Beautifully Broken: Part Two

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The following is Part Two of a short story based on the novel “The Christmas Beagle”, by S.E. Eaton.  For Part One of this story, click here.

 

Still gasping for breath, Pete looked for a glint of window glass from one of the hotels in the distance, and swam, hard, towards the shore.  A wave besieged them—Pete swam harder.   Slug, shivering and wide-eyed, looked to be in shock, but he was breathing.   Knee-deep, Alex ran to meet them.  “Oh my God!” she said.    She took Slug into her arms, hugging him close as Pete trudged ashore and lay the unconscious body he toted on the sand.

Alex hurried after him and gestured towards the beach behind her. “A woman up that way called 911.  Oh my God, oh my God….”  She worked her fingers through Slug’s sodden fur, her vision locked on the boy as she muttered something, a prayer, perhaps.

Pete tilted the boy’s head back, leaned in close to his face and listened for any sign of breathing.  “Get his grandma,” he said to Alex, baffled that the old lady wasn’t already present.

“…Right!” Alex said, darting off to where the old woman sat.

Stay with me, kid,” Pete said, as he laced his fingers and started chest thrusts.

Another man approached, slowing his sprint as he arrived. “I’m a caretaker—I know CPR!”

So do I, Pete thought for a fleeting moment, but nevertheless he stepped aside. Sirens sounded in the distance as the man got to work on the boy.  A small crowd had gathered—Pete hoped the people in it had the sense to give them some space.

“Where’s his parents?” someone said. “Anyone know who he is?”

Pete stared at the boy’s face, watching for any sign of alertness, ready to take over if the caregiver grew tired.  A moment later the boy’s eyes fluttered, and he coughed, rolled over and vomited.

There he is!” Pete said.  The boy burst into tears, prompting the caregiver put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“It’s alright, Buddy!” said a woman from the crowd around them. “More help is on the way, and you’re alright!  You’re alright, Honey!  We’ll find your mommy and daddy, don’t worry!”    The crowd closed in on the boy, and Pete felt it best to do his part to give him space by leaving.

He jogged to where Alex and the old woman were stationed, much to his confusion, in the same spot.   The man in the floral shirt handed Chance to Alex; Pete assumed the man looked after Chance while Alex waded out into the waves as far as she dared.

Alex turned around and attacked Pete in a vice-grip hug.  He smiled and squeezed her trembling frame.  She pushed out a shuddering sigh.  “You scared the crap out of me!” she said into his chest.  Tears streaked her face as, after a long while, she pulled back.  “The kid’s alright?”

“Seems so,” Pete said.  He shrugged.  “He came out of it. I kind of got pushed out, so—I mean, all that matters is that he’s fine, so….”  He shrugged again.

“You’re the one who got him out of the water, though!” Alex said.  “He’d be dead if it weren’t for you!”

Pete shrugged again and nodded. “I was lucky I could grab him.  …Wasn’t easy.”  He blew out a long, fatigued sigh, and bent over, resting his hands on his knees.

Alex frowned.  “You okay?”

Pete nodded.  “Just tired.  That was intense.”   He felt Alex’s hand caress the width of his shoulders.

The man in the floral shirt tipped his straw hat upwards and looked at Pete. “You alright?” He shook his head. “Boy, your gal here sure was scared for ya!  Was glad to watch the pup for her!  Glad to see your other pup’s alright!  My wife called 911—the ambulance should be here any minute now!”

Pete frowned and nodded, still in an adrenaline-driven pant.  “Pulled a kid to shore,” he said.  “Think that’s what my dog was after.  …Or her dog, I mean…” He gestured tiredly towards Alex.

“Yeah, the kid’s lucky you were there!” the man said.  “…Ambulance should be here anytime, now.”

Pete glanced down to the old woman, who stared determinedly to the side, her chin stiff with pride.   “Ma’am,” Pete said, “is that your grandson I just pulled from the water?”

The woman, her lips pinched, stared up at Pete with beady, cruel eyes. “He would have been fine if you had just left him alone.  He’s a strong swimmer.”  She pounded her chest with her fist. “Gets that from his grandma! Sturdy as a rock!”

Pete frowned. “Uh, Ma’am, I don’t think you realize what happened.  Your grandson was drowning.  An ambulance is on its way—”

The woman scoffed. “What good are doctors?  What do they know?  Nothing, that’s what! He doesn’t need any doctors.  He’s a strong swimmer! He’ll be fine, you hear me?  Men!  Always taking over!  Always so stubborn—so nosey!”  She let her jowls hang and dropped her tone to a lower register, slow and dull, a mocking of intelligence. “Uh-DUH! How do you feel now, big strong macho man?”

Pete wondered if anyone would care if he kicked sand in her face.   Instead, he took in an even breath and exhaled, measured and gentle.  He was done speaking to this woman.

Alex, exchanged side glances with Pete, then, perhaps somewhat as a bid to focus on a new subject, scooped up Slug into her arms and nuzzled his sandy, wet neck.  “You scared me so much, baby!” she murmured into his fur.   She chewed her lip and looked at Pete. “Um…honey…?  The man who ran to help…he shouted at me to stay with her….” Her voice was hushed.  She nodded to the old woman.  “I think maybe he’s her son.”

Pete frowned and keeping an eye on the boy in the distance, shook his head. “No, that doesn’t make sense—he didn’t act like he was related to the kid at all.”

Pete frowned as another boy, older, sprinted towards the near-victim. And the ambulance screamed as it tore down the beach towards the crowd, which cleared leading up to its arrival.  “Who’s that?” Alex said, pointing to the older boy.

“No idea,” Pete said.   “…Brother, maybe?”

The caregiver trudged back towards them, a wild look in his eyes.  He returned to the old woman, looked at Alex and nodded. “Thanks for staying with her.”

“Sure thing, of course,” Alex said.

The caretaker looked to Pete.   “You okay, man?”

Pete nodded and blew out a short, rough breath. “Tired…bewildered…but, yeah, just fine.”

The caretaker gave an appreciative laugh.  “Yeah, I bet you are tired. That was epic, saving that little dude.  I told one of the paramedics what you did.  Don’t be surprised if you have a reporter knocking on your door tomorrow.”  He grinned and clapped Pete’s back. “You’re a hero!”

“Pah!” the old woman said.  “He’s no hero.  Men aren’t heroes—they’re monsters!”

The man gave the old woman a side glance, and he smiled, small and not aimed at her.

“So…” Pete said, exchanging hesitant glances with Alex, “is she…I mean, I thought she was the kid’s grandma, but…she doesn’t seem to care that he almost died.  …Who is she, exactly?”

The man took in a deep, noticeable breath and sighed.  “Her name is Imogen.  I understand your confusion.”  He dropped his voice a considerable amount. “…She often assigns boys around his age as her grandson.”

