Becky Myer was my best friend. Every day she waited for me in the wide-open space of the playground for me to get off the bus. Third, fourth, fifth grade passed and so did we, sometimes because she gave me the answers. One November day she wasn’t in front of the monkey bars. I couldn’t hang around because I’d been chosen to sit in a think tank all day with a bunch of brainy kids who ate organic snacks I’d never even heard of.
Chia pudding. Kale chips. Raw date carob cookies. I shuffled off to the side, practicing to be invisible. In the hierarchy of snacks, I was pretty low on the totem pole, so I pretended to not be hungry and secretly thanked the universe for my get out of kale free card. After we made goal setting collages, kids piled into waiting SUV’s while I waited for the old yellow school bus. It was just me and one other kid, so I had plenty of time to plan out the weekend. Becky was the bohemian. I was the organizer. Little sticky notes soothed my nerves, lists gave my life meaning, a gold sticker next to a job well done made my soul shine.
A guidance counselor called me out of free time to tell me Becky had to go live with relatives because her mom had been sent to the correctional facility. I sat across the desk, staring, feeling annoyed. Not because I didn’t expect her mom to land up in a place where she only got visitors once a week. My mom had been there twice. I was just annoyed that my best friend got shuttled around because her mom couldn’t get her life together.
After school I hiked across the playground and cut through the woods that ended at a road leading out to her house. The hardest part was that if I walked the shoulder then cars constantly stopped and asked why I was alone. Trading nosey adults for corn stalks I walked across the fields. Becky didn’t mind being slapped by stalks, so she’d go first and press them back from the path, but my leaf savior had gone the way of the highway.
Forty minutes later I stared at an empty house. From the outside it looked like it was about to fall over. The inside wasn’t much better. Standing on my tippy toes I could see through the windows. Convinced no one was inside I went to find the key Becky kept hidden in an old birdhouse, so rickety even the cardinals steered clear.
The inside of the house was a mess. I had to cover my nose because no one bothered to take out the trash, which wasn’t new, but still gross. Kitchen, living room, tiny dining room, two bedrooms and a bath. Didn’t take long to search the entire house. My eyes swept around the room looking for clues. A message on the fridge, a note written on a scrap of paper, crayon smears on a door. Anything to tell me where she’d gone. I didn’t find a message, but I noticed not a single thing of Fancy’s had been moved. That worried me. Leash, food dish, water bowl, the little hoodie Becky bought her from Goodwill was just thrown on the floor. I snatched it up. Becky saved for months to buy a fleece hoodie because Fancy was part chihuahua, part mutt, and never grew a winter coat.
Something ugly formed in the pit of my stomach. Becky’s mom could be a real piece of work. I went out back to make sure there were no fresh holes covered in loose dirt. Walking the property, dodging piles of trash and bags of beer cans no one ever bothered to recycle, my heartbeat settled down when tall grass stretched untouched to the tree line. After circling the yard a few times, I slipped back behind the shed and stopped. I hated the shed and it smelled awful, but it had a dirt floor. Becky was convinced it was haunted. The sun sat low on the horizon. I didn’t have time to play games. If I thought Becky’s mom had done something terrible, I just needed to yank the door open. Dark would come and I’d be stuck hiking back through the creepy corn fields all alone. Still, I hesitated. The shed was different than the house. At least the house had memories of sleepovers. The shed was a haunted hut.
Then I heard it: a tiny whine. A whistle of air from a nostril. A fleeting desperate sound. My heart sank. Convinced I was going to find her dog in its final death throes, I stopped. Leaning into the old wooden slats I listened, swallowing. A whimper, followed by a strained whine. Tears filled my eyes. I tried to be brave and squeeze the handle. Becky was the brave one. Not me. She was always the one who picked first and held on the longest. A scratching sound came from the other side, followed by a deep-throated scream that made my blood cold. I jerked the door open, watching it dangle on rusted hinges. Dim light pinched my vision but after a second, I saw Fancy chained to the wall, unable to move, her huge bug eyes staring right at me.
