Chapter 1: Part One
"Just do this for me, please?" Amanda rarely begged, but she needed Carisi to hang with Frannie while she took Jesse to some mother-baby activities that day that didn't allow pets. She had already paid a deposit on one of them, and her usual dog sitter didn't work on weekends.
She didn't expect that asking Carisi to watch Frannie for a while would be such a big deal. She really wasn't expecting much of a problem at all because none of the activities were scheduled to start before he was done with church. And he usually spent much of his time after church on Sundays over at her place anyway. She really didn't understand why he was digging is feet in over this.
"Amanda, I told you I'm not good with dogs."
"Please, I've seen you with Frannie!"
Amanda is in a hurry and is starting to get a little frustrated with this whole situation. Then Jesse starts wailing as she's trying to get her jacket on. She throws her hands up in the air and turns back to him. "Look, I've seen you with other dogs, too. You're fine."
"I'm … I'm really not comfortable, 'Manda. Being left alone to take care of her."
They both look over at Frannie who is eagerly standing by the door, her purple doggie walking club bandana on. She's so ready to go that she's already got her leash in her mouth. But she senses Carisi's reluctance and is looking back and forth between him and Amanda, confused.
"I've left you alone with Jesse before. She's survived."
"That's different," he grumbles.
"It just is."
"Look," she places a hand on his cheek and kisses him lightly. When she pulls back from him she says, "I can see you're nervous."
"Yeah," he says, taking her hand off of his face and into his own, feeling a little ashamed for being such a wimp.
"It will be okay. You'll do fine. I trust you," she says firmly and shakes his hand a little.
At that point Frannie drops the leash and comes over to lick his other hand.
"See," Amanda continues and strokes his shoulder. "She does, too. You both will be fine."
"If you say so," he says doubtfully.
Carisi walks Frannie to the park where the Paws for Peace walking club was gathering. Amanda had recently joined this group and would bring Frannie and Jesse down to walk with them most Sunday mornings while he was in church. They had an afternoon session too, but she had never been. This would be Frannie's first time. And his.
"Hey there," Carisi approaches a group of women attached by leashes to dogs with the same bandana that Frannie has on. It is drizzling lightly.
A black Newfie starts straining at his leash in an attempt to get to Frannie. Frannie is wagging her tail and straining at hers, too. They appear to be friends so Carisi walks Frannie towards the Newfie and its owner. Frannie and the other dog exchange the typical canine greeting of sniffing around each other's whole body, including their asses. Then they commence to playfully nipping at each other's ears and emitting soft barks.
"His name's Winky," the Newfie's owner says to him cheerfully. She holds out a hand. "And mine's Catherine."
"Sonny," He says and takes it. "I take it you guys already know Frannie."
"Oh yes, we know Frannie. Amanda's puppy." She smiles. "I switch off mornings and afternoons each week so Winky and Frannie get to see each other every other Sunday. Since she usually only comes in the morning, you know. Until now."
"Hey, who's the new guy?" A pert blonde bounces up to them with the tiniest little round puffball Carisi's ever seen. Too small to even be sporting one of those purple bandanas, that's for sure. Are there even eyes in there or is that really a Tribble?
Catherine introduces them.
"This is Sonny." She points to him and then to her. "And Sonny this is Kibble."
"Ugh," the blonde groans. "It's Sarah."
"Yeah, but we like to call her Kibble," Catherine jests.
"Please." The blonde rolls her eyes. "Just call me Sarah."
As the drizzle begins to turn to rain, they head off on the trail with their dogs and soon Carisi, Frannie, Sarah, and her little puffball fall into step together. Frannie seems intrigued by their new companion and keeps sniffing it. The ball of fluff responds with cheerful yips from time to time which delight Frannie to no end.
"So Kibble, huh?"
"Yeah, don't ask."
"I have the same problem you, know. Keep asking people to call me Sonny but they won't … "
She nods. "Same. I'm about ready to give up and start introducing myself as 'Hi, I'm Kibble – you know, as in Kibbles N' Bits the dog food?'"
He chuckles. "Dog food, huh? Bet there's a story there."
"Let me just tell you. I stole Catherine's boyfriend back in fifth grade and she's never let me live it down."
"What does that have to do with dog food?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she says flirtatiously.
He grins. Yes he would. But he's not going to trample down that path.