“What do you mean, assign?” Pete said.

“Dementia,” Alex whispered.  “…Right?  Or is it Alzheimer’s?”  Pete furrowed his brow.

The caregiver nodded.  “Stage six dementia,” he said, his tone hushed.  “I’ve been her caretaker for two years…name’s Robin.”

Alex smiled through her troubled expression.  “Nice to meet you, Robin.”

“So—that kid wasn’t even her grandson?” Pete said. “I’ll be damned…I could have sworn he was. I don’t think I actually ever out-right asked if he was.”

“If you did,” Robin said, “she very well might have told you that yes, he was.”

“Seems like a dangerous place for someone with her condition,” Pete said.  “She’s not fond of dogs—or people in general, really.”

“Actually, she does well here,” Robin said.  “It subdues a lot of her episodes—therapeutic for her, her doctor says.  And, to tell you the truth, her reaction to your dogs would have been at least three times as worse if she had met them in a different environment.”  His lips went into a thin, tight line. “If she misses her beach time, it only makes matters worse.”  He shrugged.  “Being here takes her back to how things were before…before her life took an unexpected turn for the worse….”  He paused for a moment.  Pete wondered if he realized he had said too much.  “Anyway,” he continued, “I watch her from somewhat of a distance, giving her plenty of space so she can just relax and enjoy the beach, but ready to jump in if something goes wrong. If I get too close I risk her flying into a rage—she hates all men, but she hates me in particular.”

Pete, flummoxed, disguised his noise of disbelief with an awkward chuckle. “…And you’re her caretaker?”

The man chuckled, his eyes showing this wasn’t the first time he had been asked that question.  “She thinks it’s a man’s job to serve her.  Except for polite conversation, she won’t let women caretakers near her.  She says it isn’t their job to take care of her—they do enough of that at home, she says, waiting on their husbands and children.”

“It must be rough,” Pete said.  “…Taking care of someone who hates you so much.”

“It can be hard at times,” the man said.  He shrugged. “But I know it’s not really me she hates.”

“So, where is her grandson?” Alex asked.  “Her actual grandson? All grown up, I would guess?”

The caretaker glanced to one side and frowned.  “Gary—her grandson—he, um…he never got a chance to grow up.   He was only seven when it happened. I—I’m not really at liberty to say much more….”

“No, of course not,” Alex said. She slipped her hand into Pete’s.  “We understand.”

Slug gave slow licks to Pete’s arm. Alex took Chance’s leash; Chance jumped at Alex’s thighs and Pete stared at Imogen with sorrowful eyes.

“Does she have any family?” Alex asked.

“A daughter,” he said.  “They don’t speak, but her daughter is the only ones who knows it.”

Unspoken words weighted the brackish air.  Pete watched Alex as she secured wild windswept strands of her hair behind her ears.  Slug wiggled in her arms, so she kissed the pup’s face and placed him onto the sand.   She scooted in closer to Pete, fitting her body into his.    Chance tugged on Slug’s ears with his teeth.

A siren’s whoop-whoop turned all turned their heads.   Slug shook, provoking Alex to pick him up again, and Chance barked and pulled, relentless, on his leash.  Pete held the leash taut as two squad cars came to a stop near them.  Two officers emerged from the cars and approached.  One tipped his hat to them while the other pulled a notepad out of her pocket.

“Afternoon,” the hat-tipper said.  “Are you the fine folks who witnessed and assisted the drowning boy?”

“Yes, Sir,” Robin said.  “I revived him, but this guy over here spotted him in the first place, pulled him out of the ocean.”  The force behind his palm was strong as he clapped Pete’s shoulder several times.

“To be honest,” Pete said, “it wasn’t me.” He leaned down and ruffed up Chance’s shoulders.  The pup growled and gave an impish bark.  “It was this little guy—he swam out there in the first place, trying to get to the boy.  He scratched me up trying to jump out of my arms just to get to him.”

A twinkle shone in the officer’s eyes. “You don’t say?”

“A hero canine,” the female officer said, a broad grin on her face. “We see it all the time, but it never gets old.  Do you have a moment to talk about what happened?  We just need a statement.”

Pete gave a weak smile. “Sure thing.”

“Officers!” Imogen said.  Her caw made Pete jump.  She lifted her bony finger and aimed it again at Pete. “Arrest that man! He tried to kill my grandson!”  Pete froze.  His already dampened hand went clammy.  Alex gave it a squeeze.

Robin shook his head at the officers.  “She has nothing to do with the boy.  She thinks he’s someone else.  I—better get her home.”

“Understood,” the hat-tipper said.  “Just real quick before you go—you’re the one who revived the boy, correct?”

“Yes, Sir,” Robin said.

“What’s your name?” the female asked.

“Robin Abe,” he said.

“And can you give a brief statement of what occurred, from your perspective?”  Pete looked to the side in distraction as Alex handed off the beagles to him.  They pounced on each other; Slug, still shaken, did so half-heartedly.

“He tried to kill my grandson!” Imogen said.  “Murderer!  Murderer! Oh, God!  Murderer!”  It was a sob now, flecked with remorse and misery.

Robin furrowed his brow. “I’m sorry.  I have to go.  Can we—do this later?”

“Of course,” hat-tipper said.

Robin approached Imogen, got her to her feet, and the two walked towards the brush, with Imogen’s intermittent squawks of “murderer!”

Pete scratched the back of his head and looked determinedly away from the officers.  He couldn’t bring himself to look either one of them in their discriminating, austere eyes.  He let his gaze wander, waiting for one of them to speak. It was then he noticed Alex was missing.  He spotted her, her easel in tow, as she followed after Robin and Imogen.   Pete looked to the hat-tipper.  “Hold on just one moment, please, I—“  He took several side and backwards steps, craning his neck to see what was going on.  He saw Imogen had stopped in the middle of the brush, sat down, and stared into the distance.  Robin, nearby, watched her.

“I was just wondering,” Alex called out to him, “if you need any help? I can…try to walk with her, if you want?  Or I can wait with you, if you need to call someone to help?”

Imogen looked up at Alex.  “Are you talking to me, Dear?”

“I was talking to your friend,” Alex said. “But I’ll talk to you, too, if you want.”

Imogen gave a dismissive wave. “Oh, I don’t have many friends, these days.  They all went to work at the factory, after their husbands enlisted.”

“Sir?” the female cop said from behind Pete.  He turned around and gave a weak half smile, sheepish.  “Sorry.  Just had to check on my girlfriend.”

