Friday Sampler: Earnest by Kristin Von Kreisler
February 5, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Earnest, a heartwarming novel from Kristin Von Kreisler about the healing power of a special dog.
As one reviewer said: Author Kristin Von Kreisler brings readers a tale of love both human and canine in her latest novel, Earnest. This is a heartfelt story about two people at a crossroads in their relationship and how the love of their pet changes everything. Kreisler’s knowledge of human nature and canine antics is inspiring.
Earnest. It’s the perfect name for a sweet, eager-to-please yellow Labrador retriever. Anna and her boyfriend Jeff fall for him the minute they see those guileless eyes gazing up from behind his gate at Seattle’s Best Friends Shelter. In no time at all, they’re a pack of three, with Earnest happily romping in their condo on Gamble Island.
During the day, Earnest keeps Anna company in her flower shop, located in a historic gingerbread Victorian on the island’s main street. Anna hopes to buy and restore the house, once owned by her beloved grandmother.
But when that dream is threatened by Jeff’s actions, Anna’s trust is shattered. For so long, the house has encompassed all her ideals of security, home, and family. Yet Earnest’s devotion to his two people, and theirs to him, make it impossible for them to walk away from each other.
And when a crisis hits, it’s Earnest—honest, stubborn, and uncannily wise—who will help Anna reconcile her past and embrace what the future can bring…
Seattle’s Second Chance Shelter smelled of damp fur and dog breath. Frantic barks and whines pierced the air and assaulted Anna’s ears. She shrank back from the desperation that hung in the air like mist. All the sad eyes begging for a home. The furry foreheads rumpled with anxiety. Anna’s tender heart slid to her feet.
“We shouldn’t have come here,” she shouted to her boyfriend, Jeff.
“You wanted to check out the dogs,” he said.
Anna was clutching the Second Chance flyer she’d found that morning on Jeff ’s windshield. Coming here had seemed the best way to goad themselves into action after weeks of talk about adopting a dog. But now, engulfed by the dogs’ distress, Anna wasn’t so sure.
“We could have looked for a dog on Petfinder,” she said. In their rented condo, they could have studied photos on the computer screen.
“You can tell a lot more if you see a dog in person,” Jeff said.
“Yes, but I want to take all these dogs home.”
“We can only afford to care for one.”
“Why do you have to be so practical?” Anna smiled, revealing lovely teeth.
She was the pretty flower child, the impulsive one. If she had her way, by evening their condo would be an orphanage for these homeless dogs—somehow she and Jeff would manage their upkeep. But he was innately cautious and responsible.
He’d adopt only if he could provide the best vet care and premium kibble.
Not that being reliable was bad. Actually, Anna liked that quality in Jeff. After living with him the last two years, she’d concluded it would make him a good father—and that was partly why she’d suggested getting a dog. Jeff wanted a buddy, but Anna secretly wanted a trial run at parenting. Maybe a dog would nudge Jeff closer to marriage, which they’d discussed but always as something in their vague and rosy future. Now they were both almost thirty-five, and it was time.
In enclosures lined up along the aisle, most of the dogs were making their case for adoption. Some ran to their gate and pleaded their cause with eager yips. Others stood back, polite, and demonstrated good behavior. Or they looked adorable, as did two matching Chihuahuas, whose whimpers urged, clear as crystal, Take us home with you! See how lovable we are!
“I’d be afraid of stepping on them.” Jeff steered Anna to the next run, which housed a Great Dane mutt the size of an adolescent moose. On massive hind legs, he leapt up and pressed his huge paws on the gate. Jeff shook his head. “Not a condo dog.”
He and Anna looked at a dog of unknown lineage with a bald tail and fur the color of a napkin that had wiped one too many mouths. When she curled her lip, she informed them of her resentment at being confined.
“What if no one adopts her?” Anna asked.
“Don’t worry. It’s a no-kill shelter.” Jeff reached for Anna’s hand and pulled her to the last gate. “Look at him!”
A Labrador retriever bounded toward them, wagging his tail so hard that he wagged his whole back end. He weighed about eighty pounds, and his personal infinitive might have been “to galumph,” but he didn’t seem to be the type of dog who’d stomp through flower beds or knock over lamps with his tail. He looked up at Anna and Jeff with big brown eyes, which politely asked, Please, will you take me home and love me?