Frannie and Sarah's dog are getting along famously and Winky has decided to join them again. The two larger dogs are getting rambunctious and Carisi finds himself getting worried for the little fuzzball's safety. He keeps pulling back on Frannie's leash to break it up.
At one point Frannie just stops and stares at him with a look on her face like 'Seriously?'
Carisi takes the time to kneel down by her side, getting his dress pants wet. He hadn't bothered to change from church. "Hey there, girl."
As he strokes the top of her head and then tickles her chin her tail starts wagging again.
"Forgive me, eh? I know you're a good girl and you'd never hurt your new little friend there. Not even by accident."
Frannie looks at him with what appears to be complete comprehension. Amazed, Carisi realizes this is just one more reason that Amanda loves her so much.
"I'm just worried about that big curly-haired mess over there, ya know? That Winky fella looks kinda wily. You sure you can trust him?"
With that Frannie nods. NODS. And licks his hand. He just shakes his head in amazement.
"Okay then. But you've gotta look out for that little one. We don't want her to get hurt now do we?"
Frannie just nods again and looks like she wants to rejoin the others.
"Okay girl," he says as the rain starts coming down harder. He looks up at the sky before they head back to the group. "I hope they're thinking about wrapping this thing up soon. It's not like this is Seattle you know."
Except, the woman running the group is a transplant from the Northwest. It figures. She never even carries an umbrella and can't comprehend why the others want to call it a day. Eventually she's over-ruled and the group disperses. In a huff she leaves, taking her bulldogs Spartacus and Maximus with her.
"Guess it's just us then. Huh, Sonny?" Sarah comes up to him, looking like she wants to take his arm. They are far from alone. For one, Catherine and Winky are still there and she has crossed her arms now, just shaking her head at her friend.
When Sarah deepens her flirtatious smile, it makes Carisi nervous. He's so distracted by it that he doesn't notice that her dog has gotten off of its leash.
"Are you seeing anyone?" she asks with feigned innocence.
And then it's all a blur of screeches, yelps, and rain.
Carisi bolts upright in bed, drenched in sweat.
"Did that rest do you any good?" He hears his sister Gina say from the chair across the room.
"No, I don't think so." He wipes some sweat off of his brow and reaches for his cell phone. "I gotta call 'Manda."
Gina is up out of the chair in an instant, wrestling with him for the phone. "No."
Grunting and rolling over him a few times with the effort she finally succeeds, stands up and points at him sternly. "No. She's the last person you should be talking to right now, Sonny."
"But I need to. . ." his face crumples in agony and he drops his head into his hands.
"No," Gina says gently now and sits beside him on the bed. She strokes her little brother's hair. "I saw her myself. She is so beyond pissed right now that anything you say to her is only going to make it worse. Trust me, okay?"
He nods and looks back up at her. "This isn't just hard for Amanda, it's hard for me, too. You know?"
"I know, sweetie. That's why I'm here." She strokes his back and whispers. "That's why I'm here."
They sit in silence for a while before she finally breaks it. "You wanna talk about it? What happened when we were kids?"
He nods and takes a deep shuddering breath before saying, "It was all my fault."
"I know you think it was Sonny, but you were only four."
It was his first memory.
They had been packing all morning, preparing to move to Staten Island. He was vaguely excited about the idea of moving to an island because Gina had told him that islands were surrounded by water. He wanted to see that.
He snuck out into the rain that Sunday to play with Caesar, the family dog, despite his mom's instructions to stay inside and help his older sister Theresa pack. His job was to hold the box open. But it was soooo boring. Caesar had caught his eye and with a look of mischief, off they went.
It didn't take long though before his neighborhood friend Tommy came up to talk to him and he lost track of Caesar.
"So, are you guys moving?"
"Yeah!" Sonny said excitedly. "We're going to live on an island."
"Why? Doesn't your family like Brooklyn anymore?"
Sonny frowned at that. He didn't know.
"Sonny!" he heard Gina call from the stoop. "You'd better get back inside. Mom's pitching a fit. You're in big trouble."
And then he heard the yelp.
He turned around and watched in horror as the moving truck backed over . . .
"Caesar!" He screamed and dashed into the street.
Gina was right behind him, running in fright as she processed the danger in store for her little brother. It ripped through her very being. "Sonny, don't!"
