Lancelot

Young Jennie; so named because her mother was dubbed “Old” Jennie—although no one ever said it to her mother’s face—and also because she was only twelve years old, sat at the kitchen nook, toying with her after-school snack. Her mother had placed a plate full of cubes of watermelon and celery sticks spread with Cheese Whiz in front of her as soon as she had come in. Young Jennie was not hungry, so she slowly flipped the fruit cubes end on end, and made teepees with the celery sticks.

Old Jennie eyed her sideways as she dried the lunch dishes. Her daughter had tended to the melancholy since her great grandfather had passed away a short four months previous, so she chose to ignore her food-play and said, “By the way, Rusty pulled another of his disappearing acts this morning.”

Young Jennie stopped fiddling with her food and looked up. “What?”

“Yep,” Old Jennie nodded. “Let him out just before you went off to school, he waltzes back around one this afternoon.” She could not help adding, “Maybe you should pay more attention to the poor dog. Who knows what kind of trouble he can get into.”

This change in canine behaviour had begun around the time Young Jennie’s great grandfather—affectionately called ‘Gee-Gee Onion’—had first taken seriously ill. The onion part of ‘Gee-Gee Onion’ was a corruption of his surname Runyon, coined by a three-year old Jennie. It had stuck with everyone in the family from then on. Seamus Runyon had liked it best of all, Old Jennie remembered fondly.

Old Jennie had speculated that, because of all the commotion surrounding Gee-Gee Onion’s death and funeral, Rusty had felt left out, and was looking for a mate—or at least company—elsewhere.

Young Jennie fidgeted on the bench. The part of her legs not covered by her shorts was sticking uncomfortably to the bright red vinyl covering. She looked to where Rusty now lay sleeping in his spot: a thick brown shag rug in the corner of the kitchen nearest the door. His long red coat naturally splayed around him in even silky strands, as if someone had combed it out.

“He doesn’t look like he is hurt; he’s not dirty or anything.” she said tentatively.

“No, but still … ” Her mother turned and leaned against the counter, folding her arms with the terrycloth towel still in her hand, and stared pointedly at Jennie. “ … you barely walk him or even feed him anymore, and you don’t even play with him nearly as much as before … ” She trailed off.

“I do too walk him!” Jennie was as indignant as a twelve year old can be, focusing on just one accusation in the litany.

“Really? When?” countered Old Jennie.

“Every … every … well, once a week at least!” Now her thighs were sweating on the vinyl, which made Young Jennie even more uncomfortable. Exasperated, she unstuck herself with a grimace and rose up to leave the table. “I have homework to do.”

“I’m sure you do,” said her mother tartly.

Young Jennie’s routine since school had started last month was to spend two hours after school, then another hour after supper on homework. Old Jennie hadn’t complained at first; it was such a welcome change from the year previous, when Jennie had been more likely to play chess or checkers with her great grandfather, or listen raptly to the generally fabricated stories of his life in pre-war Ireland. Schoolwork had never been a focus for Young Jennie then. Now it seemed like it was all she ever did.

Young Jennie paused, then picked up her plate, rounded the table and handed it to her mother, and as if to forestall any further inquiries, said quietly, “I’ll check it out tomorrow, Mum. I promise.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. He doesn’t do it when you’re home.” Old Jennie said shortly.

“Oh.” Young Jennie had lost track of the week. “OK, Monday then, before school. I’ll let him out and watch where he goes.”

“As long as you make it to school on time.” Old Jennie bit her tongue as soon as she said it; she saw Young Jennie’s face cloud.

“Don’t worry, Mother. I’m never late.”

Old Jennie sighed as Young Jennie stalked past her and up the stairs to her bedroom. Rusty groaned in his bed and rolled over onto his back, wagging his whiskbroom tail on the rug, proudly displaying his maleness to the world, and airing out his red-furred tummy.

Old Jennie—and at this moment she felt old—shook her head in frustration, deliberately ignored Rusty, and returned to drying the dishes.

***

Jennie cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled hoarsely: “Rusty! Come here boy! Rusty!” It was the fourth or fifth time she had shouted.

“He is going to make me late for school! Darn dumb dog!” She muttered to herself, remembering her promise to Old Jennie. She stomped down the long gravel driveway to the main street of her subdivision, the better to scan the neighbourhood for her errant pooch. Perhaps he had gone to visit the little female Pomeranian down the street. Jennie believed that Rusty didn’t like other dogs much, contrary to what Old Jennie thought. Young Jennie lived in faint hope that the tiny Pommie could be a perfect girlfriend for Rusty.

