Brandon watched out of the window, sketching idly in his exercise book. He had tried to focus on what the teacher was saying, but it was rather hard to pay attention to what somebody two thousand years dead had done, even if that somebody had been a famous king, when a full-scale, living Dalmatian was sitting on the pavement next to the school gates. The mistress of the Dalmatian had stopped to chat with a lady obviously her acquaintance, and the dog was sitting patiently by her feet, watching a few sparrows looking for some crumbs, accompanying them with her large brown eyes.

Brandon's mind started wandering, imagining how it would feel to wrap his arms around the soft, smooth dog and hug her. The Dalmatian would nudge him with her muzzle, and he would scratch her between the ears as she licked his chin as a sign of affection ... He smiled, almost feeling the dog's warm breath on his cheek, when a sudden yelp of a different kind tore him back to reality.

"Brandon Stonewell," it snapped with his teacher's high-pitched voice, "are you listening at all? Or perhaps, if I am too boring, would you like to tell the class about Alexander's conquests in Asia Minor yourself?"

"No, Ms Lavender," Brandon sputtered, knocking his exercise book off the desk as he hurriedly turned to face the teacher. Some of his classmates giggled, and he couldn't help but blush.

"Just as I thought," said Ms Lavender. "Then sit properly and stop dreaming in the class." She gave Brandon one last admonishing look over the rim of her glasses before turning her attention back to the subject. "So, as I said ..." The end of her line got lost to Brandon as he ducked under the table to recover his book. He could hear Heather from behind him whisper something to her classmate, and both of the girls snickered. Brandon felt his neck getting another degree redder as he resurfaced with the exercise book, and did his best to ignore the girls. He shot a glance out of the window, but the Dalmatian and her plump mistress were nowhere to be seen, even the sparrows had deserted the pavement. The boy sighed and settled back to hear about the Battle of Gaugamela.

A few hours later, Brandon was halfway home when his ear caught a faint noise coming from a dead-end alleyway to his right. It was unmistakably a dog in distress, but the sounds were mixed with ones of laughter and incitement to some unseen others. Suspicious, he rounded the corner and came upon a sight that made his stomach twist. Three boys, about four or five years his junior, had found a stray dog and were now entertaining themselves with making sport of the poor animal. Two of them were poking him with sharpened sticks, keeping the animal occupied, as the third one tried to get close enough to attach a mouse trap to the dog's tail. They had the dog cornered with nowhere to go but back against the wall and a fence, and he was having a hard time keeping his tail between his legs and out of the third boy's reach as the sticks prodded him. Occasionally, he let out a warning growl or a whimper when one of the two boys managed to hurt him with the sharpened point.

"Hey!" Brandon shouted as he let his backpack drop to the ground and started running. The trio looked up and, seeing the older boy speeding towards them, took hostile postures.

"What do you think you are doing?" Brandon yelled at them. "Stop it!"

"What's dat your busnes?" a boy with straggly black hair and one missing front tooth asked. He was a bit taller than his companions and seemed to be the leader.

"It is my business if you are tormenting that dog," Brandon said, reaching them and panting a little from the quick run. "You cannot hurt those who can't defend themselves, it ain't right. Leave him be."

"Or what?" the boy holding the mouse trap asked, throwing his chest out and obviously trying to seem threatening but failing miserably. With his large blue eyes, snub nose and freckles, he was just the type whose cheeks older ladies loved to pinch, and somewhere in the back of his mind Brandon almost felt sorry for him for that. At the moment, however, he had no sympathy towards the boys. If there was something he hated more than anything in the world, it was cruelty towards animals, and these three had violated his sense of morality in the worst possible way.

"Or I will kick your sorry little asses," he replied, making fists with his hands and holding them up to his face. He glared at them with eyes full of challenge and contempt.

