Wrinkles (PG)

I was volunteered to co-chair our Senior Class Trip committee at the beginning of Junior year. One of the reasons was because my mother was a travel agent and Maggie Morrison figured I could probably get some discount deals.

I wasn't a member of the class in-crowd and it was the first time I got involved in any sort of class activity. Naturally, I felt out of place, intimidated and a third wheel being roped onto a committee that was full of popular kids that I barely knew.

Maggie Morrison was so far out of my league that I was surprised she even knew my name but she was the one who approached me and asked me to co-chair the committee with her. Maggie was a popular, well liked, pretty girl and she was a well known class leader who was on the student council and was active in all sorts of activities. She dated Richard Coburn, the class jock who I couldn't stand. He was a self-absorbed stuck up jerk who was so full of himself it was nauseating. He walked on water around the school, the girls endured him, and it was clear that Maggie was under his spell as well.

I couldn't understand why such an intelligent, talented, personable, friendly and pretty girl like Maggie could be so addicted to and taken by a jerk like Richard but it was certainly none of my business. Richard attended most of the committee meetings not so much to participate in the discussion in a productive or helpful way but instead to monitor Maggie to make sure she wasn't cheating on him or something which struck me as odd and paranoiac. I noticed that he could ridicule and talk down to her which I found offensive and again I couldn't understand why a girl like Maggie was hanging around with such a toad who seemed to have control over her.

The Class Trip Committee surveyed the class to see where they were willing to go and how much they were willing to spend on the trip. The general consensus was that Disneyworld was the trip of choice and with assistance from my mother we determined that we could pull off a week long trip with Disney passes, meals, the bus and the motel for eight hundred dollars a student. We got about fifty kids to commit to the trip and we began fund raising to help underwrite expenses.

For nearly two years we held endless car washes, candy sales, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers, jelly bean jar guesses, 50-50 raffles, lottery ticket sweepstakes and other cash raising events to make money.

When all this first started, I barely said a word. I'd sit in the committee meetings and listen to the ideas being bantered about and not comment. I did speak to my mother once we came up with Disneyworld and my mother was more than happy to get involved, mostly because she was so happy that I was actually doing something besides hiding out in my room and being antisocial like I usually was.

I was shy and uncertain kid and it was just easier not to get involved, especially after my father died freshman year and nothing seemed to matter anymore. Now it seemed my involvement on the committee got me out of my self imposed purgatory. Maggie Morrison was talking to me all the time, it seemed, frequently following up on some committee discussion or asking my opinion on some idea. I was tongue-tied every time she approached me but eventually I started looking forward to hearing from her and I liked it that she was interested in what I had to say.

Her boyfriend Richard didn't think much of me, of course, and he'd go out of his way to insult me or say something disparaging against me but I hardly paid attention to him because I knew he was a Grade A Jerk. I was struck by how different Maggie was when she was Richard as compared to when she was on her own.

When she was with Richard she was much less outgoing and expressive. She seemed to look over her shoulder for his approval before saying or doing anything and she always gave in to him if he had a different idea, suggestion or plan. It was like she suppressed her real personality when she was with him and willingly played second fiddle.

But when she was on her own, Maggie was much more expressive and outgoing, humorous and fun. She had a personality that made other people feel good just being around her. Maggie felt obligated as a co-chair to be involved in every undertaking and project and I found myself adapting the same philosophy, partly because I didn't want to let Maggie down but mostly because I liked being around her.

Maggie was the first girl who gave me the time of day, who cared about what I had to say, and who treated me nicely. I liked the way I felt when I was around her so I washed the cars along side her, flipped pancakes next to her, and dished out spaghetti standing by her side.

Richard was there for a lot of the events but not all of them but it didn't' seem to matter that much either way anyway. He was mostly goofing off or socializing with others. I noticed that Richard didn't have any problem flirting with other girls right in front of Maggie and I didn't understand why she didn't say anything about it. He was obviously disrespecting her and making her feel like crap. If he really cared about her, why would he do that to her?

I tried to be a nice guy and supportive toward Maggie when we were working on this fundraising projects together. I cheered her on when she was washing the cars or making the pancakes or serving the spaghetti. I helped her clean up after each activity and I complimented her on her achievements each time we added money to our fund.

