Bulldog wont budge, p.1
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       Bulldog Won't Budge, p.1

           Tui T. Sutherland
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Bulldog Won't Budge























  Dr. Lee,” said my friend Parker, “how come you guys don’t have a dog?”

  “Good question,” I said. “Yeah, Mom, how come we don’t have a dog?”

  The funny thing is, Parker was being kind of psychic right then, but no one knew it yet. I mean, not psychic in that weird fake way that Cadence Bly is — she’s in the sixth grade with us, and she’s always pretending to “sense the vibrations of the universe” or something. But Parker really was practically seeing the future, like he could sense what was sitting outside waiting for us. Like magic.

  But he didn’t know that, and I didn’t know that, and neither did Mom. It seemed like just an ordinary rainy Monday. We were at my mom’s office — she’s one of the vets at the Paws and Claws Animal Hospital in our town. I like visiting her there because it’s really clean and sometimes she lets me hang out with the dogs that are staying overnight for surgery. Plus my big sisters never come to the office unless they’re bringing in their cats. Mercy and Faith are sixteen and they’re kind of mean when they’re mad (which is most of the time), so I try to stay out of their way. They like me about as much as they like boiled turnips or going back to school after Christmas.

  The animal hospital has smooth white tile floors and framed posters of dogs and cats all over the sky blue and sunshine yellow walls. Most of the posters have quotes on them like “My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am” and “Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” My favorite is this photograph of a black Lab with his front paws on a computer keyboard, looking at the camera like Do you have an appointment? I’m very busy here.

  It was near the end of the day, so we were the only ones still there. Even Cassie, the receptionist with the pierced nose, had gone home. She’s nice, but she always seems really bored, which I don’t understand, because she gets to see dogs all day long, and I think that would never get boring.

  I was sitting at Mom’s computer, messing with her screen saver. Parker and his dad had brought Parker’s new dog, Merlin, in for a checkup. Mom was doing all the regular vet things like tsk-tsking at his teeth and sticking a thermometer up his butt. Poor Merlin! That must be the worst thing about being a dog. OK, that and having to pee outside in January, when it’s freezing.

  Parker Green is one of my best friends, along with Danny Sanchez and Troy Morris. Parker got Merlin right before school started, and he’s pretty much a perfect dog. (Mom says so, too, and she’s kind of an expert.) Parker jokes about what a pain he can be, but the truth is he thinks Merlin is, like, King Arthur come back to life as a golden retriever. He’s spent nearly every minute with his dog from the moment he got him, which was OK by me and Danny and Troy, because we all wanted dogs, too. Especially if we all could get dogs like Merlin.

  “But Eric, we have Odysseus and Ariadne,” Mom pointed out, like she always does.

  And like I always do, I said, “Mom, cats are not the same as dogs. Especially when they are evil cats. That’s like saying, ‘Honey, you don’t need a Wii, because we’ve got this lovely school of piranhas instead.’”

  Parker laughed. He’s been over to my house enough, so he knows what my sisters’ cats are like. He once made the mistake of eating a tuna fish sandwich in our kitchen, and the cats have never forgiven him. Whenever he comes over, they follow him around the house glaring at him. Ariadne and Odysseus believe pretty strongly that tuna is for cats only.

  “Cats aren’t evil,” Mom said, shining a little light into Merlin’s ears. Merlin was sitting up on this tall metal table and he looked really confused about it. He kept peering over the edge like he was thinking about jumping down. Parker was on the other side of the table from Mom, holding on to Merlin’s collar to make sure he didn’t run away. That’s the only semi-bad thing Merlin ever does — he’s a master escape artist, just like Houdini. But usually Merlin’s running to Parker, not away from him, so I wasn’t very worried.

  “I know most cats aren’t evil,” I said. “Just ours.”

