Celia looked brightly up at a man with a plaid jacket, old-looking jeans and a miniature Schnauzer standing behind a semi-circular greyish blue desk and countertop above it. “How can I help you?”
The bushy eyebrows came almost together. “Well, I need to express to you that my dog, Sheldon, needs medical treatment.” He bounced the Schnauzer a little with his arm, and the dog barked a high-pitched sound. Celia almost glared at the dog, but restrained herself so as not to be rude. So she just replied, “Sure—I’ll be with you one moment.”
Her pink sweater sleeved hand almost grabbed the phone and her finger almost dialed the office a little way down the hallway when the dog started its incessant, ear-splitting barking again. Celia felt like her eardrums were going to burst (or may already have), but she just pushed up a smile and focused on the phone. It rang, and Celia pressed the phone harder to her ear so she could actually hear Conner and her conversation, having turned around so her the dog’s oblivious owner could see the wall of pink sweater that was her back. So he could tell that animal to pipe down!
“Yes—he has come in with Sheldon.” Celia turned around and told Sheldon’s master that Conner would be coming to treat him. “Is there anything I can do to help?” She returned the phone to its base.
“Uh…no. That’ll be all.” The man replied plainly.
“Okay. Then have a seat over there.” Celia pointed at several seats cushioned together in front of the round circular receptionist desk. Bushy Eyebrows turned and said, “Oh!” like he had never seen seats before and then lumbered over and crashed down onto the second one from the right. It deflated, Bushy Eyebrows complained, as he peered down and moved his left leg so he could see really nothing but totally squashed mustard yellow that used to be puffy cotton mustard yellow.
“Oh, well.” Bushy Eyebrows shrugged his shoulders and told the growling Sheldon to pipe down. “That woman over there is working. We don’t want to bother her, do we?”
Celia looked up and smiled again. She looked over and saw a man in a vet’s uniform beckon the human and animal clients over to him. “I’m ready for you, Sheldon!” Conner played with the excited, tail-wagging Schnauzer as he placed his paws up on the man’s shins and barked. “Yes, yes, I know! You love me!”
“Sheldon sure does!”
As the smiling man and his ecstatic dog followed Conner past the desk and down the hallway, Celia stopped her work a minute. She studied the man’s voice, listening extremely hard. It sounded familiar…
She tried to think of who that voice came from, but she couldn’t remember. Maybe the voice was from a show or something. Shrugging, Celia returned to her work and then heard high heels pound into the lobby.
“Hey, Em!” Celia reached over the desk and hugged her friend. When they came apart, Emily let her know that she just passed by a miniature Schnauzer who screamed out high-pitched barks.
“Yeah…” Celia furrowed her brows this time, concerned. “That dog must have the barks!”
Emily and she suddenly cracked up, Celia raising and then pounding her hand on the countertop as the women’s laughter shot through in the air like an endless stream of confetti shooting from a circus cannon. When they had laughed the funny out of the joke, Celia looked at Emily seriously, shortening her smile a bit.
“The dog was doing the same thing right when the man came in.”
“Hmmm!” Emily raised her eyebrows. “Well, I better get back to my job.” She leaned over and placed a hand beside her mouth like she was telling Celia a secret. “Don’t want to get fired, ya know?”
Celia laughed, spinning around and walking over to the center of her desk. “No, I don’t!”
As Emily pounded away, Celia still found herself bothered by that dog. Why was it barking so much? She had to found out. Just as she swung around to go help Conner and the man and his dog’s incessant barking, Conner ran back to her receptionist's desk and barked, “Got it all cleared out! Looked like he just never had a day where a rock wasn’t stuck in his paws!”
The vet was then followed by the man, who, once he stood in front of Celia, showed her Sheldon’s red and seemingly painful-looking paws. The dog winced, and the man dropped the legs, taking that noise as a sign that he had indeed hurt Sheldon. The man chuckled embarrassedly at Celia and then dug into his pocket.
“Here’s my credit card.” He swung the wallet with the stuck out piece of plastic towards Celia, and she slid it slowly out of the burgundy leather pocket-holding pouch while studying the man’s face. After collecting the hundreds of dollars from the man, Celia stood up straighter and said, “Here you go, sir. I am more than happy to help. I hope Sheldon is all better!” She absentmindedly patted Sheldon’s head, and the dog nudged her hand with his nose.
“So you like her, don’t you?” The man laughed, bouncing Sheldon. But the dog seemed indifferent towards his owner’s treatment. As he was whisked away by the man when he headed out of the animal clinic to the right, the door closed behind him, and Celia stood there, trying to think about where she had seen him before. But she also had to obey the tugging notion that she had to complete her day worths of work. So she slid the mystery to the back of her mind and continued with her normal receptionist work—calling people, filing forms, grabbing forms from the filed papers section and scribbling names and phone numbers down and other responsibilities she had always done ever since she had gotten this job at the Rickludge Animal Clinic in her hometown of Indianapolis, IN.
