Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie head from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and she was two whole years younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got it out through.
Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January.
Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.
Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and looked over the box again. Huh.
If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.
Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good…
Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.
Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin.
Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.
Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything was felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.
Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place.
Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.
Dani stopped just inside her doorway, shocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed what she'd left him. And he hasn't fallen into the floor.
A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her.
Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full-grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!
Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been. This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into the universal puppy bow.
“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.