Cedar Fish Campground: Book 1.5
When Gar’s secret past is discovered, Thea must fight to keep her beloved pet.
Gar, a black Newfoundland puppy, mysteriously showed up at Cedar Fish Campground and became the perfect companion to heal Thea’s grief-stricken, dog-loving heart. With such a serendipitous beginning, Thea never questioned the life Gar had before he found her. But one newspaper article could change everything.
Thea discovers a secret about Gar that could mean she loses him forever. With help from her ex-cop security guard, Nolan, and her quirky sidekick, Hennie, Thea must draw on her past to win the right to keep Gar before she loses another treasured pet.
FISHY BEGINNINGS is a short story that takes place after the events of Between a Rock and a Deadly Place, book one in the Cedar Fish Campground Series. If you love dogs or have ever lost a pet, you’ll love this tale of hilarious animal antics and moments that will both break and warm your pet-loving heart.
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I stepped out of my cabin into the fresh morning air of Cedar Fish Campground. Gar, my large, black Newfoundland puppy rushed past me out the door toward freedom. He rolled in the dew of the freshly cut grass before jumping up to run circles around me. I tossed his neon-orange ball along the path connecting my cabin to the rest of the campground. Gar caught the ball and brought it back to me, dropping it eagerly at my feet. I rolled the ball in the grass to remove most of the slobber before tossing it again.
The ball bounced along the gravel, then hit a rock and shot off to the side, sending it bouncing into the brush. Gar dove in after it. When he didn’t resurface after a few moments, I called out, “Gar, come on!”
I reached the place where the ball had vanished, but didn’t see or hear Gar. I called for him again, but did not hear the expected thumping of his paws as he ran back to me.
My heart rate spiked, and I jogged the rest of the way down the path until I reached the more packed ground of Trout Road, where the camper sites were located. I paused and listened. Crickets chirped nearby and in the distance, the goats bleated and the chickens clucked.
“Gar!” I whistled and looked up and down the road.
A camper walked along with his toiletry bag in hand, headed for the showers. I nodded and held up a hand to wave, then jogged farther down the road to find Gar. Every few feet, I stopped to listen and call to him again. He’d never run off like this before.
Panic squeezed my chest as the minutes ticked by. Gar knew the campground well enough to find his way to me, and he had always come when I called him. From the day he’d shown up unexpectedly, he’d been a very obedient dog. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps the reason he’d shown up a few weeks ago was because he’d run off from his past owner.
I shook my head to dismiss the thought. No one had come looking for him, and I’d hung up posters with his photo saying that I’d found him. Judging from the way he looked that first day—hair thick with mats and missing in some places, covered in scratches and looking too thin—I’d assumed he’d been on his own for a while. I’d gotten him into better shape with a good bath, hours of combing, and endless bowls of food.
When no one claimed him after a few weeks, I’d taken him to a vet in town to get his shots. I’d also had a microchip inserted and bought him a collar, complete with a little metal tag boasting his name and my phone number. After all that, I’d thought of him as mine.
Now, I wondered if he had run off to find someone new, just as he had found me a few weeks ago. I turned and headed back toward my cabin to get my car. Before I reached the path leading to it, my phone buzzed in my pocket.
I took it out and saw that Nolan, the campground’s security guard and handyman, had sent me a text. I opened it to see a picture of Gar chewing on a piece of toast.
“Missing someone?” Nolan had said.
“Yes!” I responded and took off toward Nolan’s camper.
I wasn’t too far away, and when I reached the camper a few minutes later, I found Nolan and Gar sitting on the porch, eating. I let out a heavy sigh as I watched Gar tear the toast with his teeth.
Nolan held up a fork in greeting. “Morning, Thea. Join us for breakfast.” He still wore his running gear—a sweaty tank and shorts—and his dark hair looked damp from his morning run.
I knelt to rub Gar’s back, feeling comforted by his presence. “I’ve been looking everywhere for him.”
Nolan gave me a guilty smile and pointed to the sausage on his plate. “Can’t expect a puppy to resist freshly cooked meat. Want one?”
I shook my head. My stomach felt like a hard knot that likely wouldn’t fair well with food. “I have to get to the office. Our new employee is starting today.”
Nolan nodded and stuck the last of his sausage in his mouth.
“Gar, let’s go.”
I gave him a short whistle, and he jumped to his feet. He swallowed the last of his toast and looked up at me with his tongue hanging out, ready for our next adventure.
As we walked toward the office, I kept Gar close to my side. The ball was likely long gone, and he’d had enough running and playing for the morning. My heart couldn’t take the chance of him disappearing again.
