Zachary wouldn’t pose properly—and, in Emily’s opinion, the fact that he was a dog was not a good enough excuse. She had been trying to draw a portrait of him ever since she’d gotten home from school, but all she had managed to do so far was a few wasted pages with the beginnings of pictures, none of which looked right at all. So she just kept flipping to the next page in her sketchbook and trying again—and again, and again.
It was September, and the sky was that perfect bright blue shade, with almost no clouds, and a clean backdrop of tall green fir trees across the sound. The ocean was an even darker, clear blue, with the water just choppy enough to look interesting. So her plan had been for Zachary to sit sweetly on their dock, while she did her best to capture him looking dignified and noble.
Zachary’s plan seemed to be to sit still for about thirty seconds, and then race along the rocky shoreline to bark at seagulls, crawl under bushes to find one of his many battered tennis balls, roll around in the grass, and gallop up to the back deck every so often to drink heartily from his water dish.
Then, he would run over to her, wagging his tail. He kept trying to climb on her lap, even though—since he was a really big dog, over a hundred pounds—he weighed more than she did. Once, he even grabbed her pencil out of her hand and cocked his head, to indicate that he wanted her to throw it for him.
“Zack,” she said patiently, and turned to yet another clean page on her pad. “I only want to draw you for, like, five minutes. I just need to get a really good outline down, and then we can play and I’ll finish it later.”
Zachary’s ears perked up when he heard the word “play,” and he barked once.
Okay. Maybe she should give up and spend the rest of the afternoon throwing things for him to fetch, and they could go for a nice, long walk down their dirt road. But, seriously, all she wanted to do was sketch the bare outlines, and maybe capture his expression. Zack always had a good expression. He looked really smart. He was a white retriever mix, which meant that she had to do a lot of shading on the paper to make him stand out from the background—which was why she had to practice a lot.
“Could we try one more time?” she asked him
Zachary tilted his head curiously, and she slipped her hand under his collar—a very flattering red plaid pattern—and led him down to the dock again.
“If you could just sit for a couple of minutes, I promise I’ll draw really, really fast,” she said.
He wagged his tail and sat down on the weathered wood.
“That’s great!” she said, and hurried back to her sketch pad and started sketching as quickly as she could.
She would worry about the colors later, but what she really wanted to do was re-create the alert, kind light in his brown eyes. Her parents had started signing her up for art classes when she was about five years old, so she had learned a lot—but she kind of knew just enough to realize how much she didn’t know. And the art teacher at her new junior high school in Brunswick was a real artist, who had recently moved up to Maine from Provincetown, and Emily was hoping that he would be able to help her learn lots of advanced drawing techniques. Mr. Reed had even said that he might start an after-school oil painting class soon, if enough students were interested!
Zachary was being very good and patient now, and she sketched and shaded swiftly. He was sort of slouching, though, and she wished that he would sit up straighter, and maybe even lift a paw for her, like Lassie always did in the television reruns she had seen.
“Could you please hold your paw up?” she asked, and demonstrated with her left hand. “Like this?”
Zack looked distinctly puzzled.
Sometimes, she thought he understood every word she said, so she talked to him a lot, but they actually communicated more than that. It was sort of—psychic. Which was really cool, but also kind of unnerving. They had the exact same dreams and nightmares pretty often, and there were other times when she would find herself thinking something and then realize that, no, Zachary was thinking it. Food was usually a big clue since she, for example, had never wanted to run over to their neighbors’ backyard and grab a steak off the grill and race into the woods to eat the whole thing by herself. She didn’t go around telling people about it, because she wasn’t sure what it all meant, but—well—the simple truth was that she was almost sure that she and Zack could read each other’s minds. And she mostly liked the idea, except when it made her a little bit nervous. Her friends, Bobby and Karen, were the only two who really knew about it, and they had both just said, “Wow. Cool!”
She closed her eyes and concentrated on an image of Zack sitting on their dock, with his right paw up in the air, looking smart and confident and totally Hollywood. Then, she opened her eyes to see Zachary shifting uncomfortably on the wooden planks. He raised his right paw for a couple of seconds, then made a small sound and lowered it, panting slightly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling very guilty. When she had found him washed up on the rocks in front of their house about six weeks earlier, he had been a lost, injured stray, and among other things, his left foreleg had been broken. He had just gotten his cast off a few days ago, but his leg must still be bothering him. “That was really stupid of me.”
She closed her eyes again and pictured him lifting his left paw instead, so that most of his weight would be on his stronger right leg. Zack thumped his tail on the dock and held up his left paw this time.
“Oh, great, that’s perfect,” she said, focusing intently on her drawing. “You’re a very good dog.”
Zachary wagged his tail again and sat in that exact position—for about another minute. Then, a squirrel chirped in a nearby tree, and Zack instantly dashed over there, barking playfully.
She dropped her pencil and pad, and lay down in the grass. A few clouds were starting to roll in, along with a tiny bit of fog, and the air smelled of salt. But mostly, it was perfectly bright and clear, and beginning to feel like fall.
“It looked like you had him for a few minutes there,” her father said, startling her a little, since she hadn’t heard him come out to the backyard.