The taller boy measured him up and down. There were three of them, but Brandon was older and bigger, and must have been looking rather fierce. The straggly-hair spat in front of Brandon's feet from between his missing tooth. "Let's go," he said to his minions, "the mutt's not worth it anyway."

Brandon watched them go until they had disappeared around the corner, and only then lowered his hands and let out a long, relieved breath. He didn't like to fight, and if this had come to blows, he seriously doubted he could have beaten all three of them together.

He turned to check on the dog. Cornered as he was, the poor creature had not dared to slip off past him. Instead, he had found an empty banana box lying around and squeezed himself in there so that only his head, not having enough space inside, was out. But he seemed more scared than hurt, so Brandon was glad he had got there on time. He took a step towards the dog, but the latter tried to back away even further into the box and made a warning sound somewhere between a whine and a growl. Brandon stopped, then squatted down to have a better view.

The dog was young, perhaps eight or nine months old, and while there was no question of him being a mongrel, it was also as plain as day that one of his parents had been a German shepherd. The skinny stray had black back that turned into brown belly and paws, his chest was brown and chestnut also tinted his otherwise coal-coloured head and ears. One of the ears was upright and the other one drooping, and he had large white patch in the middle of his chest. His snout was a bit too square for a shepherd, but his eyes were big and black and, though full of fear at the moment, also bright with intelligence. He could have been a beautiful dog; however, half-starved and shaggy as he was, he was now quite a sorry sight.

Brandon reached out a hand. "Here, now," he said quietly to the dog. "You're safe now. No need to fear any more, no-one's gonna hurt you. Shhh." He reached out a bit more, intending to stroke the dog, but the animal snarled at him and bit the air. Brandon quickly pulled his hand back, but remained squatting, hands on his knees, talking to the pooch.

"It's all right," he repeated. "I'm not going to hurt you. See? I just wanted to scratch you, but if you don't trust me yet, I understand. It's okay. You don't have to be afraid of me, though. Look, what I have here." Brandon searched his pocket. He was sure he had not eaten them, there had to be ... yes! There! He fished out four oat cookies and cautiously put them on the ground in front of the mongrel who glared at him from his box.

"Go on, eat! The way you look, you must be starving. I know it's not much, only a few cookies, but I suppose it's better than nothing, ain't it? They do taste better than they look, I promise. Don't want them? Alright. But I leave them here just in case you change your mind. I have to go home now. You don't have a home, do you? I'd love to take you with me, but my mom and dad say I can't have a dog, so I don't think they'd let you stay. But I'll come back tomorrow after school and bring you something better to eat, okay?"

The dog had eyed Brandon suspiciously the entire time the boy was talking, sniffing at the cookies but not touching them. As Brandon got to his feet, the dog tried to shy back even more, but as the boy slowly walked away he could see from the corner of his eye that the dog cautiously snuck out of his box and gulped the cookies down. Brandon smiled as he picked up his schoolbag and tossed it over his shoulder.

"You come late today," Janet marked and looked up from the vegetables she was hacking when Brandon walked in. He dropped his bag on the stool and went to the fridge to get a Coke. "What kept you so long?"

"Well, mom," Brandon carefully said and opened the can, sitting himself behind the table. "You see, there was this dog I saw today, and ..."

His mother didn't let him finish.

"We have talked about this, haven't we, Brandon?" she asked, stopping hacking and resting hands on the table. "You can have as many dogs as you wish when you're all grown up and living on your own, but at the moment, you must just accept that there won't be a dog in this house. They need to be walked every day, they get dog hair all over the place and smell bad if it's raining. They dig up the garden, bring mud and dirt into the house, they chew things up. Do you want that? Your shoes are all turned to ribbons?"

Brandon glared at his Coke and didn't reply.

His mother sighed. "Look, Bran," she said, this time softer, setting the knife down, going over and placing a hand on his son's shoulder. "I know you have talked about having a dog since you were little, but we have discussed it with your father and this way is better, trust me. All the trouble a dog would make ... and we couldn't go on a holiday or a longer trip, we would always need someone to babysit it. It's really not worth the mess and cost. Can you understand that?"

