I stared out of the window for hours. What began as an occasional snowflake floating through the wind shifted into an onslaught of white furry, creating a mixture of ice and snow that covered everything in its path. By morning, I knew icicles would be ready for the taking as they were already beginning to cascade off of every surface. Sometimes, my brothers and I would head out to search for the largest ice dagger only to end up licking it until it melted or dropping it to see the ice skate across the pavement in a million pieces. I felt like I might burst into a million pieces myself right in our living room from impatience and worry. Perhaps I was being melodramatic, but in the end, I didn’t care.
My father should have been home an hour ago. My uncle, living next door and working at the family business, had already arrived. When I saw Uncle Dale drive by in his truck, I immediately threw on my winter coat and boots, running over to his house to see if Dad happened to ride with him. He did not. Why they didn’t just carpool never made any sense to me, and right then, it was downright infuriating.
“Emily, calm down.”
I turned around, feeling the steam nearly escape from my ears and wondering which brother I would have to wallop when I heard a noise out front. I stood to the side, crossing my arms. Dad was my dearest friend, other than Dylan, but my brothers would never understand. I wouldn’t calm down. I just wanted him home. It was that simple.
Dad’s old blue truck came down the driveway, the headlights dancing in the snow that was settling in. Finally, I thought. He sure did take a ridiculous amount of time. Dad never rushed, not even with us by his side pushing for him to get in the car and head home. He had a way of giving his full attention to anyone who wanted to talk and we often found ourselves trying to stay occupied. It was at its worst in the summer when we spent our days at the ballpark. He coached all of our baseball teams, making him probably one of the most well known guys in the area. Sports always remained the center of our small town and my friends loved him. Everyone did. It made me proud, even if I wasn’t the star athlete that Bobby and Brooks were known to be.
He opened the door, stomping his work boots in the foyer while holding a small brown bundle of shivering fur. My eyes grew in wonder before being shoved out of the way by a brother. He, I thought, would be the first to get walloped. I surely never came out of any argument or fight victorious, but I always fought them anyway. It was the way of survival in our home. If you didn’t fight, you might as well just lay on the ground and become a doormat.
“What is it?” I heard Dylan ask.
My interest peaked, but I stood to the side and patiently, or rather impatiently, waited. Being the youngest and smallest in the family often had its advantages and I suspected that I would be the first to be addressed. Dad quietly walked past Bobby, Brooks, and Dylan, diplomatically centering himself as all four of us surrounded him. I saw my mother move behind me, also invested now in what was sure to be the surprise of a lifetime. He set the bundle on the ground as it peered up with large brown eyes, assessing each and every one of us. I assessed it back, immediately deciding that I would love it more than I’ve ever loved anything.
“I found her in the snow by the shop,” Dad said, looking only at Mom. “I think she was abandoned.”
“Abandoned?” I asked. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could leave her, defenseless and hungry in the cold.
“Can we keep her?” Bobby asked.
I felt giddy. Trust Bobby to get to the important questions, and trust my parents, as I was hoping, to let us have a pet. We had pets before, but none like this. I knew a dog would be different, and quite honestly, I needed her. I could feel that I needed her.
Dad remained silent, never breaking eye contact with Mom. I wondered what kind of thoughts they were exchanging until I heard Mom sigh. I knew that was a good sign. Dad smiled, drying her off and allowing her to explore. We all tried not to crowd around her, but it was the most exciting thing to get a puppy. She was a medium sized dog, stocky and curious. Her short brown hair was broken up by a white patch leading to her stomach and white feet that seemed to quicken with each step. She peered up at me, her large eyes looking as though she knew exactly what I was thinking.
“Can I name her? Let’s call her Socks.” Dylan said.
“Socks is a cat name,” Brooks said.
“She looks like she could be a Daisy.” I said.
“We are not naming a dog Daisy.” Bobby retorted.
We continued arguing as our parents watched us with amused looks. No one could agree on a name, but it was obvious that everyone just wanted to be responsible for naming the family dog. It was a prize to be won and I wanted the glory. I could see it then, naming the dog Daisy. Whenever anyone would think of Daisy for years to come, they would think of me. Emily, the genius who named the dog.
The night turned into days, and days turned into weeks. No one was agreeing on a name, so we called her exactly what she was, Puppy. Eventually, she only responded to Puppy and before we knew it, it was all we wanted to call her. In a way, it was Puppy that chose her own name.
“That was very fair of you,” I told her.
As the winter season thawed and turned into spring, we soon learned that Puppy was indeed a free spirit. Living in the country, she followed us outdoors and seemed to thrive in the fresh air and freedom. She ran with us when we went on bike rides or walks, becoming our shadow for the sake of adventure. She never let us out of her sight when we went to a neighboring farm or into the woods, where our treehouse was located. We weren’t sure who actually owned the treehouse, but it was there and ready to be claimed.
Being seven and nine, Puppy had a tendency of following Dylan and I the most as Bobby and Brooks were usually out with friends or playing baseball. If we were a dynamic duo before Puppy’s arrival, we were surely a triumphant trio with Puppy in tow.