She reached the end of the driveway and peered to her left towards the Pommie’s house. There was no sign of Rusty’s lute-shaped red tail or fox-like ears. To the right she looked, and … yes, there he was! The whisk of Rusty’s tail flagged the end of a driveway about six houses away.

“Rusty!” Jennie called again as the tail with Rusty attached disappeared in a feathery flourish.

“I swear I’m gonna kill that dog!” She exclaimed to the misty October air as she marched towards the house. She did not know who lived there, or remembered seeing anyone around whenever she had walked by it. Certainly, no pets lived there. She would have noticed them; Jennie was still of the opinion that animals were much more interesting than the people who owned them.

The gravel driveway for the sixth house was short. The home came quickly into view: a neat-as-a-pin rancher with a small veranda by the front door, clean turquoise siding with white trim overlooked a well-manicured lawn and flower garden.

Probably an old lady’s house. Jennie thought as she came closer to the end of the white picket fence that rimmed the front garden. Why would Rusty come here? She heard a voice and halted just at the edge of the driveway.

“Here you go—scraps,” was what she thought she heard the reedy high-pitched voice say.

“That’s it, Scraps, you just eat that all down right now, there’s a good boy. My, you must be starving, look how you gobble it up!”

Oh, thought Jennie, bemused. She actually is calling Rusty ‘Scraps’.

Intrigued, Jennie hid behind the fence and peeked around the end picket down the driveway. There, sitting on a side-door stoop was a white-haired elderly lady—as Jennie had predicted—dressed in a 1960’s style blue floral-patterned dress. She ruffled Rusty’s fox-ears and petted his head, as Rusty happily wolfed down the contents of a large aluminum bowl the lady had set in front of him.

Jennie was about to make her presence known, but instead she stepped back, school forgotten for the moment, and pondered. Someone else was feeding her dog with obvious familiarity, and he seemed to like it!

Maybe he just wants to be independent! 

She had contemplated independence often herself lately; she recently had decided she would leave home the minute she completed high school.

If I work extra hard at school and my homework, I can skip a grade …

Meanwhile, the lady continued talking to Rusty: “Well you look healthy enough Scraps, so I guess you must belong to someone, but it does make me wonder; you sure put it away every time you visit! Maybe your owners don’t feed you enough, poor baby.”

Jennie’s jaw dropped on the ‘every time you visit’ part. Was this a regular thing? She felt offended; she fed Rusty every single day!

She inched further back the way she had come, her indignation quickly replaced by the excitement of a sleuth who had stumbled on to a mystery. She decided then to follow her wandering dog and see exactly what he did, where he went and whom he visited, until he went home. She would suffer whatever consequences came from being late to school—for the first time ever. This was much more interesting than ‘times and guhzinters’, as her late great grandfather had derisively called mathematics.

When people looked askance, Gee-Gee Onion would gleefully cackle: “Y’know … six guhzinter twelve … two times!” Few thought it as funny as Gee-Gee himself did. Jennie had always laughed with him.

Jennie checked for hiding places close enough for her to observe Rusty’s next movements but far enough down the road that he couldn’t smell her. It was a dilemma; she didn’t know which way he might go.

The puzzle solved itself as she heard the lady say, “G’bye Scraps! Away you go again, silly old wanderer. You know you really should stay with me, shouldn’t you, but no, off you go through my yard again, just like you owned the place anyway.”

The lady clucked happily to herself as she entered her house. Jennie waited a beat before scrambling back to the driveway and staring down it to see where Rusty had gone. Directly in line with the gravel path was a gap under the fence that lined the perimeter of the neat green backyard. Surmising Rusty had ducked through that gap, Jennie calculated to which house on the parallel street it would lead her wayward pet.

Cripes, that’s all the way around the block! Thought Jennie.

She bolted along the sidewalk to the corner, spraying gravel onto the white fence from her sneakers as she took off, turned right and right again, then counted down the houses until she got to the one that backed out into the home that she¾and her foxy dog¾had just left.

