Page 1



Ten Years Old

What a stupid dog.

I’d spent years trying to talk my parents into letting me have a pet, but they didn’t think I was old enough to care for an animal. I promised them I could handle it even though I couldn’t.

Nobody told me puppies never shut up or listened.

Dad said it was pretty much the same as having a kid—because I kind of never shut up or listened either. “But the love is worth it,” he’d say whenever I complained about the new family member being bad. “It’s always worth it.”

“Always and always,” Ma would agree.

The word “always” seemed a bit like a lie because the stupid dog was annoying me so much.

It was past my bedtime, but I wanted to finish the sunset painting I’d been working on. Ma taught me a new technique using watercolors, and I knew I could become really good if I stayed up late practicing.

Tucker kept whimpering as I was trying to add some orange to the picture. He nudged at my leg, and then knocked over my water cup, spilling it all over.

“Argh!” I groaned, going to get a towel from the bathroom to clean up the mess.

Stupid dog.

When I came back to my bedroom, there Tucker was, peeing in the corner of my room.

“Tucker, no!”

I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to the backdoor of the house as he lowered his ears.

“Tucker, come on!” I grumbled, trying to get the dog to go outside to use the bathroom in the rain. He wouldn’t budge, not a lick. Even though he was a big black lab, he was pretty much still a baby at only four months old. Plus, he was afraid of thunder and lightning.

“Go!” I barked at him, yawning because it was already past my bedtime. Plus, I wanted to finish the sunset painting before morning so I could show Ma. She was going to be so proud of me.

One day, I’d be able to paint as good as her—if only that dog would leave me alone!

Tucker whimpered and tried to wrap behind my legs. “Come on, Tuck! You’re being a big baby.”

I tried to push him into the backyard, but he wouldn’t let me. The water slammed against the patio, and when a loud clap of thunder roared, Tucker booked it past me and raced straight into the living room.

“Ugh,” I groaned, slapping my hand against my face as I followed him. The closer I grew, the more nervous I got as I heard Ma and Dad arguing in the living room. They’d been arguing a lot lately, but whenever I walked into the room, they pretended they were happy.

I knew they weren’t, though, because Dad didn’t smile as much as he used to, and Ma always had to wipe away tears whenever she saw me. Sometimes, I’d walk in on her, and she would be crying so hard that she couldn’t even talk. I’d try to help her, but she had a hard time taking each breath.

Dad told me they were panic attacks, but I still didn’t understand why Ma was having them. She had nothing to panic about; Dad and I would always take care of her.

I hated that more than anything—I hated when Ma was so sad that she couldn’t breathe.

Over time, I’d learned to just hold her until the panic passed. Then we’d just sit and breathe together.

Sometimes, it took a while.

Other times, it took even longer than that.

I snuck into the room quietly and sat on the floor behind the couch as I listened to my parents fight. Tucker moved over to me and climbed into my lap, still trembling from the rainstorm. Or maybe he was afraid of their shouting.

Stupid dog.

I wrapped my arms around him because even though he was a stupid dog, he was mine. If Tucker was scared, I’d take care of him.

My stomach hurt as I listened to Dad beg Ma not to go.

Go? Where would she go?

“You can’t leave, Hannah,” Dad said, his voice sounding so tired. “You can’t just walk away from your family.”

Ma sighed, and it sounded like she was crying, too. Just breathe, Ma. “We can’t keep doing this, Mike. We can’t keep going in this circle. I just…”

“Say it,” he whispered. “Just say it.”

She sniffled. “I don’t love you anymore.”

I saw Dad stumble back a bit, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. I ain’t ever seen Dad cry, but that night, he wiped tears from his eyes.

How couldn’t Ma love him anymore?

He was my best friend.

They both were.

“I’m so sorry, Mike. I just can’t do this anymore… I can’t keep lying to myself and my family.”

“You sure use the word family loosely nowadays.”