Happy Tuesday, everyone.
A brief description of how my writing life is going: I’m trying. Which is marginally better than not doing it at all. And I like this little story.
“We’re here,” said Aunt Mandy, turning in the passenger seat to show Alice a large smile. “Are you excited for the surprise?”
Alice kept quiet and looked down so she didn’t have to see Aunt Mandy. She wished her aunt and uncle would just leave her alone. She didn’t know them very well, and Uncle Patrick was a little loud and too big. He made her think of a grizzly bear standing on its hind legs.
“Have you guessed what the surprise is?” Uncle Patrick asked. “Look at that building there and I’ll bet you can figure it out!”
Alice kept staring at her hands clasped together in her lap.
Aunt Mandy undid her seatbelt. Both adults climbed out of the car and waited expectantly until Alice sighed and scooted out of the backseat and found herself walking in between her aunt and uncle through a parking lot.
They went through the brick building’s front doors and Alice stopped when she heard barking. A lot of barking.
“This is an animal shelter,” Aunt Mandy explained. “They have animals here that need new families. Mainly cats and dogs. We thought you might want to pick a friend today.”
Alice had always wanted a dog. She pictured a large, strong one that could protect her, like the dogs that policemen sometimes had.
A smiling man walked up to them. “Hello! My name’s Sam. What brings you in today?”
“We’re on the search for a new best friend for Alice,” Uncle Patrick answered, putting his heavy hands as lightly as he could on Alice’s shoulders. She wiggled away and he dropped his arms to his sides.
“What do you think?” Aunt Mandy asked her. “Dog or cat?”
For the first time that day, or rather for the first time in many days, Alice spoke. Her voice was quiet when she said, “Dog.”
Sam led them to a door on the left wall, holding it open for them as they went through to the hallway on the other side. “We have many breeds, and a variety of ages. Let me introduce you to them and see who connects with you best.”
Alice’s mouth felt funny and she realized her lips were stretching in a smile when she saw the first dog taking a nap in its fenced area. It was a black dog with long legs and it stretched lazily on a pillow, its nose twitching.
“This is Gracie,” Sam said. “She’s been here a month. We actually have a gentleman that’s coming this afternoon with his son to see how they do around each other. I think it’ll be a good match.”
Aw, so she already had a family coming to get her. Alice didn’t stare at her too long. The next area had a tiny dog who yipped and bounced as he did so.
“That’s Peanut,” Sam said. “Been here a couple days. His last set of owners lived in an apartment and they had noise complaints…”
Alice kept walking. Peanut wouldn’t make the best protector. He was too small.
Most of the dogs were right up close to the fence separating them from Alice, tails wagging, barking enthusiastically. Alice wanted to take almost all of them, but she knew that there were too many and they wouldn’t all fit in the house. She could only pick one, but how was she supposed to know which one was her dog?
Her aunt and uncle were quiet as they watched her walk around. They held hands tight. Then Aunt Mandy let go of Uncle Patrick’s hand when Alice stopped in front of a dog who was standing in his area, but was tucked in the back corner, not barking like the others had been. His tail wagged a little, like he wasn’t sure if he was happy to meet her or not. His head ducked down and he looked at her uncertainly.
“This is Bug,” Sam said, and the dog’s tail wagged a bit more at hearing his name. He had all brown fur and wasn’t the biggest dog here, but he wasn’t the smallest either. He didn’t look like a good protector, Alice thought. Actually he looked like he needed protecting.
“How old is he?” Mandy asked, kneeling next to Alice.
“Just over a year old,” Sam replied and sweetened up his voice when he called, “Bug. Come here, boy. Good boy.”
Bug dragged his feet, it seemed, much like Alice had dragged hers when her aunt and uncle had made her come with them today. His body shivered when he stopped right in front of the fence.
“Hi, Bug,” Alice whispered.
“Bug has a sad story,” Sam said. “His people abused him.”
Alice’s body shivered, too.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Sam said sadly. “Sometimes the people who are supposed to love and care for their pets are mean and hurt them. And when that happens, sometimes good people take them away to find a better family for them. Bug’s neighbors called the police when they saw what was going on at his old house, and then he was brought here.”
Aunt Mandy smiled softly at Bug. “Hi, sweetie. It’s okay.” She lifted a hand slowly and Bug scuttered back.