Brandon nodded silently, but Janet could see the sadness in his eyes. "Brandon ..." she started, sounding almost imploring.

"I ... I have homework to do," he said, shove the Coke aside, picked up the schoolbag and went to his room.

His mother looked after him and sighed regretfully before turning back to the cutting board. It was better this way, there was no doubt of it. If only she could banish that look of hurt she saw on her son's face after every similar conversation. If only ...

The next day, Brandon made sure to sneak out a few sausages from the fridge, hiding them in his backpack, before setting out for school. At lunch break, he ate only half of his sandwich, securing the other half with the sausages. He couldn't stop fidgeting in the class, earning some sharp remarks from his math teacher. When he finally managed to sit properly, all the figures in front of him seemed to have acquired four legs and a tail and scuttled off in every direction as he tried to add them together or divide. As hard as he tried to concentrate, all of his thoughts kept going to the stray dog he had rescued yesterday. Will he still be there? Will Brandon see him again? Or had he left these streets and wandered off to some other part of the town? Questions without answers whirled in his head, filling his imagination and making the day wear on.

When the bell marking the end of the last class finally rang, he snatched his things and was still tucking the last book into the bag when he already sped out of the gate. Brandon hurried to the corner and ducked into the alley he had left the dog, not slowing down until almost to the far end where he could see the banana box lying on its side. Brandon halted, not wanting to scare the animal, and peeked in.

The box was empty.

Disappointment crept onto the boy's face as he squatted down and took a hold of the cardboard's edge, looking straight in as if wanting to convince his mind of what his eyes already saw. All his enthusiasm, all his anxious waiting, the sausages in his bag, and the dog wasn't there.

"I'm a fool," he thought, letting the banana box go. "Of course he isn't here. Why should he? You couldn't expect him to wait for you here like a trained puppy. A dog needs to eat, and there's nothing here but dirt and empty bottles. He's probably far gone now, off somewhere hunting for scraps and leftovers. You're stupid, Brandon, stupid!"

He got up and wiped his hand on his jeans as he turned to go. "Oh, well, then ... "

Suddenly he froze, pricking up his ears. Something rustled behind him. He turned, scanning the alley. It was empty. Had he been mistaken? Surely he hadn't made the sound up. Wait! There it was again!

The soft rustling came from a pile of old newspapers obscuring yet another discarded box, this time for wine. Surprisingly annoying how much rubbish people had just thrown on the street, even if it was only a small dead end. But the amount of trash was of no consequence at the moment, what mattered was that this pile was moving.

He knelt down and whistled softly. A black nose appeared, sniffing cautiously, accompanied by two large, dark eyes in an almost as dark a face. Brandon smiled broadly. Apparently, the dog hadn't left the neighbourhood after all.

"Hello, boy!" he said, and opened his backpack. "I promised I'll come back for you and bring you something better than cookies. Look, what I've got for you!"

He got out one sausage and put it down between himself and the dog. The animal growled a bit when he reached out with the hand, but it was faintly more quiet than the day before, and he did not shy back quite as much, at least in Brandon's opinion.

Brandon put his hand back on his knee after setting the sausage down, but remained squatting. "I won't go away," he said. "If you want it, you have to come and get it yourself. Come on, now. It's alright. I won't hurt you."

The stray eyed the sausage suspiciously, sniffing the air. He shot a glance towards Brandon, then towards the treat on the asphalt, towards the boy, towards the sausage again ...

"Come on, now", the boy coaxed him. "It's all right, I promise. What has been done to you that you fear me so much?"

A minute passed, then another, and another, and all this time Brandon quietly talked to the dog who seemed to have trouble with the meat alluring him and the fear holding him back. It was no doubt the smell of the sausage that proved to be too much a temptation instead of his words, but finally, the dog yielded. He crept out of his box and, keeping a watchful eye on Brandon, grabbed the sausage between his teeth, backed again to his box, and gulped the meat down.

