“We’re taking you to the best, Bobby Big Boy. You hear that? The best.”

When we get to Weissmuller Pets of Childress, I carry BBB into the waiting room and a woman wearing black scrubs asks us if we have been there before, and when we say we haven’t, she asks for BBB’s medical records or anything that would prove he’s had all of his shots.


“Where did you take him before you started living with us?” Donna asks me.

“Nowhere. He was never sick before,” I say.

“So you’ve never taken your pet to the vet before?” the lady asks me—sending me tons of attitude, cocking her head to one side and resting the end of her pen on her puffy apple-red kiss-shaped lips.

“Listen, I found him in a Nike box when I was living on a frickin’ school bus. We were so poor we couldn’t even afford to eat—like ever. My mom was killed a few months back by a psychopath, so I don’t need any extra crap from you, okay?”

“Oh, oh, my God. You’re Amber Appleton, aren’t you?” the woman says, so nicely now. “I’m so sorry. The name on the file says Roberts. I didn’t know. Let me get the doctor right away. Just give me ten seconds.”

She disappears into another room.

I can see that all of the other pet owners waiting to see the doctor are staring at me now. Regular, work-weary people. A collie is barking at B3, a poodle is hiding under a chair, and this little kid with a runny nose is holding an evil-looking ferret with pink eyes.

“Ms. Appleton?”

When I turn around, a man in peach-colored scrubs is smiling at me.

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“Right this way,” he says.

In a room with photos of dogs taped up all over the walls, I put BBB down on a silver examination table. He lies on his side and breathes slowly.

“What is wrong with you, my friend?” Dr. Weissmuller says to BBB, shaking his paw like formal men in suits do whenever they meet.

“Bobby Big Boy has been tired lately,” Donna says, “he’s not eating much, he threw up yesterday, he’s had diarrhea—and today he collapsed while we were taking a walk.”

Dr. Weissmuller feels BBB’s belly.

“What do you feel?” I ask.

“His abdomen is distended.”

“Is that bad?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet,” he says, and then removes a long needle from a drawer. “I am going to stick this into the place where I think there is a tumor, and if blood comes out—then we’ll know something.”

Dr. Weissmuller inserts the needle into BBB’s belly.

Blood comes out, but BBB doesn’t move or even whimper.

“You see the blood?” he asks.

Donna and I both nod.

“So we should do an ultrasound to see if the tumor is on the spleen or liver.”

“What’s the difference?” I ask.

“If the tumor is on the liver—there is nothing I can do for your dog. If it’s on the spleen, we can operate.”

“How much is the ultrasound?” Donna asks.

“Seventy-five dollars.”

Donna nods once and says, “Do it.”

Dr. Weissmuller picks BBB up so gently and takes my doggie into another room, leaving Donna and me alone.

“I don’t have any money to pay for this,” I say. “I blew through my Rita’s money back in January.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“Can I borrow the money from you?”

“I’ll pay, don’t worry, Amber.”

“What about the surgery?”

“If BBB needs surgery, I think I can afford it,” Donna says.

I shake my head—and I even cross my arms. I know that I mooch off Donna all the time, but taking responsibility for BBB has sort of become symbolic to me after all that has happened: it’s one of the few things that I can control, and so I simply say, “No.”


“BBB is my responsibility. I’m going to pay for the surgery if he needs it,” I say.


“I’m not sure yet.”

“Amber, you just need to worry about getting yourself together now and—”

“Stop,” I say, and then we wait in silence.

After a few long minutes, Dr. Weissmuller returns and gently places BBB down on the silver table. “The tumor is on the spleen.”

“So what now?” Donna asks.

“The tumor is bleeding into the abdomen. I will remove the spleen and we’ll do a biopsy. They send me the results in less than a week. If the tumor is benign—your dog will live.”

“I can’t take two deaths in one year,” I say to Donna, crying.

Dr. Weissmuller says, “I recommend surgery. Again, I will take out his spleen, and if the tumor is benign, your dog will live.”

“What if it is benign, and we do nothing?” Donna asks.

“Your dog will eventually bleed to death—internally.”

“How much is the surgery?” I ask.

“There can be complications, and maybe your dog will need blood transfusions—all told, the cost should be around two thousand dollars. Should I leave you alone to discuss this matter?”

Donna nods and Dr. Weissmuller leaves the room.

“Can I borrow the money?” I ask Donna.

“I’ll pay for all of it, Amber.”

“No. I just want a loan. I want to take care of this myself.”

I can see that Donna wants to help me. Her eyes are kind and her face is compassionate, but she doesn’t understand that charity is for old people and cripples.

I bury my face in BBB’s fur.

