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The Puppy Trap



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About The Author

Elsa WatsonElsa Watson

From 1996 to 1998, Elsa Watson served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, where she began writing novels, all in longhand. She now lives on an island in Washington State with her husband, cat, and two dogs. Her short work has appeared in the Writers... More

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EXCERPT

THE PUPPY TRAP (Part 1)

Sasha

I sit by the front door, my tail thwacking the floor. I hear Josie moving through the house, picking things up and putting them down, going here and there, until at last she arrives and opens the door. I step onto the front porch and take a cautious look at the yard, the street, the sidewalks. Two cars are going by, but I don't see anything dangerous, no monsters or gangs of attacking dogs. I sniff the wind, checking for wolves and coyotes. When I'm positive nothing vicious is going to catch me unawares, I trot down onto the grass and take a sniff around.

Good--everything smells just the way I left it last night. I pee in small spots all around the edge, wishing I had more pee in me, wishing I smelled more ferocious. But I don't. I'm just me, and I smell like what I am--a puppy who's big on cuteness, low on toughness.

Josie comes out the front door and I bound up to her, squashing my old tennis ball in my teeth. It's soppy wet, full of cold dew that fills my mouth when I give it a few good chomps. Josie's wearing my favorite clothes--the cotton shorts that she's washed so many times they're soft like a fleece dog bed, and the shoes that smell like sweat and have a hole at the toe. My tail zings back and forth behind my butt. We're going to go for a jog, but first we get to play catch.

"Drop it, Sasha. Good girl."

Josie picks up my ball and tosses it to the corner of the yard. I race after it, giving my run extra exuberance to perk Josie up. I catch my ball, gnash it hard, and run back to her, zigzagging a few times, since that made her laugh when I tried it a few days ago. Today she doesn't laugh. When she throws the ball again, I fetch it and then toss it up in the air and try to make it land on my head. I look back at her, eager for her laugh. I get nothing. Not even a smile. Her eyes are trained on something far away from me--the kids next door.

The next-door kids--I love them! Josie waves to them, and suddenly they're in our yard, tumbling around with me. I enjoy the rumble for a while, hopping this way and that, dropping onto my back every time one of them gives me the slightest push. Then I remember my ball and take it over to Josie.

"Can I throw?" one of the kids, a little boy, asks. When his sister sees him getting a turn, she suddenly wants to throw, too. Josie hands them the ball one at a time, and they throw for me. When the boy gets bored, he joins me on my ball chase.

The girl's throws are wild and wobbly. One hits the front walk and bounces high, toward the street. I start to go after it, and so does the boy. We're running hard, and we don't even see the car until there's suddenly a loud noise. I hear Josie scream--she's right behind us, her arm in front of the boy, the other in front of me. I stumble over her arm, falling into the street, but the car shrieks to a stop.

Josie is breathing hard--she's almost crying. But the boy is okay, he's still on the sidewalk. And I'm okay. I jump up to lick her face, trying to reassure her, to cheer her up.

"You must never, ever run out into the street," she tells us both when she has us back on the grass. "That car could have hit you!"

The boy nods and scampers off with his sister, back to their house. I sit and listen to Josie. She's shaking a little, and her face has that worried, dismal look she wears so often. I frolic around, trying to shake her out of it, but nothing works. Those kids are so much fun, but I almost wish they wouldn't come over. They always make Josie so sad.

 

This is my first memory of Josie--my first memory of all of us. I'm in a crate with Zipper. I know it's Zipper because he's been with me every second, always. When I look at my paws, I see his, over and under and next to mine. When I run, it's because Zipper is running. Barking is the same. And eating. I lick my front leg and I end up licking Zipper's belly. I scratch my side and I fall over onto him, knocking him down.

Zipper and I ride in the crate. There are people voices, but we ignore them like we always do. Then the crate lands on a floor and the door opens. A voice--Aidan's voice, I learn that later--says, "Come on out, puppies. Welcome home!"

