A late Friday afternoon found Jake and the twins at Jake's house. The events of Jake's first stint of babysitting had resulted in a fast friendship between the three. Jake and Jason were currently playing Halo while Dakota was reading. Jake was sitting on one end of the couch with Dakota's head in his lap and Flint at his feet being used as a pillow by Jason.
As the latest round ended, Jake set his controller down and stretched. Glancing at the clock, he blinked. It was almost 6. "Your mom is really late today."
Dakota shrugged, never looking away from his book. "It happens, sometimes. She works in the ER, so a last minute emergency must have happened."
Jake smiled sadly and scratched between the boy's ears, one of Dakota's weak spots. Dakota closed his eyes, leaning into the touch as his ears folded back and his tail thumped slowly against the couch.
Not to be ignored, Jason got up and climbed onto the couch on Jake's other side. Snuggling up to Jake, he sighed happily as Jake's other arm circled around him, pulling him closer. "I hope she gets home soon though. I'm getting hungry."
"As if anything mom cooks can fill a bottomless pit like you, Jase," Dakota teased gently.
"Oh, is that what was going on?" Jake asked with a small smirk. "I thought I saw you had a bit of pudge yesterday." He gently poked Jason in the stomach.
"Seriously?" The young cat glanced at his middle. "I can't get fat. Baseball tryouts are soon and Coach will kill me if I'm out of shape."
"We were just kidding, Jase. Chill." The grey-furred fox chuckled even as one red-furred kitten giggled and the other pouted. Even Flint gave a soft "wuff", tail thumping against the floor.
An knock on the door came then. "Jason! Dakota!" Called Jake's mom, Sarah. "Your mom is here."
Dakota got up easily enough, but Jason just snuggled closer to Jake. "Aw, but I just got comfy."
Jake rolled his eyes and got up, taking Jason with him. "Kota, you have all your stuff?"
Dakota nodded as he picked up his backpack and his brother's. The three cubs walked over to the foyer, followed by Flint, where both Jake's parents were talking to Ms. Simms.
"-took so long," Ms. Simms was saying. "Another patient was rolled in last minute and my relief hadn't shown yet."
"It's no problem," Mom replied, smiling as the cubs and dog trooped in. "Dakota actually kept Jake on track with his homework, so I consider us even."
"Mom!" protested Jake, blushing through his fur. It was no secret that he hated school.
"Hi, mom!" Jason called, still being carried by Jake. Dakota just quietly walked up to her and hugged her.
"Hi, sweetie," Ms. Simms called as she leaned down to kiss Dakota's cheek. "Why is Jake carrying you?"
"I was comfy," Jason shrugged, throwing his arms around Jake's neck and nuzzling him.
Jake rolled his eyes again. "He wouldn't get up, so I got up and he came with me."
Ms. Simms laughed, kissing Jason's cheek. "You have no shame," she told him before doing the same with Jake. "Thank you for watching them. I'd better get them home and fed." She sighed. "Even if it's just sandwiches tonight."
"Long day, Jen?" Jake's dad Pat asked, glancing to his wife, who nodded.
"Like you would not believe," agreed Ms. Simms.
"Do you like sushi?" Dad asked conversationally.
Jake's eyes lit up even as Ms. Simms and the twins looked confused. "I like sushi, though I haven't had any in awhile. I don't think the boys have ever had it." Ms. Simms answered. "Why?"
"There's a bar a few minutes drive from here," Dad answered. "Every once in awhile, like tonight, they serve sushi. They even let minors in, as long as they're accompanied by a parent or guardian."
"Sushi Friday!" Jake cheered, punching the air. "Yes!"
"We'd like the three of you to join us," Dad finished, smirking at Jake. "My treat."
"That's..." Ms. Simms looked thoughtful. "That's awfully appealing, Pat. Are you sure?"
"Of course," Dad answered. "Sarah actually suggested it last week. So go get yourselves ready, and we'll show you where to go."
"I must admit, the prospect of not cooking tonight is what really sells it." Ms. Simms said. "Thank you, Pat, Sarah. Give me a minute to change out of my work clothes."
Twenty minutes later found the group walking into a small bar. A young doe greeted them and invited them to take a seat wherever they liked. After they seated themselves at a large table, the doe came up to them. "My name is Nevada, and I will be your server tonight," she greeted them. "What can I get for you?"
Drinks ordered, she left and allowed the feline newcomers to glance around. The small bar was mostly empty, aside from a group of two cheetahs and a wolf. The furniture was homey, and aside from a few tables here and there, consisted mostly of couches and armchairs surrounding little coffee tables.
"This is a nice place," Ms. Simms said, looking around approvingly.
