This month’s story is Augi and the Dog Days of Summer, by Michelle Francik. To download a printable .pdf file of the story, please click here.
Augi and the Dog Days of Summer
by Michelle Francik
“Hey, Augi! Is this a good one?”
August Leo wiped the sweat from her eyes with the back of her hand and reached for the stone the young woman held in her hand. She held it carefully between her middle finger and her thumb, tilting the grassy green stone so the sun reflected off the surface, highlighting the golden streaks running through it.
“That’s a beauty, April! What a great find.” She handed the stone back and stood up, brushing the dirt from the knees of her jeans.
“Thank you, Augi,” April said, eyes gleaming. “Do we have time to look for more?”
She laughed. “Not today, I’m afraid. It’s over 100 degrees out here and I’m ready for some air conditioning and an Arnold Palmer.”
“I didn’t know you drank alcohol,” a young man named Tomas said, crossing his arms in front of his chest, his usual smile transforming into a frown.
“I don’t, silly. It’s half lemonade and half iced tea. The best of both worlds,” Augi sighed.
The smile returned to the boy’s face and he asked, “Sounds weird. Can I try some?”
“Of course you can. Now everyone, it’s time to pack up. Gather your things and meet me at the SUV in five minutes.”
Augi surveyed the group as they followed her instructions. There were four 13-year olds; two female and two male. All of them foster kids who were struggling in their placements. She’d been leading groups like this for the last four years, taking them to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation to dig for peridot. The bright green gem was known for its beauty and glow, but it was also believed to have protective powers, with the ability to drive away nightmares and fears.
Having grown up in the foster care system herself, she knew how important it was to have something you could believe in, and physically hold onto, when things got tough. Once everything was loaded and everyone was buckled up, they headed for the nearest café, Augi’s favorite, Charlie Sky’s.
The interior of the café was icy cold after the summer heat, and the welcoming aromas of freshly brewed coffee and apple pie made Augi’s mouth water in anticipation. A short, chubby woman with jet black hair and soft brown eyes bustled over and wrapped her arms around Augi.
“Hey, Charlie,” Augi said, once she was released from the bear hug.
“Wait, your name is Charlie?” one of the boys asked, snorting and shaking his head. “That’s not a girl’s name.”
Charlie looked at the young man and smiled. “Yes. My name is Charlie. What’s your name?”
Augi bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud as the boy’s face and neck flushed, going from pink to a deep red as he stuttered, “It’s Leslie. My name’s Leslie.”
Charlie’s lips twitched, but she just held out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Leslie.” After they shook hands she turned to the rest of the group. “Introduce me to your friends, Augi, dear.”
“Well, Charlie, you’ve met Leslie, but we call him Les, and this is Tomas, April and Starr. Everyone, this is my friend, Charlie.”
“It’s nice to meet all of you. If you’ll follow me, I’ll get you all settled in at our very best table.”
Once everyone was seated, she pulled out her order pad and a pen and asked, “Now who’d like a tall, cold glass of lemonade?”
“Actually, if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to try an Arnold Palmer,” Tomas said, shyly.
“It’s no trouble at all. I knew Augi here was stopping by, so I have a fresh pitcher ready to go. Would anyone else like to try one?” As everyone nodded, she smiled and tucked her pad and pen into her apron pocket. “Arnold Palmers all around then. Be right back.”
“She seems very nice,” Starr murmured.
“She is very nice. She’s one of the few people I trust. And you all know how valuable and rare that is.” The kids nodded and squirmed in their seats. Being a foster kid wasn’t easy and more often than not you learned to trust nobody—not even yourself. “You all know I was a foster kid, just like you. And you know that things were tough for me.”
April nodded. “You’ve told us that you were left in a church when you were a baby, so you never knew your parents.”
Les added, “And you were bounced around from foster home to foster home. And how many names have you had?”
