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“Alright, fellas, ears and noses up. We have a family of five coming our way – this is it, this is the show,” Wilson yapped. “Scooter, easy, watch the drool on the lady’s pants this time. Rambo, Charlie, Luna – let’s go, you’re smaller, get up here. Charlie? Charlie! Jesus Christ, someone get Charlie up.”
Charlie, startled from his dream, sprang up. He was a little pissed to be woken up so suddenly — he almost had the squirrel that time — but he shook himself awake and whizzed around to the front of the fence. “Watch it, Charlie,” Luna snapped as Charlie nudged his way up front. It was a mild, sunny day outside at a Saturday Event, as Wilson and Scooter called them, with a perfect breeze that carried many smells throughout the shopping center’s courtyard and over to the gang’s pen, including something delicious coming off the family. Two of the kids, standing with a Big Man, already had their hands into the fence, giving pets and making high pitch squeals. Charlie really liked them and he couldn’t hide it as his butt started to wiggle and his tail started to wag. Even better, as Charlie sniffed the air, he could smell something he really liked. It smelled like something sweet and almost mapley – so much better than what he was fed at the Big Dog House. Maybe these kids had brought it? Whatever it is, he wanted it.
Charlie’s stomach grumbled as he jumped up, resting his paws on the mesh wire fence to get a good sniff at the family and maybe get his tongue on the kids’ hands. Wilson gave a playful bark as the youngest kid dragged the mother across the parking lot. Suddenly, Charlie smelled something else: it was the scent of hesitation, annoyance, and frustration wafting from the woman as she crossed the parking lot. He hopped off the fence and sat down like Claire, the nice lady from the Big Dog House, had been asking him to do all week. God, was he a Good Boy or what? He looked over his shoulder for Claire – he wanted his treat. As the family walked towards Charlie and the rest of the pack, Claire appeared and asked, “Hi, what can I help y’all with today?”
As the Man of the group started to open his mouth, the Annoyed Woman spoke up first, “We’re just looking today.” Charlie sensed Claire’s slight sadness as she nodded her head. The kids with their hands in the fence suddenly stopped petting and looked at the Annoyed Woman. “Mommmm!” the taller one whined so loud it almost hurt Charlie’s ears. “Daddy said we could get a dog if we got good report cards, and I worked extra hard in math!” Suddenly the youngest one started to cry. Charlie did not like that sound. It made him feel very sad and made him think of A Very Bad Place, and Charlie did not like to think of A Very Bad Place at all. It made his stomach grumble even more.
“Yes, I know that’s what your father said,” the Annoyed Woman snapped. “But apparently he forgot to tell me.” Charlie looked and saw the Big Man lower his head – he recognized that look. It was the same look Rambo had last week when Claire talked LOUD to him after eating his own throw up in the corner at The Big Dog House.
“Ah, Christ,” Scooter grumbled as he walked away towards the water bowl in a shady patch of the pen. He took a long drink. “I’m too old for this shit.” Scooter sighed, laid down and closed his eyes. Charlie’s stomach rumbled again as he realized that no, this family would not be giving him any treats. He sighed too, and walked over and laid down next to Scooter.
“We’ve been out here for a long time,” Charlie sighed as he put his head down. He watched the family walk away, and his stomach rumbled again. Damn, he really wanted some treats.
“Kid, we’ve literally been out here for fifteen minutes,” Scooter grumbled without opening his eyes. He turned his head. “It’s the same shit, different Saturday. Now excuse me, I have a nap to take. Mind the ears, pal.”
Charlie gave a little happy yip and laid close to him. He liked Scooter, especially Scooter’s long ears. Sometimes when it was a little too chilly for Charlie in the Big Dog House, he nuzzled under one of Scooter’s long ears to keep warm. Scooter was an older dog. Even though Wilson was the boss, Scooter knew everything. Scooter could even predict which families were at Saturday Events for real and who would come back if they left for a bit. When Claire first started bringing the dogs out on Saturday Events, Rambo and Charlie would bet Scooter their treats about the families. Charlie eventually stopped betting Scooter after he lost three in a row, but he knew Rambo was still putting wagers on everything. Charlie shook his head – what a waste of treats.