We reached the front of the campground as a minivan turned into the front parking lot.
“That’s got to be her,” I told Gar.
We stood for a moment in the morning’s warm breeze. Bright beams of pink-orange sun peeked through the trees as I looked over the campground. The rooster called out from his place on top of the chicken coop in the wildlife area.
The woman I’d been waiting for walked toward us wearing a green, flowered sundress. Her dark hair glinted red in the sun. Sally Becker was 32 according to her employment application—a few years younger than me—and I knew from talking to her after her interview that she was married with four-year-old twin boys.
Sally waved and smiled at me. “Good morning, Thea.”
When she reached us, she paused and smoothed her hands down her skirt. “I hope this is okay. I put on that t-shirt you gave me, but I… Well, this just made me feel so pretty, and I thought it would be better to be in the most pleasant mood possible on my first day.”
“Oh sure, that’s fine.” I wore one of my Cedar Fish Campground t-shirts most days. Usually with a hoodie. Then it was either jeans or casual khakis. For more than a decade, my life had been nine to ten hours a day behind a desk in a skirt suit. Sneakers and ponytails were now my uniform of choice. But if Sally didn’t feel the same need for comfort, it didn’t bother me any. Her job was mostly in the office, which was a relatively clean place to be. “Whatever you work best in is fine.”
She sighed in relief. “Good, because my boys also spilled grape juice all over the shirt.”
I chuckled and held the front door of the office open for her. Sally went inside. I turned to Gar. He glanced left, where the rest of the campground waited for him like a playground calling out for a child. He whined and glanced again.
“Sorry, boy. Come on.”
He hung his head as he followed me into the store. I walked behind the front counter and entered my private office. Gar’s bed was there, and he curled up on it. I gave him a last rub on the head before returning to the front counter and Sally.
Curtis, my other employee, sat on his stool off to the side, hunched over the crossword puzzle in his lap. “Curtis, you remember Sally, don’t you?”
He raised one thick, grey eyebrow at me. “Why wouldn’t I remember?”
I shrugged. I could never be sure when Curtis was paying attention or when he’d dozed off. Couldn’t be good for his back to sit like that all day. Maybe I should get him a different chair.
“Let’s start by going over the check-in process,” I said to Sally.
We reviewed the paper check-in form, which was awful and desperately needed to be replaced by an electronic system. Then I showed her how to take a reservation in our huge reservation book. That, too, was slated for redesign into a digital format.
Sally and I both looked up when a woman entered the store wearing the typical t-shirt and shorts of most campers.
“Hi there,” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
I pointed to the aisle they were in, and she walked off to find them.
“This is a good time to learn the register,” I told Sally.
When the woman came to make her purchase, I entered the price and gave her the total.
She handed me a dollar. “I also wanted to mention that my son said one of the toilets in the men’s room is stopped up.”
“Oh, okay. Which bathroom is it?” I slid our enlarged, laminated copy of the campground map in front of us.
The woman pointed to the bathrooms on the lake side of Walleye Circle, the main loop of tent sites in the campground.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll have it taken care of right away.”
She smiled and left the store.
“And now we call Nolan to fix the toilet.” I reached under the counter for my walkie talkie. “Here’s the channel list.” On a scrap of paper by the walkie’s charging dock, I’d written our individual channel numbers and the shared one.
I showed Sally how to turn to Nolan’s channel, pressed the button, and said, “We have a toilet situation.”
He answered back, “Which one?”
“Walleye, lake side, men’s.”
“You want to elaborate on that?” I said.
“Just had a clog in that bathroom yesterday.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’ll check it out and let you know,” he said.
I set the walkie down and gave my attention back to Sally. “Any questions so far?”
“Is there a certain way I should answer the phone?”
“Quickly and cheerfully.”
She nodded and pushed her chin out. “I can do that.”
“Great. We have this notepad here if you need to take a message.” I pointed to the lined pad.
The walkie crackled and Nolan said, “It’s the same toilet. Someone keeps stuffing TP in it.”
I sighed. “Seriously?” I flipped the reservation book open and looked over the full sites in the area. “Already solved the mystery. Site 159 has three boys under ten and they checked in yesterday.”
“I’ll keep an eye on them.”
“Thanks.” I put the walkie back and said to Sally, “Nolan is great at fixing things, but he’s even better at security. If you ever have a problem or someone seems off to you, just let him know.”
She hugged herself and shivered. “After that murder last month, I’m glad we have security here all the time.”
“Me too. I’d hate to think anything like that could ever happen again.”