“I completely understand, Sir,” she said.  Pete glanced beyond her, to the squad cars.  Hat-tipper got back into his driver’s seat.  “I just need to get a statement, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, yeah,” Pete said.  “About what happened, right?”  She nodded.  “Alright, well—my puppy here, Chance, darted out into the ocean.  I chased after him, dove into the water.  Took a while, but I found him.  He tried to get away, though, and that’s when I saw the kid’s arm.  I swam after him, grabbed him by the hair—he was under the water, just below me.  Got everyone back to shore.   I prepped him to do CPR but then that guy—Robin—showed up and took over.  Said he knew CPR so I let him do it.  I know it, too, but it’s been several years since I last took the class.  Didn’t want to end up hurting the kid, or something, you know?”

He frowned in thought as she jotted his statement on her notebook.  “I think Robin is still here, just down that path, if you wanted to talk to him, too.”

“Nah, he has his hands full,” she said.  “We’ll stop by his place later.”

“Any word on how the boy is doing?” Pete said.

“Not sure,” she said.  “We haven’t heard anything.  But I’d like to personally thank, you Sir.  You helped save a life today.  You’re a hero.”  In a swift, concise motion, she stuck out her hand to him.

Pete smiled and shook it.  “Thank you.”  An odd sensation overtook him.  He never figured he’d be in a position where a cop would be thanking him—arresting him, sure—but thanking him?  Can she see right through me? She could figure it out—it’s her job to know—just by looking at me, that I’m a….  As though she might be able to read his thoughts, he couldn’t bring himself to finish the statement.   Broken, he thought.  I’m broken.  And you can’t  justify arresting broken. He commanded his gaze upwards, but before he could look her in the eye, she nodded to him, turned around, and returned to her vehicle.

Pete continued towards the brush to catch up with Alex.  When he saw her, his brow lifted.  Next to Alex, standing with a C-curve to her back at the easel, was Imogen, a loaded paintbrush in her hand.  She draped the bristles across Alex’s unfinished piece, adding a streak of violet across two darkened figures.  It blended the undried paint on their faces together, but not as to suggest anything lovely or romantic, such as the couple’s togetherness; it was to Pete, in that moment, no more than a pock mark on an otherwise beautiful painting.

“You’re a good daughter, Deborah,” Imogen said as she caressed Alex’s hair.  “I don’t understand why you don’t bring Gary around more.” She patted her hand. “You know I can babysit him anytime, Honey.”

Alex, looked to Robin with hesitance, and at his nod, she smiled at Imogen.  “Maybe sometime, yeah.  That’d be great…Mom.”

Imogen’s face lit up, revealing a spark of life beneath the shroud.   The spark faded as quickly as it had come, though, and Imogen turned her face towards the gray sea.   She became still, paintbrush still in hand.  A squeak escaped her lips, its wizened tone tinged with remorse.  A few tears streaked her cheeks.

Alex looked to Robin, who again, nodded and gestured.  Pete watched Alex as she put her hand on Imogen’s shoulder.   Imogen, looking helpless, nodded as if to say yes, this is what I need—I wish I could tell you, but please, just know that I need you to love me—always.   Chance barked and Imogen jumped.  Pete admonished and quieted the pup.

Imogen and Alex held each other in a gentle embrace. The sight was not without its sweetness, but it left a bitter taste in the beast’s mouth.  The way she and Alex were entangled they looked to be almost one whole person, one body with two kindred spirits that had been floating through the universe together since forever first began.  Whatever language Imogen spoke Alex was fluent in it.  She was, in that eternal moment, Imogen’s rock, her healer—her hero.  And as far as Imogen knew, her daughter.

With waves of shame that outshined the monstrous ocean, Pete sulked.  Whatever solitude Imogen had found on the beach, Pete was certain he had tainted it.  It was Pete’s unwanted pastime; he chose it but once and it chose him for eternity.   Always the messer-upper.  Always the besmircher of life’s sanctity.  And though he tried now to be a good man, he feared—and the beast insisted—it was not affection he earned from Alex, but pity.

His scowl deepened.  Regret hit him, hard, for not being, although he didn’t fully understand his desire to be—the one to comfort Imogen.  Because of what he was—a man—he couldn’t.   …And what was worse, he let Robin be the one to perform the CPR on the boy.  He should have done it.  He should have stepped up, but instead, he froze, like a useless, selfish, broken coward.  His gaze shifted to the ground.  Not really the point, Pete.  A kid almost died.  Who cares who saved him?

Embittered, he looked away from Alex and Imogen, and searched for anything to distract him from his thoughts.  He caught sight of Alex’s painting—and in one fell swoop, it clutched his heart.  The beast cried, not a roar, but a feeble whimper—pathetic and small.   Before, he had been too focused on the violet swoop to see the painting as whole.  Its subjects were a man and woman, and the man, with hair to resemble that of Pete’s, was draped around the woman, in the same fashion Alex was draped around Imogen.   The man in the painting was the woman’s rock, her healer—her hero.

After Imogen placed several kisses on Alex’s cheeks, and Alex promised to come and see her sometime, Robin and Imogen left.  Alex tugged on her shirt to straighten it and took Pete’s hand as he offered it to her.  She fell into his arms, and the wind urged them closer together.  He kissed the top of her head.  She took in a shuddering breath and crouched down to greet the puppies.

“Quite a day, huh?” Pete said.  He gave a low whistle.  “Thought I’d seen it all, but…wow….”

Alex nodded.  “…Crazy…all of this…just…insane.”  She nuzzled Slug’s neck.

“He’s pretty shaken up still, I think,” Pete said. “We should take him to the emergency vet, I think.  Get him checked out, make sure he didn’t inhale water.”

Alex’s face went to wrinkles, her eyes shining with terror as she looked at Slug. “I hadn’t even considered that!”

Aw…he’s probably fine, Love,” Pete said. His smile, he hoped, was reassuring. “Just a precaution.”

Alex, brow furrowed, nodded and pulled Slug into her arms.  “…Sweet, brave baby…such a good boy…yeah, you’re gonna be just fine, good boy, my Oozy Slug Baby….”    Alex curled into him, holding his face as she pressed her lips against his sodden face.  She stayed in that form for a while, then looked up at Pete.  He saw in her eyes a lifetime of pain.  The desire to punch the art dealer came around again, full force, its power source different than that of the beast.  Alex’s face contorted and out of her eyes spilled globs of tears.

And in that moment, the beast perished—not a slow death, but a vanishing—instantaneous and with not a hint of struggle, leaving not even a speck of beastly dust behind in its wake.  Pete crouched and touched her shoulder, warmed by the sun and gruff with specs of sand.  Her body language bid him closer and she shook as he held her.  In a beautifully unceremonious fall, they tumbled onto the sand, her into his arms and then her head onto his thigh.  Chance and Slug sniffed her hair but Pete had to pull back Chance to keep him from climbing up onto her.   He stroked her arms and shoulders, wishing that his touch could spackle the hurt.  Sunlight beat down on them.  Alex lifted her head, repositioned herself against Pete’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around his neck.  He felt the rough exterior of her cast, but at its tip, the under wrap clung to his skin with a heavy sogginess— he frowned.  She had jumped into the ocean, too, broken arm and fear be damned.

