Hotel for Dogs, p.1Lois Duncan
BY LOIS DUNCAN
In memory of those four-legged members of our
family who are now romping happily in Dog
Heaven — Ginger, Rascal, Mischief, Kelly,
Killer, Scooter, Trixie, Pyrite, and Silver.
Also by Lois Duncan
About the Author
The house was white and square and too small and too perfect.
Bruce studied it from the car window. “Do you suppose there’s really room for all of us?” he asked skeptically.
“It looks smug,” Andi said. “It has a stuck-up look, as though it thinks it’s too good for ordinary people. Even the grass looks fake. I bet it’s made of plastic and comes from Home Depot.”
“Andi, that is enough!” Mr. Walker pulled the car into the driveway and brought it to a stop, but he did not turn off the motor. “You have been acting this way ever since we left New Mexico. We’re here now, and in another minute you’re going to meet Aunt Alice. I don’t want one more unpleasant remark — not one.”
“Just remember how lucky we are, dear,” Mrs. Walker said. “Nobody wants to rent to a family that may only be living in a town for a short time. If Dad’s aunt didn’t live here and hadn’t invited us to stay with her, we might have had to stay behind. You wouldn’t have wanted that, would you?”
“Yes,” Andi muttered, but she said it under her breath. She did not want to push her luck too far. Besides, she knew she was being unfair and was a little ashamed of herself. The two-story white house in front of them was a perfectly nice place. Actually, some people might have preferred it to the sprawling old adobe they had left behind.
The truth of it was, it was not the house itself that she resented. It was the fact that Bebe would not be allowed to live in it with them.
Until she had discovered that, she had been almost as excited about the thought of the move as Bruce was. Their father’s assignment to a new branch of his company meant a big promotion, and they were proud of him and pleased that he was going to Elmwood, New Jersey, for a training program. New people, new experiences, a car trip all the way across the country — how could they not have been delighted about those things!
And then their mother had broken the news. She had done it in what Andi thought was a very sneaky way, remarking casually in the middle of packing, “I talked to the Arquettes about keeping Bebe while we’re in Elmwood. They say they’ll be glad to have her.”
“What do you mean?” Andi asked in bewilderment. “Why would they keep Bebe?”
“We won’t be able to take her east with us, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Walker had said. “Your father’s aunt Alice is terribly allergic to dogs.”
“We can’t take Bebe!” Andi had stared at her mother incredulously. Surely she must be joking! Still, this was hardly the sort of thing you joked about. “Bebe’s part of our family!”
“She’s only a dachshund,” Bruce remarked. He was bent over his suitcase, trying to arrange his camera equipment so that nothing would get broken. “That’s hardly even a dog. It’s more like a noodle.”
“It’s dog enough for people who are allergic to animals,” Mrs. Walker said. “I’m sorry, Andi. I know how you feel, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Bebe will have a fine time at the Arquettes’. Holly and her brothers will take good care of her.”
“No way! I won’t go without her!” Andi had run to Bebe, who was watching all the excitement with interest, and snatched her up in her arms. “If Bebe stays, I will, too!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” her mother had said firmly. “As soon as Dad is through with his training and we know where he’ll be working, we’ll find a place of our own and send for Bebe. I’ll be as glad to see that day come as you will. It wasn’t easy giving up my teaching position and not being able to apply for a job somewhere else, because we don’t know where we’re going to end up living.”
“I won’t go without you, Bebe!” Andi had cried miserably, but, of course, when the time came, she did. When you’re ten years old, you go where your parents take you.
Now Mr. Walker turned off the engine and opened the car door.
“Hop out,” he said. “And no more sulking. Put on a pleasant face to meet Aunt Alice.”
It was at that moment that the door of the house flew open and Aunt Alice herself came rushing out to greet them. Bruce was the first out of the car, and so he was the one Aunt Alice grabbed first.
“So this is my darling great-nephew!” she cried, clutching him to her. “I haven’t seen you since you were a baby, and here you are, almost grown up!”
Bruce, who was actually rather small for his age and embarrassed about it, said, “Hello, Aunt Alice,” and tried to pretend he hadn’t heard.
Aunt Alice hugged and kissed Mr. and Mrs. Walker next and then fluttered over to Andi.
“And this is sweet little Andrea, who writes such adorable poetry! Your mother sent me one of your dear poems last Christmas!”
This time it was Mrs. Walker who looked embarrassed, because she knew that Andi did not like outsiders to read her poetry, and she had not told her that she had sent a poem to Aunt Alice.
Andi scowled and let Aunt Alice hug her, but she did not hug back.
The inside of the house was just as perfect as the outside. It was so perfect, in fact, that there didn’t seem to be any place to sit down that wouldn’t get dirty if you touched it.
Mrs. Walker glanced hastily around at the white carpets and lemon-colored sofa and then at the children, who were mussed and grubby from long hours of travel.
“Wouldn’t you two like to go outside and explore?” she asked them.
