As I tiptoe across the living room toward my sleeping dog, I hear David Attenborough’s voice in my head, narrating every step like I’m in a wildlife documentary.
Hazel Tuck stalks her prey with the grace of a cheetah hunting a gazelle. As if sensing her presence, the tiny pup stirs in its sleep. Mere steps away, Hazel is faced with two choices. Freeze, and remain undetected. Or step forward and attempt to slide the harness over the animal’s head…
The edge of the coffee table catches my little toe, sending a shooting pain up my leg. I quickly clap a hand over my mouth to silence my cry, but I’m a nanosecond too late. Honey’s big, brown eyes pop open. Her tail wags happily when she sees me standing over her.
“Well, hello, Honey,” I coo as I attempt to surreptitiously hide the harness behind my back. My sweet cheagle—a chihuahua beagle mix—loves to take walks through town and greet all the citizens of Friendly, Georgia. Unfortunately, if she so much as catches a whiff of a walk in her future, her entire body quakes with unbridled joy, making it impossible to fasten her harness.It’s like trying to hold onto an electric eel.
Note to self: convince Mom to watch something besidesBBC Earth. Because if a thirty-nine-year-old woman is going to talk to herself, she should at least hear herownvoice in her head. Not a British broadcaster in his nineties.
Of course, observers may wonder why Hazel Tuck still lives with her mother…
“Shut up, David,” I mutter.
Truth be told, Ihavebeen thinking about moving out. I’m pushing forty, and I’ve never lived alone. When I was nineteen—the age my son, Jared, is now—my father died. It was sudden, a heart attack. Always a bit of a daddy’s girl, my world was shattered.
I’d found comfort in the arms of a handsome college boy who was vacationing at the beach. It was a mistake and the only time in my life that I’ve ever done anything impulsive. I can’t regret it, though, because nine months later, Jared was born. I dropped out of college and moved back in with my mom—and I have been here ever since.
But Jared’s moved out. He’s renting an apartment with friends and just finished his freshman year at Savannah Tech. He’s even a businessman now, with his very own LLC: Friendly Paddle Tours. He’s partnered with Tuck’s Kayaks, the kayak rental business that his Uncle Tuck owns and operates out of his bait and tackle shop, The Bait Bucket. Jared offers kayak tours in the area, and business is booming.
My heart wells with pride as I think of my son’s accomplishments. But now that he’s an adult, he no longer needs me. And I’ve been feeling a bit, well…lost. I’ve dedicated my entire life to raising him. Now that he’s grown, who am I?
And the Lord knows, my mother doesn’t need a caretaker. She’s been the mayor of Friendly for over thirty years. She can handle anything that life throws her way.
Honey shakes her head, and her ID tag rattles against her rabies vaccination tag, tinkling like music and pulling me from my spiraling thoughts. She gazes up at me expectantly with her tongue lolling out of her mouth.
I laugh. “You still need me, don’t you, girl?”
It’s easiest to put her harness on while she’s asleep, but a distraction sometimes does the trick. I lean down to pick up her favorite toy, a stuffed Yoda that’s been repaired so many times that he looks like a patchwork quilt. As a seamstress, I always have scraps of fabric on hand for mending Yoda’s wounds.
I stretch out my arm, waving the toy to get Honey’s attention. She takes the bait, standing to seize it by a gingham-patterned ear. In the fraction of a second it takes her to realize what’s going on, I’ve slipped the harness over her head and secured the clips around her belly. Honey leaps from the couch, darts to the door, and barks happily.
She stands still just long enough for me to slip booties onto her paws and to clip the leash to her harness. When I pause for one last glimpse in the hall mirror, making sure my thick blonde hair is still neatly tucked into a bun beneath my floppy sunhat, Honey yaps impatiently.
“Okay, okay, I’m coming.” I slide my feet into a pair of sandals next to the door. “I should have named you Bossy.”
When I open the door, Honey immediately puts her nose to the ground in search of an interesting scent—a trait she inherited from her beagle parent. I expect her to lead the way to The Bait Bucket and its neighboring shop, the Sticks & Stones Boutique. Owned and operated by my sister-in-law, Margo, the boutique sells gorgeous clothes for women of all shapes and sizes. It’s become a gathering spot for the women in town, while the men tend to prefer my brother’s bait shop. All of Honey’s favorite people—and mine—can usually be found at one or the other.
Instead, Honey wants to go around the house to the backyard. I tug gently on her leash, trying to lead her in the other direction. But she’s insistent, so I let her guide the way.
When we’ve walked a few steps, I hear running water. Someone must have left the outside shower on after rinsing sand off their feet. For a second, it occurs to me to scold Jared for being careless again, but then I remember that he hasn’t forgotten to shut off the shower since he was twelve years old, and besides that, he lives on the other side of town now.
My mom left for work hours ago, and she showered inside the house before work. So, who could have left it on?
Hot on the trail now, Honey runs as fast as her little legs will allow. We round the house to the backyard. Honey bays triumphantly, whipping her tail back and forth so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if her tiny body lifted from the ground and took flight.
And man, oh man, how I wish we could fly away right now. Because the outside shower wasn’t left on. It’s currently in use.
Even if I stared at the sun long enough to burn out my retinas, some things can never be unseen.