Boy and Puppy

 

He groans, it’s 5:30 am and yet he’s rolling out of bed, when he hears the incessant whine. It’s Rex, of course, and he needs to be taken out for his morning walk.

He shrugs on a sweater, a coat, and hat, pulling on a boots when he reaches the door. Rex is at his heels, tail wagging, and sits obediently as Jack snaps the leash on him. Then, bracing for the wind and chill, Jack opens the door and Rex is out, scampering for the nearest tree.

Cold. Cold. Cold. Resonates in his head as his teeth begin to chatter and he grips tighter onto his end of the leash. He eyes Rex sniffing the ground and desperately prays that his dog will hurry up and do his business soon. It’s freezing and he just wants to crawl back to bed. Finally, he sees Rex squat and he sighs in relief. He can go in now.

He closes the door softly and unleashes his puppy. Good, now back to sleep. He pats Rex’s head, slightly frowning when the pup shies away form his hand. “Oh well,” he whispers.

He then hurries back to his cocoon mattress.

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It’s routine check-up day and Jack is rolling his eyes at how badly his puppy does not want to be there. Rex is pulling at the leash, struggling against the collar, and all out crying as they wait in the room. He hates shots and Jack understands, he’s not too fond of them himself. But, it’s a must and so he’s tapping his foot, lamenting on how lighter his wallet will be after they leave here.

He doesn’t really have a job. But he does do odd tasks here and there. Having just turned 16, though, things will hopefully change and hopefully the next time they come to the vet, his wallet won’t be so light – even after having paid the bill.

He glares playfully at Rex. “I hope you’re happy. I could have bought a few new video games instead.”

Later, holding his whimpering dog, he attempts to comfort and reassure with repeated hugs and loving words. It’ll be alright.

But, Jack is the enemy now and Rex turns his head, indignant and betrayed.

When they get home, he runs off to Jessie’s room, refusing to even glance at Jack. He spends the day, night, and most of the next day with her, only leaving briefly for his morning walk, meal time, and subsequent afternoon stroll.

It’ll be awhile before he’s on barking terms with Jack again.

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At one years old, Rex has hardly lost his puppy energy at all and Jack is stuck either cleaning up, fixing, or buying brand new items that were lost to teeth and hyper romping.

He groans again at the sight of his mother holding up a chewed up shoe. “This was a gift from your father.” He closes his eyes in doom. There goes his phone for a week.

Four hours later, he’s sitting on the sofa with a book, phone missing from his pocket, and gloomily staring at Rex licking his sister’s cheek then climbing onto his father’s lap. Rex hardly does that with him at all. He wonders if Rex will ever think of him as something other than a villain.

Suddenly, Rex yips with glee and Jack chuckles at the high pitched sound. He loves his dog, no matter what. Rex is more than a phone.

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Senior year is one giant roller coaster and Jack’s terrified he didn’t cinch the belt tight enough. Any second, he’ll fall out and meet the earth with a horrifying splat. Piles of things to do and not as much free time as he had hoped.

Still, faithfully, he gets up every morning and walks Rex, and fills his water and food bowls. Walks don’t shorten, even if he simply can’t afford to take a break. Often times, he finds himself paying his younger sister to spend an hour a day solely with Rex, so that his dog never feels unloved.

It’s a bit tough and he can see Rex becoming distant with him. He curls up next to his mother, comes when his father calls, and barks happily when his sister walks in through the door. When Jack arrives, Rex regards him casually, because Jack is always there and will always be there, yet he never will be with him, always closing himself into his room, doing who knows what.

Jack gets that Rex loves his family more than he loves him, after all, he’s been stern with him from day one, while they’d all but spoiled him rotten. He’s okay with that, as long as Rex is happy. Especially now that he can’t spend so much time with him.

At night though, he walks into his sister’s room, makes his way to the corner doggy bed and lightly pats the sleeping Rex’s head. “Just a few months more,” he whispers.

Summer better come soon.

