Grin & Bear It
by Mary Ann Smyth

Buddy lay on the floor of the family room, stretched to his full Springer Spaniel length, soft snores fluttering his cheeks. Occasionally, his front legs moved as though running in his sleep. He awoke with a start when Jim sat in his recliner.

'Hey, Dad. Must have dozed off there for a minute.'

'Buddy, you've been snoring for an hour at least. Hope your dreams were good ones,' Jim said as he looked fondly at his dog. He reached his hand to Buddy and the dog slipped under it so Jim could scratch his back and ruffle his ears. Sheer bliss!

'Speaking of dreams, Dad. Bear wanted to know if ...'

'Buddy, stop it! Stop telling me what Bear has to say. Bear is a stuffed toy. He can't talk. He can't even move on his own. It's bad enough I have a talking dog. I don't want a talking bear.'

'Aw! Come on, Pops. You know you love it that I can talk. Now that you live alone, you'd be lost without me,' Buddy said as Jim patted his flanks.

'Yeah. I have to admit I do enjoy talking with you most of the time. When you're not cooking up one of your schemes. Or getting into scrapes.'

'Schemes? Me? I don't have schemes. I don't know what you're talking about.'

'Must I remind you of your marimba playing ambitions? And your plans for your own flea market?'

'Just ideas. That's all they were. Just ideas. They never really got off the ground.'

'Then how about Bear's paternity suit? And his free fall from Carol's Stearman?'

'Mild aberrations, that's all. Just aberrations. And Bear was cleared of all charges with the DNA testing ...'

'Don't go there, Buddy. Do you hear me? Don't go there. It's impossible to test for DNA with a stuffed toy. That has to be one of my most embarrassing episodes with you.'

'Okay. Okay.' Buddy held up a paw to ward off more conversation about Bear's paternity suit. 'It's in the past.'

'Well,' Jim said with warning in his voice, 'I don't want any more of those aberrations. Understand? No more.' Jim picked up his model-railroading magazine from his lap and pointedly started to read. He ignored Buddy, who sat in front of him with the gaze from his soft brown eyes drilling into a spot between Jim's eyes.

Jim continued to read, his attention seemingly riveted on an article about a man's home setup of model trains in Reading that was open to the public. 'Not far,' Jim muttered to himself. 'Maybe I could take a run up there Sunday.'

'Hey, I'd love to see that,' said Buddy, his stump of a tail wagging. 'Could Bear go?'

'If I do go, neither of you are going. I go alone. Then you two can't get in trouble. I can picture you and Bear trying to get rides on the model trains. And causing collisions. No way. You're not going.'

Sunday after church saw Buddy, Bear and Jim in the '56 Packard on their way home from Reading.

'Good idea, Dad, to take the old buggy for a spin. Got to keep it in good running order. It sure is a beauty.' Buddy's paw gently caressed the original green upholstery.

'I'll admit I had misgivings about taking you two along. But you were both on your best behavior. See how nice it can be when you don't cause problems.'

Buddy's head was halfway out the window of the passenger's seat, with Bear tucked under his chin so he too could enjoy the breeze.

 'Right on, Dadeo. Told you we'd be like angels. That man sure was nice. Letting us come in his house and see his trains.'

'I think seeing you sitting at the window of the Packard with Bear hanging from your mouth did it. It was his wife though who insisted you see the trains.'

'She was cool. Gave us cookies and lemonade. Her beast of a dog didn't like it, but I told him to back off. Who did he think he was? King of the Mountain?'

'Aw, Buddy. What did you say to him? Darn it, now I probably can't go back there.'

'That pooch was way out of line. Just because I drank the lemonade out of his bowl, he wanted to throw the bowl out. Said he might pick up something from Bear or me. Well, I showed him. Wait 'til he tries to find his bouncy ball. I hid it in the pocket of a winter coat in their hall closet. Hated to touch it. It was all chewed up and slobbery. I could hear him crying as we left. Couldn't find his ball.'

'How would you feel if someone hid Bear from you?'

'Not the same thing. Bear's my son. That ball was just a scroungey old ball. Nasty thing.' Buddy made the motions of spitting out the window. 'Not a member of his family like Bear is of mine.'

'I see. Bear is inanimate, as is that ball. I think of them as the same thing.'

'Well, they're not. Okay? They're not.'

'I am very pleased with you, Buddy. You behaved like a real gentleman in there. No nonsense. On your very best behavior. It was a real treat.'

'Not sorry now that you brought us?'

'No. I still don't know how you talked me into it. But it was nice to have the company.'

Buddy gave a high five sign to Bear and a faint smile crossed his lips. Bear's head seemed to bow in response.

