A couple months pass and Sun and I grow closer. She offered my permanent stay that first “sleepover” as she likes to put it, and since I was so afraid to return home, I decided I would oblige and stay with her. The reason being… Well. Not only did I like Sun very much, but I was afraid to go back home because of Mr. Man. I didn’t, and still don’t, ever want to see that man’s ugly, screaming face again. Or feel his fists… Or see my Mother beaten to shreds by him.
So that’s why I agreed. I would stay with Sun, at least for a while to see how I liked the place and if I would enjoy life with Sun. I do, I certainly do enjoy my time with that lovable dog.
It didn’t take long at all before we became like littermates, the two of us, held together by a bond that I had never felt with someone before. Even my real littermates. My family. And now here we are, having a still-strengthening relationship that is healthy and absolutely reliable. Finally, for the first time since I was parted from my family, and well, my life, I feel like I have a purpose again, a reason to live, and I know that I have found a dog that I can trust.
“Morning, sunshine.” The murmur comes from above my head. I open my eyes weakly and glance up, seeing Sun gazing fondly down at me. For a moment I don’t move, but then I smell something wonderful. My body groans in denial as I force my paws to stand me up.
“I caught you some breakfast. Thought you’d be hungry after that heavy sleep you had.” Setting my eyes on the plump couple of mice sitting before me, I whine appreciatively and lift my muzzle to lick her cheek.
“Thank you, Sun.” I shake my head in a hurried manner, trying to wake myself up completely. Sun watches me with sparkling eyes. My gaze returns happily and I sit down, start gulping down bites of one of the mice, then motion gladly for Sun to join me. We eat in peaceful silence, and once the two mice have been finished, we decide to go to the stream to refresh ourselves.
Beginning our short walk, Sun turns to me, keeping a steady pace at my side. “So, how are you liking this so far?”
I glance at her, puzzled. “Liking what?”
“Oh.” This thought registers for a moment before I respond. “I… Actually really like it, Sun.” I pause, wondering if I want to go on. “I mean, living outdoors like this, it’s not what I expected at all. It’s more difficult, for sure, but I think I like it. But what makes it better is I have this great friend at my side.” She makes a sweet, contented sound. “Really. I never expected to have this wonderful of a life after I lost my family.” My voice cracks on the last word and I look away for just a moment.
Sun gazes softly at me. “Do you still think about them often?” Her gaze is probing, yet gentle at the same time.
I sigh quietly. “Everytime I wake up, before I fall asleep at night, anytime I’m even remotely alone with my thoughts.”
Looking ahead, Sun’s expression changes. It becomes unhappy. “Sun,” I murmur. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments, and when I’m about to press a question on her, she opens her jaws.
“I’ve been thinking lately. What if you had to choose between your family and me, who would you be happier with, you know? Are you really content to stay here?”
My eyes blink in surprise. “I love it here, Sun! Don’t doubt that!”
“Okay, okay, but wouldn’t you… Rather be with your family?” For a moment she is silent, but then she adds, “Because if you want, we could go find them.” Her voice sounds forced and I stop in my tracks.
“No… Sun, I told you why I haven’t gone back. I’ve told you. That man is a monster, he hurt Mother all the time, he hurt us puppies… I won’t go back to that, and like you said when we first met, they may have run away too. If I went back, they might not even be there any longer. Either they ran away or…” I drop my gaze for a moment, but soon brush off the frightening possibilities from my mind, continuing my reasoning. “The point is, not only do I not want to be around him, but I have someone I do want to be around, and that’s you. If I leave you I won’t have you anymore.” Seeing that Sun continues to gaze ahead, unsatisfied, I strengthen my words so that my voice comes out sure, as sure as sure can be. “Sun, the reasons I’m not going back are because I’m afraid of him and I don’t want to leave you. Do you get that? I’m happy here, way happier than I was there.” I catch her eye to prove my firmness of the matter. “I’m not leaving you.”
When Sun still doesn’t look completely convinced, I turn so that I’m facing her completely and I speak with sureness and vigor. “I’m not going back to them. That part of my life finished months ago. Okay?” I stare her directly in the eyes until she gazes back at me.
Her slow nod seems more sure now, but I don’t start moving again until I see certainty in her eyes again. “Okay.” Her bark is doubtless now. Bumping her shoulder with mine, I start walking forward again. The stream is visible a few feet ahead of us. We walk in silence, calm silence, until we reach the stream, where we begin lapping up the clear liquid flashing past us until we’ve satisfied our thirst.
A moment after I lift my head from the stream, something pushes me from behind, and I plummet forward into rigid water. Before I know it, my whole body is soaked, and I shake my head after standing up, staring at the innocent-seeming face of Sun, who stands with a paw still in the air.
“Slipped, huh? Seems like you’ve got the whole stream in your fur!” She watches me with evil eyes, dropping her paw back to the streambanks edge, and I yelp with surprised merriment, jumping out with my wet paws splayed out to catch her. Her yap is drowned out as I fly at her, growling with a ferocious laughter, and in no time I’ve soaked her as well. I sit back. Exclamations of laughter explode out of my mouth.
