The Frog Prince

“McKayla, Rogers is going to be tied up for quite a while. Why don’t I ask one of the orderlies to walk you to your car.” Said her boss.

She thought about it, but the ER just got slammed with injuries from two separate car accidents. They even hinted she could stay, but after twelve hours on her feet, McKayla would have paid them to let her go.

“No, I’ll just head to my car, it’s not far. Thanks, and goodnight Eva.”

“Goodnight McKayla, go home and get some rest.” McKayla smiled at her coworker and grabbed the keys from her backpack. She stepped through the automatic doors behind the emergency room, waved to some paramedics, and proceeded to her car. The east wing brought her closer to her car, but the lights were out in that corner of the parking lot for weeks now. She planned to stay in well-lit areas and close to the busy ER entrance.

As she strode farther from safety, her ears perked for every sound in the night. Leaves scraped across the dry concrete in a breeze. She kept her keys ready, and her arms tense and at her sides. McKayla strode tall between rows of parked cars, like a gunslinger in an abandoned town. Instead of carrying six-shooters, she had mace. Six months ago she would have thought nothing of strolling out to her car at any hour, but that was before she met Luke.

She had met Luke through an online dating service and after two dates she politely told him she was not interested. At the time, he seemed surprised but not heartbroken. McKayla remembered nodding and saying he would find someone better or something to that effect, and she paid half the bill and left the restaurant.

Then the phone calls and texts starting coming. At first she answered and tried to reason with him, then she tried ignoring the calls all together. She thought that worked until she showed up one day at work and found him waiting for her. He wanted to “talk”. To tell her they were made for each other or list her shortcomings and flaws. When he wouldn’t leave her alone, going as far as trying to follow her on her rounds, the hospital security got involved. McKayla got to know these guys really well in the coming months, as Luke stalked her. After finding no joy at her work, he discovered where she lived and began showing up at the apartment complex. Finally, after the second ‘911’ call, she got a restraining order against him. That was last Friday. Here it was, Wednesday and she still didn’t believe he would stay away.

A shoe crunched gravel nearby. Her hand grabbed the mace in her pocket, the other clenched keys with white knuckles. A soft footfall sounded in front of her. She strained her eyes to see the source. The ER’s blaring lights now became a hindrance, it prevented her from seeing into the shadows. Suddenly a form loomed behind a pale sedan.

“McKayla.” It was Luke. Vomit surged in her throat, she swallowed it down, but her anger simmered.

“You’re not supposed to be here Luke.” She warned.

He mimicked her in a falsetto voice and laughed. He moved out from behind the car. “What do you have for me today, McKayla? Pepper Spray? A gun? Well guess what? I have a gun too!”

His voice rang out across the empty parking lot. She couldn’t believe he boasted so loud in public about having a gun; and he was under a restraining order. He must be high again. She thought. He raised his hand and let the overhead light catch the wicked edge of the gun in his hand. He fired.

The bullet hit the car behind her, shattering glass everywhere like tiny ice cubes. She dove down.

“Whew! You should have seen your face! Priceless!” He crowed.

She heard him approach and scampered around the bumper of an SUV trying to hide herself behind its oversized tires. The mace in her hand, she lowered her keys silently under the car; she hoped she would retrieve them later. Leaving her purse in the open, McKayla crawled like a crab around another car. He now stood where her purse was.

“You know, they say you can tell a lot about a woman by her purse. But I already know a lot about you; you are a whore and bitch and the sooner you’re dead the better the world will be.”

She had heard him say this before; it seemed to be his favorite line. His feet paced two, no three, cars away. A light suddenly blared and a voice announced.

“Put the gun down. This is the police.” A police cruiser shone its powerful beam like a projector in a drive-in theater. McKayla, still in the sea of shadows, did not stir from her position. She recognized the insignia on the hub cap; a Renault. One of her favorite doctors drove a Renault and hoped his car would not be hit by gun fire. The officer repeated the command: nothing happened. Doors opened, more warnings and gunfire. Instinct told her to bolt, but she forced herself to stay, balancing on her feet and curled up behind the wheel.

