Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
I got up when I heard the front door open, but I didn’t go upstairs because I could hear that it was just Gloria and not CJ. Gloria shut the door at the top of the stairs.
I waited all night for my girl to come home, but she didn’t. Nor did she come home the next day. I had a chewy bone to gnaw on, but otherwise, I was hungry because there was no dinner, not all day. Water I could get in the backyard, especially when it rained that morning, but I was sad and lonely and hungry.
I eventually gave voice to my feelings, barking out my fears and empty belly. A lone dog answered me from somewhere far away, a dog I’d never heard before. We both barked for a while, and then he stopped abruptly. I wondered who that dog was and if we would ever play together. I wondered if he had eaten that day.
A day lasts much, much longer when you’re hungry and worried about the person you are supposed to take care of. Eventually, though, the sky darkened, and I went through the dog door and curled up in a tight ball under the stairs, my stomach aching and empty. I was starting to become afraid, and my fear kept me from sleeping very much.
Where was CJ?
Most of the next day I spent lying in a pool of shade in the yard, watching some birds hop around in the wet grass. The only time I wasn’t thinking of my hunger was when I saw Gloria standing at the glass doors, staring at me as I lay in the backyard. Whenever Gloria looked at me I felt like a bad dog. Otherwise, I was starving.
Wherever CJ was, I knew she wouldn’t want me to go without dinner. Several times I restlessly went into the house to check my food bowl, but it was always empty and there was nothing else to eat unless you counted some socks I found in a basket. I didn’t eat the socks, because I had chewed up similar items before and knew they would offer no real satisfaction. I licked the bowl anyway, imagining I could faintly taste some food there.
Cruelly, I could sometimes smell food on the air, delicious odors that I associated with people cooking. Somewhere, someone was grilling meat. It was probably far away, but I knew my nose would lead me to it if I got out of the yard.
There were two gates in the yard. The one next to the garage was tall and made of wood, but the one on the other side, through which CJ seldom went, was made of the same steel as the fence and was, in fact, even a little shorter. With a running start, I could probably clear it.
The idea wouldn’t leave my mind. I would leap over the fence and follow my nose and find the cooking meat and a person would give me something to eat.
Though the whole concept made me drool, just thinking about leaving the yard made me feel like a bad dog. CJ would need me to be here. I couldn’t protect her if I ran off in search of a meal.
Whimpering, I went back through the dog door to check my food bowl again. Still nothing. With a moan, I curled up, the sick emptiness in my belly too strong to allow sleep.
I was in the basement when I heard Trent calling my name. I ran out the dog door and he was standing in the yard, whistling for me. I was so happy to see him I barreled right into him, and he laughed and wrestled with me. I could smell Rocky all over him.
“Hi, Molly! Are you okay? You miss CJ, don’t you.”
I heard the back door slide open and Gloria was standing there. “Are you here to take him with you?” she asked.
“Molly is a she,” Trent said. I sat at my name. “Have you been feeding her?”
“Have I been feeding her?” Gloria said. I felt a small jolt of emotion—alarm, maybe—go through Trent.
“Don’t speak to me with that tone. I assumed there was food out for her somewhere. No one told me any different.”
“But … I just can’t believe you’d let a dog go hungry.”
“And that’s why you’re here. For the dog. Right.” An ugly emotion was coming off of Gloria, something like anger.
“Well … yeah. I mean…”
“You’re here because you think feeding the dog will get you in good with Clarity. I know you’ve got the hots for her.”
Trent took a deep breath and then let it out very slowly. “Come on, Molly,” he said quietly.
I followed Trent to the backyard gate, looking over my shoulder at Gloria when he stopped to open it. She was standing with her hands on her hips and staring me in the eyes. It made me frightened, the way she looked at me.
Trent took me to Rocky’s house and fed me. I was really hungry and growled at Rocky when he tried to get me to play before I was ready. When I was finished my belly was pleasantly full and I felt sluggish and just wanted to nap, but Rocky had a rope in his mouth and was running around in the yard as if I could never catch him, which of course was untrue. I ran over to him and grabbed the other end of the rope and we pulled each other around the yard. Trent was watching and he laughed, and when he did Rocky looked over at him, and I took advantage of the lapse in attention and yanked the rope away and took off, Rocky in hot pursuit.
