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Two Weeks to Forever

Chapter 4

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“Look, buddy.” I held his head in my hands and shoved my nose right up against his, the way Jay was always telling me not to do. “You gotta work with me.”

He stared back at me with his yellow eyes. They, like, glowed. Like the hellbeasts in my favorite game. But Bruno wasn’t like them. He’d never disembowel anyone.

Except maybe Tigger.

Only because the cat had the best food.

We were up before sunrise, and I hadn’t wanted to turn on anything but the under-counter lights in the kitchen so we wouldn’t wake anyone up while I tried some of the dog training techniques I’d found on YouTube.

“I wish I could speak dog. So I could help you understand that if we screw this up, Alicia’s going to make you go back to the shelter early. And none of my friends can take you. Believe me, I asked. Everyone’s going out of town or busy or allergic to dogs. It’s going to suck to spend Christmas in the shelter.”

He lay down on the tile floor and put his pink nose between his paws.

“Okay. Let’s try it again.” The kibble in Tigger’s bowl rattled as I lifted it down from the counter and set it on the floor a foot away from Bruno. “Leave it,” I said.

He lifted his head. Sniffed. Put his head back down.

“Good boy!” I gave him one of Val’s cheese cubes. He smacked it and sniffed my hand for another. “Good boy! Or are you just too full of cheese to want cat food?”

He burped.

“What’s going on?” Jay’s voice made me jump. He wore jogging sweats and a hoodie.

“Just working with Bruno,” I said.

“Ah. Well…looking good. He’s not actively destroying anything.” He didn’t look me in the eye.

“Yeah. We’re trying.”

“Maybe if we tire him out, he won’t be so bad. Always works for me,” he joked. “Do you two want to go running with me?”

“Really?” I hated how my voice squeaked. I cleared my throat. “I thought you liked to run alone so you can think.”

He took out his earbuds and dropped them on the counter. “I like to think, but I like you more.”

Like a dork, I let what he’d said warm me up inside. Back when I was in elementary school, I used to idolize him. Back then, I was a stupid kid who didn’t see what was now super obvious: Jay and Alicia wanted an actual child of their own.

And now they had Val. She was cute and lovable. She didn’t have a voice that broke at weird times, didn’t forget to do her homework, and didn’t have a giant zit on her chin, like, all the time.

Heck, I wouldn’t want me around if I was Jay. So I was waiting for the day he and Alicia sat me down for a talk and said I needed to go back to Texas and live with my grandmas. Which wouldn’t be so terrible. I had awesome grandmas.

But I liked Jay and Alicia and Val too.

Jay couldn’t mean that he liked me. He was, like, a billionaire, and he gave money to programs that helped kids, and he never, ever had a zit. Why would he like me? He’d only adopted me because it was the right thing to do. Jay was always doing good things.

“Put on your sneakers,” he said. “Maybe the endorphins will help Bruno too.”

I hoped he hadn’t decided to have the go-back-to-grandma’s talk with me on this run. Slowly, I put Tigger’s bowl back on the counter, slipped on my sneakers, and clipped the leash to Bruno’s collar.

Outside, Jay held onto the handrail and swung one leg back and forth. “Come on,” he said. “You’ve got to stretch out your hip flexors.”

I snorted. “You do if you’re old.”

“Keep talking smack, kid. We’ll see who’s laughing at the end of this run.”

I couldn’t help grinning. It didn’t sound like he was giving me the boot today. So I joked back, “Yeah, it’ll be me, old man.” I did some of my soccer warm-up stretches to humor him.

After a few minutes more of his ridiculous stretches, we set off jogging toward the Embarcadero. Slowly. I suspected he was going easy on me. Or maybe he was just slow. Cause he was old. Either way, it was smart to go slow with Bruno. His tongue stuck out even though it was so cold we could see our breath.

“Look,” Jay said at last. “I talked to Alicia last night.”

Holy shit. I held my breath.

“She wants Bruno to go back to the shelter,” he said.

If I hadn’t been running, I’d have sighed. Half in relief, half in accepting the inevitable. Alicia was a cat person.

“I guess I didn’t really think she’d let us keep him forever,” I said. “Sorry, buddy.” He looked up at me with his yellow eyes. “I’ll give you the best Christmas ever, though. And maybe you can find a forever home after that.”

Jay coughed. “I, um, I mean he has to go back to the shelter today.”

“Today?” I stopped right in the middle of the path. A biker cursed as he swerved around me.

Bruno sniffed a patch of brown grass at the edge of the path, not seeming to be bothered that his life was on the line.

Jay had run a few more steps. Now he circled back to face me, hands on his hips. “I’m sorry. I feel bad that I let you get your hopes up. That I ever agreed to bring Bruno home with us.”

Flames erupted inside me like Mordor at the end of The Return of the King. “You suck, Jay! If you really cared about either of us, you’d have talked her into keeping him. But you don’t care.”