We skitter out, sliding on the smooth floor. Zipper takes off for one corner, and I bound after him. My back feet catch up with my front feet and I careen into him. He yelps, but just for fun, then takes off for the next corner. I hear Josie's voice saying, "Wow--have you ever seen anything so cute in your life? They're like golden puffballs!"

"Golden spazzes is more like it," Aidan says. His arms appear above our heads. He scoops Zipper up and lifts him millions of miles into the air.

Suddenly hands are on my ribs. I squirm, but only for a second because I'm being lifted a million miles in the air, too. I look up and see Josie. She holds me in her arms. I try not to wriggle because I don't want to fall, but dogs weren't meant to be this high. We belong on the ground.

Josie steps closer to Aidan and Zipper. It makes me woozy, moving through the air like this, and I'm sure I'm going to fall. I close my eyes. When I open them, Zipper is here, his body smooshed up against mine the way we like it. Aidan is here, too, and I catch his smells and Josie's smells and Zipper's smells, which are so much a part of me it's like they come off my own paws.

"Hello, family," Aidan says softly.

"Hello," says Josie. Their faces are close. They're kissing, and the air is warm as a cushion, like grass in the sunshine. I put my nose in Zipper's ear, and he kicks me with his back paws.

 

That was forever ago. It was in a different house, one with wooden floors. Right now, Josie and I are outside, walking, cooling down. We pass a dog--a corgi, not Zipper--on the way to our house, which is yellow and makes me think of good things like butter and eggs and my food dish. I know just what will happen next. We'll go in the house and I'll eat breakfast while Josie makes showering sounds and puts on clothes. Then we'll go to work. That's what's great about our life, that every day is the same. Except for weekends. On those days, we sleep in later and Josie wears jeans when we go to work.

 

Josie

I love getting to the office before anyone else. When Sasha and I walked down the silent halls, I looked into the empty offices and imagined using my solitary time to do something wild, crazy. I could run through every office, tossing all the paperwork onto the floor. Record new voice mail messages on everyone's phones. Fill the hallway with tennis balls and run through them, kicking balls all over the place.

But of course I didn't do any of these things. I'm a professional. I was there to work, not mess around. Besides, all those tennis balls would have made it really hard to get to the bathroom.

June can be a sketchy month weatherwise in the Pacific Northwest, so I was wearing the GORE-TEX windbreaker and visor that a new athletic gear company sent us to test. We'd be running a review of their stuff in one of the late fall issues. The jacket I pulled off was purple; the staff had made me take it because they said they were sick of seeing me in blue and black all the time.

Sasha and I had been in my office for an hour before anyone interrupted me. In that time I'd finalized an agreement for Athletica to sponsor the Fleet Feet and Paws 5K at that fall's Woofinstock event, right here in Madrona. I sent our logo to the Woofinstock committee and made a list of things I'd need to provide: banners, our sponsorship payment, our URL, and a link from the Athletica Web site. And our editor-in-chief would have to be there, ready to have her picture taken with the Fleet Feet and Paws winner.

I was deep into my next project, deciding whether we should sponsor a women's surfing competition in Santa Cruz, when a face appeared at my door.

"Howdy." My friend Teresa had the kind of flat, open face that made me think of the Midwest--though she was from Portland. She was tan and freckled, and had tawny-colored hair that blended in with the rest of her. "So is June always like this here?"

I laughed. "It is. But don't worry, July and August are beautiful." Teresa had only been here for a few months. "And, excuse me, but this visor you had me try is horrible," I said, picking up a purple visor off my desk. "Either it's a disaster or my head's shaped all wrong."

"No, it's the visor." Teresa came in and sat in the chair across from my desk. Sasha, who'd been gnawing on her knotted rope toy, jumped up to see her. Within seconds, Teresa had Sasha in her lap. That was almost fifty pounds of dog, but Teresa treated her like a teacup poodle.

