As the eldest Farron sat on the couch of her home, Lightning couldn't help but reflect on life. At the age of seventeen, she wasn't like the rest of the girls in Bodhum. While they were selfish and shallow, Lightning realized the important things in life. Family and dedication. It didn't matter how much family was left—whatever you had, you had to protect. That was what Lightning strove for since their mother died three years ago. So what if she was labeled as a freak by the other girls at school? So what if she shoved her emotions deep within her so that they never saw the light of day? Some things were more important. Family and dedication.
But something was amiss.
Serah hadn't been herself the past week or so. Instead of hanging out with friends after school, she came home as soon as classes were over. She'd pop into the apartment, say "Hey Lightning" and then disappear into her bedroom. Was her sister having fights with her friends? No, that was unlikely. Serah had told Lightning that everything was terrific with her friends. Serah wouldn't have lied to her face, would she have? Of course not.
Lightning heard the door open in another room, and it only took five seconds for the footsteps to approach. "Hey Lightning," Serah said from the doorway, continuing to walk past to her bedroom.
The door was shut within ten seconds, and that was that.
For once, Lightning wasn't sure what to do. She and Serah didn't keep secrets from each other…No, that was a lie. Lightning kept her secrets, but Serah didn't keep anything hidden from Lightning. She's fourteen now, she thought. Maybe this is just what fourteen year olds do. They start keeping to themselves or something like that. Lightning couldn't remember how she was when she was that age, but she wasn't the standard girl even back then. If only she had her mom to talk to, she'd know what to do.
Serah's door opened again and the girl came out. Before Lightning even had a chance to speak, Serah was running her mouth. "Boy am I hungry!" she laughed. "Do we have anything for dinner?"
"It was your turn to cook," Lightning reminded her. Serah took four nights of the week and Lightning had three. It had been this way for a year now; how could Serah have forgotten?
For a moment, Serah's expression showed panic. "Oh…well," the girl laughed nervously. "Um…I'll see what we have and manage something." Muttering to herself, the teen turned into the kitchen and rummaged through the fridge.
Lightning couldn't sit by any longer. She had to confront Serah about this now, to ease her concerns that something was wrong. "Serah…" she stared as she stood in the doorway. Serah pretended to be absorbed in looking in the fridge for something specific. "We need to talk."
"Can't it wait till dinner, sis?" Serah asked while still searching a bit more frantically.
"…No," she declared.
The sound of food being moved around was all that filled the kitchen for a few seconds.
"Serah, what are you hiding from me?" Lightning finally asked.
"W-what am I hiding?" Serah laughed nervously. "Nothing! I know I can never hide anything from you, Lightning. Not that I'd ever want to…"
Her eyebrows furrowed as Serah shut the fridge. "I'm pretty sure that's the first lie you've told me," she said. "You're a pretty terrible liar." Good thing, too. That meant Lightning was raising her right.
Before Serah could protest again, Lightning heard something from the other side of the house. It almost sounded like something fell. Serah's room? Maybe Serah wasn't just keeping a secret; she was literally hiding something from her. She started over, all while hearing Serah protesting behind her. "Lightning! Wait! You…uh…I mean…My room is messy!"
"You're a self-proclaimed neat-freak." Lightning clearly wasn't buying Serah's lies, not anymore. Whatever was happening here, it must have been bad if Serah was taking her lies so far. "But I'll admit that your room smelled a little odd when I walked past it last. Almost like…" Lightning opened up Serah's bedroom door, and spoke not only what would have finished the sentence, but what she saw. "…dog."
A dog with golden colored fur sat about five feet into the room, right in the path of the door. And right in his mouth was one of Serah's shoes. He was just a pup! His big brown eyes didn't seem to match up with his small body.
"…Dare I ask?" Lightning asked, shifting her gaze to the sister that now stood beside her.
Serah sighed and glanced at the dog. "I found her on my way home from school one day and snuck him in while you were filling out your application for the Guardian Corps."
"That was almost two weeks ago." She was disturbed with that realization. How could she not have realized this sooner? Granted, she did stay out of Serah's room in order to give her sister some privacy most of the time. Serah had made sure Lightning didn't have a reason to get in there, either. She had definitely been played.
"I'm sorry, I just couldn't let the dog stay out there. She's so little…"
Lightning glanced away. Yeah, it was a small, cute dog. But the shoe in her mouth reminded Lightning that dogs were a handful, especially puppies. "We know nothing about dogs."
"No, but how hard can it be? Give her some love, food, potty train her…She'll turn out okay."
"She's a stray, Serah. She could have…fleas, or something."
"I already checked. Terra's mom is a vet, so I took the dog to her in hopes that she could take in the dog too. But…the pound is full right now, and the puppy would have been…killed."
Lightning could tell that Serah was disturbed by this, but she wasn't sure why she appeared so shaken by everything. Still, Lightning didn't dare ask why. If she would have allowed herself to dwell on the issue, she would have figured it out herself.
"…Look for a home for her with your classmates. We're not keeping a stray."
"Lightning!" Serah protested.
"She can stay until then. But she's your responsibility."
Serah smiled in relief. "Of course!" she cried happily. Serah must not have had too many hard feelings about not keeping the dog; she just wanted the creature to be all right. If this was a cat, it would have been another story. The girl absolutely adored cats.
Lightning turned to leave, seeing the dog eying the laces on her boots. "Make sure she doesn't destroy the house. And no feeding her our food. Do you have enough to buy her dog food?"
