The Game of Love

The Game of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

The Game of Love

Love is something eternal.

Vincent van Gogh

Dad brought him home from a fishing trip in the mountains, full of cockleburs and so thin you could count every rib.

“Good gracious,” Mom said. “He’s filthy!”

“No, he isn’t! He’s Rusty,” said John, my eight-year-old brother. “Can we keep him? Please . . . please . . . please.”

“He’s going to be a big dog,” Dad warned, lifting a mudencrusted paw. “Probably why he was abandoned.”

“What kind of dog?” I asked. It was impossible to get close to this smelly creature.

“Mostly German shepherd,” Dad said. “He’s in bad shape, John. He may not make it.”

John was gently picking out cockleburs.

“I’ll take care of Rusty. Honest, I will.”

Mom gave in, as she usually did with John. My little brother had a mild form of hemophilia. Four years earlier, he’d almost bled to death from a routine tonsillectomy. We’d all been careful with him since then.

“All right, John,” Dad said. “We’ll keep Rusty. But he’s your responsibility.”


And that’s how Rusty came to live with us. He was John’s dog from that very first moment, though he tolerated the rest of us.

John kept his word. He fed, watered, medicated and groomed the scruffy-looking animal every day. I think he liked taking care of something rather than being taken care of.

Over the summer, Rusty grew into a big, handsome dog. He and John were constant companions. Wherever John went, Rusty was by his side. When school began, Rusty would walk John the six blocks to elementary school, then come home. Every school day at three o’clock, rain or shine, Rusty would wait for John at the playground.

“There goes Rusty,” the neighbors would say. “Must be close to three. You can set your watch by that dog.”

Telling time wasn’t the only amazing thing about Rusty. Somehow, he sensed that John shouldn’t roughhouse like the other boys. He was very protective. When the neighborhood bully taunted my undersized brother, Rusty’s hackles rose, and a deep, menacing growl came from his throat. The heckling ceased after one encounter. And when John and his best friend Bobby wrestled, Rusty monitored their play with a watchful eye. If John were on top, fine. If Bobby got John down, Rusty would lope over, grab Bobby’s collar and pull him off. Bobby and John thought this game great fun. They staged fights quite often, much to Mother’s dismay.

“You’re going to get hurt, John!” she would scold. “And you aren’t being fair to Rusty.”

John didn’t like being restricted. He hated being careful— being different. “It’s just a game, Mom. Shoot, even Rusty knows that. Don’t you, boy?” Rusty would cock his head and give John a happy smile.

In the spring, John got an afternoon paper route. He’d come home from school, fold his papers and take off on his bike to deliver them. He always took the same streets, in the same order. Of course, Rusty delivered papers, too.

One day, for no particular reason, John changed his route. Instead of turning left on a street as he usually did, he turned right. Thump! . . . Crash! . . . A screech of brakes . . . Rusty sailed through the air.

Someone called us about the accident. I had to pry John from Rusty’s lifeless body so that Dad could bring Rusty home.

“It’s my fault,” John said over and over. “Rusty thought the car was gonna hit me. He thought it was another game.”

“The only game Rusty was playing was the game of love,” Dad said. “You both played it well.”

John sniffled. “Huh?”

“You were there for Rusty when he needed you. He was there for you when he thought you needed him. That’s the game of love.”

“I want him back,” John wailed. “My Rusty’s gone!”

“No, he isn’t,” Dad said, hugging John and me. “Rusty will stay in your memories forever.”

And he has.

Lou Kassem

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