Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Killian woke as first light was chasing away the darkness. He was overheated and damp, but shivering and still a touch queasy, which was not reassuring at all. Gale, who stayed with him on the couch all night, had managed to roll on to her back, her two front paws sticking straight up in the air and her hind legs pushed against his back. As she twitched in her sleep, flexing her toes, he made a mental note to get her nails clipped soon because she was going to leave a mark. Not wanting to rouse his pup quite so early, Killian inched out from under the blanket to sit on the edge of the couch, trying not to make any sudden moves that would wake her or whatever vile serpent lay coiled in his belly waiting to ruin this day, too.
He stretched, loosening up the cramped muscles of his torso, then ran his hands through his dark hair, separating the sweaty patches along his temples and neck. He reflexively massaged his stiff left hand and forearm, the raised scars a map to someplace he'd much rather forget, and the early morning ache and weakness the road signs that wouldn't let him. His mouth tasted like the 18th circle of hell, and when he finally cleared his eyes, he saw the tall glass of water on the coffee table with a note next to it. He went for the water first, trying to remember not to gulp it down too quickly, then picked up the note.
Hope your internal organs don't try to escape again today! I put the soup in the fridge when you feel good enough again to eat. I'll be by around lunchtime to walk Gale like always.
So he wasn't hallucinating or dreaming he'd met Emma Swan last night. Killian had been so worn out that everything after he collapsed on the couch, post puke-fest, felt far away and slightly unreal. He remembered feeling grateful for her assistance and surprise that she wasn't a college kid, but that's where his recollection ended...well, not quite. It really ended with him wanting to gaze into her pale green eyes for a while longer, but he pushed that thought aside quickly. She was Gale's dog walker for chrissake. If she wasn't a student, Killian wondered how she could be supporting herself walking dogs. No way a fun job like that payed well. He thought he would start putting a little more in the check he sent in each month for Gale's fees. Certainly someone who went out of her way as she had for him — so unexpectedly — deserved more.
He looked over at Gale and rubbed her belly lightly causing her tail to thump softly against his thigh. Killian smiled at his girl and whispered, "You could have at least told me she was pretty, you know."
Gale flopped over onto her side and graced Killian with a sideways look he was sure meant "You never asked, idiot." She curled up into a doughnut, as Killian liked to call the circle she wrapped herself into, then sighed, falling back to sleep. He wished he had that talent because it was way too early to be up and snuggling with Gale always sounded like the better plan. But up he was, and nauseous or not, he needed to get into work today. With the warm weather finally in full swing, the marina was a busy place, and being harbormaster didn't allow for too much time away during regular hours regardless of how much better a day on the couch with Gale would be. The weekend was around the bend and he would have plenty of time to hang out with her then.
Finally rising, Killian padded to his room and grabbed some clean clothes, then made his way to the bathroom and into a steaming hot shower he hoped would wash away the vestiges of the horrible lunchtime mistake he made eating leftover supermarket sushi. Never again would he eat sushi from a container no matter how hungry or how rushed — restaurants only from now on. Maybe with a pretty blonde who liked dogs. Easy there, mate, he warned, getting a little ahead of yourself, don't you think? Still, her kindness touched him. It had been longer than he cared to contemplate since someone did something nice for him, or helped him, because they wanted to and not because they wanted something in return from him.
Of course she was probably only helping him because of Gale. It had nothing to do with him, not really. They didn't know each other outside of the notebook they shared full of rather silly messages from the dog. Still, something about her felt...familiar. Like she fit. There was no other way he could explain it, but it didn't matter. He barely remembered their meeting, how could he be sure of the feeling he was left with? Regardless, it nestled itself into his chest. The last time he felt something with such certainty was when he picked out Gale from her litter. She just felt right. But Emma was a person not a dog, and the idea that she could be right for him was madness.
