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Moving in together; When the neighbour's dog needed a new home, 15-year-old Lexie decided to move him into her dad's.

Tom stared at his 15-year-old daughter. 'Lexie, you can't move Mrs Dennison's dog into the house without asking Elaina and me.' ' Lexie - whose school reports were littered with descriptions such as 'irrepressible' and 'free spirit' - tilted her blonde head and smiled sweetly. 'I already have. Her bed's in the utility room. Isn't it, Sparkle?' Sparkle the golden Labrador looked up and thumped her tail.

'But' began Tom. 'I'll keep her off your lovely new suite,' Lexie cut in quickly.

Resisting the temptation to check the dark blue sofa for Labrador hairs, Tom slid a fatherly arm along Lexie's shoulders. 'Darling, I know you love Sparkle, but I'm afraid she has to go home.' ' 'Sorry, Dad.' Lexie slipped from his embrace. 'Sparkle and I do love each other. This is her home now. It'll'Mrs mean a period of adjustment for us all, but I know you want me to be happy.' Dennison can't so I said would after ' Lexie's words were a lot like those Tom had uttered when he and girlfriend Elaina were preparing to move in together. In those days, Lexie had lived with Tom's ex-wife Marie most of the time. Now, with Marie working abroad for nine months, Tom was overjoyed that his daughter had come to live with him but he hadn't bargained on being stuck with the neighbour's dog.

dog Tom glanced across at Elaina and was dismayed to catch her smothering a grin. He made his voice firmer. 'Lexie, I'm well aware you're parodying me, but I'm afraid I have to put my foot down. Sparkle goes.' Lexie bent on him her most angelic expression. 'Then so does Elaina.' She glanced at Elaina, lounging in her favourite corner of the sofa. 'No offence.' Elaina's eyes brimmed with laughter, but she managed to keep a straight face. 'None taken.' Tom's patience began to thin. 'This is Elaina's home.' Assuming her most reasonable expression, Lexie nodded. 'Then it's Sparkle's home too. C'mon, Sparkle! Let's go for a walk.' Sparkle leapt vertically in the air and barked, racing for the front door as Lexie grabbed the lead. 'Bye!' The door slammed and Lexie and Sparkle were gone.

Elaina let out a peal of laughter. 'You should have seen your face!' ' Reluctantly, Tom grinned. He sank onto the sofa and pulled Elaina close, dropping a kiss on her hair. Although they'd moved in together more than a year ago, the punches of love he felt for her still caught him by surprise. 'This isn't funny. She's a headache, that girl of mine.'cope, ' 'But never a bore,' Elaina added. And laughed again. For someone who didn't have kids of her own, she'd adapted amazingly well to life with a teenager.

Ilook her Sparkle' 'It's all right for you,' he grumbled. 'You go out to work. My office is here. It's hard enough translating Russian text books with Lexie around, let alone a fat, smelly, noisy, hairy, slobbery dog.' 'She's not fat,' Elaina pointed out fairly.

An hour later, Lexie and Sparkle reappeared. Elaina was scrolling through a document on her iPad and, apart from calling hello, evidently meant to keep clear of the battlefield. Tom, however, had spent the interval marshalling his forces.

'Come and sit down,' he began, adopting his most authoritative voice.

Sparkle galumphed over and sat at his feet, ears up and expression expectant.

Lexie and Elaina both burst out laughing, then Elaina turned back to her iPad trying to look as if she hadn't. Tom glared at her shaking shoulders.