“This is a lovely neighborhood for children,” Aunt Alice said. “My neighbors, the Gordons, have a boy just about Bruce’s age.”
“Do they live in the brown house?” Bruce asked with interest. He had noticed the house as they drove past it and had liked the way it was set off by itself and overgrown with trees and bushes. The grass at that house had not looked fake at all.
“Goodness, no!” Aunt Alice exclaimed. “That old place down by the end of the street? That eyesore has been up for sale for six months now and nobody even stops to look at it. No, the Gordons live right next door in that lovely big house with the garden. Jerry’s very popular. There’s always a group of boys playing over there.”
The September sun was waiting for them when they went outside into the front yard. It fell warm across their heads and shoulders, just as it had back in Albuquerque the day they left. The sky curved rich and blue overhead, and there was a faint, far-off smell of autumn in the air.
“Elmwood isn’t really such a bad place,” Bruce said. “That house down the street is cool with those vines and bushes all over it, like a hideout in the middle of a forest. I wish we were going to be living there.”
“Well, we aren’t,” Andi said. She was not ready to see the good side of anything. “We’re going to be living with allergic Aunt Alice and her white rugs, and I’m going to be ‘sweet little Andrea,’ and you’re going to be ‘darling Bruce,’ and I don’t think I can stand it.”
Bruce’s camera case hung by a strap from his shoulder. Now he opened it and took out his camera.
“Stand over there by the steps, and I’ll get your picture. You can send it to Holly Arquette to show to Bebe.”
“All right,” Andi said more agreeably. It wasn’t often that Bruce offered to photograph his sister. Usually he concentrated on more interesting subject matter.
She had been standing by the porch steps for about thirty seconds when she heard Bruce say, “Hey!”
“Hey, what?” Andi asked him.
“Hey, look who’s come visiting! He wants his picture taken. Look at him pose!”
Andi turned to find her brother aiming his camera, not at her, but at a big red dog who stood surveying them from the line between Aunt Alice’s house and the one she had told them belonged to the Gordons.
“Where did he come from?” Andi asked, too surprised to feel insulted because she would no longer be the subject of the picture.
“I don’t know, but he shouldn’t be out wandering. He’s a beauty, isn’t he?” Shifting his camera to his left hand, Bruce held his right one out to the dog. “Here, boy, come over and see me. Do you live around here?”
Waving his full red tail like a welcoming banner, the dog came eagerly forward to meet his new friend. Dropping to his knees, Bruce took the soft face in his hands and smiled into its brown eyes.
“I didn’t think you liked dogs all that much,” Andi said. “You never spend time playing with Bebe.”
“Bebe’s spoiled,” Bruce said. “She doesn’t want to play, she just wants to be petted. This big fellow is a man’s dog. I bet he’d be fun to take —”
“What do you think you’re doing with my dog?” The coldness of the voice cut like a knife through the soft afternoon.
Bruce glanced up in surprise at the tall, blond-haired boy who was suddenly standing in front of him.
“Hi,” he said in his friendly way. “You must be Jerry Gordon. Aunt Alice said you lived next door. I’m Bruce Walker, and that’s my sister, Andi. We’re going to be your neighbors for a while.”
“I didn’t ask who you were,” the boy said curtly. “I asked you what you think you’re doing with Red Rover. That’s an expensive dog with a mile-long pedigree. My dad gave him to me for my birthday, and nobody messes around with him without my permission.”
“Bruce isn’t hurting him. All he did was take his picture.” Andi left her place by the steps and came across the lawn to join the two boys. “I don’t think this is your dog anyway. If he was, he wouldn’t be acting like that.”
At the sound of the boy’s voice the dog had pressed himself tightly against Bruce’s leg.
“He’s mine, all right,” Jerry Gordon said. He snapped his fingers. “Come on, Red. Get over there in your own yard.”
Instead of obeying, the dog dropped his head and whined nervously. He seemed to huddle even harder against Bruce, as though begging for protection.
“What’s the matter with him?” Bruce asked. “I’ve never seen my sister’s dog act like that. She comes leaping when Andi calls her.”
“He’s stubborn,” the tall boy said. “I haven’t got him trained yet. Red Rover, you get over there, do you hear me?”
Raising his hand, he brought it down in a hard stroke between the dog’s shoulder blades. Red Rover gave a yelp of pain. Dashing past his master, he ran across the yard and disappeared around the corner of the house.
“Is that what you call training?” Bruce gave a snort of disgust. “No wonder the poor thing’s scared of you. He’ll end up hating you if you keep on treating him that way.”
“You don’t deserve to have a dog!” Andi’s voice was choked with fury. “If I was Red Rover, I’d bite your arm off!”
“He’s got to learn to obey,” Jerry Gordon said. “You’ve got to show a dog who’s boss. If he acts like he ought to, then I’m nice to him.” He paused and then added in a more pleasant voice, “That goes for people, too. You behave yourself, and maybe I’ll let you come over sometime.” He nodded at Bruce. “You, I mean. Your dorky sister is something else.”