  I’m serious. I’ve met lots of good cats, especially when I’m hanging out in my mom’s office and they come in for checkups. My cousins have a really cute kitten named Gergen, who likes to play and get petted, and he’s as funny as any dog. There’s a guy on our baseball team, Levi Axelrod, who has a fat white Persian cat that is totally chill and purrs like a locomotive the minute you touch her. Plus Rebekah Waters in our class absolutely loves cats. Any cat that belonged to her couldn’t possibly be evil. If we had a cat like that — purring and friendly and not-evil — maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

  But Odysseus and Ariadne hate everyone, except maybe Mercy and Faith. They like to sit up on high things and glare at me. (The cats, I mean. Well, OK, my sisters, too.) If I get too close to the cats, they scratch me. I have to keep my bedroom door shut all the time because whenever they can get into my room, they pee on my bed. Yeah, it’s mega gross.

  I have no idea what I did to make them hate me so much. It’s not like I ever pulled their tails or shut them in the shower, like some guys I know would have (like, say, Avery Lafitte, biggest jerk in the sixth grade). I’m totally harmless. Maybe they think I’m some kind of secret tuna fish thief. Or maybe they can just smell how much I want a dog.

  “You know, Danny has a dog now, too,” Parker said to his dad. He kind of looks like his dad, although mostly it’s in the way they wrinkle their foreheads when they’re worried or shrug their shoulders when they’re trying to get out of an argument.

  “Really?” Mr. Green said. “Since when?”

  “I don’t know,” Parker said, scratching behind Merlin’s ears. “We just found out a couple days ago. We ran into his sister at the park.”

  “He was embarrassed to tell us because it’s a toy poodle,” I said. “But she’s really cute. Mom, I don’t even care if it’s a little dog. Any kind of dog would be OK.”

  “Scoot,” she said, grabbing the back of her chair as I was spinning around in it. “I need to type up Merlin’s receipt and prescription.”

  Mom is an expert at dodging subjects she wants to avoid. Like this conversation, which we’d been having for maybe a year, but more often in the month since Parker got Merlin.

  As she sat down, she raised her eyebrows at her new screen saver. A quotation was scrolling across the screen: “No performer should attempt to bite off red-hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth. — Harry Houdini.”

  “Er — what good advice,” Mom said.

  “I found it online,” I said. I like reading about Harry Houdini. He was the bravest person ever. I could never get up in front of an audience like he did — never mind the part where he jumped into lakes wrapped in chains!

  “Yes, well, I’d like my slide-show screen saver back before you leave, please,” Mom said, clicking through to her files. “I’m afraid this one might confuse my patients.”

  “OK,” I said, “but all those scrolling photos of dogs confuse me, the person who can’t have one.”

  “We’ll get a dog one day,” Mom said. “When we come across the right one.” She checked her watch. “For now, Eric, will you go out front and flip the sign to ‘Closed’? Make sure the emergency numbers are showing thr
ough the window.”

  “Sure.” I patted Merlin’s head as I went by and he licked my hand. I could hear Mom explaining heartworm pills to Parker and his dad as I went through the waiting room. There were a couple of animal magazines lying on the dark blue plastic seats, so I put them back on the side tables and straightened them while I was out there. I also noticed a couple of dog biscuits lying on the floor — someone must have dropped them when they got up with their dog. I put them in my jacket pocket to give to Merlin later. It may not surprise you to hear that dogs really, really don’t care if their food has been dropped on the floor.

  The animal hospital has an inner door and then a vestibule with an outer door, which it shares with the pet shop next door. The pet shop was already closed for the day. It was nearly dinnertime. I went out into the vestibule and saw through the glass walls that it was starting to get dark already, even though it was only the end of September. But I like it when that starts happening because it means winter is coming. I know, it’s weird to like winter, but I do.

  Snow is better than rain, anyhow. The rain was pattering down outside, leaving shiny wet trails along the glass like melting diamonds. I went to the outer door to flip over the CLOSED sign.

  And that’s when I saw the dog.

  I pressed my nose to the glass door, squinting through the rain.

  There was a bulldog sitting right outside. He was staring in at me just like I was staring out at him.

