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He’s cute, affectionate, and well behaved for a puppy. The owner calls him a mutt, but Hope will name him Doug. A dog is the last thing she wants, but after everything she’s been through, her friends convinced her it was a good idea. She normally doesn’t give in to peer pressure but at this point, she will try anything to feel normal again. Doug is her last shot at the kind of life she’s desperate for.
“How much for this one?” she asks, holding up the squirming bundle of black fur.
“Fifty bucks,” the woman answers. She shifts her baby from one knee to another in order to take a drag from her cigarette.
“That’s a little steep. Didn’t you just say he’s a mutt? Does he even have his first shots?” Hope replies.
The woman scowls at her and takes another drag, “He’s part German Shepherd, and they ain't cheap dogs. Do ya want him or not?”
Determined to give Doug a better life, Hope hands the woman two twenties and a ten and heads home to her empty house. The walk is a long one, and she decides to swing into a pet store to pick up a few things. A leash and collar for starts, then food and water bowls, a few toys, a bag of food, and the cashier talks her into a bag of healthy teething treats at checkout.
“A dollar from every purchase goes to help local animal shelters,” the young lady had happily squeaked while holding up the little bag.
“Sure,” Hope nods, “He’s going to need them anyway.”
She takes the time to put on his collar and snaps the leash in place before heading out the door. With Doug pulling her along she can’t help but laugh as he explores the world around him. Normally she would spend her walk home looking behind her, wondering if someone’s following her. Today is different though, and she has Doug to thank for that. She keeps a watchful eye on him instead of the world around her. What’s normally a long stressful journey is actually a pleasant walk. She imagines it won’t be so nerve-wracking going home now that she will have someone to go home to. The dark nights that have haunted her will no longer hold that same fear. Just not having to do everything on her own will be a huge relief.
“Welcome home baby,” she coos while unlocking the front door and watching him struggle over the thresh hold. He shows no fear about entering so for the first time in months, neither does she.
The first few months with Doug were difficult. Whenever he made a noise or hopped onto her bed, Hope’s heart would stop. In spite of her fears, she loves having him around and adjusts to her new life. He appears to know exactly when to comfort her and he’s the only reason she gets out of bed some days. Doug’s growing quickly, and he’s becoming quite a lot of dog for the meager fifty dollars she paid for him. Hope becomes curious and decides to look up pictures of German Shepherds online. She’s surprised to find Doug looks exactly like them only larger and pitch black. Doug stirs from between her legs and lifts his head off her lap, grumbling at the pictures of the other dogs.
“Don’t worry,” she says as he turns his head toward her, “You’re way better looking.” She gives him a kiss on his nose and he appears to understand, resting his head between her breasts. He loves to snuggle and Hope feels safe when he curls up with her. He guards her, even when she’s in the shower. Doug doesn’t leave her unattended and provides her with lots of love. He licks her legs when she gets out of the shower, kisses her face at night when she’s falling asleep, and makes her laugh by grabbing her underwear out of her drawer and making her chase him through the house. Without her having to train him, Doug has become the kind of dog she needed.
There’s one quality she loves the most about him, even though she knows it’s not a good one. Doug hates men. He’s so protective she can’t even allow her father into the house without closing Doug in another room. Her dad had pointed out it wasn’t right, but it’s the reason she had gotten Doug in the first place. Just six months before bringing him into her home Hope had been attacked.
The man had found her on social media, and things escalated quickly. What started out as a friendly conversation soon turned into unhealthy behavior. Hope hadn’t given his messages much attention until she started getting handwritten letters taped to her door and pictures of her changing sent to her phone. The day she was to become a hostage in her own house she had gone to the police and filed a restraining order. She was told they couldn’t do much because the guy hadn’t threatened her in person.
“We get reports like this all the time,” the balding officer had said. “These weirdos never act on things, and they eventually lose interest when they stop getting attention. If he shows up on your doorstep don’t let him in, just give us a call.”
