Authors: Ellen Miles
“Come on,” Maria said. “You can do it.”
Lizzie sighed. It was going to be so embarrassing to have to explain things to her pen pal. But it would be even more embarrassing to bring Allyson’s letter to school and pin it up. How would she explain it? Everybody knew her brothers were named Charles and the Bean, not Sebastian and Wolfgang.
There was no getting around it. “Okay, Rocky,” Lizzie said, kissing the bulldog’s wrinkly face. “You’re going to have to get off my lap so I can write an e-mail.”
Rocky woke with a snort and climbed down onto the floor, stretching and yawning.
Aaah, there’s nothing like a good nap. So refreshing!
Then he rolled over onto his back and paddled his paws at Buddy, inviting him to play.
Lizzie and Maria laughed. “What a clown,” said Maria. “He’d cheer anybody up.”
Rocky followed them down the hall to Mom’s study and Lizzie logged on. She sat there for a minute, trying to figure out what to say to Allyson.
“‘Dear Allyson,’” Maria suggested. “‘I have a confession to make….’”
A few minutes later, Lizzie had finished writing. She copied over her original letter to Allyson, the one where she had told the truth, and added that to her confession. Then she hit “send.” With luck, Allyson would A) forgive her for making up stories, and B) write her a new letter in time for Lizzie to bring it in to class on Monday morning.
Lizzie spun around on the chair. “Thanks,” she said to Maria. Actually, it was a relief to set the record straight. Lizzie had felt a little funny about that first letter she had sent to Allyson. “Hey, you know what I was thinking?” she asked. “It hit me when you said that I’m pretty cool the way I am. Well, so is Rocky.”
“So is Rocky?” Maria asked, looking confused.
Lizzie sat down on the floor and pulled the stocky bulldog pup onto her lap. “Rocky is pretty cool just the way he is,” she explained. “So what if he’s not a guard dog? So what if he’ll never win the blue ribbon at an agility trial? He’s Rocky. He’s funny and sweet and really easy to take care of. He doesn’t bark or jump on people, and he hardly needs any exercise. And he makes everybody smile and laugh.”
Maria nodded. “You’re right,” she said. She reached out to pet Rocky’s smooth coat. “He’s the perfect dog for
“And all we have to do is figure out who that somebody is,” Lizzie said thoughtfully.
The computer made a noise that made both girls jump. Lizzie spun back around on the chair and stared at the screen. Allyson’s name had popped up. “She wrote back already!” Lizzie said. “She must have been online and read my letter right away.” She sat down in the office chair and clicked on Allyson’s note.
“What did she say?” Maria asked.
Lizzie laughed. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “Allyson lied, too!”
“You’re kidding,” said Maria.
“No, listen to this. She says she couldn’t stand to tell me the real truth about her boring life after she read my exciting letter. So she made a few things up.” Lizzie spun around in the chair. “My pen pal and I seem to have a lot in common, too!” she said, grinning at Maria.
Maria giggled. “So, what did she make up?” she asked. “Does she really live on a ranch?”
“She does.” Lizzie read as quickly as she could. “But it’s only a few acres, and they just have one cow. She does have two brothers, but they’re not twins and their names are Steven and Jason. She doesn’t have a pony. She never saw a grizzly bear, although some people around there have seen them up in the mountains. And instead of four dogs and three cats, they have one kitten and an old hound dog.”
Lizzie swallowed. Allyson was not quite as exciting as she’d first seemed. She didn’t even know how to ride and rope like a real cowgirl, though she said she wanted to learn.
By now, Maria was reading over her shoulder. “She sounds really, really nice,” she said. “And she said she’d write you another letter to bring to school.”
Lizzie nodded. She still felt disappointed. It wasn’t really fair to feel that way, since she had made up stuff about herself, too. But she had been hoping for an extra-cool pen pal. Now she just had a regular one, sort of like Maria’s pen pal, Becky. At least Allyson lived in Montana. That counted for something, didn’t it?
Rocky ambled over in his bowlegged way and put his paw up on Lizzie’s knee.
Things are getting kind of serious in here. What’s the big deal? How about some smiles?