That night Rocky and I lay together on the floor of Trent’s room, utterly exhausted. I’d momentarily forgotten about CJ in the battle for the rope, but now, in the dark room, I missed her and felt sad. Rocky sniffed me and nuzzled me and licked my mouth, eventually resting his head on my chest.
Trent left the next morning, and the way he did so—getting more and more hurried as he dressed, gathering papers—let me to conclude he was doing school. Rocky and I wrestled, played more with the rope, and dug a couple of holes in the backyard. When he returned home Trent fed us and spoke crossly to us as he played with the dirt, filling in the holes we’d made. Apparently we, or at least Rocky, were bad dogs for something, but we didn’t know what. Rocky stood with his head low and his ears down for a while, but then Trent petted him and everything was okay.
We were wrestling and Trent was in the house when the side gate clanged. Rocky and I barked, running over with our fur up, but I dropped my ears and charged joyously when I saw my girl standing there. “Molly!” she called happily. “Hi, Rocky!”
Rocky kept shoving that stupid rope in the way as CJ dropped to her knees and put her arms around me and kissed my face. Then Rocky whipped his head up and ran over to where Trent was coming out of the back door. Rocky greeted Trent as if he’d been gone as long as CJ, which was ridiculous.
“Down, Rocky. Hi, CJ.”
CJ straightened up. “Hi, Trent.”
Trent kept walking right up to CJ and hugged her. “Oh!” CJ said, laughing a little.
They got out the leashes for a walk! The leaves were falling from the trees and Rocky and I strained, dying to pounce on them as they skipped along in the breeze, but the leashes kept us in check.
I was so happy CJ was back, and, I realized, also really happy to be with Rocky and Trent. It was not up to me because I was just a dog, but as far as I was concerned we should just live here, at Trent’s house. If Gloria didn’t move in with us that would be okay with me as well.
There was a click and a flash of flame and then CJ’s mouth was full of the smoke from the small stick. “They won’t let you smoke in there. God,” she said. “The minutes went by so slowly you could practically hear them.”
“What was it like? Was it horrible?”
“Juvie? Not really. Just, I don’t know, strange. I lost about four and a quarter pounds, though, so that’s something good.” CJ laughed. “The guys are on the other side and we never see them, but we can hear them, all right. There’s a lot more of them than us girls. Most the girls in there were in trouble for doing something for their boyfriends, if you can believe it.”
“Like you,” Trent said quietly.
We were having such a great walk! When Rocky passed trees and bushes he had to stop to mark them, and I usually squatted in the same place because I could remember the same compulsion, though it wasn’t as important to me now.
“I didn’t know Shane was going to
“You knew he was going to steal the test.”
“He was going to copy the test, not steal it. And it’s art history, not like math or something. God, you, too?”
Trent was quiet for a moment. “No, not me. Sorry.”
Rocky leaped on a blowing leaf and picked it up and tried to tease me with it, but once it was in his mouth it was just a leaf.
“So because I was on academic probation, I’m now on academic suspension. Big woo. And you’ve never seen so much paperwork. I’ll bet you international spies don’t have a file as thick as mine.”
“Suspended for how long?”
“Like, just this semester.”
“But that means you won’t graduate with the rest of us.”
“That’s okay. The outfits are ugly, anyway. Those hats? Come on. No, I’ll graduate at mid-year without pomp. It’s all been worth it for how mad it makes Gloria that she won’t be able to sit with all the parents and call attention to herself when they say my name.”
“And that’s it? Suspension?”
“Also community service. I picked the coolest thing—training dogs, service dogs.”
I looked up at her at the word “dog.” She dropped her hand to my head and petted me and I licked her fingers. “Good dog, Molly,” she said.
At the park they unsnapped our leashes and Rocky and I took off, gloriously happy in the cool air, free to race around the park, wrestling and running just as we did in the backyard. We could smell other dogs, but none came.