This house was a white stucco rancher trimmed in faded brown fascia. In contrast to the neat abode Rusty had just visited, this home was unkempt. A low concrete wall crumbled in front of the residence and bordered a lawn overgrown with weeds and wild grass going to seed. Jennie stopped at the asphalt entranceway, slipping on the smooth surface and leaving dusty skid marks on the blacktop. She could not see Rusty, and was just beginning to think she had calculated incorrectly, when she heard another voice—this time that of man.

“Hey there, it’s Red, right on schedule! Here you go, fetch!” Jennie heard a low grunt and a large white Dent-a-bone, the kind that her family couldn’t afford to buy from the pet store, flew out from behind the rear corner of the house, clunked against the paint-peeled wall of the carport and landed below in the weed-filled flowerbed border.

Rusty came into view, trotting over¾rather casually she thought¾to find the huge bone and, after wrestling with it briefly, heaved it up in his mouth. He marched—stiff-legged and struggling, but triumphantly—back behind the house and out of sight. Jennie clapped a hand to her mouth to stop herself from laughing aloud—just in time—as the man came around the house, looking back over his shoulder and calling, “Come on Red, time for your walk.”

The man was also gray-haired, but tall, very thin and gangly. He belted his beige dress pants high up on his midriff, and sported a red plaid felt shirt under a thick black cable-knit sweater. His attire seemed to be a case of overkill given the mild October weather. After all, Jennie was still comfortable in shorts and a thin blouse.

She ran for cover behind a large black car parked on the opposite side of the road, her mind whirling.

Your walk? she thought, more affronted than ever. Just what kind of dog owner do these people think I am? I walk him every day after school!

As she crouched breathless and bewildered behind the car, however, she soon had to admit that these people couldn’t know what she did with Rusty-Red-Scraps when they weren’t with him, just as she hadn’t been aware of Rusty’s itinerary with them.

Jennie fretted that Rusty might catch her scent as the pair left, but she had no time to move before they both came into sight. She held her breath.

The man limped slightly; Rusty kept apace beside him, still clenching the monstrous bone in his jaws, occasionally turning his snout—with some difficulty—to look up to the man. They headed slowly down the road away from Jennie, and she let her breath out slowly in relief.

She gazed after the duo. They look like they belong together—they’re so cute! Jennie was both amused and disturbed.

The man reminded her of Gee-Gee Onion, just before he had gone away. Gee-Gee Onion had been very thin then; so thin, that any clothes he wore looked like sheets hanging from a clothesline, if the clothesline were made of bones. He had been so thin that Jennie could not bear to visit him during his last two months in the hospital. According to Old Jennie, he had asked after her many times …

Jennie blinked away a sudden wetness in her eyes, and looked back down the road after her delinquent dog. Rusty was holding himself back to keep abreast of the old man, weaving and casting figure eights, something he never did during any walks she took with him. She could see the man was talking to Rusty, but the widening distance prevented her hearing his words.

Jennie followed them, using parked vehicles, trees, shrubs and mailboxes for concealment.

They reached a park—the same park in which Jennie herself often walked her dog—where Rusty indulged the old gentleman in a game of fetch, this time with a weathered red ‘Kong’ toy.

Jennie strolled the perimeter, keeping one eye on the pair while trying to be invisible. Even from this far away she thought she heard an Irish lilt to the old man’s voice.

Maybe he’s from the same village as Gee-Gee Onion.

She figured it was now after nine o’clock. She was late for school for sure.

Well, it was Mum’s idea to follow the little bugger, anyway.  Jennie felt the little thrill she always got when she used one of Gee-Gee Onion’s almost-swear words. He had had a million of them; she remembered a lot of them too, but rarely took the chance to say them aloud where her disapproving mother or her scoffing schoolmates could hear. It’s weird, she reflected. One side thinks they’re just rude, and the other thinks they’re corny and old. Either way nobody wants to hear them.

She sat down on a knoll overlooking the field where the man and her dog were still playing. She picked blades of grass, stripping the leaves and sucking and chewing on the remaining succulent shoots. Old Jennie would have lectured her on the danger of pesticides and other diseases lurking on the lovely green lawn. Gee-Gee Onion would have cackled, poked Old Jennie in the side and said: “Young folk don’t know what age is, an’ old people forget what their yout’ was, eh Old Jennie?”