“Are you really just going to lay there?” Luna asked as she came over to take a sip of water.
Charlie popped one eye open and lifted his head. “Could you mutts at least point a lady to a patch of grass that she can use?” Luna strutted away to the corner of the pen while shaking her fluffy tail. Luna had always thought that she was better than Charlie and the rest of the gang because she said her mother was a Purebred, whatever that meant… all Charlie knew was that Luna sometimes didn’t even get excited at the Saturday Events because she thought some people were “mutt loving hippies,” as she put it. Whatever it was, Charlie only knew that Luna missed a lot of opportunities to get ear and butt scratches. In fact, Luna was even ignoring the elderly couple that had stopped by the pen looking at her. Claire walked over and began chatting with them.
“C’mon guys, seriously, you can’t just sit around,” Rambo was suddenly at the water bowl, yapping excitedly at Charlie and Scooter, too. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, those guys will be back!” Rambo was always excited about something. The other time he stopped was when Claire got out The Spray Bottle. It always made Rambo sit his tiny butt down.
Without even rolling over, Scooter moaned, “Want to put Milk Bones where your mouth is, Rambo? You still owe me four from last Saturday.” He let out a big sigh and rolled over on his back. “Double or nothing?” Scooter opened his eyes and rolled back over.
Rambo started to jump up and down. He yapped excitedly. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll take that bet! You heard those kids! Daddy promised! One of us is leaving! Or maybe all of us! We have to be up!” Luna came trotting back and began yapping too. Charlie perked up, one ear off to the side as Scooter moaned and rolled back the other way.
“Guys, guys, they’re coming back, they’re coming back!” Luna began to chase her tail. She always did it when she was excited. Charlie began to get dizzy just looking at her. He only ran in circles when there were treats. His stomach rumbled and he felt a little funny.
“Luna, calm the shit down,” Wilson barked. He had remained sitting at the front of the pen, on watch the entire time. Wilson barked again. “She’s right, they’re back, get up!” Charlie hopped up, standing on all four legs. Rambo and Luna rushed back up front to Wilson as the kids ran back over to the pen. The scent of their sweet sticky maple hands filled Charlie’s nose and they squatted down next to the pen. He took a few steps forward and then turned back to Scooter. “C’mon, Scooter, let’s go!” Charlie nudged Wilson. He didn’t move. “Scooter. Scooter. Scooter!” Charlie barked. Now his stomach felt really bad. “Scooter!” He barked again. One of the kids was trying to pick Rambo up, but Rambo kept wiggling his way out of the kid’s hands. “Hold it the fuck together!” Wilson snapped at him. Charlie wanted to desperately to get more of that sweet maple taste. “Scooter!” he barked again.
“Kid, I’m not wasting my time. That family ain’t for me,” Scooter groaned as he rolled on to his tummy and lifted his head. “I like my naps. I like my treats. I like to dig in my hole in the yard in one corner at the Big Dog House and I like to take my dumps in the other corner at the Big Dog House. Do you know how long it will take me to train that family, or any family? Nah, they ain’t it. Nobody’s it for this old hound,” Scooter laid his head back down. Charlie felt sad and his stomach rumbled again. God, the tricks he’d do for a treat right about now.
Just as Charlie was about to bark back at Scooter, Claire cooed, “Scooter, come here, boy.” She was standing with the elderly couple. “Scooter. Scooter! Sorry, we think he may have hearing damage due to his age.” Claire patted her legs and clapped her hands as she continued to call Scooter’s name. Even Wilson, Rambo and Luna turned from the kids, who was being petted by a separate kid, to look.
Scooter lifted his head. “Jesus Christ, can a dog just get a nap?” He groaned as he lifted his body up on his stubby legs and moved over to the old couple. “Don’t waste your good wags on those people, kid… Rambo is still going to owe me some treats after today.” Scooter groaned.
