Puppy Love

Excerpt – Chapter One

It isn’t just the chocolate and the feel of mischief in the air that I’ve always loved about Halloween. All Hallows’ Eve has always brought a welcome crispness to the air that tempers the oppressive heat and humidity lingering from overlong summers, and it always gives me a sense of beginning as the wheel of the year turns each fall. Halloween 2000 seemed no different from any other. That morning,  I had no sense of what awaited me, hidden between a pizza parlor, a liquor store and a dilapidated supermarket that always smelled of bleach and mold. I had no sense of how my life—and hundreds of others’—was about to change…

…I knew it was unlikely that hordes of children would be making their way up the dark, scary, quarter-mile driveway to my isolated house in the middle of the woods…. but if one or two failed to calculate the negative cost–benefit of coming up to our house, I wanted to be prepared.

…I pulled into the parking lot of the nearest mall, strode determinedly toward the stinky grocery store, and was stopped in my tracks by the sign.

Puppies $49.99.

My legs changed course. My head and my walking stick were both powerless to stop them as they took me toward the green awning of the pet supplies store that had definitely not been there the last time I’d braved Bleach-and-Mold Mart. No, I thought to my legs, not puppies—Kit Kats! My legs ignored me. My heart reminded me that the last time I’d walked into a store with a “Puppies $49.99” sign, it brought me my first dog, Atticus, and changed my life. My head reminded me that the two dogs and two cats I already had were quite enough. I just needed candy.

“HI THERE!” shouted the young clerk with long brown hair and a pierced lip, a bit too enthusiastically.

“I, ah . . . the sign says you have puppies?” I ventured….

…There were five of them, three black and two yellow…

But it was the fifth, the smallest, who drew me in immediately. A smaller baby boy with a black velvet coat and bewildered brown eyes, he was clearly much slower than his littermates… He wandered through his siblings’ roughhousing, a toddler in a roller derby. They kept knocking him over as they zoomed by, and as soon as he got up, they’d body-slam him to the ground again. When he did manage to get out of their way, he drifted aimlessly around the pen. Like the eight ball in a game of puppy pool set into motion by an invisible cue ball, he bounced uncontrollably off the sides of the box, bumping into one side and veering off, before hitting the other and bouncing off again.

He was in my hand before I knew I had reached out to pick him up.

The tufted fur on his pure-white chest reminded me of a tuxedo bib and matched the snowy spats on his two back paws. His ears were tiny, folded triangles with points that didn’t quite touch his jet-black head. He wore a funny, almost distant expression, as if he were listening intently to a faraway sound only he could hear.

… I raised him just off the ground for thirty seconds to note his constitution—was he confident? comfortable being handled? disoriented?—and as suspected, he just hung there, inexplicably relaxed or confused; it was hard to tell which. I got the sense he didn’t even know he wasn’t on the floor…

The fact that there could hardly be a worse time to bring a new dog into my life was probably exactly the reason the universe put him right in front of me…

…A new puppy was the last thing we needed right now. Yet, Atticus was ten, and a puppy might bring him some youthful energy; Dante could always use another playmate; and after the summer we’d had, perhaps a puppy was just what we really needed.

The more I watched him stumble around in the pen, getting knocked down time and time again, the more the floor gripped at my feet. It was as if I couldn’t move until I’d figured out a way to help this little tuxedo-wearing furball…

I believe that fate leads us to the animals we need in our lives—and the animals who need us in theirs….

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