Over the weekend, Dan had set aside the confusion. As much as he liked Cassie, and felt a little sorry for Mr. Jameson, he had things of his own to deal with. And the occasion to see Cassie, before school started, never quite presented itself; but almost.
Dan had a job walking dogs in the neighbourhood. Apart from smothering his awareness with a novel, this was his only solid escape from his mother. He chose, this time, to change his route. Managing with awkward grace to get the Bichon Frisé, the Papillion and Miss Rogers' ugly mutt to walk in lock-step, Dan walked the three dogs by Cassie's end of the street before entering the forest.
Upon passing, on the second day, the window's curtains opened and a stern-faced man glared out at Dan. Somehow, he felt sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that Miss Rogers' dog was squatting, and defecating, in the man's flower bed. Dan had a plastic bag at the ready.
And when he walked back down the street, the eyes of the glaring man seemed to follow him like an eerie portrait. The Papillion, with its big ears spread like satellite dishes, gave Dan a sympathetic look. Reluctantly, he pushed Cassie from his mind and continued walking.
Later, they were walking through a pristine piece of woods that was tucked behind his street. Dan was singing along to the song playing on his iPod, and the dogs were getting their exercise.
The iPod had been a gift from his father. The kind that came without a card. It seemed to suggest that love could be bought. But Dan found that, even out in the forest, there were few precious things that could drown his thoughts.
Then, there was a blur of white behind a tree. Immediately, the three dogs barked and pulled upon their tangled leads. Dan was pulled forward, and looked down from the trees to see what it was.
He felt sure he'd seen the fleeing creature turn around a tree stump with a long tail. Surely, it was no white rabbit. And all the while, the dogs were pulling him off the path, on a wild goose chase. It was the ugly mutt; longer legs, and the strength to pull Dan.
He dug his feet firmly into the forest floor, in a stance that offered up nothing. The twisting leashes went taut, and the three dogs strained eagerly against their collars.
The white animal was nowhere to be seen.
And behind a thick tree trunk, unseen, a man in a white uniform struggled to catch his breath.
"C'mon, let's go!" Dan ordered, pulling the leashes.
Giving a final growl, the ugly mutt turned and obediently led the other two dogs down the path to finish their walk.
Dan thought nothing of it. He had school to think about. He had his mother to think about. He had Cassie to think about. He wanted to hit something. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry.
But Daniel just kept walking.