Joint Custody

Joint Custody

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Jackie Logsted

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Overview

A mischievous dog takes matters into his own paws when his beloved owners split up in this offbeat romantic comedy. 

The Man has custody Monday through Friday, The Woman has custody on the weekends. But that's not enough for Gatz, who will do anything to bring them back together—even if it kills him. And it almost did. Of course he knows chocolate is bad for him, especially two whole pounds of it, but it’s the risk he’s willing to take to get them back together. 

Gatz knows that The Man and The Woman are perfect for each other—how can they not see it too? She is an editor and he’s a writer. She’s a social butterfly and he’s as introverted as a guy can get.  After the misguided death-by-chocolate attempt, Gatz thinks he still has time. But when New Man—so handsome, so nice, so perfect—enters The Woman's life, he realizes he’ll need to step up his game. And you know what they say: drastic times call for drastic doggy measures.  

A laugh-out-loud romance that will touch your heart and make you want a furry friend of your own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593199589
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Series: The Gatz Chronicles , #1
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 177,842
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 40 books for adults, teens and children, including The Sisters 8 series for young readers which she created with her husband Greg Logsted and their daughter Jackie. Her books have been published in 15 countries. She has yet to meet a jigsaw puzzle that could defeat her. Lauren lives with her family in Connecticut where, surprisingly, she has a cat.

Jackie Logsted is a college student studying film, screenwriting, and American Studies, training to write and direct movies. She created The Sisters 8 series with her mother and father, and had a short story published in Ink Stains Vol. 7. She knows her cat would be jealous to find out she wrote a book about a dog, so she chooses not to tell him. At college, she runs into many dogs, and never condescendingly calls them "buddy".

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It all started with the chocolates.

Ah, who am I kidding?

It all nearly ended with the chocolates too.

It was the best idea I ever had. It was the worst idea I ever had. It was an idea that could save them. It was an idea that could kill me. Did you see that? I just riffed on Dickens there. Not as good, I know, but bear with me.

The day was cold and brisk. I knew, because I’d been out already once for my morning walk, up and down the tree-­lined sidewalk of the street outside our Brooklyn brownstone. But it was also bright and sunny, the golden rays acting like a beacon as they shone across the dining room table, spotlighting the heart-­shaped box wrapped in red cellophane. I’d seen boxes like that before and knew what they contained.

I needed to get to that box.

First, I hopped up onto the wooden chair. And from there, I hopped up onto the round table, shoving a marked-­up manuscript out of the way to get closer to my goal. The Man is a writer, and there are books everywhere in this place—controlled chaos.

Now I was face-­to-­face with the box. If I had to guess, I’d say it weighed a pound. Also, it said it right there on the front: lb looks like el-­bee, but it means one pound, right?

OK, I know what you’re thinking right around now. You’re thinking, The dog can read? Which is soon naturally followed by, Preposterous!

Well, think on this: consider the infinite monkey theorem. Come on, you know what that is, right? It’s the theorem that states that “a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”

Of course, that’s just a metaphor. But the way people bandy it around, you’d think chimps were pumping out five-­act plays in iambic pentameter on a regular basis. If people will believe such a positive thing about chimps, when everyone knows that if you try to make a pet out of a chimp it might one day kill you, then it’s really not such a great leap to think that a dog could learn how to read. Particularly a smart dog who’s grown up in a home crammed full of great books.

And hey, it’s not like I claimed I could write a book.

I’m no chimp.

But I might have been a chump. Because as I stared at that sealed red cellophane, contemplating my suicide mission, I had to ask the question: Could I really bring myself to do this?

Well, I thought, at the very least, I could remove the cellophane. And then, you know, make my decision once the box was open. I’d no doubt get in trouble merely for marring the packaging, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

And honestly, just getting that wrapping off presented its own joys—the crinkling noises; the mere act of rebellion itself—as well as its inherent risks. At one point, I heard sounds coming from the bedroom. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing, ears going straight up. These days, The Man often goes back to bed after our morning walk—he suffers from a mild, sometimes more than mild, depression— which is why I’d timed this the way I had. If he was awake, I could never get away with this. But soon the noise from the bedroom ceased, and after waiting one long minute more just to be sure, I resumed my efforts.

Not so easy, given I’d just had my nails clipped the night before. How I hate it when my nails have just been clipped. Nothing feels right, I tell you.

But eventually, the heart-­shaped box was free of its cellophane wrapping. The box itself was also red, and now I eyed it warily.

Again, the question arose in me: Could I really bring myself to do this?

Well, I thought, at least I could take the lid off. Then I’d worry about it.

The lid wasn’t nearly as challenging as the cellophane had been. Just a firm nudge of my snout and I’d popped that baby right off.

And then, the question one final time, as I faced the array of chocolates:

Could I really bring myself to do this?

Of course I could.

I’d brought them together once. I would bring them together again, no matter what it took, even if it killed me.

Doing something that could bring about your own death when you don’t really want to die—it’s not the easiest thing to do.

But then I thought: It’s all about the happy ending . . .

