As Darling lead Penelope to retrace her activities of the day, her nails sharp, her fur so shiny it almost mirrored her surroundings and curls that would make a gymnastic ribbon blowing in the wind jealous, hides the frantic and worried inner feelings of the distraught canine from the world. Unfortunately, they can’t hide from the keen eyes of Penelope. Though she may not know Darling well, most of their time spent together in the presence of their mutual friend Doc, it’s obvious to the old squirrel.

“Don’t you worry your fur out, las.” Penelope assured. “I’ve lost a number of tokens in my lifetime and it’s one thing I know, there’s nothing that can’t be recovered with the right moxie and determination.”

Darling said nothing in response. Her head dropped lower and she paused for a moment as if she were deep in thought. In a daze, she continued to walk almost aimlessly. Penelope took the silence as an opportunity to make inquiry and devise a plan.

“Okay, let’s start slow. ” The small squirrel suggested. “Where was the last place you remember having your necklace?” Penelope asked.

Darling whimpered momentarily before she groaned out, “I don’t know! I thought I had it this whole time!” She said clutching her neck and looking around as they walked. “I have no idea where I lost it!” She continued.

“FOCUS!!” Penelope shouted grabbing Darling by her face peering into the recesses of her eyes. “I thought you were going to visit B this morning, you didn’t. What happened and where did you go?” She demanded to know.

“Well,” Darling pondered staring back at Penelope. I USUALLY meet up with B on the weekend but today he had something to do, so I made my visits alone.”

“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.” Penelope said calmly, slowly releasing Darling’s face. “What visits did make?” She continued before she had a thought, “Wait, you take B with you to get groomed?”

Darling sat on the sidewalk causing Penelope to halt as well. “You don’t think much of me, do you Penelope?”

“I possibly think TOO much of you!” Penelope responded defensively.

“You don’t know the first thing about me!” Darling snapped back. “Haven’t you ever heard of not judging a book by its cover?” She rebutted.

“Sure, I have.” The squirrel snarled. “But that’s poppy cock!” She argued. “How would you know which book to read if you don’t judge its cover?!?”

Penelope’s presented argument held no weight to the now infuriated prima donna.

“Well, that’s fine!” Darling interjected in a haste as she sped off full speed trotting on a mission. “Let’s see how you feel after you walk in my shoes.” She challenged. “Get ready to relive a day of a diva!!”

Darling’s rapid strut of determination terminated with emphasis as she stopped in front of a light grey brick building. Almost castle like in its architecture, it was evident that it was an older establishment that had been there for ages. The name etched in the stone read ‘The Parish’s Progressive Home for Boys & Girls circa 1838’

“What’s this place?” Penelope inquired as she stared up toward the large granite building with brown doors made of natural wood. “That’s a heck of an oak.” She says examining the entrance. “What kind of place is this?” She wondered aloud.

Darling smirked as she walked past Penelope on a path towards the back of the building. “This is my nail salon.” She sarcastically boasted.

Darling lead Penelope into a hidden entrance of the facility concealed by bushes. Once inside, Penelope discovered a row of beds lined with little girls. Their cabbage patch dolls scattered every so often throughout the beds. Opposite, on the other side of the room was a row of beds that mirrored the previous one. This side, however, occupied by boys and their sports balls and action figures.

Penelope’s eyes widened “This is an orphanage” she gasped. “What are we doing here!”

“Like I said, this is my nail salon.” Darling said, echoing her earlier statement.

Not quite convinced Penelope conceded into humility. “No, seriously.” She begged. “Did you REALLY run an errand here?!”

“YES!!!” Darling affirmed before she continued to confirm, “And yes this is an orphanage.” Darling further revealed. “Not so much unlike the one I was raised in.”

“You’re an orphan?” Penelope baffled, “I never knew that.”

“OMG, you mean it’s never come up during our girl talk?” Darling jested with a light laugh.

