Love

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2002

By Tania Karas, Illustrated by the author

Rebecca loved that dog. If anything happened to it, I think she’d probably convince her mother to sue the vet. She’d say they didn’t give her dog enough care or that they messed up the last time she took her dog for a checkup.

I’m sorry to say that I hated my cousin Rebecca’s dog. I never told her this, but it’s true. From the moment I walked in the door the first time Aunt Jess, Rebecca’s mom, asked me to babysit Rebecca, that dog and I have hated each other. I hated the way it stared at you with a kind of smirk on its face. I hated the way Rebecca let its hair grow in front of its eyes, so that you could never tell if it was looking at you or not.

The dog’s name was Lawyer, named after the job Rebecca’s father used to have before he and her mother got divorced. Aunt Jess complained that he was never home enough, but Rebecca and I didn’t blame her. As he became more successful, though, we began to see less and less of him. He was always rushing from one case to another, one court to the next.

After Rebecca’s parents got divorced, her father went away to college to get a degree in Library Science, and became a librarian at a library in New York. He didn’t want to stay in California because he didn’t want to have to face Rebecca or her mom, or worse, the dog. It would remind him of his past job and past family, and Rebecca’s father just wasn’t strong enough to face his own problems.

Love two girls and a dog

“I have news about my dad! He’s coming back!” said Rebecca, excitedly

Rebecca asked me to come with her to walk Lawyer one day, and I accepted, not wanting to hurt her feelings. I could tell that Lawyer was uncomfortable with me around from the second he saw me. He growled and kept casting glances at me over his shoulder. Somehow Rebecca didn’t notice.

“I have news about my dad! He’s coming back!” said Rebecca, excitedly, the moment we started out down her driveway. Her blue eyes glittered in the sun as the wind ruffled through her chestnut-brown hair, which she inherited from her father. Her blue windbreaker really brought out the blue in her eyes.

“Really? When did he and your mother decide on this?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, I kind of figured it out myself. He sent me a letter for my birthday and at the bottom he said he missed me! Isn’t that great? And so now he’s coming back for me and Lawyer, and my mom is gonna love him again! Isn’t that great, Alice?”

I cringed. “Did he specifically say that he was coming back?” I asked her.

“Oh, Alice, you don’t understand anything!” she said, laughing. “He’s not supposed to say that he’s coming back. It’s supposed to be a surprise!”

“I see,” I said painfully. “And where is he going to stay? I didn’t know your mother forgave him.”

“She didn’t have to. He got another job, Alice. He stopped being a lawyer a long time ago. He’s a library guy now,” said Rebecca, eyes twinkling.

“Rebecca, what if he doesn’t come back? What if he just misses you but doesn’t want to face you or your mom?” Or your dog, I thought to myself. Rebecca’s expression changed to a serious one.

“Alice, you’re not being funny anymore. Stop teasing, because Lawyer and I don’t want to hear it,” she said to me, with a warning tone in her voice.

“I’m not teasing! But honestly, just because he misses you doesn’t mean he will come back. It’s only natural for him to miss a daughter like you, but he may not come back. Do you understand what I’m saying, Becca?” I said to her.

“No, I don’t. He’s my dad, and he’s coming back because he loves me. You’re the one who doesn’t understand!” she shouted. With that, she tugged on Lawyer’s leash, turned around, and sprinted home with the dog at her heels. She tripped over her untied shoelaces, but luckily she didn’t fall. Slowly I began walking to my house, which was only two blocks away.

When I got home, I called my mom at work and asked her what we needed from the grocery store. She got pretty annoyed at me for bothering her, because as soon as I called I realized that the list was right next to the phone. I grabbed the list and left. As I was walking to the store, I stopped by Rebecca’s house. If there’s one good thing about living in a small town, it’s that everything is real close to everything else.

Aunt Jess told me that Rebecca was not in the mood for visitors, so I just followed her into the kitchen. “Do you know what’s up with Becca, hon?” she asked me. She turned on the tap for the sink and started scrubbing away at a pan. I sat down at the table and traced my finger over the hand-stitched tablecloth. It’s about two hundred years old, passed down to the oldest daughter in each generation since my great-great-great-grandparents came to America from Ireland.

