Exclusive Excerpt from Lost and Found
by Rick R. Reed
In the excerpt below, we see that when someone does something bad, it doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person, especially if the selfish act was done out of love—and there’s a willingness to put things right. No matter how much it hurts….
Hamburger had come into Mac’s life eight months ago in the middle of a downpour, in the very park where he’d just now met the guy he was sure was Hamburger’s original owner. Hamburger had been emaciated, with his ribs and backbone sticking out through his drenched fur. He had a cut, scabby, above one eye. No collar. He was whimpering and looked as though he was on his last legs. Mac shook his head, forcing the image out of his mind. It was just too painful to remember Hamburger like that. He had originally intended to simply drop him off at the Green Lake Animal Hospital, close to the park, over on Woodlawn Avenue. But the dog wouldn’t, or couldn’t, move. He’d plopped down at Mac’s feet that gray, wintry day and refused to get up. Mac perceived it as the dog seeing something within him that he needed or wanted.
Or maybe it was the half-eaten hamburger from Red Mill in Mac’s hand. He’d held out a morsel of meat for the dog, and he gobbled it up, then went right back to sitting where he was at Mac’s feet, staring at him with those big brown eyes that just about broke Mac’s heart. Mac gave him the rest of the burger, minus the pickles and the bun, and even in his sorry state, the dog begged for more.
It was then a name was born.
Right away he’d decided to take Hamburger home. It was rash, impulsive, and totally in character for Mac. He’d been taking in strays since he was a little boy, when he would tell his exasperated mother that some flea-bitten dog or cat had simply “followed” him home, as though he hadn’t coaxed and begged for the critter to come along the whole way. Later he took in stray men, but that was another story.
That winter day in Green Lake Park, with the rain coming down, Mac had gone to eat his hamburger and drink his chocolate shake, not caring how wet he got. His latest stray, a guy named David who lived in Ballard, had just dumped him after only two dates. This was after telling Mac he was over his messy divorce. But once he’d gotten free of the woman, he suddenly decided he wanted to “explore his options more” and didn’t want to be “tied down” with Mac so soon after getting out of a marriage.
And that hadn’t been Mac’s only rejection during that depressing time!
Mac shrugged, thinking back. Yeah, he’d been vulnerable that day Hamburger appeared to him. Before he could travel any farther down memory lane, Dee reeled him back into the present. Mac had almost forgotten the tiny birdlike woman’s presence at the kitchen table with him, sipping tea.
“Are you going to tell me what’s got you in such a state?”
Mac looked across the kitchen’s rough-plank hardwood floor at Hamburger, who had sprawled out, taking up much more room than Mac would have imagined a twenty-five-pound dog could manage. But he looked so comfortable, so at home there sprawled out on the floor, as though he’d never known anyplace else as home. Sunlight slanted in through the windows above the kitchen sink, and Mac knew Hamburger was, as was his custom, catching a few rays. If there was even the tiniest sliver of sunlight anywhere, that dog could find it and lie down in it.
“He’s a good boy, isn’t he?” Mac nodded toward Hamburger. He made eye contact with Dee. “Thanks for allowing me to have him here.”
Dee waved the thanks away. “Ah! He’s brought a lot of life into this house… and yes, he’s a very good boy. And so are you, Mac.”
Mac shook his head. “Ah, Dee, if you knew what I did today, you wouldn’t say that.”
Dee took a sip of tea, set down her cup, and then cocked her head. “What are you talking about? Is there a confession of murder on its way? Did you rob some poor old lady at the park? Indecently expose yourself?” Dee snickered, snorting in the comical way she had when she laughed. “Is there an election going on somewhere and you voted Republican? Because that, my boy, would be the worst of all. I’d have to evict you.” She chuckled.
“Dee, I’m serious.”
She quickly wiped the smile off her face and then reached out to cover Mac’s hand on the table with her own. Her eyebrows came together with concern. “What is it? You can tell me. I may be an old lady, but I’m not judgmental.”
Mac let out a big sigh. The moment of truth. It was hard enough to admit to himself that he’d been such a shit, a heel, whatever else you wanted to call it. But to admit it to Dee? This nice old woman who’d lived in Seattle all her life, who through the grace of God and a lucky ad on Craigslist two years ago, he’d ended up sharing a house with? Jokes aside, Mac wouldn’t blame her if she did kick him out once he told her the truth.
Now you’re being a little extreme, Mac told himself. Just come out with it. See what she says. Not all old people are wise, as some think, but Dee is. Mac already knew what she would say, and he didn’t want to hear it. Bad as his deception was this morning, Mac still wanted to cling to it. He had only to look over at Hamburger, snoring on the floor, to confirm it.
“Come on, young man. Spill it.”
Mac sighed once more. “I met Hamburger’s owner this morning at the park. Quite by accident.”
“Owner? You’re Hamburger’s owner. And when you go to work, I’m his owner.” She laughed. “Or at least that’s the pretending he and I do when you’re not around.”
Mac turned his hand upward beneath Dee’s so their palms were touching. He gently squeezed. “You’re sweet. But you remember how I found Hamburger last year, just after Christmas?”
