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Authors: Lindsey Grant

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BOOK: Sleeps with Dogs
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We practiced heeling some more, to little effect. Part of the problem was the lack of incentive for Maddie. Short of carrying around chunks of boiled chicken in my pocket, I didn't really have any tummy-friendly treats to offer her. My verbal praise, however effusive, could hardly be considered reward enough to change her behavior of pulling at the leash. Without a snack to offer Maddie for good behavior and well-executed heels, I could hardly give Ash a snack right in front of her. That would be too mean.

Despite the uneven economic status of its residents, the neighborhood we walked through made for a very pleasant thirty- to forty-minute walk with the dogs. It was hilly, which gave the dogs—and me—a good workout; heavily wooded with evergreens, blocking out the sounds of the nearby highway; and virtually traffic free in the middle of the day, most of the residents either out at work or at home on the couch watching TV.

We walked the usual two-mile loop, unimpeded by the large intersections or construction sites or broken glass and other debris that littered some of my other routes, enjoying instead the dappled winter sunlight that filtered through the soaring trees.

The streets were laid out like concentric circles, turning back around on themselves in ever-widening loops until the outermost ring abutted the access road that led eventually to the on-ramp. The humble single-story homes were mostly set back from the street, many of them behind fences or gates, given the more-than-occasional crime in the area. Despite the bucolic quiet during daylight hours, these streets were no strangers to after-hours activity. Proximity to the highway was no doubt a contributing factor,
providing an easy getaway by car. Thankfully, theft and vandalism remained the primary problem, unlike some of the other parts of town I frequented, where actual assault, occasionally armed, was the bigger concern.

No matter the neighborhood, I was always happier to perform my dog-walking duties during daylight hours. Here especially, on Maddie and Ash's turf, where the relatively peaceful and rubbish-free thoroughfares lent a tranquil tone to our walks and banished the notion of any immediate threat. So long as Dave wasn't lingering, asking questions, and watching me walk.

As it happened, I spent a good portion of each week beating this particular path around this neighborhood. In addition to Ash and Maddie, the colleagues I contracted with had two other local clients that I visited frequently. Given that I repeated this route so many times, day after day, I was especially grateful that it was comparatively safe and easy to navigate.

Down one side street lived Ralph, a jaunty little corgi, and his elderly owner Edie, whom I loved like my own grandmother. Of course, it wasn't professional or appropriate for me to feel this way, much less make that apparent to her. When I came to care for Ralph, I was always happy to stay a little longer, chatting with her from the comfort of the plush rose-colored Barcalounger. Sometimes I helped her fix the remote, or retrieve something that had rolled beneath the couch. If she offered a cup of tea, I always accepted, time allowing.

Further along Maddie's street lived Gabby—a terrier mix who loved barking perhaps more than anything else—and her geriatric companion, Stuart. He was a slow-moving, fluffy black mutt of indeterminate provenance who happily went wherever Gabby did, but ten feet or so behind. It was Gabby who escaped on that
unfortunate afternoon when I became lodged beneath the neighbor's garden gate, a memory that returned every time I walked by the scene of the crime.

Of course, Maddie and Ash have never met Ralph or Gabby or Stuart. Neither had Gabby and Stuart met Ralph, or any other variation therein. Gabby barked her heart out anytime I passed her house with one of my other charges, her dog radar going crazy, so she perhaps was the only one who would be any wiser about my fraternization with other animals in the neighborhood. I always tried to make the dog I was caring for feel like my favorite and sole focus for that thirty minutes or hour. I had no other children, only them. And whomever I happened to be with at that moment, I loved them best of all.

When we got back to the house, I could hear the shower running in the small bathroom. I couldn't see that there was any change to the fine coating of feathers over every surface in the upstairs, and I wondered if Trevor intended to ignore it like I had. I flushed at the thought of him showering on the other side of the thin door, and I realized that it had been too, too long since I'd been with someone in a remotely romantic capacity.