My involvement on the committee and with the activities had brought me out of the shadows. More kids recognized me around school because of my efforts and I enjoyed the newfound reputation. Maggie and I made a good team and kids seemed to respect us for our efforts and we got more and more kids involved. In fact, our trip list had expanded to seventy five kids which was exciting.

By the end of junior year, I was actually friends with Maggie which blew my mind. She called me a few times over the summer to check in and we did a huge car wash in August as our one summer fund raiser. I had no illusions, of course. While my involvement in the committee jumpstarted my social life it was clear that Maggie was committed to Richard and had no feelings for me other than a friend and co-chair but I was happy to achieve that status after spending most of my high school career in hiding.

By the time senior year began, we had the fundraising routine down to a science. We alternated between car washes while the weather was still warm in the fall and 50-50 raffles at the football games and other sporting events. We held pancake breakfasts at the school once a month and spaghetti Saturdays at the VFW every fourth Saturday.

By now, Maggie and I knew how each other thought. We got each other's humor and we understood our role as co-chairs: to motivate, to support, to cheerlead, to make kids feel good about what we were doing, and to be reliable, dependable, and present at all the events.

Senior year was a lot of fun and by the time we reached the cutoff deadline for finalizing the Class trip in early May, we had 90 kids (out of a class of 123) going and we had raised nearly $24,000 to help underwrite the trip. Thanks to our efforts, we brought the individual cost per student down to about $650 which was quite an accomplishment.

Now all there was left to do was finalize the trip arrangements with my mother, collect the money from the students, and pay the bills. Had I not been involved in the committee I probably would have by-passed the class trip. Spending 24 hours on a bus would have been torture for a kid as shy and distant as I was even among kids I considered my friends.

But after two years of washing cars, flipping pancakes, and rolling meatballs along side so many of my fellow classmates, I felt like I belonged and I was looking forward to taking the trip. Disneyworld sounded fun and if I got to hang out with Maggie for part of it (yes, Richard would be there, of course) then it would be all the better.

We had one last committee meeting to make sure everything was set. The bus would leave the school at 4:00 on Friday afternoon and we would return sometime the following Saturday morning. I was sitting at my usual spot in the activity room with a couple of other kids when a stricken Maggie entered the room with Richard who looked pissed off.

"Maggie, what's wrong?" her friend Valerie asked when she saw how upset Maggie appeared to be.

"Wrinkles isn't doing very well," Maggie sighed as she took her co-chair seat next to me.

Richard collapsed in the chair on the other side of her sulking with his hands folded across his chest.

"Wrinkles?" I asked.

"My dog," Maggie explained. "He's dying, actually. I don't think I can leave him."

"Wait, you're not going on the trip?" Valerie asked with surprise and some of the other kids started to mumble among themselves.

"Can you believe it?" Richard complained bitterly.

"After all the hard work and effort you made to pull this off?" Valerie asked. "Geez, we owe everything to you, Maggie."

"It was a team effort," Maggie replied. "Corey was just as involved as I was," she said, gesturing toward me. "Besides, all the work is done anyway."

"Yeah, but it won't be the same without you there!" Valerie protested.

"Tell me about it," Richard mumbled.

"Look, I can't leave my dog at a time like this," Maggie remarked forcefully.

"Why don't you just put him down now and be done with it?" Richard asked angrily.

"Because I'm just not ready to do that," Maggie admitted, her eyes filling with tears.

"I'm really sorry about this, Maggie," Valerie sighed with honest sensitivity.

"Thanks," Maggie said. "But everything is all set for the trip and everybody will have a good time. We have the chaperones all set and there will be no problems."

"Except you won't be there," Richard barked unhappily as he stood up quickly, knocking his chair over as he stormed out of the room.

"He had visions of romance dancing in his head," Maggie explained with a shrug. "I guess I don't blame him for being mad."

"He could be more understanding," I said and Maggie looked at me and smiled.

"Thanks, Corey."

We got through the meeting and took care of the agenda items we had remaining before we broke. Maggie and I made it a point to thank everybody for all their hard work in all our events and activities.