Leaning my head forward, I looked around to make sure we were alone. Twisting awkwardly, she made a gagging sound and for a second, I thought her neck was broken. Chained tight to the wall with a muzzle strapped to her face to keep her from barking, she tried to move but couldn’t. I ran straight for the funny-looking little thing, gray with a white patch on her chest. She had no front teeth and a broken left foot she hitched up in the air when she was tired. Tied so tight she couldn’t sit down; I covered my nose with my sleeve and wrestled with the rope. Trying to get away, she’d clawed and dug at the dirt, but only made it worse. Standing on one hind leg was the only thing that kept her from falling into the hole she’d dug and hanging herself.
A skinny chain was wrapped tight through Fancy’s collar, but all I had to do was slip it off. The worst part was she’d peed down the back of her legs, probably because she was scared. A series of loud barks burst out of her as I pulled the muzzle off. Bumping my hand with her nose, she rubbed against my leg. When Becky found her limping across a parking lot, she named her Fancy. When she was happy, she did this kinda fancy prance. At the moment her fancy prance was a bolt for freedom.
Outside I had enough light to check her fur. Except for the shaking, she seemed to be okay. The clubhouse Becky and I started in an old, abandoned barn wasn’t far but I didn’t have enough time. It was the one place I knew she’d leave me a note. A message. A list of what to do. There was no way I could take Fancy with me. She was limping too bad on that old broken foot that never healed properly. I ran back into the house and put all her stuff in a plastic grocery bag and dragged her bag of food to the front yard.
Across the street, a girl sat on the porch steps staring at her phone.
“Hey,” I yelled, “can I borrow your phone to call my uncle?”
“Why do you have Becky’s dog?”
I stated the obvious. “Because they moved.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Tons of drama that day.”
“Do you know where she went?”
The girl shook her head, “Nope.” Handing me her phone, she added, “Make it fast.”
I called my uncle Bull. “Hey, I need help,” I whispered, standing under the crepe myrtle.
“I’m right in the middle of frying ham.”
Fancy sat down next to me, pressing into my leg.
“It can wait,” I hissed. “Please?”
“God, what has your mother done now?”
“Will you just come get me please? I’m at 24 Oakcrest Drive.”
He screamed, “Ouch,” dropped the phone, and disconnected the call.
Uncle Bull took five times longer than any other human being in the world because he never drove over 45 mph. Streetlights kicked on as Fancy and I huddled together in the dying shrubs. The warm feeling of her fur against my arm was nice. Only half of me had to be cold.
I saw Bull’s face briefly through the windshield as he rounded the corner. Fancy and I pushed out of the bushes and ran to the curb.
He rolled down the window of his rusted Corolla. “Why do you have a dog? And what are you doing way out here?”
“Becky got sent to live with relatives.” My voice quivered like I was going to cry. I stopped, pretending like I needed to swallow. Blinking back my impossible emotional state I finally managed, “I came out here and found her dog chained up in the shed.”
“God, that’s a funny looking dog,” he said. “Lucky she didn’t get euthanized.”
“You’re always so cheerful,” I said. “We need a ride.”
This was where my fake vigor took a dive. “Your house?” I said quietly.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he leaned back from the open window. “Not my circus. Not my clowns.”
“It’s not mine either. What am I supposed to do? Chain her back up in the shed?”
“You really want me to answer that?”
I glared at him. If my intense glare didn’t work, Fancy and I were going to have to hoof it back to my house, and I had no idea how I’d hide a dog.
“I had a hamster once,” he whined. “That thing made me nuts.”
“You were my age,” I said flatly.
A car did a slow roll as it passed, staring straight at Bull.
“Get in before someone thinks I’m abducting you and your dog.”
I touched Fancy’s shoulder to get her to follow. Together we ran to the passenger’s side and climbed in.
“What is that smell?” Bull started in.
“She was chained to the wall and couldn’t move and kinda peed on herself.”
“Great,” Bull exhaled, shifting the car into gear. “I’ve got the world’s greatest niece and a strange dog covered in urine.”
“There are worse things to have,” I smiled, big and cheesy.
“Not that aren’t sexually transmitted,” he said, pulling away from the curb.
The entire house reeked of fried potted meat. Turning the knob to heat more mystery meat, he said, “My blood sugar tanks with bad drama.”
Hoping to pacify my growling stomach, I chimed in, “Mine, too.”
Pointing at the fridge he said, “Liverwurst.”