Now another officer barked orders and radios crackled, followed by sirens. Still, she waited. Had Luke been stupid enough to open fire on an officer? she wondered.

A light suddenly blinded her. McKayla thought she was dead until a voice said, “Step out from behind the car, Ma’am.”

It turned out that Luke had been both unlucky and stupid. Not one but two cruisers had followed the accident victims to the hospital and so heard the shot ring out in the parking lot. He shot at the officers when they stepped out of their cruisers, but still shielded by the doors. He missed, but they didn’t. Now, he was in the ER.

It was ironic that her friends were saving Luke’s life. Daniel, the amazing triage nurse, had already employed his years of experience to assess the situation. Her buddy, Christa, had probably started the IVs while the ever-calm Dr. Lee kickstarted the entire gunshot wound protocol. He would receive the best of care from her coworkers and then what?

Officer Kelley, a familiar face in the ER, assured her Luke just bought himself a nice, new orange jumpsuit. Since he had disobeyed the restraining order, was probably high on pain killers, and most importantly had fired on an officer. She heard what he said, knew the logic, but took precautions anyway.

Over the next few months she found a new nursing job. She hated to leave her coworkers but needed peace of mind. McKayla also found a new apartment; not in multi-storied complex like she had always rented. This time, she found an adorable, one-bedroom flat in a quiet little neighborhood, still walking distance to a café, a few restaurants, and her favorite bookstore. Her new home sat over a three car garage behind a large Tudor style home inhabited by her landlady, Ida Minchum.

She was a widow. Her late husband, Walter, had been a successful hydro-electrical engineer before he died of prostate cancer. Now only Ida and her small dog named Trixie, and two cats named Rambo and Muffin, roamed the large house. From the get-go, McKayla and Ida hit it off. Soon they were biking to the Farmer’s Market, gardening, and walking Trixie about town.

Ida was an unusual landlady, she believed that people who had pets made better tenants than those without. And so, she suggested McKayla visit the local SPCA to adopt a pet, a dog, in fact.

After some thought, McKayla agreed, and began reading up on dog breeds, training, and care. After several discussions with Ida, McKayla decided to adopt a dog; not too old and not a puppy; one small, easy to carry, but active. One Tuesday morning, McKayla drove to the county SPCA.

She waited for her turn at the counter. Two families waited in the lobby and an old lady with a cat in a carrier, mewing softly. She glanced over to see the woman had tears streaming down her face.

“It’s all right Rex, I’m right here.” She said in a quavering voice.

The children glanced at the drama and then went back to peering through the windows into the Cat Room. From where they stood, kennels stacked two high and several wide filled the room. Cats and kittens filled every one. She heard a mother ahead of her tell the receptionist, they were there to adopt a cat. The woman pointed out which rooms had cats; one for surrenders and another two for strays.

Next, the woman behind the counter addressed the sad lady with the cat. McKayla listened with a heavy heart.

“I got Rex here seventeen years ago,” she said quietly, “I woke up this morning and he can’t move his legs and there was blood.” She trailed off, stopped and took a deep breath to continue. “And, now it’s time to give him back.” The poor woman couldn’t say more. She produced an old-fashion, white handkerchief out of her pocket and dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. The receptionist, a slim, mousey-looking woman gave a sympathetic smile and said,

“I understand.” Her finger pressed a button. An animal control officer with sandy-colored hair and a beard came out of a swinging doorway. He must have heard, and nodded gravely.

“Would you like to come back with me and Rex, Mrs. um,” He suggested.

“Mrs. Chang.” She finished and nodded. He opened part of the counter, picked up the carrier, and let her through. A lump formed in McKayla’s throat.

The receptionist caught her eye.

“I’m here to look at dogs.” She managed to say.

The receptionist warned McKayla she needed a proof of home ownership or a landlords permission.

“I have a letter from my landlady, my lease, and her phone number. She’s ready to take your call.” The woman nodded.

“Great, I just need to warn people. The puppies are in the first room and there are more in the second room on the left. Good luck!”