After our spell of glee has finished, we practically fall over. Laying with our snouts inches from touching the surface of the calmly flowing water, our eyes flitting from ripple to ripple as they pass, we let ourselves relax for a span of many moments and then begin licking each others’ fur dry.
I can hear the soft strokes of Sun’s tongue on the fur on my back, the distant twittering of morning birds in the distance, the calming rustle of the leaves up in the canopy. Then Sun’s licks break off; her voice sounds through the slow breeze. “You know, I want to talk to you about something.”
My head lifts. “What is it?” Her gaze doesn’t waver from my eyes and from this I know she is serious.
“Well… When I was still with Lexi, there was something that happened, pretty soon after she got me. We’d already gotten so close; we were inseparable. But then there was a fire. In the house. I didn’t tell you about that part because it was just so… Traumatic would be the word. I started smelling smoke in the house late at night and tried pulling on her sleeve to get her out of bed. I whined and barked and did all I could, but then she would just pet my head like she was reassuring me and fell back asleep.
“Finally she did wake up. And she could smell the smoke too; it was a haze in the room by that point. I could even hear the crackling from upstairs in her room, and finally she got up. She made it out after some running and changing directions and having to jump out of a side window on the main floor, but I couldn’t climb up through it because it was too high and I was still just a puppy. I was barking to tell her not to come back for me, but I know now that she took it the wrong way: she thought I was crying for help.
“So she came back in. I saw her face reappear through the open window and I backed up in hopes of her understanding that she shouldn’t risk her life for me, that she should run away and call for somebody’s help. But she wouldn’t; she came crawling back through the window, even though fire was now surrounding me on all sides. Even the window had fire crackling right above it, getting further and further down the wall and closer and closer to the window that she was coming through. When her feet hit the ground some chunk of ceiling fell on her foot. She screamed and grabbed me fast, hurriedly, then threw me out the window.” Finally she broke off and it was impossible to miss the stricken pain on her face. When she tried to continue her voice cracked.
“She saved me. Then, when I hit the ground and found my paws, I looked back in but there was nothing. Only-” Her voice cracked a second time. “Only fire.” I gasp. I didn’t expect this. I thought her owner left one day and never came back. I thought Sun was abandoned. But no, it seems that that is not the case.
I want to ask but I don’t know how to. So I just wait in tense silence for her to continue.
“Then,” she murmurs, “I was alone. I wouldn’t accept it for some time, hanging around the house until a big vehicle arrived with a hose. The group of people that came in it put out the fire, but the house was ruined. All the scents and familiar walls I’d made so many memories in, gone.”
Eyes still and on her, I listen intently. My ears draw back further and further the more that she says. Then I say quietly, “What’d you do?”
She turns a glance at me when I speak, then returns to looking out into the trees. “I had to leave. If I’d stayed, those people would have seen me and probably taken me. At first I considered sticking around nearby, just because, but I soon changed my mind.” Sun swallows thickly. “I saw them take her body out. It didn’t even look like her but I knew it was her. Her hair was gone and her skin black and ashy. The way her limbs hung limply when they picked her up frightened me and I ran away. For the next few days I settled in nearby woods, then thought I should do something with myself. I’d mourned long enough. I’m not one to mope for longer than a few days or I’ll die of boredom.” That slightly-amused sparkle in her eye catches me off guard. I’m surprised she can make a joke when she’s talking about this.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur quietly. “I didn’t know that happened to you.”
Sun shakes her head, brushing off my words. “It’s okay, it wasn’t your fault. My point of this whole story is… Lexi came back to save me and ki-” her voice cracks - “killed herself in the process. She was blinded by her desire to save the dog that she loved. But Wick, if something bad ever happens, I want to make sure we agree not to let our friendship blind us from what we have to do. Okay?” Eyes trained on me, Sun is unmoving, waiting for my agreement.
Hesitating, I wonder what kinds of situations could come up such as the fire she went through with Lexi. Would there really be a day, could there really be a day that something so horrible would happen to us? I decide not to dwell on it any further. Her reasoning makes sense, especially with her own experience in the case. I nod with certainty. “I promise.”
A swish nearby sends my ears erect, and my head shoots up. Sun is already standing behind me, her fur spiking up all over, and when I look to see what it is that she’s staring at with such fierce alarm, I see a stunning brown shape. Standing before us is a giant brown creature with small, round ears and a towering frame. Blunt claws glint in the sunlight filtering through the trees and I shrink back, horror struck. What IS that? My gaze swivels over to Sun, who is now standing at my side. She stares back, her expression frozen.
Suddenly a ferocious roar comes from the creature and our heads snap back to its malicious, beady eyes instinctively. Neither Sun or I move. The huge animal begins rambling toward us at a speed faster than either of us thought possible for its size; there is a moment of complete stillness, even with the ferocious creature running toward us, but then, right before we can be pulled apart by the beast, Sun shoves me to one side, throwing all her weight against me.
