“Are you sure you want to do this?” My dad asked.
“No.” I admitted. It had been more than a week since Sophie went out for one of her little walks. Dr. Crowe told me that it was being caused by stress. It also might have been because of how exhausted I was. My mom and I had to pack up the entire house by ourselves, since my dad had just showed up this morning driving a moving truck. At least he brought a couple of college guys with him to load everything up.
It was now 3:00 PM on Monday, and they wanted to get to Bakersfield before stopping at a hotel for the night. Dr. Crowe’s office is only open on Tuesday and Thursday, so they were dropping my off at her townhouse. It turned out that she only lived a few blocks from me, so I could still hang out with my friends this summer.
“Daddy,” I said, barely holding back my tears. “Mom, I don’t want to do this… I need to though. If I don’t stay here and keep seeing Dr. Crowe, I am terrified what might happen.”
“We understand.” He said calmly. My mom had been hugging me all day, my dad was less of a hugger, but when we finally said goodbye, we hugged for a long time. Then they got into the moving truck and I watched them drive off before I headed into my new home.
Dr. Crowe was smiling at me when I rang the bell. “No need for that, if you’re going to live here it’s best I get you a key.”
She showed me a bedroom with a twin sized bed, and a large round, flat cushion on the floor in the corner. “You can leave your bag in here.” She said.
After that, she showed me the rest of the house, what there was of it. She had a bedroom that had been converted into a recording studio. “I record a weekly podcast and a radio show in there. Best not to disturb me on Mondays and Wednesdays.” She said.
“I understand. I can be quiet.” I assured her. It all looked expensive, whatever it was.
“While you’re living here, there won’t be any need for you to keep your weekly appointment, since I will be giving you regular care all week.” She continued.
“That makes sense.” I said slowly.
“How would you like to work two days per week instead of just Thursday?” She asked.
“What about Becky? Doesn’t she want her hours back?” I asked. How she could live on one day a week, I had no idea.
“Oh, she’s retired. I was going to have to replace her either way.” She told me.
“Okay, I can work both days then.” I said.
“Great! That’ll save me from having to bring a temp in tomorrow.” She said cheerfully.
After that we sat and ate dinner together. Her diet consisted of steamed vegetables, steamed chicken breast and a small bowl of white rice. It was practically tasteless. I could see why she was so thin. She barely took in any calories.
After dinner, I helped her wash the dishes and put everything away. “Well,” Dr. Crowe said casually, “I think it’s time I met Sophie.”
“What?” I asked.
“In order to treat you, I also have to treat her. You might as well get it out of the way.” She said. I could see her pulling a length of rope from a hook behind the door.
As she approached me I realized, “Is that a leash?” I asked. Not that I wasn’t expecting this at some level, but I had just gotten here.
“Best to be cautious until I understand what I am dealing with.” She said. I watched as she pulled out a pair of padded leather gloves and proceeded to put them on.
“But how do you want me to…?” I asked.
“I suppose, the safest thing is to start with a blindfold.” She told me. “Then you can strip. That will give me time to put the leash on you before you remove the blindfold.”
Of course, I was still wearing the collar. Even though I had not heard a peep from Sophie for a while, my experience at the mall made me realize that if she were to get out at the wrong time, she might get lost or arrested or something and who knows what would happen to me?
I would have preferred to get settled before opening this can of worms, but I was a guest in Dr. Crowe’s house, and I didn’t want to start my stay here by being argumentative. I went to my suitcase and pulled out the long scarf she had given me. I folded it in half and then proceeded to tie the blindfold around my eyes. Next I stripped off my clothes and neatly placed them back into the suitcase.
Fortunately, I had been practicing doing things blindfolded for the past could of weeks and was getting good at basic tasks. Subconsciously, I even counted the steps from the door to the suitcase. Smoothly, I retraced my steps, now fully nude except for the blindfold.
“Good girl.” Dr. Crowe said. “Do you think you can walk to my voice?”
It wasn’t that hard, though I had no way to accurately gauge. I estimated that I stopped about 3 feet in front of her.
“Okay, now take off the blindfold.” She told me.
I took it off. I was staring at her. I felt my body tense in anticipation. It was really hard not to close my eyes out of fear and habit, but I forced them to remain open.
“How do you feel?” Dr. Crowe asked.
“Nervous.” I admitted. I could still remember what had happened at the mall, and it was twisting my stomach into knots thinking about it.
“Okay, I want you to look straight ahead.” She told me. That was not a problem. The idea of lowering my eyes to see my own nakedness was repulsive to me at the moment.
Just then, Dr. Crowe took a step to her left. When she did, for a moment I thought that there was a naked girl standing behind her. It only took a moment to realize that she was standing in front of a floor length mirror and I was now staring at myself. I panicked, but too late. I could feel the walls closing in around me. My vision darkened until all I could see was a dark red. It darkened deeper into a purple.
Suddenly, I felt myself being carried around the room. Not carried… I was running in circles. It took a minute for me to gain access to my eyes. I could hear Sophie’s panicked thoughts. She didn’t know this place. The collar and leash were on her, but she had jerked away so hard that the leash had slipped out of Dr. Crowe’s hand. Sophie was running away from Dr. Crowe and looking for an exit.
Twice, it looked like Dr. Crowe had us cornered, but Sophie was quick and leaped around her. Finally, she saw the exit and bolted out the door. I could hear Dr. Crowe chasing after us, but Sophie was too fast. Once we were outside, we sprinted for longer than I ever thought possible. Sophie didn’t have clear thoughts, but the emotion she felt I fully understood. Home.
After Dr. Crowe was no longer in sight, Sophie slowed to a jog. At this point, I had wished that I left my shoes on, as I could bare feel my feet pounding on the sidewalk as we ran. We passed by a lot of people, I didn’t recognize any of them, but there was still this feeling of… I’m naked in pubic again! It was still daylight out after all.
