Puppy for Sale

by James Matthews

Chapter 9

Follow Your Heart, Puppy

"Hello Puppy, come in. Would you like to sit, or lay down perhaps?"

"Uh, I'll sit if that's ok, Doctor Listern."

"Sure Puppy, anything you want."

Doctor Listern touched my shoulder as I crossed his path and I found a seat in front of his teak coloured desk. I found his office to be rather cold and clinical, with pale natural colours that dominated the sparse interior. This seemed to be a common feature of all the working offices in the home, but at least his was carpeted. Strung along the wall behind his desk were five framed certificates no doubt boasting of the various qualifications in his field. But unlike Julie Pipe who used to look after me I found Graham Listern very laid back and easy to talk to and he didn't always think he knew what I was feeling.

Listern was a quiet man who always went into a deep expression of thought before answering questions. It was like he was assembling the very best sequence of words. At first I found this behaviour strange, but over time I have learnt that anything the man said, you always knew you were getting the best answer, carefully thought out and sensitive to your feelings.

"Could I have a drink of water please?"

"Yes Son, let me get that for you. So do you want to tell me what happened today? Charlotte tells me you never managed to complete the first phone call to your father," he asked, bending down and filling a plastic cup of water from the cooling dispenser that sat in the corner.

"I guess I freaked out," I said shrugging.

"Tell me about freaking out. Was you angry?"

"Uh, no not angry, just, uh... I dunno freaked out."

"Here you are," he said passing me the cup. "So when did this happen?"

"You know when it happened," I snapped, wondering why the hell he was asking such a stupid question.

"I mean, Puppy, at what point when making the call did you freak out?"

"Oh, right, well it was when he answered. I heard his voice and panicked. I felt like if I spoke, I was going to choke or something." Doctor Listern looked at me and held his chin.

"Hmm, well that is a classic sign of acute anxiety Puppy. Did this feeling of choking come with the urge to run from the phone?"

"Yes exactly. I hung up on him and now I feel really terrible."

"What was it about hearing his voice do you think that made you feel like that?"

"I'm not sure. It was a strange feeling. It was like if he heard me talk then I was vulnerable."

"That's a complex feeling Puppy? Do you fear Max Chase? Do you think he would ever hurt you?"

"No, you don't understand, it's not that I think he would hurt me, it's something else. I don't know... it's almost like he would suck me in to something and change my life from what it is... God, this all sounds stupid!"

"Not at all Puppy. Let me tell you what I think and you can tell me if I make sense."


"You see Max as an extra dimension to your life you feel you don't need and that's natural. You have routines, the safety of the home, and the people around you who you know so well. I think you see Max as a disturbance of these things and that by letting him hear your voice its one step closer to letting him be that disturber... am I close?"

"Spot on!" I said, relieved someone could explain the mess in my head so elegantly. "You know Doctor Listern, when I first found out Max... my dad, existed I was so excited. I wanted to meet him so much... say so much to him. But now... now I actually have the chance to do all those things I'm scared."

"Tell me about being scared?"

"I'm scared because when I was having all these happy thoughts at the start I never thought about all the things I would be leaving behind if I did eventually get to know him. I was so wrapped up in the excitement itself I didn't think that this could potentially take me away from the only things I have ever known."

"So, what scares you about leaving this place Puppy? I get the feeling the real issue, and everything that sits around that issue is the thought of leaving, yes?"

"It's a big part yes," I declared, lurching forward in my chair. "I don't know anything else Doctor Listern, can you understand how that feels? To suddenly be out of this place and know so little about the world outside."

"I wish I could say yes Puppy, but that would be a lie. I go home to my family every night to a place that is nothing like Greenstone."

"You do, so you will never understand. Just like anyone else adult, what it feels like to feel so lost when you consider a life without Greenstone, because that's what this place is Doctor Listern, it's my life."

"So what do you want Puppy?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, you have a choice. You can stay here another year or so, find yourself on your own in that outside world, with a father whose life may have totally changed. Or, you can take baby steps with Max and find out who this man really is and what happened all those years ago."