'What a good girl! Did you think Daddy meant you?' Lexie crooned, fondling Sparkle's head. Finally, she sat down on a chair and gave her attention to Tom. 'Yes, Dad?' Tom decided not to comment on being cast in the role of Sparkle's dad, but to come at the situation from a new angle. 'I'm proud you've done the dog-walking while Mrs Dennison gets over her hip operation, but isn't she expecting Sparkle back soon?' Lexie shook her head. 'Mrs Dennison has gone to live with her daughter.' Even Elaina looked up at that, and Tom felt as if someone had given a sharp tug to the sofa beneath him. 'Gone? For how long?' 'I don't know.' Lexie continued in the same polite, reasonable voice. 'She can't cope right now. Her daughter lives in a small flat, so Sparkle couldn't go there and I said I'd have her. Even,' she added with the air of someone owning up, 'if Mrs Dennison never comes back.' 'And you didn't think you should ask us first?' Tom tried never to be the kind of father who shouted the odds, but he couldn't help his voice climbing as he perceived threats to both his tranquility and his furniture. 'And Mrs Dennison didn't have the courtesy to check with me?' Pink patches bloomed in Lexie's cheeks and her eyes began to glitter. 'I told her there was no need. Like you and Mum didn't check with me when you decided you didn't love each other and were going your separate ways.' Tom's heart gave a great lurch and his annoyance vanished. 'Lexie, darling.' He took her hand as he had so many times throughout her life. Her hand was bigger than when she used to skip along beside him to the sweetie shop, but their fingers still linked together as if meant. 'We made it as easy as we could on you. Prioritised you.' 'Yeah?' A tear formed on her lashes. 'Well, I'm prioritising my dog.' 'Sparkle's not your dog,' he said, gently. 'She is now. Or at least for now, because otherwise she'll have to be rehomed with someone she doesn't know. At the moment she's just got two homes, like me.' Lexie gave his hand a squeeze, but there was steel in her voice. 'Look, Dad, I've tried to understand you and Mum. First I adjusted to you not living together, then you moving in with Elaina and Mum dating. Then Mum got this great opportunity to work in Dubai and I moved in with you for a while. You and Mum explained everything to me calmly and I accepted it.' But then her voice wobbled. 'Now I've explained about Sparkle. It's your turn to adjust. To know how it feels.' Then she jumped up and ran upstairs, Sparkle galloping happily at her heels.

Once she was safely out of earshot, Tom swore. Shame made his skin hot, but guilt made his stomach feel cold.

Elaina shoved her iPad aside, a stricken expression replacing the earlier merriment in her eyes. 'She's got a point,' she whispered.

'She has.' His voice emerged hoarsely.

'I thought we'd handled it so well. Marie and I talked and talked to her. We asked for her views and we listened to them. But we thought the decision was all ours. How could I have been so blind?' Elaina groaned. 'I feel about two inches tall. She's never made things difficult for me. Other people talk about sullenness or tantrums from their stepkids. She's a bit of a character, but I like that. She makes me smile.' didn't with decided love other' 'I don't feel like smiling now.' Tom rose and followed his daughter upstairs, conscious of Elaina's footsteps close behind.

They found Lexie lying on her bedroom carpet, her laptop open and Sparkle panting at her side.

Both looked up when Tom and Elaina knocked at the open door. Sparkle put back her ears and thumped a welcome with her tail. Lexie wiped pink-rimmed eyes and looked several degrees less welcoming. 'I've just Skyped Mum and explained that when I go back to live with her then Sparkle will come too.' The teenager's calm seemed more fragile now, tinged, perhaps, with desperation.

Downstairs, Tom's mobile phone began to ring. 'That's probably her now,' he said, lowering himself beside Lexie on the carpet and leaning his back against her bed. 'I'll talk to her later.' Lexie looked at him with damp, wary eyes. 'And say what?' Tom slid his arm around her, the irrepressible free spirit who'd fooled him into thinking she'd adjusted well as her family changed. This young person was so precious to him. He couldn't give her family back to her as it had once been but he could put himself in her place.

Over Lexie's head he exchanged a look with Elaina, who'd crouched to stroke Sparkle's shining coat. Then he turned to his daughter and grinned. 'I'll tell her the good news. We've got a dog.' | | SUE MOORCROFT'S NOVEL ONE SUMMER IN ITALY PUBLISHES IN ALL FORMATS ON 17 MAY

'Mrs Dennison can't cope, so I said I would look after her dog Sparkle' 'You and mum didn't check with me when you decided not to love each other'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 13, 2018
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