“Of course I care,” he snapped. “If you could, for one minute, pull your head out of your ass—asinine teenage self-centeredness, you’d see—”

“See what, Jay? That Val is a better kid than me? Believe me, I get it. You don’t want me, either. Maybe I should go live with Grandma and Esmy.”

His face had been red, but now it went white.

“You—you okay?” I reached out a hand to catch him if he fell. Though he outweighed me by at least fifty pounds. He’d probably squash me like a squirrel under a falling redwood.

“Yeah. Yeah.” He stared at the ground. “You’d really rather go back to Texas?”

No. Please ask me to stay. “Yeah. They’d probably let me keep Bruno.”

His cheeks went red then. “This isn’t about a goddamn dog!”

“It sure fucking is!” Tugging Bruno’s leash, I turned and sprinted toward home.

Jay was either too slow or too indifferent to catch me.


Chapter 5


After the fight with Noah, I didn’t go straight home.

I stopped at Tigger’s veterinarian and paid her an outrageous amount of money to squeeze me in for a consult.

She told me all the things I’d done wrong with Bruno, from bringing him home without asking other family members (duh) to not giving him a safe space to adjust to our home (guess I should’ve tried harder to make the crate seem like a cozy den) to expecting him simply to adjust to our household on his own without supervision and training. She said he needed time, just like a child would.

That reminded me I’d fucked up with my kid, too.

So I stopped at our local video game shop and picked up the game the clerk, who was only a couple years older than Noah, promised was the one every teenage boy wanted for Christmas. I asked him for a pen and a sticky note, and I wrote, I promise to play this with you for one hour per day (after you’ve finished your homework).

And before I finally headed home, I used my phone to buy a pair of season tickets to San Francisco’s professional soccer team and a family membership to the science museum.

Sure, it cost the kind of money a lot of guys my age didn’t have. But what I hoped Noah would understand was that it wasn’t about the money. I was giving him time. Because I loved him.

If he still wanted to move back to Texas and live with his grandmothers, I’d let him. Of course.

But I wasn’t going to let him go without a fight.

When I got home, I trudged inside, steeling myself for it.

“Hi, sweetie,” Alicia said as she sipped her tea at the kitchen table, next to Val in her high chair. “Good run?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. Had she somehow missed our son’s stormy return to the house? “Where’s Noah?”

“In his room. Spending a few last minutes with the dog. Thanks for breaking the news to him, by the way, and not making me the bad guy.”

“Oh, I was the bad guy. One hundred percent,” I muttered. “Can we…can we talk? Because I really”—I kissed the top of Val’s head and put my hands over her ears—“really fucked up.”

“Sure,” she said. “Sit down.”

But I couldn’t sit. Instead, I paced as I told her what I’d been keeping inside since before she left for Boston. That I’d been hurting because Noah didn’t like me. That I’d gotten him the dog to earn points with him, like parenting was anything like collecting coins in Super Mario Bros. That all the time, he’d been prickly because he hadn’t felt that I loved him.

“Oh, honey.” Alicia handed me a tissue when I finished. I blew my nose. “You guys need to talk to clear up all this nonsense. You didn’t need to bring home a dog.”

“I know, I know. I talked to Dr. Rama. She agrees with you. But…”


“Butt-butt-butt!” Val chuckled.

I lifted her out of the chair. She probably didn’t understand what we were talking about, but she didn’t need to hear her parents argue, and I figured that was one direction this conversation might go. I was already oh-for-one today.

“Go play with your dollies?” I suggested. She toddled off toward the toy basket.

“Can we keep Bruno? Just for the rest of the two weeks we committed to. I know you think he’s a risk. But Dr. Rama said most pit bulls are gentle and obedient and that, as long as we supervise him around Tigger and the kids, there’s very little chance he’ll do anything harmful.”

“The TV remote begs to differ,” she said.

“Like I said, supervision is key. And I’ll take off work for the rest of the time he’s here so I can watch him.”

She frowned. “Why is the dog so important?”

I planted my feet. “I want to show Noah that I can follow through on my promises. That it meant something when I said we could keep Bruno. And that it meant everything when I adopted him. And after Bruno goes back to the shelter, I’ll show him in other ways. By playing video games with him. Helping him with his homework. Going to soccer games and the science museum. I thought giving him space was the right thing to do, but now I realize it’s time that he needs. My time.”

She clutched my hand. “That would be amazing. Between Synergy and your foundation, your time is so precious.”

“Exactly. And that’s why I want to spend it with him.”

There was a choked sound behind me, and I whirled, certain I’d let Val swallow a Lego. But it was Noah.

He scrubbed tears off his cheeks. “Really? You want to spend time with me?”

“Of course I do. You’re my son.” I opened my arms for a hug.

He obliged me for half a second. “You stink.”

We might have made up, but he was still fourteen.

“We good?”

“I guess.” He looked down at his feet, which were the same size as mine although he was six inches shorter.

“Where’s Bruno?” Alicia asked.

“He’s right…” Noah looked around. “He came down with me.”

“Maybe he went to his crate?” I said. “Dr. Rama said many dogs see their crates as dens, safe spaces.”