Alex took in a few shuddering breaths, wiped her tears, and got to her feet.  “Let’s go—okay?  I want to get Sluggy checked out, ASAP.”

Pete nodded.  “Absolutely.”

After the vet gave Slug a clean bill of health, Alex kissed Pete’s nose tip.  She did the same after the police department gave Pete, Robin and Slug a special recognition ceremony, and again after the boy’s mother, sobbing, hugged Pete like she meant to never let him go.  And Alex performed her signature kiss again after Pete hanged her painting above the fireplace in her apartment.    That her nose-tip kisses could ever mean pity was now bitterly laughable.

Together, they gazed at her work.  Alex slid her arm around the small of Pete’s back and rested her head against his bicep.  She smiled and mimed the action of Imogen’s violet swoop.

And Pete kissed the tip of her nose.

 

Thank you for reading!  Want more?  Read the original heart-warming story, “The Christmas Beagle“!

For another beagle short, click here:  “Beagle Noses and Human HeartsBeagle Noses and Human Hearts”.

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Beagle Noses and Human Hearts

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The following is a story based on S.E. Eaton’s heartwarming novel, “The Christmas Beagle“:

Sniff?

Arrow looked at Aphee, who licked her paw from where she was perched on the back of the couch.   He sighed and peered out the window.  Ducks—he and Aphee had already aimed their daily morning barks at the frequent visitors.  Trees, grass, rocks—they smelled the same as always, like almost home.  Scent after scent talked to his nose, but that late afternoon, there was a new dialect in the air.   He whimpered and paced back and forth on the couch cushions.

Aphee leaped on her brother and got a mouthful of his velvety ear.  Play?  Play, play, play!  She barked at his face, leaped down onto the floor, and stuck her bum up to the air.  Betcha you can’t get me!  Betcha you can’t! 

Arrow groaned and pulled away from his sister.  No play.  Sniff.  Do you smell that?  It smells like human.

Aphee shot back up onto the back of the couch and sniffed.  I smell it.  She growled interrogatively, low to high pitch.  Her tail went into a hesitant wag, swishing against the suede couch.  It smells scary but nice.  I don’t know what to think. I want to get closer but I want to stay away, too!

Arrow hopped up next to her sister and sniffed several more times.  His hackles stood on end; both puppies scrambled, scraping paws on furniture as the energy in the air shifted.

Aphee pressed her nose against the pane then a frightful bay bellowed from her throat. Danger! Territory! Warning!  Intrusion! Stranger! Attack!

Arrow groaned and pawed at the pane. No!  Help!  Human needs help!  Human is scared!

Protect home! Protect Al! Protect Darla!  PROTECT!  Aphee’s barks grew louder and she paced on her half of the couch’s back.

With a determined gleam in his eyes, Arrow hopped off the couch and ran to the front door.  He jumped and swiped at the knob, but he couldn’t perform his sister’s trick.  He turned his head back towards the couch.  Aphee!  Help!  Door!  Outside!

Aphee leaped to her brother’s aid, jumping at the knob and smacking it with her paw.  Five tries later, Aphee squeaked a bark.  Won’t!  Stuck!

Arrow’s brow danced with worry.  Al and Darla must have reinforced the door again.  They had made a habit of doing so, Arrow noticed, every time they left the house.  Didn’t they understand the importance of outdoor access for Arrow and Aphee?  All the best sniffs were out there!  Plus there was the little matter of being able to “go” where they had been instructed to go.  And now, there was a human in trouble.  Arrow’s instincts screamed it at him.

A breeze carried to his nose a thousand smells of outside.  He darted to the kitchen, half a beat later, Aphee followed suit.  The beagle puppies stared up at the screen-covered open window.  Al liked the fresh breeze to alleviate his sweaty face while he washed the pots and pans; Arrow liked to do his part to keep Al warm by lying on his feet.

Arrow lifted a paw and curled it in towards his belly.  There.

Aphee whined and turned in several small circles.  …How?

With a huff, Arrow ambled over to the kitchen table.  Climb

How?  Like a loaded spring, Aphee leaped up several times towards the window.

Chair.   Arrow wagged his tail as he stared at his sister.

Aphee turned and barked at him. How?

Arrow sighed as he nosed and pawed the chair forward. Push!

Cocking her head from side to side, Aphee watched as her brother pushed the chair over to the kitchen sink.  Stupid idea, brother.  You look silly.  Your noises are silly, too. Chair feels weird on paws! Too dry!  Too squishy! Not comfortable! Let’s just play.  I don’t want to catch the human anymore. I’m hungry! What smells good?

We’re not catching the human.  Arrow hopped up onto the chair and pushed his paws against the screen, which bowed out under his weight.  We help the human.

At that, Aphee broke into a fit of grumbles and yips.  We don’t know the human!  We can’t see the human!  What if it’s a monster?  What if it wants to hurt us?  What if it hurts Al and Darla?  I don’t like this!  I don’t like this!

Arrow nosed and pushed with all his might against the screen, and with a pop, it broke loose and clattered to the cement outside.  He gave his sister one last fleeting look. …BYE!  Arrow leaped out of the window.

BROTHER!   Aphee squealed angry, panicked barks at the spot where her brother had just stood.  The barks dwindled down into whimpers, then mellowed into a somber, pure howl.   Her howls went unanswered, however, so with several monkey-like snorts aimed at the kitchen floor to get Arrow’s scent fresh in her nose, she hopped up onto the chair.  At the feel of the wicker on the pads of her paws, lifted her legs in an awkward fashion, as though she were walking in mud.  Up!  She hopped to the sink and scrambled in the basin.  Her chin smacked against the faucet.  Ouch!

She shook her head to recover, then stuck her head out the window, taking in several sniffs.  Her ears flapped and fluttered in the air as she soared to the ground.  As if to counter her mishap in the sink, she landed on the cement with perfect poise.

Arrow’s musky scent beckoned her.  She ran towards it, snuffling and snorting along the way.  At the fence, she wiggled underneath the hole that Arrow had dug—it was ridden with his scent—and she continued to track him on the other side.

Within minutes, Aphee caught up to him.  His white-dipped tail protruded from the tall grass where they sometimes walked with Al and Darla.  Aphee kept her tail neutral, though a slight wag took it over as she smelled mice, raccoons, deer and moles.    Hungry!

No, Arrow said.  Help human.

Help our humans! Aphee said.   Get them food!  Tell them it’s here! 

