I got flowers Thursday. Nothing big, just a small bouquet of yellow daisies mixed with baby’s breath, but they were beautiful; bright yellow petals, brilliant green stems and a scent that filled the room. There wasn’t a card though and the delivery man assured me he had the right person. I thanked him and then set them in the middle of the kitchen table. It was odd they hadn’t come with a card, but maybe the sender had just forgotten, or thought the company was including one. Maybe it had fallen off in the back of the delivery van.
It had been a long while since I’d received flowers that had nothing to do with funerals and sympathy greetings. Andrew, Anna, Zoe, Dianna. The different names ran through my head as possible senders and I finally gave up trying to figure it out. I’d mention it with each one and see what they had to say. After all, none of them had any reason to hide it. Speaking of Andrew, I checked my watch and headed from the kitchen towards the backyard. I needed to bring Daisy inside and hit the road. It would take me about half an hour to get downtown and to his office. We still had our friendly lunch date.
I actually felt rested that morning. Dianna had given me a couple Ambien CR and I’d taken one last night. The sleeping pill had kept me from waking even once, and had chased all nightmares, or Hugh filled dreams away. Instead, I’d been left with a very peaceful sleep and woke refreshed and ready to face the day. She had suggested, as I was standing on the porch ready to head out, that if they worked for me, I should visit my doctor and get my own prescription. I may just do that, I hadn’t felt this good in the mornings in a long time.
After collecting my dog and making sure she had enough chew toys to keep her occupied, I was out the door. My dark blue Saturn Aura got me safely to my location and Andrew was soon heading from his office, a warm smile on his face as he greeted me.
“It’s good to see you again.” His large hand swallowed mine as he took it and gave it a gentle squeeze.
I couldn’t help but smile. “You too. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Oh, it’s my pleasure.” He motioned us to walk and we made our way towards the elevators. “So, how have you been?”
I gave a little shrug. “Well, my boss gave me the week off to recuperate from the bump on my head.”
“Oh, that’s right; the infamous bump.” His azure eyes looked me over slowly, lingering on the still visible knot hidden beneath my hair. “You can hardly see a thing.”
“You’re too kind, but thank you.”
“It’s the truth.” He ushered me into the elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor. “I hope you’re hungry. Le Clare has some of the best dishes in the city. And just the right proportions for lunch.”
“Sounds wonderful.” I fiddled with the clutch handbag in my hands.
“It really is. You’ll have to try the Madeleine. It’s marvelous.”
I gave a little nod and we made small talk as we headed from the elevator and out of the building.
The restaurant was only a block away and soon we were seated at a little table, tucked away in the corner, surrounded by brilliantly colored paintings of the French countryside.
I took in the ambience, feeling comfortable, and thanked the server as she brought our drinks and gave the specials.
“So what’s good here?” I scanned the lunch menu, not sure if I even knew what some of the words were; luckily the descriptions were in English.
Andrew glanced to me over the top of his menu. “Well, are you in the mood for chicken, beef, fish or duck?”
I blinked. “They have duck?”
“It’s duck liver.”
“Oh...no.” I quickly shook my head. “Chicken’s good.”
He chuckled and pointed out a few things I might like and I decided on the Coq Au Vin; a chicken cooked in red wine sauce.
Andrew ordered something I could not even try to pronounce and soon we were left facing each other, a basket of bread sitting to the side.
I helped myself to a piece, buttering it and watching as it melted into the toasted bread. “I got flowers today.”
He was buttering his own bread. “Oh?”
“Yellow or white?”
“Yellow.” I set the knife down and watched him. “I don’t know who they’re from though.”
His dark brows lifted. “How come?”
“There was no card.”
“Ooh.” He gave a nod. “Maybe it was an oversight.”
“Probably.” I cut my piece in two then selected a half. “I may call the florist when I get home and see if they know anything.”
He gave a little nod. “What’s your favorite flower?”
“Really? Most women say roses.”
I chuckled. “Roses are nice, yes …but Lilacs are so beautiful and their smell is like heaven.”
“They do have a nice fragrance.”
I bit into my bread and watched him. “What’s your favorite flower?”
“Do guys have those?”
