This story is by Jennifer Horgan and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Angry voices startle me awake. I cringe, waiting to be hit or kicked.
My eyes fly open and, like every other morning recently, it takes a moment before I recognize my surroundings.
My racing heart slows as I breathe a sigh of relief.
I can’t read the time on the alarm clock, but the direction of the sun shining in through the lace curtains tells me it’s late morning.
I just couldn’t resist going back to bed after seeing Jason off to work.
After bathing as well as I’m able to in my restricted state, I limp to the kitchen for a bite to eat.
My leg feels much better, but the cast itches like crazy.
I hope the doctor removes the damn thing soon.
Jason prepared my breakfast before leaving, as he always does. I try not to eat too quickly; I know now there will be more food later.
After satisfying my hunger, I head for the window seat in the living room. It offers the best view of the front yard.
I enjoy watching birds soaring overhead, squirrels scurrying along tree branches, and people walking down the sidewalk.
Not the cats though; I’ve never liked them.
It seems as if there’s an endless parade of them meandering across people’s lawns or strutting across the street. Where do they all come from? I wish I could just chase them away!
The contrast between the bright-red fire hydrant and the lush green grass of early spring is breathtaking. Although I’ve always experienced difficulty distinguishing colors, I can easily spot the yellow dandelions peppering the lawn.
The warmth of the day combined with my full belly make me drowsy. But even if I’m napping, I know with certainty I’ll hear Jason’s car the moment it pulls into the driveway. His return is all I think about. I love him so much.
I’m happy for the first time in my life. My only wish is that I can stay.
~ ~ ~
By the time I met Jason, I’d hit rock bottom. I had nowhere to live, hadn’t eaten more than a few scraps of food in days, and had no friends or family. I was alone and struggling every single day simply to survive.
It was so cold out it felt as if my bones had frozen and my blood had turned to ice. It was the dead of winter and my sister Sandy and I had been kicked out of the warehouse we’d been squatting in.
After several nights spent sleeping behind a garbage dumpster in an effort to escape the wind and snow, I woke up and Sandy was just… gone.
Had someone abducted her?
Had she been searching for food and gotten lost on her way back?
Or something worse?
Could Sandy have met the same fate as our mother? I hate thinking about it. Mom had been hit by a car a year earlier. By the time Sandy and I found her, she was dead. Not one person offered to help us or even seemed to care.
I watched Jason walk by the dumpster every day for a week before he noticed me. He always wore a hooded winter jacket and a pair of warm-looking boots. I’d never owned boots. Or even a jacket for that matter.
The first time he approached me, my fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. I would have made a run for it if I hadn’t fallen down a flight of stairs the night before and hurt my leg.
Jason introduced himself and asked me questions about my situation, but I didn’t answer. Instead, I cowered and whimpered in fear. I expected him to act nice but then smack me and laugh. So when he took off his coat and wrapped it around my shoulders, I just gazed at him, confused and speechless.
What would he expect in return?
The following day, I didn’t recognize Jason at first and struggled to move away from him when he stopped and knelt beside me. But his soothing voice assured me he was, in fact, the same kind man who had cared enough about a homeless stranger to give me his jacket.
He pulled two breakfast sandwiches out of his pocket and offered me one. I stared at it, not sure what to do. Was he teasing me? Would he pull it back when I reached for it? I tentatively accepted it and scarfed it down, barely tasting it. It was the first real meal I’d had for weeks. While Jason took delicate bites of his own, I hung my head in shame and embarrassment. He didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he pulled the jacket he had given me tight around my shoulders, warming me inside and out. He stood, told me he’d see me again soon, and continued on his way to work.
My leg felt worse the next morning. A lot worse. I was burning up, despite the snow and cold wind.
Jason noticed immediately and hailed a taxi. I didn’t have the energy to protest when he gently picked me up and placed me in the back of the car. He told the driver to take us to the hospital.
The doctor diagnosed me with a fractured bone and an infection. She placed a cast on my leg, prescribed some antibiotics, and told me I’d be fine. That’s when Jason explained I had nowhere to live. As the doctor picked up the phone to call a shelter, Jason stopped her and turned to me. He told me he had lots of room at his house and asked if I’d like to stay with him until my leg had healed.
I gawked at him, so surprised by his proposition that his words didn’t register at first. Was this man, this stranger, really willing to take me in and look after me? Could I have misunderstood?
But Jason meant what he said. In a matter of hours I had moved from behind a garbage bin into a real house.
It wasn’t long before I fell in love with him. I suspected by the look in his eyes he was falling for me too.
A month went by before I got up the courage to sneak into Jason’s room one night.
I just wanted to look at him.
No, I’m lying.
I wanted to lie beside him and feel his arms around me. He looked up from the book he was reading. I felt mortified, surprised he was still awake. Instead of telling me to go away, he patted the opposite side of the bed and invited me to join him.
I’ve slept next to him every night since.
~ ~ ~
The itching underneath my cast wakes me from my doze. I glance out the window and begin to get excited. It’s late afternoon; Jason will return before long.
My hope is that, after I’ve fully recovered, Jason will want to continue our relationship. I can’t imagine my life without him. I pray he feels the same way.
In the beginning, the clear plan was for me to stay temporarily until I’m well enough to take care of myself. But we were mere acquaintances then. We’re so much more now.
Jason is the first person who’s made me feel as if I matter. He’s the first person who hasn’t hurt me. He is the one person I want to spend the rest of my life with.
The minutes seem like hours as I wait for his return.
Finally, I am rewarded by the distinct sound of Jason’s car pulling into the driveway. I welcome him home through the window. He smiles and holds up a container. I recognize the logo as being from the store that sells my favorite food.
My pulse pounds with anticipation as I make my way from the window seat to the front door, eagerly listening to the jingle of Jason’s keys as he unlocks, then opens the door.
“Hey, you! I hope you had a good day!” Jason motions to the bag in his hand. “I brought you a little treat.”
He leans down to accept my kiss of appreciation and embraces me.
“I consider it a celebration,” he tells me. “A housewarming gift, actually.”
A housewarming gift? Could it be? My breath quickens.
Jason looks into my eyes. “I know we had planned that you would live here just until you’re all better, but I want you to stay. I love you and promise to protect and take care of you. I hope you want that too.”
I nuzzle his neck; I kiss his cheek and mouth in response. I’m shaking all over. I want this more than anything!
Jason laughs. “I’ll take that as a yes! Welcome to your forever home!”
Jason reaches into the closet and pulls out my leash. He attaches it to my collar.
“How about a nice, slow walk around the block before supper, Rex?”
I wag my tail in agreement.