Authors: Ellen Miles
At lunchtime at school the next day, Maria asked Lizzie how Muttley was doing.
“He’s fine, I guess.” Lizzie licked the lid she had just peeled off her applesauce. She liked to eat her dessert first at lunch. “All he does is sleep, sleep, sleep. I’ve been calling him Sleepy, because he reminds me of the dwarf in ‘Snow White.’ You know, the one who can barely keep his eyes open?”
Maria laughed. “What does Buddy think?”
“Buddy’s confused,” said Lizzie. “He loves to play with other puppies, but Muttley doesn’t want to play much.” She finished her applesauce and unwrapped her sandwich. Turkey on whole wheat?
Didn’t Dad know she hated turkey sandwiches? Mom never gave her turkey.
“There must be something to love about Muttley.” Maria held up her sandwich — tuna on pita bread — with a questioning glance. Lizzie nodded, and the girls traded.
“Well, he is incredibly cute. And Dad thinks he’s actually really smart,” Lizzie said. “He can tell by the way Muttley makes eye contact when you talk to him. That means he looks you right in the eye. At least when he’s awake, that is,” she added. “That’s the German shepherd in him, I bet.”
She took a bite of sandwich. “Anyway, Dad thinks it will be easy to find a home for Muttley. I hope he’s right. My mom wasn’t that happy to hear that we agreed to take a foster puppy while she was gone. She said she was ready for a break from fostering for a while, and hoping to come back to a one-puppy household. We had to promise to find Muttley a home before she gets back.”
Lizzie looked up and saw Daphne and Brianna on their way out of the hot-lunch line. They carried their trays to the table and sat down across from Lizzie and Maria.
Lizzie did her best not to make a face when she saw the gross shepherd’s pie on their plates. She would rather have a turkey sandwich anytime. “So, when are you coming to Caring Paws again?”
Daphne and Brianna looked at each other. “Actually, we can’t make it anytime soon,” said Daphne.
“Um, right,” said Brianna. “We’re both kind of busy.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t count on us for help at the shelter,” Daphne said.
“Yeah, I’m not sure I have time to be in the Caring Club, either,” added Brianna.
“What do you mean? Why not?” asked Lizzie. Neither girl answered. Lizzie looked at Maria. Maria didn’t look back at her. At that
moment, Maria seemed very interested in her sandwich.
“Well, fine.” Lizzie turned back to Daphne and Brianna. “Whatever. If you don’t want to be in the Caring Club and help animals, I won’t force you. There are plenty of other kids who want to join.” She didn’t mention that most of the other kids were little, Charles’s friends. So what? Even little kids could help animals.
“I’ll come. I heard about your club. I want to be in the Caring Club.”
Lizzie looked up to see who was talking.
“Hi, Jimmy,” she said. “Um, right now the club is kind of full.”
“But I love animals!” Jimmy squeezed his way onto the bench next to Brianna, knocking a half-full carton of chocolate milk off her tray.
“Oops,” said Jimmy. “Sorry! Sorry, Brianna. I’m really sorry.” He jumped up to grab a bunch of paper towels, then smeared the chocolate milk all over the table and the floor.
This was exactly why Lizzie didn’t want Jimmy Johnston to be in the club. It was bad enough to have him in her class, where he was always distracting everyone. He talked all the time and jumped up and knocked things over. Even when he sat still, he had to jiggle something: his leg would move like the needle of a sewing machine, or a pencil in his hand would
on the desk. Some days it seemed as if Mrs. Abeson said nothing all day but “Jimmy, settle down. Jimmy, it’s someone else’s turn to talk. Jimmy, that’s not classroom behavior.”
Lizzie knew that Jimmy didn’t
to be the way he was. “Maybe there’s another club you could join,” she said.
“But I’m really good with dogs. My gramps calls me —” Jimmy began, but just then the bell rang and it was time to line up and head back to class.
“Maybe you shouldn’t say no to him so fast,” Maria whispered to Lizzie as they tossed their sandwich scraps into the composting bin.
“Are you kidding?” Lizzie whispered back. “He’d make the animals nuts with all that energy.”
Maria shrugged. “Maybe,” she said as she balled up her lunch bag and tossed it into the trash. “But I bet Ms. Dobbins wouldn’t mind the extra help. And if Daphne and Brianna aren’t going to be in the Caring Club, then you might wish you had some other members.”
