, you're late. Sighing, I closed the door and drpoped my keys on the hall table. I know, I said, and irritation filled my voice. I warned you I probably would be. He sniffed, as if that was no excuse. I moved past him, and headed for the kitchen. I heard the click of his nails on the hardwood floor as he followed me. It's past dinner time, he whined. It's only seven, I said, opening the back door. Go do your business and I'll get your dinner. Thank you, he said with great dignity, and ran out the door. I shook my head and moved to the pantry to get his food. I remembered his first day with us. My son Cody had begged for a dog for years, and I'd finally given in. We'd gone to the pound, me intent on getting a small, short haired dog. Cody, of course, had other ideas, and we ended up with Kip. Kip, even as a puppy, was a strange looking creature, being a mix of an Australian Shepherd and a Bull Mastiff. He had a huge head, with a thick cranium and massive jaw, and the short, stocky legs of the Mastiff. His whole body was sturdy and muscled, under all that Shepherd fur in mottled white, black and gray. His one blue eye and one gold eye looked somehow wrong in that wide Mastiff head. It wasn't a blending of two very different breeds, more like he was pieced together, and awkwardly at that. But that hadn't been the worst part.We'd brought him home, and Cody spent the rest of the day playing with the dog, never leaving him alone for an instant. At bedtime, there had been a battle. Cody wanted the dog to sleep with him, but I wasn't having it. I finally got Cody to bed, and the dog followed me into the living room, where he collapsed onto his bed with a loud sigh. I was chuckling when I heard him say, Thank you. Sweet kid, but that was bit too much togetherness. I stared at the dog in shock as he yawned hugely, and settled his head on his paws, his eyes closing. The following day, after I'd convinced myself it hadn't happened, he'd spoken to me as I cleaned up the breakfast dishes. Cody was in his room getting ready for church. Kip looked up at me and said clearly, I prefer beef flavored food over chicken, if you don't mind. Now, all these years later, I was used to it. Kip could talk. But only to me. I'd been afraid I was losing it, had even taken psychological quizzes online in my quest to discover if I was nuts or not. I'd been forced to accept that he could talk, and I wasn't crazy. But I'd never told anyone else, knowing they'd have no doubts on the subject. I let Kip back in, and expected him to go immediately to his food bowl. Instead, he sat down and looked at me, his head cocked to one side. Rough day? he asked. Yeah, I answered, opening the refrigerator door. I reached for the milk, only to discover it was empty. Cody had a bad habit of drinking from the carton, and putting it back even if it was empty. I sighed, annoyed, and reached for a coke instead. Well, I'm sorry to hear you had a bad day, but I have something important to tell you. I gave him an irritated scowl. What, does the neighboring dog have the runs again? Did the Pomeranian down the street get out and get pregnant again? Kip's idea of important news and mine were usually very different.Kip managed to look annoyed at me, though how he accomplished it is beyond description. No, this is about Cody, What about him? Cody was sixteen now, with a driver's license, a girlfriend, and a job, which is where he was now, or at least where he should be. He'd gotten secretive when he hit his teens. To give Kip credit, he'd been the one to alert me when Cody tried smoking and drinking, at fourteen. And he'd told me when Cody took money from my wallet, though I'd suspected Cody already. Who else? It was just Cody and I since his father took off for parts unknown when Cody was only four. Now, I braced myself, waiting to hear what Kip would tell me. It was going to be bad if he was putting off his already late dinner to tell me about it.Kip looked at me sympathetically. He found your gun today, and took it to school. My heart stopped. I began to shake, visions of Columbine flying through my imagination. That school was only a couple of hours away, and the impact of what happened there still reverberated. I put a shaking hand on counter to support myself. Why? I whispered. Not my son, I thought, over and over. I don't know, Kip responded. But he brought it home and it didn't smell like it had been fired. Kip was thorough with his report. At least I wasn't about to hear about a shooting at school today. Just then, I heard the front door open and slam shut, and footsteps sounded in the hall. Mom! Cody called, and then he stepped into the kitchen.I turned furious eyes on him. What were you doing with my gun? I demanded.Cody's face froze in shock. After a moment, he said, What are you talking about? You took my gun to school today. Why? Cody swallowed, and looked away. He shifted restlessly, then looked back at me. What are you, psychic? Why, Cody? He sighed. I just wanted to show it to my friends. Do you have any idea how much trouble you'd be in you got caught with it? Or how dangerous that was? What if you'd accidentally shot yourself or a friend? My voice was high and screechy, my words coming fast from anger and fear.Cody shuffled his feet and looked sheepish. It wasn't loaded, he muttered. That's not the point! I yelled. Why, Cody? Why? Cody shrugged, and refused to look at me. I wanted a friend of mine to teach me how to use it. But he refused. I stared at my handsome son. He was an inch taller than me now, with a full head of dark wavy hair and a toned, muscled body. Girls were all over him these days. He had so much going for him, so why this? Why do you need to know how to use a gun, Cody? I was calming down a bit, trying to get my emotions under control so I could get to the real story,After a long silence, he looked at me. So I can protect you. I gaped at him. Protect me? From what? I don't need protection. Why would you think I did? His eyes took on an odd look, kind of sympathetic and old beyond his years. Dad is back, he said, watching me closely.Now an icy terror filled me. I heard Kip say Ahhh, in a voice full of understanding. He'd never met my husband, but I'd told him all about my miserable marriage. He approached you? I asked, my voice trembling.Cody nodded.Oh, my God, I thought. I listened in shock as Cody told me how his father approached him after school one day. He was trying to talk Cody into going away with him. Anger grew to smother out the fear. I wasn't going to allow this to happen. I would take steps this time, to keep the creep away from both me and my son. As I led Cody out of the kitchen to go talk in the living room, I threw a look of gratitude at our odd dog. He was like a guardian angel, warning me of approaching disaster so I could take steps to prevent it,and I was grateful. Who knew a dog from the pound would have such a profound effect on our lives?