Jennie stared down at the lush park scene that spread out before her, but did not really see it. Not long ago, she and Gee-Gee Onion had come to this same park, sat in almost the same spot, and done exactly the same thing she was doing. They had played a game of chess at home, and her mother had wanted her to go out to see some of her school friends, but she had chosen to take a walk with her great grandfather instead, which delighted Gee-Gee to no end.

They had not talked much during the walk; it had been a lazy and unusually warm April day; one of those days where all was right with the world. They had come to this place, with its panoramic view, and sat down with a sigh—and a groan from her Gee-Gee.

“Young Jennie,” Seamus Runyon had begun suddenly.

“Yes, Gee-Gee?” Jennie had answered, somewhat startled at his abrupt tone.

“Have I e’er told yez about yer name?” Gee-Gee’s accent broadened when he was about to tell a tale.

“Of course, Gee-Gee, I’m young Jennie because Mum is … ”

”Nah, nah, not that. I mean what yer name means.”

Jennie had shaken her head solemnly. “No, sir.”

Gee-Gee had snorted, “Oh Ser is it, now? Go on wit’ yez then, mebbe yer too good for the tellin’.” He had folded his arms and scowled at her, although he still kept a hint of a smirk on his lips.

Jennie had begged loudly for both forgiveness and the tale. Finally Gee-Gee had relented.

“Well, alright then … y’know the tale of King Arthur and the Round Table?”

Jennie did, it was a favourite.

“But did y’know that they got it wrong?”

Jennie did not.

“Aah, well … Arthur was an Irish King, truth be told. Yes, Irish.” He had nodded satisfactorily at Jennie’s appropriately astonished expression. “And who d’ye think his most beautiful Queen was?”

Jennie had hesitated for a second; she had been more interested in Merlin when she had read the stories. Then it had popped into her head.

“Guenivere?”

“That is correct, Young Jennie! Guenivere. Now, e’en though her parents were Welsh … ” And here Gee-Gee Onion had spit into the grass off to one side; Jennie hadn’t been sure why. “ … they had the good sense to betroth her to … y’know the word, betrothed?”

Jennie had nodded, captivated.

“Alright then, they had the good sense to betroth her to the Irish King so’s it would allow them all to have bigger lands and more money and power and such and so on. Ooh and Guinevere was fair—meaning very pretty—and her skin was very white, very smooth. S’trooth, they told tales for centuries about how beautiful she was—enough to lose a kingdom over—if the bards and mummers can be trusted. Ye’ve read some of the tales, though—which are mostly true except they left out the Irish part—so yez know the rest. Anyways, when yer Mum were born, she herself was so white, so smooth, and e’en though she was no bigger than a minute, y’could see she was going to be fair, so I … uh … suggested to your grandparents that they call her after Guenivere … what?” Gee-Gee had stopped when he saw Jennie’s puzzled frown.

“So, Mum’s name … and mine … is actually  … Guenivere??” Jennie had asked slowly. That had made Gee-Gee cackle until he spluttered.

“Nah, nah, Young Jennie. Oho, ‘course not! What kinda fool name d’ye think that would be to gi’ a body nowadays? Nah, nah, but Jennifer, well y’see now Jennifer comes from Guinevere, bastardized by the Limey’s, ‘course. Jennifer became Jennie, and the no-bigger-than-a-minute Jennie became Old Jennie, and then along comes you … ” Gee-Gee waited expectantly, white eyebrow raised.

“ … me, who became Young Jennie!” Jennie had laughed with Gee-Gee Onion, who had been much pleased with himself, as usual.

Young Jennie smiled as she recalled that moment, then frowned just as quickly as something occurred to her then that hadn’t on that remembered day.

She had never really considered that her mother, Old Jennie had also been a young Jennie at one time. She had been a baby, in fact, no bigger than a minute, as Gee-Gee Onion had said. Moreover, losing Gee-Gee Onion meant Old Jennie had lost her grandfather at the same time Young Jennie lost her great grandfather. She had not thought about his death from her mother’s perspective before.

Then why is she so crusty and tough, always in a black mood nowadays? Jennie thought morosely. She should be sad with me, cry when I cry. She’s nothing like a Guinevere who is supposed to be fair and smooth and white!

A flash of red moving just outside of her peripheral vision caught her attention, and she realized that Rusty and his partner in crime were heading home, in fact were already almost out of the park.

Hells bells and buckets of blood! Jennie muttered another favourite Onion-ism under her breath.

