“¿Cuál es tu secreto, Estacia?” asked Dad, staring with bemused admiration at the pile of money on their kitchen table. “How can I get a rich white person to pay for my back surgery? Or for your college?”
“Getting rich white people to pay for your college is called a ‘scholarship,’ dear.” Mom furrowed her brow at Princess, “and Stacy is focusing on her grades to make sure she gets one instead of obsessing over boys, right Stacy?”
“Of course, Mom. Princess will not get in the way of my studies.”
“Estacia, you may have a future in this,” said Dad. Mom shook her head vigorously, but he kept talking. “If you need extra time to get payouts from gringos ricos on a regular basis, I’ll take care of Pelusa here.”
“Princess Penelope Blackwater Stowe,” Stacy had a history with her parents getting dogs’ names wrong, and blurted the correction without thinking. Mom put a hand on hers.
“Honey, maybe Pelusa should be her new name. We’re trying to protect her, right?”
Stacy felt awful renaming Ethan’s dog. She had no rational reason to hate it, but it felt like a violation, like she was going beyond holding her for him all the way to saying “this is my dog now.”
“We’re not renaming her. We’ll call her ‘Pelusa’ in public, but when it’s safe, she’s always Princess.”
Stacy’s parents looked at each other. “Honey, ” said Mom with a nervous laugh, “keeping track of one name is hard enough.”
Before Stacy could erupt, there were yelps and a scuffle in the living room. Stacy scrambled over and saw Princess huddled in a corner cowering on the thick carpet, while Blas stood between her and Ignacio, staring the musclebound pit bull down with his one fiery eye. “Ignacio, what did you do!?” Stacy demanded.
The whole house shook as Marco thundered into the room. He took half a second to survey the scene before he shouted “Ignacio, bad dog! Tratamos a las huéspedes con respeto!”
Ignacio sat down and opened his mouth, uttering a defiant “Awowowooo.”
“No excuses.” Marco grabbed the big pit by the scruff of his neck and pointed at Princess. “Don’t go near Pelusa, you hear me? If Blas de Lezo tears out your throat, it’s your own fault.”
When Marco released him, Ignacio put his head down with contrition. He looked back at Blas, who growled from the bottom of his throat, his hair standing up in a mane down his spine. Ignacio climbed onto the couch with Gabriel, who had watched the scene from afar, her elegant greyhound form draped across a cushion. Without even looking at Ignacio, Gabriel climbed off the couch and padded out of the room. Ignacio dropped his head onto the cushion, defeated.
Blas went back to lick Princess, who didn’t move. She just whined softly. Stacy was here fighting over what they would call her while Blas actually tried to help the dog herself. She swelled with pride. “Good boy, Blas,” she said, coming to pet both of them, but he gave a brief “wuf,” positioned himself between her and Princess, and continued licking. Stacy tried not to take it personally.
Stacy needed her mother to tell her that dogs that didn’t get to go out all the time needed to be walked so they could pee and get exercise. It made sense, she just hadn’t thought of it. Mom dug out a dusty old leash from the attic, but Stacy gave Princess a chance to walk without it, and even after everything she lived up to her reputation as “the best dog.” The leash went back where it came from.
Stacy could not take Princess to school. Even with her messy hair and “Pelusa” pseudonym, too many people knew her and would be suspicious about any collie’s sudden appearance after Ethan vanished. Madeline’s hospital had a strict ban on animals besides each person’s official zombie dog, and Ignacio clearly could not be trusted alone with Princess, so Marco’s car shop was not an option, either. Thus, while Stacy was at school, Princess had to stay at home alone.
She spent the time sleeping and crying. She saved her alpha and he had pushed her through a window. She returned home and then was taken away again like it was just a visit, and now she was alone in this bizarre, tiny house with a family that was not hers. Were her clean days behind her? Did this house even know what a good dog was?
Her only comfort was that dirty lab mix Blas. He was crass, disobedient and messy, but also strong, gentle, and protective. Now that she herself had gone days without a bath, it was harder to write him off. It helped, in a way, that everything was dirty in that house. The people were clean, but nothing else. She worried about her standards dipping, but she knew enough to appreciate her only friend in this terrible place. That nasty pit bull that tackled her didn’t smell like it had had a bath its whole life. Blas at least had one a week ago.
She thought of the alternative, it was less than a day that she spent out on the street. She could just run off whenever she wanted, but she knew she couldn’t go back there. She wanted to go back home, but Ethan wasn’t there, and she meant nothing without her alpha. She wanted to go find Ethan and save him again, but he told her to flee, and that loud sound was so frightening. She didn’t even remember where she was before she ran away. Had she failed? was she a failed zombie dog? Would Ethan come back for her? Would even this family, dirty as it was, still have a place for a useless animal like her for long?
Princess returned to the corner by the mantle to cry.