Penelope stood in front of Darling keeping her from walking any further and plead in an almost apologetic tone rare for the ill-mannered squirrel. “Okay, I get it. So far I’ve only seen you as shallow and superficial.”

“However…?” Darling asked phishing for a conclusion.

“However,” Penelope admitted “I’ve clearly been naive and presumptuous.”

“Annnd…?” Darling asked awaiting an apology.

“Annnd…” Penelope started. “I’m…” She paused before she continued “I’m…wiling to keep an open mind.” She awkwardly smiled.

Darling rolled her eyes in acceptance of the closest she could expect to get as an apology and after a few moments, they continued to walk around the now empty dorm area as they looked for the lost trinket.

“So, what’s your story?” Penelope inquired. “How’s an orphan pup become one of the most well-groomed faces of a dog brand?”

“I don’t see anything.” Darling said focused on the matter at hand. “Do you?”

Penelope continued to survey the area. “Nothing. Not a sign in sight. Are you sure this is where you were?” She asked.

“I’m sure!” Darling adamantly declared. “I come through this entrance so I won’t be seen by the adults. I visit the kids before they start their day. Many have been here waiting for families to come adopt them for a long period of time and having surprise visits from friends like B and I get their minds off their situation.”

“So, you’re…helping them?” Penelope attempted to conclude. “You come here and cheer them up?”

Darling smirked. “That may be a bit of an understatement but sort of.”

“But why?” Penelope wondered.

Darling looked at a doll on the floor with button eyes and hair made of red yarn. She jumped on the stomach of the doll and a squeak sounded. Darling giggled as she moved towards the exit.

“My first memories are of a boarding house.” Darling told Penelope through a crack in her voice. “I can’t place a face to my mother or father…but there was one dog that was always there.

“Big B.” Penelope deduced.

“B.” Darling nodded in agreement. “There was a scoundrel named Fagin that ruled over us with an iron fist. We became thieves, pickpockets, IF you were lucky.”

Darling teared up and began to choke. “B has a kind soul.”

Darling hid her face and attempted to hide her vulnerability. Penelope had to restrain herself from consoling her. Knowing any sudden movement would negate Darlings breakthrough. Penelope waited in silence but never breaking visual of Darling. Darling shook her head and continued to talk through her tears.

“But he was born a pit-bull. When you’re a pit-bull everyone’s antenna from danger immediately goes up. There was no stealth for B. No chance at being a pickpocket when everyone’s looking. B was forced-” She again choked up and spoke through a cracked voice fighting tears. “B had to make a different living but no matter what dangers he faced, he was always there for me and swore to protect me.”

Darling’s tears spontaneously stopped as if two dams appeared under her eyes before she spoke with pride. “He would always be my BIG BROTHER!!”

Darling hopped on a bed and leaned over its side looking under the bed.

“This is Katie’s bed.” Darling said in an almost upside-down position like a sleeping bat. “She amazing. She reminds me of myself.”

“I’m sure she very humble.” Penelope quipped.

“Ha-ha.” Darling sarcastically replied. “She a real fire cracker!” Darling boasted. “She even has a big brother that looks out for her. Also, she’s the sweetest little thing you’ll find in this place.”

Darling swung down from the side of the bed using the bed spread and landed next to Penelope.

“Look!” She says extending her paw. “When I get here, I play with all the kids but then when I spend my time with Katie, she does my nails.”

“I see.” Penelope said staring at the freshly filed nails Darling dangled in front of her. “Quite the little groomer she is.” She further complimented as the pair began to walk. “Does she do your coat as well?” Penelope asked as she grabbed her own frizzy tail and looked it over. “I could use a touch up.”

Darling sped up the pace of her strut. “Let’s go, Penelope.” She demanded with no inkling of the prior conversation. “My chain’s not here and I know exactly where to look next!” She yelled as they exited through the bushes they had entered.

Penelope fastened her purse across her body, secured her hat down and kept up pace. “Well then.” She exclaimed. “It seems the search continues!”


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