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Saturday, April 30, 2011
Marty's Jaunt by Brandi Medkiff
Sherri settled into the breakfast nook with a novel and a cup of coffee. A breeze stirred the curtains; wind chimes rang outside. House-sitting for Steve and Linda Miller was like a vacation. The work was minimal—watering the plants and walking Marty, the collie—and the small house was as fresh and uncluttered as a hotel suite.
She thought about her own home. It’s the middle of June, and I don’t have any spring annuals planted. The flower beds are full of Bermuda grass; it’ll take weeks to get them in shape. All the paths need to be edged, but the edger won’t start.
She sighed. The big house on three acres had been a great place to raise a family, and caring for the yard had been fun with Jim to share the work and the vision. Now the kids were grown, Jim was gone, the vision had faded, and only the work remained.
A real estate flier fell from her book. Sherri looked at the picture of the shingle-style house on Marty’s walk route. Neat and pretty, with crisp green-and-white paint and a deep front porch, it was priced to sell and only two blocks from the Millers. Sherri could see herself in a place like that, with a small yard and a couple of spare rooms for when the kids visited.
But the thought of getting her own house ready for market made her feel like hiding under the bed. She stuck the flyer back in her book and tried to get absorbed in the story.
She’d spent a lot of time reading since Jim’s death two years ago, but lately books didn’t hold her attention. She kept glancing around, distracted by birdsong or the shifting shadows of tree branches.
A brisk knock made her put down the book altogether. Robert stood at the glass door, gray-streaked hair pulled into a ponytail, worn tool belt slanted across his hips. He was building Steve and Linda’s deck. Quiet and courteous, he kept his classic rock at a moderate volume and always tidied his work area before he left.
Yesterday afternoon, Sherri had taken him a glass of tea. They’d sat together on the porch and talked, while Marty leaned his head against Robert’s knee and Steely Dan played on the radio.
She opened the door. “Good morning.”
Robert was wearing a Ted Nugent T-shirt and a pair of worn jeans whose fade pattern articulated the shape of his quads. His smile seemed a little tight at the corners today. “Morning, Sherri. Is the dog in the house with you?”
“No. I put him out after his breakfast.”
Robert groaned. “I left the gate open when I got here. Now I can’t find him.”
“Marty’s twelve years old and arthritic. He’s probably asleep behind the rhododendron.”
But he wasn’t. They searched the yard together and called him from the open gate. No Marty.
“I’ll drive around and hunt for him,” Robert said.
“I’ll go, too. I’ll call him while you drive.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Robert began. Then his expression softened. “But I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.”
Robert was waiting beside his truck when Sherri finished locking the front door. He opened the passenger door for her.
“I can’t believe I made such a stupid mistake,” he said as they pulled out. “I sure hope that dog’s okay.”
“He can’t have gone far. We’ll find him.”
But after an hour’s slow cruising and fruitless searching, Sherri’s optimism faded. They’d left the confines of Marty’s walk route far behind. She scanned every spot for the familiar long sable coat and pointed nose, but no luck.
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” came on the radio. Without thinking, Sherri cranked the volume and started singing, then stopped when she noticed Robert watching her.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to seem callous. I guess I lose my head when I hear Tom Petty.”
“So do I,” he said with a smile. “I would’ve turned it up if you hadn’t.”
But this was no time to be singing with the radio. Sherri leaned out the open window and called Marty’s name again.
She’d grown fond of the calm, friendly dog. He wagged eagerly whenever she brought out his leash, but after a walk he always took a long nap in a patch of sunlight. What had possessed him to run off? She imagined him starting cheerfully, then losing his way and growing bewildered and fatigued. Was he still trudging along, panting and footsore? Or had he collapsed somewhere?
“Marty!” she called. “Marty!”
A man looked up from pruning his shrubs. “You looking for a collie?”
Sherri’s heart leapt. “Yes! Have you seen him?”
“A while ago. Heading that way.”
