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“Hey, Lily, over here!” my friend Marcus gestures me over to an old bench by the park wall. When I sit down next to him, he hands me a small slip of paper. “My friend George’s dog is missing and he was wondering if some people could help him look. That’s his mom’s phone number and a short description of the dog." I read the paper over and laugh. " ‘Small brown puppy that responds to Cocoa’ is so descriptive,” I say with a roll of my eyes. “Hey, I don't think you could tell if she was a labrador or a labradoodle,” Marcus replies with a raised eyebrow. “Anyway, he just needs some help looking for her. Cocoa’s been missing for 2 days now, and his whole family is really worried.” I shrug as a bead of sweat rolls down my forehead and answer, “Fine, I’ll help, but I can’t guarantee you anything.” Marcus nods his head and leaves, leaving me with my dirty lies.

When I get home, the sun is already setting so I hurry to finish my homework before dinner. I zip through 2 pages of math work  and write a short paragraph on the properties of carbon. When I am completely done I run to the small shed in my backyard. As soon as I open the door, a flash of brown fur rushes out and licks my face. I pull the dog away from me and set her down on the ground. “Cocoa,” I whisper, hoping she won’t respond. Immediately, she turns her head toward me and my heart drops down to my stomach.

After I feed Cocoa, I put her back in the shed with a couple of my old blankets and a bowl of water. As I leave the shed to eat dinner, I am still debating whether or not to return Cocoa. If I don’t return her to George and his family, they would think she’s dead, even though she’s living only around a mile away from their house. If I do return her, what will I do? Cocoa is so sweet and cute and I really want to keep her. My parents have already told me that I can’t have a dog because they are too much work and they bark all the time and blah blah blah. And also, if I don’t return her now, they will find out that I have been keeping her very well fed and clean for the last 2 days. Most people would have no problem making this decision. All I have to do is call George’s mom saying I have Cocoa and she can stop by at my house tomorrow and pick her up. I pick up my phone and start to dial her number, but at the last minute, I put it back down. I walk straight into the dining room, my guilt rising like a tidal wave.

“Honey, are you alright?” my mom asks me as I play around with my mashed potatoes. I force a smile at her and reply, “Yeah everything's fine. I’m just not very hungry.” She seems to believe me and looks back to her plate, but a moment later, she says, “I heard about a missing dog in our neighborhood. I think it was George’s dog, but I’m not sure. Anyway, the neighborhood council asked us all to look out for the dog and possibly help find him, ok?” Without thinking, I reply, “It’s a her, mom. The dog’s a girl.” She looks at me suspiciously and I quickly answer, “Um, Marcus told me that and gave me a slip of paper with a description of her and their phone number.” I grab the paper and hand it to her. At least that’s not another lie atop of the ten million I have already told.

At school, George walks straight past with me and I feel a sudden urge to tug on his sleeve and tell him that Cocoa is safe and sound, but then I stop myself. What would he say? Would he thank me for telling him that, or would he ask me how I knew? I turn away and walk to my class alone, because I can’t even bear to walk next to Marcus.

In class, I sit by myself, in the corner of the room,until Marcus comes in and sits right next to me. Throughout class, he tells me how he lost his dog once and how a nice couple found the dog and returned her, and how he had been really happy, and really just making me feel horrible. I only answer with short remarks like, “yeah?” and “oh that’s sad” because I am too busy trying to figure out if he knows about where Cocoa is and is trying to guilt me or if this is a true story. Three hours later, I sit down with my best friend at our normal lunch table and ask, “Emilia Carson, can you promise not to tell anyone what I am about to say?” Emm nods her head and leans in close to hear me. “I have George’s dog but I don’t know if I should keep her,” I whisper, ashamed of myself. At first, I think she is going to lecture me about doing the right thing and returning Cocoa, but she slowly nods her head. “I know what you mean. If I were you, I would be doing the same thing. And by that, I mean coming to ask me,” she jokes, but I am too confused to laugh. “But seriously, I think you should return her. After all, if she was your dog, how would you feel if someone else didn’t give her back?” I nod and say, “I guess you’re right.” She grins and replies, “Oh, I always am.” This time, I do laugh along.

When I get home after school, I hear fighting. “Robert, I know she wants a dog, but we just can’t handle it.”

“She can handle it, Katie. She’s fourteen now.”

“And if she doesn’t? What do we do then?”

My father sighs and I hear him sit down on the sofa. He says, “Fine, we won’t get a dog. But why are you so against dogs?” My mom sits down on the sofa next to him. “I was thirteen when I got my first dog. She was a golden retriever, and her name was Mar-Mar. One day, I took her out on a walk, thinking I could take care of her. When she saw a squirrel on the road, she ran straight ahead and I accidentally let go of the leash. A car came by, and that, that was it,” she sniffs, her voice breaking. I walk into the living room and sit down next to them. “Mom, it’s okay. I don’t want a dog anymore,” I tell her. “You don’t?” she and my dad reply in unison. “I already have one. Come see,” I beckon them to the backyard and open the shed door. Cocoa comes rushing out to greet my parents. “Wait, where did he come from?” my dad asks. I smile and say, “It’s a girl, dad. And it’s George’s dog.”  My parents are stunned silent so I explain the situation a little more. “Three days ago, I saw her in our backyard. When I went over to shoo her away, she stayed put. She was definitely not a stray, so I went over to pick her up. She was so soft and cute, I decided to keep her for a while. Then two days later, Marcus tells me George lost his dog and I panic. I didn’t know what to do, so I waited. I’ve decided to return her, and since I have already taken care of a dog, I don’t think I will need one. Is that OK?” I ask. My parents nod their heads and I pick Cocoa up. I walk around the house and grab my bike, and put Cocoa in the basket. As we set off, all I can think about is how happy George will be when he sees his dog again.

As I reach his house, I want to turn away. What will he think when I tell him I kept his dog for 3 days, but didn’t want to give her back? I shake my head to clear my thoughts. Cocoa and I walk up to the front door and knock on the door, once, twice, until someone comes to open it.

The person standing at the door is a young girl, probably only ten years old with blond hair and hazel eyes. When she sees Cocoa, she lights up and she screams “MOM!” so loud my eardrums almost pop. A middle-aged woman who looks exactly like the girl runs over and hugs me so tight I can barely breathe. Just when I am about to pass out, she releases me and hugs Cocoa instead. She calls George over and at first, I don’t recognize him, and neither does Cocoa.

His usual happy demeanor is gone, replaced with a depressed one. His shaggy blond hair is knotted and greasy, and his eyes are half closed. I don't remember seeing him like this at school, and it scares me. But then, his eyes fly open and he runs to Cocoa with a huge smile on his face. He hugs her close, stroking her fur and smiling at her. “I, I’m sorry,” I choke out. “Why?” George asks. “I actually, um,” I hesitate to tell them the truth, but then I remember how guilty I was before. If I don’t tell him now, I might never, and I can’t live with that. “Well, I actually had Cocoa this whole time. I really liked her and I didn’t want to leave her. I’m really sorry. I should’ve returned her as soon as I found out, but I didn’t. Can you please forgive me?” I plead, expecting them to be mad at me. George looks up from Cocoa and laughs a little. “Lily, it’s okay. Cocoa is just THAT awesome. I understand where you’re coming from. Thanks for giving her back, though,”  he says, and smiles at me. When I see George’s wide smile, I know that I made the right choice.

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