She tackled him right in front of the wheel, before he could fall under it. He was still reaching out for their dog.
"Caesar!" The tears were pouring down his face as he screamed. "Caesar!"
The truck was still moving. Keeping Sonny pinned beneath her so he couldn't squirm under the truck in his distress, Gina screamed up at the cab. "STOP! STOP!"
It took a while for the moving guys in the cab to hear her, but they finally did and the driver threw the breaks. He came bounding out of the cab.
"Oh, shit!" the driver exclaimed when he saw Caesar under his back wheel. He took in the sight of Sonny, shook his head and said, "I'm sorry little man."
"Caesar," Sonny whimpered, completely ignoring the driver.
Gina had released Sonny by this point and now he was trying to pull Caesar out from under the truck's tire, getting blood and fur all over himself. "Gina, why won't he look at me?"
Gina slumped down beside him on her knees, defeated. She started crying herself. She loved Caesar too. "Because he's dead, Sonny."
He stopped what he was doing and turned to look at her, confused. "What does that mean?"
What a terrible way for her brother to learn this truth about life.
"We won't ever get to play with him again, little bro."
"Never." She said definitively.
"That's sad, Sissy." He gulped with fresh tears. "I want to play with him again."
"I know," she said and took him in her arms. Crying into his still baby-soft blonde hair she rocked him, tried to give him some comfort. "I know."
Thanks to Katben08 for the beta! The Newfoundland Winky is modeled after KnittingHarlot's dog and Spartacus and Maximus are modeled after Coco's bulldogs of course. :-)
Chapter 2: Part Two
His first instinct was to call Gina.
"What do I do?" Carisi pants anxiously into the phone as soon as she picks up. He had run over to Frannie, lying in the street. She is still breathing. Sarah's dog is yipping softly nearby and Winky is standing quietly at his owner's feet with sorrowful, worried eyes.
"Gina, what do I do? It's Frannie, 'Manda's dog. . . " Despite his total panic, he still reaches out to stroke Frannie's chin gently, trying not to transfer his fear to her. "It's okay, girl. You're gonna make it. Just hang tight."
"Sonny where are you?"
He tells his sister where he is, but not what had happened. But she has an idea.
"Sonny, listen to me," she says firmly. "It sounds like Frannie's in distress. You need to get her to a vet."
"A vet. Yes, a vet." Still looking down at Frannie, stroking her chin, he says, "We're gonna get you to the doggie hospital and patch you right up, okay? Everything's gonna be okay, Frannie."
She makes a slight motion with her head, almost like she wants to lick his hand but can't quite do it.
Carisi hears his sister's voice through the phone again. "We need to find an emergency pet hospital near you. One that's open on Sunday. Can you do that Sonny?"
"I … I don't think so – " He starts to lose it as the white fluffball starts yapping right in Frannie's ear in earnest.
"BACK OFF!" he yells at the tiny dog and then shakes his finger at it. "She was trying to save you, you ungrateful – "
Sarah reaches down and grabs her dog away. "I'd better go."
"Yeah, you do that," Carisi snarls back at her.
"Sonny." His attention is drawn back to his sister on the phone. "I found a place. You stay right there okay? Keep Frannie warm."
She hangs up.
"Warm, yes warm." He puts the phone back in his pocket and then yells out to the crowd. "Hey, does anyone have a coat or something?"
Four women come towards him, quickly removing their jackets and handing them over without a thought. Carisi makes a little warm 'pillow fort' for Frannie out of them, trying to get her as comfortable as possible as they wait for Gina to arrive.
Oh God - he realizes he's got to call Amanda.
The call comes in as she's in between activities with Jesse. She smiles as she sees the goofy picture of him come up on her phone. But when she answers it, she's in for the shock of her life.
His voice is unintelligible – and he's crying.
"Carisi, slow down. I can't understand what you are saying."
There's a muffle and suddenly a woman's voice is on the phone. "Amanda."
"This is Gina. I'm taking Sonny to the animal hospital with Frannie. I'll text you the address."
Amanda's stomach drops and something heavy settles into it. Jesse looks up at her anxiously from her stroller, but she doesn't even notice her baby girl. She just whispers, "Frannie."
As soon as the text comes in, she's in motion. She doesn't understand anything except that Frannie is in trouble and she needs to hurry.
