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"My name is Justine Meade and in my forty-three years there have only been a handful of people that I have loved. No, that's an exaggeration. Two. Two that I lost because of stupidity and selfishness. One was my son. The other was my dog". If there's been a theme in Justine Meade's life, it's loss. Her mother, her home, even her son. The one bright spot in her loss-filled life, the partner she could always count on, was Mack, her grey and black Sheltie - that is, until she is summoned back to her childhood home after more than twenty years away. Ed and Alice Parmalee are mourning a loss of their own. Seven years after their daughter was taken from them, they're living separate lives together. Dancing around each other, and their unspeakable heartbreak, unable to bridge the chasm left between them. Fiercely loyal, acutely perceptive and guided by a herd dog's instinct, Mack has a way of bringing out the best in his humans. Whether it's a canine freestyle competition or just the ebb and flow of a family's rhythms, it's as though the little Shetland Sheepdog was born to bring people together. "The Dog Who Danced" is his story, one that will surely dance its way into your heart.
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Susan Wilson is the author of bestselling novel One Good Dog - as well as four other novels. She lives on Martha's Vineyard.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“You gonna finish that?” Artie stubs a blunt finger in the direction of my English muffin. We’re sitting in a Travel America rest stop, one of the several that we’ve visited on this west-to-east run. He likes to keep on schedule; I like to pause for an hour and get the blood flowing in my legs again after hours in the cab of the eighteen-wheeler, inhaling Artie’s cigarette smoke and drinking warm, flat Coke. TAs are little shopping centers, catering to folks who live on the road, modern Gypsies, with anything you can think of for your vehicle from oil to mud flaps to little bobblehead dashboard figures of football players and Jesus. The restaurants offer big man’s meals, all-you-can-eats—chicken-fried steak, biscuits, apple pie. How hungry can a man be who has sat in a rig all day, keeping busy with radio and Red Bull?
“No. Take it.” Unlike the majority of the people jammed into the booths and bellied up to the counter, I have no appetite, no desire to heap my plate with eggs and sausages. The good hot coffee is enough for me. I’m hoping that Artie will stay put long enough for me to visit the ladies’ shower room.
I’m riding shotgun with Artie Schmidt because I need to get back to the East Coast. He comes into my bar pretty regularly when he’s not on the road. It was Candy’s idea, hitching the ride instead of flying. She knew that round-trip airfare would make me have to choose between rent and food; and a one-way ticket might mean that she would have to find another girl. Besides, this way I could take Mack with me. The idea of being in my stepmother’s presence without an ally was unthinkable. Going with Artie meant that I could take my dog with me, and there is no way I’d subject my Sheltie to being cargo.
Frankly, it was Candy who convinced me that I had to go east in the first place. My stepmother didn’t reach out often, or at all, so when she called to say my father was failing, it was almost impossible to get past the fact that it was Adele on the phone, rather than take in the fact of my father’s dying. Wicked stepmothers are only in fairy stories, right? I’m here to tell you that Cinderella had it good compared to what that woman put me through. But Candy said I should go, that it was important. Family is important. Right. Despite my better instincts, I set my course eastward and signed on with Artie Schmidt. Mack, my blue merle Sheltie, right alongside me. The boyfriend who gave Mack to me is long gone, but my little man stays, keeping his long, pointy nose at my heels wherever I go.
Candy Kane—and that’s her real name—runs a decent tavern just outside the city limits of Seattle. I’ve lived pretty much everywhere. Starting when I walked out of the house the day after high school graduation, getting as far as Somerville, where I bunked in with a pair of roommates I found on a message board in a coffee shop. Then down Interstate 95 to Brooklyn, where I might have stayed; then Florida, then Louisiana and Texas. I have made my way as far west as California, and as far north as Washington State, where I’ve stayed put longer than anywhere else. When I look at a map of the United States, touch all those big cities and little towns that I’ve spent time in, I see that I’ve been moving in a slow clockwise circle around the country. When we’re getting the place ready to open, before the first happy-hour customers come in and want to watch ESPN or CNN, Candy calls me over when Jeopardy is on; I can nail the geography questions.
My point was never to return to my starting place, New Bedford, Massachusetts. I’m like the old-time whalers, seeking my fortune far from home. Instead of the ocean, I travel along major highways. Instead of ships, I own clunkers good for only a few thousand miles. Instead of whales, I’m not sure what I’m seeking. Ahab had revenge in mind. I just haven’t found the one place that will hold me still. When I was young, I thought that there would be a man to tie me down, but it never worked out that way. And no job was ever lifelong interesting; not one has ever gotten me to sign on for the retirement plan.
You might think that having a kid would have kept me in one place, or at least slowed me down, but even that failed to root me. Every time I pulled up stakes, I told my son that no matter where we were, we were at home as long as we were together. For a long time, that was true, but then, well, it wasn’t.
