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Hershey Kisses by iiiionly

I don’t understand why we’re not home yet, I know we turned the right way to get back to Jack’s, but all the houses look alike and it’s getting dark, and . . . and I don’t think Hershey likes it. 

I’m not scared of the dark, but since Hershey is I have to hold him.  Except he’s getting real heavy now and I think he’s tired, so we might have to rest.

Maybe I should go back to the park we passed.  It’s not the park Jack and I go to sometimes and the playground equipment looked . . . I don’ know, kinda scary.  I don’t think Hershey would like it in there alone, even though he has me to keep him company.

Hersh, do you suppose Jack is looking for us?  Well, me anyway.  He doesn’t know about you yet.” 

I think we might be lost, but he’ll find us soon.  He’s good like that, ya know?  Jack can find anything.  I lost my shoes the other day.  Well, I didn’t lose them really, but somehow they’d gotten shoved under the sofa and Jack found them right away.  He’s really amazing, Hersh, you’ll like him a lot.  I know you will.  And he’s going to like you, too.  Just as soon as he gets used to you.

Come on, Hershey; let’s sit here on the curb for a bit and strateg-ic-size.  What would Jack do if he got lost?

I’m thirsty.  Are you thirsty?  I’m hungry, too.  It’s probably supper time by now.  Think Jack will be too mad to feed us when we get home?   I think he might be pretty mad I left the yard without telling him.  I probably shouldn’t have done that, huh?

It’s okay to be a little scared, Hershey, don’t ya think?  Just as long as we be brave about it.  You’re being real brave, Hersh, I’m very proud of you.  But you have to stop wiggling or I’m going to drop you and we don’t want that to happen now do we? 

I wonder if we should knock on someone’s door and ask to call Jack.  I know his cell phone number.  Think he’d have it on him?  If he’s fixing supper, though, he probably won’t hear it. 

Hey, if we knocked on someone’s door we could ask for a drink of water, too.  But Jack said I wasn’t ever ‘sposed to go in anybody else’s house without him.  Hershey, you think he meant even if we got lost?  Maybe these are special cir-cum-stances. 

And maybe we could just stand on the doorstep and ask to use their phone.  Then we wouldn’t be going inside.

Ooomph!  

Hershey!  No, Hershey!  Come back!

*     *     *

“Daniel!”  I open the back door.  “Hey, Sport.  Supper’s ready, come in . . . and get cleaned up.” 

Except, he’s not in the sandbox . . . or anywhere in the backyard for that matter.  Nor are any of the rest of the neighborhood kids that usually hang out here when we’re home.

Oh, crap!  When did I get so complacent I stopped worrying about him being out here alone? 

“Daniel!” 

I check both sides of the house and continue around front, already knowing my kid is not in the yard.  I know he’s not in the house either, but I go back through room by room, just to make absolutely certain before I call the base for an S&R team.

Think, Jack, think. 

I stop in the kitchen, one hand on the counter, the other picking up the phone as I wrack my brain for any clue as to where he might have disappeared. 

Surely, surely NID wouldn’t have had the balls to snatch him out of our backyard. 

And whose fault will it be if they did? 

Think, Jack, think.

Kids in the neighborhood; who’s he been talking about lately?  Nothing and no one comes to mind.  We haven’t had any recent ‘losses’ on the dig site . . . who could have enticed him to leave the yard without me?

Bottom line, he wouldn’t have left the yard without some powerful incentive.

Wait . . . puppies. 

Someone has puppies.  

Crap!  He’s been bugging me for days to take him to see the puppies.  Christa, next door, said someone a couple streets over bred their Bernese Mountain dog. 

Oh, yeah, that could have been a powerful enough incentive to entice him out of the yard. 

Dammit! 

I dial the neighbor. 

“Hey, John.  Your wife home? . . . Working late again, huh?”  Yeah, sure she is -  and I’m getting really cynical in my old age.  “No, the other day she mentioned one of the neighbors a couple streets over has new puppies.  I was just wondering if she had more details.”  Thankfully, he knows.  “Oh, good.  That’s exactly what I needed, thanks!”  Why do I want to know?  “Oh, Daniel’s been bugging me about a dog.  Thought I’d drop around and see if they had any left unspoken for.”  Probably not.  Not a whole lot of them in the States yet.  “In demand, huh?  No, I didn’t know that.  Hey, thanks for the info.  I appreciate it, man.  Talk to you later.” 

I hang up without giving him a chance to wind up.  I have a name and address.  I don’t need long winded discourses on the state of the union, the dissolution of politics, or the fall of the Third Reich.  Any and all of which, if you let him get started, John can go on about for hours. 

I’m on a mission.  I’ve got a kid to find and it’s going to be dark very quickly.

