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Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

Ellie's Story (10 page)

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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I wagged when I heard that I was a good dog. Usually people were happy when I was good. But Maya's sadness did not change. She looked lonely, in the water all by herself. Would she be happier if I got into the tub with her?

I put my paws up onto the edge. Maya was already lying on the bottom, so she couldn't sink, which made it look like a lot more fun than jumping into the fountain after Jakob or even splashing in the ocean. Emmet stopped licking himself and looked at me without any of the proper respect. I'm not sure he ever understood that I could eat him in two bites, if I wanted to. Just because I didn't want to was no reason for him to get snooty about it.

Then he waltzed out of the room with his tail in the air, as if he were daring me to chase him down and do something about the fact that this house had too many cats.

“Tomorrow, I have a surprise for you, Ellie,” Maya said.

Well, okay.
I'd gone this far.…

I heaved my back legs up and splashed into the tub right on top of Maya, sinking down through the clouds of bubbles. Warm water sloshed over the edge and onto the bathroom floor.

“Ellie!” Maya burst into laughter, her delight blowing out the sadness like a candle.

 

12

A car ride! I bounced happily into the backseat as Maya got in the front.

We couldn't be going to Work, because Maya was happy. Lately she was never happy about Work. Today there was a little buzz of excitement coming off her, and it made me excited, too. I stuck my nose out the window, drinking in the smells that rushed past, and my tail smacked the seat of the car as I wagged.

But it wasn't until Maya stopped the car and opened the door that I realized where I was.

Jakob's apartment!

I ran ahead of Maya, bounding up the stairs and barking at the door. I never would have done that when I lived with Jakob. But I was so happy that I couldn't help myself. Jakob! I was going to see Jakob again!

I could smell him inside and hear him moving to the door. He opened it and I barreled into him, leaping and twisting joyfully. It had been so long since I'd seen him or smelled him or heard his voice!

“Ellie! How are you, girl? Sit!” he commanded.

I dropped my bottom onto the floor, but it didn't want to stay there.

“Hi, Jakob,” Maya said from the doorway.

“Come on in, Maya,” he answered.

Jakob walked toward a chair, and I bounced up to walk with him. He moved more slowly than he used to, and he held on to the back of the chair as he eased himself into it.

I put my head on his knees. I would have climbed into his lap, even, just as I'd done with Maya in the tub. But I knew better. Jakob wouldn't allow that, and anyway, I had a sense that I should be careful with him.

Maya and Jakob talked a little, the way people do. I pulled away from Jakob and began to sniff around the apartment. Not much had changed. My bed was gone, but my scent was still in the bedroom. It would be all right. I could sleep on the carpet or even on Jakob's bed, if he wanted me to.

I trotted back out to be with Jakob, passing Maya on the way. She reached out her hand, with its smell of soap and sweet lotion and tasty food, to stroke my back as I went by.

That's when it hit me—going back to Jakob would mean leaving Maya.

When Jakob had taken me away from my mother and my littermates, I hadn't had a choice. When Maya had taken me from the kennel to her home, I hadn't had a choice. I understood how it was. Dogs did not get to choose where they lived. People decided that.

But that didn't stop me from feeling like something inside me was tearing in two.

Jakob was far better at Work than Maya. But Maya didn't carry a dark core of sadness around with her all the time, the way that Jakob did. When Maya laughed, she was truly happy. When Maya hugged her little cousins and nieces and nephews at Mama's house, joy rippled off of her in waves. And when Maya petted me and scratched behind my ears and called me a good dog, I felt the same kind of love from her that I used to feel from Georgia. It was something Jakob never allowed himself to feel.

On the other hand, Jakob didn't have any cats.…

I knew what I should do with my life—I had to Find, Show, and save people. I had once done that with Jakob. Now I did it with Maya, too. But what was happening now? Would I stay here with Jakob? Would I go home with Maya? Who would I do my Work with?

I began to pace anxiously, back and forth.

“Do you need to go out?” Maya asked.

“No, when she needs to do that, she sits by the door,” Jakob said.

