The glassy lake reflected the brown and green shoreline trees, which were revealed incrementally as the fog lifted from the waters below. The dog, silent and sad, lay curled in the grass near the fire, and every so often released a sigh of contentment and longing. He had been coming here for ten summers, but always with his boy. This summer, his boy did not come. The night they arrived, the dog paced back and forth, searching for the missing boy until, finally, his whimpering caused them to open the tent and let him in before anyone else was going to sleep.
Sometime later, when the moon was up, and the fire was low, they all joined him and found him curled up in the boy’s empty sleeping bag – so still – so silent that the mother nervously checked his breathing. He was, after all, an old dog now, and she had grown worried. There was none of his normal inspecting the flashlights or walking around checking in on everyone as he slipped and slid over their legs – no – the dog was missing his best friend and, while he was glad of the others and grateful for his favorite trip he, nevertheless, could not fully enjoy it without his boy.
The trouble was, you see, his boy was no longer a boy, but a young man of 18 with a job and responsibilities. The dog could not know what it meant when, on the morning they left, his boy lay down next to him on the floor of the bedroom, holding him tightly and petting him as his eyes filled with tears, and his throat grew tight. He had never missed a trip and struggled to find a way to make it up to the mountains for at least some of the time. The man-child did not know if this would be the last summer adventure he would have with his dog. Older and thinner, the steps had become nearly impossible to maneuver, and long walks had to be shortened, or his friend would become lame for days. His bunny hop and tilted gait told the man-boy that his friend did not have much longer. He pushed the thought out of his mind before the tears resting in precarious pools in his eyes came tumbling out inconveniently.
Slowly, laboriously the old dog pushed his chest up with his front legs and rose to a seated position craning his neck for a futile glance around the campsite lest his boy materialize, then lowering his eyes to the grass, he began eating to settle his stomach, every now and then letting out a plaintive whimper. He lay down again, facing the fire with his big head resting on his forepaws – wistfully glancing up and then away from the mother only to settle down in silent resignation.
Many miles away, the man-boy stared out the train window as buildings sped past and wished he were with his friend. He longed for the quiet – the birds – the whispering leaves, and the bright warmth of the fire. He missed being read to by lamplight in the tent and the peaceful lake in the morning. But most of all, he missed his best friend – the 85 lb black lab who had shared his bed, his tent, and sleeping bag for the past ten years. He bit his tongue and took a deep breath as he imagined the dog sitting in his favorite grassy spot in the sun.
At that moment, both the boy and his dog were thinking the same thing, getting older was a very lonely business.