A Dog Changes Everything

Illustration of a dog.


Could looking after her neighbour’s beloved collie help bring love back into Ava’s life?

Ava had been in her new house for several months now and still hadn’t completely unpacked, so that was her task for today.

Not her favourite task to be honest, which meant she was more than happy to be interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Mr Thomson.” She smiled at her elderly neighbour who was, as always, accompanied by his beautiful border collie, Bess.

Mr Thomson wasn’t the chattiest of men and his presence on her doorstep was unprecedented.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

“It’s the dog,” the old man stated. “There’s nowt else for it. You’ll have to take her.”

Ava glanced down at Bess.

“I’ll have to…what?”

“The dog,” he repeated. “Going into hospital, and he’s not here, so you’ll have to mind her till he comes.”

Again Ava looked at the collie. For once Bess wasn’t her usual, cheerful, waggy self. In fact, the word “hangdog” could have been invented to describe her droopy ears and tail.

Then Mr Thomson’s words sank in.

“You’re going into hospital? Are you OK?” She could have kicked herself. Of course he wasn’t OK.

Normally Ava would have been happy to help in any way she could, but… a dog?

“I’m not sure. I don’t… I mean, I haven’t…”

Bess nudged the old man’s hand.

“Hush,” he said and gave her a reassuring pat.

But Ava saw the anxiety in his eyes and realised how much it had cost him to come here and ask for help.

“Honestly,” she said, growing flustered. “I don’t know anything about dogs. Perhaps someone else…”

“There’s no one,” he said flatly. “It has to be today. I already cancelled once because he didn’t show.”

Ava pounced on that.

“Who didn’t show?”

“My boy, Charlie. Should have been here by now. Must be held up.”

Relief flooded through Ava. She hadn’t lived here long, and didn’t even know

Mr Thomson had a son. If this Charlie was on his way, that changed everything.

“In that case, of course I’ll help.”

“Thank you.” Mr Thomson didn’t try to hide his relief. “I’ve brought her stuff.”

Stuff? Only then did Ava notice the box of dog paraphernalia on the path, alongside a small holdall.

Mr Thomson bent down and gently stroked Bess.

“You be good,” he said thickly. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“When should I expect your son?” asked Ava.

Mr Thomson straightened.

“Anytime.” He didn’t meet her eye.

Maybe I should take his number? In case he’s delayed?

“Aye.” Mr Thomson fumbled in his pocket and handed a handwritten sheet of paper. It had a phone number for “our Charlie,” which was reassuring.

The list of detailed instructions for feeding the dog was less so.

“How long…” she began just as a taxi pulled up and tooted.

“That’s for me. Bess, stay.” With a last, stern word softened by a reassuring pat, Mr Thomson picked up the holdall and headed down the path.

Bess stayed as instructed, whining unhappily as the car pulled away.

“I don’t suppose you have any interest in helping me unpack boxes?” asked Ava, looking down at her charge.

Bess did not. She sniffed her way round the house, with Ava following nervously. Finally satisfied, Bess hopped on to a chair by the window and settled down to wait, her nose to the glass.

Unsure what to do, Ava went back to her unpacking, watching the clock and sticking her head round the door every now and then to check on her visitor. Bess didn’t move.

Charlie hadn’t turned up by lunchtime. Ava made herself a sandwich, which got Bess’s attention.

Mr Thomson’s instructions were very clear about snacks.

“Sorry,” said Ava, then slipped her the crusts anyway, since Bess was finding the situation as difficult as she was.

After lunch she let the dog into the garden, then the afternoon continued much like the morning. At tea time, Ava finally decided to phone Charlie.

The phone rang and rang. Ava had just about given up hope when it was answered.

“Hello?” said a man’s deep voice, with a hint of an accent. “Charles Thomson’s phone.”

Oh, thank goodness. “Charlie?”

“No, sorry, this is Ethan, his son. Can I take a message?”

Mr Thomson’s grandson? Her relief was immense.

“I’m Ava. You don’t know me, but your grandad left Bess with me so I’m just wondering when your dad will be here?” she said in a rush.

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then a cautious, “Who is this?”

“Ava. Your granddad’s neighbour.”

“My granddad? And who is Bess?”

“His dog.” Ava fought a sinking feeling. “Your granddad’s in hospital. Your dad is coming to look after her.”

“Granddad’s in hospital?” he said sharply. “Why? What’s happened?”

“He’s having an operation, I think,” said Ava. “And he asked me –”

“What kind of operation?”

