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The Yankee Express

Luke’s Christmas Gift

By Amy LeClaire

“Are you coming to see me?”
When it comes to the sights and sounds of the season, Luke is not shy to the joy of Christmas. He’s an avid watcher. He’s aware of the reason for the season. 
He stares across the front lawn. Another blue truck screeches to a halt and states the obvious. “A person is inside! He’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming. I can feel it in my bones.” Luke quivers and smiles. His mouth opens and shuts. “He’s coming. He’s not. He’s texting. He’s just about ready!” 
Luke stares some more, turns around like an oversized ballerina, then snaps out of delirium to concentrate. He doesn’t want to miss out on a single clue that, indeed, a person will carry a pizza or a present to his front lawn. 
“I wonder if he’s bringing me something?” He stalks to the middle of the lawn and crouches down to submission. “I’m going to show the driver that my big head has nothing to do with my personality. I’m going to show him how gentle I truly am.” He remains down for as long as he can bear it. Given his age (not yet two) I find Luke’s patience to be remarkable. Still, my pup is about to learn a lesson—that not everyone likes dogs. The Amazon driver is no exception. 
He appears stiff and serious, a cautious elf. Sensing his ambivalence, Luke attempts to compromise the awkward moment. He sits up straight and smiles proudly. “My name is Luke Valentino and I have my own column and website. You can find me at---” 
Cautious Elf is unimpressed. He recoils. I eye him through the bubble glass of the front door like Mama in her kerchief, though I’m unable to settle down for any kind of nap. A Christmas package is in jeopardy. 
“Hi there!” I pull open the front door. 
Luke takes my sudden appearance as a clue that a front yard social is in order. He gallops closer to Cautious Elf. “Momma, look – the elf with a vest on has a present for me!”  Then he resumes a clownish habit he’s recently adopted during new transitions. He chases his tail foolishly, spinning around like a top with a fur coat. My gaze rests on my crazy, spinning dog. Fearing him seems superfluous. Nevertheless, the driver has a right to be afraid. The journalist in me longs to better understand him. (Moreover, I want that package). 
“Luke is just shy of two. He still has some puppy in him. I’m sorry.”
Not sorry, Luke finishes one final spin and hedges closer to our guest. 
“It’s just that— ” Cautious Elf takes a deep breath. The cloud of his exhale falls heavily in the space between us.
“You’ve been bit?” I read his mind.
“Yeah. I had a bad experience.” 
The Valentino in Luke flares. “Give me a name.” He tilts a curious head to the victim holding a present and inquires. “No one messes with my people.” I make a fair decision to grab Luke’s collar and collect more information. 
“That must have been terrible. Was it a Pitbull, by chance?” 
He places his free finger on his chin, a detective with a new clue. “Actually, it was a dog that looked like yours.”
Luke looks up at me. He appears curious, a bear cub who’s just finished the last of his honey.  “Wasn’t me.”
The thought of a Golden Retriever attacking a person seems inconceivable, but the truth is grim. Any dog can bite. We don’t know exactly what passes through a dog’s mind pre-attack, though we do know that temperament, a dog’s upbringing, territorial or food aggression, and fear play a role. I pet Luke’s big head. He, too, seems to understand. 
“Can I still have the present?” 
The Amazon gift bag dangles lifelessly in the hand of Cautious Elf, an employee I place at the age of 25. He has a whole life ahead of him to experience the joy of dogs, yet he’s been traumatized by one that looks like a bear cub. I remember the day Luke was attacked by a shepherd at the dog park. I haven’t been able to return to that very park. Despite my perplex with the situation, I do understand this young man. “I’ll go put Luke in the house,” I say, and proceed to tug Luke by the collar, back towards the front door.
“I didn’t do anything, Momma!” Luke shuffles against my side with a heavy heart. I feel badly, but it’s the right thing to do. 
Little did I know we were all about to witness the kind of gift that can’t be wrapped.
Luke and I pause. 
“Your dog seems pretty cool.”
Luke tugs me back to the elf’s voice. “He said I’m cool!” 
“Are you sure you want to meet Luke?” I don’t want to exacerbate his trauma, yet deep down, I’m proud of the decision to face his dog demon. Luke is equally as proud. He wiggles joyfully. “Aw. That driver had me at Park.” 
Cautious Elf approaches Luke then kneels to his level. Roles shift. A Man Bitten and A Dog Loved form a match made on my frosty lawn. “He’s so soft,” he says, massaging Luke’s big head. “Your vest smells like popcorn.” Luke sniffs the man’s pocket. 
“Luke, be easy,” I command, partially fearing the worst, that my dog bites the hand that feeds us somebody’s Christmas gift. However valid, my fear is short-lived. Luke licks the scruff of the man’s chin, boasting a relationship that works. “Hey, you can’t have that.” Happy Elf chuckles while Luke gnaws playfully at the corner of a package that’s taken far too long to be delivered. 
“I’ll take that,” I say with a snatch and a smile. Happy Elf hands it over but deep down I know the truth. Once again, my dog, a healer, has delivered a gift that can’t be wrapped. 

Follow Luke on IG @livingwithlukevalentino 
Write to Amy – [email protected]