White bread. Liverwurst. Mayo. I made it extra big so I could share. Fancy and I went off to the extra bedroom that was unofficially mine when Bull didn’t have a roommate to save money. Fancy gobbled bites and looked so hungry that I gave her the entire sandwich. Then I went to find a bowl to get water.
When Bull went off to his room to upload new digital collages to his Myspace page, I hoisted Fancy into the bathtub. All I could find was an old bar of green soap that smelled like toilet cleaner. Fancy kept trying to jump out, so I rolled up my pants one-handed and climbed into the tub. I carefully washed her head as she side eyed me. “It’s going to be okay,” I whispered. “We’ll find Becky.”
Her wet tail wagged at the sound of her favorite person’s name. My heart crimped a little as I lathered under her chin.
“I promise,” I said.
After a brisk towel dry, I went in search of a box, and found one in an upstairs closet. That particular box had been there for years. Certain no one was going to come looking for the contents, I shoved them back into a corner. Fancy watched me from the hall.
With a steak knife in the kitchen, me and Fancy hunkered together on the floor and sawed an opening in the side of the box. I explained that we had to be careful so we didn’t spend our evening in the emergency room. When that task was complete, we had a box with an open top and a U-shaped opening on the side.
After I got Fancy situated, I announced, “I gotta go home.”
Bull turned around in his office chair covered in duct tape. “I gotta win a million dollars. What’s your point?”
Tilting my head towards Fancy, I said, “You know,” all cryptic like.
“I said I’d help, not babysit.”
I shrugged, “Maybe she can help you socially adjust.”
His eyes rolled so far back it pinched the corners of his mouth into a frown.
“Come on,” I said in my best aw-shucks cartoon voice.
“This violates my personal boundaries.”
“You don’t have good boundaries. That’s part of why you’re in counseling.”
I turned to Fancy, kneeling down so we were nose to nose. “You’ll be safe here. Slap the door with your paw if you need to go out, like Becky taught you.”
Tail wag at the sound of her favorite person’s name.
I hugged her tight and whispered in her ear. “She’s my favorite person, too.”
My mom was in the living room spraying her armpits with perfume when I walked through the back door.
“I gotta meet a John,” she said quickly. “Don’t tell anyone I left you alone.”
Johns and dates were different. I’d figured out that much. Johns came from Craigslist. My mom hated dating, so I figured Johns were the way to go in the future.
“Why do you look like you sucked on a lemon?”
“Becky’s mom got sent to the correctional facility, so she had to go live with relatives.”
“Dang,” she said, capping the perfume bottle. “I told her not to steal from that junkyard. I told her that old fart was gonna press charges.”
Whatever that meant.
When she lurched down the street in her old Escort with a busted tailpipe, I snuck into her bedroom to call and check on Fancy. Bull didn’t like people touching his stuff or changing his schedule or super loud noises or asparagus.
I picked up the receiver and it took me a second, but I realized the line was dead.
I slammed it back down. Not willing to accept the truth, I unplugged the cord and plugged it back into the jack and checked. Nothing.
I fell back on my heels, sighing loudly. So that’s why Becky hadn’t called. No one paid the phone bill. On top of everything else, I had to figure out a way to turn the phone back on. Walking into the hall, I couldn’t imagine what that would be.
The guy at the pawn shop was salty last time and huffed, “I’m not supposed to buy from anyone under eighteen. Those are the rules. Plus, I ain’t got a market for old rain boots.”
But here was the thing: I needed those old rain boots and would still be wearing them if they fit even a tiny bit, so I knew someone out there needed some gosh durn rain boots. He just pulled three one-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them over. Which was cool, but I wasn’t a charity case, so I needed a way to bring in some moolah.
I thought about crying. It was dumb but I did. Becky and I made a pact to never cry. It fueled the enemy, she said. It didn’t fix anything. Crying wouldn’t bring her back. Crying was a luxury, Becky liked to say.
I went to my room and closed the door. The room was cold, and I imagined the power bill wasn’t far behind the phone. Sitting in the dark was my least favorite thing, so I turned the glaring overhead light on to take inventory. Just seeing Becky’s stuff eased my nerves. She loved fancy things like floaty dresses and faux-fur-lined boots, cake pops, and High School Musical.
A purse shaped like a pig. A plastic glitter rod. Uno cards, flashlight keychain, cherry scented lip balm she stole from Ferguson’s Drug. Becky and I did everything together. This would be my first night in three and a half years without her nearby A sense of loneliness invaded the room and I pushed it back with thoughts of our best times together.
