Old Dog, New Trick
Emma entered the garage a little disappointed not to see the Jeep parked there, but also a bit relieved too. While she wouldn't have minded putting eyes on Killian Jones again, she had zero desire to witness a repeat performance of his...hurling skills, so the trade-off was still in her favor. Through the window in the back door, she waved to Gale who was standing in the kitchen, wagging her tail broadly, her relaxed, open mouth showing several of her bright, white teeth and a fair amount of long, pink tongue. As she opened the door and stepped through the doorway, Gale howled happily and trotted over to rub up against Emma's legs so she could pet and hug Gale as she did each day.
On the counter where she and Mr. Jones...Killian, he said to call him Killian...kept the notebook they corresponded through, was an empty tennis ball canister now overflowing with beautiful white, pink, and magenta peonies. She couldn't remember the last time anyone gave her flowers — in fact she'd be hard pressed to remember ever getting flowers. She buried her nose in the blossoms and relished the softness of the petals tickling her cheeks. They were lovely and Emma continued smiling as she read the note.
Thanks for coming back to take care of me last night — I picked these flowers special for you this morning! Hope you like them. They come highly recommended by our neighbors. My dad would like to thank you for your kindness, too. He's taking me out on our boat this weekend and wanted me to invite you along. He says I'd make a good first mate if it weren't for the whole opposable thumb problem. No idea what that means....Anyway please come for a sail with us!
PS. If you do feel like coming, meet us at the marina on Saturday around 3pm. Our boat is in the first berth close to my office. Hope to see you!
PPS. Wear layers.
Gale sat quietly in front of Emma while she read the note, lazily swishing her tail along the floor. Emma looked down at her, eyebrows raised, impressed.
"Like to sail, do you, Galeforce?" Emma asked. Gale hit her on the leg with her front paw then looked at the door. "That I'd like to see...maybe I will go," Emma said, seriously considering the offer. "In the meantime, wanna take a walk with a landlubber?"
At the word "walk," Gale headed straight to the door and stood there waiting while Emma gathered up her leash, checked her pockets for treats and poop bags, and grabbed the flowers. The two high-tailed it out to the car, and on the way, Emma noticed the bushes near the garage side neighbor's with several patches bereft of flowers. She chuckled to herself, shaking her head as she pictured Killian sneaking out to pilfer flowers for her in the early morning quiet. She kept her bouquet mostly hidden from view just in case said neighbors ventured out because she didn't want to start some kind of feud between them no matter how much Killian probably deserved it.
They drove off to Emma's favorite place — a nearby lake with trails that wove around it where Gale liked to run ahead, sniffing everything and lingering over some spots like people do over certain newspaper articles in the morning. Emma hiked to her preferred little beach area that was enclosed by trees with a single, narrow path leading to it. She sat and ate her lunch on a big, flat rock while enjoying not just the calming placid lake, but the utter lack of people to intrude upon her quiet time. Exactly what she needed to reset her day after dealing with the human contingent of her business. They were far less predictable than dogs and more often than not, she scrambled for proper responses that didn't include massive amounts of eye rolling or groaning in frustration. She found people trying to say the least.
She pulled her Chuck-it and tennis ball from her backpack and tossed the bright yellow ball out in the water for Gale to swim out and fetch. Emma herself hadn't felt joy in her own life, but when she was in the woods with Gale, watching her romp and swim with abandon, she knew exactly what joy looked like and she craved it for herself. As much as she loved Gale, living vicariously through her was not her longterm goal in life. There were many days when her time with Gale was the only occasion she smiled in any given 24-hour period, and she considered those breaks precious. So being asked to spend a little extra time with Gale was a tough offer to pass up. If it were any other dog, she would have made her excuses even though it wasn't often she got to see her dogs with their owners outside of training sessions. She thought observing Killian and Gale together could help her approach clients' questions and every day problems with better insight. Emma decided she would look at this excursion as if it were research...a way to improve her people skills and her business even if the little voice she liked to bury under layers of mental sediment was hoping it was a date.
Saturday afternoon, just shy of 3:00, Emma walked past the Harbormaster's office building and onto the docks of the marina. The weather was gorgeous — full sun, light breeze to chase away the heat, cloudless sky, and what looked like calm water from what she could see as she drove over the causeway earlier. The parking lot was half full and there were several people about, heading to and from the boats moored in tight quarters. She didn't have to search for Gale's boat because as soon as she stepped onto the wooden platform, Emma heard Gale bark, and, before she knew it, the dog had run down what looked like a special ladder, just for her, off the boat and right up to Emma, tale wagging furiously. Emma couldn't help but laugh and get down to rub Gale's neck and share a few sloppy dog kisses.
