The sound of banging woke her. What the hell was that?
“Elsa?! Elsa! You home?” from the front of the house, followed by more banging. Stumbling out of bed she made her way to the kitchen to see Bill through the glass of the front door. She froze.
“Shit!” she thought, hyperaware of her state of dress, or rather, undress; wearing a loose wife-beater that barely skimmed her upper thighs, with armholes gaping wide enough to reveal the sides of her breasts. Running her hands through her bed head hair and trying to shake off the last vestiges of sleep, she realised the very thin cotton fabric was all that shielded her breasts. She quickly crossed her arms over her chest and called, “It’s not locked, c’mon in.”
“Can’t! Got my hands full out here!” he yelled back. She picked up the urgency in his voice and hurried over to open the door, horrified at what she saw in front of her.
Bill’s shirt was splattered with blood and in his arms lay a limp and broken Duke. Her hands flew to her mouth and tears immediately filled her eyes as she watched him carry her old friend over to the kitchen table and gently lie him out.
“What happened? Oh god no…” she wailed, panic stricken and confused, leaning over Duke and stroking the side of his face as he whimpered in pain.
“I found him on the road, must’ve been nicked by a car. I’m so sorry Elsa, it doesn’t look good for him. I called the vet from my truck, he’s on his way over,” his eyes, full of concern, searched her face, and he resisted the urge to hug her, to offer her comfort.
Tears running down her cheeks, no longer caring what she looked like, she bent over and cried, burying her head in Duke’s bloody fur, whispering soothing words to him. The old dog’s eyes gazed up at her, as if pleading her to make his pain end.
He let out another whimper and his eyelids slid shut.
“No! No! No! Duke! Duke baby!” she sobbed, unable to absorb the fact that her lovely, loyal dog was gone. She lifted his lifeless body and hugged him close to her chest, rocking him as she had done when he was stressed out by thunder as a puppy.
Bill stepped up to her, put his hand on her shoulder and murmured, “I’ll be right back. I’ll call the Doc, tell him to turn around.”
He came back to find Elsa cross-legged on the floor with Duke in her lap, stroking him tenderly. Crouching down next to her, he sat with her in silence.
Eventually he reached out and put his hand over hers. She turned to look at him and the sadness in her eyes broke his heart. He hated himself for what he was about to say.
“Elsa, you know what has to happen. I can do it.”
She shook her head, “No. That’s my job. Lemme get dressed. Will you stay here with him? I don’t want him to be alone.”
“Of course. And I’m helping, ok?”
She sank her head down and placed one last kiss on the Lab’s head before standing up and wearily walking back to her room.
Sweat ran down her face and neck as she shoveled the dirt. Standing beside her, holding Duke in his arms, Bill felt like a heel, but she had outright refused to let him dig, saying this was the very last thing she could do for her dog.
“That looks deep enough,” he said, worried she would hurt herself if she kept going.
She stood back, wiped her forehead with her arm, leaving behind a smudge of dirt, and nodded. Kneeling, he gently laid the dog into the hole and looked up at her, “Wanna say somethin’? A prayer?” he asked, squinting at the harsh sunlight that shone through her hair.
“Bye buddy. I love you. Go chase squirrels in doggy heaven,” tears once again flowing down her cheeks.
“I’m gonna fill it back in Elsa, I mean it. You are done in. Sit down a while, ‘k?”
She slumped onto the dusty ground and watched Bill put Duke to rest.
Back in the kitchen, “Why don’t you go get a shower? You’re covered in dirt,” he couldn’t help himself, he reached out and wiped the dirt from her forehead with his thumb.
“’K,” she mumbled.
“I’m gonna make you something to eat while you’re in there. No arguments!”
The smell of french toast wafted down to her bedroom as she dried off and pulled on shorts and vest top. It made her feel sick. Walking barefoot back to the kitchen, wet hair piled up on her head, she said, “Bill… I really can’t eat. I’m sorry.”
“At least have some juice,” he said handing her a glass of orange juice, which she accepted.
He looked at her; pale, swollen red eyes, wet hair. She looked forlorn, like a small child. Lost. He wanted so badly to take her into his arms and make it all okay for her again. How had she affected him so much in such a short time? He couldn’t remember ever feeling this before for any other woman. She had intoxicated him, without even trying.
He wanted to know her, to know everything about her.
He wanted to taste her. He watched as she licked the orange juice from her lips and wanted to know what those lips felt like on his. He wanted to reach out and touch her, feel how soft her skin was, trace every inch of her with his fingertips. He thought of her on the floor yesterday, flushed and breathless. He was sure he had interrupted her as she satisfied herself. Had she been thinking of him as she played? he wondered. Did she want him too?
“I’d better get on with the work Elsa, you gonna take it easy yeah?” he forced himself out of his head and back to reality.
“Oh Bill, I don’t think I can be alone today. Will you stay with me awhile? I’ll still pay you for today, of course,” her eyes looking up at him from underneath her fringe.
Smiling, he replied, “Sure thing, I’ll hang with you. Forget the money.”
A tear trickled down her cheek. He reached out and wiped it away with his thumb and she launched herself into his arms, her face pressed tight against his chest, clinging on to him for dear life as she sobbed uncontrollably. Wrapping his arms around her, breathing in the scent of her freshly washed damp hair, he whispered, “Ssssshhh, s’alright baby, s’alright,” rocking her gently and stroking her back.
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