“Dr. Weissmuller’s going to get you feeling better, and then I’m going to get better too. I’m going to take you to see Ms. Jenny just as soon as you are healthy. You stay alive, BBB, and I’m going to be a better pet owner. I promise.”

I cry harder like a chick as I hold BBB close to my cheek.

“Dr. Weissmuller?” Donna says.

Even though Donna protests, I sign all of the forms; I agree to pay for the operation in installments over the next few years, Donna co-signs, and then we leave.

As we are driving home, suddenly, I’m saying, “Will you drop me off at Private Jackson’s house?”

“Why?” she asks.

“I really need to see him.”

“So does this mean you’re officially out of your room?” she asks, sorta surprised and maybe even hopefully.

“Something like that,” I say.

“Okay,” Donna says.

I give her directions and she drives me to PJ’s house.

When Donna drops me off on the curb, she asks if I want her to come pick me up, and when I tell her I’ll walk home, she says, “Amber, are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I just need to spend some time with PJ. I’m cool. Really.”

“Okay,” she says. “But call if you want me to pick you up. Cool?”

I nod once and then walk toward PJ’s house.


It’s dark, so I know that Ms. Jenny has already gone for her run.

I also know that PJ is home, so I knock on the front door.

When PJ opens the front door, he doesn’t say anything about my mom or about me or why the hell I haven’t visited him in months—he doesn’t even ask if I liked the haikus he has been sending me every day. He only says, “Please come in. I’ll put on the tea.”

When I enter his house I see the blank spot on the last wall of his living room—the hole that I have not yet covered with doggie haikus—and it makes me feel really depressed.

I sit down on the couch as Private Jackson makes tea.

Ms. Jenny comes looking for BBB, and when she doesn’t find him, she jumps up on the couch and ducks her head under my hand, so that I will pet her.

I pet her with all I got.

When PJ brings me the tea, it is green—like always.

I sip it.

He sits and sips his cup.

I sip mine again—and then I start sobbing.

I sob so hard I drop my teacup and Ms. Jenny jumps off the couch and hides under the coffee table.

I can’t stop crying.

I can’t stop shaking.

Snot is running down my nose—spit down my chin.

It all comes out.


My dad leaving us.

Being homeless.

My mom’s murder.

BBB’s having a tumor.

I’m not even an adult yet.

It’s not fair.

It’s really not fair.

I close my eyes so hard—trying to stop the tears.

I start to cough wildly.

I feel like I might die.

And then Private Jackson is next to me on the couch.

He’s moved toward me for the first time.

I throw myself at him.

He hesitates for a second or two, but then he puts his arms around me.

I bury my head in his yellow button-down shirt, and he holds me.

After a few minutes, I stop coughing, but I can’t stop crying.

I soak his yellow button-down shirt with hot tears.

We stay entwined like this on his couch—father-daughter style—for a long time.

When I finally let go, Private Jackson turns his face from me quickly and says, “I will get you more tea.”

Before he leaves the room, I see that his face is also streaked with tears.

He stays in the kitchen for a long time—longer than it takes to make green tea.

When he returns, he hands me a new steaming-hot cup.

When I sip, he says, “I just wrote a haiku in the kitchen.”

He has a piece of paper in his hand, so I ask, “Can I read it?”

He hands it to me.

It reads:




“It’s good,” I say. “But it doesn’t capture the present moment.”

“Maybe sometimes—on special occasions—every so often, it is best to capture a different moment, maybe, when the present moment is not the right moment for you. It is sometimes nice to think that more moments are always coming. Always. Like the moments when you come to visit me.”

“True,” I say, and then sip my tea, realizing that what PJ just said is like—revolutionary for him, so I don’t push it. I simply enjoy the present moment—having released so much emotional baggage—as this moment bleeds into the next one.


We sip our cups for an hour, not saying a single word, just occupying the same space.

When I finish, I stand and say, “You’re a good man, Private Jackson.”

“I will wash the teacups now,” he says.

“I’m going to bring BBB here in a week or so to visit Ms. Jenny, cool?”

“Ms. Jenny will be looking forward to the visit very much,” he says, and then takes our teacups into the kitchen.

I let myself out of PJ’s house and then walk through the darkness, navigating the Childress streets back to Donna’s house—thinking about Dr. Weissmuller cutting open Bobby Big Boy and removing his spleen—and before I know it, I’m praying again, asking JC to be with Dr. Weissmuller, to help him to be exactly who he needs to be, so that BBB will be okay. And then I sorta promise JC that I will try to return to my hopeful self if He spares BBB’s life—even after what happened to my mom—which is a pretty good bargain for JC, as far as I’m concerned.

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