It was Alice Stone's tenth birthday. Among the letters in the mail, one seemed extra special to her. It was from her father, who she hadn't seen since she was five.
She opened it up hastily. The print was sloppy, as if big hands wrote it with a small pen. After she finished reading it, she was the happiest she'd been in her life.
"Mom!" she yelled. "Daddy got me a present! It's at the post office, and we need to go pick it up."
Her mom just didn't believe her. It had been a long time since he'd written.
"Are you sure, sweetie?" her mom asked. She ran her fingers through Alice"s long, blond hair. "I don't see why he'd do that all of a sudden."
"But it's true!" Alice said with a small pout. "Look!"
Alice handed the letter to her mom.
The next thing Alice knew, she was on her way to the post office to pick up her present. After the car was parked, Alice and her mother stepped out and walked inside.
As her mom was talking with an employee to get the present, Alice wandered a little astray. She looked at all of the packages and wondered which one was for her.
"Alice," her mom called for her.
Alice looked over to see her mom holding a big box. She excitedly raced over. "What's in the box?"
A small Jack Russell Terrier wandered out from behind her mom's legs.
Alice was immediately all over him. He was so cute! His big eyes were filled with joy, and you could tell just by looking at him that he was loyal.
"What's his name?" Alice asked.
"I don't know," her mom answered. "There might be something in the box about him. We'll take a look when we get home."
It turned out that the dog's name was Sparky. It fit his personality perfectly. He was perky and bright.
Alice went everywhere with him. She did everything with him. She became attached. They were best friends. When Alice had Sparky, she didn't need another friend. She got a lot of joy from that dog. It seemed like they'd be together forever.
Sparky never tired of playing. He never slept. He never needed grooming. He never barked at other dogs, or anything for that matter. There was always something odd about him. But Alice didn't care. She was only ten, and she had much to learn.
Through the years, they stuck together.
Shortly after Alice turned thirteen, she went for a pleasant walk with Sparky on a cool evening. Alice looked at everything and found wondrous miracles all around her. The birds sang their twittery tunes, and the crickets chirped their accompaniments. Tree branches danced along when the wind blew through them. The sunset was like a beautiful painting and its rays were warm brushstrokes. The world was in perfect harmony.
As Alice walked home, she continued to think about everything. So many things popped into her head, but misery was not one of them. Not yet.
She stepped inside the front door to her house. She started to unfasten Sparky's collar from his leash, but Alice's mom stopped her. Her mom's eyes were shining, as if she were about to cry.
"Mom, is something wrong?" Alice asked.
"No," she replied as tears began to well up in her eyes. She was being honest. Nothing was wrong. She was so happy she was crying. "I just got off the phone with your father. He's coming to visit."
Alice was astonished. She was finally going to see her dad after seven years. She almost squealed with excitement. Sparky seemed to perk up even more.
"We're meeting him at the airport in half an hour."
They got into the car. The drive seemed long as the anticipation built. Alice couldn't even remember what her father looked like. Her mom made an effort to get rid of any pictures, even though she still loved him. Alice found herself wondering about him. She couldn't help herself.
Her mom was off in her own world, too. She seemed terribly distracted to be driving.
Suddenly, lights flashed around the car. A different car honked loudly. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Alice didn't know what was happening. All she could do was scream.