Brandon beamed. "There's a good boy!" he said and ducked again into his bag, taking out another treat. "I have more, see?" He placed the sausage where the previous one had been, and this time it took only a few moments until the dog snatched it and ate, still eyeing the human but not letting it get in the way of filling his stomach. The third sausage went the same way, but when Brandon got the sandwich out, the dog gave him a disapproving look.

The boy sighed apologetically. "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't have any more sausages. You will have to make do with this now. I'll see what I can do tomorrow. But if we are to meet again, I have to call you something. How about Buddy? Because you are my buddy, aren't you?" The dog just eyed him, exhibiting no sign of enthusiasm over his new name.

"Buddy it is," Brandon resolved. "I've got to get going now, but if you are here tomorrow as well, I'll try to sneak something out for you. Agreed?"

He got to his feet and dusted off his knees. "See you tomorrow, Buddy."

Brandon decided it was best if he didn't tell about the dog at home, not more than he already had. Or rather, if anybody asked, he could just tell that he spent some time with his buddy. That wouldn't be lying either, not really. But his mom was out and father busy in the garage, so nobody paid attention to his arrival, which suited him just fine.

The next morning he took another sausage from the fridge when nobody was looking. However, he understood that he could not continue doing that without raising suspicion, so he also scavenged his coin bank and took some of his savings. During a break, he had just enough time to stop by the small shop on the street corner and buy some dog food that was on discount, and two plastic bowls. This time, when he went to the alley, he was a lot more hopeful than he had been the previous day.

"Buddy!" he called. "Where are you, boy? Buddy!"

The papers rustled, and the dog peered out.

"There you are!" Brandon sighed with relief. "I was hoping you are still here. Look, I brought you some more food. I fear we have to cut down on the sausages, but I hope that doesn't matter much when you have full stomach every day, does it?" He poured the kibbles into the bowl, placing the sausage on the top, took the other bowl and poured water into it from a plastic bottle he had filled earlier. "I suppose you have your own places to go and drink from, but I thought it doesn't hurt."

Buddy sniffed, and cautiously neared the bowls. Brandon was glad to notice that it took only a minute or two this time until the dog started eating, snatching the sausage first but not turning down the kibbles or fresh water, either. He held his hand out, and instead of snarling, the dog reached a bit and sniffed it before turning back to make sure the bowls were indeed empty. Alas, not a scrap was left. The dog sat on his haunches and watched Brandon curiously until the boy took a biscuit from his pocket. "I was planning to eat this myself this time, but here you are," he said and held the biscuit out. Buddy considered it a few moments and then, reaching a conclusion, snatched the biscuit from Brandon and hurried to his box. Brandon laughed. "So, you are a smart one, aren't you?" he asked. "I told you I wasn't going to hurt you. Do you believe now that I'm your friend?"

Buddy looked at him over his biscuit and refused to answer. Brandon laughed once more. "So, you are smart, but unwilling to admit when you have mistaken? Have it your way, then. I'll see you."

Brandon continued to go to feed Buddy every day now. After a week, the dog was so used to his coming that when the classes ended, he was already sitting next to the alleyway entrance and trotted along with Brandon to his box and bowls. Another couple of days, and a moment came when Brandon reached out his hand again and, instead of snarling or running away, Buddy let him touch him. Cautiously at first, Brandon stroke the dog's soft fur and finally moved his fingers tenderly upwards to scratch him behind the ear. Buddy's head tilted to the side and one of his hind legs started to thump along on the ground.

"Oh, you like that, don't you, boy?" Brandon asked him as he scratched. "Yeah, thought so. I know you for so little time, but you are my best friend, you know that?" He could have sworn the dog understood him, because Buddy swept over the back of his hand with his tongue. Only once, but it was enough. Brandon couldn't be happier. "Yeah, I love you, too." He laughed.

