Chapter 1 Chapter 1
FINN COULDN’T BELIEVE his luck.
First he had been taken in by two of the best humans he’d ever met: Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta, the owners of the dog rescue where he’d lived until that morning. Then he’d been adopted by the best family ever: José and Christina Figueroa, and their nine-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who gave the best ear scratches. Now all his favorite people were in his new home, having lunch together, and that was the best too.
Danny and Ron didn’t usually come along with the dogs when new families took them home. But this time José and Christina had insisted. They said something about a “feast,” and that made Danny and Ron smile and hop into their car, following the Figueroas back to their house. Finn hadn’t been sure what “feast” meant then, but now he did: Food. Lots and lots of food.
Danny pushed back from the dining-room table and let out a deep breath. “That was delicious!” he said.
“I agree,” Ron added, setting his fork down onto his now-empty plate. “I still say you didn’t have to go to all this trouble just for us.”
He gestured around the table at the serving bowls and trays that remained half filled with homemade dishes: corn masa patties stuffed with cheese, avocado salad, fried plantains, yellow rice with vegetables mixed in, and a giant pitcher of iced tea. Finn knew better than to beg for scraps of people food, especially when he’d eaten already, but it all smelled so good. He kept his eyes peeled just in case some fell onto the floor by accident.
José shook his head, his shoulder-length black hair swaying as he smiled. “Please,” he said, his dark eyes filled with warmth. “It was our pleasure.”
Christina leaned back and cradled her swollen belly in her hands. She was a little more than eight months pregnant. Her round baby bump had grown quickly since they’d first come to Danny & Ron’s Rescue to begin their search for a dog to join their family. She pushed her loose hair away from her rosy face so that the golden waves looped behind her ear and settled near her rounded chin.
“Especially for the two of you.” She beamed at Danny and then Ron. “We wanted to adopt a dog as soon as possible so that he’d be all settled in before Brendan here arrived, and you found us the perfect one just in time.”
She gazed at Finn then, and the reddish-brown redbone hound mix returned her smile with a happy thump of his whiplike tail on the carpet, a shake of his long, floppy ears, and a goofy grin that left his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
“Who’s a good boy, Finn?” she cooed.
Finn barked, “Me!” and everyone at the table laughed.
Danny nodded. “He is a special dog. We were so happy to see how quickly he bounced back after his surgery. He will still need plenty of help getting used to having only three legs, though. Are you sure you’ll have the time to work with him? I know you must be very busy preparing for the baby’s arrival.”
“We’re sure,” Christina said. “Now that school is out for the summer, all three of us will be home to help Finn adjust to his new life. Instead of teaching kindergarteners the alphabet, we’ll teach Finn that three legs can be just as good as four.”
José added, “We’re aware that Finn will have some challenges, but we saw Rusty through them after we adopted him, and we’ll do the same for Finn.”
Christina reached out and held José’s left hand and Alyssa’s right. “Between the three of us, by the time I give birth to Brendan, Finn will be ready to help us look after our new bundle of joy.”
“Speaking of Brendan,” said José, “all I have left to do now is finish getting his room set up.”
“Oh,” said Ron. “Is that why those boxes are in the hallway?”
José nodded. “We’re converting Alyssa’s old playroom into the nursery. I didn’t realize just how much stuff she had in there! It’s taking forever to clear it all out.”
Alyssa eyed her father hopefully. “You don’t have to,” she said, twisting a strand of her long brown hair around her finger. “My room could stay just the way it is.”
Her father regarded her with a knowing look. “And where would we put the baby’s crib and changing table?”
Alyssa shrugged and looked away, the corners of her lips turned down in a slight frown.
Christina tsked and said, “Now, Alyssa. We’ve talked about this. The baby needs a room, just like you did when you were a baby. And you’ve still got your own bedroom.”
“I guess,” Alyssa said, crossing her arms.
“Why don’t you go ahead and take your dishes into the kitchen?” José told his daughter.
“Okay, Dad,” said Alyssa in a quiet voice. She pushed her chair back with a squeak. She picked up her plate and drinking glass, then walked into the kitchen, a pout still on her face.
As soon as she was gone, Christina leaned toward Ron and said, “You’ll have to excuse her. Alyssa is thrilled about the new dog, but she’s not as thrilled about the new baby just yet. She’s been the only child for nine years, and all that is about to change. Her little brother is going to kind of take over our lives for a while.”
“I understand what that’s like,” said Ron. “Just look at us.” He gestured toward Danny. “We lost a lot more than one room when we converted our house into a dog rescue. The dogs have taken over our lives too, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Danny chuckled. “And neither would the dogs! It’s their house now. We’re just lucky they let us live there.”
After José and Christina cleared the rest of the dishes from the table, the whole family joined Danny and Ron in the living room as they prepared to leave.
Ron bent over to scratch Finn behind his ear. He had been curled up on the rug, but now he sat up and licked Ron’s hand. “I think you’re going to be very happy here,” Ron said, kissing the top of Finn’s snout.
