Thursday, February 5, 2015
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I decided that I liked the characters from my previous story, so I decided to throw them into a larger narrative that I've been thinking about for around a year. (This has nothing to do with the current public fear of Ebola.) I also liked the idea of forcing Jill and Vincent to see each other again. Anyway, this draft is really rough because I was up until 4:00 AM writing it. Enjoy!
Just two more clients today and then I can take a bubble bath. I rap hard on the door at 126 Valglen St. Before I can finish three knocks, there is the clatter of paws on tiles and the loud barks that mean that the German Shepherd, Pepper, is bounding to see who's at the door. He stops just short of slamming face first into the frosted glass like he does every week, but that is the last bit of normal that I get all day. Instead of the usual territorial bellows Pepper usually uses to hide his big teddy bear personality from intruders and mail carriers, the sounds coming from the other side of the door are desperate. 97Lbs of dog scratches at the door and whines.
“Hello Pepper!” I said. “What's up, boy?”
I waited a few moments and rang the doorbell. There was no answer.
I dig in my jacket pocket and pull out my phone. Scrolling through the contacts, I stop at Beth's name and dial. It rings and goes to voicemail. Just for good measure, I try the door but it's locked.
Pepper curls up against the door. Something isn't right.
I look at the phone in my hand, back at Pepper, and back at the phone. Pepper lets out another long whine. I can't believe what I'm about to do. I scroll though my contacts out of the B's and into the V's.
I dial. It rings twice.
“Vincent?” I wince. The universe owes me that bubble bath now. “It's Jill.”
“Sorry. I'm over at Beth's for Pepper's session. She's not answering the door or her phone and her dog is really upset about something. Is everything okay?”
“I haven't talked to her in a few days.”
“Okay. Well something feels very wrong here. Beth's never stood me up and I've never seen Pepper act like this. Is there anything you think I should do?”
“Wait there. I'll be right over.”
Great. “Uh huh. Thanks.”
Twenty minutes later, Vincent's beige Honda pulls up and parks behind my electric blue Toyota. He gets out and walks up to where I'm waiting by the front door. He reaches into the pocket of his khakis and pulls out a key ring.
“Shit,” he says, “It's not on this one.”
I cross my arms. “You're kidding me.” My next appointment is in under an hour now.
“There's the dog door in the back.”
“Yeah, okay.” It would be a squeeze, but Pepper fits well enough. I'm not that much bigger than Pepper anyway I guess.
Vincent opens the gate to his sister's back yard and we walk to the patio. Pepper hears our approach and bursts out of the dog door. He runs up and nearly tackles me to the ground. I bend my knees to brace and Pepper leans on them, shaking.
“Whoa,” Vincent mumbles.
“Come on, Pepper,” I start towards the dog door. “Take us to mommy.”
Pepper goes in first and I squeeze in after, thankful that I'm wearing yoga pants for training rather than a dress. Once I pull my feet inside, I stand up and unlock the door for Vincent. The alarm bleeps in warning as soon as he opens it, but Vincent turns it off.
“Beth?” I call out.
There isn't an answer, but Pepper runs partway up the stairs and barks.
“Upstairs then,” Vincent says. “I can understand dogs that much.”
As we follow Pepper, I notice that his big water dish by the base of the stairs is almost empty. It had to have been two days since someone last filled it.
Pepper leads us into a dark bedroom and jumps onto the bed. The curtains are drawn and the bed is piled with blankets. I turn on the light as Vincent walks over to the bed.
“Beth?” He almost whispers.
Beth doesn't answer. She is pale and drenched in sweat, but shivering. Her hair is disheveled and her lips are cracked. Pepper licks her cheek and whines.
“Jill, she's burning up. I think we should call an ambulance.”
“I'm on it.” I walk out of the room to let Vincent tend to his sister and dial.
“911, what's your emergency?”
“I'm need an ambulance at 126 Valglen St. Beth- the home owner- is really feverish and won't wake up.”
“I'll send a unit out. Who is calling?”
“Jill Saunders. I'm Beth's dog trainer.”
“Alright, Ms. Saunders. A team will be there in about ten minutes. Do you need me to stay on the line with you?”
“No. Thanks so much.”
I hang up and go back in the room. “The ambulance will be here in like ten minutes.”
“What would you like me to do?”
“Uh,” Vincent frowns. “I dunno. I guess I'll ride with her. Can you take Pepper?”
“Yeah. I guess I can do that.”
“Actually,” he pauses. There's a weird look on his face. “Maybe it'll be easier if you get the dog out of here before the paramedics arrive.” Easier for who?
“Good point.” I turn around and head back downstairs. I go to the kitchen and fill a gallon ziplock with kibble before retrieving Pepper's leash from its hook by the front door. I check the time on the microwave- I have about seven minutes.