"Be sure to have a great time in Florida," Maggie said with a brave smile. "You deserve it."

"What's wrong with Wrinkles?" I asked Maggie when the meeting was over and we were walking out of the activity room.

"She's dying," Maggie replied. "I know Richard's mad at me but I'm so sad about this.

"Old age?" I guessed.

"Yeah, she's almost fifteen," Maggie revealed. "We got her when I was like two. She's been with me practically my entire life. She's been slowing down obviously the last few years but now she has heart problems and is having a hard time getting around. She's been wetting her dog bed while sleeping and lately she seems confused. She gets worse as the day goes on. She's on her dog bed most of the day now. Her breathing is very shallow and she's very weak."

"I guess she's just fading away," I said gently.

"I don't want her dying when I'm in Florida," Maggie said, wiping a tear from her eye. "I guess I could put her down now and be done with it but that would just make my trip miserable and it seems selfish to do that just to accommodate my schedule."

"I guess," I agreed.

She glanced at me as we went through the exit doors to the student parking lot.

"What? You think Richard is right?"

"Never," I laughed. "I think you should do what feels right for you."

"Wrinkles has been my closest companion for all these years," Maggie sighed as I walked her to her car. "She's been with me in good times and bad times too. She is always by my side. She's the gentlest of dogs, just the sweetest natured dog I've ever known. I can't imagine my life without her."

"You'll get through it," I said with encouragement.

"Did you have a dog die on you before?" She asked as we reached her car.

"No, just my father," I replied.

She looked at me with horrid anguish on her face. "Oh, geez, Corey, I'm sorry. How insensitive of me."

"No, no, it's okay," I said with a smile. "I know you love your dog just as much as I loved my father."

"Yeah, but it's certainly not the same thing," she groaned. "I can always get another dog."

I laughed. "Yes, you can."

She brushed the tear from her eye. "Anyway, thanks for giving me some much need perspective on this."

"Just give it time," I suggested. "It will all work out eventually anyway."

"Richard is going to hate me forever if I don't go on this trip," she said, opening the driver's door to the car.

"You'll get over that too," I advised.

"You don't like Richard much, do you?" She realized.

"Not particularly," I admitted.

She smiled and climbed in her car, waving at me as she drove away and I sighed, feeling sorry for Maggie and her dog and feeling disappointed that she wouldn't be going on the class trip.

Every time I saw Maggie after that, I asked her how Wrinkles was doing.

"Not good," was her repeated reply each time I asked.

Maggie made it official two days before departure that she was definitely not going on the trip. Wrinkles was holding her own but still failing and she couldn't leave her dog in the final hours.

Maggie showed up to see the busses off and I noticed that Richard barely said a word to her as he put his luggage in the undercarriage of the bus. Claudia Daniels seemed to be paying him extra attention so I gathered he was all set for the trip.

"What'd you do with your spot?" I asked Maggie as she wished her friends a good trip. Several were giving her hugs.

"I gave it to Emma Reipold," Maggie replied. "She couldn't afford to go so I figured she could go for me since I was all paid."

"You're very thoughtful," I replied.

"Well, you should get on the bus too," Maggie sighed as we stood on the sidewalk watching our classmates board the bus.

"Na, I gave my spot to Prudence Matthews," I revealed.

"What?" Maggie asked with surprise. "Why would you do that?"

"I thought I'd keep you company with Wrinkles," I said. "You know, in case something happens."

"Holy Cow, Corey," Maggie remarked with amazement. "I can't believe you did that."

I heard Valarie talking about how upset Prudence was about not being able to afford the trip," I said. "She'll probably enjoy it more than me anyway."

"You're unbelievable," Maggie decided.

"You are too," I replied.

We stood on the curb watching the two busses from the locally family owned Integrity Bus Company pull out of the school lot with everybody laughing and cheering and waving at us and the other parents seeing them off.

Maggie and I stood there for a long moment after the busses disappeared from view. As weird as it was to see them go, it felt good that we helped make it all possible.

"Do you want to meet Wrinkles?" Maggie asked.

"Sure," I said with a smile.