“I’ll make sure of it!” Alyssa chirped, kneeling beside Finn to give him a quick hug.
Finn didn’t know what she had said, but he definitely understood hugs and kisses and big smiles. Alyssa beamed at him now, her hazel eyes twinkling. I bet she’s fun to run and play with, he thought, wagging his tail. Before he’d gotten hit by a car, and before his last owners had tried and failed to fix his broken leg on their own, he used to run so fast, no one could catch him. But then he’d had to get surgery, and his leg could not be saved. Since being taken in by Danny and Ron, he’d spent a lot of time lying down. At first whenever he’d tried to stand up, his back leg shook and he was unsteady on his paws. He had come a long way since then, thanks to Danny and Ron and the whole staff at the rescue. But it still might be a while before he could run like he used to, he realized. He believed in himself, though. He vowed to do whatever it took to get back up on his paws.
Danny cuddled him one last time and said, “Goodbye, Finn. Good luck in your new home.” Then he and Ron walked to the door.
“Thanks again for coming,” José said, shaking Ron’s hand.
“Thank you for having us, and for the feast!” Ron answered. “Remember, if you need any help with Finn, we’re only a phone call away.”
As Finn watched Danny and Ron leave through the screen door, he whined a little. He would miss them, and all the dogs at the rescue. But then Alyssa clapped her hands together and gazed up at her parents.
“Can I give Finn the tour now? Pleeease?”
José grinned. “Of course, sweetie. Just take it slow, okay? And make sure you’re there when he meets Rusty. Finn has been around cats at the rescue, and Ron said he likes them a lot, so it would be safe for us to introduce him to our cat. But it might be a different story for Rusty. He’s never had to share his space with a dog before, at least not for very long; he may not be too friendly at first.”
“Don’t worry, Dad,” she said. “Rusty’s going to love Finn as much as I do!” She turned toward Finn and gently helped him to a standing position. “Come on, boy. I’ll show you your new home!”
Staying close to Alyssa’s side, Finn followed her through the house while she chattered on about each room and what they did there.
“And this is the kitchen, where all the good smells happen, well, except for the garbage, but you’ll probably like that smell too. Oh! And here is the dining room. I sometimes do my homework here, but mostly we eat. Back there is the washing machine. When we’re washing clothes you might hear a sound like ‘chugga chugga chugga.’?” Alyssa stopped and did a silly dance, twisting her hips left and right and pumping her fists. It made Finn like her even more. He hopped on his front paws and added some “ruff ruff”s to her “chugga chugga”s.
Alyssa laughed and waved him onward. “Nice moves, Finn! Now let’s keep the tour going.”
She had a happy skip to her step that almost matched Finn’s uneven walk. That is, until she reached the half-empty playroom. Inside Finn could see boxes of crayons and markers on a round yellow table. Attached to the wall were shelves stacked with board games, stuffed animals, and cars made out of Lego pieces. The boxes stacked neatly in the hallway were filled to the brim with toys and jump ropes and video games.
“This was my playroom,” Alyssa said. “But I guess it’s Brendan’s now.”
She sighed and hurried past the room as if just looking at it made her sad. As they continued the tour past the bathroom, though, Finn caught a whiff of something that distracted him. The bathroom had a litter box in it. There was a cat somewhere, but he hadn’t seen it yet. There had been a few cats at the rescue, and even though they were a little bit afraid of all the noisy dogs, they got along with Finn. He hoped this cat would be no different.
“And now I’ll show you my room,” Alyssa announced.
She led Finn to a long staircase. On one side was a polished wood banister. On the other was a wall decorated with portraits of the family. Alyssa started up the steps, but Finn stayed right where he was. He used to love climbing things—stairs, benches, rocks, anything really. But now he wasn’t sure he could do it. He sat back on his haunches and let out a high-pitched whine. How embarrassing! he thought.
Alyssa turned around and covered her mouth with her hand.
“Oh, Finn, I’m so sorry. I forgot! Stairs might be a little too much for you right now. Here, let me help you.”
Careful not to hurt his back leg, Alyssa lifted Finn into her arms and carried him up the stairs. When she got to the top landing, she gently set Finn back down. That’s when he noticed the cat smell was stronger here than it had been anywhere else in the house. It seemed to be coming from the tall structure in front of him that looked kind of like a tree covered in soft gray carpeting. It was next to the window in a small sitting area, and had a few flat surfaces staggered on either side of the main pole. Finn could see an orange striped tail bathed in light at the very top of the pole, flicking lazily in the sun.
“There you are, Rusty,” called Alyssa. “Why don’t you come down here and meet your new best friend?”
A pair of amber eyes peeked over the edge of the platform, and a set of whiskers twitched under a pale pink nose. Rusty stretched and made his way down the cat tree, one level at a time, until he reached the bottom and stood facing Finn and Alyssa. That’s when Finn noticed that even though Rusty was a cat and he was a dog, and Rusty was small while Finn was big, they had one very important thing in common: they both had three legs!