John threw the stick high and far. Well, as far as an eight-year-old arm could throw against a stiff wind. He grinned as the black dog raced after the stick, tearing through the tall sweetgrass, disappearing except for the furrow of green in his wake. John waited expectantly, but jumped when the dog, stick lopsided in his jaws, bounded out of the grass and leaped at his chest.
When evening came, John's father called to him, and reluctantly he moved back to the old farmhouse. His mother and brother were already in the car, his grandparents standing on the steps of the porch. His father handed a couple heavy pie tins in to his mother, and roughed John's hair as the boy slid in beside his brother.
"We'll be back again as soon as we can, Pa. Wish I could help with the thrashing, but with things the way they are at the plant..."
"Don't worry about it, son. Just take care. Remember you got two young'uns depending on you."
John looked out the back window as the car pulled down the long rutted drive. The little black dog chased after the car until he was finally called back to the house. John hated leaving him, but there was no room in the city for a lively dog like that. John watched as the dog leaped at Grandpa's upraised hand for his treat.
It was the last time he would see either one of them.
"How many times I have to tell you not to fight?"
"I didn't start it. Ralphie did."
"He took a swing at you, did he? Without you sayin or doin nothin first?"
"I jus tol him to leave the dog alone. That's all."
"Dog? What dog?"
"Jus a dog, down in the alley. Ralphie was throwin beer cans at it. Dog didn't do nothin to him, Daddy. So I tol him to stop it, and he wouldn't."
"So you got in a fight."
"I just made him stop throwin them cans, Daddy. That's all."
"Hmm. Took a bit to do that, did it?"
Boscoe looked at the ground. "A bit, yeah."
"You look as bad as him?"
A bit of a grin peeked through. "Naw, I never look as bad..." He stopped, eyes wide.
"That's what I thought." His daddy shook his head. "Don't know what I'm gonna do with you, boy. You can't go usin your fists every time you want somethin done."
"No 'buts'. I mean it. No more fightin."
Boscoe watched as his father stood and grabbed his hat. "Where you goin, Daddy?"
His father looked down at him, hand on the doorknob.
"I think Ralphie's daddy'd wanna know bout that dog, don't you?"
"He gonna be alright, Father?"
"Oh, sure. He just needs some food in him. You run up to the kitchen, have Sister give you some scraps for him."
"Can we keep him? He can sleep under my bed. And if I help Joseph with the yard work, I'll bet he'd give me some of his dog's food, so it won't cost nothing. And..."
"Alvin, Alvin, please! Now, I know you'd take good care of him, but we can't have a dog here. Some of the children have allergies, and if you found a family, what if they didn't want him? Or they already had a dog? And with so many children here, he'd just get confused as to who he belonged to."
"So we can't keep him? Even for a little while?"
"No. I'll call the pound and have them come for him."
"What's the pound?"
"It's, uh, it's like an orphanage for dogs. They'll find him a good home, don't worry."
Alvin watched as the people from the pound came to collect the dog later that morning. He didn't like it much when they put the little animal in a cage, but Father assured him it just temporary. He sighed heavily as he turned back into the yard.
"They come get the mutt, then?" Harry came wandering over. He was older than Alvin, and had only come to the orphanage a few months before.
"Yeah. They'll find him a home. Father said it's like an orphanage for dogs."
Harry snorted. "Yeah, right. Better hope they find him a home quick."
Alvin looked up, suspicious. "Why?"
" 'Cause that 'orphanage' puts 'em down if they don't get adopted."
Alvin stared down the street where the truck was slowly disappearing.
"Tell em, boy!"
Eagerly, the teen turned toward the open meadow and called out, "Bring em in!"
The two stood watching as the border collie went racing out toward the sheep, circling slowly as he gathered them together and started moving them toward the barn. As the sheep complied, man and boy exchanged big grins.
"He's doing it, Gramps. Look at him!"
"Yeah, you did a good job, HM. A real good job. Keep that up and Spook can retire in style."
Hearing his name, the dog sitting beside them stood and whined. HM laughed softly.
"S'okay, Spooky. Go give Buck a hand. Bring em in!"
The old dog trotted out. No rushing him; he had too much experience to get all excited like the younger dog. He knew those sheep weren't going anywhere he didn't want them to.
The old man started walking toward the barn, followed closely by HM. The younger man noted his grandfather was favoring his leg again, and frowned.
"You okay, Gramps?
"I'm fine, boy. Just a little stiff tonight. It's good you got Buck going so quick though. Be a big help after you leave."
"I got another six months, Gramps. He'll be an old pro by then."
"Yep. At least you'll be here for the shearing. Well, let's get these fellas locked up and go have some supper."
HM stood for a moment, after his grandfather had gone into the house, looking at the last remnants of the sun disappearing behind the hills. He wanted to memorize every day, every hour, every acre and every foot of this place. In six months' time he'd be starting a whole new life, far from this ranch, from his family. He was excited, he was scared, he wanted to go and he hated to leave.
"C'mon, HM, supper's getting cold." His grandmother's voice, brittle yet gentle, calling him from the back door.
Six more months.
A life time.