This story is by Mellissa Roos and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He marched across the yard with a pail, and an attitude determined to be as quick as possible. The sun was out; the breeze was blowing softly, and the afternoon promised to be great for fishing at the river. Freedom, he thought. The day was almost perfect or would have been if Buster were here. Tommy pushed the thought aside. The only thing that stood in the way of his favorite spot on the riverbank was the list of chores.
“Chores, chores, chores,” he grumbled. “Every day it’s chores.” Tommy hated chores. All he wanted to do was lay in the long grass as the sun set off to the west and fish with his friends. That was his idea of happily ever after.
Seeing his dad emerging from the machine shed, Tommy ran up to him. Maybe he could persuade him to let him go now and do his chores later.
He looked up at his dad and asked, “Mom said I could go fishing now, if it’s okay with you?”
“Did she now?”
Tommy put one hand behind his back and crossed his fingers. “Yes.”
“It’s okay with me, as long as you’ve done your chores.”
“Why do I have to do chores now?”
“Because the animals rely on us. We have responsibilities,” his father replied. “When you’re hungry, you expect to be fed. It’s the same with the animals.”
“I didn’t ask to live on a farm and I don’t want all these dumb animals. I don’t want responsibilities. I only want to be responsible for myself.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. We take care of what’s ours and look out for each other. Someday you’ll understand.”
“I wanna go fishin’ with my friends,” Tommy whined.
A small spike of joy raced through him. “I can?”
“Yes, like I said, as soon as you’ve finished your chores.”
Tommy slumped forward, the pail weighing heavy in his hand.
His father patted him on the head. “The sooner you get started, the sooner you can go.”
“I guess, if I have to?” he asked, still holding out.
“Tommy,” his father said firmly.
“I’m goin’,” he grumbled. “Geez.”
“One more thing. What about that puppy or your sister?”
“What about them?”
“They say dogs are a man’s best friend, and I think you could use one again. Now that old Buster is gone, and so could Maggie. She doesn’t really know how to handle Tucker. You could teach her.”
At the mention of Buster, a pit formed in his stomach, and a pang of longing lodged in his heart. He had that once. Tommy didn’t need another four-legged best friend. Why should he get attached to a dog if they were just going to up and die, anyway? Leaving him alone all over again. No, he didn’t need another one. Especially a dumb puppy that was too small to do anything. Forcing Buster out of his mind, he locked his heart and concentrated on going fishing.
Spotting his little sister with the puppy on the tire swing, he had an idea. Tommy made a beeline for the old oak tree.
“Maggie!” he called, grabbing the rope of the tire swing to slow it. “Go gather the eggs.”
“It’s your job,” she said. “I was swinging with Tucker. Only he won’t stay on my lap.”
He ignored the puppy as it lunged for him, eager for his attention. “Because . . .” he hesitated, thinking quickly. “Mom said too. Here’s the bucket.” Tommy thrust it at her.
“I don’t wanna. The chickens are mean.” Maggie’s eyes watered. “They flap their wings and peck at me.”
“Don’t be such a baby. Just go in, stick your hand under the hen, and grab the egg. Simple. Anybody can do it. Even a baby like you.”
Maggie bit her lip to keep from crying. “I’m not a baby!”
“Then prove it.” He held the bucket out, daring her.
Her hand trembled, but she took it. “Why can’t you do it?”
“Because I’m going fishin’.”
“Can I come?” she asked hopefully.
Tommy thought quickly. “If you get the eggs in time.”
“Okay,” she said excitedly.
He pushed the little dog away. “And keep him out of my sight.”
Maggie scooped up Tucker and snuggled him close. “I love you,” she whispered, “and if you help me, you can go fishin’ too.”
Tommy felt a twinge of guilt as he looked down at his little sister but quickly pushed it aside. He had no intention of waiting for her. Without another word, he turned on his heel and ran to the barn to do his other chores.
What normally took him an hour he had done in twenty minutes. Tommy raced out to the shed, grabbed his pole, and strapped it to his bike, determined to leave Maggie and the puppy behind. He was almost out of the yard when he saw the little black lab running towards him, dragging a fishing pole in his mouth.
“Maggie!” he hollered, frustrated. “Come get this dog!”
She ran over and took him. “He wants to go too, and so do I. You promised!”
“You can’t. You’re a baby. Babies need to stay here.”
Maggie stamped her foot in the dirt. “No, I’m not! A baby can’t do this!” She stuck out the bucket filled with eggs.
Surprised, he glanced at her, prepared to keep her from going, but he stopped himself and really looked at her. There was dirt on her face that ran in streaks from where she’d been crying, feathers stuck in her hair and blood on her arm.
“What the heck happened?”
“The chickens chased me like I told you, but Tucker saved me! He chased them away so I could get the eggs.”
“I don’t believe it!”
The little puppy sat between them and wagged his tail.
“We want to go.” Maggie’s bottom lip quivered. “You promised.”
“Tucker really did that?”
Maybe Tucker wasn’t as bad as he’d thought. He studied the little lab in question. Tucker definitely wasn’t Buster, but maybe he could be close. Scooping up Tucker, he placed him in his basket. “Get your bike.”
“Really? You mean it?”
“Yep. A promise is a promise.”
A smile spread across her dirty face. “I’ll be right back.”
The puppy stood on his hind legs with his paws on the wire edge of the basket, stretched out, and licked his hand while his tail wagged fiercely. Tommy had to admit he was pretty cute for a little runt and if he could protect his little sister, maybe, just maybe, there was hope for him yet.
Maggie came pedaling across the yard with a smile as wide as the horizon. Tommy strapped the pole to her bike and jumped on his.
“If we hurry, we can still get there while the fish are bitin’.”
Her eyes were bright, the tears were gone, and love poured off her and the puppy, eager to please.
“Can you keep up?”
He eyed her knowingly and realized today he gained more than a four-legged friend. On bikes, side by side, with a little black lab in the basket, they rode out of the yard. Off toward the setting sun, the river, freedom, and towards their happily ever after.
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