'Uh, Dad?'

'Now it comes.'

'What are you talking about?'

'Whenever you say Dad as a question, I know something is coming that I'm not going to like.'

'Aw. Geez. Why are you always suspicious of me?'

'I think I have good reason to be.' Jim waved at an SUV that streaked by with a hand raised out its window to signal the driver's appreciation of the restoration of the old car. He stole a peek at Buddy, who sat erect in the passenger seat, the seat belt Jim had fashioned for him allowing Buddy a slight range of movement.

Buddy, spying a Cocker Spaniel in a passing car, whistled out the open window. The Cocker's head turned to give him a wink as they passed each other.

'Stop that! Buddy! Just behave. If you want to flirt, you'll have to do it on your own time. Or I'll tell Gwennie on you.'

'Aw, don't tell Gwennie. She has a real jealous streak. And not much of a sense of humor. Fine old girl, but she doesn't understand me. I just like to make the girls feel someone appreciates them. Just a harmless good deed.'

'Flirting is just doing something nice, hunh?'

'That's right. When a handsome dog like me whistles at you, you know you are fine.'

'Apart from your good works, you're also noted for your humility, right?'

'Something like that.'

'Okay,' Jim said with a smile on his face. Shaking his head at Buddy's inflated sense of ego, he continued, 'What did you want to talk to me about? We were discussing dreams earlier, I believe.'

'Yeah. Dreams. Well, Bear's dearest dream has been to see his mother and twin brother again.'

'Thought they were both dead,' Jim said.

'Turns out they're not. They're alive and kicking and would like to come see Bear. Maybe spend some quality family time together. How about it, Pops? Can I tell Bear it's a go for them to visit?'

'Sure, why not? Yeah. They can visit. How much trouble can two more stuffed bears be? But I warn you. The first inkling of trouble with the law and out they go.'

'Why should there be any trouble? Grin and his mama Sock It-Toyah are law abiding bears. No problemo.'

'I thought you were kidding,' Jim said, shaking his head and laughing at Bear's brother's name. 'I guess their last name is It-Toyah. What a hoot.'

'Don't laugh. Grin and Bear It are identical twins and upstanding citizens to boot. Mama Sock It-Toyah was married twice but kept the name It because of the boys, so she uses the last names from both her marriages.'

'Where have Mama Sock and Grin been all the time Bear has been with us? And how did Bear wind up in a store window?'

'Well, it's a long story. You see, Mama Sock was an operative with the CIA and ...'

'BUDDY! Stop right there. Don't make up a background for them. Let's just have a nice visit. I'll accept them as Bear's family. When they leave, is Bear going with them?'

'NO. NO! No way. That's a negative. Definitely not. He's staying. He may be adopted, but he's my son and he stays with me.'

As Buddy's worried eyes teared up, Jim said, 'Okay. Of course, he stays. Sorry about my insensitivity. I just wasn't thinking.'

Buddy wiped his face against Jim's shirt sleeve. By now, tears had started flowing and he was visibly upset. As he turned to allow Bear to console him, he gave Bear a big wink that Bear returned with a slight movement of his head. Buddy had pushed the right buttons again.

One evening as Jim came through the door to his house from work, Buddy met him in the family room. A big smile lit the dog's face and his stubby tail kept wagging.

'They're here, Dad. They're here.'

'Who's here, Buddy? Oh, that's right. Bear's mother and brother were to arrive today. How did they get here? UPS?'

'Pops, UPS is for packages. They came in a cab. Bear is so excited.'

'That I'd like to see.'

'What? What would you like to see?'

'Bear excited. That's a first.'

'Bear is very emotional. You haven't been paying attention to him and he cries to me at night about that.'

'Please, Buddy. Don't insult my intelligence. Bear is just that - a bear. A cloth bear. No more.'

'Boy, Pops, you just refuse to see, don't you?'

'Come on, Buddy, I'd like to meet my house guests.'

Buddy followed Jim into the living room where Bear, Grin and Mama Sock were sitting on the love seat, huddled together, holding each other's paws.

After introductions were made and Jim, with tongue in cheek, formally shook Mama Sock's and Grin's paws and welcomed them to his home, he was startled to see a slow smile creep across Mama Sock's bear face. Shaking his head, as though to clear out unwanted thoughts, Jim turned to Buddy.

'By the way, Buddy. I noticed a car pulling out of the driveway when I came around the corner. Who was here?'

'Two CIA men and a member of the FBI. You would have thought they'd leave Mama and Grin alone until they at least got settled in.'