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They’d arranged a party for him, one that he was very happy for. But, before he could attend, he had something more important to do.

He finds Rex in the enclosed backyard, snoozing on the deck. Smiling cheerily, he fast walks over, bends, and pushes his dog playfully. Rex lazily rolls onto his back and goes back to sleep, causing a pout to form on his owner’s face.

“C’mon, boy. Can’t you act the least bit excited for me?”

Pink tongue flicks out dismissively.

Jack sighs. “I see..” He rises from his bent position and fixes the skewed cap on his head. “Oh well.”

He waves farewell to Rex and heads back inside. They were going out to eat later, but now he had to stand ready to greet all the family members coming over to congratulate him. He was excited, finally graduated, his busy schedule was over – if only for a little while.

Tomorrow though, tomorrow he’d take Rex to the park. It’d been forever since he and Rex had a day to themselves. He couldn’t wait.

As he hears the door open and close, his thoughts drift to a faded, chewed tennis ball sitting on top his desk. His brown eyes sparkle at being able to throw it once more.

A hand taps his shoulder. “Congratulations, Jack!”

He turns and smiles wide at his uncle, “Thanks! I’m just so relieved its over.”

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The night before he leaves for New York City, Jack calls Rex to his room and after a good ten minutes of pleading bellows, Rex trots in.

He gets onto his knees and drags a reluctant dog into his arms, burying his face into soft curls. “I’m leaving tomorrow, Rex, okay? Be good, promise?”

Blonde hair mixed with white fur, the two cuddle together for mostly an hour. Rex isn’t entirely too sure what’s happening but he suspects its something important as it had been awhile since he’d last seen Jack cry. Nonetheless, he pushes his head against his owner, comforting him in the only way he knew how. He croons a love growl and is rewarded with the morphing of lips into a smile against his body.

“I’ll visit you, mom, dad, and Jess when I can, I promise.”

The next day, Rex is nowhere to be found when Jack has to leave for the airport, instead opting to chase down butterflies with the neighbor’s kids. No harsh feelings though and Jack lays a treat on top of Rex’s food bowl as a reminder that he’d always be thinking about his best friend.

When he finally arrives at his dorm, the first thing he does is tack up a picture of the two of them, the day they first met.

He’s surrounded by previous opened gifts, wrapping paper, and cards. His happy face captured by the lens of the camera and a wriggly puppy grasped tightly in arms and snuggled on lap.

Jack grins, soaking in the memory for a few moments more, then turns and continues unpacking and placing his items in their respective places.

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He comes home whenever he can and tries to spend as much time possible with Rex. Some trips, he’s not successful and others he is. Regardless, every time he leaves, he manages to find his dog, give him a farewell pat and treat, always promising to be back soon.

Rex notices Jack’s disappearance briefly, but then realizes that the boy always comes back. He does not worry, there is nothing to worry over.

Sometimes Jack stays long and they go on long walks together, other times his stay is short and they have brief moments where they fall asleep together on the couch, his head in Jack’s lap and a once small, now large hand heavy on his head and ears. It’s comforting and suffocating.

He waits for Jack’s breathing to grow steady, then quietly and lightly leaps from his spot on Jack’s lap and heads for the girl’s room to his comfy bed. This is home.

In the morning, Jack is up and meeting Rex at the door, hand clasping leash. They have a doggie door now, but Jack can’t break tradition. To do so would break his heart. Rex, on the other hand is exasperated. He was used to sneaking out in the mornings, walking himself, and coming back in time for breakfast. He does not understand why the boy must insist on clicking the worn blue leash on him. Whatever, as long as he gets to go out.

When they return, Rex is again whining in annoyance. There he goes again. The boy filling up his food and water dishes – by hand. He doesn’t have to do that anymore. No one does that anymore. It takes too much time. His new bowls do that by themselves now.

Jack rolls his eyes again. He secretly despises the automatic food and water dispenser his family had bought in his absence. It’s absurd. Completely idiotic, when they could simply do the task themselves. All it took was a few extra seconds of their time.