This was not going as planned.

“I’ve no idea. And I didn’t feel it was my place to ask,” she said in a tone intended to convey that she felt it was his place to know.

There was a silence, then, “Yes, sorry. Look, can I call you back in a minute?”

“But –”

He hung up leaving her staring at the phone. But at least did call back.

“I can be there in a couple of hours. Can you hang on to the… Bess, a bit longer?”

“But –”

“Thanks. I’m sorry for all this but I’ll explain when I get there.”

And he was gone.

It was almost eight by the time Ethan arrived at the address his dad had given him. As he rang the doorbell, he heard a dog bark inside.

The door was opened by a vision of loveliness, all blonde hair and big brown eyes. The exhaustion from his recent travelling fell away in an instant and his mood picked up considerably.

“Ava?” he asked.


“I’m Ethan. I’m so sorry you’ve been put in this position.” As he spoke, he held out his hand to Ava, but the dog, who had been sniffing at his legs gave a sharp, warning bark. The two humans looked down.
The collie’s ears were back, her teeth bared and Ethan dropped his hand at once.

“Bess?” Ava sounded surprised.

“This is Grandad’s dog?” Ethan frowned. Dogs normally loved him.

Ava nodded.

“Hello, Bess.” Ethan offered his hand to the collie in the time-honoured way of canine introduction. Bess backed away, rumbling deep in her chest.

“Do you have some ID?” asked Ava, looking from Bess, to him. “No offence. I mean you look OK but then serial killers probably look OK, too, or people wouldn’t let them into the house.”

Ethan blinked.

“Yes, of course.” He reached into his pocket and handed over his passport.

“You travel with a passport? Do you often get asked for ID?” Now she looked as suspicious as the dog.

“I just flew in yesterday,” he explained. “To visit my father.”

She checked the passport carefully and seemed satisfied.

I suppose you’d better come in.

Bess shot her a look Ethan could only describe as reproach. As he edged inside, the dog stayed close to her and remained alert and watchful as a wolf.

“Have a seat,” said Ava.

Bess waited till they were both sitting, then settled between them. She didn’t take her eyes off him.

“She doesn’t like me very much,” said Ethan.

“No. And yet she likes everybody,” said Ava, pointedly.

Ethan could understand her caution. He appeared every inch the neglectful grandson, so she had every right to judge him as harshly as the dog did. But at the same time, she was supposed to hand Bess over to his care.

“I can explain.”

“OK,” she said, her chin at an angle that told him this had better be good.

“My parents split up when I was seven,” Ethan began. “My father didn’t play much of a role in our lives after that, though I think Mum did try and keep in touch with Grandad for a while.

“I do remember going to visit him and playing with a dog, another collie, called Timmy.” He smiled at the memory. “He was living at a different address then.

“When I was ten, Mum remarried and we moved to Australia. Long story short, I forgot my life in the UK until last year, when my long term relationship ended. It seemed like a good time to take a break and explore my roots, look up family…”

Ethan rubbed his jaw, feeling the rasp of stubble.

“I had no contact details for anyone. Dad took a bit of tracking down. We met today for the first time in twenty years.”

Ethan wasn’t sure what he’d expected of the reunion but the man who had turned up – late due to car trouble – had been far more interested in talking about himself than learning about his long-lost son. He’d insisted on buying lunch for Ethan then had to borrow money to pay. He’d clearly forgotten the arrangement he’d made to look after Bess. When Ethan told him about the phone call, he had been dismissive, deciding that leaving the dog with the neighbour for a day or two wouldn’t do any harm, especially as Bess didn’t like him much.

“I…er…offered to come in his place,” said Ethan, glossing over these details.

Ava stared at him long and hard.

“I see,” she said, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that she did. “What do you think Bess? Should we offer him a cup of tea? And a biscuit?”

The dog had been listening as if she too was following every word. She certainly knew the word biscuit. One ear flicked up but she didn’t move or drop her guard.

It looked like Ethan had a lot of ground to make up.

“Thanks,” Ethan said when Ave returned with the tea. “Dad told me where Grandad leaves the key, but I can hardly just let myself into the house.”

“No,” said Ava.

“Which means booking myself into a hotel for tonight. Except I can’t really do that with a dog.” Especially one who was currently treating him like Public Enemy Number One.

“No,” said Ava again and he could almost see her heart sink as she saw where this was going.

He cleared his throat.