Lizzie grinned at him and scratched his head. “Well, Rocky. I guess you and I — and Allyson — aren’t the most exciting folks in the world. But that’s okay. We’re still pretty cool, once you get to know us. Right?”
Rocky looked up at her and panted a happy huff. He wagged his little stub of a tail and blinked his big, sparkly eyes.
Then Mom walked in. “Okay, girls, time to finish up here. I need the computer so I can get my last article done. I promised Judge Thayer he could read his interview before I sent it in to my editor.” She looked at Lizzie. “Maybe you and Maria could drop it off at his place tomorrow when you’re out walking Ginger and Rocky. He lives just a few blocks from Ginger’s home.”
Lizzie nodded. “Sure,” she said. Then she remembered the way the judge had smiled when he looked at Rocky. She poked Maria. “Hey,” she said. “I think I have an idea.”
The next morning at school, Lizzie stood near the bulletin board, waiting her turn to pin up her pen-pal letter. Nobody but Maria would ever know that it was not the
letter she had gotten from Allyson. Since she and Allyson had some of the exact same dog stickers, Lizzie had put a few of her own onto the e-mail she had printed out — so it even looked like a real letter.
She was proud to pin it up. Allyson sounded funny and cool, and her life in Montana was definitely different from Lizzie’s life. When it was her turn, Lizzie took four red pushpins and stuck her letter right in the middle of the board. She turned to see Maria watching her, and she grinned at her friend. Maria smiled back. Lizzie felt grateful to Maria for helping her out of a jam. Maria was the best friend she could ever have.
She watched Maria pin up Becky’s letter. Then the two of them linked arms and headed back to their seats, whispering about the plan they’d made for Rocky’s future.
It was so obvious. The day before, Lizzie had realized that Rocky would be perfect for Judge Thayer and his wife, Charlotte. They’d had to give up Cocoa, the chocolate Lab, because she just had too much energy for them to deal with. But, as Lizzie had told Maria, that didn’t mean they couldn’t have a dog at all. And what better dog than Rocky, who hardly needed any exercise? Plus, he was such a clown. He would keep them laughing every day. It was a perfect match.
Except for one thing — the thing Lizzie had remembered that morning, as she was brushing her teeth.
“All we have to do is prove to Mrs. Thayer that she could love a bulldog,” Lizzie told Maria now. “Judge Thayer said his wife wouldn’t even consider a dog that wasn’t a Lab.”
“But who wouldn’t fall in love with Rocky right away?” Maria asked.
“Exactly,” said Lizzie. “That’s why we’re going to make sure that Rocky and Charlotte Thayer meet each other — today.”
Later that afternoon, when Maria and Lizzie finished walking all their other clients’ dogs, they stopped at Lizzie’s house to pick up Rocky. Mom handed Lizzie a big brown envelope. “Judge Thayer is expecting you,” she said.
Lizzie couldn’t wait to get to the judge’s house. She tried to hurry Rocky along, but it was no use. He trundled along in his usual poky way, sniffing at everything and stopping once in a while for a happy, squirming roll in the grass.
It got even worse when they picked up Ginger. Now they had
slowpoke dogs on their hands. Lizzie was so impatient that she began hopping from foot to foot as she waited for the dogs to sniff. “Take it easy,” Maria told Lizzie. “We’ll get there.”
Finally, they did. Lizzie double-checked the house number. “This is it,” she announced. The judge lived in a small light-blue house, nothing fancy. Lizzie had expected a judge to live in something a little more … important. But it was a cute house, and there was a fenced-in yard, which was always a good thing for dog owners, and a pretty little garden all blooming with yellow and purple flowers.
Lizzie opened the front gate, and she and Maria — and Rocky and Ginger — walked up to the porch. “Sit, Rocky,” said Lizzie, as she rang the bell. She wanted him on his best behavior.
Judge Thayer smiled when he opened the door. “Well, well, well,” he said. “Hello, Lizzie.”
“Hi,” said Lizzie. “This is my best friend, Maria.”
Judge Thayer reached down to shake Maria’s hand. He was so formal! Even in the middle of the afternoon, he wore a suit and tie and a crisp white shirt. Then he bent over to pet Rocky. “And I believe this charming young man and I have already met,” he said. “Hello there, Rocky.”
