I shook a box of dog biscuits. The sound never failed to produce the skittering noise of toenails on wood floors, and always resulted in my puppy hurling his whole body--from his long flapping ears to his short stump of a tail--straight at me.
Don't panic, I told myself. But how could I not? I had spent my entire eleven years trying to get a dog, and now--poof!--I'd lost him.
In the hall closet, I found a jumble of boots, but no sign of my spaniel mix's small freckled snout. Calling his name, I wandered through the house, opening doors, looking under furniture, and glancing outside in hopes of seeing a furry brown and white streak race past.
Through the kitchen window, I could see my mom raking leaves. It was only the second week in October, but already it seemed like everyone was talking about snow and trying to predict when the first flakes would fall. I waved frantically to get her attention, which resulted in her making the Just a sec sign, patting the air with one of her gloved hands. The car was gone, so I figured my dad was out at the store getting more salt or sand or other snow-busting materials. This being our family's first winter in Vermont, my parents weren't taking any chances.
Could Dad have taken my puppy with him? No way. Ace had had too many accidents in the car for that to happen. I had already checked every possible spot upstairs, and I was starting to feel pinpricks of worry. It was strange enough waking up and not finding Ace standing over me, chewing his beloved squeaky-toy banana (which I won for him at the Champlain Valley Fair) inches from my nose. But it was truly bizarre not to find him in any of his next-favorite spots: on my little brother Sam's bed, or on my parents' bed, or in the sunny spot on the bath mat. Ace's own dog bed was empty, but that was no surprise. He seemed to view the fuzzy green rectangle as his mortal enemy, so his only contact with it was full-on attack mode, shaking it from side to side until I tried to take it away, at which point the game would change to keep-away.
There was no way to explain it. My puppy was just plain gone.
The front door opened, and my mom blew in with a loud "Wow! It's nippy out there!" She stomped her boots on the mat and stripped her gloves off.
"Mom, have you seen Ace?" I asked her.
"Ace-the-dog or Ace-the-grandpa?" she asked.
I held up the box of dog biscuits.
"Right," said my mom. "Ace-the-dog."
I never would've named Ace Ace if I had realized this would be the standard response to the question. The thing is, when I got Ace-the-dog, my grandpa--who is, yes, also called Ace--claimed he was going to retire the name. According to him, the nickname Ace represented his old self: the loud, kvetchy, tell-you-what-to-do-y guy he left behind when he had a heart attack (and almost died). The plan was that Ace-the-dog would be the only Ace. Ace-the-grandpa would be just plain Grandpa.
Unfortunately, with Ace-the-grandpa around, things don't usually go as planned.
"I haven't seen Ace-the-dog yet this morning," said my mom. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen either Ace."
There was one place left to check: Ace-the-grandpa's room. A no-dogs-allowed zone if ever there was one. Ace's door was shut, so it seemed unlikely, but I needed to rule it out. Cautiously, I knocked.
"Grandpa?" I said, cringing in anticipation of Ace's booming "WHA?"
But it didn't come. This was starting to feel like an old episode of The Twilight Zone, Ace's second-favorite show after Star Trek. Had aliens come in the night and taken both Aces? I pushed the thought out of my mind and knocked again, louder this time.
"Ace?" I tried.
Bupkis, as Ace would say. No response.
Ace-the-grandpa was probably sleeping. That is, I hoped he was sleeping. Ever since his heart attack, I was a lot more nervous that something bad was going to happen to him. Every coughing fit that forced him to sit down made my heart race like I was going to have a heart attack of my own. But each time he turned out to be fine, I would tell myself, See? Still, I couldn't seem to stop worrying in the first place. So getting no answer at Ace's door did not feel good at all. Even his usually annoying response of yelling "WHA?" would have been reassuring.
I was turning to go back to the kitchen when I heard a very soft whining noise: hrrnnnnn.
Now, that sound, I'd know anywhere.
"Ace!" I exclaimed happily. Slowly, I turned the handle and opened the door a crack.
The telltale smell hit me first. Holding my nose, I stumbled in, fumbling for the light switch, and stepped in something squishy.
Click. I found the switch. The ceiling light came on, revealing:
Yup, that's what I stepped in.
And, yup, another mushy pile right next to it.
And, yup, total chaos in all directions.
