Copyright © 2023 by Maura Troy

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Maddie took a deep breath as she walked into the park at the end of her street. This was one of her favorite things about moving back to Candlewood. She didn’t have a lot of downtime from her job at OASIS, bushe did she enjoyed settling into her family home, and taking long walks through the park at the end of her street. The park had long been a haven for her and her brother, Doug, when their father had been in one of his dark moods. Which was fairly often.

But Maddie wasn’t going to think about that on this gorgeous late-summer day. Nor was she going to think about the Iceman tapes, or Ian, or any of the hostile looks she’d been getting from some of the townspeople. Nope. She’d been working damned hard for the last several weeks and refused to let dour thoughts of any kind ruin her few days off.

After her walk, she was looking forward to spending the afternoon with a pitcher of lemonade and going through the stack of home improvement and decorating magazines she’d collected over the last few weeks. Her family home was in definite need of upgrading and she was going to turn it into a cozy, relaxing retreat for herself.

Lost in thoughts of paint swatches and window treatments, Maddie almost didn’t see the two children sitting on a bench near the enclosed dog-run area located near the center of the park. Unlike the other children, who were either inside the enclosed area playing with their dogs, or climbing the nearby jungle gym, or picnicking with their families, these two were alone and clearly dejected.

The boy lifted his head at Maddie’s approach and she realized she knew him. His name was Anthony Magano. He and his family lived on Maddie’s street, and Maddie had chatted with Anthony and his mother, Stella, several times. The other child looked up, and Maddie recognized Chrissy Magano, Anthony’s little sister. Tears rolled down her face and Maddie hurried over. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

Chrissy shook her head but said nothing, instead burying her face into the fur of a little dog sitting between the siblings on the bench. The dog whined a little as it licked Chrissy’s hand, clearly upset by her distress.

“Is your dog sick?” Maddie had noticed them walking the dog over the last two weeks or so but as yet hadn’t had the opportunity to meet the animal.

“No,” Anthony said, his voice quivering, “but our Dad is home and he said we can’t keep him anymore.”

“Why not?”

Anthony shrugged. Maddie didn’t press the issue. She’d met their father, Lorenzo, briefly once or twice. The man was a lazy no-account who cheated on his wife and never seemed to have a job. He disappeared for weeks on end, then would return to his family for a few days before taking off again. Maddie had wondered if she’d been imagining that the kids seemed happier when their father wasn’t around. She didn’t wonder anymore.

“What does your mom say?”

“She works a lot,” Anthony said quietly. “I think she’s too tired to fight with Dad about it.”

“Anthony, can’t we just keep him here at the dog park?” Chrissy said through her tears. “We could wait until everyone else went home and then lock him in. We could leave him food and water and a blanket. Then we could get here early in the morning and take him out with us again. Pleeeeease.”

Anthony shook his head. “That wouldn’t work. What if someone else came and took him? Besides, we’re going back to school soon. We wouldn’t be able to come and get him in the mornings. And he’s just too little to be in the park by himself.” He swiped at his own eyes. “We’re gonna have to take him to the pound. He’s a great dog. Someone nice will take him home.”

Chrissy’s weeping turned into full blown sobs. “But we’ll never see him again!”

The dog’s whines increased as he desperately tried to lick both Anthony and Chrissy’s faces.

Maddie’s heart ached. The few times she’d seen the kids with the dog, it had been clear how over-the-moon happy they’d been to have him around. It had reminded her of Major, the shepherd mix she and Doug had when they were kids. That dog was their constant pal and companion. They would have been crushed if they had been forced to get rid of him.

“What’s your dog’s name?” she asked.

“G-genghis Khan,” Chrissy hiccuped.

“Really?” Maddie eyed the animal. He was a small, black and brown terrier mix that couldn’t have weighed more than ten pounds. His wriggly little body and determination to comfort the kids did not bring to mind a ruthless, conquering warrior.

“I tell you what,” Maddie went on, “why don’t you let Genghis Khan stay with me? Then you guys can come and visit him whenever you want. As long as that’s okay with your mother.”

Both children looked at her with wide eyes. “For real?” Anthony asked, a ghost of a smile coming to his lips. “You would keep him for us?”

“Sure. But I work a lot, so I’m going to count on you two to help take care of him. Have we got a deal?”

“Deal!” Anthony hugged the dog. “Did you hear that, Genghis? You’re not going away!”

Chrissy wiped the tears from her face before leaping up from the bench and flinging her arms around Maddie’s waist. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Maddie hugged her back. “You’re welcome. Come on. Let’s show Genghis his new house.”

As they headed out of the park, the children chattered happily, telling Maddie how Genghis had shown up one morning in their back yard. He was thin, dirty, and hungry. They fed him and gave him a bath. Stella drove the dog and the kids to the pound. Genghis had no tags, no microchip, nor had he been reported missing, so Stella said they could keep him as long as they took good care of him.

“I figured since this guy was such a small dog, he could use a big strong name,” Anthony said. “I read about Genghis Khan at the school library last year and it just seemed to fit.”

“That sounds like a good plan to me,” Maddie said as they arrived at her house. She took the leash from Anthony. “Why don’t you run home and get the dog’s food.”

“And we’ll bring his toys,” Chrissy piped up. “He loves his toys.”

“Good idea. What time will your mother be home?”

“She should be home now,” Anthony said.

“Okay. Ask her to call me, please.”

The children hurried down the street and into their house. A few moments later, Stella called and thanked Maddie profusely for helping out her children. “Lorenzo’s being a jerk, but he is their father,” Stella sighed. “I’m still trying to get through to him.”

Maddie held her tongue about Stella’s odds of success on that score. It was really none of her business. They chatted for a few minutes, working out the details for the children to take care of the dog while Maddie was at work. “And I’m sure Mrs. Hunnicutt will pitch in when the kids are at school and I’m on the job. She’s here so often anyway.”

The children came back with all of Genghis’s paraphernalia. It wasn’t much, just his food, a plastic water bowl, and a few little toys. Maddie wasn’t surprised. Stella worked two jobs to make ends meet. Special bowls and lots of extra toys for a dog were not going to be high on her priority list.

In the kitchen, the children helped Maddie clear a little shelf space in her small pantry for the dog food. She found a basket to store the toys, and then got a spare house key from the junk drawer. Anthony put it in his pocket, promising to be extra careful with it.

“Where’s Genghis?” Chrissy said, looking around the kitchen.

As if on cue, Genghis’s feet could be heard running down the hallway. He raced into the kitchen with one of Maddie’s running shoes in his mouth. He could barely keep it from dragging on the floor, but still managed to lead all three of his two-legged pals on a merry chase around the kitchen before relinquishing his prize.

“Sorry about that,” Anthony said. “He likes to steal things sometimes.”

“Good to know,” Maddie chuckled, making a mental note to keep her shoes in a closet. “Why don’t you guys show Genghis his new backyard while I tidy up and make sure to dog-proof things in here.” Chrissy grabbed a ball from the basket and followed Anthony and Genghis outside.

Maddie filled the water dish and placed it in a corner before heading into the living room. Genghis had been busy before he found the shoe. Her magazines had been pulled from the coffee table and strewn about the floor, one of them mangled in the top corner, as if it must have put up some kind of resistance.

She cleaned up the floor and put everything she thought a small, energetic dog might want to “kill” out of his reach, repeating the actions in the other rooms. On the second floor, she just closed all the doors, promising herself to dog-proof them over the next few days.

Apparently the little guy’s a bit of a conquerer after all.




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