I followed her car in mine to the Hilltop section of town and I parked in front of a handsome large Victorian with two huge pine trees in the front yard. I climbed out of the car and Maggie led me into the house, flipping back her long black hair in the process. She was such a pretty girl with an hour glass figure, dancing eyes, a bright smile and a fair complexion.

"How's Wrinkles, Mom?" Maggie asked as soon as we entered the house.

"The same, dear," an attractive well dressed middle aged woman replied as she stepped into the room. "The busses get off okay?"

"Yeah. Mom, this is Corey Newton who was my co-chair on the committee."

"Hello, Corey," Mrs. Morrison replied. "Why aren't you on the bus?"

"Because he did what Richard would never think to do," Maggie announced. "Stay behind with me and Wrinkles."

Mrs. Morrison looked impressed. "That was very thoughtful of you, young man."

"Come on, you can meet Wrinkles," Maggie said as she led me through the impressive house.

She took me into the family room where a yellow lab lay panting on his large floor bed.

"Hey, Wrinkles, sweetheart," Maggie said, dropping to her knees and giving the dog a hug. "This is my friend, Corey," she said. "I think he's your friend too."

I smiled and knelt down beside the door. "Hey, girl."

"We named her Wrinkles because of her wrinkly neck," Maggie explained with a smile as she pulled on the flab underneath the dog's chin.

"I talked to Dr. Sagin on the phone today," Mrs. Morrison announced when she came in the room with some lemonade and cookies for us. "He thinks she may have had a stroke or another heart attack," she said. "He doesn't think it will be long now. I went and picked up some more pain medication and he's available whenever we decide, Maggie."

"Okay, Mom," Maggie said, her voice breaking.

"I've lost dogs before but this one's especially hard for me," Mrs. Morrison told me with sadness. "I will miss her gentle sweet company more than I can express." She gave the dog a pat before leaving the room.

"She's just so affectionate and loving," Maggie sighed. "She's such a unique dog with a wonderfully special personality. I'm really going to miss my best friend."

I looked into the dog's eyes and saw such peace and tranquility. It was as if she knew it was her time to go and she was just waiting for Maggie to give the word.

For the next three days, I spent all my time with the Morrisons. Occasionally, we would get Wrinkles up on her feet or I would carry her outside so she could relieve herself but it was an effort. She was barely eating now – just treats out of Maggie's hand and an occasional lap of water and occasionally she'd pee on her bed. She slept most of the time and Maggie and I sat with her and talked or read a book or read texts from our friends who had safely arrived at Disneyworld and were having a great time.

The weather was nice so we carried Wrinkles outside and let her lay in the warm sun on the front grass or on a blanket. Maggie was having plenty of quality time with her dying dog with plenty of time to say goodbye. I knew she would come to the realization that it was time to let the poor old girl go.

By Tuesday, Wrinkles was barely opening her eyes even as I carried her out on the front lawn to enjoy the warm sun.

Mrs. Morrison came out and looked at the pathetic dog lying comatose on the grass.

"Maggie…."

"I know, Mom," Maggie sighed, tears rolling down her cheeks as she finally came to the realization that it was time. "Go ahead and call."

Maggie lay down on the grass and hugged her dog. I drove to Red's Tastee Freeze and got a doggie treat, returning and the dog took a few laps of the ice cream out of the cup.

Mr. Morrison came home from work and sat with us. At noon, Dr. Sagin arrived. He was a tall older man with streaks of gray in his hair but he was a gentle soul who gave Wrinkles a happy pat.

"Hey, Girl," he said quietly. "You ready to go to sleep?"

I stood to the side as Maggie and her parents gave the dog once last pet and hug. Maggie held her in her arms as the vet shaved some of Wrinkles fur from her front left leg and put some substance on it.

"The first shot will relax her," The doctor explained. "The second shot will take her."

He looked at the family and Mr. Morrison shook his head okay.

The vet pulled out a syringe. I looked down at Wrinkle who looked very content and relaxed. Maggie was softly crying as she hugged the dog. The doctor injected the syringe into Wrinkle's leg and the dog gently closed its eyes.

"Okay," he sighed. "Take as much time as you need before I give the final shot," he said quietly as he knelt next to the dog.