McKayla passed the receptionist and opened a heavy, metal door. Dogs of all ages and sizes stood in kennels on the floor. The ones against the wall at the back, had small openings to the outside. She passed an old golden retriever moping at the front of the cage. Next door a pit bull mix licked playfully at the bars and tried to catch her eye. The one after that perked up his ears and barked; he was a large German Shepherd perked up his ears and barked.

McKayla stiffened. She was afraid of big dogs. When she was just eight-years-old a German Shepherd much like this one knocked her down and put his teeth around her little neck. She had gone over to a friend’s house to play when the dog suddenly surged out of the front door and pinned her. McKayla’s friend and her mother came running out and said “Oh, we forgot to introduce you to King!” They said this as if they had forgotten napkins at a picnic; not that their dog just about ripped open her main artery.

She hurried to the next row and smiled. There in the middle, was a white fluffy dog leaping excitedly at the cage. Up and down, up and down he sprang, giving a yip now and then.

“Hi little fella!” She cooed. The dog had cute little black eyes nestled in a mop of white fur. “You’re so cute!” The dog ignored her and kept bouncing like a rubber ball against the cage.

“Yeah, he’s cute, that one. Not playing with a full deck of cards though. His circuits have misfired or something. He’ll jump like that all day. Not even another dog can coax him out of his Happy Bouncy Spot, as we call it.”

McKayla turned to look at the speaker, and paused. It must be dress up day at the SPCA, she thought.

The woman wore a tan uniform with the animal officer badge, but coated in glitter like a kindergartener’s Christmas Craft. She also carried a plastic wand tipped with a glowing star and a pair of delicate fairy wings strapped to her wide back. The woman had taken a lot of care to dress up: shimmering ribbons entwined in the numerous braids on her head, her eye shadow sparkled turquoise, contrasting with the deep chocolate tone of her skin, and her lipstick glowed in the fluorescent lights.

McKayla returned her attention to the leaping dog and tried to get his attention. His eyes didn’t move, his jumping didn’t pause, he went on like a skipped record. She looked around and saw another sweet dog. She wandered over and looked down at a small dog with long fur, draped to the floor.

“Hi little fella or are you a gal?” She read the sign. ‘Attilla: not available for adoption’. “Well that’s not a very nice name.” She crouched down and the dog snarled ferociously and slammed it’s tiny body against the cage. She recoiled and stood up.

“I named that one myself!” The glittered woman said, as she refilled a water bowl for a large pit bull mix.

McKayla looked at the other dogs on this aisle; they were all too young, too old or too big. She made her way to the next one. A smooth coated, tan dog chewed on a toy in a cage with a weiner dog. She didn’t want a dachshund; they reminded her of rats for some reason. The other pup, though looked like a miniature labrador retriever. Her face was so cute!

“Hi there, sweetie!” The dog trotted up and dropped the toy at her feet. She tried to play with the dog. The glittered coated officer began checking the forms for each cage in her aisle.

“How about this one?” She asked the lady. The officer paused, looked at the little dog, and said while she wrote something on a clipboard.

“Oh, he’s a winner. As long as you and everyone you know is over twelve. He must have been abused by children because he downright hates them.”

McKayla thought of her nieces and nephews visiting and decided against him. She looked over and fell in love.

She knew this dog, it had been on her wish list of purebreds until she found out they cost thousands of dollars. ‘Oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ erupted from her body, as she knelt down to the tiny, delicate creature. Large brown eyes and tiny dancing paws greeted her.

“A Papillon! How sweet! Is she good with kids?” McKayla asked the woman, who now read forms for the Lab mix next to her.

“Oh, yes, Damsel is very sweet but a little high-strung. You don’t have small ones at home, do you?”

McKayla smiled and shook her head. “No, I have an apartment to myself.”

“Wood or carpet?”

“What?”

“Wood or carpet on the floors? Damsel will never be potty trained. Her previous owners messed up horribly with the training and now she thinks that carpeting is where she should go. See that rug in the back?”

The carpet sampler square in the rear of the kennel spoke volumes.

“But I really wanted a Papillon!” McKayla’s heart broke. But even Ida would have issues with a dog crapping and peeing all over the rug.

“There is a dog here for you.” The woman said.

