Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
“No, I’d have to make an exception for that, of course.”
“And obviously Thanksgiving at Trent’s.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“But you said you’re going to someone’s house—Rick’s, I suppose. You want me alone on
CJ’s hand scratched absently at my ear and I leaned into it. I wanted Gloria to leave now.
“Well, I suppose you could come to Rick’s with me, though his children will be with their mother,” Gloria said slowly.
“No way. Are you serious?”
“Fine, then. You can go to Trent’s, since I already gave permission.”
“And what about Jana? You told me you wanted me to hang out with Jana because her father is on the board of the country club.”
“That’s not what I said at all. I said that Jana was the type of person I wanted to see you spending more time with. And yes, Jana could come over.”
“What if she wants to take me to the club for lunch?”
“I think we should handle these things as they come up. It’s too hard to figure them all out now. If you get a special invitation of some sort, we’ll talk about it. I am ready to make exceptions where they are called for.”
“I can see that Rick has been a real help to you with this parenting stuff.”
“That’s what I said. And … there’s something else.”
“More punishment besides getting grounded with exceptions? Come on, Mom, I’ve already been to Juvenile Hall, isn’t that enough?”
CJ’s hand had stopped stroking me. I nuzzled it to remind her there was a deserving dog here who needed more petting.
“I don’t think you understand just how humiliating it was for me to have you hauled out of here in handcuffs,” Gloria said. “Rick says it’s a wonder I don’t have post … Post something.”
“Postpartum depression? Little late for that.”
“That’s not it. That doesn’t sound like it.”
“I’m sorry this whole ordeal was such a nightmare for you, Gloria. That’s all I was thinking about, as I was sitting in the back of the cop car with you standing there in the front yard, was how much worse you had it than me.”
Gloria stiffened and she turned and looked at me. I edged my eyes away quickly.
“Rick says it’s your lack of respect for me that is causing all this. And it all started when you brought home that dog.”
It worried me to hear the word “dog” coming out of Gloria’s mouth.
“I think it started when I realized you were my mother.”
“So you’re going to have to get rid of it,” she continued.
I looked anxiously at CJ, feeling her shock.
“Rick says your bluff won’t work. Nobody is going to believe you if you say you were left here by yourself when I took an occasional break, not if I say I had a babysitter, which by the way I always offered to provide one and you said no. And I took you on a cruise, which is proof right there that sometimes you got to go with me. Do you know how much money that cruise cost me? You’ve got to learn who is in control of the house, and that’s me.”
“I’m not going to get rid of Molly.” I cocked my head at my name.
“Yes, you are.”
“Either you get rid of the dog or I’m taking away your car.
your credit cards. Rick says it’s ridiculous for you to have a card on my account.”
“So I’m getting my own account?”
“No, you have to earn it! When Rick was your age he had to get up early to do something with chickens every day, I forget what.”
“Okay, I’ll raise chickens.”
“Shut up!” Gloria shouted. “I am so tired of your smart mouth! You are not to speak to me again this way, not ever! You have to learn that this is my house and we live by my rules.”
Gloria jabbed a finger at me and I cringed. “I will not have that dog in my house. I don’t care where you take it and I don’t care what happens to it, but I will make your life a living hell, you and the dog both.”
CJ sat on her bed, breathing hard. She was distressed. I moved as quietly as possible over to the bed, nuzzling her hand and doing everything I could not to be seen by Gloria.
“You know what? Fine,” CJ said. “After tomorrow, you won’t see Molly again.”
The next morning we took a car ride and went to visit a dog named Zeke and a cat named Annabelle. Zeke was a small dog who loved to race around in his backyard at top speed with me chasing him. When I’d get tired of chasing him he’d bow and wait for me to decide to go at it again. Annabelle was all black and sniffed at me and then dismissed me in that way that cats sometimes do, walking languidly away. Also at the house was a girl named Trish and her parents. Trish and CJ were friends.
We only stayed for two days there and then we were on to another house with no dogs or cats, and then another house with two cats but no dogs, and then another with an old dog and a young dog and no cats. Also, at every house there was at least one girl CJ’s age plus other people. For the most part, the people were very nice to me. Sometimes CJ had her own room, but usually she stayed in a room with one of her friends.