"Hey, girl! Yes, it's me! I know! I know! I'm out of context. I'm happy to see you too!" she crooned to the dog, rubbing and scratching Gale as she turned in excited circles around Emma.
A much smoother, cheerful version of Killian Jones' voice than what she'd heard a few nights prior through the bathroom door interrupted Gale's enthusiastic greeting. "Ms. Swan! Decided to join us after all? Wonderful! Gale, sweet, let Ms. Swan by now. There's a good girl."
Killian stood in the cockpit of his boat, leaning over the rail, looking like he stepped out of some yuppy yachting magazine. He wore khaki shorts that showed off tanned, lean calves, a long-sleeve, navy, button down shirt that was, in fact, unbuttoned enough to show off a tantalizing patch of black chest hair. But that was not nearly as distracting as those eyes of his. Between the dark shirt and the bright day, Emma thought her previous assessment of "arresting" wasn't nearly accurate enough when describing his eyes. "Dangerous" was more like it because she was sure she could drown in them without even trying. She swallowed thickly and waved as she walked over to the boat, Gale running ahead.
"Welcome aboard, love," Killian greeted her with a roguish smile (strangely reminiscent of the one Gale always greeted her with) that revealed a dimple in one cheek, and his hand out to help her up the extra steep step onto the deck of the boat. She reached up, taking his hand, which was warm and strong, and began to haul herself up. She met his eyes and felt a wave of excited anticipation rolling through her, causing her to hesitate. Oh, god, what am I doing here? she thought, unable to break eye-contact with Killian. Gale, who was already there waiting on deck, reminded Emma exactly why she was there as she managed to sneak in a kiss just as Emma was eye-level with her, licking away any uncertainty she had in an instant.
"Gale! Manners! We don't kiss our guests before they've even boarded. Bad form!" Killian scolded the black dog as she wagged at them both oblivious to his admonition. Now with both feet on the deck, Emma steadied herself against the slight roll of the boat as she laughed and wiped her face.
"When exactly do you kiss your guests then?" Emma asked, smirking as she took in the look of exasperation on Killian's face aimed at Gale.
He turned to her, eyebrow raised, exasperation melting into amusement. "Guess we'll just have to wait and see, won't we, love?" Killian answered with a wink. Emma's stomach flipped and before she could offer him some reading material for the wait, he changed subjects. "Gale and I were just running through our checklist so we could embark on today's adventure. Why don't you stow your bag below deck and then come back up and have a seat? We should be ready to make sail in a few minutes."
Unable to resist, Emma saluted, said "Aye, aye, Captain!" and ducked down through the bulkhead doorway behind the helm of the boat. She climbed down a short staircase into a cabin area, the gleaming teak wood paneling and crimson accents of the furniture coverings creating a warmth she was unprepared for. This was more like a home and not anything like the boat in Jaws (thank God), which was the only one she could picture, having never been on a boat before. There was bench seating on either side of the cabin — one side with a small table for eating, an abbreviated desk area on the other. Just beyond the seats where she deposited her bag, was a small galley with a stove and bar refrigerator, all neat and uncluttered, so unlike her apartment at the moment. Unable to stop herself from exploring the compact living quarters, she moved through the cabin and past the tiny bathroom, complete with shower, and into the stateroom with its full size bed and built-in storage. The bed was covered in a deep red and navy blue plaid quilt with more than a few pillows padding the head of it.
Emma hung in the doorway, her mouth open in amazement at the compactness of it all. "Wonder how many mermaids he's brought back here?" she said to herself.
"Mermaids aren't real, love, and they certainly don't have the legs to board my ship," Killian's bemused voice came from way too close. Emma closed her eyes and scrunched her nose in embarrassment. She really needed to learn to stop talking out loud to herself.
Emma turned to find him standing right behind her, half a grin peeking out from behind the hand that was stroking his beard, blue eyes twinkling at her curiosity over his love life. If she could have turned to sea foam and dissolved into the waves, she would have.
"Unless her name is Ariel, of course," she said, quickly trying to recover from not just her embarrassment, but his closeness. The man was utterly disarming.
Killian paused to consider, and said, "Mmm...well, in all my years at sea, I've yet to run across an Ariel. Or an Ursula for that matter. Only one to share that bed with me is Gale, I'm afraid, and she's a jealous lass, that one."
"Gale?!" Emma asked incredulously.
"Aye. Ever since I adopted her, she has done her best to make sure I don't date. She loves to misbehave for the ladies. Knocked one of my dates clear overboard before we'd even gotten out of the harbor. She stole the meal off the plate of another during dinner, and the last date I brought around, she managed to get her somehow extra filthy paws all over the poor woman, ruining her new outfit. Needless to say, I don't get many second dates," he concluded, shaking his head.
