Reader’s Best Friend

I left my pages hours ago and I still haven’t found her.

The girl.

The one with brown pigtails and blue eyes. I lowered my snout to the ground and sniffed. Nothing. Not even a trace. But I knew her scent so I could track her. It’d just take me some time. The girl had brought the book to her nose often because she couldn’t see well, so I learned her scent through each page she turned. She smelled floral, like lavender or rose. And clean. Like soap. I lowered my snout again and sniffed the concrete.

“Mommy—look at that dog!”

Not the right girl.

“Stay away from it,” a woman squeezed the child’s hand. Then she looked down at me, disgusted. “It’s a stray.”

“But it’s cute and black and sweet and—”

“Let’s go.”

The two wandered off and I watched, one paw raised as they disappeared into the bustling commotion. Too many scents out here. In my book, I knew the same smells because they never changed. Only my reader did. And now I had to find her before she reached the library. Because that would mean I’d sit on the shelf again until someone else picked me up. And no one did. No one ever picked up my book. Until her.

Sarah.

I lowered my snout and sniffed again, trying to locate her floral scent. But nothing. The outside world was different. Bigger. Stranger. And I had to find my reader before I couldn’t—before I was zapped back into the pages and before everything went dark again.

I lifted my head and howled the way I wanted when she read me—longingly. But only other people with wrong scents stopped to pay me any attention.

No, no, none of them are right.

Disappointed, I turned down a street where the faintest hint of rose lingered. Familiar. It was definitely familiar which meant Sarah was nearby. I took off running in the direction, breathing in that floral scent I loved, the one that smelled right. It meant I was close to her and she hadn’t given me back. Not yet.

Keeping my nose to the ground, I kept searching, hunting, sniffing discarded paper cups and the grass struggling to grow through cement. So many scents. So many new things to discover, but there was no time for that. I only had one chance to find her so I passed the tiny crawling things and plastic bags filled with paper and followed the familiar floral aroma I’d grown to love.

Close. Sarah was close.

Shouts erupted.

I barked.

Someone screamed and I took off in a sprint, following the rose scent to a new street where multiple bodies stood in a cramped space. I paused with one paw up, confused by all the overwhelming scents like old food and urine and sweat with heat. And rose.

Sarah.

There she was.

Brown pigtails and blue eyes. And the little pink book-bag with my book. I missed her so much already. She’d just finished reading me and I was desperate for her to read my words again, for us to go on more adventures together. But she stood with her back in front of me and faced three other people with strange smells.

I sniffed and winced at the foul scents.

Aggression. They reeked of it. All three except for Sarah, who smelled of fear. Fear? Why was she afraid? She’d never been afraid in our time together. It smelled foreign and wrong. I hated it. I wanted her to feel like she did with me. Happy. Curious. Free.

“Come on, kid,” one of the foreign scents walked toward her. “We know you have money on you. So pay up and we’ll let you go. Maybe.”

“I-I don’t have any—”

“Stop lying.”

“I’m not!”

He pushed her to the ground and I sprung in front of Sarah, baring my teeth, growling. The three paused, their aggression turning to confusion and doubt. I growled again, warning them. If they touched my reader, I’d bite. I’d bite hard. Cocker spaniels weren’t known to be an aggressive breed, but I loved Sarah. And I would protect her no matter what.

“Dude—it’s a dog.”

“I know it’s a dog. But it’s small. It couldn’t possibly—”

I snapped at the outstretched hand and growled louder.

“Dude, let’s go. She probably doesn’t even have any money,” one of the foreign scents took off, followed quickly by another. But the one who’d pushed Sarah stared at me. His confusion and doubt turned to aggression again.

“You stupid dog—”

He swung to hit me but I bit his hand. Hard. Then I leapt up, threw my paws against his body and knocked him onto the concrete. I growled low, at the back of my throat so he knew I was serious. I could’ve attacked, but he was crawling away and muttering something about forced spaying and neutering. It didn’t matter. I’d found Sarah. I’d found her before it was too late. I sniffed the air again and spun.

There she was. Brown pigtails and blue eyes. She stared at me as I sat in front of her, panting and absorbing every wonderful second. Confused but curious, Sarah dragged her bag closer, her focus never leaving me as she unzipped it. She retrieved the book—my book—and stared at it. Then me. Then back to the blue cover again—the one with the farmer’s dying daughter and her pet cocker spaniel. I continued panting, happy I’d found Sarah when she said the one thing I’d always dreamed of hearing—the one thing I’d dreamt of hearing since Sam died.

“Regis?”

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