Summers at my grandparents cottage were always long and hot. Nestled in the countryside, we were free to run and play over the rolling hills or in the streams that trickled between hundred year old oak tree roots. My two older brothers would always run faster and further away. Disappearing into knight fights with twigs that would become jewel encrusted daggers.
My little legs could never keep up, stopping at the barn to catch my breath and by the time I looked up they had vanished into the long grass.
But the barn became my sanctuary. Inside the cool air calmed my flushed cheeks. The mice would scamper away, birds sang to their chicks and the hay bales provided a climbing frame.
I would go there everyday, sometimes taking jam sandwiches or a colouring book to pass my time.
One summer, as the days passed slowly and I was on my favourite hay bale, I heard a whimper.
Looking down into the dark, I saw two large, brown eyes looking back at me.
I climbed down and on all fours, peered into a small crevice in between two crates.
His small paws disturbed the dust as he backed into the corner.
Once it settled I had a piece of cheese in my hand, coaxing him forward. Slowly he crept towards me, his fluffy ears and chubby tummy curious for the treat. I called him Cheddar.
For a few days I took nick knacks for him. A blanket to keep him warm at night and biscuits because they were easy to sneak from my grandmothers jar.
One day my grandfather spotted me smuggling a bottle of milk. After some questioning I gave in and told him about Cheddar.
He chuckled, patting my scruffy hair, gave strict instructions to bring my puppy home that evening.
My brothers were initially upset that I’d kept my fluffy secret from them but Cheddar quickly became a part of our family at the cottage. We all loved him. His naturally playful character made him a great companion for my brothers and I.
Summer came to an end far to quickly that year. The day my parents arrived to take us home, our belongings were neatly packed in brown leather cases.
We waited anxiously, not knowing how our father would receive our new friend. We’d patiently taught him to sit on command, hoping he would impress our parents and we’d be allowed to take him home.
We watched as their car came down the long driveway and we ran out to greet them.
We were soon having tea in the garden and our grandmother was regaling stories of our mischief over that summer. Cheddar was plodding around the garden and as agreed, our grandfather approached the subject of us taking him home.
A flat No resounded in our ears.
We tried to plead, we tried to reason but he wouldn’t budge. “But daddy, we love him”. Nothing, no budging. Our military father was as harsh and strict on us as he is on his men. Our mother didn’t meet our eyes. The car ride home was silent.
At home my brothers and I would reminisce for hours everyday after school, talking more in that first month home than we had for years.
We would see Cheddar the next summer, he was a stallion by the time we returned and bounded towards us. That summer, and each one that followed, we would run and chase and play for hours.
But I’ll never forget that first summer. For that summer we grew to love him and each other.