“I’ve honestly lost count,” Augi sighed. “Since I didn’t have a name when I was found they temporarily named me after the church, but Reconciliation was a mouthful, so each foster family gave me a different nickname and most of them weren’t very nice. A few I remember are Reconsider, Pew Baby and Unholy Water. I learned to roll with it but once I turned 18, I chose my own name and I think it suits me. Nobody is sure what day I was actually born, but I was found on August 8th, so that’s my official birth date. I researched the month of August and found out that it was originally called Sextilis and was the 6th month of the year until they added the months of January and February to the calendar which made it the 8th month. And August had 30 days, then 31, then 29 and then back to 31.” She shrugged. “Since August has been through a lot, like me, it just seemed like an appropriate name. And since the zodiac sign for that day is Leo, I chose that for my last name.”
“To me, Leo means fierce and brave, so I think that’s the perfect last name for you,” Starr said.
“Thank you, Starr.”
“Have you always been called Augi?”
“No, at first I wanted to be called August. Since I’d always had nicknames that I hated, I was determined to be called by my full name. Until I met Charlie. She called me Augi and it stuck. Now, it just feels right, so that’s what I prefer.”
“How did you meet Charlie?” Tomas asked.
“I can answer that,” Charlie said as she set a tray full of iced drinks on the table. “But first, drink up. I’ll be back with sandwiches, fries and a story in just a moment.”
As she walked away Les looked up at Augi. “We didn’t even order anything. How does she know what we want?”
Augi laughed. “It’s her superpower. I’ve given up trying to figure it out.”
He shrugged. “Well, I’m not eating it if it’s something I don’t want.” She smiled to herself. He’d find out soon enough.
While they were waiting for Charlie to return, they took turns sharing their finds. Tomas had found a large peridot stone that was a dark green with only one sunny streak in it. Starr’s stones were smaller, with tiny golden flecks and she planned to turn them into a bracelet. Les had found two stones, one a deep green and the other mostly golden. April shared the one she’d already shown Augi along with another peridot that was mostly a deep gold color.
“Nice job, everyone. Did you enjoy the dig today?”
“It was fun. When can we do it again?”
Augi was surprised by Starr’s comment. The girl rarely spoke and when she did, she usually mumbled her words so softly you could barely hear her. But this statement was delivered clearly, with a smile.
“Well, I’ll have to check with your foster parents, but if they agree we can do this again next week.”
“Here we go. Tomas, could you please move your glass so I can set these platters on the table?” Charlie was back with huge platters of food. Augi chuckled as the kids’ eyes grew wide with wonder.
“Wow! This is all for us?” April sounded confused, but hopeful, and all eyes turned to Augi.
“It sure is. Except for Les. Since he didn’t order anything.”
“What? No! I want to eat,” he protested.
Augi laughed and smiled up at Charlie. “What do you think, Charlie. Does Les get to eat?”
“Well he’d better.” She reached over the plates of chili cheese fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, BLT’s, ham and cheese sandwiches, and bowls of sliced bananas and oranges and placed a diagonally cut sandwich in front of him. “I made a peanut butter, butter and bacon sandwich, just for him.”
“Gross,” Tomas said. “That sounds awful.”
“No, it doesn’t. It sounds perfect.” Les’s voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears. “That’s what my real mom used to make me before she died.”
Charlie patted him on the shoulder. “Eat up now everyone. I’ll be back in a few minutes to tell you some stories about Augi.”
Les watched her leave, then looked up at Augi. “How did she know about the sandwich? Did you tell her?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “No. I didn’t know anything about that. And I have no idea how she does it. Like I said, it’s her superpower.”
“She must be magic,” he whispered.
She nodded. “She must be.”
After everyone had eaten their fill, Charlie pulled up a chair between Tomas and April and set her glass of lemonade on the table. “Are you all ready to hear about how Augi and I met?”
A loud chorus of “yes, please” had her chuckling and raising her hands in surrender.
“Okay, okay. I’ll tell you. For a bunch of quiet kids, you sure can be loud when you want to.” She smiled at Augi, then began her story.
“One night after working a double shift, I locked up the diner, took off my shoes and poured myself a glass of sweet tea. I was tired, my feet hurt, and I didn’t feel like being around people at all. I put my feet up on the booth and closed my eyes. Finally, peace and quiet. But then I heard a noise. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but then I realized it was someone whimpering.”
“I wasn’t whimpering,” Augi interrupted. “I was just, um, crying, softly.”
