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The pizza was in their stomachs, the empty box in the trash, and Dad was bringing a surprise into the kitchen: a great big chocolate cake he had stashed in the garage refrigerator a few days earlier.

“What's that for?” squealed Timmy.

“No real reason,” Dad said, winking at the two children.

“Oh, yes there is,” Mom retorted. “It's that we're together and healthy and that Aunt Pam is bringing us a special friend to join our family tonight.”

“Oh, yeah. Right. I knew I'd forgotten something.” Dad laughed and carried the chocolate frosted cake through the archway and into the living room. “Let's eat out here so we can watch for Aunt Pam. Hope everyone has left some room!”

“You heard your father,” Mom said, getting up. “Let's eat our cake out front.” She began gathering utensils and plates with the usual homey kitchen clatter.

Timmy exchanged wide-eyed glances with his sister, Juniper. One of the family rules, hard and fast and carved in stone, was that there was to be no eating in the living room. This very deliberate breaking of one of the family's commandments (and by the very persons who had made said rule) seemed significant to Juniper, a tectonic shift akin to the first time they'd be left alone without a babysitter.

The children got up from their respective chairs and followed their father into the living room, Timmy licking his lips in anticipation. Juniper had no idea where he put it all. If anyone had a hollow leg it was definitely her kid brother. She wasn't all that hungry, but she'd force down a piece of cake. If she didn't, Timmy would probably scarf the whole thing.

They settled into the couch, Juniper at one end and Timmy at the other, both facing the large bay window commanding an excellent view of the street outside. Timmy asked the obvious question. He always did. You could rely on him. It was his not-so-superpower. Juniper rolled her eyes. Actually, this time he was running behind. He should have asked it ten minutes before.

“When's Aunt Pam getting here?”

“Soon,” Mom cooed, speaking from her favorite overstuffed chair.

Juniper glanced at the mantelpiece and the ornamental clock there.


Juniper shrugged, a gesture that would have been more at home on a teenager. She had gotten pretty good at affecting indifference, but she was still young enough to become bored with boredom, and she grinned widely. She couldn't help it. “I guess I am.”

The cake rested on the coffee table in the center of the room. Dad did the honors, making an elaborate show of cutting the first slice, acting like a magician Juniper had seen on TV. It was a double-decker chocolate cake with chocolate frosting—which pretty much was the family favorite. And as a bonus there was chocolate ice cream to go along with it. Dad set the first slice on a white plate and followed this with two scoops of ice cream. He handed the plate to her brother and he wasted no time digging in. Juniper watched the voracious young eater, amazed that the two of them had been spared what should have been the obligatory lecture about not spilling anything on the floor or making a mess, them being in the living room and all.

Juniper was next. She ate with relish; she really could put it away even more so than her brother, truth be told, keeping an eye out for Aunt Pam while shoveling it in. Glancing around she saw that even Mom and Dad were both excited. Already Timmy had begged to let the new addition to the family sleep in his room tonight—and Juniper was fine with that. Their new pet wouldn't be potty trained; she hoped it would poop in his new bedroom, a sort of a housewarming gift, but she told herself to cut it out. There was no reason for this evening to be vindictive and she was ashamed of having such a nasty thought, if only momentarily.

All four members of the family finished their cake and ice cream with none of it ending up on the floor, under the couch, or in their laps. Time dragged on and Juniper kept checking the clock. It was getting onto seven, the sky beginning to darken through the bay window. Mom and Dad collected the dirty dishes and took them into the kitchen.

“Jeez, why is Aunt Pam taking so long?” Timmy said, his voice turning into a whine, saying it with the precise inflection he'd spout “are we there yet?” while traveling in the car.

Juniper silently agreed.  She is taking FOREVER . . .

Their home, situated near the end of a cul-de-sac, never got much traffic; a good bet that the next vehicle to appear would be their Aunt's. Both children unconsciously leaned forward as it grew darker and became harder to see through the window outside, fidgeting in place like a couple of electric dynamos. Juniper realized she was as excited as Timmy at the prospect of a puppy coming to live with the family; she knew she was acting like a child yet couldn't help herself. She wondered what kind of dog it would be—she and Timmy had been told this much—there were so many different breeds! At the opposite end of the couch her brother looked as if he were about to explode with anticipation. 

“Can I have another piece of cake?” Timmy asked, and Juniper almost laughed. Time to open up that hollow leg. Her brother was staring with rapt attention at the remains of the cake.

