Chapter One

It was the biggest hamburger I'd ever seen. The toasted, fluffy bun was as big around as the wading pool little Jessie splashed in out back when the weather was hot. It was warm and soft, and it didn't have any of those nasty little seeds to get caught between my teeth. The meat patty was as thick as a mattress. It still sizzled, sending out the heavenly aroma of fine ground sirloin. I could tell that it was medium rare, still pink and juicy in the middle, just the way I like it. There was none of that rabbit food nonsense, no lettuce, tomatoes, or onions. Just meat, bread, and a smear of rich mayonnaise. The Perfect Burger.

I could feel the saliva building up in my mouth as I circled it, admiring every glistening drop of grease. Fantastic. Magnificent. Stupendous. Splendorous. I was glad now that I'd listened to Dad muttering over his thesaurus. Such a glorious object deserved special words. I approached it slowly, savoring the anticipation. What first? Meat? Bun? There was no way I could stretch my mouth to get both at once. Finally I decided to start by licking off a blob of mayonnaise quivering just on the edge of the top bun. I leaned toward it, running out my tongue, thinking, "This is like a dream..."

...and felt something large and furry land on my back. The luscious megaburger vanished like a picture winking out on the Idiot Box. I was left with the depressing knowledge that it had, indeed, been too good to be true.

The large and hairy something was breathing in my ear. Not opening my eyes, I said, "Get off of me, Simon." If I was lucky, I might fall back asleep and dream of a few baseball bat sized french fries to replace the beautiful burger I'd been denied.

I felt the tickle of what I knew to be long white whiskers. "Wakey, wakey, Miss Inga. Time to rise and shine."

I might occasionally rise, but I refuse to shine unless I jolly well feel like it. "For the last time, you feline fur ball. Remove your weighty carcass. You just interrupted what would have been the feast of a lifetime."

"Hmm, dreaming about food again, eh? Alrighty. I'll leave you to your phantom food." The weight disappeared, and I heard the soft thump of Simon landing on the rug beside Jacob's bed. I was starting to snuggle down a bit more comfortably when I heard his voice at the door. "I'm sure I can handle any bacon scraps by myself."

My eyes snapped open. "BACON?" Somehow I botched my dismount from the bed and landed on my back, all four legs in the air. I could hear that snide beast snickering as he scampered down the hall toward the stairs. I scrambled frantically, tangling myself in the little throw rug. The dastardly thing tried to hold and strangle me, but I fought my way free and dashed out of Jake's bedroom.

As I entered the hall. I saw a long black tail disappearing down the staircase. I threw myself after it, shouting, "Wait! No fair! No head starts!" Not unless I get the head start of course. That would be only fair, as my legs are much shorter than Simon's.

I fish tailed as I tried to turn onto the stairs, my claws skittering on the hardwood floor. In fact, I slid past the stairs and had to lunge back. Which caused me to trip on the top step. Which caused me to make an embarrassing and painful tumbling descent. Thank goodness there was a thick runner, with excellent padding. Still, it was no ride in the car, let me tell you.

I finished up, half dazed, against a pair of sleek black pumps. "Inga! What on earth are you up to at this hour of the morning!" Mom reached down and gently set me on my feet, then carefully felt my legs. "Did you hurt yourself, girl?"

I considered whining a bit, and perhaps limping a few paces to gain the deserved sympathy. Then I remembered that those actions might win me a Trip to the Vet, and decided against it. After all, there was bacon to be had, if my nose wasn't lying. So instead I licked her hand and wagged my tail.

"Good. That's what you get for harassing poor old Simon."

My ears drooped, my tail drooped, I drooped. Me harassing him? Was there no justice in the world? First he wakes me out of a sound sleep by nearly crushing me, and smothering me with his fishy cat breath. Then he sneakily dashes off to help himself to luscious bacon scraps that are rightfully and legally at least half mine. Actually, I should get most of them. It's a well known, scientifically documented fact that dachshunds require high concentrations of table scraps to maintain their health.

I could have meditated on this base unfairness for quite a while, but there were bacon scraps in the kitchen that were in danger of falling into Simon's clutches, and I had to hurry to rescue them. I dashed (wiener dogs never do anything as undignified as scurrying) down the hall to the kitchen. The heavenly aroma of fresh fried bacon was almost enough to make me swoon. Dad was in the process of lifting the last strip out of a pan and onto a paper towel lined plate. I don't know why he did that. You lost so much of the yummy grease.

He set the plate down on the table, next to a large plate of fluffy scrambled eggs. *Sniff* Ooo, and he'd put cheese in them this morning! I swallowed so that the drool wouldn't actually run out of my mouth. So unsightly, don't you know.

"Dig in, kiddos. Don't dwaddle, Jacob, or you'll be late for the bus." He turned back to drop bread into the toaster. No biscuits this morning, darn it. Maybe Sunday...

Jacob sighed. He is ten years old, and none of the nutrition classes at school have been able to convince him of the importance of a well balanced breakfast. "Why can't I have some Sweetie Puffs instead, Dad? It'd be less work."