My mom often says that my room looks like a cyclone hit it, which is just plain not true. But Ace's room actually did. Several issues of Golf Digest magazine had been shredded, and clothing was everywhere, like a basket of laundry had been tossed in a blender with the cover off. For good measure, there was a big dark stain on the throw rug beside Ace-the-grandpa's bed. The bed itself was, thankfully, the only thing that appeared to be undisturbed.
And guess who was wagging his whole body excitedly? You're here! his happy expression and thumping stubby tail seemed to say. It's about time! Now the party can really begin! He was standing over a pair of Ace-the-grandpa's beloved golf shoes. Which looked like maybe his favorite pair, the ones with the tassels. Or maybe it was another pair, which, thanks to a good gnawing, now looked tasseled.
"Oh no! Acey . . . ," I groaned, covering my face with one hand.
Yup. Good news! I found Ace-the-dog.
The bad news?
Ace-the-grandpa--assuming he hadn't been abducted by aliens--was going to have another heart attack when he saw this disaster.
Or kill me. Or both.
"I don't get it," I told my mom as we tackled Ace's floor together. She had already cleaned off my slippers and Ace's newly "tasseled" golf shoes and put them outside to "air out"--though, this being Vermont, I was pretty sure that meant "freeze stiff." She was on her knees with a spray bottle of Nature's Miracle, which my dad said we should get stock in since Ace-the-dog joined our family. "How did he end up in Grandpa's room?"
"Beats me," she said, wadding up more paper towels. "I let Ace out last night right before I turned in."
"Weird," I told her. "Grandpa wouldn't have let him in. And I'm pretty sure Ace was in here for a long time. I mean, seriously," I added. "It usually takes him a while to make this much of a mess."
My mom nodded sympathetically. Ace seemed to see it as his personal quest to attack, destroy, and pee on everything he came into contact with. From what I'd read in Your New Puppy, a lot of this could just be his puppy energy. Though when something like this happened, I got nervous that my parents might lose their patience. And might conclude that Ace was Too Much Trouble after all--as they had always insisted a dog would be--and start looking for a new home for him. A girl in my class last year said her mom did that when her dad got stationed overseas.
"Maybe he woke up early and drank all the coffee," suggested my mom. This was a reference to a cartoon my dad had put on the refrigerator. It showed a couple of dogs lining up at a coffee dispenser, and underneath it said: "How nervous little dogs prepare for their day." My dad changed it so it now says: "How Ace prepares for his day."
I smiled at the thought of Ace sitting at the table with a big, steaming mug of coffee. It was pretty nice of my mom to not freak out about Ace's latest disaster, so it helped me breathe a little easier too.
Still, I jumped when I heard the front door slam.
"OY YOY YOY! YOU COULD FREEZE YOUR TUCHES OFF ON A DAY LIKE THIS. LYNN? NATE? WHERE IS EVERYBODY?" My mom thinks Ace is loud because he's hard of hearing. But I've noticed that he hears just fine when he wants to. I think he just likes to be loud.
"In here, Dad," yelled my mom. "I'll be right there. Stand by the woodstove and warm up a minute."
"Great," I said, feeling my flood of relief that Ace was okay drain out of me like water from a bathtub. "Well, it's been nice knowing you."
"Relax, Zelly," said my mom. Everyone calls me Zelly instead of my real name, Zelda. Well, almost everyone.
"HIYA, KID," said Ace, shuffling in to join us. Ace jumped up happily and attacked Ace's boots. "HIYA, DOGGELAH."
"Dad, how many times do I have to tell you," scolded my mom. "Leave your boots by the stove when you come in."
"Hi, Grandpa," I said. I call him that to get him back for kid. He prefers to be called Ace. Or Your Honor, because he used to be a judge and often acts like he still is.
"SO NU? YOU'RE HAVING MY ROOM FUMIGATED?"
"Ah, no, Dad," said my mom, getting up. "Ace just had a little accident."
"I'm sorry, Grandpa," I said. "I promise I'll do a better job. . . ." My voice trailed off and I winced, waiting for the lecture to begin.
Instead, Ace started chuckling. He leaned over and cupped his hand around Ace's shaggy chocolate-brown ears. "YOU LITTLE PISHER. YOU MESHUGGE MUTT. VEY IZ MIR, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH YOU!"