Brandon had never been a big spender, so the content of his coin bank was quite substantial for one of his age, and it sure came in useful now. Not only could he buy kibbles with occasional can food and dog biscuits, he also provided himself with a comb for his four-legged companion, the use of which almost ended their young friendship. Only after a long persuasion involving lots of scratching, talking, and not a few meatballs did Buddy agree to let this suspect object touch him. When he did, however, he quickly took to it and seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself while Brandon took care of his fur. A scarce few weeks, and it was becoming hard to recognize Buddy for the mutt he had been on their first encounter. His ribs weren't showing any more, his coat was smooth and taking on a silky shine. One of his ears continued to droop, regardless, he seemed the most beautiful dog Brandon had ever laid eyes upon.

A week more, and Buddy started to walk with Brandon, accompanying him on his way from school to Brandon's own street corner, and back. The boy had no idea where the dog spent the rest of his day or where he had done it previously, but when his classes ended, Buddy was there at the gates, waiting expectantly. They always made a stop at "Buddy's place", as Brandon called it, making sure the animal had something to eat, but the stray that had always had its tail behind legs near the humans was starting to go, being replaced by a dog who draw more than one amiable look on their route.

It didn't take long for Brandon's parents to notice that he did not come home every day as quickly as before, and that the wieners suspiciously tended to run out more quickly than they had used to. That along with some hair on Brandon's coat gave them a hint or two, but Brandon's grades were as good as ever, if not better, he was looking happier, and he hadn't mentioned taking a dog again nor ever taken one home, so they left it for the time being. Only once his mother mentioned it when he got home in the afternoon.

"I'd really appreciate if you didn't wander around after school," she said, folding a shirt and taking another one from the pile for ironing. "It seems that some hoodlums have appeared in the neighbourhood. Ms Johnson told me today in the grocery that her bag was snatched yesterday, and she had heard somebody had taken Skippy Jones's phone and pocket money."

"But mom, I'm not wandering around," Brandon claimed. "I don't go mucking about, I just ... I just don't get back so quickly. I'm ... just spending time on the way talking with my friend, that's all."

"If you say so, but please, be careful and don't do any rounds wandering off God knows where, all right?"

"Fine, mom. I promise."

Another week went by with Brandon and Buddy becoming closer more and more. The dog did not let someone else touch him and shied away if anybody got too close, but seeing them on the street one could say that a boy had taken his dog out for a walk. That was how it also felt for Brandon, who pretended Buddy really was his.

It was a bright Monday morning when they were on their way again, heading towards Buddy's place after the school. Buddy had walked next to Brandon, but now, nearing the alley, he got impatient and trotted ahead, probably smelling the piece of ham the boy had gotten for him. The dog's tail had just disappeared around the corner when Brandon caught the attention of two young men in their twenties, lounging carelessly against the wall of a brick house a few yards away. One of the men nudged his companion and nodded towards Brandon. The other shot him a look, snapped half-burn cigarette with a wide arc to the ground, and they both started towards the boy.

Brandon hadn't seen the men before. The way they approached made him nervous. He tried to ignore them and go on, but they blocked his way, forcing him to stop.

"Look at that, Steve," the smoker sneered. "Such a cute little boy, isn't he? Well-dressed and all. I bet his mommy has given him loads of pocket money to spend, money he no doubt would love to share with us."

The shorter man snickered. "Yeah, it's obvious he is such a good-hearted kid he would love to share his things with others. Others like us, for example. So, kid, cough it up!"

Brandon was confused. "Cough what up?" he asked.

"What do you think, dumbass? Your dough, of course. Quick now!"

"But I don't have any money," Brandon said, really starting to worry. "I spent everything I had on dog food."

The short thug snorted. "Dog food? You have to do better than that. Come on, cough it up!"