One time we were playing dress up, and she pointed the plastic glitter rod at me and yelled, “Gloria Gaynor thinks you’re a bitch.”
Without pause, I launched into the most amazing rendition of “I Will Survive”. It was hands down hilarious, and we laughed until we cried. We didn’t really know what the B-word meant. We just heard it a lot at home. Pretty sure we weren’t even using it correctly made it even more hilarious.
From that day forward, all of a sudden, Becky would stop in the middle of the mall and yell, “Gloria Gaynor thinks you’re a bitch.”
Clutching my invisible mic, I’d belt out my best song as shoppers swerved around us, fanning the air like crazy was contagious.
A little Hello Kitty charm sat on the floor next to my mattress. I picked it up and squeezed it tight, like some plastic thing shot out of the butt of a machine mattered. I lined all her stuff up neatly against the floorboard and went to sleep.
My mother woke me up in the middle of the night.
“What?” I said, totally disoriented.
“Get up,” she said, somewhere in the dark.
“They’re watching the house.”
“I don’t consent to the feds watching me,” she screamed. “I got constitutional rights.”
I rolled my eyes in the dark and scooped up Becky’s stuff, shoving it in a plastic bag. We ran through the woods in pitch black with no flashlight, to where the woods gave way to a field, and the field ran alongside a two-lane road.
Her friend Lucinda was waiting, parked on the shoulder.
“Go.” My mother slapped the dash.
Lucinda did a U-turn and sped off. I slept on her living room floor, wishing I’d brought my pillow. I started counting insanity in minutes.
The longest night of my life was followed quickly by the longest day. Some kid had an asthma attack, so the office ladies wouldn’t let me in to call Bull. The last eighteen minutes of school took a month. I twitched and shifted, sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to bolt the second the bell rang.
Out front, Bull waited in the roundabout. A second after I called his name, Fancy put her paws on the armrest and popped her head up to look out the window. I swear she did this kind of dog smile that smoothed the edges on my frazzled nerves.
“Hey, girl,” I said, scratching her soft ears.
“God, your principal is a dick,” Bull said. “Get in.”
Since Bull drove like an easy listening channel, we had plenty of time to catch up. “How was your sleepover?”
Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, he informed me, “It peed on the floor.”
I gave Fancy the side eye. “Did you take her out?”
“I was arguing with this clown on Myspace about Ron Paul.”
“You have to take her out.”
“I know,” he said, sighing. “New stuff is hard.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said, putting my arm around Fancy.
“How’s your mother?” Bull asked.
Not in the mood to harsh my mellow, I answered, “Same.”
She wasn’t, of course. She was worse.
“I’ve been reading Robert Browning’s poetry and learning French.”
“Oui. Oui,” Bull whistled through his teeth.
Back at Chez Bull he logged into his Myspace page. “I’m really behind on my work.”
I dropped my book bag on the floor and ran outside. Fancy’s ears were as big as her face. After she did her business, we set off in the direction of the clubhouse. Becky and I had been going out there for years. An old pickup truck inside an even older barn was our second home. Becky’s reasoning was that if the barn fell down in a strong gust of wind, then we’d be safe in the steel cab.
Raccoons and opossums hung out in the barn, so I banged against the door. The loud noise freaked Fancy out and she refused to walk inside. Worried she’d run off, I slipped her leash through a wooden slat. Opening the driver’s door, I checked for a note. Nothing on the windshield or in-between the seats. Nothing in the glove compartment where we kept important club notes and the treasury. Our three dollars and eighty-four cents was safe. I leaned back in the seat. Sure there was going to be a note I didn’t have a backup plan.
Fancy sat at the entrance to the barn and shivered every time the wind blew. Not ready to give up, I checked the entire truck inside and out two more times. By then it was getting dark. Fancy trotted along the corn rows with her head hung low and her tail tucked. When Becky was around she pranced all fancy like, tail wagging, stretching her head high.
Nothing I did worked.