“Like I said,” Charlie continued, her eyes sparkling with mischief, “I heard whimpering. Even though I wanted to ignore it, that’s just not who I am. I had to find out who was whimpering and why.”
“Charlie. Could you please stop saying whimpering?”
Charlie laughed and Augi was pretty sure she heard some snickers from the kids, too. She smiled and shook her head. “Fine. I was whimpering. Please continue.”
Charlie nodded and returned to her story. “Anyway, I followed the sound to the back of the kitchen. It sounded like it was coming from the alley, just outside the back door. I grabbed a chef’s knife, unlocked the door as quietly as possible, and slowly cracked the door open.”
“Who was it? Did you have to use the knife?” Les’s eyes were huge and the words tumbled out in a rush.
“No, silly, she found Augi, didn’t you, Charlie?” April looked to the older woman to confirm her theory.
“You’re right, April, I found a young woman sitting on the step right outside the kitchen door. She had a black eye and was holding her right arm across her chest. I looked around to see if there was anything threatening in the vicinity, but it was just me and her. I lowered the knife and asked her if she was okay.”
Augi snorted. “She lowered the knife after she waved it around and called out, ‘If there’s anyone out there, I’ll cut you. You don’t know who you’re messing with. You should be afraid. Very afraid.’”
“Well, yes. I think I recall that as well, but anyway, I took her into the office and got her cleaned up. It looked like her wrist was badly bruised but not broken, and in addition to the black eye, she had a huge goose egg on the back of her skull. But she didn’t want to talk about it, and I couldn’t force her. I was debating calling the police when there was a very loud knock at the front door. ‘Stay here, I’ll be right back,’ I told her. I closed the office door and went up front to see who was pounding on my door. It was the police.
“’Sorry to bother you, Charlie, but we’re looking for a runaway. Have you seen a young woman, about 5’7, brown hair and brown eyes? Her foster parents say she stole some money from them then ran away. They want her arrested.’
‘Arrested? Seriously?’ I felt my anger rising. I was certain he was talking about the young woman who was in my office, but I was just as certain that she hadn’t stolen anything from anyone. Before I could say anything else, I heard a clatter in the kitchen and then a scream. The police officer and I ran to the kitchen and found the young woman crouched on the floor, holding her hands up to protect her head while a man stood over her, holding a heavy pan as if he was about to strike her with it.” The children gasped and Charlie’s face twisted in anger. She reached over and grabbed Augi’s hand before continuing.
“The officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the man. He put the pan down and put his hands up. He said he was just trying to stop her from running out the back door, but neither I nor the officer believed him. The officer handcuffed him while I took the young woman back to the office. A few minutes later the officer came back to talk with us. He said the man was her foster father and he was accusing her of stealing from them. He said he wouldn’t press charges as long as she returned home immediately. The young woman grabbed my hand and shook her head. ‘I can’t go back. Please don’t make me.’ Since she was under 18, the officer’s hands were tied. He told me he’d give us a few minutes, then she’d have to go home with her foster father.”
Augi was gripping Charlie’s hand just as fiercely now as she had then. Tears filled her eyes, but she held her head up high and smiled at the kids who were watching her with fear in their eyes. “It’s okay, you guys. It was a long time ago. And you haven’t heard the rest of the story yet.”
“Well, I asked her straight up if the injuries were from that . . . that . . . man in the kitchen. She nodded. I was beside myself, trying to figure out how to protect her. I didn’t want her going back to that house. I was pretty sure I’d never see her again if she did.” Charlie cleared her throat and took a sip of lemonade.
“I asked her if she’d stolen anything from her foster family. She snorted and shook her head so hard her hair whipped around her like a medusa,” she chuckled. “She told me that she’d be turning 18 in one week, so she’d begun packing a bag with the few things that were hers. When her foster sister told the foster mom that she was packing, the woman started screaming at her. Then the foster dad entered the room and attacked the young woman, saying that if she wanted to leave that bad, she could leave in a pine box.”
Tomas jumped up and ran over to Augi, hugging her tightly. April sniffled and Les slammed his fist on the table. Starr’s head was bowed, her long hair covering her face. Charlie let go of Augi’s hand and took Starr’s hand in hers. The young woman squeezed her hand, but didn’t lift her head.
