Rover looked up from his bed on the ground. Noah looked up from his seat at the kitchen table.
‘’Who’s he?’’ Noah asked, scrunching his eyebrows like he always used to do when he asked a question. When no one answered, he started to get frantic.
‘’Momma, momma, who’s he?’’ He started shaking, grating his fingernails along the light wood of the table, leaving little marks that he knew he’d be in trouble for later. There was still no answer, not even a sound. It was as if no one was home.
‘’Momma, MOMMA!’’ He was crying now, where were they? He had to know, he was freaking out. Who was the dog sitting in the bed on the ground? Who was he?! Tears were streaming down his cheeks. It felt like his heart and his lungs were caving in on him.
He reached for something, anything that he could hold, to stabilize himself. He grabbed at the air, every which way.
‘’MOMMA, where are you? Who is he?’’ Still, there was no sound in reply. Noah rushed upstairs to his room. Where did he leave it? It had to be somewhere. He had it just yesterday at the park with his mom. He climbed up the stairs, knocking over a picture frame. As it fell down into the stairway, shattering, it broke into a million pieces. He didn’t have time to look back, where was it? He reached his room. The planets dangling from the ceiling, the bed with the solar system pattern. The dark wood desk. The closet that held his clothes. The window. Where was it? He needed to find it. He heard footsteps behind him in the hall, getting closer and closer, lightly. Noah stopped, his heart raced. He looked around frantically. Where is it? Where Momma? A head appeared in the doorway, two pairs of feet, a tail, two beefy brown eyes. Who was he? Noah jumped.
‘’Stop, stop it!’’ He screamed, putting two hands out in front of himself protectively. He needed to get away. His head was swimming, trying to stay afloat, but it was drowning. He was panicking. ‘’Stop it! Get away!’’ He cried. He pushed over the lamp on his desk, trying to scare it off. It barked, tongue hanging out of its mouth, cocking it’s golden head to the side, perplexed. ‘’St-st-stop!’’ Noah yelled, ‘’get away!’’ Rover didn’t understand, he approached cautiously. ‘’AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!’ STOOOOPPPP!’’ Noah screamed until his throat was sore and dry. The animal, the beast, the monster went running back down the stairs, back to the kitchen. Why was it inside? Danny had always kept it tied up outside. He said monsters like that had fleas. Noah didn’t want fleas. He was still panicking, where was it? Where was Momma? He tried to take a deep breath like the social worker, Larissa, had said. It didn’t work, he choked on his spit and started coughing, hacking. He heard sounds downstairs. He needed to find it. He caught a shimmer of gold lying next to his desk, he ran towards it, still coughing but less bad. He picked it up, ran his hand along the smooth, metallic blue and oranges. He tried to let out his breath. He grasped the handle and took a swing. It shattered, the pain hanging loose, shards flooding the ground. Noah climbed outside, frantic to get out. He held onto the rain pipe, and slid to the ground, landing on his feet, still only wearing socks, his superman boxers, and a plain gray tank top.
Noah used to be able to climb out the window at Danny’s apartment, he didn’t have to bust it open; he could just slide it upward and climb out onto the fire escape. He learned to keep his head down so that none of the other people in the building would see him and ask questions. But at Momma and Dad’s house, you couldn’t just open the windows. He had overheard Larissa telling them it would be a good idea. ‘’Noah’s not the type to stay in one place. He might try to go back to his biological mom’s house. His old foster home was abusive; if he did something wrong, he’d be hit or they’d let the dog out on him. You have to be careful.’’, she had warned. He remembered exactly, because he didn’t know what she was talking about. He didn’t understand why everyone thought he was trying to get back to Susan. He had only met Susan a few times that he could remember, on special visits. He didn’t know how he could find her, he had never gone looking for her. And Danny hadn’t let the dog out on him. He didn’t know what that meant. But dogs are mean, they kill. They are monsters. Like how Danny’s dog killed Lily. No one knew that Noah knew what had happened to her. No one knew Noah was the first to see it. No one knew that Noah knew that was why he left Danny’s house. Everyone told him that Lily had wandered off, that she’d found a new home, up high. But Noah knew she hadn’t moved to the mountain. He knew the dog had killed her.