Worse yet, we were not even headed back toward my house. It hadn’t occurred to me that Sophie might not be able to find my house. We really weren’t that far after all. All I could feel from her was the emotion of home. She was desperate to get there. Suddenly, I heard a coherent thought, ‘Sophie is a bad girl’. That thought repeated over and over as we ran through the street.
I wanted to tell her to stop. Or to turn back. Or something… I just didn’t know how to communicate with her. I felt so pitiful about her. She was crying now, and I wanted to cry too. More neighborhoods. This one felt somehow familiar.
Suddenly, Sophie stopped. She looked around frantically. The house we were standing in front of appeared empty. No cars in the driveway, the grass had overgrown all over the yard. But still, it was familiar. There was a fence around the yard, with a rusty gate. It creaked as Sophie pushed it open. Tears filled our vision as I heard her continue to repeat, ‘Sophie is a bad girl.’ We went to the back yard and that’s where I saw it.
We were standing outside of an old dog kennel. The dog house inside wasn’t real tall, I knew from experience that if I ducked down, I could fit inside. It was empty. This place was empty. Sophie began to howl. We were home, but Tabitha was long gone.
“What are you doing there?” I heard a familiar sounding woman’s voice ask.
I felt Sophie panic and she immediately lied down on the ground. She wasn’t hiding, she was scared of being beaten. She recognized the voice quicker than I did. “I asked you a question!” Heidi demanded. She had now followed us through the rusty gate and was standing over us.
Sophie looked up at her for half a second and then put her eyes back down.
“Who are? Why are you naked?” Heidi asked, some of the anger draining from her voice. “Annie?”
Sophie lay there trembling. Heidi reached down and picked up the leash. “Sophie?”
Sophie looked up, I felt hope in her heart as she suddenly had a strong desire to do whatever Heidi wanted her to do. Sophie wanted to be a good girl again. It was the only thing in the world she wanted.
“Come on.” Heidi said. Walking us out of the yard. “Tabitha doesn’t live here anymore.”
Sophie was so happy that Heidi was taking her for a walk again. She wanted to show how good she could keep up. As we got to the street, Heidi said. “Stop.”
Sophie stopped. Sophie was a good girl.
“Look, Annie, um, Sophie. Look, Tabitha moved away because of what happened. Both of us got into a lot of trouble because of you.” She started but changed to, “I’m sorry for what we did to you back then. I’m sorry for how things turned out. It just… what happened to you? Did you escape from the loony bin or something?” She asked.
Sophie looked at Heidi with a beaming smile. That feeling of home was everywhere.
“You can’t stay here. And you can’t stay with me. Where did you come from anyway? And who put this collar on you?” Heidi asked. Sophie, of course said nothing. Heidi took the time to look at me. Something about the collar caught her eye. Suddenly, she pulled out her cell phone and made a phone call.
“Hi, is this Dr. Sheila Crowe?” Heidi asked.
I could hear someone speaking on the other side, but couldn’t make out words.
“Hi Dr. Crowe. Do you know anything about a naked girl running around with a dog collar and a leash?” Heidi asked cautiously.
“Oh, well… I can bring her to you.” Heidi said. “Where are you now?”
“Okay, hold on. I’m punching the address into my phone. Okay, see you then.”
After she hung up, Heidi picked up the leash again and said “Let’s go.”
Sophie was so proud. She walked so well. Tabitha had trained us to only walk as we were instructed. Heidi wasn’t as good at giving the instructions as Tabitha had been, but Sophie didn’t care. She was happily going for a walk. Sophie is a good girl! That last thought came from me.
Heidi was following the turn by turn navigation on her phone. We were walking back a different way from the way we came. I was starting to worry that Heidi had called the wrong person until I suddenly realized that we were heading to Dr. Crowe’s office.
Dr. Crowe was waiting for us outside. She waited as we approached. I could feel Sophie’s emotions becoming conflicted. She clearly recognized Dr. Crowe, but was with Heidi now. Sophie was feeling… confused.
“Annie, where did you run off to?” Dr. Crowe asked me.
“She answers to Sophie.” Heidi said flatly. “I think you know that.”
Heidi was tall for a girl. Tall and broad. Dr. Crowe was closer to my height, 5’3” and very petite. If the size difference intimidated Dr. Crowe, there was no sign of it. “And you are?” Dr. Crowe asked her.
“My name is Heidi.” She responded.
“Ah, so that is where she went. Looking for her old master.” Dr. Crowe said.
“She was looking for Tabitha. She moved. So Sophie began howling and waking up the neighborhood. I just happened by and recognized her is all.” Heidi said.
“Well, thank you for returning her. May I?” Dr. Crowe asked, holding her hand out.
Heidi handed out leash over to Dr. Crowe. She then looked at me and said, “Sophie, listen. Tabitha is gone. I’m not your master. You now belong to Dr. Crowe. Do you understand?”
Sophie lowered her head and began to whimper. “Sophie, listen. Do not come looking for me to Tabitha again. I mean it. You stay! Understand.”
Sophie met Heidi’s gaze for a second, and then nodded. I had not seen her do that before, but it seemed to be what Heidi was looking for.
Heidi turned back to Dr. Crowe. “Is she going to be okay?”
“Eventually.” Dr. Crowe said. “She had a long road to recovery, but eventually she’ll be okay.”
Heidi then turned and left without another word.
“Let’s go home, Sophie.” Dr. Crowe said. We walked back to Dr. Crowe’s house. Sophie walked well, but she was not so proud this time. If I had to guess, she felt bad for running away. Or maybe she was fearful she would be punished over it. If that was what she thought, well… she was right.