Authors: Inglath Cooper
Tags: #Contemporary, #Music, #Rockstar, #Romance
Part Two – Hammer and a Song
Like great books, great songs give us a place to go when we need a respite from the pace of the world.
How tiring life would be without them.
For all the songwriters whose songs have provided the soundtrack to my life.
I’m sitting in the middle of the truck seat with my head on Holden’s shoulder when the sun begins to peep up over the Davidson County Pound building. I’m not the least bit sleepy. I’m as wide-awake as I’ve ever been.
Holden’s hand is on my knee, his thumb rubbing back and forth over the fabric of my jeans. We haven’t said anything for a good while, instead letting the music from the radio take up the space between us.
There are so many things I want to say, but I know I shouldn’t. Like how is it possible to feel this kind of connection to someone you’ve known for such a short time? Or how I can’t imagine sitting here all night, waiting to find out if Hank Junior is okay, without Holden next to me.
I know it hardly makes any sense, but it’s true.
An engine sounds behind us, and I look back to see a white truck pull up. A man in a tan work uniform gets out, repositions the ball cap on his head and walks up.
Holden opens the door and steps from the truck. “Mornin’,” he says to the man.
“I hope so,” Holden says. “Our dog is missing, and we were told an animal control officer picked him up last night. We think he might be here.”
My heart does a somersault at Holden’s description of Hank Junior as
dog. Had I really called him Grouchy Guy the first day we met?
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until the main office opens at eight to find out.”
“Are you headed down there now, sir?”
“Yeah, but I can’t release him for you.”
“Could we just go with you and make sure he’s there?”
“I’m real sorry.”
Tears well up from my chest and splash down my face before I even realize I’m crying. I jump out of the truck and stumble on a rock, righting myself with a hand on Holden’s arm. “I’m CeCe,” I say, sticking out my hand. “This is Holden.”
We shake, and he points to the nametag on his shirt. “Kenny.”
“Hey, Kenny. I’m kind of having a hard time with this. Hank was in a pound when he was a puppy. His first family left him at one, and he just sat in a corner of his kennel and shook. He wouldn’t eat, and he—” I break off there, unable to speak past the knot in my throat. “Please. I need to know he’s okay.”
The man shakes his head. “It’s against the rules.”
My heart drops south, and I search for the words to make him understand. “He’s my best friend,” I say. “He needs me.”
He looks at me for an endless string of moments. “I wish some of the folks who throw their dogs away here thought of them like that instead. If I get fired, maybe you can help me find a new job.”
“I don’t want you to lose your job, but I just want my dog back.”
“Probably wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
“Thank you so much,” I say, the words pouring out in a gush of gratitude. “Thank you.”
“Well, all right then.” He pulls a set of keys from his pocket, walks over and opens the padlock on the gate, swinging each arm wide. “Y’all follow me.”
I scramble into the truck, and Holden slides in behind me.
Neither of us says a word all the way to the building. I feel frozen to the seat, my heart pounding so hard in my chest that I know Holden must hear it.
Kenny pulls up to a side door, and we roll to a stop behind him. I hear the dogs from inside, a few barks starting up, and then more follow. By the time he steps in and flips on a light, all the dogs are awake and starting to bark.
“All right, now,” Kenny says in a kind voice. “Y’all settle down.”
His voice has an amazing calming effect. The barking subsides to a few rumbles of concern.
I scan the kennels in front of us, trying not to look at the faces. Already, my heart feels like it’s swelled to the size of a pumpkin, and I’m afraid the sob sitting at the back of my throat is going to burst out at any second.
“Walk on down, and see if you see him,” Kenny says.
I start down the aisle with Holden right behind me. I can tell he’s trying to keep his gaze focused straight ahead. Halfway down, I spot Hank Junior curled up in the back of his kennel, shaking from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Snuggled up next to him with its head on Hank’s side is a chubby little Beagle.
“Hank,” I say, my voice cracking.
He looks up, thumps his tail once as if he’s afraid to believe it’s really me.
Kenny steps in and says, “That him?”
“Yes,” I say.
Kenny opens the door. I nearly leap inside, dropping to my knees and hugging Hank so hard he yelps. He licks my cheek though, still shaking.
“I’m sorry,” I say, kissing his velvety ear, unable to hold back my tears.
Something nudges at my elbow, and I glance down to see the chubby Beagle looking up at me as if hoping to be included in the reunion.
Holden walks into the kennel and squats down beside us. He reaches out and strokes Hank’s head, then does the same for the Beagle.
She all but melts under his touch and rolls over on her back. He smiles and scratches her belly.
“What’s her name?” Holden asks, looking up at Kenny.
“Patsy,” he says.
“As in Kline,” I say, and we both smile.
Patsy turns her head and licks the back of Holden’s hand. I see
melt a little.