Now, Noah ran from Momma and Dad’s house, the red brick one at the end of the street. He didn’t want the dog to kill him too. His heart beat faster than before, every few steps he looked over his shoulder to make sure the dog wasn’t following. As he turned the corner, he heard someone running up behind him. He ran faster. ‘They’re gonna beat me,’ he thought. Like Danny had when he got away before, after his sister had died. He sped up his pace until he couldn’t go any faster. He looked over his shoulder, sweat bleeding down, tears streaming, staining his cheeks. ‘’St-st-stop it!’’ He screamed, not looking where he was going. He felt himself falling forward, foot catching on a rock, he grasped for something to hold on to. He felt someone catch him from behind, holding him close; he tried to break from the grasp but it was too tight. Momma held him to her chest, stabilizing him, bringing him back down to earth. He cried, shaking.
‘’Let me go, stop it!’’, he said, but each time it was quieter as he gasped for air.
‘’It's okay, Noah, you’re here, you’re okay. You’re fine. I just went out to get groceries, you remember, I told you, don’t you?’’ Her voice was calming and smooth. He relaxed a bit. She wasn’t mad. He cried harder, but then the tears subsided. Momma pulled back his bangs from his eyes. People were staring, but Noah didn’t notice and Momma (Kyla) didn’t care.
‘’Are you ready to go home?’’ Kyla asked as he stood up on shaking legs. He nodded. Kyla held his hand as they headed back home. They reached the doorway and Noah stopped.
‘’What happened?’’ Kyla asked, worried. ‘’Why don’t you want to go inside?’’
‘’There’s a dog in there.’’ Noah said, eyes growing wide in fear, trying not to panic. Kyla took a deep breath.
‘’Dad brought him home. He’s just a puppy. I told him we should have waited to introduce you. We thought it would help you with your fear of dogs.’’, Kyla explained.
‘’But where’s dad?’’ Noah asked, confused.
‘’He was in the shower, he heard your shouting, he got out as quickly as he could, but he couldn’t find you. Dad called me, he knew he’d have trouble getting you to listen, I drove home as fast as I could. I probably broke most of the speeding limits and I probably went through some red lights. I guess we both have things to work on: you have to work on not running away from your fears, and I have to work on my driving.’’
‘’Yah.’’, Noah agrees, nodding his head. ‘’I’m sorry.’’
‘’No, Dad should be sorry, I told him we shouldn’t introduce you to a dog just like that. He said we should see how you figure it out, get over your fear. That maybe you’d be able to bond with him more or something if you met him by yourself. Why did I think that was a good idea at the time? Who knows.’’ Noah cracked a small smile, his shaking had stopped, his heart was only beating slightly faster than it should. ‘’Do you want to meet him?’’
‘’Who?’’ Noah asks, perplexed.
‘’The dog. His name’s Rover. Let’s have a fresh start.’’ Kyla suggested.
‘’I’m scared of dogs. They kill.’’ Noah was hesitant.
‘’You know?’’ Kyla raised an eyebrow.
‘’I was the one who found her.’’ Noah looked down at his dirty socks.
‘’I thought so. I thought you knew. But Rover is a puppy. He’s very nice. He’s a golden retriever, an older lady breeded him, at home. He’s sweet and very kind. He won’t hurt you.’’ Kyla tried to convince him to meet Rover.
‘’O-okay.’’ Noah took a deep breath, this time not choking. Dad came and opened the door for them, and the two walked in, hand in hand.
‘’Get down on your knee, like this, and put out your hand. Like that he won’t be scared.’’ Dad said, demonstrating.
‘’He’s scared of me too?’’ Noah asked.
‘’See? You already have something in common.’’ Dad chuckled, ‘’Do you want to try now?’’ Noah nodded and did like his dad had, getting down on a knee and putting out his hand. Kyla and Michael shared a look, proud of their son who had been with them now for a year and six months. Rover went up to Noah, sniffing the tips of his fingers with his wet nose. Noah pulled back his hand suddenly, but then extended it again, calm. Rover rubbed his head on Noah’s hand, and Noah petted him cautiously, looking up at his parents and smiling.
‘’He likes you.’’ Kyra said, ‘’See? He’s not a monster.’’