And as the chorus from the Bruno Mars song “Grenade” began running on a loop in my brain—y’know, jumping in front of trains, catching grenades; I told myself it was all just like playing fetch—I dived in.

I nosed around the contents for a time, taking in the scent that was both beautiful and treacherous. But I must admit, after the first taste of chocolate and then maybe the second, I forgot the risks. Because . . .

Ohmygod . . . it tasted SO. GOOD.

That taste was so good, and I wanted it to go on and on, forever and ever, so I just kept eating it and eating it until . . .

Holy crap. How did that box get so empty?

Well, except for all the little brown wrappers. There were wrappers everywhere.

But the chocolate? Every last bit—the milk chocolates and the dark chocolates, the chocolates with cream inside and the chocolates with caramel and the chocolates with nuts and even the chocolates with that crappy Roman nougat stuff (I mean, what is that crap even made out of?). All of it gone. All of it now inside me.

I’m guessing it was the sound of me running around the place like a maniac that finally woke The Man. That and the smell of the vomit. Maybe the diarrhea.

“Gatz! Oh my god, Gatz!”

In my near-­comatose state, at the sound of The Man’s panicked voice, I tilted my eyes over to see The Man standing in the doorway to the bedroom, his depression bathrobe hanging open over his T-shirt and jeans, Mets ball cap on backward per the usual, feet bare.

By the way, I was named after that guy who dies in the swimming pool. Don’t judge. It’s his favorite book. Hers too.

OK, so maybe this isn’t the right time for a primer on my name.

“Gatz! What did you do?” The Man cried, rushing over to where I lay on the floor in my filth and my empty wrappers. It might sound like he was mad at me, but he wasn’t. There was real anguish in his voice, and I felt so bad for putting it there. I hated hurting The Man, but I had to do it. It was for his own good. Again, hers too.

“You know better!” The Man said as he fumbled for his cell phone.

Well, of course I know better, you nitwit. Hey, it’s part of my master plan!

“Just hang in there, Gatz,” The Man said, patting me reassuringly as he held the phone to his ear, waiting for someone to pick up.

Yes! I thought. He’s calling The Woman—score! Finally! I knew he’d call her, I knew it, I knew it, I—

Only it turned out he wasn’t calling The Woman after all, which I could tell by the way he spoke to whoever was on the other end of the line.

“Black-­and-­white border collie,” he said.

“Three years old,” he said.

“Twenty-­two pounds,” he said.

See, that’s when I knew he hadn’t called The Woman, because he wouldn’t need to tell her all that stuff about me. The Woman already knew all that stuff about me.

About those twenty-­two pounds: I’m on the low range of weight for my breed, but what can I say? I may be tiny in size, but I’m mighty in how I love. Apart from the gender, what Helena said of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is true of me too: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Realizing that The Man was not talking to The Woman, but rather, what sounded like it was probably some animal hospital, I promptly puked again.

The Man scratched the side of his face with the fingers on the hand that was holding the phone to his ear, as he continued to soothe me with the other hand and said, “I don’t know. It looks like the whole box? I don’t remember what size I bought. Maybe a pound?”

I didn’t know either anymore. By that point I’d started to tremble so bad, my heart pounding harder than it ever had in my whole life, it was pretty difficult for me to focus.

“Yes, I’ll bring him right in.” The Man’s voice came to me through my delirium. “And the box too.”

A minute later, I felt a blanket being wrapped around my trembling body and The Man lifting me up into his arms, filth and all.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Then he hurried down the stairs with the empty box of chocolates and me, out the door and into the car, where he buckled me into the passenger seat beside him—safety first.

As we peeled away from the curb, I heard him pushing buttons on his phone again. If I could have, I would have yelled, SAFETY FIRST! at him, because every idiot knows you’re not supposed to use a handheld device while driving, but then I realized that finally—finally!—he was calling The Woman, and I no longer cared about safety. Not at all.

As they spoke, I pictured The Woman in the Manhattan office of the publishing company where she’s an editor: tall, dark skin, beautiful, elegant hairstyle and with a charming slight gap between her front teeth, slight British accent when she speaks. And the office? It’s as tidy as a book editor’s can be, books coming out an equal distance to the millimeter on the shelves lining the room. For her, the alphabet will always be an exact science, not an approximate art. I know all this because when others at the company bring their human offspring in for Take Your Child to Work Day, she always brings me. And hey, I’m always a big hit.

Remembering safety, The Man activated the speaker function, setting the phone in the device holder so he could keep both hands on the wheel.

“What’s going on?” The Woman said.

“It’s Gatz,” The Man said. “He ate chocolate.”

“What? How much?”

“Um . . . a lot.”

“How much is a lot?” I could hear her sense of urgency rising. “Is a lot like a couple of bites of a bar or a whole chocolate Santa?”

“It’s February.”

Even in my haze, I knew what The Man was getting at with that ominous “February.” But thankfully, she didn’t.

“I know it’s February,” she said. “How much candy did he eat?”

“A box full.”

“Oh geez.”