“Oh, they’ll come back,” Lizzie said as she and Maria took their places in line behind Mrs. Abeson, by the cafeteria doors.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Maria said.
Lizzie looked at her. “Why?”
Maria was busy looking at her sneakers.
“Maria, why don’t they want to be in the club? Do you know something I don’t know?” Lizzie stared at her friend until Maria finally met her eyes.
“They think . . . well, I heard that Daphne said you’re a bossy know-it-all,” said Maria quickly,
and very quietly. Then she looked back down at her sneakers.
Mrs. Abeson waved. “Let’s go, kiddos,” she called. She walked out of the cafeteria, leading her class down the hall and up the stairs back to their room. But Lizzie stood still, with her hands on her hips. It was almost funny that Daphne had said that. Daphne Drake was the one who was a know-it-all. She was the biggest know-it-all in fourth grade. “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding. All I did was show them around the shelter.”
Maria shrugged. “I guess it wasn’t so much what you did as how you did it. You can’t help it, really. You do know an awful lot about the shelter, and about animals, and about the best ways to take care of them.” She tugged Lizzie’s sleeve. “Come on.” Maria pulled Lizzie down the hall, following Mrs. Abeson and the rest of their class.
“Right, and I was trying to share what I know. What’s so wrong with that?” Lizzie shook her head. Some people just didn’t get it.
“Nothing,” said Maria as they walked into their classroom. “Just . . . maybe there are better and worse ways to share.”
“Woolly Bully!” Lizzie yelled as she tossed a raggedy grayish stuffed sheep to Charles.
Charles caught the sheep and ran toward the stairs, then spun around and threw the toy back to Lizzie. “Woolly Bully!” he cried.
Buddy dashed back and forth between them, scrabbling and skidding on the floor as he tried to make a quick turn to grab the flying sheep out of the air. His ears were on full alert, his eyes were bright, and he barked and wagged his tail in crazy circles. Buddy loved to play Woolly Bully.
So did Lizzie — especially when it took her mind off other things, like . . . well, what had happened at school that day. Who cared what Daphne Drake
thought? But Lizzie felt her stomach clench up every time she remembered what Daphne had said. She wished she could talk to Mom about it, but Mom wasn’t there. “Woolly Bully, Woolly Bully, Woolly Bully!” she chanted as she held the sheep high above Buddy’s head.
Lizzie couldn’t remember exactly how or when this game had been invented, but she knew that “Wooly Bully” was an old song her dad liked. He was the one who had named the stuffed sheep and taught them the song. Sort of. He didn’t exactly know the words, just the part where you sang “Wooly Bully” over and over again. Charles and Lizzie and Buddy had made up the rest of the game, which was a combination of catch, touch football, keep-away, and monkey in the middle.
Mom wasn’t crazy about Woolly Bully. “Too wild for indoors,” she always said.
But Mom was away, and Dad didn’t mind if Lizzie and Charles played Woolly Bully. He was
all for it if it might get Muttley moving. “We’ve got to rev that dog up if we want to find him a home,” he’d said. And the game had worked — for a little while. Muttley had joined right in, chasing the toy sheep as it flew from hand to hand. But now — Lizzie paused, holding the sheep — where was that sleepyhead?
Buddy jumped up and grabbed the sheep out of Lizzie’s hand. Then he ran straight into the living room and did three laps around the couch, shaking the sheep happily.
Wheee! Got it.
For the first time since lunch, Lizzie laughed. That was the great thing about dogs. They made you laugh, even when you felt awful. She went to look for Muttley. “What are you doing up here?” she asked the puppy when she found him asleep in the upstairs hall, just outside the Bean’s room.
She sat down next to him and stroked his floppy ears. Muttley stretched out his legs and sighed happily.
Aaah, that feels good.
“That seems to be his favorite spot lately,” said Dad, coming up the stairs. “I noticed that he came up to check on the Bean yesterday at nap-time. Then he slept outside the door, as if he was guarding him. I guess he’s just in the habit now, even though the Bean is at day care today.”
“That’s sweet,” said Lizzie. “What a good boy. He’s a sleepy little hound, but he also likes to take care of his people, like a shepherd.” Lizzie remembered how impressed Ms. Dobbins had been when Lizzie had guessed Muttley’s mix of breeds. It had been easy. Lizzie had recognized Muttley’s long ears and face markings from the Walker hound picture on her poster, and his brown-and-tan coloring and long wavy tail were
all shepherd. Ms. Dobbins didn’t think Lizzie was a know-it-all. Or did she?