“He doesn’t trust most people,” Sam said. “He likes a couple of our volunteers, but mostly he doesn’t want to be touched. Now I’d love to see him be adopted by a nice family like yours, but he’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take time to build that trust, and you have to be careful with how you approach him. He bit someone the other day when they moved too fast. Not too hard, but he was scared and that was how he let the person know that they scared him.”
Uncle Patrick got on his knees on the other side of Alice. “I think that we can be patient, and we can give him his space, and more importantly we can treat him so well that he will learn that he can trust us, and he’ll know we’d never hurt him.”
Alice glanced at him.
Uncle Patrick nodded at her. “What do you think, Alice? Can we do that for Bug?”
Bug hadn’t wanted to get in the car, no matter how many times Alice patted the seat next to her. Sam had to help lift him into the backseat, Uncle Patrick being too nervous about how Bug would react to a stranger grabbing him.
Alice wasn’t afraid of Bug at all, even though he’d bitten a grown-up. She smiled at him and patted her lap as he stared at her, as wide-eyed as a dog could get.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Lie down. Good boy.”
He didn’t move any closer to her, but at least he didn’t try to jump off the seat and away from her.
He shook the whole way home, and when Aunt Mandy opened the door once the car was parked in the garage, Bug was even more reluctant to get out of the car as he had to get in it. Eventually Uncle Patrick had to carry him out, though he moved with the pace of a slug, Bug whining until he was put down in the kitchen inside.
Alice spent all afternoon under the table in the dining room where Bug claimed his space. He didn’t seem to mind that she curled up on the other side of him, not touching him or talking to him, but just being there. He quit shivering and whimpering.
He ignored his dog food when Aunt Mandy pushed the new dog bowl Uncle Patrick had gone to the store to buy under the table. He didn’t drink the water either. Alice remembered not wanting to eat anything when Uncle Patrick and Aunt Mandy brought her home, too. Bug would eat when he was too hungry to pretend the food wasn’t there.
The next day was much of the same. Alice took her pillow from her bed and crawled under the table again with Bug.
“Did you want breakfast?” Aunt Mandy asked.
“Yes, please,” Alice whispered.
“What would you like?”
Alice tore a tiny piece of the warm bread with melted butter off and put it under Bug’s nose. After a moment sniffing it, Bug stuck his pink tongue out and snatched it up almost like a frog. Alice giggled. Bug’s tail thumped once on the floor.
The third day, Alice talked to him.
“Aunt Mandy and Uncle Patrick aren’t my parents.” She played with her fingers. “They brought me home when the police took me from my real parents. They… They were supposed to love me, too, but Dad was mean to Mom, and Mom was mean to me. Kind of like your people were mean to you.”
Bug watched her, his ears drooping.
“That means we have something in common.” Alice lifted her hand slowly.
When Bug lifted his snout to her palm, Alice knew he was going to be all right, that he wouldn’t always be afraid.
And if Bug could be okay again, so could she.
A month later, Bug climbed onto her mattress for bedtime. Alice wrapped her arms around him and kissed his nose.
He wagged his tail before he wiggled in her arms to get comfortable.
Uncle Patrick came in first. He rubbed Bug’s head and then mussed Alice’s hair. “What was your favorite part about the day?”
Alice thought about it. “Rolling down the hill.”
They’d gone to the park to see how Bug did around other people. He didn’t wander far from his family, but he hadn’t cowered under the park bench the whole time.
“That was very fun, but it made me very dizzy,” Uncle Patrick said. He kissed her forehead. “Goodnight, my Alice. Sweet dreams.”
Aunt Mandy took his place, lightly brushing through Alice’s hair. “Goodnight, Alice. We’ll see you in the morning.”
She straightened and Bug yipped at her.
Aunt Mandy laughed. “You, too.” She buried her face into Bug’s neck, rubbing his side.
Bug yawned large.
After the lights were turned out, Alice closed her eyes and listened to the peaceful quiet of the house. No yelling, no furniture getting turned over, no doors slamming, no footsteps stomping to her room…
As her dog sighed sleepily next to her, Alice smiled.
“We have a good family, don’t we, boy?” she asked him.
He wiggled and kissed her face once, and then he was asleep, and soon she slept, too.