McKayla just nodded and looked at the sweet, warm eyes trapped behind chain link fencing. She sighed.

“I know the dog for you.” The sparkling officer said. McKayla perked up.

“Show me!” she answered. They proceeded through the kennels, to a room at the end. They turned in; it was the puppy room.

“I wanted a full-grown dog.” McKayla added. The winged woman nodded.

“Yes, but God, fate, or Allah, (depending on your preference,) has chosen you a dog already.” She walked directly to the second to last cage. With her wand in hand she gestured, “And here he is.”

McKayla looked down at the ugliest puppy she had ever seen in her life. She didn’t think puppies could be ugly. Even hairless little Chihuahua’s had their charm. The creature in the kennel had a huge nose, small ears, and drool dripped from his pink mouth. His eyes were camouflaged, perfectly matching the brown, mottled fur covering his body, but they were small and too close together. He closed his mouth for a moment, mid pant, and shifted his feet. She knelt and he stood up a white bandage wagged on his butt.

“Tadpole’s tail was docked by his previous owner. The asshole tried to do it himself using pruning shears and seemed surprised when it became infected. He’s been responding well to the antibiotics; Doc says the bandage can come off in a day or two.”

“That’s horrible! What a jerk!” The dog licked her fingers and slowly blinked.

Her heart softened towards little Tadpole but she stood up. She came eye to eye with the officer.

“He’s sweet, but I’m really looking for a dog that’s already trained.”

“Trained to do what?” Was the officer’s reply.

“Well, to heal, fetch, but mostly potty-trained.” She added, looking down at the pup.

“No, I took him out earlier this morning and he did his thing. I can’t guarantee it, but I suspect this fella is already potty trained. But even if he isn’t you are taking him home.”

“Excuse me?” McKayla warned.

The officer unlocked the cage and slipped a lead on the puppy. His white bandage moved back and forth and he pulled towards the door.

“Come on, now. Take him out to the yard and see how he is.”

The officer put the leash in McKayla’s hand and gestured towards the square of light leading outside. She decided to humor the officer. The pup pulled all the way to the yard, sniffed a bush and cocked his leg. She called from the doorway, “I’ll be back in five to see how you two are getting on.”

Clouds moved overhead and the wind picked up. McKayla stood in the sun for warmth, the puppy, after his initial sniffing, sat on the ground looking up at her. Another family came out with a lab mix to another part of the garden. She watched them throw the ball and play with the dog. Theirs bounded around as if someone had added NoDoz to his kibble. She didn’t want a dog that energetic. She looked own at Tadpole. He licked his paw and then looked up at her. Then he did something remarkable. He smiled. His huge face split in two and his eyes closed.

He looked ridiculous but sweet.

It was more like ten minutes, finally the glitter-coated officer appeared, the wind playing havoc with her wings. She still carried a wand in one hand, like policeman’s baton and a clipboard in the other.

“Here’s the paperwork, I brought it out here for you to start on. Another family is taking the German Shepherd home and they are taking up most of the lobby.” She thrust a pen and the board at McKayla.

“But, I came here for a dog.” She whined.

“Yes, and you have one. Tadpole!” The officer gestured with her wand.

“What makes you the one to choose my dog?” McKayla protested.

Instead of anger, the officer smiled, brilliant white teeth and healthy gums gleamed across to the young woman as she said, slowly and deliberately. “Because, McKayla, I am your Fairy Pet Mother.” Then she laughed, whipped her wand around so fast, glitter fell from the tip and showered Tadpole and McKayla, and she left.

McKayla stared at Tadpole. He smiled his goofiest back at her, as if enjoying the Fairy Pet Mother joke more than anyone in the kennel.

McKayla wondered how the officer knew her name; perhaps she was a friend of Ida’s, she mused. And, on that chilly Spring day, Tadpole became McKayla’s dog.

When she brought the puppy home, Ida just laughed. “I tell you, you never know what you will bring home from the pound.” She also had her tenant repeat the story of the Fairy Pet Mother. Ida had friends that volunteered there and even one of her cronies had a son who was an animal control officer, but she didn’t recall anyone matching the Fairy Pet Mother’s description. “Maybe it is part of a promotion.” she suggested.

