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Two Weeks to Forever

Chapter 2

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“No, Bruno!” I said for the one-millionth time in the less than twenty-four hours Bruno had lived with us. Even little Val knew the phrase now. She loved to repeat it at the top of her lungs.

“Here,” I said, offering the dog one of the foul-smelling treats the foster group had recommended. Sure enough, he dropped Val’s sneaker and gobbled the snack.

I picked up her tiny shoe. Not only was it covered in slobber, but the fabric at the tip was peeled away from the toe box. All I’d done was take my eyes off the dog for two minutes while I took a piss.

“This isn’t going to work.” I glared at him as he snuffled on the floor for crumbles of the treat. “I can’t work from home if you need constant surveillance. This is why Val goes to daycare.” When he looked up at me with his shriveled-potato face, I mused, “I wonder if they have daycare for dogs. Hell, I could board you. I know they have that. Alicia might never need to know I had a temporary lapse in judgment.”

There was a clatter at the front door, and my heart hammered against my ribs. She couldn’t be home already. There was dog slobber on the floor, I was holding a shredded sneaker, and my T-shirt and jeans, plus the couch, were covered in dog hair from the hour-long nap he’d finally taken…in my lap while I was on a call. My team had thought the snoring was cute, but Cooper definitely wouldn’t.

When Noah pushed open the door, I slumped in relief. “It’s you.”

“Bruno!” He crouched and held out his arms.

With a snort—or was it a snarl?—the dog lumbered toward him.

“No, don’t!” I scrambled to get between them. “We don’t know he’s safe!” All you had to do was type “dog maul” into the search bar to find fifteen million results. I didn’t care if he took a bite out of me, but I wouldn’t let him put a scratch on either of the kids.

Noah narrowed his eyes at me and tugged Bruno into his arms. “I’m fourteen,” he said, his voice squeaking on the last syllable. “This dog won’t hurt me. Worry about Val.”

“I worry about both of you. You’re both my kids. My responsibility.”

But Noah paid no attention. He rubbed his face right against the wrinkled top of Bruno’s head and scratched up his back. I winced as fur floated off the dog and fell to the floor like snow.

“I thought short-haired dogs didn’t shed,” I said.

“I guess all dogs shed,” he said, moving his fingers down to the base of Bruno’s tail. “All people do, too. Did you know we shed fifty to a hundred hairs a day, and our outer layer of skin every—”

“Ugh, okay, okay. It’s adorable when your mother sheds.” I separated one of her long, blond hairs from the dog hair on my shirt. “Less adorable when he does it.”

“Hey, he didn’t mean it, buddy,” Noah said to the dog. “Besides, no one wants to be adorable. That’s for babies. Not big guys like us.”

Bruno snorted and lumbered off to the kitchen, where he noisily lapped water.

Tigger slunk into the room, low on his haunches. He let out an indignant half-meow that clearly meant, Wait, I’m your buddy.

“Hey, Tiggs.” Noah held out his hand to scratch the cat under his chin. The cat stepped close, and Noah gathered him into his arms. “I’d better take him up to my room before—”

There was a clatter in the kitchen, then a sound like a thousand ball bearings being dropped. Tigger yowled and streaked off. I ran to the kitchen and found Bruno happily munching on Tigger’s kibble, which we’d placed on the counter when we found Bruno much preferred it to dog food. But somehow the lumbering beast had knocked it down, and now cat food pellets were everywhere.

“No, Bruno,” Noah moaned.

The dog paused for a moment to gaze up at him before he went back to devouring cat food.

I considered getting a broom and fighting the dog for a few kibbles, then I shrugged. “The vet said it wouldn’t hurt him every once in a while. I guess that can be his dinner.”

Noah said nothing, and when I turned to see if he was scowling at me like I was the worst dog dad, too, he stared at a long scratch on his inner arm. Blood welled at the section closest to his wrist.

“Holy shit! What happened?” I stepped closer.

“When Tigger got scared he… Guess I’d better wash it.” Stepping up to the sink, he winced as the water and soap hit his broken skin.

“I’ll get some bandages.” I walked into the laundry room, where we kept our well-stocked first-aid kit. Noah and I were both prone to injuries.

The kid surprised me by allowing me to slather an antibacterial on the scratch and cover it with gauze. Bruno occupied himself by hunting for kibble under the refrigerator using his long pink tongue. I’d started wrapping a flexible bandage around Noah’s arm when the back door opened and Alicia walked in, carrying Val.

Bruno scrambled up off the floor and barked, a hoarse sound with a growly intake of breath before he repeated it.

“What the hell?” Alicia pulled up short, her eyes wide, and clutched Val protectively.

“No Bruno!” Val squealed.

I handed the rest of the wrap to Noah to finish and grabbed Bruno by the collar. “No, Bruno! Honey, you’re home?”

“I got on an early flight and thought I’d surprise you.” She clutched our squirming daughter.

“So surprised!” I said. “Shh, Bruno. Good trip?”

“I am not going to talk about my trip like anything is normal while you hold back a vicious dog who’s already attacked Noah. What is going on?” Her blue eyes flashed.

“Ah. Well, it’s not as bad as it looks. Shh, Bruno. Actually, let me put him in his crate.”

“It had better be a shipping crate,” she growled.

Bruno stopped barking and sat. He gazed up at Alicia with an open, adoring expression that mirrored the one I usually had around her.