'BUDDY! Knock it off. Enough is enough. Next you'll be telling me that Mama had a tape recorder embedded in her stomach and she was planted in a foreign embassy.'

'How did you know that? I never told you. Mama, I didn't.' Buddy turned to Mama Sock as his right paw rose in the air. 'I swear it, Mama. I never told him about that.'

Mama Sock looked at Jim and Buddy with an implacable stare. After a moment, Jim began to feel decidedly uncomfortable. He turned to go into the kitchen to start his dinner.

'Dad. Wait. Wait.' Buddy's voice had a desperate edge to it. 'Please tell Mama that I never told you about that.'

Buddy looked so upset, that Jim bowed to Mama and said, 'Mama Sock, Buddy never told me about your role in the field of foreign intrigue. That was pure guess work on my part.'

He looked at Buddy, spread his hands wide to show he was complying with Buddy's wishes and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. What am I doing, he thought? I'm catering to my dog's wild imagination. I must be nuts. I actually apologized to a stuffed bear! Living with Buddy is finally getting to me. I'm cracking up.

Buddy skidded into the kitchen right behind Jim. 'Hey, thanks, Dad O. You got me out of a bad moment. Mama Sock thought I'd really told you about that whole tape recorder in the stomach thing.'

'Buddy, I don't want to hear any more about this whole espionage thing. No more! Do you understand? NO MORE. Mama Sock and Grin can stay but there is to be not one more word about the CIA or FBI or tape recorders. Do I make myself clear? Or they go. And I think Bear can just go with them.'

'Unh. NO. I can't believe you said that.' Buddy sank back on his haunches and gasped for breath. 'Send my baby boy out into the cruel world. He's not ready to fend for himself. I have so much more to teach him.' A tear escaped Buddy's eye and his paw came up to wipe it away. 'I tell you he's not ready.'

'He'll have Mama and Grin to look out for him.' Jim shook his head as he stared into the open refrigerator. 'What do I want for dinner? I don't know.' He slammed the door and turned to Buddy. 'You've made me lose my appetite with that nonsense. I've had it, Bud. Up to here.' Jim's hand came up to slice the air just over his head.

'Got ya, Dad. Got ya. No more talk of anything but family tales. I can't send my little fellow out into the world. He's not used to what people are like. He wouldn't survive.'

'Cut it out, Buddy. Working on my sympathies doesn't cut any ice. Stop making up stories. What were you going to tell me? That Mama Sock listened in on high level conferences and the info she collected on her tape recorder went to the White House? Give me a break.'

'Okay, I won't tell you that she was a secret operative and helped to prevent World War III. Does she get credit for that? Oh, no. Just got thrown out of the Agency because she married and had twin boys. How's that for gratitude? No thanks from a grateful government. Just a pink slip in her pay envelope.'

'Buddy! Watch it. You're pushing me too far. No more. That's it. Or out the door they go.'

Jim's hand swept toward the back storm door, his thumb extended as though he were hitchhiking. Buddy's paw went to his heart. He gasped once again and tried to talk. He took a moment to compose himself. And then said, 'I can't believe you mean that. You'd put my little boy and his family out in the cold?'

'Buddy, it's 78 degrees out there.'

'You know what I mean. The cold, cold world. I'm going to get Grin and Mama settled in the guestroom and then Bear and I will be back to sit with you. We'll watch TV. Is that English veterinarian show on tonight? That's one of my favorites.'

'Good. We'll watch that. And then I think I'll make a sandwich. And then hit the sack. I'm tired tonight. A busy day at work.'

Jim's relief that Buddy had gotten off the subject of spies was obvious. 'That dog's fantasies could give Disney enough ideas for a year's worth of movies.' Jim shook his head, realizing that he did that a lot when he had dealings with Buddy.

Later that same night, with Bear asleep at Buddy's feet and Jim dozing in his chair, Buddy watched a James Bond movie. 'Boy, this is tame stuff after you talk to Mama Sock,' he muttered to himself. He carefully picked up Bear, trying not to awaken the small creature, and the two of them went to bed.

As Jim prepared for bed, he thought he could hear voices coming from the guestroom. 'That must be Grin and Mama Sock. Good grief. I'm buying into Buddy's nonsense. Those two things can't talk. Any more than Bear can.' He went to sleep and dreamt of covert operations and spies and hidden tape recorders. And once when he awoke in the middle of the night, he could swear he again heard voices.

At breakfast the next morning, as Jim sat and finished his coffee, he asked Buddy, 'Are our house guests up yet? Will they be here when I get home tonight?'

'Sure they'll be here,' Buddy said. 'Where are they going to go? They cant leave here without being spotted. You just don't realize the severity of their position. Mama was able to get Bear out of the safe house only to see him plucked up by a wholesaler. That's how he ended up in that store window where we found him.'

