ST. PETE BEACH — Pete Collins rushed to the animal shelter, his heart thumping.
A worker had responded to the ad Pete placed in the lost pet classifieds.
Bird- Cockatiel, grey with white face. St Pete Bch area on Fri 3/26. Whistles at toes! Heartbroken.
The bird at the shelter had the same coloring, the woman said. But it didn't care for her toes.
Pete hurried inside. He spied the bird in the distance, with its luscious charcoal plumes, its puffy down, its spiky head.
Could it be Shadow?
• • •
Pete, 68, was a retired landscaper. He read books, gardened, let the wind whip through the open door. His wife, Donna, worked long hours as a hotel housekeeper.
Life was a little lonely.
One breezy spring day last year, he stood outside his tiny St. Pete Beach cottage, practically in the parking lot of the Twistee Treat. He grilled ribs as the sun lagged in the late afternoon.
A tiny gray bird came around the corner. Hop. Hop.
Pete made a kissy sound. The bird came closer. He crouched and extended a finger. The bird hopped on.
Inside the house, it flew atop the kitchen cabinets. Pete found bread crumbs and a tiny dish of water.
The next morning Pete and Donna awoke to it perched on their headboard, staring them down.
The bird was clearly someone's pet, so they put an ad in the newspaper and got three calls. No one could describe it right.
So they named her Shadow.
One day, she fluttered onto Pete's knee as he reclined and stared at his gray sock. She hollered. When he wiggled his toes, she went berserk. She found Donna's toes equally thrilling.
She whistled out the window to girls at the Twistee Treat. Pete told Shadow to cool it, that the ladies would think the old guy in the house was a wolf.
She loved chocolate.
"I'd give her a tiny piece of chocolate, and then no more. She'd fly away, like, 'The hell with you.' She was haughty."
She woke at 6:56 every morning, fluffed her feathers and sang. Chirp, tweet-tweet.
"I cheered up every morning with that beautiful song," he said. "That bird made me so happy."
Shadow had chances to leave. Pete regularly opened and closed the front door while she was free.
One day in March, Pete noticed Shadow sitting on the living room windowsill, staring out at the sky.
The next day, when a friend came to visit, Shadow took off like a shot out the open door. She propelled herself miles into the air until she was the size of a speck. She dove down and perched on a power line.
"Like an eagle."
She turned and flew away.
• • •
At the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter in Largo, Pete got closer.
He had spent days looking for Shadow, peering into trees, being taunted by mockingbirds and pigeons and sparrows.
The gray bird turned to the side and Pete's heart sank. Shadow was plump from all the chocolate and bird feed. This one was skinny. And its feet looked different. This bird was terrified and silent and stiff, with none of Shadow's attitude and pluck.
Maybe it needed someone, too.
Pete called his wife.
"It's not her, but you're not going to believe how close she is."
"Bring her home," Donna said.
He named her Shadow II.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.