***this text is from the uncorrected proof and is not final***
I scramble through Hattie’s blankets, searching for the used-to-be bear. His legs are long gone. But he’s still got an arm and a head with two button eyes. And most important of all, he’s always here when I need him—just like Hattie. They’re both always up for a loving snuggle or a thrilling game of keep-away.
Which I am about to win.
My expert nose leads me under the pillow . . . chomp!
I leap off the bed and tear around the room. Hattie’s hot on my tail, waving a towel. She is the best short human ever, even if she’s no match for a Jack Russell Terrier like me.
“Fenway!” she cries.
Ha! I dive behind the chair, my sides barely heaving. There’s no way she can get me!
Hattie’s bushy head appears. Her face is splattered with the wonderful mud we romped through on our walk. “Fenn-waay,” she coaxes, her voice too sweet to be real.
Like I’d fall for that act. She’s out to win!
Well, so am I, Hattie!
Her fingers brush my leg, but I’m already on the move. I shoot out onto the rug. I’m headed for the door when—
Whoa! Everything goes black. And there’s a towel over my head.
Really, Hattie? Is this the best you’ve got?
One wiggle, two shakes, and the drape-y towel falls to the floor. Whoopee! I’m free again!
For the moment. I spin around, ready to take off, but find myself nose-to-nose with Hattie. And pinned between her legs.
Her eyes widen in victory. I gaze up at my short human’s dirt-smudged face, so happy, so full of love. She’s won. I’ve lost. Game over.
The used-to-be bear falls to the floor. There’s only one thing left to do.
I leap into Hattie’s outstretched arms. If the game’s got to end, it might as well be on my terms. I sigh happily into her wonderful scent of mint and vanilla. And dirt.
“Aw, Fenway,” she coos, nuzzling my neck. She sets me on the rug and rubs the towel over my mud-caked fur.
Aaaaah, that’s the spot! I roll onto my back, my hind leg kicking with delight.
Hattie wipes my brown paw, then my white paw. A Long Time Ago, I convinced her that towel rubs are way better than baths. For us both! All it took was some kicking and thrashing—and maybe a lot of splashing, too. But what can I say? She learned her lesson well.
Hattie’s still toweling me off when Food Lady’s voice booms up the stairs.
“Uh-oh.” Hattie glances at her own mud-splattered legs. She grabs the dirty towel and rushes into the hall. I follow her as far as the Bathtub Room.
“Uh-oh” is right! From the safety of the doorway, I hear water whooshing into the sink. Pretty soon, white soapy lather coats Hattie’s hands and face. Her knees, too.
I wince. Even from here, I can smell her great muddy scent washing away. Then the odor of perfume-y flowers hits my nose. Eeeee-yew! And worse than that, Hattie’s got an evil gleam in her eye. And a pile of suds in her hand.
My ears droop with worry. She’s not getting any ideas, is she?
Hattie bends over. She purses her lips like she’s about to blow those yucky suds at me. “Fenn-waay . . . oh, Fenn-waay,” she taunts.
I step back, my hackles raised in alarm. “Oh no, you don’t!”
Hattie busts into a fit of giggles. She blows the suds harmlessly into the sink.
I drop down in grateful relief. Of course, it was just a trick. Hattie’s always looking out for me. How could I expect anything else?
Food Lady’s voice booms up the stairs again. Hattie quickly dries her face and hands and knees. She looks me over, then dashes back to her room.
I spring up and trot after her.
Even though it’s not bedtime, she grabs my hairbrush. She scoops me up and hastily brushes my matted fur. “Best buddies, best buddies,” she sings.
I croon along, howling my own version of our special song. “Best buddies, best buddies,” I yowl.
I climb onto her shoulder as she gives my coat a few last strokes. I’m so content, it takes me a moment to pick up a strange sound drifting in from the window. Chip-chip-chip!
My ears perk up. I peer into the Dog Park below, searching for signs of trouble.
No squirrel-y intruders scurrying along the fence. No trespassers clattering up the giant tree in the back or poking their rodent-y faces out of Hattie’s little house up in the leafy branches.
The grass is calm and quiet, too. The ball Fetch Man threw for me after lunch is right where I left it. The Friend Gate that leads to the Dog Park next door is shut tight. And Food Lady’s vegetable patch is as lush and tangle-y as it was this morning.