Emma couldn't help but laugh. That was not the Gale she knew at all. "No shit, huh? Well, you know what they say about dogs, they can see the true character in people. Maybe Gale sensed they weren't right for you."
Killian tilted his head and gazed at Emma, pressing his lips together for a moment as he considered her observation — and her. "Mmm. Perhaps," he said. Emma looked away, heat — and no doubt the deep pink that went with it — climbing up into her cheeks as he pinned her there with a single look. He took a step back and told her, "I came down to let you know my ill-mannered dog and I are ready to set sail if you are."
Emma nodded and Killian bowed, ushering her toward the stairs leading up to the cockpit. She squeezed by him, barely a hand's length between them, her understanding of the phrase "close quarters" taking on new, practically electric, meaning, and made her way up the steps only to be licked across the face again by Gale who was waiting less than patiently for her. Laughing, Emma ruffled the dog's ears and said, "We really need to stop meeting like this, Gale."
"Got you again, did she?" Killian asked from below as he, too climbed up the steps. Gale repeated her greeting with him then hopped up on the seat and sat, tongue hanging loosely out of her mouth. "That's my fault. It's sort of a...thing we do. She's never done that with anyone else though. Sorry, love. "
"Doesn't bother me. She kisses me all the time," Emma said as she took her seat next to Gale, petting the dog absently while Killian stood in front of the console by the wheel and started up the boat. Over the chug of the engine, he called to Emma as he held out a bright orange bundle, "Oh, Ms. Swan, one more thing. Would you be so kind as to put this life jacket on Gale, please?"
"Sure," she said, taking the jacket from him and slipping it around the now standing Gale, who obviously knew what was to be done, adjusting the straps so they were snug. "There, missy. You look...safe," she said with a approving nod. Gale just wagged her tail, then sat back down next to Emma, putting her paw on her arm to remind Emma she was in need of petting again.
"Off we go, then!" Killian said, smiling at Emma.
He pulled the boat from its berth and maneuvered past the other vessels docked nearby with ease and precision, his 30-foot sailboat dwarfed by many of the other yachts they passed. Once beyond the last of the boats moored at that particular dock, they navigated around a few even bigger ships anchored farther out. Free of boat traffic finally, Killian took her up the coastline a little ways, pointing out places she didn't even know existed in this town. There was much more history than she'd given the sleepy seaport credit for having, and Killian's accent made it far more interesting to listen to than it probably was.
Watching him captain the boat was something to behold, too. The easy confidence he gave off as the boat cut through the water was so much like watching a joyous Gale in the woods, that her heart ached with longing to feel that same joy for herself, jealousy that he had it, and admiration at how beautiful he looked while obviously feeling it. He never seemed concerned, and smiled contentedly as he showed her around the part of the coast he managed on a daily basis. She knew this had to be his "happy place" and if she stayed out here much longer it might just become hers too.
Her brief history lesson complete, Killian sailed them over to a spot with a picturesque view of the town: white church spires poking into the blue sky, old maples and oaks dotting the landscape softening the encroaching modern high rises off in the distance, all backlit by the sun, which was just beginning its slant down into sunset. The surface of the water glittered like treasure and Emma sighed at the beauty of it all. She spent so much time working and avoiding people, she had no idea that the place she had lived in for the last several years had a side so breathtaking. She could get used to this.
Killian cut the engine to the boat, surprising Emma.
"Is this where you kill me and dump my body in the ocean?" she asked sarcastically.
Killian bristled. Stiffly, and with a forced smile, he said, "No, lass. This is where I go down below and get us something to eat while we enjoy the view and let Gale have some swim time."
"Oh. Ok." Emma responded softly, feeling like she had tread someplace she shouldn't have.
Releasing a deep breath through his nose, and relaxing his smile to something far more genuine, Killian asked Emma, "Do me a favor, love? Reach into that cupboard under your seat and pull out the flat thing, would you?"
Emma unlatched the door to the storage beneath the bench and found what Killian requested and passed it over to him, curious about what it could be.
"Come along, Swan, and give me a hand. I'm sure you'll love this. It's Gale's favorite thing when we sail."
Emma followed Killian to the port side deck, Gale hot on her heels in anticipation. Pushing his sleeves up out of the way, Killian unfolded the board and snapped a few bars into place around the edges to keep it from folding back up and then leaned it over the deck into the water. He bent down and nodded for Emma to join him. Kneeling, she followed his movements as they secured to the boat what turned out to be a floating dock for Gale to get in and out of the water on her own. Watching him check to make sure it was correctly placed, she saw a long, jagged scar running up his left forearm and smaller lighter scars criss-crossing his palm.