"We've been over that before. Saturdays only. No kid of mine is going to get rickets, or beriberi, or... whatever. Now eat."

Jacob knows enough not to keep grumbling after a Parental Pronouncement, so he took a few strips of bacon. I spotted Simon lurking under little Jessie's chair. She's only five, and absolutely foolish about that cat. One good thing about having Simon around is that I no longer have to pull Doll Duty. Now Simon gets to wear the pink dresses and frilly bonnets.

While Jacob resembles Mom, with dark, curly hair, Jessie is the image of Dad. Her straight, smooth hair is a shiny gold blonde, always worn in puppy ears, ponytails, pig tails or a braid. These dangling hanks of hair fascinate Simon. Sometimes Jessie will bend over him and whip her head back and forth till she is dizzy, giggling as Simon leaps and pounces after her flying hair.

Jacob added a spoonful of eggs to his plate, while Jessie stretched over and barely managed to snag some bacon. Jacob, without even looking, pushed the serving plate closer to her. "Can I have jelly on my toast?"

Dad opened the refrigerator. "How about some nice, fresh apple butter?"

Jacob groaned. "Dad, how many of those jars of apple butter do we have left?"

"Just this one. Can I help it if we had a bumper crop last year? If I hadn't donated those five jars to the school raffle, we'd be eating it three times a day."

"Okay, apple butter. Just to get it out of the way. Jessie... wait!"

Jessie was standing in her chair, leaning over the table, arm

outstretched in an effort to help herself to the scrambled eggs. She'd just gotten her fingertips on the spoon, and was trying to lift it to her plate when Jacob shouted at her. She jumped, and a glob of golden, cheesy eggs flipped up and out. It plopped on the floor beside her chair.

I lunged for it, but alas, Simon is treacherously fast. There was a black and white blur, and Simon was sitting back with a disgustingly smug look on his face, smoothing his whiskers. All that was left was a little greasy spot on the tile. I scolded him briefly, then cleaned the floor as best I could, so no one would slip. Mmm, Dad had used the sharp cheddar.

"It's okay, Dad. The cat vacuumed it up, and Inga is spot washing it." Jacob leaned down and rubbed my ears. I whipped my tail to show appreciation. "We don't have to worry about dropped food with you two around. At least unless it's vegetables." Jessie sat back down as her brother spooned some eggs onto her plate. "Next time, ask, squirt."

"I's not a squirt." Jessie piped. "An' I's big enough to do it. It was jus' too far."

"Maybe," Jacob said indulgently. "So next time ask me to pass the eggs."

"Okay. But what if we has pancakes?"

Jacob rolled his eyes, tugged a braid, and continued eating. I found the perfect spot near him, and assumed The Position. I sat down, then heaved myself upright with a grunt that was, perhaps, not strictly necessary. Then I fixed my gaze on Jacob's fork and watched it. Up, down, up, down. Hypnotic. After a couple of moments, I decided it was time to move to the next stage.

I whined. Not my pathetic whine, just my "Hey, I'm over here" whine. He looked down at me, and I immediately licked my lips. Hint, hint, Jacob. He grinned at me, then took a bite of bacon and chewed slowly, with great exaggeration. I love the boy, but really! Sometimes he can be so dense. I upped the pitiful level on the next whine.

"Here ya go, Inga." He tossed the bacon scrap toward me. Simon started out from under Jessie's chair, headed toward it, and I... well... I... um... said a few not so nice words.

"Inga! Don't bark at Simon like that!"

But he...

"It's not nice."

But the bacon...

"Just stop it."

Simon had started to sneak toward my bacon again, and this time I didn't waste time on words. I just darted and snapped it up. I would have preferred to savor it for another second, but I gulped it down before I could lose it. "You better slow down. I don't know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a dog."

Simon was nibbling on Jessie's toes, where they peeked out of her sandals. It was a shameless bid for attention, but the child couldn't see through it. She giggled delightedly, and held out a WHOLE STRIP OF BACON.

I started for it, because she obviously intended it for me, and was decoyed into extending it to Simon. Before I could save it, the mooch had picked it daintily from her fingers and levitated to the top of the refrigerator. All I could do was stare as he devoured it, with exaggerated licking of chops designed specifically to irritate me.

Heartless beast. Here I was, near fainting with hunger, and he greedily kept an entire...

"Inga, if you don't want this, I'll feed it to Simon." I whirled back to Jacob, almost losing my footing as I scrambled over to get my own strip of bacon. And I did NOT offer to share.

"Stop feeding those animals," Dad said, repeating an order that no one, not even he, obeyed. Thank goodness. "At least stop with the bacon. They're getting fat as pigs."

Simon and I both snorted at the same time. Well, really! Perhaps Simon was getting a bit portly, but I... So my waist wasn't as wasp slender as it once was. After all, I'm eight years old now. I'm entitled to a little middle age spread. Dad shook a fork at me. "Yes, you are, Miss Chubby Bottom."