While she did enjoy her job, Celia couldn’t shake the feeling that she wished that she did more than paperwork and being best buds with the telephone. Celia was really itching to make her life more exciting, more entertaining than it already was. It wasn’t that her job was boring or that she wanted a new one. It was just that she kind of felt like she wanted to do more, see more, hear more than the average vet telling someone like that man and his Sheldon to “Go ahead—Conner is waiting for you!”
But Celia couldn’t dwell on it. She decided to take a little breather and just stay put for a minute, clearing her mind. And then she got back to work, answering phone calls, scrawling some notes onto her notebook she used to keep track of clients’ information and calling other patients she had promised she would call back the day after they had alerted her to medical issues or some kind of pill or heartworm liquidation that had caused sores or redness or swelling on the dog or cat’s body. As soon as she was all covered for today, Celia went over to her purse sitting on an edge and looped her plastic navy blue and white paint-streaked purse through her forearm and up onto her shoulder for a ride back to her desk. Celia had stepped in front of her dark maroon swivel chair to take some candy with her for the car ride home. So she snuck some Smarties and Hershey Kisses into her purse from a little drawer Celia—and only she—knew she had from atop the first desk in a little plastic and wooden carved box. She had this little treasured possession since she was a little girl. Her father gave it to her.
I still miss those days! Celia smiled brightly as she pushed the drawer closed, pushed her chair in and then walked around the receptionist area to go through the navy blue doors and out into the Indiana air, spring air playing with her fall leaf orange thin hair and her blue cupcake-decorated dress. Once she had gotten into her nickel-silver Honda Accord, Celia just let her purse drop into the passenger seat as she waved quickly at Emily and then sat there with her head down and mind churning.
I know I saw that box before… That man before…. Celia focused, her eyebrows furrowing. She looked into the rearview mirror and studied her eyebrows. They slanted down just like the man’s did in the lobby this morning! Celia thought some more. Maybe … Celia shook her head. No, I’m just thinking about it too much. She then immediately slammed her hand down onto the door lock controls and pushed one of them down so Emily—standing in front of the passenger window—could talk to her through it.
“Hey—you okay? I noticed you looked upset!”
“No—everything’s fine. Just something I thought was important.” Celia shrugged. “What’s up?”
“Want to go out with Conner and me?” Emily invited, jerking a raised thumb over her shoulder. “We’re going to Outback Steakhouse. It’s just down the road.” She boosted her purse higher onto her shoulder and raised her eyebrows.
Celia thought and then said, “Sure! Not doing anything tonight, so why not?”
Emily grinned. “Great! Couldn’t miss a night without you!”
Celia opened her driver door, got out excitedly and slammed the door a little too fast and hard. Grimacing, Celia threw Emily a guilty look, but the blond-haired woman threw it away by winking after Celia grabbed her purse from the other side, closed this door more gently and then scrambled up the step to join the veterinarian.
“Let’s go, girl!” Celia walked arm-in-arm with Emily, the two friends stealing away to Conner’s neon orange Punch Buggy waiting in the driveway, its engine running.
“Hurry up!” Conner yelled in a friendly voice as Celia and Emily clambered into his vehicle and took their seatbelts, Celia first setting her purse down on the rugged floor. “We don’t have all day or night. I made reservations just now, and they’re expecting us in twenty minutes!”
“Okay.” Celia looked back at Emily, and they had an eye conversation. As if on cue, Conner pulled ahead, and the three friends went to the steakhouse. While he drove amidst seemingly endless lines of cars, Conner chatted about his day and how the man and his Sheldon dog tried to get him to understand the barking.
“Yeah—why was Sheldon barking so much?” Emily responded after Conner complained about the man’s lack of control on the Schnauzer. Conner stopped at a red light in front of another Punch Buggy, Celia noticed, but then pulled forward, driving steadily. He flipped his turning signal on and then slid into left so he would go across the street up ahead and up the restaurant’s parking lot driveway.
“I don’t know. Celia—do you?”
Celia snapped her head to Emily. “Um…yeah, I focused on the man’s voice. I thought it sounded familiar. But…” Celia shook her head and then looked back at Emily as she felt the car swerve left. “I don’t know. I don’t really want to focus on Sheldon’s melodramatic answers to the animal clinic staff. He just has to stop.”
The car was quiet and then Emily spoke. “Well, never mind, then.” Emily unbuckled and then crawled, hunched, through the two middle seats and then hopped out onto the pavement.