No.

Aphee huffed a sigh.  I don’t like new human scent.  Danger. Intruder.

Arrow ignored her.

They happened upon a ditch, rampant with green muck and acrid water.  Arrow slid down into it, then darted into the woods, towards the road.  Aphee sighed and scurried after him.  After she shook the water from her paws, she stared at her brother, who had come to a halt just along the edge of the road.

Now what?  She groaned as she dug her hind claws into her itchy ear.  We hunt?  There are no humans.  The scent was a dud!

Wait, said Arrow.

Aphee tossed her head from side to side, yawned and crouched to her paws. Boring!  Play!  Sniff!  Hunt!  She started in on a series of more snorting sniffs, taking in the millions of tantalizing scents in the bushes around them.    One in particular called to her; she could almost see its curious notes swirling in the air like ribbons.  The ribbons took hold of her nostrils and led her to a mossy rock.  She inhaled it.  Rabbit urine! Neck first, she immersed herself in the odor, wiggling to spread it along from the top of her forehead to the tip of her tail.   She hopped back to her feet and wagged her tail.  Brother!  I found hunting perfume!

Arrow shifted his weight from one paw to another.  Wait.

Aphee sniffed the area again, but hunting without her brother just wasn’t as much fun.  With a sigh and groan, she lay down just behind him, near the tip of his tail.  Bored. 

Arrow sniffed the air.  Human.  Help.

Aphee rolled her eyes.  Your sniffer is broken.

The occasional whir of a car sounded in the distance, but no car approached.  Aphee batted at a beetle on the ground, her ears flopping over her face as she angled her head to and fro in conjunction with its scurrying movements.

Then, an engine.  Louder.  Closer.  Faster.  The beetle ambled out onto the road.  Arrow, spotting it, ambled after it.

Aphee whimpered.  Brother?  What doing?

Follow beetle.

Not safe!

Follow beetle.

Hurt! Danger!

The car hurled down the lane, horn blaring and tires screeching as it neared Arrow.  The male pup froze, his tail between his legs as he stared at the mass of metal hurling his way.  BROTHER, BROTHER MOVE! With a flying leap, Aphee shot out at Arrow, pushing him out of the way, but she yelped as an unbelievable pain shot through her back right foot.  As the two puppies tumbled to the other side of the road and halfway down a ditch, the car skidded and came to a stop.

Aphee whimpered as Arrow nosed her.  Sister, get up!

Hurt.

Up, sister! 

Paw.

Arrow curled up next to his sister and licked her injured paw.  Safe.  Warm.

Hurt.  Dying.  Leave me.  Go home. 

No.  Safe.  Warm. Protect.  Arrow sniffed.  Human. 

The man’s voice was kind and subdued, but carried a tinge of urgency as he climbed down into the ditch.    Arrow sniffed his outstretched fingers, then the man scratched Arrow’s ears and patted various parts of his body, giving his legs and paws small squeezes.  He did the same to Aphee, who screamed as he squeezed her injured paw.   Her eyes darted from side to side, wide with panic.

Arrow nuzzled her belly. Calm.  Protect.

The man’s tone traveled up an octave and oozed with twice the gentility.  He scooped Aphee into his arms, said something that sounded like stay to Arrow, then took the girl pup to his car.   The sound of her mournful, pain-ridden howls broke Arrow’s heart clean in two.  But soon the man returned for Arrow, who had stayed mostly for the sake of his sister, though his tail darted underneath him with uncertainty as the man lifted him.   He put Arrow in the backseat, where Aphee lay trembling and silent.  Arrow felt her pain and so did the crying for her, his whimpering incessant as the man read their tags.

He said a few words Arrow recognized.  Beagles.  Arrow Rothman.  Aphrodite Appleton.  But Arrow was too distraught to bother cocking his head at the familiar sounds.  The man pulled his talking-thing out of his pocket, held Aphee’s tag, and pushing the talking thing to his ear, waited.  After a while, he spoke into the talking-thing, then returned it to his pocket.

Then the man said a word that zapped the moisture right from Arrow’s mouth.  ….Vet.

At first, Arrow’s whimpers were stunned into silence.  Then the panic rose within him like a flood.  Whimpering and howling, he pawed at the windows and doors, ignoring the man’s soothing voice.

When the car came to a stop, Arrow was resolute.  He locked his limbs and pulled back away from the man, displaying every ounce of beagle stubbornness he could muster.  A woman came out from the building and with her came a most delectable scent.  Arrow’s tail went into a wag as she gave him the treats, but he groaned when she scooped him up into her arms.  Another man took Aphee, who squealed and shrieked as the strangers took them into the building.

They took Aphee into another room.  The man who had first taken them leashed Arrow and kept him in the lobby.  Arrow paced as far as the leash would allow him.  Everything felt wrong.  Danger. Help. Panic. Alarm!  Warning! 

But it wasn’t Aphee.  She would be okay.  They would help her.  It wasn’t pokes, either.  There would be no pokes today, at least, not for Arrow.

Human.  Danger.

Arrow trained his gentle eyes towards the human who held his leash.  The man scratched Arrow’s ears and muttered something in a kind tone.

Arrow growled.  The man frowned.  Arrow’s eyes flashing now, he barked and bayed at the man, ferocious and loud.  Danger coming.  Not safe.  Get help.  WARNING, WARNING, WARNING! 

The man clutched his chest and fell to his knees.  Arrow screamed louder still.  HELP HUMAN. HELP HUMAN. HELP HUMAN! ASSIST! ASSIST! HUMAN IN DANGER!    

The man from before emerged from the hall, carrying with him a scent of panic.  He shouted and more humans joined him.   A woman crouched over the hurt man.  Scared and anxious, Arrow backed into a corner and howled.    Soon something from outside howled right along with him, and more humans came inside the building.  They put the man on a long flat thing and carried him away—Arrow danced in circles, his tail a-wag as he looked from face to face.  Several people hugged him and told him good boy, good boy!

Sniff?

It hit him all at once.  Sweet.  Wonderful.  Comforting. Treats. Love. Home. Alpha. Darla!  DARLA, DARLA, DARLA! 

The door flew open.  “Arrow!”  Darla’s hands flew open and she crouched, bracing herself as Arrow galloped towards her.   He whimpered with a nervous excitement, bathing her face in kisses.  She laughed and her voice tinged with emotion, she repeated all his favorite words.  Arrow.  Treats.  Love.  Baby.

It was a collaborative effort, his jump and her hoist, as he settled into her arms.  She stood, and Arrow nuzzled her neck as she spoke to the other humans.  She said some words he knew, like house, car, Aphrodite, and Al.   His tail flew into a wag as he heard the latter. Darla also said other words he didn’t know, like heart, attack, lucky, hero, and brave.  She squeezed Arrow in a tight embrace, which Arrow didn’t care for much, but he knew it was her way of showing affection, so he held back his groan.