Pepper stares at the leash in my hand when I get back upstairs, but he stays put on the bed. I walk to the side of the bed opposite Beth and hold the leash out to Pepper. He whines.
“It's okay, boy. C'mon. Want a treat?” the dog inches closer and I slip the walking collar over his head. “Good boy, Pepper! Now let's go for a walk.” I lead him down the stairs and let him into my car before stowing the bag of kibble in the trunk.
The ambulance pulls up as I'm about to get into the car. “They're upstairs,” I say and let the paramedics into the house. I go back to my car and get in the back seat to soothe Pepper. The paramedics bring Beth out on a stretcher a few minutes later and Vincent follows them into the back of the ambulance. Pepper barks as they drive off and disappear around the corner, lights flashing and siren blaring. “Shhhh,” I whisper, scratching his ears and half hugging him. Poor guy. I wonder when he's had anything to eat today.
When Pepper stops barking and lies down, I climb over the console into the driver's seat and head home. I'm supposed to be at my next client's house in half an hour. I pull over in a gas station and retrieve my phone.
“Hi Jill,” Alice answers. “What's up?”
“I'm sorry to change plans so suddenly, but I just had to have one of my other clients taken to the hospital and I was the only one who could take her dog.”
“Oh my god. What happened? Did you get hurt?”
“What? Oh no, it wasn't the dog. She was just sick.”
“Well anyway, I've got her stressed German Shepherd with me and I can't leave him alone like this so I think I've gotta reschedule. Is there another time this week you'd like me to come see Buster or should I just come next week?”
“Hmmmm,” Alice pauses. “This week looks pretty packed. I think next week will work.”
“Awesome.” Alice is the best. “How's Buster doing?”
“Great. Great. He only got busted on the kitchen table twice this week.”
“Well that's progress,” I laugh. “Good job, you two!”
“Thanks. I'll see you next week then.”
We hang up and I reach back to scratch Pepper's ear again before. “Who's a good boy? Pepper's a good sweetie boy. Let's go to Auntie Jill's house.” I pull back out onto the street and head home.
I let Pepper sniff around the inside of my house on the leash before letting him loose. I open the hallway closet and grab the dog dishes I'd stowed on the top shelf 3 months ago. I fill one with water and scoop three cups of kibble into the other. Pepper stares at me and licks his lips. I look him in the face. “Sit.” He complies and I put the food down for him. He practically inhales it.
My phone starts playing the theme music from Pirates of the Caribbean and I smile. “Hello?”
“Hi there,” Ryan says. “Are we still on for tonight?”
I look at Pepper. “Well, yes and no.”
“She's a mysterious one, this Jill.”
“I'd love to see you, but I can't go out.”
“Oh really?” I can just hear his grin over the phone.
“Not like that,” I laugh. “It's just that I took a client's dog home with me 'cause she had to go to the hospital.”
“Is everyone okay?”
“Honestly, I don't know. She looked really sick and her dog was kinda freaking out.”
“That sounds horrible.”
“I don't think I can leave the dog alone.”
“Of course not. Shall I bring takeout?”
“You're the best.”
“About 7:30 work?”
“Mmm, you're perfect.”
Ryan laughs. “Now go take a bath.”
“Aye aye, sir.” We hang up. Pepper follows me upstairs and I close the bedroom door behind us. I point at the bed and the dog jumps onto it while I go fill the tub.
I climb out of the now lukewarm and nearly suds free bath at around 6:00 and pull on my favorite jeans and a tank top with lace along the hems. The built-in support isn't much, but after the day I've had and the bath that soaked most of it away, I was not about to put on a bra. And it's not like Ryan will mind.
Pepper is curled up sleeping on my bed. I lie down next to him and stroke his fur before falling asleep myself. We don't wake up until the doorbell rings. I use my fingers to comb out my mild bedhead and trot downstairs to open the door.
Ryan grins and holds up a brown paper bag. I smell curry. Pepper strains against his collar, but I hold him steady. “Who's this?” Ryan asks.
“This is Pepper.”
“Hello Mr. Pepper.” Ryan holds a hand out palm up for sniffing and follows us into the house. It's the first time I've seen him meet a new dog and he aced it like a champ. A champ with Indian food.
“Let's get that onto some proper plates. I'm starving.”
I start reaching for my casual plastic plates, but grab ceramic instead to prevent the plastic from becoming permanently curry flavored. I pull two sets of stainless steel chopsticks out of the silverware drawer and bring them to the table. Ryan has already gotten the wine glasses. I pull a bottle of Riesling out of the fridge while he gets a couple of napkins and sets the table.
I pour the wine. “So how was your shift?”
“Oh, it was fine.” He starts serving up the curry. “Uneventful. Nobody's gonna come back to the restaurant tomorrow just to give me their number.”
“My word,” I tease. “Who would do such a thing?”
