The puppies tackled, wrestled and yapped at each other. Hugo loved watching them play. Back there, he wasn’t a big fan of puppies, especially as he grew older. Here it made him smile, especially when one of them broke free of their play buddies to mount an attack on him. Lunge forward, jump back, repeat, getting closer and closer to Hugo each time until the little one landed on his head or nipped at Hugo’s paw. Hugo did his bit and let out a pretend mean growl, which thrilled the puppy so much, he started all over again.
He’d seen them the moment he arrived here. As he started to piece together this whole waiting thing, he asked Zippy who they were waiting for. They had died too soon to attach to a person so they were waiting for their mothers to arrive. Some would play with their moms until her human arrived, others might go with their moms to the Grove and wait for a person of their own. And the best part of it is that they get to be puppies forever.
They reminded Hugo of his own puppyhood. Of play-biting Kevin and Simon. Making a mess when he ate. Playing with the neighbor’s dog Cody. They used to love chasing each other up and down the chain-link fence that separated their houses. They did that for years, until both slowly got a little too tired, then transitioned to sniffing each other through the fence. Hugo got here before Cody did, and he sometimes wondered when he’d see him again.
And he did, not too long ago. Hugo had known and loved Cody’s person and Kevin and Simon’s neighbor, Doug so much. He spoiled him with lots of treats that he’d drop over the fence for Hugo. He was fun to be around and loved watching Cody and Hugo play. Hugo remembered hearing Kevin and Simon talk about Doug passing away, when they still lived in the other house next door to them. Doug was at home, lying on the bed, with Cody next to him right up to the end. Shortly after that, Kevin and Simon moved, and Hugo didn’t see Cody again. Not back there anyway.
So, when Cody showed up here, he ran up to see him. They chased each other up and down a fence, one that they both pictured from memory. They sniffed each other. They did all the things they did back there. Just as they finished their run and started talking, Cody went quiet, ears perked up. He looked over Hugo, at some point well behind him. Hugo turned to see what he was looking at.
A path had opened up and a small blot against the sunshine behind was walking toward them. As it grew larger, Cody grew more excited. Tail wagging, jumping up and down, barking energetically. Finally, with a little squinting, Hugo realized that it was Doug!
Cody ran towards him and jumped into his arms. Doug, no longer frail, no longer in a wheelchair, with no difficulty talking anymore, shouted “Cody boy!” Cody licked his face while a laughing Doug let him do it as long as he wanted. When he at last slowed down, Doug had a chance to look over and see Hugo.
“Hey there, my little baby Hugo!” Doug always called him that back there. The old man had known him since Kevin and Simon brought him home as a little puppy. Even though the name didn’t fit as Hugo grew older, he loved hearing Doug say it every time he saw him.
While the dogs talked to each other, Hugo had learned that was as far as it went. They still couldn’t talk to humans, or he’d have asked Doug where he came from. He’d seen a lot of people arrive and their dogs join them but this was new, a dog arriving and their person joining them.
He ran up, and as Doug bent down, still holding Cody, Hugo began to lick his face. Doug was the first human he’d been in direct contact with since he arrived, and he was so glad it worked this way here – that he could see others besides Kevin who meant so very much to him back there.
This went on for a little while before Doug stood up again, letting Cody out of his arms and onto the ground as he did so.
“Well, little baby Hugo, I figured you’d be around here when Cody arrived. You don’t know how happy I am to see you and to have you lick my face again. But Cody and I had better get going.”
Hugo would have asked Cody what Doug meant but he’d just arrived himself, so he wouldn’t know.
Doug gave Hugo a last rub on the head and said, “We’re looking forward to seeing you and Kevin when his time comes. Now you be a good boy!”
And with that, Hugo got it. It’s not a one-way thing. Dogs welcome their humans who stayed longer back there, just like he’s waiting to welcome Kevin. And humans welcome their dogs who they left back there, just like Doug is doing with Cody. They come back from somewhere in the distance as far as Hugo could tell, maybe the same place the man and the dog from The Grove went.
Cody took the few steps toward Hugo, sniffed his nose, and said, “I sure had fun with you back there. I don’t know if I’ll see you again so I wanted to tell you that.”
“We’ll see each other again, Cody. Trust me. I’ve figured out how this works – well mostly – and I know it’s true. I don’t know how long it’ll be but you’ll figure out soon enough that time doesn’t matter. Take good care of Doug, Cody. I’ll see you over there.”
“You too Hugo.” And with that, Cody walked to Doug’s side and stood silently.
“Ready boy?” asked Doug. “Let’s go!”
And just like the man and the dog from The Grove, like all the other dogs and their human before them, the path opened to the brightness in the distance. And they started walking.