Oh yes!

“I just thought you’d want to know,” The Man said.

“Thank you, I’m so glad you called.”

She’s so glad!

“In case you want to meet us there,” The Man said.

In case she wants to meet us there!

“I know you love him too,” The Man said. “That’s why I called.”

That’s why he called!

“I’m on my way,” The Woman said.

She’s on her way! She’s on her way! She’s on her—

And then he hung up, and soon we were at our destination, not caring that double-­parking might earn us a ticket or a tow, the passenger door opening, him scooping me into his arms again, filth and all plus the empty box, and he was hustling me inside, his bare feet wet and raw from the slushy sidewalks because he’d neglected to throw on shoes in his rush to save my life.

Some might think it unrealistic, that a person wouldn’t put on shoes in the middle of winter. But I say: Have you ever needed to save somebody’s life before? When every second is critical, life or death? Would you really stop and say, “Hey, pal, can you die a little slower here—I need to find my galoshes”? If I’d “Grenade” myself for The Man, unlike in the song, The Man would totally do the same for me.

We were met at the door by a vet in a white coat. She was pretty enough—think Amy Klobuchar in a lab coat—but not like The Woman. Still, I appreciated how calm she was—The Man was such a wreck at this point, he was starting to make me nervous—and her hands felt so cool on my forehead.

Then she took the box from him.

“Two pounds?” she said. “I thought on the phone you said it was one pound.”

Wait. What?

Ah, crap. When I’d seen the “lb” on the front of the box, I thought it meant it was just one pound. I hadn’t paid attention to any number that might have been before it. Apparently, The Man hadn’t either, and he’s the one who bought the thing. What can I say, neither of us has ever been good with numbers. A dog might write you a book, but he’s never going to do your taxes.

“Let’s get him inside,” she said briskly.

As they rushed me down the hallway to an examination room, she didn’t have to add that two pounds could kill me.

We all knew that.

As much as I had wanted and intended to do this, I hadn’t actually planned on dying.

That’s when my life flashed before my eyes. And as it did, I wondered who would voice me in the movie version of my life. I kind of hoped it would be Paul Giamatti, but somehow, I suspected that Hollywood would go for Brad Pitt. That could be OK too, I guess. Or maybe they’d try to make me British, like The Woman, and go with Idris Elba.

And now the vet was working on me, inducing vomiting—not something I was a particular fan of. And hey, hadn’t I done this enough already? Then she was giving me activated charcoal to absorb the remaining toxins and hooking up an IV to get fluids into me. All the while, she was explaining how such a large quantity of chocolate presented a grave danger to one as small as I, and how the dark chocolates were more dangerous than the milk chocolates and how white chocolates would have been the best of all, and how it was really the theobromine that posed the biggest danger.

I felt like telling her, Yeah, yeah, I know all this already, lady, from that one time I ate chocolate when I was still a puppy.

Hey, I was just a puppy then. I didn’t know any better. Anyway, it was just a few Hershey’s Kisses.

Well, maybe more than a few.

Don’t judge.

But past mistakes no longer mattered, even present mistakes didn’t matter, because right then I heard a new voice penetrating my fog of pain and discomfort.

“Gatz!” the new voice cried.

It was The Woman.

She must’ve dropped everything and hopped in a cab the minute she got off the phone with The Man. God, I loved this woman.

And then she was dropping her things inside the doorway, barely giving The Man a once-­over, her eyes finally noticing those wet, raw feet.

“Your poor feet!” she exclaimed in sympathy.

See? She still cares about him! I thought.

But The Man just shook his head—like his own discomfort didn’t matter, not one bit—and then she was hurrying to my side, across from The Man on the other side. Soon, each was holding one of my paws. This couldn’t have been going any better if I’d planned it. OK, I had planned it. But can you blame me? Anyone seeing these two together had to see what I saw: they were made for each other.

If I hadn’t felt so lousy, I would have been ecstatic.

Across the examination table, their eyes met.

This was it, the moment we’d all been waiting for . . .

“Hi,” The Man said.

“Hi,” The Woman said.

Yes! They were saying hi to each other!

“Gatz,” she said, “how could you do this? You know better.”

Me knowing better seemed to be the recurrent theme of the day.

Yeah, I thought, feeling myself go all hangdog, for want of a better way to put it, I do. But someone had to do something to bring you two crazy kids back together.

And they really were together, because The Man reached an open hand across my body, and The Woman took it, practically causing me to squeal with uncomplicated joy, and The Man said, “It’s going to be OK. It has to be.”

In that moment, I tell you, everything was right in my world.

Even if I died today, it would be OK.

The Man smiled at The Woman warmly, and she smiled back: bliss, at least for me.

“How did this happen?” The Woman said. And again the refrain: “Gatz knows better.”

Then she looked around the room, and something made the soft expression go out of her eyes. Instead, her eyes hardened as the hand holding my paw stiffened.

“Valentine’s Day chocolates?” she asked The Man, sounding wounded. “Who were those for?”

Ah, crap.

That’s not how this was supposed to go.

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