Dashing alongside my brother, I felt as full of energetic joy as when Bath punishment was over and I was allowed to jump on the furniture. Sometimes Rocky would stop and turn and look to see if Trent was still there. Rocky was a good dog. I could tell CJ was still there because the acrid smell of the smoke wafted off of her even when she wasn’t actively putting fire in her mouth.
Many people emitted the same smoky odor and I’d never much cared for it, but I loved the way it mingled with CJ’s unique scent because it was CJ. Still, I sometimes wished she still smelled the way she did as a baby, when I would sniff the top of her head, drinking her in. I loved that smell.
Rocky and I found a rotting squirrel corpse in the corner of the yard—I loved that smell, too! Before we could roll in it properly, though, Trent called us and we raced back. They put the leashes back on us—time for another walk!
At Rocky’s house, Trent and CJ stood by CJ’s car. I waited by the door, a little anxious that CJ might have forgotten that I was a front-seat dog.
“Good luck with your mom,” Trent said.
“She doesn’t care. She wasn’t even home when the taxi dropped me off.”
“Taxi? I would have picked you up.”
“No, you would have had to cut school. I don’t want to corrupt everyone with my criminal influence,” CJ said.
We took a car ride with me in the front seat. When we got home, a man was sitting with Gloria on the couch. I went over to sniff him, wagging, and he petted my head. Gloria stiffened and pulled her hands up. I didn’t sniff Gloria. CJ remained standing by the front door, so after greeting the man I went back over to be with her.
“Clarity, this is Rick. He has been very helpful during these difficult times you’ve put me through,” Gloria said.
“I have a teenage daughter,” Rick said. He held out his hand and CJ touched it.
“I go by ‘CJ.’ Gloria calls me Clarity because that’s the one thing she’ll never have.”
“Gloria?” The man turned to look at Gloria, so I did, too, though in truth I pretty much avoided her eyes. “She calls you by your first name?”
“I know,” Gloria said, shaking her head.
“See, that’s the first problem right there,” the man said. He seemed nice enough to me. His hands smelled like grease and meat and also Gloria.
“She asked me to call her Gloria and not Mom because she didn’t want strange men in the grocery store knowing she had a daughter my age,” CJ explained. “She’s very concerned about what strange men think about her, as you might have figured out.”
Everyone was quiet for a minute. I yawned and scratched behind my ear.
“Okay, well, good to meet you, CJ. I’m going to take off now; your mom has some things to talk to you about.”
“It’s so very special that you’re here to tell me that,” CJ said.
We went to CJ’s room. I curled up in my usual spot. It was wonderful to be back home with my girl. I was pleasantly tired from wrestling Rocky and couldn’t wait for CJ to crawl into bed so I could lie there with her and feel her hand on the fur on my neck.
The door opened and Gloria came in.
“Can you at least knock?” CJ said.
“Did they knock on your prison cell?” Gloria responded.
“Yes, and they had to ask permission to enter, what do you think?”
“I know that’s not true.”
I stood up and shook, yawning anxiously. I didn’t like it when Gloria and CJ spoke to each other—the emotions were too strong and dark and confusing.
“So what’s the deal with the guy?” CJ asked. “He acts like he’s auditioning to be my stepfather.”
“He’s a very successful businessman. He knows a lot about managing people.”
“I knew he’d be successful or you wouldn’t be making out with him on the couch when I came in.”
“He has given me a lot of advice on how to handle out-of-control children. I’m worried about you, Clarity June.”
“I could tell how worried you were when I got home eight hours late from being released and saw you drinking wine in the living room.”
CJ sat on the bed and I jumped up next to her. I could barely smell her, with Gloria’s odors wafting through the room.
When I glanced at her, Gloria was staring at me, so I looked away. She made an exhaling noise. “So okay,” she said. “The first thing is, you’re grounded for the rest of the year. That means no dating, no boys over, no talking on the phone. You can’t leave the house for any reason.”
“So when the court calls to find out why I’m not doing community service, I’ll just tell them, ‘Gloria says I’m grounded.’ They’ll be okay with that. There’s one guy from death row they can’t execute because he’s still in trouble with his mom.”
Gloria stood there for a moment, frowning.
“Well, obviously,” she finally said, “you can do that.”
“And Christmas shopping? You aren’t going to ground me from that, are you?”