"Best kept secret in town," Dad confirmed. "I was actually introduced by colleague of mine, and I take Sarah and Jake every chance we get. It's actually classified as a restaurant, but they're tuck away in this little place that it's often overlooked."
Jason, spying something in the corner, started giggling and poking his brother. "Sing us a song, Piano Man," he giggled, pointing to a corner behind the adults.
The others turned to look. Tucked away in the corner was a baby grand piano. Dakota flushed, his inner ears turning the same color as his fur. "Jase, hush," he murmured, looking away.
Jake stared at the little kitten. "You play the piano?"
"He does," chuckled Ms. Simms. "If you count the times he'd bang the keys when I would play for them, he's been playing since before he could walk." Dakota let out a small, embarrassed mewl at that.
Jason was still poking him. "C'mon, Kota," he wheedled. "It's been forever since I heard you play."
"It was last week, Jase," Dakota muttered, scooting away from his twin.
"So?" Jason countered.
Nevada arrived with a tray of drinks. She smiled at Dakota. "If you want to, go right ahead. I'll let you know if someone asks you to stop. Just let me get your food order first."
Once the food was ordered, Jason all but herded his twin over to the piano. Jake watched them as they settled on the bench. "He doesn't show it often," Ms. Simms chucked quietly. "But Dakota is almost as bad a showoff as his brother, though only on the piano. Wait until he gets started."
Jake honestly wasn't expecting much more than a cutesy Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Ode to Joy, and felt justified when Dakota began playing simple block chords. The only reason he determined it to be Don't Stop Believin' was because the little kitten started singing. As he progressed through the second verse and the chorus though, he began to play more complicated staggered chords. Jake began to think he was being played.
And when, after a brief pause after the chorus, Dakota began playing the familiar melody and bass line before launching into the third verse, Jake's jaw dropped. And he wasn't the only one. His parents were murmuring in amazement and the other group had stopped talking and were watching with impressed faces. He distantly noticed Nevada bringing a couple people from the back to listen.
"He always plays this song first," Ms. Simms said, smiling. "It's his warmup song, letting him gradually get to the more complicated sections. And it lets him play his audience, lowering their expectations before completely amazing them."
Dakota finished Don't Stop Believin' to enthusiastic applause before moving into Tears in Heaven. Jake got up and stood next to the twins, swaying slightly as his listened to Dakota play and sing. During the third song, Tiny Dancer, when Jake looked back, his parents were dancing, as were the wolf and female cheetah. The other cheetah, a boy about the twin's age, was talking quietly with Jason as they listened. By the fourth song, Simple Man, a few more groups had trickled in, standing near the piano or dancing. By the fifth, Hallelujah, the bar was crowded, drawn in by the music and the young cat performing it.
Dakota didn't limit himself to classic rock. He played pop songs like Fight Song and Shape of You. Modern rock was represented with My Immortal and Numb. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and One Voice brought country into the mix. Dakota sang and played, never stopping once.
The final song of the night was the one that started the whole thing, Piano Man. Jason, after doing nothing more than praising his twin after every song, surprised everyone by pulling a harmonica from his pocket and accompanying his brother. As the boys finished, they swept off the piano stool and bowed, to loud applause. The applause got louder when Jason grabbed Dakota's wrist and pulled it into the air.
Laughing at their antics, Jake ran up and hugged the two before leading them to their seats. "That was incredible!" He exclaimed. "How did I not know you could do that? We've been hanging out for weeks!"
Dakota had an embarrassed yet pleased smile. "I can't give away all my secrets," he said. He again blushed through his fur as both his mother and Jake's came around the table to kiss his cheek.
"And you!" Jake said, turning to Jason. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when you started on the harmonica!"
Jason also had a pleased smile, with no embarrassment to be found. "It's actually the only song I can play," he confessed. "I just wanted to have a song that we could play together."
"Who knew we had a little maestro around?" Jake's dad mused as he took his seat. "Thank you, Dakota. That was a wonderful performance."
"Indeed," came a new voice. They turned to see Nevada carrying a tray of sushi followed by a huge bear carrying a jar labeled "Musician's Tips." It was full of bills. "Dakota, was it? My name is Dylan Dean. I own and run this bar. This is the busiest we've been since I opened, and it's thanks to you.
"This is yours," Mr. Dean said, placing the jar in front of a wide-eyed Dakota. "Should you ever return, I would be thrilled to have you perform again. I'll leave you to your meal. Please enjoy, with my compliments."
"T-t-thank you, sir," stuttered Dakota. Jake stifled a laugh; he could feel the heat radiating off the little kitten.
Beaming, Mr. Dean went to the back, and Nevada served their food. As she left, she winked at Dakota, causing him to mewl and hide his face in Jake's shoulder. Jake just laughed and hugged him again. He leaned down to the kitten's ear and whispered, "Good job, Piano Man."