The money from the treasury was in my pocket. Desperate to shake Fancy from her funk, we stopped off at the drugstore. I had barely enough money to buy a rawhide if I emptied the ‘take a penny’ dish. I unwrapped it in the store and came out smiling. Fancy just stared at it, barely wagging the tip of her tail. We sat on the curb, under the streetlights, while I spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to convince her it was the greatest treat ever. Finally, I scratched her head and stuffed the rawhide in my plastic bag. We started off for Bull’s house and I knew what I had to do. I didn’t like it, but I knew it was the only way. I had to find Becky.
My armpits and palms went all sweaty when I watched guards search Bull. I started to wonder what I’d gotten him into. Then they searched me, waving a plastic wand up and down my body.
“You going in?” The guard asked Bull.
Shaking his head he said, “Nah, I’m just the ride. I’ll be outside.”
Nerves flared up, making me lightheaded. A guard pointed to a door. I fist bumped my uncle and followed armed strangers toward my goal. Hall after hall ended and began with huge metal doors, locked then unlocked then locked again. I swallowed, feeling claustrophobic. The panic of being trapped set in and I stumbled forward, feeling like I’d made a mistake. I was just about to ask to leave when a door opened into a large room with tables and chairs.
Across the room, Becky’s mother entered wearing handcuffs and chains. Like Jacob Marley, she clanked across the room to a table where she flopped down in a chair and glared.
The guard went back to the door, and Miss Myer leaned forward and whispered, “Well if it isn’t fatty Phoebe.”
Squeezing my fists together at my side I asked, “Where’s Becky?”
She grunted like a pig. “Fatty, fatty Phoebe,” she chanted, tilting her scarred face.
I’d never liked Becky’s mom, and this was not our Oprah moment.
“Where is she?” I repeated.
Looking me straight in the eye, she laughed. “What a little loser. You’ll never find her. She was sent into foster care out of state.”
The words ricocheted around my brain. Foster care out of state. I knew the smirk on her mother’s face was bad.
“Have a nice day, fatty,” she whispered, then yelled. “Guard.”
By the time I saw Bull I’d given up trying to hold it together. Tears streamed down my face. In the front seat of the rusted Corolla, I turned into a big ball of snot, tears, and slobber.
A guard tapped the glass of the driver’s window and Bull rolled it down.
“You got a problem?” The guard asked, eyes sweeping across the front seat.
“No,” Bull fumbled with his keys. “She’s just upset.”
“It happens a lot, but you can’t stay here. You gotta move along.”
Bull drove in silence, white-knuckling the steering wheel because my boo-hooing wrecked his nerves. After a few minutes, he touched my hand lightly and said, “Phoebe, what happened?”
“What does it mean that Becky went into foster care out of state?”
“Crap,” he said, so quietly and evenly that I lost all hope.
I knew it. It was why I’d emptied the treasury to buy Fancy a treat, but I had this sudden sinking feeling that if I’d just left the money alone, then maybe she’d come back. I told him about the club money and how it started the whole chain of events.
He inhaled sharply. “Family court doesn’t work like that.”
“Nothing works with grownups. Their entire world is a big broken mess that kids like me and Becky have to navigate every day.”
He frowned and made a dismissive humph sound but didn’t argue.
“I gotta get my medication adjusted. You gotta stay at your own house a few days.”
I turned in the seat and stared at him. “You’re joking?”
“No. Don’t make me feel all weird about it. I just got to work it out. I’m not good with change. It’s just for a few days. Three days, tops,” he said.
Three days was a long time.
I carried Fancy in my arms through the back door. My stomach felt like I’d swallowed a car tire. Fancy stretched upright, laying her paws on my shoulder. With her soft fur and warm body against my forearms, I put my chin on top of her head and she looked up at me. I could feel her tail wag against my side, and her heartbeat. My mother was gone. We went to my room and closed the door, relieved.
That night Fancy slept in my room. I got up in the dark hours of dawn, went outside, got her everything she needed, left her in my room, walked to the bus stop, went to school, wrote monologues, read books, walked home, got Fancy, and walked out to the clubhouse. My biggest fear lay deeply entrenched in the eight hours Fancy had to be alone all day. I constantly worried I’d come home to some sort of “accident.” My mother loved accidents. My favorite toys or keepsakes always ended up broken in “accidents.”
When I came home from school the next day, Fancy sat on my bed and didn’t wag her tail.
“The dog goes,” my mother said in the hall behind me.
I wasn’t giving up without a fight. “It’s not your dog.”