“Oh. Right. I've seen her do that,” Maya said. “I just leave my back door open a lot of the time, so, you know. She can come and go.”

They were silent for a little while. I didn't feel like sitting still, even near Jakob. I moved into the kitchen. It wasn't like Mama's kitchen; the floor was perfectly clean, as it always was. Nothing tasty to be licked up. Too bad. It would have made me feel better.

“I heard you're taking Disability,” Maya said.

“Yeah, well, I've been shot twice in the last five years; that'd be enough for anybody,” Jakob replied.

“You'll be missed,” Maya said quietly.

“I'm not leaving town. I'm enrolled at UCLA. Full-time. I only have a year and a half left for my law degree.”

There was another silence. Maya was uncomfortable; I could tell. It used to happen a lot around Jakob, when people would try to talk with him. The words would get slower and slower and then stop, and the other person would sit there quietly, getting more and more anxious.

I came back into the living room and wandered around in a circle, restless. Jakob was staring at me. “So when are you up for certification?” he asked, as if he'd just noticed how quiet things had gotten.

I picked a spot on the floor halfway between the two of them and lay down with a sigh. I couldn't figure out what these two humans were going to do. I couldn't even figure out why they wanted to sit there and make words at each other if it wasn't going to make either one of them happy.

I wasn't happy, either.

“Two weeks, but…” Maya's voice trailed off.

“But?” Jakob prompted her.

“I'm thinking of resigning from the program.” Maya's words came out in a rush, as if she was afraid she'd stop talking if she let herself slow down. “I just can't keep up. I didn't realize … Well, someone else would probably be better.”

“You can't do that,” Jakob said sharply.

I raised my head and looked at him, wondering why he was angry.

“You can't keep switching handlers on a dog,” Jakob continued. “Ellie is the best dog anybody's ever seen.”

I thumped my tail when I heard my name, but Jakob's tone was still stern.

“You dump her like that, you could ruin her,” he told Maya. “Wally said the two of you have a real connection. I can see it, too. She's bonded with you. She looks to you. You're a team.”

“I'm just not cut out for it physically, Jakob.” Maya's voice had tears in it but anger, too. I looked over a little anxiously at her. If they were both angry, I didn't know who I should go to first. Should I comfort Maya? Should I move closer to Jakob and calm him down?

Maybe I had missed something in the kitchen. I could go back in there.…

“I'm not an ex-Marine like you,” Maya told Jakob. “I'm just a beat cop who can barely pass the physical every year. I've been trying, but it is just too hard.”

“Too hard.” Jakob glared at her until Maya shrugged and looked away. Her anger dissolved into shame.

Jakob was still angry, but Maya was sad. That helped me decide what to do. I heaved myself up and went over to her, nuzzling her hand.

“What about how hard it would be on Ellie?” Jakob asked. “Doesn't that matter?”

“Of course it matters.”

“You're saying you're not willing to work.”

I could sense the hot tears inside Maya and how hard she was fighting them back. I shoved my nose under her hand again. She felt better when she petted me; I knew she did. I felt better, too.

Maya smiled, even though the smile was wobbly at the corners. She ran her hand through the fur on my head. “Oh, Ellie.”

She looked up at Jakob. “Of course Ellie matters to me, Jakob! How can you even say that? It's her I'm thinking of. She deserves a handler who can keep up with her. I'm saying I'm not cut out for this. I don't have what it takes inside.”

“What it takes. Inside.”

When Jakob spoke again, he wasn't looking at Maya and his voice was quieter.

“When I was shot the first time, my shoulder was so messed up, I had to learn to use it all over again. I went to physical therapy every day, and there was this little two-pound weight on a pulley, and that thing
hurt
 … and my wife was in her final round of chemo. More than once, I wanted to give up. It was too
hard
.” Jakob turned his head and blinked at Maya. “But Susan was dying. And she never gave up, not until the very end. And if she could keep going, I knew I had to. Because it's important. Because failure isn't an option if success is just a matter of more effort.”

