Can’t Hurt to Believe
Jacob let himself in the front door as quietly as the damned cane, a bag of groceries, and a bum leg would let him. It was just possible Daniel might still be out on his regular morning walk. The man was still surprisingly fit. If Jacob wanted to piss Daniel off he would use the word “spry.” But usually by this time Daniel would be home and he’d often fall asleep on the couch after his exercise. Jacob liked to come in silently and watch his beloved in a rare quiet moment.
Today though, Daniel wasn’t sleeping. That furry scrap on his lap might be a puppy, if it tripled in size. Right now it looked like a yipping guinea pig. As Jacob watched, the scrawny beige fuzzball licked Daniel’s fingers and then gave a squeak and a wiggle. Daniel gazed down at it in delight.
Okay, the little vermin was damned cute. And frankly so was the man holding it. Of course, Daniel would sneer at the word, and tell Jacob that no man in his eighth decade could be called cute. But with his silver hair mussed and that besotted look on his face, there was no other word for him. Jacob set his grocery bag on the floor and let the door shut loudly enough to make husband and puppy both look up.
“Let me guess,” Jacob said, his tone acid because he resented being made to feel sappy this early in the day. “You found him starving behind a dumpster in a blizzard at midnight.”
“It’s July,” Daniel retorted calmly. “And she’s a girl.”
“And what’s she doing here?” He clutched for a moment’s hope. “Are we dog-sitting?”
“When I got down to Main Street this morning there was this woman and her three boys with a box of puppies, free to a good home. Three puppies, tiny things, maybe part Yorkie. When I passed by again an hour later there was one left. And you could tell the woman was getting to the end of her rope. The family looked poor, cheap T-shirts, dirty jeans on the boys, bad haircuts and all. The mom looked so tired. I was worried they might just give up on this one and dump her somewhere.”
“Uh huh.” Jacob watched Daniel’s gnarled fingers rub gently over the puppy’s almost nonexistent ears. “How much did we pay for her?”
Daniel grinned at him. “Well, I gave the woman enough to get the mother dog spayed. But I told her it was okay if it had to go for groceries.”
Jacob knew Daniel didn’t walk around with a couple hundred dollars in his pocket, even if both of them still tended to use cash more than credit. Which meant Daniel had taken his walk past a cash machine and stocked up, just in case. Daniel had grown up pretty poor… Jacob didn’t begrudge a little charity, except that it had landed them with a dog. “What are we going to do with her?”
“That’s… not smart, do you think?”
“We’ve talked about having a dog.”
“We used to. We haven’t for years. We’re too old – you know that. A puppy means house-training and bending over cleaning stuff up and getting up at night to let it out.”
“I can still get down to clean the floor, old man. And I’m up at night anyway, most nights.”
Jacob sighed, because that was true. Often it was just the aches in Daniel’s arthritic hands that the man was too damned stubborn to take pills for. But getting older seemed to bring the distant past nearer, and some nights he knew long-ago Pacific battles once again haunted Daniel. Jacob himself slept like the dead these days. After decades of waking to Daniel’s intermittent nightmares in time to offer a touch or a mumbled word, now he sometimes woke to an empty cold bed, and knew that Daniel was battling his ghosts alone. Maybe a puppy would be good company where Jacob was falling down on the job.
But that still didn’t solve his biggest concern. He stared at the tiny ambulating flea-bag that was falling asleep under the touch of Daniel’s gentle hands. “Is it fair to the dog though? Remember Snap?”
Daniel winced at the reminder of the friend’s dog that they’d nursed through its last days mourning its dead owner. But he looked up defiantly. “We have family who would take her, if it comes to that. But there’s only one real answer. You have to outlive her.”
Jacob shook his head slowly. He wasn’t in any hurry to shake off the mortal coil, but seriously, little dogs could live a dozen years or more and he’d never thought he’d see a hundred. Daniel stared at him with entreaty mixed into the defiance. Jacob started to say, what have you been smoking? But what came out was, “You too.”
Daniel’s smile was wonderful. And hell, they’d beaten the odds over and over. Why not once more? Jacob went to Daniel, braced his free hand on the back of the couch and carefully bent over. Daniel made a sound of protest and reached out to steady Jacob’s elbow. The sound changed to pleasure as Jacob’s mouth found Daniel’s.
Jacob closed his eyes. Those lips were a little thinner, the skin of the hand that moved to his cheek was drier, but the taste was Daniel. With his eyes shut, Jacob could almost feel the stuffy heat of a small storage room, his current unsteadiness mimicking the shift and heave of a deck under his feet. No hint of cigarettes now, but the sweep of Daniel’s tongue into his mouth was sweetly familiar. God, yes, this, forever.
He opened his eyes and found Daniel’s shining gaze at blurred close range. And then Jacob’s damned back hurt and he had to straighten up.
Daniel looked up at him, love naked in his eyes. “We’re keeping her. And calling her Hope.”
The puppy in his lap woke and gleefully attacked his fingers, tiny white teeth making no impression even on Daniel’s thin skin. Her playful growls swiftly became little panting snorts, and then she sat, looked around at Jacob and squeak-barked. He sighed, braced against his cane and reached down to scoop her out of Daniel’s lap. She was small enough to fit easily in one hand. He held her up and she wriggled and then licked his thumb. He sighed again. He’d never been able to deny Daniel anything. He thanked God for that fact every day of his life.
He said as gruffly as he could manage, “Welcome to the family, Hope.”
(©2012 Kaje Harper; cover by Enny Kraft)