Going to the treehouse everyday that summer, we made a habit of packing lunch. One sandwich for Dylan, one sandwich for me, and one sandwich for Puppy. Naturally, Puppy expected nothing less. The treehouse was on the other side of the woods, tucked deep into the corner. It was built on the top of two trees and towered well above what was considered safe. The weathered and discolored wood hinted at age, but the ladder offered just the support we needed to get inside. Puppy would sit below, keeping watch and alerting us if there were any unexpected guests. There never were, but she was very diligent.
“Make sure to give her a peanut butter sandwich,” Dylan said. “It’s her favorite.”
I rolled my eyes. I obviously knew what Puppy liked and probably better than Dylan. I decided against saying that. It would be mine and Puppy’s secret. The boys all had each other. Puppy and I were the girls. It would always be the two of us against the world.
I packed up the sandwiches and a book to read and we set off, looking forward to getting out of the house. We always looked forward to getting out of the house, our appearance mirroring our time outdoors with tanned skin and streaks of lightened hair. My grandpa told me he sometimes forgot how blue my eyes were until summer hit, when my sun kissed skin seemed to bring them out in contrast. I stared in the mirror for hours that day, trying to see what he saw.
We stepped outside and whistled for Puppy. Silence. It was unlike Puppy to not come when we called. Maybe she was on an adventure of her own. She did that from time to time, but often enough it would bring us trouble. I cringed, remembering the time we got off the school bus with feathers scattered around our front yard. Puppy had gotten a rooster, the neighbor’s prize winning rooster, at that. My mother had been mortified, but not as mortified I’m sure as the rooster or bunnies that the same neighbor decided to let free.
“Where do you think she is?” I asked Dylan, growing worried.
“I’m sure she’s out there somewhere. Calm down Emily.”
Calm down. I snorted. I was constantly being told to calm down as though I was in hysterics.
We searched for hours. The houses that surrounded us were distanced with an occasional farm in between. Our neighbors to either side were Uncle Dale and Uncle Gino. We knew she couldn’t be that close without responding. We were losing the sun. I looked up, seeing it beginning its game of hide and seek as it began to tuck itself behind the trees. Dylan was going to his friend’s house that night, so we decided to head inside, trusting that Puppy would come home when she was ready. Puppy always liked to sunbathe. Maybe she found the perfect spot, basking in the last rays that the sun had to offer.
That night, we opened the windows, allowing the warm breeze to run through our home. I inhaled. I loved the summer air. The sound of crickets followed the wind and settled into the living room. It wasn’t often that I got a free night without the boys, so I took advantage by sprawling out on the couch with snacks in hand and the movie, Anastasia, playing. That’s when I heard it. An engine revved, a thump, and tires squealing. My blood ran cold and drained out of my very being. I knew in an instant what had happened.
I stood, feeling my legs weaken and fearing that they would collapse under my weight. I grabbed the wall for support, walking slowly down the hallway to find Mom on the computer. Her red hair was thrown into a bun, her eyebrows furrowed as she stared at the screen.
She immediately looked up, sensing the uneasiness in my voice.
“I think Puppy got hit by a car.”
The next moments became a blur as she shot up from her seat. She told me to sit on the couch and to not go outside. I did as she instructed. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. I felt it in my soul. Puppy and I were connected that way. Her light was dimming. I saw lights flash through the window and peeked, seeing my parents and both of my uncles gathered by the road. I sat once again, questioning why Dylan and I didn’t look for a little longer. Maybe we should’ve told her we were going to make her a sandwich, one with extra peanut butter.
Mom walked through the front door, the very same door that I had seen Puppy come through the first time. Her eyes were tired. The bright green color they usually held took on a darker shade, now similar to the color of the trees that supported our treehouse.
“Let’s go get a soda”
Without responding, I got up and walked outside with her. I didn’t see my uncles or dad outside. I didn’t see their flashlights in the distance. I didn’t hear their hushed voices. It was as though nothing had happened. For a moment, I began to believe that nothing had.
“I want to go!”
I looked past our front door to see one of my older cousins, Krista, out of breath with her hands on her knees. For a moment, I felt eager. I was eager that someone was there with me and I was eager that it was Krista. There were eight of us total between the three households, but as the youngest, I was often left to myself. Everyone had friends and each other. I had Puppy. Puppy. My stomach dropped as reality slowly crept back into my mind. I looked up, seeing nothing but stars in the sky. The night was mockingly peaceful.
We walked to the car and I got in the backseat. I never got to call shotgun with the boys around, but I didn’t feel like it would be fair to take it from Krista. She could have the front seat. I didn’t mind.
Mom turned the radio on, soft rock beginning to play quietly. I stared back at our house, looking deep into the dark to try to distinguish the different shades of red on the brick. Three shades of red. Black shutters. Black door. The porch was small and concrete, the sidewalk leading around the front flower bed into the driveway as it disappeared into the night. The garage was behind our house, the lights from inside breaking up the darkness. I saw dark figures outlined. One holding a blanket. One holding something long, something I knew held the power between life and death.
We left the driveway and I continued to look out the window, searching. I wanted to see Puppy running alongside our car. Maybe then I could put all of my fears aside knowing that she was safe.
“I want to roll down my window,” I said.
Mom’s fingers gripped the steering wheel as her knuckles turned white.
“I’d like to keep them up. I want to hear this song.”
She turned up the music, quietly singing along and prompting Krista to do the same. I leaned my head against the cool window, closing my eyes tight when I heard the gunshot.
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