TWO GOOD DOGS
Susan Wilson, the bestselling author of One Good Dog delivers another powerful novel of loyalty and love.
Single mom Skye Mitchell has sunk her last dime into a dream, owning the venerable, if run-down LakeView Hotel in the Berkshire Hills. It’s here where she believes she’ll give her fourteen-year-old daughter Cody a better life. But being an innkeeper is more challenging than she imagined, and Cody still manages to fall in with the wrong crowd. In addition, Cody is keeping an earth-shattering secret that she’s terrified to reveal. The once loving, open girl has now become completely withdrawn,
Susan Wilson, the bestselling author of One Good Dog delivers another powerful novel of loyalty and love.
Single mom Skye Mitchell has sunk her last dime into a dream, owning the venerable, if run-down LakeView Hotel in the Berkshire Hills. It’s here where she believes she’ll give her fourteen-year-old daughter Cody a better life. But being an innkeeper is more challenging than she imagined, and Cody still manages to fall in with the wrong crowd. In addition, Cody is keeping an earth-shattering secret that she’s terrified to reveal. The once loving, open girl has now become completely withdrawn, and Skye is both desperate and helpless to reach her.
When Adam March and his pit bull Chance check into the hotel, it becomes the first of many visits. Here in these peaceful mountains he finds an unexpected relief from his recent bereavement. He and the beleaguered innkeeper form a tentative friendship. Adam knows the struggles of raising a difficult teenager and Skye understands loneliness.
And then there is Mingo, a street kid with a pit bull dog of his own. When Cody discovers an overdosed Mingo, Adam takes the boy’s dog not just for safekeeping, but to foster and then rehome. But the dog isn’t the only one who needs saving. A makeshift family begins to form as four lost people learn to trust and rely on each other, with the help of two good dogs.
- St. Martin's Press
- March 2018
- 352 Pages
1. Was there a specific character or story line that you were especially drawn to as you read? If so, why?
2. This novel is told from multiple points of views, allowing the reader to see miscommunications and misunderstandings from different perspectives. How would your experience as a reader have been different if the novel had been told only from Skye’s perspective? What if it had been told only from Cody’s perspective?
3. On page 218, Chance observes that “Adam is an interesting example of the duality of humanness.” What does this mean? How is the story enhanced by including Chance’s perspective and observations?
4. At one point Skye fears that Cody will repeat Skye’s mistakes in her own life. How does this fear affect the way she parents Cody? In what ways are Skye and Cody similar? In what ways are they different?
5. Cody is determined to get Lucky/Dawg back to Mingo, while Adam firmly believes Mingo should not have the dog. What reasons do they each have for their opinions? Why does it mean so much to them? Who did you find yourself agreeing with as the story unfolded?
6. On page 216, Adam realizes that he and Mingo have more in common than he had thought. Skye, Cody, Adam, and Mingo come from different walks of life with different experiences and different perspectives. What do they all have in common?
7. On page 282, Adam tells Mingo he’s reached a “transcendent opportunity.” Later, on page 314, after Mingo tells Cody that Skye has fired him, he refers to the situation as Cody’s “transformative moment.” What do Adam and Mingo mean? Are there other places in the novel where we see characters reach transformative opportunities?
8. Throughout the novel we see Cody, Skye, Adam, and Mingo each faced with difficult choices. Which decisions were you surprised by? Which situations did you agree with and which would you have handled differently if you were in their position?
9. What do Cody, Skye, Adam, and Mingo each learn from one another by the end of the novel?
10. What do you imagine the future holds for each of the characters and the LakeView Hotel?
The tip of the fingernail file etches a groove into the laminated surface of the school desk in a less than satisfactory way. What she really needs is a knife, something on the order of the kind that her father carried, a folding pigsticker. Something with a more meaningful edge to it. But all she’s got right now is this metal nail file she’s taken from her mother’s cosmetic bag, so she makes do.
Beneath the barrier of a cupped right hand, Cody describes the arc of haunches, a short back, then the angular thrust of a neck, the meaningful scroll of face and muzzle, curls of mane suggesting motion. Tiny forward-pointing ears. By the time she’s ready to attach legs to her creation, she’s forgotten to protect her work from the prying eyes of her history teacher and she’s snapped out of her creative trance by the wrenching of the file out of her hand, the rasp scraping the skin of her forefinger.
“Cody Mitchell, that’s defacing public property.” Mrs. Lewis holds the offending manicure tool like a tiny sword, pointing it at Cody’s artwork.
Cody sits back, shakes her uncombed hair out of her face, shoves her blocky glasses up on her small nose, and folds her arms across her chest in a show of perfect fourteen-year-old defiance. “It’s art.”
“It’s a detention and a trip to the principal.”
Just another day at this stupid school. Perfect.
As she slings her backpack over her shoulder, she hears the derisive giggling, the sotto voce gibes of her classmates, not a one of whom is her friend. Her friends are all back in Holyoke, enjoying their first year of high school together, without her. She’s stuck in this rural excuse for a high school.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When her mother announced that she’d put a deposit down on an old hotel, fulfilling a longtime ambition to own her own “boutique” hotel, Cody had been as excited as anyone. She envisioned inviting the girls up for the summer, swimming in an outdoor pool, maybe even horseback riding. It would be fun.