“I hate to rush y’all,” Kenny says, “but I’ve got to get to work.”
I stand up and turn to face him. “Please let me take him now, Kenny. I can’t leave him here. I just can’t.”
He looks at Hank and then back at me again. “So what kind of work did you say you have lined up for me?” he asks with a half-grin.
Before I can answer, he hands me a nylon leash and says, “Bring him on out.”
I can’t help it. I throw my arms around his neck and hug him hard. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
I slip the lead around Hank’s neck, and he glues himself to my leg. Holden is still rubbing the Beagle. He stands reluctantly, following me through the door.
Kenny closes it and clicks the latch back in place. Patsy looks at Hank Junior, then up at us, her brown eyes suddenly sad, as if she knows she’s being left. Clearly, not for the first time.
Holden points at the orange card with her name on the kennel door. “What does that mean?”
“Today is her day since nobody came for her,” Kenny says, his voice flat now, as if he’s had to practice saying these things without emotion.
“You mean she’ll be put to sleep?” Holden asks, disbelieving.
“Yeah,” Kenny says.
Holden’s face goes white as chalk. I know in my heart how hard it must be for him to come in here in the first place and all the bad memories it must bring back. I kneel down and stick my hand back through the door to rub Patsy’s head, feeling sick all the way down to the bottom of my stomach.
I don’t see any orange cards on the other doors. I open my mouth to ask what her adoption fee is when Holden says, “Can I adopt her?”
Kenny glances at his watch. “The front desk people won’t be here until eight. The euth tech usually comes in at seven-thirty.”
Holden actually looks like he might pass out. I feel sick myself, but I put a hand on his arm, maybe to steady us both.
But his voice is strong when he says, “I don’t care what the fee is. I’ll put it on my credit card. Let us go on and take her. I promise I’ll give her a good life.”
Kenny glances at Patsy, then back at Holden, and hands him another nylon lead. “Y’all come on, so I can at least fill out the paperwork.”
We follow him to the front office where he opens a drawer and pulls out two forms, one for me and one for Holden. I fill out the paperwork for Hank’s release, waiting while Holden finishes the application for Patsy.
“The adoption fee is fifty dollars,” Kenny says.
Holden opens his wallet and counts out the cash. I notice he has one dollar left.
Kenny takes it and says, “All right, then.”
“Thank you, Kenny.” Holden shakes his hand.
“For her sake, I’m glad y’all were here,” Kenny says, walking around the desk and reaching down to rub Patsy’s head. She looks up at him and wags her tail as if to say thank you.
“I’m happy for you, girl,” he says, a rasp to his voice.
“Thank you so much, Kenny,” I say and give him another hug.
He nods and walks us to the door. We step outside into the crisp morning air, Hank Junior and I climbing into the truck from the passenger side, and Holden picking Patsy up and putting her in from his side.
He backs the truck out of the spot, throws a wave at Kenny, then looks over at me and smiles. A really happy smile. I smile back, and as we roar off down the drive, it feels as if we’ve just done something as miraculous as cheating death. Which I guess we actually have.
She’s got her head on my thigh. How the heck is a guy supposed to resist that?
I stroke her back with my right hand, and if the snoring is any indication, it’s not long before she appears to be fast asleep.
“She knows,” CeCe says, studying me from the other side of the truck.
“What?” I ask.
“That you saved her life.”
“How do you know?”
“They just do. Hank Junior was the same way the day I got him out of the pound.”
“I can’t even imagine that someone could leave her in a place like that.”
“Me, either. Thank you for getting her.”
“If I hadn’t, you would have.”
She smiles at me, and it feels good to know we have this in common.
“Not sure what Thomas is gonna say about our new roommate.”
“He’s a softie like you.”
“Oh, you think I’m a softie now, do you?”
“Yeah,” she says with a smile that reaches her eyes. “I do.”
I don’t know that anyone has ever looked at me the way CeCe is looking at me now. I just know it feels good to have her approval. At the same time, I realize I probably shouldn’t let myself dwell on that. That there’s trouble down that road if I do.
“They might need to go to the bathroom,” CeCe says.
“Yeah,” I say and pull over at the next turn. We get the dogs out and walk them to a grassy spot where they both immediately do their business. We let them sniff for a couple of minutes and then get back in the truck.
A mile or so down the road, we pass a little country store with its lights on. I slam on the brakes. “Coffee?”
“Oh, my gosh, yes,” she says.
I throw the truck in reverse and then swing into the parking lot. “Y’all wait here,” I tell the dogs. They both wag their tails and stretch out on the seat as if they plan to get some shut-eye while we’re gone.
The store is everything you would think a country store might be. The smell of homemade biscuits and coffee greets us at the door. Three older men in bib overalls sit on a wooden church pew across from the coffee pots, sipping from their cups and talking like they’ve got the world’s problems to figure out by noon.