Her Russian Surrender

By: Theodora Taylor

“No, she would never eat anybody. She looks mean—that’s why I take her places with me, but the truth is she’s as gentle as they come.”

Back Up started in with a series of high-pitched whines, so loud, Sam had to look over her shoulder and admonish, “Back Up, he doesn’t want to get licked. Not everybody’s into that, okay?”

Back Up once again whimpered, hanging her head in such a dejected fashion, one would think Sam had just kicked her.

Sam turned away from her dog back to the boy. “So is it just you here? Is your mother out?”

Pavel shook his head solemnly. “No, she’s dead. We all used to live together, and we were happy for a little bit. But she started using again, so Papa did, too. But she died a year ago.”

Sam stared at him in mute horror. So young and now he’d lost both his parents.

Pavel blinked, and peered over her shoulder at Sam’s now sullen bullie. “That’s a strange name, Back Up.”

“Actually it’s kind of a joke from this TV show about a high school detective called Veronica Mars… ever seen it?”

Pavel shook his head.

“Yeah, it’s probably a little above your viewing level. How old are you again?”

“Eight,” Pavel whispered.

Another pang of regret on his behalf went through Sam. Two addict parents, and now he didn’t have any family left.

“Yeah, eight’s too young. Maybe when you’re thirteen.” Sam broke off and looked around like she was just now noticing they were in a house with the body of his last remaining parent dead on a sofa in the other room. “So it looks like some bad stuff went down with your dad before we got here.”

The little boy clamped his lips together and nodded.

“The other Russians came through the door. They were yelling really loud, but I kept on hiding like you told me, even after I heard some loud popping sounds.” His eyes filled up with tears. “They were gunshots, weren’t they? Like on TV? Papa… he’s dead, isn’t he?”

Sam had to fight off her own tears, her heart was hurting so bad for Pavel. Memories of her own mother’s body lying lifeless on the floor flooded her mind and it took her a few tries before she could say, “I’m really sorry about what happened to your papa.” Then she said, “Looks like he was an Indiana Polar fan, too.”

The boy nodded. “Papa says I’m going to be a great hockey player when I grow up. It’s in our blood.”

“No way! That’s so cool!” Sam replied, even though she didn’t know all that much about hockey beyond the pushy player she’d met at tonight’s party and one viewing of The Mighty Ducks when she was around Pavel’s age. “Maybe we should get out of here and go somewhere we can talk some more about hockey.”

He peeped over her shoulder again. “The bad guys aren’t out there any more?”

“Nope,” Sam answered. At least not for now. But Sam continued to keep it casual, like she wasn’t afraid for both his life and her own. “I’m starving. Are you hungry? We should go get something to eat.”

It must have been a while since Pavel had last eaten, because he rubbed his stomach at the suggestion, even though his expression remained wary.

“You want me to come out?” he asked.

“Yes, I really want you to come out,” she answered. “My knees are starting to hurt a little in this squat and all I had to eat for dinner were party appetizers. I could really use a good meal.”

Pavel frowned, seeming to mull Sam’s invitation over. Then he said, “If she really wants to lick me, I guess she can.”

It took a moment for Sam to realize they were now talking about Back Up. Though really, she sensed, it was more about Pavel wanting to make sure Sam could be trusted. He was testing what she told him, to make sure she wasn’t a liar. He wanted her to prove Back Up didn’t intend to do him any harm.

Thankfully, unlike her story about starving when she’d actually wolfed down a sandwich on the way to the Hockey Ices Cancer event, this claim was true. She reached out behind her and motioned to Back Up. “Here girl, Pavel wants to meet you.”

Back Up didn’t need to be told twice. She jogged right on over and pushed her square nose into Pavel, slobbering the dirt off the boy’s face with such enthusiasm that he started to giggle.

“Calm down, Back Up,” Sam told the dog, tugging on her collar and pulling her back. “Don’t overwhelm him with the love!”

But Pavel didn’t seem to mind at all. He crawled out of the cabinet and hugged Back Up around the neck in the way of a child who loved dogs but didn’t have one. He petted her large head and got several more face licks as a thank you.

Sam watched him interact with Back Up, her heart continuing to break for the traumatized child who actually looked like a carefree little boy when he was with her dog.

Pavel looked up at her and said, “Can I hold her leash when we leave here?”

Normally Sam would have said no. Back Up was a lot of dog to handle, even for a full grown adult like herself. But in this case…

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