Chapter 10

A Dog’s Life

10:34 a.m.

“Here, Max.”

Alex called to the dog, who had stopped to sniff a light pole. The dog didn’t respond but moved on to investigate a trash can.

Nunu looked at him funny. “Who’s Max?”

“I’m trying out my top ten dog names. Does he look like a Max to you?”

Nunu shook her head. “Here, Muffin,” she called.

Alex made a face. “Muffin?”

“It’s better than Max.”

“Dog names are like Rex. Or Charlie.”

“Here, Buttons,” Nunu tried again.

Alex rolled his eyes and called to the dog. “Here, Rex. C’mon, Charlie.”

Nothing.

“Over here, Fang.”

The dog ducked into some bushes.

Alex worked his way through the list:  Buddy, Maverick, Genghis, Ralph, and Mugsy.

The dog didn’t answer to a single one. Alex was down to his last pick.

“Here…Annihilator.”

“That’s not a doggy name!”

The dog chased his tail, spinning in circles, ignoring them completely.

“We should call him Twirly,” Nunu observed.

“No.” Alex’s scowl only goaded Nunu on. She loved it when she could get under her big brother’s skin.

“Or Poochy.”

“No.”

“Or Daisy.”

“That’s a girl name.”

“How about Pee Pee?”

“Pee Pee??”

Nunu pointed:  the dog had his leg up, leaving his mark on a mail box to alert the world that he’d been there.

“We’re not calling him Pee Pee.”

As they made their way through town, Alex still hadn’t found the right name for his dog. But in every other respect, the universe was smiling on him today—especially when they saw what was sitting in the window of DiSarno’s bakery. Right there in the main case, next to the trays of gingerbread men and fruit tarts and odd-looking foreign cookies, sat a platter piled four stories high.

With cupcakes.

Chocolate-frosted chocolate cupcakes. With chocolate fudge swirls on top.

“We’re not supposed to have sweets before lunch,” Nunu breathed, as the two of them stared in the window.

“Pick out the one you want,” said Alex. “My treat.”

The little bell over the door ding-a-linged as they stepped inside. The dog slipped in behind them. Alex tried to push him back out, but it was like trying to move a bus.

“Rex. C’mon. You gotta get out.”

The dog just stood there, drooling, as he stared around at all the goodies.

“It’s okay, Alex. There’s nobody here.”

The shop was empty. Even though the shades were up, the door was unlocked, and a neon sign buzzed “OPEN” in big red letters, there was nobody here. Alex jiggled the door to make the bell ring again. Still nobody.

He stepped cautiously behind the counter and peeked into the back. The baking tables were covered in flour. A big plastic tray full of glistening dough sat uncovered. An apron lay in a heap in the middle of the floor. Nearby, Alex could see a half-decorated cake with red letters on top that read Happy b. A piping bag lay on the table beside it, trailing a thread of red icing.

“Hello?”

No answer. It looked like everyone had left in a hurry.

“Weird.” He turned back to the store. “There’s nobod—HEY!”

The dog had his head buried in the display case and was licking an enormous white cake.

“Bad boy! Get out of there!”

Alex had to put both arms around the dog’s neck and pull with all his might to get him out of the case. The dog’s face was completely covered with white cake and icing. Then that enormous tongue poked out and spun clockwise around his face, squeegeeing the icing and cake away in one sloppy swipe.

Alex reached back into the case, lifted out two cupcakes, and handed one to his sister.

“One for you. And one for me.”

“That’s stealing,” Nunu said. But she didn’t give back her cupcake.

Alex dug into his pocket, pulled out his lunch money, and left three dollars on the counter.

While he was paying, the dog got back into the case and took a huge bite out of the white cake. Alex dug back into his pocket. He only had two dollars and forty-six cents left over, but he put it all on the counter, promising himself to stop by tomorrow and settle up.

Then something on the counter caught his eye:  an open box of birthday candles.

He took out two green candles and poked them into the top of his cupcake, adjusting them so they stood side by side, straight and tall.

“There. Eleven.”

He found a pack of matches tucked behind the cash register and lit the candles.

“Happy birthday to me.”

Nunu joined in. When they got to “Happy birthday to A – LEXXXX,” the dog joined in too, howling all the way to the end.

“Happy birthday to MEEEEEEEEEEE!”

“Make a wish,” Nunu reminded him.

Alex already knew what to wish for. He knelt down even with the candles, so close he could feel their heat on his face. Then he made a silent wish, took a deep breath, and blew.

The flames flickered, pushed sideways by his breath, then went out, leaving two trails of smoke drifting slowly into the air.

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