At the mention of Aphee again, Arrow wiggled out of Darla’s arms, and trotted after her as the other humans brought them into the other room.  Aphee lay on the metal table.  Her energy had shifted from panic and pain to sleepy and relaxed.

Arrow’s bum jiggled with excitement as they pulled up to their house.  Darla helped Aphee to the ground.   As they walked to the front door, Arrow sniffed at his sister’s leg, now thickened with some sort of odd-smelling cover.

Al and Darla smothered them in kisses and snuggles that night.  The new word, hero, sounded again and again, and was followed with nuzzles and belly scratches.  Hero, Arrow decided, meant good dog.  It meant loyal.  It meant love.

With a soft groan, he curled up next to his sister on the foot of the bed and nuzzled into her neck.  Hero.

Thank you for reading!  I encourage you to leave your feedback in the comment section below.  To read the original, sweet story, click here.    To read other free short stories from the world of “The Christmas Beagle”, check out these pages:

Beautifully Broken, Part One

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Beautifully Broken: Part One

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The following is a story based on and takes place after the events in S.E. Eaton’s novel,“The Christmas Beagle”.

Frog to a fly, Pete swiped his hand through the salty breeze and snagged Alex’s floppy red hat.  Alex looked back in alarm and sighed.  She made a great fuss to reposition her easel bag without disturbing her casted arm, and held out her uninjured hand.

Pete smiled. “I’ll carry it.” He dug his heels into the sand as the puppies pulled in opposite directions, each lured by their own scent trail.

“You really don’t have to,” she said.  Her tone carried a careful balance between cool restraint and social warmth.   “You have the puppies. And it’s my hat, I should carry it.”

Pete’s smile faltered. He searched for the right response, rejecting such ones as don’t be ridiculous, you broke your arm and I’m just trying to help, because those phrases had been checked off the list of things not to say to a broken-wristed Alex.  She didn’t snap at him for saying them, no, but the gloss of ice on her demeanor had given Pete the message.  There was something else in her voice and actions, too, something that birthed in Pete a beast, angry and prideful.    In their several months of dating, Alex had picked up the habit of kissing Pete on the nose.  At first, it was just sweet Alex being sweet Alex.

But the last time she had done it, it hit Pete—wrong.  Alex had always displayed loving gestures, the nose-tip kisses, caresses on his shoulder, nuzzles into the nape of his neck—but after what she went through, and after what he failed to do for her, the sweetness had become something else, making Pete wonder if that is what it had been all along.   He had seen plenty of it during his homeless days from the ladies at the soup kitchen to recognize it when he saw it.  It was humiliating.  It was de-humanizing.  It was pity.

Pete looked her in the eye with what he hoped she translated as utmost respect, washing any sign of a smile from his face, and angled his head in a little bow. “I don’t mind.”   A beast roared inside of Pete.  Its ferocity was a foreboding opponent to Pete’s gentility, and it demanded from him nourishment.  If you don’t let me carry this hat, said the beast, you might as well castrate me here and now, you stubborn woman!

Alex’s eyes took on a gray hue that put the clouds above them to shame. “Thanks,” she said.  She offered a quick smile, one that did not meet her eyes.

Pete’s sigh was a whisper, swallowed by the wind–he hoped the glumness didn’t show on his face. What happened wasn’t his fault, of course.  But even if it had been, little man, the beast taunted, it wouldn’t have made a difference.   

The beast was cruel. It screamed at Pete remarks of ridicule, questioning in a taunting manner, are you even a real manThink of the baby birds depicted in all too many of her paintings. Don’t you see?  Alex only loves fragile things. Otherwise, she wouldn’t hold back.  She’d call you out for what you are—and for what you are not.  So, Pete, tell me…are you nothing but her baby bird? Sometimes, and this is what scared Pete the most, the beast threatened to not wait for the answer.

Alex turned around and charged forward. Pete tucked her hat under his arm, wondering what would happen if he were to ‘accidentally’ squish its woven form.  Oh, you flattened my hat?  No, Sweetheart, it’s alright—I prefer it this way.  You’ve improved it, actually!  Pete scowled and scolded himself for the thought—this wasn’t about him—it was about Alex, and after what happened to her, rightly so.

After they passed the brambles, Pete waited for Alex to set up shop.  A fierce tug from the pups slowed his pace.  The sudden jerk on the leash spiked a sharp incline in his irritation level. He stopped and looked over his shoulder, to Slug, Alex’s puppy, who was hunched by a chunk of driftwood.  He allowed Alex to continue on while Slug did his business.   Chance, Pete’s roly-poly trouble-maker, sniffed at a rock while he waited for his brother to finish.   The rock lost the pup’s interest soon enough; Chance turned his head towards the ocean waters and whimpered.

“You’ll get your chance, Chance,” Pete said.

While Slug threw sand over his pile, Pete looked up and saw Alex had come to a stop, several yards ahead, away from most of the other beach patrons.  He broke into a slow jog, a frustrating pace for the pups, who, given the chance, would more fly than run, scarcely touching the sand as they zoomed across it.  Alex took great care as she set up her easel.  Pete shook his head.  Her motions were too cautious—too planned out, too glazed with perfection.   The idea of kicking the easel to the sand overwhelmed him. He was certain the infernal thing could stand up to a beating.

He kept his distance from her—close enough so she wouldn’t feel abandoned, but far enough as to not crowd her while she fought to enter ‘the zone’.  While the beast craved the indulgence of what it swore to be the truth, Alex’s success, for Pete, was a stronger craving yet.   It was important for Alex to paint the ocean, and Pete knew why—because like any other massive body of water, she feared it.  She had made plans to swim in it just as soon as her cast came off, but first, she had to paint it, to help her wrap her head around it.

Pete glanced towards the brush, where on the edge of which a man in a floral shirt stood, barbequing something that made Pete’s mouth water.   Kids ran around him, shrieking with delight as a woman smoothed sunblock on her arms.

With a heave, Pete plopped to the sand and offered the pups more slack on their leashes.  Chance tottered along the undulating ground like a newborn colt while Slug sniffed towards Alex’s direction, whimpering and cocking his head.

Pete frowned and pulled Slug in to his arms. “Sorry, boy,” he said, rubbing his velvety ears, the tips of which were peppered with sand granules. “Mom’s busy right now.”  He smirked. “Do something inspiring—maybe she’ll paint you.”  Slug turned his soulful eyes up towards Pete, his mouth pulled into a stoic line.  “Such a good boy,” Pete said.  Slug bathed his fingers in slow, loving kisses.