“I think she’s playing a few cards shy of deck.” Mused McKayla.

Life quickly settled into a routine for McKayla and Tadpole. After just two accidents in the apartment, he was potty trained. Ida thought it was McKayla’s careful attention to his schedule, an advantage of being a trained nurse. McKayla suspected he was already trained or mostly trained as the Fairy Pet Mother suggested. She would take Tadpole down the wooden steps to the garden first thing every morning. Then they would climb back up into the flat where she would make coffee in a travel mug and get dressed. Within twenty minutes they were out on their morning stroll through the neighborhood to the dog park. Once there, Tadpole would play with his canine friends while McKayla sipped her coffee and chatted with the other owners. On the way home, McKayla would work on heel and sit with her pup. He didn’t do so well. He pulled and strained on the lead and took a while to sit.

On work days, McKayla would leave Tadpole locked up in the apartment with a few windows open, chew toys, and fresh water. Ida came to walk him a few times a day while she was away. Then, regardless of the hour, when she returned, his tailless behind would wiggle enthusiastically. She would even let him lick her as she petted his belly. Even if she was starving, she would grab the lead and take him for a walk around the neighborhood. When they returned to the apartment, she would have dinner and feed him his, and then sit and read or watch television or work on her computer, and Tadpole was right at her feet. Sometimes, he would rest his head on her knees and she’d take a break to scratch his ears or his belly. And every night, the dog would sleep in his own bed next to hers. They lived well together and she began to live for his goofy smiles.

On weekends, Tadpole and McKayla explored the county parks and beaches. She took him to street fairs and flea markets. Some people would ask to pet him, but most preferred the smaller and sweeter looking dogs. She knew he wasn’t handsome or cute but she never told strangers this. In the evenings they would sit together in quiet companionship on her small balcony over the garage. Tadpole would gnaw on a toy or bone and she would read and sip wine.

Tadpole grew bigger and McKayla took him for a check up at the Ida’s Vet. She waited in small lobby with vinyl covered benches and linoleum everywhere. Her dog cowered next to her leg and put his head on her thigh. An older man sat waiting on another bench with a cat in a carrier. The cat mewed pitifully.

“She hates the carrier.” explained the man. “She’s just here for her shots.” He had a full head of white hair and a mustache.

McKayla nodded. “Mine’s here for a check up too.”

“What kind of dog is that?” He asked, studying Tadpole.

McKayla shrugged. “I don’t know. When I adopted him, it said ‘mixed Lab’ but I don’t see the lab.”

The man laughed. “Looks like mixed Mastiff.” McKayla looked down at Tadpole. He did seem much larger but his paws were not huge like the Great Dane at the dog park. He was still smaller than Beau, the local Labrador Retriever. She assumed he was as big as he would get.

When the vet called her in, she too, thought Tadpole finished growing. “He’s in good health and a sweet disposition. Notice, he lies down and let’s me probe his abdomen. Very easy-going dog.” McKayla stroked her buddy on the belly. “He will probably fill out a bit more and top off at seventy pounds or so.”

She asked the vet some questions and Tadpole got his shots and they left. She remembered that visit well.

Time passed, and their routine did not change much. McKayla loved walking with Tadpole and took him everywhere she could. She even met friends at a nearby brewery and he sat under the table like a well-trained hound while they drank beer and talked into the night. He hiked with her in the hills and through the marshes, now at her side without pulling. Sometimes another dog or a child would get him excited and but a sharp command and he was in line. He taught her that he needed time to sit or lie down. She would give the order and then wait, her dog would obey it just took some maneuvering to lower the rear end.

Tadpole also bonded with Ida’s pet’s. Trixie ran circles around him in the backyard and the two spent many days rough-housing until they both collapsed on their sides panting. Even though he outweighed the little dog by seven times, he never hurt his smaller friend. Muffin, the tabby, used Tadpole as a punching bag, swatting at his huge body from all angles. She would puff up her tail and charge him, claws retraced, and he would just wag his nonexistent tail and his face would break into one of his goofy grins. But Rambo loved Tadpole. Rambo purred and head-butted the big dog whenever he was around. Frequently Ida and McKayla found the two curled up together on a rug or in the yard. Rambo, a black and white short hair, fit nicely on Tadpole’s ever widening back.