"I know, it's just hard that's all."

"I know, Puppy, life is very hard, even harder outside than in here. But you need to look at your options and make the one you feel comfortable with. But, Puppy, remember, you are on very strong medication for your mental health and I worry that without the protection of this institution when you turn eighteen you may fall into a bad place. I will no longer be able to be your Doctor when you leave here."

"Are you supposed to be leaning me one way like this Doctor?"

"I'm simply giving you the facts, Puppy, that's all. After you leave here you will need a job, and at eighteen, with no proper education that is recognised you will not be able to earn enough to afford your own place and then you have to then think about living in a hostel... Puppy, you may be able to have better than that... you may be able to have a family that genuinely wants to get to know you and take care of you."

"Ok, now I know you are leaning me!" I said, managing a small chuckle.

"Puppy, this may be verging on the edge of unprofessionalism, but I have a lot of time for you and out of all my patients I have seen and treated over the years, it's you who I have the most admiration and hope for."

"Thank you but how can you think that? Don't forget I'm also the kid who has been in this place longer than anyone else. That says to me that hope is not something I have much of."

"On the contrary, Puppy." He said musically.

Doctor Listern stopped, took a deep breath and sighed. He then got up and came and sat in the chair next to mine so we were now side by side. "Want to know something?"


"I once knew a young man just a little older than you. He had caring parents who both had good jobs in the medical industry. This boy was an only child and his parents loved him like you would not believe. They took him places most boys would never get to see in a life time. He went to the best school, had the best education and was always given attention from family who praised him up constantly."

"Sounds like a lucky kid!" I said, getting slightly jealous.

"He was, but one day his father came home from work and found him in the back yard with two of his friends smoking weed."


"It's an illegal plant, Puppy, and when you smoke it, it makes you feel relaxed," Listern said, before muttering, "among other things."

"So the dad was angry then yeah?"

"Yeah, he was, and he asked his son why he would hang around with the kind of people who smoked drugs. Anyway, a few weeks later the boy didn't come home from school and his parents didn't see him for months...he left one day, just like that...vanished. They called the police to look for him, but he couldn't be found. They hear the next day he has dropped out of school, and then several weeks later they suddenly hear someone has seen him walking the streets in the next town. So they go looking for him."

"Did they find him?" I asked, starting to feel bad for these parents.

"No, not for a whole year, Puppy. Sadly, the next time they saw their child was in a morgue when they had to identify his body. He had collapsed and died of a heroin overdose down by a disused railway depot. His body was ravished by drugs, covered in scabs and scars. The coroner said that when he died he weighed just six stone, Puppy."

"Oh my God, that is so sad."

"Yes Puppy, it is. This boy had everything and everything to live for. When I think of you Puppy, you had nothing and you still made the best of the bad situation. You are intelligent, loving, strong willed and a fighter, Puppy. THAT is why I have so much hope for you. You never give up, and you always try and do the right thing."

"I see what you mean Doctor Listern; I know I would never repay my parents for all they did for me and all the love by going off the deep end like that boy did. So how did you know him anyway, was he one of your patients or something?"

"He was my Son, Puppy."

"Really, fuck Doctor Listern, that's terrible...and sorry for my language."

Doctor Listern waved his hand as if to tell me to not sweat it. "It was a long time ago Puppy, and that's why I got into the field of child behaviour, for the very reason I could help people not end up like my Son, and you, Jensen Stibbings, with the right care and treatment, will grow up to be a fine young man, of that I am certain."

"I need to make that call again don't I?"

"You need to do what's in your heart Puppy, you'll know you have made the right decision if you listen to that."

I met Cindy in the eating area and filled her in with what happened with Doctor Listern. I felt bad towards her because as my panic had set in during that phone call to my father I had run out of the room and locked myself in my own one, refusing to come out even for Cindy. It took Charlotte more than twenty minutes, with the help of my best friend to coax me out.

