If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…
Claire looked up from her laptop when she heard her name called. She'd been neck deep in DPG reports for a couple of hours she realized, catching sight of the clock on the wall. Stretching her arms in front of her, Claire tried to loosen the tension she could feel building in her neck.
Hearing her name again, this time she was aware of the slight edge of panic that coated the tone, the way it rose at the end, almost in fear. Except that was Owen she could hear calling her, and what would he be afraid of? Especially here, at their house.
Her blood ran cold—Maisie. Had something happened? Claire bolted from her chair, racing out of her office. "Owen?" she shouted, wondering where he was.
"Garage," he called back.
Claire quickly switched direction as her mind started to bombard her with images of power tools and blood (and Claire figured she had a right to imagine worst case scenarios after two encounters with vicious dinosaur hybrids). Bursting into the garage, she came to a sudden halt. Owen was standing on the upturned bucket he usually used as a stool for working on his motorcycle, but besides that oddity, he looked fine. She quickly swept her gaze around the garage, but she couldn't see Maisie. Or, really, see anything else out of the ordinary.
"What's wrong?" Claire asked.
"Umm..." Owen looked around nervously before meeting her gaze.
"What? You called me for a reason," Claire huffed, hands on her hips when he didn't expand. She waited a few moments, and when he stayed silent, she turned to go back inside.
"Theresamouse." The words came out in a rushed whisper and Claire wasn't sure she heard him correctly. She turned back to face him slowly.
"There's a... mouse?"
"Uh-huh," Owen nodded, his gaze darting towards the base of one of the shelving units lining the wall.
"What do you mean 'and?'"
"You're standing on a bucket, Owen. It's just a mouse."
"It ran right beside me!"
"So?" When Owen chose to stay silent a second time, Claire again moved to leave.
"Can you kill it?"
She barely heard the words, they were said so softly as she was about to pull the door open.
"Kill it?" Claire turned back again.
"Yeah. It's under there," Owen pointed at one of the shelves.
"Wait a sec... are you seriously scared of a mouse?" Her jaw dropping, Claire re-examined Owen's stance, things making sense now. "Wow, you really are."
"Yeah, well..." Owen said, trying to stand up straighter and project confidence. But considering he was still perched on a bucket and his gaze kept darting towards the shelving unit, it didn't really work.
Claire was, however, willing to let him have this. It's not like she didn't have her own unfounded phobias, and he hadn't mocked her (well, not much) over them. Once again, she turned to go back into the house.
"Where are you going?"
The fear in his voice made her reconsider what she was going to say. "I need to get some cheese."
"You're going to feed it?!"
Claire was barely able to hold back her laughter at his horrified tone. "No, it's for the mousetrap."
"Just keep watch, I'll be right back."
"Hurry," Owen pleaded as she left.
Claire chuckled as she went into the kitchen and cut a couple of small wedges of cheese. Then, on second thought, grabbed the peanut butter as well. Might as well set out a few traps. Where there's one... well, not that she'd say that to Owen.
"Got it," she told him, reentering the garage. He was still standing on the bucket. "You know, you don't have to be up there. You can go inside if you want."
"What if it moves?" Owen squeaked, his gaze glued to the shelving unit. "Actually," his face paled, "what if it's already moved? I can't see it. It could have gone somewhere else. Anywhere else..."
Claire watched as he started looking frantically around the garage, twisting this way and that, all while trying not to fall off the bucket as he did so. Finally, his gaze landed back on her. "Why are you just standing there? Do something."
"Seriously, Owen, why don't you go inside? Or to the backyard?"
"What if it's in the house?" Owen said, apparently not hearing her.
"What if what's in the house?" A third voice joined, and Claire looked over her shoulder to see Maisie standing in the doorway.
"Close the door!" Owen practically shouted. "Don't let it go in."
"What go in?" Maisie asked again, although she did step further into the garage, letting the door close behind her.
"There's a mouse," Claire said, turning to face Maisie, adding in a whisper, "supposedly."
"There is," Owen insisted from behind her. "It was less than two inches from me."
"A mouse? Really? Where? Can I see it?" Maisie asked, looking around the garage.
Claire turned back to Owen just in time to see him deflate at the delighted tone in Maisie's voice. Stifling her chuckle, she moved towards the work bench, putting down the cheese and peanut butter and pulling open one of the drawers in search of the mousetraps she knew they had stored there.
"What are you doing?" Maisie asked, appearing at Claire's side as she set five mousetraps across the countertop.
"Going to set these around the garage and see if we can't catch it," Claire replied, carefully putting a dab of peanut butter on three, and the cheese on the other two, before setting the springs. "Careful," she quickly warned Maisie, as the girl reached for one of the traps. "You don't want to get caught."
"You're going to kill it?" Maisie asked, her voice losing its cheer. "Why?"
"Of course she's going to kill it," Owen said from behind them. "The sooner the better."