Lizzie pulled the sleepy, warm Muttley onto her lap and kissed the soft black fur on his nose. She remembered the day before at the shelter, when she had shown Brianna the best way to clean a dog dish. She had taken the dish out of Brianna’s hands and scrubbed it herself, explaining that you had to use the hottest water and plenty of soap, and then make sure to rinse it really well.
Maybe Brianna would have figured that out on her own.
Thinking about it, Lizzie could understand how that might have
like something a bossy person would do.
Then she remembered how she had interrupted Daphne when Daphne was trying to share her own ideas about caring for animals, and how she’d corrected the way Daphne picked Muttley up. Was that being a know-it-all? “What do you think, Muttley?” Lizzie asked.
Muttley opened one eye and licked Lizzie’s hand.
I think I like the way you
re petting me.
Lizzie wondered what it would take to get Daphne and Brianna to give her — and the shelter — another chance.
Later, while Lizzie helped her dad get dinner ready, she asked, “Dad, do you think I’m bossy? Or, like, a know-it-all?”
Dad smiled as he stirred a big pot of chili, which filled the kitchen with delicious smells. Dad had learned to cook way back when he was a rookie firefighter, living at the firehouse. Firefighters had big appetites, and they liked hearty meals. Dad’s specialties were blueberry pancakes and chili. Actually, now that Lizzie thought of it, she realized that those were pretty much the only two things he ever made.
“Well,” he said, “you do have a . . . a kind of strong personality at times.”
“What he means,” said Charles, who had just come in to grab some pretzels for himself and some dog biscuits for Buddy and Muttley, “is yes, you’re bossy.” He crossed his eyes at Lizzie. “Definitely very, very bossy.”
“That’s enough of that, pal.” Dad turned back to Lizzie. “No, all I meant was that you do know a lot about certain topics — like dogs, for instance — and you’re not shy about saying what you think. Some people might call that being bossy or a know-it-all. I call it Lizzie.” He swooped her into a big hug. “You’re my girl,” he whispered into her ear, “and your mom and I will always be proud of you.”
Mom called just as they finished dinner. After Charles had given her the Muttley Report (still sleepy, no forever home yet), and Mom had given everyone the Aunt Julie Update (feeling much better, still having a hard time getting around), Lizzie took over the phone and told Mom what had happened that day. “That dumb Daphne Drake said I was a bossy know-it-all,” she said.
“That wasn’t very nice,” said Mom. “But maybe she didn’t mean it the way it came out. Maybe Daphne is just a little envious of how much you know about animals.”
“I never thought of that,” said Lizzie. “But, Mom, do you think I’m bossy sometimes?”
For a second, Mom didn’t say anything.
“Mom?” asked Lizzie.
“Sometimes, yes,” Mom finally said. “You do have a way of ordering people around — your brothers, for example. But you are also a kind, loving big sister, and they are lucky to have you.”
Now Lizzie was silent for a moment. “I miss you, Mom,” she said finally. She sniffed and wiped her eyes as she said good-bye.
“How about a special treat?” Dad asked after Lizzie had hung up. “How about Movie Night?”
“Really? Even though it’s a weeknight?” Lizzie asked. Usually Movie Night was a weekend thing. She had a feeling Dad knew how sad she felt saying good-bye to Mom.
“Why not?” Dad asked. “It’s still early, so you probably won’t even be up past your bedtimes. Not much, anyway. Not enough to tell Mom.” He held a finger to his lips. “It’ll be our secret.”
“Yayyy!” they all yelled. Charles and Lizzie and the Bean loved to pile into the big bed in Mom and Dad’s room to watch a movie.
“Can we bring our ice cream?” asked Charles. That was another special treat: Dad had brought home vanilla-chocolate-strawberry ice cream
“Hmmm,” Dad said. “That might be a mistake.”
Lizzie pictured it: the Bean + ice cream + chocolate sauce + bed = yikes! Mom would not be happy to come back to that kind of mess. She nodded. “We’ll have ice cream down here, before the movie,” she said. They took their bowls into the living room and Lizzie got the Bean settled at the coffee table, with lots of paper towels on hand to wipe up any messes. She sat on the floor nearby and pulled Muttley into her lap for a cuddle. Muttley rested his head on her knee and let out a contented sigh.