“So I was wondering… I mean, I know it’s a big ask, but would you mind keeping her, just for tonight? Hopefully tomorrow I’ll sort something out and somehow manage to win her trust.”

“And your grandad’s?”

Ethan flinched. “His too.”

Ava fretted after he left.

“Do you think I was too hard on him?” she asked Bess. “I mean at least he came, unlike the horrible Charlie.”

Bess, who had already made her views known, remained silent.

“And who would have thought Mr Thomson would have such a good-looking grandson. I mean, did you see those eyes? And that smile?”

It seemed Bess had not noticed.

After giving some thought to the sleeping arrangements, Ava reluctantly carried the dog bed upstairs, reasoning that Bess had had a traumatic day and deserved some company. She placed it by the radiator in her bedroom.

A dog. Sleeping in her room. It was so far from any reality that Ava had ever imagined that she had to smile.

Ethan turned up early the next morning with pastries and coffee from the best bakery in town, along with a bag of dog treats. You had to admire the man for trying.

Ava accepted the box of goodies.

In the light of day, well-slept and freshly shaven and showered, Ethan Thomson was pretty mouth-watering, too.

Bess sniffed around his ankles. Cautiously she wagged her tail.

“Wow!” said Ava. “Did you change your soap or something?”

Bess graciously allowed Ethan to rub her ears.

“Maybe I don’t smell of my father today?”

“That’s a point,” said Ava.

Presumably Bess had met Charles before and hadn’t been impressed. Well they did say dogs were good judges of character.

“I was wondering…” said Ethan.

“Yes.” With her mouth full of chocolate croissant, Ava was pretty sure she was going to agree to anything.

I’d like to take Bess for a walk this morning to get to know her. But I thought it might be better if you came too. Unless you have plans?

He added quickly.

“A walk would be great,” Ava said, thinking of her unpacking.

The morning passed very pleasantly. Ava learned about Ethan’s successful IT business in Australia, and he learned about the broken engagement that had led her to a new town and a fresh start.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to bore you.”

“I’m not bored at all.” He gestured to the canal and the sunshine. “I’d forgotten how beautiful England is. This is like a tourist brochure.”

Bess trotted along between them but Ava noticed her plumey tail was still between her legs.

Ethan had rung the hospital earlier.

“Granddad is having the procedure this morning and can have visitors this afternoon. Do you think I should go?” he asked. “I mean… when he’s probably expecting Dad?”

“Do you really think he is?” asked Ava, remembering just how much doggy stuff Mr Thomson had left with her.

“I suppose you’re right,” said Ethan. “OK, I will go. I just hope it’s not too much of a shock for him.”

He left after lunch and while he was gone, Ava took Bess out again. It was fun, walking a dog. It was an excuse to not do housework, and people spoke to you when you had a dog. She was smiling when she got back. Her smile widened when she saw Ethan waiting.

“How was he?” she asked.

Ethan looked happy, too.

“Surprised to see me, but I think he was pleased. Apparently he’s doing fine, but he’s worrying about Bess. I didn’t stay long, but I said I’d go back this evening.” He hesitated.

“I have an idea that might solve two problems in one but I’m afraid I’ll need your help. And… I would also very much like to take you to dinner as a thank you for all you’ve done for my family.”

A date with Ethan? Ava felt a frisson of pleasure. “What do you need?”

He told her.

“Oh, I think I can manage that!” She laughed.

They drove together to the hospital that evening. Ava took some grapes and a box of chocolates.

“Lass!” Mr Thomson looked surprised to see her. “How’s Bess?”

“See for yourself.” Ava pointed at the window where Ethan was lurking behind some bushes with Bess on a lead.

He was trying to indicate that the dog should look where he was pointing but she just sat on her haunches and stared at him as if he was mad.

Mr Thomson struggled to sit up and craned his neck to see. “Bess?”

The windows were closed. No way had Bess heard him but suddenly she looked right at him. Ava saw the dog light up like a string of lights. She strained at her lead, wagging and squirming.

“You brought her,” said Mr Thomson, softly.

Ethan did. He’s on a mission to win her round.

Mr Thomson lay back to rest on his pillows. “Thanks, lass.”

His face was creased in smiles. And from the way Bess was now jumping all over Ethan and licking his face, she was feeling better too.

“I’m not the one you should thank,” said Ava, opening the chocolates and offering him one.

“Yes,” said Mr Thomson, looking out the window at his dog and his grandson. “Yes, lass, I believe you are.”

Read more uplifting short stories:

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Georgia Grieve