"Wrinkles, I love you," Maggie sobbed as she squeezed the dog tightly. "Thank you for being my best friend and for your unconditional love and for being so patient with me when I wasn't paying attention and to caught up with my own stupid stuff to give you the time you deserved. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend and a perfect dog."

Mrs. Morrison wiped her tears away as she patted the dog once last time.

"Goodbye, you good dog you," Mr. Morrison said and then he nodded to the vet.

I felt my own eyes water up as Maggie hugged her dog and began to wail as Dr. Sagin injected the second shot into Wrinkles' front leg.

I watched as Wrinkles' eyes opened and her breathing suddenly stopped. Just like that she was gone.

Maggie sobbed uncontrollably and held on to her dead dog.

Five minutes must have passed. We all stood there on the front lawn as Maggie squeezed Wrinkles.

"She still feels warm," Maggie told us as she kissed the dog on the head.

I look at the dogs eyes that were still fully open staring at the sky. Mrs. Morrison hugged the dog and her daughter at the same time and her husband gave the dog one last pet before he embraced his crying wife.

Crying, Maggie continued to hold her dog with incredible sadness in her eyes.

"The warmth is starting to go away," she sobbed, kissing the dog again. "You were such a good dog, Wrinkles," she cried. "I will always love you. I will always miss you."

Maggie kissed her on her cheek and gently lay the dog down on its blanket.

"Maggie?" The patient vet asked.

"Okay, Doctor," Maggie sighed, standing and hugging her parents while the doctor gently wrapped the body in the blanket and carried it to his car.

The Morrisons' watched at the vet put the dog in the back of his SUV and then he brought Wrinkles' blanket back to the family. Maggie hugged it and wiped away her tears with it.

"Thank you, Doctor," Mr. Morrison said, shaking the Vet's hand before escorting his softly crying wife into the house.

I stood on the front lawn with Maggie and said nothing as we watched the doctor drive away with Wrinkles.

"It all feels like a dream," Maggie sighed, wiping away more tears.

I awkwardly reached my hand out to offer some sort of meager support and she fell into my arms in a meaningful hug. It was the first time we ever touched and it felt wonderful. I stood there with her in my arms, brushing her long hair with my hands as I tried to comfort her.

"Seeing her die like that was such a gift," Maggie said. "I thought about all the good times. The day we got her, playing fetch with her, Christmas mornings when she'd help me open my presents, her barks, how she used to love to run, how we'd yell at her for eating the cats food, how she slept at my feet, how I could always find her waiting for me when I got home, hugging her, the way she smelled, the way she looked at me, and that warmth that I'll never feel again."

I don't know how long we stood there on the front lawn holding each other. All I know is that it was the most meaningful and emotional moment of my life.

I stood on the curb in front of Hillsboro High with Maggie at six o'clock on Saturday morning waiting for the busses to pull in. Valarie had texted Maggie at five in the morning and told her they were an hour away. Maggie called me and asked if I wanted to welcome the class home.

"Of course," I said. "I'll pick you up in forty-five minutes."

The busses pulled into the lot and travel weary students stumbled half asleep from the bus. Richard appeared with the redhead Claudia draped all over him.

"Sorry about your dog," he mumbled when he saw Maggie standing there.

She gave him such a look of utter distain and disgust that I had to stop myself from laughing but of course Richard was oblivious as he wrapped his arm around Claudia's waist and they made their way to the luggage compartment.

Valarie gave Maggie a long hug and both girls cried. Maggie told me all about her friendship with Valarie and how Valarie knew Wrinkles almost as well as she did. Valarie surprised me with a hug too.

"Thank you," she whispered into my ear. "Thank you for being such a wonderful person to Maggie."

I nodded as I broke the embrace and watched with appreciation as Valerie joined the others at the luggage compartment. I glanced at Maggie and smiled.

"Would you like to be my graduation partner?" Maggie asked.

I almost fell off the curb. "What about Richard?"

"I think that's over, don't you?" She asked, glancing at him making out with Claudia as they collected their luggage.

"I'd be honored," I said, accepting her invitation.

"And of course you're invited to my after party," she said warmly.

"I don't think I'd fit in there," I said with worry.

"You fit in with me, Corey," she replied, taking my hand and leading me away from the smelly fuming busses.