"For now," Serah nodded.
The eldest sister walked away from the situation, believing that they had faced the worst of it. But she was wrong.
After a week, Serah dubbed the dog "Lacey" because of her love for shoe laces. Lightning dubbed the dog "annoying." The stupid thing was keeping her awake at night now with her barking. Serah said that before, she kept the dog quiet by giving her meat at random points throughout the night, but she stopped with that habit when Lightning told her no more human food. Now there was no way to keep the dog content.
The stray ran around the house freely. She jumped up on the couch and clawed at the kitchen cabinets. Somehow, she and Serah had managed to clip the dog's nails so that she wasn't so harmful, but Lightning was still peeved at the pooch.
"Oh, shush," Serah would say as she cuddled with the dog that acted so innocent in Serah's presence. "She's just a bundle of energy! She doesn't know what to do with herself here."
"She'd have plenty of room to exert that energy on the streets," Lightning would respond. But nothing ever came of those threats; the dog stayed anyway. Especially when Bodhum had their biggest thunder storm in five years.
Lacey curled up in the corner of the couch and shivered the whole evening out of fright. No matter how Serah tried to comfort the poor dog, Lacey whined every once in a while when thunder sounded. It was a wonder that they still had power; half of Bodhum was out. Lightning guessed that their father had hooked them up to a back-up generator a while ago to keep the house lit during times like this.
"Lightning, what do we do?" Serah asked as she placed the shaking dog in her lap.
"Me? How should I know? I don't know any more about dogs than you do, remember?"
"I wonder how she was strayed," Serah said mostly to herself. "I wonder what happened to her mom and dad."
"It's a cruel world, Serah. They probably left her. Maybe she was the runt."
When Serah looked over at Lightning, her eyes were angry. And filled with tears. "That wasn't a kind thing to say," she said in a shaky voice.
Lightning looked away in silence. No, it wasn't a kind thing to say. But it was how Lightning viewed the world. It was a cruel and dark place, where parents left their children. It happened all the time, so there was no need to ignore it like it was nothing.
Suddenly, Lacey let out an ear-piercing howl. "Lacey!" Serah cried, petting the dog and trying to calm her. However, Lightning realized something—there wasn't any thunder to set the dog off. And there was a noise after the dog's howl that caught her attention. Another howl in response.
Oh no. Absolutely not.
Lightning picked herself up off the couch and headed towards the front door. Her mind was playing tricks on her now. She was sleep deprived because of the dumb dog and imagining that there was another dog right outside the front door that was howling in the storm.
She was disappointed when she opened the door. Indeed, there was another dog sitting there. Another golden retriever, soaked to the bone because of the rain. The dog growled viciously at Lightning before stepping past her and into the house.
The girl blinked, but allowed the dog in. "Sure, come right in," she muttered as she shut the door. Her home was turning into a shelter for strays now, apparently. What could she do though? If she let the dog stay out in the rain, Serah would have never forgiven her. It's going to be so hard to get rid of the stench of wet dog…
From the living room came the higher pitched yapping of Lacey, along with Serah's surprised yet excited squealing. "Lightning!"
A sigh left her lips as she returned to the room. There was the stray, standing in front of the couch with her nose to the pup. It almost looked like Lacey was crying in joy to seeing the other dog.
"Lightning," Serah said again, lifting her gaze to her sister. "Do you think this is Lacey's mom?"
She shook her head. "She's still too young," she stated calmly. "See? She's not full grown. Maybe a sibling from another litter." Wait, that's what cats came from, not dogs. Whoops. That just went to show that Lightning really knew nothing about dogs. Except that they weren't welcome in her house unless she said so.
"We'll need to lock her in the bathroom," she declared. "Or she'll get the whole house wet."
"Lightning, no!" Serah scolded. "Can't you see that the two dogs want to stay together?" She put a hand on Lacey's head, and her other went to the top of the wet dog's. The dog didn't look pleased, but she let the hand linger. "In a storm this bad, family needs to stick together."
"Then they can stick together in the bathroom." Lightning stepped forward, reaching for the wet dog. "C'mon, mutt."
A vicious growl was her response.
"My house, my rules. Get your furry butt into the bathroom."
The dog's teeth showed more now. She was ready to attack. Lightning nearly dared her to, but she wisely took a step aside and let go of her pride. "Serah, you try."
"If I get her to go there, though, we'll only dry her off. She's allowed in the rest of the house."
"Fine," she muttered. She didn't care anymore. All that she wanted was for the dog to not be dripping all over the place, and not growling at her. Blood on the carpet was worse than water—she had to remind herself that as she fought the urge to treat the dog like she would any human. If this was a human, she would have grabbed them by the back of the neck and thrown them out into the rain. Nobody dared to talk back to Lightning.
But this was a dog, and this dog had sharp teeth.
"Hey girl," Serah cooed as she knelt down on the ground. "Come with me, okay? I'm gonna take care of you."
While the dog showed less resistance to Serah, she still didn't look happy in the slightest. Her ears were down, her eyes narrowed (somehow that was possible for the dog), and her fur was standing up. Or was this behavior only because of the cold?
No, it was something else. Serah realized that and picked up Lacey gently, holding her in her arms. "C'mon," she said again, gentle with the older dog as she and Lacey started towards the bathroom. As she predicted, the older dog followed.
Oh great, Lightning thought. I'm never going to live this one down.
As Serah and the two dogs left her line of vision, Lightning had the horrible feeling that these two dogs were going to be permanent residents in her house.