'BUDDY,' Jim warned. 'It's too early in the morning for this.'

Buddy dropped to one knee and pleaded, with both front paws on Jim's leg. 'This is no con, Pops. Im serious. If the foreign factions find Mama and Grin, it's curtains for them.'

'What will they do? Tear the stuffing out of them?' Jim laughed and patted the anxious dog on the head. 'Come off it, Bud. You've taken this far enough.'

'Well, I've contacted some people I know and they've promised to give them new identities and a new home. Staying here is just temporary. Just another day or so. A seamstress is coming later today to change their looks. A tuck here and letting out a seam there. They'll be entirely new bears. Unrecognizable. I've even talked them into giving Bear a tummy tuck. As a sort of bonus. He's getting a little too pudgy. Not good for his health.'

'Buddy, what are you on? I don't see how you can come up with this stuff. You should write a book. Be a best seller. Kind of hard, though, getting the world to believe that a dog wrote a thriller.'

'I'm not working on the plot for a thriller. This is real life, here. Do you hear me? Real life. The It family is in danger. And I'm going to do what I can to protect my son's mother and twin. Foreign agents are desperate to get their hands on Mama and our country wants to find them to make sure they don't talk. They're not safe.'

'Yeah, sure, Bud. Okay. I'm going to work. Let's see where this story goes by the time the day's over. Now that I'm getting in the swing of this, I'm starting to look forward to the next chapter. Could have sworn, though, that I heard voices coming from the guestroom last night. Come up with a reason for that for me, hunh, Bud?'

Jim opened the door to the garage. As he did so, he said, 'See you tonight, Buddy. I hope you all have a good day.' As he started his Mercury Sable, he noticed movement in his rear view mirror. As though a wraith had passed over the glass. But when he turned around to look, all he saw was a neighbor driving by. He shrugged his shoulders, waved to the neighbor and went to work.

When Jim pulled into his driveway that evening, he thought he saw someone standing in the center of a large stand of rhododendron bushes at the edge of his property. As he watched, the figure dropped to its knees and crawled further into the thicket.

'Must have let that story Buddy was concocting get to me. Starting to see things now.'

'Buddy, I'm home. How was your day? How are our guests?'

'They're gone. Bear is desolate. He had been hoping for a little longer with his birth family.'

'What happened? I thought they were to be here a little longer. I'm sorry, Bear. Must be disappointing,' Jim said with a grimace as he realized he was playing into Buddy's story. What the heck. In for a penny, in for a pound. 'Bear, how about if we go out for some ice cream? Might cheer you up a bit.'

'Bear loves ice cream. But I'm afraid that won't do the trick this time. The new safe house was ready sooner than was anticipated and my people came for Mama Sock and Grin. They had a few moments to say goodbye and we watched them leave. A truck that said The Skunk Man on its side took them away.'

'The skunk man? Who the devil's that?'

'You know. That guy you call if you have a skunk taking up residence on your property. He traps the skunk and relocates it. The truck smelled pretty much like what it was used for. But none of the neighbors seemed to pay any attention to it and Mama and Grin ran out and got in it.'

'Do you know where they went? Maybe we could pay them a visit on our vacation.'

'No, it's a secret. Even Bear and I don't know where they've gone. Unless the world situation changes, we'll never see them again. Buck up, Bear. It's for the best.'

'Boy, this has to be the most elaborate story you've ever come up with. You almost had me believing it. You're really good, Buddy.'

'This is no story, Daddy. This is for real.'

'Yeah, sure.'

A knock on the door stopped Jim from commenting any more. As he walked to the front of the house to answer the doorbell, he said, 'I hope that ends this story for good, Buddy. You know you can take a good thing too far. Any more would just be too much.' Jim felt relief that the whole time of make-believe was over and he could get back to normal life. As normal as life could be living with a dog that could talk.

'Yes?' he said to a cluster of men on his front door step.

'Mr. Yocum, is Buddy Yocum here? We need to talk to him. We spoke to him on the phone and he wouldn't give us any answers. We hoped coming here in person would change his mind.'

'And you are?'

The tall blond man in the trench coat answered as he dug identification from a pocket, 'I'm Barry Collins of the CIA. This is Fred Long of the FBI. The dark haired man back there is John Duross of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the angry looking one is Jacques Lafitte of Interpol.'

Jim stood in his doorway, unable to move, his mouth slack with shock, and stared.

Buddy stood beside Jim leaning against his leg to give him support. He smiled at the men and Bear winked.

Note; The author retains all rights to this story.