Rocky squirmed and snorted happily.
“And this is Ginger,” Maria said.
“A pleasure to meet you, young lady,” said the judge, shaking Ginger’s paw. Ginger looked a little confused, but she wagged her tail.
When he straightened up, Lizzie handed Judge Thayer the envelope. “Here’s the interview,” she said. “Mom says you have two days to look it over. Then she has to turn it in.”
“I’m sure it will be just fine,” said the judge. “Your mother is a talented journalist.” He smiled at Lizzie. “Thank you for bringing it over.”
He looked as if he were ready to say good-bye.
“Um, is your wife home?” Lizzie blurted out. She wasn’t sure how else to ask.
Judge Thayer shook his head. “Charlotte is off at the grocery store,” he said. “I know she’ll be sorry to have missed you.”
Not as sorry as Lizzie was. Lizzie looked down at Rocky. If only Charlotte Thayer could meet him! “I was kind of hoping …” she began. Just then, a silver car pulled into the driveway.
“There she is now,” said the judge. “Let’s help her unload her purchases, shall we?” He led the girls and the dogs over to the car. Charlotte looked surprised when she opened the door and climbed out. She was a small woman who always reminded Lizzie of a bright-eyed little bird.
“Land sakes, Ernest,” she said. “Who have you got here?”
Judge Thayer introduced the girls. “You remember Lizzie, don’t you?” he asked. “She and her family took care of Cocoa when I hurt my ankle.”
A shadow seemed to pass over Charlotte Thayer’s face at the mention of Cocoa. Lizzie could tell that she must still miss the beautiful chocolate Lab very much. But she smiled at Lizzie. “Of course. And who might these creatures be?” she asked, peering at Ginger and Rocky.
“This is Ginger,” said Maria. “We have a dog-walking business, and she’s one of our clients.”
“And this,” Lizzie said, “is another puppy my family is fostering. We’re looking for a perfect forever home for him. His name is Rocky.” At the sound of his name Rocky sat up, panting his happy huff. He held up a paw and smiled his bulldog smile.
That’s me! Rocky’s my name, clowning is my game.
Charlotte Thayer’s eyes brightened. “Why, what a funny little darling,” she said. She reached down to pet Rocky.
“He is funny,” said Lizzie. “And he hardly needs any exercise at all! He’s a real couch potato. He doesn’t bark, or drool, or jump up on people. All he wants is to be loved.”
“Hmm,” said Charlotte.
“Can we help bring in your groceries?” Lizzie asked. She winked at Maria, to let her know it was all part of the plan. She wanted Mrs. Thayer to have a few minutes to get to know Rocky.
“I’ll show you where to put them,” said Judge Thayer. Lizzie had a feeling he’d noticed her wink and knew exactly what she was up to. Sure enough, he gave
a wink as he handed her a sack of groceries. “Why don’t you just relax out here and keep an eye on the dogs?” he said to Charlotte.
By the time the girls and Judge Thayer came back outside, Charlotte was perched on the back steps, scratching Rocky between the ears. Rocky grunted happily and looked up at her with a silly bulldog smile. Then he rolled over and paddled his paws, and his upside-down smile grew even wider.
Judge Thayer burst out laughing.
Charlotte looked surprised. She glanced up at her husband. “Ernest, I believe that’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh like that since we had to give up Cocoa.”
Judge Thayer sat down next to Charlotte and took his wife’s hand. “That’s way too long to go without a good laugh,” he said.
Charlotte leaned against him and smiled. “I know I said I couldn’t imagine having any dog if I couldn’t have a Lab. But this fellow is something special. I believe he’d keep us both in stitches every day. What do you think, Ernest? Could we give this silly boy a home?”
The judge didn’t answer. He just knelt right down on the grass, in his good suit, and threw his arms around Rocky. “What do you say, buddy?” he asked.
Rocky rolled over, jumped up, and barked happily as he wagged his stubby little tail.
Sounds great to me!
Lizzie and Maria looked at each other and smiled. Rocky had found a forever home with people who would love him just as he was. What could be better than that?