was placed into her hands. Rose opened her eyes and squealed. Resting in her hands was the most adorable little puppy she had ever seen. It was golden-brown, with a blue ribbon tied loosely around its neck. "Oh my God, how cute!!" she cried. She hugged the puppy to her cheek, looking at the two Steve's with shining eyes. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

"She's a girl," Stevie said. "A mini Labrador."

"Oh, she is SO cute," Rose exclaimed again. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"You're welcome," they said in unison. "What are you going to name her?" Stevie asked.

"I don't know." She tore her eyes away from the puppy to look at Steve in wonder. "How did you two ever manage to hide a puppy?" she asked.

"A magician never reveals his secrets," Steve replied.

Rose rolled her eyes. "Obviously I have to be careful around you two. Anything could be happening right under my nose and I would never know about it!"

"I have no idea what you mean," Stevie said, fixing her with an extra-innocent expression.

"Sure you don't. Come on. Let's try to find a name for this cutie."

They spent the rest of the day playing with the puppy and trying to think up names for her. Finally, they came up with Snippet. Actually, it was Steve's fault. Despite the fact that she might have been six inches long, the puppy played very vigorously. When Steve teased her, holding her rope toy out of reach, she yapped and growled and carried on as if she were the size of a Great Dane. "What are you going to do, you little snippet?" he asked. It tickled Rose so much that they decided to keep the name. Later, Stevie moved her bed from its corner in the studio to the family room, near the fireplace.

After dinner, Rose flopped on the couch and listened to a little of her album while Steve and Stevie cleaned the kitchen. After a little while they came and sat down beside her. "Thank you, guys," she said. "You really have made my day."

They smiled at her. "Our pleasure," Stevie said.

"Speaking of which," Steve said with a sly look at Stevie. "I was wrong about the puppy being your last present."


"Of course!" Stevie said. "How could I have forgotten?"

"Forgotten what?"

"Dessert," Stevie replied.

Rose was going to remind Stevie that they had just had dessert, until she caught the wicked grin on his face. "Um..." she whimpered, looking toward Steve for help. So much for that. His face held the same expression. Without further ado, they whisked Rose away to her bedroom and proceeded administer her final birthday present.

Chapter 2

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