He pointed towards a busy four-lane street. Sherri glanced at Robert and saw his face go grim.
They drove on in silence. They rounded a bend—and there was Marty, trotting gamely with ears perked and head high. Sherri had the door open before Robert made it to a complete tire-screeching stop.
“Marty! Marty, come!”
Marty’s head cocked, and recognition lit his face. He ran and jumped nimbly into the cab.
Sherri hugged him, and he licked her face. He was panting but cheerful, as if he’d enjoyed his jaunt and was now looking forward to a truck ride.
Robert rubbed the dog’s head and laughed aloud. It was a wonderful sound, rich and joyful.
“You fooled us, didn’t you, boy? You may have more white than copper in your muzzle, but you’ve got plenty of juice left. And when you saw your chance for an adventure, you took it.”
Robert’s face was only inches from Sherri’s. His eyes were a vivid blue-green; the creases around them spoke of patience and good humor.
“Thanks again for helping,” he said.
“It’s no trouble. I’m glad we found him.”
Suddenly he looked uncertain. “Listen, there’s a coffee shop a few blocks away. They allow dogs on the patio. Can I buy you a little midmorning caffeine?”
An unexpected thrill of pleasure shot through her. “I’d like that.”
They sipped iced cappuccino in the sunshine while Marty slurped water from a recycled plastic sandwich container. Fleetwood Mac played from a wall-mounted speaker; Sherri softly sang along.
“You like classic rock?” Robert asked.
“I do. It’s the music of my youth.”
“You ever heard of a local band called What Next? They’re playing here this Friday night.”
“The name sounds familiar. Are they any good?”
“I think so,” he said in a carefully casual tone. “They’re my band.”
She stared at him. “I didn’t know you played in a band.”
“Sure do. Every Friday and Saturday I get to live a rock ’n’ roll fantasy—minus the obscene wealth and hard living. Folks of our generation like hearing the stuff they grew up with, and to the younger generation, it’s all new—except for a few hotshot young classic rock buffs. We have a nineteen-year-old drummer who keeps us all on our toes.”
“How wonderful,” Sherri said. She meant it. She’d always thought Robert had a spark about him, and she was beginning to see why. Here he was, playing the music of his youth in a spirit of newness, getting out there and doing it instead of just remembering.
“Would you care to come hear us this Friday?” he asked.
“I’d love to hear your band play. But first, I want your professional opinion about something.”
“Okay. Yes, you have a terrific voice. And you’re definitely sitting in with us when we play ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream.’”
Sherri laughed. “That’s not the profession I meant. I want your opinion about a house. It’s on Magnolia, not far from the Millers’ place.” She took a deep breath. “I’m interested in buying it.”
“The green one with white trim? I built that house! I always liked the floor plan. And if you wanted any work done, I’d give you a heck of a deal.”
They drove straight over, with Marty again riding in the cab. Sherri felt hesitant about wandering around the lot, even though the house was vacant, but Robert said, “I know these people. They want to sell; they’re not going to complain about a potential buyer looking through the windows.”
Marty sniffed around the yard while Sherri and Robert peered and pointed and planned. “A row of hollyhocks would look great against that wall,” Sherri said.
“Yes, and a bank of geraniums in front of that. House needs a little work, but it’s all minor cosmetic stuff. Hurry up and make an offer! I can’t wait to get started.”
“Believe me, there’s plenty of work at my current house to keep you employed a long time. Isn’t this a terrific porch?”
Something in his smile made her feel lightheaded. “It’d be a great place to drink iced cappuccino and listen to Steely Dan,” he said. “With a friend.”
“Yes,” Sherri said. “It would.”
About the Author: Brandi Midkiff grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and studied English and Music at the University of North Texas. She spent years in a Celtic/folk band, playing pubs, clubs, and coffee shops. She lives on her husband’s ancestral farm, where she homeschools three teenagers and writes romantic fiction. Visit Brandi at http://mountainlaurel.wordpress.com and buy her book at Amazon.