Family Matters: Changes
Joey sat at his desk, a pen dangling between his fingers. He was trying to focus on the book in front of him, but his mind was scattered.
“Hey, Jen?” he called to his twin sister.
She looked up from the book she was reading. “Hm?”
“Do you….” He sighed. He knew Jen wasn’t as emotional as he was. It was stupid of him to keep thinking about this, even two years later.
“Yeah, I do,” she said, her voice dripping with sadness. “All the time.”
He could hear the tears in her voice, and they mirrored his own feelings. “How’d you know what I was thinking?”
She shrugged. “Maybe twin telepathy or something. Or, you know, maybe it’s because it was two years ago today we said our good byes.”
The night was etched into Joey’s mind. He and Jen had come home from school, and found Olaf on the floor, panting hard. Dad had gone to Uncle Travis’s house, and Papa was at the office. They frantically called them both.
“He’s….” Joey sobbed. “Dad, he’s sick.”
He could hear Jenna talking to Papa, her voice breaking.
“I’m on my way. Did you call your Papa?”
“Jenna’s on the phone with him now. Dad? He’ll be okay, right?”
“I don’t know, honey. He’s ten years old, and that’s pretty…I just don’t know.”
The rest of the day was a blur of emotions, words, hushed conversations, and the four of them huddling together, hoping that Olaf would be okay. It wasn’t until the vet came out, a frown on her face, that Joey knew.
“I’m sorry. His kidneys are shutting down. We’ve tried everything, but it’s only a matter of time.”
“No,” Joey whimpered. “He can’t die, Papa, he can’t!”
Papa grabbed him and dragged him into a bear hug. “I’m sorry, Joey. So very sorry.”
Jen stood stoically, her face a mask. She turned to the vet. “What do you think we should do?”
His sister was more mature than most people Joey knew. She was forever standing between him and the more ignorant people at school. Between Jenna and Micah, no one even came near him. It didn’t stop them from whispering, of course, but at least it never became physical. He envied her strength at time.
“I think that’s something your family has to decide. Since you asked, I think you need to consider what’s best for Olaf.”
She gave a sharp nod, then turned back to their family. Joey could see the truth in her eyes. No matter how mature she was, she was hurting as badly as him. He held out his arms and she rushed into them, then the two of them were engulfed by their parents.
“I hated that day,” Jenna said. “So damn bad.”
“I know,” Joey agreed. “Me too. It was a big part of the reason I can’t watch Frozen anymore. Honestly, I thought Olaf would live forever.”
He should have. People should never lose beloved pets. It’s too hard to deal with the loss of someone who is family to you. Who protected you. Who made you laugh. And that day, made them cry.
A knock at the door had the two of them swiping at their tears. They didn’t want Papa or Dad to know they’d been crying. The two of them got weepy when their kids cried.
The door opened, and Papa stood there, smiling at them. “Hey.”
“Hi, Papa,” they replied.
“So, listen. I don’t want to drag this out, because I know the two of you are feeling pretty miserable right now.”
They stared at him. “Why would you say that?”
He frowned. “You think we don’t know what today is? Olaf was our family too, and as we told you so many times, family matters.”
Joey’s lip wobbled. “It still hurts,” he admitted.
“Oh, honey.” Papa pulled Joey into a hug. “It’s going to hurt less and less. There’ll come a time when you won’t think about it for a while, but then something will remind you, and that pain comes back. The thing you need to keep in mind is that we don’t feel bad for Olaf. We feel bad for what we lost when he died.”
The words didn’t make it any better, but Joey understood. Olaf wasn’t in pain anymore. After they…put him to sleep, Joey remembered the arthritic hips, the desire to stay in bed and not play like he used to. He tried to keep in mind that Olaf had been old, but his heart still broke every year.
“Listen, can you guys come downstairs for a minute? Your dad is there, and he has someone he wants to introduce you to.”
They got up and followed Papa downstairs. Dad stood there, and Joey could see the sadness he wore too. He’d been wrong to think it was just him and Jenna. Their whole family mourned Olaf.
“Hey, guys,” Dad said, coming over to hug each of them. “I have someone I’d like you to meet. If you don’t think you can be friends, that’s fine, but Papa and I wanted to be sure you have the chance. Okay?”
“Yes,” Jenna said as Joey nodded.
Dad went to the back door and pulled it open. Instantly a floppy blur rushed into the room and danced around, trying to get to everyone at once.
“Oooh,” Jenna cried, dropping to her knees.
Joey was torn. He wanted to play with the puppy too, but he felt it would be disloyal to Olaf. Papa came up behind him and dropped an arm over his shoulder and pulled him close.
“It’s okay, Joey. Olaf wouldn’t want you to be sad. You know that. He had a heart as big as the whole outdoors. He loved everyone and everything. None of us will ever forget him, but do you think that maybe you have a little room in your heart for this guy? He’s an Anatolian Shepherd, which means he’s going to be a big dog. Uncle Travis had a patient who was allergic, and couldn’t keep the dog. He asked us if we could give him a home. But it’s up to you and Jenna.
Jenna peered up at Joey, and he could see the hope in her eyes. The puppy was rolling in front of her, his tail swishing side to side, as he pleaded for more touches. He was so cute. Blond and black with deep, dark eyes. When he got up and rushed to Joey, he tried so hard to not let his heart melt, but he couldn’t help it. The pup let loose a woof, desperately trying to get Joey’s attention. His mind kept telling him not to, but he bent down and rubbed a hand over the little things head. He was a ball of energy looking for an outlet.
He peered up at Jenna, the pleading in her expression obvious. Then he glanced down at the puppy. The sweet, innocent, adorable puppy, who only wanted to be loved. To be touched. Papa’s words came back to him. Olaf wouldn’t want anyone to be sad, and he truly believed if Olaf was alive, he’d be the first one to make the puppy part of the family.
“What should we name him?” Joey asked Jenna.
She gave a grateful smile. “How about Sven?”
It made sense, of course. Olaf had been named after the snowman from Frozen, so why not have this little guy be named after the reindeer? Joey knew, deep into his heart, that Olaf would want them to do this. And Joey couldn’t stand the idea of Sven not knowing the same love that Olaf had.
“Welcome home, Sven,” Joey whispered as he nuzzled the pup’s soft fur. “You’re going to love it here.”