Brandon tried to back away, but they pushed him into the wall. The smoker glanced around and turned to the boy again, his face growing thunderous.

"We're not joking, kid," he snarled, and a silvery knife appeared in his hand. "I don't believe for a second you don't have anything on you. Give it up, and your phone, too. Do you have an iPod? Let me see." And he grabbed Brandon's school bag before the boy could move.

A low growling sounded behind them from the alleyway. The men turned to see Buddy standing, feet wide, hair on his back up, white teeth bared. "What the ... ?" the shorter man asked. The smoker raised his knife.

Brandon, who had forgotten the dog for some minutes when being threatened, felt how fear for his own life melted away as it was now replaced by that for Buddy's. "Buddy, no!" he cried, but it was too late. Within a moment, the dog had become a whirling mass of vengeance and determination, lounging for the attackers, snapping and biting. Brandon fell as he was pushed aside. He got back to his feet, looking for a way to pull the dog away, to protect him, but the sight in front of him made him pause. He had never seen Buddy like this. The dog spun and snarled, his fangs flashed tearing cloth and skin, becoming stained scarlet by blood. The boy saw the silver of the knife blade flash, heard a whine, and yet he hesitated to get closer to this vortex of moving bodies.

It was over in a matter of seconds. The hoodlums left the boy and ran, one holding a bleeding hand, leaving a trail of bright red drops on the pavement as he went, the other having a severe limp. Buddy watched them leave, made a few steps towards Brandon and collapsed then to the ground.

"Buddy!" the boy cried out and hurried to the animal's side, lifting his head. The dog whimpered softly and waved weakly his tail, trying to lick his hand, but let his head drop back to the boy's lap then. Brandon felt something warm and wet under his palm stroking the dog and his hand came away red. The brown hair on the dog's side was stained, obscuring a nasty knife wound.

Brandon's tears broke free. "Oh no, Buddy, no, no ..." he sobbed. Panicked and hands shaking, he searched out his cell-phone and dialled. "Mom? Mom, you have to come fast. I'm at the corner of Chestnut Drive and Willow's. Buddy's hurt, he's hurt real bad and bleeding. Oh mom, please hurry up!" He took off his sweater and pressed it on the dog's wound to stop the bleeding, all the time speaking softly to the animal. "You're such a good boy, Buddy, oh yes you are. You saved me. Please, don't give up now, Buddy, please. Hang on, just hang on, it's gonna be alright ..." And so he waited.

The sun was shining bright in the blue sky as Brandon sat on his back porch swing, trying to read a book but getting caught up in thoughts about Buddy all the time. His mother had been scared to death when she arrived, not knowing what to think after his call or whether everything was all right with her son. When she saw the dog laying wounded on the ground and the pain and fear on Brandon's face while he hurriedly and fragmentarily tried to explain her what had happened, however, she wasted no time and, for once not paying attention to the dirt and mud that came with the dog, scooped the animal gently up with Brandon's help, carried to her car and drove to the vet.

"Lucky dog that you acted so quickly," the vet had said after the surgery, when he had also heard Brandon's story of how the dog got his wound. "He lost a lot of blood, and the cut was dangerously close to one major artery, but you managed to bring him in time. I'd like to keep him here under surveillance for a day before I let him home, but after some recuperation he should recover completely. A true hero, that dog of yours is."

Brandon had thought it better to just nod in agreement, glancing sideways at his mother, but Janet had been thoughtful. "Yes, thank you, doctor," she had said quietly. She was silent when she paid the bill, as well as taking him to the police station and on their way home, as if lost deep in thought.

