BENNETT - Part 2 of the HMB Doggie Series

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Chapter 9

I shouldn’t be horribly surprised that this guy has some beef with me and not the woman in my dreams. Maybe she’s trying to tell me something?

I’ve given myself two migraines in three days worrying about this crap. I even had to cancel my third date with Keith, to which he was completely understanding. I was a little less gracious about the whole deal. Kim came over yesterday to sit with me, giving me cool towels to put over my eyes and, true to form, had my toast and tea at the ready. Bennett only left my side to go potty and eat his meals. Otherwise his large furry body was a constant, pressing into my side. It was him that put me back together.

I’m annoyed as hell I haven’t had any dreams since my last one. I want that woman to show up again and explain in detail what this guy wants from me. And it would help if she showed me her drivers license and birth certificate while she’s at it.

Now Bennett and I are sitting at the kitchen table (no really, I let him sit in a chair and he loves it), the papers from Keith spread out in front of us. I’ve even gone so far as to write out the dreams I’ve had, remembering every detail I possibly can. I’m glad I did because something’s there, I just can’t see it yet. But it will come to me eventually.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m finally feeling halfway decent. Keith called me earlier, asking if I feel up to visiting a friends house with him tonight. I guess they just celebrated their one year anniversary and want to throw a little party. I can even bring Bennett, which is really the only reason I’m going in the first place. A party sounds about as fun as anal leakage, but I want to see Keith and maybe it would do me some good to put this mess aside for awhile.

“I don’t like this one bit, Bennett. It’s really sticking in my craw.” I huff as I sit back in my chair, surveying all the papers in front of me.

He “woofs” and noses one of the papers closest to him, like he’s trying to read all the details himself. I have to smile at that.

“We’ll figure it out though, won’t we, sweetie?” I reach over and give his scruff a scratch. He leans his head back and smiles at me, his blue face momentarily lightening.

A thought comes to me and I grab a piece of paper and a pen. I start to list all the names of anyone who might have an issue with me. I start with the obvious; ex-boyfriends. I hate to admit that this is a sickeningly long list. Commitment issues much?

Feeling like the biggest loser in the world, I move on to possible employers. Thankfully there’s not much here; the only real job I ever had was at the ballet company and they loved me. I was the only non-diva dancer and for that the choreographers where malleable to my wishes. Maybe some of the other dancers though? I scribble down everyone who ever gave me the stink eye, only after realizing that this stalker is a dude, so I cross off all the girl names with a huff. Idiot.

I sit for some time and try to think of other possible enemies. Nothing comes to me. I look down at my list and figure at least now I have some names to work with. I put little stars next to the names that involved a particularly nasty break-up. Jason D’Agustino. Will Anderson. Marc Levin. Alexander Hoffman. Jerry Thyrring. Bill Kennedy. Brett Grisim. Anthony Terraszas. Steve Oldham. Jesus…it would appear I have more enemies then I ever considered possible. Now I’m depressed.

I slump in my chair. Bennett senses my mood because he hops off his chair and jumps his front paws onto my lap, sticking his nose in my face and his tongue in my nostril. Leave it to the dog to pull me out of a funk. I laugh and let Bennett use his snuggle powers to keep me off the cliff of self-loathing.

“You look absolutely beautiful tonight, Fu,” Keith says as he handles the car with one hand. His other hand is resting lightly on my knee and the heat from it is making things tingle. I hide this fact with a teasing smile.

“When you don’t have a job or anything to keep you busy during the day, it’s easy to take the time to clean up a little.” Although I appreciate his compliment because I did take extra pains to put myself together tonight. Since I was down for the count with migraines for three days I barely showered and probably looked like a bag of dirt. It feels good to be clean for a change.

I’m wearing a pair of curve-hugging jeans that accentuate my assets and an off-the-shoulder plum colored sweater. Simple boots and small stud earrings complete the look. Classically understated. I decided natural hair and make-up were a must as well, since we’re just going to a house party. I’d hate to be that one douchebag in the room that looks like she’s going to the presidential ball.

“So what are their names again? Your friends?” I check the backseat to make sure Bennett is content. He’s got his head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind. Happy as a clam.