He sees Rex eat and is overcome with a happy glow. Home. Home. Home.

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He’s about to start his second to last year and the future looks bleak. There had been talks of war in the past, but now, it seems all too real.

Any day now. Any day.

He’s preparing to go back to the Big Apple, when the tv in the background blares with the news of the beginning of the end. To war they go.

He sinks to his knees and prays for his country.

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Six months later and death is all he sees and hears. He relishes in escaping the media as much as possible, for however short it might be.

He convinces his sister to put Rex on when she Skypes him. Now in her first year of high school, she deems herself above silly things, but her brother’s desperate, pleading eyes convince her to sit Rex onto her desk chair and leave them alone for a half hour each time.

She’s surprised that Rex can last for thirty minutes without hopping from the chair and leaving the room, but, she supposes, that’s love.

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His last year and the country is in tatters. It grows worse and worse each day. There’s little hope that it’ll ever end soon. They need more resources and more men.

Jack continues praying and Skyping.

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He graduates, cap and gown, and his family holds a mini-party for him. And for a moment, he feels at peace with the world again.

Jessie wakes up in the morning to find her big brother curled under some blankets, on the ground, in her room. His hand is spread across Rex’s back and while the ground is hardly soft, he looks relaxed, something she hadn’t seen in a long time.

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It happens.

They need more people to fight.

His mother cries when she hears the news, but he shushes her with hugs. She’s so small in his arms now.

“Come back alive,” she begs, “Promise me that.”

So he does and he hugs his father as well. He’ll make him proud he assures.

“No need for that, son. Just listen to your ma, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

He leaves his sister a gift. His room is hers to use for the art studio she’d always wanted. When he comes back, he’ll be in an apartment anyways, he says.

Rex is stretched out on the deck when he has to go. Sleeping as usual. This time though, Jack grasps Rex’s head in between both hands and tilts it upward to gaze into his own. Two pairs of brown eyes meet and Jack’s blur with tears. This time he has nothing to say. Nothing to promise. He can lie to his family, but not to his dog.

Truth is, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever come back.

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Weeks go by, months go by, years go by.

Rex paces around the house, whining and growing thinner.

He doesn’t see Jack anymore and he wonders why.

He’s worried.

Jessie wonders if Rex knows. If maybe he understands. If possibly, he could interpret her mother’s screams when she got the letter.

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He doesn’t sleep in her room anymore, Jessie notes.

Instead, she finds him curled in a corner of her art studio. He’s dragged things in there and she doesn’t have the heart to take them out.

At night, he sleeps on top of an old familiar-scented blanket, surrounded by shabby plastic bowls, a faded falling apart tennis ball, and a frayed blue leash.

In the morning, he slowly walks to the kitchen door and sits in front of it, as if waiting for a ghost hand to touch his neck. He stays for a minute, always a minute, then heads out the doggie door.

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“Rex’s coming with us,” Jessie one day declares, “He needs to.”

Her mother reluctantly agrees.

He is confused, but follows them into the car and sleeps the whole way to their destination.

They open the door and he’s suddenly alert. Something, he feels something.

He walks behind Jessie, row after row, until they near a certain stone.

They stop in front of it and all around him, they start to cry.

He howls and takes off.

Jessie lets him go.

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Rex doesn’t show up. She’s worried. They leave to go eat, promising to come back after. He’ll be there, her mother assures.

When they come back, her mother is right. Rex is there, curled in front of the granite stone. She calls to him and panics when he doesn’t move at all.

She runs and shakes him.

“Oh Jessie,” her mother breathes.

He does not wake up. Ever.

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They bury him next to Jack. Boy and Puppy laid together.

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One day, Jessie walks into a shelter and sees a small beagle puppy wagging his tail at her.

She names him Tank.

“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.” 

-Mitch Albom

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Posted on February 13, 2014, in My Writings, Short Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on poohloversunite and commented:
    *tried not to tear up at the end*
    Absolutely AMAZING, as usual

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