“Well, she thinks Uncle George is coming back,” I said.

Aunt Jess’s hand slammed down on the counter at the mention of his name. “What?” she whispered. She spun around and faced me.

“See, Uncle George sent Rebecca a birthday card and said that he missed her, and now she thinks that he’s coming back for her,” I said, not daring to look at Aunt Jess in the eyes. She turned off the water and sunk into a chair, holding her forehead in her hands. I think I saw a tear roll down her face, but I wasn’t sure. “She doesn’t deserve this,” Aunt Jess said softly. “Rebecca deserves two parents in the same house, not one. I wish he’d come back and face his own problems. He could have just changed his hours on the job. It would have been that simple. But he decided to get up and leave.”

I remembered that after Uncle George left, Aunt Jess wouldn’t speak to anyone for nearly three weeks. She doesn’t like to talk about her troubles or be comforted. It seems to run in the family, because I don’t like it when people get all sympathetic either.

“Do you want me to leave you alone?” I asked her carefully.

She nodded slightly but didn’t look up. “Thanks for telling me, hon,” she said quietly. I let myself out and left for Lucinda’s, the local grocery store.

When I got back from Lucinda’s, my mom was home, waiting for me. While sorting out the five bags of food I had brought home, I told Mom about what had happened today with Rebecca. She frowned when I told her Rebecca had gotten mad and left me.

“Alice, sometimes you push things too far. If she told you to stop, you should have stopped. Or you should have at least changed the subject. You need to think before acting, Alice,” my mother said. That’s how she typically is after having a rough day at work. Always finding fault with everyone.

We ate dinner as soon as my dad came home, but didn’t mention Uncle George for the rest of the night. I tried avoiding Rebecca for a few days, in case she was still mad at me. About a week later, Aunt Jess invited my parents and me over for dinner. She didn’t seem too happy about it, though.

When we got to Rebecca’s house, we had a huge shock. The man who answered the door was the one and only Uncle George, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly five years. This was the same Uncle George who wouldn’t face his own problems, who never called and only wrote on Rebecca’s birthdays.

Boy, was I stunned. Lawyer seemed pretty uncomfortable too because he kept sniffing at Uncle George suspiciously all throughout dinner. No one spoke except for Rebecca, who was as happy as a flower on a rainy day. She chattered to no one in particular about her velvet green dress, her brand new patent-leather shoes, and a variety of other topics. After dinner Aunt Jess asked Rebecca and me to go upstairs to Rebecca’s room.

“What did I tell you, Alice? He came back! I knew he would! I always did know it!” she said happily. She began talking to Lawyer, who was giving me funny looks every few seconds as usual. The night flew by, and before I knew it my mother came into Rebecca’s bedroom and told me that it was time to go. As we walked out to our car, I saw Uncle George get into his car to leave too.

Rebecca ran outside to her father. “Daddy, where are you going?” she asked. He rolled down the window and stroked her cheek, softly speaking to her. Rebecca began crying and yelling, but he rolled the window back up. Lawyer ran out of the house, growling and barking. Then Uncle George pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Rebecca collapsed onto the cement and let out a hideous scream into the night. Aunt Jess watched her from the window, and I was certain I saw tears this time.

Once we got home, I began crying quietly. This was a little too much for me. I have never seen anything as scary as what I just saw. I could hardly fall asleep because the vision of Rebecca falling into a heap on the pavement kept nagging and haunting me. I refused to close my eyes because when they were closed I could see Rebecca even more vividly in my mind.

I got out of bed and went into my parents’ room. Apparently they couldn’t sleep either, so we all let it out and discussed what had happened. They told me that Uncle George couldn’t stand being away from his daughter anymore. He wanted to take Rebecca away, but Aunt Jess wouldn’t let him.