I grab my cell off the hall table, scoop up keys, and am locking the door behind me when the phone inside rings.

Do I go back and answer it or do I just go collect him?  Before I can get the door open, the inside phone quits and my cell goes off. 

Jingle Bells.  In September.   Great.  Guess who’s been playing with it again. 

“O’Neill.” 

My heart does a quick jog at the sound of a woman’s voice introducing herself as the owner of the puppies. 

“I was just walking out the door.  I’m guessing you’re calling about my kid?” 

Yeah, she describes my sprite to a tee, even down to what he was wearing today. 

“That would be him.” 

I stop dead on the front steps, pull the phone away from my ear, and stare at it for a second. 

“Say that one more time, a little more slowly, please.  I’m positive I didn’t hear you right.”  He’s gone and he has one of her dogs.  “Uhm, not that it makes any difference to you, but does he have a big dog?  Or a little dog?”  A puppy.  “Right.  How long ago did he leave?”  Half an hour.  This is not good news.  “And you’re just now missing the puppy?”  Ahhh, this isn’t the first time he’s visited the dogs.  He is so grounded.  “Okay, I’m headed out to look for him now.”  Do I need help?  Yeah, maybe, but before I mobilize the neighborhood, or the Mountain, I’m going to place a discreet call to my poker buddy, Sheriff Ron.  “Not just yet.  I think I might know where he’s gone.”  Well, sure, I’ll let you know when I find him.  “I’ll do that and I’ll make sure the dog gets back to you tonight as well, ma’am.” 

Maybe under other circumstances, the light laugh on the other end of the phone would be intriguing, especially since Christa made sure to tell me the woman’s single. 

Not tonight.

I have a kid to find. 

I scroll down my list of contacts to the Sheriff’s office and hit the call button as I reach the sidewalk and break into a jog.  He may have gone to the playground with the dog if he’s having second thoughts about bringing it home. 

I’m praying like I haven’t prayed since . . . oh . . . maybe never. 

I don’t believe.  At least, I don’t think I believe anymore, but I’m covering all the bases just in case.

“God, if you are out there, I swear I won’t let him out of my sight again.  I’ll lock him in his room until he’s grown if I have to, but I promise, I won’t let him out of my sight.  Just let me find him, a little stirred would be good, not shaken, just stirred so he knows better next time the urge to wander hits him.”

 I should have taken him over there myself instead of putting him off. 

“This is Colonel O’Neill, is Ron in this evening?” 

They put me on hold, but it’s only a moment before the sheriff’s baritone is inquiring if I’m missing something that belongs to me. 

I breathe a deep sigh of relief. 

“Do you have him?”  Thank God!  Daniel, with a couple of jagged holes in his jeans and skinned hands, and a puppy who’s already gone through half their water cooler.  “Yeah, yeah, I’m good for a couple gallons of water.  “I’ll be there in ten.”  Oh, they’ll bring him home.  “Is that such a good thing?  I don’t want him getting the idea he can make off with stolen property and get away with it.”  Pretty frightened when they picked them up, over in the Tenley Circle area, close to a mile from here.  The puppy apparently got away, thus the torn jeans and skinned hands trying to catch him again.  Do I want to talk to Daniel?  “Nope, don’t want to talk to him until he gets home.”  Should they take the puppy home by squad ca,r too?  “No, thanks, I think Daniel and I need to take the puppy home.” 

Ron signs off with a chuckle, too, not nearly as sexy as the neighbor’s.  Yeah, I’d probably be laughing, too, in their shoes.

I’m waiting in the driveway, leaning against the back of the truck, when the squad car pulls up.  No sirens, thankfully, but lights flashing. 

Daniel and his dog caught a ride with the sheriff himself tonight.  Ron tips me a salute as he gets out of the car and opens the back door, ushering out a very subdued Daniel and a puppy nearly as big as he is.

“Colonel?  These truants belong to you?”

Daniel’s got his face buried in the back of the dog’s neck.

“One of ‘em does, Sheriff.”

“You’re aware he’s in possession of stolen property?”

“Yes, sir, I’m aware of that.”

“I didn’t steal him,” Daniel says, very softly.  “He belongs to me.”

I fold my arms over my chest.  “I wouldn’t be adding lying to my list of offenses if I were you, young man.”

“I don’t lie!” Daniel snaps ringingly.  “Hershey told me he belonged to me the very first time I saw him.  He just hasn’t come to live with us yet!”

Ron lifts an eyebrow at me.  “Colonel?”

“Very bright, real active imagination, you know - scarily gifted, but with the usual . . .”  I trail off, hoping I don’t have to finish that sentence.