My last relationship predated my move from the Southeast to the West Coast and ended disastrously, but predictably. I'd held out hope for us when I moved; he then met someone else and failed to inform me, and we'd had a messy reunion when I was home for Thanksgiving just a few short weeks before. He brought his new love—unannounced and uninvited—to a party at my sister's house, and we hadn't spoken since.

I had neither the energy nor the interest to seek out a replacement or even a rebound. My heart was still quite sore from the abrupt rejection, and I didn't quite trust my judgment. Not to mention that I didn't have the first idea where I might meet someone.
Since moving to California, my days and nights were filled with dogs and cats and birds and fish. The only evidence I'd had that I was even visible to anyone of the opposite sex came in the form of a comment in the snack aisle of the grocery store, when a fellow customer asked me if I found that short men were always attracted to tall women. Without thinking, I said, “No,” looking down at him. “I don't find that.”

But then, my experience was unfortunately limited to college-age almost-men, and they'd rarely articulated what, or who, they were attracted to. They left us ladies, short and tall alike, to puzzle that out for ourselves.

Heartsick or not, I was keenly—uncomfortably—aware of how hot and bothered I was at the thought of Trevor in the shower. This was Trevor, for god's sakes. He couldn't even feed his dogs without screwing something up. I couldn't deny that he bore a slight resemblance to a young John Lennon. In fact, he was kind of a dead ringer for Sean Lennon. Not unattractive by a mile.

I busied myself with the dogs, unhooking them each in turn from their collars and leashes and giving both a vigorous butt rub, sending them into wiggling circles of ecstasy and garnering many appreciative kisses on my hands and arms. I tried not to think about what might have been in Maddie's mouth last and was now coating my slobbery wrist.

When Trevor emerged from the bathroom, wrapped at the waist in a white towel, I was elbow deep in the fridge, looking for some Maddie-friendly food. Usually Maddie's chicken and rice were in Tupperware on the top shelf. Or, if it hadn't been prepared for the week, the family-sized flat of raw chicken breasts would be hard to miss. But there was nothing resembling anything remotely edible for her. Just a half-empty tray of what looked like enchiladas and a container of something stinky and unidentifiable. I couldn't
tell if it was intentionally green (i.e. guacamole, spinach, seaweed) or had become that way not-so-recently.

I hadn't bargained on having a conversation with Trevor while he was in nothing more than a piece of terry cloth, and was grateful to be facing the fridge as he passed through the kitchen toward the back stairs.

I focused instead on containing the feather mess, figuring we could discuss Maddie's food situation when he was fully clothed. Trying to sweep tiny weightless feathers is like digging a hole in wet sand, though, so I gave up after stuffing the shredded remains of the cushion into a trash bag. What I really needed was a vacuum cleaner for this job.

I listened for any indication that Trevor was coming back up the stairs, but I couldn't hear much over Ash's whining about his empty dish. And then I heard the faint strains of a guitar being strummed.

Trevor wasn't coming back up.

As a last-ditch effort, I checked the stove top for a pot of boiled rice, to no avail. The soup pan looked like it held the day-old remains of oatmeal. I sighed, out of ideas. Only then did I see the note stuck to the fridge door, scrawled in Susan's loopy script:
Ran out of chicken. Trevor will make rice before he leaves. M can have some of A's kibble.

“But she can't.” Ash's puppy food, never mind that it was for puppies, gave her the worst kind of bloody, mucous-striated diarrhea. I'd struggled with IBS for as long as I could remember and empathized with Maddie's poor, sore bottom and churning stomach when she ate the wrong stuff.

I crated Maddie while I gave Ash his snack-bowl of chow, allowing him to eat unmolested. I shut the cabinet holding his food a little too firmly, taking out some of my frustration on the sticky latch. I felt so guilty watching her watch him with cocked ears, eyes alert, as he scarfed down the food.

“I'm so sorry, baby, I don't have anything for you yet. Trevor never made your rice.” I glanced at my watch, stressing the minutes that were rapidly running by and making me late for my next walks.