The next time Aunt Jess called, about three or four days later, my mother was in the shower and my father was watching football on television. That left me to answer the phone. Aunt Jess was in tears and I could hardly understand what she was saying. She was sobbing uncontrollably and wouldn’t pause long enough for me to ask what was going on. From what I could understand, I heard that Uncle George had just robbed a bank vault and had gotten away with a huge amount of money, and police were looking for him.

I was speechless. This was his way of getting back at Aunt Jess for not letting him have Rebecca. Uncle George had been on the loose for about five hours, and there were police looking for him everywhere. I put down the phone and yelled for my dad to come into the kitchen. I put him on the phone with Aunt Jess, and he got all quiet while she explained it to him.

Love standing in the kitchen

After a few minutes he hung up the phone and called my mother into the kitchen

My father’s face got pale and his knuckles turned ghost-white as he listened to Aunt Jess talk through sobs. After a few minutes he hung up the phone and called my mother into the kitchen. She came in with her bathrobe and a towel around her head. She sensed that something was wrong from the second she walked in. My dad looked up and said, “Get ready. We’re going to Jess’s house.”

Once we got to Aunt Jess and Rebecca’s house, we saw what a wreck Aunt Jess was. She was crying and mumbling to herself, hugging Rebecca and crying into her hair, walking around in circles with the telephone in her hand. Lawyer was growling and barking because of how weird she was acting. My parents led her into the living room, a room Rebecca and I were not allowed into. So Rebecca led Lawyer and me up to her room and slammed the door.

“I hate my mom!” she mumbled to herself. She didn’t even look affected by what her father had done.

“Why?” I asked her, sitting down on her bed. “She didn’t do anything. Your father is the one who . . .”

“Oh, be quiet, Alice. He did it because he was mad at my mom. He was mad because she wouldn’t let me see him or go with him. He’s my father, and he came back because he loved me,” she said. I decided not to argue. After all, what did I know about being a kid with divorced parents? Mine were happily married. She picked up a Barbie doll and stared at it for a minute. She picked up Ken and Skipper and the rest of the dolls and walked over to her dollhouse, which was sitting in the corner of her room waiting to be played in.

“You’re so lucky,” Rebecca said to the Barbie. “You have a nice happy family and sisters and brothers to keep you company. Your parents aren’t divorced. And you don’t have a mean old mother who won’t even let you see your father.” All at once Rebecca started crying, holding the doll to her chest. Lawyer came and sat next to her, and she squeezed him as if he was the only one left who loved her.

For once I didn’t say anything. I then heard the phone ring downstairs. After a few minutes I heard Aunt Jess scream. I ran downstairs to see what was going on. Aunt Jess threw the phone to the ground and stopped crying. Her expression changed to an angry one. “He was tracked down and arrested,” she said, not facing any of us.

Rebecca walked into the kitchen with Lawyer and saw her mother. She looked at all of our faces, one by one. She had heard what had happened. “He wanted me to go with him,” she said to no one in particular. Lawyer finally noticed that something was wrong and began whimpering.

Aunt Jess turned and stared out the window for a long time after that. My parents, Rebecca and I didn’t move for fifteen whole minutes. Those were some of the longest fifteen minutes I’d ever experienced. Lawyer nudged Rebecca and poked her with his nose, but she didn’t even move. He bared his teeth at me, but I didn’t care. Finally Aunt Jess turned back around and looked at Rebecca right in the eyes.

“I know you hate me. I kind of hate myself too. I should have let you go with him for ice cream or something. It would have been the least I could do. A fine man like him would take good care of his daughter, and I’m sorry I didn’t let you go with him.”

Rebecca grinned and ran to her mother with open arms. “Mom, when he comes back, I’m still going to stay with you. If he wants me he’ll just have to move here.”

My big mouth opened again before I could stop it and I asked, “How do you know he’s coming back?”

Rebecca spun around and looked at the ceiling. She rocked back and forth on her feet. She absently twisted a piece of hair around her finger and finally said, “He’s my father, and he’s going to come back . . . because he loves me.”

Love Tania Karas

Tania Karas, 12
Palos Park, Illinois

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