"I ... I will pay you back," Brandon had tentatively suggested while they were in the car, driving back after filing a report about the theft attempt. "I mean, the veterinary bill. I will give all my pocket money back, and soon it will be a holiday, I'll find myself a job, carrying newspapers or something … I couldn't let him die there, just couldn't …"

"We'll talk about this later," had been Janet's reply, "Don't you worry about it now." After that, she had avoided talking about Buddy to Brandon, but he had seen her discussing something with dad, who had been shocked about the day's events and relieved to find his son safe and sound. Brandon hadn't wanted to push the matter, so he had avoided bringing the subject up, but he couldn't help wondering. His secret was out now. Will they let him see Buddy again? Will they let the dog return to the alley, or will they turn him in to a shelter? What will happen to his friend then? Endless possibilities ran through his head, taking on darker and darker hue, until he couldn't sit in one place any more. He hopped down from the swing and turned to go in only to find his mother standing on the door she had just opened.

"I was looking for you," she said. "Get your jacket, we're going to the vet."

They remained quiet while they drove, Janet shooting glances at her son every now and then as if trying to decide something. Finally, she broke the silence. "I have some news for you," she announced. "I just got a call from the police."

Brandon perked up. "You did?" He had given the police an account of the event, including detailed descriptions of the two men.

"Yes," Janet replied. "They had contacted the local hospital after our visit to ask if anybody with biting wounds had come to the ER, and they got lucky. Apparently, these men were there having stitches that very minute. They wish us to go there so you can identify them, but they're pretty sure they caught the right ones. Seems like these are the very same men responsible for the theft wave the town has been having lately, so as far as I understand, you and your ... Buddy? helped to stop some serial offenders."

"That's … that's great."

Janet nodded. "It really is. I am very proud of you, son. Actually, me and dad are so proud we think you deserve a reward." And she smiled mysteriously.

"What reward?"

"You'll see," Janet said as she parked the car at the vet's clinic and stopped the engine.

Brandon felt a knot in his stomach as he got out of the vehicle. Could he dare hope? But no, that couldn't be. Better not to expect too much.

Buddy was laying in a cage in the recovery room. His side was wrapped in a clean, white bandage and he looked weak, nevertheless, he tried to get up when he saw Brandon. The boy dashed to his friend's side and knelt, opening the front side and taking the dog's head between his palms.

"How are you doing, Buddy, eh?" he asked as he scratched the dog behind the ear. "You've been a good boy? They are taking good care of you, aren't they?"

The dog wagged his tail that pounded on the floor.

"He's been a very good boy, indeed," the vet said. "He did seem to be afraid of us at first and I suspect he even might have tried to flee if he hadn't been so weak and disoriented from the operation, but I think he's understood we're only trying to help him, so he has behaved. Give him rest, enough to eat and drink, and the antibiotics I prescribed, and in a month or so he'll be as good as new."

"Can we take him home now?" Janet asked. Brandon's breath caught and he didn't even dare to move.

"Sure. You have my number and you can always call if he gets worse, but I really don't expect that to happen. Wait a moment, and I'll bring you his pills."

The vet disappeared to the conjoining room.

Brandon quickly turned to his mom. "What do you mean by asking if we can take him home?"

Janet smiled. "By that I mean home. I thought you wanted him. Don't say you've changed your mind, for father is buying things for him as we speak."

Brandon was dumbfounded. "But … but you never wanted a dog before. You said, I can only have one when I grow up, that there will never be a dog in this house."

"Well, I did. But that was before a dog saved my son's life, willing to give his own instead, for all that I know, these thieves could have killed you. I would be the most ungrateful person in the world if I turned someone so heroic back to the streets. Besides," and she squatted down and hesitantly reached out her hand to stroke the dog's head, "I'm becoming quite fond of him. Wherever you found him, he is quite a beautiful dog."

Brandon cheered and threw his arms around the dog's neck. "You hear that, Buddy?" he exulted. "You're coming home with us! Home! You will have a real home now, and we'll never leave you!"

The dog might not have understood the boy's words, but the joy in them must have been clear, for his eyes shone bright and he pulled over the boy's hand with his warm, wet tongue.

"Home, Buddy," Brandon whispered into the dog's ear, face buried in his fur. "We're going home."