Ron just nods.  “See that the dog gets back home, Jack.  I don’t want any missing puppy reports filed with my office tonight.”

“You betcha.  We’re on our way right now.”

“But . . .”

“Daniel, thank Officer Dietz for the ride home.  And for not arresting you for dog-napping.”

“I didn’t kidnap Hershey either,” Daniel says sullenly, mouth twitching in a telltale attempt to hold back tears.  “He’s mine.  Thank you for the ride home.”

“Thanks,” I offer in an aside to the sheriff as he grins and swings back into the squad car. 

“You got yourself a little handful there, Jack.  Didn’t know you’d acquired ano . . .” he stops, glances back at me with a rueful look, and finishes, “a kid.”

I just nod non-committally, not at all surprised at the curiosity he doesn’t bother to hide. 

I may have to move if Daniel actually does get resized to normal. 

“See ya ‘round, Sheriff.” 

Either that, or big Daniel can’t come over anymore, and that’s not going to work.

“Yeah, see ya, Jack.  Good luck.” 

The Sheriff tips another salute, smirking as he pulls out of the driveway.  Whatever he’s deduced or guessed, I have every confidence he’ll keep it to himself. 

I pocket my cell phone and look down at my Littlest Ancient.  “Well?”

“Well, what?” he mutters.

“I highly recommend you ditch the attitude right now.  Let’s just run down the list of rules you’ve broken tonight.  You left the yard without permission, not to mention not bothering to tell me; went to someone else’s house; took a dog you know damn well doesn’t belong to you; and then didn’t bother to come home.”

The mouth twitches again, but he’s valiantly holding back the tears.  The small jaw hardens briefly.  It looks almost obscene on this incarnation of Daniel and very nearly breaks my resolve. 

“I’ve been going to see the puppies with Evan, he always went with me before tonight,” he says defiantly.  “I asked and asked, Jack, and you wouldn’t take me.  And Hershey was expecting me to come.  I had to go see him, he was lonely . . . and sad.  And we would have come home.  We were trying to,” a single tear spills over, but he sniffs back the rest.  “Without Evan we got lost.  I think we took a wrong turn.” 

Or two.  They must have been moving at a pretty fast clip to have gotten as far as they did.

Daniel hefts the dog. 

“Can’t he stay with us tonight, Jack?  I know you’ll like him if you just get to know him.”

I sigh. 

“This is not about whether or not I’ll like the puppy, Daniel.  He’s not old enough to be away from his mom yet, Sport.  He has to go home tonight.”

“I wasn’t old enough to be away from my mom either, but that didn’t seem to matter,” he snarls angrily, then ruins it, in his seven-year-old mind anyway, by sniffing again as he buries his face back in the dog’s fur. 

He turns, shoulders stiff as he does an about-face, and marches off down the sidewalk, leaving me staring after him.

Damn, damn, and double damn.  How is it, big or little, he always manages the last word?

I catch up with him in a matter of three strides. 

“Want me to carry the puppy?” 

He’s sagging under the load.  For cryin’ out loud, he’s toted that thing nearly a mile.  It must weigh half as much he does and it’s only six weeks old!  If that old wives tale about the size of a puppy’s paws telling you how big he’s going to get is true - we’re looking at monster of a dog here.

Am I ever in for it now.  I’m taking the dog food out of Daniel’s paycheck.  We’ll never be able to keep this thing fed.

“No, I’ll carry him.  He’s tired and his paws hurt; he doesn’t want to walk anymore.  Plus, he’s little still and he’s afraid of the dark, so he wants me to hold him.”

“I see.  How about if I carry you and the dog?”

“No,” is the stubborn response.  “I’m not afraid of the dark.”

“Okay, but I bet your hands and knees hurt, just like the puppy’s paws hurt, don’t they?” 

I don’t wait for an answer this time, just scoop them both up, and am rewarded with Daniel’s innocent sigh of relief. 

The puppy, too, decides to thank me - with kisses.

“Daniel?”

“Huh, Jack?”

“Did you feed the dog?”

“Uh huh,” he says, “We shared the last kisses in my pocket.  He likes Hershey kisses and after he eats ‘em, his breath smells like chocolate.  That’s why I named him Hershey.”

“Ohhh, well, that’s a . . . good name.  But, Daniel?”

“Huh?”

“No more chocolate kisses for the puppy.  Chocolate will make him sick.”

“No chocolate?”

“No chocolate.”

“Not even . . .”

“None.”

“What about . . .”

“Daniel . . .”

“All right, but that seems cruel.  Hershey really likes chocolate.”

“He’ll grow out of it.”

“Oh,” he says in surprise.  “Will I grow out of it, too?”

“Very unlikely.”

~*~

 

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