I scan the bushes on the other side of the Dog Park. My ears prick up. Even from way up here, I can detect rustling and humming. And wait—what’s that? Something dives under a low branch. A little tail?
I try to get a better look, but right then Hattie decides it’s time to go. She hurries over to the dresser and sets the brush on top. I shoot out of her arms, chasing her into the hall.
We fly down the stairs toward the smell of hamburgers. Hooray! Hooray! I love hamburgers! My dripping tongue can already taste them.
In the Eating Place, Fetch Man and Food Lady are at the table in their usual spots. I perch beside Hattie’s chair, sniffing the delicious hamburger and ear of corn on her plate.
As soon as Hattie sits down, Fetch Man clears his throat. As he speaks, I catch a couple of words that I know—“Nana” and “here.” Nana? Here?
My tail swishes with excitement. I love Nana!
Nana’s the lady human who came and played with us. Back when we lived in our apartment way-up-high above the honking cars and snorting buses. She slept with me and Hattie when Fetch Man and Food Lady were gone. Nana!
I can still taste the yummy treats she gave me. I can see her chasing me in the Dog Park. I can hear her cooing at me in her kind voice. Ah, Nana!
Is she coming again?
Maybe so. Fetch Man says “Nana” a lot of times, his voice energetic and eager, like he can’t wait to go outside and play fetch.
Food Lady speaks in a happy voice, too. But she also sounds bossy, like there’s a big job to do.
Hattie smiles and nods. She looks happy. But she smells worried.
And she’s hardly touching her scrumptious food. Something is wrong. Hattie loves Nana as much as I do. What is she worried about?
As soon as I’ve munched my yummy kibble and the dishes start clanking in the sink, Hattie heads back upstairs. I’m right on her heels.
When we get to her room, she glances over her shoulder. She lets out a breath, like she’s relieved nobody’s there. Is she glad nobody’s playing chase with us?
Hattie quietly closes the door. She puts her fingers to her lips, shooting me a look of warning.
Whoa. Something important is about to happen!
I follow her to the closet, where she sinks onto the floor. She rummages through shoes and boots and toys. Reaching way in the back, she digs out a big box and wheels it into the room. She gazes at it, frozen. “Hattie-the-Grrate,” she whispers.
I cock my head. I’ve heard those words before. Only they didn’t sound miserable when Nana said them. In Nana’s voice, they sounded exciting.
Hattie stares at the box with wide eyes, like it’s a bone she dug up. But she doesn’t smell happy.
My tail rises with curiosity. My nose gets busy sniffing. That box’s scent is awfully interesting. And familiar somehow. Is Hattie worried about what’s inside this box?
Cross-legged on the floor, Hattie stares at the box while I give it a thorough sniffing. Its scents are old and new at the same time. And also like metal and plastic. It’s a cube, at least twice as tall as me, with wheels on the bottom. The sides are black, and the edges are shiny and metallic. The lid has hinges on one end and a buckle on the other. It’s not like any box I’ve ever met. Talk about intriguing!
What was this box doing in the back of Hattie’s closet? And more importantly, what is it?
Hattie’s face scrunches. She doesn’t seem to know what to do with this box.
So why’d she take it out of the closet?
I can’t stand the suspense. I leap into her lap. “Great news, Hattie!” I bark. “That box could have something wonderful inside. Like sausages! Let’s open it!”
“Shhh,” she says, frowning, like opening the box is the last thing she wants to do. But she clearly wants me to be happy, because she fiddles with the buckle and lifts the lid—creeeak!
My tail thumps with anticipation. I stretch way up, pawing the box, my nose sniffing feverishly. The smells are tantalizing! I need to see what’s inside!
I spring onto the chair and peer down into the box. Wowee! My eyes don’t know where to look first.
Hattie starts rummaging through silky cloth . . . a tall hat . . . a bunch of fake flowers . . . and she’s not acting the least bit surprised. This stuff must be what she was expecting to find.
Hattie digs deeper and pulls out a flow-y cape, a skinny black stick, and a clear plastic box with a rattle-y ball inside.
I fly off the chair to investigate the growing pile of stuff on the floor. Everything smells new, like toys that haven’t been played with. Yet at the same time, their aroma is awfully familiar.