But, Cindy, as the ever understanding person she is, had forgotten about it by the time we had met up again for dinner.

"I'm going to try again Cindy, and this time I am not going to run."

"Whoa, where has all this confidence come from all of a sudden?" She asked, wearing a surprised look.

"Just something Doctor Listern said about realising what I could be missing out on I guess."

"Well, he's right and I've already told you that haven't I?"

"Yeah, you have, but hearing you say it... well I thought maybe you were just being biased," I said, cracking into laughter.

Cindy picked up a chip and dipped it in ketchup before dabbing it on my nose. Before I could snatch it out of her hand she shoved it in her mouth and giggled wildly. Her laugh was infectious and before I knew it I was laughing too, trying the wipe the sauce off with a paper napkin in the middle of our table.

"Anyway, so how are you, has your stomach ache completely gone now?"

"Nah, it's still there but much better than it was. So when are you gonna make the call to your dad again?"

"After dinner if you like, Charlotte said I could use her office again after five o'clock if I wanted."

"Would you like me to come with you again?"

"Is that ok? I mean I hope I didn't freak you out, you know, with my earlier... thing?"

Cindy tilted her head at me. "Pfft, are you serious? I think I have been unaffected by much worse, Puppy."

"Hmm, yeah you do seem to be immune to my little bouts of crazyasstivity don't you!"

"Uh, crazyasstivity?"

"Never mind, I heard on TV, eat up and let's get this done while I still have the guts."

Cindy started to shove multiple chips in her mouth at once until her cheeks were about to burst, much to the disgust of Charlotte Grange who was casting her disapproving look from the counter based at the other end of the room. We both looked at each other and laughed again, with Cindy almost empting the remains of mushed up chips back on to her plate."

"You soooo need to grow up," I said, jokingly.

"And you soooo need to make that call!"

"Well I would if you hurried up and ate those."

"What do you think I'm doing? If you didn't keep making me laugh I might get somewhere." She tried to get out, her speech really muffled with chips.

"Fine, I won't look at you. Just tap me on the shoulder when you have finished." True to my word I turned away from her and looked out of the window seeing a dove settle on the old bench in the garden. "Another bird that will probably add its shit to that bench," I muttered, with no one hearing.


"Right? Does that mean I can look now or was you about to say something?"

"Right, as in let's go." Cindy stated, pushing her chair out and making it do that sound that goes right through you. I rolled my eyes.

"I need to get the key from Charlotte, do you wanna head up?"

"Nah, I'll wait for you by the door."

I wandered over to Charlotte who looked to be sorting out a dispute with a couple of young kids arguing over a colouring book. How petty that seemed to be when here was me with the world on my shoulders.

Then I remembered how old they were... about five.

As I approached charlotte she did something quite unusual and altogether frightening, she smiled at me, and I almost ran. Maybe she was smiling at the prospect of getting rid of me in the near future, I could only guess. Nevertheless it was an expression from her that was unnerving to say the least. I was used to her having that stern look she nearly always had. In fact I really liked that about her because I knew where I stood. No, this smiling business meant something was very wrong in the world and after grabbing the key from her I scurried off with Cindy.

"Boy, you're in a rush all of a sudden," Cindy said, after I nearly took her arm off pulling her into motion and towards the stairs.

"Cindy, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Puppy, what is it?"

"Have you ever seen Charlotte happy?"


"I mean, REALLY happy?"

"No, now that you mention it I don't think I have, why?"

"Never mind! Maybe she has been smoking weed plant."

"Weed plant? What's that?"

"Never mind!"

As we got to Charlotte's room Mr Watson was just locking his door at the end of the corridor. Cindy and I gave him a small wave and he walked down to greet us.

"Having another go Puppy?"

"Something like that Sir, I gather you heard what happened then?"

Mr Watson smiled. "Didn't I tell you something about knowing everything that goes on here?

"Yeah I guess you did."