All three adults shuffled up the sidewalk and then up a pair of rickety-looking wood-colored stairs onto a platform. Some people were coming out of the door, so Celia, Emily and Conner moved aside. Only when the children had exited did Conner, Emily and Celia all walk themselves into the place. Once Conner told the host that he had made reservations for three, Celia found herself parked beside Emily in a booth with Conner on the opposite side. The waiter came by, introduced himself and handed out Conner’s menu and then delivered Celia and Emily hers and then left to go fetch their Cola, Sprite and Dr. Pepper. With the waiter busying himself, Conner held the menu right in his face and mumbled what he wanted to have for dinner.
“What?” Emily crackled the air with a question.
“Just thinking.” went the response.
Celia sat there and remembered the man and his voice, the box and the candy. But as she looked at her menu with the curly decorative black letters, she told herself she’d think about this stuff later. She got to work studying what she wanted from her menu. Her eyes ran up and down the different meals and sides. Celia then eventually ordered hers after Emily discussed her desired meal with the coal-black apron-wearing man standing in front of her. At last, when he took their menus, Celia turned to Conner and asked whether he’d show up at the clinic for National Pet Week.
Conner furrowed his brows at her. “When is that again? May?” He began playing with his straw after the waiter had placed a brown and clear color-filled glass of liquid in front of him. Celia told Conner when it was—May 5th – 11th—and then scooted towards Emily and told her that she needed to use the bathroom. Emily then shifted until she got out of the booth and then stepped aside to let Celia out as well. As she walked between a row of red and black tables and booths seated with teens, college-aged people, families and a couple of elderly folks saturating the atmosphere with conversation, swirling ice that clinked against the drinks’ glasses and the sudden stab of metal utensils against white china plates, Celia quickly maneuvered past a couple of waitresses, down a cobblestone pathway and then made a U-turn to a door with a dancing cowgirl on the front. Pushing through it, Celia let two girls and a mother out and then shoved open a stall door.
She washed her hands and scooted her way back to her place beside the window. Celia joined in the conversation regarding National Pet Week while drinking her Dr. Pepper between questions and exciting news. The waiter returned with Celia’s simmering steak, little forest of broccoli and steaming mountain of mashed potatoes. Taking it delicately with both hands, Celia could barely set it down before she dived right into the steak, splitting it open with fork and knife and then taking the juicy chunk from plate to mouth. Looking around her, Celia noticed Conner was consuming his broccoli like he hadn’t had his share of vegetables in weeks. Emily was downing her Sprite like teen counselors chug milk at a summer camp or a high school picnic party.
Celia pursed her lips a little and then continued to eat, a little upset at the fact that her friends were not eating properly. Or maybe it seemed like it. When Celia forked her broccoli, she cut it up. All through her meal, she compared each way she handled her food with the ways in which Conner took to his potatoes and steak as well as Emily’s approach to her dinner. When Celia had studied her own plate, it was clean, with mashed potatoes neatly scraped off and broccoli gone. The steak she didn’t want anymore, although two little bits waited for her teeth to grind them up and her throat to claim them as it swallowed its victims. Conner’s, however, was awash with potatoes in the broccoli and he apparently had hacked at his medium-well done T-bone steak. Emily’s meal was slightly better—the steak was cut up but in the wrong way, her broccoli was confusingly spread out and her mashed potatoes were a little bit messy.
Celia looked down at her plate but then shot her head up at Conner’s narrowed eyes.
“Something wrong with our meals?” He asked knowingly.
“Uh…yeah!” Celia challenged him. “I noticed you two are atrocious eaters!” Celia quickly asked Emily to scoot out of the booth, dragging her purse along the way, went personally over to the waiter and paid for her portion of the meal and then went to call a real friend to pick her up and drop her off at Rickludge so she could drive home and have a popcorn party with herself and a couple of neighbors. Who ate pleasantly…
The vision faded. The curtains, baby pink wall, mud-colored carpet, beige leather couches and pull-out chair came into view. Celia blinked and then got up, smiling brightly.
“Well, better call those guys and ask them out. Tell them that Dad, Sheldon and I had all gotten back together in a very long time!”
Blinking back tears of joy, Celia whirled into the black tiled kitchen and hiked her purse up onto her shoulder, told Tigger to behave himself while he stayed home alone licking his tiny grey paws and not throwing up hairballs all over the place, and whisked herself away to Outback Steakhouse—this time, with Conner and Emily, barely waiting to tell her co-workers that she had finally gotten together with that man behind the receptionist desk all those years ago. And with his dog, Sheldon, too. Celia wasn’t able to remember who he was, as she had grown up too fast, she felt, and never gave him a second glance until three years ago.
Really up till now.
When she arrived at the restaurant, Celia went from her car to the booth in a flash, immediately telling Conner and Emily to wait till the day after tomorrow—Monday—to really be excited about work.
“Why?” Emily still asked. Conner leaned in.
“Because it’ll make your day go by faster!” Celia’s head, together with Conner’s and Emily’s, came back from above the table. “I’ll let you know!” She winked.
Conner and Emily looked at each other, raising their eyebrows suspiciously.