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“Are they here yet?” I asked.

“No,” Thomas said.

“You didn’t even look,” I said.

“I don’t need to look because they have sirens.”

“Right,” I mumbled. “I just hurt so much I can’t think.”

“You’re going to be OK,” he said. “Just relax and take a deep breath.”

Since I always listen to Thomas, I did as he said. “Owie, owie, owie! That was not a good idea.”

Thomas smoothed back my hair and kissed my forehead. “You’re going to be OK.”

“You know this is your fault, right?”

“Listen,” he put his finger to my mouth. “I hear sirens.”

The lights of the firetruck were visible through the back window of the minivan. Unfortunately, my relief was short-lived. It was the first time Maisy and Eddy had seen a full-on, lit-up firetruck with sirens blaring. “No, no, no!” I cried, curling into a ball as the puppies bulldozed over me for a better view.

Thomas opened the minivan’s sliding door and blocked the eager pups from escaping. “She’s in here.”

A hot fireman scrambled into the minivan, and the welcoming party covered his face with slobber. “What a couple of sweethearts.” In all honesty, I think he forgot about me.

I interrupted playtime. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry, I love dogs,” he said, rubbing Maisy’s head. “Why don’t you start by telling me what happened?”

“It really hurts to breathe, so I’ll make it short,” I said. “I’m the one that usually takes the pups to the dog park. And there’s a routine. And you gotta follow the routine. But Thomas didn’t, and it went all wrong.”

“She’s right,” Thomas said. “I didn’t follow the routine.”

“Yeah, he didn’t close the garage door before letting the pups out of the minivan, and that’s part of the routine. You know why?”

“Why?” the hot fireman asked.

“Because otherwise, Maisy will run away,” I explained, watching the blood pressure cuff tighten around my arm. “At the dog park, she’s a goofy, slow pup, but when she sees an opening to run through the neighborhood, she’s like white lightning.”

“She means greased lightning,” Thomas said.

“Who’s telling the story?” I asked. “It’s white lightning cuz her fur is white.” I grabbed my back. “Oww!”

“Hold on one second,” the hot fireman placed his stethoscope on my chest. “Take a deep breath.”

“I can’t.”

“That’s fine,” he said. “I’m going to feel your ribs while you continue the story.”

“So, Thomas doesn’t close the garage door before letting out Maisy and Eddy. That’s Eddy,” I pointed to our black-and-brown-colored pup.

“Anyway, Maisy jumps out of the minivan and notices the garage door is open and makes a break for it. Eddy can’t think on his own, other than when he wants to eat a remote control, which you should know, we’ve had him only a year, and he’s already eaten five.”

I grab the hot fireman’s hand, “Oww, stop!”

“Sorry,” he said. “What happened next?”

“Well, Eddy starts chasing Maisy down the street, and Thomas yells into the house that the pups are loose. I grab the Tupperware filled with their favorite treats, and we hop in the minivan.

“The pups take off down the path that leads to the neighborhood park, and we race over there. By this time, the stars are coming out, and Eddy is really hard to see, but we catch brief glimpses of white lightning streaking across the grass or through the trees.

“I have the side door open, and I’m hanging out like a Mafia dog catcher as Thomas circles the park. I told him to drive through the park, but he wouldn’t do it because he doesn’t love the pups as much as I do.”

“There were people,” Thomas said.

“There were,” I said. “It’s dark out, and there are people in the park playing games, and I’m all like, ‘shouldn’t y’all be home?’”

“Did you just quote a Lionel Richie song?” the hot fireman asked.

“What?”

“Nevermind.”

“Anyway, I start shaking the Tupperware and yelling, ‘treats.’ Before my eyes, the colors of the night swirled and warped. Eddy had finally decided to be a leader and leaped from the darkness into the van. I tried to jump to safety, but Maisy, not to miss out on any treats, barrels into me, and I hit the far wall. That’s when I felt my back pop.”

“You seem to be talking OK, which is a good sign,” the hot fireman said.

“It’s going to take a lot more than hitting a wall,” Thomas mumbled.

“Very funny,” I said. “This is all your fault, cuz you didn’t follow the routine.”

Thomas scooched next to me. “I’ll take some responsibility, but I think your pups may have had something to do with it, too.”

Maisy and Eddy wiggled between us and licked away my tears. “Nope, they’re perfect.”

Long story short, that’s how Thomas caused one of my ribs to slip out of place.

Krista Vance is a former Champaign resident. While she now calls northern Colorado home, she spent five wonderful years here and misses great friends, corn and big-sky sunsets.

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