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 Seventeen - Olive Branch
Jenessa cussed a blue streak at the sight of Mari.
Mari gasped, as did Kendall and Carl, who stood behind their mom.
“Mom!” Kendall said.
“Let me in.” Jenessa pushed past Mari.
Mari’s mind slowed. Her heart raced, but at the same time it pulsed steadily, and she noticed more details—the tangles in Jenessa’s fine black hair, the tag uncharacteristically protruding from the back of her blouse, the faint whiff of Jack Daniels.
Mari recognized what her body was doing—reacting the same way as when she had to deal with an aggressive dog.
Best not to tell Jenessa that.
“Dusty, I’ll call you back.” She disconnected the phone call. She reached out to Kendall to give her a hug, but whispered in her ear, “What in the world happened?”
Kendall’s answer was drowned by Jenessa’s tirade—she’d reached the kitchen and was again cussing like a fishwife in the midst of venting to Mom.
Mari clapped her hands over Kendall’s ears, unable to do anything else in her shock. Jenessa wasn’t religious or even conservative, but Mari had only ever heard the D-word occasionally spill from her sister’s lips.
“Go to Grandma’s bedroom and watch TV,” she told her niece and nephew.
Carl’s mouth turned mulish, but Kendall cuffed him on the shoulder and corralled him toward the back of the house.
Mari had to take a deep breath, which seemed to reek with Jenessa’s anger, and entered the kitchen.
Mari rarely entered the kitchen, Mom’s domain, mostly because the ochre yellow wallpaper caused a Pavlovian twisting in her gut and memories of scoldings, which always seemed to take place here rather than any other room. Now, Jenessa’s raised voice seemed to add more negative energy for the pink-flowered walls to absorb.
“—And I didn’t know the house was only in his name. I just never thought about it,” Jenessa ranted, her fist striking the puke-pink tile of the counter. “But he knew, the …” More cussing. She was using words Mari hadn’t even heard of.
“He came tonight and said he couldn’t afford to pay rent on a separate apartment. He sold the house to his bimbo, Mom! They apparently signed the papers today.”
The breath stuck in Mari’s throat. He wouldn’t. She’d never imagined William would be so incredibly cruel.
“And he had the nerve to tell me that he wanted us out of the house because the new owner was going to move in tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? He only gave them a day?
“I don’t care about me, but he tossed his own children out, Mom. And he said all this in front of them.”
How could he do that? How could he put his own selfish needs—and his new girlfriend—over his own children? And how would this affect their view of their father, their relationship with him? Jenessa had been trying to make sure she never said anything negative or complaining about William in the kids’ hearing so they wouldn’t lose respect for their father—but what about now?
Mom’s face had become paler than the porcelain sink. Her wide eyes found Mari as if to say, This can’t be happening.
Jenessa turned and noticed her standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Mari steeled herself for another series of verbal lashes, but her sister only pinched her mouth closed at the sight of her, then turned her back.
“But for the divorce to go through, he has to split everything with you fifty-fifty,” Mari ventured to say.
Jenessa snorted. “Oh, he’ll split the cost of the house with me. I talked to my lawyer before I even packed my first suitcase. Assuming he didn’t sell the house to that woman for a dollar out of spite.”
Ugly. This was all just so ugly, so unfair. So hateful on William’s part. Had he hated Jenessa and his own children so much that he’d do this without batting an eye?
Jenessa dashed tears from her cheeks. “I still have to go back tonight to get more of our stuff.”
“I hope you’re stripping everything,” Mari said, bitterness ground in her words.
Jenessa’s surprised look was strangely gratifying. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“It’s not your house anymore. Remember all the foreclosures? People were taking light fixtures right out of the walls.” Mari dug in her pocket. Yup, her keys were still there. “I’ll drive back with you. You can use my truck, too.”
“I still need to unpack my car,” Jenessa said.
“I’ll do that and get the kids settled,” Mom said. “Jenessa, you can take your old room, but Kendall and Carl will have to sleep in Mari’s room.”
