Ven leaned in and whispered. “Give me the bag of marbles.”
Jophi pulled the bag from her pocket and passed it to him.
“I’m going to try distracting the dog. You pull the nun safely away.”
Jophi nodded. She hugged the wall as she drew closer to the school. The nun watched her with wide eyes. Jophi held a finger to her lips.
Ven crouched on the other side. He pulled a marble from the sack and tossed it in front of the dog. The dog lost interest in the nun and turned to face him.
Jophi dashed forward, grabbed the nun, and pulled her up the steps of the school. The dog continued snarling and barking, but Ven remained in his crouched position, not moving. He showed no fear, which was odd.
The nun took a deep breath and let it out shakily. “Thank you so much. I had no food to give the dog to send it away, but I was afraid that if I moved he would think that I was food.”
“Food? So the dog is just hungry?”
“Why yes, of course. Can’t you tell just by looking at him?”
Jophi looked over at the dog. His spine was visible, pushing against dry skin covered with rough fur. The only way she and Ven were going to get out of this is if she gave up the rest of their food. She removed her backpack and pulled out what was left of her hot dogs. The snarling stopped. Ven’s soft voice filled the void as he spoke to the dog.
She approached the pair. Ven continued to speak softly, his hand scratching the dog’s ears. “That’s a good boy. Look, our friend Jophi is here with some food for you. How does that sound?”
The dog’s ears perked up and he looked at Jophi. His tongue lolled to the side of his mouth as he panted. Jophi placed the box on the ground in front of the dog and opened it. With just a few bites he swallowed the hot dogs whole, leaving no crumbs behind. He started sniffing and licking Jophi’s hands.
Ven nudged her. “Go get my box, too.”
“Really? You haven’t eaten any of it yet.”
“I don’t need to eat, but he does.”
Jophi walked over to her backpack and the dog followed her. “More? You have more?”
She spun around, box in hand. “Who said that?”
The dog wagged his tail. He sat, head cocked to the side, eyes fixed on the box in her hand. “More food?”
Ven walked up to her as she put the box on the ground in front of the dog. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost, no but…the dog spoke to me.”
Ven knelt down and rubbed the dog’s back. “Oh good, it worked.”
“What do you mean ‘it worked’?”
“I thought it would be helpful if you and the dog could communicate, so I tried to make that happen. I’m glad to see that it I was successful.”
“But…” She shook her head. First the medicine for Kalina, and now this. She would never understand what Ven was up to, but it didn’t appear to be harmful at all. Maybe she could trust him.
The nun came over. “My name is Sister Nadia. Thank you both for your help. Had you not shown up when you did, I would’ve been this dog’s food instead. It’s so sad that he was as starved as he was.”
Jophi gripped Sister Nadia’s hands, rubbing her thumb over the rosary beads. “It was our pleasure.”
Sister Nadia unwrapped the rosary from her hands and laid it in Jophi’s palm. “I can’t offer much, but please, take this.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t!”
“I can tell that you’re a praying woman. I’m just a poor nun who teaches at the school. I’ve felt bad lately that I wasn’t able to help two of my students that really needed it. But maybe these beads can help you in your journey.”
Jophi closed her hand around the rosary and hugged the woman. “Thank you.”
Sister Nadia smiled, tears in her eyes, then went inside the school.
Jophi crouched in front of the dog as he finished his meal. “So, fella, what’s your name?”
The dog nuzzled her hand, his tail wagging. “My name Vaern. I like you, Jophi. Thanks for food.”
She scratched behind his ears. “You’re quite welcome. Where’s your home? Can we take you there?”
Vaern drooped his ears. “No home. Be alone.” Vaern perked his ears up again. “Vaern come with you? I can protect.”
“Of course you can come with us!”
“Yes!” Vaern jumped on Jophi, knocking her to the ground. She laughed as he covered her face in wet kisses. “Jophi save Vaern, so I keep Jophi safe.”
“Sounds great, but right now I have something I need you to do for me.”
The dog stood over her, drool dripping onto her face. “What’s that?”
She nudged his chest. “I need you to let me up.”
“Oh!” Vaern backed away and stood beside Ven.
Jophi stood and brushed the dirt off her jeans. “Good dog, thank you.”
Jophi and her companions spent the next few hours walking up and down city streets. The sun had started to dip behind the buildings, casting the city in a dim, orange hue. Jophi continued asking about employment, but every attempt was a dead end. Was there some conspiracy that no one wanted to hire her? Was she doomed to become homeless and have to resort to begging? Or starving?
Maybe she should go find Kende again. He wouldn’t need his hot dog cart anymore now that Kalina was healed. Right? She could work it instead. And she’d be able to eat.
“I think we should–” She stopped in front of a store. The lights inside were still on, illuminating the wooden rocking horse and stacks of blocks and other toys in the window. It was the storefront from her dream! She looked up at the sign, the one she’d been unable to read in the dream.
The Curio Box
To be continued…HERE