“I’m sure there’s a kind you do like.”
He nodded and tilted his head, his brow creasing in thought. “Tulips. Yes, tulips. They’re different and bright.”
“Tulips are nice.”
He sent me a warm smile. “You seem to be more relaxed today.”
I blushed a little. “Well, I am. The other night was a first date, and this is just…” I glanced around the room then back to him. “…just a lunch.”
He gave a solemn nod and chewed his bread before speaking again. “You’re not really looking for anything, are you?”
Oh boy, wasn’t it a little early to have this kind of conversation? What happened to just being friends? “I…no,” I shook my head. “I’m not.”
Andrew accepted that and didn’t bring it up again until we had been served our main course and the server had left us alone.
“Dianna made it seem like you were.”
I glanced over at him from where I was cutting the steaming chicken. “She did?”
“Yeah,” He began to prepare his own meal. “She said she had a friend she wanted me to meet. Said I’d really like her and that she thought she’d really like me. Thought we’d hit it off.”
“Well, sometimes Dianna gets over excited.”
Andrew chuckled and I relaxed some; he didn’t seem angry. “That’s very true.”
I busied myself with cutting the tender meat into bites I could eat. “I’ve had… a really, really hard past couple of years. It’s really done a number on me and …” I trailed off, not sure if I wanted to get into all that, or even admit I was damaged.
“Hey,” he held a hand up. “No explanation necessary.”
His eyes soothed me and I sent him a grateful smile. “I think ‘just a lunch’ is exactly what I need right now. If….if that’s okay with you.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled from the smile he sent me. “It’s perfectly fine with me.”
That made me feel a whole lot better and I just watched him. “Thank you. You have no idea what that means to me at the moment.”
“Well, you’re very welcome.” He reached over and touched my arm. “Though this does mean that now you’re stuck having a lot of ‘just a lunches’ with me.”
I gave a soft laugh and brushed some hair from my face. “I can handle that.”
And I could.
After lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon at the mall. I bought a few new business suits for work, a cute party dress that I had no idea when I’d even wear, but it was just too cute to pass up, and some jeans and regular tops. Retail therapy was one of the most therapeutic kinds and whenever I had something on my mind, or felt a little down and out, I’d hit up the mall. Probably not one of the best decisions, but a new purse or bracelet or shoes always made me feel better.
On the way home I stopped by this cozy little diner that had some of the best cherry pie I’d ever tasted. I got a BLT, some fries and a slice of pie to go, then made my way merrily along towards home. The sun was beginning to set as I pulled into my driveway and parked in the garage. Brilliant streaks of red, orange, pink and purple were painted across the sky and I decided to eat out on the patio, enjoy the view and watch the sun set slowly over the water. Leaving all my bags in the car to collect later, I took my food into the house where Daisy greeted me and nearly knocked it from my hands.
“Calm down.” I chuckled and set it to the side before crouching down and paying her attention. She loved on me and I scratched behind her ears, ruffling her fur and talking softly to her.
After she had her share, she trotted off to the patio doors, giving a little bark.
“I know, you have to potty.” I crossed the room and undid the latch, sliding the door open.
She took off across the yard, barking adamantly and I frowned. That was unlike my dog. Was there a seagull in the backyard?
As I stepped out onto the back patio I realized she was probably running off to meet her lover boy again. “Daisy!” I hollered after her, starting from the slate gray stone and into the grassy yard, but something about twenty feet out in the grass made me slow.
At first it appeared to be a mound of brown, black and white, but then I realized that mound was fur…and the fur belonged to a dog. As I drew closer I recognized the fallen animal; Bernie.
Daisy had recognized him as well, for she had stopped and was pawing at him, nudging him and barking as if saying ‘hey, what’s wrong with you? Get up and let’s go play.’.
But her male companion didn’t respond, not even so much as to wag a tail.
I felt a twinge of worry in my chest as I knelt down by him, gently touching his head.
At first I thought he was dead, but when he felt my hand he gave a weak attempt to lift his head.
I frowned and smoothed his fur. “Shh, it’s okay. Don’t move.” Like he could understand me, though he seemed to be for he settled down again, his eyes closed and his chest rising very faintly from his breath.