It was glorious to meet all these new dogs! Nearly all of them were friendly and wanted to wrestle, except for when they were very old. I was also, for the most part, interested in the cats. Some cats are timid and some are bold, some are mean and some are nice, some rub up against me and purr and others ignore me completely, but all of them have delicious breath.
I loved our new life, though I sometimes missed Trent and Rocky.
At one house there was a boy who reminded me of Ethan. He had dark hair like Ethan and his hands smelled like the two rats he had in a cage in his room. He was the same size Ethan had been on the day I first met my boy so long ago, and he loved me instantly and we played tug-on-a-stick and fetch the ball in the front yard. The boy’s name was Del. He didn’t have a dog of his own. Rats are a poor substitute for a dog, even if you have two of them.
At one point I realized with a jolt that I’d been playing with Del all day long and hadn’t seen CJ since breakfast. I felt like a bad dog. As I went to the door and sat, hoping someone would open it for me so I could go inside and check on my girl, I found myself thinking about Ethan. I loved CJ as much and in the same way as I had loved Ethan. So had I been wrong that my purpose was to love Ethan? Or did I now have a new purpose, to love and protect CJ? Were these separate, distinct purposes, or was it all tied up in some even larger purpose?
I never would have pondered any of this if I hadn’t been playing with Del all day. His resemblance to Ethan just made me miss my boy.
Del’s sister was Emily. She and CJ liked to talk together in low whispers, but they always would pet me when I went over to see if they might be talking about what treats I should get.
At dinner I liked to sit under the table. A steady rain of delicious morsels would come down from where Del sat and I would eat them silently and wait for more. Sometimes CJ’s hand would reach down to touch my head and I gloried in the food and the love. Del and Emily had a mother and a father, but they never dropped any food.
When the doorbell rang, Del jumped up and ran to get it and I stayed with CJ. Del came skipping back a minute later.
“There’s a boy here to see CJ,” he said.
The front door was left open and I could smell who it was: Shane. I was not happy. The only time my girl ever shut me out of her life was when Shane came around. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stay with her, like when Trent visited.
When CJ got up from the table I naturally accompanied her, but sure enough, she shut the door on me, so I went back to my station under Del’s legs. Del rewarded me with a tiny piece of chicken.
“Emily. How long is she planning to stay?” Emily’s mother asked.
“I don’t know. God, Mom, she was kicked out of her own house.”
“I’m not trying to say Gloria Mahoney’s a good mother,” Emily’s mom said.
“Mahoney? Is she the one who came to the Halloween party dressed as a stripper?” the father asked.
“Stripper?” Del chirped brightly.
“Las Vegas showgirl,” Emily’s mother corrected sternly. “I didn’t realize she was so effective at grabbing your attention.”
The father made an uncomfortable noise in his throat.
“She’s always embarrassing us,” Emily interjected. “One time she brought a date home and the two of them sat down to watch what we were watching on TV, and then right there in front of us—”
“Enough!” Emily’s mom said loudly.
There was a silence. I licked Del’s pants so he’d know I was still there.
“What I am trying to say,” the mom said in quieter tones, “is that I know that CJ has a difficult home situation, but…”
“She can’t live here,” the father said.
“She’s not. It’s just temporary! God, Dad!”
“I like her,” Del said.
“This isn’t about liking her, Son; it’s about what is right,” the father said.
“I like her, too,” the mother said. “But she’s a girl who makes bad choices. She’s suspended from school, she’s been to jail—”
“It was juvie and it wasn’t her fault,” Emily said. “I can’t stand this.”
“Yes, and the boy who is responsible is standing on our front porch,” the mother replied.
“What?” the dad said. I looked over at his legs, which had jerked under the table a bit.
“Plus … I heard her in the bathroom last night. She was throwing up,” the mother said.
“So?” Emily said.
“That boy is not coming in here,” the father said.
Del tossed me a piece of broccoli, which I didn’t want but ate just to keep the treats coming.
“She was throwing up
” the mother said.
“Oh, Mother,” Emily said.