The same old dark pain swirled around inside Jakob like a storm, and the anger inside him was gone, as if blown away by a gust of wind. I left Maya's side and came over to him, sitting at his feet, looking up into his face.

“I know it's difficult, Maya,” he said, and his voice was rough. “Try harder.”

Jakob sagged in his chair, as if he was too tired to speak another word. And somehow I knew then that I wouldn't be staying with Jakob. He just wasn't interested in Find anymore.

Sadness was flowing through Maya, too, but she didn't seem tired, the way Jakob did. She sat up straighter. She looked stronger. I remembered the strength in her that day she took me running by the ocean, how she went farther than she thought she ever could.

“Okay. You're right,” she told Jakob.

Jakob came to the door with both of us and petted my head when we left. “Good-bye, Maya. Good-bye, Ellie. You're a good girl,” he told me.

I licked his hand and smelled him one last time—the scent of his skin, his sweat, the dark pain that was inside him and the strength that was in him, too. Then I walked out of the building with Maya.

Jakob and Maya had decided my fate between them, and I was content. I was going to Work, and I was going to do it with Maya.

We were going to do it together.

A little while after we'd left Jakob's apartment, Maya took me running up in the hills. We ran together; I kept my pace slow so that she could keep up. After a while, I heard her gasp, and then a thump as she fell.

I came back quickly and put my nose in her face, smelling the salt of her sweat. Her knees were bleeding, and I smelled the salt there, too, and the stinging pain.

“Okay, Ellie,” Maya said quietly, and pushed herself up again. “Okay. Let's keep going.”

After that, we ran every day once we were finished with Work. It was gloriously fun. There were so many things to smell, and since we weren't Working, I could stop and sniff the traces left by other dogs, trails from rabbits and squirrels and cats, scraps of food in the grass, fascinating bits of trash. Sometimes Maya even pulled ahead of me and I'd dash after her to keep up.

I loved it. The only part I didn't love was how full of pain Maya was when we'd finally get back to the car. One night a few evenings after we'd been to see Jakob, she pulled into the driveway and simply sat there.

I got up, balanced on the backseat, ready to jump out. It was dinnertime. I was more than ready for something to eat.

But Maya didn't move.

I stuck my head into the front seat, near her face, to investigate. She put a hand forward to turn the key and make the car stop its annoying noise. But after that, she just sat still, sweat running down her face.

I could tell she was tired—too tired to get out of the car.

“I'm going to fail, Ellie,” she said softly, not turning around to look at me. “I'm so sorry.”

I heard my name, but I couldn't tell what she wanted me to do. So I just waited as patiently as I could. I could see Emmet and Stella both watching from the window. They probably didn't even know what a car was. They certainly never got to go running. But that was the way it should be. Dogs are superior animals. I know Maya liked her cats for some reason, but even she would have had to admit they were useless.

I couldn't even see Tinkerbell. Probably she'd heard the sound of the car and was cowering under something.

“Are you okay, Maya?”

It was a soft voice, and it was Al's. The wind had been blowing away from me, so I hadn't smelled him coming. I put my head out the window so that he could scratch my ears.

“Oh, hi, Al.” Maya seemed to wake up. She got out of the car, moving a little awkwardly, as if her legs were hurting her. “Yes, I was just … thinking.”

“Oh. I saw you pull up in your car.”

“Yes.”

“So I came over to see if you needed any help.”

There it was again, Al's favorite word. I turned my head so that he could scratch behind my other ear.

“No, no. I was just running with the dog.”

Al opened the door for me, and I jumped out. I stared pointedly at Emmet and Stella, so that they would notice I was outside and they were in. They looked away in disgust.

“Okay.” Al took a deep breath. “You've lost weight, Maya.”

“What?” Maya stared at him.

Al seemed to shrink a little. “Not that you were fat. I just noticed, in your shorts, your legs look so thin.” A gust of misery flowed off him, as if he'd been drenched in it, and he started to back away. “I should go,” he said. I was sorry to see him leave. It meant no more ear scratching for a while. On the other hand, if he went away Maya would probably go inside and then we could have some dinner.

BOOK: Ellie's Story
7.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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