Jessie crowed with laughter, and even Jacob laughed. Oh, such betrayal. "Chubby Bottom! Chubby Bottom!" Jessie chanted. "Inga has a chubby bottom!"

I've never seen a cat actually laugh, but Simon had a big, clownish grin on his face. That is, until Jacob pointed at him and said "And Simon is a fat cat!"

"Big fat kitty cat," Jessie added. Simon laid his ears back, and his tail started whipping like a snake that's been stepped on. I rolled out my tongue and gave him my best grin. Not so funny when you're on the receiving end, I thought.

Mom came in and rummaged in the refrigerator, bringing out a can. Jessie piped up, "Mama, sit down an' eat your breakfas'. It's the most 'portant meal of the day."

Mom shook the can vigorously, then popped the top. "This is my breakfast, sweetie. See?" She held out the can, which showed a beaming female human in some sort of second skin. It said SLENDORA. "It's a nutritious, balanced meal in a delicious shake." She took a sip, and her face screwed up like Jessie's did the first time she tasted strained beets. "Yum. Cappuccino." She gulped the rest of the can without pausing for breath, then quickly drank a glass of water.

"Before I go to work, Dad and I have something we want to ask you about." Dad put the skillet in the sink to soak, and joined Mom and the children at the table. Jacob and Jessie looked at each other warily. This had to be something big, if they were BOTH sitting down.

Dad said, "Do you remember last week when they had the story on the news about the baby that someone left in the library?"

Jacob frowned sternly, and Jessie's bottom lip quivered, her blue eyes growing large and moist with the memory. "Her mama left her on purpose, didn't she?" Jessie said sadly.

"I'm afraid so. We don't know why she did. Maybe she got sick, or maybe she was very poor and couldn't find a job. She wanted her baby to be well taken care of, so she left her for someone else. Now, this was wrong, because we have special people who will take babies who need homes and take care of them till they can find a family. The mama should have gone to them. But maybe she was scared that people wouldn't understand. She DID leave the baby in a warm, dry place, where she would be found quickly. And the newsman said she even left a diaper bag full of diapers, formula, and pretty baby clothes."

"We saw how concerned you both were about that baby," Mom started. "Dad and I have been thinking about how nice it would be to have another little boy or girl, and.... Well, we thought we'd ask you two what you would think about us adopting."

Jacob looked thoughtful, and Jessie's brow puckered in concentration. "You mean like Nicole?"

"Exactly, Jessie. Your friend Nicole was adopted when she was only a few days old. We may end up adopting a child who is a little older, maybe even as old as you or Jacob, instead of a baby. That's because there are a lot of kids who need homes, and not enough families to adopt them."

"Will it be a boy or a girl?" Jacob asked.

"We don't know," replied Dad. "It wouldn't be fair to say we only want one type. No, this will we sort of like having a baby of our own. After all," He ruffled his son's dark curls. "We had to take what we could get with you and your sister, and it turned out just fine."

Both of the children agreed that having another brother or sister would be a fine idea. Jessie was especially pleased with the idea of not being the baby any more.

Simon sauntered over and sat beside me, tail twitching lazily. "So, is Mom going to have kittens?"

"No. Not like you mean, anyway."

"Puppies?"

I sighed at his ignorance. "Humans have BABIES. And usually one at a time. It's an awfully long, drawn out process. I remember when they had Jessie. I thought she was NEVER going to get here. Anyway, they're not actually having a baby. They're going to adopt one."

"What does that mean?"

I eyed him in surprise. "You of all people should know."

"Why's that?"

"Simon, YOU are adopted."

"Get out of here!"

"No, really. I was born into the family. My mother was with Mom and Dad, and she had me, and my two brothers. Franz and Fritz moved out to live with other families. Mom passed away before Jessie was born, and I was an only dog until you came along."

Simon crouched down. His tail was wrapped neatly around him, but the tip vibrated with agitation. "I haven't been here always?"

"You've only been here about a year. But you WERE awful young when you arrived. I guess you've forgotten most of those early days."

He looked so sad and perplexed that I felt sorry for him. I guess it can be a bit of a shock, finding out that you're adopted. He said hesitantly, "Sometimes I have bad dreams about being cold and wet and hungry. And nobody pets me or talks to me nicely. All there is are loud, mean voices, and... and feet. Big feet, that try to kick me."

He looked so miserable that I couldn't help myself. I gave him a couple of good licks behind his left ear. He likes that, and after a moment he gave a weak purr.

"Look, Simon. It's time you heard the whole story about how you came to live with us. I know Dad is the resident story teller, since he writes children's books, but he's busy with his project right now. So it's up to me. Let's go find somewhere private, and I'll tell you everything."

There is a cozy spot in the living room, in a corner behind one of the armchairs, and we settled down there. I thought for a moment, then cleared my throat and began.

"It started out as a typical day. I had no idea that before nightfall there would be a new member of the family..."