Fancy stared down at her soft blanket. I was so worried for her. I’d been foolish in bringing her into the house.
“I can’t afford an extra mouth to feed.”
“It’s just for a few days.”
She slapped me hard in the side of my head. “Is this your house? I don’t think so.”
“Gloria Gaynor thinks you’re a bitch,” I screamed.
Then she hit me again. Normally, I blocked and dodged. Not that time. She hit me so hard blood spurted out of my mouth as my loose tooth landed smack on the floor. I did not move, or cry, or plead. I did not budge, or run, or beg. I never took my eyes off her, never looked away.
“Say goodbye to your dog,” she screamed.
Blood dripped down my chin. “Someday I’ll say goodbye to you.”
“Is that so?”
Fancy lunged through the air growling, snapping.
My mother fell back against the wall, screaming, “She tried to bite me.”
I didn’t know what to do. I should have seen it coming. I called to Fancy and she jumped down but didn’t wag her tail. I didn’t want anyone to see me with a busted lip, so I got an ice cube and pulled Fancy outside. I led her out into the trees and sat down on the ground. “I don’t know how to stop this,” I said, “but I love you, and I’m sorry, and I’ll figure this out.”
Fancy sat next to me, so close her fur smashed against my arm.
“This is a mess,” I said.
Fancy hung her head and started to shake.
The next morning, I laid on my mattress on the floor next to Fancy. I knew the second I left the house my mother was going to give her away. I had assignments to turn in at school, tests to take. I said goodbye and left, but I just couldn’t. I climbed back in through the window and we hid in my closet. Quickly, I shoved all our stuff in plastic bags and wrapped her bag of food in my blanket. Fancy and I slipped out and ran through backyards, trying to stay low. Fancy must have known we were avoiding doom, because she stayed right next to me regardless of how fast or slow I moved. Avoiding main roads and nosey neighbors, we arrived at the clubhouse by midday. The sun slanted high. We climbed into the truck and I closed the door. Securing everything in the truck, we explored the area.
Late that night, we hiked over to dumpster dive at a fried chicken place. I’d never been without Becky. Fancy stood guard, and our take was pretty awesome. Fat and juicy old chicken parts settled the growl in my stomach. That night, we fell asleep huddled under the blanket, and between the two of us managed to keep warm. Fancy woke in the middle of the night barking. Raccoons jiggled the back windows, trying to get a tasty biscuit. My heart shot out of my chest, but once I figured out we were okay I laughed at the bandit faces. Dropping extra biscuits and chicken through the window, I snuggled back down to sleep.
The next morning, I woke with my head on Fancy’s rump. Sunlight slanted through old wooden beams. The absolute silence was incredible. I couldn’t remember a time without TVs and radios blaring, people yelling, the sounds of Bull struggling with his sanity. I resolved to live in the barn until I was old enough to get my own place.
Money was an issue. And water. I took the small amount of change I had and bought a bottled water at a convenience store down from the chicken place. I moved old barrels and troughs to collect rainwater. It was sketchy, but all we had. Fancy wagged her tail when I called her name. The next night it rained, and we had to pee in the barn, but granola bars held the grumble of my stomach at bay. I read my library copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the pale barn light, I sat in the front seat of the truck and read it all in one sitting. When Aslan died, I cried. I cried for Aslan. I cried for Fancy. I cried because the White Witch was real, and she had a black heart, and I had to live with her.
The next night, flashlights danced across the fields as Fancy and I made our way to the chicken place. A deep suspicion tightened in my gut. We hung back in the shadows and watched. Hiding in the tree line, we waited until the lights moved on, then grabbed dinner.
A slow creaking woke me in the middle of the night. Fancy sat up and barked.
“Shhh…” I said in the dark.
A bunch of people swooped around the truck, jiggling the doorknob.
Strangers on the other side of the glass yelled, “Unlock the door.”
I pushed deeper into the cab, holding Fancy. “Go away,” I yelled.
More people filled the barn, yelling to each other. “We found her,” a chorus of voices shouted.
Except I didn’t want to be found.
“Unlock the door,” a man with a flashlight yelled, trying to pry open the door.
“No,” I breathed, slow and quiet.
The old door creaked loudly and popped open. Suddenly, hands and arms surrounded me, pulling us from the truck. “Stop,” I screamed, but no one paid attention.
