Isabella, by Virginia Burns

Until March 20th, the first day of spring, Jake had been a normal guy. He was fifteen, in his first year of high school. He was fairly well off– middle-class family, large friend group, and into any and all sports. He lived in a four bedroom house with his parents, Marty and Lucille. They had enough, and they were happy. Jake on the other hand, not so much.

When Jake was younger, not much older than six or seven, he met a dog. His family had never liked dogs, and kept him away from them until this point. Jake fell in love with the idea of a big, furry friend. Ever since, he’s taken the opportunity at every birthday, every holiday, to ask his parents for a dog.

“It’s not the right time,” they said. Or, “Maybe when you’re older. Dogs are a lot of responsibility.”

Like he hadn’t heard that one before.

Even so, he decided that he would not give up. This year, he had been practicing a speech to try and convince them. It was memorized, line by line, word for word, until he could recall it at any given time. 

And so he made his way into the family room, on this warm Wednesday, to show he was ready for this responsibility.

His father sat with a newspaper propped up on his leg, which was raised so his ankle touched his opposite knee and formed a horizontal triangle. He had a cup of hot coffee in hand, stopping to read occasionally to take a sip.

His mother watched a gentle news broadcast on the television, seemingly lost in thought, because she didn’t notice him come in.

“Mom, Dad,” he started, “I want to talk to you about something. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and–”

“Jake, is this about a dog again? You know that your mother and I have told you, it is not a good time.”

“You always say that, though! I know what I’m doing, I’m not a little kid anymore. I don’t understand your problem with this. I really don’t. Did I do something?”

The two adult figures looked taken aback as their usually-quiet son raised his voice, but no anger could be read on their faces.

“You didn’t do anything,” his mother said, looking at him sympathetically. “Maybe we could.. reevaluate.” 

He gave his father a hopeful look, silently pleading with him, waiting for a response.

“I guess we could think about it. No promises, though.”

“Thank you!” He jumped up in glee. He smiled at them before leaving the room, no doubt off to do some more research or check the local shelter listings.

“I thought we had decided this,” his father said in a quiet, strict voice.

“That was a long time ago. I think it’s time to, at the very least, revisit the idea. It’s not fair to him,” his mother replied, soft but firm, as she stood her ground.

“Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though. Dogs warrant trouble. This one won’t be any different.”

And so the days passed, Jake growing more eager to hear the answer every second of them. On Monday night, they called him in to talk. He was almost shaking with anticipation, fidgeting in the seat he chose.

“What do you think?” He blurted out, not giving them the time to start speaking.

“Well I–and your father–have decided that you deserve to have a dog if you want one. Now I don’t know where it’ll come from, but it’s about time you get one.” She gave him a small smile.

He said nothing, but ran over to give her a hug. Standing on his tip-toes he wrapped his arms around her neck.

“Thank you,” came the small, teary whisper; one that couldn’t be heard unless you were really listening. 

He pulled back, sniffling.

“I won’t let you down.”

And thus, after so many years, something began anew. Jake researched countless breeds and breeders, having deemed the local pet store unfit.

“The shelter is always an option, too,” she reminded him, countless times. “Would you like to run down, tomorrow evening maybe? Meet all the dogs?”

He nodded enthusiastically, a grin forming on his face. “Yes, please. Do you think Marco could come? If he wants to, anyway.”

“Sure. That sounds fun.”

He wasted no time retrieving his phone from his room to text his friend.

Jake: Marco! Do u wanna come w us to the shelter tomorrow? :))

Marco: yeah dude! i’ll meet u in ur driveway before u guys leave. so excited for u :]

He couldn’t help but smile at his screen, clicking the power button before letting it plop gently onto his bed. He was practically buzzing with excitement, and although he thought he might not be able to fall asleep that night, it came easily, filling his head with dreams of dogs and adventures.

School was the last thing on his mind the next day, but he made it through. He gathered with Marco and his mother in the driveway, all hopping into their minivan, and they started down the road. 

The trees had never seemed to pass so slowly. Jake pestered his mother as a child would, with an “Are we there yet?” or “Are we almost there?” seemingly every few minutes.

“No, Jake, not yet,” was her answer every time. 

He almost jumped out of the car when they arrived. 

“Now Jake,” his mother pulled him aside, “we don’t have to get a dog today. This isn’t your only chance. There are other places, plus, we can always come back here.”

He nodded in understanding, motioning for Marco to follow him.

“C’mon dude, let’s go see!”

The walls of the dog sector were lined with individual kennels and enclosures, and in almost every one sat a dog. There were all kinds of shapes, sizes, and personalities to be seen; and Jake’s eyes widened as he looked up and down between them. He could see terriers, shepherds, retrievers, and all sorts of mutts. Marco made a beeline for a tan-colored Malinois mix, his excitement growing as his friend’s did.

Jake walked along the cages, running his hand across the fronts. He stopped in front of one when he felt a cold nose. He expected to look up at a small dog with an eagerly wagging tail, but his eyes met with a canine that looked like it definitely didn’t belong in here. 

“That’s Isabella,” a worker said from behind them.

“Isabella,” he echoed, whispering.

She looked like a Borzoi mix, he decided, with some Dalmatian in her. Her coat was mostly white, with a few specks of black around her face and sprinkled in her fur. Her eyes were an icy blue, and the skin around them was a gentle pink, along with her nose, which was coated in speckles like her coat.

“Does she belong to somebody?” he found himself asking.

“No, she was dropped off here around a week ago. For the third time, actually,” the worker sighed. “Families keep bringing her back.”

“Oh?”

“Mhmm. They all have the same story–they wanted a well-behaved, playful family dog. We warn them ahead of time, that she is large and skittish and shy, but she’s attractive, so they get her.”

Anyone looking could see in his eyes that he had his heart set on this dog. She wasn’t what he had pictured when he thought of his dog, but now she was the only one he could see.

“Jake,” his mother said wearily, having come in to the room after investigating the cats. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

He turned to look at her, unintentionally pulling out his most pitiful face. “Yes.”

Marco walked over to the female’s cage. “Hey, girl,” he spoke gently.

The worker spoke up once again. “If you do get her, please know that she will not adjust instantly. It will take some time around her for her to be comfortable, but you just have to be patient,” Her tone was determined. “She’s a good dog.”

“She’s a good dog, Mom,” Jake repeated. When no one moved, he nudged Marco in the ribs with his elbow.

Ow. I mean, yes, just look at her. She’s obviously a good dog.” 

“Alright,” his mother gave a sigh of surrender, then she smiled. “Isabella can come home with us.”

The paperwork took far too long, but the look on Jake’s face when they brought out sweet Isabella made it all worthwhile. She took cautious steps towards the three, stopping about a foot away from them to raise her nose up and smell the air. They didn’t make any advances, not wanting her to be startled after the change in environment. 

She looked at them for a minute or so, and Jake reached his hand out to put under her chin. When she didn’t stir, he moved his hand up over her head and scratched behind her ears. She leaned against his legs, earning a small chuckle, accepting his touch.

“You will probably have to work with her,” the shelter worker reminded them. “I recommend devoting a lot of time to her for the first few days.. weeks, maybe. I don’t mean to chase you off, but I do want to prepare you. Schedule changes, if you’re a busy person, may be in order. She’ll warm up to you, though. If you guys are willing to put in the effort.”

“We are,” Jake and his mother assured her in unison.

“And I can help if you want, too.” Marco added with a smile.

“Well, Jake.. it looks like you’ve got yourself a dog.”

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