“Sal and John. I’ve known Sal for years. I’ve been doing her taxes since forever. Really nice people,” he makes a left and the car climbs up a particularly steep hill, “Her husband, Eric, passed away about six years ago. He was a really good friend of mine,” pause, “Drunk driver, actually.”

“Fucking drunk drivers,” I mumble.

“It was horrible. The whole town was devastated. John was actually Sal’s agent at the time and when she made it big with one of her books they started doing more and more work together. You can see where the story progresses,” he finishes with a smile.

“And you said Sal and John just celebrated their one year?”

“Yep. It’s great to see Sal so happy again. She was pretty broken for awhile there. I think her dog Boone really helped get her through the worst of it.”

“What kind of dog does she have?”

“Oh you’ll see. He’s freaking amazing.”

Keith pulls up in front of a beautiful two story house. The lights are ablaze and I hear happy laughter as I get out of the car and let Bennett leap down from the backseat.

“Eric actually designed this house. He was an outstanding architect.” Keith places his hand on the small of my back and leads me up to the front door. Bennett has his nose to the ground, clearly on a mission.

Keith rings the doorbell and not a breath later it opens to the biggest guy I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s very handsome but his size alone makes me want to cower in fear. A smile breaks across his face as he see’s Keith.

“Keith! How the hell are you?!” They do the whole “bro hug” thing.

“Good to see you, John! It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, no shit. Working my ass off,” John looks over at me and visibly starts.

“Who the hell is this looker and what the hell is she doing with a troll like you?”

“Jesus, John. Behave,” a beautiful blond elbows him out of the way and smiles at me, “Sorry about that. He knows not what he does,” she extends a hand, “I’m Sal. You must be Cindy.” Her smile is all inviting and I instantly take a liking to her.

“Hi,” I shake her hand, “It’s Cindy, but everyone calls me Fu.”

“I love it. Come on in!” She wraps an arm around me and guides me past her hulk of a husband.

“Damn, Keith, well done,” I hear from behind me. A blush like no other starts to creep up my neck and into my face.

“Just ignore him. I usually do.” She walks me over to another handsome couple. I’m trying to focus but it’s hard. Her house is amazing. This Eric guy must have really known his stuff. “Fu, I’d like you to meet Megan and her husband James.”

Megan is a petit little thing. She stands and she barely comes to my chin. She’s adorable and I’m instantly self-conscious, which is new for me.

“Nice to meet you, Fu,” Megan smiles and steps back. “Goddamn, you’re a pretty thing.” My face burns.

“Megan, for Christ’s sake,” James swats her butt, “Clearly we are a group with no filter,” his smile is warm and puts my erratic heart to ease a bit.

I just now remember that I have Bennett at my side who is sniffing everyone’s crotch with verve.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” I tug on his collar, “This is Bennett. He’s…not quite trained yet…obviously.”

Sal laughs, “Don’t even worry about that,” the words have barely left her mouth when the most gorgeous German Shepherd I think I’ve ever seen comes barreling down the stairs and skids to a stop in front of Bennett. Moment of truth: If the dogs get along I will have these people in my life forever. It’s a silly thought but I know in my gut it’s true.

Bennett and Boone circle each other, giving the customary sniffs in all the right places. We all watch as Bennett drops his front legs to the floor, his ass in the air, and his blue face lights up with a smile. Boone has one ear that doesn’t stand up quite right and it twitches in earnest as he copies Bennett’s pose. They both streak off down the hall, Bennett chasing Boone, the clatter of their nails like thunder.

“Well, I think Bennett just made a friend,” I laugh.

We’re all sitting around the living room. Keith sits beside me and the heat from his body makes me feel light-headed. The dynamic these people have is both heart-warming and kind of intimidating. They’ve clearly been friends for a long time. There’s an easy banter amongst them that I’m not quite used to. Kim aside, I don’t have a lot of close friends. Not to mention that the love between Sal and John and Megan and James is palpable. My mind wanders back to that long-ass list of ex-boyfriends and I try not to fall into a funk, which isn’t too hard because we’ve been here for over an hour and I haven’t stopped laughing.