“More like a few seconds,” Emily said, and lifted herself onto one elbow to see that Zack was now over by their kind of bedraggled garden, digging a hole. “Mom’s not going to like that.”
Her father glanced in that direction. “Well, maybe he’ll get some of the weeds.” Then, he paused. “Are we supposed to yell, ‘No, no! Bad dog! No!’?”
Emily grinned. Her father had grown up in New York City and had never had pets—until she got a kitten when she was six, who was named Josephine. He had adjusted to having a small, cranky cat, but as far as she could tell, he still couldn’t quite get used to the idea of them living with a really big dog.
“No, Zack!” her father said experimentally.
Zack kept digging.
“He seems not to recognize my authority,” her father said.
Well—yeah. Emily just grinned.
Her father motioned towards the grass. “Is that comfortable?”
There was a small rock digging into the back of her hip, but other than that, the grass was nice and thick and warm, so Emily nodded.
Her father was wearing nice khakis and a grey sweater with a white oxford shirt underneath. Emily thought of them as his “professor clothes,” even though he usually dressed that way even when the college wasn’t in session. He looked down at the ground without much enthusiasm, but then sat down—cautiously—on the grass.
“Do your students recognize your authority?” she asked curiously.
Her father thought about that. “The freshmen do. The seniors, less so.”
Sometimes, her parents invited some of their students over for little parties and potluck suppers and so forth. Emily usually felt shy and stayed upstairs for most of the time, but she had noticed that the freshmen also always seemed shy, while the older students and teaching assistants were much more sure of themselves.
Her father stretched out on the grass, somewhat clumsily, folding his hands behind his head.
“So,” he said after a few minutes. “What are you doing?”
“Looking at the sky,” Emily said. “What are you doing?”
Her father sighed. “I don’t know. Just lying here, wondering where it all went wrong.”
Which was alarming, and Emily stared at him.
“Kidding,” he said.
Oh. She relaxed and settled back down.
They lay there, staring at the sky and the thickening clouds and the light fog moving across the channel from the open sea. Digging in the garden must have gotten boring, because Zachary came over and flopped down next to them. Instead of watching the sky, though, he just fell asleep.
“I hope we don’t get Lyme disease,” her father said after a while.
Emily laughed—although now that he had mentioned it, she kind of hoped so, too.
It was very peaceful, resting there, and Emily considered taking a little nap herself.
“Were the three of you struck by a particularly efficient gust of wind?” Emily’s mother asked from somewhere behind them.
Emily laughed, her father said, “Yes,” and Zack thumped his tail twice. Other than that, they all stayed where they were, lying in the grass.
“Are any of you going to get up?” Emily’s mother asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” Emily’s father said. “It’s very pleasant down here.”
“Except for the Lyme disease,” Emily said.
“That’s my least favorite part,” her father agreed.
“Well, okay,” her mother said. “I guess I’ll eat all of this Thai takeout by myself.”
Zack scrambled to his feet, and Emily and her father immediately sat up.
The food smelled great, and Emily realized that she was completely starving. She’d had some peach yoghurt when she got home from school, but apparently that hadn’t come even close to spoiling her appetite.
The weather was so nice that her parents decided that they should eat at the picnic table on the deck. Emily carried plates, napkins, and silverware outside, while her mother set out the plastic containers of food with a bunch of serving spoons, and her father poured a glass of milk for Emily and iced tea for him and her mother.
Emily had been a vegetarian since she was nine, and her parents were always worried that she wasn’t getting enough nutrition. But since she was already an inch taller than her mother—even though she wasn’t going to turn twelve for another nine days—she figured that she was probably getting enough to eat.
On the other hand, since she was adopted, for all she knew she was just naturally tall, and it had nothing to do with whether she got enough protein at every meal. Her grandparents worried about it even more than her parents did, and her grandmother on her father’s side was always saying things like, “How about just one piece of brisket? That would be okay, right?”
Her parents were sharing a chicken satay appetizer, and Emily was eating a steamed vegetable dumpling, when she suddenly started thinking about cars. Which was totally weird because she really wasn’t at all interested in cars.
No, not cars. Car. Just one. She closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. Was the car in the air? It seemed as though—
“Emily, are you all right?” her mother asked.
She opened her eyes. “What?” She shook her head, feeling a little disoriented. “I mean, yeah.”
Her mother reached over to feel her forehead with the back of her hand, to see if she had a fever or something. “Well, you look awfully tired. Do you have much homework?”
Emily shook her head. “Not really.” So far, seventh grade was really different from sixth grade, but they still weren’t getting a lot of homework yet. “Just some vocabulary, and—”
The image of the car came back vividly into her mind, but this time it seemed to be falling? And there was a person. Was someone trapped under a car?
Zack was standing by her side, looking up at her urgently. Then, once he was sure she had gotten the message, he turned and dashed out of the yard.
Okay, she didn’t need any more hints that there was some kind of an emergency. Emily dropped her fork on the table and ran after him as fast as she could.
She didn’t know where, or why, or how—but somewhere nearby, she was sure that there was a person trapped underneath a car!
Copyright © 2011 by Nicholas Edwards