I looked at him curiously. Yiddish, I expected. But cheerfulness in the face of disaster was a decidedly un-Ace-like reaction. It wasn't that Ace had no sense of humor. Far from it. In addition to collecting rubber bands and golf balls, Ace had an unparalleled collection of corny jokes. But when Ace meant business, that was another story. And this was definitely a situation that called for him to dust off one of his "In all my years of experience on the bench"--meaning as a judge--speeches.
"You're not . . . mad?" I asked cautiously.
"I MUST BE MAD OR I WOULDN'T BE HERE," said Ace, giving me his Guess who I'm quoting wink. When I didn't hazard a guess, he barked, "LEWIS CARROLL. ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. COME ON, KID, THINK."
"Wait, you're really not angry?"
"Well, uh, me," I said.
"YOU MADE A MESS ON MY FLOOR?" Ace asked.
"No, Grandpa. Just, I mean, he's my dog."
Ace knew only too well that Ace was my dog. In fact, if it weren't for him, I wouldn't have Ace. Ace-the-grandpa had dreamed up this ridiculous plan involving, of all things, a "practice dog" made out of an old plastic orange juice jug. I had to walk O.J., and feed him, and clean up after him (don't ask) all summer until I was pretty convinced that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. And then Ace had his heart attack. And then he recovered (and promised to stop being so "Ace"). And then my parents, to my complete and total surprise, gave me my puppy as an early eleventh-birthday present.
"RIGHT," said Ace, switching gears and putting on his usual Ace-itude. "HE IS YOUR DOG AND YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. WHICH MEANS IT IS YOUR JOB TO KEEP HIM IN CONTROL AND OUT OF TROUBLE."
I was about to respond and argue--even though my dad always says that arguing with Ace is like talking to a brick wall--that unless I kept Ace-the-dog on a leash 24-7, there was no way of guaranteeing he wouldn't get into trouble. But before I could, my mom said, "Dad, what time did you get up this morning?"
"I DON'T KNOW. EIGHT-THIRTY? NINE?"
"And when did you go out?"
"WHAT IS THIS, THE INQUISITION?"
My mom frowned at him. "Dad, I have been out front raking leaves for the last hour or more, but I never saw you leave. You must have gone out before any of us were even up. Is there any chance Ace got into your room this morning and you closed him in by accident when you went out?"
Ace smiled broadly, like he had just told a riddle and my mom was trying to figure it out. "NONE WHATSOEVER."
My mom looked at me, then at Ace again. "Okay," she said, "I'll bite. How can you be so sure?"
"NOT THAT IT'S ANY OF YOUR BUSINESS," said Ace. "BUT I WENT OUT TO VISIT A FRIEND LAST NIGHT. IT GOT LATE, SO WE JUST DECIDED TO HAVE A . . . WHADDAYA CALL IT, KID?"
"A sleepover?" I asked.
"THERE YOU GO!" said Ace.
"Out to visit . . . who exactly?" asked my mom.
"YOU KNOW PAULA," said Ace. "FROM THE Y."
Paula had come to our house for dinner the week before. Ace had met her at a class his doctor made him take after his heart attack. It was called Heart-Healthy Seniors, and Ace complained all the way there the first time he went. He said things like "FOR THIS I NEED A CLASS?"
Then he met Paula. He went early to the second class.
"Dad," said my mom cautiously, "don't you think it's a little, well, soon? I mean, you only met Paula, what? Three weeks ago?"
"FOUR," said Ace. "BUT WHO'S COUNTING?"
"Plus," I added, in case Ace had forgotten, "Bubbles hasn't even been gone a year yet." The whole reason we had moved to Vermont and Ace had moved in with us was that my grandma, who we called Bubbles, wasn't alive anymore. I could tell that Bubbles wouldn't have liked Paula, who had a really phony smile. And she wore too much makeup and clothes that Bubbles never would have worn, like a teal velour sweatshirt with matching pants. She also had a super-curly gray perm, so every time I heard Paula, I'd think poodle.
Both my mom and Ace turned when I spoke, looking startled, like they had forgotten I was even there.
"Sweetie," said my mom. "Why don't you go see if your dad's back yet?"
"But I haven't finished cleaning up after Ace."
"I'll take care of it," she said.
"Okay," I said quickly, before she could change her mind. "C'mon, boy."
Copyright © 2013 by Erica S. Perl. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.