“Well there was this one woman.” His blue eyes sparkle; I could go for a swim in them. “She had silver hair down to the chair and the straightest teeth I've ever seen. I could tell 'cause they sat right next to her plate the whole meal.”
I nearly choke on my wine.
“How's the curry?”
“Don't think you're gonna eat it all that easy.”
“Oh, the sting of accusation, how it burns.”
“Wouldn't it sting?” I smirk.
Ryan glowers dramatically. “Eat your dinner.”
I meet his eyes, brows raised. “I will.”
“Good. So shall we watch another movie from your fantastic collection after this?”
“Sure. Which one?”
“Not a clue. Surprise me?”
“Okay. But just remember you asked for it.”
We finish dinner and clean up. The plates and chopsticks go into the dishwasher, the leftovers go into the fridge, and more wine goes into the glasses. I take Pepper outside to do his business and then peruse my shelf of DVDs. I don't want anything with rampant explosions to stress out the dog, but I don't want a cheesy romcom either. It's only been a month. The Truth About Cats and Dogs can wait. I pull The Illusionist off the shelf and put it into the player.
Ryan sits on one end of the couch and I sit slightly diagonal to lean on him. He drapes an arm over my shoulder and Pepper stretches himself across the rest of the couch with his massive head in my lap. I scratch Pepper behind the ears and Ryan starts massaging my shoulders as the movie starts.
After half an hour, my phone rings. It's just out of reach on the coffee table. I pick myself up a little and lean forward to grab the phone. It's Vincent. “Just a sec.” I grab the remote and pause the movie before answering the phone. “Hello?” I go back to leaning on Ryan's chest.
“Jill?” He sounds like shit.
“What's going on? Is Beth okay?”
“She's getting worse. That's all I know. They won't even let me see her. They say it's some kine of bacterial infection, but they don't even know what kind. The lab is supposed to analyze a culture or something by next week, but...”
“Whoa, Vincent,” I say. Ryan strokes my hair reassuringly. “Slow down. Do they even have any ideas?”
“I don't know. They won't be straight with me. Wait- they're calling me. I gotta go.” The call disconnects.
“That doesn't sound good,” Ryan says.
“It really doesn't.” I sigh and pat Pepper's head.
“I'm sorry.” Ryan moves to drape his arm around my shoulder.
I guide his hand back to my hair. “Don't stop.” I turn the movie back on.
Ryan keeps stroking my hair and leans down to kiss my forehead. I hear his heart speed up for a couple beats and then slow back down. I let my eyes drift shut and let the rise and fall of Ryan's chest, his heartbeat, and his hands in my hair upstage Edward Norton. I've seen this movie before. Spoiler alert: the girl's not dead. She's actually waiting for Edward Norton at a little farmhouse in the country and he takes a train to meet her there well after her supposed death. It's really a great film.
I must have drifted off at some point because next thing I know, the credits are rolling and Ryan says, “That was a really good movie.”
“That's why I picked it. I save the bad ones for special occasions.”
The doorbell rings. I look at the clock. It's around 10:00. “Are we expecting anyone?”
“Not that I know of.” I haul myself off the couch and go to answer the door.
It's Vincent. His face is blotched red and he looks utterly disheveled. “She's gone.”
“I didn't know what else to do. I just talked to her last week. And now she's...”
I'd just spoken to Beth three days ago. Ryan puts a hand on my shoulder. “Why don't you come in?”
“Okay.” Vincent sniffs and follows us back to the living room. Pepper bounds up to Vincent and sniffs him. He looks around for Beth and whines.
I turn off the TV.
“They said they did all they could, but they couldn't even tell me what it was.”
“I'm so sorry, Vincent.” I say.
“Would you like some curry?” Ryan asks.
“No thanks. Do you have water?” I get up and get him a glass. Pepper lies down between my chair and Vincent with a sigh. “God, what do I do with the dog? I certainly can't take him.”
“Don't worry about Pepper,” I say. “He can stay with me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.” It's not how I was planning to get a new dog, but sometimes the universe takes plans into its own hands.
“I don't even know who to tell. She's the only family I had left.”
“I'm sorry. I had no idea.” I need to give my sister a call tomorrow.
Vincent grabs a napkin out of the dispenser and blows his nose. Turning to Ryan, he says, “I'm not sure we met. I'm Vincent.”
“I'm sorry if I'm interrupting something or anything.”
“Not at all.”
“I am, aren't I?”
“No, no,” I say.
Vincent grips his makeshift tissue and jumps up. “Oh god. Oh god. I gotta go.” He bolts for the door. Ryan and I hurry after him. Vincent is halfway to his car by the time we get to the front door.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” I call after him.
He gets into his car without answering.
He drives away without another word.
“Are you okay?” Ryan asks.
Beth's dead. Fuck. I turn around and bury my face in Ryan's shoulder. His arms fold around me and now the tears come. “Can you stay with Pepper and me tonight?” I ask into his shirt.