Afraid to wake Nick, I fell asleep on the couch, his head still on my lap. The bus’s gentle rocking motion combined with Nick’s soft breathing was like a lullaby to me. The night passed quickly; if it wasn’t for the ringing of my phone, I could have slept at least another few hours.
I groped at the table for my phone. My left contact had worked loose overnight and had dried between my eyelids, sealing them shut. I squinted at the phone but couldn’t make out the number. I connected, hoping it was someone I wanted to talk to. If not, waking me up was going to be a big mistake.
“Hello?” I said. I looked down, but Nick was gone. I held the phone away from my ear. I could hear the shower running from the back of the bus.
The voice on the phone sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
“It’s Gretchen from the library. I hope you don’t mind, but your mother gave me your new number.”
The light bulb came on. Gretchen was the assistant director of the Wakamata Public Library, my former employer. I sat up and tried to get my eye open with my free hand.
“Hi Gretchen,” I said, wincing as I felt the hardened lens crack under my fingers. “No problem. What can I do for you?”
“Well,” she said with a little laugh. “I have some good news.”
“Oh?” I said. I yanked shards of plastic lens off my eyelid. My eye fluttered open. Everything was blurry.
“We’re a little short staffed, so we were hoping that you might be able to come back to help us with the Summer Reading Program in July.”
“You’re a little short staffed because you fired half of the people that worked there,” I reminded her. I didn’t care if she took offense; it wasn’t like she could fire me again.
“We didn’t want it to come to that,” Gretchen explained sweetly. It was the same tone she used the day she fired me. “But our budget hit rock bottom. We had no choice. We couldn’t pay everyone.”
“I was three days short of the cutoff as far as seniority,” I said bitterly. “I worked there 9 years and 362 days. Anyone 10 years and over was safe,” I reminded her.
“Which is why you’re the first person I’m calling,” she said, as if that made it all better.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, putting my feet up on the table by my laptop. “I’ll come back July 6 and work through the month if you hire me back full time in September.”
There was silence for a few moments. I smiled. It felt good to be the one in control for once.
“I think we can budget you back,” she finally said.
“Wonderful,” I said sweetly. “I’ll be seeing you soon.”
I hung up grinning.
“What’s so funny?”
I looked over at Nick. Even with only one good eye I could see that he was fresh from a shower, bare-chested and clad in jeans. A towel hung around his neck, a plastic baggy covered his cast. Nothing was funny about the way he looked. He looked edible.
“I just got my job back at the library,” I said proudly. “How are you feeling?”
“Confused,” he said hesitating. “I don’t remember much from yesterday. I woke up this morning with this cast on my hand signed by Oprah.”
I burst out laughing. After I caught a breath, I filled him in on most of the events of the day before. He looked horrified.
“I didn’t.” he said. “On Oprah? The guys are going to kill me.”
I smiled. “No, they’re not. They were horrified, but they knew you were high on pain meds. They’re not going to kill you.”
He sat down next to me smelling like Old Spice. I inhaled greedily.
“I’m glad you got your job back,” he said. “But, you’re going to be able to come on the Canadian dates, right?”
“Yup. I’m yours the whole month of August.”
“And after that?”
I heard the implication. I met his gaze.
“Nick,” I said softly. “There’s something between us that I can’t describe, and I want to explore it. But I want to do it slowly. I have a divorce to get through before I can really commit to anything.”
He touched my face with his warm palm. He leaned over and kissed me gently.
“I have all the time in the world,” he whispered next to my lips. I shivered. My phone rang again. I wrinkled my nose.
Nick stood up as I answered the phone, motioning that he was going to finish getting dressed. I nodded. I put the received up to my ear.
“Hi sweetheart.” It was my mom.
“Mom,” I said, happy to hear her voice. “You’ll never guess who just called me.”
I filled her in on the phone call from the library.
“That’s wonderful,” she said. “They shouldn’t have let you go in the first place.”
I agreed. “So what’s up?”
“I’m calling to let you know I’ve got you a lawyer.”
I took down the information. I paused, biting my lip.
“Have you seen Hunter?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said quietly.
I raised an eyebrow. She never spoke in one word sentence.
“Mom? What happened?”
“He dropped off your dog,” she said, her voice cracking.
“My dog?” I said. “Dog as in singular?”
I had two Boston Terriers: Brewster and Atari. Brewster was thirteen; Atari was just a puppy. I loved those dogs like they were my children.
“He said Brewster passed away while he was gone.” She began to cry.
I sat there holding the phone, not knowing what to say. The tears began to fall quickly down my face.
“You have Atari?” I said, my voice cracking with emotion.
“He’s safe. He’s running around with my pups. Sweetie, I didn’t want to tell you…” she trailed off.
“I…I needed to know,” I said. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“Okay. I love you.”
“Love you mom.”
I hung up and buried my face in my hands. The thought of Brewster dying and me not being there was unbearable. My stomach twisted in a knot. I felt guilty, but most of all I prayed he died of natural causes and not as a result of…a result of what had happened with Hunter in Chicago.
Nick came back into the room a few moments later to find me blubbering like a baby.
“What happened?” he said, kneeling down next to me.
Through a chorus of wails, I managed to tell him what happened. He rubbed my leg, his eyes soft and sad.
“We can go rent a car after the concert tonight and go get Atari,” Nick said softly as my sobs died down. I shook my head.
“He gets carsick,” I sniffled. “Plus I don’t think it’s a good idea to have you anywhere near you know who right now.” I glanced at his hand. It was half blurry. I remembered that I had just smashed my dried contact to smithereens and began to cry again.
"It's going to be okay," Nick consoled, rubbing my back.
“No, it's not!” I wailed.
“My dog’s dead and I can’t see!”