Something was terribly wrong with this dog. Alarm rang through me and when I heard the whimper he gave, I knew I needed to do something.
Jumping to my feet, I told Daisy to stay put and made a beeline for the house. I hurried to the closet and pulled out a large sheet, shaking it open as I dashed back outside and to his side.
Dropping to my knees, I laid the sheet onto the grass then I managed to carefully lift Bernie onto it. I did a quick once over for any signs of injuries, but there didn’t seem to be any. That worried me more, which meant whatever was hurting him was internal and something serious.
Wrapping the sheet around him, I managed to lift him into my arms and then started for the house. Daisy stayed at my side, watching me and looking like she wanted to climb into my embrace as well. I kept her from getting underfoot and tripping us then got Bernie safely to the garage and into the backseat of my car. Daisy slipped in before I could shoo her away and I knew there was no way I could get her back out. I told her to behave, then ran back into the house and gathered my purse and keys.
Once I was back in the car, I managed to get the phone number off Bernie’s collar, then buckled and backed from the drive. I punched it into my cell then hit send, steering my Saturn down the road and heading for the all-hours veterinarian hospital.
The phone rang three times before a male voice answered. “Hello?”
I kept my eyes on the road, glancing every so often at the rearview mirror and Bernie in the back, Daisy next to him. “Um… hi. You don’t know me, but um… I found your dog passed out in my backyard. He doesn’t look to be doing too well, so I’m taking him over to the animal hospital off Vineland. Do you know where that is?”
There was a pause and I sent a quick look to the phone, making sure I had dialed the correct number. “Um, hello?”
“I… I’m here.” The voice came back. “Which… dog?”
“Uh, his tag said Bernie.”
“And he was passed out in your yard?”
I nodded and took a left at a green light. “Yes, not really responding. So I wrapped him in a sheet and we’re on our way to that animal hospital. Do you know where it is?”
“I do. I’ll meet you there. Thank you.”
I opened my mouth to respond then realized he’d already hung up.
Tossing my phone into the passenger seat, I gripped the wheel with both hands and slowed for a stop sign. Bernie was still not moving and I began to silently pray that he would be okay. I didn’t want to have to tell this guy that his dog died. Or was dying.
A few moments later I pulled into the parking lot and claimed a spot. I cut the engine and clambered from the car, managing to ease Bernie out without knocking his head into the door. Then with Daisy following, I got him inside and passed him over to the nurse behind the desk. She whisked him off and I sank down into one of the orange vinyl chairs to wait; Daisy resting at my feet.
The receptionist wanted me to fill out papers, but I told her he wasn’t mine; I’d found him in our backyard and the owner should be coming shortly. She didn’t seem happy that they didn’t know any information about the dog, but she set the clipboard aside and resumed whatever filing she was doing.
I chewed my thumbnail and glanced to the large clock over the doorway, hopefully it wouldn’t take this guy very long. And then I began to hope that he wouldn’t take any of his anger or frustrations over the situation out on me.
Daisy’s collar clinked against the cement floor as she shifted and I looked down to her, leaning over some and smoothing her fur. “I know you’re worried. I am too.”
She leaned into my touch, those big eyes watching me with the saddest expression.
“If he gets through this, I promise you’ll get to see him more often.”
That seemed to satisfy her for she settled down against the ground again, watching towards the direction they’d disappeared with Bernie.
It wasn’t but a few minutes more before the bell above the door jingled and someone stepped into the building. I glanced over, expecting to see Bernie’s owner, but felt my heart skip a beat instead.
My angel stood there; a rather unreadable expression on his face.
Our eyes locked and I felt that twinge in my chest.
“Well, this is a surprise.” His voice sent chills down my spine and my back stiffened.
“I…” I was speechless. Was Bernie his dog? Or was he just…here? He did have a way of showing up at random times.
“I thought that was you on the phone.”
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. “B..Bernie?”
“Yeah, he’s my dog.”
I was floored. “They uh….um…”
He gave a low chuckle and something told me he’d look more amused had he not been so worried about his dog. “Sit tight, I’ll be right back.” Then he strolled over to the reception desk.