There are so many nice spots for napping here.
I like this place.
Lizzie patted his soft ears between bites of ice cream. She always tried to make her chocolate
and strawberry (she never bothered with vanilla) come out even.
Charles and the Bean played tug with Buddy while they ate their ice cream. Buddy was always ready for a game. He
and yipped and pulled at Mr. Duck (his favorite toy) while Charles hung on. When Charles let him win the game, he ran off with Mr. Duck to another corner of the room, hoping someone would chase him. Then he pranced back to Charles, waving Mr. Duck in his face until Charles started the tug game over. The Bean’s main job in the game was to laugh and shriek and yell, “Buddy, come! Buddy, give toy!” and laugh some more until he sat down with a bump. After a moment of silence, his laughter would start all over again.
“Which movie should we watch?” Charles asked. He fanned out the three movies Dad had brought home.
“Dis one.” The Bean grabbed at one about a purple stuffed rabbit.
Charles and Lizzie groaned. “That’s for babies,” said Lizzie.
“How about this one?” Charles held up a movie about robots that come to life.
Lizzie waved it away. “Dumb. This one.” She picked up the last movie. “This is the one we’ll watch. It’ll be great.”
Charles started to say something, but then he shrugged. “No wonder,” he said under his breath.
Lizzie frowned at him. “What did you say? No wonder
“No wonder Daphne thinks you’re bossy.” Charles looked down at the DVD in his hand. “I hate to tell you,” he went on, “but Sammy and David kind of agree with Daphne. They’ve seen you in action before, and they don’t want to be bossed around, either. So they, um, they changed their minds about helping out at Caring Paws.”
Lizzie shook her head. What was there to say? No Daphne and Brianna. No Sammy or
David. Was Jimmy Johnston the only person left who wanted to join the Caring Club? She got up and headed for the stairs. “Let’s just watch the movie.”
The movie was about a boy who lived in Alaska, where he and his team of huskies entered a sled-dog race. Lizzie knew it would be exciting. She could still hardly believe that she had once gotten to drive a dogsled herself. It was the most incredible thing she had ever done.
Even when she was upset — maybe
when she was upset — Lizzie loved to snuggle into Mom and Dad’s bed, with its soft pillows and its heavy, warm spread and its sweet, safe, sleepy smell. The Bean cuddled up right next to her, and Charles and Buddy lay across the bottom of the bed in their favorite spot. Dad got the movie going, then headed downstairs to check on Muttley and clean up the kitchen.
The movie was just as exciting as Lizzie had imagined. She forgot all about what Charles
had told her — and even about what Daphne had said — as she watched the beautiful barking dogs pull a sled through the snowy scenery. But somehow — maybe because she was so cozy — she kept drifting off to sleep, only to wake with a start, realizing she had missed a whole section of the story.
She was snoozing again when she was woken by the sound of barking — from downstairs. It didn’t come from the movie. It was a hoarse bark, followed by a long, howling
The barking came closer, joined by the pounding of footsteps up the stairs. “Here they are, Muttley,” Dad said as he pushed open the bedroom door. “They’re safe and sound, see?”
Muttley leapt onto the bed and licked each of their faces in turn: first Charles’s, then the Bean’s, and finally Lizzie’s. Then he curled up between Lizzie and the Bean and, with a sigh, settled right into a deep sleep.
My work is done. Time for a nap.
Lizzie stroked Muttley’s head. “What’s going on?” she asked.
Dad shook his head. “I’m telling you, this is one smart pooch,” he said. “Last I saw, he was asleep in the living room. But he must have slipped upstairs to check on each of you in your beds — and when he didn’t find you, he came galloping back down, barking his head off to let me know you were missing.”
“He forgot to look in here,” said Charles.
“Why would he? He’s already learned where each of you usually sleeps. But I bet he’ll never miss checking this bedroom again,” said Dad. He sat on the bed and patted Muttley. “This pup is going to grow up into a great dog. We’ve got to get the word out on him. Someone will want a smart pup like this.”
Muttley looked up at Dad and gave a huge pink-tongue-rolling yawn.
going to stop talking, so I can get
back to sleep?
Lizzie laughed. “Oh, Muttley.” She gave him a big hug and kissed his nose. He really was a sweetie. “Thanks for taking care of us.”