Dee nodded. “Oh my, yes! He looked like he was at death’s door. And my lands, the smell of him.” She shook her head. “I wasn’t about to let you bring him in this house until I saw that look of absolute despair on your face. There was no way I could do anything other than become an accessory after the fact.”
Mac smiled. “Remember that bath we gave him?”
“Ha! He was slippery as an eel!”
“He sure was. But we got him cleaned up, and I took him to the vet’s to make sure he didn’t have fleas or any other problems. I even had them check for a microchip, but he didn’t have one of those. No collar, no tags….” Mac knew he was rationalizing, gearing up for letting Dee in on the whole story. He shrugged. “So I thought he was mine, free and clear. Obviously he’d been homeless for a long time. What kind of owner would let his dog get in such a state?”
“You said you met his owner.”
Dee was always good for keeping him on track, on this earthly plane. It wasn’t always easy for her, Mac knew.
“Yeah. He came right up to us at Green Lake. He was out for a run. If I’d been a few minutes earlier or he’d been a little slower, we may never have crossed paths.” Mac closed his eyes for a moment, wishing, as everyone has, that he could just go back and change one little thing that had already happened. Then the world could be okay again. He could go on as before.
But the past was past. You could lament it all you wanted, but you could never change it.
Mac scratched his neck. “Hamburger seemed to recognize the guy right away. And when the man called him by the name Barley, I swear to you, Dee, that dog knew his name.” Mac shook his head. “And it wasn’t Hamburger.”
Hamburger lifted his head and looked at Mac before lowering it again and going back to sleep.
“The guy told me that Hamburger was his.” Mac gnawed on his lower lip, unsure if he could go on. But he wasn’t about to add deceiving Dee to the list of his sins for the day.
“And you believe him?”
Mac nodded, feeling sad, guilty, ashamed, and horrified all at once. Was this the beginning of the end? Was he going to lose Hamburger? His heart clenched at the thought. “Yeah,” Mac whined. “Yeah. I could tell they knew each other. He said he’d lost Hamburger, or Barley, last fall at Discovery Park.”
Dee nodded. “That’s a huge park.”
“I know, right? You could lose a dog there, no problem. But I do blame him a little bit because obviously Hamburger wasn’t on a leash.”
Dee tapped his hand. “Lots of people like to let their dogs run when they’re out in nature. Now I’m hearing you trying to blame him.” She shook her head. “Mac”—she said his name in a scolding tone—“don’t justify.”
“I know, I know.” He sighed. “Here’s the worst part. I told him that no way could Hamburger be his, even though I knew it was a lie. I told him my name was Mike, even though I knew that was a lie, but I didn’t want him to be able to find me. And like the big coward I am, as soon as I got rid of the guy, who—I gotta tell you, Dee—looked like I’d just broken his heart, I ran out of that park so fast….”
Mac stared at Dee, trying to read what she was thinking. But her face, with its dark eyes and wrinkles, was impassive.
She didn’t speak for several moments. Mac prepared himself for a scolding. He couldn’t blame Dee—he deserved it and almost welcomed it. Then she said, “I still don’t think you’re bad, Mac. Even though you did a bad thing.” She sipped her tea. “Yes, you lied. You knew you could have made that man’s day, but you were selfish.”
Mac stared down at the floor. He looked up when he felt Dee grip his arm.
“But you lied and were selfish out of love. I’m not excusing what you did. But I watched you resurrect that poor creature. I watched as the two of you began becoming family to each other. And I know how much you love Hamburger—and I know how much he loves you.” She gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “But did you think that maybe the man you encountered in the park today loves the dog just as much? Can you put yourself in his shoes?”
Dee had the wisdom to stop there. Mac realized he was fretting over the unbearable pain of losing the dog, yet he wasn’t allowing himself to feel any empathy for Flynn. Flynn, who was most likely going through the same pain Mac anticipated. The same pain that caused Mac to be the less-than-honorable fellow he found himself being right now.
“Oh, Dee, what should I do?”
Dee stood up and began to clear the table. “I don’t think you need me to answer that question, Mac. Your heart and your head are already steering you in the right direction.”
About Lost and Found
On a bright autumn day, Flynn Marlowe lost his best friend, a beagle named Barley, while out on a hike in Seattle’s Discovery Park.
On a cold winter day, Mac Bowersox found his best friend, a lost, scared, and emaciated beagle, on the streets of Seattle.
Two men. One dog. When Flynn and Mac meet by chance in a park the next summer, there’s a problem—who does Barley really belong to? Flynn wants him back, but he can see that Mac rescued him and loves him just as much as he does. Mac wants to keep the dog, and he can imagine how heartbreaking losing him would be—but that’s just what Flynn experienced.
A “shared custody” compromise might be just the way to work things out. But will the arrangement be successful? Mac and Flynn are willing to try it—and along the way, they just might fall in love.
About Rick R. Reed
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love.
He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). He is also a Rainbow Award Winner for both Caregiver and Raining Men. Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.”
Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”
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