The puppy went through chew toys like popcorn. McKayla had to hide tennis balls from him, because he eat one in minutes. Finally she found some solid rubber (she assumed that’s what it was) balls for him to chase in the dog park. She also had to buy new collars. His head and his neck grew bigger. Soon, when he wanted attention, he had to lower his head to her lap and Trixie could walk under his legs without touching his belly.

Finally, an automated phone call reminded her he was due for his shots.

McKayla let Tadpole jump into the back seat of her car; now his seat, as nothing else could fit. His back-end wagged furiously and she felt guilty. The dog thought they were going to the beach or on a hike; instead it was back to the vet.

The lobby had shrunk since their first visit, or so it seemed. A woman with a Jack Russell was already waiting on one of the benches. She picked up her barking dog, when McKayla and Tadpole entered the room.

“Is your dog friendly.” The woman asked, eyeing Tadpole nervously.

“Oh yes, he gets along with all dogs, especially little ones.” She turned to the receptionist. “This is Tadpole to see Dr. Seymour.

It was the same young woman that had been there last year. “That’s Tadpole! You need to change his name to Frog!” She gasped.

McKayla looked down at her dog. He had grown quite a bit, it was true.

“Let’s get him weighed!” She seemed excited and led him to the black rubber platform. McKayla led her dog on top and ordered him to sit. She looked at the receptionist.

“It takes a moment.” She explained.

“Well no wonder! He’s one hundred and forty-three, no, forty-eight pounds!” McKayla’s jaw dropped. That was twenty pounds more than her weight.

She studied Tadpole. He wasn’t terribly tall; the Great Dane still had a few inches on him. But he was solid.

“He’s not fat, is he?” She asked the receptionist. The young woman studied Tadpole.

“I wouldn’t say he was fat at all. It’s all muscle. See what the Doc says.”

It didn’t take long for the vet to call them in. This time Tadpole stayed on the ground; no one wanted to heft him on the tiny metal table.

“My goodness, he’s huge! Tadpole you need a new name!”

As if in response, he smiled at the doctor. McKayla blurted out, “You said he would get to be seventy pounds, tops.”

The doctor shrugged. “I was wrong. In fact, I’d say I was the most wrong I’d ever been. He’s double that! What you have here, McKayla is a mastiff. Except for his coloring, the brown brindle, I would say he was a Dogue de Bordeaux, or French Mastiff. He has some wrinkled skin around his jowls, so he could be part Neopolitan. Hard to say. What we do know is that he is a large dog with large dog issues.”

McKayla learned more about Mastiffs from the vet. Her heart sank when she learned they did not live as long as other breeds and had a tendency to have joint and bone problems as they grew older.

“The good news, is that his hips and knees feel great and he is definitely not over weight. In fact, he has a lot of muscle in his legs and chest. What ever you are doing; keep doing it.”

Before she left, McKayla asked one more question. “Can I change his name? My landlady has never changed her pets’ names; she thinks it will confuse them. He really doesn’t look or act like a Tadpole to me.”

“Call him anything you want. He knows you and if you use the same tone of voice he will learn quick enough.” She scratched the big dog behind the ears. “He is a great dog. Where did you get him?”

“My Fairy Pet Mother picked him out for me.” She told the strange tale of her visit to the SPCA. The receptionist and the vet were amused.

“I’ll have to ask Travis, one of the animal control officers. That is hilarious. Well, it looks like she was right.” McKayla nodded, lowered a hand to pet Tadpole, and he grinned.

Later that night, Ida and McKayla stared at the huge dog with Rambo curled up next to his front leg.

“I hate the name Rambo; I didn’t even see the movie.” Complained Ida. “I think I will name him Wooster; I am his Jeeves.”