Chance shouted a playful bark.  Pete chuckled and watched as his puppy crouched, wiggled his tail, shook his bum and grinned, at what, Pete didn’t know, until he looked up and saw a boy, about seven years of age, pausing from his diligent work on a sand castle.

The boy, whose face was round with youth and bursting with glee and dimples, beamed at Chance.  “Hiiiii, Puppy!”

Pete smirked. “You can pet him, if you want.” Slug’s tail went into a hesitant wag as he peeked around Pete’s torso at the boy.

The boy’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open as he pointed at Slug. “…Two!  Two puppies!  Aw!  They’re so cute!”  He crouched down next to Slug and permitted the pup to smell his fingers.

“He’s on the shy side,” Pete said.  He smiled.  “But, he seems to like you.”

“What’s his name?” the boy said.

“That one is Slug,” Pete said.  The boy’s face went to wrinkles as he chewed on this information.

Chance nosed his way into the boy’s arms, making him laugh.  “And that’s Chance,” Pete said. He smirked. “He’s not so shy—not at all, in fact.”  The boy scratched Chance’s forehead; the pup grinned and closed his eyes, sinking into the euphoria.

Pete saw as Alex looked over her shoulder, one corner of her mouth lifting in admiration. Her eyes soon fell downcast again, however, and she turned back around to the canvass.

“GET AWAY FROM ME!”  The caw-like cry turned Pete’s head and launched his stomach up into his throat.   Behind him and to his left, a shriveled figure sat hunched on the ground, her toes on the receiving end of Chance’s kisses.  “GET!” she shouted.  “…FILTHY, DISGUSTING BEAST!”

Pete shortened Chance’s slack and stationed the puppies close to him.  He angled his head towards the woman “Sorry!”

The woman’s face puckered and her eyes turned mean as she looked up at Pete. “Keep that mongrel away from me!” the woman said.  “Who in their right mind brings a dog to a beach, anyway?  People have a right to enjoy a proper outing without fearing an attack! You stupid man!”  She spat out the last word like an attempt to rid her mouth of poison.

Pete cringed, took in and released a deep breath, and forced what he hoped was an apologetic smile. “Yeah, I’m sorry, Ma’am.”    He focused his attention on the ocean, angling his body away from her.

But the boy regained Pete’s attention, grinning as he pointed to Alex. “Is she your girlfriend?”

“Yep, that she is,” said Pete.

“She’s pretty,” the boy said.

Pete smiled.  “Yeah, she is.”

The boy smirked, fidgeted and entangled his arms together. “Do you looove each other?”

Pete swallowed hard. “Yeah…”  He gave a nervous, light chuckle.  “I hope so.”

“Do you love her?”

Pete inclined his head in a deep nod. “Very much.”

“Well,” the boy said, “If she kisses you, it means she just likes you.”  He held up a finger.  “But…! If she stares at you a lot with kinda a weird look in her eyes….?  It means she loves you.”

Pete’s lips took on a curve.  “Unless it means I have a booger hanging from my nose, huh?”

He anticipated the boy’s giggle, but a shadow fell over his face.  Austere, he shook his head. “No.  If it’s a booger, she’ll pick it for you.  …That’s real love.”

Pete’s shoulders quivered as he chuckled.  The boy smiled in a hesitant fashion, as though he were unsure as to why what he said merited laughter.    Chance pulled towards the ocean while Slug jumped up towards the boy. Pete, seeing his rascally pup was about to scratch the boy’s legs, tugged him away from him.  And the old woman noticed, too.

“Stupid, ugly mutts!” she yelled, her tone a vicious warble. “…Attacking children! I’ve half a mind to call the police!”  Pete cast her a wary look.  She was at the ready, as if to pounce.  She stuck out a gnarly finger towards Pete. “Listen here, you stupid, power-hungry man. If they bite him,” she said, nodding to the boy, “you’ll be put into prison, and your dogs—” She dragged her finger across her throat. “…Put to death!”

Pete’s brow went into a deep burrow.  “Listen, Ma’am, all due respect, my dogs and I have a right to be here, too.  I’ll move, though, for your sake.”  He took several long strides away from her and pulled the pups with him.   To his alarm, the boy followed him.

The boy frowned and dug in his ear with his finger as he sent hesitant glances towards the old woman—his grandmother, or perhaps great-grandmother, Pete guessed.  “She’s cranky,” the boy said.

Pete shrugged.  “Some people just don’t like dogs.”

The pups pulled back toward the old woman.   Pete frowned.  “Chance, no, no…come on, Slug, this way….”

The boy shielded his eyes from the sun and aimed his puzzled expression towards Pete. “Why’s his name Chance? That’s a kid’s name, not a dog name.  There’s a kid in my class and his name is Chance.”

Pete cast a glossy-eyed look to Alex’s back and hinted at a smile.  “Because,” he said. “I’ve been given a lot of chances throughout my life.  This little guy is no exception.”

“Oh,” he said.  He pointed to Slug.  A wry grin spread across his face. “I think I know why his name is Slug!”

Pete’s lips twitched. “Oh, yeah?  Why do you think?”

The boy’s eyes lit up mirth. “Because he likes to eat slugs!”

Pete chuckled. “Well, no, that’s not quite the reason.  The reason my girlfriend named him Slug is because of how he lies down, when he’s bored or tired.”  He held out his pointer and middle fingers and stuck them outwards.  “Like this, with his legs sticking out behind him.”

“Slugs don’t have legs,” the boy said.

“You’re right,” Pete said.  “I suppose that’s just how Alex—my girlfriend—saw him.  He reminded her of a slug, lying flat on the ground.  Sometimes he even oozes of the couch like that—very slug-like, don’t you think?”

The boy stuck his fingers out, just like Pete did, and tittered.  “That’s so weird! Hey, Chance…do you lie like this?”  Chance panted and dug into the sand.  The boy looked up at Pete.  “Can you make him do it?”

“Uh….not…really, no,” Pete said. “…He pretty much does it when he wants to do it.  There are too many interesting scents to keep him busy here.  So he won’t be lying down anytime soon.”

“Oh,” the boy said.  He looked out at the horizon and twiddled his thumbs, looking like he was wrestling with another thought.  He looked back to Pete. “Do Chance and Slug like to swim?”

Pete show his brow upwards in thought, but the old woman’s caw of an utterance served to interrupt him. “Stop talking to strangers!” she yelled.  “That’s how little boys get hurt!”

The boy looked up in alarm, grabbed his plastic shovel, and turned his attention back to his castle.   Pete averted his eyes from the woman and meandered away from her and the boy.   Chance and Slug sniffed at the air, and catching Alex’s scent, whimpered and pulled Pete towards where she painted.  Pete groaned, pulled his lips to one side in a lackluster scrunch, and let the puppies lead the way.