"But…" Maisie looked from the traps to Claire and then Owen. "It's just a mouse…"
"That has no right to be in our garage," Owen stated firmly. "It's trespassing."
"It's probably looking for something," Maisie suggested, crouching down to look under the shelves.
"What are you doing?" Owen asked. "Get up. It might come at you."
"It's just a mouse," Maisie laughed. "Maybe I could keep it as a pet?" She looked up at him. "I could train it like in The Witches, see if I can get it to walk a tightrope. You could help. You trained the raptors."
Claire had picked up a couple of traps, and was moving about the garage to find good spots to set them up, grateful that Owen couldn't see her expression, especially as she watched him shudder in reaction to Maisie's comment. Maisie had recently become obsessed with the idea of a pet (preferably a dog) and had been trying to find ways to work it into every conversation. When it had first come up, Claire had raised her hands and said that animals were Owen's thing and it was between the two of them. That she wouldn't be taking care of it—she already had all the dinosaurs to worry about.
"I will never train a mouse," Owen stated firmly. "And we are never having a mouse as a pet. No way. Nuh-uh."
"I suppose I'd probably need more than one," Maisie continued, ignoring his response. "It would probably need a friend."
"Not happening, kiddo," Owen warned. "No mouse. No rat. No hamster. No guinea pig. Nothing like that."
"Fine," Maisie sighed, watching as Claire set out the remaining three traps. "Do you really have to kill it?"
"We probably won't catch it," Claire reassured her. "I bet it's already run off. But, better to put these out, just in case."
"I hope you don't catch it," Maisie said. "It's not like mice can really know they're trespassing."
"Well," Claire stood up from setting down the last trap, wiping her hands on her pants. "We'll find out tomorrow." She looked over at Owen still standing on the bucket and rolled her eyes. "Let's all go in. If it's still in here, I doubt it's going to make a move while we're all watching."
Owen raised his gaze wearily to her, not looking all that keen to get off his bucket. She ignored him for a second, focusing on Maisie. "Come on, Mais, back in the house." Once she saw that Maisie had turned, she moved towards Owen, dropping her voice to a low whisper. "Do you really want to stand on the bucket all night?"
Claire waited while Owen seemed to consider her statement, before he cautiously stepped down, hurrying after Maisie with Claire following behind them at a slower pace.
"If I can't have a mouse… what about a dog?" Maisie asked as Claire closed the door behind them and, that time, Claire couldn't prevent the snort of laughter.
x x x
Later that night, curled into his side, head resting over his heart, Claire drew aimlessly on his bare chest with her fingers as she tried to catch her breath. She could still feel Owen's heart racing, one of his hands lazily running up and down her back, the other arm draped over his eyes.
"So…" Claire started, tilting her head up to press a kiss to the underside of his jaw. Owen hummed in acknowledgement. "What is it, exactly, about mice?"
"What isn't it about mice," Owen huffed, tensing below her. "They've got beady little eyes. The way their tails move. They can carry stuff with their tails, did you know that? And they can squeeze through the smallest cracks. The sounds they make…"
Claire could feel the shudder that ran through him, and she rested her palm on his chest, shifting to rubbing soothing circles. "But… you used to feed rats to the raptors. Rats are really just bigger mice."
"Dead rats," Owen specified. "They can't move when they're dead. And the fact that mice are small is part of what makes them so terrifying. C'mon, even elephants don't like mice. That should mean something."
"That's a myth!" Claire protested.
"Nope," Owen countered, and Claire could feel him relaxing under her again. "Mythbusters looked into it and they back away when they see mice."
"Huh," Claire said, "didn't know that."
"Elephants never forget," Owen reminded her. "Makes you wonder what mice have done to them before…"
Chuckling, Claire sat up reaching for Owen's discarded t-shirt and boxers. She pulled the t-shirt on and chucked the boxers at Owen, before grabbing the covers they had kicked off earlier, pulling them back up and over them as she snuggled closer to him. "Never thought about it that way."
"And now you will," Owen said, and Claire knew he was grinning. He let out a sigh, his arms circling around her and pulling her closer. "I don't know what it is about mice. Not really, anyway. I know it's an irrational fear. I'm sorry."
"Hey, you never need to apologize for that," Claire said, pushing against his hold so she could prop herself up to meet his eyes. "Just surprised I didn't know about this before today."
"It's not like I go around advertising it," Owen shrugged. "When would I have mentioned it before?"
"But… you love camping and the outdoors. You love going to the cabin. There's got to be mice out there."
"There are," Owen agreed. "But there's plenty of outdoor space for them to have theirs and me to have mine. I have no problem with them as long as they stay away. Far away."
"I'll check the traps tomorrow, but it probably ran away," Claire said, sleepiness starting to take hold, her body relaxing back into his.
"I hope you caught it, no matter what Maisie thinks," Owen mumbled back.
"If I did, let's hope she doesn't see it," Claire said. "I don't want to deal with that."
"I still can't believe you used the good cheese."
Laughing, Claire patted his chest. "You want me to catch it, right?"