  I’ve never seen a glummer face. I mean, I think that’s kind of a funny word — “glum” — but that was the first thought that popped into my head when I saw this dog’s face. He wasn’t just sad. He wasn’t gloomy. He was definitely glum.

  His little dark brown ears drooped. His big, broad shoulders drooped. His long, floppy jowls drooped. His forehead was wrinkled in a worried way, and his sad brown eyes seemed to be saying Why am I so wet? And so alone? And so abandoned? And so very, very wet?

  For a moment I thought he was just hanging out on the sidewalk for no reason. But then I realized that he was wearing a red leash — and the leash was tied to the vestibule’s front door.

  I thought I should run back and get my mom. But I didn’t want to leave him in the pouring rain even one second longer. I pulled open the inner door and yelled “MOM!” really loudly. Then I let it close and went to push open the outer door.

  The bulldog sat up a little straighter, looking at me hopefully. The brown-and-white fur on his neck stood up in little wet spikes. I untangled his leash from the door handle, which was sort of tough because it was pretty wet and slippery. I had to stand in the rain and get totally drenched. But I got it free, and then I held the door open and beckoned to the dog.

  “Come on boy,” I said.

  He didn’t need any more encouragement than that. He rocketed inside so quickly, he nearly bowled me over. He stood inside our vestibule and shook and shook himself. His jowls went flap-flap-flap-flap-flap. He sprayed me all over with water, but it didn’t matter because I was already wet. My sneakers went squeak-squish-squeak-squish as I tried to wring out my shirt without taking it off.

  The bulldog’s wheezing and snorting echoed around the vestibule. He looked up at me with big trusting eyes — that’s the kind of look my mom gets from the sweetest dogs when they’re like Maybe if I look really pathetic you’ll put away that needle. Like he was afraid I would leave and he was hoping if he looked really woebegone I’d stay with him.

  I realized that there was a piece of paper folded and tucked into his collar, under his chin. I crouched down to reach for it, and the dog came over and butted my hand with his head. I scratched behind his ears and under his broad chin until I could reach the note, and then I pulled it out. But when I stopped petting the dog, he plowed into my knees and I fell back on my butt. This was apparently exactly what he hoped would happen. He immediately tried to climb into my lap and lick my chin.

  Danny’s dog, Buttons, had done the same thing at the park on Sunday, but Buttons is a puppy the size of a baseball and she weighs about as much as one. This was a full-grown bulldog, and he was heavy. I swear he felt like he weighed as much as me. His big white paws planted themselves on my chest and his enormous pink tongue went sluuuuuuuurrrrrrp! up the side of my face like a giant piece of wet sandpaper.

  I tried to push him off, but he was really, really determined to show me how glad he was to be in out of the rain. He was like I must pin you down and say thank you by licking off your face! How else will you know how grateful I am?! I could feel his tiny stub of a tail wagging up the whole length of his wet, roly-poly body.

  “OK!” I cried as he licked me again. “I get it! You’re welcome!”

  The inside door opened. “Eric?” my mom said as she came out. “Did you — oh my goodness!” Her mouth fell open. She stared at the bulldog, who was flopped across my chest. He looked up at her with a panting, slobbering grin. His tongue was as wide as my hand and it flapped up and down as he breathed, FLAP HUFF FLAP HUFF FLAP HUFF.

  “Where — what —?” My mom pointed at the bulldog. “Eric!”

  “He was sitting outside,” I said. “In the rain, Mom! Someone left him tied to the front door.”

  “Tied to the front door?” Mom sounded indignant now.

  “In the rain,” I said again.

  I saw Parker and Mr. Green crowd up behind her. Merlin poked his nose through the gap between their legs. His eyes lit up when he saw the bulldog, but Parker held on to him so he couldn’t rush forward and say hi.

  “There’s a note,” I said, holding it out so Mom could rescue it from me. I needed my other hand to fend off the slobbermeister.

  “Check his tags,” she said as she unfolded it. I wrestled the dog’s giant head aside so I could see the plain black collar hidden in the folds of his neck. There was only one tag hanging from it, a silver one shaped like a dog bone. And all it said was “Meatball.”

