Year of the Dog serial novel
by Camy Tang
Mari Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year.
While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier.
Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Auntie Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Christian home. What’s more, his brother Dusty also needs a place to stay after being kicked out of his apartment—with a dog in tow. And guess who the dog’s owner is?
But then Ashwin gets a request from an old friend, Edytha Guerrero, a private investigator who also runs a day spa on O’ahu’s north shore. A strange bit of “vandalism” at Mari's facility had led her to find a purse belonging to Edytha’s sister—who had disappeared three years ago. Worried that Mari might be in danger, and finding out that security expert Ashwin already knows her, Edytha asks him to covertly keep an eye on the busy young woman.
Ashwin is reluctantly attracted to the lively, easy-going dog trainer. She reminds him too much of his happy-go-lucky mother, whose betrayal had caused him to keep people at a distance. Mari sees past Ashwin’s cold exterior to a man who is loyal to his family, unlike her own mother and sister, who only criticize her career choice.
In the midst of Mari’s disjointed family and Ashwin’s disruptive home, danger begins to circle around them from people who want the past to remain there. Can they shed light on the secrets moving in the shadows?
Chapter Nine - Hei, the Black Poodle
Mari’s heart was slamming in her chest as she walked toward the front door of her mom’s house. She jerked in surprise when an ear-piercing yapping exploded from the neighbor’s house.
What the heck?! She was a good twenty feet away from the corner of Mrs. Lee's house. However, Mrs. Lee's toy poodle, Hei, had his own special perch in front of the wide front window and objected to anyone coming within visual targeting range.
She rang her mom’s doorbell while making (admittedly juvenile) faces at the black curly-haired terror growling and barking at her from behind the safety of window glass. She heard the slap-slap of her mom’s house slippers as she made her way to open the door.
Her mother blinked at her. “Oh, you’re here. Good.” She turned and headed back toward the kitchen.
“Don’t stand there with the door open, you’ll let in all the mosquitos!”
Mari slipped in and shut the door, locking it behind her. Hei’s barking thankfully faded. Mari could swear that one day, Hei’s yapping would reach octaves high enough to shatter that window where he loved to threaten everything that moved.
She kicked off her shoes in the entry hall and followed the sound of a hand slapping a baby’s bottom—er, a round of whitish dough. Mom was kneading it at the kitchen table, and for some reason she liked spanking the floury ball.
Mom began cutting the dough into smaller pieces. “What are you standing around for? Go wash your hands and help me.”
Maybe she’d be more amenable to Mari’s petition if she helped her? She washed up at the sink, then went to stand across from her mother.
Mom used a small rolling pin to make little round flat discs of dough. “The filling’s over there.”
In the center of the table was a stainless steel bowl. Mari peered inside and immediately recognized the mixture of raw ground pork, shoyu, minced green onions, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Today her mom was making wontons.
She used the spoon stuck in the bowl and scooped up a scant teaspoon as she grabbed the first circle of dough. The movements came back to her easily—smearing the pork in the center, then wetting the edges of the wonton skin using a small bowl of water set nearby and sealing it up like a ravioli.
“You’re putting too little filling,” her mom complained.
“If I put any more, I might tear the skin when I’m folding it up.”
“I forgot how clumsy you are at making wontons.”
And here she thought she’d been doing pretty good. Mari sighed, but said nothing.
“So what did you need?” Mom had finished rolling several little discs of dough and began filling wontons herself.
She felt guilty that yes, she was only coming around because she needed something. Mari’s relationship with her mother—fed by her disapproval of the dog business—was such that she had never visited her mother more often than once every two or three weeks, but that had stretched to four or five weeks after William dropped the Bambi bomb on her sister’s marriage. It had become a futile effort to explain that she’d happened to catch William inflagrante by sheer dumb (very bad) luck.
Her nerves made her tear a hole in the wonton skin she was folding over the filling. She brought it close to her face as she tried to pinch the hole in the dough closed.
Her mother gave an impatient huff. “Give me that.” She grabbed the sorry-looking dumpling and fixed it efficiently like a boss. “Well?”
“So I, uh, bought the facility …”
Mom’s gaze narrowed and her lips disappeared as she pursed them. Mari realized she shouldn’t have led with that. She hastily continued, “I sold my house—”
Another huff, this time of disappointment. “Such a waste. Your uncle said it was a very valuable property.”
Of course she would way this when years earlier, she had originally voiced very loudly that Mari was making a mistake in using her inheritance from Grandma to buy a rundown house. “Anyway,” Mari said to cut off any more maternal commentary, “I’m moving out by the end of the week and I don’t have a place to stay—”
“Yes!” Mom’s eyes brightened like a bloodhound on a scent.
