I SMASHED MYSELF AGAINST THE apartment wall, clutching Charlie to my chest. His erratic heartbeat fluttered under my fingers. Blood dripped off the wound on the side of his head, soaking into my favorite yellow tank top. The little dog let out a noise that was a cross between a whimper and a bark.
“Shh.” I put my fingers around his muzzle. The giant brown ears flattened against his gray speckled back. Craning my neck, I peered toward the front window located in the kitchen. A large bearded face smashed against the glass, looking inside my apartment. Flipping around the corner, I glued my body tight to the wall. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even dart to another room. The window gave a full view of our entire living area.
I was going to kill my sister for not shutting the curtains. I told Blaire every day not to leave them open, but she wanted to see her food with natural light as she cooked it. She could see it just fine without the curtains open.
A loud banging came from the door. “Emma Sawyer. I saw you run in there with my damn dog. Open the door.”
I knew that crazy man would snatch him right out of my hands if I opened the door. Charlie wasn’t technically mine. I had rescued him from our abusive landlord.
“If you don’t open this door, I’m coming in with a key. I’ve got rights, you know. And you’ve got none. Not when you stole that piece-of-shit dog.”
Taking my chances, I ran into the living room, sliding open the back window. I crawled outside onto the tiny ledge, balancing Charlie with one arm. My nails clawed the glass back down. Little prickles of fear slipped down my back. Blowing a blonde curl out of my eye, I chose not to look at the rocky area below our apartment. The ledge wasn’t meant for people. It was more of a cement decorative area that ran along the top floor. I moved, one foot at a time, one breath at a time, over to the next window.
Tapping lightly, I waited for Mr. Hughes. He was an elderly man who lived next door. I did his weekly grocery shopping and cooked him dinner a few times a week. The curtain moved slightly, revealing an old face that slipped into a toothless grin. He pulled up the glass with his crooked fingers.
“Emma, what are—”
“Hold him.” I transferred Charlie over to Mr. Hughes. Crawling inside his living room, I shut the window behind me and covered the glass with the thick, blue curtains. The adrenaline coursed through my blood, making my hands shake.
“You finally did it,” he said with an excited gleam in his eye.
“Yes. And he saw me. I thought I had enough time to get in and out of his office.” I took Charlie back into my arms. His little body shivered in fear. I doubt he’d ever experienced much of anything besides terror from Kurt. That man was incompetent as a landlord and borderline psychotic when it came to animals.
Yesterday, when I came home from my shift at the nursing home, I’d heard terrible sounds coming from the manager’s office. His voice, shouting and screaming, followed by the repeated squeals of a tortured animal.
“Where are you going to take him? You know he can’t stay here.”
“I don’t know. Maybe my parents’? I’ll call them.” Pulling the phone from the pocket of my tight denim shorts, I pressed the auto dial for my mother. I sat down on the couch, waiting for her voice.
“Hey, I have a favor.”
“Oh, honey. What have you done now?” Her voice flowed with a hint of a drawl.
“It’s not that bad. I rescued a little dog. But he can’t stay here at my apartment. I have to find him a place. Will you take him?”
“I’m sure he’s a very nice dog. But I just can’t bear to have another after Rolly died. It’s too soon.”
“It’s been five years, Mom.”
“I know, but I still can’t shake that image, Emma. You weren’t there. Just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach.” My parents got Rolly when I was ten. A few years ago, he was hit by a car.
“It’s okay. I just thought maybe you were ready. I’ll think of something else.”
“You just need to talk to your sister. I know she doesn’t like dogs, but maybe you can entice her. Work that Emma magic on Blaire.”
I rolled my eyes even though my mother couldn’t see me. “It’s not Blaire. It’s my landlord. You met the guy. He’s not the world’s kindest person. I just need to get the dog out of here before Kurt finds him.”
“I would love to. But I really can’t, honey. I’m sure you will find it a home. You are so good at that kind of stuff.” I pictured her face with that wide smile as she fawned over me with her flowery words. “Are you coming to dinner Thursday night? I missed seeing your sweet face last week.”