But then everything changed.
Now it felt more like she was in hiding. She knows she should be glad to be far away from what happened that day, far enough away that maybe she’s even safe, keeping her word, her exacted promise; keeping the Secret, surely safer at this distance. If he can’t find them, he can’t touch them. Her mother will never know.
It might have been all right, even though the LakeView Hotel did turn out to be a wreck, a giant money pit without even a pool, except that Cody is the butt of other kids’ laughter, the stranger who doesn’t share in their communal past. Not one friend.
Cody shoves the classroom door open, but her defiant gesture is foiled by the action of the hydraulic door closer. There’s no satisfying slam. She storms down the empty hallway, her unzipped backpack thumping against her spine. The heels of her cowboy boots clatter against the scuffed linoleum of the floor, announcing her solitary presence in that hall of shame.
A figure moves out from the shadow of the girls’ room. “Where you going?” The voice is curiously deep for a girl. It’s a girl Cody knows because she’s about the only other outsider in this school. She’s a junior, but repeated failures have placed her in Cody’s freshman English class. Her real name is Melanie, but she calls herself “Black Molly.” To illustrate her point, Black Molly wears only black, sports a homemade haircut coaxed into something between a Mohawk and a skunk, which is saturated with shoeblack dull dye. She has oversized holes in her ears, plugged with disks. Her nails, her lips, and the tattoo on her left bicep are black. The tattoo riding her thick arm is unidentifiable; it might be a skull and crossbones or a sunflower, and probably the work of some amateur under the influence of crack. Black Molly might be thought of as a Goth, but Cody knows better. There were plenty of Goth girls in her old school, all black lipstick and eyeliner-rimmed eyes, but there’s nothing romantically medieval about Black Molly’s appearance. If anything, she looks like the love child of a Hell’s Angel and a dominatrix. With the disposition of both. Cody’s heard the kids making fun of Black Molly behind her back. No one would be stupid enough to say anything to her face. Black Molly is tough. She’s the kind of kid that will think nothing of ripping your arm off and beating you with it. The jokes are best made when the girls’ room door shuts behind her.
“None of your business.” It’s a poor riposte, but the best Cody can come up with. Black Molly may be intimidating to everyone else, but Cody holds her ground. She’s already mad at the world, so why not get physical? Why not unleash the boiling anger onto this creature of the night?
“I asked you a question.” Black Molly eases herself away from the cement-block wall, which is painted a cheery pink to identify the girls’ room; the rubber soles of her unlaced boots squeak against the dirty floor. She’s a heavy girl, and several inches taller than Cody.
It is that fifteen-minute block in every period where the kids who wander the halls have finally settled in, where the teachers on hall duty have sneaked into the teachers’ room to grab a cuppa. Where the principal, head in hands, is studying the budget and the secretaries are gossiping, their backs to the big window that overlooks the main hallway. There is no one to stop this.
“Where’d you come from?” Black Molly suddenly affects a neutral stance.
“They got that big mall there, right?”
“I guess so.”
“So, why you here?”
Cody shrugs. “Dunno. My mom…” She lets the sentence dangle. “It’s hard to explain.” Cody has enough insight into this poor rural community to know that owning even a run-down hotel might seem like putting on airs.
“They don’t like you.” Black Molly lifts her chin in the general direction of the classrooms.
“I guess not.”
“They don’t like me.”
Cody, who has not made eye contact, as she wouldn’t with any wild animal, finally looks up from under her bangs. “Yeah. I noticed. Sucks.”
Black Molly makes a chuffled noise, and it takes Cody a second to recognize it as a laugh. “They all suck. They don’t like anybody who ain’t like them.”
“But you, you grew up here, right?”
“Yeah. But I’m different.”
Now it’s Cody’s turn to chuckle. “You kind of like stating the obvious, don’t you?”
“I’m different and I’m proud of it. I don’t want to be like them, and if you’re smart, neither will you.”
“I don’t want to be like them. I just want to go—” She cuts herself off. Home. There is no home, not anymore.
“Back where I came from.”
“Go. Run away. I’ve done it. Twice.”
“Where’d you run to?”
“Got as far as Greenfield the first time. I got a sister there. She sent me back.”
“And the second time?”
The righteous click-clack of teacher shoes and a quick warning to get where they are supposed to be. Black Molly flourishes a pass and walks back into the girls’ room. Cody unslings her backpack and zips it up, shoulders it once more, and heads to the office.