“No, you cannot,” their mother's voice emerged from the kitchen—Mom and Dad were probably in there smooching (they were certainly taking their time about returning).

“But I'm still hungry . . . “

There was a sudden burst of light in the street outside. Headlight beams turned into the family's driveway, momentarily blinding the children as they sat watching.

“She's here!” Timmy whooped and hollered even as the lights in the driveway shut off and the bay window returned to semi-darkness.

Their father came into the living room giving two thumbs up as Timmy nearly went spastic with excitement. Juniper tried to act more mature—one of them had to at least try—but her face kept breaking out into an idiotic grin no matter how she tried restraining it. Unable to stand it any longer Timmy got up and bolted for the window and pressed his nose to the glass like a kid at a toy store.

Their mother came into the living room as Juniper, forgetting she was trying to be the mature one, rushed for the door, to be first when Aunt Pam entered their home. She turned the knob and pulled the door open even as Aunt Pam, with her oversize spectacles and hair done up in a ponytail, exited her compact car, opened the door to the backseat and removed an animal carryall of a type used on airplanes. Juniper tried to get the first glimpse of the new arrival, but not only had it become too dark but her aunt had draped a blanket over the carrying case.

Timmy ran over and pushed at Juniper. She pushed back, even as a volley of excited yips emerged from the carryall. The two siblings abruptly stopped pushing at each other and just watched as Aunt Pam strode up the front walk. Juniper found herself becoming unaccountably excited. A lot of her friends at school, and even kids on this very street, had pets of one kind or another. She couldn't wait to tell everyone all about it. Aunt Pam was hustled by the children, who were still crowding the threshold, and slipped inside, shouting greetings as she did so. “Hello Juney! Hello Timmy!” Juniper abruptly wished she hadn't been so quick to give in to Timmy's desire to have the new family member sleep in his room tonight . . .

“I come bearing gifts!” Aunt Pam cried, setting the carryall on the floor between the coffee table and the window. She then whisked away the old blanket with a flick of the wrist, making Juniper again think of that magician.

While their parents remained in the background to allow their children first dibs, Juniper and Timmy crowded around the carryall as their aunt lifted the hasp on the wire grate and eased it upward. Nothing happened for a few seconds, but then the new addition to the family emerged. A head popped out . . . 

Followed by another . . . 

And then a third.

The three-headed puppy inched out onto the floor, each of the heads looking this way and that, all shy of their new home.

“Hooray!” Juniper shrieked. “A Cerberus!” She surged toward the animal even as Timmy moved ahead with lightning-like speed; the dog, terrified by all of these crowding strangers, backed up into its carryall with its trio of heads whimpering in tandem.

Picking up the remainder of the cake, Timmy brought it to the cage and held it before the Cerberus, managing to coax the frightened animal once more into the open. A trio of wet noses sniffed at the offering and then what remained of the cake was being devoured by three eager dog heads, everybody—Juniper, Timmy, Mom, Dad, Aunt Pam—laughing and cheering and joining in the fun. Its heads were soon yapping with joy, noses coated with chocolate frosting, and then it was licking both Juniper and Timmy's bright happy faces and making a real mess of things. And Mom and Dad didn't even complain once.

Somehow Timmy emerged victorious, the three-headed puppy clasped firmly in his arms, the dog's tail wagging madly like a windshield wiper in a torrential downpour, its white body covered with beagle-like brown patches. A Cerberus beagle mix. The heads were different colors, black, white with brown spots, and white.

Juniper was too excited to be jealous of Timmy's success. It was the most beautiful animal she'd ever seen and it was theirs! Now maybe her brother would shut up about that girl down the street and her silly dinosaur. We've got a Cerberus. Way cooler than any old T. rex!

“What are you two going to name him?” Aunt Pam asked when the laughter died down.

Dad spoke up. “Since there are three heads, does that mean he gets three names?”

“Of course,” the children answered together, as if that should have been obvious.

“Okay then,” Mom said, “Juniper and Timmy each get to pick one name, and Pam,” she winked at her sister, “since you brought our new family member to us, I think it's only fair you get to name the third.”

As the black dog's tongue licked his face, Timmy said, “I wanna name mine . . . “

The End


As an author from Northeastern Ohio, I have published in Nth Degree and written for Left Orbit Temple, a multi-media arts project based out of Chicago. I am writing as “James Arthur”.


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