She sees Carisi in the waiting room, face pale and haggard, his sister by his side.
"What happened? Where's Frannie?"
Carisi looks up at her with guilt and shame in his eyes and she grows hard with a semblance of understanding.
"What happened?" she asks angrily.
Gina stands up and touches her on the back, guiding her. "Let's go talk to the staff. The vet's in surgery with her right now."
"What?!" She spins on Carisi. "What happened to Frannie? I asked you to take care of her."
"Not, now," Gina says, and tries to lead her away again. Amanda shoves her off.
She comes right up into Carisi's face, "Huh?"
His only answer is in the form of silent tears that start to drip from his haunted eyes.
"That's enough," Gina says.
"I don't think it is," Amanda snaps at her and turns back to Carisi.
"What right do you have to cry? Huh? She's MY dog. MY baby." Her breath hitches in her throat. "My Frannie."
"I'm sorry, 'Manda," he says quietly and looks down, shaking. He clasps and unclasps his hands in an attempt to steady himself.
His apology is wasted on her. She is still angry. "I asked you to watch her. What the hell is wrong with you that you can't even keep her safe? Not even for what - like an hour?"
So quietly she can't make out his words, he mutters to the ground, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She pushes air through her teeth and waves dismissively, not even bothering to try any longer. "You two need to leave."
"If that's the way it has to be." Gina turns to her brother matter-of-factly and says, "Okay Sonny, time to go. You need some rest."
Chapter 3: Part Three
The screech of the car, Frannie pushing a white ball of fur out of the way, a large black Newfoundland barking at the top of his lungs. The rain, the rain everywhere. Under the tires of the truck. Caesar . . .
He wakes up in a sweat again. His shoulder still hurts from when Frannie had yanked the handle of the leash out of his grasp in a frantic attempt to save the tiny white dog who for no apparent reason had foolishly run out into oncoming traffic last Sunday. Rainy last Sunday.
Frannie was a hero. But Frannie was dead.
He feels so impotent. Unable to protect her. Unable to protect Caesar.
And to top it all off he feels so miserable without Amanda. He knows she is hurting. He wants to comfort her, the way Gina had comforted him. But he's afraid to reach out.
He goes to church that morning with his family and sees some of the priests preparing for a funeral that is being held later that day. It is still raining. He hangs his head and walks home.
Fin calls him that afternoon and tells him that Amanda is holding a service for Frannie that night.
"Why are you telling me this?" he asks.
"Cause I think she would want you to be there."
"Are you kidding me?"
"No. For real, man."
Carisi sighs and scratches his head. He doesn't believe him.
Fin continues. "Hey, whether she'll admit it or not, she kinda needs you there. She's not handling this well."
"Okay. Okay I'll go." Carisi resigns himself. "For her."
Carisi stands outside for a bit before going in. He doesn't want to face her – doesn't want to see how much she's hurting. Because of him.
Catherine passes him on the way in with Winky and they chat a bit. 'Kibble' isn't coming. Good. The leader of the walking group shows up as well with Spartacus and Maximus in tow. Carisi is a bit surprised to learn that she was so close to Amanda and Frannie, but she's amazingly warm and sympathetic to his plight. On the way in her dogs brush up against his legs and she gives him a little hug.
He sighs and pulls himself together. It's time to face the music.
He sees Amanda sitting in the only shaft of light that has permeated the building on this gray day. She looks like an angel. A sad, grief-stricken angel.
"Amanda," he says to her cautiously as he approaches.
She pats the seat beside herself wordlessly. He takes this as his cue to sit down next to her. She is holding a sleeping Jesse fiercely – almost too hard.
"Would you like me to take her?" he asks her quietly.
She nods and he gently takes Jesse from her arms. The baby fusses for just a second and then goes right back to sleep. Now Amanda can focus on this tribute to Frannie, her precious pup who had been there long before Jesse. Long before him. She had always been a loving companion, a source of solace and strength. And now she is gone. Amanda hangs her head and cries.
Afterwards people come over to Amanda to pay their regards. Carisi is still beside her holding Jesse. Fin gives him a silent nod before he leans into hug Amanda goodbye.
When they're all gone, she slumps onto Carisi's shoulder. He winces.
"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" She pulls her head up.