The scents take me back to a lovely memory. Nana at our apartment with a box like this one. Nana in the flow-y cape, tapping the tall hat with the stick. Nana’s fist, holding fake flowers.
Every sniff reminds me of that wonderful time. Hattie gaping in astonishment. Hattie clapping and cheering. Hattie clinging to Nana’s side, full of admiration.
And best of all, I remember me and Nana playing tug-of-war with those silky scarves! Sniff . . . sniff . . .
licorice, coffee, just the right amount of cherry—Nana!
This box smells like Nana!
It’s definitely the same one she brought. Why didn’t she take it when she left? And why haven’t we seen it until now?
Hattie continues emptying the box, tossing metal rings and silky scarves onto the floor. My nose can hardly keep up with all the amazing things to smell.
Hattie waves the skinny stick through the air. She gazes at it, her eyes wide and full of wonder. It doesn’t look like a stick from the ground. I scamper over for a better sniff.
But as soon as I get close, Hattie whisks it out of my reach. She plucks a scarf off the floor and stuffs one end into her fist, the rest of it snaking across the floor.
My tail twirls with excitement. I want that stick, but who can resist a game of tug-of-war? Especially with a silky scarf that’s long and oh-so-bitable! Chomp!
My teeth sink into one end of the scarf. I dig in my hind legs and pull, tugging with all my might . . .
And whoa! I skid and stumble backward, crashing into the chair. The scarf flies out of Hattie’s hand, puddling in front of me.
“FEN-way!” Hattie frowns, waggling the stick. “Drop it!”
I unclench my jaws, my end of the scarf falling to the floor. It’s pretty clear why she’s unhappy. That game of tug-of-war was no fun at all. But only because she didn’t even try.
She grabs the scarf, then shoots me a stern look. “Wait,” she commands.
I plop down on my bum, tilting my head expectantly. She probably wants to play another game. I sure hope treats are involved!
Hattie makes another fist and once again starts stuffing the scarf inside her hand. She pokes and pokes until it completely disappears. “Watch,” she says, tapping her fist with the stick.
An invitation if ever I saw one! I romp onto her knee, my jaws ready to nab that stick.
“Ab-ra-ca—no!” Hattie shouts. “Fenway, stay!” She waves it out of my reach.
“No fair!” I back into her arm, and the silky scarf slides out of her hand. Aha! I sink my teeth into it, but before I can take off, Hattie grabs me by the collar.
“FEN-way,” she scolds.
I let the scarf drop. “What’s the matter?” I bark. “Don’t you want to play?”
She picks up the slobbery scarf, her eyes bulging as she studies tiny rips in the fabric. With a loud sigh, she hangs her head and tosses the stick onto the floor. “Hattie-the-Grrate,” she mutters, sounding miserable.
I nuzzle against her leg. “Don’t worry, Hattie. We can play some other game.”
She lifts me into a hug. What can I say? Hattie’s always up for snuggling—hey! Plop!
Suddenly, I’m inside the Nana-box. Thud!
The lid shuts and I’m plunged into blackness. And trapped!
I paw furiously at the box. “What’s the meaning of this?” I yelp. I jump as high as I can, but the lid won’t budge.
I fall back down. Yikes! This box is dark and lonely. And scary. Clearly, the Nana-box is no place for a dog. I have to escape!
“Hattie, help!” I whine. “I’m stuck and I can’t get out!” Isn’t Hattie right outside the box? Why isn’t she rescuing me?
She would help if she could. Maybe she can’t hear me. I bark louder. “Get me out of here!” I’m about to try leaping again, when I hear a curious sound. I cock my head and concentrate.
Is that Hattie? Who is she shushing? It couldn’t be me. I’m the one she needs to hear! Tap! Tap! Tap!
I listen some more.
Hattie’s voice! She is
right outside. I knew she’d come save me! “Hattie, it’s me! Help! I’m in the box!” I scratch with all my might. Snap!
The buckle opens. Creeeak!
The lid lifts up. Whew! It worked! She finally heard me!
I leap into her loving arms. The best place to be!
Panting with wild relief, I slobber her cheeks. “Thank you . . . Hattie . . . I knew you’d . . . come through!”
“Aw, Fenway,” she sighs, patting my head. Clearly, she feels bad for my suffering. More than anything else, she wants me to be happy.
Copyright © 2017 by Victoria J. Coe. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.