"Who wears visors, anyway?" I said, taking a drink of water. "Isn't that kind of 1980s Nancy Lopez?"

"Oh, come on--you're too young to remember Nancy Lopez," Teresa said. "That's my era!"

"ESPN Classic," I said with a grin. "I may be a student of sports history, but I still say no to the visor. And leg warmers." Teresa handled Athletica's product review section. She saw a lot of gadgets and gear, but I'd never seen her get excited about any of it except the pedometer that played Mr. Rogers theme music when you checked your mileage. Teresa grabbed Sasha's head in her hands and rubbed her nose on Sasha's forehead. That earned her three licks. "Who's the best puppy?" she asked. "Who's the best dog in the whole wide world?" Another two licks.

"You'd better not let Jeni hear you saying that," I said. Jeni was Teresa's black Newfoundland, a dog so big it could swallow your hand and not even notice. Jeni was a sweetheart, but Teresa didn't bring her to work because she'd need a whole office unto herself. Jeni really liked to stretch out.

When Sasha was done licking, Teresa turned to me. "So," she said. "Can you meet with the Speedo people on Friday? The twentieth?"

I frowned. "Friday's not the twentieth. It's the twenty-first."

Teresa's face twisted with worry. "You're kidding. Really? Oh, shoot, I just e-mailed them..."

She kept talking, but I wasn't listening.

My eyes were locked on my calendar, staring at today's date. June 19. This was our anniversary. Seven years ago on this day I was wearing the prettiest white dress I'd ever seen, standing opposite Aidan, holding his hand, waiting for the big kiss.

Do people still have anniversaries if they're separated?

Suddenly the room was too stuffy. My mouth tasted sour. "Don't worry," I said, though my voice sounded like it was originating from the other side of the room. "People mess up dates all the time."

"Right," said Teresa. "Of course you're right. I'll go e-mail them again right now." She started to stand up. "Say, you're single, right?"

A wild little laugh popped out of my mouth. "Yes, I sure am. Single. That's me. Well, separated, but I think we're on our way to the big D, since we haven't spoken in over half a year."

"Half a year?" Teresa echoed. "Trust me. If you haven't talked in that long, you should get to count yourself as single. Take it from someone who knows."

I nodded, glad that Teresa understood. Her own divorce was finalized only a little while before she moved here. "We haven't spoken since he moved out last November," I said, feeling strangely disjointed from my own body. "He transferred to his firm's San Francisco office." I pictured Aidan in a wet suit with sand in his hair. Or a business suit with sun in his eyes.

"Oh, wow, I didn't know you were going through all that." Teresa's face looked melted with sadness. "I'm so sorry. Divorce is a mighty big thing."

Well, we weren't divorced yet. My eye flicked to the business card on the corner of my desk. Lauren J. Klein, attorney at law. Should I call today? Start the gears turning toward a divorce? Surely, if we were going to reconcile, we'd have talked at least once. Right?

"Sasha and I are doing just fine," I said, suddenly determined not to let Teresa feel sorry for me. "We have a great new rental place with a yard and kids next door. And I have lots of time to play ball with her, go running. It's been...fun." Fun wasn't quite the word I was looking for, but I wasn't ready to tell Teresa how miserable I'd been. I didn't tell her how I celebrated Sasha's first birthday--back in February--all alone. Or how disturbingly silent my new rental place was. "I'm glad to hear that," Teresa was saying. "Because Jeni and I have a new neighbor. He just moved into the rental next door a couple of weeks ago. We've been doing a lot of sailing--he has the same kind of sailboat I have. And he's cute. About your age. I could have you both over to dinner. He has a dog, a yellow Lab like yours--it could be a whole dog party."

My heart picked up its pace. I reached out and turned Lauren J. Klein's card facedown so I wouldn't have to look at it. "Thanks, really, but I don't think so. I don't want to date anyone who already has a dog. What if their dog doesn't get along with Sasha? That would be a deal breaker. And she's used to being an only dog."