He stood parallel to Alex but gave her wide berth, keeping the puppies close enough to see her but not close enough to jump on her legs.  Though she kept her eyes on her half-painted canvas, he was certain she was aware of his presence.   Her hand shook as she held the paint-dipped brush up to fill a miniscule part of what Pete supposed was a flower.  She muttered under her breath and with great agitation, she flipped loose strands of her hair over her shoulder.  This action left a streak of red on her cheek from her paintbrush.  The result made her look, somehow, more beautiful.  …More Alex.

And Pete could tell, by the way Alex glared at the canvas, she hated it.  She hated the half-formed figures, the globs, streaks and curlicues of color.  She saw a mess.  She saw what the scum pawn shop owner/art dealer had seen.  Recalling the jerk’s words now made Pete’s hands clench tighter around the pup’s leashes.

“It’s nice,” he had said.  “Let’s take a closer look, huh?”   Alex had grinned at Pete, and his heart burst with joy, seeing the look of excitement on her face.  The dealer set Alex’s work on the counter, cleared his throat and hummed as he took a fair amount of time to survey the piece.   From there, he wound back around the counter and crossed his arms as he leaned against the glass display.   He sighed. “There’s just one problem, Sweetheart.”  A tiny furrow met Alex’s brow, and Pete’s jaw twitched in alarm. …Sweetheart?

But they continued to listen, even as the dealer motioned Alex closer to him.  She blinked several times and stared at him, not budging a muscle.

“I don’t think they make magnets strong enough for me to hang it on my fridge.”  He bobbed his head from side to side in a mocking fashion.  “Plus, you’ll have to take it up with my three-year-old for the real estate.  But if you’re serious, I can set up a meeting.”  He smirked.

And that’s when Pete’s sweet Alex drove her fist into the man’s cheekbone.  …And how she ended up with a cast.  ….And how the both of them were banned from the establishment.  Not a huge loss, on their part.

A fire, bigger and fiercer than the beast, roared in Pete’s belly as he replayed the story in his head.  He clenched his jaw and looked at the sand.  Though it countered his true nature, in that moment, he had wanted to punch the guy’s lights out himself, but he wouldn’t have dared undermine what Alex had done.  And as the dealer shouted sexist obscenities at Alex as they rushed from the shop, Pete turned back and glared at him.  A cruel smile formed on his face as he gestured to the man’s injured face.  “…Her best work yet, I’d say.”

But as they sat in the emergency room lobby, Pete felt ashamed.  Part of him agonized over not being the one to hit the jerk, while another part lamented any measure of violence was used at all.   And yet he still commended Alex for it.

“You were great,” he said.  “Couldn’t have done it better myself.”   The words felt forced.  And as she chuckled and kissed the tip of his nose, he felt nothing short of deflated.  The action seemed to say don’t you worry about me, you darling little man. I know you’re too weak to protect me. 

The nose-tip kiss also brought to mind all the times over the past half a year, when Alex had been the one to step up for Pete, to protect Pete, to fix Pete.  And those thoughts intermixed with a series of nightmares that had plagued him for years.   …Seeing the homeless man being killed….and the alternate ending his subconscious spat at him—Pete being arrested and blamed for the murder, all due to his own shady criminal past.  Alex had been there to hold him, to assure him he was a good person.  Good person…?  The beast smirked.  Sure, sure…just so long as you never actually believe it to be true.  If you really had killed that man, she would adore you all the more.  She worships your afflictions and yawns at your pathetic attempts at altruism. You are her hobby, little man. 

Alex heaved a sigh, glanced more towards Pete without actually looking at him, then with jerky motions, balanced her pallet between her jutted out thigh and easel ledge.

“I can hold that for you,” Pete said.

“Got it,” Alex said.   She re-tied her hair up into her pink elastic band.  The pallet slipped toppled to the sand.

Her hair half bun, half cascading tresses, Alex abandoned her mission. “Damn it!”

Pete reached to grab the pallet for her.  Slug leaped forward as well, scraping his paws down Alex’s bare legs.  Alex cried out; Pete didn’t know whether to go for the pallet or the pup, but in his confusion, his brain prevented an important thought from fully forming: there was one less leash in his hand than was supposed to be there.

Alex, pallet back in her hand, let it drop again to the sand.   She pointed towards the ocean. “SLUG…!”

Pete’s stomach flew up into his throat.  He looked and sure enough, Ale’x shy little guy was halfway to the waves, his ears slick back against his neck.  “YES, IT IS!” he shouted, half angry, as though Alex were to blame for his carelessness. And, the beast reasoned with subconscious fury, truly she was.

The two of them were neck in neck for a time as they hightailed it after Slug, shouting his name all the way.  Chance breathed an ecstatic pant as he zoomed across the sand with Pete.  Alex stopped ankle deep and took Chance’s leash as Pete thrust it into her hands.  Chance swam out into the waves.  Pete sprinted and dove after him.  The current fought him, but he pumped his arms, battling to keep his head above the water.

“SLUG!”  Pete darted around in every direction.  He saw no sign of the puppy.  The waves tossed him without mercy and threw his body out further into the deep.

A white-dipped tail sent a jolt of adrenaline so powerful Pete felt he could fly.  A wave crashed in over his head, and sputtering, he spotted Slug as he emerged from the glassy surface.  Pete dared the ocean to defy him as he thrashed through the waves towards the puppy.

When he was close enough, Pete scooped Slug into one arm, rejoicing at his conscious state.  Slug screamed out a series of high-pitched baroos and scratched Pete’s shoulder as, to Pete’s horror, he attempted to dive back into the waves.  Salt water stung Pete’s throat as he struggled to keep ahold of the puppy.   Pete hooked his fingers onto his collar and lifted Slug high above the waters as another wave assaulted them.

Then horror stuck Pete as he saw something of utmost bewilderment—a small, flaccid human arm, as it jutted out from the wave’s center.  Slug yipped and scrambled in Pete’s grasp, scraping his claws against him.  Pete winced and prayed as he, with a wiggling Slug tucked under one arm, pumped the other arm and kicked like hell towards where he saw the arm—the owner of which, Pete was certain he knew.  But the arm and any trace of the rest of the body disappeared before Pete arrived, but below, his kick was met with an obstruction.  He looked down and saw only darkened water, but secured Slug underneath his arm, sucked in a breath, and sank beneath the surface.  He groped at the water and clasped his hands around a tuft of hair.  With an iron grip, Pete yanked the hair and its owner upwards and the three of them emerged to the surface.   He got a better grip on the limp body and with horror looked at the unresponsive face—it was the boy.

Thank you for reading part one of “Beautifully Broken”!  Please, leave your feedback in the comments below. And look for the conclusion, coming soon!

Read more about “The Christmas Beagle”. 

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