Sitting in the back of a police car with Fancy, an officer tossed a blanket over my shoulder. I had a bad feeling about being rescued but didn’t know what to do. I sucked in a breath and decided to lay low until we could run farther. The same officer dropped me off at my house, and my mother was all fake smiles until she shut the door.
“That dog goes. It’s brought nothing but problems.”
I held tight to Fancy and our plastic bags. “No.”
My mother was on me so fast I didn’t have time to duck. “I got cops crawling all over me now. Do you think I need this crap, missy? All because you can’t do as you’re told.”
Snatching Fancy by her collar, she dragged her to the door as I screamed. Fancy growled, but her head was twisted too far to the side. I ran, but my mother was out the door fast.
Big tears filled my eyes, even though it made me feel stupid. I grabbed the rest of our stuff and ran all the way to Bull’s house. The door was unlocked, and he found me in the living room, crying my eyes out.
“Phoebe,” he said, “we’ve all been looking for you.”
“She took my dog,” I screamed. “She took my dog because she’s evil.”
I nodded, crying so hard I could barely breathe. Uncle Bull wasn’t into drama, and simply walked out. I skulked off to my room and slammed the door. I flopped back on my bed and stared at the ceiling until tears rolled out of my eyes and into my ears. The watery slosh made it sound like the bottom of the ocean, dark and alone. It wasn’t like I didn’t have anything. I just didn’t have what I wanted, and that made me feel selfish and I hated myself even more. I’d screwed everything up.
Bull’s rusted Corolla lurched to a stop out front, but I didn’t move. I just laid there, hoping he’d leave me alone. A few minutes later, a knock interrupted my silence. I rolled over to unlock the door. Bull stared down at me, but I didn’t see his face. All I saw was Fancy, standing behind him in the hall. The second she saw me, she did this whole body wiggle.
“Fancy!” I yelled and looked up at my uncle. “What happened? How did you get her?”
Bull snorted. “I know things about my sister she don’t want anyone to know and I drove over and told her so. I’ve had just about enough of her crap. You can stay here until she works some things out.”
That night, I tucked Fancy into bed. She futzed around on top of the blankets, looking as exhausted as I felt. I listened for sirens or doom or the sound of my mother’s busted tailpipe. When everything seemed okay, I closed my eyes and fell asleep sitting up.
The phone rang, waking me up. Fancy jerked upright in bed. From the kitchen I could see Bull passed out, one leg slung over the side of his bed. I grabbed the receiver, hoping to restore the silence I’d favored.
“Hello,” I said, annoyed.
Fancy plopped down on the linoleum, leaning into my leg.
“Phoebe?” A little voice whispered.
The breath I was about to take jammed in my throat. “Becky?” I whispered. Fancy wagged her tail. “Oh my God, what took you so long to call?”
“Your phone is dead. I couldn’t remember your uncle’s name. When you ran away, I saw you on the news. They interviewed your uncle. You call him Bull, but his real name is Theodore Kowalski. I called the operator. You saved Fancy. I knew you would.”
“Well, I had to find her. She’s your best friend.”
Silence filled the line, then she said. “You’re my best friend, Phoebe.”
Tears pushed against my eyelids.
“Hey,” she whispered.
“Gloria Gaynor thinks you’re a bitch.”
A laugh choked out my tears and the next thing I knew I was doing a weird uncontrollable half laugh half cry. Fancy pushed into my side making a low whining sound.
“I can hear her,” Becky said. “I can hear Fancy.”
A big shiver rippled down Fancy’s spine, and she ran to get her rawhide, plunking it down on the floor. I looked at her sweet dog face.
“End of an era,” I whispered.
“Or beginning of something new,” she offered. “Let’s make a list.”
“I like the way you think, Becky Myer,” I said, reaching for a pen.
“What a long week,” she sighed.
“It had its challenges,” I said, smoothing Fancy’s fur. “But tomorrow is a new day.”
“You’re always so positive.”
“Positive you’re my best friend.”
Becky laughed a little and I melted into the quiver, into the jangled spew of emotion and knew that even if we were far apart something held us tight. Tighter than school logic or expectation. The kind of thing that holds all of the tiny pieces of the universe together. Like a best friend glue, invisible yet true.