I had never been so thrilled to babysit in my life. But anything would be better than sitting through an entire movie, in the dark, with my mother and George.

Chapter Twenty-One

Puppy Love

I looked nervously around my living room realizing every board game I owned was labeled twelve and up. This was not going to be as easy as I assumed. I hung out with Oliver often, but not all day and night.

With a defeated sigh, I slumped down on the couch and pulled out my phone, quickly pressing a number from my favorites list.

“Hello,” Hilary answered in her usual cheerful voice.

“Hey, I need your help,” I said, shifting and tossing my feet up on the other side of the couch as I stretched out. “I’m babysitting Oliver in like twenty minutes and have no idea what to do with him all day. Logan said he won’t be back till after midnight.”

“I thought you were spending today with your mother?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you all about that later.” I chuckled. “So, any helpful suggestions with Oliver?”

“It’s your lucky day, Miss Cassandra.” Her voice sang. “The town’s annual Christmas in the Park starts at three.”

I sat up a little, hopeful. “Any idea what they’re showing this year?”

“Kids classics like every year, until sunset.”

“Perfect.” I grinned, relieved. “You want to meet us there?”

“Only if I can ask Caleb to join us.”

“Yeah, of course. I talked with him, we’re all good.”

I had met with Caleb a couple days after he showed up at my door with Hilary. His constant apologizing texts were too much to take, so I met him for lunch at Haven. After a nice meal, and a few minutes scolding him for hiring a psychopath, we hugged it out. It was impossible to stay mad at him for long, especially when he genuinely was full of concern and regret.

With a quick good-bye to Hilary, after agreeing to meet up by the fountain, I hung up and tossed my phone across the couch. A second later, there was a knock on my door.

Perfect timing. I stopped at the small mirror in the foyer, and did a quick check, running my hands through my hair. It was only Logan, I reminded myself as I grabbed the handle and opened the door.

My smile faltered when I found a gangly teenager, with spiky bright-red hair, standing on my welcome mat. Looking him over, my eyebrows pulling in, I noticed a large box at his feet. The bright-blue shirt he wore featured the image of a frightening snake wrapped around text that was too worn to read.

“Are you Cassandra Clarke?” he asked, staring down at the clipboard in his hand.

“That’s me.” My eyes traveled from him to the box, curiously noticing the small holes on the sides.

“Awesome. Sign this.” He placed a giant X on the slip of paper, and then shoved the clipboard forward into my hands, followed by the pen.

I shot him an unimpressed eye-reprimand, before signing my name, to accept the package.

“Who’s it from?” I asked, handing it back to him.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Have a great day and wonderful holiday.” He saluted me with a forced but smug grin, before turning quickly on his heel.

I watched him climb back into his rusty old pickup and drive away with his stereo blasting some good old Ozzy.

I shook my head. “Rude much,” I grumbled, squatting down to pick up the box.

My hands gripped each side, about to lift it when the box shifted. Stumbling back, I stood there, unsure what to do. Obviously, it was some sort of animal, but who would get me that? Warily, I lifted my foot and very gently nudged the box hoping to hear a sweet meow or something other than a slithering hiss.

The box shifted again from side-to-side and I flinched back, inhaling a deep breath and blowing it out, with my hands resting on my hips.

Did I really want to open the box unsure who had sent it? Last thing I needed was to come face-to-face with a large snake or something worse. I knew I’d pissed Mackenzie off at the carnival when Logan walked away ignoring her, but that was almost three months ago.

“Problems, sweetheart?”

I looked up to meet the eye of a rather amused looking Logan.

“What’s that?” Oliver asked, squatting down to peek through one of the holes in the box.

“I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure it’s alive,” I replied, scrunching my nose at the white box.

Logan shook his head, chuckling at my childish behavior, then stepped forward and easily opened the top of the box.

“A puppy!” Oliver squealed.

The little chocolate Lab looked up at us with big brown eyes.

“A dog?” I breathed, semi relieved but still confused. Who would send a dog? I watched as Oliver pulled the puppy into his arms, cradling it like a baby.

The small puppy pawed at his chest and I instantly knew who it was from.

“My mom,” I murmured, a slow smile spreading over my lips.

“Your mother sent you a puppy?” Logan asked, smiling down at his son.

“My grandparents gave me a Lab a week after my father left us. He was hit by a car when I was sixteen.” I shuddered as I replayed the traumatic memory of saying good-bye to my faithful companion all those years ago.

“I’m sorry,” Logan said softly. “There’s a note.” He handed me the small piece of paper taped inside.

Thank you again for sending me on, what I am sure will be, the best vacation of my life. I wish I could be there with you on Christmas, but I saw this little guy in the pet shop downtown and knew he would put a smile on your face.

Not to mention, keep you safe.

I love you,

Mom

I looked up from the note, smiling.

“Well, looks like I’m a pet owner.” I chuckled softly, watching how sweet the little thing was with Oliver.

“Come on in,” I said, reaching down to grab the empty box but Logan was quicker. I smiled, letting him get it and went over to help Oliver up from the grass. Logan snatched up the dog with his other hand and followed me into the living room.

“I wanted to thank you again for helping me out tonight,” Logan said, placing the box by the door and handing the pup back to Oliver.

“No problem. Do you mind if I take Oliver downtown for the afternoon? They’re playing a marathon of Christmas cartoons until nightfall. Figured he might enjoy it.” I shrugged.

“Yes, he would like that. Wouldn’t you?”

Oliver was too occupied chasing the little guy around the living room to answer.

“Great!” I smiled.

“What are you going to name him?” Oliver asked.

“Oh, um.” I had never been any good at choosing pet names. I once had a cat that I would feed on the back porch when I was a child. I named her Kitty.

“Can I name him?” Oliver asked quickly. His pleading eyes were as big as the puppy’s and just as adorable.

“Oliver, I’m sure Cassandra would like to name him herself.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said giving Oliver a small smile. I sat down beside him on the floor and the puppy jumped into my lap. “So, what do you think we should name him?”

“How about, um…” Oliver stared down at him for a long moment contemplating before he finally looked back up with a giant grin.

“Stout.” Oliver said quickly.

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