Reina took a step back, aimed carefully, and fired the basketball. It was the middle of winter. Her thermometer informed her that it was only forty-five degrees outside, so she had on sweatpants and a sweatshirt. She was alone, for it was only eight o’clock in the morning. She always shot baskets in the morning because she didn’t want to be at the basketball court, caught up in the afternoon crowd.
The ball hit the rim with a clang and, bouncing off of the backboard, circled into the net and out the bottom. Reina remembered when she had gotten it. She had received the ball last year as a Christmas present from her Uncle Troy. He had taught her how to use it, and she had loved the game ever since.
She recognized the bark of a dog and froze.
The dog bounded up to her. He was small, with long floppy ears and short brown fur. He sniffed her feet and jumped up on his hind legs. Reina screamed. She looked around, trying to find his owner, but could see no one. She gave up finally and determined to scare the dog away.
“Stop it!” she snapped harshly. “You leave me alone, you worthless fur ball!”
Surprised, the dog yelped and fled.
Reina took a deep breath and pursed her lips. She was afraid of dogs, as she had been since she was four years old, when a dog had bounded up to her. The dog was so large that she could have ridden it. It had knocked her over, and she had lain there, stunned, until the owner’s call had beckoned the beast away from her. Now she froze whenever a dog barked and, even though she knew that the large dog hadn’t meant to scare her, her troublesome fear could not be helped.
Panting, she sat down on a bench to catch her breath. When she looked at her watch, which revealed that it was nine o’clock, she jumped. Her breakfast would likely be cold by the time she walked across the street to her house and showered. Hastily, she grabbed her worn basketball and strolled along the path that led to the street, which was the only obstacle that stood between her house and the basketball court.
The rain came in a light sprinkle, so she walked faster. She thought about Christmas. It was coming up soon, in a couple of days. Reina didn’t know which she liked better, Christmas Eve or the holiday itself. On Christmas Eve, her family would huddle around the Christmas tree and sing carols, hugging and laughing. Then they would decide to help an “unfortunate soul.”
They helped someone in need every year. Whether it was sending cookies to the homeless shelter or making cards for sick children, they always had fun with their projects. They had a warm feeling, knowing that they were helping people who couldn’t help themselves.
As soon as she reached her front door, Reina kicked off her shoes and tore off her clothes, racing to the bathroom. After her shower, she dried and dressed herself before following her nose into the kitchen where she smelled bacon frying.
“Good morning, Papa,” Reina greeted her father, who sat at the table, his nose in the morning newspaper.
He glanced up. “Oh, good morning,” he returned with a nod. She sat down and devoured her bacon and eggs, washing it down with a glass of orange juice. Because it was winter break, she didn’t have to go to school, so she read in her bedroom awhile before her friend Allison came over. She ate a meatball sandwich for lunch and baked Christmas cookies for her neighbors. After dinner, she was overcome with exhaustion, so she curled up in her comfortable bed and fell asleep.
She applied a similar schedule for the next few days. Reina saw the same short brown dog almost every day, and the sight of him somehow eased her fears. She was never open to him, although by then she’d realized that his owner, if he had one at all, wasn’t coming back anytime soon. He got dirtier and dirtier, and it was soon obvious that he didn’t have a home.
Christmas Eve finally arrived. Reina and her seven-year-old brother, Evan, hung up stockings, and then they all settled comfortably around the Christmas tree. They sang carols while their father strummed his guitar, producing cheerful music. Then they opened a few presents, and the conversation turned to their annual charity project of helping an “unfortunate soul.”
Everybody was into it except Reina, whose thoughts wandered. However, when she heard the sound of a familiar whimper waft through the open window, an idea snapped her head out of the clouds.
Evan was just saying, “Maybe we should collect old books for the homeless shelter…”
“No! I want to do something different this year. We’ll still do something for an unfortunate soul, but who says that soul can’t be an animal?”
“Hmmm…” their mother said, “that’s not a bad idea.”
“We could raise money for the animal shelter,” their father suggested.
Reina stood up and cleared her throat. “I know how we can help an unfortunate animal,” she proclaimed, “without leaving this house.”
Questioning looks were cast her way.
“Wait right here,” she instructed, dashing out the door.
She followed the sound of a panting dog out to the trash bins. “Here, boy,” she called.
When the dog saw her, he crouched down low.
“Come on, boy.” Reina slowly came towards him, her arms outstretched. He cowered into the corner of the wooden fence. She sighed, wishing she hadn’t acted so mean the first time he had come up to her. What does he want? she wondered.
Then he looked up at her with big, round eyes, and she suddenly knew. He only wanted one thing. He wanted to be loved. Reina’s face softened. “Don’t worry,” she soothed, “you come with me now.” She walked to the door, and he followed.
When Reina swung open the door, her family had forgotten her departure, and they were talking amongst themselves. But they looked up. The dog leaped out from behind her.
“Well, you see,” she began, “I found him a couple days ago. He was all dirty, and… I kept waiting for his owner to come and take him home. But he didn’t have an owner or a home, and I couldn’t stand for him to be all alone… so… I thought he could live with us.”
Silence filled the room. Then Evan blurted out, “I thought you were afraid of dogs, Reina.”
“No!” Reina cried loudly. “Well... maybe,” she admitted, “but not anymore.”
“Can we keep him?” Evan asked.
“I think that’s for your mother to decide,” their father announced.
All eyes turned to her. Even the dog, who had been wagging his tail excitedly, became still, as if he sensed the importance of the moment to come. Reina’s mother looked first at her family, then at the dog. Finally, she said, “Well, if you two are willing to take care of him, I don’t see any harm in it.” She grinned. “Besides, that would be a nice way to change the future of this unfortunate soul, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah!” Reina and Evan exclaimed in unison, while the dog jumped onto their mother’s lap, spreading mud all over her new dress.
“Oh my…” she said. “Well, it can come out.” She laughed, and soon the rest of the family joined in.
“We’ll call him Lucky,” Reina proposed, “because of how lucky he is to come all this way and find the home he yearned for.”