“What about Muffin?” McKayla asked. The tabby was no where to be seen. “That will take a bit more thought. She’s a fighter and definitely the boss of the household. Trixie will stay Trixie. She is a sweet and perky little dog, like her name. What about Tadpole? Have you thought of what to call him?”

“Every time he smiles that goofy smile I think of the Muppets. His mouth is so huge; just like theirs are.” She took a sip of tea. “What about ‘Frog’?

To her surprise, Ida didn’t reject it outright. “Well, he’s just not the prettiest dog and his mouth is amazing. You know, I took the grandkids to the zoo the other day, and I swear the lion had the same size jaws as Tadpole, or Frog, here.”

The next morning at the dog park McKayla shared her news of Tadpole being part Mastiff. This was non news to her dog friends. “What, you couldn’t see that? He’s huge!” McKayla felt a little silly now that she watched him lumbering around the yard with his buddies.

“I’m changing his name to Frog.” The owners discussed this back and forth. Some were for it others thought it might confuse the dog. While they chatted, an Animal Control services truck pulled up to the dog park. The officer stepped out of the cab. McKayla immediately recognized him as the one that helped the lady with the old cat. He stood a little taller than her, sandy hair and a neatly trimmed beard, and he led a pit bull into the park. He bent and released the clip on the dog, the creature bounded around the enclosure like a greyhound. Soon other dogs joined in the fun.

“You’re dog’s off leash; we’ll have to report you.” Said the yellow lab’s owner with a smile.

The officer smiled and joined the group. Everyone pointed out their pets to him. “I’m Travis Regent and that’s my sister’s dog, Rufus.” He looked at Frog and said, “My he’s a big guy.” McKayla told him of the Fairy Pet Mother and adopting him at his facility.

“Oh, that’s Misha, she’s a hoot. But I will tell you this, she is usually right about which dog goes to which family.” He smiled at McKayla. “You were lucky you caught her with her wings on; she rarely wears those.”

“I suspect she was right about Tadpole, I mean Frog, and me.” She grinned back at him and noticed he had dimples on his sun tanned cheeks. “Does your sister live near here?”

“Nope, every time she goes out of town, I keep him at my house. I’m the reason she adopted him.” He went on to tell McKayla how he found Rufus as a puppy. He found Rufus as a tiny puppy struggling in mud and shivering at the scene of a major drug bust that included fighting dogs. He took the puppy home that night and fed him by bottle every few hours. The next day he had to go into work, so he had his sister, who worked night shifts, feed him. By the end of the week, she was calling the puppy hers. Now they watched Rufus try to rile Frog into a game of chase.

McKayla enjoyed talking to the handsome Animal Control officer and did not notice she would be late for work. Too late, she checked her watch and sighed. “Frog, Come!” She used the same voice and tone but it did take a moment or two for him to respond. She turned to say good-bye to Officer Regent, he spoke first.

“Would you like to meet back here later, after work? Rufus can always use another run.” McKayla found herself grinning, she nodded.

“Okay,” She tried to remember when her last call was that day. “Would 6:30 be too late?” She asked. He said that was fine and gave her his cell phone number.

She quickly walked Frog back to the apartment feeling a little giddy. She had dated since the ordeal with Luke, but no one exciting. There was something about Officer Regent, she found quite attractive. She let Frog into the apartment, checked his water bowl and his stock of chewable toys and rushed down to her car.

Her new job took her all over the county. Now, McKayla spent more time driving and walking than standing around hospital. She still had to write-up reports, attend meetings and training sessions, but most of the time she spent with her clients. She loved the one-on-one she had with her patients; doctors and techs did not interfere as much and the people were much happier; they were in their own homes. She also figured it would be much harder for Luke to track her down when he got out.

They sentenced Luke for shooting at an officer, but the time seemed pretty short to her. To her dismay, she learned there was no system in place to notify her if he got an early release. Her lawyer said she would keep track of his whereabouts, but McKayla knew the woman was overworked, underpaid, and with the recent budget cuts; probably furloughed. In the meantime, McKayla did what she could to stay hidden. She didn’t join any social networking groups and avoided listing her name on the public nursing sites. She hoped the gun shot wound had changed Luke and he had stopped obsessing over her.