“How do you do that?” Del asked.
“She sticks her finger down her throat. Don’t you ever try it,” the mother warned.
“I don’t see what’s the big deal,” Emily said.
The front door slammed.
“Del, not a word of what we’ve been talking about,” the father said.
CJ came around the corner and she was upset. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. I sprang out from under the table and ran to her side. She wiped tears from her face. “I need to be excused,” she said in a low voice.
I followed her back to the bedroom she was sharing with Emily. CJ threw herself on the bed and I jumped up with her and she held me and I felt some of her sadness going away. Helping CJ be less sad was one of my most important jobs.
I only wished I was better at it. Sometimes the dark feelings were buried so deep in CJ they felt as if they’d be there forever.
Later that night Emily and CJ sat on the floor and ate pizza and ice cream and fed me little bits of it.
“Shane says if he can’t have me no one will,” CJ said. “Like we’re on a soap opera or something.”
I saw Emily’s eyes grow larger. (I was mostly watching Emily because she didn’t eat her crusts and CJ did.)
“But you broke up!”
“I know; I told him that. But he said he loved me in a special way no one else can, and that he would wait forever no matter how long it took. That’s how intelligent he is—I told him forever is actually forever, so we didn’t have to guess how long it would take.”
“How did he even find you?”
“He’s been calling like everybody, asking where I was staying,” CJ said. “God! He can’t open a book, but he can work the phones to track me down. He’ll probably be in a call center someday, selling life insurance over the phone. Oh wait, that would be hard work. Forget it.” She took what I was sad to see was the last piece of pizza. “You want this?”
“God no, I was full like three pieces ago.”
“I didn’t eat much dinner.”
“I don’t blame you.” Emily tossed me a piece of crust and I snagged it out of the air and dispatched it with a single chew, ready to do the trick again.
“You want any ice cream?” CJ asked. I heard the question in her voice as she picked up the carton, and wondered if maybe she was thinking of giving me some ice cream. The thought made my mouth water and I licked my lips.
“No, get it out of my sight.”
“I’ll probably gain like ten pounds,” CJ said.
“What? I wish I had your legs; mine are thunder thighs.”
“No, you look great. I’m the one with the big butt.”
“I’m seriously dieting after New Year’s.”
“Oh, stop, you look amazing right now,” Emily said. I was staring at her, willing her to pick up another piece of crust and toss it.
“I go to community service tomorrow,” CJ said. “It’s training service dogs.”
“It sounds like fun.”
“I know, right? The list was like, pick up trash along the highway, or pick up trash in the park, or pick up trash at the library—and then at the end of the list, work for this service dog place. I thought, which one will look better on my résumé? I mean, who knows, maybe I’ll want to go into waste management; then all the trash experience would help me with my career.”
“God, I can’t believe I ate all that,” CJ said, falling back with a groan.
The next morning CJ woke up before anyone else, showered, and took me for a car ride (front seat!). We arrived at a big building and I smelled dogs as soon as my paws touched the parking lot. I heard them, too, several dogs barking.
A woman greeted us. She said, “Hi, I’m Andi,” and then she dropped to her knees and reached for me, her long black hair draping my face. “Who is this?” she asked.
She was older than CJ but younger than Gloria and she smelled like dogs.
“This is Molly. I’m CJ,” CJ said.
“Molly! I had a Molly once. She was a good dog.” The affection pouring off of Andi was intoxicating. I licked her and she kissed me right back. Most people don’t like to kiss a dog’s lips. “Molly Molly Molly,” she crooned. “You are so beautiful; yes, you are. What a great dog.”
I liked Andi.
“What is she, a spaniel-poodle mix?” Andi asked, still kissing me and petting me.
“Maybe. Mother was a poodle, but the father nobody knows. Are you a spoodle, Molly?”
I wagged at my name. Andi finally stood up, but she kept her hand down within reach and I licked it.
“It’s a godsend you’re here; I really need the help,” Andi said as we walked inside the building. There was a big open space with kennels on either side and lots of dogs in the kennels. They all barked at me and each other, but I ignored them because I was a special-status dog, allowed to be out free while the rest of them were in cages.