It seems they all have their parts to play: John is the boisterous loud-mouth who drops f-bombs better then I do, Sal is the sweet caregiver, Megan is the fiery pistol and James is the calming balm that soothes them all. Keith, who seems newer to the group, is the clown. He’s absolutely hysterical with the stories he tells. I have no idea where I fit in but I know I want to fit in. If I’d met them before the accident I would have undoubtably been the promiscuous party animal. But now…I’m not sure. I don’t want to be that girl with an ex-boyfriend list a mile long. Maybe I should listen to Kim and tamper down my charm. Although that’s a pot calling the kettle black. Kim is just as incorrigible as me. But she’s also been in steady, long-term relationships ever since I’ve known her, not the fuck-em-and-leave one’s I’ve had.

Keith gives me a little nudge, “You doing okay?” he whispers over the drone of laughter.

I smile at him, “I’m great, thank you.” And I am great. I feel a shift in me as I gaze into Keith’s eyes, my mind wandering back to that one moment when I admired his coat hanging next to mine. “I’m wonderful,” I say as I plant a gentle kiss over his mouth.

“Hey, hey, none of that around here,” John teases. And this is coming from the guy who can’t keep his hands off his wife.

“So, Fu, what do you do for a living?” Sal leans onto her knees.

“Oh, uh, I’m kind of an artist. I mean, I’ve always painted, but just recently I’ve turned it up a notch,” usually I’m all for talking about myself. Then again, that was the old me. I’m liking the new me much better.

“Fu was also a ballerina,” Keith says with pride. I roll my eyes.

“No shit? Like a full-fledged ballerina?” John asks.

“Uh, yeah. I was a principle with a ballet company out in San Jose.”

“Why did you stop?” This comes from Megan.

“Well,” I eye Keith, wondering if I should bring up the accident in front of someone who lost her husband. Keith smiles reassuringly. Here goes nothing. “I was hit by a drunk driver last year.”

The room goes silent and I stare at a book on the coffee table, afraid to meet anyone’s eyes. I feel Keith’s large hand wrap around mine.

“Fuck,” John breathes.

“I’m so sorry, Fu. I hope I didn’t upset you by asking,” Megan’s eyes shine at me, genuinely concerned. I give her a small wink and shake my head.

Sal leaves her spot on the floor in front of the fire, kneels down in front of me and gives me a gigantic hug. A startled laugh escapes. If anyone in this room deserves a hug it’s her, not me. At least I’m still breathing.

She pulls back and I see her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “I’m glad you’re okay,” is all she says.

The dogs decide at that moment it’s gotten far too serious in the room and proceed to wrestle. They’ve been at it all night. Boone is bigger then Bennett and likes to pounce on his back. Bennet is younger, though, and easily streaks off to destinations unknown. They are total clowns together and I love it.

“You’re dog is adorable, Fu. That’s a Newfie, right?” James asks.

“Yeah he is. He just showed up on my doorstep one night and I couldn’t let him go.”

“He’s going to be huge,” James laughs, “Good thing to have for a pretty girl living all alone.”

“No shit,” I mumble into my wine glass.

The front door bursts open. “Son of a bitch! Sorry I’m late! Stupid customer wouldn’t leave the goddamn sto-” Kim stands there looking at me with a dumbfounded expression on her face. Not a second later we are in a fierce hug. “Holy shit! I wasn’t expecting you to be here! This is awesome!”

“You two know each other?” Sal asks.

“Oh yeah, we know each other. Fu is the best friend I was telling you about the other day that just moved here and has a stalker.”

I groan, “Really? You’re spouting my drama all around town?” I’m not mad though. Kim can’t keep a secret to save her life.

“Just to the people that matter,” she winks at me.

“Holy crap? That’s you?!” Megan is out of her chair and rounding on me with fire in her eyes. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything? We need to strategize a plan to catch this bastard!”

Never mind that I just met these people a little over an hour ago. They feel like family.

I smile and say, “I think I’ve narrowed down the suspects…a little.” Stupid long list. I look over at Keith and see him watching me with the most adorable expression on his face.

I don’t think I’ll be adding to that list for a long while.

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