Teresa gave me a look that was stuffed full of doubts, but she let me off the hook.

I glanced back at my calendar, at the date curved in black print, and wondered what Aidan was doing. Was he thinking of me today? Probably not. He was probably out surfing or wake boarding or doing whatever Californians did in June. No, scratch that. He was at the office. No doubt about it. Work was what he lived for--it had always been more important than anything else. Anything.

In the afternoon, Nathaniel appeared in the doorway.

"You know what happens when you're all work and no play," he said, spinning his finger in a crazy-spiral next to his head. Nathaniel was a muscular guy with curly hair that's surfer long. I was pretty sure he was quite a bit younger than I was, but it was hard to tell.

I looked up. "Done with your big article?" I asked.

He nodded. "I couldn't get the Kerri Walsh interview, but Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird signed a basketball for me." He pushed off the doorjamb and came in, bent down, and rubbed Sasha under her collar. "Big plans for the weekend?"

"Just work," I said with a smile that I hoped was balanced between friendly and encouraging. If I was being totally honest, I knew that he'd had a little thing for me for a while. I'd been keeping it cool while I recovered from the crack-up of my marriage. But so many things seemed to be nudging me forward that day. My anniversary, Teresa's cute next-door neighbor, the business card lying facedown near my phone...Maybe going on a date was the right next step to take. Why shouldn't I give it a try? What was stopping me?

"I bet Sasha would love a trip to Foxglove Park, say, on Saturday morning," he said, scratching her back. "Wouldn't you?"

Sasha panted in his face. Of course she wanted to go. Foxglove Park is our new, amazing off-leash dog park that's five acres full of trails, a swimming beach, and a huge grassy area where dogs meet for flyball and agility practice. Any dog would bark its head off for a chance to go. And, honestly, I was feeling pretty upbeat about it myself.

"I bet she would," I said. "Let's do it."

"Seriously?" Nathaniel stopped petting Sasha and looked up at me.

"Yeah," I said, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. "Is that weird?"

"Nope." He was grinning. "Not at all. It's just that I've asked you to do stuff a thousand times and you always say no. What makes this time different?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Because Sasha told me to. Because it sounds fun. Because today is June 19. No special reason at all."

 

Sasha

The big park! The giant, endless master of all parks!

I'm trying to do everything at once. This place is full of dogs, so every time I set out to go somewhere, I'm distracted by a dog who wants to stop and meet. I meet a dozen brown and black dogs, a few other Labs, and a whole pack of pugs with little harnesses on. Some want to stop and sniff, saying a proper hello. Others just play-bow or cruise past me with their ball in their mouth, showing off. Big dogs like to pretend they don't have time for puppies. I have sand in my paws, pine needles on my back, and someone else's fur on my nose. I want to live here forever.

I've already been swimming, run around the grassy spot, and enticed a Scottie to chase me up and down a trail through the woods. I love being chased. Josie and Nathaniel are lagging behind me even though I know Josie could keep up if she was alone. She's lagging because she's talking. Distracted by greetings, just like I am. And that's fine. Friends are nice. But I think she needs to mix things up a little. Talk to some of the other people who are here.

Josie's holding my leash and collar--she took them off when I went swimming. I try pushing up close to some dogs that have friendly looking people so Josie can meet them, but she hangs back with Nathaniel. She's shy at the park. I've seen this before. We don't usually come here, I think because she doesn't like standing around watching me with my friends when she doesn't have any.

Next I try going up to some people, to show her how friendly they are, but that doesn't work, either. She stays where she is. Then Nathaniel gets out a Frisbee, and I decide that Josie can make her own friends.

I start running, and before I know it, I'm breathing hard and the Frisbee is soaking wet. Nathaniel keeps throwing it, and I bring it back again and again and again. A few raindrops fall on my nose, but I ignore them. The Frisbee must be captured.