Before thinking it through too clearly, I marched downstairs and knocked on Trevor's now-closed door. The guitar stopped, and I heard shuffling before the door opened a crack.

“Uh, hi, Trevor.” The opening widened. He was blessedly back into jeans and a T-shirt.

He looked down and just left of my knees.

“Do y'all have a vacuum cleaner? Sweeping the feathers isn't exactly working.”

“Oh, I'll look,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him.

I moved aside, assuming Trevor was going to go look for this mythical beast that was the vacuum cleaner, but he made no move to leave his room.

“Your mom left a note about Maddie's rice? I couldn't find any that had been cooked . . .” My voice trailed off, and I cursed the way I was meeting passivity with passivity.

A pause. Maybe he was thinking about it.

“Oh, right,” he said in monotone. “I'll do that.”

“Okay, cool. Are you getting the chicken for her, or is your mom?”

“Um, I'm not sure.”

I was trying not to scream.

“Can you get some more this afternoon? I think she's pretty hungry.”


“Okay, thanks. And the vacuum cleaner . . . do you want me to clean up before I go?”

“S'okay. I'll do it,” he said, the door already starting to close.

“Okay. Thanks!”

As I turned, the door clicked shut behind me, and I saw the stupid ineffectual broomsticks peeking through the window frame. I hadn't mentioned that to Trevor.

I contemplated conversation part two and decided I—and Maddie and Ash—would be better served if I just mentioned it to Susan directly. All of it. I still hadn't quite gotten used to the binary nature of my clientele. It seemed like the owners were either wound really tight over the conditions in which their pets lived and the specifications for their care, or else they weren't paying nearly enough attention. In either case, when negotiating with helicopter and laissez-faire parents alike, tact and diplomacy were tantamount to a successful relationship between client and service provider. These were skills I was still honing, though not nearly fast or masterfully enough.

Ash was long-since done with his kibble snack, so I rereleased Maddie from her crate to have free reign of the house along with him. I double-checked that anything edible and verboten was out of reach. With Trevor home, they didn't have to be separated, though I had less and less faith that there was much difference between his supervision and none at all.

If I didn't have a packed afternoon of walks scheduled—and if I'd had more than three dollars and change in my checking account—I'd have driven to the store and bought the chicken myself, so little confidence did I have in Trevor's assurances. Or motivation. Or memory. But I was supposed to be up the hill at Edie and Ralph's, and my tardiness had already eliminated any possibility of a cup of tea or even a chat.

Instead, I took Susan's note down from the fridge and flipped it over, summarizing the feather bed's sad demise, adding some high notes from our walk, and trying to tactfully underscore Maddie's
hunger, gently reiterating how hard the puppy chow was on her system. I also tacked on, at the very end, a question about the unrepaired window. It felt futile.

I would, of course, also be notifying my colleagues immediately of the day's events. Hopefully I'd be able to steal a few moments during my walk with Ralph to bring them up to speed. There was always strength in numbers, and I knew we were very much on the same side of this battle for the dogs' well-being. I also knew their conversation with Susan would be far more pointed, more forceful, than my polite note. As the primary service providers, they wielded more power and persuasion than I did as the subcontractor. Were this a construction job, they'd be the foremen to my plumber.

I posted my note in the same spot on the fridge, kissed the pups goodbye, and locked both doors behind me. A few feathers escaped the clanging outer door, gusting across the dirty patio toward a mammoth sleeping marmalade cat, his blocky head resting on giant paws.

I took a deep breath, trying to put the events of the last hour out of my mind so that I could focus on the rest of the day and the dogs on my schedule, and not stew about Maddie and the chicken and the brooms and the feathers. At least Dave was nowhere to be seen; I didn't trust myself to be civil at that moment. I could only hope the afternoon ahead had few surprises in store. And that, when I arrived here tomorrow around this time, everything was in far better order for the little wolf pack of two.

BOOK: Sleeps with Dogs
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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