I watched as he conversed with the receptionist then took a moment to fill the clipboard out, nodding as she picked up the phone and made a call. He waited until she was finished and they spoke, keeping their voices low so they wouldn’t be overheard.
At my feet, Daisy nudged my leg and I glanced down to her. “This is a weird day.”
She gave a little whine in response and rose to her feet, shaking her body before settling onto the ground once more.
“They’re running some tests on him.”
His voice was at my side and I jerked, looking over and feeling a warmth spread through my chest as our eyes met again. I blinked and shook it away, clearing my throat some. “Uh… I… I’m sorry.”
He gave a shrug, relaxing back in the chair and stretching his legs out. “Don’t be. I’m just glad you brought him here.”
So he was totally human. I was right, there were no such things as angels. “Well of course, I was worried.”
He gave a nod and looked to where Daisy was sniffing at his jeans. “Well, hello again.” Reaching a hand out, he stroked her head, chuckling as she tried to lick his fingers. “You’re a friendly girl, aren’t you?”
“Too friendly.” A beat. “She thinks your dog is her boyfriend.”
“Really?” He glanced to me then back to the chocolate lab. “I kinda thought he might be sneaking down to the beach to meet a girl.”
I gave a little nod. “Yeah, the past couple weeks they’ve been cavorting in the sand. You should have seen how worried she was when we found Bernie lying in my yard. She refused to leave his side once.”
“They sound pretty serious, huh?”
I nodded and tucked some blonde hair behind my ear. “Seems that way.”
He was quiet and I could feel his eyes on me; they were making the pulse in my neck throb. I couldn’t look at him, I was afraid of how his gaze would cause me to unravel. Instead, I stroked Daisy’s flank, managing to get her to sit back on her hunches and stop trying to love on the man next to me.
“I guess you’ve figured me out.”
He sounded as smooth as silk and sex. I pretended not to notice. “Hm?”
“I’m not an angel.”
I smoothed my fingers over Daisy’s ear, keeping my eyes on her. “I know.”
He was silent for just a few moments. “Ya know, ever since we met I’ve been trying to figure you out.”
This time I allowed our eyes to meet. “Why?”
“Because you intrigue me.”
A line creased my forehead. “Why?”
“I don’t have an answer for that yet. But I think if we keep having these encounters I’ll start to figure something out.”
I really didn’t know what to respond to that with and was grateful when a tall man with salt n’ pepper hair and wire rimmed glasses, wearing a white lab coat, appeared with a clipboard. He asked for the owner of the dog and my companion rose to his feet. They moved off to the side and I looked back to Daisy, wondering if we should go.
Something inside told me to stay.
“He thinks Bernie has cancer.”
I blinked and looked back to the gentleman as he sank next to me once more. “What?”
He gave a nod and ran a hand over his face before pinching the bridge of his nose.
I had never realized how good looking he was. Long, dark lashes framed his expressive eyes, his skin was a golden tanned color, the way his clothes hung on him accentuated his toned arms and chest, and his scent was spicy, with just the slightest hint of something more. I bit my cheek as I realized I was checking him out, and then mentally scolded myself.
“What um… why do they think he has cancer?” I forced myself to pay attention to the matter at hand.
“They found some tumors on the bones in his ribs. They won’t know for sure until they get the test results back, but the chances are good that it’s …bone cancer. I don’t remember the words he used.”
I felt my stomach twist. “God, I’m … I’m so sorry.”
He gave a little shrug, his eyes staring off in the distance.
I wanted to reach over and touch him, offer some kind of comfort. “Maybe… they’ve caught it in time.”
Those brown eyes flickered at me. “There were a lot of tumors.”
He gave a heavy sigh and seemed to be deep in thought. Finally he turned back to me. “Thank you for um…bringing him here, but you can go. I don’t want to keep you from anything.”
Something stirred inside of me and I reached over, lacing our fingers together. His hand was warm and surprisingly soft, and very much real. “I don’t have anywhere to be.”
He blinked and watched me, slightly surprised. “Are…you sure?”
I studied him, recognizing the sadness and fear in his eyes. “Absolutely.”
I still didn’t know his name, and I didn’t care. He needed someone, and I needed something to believe in again.