The following weekend, Oscar appeared at the front door. Steve knew that Rudy would be along shortly.
“Have you told him yet?” Oscar asked, seating himself on the couch.
“No, Jan and I decided to make it a surprise.” Steve settled into a lounge chair, holding his left arm.
“Still hurt?” Oscar asked.
Steve nodded. “Yeah. Rudy said it would heal slowly, even with the pins. I can have it out of the sling as long as I’m careful.”
“Sleeping. She’s not on total bed rest, but her doctor encouraged her to sleep or rest as much as possible. The baby is doing fine and should make it to term, we hope.”
Steve filled Oscar in on Jon's condition while the two men watched Josh in the backyard. He sat, unmoving, on a swing, watching the birds gather at his feet.
Steve heard a car door slam; he carefully climbed out of the chair, hoping to open the door before Rudy had a chance to press the bell.
“Hey Rudy, how ya doing?” Steve asked.
“Better than you. You ready to meet the monster?”
The duo stepped outside to the station wagon, Oscar joining them a moment later.
“You weren’t kidding,” Steve exclaimed. “He’s huge.”
“We’ve solved the doorknob problem. He’s figured out how much pressure to apply to turn the knob.” Rudy had working with Max, making sure the dog’s etiquette was up to par. Rudy opened the door, letting Max exit the vehicle.
“Max, this is your new home,” Rudy announced.
Max stood looking around the area. He checked out the front yard, and then returned to Rudy’s side, sniffing Steve. Max stood on his hind legs, put his paws on Steve’s shoulder and licked Steve’s face.
“Max,” Rudy scolded. Max returned to the ground and continued to sniff around. Rudy turned back to Steve. “He likes you.”
“Thank goodness,” Steve replied. While Rudy kept an eye on Max, Steve and Oscar retrieved the dog’s belongings from the car. They carried them inside, dropping them in the family room. A moment later, Rudy and Max joined them.
Max sniffed out the family room, found a quiet corner and laid down on is side. A moment later, they heard a contented sigh as Max drifted off to sleep. The three men seated themselves.
“Jan should be up in a little while,” Steve said. “Then we’ll get Josh.”
Steve filled Rudy in on the latest details of Jan and Jon's condition, and thanked him once again for all the help he provided Jan.
“No problem,” Rudy replied. “What about the second twin? Still in hiding?”
Steve nodded. “Sure is. The latest ultrasound didn't help.”
Jan waddled into the room a moment later, stopping in her tracks when she spotted Max sleeping in the corner. “He’s huge!”
Steve quickly moved to her side, “Sit, now.” He ushered Jan to a comfortable chair.
“I will be so glad when this all over so Steve will stop fussing over me,” Jan complained.
“I’ll get Josh,” Steve announced. He stepped out the back door.
“How are you doing?” Rudy asked Jan.
“I’m fine, just ready for it to be over. The doctor said I'd probably hold on for the full nine months, but not to be surprised if the little one showed up early.”
The sliding glass door opened, admitting Josh and Steve.
“Uncle Oscar! Uncle Rudy!” Josh gave both men hugs, which they gladly returned. “I didn’t know you were coming for a visit.”
“Well Josh, Rudy and I have brought you a gift,” Oscar started, pulling Josh onto the couch between the two men. Josh seated himself, slightly confused.
“A very special one,” Rudy said. “You will be responsible for taking good care of this gift.”
“Huh?” Josh was confused, but only for a moment as Max padded into view. “A dog! You brought me a dog!”
“Not just any dog, Josh. Max is special. He’s very smart, and learns very quickly. He can do a lot of things normal dogs can’t,” Rudy explained.
“Like what?” Josh sat still as Max approached, sniffing. Josh finally pets him, checking out the collar. “His name is Maxamillion?”
“Max for short,” Oscar said.
Max sat in front of Josh, looking up at the boy. Rudy showed Josh where and how Max liked to be pet. The boy and dog became instant friends.
“Well, he can open a can of dog food and dump it into his bowl with no help at all,” Rudy said. He and Oscar had agreed that Josh needed to know Max’s special nature.
“He what?” Josh exclaimed. “How?”
“Max is very strong and fast,” Oscar replied. “His lower jaw is strong enough to open a can of food, but he can easily carry a tennis ball without popping it.”
“I don’t understand,” Josh admitted. “How could he do that?”
“Josh, Max used to be, well, technically still is I suppose, a science experiment,” Steve said, deciding to get in on the conversation. “He was hurt badly as a puppy and almost died, but Rudy was able to help Max recover. In the process, a few things changed in Max to make his stronger and faster than normal dogs. This is why we are going to have to take really good care of him.” Steve still felt Josh was too young to understand the science of bionics, but knew Josh needed an explanation.
“He looks like a normal dog,” Josh commented.
“That’s the whole idea,” Rudy said. “Although he’s different, he looks the same. He’s still a dog and still enjoys life like a dog, he can just do some things other dogs can’t.”