* * *
The bills are fanned out on the reception desk in order of due date. I rearrange them in ascending order of amount owed, then alphabetically. It really doesn’t help. Framed in the plate-glass picture window of the front office of the LakeView Hotel, I can see the Berkshire Hills, which are the chief attraction in this area. The trees, the promised cornerstone of a four-season income, aren’t yet alive with the colors that should attract caravans of tourists this fall; stubbornly languishing more blue than red in the early days of autumn, awaiting some twitch in the calendar to become motivated enough to herald in true fall. The old-timers are puzzled; everyone blames global warming. Summer itself was a disappointing season of too much rain and not enough activity to tempt people northward. As we are a little too far off the beaten path to work as a convenient staging place for cultural forays to Lenox or Stockbridge, and not quite far enough up the Mohawk Trail to get the best views, all I’d had for guests at the LakeView this summer were older hikers and a few tent campers bagging it in favor of a solid—thankfully—roof and a soft bed. Fingers crossed, the rainy summer portends a snowy winter, and skiers will help fulfill my bottom-line expectations. It goes without saying that the LakeView Hotel is just limping along, its glory days in the distant past. My own particular white elephant. Potentially, my second-biggest mistake ever.
My biggest mistake was Randy, my ex-husband. I try to think better of him now that he’s met the end we all feared he would, victim of a drive-by shooting, just another small-time drug dealer who pissed someone off.
So, how does a nice middle-class girl from Agawam meet a renegade bad boy like Randy Mitchell? How else? The mall. The Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, where teens have hung out, met, cruised, and even shopped for longer than I can say. I was a high school senior, feeling flush with the heady power of having my driver’s license, and my mother’s grudging permission to take our car, the only one we had, since she sold my father’s Lincoln after his death. My girlfriends and I were seated outside of the Orange Julius, affecting the ennui of world weariness, casting disdainful looks at the tweens giggling, arms linked, clattering by; the worn-looking matrons dragging toddlers away from the temptations of the toy store. We might have been discussing the college acceptances we were anticipating, or maybe just the latest gossip. What cheerleader was rumored to have had an abortion. Which teacher was caught working part-time at the video store.
Randy Mitchell drifted by with his posse. We feigned not noticing them. They rolled by again, blatantly checking us out. These were the boys your mother would warn you about, the ones who meant trouble, the kind of boys who were after “only one thing.” We pretended that we weren’t flattered, that their silent, predatory attention wasn’t kind of thrilling. They were older. At least twenty. Clearly from the rough part of town. And that was a powerful attraction, being the object of an older boy’s interest, a boy outside our social strata. When we didn’t move away, they grew bolder and sat on a bench close by. There was a swagger to them, a fearlessness.
Randy was the first to speak, and within moments he’d cut me from the herd and he and I were having our own conversation. And then, as if I were Elizabeth Bennet’s younger sister Lydia falling under the spell of the contemptible Wickham, I was smitten.
How I fell for that handsome Welsh charm, his certainty that he was invulnerable. I became Bonnie to his Clyde Barrow, without the bank robbery. Kid stuff, not sociopathic, simply rebelling against my middle-class upbringing. But I can’t really blame my mother. For me, Randy was the perfect self-inflicted wound. And, despite everything, he was Cody’s father.
I open up the computer, log in to my bank account, and play a round of deal or no deal with the bills at hand, balancing interest rates against relationships with the vendors I have to meet face-to-face, like the exterminator or the guy from the oil company. Bank of America will take another pound of flesh, but Berkshire Oil and Gas needs to be kept happy. I have to be able to meet the eye of the delivery guy when I bump into him in the grocery store. I dole out what I can, fiddle a little with payment dates, and log out of the Web site. It’s been just six months, something I have to keep reminding myself when I think back to my original business plan, one that had breezily forecast a better cash flow, complete with college-fund contributions on a regular basis. Just for fun, I open the reservations window on the computer and stare at the empty slots, willing each one to miraculously fill. Each empty line represents an empty room. I extend out to the weekend and see two names listed. Two rooms. Two nights. Enough to pay down another of these bills.
My most current revised business plan skims along the edge of solvency; not quite insolvent—yet—there is just enough cash left over each month to keep us fed and clothed. There is no fat, no juicy bubble of impulsivity. Pizza is budgeted. Health care is at the mercy of Mass Health’s sliding scale of contribution. Most important, as I continue to tell myself, I’m providing a good place for Cody, a place where she can breathe in fresh country air, and stay out of malls. Away from the influences of life in a poor city, a place to start anew. Oh, wait, maybe that’s just me. Cody has never said it out loud, but it’s clear from her descent from a bubbly, happy-go-lucky kid to a sullen, angry, silent, petulant, et cetera, et cetera, teenager that this move from Holyoke’s mean streets to a classic New England village in the Berkshires has ruined her life.
It’s a beautiful day and the rooms are done, the laundry is in the washing machine, and Cody is at school. I pull my hair back into a loose knot and go outside to the porch, pull up a rocking chair, and plant my heels on the railing. The view, even at this lower elevation, is spectacular, and it’s all mine. Regrets aren’t given much headspace. Buying the LakeView might be considered a little impulsive, but I still have, six months in, a deep-seated belief that if something is meant to be, it will be, so I’m not going to let the crushing worries of my middle-of-the-night wakening persuade me it’s not. I will make this work no matter how hard it gets. But you know what? It’s okay. It’s the dream realized. It’s the living embodiment of be careful of what you wish for.
Copyright © 2017 by Susan Wilson