Douglas turned to see his son David on the sidewalk. There is an expression that Douglas always thought of as a terrible cliche: his heart leapt into his throat. But he could not help but note the heartbeat that threatened to take over his ability to breathe.
Every one on the porch appeared frozen in that moment in time. Allison, standing, one hand on her screen door, paused on her way to get Douglas a glass of lemonade. Franny, holding Douglas’s hand, her arm angled upwards because of his height, as if she were a child. Leo, back in his chair, blanket askew.
Only Precious the dog moved, toward the man who had been taking care of her, confused by the smell of fear underneath his usual arrogance. In the way dogs can, Precious loved David, despite knowing his heart held a sliver of ice. Precious also knew how David fed her at the same time every morning, made sure she had a warm bed, and let Leo, her truest love, take her into his company at any time.
The scruffy old dog sniffed deeply, allowed her tail to wag gently, and cast her gaze from David to Douglas to Leo and back.
The odor of fear emanating from David intensified. Suddenly Precious doubted everything about the situation, and she turned to find a spot behind Leo’s feet. From there, she could keep tabs on the humans, and feel safe.
A little whimper from Precious broke the spell. Douglas let go of Franny’s hand and strode down the porch steps, extending the same hand toward his son.
“Hello, David,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”
“Is it?” the young man replied, without extending his own hand. “I would have thought I’d be the last person you wanted to see.”
Douglas hesitated only a moment. “Nonsense,” he said, and pulled his son to him in an embrace.
Allison’s hand slipped and the screen door thudded closed.