“Where’s Val?” Alicia’s voice quivered with panic.

I didn’t remember moving—my brain was still stuck there in the kitchen in shock—but the next thing I knew, I was standing in the guest room.

Bruno was in his crate.

So was Val.

And Bruno was wearing Val’s pink shirt.

I wanted to yell, to race, to snatch my daughter away, but I remembered what the veterinarian said about remaining calm around a new animal. “Hey, Val. You okay?”

“We playin’ dress-up,” she said.

I breathed out a shuddering sigh. She sounded perfectly normal.

“Why don’t you come out of his crate? That’s Bruno’s special place where only he’s allowed. Like your bed is your special place.”

“Hmm.” She looked at Bruno and patted his potato head with her chubby hand. “Okay. Bye-bye.” She crawled out.

I swooped her up into my arms and showed her to Alicia, who stood behind me, shaking.

She checked Val’s face, her hair, her naked torso, and each of her limbs before pulling her into a hug. “Not a scratch on her.”

“Good boy, Bruno,” I said. I pulled the blanket from the foot of the guest bed and draped it over the crate so that it was dark and private inside.

The dog snorted and lay down, still wearing Val’s pink Barbie shirt.

“He and I had a talk,” Noah said. “We’re going to come up with a new name for him. One that doesn’t have the word N-O in it.”

“Smart,” I said. “Any ideas?”

“Not yet. I need to work fast, though, so I can tell the people at the shelter when we drop him off.”

“I guess…” Alicia began. “I guess we can finish out the foster period. He seems friendly enough.”

Noah sucked in a breath. “You mean it?”

“Sure. In the spirit of Christmas and all,” she said.

I hugged her and Val. “Thank you,” I whispered in her ear.


“Hey!” There was pounding on our bedroom door. “You guys up? You gotta come see!”

I groaned and rolled over. “Isn’t he a little old to be into Santa?”

Alicia was already scrambling into her robe. “It’s not the dog, is it?”

That woke me up. Over the last three days since Alicia had agreed to let us keep Bruno, we’d done a good job of keeping an eye on him. He’d stolen one of Val’s stuffies, but he’d dropped it as soon as Noah offered him cheese. After a trip through the washing machine, Elmo was good as new. And at night, Bruno slept in his more den-like crate without a fuss. Could he have gotten out? I thought I’d secured it last night. “I think there’d have been more screaming for that.” Still, I shoved my legs into my pajama pants and wrestled on a T-shirt.

Alicia beat me downstairs by two seconds. When she gasped, I nearly plowed into her in my rush to see what could have gone so horribly wrong.

“Shh,” Noah said. He had his phone out, and I heard it make the fake shutter sound of snapping a photo.

I peered around Alicia. The light from the television illuminated the pink beanbag chair we’d placed under the tree last night for Valentine. She’d dragged it out into the middle of the floor, right in front of the TV.

Val was curled into it, and so was the dog. She snuggled under the pink blanket she’d brought from her room. He wore the shirt from her red-and-green striped Christmas pajamas. He propped his ugly head on the edge of the beanbag and blinked open his eyes with an expression of, So I like to wear pajamas and sleep in beanbag chairs. You got a problem with that?

“Didn’t you put him in his crate last night?” Alicia asked.

“Sure did,” I said. “Didn’t you put Val to bed last night?”

She chuckled. “Sure did. I guess even a locked crate can’t separate true love.”

“We’re going to have to put one of the child locks on it,” I said.

“She was watching Elf again.” Noah picked up the (new) remote but then paused before turning off the television.

“Buddy,” he said. “Buddy is his name.”

The dog’s face split into a so-ugly-it’s-adorable grin. His pink tongue lolled out.

I scrunched my nose. “He’s just overheated, right? From the pajamas? He doesn’t actually care what we call him. Especially not since we’re about to send him back to the S-H-E-L-T-E-R.”

Alicia knelt next to the bean-bag chair. She stroked Val’s blond curls, then she scratched Bru—Buddy on the top of the head. He closed his eyes in pleasure.

“Maybe he doesn’t have to go back. Not right away. We could try another two weeks. Or maybe a month or two. If that’s what you two want?” She looked at Noah, then at me.

I dipped my chin and raised my eyebrows, waiting for Noah’s decision.

“Yeah.” He dropped to his knees beside Buddy and stuck his nose right up against the dog’s pink one.

“Don’t—” But I stopped. The dog didn’t seem to mind Noah getting in his face. In fact, he sighed happily.

Val blinked her eyes open. “Is it Christmas?”

“It is,” I said, sinking down beside Noah and putting my hand on his back.

He grinned at me. “Merry Christmas.”


And happy holidays to you, reader! I hope you’ve had a wonderful festive season.

Thanks so much for reading this Synergy short. 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.

If you’re interested in fostering or adopting a shelter pet, contact your local Humane Society or rescue organization. Dogs, cats, and other animals need safe homes year-round. My dogs Pippin and Freckles came from rescue organizations, and they were much-loved members of my family.

© 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.