So, here I am, circling back to my starting point in a direct run down Interstate 90, New Bedford–bound.
* * *
“I’d like a shower.”
“And I’d like to keep on schedule. You’ve already slowed me down with twice as many pee breaks as I take.”
“You pee in a bottle.”
Artie pulls off his greasy Tractor Supply cap and runs his fingers through his stringy hair, resettles the cap, and drags a long breath. “Five minutes, or I swear to God I’ll leave without you.”
Artie has said this before. I smile and grab my duffel bag, which nestles at my feet. It contains everything I need and nothing that I don’t. That bag and I have a longer relationship than most married couples. I pull a couple of dollars out of my back pocket and drop them on the check. “Give me seven and I’ll meet you at the truck. Go buy yourself a pack of gum.”
“Justine. I mean it. I come in late with this load and I’m fucked.”
“Then don’t hold me up talking to me.” I shoulder my duffel and stride off to the showers.
Once Artie figured out that I meant it, that I was paying him three hundred bucks to let me ride east with him, and that didn’t include any physical stuff, he’d turned sullen. It’s funny how the barroom personality can be so different from that of the real person. Mr. How’s My Girl quickly became Mr. Cranky. Tough. I’m not taking this ride for the company. I keep Mack between us, and get out of the cab while Artie catches a few hours’ sleep—walking Mack around quiet parking lots, sitting at empty picnic tables and sipping cold coffee—then unroll my sleeping bag and crawl into Artie’s man-smelly bunk to catch my own z’s. Artie doesn’t want Mack in his bed, but that’s okay. The dog curls up on my seat, his little ears twisted in my direction, so I know he’s not really sleeping. On guard. Shelties, miniature collies, are guard dogs by breeding. His instincts are to watch the hills for wolves. Artie is on notice every time Mack stares at him with his eagle eyes.
* * *
There are three shower stalls. One is broken, and the other two are in use. I should forget about it. I wash my face and brush my teeth. Whoever those two women are, they are flipping taking a long time. I floss. I wait. I know that Artie is getting pissed. Finally, the shower turns off. Now I have to wait for Miss America to dry off and get dressed. “People waiting out here!” I shove my washcloth and toothbrush back into my bag.
No answer. The second shower shuts off. The room is suddenly quiet except for the sound of towel against skin. I look at my watch. My time is done. I pick up my duffel, and, miraculously, Shower Queen exits the booth. I can do this in one minute. I can’t stand the feeling of dirty hair. I hate that I smell like day-old sweat and Artie’s cigarettes. I can get in and under and out in two minutes, tops. I won’t dry my hair.
Artie will be pissed, but I’m confident that he’ll just bitch, not leave. I strip.
Five minutes later—it can’t have been more than five minutes—I emerge from the shower room, wet towel rolled up under my arm, duffel over my shoulder, and my hair, wet and unstyled, hanging to my shoulders. I’m in the second of three T-shirts I’ve brought and the same jeans I started out with. But I feel better. I’ll finish the job in the truck, put on the mascara and finger-wave my hair.
As I promised, and only a couple of minutes late, I head out the automatic doors, making straight for the truck lot. Maybe thirty semis are lined up in rows, Roadway, Bemis, UPS, Mayflower Movers, and independents with family names on the cabs and unmarked trailers behind. Rigs with full berths above, rigs with shiny red and chrome, fancy lettering, rigs with more lights than a carnival midway. And campers. Campers snuggled up between the big guys, tagalongs and fifth wheels; double-axle motor homes. Four-wheel-drive trucks with engines that rival those powering the big rigs.
I don’t see Artie’s truck. I look to the diesel pumps and then the line for the truck wash, but he’s not there. I start to trot down the lane between trucks. His rig isn’t distinctive, a plain dull green. He’s hand-lettered his name, Arthur B. Schmidt, on the driver’s door in an uneven attempt at block letters—the Schmidt is narrower than the Arthur. He’s hauling a trailer that he was hired to haul. Nothing to distinguish it from the others. But I can’t have missed it. It’s been my home for the past two days.
“Artie, for God’s sake, stop teasing.” I say this under my breath, but the panic is rising, a sour taste in my freshly brushed mouth, the taste of trouble. I stop looking for Artie. I know that he’s gone. The mean SOB has called my bluff. He’s taken my three hundred bucks and abandoned me in Ohio.
Then it hits me, like someone has punched me in the stomach. Mack was in the cab. My dog was in the truck, where I’d left him after giving him a quick walk in the doggy rest area. He’s been waiting for us to come out and give him a little treat of Artie’s leftovers, a bowl of fresh water. I can’t believe that Artie would have driven off with him. There&...
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