“I guess that’s okay, then,” I said. “Here, let me take the baby.” I stepped close to my wife and kissed her forehead before I hefted Val into my arms. She smelled like tempera paint and goldfish crackers, plus a hint of Alicia’s perfume. Inhaling her scent, I kissed the top of her curly, dark-blond hair. “How was your—”

“Why is there a dog in our house?”

“It’s—” Noah began.

I spoke over him. No way was I letting him take the fall for this. “It’s the holidays, and the shelter needed families to foster the dogs. It’s just for two weeks. And it wasn’t Bruno who scratched Noah. It was Tigger.” I had zero qualms about letting that asshole Tigger take a fall.

“Just two weeks?” She eyed the slobbery kitchen floor, then my fur-covered clothes. “And what kind of name is Bruno? Everyone knows you can’t give an animal a name with the word no in it if you expect them to understand what no means.”

Noah scrunched his nose. “Oh. That makes sense. Too bad whoever named him didn’t know that.”

“Noah,” I said, “want to take Bruno for a walk since he just had…um, dinner?”

“Sure.” He grabbed the leash from the closet next to the front door, clipped it to Bruno’s collar, and walked out the front door.

“Good trip?” I asked again.

“Jackson.” She put her hands on her hips. “We have to talk about this. I know it’s only two weeks, but a dog is an enormous responsibility. And a liability.” She nodded at the bandage wrapper on the kitchen counter.

I put Val down, and she toddled off to her basket of stuffies in the corner. I gathered up the first-aid supplies. “We’ve been keeping him and Tigger separated. And we supervise him one hundred percent around Val. Though he hasn’t seemed vicious at all. The only time he barked was when you came in. And then he settled right down.”

Probably because he knew exactly who was in charge here.

“But why go to all the trouble?” she asked. “Our lives are complicated enough with a teenager and a toddler.”

“I know. Believe me, I know. But Noah wanted to try, and he gave me one of those looks, and I just…I caved.”

“Aw.” She slipped her satchel from her shoulder and put her arms around my neck. “I know you two have struggled lately. But you can’t buy his love with a dog. There’s no silver bullet to living with a teenager. It’s all about patience and persistence.”

I set the first-aid supplies back on the counter so I could use both hands to pull her close to me. “Patience and persistence are two qualities I don’t have.”

“You do when you want to. Remember when you camped out in front of our house in Austin?”

I brushed my cheek against the side of her head so I wouldn’t have to meet her all-seeing gaze. “Noah told me I was being a fool. I thought he meant for trying to win you back. Maybe he meant I had no chance to win him over.”

Pulling back, she put her hands on my cheeks, forcing me to look into her eyes. “You’ve already won him over. He loves you. We all do. He’s just doing what teenagers do and testing your love.”

“I was never very good at tests either,” I grumbled.

“Sure you are. You passed mine.” She kissed me then, and I remembered exactly how glad I was that I’d taken the risk, that I’d looked like a fool to everyone on her street, that I’d persisted to prove to her I was the kind of man who stayed.

I clutched her closer, licking at her lower lip, then sliding my tongue along hers, tasting her, inhaling her for the first time in five days. I let my hands wander down to where her silky blouse tucked into her pencil skirt. How long was it until the kids’ bedtime?

When I felt a tug on my pants, I reluctantly pulled back.

“No Bruno.” Val held up her stuffed dog. One eye was missing, and its tail was ripped clean off, the white stuffing poking out of its new asshole. Shit, when had Bruno had a chance to do that? Sneaky bastard.

I took it from her. “Sorry, baby. Maybe I can fix it.” I knew it was a lie. The injury was too severe for my favorite tools: electrical tape and a soldering iron. But she had plenty of stuffies. And now she had a real dog to love on. At least temporarily.

Like she agreed with what I was thinking, she patted my hand and returned to her toy basket.

“Why don’t you sit down?” I suggested. “I’ll bring you a glass of wine, and you can watch an episode of Bake It Off while I clean up the kitchen and order takeout.”

She hummed her agreement. “I can’t wait to take off my shoes.”

“Better give those to me. Someone has a taste for footwear. Literally.”

Rolling her eyes, she toed off her heels. I picked them up and carried them with the first-aid supplies into the laundry room. Remembering how Bruno had managed to knock down the cat food, I set her shoes on the top shelf above the washing machine.

I’d handed Alicia her glass of wine, secured Val in her high chair with a snack, and Swiffered the kitchen floor by the time Noah and Bruno returned.

As Noah unclipped Bruno’s leash, I said casually, “Maybe Bruno could take a nap in his crate?”

Noah’s eyebrows shot up. “You think?”

Last night, we’d wrestled with the dog for twenty minutes, trying to get him to go inside. He was not a fan and went stiff and prickly each time we tried to guide him in. Even the stinky treats couldn’t lure him inside.

“I have an idea.” I gestured for him to open his hand and dropped a handful of Tigger’s food into it.

Noah flashed me a ghost of a smile. “Here, boy,” he called, heading toward Bruno’s crate in the guest bedroom.

I sank onto the sofa next to Alica and snugged her into my side. “Not in the mood for TV?”

“I guess not,” she said, holding up the remote. It was dented with teeth marks, and the green power button was gone.

“No, Bruno,” I sighed.

© Michelle McCraw, 2023

If you haven’t yet picked up the story of how Alicia and Jackson got together, it’s Work with Me, and you can grab it here.