“I still didn’t know what to do, but when the officer returned, I had a partial plan in place. I asked him what had to happen to have the young woman stay with me for the next week, until she turned 18. He was surprised and told me he wasn’t sure, but he’d find out. He said that in the meantime, she could stay with me if I was willing to be responsible for her. Of course, I told him yes.”
“And here’s where I finish the story,” Augi spoke up. “This incredible woman took me in and cared for me. For the first time in my life, I felt valued, protected and safe.” She blew a kiss at Charlie and placed a kiss on Tomas’s forehead. “Never forget that there are good people in the world. Not everyone is bad. After the officer left, she asked me what my name was. I’d been thinking about it for a long time. I told her my chosen name was August Leo and she pursed her lips; then she said she was going to call me Augi and I was going to deal with it.” She laughed and shrugged. “She saved my life. I couldn’t really argue with her.”
“I think the officer probably stalled for us, but he let me stay with her until my birthday. On that day, we celebrated my freedom. The very next day Charlie took me down to file for a legal name change. She helped me post it in the newspaper and before I knew it, I had a real name. For years, the only person who could get away with calling me Augi was Charlie. But as I settled down and found my place in the world, I realized that Augi represented me better than August.”
“But I still call her August when she’s being a dunderhead,” Charlie added. Everyone laughed and the mood lightened a bit, although each of the young people had their own foster care stories they had to bear.
“Is that why you started Dog Days of Summer and why you take foster kids out to dig for peridot?” Starr asked, finally looking up at everyone.
“It’s one of the reasons. I think I do it for myself, as well. It’s hard for me to connect with people, in general. But when we’re out there looking for stones, there’s some kind of bond that forms.” She shrugged. “I can’t really explain that part of it. But it fills a hole in me, in some kind of way. And yes, I created my non-profit, Dog Days of Summer, to give foster kids a taste of a different life. Show them that the world they’re living in isn’t the only world. There’s hope for the future. You just have to make it through the tough times.”
“Augi has been going on outings with kids for the last four years and most, if not all of them, have kept in touch with her. And many of them come here to celebrate when they turn 18.”
“Charlie’s being modest, now, which is not a sentence I thought I’d be saying,” Augi laughed when the older woman made a pouty face. “She continues to help anyone who needs her. She can’t take in every foster kid, but most of the workers in the diner are former foster kids.”
“Speaking of work, who’d like some dessert? We’ve got apple pie, cherry pie, chocolate cream pie, chocolate cake and apple crisp.” Charlie took everyone’s order but when she reached Les, he shook his head. “You don’t want any dessert?”
“I do, but I don’t want to order it. You can bring me whatever you think is best. Please,” he added. She nodded and bustled off.
A few minutes later she returned with apple pie for Tomas, Starr and Augi and cherry pie for April. She held up her pointer finger to let Les know she’d be back. When she returned, she set a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a crushed candy cane sprinkled over the top.
Les’s mouth dropped open and tears filled his eyes. He jumped up and hugged Charlie as hard as he could.
As the older woman headed back to the kitchen, Les leaned over and whispered to Augi. “Definitely magic.”
Augi felt her heart swell as she nodded. Dog Days of Summer was her labor of love. And these children made her life complete.
© 2023 Michelle Francik. All rights reserved.
Since this year’s Story of the Month short stories are supposed to relate to the month, I’ve been enjoying doing research about the months I’ve been scheduled to write. I’ve tried to incorporate as many small details as possible into each story as I write it. For August, I used the month name, the zodiac sign Leo, the Dog Days of Summer and the birthstone, Peridot.
I’m not really sure where the story came from. I started out with a different idea, but as I wrote, the story had a mind of its own. So I let it flow! Sometimes, that’s all you can do.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s Story of the Month! Thank you for reading!
Michelle Francik writes cozy mysteries and paranormal cozies with a touch of romance, as well as a children’s fable series. She hosts Short Story Writing Challenges and publishes anthologies. She also creates and sells printables like planners, journals, posters and more. She loves cats, heavy metal music, reading, and helping people make their dreams come true.
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