“Where am I going to sleep?” Out in my car? Thanks, Mom.
“On the sofa.”
Which was at least fifty years old. “No, Kendall will sleep with me in my room, and Carl can sleep on the sofa.”
“Now, Mari, they’ve just been uprooted—”
“Carl’s back is only eight years old. Mine is thirty-two.” Mari glared at her mother.
Jenessa waved a tired hand. “Don’t argue. She’s right, Mom.”
Mari blinked. Her sister had actually agreed with her?
“Besides, she’ll need her bed for that thirty-two-year-old back after she helps me move everything out tonight.”
Mari gave Jenessa a sickly smile, and her sister returned a snide one back to her, but without much rancor to it. For a moment, things felt just like when they were kids.
It seemed strange to have her sister sitting in the passenger seat in her car. She didn’t think it was the first time, but it might have only been the second.
The silence between them seemed strained and awkward, but a different kind of strained and awkward than what had been strung between them for the past several years. Jenessa felt … silently vulnerable, and Mari wasn’t certain how to respond to her. Her older sister had always been the confident one, the one who knew what she wanted, the one who always had to smooth over clumsy moments that Mari had created.
And once again, Jenessa defused the uncomfortable atmosphere. “Don’t say anything, I don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice was very matter-of-fact, almost calm.
Jenessa sighed. “At least Mom didn’t freak out. I was worried that after I broke the news, I’d have to take the time to settle her down, and I just didn’t have the mental capacity at the moment.” She gave Mari a sidelong look. “It’s probably because you were there.”
Mari snorted. “I highly doubt that. I have never caused Mom to chill out.”
“Exactly. She’s been so preoccupied with you—your new business and moving in again—that she doesn’t have the mental capacity to get worked up over other things, no matter how terrible they are.”
Mari wasn’t exactly certain if her sister had delivered a backhanded comment or not, but she wasn’t about to uncouple their newly-developed sisterly bond to quibble about it.
She stopped and motioned to a car waiting in a pharmacy driveway to pull out in front of her, but just as she hit the gas to move forward, another car behind that one also shot out to cut ahead. She had to hit the brakes a bit hard since she hadn’t been expecting that.
A folder that had been tucked in between the passenger seat and the center console slid down to the floor and Jenessa reached down to pick it up. She happened to see the contractor quotes that peeked out.
“They’re charging this much to renovate your windows?” she asked. “No, that’s too much.”
“The mother of one of Carl’s friends was talking about the renovations to her house—in great detail which I really didn’t need to know—and the contractor she used charged only half this.”
“But Auntie Vi recommended this contractor.”
Jenessa was flipping through the other quotes in the folder. “Did she recommend all these other contractors, too?”
“Yes. I figured she’d know what she was talking about since she’s a realtor.”
She shook her head as she scanned the quotes. “They’re charging a lot. I still think the dog facility is too much of a financial risk for you, especially at your age, but at the very least you should be more frugal with the money you got from that bank loan.”
The dig about her age was like a thorn under her fingernail, but she magnanimously let it go. “I don’t know any other contractors … oh wait, maybe I do. Lana just emailed me a list of recommendations from her brother-in-law, who’s a contractor.”
Jenessa grimaced. “I’ve never liked Lana—even when we were all younger, she only liked to talk about herself and show she was better than any of us—but she also doesn’t seem like the type of person to deliberately feed you bad recommendations. After all, it would only make her look bad if they were all incompetent.”
To be honest, it always seemed like Jenessa was the one who only liked to talk about herself and show she was better than Mari, but she was being unusually helpful, for once. Mari also admitted that deep down, she was a little thrilled that she was getting along so well with her sister.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to get more quotes,” Mari said.
“The competition might even get these contractors to drop their quotes.” Jenessa slid the folder back between the seat and the center console.
Mari sent a silent apology to Auntie Vi. She was more inclined to go with her auntie’s recommendations, but she was being given an olive branch. She wouldn’t hesitate to grab hold of it all for the sake of sisterly peace.