Charlie suddenly felt very alone. He looked at Claire, talking with her hands to the elderly people as Scooter stood there. (Charlie wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw a slight wag in Scooter’s tail.) Wilson, Rambo, and Luna each had a pair of hands on them: one of the kids was already holding Luna. Charlie knew it was no use to try to nudge his nose in; only the Annoyed Woman and Big Man were left to pet him, and the Annoyed Woman seemed to give the Big Man a mean look whenever he tried to touch Wilson.
Charlie sighed and sat down as his tummy rumbled yet again. And that’s when he heard it, a sound carrying over from somewhere. Charlie had heard it before, from Claire, two weeks ago when Fiona was taken away from a Saturday Event with a Nice Woman, Short Man and Little Girl, but this was different this time. As he turned his head, he also caught the scent: it smelled like salty water, like Sadness. Charlie saw A Lady sitting on a bench across the courtyard from the pen. She was talking on what looked like the Shiny Hand Block that Rambo had thought was a toy when it fell out of Claire’s pocket one day. Claire had been Loud at Rambo when he did that, so Charlie knew that the Shiny Hand Block was not a toy at all. He cocked his head to the side and listened to The Lady:
“… After three years. I thought after he came home from the trip that he would – yes, I know, there were probably signs, Mom… No, I don’t know what he meant by ‘He didn’t see it going anywhere.’ I don’t know, he’s probably not going to go find himself as he already had someone else and is off doing that someone else, Mom… I don’t know, did I do something wrong? Obviously, I did… I’m not repeating that, I’m not. I’m already crying on a bench in public, I’m not saying that… Fine… I will find the man one day, one who will be kind, who will be loyal, loving and who will be what I deserve. I’m sorry I keep calling you, Mom. I know it’s almost been three months, but everything is so different… God, I’m a blubbering mess… I know. I know… Alright, yeah, let me go, this is not attractive, ha, not going to find a man like this… Love you too, Mom, thank you… tell Dad the same. ”
Charlie watched as The Lady put the Shiny Hand Block into her pocket. She had weird red eyes and wiped them. As she moved her arms, Charlie caught her scent in the wind. It smelled like vanilla, cinnamon, peanut butter, and weirdly enough… a treat. As his stomach grumbled, Charlie couldn’t help but let out a small woof, he couldn’t help it. Suddenly, The Lady looked at him. Charlie turned his head to the other side, and The Lady smiled. Charlie sat up a little straighter and woofed again, and The Lady turned her head to look behind her and then looked back at Charlie. She smiled again and got up and walked toward Charlie. As she got closer to him, the scent of her got stronger. God she smelled good, Charlie thought as his tail began to wag fiercely.
The Lady squatted down in front of the wire mesh fence. Her scent was so strong, Charlie wagged his tail even harder. “Were you listening to me, there, doggy? What’s your name?” she asked as she put her fingers through the fence and rubbed the top of Charlie’s head and ears. She used her other hand to look at Charlie’s collar. “I see, Charlie… aw, you’re a cutie, what are you, a little terrier mix? Look at that one floppy ear, oh my God you’re so sweet.”
Charlie tried to lick her hands and find whatever treats The Lady had, but he only tasted some salty water. He pushed his body against the fence as The Lady scratched his whole body. Yes, yes, yes, back, belly, and yes, butt, oh right there, Charlie stretched as The Lady rubbed his whole body. She was the whispering the whole time, “You’re so friendly, what a good boy. I bet you like to run and play and fetch, don’tcha, Charlie?” The Lady stood up, sighed, and looked away into the distance. Suddenly Charlie’s heart sank. He wanted more scratches and a treat, but more than that, he could smell and feel The Lady’s heart sinking too. He liked her and the way that she scratched his ears and his butt. Charlie could sense and smell that more salty water might be coming from her. He let out one strong bark, startling The Lady, and sat back and looked at her, right in the eyes. She stared right back at him for what felt like forever to Charlie, and a smile spread across her face.
“You know, Jeff never liked dogs… He always was an idiot. Charlie… do you wanna come home with me?” .