"Uh huh, well listen, I am off home but if you need anything then Charlotte is around as you know. Take as long as you need in there, and remember to lock the door when you have finished. I am trusting you both to be sensible."

"No worries Mr Watson, we'll be good," Cindy said, as Mr Watson nodded and walked away.

"I'm hardly in the mood for being silly Cindy, what was he on about?"

"Dunno, guess he's worried we might do what kids do... anyway forget that, let's get in there and make this call before you change your mind."

Feeling nervous again, but nowhere near like last time, Cindy and I entered the room and pulled up a chair each. Once again I dug out the number that Mr Watson had given me and placed it on the table, pulling the phone nearer to us. I took three deep breaths and picked up the receiver.

"Now remember, Puppy, this is your show here, there is no pressure so take your time."

I took another deep breath slowly through my nose and dialled the number, my hand shaking as it worked its way across the keys. Moments after I hit the last number the earpiece sprang to life with a ringing tone and the trembling in my hand started to spread to my whole being.

"Hello?" came what I knew was Max's voice. I remained silent. "Hello... Jensen... Jensen is that you? Please don't hang up."

My breathing was now labouring and I knew he could probably hear it, but still I could say nothing. Cindy took hold of my wrist and squeezed it. It was an act that somehow managed to drip feed some confidence in to me and I began to open my mouth.

"Uh, yeah this is Pupp...uh Jensen, is this Max?"

"Oh my god Jensen, oh my god... it's so..." the line went silent for a moment.

"Hello, are you there?" I almost whispered.

I heard Max clear this throat. "Uh... yeah sorry Jensen, just give me a second, I'm kind of a little overwhelmed hearing you."

"That's ok, Should I go?"

"NO... no, please don't do that," he rapidly said, sounding desperate. "I'm sorry; it's just so good to know that you're actually real."

"I, um... I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to say here, I hope that doesn't sound bad?" I said, feeling a little awkward.

"I totally expect that Jensen, you don't even know me and I'm sorry it has taken me this long to find you... my God there is so much I need to say to you, I just..."

He cut off again and I could hear him starting to weep once more. I also heard a faint 'are you ok' in the background and assumed it was probably his wife.

"Listen Max, I... I don't know how this is supposed to work, but I don't feel angry towards you, I'm just a little numb with the whole speaking thing. I don't know what to say and I'm sorry for that. When I first found out you might be my dad my head was full of so many questions that I wanted to ask. They will probably return but at the moment it just feels kind of weird talking on the phone to you."

Max sniffed. "Please don't apologise Jensen, I should be the one doing that but I know that no amount of saying sorry is gonna get back sixteen years with you. But please know, I tried my best to find you but your mum she... she wouldn't give me your surname no matter how many times I-"

"My Surname? Its Stibbings, you must have known it was Stibbings, right?" I said cutting him off.

"No, your mum was already seeing this guy from... look Jensen, I shouldn't be telling you all this heavy stuff over the phone. If I get permission from your Director, uh... what's his name?"

"Mr Watson?"

"Yeah Mr Watson, if I get his permission do you think I could meet you?"

"Wow, erm, well yeah I guess so. It feels kinda weird thinking about you coming here though, erm..."

"Does that make you uncomfortable? I don't want to push you away Jensen, God, I can't afford to make you feel worse than you probably already do, I just think there is a lot you need to know so you can find out what happened."

"And what if I don't like what you tell me?"

"If you want the truth Jensen I didn't dare think that far ahead."

"I want to meet you Max really I do, I just-"

"Just give me an hour Jensen... give me an hour to convince you I was never the bad guy."

"I don't think that Max, I have never thought that. Ever since I found out you were my dad not once did I think you were to blame for me being here. I don't have a theory because no one has ever told me the entire truth, and I know that now."

"So... so will you allow me to see you? I would be so humbled Jensen, honest to God I would."

"My need to know is greater than my comfort zone being broken, Max."

"So you will?"

"Yes Max, I'll meet you, because my heart is telling me its right."

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