He hadn’t, as she was to find out very soon.

That evening, McKayla led Frog back to the dog park and found Officer Regent waiting for her with Rufus scampering about the enclosure. He waved and held the gate open while Frog trotted in. He stamped his paws and whined impatiently while she unhooked his collar. Then he bolted off after Rufus and a chow mix.

“How were your patients today?” Officer Regent asked, both of them watching the dogs play in the park. They talked about their days and pets. She even asked him about the old lady and the cat. She was surprised he remembered.

“That was sad. She had adopted a stray and had him for seventeen years. She woke up that morning and found he couldn’t move his back legs. She said he was already at least five years old when she adopted him, and by the looks of it, he easily could have been twenty-five. We put him to sleep for her. It was sad but it was also happy. That stray had a wonderful life while he lived with her and I think he gave her a lot of love and comfort too.”

Travis and McKayla talked at the park until the sun went down and then took two very tired dogs back to his house, where he made McKayla dinner. His cooking impressed her, as did, his own house, and most of all, himself. They talked until late, and then he and Rufus walked her and Frog home. He only lived a few blocks away. She enjoyed the evening with Travis, but she was still cautious about dating. She hoped he wouldn’t try to make a pass at her. He didn’t but they agreed to meet again the next morning at the dog park.

McKayla and Frog climbed the stairs to their flat. She put kibble in his bowl and went to the bathroom to wash up and brush her teeth. After she slipped into her pajamas, she saw Frog had already crawled into his bed. Soon, his gentle snoring and his steady rhythm lulled her to sleep.

The next noise brought her fully awake and bolt upright. Frog growled again. McKayla looked over, he was not in his bed. On padded feet, her dog crept silently into the living room. A night breeze stirred the curtains around the french doors leading to the balcony. This much she could see from her bed. All the doors and windows were shut and locked when she turned in. McKayla swung her legs to the side and stood up. A grunt and then a strangled groan came from the living room. She peeked around the corner and couldn’t quite make out the dark shapes. Frog stood next to the open window; it looked like something was in his mouth.

A low rumble sounded from deep in the dog’s chest, followed by a squeak and a man’s whimper.

McKayla took a step forward and gasped.

Frog had Luke’s head in his mouth. His jaws fit all the way around the man’s skull, his teeth denting the flesh. Another growl.

Another cry from the head.

Through the dark, she saw another shape on the ground; a gun near the window.

“Move and he will kill you.” She said and suspected it was true, then she knelt and picked up the gun. McKayla carried the weapon over to the kitchen counter and dialed “911.” She briefly told the operator the situation, her name and address while she kept an eye on Frog and Luke. Frog did not move an inch.

In the dark, they waited. McKayla smelled something odd and realized Luke had messed his pants. And by the odor, it was brown. What a loser, she thought. She also thought she could end his hunting her down by a single command to Frog, but she didn’t want more violence. She just wanted to be left alone.

In minutes, sirens screamed down her street and red and white flashing lights encircled her flat. First the officers climbed the stairs; two young men, barely out of college. The first one said. “Oh my god.”

The second one said. “Good dog. Ma’am can you call off your dog?”

“This man has shot at police before, you may want to be ready.” By then another set of cops climbed the stairs. The new policemen were older, an order went out and all the officers present unholstered their weapons and trained them on Luke. Some had climbed to the balcony and covered Luke’s backend.

McKayla waited for the signal, a nod and she said, “Frog, come.” He didn’t move at first then he took his mouth off the skull and backed up slowly. Still never taking his eyes off the intruder. Frog circled to her side and then in front of her, putting his massive body between her and the intruder. The police ordered Luke to his feet and Frog growled again. She had never heard her dog like this before. He didn’t let up until the police cuffed and lead Luke away.

After they pushed Luke into the cruiser and drove off, McKayla, ignoring the questions from one of the cops, dropped to her knees and kissed Frog on his head. His butt wiggled a little and his face broke into his goofiest grin.

“You sure have a hell of a dog there.” The officer said. “What’s his name?”

“It was Frog, but now I think he will be called Prince.” She said through tears.

And they lived happily ever after.

The End

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