He must have caught her concerned look, because he swiftly pushed his sleeves back down, hiding the rough marks, pretending he didn't see her looking. She wanted to ask him where he got them, but now was obviously not the time. Whatever caused those scars must have been painful in more ways than one, and he didn't look to be in a sharing mood. If anyone understood hidden scars of the mental kind it was Emma.
Clearing his throat, he offered Emma his hand to help her up, which she took gratefully, as she was still a bit wobbly moving about the boat.
"I believe, in that same cupboard, is a Chuck-it and some tennis balls if you would be so kind as to entertain my girl while I prepare our supper."
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Emma lobbed tennis balls off the deck of the boat and watched Gale happily swim out to get them. She was in awe of the little dock attachment every time Gale used it to bring her the ball to throw again. She could totally get why Gale loved this. And Killian was right, she loved it too. Being Gale was most definitely not a bad thing.
Soon, he joined her again, letting Emma know the food was ready, towel in hand to dry off Gale. They pulled in the dock after Gale re-boarded and let it sit to dry while they ate. At the little table between the benches, Killian had laid out a platter with meats, cheeses, fruit and vegetables, along with a loaf of crusty bread. Handing her an ale from a bucket full of ice and beer he brought up, they both tucked in. Emma hadn't realized just how hungry she was until she saw all the food, because suddenly her stomach was growling loud enough to alert a kracken of their presence. Even Gale had her meal with them, happily munching away nearby.
Between bites of bread and cheese, Killian asked, "So, Emma, how long have you been with Pet Saviors?"
"Mmm...I started about 10 years ago after I...when Mrs. Lucas hired me to help with the dog training because she wanted to expand the business. Since I took over though, I think I spend more time on paperwork than anything else," Emma answered.
"So, wait...You own Pet Saviors? I thought Mrs. Lucas...?"
"She retired...Didn't you read the notice we sent out a few months ago?" Emma asked, a tinge of annoyance creeping into the question.
"Perhaps..." he said obviously trying to remember such a letter and coming up blank.
Emma saw right through him. "Liar," she teased.
Killian looked completely chagrined. He half shrugged and said again with more certainty and laughing in return, "Perhaps." Leaning forward, he apologized. "Sorry, love. Sometimes I lose track of things, and since the name didn't change and my fees stayed the same, I didn't notice. That was bad form. I promise to read everything you send home with Gale from now on."
Emma waved her hand dismissing his promise. "No, no, I'm sure you aren't the only one. It's ok."
"So if you are running things now, how do you have time to still walk Gale?" Killian asked, looking somewhat puzzled.
Smiling at Gale who had curled up on the bench next to Killian, she said wistfully, "I just couldn't give her up. She's very special to me. I can't explain it, really. She and I, we just...connected."
"Aye, I know exactly what you mean," Killian replied, looking directly at Emma, making her heart speed up and trip over itself.
She gave a little cough and broke eye contact before she couldn't speak at all. "So where did you get her?" she asked trying to steer the conversation back to something safe, back to Gale.
"My best mate, David, runs the local animal shelter —"
"David Nolan?" Emma interrupted with surprise.
"Aye. You know him too?" Killian asked.
"Yeah, of course! I do regular training sessions at the shelter for new adoptees and their parents. He sends people my way, too, for walks and sitting."
"Aye, he's the one who suggested I hire you all to help take care of Gale."
"Huh. Small world just got a whole lot smaller," she said. She shouldn't have been surprised because now that she thought of it, David had talked occasionally about his friend Killian. She just never made the connection. "I'm sorry. I totally interrupted you. You were saying about Gale?..."
"Right. Well, one of the abandoned dogs they had at the shelter was pregnant, and when she gave birth, David called me. He told me it was time to quit my workaholic ways and find a pretty young lass to spend my time with instead. Said he had just the girl for me."
"Sure he wasn't talking about a real person?" Emma said with a snort.
"I don't think he notices females that aren't four-legged," Killian supposed with a smirk.
Emma almost choked on her beer. "Oh, shit, don't tell his wife that!"
"Well, there are always exceptions to any rule, love."
"So why the name Gale?" Emma asked, genuinely curious. "Gotta thing for strong wind?"
Killian shook his head and put his hand on Gale's head, rubbing his thumb over her forehead between her eyes, making her sigh. "Not exactly. Quite the opposite, really. She's actually Galene — named after the Greek goddess of calm seas."
"She is pretty mellow for a Lab, I have to say. Good choice," Emma said, impressed.
"Naming her that was more like a wish for myself than it was a prediction of her temperament," Killian explained with a seriousness that hit Emma in the gut.
Emma looked down thoughtfully for a moment. "I can understand that," she commiserated.
Leaning forward, Killian met her eyes and held them steady to his for a few beats and she could feel herself being pulled in by that brilliant blue undertow. Voice soft and low, he asked, "And what do you wish for, Emma Swan?"