"Nah, nothing time won't heal," he says almost wistfully, guiding her head back down gently with his free hand. "You can stay there. I got this from Frannie. Hopefully it takes some time to mend. Would be nice to keep her around for awhile, you know? "
"How did she do that?"
"Pulling - no, yanking herself free. My hand was attached to the other side of that leash you know, Rollins." He tips his head and rests it on hers.
They sit there for a while and she slowly takes his hand.
"Take me home," she says.
They put Jesse down. Then Amanda leads him to the bedroom, she wants to talk. But they are both so full of sorrow that they just sit on the bed together for a while not touching, not speaking.
Finally Amanda breaks the silence.
"I was just so upset that Frannie was with you - " she chokes a little " - and then she was gone before I could even say goodbye."
Carisi takes her hand and entwines their fingers.
"It's just been so hard." She clasps his hand back tightly, her fingers digging into the bones of his hand. "I only saw her body. My baby was gone . . . "
She begins to cry. "She was still partially cut open from the surgery. Her wounds were barely bound. So many of her ribs were broken. Her lungs. She wouldn't have made it no matter what."
She looks at him through her tears.
"Oh, 'Manda," he says and strokes her cheek.
"You did get to say goodbye to her didn't you?"
"Yes, yes I did." Carisi answered. "In a way."
"Tell me what happened."
When Carisi is finished relaying the horrible events of that rainy Sunday afternoon, Amanda says softly, "When you told me about the leash, suddenly I knew."
"That you weren't to blame."
He lets out something akin to a hiccup and suddenly lets go of her hand, pushing himself up from the bed abruptly. Facing away from her, he rubs his hands through his hair in agitation.
"Sonny?" she asks softly, perplexed and worried.
"I just –"
"Hey, what is it?" she asks, coming up behind him, entwining her arms around him in a hug, burying her face in his back. He lifts his arms to hers, sinking back into her. She rocks him a little from side to side, and waits for him to answer.
When he finally does he says defeatedly, "It was my fault. It's always my fault."
"No, it wasn't. Frannie wanted to save that other dog - be the hero she always was. It wasn't your fault the roads were slick. You couldn't stop her from putting herself in front of a car that couldn't stop in time. You have the sore shoulder to prove it."
"But Caesar - " He chokes.
She turns him around. "The first Roman Emperor?"
That doesn't even get a laugh. She creases her brow in worry. "Talk to me."
"He was my dog." He pauses. "My family's dog."
"Go on," she says, taking his hand and leading him back to the bed. He sits down heavily and she pulls his head into her shoulder as he tells her what he remembers from that Sunday when he was four.
When he's done he just looks up at her pleading, "See? It's always my fault. You can't trust me with pets. Can't trust me to keep them safe and alive."
Amanda studies him for a minute. "Does Gina think so? Does she agree that you're responsible for what happened to Caesar?"
He's surprised at her question. He doesn't know the answer, not really. That's when Jesse starts crying. Amanda looks over at the baby monitor.
"Why don't you get ready for bed, hon? I'll meet you back in here when I'm done with Jesse."
Carisi looks at her oddly. "You want me to stay the night?"
"Yes," she says plainly. "Just like you always used to."
The bedroom is dark when she returns. His long form is nestled underneath her sheets. The rain outside has finally stopped. She crawls into bed bedside him.
"You still awake?"
"Yeah," he answers softly. She can still hear the sadness in his voice.
"I want to tell you something."
"I know this pain - this pain over Caesar and now Frannie – it's a part of you."
Through the darkness she hears that hiccup again.
"I'm sorry I didn't listen when you told me you were uncomfortable taking care of Frannie that day. I didn't know about Caesar, but I should have listened regardless. I'm sorry I put you through that."
"'Manda. Don't be sorry. I'm the one who's sorry. I'm the one who put you thr– "
"Shh . . ." She reaches out to touch his cheek softly. "You need to hear something."
"Okay. I'm listening."
She takes a deep breath. "I still love you."
The silence between them is palpable.
"And I forgive you."
He collapses into her arms in relief and lets her soothe away the pain he has carried for so many years - the pain that Frannie's death has only added to. He is amazed that Amanda can even focus on his grief, his loss at a time like this - when she herself is still grieving.
She is his pillar of strength.
And he loves her more than he can say in that tender moment that passes between them.