Gale was waiting for him outside the bathroom door all wagging tail and loud "aroo" reminding Killian it was time for her breakfast — as if he'd ever forget. "Yes, love, I know. I'm still moving slow. Forgive me?" he asked as he leaned down and planted a kiss on her cold, wet nose and scratching under her chin. She licked him, a solid swipe along his nose, then nudged her head under his hand so he could stroke the top of her head.
"Alright, Galene, my queen, lets go see what's for breakfast," he said as they headed down the hall and into the kitchen where Gale stationed herself prettily, and very still, next to her bowl.
"That's an impressive sit, lass. You must be especially hungry this morning," Killian commented as he added a healthy scoop of meat to her bowl of kibble. Gale answered him with a tiny wag of the tip of her tail and a long string of drool from her mouth. Killian chuckled and stood before her with the bowl in hand. "It's the same meal every time, love, how can you be that excited?"
While Gale happily wolfed down her breakfast, Killian threw some bread in the toaster. He was pretty sure that was all he could manage this morning no matter how much his stomach was growling earlier. As he went to open the fridge to get the butter out, Killian realized it was time to flip the page on the "Age of Sail" calendar he had hanging on the refrigerator door. A heavy, red line encircled the 20th without any other indication of what was happening that day. It didn't need anything else because he knew. Unconsciously, his right hand went to his left forearm where he thumbed over the scars, pressing down to feel every ridge and buckle in the skin. He'd not forgotten this day was coming so much as he'd been avoiding thinking about it all together. But here it was only a few short weeks away. Killian had spent the last several years occupying his mind, distracting him from his past, by throwing himself into work, getting his citizenship, and then raising Gale, but this...impending event never left his thoughts. Not really. He dreaded and welcomed it in equal parts.
An insistent pressure against his thigh broke him from his less-than-pleasant reverie. He looked down to see Gale sitting close to him — practically on his foot — pushing her head into his leg as she looked up at him intensely with her light brown eyes. Killian reached down with his scarred hand and slid it along the silky fur of her ears and neck to remind himself that there was more than pain to feel from that arm.
"Right, love. Ready to go out? I've got some time for a little fetch. Whatdya say?"
At the word "fetch," Gale's ears perked, she stood on her hind legs, and did a little hop toward the back door before dropping her feet to the floor again. Killian laughed and Gale squeezed through the doorway before he'd barely gotten it halfway open. He let her out into the fenced-in yard first and then grabbed the Chuck-it and tennis ball. They played for about 15 minutes, enjoying the cool morning, until Gale refused to give the ball back and just lay in the dewy grass, panting. He left her there while he finally grabbed his toast, distractedly gathered up what he needed for work, then went out to the garage and tossed it in his Jeep.
He returned to the deck door and watched Gale as she sniffed around the yard, looking up at the shade tree for chittering squirrels and scattering birds looking for their breakfast, and he wondered if maybe taking more time off wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. Surely, Mr. Smee could handle another day in charge while Killian continued to recover. But then he remembered his meeting with the Deputy Mayor and sighed. That was nothing he wanted to leave in Mr. Smee's hands at all. To work it was then. No "accidental" meetings with dog walkers today. Shame that. Even their brief and hazy visit told Killian she was far more interesting company than Deputy Mayor Glass.
"Come along, my sweet girl. Time for me to get to work," Killian called out to Gale. She looked to him at the sound of his voice and wagged her tail as she trotted up the stairs and into the house.
As she did every morning, Gale hopped up on the built-in seat at the large front window to keep an eye on things. Killian followed her and scratched her neck with both hands. "You be a good girl for the lovely Ms. Swan today. Tell her I said hello, OK?" Gale thumped her tail and shook her fur back into place when he released her.
Reluctantly making his way to the Jeep after stopping to pick up dog toys and drinking one more glass of water, Killian finally left the house. Backing out of the driveway, Killian admired his neighbor's peony bushes that bordered their front yards. They were covered in blossoms in all stages of blooming — in shades of white, pale pink, and bright magenta — their petals opening like fireworks on a summer's night. Like fireworks, he thought, they were best shared.
Killian hit the breaks, put his car in park, and got out. He realized he had forgotten something after all.