Nathaniel's standing close to Josie, closer than he needs to for talking. I'm about to try squeezing my way between them when he steps forward and winds up for a big throw.

"Go deep!" he hollers, and I start running up and over a grassy hill. I have to dodge a pair of Westies and leap through tall grass, but I keep going. The Frisbee soars over my head as I surge after it. It hits the ground on the far side of the hill and lands on its side, rolling. I chase after it, skidding down a narrow trail. The other dogs are far behind me. All I can hear are the waves on the beach and the sound of my own feet and breathing.

The Frisbee is wobbling to a stop, and I'm almost on it when suddenly it's snatched from the ground by a yellow muzzle. I try to cover my shock and stop running, but I can't, so I slide right into the other dog. We tangle and roll, and suddenly the other dog is licking me all over, and I'm licking him, because it's Zipper, it's Zipper, it's ZIPPER!

Each of us is so excited to sniff every part of the other, we flip and spin into a ball. Zipper is soaking wet, and now we're both muddy from the dirt. I know Josie doesn't like me to get muddy, but there's no stopping Zip from tumbling me over again and again. And the more we roll, the less I care about staying clean.

I gnaw on Zipper's leg, and it's the same leg I've always known, the same loose fur and skin over the same bones. He's bigger, though. Taller and broader. I must be, too, though I hadn't noticed growing. We're still perfectly matched, our feet identical except for the two black nails on one of Zip's front paws. All of my nails are clear.

Zipper stops wriggling for a minute, so I do, too. We flop on the ground, his head on my belly, my paws on his neck. I hear his breath, and I hear my breath. The smell of him is so familiar I can't believe it's been missing for so long. I want to rub his scent all over myself, so I'll always smell like him. I arch my neck and lick his ear. He looks up at me, then gives me a slobbery lick on the nose. I sneeze, and Zipper's up on his feet, play-bowing to me, his head full of some new game. Zipper always has a game in mind.

I spring to my paws and we're off, racing across the grass toward the beach. Sand flies out around us as we frolic in and out of the water. We light along, sometimes yipping, sometimes play-growling, sometimes just running. Because running is wonderful, but it's even better with your brother at your side. I feel like things have been very wrong for a long time, and now they've suddenly come right again, like when the sun finally rises after a long night of thunderstorms. My mouth can't smile wide enough.

We're wrestling, panting hard, when we hear it. Far off in the direction of the grassy hill--it's Josie, calling. "Sa-sha!" she calls. "Let's go, Sash!"

Zipper stops playing. He stands up on all four paws, his attention riveted on the grassy hill. Josie calls again, and Zip whimpers softly.

When Zipper and Aidan left, I missed them so much my belly ached. It never occurred to me that they might be living somewhere, missing Josie--missing her the way I did when I stayed at the Pet Lodge for that weekend. To me they were just gone. Vanished. I thought I would never see them again outside my memories--until today. Now it seems so obvious that Zipper missed Josie--and that Josie must have missed Zipper. And Aidan. The same way I did.

A sharp whistle cuts through the air, making me shiver. Aidan's whistle. I'm on my feet before I know it. That sound is linked to my muscles--my legs respond before I even stop to think. I want to go to Aidan. I long to see him again, to wrap myself in his scent just like I did with Zipper. But how can I leave my brother? Should I go or stay? I can't decide.

As usual, Zipper decides for both of us. When Josie calls again, he gives a little yelp and trots toward the grassy hill. He looks back and me, his eyes full and brown. Then he pants, smiling, as if to say that he'll be back in a second. Off he goes, over the grassy hill, his tail wagging furiously. Aidan whistles again, and I bound forward, overjoyed at the thought of seeing him, smelling him, licking his face. We've been apart for almost half my life. Will he recognize me? I would know him anywhere. I could be in the middle of the ocean, or a forest, or a field of snow, and his whistle would bring me flying as fast as my four paws could take me.

THE PUPPY TRAP Copyright © 2012 by Elsa Watson

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