When I hit the bushes I stop rolling. I try to stand up as fast as I can, but the rolling has made me dizzy and it takes a moment for me to steady myself, so once I finally do, I don’t hesitate. Seeing Sun’s cowering frame before the beast, I careen toward the animal, unbelieving of what I’m doing, and ram into one of its huge legs. When a thundering, earsplitting roar comes from its jaws, I flinch back in terror, looking pleadingly up into its black eyes. It lifts one of its large, blunt-clawed paws to bat at my face, and just the moment before it can swipe, Sun jumps forward, swats the thick brown fur of its side, and diverts its attention away from me.
Finally I snap out of my horror-filled transe. I swivel around and race away toward the bushes a few feet away, hearing Sun’s paws hurtling away in the opposite direction. I don’t know what she’s doing, but she seems to have a plan, and once the huge animal disappears, rambling after Sun’s small frame, I stop to catch my breath. I haven’t even used my muscles all that much and my chest is heaving in and out, adrenaline rushing through my limbs. But I don’t stand still for long. I know I have to catch up with Sun and help her defeat that… That thing. Or at least, get away from it successfully.
So I run forward. I follow the trail, the path of trampled undergrowth, and soon begin hearing defensive barks and whines; these sounds really give me that aha-moment, that split second where I realize what’s actually going on - a monster is attacking us - but even with the pounding of my heart, the beating of my adrenaline, I force my paws forward, careening rapidly toward the gradually-growing-louder noise.
But by the time that I’ve hustled into the clearing where the attack is supposed to be happening, it’s over. I mean, it must be, because there’s no monster. Something has replaced it. A dog… Not just Sun, but some other dog, big and burly, with white fur and a black dappled coat. When I stop in confusion, looking back and forth between Sun and this strange dog who seem to be staring at each other, Sun looks toward me. It’s as if she’s just come out of a thoughtful dream, or as if she’s just recalled that there actually is more in the world than just her and this dog.
I try not to notice. Maybe I’m just imagining it, maybe it’s just a fractal of my imagination that’s making me feel sudden jealousy that I shouldn’t be feeling. It’s not like anything is even happening between these two. Come on, Wick, they’ve just met. I think. I nod at the stranger, asking Sun sheepishly, “Who… Is this?”
Sun’s head turns to him, then back to me. “Well, you see, I don’t know… He saved me from the bear.” Then her eyes begin to sparkle with appreciation. “He led it further through the forest and somehow managed to scratch its eyes and rid us of it.”
My head cocks. “The bear?”
“Oh!” Sun exclaims. “He just said that big creature, that was a bear! I mean I saw one once because I slept near it’s cave awhile ago, before I met you, but it never saw me so it didn’t seem very scary.” Her rump wiggles back and forth. “Can you believe it? We got in a fight with a bear and escaped, and it’s because of him!” She points her muzzle happily at him. He simply blinks softly back at her.
There is silence for a moment. Nobody breaks it, and I shift a paw in discomfort. Then my eyes stop at his. “What’s your name? We should probably know who our savior’s name is, right?” Sun whines a laugh, and the other dog’s eyes shine delightedly.
Then he steps forward, toward me. He dips his head to me, and then to Sun, and responds graciously, “There’s no need to thank me, I was just doing my duty.” He blinks at me, then Sun. “I’m King.”
“That’s a nice name,” Sun murmurs. Then she wags her tail, adding, “My name’s Sun, and this is my best friend Wick.” When King dips his head to us again, Sun practically jumps, barking excitedly, “You should stay with us! We have a blast, you have no idea how fun it is!”
Then, when King, with wide eyes, looks startled, I add quickly, “Unless you’ve got other plans, of course.” Sun is so quick to trust other dogs, but I’m more weary. That’s just me. Shy and weary.
King lowers his head, modesty shining in his eyes. “Well, right at the moment I’m traveling alone, and I don’t exactly have much of a plan for the future.” He pauses. “Honestly, I’d love to stay with other dogs. I mean if you’re both-” He glances at me for a moment, then back at Sun. “Willing to take me in…” His gaze almost seems to contain some pleading hope in its depths, and the look makes my heart melt a little. But not enough to make me want him to stay with us. I simply watch Sun, letting her make the decision.
She looks hopefully at me. She doesn’t need to say anything because I know exactly what she wants: for him to stay. I nod quietly; there’s not a lot I can say without speaking my disappointment aloud. I don’t know… I guess I’m afraid King’s going to replace me as Sun’s closest friend. Gosh, Wick, cool it. That’s not going to happen. Anyway, your thoughts are moving much too fast. You’ll always be Sun’s best friend. As Sun welcomes him excitedly and we begin to head back to our camp, Sun jabbering on and on, I stay silent, my mind caught up within its own gathering thoughts, and King, calm as can be, listens to Sun patiently.
It may be true that I don’t know King, but he seems like a fair dog. As far as I can tell, he’s going to be a wonderful addition to our little team, and I keep my thoughts on the good possibilities until we reach home.