  “Meatball?” I said to him. He buried his whole wet face in my neck and went snorftle snorftle, so I guess that was a yes.

  “‘Please take care of Meatball,’” my mom read out loud. The paper was soggy and falling apart in her hands. “‘We cannot have him anymore. Thank you.’” She threw her hands up. “Of course it isn’t signed! They’re lucky I can’t find them and tell them what I think of them. This poor dog. I’m sure they just thought he was an adorable puppy and had no idea how big he would get.”

  “Or how loud,” I said as Meatball went SNOOOOOORRRRRG right in my ear.

  “Why would they bring him here instead of an animal shelter?” Mr. Green asked. “Do you know him?”

  Mom shook her head. “I’ve never seen him before. I haven’t had any bulldogs in here this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they drove over from another town. One of my colleagues online told me about a dog left at her office, too — like they figure a vet must know how to take care of it.”

  “And they guess a vet would want to,” Parker pointed out.

  I’d finally managed to sit up, but Meatball had planted himself firmly in my lap and was snuffling up and down my chest with his big squashed-up nose. His forehead was wrinkled forward over his serious brown eyes. He shoved his head inside my jacket. I scratched the folds of wrinkles around his neck. His fur wasn’t long and smooth like Merlin’s. It felt soft and prickly at the same time, like running your hand over newly mown grass. Well — really wet newly mown grass. Meatball was absolutely soaked. I wondered how long he’d been sitting outside.

  “Let’s bring him inside and scan him for a microchip,” Mom said.

  “A microchip?” Parker said with a grin. “You mean, he might be a robot dog?”

  “Yeah, right,” I said. “No one would make a robot dog this slobbery.”

  Mom grabbed Meatball’s collar and wrestled him off me. He leaned against her leg as I stood up, but when she relaxed her grip on his collar, he lunged away from her and barreled into my knees again. I managed to stay upright, but he seemed really determined to climb back inside
my jacket.

  “You should get Merlin microchipped, too,” Mom said to Mr. Green. “Then if he ever gets lost, the vet or shelter who finds him will be able to trace him back to you. It’s a simple injection, and a good precaution.”

  “Especially with a runaway maniac like you,” Parker said, ruffling Merlin’s fur. Merlin gave him an adoring look and wagged his long golden tail.

  Mom tried tugging on Meatball’s collar again, but he refused to move until I did. He stuck to my side as we went back into the waiting room. In my mom’s office, he stopped and let Merlin sniff him up and down. Merlin’s tail was going nuts, as if he’d just met his new best friend. Meanwhile, Meatball kept looking at me with his tongue hanging out in a goofy grin, like Who does this guy think he is? And what’s he so excited about?

  It took me and Parker together to heave Meatball off the floor and onto the examination table. The dog didn’t help either; he wriggled and flailed and tried to climb inside my jacket again and it was totally just like wrestling a wet walrus.

  Finally we got him onto the metal table and he immediately lay down and flopped over with his head as close to me as he could get it. His breathing was really loud, like snorting and wheezing and gasping and growling all at once. I rubbed his solid white belly while Mom looked for a microchip.

  “Of course not,” she muttered. “Does nobody want you, poor boy?” She tugged on one of his floppy ears. Meatball rolled onto his stomach, wiggled toward me, and pawed at my jacket, which by this point was covered in little wet brown-and-white dog hairs.

  “Oh, I’m an idiot,” I said, realizing why he loved my jacket so much. I pulled out one of the dog biscuits I’d found in the waiting room. “Is this what you’re looking for?” I said, offering it to him.

  “Careful,” Mom said, taking it from me. “Bulldogs often have really narrow throats. You have to make sure to break up their treats into small, bite-sized pieces.” She snapped the biscuit into a few little chunks and handed it back to me. Meatball kept his big brown eyes fixed raptly on the biscuit as it went back and forth between us. His jowls wobbled as he swung his head from one side to the other. But he waited patiently until I held out my hand with the treat in it.

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