Max sat intently watching the exchange, cocking his head back and forth as if he understood the conversation. He finally placed a paw on Josh’s knee to get the boy’s attention.
Josh gladly accepted the paw and started petting Max.
“When you play with Max, you have to be careful. He won’t hurt you, but he doesn’t always know his own strength. Don’t make him jump higher than he should. What Rudy did to Max is a Government secret and no one else is supposed to know,” Oscar explained.
“Let’s take him out to my gym and show Josh what you mean,” Steve said to Oscar. Turning to Jan, “You stay put.”
“Yes sir!” Jan said, saluting.
More than an hour later, they returned to find Jan napping on the couch. Josh, completely overwhelmed by all he had seen, retired to his bedroom with Max following closely.
The men returned to the back deck, not wanting to disturb Jan.
“Do you think Josh can handle Max?” Rudy asked
Steve nodded. “They’ll be fine. Besides, Max is part of the family. We’ll all be watching him.”
“Thanks for taking him,” Oscar said. “He really is a good dog, but we just didn’t know what else to do with him.”
“I’ll admit, I had my reservations at first, but after meeting Max, we made the right choice.” Changing the subject, “Can the two of you stay for dinner? I had planned on grilling steaks and preparing potatoes, salad, and corn on the cob.”
Rudy and Oscar exchanged glances then nodded. “Sure, we’re not on a schedule,” Oscar replied.
“Just let us know if there is anything we can do to help,” Rudy offered.
Shortly before dinner, Josh and Max wandered back downstairs, having smelled dinner preparations.
“Josh,” Steve said. “Get Max’s stuff and set up his bowls in the kitchen. I’m sure he’s thirsty and hungry by now.”
Josh grabbed Max’s belongings and pulled out the bowls. He filled one with water and put it down on the floor out of the line of traffic. Max started drinking immediately while Josh prepared the meal. He mixed together canned and dry food, and then added warm water. He was quite satisfied when Max started eating as soon as the bowl hit the floor.
Josh looked to see what else was in the bag, only finding a couple of leashes. “No toys?”
“Max wasn’t exactly in a place he could play,” Rudy explained.
“Max grew up in a laboratory,” Steve replied. “He had trainers, not friends.”
“Well, he and I were close at one time, then something came up that demanded my undivided attention,” Rudy explained, casting a glance at Steve.
“That’s horrible!” Josh said. Turning to his Dad, “Can we go buy some toys tomorrow?”
Steve smiled, “Sure we can. In the meantime, we might have some tennis balls around here. Check the garage,” he suggested.
Josh and Max left the room in search of a tennis ball.
Jan woke from her nap to the smell of steaks on the grill. She propped herself up with pillows, making herself as comfortable as possible.
“Your awake,” Rudy commented, walking into the room.
Jan yawned, “Working on it. Sit,” she said, patting the edge of the couch.
Rudy sat on the edge. “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty good,” Jan replied. “I can’t thank you enough for all the help you provided last month.”
Rudy shrugged, “It was nothing.”
“Nothing? Yeah, right. If you hadn’t been here when the labor pains started, I may have lost the babies.” Early one morning, the day Steve was found, Jan woke to intense pain in her abdomen. She tried to get out of bed, but was unable, so she yelled for Josh to get Rudy. By the time Rudy got to her side, her vital signs had started to drop. Rudy instructed Josh to call the police, explaining they needed an ambulance. The sergeant dispatched a patrol car and a paramedic squad from a nearby station. Within an hour, Jan had been admitted to the hospital with little hope of keeping the babies.
“I don’t know how I can properly thank you,” Jan added.
Rudy kissed her on the forehead, and then left the room to help with dinner preparations.
When Steve announced “Soups on!” Jan waddled into the dining room. “I thought we were having steak,” she teased.
Steve’s brow shot up, “Steak? I thought you wanted soup.”
“Funny, Mister Austin,” Jan replied, seating herself at the table.
As Josh settled at the table, Max circled three times then settled on the floor next to him.
“Dad, why do dogs circle before they lay down?”
“I haven’t a clue, and neither does the professional community. It’s just something they do,” Steve explained.
Dinner passed uneventfully, with Josh clearing the table at the end and giving a few scraps of steak to Max, who gobbled them down.
Steve and Rudy handled the dishes, while Oscar made a few phone calls.
“Can I take Max out to play?” Josh asked his Mom.
“Sure, but not for too long. It’ll be dark soon. Make sure he does his business before he comes in,” Jan said.
“Will do,” Josh said. “Come one, Max, let’s go outside.”
Later that evening, after Josh had gone to bed, Steve checked in on his son. Slowly opening the door he found Josh sleeping on the edge of the bed, arm curled around Max's neck. Max was sound asleep beside his new master.
Steve stood watching for a moment longer, smiling. He knew they had made the right decision. Max will be a great companion for Josh.