“What makes you think I’d come if you invited me?” Bruce asked. “Maybe I’d rather look for other friends.”
“Sure you’d come,” Jerry said confidently. “All the guys in the neighborhood want to hang out at my place. I’ve got more cool stuff than the rest of you put together. They’re not going to risk getting in bad with me by being friends with a shrimp like you.”
“My brother’s not a shrimp!” Andi said angrily. “He’s a straight-A student and an awesome photographer! Everybody likes Bruce! Back in Albuquerque he was voted president of his class!”
“Maybe you western weirdo types like shrimp,” Jerry said. “Here in the East we eat them for dinner. And we don’t much like fat little girls, especially when they talk funny.”
“I am not fat!” cried Andi, who really wasn’t — only a little plump and not nearly as much as she had been when she was younger. “And I don’t talk funny! You’re the one with a stupid accent!”
“Ah don’t tawk funnnnnnnny!” Jerry gave an imitation of a western drawl like the ones on TV shows. Then suddenly his eyes lifted, and the sneering expression left his face. In its place there appeared the sweetest smile imaginable.
“Hi, Mrs. Scudder!” he called. “How are you today?”
Bruce and Andi turned simultaneously to see Aunt Alice standing on the front porch with their parents close behind her. She was evidently bringing the Walkers out to show them her garden.
“Just fine, Jerry, dear,” she called back, her face breaking into a broad smile at the sight of the three children together. “I’m so happy you’ve met each other! I was telling Bruce and Andi that we have the sweetest boy next door. I was coming out to introduce you, but I see that you’re friends already!”
For Andi, the hardest part about starting her new school was the fact that Bruce was not starting it with her. For as long as she could remember, Andi had depended on her brother to make friends for both of them.
Now Bruce was a whole mile away at Elmwood Middle School. It was a terrible, lonely feeling not to have him to lean on. Andi, who was never at ease with strangers, found herself acting stiffer than ever.
On her first day at the new school a blond, bright-faced girl named Debbie Austin had come up to her on the playground and asked if she wanted to play a game called “Double Trouble.” Andi, who had never heard of the game and was embarrassed to admit it, had responded, “No, thank you.”
“Oh, come on,” Debbie coaxed her. “It isn’t much harder than ‘Singles.’ You’ll catch on fast.”
“I’m really not interested,” Andi told her.
Debbie had walked off, looking hurt, and Andi had been furious with herself, especially when she saw the little group of girls playing double jump rope. It was a game that she had often played back in Albuquerque, and she’d actually been pretty good at it, but she’d never heard it referred to as “Double Trouble.” Now that she realized what it was, she was dying to rush over and say, “Oh, I do want to play after all!”
When she thought about doing that, though, something knotted up inside her and she simply couldn’t. Instead, when Debbie or any of the other girls glanced in her direction, she stared straight through them as though she didn’t see them.
Nobody ever asked her to play jump rope again.
So even though it was her own fault and she knew it, Andi found herself at the end of her first week at Elmwood Elementary School without a single friend.
At home, she pretended.
“We had such fun on the playground today,” she told the family at dinner, or, “You should have heard t
Then she felt guilty when Aunt Alice turned to her mother and said, “Linda, you and John are fortunate to have such a popular daughter! Imagine making so many new friends so quickly!”
But the thing Andi missed the most in the entire world was Bebe. Bebe had been her dog for almost three years now. She had gotten her for Christmas the year she was eight, when Bebe was just a puppy, so tiny that it had hardly seemed possible that she was real.
She had been under the tree in a box all wrapped with Christmas paper, with little holes in the sides so that air could get through. Andi had unwrapped the paper and felt the box move. Then the lid had popped off, and there had been Bebe, pointed little face all bright and sparkling, nose wiggling, eyes shining, tail long and thin like a piece of black wire thumping against the bottom of the box.
“We got Bruce a digital camera, but we thought you would like this better,” Mr. Walker had said, laughing at the startled look on his daughter’s face.
Then, as though she had heard and understood the words, Bebe had jumped out of the box right into Andi’s arms, and from then on there had been nobody else for either of them. Many people might like Bruce best, but not Bebe. Bebe thought there was nobody in the world as wonderful as Andi.
I wish she was here now, Andi thought as she left the classroom and walked down the long hallway to the outside door. All around her, boys and girls rushed by with arms filled with books, laughing and chattering, calling to one another, “Wait up! Wait for me!” It seemed to Andi that she was the only one in the whole school who had no friends to walk with when the final bell rang.
I’ll pretend Bebe is out there, she told herself. I’ll pretend she’s waiting right outside the door.
That thought made her feel oddly better, and when she had walked out the door and there was no little dog standing there, she told herself, She’s waiting a little farther on, down by the street.
When she reached the street, she thought, No — she didn’t come this far. She’s still at home in the corner of the yard, keeping her eyes on the sidewalk, hoping I’ll be coming.
Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes