A Ziploc stuffed with Sheps dog food sat on Amy’s polished dining room table. A bag cost ten bucks with tax at ALDI’s and lasted for a month. I never read the ingredients. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I pushed the clear baggie to the side. Artie’s slick nose wiggled, capturing the scent of the artificially colored pellets. Street urchins aren’t picky.
Artie sat next to my Vans, pushing his eighteen-pound wiry body against my shins, too overwhelmed to investigate his surroundings. He’d never been inside a house as enormous and new as the Johnson’s. For that matter, neither had I. I reached down, stroked his shammy cloth-feeling ears, the leather-like softness sifting through my fingers.
“What are you feeding him?” Amy asked.
As a foster family we’re required to provide food, shelter, and love. Shelter is easy. The Farnival consists of afifteen hundred square-foot house roosting on eight acres of mostly wooded land. As far as love goes, it’s boundless and unconditional. But paying for a foster dog’s food is another story. Our own pack includes five dogs and three cats, and we live on a Dave Ramsey-style budget.
But there’s another reason it took me a few seconds to answer. I know it’s not right, but I couldn’t help comparing the Johnson’s wealth to the flea-infested, scrawny creature Artie had been when I first met him. From the second Mason and I had turned into the their paved driveway, bells from the Bellagio started pinging in my ears. Artie had hit the jackpot.
Mason noticed my hesitation, flipped his eyes at me. That’s when my internal yin and yang started brawling. My yin screamed: just be honest, Melissa. It’s that easy. But yang countered: he doesn’t have to ever eat Sheps again.
Yang had a point. The inside of the Johnson’s home was just as impressive as the outside, twenty-foot ceilings with towering windows. Clean, unworn fabric covered the couches, tasseled throw pillows arranged at each end. A glass coffee table displayed photos of pretty, bobbed, blond Amy, her husband, and three children, all dressed in white, posing on a Florida beach, like pictures out of a glossy high-dollar magazine. Seeing those pictures is what pushed yang over the top.
I’m going to hook you up, little man, I said.
Artie looked up, dialed into my gestures and thoughts like no human could ever be. He trusted me, but I had earned it.
“Science Diet,” I finally lied.
Mason dropped his head, the brim of his Predator’sbaseball cap hiding his eyes. Raised as a Southern Baptist, my husband’s morals are impeccable. Lying goes down as rough as moonshine.
“I can pick some up tomorrow,” Amy said, not even looking at Mace or me, completely unaware that I lied. She stared at Artie with a gaze registering only tenderness. The Bellagio bells started pinging even louder than before. I smiled, just a little. Amy and her family were that rare combination of rich and cool. Artie would be loved here. This was a good place. A victory in our war against animal overpopulation.
“Any special kind?” Amy asked.
As soon as she opened a bag of Science Diet, she’d notice the difference between the cheap Shep’s pellets and the grain-like texture of the good shit. But by then, it would be too late.
“He seems to like the lamb and rice,” I answered.
Artie set his nose on my knee. He flicked me a wink.