Every day, when I go home, I see the same dog on the sidewalk.
He was a beautiful dog, with thick white fur and a dark gray mask around deep brown eyes. The web told me that he was a border collie in looks, but nothing like one in personality. Instead of being lively, he remained parked on his tail every hour of the day. Instead of being cheerful, with a bright pink tongue hanging out between his fangs, he had a permanent case of Puppy Eye Syndrome.
And every single day, without fail, I would see him, starting intently into the distance, in front of that lonely house.
“Hey, Mom,” I asked one day as I washed the dishes, “do you know that dog? The one in front of the abandoned house?”
“I don’t know anything about a dog,” my mother replied, “but until this year that shack had an occupant. Apparently, he left not long before we moved in here a month ago.”
I lowered my gaze to the bubbling suds that covered my hands.
Before we moved in here? Was that dog his?
The next day, once again, I saw the dog. This time, though, once I got home, I grabbed a couple hot dogs and a bottle of water, heading out to the dog. It looked up with sorrowful pools of chocolate brown as I knelt down in front of it.
“You have a collar. Where’s your owner?”
He scarfed down the hot dogs like he hadn’t eaten for days, which was probably true. I poured the water into my cupped hands, giggling slightly as the dog’s tongue tickled my palms.
“Can I see your collar, boy?”
He was friendly. Carefully, I rotated the worn leather collar until I could see the tag from beneath his thick fur.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, boy, okay?”
He yipped sadly, but he made no movement to follow me.
He hadn’t budged once from his spot.
“Marcus Lee,” I muttered quietly under my breath as I typed his name into the search bar. “Marcus Lee… Who are you?”
My gaze fell onto the first result.
HEADLINER: UP-AND-COMING TEENAGE ATHLETE...
The next day, I stopped in front of the dog.
“Hey, boy,” I murmured. He licked my palm as I held my hand out in greeting. “You’ve been here for a long, long time, haven’t you?”
He let out a small yip. It was a hiccup, a sound so quiet that I could have mistaken it for the plop of a tear.
This is how he cries, huh?
“You don’t even exercise, do you, boy? Come on… Want to go for a run with me?”
The dog instantly backed away, his ears flat against his skull.
“I guess not…”
Can dogs even go through depression?
“Here, boy, smile for the camera, okay?”
During the weekend, I visited the hospital.
“Hey, I’m looking for a patient…”
The attendant gave me a distrustful look. “He hasn’t had a visitor since he was checked in here. Who are you to him?”
“I’m looking over his things. I need to talk to him.”
Half an hour later, I was given a pass.
The boy looked my age, with shaggy hair that was in desperate need of a trim. He laid among the white sheets, his face as pale as the pillow he laid on. His dark hair formed a halo around his face, like an angel.
He looked too peaceful.
“He misses you,” I commented absentmindedly. Withdrawing a photograph from my pocket, I left it on the counter. “Some of the neighbors feed him once in a while, and I’ll help out with that too. You can’t hear me right now, right? It’s okay.
“Just get better.”
The next week, I stopped by the hospital again.
“Wow, you framed it,” I muttered, tracing a finger over the delicate designs of the polished wood. “It wasn’t even a great picture… I couldn’t get him to smile.”
“You’re the one who took the picture?”
I stared down at the patient. His eyes were still closed.
I quickly took a step back. “Yeah. I did.”
“Uh…” I rubbed the back of my neck. “No problem?”
“How is he?”
“A little down in the dumps, I think.” I watched as he carefully shifted into a sitting position. “He doesn’t exercise. I’m worried his muscles are going to slowly wither away.”
“I just wanted to drop by and give you another picture of him,” I said, reaching into my hoodie and offering the item to him. “He has a healthy appetite. I think he just misses you.”
“Yeah. I figure.”
“Well… I guess I’ll go, then.”
“His name is Pumpkin.”
I paused, my hand on the doorknob. “That’s a cute name.”
“Pumpkin is his favorite food.”
“It’s still cute.” I twisted the knob, pulling the door open. “I’ll see you next weekend.”
“He wasn’t kidding when he said you liked pumpkin,” I muttered, watching the dog devour the canned pumpkin I had brought him in just a few mighty bites and a lick of his chops. “I don’t even know if this stuff is good for you… If you’re going to throw up, don’t do it on my shoes.”
His eyes stared at me unblinkingly.
“...You’re lonely, Pumpkin, aren’t you?” I rubbed a hand over his ears. They were silky and flattened at my touch. “It’s okay. He’s getting better.”
He whined softly, and I chuckled.
“It’d suck if he comes back and you can’t help whip him back into shape for track, right? Want to go for a run with me? I promise…
“Marcus hasn’t forgotten you.”
That was the first time I got the dog to leave his spot.
Twelve days later, when I was returning from my now regular nightly runs with Pumpkin, the dog suddenly sped up next to me. I shouted after him, but he ignored me, bounding ahead.
“Pumpkin… I’ve missed you, buddy!”
My lips parted briefly in surprise before they tugged into a small smile. Despite Pumpkin’s size, Marcus had caught him and was laughing as the dog licked his face frantically. His weight leaned heavily against his crutches, and one hand was braced around the dog to keep him from falling.
He looked past his dog. “Hey.”
“He missed you.”
“I know. Thank you.”
I shrugged. “He waited for you for months. I felt bad for him.”
“Well, take care of him.”
“Hold on.” Marcus carefully set Pumpkin down, but his dark eyes were trained on me. “My leg still needs some time to heal. Would you take Pumpkin out for exercise?”
“You’re going to keep Pumpkin waiting longer?”
“If you don’t, you’d be the one keeping him waiting.”
I laughed. “That’s true.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow night, then.”
I watched as they entered the house, Pumpkin nudging the front door to help open it for Marcus. As the door closed and the lights flicked on, illuminating the windows, I smiled.
The house didn’t seem so lonely anymore.