She scrambled to her feet and followed the two figures again. They ended up back at the old man’s ramshackle house, where he gave Rusty a last biscuit. Rusty gobbled that down in short order and trotted out the driveway. The old gent watched the dog leaving for what seemed a long time, as though he was expecting something or someone else to arrive, and then disappeared into his back yard.

The rest of the morning followed the same pattern around the entire block. Jennie had never known there were so many seniors living in her area. Everyone had a different name for Rusty, except for one couple that had coincidentally stumbled upon his real one, and a very large woman with no imagination who simply called him “Doggie”. Rusty responded equally the same to every moniker.

Call me anyt’ing just don’t call me late for dinner! Gee-Gee Onion used to say that too—almost every day without fail.

The dog became progressively more polite at each feeding, and by the end barely nibbled on the biscuit that an extremely stooped-over blue-haired lady offered him.

When she knew Rusty was finally going home, Jennie trotted up beside her little red rascal and fell into step with him. Rusty’s tail whipped signals of joy like a whiskered semaphore flag, without any sign of guilt.

Dogs! Jennie thought. You could stand on your head and spit rubber balls at them, and the reaction would always be the same. It was one reason she preferred animals to humans; they were completely predictable.

Jennie bent down and hugged Rusty; he wiggled and squirmed under her fierce embrace. Finally, she let him go, wiped a tear away and stood up.

“Rusty … are you hungry?” she asked knowingly.

Rusty wagged his tail vehemently, his front legs danced, his eyes looking up at her with a spark of excitement and, Jennie imagined, cunning.

That would be a big ol’ ‘Yes’ in dog language, Jennie thought.

“Rusty,” Jennie admonished, “You are the biggest poser, the biggest liar, and the biggest faker I have ever met, human or animal … and I do love you to death.”

As Young Jennie triumphantly burst through the mud-room door with Rusty in tow, Old Jennie looked up in surprise from the kitchen table where she was reading a recent issue of Cosmopolitan. She glanced at the clock, and glared at Young Jennie.

“Jennie! You’re missing school!” She accused in wild understatement considering the morning was almost over.

“Yes, I know, Mum, b-but I did what you told me to do: I followed Rusty, and I know what he does when he disappears!”

Old Jennie did not quite remember their conversation the same way Young Jennie did. She never recalled saying Young Jennie could skip an entire school day to uncover Rusty’s hidden agenda. She was about to take her daughter to task on the issue, but when she saw Jennie’s enthusiastic expression and shining face—something she had not seen for a while—she relented and simply smiled.

“Well then, what did you find out?”

Young Jennie related all that had occurred and all the people Rusty had gone to see. Old Jennie laughed at some of her daughter’s descriptions. She’s learned from Grampa Runyon, Old Jennie thought.

“Mum,” Jennie finished. “I think Rusty is helping these old folks! He’s like their playmate. He’s letting them love him and giving them love and company back, he’s really, really cool! He’s genius!”

Old Jennie didn’t want to dampen her daughter’s eagerness to paint Rusty as a modern-day Lassie, but …

“I don’t know, hon,” Old Jennie heard herself saying. “Maybe Rusty is just getting attention for himself. You know  the whole time Gee-Gee was sick, and since he … um … has gone, we’ve been a bit neglectful of the little guy. He’s probably just filling in the gaps we’ve left.”

Young Jennie frowned at her mother.

“What about the gap Gee-Gee Onion left? How are you filling that one in, Mum?”

The unexpected question cut Old Jennie to the bone. A memory came unbidden about what Gee-Gee had said on one of his better last days, when told of Young Jennie’s deep despair at his condition, and why she would not come to see him.

He had raised his head up with great effort, smiled his old mischievous smile at her, and said, “Do not bother yerself, Jennifer, I unnerstand what bothers Young Jennie. I just wish you would give ‘er some more rope to run wit’, cuz I see the soul of a wanderer in her, I do. I’m t’inkin’ she would benefit by your apron strings growing a tiny wee bit longer. Remember …” He had bolstered himself up on one elbow at that juncture, and fixed her with a stern pointed look offset with his patented wink. “ … your son is your son until he marries, but your daughter is your daughter until you die.”

Young Jennie burst into tears. Old Jennie, startled out of her own momentary funk, rushed to her and took her by the shoulders. “Jennie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Jennie kept her eyes screwed shut as she cried, sobbing so deeply it tore at Old Jennie’s heart.