Had Mari heard right? “Yes?”
“Yes. It’s a good thing I never did anything with your bedroom. You can move right in.”
Huh. I guess that meant her hearing really wasn’t going prematurely bad. “Uh … my stuff …”
“Well, you’re going to sell your furniture anyway, right?”
Don’t antagonize the agreeable woman who has taken over your mother’s body. “Sure.”
“And all the other stuff you’ve got—we can have a garage sale.”
“Right.” Note to self: Rent a self-storage unit.
“After all, you won’t need that dog stuff anymore.”
“Um … Mom, I’m still moving forward with my dog facility.”
“Oh.” Her lips puckered. “Wishful thinking, I suppose.”
Read: complete and utter denial.
“Now, your old bed is still in the bedroom, but did you want a new one? That one’s at least …” Mom gave her a once-over. “Thirty years old? Let’s go take a look.” She hustled over to the sink to wash her hands.
Mari dazedly did the same.
“I’m sure the bed will be fine.” She followed her mother to her old bedroom. Hopefully it would only be for a few months. Her back could withstand that smooshy black hole for a few months, right?
The room seemed smaller than she remembered. Maybe because she hadn’t entered her bedroom much in the ten years since she moved out. She had never noticed before that Mom had kept everything exactly the way she’d left them … in a kind of freaky way.
Uh, oh. The full sized bed took up most of the floor space. “Maybe I do need a new bed. There’s no room for Pepper’s crate.” After having Pepper for only a few months, she was still relying on crate training to keep him from peeing in the house.
“Crate? Pepper?” Mom’s voice shot up an octave, tinkling off the low ceiling. “You’re bringing your dog with you?”
“Where else would I leave him?”
“In that empty lot you just bought.”
“Mom, the school was vandalized last month. Almost all the windows are broken.” Which also reduced the price a smidgen, and she hadn’t minded the windows too much since she had intended to do an extensive renovation anyway. “I can’t leave my dog there.”
“Well, replace the windows. It shouldn't take more than a day.”
“For a house, maybe. Not for an entire school. Plus there’s other stuff I need to take care of—I need a new roof, there's mold damage—”
“You’re not bringing a dog into my home,” Mom said firmly.
Mari closed her lips tight so she wouldn’t say what she wanted to say in response. She knew for a fact Mom wasn’t afraid of dogs—she loved her friend’s Shih Tzu and she even played catch with Uncle Ralph’s German shepherd. This all had to do with Mari’s new career move.
Well, Mari had done her duty—asked to live here with Mom. But if her mother was going to make things difficult for her in an effort to stop the dog facility from becoming a reality, Mari would simply not engage. “Listen, Mom—”
“You can stay here, though.” Her smile was strained, her eyes eager. And a little desperate.
Maybe Uncle Herbie had been right. Maybe Mom had been more hurt by her moving out than buying a house. She’d simply wanted Mari here. Close to her.
Easier to control, more like.
But what if that was her mother’s form of love?
Except she didn’t want that type of love. But was there anyone who got to pick what kind of love they received from their parent?
Uncle Herbie would want her to stay. He’d tell her to find alternative housing for Pepper and stay here in order to improve relations with her mother.
And maybe Mari just hadn’t tried hard enough before. She’d been more emotional, more easily offended when she was just out of college—now that she was older, she didn’t want to regret any decision she made and wonder if she could have worked harder to do the right thing.
“All right, Mom. I’ll stay if I can find a temporary place for Pepper to stay.”
“Temporary?” Mom paused as she exited the room and glanced over her shoulder at Mari. “Why would it be temporary?”
Some sixth sense told Mari to tread lightly here. “I don’t want to be separated from Pepper forever. Eventually I’d like to live with my own dog.”
“Oh.” Mom turned and continued out the bedroom door. “When you get married. Yes, I suppose you’ll have to find a man who likes dogs.”
When she got married?
And then it hit her. Mom didn’t know about Mari’s plans to live at her facility.
She was assuming Mari was home to stay. And in Mom’s mind, the only acceptable reason for a daughter to leave home was to get married.
Should she tell her? She didn’t want to lie to her mother, not when she was obviously so happy about Mari moving back in.
For now, she’d keep quiet. Keep the peace. Maybe gradually introduce the idea of living at the facility once renovations were done.
Because the way Mari’s life was going, Pepper might be her mother’s only grandchild—from Mari, at least. Or was that granddoggy?