He pressed his side against the gate to get as close as he could to them, and his body begged, Pet me! Oh, please!
“Whatcha doing, boy?” When Jeff reached through the gate’s bars, the dog nuzzled his hand. He’d cornered the market on wholesome. He could have been a Cub Scout mascot or costarred in movies with a freckle-faced kid.
Anna’s eyes brightened. “He’s a love bug.”
“He’s a purebred Lab. The real deal. Why would someone give him up?”
A laminated sign on the dog’s gate explained that he’d been tied to the shelter’s doorknob with a note under his collar. He was a healthy three-year-old, and his name was Moonbeam, of all the preposterous things. His slightly wavy fur looked like it intended to curl but never got around to it, and it was the color of wheat in candlelight, though his ears had a touch of biscuit beige. His nose looked like a licorice gumdrop, his muzzle was softly rounded, and his ears were upside-down isosceles triangles. When Moonbeam blinked, any woman in her right mind would have envied his thick, dark lashes.
His confident eyes were what grabbed Anna. Anyone could see that behind them lived a wise old soul. At the same time, though, his eyes were tinged with sadness, probably because he’d just lost his home and family. Anna wanted to bake him gourmet peanut butter cookies, buy him squeaky toys, and mother him. “Let’s adopt him!” she said.
“He wouldn’t be too big for our condo?” It was only nine hundred square feet, and their barbecue grill and potted tomato plants crowded the small deck. A large dog could cross the backyard in ten steps.
“It’s not like he’d be locked up at home all the time. He could come to work with me every day.” Anna imagined him napping under her flower shop’s counter, surrounded by buckets of mums.
“What if he scares your customers?” Jeff asked.
“How could they not love him?”
Through the bars, Jeff held out his hand to Moonbeam.
“Can you shake?”
A wheat-colored paw plopped onto Jeff ’s palm.
With impeccable cooperation, Moonbeam sank down on his haunches and gazed up at Jeff with adoring eyes that said as plainly as anyone ever said anything, I will be exemplary. I want to be your dog.
“He’s trying to do the right thing. He’s so earnest,” Jeff said.
“‘Earnest’ would be a good name. Far better than ‘Moonbeam.’”
Jeff squatted down, eye to eye with Earnest. “Maybe we should think about him for a day or two before we decide.”
“Someone else would adopt him,” Anna said.
Jeff stroked Earnest’s soft ears. “You’re too good to pass up, aren’t you?”
Absolutely! agreed Earnest’s tail wags.
Anna walked Earnest outside while Jeff filled out the adoption form. Owner: Jeff Egan. Occupation: Architect. Address: 1735-B Wood Avenue, Gamble Island, Washington. If you rent, name of landlord: David Gray. Who will be responsible for vet bills? I will. Jeff checked “yes” that Earnest would have a fenced yard and sleep inside at night. Finally, Jeff paid the fee with his credit card and hurried to find Anna and Earnest.
In the backseat of Jeff ’s Honda, Earnest stared out the window at Seattle’s skyline. He gazed at the Space Needle and seemed to note with interest Safeco and CenturyLink Fields.
Looking angelic, he did not smudge the window with his nose, and he did not paw or drool on the upholstery. On the halfhour ferry to his new home, he curled into a trusting ball and slept as if the Honda had been his bed forever.
Anna and Jeff joked that his glomming onto them might be a sign he was part barnacle, and they discussed people’s tendency to adopt dogs that looked like themselves. Jeff pointed out that Earnest’s fur wasn’t so different from Anna’s ash-blonde hair, which was cut between a shag and a pixie. She said that behind Jeff ’s horn-rimmed glasses, his expressive brown eyes were like Earnest’s, and Jeff ’s short hair, though dark and slightly thin on top, had Earnest’s hint of waves.
Anna pictured Earnest sprawled on their deck among the tomato plants, a paw over his eyes to shade them from the sun.
Or leaping into gold maple leaves piled along the sidewalk in the fall and crunching them with his paws. She and Jeff would take him on hikes in the Hoh Rain Forest and teach him to fetch a Frisbee. They’d bathe him in their tub and invite him to sleep on their bed.
“We’ll be a pack of three,” Anna said. A family.