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A Pug Like Percy: A heartwarming tale for the whole family Fiona Harrison A furry festive miracle who’s there for you with a helping paw. Percy definitely isn’t just for Christmas…Percy is homeless, abandoned by his owner at an animal rescue centre on a cold winter’s night. So when he finds a loving new home with Gail and her family, his deepest wish is that this time, it’s forever.Gail hopes that Percy will be the little miracle that her family so desperately needs. Her young daughter, Jenny, is in and out of hospital and she’s only just holding things together with her husband, Simon.With the family at breaking point, and Christmas just around the corner, is Percy the furry friend they’ve all been waiting for?Full of hope and utterly heartwarming, A Pug Like Percy is the perfect read for fans of A Street Cat Named Bob and Alfie the Doorstep Cat. FIONA HARRISON has been a freelance journalist, writing for a wealth of publications including the Sunday Mirror, Daily Express, Prima, Woman and Grazia for several years. Originally from Cornwall by way of Bath, this is her first novel. She lives in Berkshire with her husband and when she is not writing can usually be found devouring other people’s novels. For Chris, the only human version of Percy I know Contents Cover (#u6d7f6528-77a8-533e-8db5-4f24d1b8a724) About the Author (#ue846e1f6-ff5e-52fd-9c78-d3fb18652886) Title Page (#u1ff7ac01-9ccd-5cc7-bf80-c839d0f9cc35) Dedication (#ufbc7b1a8-8f29-577a-b89e-e9f8398a4df6) Chapter One (#ulink_4f6001fc-3dcc-519a-ad85-3fbfe98dacd9) Chapter Two (#ulink_522b1cb3-a282-5c32-a6ce-f54107b4a9e0) Chapter Three (#ulink_6f89b851-4bf9-545c-be92-8a40ae6d7b92) Chapter Four (#ulink_78c3c116-a702-5bc2-b26c-464ba28e0b4b) Chapter Five (#ulink_d30f75ca-630a-5f23-bed1-50284d98b761) Chapter Six (#ulink_f4445bc1-18e4-5e03-bc46-4f053abd6909) Chapter Seven (#ulink_edb940b3-e4d6-5992-adb6-6bd81b9a704b) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Six (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#ulink_77b80848-9fd0-5733-99d2-0cad65034a7c) My eyelids felt heavy, and the pull of sleep prevented me from opening them, despite the early morning autumn sunshine streaming through the windows. Instead, I snuggled deeper into the blue cashmere blanket my owner Javier had bought for me. I screwed my eyes tight, happy to enjoy a few more minutes in bed with the blanket I loved, and wriggled around until I was comfortable. Yet no matter how hard I tried to return to the land of nod, something felt wrong. Blinking my eyes open with renewed determination, I scrambled onto all four of my paws and looked around. With a start I realised the room I found myself in was completely unfamiliar. Where was the sofa I liked to nap on? The television I liked to watch Tom and Jerry on? The glass coffee table I always ran into, and the thick multicoloured rug I liked to roll around on? Why was I not at home? My heart pounded with fear as I glanced over each of my shoulders to find I was alone in a small room, containing my bed and an old basket of toys, while on the other side stood an old easy chair. My food and water bowls were near the door and an old sheepskin rug lay on the floor. Hearing the sound of feet scuffling outside the room, I turned my head and peered through a large Perspex window that looked out onto a busy corridor and saw it was teeming with excited dogs and humans in green uniforms. All too quickly, the memories flooded back as fast as a speeding greyhound and my entire body trembled as I realised I was as far away from home as it was possible to be. I remembered only too vividly that I had been dumped in a dog shelter by Javier but had no idea why. Was it because I had been bad? Did Javier no longer love me? Was I mean to another dog? Or worse, had I committed the ultimate dog sin and bitten a human for no apparent reason? Filled with despair, I slumped back onto my bed, flung my paws over my eyes and tried to understand why Javier had left me here to rot like so many other good dogs before me. I knew the tails of the forgotten, which was what we in the dog community called dog shelters like this one, was for hounds that were unwanted. It was the home for waifs, strays and the unlovable. Was that me now? Was I unlovable? I had adored my owner Javier, and I thought he loved me too. We had been together for three years, since I was a small pup, and I had been incredibly happy. I thought he was too. What had happened to make him fall out of love with me? I let out a howl of despair. I would do anything to turn the clock back and undo whatever it was I had done to make Javier leave me in this place. I loved him, he was my owner, my entire world and, quite simply, I would die for him. I felt a fresh wave of horror as I realised that now Javier had left me here I would never see him again. The thought of a life without my precious owner and best friend, as I came to think of him, was terrible. As the image of his handsome, Brazilian face appeared in my mind, I howled. I loved him, I missed him, and a life without him was unthinkable. I thought back to my behaviour over the past few days and weeks and was unable to pinpoint anything I had done that was particularly naughty. In fact, I thought I had been good, ensuring I refrained from sitting on Javier’s girlfriend, Gabriella’s clothes, not making a loud noise when I chewed my kibble or bothering either one of them for too many walks to the park. I howled again and suddenly heard the door to the room open, and footsteps pad gently towards me. I could tell from the scent of whoever it was that a human had entered. But who they were or what they wanted held no interest for me. I wanted to remain here, with my paws flung over my eyes for ever and nothing anybody could say or do would change my mind. As the human reached my side, I became aware of them bending down, their jean-clad knees brushing against the side of my face. There was a pause, and then I felt soft fingers, which had to be a woman’s, run over my head and along my back. ‘How are you feeling today, Percy?’ she asked gently. ‘Horrible,’ I yelped, paws still clamped over my eyes. ‘I’m not surprised,’ she said gently, ‘you’ve had a terrible thing happen to you. It’s bound to be a shock, but I’m here to help you cope with it all, I promise.’ ‘I don’t believe you,’ I woofed again. ‘There’s nothing you can say or do that will make any of this better. My owner doesn’t love me any more and I miss him. I will never be loved ever again.’ ‘Oh Percy,’ the woman sighed, ‘I promise, you will be loved again. And we will make sure of it. My name is Kelly, you may not remember, but I checked you over when you were dropped off last night by your old owner.’ ‘I remember,’ I whined quietly. ‘Now, I’m going to make it my own personal mission to ensure I find you the very best family to take care of you. People, who will love you for ever and ever,’ Kelly said gently. It was unusual to find a human who understood what we dogs were trying to communicate with our barks, but Kelly, unlike Javier or Gabriella, had understood straight away. There was something about this woman’s voice I found soothing, and I prised my paws from my eyes to get a better look at her. She had a warm, open face, and was small, with a button nose and strands of grey hair intertwined with her blonde mane. Kelly was smiling down at me and I sensed she had an air of someone who had seen and done it all. Just being around her made me feel relaxed. She continued to stroke my soft fur, and bent her face close to mine. ‘You won’t have to wait long for a home, Percy. Everyone loves pugs, you’ll see.’ I licked her cheek in response. I knew she was just trying to be kind. After all, if that were true then Javier would never have abandoned me. ‘I’ve got a secret I want to tell you, Percy,’ she continued. ‘I’ve always had a real soft spot for pugs, and I’ve been crazy about you ever since you arrived yesterday. I’m going to make sure someone very special adopts you, because I want you to have the happiest of lives.’ She scooped me up with her soft, warm hands, then gently covered my little face with kisses. Her lips felt like tender butterflies fluttering gently across my fur and I wrinkled my face with pleasure before Kelly put me down. ‘I know you’ve had a shock. Being abandoned by your owner isn’t nice, but I want you to understand that while I’m out there searching for a very special family to look after you, I will be the one taking good care of you, do you hear me?’ she said in her silky, smooth voice. I barked a little more enthusiastically than I had since I arrived – I wanted to let her know I had heard her loud and clear. I liked the sound of Kelly looking out for me. ‘Now, I like to make sure my special friends have a good time while they’re here, so I encourage playtime as much as I can,’ she said with a chuckle, as she walked towards the large window and beckoned me to follow. The window overlooked a large yard at the back of the shelter, which I had seen briefly when I arrived, but I had felt so bewildered then that I had been unable to take anything in properly. I peered out and saw several other dogs playing with humans in green uniforms like Kelly, while others were sitting around chatting to each other. They did not look even a little bit sad. In fact, as I watched one particularly overexcited cockapoo run wildly from one end of the square to the other, sending the fallen crisp leaves flying in his wake, I noticed he seemed positively joyful. ‘You see how some of them are running riot?’ Kelly asked, once more reading my mind. ‘Well, that’ll be you too a bit later on. You’ll have cuddles, walks, runs in the yard and friends to make. It won’t be so bad, and I’ll look after you.’ I rubbed my head against her legs in gratitude. Just being around Kelly was making me feel stronger and although I still desperately wanted to go home, I had a feeling that with Kelly on my side, she really would look after me as if I were her own. ‘Now I’m going to leave you to it as it looks as though your neighbours, Barney and Boris, are back.’ Kelly grinned as she ruffled my ears once more. ‘I’ll see you a bit later.’ As Kelly waved me goodbye, I saw a young West Highland terrier walk into the room on my left and a fairly fed-up looking elderly beagle enter the room on my right. I padded over to the big sheets of clear plastic that divided my room from each dog’s and introduced myself with a welcoming bark. ‘I’m Boris,’ the Westie replied. ‘And I’m Barney,’ the beagle explained mournfully. I noticed Barney was still wet from the bath he’d obviously been given, with a sore-looking scratch on his belly. He flopped on the floor in front of me, looking decidedly sorry for himself. ‘How did you get that scratch?’ I barked curiously. ‘Trying to get through a cat flap,’ he replied mournfully, his long ears making his sad brown eyes look even more doleful. ‘I wanted to see if I could move into the house next door when my owner died. But when I got stuck in the flap, the neighbours brought me here.’ I shook my head in amazement. Beagles were supposed to be intelligent, and this was not one of the smartest moves I had heard a beagle make. Still, I realised this was not the best time to tick Barney off. Instead, I barked sympathetically and gave him the once-over. When his tummy had healed, no doubt he would be a handsome fellow and snapped up. I wasted no time telling him so. ‘Do you think so?’ Barney asked, brightening a little, his sad brown eyes looking slightly less miserable. ‘Oh, yes,’ I said knowledgeably, realising immediately that Barney could be a lovely-looking dog with a bit of TLC. ‘They’ll be beating the door down to take you in.’ ‘Percy’s right,’ Boris barked loudly through the plastic. ‘You won’t have to wait long for a home.’ Barney’s tail thumped against the floor excitedly. ‘Awww, really?’ he asked. He paused for a moment, then looked at me. ‘Well, I don’t think it will be long before someone takes you in either. Everyone loves pugs, don’t they?’ Barney said, echoing Kelly’s earlier sentiments. Boris slumped to the floor. ‘That’s true as well. You two will be snapped up and I will be all alone for ever.’ ‘Of course you won’t,’ Barney reasoned. ‘I will,’ Boris barked. ‘I’m a bad dog, my old owner Sam and his wife Emma could never be bothered with me. I was always getting under their feet or in their way.’ ‘I’m sure you weren’t,’ I replied. ‘So many dog owners think that all we need is a bowl of food, and a couple of walks. They don’t realise we need company, affection and—’ ‘Love,’ Boris interrupted. ‘My owners never loved me. They thought they did, but when it came down to it, I was just too much trouble for them.’ I felt a pang of sympathy for the young dog. Barely out of his teens, he was just a little younger than me, and despite my own fears about the future, I wanted to make Boris feel better. ‘You’ve seen how lovely Kelly and the rest of the carers are here. She will love you, play with you and listen to you, all while helping find you a good home.’ ‘She’ll be lucky,’ Boris barked darkly. ‘My owner Sam used to tell me I was such a pain, nobody else would want me.’ I growled under my breath. This Sam appeared to be unfit to lick Boris’s paws, I thought darkly. ‘You’re not a pain,’ I barked in anger. ‘You’re a lovely dog, Boris.’ ‘Don’t pay any attention to your old owners,’ Barney added. ‘Any family would be lucky to have you.’ Boris rolled his eyes. ‘Easy for you to say, you’re both a lot cuter than I am. Nobody will want me.’ ‘But it wasn’t always like that,’ I protested. ‘I felt as bad as you do now when my old owner Javier dropped me off here yesterday.’ ‘What was he like?’ asked Barney. I sighed and flopped to the floor, unsure where to start. When I thought of Javier, I felt wretched. Even though he had dumped me here, I still worshipped him and would do anything he asked if he walked through the doors right now. ‘Javier was a doctor from Argentina, who liked the finer things in life and he treated me like a king with the best food, treats and toys money could buy,’ I told Boris gruffly. ‘We lived in a flat in Battersea overlooking the River Thames, after he adopted me from my mum three years ago when I was a few months old.’ ‘Sounds like a nice life,’ Boris barked appreciatively. ‘It was,’ I woofed. ‘I would nap when he was working, then when Javier returned, he would drink a cold beer straight from the fridge, before taking me out for a walk in the park, where we would chat and I would chew tennis balls. If Javier was working long hours, then his girlfriend, Gabriella, would take me instead, but it was never the same as she couldn’t wait to get our walk over with.’ ‘So what happened?’ Boris asked, interrupting my trip down memory lane. ‘I was watching television one night,’ I barked gloomily, ‘when I saw they were both filling their suitcases with their belongings. Once the cases were filled, Javier picked me up, gave me a cuddle, told me he loved me, but that he and Gabriella had to go home to Buenos Aires, as their visas had run out.’ ‘Why didn’t they take you with them?’ Barney quizzed reasonably. I shrugged my little shoulders and felt my bottom lip tremble. I had wondered the same thing as I had barked my throat out at the time, begging him to take me, but Javier ignored my pleas. Instead, he gathered my things together and then called a taxi and dropped me off here. ‘That’s horrible,’ Boris said quietly. ‘You must have been terrified.’ Sadness coursed through my fur as I remembered watching Javier walk away and how my little body had pulsed with fear as I realised he really was going to desert me in a shelter, somewhere in the far reaches of South London. My wrinkled cheeks burned with shame as I recalled how I had barked at him not to leave me, that I was sorry for whatever I had done and that I would be a good boy, if only he would come back for me and take me with him to Argentina. But my undignified and desperate barks had fallen on deaf ears as my former master climbed into the back of the taxi, without so much as a backward glance. ‘I was terrified,’ I barked quietly. ‘I still am.’ In fact, I was so terrified I had not yet confessed my greatest fear to anyone here, not even to Kelly. That even if she did find someone who would love and adore me, there was nothing to stop them leaving me too. Who was to say that they would keep me for ever and ever? Javier had taught me one thing, that sometimes love was not enough. Chapter Two (#ulink_470b3967-135d-5769-87e0-a3bcd9276a88) As the days turned into weeks and most of the friends I had made left the shelter for pastures new, I wondered if Barney, Boris and Kelly had in fact been wrong and that not everyone loved pugs. Over the last few days, I had watched Frank the spaniel walk away with a lovely young couple from Cheam; Maggie, a Weimaraner, disappear with an elderly gentleman from Hove; and even Daisy the Highland terrier, with flatulence evil enough to clear a room, adopted by a seemingly lovely family from Chelmsford. Now it seemed Barney was all set to leave me too, as he had hit it off with a young single lady from Clapham, who was now here to take him home. As the woman bent down to fondle his ears, Barney whined and wagged his tail with such excitement he made the floor vibrate beneath me. Of course I was happy Barney had found someone to give him the love he deserved, but deep down I was sorry it was not me. As Barney walked away with his new owner, he shot me a hopeful stare. ‘A special family are coming for you, I promise.’ I watched him walk through the large glass doors that opened up to the exercise yard and the outside world beyond. Deflated, I trotted back to my squishy bed, and dived under my soft blanket. All I wanted was to shut everyone out. Even though it was Saturday and I knew the shelter would be full of prospective families, I was not in the mood to perform. Over the past few weeks, I had done all the cute pug-like things you could imagine to try and get a family to take me. I had uncurled my tail to give it a little waggle, exposed my belly to show I loved a stroke and even stared longingly with my big brown eyes at passing children. Of course I had received my fair share of cuddles and, as my time here grew longer and longer, I had even stopped moaning when the bigger children pulled my tail or stepped on my delicate paws. But while everyone had been kind enough to shower me with love, I had heard them talk in hushed tones about the health problems my short face would cause, along with worries about gassiness. I was broken-hearted. I had lost my home, my owner, and hope was deserting me. Kelly had done her best to cheer me up, by telling me how loveable I was, but I knew that was untrue. I no longer felt like putting a brave face on my little snout. Instead, I shut my eyes and dreamed of a different life. Little walks in big green parks, tummy tickles with a loving child, snuggles in bed with a cuddly mum and man-to-man chats with the dad of the house in a shed at the bottom of the garden. But those thoughts seemed little more than fantasy to me now, and I closed my eyes tightly, wanting nothing more than to forget the world. My time here at the tails of the forgotten had been fine, nice even, but it was no substitute for a real home. Seeing all my friends apart from Boris adopted left me with a lot of questions, namely, what was wrong with me? Since revealing the story of how I had arrived at the shelter with Boris and Barney all those weeks ago, I had been unable to forget how Javier had ignored the way I begged him to take me with him and had gone over and over all the things I could have done to upset him. I knew Gabriella had never been particularly fond of me and perhaps that was the reason he had not fought to take me to Argentina, to start a new life. Doubt nagged away at me as I realised that even if I found a family who would take me in, there could still be one person who disliked me enough to send me away again. There were so many reasons a dog could end up at the tails of the forgotten, I wanted to howl in despair. It seemed to me we pooches were doomed no matter how adorable or well behaved we were. Feeling sad, I did what I always did in a crisis and gave in to the land of nod, hoping against hope that when I woke there would be a change in fortunes. * ‘Oh, isn’t he gorgeous,’ a woman’s voice murmured, gently waking me with a start from my slumber. Turning around, with sleepy eyes, I looked at the woman peering through the glass. Short and thin, her brown hair fell in soft waves around her shoulders and her blue eyes radiated a kind of warmth and love I had not seen in a long time. I felt a sudden sense of hope and, glancing up at Kelly, who was standing with a smile a mile wide next to this woman, I shook the sleep from my eyes, got out of bed and trotted over to the glass to let out a little bark of welcome. The woman grinned as she crouched down, her red-wool coat pooling on the floor behind her. She tapped excitedly on the glass. ‘Hello, young man.’ She grinned before turning to look back up to Kelly. ‘I think I’m in love. Can I go and see him, please?’ Kelly laughed, fishing into her pocket for one of the treats she knew I loved. ‘Of course. This is Percy,’ Kelly explained to the woman as I snaffled the treat from her warm palm. ‘He’s very special to me – handsome, gorgeous and bursting with love, he’s my idea of a perfect man.’ After picking me up, Kelly gave me a comforting squeeze and invited the woman to sit on the old easy chair in the corner. When she was settled, Kelly placed me gently on the woman’s lap and tickled me under my chin. ‘This is Gail,’ Kelly explained to me. ‘We’ve just been talking nineteen to the dozen about you, because like me, Perce, she’s a woman with excellent taste who loves pugs.’ I barked appreciatively. This was the most promising news I had received since I had arrived. Shuffling around in Gail’s lap, so I could get a proper look at her, I drank in her appearance. She appeared to be in her late thirties, her skin was creamy white, and the few freckles on her nose gave her a cute, vulnerable appearance. But the soft lines around her twinkling blue eyes and the grey circles that were forming underneath told me life had not always been kind and that perhaps, like me, she was tired of battling to find her place in the world. I liked her immediately and, as Gail looked back at me, her blue eyes teeming with warmth, I felt a whoosh in my tummy and a pang in my heart. I sensed Gail was a woman who was simply bursting with love and, as I let out another little bark of excitement, she tickled me gently behind the ears and laughed. ‘How would you like to go for a little walk with me, Percy?’ she asked, gently. ‘I’d really like to get to know you better.’ I rubbed my head against her arm with gratitude, to show my enthusiasm. ‘I think that means yes,’ Kelly said, holding out my lead. As Gail slipped it onto my collar, I walked obediently alongside her and out into the exercise yard. As I felt the chilly air on my face, I looked up at Gail and uncurled my tail so it could wag freely with unbridled joy. Nobody else had asked me to walk with them, and I was determined Gail would like me as much as I liked her. ‘So, Percy, Kelly has been telling me all about you,’ Gail said in a soft, soothing voice. She wrapped her scarf tightly around her neck as the wind gathered speed. ‘It sounds as though you’ve had a bit of bad luck.’ ‘You’re not wrong,’ I barked in reply, all the while trotting eagerly alongside Gail. ‘I know what it’s like,’ she replied. ‘My family has had its fair share of bad luck too. It’s not fair, is it?’ Stopping at a bench, Gail sat down, then placed her warm hands around my little body to sit me on her lap. I breathed in the scent of her floral perfume and relaxed against her legs, the day’s cool temperatures making me shiver. In the three weeks since I had arrived, the weather had taken a decidedly wintery turn and I was enjoying the chance of some human warmth and comfort. ‘I’d love to take you home, Percy,’ she said as she gently stroked my head. ‘I don’t think I’m imagining things when I say I think we’ve developed a bond in the short while we’ve been together.’ I snuggled deeper into her lap, to show her just how right she was. ‘The thing is, boy—’ Gail laughed gently ‘—once you’ve heard a bit about my family, you might feel you wouldn’t want to live with us so it’s only fair I tell you what we’re like.’ The calm, relaxed and happy feeling I’d been enjoying since Gail had arrived left me. ‘My husband, Simon, and I have been together twenty years,’ she said nervously. ‘We met at a party, shortly after he moved to Devon, and we’ve never spent a day apart. When we married fifteen years ago, we were blessed with a beautiful little girl, Jenny, who’s twelve now.’ At the mention of her daughter, I saw Gail’s eyes brim with tears. My little heart went out to her, and I gingerly rested my warm paw on top of her hand, urging her to carry on. The gesture wasn’t lost on Gail, who looked at me fondly, then buried her face in my fur. ‘Jenny’s beautiful, kind, loving, and we adore her,’ Gail continued, her voice thick with emotion, ‘but she has a heart condition, and on top of that, we’ve recently moved from Devon back to London. Well, I say back, Simon’s a plumber and originally from here so has lots of old pals, but I’m lonely with no job or friends and things are a little bit strained between us, if I’m honest.’ As she finished, Gail gently raked her fingers through my fur and looked at me expectantly. Meeting her eyes, I saw they were filled with genuine warmth and I tried to make sense of everything she had just said. All I had ever wanted was to be a part of a loving family, and it was clear that Gail needed love and care as much as I did. Even though we had only spent an hour or so together, I already felt bonded to this woman who had showered me with affection since we met. But Javier’s actions had cast doubt in my mind. I wanted to go home with Gail, I wanted to start again and find love, but I was scared. What if it was all too good to be true? What if this new family forgot about me, what if they decided to move back to Devon and refused to take me with them because Gail hated her new life in London? I was unsure what to do and so I burrowed my way deeper into Gail’s lap, hoping to find the answers there. Nuzzling my face against her hands, I felt the love flood through her fingertips. I realised that nobody knew what the future may hold, but that I was already very attached to Gail. In that moment I tried to convey how much she already meant to me and how much I would be there for her family. Gail was as tuned into me as I’d hoped. ‘Well, Percy, you’re on.’ She grinned, setting me down on the ground and crouching down to look into my eyes. ‘I think you and I will make a very good team. And although we don’t know how things will work out, I can promise you one thing: I’ll love you more than any other pug has been loved, if you let me.’ ‘I’d like that,’ I barked in reply. Walking back inside, I felt so happy it was all I could do not to dance a little jig. Finally, I was going to be part of a family again, someone wanted me and I wasn’t going to let them down. As Kelly led Gail into the office to fill out some paperwork, I bumped into Boris, who was being led back inside after playtime. ‘You look like the cat who got the cream,’ he barked happily. ‘More like the dog who got the big juicy bone,’ I replied. ‘I’ve been adopted.’ Boris sat on his haunches, raised his right paw to signify a human high five. Tongue lolling joyfully, I raised my left paw, remembering how Javier had taught me the trick, and propelled it forwards to meet the Westie’s. ‘Well done, buddy, I couldn’t be happier for you,’ he barked. ‘Thanks. She’s the nicest lady in the world,’ I replied. ‘When we met we just clicked and I knew she was the one for me.’ ‘Didn’t Barney and I tell you there was someone special on their way?’ I nodded. ‘You did, Boris, and I should have believed you. Now we just have to find you a nice new family.’ Boris shrugged his shoulders. ‘You’re a very special dog, Percy. You deserve be taken in by someone lovely. If I’m half as lucky I’ll be one lucky Westie.’ ‘Well, you’re lucky, and loveable, Boris,’ I barked sympathetically. ‘And until you find a nice new owner who will shower you with love, I want to prove to you just how special you are. Come with me.’ Excited, I trotted down the corridor back to my room, Boris following eagerly behind me, continually asking what was going on. However, I refused to tell him until we reached my quarters. With the door wide open, I went straight inside and saw just what I was looking for. I hadn’t arrived with that much apart from a few toys. All that was left was my prized blue cashmere blanket and my bed. Boris had been unfortunate to receive a hard start in life with owners like Sam and Emma, and I wanted him to realise love was out there waiting for him, if he would only give it a chance. In the short time we had been together, I had become quite fond of the Westie and, looking at the blue blanket that had once meant so much, I padded towards it. I bit into the soft material and then dropped it in front of Boris. ‘Winter’s just around the corner and this will keep you warm at night,’ I barked. Boris looked at the blanket in amazement. ‘But that’s yours. Javier gave you that, don’t you want it to remember him by?’ ‘I want you to have it as something to remember me and our friendship by,’ I woofed truthfully. ‘It’s time for a new start, for all of us.’ Chapter Three (#ulink_5eae3cd5-fd28-5413-9f3d-0e15ae23cfaa) I pressed my body against the sheet of cold, clear glass that separated me from the outside world and watched the comings and goings of the shelter. For the past two hours, I had carefully observed every car that had pulled up outside in the pouring rain, my fur standing on end in excitement as I waited expectantly for Gail. Kelly told me yesterday that she had visited Gail’s family and thought their home would be perfect for me. Since then I had been unable to stop thinking about my new family and had spent most of the night curled up in bed feeling excited one minute and anxious the next about my new life. Now, as I watched a woman that definitely was not Gail get out of a red sports car, my heart banged against my chest in fear. Where was she? What if Gail had changed her mind? What if she no longer wanted me after all? I let out a growl of anxiety, waking Boris from his slumber. ‘They’ll be here, stop getting so excited,’ he barked sleepily. ‘But what if they don’t come?’ I asked in panic. ‘What would happen between yesterday and today to make them decide they don’t want you any more?’ Boris asked sensibly. ‘Now settle down so you’re all nice and relaxed when they come to get you.’ I knew Boris was right, so reluctantly I returned to my bed, shut my eyes and tried to focus on anything else apart from going to a new home. But every time I tried to distract myself by thinking about my favourite things like chewing tennis balls or eating cheese, I imagined what it would be like if it was Gail throwing me a ball, or Gail feeding me treats. It was no good, my mind was in overdrive, and lying still was unhelpful. I got up from my basket, scampered back to the window and pressed my face against the glass – at least this way I felt I was doing something. Suddenly, a silver car pulled up outside the front of the shelter and a middle-aged man wearing a green parka and jeans got out of the passenger side. Aside from his salt and pepper hair, I could just make out what looked like a pair of kind chocolatey eyes as he quickly walked to the rear car door and opened it. As the door swung open, a small girl, with pale skin and long dark brown hair that hung to her waist, clambered out, holding on to the man for support. Peering down, I saw she was the spitting image of Gail and held my breath. Was it them? Had my family come for me? I shuffled my paws in eagerness, my claws tapping on the cool ground as I waited for the driver to reveal themselves. I did not have to wait long, as the door opened and a woman with soft, wavy brown air emerged – Gail. ‘They’re here, they’re here,’ I yapped, shuffling my paws even faster against the ground as I drank in my new family. One thing was certain, they looked happy to be here. The little girl, Jenny, was smiling and chattering away excitedly as she looked around at the shelter, while Simon looked animated and engrossed in everything his daughter was saying. As for Gail, she looked lovelier than ever, dressed simply in jeans and boots, and her now-familiar red-wool coat, buttoned to the neck. She put her arm around her daughter, smiling broadly, and kissed her hair. Gail then raised her head from Jenny’s and lifted her face to meet mine. Catching sight of me at the window, she waved and smiled, then nudged Jenny and Simon. They followed her gaze and, when they realised it was me, Jenny did the same as her mother, and I jumped up and down, wanting to give them my own version of a wave. Watching them hurry through the rain towards the door to come and get me, my heart swelled with affection for this lovely new family that were going to be all mine. ‘Told you they’d come,’ Boris said sleepily. ‘You worry too much, Percy.’ ‘I wasn’t worried,’ I barked, scampering my way back to the window that separated us. ‘Course you weren’t,’ Boris teased as I scampered around my room checking I had all my belongings together. Hearing the sound of footsteps coming down the corridor, I hurried towards the door waiting for it to open. Within seconds, I heard the familiar squeak of the hinges against the door jamb, and then Kelly’s smiling face appeared. ‘Look who I’ve brought to see you.’ She walked towards me, grinning, and picked me up in her familiar way for a cuddle. Holding me tightly in her arms, I caught the scent of her floral perfume as she turned me around to greet the family standing in the doorway. My eyes jumped from one face to the next and I didn’t know which one to lick or bark at first. Thankfully Jenny made the decision for me as she rushed across the floor towards me. ‘Mum, he’s so handsome,’ Jenny cooed, raising her hand to pat my head, before hesitating. ‘Is it okay?’ she asked Kelly, clearly not wanting to take anything for granted. ‘Of course it is,’ Kelly replied. ‘Our Percy loves a good stroke, don’t you, boy?’ ‘Absolutely,’ I barked encouragingly, craning my head upwards to meet Jenny’s palm. As she affectionately placed her fingers on my head and ruffled my ears, I raised my big brown eyes to meet her smaller blue ones. Just like her mother, love and warmth radiated from every inch of her, and as she beamed at me, I hoped we would be the best of friends. ‘Come on then, Jen, don’t hog Percy all to yourself, I want to say “hello” to my new mate,’ Simon said, appearing at Jenny’s side. Just like his daughter, he had a welcoming, warm way about him, but his eyes had a spark of hesitation in them. I wondered if Simon was shy and, wanting to say hello, I pushed my face into his warm, calloused hand and let him tickle my neck. ‘Welcome to the family, Percy,’ Simon whispered. ‘It’s about time I had another man in the house – these women are always ganging up on me, so us fellas have to stick together.’ ‘You can rely on me,’ I barked earnestly, as I pulled my snout away. Looking happily up at him, my heart lurched with joy, as a familiar face appeared at his side. With her beautiful chestnut mane and happy grin, I knew I was where I belonged. ‘Hello, you,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve been so excited about bringing you home today I haven’t stopped talking about you.’ I nuzzled against her, and remembered the simple pleasure of her warm fingers against my fur. I barked appreciatively. Gail was everything I remembered her to be. ‘He’s all yours now,’ Kelly said gently, as she stroked the top of my head and kissed my fur. ‘Let’s get him downstairs for a last check-up, and then you can take him home.’ Kelly placed me in Gail’s warm arms and I felt my brown eyes moisten as I glanced up at Kelly. She had been my lifeline here and I would never forget the care and kindness she had shown me. ‘Thank you,’ I yapped at her quietly. ‘You’re welcome, Percy.’ Kelly smiled, her eyes meeting mine as she kissed my black fur one final time. Safely stowed in Gail’s arms, I gave my room one final glance. Catching sight of Boris, who was looking at me with joy in his eyes, I barked my goodbyes. ‘Take care of yourself,’ I told him. ‘Stay strong, and remember your family are coming for you.’ ‘I will, Percy, and you,’ Boris barked in reply. ‘Keep in touch.’ Outside, it felt strange to be in this part of the shelter again. As my paws scurried across the cold concrete I realised I hadn’t been in a car since Javier abandoned me several weeks ago. My fur stood on end at the memory of that dark day. But now, I realised this new journey in four wheels would be a very different and happier experience. As Gail unlocked the back door, I saw she had arranged a special dog carrier that was secured with seat belts for me. Usually I hated travelling in anything so restrictive, preferring to roam free in the back, but looking up at Gail’s face, so full of concern, I knew she was only doing what she thought was best. Reluctantly, I scrambled inside, and as Gail checked I was safe and secure, she bent down and kissed my head. ‘You okay in there, boy?’ Gail whispered, her lipstick smudged from where she’d given me a smooch. I woofed at her encouragingly. Despite my reservations, the carrier was actually quite comfortable thanks to the sheepskin blanket Gail had thoughtfully placed inside. Best of all, the sides were open, so when Jenny slid into the car next to me, she was able to run her fingers over my fur reassuringly as Gail and Simon got into their seats at the front. As Simon clunk-clicked his seat belt into place, Gail started the engine. Checking her mirrors as she manoeuvred out of the car park, she caught my eye and smiled. ‘We’re about forty minutes away, just out in west London, but it’s definitely not the posh bit, I’m afraid.’ ‘She’s right, Percy,’ Simon called over his shoulder to me. ‘It’s definitely not the posh bit, and I hate to break it to you, but it’ll be a lot longer than forty minutes, given the way Gail drives.’ ‘Dad!’ Jenny fired, eyes furrowed in frustration. ‘Stop being so mean all the time about Mum’s driving.’ ‘Good point, Jen,’ Gail replied. ‘In fact, Simon, you’re welcome to drive us home yourself, if you don’t like the way I do it.’ ‘Come on, love. I spend all week driving around London; the last thing I want to do at the weekend is to get behind the wheel,’ Simon protested. Gail’s gaze never left the road, but her tone was clear. ‘Well then, stop having a go at me about it. You were bad enough on the way in.’ ‘It was only a joke,’ Simon hissed. ‘You need to get a sense of humour.’ ‘And you need to get a sensitivity chip,’ Gail retorted. ‘You’re ruining this special moment with Percy.’ I looked over at Jenny. The little girl’s eyes were downcast and fixed firmly on her lap as her parents exchanged words. She did not appear to be crying, but she was obviously upset at the fact the happy atmosphere we had all enjoyed just moments earlier had become frosty. I glanced at Gail and caught her reflection in the rear-view mirror. Her mouth was set in a determined line while Simon had turned his head and was looking firmly out of the passenger window. I wondered if this was evidence of the strain Gail had mentioned. More than anything, I wanted to help, this was supposed to be a happy day not a sad one. Observing Jenny, an idea formed and I remembered one of the tricks Barney had taught me to try to get new families to like me. Rolling onto my back in the carrier, I exposed my tummy and yelped, a bit like a human baby. Jenny looked across and her face creased into a delighted smile as she saw my trick. ‘Mum! Percy thinks he’s a baby.’ Not waiting for an answer, she reached her hand into my carrier and tickled my belly, just as I hoped she would. ‘Oh, his tummy’s so soft,’ she squealed. Simon looked around to see what all the commotion was about, and laughed. ‘Oh, Percy, I can see you’ve already got a way with the women. You’re going to have to teach me a thing or two.’ ‘What’s he doing?’ Gail begged as she navigated a particularly busy junction. ‘I can’t see.’ ‘He’s rolling over, pretending to be a baby,’ Jenny explained, her hand still tickling my belly, much to my delight. Quickly glancing around, Gail burst out laughing as she saw me. ‘Percy!’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh, my goodness, you’re adorable.’ ‘He’s more than adorable,’ Simon said, chuckling. ‘He’s bloody brilliant. Look at you women going all mushy; Percy’s going to be the ace up my sleeve against you two.’ ‘No, he isn’t.’ Jenny giggled. ‘He’s going to be my friend.’ ‘And mine,’ Gail said, meeting my eyes as I rolled over and got back on my feet. Looking around at the smiling faces, I was delighted to feel the atmosphere in the car had thawed. Glancing into the rear-view mirror, I caught Gail’s delighted eyes. ‘Thank you,’ she mouthed. Chapter Four (#ulink_23b59a21-cf3c-5883-a8ae-e8efb6417fc6) As the car crunched over a gravelled driveway and came to a halt, I craned my neck through the carrier, to assess my new home. It was not a big house, and it was far from glamorous unlike Javier’s old flat, but with its red brick exterior, black front door and smart, curved bay windows, it looked warm cosy and inviting. While Simon helped Jenny out of the car, I peered out of the window and felt relieved it had stopped raining. The early November grey clouds were doing nothing for my mood. As Gail opened my door and reached inside to pull me out, the feel of her warm hands around my middle helped settle my nerves. I had spent weeks longing for a new life, now it was finally here I felt scared. ‘Welcome home, Percy,’ Gail whispered, holding me close and gently stroking my head. ‘I know this will all feel a bit strange at first, but we already love you so much, we will do everything we can to make you happy.’ I turned my brown eyes to meet Gail’s, and stretched out my paw to lie across her forearm. Thank you, I communicated silently as we walked across the gravel and into the house. What was it about Kelly and now Gail, I wondered, that they always seemed to know just what I was thinking? Once inside, I sniffed the air and got my bearings. I could make out the scent of coffee and laundry as I looked around what I assumed was the hallway. I was pleased to find it already smelt like home. I saw a console table filled with keys and mail underneath a large gilt mirror. To my right, I saw a host of what looked like family photos above the stairs. There was a big picture of a young-looking Gail holding Jenny when she was born, while above it stood prints of older couples surrounding Gail and Simon, and I guessed they were Jenny’s grandparents. In the middle, in pride of place, was a picture of a beaming Simon and Gail alongside Jenny. Peering closer, it looked as though the photo had been taken recently outside this house and although the couple was beaming into the lens, the wrinkles around Gail’s eyes were prominent, and Simon’s smile did not meet his eyes. ‘Tea, love?’ Simon called from what I guessed was the kitchen. ‘Yes, please, and a big bowl of water for Percy,’ Gail replied, as she sat me down on the floor. ‘Already done,’ he called. ‘His lordship will want for nothing.’ I chuckled inwardly at Simon’s use of the word. Gabriella had often used the same phrase, but it never sounded friendly. The way Simon had said it felt completely different – not only was the word loaded with affection, but the gentle teasing already made me feel as though I belonged. ‘Hey, what about me?’ asked Jenny as she came down the stairs. ‘As if I could forget.’ Simon emerged from the room at the bottom of the corridor, grinning. ‘I’ve made you your favourite hot chocolate.’ Jenny’s smile widened. ‘Thanks, Dad. Can I go and show Percy my room now?’ I barked willingly at Jenny. I couldn’t wait to explore and spend some time with the little girl. Looking up at Gail, I saw her exchange glances with Simon but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. ‘Go on then,’ she said eventually, with a smile. ‘But not too long – you need a rest as you’ll be tired after all the excitement this morning.’ ‘Muuuum,’ Jenny whined, ‘I’m fine. I was only in the car.’ Gail looked at her daughter with determination in her eyes. ‘Exactly, just a few minutes with Percy and then bed, please.’ ‘Okay,’ she sighed, obviously realising this was a battle she was unlikely to win. As I trailed behind Jenny up the stairs, I glanced behind me and saw Gail’s eyes were still filled with worry. I knew I had only just arrived in their home, but I did feel my new owner was overreacting a bit. Jenny was right, she had only been in a car for a couple of hours, she had hardly been chasing rabbits all morning. As we reached her room, Jenny pushed open the door and I gazed in wonder at the posters of Justin Bieber and One Direction that lined every wall. Opposite the window stood a single bed with a patterned bedspread and a big stuffed cuddly teddy bear, which was propped up against the pillows. I glanced to my right and saw the bookshelf on the wall nearest the door was filled with books on horses and ponies. I could see at a glance it was a girl’s room and one Jenny was obviously very proud of. ‘Welcome to my room, Percy.’ She grinned down at me. ‘Thank you for inviting me,’ I barked solemnly. ‘What do you think?’ she asked, whirling around the room. ‘It’s very nice,’ I yapped as she scooped me into her arms and sat us both on her bed. ‘I knew you’d love it, Percy.’ She smiled, settling me onto her lap. Once we were both comfy, she lay down and I stretched out along her legs. ‘We’re going to have such a good time together, I’ve got it all planned out,’ she said excitedly. ‘We’re going to play brilliant games, and I’m going to be the one that lets you out for a wee every morning. Dad says that even though I’m poorly, I’ve got to learn responsibility, whatever that means.’ I uncurled my tail with pleasure. This sounded wonderful already, and I rather liked the idea of me and this little girl spending some precious alone time together, even if it was just so I could spend a penny. ‘I’ve also made you a special sort of bedroom in the kitchen downstairs, where I’ve put your bed, your food and water,’ she continued eagerly. ‘And Mum’s knitted you a new blanket to keep you warm and Dad’s got you a brilliant new collar with your name and our phone number engraved on it.’ This was getting better and better and I let out a little enthusiastic bark, wanting to show Jenny just how much I approved of everything she was telling me. Javier had never gone to such trouble, but then he and I preferred napping on the sofa to going out too much. Perhaps this spelled the start of more walks and I wondered if Gail might be persuaded to kit me out in one of those cute little coats when winter arrived that I’d seen other pugs wear in the park. My mind wandered as I imagined myself trotting next to Jenny, Simon and, of course Gail, dressed in a checked waterproof jacket that would not only keep me cosy and dry, but complement my glossy black fur. I was so busy imagining myself looking stylish at the park, I lost track of what Jenny was saying and only caught the last part of it. ‘. . . so when I’m in the hospital next month, I’d really love it if you could keep a special eye on Mum, please, Perce,’ she said quietly. I barked at her again, trying not to sound alarmed. I knew Gail had mentioned something about Jenny being poorly, but hospital sounded serious. I yapped again, trying to get her to tell me more, but just as I opened my little mouth, the door opened and Gail’s beaming face appeared around the door. ‘How are you two getting on?’ she asked. Jenny smiled down happily at me. ‘Brilliant, Mum. I’ve just been showing Percy my room and he loves it.’ ‘That’s great, sweetheart.’ She smiled. ‘But it’s time for a nap now.’ ‘No way!’ she protested. ‘Me and Perce are having the best time. I want us to play a game now.’ My eyes met Gail’s and I saw her eyes were still filled with worry. I turned to Jenny and realised she looked exhausted. Her eyes appeared grey instead of a sparkling blue and her skin was sallow. With a start, I wondered if the hospital visit Jenny had mentioned a few moments ago had something to do with the reason Gail was keen for her daughter to take a nap. I wanted to help. If Jenny had to sleep, the last thing she needed was me distracting her. Opening my mouth wide as if to yawn, I slumped my face onto my front paws and shut my eyes as if I were ready for bed. The action was not lost on Gail, who, I was relieved to find, quickly took advantage of my actions. ‘Well, look at Percy,’ she said gently. ‘He needs a nap because he’s had a big day. He’s falling asleep on your legs, so how about I take him downstairs and let him have a little rest in his new bed. Then you can play games and we’ll give him a full tour after you’ve both had a nap.’ ‘Okay,’ Jenny replied sulkily. As Gail picked me up, she planted a kiss on Jenny’s forehead and then mine. Turning back to glance at her as Gail shut her bedroom door, I was delighted to see the little girl was already fast asleep. Gail drew her head back and regarded me curiously. ‘I’ve no idea if you can understand what I’m saying, but that’s a couple of times now you’ve helped me out of a sticky situation.’ ‘I can understand you loud and clear,’ I replied with a soft whine. As we padded down the stairs together, Gail beckoned me to follow her. ‘Come on then,’ she said encouragingly, ‘time to see where you’ll be sleeping.’ I trotted eagerly behind her and into the big square kitchen/diner. There was no denying it, Simon was right again, Gail and Jenny had indeed created a luxurious corner for me so I could relax. My large new bed was right next to the radiator so I’d be warm, while the bed itself was dressed in blanket after cosy-looking blanket, with a softer than soft hand-knitted patchwork blanket on top. I realised they smelled of Gail and felt instantly comforted, I was so excited to dive right in. I turned around and looked over at Gail and Simon who were standing at the kitchen doorway, arms wrapped around each other, smiling indulgently at me. ‘Go on,’ Gail coaxed, ‘this is your home now, Percy, just shut your eyes for a bit and have a rest.’ Excited, I turned back to my new bed and placed first one paw then another into the blankets. Soft, squishy and oh so warm, it felt like heaven as I walked around in little circles to try to get comfortable. Once I had found the perfect spot, I sank my head into the nice warm space I had carved out for myself. I needed very little encouragement, as I glanced once more at a delighted-looking Gail and Simon, I shut my eyes and immediately fell asleep. * ‘If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, Gail, we can afford it,’ Simon said, his rasping tones waking me from my slumber. ‘I know you keep saying we can afford it, but I just don’t see how,’ Gail protested, as I opened my eyes and saw her emptying the dishwasher. ‘Holidays are expensive, and I know it’s just a week away in the Lakes but, if we go back down to Barnstaple instead, we can stay with my parents for free.’ ‘But then it’s not a holiday, love. We’ll get bogged down seeing friends, looking after your parents and doing the things we used to do when we lived down there. If old Mrs Shand finds out I’m back, she’ll have me servicing her boiler for free and you know I won’t be able to resist.’ ‘That Mrs Shand won’t just want her boiler serviced if she finds out you’re back! You’re too kind for your own good.’ Gail grinned, swatting him with a tea towel. ‘And I know we need a proper holiday, love, but now I’ve given up my job in the café to home-school Jenny, every penny counts.’ ‘So why did you decide now was a good time to get a dog, if money is such a worry?’ Simon spat. I felt a stab of alarm as I opened one eye and saw Simon rest his back against the sink, his arms folded in what looked like fury. ‘That’s not fair, Simon,’ Gail whispered angrily. ‘You know how long I’ve wanted to get a dog, and how lonely I’ve been since we moved to London. We both agreed to take Percy on.’ Simon shook his head despairingly. ‘We agreed to give him a chance until Christmas and see how it goes, before deciding whether to keep him for ever. We’ve a lot on our plates with Jenny as it is, without taking on any more responsibility.’ Fear coursed through my fur as I realised my instincts were right. This had all been too good to be true; Javier had proved to me how fickle humans were. How stupid I had been to think things would be different with Gail and Simon. I wanted to howl as I realised that within a few short weeks I could be back at the tails of the forgotten. Would I never be good enough for someone to want me and love me for ever? I closed my eyes tightly, just as I heard Gail walk across the kitchen floor to join Simon at the sink. ‘You have to give Percy a real chance,’ she said warningly. ‘He’s a wonderful dog and could be just what this family needs. He doesn’t cost that much, and he’ll certainly give us a lot more joy than a few days away in a caravan.’ Opening my eyes again, I felt a rush of love once more for Gail as I saw her face was filled with an earnestness I had never seen on a human before. Simon cocked his head to one side and regarded his wife. ‘Love, I will give Percy a real chance, I’m just asking you to keep an open mind too. It may not work out with him and all of us have to be prepared for that. Let’s see how things are after Christmas.’ ‘Fine,’ Gail sighed. ‘But I want you to know, if you won’t keep Percy, then there’s a real chance I’ll go with him. He’s a lifeline to me.’ ‘Even more reason we need a break, love,’ Simon begged, reaching for his wife’s hands and clasping them tightly. ‘But Percy aside, Gail, I can provide for my family, and part of that means I can treat us all to a holiday, even if it’s just a few days in a caravan in wet and windy Keswick.’ I glanced up at Gail, who was now biting her lip. She rounded the table and drew out the chair opposite Simon’s to sit down. ‘I know that, love, but the other good thing about going back down to Devon is that if Jenny has a problem, Mum and Dad are there to help us out. Plus, all the staff at the hospital have dealt with Jenny over the years so will be able to treat her quickly. She’s going into hospital in a couple of weeks for another procedure and we don’t know how successful that’s going to be. I think we should wait and see how that goes before we even think about holidays.’ Simon looked across at his wife and clasped his hands over hers. ‘Nobody knows more than me how sick Jenny is. I grew up worrying about heart conditions remember? My old man was always in and out of hospital with a dodgy ticker and after his fifth heart attack I realised I couldn’t control his health by worrying. I knew I had to make the most of my time with him, which is why one of the best things I ever did was take him golfing in Spain just before he died. I’ll never regret doing that. It made me realise that if we wrap Jenny and ourselves in cotton wool we won’t enjoy life and the time we all have together.’ Thoughts flooded my mind as I realised Jenny was perhaps more poorly than Gail had initially let on. This heart condition, whatever it was, sounded serious. I watched Gail’s back stiffen in her chair as Simon finished his passionate speech. His words had clearly struck a chord and she was torn between wanting to make Simon happy and doing what she instinctively thought was right for her only precious child. ‘You make it sound as though Jenny doesn’t have long left,’ she hissed. ‘It’s as though you’ve already given up and expect her to die just like your father did.’ Gail screwed her face up into an ugly scowl, and I was astounded to see her look so upset. Her body was shaking with anger, and all I wanted to do was sit on her lap and try to calm her down. ‘Don’t be daft,’ Simon said swiftly, ‘of course I don’t think Jenny’s going to die. It was my idea to move back up to London, wasn’t it? I wanted to make sure she had the chance to get to Great Ormond Street quickly, so she would be on hand for top quality care. I wouldn’t have suggested that if I thought she wasn’t going to make it, would I?’ Gail said nothing as Simon took a deep breath. ‘Gail, I know it’s hard for you up here. That you miss our friends and your family, but we’ve got to make a go of it for Jenny’s sake and we can’t keep tripping up and down to Devon. Our lives are here now.’ ‘Easy for you to say,’ Gail spat, ‘your mum’s just around the corner and your old school friends are streets away.’ Simon leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath before he spoke. ‘That’s true, but we’re not here for me. Things have changed. We’re here for Jen, and I know it’s rough on you, but you will make friends soon. Why don’t you go line dancing with Mum on Wednesdays? She’s always inviting you.’ ‘Because I’ve got two left feet,’ Gail sighed. ‘Not only that, I haven’t the time. Now we’re home-schooling Jenny, I have to make sure we follow the curriculum. I’m determined that her education won’t suffer any more than it has to because of her health.’ ‘Which is why we need to make the most of our time and appreciate each other again,’ Simon reasoned. Gail looked into Simon’s eyes and then back at her lap, shaking her head sadly. ‘I understand, Si, but surely our friends and our family down in Devon are all a part of making the most of that time we have together,’ she said, the frustration creeping into her voice. ‘I know how hard you work, and I know how tired you are working round the clock all the hours. I know you’ve been sleeping in the spare room lately when you’ve crept in late, so you don’t disturb me, but it’s not necessary.’ ‘I don’t want to wake you,’ Simon said, shrugging. ‘Taking care of Jenny, schooling her, running this house, it’s a full-time job in itself Gail. You need your sleep.’ ‘And I need you beside me.’ Gail smiled, as she lifted her hand and tenderly stroked Simon’s cheek. ‘You, Jenny and now Percy are my family and my life. I’d do anything for any one of you.’ At the mention of my name, I decided this was as good a time as any to try to ease the tension. I opened my brown eyes wider and barked a little yelp of hello. ‘Oh, look, Percy is awake.’ Gail beamed, pushing back her chair across the parquet floor and heading straight for my basket. ‘Hello, gorgeous, how did you sleep?’ she asked softly, crouching on the floor her face pressed close to mine. ‘Fine,’ I barked gently, licking her cheek by way of greeting. I wasn’t sure how long I had napped, but what I did know was that I felt an awful lot better for forty winks. I stretched my front and back legs out to wake them properly and felt my back click into place. Getting to my paws, I felt my tummy gurgle with hunger and realised it must have been hours since I had eaten. I looked at Gail, worried it was too early in our relationship for me to start complaining about my appetite. But, thankfully, she had filled a bowl with my favourite food. ‘This is your home now, Percy,’ she said, as I scampered across the floor towards my grub. ‘You must do exactly what you like.’ I looked up at her again as she nodded reassuringly at me. Was this really my home? The conversation I had heard between Simon and Gail made me wonder. But my growling tummy stopped me from pondering any more as I chewed hungrily at my late lunch. Smacking my lips together, I realised now would be the perfect time to have the tour of the house I had been promised. So far I had only seen a fraction of the place and was eager to see more. Licking my mouth to ensure I had caught every last crumb, I walked towards the table where Simon was still sitting and nuzzled my head against his leg. We had not spent much time together yet and given he was the one who was considering sending me back, I wanted us to get to know one another. ‘Why don’t you give Percy that tour?’ Gail suggested as she caught my affectionate gesture. ‘You can show him your man cave, otherwise known as the spare room.’ Simon looked down at me and grinned. ‘Good idea. Percy, it’s time for you to see my hideaway where I get a bit of peace and quiet away from these nagging women.’ ‘You should count yourself lucky you’ve got two women who love you enough to nag at you,’ Gail teased. As Simon got to his feet and walked out of the kitchen, I followed closely behind. ‘Here’s the living room,’ he explained cheerfully, throwing open the door to the room we had passed earlier. I took in the large flat-screen television, real fire and squishy leather sofas that stood opposite one another. With more family photographs and a hand-knitted red throw strewn across the back of one of the settees, the place looked warm and inviting. With the chilly weather outside, I was all set to step inside and head towards the rug in front of the fire, but Simon had other ideas. ‘This way, mate. Tour’s not over yet,’ he said, beckoning me up the stairs. After a quick peek at Gail and Simon’s bedroom, and the bathroom, which seemed nice enough, Simon proudly led me past Jenny’s room to what looked like a spare room at the other end of the corridor. As we stood outside, Simon reminded me of a little boy on Christmas morning as he stood grinning and hopping from foot to foot. ‘You’re going to love it in here, Perce,’ he chuckled. ‘There are no girls allowed in this room, and I want you to think of this place as being yours as much as mine from now on. Any time those women get too much, you’re welcome to pop in.’ I barked in approval, delighted Simon wanted to share what was obviously a very special place with me. He opened the door and stepped inside with obvious enthusiasm. I sniffed the air and realised this room smelt very different to the rest of the house. I couldn’t put my paw on what it was, but the room was musky. I glanced up at Simon, who was standing by the window, hands in his jeans pockets looking proudly around him. I could see why. The room was a boy’s paradise, with posters of Bob Dylan and Oasis lining the walls, while row after row of DVDs such as Reservoir Dogs and The Godfather stood on a black metal shelving unit above a glass mini-fridge, filled with beer. Another large flat-screen television was mounted on the wall next to a rail filled with jeans and shirts, while an outstretched futon with a rumpled duvet stood next to it. I glanced up at Simon. He seemed more relaxed now than he had all day. Worry coursed through me. I didn’t know much about families, but what I did know from chatting with other dogs like Barney was that most couples spent their nights together. I knew from the conversation I had just overheard between Simon and Gail that she believed he was sleeping up here because he sometimes worked late, but looking at how much happier Simon seemed in this space, I wondered briefly if that was true. I furrowed my wrinkled brow, trying to make sense of it all before glancing back up at Simon. He was watching me intently, and seemed to be waiting for a response. The last thing I wanted to do was upset him. I thought quickly. As far as bachelor pads went, this was a pretty good one, and barked appreciatively as I sat on the floor by the bed. Simon sat cross-legged on the floor beside me. ‘I’m glad you approve, mate. I’m hoping you and me will become pals because, you know what, I could really use one in this house.’ I licked his chin, urging him to carry on, his bristles rough against my tongue as he bent his face down towards me. ‘The thing is, Perce, since we moved back up to London, well, our whole lives revolve around Jenny and her illness. It’s heart-breaking. All I want is for Jenny to be well again and for us all to go back to how things were.’ Glancing up at him, I saw his green eyes moisten as he mentioned his daughter’s condition. I was unsure just how sick Jenny was but it was beginning to sound more serious by the second. My heart went out to him and Gail as they were obviously coping in very different ways. Gail by bringing me into the family and Simon, I realised glancing around me, by shutting himself away from his family in this man cave. I nuzzled my face into his lap and tried to let him know I understood. ‘I’m here for you, Simon,’ I barked noisily. ‘I’m here for you all.’ Chapter Five (#ulink_a413893e-c279-5cdc-bf89-b696a2d77501) In the days that followed I began to settle into a routine with my new family. I was usually woken early by Jenny who would gently ruffle my ears, then open the back door for me so I could spend a penny. When I returned, I would find she had always made breakfast for me, and as I tucked in, she often liked to sit and watch me eat as the house gradually came to life. After good morning strokes and kisses from Gail, Simon would throw on his old wax jacket and I would whimper in delight, knowing our early morning walk to the park was imminent. Patiently, I would sit by the front door and wait as Simon clipped on my lead, then we would trot down the road together chatting away about the day ahead. Although the ground was now covered in a thick frost, this morning was no different. As he yawned and stretched, jerking my lead so my collar caught my throat, I let out a yelp of agony. ‘Oh, sorry, mate,’ Simon said, loosening my lead. ‘I’m a bit knackered this morning, didn’t sleep all that well. Me and Gail had a row last night.’ I woofed in sympathy. I had been out like a light last night and had not heard a peep from either of them. ‘To be honest with you, Percy, it feels like me and Gail are always having words,’ Simon confided. ‘This week we’ve rowed about the washing-up, the car and the fact I’m apparently always out with my mates in the pub after work. It’s all doing my head in to be honest, I like a quiet life.’ As we walked up the lane dodging the icy patches on the pavement, I turned my face to meet his and barked again, encouraging him to get it all off his chest. ‘Course I’m not stupid like a lot of blokes, Perce,’ he continued. ‘I know Gail, and I know what she’s really upset about is the fact Jenny has to go back into hospital; but every time I say that to her, she bites my head off. I don’t know what to do for the best.’ I said nothing and just listened as we walked along the road. I’d come to know Simon well enough to realise he said more when he was uninterrupted by my woofs of support. ‘Since Jenny was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, Gail’s been different, permanently on edge, you know. I thought moving back to London so we could be nearer to the hospital would make life easier. I mean, we were spending all our time on the motorway as it was with various appointments. But at least this way we’ve got my mum around to help.’ He sighed, scratching the bristles of his day-old beard. ‘The truth is, I think she blames me, Perce. My dad had heart trouble and this heart condition Jenny’s got is genetic. Gail’s never come out and said anything, but I think deep down, she feels it’s my fault. When Dad passed away because of his ticker last year she was more upset than me. I think she thought it would be Jenny next.’ He stopped, then bent down, his eyes meeting mine. ‘I’m sorry, Percy. You’re such a terrific dog, you don’t deserve all this rubbish. You deserve a home that’s happy and carefree.’ My eyes widened. Did Simon want to send me back to the tails of the forgotten already? It wasn’t Christmas yet, I still had at least six weeks to prove myself. ‘Don’t make me go back,’ I yelped frantically. ‘Oh, mate,’ Simon said, kissing the top of my head with his cold lips, ‘despite what you may think from all my moans and groans in the morning, you’ve changed our lives for the better, Perce.’ My cheeks puffed with pride as we reached the safety of the park. ‘You’re my family too,’ I barked, licking his face as he unclipped my collar. ‘Which is why I’ll be the best dog in the world if you’ll just let me stay with you for ever.’ ‘Go on, mate,’ Simon called loudly, ignoring my barks of plea, ‘run free for a bit.’ I hardly needed any encouragement and ran across the green space that was rock-hard thanks to the wintery frost. Despite the cold, a visit to the park was one of the highlights of my day. There were lots of trees to have a tinkle behind, plenty of grass to run around on, not to mention loads of abandoned tennis balls that were begging to be chewed. Seeing one now, I pounced on it in delight just as a young, boisterous Border collie raced towards me. ‘I’m Bugsy, but you can call me Bugs,’ he said, panting excitedly. ‘Me and my gang have seen you here every day for the last few days, and have wondered who you are. I said I’d find out, so I’ve come to introduce myself and bring you back to meet the others. Do you want to come now?’ His wild-eyed enthusiasm and endless stream of chat was both impressive and exhausting. Watching him run around me in circles reminded me of some of the dogs I had met at the tails of the forgotten and I realised he was barely more than a pup. ‘I’m Percy,’ I replied slowly, trying to calm the youngster down. ‘I’ve just moved in with Simon and Gail in Barksdale Way.’ ‘Cor! Barksdale Way’s a bit fancy. Full of families that think they’re no better than they should be – least that’s what my owners Johnny and Bella say – but I don’t know what that means. Do you want to come and meet my friends now?’ Bugs barked relentlessly. I thought my head would explode with laugher. You could always rely on a young pup to tell you just how it is, I thought wryly. ‘I’d love to meet everyone,’ I woofed agreeably, following behind as he raced to the other end of the park. ‘This is Percy,’ he puffed, rounding up all his pals. ‘He’s just moved in with a new family in Barksdale Way.’ ‘Very good, old boy. Welcome to the gang,’ woofed an elderly looking spaniel. With his greying whiskers, he reminded me a little bit of Kelly at the tails of the forgotten and was clearly a dog that had seen and done it all. ‘I’m Jake,’ he continued, ‘out and about most mornings, hips allowing.’ With that, he shifted his lower half from the wet, dank grass and wriggled his bottom to get more comfortable. A sweet-looking German shepherd looked at Jake. ‘Are you all right, lovey? Your hips look like they’re playing up more than usual this morning.’ ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ Jake barked in reply. ‘It’s this cold December weather. Christmas is no fun for old dogs like me.’ ‘Don’t talk soft,’ the German shepherd replied gently, before turning to me. ‘And you’re Percy, I just heard Bugsy say. Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Percy. I’m Heather and you’re welcome to come and hang around with us of a morning any time you want to. Who are your owners?’ ‘Gail and Simon,’ I barked again, gesturing towards Simon, who was busy chatting to a small blonde woman at the corner of a park. The two looked as if they had known each other for years by the way they were gassing away. I was about to ask the others if they knew who she was when I became distracted by the lead the woman was holding. Straining impatiently at the leash, was the most beautiful pug I had ever seen. Blonde, with dark markings and trademark big brown eyes, her paws looked tantalisingly beautiful, and the set of her jaw left my own hanging open in longing. ‘That’s Peg, old boy,’ Jake barked quietly, as he sidled up to me. ‘She’s just a young thing, and spoiled, a bit like her owner, but she’s a good girl at heart.’ ‘Jake, she’s a sweetheart,’ Heather protested, as she scratched her ear in frustration. ‘Don’t put Percy off before they’ve even met.’ ‘Oh, Heather,’ Bugsy barked affectionately. ‘You always see the best in a dog, even me, and I’m always getting it wrong and I know you tell me it’s just my age, but it’s not always and anyway, I don’t think Percy’s about to be put off any time soon. His jaw’s on the floor and he’s dribbling. Is he sick, Heather?’ ‘No, sweetie,’ Heather woofed affectionately. ‘He’s just got a bit of a crush, the poor thing.’ Bugsy grimaced. ‘Yuck! On Peg? But she’s a girl.’ I’d heard enough of this nonsense and turned back to face the others, who were all looking at me agog. ‘I don’t have a crush. I just think it’s nice to meet another pug, that’s all,’ I objected, hoping my traitorous, thumping heart wouldn’t give me away. I turned back to look at Peg, only to find she was scampering towards us. I gulped noisily and felt my nose moisten with nerves as I turned to Heather. ‘How do I look?’ ‘Like a prince, pet,’ she barked kindly. ‘Come and meet our new boy, Percy,’ Heather barked as Peg approached. ‘He lives around the corner in Barksdale Way.’ ‘Ooh, that’s a bit posh,’ Peg panted, echoing Bugsy’s words as she scampered to join me. ‘It’s lovely to meet you, Percy. Can I come around and see your place sometime?’ ‘Steady on, old girl,’ Jake barked sagely. ‘Perce here has just arrived. It’s a bit soon to be inviting yourself over for a bowl of Pedigree Chum.’ ‘Sorry, Percy,’ Peg woofed a little shamefaced. ‘Where are my manners? It’s just rare to meet another pug, especially not one that lives in such a nice part of town. I got carried away, that’s all.’ ‘That’s okay,’ I replied, her beauty leaving me almost barkless. ‘I’d love to have you visit. I’ll see if I can encourage Simon to invite your owner over.’ ‘Oh, our Sally doesn’t need much encouragement,’ Peg barked knowingly. ‘She’s a sucker for a pretty face that girl. I suppose that’s where I get it from.’ Heather turned to Peg. ‘How is your Sally now?’ Peg rolled her big brown eyes in despair. ‘She’s all right, Heather. But it doesn’t take much for Sally to start turning on the old waterworks. She’d only been on a couple of dates with this latest one but she’s been sobbing on my fur all week about how she thought he was the one, whatever that means.’ ‘She’s been looking for love in all the wrong places again,’ Heather barked sympathetically. ‘You can bark that again,’ Peg replied. ‘Honestly, she’s getting on my nerves with all these tears. We always have such a nice time when it’s just the two of us, I can’t understand why she wants to ruin everything by chasing after every man in trousers.’ ‘It’s not our job to understand, Peg,’ Jake barked wisely. ‘It is ours merely to be there for our owners whenever they need us.’ ‘And I am, Jake,’ Peg insisted, her little tail, curling and uncurling in frustration. ‘But all these tears are making my fur soggy and cold.’ Jake patted her much younger paws with his old wizened ones. ‘I do understand, my dear, but such is our lot. Into this life a little rain must fall.’ ‘Literally, when it comes to our Sal,’ Peg barked mutinously. ‘Anyway, what about everyone else? I can’t be the only one with owner problems.’ Being new to the group, I didn’t want to speak first, but the others wasted no time comparing war stories. ‘Well, I’m sure it’s no secret that mine are getting divorced,’ Heather barked matter-of-factly. ‘It’s been a long time coming. Pete’s been convinced for years she’s been cheating on him so he finally got fed up and hired a private detective to do some digging last month.’ I rolled my eyes in amazement. Was that really something humans did? I looked around the rest of the group, but they did not appear remotely surprised. ‘And he found some evidence that she’d been with someone else?’ Peg woofed compassionately. ‘No, she hadn’t been cheating at all,’ Heather barked with exasperation. ‘But when she met the private detective, she fell head over heels and has now moved in with him, so Pete really has got something to worry about and is either moping about the house or throwing plates in the garden. I have to be careful when I pop out for my evening tinkle.’ Heather shook her head in disgust. ‘What about the rest of you? I can’t be the only one suffering thanks to my daft owners.’ Bugsy cocked his head and let his tongue loll to one side, an unattractive pool of drool gathering at the corner of his mouth. ‘My owners have just had a baby,’ he barked. ‘Jasper’s really sweet and cute and I like to look at him when my parents have gone to bed, but he’s not asleep very often when it gets dark. In fact, most of the time he’s awake and he’s crying, and screaming and waking everyone up because he shouts so loudly. I never get any sleep and neither do Mum and Dad and they’re tired, and I’m tired and all I want to do is go to bed. Sometimes I think I could sleep standing up, but then I know I’d fall over and probably hurt myself. My owners say they haven’t got time to play with me any more because they’re so tired and I miss going for walks with my parents in the morning because instead I’ve got the neighbour’s son, Maxwell, taking me and he’s horrible and listens to his headphones all the time and I’m fed up!’ With that, Bugsy slumped to the floor, his head on his paws in despair. As he let out a howl of frustration, Jake and Heather rushed to his side and encouraged him to his paws. ‘Come on, Bugsy, lovey, don’t take on so,’ Heather barked soothingly. ‘Jasper won’t be a baby for long and Johnny and Bella will be playing with you again before you know it.’ ‘Absolutely, old boy,’ agreed Jake. ‘My owner’s son, Patrick, was a baby once, made a huge racket night and day for months. Thought it was never going to end, but it did, and now the boy’s almost a man. Mighty fine chap too, I might add. Stick with it, Bugsy, this baby phase won’t last for long and your owners will come to rely on you once more over the years.’ ‘But it’s so horrible,’ Bugsy groaned, ‘I liked it better before he came along.’ I scratched my ear thoughtfully with my hind leg. Bugsy’s people were probably just a bit distracted at the minute, but they still loved him. Bugsy just needed to figure out a way to try to get his family a little sleep, then they might have a bit more time for him. ‘How about we try to help you, Bugs?’ I barked. ‘There must be something we can do to give your family a bit of a rest.’ ‘Oooh, what were you thinking, Percy?’ asked Peg, turning her pretty face to meet mine. ‘I love a man with brains and beauty.’ My heart fluttered nervously in my chest. Was Peg flirting with me? ‘There’s no point,’ Bugsy barked once more, interrupting my thoughts. ‘They don’t care about anyone else apart from Jasper. I might as well move out and live at the tails of the forgotten. At least I would get some peace and there would be other people to care for me.’ ‘That’s enough,’ I barked reprovingly. ‘Your family are just a bit distracted at the moment that’s all. There’s no need to go wishing yourself to a shelter, if anyone knows it’s me, I’ve just come from there.’ The others looked at me in surprise before Heather broke the silence. ‘You never said, lovey.’ ‘Well, I want to make the best of my new start,’ I woofed in explanation. ‘I’m looking to the future now, not at the past.’ ‘Quite right, old boy,’ Jake barked in agreement. ‘Yes, Percy, ignore me, I didn’t mean to pry,’ Heather barked apologetically before looking at Bugsy. ‘Now, it sounds to me that if we can get you and your family some sleep things will improve for all of you. In my experience, the best thing to get a child to stay asleep is a lullaby. How about we all gather outside your house tonight Bugsy and sing Jasper to sleep.’ ‘Can you sing, Heather?’ Peg barked incredulously. Heather looked at the floor and toed the ground self-consciously with her paw. ‘Well, I don’t like to brag, but I always used to sing my owners’ girls to sleep when they were very little and they drifted off to sleep immediately.’ ‘I was once a member of the Welsh Dog Voice Choir,’ Jake yapped. ‘We had the children of the Valleys asleep in seconds. Of course, that was a few years ago now and my lungs aren’t what they were.’ ‘Nonsense, Jake, you’ve a lovely voice,’ Heather barked warmly before turning to me. ‘What about you, Percy? Can you bark a tune?’ ‘I’ve never really sung. Perhaps the odd note in the bath,’ I barked. ‘But I’m willing to try, if you think it will help, Bugsy.’ ‘Me too,’ barked Peg, sidling closer to me. ‘Percy’s right, we’ve all got to stick together.’ ‘Then it’s agreed,’ yapped Heather delightedly. ‘We’ll meet at Bugsy’s at six tonight, so we’re ready for Jasper’s bedtime and can have a practice. I’ll rap out the usual three barks for you.’ ‘What shall we sing?’ Peg asked. ‘How about “Baa Baa Black Sheep” or “Hush Little Baby”?’ suggested Jake. ‘In my experience, those two songs always get the children off to sleep quickly.’ ‘Good idea. Now can everyone get away? Percy, Bugsy lives on the next road to yours so we could meet at the corner of your street if that suits?’ asked Heather. I looked around me and saw barks of assent all around. Quickly, I thought how I would make my escape. Gail, Simon and Jenny usually ate their dinner at six so it would be quite easy for me to wriggle through their old cat flap. ‘Sounds good,’ I barked excitedly. ‘Excellent,’ Heather yapped delightedly again. ‘Now, just one thing, not a word to anyone. No matter how lovely your owners are if they find out we’re performing our very own dog quartet they’ll be furious.’ ‘Or at the very least, we’ll end up on the front page of one of the tabloids,’ added Jake. ‘And the last thing we want is the press camped out whenever we go to the park.’ ‘Quite right, Jake,’ agreed Heather. ‘Remember when old John got caught rescuing his owner from a fire? He couldn’t move for journalists for weeks! None of you breathe a word, especially you, Bugsy.’ At the sound of being singled out, Bugsy groaned. ‘Honestly, Heather, I won’t say a word. I know there was that time I told Saul the shih-tzu around the corner that we wanted to do something nice for Jake’s birthday and then there was a massive party, which Jake didn’t want—’ ‘And always made it clear to you, old boy, I never wanted,’ Jake insisted, cutting across him. ‘Which Jake never wanted,’ Bugsy admitted, ‘but it was an accident, I’ve learned my lesson. I swear to you, Heather, I won’t let you down, I promise.’ As Bugsy looked at us beseechingly, it was all I could do not to bark with laughter. The poor youngster looked so earnest. ‘Don’t worry, Bugs?’ we trust you, and all of us will keep our mouths shut, won’t we?’ I woofed. ‘Course we will. Percy, looks like you and me are wanted,’ Peg barked as she looked over at Simon and Sally who were waving like a pair of mad things, calling for us to join them. ‘Until tonight then,’ I barked. ‘Until tonight,’ Jake replied. ‘And remember, all of you, not a word to anyone.’ Chapter Six (#ulink_301f60fa-9d87-5d22-93a3-646891bd1b20) Together with Peg, we hurried towards our grinning owners. As we got nearer, I saw Sally unlink her arm from Simon’s and bend down to give Peg a stroke. ‘Come on, you two, are you ready for home?’ Sally asked, flicking her blonde mane behind her shoulder. ‘I am. I’m freezing,’ Peg barked, looking adoringly at her owner. ‘Me too,’ I woofed. ‘I’m glad we’re all agreed.’ Simon grinned as he ruffled my ears, snapped on my lead and turned towards home. ‘I need a hot toddy to thaw me out, I think.’ Sally snapped on Peg’s collar. ‘Do you mind if we walk home with you?’ ‘Course not,’ Simon replied. ‘Are you still around the corner in Denby House?’ ‘Oh, yes. And I’m still working as an accountant from home as well. It must be about ten years now since I bought the place. Me and Peg aren’t going anywhere soon are we, girl?’ ‘No, we’re very happy,’ she barked. I turned and looked at Peg. She hadn’t mentioned she lived so close by. ‘We’re in the garden flat on the hill,’ she barked. ‘Pop over any time.’ ‘I’d like that,’ I replied enthusiastically. ‘Shall I call for you on the way to Bugsy’s later?’ ‘Yes! Give me two barks when you’re outside and I’ll come right out. Sally’s always watching her soaps at six while she’s cooking, so she won’t miss me slipping out the back door, which she always opens to let the steam out.’ ‘But how will you get back in?’ I asked. The last thing I wanted was for Peg to get stuck outside. ‘Oh, if she’s shut the door by then I’ll just bark outside and she’ll think I just nipped out into the garden somewhere. Our Sal doesn’t think too deeply about anything,’ Peg woofed. Just then Sally let out a high-pitched tinkling laugh. The sound gave me a real fright. The last time I had heard anything like that was when the fire alarm went off by accident at the tails of the forgotten. I looked around and saw Sally was giggling at something Simon had said. Simon too was boasting a smile that reached the corners of his eyes and he had an air of jollity about him he never had at home. ‘I’m telling you, Sally, that Filofax is still up there on the roof of the science block,’ Simon insisted. ‘Last I heard, Mr Herring was still trying to find out whodunit, despite it being over twenty years ago.’ ‘Well, the rotten sod deserved it.’ Sally grinned. ‘Herring was a horrible teacher. He was surgically attached to that Filofax, d’you remember?’ Sally shook her head at the memory. ‘He looked destroyed when someone nicked the thing and it ended up on the rooftop. D’you know who did it?’ Simon shook his head. ‘I heard the rumours. Someone told me it was Steven Michaelson, and someone else said it was Tasha Franks, but I never found out for sure. I just remember it being the only thing people ever talked about in the fourth year for months.’ ‘I hid my tracks better than I thought then.’ Sally chuckled. I turned to observe them both. Simon had a look of incredulousness on his face as he stopped and gripped Sally’s shoulder. ‘You’re not saying it was you, Sally Hopkins?’ Sally nodded, her lipsticked smile, giving her face a happy glow. ‘It’s true. I did it after he put me on detention for a week after I didn’t wear a school tie. I missed a date with Jamie Busby because of him! I was so tired of him having a go at us all, I snuck into his office one day, nicked the Filofax, and then flung it high in the air. I will confess even I was surprised when it ended up on the roof.’ Simon stood there open-mouthed, gazing at Sally in wonder. ‘I can’t believe it was you. You’re a dark horse, that’s for sure.’ ‘That’s me all right,’ Sally replied, smirking, as she started walking with Peg by her side. ‘Finally, the mystery of Perivale Comp solved,’ Simon chuckled as we rounded the corner and reached Sally’s road. ‘I wasn’t expecting that today.’ ‘And I wasn’t expecting to see you either. I had no idea you were back in London.’ Sally grinned as she stood outside her flat. ‘Yes, been back a few months now. Me and Gail have moved to the city so Jenny’s closer to the hospital,’ he explained. Sally cocked her head in sympathy. ‘I heard your daughter had a heart problem. I hope it’s not as serious as it sounds.’ Simon raked his hands through his hair and grimaced. ‘It’s quite serious if I’m honest, Sal. Jenny has something known as dilated cardiomyopathy, it’s genetic and basically means that her heart is enlarged and can’t pump blood round her body properly. My dad died from heart problems and we think that’s how she may have got it.’ ‘Goodness, Si, I’m sorry.’ Sally said. ‘Did you find out when she was born?’ I looked up at Simon and watched him shake his head. ‘No, she was fine for years. Then when she was about nine she started fainting, was always struggling to catch her breath and was always tired. We took her to the doctors,’ but it took ages for them to work out what was wrong. Eventually, X-rays told us the news and since then we’ve been in and out of hospital.’ Sally shook her head in horror. ‘Poor Jenny, and poor you and Gail. Can’t the doctors operate or something like that to fix it?’ ‘If only it were that simple.’ Simon smiled sheepishly. ‘Sadly, Jenny’s tried almost all the tablets under the sun as well as a pacemaker, but she’s still having trouble, which is why we’ve moved up here so she can get to the hospital quickly. She’s back in soon for an overnight procedure, which means more tests. The hope is we can crack this problem with drugs once and for all. The last thing we want is for her to have a heart transplant, she’s only a little kid, I want her to live a normal life . . .’ As Simon trailed off, I saw Sally lightly pat his arm in sympathy. ‘I’m sorry, Simon. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ ‘Thanks, Sal. Though, to be fair, you’ve done something incredible already by cheering me up. I haven’t laughed like that in ages,’ he laughed. ‘Any time. Me and Peg will look forward to seeing more of you and Percy in the park,’ she said, grinning. ‘We’re there every day, aren’t we, mate?’ he asked, looking down at me. ‘Every day,’ I confirmed with a swift bark. ‘And Gail usually takes Percy out in the evening. I’m sure she’d love to see you as well,’ Simon continued hurriedly. Sally smiled as she glanced down at Peg. ‘I’d love to see her too. It’s all been far too long, but in the meantime, we had better be getting inside. Nice to see you again.’ ‘And you, Sal.’ Simon smiled as he waved her goodbye. ‘See you soon.’ Simon turned and walked quickly away with me by his side. ‘Well, I never expected to bump into Sally Hopkins this morning, boy. She was the class looker when I was at school, but was never interested in me, even though I asked her out nearly every day.’ As we turned into Barksdale Way, I glanced into Simon’s eyes and was delighted to see he appeared a lot happier than he did when we left. Perhaps coming to the park was as good for him as it was for me. * The rest of the day passed quickly. After Gail had guided Jenny through maths, which she hated, and English, which she loved, the little girl passed out on the sofa with exhaustion and it was all I could do not to join her. But, as I watched Gail clear away Jenny’s textbooks, pens and pencils, I could see the worry etched across her face. As she went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I followed her and sat by the side of the table waiting for her to join me. ‘You must be a mind-reader, Perce.’ Gail grinned, as she pulled out a chair and sat down with a cup of tea. ‘I honestly don’t know where I’d be without you and a decent cuppa.’ After resting her mug on the table, Gail bent down, scooped me up in her arms and set me down on her lap. Nuzzling into her, I rubbed my head against hers and looked into her eyes. Gail seemed more tired than usual, if that were possible, but knowing she and Simon had rowed last night I wasn’t surprised. I reached my paw out and laid it on the back of her hand in comfort. Wordlessly, she stroked it and grinned. ‘Fancy a quick game of tennis balls in the garden?’ she asked. Barking with enthusiasm, I jumped down from her lap onto the cool kitchen floor and scampered across to the big French doors. As we both went outside, Gail grabbed her coat and one of the balls from the grass, throwing it across the garden before she put her coat on. ‘Thing is, Percy,’ Gail said, as she picked up the ball I dropped on the ground in front of her, ‘I know I’m a bit like a bear with a sore head at the minute. But Jenny hasn’t had to stay overnight in hospital for such a long time, and I’m worried about it.’ ‘That’s understandable,’ I barked. From the conversations I’d heard between Gail and Simon, and sometimes Jenny, too, I knew the procedure was not as serious as I had feared. The doctors just wanted to monitor her with a special heart machine for twenty-four hours to check how things were going. Yet Gail seemed to be taking this hard, and aside from the obvious, I was unsure why. Gail threw the ball across the grass for me again. ‘I don’t know what it is that’s upsetting me about all this to be honest, Perce.’ As she watched the ball fly through the air, she sank her full weight onto the wooden bench behind her and shielded her eyes from the early afternoon sunshine. With great restraint, I ignored the ball, hopped up onto the bench with a bit of help from Gail and settled quietly beside her. It was obvious to me why she was so upset. Jenny was her daughter, it was only natural she would be worried. ‘I suppose I just feel like Jenny’s getting worse, not better,’ Gail continued. ‘She’s so pale and tired all the time and sometimes passes out with sheer exhaustion. Worst of all, the doctors can’t seem to find the right medicines for her. I’ve lost count of all the ones we’ve tried. I suppose I’m worried what this means and what’s next for us.’ Looking up at her, I saw the fear written across her face. I resolved to make an extra special effort to find some way of cheering her up. As the sunshine disappeared behind the clouds, we went back inside. Gail made a start on the dinner and, when Jenny woke, the two carried on with more maths at the kitchen table, much to Jenny’s disgust. I tried to spur her on, by giving her a woof of appreciation each time she got an algebra sum right. But although she appreciated my efforts, I could tell she’d had more than enough. ‘Seriously, Mum, can’t we call it a day? It’s almost six, we never work this late at school,’ Jenny reasoned. Gail sighed. ‘I do know that, love. But I don’t want you getting behind. Once we get this heart condition of yours sorted, you’ll have a bright future ahead of you and I want you to have a proper education.’ ‘But we both know maths isn’t my strong suit, Mum,’ Jenny protested. ‘Look, even Percy knows I’m never going to be a maths professor or an astronaut or anything like that. He always gives me way more encouragement when we’re doing sums than when we’re doing anything else.’ I looked out of the window, not saying a word. This was not a row I wanted to be drawn into, but Gail surprised me and her daughter. ‘Fair enough, love,’ she said, pushing the textbooks to one side. ‘Let’s leave it there for today. Why don’t you go and watch telly, your dad will be home any minute.’ Jenny’s face instantly brightened as she got down from the kitchen chair. ‘Nice once, Mum! Thanks. You coming, Percy?’ Panic rose. A cuddle on the sofa with Jenny while watching The Simpsons sounded like heaven. But, on the other hand, I knew Heather would be barking for me any minute and I didn’t want to be late. Right on cue, I heard the sound of Heather’s dulcet tones just as Simon walked through the door. ‘Evening all,’ he said, as he shucked off his coat. ‘Hi, love,’ Gail replied, as she walked towards him and kissed his cheek. ‘Let’s try and forget last night, shall we?’ ‘Sounds good to me.’ As the two leaned in to one another and hugged, I seized my chance, walked back into the kitchen and slipped through the cat flap. By no means was I a fat dog, but the flap was a tight squeeze and I was terrified at one point I was going to end up like poor Barney at the shelter. Thankfully, my paws bounced onto the concrete floor. After wriggling my hind legs out to meet my front, I wasted no time racing up the path and out into the cold night air. I had never been out alone before and the pitch black left me terrified. Reaching the top of the road where Peg lived, I felt a surge of relief to see she was already waiting for me. Together we scampered up the road towards Heather’s woofs, reaching her side within minutes. ‘Hello, you two,’ she barked in welcome. ‘Jake’s gone on ahead to see Bugsy and check he’s ready for us. Are you two okay to go now, or do you need a couple of minutes to get your breath back?’ I looked at Peg. Like me, she was wheezing, but determined. ‘We’re fine,’ I barked in reply. ‘Let’s do this.’ ‘Okay then, Percy,’ Heather woofed. The German shepherd had a dogged steady pace as she set off before us, and Peg and I struggled to keep up as we ran through the streets, our shorter legs doing us a disservice. I tried hard to catch my breath as I glanced at a slightly younger Peg who seemed to have a lot more puff. How was she doing it? Thankfully, I didn’t have to wonder for too long as Heather abruptly came to a halt outside a modest two-up, two-down terrace. ‘Here we are then, loves. Jake said he’d be around the back waiting for us if he wasn’t out the front so go quietly okay. We don’t want to wake the baby,’ Heather barked quietly. ‘There’s no chance of that,’ I woofed. Jasper’s screams were already ringing through the house and out to the street below. As we followed Heather down the dark passageway behind the house, we soon saw the Border collie sitting excitedly next to Jake. ‘Can you hear him? It’s like that every night! Please say you can fix this, Heather,’ Bugsy woofed, looking at each of us in turn for reassurance. ‘We’ll do our best, Bugsy,’ Heather barked. ‘Now, everyone knows “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, don’t they?’ We all nodded as Jake led us further down the alleyway towards a large bush opposite an open window. ‘That’s the baby’s room,’ Jake barked once we were hidden behind the shrubbery. ‘Now then, dogs, let’s keep our tones gentle and keep in time. On my count: one, two, three.’ With that, the five of us started to bark out the tune of the well-known lullaby. Only, despite our best efforts, we sounded more like birds being choked to death than the Welsh Dog Voice Choir to which Jake had once famously belonged. Not only were we out of tune, we were out of time, and it wasn’t long before Jasper’s cries became full-blown shrieks. Quickly, Jake interrupted with a furious bark. ‘What on earth do you call that? We’re dogs, not cats scrapping down an alleyway, screeching to all and sundry that this is our territory. Now let’s try again.’ Suitably reprimanded, we shot awkward glances at one another before Jake opened his jaws wide and began barking the sweetest rendition of the lullaby once more. His barks were beautiful and, feeling encouraged, the rest of us opened our mouths, sure we could do better this time. However, within just a few woofs, we realised we were even worse than before with our barks resembling a pack of rabid foxes going in for the kill. ‘That’s enough,’ Jake barked sharply, silencing us immediately. ‘If I wanted to spend my evening damaging my hearing, I would have stayed in with Giles for the night and watched a cast of hopefuls on The X Factor.’ ‘Don’t you want to give it one more try?’ Heather barked nervously, as Jasper’s cries became ever louder. I looked across at Bugsy, who had sunk to the floor in despair, paws over his ears. ‘I just can’t take it any more,’ he whimpered. ‘I didn’t think it was possible for him to wail any louder, but listen.’ ‘It’s God-awful, old thing, but you can see how we’re fixed,’ Jake barked sympathetically, jerking his head towards us. ‘None of you can carry a tune and I’m afraid if we continue, old chap, we’ll make your situation worse.’ ‘That’s okay,’ Bugsy barked quietly. ‘I understand. Thank you for trying.’ ‘Well, chaps, it wasn’t what we planned or expected, but it seems as though our work here is done,’ Jake barked helplessly. I wished he was wrong, but unfortunately the spaniel was right. We were awful and I worried any further attempts would have Jasper roaring for the entire night. Glancing at Bugsy’s downcast expression once more, my heart went out to him. I felt so sorry we had let him down and gave him an affectionate lick on his cheek, as I said goodbye, leaving the others to do the same. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow in the dog park,’ Heather barked sympathetically as we turned to leave. ‘Chin up.’ As we all nodded and said our final goodnights to Bugsy, we trotted down the alleyway towards home, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Tagging along at the back in silence, I reflected on the day. Even though our plan to help Bugsy had failed, I still felt remarkably positive. I had started out knowing nobody, but tonight had a group of friends and a loving family. I felt like the change in fortunes I had wished for at the tails of the forgotten was finally beginning to happen. Chapter Seven (#ulink_bff36d7a-fe23-52cf-a567-395d842e91f5) After saying goodnight to all my new friends, I ran as quickly as I could back to my home. Pausing outside, I surveyed the scene as if I were a plucky cat burglar, working out the best way inside undetected. From my position on the pavement behind a large bush, I saw all the lights in the front room were on while the rest of the house lay in darkness. Experience told me this meant Gail, Simon and Jenny had settled down together to watch television and, if luck was still on my side, meant I could scamper quietly down the alleyway and through the cat flap without any of them realising I had slipped out. Quiet as a mouse, I put my plan into action. Holding my breath, I padded down the dark passageway taking care not to trigger next door’s security light and quickly reached the cat flap. I pushed my nose against the plastic entrance, gave it a gentle shove, squeezed my head through and listened. Just as I hoped, the kitchen was silent. I slipped my front paws through the plastic and wriggled my body through, before my rear paws met my front ones on the cool kitchen lino. Once again, I looked left, then right, before sniffing the air and once I was satisfied the coast was clear, I crept over to my bed and dived under the blankets. As I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, I tried to relax. Tonight might have been a failure, but I had to admit that I had enjoyed myself with my new friends, and it felt wonderful to have tried to help at the very least. Settling back into the warmth of the blankets, I began to feel sleepy until I suddenly became aware of the hot breath of someone just inches from my face. I could tell without even opening my eyes that it was Gail, her warm, sweet scent instantly giving her away. She placed her hand gently on my head and stroked my forehead before giving me a kiss. ‘I was about to ask if you wanted a walk,’ she whispered in the darkness, ‘but I see you’ve already taken yourself out for some exercise.’ My eyes flew open and my heart fluttered with panic. I looked at Gail in horror. How could she tell? I’d taken great care to slip in and out unnoticed. Meeting my gaze, Gail shook her head and smiled. ‘I’m a mum, Perce, nothing gets past me. Along with the fact I haven’t seen you for the past hour. I was terrified something had happened to you and was just about to send out a search party.’ I got to my paws and hung my head in shame. I felt foolish for thinking I only had to worry about sneaking in and out. I had not intended to make Gail worry. ‘I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,’ I barked softly. ‘I had to help some new friends and didn’t think you’d miss me.’ ‘You’re freezing, boy,’ she said, reaching for one of my blankets and wrapping it around me. ‘I’m sure you didn’t mean to worry me, but worrying is part of my job. If you disappear for just one moment, I’ll fret. I love you, Percy, we all do, I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to you.’ ‘Sorry,’ I woofed again, as I licked her face and rested one of my front paws on her hand. I didn’t know what else to say. After patting my head one more time, Gail got to her feet and turned on the light switch, flooding the kitchen with a bright yellow glow. She reached into my food cupboard and got out a bone for me to chew. I tapped my little paws on the floor in pleasure as she handed me the treat. ‘Anyway,’ she said, sitting on the floor next to me, ‘while you were out doing whatever it was you were doing, I wanted to tell you about the strangest thing I saw while I was on the phone to Mum earlier.’ I barked happily, slurping and chewing the lovely and unexpected bone. My adventures had left me with quite an appetite and I had to admit this juicy morsel was taking the edge off my hunger rather nicely. ‘It was really funny,’ Gail continued, in her soothing tones. ‘Mum was just telling me about her neighbour’s hip replacement when I suddenly heard this loud barking. At first I thought it was some of your pals from the park, nattering to one another, but when I poked my head out of the window I saw a group of dogs standing outside one of the houses a few streets from here.’ I stopped chewing my bone and brought my head up sharply to meet Gail’s, my fur standing on end with trepidation. ‘Anyway, I saw this group of dogs all yapping madly at first, and then suddenly they stopped, had what looked like a little conflab and started again with the same dreadful howling,’ she explained, chuckling. ‘I held the phone up so Mum could hear. She asked me to describe the dogs, Perce, so when I had a little look I saw a lovely-looking Border collie, a spaniel and a German shepherd and a couple of pugs. Then I had another look, Percy, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen two pugs together, and that was when I really had to pinch myself as I could have sworn one of them was you!’ I opened my eyes wide in horror as I realised Gail had seen everything, and troublingly she had seen me. I was relieved to see her eyes were dancing in merriment. ‘Remember, Perce, I’m a mum and have eyes everywhere.’ Gail grinned. Over the next few days, I half expected Gail to press me for more details about what she had seen the night I had gone missing, but to my great surprise and relief she let the matter pass. Instead we enjoyed happy trips to the park where we played tennis balls for hours at a time, and I got to know all my new friends better, especially Peg. The more time I spent with her, the more time I wanted to spend with her. Not only was she beautiful, but she was kind, funny and patient. Best of all, she made me feel good about myself and I often tried to bring her little presents like a bone or chew toy, which I would carry to the park for her to enjoy. Today was no different and, as I saw Peg, I rushed up to her and dropped the bone I had carried with me as if it were precious cargo at her feet. ‘For me?’ she woofed appreciatively. ‘Percy, you shouldn’t. I’m watching my weight!’ ‘Don’t be silly, Peg. You’re gorgeous, just as you are,’ I barked in reply, meaning every word. Peg gave me a grateful lick and started chewing on the bone. Turning my head, I saw Jake, Bugsy and Heather chattering nearby and I barked a loud ‘Hello’, keen to let them know Peg and I were here too. Hearing my call, the trio trotted over, Bugsy leading the way, full of even more energy if that were possible. Since our night-time escapade, Bugsy had gone from feeling forlorn to overjoyed almost overnight. It seemed that although our intervention had failed, a few days later, Jasper had discovered the art of sleeping through the night all by himself without a bedtime story or lullaby from our little dog choir. ‘Jasper’s still sleeping through the night’ he barked joyfully, ‘and Bella and Johnny have a lot more time for me now with cuddles and walks, and everyone’s a lot less tired, including me as we’re all getting a decent night’s sleep, which means everyone is ever so much happier and I’ve got more and more energy.’ As if to prove the point, Bugsy bounded off to the nearest tree, chasing what looked suspiciously like a squirrel, which thankfully bolted up the trunk of a large oak and rested on the branch. ‘So our mission was a success after all,’ I woofed as Bugsy rejoined me. ‘A huge success,’ he yapped his mouth full of drool. ‘Everyone’s more content, even baby Jasper, who smiled at me for the first time ever yesterday! It was brilliant! I know you didn’t help me and made things worse, Percy, because it was your idea, but I’m still grateful to you for encouraging everyone to help me. It’s the thought that counts.’ My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I was unsure quite what to say. ‘It was nothing, Bugsy, we all wanted to help.’ ‘Course we did,’ Heather agreed. ‘Nobody could be more delighted than me, Bugsy, to see it all work out for you.’ ‘It’s lovely news, Bugsy,’ Peg barked happily. ‘I take it the horrible Maxwell isn’t always bringing you to the park now?’ Bugsy shook his head, sending drool flying everywhere. ‘Nope! Johnny’s brought me today. Look!’ As he gestured towards his owner sitting peacefully on a park bench, watching us all bark away, my heart burst with pride. Bugsy was finally top dog having got what he always wanted: his loving and happy family back. Although we had been particularly unhelpful, I wondered what else we could do as a team. Heather seemed to read my mind as she looked at us all with intent. ‘So what’s next then?’ she yapped. ‘Jake’s not having the best of times with his owner, Giles, at the moment. He’s so old, bless him, that he struggles to take poor Jake to the park for a walk these days.’ She scratched her ear with her hind leg and paused. ‘That means poor Jake isn’t always getting the exercise he so badly needs, and with his hips it’s vital he stays active.’ I looked at Heather, her face a picture of concern. ‘Do you think we should try to find someone else to help walk him?’ ‘Well, as long as you don’t ask Maxwell,’ Bugsy replied gloomily. ‘He’s useless at bringing you to the park. You can never get him off his phone ’cos he’s always playing games, chatting to his friends or watching some stupid zombie show on it, so he never throws balls and it takes ages to actually get to the park because he never takes his eyes off his stupid screen. His mum says he’s a little angel, but if that’s what an angel looks like I hope I never go to heaven because he’s rubbish!’ ‘Bugsy!’ Heather admonished. ‘You might have a point, but there’s no need to say things like that! No, I think we can do better than Maxwell to take Jake to the park. The question is who?’ ‘I could ask Sally but she’s so scatty it’s a small wonder she remembers to bring me to the park let alone anyone else,’ Peg barked sharply. ‘Where is she now?’ I asked, scanning the grass for signs of Sally’s blonde mane. ‘She’s parked herself in the coffee shop over there,’ Peg replied, gesturing towards the large stone building behind the trees. ‘Our Sal’s not a fan of hanging about in the park, unless there’s a man about.’ ‘Oh, Gail was in there a few minutes ago, getting one to take away,’ I woofed. ‘Looks like she’s getting to know Johnny now.’ I looked over at the bench where Gail and Johnny were now sitting and looking at us with undisguised curiosity. If only they could talk dog, I thought unhelpfully and not for the first time. It would be the easiest thing in the world to explain that one of our number was having problems and I knew Gail would jump in and help immediately, or at the very least know what to do. ‘Gail and Simon would be perfect, but they’re so busy with Jenny about to go into hospital at the minute I don’t think they’ll have a minute.’ Bugsy turned his attentions from the stick a passer-by had thrown in our general direction and looked up at me with concern. ‘You never said anything about a hospital.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/fiona-harrison/a-pug-like-percy-a-heartwarming-tale-for-the-whole-family/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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