Hope had still filed the report before heading home. She had walked through the door, angry about the nonchalant way the officer had handled things, and stomped through the house to her bedroom. The man from her nightmares had been standing there, in the middle of her room, waiting for her. It had taken four days for anyone to notice something was wrong. It wasn’t unusual for her to lock herself in the house and get caught up in her work, but when her parents didn’t hear back from her they started to worry.
Those four days had been hell for Hope. She can still smell the man’s rancid breath and see his crooked Cheshire grin. He had bound her to the bed with power cords and forced her to take sleeping pills. She doesn’t remember being raped, but she does remember waking up to the feeling of his naked body pressed against her. The man never untied her, forcing her to use a bedpan when she could no longer hold it. He appeared to enjoy cleaning her up and would scold her for fighting his touch. The man liked talking to her, but his personality would change wildly depending on how she was looking at him or if she asked to be released.
“We make a beautiful couple,” he had told her. “I knew you were the one when your picture came up under my friend recommendations. We have no friends in common, so it had to be fate that put you there.”
Four long days and Hope’s parents finally went to the police. They insisted on a wellness check that had turned into a shootout between her captive and the officers. She doesn’t know how many times he had been shot, but she remembers screaming when he staggered into the bedroom and collapsed on her. He had looked down at her with his wide crazy grin, and with his last breath uttered, “You’re mine forever, Hope!”
For six months she listened to everyone tell her how lucky she was, but her whole perception on life had refused to go back to normal. She was lucky enough to lay awake every night, knowing she would see his face when she closed her eyes. Lucky to feel fear every day while constantly looking behind her to make sure he wasn’t there. That was the last six months, and it’s only now that she feels lucky. After the first few months of getting used to a dog, she’s on the mend and able to deal with her fears. There’s real optimism in her thinking, leading her to believe that things will go back to normal. Doug listens to her and protects her. He keeps strangers away and alerts her to anyone new walking up to her house. He’s all she needs at night curled up in bed, chasing away the bad dreams and phantom thoughts of those four days. She even looks forward to going home now because she knows he will be there waiting for her.
The next two years fly by with Doug helping her every step of the way. Hope goes to counseling and she’s even allowed to bring Doug along for support. They call him a wolf-dog because of how large he is. At the advice of her father, Hope starts socializing Doug more and he’s gotten better around men. The only time he snaps or growls is if the man’s a stranger or someone Hope feels uncomfortable around. Her dad can go in and out of her house as long as he announces himself to Doug first. Aside from having a bad dream now and then, she’s doing great. Hope even has a new man in her life.
Jeff’s amazing and very good with Doug. It hadn’t been that way at first, but Jeff was patient and persistent. It was like Doug woke up one day and accepted Jeff without hesitation.
“See baby, I told you he’d come around,” Jeff says while rubbing Doug’s ears. She can hardly believe it, but the two men in her life appear thick as thieves.
Hope hates to leave Doug at home, but she has to put in so many office days a month and today is one of them.
“I’m sorry baby, but Jeff says he’ll come by to let you out a little later,” she says while planting a kiss on his nose and giving him a treat.
Doug looks so sad but cocks his head to one side as she mentions Jeff’s eventual appearance. “You know, sometimes I think you like him more than me,” she replies with a laugh as she closes the door behind her.
Her day drags as she counts the minutes before she can go home. Jeff had sent her a text almost an hour ago announcing his arrival at the house. As her last meeting comes to an end Hope hurries out of the building and practically jogs home. Her pace quickens as she notices Jeff’s car’s still in her driveway and her front door slightly ajar. Her first thoughts are of Doug. Wouldn’t Jeff had called if something was wrong? She runs into the house to find a bloodbath.
“Doug!” she calls, “where are you!”
There has clearly been a struggle, evident by turned over furniture and blood splatter everywhere. Hope hurries into the kitchen and screams. Jeff’s mutilated body is lying in a pool of blood with Doug standing over it.
“Doug, what happened!?” she asks, falling to her knees.
To her absolute horror, Doug turns around to reveal a very familiar Cheshire grin. Paralyzed with fear she doesn’t move as he trots up to her and places his muzzle on her shoulder. “You’re mine forever, Hope!” he whispers before licking the tears off her cheek.