Old Jennie simply held her daughter to her breast while she waited for the tears to subside.

Subside they did, eventually sputtering out into sniffles ending with Young Jennie heaving a long and deep sigh. Seeing her chance, Old Jennie asked her once again what was wrong.

“I … uh … I g-guess I’m just really sad I never got to say good bye to Gee-Gee Onion.” Jennie sniffed. “I  ‘member one of his sayings was: ‘When God made time, he made plenty of it’, but that just isn’t true, is it, Mum? We don’t have plenty of time, do we? Gee-Gee Onion was way over ninety, wasn’t he? And he still … went away … too soon, well too soon for me, anyway.”

Old Jennie nodded into her daughter’s hair. “Yes, Jennie, it’s always way, way too soon.”

Then she had an idea.

“Jennie, why don’t you take Rusty around the block on Saturday, and introduce yourself to all of his friends? Seems to me they deserve to know their stray dog actually has an owner, and a good one at that!”

Jennie brightened, but then clouded over again, pulling away from Old Jennie.

”I dunno, Mum. Wouldn’t that kinda destroy the magic?”

“The  … the magic?” Old Jennie was nonplussed.

“Yeah magic—well sorta. I mean here they are, all thinking this dog comes to see each of them only, like a miracle gift or something, and then disappears to who knows where. Don’t you think if they knew where he comes from, and who he belongs to, that would take away the mystery of it all?”

Old Jennie chuckled, delighting in her twelve-year old’s view of the world.

I think maybe it would create a different kind of magic.” She said seriously. “Like the kind your Gee-Gee Onion would have made himself. You know what I mean?”

Young Jennie thought she knew exactly what her mother meant.

****

Jennie walked out with Rusty on Saturday morning into a colder day than they had on the previous Monday. Jennie thought she would go in reverse direction from the way Rusty always did, so they started off by turning left towards the house where the cute Pommie lived.

Jennie took measured steps, with Rusty tugging at the lead.

How are these folks going to take it, I wonder? Maybe they’ll feel cheated.

It had been a thought that had been building inside her since Old Jennie had proposed the idea, and she had pondered on it all week until it festered into a full-fledged stressful worry.

But she soon forgot about it, because for each stop she made, the old folks—small and large, blue haired and white haired, stooped and straight—were first astonished that Rusty had an owner. Then they were chagrined that the dog was called Rusty (except for the lady who had it right—she was very excited by her own shrewdness), and finally happy that he was not actually a stray, but had still chosen to visit them.

Young Jennie had been especially looking forward to talking to the old Irish gent who reminded her of Gee-Gee Onion. It was in truth the reason she had started in reverse: so she could save him for near the end.

However, when she approached the weathered little home with Rusty in tow, she knew something was not quite right. There was a large green van parked on the asphalt driveway. A woman her mother’s age was carrying a box out from the house, leaving the screen door hinged wide open.

Jennie caught the women’s eye. The woman quickly looked her up and down.

“Hello, can I help you?” The women asked brusquely.

“Uh  … I’m looking for the … ” She almost said old man “ … fellow who lives here. He and my dog …”

“Oh, yes. Walter has mentioned a dog. Red, is it? In fact he left something for it, I think.”

“Left something … ?”

“Yes, oh God … I guess you don’t know. Walter—that’s my husbands father—has been admitted to hospital. I’m sorry to say he won’t be coming back, so we are taking care of some things for him.” The woman set down the box on the deck of the van, and brushed her hands off on her jeans. “Right, well I’m sure it was for your little dog that he left the present, so follow me, it’s just around back.”

Jennie followed, hauling a suddenly reluctant Rusty behind. The woman led them to the back of the house, where Jennie saw an old cedar porch at the back door.

There, on the porch step was a large Dent-a-bone tied up with a ribbon. Walter had taped a little envelope to it.

Jennie stared at the gift, feeling stunned and an inexplicable grief at the loss of a person she had never even known. She fought back tears as she mumbled “Th-thank you”, snatched the bone from the step and hurried out of the driveway. Rusty looked up at her expectantly as they trudged back towards the last house. At the corner, she stopped, separated the bone from the card and let Rusty have it, while she opened the envelope.

In the envelope was a small bone-white card.

Young Jennie slowly smiled through the tears that ran down her face as she read the spidery script: “For Red … and Red’s little girl.”

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